Tag Archives: happiness

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

So, yesterday was awesome.

*feedback squeals* Image: ths.gardenweb.com

*feedback squeals*
Image: ths.gardenweb.com

Admittedly I didn’t do a lot of writing yesterday, but I did my next best favourite thing, which is: meeting wonderful people. It was doubly amazing that this also involved such things as drinking coffee, visiting places of cultural and/or historical significance and lots (and lots) of walking, but the true highlight was spending a whole day in the company of a pair of truly lovely people. I’m tired today, but it was all so worth it. And the most amazing bit of all? I have this blog to thank for yesterday’s happiness.

One of my favourite aspects of keeping this blog has been the fact that it has allowed me to ‘meet’ people from all over the world. Through sharing posts and comments and paying visits to other blogs, I have encountered all manner of kind, supportive, talented and frankly amazing folk. I do wonder, at times, what it would be like to meet some of these fellow bloggers in the flesh, and yesterday, I had a chance to do just that. My hitherto online-only friend Kate, and her husband Andrew, are on holiday in Ireland and the UK all the way from Australia, and I’ve been looking forward to meeting them for months now. Yesterday was the day it finally happened, and – as I’ve said – it was awesome.

(Linguistic note: I don’t use the word ‘awesome’ very often, mainly because very little in life truly warrants it. However, there simply is nothing else in the English language which does yesterday justice, so ‘awesome’ it is.)

Image: moreintelligentlife.com

Image: moreintelligentlife.com

I took my new friends on an impromptu walking tour of Dublin, taking in such sights as the Book of Kells, the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle, the Queen of Tarts teashop on Dame Street (heartily recommended, beverage fans), Christchurch Cathedral and the National Gallery of Ireland. I gestured vaguely at lots of stuff – buildings, statues, landmarks – hoping that my descriptions of them were accurate and not something I’d half-picked up in school, probably backwards; they seemed reasonably happy with the trip, so I’m counting it as a success.

The only sad thing is, of course, that yesterday may be the only time I ever get to meet Kate and Andrew in person. Australia’s a long way away. We spoke a lot about the links between Ireland and Australia in terms of the transportation of convicts and criminals from my country to theirs in past centuries, and how if a person was taken from Ireland and put on the boat to Australia, their family essentially had to think of them as being dead, because they knew they’d never see one another again. The links between our countries – and, of course, between Australia and the UK – are strong and unbreakable, and arguably Australia isn’t as far away now as it has been in the past. But it’s still a journey I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make.

But even if I never set foot in Australia, or if they never make it back over here, I’m so glad to have met them, and to have had the opportunity to spend a joyous day in their company. We drank a coffee-toast to the internet, and WordPress, and blogging, at the end of our day together, and I am truly thankful for the technology that allowed us to ‘meet’, first virtually and then in person.

I hope that the remainder of their ‘holiday of a lifetime’ in the British Isles is a rip-roaring success, and that they bring home memories and photographs that will bring them joy for many years to come. It was truly a pleasure to meet them both, and I’m doing my best to forget the tang of sorrow in thinking we might never meet again. Thank you, Kate and Andrew, for taking time out of your holiday to spend a day with me – and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Image: nandikanurfitria.wordpress.com

Image: nandikanurfitria.wordpress.com

Friday Fun

If my life is going to plan, as you read this post I should either be in my mother’s kitchen drinking tea, or in my friend’s kitchen drinking tea and watching her flock of ducklings pootle around her front yard. Either of these scenarios will do just fine.

You lookin' at me? You lookin' at me? I don' see no other duck aroun' here... Image: polkaperson.tripod.com

You lookin’ at me? You lookin’ at me? I don’ see no other duck aroun’ here…
Image: polkaperson.tripod.com

Where I won’t be is at my desk tapping away at a keyboard wondering when I’m ever going to finish Draft 4 of ‘Tider’; this is, of course, because I have finished Draft 4 of ‘Tider’.

In two-and-a-half months, I have managed to rewrite this beast of a book and bring it to its fourth draft. I think that’s the work of a derange… I mean, brilliant mind. I think I have spotted all the major plot gaps and loopholes, and I think I’ve worked through most of the complications inherent in working with a story that involves a sort of time travel (word to the wise: do not write about time travel, ever); I think my protagonist shows the expected growth and development in her character between page 1 and page 263, and as far as I know, justice and righteousness prevail, and all is good with the world, tra-la.

