The (Shy And) Retiring Type…

A few days ago, I made the decision to retire from my present job.

It is something I have been brooding over for some while, and having a little time and space to think while I walked on Dartmoor last week enabled me to finally accept a decision I had really come to some time before.

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For a long time I have instructed groups in an outdoor environment, in activities such as climbing, canoeing, navigation and team building. As I have got older, though, I have naturally found these activities both physically and mentally more demanding. After all, when you are responsible for people’s safety as well as teaching them skills, there is an added pressure on everything you do.

A number of other stresses in my life over the last year or so have not helped, especially as they are still ongoing.

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So as well as a sense of regret, there is certainly a great feeling of relief. Regret, because I have had a huge amount of both pleasure and satisfaction from this work, which has carried me through those times when I felt it was becoming all too much, but relief that now it is time to call it a day, as I have reached the point where I know I cannot carry on for much longer.

I love being in an outdoor environment. It is why I choose to go to hills and woods and mountains rather than towns and cities, and this was instrumental in my deciding to teach these activities in the first place. But the obverse of that coin is that so often I am unable to really enjoy being there, since I am entirely focused on my group and the activities – which is how it should be, of course.

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One thing I shall look forward to, then, is being able to enjoy that environment every time I am there, without constantly having to check everyone is safe, or ensuring the activities are taking place as they should be.

While I intend to bring a greater focus to my writing, and also to my painting, I will also have to find something to bring in a little money for the next couple of years until I reach the state retirement age. I’ve no idea what that will be, yet.

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Essentially, I just feel burnt out. It is a very intensive job, in the way that care work, for example, can be, and I know it is the right time to go. Otherwise, there is the risk I will begin to run sessions that no one will want to take part in.

And that’s not the way I want it to finish. Far better that people should ask why I am going, than they should ask why I have not gone before now.

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Sound The Retreat!

My reader will probably not be too surprised to learn that I have been on retreats a couple of times.

After all, someone who gripes about the rush and noise and pressures of the modern world, and who has anxiety issues, tends to spend quite a lot of time yearning for silence and solitude. Because there are, quite frankly, times when everything just gets too much to cope with.

Obviously there are many ways this might be achieved; perhaps I could commit a serious crime and then misbehave in gaol – that would probably lead to a good long spell in solitary, although I can think of several reasons why this might not be the ideal solution.

I could lock myself in a room and refuse to come out – from experience, though, that just leads to unpleasantness and tears. It worked tolerably well when I was a child, but as an adult I can see why it might not look so good.

Whenever I get the opportunity I go for a long walk. Unfortunately, if it is near my home I tend to be surrounded by dogs and dog walkers – not that’s there’s anything wrong with them, I hasten to add, but it’s hardly peaceful. There are several dog owners around here whose voices can not only be heard several counties away because of the sheer volume, but can also smash windows by pitch alone. And I soon get back to roads and so-called civilisation, no matter which route I take.

Then there are lots of other walkers bellowing into mobile phones: ‘Yes, it’s lovely and peaceful out here! Now, let me just yell a few personal and private details at you and anyone else within earshot! What? Yes, I’m still a complete tosser! Why do you ask?’

Going further afield takes more time, and that’s no good if I need a quick fix of silence, so generally I’m stuck with the dog walkers and the tossers.

So, retreats. Other than the meaning of legging it from a superior military force, a retreat is defined as withdrawing to a quiet / peaceful place. There is also the implication of it being a place to indulge in contemplation.

Yes, that’s exactly what I had in mind. Don’t mind if I do.

My first retreat was at an abbey not terribly far from where I live. Although I am not a Christian, I enjoyed a short week of taking quiet walks in the grounds of the abbey and the countryside beyond, reading, rising early and taking a silent breakfast with the monks, and even attending one of the services each day.

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Some of the time I spent painting watercolours which I have long lost. Since at least one was of foxgloves, here’s a photo of some just so you can imagine how incredibly good the paintings were!

The other retreat was in the North of England, and consisted of a week-long period of meditation with a Buddhist group. This was very hard work, but I did finish the week feeling refreshed.

Of course, it is perfectly possible to organise one’s own retreat by finding somewhere quiet and secluded and staying put for a week or however long one fancies (a year, perhaps?).

Perhaps I should do that soon.

A (Temporary) Farewell

I have decided to absent myself from WordPress World for a while.

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I frequently need to take a large step back from the world and give myself some time and space to re-charge my batteries, and also to think deeply about the importance I attach to whatever is going on in my life at the moment.

Those things that cause stress tend to assume a greater importance than they probably deserve to, while the things I do for my own pleasure tend to make me feel unreasonably guilty about giving them the time that others might want.

While there is so much going on, and so little time, I seem able to devote less and less of it to either writing blogs or following others. I have noticed I am leaving far fewer comments, and tending to skim read far more than I used to.

Clearly, I need a break.

But while I am doing that, I mean to write a number of blog posts without feeling under pressure to finish them by some sort of deadline, so that when I reappear I might have something to post that is worth reading.

Hopefully, I will be able to make progress on my book, short stories and poems.

