In Praise of Sheep

A rare post on this blog; it’s a reblog, but a good one.

KungFuPreacherMan

I keep coming across Bible readings relating to sheep: Last week there was Peter feeding sheep and lambs (John 21), this week Jesus is the shepherd and his sheep know his voice (John 10.22-30), indeed Jesus uses this idea of a shepherd and sheep more times than I can count. All of these stories made me think back to my experiences of sheep on the North York Moors.

I remember camping there as a boy and being woken up just after light. There was a rustling sound, a tugging sound and a tearing sound. It was from the store tent (this was a Scout camp). I dashed out thinking another troupe were raiding our food. There was indeed a raid going on but it was sheep not rival scouts! One sheep was right inside the store tent with only it’s backside sticking out. I grabbed…

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New Year Thoughts

I posted this on my main blog Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking first but bears sharing here too. Happy New Year, my wild sheepy friends!

Low resolution, high resolution ~ New Year thoughts

 

I considered calling this article, The Last Post, because it will be the last one to appear in 2013, but then I realised that this might sound as if I am giving up blogging. This year has been a huge struggle to keep going with lots of things and I confess that making sure I post a new piece once a week has sometimes been quite a challenge.

That makes me wonder who I am blogging for and why.

Blogging is almost by definition confessional, personal and yet very public. I share my thoughts because I believe that they are worth sharing, that those who read what I write may find it interesting, helpful or challenging. At times the conviction that this is so is shaken; a former colleague made various attacks on me on Facebook indicating that she found my outpourings tedious. It upset me more than is reasonable and made me question the worth of my writing, especially my poetry. In the end, I chose to ignore that viewpoint based on the torrent of support I received.

I wasn’t sure I had anything I could offer today as a hope-encrusted gem, making the best of the year gone by and projecting desires and wishes for the year to come. I don’t generally do the whole New Year’s resolution thing, not since teenage years when it usually consisted of one muddled wish to be thinner. Yet, here I am in middle-age, fatter than ever. Nothing ever works out quite how we desire it to.

2013 has been a hard year for me. I had to fight to get diagnoses of two conditions, one life limiting, the other life limiting AND life threatening. I knew there was something very wrong, and yet getting through to medical professionals with it has been terribly tough. I can’t help thinking that had I not been who I am, I might well be looking at a grim future and an early death. While I accept that neither condition is easy to diagnose or well-known, it seems criminal that blood test anomalies had been ignored and glossed over probably for some years. I have now seen my enemy on an ultrasound screen. 8mm by 5mm doesn’t sound that big but given that the gland the tumour grew from should be no bigger than the head of a pin (or thereabouts) it’s colossal. I’m hoping that the removal of it will give me new life. I’m sick of pain, sick of the fogginess and memory fuzziness, the feeling of being significantly impaired, of being woken 8 times a night because of the polyuria, of having a permanently dry mouth that means I need to sip water to stay hydrated. I’m tired of being tired, and of all the other nasty symptoms that doctors were originally ascribing to depression. I’m fed up of being sad and being unable to feel good about things. My real hope for 2014 is that I can start to live again.

The writer’s block I have wrestled with for as long as I’ve been blogging may well turn out to be a direct result of the malfunctioning parathyroid. It’s hard to carry ideas, plots, characters, dialogue, settings and descriptions when your short term memory is peppered with tiny holes. Much of my writing is brewed in the subconscious layers of my mind, but is filtered through the conscious strata and ordered by the logical, methodical processes that are affected by the illness. The continuation of writing during this long illness is something I feel I should be proud of, yet I fear that perhaps I’m actually a crap writer who’s burned out all her good stuff years ago.

I did some of the things I aimed at doing this year. I published The Moth’s Kiss, got it and The Wild Hunt out in gorgeous peachy-skinned paperbacks. I reviewed and re-uploaded the Kindle version of Strangers & Pilgrims, cleaning it of the typos that had marred it. You perhaps cannot imagine how very difficult and painful that was for me, or how cathartic it was. I spoke at the TAP conference in March. But I didn’t get The Bet out in paperback, and I didn’t put together the book I intended to release of the top posts from this blog, or the ones I wanted to do of my poetry.

I began a new novel in January, which has been hard work to write and I think I am roughly half way. I’m about half way through the story I began originally here as a serial, Lost. I’ve written some short stories, some poetry, and I’ve managed to blog here at least once a week, all year. It’s none of it been easy.

