What would Paul do?

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I’m currently experiencing a peculiar period of flux in my life. I’m well aware that devoting a blog post to what is essentially a spot of navel-gazing might feel, and indeed be, a touch self-indulgent but I hope the end result will be acceptable to the majority and not be judged too harshly. It comes with a free poem, if that swings it?

As with any significant change in circumstances, there is an accompanying emotional maze to navigate. To say I have veered from euphoria to despair and back, via guilt, with an unexpected pit-stop at shame and an uncomfortably lengthy comfort break at overwhelming anxiety is to miss an opportunity to shoehorn in the hackneyed phrase “emotional rollercoaster.” It may be trite, but it is true.

And, as with just about any quandary, the sensible course of action is to take some advice on how best to proceed. But from who? Friends? All fantastic and all offering their own valid perspectives. But all with completely different suggestions and opinions, which is not entirely helpful. Family? Err, pass (although obvs love you all). What is needed is someone sufficiently removed from a situation to be able to offer the necessary impartiality and clarity.

Really, as on so many other occasions, I find the best thing to do is to stick on some music and wait to feel better. When it comes to solving dilemmas there are always one man’s words I’d choose above any other. Not just a great musician but an outstanding poet, Paul Simon is my go-to guy. He’s been there. He’s done it all. Granted, he may not always have the route fully mapped out, but, like a dog-eared and coffee-stained A-Z, I trust him to get us there eventually. Are his suggestions helpful? Not always. But will I feel better for listening? Absolutely. The following poem was written with this in mind, and even though the tone might suggest he doesn’t always have the answers, in truth just asking the questions is what really matters. So, whether the advice is what I really want to hear or not, I ask myself: What would Paul do?

Paul Simon Says*

To navigate these intricate pathways
And walk sure-footed along life’s maze
Is a challenge that tests all but a few.
So I sought out a guide, brought him along for the ride
Hoping his words would steer me true.  

Paul Simon says learn to fall before you fly
But how many stumbles before my wings stretch wide
And lift me to the higher ground?

Paul Simon says we share ceilings and floors
But has no wise words for me about unlocking doors
In these walls that surround.

Paul Simon says wear diamonds on your shoes
But jewel-strewn heels will surely bruise
And trainers are comfier when you’re homeward bound.

Paul Simon says we can rewrite the end
But life splintered in fragments is so hard to mend
And denying the obvious is easier, I’ve found. 

*Written for the Lipschtick poetry oracle project
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The External Interference Effect

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To me, the solstice marks a turning point. Ushering in a new dawn, it is an opportunity for change. New beginnings. So today seems a good time to share a piece that was written for my local writing group, the delightful http://tunbridgewellswriters.org.uk/ as part of our Christmas project. This year’s theme came courtesy of the opening line of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

“Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.”

Whilst some may find such prompts restrictive, to me this particular line is full of possibilities, allowing a writer license to explore virtually any direction they choose. To me it is, indeed, all about the potential offered by new beginnings. Happy solstice xx

Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree.

But it was an ending currently occupying Michael’s mind. In retrospect Caroline’s departure should not have been a wholly unexpected outcome but it was not a permutation he had predicted. It was precisely this insistence on applying inherent reasoning to all aspects of his life that had, in the end, been the crucial factor in the failure of this particular experiment.

He, she said, always insisted on attempting to quantify the unquantifiable. And when this was not possible he was unable to respond appropriately within acceptable parameters. (Her words.) Quite what acceptable parameters are he was at a loss to define, but was beginning to suspect that a) she demonstrably did not adhere to the same standard criterion of data interpretation as he; b) an empirical logic-based approach was incompatible with the actuality of a successfully functioning relationship.

‘I hate doing this to you right before Christmas,’ she’d said as she left.

Yet what possible significance could the timing of her departure be on the outcome of the situation? He had, incorrectly as it turned out, assumed this would not be a differentiating factor. And although clearly this was impossible to accurately measure, somehow, it was. Seasonal songs provoked unexpected responses in his cerebral cortex. Jostling crowds in the shopping centres were more than just the usual annoyance. Groups of friends celebrating in pubs and bars stirred unexpected emotions; evoked feelings even. It was unfamiliar, unexplainable. So, he had done the only sensible thing and walked away from the hustle and bustle to the top of the hill to more efficiently process this strange and irrational phenomenon.

