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.

nofun

Happy endings

I was planning on writing a woefully self-indulgent post about feeling old and past it but after returning from running club with endorphins pumping through my ancient veins I’ve had a change of heart – which means that you, dear reader, will be spared (on this occasion at least). Instead, I’d like to discuss the phenomenon of the TV drama – or, to be more specific, the TV drama with no definitive ending.

What do I mean by ‘no definitive ending’? Let me take you back in time…Remember Lost? The first series had everyone rapt. What would happen to the plane crash survivors and just what was the secret of the spooky island that they’d crash landed onto? The second series toyed with our sense of credibility and stretched the boundaries of our imaginations but, like true fans, we stuck with it. Then came the third series, and with it events so random and ridiculous it made it hard to persevere – which is why I didn’t. Soon after I discovered the scriptwriters had no idea how the story was going to end, and suddenly it fell into place why my faith had deserted me faster than the inhabitants of Lost’s fictional island.

So now we’ve got to the crux of the matter: Do even the best TV dramas suffer when the people writing them don’t know where they’re heading any more than the viewers? My instinctive reaction is yes, because I like to be able to place my faith in the writers for a dramatic and exciting conclusion. If they don’t know what that conclusion’s going to be it takes something away from that trust, even if they’re the best scriptwriters in the world.

Another example is the recent French TV drama, The Returned. I watched every episode avidly and was gutted when the series came to an end. When I went online to find out when the second series would air, however, I stumbled across an interview with the scriptwriters who confessed that they, like the writers of Lost, weren’t actually sure what the next series would hold, or how the story would ultimately end. I felt let down, and whilst I will still watch the second series in the hope it will be just as strong as the first, I can’t deny I’ll watch it with a more cynical eye.

It should perhaps then follow that I would feel equally as disappointed to learn that authors of books don’t know how they’re going to end. Only I don’t, because as a writer I know that sometimes even the best planned stories can take crazy and unforeseen turns, with the final outcome a million miles away from the initial concept. So why does it bother me in TV dramas? I just can’t answer that. I just know it does. And it makes makes me feel, well, a bit…

Foodie

This evening I’ve offered to go and cook dinner for my best friend, who has been in plaster from her ankle to her thigh for the past few weeks with a hairline fracture (and who, as an aside, lives on the third floor of a building with no lift-bad enough without a heat wave, unimaginably horrible with one).

After a few post-work Pimm’s with colleagues the conversation turned to what I planned to cook for the aforementioned dinner. Clearly given that a) it’s already 7.10pm as I write this and b) my kitchen capability may be marginally impaired due to having imbibed several glasses of Pimm’s prior to the act of cooking, it needs o be something simple-most probably a stir fry almost identical to the one I’ve been eating for dinner every night so far this week.

This lack of culinary imagination leaves me feeling that I’ve let myself down. I wouldn’t say I’m a good cook but, provided I have a recipe in my hand I’d say I am at least a competent one. The problem is I’ve grown lazy, and at the end of a long day I tend to revert to type and cook whatever comes to mind most readily instead of taking time to consider a more exciting option.

I’m hoping beyond all hope that when I  move into my new pad next week I will take the time to reignite my passion for creativity in the kitchen, because once I start I often find it very therapeutic. As with so many other things in life it’s all about getting into a routine that after a while feels completely normal instead of feeling like an effort.

Put simply, it’s time to ditch the packet noodles and branch out into more exciting fare. Life may well be too short to stuff a mushroom, but it won’t kill me to stuff the odd pepper once in a while.

Past Post: Story Time (re-posted from yesterday due to technical issues!)

It’s almost seven when I pull the front door closed behind me and hear its reassuring click. If it could speak it would be telling me I’m safe, nothing can harm me now. Let’s pretend, it would continue, that the outside world never even existed. Just for tonight, let’s pretend.

