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.

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?

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.

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.

On Being Concise

new-pic-2Elixir was created from a desire to reflect on therapeutic writing and its benefits. Its reception has been encouraging and I have enjoyed writing the blog and reading your comments.

Elixir helped me test and develop my writing skills, and gave me the confidence to continue.

I believe, however, that it no longer fulfils my needs as a writer.

Perhaps it’s time stop taking medicine and accept the healing has happened?

Elixir has a companion page, ‘Sparks’, containing five short, short stories or, as I like to call them, hint fiction. ‘The Listening Place’ and ‘Neo Natal’ were recently read at the Quart Short Literary Reading Nights, Autumn Shorts 2017. Another of my pieces of flash fiction, ‘Underpass’ has been published in Landmarks. These modest successes reflect my passion for condensed, intense, concentrated stories, a genre that promotes carefully constructed, abbreviated but powerful narrative moments.

Elixir, therefore, will give way to Concise, an occasional magazine of flash fiction, hint fiction and short stories.  I will initially publish my own work, then gradually introduce the work of friends and fellow enthusiasts of the genre. Later this year I will call for written ‘pitches’ of no more than 500 words. Should your pitch be successful I will ask you to send your short story and, if it is suitable, publish it in Concise although I won’t be able to pay writers.

But more of that later; for now, expect to see, in the next week or two, changes to the look and content of this blog. If, because of the change in name, you lose the link, you will find me here:

An elixir was thought capable of curing all ills as well as being a mythical substance with the power to create gold from base metals. Concise is not a quest for gold; it is a search for compact, creative, evocative and meaningful short narratives that will challenge, inspire and entertain. Being concise is a potent way to share our precious and provocative moments.

Songs of Earth and Sky

DSC_6818  When she was three the earth belonged to her. As she  trod the ground, stones sang and the earth hummed. Who is there in the world can say that?

From the day she was born, if she fussed, was scared or bewildered her mother would bend and say, ‘tell me what bothers you. Tell me what is happening,’ then hold her hand and wait until she found the words.

Find them she did. At two she said she felt sad, at three she didn’t want to play, didn’t like pizza anymore and didn’t need to sleep. Speaking, she was heard, and knew that if the earth wobbled, a voice, her voice, could still it.

Her father was a giant. He lifted her from the earth and set her in the sky, to dance with the clouds. When she fell he caught her and she’d say, ‘more, Daddy, do it again.’

‘Don’t drop her,’ mother cautioned, but Daddy would never let that happen. Mother came to understand a giant’s arms are safe for a child with words, a child who has learned the songs of earth and sky.



I never climbed,

I was lifted, and in being lifted,

I learned to climb.

Bits and Bobs

My grandmother had a drawer in her kitchen cupboard that she called the ‘bits and bobs drawer’. It held what she deemed important but didn’t necessarily belong in any of the other drawers, either by size, category, design or purpose. The bits and bobs drawer housed used circus ticket stubs, the instructions and guarantee for a toaster bought over two decades earlier, rubber bands so old they had started to perish and were adhered to each other like mates in an old folks’ home, and the ubiquitous short, grubby and blunt lead pencil.  Drawer02

Today’s post is going to be a bit like the bits and bobs drawer: for instance, yesterday was the first meeting of the writing group I and three other women recently put together. We found each other through a mutual friend, we’re all professional women, we all want to improve our writing and publish our work and we’re looking for sensitive, constructive support for our endeavours. Unfortunately, I arrived a few minutes late and the cafe I suggested we use for the gathering was closed for the day, so we had to quickly regroup. Despite the wobbly start, it was a wonderful meeting. My co-writers are talented, articulate, perceptive and sensitive; the writing Gods (Goddesses) were indeed smiling on us when we found each other. By the end of today, however, I need to contact the other members of the group and let them know about the venue for the next meeting and provide some written notes on our discussion…

…I’m working with two other people to organise a writing event (it’s very exciting, so watch this space) and I need to send them some material …

… Cadence has an audition this afternoon, the second this week (which is a rarity) so given we only own one car we have to juggle our schedules because I’m going for a walk with Glory this afternoon. Glory inspired my first post and, partly, this blog. In July it will be ten years since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, ten years of glorious survival, so today I want to discuss where we’ll go for a celebratory dinner. I took her out to dinner five years ago, and I’m looking forward to this coming July, the one in five years’ time, the one five years later and the one after that …

… I need to write a reference for another friend …

… Later today I need to work on a chapter I plan to submit for a book proposal. It’s about mature aged women who have written a memoir for their PhD. I’ve been promising to submit it since the end of last year and I must complete it by the end of this week but I’m not sure it’s possible because…

… Tomorrow I’m getting my hair cut and then babysitting, and on Friday one of my friends is launching her poetry book. Oh, there’s an idea for a future post: I’ll write about the book and maybe ask if I can share one of her poems while I’m about it.

