Monthly Archives: July 2013

Wednesday Write-In #50

This week’s words were:

recycled  ::  hindsight  ::  manic  ::  pair  ::  button up

Image: askmen.com

Queen, Mother

Looking back, my mother’s struggle becomes very clear. I always knew when she was going through a bad time; I just didn’t know what to call it, then. The first sign was her lips – when they disappeared, I knew it was time to batten down the hatches. Then her eyes would start to bulge, and she may as well have had her thoughts – zip, zip, zip, zip, zipzipzipzipzipzizizizizip – projected onto her forehead for me to see, a jumble of colours and shapes and sounds that had meaning only for her. All I was sure of was that her mind was somewhere else, somewhere that loved her, in its own way, and liked to keep hold of her just as much as I did.

It was just the two of us. Sisters-in-arms, Mum liked to call us. Dad was long gone. I could never imagine his face in colour because all we had of him was a single black and white exposure which sat in a frame on the hall table, but at least he was smiling in it. He had teeth and hair and perfectly crinkled crows’ feet, just like an old-time movie star. I used to stare at him for hours, wondering how someone who looked like him could have made someone who looked like me.

She woke me up early, that morning, so early the sky was the colour of metal and the birds were still asleep. Come on, she said. Let’s do something wonderful. My eyes stung as I slid out of bed and followed her to her room. She’d taken out every stitch of clothing she owned and laid it neatly on her bed, the floor, the top of her chest of drawers… everything was folded, and perfect, and precise. I helped her pack it all away into her rolling suitcase and as many plastic bags as we thought we could carry, and off we went to donate it, every bit, to the war effort.

We’d been trudging for an hour, my arms almost dislocated from their sockets, before I thought to ask her what war? And what could they possibly want with my mother’s old underwear?

Her legs were so long, and her stride so elegant. She walked like a queen – I shall always remember that! – her suitcase behind her like a lady-in-waiting. She was so fast, and when she talked to herself, she never remembered to talk to me. I struggled after her, listening for the clopclopclop of her shoes, doing my best to carry heavy bags of coats and dresses and nightgowns, all of them bearing her scent. I remember her tall and slender back, disappearing. Distantly, absently, I heard the squeal of brakes, but by the time I caught up, there was a small crowd gathered, and they wouldn’t let me near.

The woman who came back home with me to collect my things was very kind. She explained how I couldn’t live here any more, but that soon I’d have a new home and family, and they’d love me very much. She wouldn’t answer when I asked her how mother would find me; she just folded her lips around one another like she was sealing an envelope, and concentrated on getting me into my coat. We were in such a hurry that I almost walked by Dad without remembering to bring him. Wait! I said, stretching back to grab him. My father! The lady took the photo from me and looked at it. Your father? But that’s… Then, her face unravelled, and she smiled down at me as she handed back the tiny frame. Come along, darling, she said. Bring Daddy, and then let’s go.

I left the photograph lying face down on the hall table as we closed the door on an empty house, my mother’s perfume still hanging in the air.

Image credit: askmen.com

Good Idea Bad Idea

If, having read the title of today’s blog post, you’re now thinking of the Animaniacs, all I can do is apologise. Or, I suppose, say ‘you’re welcome’, depending on your opinion of the aforementioned ‘lovable’ creatures. If you have no idea who or what the Animaniacs are, don’t worry. It shouldn’t impede your enjoyment of the post.

Anyway. On with the show!

Image: mysobersunday.wordpress.com

Image: mysobersunday.wordpress.com

So, me blogging about ideas is nothing new – have a look here if you’d like a blast from the past – but today I’d like to think about the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ideas, in the hope it’ll save someone, somewhere, a bit of time and energy.

Of course, I have to start out by saying it’s important to be constantly on the lookout for new ideas. I’m also now having second thoughts about whether it’s helpful to classify ideas into ‘good’ or ‘bad’; in essence, all ideas are ‘good’ ideas. Perhaps it’s better to describe them as ‘mobile’ or ‘stationary’ ideas, in other words ones you can do something with, and ones you cannot. For example, at the weekend I walked into a bookshop – not exactly unexpected – and was immediately struck by something weird. My attention was dragged away from the books, if you can imagine such a thing, by low, throbbing, strange-sounding music which sounded like a chant. I found it very soporific and quite bewitching, and immediately an idea began to slither into my mind. Just as I was about to grab my phone to start tapping notes into it, I realised a couple of things.