Note the use of the word I think, or some derivative thereof.

Image: myenglishclub.com

Image: myenglishclub.com

I think I’ve done all this, but it may yet turn out that I am flawed in my thinking. I’m sure there are things I’ve missed, and I hope when I print the book and start doing a hard-copy edit, that these things will become evident. I hope that I won’t uncover a major error with far-reaching consequences, which will rend the delicate fabric of my carefully constructed world in twain. All I can say is: if it happens, it happens. Worrying about it now won’t change anything.

So, this brings us back to the tea and the ducks. I’m going home (i.e. to The Place of my Illustrious Birth) for the weekend, mostly to spend time with family, attend a wedding celebration and forget entirely about the world of ‘Tider’ and the travails of Maraika, my plucky heroine; I shall, all going well, be back at the coalface come Monday morning, bright and early.

I hope you all have wonderful weekends, and that they involve tea, relaxation, and herding small, waddling feathered creatures.

Or, at least, tea and relaxation.

Image: pbh2.com

Image: pbh2.com

Old Haunts

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a surprise birthday party for a man who has been a loyal and affectionate friend to my parents for many years. This man, and his lovely wife, met my parents when they were all on honeymoon – the two couples happened to choose the same hotel, and bonded over their shared ‘Irish abroad’ status – and they have been inseparable friends ever since. Growing up, they seemed to my brother and I more like an extra aunt and uncle than ‘mere’ family friends, and they are a deeply loved branch of the family at this stage.

On our way to the hotel in which we were spending the night of the party, my husband and I drove through landscapes tightly woven with my memories of childhood. My brother and I spent so many summers staying with our parents’ friends and their two children, who were – more or less – the same age as we were, and all those sunny, happy days came back to me as we drove down streets that I would once have known like the back of my hand. In my first year at university, I stayed in our friends’ house, walking about two miles every morning to catch the bus to college (and, crucially, two miles back in the evening, when it was dark, or rainy, or I’d perhaps been at the student bar…); as we drove along the same road I used to walk, I could almost see myself striding along, ready to welcome my new, adult life. I wondered what the ‘me’ of my early adulthood would think of the ‘me’ of today. I hope she’d be proud.

The day after the party, we called down to our friends’ house and took a wander through their estate (or ‘neighbourhood’, I suppose, for my North American friends!) It was almost overwhelming to feel the onrush of memories, the swell of happy childhood days well spent, and the more stressful and (at times) upsetting days of my early college life. I realised how so much of what I remembered from that time has changed, while at the same time the shadows of streets and houses I remember are still there, like ghosts.

We walked through a huge field that I spent so many hours exploring with my brother and our two friends, both of whom are grown men with children of their own now; it was wonderful to be able to set foot in it again with my husband, linking the two halves of my life so neatly and securely. There used to be wonderfully exciting rock formations in that field when we were young – which, of course, became battlements and castles and forts and impregnable cliffs in our imaginations – and sadly, these have long been removed now, but the trees we used to play around are still there. I walked past a row of these huge trees, looking at the mounds of earth around their roots, up and down which I would trundle, carefully, on a borrowed and unfamiliar bike as a little girl. They seemed so huge to me then; I could step over them, now. I was so happy to see that not only are the trees, and the field, still there, but that someone has planted new trees, too – future generations of children will be able to play as we did in that very same field.

My only regret, really, from the weekend was that my brother wasn’t able to be there with me. He had to work, and I wish he’d been able to share these memories with me. But, hopefully, there’ll be another chance to do that.

I looked around at my family and friends as we celebrated together this past weekend, marking the life and birthday of a man who is so dearly loved by all of us, and realised again that ‘this is what life is all about.’ Life’s not about money, or status, or objects, or possessions, or who has the biggest car or the biggest house. Life is – or, perhaps, should be – about weekends like the one I just spent, laughing and talking and spending time with the people you love. I’m privileged to have so many people who love me, and I hope I’ll always remember how important this realisation is.

I hope you all had lovely weekends, too, and if – as is the case in Ireland – today is a day off for you, I hope you spend it well, doing something you’ll be happy to remember in years to come. Happy New Week!

