The Third Thing

Natalie Goldberg, in her book on writing memoir Old Friend From Far Away, writes that “Couples need a third thing – a child, a dog, a house, a business – to gaze upon.  Side to side, not face on.”  She is referring to couples being very similar to writers, needing a ‘third thing’ to write about.

I can see this is true of writers, but wondered if this was also true about couples.  Is it not enough to just be one half of a couple?  Sometimes, when life has been too busy, too hectic with kids and family and work and all the circus of the trappings of our lives, sometimes at those times, I’ve longed for couple time.  Imagined a time when there would just be the two of us, together.  Alone.  Alone together.

But yet…this statement from Goldberg made me stop and think.  It makes clear: couples, like writers, need a third thing.  And I think she might be right.  I think of our lives so far, and the third thing that maybe we had or have, did or do, side to side:

Worked hard and had friends, gone to Yoga and Wing Chun, played squash and read books, separately but together.  Had a child, lost a mother, had parents divorce in middle-age.  Bought and sold houses, had another child, to keep the first company.  Built a business, working side to side, sold a business, and did new things.  He taught; I wrote.  We both raised two daughters.  Owned cars, volunteered.  Got part-time jobs, reviewed books, had writing published.  We both completed degrees as mature students (at different times in different subjects), and ran blogs.  Separately.

And side by side, we move onward, onward together, us two but with many third things between us.

Keeping life interesting.

 

 

 

 

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Smoke Screen

He pulls a tin of bait from an old canvas bag, faded to murky green.  During the week, the tin of bait sits in the fridge, maggots wriggling in confinement alongside lettuce and a block of cheddar.

She lets go of the rod to get out the red tartan Thermos.  Sharing a hot, strong tea from plastic cups that taste like summer picnics, they silently watch a duck’s feather float along the surface of the water.  

Finished drinking, shaking the droplets into the grass verge, she reaches into her jumper and pulls out a ten pack of Marlboro’s from under her bra strap.  She knows he ain’t been near there in years, so it’s a safe hiding place.  

Taking pity, she lights one from her own and holds it out to him between yellowed fingers.  He takes it, and they sit together in silence, smoking and fishing.

This piece was a previous winner of the weekly AdHoc Fiction competition and published on their website.

 

Balance

Trees.  I love them.  I’ve probably banged on about my affinity with all things natural and simple on here before, but once I started to take notice of the natural world around me, I kept seeing similarities and connections everywhere.  As I’m typing this blog post, for example, BBC Radio has just mentioned that my home city has the most trees of any in Europe.  See?  Coincidence.  Connections.

Take the Banyan tree, known as ‘the tree of many feet’.  This is because of the way its many roots spread.  Sacred in Hinduism, the Banyan is grounded, fixed to the earth by a multitude of connections.  For this reason, it is often seen in images reflecting practises from the East, such as Yoga.

When I began a regular Yoga practise, I felt like I had finally come home.  That sounds like something new-age-y, I know, but it was the truth.  It was like I had turned a switch and finally realised what I should have been doing with my body for my whole life previously.  I very much define my life and my body in before Yoga and after Yoga terms.

It wasn’t just the Yoga itself, but that once I started on that path, I began to look at every area of my personal being.  My attitudes to ageing, to health, to my writing life.

Or there’s the cherry blossom.  The Japanese see cherry blossom as representing the passage of time, transcience, impermanence, and mortality.

I recently wrote a piece on here about facing the changes brought about by my eldest going off to university.  I’ve also just had a birthday, which always beings about a bit of internal reflection.  It can often feel disheartening when another year passes and we maybe feel we haven’t achieved goals we may have set.  I should have finished that manuscript by now…I hoped to be earning more from my writing by now… and so on.

The Danish have a phrase which is considered a high compliment, manhviler sig selv, which means someone who rests in him- or her-self.  Essentially being happy in one’s own skin.  Maybe being happy with the type of writer I am, appreciating the successes I have had and seeking out more, but in my own time and my own way.  It’s all about balance, about the harmony between what we want and what we need.

It used to bother me that there were grey hairs beginning to appear, and that lines were creeping around my eyes when I smiled.  Yet, spending more time in nature has made me look anew at the negative way we assimilate women’s looks and women’s lives.

Then I read about the Silver Birch.  These trees have smooth, perfect trunks when young saplings.  Their barks grow rough and broken when mature, however, just like our own skin can do.  Yet, we don’t pull them from the ground, assuming them to be of no more use.  We cherish trees and woodlands the older they get.

In this, as in many ways, we maybe could learn important lessons from the natural world.

Kate  xx

 

What Makes You A Writer?

I’ve read several blog posts and essays in writing journals lately about the writer’s life.  About the process of getting words down on paper and how to quantify success.  I’ve even written about this myself before here on this very blog https://writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/the-many-faces-of-success/

One aspect which jumped out at me in a recent essay was the idea of considering the ideas why we write, other than to make money.  Because, let’s face it, making any money from this game is pretty difficult at best.  Downright impossible, often.

I saw a suggestion that one reason writers write is to be seen.  I was interested in this: is it just this simple?  Do writers have a need, as most people do in other ways, to be seen, to be listened to and recognised, in whatever small way, as being good at something.

I tried to reflect back to my own writing practise of many years, and wondered whether this statement was true.  When I was scribbling away, just enjoying writing for the process of developing words into stories and essays, was a desperate need behind it to be seen as somebody who could do this successfully?

