Category Archives: Writing

Mission Mind Map

In the iPad App Store on Monday, I downloaded this week’s free app — MindNode, a tool that helps set out the groundwork for projects. I love new apps, and it doesn’t hurt when they’re free, but I absolutely adore making plans… probably more than carrying them out. When it comes to organizing in general, my computer groans with deeply-nested files; defolderifying is required when my system proves more of a hindrance than a help. I should probably delete redundant files altogether — those awful old merged fractals from 2007, for instance… I can do a lot better nowadays.

An image bright, cluttered and rough.

Why did I think this was good?

It can be hard to let go, sadly. My middle name should be Squirrel.

As any squirrel knows, sorting resources into careful heaps and folders is calming. It’s an acceptable way of gloating over your hoard while allowing you to feel more in control… so I had hopes this mind-mapping thing would be a useful weapon against the encroaching world. In my experience, plans morph into action surprisingly quickly, leading to greater self-confidence and a lot less of the energy-sapping procrastination I’m prone to.

“Incredible — I sorted that out myself! No dithering for days on end wondering what to do!”

It astonishes you to discover you’re a rational adult and can take on many comers, regardless of their role in life. Usually that phenomenon is attributable to pencil, paper and copious notes, and it’s also why MindNode now lurks on my iPad.

So far, so good.

You can’t, however, be a rational adult without questioning yourself and others, so there are reasons for me to be sceptical as well as hopeful.

First of all, mind-mapping looks and sounds terribly technical and arcane, and you wonder if you’re doing it right, particularly when not learning anything from it. You suspect it’s an attention-seeking gimmick that does the job no better than merely writing lists. Mind maps don’t present with a neat appearance, so how could they be better? They start in the middle of the page and sprawl in different directions… what if you ran out of room and started writing on the table by accident? A mouse could make a nest in someone’s mind map and feel completely at home.

Secondly, I know myself too well! A helpful and instructive tool becomes a blunt instrument in my hands. I bludgeon myself with it remorselessly, then give up, disillusioned and bruised.

It’s one thing ‘actioning’ a highly-targeted plan when there’s a time limit and a specific outcome in mind. It’s another to ‘improve’ myself or my daily life with something like a Chart of Chores or a To Do List, because these tend to be grandiose, pernickety, perfectionist schemes, quickly tired of and forgotten.

Who wants all of their time earmarked in advance, even for pleasant pastimes like watching Blackadder’s schemes on TV? Years ago I created such a time chart in an effort to combat a bad spell of procrastination, but I never tried it out. It’s still in my nested folders somewhere. I could draw up a new one specifying “read blogs at 10 every Sunday morning”, but it’s unlikely to happen. This is real life: I read blogs at different times during the week and could be there for anything from two minutes to two hours. I’m not a robot, and there’s no point trying to programme myself as though I am one.

iNotRobot. Depressing but true.

There’s a To Do List app in my arsenal, but it wasn’t at all long before I deleted it. For the right kind of people it’s excellent, and they doubtless use it the right way. I, on the other hand, use it completely the wrong way, so for me it wasn’t working. There’s something about being told what to do that makes me dart like a spooked squirrel the other way — even if the person telling me to do it is me.

Before discovering the app, my usual organizational methods included (and still include):

  1. Lists — I love lists
  2. Databases
  3. Spreadsheets and charts
  4. Journaling
  5. Calendar

I don’t use the iPad’s Reminder app as it’s never worked for me… too limited, or so I thought when I tried it. I can’t remember much about it now, but a lingering impression is that there were only so many items I could add to a page. I would tell it to alert me to something, and either the alert wouldn’t arrive, or I’d be uninterested and ignore it when it did.

By ‘journaling’ I don’t mean bullet journals, which I haven’t yet tried — I mean ordinary ‘dear diary’ journaling. This has surprising strengths which I should probably go into another time. The gist is that you start with a problem and enter into a conversational spiral, one thought leading to another… ending up fairly consistently with an idea of what will work and what won’t. Sometimes when you re-read, you pick up on things you forgot, which is all to the good. It’s like an old-fashioned ‘text’ version of problem-solving mind-mapping, no neater than a pictorial mind-map, and though I’ve filled out most of my thoughts fairly satisfactorily, you are left with a mass of text you might never read again. Unless you type your diary on computer and remember the keywords you used, you’d find it difficult to search for a particular event or idea.

That said, I love journaling, and wouldn’t stop for all the tea in China (or anywhere else in this globalized world). Mind-mapping should be just my cuppa, shouldn’t it, even if I don’t have carte blanche to waffle on?

To get to grips with my use of the MindNode app…

This isn’t intended as a review or how-to page, and I’m not going to focus on the technicalities of how to use it, but I’ll just comment that it’s easy for beginners — you don’t need an instruction manual, other than a couple of starting tips. Fiddly to use at times, but it’s good to be able to move things around or delete them altogether — an aspect which must blow pen and paper mind-mapping out of the water.

My first experiment

When trying it out for the first time, I mind-mapped an established creative process in digital art. My aims were to (1) provide a reference to keep me working quickly without getting bogged down; (2) potentially to inspire. I hoped mind-mapping might live up to its reputation and work some mindspace voodoo. Who knew what it might do? I lived in hope.

In the process of creating my nebulous map of creativity, I ran up against a few problems.

