The Deadline of Forty

How I live without regret (most of the time)

I saw a post today on another writer’s instagram to the John Lennon quote “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans”. She felt filled with regrets for time lost, when she wasn’t creating. As my child grows up, I get older I feel this existential dread often and hauntingly. Life is what happens when we are busy planning other novels and dreaming of our name in the book shop.

Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans

John Lennon

But also no regrets. We come now to the work, enriched by these full and busy challenging lives. Life is also what we make of it and our ability to reflect on the life that actually happened. I remember working alongside a number of students, listening to how they were planning their futures and laughing, not unkindly. Not a single day I have ever planned has gone exactly as I thought and yet in youth I was obsessed with the idea that I ought to know what was next. That is not to dismiss goals or even dreams but just to assert that they’re also to be expected to go off course. Constantly.

It is both niave and beautiful to believe in plans. To believe that there are not a million fracturing moments in each day that shifts and restructures the life that happens. But enough of the philosophy. How I see it is that for me my books, just as my life, are constantly being derailed. The life train hops track quite often and the final destination is nowhere expected. Maybe I wouldn’t feel this so accutely if I had reached the infamy of a Beatle but given the Beatle we are talking of, we can assume no-one can predict the ending. No-one protests peacefully for a living expects this violent end. No-one who grew from working class roots assumes they’ll one day offer and reject a Knighthood.

But life is also in the small things. One of the quotes that I come back to for my writing is “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Chekov is interested in how we experience life, the mundane details of things are so much more evocative of true experience as well as of course avoiding exposition in our writing. If you don’t believe the the unplanned, novel will ever happen well you might be right. But you just try and write a character exactly as you intended and like any other person, you will find they have their own ideas and take you a different way.

As I tackle the final the furlough towards forty, I am inevitably reevaluating what I have achieved. But over the years much has happened to redefine success. At some point I may have thought it was a certain job or certain financial position. At other times I have of course wished to be published. And this year, as I recover from fatigue, I reframed it to mean working hard on looking after myself. How we define ourselves is often the work of an artist . From our unique perspective, we can also reflect on everything around ourselves. But not plan nor regret what has gone off course. Because the song John Lennon is singing is really a lullaby to soothe us. We do not have control of life. And it’s easier to learn that as soon as possible.

What gets in the way?

It’s hard to lead a creative life but here are ways I have found that help

I have been writing this blog for a few years and I thought it was time to reflect on how I help myself achieve my goals. So what is it that gets in the way of your writing? Because I have the answer for that. No more TEARS (Time, Energy, Artistry, Reading, Some Other Things) What do you not have enough of…?

TIME

It’s no joke not having enough time. I have explored on a number of occassions the way I schedule in small amounts of time to write. It is miniscule sometimes but it’s all chipping away towards the final goal: write the darn book!

I believe you can always do a little something towards your project.

And the best way to get some time to work is planning your time however messy life gets. And I use a Sunday reset to ready myself to take advantage of any slot of time that pops up in the week.

ENERGY

This is a big issue for me. I have a fatigue condition as well as lacking sleep from looking after my child. I don’t know why children are such morning people. I suspect the energy levels my child has is the real rate we are all supposed to have but for many reasons it gets stolen away as we grow up. Maybe by the fairies? Anyway if you struggle with energy start here:

Making the most of your higher energy moments by being just a little creative. Short creative activities can help you be more mindful, and also very calming. I also have to create on little sleep quite often and taking time for simple things like music, walks and meditation can have a surprising impact on your energy and your creativity.

ARTISTRY

I will recommend to everyone that you use The Artist’s Way programme if you haven’t come across Julia Cameron’s book, I have a series of posts about using the programme and how it helped. Here are some of the key things that have come part of my life:

You could try the Mum version of morning pages in my Imperfect Guide Each morning you write three pages of rubbish in your journal, get it all out and so when you do start your art, you’re ready!

I also use my journal in a number of ways and here I suggest some ways to use your journal to get more creative.

Finally, Cameron suggests you take two hours every week for an Artist Date. As much I would love to have more time at the theatre or at museums, I have a guide for some cheap and easy dates to take to inspire you. Whether it’s a wander around a market or taking photos of trees, I take weekly time out to explore a bit and feed my creativity.

READING

As a Mum, I have to work hard to get time to read . The biggest revelation in the last few years has been audiobooks. Having come to terms that audiobooks is actually real reading, I have actually managed to read some classics that I may have blanched at before because of their size and the concentration levels needed to track the cast! I loved Anna Karenina and Vanity Fayre and I am so grateful that, despite my fatigue condition, I have listened to these even when I haven’t been able to do much else.

SOME OTHER THINGS

I am a carer, under stress and have a fatigue condition. Life gets in the way. But I am always doing something, working slowly to chip away at my projects. The sites tag line is: if not now, when? So whatever I can do towards my goal helps. I suggest using vision boards and found an easier way to keep the vision updated by doing it online. I use Instagram and Pinterest to be creative and find ways to explore the world even if I don’t often go further afield, I always feel inspired in a new place.

How do you overcome your personal obstacles to be creative?

