Tag Archives: stress

Nightmare

I woke last night at about three thirty a.m. straight out of a terrifying dream. For long minutes afterwards I was convinced that noises I was hearing in my room, and from the road outside, were part of the dream-vision I’d just been wrapped up in, and it took me a long time to separate them out into their constituent parts. My own breathing. The thud of my heartbeat. A single, trilling song from a solitary (and early rising!) bird somewhere outside. A distant motorbike engine.

Not voices screaming for help. Not the boom of an explosion. Not the cracking of bones.

I’d dreamed I was in the middle of a warzone, and I was being followed. There were guns. There were rocket launchers. There were bodies, and downed planes, and a man with a wide-brimmed hat, his face in shadow, who was everywhere. He had a low-pitched voice and a sardonic tone, and he knew I could never outrun him. There were razor-topped fences too tall to climb, dotted with gates too far apart (and which were locked, in any case), which led me, funnelled like an animal to slaughter, down to the killing fields along with hundreds of other people. Our fate was sealed.

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Takeshi Kawai via Compfight cc

This dream was too easy to picture. I see images like this every single day. The news headlines, the papers, the internet, even movies; all of them fed into it. I know having a dream about a situation like this pales in comparison with actually living through it, and I’m not trying for a second to suggest they’re the same thing, but I wonder in some ways whether we’re not all under siege, no matter where we live. If we’re not experiencing these terrors first-hand, we’re experiencing them through our media, 24/7, burning out our minds as we attempt to come to terms with what’s happening in other parts of the world, wearing ourselves thin as we realise that there’s nothing we can do. People are dying, every single day, in abject horror, and there’s nothing we can do.

And I wouldn’t want to swap with them. Not for anything. And that makes me feel like the worst sort of human being.

It took me a long time to fall back to sleep. I was afraid of re-entering that same dream; this happens to me, sometimes. I preferred to lie awake, listening to the night, than to slide back into that dark world. As a result, I’m a bit less than my best today, but at least the dreadful terror passed with the rising sun. The world is back to normal, now. I am lucky, and I know it. For many hundreds of thousands of people the nightmare never ends. I wish, with everything I have, that it wasn’t so.

I’m not the kind of person who thinks dreams ‘mean’ something (as in, they’re not prophetic, or in any way significant, of course – they’re just a by-product of the processes of your mind), but I do think they can reveal a lot about how you’re thinking and feeling. In my case, then, I shudder to think what my dream reveals. It’s strange how you can be living your life, feeling reasonably okay (and having had a great weekend, during which your country felt like Carnival, with the beautiful weather to match!), and yet your mind finds a way to tell you that there’s fear, and doubt, and anxiety, deep inside you which needs to be expressed. I feel rather like a fraud these days: I’m not particularly happy with most of what I’m writing, and the bits I am happy with are going so slowly that they’re practically glacial. My other work is better left unmentioned. I’m worrying about my future, again, and where I’m going – not to mention where the world is going.

Perhaps this dream was a useful wake-up call, in more ways than one. It’s not good to keep trundling on regardless; it’s not good to squash away your fears and stresses, expecting them to just go away. I’ve seen before that this doesn’t work, and I have no idea why I keep doing it.

So, here’s what I’ve learned: I don’t have to write at the speed of the wind just because other writers do. I don’t have to compare myself with anyone else. I don’t have to work in a particular way. I don’t owe anyone anything.

Well, that’s not quite right. I owe myself the sanctity of a peaceful mind. I owe the world my best self. I owe my work – all forms of it – my utmost effort. I owe my mind its best chance at uninterrupted sleep. But I don’t have to explain myself or account for my existence, or feel like an unworthy person. I am not being hunted.

And now. I all calmness and control, it’s time to get back to work.

Five Things I Wish Were Different This Monday Morning

1. The Snow

Oh yes, the snow. It started to fall yesterday, great fat flakes like sky-kisses gently carpeting the world, and I admit it was pretty. So pretty, in fact, that I stood staring out at it for ages, allowing the gentle flickering to soothe my mind. It was mesmerisingly psychedelic, and I did wonder about the possibility of an evil genius harnessing the power of falling snow to hypnotise an entire population and make them do his will… But then I came to my senses and shut the blinds.

And there was no panic, because it was Sunday and nobody had to go anywhere or do anything in particular, and that was fine.

But now it’s Monday. And people have to go places. Trains are delayed. Roads are clogged. Nincompoops like me are afraid to set foot outside lest they find themselves unwillingly doing the splits. Anyone would think I was living in New York, where approximately fourteen feet of the white stuff has lain in situ since some time last year; I’m talking about a couple of inches, if that, which has already started to melt. It’s still enough to scare me, no matter how gorgeous it looks.

