Careers, heatwaves and mutant powers

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Bake and isolate. That’s how to make a career decision.

During Coronavirus, I have had the opportunity to do some really tough thinking about my job. Again. It seems this happens in my working life every few years. Usually I have a meltdown at work to precipitate it. This time things have been much more dignified.

During all this climate-warmed solitary confinement I have rediscovered who I wanted to be when I was little. When I thought growing up was the fairytale and mutant powers were the future.

I wanted to be a writer.

I have buried that idea for so long. Now I look back at years wasted chasing approval and reward, regard and achievement. I was a little girl running after a kite string. When I didn’t really even like the kite.

I have a day job now – have to of course even if the literary agent loves my book. No news there by the way, loyal fans.

And in that day job I have gradually been sucked into a familiar pattern. Of caring about the company’s future more than my own. Nagging the owner to do things in his best interest. Monitoring the email during evenings and weekends. Being available to make things right in a pinch.

My boss hasn’t asked me to do all that. It’s just crept over me like a suffocating blanket. If I don’t do it, who will?

Now, thanks to the pandemic I have seen daylight again; that wonderful glimpse of the blue sky between thunderstorms. And I’ve realised my fatal mistake. Caring about someone else’s dream at the expense of my own.

I have offered stepped-back services to my boss at a reduced rate if necessary. if he wants to further his career he can get up and do it himself. If he cares enough, he will. In the meantime, I want to work to live… and to write.

I’m sitting writing this on my stairs with Doggo lying beside me. My boss hasn’t replied to my offer in 24 hours now. If he doesn’t accept it I leave. Then this blog will be full of my waxing about being unemployable. And hungry.

For now though, there’s a heatwave outside and my furlough has one more week in it, and anything could happen. Even perhaps, what I want. Maybe that could be my mutant power.

Loneliness and quantum spins

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If you struck me with a quantum tuning fork tonight, I’d sound like time played without an audience.

There is no true company in the void; we all spin away when the light goes out.

We tumble through an empty space, each with gravity and harsh frontiers.

If I had known how to stopper the flow, I would have saved my denial like nectar. Instead I let it run through my fingers with my years and my youth.

I am a lonely atom in a shallow well.

Plots, characters and curtains

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Writing a new book is like moving to a new town. Nearly everyone is a stranger to me.

Book One (still no news from literary agent 1, watch this space!) was easy. I had been working on it for years and years. The characters were dear friends and the subject of much gossip. I went to their houses for dinner. I was there for key milestone in their carefully drawn and intimately remembered backstory.

I have met the characters of my new Book Two world and shared some pleasantries. We did the modern socially-distanced version of shaking hands and a couple of them told me jokes or attempted ice breakers to put me at my ease. Now, on very little foundation, I am trying to weave their experiences together into a story.

The problem is that I keep forgetting aspects of their lives. Like an absent-minded interrogator, I lose track of their alibis and motivations. Some of them are ducking out of the room at key moments and I waste valuable time chasing them down.

I suddenly realise that my protagonist is secretly in lust with the villain. Who could have predicted that? Her deductions are now totally suspect, and she can’t be trusted in a pinch to rescue the nice guy who I think is a much better match for her.

My plot is rapidly devolving into a complex mess more befitting a soap opera than a thriller. Deus ex machina is alive and well and doing double duty to splice the ragged ends of the story.

I’ve decided to stop plotting. I have a premise and some characters. I’m going to let them collide and start to interact. What if I end up putting these pages in the bin? I still think it will have been useful.

I wonder if real life is a little like this. Whether we rush to make sense of other people, to quickly size up their worldviews so we can fit them into our ideas of what the story should be. How much better would the world be if everyone stopped plotting and pushing, but instead allowed people to be who they are and do what they do and let the story unfold?

In the news right now, pre-judging and stereotyping have led to the biggest expression of societal unrest in over 50 years. What’s most upsetting is that we are still debating racism. After all this time and all this talk, the message is still getting lost. It’s a self-evident truth that we are a species that achieves more when it works together, yet we still insist on drawing lines. It’s a self-evident truth that arseholes come in all shades, yet we insist on assigning morality based on skin colour. After all this time, we are still arguing about the colour of the curtains on the Titanic while pandemic icebergs loom and climate change circles in the water.

Why is it so hard for so many to allow people to be who they are and let the story just unfold? Why can’t we let characters breathe and show us their true selves? Why do we have to assign a colour and restrict their motivations to all the implied and assumed qualities that accompany it?

In my first book I didn’t mention colour once. The names of the characters may be interpreted as “white” names, but it wasn’t my intention to be specific. I don’t want to point a finger and encourage stereotyping. I want to protect my characters from that. Should I “celebrate” ethnicity by saying that one of my characters is black? Or will that immediately conjure and encourage the assumption of qualities of which he may not actually be in possession? I thought it was better for the reader to be in charge of that kind of ridiculousness. I’m just telling a story.

