The 100th Post! Blue Sky Tag (a Q&A with me), 5 Year Blogiversary & Giveaway

 

Pop art me, photo by Marija Smits

Pop art me, photo by Marija Smits

 

A while back, I was lucky enough to be nominated by the ever-thougtful Dawn from Journal of Dawn for the Blue Sky Tag. Thank you Dawn! So I thought I’d combine the Q&A, my nominations, and a giveaway in my 100th post (which also happens to be my 5 year blogiversary). I can’t quite believe I’ve been blogging for 5 years now, but I have, and I still love it.

 

THE Q&A

  1. Is your Life, today, half-empty, or half-full?

Such a tricky question – and somewhat like the problem of Schrödinger’s cat. I believe that just like light – which is both a particle and a wave – life is both half-empty and half-full simultaneously and it is only the observer that gets to decide at any particular moment. An optimist at heart I think I’ll pretty much always go with half-full. Today, because I’ve had a walk in the September sunshine and just now written a poem I’m pleased with (and fingers-crossed all my loved ones are okay) it actually feels like it’s three-quarters full.

  1. How have you found goodness from the bad situations in your Life? Example, please :))

Most of the bad situations in my life I’ve put into my writing, in one way or another. My father’s death, for example, I wrote about in this poem here, called ‘The Pulmonary Embolism’. I have found healing from exploring these things through writing (and no doubt, these life experiences have fired me, like clay, into a more clearly defined person). And if anyone else finds consolation in my writing then I reckon that’s a good thing.

  1. Which relationships have been the most challenging for you, and what strategies have you created to improve them?

Two challenging relationships… hmm. One has been with my mother (who, in so many ways is like me, but in other and, fundamental ways, unlike me), and ditto my mother-in-law. I think that first there needs to be reflection and understanding – of our differences and that our differences have the possibility to cause friction. But people will only change if they want to change – I have no control over that change. After that comes acceptance, and the grace (from within) to let go of my own judgement and the friction. If I felt that there was anything I could concretely do to change one aspect of our relationship I would use compassionate communication to do so. In the past I’ve used it in certain occasions where it was of immense help. I can highly recommend the book People Skills by Robert Bolton if you want to improve your communication skills.

  1. What causes you angst, and how do you overcome it?

Oh goodness! As an HSP, anything and everything! Global warming, neoliberalism, Donald Trump, Brexit, racism, sexism, social media, unisex toilets in secondary schools, so-called education gurus, people being outraged by the use of the word poetess, the billion-dollar infant formula industry (which is a law unto itself), scratchy jumpers, noisy neighbours, coffee shops that don’t serve cream to go with the said coffee, owners who don’t clear up their dog’s poo and leave it on the street for you to squelch in… The list is endless! I’m not actually sure if I do overcome it. I guess I just figure out how much I care about the issue, and if there’s anything I can meaningfully do about it then I will try to do that. If I can’t do all that much about it I have to accept that and move on (remembering that it’s okay to focus on the good/meaningful stuff I’m doing already).

  1. Have you ever written your own jokes???? Memorized them, and tried them out in a long, boring line at the Post Office . . . Did anyone chortle??? (ie — do you have a good joke ready for a sour circumstance :)) (I had a lot of fun writing my Cow Jokes.)

Writing a good joke is seriously hard! So, no, I don’t have any great skill in this area. In a tricky situation I’ll fall back on this:

‘Knock, knock.’

‘Who’s there?’

‘Interrupting Cow.’

‘Interrupting cow wh-’

‘Mooooooo!’

  1. What challenges are you facing in your Life right now?

My main challenges are to do with my work, family life, writing balance. Trying to do all three successfully sometimes feels like too much of a struggle. Something for me to review.

  1. What do you obsess over? How do you rein in your obsessions?

I’m prone to OCD. Not particularly with physical compulsions e.g. needing to wash my hands, check things are off (although I do have a tendency to do these things probably a little too often)… but when I discovered from a book that some OCD sufferers have mental compulsions, that was a revelation. Here’s how it works: having a worry/fear/regret and thinking about it endlessly and obsessively, then feeling compelled to say a ‘special sentence’ (or whatever) in one’s head, a certain number of times to find relief from the obsessive worry. Others can’t see that there’s anything wrong, but it’s absolutely debilitating. OCD can permanently put life on hold.

