Writing to music

Is there a best way to concentrate, I find I need a soundtrack but choosing one is hard.

It seems like a simple thing, to set up a soundtrack and be whisked away somewhere else. Particularly while I am working with distractions in the background. But when I am more mindful, it is amazing to see how much of a distraction my music can be. Within beats of a song, my mood shifts and I have been transported elsewhere. Listening to music I find my mind has wandered to so many places

Paying attention more, I notice that the boy band song sweeps over me with an irritation. It’s only as I explore the emotion, I realise that I have been harbouring resentment from 20 years ago. I was invited, then uninvited to a concert by some mean girls at school. This has left me finding this particularly saccharine pop extra unpalatable. I had forgotten this slight and I suspect that the truth was there was no room in the car. Or I had no-one to take me or we didn’t have money in time for the tickets. All of which are perfectly reasonable reasons that invite was rescinded, but still a bittersweet taste. I didn’t like them then, still don’t, their pop a little too dull for even my abysmal tastes, but a hurt unrested.

I will be trying to complete the housework with a playlist and wonder why I suddenly feel despondent, only to realise the song I am listening to is morose. There was a particular time of day when I was working at the shop where I would slow in my tidying jobs, down-hearted at the continuous tasks of straightening, round and round the store. It took me nearly a year to recognise that my blood sugar was dipping and my mood was brought down by the repetitive strains of “Are we out of the woods yet, are we out of the woods?” Something about Taylor Swift’s pleas tugged at my emotions that I would be effected at roughly the same time each day.

(Not me!)

So what instead can I do to listen to music and write. Well, one strategy is to listen to music in another language, Jennifer Lopez’ Spanish albums or I listen to “Coffee and Chill” playlists on Spotofy. Weirdly I still find the hypnotic pull of a Morcheeba album. This was the album that I studied with through A’Levels with and I wonder if my brain has remember what it was like to work really hard with that on in the background.

Do you find music too much of a distraction to work? I wish my busy brain would work in silence but for me I find that is the most distracting thing of all. Will someone please fix that tap…

Back to School

Listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast this week, I couldn’t agree more, September is a new start

Here in the UK children are going back to school in the next two weeks. They may have to get used to some new things, like masks in the corridors, or eating at their school desks if they can’t be outside. They may have to learn some things afresh like how to sit still in class, how to write again, how to be around people but not too close. But it’s clear a decision has been made that school is essential again.

I am really looking forward to some routine in our lives. Even though we muddled through home-learning (what we attempted could never be called a homeschool), we never hit a routine more than my son reminding me it was play time each morning. I am looking forward to some time to myself and seeing friends though with the new rules in place, not getting too close or seeing anyone too often. I am also looking forward to a sense of some normality, though it has all changed, the new normal is better than that time we stayed inside our house for three months.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The fact that school is definitely back has led to a few discussions in our household already. Being a Mum of a kid whose special needs mean he resists changes and transitions anyway, I am used to battles about going to school. But Social Story in hand and special visit arranged we are going boldly forward with the “school is now open” full time plan. At times I feign optimism for him, mixed with the dread that sits in my stomach most days now. I am also getting more positive that this will be good for both of us.

It’s clear that the government is scrambling to convince parents it is safe, new policies are coming out every day that suggest what will happen, how things will change, if we have a local lockdown. But in the meantime there are news articles about how safe children are at school. I have been reading all the articles, despite trying to stay away from the news. It’s safe now. We think. Mercifully our children will not get terribly ill if they catch the virus, I just hope that mildness means the same can be said for us and their teachers if they do pass it on.

In a bid to read between the lines I think the answer is we probably don’t know what will happen in the next few months. As it stands, the government seem pretty determined that the schools will stay open come what may. Afterall, they kept the pubs open even though family members couldn’t meet at home in Manchester and Yorkshire in recent weeks, I guess they will do the same with schools. And hope for the best. Because that is where we are really.

So though the news articles haven’t completely allayed my fears, I can’t help but feel a sense of newness in the air. I wonder if despite the challenges ahead for me and my son, I can find ways to lift the anxiety and get back to normal. Gretchen Rubin explains here in the article which accompanied her recent podcast that September is the new January because it can give us a sense of a clean slate. That means that when you make a big change in your life, you can often change a habit at the same time, “exploiting the new” as she describes it. So for me I need to go forward with a more positive mindset about the fresh start at school. And maybe work harder on my habit of not reading the news.

How are you feeling about going back to school?

Taking some time

Take the time that you need, that’s what I am learning more each day

As part of my bid to have more compassion for my anxious brain I have taken some time off from work, including blogging. Sometimes it is joyous to feel part of the #WritingCommunity and sometimes it feels like a constant reminder that I am not doing enough. I wrote just before we went in lockdown as a country that I was taking simple steps to make life a bit easier. But I have also been doing what I can just to survive.

As this pandemic takes hold in parts of the world with far worse conditions than I live in, after the horrendous explosion at the Lebanese docks, as the economic impact starts to wreak havoc on many lives, I find increasingly connecting to the outside world is overwhelming. Yes to keeping abreast of the news, being a member of the community, a charity-giver, but no to the constant barrage of The News.

In reality this has mainly meant stepping away from Twitter. I took a break to censor Wiley after his heinous anti-semitism a few weeks ago and am now using it very little. Helped along by the fact we have come to a remote spot to enjoy a week’s peace and relaxation. I have never felt luckier to be able to do this. We always staycation (hate that term) and love a countryside holiday from our usually busy, urban lives. Last year I wrote just how much a change of scene can give you new ideas. But I think it also helps with a new perspective on what you need in life.

With this in mind I have a new practice to add to my list of Artist Dates (that I have described in previous posts) which I would recommend to chill out more.

