On Becoming Unstoppable #4

Onto the ninth of Benjamin Hardy’s Thirty Behaviours to Make [Me] Unstoppable: 

Create More Peake Experiences

He begins with a quote: 

“Peak experiences as rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.”Abraham Maslow

and, thankfully, goes on to say:

‘Peak experiences, by nature, are novel and new. They involve experiencing or seeing the world in a new way.

In order for you to have a peak experience, you need to be open to new experiences. You need to be humble

Peak experiences are more likely to happen outside of your comfort zone. They generally involve “experiential” learning.’

Adds:

‘Peak experiences don’t need to be rare. They are only as rare as your courage is exercised. If you begin being courageous daily, you’ll start having more peak experiences.

As you have more peak experiences, your emotional wellbeing will increase, and thus, your imagination and ability to direct and create your future will expand.’

And:

‘Put simply, you can and must create experiences that change your identity. As your identity changes, your future will change. Einstein wisely said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Change can only happen by imagining a different world, and then courageously seeking new and expansive experiences. Change happens as you learn and expand your world.’

The glowing remains of a dying, Sun-like star known as the Ant Nebula, via BuzzFeed.

So, my understanding is that peak experiences are rare, but don’t need to be. They are novel to the person experiencing them, happen outside your comfort zone, and expand your world. And by experiencing them you will grow and change. 

According to this analysis I have, in the last week, had three peak experiences. Though two of them are unlikely to be considered thus by most people. The first was that I helped organise a community engagement event. This included many meetings (no longer novel for me); making a lot of chocolate based treats (also not particularly novel, but becoming more so now I’ve married a diabetic); getting up at seven in the morning (exceedingly novel); and manning a stall on the Community Nature Reserve (weird and novel). There was also a great deal of last minute printing and putting things in plastic folders. The second was reading and evaluating tenders from consultants for the redevelopment of our local High Street. Both were part of my role as a community councillor.

As those are pretty boring things to write about, let alone read about, I won’t bore you with the details. It’s enough, I hope, to say I experienced them, and they were, on the whole, difficult because they were not only fairly novel, they also involved lots of other people. These days I prefer to work alone and please myself. Out of my comfort zone barely begins to describe.

The third experience was more the kind of thing I’d think of as ‘peak.’ 

Seeing a giant octopus while deep sea diving; trekking in the Andes; drinking yak blood cocktails in a yurt with the Himalayas looming above. These are the kind of things I tend to think of as mystical, magical, and mind expanding. But also communing with art. 

Anna Hepler, via…

On Saturday evening, having been woken at seven in order to stand in a draughty town hall explaining the difference between the song of blackbirds and song thrushes, and give my view on nesting boxes, I was so tired I’d have crawled into bed straight after supper. But our local theatre was showing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Umpteen friends had told me it was marvellous, and I’d seen the trailer. So I washed up, put on a clean shirt, and wandered up the road with Dave to join a group of pals for a pre movie Prosecco and the film. I wasn’t sure I’d stay awake beyond the credits. But, boy, did I.

I was hooked from the start. The music was perfect, as were the casting and the juxtapositions – the shabby town contrasted with the gorgeous scenery for example, but also those within and between the characters. But the thing I liked best about it was the timing, it was exquisite. There wasn’t a word spoken, a gesture, a camera shot, or anything else that didn’t come at exactly the right nano-second to work to make the whole thing hang together like a galaxy. The peak in the experience of watching this film was the almost unbearable precision: it was a tense and illuminating event.* The only other English language film I can think of whose gravity is so finely tuned is The Station Agent. I love the Coen brothers and their work, but this topped even them. Watching it was like eating a nutritionally balanced, yet delicious breakfast in a room papered with Paul Klee’s watercolours. I came out of the theatre more alive than I’ve felt in months, and definitely saw the world in a new way. If you haven’t seen it you must.

Paul Klee: Cubic Construction via the Tate.

So that’s behaviour nine of Hardy’s thirty. I learnt a lot from all three of the experiences I put myself through: how to pull off an event as part of a disparate team, and, I think crucially, settle for good enough; how to put my language and text analysis skills to use evaluating tenders for something I really don’t know much about; and how precision in art makes all the difference.

Behaviours ten and eleven are about relationships, so I’ll look at them in unison next week.


*I should probably say that at the time of watching the film I wasn’t aware of any of this, I didn’t sit watching and thinking ‘gosh that’s good use of timing.’ It’s only because I came out feeling awe struck that I have subsequently attempted to look at why.

Header image of paddy fields in Bhutan from Pinterest.

Literature Ambassador: 2019 Reader Opps

Writer Opps Wednesday has been abducted by aliens…

Header image: Carl Jung Psychology Site

Story-a-Week #8: The Art of Losing

Another hard won story which started in the Café Stories workshop on Tuesday. We did the art of writing about place. The setting for a story is more than merely a backdrop for the action, when done right it can tell your reader a great deal about your character, and help move the action on. So it’s important to fully render the arena in which your narrative takes place. To this end I gave participants three examples of evocative descriptions of locations in fiction: Dickens’s Hard Times; Chatwin’s On the Black Hill, and Laurie Lee’s description of the village he grew up in from I Can’t stay Long. I let them read the pieces before we discussed how the use of the five senses brought them to life, how they helped us experience the places they described. Then I gave them an exercise.

