Merry Christmas everyone. It was a quiet Christmas day for us. We got up at our usual time, about 8.30am and opened our presents. Sadly the dogs never got all of their presents as Millie, my 10 year old lab, has sore tummy and we had to cut back on treats and food in general.
After preparing the veg, I had already made the vegan roast the night before, we took the dogs for a walk. I decided I wanted to take a wooden decoration from our Christmas tree to Finlarig castle and hang it on a tree in memory of my Mum. I scattered her ashes there in June, a day before we married there. It was such a lovely winters day that it felt nice to just linger in that space for a while.
By the time sunset came around we were sitting down to dinner. I asked Helen to pause and we told each other what we were grateful for. It felt fitting when there are so many troubles in the world at the moment.
My plans this afternoon were to make my way down to the river for sunset. It has been another damp and raw day and I’ve hardly been outdoors, preferring the warmth of the under floor heating. But at just short of 3.30pm, I ventured out. I took Kimber, my youngest dog, she’s great company and isn’t too bothered where we go as long as there is something interesting to sniff, lamp posts, bins, fox poo, you know the likes.
With a little time to spare we trotted off down the street. On the way, we met several people who stopped to chat. Due to the time and the fading light I would normally have waved and passed by, but the people who stopped needed an ear and, I felt, some kind words. It’s easy to assume that everyone is merry and all wrapped up in Christmas joy, but that really isn’t the case. So many people are grieving at Christmas, from the loss of a loved one, to family who can’t be close because of covid, etc, etc. And people have worries too, illness, finances, loneliness, addiction, the list goes on. Christmas for many can feel like an enormous burden, so it’s no wonder that the weight of those brief conversations stopped me in my tracks, I too feel the weight off worry and loss at Christmas.
I made it to the river at 15.45pm, but only after giving my best wishes, my ear, and to one person, the wish of laughter on Christmas day, I do hope they get that wish. I took a moment by the river bank to reflect on my short journey and concluded : It wasn’t important to be by the river at 15.42pm, I would get there eventually, I was in the exact right place at the exact right time for someone else, and that made absolute sense to me. Below is a short video of the river.
After standing for a minute or two, we headed to the park, after all, puppy time is fun time.
My sunset might not have gone to plan, but I hope by pausing at the right time, someone elses day was a little easier. Merry Christmas everyone. Peace xxx
What did you do with your extra minute of light today? Where you aware of it? Did you pause in that extra moment of light to contemplate the coming seasons? after all, spring is only a few months away.
I set an alarm on my phone for 15.40pm today, this gave me a minute to put aside what I was doing in order to pause at precisely 15.41pm for a whole minute, and although it has been a heavy dreich day, I stepped outside.
I am lucky to have a car port at my back door, meaning I don’t get soaked when its raining.
I stood for a moment but was soon drawn into the back garden. The rain hitting the car port roof behind me sounded like popping candy when it dances on your tongue. I was surprised at the abundance of bird song coming from the trees at the bottom of the garden, but then there is so much foliage for them to muster in, and the birds are fed well by my neighbour. My garden looks sad though, limp, brown and sleepy, I look forward to new shoots bursting through the earth, but first there will be snow.
As I turned to head back indoors, I passed the garden table, all wet, shiny and tinted with sky, and I felt a warmth, this table was our wedding sign and altered by a kind neighbour into a piece of furniture we will use for many years.
Not only did it bring fond memories of a wonderful day, but optimism of a first anniversary when the light will have fully arrived, the trees will be full once more and everything a little softer.
As I took my last deep breath of the cold damp air, I felt privileged to experience the moment in full presence before heading indoors to the warmth, to my wife and to a warm cup of lemon and ginger tea.
Why not set a reminder to experience a minute of sunset yourself.
An inversion of fog has sunk below the mountains tops and settled on our tiny village. All around us the world has alerted into an underdeveloped sepia photograph with blurred edges and featureless faces.
With such an abundance of thick fog, the village has felt cold and eerily dark. Its no surprise then that the the arrival of winter solstice yesterday was heartily welcomed.
My wife and I did our first solstice ritual which, amongst other things, involved the lighting of candles and thinking of what the coming light means to us.
