Books I didn’t finish

Do you always read to the end? I am learning to give up…

I hope no-one is offended by some of the books I didn’t finish. I feel a sense of guilt if someone recommended something to me and I can’t get along with it. But life really is too short to always read to the end.

I have experience of not finishing because I ran out of time. When I went to a book club when my son was very young my brain was fried by little sleep and, even having a month to read, I didn’t get through the books quite often. I gave myself a pass but saved those books to a Kindle collection assuming I would go back to them when my brain was in tact.

Even when my brain was lively at university, I didn’t always finish the reading. I don’t feel too much guilt about this though I know I missed out at times. In both circumstances I did not get enough sleep to really concentrate.

I have shared my difficulties of finding time to read before, but more than that, the time I do have I have to be ruthless and if the book doesn’t grab me I have to consider stopping.

Here’s a few things that have made me stop recently:

Violence against women or anyone if it is done to shock but has not been shown to work in the plot. I haven’t got past the first chapter of Bad Teacher. I love a thriller but I am afraid I didn’t connect enough with the story first so my stomach was turned by the violence in the first pages. It is probably a great read but I didn’t finish it.

Complex plots. This is ridiculous of course, I love complexity and a thriller doesn’t work if it’s not cleverly plotted. I recommended The Perfect Girlfriend earlier in the year and read thrillers like it. So I don’t know why some books I just can’t get on with. I know at some point I will love the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as it has been rated very highly by reviewers I like . But this year when I tried I just couldn’t come back to it often enough to keep the twists in my head. This is one I am sure I will come back to but I didn’t finish.

The wrong season. Another book that has been highly rated is The Toymakers I started and decided it was a wrong season and am looking forward to this one over winter. This may prove to be wrong but the snow on the cover made it hard to start in the Spring.

A trilogy. I love a trilogy. I am currently reading The Winternight Trilogy and can’t wait to start the new Phillip Pullman but honestly it’s a big decision to start a series. I just know I will want to read it all when it’s complete but I put down Labyrinth earlier this year because it felt like too much reading ahead of me.

Too close to home This is a difficult one to explain without talking about some of the issues that I relate to too much. But I will say that I am very aware of portrayals of Autism in fiction (and TV for that matter). As a mother of a child on the Spectrum, I found the portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome in The Golden Hour hard to read. Sometimes it might be that something chimes too well with a reality and I will find myself upset, triggered I suppose.

to-be-read pile (TBR)

One of the main reasons that I haven’t finished some books though, is that my to-be-read pile (TBR) is just huge. If something doesn’t appeal, I can happily replace that book with another or six that might take my fancy. It feels fickle at times but I am starting to forgive myself for not always finishing.

I’d love to know what you haven’t finished and why?!

Swimming: which lane do you swim in?

I have always enjoyed swimming and then a few years ago I got an injury that ruled out running so it had to become my main form of exercise. Add to that my current gym has a spa pool, I am motivated to go for a swim most weeks. Because I am lucky enough to go in the week when the pool is quieter, I can find I am all alone; I consider it my pool to be honest. Which means when I find others in the pool I become very wary of the right etiquette and rules to suddenly share my space.

Much like with walking, I find swimming laps inspires my brain to clear and I work through problems in whatever I am working on. There is one disadvantage of course, no pen. The other day though instead of trying to memorise a bright idea for a new scene, I was thinking about how my swimming is so much like my writing life.

Firstly, inspiration strikes but it is not the right time or place and you can’t write it down immediately. This is true as I swim under water as sitting at my desk trying to grasp and idea or being on the edge of a dream. The problem I find in the water is that I really want to count lengths, but I get distracted and lose count. Please tell me I am not the only one who likes to leave the water after an even number, preferably in the tens. It disturbs my balance the rest of the day if I stop at 28 lengths as much as it disturbs me if I have an idea but didn’t write it down. Like a buzz that irritates your ear that you can’t place.

In the water I am constantly assessing the other swimmers, not so much to see if I am in competition but to check I am in the right lane. It feels risky to go into the slow lane because I am a medium person and I may get stuck behind someone using a float or feel like I am holding someone else up. I think that this is how I often feel following the #writingcommunity. You see, really in my writing I am just plodding on at a gentle speed. I only discovered recently I may be considered a turtle writer. I find people are talking about their finishing their drafts or making their edits and I thought we were swimming at the same pace.

I often lose direction when I am swimming, whether because I am quite distracted by an idea whirring through my head or just because I am not a great swimmer; it’s hard to tell. I love the sensation of swimming underwater which makes me a liability if the pool is busier. This strikes me as like my butterfly approach to writing. I have to make myself sit to one thing but often my mind has floated off to other thoughts and I have snippets and snatches of ideas on my phone, in my files and in my journal. I don’t think my brain was made to swim in a straight line.

