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Unravelling the story I'm trying to tell

How to be blissfully happy – notes to myself

On the beach

Horizontal horizons are over rated.

I woke up this morning, and then waited in bed for a couple of hours until I wanted to get up. I made myself a cup of tea, shook the last of my cereal into a bowl, dropped the cereal packet into the recycling box (just a large cardboard box since the real recycling boxes have mysteriously disappeared) and poured on the last of the milk.

My food situation is a cross between a surplus and a famine. I have plenty of biscuits, tinned fruit and custard, having inherited the Nonna’s tin supply, but in terms of fresh food I’m down to an apple, a reduced-price mini-courgette and a lemon.

None-the-less this isn’t at all bad. There was enough milk for one bowl of cereal and since there’s only me one bowl of cereal was enough. With my cereal I returned to bed, opened the curtain to let in the stunning sunshine, and set about practising Italian.

I am very much monolingual, but I have a bilingual dictionary and a wonderful curiosity.

An hour later it was 11:00 am. I got up, switched on my old computer, Alexandra, because the new shiny fast computer is having a hiccup. Whilst Alexandra was loading up I floated around the kitchen, relocated all the washing-up to a single surface and made coffee in the magic pot on the hob. Black of course because of the milk crisis.

I meandered around the internet for a while, finding pictures that make me smile and stories that fill my imagination with wonder. I never sit still for too long. Today I drifted between the computer and the kitchen to the sound of Italian pop classics and the gurgle of the washing machine.

I am trying to learn Italian. Casually, on the basis that if it works out like my obsession over Ancient Egypt I’ll be fluent in no time. If it doesn’t then I’ve better things to do. My efforts to speak Italian are somewhat hindered by my lack of attentiveness to sounds and my beautiful Yorkshire accent. When we were travelling Betty and I split the language learning. I remembered what words we needed, she said them. I can read the road signs, she can order salami. Her ears are trained in the study of phonetics and so she at least knows what sounds she’s saying.

I swept the kitchen floor – it was foul – using a dustpan and brush. The hoover refuses to turn on after it’s last encounter with the hovel’s floors. That burning smell…

And then, because it’s sunny and I am happy, and when I’m happy I don’t really mind chores, I mopped the floor too.

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Living to the theme of ‘A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink’

books and reading

I’m attracted to books that say that the thing I like doing will be important in the future. I love being told that I should embrace the wonder that is creativity, take time out to laugh, and that stories are everything. If a book suggests meditation and yoga, drawing and creative writing, reading fiction and telling stories, then as long as I don’t trip over the words, I’m sold.

When I read a book from The Mother’s bookshelf I expect something about leadership, or getting yourself organised, or maybe something on wonderful CV, presentation or interview creation. ‘How to be’s on topics like confidence, persuasion and courage. I go to The Mother’s bookshelf looking for books that are going to tell me how to grasp that elusive sense of life structure. I don’t borrow her books expecting they will tell me – draw, meditate, play, tell stories, dance when you want to and most importantly laugh.

I zoomed through A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, reading it in about three evenings. I was easily sold. It’s just affirmation of my own beliefs. The book wants me to step aside from the job lists and play.

Bookcover - a whole new mind by Daniel Pink

There’s something rather cheerful about orange book covers.

Maybe I ought to diversify my reading.

The book did tell me a lot that I already know. Life is better when we make things, when we move and when we open our hearts. It can’t be a bad thing that I already knew many of the answers to the questions it posed. I do draw. I do dance around the hovel with the curtains shut, the music loud and laugh at myself. Expressing my emotions effectively is sometimes a bit of a challenge. It’s either all or nothing. But I like to think that I’m wise enough to once in a while stop and listen.

By the looks of the smooth pages, The Mother hasn’t yet begun ‘whole new mind’ development. However, its being on her bookshelf shows that she’s either actively chosen a book with chapters like Story, Symphony and Play, or she’s buying books without reading the description.

I’m going with the first option as in your own study, unlike in a supermarket, it’s not an embarrassment to wear your glasses. Just to clarify, I don’t believe people should be embarrassed about wearing glasses at all. Certainly not so embarrassed they lose them more times than they wear them.

Does The Mother therefore aspire to learn from a book that recommends humour? If so, this is a twist to a fundamental building block of my existence.

(Ok, yes, when Daniel Pink recommended comedy as a valuable part of life I did shudder and quickly read on.)

dancing when nobody is watching

By no means do I actually have legs that bend like that.

I caricature The Mother as a very serious woman. This should be taken with a cellar of salt. Yes, The Mother is process driven, tick box addicted and overwhelmingly focused on check lists and the watch on her wrist. That said, she’s also an international adventurer. She’s ridden camels and elephants. The Mother tells stories. She incorporates different voices as her different characters. She brings them to life, and makes the Midget and I laugh. She draws. Not regularly, and rarely anything more than a house with a tree, but when she’s sat in the lounge with a glass of wine and I’m drawing on my tablet she likes to have a go. The Mother sometimes needs instructing that it is ‘time for a hug’, but if tragedy happens – like I come across a dead mouse – then she steps in to comfort me.

