A little room to write

Writing. Reading. Life

Month: May 2016

Hobgoblin of self-doubt

Who hasn’t suffered self-doubt? That nasty little hobgoblin that sits in your head and tells you you’re pretty rubbish, that nothing you do is much good and that every attempt at creating something meaningful will be laughed at and widely ridiculed. You know, that self-doubt.

If you haven’t suffered it, then well, good for you, but stay away from me because it’s possible you’re a sociopath. Self-doubt is part of the human experience. And it can be a useful thing, too. It plays a part in making you go back to the manuscript, essay, brilliant idea and tinker with it until it’s even better than it was before.

Unfortunately, it can also crawl into your head and make itself nice and cosy, really settle in for the long haul of torment it intends to create. And it will, if we let it. It will nestle in there, latching on to your fondest wishes and placing them on the top of a tall mountain, far, far out of the reach of an untalented, intellectually diminished dullard like you.Fotor_146448487377353

And it doesn’t matter what those fondest wishes are. You might work in a chicken factory, but you long to be a hairdresser. Hah! Too easy, says the hobgoblin. Who do you think you are? The chicken factory is as good as it’s ever gonna get for you. If you were a hairdresser you’d have to talk to people, make appointments, wield a pair of scissors without hacking someone’s hair to bits or cutting off an ear. You’d be rubbish. Stay where you belong amongst the headless chickens and the giblet bins.

See what I mean? It’s easy, so easy to believe the greasy words whispered in our ears by the voice of self-doubt.

Now, I’m not claiming to have all the answers here. I still struggle with it, and like most people, will probably always have the voice in my head that’s too ready to be dismissive and derogatory. But what I have learned to do is ignore it and just plough on. Not the most emotionally sophisticated way of dealing with it, I grant you, but one of the few I’ve come up with so far and it works pretty well.

It’s kind of like, if I was in my own head and the hobgoblin was standing in front of me talking trash (I like to slip into prize fighter talk at times like these), then all I have to do is pick it up, place it to one side and then keep walking. I leave it behind me, the voice getting fainter the further I go.

The other trick I’ve used before is to think back on something I’ve done that I feel good about. At times like these you’ve got to be kind to your ego. Treat it like the poor suffering little milk sop it is and give it a boost. It doesn’t matter what you reflect on: Came third place in that 5th grade swimming race? Then rapturous applause all round. Passed that unit in Russian politics at uni without having a small breakdown? Kudos to you. Overcame that addiction to ice-cream that previously saw you face down in a bucket of the sweet stuff with a frozen tongue and a sick feeling of self- loathing? You have my respect. (What are you talking about? Of course this isn’t from personal experience. I’ve never won a swimming race in my life.)

Whatever it is, that’s something you have set your mind to, you latched on to it like a puppy on a posh pair of shoes and you went for it. You didn’t stop to let self-doubt tell you that you can’t swim, that you need that last shovel of ice-cream, that the intricacies of the government of the union of Soviet Socialist Republics are beyond you. You just ploughed on and got the job done. You kicked self-doubt to the dirt (again with the prize fighter parlance). You did it once, so that means you can do it again.Fotor_146448459377352

The other tactic I employ is equally as sophisticated and that’s the blind leap. You have to imagine you’ve done all you think you can. You’ve used self-doubt to your advantage, you’ve fine tuned, you’ve sculpted, you’ve tinkered and now it’s time to stop. But self-doubt doesn’t just magically disappear at this point. Nope, it’s still there like that last dinner party guest that just won’t bugger off, even though everyone else has gone home, the dishes are done and you’re in your jim-jams yawning extravagantly.

That’s when the blind leap comes in to play. It’s the just-do-it tactic – you hit send or post, you say yes to the job, you enter the competition or pay for the adventure tour tickets. Closing your eyes and leaping can be a bit terrifying, but it’s the last line of defence against self-doubt and I guarantee, the more you do it, the stronger you will get.

So, use self-doubt to your benefit. Use it, abuse and then throw it away like yesterday’s cat food. Because we’re all way better than the nasty hobgoblin that lives in our head. And if you’re around about my vintage and wasted too many afternoons in front of the TV as a kid watching Monkey, then you’ll recognise this sage quote: “Tathagata the Buddha, the Father Buddha said, “With our thoughts we make the world”. And who can argue with the wisdom of Monkey?

What do you guys do to overcome self-doubt?

