I’ve fallen off the wagon (today is really Day 13 of the 14-day challenge), but I do have a doctor’s note… After weeks of red, swollen, painful joints and limited mobility in my one ‘good’ useable hand, after an x-ray on Tuesday, after a visit to my GP yesterday, I have a diagnosis. The good news is it’s NOT rheumatoid-arthritis, yay! It is inflammatory osteoarthritis and this ‘flare up’ could last 2 to 3 months… and only if I limit its use as much as possible (not easy when my right arm is totally paralysed), so no more typing, scrolling, computer work for me, or any ‘unnecessary’ tasks So, yet another enforced blog break… And if you see me wandering around with unbrushed hair and unbuttoned clothes, you’ll know why.
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Getting so close to double figures!! I can do 5 more days to see through the 14 days, can’t I? Can I?! Sadly today’s prompt/exercises are not that helpful, as they’re all about fiction writing – which I really have no desire to do. When I did Nanowrimo a couple of years ago, I wrote over 44,000 of a story, but I can’t say I enjoyed the process.. It rather unnerved me, spending 30 days (and more than a few wakeful nights) with non-real people in a non-real place. I felt disconnected from the people around me, and more worryingly, from myself 😦 Nowadays, I read very little fiction (although I did pick up this yesterday as there was a coupon in the weekend paper to pay £9 rather than the full £20!!). I’d sooner read a memoir or a collection of essays – and to be honest, I’d sooner write them. So I’ll peck away on the keyboard for half an hour on ‘why I enjoy football’ (another item on my Day 3 list) and see what transpires…
Yesterday evening England played Kosovo in a Euro 2020 Qualifying match (at least the national team matches are still shown on terrestial TV! I refuse to pay Sky’s or BTSport’s exorbitant prices after already paying the licence fee). It was a good game (England won 5-3, so lots of goals), and live sport is exciting, as the final outome really isn’t known (it should have been all done at half-time as England were leading 5-1, but if the team makes mistakes in defence, they’re going to pay for it!) And Kosovo, playing in their first ever European Championships, played with wonderful skill and heart!
So any live sport is exciting to watch, but my love for football is as much about nostalgia as entertainment. My grandad was a lifelong Liverpool fan (as were all the family, except Uncle Ronnie who deliberately rebelled and supported Everton), and I have such memories sitting on his knee, eyes glued to the screen. In the 1970s and 80s, Liverpool won everything, and as a family, we would gather on FA Cup final day. Usually, the women were in the kitchen chattering and making snacks, the cousins would be playing in the big back garden, and the men would be watching the match. As I just wanted to be with Grandad, I would watch the football, and he was always so patient, explaining quietly to me what was happening on the screen (I was probably the only 6 year-old who knew the off-side rule!)
So football reminds me of my beloved grandad (who died when I was 13), and I have always supported Liverpool FC in his memory. There is much wrong with modern football (the wages Premier League players earn are simply obscene; ticket prices for the big clubs’ matches are way beyond the ordinary family’s budget; the FA are simply not doing enough to support smaller clubs; the incidences of rascist abuse are alarming), but the essence of this simple game is still sound: to help your team-mates to put the ball in the opposition’s net, with flair and skill and without malice. To me, as an optimist, it will always be ‘The Beautiful Game’ which can show the best of humanity with grace, skill, passion and fair play. And I’ve seen enough ‘upsets’ in my 50+ years of following football to know, on any given day, any team really can beat any other team – David can, and occasionally does, beat Goliath; the underdog sometimes does have his day – and all those wonderfully hackneyed cliches so beloved of pundits and fan alike 🙂
Ah, Life, it gets busy sometimes, and all our best-laid plans get scuppered… Yesterday, Monday 9.30am, I had a medication review with the doctor (I take A LOT of pills), then I spent the rest of the day with one of my oldest friends (we went to Brownies together!) at her mum’s (who’s a remarkable 90-year-old) who cooked us a fab lunch (pork and bean casserole with mash, homegrown runner beans and peas AND garden plum crumble!). Then today, I was at the hospital for an x-ray at 8.30am on my one good hand (I have very inflamed knuckles – another reason why typing is a slow, painful process), before my weekly hydrotherapy at 9.30am – after which I usually sleep for two-plus hours from sheer exhaustion! All of which is to explain why I’m attempting to write something at 6.15pm on yesterday’s prompt…
It’s a great prompt – it’s all about planning. They show this plan … and ask us to draw up our own. So here’s mine:
Weekly goal: 2,500-3,000 words
Monday: Make notes on essay topic
Tuesday: Rest day (no writing)
Wednesday: Write 500-750 words
Thursday: Write 500-750 words
Friday: Write 500-750 words
Saturday: Write 500-750 words
Sunday: Sabbath, resting, noodling day
Who knows how doable/realistic it is, but hey, it’s a plan… And that’s Day 8 done – yay for me!