Stone-stacking on the pebbled beach while I am on holiday whilst my son played with his trucks (and knocked over my towers) was both playful and mindful. To take time, flattening the space around, searching for nearby rocks that are smooth enough to stack absorbs your mind completely. Then placing each stone took time and care. A lesson then on taking the time you need to create something beautiful.

What quiet thing do you do to take time out?

The place for escapism

Often I hide how superficial I am but, no more, we all need to escape sometimes…

I have written before about the distractions I find on Hayu, mainly keeping up with ridiculous antics of Housewives, mouth open. I mean there’s something just truly satisfying about slobbing in your pajamas while you watch women in amazing clothes argue about the same thing for weeks on end. Unfortunately there are also Instagram accounts and Twitter feuds you can follow so that you can be embroiled in the stories for months before you see an episode. As I find myself this week trying to establish a timeline of exactly when RHOBH ladies went to Italy, I drew back a little. I had gone in too deep.

When your rubbish tv habits leads you down an internet rabbit hole, it’s time to put your phone down and pick up your kindle/book. Well that has been my solution. Here are some places I went in the last few weeks. A list of escapism fiction I would recommend if you are lucky enough to be away for a staycation or just staying at home.

Social Creature by Tara Burton Isabelle

A hit debut a few years ago this thoroughly nasty book about living your best life (online at least) is about two new friends Lavinia and Louise. Louise idolises her new friend, they live a lavish life around Manhattan, partying and drinking hard. The pure escapism comes in watching their friendship unfold with plenty of hashtags along the way. The tales twists darkly as Louise morphs her identity and eventually her life into the supremely narcisstic and fascinating Lavinia. This was a fast-paced novel that felt a bit like binge-watching You or Gossip Girl.

If you like this you would also like: Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth, I don’t why but I do enjoy a novel of hard partiers – vicarious living as a stay-at-home person, even in pre-pandemic times. This goes much deeper than Social Creatures and digs into female friendship in an equally fascinating way.

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter

I was excited to read this novel having enjoyed The Cows by the same author. We follow the lives of three main characters. Women whose lives are entangled with the online world of a model Laura, about to get married to her millionaire boyfriend in an extravagent wedding. It is part farce, to watch various things go wrong in each woman’s life, but also part commentary about the shallowness of living life online. I think that O’Porter, who has herself a large following on Instagram and watched the destruction of her close friend, Caroline Flack, writes so well about the myriad of social issues caused by projecting our image all the time. It’s a novel that make you think, is of the present moment, but is also just really funny. I think the way she brings her characters together at the end speaks to a positive and uplifting womanhood.

If you like this, you’ll like: My Thoughts Exactly, Lily Allen. I loved the heart at the centre of this memoir about the star’s life of mistakes, lived outloud and online. I think the honesty of this book is what appealled to me.

I hope in some way you get a chance to escape this year, even if it is just in the pages of fiction.

Keeping up to date

It’s hard not to get bogged down in recent history in contemporary fiction

How do you write in the contemporary space? I have been struggling of late. The huge seismic shift of all-consuming Brexit, the Olympics which unexpectedly filled Brits with optimism, the knock on effects of years of recession and austerity. The impossible thought of presidencies and premierships that could never happen…but did. These things swirl round in the back of the world I write in. And then there is now. Pandemic times

In my mind there are now clear before times. I thought I felt this about the Brexit vote but now I know that was nothing. There is a before. Maybe there will be an after. Landscapes are shifting and changing around us. And I feel there is also great movements in politics which are shaping our world. Too much to write about.

So if you write in the contemporary space you have to take great leaps of faith. Get specific enough about setting and know it well enough that it rings true to that backdrop of the world’s rapidly changing climate. (And climate change too, how can that not be in our narratives).

In 2018 I was lucky enough to listen to Salman Rushdie’s talk “From Midnight’s Children to Trump’s America” at the Southbank Centre. This article reminds me of what he said about writing in the near present,

‘The thing that is weirdest about this book is that, when I started writing it, no one was thinking about Trump. […] When the phenomenon on Trump started, I realised that I had a character who was a corrupt billionaire, […] who liked to have his name very big on buildings and had a much younger Eastern European trophy wife. I thought – what? It’s as if the thing had jumped off the pages from my book into the real world.’

Salman Rushdie

I have been reading Rushdie’s The Golden House this week and thinking about the rifts in America that it addresses, and over here, and everywhere of course. It is a hard novel for me to read, a character with Aspergers is explored but through quite a negative lens which jars with my outlook on neurodiversity. But then, as we become entwined in the Golden family, no-one is particularly likeable. An unreliable narrator on the fringes of their life, it is hardly surprising that Rene, the auteur, does not paint any of the family in a positive light. So far, it is a fascinating depiction of money and power. And yes prescient too.

N-W by Zadie Smith

Alongside this, I have been reading N-W by Zadie Smith , circling around the lives of various people in Northwest London. It is a challenging read, much like I wrote about Girl, Woman, Other it seems almost like a series of vignettes, where you snap away from characters you have invested in to see others around them and many voices and styles of narrative are used. The intention seems to be to offer a “polyphonic” world that reflects the nature of urban life.

The novels tell the series of stories of very different people. (As I found White Teeth when I was studying Rushdie I have always paired these novelists in my head! ) I feel these two urban sagas, though very different, have been playing through my mind that there is a choice to lean in to the politics of the place. The writing then that seems to “jump off the page” into real life, in fact gives us a place to explore and appreciate the fault lines in the worlds they write about.

It’s been fascinating to spend a few months within the space of urban and contemporary fiction although on my reading list now are some fantasy and historical works to balance it all out. After all my current work-in-progress is about escaping to the countryside.

While I ponder which era I best like to read in, I wonder most how this year will end up being written?