Running Girl

Running Girl

The girl glides across the track, feet barely touching dried-out summer turf –

feet like ice slippers.  The woman recalls the speed –

heart-beat racing, efficient legs, the sense of flying.

The girl tries to out-run narrow boundaries –  

it catches her; inescapable.  

The woman, still running, but slower,   

smells the dank river, hears its gush,

breathes oxygen, feet on soft damp turf, wet leaves.  

A heron glides, seamlessly, landing to perch on a high branch;

sunlight filters through trees casting long shadows across her path.

A thrush parts its tiny beak, shattering the stillness.  

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We Need To Talk About Social Media

OK, it’s a blatant play on the words of Lionel Shriver.  But it got your attention, so that’s great.

Listen: I know it’s becoming fashionable to bash sites like Facebook and Twitter, and I don’t want to add to the noise of all that.  I’m not a campaigner, or zealot, all about simple living meaning not having a computer, living like a Luddite, and basically hiding in a cave.

Though sometimes that’s quite an attractive idea.

I’m just worried.  And afraid.  Afraid of how we’ve all been led down a path of over-sharing and self-promotion.  Take for example “the selfie”.  A perfectly harmless bit of fun, whereby (just in case you have been living in a mountain-top cave for the past few years) you take a picture of yourself and post it online for your ‘followers’ to ‘like’.  Perfectly innocuous, you might say.

Consider this idea though: pre-social media and Smartphones, would you have taken a photo of yourself, sent it either by post or handed it to somebody you knew (or even didn’t particularly know) and said ‘look at me’?  My guess is not.  In fact, this idea, I’m sure you’d agree, is perfectly laughable.  Yet – isn’t that what we are doing online, really? Aren’t online platforms just a way of self-promotion and ‘look-at-me-ness’?

And yes, including this blog.  I started this blog as a way to follow my writing life, for myself, but also hopefully for others to read.  I opened a Twitter account for the same reason: to promote my writing and to find out about writing opportunities.  But tweeting one day about how awesome I felt at getting two pieces of writing accepted, a virtual high-5 kind of tweet, it struck me how empty I felt.  How I was, in real life, quite shy about talking about my writing, yet I was quite happy to post to anybody who followed me that I had been published.  Yet more proof to me that the persona I was building online wasn’t necessarily the ‘real me’.

Consider another situation I heard this morning regarding the selfie.  On a radio show, a young woman was talking about her Facebook page, where she would often share selfie’s of her day, perfectly innocent pictures of herself, as pretty much the entire youth of the world do all the time.  Unfortunately, a particularly unsavoury follower of hers, (who was a relative, which makes it even worse), chose to take those innocent pictures and upload them to a porn site.  They are still there.  Despite her constant efforts, they are ‘unable to be removed’ by the site.  Now, when she Googles her own name, links to that site and other undesirable places come up, leaving her anxious for the future of any new relationships she may have, or jobs she may interview for.

This young woman was still at school when some of those selfies were taken.  Does this not fill you with fear for yourself or your own children? It does me.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not trying to live like a Luddite.  I get that it’s hard out there, trying to promote your creative work.  And I get that the world has changed and technology brings exciting new possibilities. But it also brings new challenges, and I think we all have to be more aware of these in future.

 

 

 

Arrivals

She keeps her eyes lowered, as she’s been brought up to do. She remembers the strap her father used the time her older sister dared to meet his eye during a conversation on marriage.

She longs for her sister now; for her reliable presence beside her; for the familiarity of another woman wearing layers of hand-sewn clothing and headscarf.

Women, even young girls, race past in their summer clothing. Bare ankles and sleeveless tops revealing alabaster shoulders. She wonders at how they do not feel the cold of this place. She hears strange words emitting from the railway tannoy; she understands very little of what the words are saying. She feels the sharp intake of breath of the young man beside her, in his best suit, a tiny suitcase in one hand, eyes roaming the station platform for a glimpse of his uncle, who is to meet them here.

They are still shy around one another. She certainly has not yet met his gaze, nor he hers. She remembers his eyes looked kind when she saw them in the photograph her parents gave to her. They told her of his plans to cross the ocean, to come to England, where a job in his uncle’s business waited. A prosperous future.

She remembers her parents phrasing the question of marriage to this young man as though there was a choice for her to make. She remembers there was no real choice.

As she stands, eyes lowered in sockets edged in thick kohl eyeliner, she has no way of knowing that she will come to respect and, yes, even love the man beside her, whose white socks she notices peek from below his trousers. She doesn’t yet know that she will come to learn every contour of his body. Couldn’t imagine at this point, four days into their marriage at the age of seventeen, when she hasn’t yet had time to dream what she might become, that she will someday delight at this man’s touch.

That she will be blessed with three healthy children, all of whom they will struggle to put through university, enabling them, at least, to have their dreams met.

But today, here on this cold and damp platform, she could happily swap places with the bearded man a little way off, who shakes a polystyrene cup of loose change in their direction.

