Thursday, 30 September 2010

Pain - is it useful?

Most of us spend our lives trying to avoid pain. And usually with good reason. However, I would argue that there are some circumstances in which pain is necessary.

On a personal level, I have tendonitis in my elbows - a problem more commonly known as tennis elbow. The usual treatment for this is a cortisone jab or, in more extreme cases, an operation. When I first noticed that I had this problem, I resolved to go neither route. I realised that the pain was telling me something ("Stop using me!!!"), and that I needed to get to the source of the problem rather than eradicating the symptom - the pain. For this reason, therefore, I underwent chiropractic treatment and extensive rehab gym treatment, to get my whole body working together to support the screaming tendons. It worked ... and after a year and a half I had full use of my arms again. Presently I do very little to take care of the tendons, and occassionally the inflammation flares up again, telling me to take it easy (and more pertinently, to behave myself on a permanent basis!).

Another situation in which pain needs to be considered is in people who suffer from leprosy. I have learned, from reading about Dr Paul Brand a pioneer in surgery for leprosy sufferers, that this is one illness where the absence of pain is traumatic, as sufferers do not feel pain and can therefore maim themselves terribly.


I would therefore like to return to my question: is pain useful? I argue that yes, it is.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

I can fly ....

I'm feeling much lighter!

Several months ago, one bright spark of a morning, I signed up to the RSS of a LOT of blogs. Most of them were on writing, some on scifi, others on Christianity - or at least, by Christian bloggers.

No offense to any of those who's RSS feed I adopted that morning, but I've just cleared out a lot of them. My Reader was feeling a little bit like a can of worms which, once opened, it is very difficult to stuff the worms back into. Thankfully I now have those blog feeds that are important to me, and where there are a lot of posts, I at least know why! I have also removed all those blogs that were, yes, interesting ... but for the most part, I didn't get anything out of them.

Hmmm ... should I judge my own blog posts by that same criteria? I would hope that mine is more interesting than some of those that I have perused the last few months!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Distractions

My apologies for a quiet day yesterday ... I had not scheduled any posts, and when it came to when I needed to write something if I was going to post at all, a massive speed-bump landed in the road before me, blocking my way. The good thing about the speed-bump is that I am now a wiser person. I wish I could say more, to teach people what I have learnt, but some things are better left unsaid.

I am going to try and get back into the swing of things ready for tomorrow's post. I wish you all a wonderful day - and I thank you for your being here.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A New Challenge

These last couple of weeks I have had to cope with a whole new experience. It's probably normal for other people, but for me, at the age of 30, I'm having to learn new behaviours.

There is someone at my work who has the same name as me. Where I am from, my name was unique, and even where I live now, it is rare enough. More often than not, I have had to handle people calling me something that is NOT my name, such as the more common Laura or Lauren, but never have I had people around me with my name before.

I guess it kindof makes me feel unsettled - having to figure out who is being spoken about each time my name is mentioned.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Feeding the Rainbow Trout

Take a look at this, captured today: Rainbow Trout in a feeding frenzy at the Bibury Trout Farm in Gloucestershire, England.

video

Do also take a look at the photographs that I took, which are to be found at this location: Bibury September 2010

The Deadly Race

The wind beat the waves into a frothy frenzy as I gazed out over the bay. The beams thrown out by the twin lighthouses, one at the end of either point, pierced the storm-crazed darkness. From the island, joined to the mainland only by sturdy walkways picking their way through the lashing trees, shone dull glows from shuttered houses, hunkering down to wait out the storm.

Having picked my way down the cliff, I passed through the dark streets of the town, heading towards the channel that cut the island off from the mainland. I sought my boat, last left near the slipway by the big tree.

As I approached, I knew it was hopeless. The channel, usually harbouring a gentle rivulet, was a raging torrent, whipped into a deadly race by the wind. Drawing nearer to the water, I noticed an oar pass by, and then a float-board. With growing horror I looked upstream, catching sight of what I dreaded. Several more float-boards and oars were heading my way, and limbs flailed in the water, heads occasionally breaking the surface. I had to act, and now.

Wading into the water, I caught the next board that came near to me, and then the next oar. Suddenly I sighted a hand moving past just below the surface of the water. I grabbed onto it, and the response was immediate, the relief at being rescued flowing up through my arm. I hauled at the hand and a body followed it, the young man finally finding a grip on the bottom of the channel. He staggered out of the channel and stood to one side of the slipway.