First, I realised that this idea I was having was a bad (or, perhaps, ‘stationary’) one. It was an idea which wasn’t going to go anywhere and wouldn’t ever become the basis for a strong story, and because of this, I put my phone away and let it fade. I also realised that the reason I knew this – that the idea wasn’t a usable one, I mean – was because it was based on a movie I’d seen, years ago. As I kept thinking about it, scenes from the movie actually started playing inside my head. I had forgotten the movie when I’d first heard the music in the bookshop, and the primal power of the idea behind it had grabbed my brain. When I’d thought about it, however, the truth became apparent – this idea wouldn’t work not because it was a ‘bad’ idea necessarily, but because it was a ‘stationary’ one; it had been used before, and not by me. I still remember the sensation of walking into the shop and feeling like I was walking into a spell because the music was so strange and enticing (it turned out to be Leonard Cohen, fact fans, just being played at such a low volume that I didn’t recognise it for several long minutes); that sensation, that feeling, may well end up being used in a story of mine. But the main idea – a boy being bewitched in a strange old bookshop and being sucked into a story and/or a story coming to life – is, I realised, somewhat of a cross between ‘The Never-Ending Story’ and ‘Inkheart.’ Unless something else occurs to me, something completely new and unique which I can weave into this basic idea, then this particular story seed is going to remain dormant.

I mean, come on. How would I ever top this? Image: sufirangga.blogspot.com

I mean, come on. How would I ever top this?
Image: sufirangga.blogspot.com

It’s important, I think, when you feel the rush of inspiration wash over you, not to always go with the first idea that comes to you. Chances are, you see, that the ‘idea’ is not your own. Our brains are filled with all the things we love, all the time – all our favourite books, movies and TV shows, the stories which have shaped our lives. They are at our fingerprints as readily as our memories are, and you mightn’t even realise that this is true until you start trying to map and keep track of your own ideas. If you don’t encourage your brain to have second and third and fourth thoughts about the inspirational things you encounter every day, you may run the risk of repeating ideas that have already been had, either by you or (more likely) someone else. There is so much newness and wonder out there, so many ideas ready to be discovered, that it would be a shame to use and re-use the same bunch time and time again.

It’s important to say, too (particularly in light of yesterday’s blog post), that every idea a person has is going to vary slightly from any idea that has gone before. Everyone will sprinkle a little newness over any idea they have, and that’s wonderful. Sometimes, however, you’re going to have an idea and you’ll be really enthusiastic about it and you’ll have a whole story arc planned out – and then it’ll strike you. ‘Oh yeah,’ you’ll say to yourself, sadly. ‘That’s the plot of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’, isn’t it? More or less?’ Then, you might have to take your story and chuck the whole thing out, and that would be a shame. Particularly if you’ve been working on it for a while and you have lots of words written.

Not that I know from personal experience, or anything. I’m just using my imagination here, trying to picture how it must feel to realise, too late, that an idea isn’t really yours. Of course.

'Oh, really? That sounds highly illogical to me.' Image: pipeschool.blogspot.com

‘Oh, really? That sounds highly illogical to me.’
Image: pipeschool.blogspot.com

If the idea of having an idea that’s inspired by another work of art doesn’t bother you too much – and perhaps it shouldn’t, really, because that’s what a culture is about, after all, works of art influencing and reflecting one another, to an extent – then think about this: if you always go with the first idea to strike you, then you might risk writing stories full of clichés and overused tropes. If it’s the first thing to strike you, chances are it’ll be the first thing to strike most people. And who wants to be just like everyone else?

One final caveat: this post is, like all my posts, based entirely on my own experience. I’d love to hear another take on this, particularly if you fancy telling me I’m talking a load of old rubbish. What are your thoughts about ideas, inspiration, and popular culture?

Finding Your Voice

Every new Monday is like a new year, for me. I make resolutions to be focused, professional and productive; I make out my targets for the week ahead; I try to hit the ground running. I have great visions for what the next five days will bring, and I hope to make the most out of every single second of writing time that I can squeeze out of it.

That doesn’t mean I actually achieve any of it, of course. But I try.

