The Daft Night of the Soul

I think the marriage vows ought to go like this: ‘to love and to cherish, to make each other laugh, to have and to hold…’ If they were I’d have done well lately, as I’ve been amusing OH with my recent attempts at a SWOT analysis. On a sheet of flip-chart paper I’ve put things on post-it notes and stuck them under four headings: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a standard business practice for thrashing out problems; it’s also a good thing for individuals to do on themselves. One of the typical questions interviewers ask is, ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ to which the savvy applicant will answer by listing their strengths, and if pressed on weaknesses may say something like ‘I have a tendency to work too hard.’ LOL.*

OH was amused by my SWOT analysis though because at first I had nothing in the Strengths, Opportunities and Weaknesses columns but a cluster of little coloured Threats all flapping in the breeze of the open door. It stayed that way for a week or two – but now it’s changed because I’ve added some Weaknesses. Good eh? I daresay I’ll get around to S and O some time, but for now I’ve got plenty of TW.

One of my Threats (I’m not going to list them all) is The Dark Night of the Soul. This is a fear that if I progress in life, at some point it’s all going to fall apart, so the safest thing is to stay where I am. I hadn’t quite identified this fear before, but it’s a very real one – and this morning it occurred to me that if you do fall into a black hole, one way out might be laughter. I wonder if Dante ever thought of that? There aren’t many laughs in the Inferno, but perhaps there should be: it’s no coincidence that some of our greatest comics have suffered from depression. Spike Milligan, Robin Williams and Stephen Fry all spring to mind (though Fry is of course much more than a comedian) and I’m convinced that laughter is a good remedy for depression. So maybe in Opportunities I’ll put The Daft Night of the Soul.

There! I’ve made progress already. And it’s only nine forty-five.

I’ll probably post more about this later as I think it’s important.

Kirk out

*(Only better of course, because no interviewer would actually buy that.)

Let Me Splain it to You

Just in case you’re not familiar with the word mansplaining, it refers to the tendency of some men to inform women of what they already know. A good example is this, which happened to me a few months ago. I met a man at a Council of Faiths meeting and as soon as I told him I was a Quaker he proceeded to give me a run-down of Quaker history.

The starting point seems to be that we need to be kept informed and they are the man for the job. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that we might know this stuff already – that we might even be experts in our field – that, god forbid, we might actually be able to tell them something about it! No. They are like search engines picking up on a word and spewing out information on it. Except that I haven’t googled anything and I already have the information, thank you very much.

Of course as the definition above suggests, man– is not the only kind of –splaining. I may in the past have been guilty of whitesplaining, telling people of colour about their own culture or religion, though I hope not; there’s also ablesplaining, which I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you as you already get the idea.

Basically all types of splaining are about power relations. It’s about saying ‘I know more than you about this,’ even when it is blindingly obvious that the person concerned is living with whatever ‘this’ is and is therefore the definitive expert. It’s about positioning yourself above the other person, being the expert, the spokesperson.

So now I’ve explained this, you can stop bothering your pretty little heads about it…

Kirk out

It Ain’t Tosh, it’s Santosh

I know I’m bombarding you with posts at the moment but the brain is very fertile right now and who am I to resist? So as a companion piece or riposte, if you will, to the last post here is a tried-and-tested method of dealing with perfectionism, called Santosh.

It’s a Sanskrit word meaning ‘contentment’ (the very sound of it is comforting, and that’s no coincidence, as I’ll explain) but not the lying-on-the-sofa-watching-TV kind of contentment, if indeed that is contentment at all. No, it’s the contentment that consists in being satisfied with what you’ve achieved, no matter where you might end up. To paraphrase Kipling, it’s meeting with triumph and disaster and treating those two impostors just the same (Kipling was born in India and was very influenced by ‘Eastern’ thought.) Anyway, leaving Kipling on one side for a moment, contentment or santosh is the practice of being content in the moment with what one has achieved. It does not imply self-satisfaction, nor does it prevent future progress; in fact I would suggest that without santosh there is no real progress.

Consider the case of someone (I know wherof I speak) who is overweight and desires to be slim. Their life may be dominated by self-disgust and thoughts of how they would like to look. But far from being a spur to achievement this is an obstacle because acceptance is lacking. Unless you can accept where you are – however briefly – you can’t move on: it’s like trying to find your way somewhere by putting the wrong postcode into your satnav.