But it’s the chapter that’s commanding my attention today. I need to pull it out from the bits and bobs drawer of my mind and deal with it. I don’t exactly have to ‘write’ it, just modify and reshape a small section of my exegesis. It’s not a difficult task, so why, over the last few months, have I baulked every time I’ve tried to finish it (and, therefore, have a chance to finally be published in a scholarly text)?

An exegesis is a written explanation of an artist’s creative, practice-led, academic research. Universities are finally willing to embrace PhD research that explores the dimensions and significance of putting an idea into action and making, in my case, a piece of ‘creative non-fiction’, specifically ‘life writing’ and, more specifically, a memoir. This means that as well as producing my memoir I was required to describe and analyse how I created it and what informed or shaped the process and the final product. Accordingly, I researched:

  • Women’s autobiographical texts and theories about life writing,
  • Various theories concerning narrative voice and narrative point of view,
  • The origins of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and how her tale was adapted and changed.

The most important part of my research, however, was into therapeutic writing and how a person writing as a form of therapy might gain extra benefit if they used both first person voice (‘I did, I saw, I went’) and third person voice (‘she did, she saw, she went’). That’s the section my contribution to the proposed book will describe. It’s also the section closest to my heart, the section where, for me (as I hoped it would), the healing occurred. That’s probably why reworking the exegesis is confronting. I have to retrieve it from the bits and bobs drawer, smooth its pages and read it again, and it feels like picking at a scar that’s puckered and still tender.

GoldBear  Writing my memoir and the exegesis took five years. In that time my marriage ended, both my parents died, I moved house three times, drove into the back of another car and, a month or so later, fell and broke my arm. It’s little wonder I’m reluctant to revisit that time, even though I’m proud of the work I did and of my memoir.

I’ll do it, though, because I’ve committed myself and I always follow through on my commitments. I may not send the blessed thing off this Friday, however, I might ask if I can have yet another weekend…

… and, finally, when I peered into my bits and bobs drawer I found something new, something my friends who have already retired told me I would discover: I am as busy now as when I was working. In fact I’m busier, and I don’t mind at all.

Your turn: Have you got a bits and bobs drawer, either real or metaphorical? What is hidden at the back of your drawer? How did it end up there? Is it time to clean out your bits and bobs?

Living with a Bird on the Wire: On Actors and the Arts

First stage   A few of you might know my partner, ‘Cadence’, works in, as it’s currently called in Australia, the ‘Creative Industries’. Cadence has been an actor for over forty years. He has also been involved with the union that protects the conditions and pay rates of people in his industry. At the same time he has raised a family, paid his taxes and given considerable support to young and emerging actors.

Until I met Cadence I, like a lot of people, imagined acting meant opening nights and accolades. I’m embarrassed to think I once believed that, but it’s the image the media foists on us in order to sell newspapers and magazines. Having lived with Cadence for just over five years I know acting, like any profession, involves rigorous training, finding work, learning more about the job while working, and ongoing professional development. Add to that long hours rehearsing and performing, plus the creative (and emotional) challenges demanded during every performance, and there is, believe me, nothing at all glamorous about being an actor. Being the partner of an actor isn’t all that glamorous either. I’ve been to a couple of local opening nights; it involves standing in noisy theatre foyers balancing canapés, a glass of champagne and trying to remember people’s names. I have to add, however, I’m a bit of an introvert, so any large gathering tends to leave me nervous and uncertain.

But back to Cadence and the Creative Industry he loves. I’m going to share three things about him that is a feature of not only his life, but the life of all the actors, musicians, playwrights and back stage crew I’ve met through Cadence :

  • He is often asked to work for nothing.
  • When he is paid, it’s usually at the same rate as other members of the cast who have recently graduated; actors are generally not remunerated according to their length of service.
  • Since I’ve known him, there have been months where he hasn’t worked.

