No Woman

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the film ‘Yes Man’.  It’s a highly enjoyable story of a man who says no to life; who never goes anywhere or does anything and is stuck in the same old job as a loans officer for a bank.  Then one day he goes to an empowerment seminar where he is persuaded to enter a ‘contract’ agreeing to say yes to everything – literally everything – that comes along.  It’s very different from the book; but what struck me about both book and film was this: just how impossible would it be to do this as a woman?  Totally, right?  Can you imagine – a woman going round saying yes to everything?  So maybe the best option for women would be to practise saying no, since traditionally women are supposed to be amenable, open, charming and supportive.  So what would ‘No Woman’ look like? *

Of course you’d have to be discriminating otherwise you’d have to say no to a good job offer or a gift or a holiday or some other opportunity.  But suppose you started saying no to all the things you really want to say no to?

I did this the other week.  If I have a weakness it’s a tendency to take on jobs which need doing and which no-one else wants to do.  If there’s a need in an organisation, some part of me feels the urge to rush in and Save the Day.  I’ve got better at this as time goes by and I no longer volunteer for things that don’t play to my strengths – but if jobs seem to be the sort of thing I’d be good at, I generally persuade myself that this is The Thing To Do.

A case in point: recently at a meeting, a vacancy was announced.  Immediately my ‘save the day’ urge kicked in – but I’ve learned caution so instead of volunteering I raised my hand and asked what the job entailed.  I deliberately and quite specifically said as a prelude to the question, ‘I’m not volunteering to do this.’  And what happened?  One week later I heard that no fewer than three people had said, ‘isn’t it great that Liz is going to be _______?.’  This got my back up somewhat and I said a very firm No right there and then.  It particularly annoyed me that my words hadn’t been heard; all that had registered was that I’d shown an interest, and that people leapt from that to thinking I’d agreed to do it.

All this is in stark contrast to the Quakers.  When there is a job to be done the Nominations Committee (of which I am a member) sit and reflect on who might be asked to undertake that role.  This can be a process which may evolve over weeks or months; or a name might come up immediately.  That person is then asked; whereupon they go away and reflect on it, again over a period of weeks or months.  They then come back to the Noms Committee with a response.  At no time is any pressure put on anyone to say yes.  The Quaker attitude is that jobs exist for people, not people for jobs.

Hmm.  Now, what else can I say ‘no’ to today?

Kirk out

(Or not…)

*  No Bob Marley jokes please

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Writing Tips – Make Friends with Serendipity

I’m going to tell you a story.  Actually I’m going to tell you two stories – a tale of two tales, if you will – and it goes like this.

A couple of years ago I wrote a short story about a jumper, in which I used knitting as a metaphor for writing.  You can see the idea: each stitch is a letter, every row a line of prose, every colour a plot-line, and so on.  The story touched on the themes of miscarriage and Greenham Common and I was quite pleased with it at the time, but when I found it again I felt dissatisfied with it.  Something was missing.  I rewrote and rewrote but it still wasn’t right.  But what happened next was pure serendipity…

Image result for serendipity

image removed on request

As you know, I’ve been getting daily writing prompts in my inbox.  I set a timer for five minutes and just write without planning or forethought until the timer goes off, when I stop.  I’m allowed to finish the word I’m writing but not the sentence, and I’m allowed to read it through once but no more.

So here’s the thing.  Today’s prompt was ‘Where Did They Find the Lost Doctors?’ by which they presumably meant the lost episodes of Dr Who.  Then again, how you interpret the prompt is up to you, so I chose instead to imagine all the previous incarnations of the Doctor and to wonder where they are now.  I decided – or rather, my subconscious decided, since there’s no time for conscious thought – that they are all gathered on Gallifrey; all except Tom Baker who is wandering Earth in search of enlightenment.  The older Doctors are teasing Peter Capaldi about being replaced by a woman, and it’s beginning to make him grumpy.  They spend their time reminsicing and playing uber-pool with models of various solar systems.  When I was finished I thought maybe OH would like to read it and so I typed it up. 

Now, when I type up new stories I use a story template so I don’t have to set the font, spacing and margins all over again.  And sometimes it happens that another story is still lurking on the template instead of having been deleted after saving to the Short Stories folder.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just delete it once I’m  finished.  But I forgot; so OH received what he thought was one story but which was in fact two.

