The Ballad of Night Anxious

Image from http://homepages.tcp.co.uk/~nicholson/alice.html

What does it matter where my body happens to be?  My mind goes on working all the same.

I’ve done it again. Unwitting, unwelcome,

I’ve woken up Knight Anxious,

all creeping worries and lingering thoughts,

all lists and fears, tapeworms,

my warts magnified fivefold by the conjured dangers of the night.

 

He heralds tumbling tonefalls, a rain-soaked day ahead.

Regardless of the weather, he never cooks the pudding,

yet proud of his invention, he harrumphs on horses high,

failure denigrated, unhinged from little pleasures,

unwashed with median joys.

 

He watches, waits, then pounces, always the live menace,

but always unexpected.

After all this time

I still can’t find the trigger

nor welcome him sagely

nor sluice him off like wet reproaches.

I hesitate just one second:

each time the haircracks multiply,

he seeps through, sucking

all air from the cave of my lungs:

infallible gravity.

 

We soldier on, we soldier on, mounted or on foot,

no end in sight, no redeeming dawn,

we balance, we teeter… and some of us fall.

Learning From the Younger Generation

I used to think that reading the classics or the best of contemporary fiction kept me humble.  Then I had to acknowledge that so many bloggers, whom I now follow with awe and joy, write with such zest and originality, and are so generous in sharing their poems, short stories and even chapters, that I felt a little lacklustre in comparison.  But now I have found a whole new source of modesty-inducing inspiration: the younger generation.  And I mean the much younger generation, like my 9 year old son.

First of the Series

He is a voracious reader.  His huge regret is that he will soon finish his last Harry Potter book, but his consolation is that he still has five Alex Rider books to go.  He used to be less than eager to do his English homework (he always preferred Maths and science, and he complained that writing with his pen gave him blisters). However, over the past few weeks, he has starting writing stories and even books of his own.  For the time being, he is reluctant to share his masterpiece with us, although he will happily tell us the overarching themes and storyline.    His writing style and choice of subjects may be completely alien to me, but I do wish I could emulate some of his energy and drive.

So here are the lessons I am learning from him:

1) Boundless ambition:  There are no self-imposed limits here; he truly believes he can achieve anything.  He already plans to write 4 books in his Insect Wars series, but he also wants to write and illustrate his own comic book series (BD are big business and extremely popular here in France). A factual book or two may also be on the cards, as are shorter stories appearing as separate books for those just learning to read.

2) Versatility: He is not allowing himself to be bogged down by genres.  He writes what he pleases and what he himself likes to read.   There are adventure stories about animals, but also some science fiction, humorous stories, and comic books about anthropomorphic root vegetables and many different countries.  There is no limit to his imagination and he does not try to second-guess his audience’s preferences too much.

3) Discipline: He worries about whether he will have the time to accomplish all of this over the summer holidays (and these final weeks of school), so he uses every spare minute to disappear upstairs and start scribbling away. First thing in the morning, or after brushing his teeth, or last thing at night before bedtime.  He writes every day – and no, he does not complain it’s a chore!  Although his younger brother sometimes complains that they no longer get to play together…

4) Reading but no other distractions: He continues reading books in all genres, more or less appropriate to his age, but he does not copy them slavishly.  Needless to say, he does not waste time online checking emails, Tweeting or Facebooking.  He probably would play the occasional computer game, but fortunately he forgets, having too many other interesting things going on in his life.

5) Marketing strategy: He already knows what is going to happen once he finishes all these books.  He has a target audience (his family and his English-speaking friends), a distribution channel (photocopies and a lending library scheme too), a price point (5o centimes each, if the Euro survives the summer).

What is most interesting, however, is that he has no ambitions to become a full-time writer when he grows up.  Oh, no!  Becoming a zoologist and wildlife documentary maker is much more exciting!  But he does want to keep on writing books as a hobby, because he enjoys telling stories.

What did I tell you – truly humbling!

So, in an effort to catch up with the younger generation, I have joined this two-week writing challenge with Jeff Goins (see below).

Spammers’ Rap

I have been away for a few days, in a location so remote that there was hardly any mobile phone reception, let alone Internet.  I wish I could say it was quiet and peaceful, and that I had time to write, but I was also helping to look after 47 schoolchildren.  So my book remained unread and the only word I got to write was a child’s name on his hiking boots.  Imagine my surprise, however, when I came back to find so many gracious comments on my last blog post – but also a record number of spam! The messages are getting a little more clever and less obviously robotic than when I first started blogging, but they still infuriate and amuse me in equal measure with their ineptitude.  Does anybody actually believe in them and allow them on their website?  Why do they still continue to do it?  Anyway, it inspired me to write a little doggerel about it.

