Leaving The Page Blank*

I have developed a bad habit, over the years, of putting things off, or worse, not finishing them. Not necessarily out of laziness, but out of the idea that ‘One Day’ I’ll magically get a brainwave and do what I’ve been meaning to do. Until then I’ll leave the page blank, or leave the ending of the story unfinished.

Let me explain what I mean.

An example: whenever I get a new sketch book, a new note-book, even a new diary, I’ve always left the first page blank. I have this idea that I’ll be randomly struck by inspiration and be able to use that front page to design a beautiful front cover or write a something amazing and funny (because of course you need a spectacular front page. As a kid, most of my diaries said Keep Out So-and-So in bedazzled glitter). So I have in my possession a few sketch books that I use now and then, with the front page blank because I’m waiting for that unspecific, magical point in the future that I’ll be practiced enough in my skills enough to draw something amazing that I’m happy with. So that the first thing people see if they flip through is that page. Most of my diaries in the past (I say past because in the age of laptops and social media, I no longer keep a diary, I think the last time I wrote in one was about 7 or 8 years ago) have had the front cover black so I can stick something pretty there or draw random doodles or even just my name on the front.

I’m also a really fussy artist and writer. I’m not necessarily great what I do, but I revise what I write A LOT, and I often correct drawings because they don’t ‘feel’ right – I’m sure you can guess that I am my own worst critic and I hate everything I create. This has applied to a few other things in my life, and it has taken me time to realise that it is not down to talent, circumstance, or even things like time or taste – but purely down to mentality and approach. So sometimes I have put off things in my life, thinking I can do them later – learn to drive, save money to travel, take that class I wanted to take, invest in that exercise programme.

Which brings me to the whole point of my post – I’ve come to a realisation over the years that there is never a right moment to fill in that blank page. No epiphany moment of ‘ah-ha!’ which inspires me to write a beautiful story or draw an amazing piece of art – for me it will always involve a little patience, hard work and practise, and a positive attitude. I have often put off doing something or not done something at all because I thought I was terrible – hundreds of discarded storylines which I never followed through because they didn’t sound good when I wrote it, artwork I didn’t complete and even mini projects that I stopped mid-way. Partly due to laziness, but a lot of do with the fact that it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not this much of a perfectionist in every aspect of my life – I don’t cook a meal then throw it away if it doesn’t look great (if anything I follow a philosophy which prioritises taste over aesthetics, who cares what a dish looks like as long as it tastes good?). Neither do I fall into a mire of depression because a something didn’t go the way I wanted, or because my planned day out/make-up/role at work didn’t go the way it wanted. I think perhaps because writing and drawing is such a personal thing to me which I don’t share with many people, I tend to get a lot more fussy, a lot more self-conscious and easily put-off.

I’m learning though. I try not to let these things get to me. I have always said to my husband that it’s no use waiting for that magical moment where everything will be okay – next week, next month, next year. It will never happen that way. Change your approach, be positive and your can-do attitude will do wonders. Sometimes it’s sensible to know when to give up and not waste your time, and other times it’s important to persevere and keep at it.

I’ll add a few hashtags to sum this post up, because lets face it, who doesn’t love a good hashtag: #existentialproblems #firstworldproblems #stopbeinglazy

Just a few things I started and then gave up mid-way:

  1. Embroidery
  2. Learning to apply eyeshadow
  3. Writing a ‘How-to’ about Instagram blogging
  4. Planning several tea parties
  5. Restoring some vintage shoes I bought
  6. Jogging in the park (that lasted a week)
  7. Drawing my own adult colouring book
  8. Batman: Arkham Asylum the game (I kept dying, my husband still keeps telling me to finish the game)
  9. A trip to document every underground train station and its art
  10. A mission to try every restaurant in London (back in my skinny days!)

There’s more, but I’m sure you get the gist!

*I even put off this post as well. It actually had a different title and was a little different in content until I re-read and re-wrote :/

Blogger’s Enui

Enui
[On-wee] = a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.

I’ve been putting off writing a blog post like this, because I wasn’t sure how to articulate the way I’ve been feeling the last few months, particularly in respect to the idea of writing, blogging and the idea of how I see myself as a social presence, compared to how I actually do come across. It’s not exactly a confidence issue I’m having, but more a sense of question of wanting more satisfaction – can I do more with my blogging (especially since it was always meant to be a stepping stone to kickstart me into writing novels some day) and how do I change my feelings of boredom?