This is where serendipity comes in – because he actually thought it worked!  He said the first ‘Doctors’ bit seemed to fit in perfectly with the second part.  So maybe I’ve found the missing bit of my knitting story.

Serendipity!  Learn to recognise it when it comes: just because something is a mistake, doesn’t mean it won’t work.  Some accidents are happy, after all.

Some, on the other hand, aren’t; like spilling water on my laptop.  So while it dries out I’m using OH’s model.

Kirk out

What’s the Weather Like Last Night?

Like many people, I have a little weather app on my phone with which I check the forecast.  But, useful as that is, I often find myself checking the weather right now.  Sure, I can easily look out of the window and see what it’s doing but I like to know exactly what temperature it is and then I can see if it’s ‘really cold’ or if it’s just me thinking it’s cold.  What difference does that make? you may ask.  If I’m cold, I’m cold, right?  Well, I like to check my perceptions against what we are pleased to call reality.  Hence if I’m finding a crossword difficult I look at the comments and see if it’s just me: sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.  Call me a kook if you will, but I like to know if I ‘have a right’ to shiver; whether my feeling of coldness is justified.  Is it really as cold as I feel? is the question on my mind; and I suspect I’m not the only one.  Of such stuff are daily conversations made.  Mind you, nothing can surpass this one, overheard at a Yorkshire bus-stop:

Passenger 1:  They said it’s going to rain.

Passenger 2:  Ay, they did

Passenger 1:  It’s raining a bit now.

Passenger 2:  Ay, it is

Passenger 1:  ‘Course, this en’t the proper rain.  This is just condensation.

It’s much funnier if you read it in a Yorkshire accent.  And in case you’re not from these parts and don’t know what a Yorkshire accent is like, here’s a taste:

 

 

But back to the weather app, because the thing that really disturbs me about it is this: you can’t scroll back.  I expect you can on the computer (I’ll check in a minute) but you can’t on the phone – so if, for example, I want to see whether it was as cold as I thought it was last night, or how deep the frost was at about half-past four – I can’t.  It won’t go back, only forward.  And there’s something in that which deeply disturbs me.  It’s as if the weather app is like something in 1984, not merely editing the past but positively erasing it.  ‘The weather last night?’ it seems to say.  ‘There was no last night.  You merely imagined it.  There is only now – and the forecast for the next few weeks.  That’s all there is.’

My weather app erases the past!

I’ve just checked and you can’t scroll back on the computer either!

Scary.

While we’re on the theme of temperature I’ve been reading Fahrenheit 451 and being very impressed by Ray Bradbury’s ability to forecast the future.  He’s like a sort of literary Charlie Brooker in that he takes current trends and propels them into the future.  I’ll never forget a short story of his in which everyone had a hand-held communications device and used it to call people at home so they could say, ‘I’m on the bus!  I’ll be home in five minutes.  We’re just coming round the corner…’

Now that’s a forecast.

Kirk out

C S What?

I’ve been getting daily writing prompts for about three weeks now, and along with them I get other little titbits such as cartoons:

(image removed on request)

There are also quotes and advice from well-known writers, and today’s advice was in the form of five writing rules by C S Lewis.  But for some reason I found myself strangely resistant to clicking on the link.  Like most modern readers I love love love the Narnia books (oh, that I could go back and read them for the first time!) but am less keen on his particular brand of theological sci-fi:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/That_Hideous_Strength

and still less keen on his misogynistic views.  This last is a little unfair on him as he was no worse and perhaps better than most men of his time: however it remains a sticking point, and that constituted a scotch in the free movement of cursor to link and a reluctance to click.  Nevertheless I decided to give him a chance; and lo! his rules turned out to be eminently sensible.  They boil down to this:

Always be clear and unambiguous

Don’t use long words where short ones will do

Be concrete, not abstract

Show, don’t tell.

