Tuesday, 22 January 2008

A Year in Ten Minutes

Today is the first anniversary of this blog. I feel I need to mark it but I don't quite know how. I'd have made it a cake but it would just go to my hips and they can't take anymore. I did think about trawling through my past posts and finding my favourite comments, but am too lazy. And as today is cleaning day I don't have much time. So I am going to do a quick brain storm about the past year. That is I am going to think about my first year as a blogger and then type onto the page anything that comes into my mind without editing at all. Hopefully this won't alienate all my blog-pals.

Coffee Cocoa

Affirmation Links Alien

Pie Past Hare Universe

Place Connection Sheep Story Anecdote

Ties Map Freedom Chalk-lines Thoughts



distance closeness Periodic Tables

Travel Yellow


Reality Realism

Picture Time Journey Journal

Who do you think you are? YZOVLF approval

Translate Philosophy Place Difference

Island Art Write Perfect Aside

Energy Synthesis Telling Mending Fix

Voice Cat

OK, my time is up. Can you find yourself referenced? I think you are all here, some more obviously than others.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Green Eyed Monster

Fragment of the painting in my study.

I once delivered a (political philosophy) essay in green ink. I had been suffering headaches and wondered if this was due to staring at my computer screen for hours on end. I had heard that green is gentler on the eyes than black. So I started using green for typing and editing but would change it back to black for the final print. This one time I forgot. When I got the essay back there were comments about it's hue: green is a sign of a certain kind of madness. The insanity of the non-logical. I got the impression that I was being told the essay would have been better had it not been green. My argument was skewed by colour. I find this very interesting indeed.

There's something about green. I especially like that green you sometimes find in the kitchens of stately homes open for visiting. I don't know what it's called, I only know it when I see it and I've never seen a plant that colour. Watercress soup can sometimes turn out something like it but I tend to think of it as pea green. I'd like it to be called cooking apple green. Sometimes I'll be arrested in a junk shop by a sighting: a fragment of paint on a rolling-pin handle or an old hand-whisk and will have to fight myself not to buy it.

My best friend has painted the inside of her house sage green. The first time she came to my house she couldn't believe the walls were white. She had been convinced they'd be green. Some time later, squiffy on Apple Martinis, she expressed her disappointment. And a long conversation ensued during which I explained that the wrong green would be worse than no green at all. I've never seen my perfect wall green on paint charts. A certain shade, that may exist only in my head, would look great in corduroy and if I ever find that exquisite combination I'll have my couch reupholstered in it. She understood. It's about matching the shade to the object: perfect green isn't constant it changes with environment, shape, even object use. A perfect green book would seem to be an entirely different hue to a perfect green coat though the tone would be within the same compass. Our conversation continues to this day and for Christmas she bought me a green handbag, I love it. I once filled an old tea-caddy with coils of new ribbon, several greens included, and gave it to her for her birthday. That was the most successful gift I've ever given. Our green understanding is one of the things that binds us.

Another friend, an artist, uses a lot of green in her work and dresses her children in green too when she finds one that works on them. She almost always gets it right in my subjective eyes. She is very dear to me. We speak the same language. I always know that if she wants to show me something it will be worth looking. She has introduced me to so many things: places, music, authors, you name it, that have resonated with me, given me that at home feeling. Some years ago she took me to a nine plot allotment near her house knowing it would fit me. The balance of the place was sublime: humanity and nature not just existing together but because of each other, made new by their relationship. Lipstick pink mop-head Dahlias rose above a tangle of Rocket, juicy orange Meconopses danced around drooping onion tops, scarlet Nasturtiums climbed up dense hedges of Box. Just like my green the secret is in the mix of art and nature, of human vision with a certain degree of toying. One day I hope to write about this allotment, a series of poems perhaps. I tried soon after that visit but I was too excited and realised I needed to wait for it to settle first. Meanwhile, I have in my room one of her paintings of it which I find myself staring at just about everyday. So I can expect her vision to flow into mine, but that won't be a bad thing it will be a measure of our correspondence. I could move into her house, change nothing, and feel as at home as I do in mine. Her garden furniture is painted green.

Once, on a writing course (Arvon) in deepest Yorkshire two mentions of green in my work drew the attention of one of the tutors. On the last day of my stay she pressed into my hand some sheaves of folded paper. A passion for green had caused her to write an essay about her search for an alluring shade that might not exist in the material world. This search took in a remote small town, in which she knew she'd been but couldn't quite place when or why or even how, where a remembered roadside café failed to surface; a 'canopy of oaks and kudzu', and a psychic who told her she would take up gardening. Sensing I shared her passion she had gone to look for the essay on the internet, found it, and printed it off for me. This was my first concrete experience of the extensive power of green. I have been drawn to a person who wears it or paints their house in it or whatever. But here just the mention of the word created a link between two people that didn't exist before. And of all the people I met on that course that tutor is the one I think of most. She is the one I'm most likely to search out, the one whose books I most want to get hold of. I know our sensibilities match. I saw this as she went through my work line by line but it was confirmed by green.

When I was a child I hated green sweets. I would choose pink and red first then eat the blue, the white the yellow. The green ones would sit in the bottom of the jar or bag. I couldn't eat them but I couldn't throw them away either.

Next semester I will have to write at least ten poems for submission to pass the course. So I've been reading about the writing of poetry. Richard Hugo says that good poetry is born of obsession. His seems to be place. Mine is relation. How to live comfortably without disturbing everyone else, or the planet, too much. Green fits the question. I don't know how or why so I've got a lot of exploratory work to do if I'm going to come up with anything. Maybe Rhona's house will come in to it, the allotment too and Sue's garden furniture, Marjorie's essay, my desk and the old enamelled hole punch I found on a wet Tuesday in an antique shop off the A75...

