Writing 101, Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure

Today’s Prompt: For our final assignment, tell the tale of your most-prized possession. Today’s twist: If you’re up for a twist, go long — experiment with longform and push yourself to write more than usual.

 

Prized Possessions and Gifts received

I have a problem with the word ‘things’ in our last assignment, you see, I’ve never been very fond of ‘things’, so I don’t have a favourite thing that’s been with me long enough to value.

I don’t like jewellery, and I have no heirlooms. I don’t keep clothes, or objects, once I’ve used them, either. Of course, there are things which are very useful, and that I’d miss, like my smartphone, or my laptop, but I wouldn’t say I’m emotionally attached to these objects.

The only ‘things’ I value are my books, but I hasten to add, I don’t care much for the books themselves, especially now that of many of them are ebooks. It’s what the book has given me that I carry around with me all the time, as a gift.

I’m not sure I’d be the same person if I hadn’t read the books I’ve read. In fact, I have no doubts that they conditioned the way I think and, of course, the way I write, and live.

I’ve read too many books to even try to mention, so I’ll write about the three books I read as a teenager, and continue to reread to this very day. I reread them so often, that I’m sure they are my most-prized possessions.

large-bookshelf.jpgSmall Bookshelf

The first book is Rebecca, the second is Persuasion, and the third is Jane Eyre. The three are ‘Happy Ever After’ novels, in which the lovers have to overcome serious obstacles in order to finally achieve happiness, but what is the lesson I have carried with me as a precious gift since I first read them as a teenager?

The nameless protagonist in Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Anne Elliot, fall in love with an ‘ideal’ hero, but they must overcome significant obstacles, including first wives, and parental opposition, in order to achieve their goals. They all improve their station in life, by marrying men (Max de Winter, Edward Rochester, and Frederick Wentworth, respectively) who are able to offer emotional and financial stability, as well as unreserved love and devotion.

I was born several generations after these women, so naturally, my goals are not theirs. I didn’t have to find an ideal husband to live the life I wanted, so what did they teach me? You may suppose these novels are about marrying the ‘right’ man and living happily ever after. Well, that’s not the gift I received.

I learnt two things from these wonderful women. Firstly, perseverance. Never give up on our dreams, and pursue them with honestly and determination. Secondly, second chances will come our way. There is always an opportunity to start again, or to do what we always wanted to do. It’s never too late, and our dreams can come true if you continue to believe in them, and in ourselves.

These novels are not about finding an ideal husband. They are about not being resigned to follow the ‘easy’ or ‘predesigned’ route we can all drift into, and later complain of what could have been, but never happened, because we gave up. They are about believing in ourselves and working towards our goals.

I’m determined and persevering, and a bit of a dreamer, too, and I’m sure that’s due to this wonderful gift I received forty years ago, as I turned the pages of these inspiring books, and I still carry it with me today.

book-gifts

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Writing 101, Day Nineteen: BLOGGING: LESSONS LEARNT.

Today’s Prompt: Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

URGENT VERSUS IMPORTANT.

Blogging is like everything else we do in life; we get back what we put in.

Sounds simple, but it’s a very complex notion.

We live very ‘fast’ lives. Everything is needed ‘ten minutes ago’. We rush through the ‘urgent’ daily chores which we must inevitably do, quickly, but we forget that although urgent things can and should be done quickly, important things take time.

We can whip up a sandwich in seconds, but roast lamb with baked potatoes and fresh greens will take much longer. We can drink ten shots and feel sparked in minutes, but some bottles of wine drunk over a long, meal with friends, will make us merry for hours. We can send a text message in seconds, but when we ‘need to talk’, we need more time.

Sometimes a sandwich, some shots, and a text, are all we need, and that’s fine, but other times we need much more than that. Our wisdom lies in distinguishing what’s important from what’s urgent, and approaching each aspect accordingly.

So, where does blogging fit in? What’s blogging to you? Is it something you do for a few minutes a day? A week? Occasionally?