Somehow, I summoned up the strength to talk to my partner (now husband) about it. He didn’t think any less of me for having this strange issue (I was sure he would look at me like I was bonkers), and his listening ear and support helped immeasurably. After that I made the connection that stress has a huge impact on OCD, so I had to make important life changes. Switching careers was part of the solution. And funnily enough, birthing and breastfeeding my children helped too. Apparently mothering hormones can help some women in combatting OCD.

  1. What strategies do you employ for stress relief?

Stress relief for me means ‘saying no’ and cutting back on everything that isn’t vital. Listening to music, exercise, and eating healthy and wholesome food – as well as laughing and having fun with my husband, children and friends. And of course cuddles help hugely too! (Books too. Sometimes chocolate.)

  1. What other-wordly phenomena have you experienced? (Intuition, dreams, deja vu, ET, communication with lost loved ones, etc.) What have your learned from them?

None! As much as I like the idea of otherworldly phenomena (they often crop up in my stories) I’m an earthy woman and haven’t had stuff like that happen to me. Though I swear that underpants gnomes exist…

  1. How do you make new friends, or strike up a conversation with a stranger?

‘Hello! How are you? My name’s…’ is usually where I start.

  1. What do you love to create? How do you motivate yourself to do more of what you love to do???

I love to create stories. Worlds. In pictures and words. I don’t tend to need to motivate myself to do something I love doing so much, but like all creative people, I guess, I can get lazy and spend more time dreaming up new creations rather than actually making them happen. That’s when I give myself a good talking to: Who d’you think’s going to finish that story? That piece of art? The fairies? Yeah right. Get to work woman! That’s usually enough of a butt kicking for me to get going.

Photo of Marija Smits by Tom Bellamy.

The final fruit of the writerly labours: reading the published piece. Photo of Marija Smits by Tom Bellamy.

 

My Nominations

So… quoting from Dawn here, via Mr Hush Hush who nominated her…

For those of you who don’t know, the rules of the Blue Sky Tag go something like this:

  1. Thank the person who has nominated you.
  2. Answer their questions.
  3. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
  4. Tag your 11 nominees.

And here are my 11 nominees:

  1. Jane
  2. Helen
  3. Maddy
  4. Nikki Young
  5. Rebecca Ann Smith
  6. Rachael
  7. Renee
  8. Sophie
  9. Alice
  10. Johanne Winwood
  11. Because I know so many fab writers/bloggers it’s been hard to limit this to just 11. So I’d also like to invite the following to join in if they’d like to (and have the time): Angela Topping, Ana Salote, Cathy Bryant, Clare Cooper, Sarah James, Alison Lock, Becky Cherriman, Ruth Stacey, Katy Wareham Morris, Suzie W, Teaching Tiny Minds, Cara McKee, Mumturnedmom, Rhyming with Wine, Antonia Chitty, Iona, Chrissie, Victoria, Katia, Sarah, Kamsin Kaneko, and any other of the wonderful women who make up the What I’m Writing group.

 

Here are my 11 questions:

  1. How are you? (No, really, how are you?)
  2. How do you feel about the season changing from summer to autumn? Do you have a favourite autumnal poem? (If not, simply share a favourite poem.)
  3. On the introvert-extrovert and sensitivity continuum where would you put yourself?
  4. Have you ever been ‘stuck’ in life? Or are you ‘stuck’ (in some way) right now? Any tips for getting unstuck?
  5. How do you balance family life, work and creative time? Is ‘time scheduling’ the way forward? Or do you have a more relaxed approach?
  6. What creative work are you focussing on at the moment?
  7. Are you a one-project-on-the-go person or do you flit between different creative projects?
  8. Some of your favourite books…?
  9. An inspiring piece of music?
  10. A favourite ice cream flavour? If you don’t like ice cream, here’s another question: tea or coffee? (And how do you take it.)
  11. A photo of one of your favourite places to create (or the place you mostly end up creating, though it may not be your favourite!).

And just to be awkward here’s a bonus question (feel free to expand or not, as you see fit): Where are you on the limerent/non-limerent scale?