Newly published authors often quote as their most memorable moment the first time they see somebody reading their book.  Is it just a vanity thing then, or is there more substance behind it?

This idea has sat with me a few days now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is some truth in it.  I don’t think it is just a case of vanity – of somebody telling you they enjoyed what you wrote, or it resonated with them – but a visceral need to be seen, to be acknowledged, and to some degree, to be accepted for who we are, as writers or otherwise.

No matter who we are, writers or not, we all want to have the feeling that we are recognised and accepted for our worth, our skills, our talents. This can be a devastatingly lonely business if you sit at home trying to write words that might never be read by anyone.  It can make it sometimes even harder to do once you have been published, just to sit and write for the sake of writing.

Another essay I read referred to success at writing being about the mastery and discovery of the writing process itself; of the pace of a writer’s life.  Looking back over the past few years, reflecting on the ways I’ve come to support my own writing practise, I realised I have supported this ‘pace of a writer’s life’ in several significant ways.

One was to finally find a class that is about loving the written word.  Run by an academic, the books we read and share and discuss are stimulating, and the diverse writing we produce and share even more so.  This has added to my acceptance of myself as being a writer-type, and that every one of us is different, and that’s okay.  Some of the members are full-time writers, some are working as lecturers, shop workers, charity workers.  Some are carers or retired; others are students or volunteers. Some trying to write a novel; others just interested in talking about reading and writing.  There are no judgements, no failures here.

It has helped me to see how writing fits into my life as a whole.  I am a writer, but I am not just a writer.  I am a charity worker, a shop worker, a volunteer, a yoga practitioner, a walker, a wife and mother.

All of these other elements also, paradoxically, make me a writer.

 

 

Kaizen

The Alta Male

Kaizen

Kaizen is a principle that’s used in business. Its origins are American then Japan then revamped in the US of A.

In a brief nutshell, it means making even a small improvement can change the overall outcome.

So, say you want to lose a stone in three weeks. This is a huge goal and by day two you feel this and, you guessed it, quit.  The aim is too big.  So kaizen it.

A smaller goal of 3lb in three weeks = 500 less calories a day for three weeks, aka manageable. Apply it to everything you fancy: 20 minutes of meditation?  No, no, no – you’ll never do that so go for just one minute and you’ll have more chance of making it a habit each day.

Run a marathon by Christmas – STOP – walk five minutes each day, make it a small habit and watch it…

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Yellow Dinghy

Spelk

by Kate Jones

He pushes the heavy metal wheelchair up the steep, cobbled hill of the coastal town. Why she had to choose this place for a day out, he doesn’t know.

He wonders if she did it on purpose; she must have remembered this punishing hill from their visits in their youth.

He stops to take a breath. She tries to swivel her head around. “Why are we stopping?” she asks, her voice abrasive, brittle as glass against glass. The way she always speaks to him these days.

“Just taking a breather, this hill’s a killer,” he says.

She folds her arms in her lap and stares stonily ahead. The collar of his waterproof jacket tickles his neck where sweat has begun to trickle down into it. It had been spotting with rain down on the beach, where they’d sheltered to eat bags of sharp, vinegary chips with tiny…

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Vichara

I like the new year.  People complain about broken resolutions, but I actually like having an excuse to make them: promises, plans, fresh starts.

Two years ago, my resolution (as had been in previous years…) was to ‘Write More’.  The thing that was different that year though was that I actually held myself to it.  And not just writing more – submitting my work to be read by others, too.  It was probably my most successful resolution, lasting throughout the whole of that year, and by the end of it, I had my first writing published.

Last year, my resolution was to continue with my writing, aiming to get paid work published (as anyone who writes will know, this is a LOT harder than it sounds).  But again, I stuck with it, and was lucky enough to get paid for a few pieces, and landed a paid editorial role with Great Jones Street app.

2017 was a difficult year for the world, it seems.  Personally, my writing and publishing credits continued to grow, but sadly, the wonderful community at GJS closed their doors at the end of December.  It was a blow – to lose a regular income from a writing gig is always hard.

Sometimes, it can take a while to drag ourselves back to the writing page, or the computer screen, with its often seemingly mocking, blinking cursor.  I’m no different, and as I begin to sit back at my desk this week, I’m contemplating what this years resolutions – or plans – will be.

Vichara – the practice of self-inquiry – is something I picked up through my adventures in Yoga.  I often turn to my Yoga practise when my writing practise is going hard.  Like any form of exercise or concentration, it helps to free up the brain cells in a way that sitting at a desk never will.

The premise of Vichara is to ask yourself: “Does the quality of my life currently reflect my fullest potential?”  Considering my writing practise, this can be translated as “Does the quality of my writing currently reflect my fullest potential?”  Regular writers will know what I mean when I say that sometimes, not often, but occasionally, I’ve sent out work that I think is ‘good enough’.  I’ve also sent out work that I’ve written simply because it fits a requirement from a website or magazine.

But it never feels fulfilling to me to write that way.  If writing is my creative outlet, and I earn money through various other means, then shouldn’t I commit to writing the work I want to produce?  Taking my time over the stuff that makes me proudest?

I’ve decided ‘Yes’, it does.  I’m going back to the blank page with a fresh work ethic.  I’ve already achieved more than I ever thought I would through my writing, and had a great experience working with GJS.  I think it’s time to get back to that self-inquiry that first led me to writing.

If you need me, I’ll be scribbling in a corner somewhere…

K  xx