Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My journaling experience

My stats show that many people come to this web journal to read the post entitled My journal. Week after week this post is read over and over. I do wonder sometimes if an academic teaching some sort of writing course sends his or her students here. I can't think of another plausible reason why so many people read that particular post. I speculate that he or she wants to show his students the dangers of online writing, or the possibilities. The simple truth is that everything in this world can be used for writing and story fodder. I was told an anecdote by a woman yesterday as to how she knew that her husband was having an affair. I am sorry to say that my mind immediately said, 'Wow, what a great plot point!' It's what writers do, mine everyone and everything.

Since so many people do come to this web journal to read about journal writing, for whatever reason, I thought it might be time that I said something about journals. First of all, I adore them. I have kept them now for several years and it is a wonderful way of 'dropping' thoughts onto the page. It is said that an idea may come to you and if you don't write it down you may never have it again. Of course, anyone who reads here more than once or twice will have picked up on the fact that I am attuned to reasons to be fearful or anxious. You're not exactly a brain surgeon if you figured this out. So, fearful that this was true, I wrote lots of stuff down. I still do. Once or twice a week I brain dump into a closed web journal and one day I'll delete it because I don't want it read, ever.

Having said how much I love journals, I want to say this, that journals of all and any kind can be the writer's trap. When I first heard Colin Toibin say this, I didn't want to believe it. However, over the past few weeks I have come to see that what I was taught in my writer's course probably doesn't hold water. You don't have to keep journals to be a writer at all.

If you wake up with an idea, or go walking and see something that captures your interest, if you can't do anything else almost immediately than write a note, well then, for goodness sake write the note. But, recognize that it's less than a 50:50 chance that you'll ever refer to it again. Chances are high that by the time you go to use the idea, you won't find it anyway. I must have at least a dozen journals from the past few years and to try to find a single idea written some years ago is not likely. If I do read something over I often notice that the idea has changed; has morphed into another idea; changed as I changed. (Note: This is all debateable, of course. Woody Allan keeps scraps of paper in a drawer by his bed and when he is looking for a project he refers to the scraps of paper until he finds one that continues to resonate.)

Toibin believes that if you have to write a note for fear of forgetting the idea that means that you haven't taken it into your being. One way of taking a single idea into your being is to write a paragraph about the idea, perhaps the opening of a short story. Then file it in your Short Story file and return to it as the idea grows. Of course, I'm still not good at this. It's a very new idea for me. But, it has already released me from this awful notion that I will most likely forget my ideas. As you write into your story that's when you can mine what is in your head. If you have thought about it enough as you go about peeling the vegetables or ironing a shirt, the thoughts can be transferred directly from your head onto the page.

Ideas mull about in the head and need to be put down on the page eventually,  probably in the form of a scene or some dialogue or description. The exception might be, and I still do this: My philosophy of life = _____. This helps because it feels to me that at the core of a story is one's version of the meaning of life, in some form or other. So long as you have that embedded in your brain such that you can express it in a few words, you're good to go in creating scenes and characters, even if they are nothing like you.

To get better, I think one needs to write almost every day. It's not as simple as that but not much can be achieved without that starting point. I've been agitated lately at all the calls on my attention and my difficulty at getting to sit down with myself and write, until I remembered something. When I had no choice but to generate material constantly as a student, I put that first. I didn't go into stores except supermarkets hardly at all and I rushed through my household, wifely and motherly tasks so that I could devote my efforts to the blank screen. Of course, that's an unbalanced view and people count. They come first, at least for me. Yet, without some devotion to a craft - writing, painting, editing, acting, getting the tennis ball to the far back corner - how does anyone become proficient?

I offer one major exception to this advice of minimizing the practice of journal writing. There is a journal entitled '365'. Now, here's a quick way to a writerly life. Don't use this to rant but rather to sit with yourself daily and conjure your most compelling emotion. Ask: What am I feeling right now?' Then, do something with it. Give that emotion to a character on your mind. Perhaps a little dialogue, or a description of the character's internal world. There. Endless ideas all in one little journal that will ward off writer's block forever. Good luck with it, whatever your style of transferring ideas into prose of some form. No-one said it was easy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The delicate balance of the dynamic

When the dynamic between two people is firmly established - one person being the Dominant of the team, the leader, and the other person being the submissive, the follower of the team - there is an easy and consistent flow of life. Each person understands and is comfortable in his or her assigned role and whilst there may be some unharmonious moments, as there are between all couplings, the matter is soon set straight. It is to each person's benefit that the correction ensues, returning the dynamic to balance; the balance of the power dynamic agreed upon.

