Reminiscing is simple inspiration

Away at my mother’s house, I have been enjoying the items that bring back memories

It’s odd how the smallest thing can send you off into your memories. This last week we have been away at my mother’s house for a change of scene. Everyday I have been noticing things with a funny jolt of recognition. I suppose when you are home, your eye becomes blind to decorations or you are too busy to stop and look. Being here I have been more aware. We are not rushing around because my fatigue has stopped us from doing too much. Staying in a different home, I am aware of spending time appreciating the things from my childhood more.

A small basket of shells arrest me at a window ledge. We collected them on the Welsh coast thirty years ago. I trace my finger down turritella shell or towers as we would call them. I think I remember the time we collected it, we used to take old sandwich loaf bags out and on a particularly blustery weekend, we walked up and down the beach stooping for more and more. I think I filled two bags. At some point I had to choose my favourite as I was told we couldn’t take the whole beach home! The crystalline pink were always my favourite though it’s a lot smaller in my hand than I remember.

I think everyone scans the bookshelves of homes they visit, many of her favourites have stayed over the years but I am not sure I have read. I pick through the shelves idolly. There are some older volumes that I think have always fascinated me, probably because I know some were her childhood editions, some her father’s. Amongst them is the copy of Little Women from our trip to Orchard House, the Alcotts home. Like the other hardbacks, it’s not in fact an antique but I still hold it with reverence. Our day in Concord is a really special memory. The postcard of Alcott’s desk sits in my writing trolley still, reminding me to stop complaining about a space to write.

Sounds too are reminiscent here. This is not my old home, though we have been welcomed here in holidays for years now. But the pigeons sit in the trees outside the back of her house just as they did in my first house and I realise that I miss the sounds of the birds coo echoing down the chimney when I am at home. We have sat this week and watched the blackbirds who play in their garden and cheep loudly when they haven’t been left food. There’s a bush here they have occupied as their own and I remember back to similar times watching birds play in our garden growing up.

Often memories can feed inspiration for me and it occurs to me in my nostalgia there is the essence of something I have been trying to capture for a while. The hard work I have been putting in in mindful walks to notice nature and neighbourhood around me. It has been come a goal to slow our time, to appreciate life. To listen to the world around. But these were things that were, at least some of the time, part of my life as a child. These sights and sounds are a reminder for me that this mindful enjoyment of the simplest things is natural to us all.

Write from start to finish

I’ll never been a plotter, but I have been experimenting with writing from the start

“And what about your writing”, a kind friend asks as I recount my months of coming to term with chronic illness alongside my usual life stresses. What about it? Well, it’s clear that I always bristle against this question. But the truth I have been making small slow steps in the direction of finishing a draft. One of biggest, and hardest revelations has been that I may have been doing it if not wrong, then definitely the hard way.

While I confess I enjoy the spark of an idea leading me to write a scene, as inspiration really is everywhere, it might not be the best way of getting to the end of the draft. I have scores of words written on the same book. But will the end ever be in sight?

To disentangle my plot I resorted to an excel spreadsheet of scenes and started to see where there was too much jumping around. I stripped away these scenes so that I could follow the main character. It is a story told from more than one perspective, but I was unbalanced by the main character who kept insisting on her chapters. Once I had more of a handle on the chronology of the scenes, I was able to start again from the beginning and write, you know, what happens.

Photo by Teona Swift on Pexels.com – Time for more tea?

It has been a laborious process and I suppose it could be called rewriting really. I have been training myself to go through from start to finish – what a revelation! On the way I notice the gaps and write them. I also notice the
repetitions which are numerous and seem to be mainly based around having cups of tea. Set in a quaint English cottage, I suppose we have to expect that she would drink a lot of tea but I really did notice how much she used the kettle. I repeated the Word Cloud exercise I have recommended before as a technology that can help writers. Definitely a lot of tea and kettle!

And even in this systematic process, I am not at the end. Well, maybe I am. I have a scene written, but I am really not satisfied with how we ramble our way there. As I have worked through from the beginning, diligently start to finish, I come to another even more disturbing revelation; I am not happy with my start. My start is probably a middle, a twist midway.

So, since the beginning of the year, I am filling in the characters that been on the peripheral of the story and shaping much more to the journey where my original start comes in. And in the thickets and weeds of the story, I have started to pull out other elements and be merciless with others. What is it they always say about writing: leave early, enter late. Seems like this is the issue I have been wrangling with – where is the start, how do we get to the finish and hoping others will care enough about where this person is in her life. About the disruptions and problems she faces.

I have been writing, even in small fits and starts but “It’s difficult” I tell my friend. I have to keep my energy packets for my son, for work, leaving the house occasionally. But it’s also difficult because I have made it so. With other projects that have snuck in to take my attention, I am being much stricter now to give myself a chance. My writing process, though always likely to be slow for a variety of reasons, well now it goes from the start and plods on to the finish. Unless inspiration just happens to strike again, of course!

Reuniting is the best Self-Care

Real life is returning

I am a little late updating the blog this week because real life is on the return. For now, restrictions have lifted a second time and we have been allowed to travel to see family outside and go back to shops. I have been busier than I have been for a while and had to work hard to get the balance right as I am still managing fatigue.

I think it is interesting to reflect on the very first things I wanted to do now that life can return somewhat. As well as getting my hair cut for the first time for seven months, I did wander into town. It was so busy and I had little desire to shop (a cardigan may have slipped into my bag, I confess.) But I did feel the need to see people I know so I visited my old work place to catch up with friends who work there. Reconnecting, even if it is just the casual trips to cafes or seeing a familiar faces, felt like such a tonic.