Today’s aim is to write for 30 minutes (and yes, Day 7 is yesterday’s prompt – will I ever catch up? May be not, but if I take 20 days to complete this 14-day challenge, so be it! I’m assuming there are no Challenge Police who will barge in and arrest me for Crimes Against Good Writing… ) So 30 minutes freewriting on what? I’m going back to my list from Day 3 and jotting my thoughts on ‘Why books are vital to my well-being’…
I have a long and complex relationship with books – they were a favourite ‘toy’ as a child. I owned very few, but the library van would visit our village every two weeks and I remember vividly clambering up the huge steps to choose my 10 books – oh the deep, bodily joy of the whole process!! I was an early reader thanks to my mother, who loved her Mills & Boon, and liked children to be neat and quiet. I am sure she, or some family member, read to me when I was very young, but I truly don’t member it. I do remember I could read before I went to school, as it was remarked upon. And I know I was one of the youngest kids to read all the books in the school’s library – which certainly wasn’t extensive! (The school had four classrooms and teachers and 100 children – a typical small village school.)
I vividly remember reading The Quangle Wangle’s Hat, and repeatedly choosing it from the library van. I adored Edward Lear’s wacky poetry, ‘The pobble who had no toes’ was another favourite. And when I discovered Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, I was in heaven – I would recite ‘Jabberwocky’ to whoever would listen – on the bus, in shop queues… When I went to Oxford, and walked in Christchurch Meadow – the setting for Alice – I was in heaven. But that quickly changed when I learnt more about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and his penchant for young girls…. I still struggle to separate the man from his amazing gift of word-play, imagination and rhythm – ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ is just so brilliantly composed and a sheer joy to read aloud!
So words, words, words written in books, books, books have the backdrop of my whole life. Books on shelves, or in piles, are the perfect home decor for me 🙂 (Oh, and at least one comfy chair to sit and read in!) And as I got older, the quality of the book production became a factor, not just the words printed inside – the binding, the feel of the paper, the typeface used. I was a member of The Folio Society for many years (I still cannot part with any of the volumes I own, no matter how many times we move house!) I went to learn book-binding, I began calligraphy classes, all to try and emulate the truly amazing books of the Middle Ages. (I would love to learn letterpress, and more advanced bookbinding, but the truth is having only one useable arm rather precludes it – I simply cannot fold, cut and stitch – and I don’t have the dexterity to handle small objects like letter type blocks).
So, instead, I have my beautiful books lining my walls or on display like my gorgeous Bible (my birthday present from hubby this year), and I stroke the pages, and I sigh, and I soak up the sheer beauty and the skill that brought these wonderful objects called books into being. The Gutenberg original was produced in the 1450s (can you believe that??) The first mass produced moveable-type printing. The printed sheets were sold loose, with a book of examples of possible illuminations to decorate them. The buyer then had to get the pages handpainted by an artist, and cut and bound (often with elaborately tooled leather covers). Yes, the Gutenberg Bibles cost less than the first hand-scribed Bibles and Prayer Books, which only kings and queens could afford, but they certainly weren’t cheap!
All this is to say, books are vital to be well-being for they define who I am – I am Claire, the reader of books – and the long, dark months after the stroke when I couldn’t even hold a book, let alone read it, were truly hellish… Who was I, if I couldn’t read?? This is why, this wee painting is so important to me – it is the childhood me, who would escape to the church over the road to read her book, when the shouting at home just got too much… Books mean sanctuary to me – they are a safe place, a place of escape, a place to be who I really am.
