[Scintilla Day 01] Who are you?

I don’t mind telling stories about myself – hell, I have some really good stories that I’m often asked to relate to new victims: there’s the one that involves a plant pot and a curtain rail on a first date, and the one about the cat on heat- I can guarantee that if I told you these stories you’d either be peeing yourself with laughter or looking at me in a slightly terrified manner. Possibly both at the same time. Through neither luck nor judgement I’ve ended up in some strange situations in my life, and I fend off potential ridicule by turning them into stories, stories that I know will entertain people and either endear me to  or alienate me from them forever.

Talking about myself is another matter entirely. Opening myself up, letting my inner thoughts spill forth like seeds from a ripe, split melon – that’s not something that comes easily. I can articulate the thoughts and the feelings, I can even put them down in words, but sharing them takes me well out of my comfort zone. I have a whole sackful of cunning strategies to avoid this – and yes, I suspect telling my legendary stories is probably one of them. Choosing not to answer questions like, ‘Who are you?’ should probably be another, but it’s a little late for that now, isn’t it?

I was mulling over the question during idle moments this morning, and the more I turned it over, the more I realised that the answer depends in a large part on who’s asking it. My mum would tell you that I’m her daughter, my former colleagues would say I was a fellow nurse. My son would be the only person in the world who could tell you that I’m his mother, and I’d like to hope that my partner would say I’m a lover, an equal and a friend.

I know it’s not fashionable nowadays to define oneself in relation to others, and that some people might say there’s a hint of dependence there, or the suggestion of subservience, of subsumed identity; but I don’t exist in a vacuüm. Like John Donne said, ‘No man is an island,’ and that makes perfect sense to me. Without the people I care for and the roles I choose to assume, I’d be a duller, flatter version of myself. There’d be less quirks, less intricate details, fewer opportunities to challenge myself and blossom through rising to the occasion. I would be quite boring, I think, and more to the point, I’d be lonely and miserable. Sometimes people are like mirrors, shining your best – and worst – bits right back in your face.

And most of my stories involve other people, too. Yes, even the one about the cat in heat. Hang around long enough and I might even share that story, and hopefully plenty more that will show – rather than tell – you who I am.

This post is a response to prompts from The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of story sharing

Snippet

I’ve been following my resolution and jotting down ideas on the back of the 3×5 index cards I use for my daily to-do lists, but somehow nothing has bubbled up out of my subconscious that’s inspired me to write about it. I have some good plans for future posts but I feel the need to do more reading, and to enjoy the research process before I work out what it is I actually want to say.

Suffice to say it revolves around intellectual questions like whether or not Balenciaga handbags have a place in my life…

Anyway, one of the tasks on the day before yesterday’s card said ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and it took me a while to remember what on earth it was about, eventually seizing on the notion that I’d planned to update the writing page here with a charming Sherlock Holmes pastiche I wrote a few years ago.

If you like mysteries, feminism, hallucinogenic substances and conspiracy theories then you may well enjoy it!

  • You can read Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Muses here…

My little corner of the world

I wrote a little about my study when I was responding to the #reverb10 prompt about appreciation. I took a few photos but only used one of them. I was just looking at them and realised I need to reflect a little more about the place I come to write – not that it’s the only place I write, I have notebooks with me all the time, and love writing at the beach, and even more so on train journeys – but this is my little corner of the world where I know people will give me some space if I’m writing; it’s the place where my favourite postcards – some of which have been with me for over ten years – hang above my desk, and the shelves my dad made for me are heaving with my accumulated treasures.

 

I should start with my desk. Leo made it for me out of timber left over when we she converted my son’s high sleeper into a cabin bed. It’s the perfect height for me, although I need a new chair. At the moment I’m using one of those weird ergonomic stools that you kneel on. My back loves it but my knees disagree.

As you can see, I share the desk with my dwarf Chinese hamster, Ming. He’s an amputee who lost a toe early in life, but it doesn’t seem to bother him at all.

There’s a lot of stuff crammed into that little corner, a lot of memories; the wig was part of my infamous marionette Hallowe’en costume a few years ago, and the veil you can just see the edges of is attached to one of the mini top hats I made for my Punk Moulin Rouge-themed birthday even longer ago than that.

Lots of Elvis tat, because I love it. I love it so much I submitted a whole portfolio inspired by Elvis tat and its cultural impact as part of my Creative Writing MA. There’s a huge pile of notebooks on the middle shelf. My filing system is based more on archaeological principles than anything more logical – the deeper down you dig the older the stuff usually is. It works for me. (And if you fancy the idea of organising your documents more organically, the Noguchi system is a good place to start).

