Insomnia

I fell asleep at 5am or thereabouts last night, or, this morning, if you want to be specific. My dreams lately have been anxious. There are worries hiding in there that I can remember and talk myself out of when I’m awake, but in my dreams, I behave logically in relation to the situation I’m in. Example, I dream my cat is ill. Response, I take her to the hospital where she escapes, I panic, she’s found and upon waking, I remember that she’s young and in perfect health and sitting on the living room sofa. There is no animal hospital and everything is fine.

Next, I’m at university, about to attend a lecture and I haven’t studied and I’ve missed a few classes. It’s unclear whether or not they’re going to let me continue, but it’s the fear of being called upon in class to discuss reading I haven’t done. Can I blag? Can I pretend to be ill and sneak out before the Q&A starts? I then wake up and realise that I’m not in formal study at the moment and no one is going to catch me out for anything. This dream is the one I have the most often.

Finally, I dream that I’m at work and there’s nothing for me to do, so I study, I write letters and browse the internet. My boss catches me and we have to discuss the fact that they don’t have enough work for me to do, so we need to agree my terms of redundancy. At the same time, I receive a job offer that is below my skill level, but insanely well paid in Portugal. Portugal? I’ve never even been there. This dream is not so hard to understand. I’ve been off work for over a year because of this wretched disease and now I’m afraid to go back to a business that doesn’t need me anymore, or that I wont be able to go back and perform to my previous level because my energy is shot to pieces.

So, I was up half the night playing with the thermostat (why do people insist on sleeping in an inferno?) and drinking water. I listened to soothing sounds of the ocean and tried meditative breathing. Still, despite my efforts, all I could do was notice the heat running through my body and reflect on my anxiety dreams. Why is it that night time is when your mind chooses to mess with you and ponder the fears we have hidden the rest of the day? I’m sure many have pondered this question, but when you can’t sleep, all you want is for the voices in your head to shut the Hell up.

I’ve had breakfast, prepped dinner for my brother and me (I’m his house guest) and now I’m looking at the LA skyline and trying to enjoy a few hours of peace. The sun is out and the sky is clear over the city. I can see Santa Monica and a thin strip of blue that I imagine is the Pacific. Beyond the balcony I can see cars zipping along what I think is the 5 Freeway. Culver City is in the distance and if I look across the rooftops, I can see Brad Pitt’s house (sans Angelina), I hear she bought Cecil B De Mille’s place.

OK, now that I got that all out of my system, back to writing. As I’ve been sitting in the house in silence, I’ve still been able to pick out some unfamiliar sounds and tried to identify them. I noticed that sound is one of the senses we don’t often describe in writing. We are visual creatures by nature and I believe that that is were we tend to focus on our attention, and our writing is ironically less colourful for it.

Try this, sit perfectly still and try describe the sounds this make around you. For inanimate objects that are inherently quiet, give them sound, like a chair, silent until it’s dragged across a stone floor, or until someone sits on it. The leather sinks and makes a squeaking sound from the person’s weight. The decorative throw pillows, rustle as he or she pulls them out from beneath their backs and are tossed on the nearby rug.

In the lower range of my hearing, I detect the sound of the clock in the kitchen ticking. My stomach makes a little gurgle as my breakfast, makes it’s way through and it does its work. There’s a hum from the air conditioner, struggling through contradictory instructions. He says keep it toasty, I say, send me a cool breeze. There’s some steam building up in the pressure cooker in the kitchen, where some chicken chilli my brother is fond of is simmering away. I can imagine the chicken, beans and corn cooking through and later, my hands shredding the breast meat with two handy forks in each palm.

I can almost hear the traffic down below, but that’s just my imagination. The balcony doors are shut and no sound come in. I’m alone with the appliances and limitless coffee. Not a bad way to spend the remainder of the day. Now, if I can just keep from worrying about how I’ll sleep tonight….

