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Predictions from a Muddy Walk

IMG00118-20111113-1422“Lets take the route through the woods,” I said. “It’ll be safer, less muddy,” I said. Gawd, am I glad I’m married to a man who isn’t into ‘I told you so,’ cuz Wow! I think I actually came home with mud in my ears yesterday after our annual New Years Day walk. Although having said that, the downpour that we walked in the last third of the walk might have washed the mud out of my ears as while. It did wash most of the ten pounds of extra weight off my boots en route. Nice, easy cleanup that way.

As we got closer to finishing our walk — and we did manage a little over eight miles — I got to thinking that if I were a fortuneteller, I might consider how the first walk of the year goes to be an indication of what’s to come in the year ahead. And, actually, as a fortuneteller, I might do okay in this respect. Here’s what I figure.

 

Prediction One: Sometimes things won’t go according to plan

We approached the walk with enthusiasm, chatting about which route to take, because living in Surrey, as we do, we’re spoiled for choice. However England in the winter means LOTS OF RAIN and many of the paths turn into mud baths from December through to April. Prediction: Like every new year, like every new beginning, we approach with enthusiasm, we plan and scheme and take into account as many variables as possible, but there will be times in 2016, things just aren’t going to go according to plan. My logic for the choice of paths we took was sound. It made perfect sense to both of us to take a flatter path rather than a steeper, more treacherous one. We might have been safer, but we worked four times as hard just to stay on our feet. Never mind! We managed with lots of laughing and joking and a minimal amount of blue language from yours truly.

 

St Martha's Hill 2 23 novPrediction Two: Sometimes things will get messy

Prediction Two is very closely tied to prediction number one. Things will get messy. It’s a given. Might as well get used to it now and not let it get under my skin. I always let it get under my skin. I like things to go according to plan. I like to keep the mud off my boots, so to speak. So here is the warning sigh for the muddy bits. Be prepared K D! Take a couple of deep breaths, think peaceful thoughts because you know, as sure as you’re sitting here pounding out a blog post, that things will get messy.

 

Prediction Three: This too shall pass

Eventually, we came out of the woods onto solid ground – a paved road, actually, a part of a route we’d not walked in a while. We abandoned our original plan in favour of just getting out of the mud and then we remembered why we had enjoyed this particular forgotten route so much. There were great views of the Downs and solid footing – even a bit of cover by the trees when the rain properly set in. Our ordeal in the mud had put us in a reminiscing sort of mood, remembering all the walks that we’d had in which the weather or the circumstances were less than ideal and yet, when we ended up at the pub at the end of the day celebrating over a pint, some of those walks were the best ever. We decided we could write a book about those walks that went wrong and then turned glorious. Which leads me to prediction four for
2016.

 

raindrops 3Prediction Four: 2016 will result in new war stories

The best walking war stories we have are the ones from the most difficult walks. We never get tired of talking about them, and we always laugh and smile when we do. The best walking stories come from the most difficult walks because the most difficult walks challenge us and test us; some have made us really dig deep to see what we’re made of. Those are the ones that make us earn our pint. That goes with most of the challenges we face every year, and this year will be no exception. I have war stories from 2015; I’ll have them for 2016 as well. In fact, the very first one is a walking in the mud story from January 1st! Nietzsche might have said ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,” but I say what doesn’t kill us will be worth a good laugh about over a pint when we get through it.

 

 

Prediction Five: Even if it gets messy, it’s gonna be good!

I’m basing that little prediction on the track record of the past … well … whole bunch of years of my life. I have to admit, I can be a bit of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of a girl from time to time. Fortunately I’m married to a ‘glass half full’ sort of guy so we balance each other out, and it’s good! Even at times when I’m up to me ears in the mud and the rain, it’s all good. That’s more than just taking into account that this too shall pass and that there’ll be beer or coffee or both waiting at the end of the tunnel. That’s the fact that all things being equal, I expect lessons along the way, and I also expect that some of them I’m not going to like very much. Usually those are the ones that I learn the most from. I don’t come out unscathed. I always come out with a few new battle scars and war stories, and I always find myself, at the end of the year, astounded that I made it through at all! What are the chances? I mean really? What are the chances of any of us really being here, and yet we are, and we laugh and we cry and we love and we fight and we squirm and we angst and we struggle through the mud, and we get there and we shine, at least a little, and that’s what we remember. That’s what matters. I have to say, I’m with Edna on this one!

