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.

 

Daily Prompt: Can’t Stand Me

First of all, what an empathetic title. I’m not sure I approve, really. It sounds a bit too emo-kid for me. However, it does take me right back to Stand By Me.

But I am responding to the Daily Prompt  who asked:

What do you find more unbearable: watching a video of yourself, or listening to a recording of your voice? Why?

I used to find listening to recordings of my own voice quite difficult. My personal idiolect and inflections used to jar so much in my ears. I wanted my voice to be softer, more elegant… perhaps more lyrical.

As I’ve grown older, this is no longer something I worry about. I am more comfortable in my own skin and have grown less sensitive to how others might think of me. A small amount of awareness of your own impact on the lives of strangers is good, but as they say: those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind. I like to think that the people who really appreciate the nuances of my voice are the ones who get to hear it often, whether it is lyrical or not. Hopefully they will Stand By Me. Heh? Heeh? Hah.

 

 

 

A review in two parts – Girl Most Likely

Mid-way through, exactly 43 minutes into the film:

From the onset, I felt like ringing up Kristen Wiig and ranting at her. Thankfully/ unfortunately, I don’t have her number so I will rant on here instead. I loved Bridesmaids, it was witty, vulgar and even a little bit heart-warming at times. The main plotline was centred on female friendship and it also was a nice little screenshot of austerity era, where the heroine is unemployed and living with her mum (a storyline I personally know rather well) with no real resolution or happy ending on that front. It was the perfect modern comedy.

So I have always looked out for Kristen Wiig and began her movies with an open mind. This is probably why Girl Most Likely made me quite angry. Wiig plays Imogene, which is pronounced as an irritating, toe-curling “Eemojean” a woman who is so distraught by her Dutch boyfriend moving out of their apartment, she loses her job and fakes a suicide attempt, which sets up the premise of her having to move back in with her mum. Wiig pulls off that “suddenly down-and-out” look brilliantly, but I actually object to the comedy of the situation just described. I find that it’s just really, really sad that she pretends to pop pills for a boyfriend who doesn’t even show up to check she’s okay. Worse still, she dreams about him turning up and proposing, which apparently leads to marriage and babies Of course, as a woman, this is all Imogene really wants.

There are illusions to her amazing father and a fairly unsubtle theme of “home” that is forced down our throats pretty much constantly through the first half of the film. The first line is “There’s no place like home” for crying out loud. Her brother has a collection of snails and crabs because he’s jealous of their ability to carry their homes on their backs. The cop who remembers her (before arresting her) had wanted to take her to home-coming when they were teenagers.

Now, I can spot a set-up when I see one. The dodgy, unreasonable and floozy mum has had a tricky time bringing up Imogene and her brother as a single mother. The idealised father is going to turn out to be anything but. The home town isn’t going to be as terrible as she remembers it. Perhaps she’s going to pull some gusto out of her arse that she never even knew she had and a write an award-winning screen play. Almost definitely, she’s going to have a bit of a fling with that much younger, hunky lodger from Glee.

Now I’ve made my predictions, let’s see if I’m correct…

 

The end. Credits roll. Funky music is played:

Of course there is redemption. And I truthfully don’t mind that. I actually don’t want to haul out the spoilers so I’m not going to comment on what actually does happen in the second half. It didn’t surprise me, but I did end up quite enjoying it.

There are some splendid moments. I really appreciated the little witty details that really made up the film; Imogene having to dress in her eighties teenager clothes throughout; her brother’s obsession with crabs and the puns that arise from them; her face during the Backstreet Boys tribute act and the little echoes of this that follow later in the film.

I suppose by setting up the film with such an appalling premise, it provides room for it to be disproved. The heroine does get her happy ending, but it’s not the happy ending that she imagines for herself during her fake suicide fantasy. Good for her.

*****

I have never written a review in two parts before and it does actually seem to be quite an interesting thing to do. By stopping in the middle to write this, I really managed to analyse the attitudes that I had at the beginning of the film and how they then developed. Obviously, I had a completely different impression of the movie half way through as I did at the end; it’s fascinating to see how a story can take you with it and in a way, provide you with a happy ending too (even if it is just not a negative opinion of what I’d just spent the last two hours of my life doing!)

I haven’t changed anything I wrote in the first half, apart from the normal proofread, so the predictions are those that were made at the time and I have not confirmed how they went either way. So feel free to watch it and see for yourself. 

Istanbul, flats and Modern Art

Istanbul is a lovely city. Whenever I try and think of ways to describe it, “balmy”, “atmospheric” and “bustling” pop into my head every time. It truly is each of these things, but it is also very touristy. We did stay in Sultanahmet though so didn’t really wander into the city proper. The streets of Sultanahmet are windy and hilly and full of shops selling Turkish delight and restaurants serving Mezze and kebap. It’s not a place of hidden wonders, mainly due to it having rather large wonders directly on display. The blue mosque hogs the skyline as does the Haghia Sofia (definitely the more interesting of the two!) and everywhere you go, you’re offered boat trips on the Bosphorus.

