Turning 40 – some reflections

 

Some treats of turning 40! Photo by Marija Smits

Some treats of turning 40. Photo by Marija Smits.

I’m not particularly worried about getting older, but there’s something about the number 40 that doesn’t particularly appeal to me. You see, in my quirky little overthinking brain, numbers have personalities. 5 is probably my favourite number because it’s a little bit curvy but it also has some straight bits. I consider it a friendly (but upstanding) number. It’s odd but, somehow, warm. The number 4 is all straight and cross and it looks rather irritable. And 0, well, that could be taken as a disappointed ‘oh’ (as in ‘forty, oh dear’). Or perhaps a rather surprised ‘oh’ or perhaps it’s sole function is to look like the shape of the mouth of the person screaming in Edvard Munch’s famous painting. I don’t know. I digress.

Yet, time marches onwards and it doesn’t care for my own particular preferences when it comes to what my age is now. So… I’m 40 now, and it’s time for a little reflection on the past decade and the forthcoming decade.

At thirty, I was pregnant with my first child, my darling girl. She was born in April, approximately a month before I turned 31. That 31st birthday was not particularly memorable to me because my life didn’t seem to be about me anymore. Instead, everything was about this tiny being who had entered our lives and time itself seemed to have shifted. I have photo albums which, instead of being labelled by months (or years), were instead labelled with my daughter’s name and by how old she was (in months). It took me quite a few years to shift back to ‘normal’ calendar months, which, I guess, shows just how much my life back then revolved around her.

So, in essence, the past decade, for me, has been very much about becoming a mother, first to my daughter, and then three-and-a-half years later to my son. It has been about breastfeeding, coping with little sleep, finding my own path as an HSP parent, finding a ‘tribe’ of like-minded mothers and lots and lots of nappy changing.

But it’s also been about finding a new surge of creativity within me and learning hundreds of new skills (some of which I used to set up and manage my small press, Mother’s Milk Books – but that’s a whole other story!). And throughout this hazy decade, I’ve been reading and writing, which has helped me hugely with reflecting on who I am, my place on this earth, and what I want to spend my days doing. The non-fiction books I wrote about here helped me enormously with my reflections, but I realize that not everything is done, soul-work wise, so I’m sure I’ll be adding more to this list soon. I’m aware, too, that I want to read more about politics, psychology, feminism and history; Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks and Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond have been on my reading list for a while. And I’ve also just got Love and Limerence, by Dorothy Tennov, which I hope will help to clarify some of my (as yet) incompletely developed ideas about love, lust and romance and what they mean to me as an individual.

Writing-wise, I *think* I’ve served my apprenticeship having written an okayish first novel (which will most likely stay hidden away in a drawer), lots and lots of poetry, a fair few short stories, a children’s chapter book, several children’s picture books and lastly… a good beginning on an epic fantasy trilogy.

So, what will the next decade be about? Well, my last decade taught me a lot about time. And how it’s very precious. And finite. So, perhaps, my oh-so-very-urgent desire for ‘better’ or ‘success’ was understandable. I was child-like in my impatience for wanting to be ‘better’ at art NOW! Or ‘better’ at writing NOW! But when it comes to mastering a skill, time and patience and dedication to the skill are the only things that will make a difference. So I am definitely going to be more accepting of that fact. And I have to face the fact, too, that if I don’t make time for my creativity it won’t happen. And I don’t want to live with the regret of not having tried my very best to master a creative skill and then shared the fruit of my labours with others (although my view on how to share the products of my creativity is still very much in flux).

So… as ever, boundaries will be important. It’s too easy to let social media, never-ending work and other societal pulls drag me away from what’s really key to my wellbeing: time spent with my loved ones (at home, and in nature) and time spent on creative endeavours.

I know I have a tendency to overthink things (the horrors of OCD rumination never seem too far away) but I am cautiously (I’ve got to be cautious, right? I’m an HSP!) looking forward to this decade. And what more can I give myself than the gift of being open to the challenges and gifts of the next decade? None.

Forty, after the party. Photo by Marija Smits

Forty, after the party. Photo by Marija Smits.

 

And a huge welcome back to Maddy from Writing Bubble after her week’s internet break. It’s good to have you back!