Still trying to catch up… Today’s topic (which landed in my email yesterday, as today is actually Day 7 :/) is about finding our writing ‘sweet spot’. There are 3 elements to this sweet spot:
- the right place to write
- the right time to write
- the right amount to write
My ‘right place’ is right here on the sofa in the living room with my feet elevated (they do swell so when they’re down), my trusty laptop on the sofa arm if I’m typing, like now; or with my notebook on my lap if I’m scribbling in my daily journal (see staged desk photo above from a few months ago). The living room is filled with light in the mornings and the view is out on to the back garden where I can see the bird-feeders and the bird bath. There’s always something gong on out there whenever I glance up to ponder a moment. And at this time of year, there’s usually a squirrel or three desperately trying to remember where they’ve buried walnuts from the neighbouring farm’s walnut trees 🙂
My ‘right time’ is first thing in the morning. I’ve always been an early riser, and this is THE best time of day – before anyone else is up, it’s just me, my writing and the birds… The only sounds are the ticking clocks, the occasional crow or pigeon call, and this morning, the boiler turning on for an hour or so to banish the morning chill.
The ‘right amount’ is better measured in time than a word-count for me, mainly because numbers are still a challenge since the stroke 12 years ago. When I took the Nanowrimo challenge a couple of years ago (when I scribbled over 44,000 words in 30 days), the worst part was trying to work out how many words I’d written each day. I wrote by hand, so I had count how many words per line, how many lines per page… It fair flummoxed me every single day 😦 The reason I wrote long-hand is I can write with pen and paper quicker and easier than typing – it’s always been the case, even when I had too hands to type with and even now when I’m having to write left-handed.
Doing this challenge here on the blog, I’m certainly finding I can type for 15-20 minutes without too much difficulty, but beyond that, my arm and hand start to ache. Writing by hand, I just keep writing until I’ve said what I want to say. I’ve never noticed how long I’m writing time-wise, but some days it’s half a page and others it’s several pages…
While I’m doing this 14-day challenge, I’m continuing with my daily writing which I started on 30th March, responding to prompts from this ebook. Some questions are more inspiring than others, and I write accordingly. My aim is to keep going for the whole 365 days, and if our kids one day decide they’re curious about their mother’s favourite bus journey or what she considers her greatest achievement, they’ll flick through the journal pictured above.
I was hoping we’d get the weekend to catch up, but I received Day 6 today, so I’m still behind… ho hum… And we’re supposed to keep writing for 25 minutes (eek!). I may/may not be able to peck at the keyboard that long, but I’ll do what I can.
Today’s prompt is about focusing – ‘razor-sharp’, umm… I’m very much a soft-focus, Romantic kinda gal, so this may be a challenge, but I’ve decided to focus on one of my list of stuff to write about from Day 3: ‘Why I adore the 1920s (or rather the period between the Two World Wars) – so this is for you, Elizabeth 🙂
It’s a huge topic, and I know I could write a book about it, so a wee blog post really can’t do it justice, but I shall type away (unedited) and see where we go… (btw my love of V. Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group is very much a subset of why I love the 1920s/interwar years so. They embody the breaking out of the Victorian Age, in which they were all born and raised, and trying to work out a new way of being – being male, female, writers, painters, intellectuals, cultural influencers. I know they had complicated love lives, but that was all part of their experimental way of being.)
On a very shallow level, I adore the 1920s for the fashion – the flapper dress (it suits my body shape, as essentially I have no waist, bust or hips) – but it also encapsulates the radical departure from the restrictions of the corset, and the new-found freedom for women starting in the First World War, when women were doing jobs usually reserved for men, while the men were away fighting. It’s why I so enjoy Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge – suddenly women (even young Ladies like the Earl of Grantham’s daughter Edith, who drove tractors and helped out on the estate farms) were working in factories and loading bays, and the corsets and the long skirts were totally impractical, so their clothes had to change. As someone who can’t stand being encased in a shirt or jacket, I totally understand the comfort and joy of unstructured clothing! And the short bob haircut – the radical freedom of lopping off all that hair that had had to be pinned and faffed about with every, single day – oh what joy to just brush and decorate with a simple slide!!
This was also the time that women were nearing the end of their suffrage fight for the vote and a political voice (although the vote was only for married women over the age of 30, it was a start!) And it was in the early 1920s that universities finally granted full degrees to women (although my alma mater was the first female college in Oxford in 1879, they only awarded diplomas until 7 October 1920, when women were admitted as full members of the university).