 

 

 

Sun through trees NDW Nov 2011

 

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night,

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

It gives a lovely light!

Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May there always be a nice pub and a pint at the end of your muddy walks in 2016.

 

Meditations on Laundry

“We went through a lot of workout clothes this week,” I say. Raymond is making coffee and I’m folding clothes in front of the drying rack that clutters our kitchen whenever we do laundry. Sometimes it clutters our kitchen all week long until I finally get around to folding the clean clothes and putting them away. However this week I am making a virtuous effort to get everything ironed and put away by Wednesday.

“We’ve had extra workouts this week,” he says as we both listen to the satisfying gurgle of the mocha maker sitting on the cooker.

clothes_basket “Both your gees are clean and ironed, all ready for Saturday.” I nod to the pristine karate uniforms hanging over the kitchen door. He teaches a karate class on Saturdays in Sutton and goes into London for a workout in the morning as well.

“Thanks.” He says, getting out the coffee cups. Raymond doesn’t iron, but he makes kick-ass coffee and a mean bowl of oatmeal. “Are you going in with me to walk?”

“I plan to.” I just happen to be folding the breathable Eddie Bauer shirt I wore last week when Emma Louise Burbidge and I walked the London Parks, and I smile at the memory. I don’t smile at the memory of the ratty tank top I wear whenever I do the roots of my hair between visits to the hairdresser – always something I put off until I start getting skunk strip down the centre of my part. I fold it hastily and put it in the basket. Interesting that I take care in folding the clothes that I have fond memories of wearing recently, and not so much with the ones I don’t.

Raymond hands me the coffee just in time as I turn my attention to the frustrating task of folding his myriad black socks. The thing is, he has a gazillion pairs and they’re all look almost but not quite exactly a like. They’re just different enough to make matching them a real nightmare. Some have different coloured toes, some are ribbed differently and there are at least three kinds that are identical except for the ribbing on the cuffs which varies in width by millimeters. I hate folding men’s black socks. This morning he has mercy on me and takes the task off my hands so I can return to the pleasure of folding the history of our week told in laundry.

“You’ve got a rip there on the sleeve,” I say, holding up a blue shirt. “And the collar’s getting tatty. I think we should retire this one.”

He studies it for a moment and nods his agreement. “I caught it on the corner of the filing cabinet in the printer room. Something needs to be done about that.”

“You know, every week we can detail the past week’s history in our clean laundry,” I say. In our dirty laundry too, I think, but I’d rather not think about that so much reminded of the ripe load of workout clothes I put in with extra detergent on long cycle.

Writing image He gives me The Look – the one he always does when he thinks possibly meds might be requires. Then he nods to my coffee cup, because clearly I haven’t had enough caffeine yet this morning.

“No, seriously. Look” I pull a pair of his blue workout shorts off the rack. “Remember kettle bells last week?”

“That was a killer,” he says with a smile that says he likes kettle bells class best when it’s a killer.

“And look, those walking trousers — I wore those in to try on new boots at the North face shop, but they didn’t have my size. Then I got ‘em muddy on the walk to Newland’s corner the day after.

“And that long-sleeve t-shirt there,” I nodded to a faded red V-neck. “I wore that last Wednesday when the house was like a deep freeze and I was trying to finish up the week’s edition of In The Flesh for my blog. I wore that blue hoodie too and spilled tea on it in the process, and then I got toothpaste on it that
evening when I brushed my teeth before bed.”

“I guess you’re right,” he says, looking around at our partially folded history lesson. “I never thought of it that way.

