Ready to jump start your creativity? On March 17th I'll be holding a workshop at Creativespirit in Marblehead for writers of all kinds. It's called "Writing from Life, part 2" and runs from 1 to 4pm.
Creativespiritma.com will give you a full description.
See you there!
Is it me, or are restaurants getting noisier?
I used to enjoy going out to eat because it was an experience that mixed good food with good conversation. Lately I've tried several places that had great food but were so noisy I couldn't actually have a reasonable conversation with my companions. In one case this was even the case in the 'quiet' room the host guided us to. Do people not talk anymore when they eat? I've avoided restaurants with obtrusive TV for years, but now it seems if I want to eat out I must also shout out.
There's always take out.
I read a description the other day about a returning Iraq vet who was told, kindly, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through”. While the comment was meant supportively it felt, the man claimed, as if he’d been put in a category that few others could understand. It made him feel isolated.
Thinking of my father’s generation, World War II veterans in England, I could see that most of the civilian population at the time could imagine only too well what the serving men and women had gone through. Almost everyone served in some capacity, doing war work, undergoing rationing, and so on. The major cities of Europe were blitzed and bombed with some regularity for years. Those people, all of them, knew the terrors of war first hand.
The same situation does not hold today in the US.
Which put me in mind of today’s military enthusiasts, re-enactors, and so on. Most of those people have never been in combat (with exceptions, of course). I wondered if the desire to dress in uniforms, to own guns or replicas, and to drive military vehicles was just that – an attempt to understand what it was that our veterans had been through and to offer them solidarity, understanding, and yes, even love.
This is, sometimes, how we strive to get in touch with each other’s experiences, and to feel the pain of others. And perhaps part of this is linked to the tenacious determination of so many to cling to the Second Amendment. Behind it lurks love, and sadness, and grief.
I recently sent off a submission for a novel to an agent. Because I've published non-fiction for the last fifteen years I had to go through all the steps, again. And, when I pressed "send" to wing off the first ten pages, I felt an unexpected surge of doubt, like I was sending a child off to camp, or to a major recital in front of a crowd.
That took me by surprise. After all, the worst that can happen is a rejection. But.... how hard it is, sometimes, to think of that rejection!
I've written a fair bit about Synchronicity - those odd moments when things just all seem to fall into place in the most startling fashion - but this phenomenon has its counterpart.
Anti-synchronicities are moment when things just won't fit, and they tend to be repetitive. Ask any arguing couple who are slinging reproaches at each other that go: "You always..."
Quite apart from anything else there is almost nothing that we 'always' do aside from breathing, so we'll let the silliness of the statement slide. But when people argue in this way they're in fact wishing that some things in their lives could be smoother or better. What's important about an anti-synchronicity like this is that, if we're paying attention, it awakens us to just how many things do go right. That's when we're likely to stop and say: 'Does it really matter if he/she leaves socks on the bathroom floor?' Then we recall all the other things that do go right, almost without effort.
Anti-synchronicities are there to remind us of how good most of life is, and that nothing is perfect. If our loved ones were absolutely perfectly in accord with every bit of our lives we'd soon begin to take that for granted. Anti-synchronicities are, truly, powerful messages -- if we're prepared to hear them. They spur us towards gratitude for what is.
Every so often I get some of my used items, clothes and so on, and donate them to my local charity shop. One day someone challenged me, saying that the charity I was supporting merely looked after homeless cats, and that I should give to a different cause.
And yet - whenever I'm in the store it's busy with somewhat under-funded people buying clothes. Three assistants bustle around and prices are very reasonable. Cats are important, of course they are, but a community shop where people can get good stuff cheap is also important. And the assistants are devoted to what they do.
Service matters. Devotion, too. No matter how it gets expressed.
We hear that word a great deal, and it always seems so dramatic.
But what if we take it back in time? A sacrifice was something offered to the gods, surely, but it was a little subtler than that. In order to sacrifice you had to have more than enough; if you sacrificed a lamb it was because you could afford to spare one. So you offered it, in the hope that more good things would come your way and the deity would smile on you.
It wasn’t like a lottery ticket, where a small outlay promised a huge return. That’s simply a gamble.
A sacrifice is persuasive because one is in fact saying something like this: I work hard, I have spare wealth. I will now donate some of it because I know that I am going to continue to work hard -- and I can keep donating if I get your blessings.
And so it looks like a pledge to the gods, or even a bribe -- but behind it lies a promise to oneself, to keep on trying.
The Egyptians knew about time. Those huge pyramids and buried tombs. They knew that nothing much lasted, and the best anyone could do was to make it big, extensive and preferably of stone. They knew that in a couple of decades most of what we are will be dust, much of who we were will be forgotten. A pyramid is simultaneously a mark of personal triumph - “I built this!” - and a mark of human insignificance.
These are the two poles of what it means to be human.
Let’s consider memory for a moment.
Memory is a slippery thing. We forget things, we mis-remember things, we re-create what we think happened and then we’re astonished when someone gives us an alternate version. We forget our keys and our friends’ birthdays. And yet we remember some things with great accuracy - we recall important things in splendid detail; we remember how to ride a bike, ice-skate or serve an ace even though we haven’t done it for years.
And then, in the middle of the night, we recall all kinds of things that make us angry, upset or embarrassed. And it’s hard to turn those memories off. Actually, it’s almost impossible.
If you ever think you’re in charge of your mind, just think about memory. There it is, unruly, unreliable, vital. And then it threatens to fade out as we get older. Having this awareness lets us know something important, and it’s this: we are more than it.
You are more than your mental processes.
Zoe (5) likes to have stories read to her. The other day she chose a picture book given to her by a family friend – a story of cute cuddly animals – and brought it to me. The only problem was that it was in Spanish. I don’t read Spanish. Zoe doesn’t read at all, yet. But she very much wanted me to read this story.
And so, there I was, the supposedly capable adult who couldn’t read the story. We were at the same level exactly.
So we did the only thing we could. We worked together, and made up a story using the pictures, wondering what the animals were saying and what their feelings were.
It was the best story I’ve helped to create in a long time.