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Guest post: Ichabod’s 10 taste-tastic tips for dealing with writing rejections

Note from Marija:

Today I am delighted to be able to publish a post by my guest blogger, Ichabod “No Glory” Marty Arthurian Muffin, (who describes himself as a US-born English British writer guy who currently lives in the Thames Valley under a rock). Ichabod is perhaps (?) better known to readers as IMA Muffin, the author and occasional illustrator of King Arthur’s Merry Men vs the Crater Dwellers of the 375 Ursula Asteroid, which can be found in all good second hand shops and recycling bins of repute. Many thanks to Ichabod for being here, and it’s over to you!

***

 

Ichabod’s 10 healthy, taste-tastic and nutrient-packed tips for handling writing rejections

So you’ve just had your fantasy manuscript rejected by Hodderscape after months of agonized waiting, or perhaps your middle grade chapter book hasn’t made the Times/Chicken House longlist. Maybe some of your poetry has been rejected out of hand by one of those poncy poetry magazines that nobody reads. Or perhaps, worst of all, your pseudo-literary-comedy novella has been rejected by an independent press run by one of those pretentious literary types, because we all know – don’t we? the commenters say so! – that indie presses take any old crap. So that’ll be making you feel pretty inadequate, right now, won’t it? Like a worthless, useless, lump. I bet you feel like giving up?! But guess what, you’re lucky that you stumbled across this little old blog today because Ichabod (that’s me!) is here to share my top 10 tips for how to deal with writing rejections.

 

  1. This is very important and for various reasons of HEALTH & SAFETY must be carried out the instant you get the rejection. First, grab a pen and some paper (if you’ve just had your manuscript returned by post, why not use that?!) and then scribble all over it with the words: IDIOTS, POO, BUM, BUNCH OF SHITE – whatever takes your fancy! – and then illustrate it with pictures of the publishers/editors sporting boils, sores, runny noses, twirly moustaches, whatever! Go wild! Then cut the paper into strips and make some paper chains out of them. Tie the chains around your wrists – securely! – so that you can’t easily use your hands. It should ensure that you don’t instantly email the publisher with the following:

Dear Editor, or should I say, Dear Idiot,

So you just made the biggest mistake of your life, didn’t you? Because you’re sure gonna be mad as hell when my novel becomes the biggest thing since Harry Potter! Ha! So there! But maybe you won’t notice my success because you’re too busy DISCRIMNATING agasint other authors. In fact, I’m seriously considering taking legal action for your PREJUDIC and the way you have DISCRIMNATED against me.

Way to go loooser……….!!!

[Author’s signature.]

Folks! Just don’t do it. Bitter experience has taught me that this is NOT THE WAY TO GO. Hence the paper chains. And if they’re not doing the job sufficiently, get some really strong string and tie your hands together. Better yet, use rubber bands. (But don’t forget to take them off before your fingers swell into fat blue sausages and drop off. You’ll need those fingers to write your other novels, right?!) Alternatively, Blu Tack your hands to the wall. That should do the trick!