Unbelievably and of course,

unquestionably, just because

your content means so much,

the best of there is! Such

magnificent information, to spread

the word, advance us, befriend.

Delivered in timely fashion, our group

Truly appreciates your knowledge… P__p!

 

We make all the right moves,

just not in the right order.

We tumble into worn-out grooves,

we hover at the border

of decency and shame.

Who is to blame?

How Deserving Am I of Awards?

That perennial shrew and busybody, Old Mother Busyness, has prevented me from graciously accepting and passing on two awards I have received this glorious month of May.  But it’s not just her, it’s also that nasty old hag called Shame.  Just how deserving am I anyway of these awards? When there are so many other brilliant writers out there?

Today, however, I will kick those two old witches to one side, and mention both awards in one post.  Hopefully that will not cause gross offence to the Great Owlish Order of the Great Lords of E-Wisdom, or whoever is currently ruling the Internet.

So, first of all, thank you to Ami Fidele, who has been waiting so patiently for me to respond to his Inspiring Blog award nomination.  I have mentioned him before and I will mention him again: he is philosophical, lyrical, a true romantic and he writes beautiful poetry.  Oh, and did I say he is a lovely online friend, too?

The second award , One Lovely Blog, comes from a more recent acquaintance, Ash N. Finn.  But such is the marriage of true minds over the blogosphere that I already feel we understand each other very well.  Thank you, Ash, and if you appreciate really clever and surprising flash fiction, you will love her blog.  I was also simultaneously nominated by Honoré Dupuis for this same award, so big thanks to him too, he is such a supportive and active presence on blogs and Twitter, it’s been a pleasure knowing and reading him.

The requirements are quite similar, thanking your ‘nominator’, sharing those dreaded seven personal revelations, the only difference being the number of bloggers you then link to.  I will err on the side of plenty, and I will start with the Inspiring Blog Awards, because these are all bloggers I love and look forward to reading.  My only complaint is that some of them do not post frequently enough for my taste.  Please, guys, let me hear from you soon!

A Literal Girl – American in Oxford, blogs about books, meeting of the minds on the Internet, writing, music and anxiety

Iliterate Poet – poetry and art with a pinch of humour

Rivenrod – completely, delightfully mad and brilliant at art, poetry and microfictions

Writing for Ghosts – teacher, writer, musician and parent, he does it all

Creative Flux – or rather Terre Britton, who curates this wonderful site, full of resources and inspiration for writers

Hyakunin Isshu – translation and commentary of some of the most beautiful classic Japanese poems

Irretrievably Broken – beautiful writing about a grim subject, divorce

Mullings of a Mindtramp – searingly honest poetry

The Linnet – get drunk in the lush imagery of these poems

The Thread is Red – creative adventures and one of the most attractive sites ever

Rebuilding Holly –  naturally gifted writer trying to break out of the corporate stranglehold

Poet Janstie – he’s waited all his life to write – and how well he does it!

Mind’s Sky – I’ve nominated her before – can I help it, if she is so good? Really thoughtful, gorgeous poetry

Mocha Beanie Mummy – combines photography, storytelling and coffee – a winning combination

Connie Assad – fellow Cowbirder, amazing personal stories

And seven more for the One Lovely Blog Award, who do post regularly, but whom I read with undiminished enthusiasm:

RC Gale – he makes me laugh, he makes me cry, he makes me think

Project White Space – a newish discovery for me, she remotivates me with her energy

Writing on Board – sailor, sculptor, writer, adventurer

Coffee and Spellcheck – subsists on coffee, imagination and her love of words

Madame Guillotine – not that she needs my awards – very popular, fun and informed about history

Keat’s Babe – she is so multitalented and diverse!

Writeitdownith – inspiring writer but also great connector and encourager of people

There are so many more I would love to mention, or mention again.  But that’s given you enough to be getting on with. And it also serves as a reminder that I need to update my blogroll.

So now, for those of you who haven’t yet wandered off to check out these lovely bloggers … why haven’t you?  That’s the best thing about awards, to connect with others and discover new minds and souls.  But if you are waiting with bated breath for those stunning personal revelations, here they are, my favourite seven words in the English language (at least, at this moment in time):

1) belligerent

2) serendipity (mine and everyone else’s, but who said I had to be original?)

