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Weekly snapshot: 7 Jan

Where to begin?

So starts another year. So maybe the writing can start again.

A couple of days back, Dan brought some photo albums down from the attic. He’d promised to show the kids some pictures from a particular trip; a few more albums made it downstairs with him.

Some of this was filling-in work: that’s Grandpa .. [who you didn’t get to meet], or Auntie..
That kind of thing.

Today I looked again at an album with a mix of pictures that Dan took and others that are mine. A varied selection: lots of places, lots of people, across a wide range of years.

We took a lot of photos as students, Dan and I. No iPhones, no Facebook, no Instagram, and still, lots of images, now corralled into an album. (Lots of albums, actually.)

If we wanted to share them, we posted off the film to Tripleprint and handed round lots of tiny photos – to parents wanting to find out what we were up to, to flatmates wanting to keep a shared memory.

Today, I look and try to remember the details: of group shots; of where a particular photo was taken. I peer in on the extra social details that emerge as I look back at a distance of more than a decade.

===

There’s a post on Facebook at the moment, a jokey one that sums up some of the quandry of the whole memory capturing thing.

The idea is that someone walks around, acting out all the tropes of Facebook: taking photos of everything, doing big thumbs up if they like something; running around telling everyone what they had for breakfast.

By the end of the story, people are looking to lock them up. You get the idea.

All these things we now expect to share, all this scrutiny of minutae. We surely don’t need all of it.

I don’t want to get into telling you what I eat for lunch, day by day, nor even taking photos of it. I figure you don’t need to know, and you are fully capable of making your own lunch decisions.

But still. A bit of capturing of the moment can be good. Because we don’t know when we’ll be looking back on it, and wondering what life was like then; trying to reconnect with the feeling of it.

I look at these old photos, and it feels good. Some we can share with the kids; parts of our lives-before-parenthood that they sometimes hear about.

Others, I may want to look at with Dan, and think back. Who was that person in the back row? Why did we go there? (How long did I get away with wearing that jumper? and so on.)

So in the interests of a future self, I’ve decided to go back to a few little snapshots. By blog. And if you want a riffle through, that’s fine too.

Who knows, 2016 may even be the year I finally get some photos on the blog.
(I realise I’ve been saying this for a long time. So don’t hold your breath.)

Enter the weekly snapshot.

===

The T-shirts turned into cushions make a comeback. I started on some of these a while back. Now it’s Mini’s turn to get a few.

The idea is that particularly favoured T-shirts don’t just get passed on; they find a permanent place at the end of the bed to prop up the soft toy collection, or maybe offer a few moments of snuggling.

In short: sew up the bottom of the T-shirt; unpick the arms and resew along the armhole; maybe cut off a bit of the neckline to make a flatter top.

I discover that you can pretty much get through a whole T-shirt, start to finish, in the time it takes to watch a feature film, plus a bit more. And it’s quite fun to let Mini come through for breakfast and find a new cushion on the sofa, waiting for attention.

===

We have passed the stage of Eating up Deli Items. (This happens between Christmas and New Year; use by dates on cheese and all that.)

We are now into the stage of Eating up Cake. And very pleasant it is too.

Having gone through a whole stollen before Christmas (ahem), thankfully we were given another stollen as a present. We’ve managed to eke this one out a bit more. (It’s all about marzipan, but the cake helps out.)

I’m sure there could be the potential for fresh ingredients, fresh ideas, that kind of thing.
But it remains to be said: there are Things to Eat Up First.

(And I know there’s plenty of soup in the freezer still, to balance things out a bit.)

===

On the same attic-roaming trip, I rediscover a few things, including a magnetic calendar.
Both kids are very taken with it.

(It needs talking Mini out of a grump, when I confirm that the calendar needs to live in the sitting room, and cannot just be annexed to one person’s bedroom.)

Now, of course, there is a new area of breakfast-time bickering to be had. Who will change the day of the week? Who will change the date? How many times a day can we update the weather picture?

We’ll see how long it lasts. Whether it needs an Official Parenting Decree: child A shall be tasked with moving the month ONLY. Child B must wait until xyz until moving their element on the calendar. And so on.

I am reminded, again: not too much change at once. At least, not in items that make up the daily landscape.

===

It’s back to school week, and we have to tackle the expectation that everyday is a film-watching day.

Junior and Mini have had lots of days at home over the holidays, which makes it very easy to fit in a film. If you cut out going to school, doing homework, wearing uniform (getting dressed, even), then you are pretty much down to:

  • eating (several times, of course)
  • playing (lots)
  • watching a film.

You see their point. (There is obviously also space for a spot of sibling annoyance; a moment of disgust when asked to do something like putting away clothes. Everyone needs a little variety.)

