The Race

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REDJanuary, Day 12. RED of course stands for Run Every Day. Let me tell you a secret, @redjanuaryuk: I am asthmatic. Running has frightened me for DECADES. Today I ran 2km, on a treadmill, without stopping. I could have done more, and am still a bit in shock. Somewhere in the last few years I got strong enough to do this. Now, I want to see if 5k is possible before the end of the month. You never know what's possible until you try… ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ #redjanuary #mind #mindmatters #community #dailyactivity #getactive #wellbeing #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthsupport #fundraising #movement #newyear #newyearchallenge #kickstart #redjanuary2020 #countdown

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This month will be remembered for many things, but particularly because after a number of false starts, I’m running. There will be those of you who undoubtedly will scoff at such a pronouncement, but it is completely serious. Never been able to do it properly, or indeed for very long. Sixteen minutes on a Sunday lunchtime is, like it or not, the equivalent of Planet Sarah putting its first female astronaut into orbit.

This whole endeavour wasn’t just to highlight mental health, but to address issues with my own. Could I use the internal health wake up call from the end of last year (cut the fats, improve the iron content) and make a real difference to what is being done in the Gym and on virtual trainers? Right now, the prognosis is looking quite hopeful. I’m five pounds down in weight, biggest single fat loss drop for… well, about three years.

Yes, it does seem to be working.

This week is the third one of January so I get to start a lovely new row of crosses. There’s been a very judicious use of fitness apps to keep the cravings (and my calorie count) in check and the result is undoubtedly being more awake. It means that when a mental health wobble happens (which was the case last night) it was dealt with far more successfully than has ever really previously happened either. If running equates to space exploration, this change is better health and longer life for everyone.

I’ve tried very hard not to evangelise over these achievements, just put my head down and get the work done. Fundraising is not nearly as high as I’d hoped at this stage but we’ll push things into a higher gear next week. There’s still not as much outstanding stuff done either but you can’t have everything. There’ll be clear air soon enough, and as I’m definitely more alert now than I’ve been for months?

Everything will be done in good time.

Intro

It’s almost time to begin a COMPLETELY NEW DECADE. Blimey.

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Everything’s in place to go too, more or less. Some poetry will be submitted tonight, possibly some other bits and bobs towards the end of the week. There are two calendars up on the wall, with ACTUAL COLOUR CODING to keep up with what is submitted. Honestly, the last time organisation at this level existed, it was college. NO EXCUSES this year, everybody. Everything gets improved.

Last year, the ‘target’ of publication was hit, but only once. Bearing this in mind, 2020 is when I produce my own pamphlets for the first time. It’s when there’s an effort to make money and not lose it, building body of work that isn’t just digital. I’ll be looking for feedback in January, and am considering a return to Patreon as means by which to try and finance this effort at entry level.

Everything on that side is still in a state of flux.

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On Wednesday we’ll sound the 31 Days of Exercise klaxon for RED January, and instead of filling your Instagram feeds with Haiku for the month you’ll get 31 days of my sweaty body instead. This means lots of time to sort February’s Love Poetry out (had to be done) and an opportunity to get out more to do photography. I had so much fun in June doing that, for Places of Poetry, that it needs to be repeated.

Let’s hope the weather allows this to happen without incident.

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ALSO MORE POETRY AS ART IN 2020. I know, this is not reinventing the wheel, and other people are better connected to complete these tasks, but if there is not the means for expression, humanity has been lost. It all counts towards that vital Body of Work

2020 will, whatever happens, be all about the output.

All Time High

Life, right now at least, is all about narrative. The NaNo project (more on this in the next post) is progressing better than anything I’ve produced of this ilk for several years. The reason’s simple: I want to do it. All of this is fulfilling ambitions that have laid dormant for as long as I can remember, fuelled only by the scheduled short story forays and that episodic fiction that will be finished for next year.

It’s becoming apparent in other avenues of existence that attainment is very much entwined with belief. Knowing you are good enough is not what is required if your bigger problem’s all about stamina. Being able to identify what needs work is possibly one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. It also means that, like it or not, I can’t devote time to other forms of expression.