The bench underneath him was cold but he welcomed the discomfort, finding it sharpened his thoughts as he sought clarity. The gaping yaw of the dark common lay below him, the bright lights of the town a little further away. Those of a romantic disposition, Caroline for example, would probably describe the scene as like something on a Christmas card. But Michael instead saw the lights and the darkness as a pattern to decipher. He was observer rather than participant, and all would make perfect sense with the enhanced perspective that distance offered. All he required was this blessed solitude.

‘Shit, it’s freezing up here. Still, at least there’s somewhere to sit. I can’t walk another bloody step in these heels.’

Michael turned to the stranger who had intruded so abruptly into his contemplation, ready to utter a sharp response, but the breath caught in his throat. She had long black hair, pale skin, cheeks rosy with cold. Her short sequinned dress and thin jacket were entirely inadequate protection against the elements. Puffing in the chilly air, she rummaged in a plastic carrier bag on the bench next to her. Michael watched in stunned fascination as she pulled out a multipack of brand new socks and snapped the plastic ties with her teeth. Peeling off a pair, she kicked off the impractical heels and wriggled her delicate feet into the thick socks. They had clearly been purchased for a man, being far too large for her, but she didn’t seem to care and instead sighed with apparent pleasure and relief.

‘Ah, that’s better. Not elegant, I admit, but a bloody sight more comfortable.’

For the first time she appeared to notice Michael’s strained expression.

‘Sorry. Am I interrupting something?’

He wanted to say yes, to ask her to go away, but no words came out.

‘Okay, quiet boy. I’ll take that as a no. Drink?’

She pulled out a bottle of whisky, unscrewed the lid and took a deep draught before proffering it towards him. He almost declined out of habit but something made him hesitate and he reached for the bottle. Trying not to think about germs or the fact his mouth was in the exact spot hers had been just a few seconds previously he took a nervous swig. It burned, fire and ice at once, unfamiliar yet not entirely unwelcome.

‘I’m like a trusty St Bernard, bringing medicinal alcohol to those suffering in the snow,’ she said.

‘Drinking alcohol dilates the blood vessels and can induce hypothermia in freezing conditions. The notion these dogs carried kegs of brandy is a complete fabrication, due entirely to the extensive artistic liberties taken by Landseer in one of his paintings.’

She stared at him, incredulous, then shrugged.

‘That’s me told. And I suppose it isn’t snowing yet. Won’t it be lovely if we have a white Christmas?’

‘We won’t. The air pressure is all wrong. It’s going to rain.’

‘O-kay. And I suppose you wouldn’t enjoy it if it did, anyway.’

‘What makes you say that?’

‘Well, I’ve only known you a brief while but I’m sensing you’re not the type to bunk off work to go sledging or make snow angels. It would be a pain in the arse rather than fun.’

‘I can do fun,’ he replied, wondering if this was at all true. Caroline hadn’t thought so. Maybe her surmise had been correct.

‘Have one of these,’ she said, rummaging again in her bag before handing him a small object like a grenade.

‘What is it?’

‘A seed bomb,’ she said, as if it were obvious. ‘I bought them for my sister but let’s throw them down onto the common.’

‘Why?’

‘So that hopefully in a few months lots of wildflowers will grow here.’

‘Don’t the council take care of the landscaping?’

‘This isn’t about careful landscaping, it’s about the creation of random beauty. And all this rain you’re predicting will get them off to a good start. Come on.’

She hurled her seed bomb down into the black abyss of the common below, then grabbed his arm. He flinched at the sensation, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasant as she drew his arm back and helped him throw.

‘There!’ she said, eyes blazing beautifully as she turned triumphantly towards him. ‘They’ll be so pretty.’

‘If they grow.’

‘They’ll grow.’

And it was a beginning, of sorts.

Rite of Passage

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Rite of Passage

A while back I set myself the challenge of writing a 6 word story every day. So, for 6 months, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’d like to thank everyone that liked, commented, shared and hopefully enjoyed them; it was an immense pleasure.

It has been very busy writing and performing-wise recently, with lots of poems and stories of varying length to get down on paper. This seems as apposite a time as any to post one I shared recently at the aptly-named Read Your Words.