  1. I got confused about what should come under certain tags. For instance, radiating away from the word ‘artwork’, a key word in the map is ‘organize’. I read somewhere that you should use one-word terms rather than pin yourself down with something more specific. OK, keep it loose. Should I then go on to list organizational methods like folders and databases — or platforms like the iMac — or the type of resources to be organized, such as Bryce master files, Photoshop brushes, tutorials and so on? These are long lists — how do I put everything in one place without making the mind map explode?
  2. This led to the possibility of repeating the terms like ‘organize’ elsewhere in the mind-map, but I feared that might be against the rules. Also, how do you tie in ‘platforms’ with ‘software’, specific creative processes and different types of resources in a neat and orderly fashion, seeing as the software all worked together in some cases but not others — while working from different platforms in different ways — so I couldn’t list everything neatly in one place, moving in a sedate direction therefrom?

Gah.

The results of this, my first experiment in mind-mapping:

  1. No benefit. I had no room for all the items I wanted, and it was as though I hadn’t got to grips with the problem — if there was one.
  2. The process I tried to clarify showed itself in its true colours. It’s a creative process that pulls in resources and inspiration from everywhere, and you can’t list these, slot them in one logical place or plan them robotically. This is something I should already have realized, and I didn’t need a mind-mapping session to tell me that.
  3. I found no inspiration or new ideas.
  4. If used as a reference to keep me on track, it would add an extra, unnecessary step. It wouldn’t improve matters, being more likely to throw me off.

Even so, I realized I’d used the process wrongly with a subject too big (or not properly broken down to something more rational), while having no clear and specific aim. It would be unfair to condemn it on such grounds. I’ve never before mind-mapped, and needed time to consider how best to use it. Some of my first attempts are bound to be duds.

Ploughing grimly on

If I was not to discard the baby with the bath water, it was clear I should do more research. It wasn’t looking at all good for my experiment, which I now viewed with a degree of irritation. I was hot all over, my heart raced, my brows beetled and I was starting to pout.

I recognize that soul-destroying feeling from other projects I’ve not been good at.

Baking is definitely one, when I start off with fond ambitions of delicate, beautifully decorated little cakes and wafting cinnamon smells, and end up feeling it’s all more hassle than it’s worth. After which I start chucking flour around in lumps and slamming badly-shaped objects in the oven. Another recent project was mindfulness — I was determined to give it a go because I might learn useful life skills, but every time it asked me to do something such as imagining a peaceful scene while repeating a senseless question over and over, dull rage surged up and I had to put the book down. So I’ve not yet read it.

That doesn’t mean I won’t read it… the real reason I’m irritated is it’s something I want to do but it turned out not to be that easy or pleasant. Also there’s still the worry it’s overhyped and I won’t get what I wanted: a better life and a better me. I’m not the perfect person I was fondly imagining.

Oooh. We have now reached the point in this narrative where I was getting these dangerous rumbles over mind-mapping. It was distinctly worrying but I grimly soldiered on. The only way to turn this around was to find out what other people use it for.

One site provided me with some real ‘ah ha!’ moments, and I gleaned the following:

  1. Mind-mapping is used for problem-solving. (I’d been thinking in terms of organizing and streamlining; not quite the same thing).
  2. Think of the keywords in terms of headers rather than processes. If I was planning a party, I would have lists for food, guests, games, music and ‘things to do’ before the big day. The chances are low that I would head one of my lists ‘Organize’!
  3. Leading on from this, I can see my worry about repeating keywords doesn’t matter… it’s flow and direction that matter. You are trying to get somewhere, and it’s not a crime if there are half a dozen information offices in your map, provided they are all well-located and useful.
  4. The biggest break-through for me was when it was pointed out you could use mind-mapping to plan blog posts.

A better attempt

All my pouts vanished, and in no time at all I was embarking on my second experiment: Mission Mind Map. If that term seems a little familiar, it’s because it is!

Shortly after starting, I knew I was onto a winner.

  1. I was now thinking in terms of headings and lists, and didn’t get stuck.
  2. Item order mattered. Things don’t just spring up in the middle of nowhere, and the map finally had a direction.

You see, I was finally getting the hang of it, but my pernickety nature ensured I aimed for at least two items per heading. You can’t have a list of one, can you? In a mind map it’s really about flow, like in my diary… one thought leading to another — but while thinking of thoughts as lists, I wanted two leading on from one, and would fish for another point just to make up numbers.

That’s the feng shui approach to mind-mapping, I guess — or plain OCD.

I enjoyed it; it was a lot of fun. I was able to go into detail without forgetting minor points or losing the shape of what I was writing about.

The next worry, however, was how to get the mind map into my document. The idea of swiping back and forth between it and my blog post didn’t appeal.

Of course, MIndNode wouldn’t have been a proper app if it didn’t have a solution! I was able to convert it into a column of text in my favourite writing app. First of all it arrived in a mad jumble, starting with my last point and ending with the introduction. So I went back and moved everything round the other way, reimported, and this time items appeared in the right order.

When I remembered things I’d forgotten, I made direct changes to the text column rather than edit the mind map itself. I was tempted to think of the map as a finished product, like a picture, but it’s only a stage. It had already done the main work and was not part of the equation any longer.

Some of my changes and additions in the text column arrived as long lines and paragraphs, which is how I’ve always written. I put ‘brief’ ideas in the right places, and these immediately start growing, forming the nucleus of the post itself. In contrast, placed in a mind map, they would remain short snippets of text to be fleshed out later rather than ‘now.’ The process of allowing your notes to expand immediately can take you in new directions, and these are sometimes worthwhile. On the other hand, it’s confusing if these weren’t directions you meant to go in, leaving your original point jostling for place.