The first warmth of the sun on my skin
The transformation of nature
Clean washing hung on the washing line
The sound of birds in the trees
New growth in the garden
I am going to start recording my journey from winter to summer solstice, starting today, with the hopes of becoming more aware of the changing light. I feel this gives me an opportunity to take a moment at sunset to gather my thoughts, be still, and record what I see. A mindful moment.
Day 1 Sunset 15.41 UK
I was in B&M, so certainly not a mindful moment, but an awareness of the time lingered in the periphery of my mind. We came in for wool, because Helen wanted to start a new crochet project, and I needed dry stuffing mix for the Christmas dinner. Helen wheeled off in her wheelchair while I headed to the vegan section to see what bargains I could pick up. Five minutes later, and with a basket half filled with groceries that I didn’t need, Helen wheeled up behind me with a bewildered look on her face.
‘They’ve started selling Cherry Ripe, it’s my absolute favourite chocolate bar. I audibly gasped when I saw it. But it isn’t vegan.’
There was a look of disappointment on her face, but a glint of a memory pulled her lips into a soft smile and she was temporality transported to Australia, to a different time, to a time before us, before Scottish mountains, cold inversions and wheelchairs, to a time that shaped my wife into the woman she is today. I never saw her taste her first Cherry Ripe bar, but maybe one day, perhaps on a cold winters afternoon, when a cloud inversion has transformed the world into a blurred photograph, we will share our first vegan Cherry Ripe bar together. Until then, I will sit for a moment, after this post is sent out into the world, and listen to her tell me of that first taste, and learn something new on the first day of the coming light.
There's a wicker chair
In a second-floor room,
Where she sits as still
As the space between the sky and the sill
In her time to just be.
She used to watch the time fly by,
Now it ebbs and flows
As her willow tree grows
In the frame of a big bay window,
In her time to just be.
Then one day in spring,
In her time to just be,
She saw wind tangle knots,
In her flat sheets and socks,
And her fingers - twisted and curled,
Looked like branches of willow.
When summer came,
With sun licked leaves,
And barbeque tastes
On the tail of the breeze,
She lingered still, calm and at ease,
In her time to just be.
Then summer expired,
In a long exhale,
And from twisted fingers a leaf fell,
Then autumn arrived, armed with a brush,
Painting the land with fire and blush,
But still she stayed,
As leaves fell, and the willow swayed,
In her time to tell.
Now let me tell,
That the land lay still,
With snow thick on her windowsill,
The wicker chair, an empty place,
The willow tree, an empty space,
A fallen branch, lay on the ground,
The snow fell without a sound.
A cold teacup with unread leaves
In a time a to just breath.
Today was a day of self loathing, of oily hair, and clothes that didn’t feel nice, of sweatiness and earache. Today was a day of hunger, of not being able to satisfy my stomach, or quench my thirst. Today was a day of worry, of feeling anxious, of sore boobs and chin hair. Today was a menopausal day that felt remarkably like a teenage hormonal day without the black heads and back to back sad songs.
At some point during my misery, I must have went to the fridge, (likely to see if there was anything worth picking at) and found words everywhere. You see, we just topped up the magnetic poetry, and the words were hard to resist, in fact, they forced me to stop.
There is great presence in writing poetry with only a limited amount of words. And with the magnets in no particular order, the eye is forced to search, glance over the words and make connections. If you are lucky, a theme will occur, and while you carefully select each word in that theme, the sound of the magnets clicking into place is not only satisfying, but you begin to feel order. Suddenly your realise your heart is beating a little bit slower, your breathing is calm and smooth. You are present, you and your words and it is calm and nice and the turmoil has subsided.
Here is my poem. It’s not an epic, but it was fun to write.
This advice is taken in part, from a conversation with a friend on messenger. I thought it might shine some light on my writing process. The question was, how do you motivate yourself to write a full length novel?
Hiya, I had the intention to write every day, but didn’t always manage. I didn’t beat myself up about it though, what’s the point.
Posting on Facebook was a great way to hold myself accountable, if only to myself.
I have a friend, (a non booky friend), who read each chapter after I had finished, errors and all. Her response to the writing, (and I mean response, not feedback at this stage), assured me that what I had written made sense and worked. I have a Helen too, who gives me the more honest and good feedback.
