The Rights of Women: Somewhere in Perth Part 2

The first week of my retreat did not go as well as I planned or imagined. This is understandable. Very little in life meets our expectations; one of life’s crucial skills is learning to adapt and be content with what we can achieve. In my case I managed over 4,000 words, not bad considering I failed to stick to a writing routine. Perhaps I am not a writer who can follow a routine? Then again, if I stick to my routine in the coming week I may achieve more in terms of word count. The point is, I have been writing. My novel boasts more words today than this time last week, though their quality will be tested during the first edit.

I have also been surprised to learn that my imposed solitude has not been as pleasant as I hoped. My accommodation is excellent, I am eating well, I have access to the internet and a mobile phone but I never sleep well when alone and this week has been a challenge for me. I am positive this will settle down, but in the short term those 4,000 plus words might be the result of a tired and occasionally overwrought mind. I’ll let you know how I have coped with this challenge next week.

The real pleasure of this first week comes from reading Miranda Seymour’s Mary Shelley. It’s been on my shelf for years and I am glad I had the sense to bring it with me.

Mary Shelley, nee Godwin, was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and William Godwin, a political philosopher. Godwin_Wolstonecraft

Best known as the author of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley started writing the book when she was only eighteen, barely two years after she ran away with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in July 1814. Percy Shelley, mercurial and impulsive, declared his love to the sixteen year old Mary, a love she ardently requited, despite his marriage at nineteen to the then sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook. Harriet had one child, a daughter, and was pregnant with her second child when Percy ran off to France with Mary and her sister Jane (also known as Claire Clairmont).

When Harriet committed suicide in 1816, Mary and Percy were free to marry, albeit reluctantly. Early in their relationship Percy Shelley hoped to create a commune ‘in which sexual freedom could be practiced,’ and, like Mary’s parents, they were both religious skeptics.

Mary and Percy were together for only eight years. From the begining the relationship was severely tested, particularly prior to Percy’s death in Italy in July 1822. The couple were always short of money. Percy Shelley’s aristocratic father refused to support him and they had to move constantly to avoid their debtors. Mary gave birth to four children, three of them lost in early infancy, but despite this Mary wrote and published one novel, started another, made ‘fair copies’ of Percy’s poems, taught herself Italian and Greek, entertained her husband’s many literary friends and endured the tantrums of her intemperate sister Claire.

A well-educated, erudite woman, Mary was stoic despite, like her mother, suffering from periods of depression. It was not being Mrs Shelley, however, that gave Mary cause for grief, it was her husband’s continual philandering. It is almost certain Percy and his sister-in-law Claire had a passionate love affair, which possibly produced a child. There were several other ill-conceived passions on the part of the poet, mostly with younger women, women he expected Mary to welcome into her house as friends.

Seymour’s detailed biography is scrupulously even-handed. Where facts about, for example, Percy’s love affairs or Claire’s antics (incuding a brief affair with Lord Byron, another famous poet and pursuer of women) are not known or lost, Seymour suggests plausible scenarios. This allows the reader to draw reasoned conclusions about events and Mary’s attitude towards them. Seymour is also searingly honest about Mary’s depression and occassional bad temper while at pains to demonstrate Mary’s extraordinary intelligence, warm humour and her love of learning and the theatre.

As a result of reading Seymour’s biography I decided to adopt Mary Shelley as the patron of my small retreat. Her resilience, love of literature and witty, intelligent conversation, plus her moments of dissatisfaction and despair at the thoughtless, lascivious behavior of her husband, are admirable. I do not see her as a victim, despite the fact that well after his death she championed a man who did not deserve her. Mary Shelley raised her son alone and supported her aging father with her writing. While in later life she may not have been accorded the respect she earned with Frankenstein, she never gave up doing what she loved.Mary_Sh

And neither will I

Retreat to Advance: Somewhere in Perth Part 1

I flew to Perth, Western Australia, late last week for a writing retreat and to house sit for one of my sons and his wife while they are overseas.