  1. This is another important one! DON’T GO ON FACEBOOK. OR TWITTER. You’ll only see all your friends posting about how their brand new and AMAZING book is out and receiving rave reviews, or how they’ve just signed a new publishing contract and got, like, a £100 000 advance. It’ll just make you feel like the biggest loser in life there is. And you’re not! (At least I don’t think you are!) So don’t do it! And don’t bother ranting about how you’re so utterly despairing because you’ve been rejected for the thousandth time that month. You’ll only get the usual shitty responses. Cue whiny voice: Oh poor you. I’ve been rejected a thousand and one times. So there. I’m better than you. Or the equally groan-worthy: Every writer goes through this. It’s all just a part of the process. Enough already! Cut the drivel and unfriend them. And if you’re STILL having problems staying away from your laptop or mobile device (even with the whole tying-your-hands-together thing) then go and play one-man player Frisbee with it in the nearest suburban cul-de-sac. Knock out a couple of dog walkers who never clear up after their squatting, shitting dogs at the same time and you’ll have killed two birds with one stone! Result!
  1. Grab the biggest, clumpiest shoes you can find and stomp around your home shouting ‘Screw you guys, I’m going home!’ a la Eric Cartman. Ignore the fact that you’re home already.
  1. If you’ve got a pet go give ’em a big hug and tell them how much you love them, and how they’re the only ones who truly understand your genius. Just don’t over squeeze them. It could get messy. (N.b. if you don’t have a pet I’ve found that this works equally well with teddy bears.)
  1. Still angry? Go out in your back garden and throw some bricks or garden furniture or trees around whilst yelling ‘Aaaaarrrrrrrgh! By the Power of Greyskull!’ Just be careful you don’t pull a muscle or send a brick hurling through a neighbour’s fence. You could end up in a fight and then get crushed, like a bug.
  1. Once your anger has subsided you may want to have a good ole cry. Curl yourself up into a real small ball while sobbing your heart out and then cover yourself in blankets. Try rolling yourself into the waste paper basket, ’cause sure as hell you’ll be thinking that you deserve to be there. With the rubbish.
  1. Phone a friend you don’t mind losing. Whine on to them about how those publishers are evil bastards who couldn’t spot talent if it stared them in the face. Read them extracts from your manuscript or manuscripts… and explain how much PREJUDIC there is in the publishing world – particularly against white middle class men (just like myself) until they hang up.
  1. Then phone your mum (or partner, if you have one! – lucky you if you do!) and have a good whine to her/him about your rejection (and your idiot of an ex-friend who totally abandoned you when you needed them most). She’ll totally back you up! (Though you may have to explain again about ‘when you’re going to get a proper job’. It’s something all us creative geniuses have to contend with. Sigh.)
  1. Have a J.K. Rowling binge evening. Stock up with all your favourite food and drink and start watching the Harry Potter films right from the beginning. Whilst you cradle your fat, bloated belly, the tears streaming down your face, just remember if J.K. Rowling can do it, SO CAN YOU!
  1. At the end of the day console yourself with the fact that only truly sensitive people get emotional about rejections. Other writers who don’t are obviously emotional inadequates with arses of steel. Your rejections are a testament to the depths of your soul and the silver filigree which lines your guts.
Cartman et al

In lieu of a photo of Ichabod, instead he sent me a photo of some of the things and people that inspire him…

So that’s it folkz! Ichabod’s 10 surefire ways to help you deal with rejections and keep on writing. Let me know if you find my list useful. (Only don’t tell me when you get published, I couldn’t take the pain.)

Best of luck!!!

Ichabod!

***

Note from Marija:

I sincerely apologise to my readers for Ichabod’s swearing, insensitivity and bad spelling. I think he’s probably been reading too much Francis Plug. And if you’d like an actually useful (and eminently more sensible) guide to handling rejections, please visit this blog post, by the highly-regarded poet Angela Topping.

 

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The Editor (and creative contributor) to Her Book

Just the other day I officially signed off The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 with the printers. I am relieved. Very relieved.

TFATF2 front cover-page001

Ridiculously, I forgot how much energy, time and focus it takes to put a book like this together. With 17 stories by 17 writers, internal illustrations by Emma Howitt to incorporate and a huge amount of editorial tweaking, typesetting and other things to organize, a book like this is actually a huge project to manage. And being the illustrator of the wraparound cover and one of the contributing authors actually made it more difficult. I’ll be honest, I find it difficult incorporating my own work into the books I publish. Because, being also the editor and publisher, I have the power to do last-minute tweaks. And having the ability to do last-minute tweaks isn’t good for me. In the proofreading stage I am looking for flaws. I am hyper-aware of them and suddenly everything I have written or drawn seems rubbish, amateurish, not worthy of publication. I wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea to get me, as Marija Smits, involved.

TFATF2 wraparound cover art by Marija Smits

TFATF2 wraparound cover art by Marija Smits. I’ve actually added to it since then!

I know a fair few HSPs who say that the issue of perfectionism is a problem for them. They set such impossibly high standards for themselves, which they know they can never achieve, so they don’t bother starting… because if it won’t be perfect, why try? Nowadays, I don’t tend to have this problem (although I did, especially with art, as a child) because I realize that art-wise nothing is ever really ‘perfect’. One can always re-work a sentence or add another brushstroke to a painting, or a little more shading to a drawing… But of course I would like to do things as perfectly as it is possible to do so and this is where the anxieties come in. The thought of putting something out there that is less than ‘perfect’ give me the heebie-jeebies. However, ultimately, writing and art, is subjective. Yes, I wouldn’t put forward my work for inclusion if it was massively technically wrong, and I do get useful and honest feedback on it that tells me if what I’ve created is a huge no-no or, in fact, has promise. But – and coming from a science background, where objectivity rules – I have had to learn that artistic endeavours are inherently subjective. At some point we have to let go of what we’ve created and say it is as ‘successful’ as it can be. No more can be done with it. Then you must let it find its own way in the world…

So someone will like the theme and the narrative of my story, ‘Little Lost Soul’ within TFATF2. But someone else won’t. My cover art may resonate strongly with one person, yet someone else will instantly know that they don’t like it. That’s fine. Really.

