Tag Archives: ambition

Not Writing

I’m writing. I write most days but rarely aim to publish. And it seems to me that’s the problem. I love to write but I baulk at publishing, going public. It’s like exposing your soul, I think. But that’s the point surely, writing must be read. And I agree, but not by someone else, it’s mine, secret and safe. Except I’ve recently lost my work-in-progress notebook, worse I think I left it in a hotel in Kelso…someone, a complete stranger, could be rifling through my notes right at this moment and thinking…well I hate to wonder what they might think.

It seems to me there are many reasons why people write. I’m the worst kind, the writer who locks herself away and reels off page after page of passionate prose, and edits it down to a sentence next day. I’m constantly appraising my work, destroying one set of words and replacing them with another. That’s the trouble with word processors, it’s the literary equivalent of a chalk board, but I do scribble copious notes in my notebooks and, truth be told, that’s where the bones of my stories are placed.

Now anyone looking at my desk at this very moment might think I’m in complete and utter meltdown. Although a larger than average desk (it came from a public library) very little green leather surface can be seen because it’s littered with notebooks. But each of these hand-written tomes are used for a different purpose – I keep notes about the craft of writing in one (all the tips ever received from other writers and writing workshops) which obviously I need to check regularly. The second contains source materials and references to facts, so when necessary (and more than once a day) I can find my original sources of research. And then there’s the largest (and the only one with scribblings on every page) which contains the very first outline of my pending novel, except this recently flowed into a second volume, now inconveniently missing.

I’m reminded of a handbag for all the wrong reasons. What handbag? The one in which poor Earnest was deposited when his nurse misplaced him for her novel. That poor woman went unpublished. Perhaps Oscar Wilde was right; women haven’t the temperament to write novels and remain sane.

This one’s dedicated to you Scott, wherever you might be.

Mess or management?

Mess or management?

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Momentous Times

In the King household the year 2015 is going to be marked by ‘milestone’ birthdays and ‘special’ anniversaries. I should probably be anticipating these occasions with great joy but I wish it was possible to slow the pace down, just a little.

When my daughter was at university, studying psychology, a professor suggested she should write her obituary – To make you aware of what you want to be remembered for.  I thought that was very dark indeed – almost like tempting fate but, for me, birthdays have exactly the same effect. Inevitably I wonder how many more ‘milestone’ birthdays will there be? I’ve tried to ignore the fact that 2015 has already begun but before we get close to celebrating I want to reflect on my reasons for having reservations.

Twenty years ago, with another ‘milestone’ birthday looming, I decided it was time to take a break from pushing my academic boundaries. I’d spent four years studying with the Open University and absolutely enjoyed the challenge but was finding it increasingly difficult to find a balance between my goals and those of my husband and two children. I wasn’t good at half measures and every spare minute was dedicated to reading and research, especially at weekends. At the time we lived ‘over the shop’ and our bespoke craft business had been expanding steadily. With an increased clientele came the need for me to be more available, more hands-on. And our children were growing up, they would soon both be teenagers and I wanted more time for us to do ‘things’ together. In short I felt guilty.

Then, during the first week of that year, life was sent into turmoil when my son fell ill with pneumonia. He’d been suffering from tonsillitis for weeks but the morning I opened the door to his bedroom and found him too sick to respond my instincts went into overdrive. I rang our GP immediately, telling him I was coming to the surgery whether there was an available appointment or not. I scooped my ten year old into my arms, laid him in the back of the car wrapped in a blanket, and drove like a fury into town. David was prescribed three different antibiotics for the next month, but he recovered. And just to help his recovery we took him ice skating.

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Ten years later another ‘momentous’ year loomed. Our business had expanded, everything seemed rosy. We rented a villa in Spain and invited my sister-in-law and her family to join us. The idea was to celebrate together in the sun (except our son couldn’t make it because he was training in Poland) prior to the ‘occassions’ in November. Without trawling over particulars the effective event was that one day my husband nearly drowned while helping to save two little boys and their father from drowning. A vicious rip-tide nearly wiped away our future. Thankfully everyone survived with only minor injuries (and twenty-four hours in a Spanish hospital) but the drama of that day sits in my memory as clearly as any movie and our lives were changed in the knowledge that everything could so easily have turned out differently.