It’s an interesting combination. To retreat is to pull back or move away for privacy, as well as to withdraw after a defeat. House sitting involves accommodating oneself to different household appliances, neighbourhoods, shopping centres and traffic conditions. Together they imply  domestic, personal and social restructuring, albeit temporary.

I chose to combine the two because a novel I’m working on has stalled. I also need to step away from my ‘normal’ life, to reflect on my feelings and thoughts about many complicated but essential aspects of my world.

On arrival in Perth I immersed myself in the pleasure of catching up with my loved ones and helping them with preparations for their trip. Then came the reality of an unfamiliar, suddenly quiet and seemingly empty space.White_room

Except it’s not empty. I’m here, and although I’ve not started writing I have planned my ‘program’, organised a writing space and learned to understand the suspirations and limina unique to this house.

Part of my plan is to ‘report’, via Elixir, my progress. Every Sunday I will share what challenged me; what I achieved; how I achieved it; how I stayed, or failed to stay, on track and what I did when I took time off.

person woman desk laptop
Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Writing is a solitary activity; retreating from the demoralising interruptions of daily life, combined with facing down the inner (and outer) demons that sabotage a writing practice, needs time and a comfortable living space. Thankfully I have both, and find the prospect and challenge of the coming weeks daunting and beguiling.

Footnote: I contacted my Facebook Writing Group for tips, hints and ideas for getting through a solitary writing retreat and received some amazing support. If you have any tips about writing while in retreat, I’d be delighted and grateful if you could share them with me and my readers. Thank you.

An Unexpected Lesson

Window_mugEarlier this week I unexpectedly spent an hour or so reviewing Elixir. In addition to searching for examples of my Flash Fiction to determine which of my ‘story shards’ I am unable to send to competitions (because many publications consider posting a piece on one’s personal blog  is ‘publication’), I found myself reading through random posts.

I think I’ve broken most of the rules of blogging. Elixir began with a specific focus but I deviated, after the first year, from sharing my research in Therapeutic Writing to writing posts on a range of issues including holidays, local weather events, my creative process and examples of my work. I don’t post regularly and I’m not good at looking after my readers (aka, I don’t often reply immediately to comments) and I regret to say I find connecting with other bloggers and nurturing my blogging network a challenge, mostly because of time constraints.

So my unplanned review taught me several things:

  1. Blogging is hard work, much harder than I imagined,
  2. Elixir has, at times, languished,
  3. I’ve announced, at least once, that I am going to quit blogging,
  4. I have created posts that are clear, evocative, logical and well written,
  5. It’s impossible to write a post that interests, inspires or engages everyone,
  6. Most posts have been important to me as an individual and as a writer.

In other words, quality is more important to me than quantity, which is why blogging has taught me a lot about being a writer.

I have decided starting Elixir was one of my better ideas and so I will continue to write unscheduled posts about the things that interest, excite, intrigue or annoy me. And I will be more relaxed about what I write, though not how. I’m looking forward to discovering what else Elixir has to offer me and my readers (bless you all).

Have you looked back over your previous blog posts? If so, what did you learn about yourself and your writing? If you have considered giving up, what prompted this thought? Why did you decide to continue blogging?Yeah

Footnote: Thanks to my friend Cate who pointed out today how much I enjoy communicating and connecting with friends through this blog and other social media, and who, therefore, inspired this post.

A Certain Pride?

She thinks it’s here again. The signs are familiar: sleeping well but waking up exhausted; not eating properly; not exercising; refusing social invitations. She promises herself she’ll resume a regular working routine, but sits at her computer for hours, playing Solitaire or reading blogs about  … depression.

She can’t remember the first time she thought, ‘I am depressed,’ but she remembers the first time she knew she’d beaten depression. She was eating dinner with friends, women friends, and she laughed at something one of them said and was surprised by the feel of laughter deep in her stomach where the depression once lodged.

