Chartering creative (writing) waters

I have recently been thinking about the act of writing a lot more. Those who have read a little of my blog already may have noticed that I have written about quite a few different things since I started. Compared to the book and film reviews that feature at the beginning, the last two entries have been really quite personal. It feels like I have recently managed to get over my own version of “writer’s block” that has plagued me for the last couple of years. I am now able to write about myself and my opinions with only cringing slightly at making myself the focus. Therefore, I will entertain you with a couple of chronological anecdotes that have led up to this point.

I don’t remember when I first started to enjoy writing but I am going to go ahead and assume that it was during English lessons in primary school. I liked writing so much that I started to do it at home, but I very rarely finished a story. I enjoyed the setting up of a narrative, the creation of a cast of characters and setting the scene; I would repeat the practice again and again, quickly abandoning my newly fleshed-out beings in favour of some new, flashy combination of characteristics. I would often illustrate my new protagonist too and imagine the back-story but it was very rare for me to continue to the story’s climax. This didn’t matter so much in the school system when you’re younger because you’re very rarely given the lesson time or the designated homework space to make sure you actually finish your piece of creative writing – just as long as you have a nice, big piece of text for the teachers to mark.

I did write a diary for a couple of years. It was perhaps a once or twice a month endeavour that listed what books I was reading, which friend I currently didn’t like much and which boy and his surname I was secretly double-barring to mine (or drawing hearts around his name and then furiously scribbling it out so no one would ever know… or whatever.) Interestingly, it was in my diary I ever wrote a swear word down. It was “bastards” and it was in reference to the county council’s plans to shut down my primary school so I will guess my age to be at about nine. I haven’t looked this up as this has always stuck in my mind due to the immense waves of guilt that I felt writing that word down physically. It was easier the next time though.

On came the essay and I discovered that I was pretty good at them. This strand of writing has lasted the longest, purely because of the fact that so many subjects require them at school. I found that I didn’t need to do that bizarre thing called “planning” or that equally time-wasting thing called “drafting” as I got top marks for just turning in my first attempt. Please bear in mind that I now look back at past Lizzie and curse her and her stupid attitude. It got me into a hell of lot of trouble when I eventually was expected to write academically at university. Just because I’m quite good at structuring my thoughts on paper so that they don’t immediately sound like a weird chain of consciousness (less so verbally, may I point out) does not mean that I was still going to be top of the class. This and never knowing what I was capable of achieving had I tried a little harder, is something that I have regretted and been embarrassed about every time I think about my degree.

At university, I was often mistaken for a “Creative Writer.” This was an identity that was attached to the particular course that we were taking, and I, as a taker of straight and unadulterated English Literature, was rather quite flattered by the connotations of being a bit floaty, dreamy and bohemian. In hindsight, I realise the mistake was more to do with the fact I socialised with a lot of creative writers and also, not a lot of them were actually particularly bohemian. During this time, I actually did not write fiction at all. I did, however, have a rather pretty notebook (yes, I have a notebook fetish) that I wrote terribly bad prose-like poetry that was loosely inspired by the works of William Carlos Williams.

Post-university, I have suffered from quite extreme writer’s block. In the fallout from leaving education, I was so relieved to not to have to write essays or read academic texts that I avoided writing at all for a long time. I didn’t write poetry, bad or otherwise and even when I went to live in Vietnam and tried to start a blog, I couldn’t bring myself to put my thoughts down in words, even though I often found myself “writing” in my head. Before long I started to miss it. I started doing online courses, began reading obsessively again and decided to apply to study for a MA but I still couldn’t bring myself to write for fun. I actually remember the first time I forced myself to write since I gave up on the travel blog idea. I was sitting in the office in Saigon, just having finished a book that had blown my socks off and I really wanted to write a review. I had started putting stars on Goodreads.com but hadn’t written anything yet. But when I opened up the window and hovered my hands over the keyboard expectantly, the only thing I could think of to say was: “Amazing.” But I persevered. I began to write the odd review more and more, gradually building up to sentences and then to paragraphs.

And now here I am. Having produced a blog post of roughly a thousand words in my coffee break. It doesn’t matter to me whether many people read it (though I’m pleased if they do – hello to those who have made it this far!) and it doesn’t matter whether it’s particularly good. I have said before that I don’t know how long I will keep on writing and make no promises to myself to do so other than for my own pleasure. However, I do feel like I have shaken myself out of some self-imposed shackles and for the first time in a long time, I feel free to write just to write.

Frank Turner: Vietnam to Leicester; being moved by the music

Courtesy of Louise Wersching

Courtesy of Louise Wersching

Last week, I went to see Frank Turner perform in Leicester’s De Montfort Hall. My friend and I rocked up after the questionable support act had left, warm on rum and coke and with a small hip flask (filled with the former) smuggled in by tucking it into my bra.

I love music, love singing in the shower and strumming my ukulele tunelessly but I don’t often go to live gigs. I’ve only been to one Festival (with a capital F) in my life and I haven’t actively looked into going into another since then, which incidentally was in 2008. However, the last two events that I booked tickets for and went to especially, were both to see Frank Turner.