As I see it, lack of harmony mostly happens when there is not an adequate show of power, and to whom that power belongs. Any efforts made on my part to wrestle power (and that happens when I feel, often subconsciously, that I am not being sufficiently controlled) lead me to feel out of sync with myself and my place.  It is a sense of being in a foreign land without a city map or the ability to speak the language. It is a sense of unease.

I make attempts to 'fix' the Dominant party. Is there a problem? Do they want to talk about it? It probably looks like a play for power, or for making the relationship more like one of vanilla folks. I can even think this myself until it becomes self-evident eventually that what I really want is for the Dominant to be, well, more Dominant. I can't be myself, submissive, unless and until he returns to the person I know and I want him to be, leader-like, and aware of my needs to bunker down at his behest.

I can make a meal, or plan a weekend away, or assist the children with a creative endeavor, or plan a party, or write a story, without his assistance, but what I can't do is feel comfortable in my own skin without him feeling comfortable in his own skin.

There is an enormous responsibility towards the submissive and there's a pain in the ass factor here, I know. No-one feels dominant all the time. Life beats everybody down some days. We all need time on our own and every dominant sometimes expects his submissive to just get on with life without his involvement from time to time. There are protocols in place and so long as she does what she is supposed to do, all is, more or less, well.

It is, however, undeniable that without some input, some reminder of her place, and his place in her life, she can become unglued. There is always that risk. She needs evidence of the more assertive guy she knows is always there but not necessarily on show, so that she can be the compliant and content person they both known her to be deep down, regardless of  any and all conditions that are happening on the surface.

Technically, it is understood; the agreement has been in place for eons. But, the need for reminders of the dynamic, well, honestly, that never entirely goes away. She is much more happy when her place is abundantly clear and she can bunker down into it. This is the way that it is, has always been and always will be. This is the need of people who choose the power dynamic.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


I am becoming more comfortable now with this need to write. I'm understanding more about the need to wrestle with the themes and preoccupations of my life and to shape them into a story.

For many years, there  was no time to write. Four busy children and a fully occupied husband absorbed my time. As well, in those child rearing years I didn't have the strong desire to write that I do now. There was adequate succor for me bringing up the children. There was also plenty of worry. It can deplete desire to be creative in another medium.

It is true that my husband would say from time to time that I should sit down and write, but the impetus was not coming from within. I give full credit for my entry into a writing life to my psychologist, who I saw for about ten sessions a few years ago now.

'What would you really like to do?'
'Well, I'm not sure that I have any talent, but I'd like to do a writing course.'
'I don't doubt that you have talent. What is really stopping you?'

I don't remember what I said. I've been sitting here for a few minutes trying to reconstruct that conversation. I probably said that the children still took up a lot of time and I wasn't sure which course to pick. I no doubt gave her any excuse that I could come up with in the moment.

What I didn't say was that I had zero confidence; that the thought of actually doing what I really wanted to do filled me with fear and anxiety, because somewhere in the doing of the course it would be proven categorically that I had no talent.

I do remember her telling me to research writing courses and that next time we met I should let her know which course I had decided on and my reasons for choosing that particular course. She was tough under that sweet surface of hers!

I did do the research and I chose a course that would give me a smattering of choices for a possible writing life; subjects concerning journalism, writing critiques, writing film scripts, adapting one form of writing to another, starting a novel, and so on. I was hedging my bets; that if I was useless in one form of writing I might be better in another. Truthfully, I really wanted to go to the same institution that my youngest son attends now, but it is highly selective and I simply didn't think that I could ever be chosen. So, I downplayed my interest in it.

She was happy with my selection and explanation of my choice, though she did question me about the generalist, academic nature of my selection.  I think she would have been happier with a course that focused specifically on creative writing. It probably would have been a wiser choice, in retrospect, although the course I did expanded my mind and that's a good thing. She was happy enough until I said that I wouldn't enrol in the upcoming study period but rather wait until the new year which was in several months.

'Oh no you don't,' she said more forcefully than any other statement she had ever made, or would make to me. 'You're enrolling right now!' So, I did. I felt I had no choice and that was probably also a good thing.