Previously published on Spelk Fiction:  https://spelkfiction.com

 

Morning Pages

I know lots of writers and creative types advocate the idea of ‘Morning Pages’, (first introduced by Julia Cameron in The Artists’ Way).  The idea is to write three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, first thing in the morning.

I have tried the writing practise of morning pages several times over the years, without success.  My initial objection was to the ‘first thing in the morning’ part…waking up and drinking coffee is about my limit, and I just couldn’t imagine writing anything first thing.

But I have returned to it over the years, trying again and again.  I suppose it’s like any ideas put forward by writers and teachers of writing: some will work for you and some will be disregarded.

Cameron’s idea, I think, is that you can write anything on your mind, to clear out the detritus from sleep, dreams, worries and concerns.  To clean out your head before settling down to the proper writing or creating later in the day.

Modern proponents of this have said they use these pages to write anything that comes to mind, including to-do lists, shopping lists, whatever.  But this doesn’t seem to me to spark any sort of creativity.  Considering whether I need to buy bread and milk that day seems inconsequential to my writing aims.

I suppose it’s a similar idea to that of Natalie Goldberg’s, author of Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, among other books on creativity.  She talks about ‘keeping the hand moving’, setting a timer for ten minutes and just writing.  Even if, she says, simply writing ‘I don’t know what to write’, or starting with the same statements over and over again, for example, ‘I remember…’

Goldberg’s ideas have been the ones I turn to most often, sitting and free writing in a notebook, dribbling on the page, perhaps focusing on one of her suggested starters, or just describing the colour of the sky, for example.  This, I have found, has often led to a memory or idea for a story, blog post, or something I want to research further.  Just as often, it has resulted in nothing.  Just the scrawls on the formerly blank page of my notebook.

I know there is a strong school of thought that insists that to be a successful writer, you must sit and write every day.  Again, I can see the positives in this, but equally, sometimes I just don’t want to write.  If I sat down at those times and forced myself, I think I would feel more frustrated than anything else.

I think that all this shows is that there is more than one way to write, or create, anything.  It can be useful to read books about writing, but also, it can sometimes cloud our own ideas and make us feel that we ‘aren’t doing it right’.

Whether it works for you to write every day, or binge write; write when you feel inspired, or force yourself to sit at your desk for ten minutes a day; free writing, structured practise, word clouds, mind-maps…just doing it your own way is the way to practise.

Just writing at all is moving forward.

 

My Name Is

It started with her name.

She gave it up quite willingly; exchanged her father’s for her lover’s at the altar.  Standing there in an ivory dress and her grandmother’s pearls, she had felt a tiny snap as a bit of her broke off, but nobody else seemed to notice.

She carried on much as before, though each time she was called by the foreign, impostor name – at doctor’s appointments and such – she felt a little bit more go.  Each time she was referred to as ‘Simon’s Wife,’ she heard the snap; felt a little less.

Just a tiny freckle, or a finger nail, not enough for anyone to notice.

With each child she birthed – three in total – she felt a little bit more slip away.  She was beginning to notice the gaps now, the lack of an earlobe; the loss of a tooth.  Each time she was referred to as ‘Matthew’s Mum,’ more flesh shriveled.  She kept looking around her to check if anyone else had noticed, but nobody seemed to.

Some days, in the fog of packed lunches and dirty football kits, she struggled to recall her own name – so long it had been since anyone had used it.

And yet, it was such a pretty name, if anyone cared enough to remember it.

Even her husband, grown grey at the temples and stressed around the eye sockets, didn’t use it often.  In company, she was dear, or darling, or simply: she.

In bed, he favoured other names – or none at all.  She would have liked him to use her name then – especially then – to whisper it as he had before, back when she was a whole person.  A full, energetic, sensual woman with a name and a job title and a purpose.

Now she had other names too big to fill: Mother; Wife; Homemaker.  She felt she had lost her own identity, had become a cardboard cut-out of a person; invisible.

It was with mounting horror that she looked into the hall mirror one hot Sunday afternoon in June to see a gap down her right side, where her arm had been.  Her short-sleeved top just hung, the sleeve pointing out away from her shoulder.  A rounded shoulder blade stump poked out of it, like the nose of a cartoon dog.

She walked out into the garden and poured from the jug of homemade lemonade, awkwardly, using her weaker left arm.  She glanced around the table, but none of them appeared to notice the missing limb.

Matthew played Tetris on his tablet; Sophie texted, fingers furiously tapping the keys of her mobile.  Tim, the youngest, grumbled that he had not been picked for the football team.  Her husband read the sports page of the newspaper.

Simon…she started, unsure where to end.  He glanced up from the paper, slight irritation etched across his face.  Do you notice anything different – about me, I mean?

He flicked empty eyes down and back up so quickly she hardly saw them move.  A tiny smile, indulgent, the way he looked at the children when they gave him a homemade birthday card.

New top – very nice, he said, returning to the football results.

She excused herself to get more lemonade.  Nobody thanked her.

As she walked through the warm house to the kitchen, her left foot faded out and she imagined she felt a tiny piece of her heart disintegrate inside her chest.

First Published in SickLit Magazine – https://sicklitmagazine.com/