I had a loose plot, but it was loose. I let my imagination guide the shape of the novel and, regularly altered the plot line as I went. I guess the main thing for me was to think of why I wanted to sit down and write and, what I would get out of it. When I found the answer, I began to sit down and write purely for the love of writing. I wanted to enjoy the process, and have fun. I never gave myself pressure, I didn’t beat myself up if it seemed disjointed or went in weird directions, I just kept writing.
I had a rough idea of word count, but not a solid ending so that was changeable, and I did make some major changes in the last chapter and I think it gave the whole story a twist.
But I guess I went at it with a want to write, a real desire to bring my idea to life, to slow down in order to really enjoy what I was writing, and the actual act if writing itself. And with no publishing goal in site at this stage, I found the act of writing, for writings sake, fun. I guess that the process would change when working to a publishing deadline.
A maliable plot. Facebook accountability. A strong desire to bring my story to life. An intention to write. Writing for the love of writing. A desire to enjoy each part of the process.
Another thing. Finishing each chapter on a hook is great for the reader, but also for me as it made returning to the story exciting.
I always leave myself notes of ideas at the end of a chapter too. Scrivener is a great piece of software that lets you break the novel down into wee chunks. It’s not too expensive either. Also, I take notes of loose ends so I always tie them up.
Don’t edit as you go, it’ll slow you down and you’ll get stuck. You’re going to have to edit anyway once it is written. Try just writing and ignoring the mistakes. It is liberating. That’s when your real voice comes out and the magic happens. That’s when you’ll love it for what it is, a weird fucking delve into the unknown.
If you are still struggling, meditation is a good way to shake of expectations. Or a walk before you sit down.
We had so much snow yesterday but most of it melted as it hit the ground. It did lie on the grass through. When I went out with the dogs, on a not very adventurous walk around the park, the snow was blowing sideways, big thick snow that made visibility difficult. I kept my face to the ground, hurrying my wee legs as quick as I could with the vision of a steaming mug of tea waiting for me at home, and of course my jammies.
It’s easy to take the surrounding beauty for granted when the weather isn’t to your liking, and to be honest, the above picture was taken on another day when the wind was just a wee whistle and, the snow just a wee crust on the periphery of my walk. It wasn’t until I was on my last lap of the park when a flake of snow, a giant flake of snow, landed on my lip. It was only a second before it melted, but the wee snow kiss ripped me out of my daydream and I found myself in the middle of a snow globe. There wasn’t another in sight, just me and my snow patterned dog, who looked at me wondering why I had stopped. It was a moment of absolute beauty, from the cold fizz of the melting snow on my lip, to my tongue reaching for a taste. I was utterly alive. For the remainder of my walk I kept my head up, letting the snow land on my face, my hat, but it only took.a single kiss to bring me into the present moment.
How colourful is this photograph? It was taken in the garden of our old house in Bannockburn. I was trimming the roses when I looked up and saw Buddah, and he looks like he’s sneezing. It made me smile.
I chose to post this photograph today because not only have I been clearing out my writing study/meditation space, but I’ve also been sneezing. To be honest, I think it was the dust from the tumble dryer filter that irritated my nose, but I have done a bit of rearranging so it might be that.
I love having a clear space to work. I find that along with regular meditation, and an uncluttered work area, I can sit down at my desk and write easily. I began writing a novel on 1st April 2020 and am now 63000 word into it. I haven’t written since the beginning of December, my partner had a relapse of her neurological condition, NMO, feel to look it up, then we both thought we had covid but, it turned out not to be, and obviously there was Christmas. Now I’m ready. I have the rest of the novel planned out, I reckon I could complete it in a few weeks then begin the editing process.
But I’m ranting now.
Write a short story or a poem in the form of an email. The email should be an apology for not going on a date and, the excuse should be allergies.
Some images evoke the senses without any effort, for me it is logs. Look at all that rich colour, the moss, the darkness of the wet wood compared to the dry wood, see the reds, browns and blacks in the bark and the yellows, oranges and shades of brown in the trunk. What do these colours resemble?
Now imagine what the wood smells like, the just cut smell, the dry wood before it is thrown on the fire, or the wet wood that has been frosted over. Can you taste the smell of the wood on your tongue? What are each of those smells like?
Imagine the noise of the tree being sawn down, or the axe splitting the logs into small pieces. Imagine the sound of the wood being bundled together and then thrown on the fire. What does it sound like?
