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.



A confusing teacher

Back when I was in primary school, we didn’t have such things as substitute teachers or cover teachers – if our classroom teacher was ill or absent, we’d be parcelled off in twos or threes to sit at the back of another classroom. Usually we’d have set work to do, and would be expected to sit there getting on with it while the teacher taught his/her class, but sometimes, especially if the classroom we went in was the same yeargroup, we’d be invited to join in with their work.

These days were often a fascinating glimpse into another life; spending all your school time with one teacher, in one group of students, can be a little claustrophobic, and it was always fun to see how the rest of the school lived.

One of these sessions, though, left me thoroughly confused and a little disheartened, to the extent that I still remember the day even though it was over forty years ago.

I think I must have been in second year at junior school, which these days translates to year 4, and I and a couple of others were sent to a fourth year classroom (top of the school; these days year 6). As I worked on my own tasks, we were nonetheless invited by the teacher (a man, although his name is long shrouded in the mists of time) to join in if we wanted. I declined, as I remember.

There were two tasks I remember from that day. The first was the instruction to the class to carry out a writing exercise. The instructions, as I remember them, was “I want description of being at the seaside. And it needs to be at least 20 pages long. Seagulls crying, waves on the shore, that sort of thing.” Twenty pages? I’d never written that much in my life. And twenty pages of description? Is such a thing even possible? Even today, I wonder. Surely that was far out of reach for ten-year-olds.

The other was discussion of what the word “estate” meant. The class were coming up with all sorts of suggestions as to the meaning, but each time he would say, “No, that’s not it. No, you’re not quite right. No, that’s wrong.” I never did find out what it meant according to him.

From those two exercises I took away the feeling of being faced with an exercise that I just consider far too hard, being given without any acknowledgement that it was tough, and the feeling of not knowing what something means and being constantly wrong without ever knowing the right answer.

I’ve no idea whether these were serious exercises, or whether his class usually did this sort of thing, or whether he was winding up the visitors, but to this day I think of that lesson with frustration.


Z is for zest

Posted as the final post in the a-z challenge – apologies for the lateness!

Z is for Zest. Or Zeal. Both words meaning enthusiasm, excitement, passion. It’s hard to get anything done without these. And if you do have a zest for something it’s hard not to do it.

Finding that zest for life is important. What really makes you sit up and take notice? What makes your heart beat faster, makes you feel awake and eager?

Years ago, I generally felt listless, without much enthusiasm. Then I went out – to an antiques valuation session for the local radio, to be precise – and suddenly felt wide awake and full of excitement. Not necessarily for the antiques, you understand, but because I love radio, having been part of hospital radio for a few years, and being back among the technology and the crowds reminded me of something I’d lost.

Now I feel to some extent I’m walking around in a fog again, or at least mist, but at least it occasionally lifts and I get a glimpse of that zest for life. The secret is to recognise it, recognise the source of it, and steer yourself towards it, so that it can shine through the fog and warm up every aspect of your life.


Y is for yearn

Posted as part of the A-Z challenge.

Do you have a yearning for anything? I have a yearning to have my novel finished, and to run a marathon. Both are very possible; both involve a lot of hard work. Work that won’t get done without the drive to do it. What causes that drive? The yearning.

It’s yearning that drives our lives; yearning for a better, more comfortable life, maybe. Without that longing for something, we would be content to stay exactly as we are.

Yet sometimes we yearn for other things when we should be content with what we have. If yearning is driving us to do better, it’s good. If it’s driving us to forget the good things we already have, then it’s bad.


U is for uniform

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Uniform. Matching. Indistinguishable from the rest. At school there’s often fights over correct uniform. Many times kids complained to me that it wasn’t fair that I didn’t have to wear uniform and they did. At one school I taught at, the sixth form dress code specified suits or at least shirts, ties and smart trousers for the boys, and people complained that the girls didn’t have to dress up. In both cases, the complainers were wrong, of course; there is a dress code for teachers, and there was a dress code there for the girls, but because it was more flexible, it slipped past without noticing.

Why do we want to be the same as everyone else? Some complain about the stifling of individuality. On the other hand, having a set uniform reduces the need to think about what to wear. I did read that the most successful people wear the same thing all the time – one less thing to worry about.

In some ways, being uniform is good. In many others, it’s rigid and constricting.

I always preferred to wear school uniform. I complained when they stopped ties as part of the girls’ school uniform. I make a point of getting changed into something smart when I go out tutoring, because I feel that if I’m dressed for work then it feels like work; the clothes put me in the right frame of mind.

In the same way, wearing a uniform reminds kids where they are, and what they’re there for. It encourages pride and a sense of belonging.

And schools often can’t cope with creativity and individuality anyway.


S is for study

The study is the room where I spend most of my working day. And it’s usually what I do when I’m in there! Whether it’s studying someone’s manuscript to see how I can help them with it, or studying style guides and editorial guides, or working on my own novel, or general research, there’s always something new to learn.

