Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Summer time malaise? Time for black out curtains and a kind word.

I have been a bit remiss with my blog posts this past few weeks. Blame it on the summer!

The Off-Spring are awake later and later every night. As my avid readers would have gathered by now, I am a strict believer in bedtime. 8.15pm is about my limit, and that is a 30 minute extension to the winter time cut-off.  By 8.30 I want the three boys well on their way to the land of nod, lavender on the pillows to soothe them on their journey, story told or read and teeth brushed and polished. Yet, most nights now I am just settling into "my work" at 9pm when a little voice chimes out or a little face appears. Number 3 seems to be having a growth spurt and seeks more food after lights out and the last kiss is blown (and the last threat delivered). Number 2 then slinks up the stairs to my pseudo office space (one end of the living room sofa) to inform me that sleep eludes him. This can be up to 30-40 minutes after the third and final "be quiet and go to sleep or you will not be able to wake up in the morning and do good work and play well!". When finally silence is assured and no one needs attention, any creative urge, juice or energy I may have been about to summon an hour previously, is now evaporating like a tiny shred of vapour into the outer limits of the stratosphere and I find myself once more resorting to The West Wing reruns for company.

In itself this is not a bad way to spend my time.

But I had wanted to blog twice a week, so I feel disconnected with the process and worst of all - my thoughts - which for me was the truly amazing and delightful part of the whole blogging thing. Admittedly not much has happened lately so finding a topic is something of a challenge. Though, having said that, I do have a long list of potential topics stored in a draft blog somewhere behind the scenes here, so I suspect it a question of motivation and energy, plus squeezed time, rather than a lack of inspiration that is to blame for the parlous lack of output of late.

So what have I been doing with my time? As most of you know - time is elastic after all and we tend to make use of what we have somehow.

A Stocktake of why I am not delivering to Springgirl's timetable:

1. PTA chairmanship involves a lot of talking even before the role is assumed. I have been focussed on fund raising ideas for the Off-Spring's school for the next academic year. This involves political manoeuvres to quell discontent, build good will and engender support, while fact finding and information gathering.

2. Job hunting and attendant interviewing is a distraction. Needing to earn some cash (books and coaching do not a fortune make, alas) I am offering my services to law firms. I had thought that I should try them first since I am a lawyer. Who better to train, coach and teach lawyers than the only people they tend to respect - other lawyers. I am hopeful. Thankfully, living in London, exposes one to a huge market should none of the lawyers want me. My passion for engaging talent and developing leadership and potential will surely find a good home?

3. Attempting to create an e-book out of Tess and the Seaside Girl - a picture book I wrote last year and illustrated over Easter - languishing on my laptop for three months, is very time consuming for a non-Gen Y/ non-computer trained/non-geek. Tess is a lovely story and deserves to be told. Indeed, Tess has many more stories yet to tell. But if the seemingly insurmountable technical issues surrounding uploading, downloading, embedding fonts and finding a way to read a book online are allowed to get the better of me - the whole thing will have been in vain. Hence the need for a job. With a steady income I can pay someone more savvy and efficient than I, to do it for me!

4. But getting to know the character, Tess, was not in vain. Indeed, Time and Blog-motivation Depletion Factor 4 is the fact that she has been speaking to me a lot. No I am not bonkers, hearing voices and such. Rather I have been inspired to create a new website oriented towards women, the young at heart and anyone interested in wellbeing and enhancing their quality of life (all of us!) full of Tessisms and tips and hints for living a more Tessish way. Who is Tess, you ask? I will tell you soon, but not yet.

5. The West Wing - 14 episodes of Season 2 - stand between me and my last good blog post. The programme is the epitome of class and intelligent tv writing and is frankly, addictive. Why have I let it get the better of me now? I have watched it at least 4 times over - Love Film has me on their preferred and frequent borrower lists - and yet it never gets old. With the seasons of Good Wife and Brother and Sisters coming to a close, what was I to do?

6. A strange incapacity to blog during the day. I think this is partly due to creative energy being greatest when one is feeling the most relaxed and partly due to the day being filled with such lovely things that I hate to forego. I am free every day from 9 to 3 when the Off-Spring are at school and yet I manage to fill those 6 hours with chores and grocery shopping, gym and fitness, socialising and keeping in touch with/abreast of the world. It has to be said that Virgin Active have some amazing instructors and excellent classes and like The West Wing, it is hard to stop at just one some days. Indeed, pilates and aqua aerobics in deep water are incredibly therapeutic while toning and strengthening without causing perspiration. The fact they appeal to the older female members may also have something to do with it. 