We had a brief discussion about abstract nouns – beauty; love; happiness; fear… – before I asked them to pick one and describe it using the five senses to make it concrete, by filling in the gaps of: ‘the smell of [chosen abstract noun] is’; ‘the taste of [chosen abstract noun]is’, ‘the sound of [abstract noun]is’, etc. I gave them ten minutes to do this. As always I did the exercise too, and chose beauty. This is one of my pet peeves. So often in fiction a writer says someone or something is beautiful (incredibly beautiful, stunningly beautiful…) without saying how. My idea of beauty is unlikely to be the same as that of a twenty year old man, so I need a writer to give me something to latch on to so I can see/hear/taste… what s/he means.

This is what I managed to come up with, I’m not saying they are prime examples, but they should give some idea of what I’m banging on about.

The smell of beauty is violet creams on a silver dish.

The taste of beauty is Amalfi lemons on a summer day. 

The sound of beauty is an espresso machine in full flow.

The feel of beauty is a hot bath after a rain soaked coast walk

The look of beauty is your wellies on our worn out mat. 

Once the time was up we all read out what we’d written and had a brief chat about that. After which it was time to begin the construction of a story. I asked them each to imagine a place and use (some of) the five senses to bring that place to life. I gave them fifteen minutes for this, after which they were given another twenty minutes to imagine someone in that place with a reason to be there. Homework was to complete the story, for me as well as my students.

I got so far then found myself stuck. I was quite happy with what I’d written, but I knew the narrative was lacking in some way. Couldn’t work out how, though. Until browsing the Louisiana Channel in an idle moment I stumbled on a short film of interviews with writers about how they approach the blank page. David Mitchell said he was rarely faced with a blank page but if he ever found himself struggling with where to go in a story he interrogated his character, asked her what she wanted, and wrote that. So that’s what I did, I asked my character what she wanted, jotted it down, and, voila! I was able to finish the story. After that it was just a matter of polishing and clarifying which, with such a short story can be really difficult, and it wasn’t until I gave Lucas a voice, and played around with that for a while, that I got what I wanted. 

Image from Fractal Enlightenment

The Art of Losing

A man with a voice like a road drill lectures a small woman in the corner. A fuzz of pop music emanates from a too close speaker. Someone apparently tries to swat a fly in a saucer with his coffee cup. Voices rise and fall like tin piano keys played by a teenage jazz fan. From the kitchen a hint of yesterday’s fish-pie special escapes at each flap of the door to mingle with the scent of today’s scones. Outside the main window the sky lours as if drawn by an amateur charcoal artist, while beyond the side window, beside which she takes a seat, the sun burns. She wonders which will win, the brooding clouds or the sanguine sun? Will she have to hunt for her umbrella, or her sunglasses, on leaving? No matter, she thinks, she is prepared. 
When the waiter comes for her order – skinny Cappuccino, no chocolate; blueberry crumble, no cream – she shivers in that ‘someone just walked over my grave’ way. Biscuit crumb freckles and hair like fine black grass, he is a future version of Lucas. Lucas, the kid who bid her close her eyes one summer morning beside a Cambridgeshire pond, put a toad in her hand and when she flinched said, ‘don’t worry, he’s very friendly,’ with such a smile in his dark eyes she almost melted. Gorgeous, gentle, born naturalist Lucas. She wonders what their relationship is now: would it be right to call him her ex-nephew?

Again, it’s not perfect, and I’ll probably continue to work on it on and off for some time. But that’s the way with writing, once you’ve got the idea down you have to keep working on it till it shines.

Header image: Saul Leiter.

On Becoming Unstoppable #3

After last week’s meltdown I feel I’m back on the sea-plane of unstoppability with #8 of Benjamin Hardy’s thirty behaviours: 

Become More Playful and Imaginative

By Alejandra, aka Antonio Gutiérrez Pereira on Flickr.

Hardy begins with this quote from Einstein :

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

and continues by saying life ‘is meant to be a joy, not a grind.’ While the philosophy graduate in me could easily argue that life isn’t meant to be anything at all, life just is, I certainly agree that now we have consciousness and are, thus, self directing, it would be crackers to settle for grind when joy is possible. But how does this lead to being unstoppable? Actually, what is it to be unstoppable?

I launched myself into this particular abyss two weeks ago without stopping (ho ho) to examine or define the term, so I think I should do that now. My dictionary defines it as being impossible to stop, which doesn’t really help much. Impossible to stop at what, I’m not thinking of doing a Forrest Gump? Perhaps it would be better to try and ascertain what Hardy means by being unstoppable. I haven’t thoroughly read all of his thirty behaviours, though having read the first ten or so, and skimmed the rest, I’m of the impression he means unstoppable at achieving one’s dreams or goals. That is, if you make these behaviours part of your life your goals will follow.

As I said in the first post on this subject my goals are to earn a living from my writing; to be the best possible wife to D, and to contribute to world eudaimonia. So, back to the question: how will becoming more playful and imaginative help me achieve them?

