Thursday, 23 January 2014

Back in the Classroom

Yesterday was my first day back in the classroom. Not just for this term, I've been doing distance learning for a year now and it's only the fact that my new module, Reading into Writing isn't offered as a distance learning course, that means I'm back in the class room at all. The lesson was good, with lots of lively discussion about the set text, Gawain and the Green Knight.

I also have the name of my Final Project tutor, and I'm back with Ian Marchant again (he's the tutor for Creative Non Fiction). I get on with him well and so I'm looking forward to working with him. I'm hoping to see him today, even if its just to hammer out an appointment time to discuss Forest Brides properly.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Something Positive: January So Far

One of the things I wanted to do this year was record the good things that happen, rather than just the bad ones. That way I hope to have a list of good experiences I can look back at and know that things aren't as horrible as they sometimes seem.

The past couple of weeks have been quite rough; January isn't the kindest month and with work, study and everything else it's felt like the mountain path has all but disappeared recently, leaving me with just sheer cliff face to navigate (and no crampons). Nonetheless there have been a few good things going on too. I got to spend the book tokens I got for Yule and that meant picking up seven brilliant books, which I'm really looking forward to reading. I ordered a copy of the Sea Watch by Adrian Tchaikovsky - it seems to be the red headed stepchild of his series, Waterstones had pretty much every other book by him, but Sea Watch has been conspicuous by its absence. The seller told me it would take six weeks to come in, but it only took two! So hats off to them for getting it in so fast.

Also, the guy on the cover looks a little like the author... which is brilliant.

Also book related, I keep finding science fiction and fantasy geeks at work, which is great! One of the very few people who have read Fatal Thirst fed back to me, and really enjoyed it so I'm doing something right (phew) and I grabbed the first of a Brandon Sanderson series on the recommendation of another. I got a piece written for a competition and got some good feedback on that too. And to cap it all I've started making moves to find the 'what I do after the MA' by looking at the Creative Choices site and talking to the careers officer for the faculty I'm studying with at Uni.

I submitted my coursework on the 8th of January and my tutor seems confident I'll pass. I'm not, as I struggled with the module a fair amount, but on the plus side a lot of the reading will be beneficial for my final project because that ties into the world of myth and legend too, so I hope I've stolen a bit of a march there.

The third good thing is finding out that a lot of the RPGs I had marked to get rid of because there wasn't a chance of playing them I can now keep, because I'm between groups and all the things I like are suddenly open again. It's a weird feeling but a positive one and I've rescued quite a lot of stuff from the pile that's destined for eBay.

Oh and I've been really enjoying Skyrim (even if I'm playing it too much).

Right, I must go and write. My novel won't create itself.

Friday, 3 January 2014

New Year, New Path

I'm late with this, but I hope you'll forgive me in the timing of this somewhat Janus themed post (looking back and forward at the same time). A lot of things have been whirling around my head from coursework to novels, to working myself into pointless stress over roleplaying... something I've decided to cut out of my life almost completely for now because I've come to the conclusion that at present it simply cannot make me happy. So my 'this is a new year, oh my God' post ended up being put on the back burner a bit.

If I'm honest I don't have a lot to say, my resolutions largely boil down to 'keep doing what I'm doing', to keep reading and writing and working to get up the mountain to being published (fully aware that there's another peak to climb after that one). The only change to 'situation normal' is that as I'm not gaming I'm going to have to seek out a new social life. I'm an introvert and I'm also extremely uncomfortable with pushing things I want onto people, preferring to open up discussion and talk about things rather than make unilateral decisions (unless I'm flouncing off, apparently). As a result whilst I want to be around people I need to be sure I measure it out carefully and give myself lots of buffering space so I don't feel overwhelmed (in addition to giving me the chance to get coursework and other writing done). I'd like to get fitter too, as I'm aware that my tummy is getting a bit too big, but that's going to require me to set up a routine and stick to it and I already feel as if there's not enough time in the day.

2013 was a mixture of ups and downs, there were times when I feared I was coming down with depression and just felt stressed for a goodly chunk of the year.  I had concerns over my marriage, my course, finding work (taking a long round trip to Southampton and succumbing to a black mood of bleakness on the way home isn't exactly a good way to spend a day) and other things. On the other hand, the good things that happened were that I got to meet new people and make new friends, got more work published and was asked to review a book of short stories by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I won the prize at Fiction Vortex and saw two of my favourite bands in concert, wich was briliant. I got a job, even if its not one I plan to stay in forever, and I think my marriage is back on track, though it still feels touch and go in places. A good friend of mine quit gaming and in doing so opened a can of worms that led to me just feeling too discontented to continue, something that ultimately led to my decision in the tailend of last year to quit the group.

I'm really hoping that this coming year will be less fraught and I'll find a nice balance for all the things in my life. I'm hoping to get my novel finished, pass my MA, make new friends and expand my social circles, hopefully making more contacts within the writing 'industry' and meeting more writers - something that's increasingly important to me. One thing that I'm hoping to steal from my friend Mave (he of Stormy Port Games, check them out) is recording the good things that have happened to give me a catalogue of positive things rather than just a groundswell of rubbish to focus on. I'm going to try and blog about one good thing every week, whether its meeting up with a friend or going to a gig or whatever.

