A visit to the movies

Yesterday eldest son took me to the local cinema. I haven’t been there for years, as we’ve been going to the big multi-screen cinema, so it was really nice to stay local for a change. The movie we went to see was the new My Little Pony movie. It might seem an odd choice, but I’ve mentioned before that My Little Pony is actually really big among a particular set of young adult males, known as bronies, and my son was eager to see the new movie.

I went along partly to support him, because I could imagine it’s not easy for him to walk into a cinema for a movie that’s aimed at young girls, but I also went along to enjoy the movie – I like MLP as well, and find that it usually does carry a message far beyond the pretty kiddie story you might expect.

So yes, I really enjoyed the movie, and I enjoyed the experience of the local cinema, which was rather empty – not quite a personal showing, but we were one of about four groups in there (and the only one without small girls).

But there was something else as well. As we watched the adverts, I found myself relaxing and thinking nostalgically of the time when I, too, played with playdoh or other children’s creative toys. I found myself really missing those days when I could just focus on doing something fun without feeling guilty about the time spent on it, or feeling pressured into making something “good”. When and why did we lose that simple pleasure of being able to just sit and play?

The movie itself was good, with the characters carried into peril and learning messages on the way, and I appreciated the inside knowledge my son provided, looking out for the subtle differences in the software used for the animation as well as enjoying the music and story. MLP carries such important messages about friendship and learning to trust each other, and being loyal and kind, that I found myself wondering whether the younger members of the audience were actually mature enough to really understand them.

Or is that when they are most able to take them in? When life is still new to them, when they don’t have experiences that try to tell them otherwise?

Whatever the truth is, I think life might be better if we could all sometimes just sit, relax, do something for fun and watch a kiddie movie.

Not entirely sure about the short cartoon shown before though! Although, if you start looking closely, that carried some pretty big messages too: sometimes a bit of fun can go too far and get dangerous. Sometimes we have to face danger to rescue those we love. Sometimes the danger can prove to be a lot less than we feared. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself and have fun. So maybe it was well placed after all. Let’s just say it beat a cat trying to catch a mouse who runs rings round him…

 

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Self sabotage comes in all forms

I’m starting to wonder just how much self-sabotage I do. How much I’m actually harming myself by not allowing myself to write, to be creative, to relax and have fun. The pressure seems always on to be working, earning, cleaning the house, walking the dog, and always so that other people (or animals) benefit.

Why can’t I allow myself regular time to write? Why can’t I remember that walking helps me as well and I deserve to have that break and time to myself? Why do I worry about housework instead of remembering that I actually like having a cleaner, tidier house? Why do I sit playing solitaire when I really enjoy drawing? Why can’t I remember that I contribute to this household in other ways than financial? Why do I only feel comfortable when feeling miserable and deprived?

In just under two weeks, I’m scheduled to have an operation on my knee. No biggie, but it will lay me up for a few days, and reduce my mobility for a week or few. And I know from experience that there’s nothing makes me want to do something more than when I can’t actually get on and do it. In the meantime, I’m finding it hard to focus on work, especially since I seem to have meetings of various kinds every day or evening for the next eleven days, so I’m here, there and everywhere physically as well as mentally.

So I’m going to aim to find my centre by ensuring I do things for myself during this next week. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to achieve this, but I do intend to try my best. Because I reckon that the more I allow myself to do things I’d like to do, the more enthusiasm and focus I’ll find for the things I have to do.

Wish me luck!

 

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

I was cute when I was younger. I was a bridesmaid a total of four times, although for the first – for an aunt – I was too young to remember.

I did eventually have my own turn as bride, but nevertheless the phrase has haunted me: always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

It feels as though the phrase describes my life: all those around me are signing up for races, and completing marathons. I signed up for a marathon, but never got there; injury stopped me before training had even started properly. And yet it felt as it was meant to be that way. That while others achieve, it’s my role only to cheer on the sidelines.

It’s the same with writing. While I work on my own projects, it still feels as though my role in the writing business is to help others with their projects. I edit, proofread, format, even help with structure, while my own projects never reach that final stage.

I’m still haunted by a book idea I had thirty years ago. It was a valid non-fiction book idea. I started out researching it. And then someone else published it. The book I was planning to write. How silly I was to think I could do it myself! (why is it so silly, though?)

In life generally, I seem to fall into that support role. Even while playing World of Warcraft, I heal, enabling others to do their jobs better without worrying about their health. I love the healing role, but it means that once again I’m following others around and helping them, while they charge in and get things done.

Sometimes it feels like my role in life is as a support act for others. When do I get to take a main role? Or am I doomed to always stand on the sidelines cheering the rest?

I guess it’s not so bad. We can’t all be huge successes, at the top of our field. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that a lot of my problem is self-sabotage.

But still, I’d really like my turn at some point.

 

I didn’t run the marathon

At some point last year, a load of friends from a Facebook running group were signing up for the Brighton Marathon. I can do this, I thought. I can be part of the crowd. I don’t want to feel left out. I want to run a marathon.

And so I paid a silly amount of money and put my name down for the race.