This is a lie, of course. She had postnatal depression once, but she never counts that because, well …  hormones, the middle of winter, one small child and a baby that cried a lot, a cold house, her mother visiting, not to help but to sit at the kitchen table and reassure her, ‘everything will be fine as soon as you establish a routine,’ before demanding coffee, cake and attention.

People always want her attention.

She gives them what they need.

So, this new incarnation: depression number four. Or maybe five. Six? Why bother counting. It’s best to deal with it (she has learned not to say ‘cure’). She’s had counselling. Three times? Four? CBT the third time, mindfulness-based the last time. That helped. And for postnatal depression, hypnotism, which worked well. For a time.

She refuses to take drugs. Both she and her mother appear genetically compromised by antidepressants. They aggravate the malady, in her case to the point of paranoia. The doctors tell her to give it time, let the drugs work, but she throws them away. She knows people who have been on antidepressants almost their entire adult life.  She does not condemn, simply knows drugs are her highway to mental incapacity.

Maybe she’s learned to be a functioning depressive the way addicts function on a diet of alcohol, a load of cannabis or a needle full of heroin?

Maybe depression is her drug of choice?

She’ll stick to meditation, mindfulness, start exercising again, eating properly, call a friend and share lunch with them.

Or not. She learned to be quiet and read while her mother wept in the bedroom. She learned to disappear into her head when her mother raged at her, told her she was a naughty, ungrateful, undeserving, selfish monster.

But she could never completely vanish.

She takes a certain pride in surviving bouts of  depression. She thought of suicide once, when she lived close to the railway and decided to take a blanket, lie across the rails and sleep, let the 5:00 am from the coast finish her off, but she knew she’d hear the rumble of the coming train, change her mind, struggle with the blanket and the stones between the rails, scramble up in an undignified pyjama-clad effort to live and the train wouldn’t stop. She gave the idea away.

If depression is a function of the mind (or is it the brain?), then she uses her mind/brain to solve her problem. She knows the systemic causes of her depression: being a woman in a patriarchal society; the insidious backward bend of world politics to Fascism; the lack of gainful employment.

And knowing she is never good enough or clever as, witty as, compassionate as and as careful as everyone she knows, and thousands more people she will never know.

She decides to research the Four Temperaments (she once dabbled in Astrology – an ancient gesture towards counselling) and believes she can, occasionally, be Sanguine or confidently optimistic and cheerful. She’s more often moved to anger, so she’s probably Choleric and certainly Phlegmatic; she is rarely composed and willingly displays and shares her emotions.  Maybe, she thinks, expressing emotions and Melancholia go together? Is that why some friends, family, and colleagues prefer she not ‘wear her heart on her sleeve’.

But why have a heart if you cannot display it?

Like everything, Astrology failed to provide an answer her mind could accept.  Astrology is the art of variables. She loved its subtleties, how it drew her down wondrous paths to glorious revelation or dry dead ends. But Astrology couldn’t answer all her questions.

Like an aesthete revisiting her favourite cathedral or a beloved painting, she decides to embrace Melancholia. To hold the child she was, she is, in loving regard, to soothe and indulge, to wipe away and store each tear in her cask of wisdom.

She knows it’s here again: depression. She  must welcome it, absorb its lessons, let it fold her in a mutual embrace.

Today’s Footnote: ‘I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy.’ Charles Baudelaire


Please note: The above is a work of fiction and this blog in no way argues against the taking of prescribed antidepressants. If you suffer from depression, seek help from your doctor, counselor or local Lifeline or Mental Health Agency.

Footnote to Self-Compassion

Experts suggest there are six emotions: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise.