I remember beginning the very first subject and there were twelve in all. I remember thinking, 'Well, I haven't a clue how to do this so I have nothing to lose.' I remember it being a huge accomplishment in my mind when I could find all the material and sites and discussion boards; you name it. Technologically, I was a dinosaur being drawn into a new era.

I remember having to choose another writing student as a writing buddy and I quickly formed the impression that one young man would be ideal for me. His style of writing and interests were entirely different to mine, but he was smart, witty, open and friendly. We got on very well given all the differences. I remember him having to formally critique a piece of writing of mine for the first time. I had made so many fundamental mistakes but he saw something fresh and honest in the writing and he's always been encouraging to me. I remember getting a Distinction for that subject and that gave me some slight optimism in my own ability to survive the course.

I remember taking on two subjects the next semester and at one point half way through the semester my nerve cracked. I wrote to the tutor of my 'Writing History' subject and said that I had taken on too much and perhaps should withdraw from her subject. She wrote back to say that was unnecessary since I was well on my way to a very high score. There it was again, a fundamental refusal to believe in myself, and to be genuinely shocked at the positive comments she made.

I remember getting back the result of one story I had submitted and the tutor noting in her comments   that she was sure that I would be published very soon.  I thought she was 'bullshitting'. I wanted to believe it. I just did not.

I remember writing to another writing student and sharing with her that I had no faith in my own ability at all. She wrote back and said, 'Sweetie, if you have no confidence in your own ability then we are all doomed. Everybody on that discussion board can see you have ability.' More bullshitting. It was kind, but it didn't mean anything to me.

Conversely, I took constructive criticism very personally. I didn't disagree with it. It just went straight to my soul as a wound. High Distinctions did little to deter me from my fundamental belief that I was winging it somehow; tricking them.

Towards the end of the course another writing student asked for stories for her online literary magazine. I sent her a story that I wrote immediately the course was over. It was a story for myself; relief from the academic rigours of the MA; kinky. She liked it and published it. But, guess what? I showed it to no-one and only mentioned it in passing to the family. She asked for more. I have yet to provide them.

Then, something shifted. I had read Elizabeth Strout's The Burgess Boys and loved it. I listened to her being interviewed on a podcast and something about her comments about her writing life resonated with me. Then, I starting reading Colm Toibin - his collection of short stories The Empty Family, and two of his novels, Brooklyn and Nora Webster. I listened to everything I could find where he was being interviewed. Then, I returned to Strout and did the same thing.

Ever so gradually it began to sink into my psyche; the sort of writer that I was, what it was possible to do, and how it was possible to do it; that I'd make many mistakes before I could produce something I was happy with; that I wasn't a normal person at all but a writer who must write; that the events and preoccupations of my life were enough to create many stories.

I am what is known as a spare writer, and a writer who needs to create characters with rich internal worlds, and that was acceptable. But, I needed to work on creating muscular sentences. I needed to sit down every day and write so that the writing would improve. I wasn't talentless, but nor could I be lazy. This is what I learned from those podcasts and Utube videos. God bless the Internet.

In the past few weeks my internal world has changed. The possibilities seem endless. I am beginning to talk to my family in a new way. My writing is my work I told them; not housework or cooking or arranging things. I'll do my share, I said, the lion's share, of course. But, I wanted them to pull in too. I want time to sit and hone my craft.

On Tuesday, I noticed myself slip. I'd exercised in the morning and the plan was to get to my Meditation group at noon. However, the state of the house overwhelmed me. In the end I wasn't going to be able to meditate in a group knowing that I had endless things to do at home. I stayed home and sorted so that I could write later in a clear and tidy space. In my defence I am not the sort of person that needs to clean the entire house in order to write, but nor can I alter my mind such that I can write surrounded by mess. It's not even an excuse. It's just the environment I need to be able to enter my sub-conscious and draw out what I need for the scenes.

I remembered this morning a lovely man who was a correspondent of mine for some time. He wasn't shy in sharing his opinions with me and he said that it was funny that I longed to travel and yet I loved to be at home. I finally figured this out. I do desperately want to write. It's a huge need. I look to the outside world for inspiration and energy, but I look to my internal world and my home as the place where creativity lives. This makes home very important to me.