My brown Italian leather bag slides off my shoulder and lands in a crumpled but delicate heap on the floor. I kick off my shoes and walk down the hall into the kitchen, sniffing the lemon-scented air. The sheets are hung, the draining rack emptied. The cleaner has been.

I cook on autopilot, chopping peppers and chilis, throwing them into a frying pan and watching as the yellow flame laps hungrily at its base. I leave it unattended as I go to run a bath, catch sight of my reflection in the bathroom mirror and wince. The day is etched on my face with alarming clarity.

This is my fourth consecutive stir fry, I realise as I swallow the last overcooked morsel of Quorn, flick off the banal television programme I was barely even watching and take my bowl into the kitchen to wash up. I run the water for too long, watch as the soapy suds spill over the bowl and into the pan beneath. I refill the draining rack, dry my hands. As I walk past the fridge I stop, consider a glass of wine, then think again.

My mind is racing as I sink beneath the surface of the water. I lie there motionless, like a hippo in a watering hole, watching as the steam rises up and curls around and back in on itself.

I know it’s time, and yet I hardly dare entertain the thought of doing what I’m about to do.

I drain the bath, pat my hair dry with a towel and slip into my fluffy robe and slippers, padding softly down the hall into my bedroom. For a fleeting moment I entertain the thought of putting on mascara, lipstick, perhaps even a touch of blusher, but then dismiss the idea as ridiculous. What would be the point?

The bedroom door scratches across carpet, then clicks into place like the last piece of a jigsaw. I turn the key softly in the lock, dim the light. I pick up the box of matches on the bedside table, strike one and light the candles. The room is filled with dancing shadows and the cloying scent of vanilla. It tickles my throat and makes me nauseous. Or is it the fear that makes me nauseous?

I bury the fear in the pit of my stomach and kneel down, reaching underneath the bed for the box and stroking its walnut veneer as I pull it out. Questions rise up within me like a volcanic eruption. I suppress all but one. What if?

My hand is shaking as I turn the ancient key in the lock. It opens with a serpent’s hiss and I swallow hard. I know what’s coming. It’s judgement day.

I lift the lid and suddenly the air is flooded with a heady combination of dust and profanity.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re playing at?”

“We could have died in there!”

“Cooped up like that all this time – it’s worse than prison!”

A bubble of relief rises up inside me and I laugh.

“Well that’s just brilliant! Now look at her – she’s laughing at us!”

 I look down at dishy doctor Dan, standing proud in his starched white coat, arms folded across his chest as he glowers at me with all the square jawed impudence he can muster. From behind him Tess steps into view, her blonde hair tumbling down over her shoulders like a waterfall. She echoes her husband’s defiant pose.

“Look,” I begin with a shrug, searching their tiny faces for some glimmer of forgiveness but finding none, “I’m sorry, okay?”

“Well maybe sorry isn’t enough this time,” comes a shrill voice from the far side of the box. I search out its owner, unsure after all this time of to whom it belongs. My eyes, adjusted to the candle light, alight upon a slender figure clad in a silk kimono cocktail dress.

“Jacqueline, my favourite villain,” I say, my smile filled with genuine warmth.

“Don’t favourite villain me,” she sniffs, keeping her steely gaze on mine. “Where were you?”

I lower my hand into the box. She regards it with the cool conviction of the criminal mastermind that I know her to be, then steps up onto it. I lift her up until she is level with my eyes.

“I am sorry,” I say again, conscious that my words are scant consolation after what I have put her through – what I have put them all through. “Really, I am. It’s just that, well, life got in the way.”

I scan the sea of tiny faces, feeling the warm familiar glow of recognition as each one comes into focus. Lithe-limbed Amelia, purple-haired Clarice, kind-hearted Albert. How could I have left them for so long? What was I thinking?

“Well come along then,” Jacqueline snaps suddenly, wrenching me from my reverie. I look at her, my eyes unfocused, and blink uncomprehendingly. “Put me down,” she hisses. I do as she says.