Buddhists believe the best response to another’s sadness, fear and even anger is compassion, the ability to understand another person’s suffering and to ease their distress. For Laura D’Olimpio, empathy,

feeling the feelings of another or imaginatively reconstructing the feelings of another

and sympathy, the ability to identify

with the other based on feelings of common humanity,

are both components of compassion, but they can also be problematic. Empathy risks triggering self-misery, while sympathy assumes it is possible to experience the feelings of another. Neither guarantee mercy nor aid. It is too easy to stand by and say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible, I know what you’re going through,’ or ‘poor you, my condolences.’ girl phoneReal change, the kind of change that reduces human distress, takes effort. A compassionate individual refuses to stand by, wring their hands and offer meaningless platitudes. Compassion is ‘fellow feeling’, understanding the misery, fear or anger of a fellow human. It calls us to end or relieve suffering. More importantly,

everyone has the capacity to be compassionate: to treat others as you would wish to be treated. To be kind and tender, generous and forgiving, hospitable, helpful and attentive, curious, listening and present, empathic and connected, respectful, understanding and acknowledging. It takes courage, self-reflection and self-compassion.

https://charterforcompassion.org/images/menus/Healthcare/PDFs/CompassionforCare.pdf

For Dr Kristin Neff, compassion is

feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

Why, then, was self-compassion mentioned in the definition from The Charter for Compassion? Self-compassion, according to Neff, is

acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?

http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

So, while compassion requires change on a communal, collective and global level, self-compassion implies a willingness to change on a personal level.

One way we can be more compassionate towards our self, is to learn how to regulate the six emotions listed above, a process of checking in on and altering (not repressing or denying), one’s feelings, thoughts, actions, words and even physiological responses. Emotional regulation also allows us to interact and communicate with the rest of society in a healthy, peaceful and meaningful way.

Emotion regulation (ER) is regarded as a crucial factor in well-being, in the popular literature, clinical psychological practice, and scientific research alike.

Nyklícek, Ivan, Ad Vingerhoets, and Marcel Zeelenberg. Emotion Regulation and Well-Being. New York, Springer, 2011, p. 2.

Neither emotional regulation nor self-compassion can stop us from feeling sad, angry or fearful. Emotional regulation will (particularly if combined with mindfulness), help us to recognise, understand and accept difficult situations and deal with them rationally.

sisters-bmewett
Photo:B Mewett

Self-compassion combined with emotional regulation soothes and comforts the inner self. It can help us find appropriate and loving support from those around us, but in our worst moments, when we feel utterly abandoned, self-compassion, self-care and mindful awareness is a powerful, healthy and humane response. Why? Kristen Neff believes compassion for others begins with self-compassion. Humanity is not ‘us and them’, it is just us’. If we fail to care compassionately for ourselves, how can we begin to care for others?

Today’s Footnote: Do you yell at the television because you’re irritated by the politician being interviewed? Do you turn away from your partner and refuse to speak to them for a week when they question your decisions? Do you slam the door to put a full stop to your arguments? Do you hang out the car window and hurl thunderbolts of rage at the driver of the car in front of you?  If so, maybe a hearty meal of emotional regulation served with a side of compassion and topped by the sweet sauce of self-compassion will give you the perspective you need.

 

 

What about the Footnotes?

Notice the revised subtitle of this blog? Elixir is no longer about ‘Reflective and Creative Writing’, but ‘Footnotes from the Third Age’. What does that mean? Why footnotes?

Footnotes are important. (1) They are the tracings of other minds leading us to new information or supporting the author’s argument. Now days we talk about disappearing down the rabbit hole that is the internet, following link after link, creating our own tracings as we follow a chain of ideas, meeting minds more lucid, more adventurous than our own, or straying into savage, unseemly brambles.

Our mind is the seat or faculty of reason. It is also responsible for our thoughts and feelings, but it is also capricious, fickle and mercurial, which I believe is one of the best things about having a mind. Changing our mind often starts with questions like, ‘What if …? Maybe I should try …? Perhaps I’ll give it another …?’ Then a friend shares an insight, we exchange  ideas and what was an irritating, unanswered uncertainty becomes … a footnote?

I’m not saying the Third Age is a footnote to life; the Third Age is more important than that. But I’ve had footnotes take me on unimaginable adventures. Maybe a revived Elixir will be my footnote, my indelible nota bene for others to reference?

What do you think?


