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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.

 

The Shameless Selfie!

Me and the Battle Rope bondingI love taking selfies, don’t you? I’ve taken tons of them during our trip to Scotland and since. I have an iPhone 6 Plus, so my screen is big enough I can take a really good, really shameless, shameless selfie. Though I do find that with group selfies my arm’s not quite long enough, so whoever has the longest arm – usually Hubby, gets the honours. I’m still not up for carrying around that extra piece of kit, the selfie stick – and really, doesn’t that sound just a little bit rude? Come to think of it ‘taking a selfie’ doesn’t sound much better, though I suppose it’s better than asking the person with the longest arms to do a selfie for you.

Let’s face it, we all want to see ourselves and, as cool as photos are, 2015-09-19 15.22.31they’re either a good view of ourselves, in our opinion, or not, and then … well that’s just too damn bad because they’re a done deal and they’re out the for the world to see. But with selfies we’re in control of the view. We can take piccies of ourselves doing interesting things with interesting people in interesting places whenever we want. And if we don’t like the way they make our ears stick out or our teeth look big, we can simply press delete and try again. In writerly terms, we get to edit ourselves!

2015-08-26 15.57.48I’m not even talking about sexy selfies! That’s another matter entirely, although I seriously think my selfie with the battle ropes is pretty sizzlin’. J Did you check out those guns??? Me with the sea, me with an ancient yew tree, me with my sister, me with Hubby, me at Glen Coe with the icy breeze tossing my hair. You get the picture. In fact, if you’re my friend on Facebook or a follower on Twitter, you quite literally get the picture! Everyone gets the picture. That’s the point! Selfies give us all a chance to put our best face forward for the whole social media world to see. It is a bit exhibitionist, sharing selfies with the world, but it’s easier than a trench coat and the iPhone is considerably easier to stuff in my bag when I’m done with it. Plus the self-editing capabilities with a trench coat are pretty much non-existing.

I take most of my pictures – selfies or otherwise – on my iPhone now 2015-06-30 10.33.06because it takes such great shots, and because it’s always handy. I find that being able to take a photo in an instant is a great way to ‘collect’ story inspiration. I just snap the shot that inspires, bring it back home with me and file it away until I need it. But the selfie is the best bit. I now have an amazing tool that always puts me in context wherever I am and no matter what that context may be. Everyone needs to be reminded of their context from time to time and, frankly, I think it’s even more essential to writers, who are so often living in their heads in another context entirely.

There surely has to be some serious psychological implications about
the urge to snap a selfie, especially when you consider that everything a writer writes and shares publically is, at least to some degree, a selfie. As I said, the advent of the smartphone making the selfie possible has Scribe computer keyboardMG_0777allowed us all to nurture that little bit of exhibitionist inside each of us, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think the selfie allows us a more effective navel gaze into ourselves, into the lives we live, what we like, what makes us laughs, what we especially want the rest of the world to know about us. A selfie is a way of telling a story about ourselves in an instant. But even with the exhibitionist factor and the
immediacy of the medium, I still get to choose whether or not to share the shot in which my nose looks like Mount Blanc or whether or not to delete the shot in which the hips look like tug boats or, more importantly, whether or not to share the shot that’s, quite frankly, just too raw, just a little too much context.

How amazing is that? The selfie! We can tell an instant story about ourselves in an instant, but we get a little psycho-analysis in the process in seeing what we choose to share and what we choose to delete. Selfies! Good for the creative process, good for socializing and good for our mental health too!

 

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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