Spain 2005 near disaster

Each of these events led to a tidal change in our lives, driving us towards new goals, new directions which were ultimately more demanding but immeasurably enriching. So forgive me if I approach this year tentatively. I have good reason. And I refuse to make any resolutions, but I’ve written the obituary, just in case.

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Best Laid Plans

Busy family life

Busy family life

Well both grandsons are off to school (Reuben’s first year, Oscar’s second), summer is drawing to a close and I’m all fired up ready to proceed with my Grand Plan – back to writing that novel again. Seriously!

Eight thirty in the morning I’m sitting at my desk, fingertips at the ready, but almost immediately the phone rings.
‘You’ll have to come to work’ – husband’s voice – ‘there’s a couple of things I need you to look at urgently’.
OK. So I jump into the car and drive straight to our business premises five minutes away.

All the problems are solved quickly but once at work I decide I might as well open the day’s post and sort through some invoices and then I remember I need to pop into town to get some food for dinner. And might as well drop off the ironing – after a houseful of visitors last week it’s all piled up and there’s this wonderful local business where the ladies are better than fairy godmothers.

Lunchtime already? I’m just settling down for a quick snack before starting work on my Grand Plan when the phone rings again.
‘Are you doing anything’ – daughter Sam’s voice – ‘only I need to pop to town for an appointment and Delilah’s asleep?’
No problem, Sam promises she will just be an hour – I grab my tablet, proving I’m trying hard to succeed with the Grand Plan and it makes me seem like an avant-garde gran.

Delilah wakes after less than half an hour. As soon as I pop my head around the door she takes my hand and leads me on a route march around her house, a guided tour, discharged in a language of her own making which she assumes I comprehend. As we enter the kitchen she waves a finger at the tap – time for a drink of water? Already, at one year old, her nature leaves me in no doubt she had a previous existence as a headmistress.

Sam arrives home. Relieved of duty I can shoot off home but as I leave she hands me a bag of freshly picked damsons surplus to requirements…if I don’t want them perhaps great-gran would?
It seems sensible to take the damsons straight to mum’s, it’s not very far, almost en route, and they’ll only go rotten if I take them home. Having had a spectacular harvest this year we’ve got piles of ripe fruit gently going rotten in assorted bowls and we can only eat so much jam and chutney and the freezer is full.

Dad’s mowing the lawn. As soon as I appear he stops work and leads me to the garage, a look of smug triumph on his face. Ever since my parents moved here two years ago the garage has been full to bursting with household goods and furniture deemed no longer useful. We suggested they give all the stuff they no longer want or need to charity shops but old furniture is bulky and unfashionable and even local auction houses aren’t interested in taking it. However dad has discovered a man with a van (a community charity) and he is coming to take everything away later today, so last chance if I want anything.

I’d been meaning to grab their emergency fridge –newer and smarter than the one we have at work and doesn’t need defrosting. And then there’s the brass coffee table – can’t let that go because I have its twin. But it’s hardly fair not to take them away immediately. Dad’s been waiting long enough to park his car inside the garage – it’s so untidy cluttering up the drive.
Husband isn’t too pleased but comes immediately. Another essential job done and dusted.

Now where was I? Better make the dinner…..best laid plans and all that. I’ll just have to start on my big plan tomorrow.

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Dust

I love this time of year. It’s late May and the weather is getting warmer, saplings burst forth beneath a cerulean sky and puffs of snow-white clouds hover upon the horizon. The days are getting longer but summer hasn’t quite arrived; the countryside radiates with wild flowers, with fresh, green-scented renewal. And that effervescent energy, that primeval life-force, seems to spill into our very being. Nature’s providence drives human motivation. But I suspect spring is also nature’s way of keeping women-kind indoors.