Finally, what does the wood feel like? Imagine it in its natural form, a tall tree, rooted deep into the earth. Think of the birds and the animals scurrying through its branches, the leaves and buds, fruit and nuts, that it produces each year. Imagine all the insects living in its bark, on the leaves, amongst the roots. Now imagine your fingers on that bark, the roughness, the damp and the moss, the knots and the sap. Now think of the log, the weight of it in your hand, the lines and the grooves of the split trunk, the softness and the hardness, the jaggy and the smooth. What does the log feel like?
As a writer, we rely on the senses to help us to describe an object, a place or a person or an emotion. Transfering your own experience of the senses into language isn’t always as easy as you would think, after all, you might normally use the most beautiful, poetic sentences that drip of your tongue like nectar, but if the reader cannot see it in their own minds eye, the detail will be lost on them, and it might be the most important detail in your work.
Let me give you an example:
I beleive a good way for writers to develope their craft is by allowing themselves the gift of presence and curiosity when researching, or, when looking for inspiration. Remember when you were a child and experienced something or somewhere new? If we allow ourselves to look at the world through the eyes of a child again, with curiosity and without judgement, and then apply all of those wonderful senses available to us, we might widen our knowledge. Then, if we try to describe that experience, with all the fancy, exciting adult words and techniques that we have learned, but with absolute clarity and precision, perhaps we will deliver a win.
In the novel that I’m currently writing, my character is watching Swift’s flying through the air. I described them as being like fighter jets ducking and diving and tearing the twilight into scraps. Now, I personally love that sentence, it fills my heart up with joy because that is what I imagined when I experienced something similar myself. However, the latter part of the sentence doesn’t make sense. The similie of the swifts being like fighter jets is something that can be imagined, but tearing the twilight into scraps doesn’t work, if you can’t see it in your mind’s eye, drop it.
So why not give it a go? You might even do this as part of a mindful walking excersise, or, to really focus on something, someone or somewhere, do it with intention. Take three long deep breaths and allow yourself to arrive into the present moment. Take time to feel your surroundings, the air on your skin, the temperature of the air, is it wet or dry? Then feel you body making contact with the earth, or your hands on the wheels. Check to see if you are holding any tension in your body, and relax. Now it is time to go forth into your present moment, with curiosity and without judgement.
One of the best things about living in the Scottish Highlands in the wee detached village of Killin, is the night sky. It’s pretty dark at night, with little light pollution and the brightest moon I’ve ever seen. When there is a scattering of clouds, however, the sky puts on the most spectacular show of patterns and shapes, it’s like art. When the days are clear and the rain is at bay, we have a new exhibition to indulge in every night, and often with twinkling stars dotted in between. That’s not to say it’s not freezing, wrapping up is essential for sky gazing. The picture that accompanies this post was taken in December 2020. It was taken on my phone and zoomed in. I couldn’t help but notice a genie smoking his pipe and pondering what’s to become of this bloody pandemic.
What do you see?
The night sky is a great place to start for writing inspiration. Perhaps on a clear night, get yourself wrapped up and venture out into the dark.
Listen Look Smell Feel
By tuning into the senses, you might be surprised at what the night has to offer. For me, on a night like the one in December, I would hear the hoo-hoo of the owl, the swishing of the trees on the old railway, the creaking of the car port roof, possibly a car in the distance bit mostly not.
The sky can be anything from a yellow oil slick, to a blue fox stretching lazily between the seven sisters and the plough.
There’s usually a smell of a burning wood in the air, the smell of wet grass, sweet frost or mulch. Sometimes even the smell of laundry from someone’s tumble dryer.
I will feel the sharpness of the air as it reaches my lungs, the sting of cold on my cheeks, my feet on the ground, my heart beating, the clothes on my skin.
This is present moment awareness, a moment of mindful contemplation. All of it relevant as I stand completely alive, sharing the sky with those brave enough to be out too.
Today the temperature has remained below zero, the lowest being -4°, but the sky was the deepest blue I’ve seen in a while, and with only a slither of cloud on the horizon. Me and my two chocolate Labradors walked along the river bank, the river was flowing so slowly that the opposite bank was reflected clearly on its surface, apart from the odd random ripple and patches of grey ice around the bank that is. My dogs love the water, but they also love chasing the ducks, and there are an abundance of ducks on the river at the moment. So they remained safely on lead while I took lovely photographs. Here’s one of them in a little sandy cove.