Thank you again Dawn for including me in this fun exercise. And do feel free to answer my questions too, if you’d like. 🙂

 

The Giveaway

Lastly… here’s the giveaway – a fine literary bundle that all feature a piece of my writing. To be in with the chance of winning the below simply leave a comment on this post (and perhaps a why as to why you’d like them…).

 

Lovely literature!

Lovely literature!

 

The giveaway will run until midnight GMT on 24th September 2017 and I’ll announce the winners shortly afterwards. (This offer is open to anyone living in any country, but if someone outside the UK does win, I’d need a contribution toward postage.)

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Holiday Healing

Around this time last year I wrote a post called Running on “empty” that resonated with a fair few readers. Sadly, it would seem that many of us are prone to the idea that we must constantly be “on” – working, creating, socializing (and all while documenting/Instagramming every moment of our lives). Often, and particularly if we’re women, caring for children or elderly or ill relatives is another constant/semi-constant occupation.

This year I made a conscious decision to not take too much on, particularly work-wise. I’ve mostly managed to adhere to this though I’m still prone to getting too absorbed by work or excited by a writing prompt/call for submissions or agitating over a book review which, inevitably, makes me work late into the night when, really, I need to be sleeping.

However, as I said, I’ve mostly managed to honour my intention. So when we got to the cottage we’d rented for our holiday this year, I didn’t have a jolt of realization that I was (and had been) running on empty; though I did come to the conclusion that information, news (and social media) overload is definitely a problem for HSPs in today’s world. I would probably go so far as to liken it to chronic stress or anxiety). It would seem that the art of living in the present is a much underrated and somewhat lost skill. And yet how vital it is for mental health, physical wellbeing and our relationships with ourselves, other people and the natural world. It is also important for those who want creativity to play a part of their daily lives. In short, it is a necessity for being authentic to one’s true self – to being wild.

 

Devon field, photo by Marija Smits

Devon field, photo by Marija Smits

 

Being in the present helps me to focus on my own needs (and desires) and those of my loved ones. It brings me into the moment with the reminder that I need to listen – not be off in future dreamland somewhere, the hazy (and sometimes regrettable) past or, much worse, thinking about the latest work problem or less-than-satisfactory social media interactions. Being in the present helps me to fully experience this moment, reconnect with loved ones, myself and the world around me. And in Devon, where we spent the week, there was much natural beauty on offer. I also got to “indulge” in some of my most favourite things – reading for pleasure, creating art just for the sake of creating art, and beachcombing for sea glass, pebbles and shells. What more could an introverted HSP want?

 

Sea glass, photo by Marija Smits

Sea glass, photo by Marija Smits

 

Now the trick is to bring more ‘living in the present’ back home with me, and to actually make it a habit.

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All the Fun of the Fair – or Maybe Not?

A fortnight ago the funfair came to our small town and set up shop. This happens every year at the beginning of July and on the Saturday of the travelling fair’s four-day-long stay the village runs a show alongside the funfair. This means that the recreational field is full of stalls, there’s an area for music and dance performances, a dog show and tug-of-war; ice cream vans and tombolas. In addition, there is the local horticultural, arts and crafts show for townsfolk to get involved in.

I like to take part in the show (particularly the art categories) – although I do tend to forget about it until the very last minute – and as they have crafting & baking categories for children to enter it’s become a bit of a thing for us. Although every year I reiterate to my two kids – it’s about the taking part, not the winning!

As they’ve got older they’ve become more interested in the show, but still, the big highlight for them is the funfair. This year we had fine weather and came away from the arts and craft show with a few prizes. So we headed to the funfair with smiling faces… First stop was the candy floss seller.

 

Candy floss, by Marija Smits

Candy floss, by Marija Smits

 

However, I do have mixed feelings about funfairs. As an HSP (highly-sensitive person) the sheer number of people, the noise (sometimes screams) of the crowd, the pop songs blaring out of the speakers, the smell of the diesel-fuelled generators mixing with the smell of frying onions and burgers, hits me with a good old sensory wallop. I worry about the kids getting lost; I worry about where they’ve put their shoes when they go on a bouncy castle or ride that requires them to go barefoot; I worry about how much money I’m spending; how I’m going to carry all the stuff I’ve brought along with me and not lose any valuables in the process; I get hot and sweaty, and worry about the safety of the people on the fast, whizzy rides (look at all those mechanical parts… so much could go wrong!) and, in general, my patience runs out pretty quickly. I long to get home, to the quiet and cool of our comfy and non-sensory-overloading nest.