Image: regreenspringfield.com

Image: regreenspringfield.com

Going With the Flow

It’s another cold day out there, but luckily not as bad as yesterday. It’s even beginning to brighten up just enough to look enticing, but it’s definitely a winter woollens sort of day, all the same.

Not that I can actually wear woollen gloves next to my skin, but you get the idea...Image: scotweb.co.uk

Not that I can actually wear woollen gloves next to my skin, but you get the idea…
Image: scotweb.co.uk

Today, a lot of things are on my mind. I’ve been trying to pin down a topic for my blog post for the last hour or so, not sure of the direction I should take today. My mind’s been racing from one image to the next like my head was an old-fashioned movie projector, but eventually I realised that maybe that was what I should write my post about. Being kind to yourself on days when your brain just refuses to sit still, or co-operate, or function the way you want it to.

Yesterday, I also found my brain acting like this, and I gave myself such a hard time about it that I drove myself into a bad mood. I kept berating myself for not being able to function at 100%, so much so that I ended up standing in my own way and impeding what I was able to accomplish. I’m learning that when you’re the only person you have to get you (and keep you) motivated throughout the day, it’s really important to be on good terms with your brain. I’m not sure why my basic reaction when I don’t have all my cylinders firing first thing in the morning is to be angry with myself, but it’s the truth. So, it’s something I need to work on and help myself out with.

We all have days when things don’t go our way. Some days everything is so easy and effortless that life is a pure joy, but on other days everything we turn our hand to is a struggle. I know this is true – and not just for me – but it’s so easy to forget it. I tend to get so frustrated with my own slow reactions and fuzzy thinking on those hard days that I end up convincing myself nothing is worth the effort, which means a slow slump into unproductivity. This in turn means more chastising myself, which means the work I do produce is wrung out of me with ten times as much effort as it should have taken. It’s a completely ridiculous situation when I sit down and work through it in words. It’s a bit like shackling myself to a boulder and then expecting myself to run a marathon, and kicking myself when I can’t do it.

Fitted sheets, no matter how many times my mama-in-law shows me how to fold them, are my nemesis. Plus, Sean Bean. All good. Image: imgur.com

Fitted sheets are my nemesis. But I’ve learned to live with the fact that I will never be able to fold one. If only I could extend this to everything else in my life!
Image: imgur.com

It would be so much better to work with your brain and not against it at times like this, wouldn’t it? To be gentle with your thought processes and try to listen to what your brain is telling you. It will lead to better productivity, as well as better mental health, because struggling to accomplish something you just can’t manage at a particular point will (at least in my case) lead to total mental strangulation. Which isn’t, as you might’ve guessed, a lot of fun.

Yesterday, I managed to write three pieces of flash fiction, as well as my blog post, and draft an idea for a fourth short piece. Because I’m trying to build up a body of work for submissions, this is important work for me. Perhaps that’s the reason why my brain tends to freeze when I try to do it, and why I react with such frustration when things start to go wobbly inside my head. But the point is, I still managed to hit my target, despite doing my best to hobble my own efforts. I know I can do the work, but it would have been accomplished with a lot less strain if I’d just taken it easy on myself.

Is this a problem for other people too? I hope I haven’t come across as a total crackpot in this post! I have a feeling, though, that this process is one which will sound familiar to a lot of people; something else I’ve learned in recent times is that you’re very rarely alone when it comes to struggling with certain things. My resolution for today is to go with the flow of my brain, and let it set the pace. I’m going to listen to it and let it give me ideas for my short pieces, instead of treating it like a galley slave and whipping it until it produces the goods. I’ll let you know how I get on!

Happy Tuesday – I hope all is flowing perfectly for you today, whatever you’re doing.

A Big Weekend

Monday mornings usually come all wrapped up in a sense of depression and anti-climax, don’t they? This Monday morning is no different, except in terms of how much worse than normal these anti-climactic feelings are.

Image: blog.assistancemagnifique.com

Image: blog.assistancemagnifique.com

But don’t be concerned. Everything is all right – just about.