Happy writing. (write sounds)

Happy New Decade

We’re now in the 20’s. I have a hard time believing that the decade is gone and 20 years have passed since the Millennium. Remember how all Hell was going to break loose at Y2K? Computers were going to melt down across the globe and we were going to be hurled into another dark age. Instead, technology got more sophisticated, the rich got richer, we had some questionable fashion trends, music took a downward trajectory and by the end of the next 20 years, we all went bonkers, frighteningly right wing and we rolled back rights and attitudes back to the 80’s. Ok, I exaggerate. It’s not all bad, but we haven’t progressed nearly as much as I though we would by now,

Let start with the positives, or at least mine in any case. So far, I’ve beat cancer. I’ve been married nearly 25 years to a guy that really should be nominated for a sainthood of some kind for devoted and patient husbands and everyone I love is doing ok. I’ve reached the peak of my career, I’ve picked up a few skills and have seen a lot of the world in the last decade. So, what’s next you ask? WRITING!

I’ve neglected by writing disgracefully and its time to fix that. So, from now on, writing comes first, everything non-essential comes second. By non-essential, i mean work and family, but by work, I mean “doing my best to make money to afford the mortgage and a few trips each year”. What I don’t mean is the level of workaholism that I made my life’s work up till now. ~Rambling, yes, do I care, not really…

So, here I am, day 1 of the new decade and I’m home visiting the folks. I’m sitting in my PJs on my bed in the room `I spent my teenage years in and in the next room, hubby is watching a documentary with my Dad on the subject of serial killers. Nice to see them bonding.

So, my resolutions? Just one, write every day and don’t apologise for it.

Happy 2020 people.

Puzzles

For a few months now, I’ve had trouble concentrating. It’s the drugs. The paracetamol, Tramedol, Paclitaxel, Carboplatin, Domperidome, Ibuprofen, Buscopan, Dexamethasone, Morphine Sulfate and the myriad of unknown drugs I’ve had coursing through my system for the past three months.

Every morning, I wake up groggy and hear “breakfast is here” in a whisper. I turn to one side and see a yoghurt pot, a latte and two slices of whole wheat toast heaped with crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam on the bedside table. My the time I have my breakfast, have taken my medication, put in my contact lenses and brushed my teeth, it’s nearly 11am. Half the daylight gone.

I have made lists of what I want to accomplish each day and never manage to get everything on it, even if it’s only three or four tasks. When I heard I would be out of action for a few months, I though of what I could accomplish in my forced convalescence. I have hundreds of books in my library, at least ten times more than I have listed in my 2019 reading list and I hoped that I would plough through a great many of them. However, illness also has a sick sense of humour and not only am I fighting a shitty disease that it trying to kill me, I’ve been also unable to take my mind off things through reading. I’ve found myself re-reading the same sentence several times without absorbing anything and after a month of this, I gave up.

However, I wasn’t ready to go down without a fight. How can you keep your brain stimulated without reading? Easy, challenge it with puzzles. So, I’ve cleared out all of the local charity shops of their best puzzles and have set to work. I have to say, there is something quite satisfying in seeing an image come to life. The brain is given something to work on, I’m still creating something and I’m taking myself away from mind-numbing TV for a few hours a day.

This has been working and now that I’m off most of the drugs, I’ve found that my attention span has come back. I’m starting to read again and the puzzles are still providing stimulus and entertainment.

So, this post is just a thought. If you ever find yourself unable to concentrate on anything serious but still want to give the old noodle a workout, try a puzzle.

More on this later…

Writing: Fantasy vs Reality

I’ve been reading children’s fantasy and teen sci-fi books of late in order to have something to discuss with my 11 year old god-daughter and my teen nieces and nephews. Oddly enough, I’m finding it quite enjoyable. I’ve started “Skulduggery Pleasant” by Derek Landy and it makes me wonder how someone can create a fantasy world that blends with our own that is both entertaining and written in a way that doesn’t talk down to its young audience. I’ve always admired sci-fi and fantasy writers, perhaps more so than traditional fiction writers. I imagine its harder to create a whole universe with its own mythology that can make readers believe. I’ve always strugled with that. I tend to go straight for the realistic and modern when I write. I sometimes think that writing the real world is easier in some ways (you can write from life) but harder in others. When you write from real life, it’s harder to disguise yourself and others.

 

Anyway, the point i’m Trying to make (very badly from reading this), is that its worth trying both. For this exercise, I’m going to write a short piece about something real and contemporary and then write 500 words that are pure fantasy and see what comes of it. I might dream up a whole new world. Who knows?

Have a go, have fun.

Writing: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday

I close friend told me that her husband wants a divorce. He told her yesterday, when they were on an outing with their three young children. He said it in front of them. It made me realise that while I’m going through my own hardship and tough time, everyone, everywhere, everyday is dealing with something of their own.