Perhaps the mind map is not a hindrance to the evolution of your post — more a temporary postponement of narrative in favour of deeper structure. It still reminds me of my use of journals to ‘problem-solve’… one thought leading to another and ending in a plan. It’s certainly keeping me busy and I’ve not yet abandoned this mass of text! I’m polishing sections of this before I’ve even written the rest of it — it’s partly procrastination; partly because in some sense it’s been written already, and I can relax and not worry that I’ll forget things.

A few days ago, I was listening to a song that has stayed in my head all the time I’ve been writing this. Long Time Coming (David Sneddon).

And in a deeper part of me
A stronger soul is breaking free
And I want you to know
Can’t hold me down for any more
Pull myself from off the floor
And I want you to know

Final thoughts

Based on my short experience of it, pros and cons for mind-mapping as part of a writing process?

Pros:

  1. Cuts down the usual muddle, though not completely.
  2. Possibly you would axe redundant topics before spending much time writing them.
  3. Otherwise short and lazy posts would become longer and more detailed, though I don’t entirely know if that’s good!
  4. It becomes less intimidating to deal with your blog topic overall; you don’t need to put it off to a later time when your thoughts are less scattered.

Cons:

  1. Tendency to waste time tidying the map — trying to balance it out and make it beautiful.
  2. Mine was inside-out and back-to-front, but there’s a setting to adjust that.
  3. This way of laying out your thoughts seems difficult to read. I showed it to a friend who commented: “I couldn’t get my head round it! It’s too much like the kind of thing the office used to produce as one of their many flavour of the month initiatives!” I can sympathize because I dreamed about mice (the ones nesting in it) and have no love for the corporate environment myself.
  4. The map is transformed into a column of indented headers. Why not write them that way in the first place? This is one I find hard to explain away.
  5. There’s a risk it disrupts one’s usual thought process. My style is conversational, but what if the mind map keeps me so much on the straight and narrow that I fail to follow some enticing side-path? On the other hand, the map probably makes sure I see the side paths, shoehorning all of them in. Both aspects could be bad.
  6. I already write long posts which could now become three times as long. Maybe you waste time overwriting it initially and need to trim it down later. The length of the text column generated from the mind map was putting me off, so progress was quite slow. I would ‘flesh out’ a section then scroll hopefully down, thinking, “There, I wrote quite a lot, I must be near the end?” Unfortunately, the tail of the mind map trails forever into the distance…
  7. My initial structure is too rigid. When I know what I want to say and look for somewhere to add it, I see what’s already there and there’s no logical place. Reading all the previous stuff, I promptly lose track of my new idea. Normally I write down phrases in my head before they are gone, fitting them together later. Perhaps it’s not the mind-mapping itself that’s at fault, more my use of the technique — I need to start with a looser structure and not break things down too much in the first place. It would leave me more room to move. Though that begs the question — why change from your existing method?

In any case, here it is… my mind-mapped blog post.

I am glad I persevered and didn’t give in to my attack of the blue devils. In the future I can see myself using MindNode for jotting down blog ideas, perhaps in combination with a page of ‘fully-sprung’ paragraphs, ‘use or lose’.

I still don’t see mind-mapping as a problem-solver — my problems may never have been that complicated. For me it’s: ‘Do research, write email or make purchase. Done!’

In decision-making I write lists of pros and cons; I can’t imagine using a mind map for that normally, but it was more complicated when choosing a new camera recently. I set up a chart composed of what I wanted from the new camera, showing how different models fulfilled these points compared to each other. Using this, I wrote lists of cameras in each context from best to worst. Different cameras came out on top in different contexts, but some listed high more frequently than others. There was a clear winner and it wasn’t the most obvious, being an older model I’d initially dismissed. I only added it belatedly for the sake of comparison, but it did so well (and blew off the roof in a number of reviews) that it seemed the only real option.

The newer camera model I nearly bought, praised in several reviews, would have been a pleasing choice as it was nice in its way… but it was not as good a camera, or as appropriate for me.

The above was in part a visual decision-making process but was not mind-mapping!

The idea of a mind map as study aid is interesting. In history, for instance — you could put main events in order and break them down. It would certainly help you write essays.

I’m still not sure why a mind map would work better than a series of lists. It was a great relief to me when I saw mine laid out as an ordered column of text. The ‘visual’ aspect doesn’t work when it comes to writing, as my usual need is to establish direction, not relationship.

I lost the plot towards the end of writing this, but it’s probably my fault for including too much detail and moving away from the visual map to an unbroken text column!

Will I continue to use it? Yes, I want to, and can make it work for me. Time will tell in the end, though my horoscope yesterday offered the following:

Someone’s ‘good idea’ could have you captivated – even if it means shifting things round yet again. The prospect of advance both at work and in financial matters could bring a smile too. With encouragement from someone who’s good at focus and who knows exactly how to present things on paper, you could enjoy a day of ‘personal development planning’.

Lovely.

The mind map looks like a many-legged spider !

Mission MInd Map

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O False!

False‘ is a recent word prompt, causing me to stare at a blank page for several minutes. It’s not that I’m without ideas; more that it strikes me as false to offer a word prompt that isn’t a noun.

‘Falseness’ is an easier to way to begin and makes a better blog title. “Falseness bedevils the modern world”, I could intone, or “Falseness is a fool’s flight from reality”… unfortunately, it’s not going to be that simple. Must I approach the topic differently because the subject is not ‘falseness’ but ‘false’? Does my grumbling even make sense? Doubtless it doesn’t matter, as I can approach it any way I want to and use whatever title I see fit. Nevertheless, it threw my mind into a non-productive spin.

