Category Archives: Intentions

Do One Thing at a Time

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Focus.

In a world of multi-tasking, it something most of us have forgotten.

Stand in any street and you will see a mother pushing a pushchair, laden with shopping as well as her baby, perhaps another child or two trailing behind, with a mobile phone clamped to her ear.  This woman is doing at least three tasks at once, and is probably not able to concentrate on any of them properly.  The same is true of the man driving along the motorway, his mind on his business meeting to come, a bag of crisps in his lap to keep hunger at bay, talking to a colleague on his hands-free (I hope) phone.  I’m not saying mobile technology is the evil of our times.  What I am saying is that its so easy to get distracted that we rarely do one thing, and one thing alone.

You only have to look at my bedside table to see that I am the worst victim of this curse.  A glance at the picture above will show you that I have 32 books currently on the go!  (That’s not counting the magazines under the second pile in – there are actually four piles there.  Its also not counting the ones on my desk in the study.)  Another one arrived in the post this morning.  And the heap includes 6 library books, which of course can go back to be exchanged for more goodies.

I know, I know.

I have a serious problem…

On a side note, it is interesting to me that, as someone who claims to be a fiction writer, there are very, very few novels on this heap.  But more of that anon.

I really, really need to focus.  Finally becoming overwhelmed by my book pile yesterday, I made the decision.  This has to stop.  I am going to focus on ONE BOOK and read it till it is finished.  And then move on to the next.  And read that till it is finished.  And so on.

And I’m not allowed to buy any more books until this pile is finished.

Or go the library.  (Which may actually be more difficult, because hey, free books!)

You may remember that I made the decision earlier in the year, as part of my commitment to my writing, to start reading a lot more, and I’m really doing well at that.  The problem is that at the moment, most of what I am reading is non-fiction for research, fun and self-development, which isn’t going to feed my prose practice in the same way that quality novels would.  I’ve got shelves of novels that I want to read, but never get around to.  Research always seems more tempting.  I wonder what this says about what I really need to be writing?

Anyway, I decided that today I will make a list of all the novels I have outstanding on the shelves all over the house. And then I will work my way through the list one at a time.

I’ve even been toying with the idea of having a total-immersion week, where I commit to doing nothing else but reading (other than my diary), in the hope that this will establish in me a voracious desire for fiction that only regular reading will sate.

The weird thing is that I never have this problem with fanfiction.  I think its because its short.  I spent nearly five years writing solely in the Sherlock fandom, and that was where I did pretty much all my fiction reading.  It was a continuous obsession, which fuelled what I think is some of my best work.  I need to get that focus back, so I can write original fiction to the same pitch.

I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on!

Happy Creating,

EF

Getting my Ducks in a Row – One Day at a Time

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Well, this is all fun, isn’t it?

If you don’t live in the UK, you may not know what I’m talking about, but for the those of us who do: WTF just happened please?

You did not get your usual Friday Review last week, and I will be utterly honest about why:  I couldn’t take my eyes off the telly.  One minute we were all voting in a General Election, and the next minute, the news just got a little more bizarre every time I blinked.  To summarise, our Prime Minister called an election to increase her mandate, sat back and smugly expected to walk it with hardly any campaigning at all, and then found she lost her majority and now must make a pact with the devil to get any legislation through parliament.  And this only a week before Brexit negotiations with the EU start.  Of course, by the time I’ve pressed the ‘publish’ button on this post, there could have been a whole new paradigm shift, and we’ll be having another general election in another 6 weeks etc etc.

Take nothing as read, people.  We are through the Looking Glass.

In the face of all this, I’ve decided (to purloin a suspicious Tory slogan)  ‘to go back to basics’.  Take one day at a time.  One job at a time.

I’ve found lately that making even a week’s worth of plans in this maelstrom can be self-defeating. Not when my body and my brain are caught up in the uncertainty swirling around at the moment (politically, and in my own life).  So my plan is this:

(Nothing fancy.)

  1. Take one day at a time.
  2. Write every day.
  3.  Do the things that need doing.

Sure foundations, as every little pig knows, are what keep us going in the uncertain times.  So every day, I look at what needs doing – the washing, the cleaning, the doctors appointment – and do those things.  Get them out of the way.  See to Life.  Get the ducks in a row.

And then I write.

Every day.