Don’t tell anybody, but I am really missing writing poetry.

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There’s a number of deadlines in December that are already being considered, a collection being re-written and numerous single poems in states of construction. It’s not like poems don’t exist in my head either: doing a month’s worth of micropoetry with imagery was enormous fun, so much so that there’ll be a Christmas selection starting December 1st… because, well, why not?

What November is giving me, believe it or not, is a chance to breathe. Only working to a 50K word notional deadline is considerably less stressful than anything else produced this year. It’s allowing opportunities to find the joy in other things too, which hopefully will leach through to other areas of my written work. Blogging is undoubtedly becoming easier, and I’ve even dusted off my gaming blog for a few posts already.

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I’ll do some work next week on getting dates and deadlines up on the wall: it’s not something I’ve done yet in this new space and that needs to change. For now, however, I think it’s time to take a cuppa to bed and decompress with some Solitaire on my tablet. Gaming remains hugely important to me, in all its forms, not just as relaxation, but in this case it most certainly is.

We’ll be back here again tomorrow to start again.

Back to Life

As my birthday has come and gone this means there’s a week left until we’re into November. It would be useful, I think, to try and make a return to what used to be considered as Normal Service around these parts, but the loss of my PC yesterday (and the fact I’m typing this on a keyboard on my knees on the sofa) has rather put a crimp in proceedings. NO MATTER.

It is time to get this ramshackle shebang back on track.

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What that means is POETRY EVERY DAY (as has been successfully happening with my #FaithIoW prompts) but with perhaps a little more interactivity than was previously the case. It’s nice to have work every day on Instagram too, and 2020 will be when I try and make that platform work a bit harder for me than is previously the case. It is also high time we had some YouTube content back.

Then there’s the short stories: the last one from August was left hanging. What will happen in November is that will be reposted and completed, before we go into NEW WORK in December. Also, yes, I PROMISE. EX/WHI will be back once the NaNo gubbins is all done and dusted. I know only too well what happens when my brain becomes overloaded with narrative, it all goes horribly Pete Tong and nobody has time for that.

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However, the overriding priority right now is to get this keyboard off my knees and onto a desk. That’s being delivered tomorrow (reclaimed from a dusty industrial unit) and once the front room’s organised, the sky will indeed be the limit. My new wall awaits, ready for a wipe clean perpetual planner and a fucktonne of Post It Notes.

I am ready.

Moving On Up

I can still remember with vivid joy the arrival one Christmas of my first ever typewriter. It didn’t last long, however: this was the early 1980’s, and there was already talk of personal computers quickly superseding the need for such antiquated items, especially as work could be saved and returned to without fear of data loss. In our house, in the early years of my relationship with my now husband was a Commodore for gaming, plus an Amstrad for word processing, using Locoscript.

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By Marcin Wichary from San Francisco, U.S.A. – Amstrad PCW 8512, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3481787

A lot has changed in those intervening 30 or so years: it’s my gaming rig that now serves as a word processor (I use Libre Office as it’s free and not Microsoft) but in the last few months there’s been some alarming restarts and freezes which my PC knowledge knows means my hard drive’s on the way out. Add to this a graphics card that regularly overheats and it is high time a replacement is found. However, I don’t want new.

Once upon a time, that was not the case, but now with all the issues around me in terms of consumerism and climate change, it seems only right and appropriate to go reconditioned where I can. Therefore, I’ve found a second hand desk larger than the second hand desk I’m currently using, and during the upcoming half term will be rearranging my working space which has been this way for the last 14 months.

Basically, it is time to expand.

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The biggest problem is that I’ve run out of wall space. Stuff is planned across one wall currently, and it is simply not large enough for what it is I want to achieve. Therefore, I’ll be shifting position and the sofa will be moving back to this space which it inhabited for many years. That too probably needs replacing, but with the current economic uncertainty…? That might well have to wait a while.

For now, however, this is a project that is going to grant me great joy, and hopefully rearrange the front room a bit in the process. I’ll make sure everything’s has pictures taken as we go too, so it can become a proper transition from one space to another.