Once we moved away from the river and into the field, the dogs relaxed a bit and I was able to settle comfortably into my surroundings. The mountains seem to have gathered more snow overnight and looked particularly dramatic. One in particular, Ben Lawers, looks to me like its twisting away from the other. There are parts of Lawers that are so incredibly steep and its a wonder that so many people climb it. And even though I view it with that sense of fear, I can see the draw because it is overwhelmingly stunning. This sensation reminded me of an English Literature lecture about the feeling one gets when confronted with the beauty and the terrifying in nature – I believe it was described at the sublime.
Edmund Burke identified the sublime as the experience of the infinite, which is terrifying and thrilling because it threatens to overpower the perceived importance of human enterprise in the universe.
Where was I? While I was having these wonderful emotions, and keeping one eye on the dogs, who sounded like little piglets sniffle out truffles, except it wasn’t truffles, it was frozen rabbit poo, I wandered into some frozen flood water.
We had an incredible amount of rain in December and the field, which is normally filled with sheep, was flooded. The sheep were replaced by ducks, but with this new cold snap, even the ducks are warming their bums in the river rather than the solid ice.
So, as I stood in this mini ice rink wondering how I’d got there, I realised there was an opportunity to walk mindfully, to bring myself back into the present moment, all because of a crunch…
What does it mean to walk mindfully?
Mindful walking is about intention and paying attention. Let me explain. When I found myself on the ice, the first thing I noticed was the sound, the satisfying crunch as my wellington boot broke through. It was a familiar sound, something that drew me back to my childhood and I found myself smiling. This is when I decided to walk mindfully, in other words, I made an intention. The dogs were sniffing around, eating poo and were in no hurry to move on, so I stopped, and I took three long deep breaths, (this is kind of like the Bell or the Gong in my previous post as the breath allows you to arrive into a moment, to be present). I then took a moment to check in on how my body felt, to relax any muscles that had become tense, to feel my feel on the ground, or in the ice for that matter, and that’s when I noticed, for the first time that day, the cold on my face. In fact, I was so surprised to feel the sting on my cheeks and neck that I raised my hand and touched it. Then I began to move. Mindful walking is walking intentionally, walking slow and feeling the range of motions while experiencing all the sensory pleasures available to us. That’s not to say that this exercise is exclusive to able bodied people, it can be adapted to wheelchair users too, although I wouldn’t recommend wheeling into a frozen flooded field, but the exercise can be adapted on less dangerous terrain. As I began to walk, I concentrated on each movement, the weight of my legs as I lifted my feet, the feeling of my feet landing on the ice, that moment of resistance before my foot broke through the ice and then landed on the sticky earth below. Then there was the sucking sound, and a moment of fear which I noticed landed between my shoulder blades and high in my stomach. It felt like a screech, if a screech were a feeling, and for a moment my breath became tight as I lifted my foot. I suddenly felt my face flush with warmth and my hair filled with prickles, and I breathed a long sigh when I discovered my wellington was still attached to my foot. I continued to walk like this, observing each movement, each emotion, watching the ice crack and crumble as I punctured a path of size fives through the middle. It was the crunch that kept me right there though, the brief squeal before the coosh sound, (I think it sounds more like a coosh than a crack). I could smell the frost, that sharp almost sweet smell, followed by a rush of mulch and sulphuric bog smell. I only walked like this for about two minutes, but managed to collect so much information as well as becoming more aware and feeling relaxed.
How can Mindful Walking help with my writing?
It’s all about the experience.
What did I notice?
How did it feel?
When we walk mindfully, we begin to notice a range of things, such as the temperature of the air, the ground beneath our feel, textures and smells, our surroundings, the soundscape. Have another read at my experience and see if you can identify these things. There is definitely many benefits for a writer to practice mindful walking, although it is easier to plan the mindful walk than to decide halfway through a walk that you are going to do it. By planning a walk, you can pick a place that may resemble a setting in your story, then you can experience the setting in the same way your character will. This will enhance your description. Remember the old phrase,
Write what you know.
It might be relevant to disclose to you at this time that I am writing a novel set in this very village and partly in this very field, so all of this is wonderful research for my book. But I will conclude today by saying, thanks for reading, and also, of you would like any more advice on mindful walking or how this could be adapted to a wheelchair, please comment and we can chat. In the meantime, here’s a photo of my side of the mountain.