A short while later, all of the black swim-trunk-clad young men who had been caught by the storm were standing behind me, congratulating themselves on their narrow escape. I had ditched my efforts to rescue their equipment in favour of saving their lives.

They spent that evening in the local tavern, warming themselves with beer.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Curiosity killed the cat ... or not?

Why does one seek feedback?

There is an innate desire in us to receive feedback, whether we fear what people will say, or not. It's like a compulsion, an addiction. "What do you think of this?" is a question frequently asked, or "Have you been reading this lately?"

This is, in fact, a question that I just asked a friend of my blog. She and I have been discussing this creativity insecurity identity link for a few weeks now, and I was curious to know her thoughts. My immediate thought once I had asked the question was, oddly, "curiosity killed the cat?" But is this in fact a suicide bid, or a chance for security and building up of character and identity?

I'll be the first to admit that I feel unsure of my identity. And I think that this is where the insecurity arises from, leading me to check "Am I doing ok?" .... Ultimately, I think that one needs to take care WHO one approaches for feedback, and if one approaches those who are supportive and understand the fear behind the question, then curiosity need not kill the cat.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Does insecurity stifle creativity?

So it appears that there is yet another dimension of the human psyche, another stage of the process. While some of us succeed in being creative, but then shy away from allowing others to view it, others fail to even create something because of insecurity, fear of being judged, fear of criticism, and so on. I can well imagine that yet others create something, and then destroy it so that no-one may see that aspect of themselves.

What I'm learning from this, which encourages me, is that none of us is alone in our insecurity and lack of self-confidence. From appearances, we all feel the same way about our creative pursuits, and perhaps it's time to recognise this in ourselves - and in those around us. Time to be more sensitive to other's attempts at creativity, for we can only do as much as we know, and we all improve with time and practice.

If you have experienced this fear, or know someone whose creativity is prevented because of their lack of self-confidence, I'd love to hear from you - even if you just put your hand up and say 'Aye'.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Lost works ...

Following on from my discussion of the link between creativity and insecurity, a friend made the following observation on my Facebook page, The Reluctant Author: "I wonder how many works of art, great or otherwise, have been lost to fragile self-confidence." This led yet another friend to mention an acquaintance of hers who has stories to tell and who writes very well, but perhaps lacks the self-confidence to put the stories onto paper.

It led me to think of some of the great artists of all time - van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, among others; a Dr Who episode from the last series showed the Doctor and Amy visiting a very insecure van Gogh who hated his work, and those around him laughed at him. This may not be entirely accurate, though it is known that he suffered from anxiety and mental illness, but one shudders to think what works could have been lost if these men were insecure and lacked confidence in their artistic abilities.

Consider too of some of the great thinkers and inventors; Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci among others. What if they had balked at writing down and studying what they did ... we would have lost access to some of the greatest thinkers and scientists of all time. But yet again, how many others failed where they succeeded and pressed on - sometimes despite opposition.

Just thinking (and writing) about it nearly doesn't do justice to the enormity of what could have been lost ... but how much else has been, and continues to be, lost?

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

New Toy

I got a new toy this evening .. my HTC Wildfire. Ok, so it's not SO grand an Android ... but it sure is my first. And so far, I'm loving it. Loads still to learn, but it'll keep me very well occupied for a few days yet.

One funny side-effect - I've noticed that I'm rather cross-eyed now as I sit in front of my laptop. Clearly I'm holding the mobile far too close to my face - my eyes just do not want to focus anymore.

Still ... it's the simple things in life that keep us happy ... and I'm grateful to have a new phone. I'll be even more grateful once I figure out all of its functions!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Expectations

I'm in contemplative mode again ... and expectations are the target this time around.

I've often said that expectations are a bad thing ... and I'm again realising that this is too true. Over the last few years I have placed an expectation on a particular group of people ... with some pretty good reasons attached to the expectation ... and I'm just realising how unfair this expectation is - no matter the reasons behind it.

So, I guess, time to put that expectation down and simply move on from here. Wish I'd realised this sooner.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Who am I?

So where does this leave me?

