It often helps to charge at scary and difficult things head on.
(Okay, this is bad advice if you’re scared of bulls, tigers, traffic etc., but in many cases the approach works well.)
What we fear is unlikely to do us any harm. It’s just the thought of it that’s scary, and fear can have a tight grip.
There was a time when I decided enough was enough: I would gravitate towards those things. The scarier the better. I viewed it as a training exercise – literally, in the case of my half marathon preparation.
My people brought me down the mountain. I was shod with dirty, cap-split walking boots, no longer fit for purpose; my backpack was weighty, sharp corners jabbed my spine through bulging material, and my ancient head was numb, paralysed.
The Snowdon Railway ran alongside our path. A train chugged past. Its passengers gazed through smudgy windows. I couldn’t afford such luxury, and my people didn’t need it. We’d trekked for hours with few rests.
Thick clouds were nauseating, but as we descended, the air became fresher and the sky clearer. My woman, my adventurous love, would have exclaimed how beautifully green and perfect the view was. I’d conquered another peak from her list, but it meant nothing without her.
Sometimes I get bogged down with the thought that my best writing is in the past.
As well as being extremely happy, I have an underlying anxiety whenever I get amazing feedback on a story. What if I can’t live up to it? This happened with ‘Those Charming Birds’, which was published on Potato Soup Journal recently.
It’s not just readers’ reactions though. I panic when I edit something and it just doesn’t work whatever I do. I worry that I won’t ever have that lovely feeling when I know it has clicked. (Don’t worry, I do realise the world won’t end if I write something terrible.)
I’ve made resolutions to spend more time outside and to walk slowly sometimes.
I’m a natural home body. I can stay in my room indefinitely. Once, when I was in Cornwall, I realised I hadn’t left the house for six days! It’s not good for me. Some of the most precious memories I have are when I’ve braved the great outdoors. I now take a daily walk, come rain or shine or migraine.
I stride along, absorbed in my thoughts. That’s fine if I’m in a rush or want some exercise, but sometimes people I know see me and comment afterwards that I looked ‘grim’ or ‘focused’. I’m not always focused on what’s around me though. I need to get out of my head, slow down, and appreciate nature.
I had a dream a few weeks ago that stuck with me.
Dream Hannah discovered she could retake her A Levels now, at the age of twenty-seven. The exams were to take place in two days: she only had the weekend to revise. That would be enough. Being much older and wiser(!), surely she could achieve higher grades than her underwhelming CDD ten years ago?
She revised all day and all night. Finally, Mum came into her room and asked what she was doing.
After Dream Hannah explained it to her, Mum said, ‘Hannah, you have a First in your bachelor’s degree and a Distinction in your master’s. Why are you doing this?’
‘Oh.’ Dream Hannah thought for a moment. ‘Yeah, that’s true. Why am I doing this?’
‘Put feeling into your writing…but have fewer feelings about your writing.’
I wander into the kitchen after a particularly uninspired, uninspiring writing session, and mull over this thought as I make another coffee.
With one story in particular, I sometimes think, ‘Yay, this is great!’ and other times, ‘Boo, this is rubbish!’, even though it’s the same piece and no better or worse than previously. I’m sure every writer has experienced something similar.
How we feel about our creative work might bear little resemblance to reality, and these value judgements can make it hard to get anything done. They drive you crazy, those relentless inner critics with weird squeaky voices (that’s how I imagine them, anyway), making endless contradictory judgements.
I love being self-employed and organising my own schedule, but early in January I had decision fatigue. I struggled to decide when to read, write, edit, do housework, do admin etc. I often ended up in ‘freeze mode’. On a particularly bad afternoon, when I was tempted to procrastinate for the rest of the day, I said, ‘Mum, please tell me what to do – jobs you want done, or things on my list here. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’
I loved it; as did she, naturally! It would lose its appeal very quickly, no doubt – for me anyway – but it was a useful exercise that triggered some realisations.
Step 1 Crawl out of bed at some point.
Step 2 Use the bathroom.
Step 3 Climb down the stairs, gripping the handrail, and walk into the kitchen.
Step 4 Drink water, take your medication, and make coffee.
Step 5 Return to bed, collapse.
Spaghetti for 20p and bolognese sauce for 60p, topped with grated cheese. I ate that meal for at least three days in a row while I was in Cornwall. I was down and fatigued at the time and couldn’t seem to drag myself out of it. Eventually I chucked some frozen peas in with the pasta. That made me feel better, not just because it gave my body better nutrition, but because it made me feel better about my day, and myself; it was a little thing I could do to improve things, even when I felt low. I hadn’t let go of everything.
I remembered this recently. At the end of a day in which I’d had a bad headache, I craved the comfort of fish fingers and chips, and that’s what I made. But, again, I added peas.
Set goals. Dream big. Shoot for the stars.
I like dreaming about the future, creating routines, and making plans for what I’d like to achieve, but do I have to? I don’t think so.
It’s not that we shouldn’t have big goals; it’s that we shouldn’t feel like we must. I don’t think there is anything wrong with you if you don’t set goals, dream big, or shoot for the stars. I don’t believe ‘contentment’ is an inferior goal, or that a ‘simple life’ is inferior to one filled with complex ambition. In fact, it sounds increasingly beautiful to me.