Oh Frank, how you move me. That man has a song for every flavour of your life. I did realise though, as I was standing in the midst of the heaving crowd, dancing on the spot to avoid the sedater members of the audience in my vicinity, that his music is pretty mopey. Don’t get me wrong, I love mopey music! But Frank’s music has a dark edge, and the way he plays occasionally feels like he is personally unthreading the tendons of my heart.

His performance last Friday was one of those times where he played all those good heart-breaking songs. One in particular is actually my favourite song by him: Jet lag. He performed it without the Sleeping Souls, his long-time accompanying band, completely backlit so that he was a solo dark silhouette against blinding, white light. This was very much my favourite moment of the gig and I remember feeling waves of optimism crashing over me as I sang and swayed to the song. It’s fairly strange to say that such a sad song can make you feel that happy but that is one of the reasons why I love his music. But also it feels like there is some special, accidental significance to his choosing to play this particular song, a bit of an oldie now, at this particular gig.

The last time I saw Frank was in District Four of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I was living and working at the time. Now I have plenty of amazing things to say about my time in Vietnam. I still miss the throbbing intensity of the city, bowling from extreme to extreme without ever stopping. But the one, rather large, life-changing thing that happened to me while I was there, occurred just before I went to watch Frank play. In fact, one of the silver linings I picked up from this particular experience was that if it hadn’t happened, I might not have driven passed the building that he was going to play at and therefore would not have seen the posters. Anyway, raw and miserable, I clung on to this rather inconsequential bright-side in the run up to the show. And it was a great show. I got to meet the man himself and have a picture taken with him. He even asked me if I had a song request and of course I asked for Jet lag. Unfortunately for me, the atmosphere (brilliant, energetic!) was too upbeat for the song so he didn’t play it that night and I really promise that I wasn’t too bothered about this at the time. I just danced and sang along “just like everybody else.”

But when I saw Frank this time and he plays this song, the song about travelling too much and being too far away from those you love, it felt like it had completed the circle that has been left open since the partially-mentioned original event. I won’t say anything really cheesy and imply that I feel massively healed by this completion. But I will say that I felt a bit better, a little vindicated. It reminded me that time moves on and how different my situation is from when I saw Frank the last time.

This is all occurred in the several minutes that it took for the song to be played. Then I turned to my friend and she poked me in the back and we started dancing to the next song.  

Put simply, depression and positivity

Depression is extremely topical right now. It’s currently in the news a lot (especially following Robin Williams’s suicide,) debated ardently in the forums, recurring in blogs and on tumblr – everyone has an opinion. I’ve thought a lot about writing about my feelings recently. Firstly, I didn’t really want to as I don’t really like the idea of exposing myself in that way. Depression is a deeply personal thing and in this society of the “over-share” I didn’t particular want to contribute to it.

But one of the things that I find most difficult about it is that I can’t talk about it. Friends profess to understand, nodding and murmuring while you do your best to describe the aching in your chest, but if you appear fine the next time you speak to them, you can bet your bottom dollar that they won’t bring it up again (and why should they? If it’s so outside their realm of experience, how would they know that it’s lurking in the background even when you’re smiling?)

I live with my parents currently and for the first time ever they can bear witness to it. Before, when I lived away at university or in Vietnam, it was not something I mentioned to them because I didn’t want to worry them. Now, they can observe the violent and intense mood swings, the irritableness, the uneasiness, the tension; all of which I can’t seem to shake. Their reaction is to blame themselves and that is something I really don’t want them to do.

I’ve read that depression is like a fat parasite sitting on your chest. It’s a constant pressure that rests on top of you with its claws clamping around your throat and at the worst of times, it’s a demonic three year old crushing you, bouncing on your lungs like they’re a flabby pair of trampolines and making it hard to breathe.

Having been depressed before, I know it’s going to pass at some point as it has done before. However, any little negative nudge has the tendency to set me off while it takes an excessively great thing to set me going the other way. It’s very hard to cope with because logically I know lots of good things about myself and my life, such as having a loving, healthy family and a decent set of friends that should make me feel better.

Depression is feeling that despite all those good things that happen, life is an empty, dank and dark pit that wants to swallow you whole.

 

But I’m not going to finish there. Who am I? Some defeated masochist that wants to reveal all their crap and the crud to the world without a slither of positivity? I bloody well hope not as that would be a terrible thing to admit to. I want to think of myself as a fighter, as someone who is prepared to fight the demonic toddler and if need be, think of even cruder metaphors to describe how I’m feeling. I need to force myself to listen for the fairy bells more often – by that I mean noticing the lovely little things that can surprise you if you’re open to them. But I am also fed up of saying that I’m fine and racking my brains for an alternative answer to how I’m actually feeling. Now, if you ask me how I am, I am actually going to be honest with you. That’s my first step. The second is that I’m going to set myself a challenge. I’m going to write something every day, just for the thrill of it. I might not post it on here, but I hereby officially announce my intention to do this. Writing is something that I derive a great deal of pleasure from and I will not throw false modesty into it as I know I am inclined to do. I will write and it will be something positive about my day that only I can do for myself. I’m not going to set myself the strident limit that a lot of people declaring these sorts of experiments tend to do (30 days, a year?) I think I will just try to keep it up until I have reclaimed myself from the brink.

And what-do-you-know, my throat doesn’t feel like it’s clasped as tightly.