How you receive the world

Other people’s words about … being vulnerable

But still she couldn’t sleep. The window was open and bare. The curtain had fallen down and no-one had bothered to put it back up because it always fell down again when you tried to pull it across. Ada was afraid that something bad was in the garden. The trees creaked. The night swam through the window and came into the room like a river.

From ‘The Last Summer of Ada Bloom’
by Martine Murray

Sometimes things are not as they seem. Sometimes the world outside seems dark and threatening, as Ada perceives it to be in Martine Murray’s gorgeous words quoted above — even when it is not.

In my last blog post, I wrote about some bad feedback that I thought I’d been given about a project I’ve been working on for a very long time. It turns out that that feedback wasn’t what it seemed at first to me, and that I’d been wrong in my interpretation of it. It turns out that there is hope for that project, after all.

Sometimes it depends on how you look at things, and on how you receive the world.

How you look at it: Darkness or light?

The project I was referring to was one I’d worked on for a long time, although over the years my commitment to it had wavered and waxed and waned. Sometimes I’d tried to run away from it, but every time I did, I would find myself returning to it, unable to abandon it until I knew that I had seen it through, no matter what the outcome would be. Towards the end I lost all sense of joy in my work on that project. It became a self-imposed duty, something I had to do regardless of the outcome, regardless of how I myself felt about it, regardless of how much time or energy or wellbeing it demanded of me. That’s why, when I thought that the feedback I’d received on it implied that I might have to do some more work in order to get it across the line, I wrote: And I do not (yet) know if I have the energy or the moral courage to do that work. I truly do not know.

In the days after I received that feedback, as I tried to work through my response, a kind friend asked me if I had ever listened to Brene Brown’s TED talk on the power of vulnerability. I had heard of Brene Brown but I had never listened to her talk, nor I had I ever read any of her material. Without knowing anything about her, I had written her off as some kind of New Age guru or self-help profiteer. But I respect this friend a great deal, and in addition I was feeling so vulnerable that I figured listening to someone else talk about vulnerability might not be such a bad thing. So I sat down and listened to the talk, and within the first two minutes I found myself weeping.

Have you listened to it? If you haven’t, I can only recommend that you do. It is a humble speech, filled with common sense and humorous insight. It is a talk about how we long to connect with each other, and how important it is for us not to be afraid to connect, and what it takes to do so. For me, listening to Brown was a lightning moment. I wish a lot of things, but in relation to this project one of the things I most wish is that I had reached out earlier while I was working on it. I wish I had been unafraid to ask for feedback or advice right back in the early stages. I wish I had been willing to say to someone: This is what I’m working on, and it’s not working, and I don’t know why.

I didn’t, because I was seeking perfection. I didn’t, because I felt too vulnerable. But there is no such thing as perfection. And sometimes you have to be willing to feel vulnerable to move on.

This is Brene Brown’s TED talk, if you want to listen to it.

How you look at it: cute or wild?

In the aftermath of all of this, I feel exhausted and fragile. I still don’t know what will happen now that my project is out in the world (although I promise that I’ll tell you when I find out). At the same time, I feel as though I’ve learned something that I needed to know — not just about that project, but about myself. That’s another reason that it’s important to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. It’s the only way we can learn.

Lately I’ve been reading …

From my world to yours … and beyond

Other people’s words about … the blogosphere

I don’t know if I’ll make it to eight years of blogging. Probably not, to be honest. And that’s OK. Because the time I’ve spent in this corner of the internet has changed my life in the most unexpected and powerful way. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with you, so THANK YOU.

From ‘ Reflections on 7 years of blogging
by Ali Feller of
Ali on the Run blog

It’s becoming quite a trend, isn’t it? Quitting blog writing. Decrying the blogosphere and what it has become. I’m saddened to find that some of my favourite bloggers, quoted in the passages dotted throughout this post, are pulling the plug on their blogging.

But I’m not about to do the same.

But it’s time friends. It’s time to pull the plug on my blog. I’ve been putting off this decision and this post for a very long time.