3) rivulets

4) surfeit

5) exaltation

6) imagination

7) jitterbug (by the way, did you know that the term was originally used to describe alcoholics?)

Uh-oh, it’s just occured to me: I do like long, pretentious sounding words, don’t I?  Maybe I should develop a loving relationship with the word ‘purge’!

The Washing Machine Chronicles

As a child I enjoyed spending time in the bathroom.

Not that I was vain, you understand.  I scraped my knees along with the boys, cut my own fringe and let my mother buy clothes for me, usually two sizes too big so that I could grow into them.  I did occasionally long to have red hair and freckles, in the belief that might make me as strong as Pippi Longstocking, but I didn’t lose too much sleep over it.  I seldom looked in the mirror and even resorted to the age-old trick of wetting the soap to simulate handwashing rituals I had no intention of observing.

So, no, it wasn’t vanity driving me into the bathroom.  The reason I disappeared ever more frequently in there was that this was where the washing machine was busy at work.  And at some point during the tenth or eleventh year of my life, I discovered the pleasure of sitting on the washing machine during its spin cycle.  Its rumbling vibrations brought unexpected pleasures.  I would cling on for dear life, unsure of the exact position to adopt, simply trying to avoid the sharp corners.

I must have felt there was something slightly reprehensible about this sudden passion for doing the laundry, as I used to lock the door.  I could almost slice through my mother’s rising dough of disapproval.  We were a family used to seeing each other naked.  No shame culture in our house!  But I instinctively knew that these pleasing thrills were best kept to myself. And the bathroom door was the only one with a lock in our house.

It took me a few more months – or maybe years (I was not a precocious child in this respect)- to realise that these delicious sensations could be replicated without the baritone growl of the washing-machine, or a cramp-inducing climb.  I made sure I made up for any lost opportunities.  Seasons came, seasons went, and so did family, friends and lovers.  For a while, I went astray and betrayed the washing-machine with a succession of dry-cleaners.

The next washing-machine, the one in my marital home, was no longer all sharp, masculine corners.  The modern forms were softened, rounded, pure femininity, a collusion in my oppression.  Its location now moved to the kitchen, where there never was any privacy, it now became subject to tantrums and food-throwing, and witness to my staggering up and down the stairs with overfilled laundry baskets, in search of the perennially lost sock.

I had no tender feelings for the washing machine.  Its noisy yammering reminded me too much of a petulant toddler.  Its mouth too wide and hungry, never quite satiated, never quite done.

I wish I could talk of redemption, of how the washing machine, in whichever of its incarnations, inspired me to or reconciled me with or taught me about something.  But that would be untruthful.  Real life does not offer neat, circular solutions. Instead we stagger off into endless linear distances, petering out in our own boredom.

So the truth is this: despite my best care and Calgon, the washing machine developed clogged arteries and flooded messily at random intervals.  I couldn’t really use it much, so it became a repository for magnets and a jar of change.  Postcards from places with names that still had the power to provoke the dreaming: Samarkand, Seychelles, Salvador de Bahia.

Now that I seldom use it, I miss it.  Its virile force, its clueless humming, the daily bustle.  I watch it in its idleness and I wonder where it all went wrong.

Quotes about Not Writing

Here are some quotes from recent conversations with family and friends, which serve to remind me each day about why I want to write but also make me wonder why I am not doing it (or getting better results with it).  Do any of these sound familiar? And see if you can associate the right person from this cast of characters with the right quote:  mother, father, former boss, husband, children, new neighbour, old friend.

If finishing your novel is your top priority, how come it never gets done?

So, what do you do all day?  How come you are always too busy to meet up?

So, when are we actually going to be able to read something of yours in print? No, not online, that doesn’t really count, does it?  And besides, I can’t handle that mouse contraption too well.

Not at your laptop again?! What are you doing there all day?  When do I get to see you or talk to you?

When are you going to find your way back to those incisive, succinct reports you used to write? I mean, creative writing is a lot of waffle, ultimately, isn’t it?

All that education, all that encyclopaedic knowledge, all those years of hard work… and what have you got to show for it?

Do you really think writing will make you happy, or is it just another passing fad? There have been others before, haven’t there?

Instead

The pink whistle wearing thin, they settled on the mauve.

When boxes threatened  overload, they cut out carton flags.

Ideas tumbling in hazen rivulets were picked off, one by one,

With shotgun polished, wit so sharpened.

 

May the treasure hunt of the mind commence!

 

Still, the crack at the very centre, silent foe, widened each day,

Till they no longer could bear to step forward

And peer at the abyss one wrong word away.