Write My Life

Alongside my new venture as a life coach, I have decided to realise another ambition – setting up a service to capture people’s life stories. At school I remember being fascinated by the stories I read about the soldiers in the world wars, and their families. As the years passed, with each world war memorial service it struck me as sad that eventually all of the soldiers who fought in the wars would be gone, and their stories with them.

Closer to home, I have often found myself wishing I knew more about my own family’s history, so that I can tell my children and grandchildren (God willing) about it. We so often spend time with our parents, aunts and uncles without ever really uncovering who they were before we came along. Of course it’s natural that the younger generations grow up and usurp the family’s attention, but wouldn’t it be nice to capture the older relatives’ experiences, first hand, for future generations to discover? My goal in setting up this service is to do just that – to immortalise the stories of loved ones.

So if you have a loved one whose story you would like committed to paper, or if you would like your own story told, do get in touch. In the early stages of setting up the service I will be offering free stories in exchange for (hopefully positive!) testimonials on my website. So let’s begin…

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Why Life Can’t Always Be Fun

Discipline is not my friend. She never was. When the class was lining up against the wall at the end of break time (clap, clap, clap went the teacher’s hands), I was knee down in the dirt digging up sticks to light my imaginary witch’s cauldron (I’m not a witch, to clarify, that was just a phase – one of many).

Imagination was my friend. She painted rainbows in my mind every day. She was both distraction and muse. Sometimes she shone so bright a light upon me that it radiated out of my pores, rendering me translucent. Other times she disappeared like in a game of hide and seek that only she was playing.

Years passed. Despite our differences, Discipline held onto my coat tails as Imagination danced around me. Both persevered, in their own inimitable way. But there was a new player in the game.

Fun was shiny and bouncy and new. She knew exactly what she wanted, and would stop at nothing to get it. She laughed in the face of Discipline, who was always far too serious. She toyed with Imagination, in the way a cat will play with a fly – until it deems it time to eat it.

At some point Discipline gave up. Imagination, too, became tired of playing games that didn’t go anywhere. Fun took the wheel and drove. And for a while, things were just fine.

Now Fun is getting bored of driving, and Discipline and Imagination are nowhere to be found. I’m going to look them up on Friends Reunited. It’s time to make amends.

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Sink, Swim or Self-accept

Self acceptance is a wily old beast. I’ve been chasing it around for years with no success, lying in wait to ensnare it. But it’s always a step ahead, just out of reach. Tonight, though, I had a breakthrough. Because, just as it came barreling past me (as it is wont to do, teasingly), I reached out and grabbed its tail. Just for a second. I let go, obviously, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is I managed to touch it, to make it tangible and real.

Last week I wrote a list of all the things that make me feel guilty. It was long, with the obvious (obligatory) entries about health and diet and exercise. It also mentioned my penchant for a bit of crap TV from time to time, my lack of discipline to write and my lack of ambition.

This week work is ramping up. I’ve been given more responsibility, a new client and the chance to earn a promotion. I didn’t think I was ambitious, yet all of a sudden I feel hungry for it. In two days I’ve racked up several hours of overtime, but instead of feeling downbeat, put upon and weary, I feel calm, confident, happy. Why? Because I realised earlier that it is possible to just let things go; to not worry about coming home late, eating cake, not having time for the gym, not writing, occasionally watching something crap on TV (once in a while, I’m not advocating an unhealthy lifestyle, everything in moderation).

Almost none of the things I guilt over incessantly really matter. In fact, in those rare moments when my vision clears I realise that beneath the layers of guilt I am actually profoundly serene. The things on my to do list can wait until the weekend. I don’t have the mental capacity to worry about all of that as well as working this hard. I can’t do both. Or maybe I can, but I don’t want to. I choose not to. Because ultimately everything in life is a choice. And choosing to accept yourself, with all the foibles that make you who you are, is the best decision you can make.

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Tales from Elsewhere

Today is the launch day of Tales from Elsewhere, a collection of short stories which includes Hanuman, one of mine. Naturally I am excited that one of my stories has finally made it into print, especially as it’s probably the best one I have written to date. Beyond that, though, the anthology has a special place in my heart because it was conceived as the result of a wonderful weekend in the idyllic British countryside with a number of writerly friends. Prior to that weekend most of us had been only online acquaintances, but the stories we shared and the fun we had (trampolining and ghost stories, anyone?) ensured we would forever after share a special bond. Some of us are published, some of us not, but all have been part of a Facebook group for quite some years now, following each other’s progress and offering words of consolation and encouragement. It feels somehow fitting that the existence of our group has now taken a physical form, even if it only represents a handful of the fabulously talented folk who comprise the group as a whole. So anyway, that’s it really. A little yay to coax my writerly ambitions out of hiding and prod them back onto the path to success. If anyone is interested in buying a copy they can do so here. We also have a Facebook page and blog!