Image: educationelf.net

Image: educationelf.net

In the midst of all this businesslike focus, though, it can sometimes be tough to remember that the point of writing is to create something, and that it’s not akin to building an engine or entering data into a spreadsheet; it’s important to keep in mind that in writing, you can’t predict how the working week will go, and how you’re going to feel about your work from one second to the next. It’s also important to remember one other thing: your writing voice, and how it can suffer under pressure. Without your writing voice, of course, you’re in big trouble.

But what does it even mean?

Finding a ‘voice’ is one of these things that everyone agrees is vital for a writer. It’s supposed to be your calling card, your ‘fingerprint’, your unique hook, your selling point. But how do you find it? How do you develop and nourish it? How do you know it’s ‘right’?

Well, in my opinion, the short response is that nobody knows the definitive answer to these questions. Everyone agrees that a ‘voice’ is important – nay, vital – but there are so many differing opinions on how to go about finding it that it should give any sensible person pause. I’ve read some advice which states things like ‘if it feels like work when you’re writing it, then you should probably think about changing your voice’; I’m not sure I agree with that. I’ve come across advice which tells me to imagine my ‘ideal’ reader and write to them – again, that’s problematic. Some advice-givers tell us that a writer’s voice is always an artifice – a construction designed to showcase their brilliant word-choices and their flawless plotting. Once again, you might have guessed I have a problem with this definition. I’ve also seen articles which exhort me to believe that if a person can talk, they can also write – as in, a good oral storyteller will be a good storyteller on paper, too – but I’m pretty sure I don’t believe this, either. I write a lot more clearly and a lot more coherently than I speak, as anyone who’s listened to me ramble on for hours on end will, no doubt, attest.

The riveted audience at one of my famous 'How Interesting Were the Middle Ages?!?' lectures. Image: profalbrecht.wordpress.com

The riveted audience at one of my famous ‘How Interesting Were the Middle Ages?!?’ lectures.
Image: profalbrecht.wordpress.com

The only key to finding your voice, at least as far as I can see, is to write honestly. I’m talking here about creative writing, more than writing with another purpose such as journalism or non-fiction writing, purely because I have more experience with it – I’m sure honest writing makes for more solid copy in journalistic terms, too, though. In terms of fiction writing, including creative writing and blogs, the only things you need to find your voice, in my opinion, are time and courage. Time, of course, is obvious enough – practice as often as possible, write as regularly as possible and get as much feedback as possible over the course of the weeks or months or even years that it takes you to feel comfortable with what you’re producing, and don’t try to rush the process. There is no race to be run – it’s not like there’s a limited amount of voices on offer and the slowest writers are left with the dregs.

But what about courage?

I will find the words! Image: he-man.wikia.com

I will find the words!
Image: he-man.wikia.com

Writing, by itself, is not really a scary thing. The fear of the blank page is common enough, and the terror that comes to all of us who write when the words just dry up and refuse to make an appearance is also well known. The creation of a document – be it a book, an article, a poem, whatever – is (or perhaps should be) more about joy, fulfilment and a sense of rewarding hard work than about fear; to me, the brave bit is what comes after you’ve finished the writing. Firstly, you’ve got to be brave enough to let other people see what you’ve written. And, even more importantly, you’ve got to be brave enough to write what you want to write.

I’ve fallen into the trap myself, many times, of trying to write what I think an editor or a judge will want to read. I’ve tried to change my focus, write a story the likes of which I wouldn’t normally dream of writing, tried to develop a style which might be more in keeping with the sort of thing they normally enjoy – and do you want to know the truth of it? It has never worked. Not once. I’m not sure if it’s because the editor/judge in question has spotted that the work is not ‘authentic’, or because I’m just not very good at writing when it’s not coming from a place of honesty, but either way it just hasn’t been worth the effort of changing my voice to suit someone else. Being brave enough to write what you want to write can sometimes mean you still won’t win the competition you’ve entered or that you run the risk of not impressing the person to whom you’ve submitted your work; at least, though, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you wrote a ‘true’ piece, something that was meaningful to you. The work will be stronger for it, even if it’s not to the taste of the judge or editor who has the task of evaluating it. Writing is an extremely subjective business, too – so how are you to build up your own voice if you’re constantly changing it to suit the vagaries of editors and judges?