 

Into the past

The way you read a book is very dependent, I believe, on what stage of life you’re in at the time. It means that there is a perfect and a perfectly dreadful time to read every novel.

We were talking about this at work the other day. Specifically, we were chatting about what books we once loved that we’d like to reread (clearly, engaging in any actual work wasn’t high on the agenda at this point). Now, typically, I’m not much of a rereader ­– which renders my acres of bookshelves a little redundant you might think. But my bookshelves are both a big heavy comfort blanket and my armour against the world, so those puppies aren’t going anywhere.

Anyway, as I said, I’m not really one for rereading novels and in general I’m not really one for harking back. I have certain very beloved friends I have kept for years, but I don’t like to revisit the past so much. I’ve never been to a school reunion, for example. I just assume that they would descend into a competition to see who’s the saggiest or most successful before you all regress to playing the pimple faced roles you occupied as 17-year-olds. Or maybe they’d be a load of fun, who knows? Who cares? I won’t be finding out any time soon. Anyway, suffice it to say, I feel the same about books.IMG_20140817_190219

When I read Wuthering Heights I was about 16 and I thought it was the cat’s meow. I suspect if I read it now I would just get irritated by all that brooding obsession. I read The Great Gatsby when I was around 19 – that beautiful, heartbreaking book that’s really like an instruction manual for the early 20th century stalker. And that’s the thing – I loved that novel and I don’t want it to be overlayed with some of the junk that’s accumulated in my head in the years since I first read it.

Maybe you think I’m being a bit of a literary coward, and perhaps I am. But I know, for example that when I tried to reread A Catcher in the Rye a few years back it was big mistake. I originally read this when I was 20 and still young enough, I guess, to empathise with Holden Caulfield.

Thing is, I feel like I’ve become a more empathetic person as I’ve aged, but clearly my capacity for empathy has waned somewhat when it comes to whining, privileged teenage boys because when I read it anew, it just annoyed the living snot out of me. I couldn’t stop the internal voice that was shouting, “Oh for God’s sake kid, just get over yourself!”

And there you go, a fond book loving memory killed dead. So you’ll have to forgive my trepidation on these matters.

However, I do think there’s a case to be made for revisiting certain books. I think that in the current, clearly insane, world that is the American political landscape, there is a strong case to be made for revisiting Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. She wrote this at the beginning of the Reagan era in the States when the far right Christian lobby groups were making inroads into the political scene and creating some real influence. I assume she wrote it as a cautionary tale, a tale of where any kind of fanaticism can take you and I think it’s just as relevant today.Fotor_146403937480591

I’ll also be giving Jane Austen’s Emma a try. Now, this is a bit of a cheat, because I’ve never actually finished this one, given that I couldn’t stand the main character, Emma (something Jane Austen expected from her readers). But I feel like now (as opposed to when I was in high school), I’ll be able to appreciate the subtleties of her character that made her one of Jane Austen’s favorites. And hey, I’ve watched Clueless loads of times, so I figure I’ve got a handle on this.

So, I will be taking some of the oldies down off my shelf at some point this year. I’ll let you know if they’re still beloved or if I felt like taking them out to the backyard and setting fire to them.

Like mother, like daughter

My mother is the reason I read. Mum is the one who read to me as a child. Mum is the one you’d often find with her face in a book. Mum is the one who went to bed with a novel in her hand every night. And in that regard, I’m a carbon copy.

There was one memorable (if very brief) period when I was about 6 when she decided it would be a marvellous idea to record herself on the tape deck reading my book out loud, (it was the 70s, so this was a pretty high-tech innovation on Mum’s part). She figured I’d be happy enough just listening to her reading my latest book from the tape.

But she figured wrong, my friends – I was having none of it.

Fotor_146266395142077I let her know in no uncertain terms that her presence was required and I would brook no argument (although possibly I didn’t use expressions like ‘brook no argument’ at six). My poor weary mother, who I dare say just wanted some quiet time with her chamomile tea and a little telly, was marched unceremoniously back into my room for bedtime reading duty.

But apart from that one blip Mum remained my constant reading inspiration.

She’s also the one who first taught me to write. I remember it clearly even though I couldn’t have been more than about 3 or 4. I was about to start pre-school and Mum wanted me to know how to write my name beforehand. I remember how excited I was as she sat me down at the table with a sheet of paper and coloured pencils. She asked me to pick one up and hold it in each hand to see in which it felt most comfortable. I remember the sensation so clearly and it was a close call (my dad’s a lefty so it could have gone either way). But by a margin, the right hand won out and I was on my way to understanding the mysterious sequence of lines and circles (as they appeared to me) that was the written word.