You see, although I have had opportunities to choose what elements of my life should form my identity, there are simply too many options for me. I have too many interests, and almost everything in life has an attraction for me, in some form or other. I also find that I care too much about what other people think about me, and therefore, in a way, I guess, I try to please everybody and probably end up pleasing no-one - least of all myself.

There are, however, several aspects to me that would clearly work towards the building of an identity - I think.

I am definitely a people person. I have therefore always made space and time available in my life for friends and family. I have never been a person at ease with their own company - that is simply not me.

Over the last few years I have found that I enjoy writing. As a teenager this was a definite no - I occassionally journalled, but barely ever. Creative writing was a foreign language; I remember my Mom being amazed at my lack of an imagination, considering I always had my nose in some make-believe world.

I can be a perfectionist, and this is something that I struggle with, although it can also have its benefits. I am not a tidy person by nature, being rather careless. This has its limits though. The benefit is that I do proofreading, and paying attention to detail and being a perfectionist come in handy.

Oh dear me, this is starting to sound like a CV! So I think I'll shut up about now. I guess that I need to start considering these things that I have identified, accepting them as 'this is who I am and what I do', and establish how I can build my identity based on them.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

More Searches for an Identity

University was blessed release for me. Finally I was among people who did not prejudge me. Even the presence of former classmates from school did not restrict me - thankfully. I found that it was easier to make friends with people - mainly because no-one judged who you were friends with.

Once again, however, I struggled with my identity. What were my interests? What courses did I wish to study? These were two questions that I asked throughout most of the four years that I was at uni. The first, because one was 'supposed' to have extra-curricular activities. Choir? I had sung in a choir all the way through school. Now, for the first time, that dropped out of my life. Debating? I had friends in the debating society, but that wasn't me at all. Mountain climbing? Again, I had good friends in this society, but that wasn't quite my cup of tea either. I think that I eventually found an uneasy home playing social badminton.

Academically, I had planned to study Computer Science and Information Systems. Having been around computers for most of my life, and used them extensively (both at home and in the computer labs), this was a logical conclusion. Slowly, however, these were dropped out of the selection and Economics became my subject of choice. Madness, I hear you say - but for me, I loved it. For sure, there were elements of it that I never did grasp, but there were others that I simply resonated with. Ultimately, I enjoyed it as a subject - but as a career, no way!

About the only thing that was a constant for me through these years as well as those when I was in school was my belief and faith in God. Though this waxed and waned with the challenges of life, it was the one constant to which I could always fall back and rely on when things got tough - and tough they sure did get.

Friday, 17 September 2010

In Search of an Identity

A few weeks ago I blogged about the necessity of having a consistent and clean internet identity. That, to me, seemed to be the end of discussion on the topic of identities - although I knew that there was more to consider. In short order I find myself grappling with it again. This is partly because I have realised that one needs to be relatively comfortable with one's own identity before one can really develop an internet identity.

I cannot say that I'm really a person who has an identity - but I do not say that I have none. I think that most of my life has been a search for an identity, and I will continue to search for many years, I'm sure.

School was not, for me, an enjoyable time. I felt boxed in, and not allowed to be myself. This, however, just raises the question: what do I mean by 'myself? I've always loved reading. Over the years, however, it became a retreat from the world - an escape from the challenges that I could not deal with. Science fiction and fantasy topped the list of to-be-reads - mostly because they put me in a different place from where I was physically and mentally.

Many of my peers also classed me as an academic. Although the top academics were far more popular than I ever could have hoped to have been, this one fact somehow set me apart - ostracised me, in fact. Unknown to them was the hurt that this caused - mostly because one of my older brothers was a very strong academic and I never felt that I was quite up to standard. Knowing what one can achieve in one's own right (and I knew that I had it in me to achieve academically) doesn't mean that one necessarily achieves it. In fact, I rebelled against this particular box to the extent that I was eventually diagnosed with ADD, managing to fail both academic and music exams along the way. Yet another box for me to climb out of.


About the only thing that saved my sanity at this time was the fact that I played the piano. I would go to bed very frustrated with life and people, and would wake up equally frustrated. I practiced the piano every morning before school for an hour, and I have come to realise what a therapy this was for me. At the time I did realise that, as I was playing, I would start off angry and frustrated, but that as time when on, that anger and frustration would dissipate, and I would end the practice session on a far more stable footing with the world.