Part of the problem feels like there is too much time-wasting on social media – as much as I love Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and random other apps, they seem to over-expose us to the random, everyday things which feels like it’s okay to celebrate and accept the mediocre. So I guess that it’s led to me feeling a little complacent – wanting to do more yet being lazy and not pushing myself enough.

Another part is that I am my own worst critic – I hate everything I write, or I have lots of ideas which turn into something else when I finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!) which can be off-putting. I can certainly think of several blog posts, short stories and even a novel idea I have abandoned because I didn’t know where to continue them or wasn’t happy with them.

In contrast though, when I don’t blog or write, I feel a little guilty. I know I’m not the only one, my sister has said she shares the same feeling as me sometimes – it feels like I should be utilising my free time and doing something productive such as blogging, crafting or doing something creative when in reality I end up doing something menial. I think part of this comes from my life-long ambition to be a writer, which I have wanted to be since I was a child, so it feels like I’m not doing the best I could be.

I’ve spoken to my husband about this a few times – how I used to blog nearly every day about very random things in the past because it felt like I had more time and ideas (and enthusiasm), and in comparison now, it feels like I don’t have anything interesting to write about, or I just can’t be bothered. His suggestion was take a break and look back at why I started blogging, immerse myself in the things I love and perhaps go back to basics. I can definitely see this as a place to start, but I don’t think I could go back to the style I have stuck to in the last few years – it’s boring, random and not necessarily engaging in the way I want it to be. Perhaps it is that as I get older my priorities and interests have evolved, and also the fact that I feel that I have become more sensitive and aware as I go along – I pay attention to more politics and current events than I used to, my job has more of an impact on my personal life, and the things I look for when reading online and looking for ideas are now different.

I thought I’d approach this one step at a time – write down ideas and see where they go. One thing which I have started doing which has helped so far, is writing down ideas as I get them and then stewing on them – it means that I don’t forget interesting ideas which come to me and also gives me a chance to think about how to follow the idea, where it will take me and even if it’s worth spending my time on.

I’m still re-examining what I want to prioritise and I’d like to do when I do blog – in the past I’ve put random visual pictures every day which I love, but over time I am beginning to appreciate quality over quantity. I’d also appreciate advice given – especially if it’s something you can relate to (I’m aware #bloggerproblems is such a first-world superficial problem, but we all have our issues!)

I’m hoping that in the run up to the end of the year and New Years holidays, I’ll have more time to spend on these things (plus more on drawing!) which I can develop – hopefully as I progress it’ll show : )

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A Fragmented Mind – Following Mystery and Memory Loss

But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland.
Anselm Keifer

It’s not often that I find a book which strikes a chord with me, even if it’s not a topic I don’t know much about or can relate to as well as others. It brings me to mind similar novels, simple yet amazingly written stories like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’ and ‘Room’, both which handle sensitive issues well yet still engages the reader to a level which makes us think about the book long after we have finished reading.

EIM-pb-jacketElizabeth is Missing follows the narrative of 80-something-year-old Maud, who has been forgetting things more often lately, suffering from a growing but unnamed problem (which could be dementia, Alzheimer’s or just elderly senility), that makes her forget where she puts things, how many tins of peaches to buy (even though the cupboard is already full of them) and at times, who her daughter and granddaughter are. But Maud has her good moments too, gossiping with her friend Elizabeth, her love for her daughters and her granddaughter Katy, and the fact that she still has her own house that she can walk to the local shop from.
Lately Maud has been concerned with her friend Elizabeth, who has gone missing and which no one is telling her about, which causes ripples further than the questions she asks. Despite being told not to worry by her daughters, Elizabeth’s son, her caretakers and even the police, she becomes more and more convinced that Elizabeth is in danger.

As we follow Maud’s investigation into this disappearance, we see that she is hampered by her inability to remember things which happened just a few seconds ago. Yet there are some things from her past which come much more vividly to her, most importantly the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her older, newly-married sister Sukey when Maud was a teenager 70 years earlier, and the subsequent incidents following her disappearance and the fact that she was never found. Remembering back to her sister’s life following up to the time she went missing, Maud also examines the strange behaviour of the people who knew her, such as her husband, her parents, their lodger and even the crazy lady who lives up the road.