What I need more than anything from swimming is time to relax. It may sound like an expensive luxury to use a gym with a spa attached but it has become an essential indulgence for me that I justify. Well making time to write has been something I know now I need as much as anything else I do for myself. Bubble baths are all very well, but expressing in my inner creativity is the best self-care there is.

So, yes the swimming metaphor is spent now but I think it reminds me that I spend a little too much time comparing my writing to others and I just need to focus instead on where I want to go.

The danger of civility

Who else was brought up to always be civil?

Politeness is a premium for a lot of people. That means that if you don’t agree, you find a way to navigate the conversation by agreeing to things you don’t agree with or by maybe making a tactful counterpoint. To make any argument you are expected to keep your voice calm, demonstrate control over your body and finish off conversations with polite enquiries. I heard myself thank her though I was I left angry by a call.

But what if there are many things in your life that make you angry, make you want to rage. I have been exploring these thoughts in my writing. Mainly it seems through pathetic fallacy where storms rage around a character as the anger bursts out. But when anger burst out in real life, I am not sure that it does feel like a massive storm.

Pain, the place from where your anger spurts forth, is interior. I studied the excellent The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry many years ago and I think about how it reduces the body to a mind without language. It is possible this is true for psychological pain as much as for a body harmed. Pain, anger, both of these things are all-absorbing. The world outside us swallowed up and if we truly give in to this pain, any wail comes from gut-deep. It bursts from inside, Alien-style, truly gut-wrenching anger is barely a metaphor for what happens inside.

Feeling out of control, at the mercy of outside forces, that is like the storm metaphor that comes up over again in my work. The world seems chaotic. No one can agree. The politics that I can’t bear to mention that seems to be ripping us apart in this country, well that should cause us pain. There are problems that are not being solved because we are so focused on Europe right now and we do have a right to be angry about that.

And isn’t that the real problem of learning civility at your mother’s knee? Born into people-pleaser people, let’s not make a fuss. Keep quiet about your anger or if you are seeing things going wrong: don’t make a scene. Does that ring true for anyone else? Because at times I wonder that we are not all more angry.

I write under the influence of my own anger. Right now, this week, I am trying to tackle the system. The one that is supposed to offer the right support for my son. And it makes me angry. Our needs, his needs being ignored are hard to stomach. Negotiating a complex system is hard enough but it comes with a side of this anger at a broken system. Because when people say the right thing but do not do the right thing, they are playing the civility game too. Built into our bureaucracy. When I deal with people, whether they are being helpful or not, I have to be polite. It is supposed to be collaborative you see.

And so when I write about anger I know I may never get down on paper how this feels. I hear instead the charge in my head of another’s more powerful words, “RAGE, RAGE, against the dying of the light…”

And then sit down politely at the meeting, smile, wish you good afternoon because we were all raised to be civil, weren’t we?

Shopping for art supplies

Starting a new project should be fun but no-one said it should be easy

You know the problem of shopping for art supplies in proper art shops is you soon find out you don’t know what you are talking about. And if you don’t know then you are likely to make a fool of yourself three times in an hour or is that just me?

Shop One: the man was friendly and took pity on me obviously realising I had been on an American website and the measurement I thought I knew, I didn’t. He sold me the baseboard he would recommend for book-binding as the one all the students use. I didn’t even realise this was a common art school practice but it perhaps explains why it’s such a trend online.

After fitting myself out with my tools and board. He mentions a lot of people like that board because you can paint it. So as well as learning a new tool, I need to learn how to embroider the pages together (and there are a myriad of ways) and now I need to paint too? I tentatively suggest I might want to cover with paper but that’s at another shop.

Before I leave he shows me the binder rings that “a lot of people find easier to use”. I think he has the measure of me and I tell him I will be back!

Shop Two: I make it in to the larger arts and crafts store but they are having a huge student discount day and as I enter someone tries to hand me a milkshake and a form to fill in. Though I am temporarily flattered that I am taken for a student, I am soon put off. The over attentive staff member with presumably with a sales target in mind directs me towards the sketchbooks and paper at the back of the store. That’s not what I asked for.

Way too people-y in there for me, I don’t even make it as far as the craft paper. Instead I take a circuitous route to avoid the enthusiastic people.

Shop Three: Realising I am near the fabric shop I decide that I should look out for ribbon, thread and needles. Again the staff member is attentive. When she gets the ribbon down it is not the right colour but she does try and find me one nearer to a forest green skein of embroidery thread I find.

photo from lovely site with ideas for kids

Next she helps me with needles, but when she learns that I am attempting book-binding she looks confused and suggests something completely different. I ask her to show me the needles if I did want to do it the way I was reading about. And she brought over the needles. When I commented on how short they were she brought over a load of needles.