When I started blogging more or less regularly last November, I thought a post a week was more than enough to keep a blog going. I was wrong, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and it was a start. So I had about 9 followers from November 2013 to April 2014.

When I started blogging I thought I didn’t need to read anyone else’s blogs: I want people to read my blog, that’s why I’m blogging. I was wrong again. Blogging is like any other type of writing; you need to read first, during and after, if you want to write well.

Blogging is a ‘social media’, that means you need to be sociable. it’s not a one-way street in which you communicate and others listen. it needs to be reciprocal and friendly.

Sure, I used to read blogs occasionally, for specific information, but I didn’t follow many, I didn’t want my mail cluttered, did I? So I hardly read any blogs regularly, except a few fellow writers. Wrong again. Who’s going to read your blog regularly if you don’t read anyone else’s?

In the last two months, since I started being an ‘active’ blogger, I’ve gained almost 80 new followers.

If you want to be an ‘active’ blogger, I suggest you:

  • Read other blogs
  • Follow other blogs
  • Interact with other blogs by commenting on other blogs
  • Always reply to comments on your blogs,
  • Log in every day to see what the people you follow are doing, (preferably download the app on your smartphone and get instant updates)
  • Interact with other bloggers regularly by taking part in challenges, (thanks for Writing 101! It’s been a real eye-oponer)
  • Make sure your blog looks nice, you need plenty of visuals
  • Spend time looking through tutorials, and playing around with the layout, menus, widgets, etc.
  • Write regularly, at least 3-4 times a week (preferably every day)
  • Don’t be shy. Meet people and make friends, as in life, people aren’t going to talk to you if you ignore them, or if you only talk about yourself, are they?
  • Write about whatever you like, but preferably, be varied. No-one likes talking to someone who only talks about the same thing all the time, do they? It doesn’t matter what you talk about, as long as you are honest with your feelings, posts and comments.
  • Be polite, even when some people aren’t (and that happens so rarely, it’s hardly worth even mentioning. I come across more rude people in the ‘real’ world in one day than in the last eight months blogging!)

Remember, blogs aren’t urgent, they’re important. 

As with all important things in life, blogs need your time, and care, and love, and affection.

What do you get back? Personal enrichment through a connection with people on this planet you would never dream of meeting otherwise…

Happy blogging!

 

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Writing 101, Day Sixteen and Seventeen: Loss and Fear

Twist one: Reflect on the theme of ‘Lost and found’.

Twist two: Address one of your worst fears. Write this post in a style that’s different from your own.

I’m combining both assignments today, by writing about both loss and fear, partly in my own voice, and partly in another voice.

Elephant Graveyard

The most terrible loss is losing oneself. Looking into a mirror and seeing someone else stare back, someone who we don’t know; someone who has grown distant, and absent, and can’t remember his name, or recognize his own voice.

We first realized there was something wrong when he couldn’t find his way out of a room or into the bathroom. It was as if he couldn’t see the door, or turn around, but he could see, and he could move, only the door was meaningless to him. He had forgotten doors are entrances and exits. His world had become one long, one-way tunnel, in which each step taken disappeared behind him, never to be retrieved.

Then his character and his behavior changed, he started confusing words, and places, and names, and people, until he slowly drifted away from everything he had known, including himself…

My father died as a result of frontotemporal dementia, and so did two of my aunts. It could be one of the cards I’ll be dealt. My frightened fingers tremble as I admit it’s my greatest fear. There’s no cure, at the moment, and it’s painfully invalidating. It could be equally burdening for those who love me, and I wouldn’t like to be a burden. I wouldn’t like to forget my children, or my grandchildren, but worst of all, I wouldn’t like to forget myself.

Today we have been told to speak in another voice. That’s a relief, of sorts, I can’t even bear to think of myself without myself, inside a body that is not mine, living with people I do not know…

My voice today, is the voice of a man who believes he is an elephant, an elephant who has left his herd and is on his way to the legendary graveyard where aged and dying elephants, like him, retreat to die. They say there is a supernatural force which leads them there, but it has never been found, which does not mean it does not exist.