Of course we will have to see whether I can actually keep being philosophical about this, and take the genuine positive feedback graciously and the not-so-positive feedback with a view to learning about what works for some readers and what doesn’t work for others, but for now there are other things to do: the editing of others’ books, poetry and short stories to write, and other creative projects to start dreaming about.

***

And finally, just to illustrate that these kind of creative worries have been around for a fair long time, here is an excellent poem that describes what it is like to ‘birth’ a book and then let it go… (the author, Anne Bradstreet, was born in 1612).

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172953

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Limerence, long-term love and short stories

I’ve had this post in my head for a while, and although I’d hoped to publish it on Valentine’s Day, work intervened and I wasn’t able to. However… it’s still February, so the topic of love is still kind of relevant, right?

Red heart zentangle, by Marija Smits

Red heart zentangle, by Marija Smits

Anyway… I’ve written before about how writing a first draft of a book is rather like falling in love, and so I wanted to expand on this. When I recently heard the word ‘limerence’ (which, in essence, means romantic infatuation) I thought it a lovely word and just right for describing my feelings about starting a new piece of writing.

Since the end of last summer I’ve been writing short stories (I wrote four in total) and I thought that the process had parallels with limerence and long-term love. The pre-writing part, where an idea sparks and I begin to work out the plot in my head, is rather like limerence. It’s the bit where I walk around in a daze, smiling to myself, having met what I’m sure must be ‘the one’. Then I write the first draft. It’s exciting and magical, just like the part when you realize the person you are hugely attracted to is also attracted to you. And I experience a real rush of emotion as I come to the end of the first draft knowing that something really special just happened…

There is a brief lull (usually a few days) as I step away from the story and let it settle. This ‘detaching’ is necessary so that I can switch from subjective mode to objective mode, which is needed for the editing.

When I come back to the story and read it with a clearer head, I taste the bittersweet tang that comes with the knowledge that this story has flaws; the limerence has ebbed away and what I am left with is a flawed, yet still worthwhile and valuable story. This is the part where long-term love can (or cannot) begin to grow. I’m pretty good at sticking with it, committing myself to the editing process (which, like long-term relationships, have their charms) but I have to say that on the second or third edit I have to wonder why I’m doing this. Isn’t it easier to quit? Isn’t it easier, and infinitely more lovely to start a new story and fall in love with another all over again? Well, that’s the temptation, isn’t it? But holding on… sticking with that story takes guts and determination and a willingness to find oneself out of one’s depth. Then to carry on and on, putting that story out there, submitting it, coping with rejection and re-submitting it… (This, dear reader, can go on for years — and it is not unlike the challenges that one faces in a relationship when children come along… but I wrote more about that here.) Well, it all takes time and energy and a strength of spirit which isn’t always easy to muster.

So wherever you are in your writing (or relationship!) or business or latest hobby, I (think) I can empathise. And I wish for you what I wish for myself; the wisdom to know when it’s worth holding on; and the courage to hold on when it’s worth doing so.

A Christmas argument… and cognitive dissonance

As some of you already know, as an HSP I’m slow to react to stuff. Which is why I’m not writing a new year’s resolutions post in January; I’m still thinking about stuff that happened in December.

Our Christmas was rather fraught and we’ll probably always remember it as the one where our youngest was ill (although, thankfully, it was only a bug that affected him mildly); it was also the Christmas where the veg was undercooked and the Christmas where my husband and I had an argument about wrapping paper on the 23rd December. Wrapping paper! I mean, for goodness sake!