Sadly, when you put the school-time things back in, you can’t quite fit in the film slot.

Unless you are a parent, trying to comfort yourself over the gradual reappearance of the alarm clock in your life. Then you put the kids to bed, engage in some sparring over what to watch, and settle in with a film.

It’s also a great excuse to avoid doing anything with the Christmas cards.

===

The main thing to tell you, of course, is that I have a new set of felt-tip pens for colouring.

And I’m not afraid to use them.

Into the dark

Heads down to the shortest day. Nine more days, then the light levels will start to lift again.

I can’t wait.

I remember reading something by Monty Don, the gardener, a few years ago. He wrote about the difficulty of gardening in that October – December slot, the time of shortening days.

(There is the dreich-er kind of comment that can be made after June 21, that ‘the nights are turning in again’. I choose not to go there. Not in June, for goodness’ sake.)

Anyway, I’m with Monty on this one. I find the whole descent into the dark difficult, though that difficulty can vary year by year, depending on what I’m doing.

In this current season, it’s working better for me. Yes, I get the kids up most mornings, but it is light before they leave the house for school.

I get my hit of daylight mid afternoon, at school pickup – and potentially at other times of the day too, on bright days. I’m not tied to a computer monitor these days – I can stop to soak it in.

So all that helps. As does a quick belt round the park before school comes out. But still.
It’s dark out there, folks. I feel the need to hibernate more as the month goes on.

Some days I get a bit of extra sleep – and yet I still want more sleep, in December. That has been a clear message this month.

So what to do in the dark times – in the belly of the beast, as it were?

Feed yourself. Grow stronger on the inside.

I’m finding myself remembering old favourite blogs, picking them out again, catching up with what the authors have been doing.

All that colouring is taking a back seat at the moment to reading, and that’s fine.

It may be dark here, but on the other side of the world, it’s summer. I can read posts about what is growing in an Australian back garden, or about whale watching off the Southern Cape.

If I want some perspective, I can read blogs where the writers are into their four- or five-month-long snow on the ground time of year. North-Eastern US, Canada, Alaska, and so on.

To be honest, it’s not about the vicarious travelling (though that can help when the dark mornings bring on more than a hint of Groundhog day here). It’s about the words.

It’s no surprise that storytelling comes up as a way of dealing with the dark. We make sense of our feelings about this time of being kept inside.

Drawn into an interior space through cold and dark, we find our way back into the wider world through stories. Memories. Recipes. (And I’m enjoying how much those food writers can write well as well as eat well.)

For the first time in years, I’m borrowing more library books than the kids.

That’s partly about them both being in school – and me having some more time to read.

But I have put down the colouring pens for a bit in favour of stories. Particularly science fiction of various kinds.

Some of it lighter, some of it more philosophical. Much of it genuinely page-turnable.

I’ve pulled the actual cookbooks off the shelves too. Maybe it’s a need for stews, soups, foods that warm you up just by reading about them. (I’m not against cooking some of them either.)

I’ve never got around to trying out daylight lamps, to help with the growing dark. I guess I’ve sought out other means of adding some light.

And of course, there are those ceremonies of light that come at this time of the year: Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and so on.

They remind us that light can follow dark; sometimes, that light is still there, even when the darkness is particularly overwhelming.

I went into this season hoping, in part, that my own words would come up for air again. That some of them might have ripened in the cellar; might even have transformed into something new.

Not quite yet. But then maybe there is a need for some of that dark. It gets our backs up against the wall.

It forces us to say what is necessary – and, also, what we long for to change.

And that, as my science fiction reading is showing me, is powerful stuff.

 

How I stopped writing and learned to love felt tips

Hello again. A month passes. I make plans to write, really I do.

Instead, I head back to doing some colouring, when the evening comes round and my time is (relatively) my own.

Because, at least for now, colouring is good. Colouring is peaceful. Colouring gives you something nice to look at the end.

And colouring is really the last thing I would have expected to find myself doing, even a year ago.

====

Somewhere near the start of this year, one night, I found myself out of sorts. I needed something to do with my hands.

Not cooking. Not typing. Not sewing. Just something that felt like…not work.

I found a few of my kids’ colour-in birthday cards that hadn’t been done. I half-inched a pot of felt tips out of a sleeping child’s room, and made a start.

It was…peaceful. I even sent a few of them, to other grownups who know me well enough that I can send them coloured-in birthday cards done by me.

===

I had a set of fine tipped felt pens, bought for a journalling thing that didn’t quite take off.
I had a couple of books of geometric colouring designs, bought for the kids’ craft stash.

At some point, I decided to combine the two. And the whole thing took off.