I do not think that the issues raised at this time were ever resolved - but things did start to change when I reached university.

Decorating

I just came across an email in my inbox (which is mildly out of control!), and it struck me that it discusses what I've been looking at this last week regarding creativity. I discussed God's role as creator two days ago, but this takes that role one step further - into the present. So, this is just food for thought. This was received from a mailing list, and is written by Max Lucado, one of my favourite Christian authors.


“Do good to me, your servant, so I can live, so I can obey your word.”  Psalm 119:17

God loves to decorate. God has to decorate. Let Him live long enough in a heart, and that heart will begin to change. Portraits of hurt will be replaced by landscapes of grace. Walls of anger will be demolished and shaky foundations restored. God can no more leave a life unchanged than a mother can leave her child’s tear untouched.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Out of Steam

Have you ever found that you've just run out of steam? This is precisely where I've been for the last few months. Somewhat emotionally and mentally burned out, and just plain zombied.

Some of my friends may argue with me, but I've actually withdrawn quite a lot. I don't talk to as many people online as I used to, and I'm not actively pursuing many of my usual projects. I'm not entirely sure where this started, but I suspect it may have been after the last doctorate that I edited. That was, after all, the third doctorate within the space of a year, and it cannot be ignored that a lot of work goes into editing doctorates!

The most concerning part is that I've lost the energy to write - or is that the energy to edit? I'm supposed to be editing my novel, for starters, and then looking at expanding it - but I just can't bring myself to really do it. I dabble here and there, but actually concentrating on it is beyond me. Not even the lure of a competition is pulling me to getting into this.

I don't think this is procrastination. Not this time. This lethargy is affecting too many areas. It would make more sense if it was just focussed on the writing ... but I'm still coming up with ideas and inventing stories ... just not for the one that I'm meant to be working on.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Creativity and God

A topic such as creativity as I've been discussing over the last few days naturally leads me to thoughts of God, since I believe him to be the ultimate creator. It is a real blessing that our creations, characters in our stories, do not have freedom of choice and an ability to turn their backs on us, to deny us as their creators. I think that it would tear us apart if such a thing were to happen.

So what of God? We read in the story of creation that everything that God created, he pronounced to be good. He knew what he was doing when he created the universe, the solar system, Man. And it was good. As the ultimate judge of what is good, I would argue that he knew what he was talking about. Nothing needed to be changed. No tweaks here, squeaks there. It was, in a word, perfect.

And then we went and spoilt the party. We turned our backs on him, denied him as creator ...

Knowing how it feels to create something, I wonder how this all makes God feel. Actually, I know how it makes him feel. The Bible tells us that, as Jesus stood looking out over Jerusalem, he wept. He likened himself to a mother hen who wishes to bring her chicks under her wings to protect them.

As much as it pierces our heart when people criticise our creative efforts, even more so, I am sure, it pierces God's heart when we turn our backs to him, trying to deny his existence even as we breathe. And yet, even then, He loves us so much that he chose to become one of us, to be killed by us, so that he could die in our place so that we could return to Him. Just how awesome is that?!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Delving Deeper

So where do this creativity insecurity leave us writers? Well, we try to laugh it off as being paranoid about others stealing our ideas - a very valid point indeed, in today's society - but not half as important that acknowledging that we're actually dead scared someone will take it to pieces. Indeed, as some of the comments have already shown, it is our heart and soul that we lay bare each time we write. Therefore it is this same part of ourselves that we expose to critics and supporters alike when we, in our insecurity, search for feedback.

Is it no wonder, then, that criticism hurts? Even when it's well-meant and constructive? To be told that something should be changed, something should be removed, or even placed elsewhere in the story ... it hurts like nothing else. Each piece of a story is like a newborn baby that cannot be taken away from it's mother - and to do so is to tear her apart. This is how our stories feel to us - we become possessive, over-protective parents.

I don't think that there will ever really be a resolution on this for us writers - and artists of other forms too. That is the nature of creativity. One works on something that one loves, that is very much a part of one - but then one has to work to clamber over the insecurities, to be strong enough to believe in what one has created, in the 'rightness' of it, no matter what critics may say.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Insecure creators

As mentioned in my post yesterday, many of us writers are insecure about our writing. But why is this?