Ah, but this leads to more questions: what is it to be playful; what is it to be imaginative? To play, according to my dictionary, is ‘to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.’ So it’s to do something for the fun of it, without worrying about outcomes. Yes? 

Image from Pinterest.

I don’t think I could do more of this, my life really is predicated on doing things for enjoyment. Even the writing workshops I run are more fun than work, that they add a few coffers to my pot is almost a bonus.

Seven years ago I moved into the tiny house of a poor man ten years older than me. Last June I married him. Retired and living on the scant pension of someone who dedicated his working life to charitable concerns rather than climbing a career ladder, he will never be able to buy me a cottage in Perpignan or an Edmund de Waal pot. But waking up with him beside me is like having ice-cream for breakfast. He is my own private Perpignan. I married him for the joy of being with him.

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of lectures (Royal Institute, mostly) on quantum mechanics. Everything the lecturer says makes sense while I’m watching, but within minutes of the end I forget it all. I’ve probably watched about five or six by now, but still know nothing about quantum entanglement or super symmetry. It’s unlikely I’ll ever understand the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, or wormholes that grow as you pass through them so you can never get to the end, and I have no desire to become a particle physicist. Yet I still, in idle moments, look for more lectures to imbibe. I do so for the fun of it. I love the language – up quarks and down quarks, charm quarks, bottom quarks, leptons and sparticles – and I love the look of the equations written in chalk on a blackboard, even though they make no sense to me. I stumbled on the first lecture while attempting to learn something about space for a story. The story has long since been dumped, yet I return again and again to the lectures, looking for ever more to watch. The vague hope for a particular outcome has been usurped by the desire to wallow in this unintelligible language, and Kafkaesque imagery. Some may find it difficult to see how watching a lecture on Quantum non-locality could possibly be play, but to me having Philip Ball on my lap – a toy dog in one hand, a toy rabbit in the other – is akin to being a child again, lying tucked up in bed while my mother reads One Thousand and One Arabian Nights to my sisters, my brother, and me.

I’ll return to Hardy to help answer the question of what it is to be imaginative. He says: ‘Having imagination means you’re mentally and emotionally flexible,’ that you can ‘see beyond what is currently in front of you.’ And he expands thus: ‘Being imaginative about your future means you believe you can do and be things that others can’t see.’ I’ll attempt to unpack this a bit: to be imaginative about my future means I believe, a) I can earn a living from my writing, even though the figures – which are what others will see – show that’s pretty rare; b) I can be the best possible wife to D, regardless of the divorce rate and, c) I can contribute to world eudaimonia, which most people would view as being utopian, a term rarely used as a compliment. It also means I can see myself doing and being these things.* 

He’s saying that in order to believe your goals are possible you have to be able to imagine what your life will look/feel/smell/taste/sound like when you reach them. And you certainly need to be able to imagine yourself in the process of achieving them. Step by step. It’s about creating new solutions to old problems. Testing. Tasting. Trying. And thinking of every setback as a chance to learn. He mentions Carol Dweck, and says she has produced some of the most important research in psychology over the past fifty years. So I googled her.

Her area of expertise is learning. She’s my new favourite person. Basically, she teaches how to teach based on the concept of ‘not yet.’ By which I mean, she exhorts educators, parents, and anyone who’s interested in learning and teaching to focus not on grades, conventional notions of intelligence, and the now. But to understand that learning is a process. If a kid doesn’t get the grades s/he, or more likely her/his parents, want, s/he should be praised for trying and told that by trying s/he is increasing her/his brain’s capacity. We should look on learning as a challenge, a problem to be solved by doing and making mistakes. We are all capable of making new neural connections and, thus, increasing our level of intelligence. This concept she calls a ‘growth mindset.’ If we have a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset – whereby we believe we have a fixed level of intelligence, so are either born clever or not so much – we look on failing as an opportunity to do better next time, an opportunity to solve the problem and grow. This takes imagination: a mind that’s open and active. But it starts with a simple belief.

I’m pretty sure no one will ever invite me to Cern to help analyse data from the LHC, but I’m equally sure that by watching lectures about quantum physics I will absorb the language. As a writer language, and how it’s used, is my thing. I love it. Maybe one day, long after I’ve moved on from physics to, say, geology, while staying in a bothy on Ulva, I’ll watch D going off for a day’s fishing, open my laptop and write a story about a sparticle and a neutrino dancing on an event horizon; I can already imagine it being accepted by the New Yorker!


*I’m still working on this part.

Header image also from Pinterest.

Literature Ambassador: 2019 Writer Opps #7

Writer Opps Wednesday is thrilled to deliver to your very own eyes a gender-bending Feminist publisher who accepts unsolicited manuscripts; an online lit mag, with an unconventional view of categorization, calling for submissions; a link to five more magazines in need of poems and stories to fill their pages; and an opportunity for creative practitioners to run workshops for the Edinburgh International Festival.

aunt lute

The Aunt Lute Foundation is a multicultural women’s press. The priority of our staff is to publish work by women, both transgender and cisgender, not traditionally served by mainstream publishers, particularly works by women of color. Our editing process is necessarily sensitive to the perspectives/voices/truths of the women with whom we work.