I’ve had a forty-plus year career as an educator. In that time:

  • I have never been asked to work for nothing.
  • As my experience grew so did my wage. I was rewarded for my long service and broad experience, as is right and just.
  • I’ve been out of work for two reasons; to have my babies (and my job was waiting for me if I wanted to return) and because I decided to leave teaching (but returned later).

Mask   Have you ever been asked to work for nothing? If you’re of a ‘certain age’ is your experience and length of service properly remunerated? Does your job end after several weeks with no prospects of further employment, other than competing with dozens of other (equally talented) people for the next gig? If your job is like this, how do you cope? If your job is nothing like this, how would you cope under these conditions?

Cadence and most of his friends are not famous, in demand, jet setting practitioners of their art. They are hardworking, talented, creative, generous men and women who love what they do, but who sometimes pay a high personal price for their dedication. The link below will explain what I mean and why I wrote this post:

Without going into any details, Cadence has, in the past, experienced depression and anxiety related to his career. So, you may ask, why does he keep doing it? The only answer I can give is, ‘Asking him to stop acting is like asking him to stop breathing.’ When Cadence is at his best on stage I am reminded of a dolphin in the water; he is in his natural element. I sometimes wonder about the anxiety and depression he would have experienced if he hadn’t been an actor. That kind of self-denial is something I know a lot about.

Living with an actor isn’t easy. It’s spending long nights alone; it’s facing financial uncertainty; it’s watching him cope with first-night nerves and then, when the run is over, watching as he farewells the role, the cast and the crew and faces another period of unemployment. It’s also going to the theatre to watch friends perform and long, intense conversations about the theatre, art and creativity. It’s him encouraging my creativity, understanding the bad days because he’s been there, and celebrating the good days, when the words flow, because he’s been there too. And I have to admit, it’s cool when he says ‘I love you,’ in either a French, Italian, American or Irish accent.

In 2015, our Federal government savagely cut arts funding and our State Government is planning similar cuts. What kind of nation will Australia be without the arts? What will inspire, delight and annoy us? Who will hold up a mirror to our culture? Who will present us to the world? If we lose the arts, who will tell us who we are, what we’re doing wrong and what we’re getting right?

It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing. –Steve Jobs, when introducing the iPad 2 in 2011

When was the last time an actor, a painting, a novel, a poem or a piece of music made your heart sing? Did you ever wonder how much the actor, musician, artist or writer was paid for the hours of training and work it took to create that one piece of art? Did you think about where their next job was coming from? Have you ever considered the emotional cost to the artist of practising their art?


From the Other Side

I felt like doing something creative today. Here is the result:

What, she thought as stirred her coffee, has changed? What, she wondered, has gone out of her life? Waking up early, driving to work, finding a park that’s not too far from her office but far enough to imagine she’s doing some exercise? Planning sales meetings, staff meetings, baby showers, pre-wedding parties, and what about writing memos or meeting clients? Lunch, when she had it, weaving her way through the warp and weft of the lunchtime crowds, trying not to get caught up in the nicks of conversations she overheard? When she was saving money, eating takeaway, sitting alone with three hundred other people in the food hall eating burgers that tasted like sweat? Enjoying bistro lunches with co-workers when she had the cash? Being given a good assignment; immersing herself in research; getting lost in the company’s data bases; telling colleagues she was busy and couldn’t help them; watching their slow tread back to their cubicles? Feeling left out when her manager gave someone else an assignment? Feeling like an imposter when everyone else contributed but she was blank? Not wanting to work on that project anyway? Feeling she didn’t really deserve her place? Trying to balance work with family and friends? The comfort of a daily routine where her work, her ideas, were once, briefly, nurtured.   City_up

She sipped her coffee and bit, distracted, into her cup cake. What, she wondered, has she gained? Waking up late, solitude, not scrambling from one scheduled meeting to another,  like a rock climber faced with an unexpected overhang and forced to rootle sideways to get where she wants? She bit again into the cup cake, wondering whether she had wanted to get to the top or merely enjoyed the climb?

What else had she gained? Not taking instructions or orders from others; not being interrupted to take another phone call; reading; joining a book group; leaving the library, balancing in her arms anything from three to six books and four back copies of magazines? Spending more time with her grandchildren? Seeing friends? Sorting through her four decades of photographs and scanning them into her new laptop?