Elephant-African_SS_110613-617x416

‘I knew I’d become an elephant one day. Other animals don’t understand elephants. It’s lonely being an elephant surrounded by these other, strange creatures. They trapped me on my way to the sacred place, but they can’t stop me. I’ll get there in the end.

I’ve taken a special dislike to zebras. They stare at me and prod me with painful instruments, and make squealing noises. I don’t like their stripes or their long manes and bushy tails. I’m stronger than they are, but I’m alone, and although they’re weaker, there are so many of them that they’ve got braver. They’ve tied me to the bed, but I’ll be breaking free soon.

Occasionally lions come into my room and roar at me, but I know that lions wouldn’t dare attack an adult elephant, like me. I can make a long, hollow sound by blowing my trumpet, which frightens them away.

Sometimes monkeys drop by. They sit on a chair and stare most of the time. Sometimes they chatter and screech, not at me, of course, they do that amongst themselves.

I can see my long curved ivory tusks reflected in the window by my bed, they are what makes us special. They will save the earth when we are gone.

My comrades are calling me, and I have to join them in our secret place where the rest of the herd and the other animals will never find us.

My voyage continues tonight. I’ll break away from my chains and fly through the window, towards the desert once more, and rest in the Sacred Place, where all elephants go when they no longer belong…’

 

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Writing 101, Day Fifteen: Your Voice Will Find You

Today’s prompt: You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart — an annual fair, festival, or conference — will be cancelled forever (or taken over by an evil organization). Write about it. Today’s twist: read your piece aloud, multiple times. Hone that voice of yours!

Well, here goes part 5! Yes, I’m keeping up my ‘serialised story’ and following the prompts and twists! In this case it’s a wedding anniversary, which looks as if it won’t be celebrated any more…

As all the other parts, this post/episode can be read on its own, but if you’d like to read the previous parts, 1-4, just scroll down after reading!

 

Last night I dreamt I returned to…. Part 5.

I can’t remember the first day I met Stella because I’ve known her as far back as my memories go. We were born in the same year, in the same hospital, and lived on the same street. We played together at nursery school, of course I don’t remember that, my mother used to tell me about it. Apparently I chased her around the playground, and wouldn’t play with any of the other toddlers.

Later on, we went to the same primary school. We’d walk there together with our mothers. Sometimes my mother would take us both, because her mother had to work shifts at Highwood Hospital.

We were in the same class, although not on the same table. I remember she was on the blue table where the brighter girls were, and I was on the yellow table with the slower learners. She taught me to read and helped me with my maths. She was always cleverer than me. I liked it. I admired her. I showed off because my girlfriend was the cleverest girl in the class, and the prettiest.

I always said she was my girlfriend, even when she wasn’t, even when we split up for a time because she went to a Convent School and I went to the local Comprehensive. Even when she went out with Chris O’ Keeffe, because her mother said he was a nice Catholic boy. Even when she moved away from our street and went to College in Cambridge, I still said she was my girlfriend.

She used to say, ‘Peter, stop saying that. I’m not your girlfriend. I’m just your friend. I’ll always be your friend, but never your girlfriend.’ And then she’d hug me, and hold my hand, and tell me about her ‘other’ life, the life she led when we were apart.

Today, 20th June, is our wedding anniversary. There’s no way I’m spending today without her. I have to find her. We’ve celebrated it together since we married, thirty-eight years ago. Before that we’d been living together for almost ten years, and before that, well, we were apart for a few years, while she finished College and travelled the world. She said she had to get it out of her system. I waited. I knew she’d come back.

Meanwhile, I was apprenticed with my father at the bakery. When she returned, I had saved up enough money to buy our first flat, but when her father died, and her mother went to a nursing home, she wanted to live in this house, the house she was brought up in, so we moved. It was a mistake.