Things I want to do next year include delving ever deeper into the Grail lore I’ve been studying and writing about, mostly privately. I want to write more for myself. I’ve realised that while I have a niche for my writing, and I have a lot of wonderful readers, I’m not going to ‘make it’ as a best selling author, selling tens of thousands of books, or even millions. To have even one person read, enjoy and benefit from my writing is success. I’d rather stay small and stay myself than be lured into chasing the will o’ the wisp of commercial success. I can remain resolutely amateur and while I wish to present my work in as accessible and attractive a manner as possible, to invest money I don’t have in let’s say,cover art that aims to seduce the potential reader (and other stratagems) I’d rather be original and myself and risk being deemed ‘unprofessional’.

I do want to get my poetry out there and also the compilation of the best posts from this blog, but I don’t want it to be something to pressure myself with. I know now I am quite ill and the last thing I need is to stress myself with foolish self-imposed deadlines. I’d rather have the pleasure of using my clearer moments to write things, and enjoy writing, than spend the time on things I don’t enjoy. If my hopes for this illness are borne out, then once I begin to recover, then tasks I have hitherto found as hard as tap-dancing in quick drying cement, may flow more readily and take up less energy.

There’s books on my hard drive ready to be polished up for publishing; I’m about half way with Square Peg so if there are any of you who fancy being beta-readers or proof readers, I’d be happy to hear from you. There are two sequels to The Bet. And several other tales I’ve maybe never mentioned before, as well as the incomplete ones (two of which I have mentioned already, and another two I haven’t), and a longer short story I’d hoped to have out for Christmas and failed.

Anyway, I have meandered and muddled along through this article and I need to wrap it up by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has read this blog, either as a regular thing or as an occasional dip-in. I’d like to thank those who have bought and read my books: you do not know quite how much that means to me.

May the new Year of 2014 bring you blessings and challenges in a balanced measure, enough to grow and develop and also to have much joy to counter the sorrow that is woven through all of life. 

Never Take Yes For an Answer

Some exceptionally interesting and thought-provoking ideas from Dan Holloway here.

dan holloway

Never take yes for an answer. Yes comes with conditions. Yes stakes ownership. Yes is the devil whispering “you can have everything I show you” while it cups one hand gently to your ear and with the other draws a veil over the most beautiful, untrammelled, unimagined parts of the landscape. Yes is the sweet hit of heroine that shrinks your horizons to the size of your eyeballs.

Whether I have achieved a lot, or a little, or something in between, is a question to which there will never be a simple answer. It’s the same for you. And that’s because it’s not a single question. Against what are you measuring yourself? For every different answer, there is a correspondingly different question about your success. But only one of them actually matters.

What do you want from your writing?

You think you know. Good. Now take a pause, and a…

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How to Hide From Humans ~ by Craig Stone

I’ve just read a little book called How to Hide from Humans. It’s written by a sheep, telling other sheep how to hide from humans.

If you enjoy surreal thought-provoking humour, then this book will please you. Considering you can’t even buy a cup of coffee for the price, give it a shot. It made me laugh out loud, and brought me up short the very next page. There’s some deep stuff there, and it doesn’t take much to find it.  It may also haunt you with the ideas.

USA: http://www.amazon.com/How-Hide-Humans-ebook/dp/B00AZOSBYS/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367519204&sr=1-5&keywords=Craig+Stone

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Hide-Humans-ebook/dp/B00AZOSBYS/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367519204&sr=1-5&keywords=Craig+Stone

One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.

One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.

You know the drill.

Someone has hurt you. These days it’s just as likely to be someone on a social media network as it is to be someone in real life whom you see face to face. There’s a reason for this.

I love social media. There’s a better chance of finding your tribe than simple geography allows. There’s quite simply MILLIONS of people out there. You can refine your basic parameters and hey presto, instant social circle.

Except for one thing. Most of them will be hundreds if not thousands of miles away. You see them only by the words they write. Or by the statuses they post on Facebook. Or by their blogs. A few you progress to chatting with on messaging facilities. Even fewer, on Skype. Some you talk to on the phone. A very small number you end up meeting face to face. My goodness, but this is a wonderful feeling. I have had coffee with some chums, stayed with a few others, chinked glasses in cocktail bars with one or two, given city tours to others. It’s a good feeling.

But there is a downside. People are not cardboard cut-outs, acting out my fantasies (steady, the Buffs!) but real people with lives, thoughts, feelings of their own. They think, live and believe things that are quite different to the way I do. Sometimes I see what friends post on Facebook and Twitter and I recoil in shock. Truly. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting atrocity, I saw things that made me shake. People I believe to be decent, good folks airing their views on gun ownership that were quite at odds with my own beliefs about guns. I saw fights break out over it.