She gazed out the window. Mel was crossing the road. She watched her negotiate the traffic then turned to see her stride into the café. Together, from opposite sides of the room,  they raised their hands in greeting. Mel ordered a coffee, sat down and smiled. ‘Retirement suits you,’ she said.

She thinks again about what she’s lost and what she’s gained and smiles. ‘Tell me, how are things are at the mad house?’ she says, and they laugh. Coffee_cafe




Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Goldilocks and the Golden Rule

Once upon a time there was a little girl who walked into a cottage, ate a bowl of porridge, broke a chair and slept in a stranger’s bed. Were these acts ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Can we call her a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ child? Is it possible to use a child’s fairy tale to discuss questions of morality and ethics? Those of you who are aware of my interest in Goldilocks won’t be surprised to find that’s exactly what this post will attempt to do.

First of all, morality and ethics are not the same thing. Morality describes how people behave, what they do. We tend to believe people are either moral or immoral or, to put it a better way, we label their actions as right or wrong.  Ethics is a branch of philosophy that studies moral conduct. It examines and proposes theories about the nature of right or wrong. This mostly consists of claiming there are a set of universal moral standards that can and should operate across time and through different cultures (in other words, morals are not based on opinion, feelings or fashion). This means, when Goldilocks entered the cottage unbidden, stole food and damaged property her actions, given the long held belief that stealing is wrong, were immoral.

On the other hand, some people claim there are no enduring moral standards; ideas about right and wrong should be based on context, they are relative to a specific time, place and culture. This is known as relativism and it means what is wrong in one time, place and set of circumstances, is acceptable in different circumstances. In this case we could assert that if Goldilocks was, for instance, a refugee and she went into the Bears’ cottage seeking food, comfort and safety, her behaviour was both right and good. There is also the ‘middle road’ where certain moral standards are accepted as universal but are selected and applied according to individual situations. In this case Goldilocks’ behaviour may breach accepted moral standards if she can demonstrate breaking the chair, for example, was an accident.

Moral standards are usually conceived and sanctioned by religious authorities, the law and public opinion, although one’s conscience also plays a big part in making moral decisions. The main goal of developing a set of moral standards is to ensure every member of society is happy and secure. We choose to behave morally, or otherwise, according to our motives, why we want to do something; how we achieve that goal, the means; the possible consequences of our actions and how we believe others will judge our behaviour. If we apply this to Goldilocks we could assume she was motivated by curiosity or, perhaps, by hunger. She didn’t exactly break in to the cottage, the door was unlocked, so maybe the means can be justified, but she did deprive the little bear of his breakfast and break his chair. The Bears’ growls certainly indicated the consequences of her actions upset them (although one wonders what would have happened if they’d let her sleep and once she awoke, helped her find her way home).

But what if you were one of the Bears, Baby Bear for instance? I am far from perfect; I believe none of us are perfect. This does not stop me, however, from feeling unsettled when forced to deal with another person’s moral indiscretion, particularly when they impact on me. I try my best not to judge others and I’m aware of the contradiction of failing to accept another’s imperfections while blithely countenancing my own, but if I were Baby Bear and my chair were broken, what would I do?

plato When issues such as this arise, I turn towards those wiser than me: usually the great philosophers.  Plato was definitely not a relativist; he believed there were a set of objective, universal values regardless of individual circumstances, personal experience or changing conditions. If I were Baby Bear I believe Plato would tell me Goldilocks put her perceptions of the situation ahead of these universal truths and therefore her actions were wrong. Goldilocks, in this case, should have, for the good of all, ignored the needs of her body and overlooked her personal goals.

Aristotle might advise Goldilocks to use logic; following her desires is less important than being virtuous. There is, he believes, a middle path between logical thought and personal yearnings. He would have counselled moderation and suggested Goldilocks wait until the Bears arrived home, as logic dictated they would. Yes, all this is a bit simplistic, but to summarise: Plato believes moral behaviour is dictated by a set of clear cut eternal principles we can follow (although he agreed there are other, more personal sets of values that confuse us when we’re making moral decisions). For Aristotle moral behaviour was the result of reason or sound, logical judgement. Aristotle_02

Back to my moral dilemma. If I judge another’s behaviour as immoral am I being authoritarian and shoring up a redundant set of moral beliefs that have held sway over numerous generations and across different cultures? If I condone the behaviour am I a relativist? What are the consequences of either position? If integrity means sticking to your moral values, is it appropriate for me to impose my moral standards on another person? How do we decide what is ‘right’ and why is it right? How do we decide a wrong has been done and what is the best way to react to wrong doing?