I have a very long way to go, but there is a modicum of belief in myself right now. I have my fingers crossed that I can build on this small start.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The blank page

There's that old question, 'In a perfect world, who would you invite to your dinner party?' People tend to choose people such as Nelson Mandela or world leaders whom they admire, which makes sense. Me? I'd forgo the dinner party for one really good, long meal in a quiet restaurant with the superb Irish novelist, Colm Toibin.

It's not just that I enjoy his novels so much; that I find him such a skilled writer, but also that he is so generous in sharing his practice and thinking with a wider audience. Since my thoughts and his thoughts often seem to collide, it would be so comforting to talk to him one-on-one and get his reassurance that my ideas, small in a way, very female thoughts and preoccupations, are worthy of exploration in story form. I think he'd say to me something like,

'Yes, forget the literary theory that you've been taught. That's no use, quite right. Those thoughts that have been simmering in your head for years, have the confidence to put them down on the blank page; fill it up with details of how your protagonists thinks and show, page by page, in a progressive rhythm how her mind and her behaviour starts to shift.'

I'd nod and say,

'That's okay? I don't need to be more clever than that? No back story? I can in fact just lay out the story scene by scene, slowly watch her evolve and transform...?'

And he'd smile and then look serious before he said,

'Absolutely. No back story. You don't need car crashes or fires. Just let her go about her days; that's fine. Don't trouble yourself with similes and metaphors; that's not your thing and it isn't required. Let your reader morph into the protagonist and let them come along with her, support her even when she's not behaving well. Don't worry about that. Trust your instincts. Stop taking advice from others when your instincts are working just fine.'

And, he'd emphasize the fiiiiiine in his gorgeous Irish accent and smile, and I'd look at him as the literary genius that he is and feel a glow of relief and gratitude that someone in the world took the trouble to put another writer's mind at ease.

But, more than that, I'd love to talk to him about his self-knowledge that he has different elements of him that can't really be fused together. My goodness, I relate to that. And, I'd love to discuss with him that sense of his separateness to other people; those moments when he walks by them and wishes, for that moment in time, that he could be them. I heard him say recently that he'd passed a group of revellers drinking beer on a Friday night in Dublin and he envied them their lives in that moment, when he, shopping in hand, was going home alone to work some more on his book.

Some university researcher recently wrote to me and asked me to complete a survey about why I wrote on the Internet. I started the survey, it seemed not too much to ask, until it dawned on me that the question was imbecilic, self-evident, and that I would decline to co-operate.

I write because I must write. A fully formed, integrated person is unlikely to have the need to write but a person who feels compelled to investigate not just their own lives but the lives of others has no option but to write. I don't write because I need people to respond and my lack of comments on the posts make that clear. I continue to write regardless of lack of comments. I write on the Internet in order to have an audience, naturally, but it can be a silent audience, just as a novel writer has, mostly, a silent audience.

At the heart of every piece of writing - be it a journal entry, blog post, a short story or a novel - is a preoccupation with something about living life. It might be a current pre-occupation with an issue such as loss, or (dis)connection, or silence and its effects, or some element of sexuality that needs unravelling in the writer's head. It's their way - my way - of expressing those thoughts that ramble about in the head and need some answers, exploration, breaking down, breaking open; moving past.

One of the elements of writing that has really troubled me is the morality of writing about characteristics, quirks and idiosyncratic aspects of people that I know. There was lots of discussion about that in my writer's course and I left the course with the sense that it was all too dangerous and maybe immoral. 'Not at all', Colm would say to me over the dessert. 'If you are not prepared to write about what you know, see, hear, and live, then I'll see what I can do about getting you into Law where you can put your morality to work. You're not a writer if you are skeamish about that.'

I'd give a quiet 'hooray' when he'd say that and I'd press on, a little less scared about the consequences of people finding themselves in my book, in some shape or form. 'I'm afraid it is part of being a writer', I'd explain to them when the complaints come in, 'that I use the material that surrounds me.' (Still, it terrifies me, that they'd know my thoughts in this way...)

I sometimes listen to a female friend speak, a happy sort of women, preocuppied with pleasurable endeavors such as planning the next holiday or shopping expedition. Or, those women I know that enjoy spending their time playing tennis and bridge. I so often think, 'Why can't I be more like them? Why does the thought of Bridge fill me with dread?' Should I share this thought with Toibin he'd probably take his hand up to his bald head and then bring it down again and make a sort of claw with his fingers, as he in inclined to do when making an important point.