What we’re looking for:

We seek manuscripts, both fiction and nonfiction, by women from a variety of cultures, ethnic backgrounds and subcultures; women who are self-aware and who, in the face of all contradictory evidence, are still hopeful that the world can reserve a place of respect for each woman in it. We seek work that explores the specificities of the worlds from which we come and examines the intersections of the borders that we all inhabit.

We do not accept:

Currently, we only accept poetry if it is submitted as part of a larger body of work or an edited anthology.

We generally do not consider, given our particular readership, works about therapy or self-help.

For more details and how to submit go to aunt lute.

Storyscape Literary Journal

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
We’re so excited you want to submit to Storyscape. The premise of the journal is to expand the notion of what stories are while shaking up the labels we use to define them.
Rather than categorize by type of story (we accept all types of stories), the three sections of the journal are Truth, Untruth, and We Don’t Know and They Won’t Tell Us. Because we believe stories are lurking everywhere, we are actively looking for unique modes of storytelling that fall outside conventional boundaries while still maintaining the core essence of “story.” Then again, we’re also open to a traditional story that’s simply very well told.
We get excited about genre-bending stories of all genres, but also all storytelling methods, i.e., written, audio, visual, found, overheard, and anything else you can think of. If you were wondering if you should submit a photograph of the poem you scrawled in sharpie ink on top of a ripped up advertisement in the subway, the answer is probably yes. Or, you could just send us the poem you wrote. Get it?
A TIP: things that are funny makes us laugh
BUT ALSO: things that are sad make us cry.
We read submissions on a rolling basis throughout the year, though our reading gets slower right around our publication times. We publish twice per year: roughly in the fall and spring.

Go over to Storyscape for all the details and submission guidelines.

If neither of those seem suitable for you, or you merely want to see even more opportunities, I suggest you visit the ever marvellous Authors Publish where you’ll find five more journals who would love to read your work. They may even publish it and, you know, they can only do that if you send it to them.

Nicked from Pinterest

Freelance Artists, Practitioners and Workshop Leaders

Are you a creative practitioner who relies on teaching to make a buck? If so this may well be just what you need: the Edinburgh International Festival is actively seeking creatives with experience of leading workshops. Here’s what they say:

The Edinburgh International Festival Learning & Engagement team is looking to expand its portfolio of freelance artists, practitioners and workshop leaders.  Our Learning & Engagement programme runs year-round, and during the festival, working across artform with workshops and projects created for and with children, young people, communities and to invest in talent development.  
We are looking to hear from inspiring and innovative artists.  We are keen to connect with artists from ALL artforms, experienced in, and passionate about sharing and applying their practice in workshops, and on longer term bespoke engagement projects.  It is essential to have previous experience working with young people and or community groups in an arts education context, and to bring best practice to workshops and preparation.
Our work is inspired by the Edinburgh International Festival values and programme, and we annually present a world leading programme of Opera, Dance, Classical Music, Contemporary Music and Theatre.

And here’s a link to the page on their site which explains how to apply.


Tune in next Wednesday for more Writer Opps Wednesday finds.


Header image: Samuel Beckett’s notebook, from the wonderful Brain Pickings.

Story-A-Week #7: On a Dig

I’m a day late with this post for a stew of reasons, the culmination of which being I couldn’t get any purchase on this week’s story until I woke on Monday morning and realised what it was about. Then had to rewrite it. Stephen King is right, I think, writing is akin to excavation. The story exists, I’ve managed to scratch some of it out of the earth, and now need to keep brushing the soil off it. That’s the only way it will emerge as a human artefact. 

Last Tuesday, at Café Stories, we looked at hooks. Those compelling opening lines that invite readers into a story. I gave participants a handful of my favourite examples, and asked them to choose one each so we could discuss what made them so irresistible. We all agreed that a captivating hook offered a number of possibilities, made you ask questions, and felt familiar in some way.

For example, Rosemary’s chosen line: ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day,’* was instantly recognisable – we’ve all had such plans thwarted – and made us ask why. Was it the weather; an unexpected arrival; had she hurt herself; had somebody died; had the sole come off her walking boots? We could think of dozens of reasons, and the only way to find out which, if any of them, it is, is to read on. The genius of those ten short words is that there’s nothing overtly emotional in any of them, but together they make you care. We had a lively discussion.

Then I gave them ten minutes to compose some of their own. I did it too, we all read ours out and talked a bit about the ones we liked best, and how they operated, before I set them to pick one and develop it into a story. Homework was to finish that story and email it to me by Sunday evening so I have time to read and add useful annotations before the next workshop. Thus I have a little pile in my inbox waiting for attention. And my own story to finish.

The lines I came up with during the session are:

1) Everything was fine until the chicken died.

2) When the phone rings in this house, regardless of the time of day, she stares at it counting the rings, picking up only when it’s in danger of ringing out. A game of telephone roulette she doesn’t even realise she’s playing.

3) Agnes Carter glides to the shed in which she keeps her supplies, her flip-flops snapping at her heels.

4) The cheese sandwich curled in the last of the sun.