 

Maybe it’s the unique angle of sunlight as it beams through the windows, acting like a magnifying glass on every speck and filament of dust, but nobody would believe I ever took up arms with the Dyson. Glistening in the clarifying light is a finite veil of dust that mocks my frequent battles. I suspect this evidence proves that nothing is really taken away, just re-cycled. Like Superman, dust is virtually indestructible.

 

Anyway this got me thinking about the motivation behind spring cleaning. Were our iron-age sisters as concerned about dirt when spring cast her beams through the doorway? Because I suspect this impulse runs very deep. And how many battles might never have been fought if women-kind denied those instincts for a spring-cleaning splurge? Did the men-folk, lacking any impulse to defeat a foe as oblivious as dust, spur their energies into other (outdoor) activities…..such as hunting, and picking fights with the neighbours? And I was always taught the reason medieval wars generally launched in spring had something to do with the harvest. History could be told quite differently if dust was a perspective.

 

Which started me wondering what other traditionally ‘masculine’ sports are activated by spring? Perhaps it’s no coincidence May is the preferred month for elections? And what accolades might I have achieved if it wasn’t for an impulse to sweep the remains of winter out of the house? A quick run through Google confirms my suspicions, the activity of Spring-cleaning occurs world-wide, Wiki’ even proposes it was first ‘celebrated’ in ancient Persia! But I believe this urge is so instinctive, so primeval, it would hardly be recorded until some well-placed power-monger, realising the value of keeping women busy at home, timed the most iconic events and festivals to coincide with what was already a natural and well-known phenomenon. So the war against dirt became sacred and anyone trying to change things is still accused of ‘stirring up dust’.

 

I’m looking again at the dust spun patterns on my window-sill, at the silver-framed pictures of my family, at the pottery dancing figure my daughter made when she was twelve, and tucked in an old blue candlestick I see a Lego flower has been planted. It’s an alien, plastic creation and I know exactly which grandson is responsible. He’ll laugh when I show him! Tricked gran again, putting something where it’s not meant to be, messing up the tidy humdrum of life in wonderful creative chaos. Proof, as if I need it, that I don’t live in a laboratory, but a home. Dust is a by-product of contentment and the fact it remains in-situ merely evidence of a busy life. And what doesn’t get re-distributed can be described as enchanted, as fairy-dust waiting for action.   

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Wishes and Resolutions

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Chinese New Year involves writing wishes on red cards and tying them to a wishing tree. I came across this photograph just as I was setting down my resolutions for the coming New Year. Taken in January 2011 I was en route to a family wedding in New Zealand and stayed in the city just a couple of nights. Although much has happened since the picture was taken I still haven’t managed to achieve any of the goals I set myself (perhaps the wishes were left in Hong Kong?). So this year I’ve decided I must make my resolutions less abstract, because I believe the time has come to knuckle down, work harder and not rely on wishes.

First, I am going to formulate a strategy, a working plan, in order to achieve all I want. I will list everything I need to do in order to succeed. I’ll write it in pencil, so it can be altered, but hang it firmly on my study wall in plain and obvious sight.

As I want these goals to be successful I mustn’t reach too high or too far outside my comfort zone, that wouldn’t work at all. So I’ll break down them down into smaller resolutions that can be measured by accomplishment or disseminated into lesser goals should the need arise. I aim to be pragmatic.

And knowing, as I do, how family and friends generally play havoc with my timetable, I will bend my resolutions around their schedules, being born a willow rather than an oak.

So here they come:

Listen and observe in greater measure – use the tools of discovery.

Limit time spent on the internet. It is so easy to lose precious hours on-line – sometimes I think it should be called the Empty-net.

Write every day. Even if this doesn’t produce anything worth reading the practise is quite necessary.

Expect more people to read what I’ve written as and when it’s finished. Extend your reach.

And finally, don’t be afraid to finish what you’ve started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Me, my-self, I

I’m not sure where I lost myself but I do know it happened somewhere between leaving adolescence and arriving at menopause. The bustle of day-to-day routine took up the slack of ambition and made me into a very different person from the one who came into being. Somehow the ‘who’ I should be became the ‘who’ I am.