So, yes. It’s pretty and all, but I wish I’d woken up this morning to a snow-free world. Sue me.

2. Leonard Nimoy being dead

How did this happen?

Image: chipchick.com

Image: chipchick.com

I hate that Leonard Nimoy passed away last week. I don’t care that he was in his eighties; he was too young to go. Or maybe it’s that we weren’t ready to lose him. Then, with people like him, there’s never a good time for them to check out. A campaigner for equality, a fan of humanity, a photographer, a director, a father, an actor of superlative ability, I was (and am, and always shall be) a massive fan. With regard to his work: I love Star Trek in general, but in reality it was Spock I truly admired. He made the programme what it was, the quiet centre around which the rest of the characters orbited, and Nimoy’s ability to express the depths of emotion beneath the calm surface of Spock’s cool rationality always blew me away.

LLAP, Mr Spock. I will never forget you.

3. The world

Right, so I’ll admit this is sort of broad. But maybe you’ll know what I’m getting at anyway. I regularly tell myself ‘I must go on a news-break’, but I never really manage to do it for longer than a day or two. I’ve heard of people who don’t follow current events at all; they just live their lives, and get on with things, and (not so funnily enough) they seem like the happiest people on earth. I reckon there’s something in that.

I can’t count the amount of times over the past few weeks that a news bulletin has reduced me to a gibbering wreck. Now, of course, that might say more about me than it does about the news, but still. Terrorism, freaky weather, political assassinations, mass abductions, the workings of Operation Yewtree in the UK, people being displaced in their hundreds of thousands, gun crime… the list goes on. Sometimes, it does start to grind you down. It can be hard to remember that one person’s good choices can change the world, but it’s really important not to lose sight of it.

It’s important to be that one person, and to make those good choices, too.

4. My entire brain

Lately, my concentration has been shot. I’ve been eking out a word count on my WiP but it is going so painfully slowly that putting the words on paper seems akin to eating boulders. I’m not sure what, exactly, I’d like to be different here – my brain in general, or my focus, or this particular WiP, or what. But all’s I know is, somethin’s gotta change, man.

Let nobody ever try to tell you that writing is not hard work. It flaming well is.

But there is hope. This week, I have no distractions. I have no appointments, I have no visitors, and I have no excuses. There will be writing. It will be done. And that is that.

5. The state of my house

I’m not exactly living in a hovel, but y’know. I didn’t do a lot of what you might call actual housework over the weekend. This now means I have a pile of dishes as tall as myself which have to be cleaned before I can so much as make a cup of tea this morning. This ‘using all the crockery because it’s Saturday and I can’t be bothered washing up’ thing, dear readers, is something I regularly do. It’s a classic example of why you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, but do you think I ever learn? Of course I don’t. At least I got the bathroom cleaned and the dusting done last week, though. It sort of distracts from the fact that the hoovering needs doing and that there’s a general, low-lying mess everywhere. I have a nagging feeling it’s a metaphor for my existence, but that’s too scary to contemplate, so I’ll just put some dirty plates over it and hope it goes away.

They should teach this stuff at school. I’m not even joking.

Anyway. I hope your Monday is better than my Monday, and that your week is looking good. Remember to be that one good person, and do something awesome for someone else this week in memory of Leonard Nimoy – or, just because you want to. Whichever.

 

 

Listicles

Today is a day for listing.

Not the sort of listing that leaves you lying sideways in a body of water or indeed charging down a muddy track on the back of a horse with a lance clutched in your armpit (though if this is what you’re into of a frosty Monday morning, have at it), but the sort that requires concentration and focus and organisation and lots of tickable boxes.

Photo Credit: Rob Warde via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rob Warde via Compfight cc

Sometimes, Monday does this to me. My brain can’t settle and my thoughts zip about and anything I try to do founders on the Rocks of Concentration. So, when you’re trying to do important things like write books and judge flash fiction competitions (keep an eye on Flash Friday for more on this later today!) and just generally live your life in a healthy and productive manner, foundering on the Rocks of Concentration isn’t really something you should be encouraging.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with mind-flit. Mine is to make lists. To-do lists, primarily, but not necessarily things that can or should be done on that day. Just things that need doing at some point in the future, like cleaning jobs or tidying up of one’s online persona or phoning one’s long-neglected best friend or finally getting to the recycling or rejigging one’s life goals, and things of that ilk. Making lists of things doesn’t necessarily mean that all this stuff gets done; in fact, some things have been on my lists for years, now. (I promise I will, eventually, get to the recycling. Honest). It simply helps my mind to know that these things, here, controlled and tidy and sensible, written in plain style in a list, ready to be ticked off or crossed out at some stage in the future, constitute the contents of my brain. These are the things that are on my mind. Writing them out means that they take a break from buzzing around inside my skull bashing noisily off my eyeballs and fluttering down my ear-holes and settle on the page, just long enough for me to have a look and decide that they’re doable.