This place most of all I felt like I needed to know what I was talking about or she just couldn’t serve me. I reserved the needle and thread I had chosen but could not pay by card. By the time I found two ATMs out of order, I was totally overwhelmed and came home without anything. Sorry for wasting your time needle-lady.

As much as it’s good to go to local stores with expertise, the intensity I felt in them asking specific questions, their need to understand my project was off-putting. But only to me, I can see. Maybe partly because I am embarrased about my project, embarassed to have a go, because my inner artist wants to try something new but also feels unsure of herself. Feels outside of this artistic world.

This resistance I feel is good, it tells me I am stepping outside my comfort zone. Not only in trying out a new artistic endeavour but in actually approaching people in shops, asking for advice. Because we are used to not having help anymore, shopping online, asking no-one but strangers reviews. And because I, like many I hope, fear not knowing the answer.

This revelation is quite useful to consider in how I am approaching my life at the moment. One of my affirmations which I must repeat more often is:

You have a right to be a beginner

The staff who helped me today were all friendly and happy to help. They didn’t do or say anything wrong when they questioned what I was going to be doing. I know now more research is needed to understand everything a need to do book binding. But thinking how hard I found it just to go shopping, how much harder will it be to embark on my artistic endeavour?

Time to detox?

Don’t worry, I am not going to sell you charcoal or cider vinegar…although my suggestion may be worse: is it time to take a digital and reading detox?

I avoided this step when it came up on week 8 of The Artist’s Way programme but I knew I would give in eventually. I have already been monitoring my time on social media with a phone app. But giving up reading too? Hadn’t one of the reasons I reduced my screen time been to make time to read?

According to Julia Cameron the reading detox is the section her attendees moan about the most. Since the book The Artist’s Way was published, she has also updated the detox to say no digital media consumption.

The idea is instead of going online or reading, you allow your brain to go other places. Hopefully creative places. Here’s what I did during a week detox:

Puzzles, crosswords and also a jigsaw with my son. I suppose when I started the week I was optimistic that I would have quiet time but when it came to it I still found I needed busy work. Down time is so important to me that I did not find I could launch into a new project straight away. In the quiet moments I got out a puzzle book or finished a jigsaw my son had walked away from,

Craft project more to come on this, but I started learning about book binding. I used to have a lot more craft supplies in the house but since clearing the clutter I have admitted that a lot of the craft supplies hanging about the house were more ambitions that actualities so I just have basic tools. I found this frustrating that I had to go out and buy new things to make craft happen but when space is a premium, you can’t keep everything arty in case inspiration strikes once every five years.

Wrote but only a little. I was too tired to really use the time for writing which may seem like an excuse, but we are coming off some busy weekends, a birthday and a child with a cold, sleeping even less than normal. Maybe then the “detox” was not as inspirational as it could be because I could not summon the energy to do much.

Napped: this feels embarrassing to admit and gives stay-at-home parents a bad name but I rested in the afternoon twice in the week. As I mentioned my sleep has been poor and this means I have to be realistic about what I can achieve in the limited time I do have to myself.

Local graffiti: sometimes synchronicity is a bit too on the nose

Worried My phone is a major distraction from the overactive part of my brain. But what is odd is that I found it a relief to be away from the News and stress-inducing social media. Unfortunately, my brain just worried about other things, so I had to combat the feelings with a lot of journaling. I think that this has highlighted to me how much I need to return to meditation and relaxation because without my usual distraction it was often quite hard to quiet my mind.

Missed Out: but only a little. There was some people’s news shared on Facebook and I didn’t see, some sad, some happy and I felt bad not to have commented. We are all so out of the habit of calling people I suppose I may not have learned this news other ways. I did take the opportunity to catch up with a couple of my closest friends on the phone.

Binged TV at some point it was inevitable that I would give in to the TV. I am not sure whether it is just synchronicity or my current questions that brought me to Mr Robot. But, that’s going to help you really re-evaluate your relationship with social media even if the conspiracy thriller also leaves you a little paranoid.

And finally I….Cheated I am not going to say I was totally offline all week. I certainly didn’t manage without TV. I also posted on my blog and ended up on Twitter to share the post. Then I went down an Instagram rabbit hole after a Real Housewives story came up on my Google homepage. Finally, someone was leaving from my old work and so I had to use Messenger to join in the chat. But still I reduced my use to just a few hours in a week.

So, would I say that a detox increased my creativity?

Not really, but I would say that it has made me stop and re-evaluate. I logged out of the apps on my phone so I have left them like that so that it takes some effort and a conscious decision to use them. I also realised that I was using my phone in particular to distract myself. Although I have written about it being a great tool, maybe I need to use it less. I came back to reading with a lot more enthusiasm and I think that this shows this is a much greater priority for me than social media.

I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading and digital detox? Did it help your creative brain?