In my opinion, then, you shouldn’t listen to any advice you get on the internet (including this blog post) about how to find and cultivate your writing voice. My opinion is write what you want to write, polish it as hard as you can and be proud of every word, and submit it with courage until you find someone who responds to the notes of honesty and conviction in what you’ve written. However, of course, take that advice with a pinch of salt. Writing should be fun, but it is also hard work and a craft which needs honing and polishing; finding a voice is like learning how to use grammar and how to construct a sentence. It takes time, but it’s worth the journey. It’s not something which should be rushed, and it’s not worth trying to take shortcuts to achieve it. Just write with your soul in your fingertips, and be brave.

And, of course, patient.

Book Review Saturday – ‘Dark Warning’

I came upon this book while searching for new reads by Irish authors. Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, a writer based in Co Wicklow, fit the bill perfectly; ‘Dark Warning’ was my first introduction to her work. Since reading it I have also purchased ‘Hagwitch’, another of her books, and I’m on the lookout for ‘Timecatcher’, which I believe is her first novel.

So, you might be able to guess that I’ve become a fan.

Image: marielouisefitzpatrick.com

Image: marielouisefitzpatrick.com

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, which takes place in Georgian Dublin. It’s not a setting I’ve often come across in fiction, and I was immediately interested. The novel is steeped in the language, slang and geography of that period, including places and streetnames (like the wonderful Thundercut Alley and Smithfield Market) and is extremely well written from that point of view. This is helped by the fact that Ms. Fitzpatrick chooses to take a real-life Dublin character of that time, ‘Billy-the-Bowl,’ as a major character in her story, weaving events from his life through the tale of her protagonist, young Taney Tyrell. If you’re going to read this story, and you don’t already know the legend of ‘Billy-the-Bowl’ (sometimes ‘Billy-in-the-Bowl’), then don’t Google him beforehand and spoil the surprise for yourself. Let the story unfold as it should, is my advice.

Taney lives in Smithfield, in the city centre, with her Da, her stepmother Mary Kate, and her (extremely cute-sounding) little brother Jon Jon. Her mother died when Taney was a child, but despite this she is a living, breathing presence throughout the story. Her mother’s life, and aspects of her character, live on in Taney; she resembles her, and shares some of her otherworldly talents. From our first meeting with Taney, we realise that she has gifts which transcend the ‘norm’ – she can see things before they happen, and has the potential to read fortunes, though this is a talent we see her develop as the book goes on. Most frighteningly, she sometimes loses control of her ‘spirit’, drifting away from her body with a sense of tempting freedom, and must struggle hard to control this. Taney is often told how dangerous her gifts are, and is told only that they ‘destroyed’ her mother – she isn’t told why or how. Also, she must keep them secret, though this proves difficult. Ella’s fate is darkly hinted at throughout, though Taney doesn’t find out exactly what happened to her mother, and how it’s connected to their shared gifts, until the end of the story.

Taney meets Billy by the shores of the river Liffey one day after a particularly bad spell of bullying by the other children in her locality. He saves her from their mistreatment, and they become close friends. I got the impression that Taney develops a crush on Billy, though she never says anything to that effect – he is described (in accordance with the historical record of him) as being remarkably handsome and personable, as well as extremely charming and friendly, and well known by all. Billy is noteworthy also because has been born without legs, and manages to get around in his ‘bowl’ – or, a half-barrel, made specially for him by the coopers in Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery. He uses this bowl, together with two ‘clubs’, to speed around the cobbled streets he calls home. Rejected by his mother at birth, Billy was raised by nuns, and is constantly on the run from inspectors from the House of Industry, who want to take him in. Billy knows this will spell his doom – he’ll be condemned to a life of hard labour and grim living conditions, for such is what was done with the differently abled in previous eras – and he wishes to avoid this at all costs. So, he and Taney become a team. He protects her from bullies, and she keeps him from his violent, self-destructive depressions, and from harm.

Where this takes a turn for the dark is when Billy discovers Taney’s talents. He begins to make use of her for his own ends, asking her to help him in his gambling exploits. Soon, they amass a healthy fortune, and Taney dreams of escaping to London, to start anew in a city where neither she, nor her talents, are known. Then, her stepmother starts to bring her to work with her in an attempt to take her mind off her ‘dreaming’ – i.e. her gifts – and so her life as a charwoman begins, working in a ‘big house’ for a wealthy family. Billy runs into some difficulty, and she gives him her savings in order to help him out of it, hoping to earn it back and keep her dreams on track. However, she later finds out that Billy is in bigger trouble than she thought, and begins to distance herself from him.

