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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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

 

The Scold’s Bridle

I have recently signed up to receive a daily writing prompt from Writers Write:

https://writerswrite.co.za

These are designed to get you going in the morning – a sort of verbal laxative, if you will – and I’m finding them very useful.  The idea is, you set an alarm for five minutes and write without stopping until it goes off.  Today’s prompt was ‘Reading This Book Made Me Feel…’ so I decided to write about the novel which I’ve just returned unfinished to the library as I could take no more of it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scold%27s_Bridle

This was puzzling, as I’d seen an adaptation of the novel years ago which both thrilled and horrified me:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0152307/

and so I expected the book to do the same.  It didn’t.  Here’s what I wrote:

Reading this book made me feel utterly bewildered.  So many people had eulogised this writer (though I’m not sure she was dead) that I expected to find… well, skill, deftness, a way with words.  Instead I found what I can only describe as acres of stodge.  The dialogue was like old treacle, the characters barely more than cardboard cut-outs (they all have names like Spede and Orloff; names you only find in crime novels) and the plot – well, I suppose the plot was good but I lost the will to discover it as the action was revealed not through narration (let alone exciting narration) nor description but yet more turgid, stilted and unnatural conversation.  It’s what Agatha Christie does – and I don’t understand why people rate her either.  I think she’s the most boring writer in Christendom.  But hey, ho – we live in an age of plot.  And that is why I find it so hard to get published.

Have you read ‘The Scold’s Bridle’?  Feel free to take issue with the above.

Kirk out

Room at the Top, Room at the Bottom

Last night I was at a loose end browsing my father-in-law’s bookshelves.  He no longer reads, which is sad, because over the decades he’s accumulated yards and yards of old Penguins and Pelicans (the blue, non-fiction ones).  I love Penguin books and as a child I was reared on Puffins, their junior choice (so to speak).  There was a lot of stuff I didn’t care to read but then I came upon John Braine’s ‘Room at the Top’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_at_the_Top_(novel)

This handbook-of-the-working-class-lad-who-makes-good was published in the late fifties, though it savours much more of the sixties: but what struck me in the first chapter was the obsession with clothes, manners and food; these markers of class which he must learn to mimic if he is to ‘pass’ for middle-class.  (He hasn’t yet mentioned his accent though, which I’d have thought was the primary marker: as Professor Higgins says, he can tell as soon as someone opens their mouth, where they come from ‘within six miles’:

https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/03/15/my-fair-lady/)

This preoccupation with clothes reminded me of George Orwell who, in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London,’ was making the opposite journey by being born into a relatively privileged family and wanting to experience the life of a down-and-out.  Downwards mobility is always easier than upwards; no-one questions him as a tramp but when he tries to get work as a waiter he has to use boot-black on his heels to cover up the holes in his socks.  Presumably he didn’t change his accent though, unlike lots of posh people today who use the fake glottal stop when they want to sound ‘down with the people’:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/stop-the-stop/

Orwell was writing in the ’30’s; the cities he describes seem very distant from us now, but you’d expect that.  What’s extraordinary is how social classes have broken down since ‘Room at the Top’ was written.  In theory we now have much more social mobility; but now what we’re seeing is the soaring rise of a super-privileged, super-rich class who are, ironically, the untouchables of our age.  The government doesn’t even try to curb top people’s pay and though Labour will give it their best shot when they get into government (yes, when) it remains to be seen how far those efforts will succeed.  After all, the first task of the rich is after all to hold on to their wealth: the second is to increase it.

The pay of people at the top is out of control; the pay of people at the bottom oozes and stagnates, which makes the death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City’s owner, all the more tragic.  There are no further updates as yet and no indication of foul play, unless you suspect a malevolent universe of keeping Phillip Green alive and murdering a generous and supportive man.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-46013381

Kirk out

 

 

Good Morning? If You Say So

I’m feeling rather gloomy and Eeyoreish this morning.  When I feel like this I’m unwilling to foist my Eeyoreishness onto others, because I know what that feels like and it ain’t pretty, so instead I thought, what better time to compose a cheerful blog post?  Because I know that being cheerful outwardly can lead to feeling cheerful inside.  However, before I begin smiling, this requires a caveat.  I think there’s something deeply wrong with enforced cheerfulness: as I said before in the post about Dismaland:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/exit-pursued-by-a-gift/

enforced ‘happiness’ can be terrible for your mental health because it’s not real.  Before you can begin to be happy you first have to acknowledge your sadness or depression or pain or gloom: otherwise that’s called denial.

But once you’ve done that; once you’ve acknowledged the pain and sadness, there is much to be said for a cheerfulness which is a considered choice: one which looks at the awfulness of a world where Brexit threatens to smash up just about everything; a world where Trump is still President and where Brazilians have just elected (albeit by a narrow margin) a possibly even more repellent leader than DT and where just about the nicest, most generous football club owner ever has just been killed in a helicopter crash:

https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/leicester-news/aaib-investigators-give-update-leicester-2158815

Image result for mourning Leicester city logo

image removed on request

What sort of a world is this?  It’s a bloody awful one.  So give me my parachute because I want to bail out right now.  I don’t want to be here in this place where everywhere you turn there are more and more reasons for despair.  I want to leave, thank you very much.

So, having said all that (and taken cognisance of the fact that there’s nowhere else to go*) you can do one of two things: despair or hope.  And I choose hope.  ‘Strong men know not despair, Arjuna,’ says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (let’s be generous and take ‘men’ as including women) and so I choose hope, even in the midst of despair.  Even in the depths of Dante’s hell there is, as Dorothy L Sayers points out, a tra-la of happiness:

Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

(Canto III)

Literature is full of such examples: in the land of the dead where there is no hope at all, Lyra refuses to accept the reality she is presented with, insisting instead on finding a way out:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-amber-spyglass/philip-pullman/chris-wormell/9781407186122

and, terrible though the Inferno is, Dante eventually finds a way through to Purgatory

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

As for me, when I feel despair I think of a river.  No matter what obstacles a river faces, whether rock or stone or earth or deep chasms, it will find a way through.  It may take time and persistence but the steady drip-drip, the insistent push of water will in the end break down the hardest rock.  Even dams need an outlet – and constant maintenance.

So be the river.  Find a way through, not a way out.

Kirk out

* without either committing suicide or trying to live on Mars, neither of which appeal