 

Kids water walking, photo by Marija Smits

Kids water walking, photo by Marija Smits

 

And yet… there is something rather wonderful about the funfair. I can see why travelling fairs have ended up in speculative books and TV shows (Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, along with Heroes, immediately spring to mind) because there is something thrillingly different, mysterious even, about the funfair and the lives of the people who run them. It also makes me think of my own childhood, and in particular my early teens, when the funfair coming to town was a much-anticipated event. Oh for the gut-churning thrill of the waltzer; the super-greasy fast food; the whiplash of the bumper cars; the chance of encountering boys from the local boys’ school…

Perhaps age, then, is the main factor in my no longer being able to fully enjoy funfairs; maybe they mainly appeal to teenagers who yearn for the promise of excitement. To a limerent girl-turning-woman, the funfair was a glimpse into the future – of night-life, of thrills, of the other sex. And given the number of groups of teenagers descending on the funfair I can’t see its appeal vanishing any time soon. I can envision my own children, when older, congregating at the funfair with their friends. No doubt I’ll worry about their safety, and exactly what they’re getting up to (!), but like most parental milestones, it’ll be something I’ll have to experience and learn to navigate, if not, exactly, embrace.

 

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Narratives of Water and Earth: 4 poetry collection reviews

Although I write, edit and publish poetry, I genuinely find reviewing poetry challenging. It inevitably makes me think of the way we used to pick apart poems at school (I have a particular memory of sitting at my wooden desk in my English class and dissecting one of Wilfred Owen’s most famous war poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum est’). Now I’m sure there’s a great deal of value to studying a poem in this way, because understanding the mechanics of any art gives you a better appreciation of how a skilled work of art is created, but it cannot, in any major way, alter the viewer’s (or reader’s) subjective reaction to the piece of art (book, poem etc.). When I first read Wilfred Owen’s poems they caused an emotional response in me. Then, later (in critical, objective mode) I was able to study the poem to work out precisely how he’d used language to produce that emotional response.

 

There is always some debate about exactly what a review is – is it a critical (and objective) analysis of the piece of writing? – or is it a reader’s emotional (and so, subjective) response to the piece? And with poetry, there’s the added problem of the much-argued-over-question – what exactly is poetry for? What is it supposed to do? Well, it’s not really going to offer escapism like a commercial fiction beach read will. Nor will it provide detailed information like a useful non-fiction book. I suppose it’s closest relative in terms of form is the literary novel (or flash fiction length-wise) due to their shared emphasis on the crafting of words and insight into the human condition. Yet poems can also be funny and political and peaceful and about things like shoes and goldfish and Newtonian mechanics. During the years I’ve spent editing poetry I’ve come to the conclusion that the poem’s main raison d’etre is to make the reader feel something: to create an emotional response. Otherwise it’s little more than a list of ingredients on a cereal packet. Diverting enough whilst eating breakfast but not memorable. So coming at it from that angle (and also with the knowledge that, technically, all these writers produce high-quality work) I wanted to share my reactions to the following four poetry collections.

 

The Book of Tides by Angela Readman (Nine Arches Press)

The Book of Tides, by Angela Readman

As the title explains, Angela Readman’s third collection is (mainly) about the sea. And just like the sea, the poems are full of beauty, mystery and restrained power. There are so many layers to the poems, that as soon as I had finished reading the one poem I had to read it again. On each rereading the poem would offer up more gifts – insights into female power and what robs women of this power, what it means to love and be loved, as well as stunning and original imagery. I came away from the book with the sense of having witnessed the profound (yet almost invisible) turmoil of soul-work in action.

 

And I rushed to your house, a waterfall, ready

to pour whoever I thought I was into your arms.