I know the 1920s are often portrayed as the time of the Bright Young Things – drunken, wealthy airheads partying all the time – it was a time of huge social change. The First World War devastated the population, and the Old Order’s influence was slipping and opportunities for women opened up in education and society as a whole. One of Virginia Woolf constant gripes that even though her father was an eminent academic, she and Vanessa received no formal education – they had governesses while their brothers attended the best schools and universities. I can only imagine how it must have grated to be the brightest in the family, yet denied access to the best teachers. I think that’s why she developed her causic wit – in a attempt to compete with the best minds in the country (T.S. Eliot, J. M. Keynes, Bertrand Russell, etc). It’s not her most endearing quality by any means (she could be a real bitch in her letters!), but I can so understand her frustration. Even though I only attended an ordinary, rural comprehensive, I assumed I had every right to attend university if I got the grades. No access was denied me on the grounds of my gender!
Well, my 25 minutes is up! You see, get me spouting on my favourite topics and the time whizzes by! But my hand hurts like heck, so I shall just hit Publish!
I blame the birds for my no-show yesterday… Only a few weeks ago, they were waking me before 4am with their song-filled chatter – now it’s gone 6am and I’m chasing my tail all day trying to catch up!! I did get a post up on my other blog showing my new moonboard, so I wasn’t shirking completely (honest!). And the rest of the day was spent with dear friends I haven’t seen since last summer – all very lovely, but exhausting and I went to bed at 9pm. So there simply wasn’t any time or energy to get writing done for the challenge – not even any noodling or ‘brainstorming’** about writing…
But I’m here today, back on the horse. I may post again with today’s challenge (Day 5), or I may not, depends on how the energy holds out, and I have a meeting this afternoon I’m hosting for which I need to prepare… Oh dear, this is turning into a really moany, complainy post, isn’t it?? I do apologise, but hey, this is all I would have written in my journal, if I weren’t tapping it out here. Some days are like this – just moan, moan, moan – and other days are full of poetry and serenity… and others, well, are full of swearing, and I will not subject anyone to that, just my trusty moleskine pages which are used the blue-hued language (often written in red ink and capital letters when I’m really pi**ed!).
And Day 4’s challenge is something I do naturally anyway – I always have one or more notebooks lying around (and always in my handbag) in which I capture random thoughts. I never get bored (never did as a child either) as my brain never stops pondering, or my eyes seeing, or my ears hearing, or my nose smelling, or my pen jotting words, images, adjectives… When one is very aware of what one’s senses are picking up at any given moment, there is never time to be bored. If anything, sleep is a godsend – being awake – REALLY awake with constantly twitching antenna – is exhausting (the ‘gift/curse’ of being a Highly Sensitive Person, HSP, I guess!) And I admit I’m grateful that my bedtime cocktail of pills usually knocks me out and I rarely remember dreams…
Well, I am supposed to waffle on for 20 minutes today, but to be honest, I’m boring myself, and it’s gone 8.30am, and I really do have stuff to do… So this is it, an honest, moany post, and if you’ve read to the end, I heartily thank and applaud you 🙂
** I really can’t stand this word, or the concept. It’s a buzzword, a lazy word, a non-word, a blah-word
The topic today is about cutting back on the Busyness to make room for writing, which means prioritising and delegating and reframing tasks into what’s really important… My problem is not busyness – or lack of time (I have all the time I could possibly need to write!) No, it’s lack of energy… when one has only X-number of spoons of energy to expend in a day, it’s all about prioritising where that energy is going to go. Getting showered and dressed takes a fair portion of my energy allowance (hence I’m writing here in my pjs 🙂 ). It’s why I do all forms of writing first thing in the morning – daily journal pages, to do lists, emails, blog posts, etc. I take frequent rests and naps throughout the day to bolster my energy reserves to get me through to bedtime.
The other task today is to write a list of all you would write if you had all the time (or energy!) in the world – so here’s my list, in no particular order, just as they occur to me pecking at the keyboard right now:
- why Virginia Woolf is so important to me
- why I long to visit Charleston and Monk’s House
- why I want to visit Iona
- memoir pieces – Oxford, Kenya, California, trying to start a family, early motherhood, my own childhood, the stroke, the past decade
- what/who I mean by ‘God’
- why Art is so important
- what I mean by ‘Soul’
- what are Beauty, Truth, etc.
- why I enjoy tarot/oracle cards
- why books are vital to my well-being
- why writing is vital to my well-being
- why I hardly ever read fiction any more (yet I enjoy film/TV dramas)
- leaving an annotated photo album for the kids of our life so far
- why I enjoy football (lifelong Liverpool FC fan)
- why I adore the 1920s (or rather the period between the Two World Wars)
- why I love trees and being in Nature
- favourite magazines and books (and why they are favourites)
- why writing letters is important
- what is Church?