'You can't be what you aren't. Writers tend not to be fully baked, you see, not integrated. That's why we can morph into other people, get inside their heads. We can't be like them. We must be solitary a good deal of the time. We must fill blank pages and that is all there is to it. Make peace with it. You can't change it.'

The advice is not unlike that I have been given for years here, in this power dynamic arena. 'You're designed to be an objekt. No thinki is best for cindi'.

It's not entirely possible to stop thinking, for me at least; not just random thoughts about 'to do' lists, but thoughts about characters and why they do what they do; how they think; what matters to them and what will happen to them.

So, the opportunity to close off the mind, the opposite of endless thoughts, is a great relief. It is, in fact, more than a relief. There is a feeling of being moored again; no longer swimming about in a turbulent sea, but tied to the pier; anchored. There is a sense, a visceral sense, of being cared for and understood for the entity that cindi is, in love with the no thinking, deeply felt physical state. There is a peace that transcends over her; a state to which  I am always going to want to return.

 It's a funny thing but it doesn't really matter, I don't think, that nearly everyone doesn't get that; doesn't get who we really are and what we really need to do, so long as someone gets it; so long as we can make peace with ourselves. People can't change us all that much and that makes sense given the struggle that we have making changes in ourselves. I have had a pen in my hand since the earliest age, my mother tells me, so it makes sense that I feel compelled to spend time with the blank page. It, I, must be filled.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The dominant's power

Whilst my more recent interests would appear to revolve around 'awareness' in a spiritual sense, it is actually non-awareness and quiet, subtle movements of sensibility that truly arouses my interest, both as a writer and reader, but also as someone who has made a study of the D/s experience.

As I came to experience it, the Dominant created a sort of magic, or other-world sort of experience for me. I was sometimes off-balance; unaware. This was their creation, to ensure that I didn't know what was going on; that I was sure of not much at all; that I was surprised; discombobulated; emotionally charged in one way or another.

It was as if I was playing tennis with a professional tennis player and whilst I was jumping on the spot trying to predict which way the tennis ball would be served, so frisky that I imperceptibly jumped one way a split second before the ball left the net, so the ball went in the opposite direction.

One spends a lot of time trying to perfect that instinctive move until it dawns that one cannot perfect the move when trying too hard. Best to relax and do one's best. Sometimes one will jump right and sometimes one will jump wrong, but it is a 50:50 thing.

When completely in the groove, in the palm of the Dominant's hand, I learned to adore the unpredictability and to revel in experiences of such intense preparation on his part, that I had missed the possibility of the thing entirely. It was then that I felt that things were completely out of my control, and that the sense of scrumptious free fall was completely worth the realization that I had been outfoxed.

And there it is: I do love to be outfoxed.

And, finding pleasure in being dum dum, when I am in fact not dumb, and know myself not to be dumb; that's a sort of outfoxing right there. Subtly, imperceptibly; without awareness of what was truly happening, I was being taken to a state of mind where I had no power, no ability nor desire to disagree.

Yep. I was an 'objekt'. How could I deny what seemed/seems so categorically undeniable? If, when my mind was unpacked and thrown away I felt an empty headed joy, how could I disagree that this was what I was and had always wanted to be?

Are lies involved in this sort of dream-making surreal state? I do believe so, yes. It's hazy; not easily proven, but I do believe that lies are told to bimbo. There's this little silent gap; that teeny tiny moment occasionally when she says in her mind, 'hmmm, could that be right?'. And, she knows in that moment; she knows that there is a porky being told to her.

It's a funny thing because a fib should matter. Lies usually make for distance between people, making intimacy all the more difficult. Yet, there are situations when it hasn't mattered to me all that much. Bit by bit, a state of belief and disbelief has braided together.

It's not so much a 'co-dependent' stance that is being taken in her decision to stay silent about her feelings (although that could be part of it) but rather that there's a fear that in declaring her belief of the true state of things, something magical will disappear. We so want to hold the Other in high regard. That's it, I think. [edit: on re-reading I was gobsmacked that I had so fallen into the state of 'bimbo', 'her', by simply talking about this...]

If magic is to occur again, and bimbo certainly hopes that it will, she must believe in the overall worth of the experience. If, to experience the magic of Christmas one must believe in the spirit of Christmas, or to feel the peace of a religion - faith - one must believe in a deity of some kind, then one must believe that there is magic possible between two humble people. I believe that.