REVIEW: Bunny by Mona Awad

The perfect (cotton) tale for anyone who has taken a writing class

Bunny by Mona Awad was one of those books I started thinking it was about University. A book for anyone who has ever braved a writing class and in a sense relatable, funny. I didn’t realise it was about to go to such a weird and dark place. The book it most reminds me of is The Secret History. Fans of Donna Tartt’s tour de force will definitely enjoy the fantastical elements of this novel and I do still feel like it will be a great read for anyone who is fan of this book but this turns out to be something quite different. As the synopsis says…

“Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one.

But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon,” and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process…”

The small exclusive college is something I can relate to, having spend a wonderful year abroad at the beautiful Mount Holyoke. This sort of book suckers me in like my previous review of The Borrower, the New England connection always gets me interested! But really book doesn’t twist to interesting until after Samantha has attended her first Salon. She is scathing as she enters into their exclusive set. ” Their cheeks are plump and pink and shining like they’ve been eating too much sugar, but actually it’s Gossip Glow, the flushed look that comes from throwing another woman under the bus.”

It seems like a the book will turn into Mean Girls as she dumps her edgy friend Ava for the women who simper at each other, calling each other bunnies. In fact, Samantha’s perspective on all the women has this misogynistic tilt: categorising each into their type very rarely naming them . One woman so personifies a cupcake that she is consistently described as edible. But again the gothic girl, the preppy girl: these stereotypes seem as recognisable as the teen movies which apparently insists everyone only has one identity.

If you do find these tropes a bit frustrating, it’s worth sticking with the novel as it gets a lot more sci-fi in act two. As the group works towards their final projects for their MFA, they join forces to create the perfect work. The witchcraft or science fiction takes over at this point as they develop their stories (without giving away spoilers). Their experiments are horrific and we are so angry with this unlikeable group of women trying to craft their work that we are cheering for Samantha to return to her true friends.

Trying not to be scared, image on Flickr

But as we swoop into the final act, the shocks speed up as we try and figure the truth of Samantha’s role. We want to see her succeed, create her amazing work that is going to beat the entitled, unbearable women. Particularly as we see them gang up on her more and more. In the end they are her conscience who tries to bring her back to reality, The Duchess reminding her: “But it’s one thing to go to the edge. It’s another thing to fall off entirely, isn’t it?”

I’m going to say what I have seen a lot of reviews I read have said: I could not fully follow these final twists and turns. I had to re-read the final twenty pages of the denouement after I had raced to the finish. But unlike others who have either called this book “weird” or hated the sexism in the book, I’m going to say this is the book I have read this year that has made me think. I need to revisit it to fully understand it, to get into how Samantha’s warped perspective skews our understanding. Just like The Secret History, the central mysteries that drive the novel, mean you have to re-read this book.

To me this beautifully written novel is clever and cunning. It tries to teach us about writing while also subverting tropes we know so well. I read the book in February and I am still thinking about it which is a mark of how haunting it is. I would recommend this book if you have been to writing class not just because it’s a fun pastiche of attending an intense writing programme but because there are lessons to be learnt.

If nothing else it teaches us all the power of editing:, “I mean, you have to kill your Darlings, remember?”

Dating Your Inner Artist

There are always ways in to creativity, I tried an Artist’s Date this month

April’s writing has been hampered by the school holidays and my hand injury. I did work out I could type using voice dictation but frankly by the time I had made corrections to Google’s guess at my brilliant prose, all the flow had gone. If the problem persists I may have to overcome my embarassment and ask someone to type up my work. Instead of getting frustrated with my lack of creative output, I have take the chance to indulge in Artist’s Dates.

Taking Artist’s Dates is a key practice from The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. She suggests we take a couple of hours each week to engage in something different and I have a list of ideas that you can do cheaply.  I tend to take it as advice to play more. That the act of being creative even just a little bit, has the effect of making your life more playful.

There is a great quote from Tim Burton, “Anyone with artistic ambitions is always trying to reconnect with the way they saw things as a child.” Well, as a child I had a wild, untamed imagination. I had dreams and pretend friends and a passion for singing and dancing. And so when I try and connect with both my inner child and artist, I am wistful for the child who could become completely absorbed in her play and try and take this principle into my Artist’s Date.

To recapture my dreamy inner child, I have been revisiting my childhood with a series of Anne of Green Gables novels on audiobook. Recently listened to Anne of the Island and found the perfect quote to inspire my date.

I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday,  sweet and fragrant, between it’s leaves

L. M. Montgomery

It was finally time to get out my flower press. This was a find in another recent Artist’s Date where I looked around the charity shops for anything that inspired me. I think I had a go at flower pressing as a child inside the Complete Works of Shakespeare but this made it a more formal pursuit. I picked some dandelions and wild growing bluebells to try out.

Such a sweet find

The flowers are pressed between corrugated sheets of card and onto acid free paper so you could make something with the final product.

Tightened it up, looks like you could do a number of flowers at a time

After a week in the press I had slightly mishapen flowers but a pretty first attempt. I put them back a bit longer as clearly the idea is to take them out once dried. The advice is to always pick your flowers on a dry day. To finish off my week I bought a seed bomb of wild flowers for my backyard to see if I can make my own flowers to press.

Like all art when you first try it, it may not be the most beautiful thing ever created but this was a great chance to try something new.

Have you tried Artist’s Dates? How does it inspire you?

Writing Holiday

While I know I owe an update about my writing month, I am having to take a writing holiday. I have sprained my wrist and my fatigue is in overdrive with the inflammation. I’ll be back as soon as my hand doesn’t look like a balloon.