(1Footnotes and endnotes are both ways to add clarifying information into a document.  They provide important details with which the reader may be unfamiliar.

At the End there is a Beginning

This is Elixir’s last post. My decision to quit blogging comes from long consideration and  research into why people abandon their blogs. Like many others, I found the routine of writing a regular post onerous and I have also lost interest in my topic.

Blogging is a new genre with its own sub genres, literary styles and rules. The expectations of both readers and bloggers are different to the expectations of novelists or short story writers, and their readers. Authors usually encounter their readers through letters or emails, writing festivals or book launches and although most modern authors acknowledge the writer/reader relationship is more embodied and frequent than in the past, bloggers depend on ongoing, long term and immediate responses from their readers/subscribers.

I began this blog because I wanted to find such an audience – and, thanks to my subscribers I have – but blogging is a reciprocal art; a successful blogger is also an avid reader of other blogs, something I didn’t know before I started this blog. Networking is an extrovert’s idea of heaven but I’ve become more introverted in the last three years, so networking is my definition of hell. I’ve also discovered that the upside of the close and direct writer/reader relationship is immediate and honest feedback, while the downside is the temptation to write for the audience, instead of writing from the heart, or taking artistic and creative risks.

I also prefer reading books than blogs, and as I’ve only ever written one letter to a novelist (a friend of mine) I am not invested in contacting every writer I admire.  Keeping up with other blogs steals time I prefer to spend reading books, writing flash fiction and short stories and working on my novel.

I’ve been blogging for two and a half years, the recommended period for giving a blog a ‘good try’. I once looked forward to writing my  blog; I now find it a chore akin to driving to work or attending a meeting out of habit rather than necessity.

I will continue to write. As regular readers of Elixir know, I’ve written all my life, but only recently called myself a writer who spends her days writing. I am working on several short stories, a novel, two ideas for a play, and an essay. What I am working on may never find readers, but that’s not the point. At the risk of sounding pretentious – oh, what the heck, I don’t care if I sound pretentious – it’s the artistic endeavour I enjoy. I love the act of fitting words together, composing appealing sentences, and forming clear, resolute and provocative thoughts and ideas that excite me. Blogging no longer fulfils that need.

As the title of this post indicates, I don’t see starting and quitting this blog as a failure but an opportunity to grow and learn as a writer. I am moving on to a new phase of learning. I am not sure what that entails but I’m excited by the prospect.Tote

In this last blog I want to acknowledge my generous readers, particularly Cheryl over at Impromptu Promptlings and Peculiar Ponderings, my dear friend C who inspired this blog and my partner who encouraged me and edited my posts. You have challenged and inspired me; your friendships are like charming, pleasant and challenging sentences that give me pause and spur me on. I will forever cherish your support.

Thanks also to my other readers and to the bloggers whose posts I have read. I am sorry if I did not always respond to what you wrote but I have enjoyed your blogs and wish you joy with your writing.

 

 

 

 

The Leveret

Meghan imagines Simon and Petra sitting together in the café on the avenue where the Jacaranda bloom.

‘Just friends,’ Simon assures Meghan, ‘we are just friends. We talk about work; she knows work is our focus. I’m mentoring her. She’s bright, she’ll do well. If Petra was a Peter you wouldn’t worry.’

‘She,’ says Meghan, ‘is younger than me, she is beautiful, she is vulnerable and she doesn’t know your history.’

Simon holds up his left hand, the white gold ring on his ring finger a thin shield. ‘I have changed. You know that,’ he says.

Meghan imagines Simon and Petra’s heads bent together, discussing work over half filled cups of coffee and a single white plate, empty except for cake crumbs and two cream smeared cake forks that sit on the side of the plate.

‘You told her, you told me, you had “feelings” for her,’ says Meghan.

‘I was trying to be honest to all of us,’ Simon says, ‘you most of all, to myself and to her, of course. She’s not threatened. She knows I will never act on my feelings. I’ve changed.’