I took to it like a dog to a mucky pond. Although, for a while, I didn’t quite understand why my name, Trudi, had to start at the ‘T’ and not the ‘I’, so I had a number of Golden books from that period that read, “This book belongs to Idurt Nivals”.

So, these days when I talk to Mum on the phone, our conversations often drift on to what we’re reading. And although Mum’s reading tastes are a bit different to mine (more historical novels and no monsters, alas), I still enjoy hearing what she’s recently added to her very tidy and strictly alphabetised bookshelf (my sister inherited the tidy genes. Mine got lost in transit sometime before I was born).

Mum doesn’t really believe in Mother’s Day and never has; “It’s really just commercialised rubbish” is a refrain I remember from my childhood. But I thought I’d make this post about her anyway.

She taught me to love books and vegetables, walking and animals, people watching and old buildings. She taught me to question authority and think outside of conventional assumptions. She showed me what it’s like to have someone look at you with absolute love. I’ve always enjoyed her company and she’s always laughed at my jokes no matter how lame.Fotor_146266494656162

I’m eternally glad she’s my mum and I wouldn’t have her any different to the book loving, dog walking, lovable obsessive compulsive that she is.

I won’t wish her a happy Mother’s Day because that would just annoy her. But what I will say is thanks, Mum, for my reading habit ­– now I know who to blame for my growing book mountain.

The agony of decision

I love auditioning a new book. It’s a particularly delicious part of the reading process and the only good thing about finishing the novel I’ve just read.

I take three or four books down from the shelf (the ones that have been in a waiting-to-be-read holding pattern), I sit down with them and I open each one carefully.

Choosing the book I want is easy. I read the first few pages and if I feel like I want to keep reading, then that’s the book that becomes the chosen one. The rest of the poor dejected novels go back on the shelf like the little wallflowers they are, waiting and hoping desperately, I have no doubt, to be picked next time. What? Books have feelings, too, you know.

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Should I do it?

What book I want to read comes down to a mixture of magic and psychology that I don’t pretend to fully understand. I do know that for me at the moment, my scary books have to be reserved for the daylight hours and the novel I take to bed must be of the cosy or certainly non-plague ridden/ghost filled/desperate fight for survival variety. I’ve found myself of late waking in the wee small hours with the uncanny feeling something malevolent is waiting for me in the darkness. Great fodder for the horror writer in me. Not so great for the me who just wants to get the hell back to sleep.

And I certainly don’t want to return to days of old (well, if last month can be classed as such) in which I flee from my bed in a sleepwalking frenzy, trying to outrun whatever night terror has rudely interrupted by nice little dream about George Clooney and a warm bath of melted chocolate.

I’m a sleepwalker from way back and for those who think it isn’t a big deal, try waking up at one in the morning in your back yard, wearing a baby doll nightie, with a drunk wandering up the road next to your house barking at you. A little disconcerting to say the least.

All of this is to say, my book audition must be divided into two distinct categories: daytime and nighttime reading. In the daytime category I have:

  • The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Am told by a very clever fellow book nerd that this is the bees knees)
  • Fellside by M. R. Carey (I loved, loved his novel The Girl with All the Gifts).Fotor_146214957786584

On the non-nightmare inducing side I have:

  • Stoner by John Williams (described to me by someone as “the perfect novel” – no pressure John Williams)
  • Room by Emma Donoghue (which may not really fit this category, but I read and loved another novel by her called Slammerkin – seriously brilliant stuff)
  • Stone Mattress by Margaret Attwood (have had a literary crush on Ms Attwood since I read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school. She can do no wrong).

Oh the delightful agony of decision. But really, all practical considerations aside, what book I choose boils down also to the magic part of the book auditioning equation.

Fotor_146215043091842What grabs me in that particular moment is part of a dark art I am happy to surrender myself to. There is a right and wrong time to read any book and something that might carry you away one year can leave you cold another. That’s why all of my little wallflowers can take heart in the fact that they’ll not be on the shelf forever. They can at some point expect to be read and either loved forever or flung across the room within the first 100 pages.

It’s all part of the fun.

Anyone else got something good they’re about to read?