As we follow both of these mysteries, we see how Maud’s obsession with Elizabeth’s disappearance parallels her memories of her sister, interconnecting past with the present so that her quest to find Elizabeth begins to overlap with Sukey in her mind and her memories as the book goes on. While we may not necessarily be able to understand how dementia feels, it’s beautifully written so we are able to sympathise with Maud’s fragmented mind, drawing us into the story even when the scenes feel so every day.

I read this at the same time as The Girl on the Train, and although both feature mystery, missing memories and a feeling of disorientation, the results are a lot more striking in difference. While in The Girl on the Train can made me feel a little lost and even disappointing at times, Elizabeth is Missing successfully lets us see the effects of old age and dementia even while we are lost with Maud. Throughout the novel, whether it is the elderly Maud we see or her 15-year-old version, her character is unforgettable – funny, warm and even at times unexpectedly impressive even when her frustrating memory loss lets her down.

This sounds like a depressing novel, but it’s not – there are comical moments in the mundane, ordinary events of Maud’s life, beautiful moments in the midst of heartbreak, and her character is one we embrace, rather than be embarrassed of. Not only does it address everyday routines we take for granted, it unwaveringly presents the embarrassments, the small frights, the patronising attitudes and remarks, and the simple limitations that comes with old age. And whether it is funny at times, embarrassing or even moving, these little stories all ring true to life. It’s worth a read to see another view of everyday life, even if it’s to answer that age-old question “Where is the best place to grow marrows?”

An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

I’ve mentioned before how much I love fairy-tales/myths re-tellings, there’s something fascinating about seeing a new angle on a classic story we already know, and I love to discover new books with a different view.

This is a chart created by the cleverbots at EpidReads, who compiled a list of books and grouped them by similarities.

You can find the full chart list here by epicreads – it’s not a complete list of what’s out there of course, but it’s a decent place to start!

Have you read any of these? I’ve added a few of these to my book list already!

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200 Word Story: Maze

I thought I’d try some spontaneous writing, that is, giving myself a certain amount of time, be it 10 minutes, 20 minutes or half-hour to write a story within the constraints of a certain number of words. It would give me the chance to practice story writing and hopefully force me to write something even if I didn’t like what I wrote (which happens a lot!)
This was meant to be a 50 words story but I got a little carried away, so here’s my version of a 200 word story, which was still pretty difficult because of the re-writing and editing I had to do. Have a read, and do let me know what you think!

She turns the corner, following the watery pinpoint of light leading her to a hazy freedom. A scuttling sound pings behind her, making her grope at her sides to the craggy wall to spin around in the now-silent dark. Waits, until the scraping sound comes again, she imagines its closer this time, making her legs urge her forward, her walking becoming a hurried shamble. She trips, stumbling over the rocky path, breathing louder until she hears that shuffling coming closer behind her.

She’s no longer hiding her fear, speeds up to a rushed jog, jagged breath while desperately praying that the thin stream of light won’t suddenly end – running now, muscles burning and eyes streaming with unwanted tears. The noise grows louder, it’s thundering in her ears now, the harder she runs the louder, each stamp of her foot feeling like it is bringing an ominous cymbal crash upon her.

Her eyes see more light, sees an opening, her precious stream of light growing bigger. The floor beneath her slopes up making her scramble, clinging and climbing upwards into a unforgiving brightness and onto a gravelly floor, soil and dust announcing her arrival.

Turns around.
To face what is coming.
To face?

Nothing. Just cold air and empty blackness.
She trembles, cautiously steps backwards, ready to run again.

There! That noise again.

Looks down…seeing a chain hooked onto her shoe.

Terry Pratchett, Magic Man

It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done – A Hat Full of Sky

Fantasy writer Sir Terry Pratchett passed away yesterday, leaving a legacy which has touched people all over the world, whether it was for his novels and comic books, his famous Discworld series or his quirky sense of humour. His fan-base was one which was world-spread, and whose tributes, accolades and petitions have all been pouring in for a man whose writing appealed to everyone, and who taught the power of imagination, on how to upset and rouse people, and that cats are devilish things that know who’s boss.