Sanskrit is an ancient and astonishing language, and one in which sound and sense work closely together. This can be seen more clearly in the practice of mantra where a word or phrase has a meaning, a sound and an appearance, each of which can be used for meditation.

T-t-t-t-t-that’s all folks!

I miss seeing cartoons on telly.

Kirk out

Two Steps Forward, One Sideways, One Pirouette with Half-Pike and Turn, a Demi-Step Back and Then…

If I were any good at drawing I’d be able to do you the perfect diagram of what progress is like for me. It’s pretty much like the above: just when you think you’re getting somewhere and start to go ‘Aha! I see where this is leading!’ you find yourself not so much on a conveyor belt as a waltzer-cum-trapeze swing which lurches you in unpredictable directions, up and down and round and across and through… and my theory is that, in the immortal words of Chicken Run, this is about all of us. There are aspects of the self which lie hidden and forgotten until they surface, and in order for a person to progress, the whole self must move – which in my case involves the amalgam of complicated twists and turns detailed above. And so it is of late: for some reason over the last few days I’ve come on by leaps and bounds; I’m like the child at the head of the group who rushes on and keeps yelling to the others to catch up. But the others take their time. They need to explore a bit more, they have to be sure we’re going in the right direction. They consult maps and compasses and take a long, tedious time discussing it.

In the end I suspect that the self is not one person but legion, and that at any one time we happen to choose whichever part of us suits the situation we’re in and forget about the others for a while. But they will not be left behind; sooner or later they’ll make their presence known and we’ll have to let them catch up. It’s very trying, when you want to be cool and famous, to have to accommodate the legion of ruminating Quakers that live in your underclothes; you begin to feel like the young and sprightly leader of a coach party of shambling octogenarians. Yet there is nothing to be gained by chivvying them along; they will go at their own pace no matter what you say.

Actually I’ve no idea where I’m going with this post. But I’m sure one of the guys back there will have an idea. Hey, you guys! Where am I going with this? Anyone?

Aha! I sought inspiration from Proust and came across this, a questionnaire which he filled in twice in his life. I’ve missed out some of the questions but here are my answers. You might like to do it for yourself – it’s much better than those silly Facebook questionnaires.

My favourite virtue – compassion

My favourite qualities in a friend – sense of humour

My chief characteristic – complexity

My main fault – lack of physical courage

My favourite occupation – writing or socialising in the pub

My idea of happiness – it’s better not to have ideas but take happiness where you find it

My idea of misery – losing my family and friends

My favourite hero/ines in fiction – Pierre Bezuhov and Elizabeth Bennett

Try it for yourself. And don’t forget my 500th follower will get a FREE ebook of poetry or, if you prefer, a guest blog spot.

Kirk out

We’re All Editors

Lately as I have two projects waiting to be edited, my thoughts are on that process; what it means, what I’m aiming for, how to go about it, what to put in, what to take out and when to stop (always a problem as I can’t help going through taking out commas and putting them back again.) But whether or not we write, we are all editors of our lives: we edit our thoughts, our speech, our actions and our memories. This is not necessarily done with malicious intent – it may often be necessary – but sometimes like spring cleaning it’s good to take out the mind, give it a good deep clean and see what’s lurking at the back of the cupboard.

We all live in societies, and these societies make certain basic demands of us; that we behave in a certain way towards each other and avoid certain words and phrases. At best these are reasonable, such as the demand that we should not run another car off the road or barge into other shoppers in the mall or steal an old woman’s purse. Those who flout these rules are punished (yes, even Prince Phillip was forced to give up driving.) At worst the rules are oppressive, but in every case, as Orwell observed, we learn to edit our thoughts as well as our behaviour.

Then there’s the editing of memories. I know I do this a lot and it’s quite disturbing: for example, when I’ve had a terrible evening out I may well edit it the next day and replay it as ‘not too bad.’ Is that dishonest or is it merely a wish not to dwell on the negative? On the other hand I’ve had experience of editing a positive experience to make it so-so – and why would I do that? Is elation too hard to cope with? Is it easier to have a homogenised life?