Whatever… ‘false’.

The word usually means ‘untruthful’ or ‘fake’, possibly even ‘non-existent’. For instance, a false promise doesn’t imply you’ll get the opposite of what you were offered — it’s more likely that there’ll be no change at all. Sometimes the person making the promise really meant what they said but it fell through for some unforeseen reason — does that still make it ‘false’, or does it become something else such as ‘unfulfilled’? I don’t think it would be a false promise, as ‘false’ is a very negative, deliberate word.

False fruit
False friend
False teeth

Wait now… false teeth aren’t a negative thing. False teeth aren’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, pretending to be something they’re not. Instead, they very sensibly and usefully take the place of real teeth that didn’t want to stick around. False teeth are a good thing, which is a rare quality for anything that’s false.

More viscerally, false or shallow pockets (especially those ‘decorating’ an otherwise useful winter coat) are the most pointless, infuriating invention ever and should be stamped out of existence — by referendum if need be.

False grass… not good. False assumptions… somebody got confused and miscalculated. False bottom (in a suitcase) — a positive thing for the world, I suppose, unless you’re up to no good.

You could have a false bible — you open it and it turns out to be a box you can hide your false pearls in. That’s a good thing to have too. In general, if the false thing works for you and is protective of you, you will think it good — but whoever you were trying to dupe or deny will be less impressed.

Sometimes something creates a false impression, which can never be good, as it’s better if we all know where we stand. Even if you realize the case has been overstated, there are others who somehow don’t, and the disaffected will take full advantage of that confusion by claiming false outrage.

A truly false promise is obviously a bad thing because you thought you would get something that didn’t materialize. On the other hand, a false threat isn’t a good thing either, because you were being manipulated against your own interests.

These are very black and white subjects, but falseness can be a lot more subtle. Just about everything we think we know or see is false, in the sense that ‘truth is relative’. People can experience the same thing in completely different ways… it tastes good, it tastes awful, or something in-between. The picture is beautiful, ugly, nothing special or even quite nice. That person is wonderful, a walking disaster zone, or merely human. What you believe would seem false to another, but in your world there’s no question — Marmite is brilliant for you, always, though to someone else it’s anathema.

Is that fair, though? If you say, ‘Marmite is wonderful’ and for you that’s true while your best friend thinks it’s false, does that mean it IS actually false? Or is it like Schrõdinger’s cat where it’s both lovely and vile, and you won’t know which till you’ve opened the jar? It’s false to point to that theory, however, as there’s no sense of uncertainty — everybody who’s tried it has a clear opinion.

Perhaps this is a false premise to work on, as Marmite is in fact neutral. It’s not trying to be one thing or another… it’s just gloop to put on your toast. Statements such as ‘wonderful’ or ‘awful’ are all yours; your own truth and nothing to do with Marmite. It would doubtless post your opinion back to you with the words “I don’t own it.”

Now you’ve reached the end, I have to inform you… you’ve just been reading a false blog post. It’s not lying or trying to mislead you, but in some sense it resembles the false bible. You were perfectly well aware it wasn’t real, but when you opened it, hoping to find something valuable, it proved empty of any pearls of wisdom.

Excuse the Mess

image

If we were having coffee, you would have a red cat on your knee and a notebook to write on, and we would be writing notes back and forth. Probably we would be fighting over the black cat pen — who had it last?? I thought you had your own pen!! Peeve.

There would be a fresh shower of rain streaming down the windows, as it’s pretty wet these days… windows to front and back, so you would see a quiet street out the front and a hedge at the back with a lot of big trees. The pigeons would sit in the trees and look at you. They are always there, and sometimes a grey squirrel too.

Presumably you would be writing something like, “Well, this is nice, isn’t it, but a bit puzzling. How did I come to be here?”

I would take the cat pen and reply, “I think it’s my fault. I decided to try this hashtag thing — weekendcoffeeshare — without having a clue how hashtags actually work. I thought it would bring bloggers to my page, not here to have coffee with me. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to meet you, but I do hope you will excuse the mess…”

And you would write, “Oh, the mess is fine. Just don’t do it again, that’s all! I am not quite sure how I’m going to get back now. Thingy will be wondering where I disappeared to.”

I would say, “I don’t know. If you know how to work hashtags, it might be the way home for you?”

And you would say, “Sorry, I don’t know a thing about hashtags. Never use them.”

There would be an awkward silence, then the red cat (Delilah) would stretch happily and dig her claws in, as she does love having someone new to torture sit on.

You would say, in a relenting tone of scribble, “Since I am here, I’ve often wondered what you really look like behind that eskimo bear,” and I would say, “Well, as you see… there’s no eskimo bear! It’s upstairs, just sleeping.”

“Oh,” you would say, and “I guess you don’t look like an eskimo bear.”

And I would say, “You don’t look how I imagined, either.”

“What, doesn’t my picture look like me?”

“Noooooo…. you look…. more real.”

“Thank you.”

After another silence, you would say, “Don’t you think that eskimo bear photo is a bit outdated? You’ve had it since you first began blogging in 2005 or whenever. Now it looks kind of soft and old.”

I would start having a panic attack at the thought of just how old the bear is, the camera it was photographed with and the blog, and you hastily say, “Don’t worry! It’s all good.”