Controllable.

Within my power to achieve.

Even if I know, and they know, that they’re not.

Today is going to be a major list day, which is strange as I had a great weekend, spent at home with family and friends, largely relaxing and fun. Nevertheless, for some reason I woke up this morning with serious brain-flit. Things are starting to feel out of control, and slightly overwhelming. Paperwork looms. Officialdom and authority will soon have to be engaged with (this always makes me nervous). I can bet that if I re-read my WiP this morning, it would read like so much sawdust – and that would be very off-putting indeed.

So instead I shall make lists, and I will do what I can to tick off my to-do items, and I will wait for my equilibrium to come back, and then – as I always do – I will get on with my work.

And if anyone has a largish paper bag I could breathe into while I’m waiting, that would be awesome.

 

The Indefinable ‘Ugh’

One of our neighbours has a beautiful little boy. He’s always smiling, always laughing, and he likes to run around to our house and show off his ‘toy of the day’ – lately, it’s been a small plastic handsaw with which he likes to destroy our garden gate, to a soundtrack of throaty chuckles. Today, he turns two years old, and so – feeling organised, grown up, and infinitely practical – I decided to buy him a birthday card almost a week ago. It’s been sitting on our kitchen table ever since so that I don’t forget to write in it; every time I saw it I cracked a grin, not only at the thought of how much fun he’s going to have at his birthday party, but also in the smug realisation that, for once, I got something done right, and ahead of schedule.

See? Not only cute, and awesome, but *timely*, too, what with all the rockets and planets and stuff. *sigh*

See? Not only cute, and awesome, but *timely*, too, what with all the rockets and planets and stuff. *sigh*

I sat down this morning after breakfast – so early it was still dark outside – intending to make writing the carefully worded birthday message my first task of the day, only to discover something maddening.

There was no envelope for the card inside the plastic wrapping.

I didn’t think to check, when I bought the card, that the envelope came with it. The shop assistant at the register clearly didn’t, either. I guess we both assumed that if a card comes wrapped in plastic, the envelope is included. I was so mad, I could have growled. ‘This has messed up my whole day,’ I told myself. ‘Now I have to reschedule this, and do this differently, and I’ll need to change this…

And then I calmed down and realised (with the aid of a few deep breaths) that it was no big deal. I’ll just go and get another card. I have to go out to the shops anyway; it’s no extra hassle. But the initial whoosh of irritation (with myself), and the collapse of my careful edifice of being organised, was overwhelming.

That’s concerning.

Once, years ago, I was waiting in line for the coffee machine during my morning break in work. The café was crowded; there was a long line for coffee. A woman and her friend cut the queue and jumped in ahead of me, and I felt my teeth smash together and start to grind, of their own accord. My body flooded with rage, to the point where I began to tremble, and I have never felt so close to ‘losing it’ – all over nothing. Now, this may have been severe caffeine withdrawal – or it may have been something larger. Something that perhaps happens to people more often than they realise.

It’s strange how you can be so busy, and distracted, and scattered, and everything else it takes to live life in the modern world, that you become totally out of touch with your body and how it feels. I was unaware, until this morning, exactly how much of my sense of organisation and personal capability was based around a two-year-old’s birthday card. During my queue for coffee that morning in work, I was totally unaware (until it smacked me in the face) exactly how much stress and pressure I was under, and how close I was to snapping. It took these tiny life events – forgetting an envelope, being skipped in a queue – to draw my own feelings to my attention, and to make it clear to me that I was a bit out of balance.

I’ve been working away on ‘Eldritch’ for the past while, and it’s been going, but with difficulty. My plotting methods have proved effective, but progress is slow. I fear my main problem with the work is that I don’t love it – not that I don’t love writing, because I do and will always love that – but I don’t love the story as much as I loved the tale of Emmeline. ‘Eldritch’ doesn’t grab me up in its arms and sweep me away like the other story did; it doesn’t make my heart pound like ‘Emmeline’ did, even after the twentieth re-read. I am afraid that I will never write anything I love as much as ‘Emmeline’ ever again, and that it’s pretty poor to have ‘peaked’ before you’ve even begun.