I’m really rather looking forward to this.

Slave to the Rhythm

This time next week, I’ll already be on holiday. Before that happens, however, there are some plans being rearranged. There’s also some other things that it would be lovely to start working on. The biggest single problem, undoubtedly, is time. Most carers will tell you that if you’re parent first and writer second, the latter will always take precedent because of the importance of individual responsibility.

Therefore you find time, whenever you can. 

After counselling, my attitude to a lot of things has inevitably altered, process that is still being considered and refined as time goes on. Sometimes it seems amazing that I finished that journey only five and a bit weeks ago: it feels like months, years since that ended. The reorganisation of factors has also presented both benefit and disadvantage. I know what needs to be done however. In that regard, nothing really has altered at all.

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It does feel like a trip into Wonderland, when all is said and done: doing a weekend in Leeds, re-organising my leisure time, having confidence to stand up and be honest about what bothers me. The plan, going forward, was to do a certain set of things in a particular order, but the reality is that there isn’t enough time available to do so. Therefore, the plan has changed.

Vanity projects have become considerably more important.

I don’t want to talk any more about it just yet, not until I’ve been able to work it what it is I want to do and how it happens. However, there’s a lead in now available in mid-September to this next phase of existence, and that’s what I’m going to aim for. After that, it’s all about how well my knowledge will spread to accomplish what then needs to happen.

If this does work, I’ll be really very happy indeed.

The Last Time

– Excuse me brain, do you have a minute?

– Yeah, sure I’m between tasks right now, what’s up?

– You know we had that talk after Mslexicon that we wanted to scale back on the workload?

– Yeah, I remember, but the plan was gonna be that we did a bit of everything, right?

– Indeed. Except, I realise now there’s more work to do with the practical lifestyle change guys over there than was first anticipated… and I need a rest. You know, like proper ‘away from all the writing…’

[laughs] So all those unconscious signals we’ve been sending for months finally got noticed, eh? [shakes head] I’ll give you credit, a year ago you’d have been too far up your own arse to notice. This is definitely progress. So, what you wanna change?

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Hi there, novel. It’s been [looks at the calendar] a week since I touched you last. Right now, our two introduced protagonists are in a car park off the A13 hacking into a BT exchange to ascertain their motivation and to provide some exposition. There’s no way this story’s being written in time for a September deadline. You and I both know this. I’ll reset the schedules tomorrow and that poetry I’ve been tinkering with can come to the front.

It’s okay to admit your shortcomings. Right now, what matters more than the words is your own mental health. You feel that sensation as you type this and built up pressure slowly releases? That’s the bigger issue to fix. You still haven’t addressed it. If you don’t do that now, trust me, lots of stuff is just gonna disintegrate later down the line. Therefore, take the poetry and let it help you. It’s the therapy you need right now.

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It’s okay though novel, I’ll be back. Lemme finally get myself in some kind of workable order. It shouldn’t take long. We’ll pull down the schedules tomorrow and sort out the issues. I’m gonna go see my best mate next week, that’s gonna be awesome, and remember to take that gift I got as an apology for standing her up last month, coz head and heart still don’t work properly in tandem. We can totally fix this.

The poetry knows what it has to do. I’ve been watching it quietly, in the background, preparing our working space. It understands the pain and has a unique, special way to help me make progress. It’s been the unsung heroine around here for most of the year. I should bring some gifts too, when we both finally sit down. Knowing what matters most is really important, especially if what is yearned is an authentic voice.

I’m glad we had this chat, brain. It’s been REALLY helpful.

Play to Win

It’s been three weeks (almost) since Mslexicon and my brain’s finally beginning to integrate what happened then with the reality of now, plus my life as a writer. Tomorrow is August and I want to do my damnedest to capitalise on what is undoubtedly alteration in mental attitude: this is not the same as what it was before. The change that counselling facilitated is manifesting in many differing ways.

I don’t need to have all the answers to start making a difference.