“OK,” I’d say. “Let me just get my iPad. Where did you say you lived again? I’ll look up the train times. Where?? OK… PLANE times. Oh, and take the bear with you, just as a souvenir. I feel the need for a brand new profile picture…”

The Little Witness

image

He sits with his chin on the iPad tray, a game of Risk he will sometimes play; protests my paintings are never quite right, while rolling his eyes at the words I type.

Thoughts from my diary swim past his eyes, mistakes in my emails cause him to cry, and when I’m drafting posts for my blog, with a shake of his head he gustily sighs.

When trawling the ‘net I turn up odd sites on the evils of iCloud or nasty tick bites. He forbids me to believe all that I’ve read — opens eyes wide, says “no no no!” But when ignored so that all falls on my head, this little witness… no, he does not go. Sitting up close, he soothes my distress; says “yes, I forgive… now it’s time to rest.”

Drift to a land of shadowsaurs; they’re so big they eat mountains whole; roaring rivers burst their banks and all past your house tsunamis roll. When you rush to stare from the door, it’s deathly quiet — the land is no more. The moonlight is bright and so is the scene but it’s the single worst thing you’ve ever seen. You bound up the stairs, hurting your arm, but no one is left to raise the alarm. With a gasp you wake in the cold light that’s dawning to tell him bad dreams that seem like a warning.

“Listen,” he says, with a disdainful look, “You are far better off with a good fiction book. You should read about people in fantasy worlds as far from the stars as a cold snowball hurled. Dragons and unicorns suffer no ticks, while evil cloud nets are eventually bricked; real life then has no cause to intrude — the chatter of millions you completely exclude.”

Oh, you might think you’re well enough off; when you get in a twist he’s not there to scoff! But with all of your posts that I read every day, he’s a witness to my life and yours also…

Following the Blog Crowd

Today’s prompt by the Daily Post is fleeting, a tempting word to dangle in front of a writer! I could talk about fleeting thoughts, fleeting joys, fleeting beauty or the fleeting sands of time… all the clichés. We mostly try to avoid clichés and anything else bland, but still fall into the trap by following certain trends. Resonant writing, for instance, is something to admire, but there’s so much of it around I find myself recoiling. Do you feel manipulated sometimes? What if we ditched the resounding lines and dreamy philosophy and just said what we think?

It’s true that clear layout and good editing is part of good writing. If a word interrupts the flow of your reading, such as an unnecessary ‘I’ mid-sentence, delete it. If you make the same point repeatedly, cut the repetitions (unless they add something). If you’ve chosen an impressive word when a simple word would be less distancing, change it.

However, I liked Iridescence’s post about writing straight from the heart and deleting nothing — as opposed to constant editing, particularly when your memories are at stake. She is really referring to diaries but makes a good point — if we edit our thoughts and personal experiences too much, are we editing our own histories? Often when you look back you can’t understand why you said or did something, and it’s not till you come across an old email or diary entry that really says what you were thinking or feeling that it becomes clear. All the emotion comes back and you remember why… oh, I wasn’t such a baddie, then! Right.

Well, when writing a diary of any type, it’s important to keep that emotion in your language — don’t lose it in favour of ‘good writing’ or simplicity.

Real, true-to-ourselves writing isn’t just for ourselves, though. Sometimes I spend so much time editing and changing things to maximize flow or ‘sense’ that what I post bears no relation to my original thought. When I’m confused enough it’s not published at all, which I think might happen to this one. Well, plodding on…

The best kind of writing, I think, is smooth enough that the words don’t distract you. If you use long words or writing tricks to impress, bear in mind we all know what you’re doing — we’ve done it too!

There are so many beautifully-written posts that are not quite devoid of humour, character, personality or interest, but still fail to convince. Truly inspirational posts have something more to them than just elegance — some kind of meaning that you won’t get anywhere else, along with honesty, accuracy, and your own normal voice.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve learned anything from this post. I spent so much time changing it that I got lost, and don’t know what I’m saying any more. Nor do I know how to end it, so I’ll try a profound quotation I found on the internet.

Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.
– Napoleon Bonaparte

Hmm, I don’t know. Does it fit, do you think? 🙂

Colourless World

Am playing with colour wheels, using a new set of pencils. The Christmas tree stands in the corner; silver, pearl and deep blue. Most of our days are dark and dull, heavy with rain and sinking into night well before tea time — it’s hard to see the colours I work with, but I keep trying.

There’s no future and no past. Regrets and intentions have no place, and hopes and memories remain at a distance. Colouring books anchor you in the moment — your thought chooses the shade and follows the line. Nothing else matters.

This is a gift from a friend. She gives me, not just the book, but energy and a new experience. I’m offered a fresh perspective on the world… on other people, possibilities and creativity.

Time passes.

The festive season ends and the tree is gone. Colour fills my dreams every night, yet the book remains untouched. The octopus is purple, blue, green, many hues… the sea has bubbles, seaweed, nothing at all.

I want to provide photos of my progress and describe how the pages are filling with colour — instead, they stay blank. There’s no ‘undo’ button and I fear to spoil the book. I remind myself it’s only the experience that matters — holding back is not ideal, and I need to send my mind elsewhere. Clouds press down like they do outside, but sometimes sun breaks through and there’s blue sky.

Well now, there’s an evil starfish somewhere… hiding in the background, only nobody can see him. He has dinner plans involving our girl. Ignoring the growing menace, I paint a glow in the octopus’s eye and the rainbow sheen of life on her tentacles. The sun that brightens both sea and land is an illusion, but for now I can believe it’s for forever.

—–

Daily Post Prompt: “Write a post entirely in the present tense.”