I’m sure you’ll agree none of them are particularly inviting, but I was determined to make something of one of them, which could be why I’ve struggled so much. Usually when I write, I start with a vision, like a fuzzy film playing in my head. There’s a character and a situation that I find myself drawn to question. That questioning clarifies the vision and becomes the story. It’s all rather organic. The vision emerges like the tiny shoot of a self seeded native plant that had only been waiting for the right conditions; the questions, like water and sunlight, bring it to life. But working from a dashed off line was more like trying to grow Morning Glory on a west facing wall. 

I chose number four for no particular reason, and started off well enough, but stalled after about two hundred words. Then other things took over, and I didn’t look at it again till Friday, when I forced a few more lines. Late Sunday afternoon, between a volunteer session on the hill, and drinks at friends, I stared at it for some time and, finally, added a scant resolution to the single scrappy scene I’d managed, and gave it a rather abrupt ending. 

Nibbling on radishes and sipping wine at B & R’s I felt sure I’d made a terrible mistake in choosing a cheese sandwich to write about, but chalked it up to experience, and let it go. Then Monday morning happened, and I spent most of the day on it, steadfastly ignoring the outside world. As I said, it still needs to be cleaned up before it shows its worth, or lack thereof, but it seems to me to be more than a clod of dry mud.

Pear Tree in Blossom – Pyotr Konchalovsky, 1927

Old Marbury

A cheese sandwich curls in the bold noon sun, no crumbs on the table, a pickle stained knife in the sink the only sign it hadn’t spontaneously materialized. A pair of battered leather sandals beside a back door wide open to the garden, where dry sheets bake on a line made of fishing wire – ‘you could land a sixty pound pike with that, it won’t even notice your smalls.’ Old Marbury had said, that smile playing in the corner of his mouth like a badly tuned tv, when she balked at his offer to replace her snapped nylon fibre. 
Only she knows how awkward it is to get the pegs to stick. She’s had to resort to wadding, which means hanging takes three times as long. She will return to fibre once old Marbury dies she tells herself, and feels guilty. Which is why when she heard the cry she ran, throwing the knife into the sink on her way out the door, not stopping for footwear, and called: ‘Ol… Mar… Mis…’ She rounded the fence and saw him on the concrete slabs with which he’d replaced his lawn, for ease of maintenance, oblivious to her pleas to retain a pear tree so gnarled she fancied it inspiration for the arabesques of an imagined local Illuminated Manuscript, and gasped. As twisted as the branch Billy McKechnie gave her the day she forced herself to watch him wield his chainsaw, as pale as the fruit the tree will no longer bear, a similar blush of carmine blooming on the bulge of his forehead, his left hand flapping like a windsock in a gale. Noise buds from his half-closed mouth, but doesn’t appear to be an attempt at communication.   
She looks up at the roof and sees a shiny new satellite dish dangling from the chimney; down at the wall and sees the ladder leaning against it like a labourer on a break, missing only a hard-hat and cigarette whose ash to flick; spots fragments of slate on the ground. 
Old fool, she thinks, and roots in her pocket for her phone. 

You’ll notice several sentences that need to be unpacked and reorganised. And there’s a bit of a tense thing going on: degrees of past and present are somewhat confused: the cheese sandwich is curling in the right now, as is her assessment of the situation. But there’s a segue from her memory of the pear tree incident to the present I need to work on. And I will. As King has said, writing is a process of transferring information from your imagination to the reader, it’s hard, but worth it.


*Jane Eyre

Header image from the Facebook page of the Ministry for Antiquities.

On Becoming Unstoppable #2

Last Friday I wrote about my goals, and priorities* which, Benjamin Hardy argues, are paramount to becoming unstoppable. I followed his advice and listed the things I do every day in order to ascertain, by my behaviour, what my priorities are, and came to a tentative conclusion that my goals and priorities are, if not identical, certainly twins. My life goals are somewhat broad – as well as aiming at earning a living from my writing and being the kind of wife D needs, I want to contribute to a world that is healthy and positive for everything in it – but I think they all compliment each other pretty well. They are all about being happy: making enough to live on from my writing would vastly expand my happiness; a happy D is definitely a happy me; but the current socio-political climate with its emphasis on alienation and othering is like a huge puncture in my happy-balloon. Thirty seconds of news and I descend rapidly from the cloud of joyful writing to the concrete car-park of despair. So I do what I hope is a useful amount of community work. 

Call me naive, but I believe that nature and beauty engender happiness; that happiness is contagious, and that if everyone were genuinely happy no one would have any desire to cause pain and distress to others. So my voluntary work is an attempt to increase the happiness in the town in which I live, in the hope it spreads outward. Most of the time this fits snuggly with my writing and wifing, but this week it dominated. Thus, my daily activities altered, and my priorities shifted. Not because writing became less important, I still forced myself to work on my weekly story at the end of the day, and D certainly wasn’t sidelined**, but some things I thought paramount last week – journalling, reading, sleep, poetry –  dissolved.

If last week had looked like this week, last Friday’s post would have been quite different. My daily to-do lists have consisted mostly of organising and marketing a Community Council event, ensuring I’m absolutely au fait with town planning, researching effective ways to engage and empower everyone in the community, and preparing for a woodland volunteer day. It would have appeared that the most important things in my life were traffic signalling, old buildings, sandwiches, raffle prizes, poster design, and other such non-literary things. So examining the seventh behaviour on Hardy’s list of thirty: Eliminate all non-priorities has taken on quite a different shape. One might even call it gibbous!