 

From ‘The Morning of La Llorona’

 

Empires of Clay, by Becky Cherriman (Cinnamon Press)

Empires of Clay, by Becky Cherriman

I think there’s no doubt that earth is less attractive than water. Earth dirties, water cleans. When they mix, as they often do in the UK in the form of soggy clay (or mud) they create a mixture that is both unwelcome yet somehow honest and humbling. Plant life springs forth from soil, and for many of us it is soil that will receive our bodies when we die. The poems in Empires of Clay have been described as “earthy, erotic” by Steve Ely and I completely agree. Of course I love the poems about motherhood (they appeared in Becky’s debut pamphlet, Echolocation, which my press published) but what really struck me about this collection was how skilled Becky is in writing about how we experience our memories and what it is that we do (or not do) with them. Her poems ‘Forgotten Well’ and ‘Stray Rein in January’ particularly impressed on me. Her writing really does have a haunting quality to it.

 

I remember that and approaching the bridge –

the fearsome echo

of something I couldn’t fathom

 

 

reverberated in my bones like…

There was snow?

Yes, I recall the thaw of someone else’s

footprints as I stumbled back.

A train, Karen said and we watch it flash

towards the future, trailing its echo

 

From ‘Stray Rein in January’

 

 

Deadly, Delicate by Kate Garrett (Picaroon Poetry)

deadly-delicate-by-kate-garrett

This slim pamphlet, like Angela Readman’s The Book of Tides, also contains narratives of water, but the life of the outsider (pirates, specifically) is the main theme. These poems are, as the title suggests, both delicate and deadly; on rereading they reveal a precise yet subtle crafting, but what I particularly enjoy about Kate’s poems are how she manages to get whole stories into the poems. This really is remarkable, considering the brevity of the form. (I also happen to currently be doing my own research about female pirates for a story, so this has provided me with much inspiration.)

 

Now she wakes: deadly, delicate.

She presses her lips to my

breasts – once, twice – my hands smooth

her hips, and we love once more.

But I lose her each time

to breeches, boots and ship.

 

From ‘Crack Jenny’s Teacup’

 

Earthworks, by Jacqueline Gabbitas (Stonewood Press)

Earthworks by Jacqueline Gabbitas

 

First up, I have to say that I am a huge fan of Stonewood Press, and the Stonewood Press thumbprints series. Martin Parker’s wonderful design and illustrations always perfectly set off the words within. And what words! In Earthworks, there is the quiet power and timelessness of hills, wood and stone. What struck me about these poems is how much love they contain – for fields and animals, rocks and earth, words and connections between humans. I have returned to this collection often.

 

But pain is a measure, living a delay:

These hills, they promise nothing for sure.

See? How the skies drag blue over grey.

And always the centre is flint, is clay.

 

From ‘High Hills’

 

*

 

Poetry is often seen as inaccessible, unreadable, dry. But I believe that much poetry today is vibrant and accessible, and that some of the best work is coming out of the indie press scene. Slim pamphlets are a lovely “way in” to poetry world; a larger collection is probably for someone with more time and energy to invest in the reading of poems. I won’t lie – poetry collections take me a long time to finish because I read only a few poems at a time so that I can absorb them properly, but a slim pamphlet – time-wise – feels very manageable. All the collections above are beautifully presented and, overall, enriching and satisfying. I highly recommend them, and if anyone knows of any collections to do with fire or air, please let me know. They may well provide a good counterpoint to this post!

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Marriage and the Midlife Crisis

Last week it was my husband’s and my wedding anniversary. We celebrated with hugs and kind words and time spent pottering about with our kids, getting on with the usual chores. In the evening we had a takeaway and dessert. In quiet moments I reflected on our almost 20 years together (13 of them as a married couple).

 

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

 

On the day of our wedding, it would have been good if, along with the marriage certificate, we were given a guide to negotiating the ups and downs of marriage, but as no one presented us with such a guide, like many other couples we bumbled along and came up with our own. Although it took a while to craft, it is, thankfully, short. It goes something like this:

  1. Love and respect each other.
  2. Communicate well.

And voila! That is it!

In the early days of marriage, when we were in our late 20s, it seemed so simple. We had it all figured out. Go us!

But you know what… we got older. We had kids. We were constantly tired. Number 2 sometimes seemed impossible. Simply because there was no time to communicate, let alone communicate well. Time seemed to have sped up and slowed down all at once. There was no time to just be. No time to be alone with each other. But equally, sometimes time stretched on forever… particularly when one of the children was ill or teething or going through a particularly challenging phase of development. You name it… it seemed to go on and on and on…. When we were childless, the importance of time spent together hadn’t even crossed my mind.