This is what’s on my mind.

I’m trying to be organised, professional, capable, grown-up, but one forgotten envelope and the whole thing crashes into dust. I’m trying to be a writer, and I’m certainly working hard, but I fear the end result will be the same – dust. It’s like there’s a creature with downturned eyes and a floppy, curled-down mouth and a set-upon expression following me around, whispering ‘ugh’ into my ear every few minutes.

Ugh. Don’t bother trying that. You know it won’t work.

Ugh. Really? You think this is what a real professional person does? You think this is the appropriate way to behave?

Ugh. Haven’t you learned anything? You’re no spring chicken, you know! You need to get a handle on things!

I think I’ve had quite enough of that.

So, today will be about remembering to smile, and breathe. It will be about being kind to myself, and taking a walk. It will feature buying a new birthday card and writing a happy, fun-loving message in it, and delivering this card to the bouncing boy who has brought so many smiles to my life, and then, once all that is done, worrying about work.

And, after all that, I’ll give the Indefinable Ugh a slap across the chops, and tell it to be on its way. I’ve got stuff to do, and I don’t have time to listen to its nonsense.

Thursday Randutiae*

*I so totally can’t take credit for this amazing word. It belongs – as far as I can tell, and insofar as a word ‘belongs’ to anyone – to the author Kristin Cashore whose books, if you haven’t already read, I’d highly recommend. Her blog, and general existence, are pretty cool too. Go on! Check her out. I can wait.

Tum-ti-tum-ti-tum... Oh, don't mind me! Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

Tum-ti-tum-ti-tum… Oh, don’t mind me!
Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

Okay. She’s pretty cool, yes? I told you so.

Anyway. It’s Thursday. My life feels gritty, rather like it’s full of small particles of random minutiae (or, if you prefer, randutiae. See how useful this word is?) As I was pondering this, trying to come up with something slightly more nuanced to blog about, I thought…

…Whatever.

Blog about the contents of your heart and mind. That’s the point of the entire exercise, isn’t it? So, here’s what’s in my heart and mind. Bear with me. It’s been a weird and rather fragmented week.

Firstly, this morning over breakfast my husband and I developed an outline for a new format TV show named ‘Baking with Physics.’ It all began when I told him I’d bake him something later (though I made no promises, mind) and I mentioned the famous quote by Carl Sagan: ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’

Well, says the Husband, all science-like, not really. You’ve just got to invent a universe. One in which there are apple-like things.

I couldn’t really disagree with this logic.

This moved on to discussing a fun feature called Schrödinger’s Pie, where the presenter of ‘Baking with Physics’ gazes out benignly at the audience and a cat’s meowling is heard somewhere off-screen. ‘So!’ trills the presenter. ‘You can’t see the cat, or whether it’s inside or outside the pie. How does it feel to live in an existence where a cat both is, and is not, baked inside a pie?’ (Cue canned laughter and applause). We also discussed Quantum Baking, where the presenter would begin going through a recipe, demonstrating the steps, and at the end a pie would appear in his or her hands. ‘Oh, look!’ they’d say. ‘And here’s one I’m going to make tomorrow. Won’t it look lovely?’

Yes. Just be glad you don’t live with us. It’s hard enough being us.

We also discussed the strangeness of the fact that the word for ‘oat’, in most of the major European languages, falls into one of two camps (excluding Finland, because Finnish): either it’s ‘havre’ or its crew (Norwegian havre, Danish havre, Swedish havre, German hafer, Dutch haver) or the ‘av’ group (French avoine, Spanish avena, Portuguese aveia). Yet good old English has the sturdy ‘oat’. This sort of linguistic ‘family tree’ stuff really interests me. I wish I knew the reason why English has ‘oat’; it probably has something to do with the roots of the language. It’s not Latin, because in Latin ‘oat’ is ‘avena’, and the German-Dutch roots, which might have been connected to the Anglo-Saxon word, aren’t anything like ‘oat’. Apparently the word comes from Old English ate, plural atan, but – and this is the weird bit – nobody knows where the word ate comes from in Old English.

Isn’t that mad? Oat. The common, humble oat. It’s actually an International Word of Mystery, with shady roots abroad, hiding its secrets in the mists of time.

So what? You can't prove anything. I was never even *here*. Photo Credit: EsCrItUrA cOn LuZ via Compfight cc

So what? You can’t prove anything. I was never even *here*.
Photo Credit: EsCrItUrA cOn LuZ via Compfight cc

Yes. Anyway.