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Eating Frogs

My old boss used to say ‘time to eat the frog’ when talking about the thing on his to do list that most troubled him – you know, the one that lurks at the bottom, perpetually torturing you with its very existence, until it grows to toad-like proportions, usurping all other tasks. And he was right to eat the frog from time to time, because it’s funny how spending even the smallest amount of time on the things you ritually avoid can instill a sense of calm. Or maybe not so funny, given that procrastination is surely one of the greatest stressors of the modern world.

As a struggling writer (with the emphasis firmly on the ‘struggling’ and often barely on the ‘writer’) it baffles me no end that the things I routinely attempt to hide from are usually related to the one thing I claim to want to do the most. We humans are complex – read ‘stupid’ – creatures. Or maybe it’s just me. Plenty of writers do, after all, write. Many do so for a living. I just dabble part time (or, if I’m really honest, spend 90% of my time worrying about it and 10% actually doing it), and even that is enough to raise my anxiety levels to red. And, while we’re on the topic of anxiety, there’s another by-product of today’s western society, where we have the luxury of almost infinite choice, and yet are simultaneously paralysed by it. In short, we are ruined by our own hands. But then, of course, it’s not all bad. Things rarely are.

The key to not just surviving but thriving in this crazy life is, I’ve begun to realise, taking our feet off the gas pedals once in a while; flicking on the cruise control and acknowledging we can only do what we can do. I’m not advocating laziness, or complacency. But what personal experience over the last thirty three years has shown me is that when I put the most pressure on myself I usually perform the worst. Setting goals is great, but when those goals are metaphorically akin to climbing Everest, it’s unsurprising that it’s often hard to take even the very first step. In scaling back ambition – reigning it in just enough to make it achievable – it dissipates the feelings of anxiety and fear of failure that often stop us from beginning our journey in the first place.

By all means eat the frog – it will invariably make you feel much better. But don’t put so many frogs in your way you have to eat them all. Aside from anything else, it will give you terrible indigestion.

Disclaimer: No frogs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

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Banishing Self-Indulgence

Earlier today I wrote one of those typical woe is me blog posts, alluding to how hard everything felt, how lacking I was in inspiration etc. But before I posted it I stopped, my finger hovering over the mouse key, and asked myself: What good will it do to share this with the world? It may well be cathartic to get things off your chest, but haven’t you done that just by writing it? Don’t you feel a little lighter as it is? And you know what? I did feel lighter just for having written it. Much like a letter to an ex that never actually gets sent, I had expunged the negative emotions without the need to inflict them upon the world. So that was one thing that happened today.

Another thing that happened was my reading of this article, which can, I believe, be best surmised by the following excerpt:

“The 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

“We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”

I don’t know about you, but reading those two paragraphs struck a chord so deep within me that the hairs on my arms stood up of their own volition. Why? Because that person with no time to be ambitious outside work, who feels constantly dissatisfied in a way they struggle to articulate and who spends money they don’t have on ways to make themselves feel better: That person is me. And most likely also many of you. Of course (trust fund children aside) we have to work for a living (and in this respect with a four day week I can complain less than many about my lot), but it’s so true that outside work it takes (what often feels like) a superhuman effort to cultivate the kind of extracurricular activities that leave you feeling wholly satisfied and fulfilled.

But, that aside, the fact is that those with true talent and passion DO manage to make the most of the time they have, no matter how little it is. They don’t sit around complaining about being oppressed and enslaved by the organisations they work for, but rather work out ways to escape their clutches and create opportunities for work – and living – on their terms. Whether incarcerated by consumerism or not, we all have choices. And our choices are the difference between a life of success and a life of failure. Which is a pretty sobering thought.

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Doldrums and Reality Checks

Oh hello, Doldrums, I wasn’t expecting to meet you again quite so soon after our last underwhelming encounter. But here you are at every junction and fork in the road, my little friends the inner critic and the procrastination monkey sitting stoically by your side.

So, what’s it to be this time, Doldrums? Because you really have done the not-good-enough theme to death now. What’s that? Oh, you’re playing the even-if-you-were-good-enough-so-are-loads-of-others card. I see. At least you’re showing some originality for once. Top marks for that.

Yes, I suppose you’re right, Doldrums, there are a great many talented writers out there who are already taking a slice of the pie, and the laws of physics (or maths? I never was good at those subjects) would decree the pie is getting smaller. And yes, it’s probably also true to say that – talent or no talent – my chances of getting anywhere near the pie in the first place are slim.

But you know what, Doldrums? I just read a news headline about a girl who is dying of cancer at 29. So whilst there is breath in my thirty three year old body I will NOT give up on this dream of mine-despite what you, my critic and my monkey might do to try and change my mind. Until next time…

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