So in the glorious muddle of early motherhood I made a note to myself:

  1. Spend time together (with or without the kids, depending on their age & needs).

As the children became more independent and the hazy days of early motherhood began to clear I thought, Aha! We have more time now! We’re back on track. But you know what? We were now middle-aged. And you know what happens at middle age, don’t you? Yep. The midlife crisis.

 

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

 

But this wasn’t something that I’d ever considered in my 20s. The midlife crisis was only for men who had a penchant for motorbikes, wasn’t it? Turns out I was wrong.

Suddenly at the midpoint of our lives, it dawns on us that time is beginning to run out. We still haven’t been to Australia, won the Nobel Prize or travelled in outer space. This is the time of the midlife crisis, which Jung says is frequently marked in men by a period of depression around the age of 40, and at a slightly younger age in women.

Some women seem to hit the midlife crisis when their children have all started school and they suddenly have a bit more freedom. Others, especially those who are working full-time, seem to have a later one when the children leave home.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

Whoa! This was serious stuff! And we both seemed to be going through it.

Not only are us middle-aged folk ‘psychologically vulnerable’ at this time, biology seems to be against us too. Our bodies are changing. Growing older. Hair falls out. Or turns grey. Hormones are in flux. Ovaries are on the downturn… For many women it is a last chance to consider having children. Men don’t experience quite the same fertility anxieties. Yet the possibility of other partners – younger spouses – often adds to the mix of the midlife crisis. As does realising that the ‘career-for-life’ (often chosen in one’s 20s) doesn’t quite turn out to be the right career. Where do you go from there – particularly when the weight of financial responsibility is on your shoulders? Job stuck. Heart stuck. Mind stuck. It all sucks.

I hope (I trust) we are through the worst of it, but you know what, it was sometimes rough. Sometimes more down than up. But what really helped was this:

  1. Communicating well.

Although there was the whole ‘figuring out how to communicate’ thing! In our 20s, talking to each other had always come easily, but real proper communication… well, first we both had to figure out how to do that. Turns out it’s dead simple. But hard. It consists of a) LISTENING to the other person WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (that’s a challenge!) and b) LISTENING to oneself and one’s own needs WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (again, harder said than done). After that, comes honest discussion, with solutions put forward for ways to work through the particular challenge. It’s about remembering that if you do still:

  1. Love and respect each other

in essence you’re on the other person’s side. So make time to talk. To listen. To find a way through a challenging time.

Also, in the midst of the midlife crisis muddles I remember thinking that self-reflection was (again) a real saviour. Figuring out that I was a highly-sensitive person as well as a limerent helped. So I added the following to add to the guide:

  1. Know thyself. (Though I think some Greek philosophers got there before me!)

Finally…

Midlife crisis, then, marks the return of the opposite, an attempt on the part of the psyche to re-balance. Jung says that this stage is actually very important, because otherwise we risk developing the kind of personality that attempts always to recreate the psychic disposition of youth.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

So the last point I’d add to the guide is this:

  1. Be mindful of life’s rhythms, and how these rhythms and shifts in circumstances can affect a relationship. Wild beings (Wild Man and Wild Woman too) instinctively understand the importance of taking note of natural rhythms. There will be ups and downs; as long as number 1. (love and respect) is still there, one of the most worthwhile things to do is to hold on to each other and find a way through.

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Seeing Myself in My Parents; Seeing My Parents in Myself

Sometime last year I took my daughter to a friend’s birthday party. As I stood in the café area of our local swimming pool, chatting to one of the birthday girl’s grandparents, hands deep in the pockets of my bulky khaki-coloured parka, I suddenly had a moment of what can only be best described as déjà vu. Only it wasn’t that I’d experienced this moment before (because yes, I know, déjà vu is nothing uncanny, it’s just a memory short) it was that for a moment I was my dad and my dad was me. A memory of my dad had suddenly inhabited me. He was waiting for me in an equally unremarkable setting, hands deep in his pockets, rocking back and forth from the balls of his feet to his heels, effortlessly exchanging pleasantries with someone he’d only just met. I saw myself in him. And him in me.