As Taney tries to build her future, and her friendship with Billy starts to fade into her past, talk of a dangerous individual known as the ‘Stoneybatter Strangler’ starts to zip around the streets of Dublin. Taney finds it harder to keep her talents under wraps as she begins to have visions of the women being targeted by the Strangler, including the most unfortunate of the lot, who dies as a result of his attack. She cannot see his face in her visions, but she is torn between wanting her visions to tell her more (so that she might help to apprehend the Strangler) and less (because the visions frighten her, and she worries that they put her in danger, too). When she has a vision of the Strangler attacking a woman she knows and is fond of, Taney cannot control herself any longer, and rushes to intercept him – thereby coming face to face with her own greatest fear.

I was gripped by ‘Dark Warning’ from the first page to the last – it is very well written, and the voice is engaging and fresh. Taney is a wonderful character, and I particularly loved that the book is told in her first-person perspective, so we learn along with her about her talents and their uses, and about the identity of the fearsome Strangler. I found her to be believable, warm, and realistic, no doubt helped by the setting and my own familiarity with Dublin city, but also because of Ms. Fitzpatrick’s use of language and dialogue to describe her, and bring Taney and her family to life. ‘Dark Warning’ is a historical novel which wears its history lightly, a supernatural novel which doesn’t overdo the paranormal aspects, and primarily a story about a young girl finding her way in the world and learning to come out from under her mother’s shadow. It’s a great book, and I hope you check it out.

Happy Saturday! Get out there and read!

Tumblin’

So. I set up a Tumblr blog.

Ever since I did so, I’ve been looking at it little like this:

*bok?* *boooook?* Yes, exactly, Mr. Chicken. Exactly. Image: flickr.com

*bok?* *boooook?* Yes, exactly, Mr. Chicken. Exactly.
Image: flickr.com

It’s difficult for a person like me, who grew up in the Stone Age, to keep up with all this progress. I had just barely managed to get a handle on Facebook when suddenly Twitter burst on the scene; I resisted for years, but eventually caved. Now, every time I turn on my computer there’s some new and largely terrifying-looking technology staring me in the face, trying to convince me my life is meaningless without it. I’m finding Tumblr tough, I’ve got to say – it requires a level of coolness that I don’t think I possess. Not yet, at least. And as for Vine? Don’t even ask me. I set up a Pinterest page a while back, too – or, well, I opened a Pinterest account, which isn’t quite the same thing as pretending to have a Pinterest page, really – which also bamboozles me.

All of these have different passwords, too, of course. Sometimes I feel like a modern chatelaine, except my keys aren’t hanging from my belt – they’re rattling around inside my skull instead.

This is my chatelaine, because I am the *boss*, all right? All right. Image: nps.gov

This is my chatelaine, because I am the *boss*, all right? All right.
Image: nps.gov

Because my skull can be a bit porous when it comes to remembering things like passwords, though, I have them all written down on random scraps of paper, masquerading under codenames, too – I must get them all together, one of these days, so I don’t have to scramble around for half an hour to find a password simply in order to spent five seconds on a particular website. Every time this happens, I tell myself not to let it happen again, and yet it does, repeatedly – as soon as the search is over, you see, the decision to put away the password gets forgotten again. For a person whose working day is largely self-directed, I can at times be the most unorganised klutz in existence. At other times, however, I am more efficient than a cuckoo-clock factory, so let’s hope they balance one another out most of the time.

The benefits of Tumblr – at least, the ones I’ve seen so far – are many. It’s sort of a cross between a blog, Twitter and Pinterest, insofar as you can put up really small blog posts – more like thoughts, really – and you can ‘reblog’ images or .gifs or quotes or whatever you like from other Tumblr users. Because it seems a little less formal a space than WordPress, I went a little bit loopy yesterday and posted a poem to my Tumblr blog, one I wrote myself; it was an experiment, more than anything else, to see how it would appear on the site once I’d posted it. It taught me a lot about how to keep your temper when a document’s formatting won’t appear the way you want it, and how far my patience goes when something just won’t work, and the point at which I’m prepared to sacrifice my artistic vision in order to just get something to post to a website.