I found the Mexican puppets in a charity shop. I really do need to make a film with them, because the little man looks very cute when he’s strumming his guitar.

Lady Di’s there because… well, because she’s Lady Di. We have the Queen in the kitchen, on the fridge (stuck on with Elvis magnets, of course).

Flying heart fairy lights and Jesus on my desktop surrounded by tacky silk flowers. These are the things that make me feel like I’m home – the things that sustain me.

The doll on the top shelf, the one on the right-hand side in the orange dress has been with me since I was a very little girl. I’ve got it into my head that someone brought her back from America for me way back in the days when not many  people travelled out of the UK, let alone as far as the US. I need to ask my mother if that’s true.

Anyway, she talks. Well, more to the point, she kind of wails and complains a lot. You pull her head away from her body which then returns neck-wards up the cord that connects the two. Meanwhile she screams, ‘My feet are moving CLOSER!’ and ‘Here comes my BO-DY!’ and my favourite (mostly because she very, very rarely says it), ‘I’m falling apart: UH-UH!’

 

The flash has obliterated the photo on the shelf below. Here’s a better shot of it, nestled as it is in front of some literary theory text books.

That’s my mum, aged about three, with my Nan, who’s in her late eighties now, so it must have been taken in the 1940s. I love their hair, and their dresses, and the way it seems like they’re staring right out at me. That’s my son next to them, when he was a lot younger.

The green bird on the pink and black base makes a tweeting sound when you wiggle the stick up and down. It’s a bit subdued now, because there’s a slight crack in the base. I can remember playing with this at one of my great aunties’ houses when I was very little. They both had budgies, and I think this hung in one of the bird cages, but I could be wrong.

So many little treasures, all of which have a special meaning for me; presents from dear friends, mementoes of those no longer with me, irreplaceable things my son made at primary school: things that make me feel loved, and whole and, most importantly, inspired.

Reverb 10 – Dec 31 – Core Story

What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.)

(Author: Molly O’Neill)

Heart, South Beach, Aberystwyth - Dec 2010

Gosh. My last #reverb10 post.

I started something, and then I finished it
.

And in between those two important achievements I put in a fair bit of work. It was hard, sometimes, fitting in posting around preparing for Christmas and doing a job which has a tendency to sap both my mental and physical energy, but I chose to keep going, because I believed in the project – and crucially, I enjoyed it.

I’ve just spent some time quietly reading back through every post I made, marvelling at the way my posts developed. I began to find places where I could use photos that I’ve taken over the past year: photos that sat seemingly forgotten on my hard drive were given a new lease of life through being shared with you.

My writing has loosened up and become tighter at the same time – does that make sense?

Taking part in reverb10  led me in new and unexpected directions: now I’m reading about the intersection between productivity and creativity and communication and having flashes of inspiration about how these ideas could be applied to my day job to improve the quality of patient care. The more I stimulate my mind, the more it works in exciting and surprising ways; I’m one of the Ideas People again.

One of the things I love about writing is that however measured and deliberate you are, every single word also exists in the much larger context of everything else you’ve written. Reading back through the larger whole – as I have done with my #reverb10 posts – has thrown up some interesting patterns that I wasn’t aware of when I wrote them. I’ve made some connections which seem blatant in hindsight but to which I was oblivious at the times.

It struck me how often I’ve written about being blessed with wonderful family and friends.

From the nucleus of myself, Leo and my son, to my extended family, and my friends – who I like to think of as my ‘chosen family’ –  it’s been the people who have made this year worthwhile. I used to think that having too many friends or a large and bustling family would be overwhelming – too demanding and too much pressure on my time. I’ve changed my mind. I want lots of people in my life – loads of them, in fact! – what I have to give I have in abundance and there’s enough to share with everyone.

This last year has been one of looking at what worked in my life, and what didn’t. And then working out how to make things better. I decided I didn’t want to be an angry person any more.

I worked out that trying to be in control – and inevitably failing, because being in control of everything ever is simply not possible, no matter how much time and energy you devote to trying- was at the root of a lot of the generalised, but exhausting, day-to-day crossness and niggledness I was feeling. This was a massive revelation!

But, you know, allowing events to take their own course, letting situations develop in their own organic way is OK. Nothing got broken and nobody died, and the time and energy saved allowed me to step back a little, to find moments of  stillness where there was no need for frantic mental chatter. When things got hairy, I knew that my instincts – which I’d allowed to flourish – would guide me safely.

