Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Sneezles and Wheezles

Nose - pencil and watercolour!
Okay, I confess it.  I am one of the first to turn my nose up in disdain at sufferers of 'Manflu'.  Luckily I am not married to one.  It would take an axe to fell my husband when it comes to a cold.  He just won't give in.  He just says, 'It'll be a one day thing,' (even on the third day) and gets on with it.  (Though he does swear by Lemsip Max!)

The thing is, I never remember how hideous having a cold is when I haven't got one.  I just think, well, its a runny nose.

So this is an official announcement.  I take it all back.  Having a cold is one of the more insidious tortures known to mankind.  And I should know, because I've got one at the moment.  I came down with it just as soon as I left the Writers' retreat on Sunday afternoon.  My usual warning signs. Sore at the back of my nose and a stiff neck.  (Unfortunately for me, because my ME was triggered initially by a flu-like virus, I tend to come out with some of the symptoms of that original bug.  And its always the more annoying ones.  Like the insatiably itchy rash on my back, the itch that doesn't stop no matter how many times you scratch it.)  Now I'm nearly drowning in mucus, and feeling very sorry for myself indeed!

It seems to me that the cold is specifically designed to make you as miserable as possible.  Its not anything particular that you can put your finger on that really does you in, not the woolly-headed-ness, or the sore throat, or the cough, or the endlessly runny nose, or the nostrils that get so sore and chapped that you can't bear to touch them with the tissue.  Its everything together.

True to my philosophy of  'Its only a cold, and I'll feel better tomorrow', I tend to soldier on.  Yesterday I had to go into Norwich to do some errands before my counselling appointment.  I found myself sitting on the floor in front of the Filofax section in WHSmiths, not really remembering how I'd managed to get there, or why, and just wanting to cry.  All because of a silly little cold!  Its infuriating.

When I got to my counselling appointment, my counsellor/Guru said, 'What is your cold stopping you from doing that you don't want to do?'

Hmm, tricky, eh?  (Given that I'd just got back from a weekend concentrating on my novel, and with a list of plotting jobs that needed to be done!)  So one of my homework assignments this week is to think about whether the cold is stopping me from writing, or whether the cold is specifically to stop me from having to write....

And finally, to all those of you out there who are similarly struggling with the dreaded lurgy, you have my sincerest sympathies.  Honestly.  (And Vicks Vaporub really helps.)

Saturday, 20 November 2010


Right now I am away on our annual writers retreat.  I am supposed to be working on my novel this weekend, but I am sneaking a bit of time out on the conference centre's wireless network - naughty but nice!  That's because I am feeling stressed about the whole issue of product, achievement, measurable and quantifiable goals.  You know how it is.  We measure our days in terms of success, depending on how much we have achieved, and the value we attach to each of the things we have done.  As an ME sufferer, this is a constant mantra in my life.  How do you describe a good day or a bad day for other people (not least the Benefits Agency) unless you do so in terms of what you can achieve?  So my days have become measured in terms of how many loads of washing I put in the machine, how far I can walk, how long I stand at the cooker.  I live in a quantified world.

But when I think about it, my life has always been like this.  It was always how many 'O' Levels was I doing, or 'A' Levels, or what my degree coursework marks were.  My life has always been about measuring myself against some scale or other.  And because of the way I am, always finding myself wanting.

This retreat is another measurable outcomes fest.  I feel like I am here to do work, so I had better do it.  And I had better have a measurable outcome, preferably something I can read to my fellow retreat-ees when we gather at the end of the weekend.  I feel like a need a concrete thing to waive to say I haven't wasted my time.

The thing about writing is that from the outside, a lot of it looks like wasted time.  I remember hearing Iain Banks at a book reading delighting in how being a writer allows him to spend a great deal of time sitting in the pub or staring into space, under the heading 'WORK'.  I am trying to redraft my current novel, 'The Seventh', and I've decided its going to need quite a big facelift.  I like the idea, but the work at this point is about planning.  Which requires lots of thinking, and plotting tiny bits of information on spreadsheets and scraps of paper.  Not necessarily finished, polished prose.  And I am not entirely sure that choosing a 'deliverable' for the end of the weekend is going to be helpful in the process.

But then the question is, because I don't have a measurable result, will I feel like I haven't achieved anything?

The issue that keeps coming up in my life at the moment is neatly summarised under a simple phrase 'ENJOY THE PROCESS'.  So I am trying to refrain from measuring myself at all this weekend.  It's hard, but I hope that in doing so, I can allow my creative muscles to flex, and remember how to enjoy writing again.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Diary Gap

I've fallen into the Diary Gap.  It happens every year about this time, because if you don't buy one early, all the best ones are gone.  I always buy my mother-in-law a diary for Christmas, so that invariably gets me started. 

This year, as every year, I am in a conundrum about what to purchase.  I've always been a bit of an obsessive about personal organisers, and I've been through several different versions, manufacturers, binders, and methods, but I always find myself fed up with the bulkiness of them.  Personal organisers, especially Filofaxes, are about playing the role of the suit-wearing professional, the City type.  I've found from bitter and expensive experience that they just don't work for my (short attention span) personality.