It’s been a pretty stressful week. I guess this is how my brain goes when pressure is applied to it – i.e. all over the place. Also, today is (or, would have been) the birthday of my friend who passed away earlier this year; you may remember him from this post I wrote about his passing. Today, he should have turned thirty-two years old. My thoughts are with him and his family, and they’re with my own beloved uncle who is still very unwell – though, miraculously, alive – and they’re with the precious fragility of all things, including peace of mind.

So, isn’t it great to be able to have a laugh, of a dark morning, about quantum bakery and the origin of the word ‘oat’? Things like that make everything worthwhile.

Have an oaty Thursday, everyone. And remember to do some baking – though not with cats, whether living or dead or both. See you back here tomorrow for some more short storying with Flash Friday – which, by the way, I hope you’ll be joining in with one of these weeks? Yes, I’m looking at you! Get those inspiration engines churning and get stuck in. What do you have to lose?

 

There Are So Many Ways…

…to tell someone you love them.

There’s the hug when they walk into the room. There’s the way your eyes light up when you see them, and the ‘I’m so glad you’re here!’ that you whisper into their ear. There’s the laughter you share, and the private jokes.

There’s the lifetime of memories: the special Christmases made all the better by the knock of your loved one on the front door, and their silhouette in your hallway, and the presents – always the same, but no less loved because of that – which, year upon year, they gave you. There’s the way you used to watch, open-mouthed, as this person you love did magic trick after magic trick, opening your mind to a world you couldn’t understand but were fascinated by. There’s the Bruce Lee posters on his wall, the tiny hints of a hidden life, one separate from you – a grown-up life, full of mystery. There’s the motorbike parts in the living room, which made the other adults tut, but which made you smile because it seemed so cool. So free.

Photo Credit: next. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: next. via Compfight cc

There are the memories you’ve made from all the family gatherings – the happy and the sad – made whole and perfect by the fact that your loved one was part of them. It wouldn’t be the same without him.

It wouldn’t be the same.

You show you love him in the way you roll your eyes as he rolls another cigarette, and the chuckle he gives to show he knows you care, but he’s going to smoke it anyway. There’s the glint in his eye as he stands at the pub door, and the nodding assurance that he’ll make sure to get home safe. There’s the affectionate way he tells you he’ll be grand and not to be worrying about him, but both of you know you will worry, regardless.

There are the bad jokes that you can’t help laughing at. There are the phone handsets that fascinate him, and the crazy ringtones, and the way you smile when he wants to show you all of them, all at once. It’s the the fact that he doesn’t eat broccoli because he doesn’t like the look of it, and you just let him away with it even though you shouldn’t.

There’s the fact that he brings an umbrella with him no matter what the weather – and you never make anything of it, even for fun. It’s just part of who he is, and you love it because you love him.

But I realised when this beloved person became suddenly, deathly ill, that in all my life I have never told him I love you. I have never spoken the actual words, the simplest and hardest in the world. Of course I hope I have shown it through actions, through the enjoyment of his company, through all the smiles we’ve shared and the happy days we’ve spent together. There haven’t been enough of those, of course. Of course.

But I have never spoken the words. Today I’m thankful I get the chance.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to share their warm wishes with me after yesterday’s post. My uncle remains stable after surgery, but I would ask you to continue the good wishes and prayers, with my gratitude. There is still a long way to go.

 

A Note, on a Stressful Monday

By all accounts, today has been – and will continue to be – a challenge.

Firstly, my husband has gone on a work-related trip.

Secondly, spiders have taken over my house, and my only weapon against them – the vacuum cleaner with a pair of old tights stretched over the intake pipe – is banjaxed. (This may be because I accidentally hoovered up a pair of tights while trying to catch a spider, but I can neither confirm nor deny such rumours).

Thirdly, I was supposed to begin the second pass of edits on Emmeline today, but chances are high it won’t happen now. Because…

…fourthly, and most importantly, one of my dearly loved family members has been taken to hospital with a serious illness, and I am waiting anxiously for news.

If you’re the praying type, please remember my family in your petitions today. If you’re not, a handful of good vibes strewn in the wind will do instead.

And I hope you’ll be able to forgive me for not posting a proper blog today. For all these reasons, some more than others of course, I am not in the right place to do it justice.

So, here’s a photo of a tiny baby hedgehog in what looks to be a purple toilet roll holder for your enjoyment instead. It brought a bit of levity to an otherwise stressful morning for me, at least. I hope it’ll do the same for you.

I hope to be able to talk to you tomorrow; until then, may all go well for you and yours.