Yesterday I began a new, much longer writing project. It is likely to have me chained to my desk for a few months, which I must say I am masochistically quite looking forward to. And I hope to share some of this new story with you soon. But until then…

This was it. All he had to do was hold his nerve and he’d be in. Just one small step and he’d be a fully- fledged member of the Carlton Street Crew. Not that he lived on Carlton Street. Close enough, though. And Danny was more interested in where his boys were going than where they came from. What they could bring to the table. Which was why Jake was doing this here; this now.

There were about a thousand places he’d rather be, but if he wanted to prove he had the stones, this was what it would take. His initiation. His chance to show Danny he was more than just a playground bully. That he had the brains and the bottle to be part of the big league.

The warehouse was on one of the quieter streets just behind the old railway tracks. He couldn’t remember trains ever running on them, and he’d lived round here all his life. Rusty rails, brittle, orange and flaking. Weeds stood tall and proud between the disused tracks. Prickling thistles, soft downy rosebay willow herb. Desolate beauty.

But the wonders of nature were pretty far from Jake’s mind right now. He had to get in, get the job done, and get out. The warehouse was just one of many that Danny used to store things in. Those odd little items that he needed keeping safe, but at the same time wanted no ties to if the boys in blue came to call. Plausible deniability. But there was something he needed now.

Despite the light early evening breeze Jake could feel sweat pouring off him, plastering his T-shirt to his bony back. He wore only a thin jacket, not thick enough to make any difference to his body temperature. It might have seemed a little out of place if this June had been much warmer, but pockets were essential. And gloves. He pulled his dark, unbranded cap low over his forehead and picked up the pace. Scuffed trainers, also unlabelled. No flash, no identifying marks. That was Danny, right there. Always thinking. Always using his smarts to keep his boys out of trouble. Jake kicked a couple of times at the dust, but he kept moving. He knew if he stopped now he might not start again. And then it really would be all over.

He’d expected security to be a bit better but as Danny had remarked, it was an empty warehouse. Anything of value had been pinched long ago. The dilapidated old building was sure to be condemned pretty soon. All it housed was the temporary home of whoever happened to be currently squatting there. Kids would come sometimes to drink, sniff canisters of hippy crack, or worse. Or for a dare. But there weren’t many kudos to be gained from breaking in as the lock was laughable and the door on its last hinges.

Jake took a quick look round to check he hadn’t attracted any attention, then pushed the door open. The screech as the hinges protested seemed deafening to him, but he had to assume it wasn’t. That his nerves were simply making him hyperaware. He tried to embrace it. This was a good thing, helped to keep you sharp.

Inside the warehouse was cool and smelled of damp. He wished he’d brought a thicker jacket. And certainly wished he’d thought to bring a torch. The darkness hung heavy round him, stifling all of his senses.

Calm. Steady. Easy. He tried to will his heart to slow down, his breath to cease gasping, his nerves to stop jangling. This was a simple job. He just had to hold on. Gradually his eyes adjusted a little to the gloom. Virtually all of the high windows had been smashed long ago but even they were few and far between, letting in only fragments of light. Still, if he were patient, he knew his eyes would settle. The room began to drift into focus. Jake could make out the shapes of the giant shelving units, huge metal racks that had long since been emptied. A few more seconds to orient himself, then it was time to crack on. He knew what he needed lay in the farthest corner. Typical.

Carefully he began to navigate his way through the maze of discarded pallets, mounds of rubbish and drifts of old newspaper. Once he had started, he found it easier than he had expected and when he looked back was surprised how far he had come. In just a few minutes he found the corner, found the rack, found the box. The lid was stiff, but not locked. Jake eased it open, nervous at the contents.

The package lay there, quiet, unassuming, just as Danny had said. Carefully he unfolded the dark cloth to check all was as it should be. It was. He picked it up, unable to resist the temptation. The weight in his hand was unfamiliar, unsettling, yet he could already sense how it would soon become so comfortable. Second nature. He gazed at it for just a few seconds more before wrapping the package back up. Fumbling slightly, he shoved it as deep into his jacket pocket as he dared, then closed the lid of the box.

It seemed to take just seconds to reach the exit, and within a moment he was back outside into the pleasant daylight of a summer evening. Welcome fresh air.