Only it wasn’t really an argument about wrapping paper. It was an argument about parenting, our definitions of generosity and our own attitudes towards Christmas and our views on being environmentally-friendly. (And for clarity, I must elaborate: I am fed up of the amount of waste produced at Christmas – wrapping paper making up a large part of that – and so I wanted to use second-hand gift bags and pillows and old bits of ribbon etc. to wrap our presents with instead, to cut down on the waste and the time I spend peeling off bits of sellotape from the wrapping paper torn off the presents in an instant so that I can put it into the paper recycling rather than landfill. My husband found it difficult to see where I was coming from and we didn’t take the time to listen or try to understand each other’s position. There, I hope that clarifies things!)

It was a horrible argument – both of us were shouty (very unlike us!) and then very very quiet and withdrawn afterwards (both of us are HSPs so it took us a long time to merely process what was said in the heat of the argument). Anyway, thankfully, the next day, on Christmas Eve, we had the chance to talk it through and to apologise to each other. And thank goodness! Otherwise Christmas Day would have consisted of a poorly boy and undercooked veg as well as two very unhappy and sulky parents.😦

Anyway… what this post is really about is the difficulty in admitting when one is wrong. When you have made a mistake and you know you have to own up to it. Because, boy is that challenging!

It is as though one’s own sense of self, one’s own sense of oneself as a “good” person will shatter and crumble under the admission of a mistake. And saying sorry is the thing that collapses oneself. It is a horrible, uncomfortable, shaky feeling to have. And it is something that can’t be experienced for long. Ego, that coward (who, I guess, is only trying to relieve us of that horrible, uncomfortable feeling) would prefer to rationalize away our mistakes and, through self-deceit, turn them into something far more palatable, like mere trifles caused by the stupidity of others.

But this feeling… it has a proper name. It is known as cognitive dissonance.

“Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day.” Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find a way to reduce it. In this example, the most direct way for a smoker to reduce dissonance is by quitting. But if she has tried to quit and failed, now she must reduce dissonance by convincing herself that smoking isn’t really so harmful, or that smoking is worth the risk because it helps her relax or prevents her from gaining weight (and after all, obesity is a health risk too), and so on. Most smokers manage to reduce dissonance in many such ingenious, if self-deluding, ways.”

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions and hurtful acts by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson (Pinter & Martin 2013)

Mistakes were made, but not by me. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Mistakes were made, but not by me. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

The difficulty both my husband and I felt in saying sorry after our argument reminded me of various instances in my life when I’d been in the wrong and found it difficult to say sorry. One particular instance was when I’d had a minor argument with my father (I can’t remember what the argument was about) and I knew that I was in the wrong. I was a teenager and probably hormonal, but I forced myself to go and say sorry.*

In this situation, my heightened conscience was a good thing. (It is not always – it usually causes me a lot of anguish because I can tie myself up in knots about what the “right” thing to do is, whether it be a small thing or big thing.)

Anyway, in this situation, it was a good thing. Because a few days later, my father died. I know that with my heightened sense of guilt, if I hadn’t said sorry, I would still be experiencing guilt today. (Although I do have to add that saying sorry solely to put off a future guilt isn’t probably the most healthy thing either – but more on that for another post, perhaps.)

This post isn’t really about saying sorry when it isn’t appropriate (I know that I can also fall into the trap of saying sorry when really I haven’t done anything wrong – and I’m not sure that’s very good for a healthy sense of self either), but I do want to highlight the uncomfortable feeling that cognitive dissonance can produce. It reminds me of this beautiful painting, by one of my favourite artists, Agnes-Cecile, which both discomforts and delights me:

 

I have a hypothesis that perhaps HSPs feel cognitive dissonance a little more keenly than others. I don’t know. And I’m not even sure that one is necessarily holding two very contradictory points of view; it’s just that there is one part of me that knows I acted meanly/without thinking/made a mistake and that doesn’t resonate with the image of myself that I have (as being generous, thoughtful, impervious to making mistakes etc.) and so that is why there is this horrible clash inside me. And it is this clash that thunders in my chest so noisily, so uncomfortably, that I wish for it to go away – by any means. My ego says: Wasn’t your fault. It was so and so’s fault. They’re an idiot. Don’t say sorry. (It wants to give me a quick-fix solution.) Thankfully, my heroic (but sometimes plain annoying) conscience comes along and says: Hey! I see that there’s a little noisy cognitive dissonance around here. Give it a while to quiet down and then go and do the right thing. It won’t break you. I promise. You’re still a good person. Just human. Just human.