Then we got to September/October, when I ran a couple of 10k races within a couple of weeks, and my left knee started hurting. It hasn’t really stopped since. I’ve been attending physiotherapy, I’ve just started with an osteopath, I’ve run parkrun twice and ended up hobbling again each time, and with the knowledge that I could barely walk 5k, let alone run 42k, I finally deferred from the marathon.

So yesterday when a load of those friends were running, or attending to cheer the others on – some  nursing their own injuries that forced them to withdraw – I was doing other things around my home town.

I had a dream last night. I was in full military uniform (but that’s another story) on an assault course. We came to one of those obstacles that’s huge and needs a team of people to get you up. I looked at the others who were there with me, and I said I would boost them up. That’s great, they said, and then we’ll help you up.

And then they managed to get up, with my help and with the help of those already at the top, and they went on, leaving me at the bottom. And I just shrugged, because that’s the way it always is.

This disturbs me, more than I’d like to admit. Why does it always feel that my role is to support and help others, not to be helped myself? Is it just the result of being the much younger sibling, always left behind or dragged along reluctantly, trying to keep up? Or is it more than that?

Am I holding myself back, when I let it happen and don’t scream and kick up a fuss?

Am I truly destined to be the one left behind?

Or do I need to learn to say it’s my turn, I need help now. I’ll help you, but I expect help in return as well?

I’ve now got the link to sign up to Brighton again, with a massive 20% off the price as I deferred from this year. I won’t be signing up. I think I bit off more than I can chew, and there’s no point in spending a fortune when I’m not even back running again yet, and don’t know when or even if I’ll be fit enough.

But I think I need to figure out what other obstacles I’m trying to get over, who can help me and whether I need to shout and scream over it.

 

Diving in

I remember little of my time at school, but one incident stands out. We had an outdoor swimming pool at my school. It was always freezing cold, and I would always spend the first five minutes or so lowering myself gently into the water at the shallow end, trying to get used to the temperature. As a result, when the teacher spread the class out, with the confident swimmers at the deep end and the non-swimmers or poor swimmers at the shallow end, I was always in the poorer swimmer group, and I’m sure the teacher thought I couldn’t swim properly.

This particular lesson I remember, I think I’d been swimming at the public swimming pool in the days before – not a common occurrence, but I had enjoyed my time in the warmer pool and practised all the shallow, racing dives I’d seen the confident swimmers learning in class.

Then, on the Friday morning, I realised that my piano lesson coincided with this last swimming lesson of the term. Piano lessons were taken individually, missing lessons, and there were strict rules on which lessons you were supposed to miss. PE lessons were considered fair game.

My twelve-year-old brain couldn’t cope with this. I had so been looking forward to the swimming lesson, with all this extra practice I’d put in! I ended up in a toilet cubicle crying my eyes out.

I have no idea how this happened, but there was a knock on the door from someone I barely knew, saying that she would swap her piano lesson with me so I could still go to swimming lesson. I didn’t even know anyone knew I was there, or why I was upset, but there was this solution presented to me.

So I gratefully accepted, and at swimming lesson time I got straight into the deep end, without any of my usual prevarication, and showed off all lesson, with my racing dives and lengths. My teacher was suitably surprised and impressed and I’ve been forever grateful to whoever not only noticed that I was upset, but managed to come up with a solution.

 

Tied to the world

When I was growing up, I had a strange mindset – I felt as though I was trailing an invisible line behind me, and I had to take care not to get that line snagged. I knew that if the line snagged on too many things I’d be irrevocably tied to the world.

So I would take great care not to wrap that line around things if I could avoid it; retracing my steps out of a place, rather than going out of a different door, not twisting around or I’d get tangled. I couldn’t see the line, of course, but I could feel it, and felt uncomfortable if I ended up getting it caught on things.

Even these days, when I’m under stress I’ll take care not to twist round too much, and I’ll try to retrace my steps whenever possible. For example, if I walk from the cooker to the fridge, and then to the sink, I’ll turn back round the other way rather than complete the turn that comes naturally with the triangle of movement.

But I had a thought the other day – what if it’s true? What if, as children, we know things that as adults we forget? That part of that forgetting is snagging our invisible line on things and losing our memories that way? What if I’d been even more careful as a child? Would that connection still be strong?

When I was three or four years old, I could write. I remember distinctly being in church one day with my mother, and playing with my letter writing set – notepaper and envelopes, all designed for a child. I wrote my letters and sealed them up in the envelopes, and I knew I could write. Then I got to school, and suddenly I had to learn it all. Most frustrating.

Memory is an odd thing. If you go through an event, but remember nothing of it afterwards, does it matter? What if there’s something that all of us forget as we grow into this world, and will only be revealed again at the end of our lives? Will our lives actually matter then?

My novels, and the philosophical ideas behind them, are starting to create logjams, and I really need to get going on them.

 

Reaching Nirvana

Way back in the 80s, I owned my first computer. A ZX81, the first computer small enough and cheap enough to be of interest to the casual home user. It came with a massive 1k of RAM, expandable to 16k with a RAM pack.