Neither had I, but there have to be a thousand stories in people’s laundry – dirty or clean. My laundry mostly tells the story of someone who writes and works from home, someone who walks a lot and works out a lot. Raymond’s tells the story of a man working in management, seeing clients, catching up on never-ending reports. They tell the story of a man who loves martial arts and loves being active. Sometimes there are travel stories, like the stain from some exotic sauce acquired while entertaining clients in a seafood restaurant in Alexandria. Sometimes there are anatomy stories, like the way his socks wear on the heels while mine wear out on the bottoms. We both threw away a couple pairs of socks after we’d finished the Coast to Coast walk a few years ago. I wear high socks when the weather’s cold and I’m sitting on my arse spending long hours in with my characters. I wear short light socks in the gym.

The point is that the stories of our lives and the fodder for the stories of lives I make up can unfold – or
fold, in this case – in unexpected ways. Perhaps Raymond was actually using his martial arts skills to raymond 018fight off spies who infiltrated the copy room to steal company secrets. Perhaps that’s how he ripped his shirt. Perhaps I woke up this morning and found myself folding the laundry of some stranger, none of it mine, none of it familiar. Perhaps the mud on my walking trousers was actually from my night haunts of staking vampires in old churchyards.

Mind you, most of the time, the folding and putting away of laundry is cause for little more than a sigh of relief that it’s done for this week and I can take down the racks and unclutter the kitchen. But sometimes, even folding the laundry can be more than it actually appears to be, and at the end of the day, everything tells a story – even men’s mismatched black socks.

 

Reflections from Face Book Prison

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The Face Book Police

 

jail cell

 

 

I’m doing my time in Face Book prison at the moment, carving my name on the unassailable walls with a
rusty ink pen nib next to the names of all those who have gone before me. I was incarcerated without a fair trial and, though I’ve made some pretty good guesses as to why I’m blocked from many of my groups, I can get no actual response from Face Book. I’m told that the usual sentence is two weeks, so I’m halfway through.

It’s strange, this Face Book Prison. I can comment and share pics and updates on my own page with no problems, but with all of the groups to which I belong, I can only see the posts and press my nose to the window longingly while I offer up only a feeble little ‘Like.’

I suppose it’s a writer thing, working in isolation as we do, but the pull of social media is a powerful one. That’s not too surprising since it’s a way of building and having community that we otherwise wouldn’t get. Plus, best of all, it’s words! We writers can all interact with each other in short little status updates and tweets and have meaningful conversations and share witty banter while safely and comfortably seated at home in our jammies. It’s introvert paradise. It allows us to talk about writing and books with lots of other introverted writers for hours on end. We writers are notorious for considering every word we put on the page precious. Yes we may have to ‘cut’ those precious words in the final draft, BUT we never throw them away! We just cannibalise them for the next work or the one after that. And yet, thousands of words are lost to us every single day, set adrift in status updates and tweets to end up somewhere out there in the cold outer reaches of cyberspace.

Words treated carelessly – that’s one of the side effects of social media, I think. Words are way more Book stacksthrowaway now than they’ve ever been in a history that’s treated words pretty precious because they tell stories, they tell our story! Now stories are nipped and snipped to status updates and 140 character tweets. Oh, the story is still there. It just has to be unpacked and teased out, and tomorrow it’ll be lost and forgotten.

What does that have to do with Face Book Prison? Well as much as anything it means I’ve been forced back into a world where words are creatures of leisure, words are a little bit more precious and treated with a little bit more respect. I’ve been forced back into a world where words line up to in long serpentine queues to tell their story and they take their own sweet time to do it. Anticip-a-a-ation. They’re making me wait, and the wait is bloody well worth it!

The thing is, as much as I enjoy the interaction, and I truly do, I have to admit that I’m really enjoying the enforced time with my own thoughts, time to allow my own enormous collection of words to come out and play. And strangely enough, in the midst of all those wild frolicking words, I’ve taken incredible pleasure in the silence. I had no idea that Face Book was such a loud place, but then it makes sense that
social media, by the very act of being social is psychologically loud. I had nearly forgotten that in the Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020midst of all my words there could be such delicious silence.

I miss my friends in the groups. Efforts have been made to send files hidden in cakes, but the Face Book
police are far to savvy for that. Though I do appreciate the efforts. I just want to tell everyone on the outside that it’s not so bad to be temporarily banned for crimes I would have enjoyed a helluva lot more if I’d only know what they were. I miss the connection, but in its absence, I’ve been reminded of other connections, creative connections that don’t come in status updates and tweets and, while I’ll be glad to be welcomed back into the fold, I don’t want to forget the frolic and gambol of words and the way they come in their own time in their own way, and I don’t want to forget the exquisite silence in between that connects them all so seamlessly and gives me a place to rest a bit and regroup.