And the odd painting or two.

See you later.

Some Flower Paintings

All poppies, in fact.

Since the weather is so miserable outside, it seemed a good idea to inject some colour into my life. Or into my blog, anyway.

I hope you enjoy them.

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Poppy #1. Acrylic on board. Size: 11ins x 14ins.

poppies and daisies

Poppies and Daisies. Acrylic on Board. Size: 18ins x 24ins.

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Poppies. Acrylic on board. Size: 24ins x 18ins.

New Year’s Essay, 2018

I rarely, if ever, make New Year’s resolutions. I feel that if there is something in my life that needs changing, then it should be addressed straight away, rather than leaving it until an arbitrary date in the future. Of course, for many people it acts as a focus or some other incentive to change old habits, although witness the number of gym memberships that never get used beyond, say, the end of January, and it becomes obvious that what many people need to change most is their resolve.

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Possibly jumping the gun a little with this photo…

As an introvert, I am very curious to know whether much of my behaviour is conditioned by my being that, or whether it is my behaviour that causes my introversion in the first place. It’s probably a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, of course, with both applying equally. My introversion is surely driven by those elements of anxiety, my inferiority complex and the depression I’ve always lived with, and, in turn, those things will be reinforced by my chosen introverted lifestyle.

But we are complex creatures. Like Harry Haller in Hermann Hesse’s excellent novel Steppenwolf, each one of us consists of many different personalities. Our characters will be made up of a mixture of the cultivated soul, the wild, untamed soul (the ‘wolf of the steppes’ in Hesse’s book), the dancer, the monk, the shopaholic, the miser…all those elements will be there to a greater or lesser degree. And alongside the Introvert exists also the Extrovert, even if this personality is rather repressed in my case. It is all a matter of balance.

It seems much worse in the winter, too. I am certain I am affected by SAD; it seems entirely logical that I should feel low when the weather is cold and grey and bleak, and perk up when the sun comes out. Perhaps we all do.

Yesterday, the weather was the pits. Cold, grey, and bleak, with added showers of freezing cold rain and a wind that cut through me like a knife. I really felt like crap. But today, I walked out under a clear blue sky, a bright sun glinting off the puddles and the grass rippling in a mild, gentle breeze. These are the moments I need to seize; to wrestle my soul back from the darkness. The moments I need to shake off the black dog and point myself towards the little things I can do to lift myself.

I remind myself that I have a published book that people have been nice about, therefore not all my writing is meaningless drivel. I have sold many paintings, and a lot of people have enthused over them. I can paint, and I don’t need to destroy them all. Family and friends do matter, and they do care about me. There will be warm, sunny days and expeditions.  There will be walks and bottles of wine shared. There will be wonderful books to read and interesting places to visit.

And so, I resolve to fight that bastard black dog for another year.

A Poem With A Very Long Title

This is another poem from my notes from some twenty five years ago.

Walking Out Into The Country At Nightfall In Winter Whilst Heavily Pissed Off With Life In General Probably Caused By Artist’s Block

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(Painting: Evening #1. Pastels on paper)

Grey clouds in salmon

– Reflected worlds!

Woodlands and valleys, rivers glow

Like magma.

My mood, dulled and burred,

Perceives…

Reluctantly. Stubbornly.

Between shakes of the head,

I see Turner setting up his easel

And painting frantically, dementedly…

Bleary eyed – look!

It has gone now!

Cold green and bluey pale,

Washes in and out

And blurs

Grey

Me

Sky.

A Poem – Moon

Moon

With the click of the door closing,

The laughter and the clink of glasses

Has faded,

Evaporated,

and left…

…nothing.

 

I face the shadowed lawn,

In tidal grey and scattered silver.

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Pulling my collar up, and,

Pushing my hands down,

Deep into my pockets,

I crunch down the driveway

As if crushing ice cubes beneath my feet,

Until I reach the street, long emptied and dark,

And now shuttered.

 

And stop.

 

Around me,

A sharp silence swirls

Like my misty breath;

A press of ghosts at an invisible bar.

 

Then looking up,

Through frosted glasses,

I see a perfect slice of lemon moon

In a cold, gin-clear sky.

And I laugh.

 

I will be away all next week, but I’ll reply to any comments before then and, of course, when I return.

Monsoon

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Monsoon – 18ins x 24ins , Acrylic on board.

I painted this a long time ago.

Although I have been caught up in a few very heavy downpours in India, I have never been there during the monsoon. And I was reminded of that a day or two ago while having an online conversation with another blogger.

It is something that I would like to experience, sometime. In India, it is an exciting, a very welcome time – after the temperature has been steadily climbing for months, and everywhere is dry and parched, the rains finally arrive to cool the air, and the earth bursts into life.

Everyone rejoices!

But westerners avoid it. Why go to India during the monsoon, just to get wet? is the general feeling.

Yet I have a yearning to witness it, and to use it in my writing, too. To write…take photos…paint…

And just to experience it!

A Poem – ‘Glamour’

Every time I post a poem I insist I don’t write many; that’s it’s not really my forte. And yet, I still write them, despite my doubts.