The bedroom floor is covered with uneven bits of broken glass and blood, and she’s left a note:

I’m sorry, Chris, but I have to go. I know I told you I would wait, but I can’t stay here any longer. I’ve realized it’s not my house, or our house. It never was our house. The terrible things which happened here — we thought it didn’t matter, but it does. We thought we could start again, but we can’t. I understand why now. He is still here. She knows. You shouldn’t stay either.
I love you. S.N.

Why can’t she just forget about Chris?

***

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Writing 101, Day Fourteen: To Whom It May Concern

Today’s prompt: Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What jumps out at you? Start there. Today’s twist:  Write in the form of a letter.

The novel I usually have at hand is Jane Eyre, but yesterday, I had been rereading parts of The Professor, also by Charlotte Bronte. I turned to page 29, and the word ‘chilling’ caught my attention. I thought it accurately described what was happening to my narrator/protagonist: S.N. It isn’t written as a letter, but it ends with a letter. So here is part four.  Another cliffhanger, I’m afraid…

This story can be read on its own, but if you’d like to read parts 1,2,and 3, just scroll down.

 

Last night I dreamt I returned to…. Part 4.

The front door banged, and I raced up the stairs to the looking-glass in the main bedroom. I knew he was still here. I could hear his voice in the mirror. I froze at the threshold…

It was her again! A ragged grey dress covered her skeletal frame, and unruly grey hair hung around her gaunt face. Her bulging red eyes stared back at me. She was even uglier than before.

‘What are you doing here?’ I shouted. She looked surprised and displeased to see me, too. She repeated the same words as me.

‘I don’t have time for this now.’ I told her rushing to the back of the mirror feeling for the switches I had to press desperately, but I couldn’t find them, and she kept mimicking me.

I had to make her shut up. I turned back to the dressing-table, picked up my mother’s vase, and shattered the mirror with one sharp blow.

One of the pieces flew over the bed and landed inside the cot. I felt a chilling cry creep inside my head – the baby!

I jumped over the mattress to the cot. A jagged piece of glass jutted out of a toy baby. The blue plastic eyes blinked vacantly, and a drop of water slid down its chubby cheek.I wiped it away with my fingers.

I flew down the stairs and slammed the front door shut, pressing my back hard against it. I was still panting as I walked down the path and out of the gate into the bright midday sun.

***

She had left the letter on the bed, unfinished, unsealed, and unread, until he opened it when he finally returned days later.

I’m sorry, Chris, but I have to go. I know I told you I would wait, but I can’t stay here any longer. I’ve realized it’s not my house, or our house. It never was our house. The terrible things which happened here — we thought it didn’t matter, but it does. We thought we could start again, but we can’t. I understand why now. He is still here. She knows. Perhaps you shouldn’t stay here, either.
I love you. S.N.

 

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Although I have an outline for a story in my mind, Part 5 will depend on tomorrow’s prompt, and suggestions are welcome!

 

Writing 101, Day Thirteen: Serial Killer II

Today’s prompt: Earlier in the course, you wrote about losing something. Today, write about finding something. Today’s twist: For your twist, view day four’s post and today’s post as installments in a series.

This post is the continuation of both day 4 and day 12. In day four, I wrote about losing oneself through suffering Alzheimer’s or dementia, and yesterday, I wrote about a person who returns to her childhood home in search of something she left there. This post is about finding yourself… and something you were looking for to help you through the process…

 

Last night I dreamt I returned to…. my home. Part 3.

The same burgundy carpet. The same flowered wallpaper. The same dark chestnut varnished doors. The same bulky furniture.

A different echo. A different smell. A different face. Ghastlier. Spicier. Uglier.

It was uncanny. Like seeing someone wearing your clothes, but they don’t fit properly…

‘Lovely house.’ I spat out, surprised at my own voice.

‘Thank you. We like it…’

She ushered me into the hall.

‘I’d offer you a cup of tea, but I’m afraid I’m in a hurry. I have to pick up my son from school in a few minutes.’

‘That’s fine. My questions will just take a few minutes. Could we sit down?’

‘Sure. Do you mind sitting in the kitchen?’

‘That’s fine, as long as there’s a table.’ I knew there was. I bet the kitchen was exactly as we had left it.