Sometimes its just a bit.  Sometimes its a lot.  Sometimes its something new.  Sometimes its finishing something old thats been hanging about, annoying me for ages.  Sometimes it is writing practice.  Sometimes it is a personal essay.  Sometimes its just all the pages in my journal that I need to cover to get the s**t out my head so I’m not a complete basket case.

Every day.  Just a little bit. And only for that day.

One day.

I can do this, if I just do today.

If I didn’t write yesterday, there’s nothing I can do about that now.  And tomorrow will take care of itself.  So I’m just getting my ducks lined up for today, thank you.

(And maybe if I can line enough ducks up, for enough days, I’ll have a novel at the end of it.  But I’m not thinking about that now.)

If you are in the same boat, you might find this podcast on prioritising your writing from Sarah Werner useful.

Happy Creating,

EF

Twelfth Night

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Taking down the decorations

This is the part of Christmas I hate.  The clearing up.

Today is the day for taking the decorations down.  If you leave them up any longer, its supposed to be bad luck.  And since I don’t want any more bad stuff in my life for a good while, I’m diligently stripping the tree, just to be on the safe side.

Once all the cards and baubles are gone, the place looks rather sad and naked.  Empty.  You can see where all the dust and cobwebs have built up.  (I’m leaving the hoovering and dusting till tomorrow, so I don’t use up all my strength in one day.)  It looks especially empty this year because we made such an effort to bring that Christmas magic back into the house.  The first annual holiday without a loved one (in this case, my mother-in-law) is always a tough one, and especially so for my Husband this year, because his mother was such an enthusiast for the season, such an integral part of the family’s celebrations.  We had to make a particular effort to reclaim it not only from grief, but from the difficult memories of the last few Christmases spent in the shadow of her Alzheimers disease.

I think we managed it (mostly).  At least, I’m pretty sure it could have been a lot worse.  And when I came downstairs one evening and found him lying on his back on the sofa, gazing at the twinkling lights on the tree and listening to the soft music of Vaughn Williams, relaxed for the first time in months, I decided we’d found a reasonably happy medium.

Now the Yuletide festical is over, and we have to face the stark reality of a future year, the uncertainties of Brexit and Trump, as well as clearing out and selling the home of a loved one.  However, I don’t feel as desolate as I thought I would.

I always said I was a ‘glass half full’ kind of person.  You know the old adage, the one about looking at a glass with some water in it, and choosing to be optimistic about there still being something left to drink, or being pessimistic about the fact that its half gone.  The joke I heard recently about, ‘well, there’s plenty of space for more vodka’ seems to chime with how I feel today.

The house may feel bald and empty, but now there is space to fill it with new things.  Good things.  Things we can choose together, not the baggage of caring for someone with dementia, of watching her suffering, and of our own powerlessness to help.  There is new opportunity in the space that is left, both by the decorations and the lifting of the burden of caring.  And we get to choose what we fill it with.

Which is quite exciting when you think about it.

(Think of all the writing and painting I’m going to get done!)

So don’t look at your dusty, de-Christmassed home in dismay today.  Look for the gaps in between, the space for possibility.  Don’t mourn the loss of Christmas.  Think to yourself, in your best Mary Poppins tone, ‘well, what shall I do today?’

Happy Creating,

EF

A Bit of a Staycation

We had this plan to go on a proper summer holiday this year.  You know, beach parasols, bikinis, sun tan lotion etc.

And then Life Happened.  Primarily in the form of unexpected expense: me needing new spectacles (£650) and Husband needing a new crown on a tooth (£220).  Ouch!

So having assessed just how depleted our holiday fund became, we figured a staycation might be an idea. The nice thing about a staycation is that you don’t have to worry about luggage allowances.   So this is what I am taking on my staycation this year:

My staycation goodies

My staycation goodies

I’ve given myself permission to read EXACTLY what I want, not what I think I OUGHT to read, or anything along the lines of my usual reading list.  So I went to my favourite second-hand bookshop and picked out a book that just sounded really, really interesting.

‘Explaining Hitler: the search for the origins of his evil’ by Ron Rosenbaum.  Its not so much about Hitler, in the biographical sense, as about the way we talk about Hitler, about what we talk about when we talk about him.  It is about our ideas about the nature of evil, something I have been interested in for a long time, and spans everything from first hand witness accounts of his life, through philosophy and history, to theology and cultural studies.  It will be a demanding read, bit I can’t wait to get stuck into it!