Although I consider myself a fiction writer, and a writer of short and long stories to be a little more precise, I love poetry. I love its conciseness, its ability to paint pictures and tell stories without telling stories. I feel it is closer to painting than other forms of creative writing.

So here is another offering, called ‘Glamour’.

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Sun-bed ravaged skin dry flaking and decaying,

Masked by layers of painted make-up.

She sets the wig straight with faltering hands,

Since the bloody thing has slid over her eyes again

For the umpteenth time!

Now takes a deep breath,

Then

Checks herself in the mirror across the room,

Turning her head painfully this way a little,

And then that…

‘Shit, I guess that’ll have to do.’

Both hands shaking, she lights a last, final, cigarette,

And,

Her lips pursed and cracking,

She expels the smoke with a wheezing sigh,

And coughs,

One eye still on her reflection.

Then leans back awkwardly against the pillows,

And turns slowly towards the nurse.

‘Do I look good?’ She rasps.

‘Yeah.’

The nurse nods.

‘You look good.’

Welcome to my Crisis!

I’ve been hiding from the internet.

No, I didn’t go away, unfortunately, although a holiday was what I both have been and am still craving. I made a rash promise some weeks ago to put up a Facebook Author page, to do a minor relaunch of my novel, and to serialise a bawdy Elizabethan detective story. Really, I should know myself better than that.

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I think it was the short story that finally broke me.

Writing, for me, is a pleasure, comparable to painting. It is all about crafting the finished product, taking my time and eventually producing the best I can. When all goes well, the process is immensely satisfying from beginning to end.

Within that process, of course, there are times of writer’s block, false starts and finishes, wrong turnings, and many other things to go wrong. And the editing can be an infuriating process. But overall, there needs to be a flow.

Making Friends with the Crocodile worked for me at the length it was (45,000 words), since I wrote it almost as a stream of consciousness as the story unfolded in my mind. It came out in a rush partly because of its importance to me, and partly because I found I could visualise the characters, the story and the setting clearly. Once I had reached the end, I knew that was the end.

Obviously, many stories take a lot more coaxing to get down on paper. I’ve struggled with ones that need to be forced, certainly in places, partly because at that point they are not ‘me’ at the heart of them; I have lost that flow. But sometimes because of the length.

One reason I stopped entering short story competitions is I write a lot of long short stories. I am perfectly aware of the dictum that whatever you write can be edited down to the required length and that, indeed, they should be edited down.

But I also strongly believe that when a story presents itself to be written, that story has an internal length that needs to be respected, even after editing. Some require a few hundred words, some a lot more. But to attempt to turn Making Friends with the Crocodile into a 120,000 word novel or a 5.000 word short story, I am sure would have meant a lesser read. It would have been padded out for the sake of it, or stripped down to bare bones that would have meant that the characters could not have been drawn as strongly as I wanted them to be, and therefore encouraged less empathy from the reader.

Where is all this leading?

I began the short story / serial. It was working quite well, and I had a good few chuckles to myself as I was writing it and then, suddenly, it was almost 10,000 words long and nowhere near finished.

Oh dear.

So I attempted to cram and trim and edit and get it down to a suitable length for serialisation, but I was not happy with the result. Oh no. And I had one of my minor panic-I-can’t-cope-stress attacks and decided the only way to deal with it was to hide.

So, I’m not going to serialise it after all. I will finish it, but the attempt to condense it into a few instalments simply wasn’t working, and what I ended up with felt completely wrong. I will return to it at some point in the future, and finish it as the novella that it clearly is.

There is another strand to all this:

I made the Facebook Author page. That was the easy bit, and I’ll show you where it is next time. And I put together the re-launch promotion piece by the simple expedient of gathering together extracts from lots of the kind reviews the book has had.

But I am in a state of recurring panic, once again, over this huge need to self-promote to sell books. Of course, we all want to, but we are forever urged to use this or that platform, accept this or that offer, etc. Now, we are told that we ‘must’ have a YouTube channel. Really? And a presence on all sorts of social media. Are we not ‘serious’ writers if we are not prepared to move heaven and earth to sell a couple of extra books? That we should ‘invest’ a hundred or five hundred dollars here and there to advertise ourselves?

I have sold a few, and what is really important to me is the tremendous feedback that I’ve had.

Blowing my own trumpet is anathema to me, as I have written in the past. I just can’t do the selling and marketing the way that seems to be presented as essential. It’s an aspect of life that I hate, and a reason I have never gone into ‘business’. Everything around the promotion and marketing just seems relentless and is something that I cannot cope with.

Fortunately, I am not interested in fame. The idea frightens me.

And I really struggle with social media. I have had two goes at being on Facebook, and cope with it at the moment by not going on it very much. I spent ages trying to see the use of Linkedin, and have solved that one by closing my account last week. I really see no use for it.

And I am not doing Twatter.

So here I am back on WordPress, which is a platform I do enjoy. I’ll dip in and out of it a bit over the next few weeks or months, I suspect, since I still feel a bit panicky, but I will be there.

Thank you for your patience!