I felt horrible for my friend. To have to explain to three kids what’s happening and to have to deal with the fact that her relationship is potentially over is a lot to deal with. I think she knew that things were heading this way, or at least, that there were issues for a long time, but she chose not to tell me. She was afraid of worrying me while I was dealing with my illness. In truth, if that was the case, I would have preferred to know, so that we could get through it together. I’m still holoding out hope that they’ll get through this.

This whole period of my life is making me wonder, what other issues are my friends dealing with that I don’t know about? I admit, I am a bit self-cerntered at the best of times, but for the past three months, I’ve been completely absorbed in the day to day fight to get healthy and to my shame and embarrassment, I’ve hardly asked anyone how they’re doing. at least, not with my conviction to hear them out. It begs the question, illness and medication, or just plain selfishness? Do I sincerely ever listen to people or am I just waiting to talk?

This is going to take more thinking about, so for now, think about some of the people in your life. What are they going through? When was the last time you asked someone how they were doing and really listened? Write about what you would like to say to your friends and family to let them know you care. Try this, think about a time when someone shared their troubles with you. Then, write a letter to them (not to send, just as an exercise) telling them what their confining in you means to you and how you feel about what they have shared with you. Another exercise you could try is to think about a difficult time or incident in your life and describe it in the 3rd person.

Good luck, in writing and everything else…

 

Writing: 10 things

My brother sent me an amusing gift recently. It looks like a road sign, but on it, there’s a silhouette of a record on a turntable and four zombies surrounding it. The sign reads, “In case of Zombie Apocalypse, Please save my records”. It got me to thinking, if there were only 10 things I was able to take away with me if the house was about to burn down or I had to flee because of some other disaster, what would I take?

1. My cats (obviously)

2. A cuddly toy ferret named Fred that my friends sent me when I first moved to the UK, 21 years ago.

3. A few small pieces of jewellery my mother gave me.

4. Pictures of loved ones I have framed and scattered around the house

5. My record collection

6. The outfit I was wearing the day I met my husband

7. The dress I wore to my university graduation

8. The piano he also gave me for Christmas one year.

That’s about it. I can’t honestly fill ten spots. I’m taking it as read that if I can replace something digitally, like my photos I’ve already put on the cloud or books, they’re not on the list.

As I look around the house, there are a load of things I would want to hang onto either for practical or sentimental reasons, but few things I need. A lot of people I know are using the new year as an excuse to de-clutter, but I’m never quite sure how serious they are or how much of a wholehearted effort goes into it.

If you fancy writing, write about either the 10 things you would take with you, or write about something you hang onto for purely sentimental reason. What is it, where did you get it, what significance does it have for you?

Happy writing.

Writing: I, they, you

There are several ways to tell the same story. Point of view is all important in providing the reader with information from one or multiple perspectives. I have had a tendancy to write from the 1st person perspective because it comes naturally, but it has its limitations. I can’t communicate with the reader the thoughts and feeling of multiple characters and by its nature of only telling one point of view, my narrator is unreliable. Third person narrative provides a wider canvas to work with and allows you to reveal information from multiple perspective and information that you can reveal to the reader, but remains a mystery to some of your characters. Still more challenging is the 2nd person narrative. “You enter the house and see a door ajar to your left and a flight of stairs with two corridors to the left and right at the top. You step carefully through the hallway and listen for any sign of life from any of these passages. To go up the stairs and turn left, turn to page 35. To enter the door to your left, turn to page 48.” This is an example of how you could use 2nd person narrative. I grew up on “Choose your own adventure” books and never thought about the use of this as a narrative device.

So, for this exercise, write a scene in the 1st person. Re-write it in the 3rd person and if you have the time and stamina, write the beginnings of a story using the above device. Have fun.

 

Writing: Family

Most people will say that they have the best family in the world. That, if true, is a comforting thought. The idea that everyone everywhere loves their family is something to warm the spirit. However, that is not really true in all cases. I have close friends that are on bad terms with members of their family and come Christmas, to any other significant holiday, they’re stressed at the idea of how their family members will behave. A dear friend spends the month leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas stressing out about what the holidays will bring. Will her brother-in-law behave like a jerk? Will her parents and grandparents fight at the dinner table? Will her step-father make make a meal request and the criticise the end result when accommodated? (He has done this and far worse) These are awkward, to be sure, but still not the worst offences I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard stories of my own extended family that would make most people’s skin crawl. A thieving uncle, who embezzled a significant amount of money my father entrusted to him for the organisation of my parent’s wedding, a great-grandmother that bullied and beat my mother, a drug-addled uncle that stole furniture from my grandfather to fuel his drug habit. The list goes on. If I think about it, with a few exceptions, a lot of may family are jerks.