He says, ‘I’ve changed,’ again and Meghan imagines a phalanx of men holding aloft torches that flare like lies as Simon, on a high podium, shouts ‘I’ve changed,’ into a microphone. The men roar back at him, ‘You’ve changed, you’ve changed,’ their arms in stiff accord, their torches assaulting the darkened sky.

Meghan imagines Petra crying in the café where the Jacaranda bloom. Petra weeps often, especially when Simon is with her; there is always something happening at work, something that upsets her. People are mean, they don’t understand her. She works at a different pace to others, she talks to customers differently, she respects people. That’s why Simon has feelings for her, why he watches her working at her desk, a Botticelli nymph, Simonetta Vespucci captured and in thrall to a computer. Her gaze is dreamlike, her lips are slightly pursed as she caresses the mouse and produces delicate, diaphanous, vaguely decadent images for her clients. ‘Sure,’ says Simon when he comes home from work, ‘she takes longer than others to finish her projects but her clients are always happy. She is the real thing, Meghan,’ he says. ‘An artist.’

And so Simon supports her, that’s all, nothing more. And if Petra phones him at ten of an evening, in tears, he walks away from Meghan to soothe Petra. He doesn’t leave the room but turns the television sound down, so he can hear Petra’s laments, reedy and importunate, over his mobile. ‘It’s all out in the open, isn’t it?’ he says to Meghan when he has finished consoling Petra. He turns up the television, he goes to bed with Meghan, he makes love to Meghan because it is Meghan he lives with.

Meghan imagines Simon and Petra, smiling at each other over the coffee cups, talking about work, their hands not touching, their eyes neutral the way friends’ eyes are neutral, their laughter light and convivial, like friends’ laughter. And then she imagines the intimate, fearless opposite, as if a puckish movie maker has infiltrated her mind and he’s filmed two different scenes that run over and over, a hellish loop of ‘this is what it is, this is what it could be’ until Meghan doesn’t know what is what.

Meghan imagines Simon and Petra leaving the coffee shop, the dropped Jacaranda petals an imperial tide lapping their ankles. She imagines them hugging, because that’s what friends do even if one of them has “feelings”, and the other one knows, because we live in such a modern, such a civilized, such a sophisticated era where hugs are the neologism of the age.

Meghan scans the internet, another neologism, and reads, ‘It is best, when in a relationship, to keep your feelings for other people in check. Even a Platonic friendship calls for time and energy, which is energy stolen from your wife or your husband.’

Meghan imagines her relationship, a Charybdis into which her time, her energy, her precious work, drains. She wonders if she should phone her lawyer or finish the portrait she’s worked on for months. She decides to complete the portrait and then she will phone the lawyer.

Gateway

2017 is almost done. Some of us may already be preparing for Christmas, others will be looking forward to the holidays and warmer weather (here in the Southern Hemisphere anyway) and many of us will start to reflect on the achievements and lessons of 2017, and the promises and challenges of 2018.

Normally I spend the final days of December reflecting on the past year but I’m starting early.  It has been a good year, mostly because of the trip to Europe. Everything about where my partner and I went, what we did, who we met and the adventures and misadventures we experienced, was exceptional. I have suffered, however, middling health for most of the year. A cough I developed on the first of January lasted around eighty days. I hurt my back six weeks before we travelled to Europe and in recent weeks an as yet undiagnosed condition has dogged me. None of this dimmed the joy we experienced while away but for most of 2017 I’d have preferred to lie on a couch, read a good book or doze.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing, let alone had the energy to sit in front of a computer. Elixir, Concise, my novel-in-progress and numerous drafts of short stories have been ignored, apart from the odd moment when I lifted my head from my book, felt guilty about not having written anything then hastily turned the page and read on. This adds to my usual struggle with sticking to a writing routine so I decided, not long after we arrived home from the trip, to return to notebooks to jot down ideas, record my thoughts and even use coloured pens and pencils to highlight and illustrate my musings.