Mirrors, threads and landmines

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Every so often when I’m writing I run across a landmine. Hidden, patient and unyielding, it explodes into me like an emotion grenade. Sometimes I can see where it was hidden, sometimes it’s a collateral submarine that comes from the lower levels without warning.

Maybe I’m writing about a character who likes to shower in the dark, swaying and sobbing. Maybe I’m writing about the way a character looks at their scars and how they ask the mirror: ‘who will ever love this?’

Maybe it happens when I breathe my life into my characters and they reflect that life back to me. When the mirror I see becomes the mirror they show me, and I warp and multiply into a billion versions of my worst best life.

But then my other characters have their say. 

Their compassion bubbles up from righteous depths, and uncomplicated acceptance takes my heroine’s hand. Threads of pain become ropes by which my characters are rescued, finding redemption with their unaltered truth. 

I am the writer though, not the heroine. And no one is coming to rescue me with such a tender pen.

Words, works and second dreams

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I’ve started my second book.

I’m discovering that fulfilling your dream for the second time is more difficult and terrifying than it was the first time.

I wrote my first book over eight years. There was no pressure, no hope of completion. My despair and hopelessness of ever finishing it were comforting. When I completed it I had to stare at the screen stupidly for a few minutes, unbelieving and astonished. It was my white whale and my pen was the harpoon. And finally, it was done.

Now I’m waiting to hear if the agent I’ve sent it to wants to read past the first sample. If they don’t, I have more places to try. It’s a process.

In the meantime, I’m like a clockwork toy who has discovered batteries. I want to write the next chapter in my tale. I’ve started putting it all together, writing the plot and creating the characters. I even have the first couple of pages.

But now the puzzle is so much more complex than before. Like the weary divorcee, I wonder if it’s worth committing more words to the possibility of rejection at source. If ‘they’ don’t like the first book, what hope or point the second?

My second marriage was an exercise in tiredness, learning nothing from the first. Is my writing to be the same?

And what if my voice has changed in the short hop between Epilogue and Chapter One? I might be selling a trilogy (oh yes, there’s ambition here!) that I have no hope of creating. Instead I might be doomed to produce three disparate and progressively distant attempts at a tale without merit or hook.

But still the keyboard waits with pensive percussion held static. It’s all just there. All I have to do is get over myself and pluck the words from the etched sky.

An author with a past and no future

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I’ve been thinking about what would happen if my book was published and actually went on sale in the real world. Just a normal little publishing deal with a moderately successful book. A message from a pilgrim that maybe reaches an open heart and maybe makes an impression.

I’m thinking about people from my past finding out what I’ve done. Maybe reading the blurb, maybe recognising themselves in a part of a character in the story. Maybe – oh god, my blood pressure is rising just thinking about this – actually seeing me at a bookstore reading. Maybe just coming across this blog (I’d have to start putting a name to it) or the Twitter and Facebook accounts I’d have to be running. What if they knew it was ME?

I’ve done some appalling things in my life. Things I’m not proud of and that I’d rather forget. There are people out there – some ignorant and cruel, others clueless and biased – who know those things from my past and who call me mentally unfit. I’m mad. I’m mental. Even those who know that I have actually had PTSD all this time still have no room in their heart to forgive me. I am a cautionary tale, a wild story, a hateful memory.

I have been hiding from those people for years now. Trying to live a quiet life. I make the odd mistake – the odd Facebook post which puts my head above the parapet. Any opinion I have is because I’m messed up. Now I discover that someone told my daughter that her opinions were messed up because she had been brought up by a mentally unfit mother. Words cannot do justice to the anger that raised inside me!

There are always going to be people who like the idea of snowflaking their way to saving the world while simultaneously judging and dismissing people right in front of them who perhaps were begging in their own misunderstood and mistaken way for someone to notice and help.

I was traumatised when I was small, and I have reacted to that experience throughout my life in the only way that I knew how. I was a pinball, bouncing from one person to the next. I opened my mouth and fantasy came out. I lived in a world of make believe and narcissistic sorrow. And yes, I hurt some people along the way, and I behaved awfully. But what can I do about that now? Am I really permanently painted in unfit letters?

This has made me feel that perhaps I shouldn’t be in such a rush to let the world see my work. Even with a nom de plume, they would find me. Publishers in this day and age (I am told) want their authors to sell themselves and put themselves “out there”. Out there is where I am most vulnerable and most afraid.

How can you sell a story told by a painted pilgrim?

Switching on my oldest dream

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Somehow, while I have been hopelessly scrabbling around in the dark, I found the switch. And somewhy, though everything within me screamed no, I turned it on.

For ten years I’ve been working on a novel. This novel is not the only piece of writing I’ve ever attempted – my first novel was to be about a haunted house and I wrote the first chapter when I was 9 years old. Sadly life got in the way then – and every year since – because try as I could I’ve never been able to get past the first few chapters of a new book idea.