For me the writing process is a varied one - depending on which project I am looking at. Usually, however, it begins with a kernel of thought that grows, over time, into a story or a poem. Sometimes I have needed to carry out some research to improve elements of a story, but for most part, what is written is my own concepts and ideas ... elements of my imagination.

Because of this - and I know that this is true for other writers - what is written from a creative perspective (this does not apply to, for example, academic writing, so much) is intensely personal. Sometimes it can even reveal our inner desires - those things that ordinarily we wouldn't want anyone to know. We therefore become very vulnerable under scrutiny - and many shy away from any type of scrutiny. This makes not only the feedback process very difficult - but also querying (seeking an agent to support our work, or a publisher). Rejection knocks us sideways (at least, it has done so to those I know who have had rejections), and confidence in our own work needs to be bolstered to boost another querying effort.

I have to laugh at myself. I have been discussing this topic for several months with friends, and we all experience these doubts and fears. I was encouraged to write about it - and my own insecurities in myself: my inability to find an identity; my doubts about my own writing; my difficulties with receiving critical feedback. What do I do? End up analysing the whole issue from an impersonal viewpoint that doesn't express my own insecurities. This is so typical of me.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Creativity

First up, I want to say that I have not been reading up on this. These are just my thoughts, what I see as being the case.

Having written a couple of poems, a short story and a novel (Work in progress), I do consider myself to be a writer. It is in this medium that I have found a way to express myself creatively. Coming as I do from a family of artists (all of my family draw very well, my grandfather was a sculptor, and my step-grandmother a portrait artist), this has come as a relief, since I had previously not found any other medium for creativity. I did play music for many years, one instrument in particular performing the role of 'therapy' for my frustrations with life (mostly teenage), but I never felt that that was a creative outlet for me as such.

One thing that I have always sought - particularly with my novel, for some reason not so much with my first poem or my short story - has been feedback. A need to check that what I'm writing is 'OK' - whatever that is. Essentially: do other people like it?

I have chatted to several writer-friends about this insecurity, and what I have found is that, to a man (or woman), we are all insecure about our writing. Even those who are published question their ability to write. Even when we receive praise, it is very easy for the doubts to set in again.

I wonder if it is only writers who experience such doubts, or if other creative pursuers - artists, musicians, etc - have the same problems. I would be interested to hear any thoughts.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Down in the depths ...

I have to be honest, I'm dreading the coming months. Where did my joy in the seasons disappear to?

I have now weathered five northern (read British) winters. Being South African, and growing up where I did (near the coast), I only ever saw snow that was far away on the mountain-tops. And also, it was only really cold for 3-5 months of the year - not the nine or so that one gets here in the UK. The changes in the seasons fascinate me - because they are so clear here in the Northern Hemisphere. One didn't really sense them so well down south. But besides all that, I have always loved each winter - snow, frost and all ... till the last one. So what changed?

You see, last November I got depressed. Summer-time just seemed to be sooooooo far away. Between where I was standing and summer were many months of freezing cold (and as it turned out, more snow than I'd seen in my life to date, which was great!). So, it got me down.

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE winter. I love all that it stands for. Christmas time (ok, in this hemisphere only), snow, freezing fog, LOOOONG nights ... I love it - and I'm not just trying to convince myself of that, I honestly do.

What I fear is the depression. I don't want to feel like that again this year.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Sunflower

Yesterday I posted an entry about a sunflower that I have been keeping an eye on. Here's a photo of it, finally.

The Book of Eli

Last night we watched the Book of Eli. WOW - what an amazing movie. I won't post any spoilers - but what I will say is, do yourself a favour, get out this movie (or buy it, even), and watch it!

This movie has got to be (to my limited knowledge) Denzel Washington at his best. He totally carries this movie, head and shoulders above the rest. His acting is top-notch, and he draws one into the world he lives in. May there always be at least one person like him!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Where Has the Sun Gone?

I've got a story to tell you - about something that's been on my mind the last couple of days. That something is a flower. A special flower. I drive past it every day, to and from work. It has no petals - that time is past. Now it has only seeds.

But this flower is one of the biggest I have seen. It must be about 50-60 centimetres across, it would sit on my arms if I held them in a circle. Perhaps with room to spare.

This flower is a sunflower.