… it’s hard to write something like this all in the present tense without sounding carried away on the wings of poesy! “Kill your darlings,” we are told… but where’s the rock to club them with?

All My Greatest Failings Start with the Letter P

My worst quality could be one I’m not aware of. Perhaps what I see as caution and an eye for a bargain would be seen by another as typical Scots parsimony. A wish for clarification and detail might be written off by the unsympathetic as pettifoggery. But from the list of failings that I own to, which would be the worst?

Let’s see…

Picky
Panicky
Prickly
Prattly
Prissy
Pernickety
Pesky

This list could go on quite some way, but is already sounding like the seven dwarves.

I was labelled ‘pedantic’ at the age of 19 by family and friends. Was surprised and indignant, but over time began to realize what they meant. When I wrote letters, I answered every single thing that was said, dissecting each comment and rambling away, only to get back on track with the next nano-topic. It was only polite, all right? It showed I was paying attention.

I hadn’t shaken the habit by the time I was working — one colleague told another I tended to fly off at a tangent. The same urge to dissect everything and really get my money’s worth out of it was at play. Sometimes you’re not sure if a relayed comment is a compliment or not…

Anyway, you keep combing over little clues like this in your mind, spinning out a long list of weaknesses to be worked on. Pedantry might be undesirable, but I don’t think it’s the worst. It seemed to amuse more than annoy, and probably keeps my nose to this whole self-improvement track, though that’s not as New Age as it may sound.

Since that revelation back in time, maybe I’ve swung the other way and been too casual with emails and letters, ignoring a lot of things I should have responded to. Sometimes you just don’t seem able to get it right. The worst of it is, I can look back and see where I went wrong. I shouldn’t have talked so much about this; should have said more about that. I microanalyze everything I’ve written, cringing and thinking “no, that was terrible!” One friend recently reassured me that I didn’t come across as sounding the way I thought I sounded even though I didn’t mean that anyway. Maybe she knows me too well! Either that or she knows me better than I know myself, and would be able to tell you without hesitation what my greatest failing is. I would be very surprised and completely indignant… then bound to acknowledge the truth of it!

If I microanalyze everything I say or do, you can be sure I do it with other people. I used to believe implicitly that if you said it was so, it was so. Not so much now. “Your letters are so light and chatty,” could mean “you don’t half go on… I’m not able to keep up.”

And what about ‘keep in touch’? Never used to trouble me — schoolchildren commonly wrote it to each other and I thought it meant exactly what it said. But now my crazed and self-loathing brain sees: “I don’t mean to talk very much to you — just once every Christmas, maybe?”

Actually, that’s probably what it does mean.

I seem to have singled this out as my greatest failing… pedantry? I’ve talked so much about it here, but perhaps I’m just reluctant to get to the nitty gritty. Which leads me to…

Procrastination. This is a failing I’m annoyed by so much that I fight it by being earlier with things. This year I got the Christmas tree up in November! I feel better for it. The better and happier you feel with yourself, the more you think “that wasn’t bad at all!” and the more likely you are to be early with the same thing next time. Because there’s nothing I hate more than something weighing me down increasingly… the one thing I haven’t yet done that must be done.

If you get a Christmas card from me these days, you’re one of the lucky few. But if you’re thinking “she dropped me from her Christmas card list!”… oh no, I didn’t. I dropped the whole list by accident when busy a-procrastinating, back in the days when I was a greater procrastinator than I am now. I never took it up again, as I found I liked being free of that particular albatross.

I still shilly-shally sometimes. For instance, there’s the picture I never finished. Well, more like 500 pictures I never finished.

The back-up drive I haven’t bought, though my main one failed several weeks ago (I guess this might eventually solve the problem of the unfinished pictures).

The emails and letters I never wrote.

The squeaky wheels I haven’t greased. (Sorry, trolley!)

The coffee percolator that still has old coffee grains in it. (That should give a good rich, ripe, earthy flavour to the next brew). Yes, the pink one.

The failed spotlight bulb still not replaced, after years of irritably wishing the spotlight would work.

The ‘solar lights’ owl I didn’t furnish with batteries (and it got smashed in the next gale anyway).

Dental check-up. Had it to here with dentishts after being elevated to the status of a vampire at my last session, blood streaming down my chin. “What did your last dentist think she was doing?? Why so long to get this gaping hole closed?” Gosh, I don’t know.

All things considered, looking at it point by point, it seems procrastination is a failing I’ve not yet vanquished. In my vain pursuit of personal perfection, though, I’m sure I’ll get to it. Maybe tomorrow?

Just Nipping out to Peru

“Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?” WordPress prompt.

I used to think it would be the invisibility cloak, as I don’t particularly like drawing attention to myself. Faced with the other two items, though, I’m wavering!

Anyway, there’s a difference between being the only one and being one of many. If these were made available to everyone, there would be invisible people everywhere. Would you see other invisible people when you were invisible yourself? One might as well not spend money on the technology in that case!

If I thought there were invisible people everywhere, I would probably become paranoid and refuse to sleep till my door was locked and the room properly scanned. It would be like wondering if there was a virus on your computer that was keeping very quiet. Everyone else would worry too, and there would be a market for things that could scan for invisible people — everyone everywhere would do a sweep before having meetings or settling down to relax. As a result, donning an invisibility helmet would not do anything to ensure your own privacy… it would be a way of ensuring you’re noticed. People would scan, find you, and tell you you are not wanted. You would be better to save your money… you can be more invisible just staying part of the crowd.