And then, the switch was swutched.

Something happened when my boss told me I was furloughed for the Cornonavirus. I didn’t feel the restriction and oppression that other people did at the prospect of being at home. I don’t drink, socialise or have many friends, so what difference would it make? A big difference as it happens.

I didn’t have to worry about money, for a start. There was no voice in my head saying, yes this is all very well but how will you pay the bills next month?

And there was no end date. That was interesting for me. I’m one of those people who knows exactly how long it is until the next thing. If I’m on holiday, I am aiming for the the end before I’ve even unpacked. Those last few hours where some people can squeeze one last trip to the sea or to the local shops, one last walk, one last relaxing nugget? I am packed the night before and see no point wasting time. You have to go so why not get on with it? If I could sum up the worst of my life’s philosophy in one short slick little slogan it would be: “What’s the point?” As in, what’s the point in going there because you’ll only have to come home again? As in, what’s the point in achieving anything because I’m going to be ant food and not care?

But then suddenly I received this gift of time and while people have been getting sick and dying, I have been writing. It has poured from me and every day I have thanked the god of keyboards and pens for letting it take shape. This is a little awkward. To have benefited so greatly from a time when others have suffered. And don’t get me wrong, I still think there’s little point to it all because I do understand that I’m going to be ant food. But I love writing. It makes me feel like I’m doing what I was built for. I’ve always been a square peg in a world of round holes and no parking spaces. I’ve been good at things, and enjoyed some things, and I guess I suppose that was enough…… Then wow pazaam kapow! Here it is, the universe said. Here are the words. Use them well.

I’m preparing my letter and synopsis as we speak and will be sending it off in the next few days.

So here it is. The dark room of dreaming has been transformed into a lit space of dreams. It’s scary to see my dreams in the light for the first time. They are deformed creatures up close, full of flaws and mended tears. But they are real and can be touched. For the first time in my life I can touch my dreams.

Tread softly, I whisper to the light.

 

 

Paradox, magic and the Beast

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I’ve been trying to do magic since I was a little girl. It was then that I discovered that I could fly in my dreams – but only a little way off the ground and only if I gave enormous flaps with my arms. Since then, I’ve spent a lifetime perfecting the art of looking less like a twit in my dreamworld and enjoying the magnificence of mini-flight between night tableaux and awakening.

While awake I’ve tried to learn the magic of the world. How to survive its torments and terrors, how to give light and love without losing yourself in the futility of it all.

Now in my middle age I try a different kind of magic, weaving hope and indifference into a one-size-fits-all lighthouse. I telegraph my soul out into the universe and wait for the reply. I know who I’m looking for: the one who understands who and what I am and who can’t help but reply.

While open and raw and hopeful and new, I am also another beast entirely. One who lurks in the bright places, looking but trying not to touch.

I carry on building my walls, restoring the damage after years of trying to tear them down. Meant-well advice and bullish intent making me think all this time that they were wrong. When all along they were my safety and who had the right to disabuse me of that?

I build and build. I let in the paradox of my open-shut existence and revel in its simplicity.

My castle keep is peaceful. My noble dog gazes peacefully into my eyes (unless kibble is involved, then it’s a little more exciting). He tells me I am enough (except for kibble) and I am right to do whatever I think is right for my heart (as long as it includes feeding him kibble).

But in my dreams, while flapping furiously and gliding down my endless path, I send out an invitation.

When a door is not a door

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How do we know when a door is just a door?

Chilled to the bone and suddenly aware that we are alone in the house and the clocks have all stopped their companionable tick, we turn and look up into panels of amused fury.

It stands, squat and important, holding back the unknown nothing and looking sternly into our upturned face.

It hovers in a malevolent hum of hinges, waiting for a touch to set it free.

It lurks insolently as you play a roulette chance and reach for the chilled handle.

With chiming teeth, you open the maw.

You try not to notice the movement beneath your feet and behind your eyes.

When depression and anxiety hit, every door becomes a potential trapdoor to an unknown emotion.

The choice of whether to go through a door is a rictus decision.

The possibilities are profound, unfathomable and heartbreaking.

Everything becomes nothing, becomes a moment, becomes the ticking of the reawakened clocks.

Bubbles in time, death and the process

The Time Puddle

It’s been nearly nine years since dad died. The anniversary is almost here again.

And I’m still trapped inside the bubble that formed around me when it happened. When I heard my Uncle’s voice on the phone.

This is time travel.

Outside the bubble, life has wound on through the years. I’ve changed, the world has changed.

Inside, I’m stuck with an unending wail – a token of disbelief for the ferryman to explain what strange joke we live in if it’s possible to suddenly go out. Like a star winking from the sky. A mountain suddenly disappearing from the Earth. An entire person vanishing from the world.

When it happened I began to grieve, only for my family to tell me to stop. I was too sad, too withdrawn. They didn’t like it.

This was like being ripped from surgery without finishing. Just sew it up, make it look…

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