(For those who are interested: I’m not very good at keeping my temper when a document’s formatting won’t work; my patience (stretched thin at the best of times) doesn’t go very far when technological stuff refuses to cooperate, and I’m prepared to throw in the artistic vision towel pretty quickly if it means I can wriggle out of trying to figure out things beyond my intelligence level and get back to reading, or writing, or something else I enjoy. So, now you know.)

Anyway, so – a poem. Yeah. Written by me. I really enjoy poetry, but writing it is not my forté, at all. I love to read it, and some of my favourite books are collections of poetry – Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel’, for instance, which I often just dip into for the sheer beauty of it – and I marvel at how a good poet can make the whole world shimmer as you read. Anyway, if you do take the long and arduous trip over to my Tumblr blog, and you read the poem, don’t be expecting Sylvia Plath, is all I’ll say, but if you do read it I hope you enjoy it.

And before anyone asks – no, don’t worry. I’m not considering becoming a poet full-time or anything, so you can all relax on that score.

Trust me, I'm a President. There ain't gonna be no more poetry. Image: blogs.psychcentral.com

Trust me, I’m a President. There ain’t gonna be no more poetry.
Image: blogs.psychcentral.com

It’s Friday, and the sun is shining here, and I’m about to get stuck into another bunch of words. I hope your day is looking good, and that your weekend is shaping up to be a good one. And if anyone wants to send me some Tumblr tips, you know, feel free!

 

 

Just Like Starting Over

This morning, we woke to a refreshed world. Heavy rain fell in most places last night, washing away the dust and dessication of the last few weeks, and the air feels lighter and clearer this morning. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I’m wearing a too-tight hat made of red-hot metal, and a headache isn’t threatening to engulf me. It’s a nice feeling.

Because of all this freshness, several related things are on my mind this morning, things like: learning from the past and then leaving it behind, new beginnings, corners being turned and change being made for the better (hopefully, at least). Today’s the perfect day to think about things like this. The earthy, rich air is coming in my open window and the grass is sighing with relief outside, and everything feels new.

Image: flickriver.com

Image: flickriver.com

Nobody goes through life without making mistakes, or doing things that, on reflection, they would have decided against if they’d been given a second chance; everyone has done or said things which cause them to cringe with embarrassment when they creep into mind weeks or months or even years later. I am no exception, of course. Learning from your mistakes, allowing them to shape your future in a positive way, and eventually letting them go, is a very important life skill. I’ve always had trouble with the ‘letting them go’ part of this model; I find it very difficult, and always have. I tend to hold on to my regrets and my embarrassments, and over time they ferment into something more damaging, something which feels a lot like guilt.

Guilt can be a terribly corrosive emotion – I’m not even sure ’emotion’ is the correct word. Perhaps ‘force’ is better. It’s something which can erode a person’s self-belief and confidence, warping their ability to lay down plans for their future life, robbing them of any ability to move forward and keep going. I’m not talking here about ‘justified’ guilt – i.e. the natural and perhaps deserved guilt a person may feel if they commit a crime or harm someone else or break the law; I’m talking about the pernicious kind, the self-directed, self-harming kind, the sort of guilt that eats you up over mistakes made, things said in anger or in error, things for which you can’t forgive yourself. Things which you carry with you like a ball and chain. I think certain people are perhaps more prone to this sort of thinking than others; perfectionists, for instance, or people who feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are carrying a burden of expectation, or people who are serious, and careful, and who like to be right. People, in short, who can’t deal with the fact that sometimes, they’re going to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and that it’s just another part of life. There has to come a point, however, where this foundation-dissolving guilt is allowed to trickle away, and the person can be washed clean of it; that’s difficult, though, when the person can’t let themselves get past it.

When I make a mistake that causes me to be embarrassed by my own behaviour or when I engage on a course of action that I later regret, I tend to build a skin of forgetfulness over the whole thing; of course, like any skin, it’s vulnerable and porous and prone to being popped. I push away my mistake, I try not to think about my error, I don’t allow myself to deal with it rationally and come to the (inevitable) conclusion: ‘it wasn’t all that bad. What are you beating yourself up over?’ Instead, the memory remains, buried deep, ready to explode at any moment. Like a sore tooth or a niggling pain, though, the awareness of the bubble of guilt deep within me is always there. I might choose to ignore it, but I know exactly where it is. In that way, then, my attempts to forget it, to cover it over, to leave it behind, are all fruitless. It becomes the focal point of my mental life, and an insurmountable obstacle.

