Scalextric Circular

Dear FW,

I’m over thinking again,

started drinking,

again.

The matter is not grey.

It’s a red screaming sports car,

demanding attention, constant incoherence, engine-revving,

going nowhere,

and not in gear.

Repeating, repeating, repeating

the same track,

Scalextric circular.

Round, round, round,

‘til heated metal burns

and at the turns,

the car flies off its needle.

Crashes.

Spinning

into the sofa

onto the floor.

 

It’s not suprising

I’m over analysing.

On the brink of something.

A cliff edge?

A chasm?

An abyss?

What’s amiss?

There’s nothing technically wrong.

Everything is wrong.

Discomfort.

A physical pain.

What is a runner who cannot run?

A player who cannot play?

I still function, but badly.

There’s no escape,

no let up,

no relief or release.

When the things that scare me come,

I cannot run

but round we go.

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Hairless Neanderthal

Dear FW,

There’s something you should know.

I am a neanderthal.

Although, clearly a naked one, because I am blessed with being significantly less hairy than my less-evolved counterparts.

I’m not saying that I walk about dragging my knuckles and clubbing animals. That’s not how I roll.

What I mean is that I need cave time.

Cave time is something my cousin and I discussed at length on a long road trip one Christmas. The essence of it is simple, introverted persons need cave time. Some people call it me time, but that sounds selfish.

The amount of cave time they need is dependent on the person and the environment or situation they are. The more sociable or stressful the situation the more cave time is needed to recover.

Examples of cave time include; reading, binge-watching tv shows, stretching/yoga, writing, listening to music and pottering about. These kind of activities require alone-ness, quiet and preferably closed doors and curtains where possible.

Cave time allows for relaxing and it helps the mind stop screaming. Noisy mind is a longstanding problem which is exacerbating by a lack of cave time.

I need quite a lot of cave time.

I love you and I love hanging out with you, you’re my best friend,  but cave time is essential. Without it I lose who I am, the noise levels get too much and you wouldn’t like who I become.

There is a delicate balance though.

Too much cave time is equally as bad as not enough cave time. It is by nature a solo activity but humans are pack animals and the connection to community and socialising is important.

So, when it looks like I’m retreating more than normal, through me a life buoy. Drag me out of the house to do something with other humans. I won’t want to, I’ll protest, but do it anyway. I will thank you for it afterwards.

You’ll eventually learn when it’s cave time, and what is a healthy amount of it. Try not to get jealous of the cave time, I’ll come back to you, always. Trust me when I say that it’s a good thing for both of us.

Love you always,

x

Shepherd’s Pie Epiphany

Something strange happened a few weeks ago over a microwaved shepherd’s pie and a few lines of Rilke in the staff kitchen.

A nagging feeling has been clawing at the back of my consciousness for the best part of thirty years. It causes a low level emotional discomfort but on occasion rears its head in a wild and sometimes scary way. It asks questions, poses doubts and usually ends up in the ending of something, a relationship, a hobby, a job.

Last Thursday, a breakthrough of sorts. The emotional discomfort had gotten out of control and I had turned to poetry for some relief. In this case selected passages of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. In it Rilke talks about creativity and the need to be alone while creating. Read it, he explains it far more eloquently that I will.

In a moment of clarity, I realised that this uncomfortable feeling was unfulfilled creative potential.

For my entire life I have lived by the values I was brought up with. Instilled from an early age was the need for education, a good job, a stable career, money, savings over debt, houses, marriage, family…safety over freedom. And that is the path I inadvertently chose for myself. Sensible over creative, because lets face it, that arts don’t usually pay the bills.

Creativity is, in my parents eyes a luxury, confined to weekends and hobbies. Creative is not in the job description.

Though the values they instilled are not inherently bad they resulted in a lack of fulfillment in my life. Strapped into a corporate machine, reliant on a regular wage to pay the bills was their idea of life well spent, not mine.

There’s a discord here between inherited values and the things I really care about and it has caused decades of existential angst and identity issues.

There is a lot of work still to do. The psychological archaeology has so far only unearthed the bones of it.

It boils down to two questions that need to be answered. The jab-cross combo of tough questions.

Who am I?

Since I am not defined by my job title, what is left?

Identity can change over time but the core parts of it remain the same and sometimes that is lost in relationships, in trying to fit with society and peers, the corporate environment and family commitments.  We so often forget what we stand for and who we are when life gets overwhelmingly busy.