Image from Pinterest

I’ve been reminded that life, even mine, is more complex than such articles as How to Become Unstoppable allow. I could, I suppose, and some artists do, ignore the outside world and merely focus on my work. But I’m not that self absorbed, and I don’t want to be that selfish. So, the question seems to be: how do I prioritise for both my writer-wife life, and my socially responsible one, and still succeed as a writer? I think the trick is to be flexible. Know what I want; know that’s more complicated than just writing, and allow myself to be blown slightly off the writing course from time to time. But, and this is important, never lose sight of the ultimate goal. So, to get back to Hardy’s thirty behaviours to make me unstoppable, how am I doing with behaviour seven?

Eliminate all non-priorities 

This is how Hardy says he does it:

As a rule, I only invest my time in things that add to my present experience and my future. Thus, I invest time in relationships that I plan to have forever, like with my family and friends. I invest time in my education and growth. I invest time on work I believe in. I invest in experiences that create profound memories.
What do you invest time in?
Is this investment making your future better than your past?

Oddly, even though I feel a bit off track this week I feel I do, and have done, all of these things. Yes, I haven’t invested my time in reading and writing as much as usual, but the things I have been doing do add to my present experience***, and my future. If nothing else I’m gathering a lot of material to write about. It has been educational, and, though I may feel slightly wizened as I write this, it should lead to growth. I believe in the stuff I’ve done over the last few days, even the sandwich making, and, if things go to plan, experiences that will create profound memories should arise.

Via Pinterest.

I feel better for merely writing that! That I have been somewhat overwhelmed by distractions from my art hasn’t meant I’ve been distracted from my core priorities. Phew!

I said last week that this week I’d also look at becoming more playful, and creating more peak experiences. But I’ll have to leave that till next week, playfulness hasn’t got a look in this week, and I haven’t had a minute to even work out what a peak experience is. Onwards and upwards!


*Amongst other things.

**Though you may want to ask him.

***You could argue that everything does that, of course, but I’d suggest lying in front of the t.v. for great swathes of time doesn’t.

Header image: Pinterest

Literature Ambassador: 2019 Writer Opps #6

Writer Opps Wednesday is delighted to point you in the direction of one publisher with a book prize to award; one publisher happy to accept unsolicited manuscripts, and a drop in for creative practitioners in Dumfries and Galloway.

Photo: Joker by  Claudia Wycisk via: Monovisions

This appetizer comes direct from Aerogramme Studios which, if you are a writer, I can’t recommend highly enough, so go on over there for more:

LITERARY MAGAZINE PRAIRIE SCHOONER IS CURRENTLY ACCEPTING FICTION AND POETRY MANUSCRIPTS FOR ITS POPULAR ANNUAL BOOK PRIZE CONTEST. THE WINNERS WILL EACH RECEIVE US$3000 AND PUBLICATION THROUGH THE UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.

Skylight Press, who sounds rather interesting, is accepting unsolicited manuscripts. The following is a snippet from their website, so run over there for all the details and the full submission process:

We publish …

• Serious esoteric and occult books with a focus towards the Western Esoteric Tradition, Faery, Arthurian/Grail traditions, ancient sites, paganism and ritual magic.

• Imaginatively written literary fiction. We also consider exceptionally interesting literary analysis, including studies and translations of medieval literature.

• Non-fiction including works of historic interest, and serious horticulture books with an emphasis on ecological and sustainable gardening, which should be innovative and inspiring.

We are not currently accepting poetry scripts.

We DON’T publish …

• Mainstream fiction, genre fiction (thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy etc), children’s books, or trendy poetry.

• Popular mind body & spirit, new age, conspiracy theory or self-help books.

• Mainstream gardening books or coffee table books.

DGU Drop-ins

Image: Forbes

I got this from the Galloway Writers Room website, to which you should go for more details, especially if you are a writer in Dumfries and Galloway.

DGU’s drop-ins offer advice and information to creative practitioners and organisations looking to develop their practice.

The DGU drop-ins are opportunities to have a 1:1 chat about:

a creative project or professional development idea

possible funding options

starting / running a creative business

information about local creative networks

collaborating with other artists

professional support and training opportunities

Or just come along to find out more about what DGU does and how to get involved.

DGU’s vision is to make Dumfries & Galloway the place where all artists and arts organisations want to live, work and make a living. You don’t have to be a member of DGU to come along to a drop-in: the sessions are open to all members of the community – artists, makers and others involved in creativity in any way.

The February drop-ins are on the following dates:

22nd February, from 10.30 am to 1pm at the Glencairn Memorial Institute in Moniaive

26th February, from 11am to 1pm at Kirkcudbright Galleries in Kirkcudbright

Email to book your place, or just turn up on the day.


That’s it for this week, though if you go over to Authors Publish or the above mentioned Aerogramme Studios you’ll find a great deal more. Next week I’m hoping to look at the lit mag scene and let you know who’s looking for poetry and short story submissions.