Editing the memory is something we all do but it can be terribly dangerous. We wonder how those concentration camp guards can live with themselves – well that’s how. They just don’t remember it like it happened. And don’t even get me started on Donald Trump. I could say that the invention of videotape means people can’t get away with false memories, but as we know, videotape can also be edited. Not to mention faked. Hey, ho.

As for us ordinary, non-Nazi mortals, we probably can’t help editing our memories but we can stand back and observe; notice that it’s happening and ask ourselves why.

Today’s editing is that I shall be cutting the p-word out of my life. I shall be forgetting all about p*l*t*c* for the day and going to Leicester where I shall enjoy the shops and cafes, go to the Mothercare closing down sale and visit a friend in hospital.

But first I have to edit this post…

Kirk out

50,000 Words? And the Rest…

One of the great obstacles to writing is Thinking You’re On The Wrong Tack. You bimble along and then suddenly stop, putting a hand to your mouth. ‘This isn’t what I wanted to write at all!’ you cry. So you try to get back to the original vision but of course it’s faded, so the temptation at this point is to Give Up – and if you’re new to the terrible business of writing you may think ‘I can’t do this. I’m not a writer; a real writer would know what they’re doing…’ But sticking to one idea is like canalising a running stream; as Blake says, ‘expect poison from the standing water.’ You have to go with the flow, even if the flow seems to be taking you somewhere else entirely.

But the flow is one thing; a flood is another, and what we see is that in Nano as in sport, overachievement is now a virtue; pushing yourself to the limit ‘and beyond’ is the new normal. For example; someone on the Nano Facebook group has already done 50,000 words. Just let that sink in for a moment: after only three days (or if they’re on the other side of the world, four) this person has written 50,000 words. That’s nearly 17,000 words a day, more than a thousand words an hour which I think counts as hypergraphia. And are they happy with their achievement? Are they satisfied? Content? Kicking back to enjoy the rest of the month? Nope – in fact they’re planning on doing 500,000 words in November. Five hundred thousand words. In one month. That’s more than sixteen thousand words a day or – assuming you work ten hours a day – about 1700 words an hour.

When do people rest?

What’s lost in this treadmill of constant production and achievement is not only rest but reflection. Nothing in nature produces continuously (or if so, it’s very short-lived) everything has its time and there are always periods of dormancy when nothing seems to be happening.

But in this society you are what you do. And we can’t allow that, can we?

Kirk out

PS if you’re interested I’ve written 720 words so far today.

Just When You Think It’s Safe…

Just when you think it’s safe to get back in the murky blue waters of the Facebook NaNo group; just when you’re thinking that folk cannot get any more manic or driven, along comes the phenomenon of ‘rapid release‘. I’d never heard of this but it’s basically the triathlon of writing: instead of writing one novel in a month you write three in three months and edit and then release them!!!This is a self-publishing phenomenon linked to Amazon (reason enough on its own to avoid it) but am I alone in thinking it’s bananas? When I’ve finished NaNo I need a complete break from novel writing and the thing I’ve produced needs to gestate for a while. I sometimes wonder about where our culture has got to: I used to think running a marathon was bizarre and inexplicable, yet now we have quite ordinary people running triathlons. But even that’s not enough and so you find otherwise totally benign and inoffensive folk signing up to do Iron Man (or Woman) challenges. Am I the only person in the world to howl Why???????????????? I simply don’t understand the urge to do crazier and crazier things to your body. And I can’t help thinking that it’s all just a little bit Driven.

We seem more and more to make a virtue out of this nowadays. If you’re not producing, you’re nothing. And enough is never enough; we must set harder and harder challenges. Run further, swim the channel backwards and upside down because swimming it normally is not enough. Run a marathon in high heels and an evening gown. Do something different! Prove yourself!!! Isn’t that the goal? If you’re not baking the most extraordinary cake ever or dancing the best dance or pushing your mind and body beyond their ordinary limits, you basically don’t exist. It’s capitalism gone mad.

Back to writing, and the same phenomenon is infecting Nanowrimers, who are proposing to get up at 3 am to write or to set themselves a 70K challenge or – or to do the ‘rapid release’ thing because when you do that you maximise the – what is it, SEO? Search Engine something – in other words, you get more hits. More attention. Which is what it’s all about.I’m not against dedication to your art but there must be balance, there must be rest. Nothing in nature produces without resting, so do your 50 K (or whatever you can) and be satisfied.

Kirk out