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The whole point of starting this blog (when it existed over on Blogger, how many years ago was THAT) was to tell stories. That still happens, but starting tomorrow a great deal more thought and effort will go into the process. It’s not like I wasn’t doing that before, OF COURSE, but there’s the need now to work that little bit harder. This isn’t about saving the best stuff for publication any more. It’s doing my best work every day.

If something ends up not being good enough, then it simply isn’t completed. I’ve been tempted, in the past, to rush things to a conclusion under the misguided apprehension that having something is better then nothing, and whilst that occasionally is helpful for self esteem purposes, it is not successfully developing my craft to a standard I’m happy with. That means being honest with myself.

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Having said all that, I doubt many people will even notice the changes being implemented. Most are for my own benefit, or relate to stuff outside the sphere of writing. If you follow my personal blog you’ll see a lot of the #accountability hashtag over the efforts being made to physically streamline myself for the journey ahead. Without the physical strength, mental fortitude is a lot, LOT harder.

It’s also my antidote to writing. This used to be my hobby, but is now pretty much the job, and therefore something else has to happen instead of that as relaxation. Exercise allows self-esteem to grow, confidence to be nurtured and success in places other than through someone else’s definition of progress. I’m competing with myself, and that’s a useful metaphor that can be dragged from the real world into my imaginary ones.

Anything that helps me become a better person is utterly worth the effort.

You May Be Right

This weekend, I learnt about Casuistry:

Casuistry (/ˈkæzjuɪstri/) is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances.

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Why the sudden interest? Well, it’s all the fault of a podcast my husband likes listening to, with a realisation that religion isn’t as black and white as perhaps I’ve always assumed was the case.

Learning how to think differently is undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened in my life this year. It isn’t just objectivity that’s improved in this time, but the ability to look at situations in a sympathetic manner: effectively, being less harsh on myself in the process. My personal approach to problem-solving, it transpires, is not far from that of the Jesuits. Knowing this method has a name is, frankly, a bit of a revelation.

It’s also not an exact solution:

Casuistry is a method of case reasoning especially useful in treating cases that involve moral dilemmas. It is a branch of applied ethics. It is also criticised for the use of inconsistent—or outright specious—application of rule to instance.

That needs a wee bit more definition before we go on:

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As became apparent in the Podcast above, and the next one in the series (which talks about contraception and the invention of the Pill) you can solve problems in any number of ways: what one person considers morally wrong may be the polar opposite to what somebody else would consider as problematic. Experience is the key to how we all look at solutions: the wider a world view, the more likely is that decisions are made based on optimal criteria.

It’s why the predisposition of so many people to live in their own bubbles is a growing concern: it is life experience that allows a person the opportunity to give reasoned, responsible input and therefore make decisions based on the most diverse set of perceived situations. I’ve often been accused of overthinking my approach to life in the past, and those people are right. To strike the right balance is a incredibly tough ask sometimes.

So, what has all this got to do with writing?

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When I was being interviewed on BBC 5Live about Places of Poetry, there was some discussion over how emotional poetry ought to be in reference to the subject matters in hand. Learning how to write objectively, especially when it comes to a form where economy of words can make a real difference, allows you the ability to problem solve a lot of situations where emotion must exist but not overwhelm.

It is the different between an impassioned feeling and a full-on rant: subtlety and clever word use will allow you to create vastly different solutions to the same problem. That’s also true in longer-form work: two protagonists are talking about a deeply personal event, that one feels uncomfortable about. How does one create a feeling of empathy between them? Is that even required with these two characters… how do their own moral compasses deal with casuistry within the framework of your narrative?

To understand your words, you must begin to understand yourself.

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Part of the reason why my fiction has suffered so much over the years undoubtedly has to do with being unable to really give emotional depth to situations and characters. I thought that this would be easily remedied but, it transpires, there is a lot of work to do. Helping myself expand as a writer isn’t just understanding tenses or the importance of narrative flow. There needs to be a more spiritual, philosophical element to proceedings too.

The best writing is that which is compelling and ultimately life changing, and to do that one must be prepared to alter parts of our own being in the process.

Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.