‘What are you looking at? 150 years of Modern Art in the blink of an eye’ by Will Gompertz, was lent to me by a friend who knows I love modern art.  I read Norbert Lynton’s seminal book on the subject when I was doing my art ‘A’ level exams as a teenager, and recently I’ve been looking for a book as accessible that would explain and update my knowledge.  My pal suggested this one, and though I don’t particularly like Will Gompertz as a BBC correspondent, I think its mainly because I can’t bear to look at him.  Well, he can’t help looking weird and smug.  I guess he was born like that, so I shouldn’t hold it against him.  And my friend says his book is the business, so I’m looking forward to diving into that one while lounging in the garden with a chilled elderflower pressé too.

A couple of DVDs.  I don’t know why, but around this time of year, my system starts preparing me for autumn, and I get the urge to watch ‘Practical Magic’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.  We had both of these films on video for years, but when we got rid of all our videos some months back, my copies went to the charity shop along with the rest.  The other day, I decided I would treat myself to new copies, and I’m looking forward to spending some of my break snuggled up on the sofa watching these much beloved, familiar movies.

My journal.  I just listened to Susannah Conway talking about journaling on this podcast, and its brilliant.  I’ve been contemplating my journaling practice for a while, and this seems like a good time to expand my skills.

A few nice girlie things too:  Divine Oil by Caudalie, which smells as good as it sounds, and makes my skin feel wonderful, and Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure nail varnish in ‘So Much Fawn’, which is just neutral enough, and just pink enough too.  I usually wear the loudest red on my toenails that I can find, so this is a bit of a departure into the realms of subtle for me, but I like it.

So I’m off on my staycation to chill out, read, write, paint my toenails and hatch a few plans for the coming months.  If you are off on holidays too, I hope you have a wonderful time, where ever you choose to go, or not go!

Happy Creating,

EF

Lemon Lessons

Hilarious card sent by our niece to cheer us up.  It worked.

Hilarious card sent by our niece to cheer us up. It worked.

You may have noticed a distinct absence of Evenlodeness on your dashboard lately.

This is because here at the Evenlode Burrow, we have been struck by a hail of lemons.

Yes, I was ill.  Quite ill. Verging on very ill.

And then Husband got diagnosed with diabetes and taken into hospital overnight.

This was, despite all expectations, a major shock.  Diabetes is endemic in his family, so we can’t say we weren’t expecting it, but somehow seeing him in a hospital bed still felt horribly distressing, not least because he is close to the same age that my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Both my father and grandfather died at the age of 52, and Husband celebrates his 50th birthday this year, so the rational part of my brain sort of went AWOL.

Matters were further not helped by the fact that the doctors can’t decide which sort of diabetes he has.  Type 2 is what you would expect given his age, but apparently his blood tests are not clear.  Trust him to be awkward!  He could be either, so the quacks are going with treatment for Type 2 for the next fortnight, and if the tablets don’t work, reassessment will follow.  Cue uncertainty on an epic scale.

So many people have been telling me how their relatives live healthily with diabetes of either type, and believe me, I know, I know.  Husband’s brother has been living well with Type 1 for thirty-odd years.  I’m well aware that its not a death sentence, and that it could be a lot worse.

But it has still rocked our world.

There are, however, unexpected gifts even in this hail of lemons:

1) Yay for the NHS

Here in the UK, we have the National Health Service, and it is one of our national sports to complain about it incessantly.  But when the s**t really hits the fan, the NHS is there for you, BIG TIME.  Yes, we had to sit in a corridor for three hours the first evening, waiting for a bed to become free.  Yes, we had to wait two hours for a doctor to be free in order to prescribe two paracetamols for Husband’s headache.  And yes, the information we came home with was not what you might call exhaustive, to say the least.

BUT, and this is a HUGE BUT, we didn’t have to worry about paying for any of it, a fact that we were profoundly aware of, and grateful for, throughout the whole process.  We were treated with unfailing kindness and courtesy, and given everything we needed.  Husband came home with equipment and medications without paying a penny.  He can ring up for help any time he needs to.  He has a series of further support and assessment appointments to attend, none of them requiring him to cover fees.

To me this is a sign of a civilised society.  Anyone who thinks people should have to pay for healthcare needs to reassess their capacity for empathy, which is the key quality of a human being,  And anyone who has ever had a sick relative or partner knows just how important it is.

2)  Hey, I just stopped giving a stuff!

When the life of the person who is the centre of your world is threatened, suddenly everything becomes very, very simple.  All the things that seemed so important have now become completely irrelevant.

Please note the use of the word IRRELEVANT.