I’m not really sure why I do this. Perhaps I’m a bit of a weirdo.

Forgiving oneself, and starting afresh, are not always easy things to do – but they have to be done. You can live your life with a bubble of guilt and regret inside you, but you won’t take any risks, and you won’t do anything for fear of doing something wrong, and you won’t say anything at all for fear of saying something inadvertently hurtful or stupid or embarrassing – and what sort of life is that? I find it difficult to allow myself the space and compassion to make mistakes, to learn from them and atone for them, and to move on without the burden of them hanging around my neck, but as I grow older I am getting better at it. I’m trying to treat myself with more kindness and consideration, and trying to realise that I am going to make mistakes, sometimes, but that it’s perfectly all right. On a day like today, when the cooling rains have come to refresh my little patch of world and make it new, I’m going to make another effort to keep this lesson to the forefront of my mind.

A life of writing, where you are your own sole motivator, is a life incompatible with being handicapped by guilt and regret. You can’t keep moving forward if you’re afraid to move on, after all. It’s time to leave my regrets where they belong and allow myself the freedom to learn, and grow, and move into the future.

Image: guardian.co.uk

Image: guardian.co.uk

Happy Thursday, everyone! It’s almost the weekend. Hang in there…

Wednesday Write-In #49

This week’s words were:

inside and out  ::  tessellate  ::  starvation  ::  floral  ::  sweat

Image: answers.com

Image: answers.com

The Stolen Gift

That morning, she came back to the market. He’d almost given up checking for her when the flash of her dark hair, shining in the early sun, caught his eye. As quick as a blink, though, she vanished again, and his chisel slipped as he searched for her in the crowd. Hissing with pain, he clutched his bruised, sweat-filmed fingers to his chest, hastily checking his work for evidence of his clumsiness. Luckily, thankfully, the line was clean and the tile unscratched.

‘Watch what you’re doing!’ his boss snapped as he passed. ‘How can you work if you break your hand? Foolish boy!’ He spat in the dust at the boy’s feet and stalked away to harangue one of the other apprentices, leaving him alone to fume, embarrassed, over his thoughts.

‘Pay attention!’ he muttered, regaining his grip on the chisel. The job they were working on was the biggest his boss had ever been given, and no mistakes could be made. Each boy had memorised his part of the pattern in order to score and cut and shape every tile without a shred of error, and he closed his eyes and imagined what the prayer room would look like when the floor was laid down. The sea of tiles would interlock as though it had been there since the dawn of time, when everything had been fresh, and clean, and new. Sighing with pleasure, he bent to his work. Carefully, he tapped at the score-mark across the vivid red tile, allowing himself a smile as it snapped cleanly away, the line so straight it could have been cut by the master himself.

A gust of fresh, flower-scented air made him look up. It was like the smooth touch of a hand on his hot skin, or the feeling of a warm meal sliding into his wizened stomach; it had been a long time since he’d felt either of those things, since his mother had passed into eternity. His eyes searched for the source, and when he saw her, standing only a few feet away, he was hardly surprised. Looks like an angel, smells like an angel, he thought, happily. No doubt she also speaks and thinks and acts like an angel. A girl so pretty could not be anything but beautiful inside, too.

She smiled at him. He held her gaze, and returned the smile tenfold.

His hand slid to his pocket. He drew out something small – barely the size of his palm – and placed it carefully on his workbench. He crooked his finger at the girl. Her smile grew shy, but she took a step, and then another, in his direction. He watched her eyes as she looked at it, this tiny thing he’d pilfered fragments for, and risked his neck to make. She saw, and understood, as she looked at the perfect sweep of the black glass shapes, cut with beautiful precision; she looked at the golden yellow of the pattern within, and the way it blended with flecks of red, all fitting together without a hint of disharmony. Deep blue surrounded the black, the colour of beauty – the colour of love.

She jumped, the rosy blush of her cheeks a perfect echo of the mosaic in her hand, as the boss roared at him to get back to work. She turned to run, but just before she vanished into the crowd again she turned and caught his eye, and smiled. She raised his gift to her lips and kissed it, and then was gone.