Much later, I started to see colouring books everywhere. In bookstores, bargain stores, in magazines sent by people who want you to buy their books.

There was all this mindfulness stuff mentioned in the blurb for the colouring books. And I’m pretty sure it’s there. If you want it to be.

But maybe for me, the six- or seven-year-old me that used to colour grids of squares and triangles and hexagons had made a reappearance.

===

I’m not great at drawing. I understand, yes, that I can be better, that practice is true for drawing as well as for writing, cooking, roller-skating, and many other key things in life.

But in the meantime, I can do colouring. In fact, I can imagine I’m in somewhere in North Africa, or maybe southern Spain, gradually putting together a mosaic floor.

That’s the kind of colouring I find myself doing the most. Sometimes there are flowers and leaves, and tendrils, and, you know, I put up with them too.

But what I like most is the geometric stuff. And what I like even more than just the colouring is the outlining, especially where you do a lot of it.

Then it starts to feel like you are not just involved in the shapes, but that you are somehow creating them. Straight line after straight line combine, and all of a sudden you have a twelve pointed star, that you would not have been able to manage otherwise.

===

What I also really like are those moments when you look up from what you are doing, or turn the paper a bit to do a fiddly bit.

And suddenly, you see a new element in the design that you hadn’t been able to see before. The squares that interlock between the triangles; the succession of new shapes marching off across the page.

There’s something that is both very small (line after line after line after LINE), and something that is very big: the way that space works; the way that shapes fit together.

That’s not the kind of thing I’ve been used to looking at so much. But I could get used to it.

I find that I do.

Seize the (ten) minutes

Mini’s unwell today (but getting better fast). So much better, I’ve only got ten minutes before we need to get some more food made, and aid the healing process.

There are all these wise people out there telling us to seize those little gaps of time – for writing, for whatever hobby or interest really.

Ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there – it all adds up.

Some writing needs more thinking time than ten minutes. Some of that is the kind I’m hoping to produce more of.

But a blog post is meant to be short and sweet. (I confess I fail on the short aspect, some times.) So ten minutes really will do.

It works for things that are easy to pick up and put down. Like colouring, for example.

I’ve joined that growing movement of adults doing colouring for fun (never expected that, I have to say), and it is very calming.

You can colour and think – or colour and think of nothing – or just focus on getting the right colour to stay inside the right shape.

I’m still to work out more of what I genuinely can fit in for ten minutes of that kind, but with a laptop and home wifi, it isn’t really that hard to make writing one of those things.

It is a bit harder when your invalid is feeling well enough to start belting out songs at the top of their voice. Ones that are the child’s version of sung dialogue in opera. Not terribly conducive to concentrating.

But I remind myself that I used to work in an open-plan office, with lots of different conversations going on around me, and still managed to crank out emails and the like.

It can be done.

So yes, I do plan to seize the next free ten minutes, and more. Even if I all I write is for editing later.

Because it really can be done.

So: hard boiled egg or ham for lunch? Up to you. I’ll be back – maybe even sooner than I expect.

Finnegan, begin again

Hello.

It’s been another long break from blogging. Yes, it’s September. Yes, the nights are closing in (though I’m trying not to notice that too much).

Where to begin? Not sure so much where, but actually beginning, that is the trick. One I’ve been avoiding for a while.

Time has marched on, and suddenly there’s some extra space for me in the day. Yes, it’s already getting filled up (though hopefully not too much).

No, I haven’t finished all the painting yet – or all the things on my List to Do. But I got most of the fence done. That helps. Little by little.

———–

I met a friend this last week. We got in some chatting time. 40 is around the corner for her, and she is thinking about what she wants life to be like in the new decade.

40 has been and gone for me. I had my intentions too, and they were generally around writing. I did a big burst of it last year, and there hasn’t been much this year at all.

I found myself thinking about I’d wanted to do. What I still want to do, even if I tell myself I don’t really know what to write about at the moment.

(I don’t. But it’s OK. I’m working on that too.)

I could write a much longer post about why I haven’t written – and actually, it wouldn’t be that much fun to read. Or even to get out onto the screen, for me. So I’ll leave it between us that there have been reasons why.

So it’s back to writing warm up. Finger flex, arm stretch. We’ll focus on breathing, maybe, and what that looks like in writing.

(Paragraph breaks, mostly.)

I cast around for a title for this post, and found myself thinking of a children’s song:

“There was an old man called Michael Finnegan

He grew whiskers on his chin-egan

The wind came up and blew them in-again

Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again”

—————–

I think I will leave the beard growing to others.

But perhaps the wind will blow my words about a bit, inside and out, and help me find new life for them.

And new life for me, too, in setting them out to air.