For several years I used the lovely Mslexia Diary.  It has lots of very useful features.  And it makes you feel like a Proper Writer, especially when you get one out in company.  (Although its hilarious at a writers' meeting when the subject of booking future meeting dates to find that everyone gets out their own matching copy!) The thing is with the Mslexia diary is that despite its many laudible and interesting features (it doubles as a book to read on the train, it's got so much information in it), its rather big, and it won't fit in my handbag.  Perhaps I should mention that because I have a lot of shoulder pain, I limit myself to a small cross body handbag which  carries very little weight, so portability is an important consideration for me.

For 2010, I decided to go back to the Collins slimline diary I had used with some success years ago.  It fitted into my bag, but it still took up quite a lot of space, so I found I tended not to carry it with me.  I left it floating around at home.  I lost it for a while a month or so back, and I was utterly at sea without this central compass for my life.  I realised that a diary is as crucial a way to navigate my life as my watch is (and I almost went nuts when my old watch broke and for three weeks in September I didn't have the money to buy a new one!).  But the problem is that the ones on the market don't do what I need them to do.

I am a creative person without a job, but with a serious illness.  I have to keep track of my days, but I don't need and hour-by-hour appointments section, a huge contacts resource (I have an address book at home for that), or project management, meeting outcomes and actions forms, and goal regimen sheets.  All these things stress me out utterly.  What is more, I want a non-bulky binder that is soft and satisfying to handle but doesn't cost a fortune.  I don't need road atlas pages, but a tube map is always handy if you carry your diary with you in London on day trips.  But then, who wants to lug a diary around on a day trip when you are planning to concentrate on having fun?

Other things I'd find useful?  Well, weekly menu planners would be nice.  A sheet of emergency contact numbers for things like plummers and the doctor.  How about a list of novels I want to read?  A section with inspiring quotes?  Sections devoted to the different areas of my life, like art, writing, blogging, healing, spirituality? A list of items I'd like to save up for?  I want pages that don't have watermarked flowers on them, which is distracting to write on, and a month-on-a-page planning sheet ahead of the weekly pages of each month, so I can see how my month will pan out, when I need to block in rest days, and to keep track of my medication.  And I need to be able to take out and add pages where they suit me.

Is this a lot to ask?  Apparently it is.  Because it looks like I am going to have to build my own planner this year, as its the only way I am going to get what I need, and what works for me.

How do you choose your annual diary?  Are you a pen and paper addict like me, or do you go the electronic route? What features are utterly essential to you, and what do you find utterly superfluous?  Add a comment and let me know your thoughts, because maybe, just maybe, we can come up with the perfect creative person's planner system.....

Friday, 5 November 2010


The beach at Aldeburgh makes a high rampart between the sea and the town.
Pat and I had a mini holiday in Aldeburgh in Suffolk, enjoying time by the sea on a fabulous blustery day.

Pat creeping up on herring gulls...
It was so relaxing!  Pat has been working so hard lately, pretty much seven days a week, and he really needed to stop.  So we did!  It was so liberating to realise that we didn't have to be anywhere by a certain time, that we could just potter about and take as long over anything and everything as we wanted.

I even made the decision not to take dozens of photographs.  This is because usually I am so involved in taking pics and fiddling with my camera that I forget to just be there, actually look at what is around me, and enjoy the place.  We walked around the town, amongst all those pretty little buildings, and I could appreciate them there and then, rather than trying to take good shots that I could look at later to remember what I'd seen.  Better to actually see it while you are there! (And there is a BIG difference between looking and seeing!)

And as you can see from this picture, the rest did us both good - we look so mellow, don't we?

Incidentally, I've worked out how to upload photos onto Blogger again, but it takes forever - I read three chapters of a book while waiting for these to upload.  Maybe its my laptop, or just our rural broadband speed, but its a whole lot of hard work....

Monday, 1 November 2010

Secrets of Adulthood

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's marvellous book, The Happiness Project, in which she comes up with a list of great Secrets of Adulthood, which are the things you wish you'd known all along, and only understand with (often bitter) experience.  It got me thinking about my own list.  I'm still working on it, but here's what I've thought of so far:
  • People are usually far too immersed in themselves to spare the time and effort to hate you as much as you think they do.
  • Do a little each day, and you'll get a lot done (with thanks to Gretchen Rubin and Michael Nobbs)
  • You don't have to be good at everything.
  • You don't need at outfit for every occasion in your wardrobe.
  • Not everyone is going to like you.
  • Never have anything to do with a man who says, "I love you, but as a friend...."
  • Don't sleep with the boss.
  • Always keep a supply of spare light bulbs and loo paper in the house.
  • Don't sleep in after the age of 40.
  • Always keep a journal.
  • Take a sweater (and an umbrella).
  • Eat your frogs first...
  • Wrap cut onions in foil before you put them in the fridge.
  • You can't change other people; you can only change yourself.
What would your list of Secrets include?  Add a few to the comments section below....

(Oh, and apologies, but I still can't get my machine to upload photos onto Blogger, so I am sorry for the lack of illustrations lately.)