I no longer care about all the SHOULDS and OUGHTS that seemed so important to my future last week.  I don’t care about having the right filofax or whether the kitchen floor needs mopping, or what people think about the fact that I don’t work, but don’t look sick either.  I don’t care about not having a career at 47.  I don’t care what people think about me not having children or an income.  I don’t care about the piles of stuff we are keeping in the house. It doesn’t matter what people think of how I wear my hair. It doesn’t matter what I think of how I wear my hair.  It doesn’t matter if there is nothing in the house for lunch, or the DVD player gets bust – we’ll just buy another one if we have to. (We did!)

Because its all IRRELEVANT.

3) Pure Freedom

The consequence of all this IRRELEVANCY is pure freedom.

I can concentrate on being here, now, with the man I love, which is all that matters.

This is a freedom I have never been able to give myself.  The freedom to concentrate on getting both of us well.  The freedom to be myself and not worry about trying to start a business or get published or do all the other things that my friends and acquaintences think would be the sign of success, but mainly, the things that I put myself under pressure to do because I don’t think I am enough as I am.

I don’t have to think about any of that now.

My sole intention for the next year will be to get both us well, and to enjoy every single second of the time we have together however the hell I can.

Because nothing else matters.

4) Creativity Caveat

This doesn’t mean I am going to stop writing, or being creative.  Rather the opposite.  It frees me up from all the SHOULDS and OUGHTS.  I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, whenever I am well enough.  And I can concentrate on him whenever I need to.  I can use my creativity to process and express this new journey we are on.  I can enjoy doing it for the first time, instead of making it a labour of OUGHTS.  (In fact, I started a new story today.)  Its just that from now on, I don’t have to apologise for doing what I want.  All that matters is to be happy and healthy with the man I love.

Because when it comes down to it:

from @geraintgriffith on Twitter

from @geraintgriffith on Twitter

I don’t know where this journey will take us.  I hope that you will join me as I endeavour to go on using my creativity to live up to what is increasingly speaking to me as my own motto:

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH

In the meantime, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us during the last week as we have negotiated this crisis.  To all our dear friends, supporters and readers, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude, and I hope that you know that if you ever need us, we will be there for you too, no matter what.

With love and gratitude to you all,

EF

 

 

 

Inspiration Monday: Intention

On Ardnave Beach, Islay.

On Ardnave Beach, Islay.

Hello dear friends.

I just got back from a weekend looking after mother-in-law and aunt-in-law.  It wasn’t how I would expect to spend the Valentine’s Day weekend, but actually it was a chance to show love in ways other than romantically.  I did mother-in-law’s hair for her.  I gave aunt-in-law a manicure. I made them pancakes, something they would never be able to manage themselves.  Husband cooked us all a slap-up roast dinner.  On Sunday, Husband and I took some time to visit the centre of Oxford, and soak up the beautiful architecture and bookshops.

It was a weekend filled with all kinds of love.

Now I am home, with a week stretching out before me, and the need to take account of my own health and wellbeing.  I’m in the middle of a ME/CFS flare-up, which means taking a lot of time to rest and sleep.  I couldn’t do that while we were away, just caught enough sleep on the hop to keep going until we got home.  Now I’m flaked.

One of the things I find it helpful to do is to set an intention for the week. I usually do it on a Sunday, but circumstances dictated otherwise this week.  So this morning I am sitting here in bed, considering what should be my priority for the coming seven days.  These are a few of the activities I have in mind:

Rest.

Self care.

Some quality time with Husband.

Doing some drawing.

A bunch of pink roses.

When I’m up to it again, cooking some luscious vegan food.

Catching up with some writing I want to do.

Reading a new book, which arrived on Friday – so excited about this one, as I think it could make a real difference to my health and creativity.

Maybe giving myself a pedicure.

Of course there are a dozen other things I would like to do, and hundreds of OUGHTS and SHOULDS which I am ignoring.  It’s hardly a ‘To Do’ list.  I don’t like Goals, as I’ve said before.  I can’t set targets because frequently unexpected health problems prevent me from meeting them, which only leads to despondency.  Instead I give myself Intentions.

For me, an Intention is the spirit in which I go about my daily life, the ethos that guides me in choosing what I am going to do next. It is a way of nurturing not only my own wellbeing, but my creativity too.

My intention this week is ‘Rest and Recovery’.

I will do this week whatever needs to be done to look after myself, and to gently feed my soul.