Being a writer means also being an observer, how else are we able to describe the world around us but through our senses. I believe we can become better writers by learning the art of deep observation and paying closer attention to the here and now.
So, what is a deep observer? It is someone who actively experiences the world with a strong curiosity, who opens up all the senses available to them in order to examine what’s happening. That might seem obvious, however, for much of the day we actually miss what’s happening in the world around us because we are lost in our own thoughts.
Learning to pause, to be still, and to open up the possibility of becoming an intentional deep observer takes time and practice – it requires the ability to be present. Presence is simply being aware of where you are, in body and in mind, and actively choosing to be fully aware of what is happening in that moment. In mindfulness practice, we would describe this as arriving in the moment.
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
So, how do we arrive in the moment? In a mindfulness meditation practice, we would arrive in the moment by ringing a bell or a gong. By doing this at the beginning and end of a practice, we are setting an intention to be present during that time period. Being present though, isn’t necessarily about meditation, although we can build a stronger ability for presence when we practice meditation, but we can be present at any time, we just have to do be present intentionally.
Setting an intention to be present is more difficult than you think. Try, for example, setting an intention to be present while washing the dishes.Try to become fully aware of where you are and what you are doing. Perhaps take a moment before you begin to say out loud, ‘right now I am washing the dishes.’ How long was it before your mind began to wander? Perhaps you started thinking of what you would like to be doing instead. Perhaps you were thinking of something that happened last week, or an hour ago. Regardless, it is difficult to stay focused for very long without the mind going of on its own journey and taking us along for the ride. This is particularly prevelant when we are partaking in something mundane or repetitive, and are happy to loose ourselves in thoughts and dreams. But the mundane can be such an important part of our writing and by actively seeking out those mundane experiences ourselves, we can so enrich the quality of our work.
When we practice intentional deep observation, the present moment experience will become richer, and certainly more interesting. Perhaps, before we begin, take a few seconds to arrive in the moment (I’m not suggesting sounding a gong every time you do the washing up). Maybe stand by the sink. Feel your feet on the floor or the area where your body makes contact with the chair or stool, become aware of the temperature in the room, the sounds, then perhaps take three deep breaths. When you begin washing up, try noticing the tactile experience of washing the dishes, the temperature of the water on your hands, the feeling of the detergent, the way the water changes when it starts to become greasy or dirty. All of those experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, are knowledge. Use your other available senses too, such as your sight, what does that blob of tomato sauce look like when it is dissolving in water, look at how the oat milk in the bottom of that glass mug resembles a monkey’s face (see my post image). Try to experience the smell too, the smell of the detergent, other smells in the room, the smell of the sink once the water has washed down the plug hole. All of these observations are knowledge, material.
Setting an intention to be present, to be a deep observer, does not mean that the mind will not wander, of course it will, that’s what minds do. However, noticing the mind wandering is, or can be, part of the observation. Where did the mind wander to? How long did it last, what were you hands doing during this time? By practising these observational skills we can expand our knowledge and awareness which can only enrich our writing.
As we get more practiced, we can begin to use these skills when on the move, while walking in nature, on sitting on train, in a busy supermarket, or climbing a mountain. We can really begin to explore how to intentionally and deeply observe. We can even observe people, body language, quirks, moods, etc. The possibilities are endless.
So, while I hope that this post was helpful, I would like to finish by saying that in no way am i suggesting it is helpful to be intentionally and deeply observant all of the time, in fact I value the ability to disappear into my own head, I like it there too much, after all, that where the magic comes from and the ideas begin.
She breathed deep, Jaggy at first,And at her feet a pigeon pecked at pickingsWhile a bus shuddered close by -Its doors folded open to the street.She breathed out.Her second breath was smoother,And as people sped by Hunkered under raincoats, rain tap tappingIn stereo around their ears,The walking school busMarched hand in hand in high vis vests,And she sat with cold bus-stop-feet.She blew out an shivering ‘oh.’Her third breath was quietAs still as the gapBetween the ‘Caw’ of the rookAnd the flap of a pigeon’s wings. Behind her a shop bell tinkled,And the smell of baked bread Hung as heavy as coffee in the air, Warm and steady Like her out breath.She paused a while longer.Watching a line of charcoal cloud Make a bridge between two tenements blocksWhile a buddleia swayed left and rightIn an unused chimney pot.