Header image: Pinterest

Story-A-Week #6: Twenty-Eight Years Gone

In last Tuesday’s Café Stories workshop instead of starting with character I got participants to start with an object. I asked them to choose an object in the cafe and describe it. But first, I told them, or reminded them really, about the value of simile. I gave them a few, and asked them to think of ten more. Some found it relatively easy, others found it almost impossible. No one managed ten. But this is only because they’re out of practise, so I shared my ten:

Sweet as Christmas
Beautiful as a hand worked quilt
clever as a cheese sandwich
Blue as love
grateful as as a grinder full of fancy peppercorns
stiff as a trout
fragrant as his wedding shoes
musical as a summer breeze
stupid as a blunt pencil
posh as jam in a crystal bowl

and we brainstormed for a few minutes to get into the swing, before I asked them to write the opening scene of a story in which their chosen object features. I now have a raft of pretty wonderful stories to comment on for tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, I chose a rug as my object, and have spent the entire week trying to construct a half decent story around it. In the end I actually had to write an outline, something I never do, so I could work out what I wanted to say. I didn’t actually manage to say it, but I’ve a start, I just need to deguddle it. 

Photo by Effie, found on Pinterest

Twenty-Eight Years Gone

She advances over a rectangle of carpet that reminds her of dead grass scattered with crushed rose bouquets, most of which are the colour of fading chicken pox blisters. One bloom, though, in each posy, is set apart by being yellow, pale as the custard in one of those old fashioned tarts you may still find in small town bakers. Too small for the floor, the carpet exposes dusty boards on every side, which makes it look like it shrunk in the wash. Though, she concedes, you’d need an absurdly large machine to take it. Her entire house could fit into this once grand entrance space. As she approaches the drawing room a floorboard lets out a yowl, and stills the hand making for the door-knob. What she’ll find on the other side Ronnie can barely bring herself to suppose. 

Rats nesting in the grand-piano; cobwebs the size of Spain; a group of wizened pensioners drinking Whisky Sours in a silent rave?

She hears the tuneless humming of a preschool girl sitting on the sill of French windows open to the garden, a broken doll in one hand, a snail in the other. On the sofa a woman cloaked in turquoise smokes a Gitane born by a black Bakelite holder longer than hair, and tells the child to ‘please, darling, play in the garden if you must make so much noise.’ The door opens and a new man enters, ‘ah, who is this?’ he beams. He is wearing her father’s dressing gown. The girl runs to the glass-house in which Daddy once nurtured Angel’s Trumpets, wraps herself in his old apron and disappears under the potting bench. 

Ronnie feels the air move, turns to the front door she’d left open and sees a young woman, satchel over her shoulder, suitcase in hand, disappear as it clicks shut. Fuck.

She takes a step back onto the wincing floorboard, grabs the doorknob, twists, and, invisible book pile on her head, walks forward: ‘Mum?’

Now to finish writing the lesson plan for tomorrow.


Header image: Ian Paterson on Urban Ghosts Media.

On Becoming Unstoppable

Wandering the interweb looking for a new guru I came across an article by Benjamin Hardy on Medium:

30 Behaviours That Will Make You Unstoppable in 2019.

I’m not sure what it is to be unstoppable, or if it’s at all desirable, but I couldn’t resist having a look. Might it help me achieve my dream of being able to pay my way through writing? The article is huge, over ten thousand words, so I decided to break it up into manageable chunks and look at these thirty behaviours individually. The first six are:

1. Wake up earlier. Earlier than what? Earlier than whom? And how much earlier? He gives a bizarre example of a young missionary who was having a problem relating to others until he started to wake up earlier. Fine, but I’m neither having such problems, nor a morning person. I decided to give this one a miss.

2. Drink more water. I already drink quite a lot of water, but, to get into the spirit of this, I am now drinking an extra glass first thing in the morning. The result is that my bladder has become unstoppable.

3. Write your goals down, every single morning. Another thing I already do. It reminds me why I mustn’t sit here reading old copies of Vogue all day, and playing solitaire on my computer. But I just list mine, 1, 2, 3, and leave it at that. For Hardy there’s much more to it, it involves actually visualising yourself having achieved these goals and writing that visualisation. This, he says, will make you focus more clearly on achieving them, and help you prioritise. So I gave it a go.

Photo: Karen Hollingsworth via Pinterest

The list of goals I write each days are: Earn a living from my writing. Be the best possible wife to Dave. Contribute to world eudaimonia. The story I composed around them is:

I earn a living from my writing. That is, enough people in the world are willing to pay for the things I write, and this enables me to continue writing. Thus I get to travel to small Scottish islands and experience the views from cliff tops: white tailed eagles flying overhead; orcas swimming in pods just off the coast; seals honking on rocks. I eat in small, owner run cafés and chat to locals about their lives, and, thus, learn what it is to live in such communities. I get to poke about in the archives of small museums, handle Roman glass found in peat bogs; turn around in my hands such delicate exhibits as a puffer-fish on a stick, and a once rabid house cat. 

I also travel to grand and beautiful cities, now a little shabby in places, but full of the hopes of our ancestors. In these cities I eat local food, traditional and modern: interesting combinations of fish and edible flowers, local brewed vinegars, old wines and new. I walk the streets and feel the history and the now, all as one. Happen on serene courtyards with broken fountains; dip my toes in now clean rivers and wonder that they once carried diseases due to the sewage that was unthinkingly dumped in them.