The scariest thing on the list is the time machine. Perhaps I could go back and change a few things I did or said wrong. You question how it would work, though. Do I go back to be myself in the moment? In which case, would I remember this was a re-run? Where would the time machine be in the meantime? Or would it just dump me in the moment and leave me to relive all of that time again?

What if it could take me both ways, but broke down? You can’t complain to Currys from 1347, or even from 1987.

And what if changing my actions made things worse? Things are the way they are for a reason.

I wouldn’t like to have to make decisions about every little thing I did anyway. If I could smooth out absolutely everything I believed I’d done wrong, would I be sitting here thinking “should I go back to that dentist and tell her I don’t want that particular tooth removed?” Or “I feel awful today so I’ll go back to two days ago and refuse the flu jab!” (and maybe die later in the winter… who knows?) Everything would get in such a muddle that I would end up uncertain how to untangle all the different things I’d changed to get myself to a different place.

Added to which, if we could all buy time machines, perhaps I’d get back to someone to change my response, only to find that person was no longer there… he or she has used a time machine to change something in his own life, and everything is so completely different that they never met me, or aren’t alive any more. Not only would I get in a muddle about my own sequence of events, it would be made still more complex by the meddlings and self-edits of others.

So much for the time machine, then. That leaves just one thing — the anywhere door.

I can imagine if there was such a thing, people would start to call it the suicide door. Because, why jump in front of a boring old train when you can really go out in style… step out onto the surface of Venus?

In one way it would be worse than the invisibility helmet. You can guard against invisible people by scanning, groping, or perhaps donning your own helmet for a quick check around. With the anywhere door, though, there would be no locked doors; no privacy at all. People would be dialling wrong numbers and popping up in your locked bedroom as you sleep.

If those drawbacks could be contained, though, it sounds the most convenient, useful and positive of the three gadgets. You won’t be using the anywhere door because you’re shy, sneaky or obsessing over how perfect you can make your life. Imagine the difference it could make! You could visit friends who live very far away, just for coffee. Or, if you like to take landscape photographs, you can pop out to some famous beauty spot and back, regardless of where you live. If I wanted a photo of a snow leopard taken by myself (so I wouldn’t have to credit someone else with it), I could nip out in my slippers and take a series of shots, and be back before you know it, downloading pictures of a startled big cat to my Mac.

OK, it probably wouldn’t be quite that easy… The idea has its attractions all the same!

Bring on the anywhere door… though I suspect in reality it would be ruined by laws, Customs, scanners, disinfectant and red tape.

Keeping Perspective

I never posted my last blog post…. that’s two or three I wrote that never got online! Well, I hope this one is luckier.

A day or two ago, this writing prompt from WordPress arrived in my inbox:

I Can’t Stay Mad at You
“Do you hold grudges or do you believe in forgive and forget?”

Topical. 🙂

Several weeks ago I searched for ‘forgiveness’ and discovered it’s defined in a way that doesn’t match my understanding of it.

It seems if you forgive someone, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will continue to have anything to do with that person. It merely means you won’t be acting on ‘it’, whatever it was.

It makes a certain sense if you see forgiveness as a form of self-regulation. If someone damaged something of yours, you might choose not to chase them for reparation. In such a situation, perhaps other things would be of more value to you — community goodwill, for instance, or family ties.

Whether you continue to deal with that person is another issue entirely, and has nothing to do with forgiveness. Well, that’s the impression I formed after reading around.

I always saw forgiveness as continuing to see and speak to the person without changing towards them. If you cut him or her out of your life, that doesn’t seem like true forgiveness. How can you forgive someone without letting them feel it?

I don’t know what to think now. I don’t know enough to know the truth of it, and maybe none of us do.

I enjoyed the following:

Forgive (The Word Detective)

Still on topic, and looking back at the blog prompt… do I bear grudges?

Most of us do, I imagine. First I wrote, “we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t,” then realized cats, dogs, horses and birds in trees most likely bear grudges. Yes, birds sitting on rooftops do; also those flying over your washing. That line of thought was tying me in knots, so the best way of releasing myself was to cut the entire phrase loose…

Yes, I bear grudges over plenty of stuff that has happened to me over the years, and though I don’t act on these things, think, or even talk about most of them, I can still get grumpy when I remember any. Like the time the janitor rapped my knuckles with his keys when a few children were taking refuge in the hallway for some warmth. That really hurt… and I wasn’t shouting, swearing or doing anything wrong… I just didn’t want to be out in the icy playground. How old was I? Six? Seven? How long can we bear a grudge? Oh, as long as we live!

‘Grudge’ is an odd word, but less of a mystery than ‘forgive’. It’s to feel bitter about a wrong done to you. I guess it doesn’t even have to be a wrong that a human, cat or dog has committed, but something more abstract such as… life circumstances, perhaps. You can bear a grudge against the world. The phrase ‘done me wrong’ is interesting, though — very sure of itself.

Perhaps when someone wrongs you, it’s not always something intended to hurt you in any way or to any degree — just a fallout of how things actually are. In that case, what is it we grudge or forgive?

I was interested in the suggestion that ‘forgiving’ means not taking offence at all. Most of us will feel hurt by something, and need a way to move on from that, but what if we can bring ourselves to realize “it’s just how it is” and that no one was being actively malignant?

Can we realize in a comfortable fashion that something is not worth taking offence over? Or does it always take a bit of ‘processing’ to reach that point? Sometimes you have to work out the dynamics of the situation. If they are not clear, then nor are your feelings.