The prediction that the things I like doing matter to the future is reassuring to read. It’s nice to think that I’ll never have to live at 200 mph like The Mother does. I can guarantee I’d fail. I don’t think I’ll ever have her strength of attack, even after reading all the books on her bookshelf.

But it’s also a reminder to value these simple things today, even if the time available to do them is rarer than I’d like.

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If I draw every day, am I an artist?

a watercolour mess

Have you ever just paused and done a quick and instant list of all the things that make you happy? Apparently I did, one evening before bed. I know this not because I remember writing such a list, but because I found it in my diary.

Drawing jumps in at third place, yet I can go weeks without drawing anything. Sometimes I lose hours sat on the floor with a large sheet of white paper and a HB pencil. I’m really not fussy –  although a pillow or a cushion is crucial to cope with the Hovel‘s solid floors.

Dedicating an entire afternoon to drawing isn’t really feasible most days. Or even most weeks. I have a job, and I do have to eat and sleep. Often I am visiting, or have visitors, or have to deal with the invading cobwebs and filth. Art just doesn’t find itself as the top (or third) priority most of the time.

As a side note, try turning up at work on a Monday morning, asking your colleagues how their weekends were, settle into your chair with your first cup of tea, and when the inevitable question of what you did arises, pause thoughtfully, then state ‘I drew a camel’.

It beats:

“See you tomorrow.”

“I won’t be in tomorrow, I’ll see you Monday.”

“Oh, are you doing anything nice?”

“I’m going to a funeral.”

End of side note.

Back to art, and pretty things.

I have a new solution to drawing often and therefore maintaining my happiness levels. The barrier for doing any art or any writing is never the art or the writing itself, but manoeuvring my bum into the right place, picking up the pen and forming that first line.

chopped up coloured paper

Pieces of the coloured mess hide in my diary (a benefit of a Moleskine notebook is the pocket) and scattered on my bedside table. Once you start, art is addictive.

Meanwhile, whilst I’m busy drawing, here is some art that I do rather like.

[Worryingly physics made the list.]

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The final days of life; the first days of life.

The Nonna died, with my pink teddy bear and the Midget’s crying mouse in her arms. Warm, peaceful, painless. Death.

I held a tiny baby in my arms. One week old, the son of a friend, lips twisting ready to smile. Warm, soft, sleepy. Life.

And my mind is twisted by this circle that I so regularly ignore, the inevitable, the potential.

If I knew how to cry, I know I’ve got a world of emotion struggling inside me, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what I feel. First shock. The phone call stating that there was nothing more that could be done, the life support the Nonna’s body depended on would be switched off. Her brain, damaged beyond repair. Her life ended. Her breathing, once the ventilator was removed, steady but raspy. The snoring predicted and normal sounded a familiar imitation of The Mother.

Yet, throughout, her hand in mine was warm. The night passed and the sun rose, the sleepless night exhausting. Her breathing became more laboured. Gentle nurses injected drugs, brushed her teeth, applied lip-salve, and kept her eyes the picture of peace.

The end came eventually, as it does for all of us.

And in another room, a life was only beginning.

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Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

The Grump bought me this book as my birthday present last year. If you’re head over heels in love with writing, it’s a source of great joy, but for anyone who thinks they would be a better person if they only just read a wider and actually grasped what it was they were reading, then I think this book is also a star.

It’s filled with examples and extracts that land a punch. I scribbled down names of books I’m hungry for more of, and it comes with a suggested reading list in the back.

But for a book with such a general balance of different sorts of story, there was one whole chapter which seemed out-of-place. It was about this guy called Chekhov. Some strange Russian chap whose name floated meaninglessly through my brain.

Francine Prose whittled on about reading Chekhov, teaching Chekhov and falling more and more in love with Chekhov. She talked about reading Chekhov on the bus – and I think if you can read a book on a bus it’s got to be pretty absorbing.

So, when passing through Oxfam, this slender 99p book, A Russian Love Affair by Anton Chekhov, jumped out at me, I thought – why not. After all, Francine Prose knows how to write a good book and she thinks reading this 119 pages is worth my time.

Turns out she was right. I love Chekhov. He uses beautiful sentences like: ‘On the table was a watermelon’, in the middle of a scene of adultery. He’s on my list to Father Christmas.

As a side note. The book is part of a series of books by Penguin called ‘Great Loves’. Oxfam had, past tense, a few. One of these other slim volumes was by a name I recognised but not due to his literary prowess, but the notoriety of his antics in the bedroom. Of Mistresses, Tigeresses and Other Conquests by Giacomo Casanova is sadly only a few extracts from the longer 14 volumes of memoirs.

Another Christmas wish.

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