It’s been a funny old year. Micro-analysis suggests I had more than my fair share of challenges to deal with, and yet the resounding memories are of learning and growing and feeling proud of myself for getting through them. I don’t always believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger –   it might not destroy you but it can still leave you feeling battered, broken and sorely disillusioned – but I feel curiously self-contained and capable right now.

I’m moving into the New Year with a feeling of purpose and direction
.

Note that I said ‘a feeling’ there – I’m not entirely sure what my purpose is or which direction it’s taking me in; I have some ideas – and one of my resolutions is to make sure I start capturing all these ideas – but I’m excited, you know?

The possibilities are endless, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

Reverb10 – Dec 24 – Everything’s OK

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

(Author: Kate Inglis)

I’m not sure that this year was a year of big events and grand gestures. I think the moments when things felt like they made sense of the bigger picture were quite small, almost serendipitous.

There was the day when I’d been reflecting on being more open, more approachable, and letting more people into my daily life, and then I went on a walk just a few hours later and bumped into someone I knew down at the beach, and instead of making my excuses and running away I let myself be carried along by the situation, and we sat and watched the sea, and chatted and smoked some cigarettes, and I went home realising that it was OK to do that – more than OK, and actually pleasurable and meaningful.

There were a few times when I had to stand by – and sometimes fight for – my beliefs and principles in the knowledge that I was going against the flow, whether it was popular opinion I was spurning or my own internal anything-for-an-easy-life-ometer. Not only did things work out OK, but I found more respect for myself from others, and more importantly from myself.

Every time my son passes a module, or gets another competency ticked off in his driving lessons, I’m reminded that things are going to be OK for him, too. His journey through life is going to be different to most kids his age, slower at times and with different challenges, but he’ll get there.

I don’t get stressed about people not washing up straight away, or being as obsessive about housework as I am any more; I’ve trained myself to examine priorities – mine and other people’s – more, and be more empathic, and look at the whole picture because, you know, it’s OK to leave the dishes until the morning. The worst that can happen is that they might need soaking a little longer but that’s all: there’s no deeper meaning, they’re just unwashed dishes.

 

Vision Map for 2010

You know, it’s funny. The ‘Future Tool’ included in this prompt is How to Create Your Own Personal Manifesto, and one of the things Gwen Bell suggests is to make a vision map.

By freaky coincidence, I made mine a few weeks ago; I used pictures and words cut from magazines to make my own personal collage which now hangs in my study. I stuck various words and phrases on it, but the first one I found was the one that says, ‘Hey, it’s OK…’



Reverb10 – Dec 23 – New Name

oil painting, girl with red hair

Image by freeparking via Flickr

Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?
(Author: Becca Wilcott)

Years ago, my university tutor complained that he couldn’t read my signature. I was a bit taken aback by this, because I didn’t realise people would want to actually read it. I thought it was just a unique and inimitable scribble which was mine and no-one else’s, and which marked everythingI wrote it on on as somehow mine, too.

He squinted at it and moved it back and forth in front of his face, trying desperately to decipher it. In the end he shrugged and said, it says, ‘Mimi Houlihan.’ I’ve used Mimi Houlihan as an alternate identity a few times (she even has her own Facebook profile), but until today I never imagined what she’d be like, or what I’d be like if I was Ms Houlihan.

I’m thinking she’d be tall like me, but with an Irish-sounding name like that I’m guessing she’s a redhead; dark copper, with a hint of a wave, and green eyes – brighter than mine, which are a weird sludgy green – and covered in freckles. She’s got a loose walk, and she walks everywhere.

She can play the piano, but secretly she wants an orchestra-sized xylophone. She’s always the first one dancing at parties but she doesn’t drink much. She always has the wittiest responses on the tip of her tongue but you rarely hear her say a bad word about anyone. She has lots of friends, and always manages to remember people’s birthdays. She comes from a big family and is loved by her nephews and nieces.

She rollerskates and has a secret thing for seventies songs with jazz flute middle eights. She can’t draw to save her life. She collects old buttons – preferably still stitched on their little square of cardboard – and postcards of staircases.

She sounds like fun. I’m liking her already. I think I want to be her friend.