At any rate, there’s often a bit of a battle in our minds when feeling wronged or hurt. The way old grudges fade is when you see them as a curiosity, a bit of social history — something that happened to someone else a long, long time ago. We can’t possibly remember all the ins and outs after all this time, and sometimes we wrong ourselves as well as others if we judge an isolated experience without having all of the facts. Then again, when you find something similar happening all over again, and the same negative feelings surfacing (the ones you’ve long lambasted yourself for giving way to), you suddenly remember why you reacted the way you did all those years ago and appreciate afresh the rollercoaster of emotions you were dealing with back then. You are also faced with the unsettling realization that you’re not really a wiser, mellower being! You haven’t even shown more understanding of your younger self, and (it turns out) you still have those fierce internal battles to deal with. They were only dormant because no one was stirring the magma.

So, forgiveness… what does it mean? I always thought I knew, but life is messy. You can’t say “I forgive” and literally never think of it again, unless you really understand everything and know there’s nothing to forgive.

One way or another, it works best when you are still actively engaging with the other person. It’s a live, warm connection. Your experience of the person continues to update (and isn’t frozen at some point in the past). That’s a healthy situation. Less healthy is thinking you know someone based on something they did years ago, while more recent information is lacking.

These are general thoughts only, and wouldn’t fit all cases. At times we are wise to ‘cut all ties’, but it’s not a decision to be taken lightly and without considering one’s own part in it. We are a community for a reason — there has to be communication. Forgiveness should be about allowing that communication to continue.

Have just noticed I’ve blogged on this topic before, and my perspective does not seem to have changed. (The Point of a Grudge). Having gone through some kind of recent upheaval, I’m glad I can say that. 🙂 A tried and tested viewpoint! I prefer my older post to the newer one, especially as I forgot about Mme Ramotswe’s take on forgiveness.

Why Do We Write?

The Daily Post asked: “Who do you write for? Who do you think of when drafting a post?”

I’ve been having trouble recently with both journal and blog, so this question comes at the right time. It occurred to me just a few days ago that my life experiences are the same whether I blog about them or journal. It’s too complicated approaching the same life from a multitude of different angles and platforms, so I’ve stopped trying. However…

JOURNALS

In my personal journal I write what’s in my mind. My internal monologue finds expression! Minus all the “who left the milk out of the fridge?” bits, which are mostly too small to be on the radar.

It’s interesting to re-read old journal entries and I’m always surprised by how much I’ve forgotten. Old dreams could have been a stranger’s, as they’re so new to me. Snatches of conversation are funny, so I make a particular effort to include those. They are the first to go from your memory, so if they are not in your journal, they’re nowhere.

A recent example is a small victory I had over Mum. I like the Johnny Depp version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but not the old one from the 1970s. Mum is not keen on Johnny Depp and kept telling me the old film was better. Well, we saw the old one the other day (orange faces, bubbles, thin chocolate rivers and Tiswas foam), and eventually she said “you’re right…. Johnny Depp IS better!”

Of course he is. 🙂

I can be bored by my journals too, skipping over reams of stuff about computer blips / projects (e.g. how I reorganized my back-ups… that was a major process taking weeks). I still write about this stuff, partly because I need to vent (“the cloud is evil!”) and partly to clear my mind and work things out.

I used to think a journal was somewhere to write about your problems, but that doesn’t mean spilling vitriol about things and people. I get more of a buzz from re-reading light journal entries and so I don’t go down the agony aunt route often — not any more. Been there, done that, tore the T-shirt to bits…

I don’t enjoy writing about bad or unsettling experiences anyway, avoiding them altogether — though if I’m already upset, I might hint at how I was feeling. As a result, it’s more of a positive ‘thinking’ journal than a full record of my experiences.

It’s the little things that count, really. I don’t want to read about the big things, even more than ten years later.

BLOGS

Ah ha! My blog is trickier.

It’s supposed to be a place where people can glimpse a particular way of life, but my dreams and conversations won’t interest anyone else… so I don’t write much. I’m no teacher or guru so can’t turn it into a tutorial corner, though I’ve helped people occasionally. It’s more of an ‘experience’ corner where I’ll say what I had trouble with and how I solved it, and maybe someone else will find that useful. A recent example is my little ArtStudio disaster (The Mountain that Walked).

I’ve found my own links and tips useful! If I do something only rarely (such as make a home movie), and have a problem months or years after I first solved it, I won’t remember how to do it again. It’s better to have those tips on my blog than my journal, as they’re easier to find. I still feel shy about blogging such experiences, though, as it usually means writing about my own mistakes.

It’s a good time to face that, as I’m still reading ‘Being Wrong’ by Kathryn Schultz. People do make mistakes — like it or not, they’re a fact of life. She suggests errors can be valuable and creative, and it’s not as though we have a choice anyway.

It occurs to me that blogging and journal-writing offer ways of dealing with the process of being wrong! Otherwise, perhaps, there would be nothing to write about or discuss. If we never got a thing wrong and didn’t experience reality differently from others, what need of information or thought? How would life even go on?

That’s me, anyway… I write for myself while trying to be useful, but feel dubious about putting any of it in a blog post.

Talking of past mistakes, I managed NOT to lose half of my doodle today. If you stand back far enough (or too close perhaps), starting it may have been the real mistake! Or the true mistake was my beginning to take it too seriously in the middle, so that now I can’t draw a single tiny line without redrawing it a hundred times.

What about you… what mistakes have you made, corrected, re-corrected or avoided today — and did you write about it? 🙂