My parents weren’t religious; church and Sunday school was not part of my weekly routine when I was a child. They were, nevertheless, morally upright, reliable, trustworthy and generous people and they based this behaviour on one rule: ‘Do to another person only what you would like done to you.’ My father told me it was ‘The Golden Rule’ and said if I followed it I’d be okay.

Karen Armstrong has written numerous books about religion and God. Her Charter for Compassion builds on the Golden Rule, which I interpret to mean, ‘If what I do risks hurting another, then I will do my best to avoid that action, and I expect the other person will pay me the same courtesy.’

Ever since I was a little girl I have tried to follow my father’s advice. I have a steadfast commitment to fairness and equality for all of Earth’s creatures. As an adult I studied feminism which led me to studying different religions and spiritual traditions. In my later years I was drawn to philosophy. None of these studies contradicted the lesson I learned at my father’s knee but neither do they allow me to claim I am perfect or help me solve personal moral dilemmas.

My father’s lesson, my studies and my sixty plus years on the planet cannot stop me from feeling wronged and I am not immune from hurting others. When I am hurt, I want to ask, ‘Why would you do that to me?’ The answer might be, ‘Why not me?’ Why do I think I am I so special and can avoid being hurt? Other’s might tell me if my feelings are hurt that’s my problem, why let the actions of another bother me? It is impractical to expect everyone will treat me the way I would treat them, isn’t it? It’s not feasible to spend time with people who think and behave like me (although that’s, in fact, what all of us tend to do). On the other hand, maybe I am too trusting? But if I am, isn’t this because I want to be trusted?

What would Socrates have to say about this? He was a sceptic when it came to his own wisdom. He also believed asking questions like the ones above taught his students to think for themselves, rather than blindly accept the social and moral precepts of the day.

I think Socrates would encourage me to keep pondering. He’d ask me to think hard about why I am writing this post and the assumptions I’ve made about morality, ethics, my moral judgements and the actions of others. He’d insist I provide evidence for my reasoning, and I find alternative ways of looking at the issue. He’s right; despite what I have learned, the sum of my knowledge is limited although I try to do my best. If I condemn another’s actions, if I react with anger when another person fails to live up to what I now accept as my rather high moral standards, then I need to think harder about how I arrived at those moral values. I also need to show compassion to those who hurt me. On the other hand, if another person’s moral turpitude makes me miserable, then do I owe it to myself to at least address the issue? I can’t undo the past or control the future, but I have it in my power to prevent another’s actions from reflecting on, or hurting, me. But is that a selfish act?

Socrates is right, I need to think harder.Socrates

What do you think? Is there a place for moral relativism or is Plato right?  Is there a middle ground, one that lets Goldilocks off the hook? Can Socrates’ endless questions help resolve my conundrum or should I, like Goldilocks, find myself a comfy bed, close my eyes and dream?



A Moment More: The Challenge of Hint Fiction

At the end of March I posted three pieces of flash fiction (or, as I like to call it, ‘hint fiction’) and provided a short description of what hint fiction is. I’ve since found this article, which also describes the genre. Some of the books listed at the end of Laura I. Millar’s article, particularly the Margaret Atwood book, may be of interest to writers and readers who want to explore flash fiction.


In her comments on my post, my friend Calen, from Impromptu Promptlings and Peculiar Ponderings said:

I’ve read an awful lot of flash fiction on the blogs. I’m still kind of scratching my head about the whole trend. More often than not I want the stories to go on.

I replied that,

I also like stories that make me want more, but I’m going to take your comment as a challenge. I know you didn’t mean to challenge me but I’ll try to write a micro story that doesn’t leave its reader feeling as if they’ve missed something.

So, Calen, here it is. I tried to write it in the spirit of flash, or hint, fiction as well as fulfil requirements set out long ago to a very adventurous young woman by the name of Alice:

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, very gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

RIMG0165 Hit Send

(A short, short story for Calensariel)

The door to her study had been left open and the air was icy. She shut the door, placed the cup of hot coffee next to the laptop, switched the heater on and sat heavily in the second-hand office chair. She took a deep breath, opened the file, and began to type.

Three hours later she picked up the coffee cup and took a tentative sip; the coffee, of course, was cold.