And I get to write on my own terms; make stories and poems with the freedom of not having to worry about pleasing others, and thus my writing is authentic, which pleases others. Sometimes I’m invited to literary festivals to talk about my latest works and writing process, and sign books for happy readers. 

Through all of this Dave is with me. He may not always come to the book festivals preferring, instead, to fish in clear streams and lochs, or off rocks in the sea while I’m doing my thing. But we get together in the evenings to eat and talk about our day, the books we are enjoying, and the music. And we always go to bed and wake up together. 

I teach what I know about writing and literature to small, eager groups, some of whom go on to earn a living from their writing too. Thus, I feel, I add a little to the happiness in the world.


I’m not quite sure if that’s what Hardy has in mind, but it has made me think a little bit about all the things I do in my actual life that don’t feature in my fantasy one.

4. Put your phone on airplane mode more often. As I often forget to take my phone off airplane mode in the mornings I don’t think I need concern myself with this.

5. Go on walks as much as possible. If I lived in the centre of a city I would go out and Flaneur every day. It’s also possible that I’d go walking if I lived in a French village, especially if it was on the coast, but I live in a town so small I’d either have to walk round in circles or up dull, muddy tracks. I know lots of people who live here and do go out walking, and enjoy it, but I am most unlikely ever to be one of them. Instead, to get a little exercise, I use a mini-trampoline in the house.

6. Clearly Prioritize Your Life. As I didn’t know what he meant by this I decided to give it some attention, he begins with the quote:

“If you have more than three priorities in your life, you have none.” — Jim Collins

No idea who Jim Collins is, but this strikes me as absurd. I should have no more than three priorities in my whole life? What does he mean by ‘priorities’? Luckily Hardy expands, and in so doing negates the quote he starts with. He begins:

Your priorities are more important than your values and goals because quite literally, your priorities are where these things become real.

Your priorities reflect your [values] and goals.

If you are not doing something in your life, like exercise, for example, it’s not because you don’t have time. Rather, it’s because it is not a priority to you.

Anything you are not currently doing on a regular basis IS NOT A PRIORITY TO YOU.

If you say spirituality is a priority to you, but you rarely engage in it, then you are lying to yourself.

If you say investing in your future is a priority to you, but you spend most of your time distracted on the internet, then you are lying to yourself.

Your daily behaviors are a mirror — an honest assessment of your priorities in life.

So, Hardy is saying here that the things you don’t do every day are not your priorities. Does that mean the things I do do are, if not my actual priorities, a reflection of them? I think that’s what he’s saying.

Just for the fun of it, and to get me started, I decided to make a mind map of my practice:

Thanks to Katie J. Anderson for reminding me of the usefulness of mind-maps.

This map is quite an accurate depiction of the inside of my head. It’s a stew of all the activities and responsibilities I engage in that feed my work. The things to the right are purely personal endeavours, the centreish ones include other people, groups and organisations, but are strongly reliant and related to the things on the right. They are also the means by which I earn the small amount I do. Those at top left are all quite separate from my writing, but not discrete. They are my voluntary commitments and the means by which I interact with the outside world. The world not tied to art. They provide me with the experiences I need to have something to write about. It strikes me now that I could, and probably should, add quite a lot more: the book I’ve promised myself I’ll have ready by the end of the year; the magazines and competitions I mean to send work to; the funding bodies I really should apply to.

To get back to Hardy and his list of daily actions, the things I do every day (or most days, some do get hijacked) are:
1. Write. It’s a very rare day indeed when I don’t write a) In my journal for a good hour, often more; b) a story or part thereof and, c) a blog post. I’m also want to write a scrappy poem, and often work on an essay, not to mention a lesson plan. It’s safe to say I spend seventy percent of my day writing.
2. Talk to Dave in the morning over tea in bed, and at odd times during the day, usually over a fag at the kitchen table.
3. Cook so Dave and I can eat together.
4. Read: I try to read at least one poem; one short story; one essay (currently from Natalia Ginzburg’s book The Little Virtues); a chunk of a novel. And some days I also read student work.
5. Read and respond to missives (emails, FB messages, blog comments, Twitter messages, Whatsapp messages (this is how I keep in touch with my family). Most of my emails and Facebook messages are to do with the voluntary community work I do. I only ever go to these channels once I’ve done some writing, unless I’m in the middle of some collaborative project, or have a meeting to attend. My voluntary work can get in the way of my writing practice at times, and I’ve often fantasized about chucking the lot, but then I feel guilty.

I still haven’t worked out my priorities in a ‘Clearly Prioritize Your Life’ way, but it seems all the things I do on a daily basis are a reflection of my life goals: to earn a living from my writing; to be the best possible wife to Dave, and to contribute to world eudaimonia. Maybe Hardy is wrong, and my goals are my priorities, no separation. Whatever, this has been a very useful activity.

Next Friday I’ll share how I get on with a few more of his thirty behaviours including: being more playful; creating ‘peak’ experiences; and eliminating non priorities.


Header image from Pinterest

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