In the meantime I have a largish book voucher to spend, any suggestions?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Such happiness, such bliss

Happiness; it's on my mind a lot at the moment. Partly because of the time of year, that mandatory happiness sentence at Christmas, and partly because a good chunk of my 30s has been spent scrabbling around trying to make sense of it all and find out what actually makes me happy after... well what feels like a long time of just wandering aimlessly and finding out what only offers disappointment. 'All that glitters is not gold', as J.R.R. Tolkien put it, never seemed so apt.

The thing about happiness is that, like humour, it's a very personal thing. What makes one person happy doesn't another, and sometimes it feels like it's hard balance to get right, sometimes almost impossible; especially where groups of people are concerned. For instance, reading books is one of the things that makes me happy and fulfilled. A friend only reads comic books (which I have no problem with - I'm happy to quote the Tenth Muse idea to anyone with five minutes to spare and an open mind), and can't read anything novel shaped to save his life. He just gets no enjoyment out of books at all. I'm the same way about television, the idea of staring at a screen doing nothing but watching isn't pleasurable but hellish, which would confuse another couple of friends who seem, from their conversations, to live their lives through what they watch to the extent that it shapes their reading and they rave about Game of Thrones, whereas I'll happily endorse Fevre Dream and am rather ambivalent about the thick doorstep fantasy series.

On a societal level, it feels as if the party line is that fun and happiness have been boiled down to a few very fundamental things, shopping, getting drunk and going very fast. If you like a smidgen of violence too then you're winning, to judge from films and computer games. All these things feed capitalism of course, you have to spend money to do them, and I wonder if we genuinely expect them to make us happy or if we're just indulging in status games. Are we just polishing up our egos to make ourselves feel important or special in the same way that games like Candy Crush feed us affirmations to enhance the sensation that playing them is fun, subtly using them to get us to play more.

The other thing is that all these activities invariably lead to us acting like children to an extent, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As a species we're at our best when we play and, honestly, grown ups are a bit of a myth aren't they? I don't know anyone who's really, truly grown up, they're just pretending because they have to. The problem is that things like shopping, drinking etc, aren't really about play or creativity the way that something like doing crafts or fixing up old cars are, they're about consumption and denial - pushing the world away. They feed the addictive parts of our brains, encouraging us to associate consumption with  pleasure. In many ways it feels like the easy way out, making things is hard and after a long day of work most of us don't want to think, but feel; that's what consumption relies upon.

It makes me sad that so many of us shut off our creative sides when we 'grow up', somehow associating it with being stupid or childish in the bad sense and not with expressing themselves and letting our true selves flow out into the world. There's a reason for the 'I'm a child that survived' meme that circulates Facebook every few months and unfortunately, the wider world works to tell us that if we don't consume, but create, then there's something wrong with us. The size of your television is more important than your ability to write a sonnet. Which, frankly, is a pile of horse dung that, to use internet speak, needs to die in a fire.

If anything the more we consume the less happy we seem to be, because the more choices we have to make. I hesitate to suggest that we'd be truly happy without choice but I think most of us would like say, a limited number of options of washing powder or television station rather than what feels like the scene from the Matrix with the guns - just with consumer goods instead of weaponry.

Reflecting on what makes me truly satisfied, deep down though, produces the predictable answer 'making things up'. Sure, writing can be frustrating but I get a real sense of satisfaction from doing it, sculpting the world into a story, creating my own mythologies and establishing a narrative that explores the world as I see it (no matter how screwed up that may or may not be). It's like having the world's biggest toy box and you get to play with all the toys, which is great, but you get to do something with them which doesn't feel like you're just passively consuming, you're taking them and making your own ideas come to life. I'm sure that other artists, writers, musicians and creative people feel the same and like there's something wrong when you can't, just can't, get on with with the job you feel you're put on this small, silly planet to do. When life gets too overwhelming and you just can't pick up your pen or whatever and make things, it throws everything out of kilter and you're just left spinning until you recover enough to find some equilibrium and get back on with it. It's not a huge thing, not like an operation or a breakdown, but it still hurts because you're having to cut off part of yourself.

The worst part is that there are only two things you can do to get around it, be kind to yourself and, ultimately, work through it as best you can.

But that's true of everything isn't it? We have to persevere and believe that it will get better, even if we don't really think it will, a trick that would make 1984's doublespeak architects proud. The most important thing you can do is be happy and we all have to find our own way to do that. Despite my ranting about how great creativity is, it isn't for everyone. Some people genuinely only want to sit and be entertained and whilst I don't understand it that's their choice and their right. As long as you know what makes you happy and you own it, then nobody has the right to tell you that you're wrong*.  I suppose I'm saying, ignore the great and the good, ignore the people who tell you what to do, and listen to your heart. Only you can say what makes you happy, only you have the right to say that too, anyone else is just pushing their choices onto you and whilst life is always about compromise, you have to be able to draw a line in the sand and say 'this is mine'.

*As long as its legal and doesn't hurt anyone...