I wonder if green is considered the colour of insanity because people like me are drawn to it, or if I'm drawn to it because it is considered the colour of insanity.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Getting the Thing Said

I have been awarded a Roar for Powerful Words by Mary. Nice to hear that someone thinks my words have power. I'm not entirely sure exactly what this means. But have been happily mulling it over because getting the award entails offering three shards of advice on how to make one's words powerful. And I do like a bit of advising. So here are a few thoughts on giving power to one's writing.

1)I think it was the poet Richard Hugo – in his brilliant book Triggering Town – who said you don't write because you want to say something, but because you have something to say. Huh? Rilke advised his young poet – Letters to a Young Poet – to write only if he is 'driven' to do so. And, finally, in a recent Guardian article Richard Eyre wrote 'Art is the expression of the voice of gifted individuals with a point of view', but, you can get 'bad' art.

All this adds up to suggest that to create art at all you first need to have more than a notion that you quite fancy doing it. You need to have a point of view, something to say, and you must really want to say it. Be driven to say it. The thing you want to say has to exist before the idea to write it takes hold. If this is the case you will make art. But it could be bad art, how? The only thing I can think of is that you haven't managed to convey the thing you want to say to your chosen audience. So you need two things: you need to know exactly what you want to say, and you need to know who you want to say it to. After that it's just a matter of practicing until you get it right.

For me writing is about engaging in a conversation. Often when I begin a new piece the conversation is with myself. It is through the act of writing that I am slowly discovering what my point of view is. I have written reams in the past few months, most of it crap, but I feel sure that once I know with absolute certainty what it is I feel so driven to say my writing will improve. Then I will be able to identify my reader. At the moment I write for myself and my best friend. As I write it is like I am imagining a cosy chat between her and me.

Writing this, now, has reminded me of the Ten Thousand Hour Rule. This asserts that no one, geniuses included, will be the best they can be at their chosen craft until they have actively practiced for ten thousand hours. This can be both heartening, 'I can improve!' and debilitating: ten thousand hours adds up to eight hours a day for five years! I probably haven't done one thousand yet.

2)Embrace the shitty first draft. One of my tutors said this to me and I have since scrawled it on my wall. It reminds me not to hate myself for not being Peter Carey. It gives me permission to be the novice I am. The most beautiful gardens thrive only because of the dung heaped upon them. The best, most accomplished writers re-draft endlessly. Roses don't fall off the end of their pens any more than they do mine. They are ruthlessly, artfully, nurtured from the soil of first drafts.

3)Explore words. Words are the writer's medium, as stone a or wood is the sculptor's. A writer needs to be thoroughly intimate with words. With their possibilities. Unless this is so, conveying meaning, generating the intended feeling in readers, will be a thankless task. Why make your job harder? Engage with the community of words.
I've herad of writers who don't like to read, fearing they will be overly influenced by other writers. I can see that might be a problem whilst in the process of creating, though personally I find my own voice grows stronger as I edit my work. Chip, chipping away until the point I am trying to make reveals itself. If you really do have something to say, hearing – reading – someone else say something else shouldn't be able to stifle it. Seeing how others shape with words shows their potential.

So there you are, a few of my thoughts on how to make your words as powerful as they can be. Now I have to award five other people. I have a very small circle and at least three of that group have already got the award. But I still have a good choice becuase it seems I move with the best in blogsville. So my awards go to:

Pat over at Past Imperfect: She has something to say and she says it with the utmost clarity. Having Pat on my sidebar is like having access to a very experienced guide to living.

Sam Problem Child Bride: Because she is just so cool. She has a very individual voice and it rings out loud and clear. I'm not saying I get it entirely but I have great fun trying.

Carole, whose Fractured Thoughts have a way of moving me to thought. She is self effacing, witty and very kind.

TIV at Postcards from Bloggerville: At this particular site (she has several) she groups together the words and pictures of other bloggers, thus saying something very powerful indeed. I have yet to explore her main blog the individual voice but now I have some time on my hands I can't wait to do so.

Lastly, but not, of course, leastly I have to give this award to Dr Maroon. This is because he is as mad as a box of poisoned frogs and will no doubt be a bit pissed with me for including him.

Oh, and I just want to say to the chosen five that you don't have to acknowledge this award if you don't want to. You don't have to give your top three tips for powerful writing. Just bask in the glory of being awarded. That should cheer up the good Doc!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Postcards from Bloggerville

Just a quickie to say Happy New Year to all and to share with you an exciting new blogging discovery. The Individual Voice has several blogs but so far I've only had time to check out this
one, and it's marvellous. She posts, on this particular site, the writing of other bloggers she enjoys. It's a fantastically eclectic mix but is all centred on mapping. Mapping, not just countries but minds, bodies, ideas. It's brilliant. I spent a wonderful hour or so reading some of the posts last night and will certainly go back to read the rest as soon as I am able. It's not just words either, there are some fascinating pictures. It's a kind of ever expanding anthology of blogs.

And now I'm on there too. She came by my site and liked my post 'Illuminating with Black' so
asked if she could include it on Postcards. Of course I said yes right away. It's just so flattering!

Now I must get back to work in earnest. If you don't hear from me for a while it's because I am
locked in the process of editing my own work. The most agonising part of writing, but ultimately
most rewarding. Next Monday I hope to emerge full of the cheer born of relief.