Too many become institutionalised in the corporate world and forget who they are. Their creativity sapped and leached from their bones by bureaucracy and routine. It is the new experiences and the playfulness that will release them from the cycle.

The foundations of a person lies in their values. Discovering what they are is the first step, living by them is another.

The second punch is this.

Why am I here?

This can be summed up in the idea of the epitaph or the obituary. It’s morbid and possibly dark and twisty, but stay with me.

If you were to die tomorrow what kind of legacy do you want to leave? What would they say and write about you? What would they carve into that headstone?

This is a biggie. The French call it their raison d’etre, the Japanese ikigai and we English call it a purpose.

Well, I know the answer to this one if I’m feeling brave. Putting a hand up in class at school was not at the top of my joy list, but this answer I’m sure of.

I want to put beautiful and inspiring things into the world.

No, not want, need. I need to do this.

From a young age I was fascinated by stories, fictional adventures and people and worlds. They aided my escape from a world where I did not fit. They taught me everything and gave me a sense of belonging. Most of all though the books I read inspired me.

I’ve known from the age of eight that I wanted to be writer.

I need to write.

Hold my hand…no really

Dear FW,

Sometimes I have bad days.

Not all bad days are equal. However, there are ways to make them better and ways to make them worse.

I might not be pleasant on my bad days. It’s not you.

I repeat, it is not you. And trust when I say, I don’t mean to be mean.

You have the power to make a bad day better.

It’s pretty simple really. Just hold my hand, literally and figuratively.

Try not to get angry.

Try to understand that sometimes I just can’t help it.

Do not feed me beer.

Do not laugh at me, I’m really not kidding.

Know that it will pass and that I will love you all the more for still being there in the morning.

I hear music

Dear FW,

There are a few things you should know before you commit.

You’ll notice the dancing, the tapping of feet, the wiggling of the head to a beat out of reach of human ears. You’ll be looking around and straining to find the source of the sound.

It’s just the soundtrack in my head playing constantly. Every day, all day.

Many times, so many times, I’ve thought my iPod or radio was playing only to find it wasn’t. It’s the radio station broadcasting in my brain. Sometimes it plays fragments of songs, sometimes whole tracks, once or twice a whole album.

If you find it difficult to get my attention it’s because the music is too loud. To be honest it gets pretty noisy. It makes it difficult to concentrate on occasion.

The only way to block it out is to hold my full attention (you know what that means)… or to put some music on.

But hey, it could be worse, at least I don’t hear screaming voices…plus there’s always something to dance to.

S

xx

How it all began by Penelope Lively – A Half Way Through Review

I’ve read a couple of Penelope Lively books before, one by force at school and the other on the recommendation of a friend. They were very good indeed. So having stumbled upon her 2011 novel How it all began in the sale section I thought I was in luck. Earlier this year I read the 1987 Booker Prize winner, Moon Tiger, and I was floored by it. Such was its impact that if I’d discovered it aged fifteen then my life would have taken a very different path. I purchased How it all began with high expectations.

The first warning bell sounded with the cover. Many books get mis-packaged, that’s not unusual but this was an author of literary fiction bound up in a chick lit wrapping. In the rather prosaic photograph on the front there are piled paperbacks on view and almost all are Lively’s. It’s just an odd cover.

But I didn’t buy it for the cover.

The plot follows the butterfly effect of the mugging of an elderly lady resulting in a broken hip. Her subsequent hospitalisation and rehabilitation in her daughter’s home forces events into motion, upsetting a half dozen strangers’ lives in the process. A third person narrative sees each of the ensemble cast having to deal with the chain of consequences, some merely inconvenient and others more destructive. It flits back and forth between contemporary domestic settings giving acutely observed character portraits. I can’t fault the writing.

There’s something missing though.

The story moves too sluggishly from one cosily upholstered location to another. It has none of the harshness of Moon Tiger, there are no sharp edges to cut oneself on and no dirt and grit. Whether you loved or hated Claudia Hampton, she was an interesting character and bold enough to hang a whole novel on. I’m not emotionally invested in the people who populate How it all began. They are likeable but there’s a lack of passion in them and without that there’s little to hold interest.

Conceptually, How it all began is a great idea, a single event setting off a domino rally of domestic upheaval. If the concept was executed with the same brilliance as Moon Tiger then this would be a superb novel. It may, of course, be a slow burner and build to a dramatically fulfilling climax. I will have to keep reading to find out, sadly, so far it seems unlikely to reach that conclusion.