His instructions had been to head straight to the underpass. Here he would hand over the package and, he hoped, receive a hero’s praise. It was a good twenty minute walk, which usually he would welcome. But now with every step he was conscious of the weight he carried. Of what would happen if he were caught. Thankfully he made it to the underpass without incident, and waited for his contact to show.

The minutes ticked by. Danny’s man was late. Jake began to hop from foot to foot to keep warm, the evening definitely cooling now. Still no sign. Should he go? What if Danny thought he’d done a runner? Or, worse, what if this was a set-up? Jake reached deep into his pocket and felt the reassuring weight. Probing fingers unwrapped the fabric and he could feel the cool metal against his skin. Safe. Secure. He couldn’t resist pulling it out once more, feeling how easily it moulded itself to his hand. He posed, imagining how it would feel to use. How quick. How easy.

Just then a noise startled him. Someone was coming! But he could already see it wasn’t Danny’s man. Instead, a woman walking slowly but unstoppably towards him. A yellow sundress, shades and a pale cardigan warding off the summer evening chill. Her heels tapped on the concrete path, echoing loudly in the tunnel. Too late, he realised he was facing her, directly in her line of sight. Even in the gathering dusk, she would be able to see him, to see what he was doing. To identify him.

He was barely conscious of his arm rising, the gun aiming, his finger squeezing. A sudden flash, a thunderclap and she was down. Bitter scent filled his nostrils, smoke hanging heady in the air in front of him.

The pool of blood spread quickly, gleaming stickily in the gloom. It was too late to do anything for her. But he could do something for himself. He had to run. He had to go now. Danny would understand. He couldn’t have let her see. No witnesses, Danny had said.

Minutes passed and still he stood, frozen in shock as the siren song began to fill the air. Looking anywhere but at her face, at her ruined torso. As if she had tossed them aside, almost as an afterthought, he saw them. Her dark glasses. Not tapping heels echoing. But instead her white, metal-tipped cane.

 

 

 

A tale a day keeps the doldrums away – New Project!!

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As you may or may not know (or may or may not care), I often perform at spoken word events, which are a fantastic way to get work out there. Not only can you get feedback (if you want it) but also feel part of a truly special community. One of my favourites is a local night called Read Your Words at the delightful Java Bean Cafe. It’s cosy, comfortable and fabulously friendly. If you’re new to performing it’s a great place to test the waters without any fear of people making fun of you. Everyone is very supportive: there’s no criticism, only clapping; and, best of all, the alcohol is very reasonably priced.

The most recent open mic was last week and as usual, being a massive last-minute merchant, I only had one poem written several months previously and then nothing else to fill the slot. What could I do that was very quick to write?! I asked myself, with just a couple of hours to go.

I have always been fascinated by short stories and how just a small amount of text can convey a great deal of information. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote a short story with just 6 words, which manages to be both brief and poignant. This sounded like the way to go so I decided to write as many short stories as I could in my pre-performance bath.

In the end I managed to get quite a few done and before reading them explained to the audience the intention behind them. My aim was to create a series of stand-alone stories, each containing only six words. Some related events that took place over a few months; others were snapshots of a single moment in time. But I hoped that each individual tale would make the listeners just think for a few seconds, perhaps recall the stories later and maybe even  enjoy them. Some were funny, some were sad, but all were six words.

They actually went down better than I had hoped and people asked if there were more (something writers always love to hear!). And so I have made some. Having recently finished writing a book, a new project (especially one where brevity is the main feature) seems apposite. So if I can I will give you, dear readers, a brand spanking new story every day, starting on 1st February. Yes, I know new ventures should really be embarked on in January but hey, who wants to be like everyone else anyway?

So from Wednesday I will be releasing one story every day on Twitter – follow the action at @katadventuring

Remember – A tale a day keeps the doldrums away…

xx

Where’s my reset button? Or, the ideal Leap Year Day…

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Being in the midst of particularly frenetic time at both work and home, it has only just come to my attention that this is in fact a Leap Year. That special once-every-four-years day when we get 24 whole extra hours to play with.  Not being especially scientifically minded, I gather that broadly speaking said extra day is to make up for the fact that rather inconveniently our Earth years do not equate to a precise number of days but instead thoughtlessly feel the need to spread into part of an extra one too. Poor organisation aside, the extra day gives the world a chance to catch up with itself. Reset, if you will.