Below is a guide by Jacob Oleksow for anyone who wants to start reading the Discworld series and want to know which order to read the books in, or what categories they come in.

It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it

Thank you Terry Pratchett for sharing your quirky tales, your magical stories, the witty humour and a whole different world for us to explore – I’m sure that there’s someone out there about to discover your novels and series, and discover a love for your characters.

qHa8Zf5Image created by Jakub Oleksow

Maya Angelou: An Icon, A Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Today I heard the sad news that author, poet, icon, artist, civil rights leader, woman, Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86. She was famous for many things, being a writer, singer, dancers, actress and acitivist, but at the core of it all, she remained a sunny, beautiful woman who had many lessons to give and moved many of us while we were growing up.

When you  learn, teach. When you get, give.

I remember reading Maya Angelou’s famous classic I Know why the Caged Bird Sings at the age of  eleven after it was handed to me by a teacher who knew of my love for books and was always trying giving me new genres to explore. I was a huge reader then (I still am, but these days I find that I make less time for reading unless it’s on my daily commute) and was hungry for literature which went beyond the usual Goosebumps and teenage-angst stories. I found my fill in Alice Walker, Adele Geras, Margaret Atwood, and as I grew older, in post-colonial authors, post-modern authors and feminist writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi, Toni Morrison, Meera Syal, Doris Lessing and Arundhati Roy, but to name a few. This is just a tip of the iceberg for the amazing range of authors out there whose works I’ve swam through, floated through, devoured and then looked for more of.

Until blacks and whites see each other as brother and sister, we will not have parity. It’s very clear.

Maya Angelou is all of these. She was someone who wanted to push boundaries, making us re-think the norm, and above all, celebrated life, being a woman, being a person and seeing the human in us rather than the stereotypes and the labels. Is it any wonder that she is remembered for so many things? The one thing about her which spoke to me through all of her writing, which really resonated was the fact that she had lived such a hard life, and yet remained a positive person. I’ve met so many negative people, and indeed it’s in our culture to not be happy with what we have, to want more and to criticise, and yet Maya Angelou empathised the importance of being assertive and being proud of who we are and what we have. Growing up, I’m sure we all have stories to tell in which we felt alone, different or pushed down – Maya taught us that we can either let it define us, or use it to buil character, be happy with ourselves, learn from our experiences rather than being just content

You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.

I love how this blogger put it. Maya Angelou’s words mean that we are not marginalised, pushed aside and made ‘just’. I, like my peers, am not ‘just’ a coloured girl, we ARE coloured girls – and this matters.

Maya Angelou may be gone from this world, but her words and her philosophy live on; as sad as it is that the world has suffered a loss today, it is also beautiful that she has left a beautiful legacy which continues to inspire so many generations.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.

There’s several obituaries from prominent newspapers of the wonderful woman, here’s the one I liked most (and this one too) – the tributes, stories and accolades keep pouring in for this wonderful woman. I think they all sing the same thing – Maya Angelou was an inspirational woman to so many people because of many different reasons. For me, it’s because she introduced me to a whole new world at the age of 11 when I stepped into I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and kept going.

A great soul never dies. It brings us together, again and again

Maya Angelou, as her poem suggests, really was a Phenomenal Woman.
Rest in peace Maya Angelou, may you reach Jannah (heaven) and know the blessings and peace you showed to others. Thank you for your legacy – sharing your love, your knowledge and your wisdom and for generally being such a beautiful person. The world was, is and will be a better place just because you have lived. You will be missed.

Weekly Challenge: Letters

I love the Arabic language, the beauty of its curving letters and the detailed strokes of each letter which joins together to make beautiful passages as well as beautiful art. This is an old text from the 16th Century, depicting an ayat (verses from the Holy Quran) which was painstakingly written out by scribes during this time. I love the beautiful neatness of this piece of writing, the sloping, long letters highlighted with gold paint and the beautiful calligraphy – it’s not often you get to see some old texts like these.

I wanted to take a close-up of this picture but wasn’t able to because this piece exhibited behind glass, but perhaps I’ll get to see something similar to this again, and try to get a better picture!

Part of this week’s Weekly Challenge: Letters.

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