Every time something powerful happens, I see the same thing. People fighting over their right to believe what they do, whether it’s in a political stance, a religious one or over music. It rapidly gets nasty, and what usually follows is a blazing row followed by a silence. The silence is usually because one or other of the parties involved has deleted or blocked the other.

In an instant, years of internet friendship is gone. Every Christmas present posted, every jovial exchange, every key moment shared in their mutual lives, all lost.

Don’t agree with my political stance? Deleted!

Dislike my religious faith? Unfollowed!

Hate my liking for cats and of posting pictures of kittens? Unfriended!

Object to sharing of youtube links? Blocked!

It’s too easy.

Imagine the person you have taken umbrage at is standing in front of you, helpless. You have a gun. You can put it to their head and without fear of consequence, you can pull the trigger, and that will be it. Would you do it? No, of course you wouldn’t. But in many cases, that’s what’s really in the minds of people when they remove another from their virtual life. Getting rid of a problem permanently and without mess or apparent consequence.

It diminishes all of us. It dismisses the very real value of learning to get on with people we don’t agree with all the time. It stops us learning to live and let live.

Each time a person cuts out someone they find they’re come to loggerheads with, something happens they don’t see. They lose the mirror others hold up to us and to our own behaviour and attitudes. We need others to disagree with us sometimes, because it helps us reassess our core values and beliefs. It stops us feeling as if we are paragons. Believe me, I hate anyone criticising me, having a pop at me for something. But like anyone else I need it. I need to see the other side of a story, the side I don’t want to see because it makes me uncomfortable and angry.

Someone had me hovering over the unfriend button because they were posting some pretty disturbing things about abortion, but I stopped. I spent time thinking about something that upsets me and it was good for me to do that. It reminded me of why I feel what I do about that subject but it also taught me that people always have reasons for their feelings. I’d dug a little deeper, just by reading their posts and comments, to see that there had been severe suffering that had brought them to this viewpoint. I felt compassion and I was able to step back and disagree, but allow him to hold his view as a valid one. That’s the key, you see:

You are not me and I am not you. You have been places I have not been and never will. I have done and seen things you have not. You have reasons for your beliefs and so do I. I may not agree with them but I would defend your right to hold them.

But the more a person hacks away at those who don’t quite fit their world view, the smaller their world becomes. Each time a layer of others is pruned away, the remainder become more and more closely scutinised for any signs of heresy.

I’d like to end by sharing some words by Anthony de Mello, from his book, The Song of the Bird:

The Old Woman’s Religion

A very religious-minded old woman was dissatisfied with all existing religions, so she founded one of her own.

One day a reporter who genuinely wander to understand her point of view, said to her, “Do you really believe, as people say you do, that no one will go to heaven except you and your housemaid Mary?”

The old woman pondered the question and then replied, “Well, I’m not so sure of Mary.”

 

Dandelions and Bad Hair Days ~ a very different book about Mental Health

On World Mental Health day on the 10th of October I traveled to Taunton for the launch of a very special book put together by the wonderful Suzie Grogan.

Dandelions & Bad Hair days is a collection of essays, prose, poetry and photographs by people affected by mental health issues. Some are carers for loved ones affected by it, and others, like me, are sufferers of various mental health challenges. The profits from the sales of the book are going to two mental health charities, SANE and OCD in action.

It was a powerful experience to be there; a number of contributors were there and we read some of our pieces. Even though it was an evening about a serious subject, it was actually enormously good fun.

I was honoured by the fact that the essay I’d offered for the collection gave its name to the book. Lots of folks have said it’s the best title for a book on mental health and depression they’ve heard of, and I get a little glow of pride at that but the real work was done by Suzie in finding it a publisher and getting it up and out there.

If you’re curious about it, then do check it out. I know I am biased because I have two essays and a poem in it, but it’s a brilliant book. There’s so much of raw honesty and hope and humanity, it’ll warm your heart and it might just change your mind about mental health issues . There are a couple of ways to buy. You can buy from Suzie herself  here or you can go to Amazon here for the UK or here for the USA

Also, if you have already read it, please consider leaving a review as this helps to make a book more visible for searches, as does tagging a book appropriately.

If I don’t post again here before Christmas may yours be filled with light and joy, whatever your beliefs.