A Brief Visit To The Dark Side

Last week, I missed out on writing a blog. I also missed going to the allotment and sitting at my spinning wheel. I didn’t knit any more of the delicious fair isle cardigan I’ve been working on or find time to prune the berberis outside my front window. I bought gluten-free chocolate tiffin instead of baking some, and I scarcely picked up a crayon to continue the next mandala.

I broke my own rules.

On Monday morning, having read the manual, scoured the instructions and summoned my courage, I began to load the text of my novel into a CreateSpace template – the first step in the process of getting my book ‘live’. I had, rather foolishly, assumed it would only take me a day to do this. After all, that’s what the guy said in his book on ‘how to publish with CreateSpace’. So I put everything on hold, expecting to reach bedtime with a wonderful sense of satisfaction, despite the hard work involved.

By ten o’clock that night, I had completed precisely two chapters. Oh, and the front pages. You know, those extra bits that no-one reads like the copyright page and the dedication.

It would appear that all the word-processing skills I thought I’d learned recently were as nothing compared to what I had to try and learn last week. Who knew about hyphenation? and why chapter headings have a life of their own? And what on earth are ‘widows and orphans’ and how do I control them?!!!

Back to the internet. Find You-Tube. More intense studying.

Okay. I can accommodate one bad day in my life … so on Tuesday morning, I started again. Now that I knew what I was doing. Ha ha! I went back and re-did the first two chapters and moved tentatively onto three and four.

Progress? Not a bit of it. Because now I discovered that all my pages were different lengths, my chapter headings were all appearing at different positions down the page – and every time I changed one thing, it threw everything else out of kilter, not to mention the inexplicable way that Gaelic spellings imported from the internet (so I could include accents which I cannot track down on my keyboard) switch off all the alignment settings.

By now, I was at that delightful stage, commonly described as ‘tearing one’s hair out’. I also began to succumb to that feeling of being so far into a labyrinth (not the gentle, meditative kind) that you don’t want to give up. Surely the end can’t be far now? And won’t it be worth it when I get there?

It took me until midnight on Thursday to complete forty chapters. And all day Friday to recover. There was no overwhelming sense of satisfaction, or even of achievement. I felt distracted, disconnected and disturbed. I realised I had reverted to old ways and completely stepped outside my normally beautiful, sustainable lifestyle. The end did not justify the means.

Effectively, I have lost a week of my life. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing because my eye was constantly on the prize instead of the journey. I relinquished everything about my life that usually makes it such a wonderful experience. I checked out.

My favourite affirmation is: The steps to getting there are the qualities of being there.

Yesterday, I picked up my own instruction manual and began again.

The Last Lap

So far, I’ve written and researched, and edited and formatted. I’ve listened to criticisms, comments and suggestions. I’ve tracked down and acquired permissions. I’ve taught myself new word-processing techniques and decided on a title. I’ve listed all my acknowledgments, considered some footnotes and started work on collecting the Gaelic names I’ll need for authenticity. I have an ISBN, a book size and a preferred font.

And just when I thought I had everything done that I needed to do in order finally to put my first novel together and into print, I discover I need to acquire a whole new set of skills.

Today, I somehow created a stunning book cover on a graphic design website that I found by accident – but I don’t have a clue how I made it or how I can now change it to include a few extra details or even if I can upload it into CreateSpace.

Not having grown up with computers, every new innovation is a major learning curve for me, so much so that as I work I have a second Google page open, ready to ask: ‘What is a —-?’, ‘What does —- mean?’ and ‘How can I —-?’ Thank God for the internet.

But the end is now in sight, and it gets more and more exciting, the nearer it comes. I remain sure that if I can put in all the required effort to learn the process of book production at this stage, then it’ll be easy – well, relatively easy – to do the next six books which are sitting in my head. Three of them are, in fact, seriously underway, with numerous chapters already completed in long-hand.

I have to say, although this journey gets a bit scary at times, it is also tremendous fun. And that’s important to me. I love it that when the finished book is finally sitting on my shelf, I will have been responsible for every stage of its production, and I will have expanded my knowledge – even my brain cells – to another level. And that’s important to me, too.

There’s so much to explore, discover and experience in this world of ours, I often wonder how anyone can possibly be bored. I swear I could live to be two hundred and still be finding things to learn and find out about.

And one of the joys of being a writer is that this newly-acquired knowledge can be neatly incorporated into the next story. I can never run out of things to write about because there’s always going to be something new popping up on my horizon which will intrigue and entice me, and slowly seduce me into its own particular storyline.

I may be entering the last lap of this project but it is undoubtedly only the start of the next great adventure.

Let There Be Light

With all the complaining going on around me at the moment – people moaning about the weather, fretting about the dark evenings and lamenting the passing of Christmas – I thought I might write something about the beauty of January.

The common perception of this first month in our calendar is that it is grey, wet, cold, tedious and generally hard work. As many people struggle to get themselves back inside a mindset of work-focused activities, financial anxiety and expectations of ill-health – a mindset which has never served them well but which they seem reluctant to relinquish – I like to follow a different route into the new year, seeking out the special opportunities that are only here now and will disappear soon for another twelve months.