“Right,” says Albert, stepping forward from the assembly line, his walking stick tapping on the bottom of the box as a wide grin spreads over his weathered old face. “I think it’s about time you picked up where you left off, don’t you?”

I smile back, and a cheer erupts from the tiny crowd beneath me. My crowd. My characters. It’s story time.

The Disney Princesses were my first literary loves, so they had to feature in this post..

A new chapter

Something’s happening; thus far just the gentle flickering of thoughts and ideas, licking my prefrontal cortex like kindling flames that are yet to take and start a proper fire.

But I can feel it, even though it’s been so long since I last did I’d never mistake the signs: My creativity’s returning. Like a little mouse that scurried into a hole beneath the floorboard some time ago, who’s remained hidden but only just out of reach, and who is now ready to emerge, blinking in the light, and play.

A novel is brewing, the myriad components swirling around in my mind like a witch’s brew in a mystical cauldron. I can’t control them – not yet – I have to wait while they take shape, every now and then pausing to make a note when the cauldron spits something out, decreeing it ready to be consumed. But they are unmistakably, perceptibly, joyously there.

I don’t know what will come of this long-awaited phase of imagination, nor do I know what can be attributed to its generation. Has my daily blogging finally paid off and kick-started the process of creation as I hoped it would? Or was it New York with its wonderful sights and sounds, and the even more wonderful friend I visited there who is herself writing a novel (I think this option most likely, as seeing her eyes light up talking about her plot and characters reminded me of the joy of creation, which I think somehow along the way I had forgotten)?

Whatever the reason, I’m delighted this is happening, whatever ‘this’ is. I’m happy to be patient, to jot down notes – the odd key word or character trait as it comes to me – and I’m confident soon all will be revealed. The planets are aligning, the jigsaw pieces falling into place.

Soon I shall begin.

Putting theory into practice

Tonight I unintentionally put Professor Daniel Gilbert’s theory (which I mentioned in yesterday’s Bea article about happiness) into practice. Having woken up with a sore throat I spent the whole day feeling increasingly less keen to go to my first running club session after work. As the day progressed I thought of every excuse under the sun to not have to go. The front runner (if you’ll excuse the pun) was the fact I felt worse after running 3k at the gym last night, so running 8k outside would almost certainly make me more ill. Fortunately my sensible Twitter followers coerced me by citing the ‘below the neck’ rule, and as my lurgy was most definitely above the neck I decided I had run out of excuses and would give the run a try (I can’t deny the scone and slice of cake consumed at a colleague’s leaving do in the afternoon was also a contributing factor to my need to exercise).

I digress. So how did I put Professor Gilbert’s theory into practice, exactly? Well, I did the run, and at the end of it I thought how much I had enjoyed it and how glad I was to have done it. I even wondered why I’d made such a big deal of it and spent so long trying to talk myself out of going. What Professor Gilbert would no doubt say about this is that when imagining the run – in what was then my present – I was feeling unwell, and was only able to imagine doing the run whilst feeling unwell, which led to me overestimating how bad I would feel whilst actually doing it. As it turned out I felt much better by the time I started the run anyway, and so when the run became my present I was able to enjoy it far more than I had imagined.

Realising this has been a revelation. I’m actually rather stunned!

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I’m thinking of amending the ‘past post’ rule of this blog so that I occasionally post something I’ve written before, but it doesn’t have to be every week. I’m delighted to say I’m enjoying writing something new every day so much I’m finding I don’t want to post old pieces of work (most of which I’m now viewing with a more critical eye anyway and deciding they’re not up to scratch for publication).

Tomorrow’s the last day of January – one month done and still going strong! Who says New Year’s Resolutions are hard to keep?

Image

Here’s the image that comes to mind when I think about things that weren’t as bad as I imagined. I’d built myself up into a frenzy of worry when I did my first triathlon in 2009, but on the day of the event (as you can see in this pic) I quite enjoyed it! Bar the swimming. I bloody hated that part.