7.  A sense of hiatus. Last week I was struck by a huge sense of grief concerning my mother's death 14 months ago. The reality that she is not just on a cruise or in intensive care (two handy delusions; I recommend them highly) has been hitting home. I still cannot comprehend it and the sense of loss is perhaps even greater now than it has ever been. I shall divert some time to the stages of grief (again) and see what might be lurking around the corner. The fact that I seem to have done denial for so long is a bit of a worry... But while a sense of loss or grief seems to come from nowhere it is not in fact a freak storm that no one could see on the horizon. One chooses to ignore the warning signs of course. One keeps the hatches battened down against the little breezes of sadness or malaise that blow through. Then suddenly in the middle of the gym floor while leg pressing some 50 kgs one is completely overcome with sorrow. Folk are funny.

8. Feedback. I have been chewing over some feedback on my book, "Spring to Mind" - or more accurately lack of feedback from certain quarters. I can attest that some of the comments made have humbled me and moved me immeasurably. One acquaintance told me she had to stop reading it on the tube due to the tears it was occasioning her. Another described the goosebumps she felt in certain bits. Another says it is her book of the year. The laughter and amusement it brought to my oldest friend buoys me still, as does her kind reviews and support. Nevertheless, and despite all the positives, I was grappling for several weeks with a deafening silence from a few close friends. Funny how one lets those little niggles get in one's way. And yet...  

Writing, like art, is an expression of the self. An interpretation of experience and the world and the human condition. Whether a comic book or a Christmas card, the manifestation of the thoughts or ideas of the author are valuable. We may not agree with everything or indeed, anything, said, but we can at least accept that something has been said. Can't we?

Accordingly, I have struggled with the silence or non-engagement. Are they trying to be tactful, to spare me? Are they just too busy or just no interested? And if the latter, why should they be? So this lack of engagement opened up for me an internal dialogue about "feedback". The challenge has been to interpret the silence in a helpful way. When I trained to become a coach, the course involved some focus on giving and receiving personal messages. Not - "love your shoes" (although I did hear that quite often), but things like "I appreciate x, y or z about you", or "it was helpful when you did or said such-and-such". Anyway, at the time a relatively high proportion of the attendees declined to hear the feedback about themselves. I was startled - being an attention seeker from way back I was revelling in a moment of spotlight. Not only that, but we had been told to only give positive feedback - I was champing at the bit to both give and take - but several colleagues were overcome with embarrassment, dread and fear at the very thought. This was a great learning experience for me. Maybe all those years of debating, fighting my corner in a big family and becoming a lawyer did me some good after all. Because it would appear that many people really struggle with giving and receiving feedback.

So, in the face of that, the silence, left me pondering. Would they ignore news of a new job, new partner, new baby, a holiday just taken?  Surely something one is excited about tends to be a suitable topic for discussion with friends?

Was I being too precious? 

A new friend who I met through writing advised me that writers need to be impervious to all feedback. She said this includes disinterest. 

Finally I made my peace with it. Not consciously as is so often the case with life's imponderables - but through sheer effluxion of time (and boredom). I disagree with the idea that one should be impervious to feedback. Good feedback is rich and valuable and meaningful. And by good I do not mean "favourable". An absence of interest is also those things too. Confronting and disappointing, but informative and enriching too.

And that of course begs the question - am I too, guilty of this lack of interest or care? Have I delivered or failed to deliver feedback thoughtfully or respectfully? When is silence the best response?


The papers report that July is our grumpiest month due to high humidity and resulting lack of sleep. Perhaps that accounts for my procrastination. I do long for some chilly days. And these long twilights can be too much. Once Wimbledon is over I am pretty well done with summer.I think we should skip August entirely and have two Septembers  8.30pm is late enough for the sun/son to be up and about. And those horrid little flying ants that appear from nowhere on hot still days - euugrh. That is one creature I am happy to walk on.

So where does that leave me. Shall I sum up?

Stocktaking is a very useful way to clear out the detritus of old thinking and living.

Hiatus and loss come in many forms. It is enabling and energising to find ways to accept those experiences and put them to positive uses.

During times of lethargy The West Wing is balm for the soul.

One should never overlook the kindness of strangers or those with a word of support or a smile of encouragement.

Blackout curtains that allow for decent air through-flow are a must for all, especially mothers. (Note to self to buy, make or invent.)

Feedback welcome!

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