I pride myself on being a light packer, so when I eventually caught up with the girls (after an incident where we all waited at Aksaray for varying amounts of time to meet up, to discover later we were on opposite sides of the road) I boasted that my luggage only weighed 8 kilos.

“Look at me!” I said. “I am surely the proficiando of packers, a practical contortionist of luggage making and my suitcase is as light and airy as I am not.” (NB: Is proficiando a word?)

“Well,” my friends replied. “That’s very impressive.” *Cue good-natured eye-rolling*

But yes, I was very proud. Especially in limiting myself to two pairs of shoes. On my solo adventure to the apartment, I soon discovered that the shoes I had worn on the flight were not going to be suitable at all. I love them and wear them religiously in the UK, but then in the UK I’m not constantly walking up and down hills throughout the day. It’s also not incredibly hot and therefore I’m not tortured by foot sweat that causes this particular pair of shoes to rub and cut into my feet in cruel and imaginative ways. Well, good on me for having spontaneously bought a pair of sandals the day before the holiday, the only thing I actually bought to purpose. They were flat and had minimum straps so logically, would rub minimally. Definitely a plus!

No. Flat shoes? Just no. Istanbul is one of the hilliest, slopiest, up-and-down-iest cities I have ever visited. By the end of the first whole day, my ankles were physically screaming so loud that I’m sure passers-by were beginning to hear them. My heels burnt like I was balancing my entire body weight on top a pile of burning coals. But my pride? My pride hurt most of all.

For of course, if one boasts about one’s amazing packing skills and then realises that one must eat one’s words before the first day was out, it is sure to point out that one is a bit of a plonker.

Not wanting to let the girls down by whining constantly (I managed intermittently instead) and unwilling to buy a cheap pair of shoes at tourist prices, I soldiered on.

This did lead to a rather amusing incident later on. After a day of walking, we finished our sightseeing at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. Now, I quite like modern art. (Not contemporary modern, mind you, but classic modern… I’m getting a bit confused with my own definitives but I’m sure you understand my meaning.) We went the wrong way and were subjected to the modern-modern-modern art first. This included a lot of wacky sculptures and video exhibitions amongst the expected plethora of canvas and such. I soon began to look out for the videos because they would take place in darkened nooks that were sectioned off with heavy red curtains away from the rest of the gallery. It was enough to put up with the “art” behind those curtains just to sit on the comfy seats and afford my heels a temporary feeling of weightlessness. I kept an eye out for the curtain and at every opportunity, I would dash behind it, seemingly an avid fan of the video concept art. It was so lovely; to sit in comfort in the cool, dim darkness; to curl up and feel my eyes grow heavy…

Yes, dear reader, I fell asleep.

Inappropriate Laughter

So I’m playing about with prose writing. Let’s see how much alliteration, unusual ad/verbs and bizarre similes I can throw into a shortie. 

***

The dusty, red road rolled beneath them. Windows open, hair streaming, car lurching; they rocketed on. A few hours before they were in the air; falling and tumbling in a wholly different way, waiting for that sharp, chest jolting yank that would suddenly halt their descent. There they would be, as if hanging from an invisible thread or perhaps, at the end of a yoyo, legs dangling and arms scrambling through the safety measures before the open ground below loomed too close.

On the road to Seville (seemingly bare of orange trees) the wind rushed by, blasting in through the windows and tossing the hair of the passengers as they were being tossed in their seats. The driver was driving too fast, and the car, unused to such treatment on roads barely more than dirt tracks, bumped up and down in a far too energetic manner. The backseat was occupied by three young women, high on left over adrenaline, expectations and speed. They would have been bouncing even if the road had been as smooth and safe as the face of a prepubescent boy.

Encouraged by the laughter and energy behind him, the driver accelerated more, so the passengers occasionally felt weightless. Only held in place by their seatbelts, they would crash back down after every jolt. Faster and faster they went, and the car shuddered and skidded accordingly. The dust splashed up like ocean spray beneath the tyres as they slipped and suddenly, they were off the road and heading towards an innocent (not-an-orange) tree. Everyone was screaming, bar one girl who took it upon herself to laugh. The sort of laugh that was high pitched, adrenaline fuelled, completely out of control and loving it. The sort of laugh that would have caused everyone else to question her sanity, if they hadn’t been busy screaming (as they would later.) It was over in less than thirty seconds. The car had skidded off the road, narrowly missed the tree and almost rolled before being pulled to a refreshingly sharp stop. The screams halted when the engine did and became mingled with sighs of a relief and the be-stilling of too quickly beating hearts. Not the laughter. The laughter continued and echoed down the road as the rest of the passengers trudged back towards the tree, searching for missing bits of bumper.