Reverb10 – Dec 21 – Future Self

A nice cup of tea - gwaan gwaan gwaan

Image by papalamour via Flickr

Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead?
(Author: Jenny Blake)

Time travel always confuses me. So let me get this straight, this is me in five years time writing to me now, advising me about the coming year…

  • Stay focused. It’s not always easy for you, but it’s worth it.
  • Enjoy being organised, and the freedom it brings.
  • Keep learning about productivity, and take what you learn into your workplace, because you can help bring about positive change.
  • Be mindful.
  • Be as strong as you can, but remember it’s OK to ask for help sometimes.
  • Cherish the people you love.
  • Drink tea not coffee!
  • Don’t be afraid to grasp life tightly with both hands.
  • Make time for you, and use it productively.
  • Remember that by looking after your body, you’re also looking after your mind.
  • Meditate.
  • Slow down and take it all in.
  • Blink
  • Breathe

Reverb10 – Dec 20 – Beyond Avoidance

What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

(Author: Jake Nickell)

Wishing Well, Aberystwyth (Emma Lloyd)

The answer to this question is: nothing massive. There are things I would like to do – and I’ve written about them in an earlier post, but in general I did most of what I expected to do, and a few surprise things, too.

One of my major plans for the year had been to go back to university and restart/ finish my MA in Creative Writing. My former tutor had said that he would be happy to have me back, and I had the money to pay for it, but a few bureaucratic hiccups eventually made it impossible.

I was horribly upset about this for a long time, and started to see it as a clear sign that writing obviously wasn’t part of my future; naturally this line of catastrophising was a self-fulfilling prophecy when it came to me actually sitting down and writing.

But over the summer, I started to dabble a little. The weather was warm, and I treated myself to a comfortable garden chair. I picked out one of my old writing textbooks and started to work through the exercises.

Coincidentally – or not, depending on what your belief systems might be – a few weeks later I was invited to join the Planet Poetika squad at an event some three or four months into the future.

I worked out an impressive timetable of writing, preparing and learning poems which never actually worked out. In fact I spent a frantic two weeks before the event pulling new and old work into shape.

But somehow this kick-started a regular writing habit. I guess you could say I got my mojo back. That, and a healthy side-serving of self-confidence. I’m getting better and better at finding – and giving myself – the space to write in, and using my time to fill it productively.

Next year it is my intention to keep going: finish the novel, work on a new collection of poetry and put my work out there. It’s definitely time…


 

 

Reverb10 – Dec 18 – Try

What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it? (Author: Kaileen Elise)

I’ve tried all sorts of things this year, and it was those linked to writing that bore the most fruit. I took part in a really successful live poetry evening, which kick-started me writing again, and then – just for a laugh – I decided to have a bash at NaNoWriMo, too. I didn’t finish NaNo, but I did write around 40,000 words, which is more than I’ve written in the last five years put together. I’d always doubted that I had the ability or tenacity to produce such sustained writing.

My post-Christmas treat will be picking it up and reading what I’ve written so far. I usually like to let things stew for a while before I go back to them. I decided a list was the best way to attack this prompt, and I’ve realised that each of the items on it are essentially prompts in themselves, so you can all look forward to me revisiting – and expanding on – these topics at some point post #reverb10.

* More live poetry: I’ve been bitten by the bug.
* Continue/ finish the novel, as it would seem I’m capable of sustaining lengthy projects after all.
* Go down to the beach at least once a week. It’s criminal that I live so close but don’t go there more often.
* Go for pedicures. I fancy having celebrity toes, and my bending deficiency makes doing them such hard work.
* Grow my hair! This is partially achieved but I’m still in the crazy in-between stage.
* Go on The X Factor. (This isn’t a joke, you know!)
* Learn more things: Welsh, driving and web design are top of my list.
* Creating a productivity tool for work, to help us use our (limited) time much more efficiently.
* Being organised – this is such a novelty!
* Using my brain to its optimum level.

 

Aberystwyth Harbour

 

 

Looking back, I’ve realised that my first #reverb10 post was about choosing a word to encapsulate next year, 2011. The word I chose was ’embrace’, and next year I fully intend to grasp every opportunity that I create or that arises, and hold on to it, not run away.

Reverb10 – Dec 07 – Community

Holding Hands shadow on sand

Image via Wikipedia

2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?
(Author: Cali Harris)

I’m in severe danger of wandering off into the cheesy hinterlands of schmaltz and sentimentality with this post. I’m half-imagining you reading this while pretending to poke your fingers into your mouth making the universal gesture for ‘Help: I am about to vomit’, but I can deal with that. This year, though, I found community everywhere. I found it in real life, among my colleagues at work: we’re like one big dysfunctional but (mostly) loving family. I found it among my family, and realised the security and happiness of my family is something I would happily fight for. I discovered that there are opportunities for bonding with people, and growing with them, and sharing something bigger than the sum of its parts, all around me. And this is nothing new, you know. They haven’t just appeared from nowhere; they were there all along, but I didn’t know that because I wasn’t ready to take a deep breath and risk jumping out of the partial isolation I’d made myself too comfortable in.

I need my space, I know that, but I need company, too, and I’m blessed to have so many good people in my life. You know who you are.

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