As you can imagine, programming it was a tricky job. There were games available to buy, loading from a cassette tape player, and some of them were actually pretty good, keeping me entertained for hours. But there were also loads of magazines to buy, each containing listings for programs for you to type in and save on your own cassette tapes. Some of these games were pretty nifty, but one in particular has stayed with me all these years as a metaphor for life.

The aim of the game was to reach Nirvana. You would start in the middle of a grid, and could move north, south, east or west, via arrow keys. Each turn, you would move one step, with the idea of reaching Nirvana. When you thought you had reached it, you would enter a different command.

Every time you said you thought you’d reached Nirvana, guess what? You had.

So you could wander the grid for hours, visiting every square, or you could declare you’d reached Nirvana on the very first turn. Either way, you would win.

Pretty silly game, really.

And yet…

Isn’t that true of life, sometimes? That we can wander around all our lives, looking for something mysterious, waiting to discover our purpose, trying to find happiness? And all we have to do is to make up our minds that this, here, right where we are, this is where we’re meant to be, and what we’re meant to be doing.

Okay, it might not work for everyone, or all the time, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that more often than not, we’re still wandering when actually we’re already there.

 

Dealing with violence, pony style

I’ve mentioned before that my eldest son is a Brony, a My Little Pony fan. As a result of this, I’ve been made to sit and watch all the episodes. Well, I say made, but actually I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.

One thought that occurs to me as I think of the latest news: there have been a few episodes where our heroes – or their town – or the whole world – is threatened. Our heroes have to come to the rescue. And how do they win over? Generally, by defeating the villain with love and friendship – because, after all, friendship is magic.

No matter what they villains have done, they are met with love, understanding and the hand of friendship. They learn that there is another way. It’s not always smooth sailing, and there’s a lot to learn, but it’s a solid answer.

Instead of bombing those who offer us violence, can’t we just make the whole world sit down and watch My Little Pony episodes?

 

Reconstructing the past

I headed out to Whitstable this morning, to do further research on one of the workhouse families. I’ve decided that a short story based on the story of one of the children will form my contribution to an anthology of short stories my writing group is intending to publish, and I’m looking for material to flesh out the story and bring it to life.

I walked around the town, finding the house where they used to live, walking alongside the harbour, and identifying the school she would have gone to, and then went round the local museum and had a look at the local history section of the library.

As I walked back to the car, I passed a pub, which had a notice outside: “Back in 2015”. I’m guessing it refers to their live entertainment, but it felt strangely fitting, as for those two hours I’d been back in around 1880, and it felt strange to return to the present day.

As I drove home, I started musing about the difference between writing historical fiction and writing fantasy. In historical fiction, I’m trying to keep as true to the facts as I can, and weaving a story around those facts. I have a lot of flexibility, but within a very tight framework. It’s so easy to make a simple mistake with facts and instantly alienate a lot of readers. I’m also aware that I’m trying to fill in very large gaps – it’s one thing to imagine what she might have done on her way home from school, but I’m not even sure what she would have called her parents!

In one way, writing fantasy is easier. I’m creating my own world, and nobody can tell me that I’ve got my facts wrong. But in another, it’s the same thing. I want my world to be credible, and so I’m trying to think about how societies change and evolve. How do three very different races start spreading out and co-operating, only to have relationships break down and become hostile? How does a town function? How does a religion spread? How does intolerance show itself?

Admittedly, on some of those points I only have to read the papers, and the current world situation is definitely feeding itself into my novel. But that feeling of power, of deciding policy, is very real. And the feeling that it’s got to be close enough to the truth, or in this case at least A truth, is still very strong.

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning, and will be repeating the experience, with more time. In the meantime, I’ve got a new draft of my short story to get on with, and a novel or three to get finished.

 

Shortchanged

A few days ago, I went into a local shop and spent £4.50. I handed over a £20 note and was given £14.50 in change. I looked at the change in my hand. I looked at the receipt. And I walked away, even though I knew that I’d been shortchanged.

It’s been bugging me ever since, and I’ve realised why. I was in the right. I’d been done out of something that was rightfully mine. And yet I didn’t bother doing anything about it. I just accepted it as the way life is for me.

Why do I do that? Why do I take whatever crap life throws at me, and just accept it as what’s due?

So many times I’ve taken what’s given without questioning. Without standing up for myself. Without considering the fact that the other person is clearly in the wrong. As though it’s my lot in life to suffer the poor deal, the lack of consideration, the carelessness of others.

I want to stop. But how? For a start, I can stop sitting playing solitaire on my ipad, while feeling miserable that all around me are finishing writing projects and getting them published. I can stop feeling envious of those who spend time drawing, while I play games. I can start considering what I have a right to, and take steps to get it, rather than waiting for scraps to come my way.

I find it hard to put myself forward, to claim I’m good at anything, to say that I want anything. In my mind, there’s always someone better. Always someone who needs it more. Always someone who’s more willing to yell for their own needs.

I need to make a stand. The only one who can change this is me. Although it means doing exactly what I find so hard.

Suggestions always welcome.