All this emotion is a result of (another) surprise party, which was held at the weekend to mark my younger brother’s 30th birthday. It was a wonderful night, attended by friends and family from all over the country and even further afield – one very determined partygoer came all the way from Tobago! – but the best part was that my brother had no idea it was going to happen. It was a huge effort to keep it secret, but everyone managed to pull together and the whole thing worked like a dream. My brother’s fiancée is a miracle-worker. Most of the hard work and organisation fell to her, and she did a marvellous job. It was such a great party that it’s hard to cope with the fact that it’s all over, and there’s nothing to look forward to any more – but we’ll just have to soldier on.

One of the best parts of the night was seeing my brother’s friends again, all the people I remember from his life as he grew up. I hadn’t seen some of them for years, and it was great to see them all again, all of them making their own way in the world and succeeding in their own fields. I was struck once more by how nice my brother’s friends are, and how friendly and supportive (not to mention kind and generous) a bunch of people they are. My brother was amazed by the amount of people who made the effort to attend, and he couldn’t believe so many people actually wanted to be there for him as he marked this milestone in his life. Of course, nobody who loves him was surprised. My brother is a beautiful person, and he is loved far more than he realises, I suspect.

Some of my own friends also attended the party, and I also had a welcome chance to catch up with several others during the day. My husband and I couldn’t turn up at my parents’ house, of course, in case my brother would get a hint that something out of the ordinary was happening, so we had to take refuge in the home of one of my best friends until it was time to get ready for the party. My friend very generously accommodated us (and even cooked us dinner!) and gave us so much tea that we left her house in a faint caffeine haze, which was fantastic. My brother isn’t the only one with wonderful and brilliant friends.

I have often had reason to be thankful for the loving and selfless support given by my friends – there have been things I’ve faced in my life which would have overwhelmed me if not for the solid and dependable bunch of friends I’m lucky enough to have behind me. I’ve had most of them since I was a teenager, so we’re really starting to clock up the years now. My bridesmaid at my wedding was a friend who has been a central part of my life for over twenty-five years! Of course, it’s not all about the support they give me; I hope that I’ve given back as much love and help as I’ve received, and I hope they’d consider me as good a friend as I consider them. (They still want to hang out with me, so I hope that’s a good sign.)

There’s nothing in life that can’t be overcome if you have the steady hand of a friend to hold, and there are few joys which can compare to making and keeping good and loving friends. I have an abundance of blessings when it comes to my friends, and I’m hugely grateful for all of my friendships. So, to all those I’m lucky enough to know as a friend – thank you!

Image: kipper.8m.com

Image: kipper.8m.com

 

 

Sunny Saturday

I won’t detain you for very long today, as I hope you all have better things to be doing on a Saturday than reading a blog post. If you don’t have anything better to be doing, then go and find something better to do! Perhaps you could dance around a bit:

This guy = hero.Image: beforebigs.com

This guy = hero.
Image: beforebigs.com

Or maybe you’d prefer to read a funny book:

Image: 123rf.com

Image: 123rf.com

Or (best of all), maybe you could find someone to go for a walk with, or just even snuggle up to:

Isn't this lovely?Image: fineartamerica.com

Isn’t this lovely?
Image: fineartamerica.com

I’ve just been out for a wonderfully long walk myself, where I did a lot of thinking and quite a bit of rocking out (thank goodness for phones that are ‘smart’ enough to pick up a decent radio station!), and I’m back behind my desk now to get stuck into the last few chapters of ‘Eldritch’. It has been an easy and enjoyable write so far, but I know I have some work to do, particularly with tightening up my narrative voice. The commenters on http://www.authonomy.com have been very helpful, but I’ve been getting brilliant feedback from a few friends too, all of which will go towards making the story better. Keep an eye on the Authonomy site over the next week, if you’ve been following the ‘Eldritch’ story – I’ll be posting up some redrafts there soon.

Today is such a beautiful day here in my corner of Ireland – it’s bright, sunny and crisp. It’s like the whole world has taken a deep breath after the oppressive, dark, rainy weather we’ve had over the last few weeks. I’ve thrown open all my windows, and I’m buzzing with energy and determination to see ‘Eldritch’ through to the finish line. Hopefully it’ll be today. Wish me luck!

And have a beautiful Saturday, whatever you’re doing. I’m sending you a little bit of sunshine!