 

My Life is in My Dropbox!

Writing imageThursday my life flashed before my eyes. It was the first time it had ever happened, and I hope like hell it’s the last. The first thing that struck me was that it was nothing like I’d thought it would be. There were no memories of my childhood, no memories of getting married or moving off on my own to Croatia. There were no memories of falling in love or of my favorite trips, nor the major milestones in my life. It still gives me cold chills thinking about it. It was intimations of my worst nightmare. I never thought it would be like it was. Though now, looking back, I can’t imagine how I would have expected it to be otherwise.

Due to complications installing a new operating system on my computer, which I won’t go into, I ended up having every file in my Dropbox deleted. Now, before you tell me not to worry, there are ways to get it all back, let me just say that I know that now. I knew that even as it was happening. BUT all of those ways of recovering data are only theories until you put them to the test, and then you have to be in a calm logical state of mind in order to be able to do that. I was neither calm nor logical as I prepared to continue with my WIP and opened a completely empty Dropbox. I back up everything – EVERYTHING in the whole universe, I back up! I’m fanatical about back ups. And where do I back it all up? On the f*cking Dropbox!!! AND NOWHERE ELSE!!!!! You see where I’m going with this? Panic sets in when the 135,000 word manuscript you’ve just completed disappears along with every picture you’ve ever taken, Drop box image imagesevery word you’ve ever written of any sort. ANY sort, for the past five years.

To give you a bit of perspective, I wrote The Initiation of Ms Holly in 2010. Since then I’ve written literally millions of words – some of them novels, some of them blog posts that I’m rather fond of, some
of them short stories, poems, novellas, even the odd navel gaze. There are stories and story ideas that have never lived anywhere outside cyberspace, but I hope they will someday. There are pictures of holidays, of veg gardens we’ve planted, of long walks we’d taken on the Downs in every season at every time of day. Words! There are literally millions of words that I’ve written, and suddenly they were all gone!

Recovery happened, as the tiny part of me that wasn’t vacillating somewhere between total panic and growing despair, knew that it would and, at the end of the day, all was well. I’d lost nothing. I was even able to recover the efforts of that morning. The point is that the fear that I might have lost all my words was an eye-opening experience for me. It was a huge insight into how I define myself and how I judge the value of my life.

For good or for ill, I define myself by the words and the pictures in my Dropbox. That’s what it boils Writing pen and birds 1_xl_20156020down to; that’s me stripped to the bare bones. And for a terrifying few minutes I was no one.

No one …

When I think about it now with all my words back safely where they belong, I can’t quite get my head around what I felt. There are words in the Bible meant to describe Christ. Most of you know that I came from a conservative Christian background about a hundred years ago, but these two passages transcend my faith or lack thereof and speak to the heart of the writer on a much deeper level than they might to anyone else.

 

For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to
the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

 

And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

John 1:14

 

Words are more than just a collections of sounds that allow us to communicate. Words have power, like a sword, like a scalpel, to discern thoughts and intents. And words, in the hands of a writer become flesh and dwell among us. For a writer – certainly for me, they become my flesh, and they become the flesh of the characters with which I people my stories. They dwell in me as surely as if they were alive, and they do often discern the thoughts and intents of my heart, without me even realizing that’s what they’re Scribe computer keyboardMG_0777doing. Words are my companions, my guides, my friends; words are the mirror through which I view myself. For my whole life it’s always felt like the more words I write, the more clear the reflection of self in that mirror becomes. Navel gazing much???

Even as I write this, I’m well aware of just how neurotic it sounds to define myself by my words, and a
part of what happened in that short time without my words was an internal battle for points of reference, for other ways to define myself, which at that moment, I couldn’t even imagine existed. The point is the value of words – my words – to me can’t be overstated. I live with them close and personal every day of my life, and most days I bring home a few more to live with me. Losing my words, even for just that short amount of time before logic could kick in, before I could regain enough equilibrium to know that wasn’t going to happen, was like losing myself. How can I define myself without my Dropbox full of words? Who am I without those points of reference? Of course it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, had I lost all my words, but I promise you as sure as I’m sitting here, it would have felt like it.