I was alright in mid-June apart from the weather which was typically Scottish. Charcoal clouds were scribbled over the only green hill that formed part of our view. The air was thick. A warm breeze swayed the vertical blinds and they clattered together.
“I can’t concentrate.” I said, saving the document I was working on. I put my lap-top on the couch and got up to close the window, but Helen began coughing. She sat forward, red faced and I thumped the top of her back, careful to avoid the line where the nerve pain started. “Are you alright?” She shook her head. “Not…” “What can I do?” I asked. She pointed to the window and wagged her finger. “You want it left open?” She nodded. I hurried to the kitchen and edged a glass between last night’s dinner dishes and the cold tap. I filled the glass with water. “I need to clean the kitchen,” I said when I returned. “You said you’d do it later.” “I know, but it stinks.” “It’s just last night’s dishes.” “It’s disgusting.” “I’ll do it then.” She sighed. “You try to do too much, and you need to work on your dissertation.” “It can wait. Besides, I can’t have you struggling to stand at the sink.” I kissed her cheek. “You worry too much.” “You’d be better going up to the university to write. There’d be less distraction.” I shrugged my shoulders, sat down and I lifted my lap-top onto my knee. The blinds rattled.
I was in the kitchen a couple of hours later when I heard the letterbox snap shut. The mail flopped on the floor. It was mostly junk, a Farmfoods leaflet, money off coupons for Domino’s, you know the likes, when I heard the Post woman’s footsteps echo down the stairs in the communal hallway. I considered opening the door and pointing at the sign above our letterbox: NO JUNK MAIL. But I didn’t. I realised for the first time, I couldn’t. “Anything for me?” Helen called from the Living-room. “Something from the council.” I took it through to her. “Maybe it’s about the wood-worm.” “It’s too soon.” I said. “Although it would be my luck to have the council ripping up floors while I’m trying to write a dissertation.” Helen opened the letter. She raised her eyebrows. “They’re coming to lift the floor, aren’t they?” She nodded. “When?” “In a fortnight, and they want the house empty.” “What about us?” “They’re putting us up in a hotel. Guess we have some packing to do. Should I ask some friends around to help?” “No!” I said too quickly. I even surprised myself.
At the beginning of July, the weather was still drab but there had been the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. I couldn’t help wishing it would hurry up, if only to clear the air. “Could you pop over to Peter’s and ask him if he’ll run us to the hotel on Monday?” Helen asked. “I’ll just finish packing this box.” I said laying an ornament on a piece of newspaper and triple wrapping it. “I’ll finish that.” Helen said. “It’s okay, I’m nearly done.” I snapped. “Sorry.” She backed away and I felt a pang of guilt. “I’ll go in a minute.” “I’d go myself, but I can’t do the steps.” “I know that.” I threw the wrapped ornament into the box and turned away from her. “What’s wrong.” Helen sat on the floor beside me. “Are you crying?” I hid my face from her. “I can’t go.” “Go where? The hotel?” I let out a sob. “Kirsty?” “I can’t go to Peter’s.”
By the time we got to the hotel the following week we could barely see a foot in front of us. The fog was thick and white, and our world shrank to the size of the cave we were temporary living in. “What time are you meeting you tutor?” Helen shouted from the other room. “In ten minutes, at the bar.” I sat on the toilet and my stomach cramped. I emptied my bowel. Again.
“Sorry I’m late.” My tutor said and ordered us a pot of tea. “How are you?” “I’m well,” I lied but I wanted to run back to Helen and hide. “How’s the dissertation coming along?” “Fine.” I said a little too loudly and I felt everyone in the bar look at me. I waited for them to laugh. In my mind they did. “Are you in touch with your classmates?” “I’ve been too busy.” I lied because I felt too stupid to say that some of my friends hated me now because I was apparently the teacher’s pet. I felt stupid saying that they were horrible to me – and now I was lost.
It was January 2018 before I realised, I had social anxiety. I was standing in the back garden of our new home, inappropriately dressed for a blizzard but poised, perfectly still with a camera in my hand. Through the lens, I watched a robin on the fence have his breast feathers whipped up by the wind as flurry of snow danced around him. I clicked.