I love – as I wrote last week – the energised opportunity in January to make new changes, to do things differently. Although it is possible to wake up every day and start afresh, there is something very special about January 1st that invites us to be more pro-active about putting those changes into action. And for me, changes can be just as much to do with letting old things go as with bringing new things in.

So I have been carefully sifting through the list of what it is that often fills my day and deciding which activities I no longer want to spend time on. I think this is one of the gifts of having lived longer; you can develop a sharper eye for the non-essential, non-helpful, non-productive aspects of your life. And you can choose to let them slip away.

From the other end of the spectrum, you can begin to see more clearly what it is you’d really like to experience in life, and the space cleared by the letting-go of previously-considered ‘vital’ activities, now becomes available for use in a much more creative way. For me, this process has enabled me to relinquish my old practices of getting caught up in administrative tasks and ‘finnickety’ paperwork, and instead to relish the time made available to write more stories, tackle three novels at once and finally to own my life as a writer.

I am also welcoming the opportunity to do one uncomfortable thing every day – at least, for the five working days of the week. I might allow myself  some time-off at the weekends!

One of the websites I subscribe to has a number of brilliant concepts for getting yourself sorted, including naming every Wednesday as Anti-Procrastination Day. Wednesdays become the day you get to do all those things you keep putting off. By changing the focus from one of avoidance to one of opportunity, it is amazing what you can persuade yourself to do. I am trying out extending the idea into a daily practice for this new year. Yesterday, I finally completed my tax return!

But it’s not just the internal changes that light up January for me. Outside, the world of nature is gearing up, too. The Mallards are already chasing each other down the canal, the Blackbirds are scooting across the garden whilst shouting their heads off, and I’ve seen the local Kingfisher at least five times since New Year, showing off his startling plumage along with his flying and diving prowess.

And, perhaps because the days are shorter at this time of year, I am more conscious of the daylight and the continual changes it makes, too. I am excited to wake up in the dark and watch how the colours change as the daylight gets stronger; I am thrilled by the quality of the sunshine brightening the frost or painting rainbows across dark clouds; I am fascinated by the dimming twilight and the mysterious grey shapes it illuminates.

The first day of February is the start of Spring in the Celtic calendar. The festival of Imbolc. The bulbs already know this and are starting to thrust their way up through the ground. I don’t want to miss a thing. I am choosing to relish every day of the winter season that is left to me and to find its value, its beauty and its very special light.

Happy New Circles

After a much-needed break, and a thoroughly enjoyable holiday, it is time to pick up my pen again and resume writing – blogs, novels, short stories introductions, websites … The list is lengthy and interesting, and requires, inevitably, some New Year Resolutions. This year, however, I’m considering thinking of them as New Year Revolutions.

Several things have happened for me over the last few weeks which have solidified some ideas already in my head and stretched others which were merely glimmerings before. The first influential event took place before Christmas when I went with a friend to the cinema. The film we chose was Arrival.

I am no stranger to sci-fi. Indeed, provided it doesn’t descend into horror, it is one of my favourite genres. But this particular piece was no ordinary sci-fi movie. Based on a short story by Ted Chiang, it was breathtaking in its simplicity, captivating in its presentation and awesome in its perceptions.

This was a film more focused on communication than conquest, with the core of the story-line challenging whether the way in which earth people experience both language and time is the only way to do so. The subtle, never-quite-clearly-visible, aliens have come visiting in order to offer, and ask for, help – but before that can become apparent, it takes some extraordinarily courageous characters to reach beyond their linear conceptions and embrace the possibility of the instant and the infinite occurring simultaneously. The essence of the circle.

For me, this had immediate resonances with some on-line research I had been carrying out about mandalas. Those beautiful, circular manifestations of multiple aspects of the soul, all appearing at once, all interconnected and all repeating for ever. My second big event was opening my Guidebook To Drawing Mandalas on Christmas morning, and entering a world I had been tip-toeing around for some considerable time.

The mandala, I discover, is a summation of how I experience life. I have fought against a rigid, straight-line, straight-forward understanding of the world for as long as I can remember. I’ve never been particularly impressed by hierarchies of – anything! Although I’m sure that a direct journey from A to B is more manageable, more predictable and therefore more controllable, it is – from where I’m standing – dry, divisive and devoid of life and love.

Much more realistic is the representation that allows for a multiplicity of contradictions to be true at the same time, or that invites a plethora of possible outcomes to be explored, or that gives equal value to all expressions of experience, however small, however big. I think only a mandala can do that.

As we pass the annual milestone of New Year celebrations and move on into 2017, I find myself reflecting on how I’ve been here before and will be here again. The year turns into a mandala of its own. This ‘beginning’ of the year holds a special energy: it is the only occasion in the year when change – or at least the idea of change – is universally welcomed.

It makes sense, I think, to utilise that, to anchor that openness to doing things differently in our hearts, to initiate our own individual revolutions towards becoming a better version of ourselves – or is that remembering the best version we were before all the linear stuff began to layer on top of us?

As we spiral into the next seasonal circumambulation, I wish you all Happy New Circles.