So to acknowledge cognitive dissonance, and to name it for what it is, perhaps makes it that bit easier to act humbly if we are brave enough to do so. We then have the power to say sorry, knowing that it will not shatter us or make us any less worthwhile as humans, and it is then that we can move forwards with humility and grace and love.

 

*I think I probably mumbled something like: Sorry. Got a bit of PMT at the moment. I’m not entirely sure if I was experiencing PMT, but hey, I was fifteen and any apology was better than none. (See how that heightened sense of guilt would like me to keep worrying about this? Well I won’t let it! I’m only human for goodness sake!)

 

And… I did also want to say thank you to all the people who read and/or comment on my blog. I wish you a healthy and happy and creative 2016.:-)

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Light and dark and the idea of hope

The world seems like a very dark place at the moment. A short while ago, when I heard about the UK government’s decision to take military action in Syria I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of conflict and thought about all the fellow humans who would be directly affected (and hurt) by this. I spent many of my walks around the neighbourhood feeling low and contemplating why humans keep repeating this kind of aggressive behaviour.

I find that when there is much darkness without, I often feel the darkness within me crowding out positive and joyful thoughts and feelings. Everything seems worthless, I feel worthless and everything I do seems worthless.

A huge part of my life is centred around books and I very much believe in the power of words, but I also cannot ignore the fact that so many wise, creative people have written over and over again about the idiocy of aggression and how we must cooperate with each other and respect our environment if we are to live in a peaceful and bountiful world. The message is out there, it is forever being beamed out there, but is it being picked up? Is it heard? Is it being listened to?

When the world seems like a dark place, I think no. The message is being ignored, and willfully so, and even the thought of hope – hope that one day us greedy, stupid humans will stop killing each other and destroying our planet – seems an impossibility.

It is then that I must simply hold on to the idea of hope. To hold on to the idea that even if the messages keep getting ignored, a place where people aren’t sending out those messages is even worse.

Slowly, very slowly, I came to the realization that this, for me, would simply have to be enough. The dedication of a life to putting messages of light, empathy and the value of clear communication out there is enough, and importantly, worthwhile.

And as I came to this realization, books, the process of creativity and my loved ones helped me to remember joy and the light there is in life, although for it to exist and be appreciated, there has to be some darkness, whether it be without or within.

A simple trip to the library with my son to pick up some children’s Christmas books was joyful.

Christmas books, photo by Marija Smits

Christmas books, photo by Marija Smits

 

Finding escape and enjoyment – sheer bliss, in fact! – through reading one of my friend’s books was joyful.

Pride and Regicide, by Cathy Bryant

Pride and Regicide, by Cathy Bryant

 

Finding words of kindness and empathy in Matt Haig’s book was a comforting.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

 

Finding some sweet-smelling hyacinths in a dark box in the garage and bringing them out into the light made my heart glad.

Hyacinths, photo by Marija Smits

Hyacinths, photo by Marija Smits

 

Reading some poignant and beautiful poems in this charity anthology – many by poets I have the pleasure of knowing and being friends with – also made my heart glad.

Over Land, Over Sea book

Over Land, Over Sea book

 

Painting and creating some new art (some of it with and alongside my daughter) was joyful.

Painted glass and stones, photo by Marija Smits

Painted glass and stones, photo by Marija Smits

 

And on the way discovering an older piece, full of the contrast of dark and light made me happy.

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

 

Reading my very short story ‘Lady Seaweed or Tristesse’ at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and was joyful.

 

Writing some sci-fi short stories was joyful.

 

Listening to some Pentatonix songs was joyful.

 

Meeting up with my friend and ex-mentee was heartwarming and wonderful.

And lastly, lighting the candles on our Nativity scene with my son and putting the Christmas tree up with our family, which is now stuffed full of ornaments – many of which have been made with much love – was joyful.

Nativity scene with candles

Nativity scene with candles

 

In a continued time of darkness I wish you all much joy and light.

With many thanks to Maddy for continuing to be the brilliant link-up host.