From ‘ So long, farewell
by Christine of
Love Life Surf blog

I’ve talked before about why I love blogging and the blogosphere. Many of the bloggers now leaving the blogosphere complain about how disingenuous bloggers are becoming: how curated so many blogs are; how inauthentic the bloggers’ voices have become; how blogs now function, simply, as the latest tool for a person who wants to build a portfolio in order to make a living through social media.

Honestly? In some ways, I agree. I wince when I realise I am wading through yet another post on a cooking blog filled with not one, not two, not five, but ten (or more) shots of the same dish, artfully presented amongst scrunched-up tea towels, autumnal leaves and battered enamel saucepans. And I wince even more when I find myself reading yet another post by a blogger announcing breathily, Guess what? Exciting news! I got a publishing contract!

I’m almost nostalgic for the early days of blogging (except I don’t really do nostalgia). It was enormous fun, but also an enormous consumer of time. I loved it at the beginning but foresaw early on many of the problems now associated with the internet, and now I’m happier doing it all in private. I always had faith that the appeal of printed books, face-to-face conversations, trips to the cinema, walking, swimming and camera-less experiences would never fade for me and now I am back where I was before I started blogging in 2005 … I’m writing a new book. I’ve moved on from writing about domesticity. I just live and breathe it, like I always did.

From ‘ As I live and breathe
by Jane Brocket of
yarnstorm press blog

But there’s still room in the blogosphere for sincerity. For vitality. For authenticity. There is. You just have to look a little harder to find it.

Some bloggers find joy in the blogging community; recently, for example, I read a lovely post by children’s author and fellow blogger Cynthia Reyes about bloggers helping bloggers. Her post would make any blogger think twice about stopping blogging.

Me? I blog for many reasons. I see blogging as a way of improving my writing: of learning to express myself better, learning to reach out to people, somehow, with my words. I see blogging as a form of connection to the rest of the world — if I show you my world, perhaps you will show me yours. I see it as a substitute for journal writing: a substitute that is better than the original because, due to the public nature of the domain in which my blog appears, there is discipline involved in the writing of each post, and discretion. And I see blogging, as I’ve said before, as a way of reaching towards beauty, wherever I can find it.

All of those are selfish reasons for blogging, I guess. But the corollary of writing a blog is spending time reading other people’s blogs: listening to what other bloggers have to say, seeing what they see, understanding what they believe (even if I don’t agree with them). Reading of any kind, no matter how enjoyable an activity it is, is inherently an unselfish act. It forces you to listen to other people. It can, if you let it, open your mind.

I think blogging offers a richer, more thoughtful, more all-compassing vehicle for expression than other forms of social media like, for example, Twitter (where pithiness is valued over thoughtfulness) and Instagram (where aesthetics are valued over normality). And for that reason alone, I will continue to participate in, and love, the blogosphere.

What about you? What do you think about the state of blogging today?

A bitter pill to swallow

Other people’s words about … cures

We feel sick even if we are physically well. We are organically diseased by lack or excess. Most of our healers — mainstream and alternative — now act and are treated like shopkeepers, and have become entrepreneurs (or the pawns of entrepreneurs). If they don’t give us the goods — the diagnosis and pill — we’ll shop elsewhere. We seek passive means of attaining health and longevity, which is what medicine (both conventional and alternative) promotes. We want diagnoses. We want solutions we can browse, buy and swallow, be they pharmaceuticals, tinctures or vitamins. It’s convenient for politicians, suits industry very nicely. Pills are our tiny white black holes: absorbing all our hope, agency and energy. They divert attention from prevention, population health and inequity; they promote consumption.

from ‘Too many pills?
by Karen Hitchcock
in The Monthly magazine (September 2015)

I like Hitchcock’s thinking. A doctor who works on the acute medical ward of a big city hospital, she pulls no punches when it comes to discussing health in our society.

Health, she says, is more than just a physical issue. It is an issue of combined mental, physical, environmental, interpersonal, social and political factors.

Too many pills?
Too many pills?

I can’t do justice to her argument here. It is complex and passionate, encompassing the need for both personal action (at the individual level) and social action (at the socio-political level). And it is about considering the idea of a cure not as something we can buy but rather as something we should do.