I sighed on seeing the fading linoleum cupboards, the earthenware dishes draining on the rack, and the unhinged door under the sink.

‘Please sit down.’ She pointed to the chair I knew so well. I nodded and noticed my mother’s frilly apron hanging loosely on the doorknob. Had she just worn it? I gasped. Perhaps my clothes were still in the wardrobe!

I slumped into the chair. To my left, my favourite spoon rested on the rim of a frosties mug, the only object I had never seen before.

‘How long have you lived in Highwood?’

‘I was born here, in Highwood, just down the road, in fact. I always liked this house, number 77. It’s my lucky number, seven. Lucky twice over. Nobody wanted to live here, after… but I knew it would bring us luck.’

Was she talking about us? About me? How dare she take over my house, my life, and my dreams.

‘Why would you recommend families with young children to move here?’

‘People are very nice here. There are parks, good schools, a modern shopping centre, a train into London every five minutes. What more could a young family need?’

I asked a few more questions. She fidgeted and hesitated. I could tell she was lying.

The rain hit the panes furiously. She jumped up from her chair, ‘Shit! It’s raining, and the baby’s sleeping. I have to collect Paul from school.’

I couldn’t believe my luck. ‘Would you like me to stay with the baby while you pick your son up?’

She looked from me to the window and back, rubbing her forehead. ‘Would you mind?’

‘Not at all.’

‘I’ll be off then. Make yourself at home!’

The front door banged, and I raced up the stairs to the looking-glass in the main bedroom. I knew he was still here. I could hear his voice in the mirror. I froze at the threshold…

***

Sorry for the cliffhanger! But there will be a part four. I promise!

By the way, any suggestions? What did she see? Who/what was she looking for?

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Writing 101, Day Twelve: (Virtual) Dark Clouds on the Horizon

Today’s prompt: Today, write a post with roots in a real-world conversation. Today’s twist: include foreshadowing.

 

Last night I dreamt I returned to….  Part 2.

I had to go back. I needed to go inside. I had to speak to him again. Just one more time. I knew he was still there. He told me he would never leave…

‘Good morning. My name is Stella Naiman, I lived in this house when I was a child and I’d like to go inside, just once.’

‘Good morning. I am Stella Naiman, I used to live here many years ago. May I come in?’

‘Good morning. I know this sounds strange, but many years ago, I lived in this house. It has many memories for me. Would you be so kind as to let me in for a few minutes?’

‘Good morning. I need to speak to someone inside your house, someone who has been living with you all these years, although you may never have seen him. May I come in?’

‘Good morning. When I lived in this house there was a friendly ghost. I wonder if he is still here, you see I need his help. May I come in and find him?’

‘Good morning. If you don’t let me in I’ll break in. I need to go inside and see if someone I once knew is still here. I need to tell him he was right and I need his help once more, you see he said he would always be here to help me. Please let me in.’

‘Good morning. My name is Stella Naiman. You can help me. Please let me come in and I will explain everything.’

***

My finger pushed the faded button. The familiar buzz sent a jolt along my arm to my shocked ear. Why hadn’t they changed the shrill-sounding worn doorbell? 

Good morning, my name is Sandra Norton. I work for the Highwood Observer.” I showed her a card with my picture and the name of the newspaper I had printed out and laminated. ‘I am preparing a special feature on living in Highwood Hill which will also appear in national newspapers. I have been interviewing various residents in the area, and I was wondering if you would mind answering a few questions.’

She took the card scrutinizing the contents. Then she looked at my face, making sure it was the same as the one on the card.

‘I took that picture last year. My hair was shorter then.’ I reassured her. ‘Glasses off looks more like me!’ I added with a friendly tone pulling my glasses down towards my chest, away from my eyes.

She pursed her lips. ‘You can’t be too careful nowadays, can you?’

‘Well, I’d like people who read the article to think about moving to Highwood. It actually has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. House prices are sure to go up…’ I curled my lips slyly. She didn’t look very well off.

‘Sure, please come in.’

 

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