Two more hours passed before she finally hit ‘send’. Trembling slightly, she leant back in the chair and sighed. ‘Time for another cup of coffee,’ she said, though there was no one to hear her.

It was spring when the email arrived. She found it difficult to understand and had to read it several times.

When her husband arrived home he was greeted with champagne on ice, salmon steaks, a green salad and home made chocolate mousse. He also noticed the polished gleam of the refilled whisky decanter set next to the candles and the vase of Irises on the sideboard. He turned to her. ‘What’s this?’ he asked.

She beamed at him, unable to speak. It took several moments before he understood. ‘The publisher? They contacted you?’

His whoop was heard by their young neighbours who, momentarily alarmed, muted the television. When they realised it was only the strange couple next door, laughing and hollering fit to burst, they switched the sound back on and turned up the volume.


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Embracing Solitude

Could you live the eremitic life, either in the Christian meaning of the word, or in the secular sense?

In both religious and secular literature, the eremitic life is lived by a ‘hermit’, a person who, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, lives in solitude as a part of a religious discipline, or who intentionally shuns society.

AnchoressThe  female equivalent of a hermit is the anchoress. In my first post I mentioned Robyn Cadwallader’s début novel, set in 1255, about a young woman, Sarah, who is walled into a cell nine by seven paces, and these are the paces of a slight girl, where she intends to spend the rest of her life. After many difficulties, both internally and externally generated, Sarah  adjusts to her life as an anchoress. She is not entirely isolated, however. From her cell she ministers to the women of her local village, playing a small but vital part in the life of the people who live close to the church where she is immured.

Hermits are generally reclusive, solitary, characters found in all religious traditions. The modern image of a hermit is of an ascetic or eccentric elder, alone on a mountain or in a forest, meditating, growing their own vegetables and bothering no one. Hermit_maleA quick Google search revealed this image to be only partially true, particularly in the case of Sister Rachel Denton who stays in touch with the world via Facebook and Twitter.

I’m not sure I want to become a hermit, but the solitude, the extended stretches of time and the ability to decide for oneself how to spend that time is very appealing. How would I fill my days? Writing, of course. I’d make up for lost time, pumping out as many stories as possible. Then there is reading; the cliché that there are too many books and too little time is spot on. My to-be-read pile of books will probably outlive me. I’d walk every day, not power walking but strolling, being present to birdsong, to the  gentle chuntering of the leaves as they respond to their conductor, the wind.  I’m also of an age to reflect on my life, to weigh and measure my accomplishments and forgive my failures. I’d also meditate. I’d silence the inner chatter, breathe, honour and refresh my neurons and soothe the synaptic clefts tucked away in my brain.

Is the eremitic life a selfish life?  Hermit_femaleThat’s like asking if awakening the inner self is a selfish act, for in a sense that’s what hermits are exposed to, their inner self. They might study devotional tracts or scriptures, they might nourish the land they live on but when the sun sets, their companion of choice is the being who was with them at the beginning and will be there at the very last: the voice in their head; their consciousness; their inner being. It takes, I believe, a certain kind of courage to deeply and honestly connect with one’s self. What we find is a complicated, seething consciousness: complex and simple; wise and foolish; generous and selfish; peace loving and aggressive; kind and cruel; honest and corrupt; decisive and irresolute; knowledgeable and pudding headed and all things in-between. How many of us are willing to risk knowing who we really are?

Right now, I’d settle for one or two days of solitude a week. I’ve already confronted many inner weaknesses and faults, even accommodated and embraced a couple of them, though I am positive there are more lurking within. I’d willingly turn off the television, the radio and the internet and be with my self. Nor would I worry about being selfish because I think knowing and accepting one’s self is the first step to knowing and accepting  others. After all, if we can live with the madness and glory that is the self, then spending time with our loved ones should be simple. For now, however, I am satisfied with Emerson’s recommendation:

Solitude is impracticable, and society fatal. We must keep our head in the one and our hands in the other. The conditions are met if we keep our independence, yet do not lose our sympathy.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Solitude and Society, 1857

I have my small sanctuary, a physical space where I write, but as most writers know it’s the space in one’s head that must be nurtured. I am slowly creating that inner space, a mental mountaintop where I withdraw and nourish the word-smith within.

Do you want more time with yourself? Do you want to devote your day to the scriptures or to similar works of the learned and wise? What do you need to know that a few day’s solitude might reveal? Would you remove yourself from the madding crowd and listen to the inner voice?