So, what is the point of my post? I guess the point is that for every horrid anecdote, there’s a positive story. Family is an almost limitless source of story inspiration. The tricky thing is that you might need to change the names and circumstances a bit to protect the not-so-innocent. Unless, of course, you’re not worried about a call from an angry aunt. It makes me think. How much can you reveal when you’re writing about real people? I think there are a few incredible stories that I would like to share, but I’ve always been worried about offending the subjects or hurting people in my family with what I write. Does the artist have the right to disclose private family secrets in order to share their life experiences with their audiences? If I were to write a story about someone in my family that is long dead, but I knew it would hurt someone else in my family, is it still right to do so? Does the third party have a say or does it come down to whether or not we’re prepared to defend our writing above someone’s memory? It’s a question that has always bothered me, but I’m starting to care less about the effect on others in favour of exorcising some of my family-inspired demons.

Back to the original thought of this post. I started by saying that many people will say that they have the best family in the world. I can say in all honesty that I have neither the best nor the worst. I can, however, say that I have a handful of exceptional family members. (Here comes the personal bit). For now, take it as read that my parents and my big brother fall into the wonderful category. I’ll come back to them in a separate post.

At the moment, I’m thinking about the family I married into. I have two brothers-in-law, two corresponding sisters-in-law, a mother-in-law still living and five nieces and nephews. Although we have all always been close, and I took it as read that they loved me as much as I loved them, it wasn’t until I got my cancer diagnosis that I really and truly appreciated how great our family is. Every week, without exception, I have seem my family. They have come to me or have invited me to be with them. Every invitation with the caveat that it’s down to how well I’m feeling and that they would accommodate my needs and wishes. Now, these are busy people, with lives and jobs and school and social clubs  and activities and packed calendars and a myriad of other obligations. Yet, every day, I hear from one of them and every week, I’m blessed with their company. Did I really think about and  appreciate how great they are, how loved I am? In all honesty, probably not as much as I should have. It’s quite something to realise one day, when you’re feeling at your lowest and most vulnerable, that not only are you not alone, but that you have an entire collection of non-blood relatives that love you. How fucking cool is that?! I’ve always known I was lucky in my in-laws in that we all got along, loved each other and had fun together, but it’s quite another thing to know and have the evidence before you that they’re in it for better or for worse. To give another example,  some close friends have abandoned me in this difficult time. Probably because they haven’t know what to do or say or are just plain incapable of hanging in there when things get tough. (that was a hard revelation to digest) But my comfort is in knowing that as much as I’ve always known I’d do anything for my husband’s family, they’d do anything for me. It makes this shitty period in my life all the more bearable.

I know there’s no real structure to this post. I was just thinking about family in general, but it’s interesting to consider all of the connotations. Like everything, there are good and bad examples. I just think that its worth thinking about and if you’re brave enough, writing about.

If you’re feeling up to it, think about an experience, good or bad, where family played a significant role and describe what happened that what you learned. Good luck.

 

The next step

I might have mentioned that I’ve been going through cancer treatment. It has been a bit unsettling to say the least, but today I had my first at real piece of good news. It appears that 1. My doctors know what they’re doing 2. My treatment is working 3. Chemo side-effects are starting to dissipate 4. I’m heading towards surgery to annihilate this fucker once and for all.

Although I’m relieved, there’s a part of me that has finally taken a few minutes to process this information and be a bit scared. The idea of getting knocked out with some heafty drugs and getting cut open and a load of bits removed sounds awful at the best of times, but it’s a bit wired and unsettling when you’re looking forward to it as a means of getting well and terrified of a scalpel in equal measure. Mixed emotions doesn’t quite do the sensation justice. Still, I’ll take today’s news a the first victory.

Have you ever dreaded and looked forward to something at the same time? Like getting exam results or sky diving?

Describe what it was and how you dealt with the feeling. I expect I’ll be covering this subject again soon.

Happy writing.

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