“What time is everyone arriving?” Helen sticks a tahini dip covered finger to my mouth. “That’s amazing.” I lick it from my lips. “Two o’clock I think.” I finish breading the cauliflower and pop it into the oven. “Are you feeling okay?” She asks. “With, you know, people coming around?” “I will be.” I tell her. I lift my purple headphones from the table. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” I go into the spare room and close the door. Before I press play on the app, I check to see how many people will be joining me. 12,351.
Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable. Sit on a straight back chair or on a meditation cushion. When you hear the gentle chimes of the singing bowl, close your eyes. Breathe in to the count of five. Hold. Breathe out to the count of five. Hold.
I have been toying with the idea of a social media down day ever since a tutor at university spoke of his own positive experience. Sunday past seemed like the perfect day to give it a go, not only because I already associate Sunday as a kind of down day, but also because I have just completed my first week studying mindfulness. I began the online mindfulness course because I often struggle with anxiety. Anxiety, for those who have experienced it, can be debilitating; exhausting on the mind and the body. For myself, I experience social anxiety, dread and an inability to rest; my thoughts go into overdrive and I feel them crashing together. My usual “go to” is social media where I can loose myself amongst everyone else’s lives – in other words I detach myself from myself. I knew something had to change; there had to be another way of dealing with my anxiety. Then right on time, along came an e-mail telling me about a free course with Future Learn – Mindfulness.
Mindfulness (and remember I am still learning) is learning how to be present in our experiences, an, in our lives. Even on my non anxious days I am constantly distracted by social media, not because it is a riveting alternative to real life, but because it is a filler. For me, Facebook more so than any other social media platform, fills the time between breakfast and walking the dogs or when the dinner is cooking, or basically whenever I have a spare moment. E-mail is another source of distraction, as a writer, I find myself falling into the trap of checking my e-mail whenever I have a spare minute; I send between five and fifteen pieces of writing to magazines and competitions every quarter so am always waiting on reply. So, when I sat down and really thought about it, it seemed that I had forgotten how to just sit and do nothing. Thus, the idea to go ahead with the social media down day was decided.
Sunday 11th February
It is amazing how your hand automatically reaches for your phone in the morning. I decided to turn my internet off so that I wouldn’t receive any notifications tempting me to pick it up. Once that was done, I put my phone on my writing bureau (it usually sits on the arm of the sofa) and got on with my day. I found myself enjoying really quite mundane things such as putting the clean washing away – not only did I tidy my wardrobe; I re-arranged it. Then I decided on a few items that were ready for the charity shop. It was nice to take time to look at my clothes properly, to see the nice items that I have purchased over the winter (mostly from charity shops or from sales), and appreciate what I have..
Lunchtime was interesting; I found myself looking at my lunch rather that looking at my phone while eating lunch – it is amazing how much better food tastes when you look at it and pay attention to what you are eating.
By mid afternoon I had forgotten about my phone and about E-mails and Facebook and all of the other internet distractions that usually filled my time and I sat and looked out the window. We have recently moved into a new house and the living-room window faces onto a private garden with lots of trees and sky and birds. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and blue and I just sat, and looked. It reminded me of my teenage self, eighteen years old, no internet, and looking out the bedroom window of our family home. There was fields and hills, trees – and a castle nestled behind some Scots pine’s. I was taken to a place where I felt like my old self again, (although I am sure if you asked my eighteen year old self how I felt, I would have declared my utter boredom) but at forty-five, letting myself be still, just looking and experiencing how that felt, I’ve never felt less bored in my life.
My phone vibrated mid afternoon and I got my other half to take a look. Somehow, without any internet, a notification had got through. I ignored it although I am still baffled by how that could happened.
All in all, my day trotted along at a much slower pace. I had the odd moment when I wondered about what was happening in the land of Facebook or if some magazine had sent me an e-mail, but apart from the weird sensation of not picking my phone up every twenty minutes, it was a pleasant experience. Now I know that it isn’t for everyone, and I am certainly not trying to encourage anyone to follow my example, but for me – someone who grew up in the days before internet – it was like opening my eyes after a long daydream. I do enjoy social media and I would be lost today without the wonder of internet, but I will continue to have my Sunday down days, where I can see the week through wider eyes.
All of the content on my site is free but i do accept doations.