These are surely rules no-one could disagree with.  Lewis, though some modern feminists would attempt to consign him to the dustbin of patriarchy, was an interesting character; a dry academic with a Blakeian imagination, a confirmed bachelor until he fell in love, a romantic who wrote about palaces while lodging with his alcoholic brother in a freezing house (the heating broke down and they couldn’t be bothered to fix it) a man with strong, unflattering views on both women and divorce – until he fell in love with an American divorcee.  It was almost as though life was trying to teach him something…

It seems Lewis had to be pushed to the brink before he would allow himself to live.  He had a difficult relationship with his mother and only reluctantly allowed himself to be drawn into a liaison with Joy Davidman.  This, however, was short-lived as she died of cancer and he married her on her death-bed (having previously entered a civil marriage so that she could live in the UK: you wonder how much he was kidding himself there.)  His non-fiction works Surprised by Joy and The Problem of Pain seem almost anticipatory biographies, life following the blueprint of art. 

His Christianity is a mix of fear and joy, though his apprehensions of hell are somewhat prosaic: people sin the most not by living too much but by living too little; by being afraid of life.  But he did liven up what was a very dull theological epoch during the inter- and post-war years.  And to an extent I agree with him as my vision of hell is like this guy in the Channel 4 series Mimic, who longs for fame but when his big chance comes he hides in the toilets. 

Anyway, I guess if your worst nightmare is NOT taking the opportunity then you’ll take it.  Otherwise your worst nightmare would be – oh, I don’t know, farting on live TV or picking your nose or crying or losing your trousers or… or something that would be shared on social media and stay on youtube forever.

Come to think of it, those are my worst nightmares…

Kirk out

Baa!

I’m feeling a little sheepish at the moment and I’ll tell you why in just a sec.  In the meantime I’m going to review last night’s one-off drama from the BBC, Care.  Alison Steadman is pure genius in this story of a bright, caring elderly woman who has a major stroke and loses everything.  She becomes aggressive and confused; she mistakes every man she sees for her dead husband and her response to being asked to make tea is to eat the teabag.  When she’s taken to a care home they lose her that first night because there are only three nurses to care for thirty-one patients.  She communicates in fractured phrases that convey nothing to the outside world: vague subtitles waft across to translate her thoughts.  After she absconds her daughter brings her home, and there begins a nightmare of trying to care for a demented elderly mother whilst bringing up two daughters alone.  The indictment of the care system is on a par with something by Ken Loach: after I’d seen it I couldn’t get to sleep as it stirred up so many emotions.

But none of this explains the sheepishness; nor is the sheepishness connected to sleeplessness.  Nay, I have ordered a book whose title has caused me some embarrassment, though I’m not sure why.  It’s nothing to do with sex; it’s on a subject which its author suggests is even more private and harder to talk about than sex.  It’s this.

And I have to say that so far, I’m finding it inspirational.  I’m not entirely sure whether I want to be you-know-what: in fact part of me things R*** is a four-letter word.  But McKenna deconstructs these ideas and suggests, firstly, that being rich is about a mental attitude and not governed by how much you have (I concur) and secondly, that wealth does not in itself corrupt, but ‘reveal’.  It accentuates what is already there.  I’m not sure I entirely go along with that but I know what he means.

Along with very helpful exercises there are some quotations designed to be inspirational; however many of these have a disturbing effect on me as they are from people like Richard Branson, Ayn Rand and (shudders) Donald Trump.  I should make clear that the book was published in 2007, way before DT got into politics.

But I am aware of two things; one, that I am hard-up, and two, that I want more income than I have at the moment.  I want a flow of income that allows me to buy some stuff I want and to give to others (no begging letters please; I’m talking about charities here) so that I can, in his words, ‘live my best life.’

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Kirk out

 

Zen + Zen = Zen

I’ve been reading a book of Japanese Death Poems lent to me by my son.  I was quite ignorant of the Japanese tradition of writing a poem at the point of death: it seems very strange to us that someone can not only know when they are about to die but stop to write a poem before they go; but I found these poems to be a great source of peace: all of us in the West need to learn to confront our own mortality instead of running away from it and trying to prolong our lives as much as possible.

https://bit.ly/2EcHWiG

I’ve also been watching a film about the Tamil mathematician Ramanujan.  Played by Dev Patel, Ramanujan is an untutored genius with a brilliant intuitive mind who regards mathematics as a sort of worship and does his calculations in the sand of the temple floor.  He has a mind as beautiful as Nash’s but without any opportunity to share his insights; however a friend takes his papers to show the local British bigwig and he gets an opportunity to go to Cambridge and study under Hardy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._H._Hardy