So it seems only logical to me that the same should also apply to human civilisation too. We are frantically busy trying to keep up with the pace of modern life but all too often we find that we have lost ground without even really noticing it. We stop making headway and find ourselves slipping further and further behind. Clearly what is needed is a reset day.

This extra day, I feel, should absolutely not be just another normal working day. It shouldn’t be just an extra shift at work, or another day in the mundane household routine. It should instead be a chance to spend the day doing something you love, be it writing, photography, yoga or just catching up with friends. A sort of mini-Christmas, without all the stress of present buying and organising family visits. A day to take stock, to rediscover the things that really bring you pleasure and to remind yourself what really brings you your happy.

For me the reset day would be a chance to think about all the writing projects that are constantly buzzing round my head, to possibly come up with some semi-realistic goals and put in place some plans of how to achieve them. Then just luxuriate in the time to write for pleasure, instead of for work. Sheer bliss. That would be my ideal Leap Year Day.

Unfortunately I have not had mental efficiency to plan myself a reset day this Leap Year and will instead be working. I hope that you might manage something a little more inspiring and a lot more fun. Even if it’s just an hour to yourself, please, try and find the space to indulge. And, I promise, next Leap Year Day I will be doing the same and pressing my reset button. After all, I’ve got four years to plan it.

The gift of the unspoken. Or, pass the C60, please…

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Last time I rambled about writing as a form of therapy, but another of my favourite methods of communication is music. I’m talking specifically here about that great institution and important stepping stone in any relationship – the mix tape. For those of you too young to remember these, the basic idea was that you went through your cassette collection to find a few songs that expressed your feelings whilst simultaneously making you sound cool and attractive, spent hours painstakingly pressing play and record to transfer them all onto one blank tape, then gave it to your intended in the hope they would find you irresistible. Sometimes it even worked.

I have received a few of these in my time and recently used one as the basis for a piece I performed at Word Up!, which is always a quite excellent night out at The Forum. The tape in question is very old* so some of the younger audience members didn’t quite get all the cultural (and I use the word loosely) references but it obviously struck a chord with a fair few. In this fast-paced download age the idea of spending hours on such a project is doubtless anathema too, but for those of a certain age, the mix tape will always hold a place in our hearts.

*It was much appreciated at the time but I can best repay the giver’s generosity by preserving his dignity and reputation and never speaking his name 😉

The mix tape, a crucial weapon in the war of love.
You can say all you want without opening your mouth – it’s genius.
The effort it takes to press play, record, pause
And spend hours finding songs to further your cause – it’s precious.
As a gift, it’s unique but you must get it right
As the recipient listens in the long lonely night
To the tracks you have so carefully chosen.
It’s a labour of love but one fraught with danger as
You, the architect and re-arranger
Want so much to make a good impression.

I bear this in mind as you hand it to me
That treasured gift of a little C60;
We both know this rite of passage is key.
We’ve chatted, held hands, snogged in the back row but now
It’s time to see if our love will grow.
So I’m all anticipation
As I pull out my Walkman, excitedly press Play
Then lie back to hear the words you wanted to say.

Amy Grant – Baby Baby, is the opening track,
And it’s clear from the off yours is a well-thought out attack.
It’s saccharine, sickly but ever so sweet
As she sings of forest walks and birds that tweet –
I’ll suppress my nausea and appreciate the sentiment.
But I’m not a huge fan of Christian pop
So onto the next song I briskly hop.

More Than Words, a great song by Extreme –
This is much better, far more my scene.
Although I can’t help feeling it’s cheating a bit.
They say they can’t find the words, so they write a song,
And you haven’t done the same, just pinched it from them
But it’s one that I love, so I guess we’ll move on.
Enigma next, with their sultry sounds
The Principles of Lust they address.
Via ethereal wailing and hypnotic beat
In an attempt, I assume, to turn up the heat.
And so far, this tape is a success
But then the next track throws a sudden curve ball.

Seriously. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin?
So-called NAD music is something that you really rate
And Happy is the track of theirs I least hate,
So that’s something. But really, what world do you live in?
I’m touched that you want me to like what you like but
As love songs go it can take a hike.