How do you study best? I prefer working from a book, taking my time and reading and then doing worked examples. I sometimes try to skip the active bit and just read, but I always find I learn best when doing as well as reading about – something to bear in mind, I guess!

Then there’s the reason for study – is it personal interest or to gain a qualification? I find I learn best when it’s for a specific purpose, and preferably when I have deadlines to meet. Otherwise it’s all too easy to lose interest and let things slide too much.

But whatever way you do it, the important thing is that you study and that you enjoy the process.



R is for research

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Research: dull or interesting? I get involved in research for various things, from researching information for my novel to checking things for my work. Recent searches have included religious extremism (novel), dwarf and elf names (novel), the difference between any more and anymore (work) and the use of viewpoints within fiction (work and my own novel).

I’m engaged in a project to research our local workhouse, which is fascinating. The only drawback is the expense; while the research itself is free, it also involves over an hour of travel by car, car parking for the day and organising some sort of lunch, as well as necessitating a day away from paid work.

When I did my teacher training, we did an exercise on research. We were asked a bunch of questions, and had to give the answer plus how certain we were of the answer. We then had time to research online, and then had to again give an answer plus how certain we were. The result was generally that after an hour of research the answers might not have changed, but the certainty of that answer had dropped! Our tutor alleged he’d deliberately changed an answer on wikipedia to throw us off as well…

There’s a great deal of satisfaction in looking things up and finding the right answer. And sometimes it’s essential. Other times, it’s just a time-waster, a way to avoid doing what we really should be doing.

And on that note, I must go and do what I should be doing right now, which ironically includes research…

Q is for quest

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

The novel I’m currently working on explores the difference between playing an online game and living in the real world. In the online game, quests are obvious, the requirement to complete them is obvious and there is an instant reward. In real life, quests are nowhere near as obvious to find or complete.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have our mission in life handed to us, with clear instructions on how to fulfil it? I guess some people do, but for many of us, life becomes one long search for what we should be doing.

For some people, they solve the problem by burying themselves into another world, where life is simpler. The real world can seem uncertain and scary, and it is easier to hide from it.

Or maybe we should turn life into a game, and award ourselves points when we do something boring or tricky. That’s what gamification is all about.

The important thing is that we find ourselves some kind of quest and just get on with it. My current quests are running half marathons, and seriously considering building up to a full one, and completing this novel and considering the next.

I guess they’re clear quests, and carry clear objectives for finishing and specific rewards for completion. Easy though? No.



O is for oh dear

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Anyone who’s keeping up might have noticed that this should have been posted yesterday. I dropped the ball. I missed a post.

Oh dear.

But it’s not a disaster. No one is going to chase after me and do nasty things. I can pick up and catch up and carry on.

How many times in our lives do we go wrong, and then panic over it? Sit ourselves down and wail that it’s all gone wrong and things will never be the same again?

Being able to recognise a problem, deal with it and move on is a very useful strength. One that I’m working hard to develop.



N is for necessary

Posted as part of the a-z challenge.

Is your journey really necessary? That’s something asked in this country in times when there are extreme transport issues – usually because an inch or two of snow has fallen overnight. Yes, we’re that feeble.

I was thinking this morning about what’s necessary for my life. Since I ran my half marathon, in fact since about a week or so before, I’ve not been exercising so much, or been so careful about what I eat. I’m trying to get back into a proper routine, but as the swimming pool showers have been out of use this week I haven’t been swimming regularly for two or three weeks now, and I’m just getting back into running regularly.

I consider it directly attributable to my lack of exercise that I’ve not been sleeping as well, I’ve been overeating and I’ve been feeling aches and pains, and general stiffness.

So I’ve decided that exercise isn’t just something I enjoy doing, or something I can do if I have time. It’s something that’s necessary for my wellbeing.

It’s the same with writing. I’ve always made up stories as part of a stressbusting exercise. They haven’t always been written down, but the stories have always been there. So has the journal writing. Any time I feel extra stressed, my remedy is to reach for a notebook and pen and get it all onto paper.

So I need to accept that exercise and writing are both necessary and get on with them, which generally I do; but sometimes if I have to stop for a bit it can be hard to get back into the routine again.

I’m currently trying out a passion planner – while I don’t have the money to import one from the US, and it’s not the best idea to import a year-long journal partway into the year, there’s a free PDF available to print out one out for yourself, as long as you spread the word about it, which I’ve already done (and am doing here!), so I’ve printed out a few pages and I will attempt to use it to bring some kind of focus into my life. Because if I don’t focus on what I want to achieve, then how can I ever expect to get there?

Just as a map is necessary on a long journey into unfamiliar territory (yes, even if it’s a satnav map!), a focus is necessary for life, in order to figure out where you’re going and how to get there.