I recently took a self -care assessment from Therapist Aids. I could identify a few areas where I had a deficit at the moment but by far my lowest score was in the socialising category. There’s a great explanation on the Get Self Help website about how many elements feed into self-care, and interacting with others is part of the picture. It’s surprising but studies show that social contact, even if it’s the everyday pleasantries with people in your community, can improve your life. An article in the Washington Post about the studies show it is “psychologically protective” to have casual daily interactions. And all of this we have been missing a lot of the last year.

Socialising can be simple interactions (but with masks of course) Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Missing people has become a difficult part of the year. And so the most important part of the week were the two separate trips we arranged to see family. On neither occasion could we manage long walks, what with my fatigue and my son struggling to be back in a busy environment, but to be together as soon as we could was so important. Even though with kids around you can barely finish a sentence together, there is a calmness that comes with being around people who “get you”. I have always enjoyed visiting with my closest family members, but there is an added layer of appreciation after we have been forced apart for so long.

I think that given the busy week I would expect to be very tired this weekend but so far I have been alright. I think it reminds us that doing the things that nourishes us, boosts our happiness, really does have an impact even when there is an actual physical problem that causes our tiredness. In amongst I have managed two 45 minute sessions of writing. So not only does self-care allow me to manage my fatigue, it is helping with my creativity too. Despite it all, I really can see the glimmer of normal.

Never a good time

What has 2020 taught you about planning life?

Like a lot of fans of Gretchen Rubin’s, I made a list of 20 for 2020 last December. It had already been a challenging time but during my Happiness Project I identified areas that I could spend more time on: friendship, writing, wellness. So in 2019 I made a list of things to do, things to achieve.

I had already identified that it was a challenge for me to keep on track with goals my post in 2019 I had goals so I don’t know if I was setting myself up to fail with the new list for 2020. I know that I had tried to be more specific ie. write first three chapters of my new project, rather than arbitary time goals. I didn’t know of course what challenges 2020 were about to throw me.

Like many making resolutions, I started quite well. Reconnecting with a friend in London, blogging more and having specific targets for my writing. And then, out of the blue, I became my son’s teacher as well as working from home. I got the worst bout of anxiety I have probably ever experienced (I mean who didn’t) and then a snowball of personal circumstances changed. Out of control and uncertainty being the main themes of the year.

Slowly, writing targets went way down the list. So did healthy habits like swimming and actually using gym – hello lockdown. Now I could have reviewed those goals when we first went into lockdown. Adjusted the schedule, used the million online workouts or free classes. I could have done a lot of things. But I didn’t.

I certainly have friends who were able to achieve a lot. In fact I have friends in many different boats, as I wrote about last year. For some their lockdown life seemed to bring out their drive to embrace life: friends who learnt languages, rededicated themselves to keyboard playing, made renovations or wrote books (hmm). It is hard not to judge myself harshly that I didn’t complete my list when there are these examples of productivity around me.

I learnt in a wellness seminar this year that in times of stress we all have a window of tolerance. Dan Siegel‘s term means that we have a zone that we are most effective but in difficult times some people will go more towards over-action or hyper-arousal, others will gravitate towards inaction or hypo-arousal. So in some ways this may explain how I could lack motivation when others seemed to be doing so much. We all cope in different ways. While setting goals may give some people a sense of control over their lives, for me it has often served to mark how little I have achieved and in 2020 that feeling was very apparent.

So, it may come as a surprise that I have once again set about to make a list 21 for 2021. The categories were very similar to last year and it was easy to see what would be important this year. Reconnection after months apart from love ones was a big theme. As was health after my recent brush with mild covid. But what I have also done is divide these goals into subsections under each theme, and started a bullet journal to track certain habits like reading and yoga. I have tried to break down the goals in specific and I am going to focus on each by what I can achieve month by month.

This first month is all about trying to feel well again. It is about not pushing myself too hard as I am dealing with post-viral fatigue (a few weeks in and my body is demanding I go slow.) I will try and report back on each month’s achievements here. I will also try and not beat myself up. Goals shouldn’t be punishments but a way of making our lives, as Rubin would say, “a little happier.”

Rain or Shine?

Do you go out whatever the weather?

A little soggy from this morning’s walk around our local streets, I can see the sunshine has now come out too late for me. Mere minutes ago, rain was dripping off the fur on my warm but not completely effective hood on that blessed of all things, my big coat. I walk in and deposit various layers on the floor, including my sweater which is a bit damp too. My husband looks bemused at my wet hair which has clung to my face. My gear is definitely not quite up to the task.

I wish this was my view when I went for a walk

I got a lovely photo of my nephews on the wet and windy beach a few weeks before lockdown 2 started with the caption from my sister, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” It occurs to me that she is much more game than me, probably generally more adventurous, but she’s not wrong. And whether it’s the wrong clothing, or just general wimpiness, I don’t tend to go out in all weathers. I might write off a rainy door as one when we can’t get out.

And isn’t that the perfect metaphor for life at the moment? Learning to dance in the rain. Or at least trying to push ourselves to go out in it, even if we don’t feel much like dancing at the moment. I do love an extended metaphor (see my thoughts on swimming) but I will stop now and explain what I mean.

The last few weeks, months really, I have felt so stuck in the quagmire of anxieties about the pandemic, and changes that are happening in my life that I have hardly been creative at all. It is all-consuming to be caught in anxiety and even though I know there are things I can do to make it better, sometimes I am not doing them. So then I have to dig deep and go for a walk, meditate, try and get enough sleep. And even more, I need to direct my creativity somewhere.

Guilty confession time, though I have been carrying around my own personal rain cloud, I have found some time to be creative. Why guilt? I am shamelessly working on a new project, a few thousand words a week. I know the allure of newness is a problem. I know that I will probably end up with two large unfinished projects rather than one. But for now this my way of dealing with the weather.