Jeremy Irons (how I love that man) is perfect as the atheist Hardy, a man fighting on more fronts than the War which forms the backdrop to this narrative.  Prejudice is ingrained and Trinity College refuses to acknowledge that ‘an Indian’ could be brainier than they are.  But Hardy is also fighting Ramanujan himself, who cannot understand his insistence on ‘proving’ the arguments which he intuitively ‘sees’.  Intuition, in the West, is not enough: there must be proof, especially if Ramanujan is to be elected as a Fellow.  An opportunity to explore these cultural differences is missed; in fact missed opportunities are a feature of this film.  Stephen Fry has a cameo as British bigwig Sir Francis Spring who abruptly changes his mind about supporting Ramanujan (another opportunity for drama missed) and other supporting roles are underexploited, such as Toby Jones as Hardy’s friend and co-conspirator and Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell; a man sympathetic to racial equality but realistic about Ramanujan’s chances of Fellow-ship.

A sad sub-plot involves Ramanujan’s young wife, separated from him by his relocation to England.  Their separation is cruelly compounded by his jealous mother who hides their letters, so that each thinks the other has forgotten them.  But once again the opportunity for drama is missed; the wife finds the letters and we fast-forward to a reconciliation, though sadly they have only two more years together before he dies of TB.

I’m very interested in the subject of multicultural maths.  Arabic cultures were fluent in maths and much of their art is based on patterns of numbers: I wonder if we are still as arrogant today as those Trinity scholars who thought the way of the West was the only way?

The film’s on Netflix now if you want to watch it:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0787524/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_7

And I have a sneaking suspicion that in Zen mathematics 1+1=1…

Kirk out

Gigging for Momentum

Momentum in the area of gigs is something I’d really like to have; to swing from one (paid) gig to another, to travel the country bringing emergency poetry to areas of need, to hop on a train down to London one night and up to Nottingham the next, then over to Brum, maybe up to Edinburgh the next week; that’s the life for me.  Swinging from tree to tree…

I’m a poetess and I’m OK;

I gig all night and I write all day

(Before you write in, I dislike the word ‘poetess’ as much as anyone; I just used it for its syllables.)

But until that day comes I must content myself with a gig for Momentum.  This happened on Sunday at the Criterion in Leicester:

https://bit.ly/2Ri5MMO

a venerable pub with plenty of good beer (alas, I was driving so had none) and a separate music room.  It was a good afternoon with a mix of musicians and poets: I met some old friends and encountered a new poet, Will Horspool, whose poetry I enjoyed.  Myself, Bobba, Richard Byrt and Will were the poets and Steve Cartwright, Sheila Mosley and Paul (sorry Paul I forgot your last name) the musicians.  It was a game of two halves with each of us having a ten-minute set in each half.

I have now finished Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ and begun my poetry journal.  This is proving very useful as I can record not only what I’ve done in terms of practising and writing, but the thoughts and ideas which occur while I’m practising and writing.  These are many and varied and writing them down is a good way to begin organising them.  To my intense relief Fry says ‘Please do not send me your poems.’  He is terribly polite about not having the time to read them, and it releases me from any compulsion I might otherwise have felt to send him a sonnet I’d written in response to one of his prompts.  However in case he should stop by this blog for a moment, I’ll reproduce it below.

The poems for Momentum were:

Spike (written for Sound Cafe)

A Hostile Environment (about the effects of austerity on the poor)

Spirit of ’44

More in Common (for Jo Cox)

Poet-Tree, a peace poem

and The Lady in the Van.

These were well-received.

The sonnet prompt in Fry’s book was to write about voting in elections from two opposing points of view.  This is the first sonnet, exhorting people to vote – the second is a work in progress, probably because my heart isn’t in it (if you’re interested, this one is based on Wordsworth’s poem about Milton:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45528/london-1802

On Voter Apathy

Voter!  Thou should’st be living at this last

hour, for all the signs say life’s expired

x does not mark the spot: you can’t be arsed

for apathy is tiredness beyond tired.

Arise!  The ballot box hath need of thee

thy paper crossed and folded but complete

your vote could be the one to change the MP

take part instead of voting with your seat.

La politique s’occupe de vous, said Jean-Paul;

he’s right: not voting now is voting Tory

to sofa-sit effects no change at all

you have the power – now go get the glory.

They fought for this, the people of our nation

sometimes a right implies an obligation.

(c) Liz Gray, 2018

Kirk out