 

Small Flashlight, Big Darkness

I’m sharing a little something from the Archives with you today, because I’ve been truly In The Zone the past few coming up from the depths
days and when I’m not writing like a mad woman, I’m thinking about characters, about plot, about why what’s happening needs to happen. That all brings me back to the intense, sometimes frightening, position we writers all face  on a regular basis — shining a small flashlight into our big 
darkness. (This post first appeared, with modifications, on the ERWA blog October 2012)

Today’s post is a hard one for me to settle into because it could so easily devolve into navel gazing, and one of the promises I made to myself and to my readers back when I wrote my very first ever blog post was that I would keep the navel gazing to a minimum. There must be a gazillion writer and write-hopefuls blogging, and each one is convinced that their journey to writing success is totally unique and must be shared. Well maybe not each one, maybe I’m only speaking for myself, in which case, I blush heartily and apologise.

My point is that all of the energy, angst, fear, adrenaline, exploration of dark places, exploration of forbidden places that used to go into the pages and pages of that gargantuan navel-gaze that was my journal now go through that strange internal filtering process that takes all my many neuroses and insecurities, all my deep-seated fears, all my misplaced teenage angst and magically transforms them into story.

That was sort of my little secret — that I alone, in all the world, suffered uniquely and exquisitely for my art. I took all the flawed and wounded parts of myself, parts I wasn’t comfortable facing, examined them reflected through the medium of story and found a place where I could view them and not run away screaming.

Where is all this borderline navel-gazing leading? There was a BBC article some time ago asking the question, is creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness?’ I shared it on Facebook and Twitter to find that lots of other writers had shared it as well and the general response was simply that it sounded about right. There were some very moving conversations that came out of those sharings of that article along with the realization — something I’ve long suspected — that I am not all alone out there in my vibrant unique neurotic bubble. And really, it comes as no surprise that one has to be at least a little neurotic to be ballsy enough to try to bring, in one form or another, what lives in our imagination into the real world and to attempt to put it out there for everyone to see. Or secret exhibitionist is alive and well.

As the article was shared around and the responses mounted, I found myself thinking of C.G. Jung’s archetype of the Wounded Healer. The healer can only ever heal in others what she herself is suffering from. The archetype of the storyteller is alive and well. And I believe writers live out the archetype of the wounded healer on a daily basis. Empathy goes much deeper than sympathy. The human capacity for story is as old as we are. Before the written word, story was the community archive. It was our memory of who we are, our history, our continuity, our triumphs, trials, sufferings, joys, all memorised, filed away, and kept safely in the mind of the story teller. That had to do something to your head, knowing that you were the keeper of the story of your people! How could storytellers be anything other than neurotic?

It’s a lot more personal now that we have the written word. No one has to dedicate their lives to memorising the story of their people. It’s just as well because that story has become way too expansive for one person to ever manage in many lifetimes. Now we tell our own story, the story of the internal battles that wound us, the story of those wounds
transformed. We all tell our stories in our own personal code. What may well start out as a navel gaze into the deep dark wilderness of Self can be transformed into powerful, vibrant story, and we’re healed! At least temporarily, or at Writing imageleast we’re comforted. And hopefully so are those with whom we share our stories. When I journalled my navel-gazes, I wasn’t interested in anyone else seeing what was on those pages. It was a one-sided attempt at a neurotic house-cleaning. Sharing the story is a part of the healing; sharing the story is a part of the journey. The Storyteller had no purpose if she didn’t share the story with her people.

Most of the time I write my stories because I can’t NOT do it, and it’s a lot of fun. That’s the truth of it. I seldom consciously dig deep to find those wounded, neurotic places. Really, who would want to do that deliberately? But the wounded places find me, and they end up finding their way into the story. And what surfaces is never quite what I expected, always more somehow, even if started out to be nothing more than a little ménage in a veg patch.

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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