What is your intention this week?

Happy creating,

EF

 

There’s Been a Paradigm Shift

Exploring my soul, with the help of Danielle LaPorte's 'The Desire Map'

Exploring my soul, with the help of Danielle LaPorte’s ‘The Desire Map’

It’s one of Husband’s ‘I’m an academic’ jokes:

I’m sorry, Nigel, but while you were out, there was a paradigm shift, and (insert surreal Pythonesque situation or ironic or satirical statement here, e.g. … and now people are actually being paid for all the extra work they do.)

A paradigm, in case you aren’t an academic, which I’m not, is a theoretical structure that helps scholars understand a particular set of data. A paradigm shift is when that structure changes.

I’m sorry, Nigel, but while you were out, there was a paradigm shift, and now the planet revolves around the Sun, and not you.

Yeah, its not really that funny if you aren’t an academic.

But there has been a paradigm shift, at least in this house.

I was originally going to call this post ‘Why I’ve Shelved Writing For A While’.

As I’ve been saying (probably ad nauseam) my word for 2015 is EASE. Part of EASE is caring for myself. Not putting pressure on myself. Letting go of all those SHOULDs and OUGHTs that I use to beat myself up because I’m so convinced I’m not enough. Not good enough. Not successful enough. Not ambitious enough. Not a good enough writer. Not a good enough housekeeper. Not a good enough person.

Over the holidays, I got to thinking about all the goals I’d set myself in the last few years. You know, all those deadlines that went whooshing by unheeded (Thank you, Douglas Adams, for that wonderful quote.)

They were all career goals.

Now let me add something important here. I reached puberty at a time when the women’s movement had reached its most rabid. Girls my age were expected to be able to ‘have it all’. We were given that expectation. We were reared to have dazzling careers. We still had the societal expectation that we must have a family too. We were on the rocket-ship to the top (no one had told us there would be a glass ceiling when we got there at this point, of course.) That is quite a lot of expectation to put on a kid when she’s 14 and doesn’t know what she wants to be today, let alone when she grows up. Plus I’d been told I would go to University from the age of 7. That’s even more weight to carry.

But because I’m a good girl, I set about fulfilling other people’s expectations.

I went to University and got a degree and then a Masters. I got a good job in academia. I talked about doing a PhD and had ambitions of being a professor one day. I met a lovely man and got married. I left my job and planned to go free-lance. When that didn’t happen, I took a job in the Not-For Profit sector, and decided that was going to be my big career: managing charities.

Then ME/CFS happened.

All around me, my peers were excelling, joining the professions, marrying gorgeous successful men, having families, building their own businesses and shining careers, earning lots of money and having lots of success.

Okay, I thought, I’ll be a writer. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do anyway, so I’ll be a success at that. Because I had to keep up. Because I’m a good girl. Because everyone expects me to excel.

Seventeen years later, the seven novels I have written have not been published by a conventional publisher, which means that by most of the population’s standards, I am not a real writer. I’ve published 54 stories online, many thousands of words, which have been well-received. But those don’t seem to count because they are fanfics, not proper fiction.

The paradigm of ‘have it all’ success is not working for me.

So I have decided to bin it, along with all those goal-setting handbooks that proliferate on the interweb at this time of year.

What would happen if I just concentrated on doing what made me feel happy?

(That sentence will put a lot of people’s backs up because for some reason we think you have to suffer to be happy/good/successful – thank you, organised religion.)

What would happen if I just concentrated on doing what made me feel well?

What would happen if I viewed myself as good enough?

So I am rethinking my writing. The way I write. What I write. I am trying to subtract what I perceive as other people’s expectations. I am asking myself:

What would I write if it was just for me and no one else?

Throwing out the expectations of others when they are the sole motivators for how you have lived your life and measured your ‘success’ for the last 47 years is not an easy or quick task. I have no idea of its even possible. But I certainly mean to try.

I’m in a time of deep contemplation. Exploration. Working out how I want to feel. What I want to be. What I want to do. What I want to stand up for. What I believe. What I love. What makes me happy. What I want to say. How I want to say it.

(Hang on, is this the adolescence/puberty thing I missed the first time around because I was being a good girl?)

Once I know, really know, I’m going to concentrate on those things. The things that make me happy. And if success by society’s definition happens, then so be it. If it doesn’t I’ll still be happy. Which sounds like success to me.

So watch this space. It will be interesting to see what new words and stories come out of it.

Happy Creating,

EF