 

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Social media, high sensitivity and overwhelm

As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) I often find the world overwhelming. Sometimes I think it would have been good to live long ago before television and the internet, and the crazy thing that is social media, were invented. But I’m equally aware that not having things like antibiotics and antibacterial soap and clean water and refrigerators and washing machines and indoor loos and central heating would have been overwhelming too.

Somewhat 'detached' bendy man, photo by Marija Smits

Somewhat ‘detached’ bendy man, photo by Marija Smits

Still… switching off and getting away from social media, which I find particularly challenging, is difficult (and yes, I am aware of the irony that I’ll probably be using social media to let people know about this post!). But what I find particularly difficult about social media is its speed, and the ferocity of people’s (almost instantaneous) reactions to certain topics.

This is because it takes me a long time to process things. If I see an image, or a discussion that upsets me, or angers me, I become overwhelmed with emotion. That’s when I need to take time out, away from the computer and to do something that helps me to feel more calm (cuddling my loved ones, taking a walk, reading a book, or doing something dull like the accounting, all help. Also, talking about it with my wonderful husband helps enormously too). But it can take me a while, maybe half an hour or an hour or two, to feel more neutral again. Meanwhile, though, as I’m trying to calm the storm of feelings swirling through my body, my brain is whirring away and trying to process what I’ve just absorbed. It can take me days, weeks, months even, to fully reflect on what I’ve just seen and to put into words my reflections on the matter. And for the up-to-the-minute social media world that’s just way too late.

I’m still navigating a path through this everyday challenge. I want to be involved and comment on friends’ statuses and to take part in meaningful dialogue when it comes to issues that I feel passionate about, but I’m also aware that taking part can also be like entering a black hole of doom. I have had to acknowledge that, for much of the time, it is better for my wellbeing that I simply use social media for short, set tasks (mostly to do with my small press or to do with this blog). Very occasionally, I share things about myself; although I do find that overwhelming too. (Friends have been absolutely supportive when I have shared personal things online but it’s also interesting to note that kindness has the potential to overwhelm me also – but please don’t think I’m saying ‘don’t be kind’! What I’m saying is that virtually anything has the potential to overwhelm me, and hey, that’s just how I am.)

If I’m still reflecting on an issue months down the line writing about it helps; though whether it goes public or not is another matter… Though, interestingly, topics that I’m passionate about have a habit of cropping up in my short stories and other pieces.

A lot of the time I feel left behind by social media; rather like when I was doing cross-country running at middle school. I was the slowest of all the runners out there on the muddy school field, in the cold and the rain in inadequate shoes and clothes; a dripping wet chubby loser being lapped by the fast, athletic kids.

But this is who I am. Just because I’m not witty or quick to engage in dialogue doesn’t mean that my thoughts on the topic aren’t worthwhile. They’re just different; perhaps even a little more well-rounded for the extra reflection I’ve put into them.*

But knowing that I have to have boundaries in place when it comes to social media (and that perhaps it’s not quite the right medium for me, as an HSP) is beneficial. Yes, social media is an amazing tool for a variety of things: marketing (& other business-related stuff, for instance), story sharing, fundraising, activism even, but it is also a horrible time sink. And in author David Mitchell’s wise words:

The world is very good at distracting us. Much of the ingenuity of our remarkable species goes towards finding new ways to distract ourselves from things that really matter. The internet — it’s lethal, isn’t it? Maintaining focus is critical, I think, in the presence of endless distraction. You’ve only got time to be a halfway decent parent, plus one other thing.

For me, that one other thing is: I’ve got to be writing.

This totally chimes with me because I want to put a lot of my energy and time into being ‘a halfway decent parent’ and so there’s only time and energy for one other thing. At the moment the one other thing is my small press and helping to make ends meet by taking on editorial and book production work. And so I save a few gorgeous slivers betwixt being a halfway decent parent and a halfway decent editor/publisher to write or create art. Is it worth me spending all those precious slivers of time on social media? For a lot of the time the answer is no. And sometimes, occasionally, the answer is yes. The trick is to understanding how social media affects you and working out some effective boundaries. This is something I’m still learning.

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*And to continue with the cross-country running analogy… I might be the last one to the finishing line but still, I’ll get there at my own pace and in my own inimitable fashion (muddy briefs and all).

Thanks again to Maddy (who wrote brilliantly on a similar topic last week) and Chrissie for being such great #WhatI’mWriting hosts.

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