And just the other day, driving my son to gymnastics, I saw him in the way I had splayed my fingers across the steering wheel. Another habit of my dad’s. My father also had a deep respect for science but, also, he loved an uncanny mystery. Erich von Däniken’s books fascinated him. One of the last ever conversations I had with him before he died was about the film Inner Space. He had picked me up from a friend’s house where I’d just seen it, and as we drove home we enthusiastically discussed the concept of miniaturization, whether it would ever be possible, and what its consequences would be for humans and whether or not it could play a role in medicine. (Something I explored in one of my short stories, which, one day, will hopefully be ‘out there’.)

I cherish these findings. Although of course they make me remember how much I miss him.

Because my dad died when I was pretty young (15) I never really went through the ‘I’m so embarrassed by my dad’ stage. However, I’m not sure whether or not I would have ever gone through this stage with him anyway. I’m pretty sure he was an HSP – though a ‘gregarious’ one, because he was adept at socializing – and so in public places he would keep a low profile. (Though this could’ve also been something to do with being an immigrant.) Anyway, he didn’t embarrass me. My mum, on the other hand, specialized in embarrassing me. (Although, interestingly, she is an immigrant too, and sensitive at heart. But she’s an off-the-scale extrovert. I guess that trumps all!)

For a start, she had a stint as a nude model. At a well-known private boys’ school. Then there was the Russian accent, flamboyant clothes, and a tendency to make everyone in a public place know that she was there. As an HSC (highly-sensitive child) tending towards introvertism this attention-grabbing (to my mind) behaviour made me cringe. All I wanted was to be ‘normal’ like the other kids. My mum was badly letting the side down.

 

An Important Lesson

However, from the one phrase that my dad said semi-regularly (the one thing that I didn’t like to hear him say, because of course, it meant I had a chore to do!): “Teika, sometimes in life, there are things that you don’t want to do. But you’ve still got to do them.” I must’ve subconsciously taken the following:

  1. Some things are out of our control. (Like having an embarrassing mum.)
  2. You have to find a way to get through them. (You keep your head down and promise yourself you’ll never embarrass your own kids in the future.)

Nowadays, I relish repeating his words to my kids. They groan and roll their eyes, but actually, it’s a wonderful thing to discuss, as it give us an opportunity to consider things like fairness, doing and sharing chores, and the importance of finishing tasks. It also leads on to bigger issues – must we like our work? If we don’t, do we stick with it, or not? – and other such things.

Now that I’m a lot older and understand more about my father’s background, and his home country, Latvia, which was besieged by both the Russians and the Germans in WWII, I can read far more into those words. In a wartorn homeland there will be difficult choices to make. Difficult things to do. I thank God that so far I haven’t had to make those kinds of difficult choices.

So when it comes to my childhood “suffering” as ‘being a bit embarrassed by my mum’ I see how trivial my apparent tribulations were. Still, as a child, fitting in seems to be so crucial, doesn’t it? We want our ‘tribe’ – our peers – to accept us, don’t we?

So I hope I’m getting the balance right for my kids. As an HSP my default is to keep my head down and keep quiet, not draw attention to myself. Yet there is a time and place to make a noise, kick up a fuss. My dad once spoke to me about making a fuss, going to the papers etc. if my school wouldn’t allow me to change one of my GCSEs (from Design to French) halfway through the first year of our GCSEs. The Head said it couldn’t be done; I’d be too far behind, I’d fail. When I asked him what he’d tell the school if they said ‘no’ he said that he’d threaten to chain himself to the radiators, and call in journalists. The headline would be ‘SCHOOL STOPS PUPIL FROM LEARNING!’. (We had it all figured out.) Thankfully, it never came to that. His diplomancy and quiet insistence won out. But still, his patient determination – being the discomforting stone in the Headteacher’s shoe – impressed on me. In many ways I’ve inherited this ‘rebellious’ streak, and my own ‘quiet’ acts of assertion on behalf of myself and my children when faced with ignorance, prejudice or baroque attitudes to education (or breastfeeding or whatever) have been bolstered by my memory of his fights on my behalf.

Oh, and by the way I got an A in GCSE French. (Take that, school!)

 

My Lovely Mum

I realize that this post has focussed more on my father than my mother (it can be easy to take a living loved one for granted, can’t it? I apologise Mum!) so I will remedy that now.