Image: cauldronsandcupcakes.com

Image: cauldronsandcupcakes.com

Love = Risk

I’ve just seen a wonderful Tweet from one of my literary idols, Jeanette Winterson, in which she used the phrase ‘Love = Risk’. I’d been searching for a title for today’s blog post, and when my eye fell on her words, I knew I’d found it.

(By the by, if you’re not familiar with Jeanette Winterson’s work, I really can’t recommend her more highly. Every book she writes is a perfectly crafted jewel, and she does things with language that most people can’t even dream of. The first Winterson book I read was ‘Sexing the Cherry’, which was on a course I did at university – I read it, loved it, and have never looked back. I think my collection of her work is pretty much complete now!

book jacket Sexing the Cherry

But this is all preamble. If this blog post had an editor, I’m sure she’d tell me to cut out all the waffle, and get to the point.

Here’s the point, then.)

Yesterday evening, I watched a beautiful programme on BBC which followed the early life of a lady named Mary Berry, who is a ‘celebrity’ chef in the UK and, in recent years, in Ireland too. I say ‘celebrity’ because she seems a very down-to-earth and unpretentious woman who would probably not relish the drama that goes with being a famous face, and this programme about her life gave me a real insight into where she gets her grounded outlook and her dedication to her family and her craft. She grew up during World War II and was raised in a large house in the English countryside, with parents who gave her everything they possibly could and did their best to ensure she had a happy childhood.

One aspect of her younger days touched me very deeply, however. At one point in the programme, she recounted her relationship with her father, and she spoke of the fact that she and her siblings had spent their childhoods being afraid of him. He seemed an aloof and cold figure, one who believed children should be seen and not heard, and a man who didn’t relish physical contact or shows of affection. Later in the programme, she was given the opportunity to look over some of her medical records – she suffered polio in the late 1940s, along with thousands of other young people in Britain – and a photograph, clipped from a newspaper, was shown to her. It was of her father, and Mary herself, shortly after she’d been released from hospital as a 14-year-old girl. She’d never seen the image before, and was extremely moved by it. Her father is seated on his horse, and Mary stands beside him. He is looking down at her with an expression of such love and devotion, with such soft and caring eyes, that it took Mary by surprise. In the photograph, she’s not looking at her father, and so his expression is lost on her. But the expression on her face as she gazed upon the image of her father, she now far older than he was when the picture was taken, was extremely touching.

This lady had grown up not really believing she’d been loved by her father, just because he was unable to show her how he felt. Her father must have been a man moulded by his time, a time when fathers didn’t show affection and when children weren’t always treated with tenderness. This doesn’t mean that those feelings of love weren’t there – but for silly societal reasons, people didn’t feel free to show their loved ones how much they meant to them. I found it sad that it had taken so long for Ms. Berry to finally see the love her father had for her, but the joy on her face as she realised that, all along, she’d been a treasured daughter was a beautiful thing to witness. I’m sure her father realised how lucky he and his wife were to be able to take their child out of hospital alive, and mostly unmaimed by the illness she’d suffered, and his joyful love was evident in the photograph. Perhaps, though, he could only let his love show in his face when he knew he couldn’t be seen by the object of that love.

Loving someone does involve a huge amount of risk, whether you receive that love in return or not. In fact I think love that is returned to you, or a love you share with someone else, can involve more risk than love which is unrequited. You’re risking being hurt – because nothing makes you more vulnerable than being in love – and you’re risking the person taking their love away, and leaving you in pain. If your love isn’t requited, your risk-taking is limited – unless, of course, your beloved discovers how you feel. In the case of Ms. Berry’s father, perhaps he feared being seen as less of a man if he allowed his children to see how much he loved them, and perhaps that was a risk he couldn’t take. He’s not the only father to have fallen into that trap.

But the risk is always worth taking. The pain of having your heart broken, of taking the risk to love someone and show it, can’t compare with the pain you might cause someone by loving them so secretly that they never know. In the context of a familial relationship, providing a child with things isn’t the same as telling them you love them. In a marriage, taking your spouse for granted by assuming they know how you feel about them is not usually a good idea. It’s worth taking the risk of looking a bit of a soppy fool by telling them you love them every once in a while. Isn’t it?

Love = Risk. It has always been, and will always be. I’m not the world’s greatest risk-taker, but this one’s worth it. Don’t you think?