And, oh, these are words well worth reading.

The third year

Beautiful words

I love reading.
I love words.
Maybe you’d noticed?
After all, reading and writing have been two of my core themes on this blog, right from the start.
So.
This year — my third year of blogging (yes, really! twenty-one words has been around for over two years now) — that will be my main focus.
Other people’s words.

A year of reading
A year of reading

Each week, I’ll be posting a quote from something I’ve read and loved,
either recently or long ago.
(Some writers’ words stay in your mind forever.)
Sometimes I’ll post a photo to accompany the quote,
sometimes I’ll post a comment instead.

A cup of tea to accompany reading makes it even better ...
A cup of tea to accompany reading makes it even better …

I hope you’ll find some words here, in the next year, that tickle your fancy;
that make you think;
that make you laugh,
or smile,
or cry;
that make you go to your library and read those other people’s words for yourself.
For me, that’s what reading’s all about.

Note
For readers wondering about my original theme — twenty-one words, after which this blog is named — fear not. ‘Twenty-one’ will still be a theme around here. Watch this space to find out how.

The circle of life

I can’t resist coming back to Kim Leine’s ‘The Prophets of Eternal Fjorde’ today to post a couple more quotes. This time, we are not focusing on intestinal discomfort. (Enough already!)

My constitution would seem to be better than I would have thought, for I have survived two attacks upon my life this winter and may thereby once more look forward to further prolongation of my futile destiny.
(p. 406)

Morten Falck, a Danish missionary, struggles with his own fleshly weakness, with his desires and cravings, and with the despair that comes from leading a life whose purpose is not entirely clear to him.

I cannot go back … I can only go forward, in a ceaseless circle, and my only hope  is that when the circle is complete and the motion halts I shall have arrived at the place that is best for me …
(p. 505)

Life as a ceaseless circle:
Don’t you, too, sometimes feel you are pushing forward blindly, hoping — hoping — that you will one day arrive at a place that makes sense?

What does stage-fright mean to you?

Other people’s words – Part V

… it means not putting so much energy into making something go away. Anxieties like stage fright, at bottom, are a turning against the self. I think it’s much more fruitful to try to be on good terms with every side of one’s personality.

from
Stage fright: classical music’s dark secret
Daily Telegraph, 3 July 2014

 

Life is a stage sometimes, I think.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? — living without turning against yourself.

Note:
I’d like to thank my mother for alerting me to this article, and in particular this quote from it.

Quote

Other people’s words – Part III

A word in your ear about the Brontes …

Lena has brought Wuthering Heights with her. It’s one of her favorites; she’s read it six times. Aviva borrowed it from her once but found Heathcliff repellent, Catherine incomprehensible. The characters gnashed their teeth, shrieked, struck their heads on hard objects until they bled. Everyone sneered and was agitated. Aviva doesn’t understand what Lena finds so compelling.
“It’s the way Heathcliff can’t think about anything but her,” says Lena. “The way he would rather be damned to hell — and they really believed in hell back then — than be separated from her.”
“I wouldn’t want him to think about me even for a minute,” says Aviva. “Him and those dogs? Please.”

from ‘The Virgins’
by Pamela Erens.

I’ve never been a fan of the Brontes. (Jane and Rochester? Please.)
It appears I’m in good company!

Other people’s words – Part II

Emetophobia has governed my life, with a fluctuating intensity of tyranny, for some thirty-five years. Nothing — not the thousands of psychotherapy appointments I’ve sat through, not the dozens of medications I’ve taken, not the hypnosis I underwent when I was eighteen, not the stomach viruses I’ve contracted and withstood without vomiting — has succeeded in stamping it out … 

From ‘My age of anxiety’
by Scott Stossel

Sometimes, no cure exists for our ills.

We learn — slowly, painfully — to co-exist with them:

We learn to strive for grace.

Note: Click on the following link if you want to know more about emetophobia. And for a review of the book I’ve quoted from, and more insight into anxiety as well as emetophobia, see Sally Satel’s article  from The Millions.