- the internet – friend or foe?
- what is ‘middle-age’?
- what is personhood?
I guess that’s enough to be getting on with 🙂
Another 15-minute free-write ramble… Today’s topic is ‘social media detox’ in order to create time and space to write, which is guess is worthy but not exactly exciting… I don’t own a smartphone or tablet as I simply can’t use them. I’ve had to learn to do everything left-handed since the stroke and my lack of dexterity means I can’t swipe/tap onscreen correctly… I confess it’s not much of a loss 🙂 I use my granny doro mobile to text/phone and my trusty laptop for the internet. I have my blogroll of favourite sites (mainly blogs), I’m not a fan of Facebook, but there are groups to which I belong, I don’t use Twitter or Instagram. I have a Pinterest account but I don’t really use it. I recently discovered Unsplash (from whence today’s photo comes) – the photography IS amazing, but it explains why so many websites look rather samey. I prefer to use my own photos on the blog – the quality is pretty naff, but they ARE genuinely mine 🙂 Being ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ online is as important to me as being so in real-life interactions. We’re all just muddling through each day the best way we can; we’re all fighting private battles, hence BE KIND is my watch-word. The Perfect Life doesn’t exist, but ordinary, everyday Beauty does, so that’s what I seek – both online and in Life. I can’t pretend I don’t get envious – but not for the pristine insta-life or in the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) sense. No, I am envious of those who can get in their car and drive down to take their kid out for a surprise lunch (our two are making their own lives now, one in Cambridge, one in Oxford). I am envious of those who can just go a local exhibition they’ve seen advertised when they have a spare hour or two… Or go for a ramble in favourite woodland or across the nearby fields. Being dependent on others to go anywhere (both to drive and to push my wheelchair when we get there) is limiting and removes both independence and spontaneity. And having to assess if somewhere is wheelchair-accessible beforehand is just plain annoying So actually the internet is quite a godsend – I can ‘visit’ amazing places without physically trying to get to them. I can ‘visit’ interesting homes anywhere in the world without trying to figure out if I can get up their front step. I confess, I still prefer to do such things in paper-magazines than online. I find reading onscreen tiring and prefer reading non-glossy magazines – I recently went to a local WHSmiths and was happily amazed to see SO many magazines and books. I remember the naysayers declaring the end of real print now everything was available online. Clearly, human beings still like to physically handle a book or magazine; to flick through the pages to see if they connect with the words/images. I bought this magazine, which was a wonderful find 🙂
Here I am. I’m showing up… I’m writing for 15 minutes right here – and yes, this is totally unedited, steam of consciousness… It’s Day 1 of the 14 day writing challenge (see the button in the sidebar). September is THE month – the beginning of the new school year, the beginning of my favourite season, Autumn, (although the horse chestnut leaves have been browning for a little while around here). Already, there are misty mornings which give way to bright sunshine – there is truly NOTHING like the light of an English September morning!! The birds are getting up later – a few weeks ago, they were waking me before 4am; this morning, it was 5.30am! And the nights are drawing in – getting dark as early as 8.30pm, whereas a few weeks ago, it never really got totally dark, even at 3am! So, the hours of September daylight are precious and golden. They ARE Keatsian – a life-long favourite poet. I was besotted by him aged 17, when we studied the Romantic poets for A-level English. Certainly, no schoolboy could compete for my affections – I lapped up every word from his pen – his poems, his letters, his quiet intensity. Forget that Mr Darcy character, I was a Keats groupie through and through!! And that adoration has never waned – and fair crystallised when I saw Jane Campion’s Bright Star film 10 years ago. It’s stlll my go-to dvd when I need a reminder of the delicate beauty of human love, although I’m still cross Ben Whishaw didn’t recite the whole of my favourite-ever sonnet ‘When I have fears I may cease to be’. I recited this poem countless times in my head when I couldn’t speak or read in the long months after my stroke. It become a touchstone, the proof that I was still ME even though half my body was paralysed and twisted, and my mouth and throat could only produce wounded-animal noises. Although a portion of my brain died when the clot denied it of oxygen that May morning in 2007, I was still ME – that teenage girl madly in love with John Keats, that 43-year-old wife and mother wading through the treacle of consciouness, trying to make sense of the world of bright hospital lights, constant noise and sensory overload… I was still ME, because I – I could remember John Keats and fragments of his poems learnt 25 years before.