I went back to pen and paper because writing was no longer a pleasurable activity. Despite my best intentions, blogging became a process of second-guessing my readers and how they might judge what I write. In other words, I stopped writing from my heart. Going back to basics, writing by hand and playing with coloured pencils helped me rediscover the joy of writing. It seems that poor health was really a gateway to a under-developed creative path.

DSC_0177 (2)

What does this mean for Elixir and Concise? I cannot maintain two separate blogs, which is why Concise will be retired and the flash fiction stories from that blog will reappear on Elixir, on the page once labelled ‘Sparks’ and now relabelled ‘Concise.’ I will continue to post pieces of flash fiction but as an adjunct to Elixir.

Elixir itself has changed appearance and will be more of an occasional blog rather than something that must be attended to every two to three days.

I recently turned sixty-five, which in Australia was once the age when one officially retired from the paid workforce. I don’t feel old in heart or mind. The insecurities of youth and the challenges of maintaining harmonious relationships still hound me. I also play games with my granddaughter, which means getting down on the floor or kicking a ball with her in the backyard. This year my body has sent me several strong messages; instead of spending hours in front of a computer I need to exercise more, meditate and eat regularly, and get enough sleep. That way, after spending time with the people I love, I will have the energy to write.

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What is your experience? Do you have a habit of reflecting on the past year? Is November or December the best time for you? How do you stay healthy so you can do what gives you joy?

Knots

Back in late September, when I shared Ben Brooker’s blog, Kate’s Words, I suggested Ben give me a word and I’d try to ‘refresh my writing muscles’. The suggestion is I write for thirty minutes, musing on the word – which in this case is knots – and share what emerges. Okay, here goes …

… R D Laing published Knots in 1970. I tried but failed to read the book in the middle seventies, when I was first married. I failed because … well the text tied me in knots and my life then – as now – was rather knotty anyway, so I felt unable to see the book through to the end.

I wrote a poem a decade and a half later, titled, I think, ‘Rope’. It alluded to the ribald habit ropes have in snapping at your ankles and tripping you up. Maybe I’ll go back to it later this month and turn it into a Flash Fiction, which is something I’ve done with several of my old poems. This is cannibalising one’s writing and has little to do with knots, though it might explain why some of my Flash Fiction lacks a distinct narrative.

Free writing can get knotty too, because when you let the mind wander  – the purpose of free writing – the mind, like a rope, can turn in and around on itself, twisting neurons and crimping axons, leading to nowhere or worse, allowing it to form its own connections, risking aberrant, gratuitous or self-destructive thoughts, like ‘Why am I doing this, I am usually so structured and planned? I don’t like this …’

… See what I mean?

Have you ever tried to undo a knot in a gold or silver chain? It’s not easy (see what I did there?). When I cleaned out my mother’s jewellery drawer I found most of her chains tangled into a ball. The week I cleaned the house, the week my father joined my mother in the ‘Aged Care Facility’, was unseasonably hot at well over forty degrees Celsius. I remember sitting on their bed and looking at the tangled ball of gold and silver and wondering how on earth I could separate them. That the ball symbolised my often difficult relationship with my parents was not lost on me and perhaps I applied myself to the task  because of that; by separating the chains maybe I could prepare myself for my parents’ inevitable demise, something that happened only three years later, in my father’s case, and eight months after that, in my mother’s. I only ever managed to untangle the ball of chains, I could never address the disarray that was our relationship.

I kept some of those chains. I wear them occasionally and admit I am, like my mother, careless when I remove them and put them away. Will my children have to untangle my necklaces when it is time for me to move on?

From the knotted peculiarity of Laing, to my early poems, to the gnarled vagaries of my mind and on to my mother’s tangled, sometimes twisted hold on me I have come, perhaps inevitably, to my own demise, to the day when I must untie the knot that secures my hold on life. Maybe I should find a copy of Knots? Perhaps, at my current stage of life, I will understand it better than I did when I was a callous, untried girl?

Afterword: I could not help myself – I edited this piece but only so I could eliminate any convoluted sentences.