Side two is where things get a little more intense
I sense from the rather more directly overt tracks. 
SaltNPepa, Let’s Talk About Sex –
Because both of us know that that’s what’s next.
Neither of us have before so we’ll each be the first
And the beauty of this is you can bring it up in verse
And not actually have to say the embarrassing words at all.
Let’s talk about it, by not talking about it.
Yes, lets.

KLF next, 3am Eternal
And I have to say, I don’t really know what this one’s doing here.
The tune’s not great and there’s very few lyrics,
Barring the repetitious and infernal one line, of course.
I’m afraid the intended message is not clear.
The same cannot be said for the two that follow.
Cream, by Prince, then a paeon to self-pleasure from the Divinyls.
I like both tunes but it’s all getting quite rude
And whilst they say that music is love’s food
This somewhat mixed buffet is becoming quite hard to swallow.
And it’s something of a relief the next song’s the final.

So here it comes, the killer track; the one where you state your case so clear.
You know I love a good power ballad and too right, it’s Bonnie’s husky tones I hear.
Ms Tyler sings of the powder keg and spark
As she bewails the total eclipse of her heart
And it’s perfect. This song’s hitting the mark;
Aside from the rather gloomy undertones, of course.
But as an outpouring of emotions, it could be worse, and I’m loving it.

Until I remember the video.
Which to be honest, creeps me right out.
A woman of a certain age, in a school full of boys
Who, rather than turn and run from the noise
Crowd round as she calls them Bright Eyes.
Which sets my thoughts on a terrible train
About rabbits dying in that sad film, Watership Down.
Then all I can think of is mixamytosis
And frankly if that’s this relationship’s prognosis,
We are clearly doomed.

Writing gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are…

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As aphorist Mason Cooley almost said.

There’s no doubt that reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when it comes to escapism. But what of writing? Stepping into an imaginary domain of your own creation, having the power to shape your own worlds and visit them any time you like? Surely there can be few better diversions when everyday life gets a bit grim. In your writing, at least, you can have some measure of control. A small chance of a happy ending.

Creative writing can indeed be welcome escapism but writing in other forms can also serve a useful purpose. Functional writing, be it spectacularly vitriolic poetry or angsty blogging, has the potential to make a hugely positive impact on the author. Let’s face it; there’s plenty of things we would all like to say that we don’t always have either the opportunity or the courage to do so.

The unsent letter is a popular therapeutic tool. There is no doubt that it can be incredibly cathartic to scribble down your innermost thoughts about something that is troubling you. Your reactions, responses, all those pithy one-liners you couldn’t quite think of in time when somebody said something upsetting or enraging. Putting it down on paper can be a good way to process an emotionally thorny issue. Not only can you get it all off your chest, metaphorically speaking, but writing allows you to take some time to marshal your thoughts. Less immediate than simple verbal expression, the enforced delay can assist when you need to attain clarity. Re-reading your words can help give perspective, suggest solutions or offer comfort you previously couldn’t see.

The key word is, of course, unsent. However, those of you who possess a similarly masochistic streak to myself know how hard that particular type of restraint is. Once your words are down, making sure the message is passed on to the person who has done wrong by you is very hard to resist, for all that you know it will just hurt you further. Getting your thoughts out into the ether is all very well but simply letting them float free, unfettered, without a target, does have an element of aimless resignation about it. As writers we want our words to have power. To mean something. To provoke a reaction, good or bad.

I would counsel you not to send such missives but that would be hypocritical of me. Does it work? And if you mean by work, heal me of my grievous wound? Hardly. But would I do it again? Absolutely. Having to say my piece, whatever the cost, is a lure I am always unable to resist.

I was once described as blunt yet healing. It was, I believe, supposed to be a compliment, although as I remarked at the time, I would prefer to be described as incredibly intelligent and sexy. As it later turned out, I am apparently too blunt and not sufficiently healing for this particular acquaintance. I think it, I say it. A lack of filter has always been one of my less appealing qualities. But then I am, as are we all, a work in progress.

So to that end, I say scribble away. Get it all out. Will you feel better? Possibly. Will you feel worse? Very likely. But at least you will feel.