My 2016 in First Posts

After a disastrous previous year’s attempt to use the first sentence of the first post of every month to give me an overview of the year that had gone by, and a marginally more successful version in 2015 , my attempt for 2016 simply did not do justice to what has been a tumultuous year. Very different from what I  (or anyone else) expected. So I ‘cheated’ a bit and went on to second or third posts of the month, picking out more relevant sentences. A sort of ‘found poetry’ attempt, accompanied by ‘found photos’.

What struck me was how much I am obsessed by my failure to write this year. Once again.  I’m probably not the only one who felt overwhelmed and overtaken by worldwide and personal events, temporarily forgetting about the soothing power of writing. I’m certainly not the only one who turned to poetry rather than prose for solace and trying to understand myself and the people around me. But I feel guilty about that novel that still languishes unfinished in my notebooks and on my desktop. I know I need to be kind to myself when all the world around me is being smashed with a wrecking-ball, but… tick-tock! tick-tock! How much longer can I afford to not write?

wp_20160809_12_23_02_pro_li2016 is going to be a good year for you, for me, for the world more generally – 6 is my lucky number and I am willing it to be so. (Besides, the world and I are due a good one after the last few grim ones.)

Why did no one warn me that writing a synopsis is so difficult?

I ‘accidentally’ attended a poetry workshop run by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye and suddenly the words were gushing out of me, after a twenty-year absence from poetry, and nearly as many years of not really taking writing of any kind seriously enough.

I will risk boring you this week with no less than three posts about Quais du Polar in Lyon.

wp_20160816_11_28_23_proA little twitter conversation with the delightful Janet Emson (if you haven’t discovered her blog yet, it’s highly recommended, not just by me) had me uttering the words: ‘Dammit, Janet, I love you!’

I’m already suffering from homesickness before I’ve even left this region.

wp_20161027_12_09_08_proWhy would you ever not have a spiral staircase or a ladder if you have a large home library?

‘You do have a lot of books…’ sighed the removal men (and I don’t think it was wistfulness I detected in their voices).

It’s not the move (or, to use corporate terminology, the international relocation). It’s not the scrabbling around trying to find the financial paperwork…  It’s not even the lack of internet or … when your devices conspire to let you down all at once.

wp_20161020_08_02_22_proHenley Literary Festival is virtually on my doorstep, and it was the first literary event I attended, back in 2009. I met the dynamic and very accessible, friendly duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French (better known as Nicci French) there, we discussed the Moomins and the Martin Beck series, and the rest is history. In other words, my passion for reading and writing was rekindled.

I was going to finish my novel and send it to my mentor for structural edits. But that was based on the flawed assumption I made back in early June that I would have spent a total of 5 weeks on the novel by now. Needless to say, that did not happen between July and October. I wrote precisely zero words since mid-June.

wp_20160909_14_38_35_pro

P. S. I know it’s a bit early to wrap up the year, but I anticipate an early end to this year’s blogging. From 17th December onwards, it will be all about off-line wrangling of thoughts, feelings and activities.

P.P.S. Word of warning: 7 is my unlucky number, so goodness knows what 2017 will be like…

2016: A Year of Goodbyes

All I seem able to write lately are non-fiction, personal essays or rants about perceived unfairness. Things I’ve always avoided writing before. I hope normal service will resume soon (poetry, book reviews, writerly stuff).

Goodbye, Mont Blanc!
Goodbye, Mont Blanc!

After an insane 2014, a stagnating cesspool of 2015 (I’m talking personal rather than global troubles here), I was looking forward to 2016. It was going to be a year of starting afresh, making changes, taking control. But 2016 has proved fierce, fearsome and unknowable so far. It has drained me more than it has energised.

It has robbed me of David Bowie and Prince, two of my childhood idols. It has robbed me of Alan Rickman and Victoria Wood, whom I got to know and love later. Of course, these are not people I knew personally, but we all feel we know celebrities, just like we feel we know ‘the culture of a country’.

In many ways, the greatest tragedy this year has been that it has robbed me of many of my illusions about and feelings for Britain. For me, it had always been a country that stood out as a beacon of civilisation and civility, fairness and even-handedness, where people talk to each other in moderate tones instead of breaking out into street fights. Over the past few weeks leading up to the referendum, I was beginning to recognise (from the media and the comments in the media) that Brexit had become a real possibility. It did not quite catch me by surprise, but it nevertheless hurt me. It’s not the vote in itself which makes me sad and scared, but the animal it has unleashed, how easily a country (and its people) can change beyond recognition. And yes, I know that there are still plenty of decent people there who are equally bewildered, shocked and hurt by what they see.

This reminds me of a divorce in far too many ways. Which is something else that 2016 is throwing my way, so bear with me as I work through this metaphor:

  1. It’s about emotion rather than rationality. After weighing the pros and cons for far too long, trying to be very rational and fact-based, there comes a time when you lose all common sense. You can only see the things you hate about the other, you cherry pick those arguments and behaviours which prove your point. In other words, you ultimately vote with your gut. And we all look foolish when we react in anger.
  2. There’s no such thing as a clean cut. Perhaps if you are a young couple who’ve been together for a very short while and have no children or joint property, it’s easier to separate. For the rest of us, there are a hundred links, some visible, many invisible, which need to be severed. It’s like cutting off a living organism with profound roots in foreign soil.
  3. You don’t know how much you might be damaging the future generation. Even if you have the best intentions in the world and the most unified approach to parenting, the children will struggle to understand and cope with a divorce. Just imagine what happens when the parents are warring with each other, no one has a clear plan for what happens next and you, the child, are blamed for some of the problems too!
  4. The fault never lies with just one side. It’s tempting to buy into just one side of the story, but the truth always lies somewhere in-between. A marriage seldom falls apart solely through the fault of (the other) person, even though it may be cathartic to believe that for a short while. However, if you continue to believe that, you will never learn from your mistakes and will be an impossible person to live with in your next relationship.
  5. You will feel guilty no matter what. If only I had listened more… If only I had spotted the warning signs earlier and done something about it… If only I could behave more like a grown-up now and not let these emotions get the better of me… If only these children weren’t judging me every day with their eyes…
  6. You will move on, survive and perhaps thrive. You fear for your relationship with your children, your finances, whether you will still have a roof over your head. You go through the motions every day, barely keeping up with the formalities you did not wish for, allowing balls to drop all the time because this kind of juggling isn’t what you wanted to do with your life.

It seems difficult to believe in a period of meltdown, but the hatred won’t last forever in its volatile state as an unstable isotope. You have a choice. You can either allow it to harden into an ice-cold little kernel which will prevent you from ever trusting anyone again. Or you can let it decay, evaporate, blow away like fine dust… and build a more stable isotope to take its place.

Here is a song that has helped me through these last few days in particular, but also for most of the year.

Sia: Unstoppable

 

Goodbye for today, from your Porsche with no brakes and, despite everything, no fear of speaking her mind…