 

Now I’m not suggesting it’s a bad thing to lose oneself. Some very great things are achieved by change. But lately I worry about losing the ‘me’ who formed decisions based on what I wanted or liked. The ‘I’ has been diluted to the point it’s impossible to make any deliberate decision unless convinced it parries with the wants of every other member of the family, and that’s a growing list these days.

 

Of course I have to blame myself.

 

I think, therefore I am. But I think of others’ first, therefore I am not.

 

I’m a wife, mother, sister, daughter, gran….my life is full. But the essential person that is me seems to have disappeared. And so I fluster when asked what I want…..not because I don’t know but because it’s somehow lost, or buried. Is it selfish to want to find me? One thing I’ve learned from my grandchildren is that character is stamped at birth. Time waters down the obsessions, disciplines our wildest dreams, but I’ve found growing old has dissipated the expression of self that made me an individual.

 

And I finally understand my own grandmother who dressed up to the nines in her nineties and went out in style. The photo shows her in her teens, riding her favourite motor-bike.Image

 

 

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My Routine

I made an off-the-wall remark to a friend that it must be easier to be a writer if you are (a) male and (b) single. I didn’t intend to be cynical, just stating a truth. She couldn’t see my point so I had to explain my average day.

 

I’m generally up early. Not as early as my brother who gets up at 5.45 every morning so he can get some house-jobs done before he goes to work, but I prefer to write first thing, before anything can interrupt my thoughts, and I head straight to my office/library/private space as soon as I get up with a cup of tea in hand. However my grandsons (age 2 and 4) get up at 5 most mornings so it isn’t unusual for my daughter to turn up extremely fraught and in need of support even before my husband gets up for work at 8. And because we have our own small business, or rather he has his own small business and I do the nuts and bolts running of it (accounts, paper-work, etc) sometimes I’m needed and sometimes I can spend my whole day writing. Bliss. Except things very rarely run to plan.

 

If, and it’s rare these days, I manage to reach mid-day without some crisis wanting attention, I stop writing to have lunch with my husband. Funny how we adapt to life as our parents knew it, his father always came home for lunch and he follows the same routine. Which can be very frustrating! Not that he expects me to get lunch organised but it’s the stopping mid-flow or feeling guilty if I don’t join him. Guilt, that’s a whole other essay.

 

Afternoons are tricky. My daughter is expecting (currently overdue by 3 days) a third baby but she’s still working (local youth leader with umpteen projects on the go) and so the grandsons come to me after nursery. The boys have the run of the garden and I make their tea and occupy them until their daddy collects them on his way home from work. I have a very, big garden which they love to explore but if it’s cold or raining they like to watch a film, play games or make things. I once tried to dive back to my notebook when I thought they were engrossed but learned the hard way – it’s surprising how far toddlers can wander in five minutes. And when I asked (calmly) why didn’t you answer gran when she called, their enthusiastic reply – we were being invisible. Silly gran.

 

Intersecting my ‘spare’ time are many other commitments, both regular and fleeting. Things might need sorted for my son, a figure skater who currently trains in Florida. He and his partner competed in the Vancouver Winter Olympics (Pairs Skating) and are hoping to qualify for Sochi next year. There was a fascinating article about him in the local newspaper this week, which has left us all rather puzzled. Journalists can be very loose with their facts. Anyway my daughter was slightly miffed because it coincided with a beautiful full-colour article about her up-coming summer music and youth festival. My oldest grandson also featured in a separate article because his nursery won a prize at the carnival and he was elected to hold the trophy – he looks extremely proud because he thought it just like the ‘Piston Cup’ in Cars.

 

It’s very encouraging to think my children are newsworthy but I’d really like to be finding personal success for my literary efforts. No! I’m not jealous of their achievements, just wishing I could be as single-minded. My husband asked why it’s taking so long to write one book – in all honesty I wanted to write since leaving school which is a very long time indeed – when some writers churn out one novel a year! And it’s my fault – I just like to believe I can do everything. 

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