Portrait of Ludmila, by Marija Smits

Portrait of Ludmila, by Marija Smits

After all the “years of embarrassment” of having an extrovert mother, when I was sure that our differences were so great we couldn’t possibly be related (!) I grew up. Mellowed. Heck, today is my 41st birthday. I can finally see our similarities. Both of us find inaction abhorrent. She seems to either be cooking or washing up continuously. Or cleaning our greenhouse (only to have the kids mess it up within a few minutes…). I can’t not tidy or pick up after the kids; I can’t not be writing or planning something creative in my head. We’re both musical and emotional, cry in church or at films or at the theatre. Or well… virtually anything that even somewhat pulls at our heartstrings. We’re both pretty optimistic, and she is big-hearted and generous. We’ve both got green fingers, laugh too loud and too long at silly jokes, and as I age I have to admit that physically, I’m pretty much just a slightly younger version of her (though definitely far less attractive, as she is a genuinely beautiful woman, a bit like a Russian Marilyn Monroe). She also likes to tell me that people still knock 20 years off her age most days. I agree that she doesn’t look her age (she’ll be 71 soon) so I smile when she tells me. (Although sometimes the old teenager-me kicks in and I roll my eyes!)

Now that I’m older I sometimes look back at my much younger self and feel bad about all the times I wished away my “ugly” dumpy body or stupid name or strange foreign parents. Sitting here, in my home, surrounded by much much love, I feel incredibly blessed to have had two wonderful parents who gave me so much in the way of gifts. Most days I don’t feel as though I can live up to all that potential; I’ve certainly failed when it comes to that ‘list of things I plan to do’ which I made as a teenager. But sometimes, when I catch myself just going about my everyday life: working, writing, cooking, gardening, hugging my children, husband and loved ones (as well as our new cat) I think that actually, I’m doing okay.

 

I'm never going to behave like that cartoon, by Marija Smits

Cartoon by Marija Smits. The wonky fringe in the top picture is not a mistake.

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Our Cat, a Little Bird and Some Thoughts on ‘Persuasion’

A couple of weeks ago I had a total of 20 creative pieces ‘out there’ in submissions land. I was pleased with the progress I’d made, considering my time for creativity (and the organization time necessary for sending off and keeping track of subs) is so limited. I went to bed with a sense of achievement. Some pieces were then longlisted, so I went on to the next phase of waiting, which involved (in the main) being grateful for the longlisting + positive feedback, as well as trying to remain not too hopeful.

In the past few days the 20 submissions have whittled down to about 10 still being under consideration as the to-be-expected rejections have dropped into my email inbox.

A sense of Why am I doing this? clouds my mood. Particularly as financial worries are always there in the background. Writing, I know, is not lucrative. Hell, it’s not even pin money lucrative. And importantly (cue maudlin violins) will I earn enough from it to keep our new cat, Mitsie in food?!

 

Isn't she a cutie? Photo by Marija Smits

Isn’t she a cutie? Photo by Marija Smits

 

So I’ve been thinking a lot about creatives and makers recently. In this noisy, social-media obsessed, neoliberal and individualistic worldYou can do anything! There is no limit to how rich or successful you can be! – it seems more vital than ever that a maker also has to be a persuader. Not only do creatives have to create but they also have to sell themselves and their creations. They have to persuade others of the worth of their work. To make them want and desire it. It’s something that creatives (mainly introverts and/or HSPs) don’t like to do. It doesn’t come easy to us. Whereas there are people (mainly extroverts) who – shock horror! – actually like selling.

The internet is now full of persuaders persuading us to buy their book, ebook, course, or whatever, on how best to persuade others to buy our work. It’s all getting a bit meta. The sheer number of these persuaders serve to illustrate how marketing and publicity can be make-or-break for an artist, and them making a living from their work. Or is this perhaps a false perception?

Often, I simply don’t have the energy, let alone the will or enthusiasm to persuade others to read my writing or buy my art. It seems as though I only have a certain amount of ‘oomph’ in me. And that will have to go on the art and the craft of making. Because, rejection fug aside, it is the one thing that makes this whole submitting merry-go-round worth it. And from time to time I have to remind myself of that. Creating is play. Creating is flying for the soul.

 

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