It only hurts when I move.

Christmas, frankly, has been a bit rubbish so far. Starting Christmas Eve on a sleep deficit that would run into the small hours of Christmas morning (44 hours in total before my body and mind gave up fighting), before retiring early to bed after Christmas dinner – which I cooked (it was delicious, of course). Nearly three days later, somewhat less germ ridden, and bored with being in bed, I got up, and sping! My back went. 

Marvellous, isn’t it?

Still, I have managed to cook and eat some bubble and squeak, so Christmas IS now properly happening. (Finally!) It will probably be another two days before I need to eat again, so that’s a mercy. In the meantime, as painkillers aren’t really doing much of anything, I am cheerfully taking gin. We’ll see what happens when I try to get out of this chair.

 

It would be nice to start the New Year with some seasonal magic, so fingers crossed…

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Voyage and Return

You may have noticed – or you may not, and indeed, why should you? – that it’s been a while since I posted anything here. And there have been good reasons for that. Perhaps too many. But the summer was hot, and I was quiet. Books were read, stories drafted, thoughts were thought, and mostly not acted upon. Autumn was harder, but with more of the same. And I got older. And I cut my hair. That last thing is a thing I am incredibly happy about. I know it’s only hair, but still… it’s been more than a decade since I last had such short hair, and it makes me feel sassy, and sophisticated, and possibly other things beginning with s (stylish? silly? saucy? serene?).

Around the same time I discovered a little snippet in the wilds of the internet – oh all right, it was Facebook – a quotation from Carl Gustav Jung:

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.

It isn’t a cure, it isn’t even a complete answer – to a question that is both unaskable and unanswerable – but it HELPS. So I’m choosing. I don’t pretend to have reached any particular destination on my personal voyage in order to begin the return journey. This is just a way station.

In the meantime, there is Christmas to prepare for, and satsumas to eat (the one I’m eating right now is a bit of a disappointment; too watery and not sharp enough. Perhaps the next one will be better), and words to write and edit, and I still haven’t written the Christmas cards. But my hair looks fabulous.

An Unexpected Gift

I love to give presents. Finding something for a particular person, that I know they will love, gives me a thrill – for birthdays, Christmas, or just because it’s Tuesday. The act of giving makes me a bit happy.

And this is the time of year when gifts are exchanged – and not just between the giver and receiver, but sometimes the receiver and the retailer too. Whether because the receiver already has the item, or it is faulty, or because the person giving the gift really didn’t ‘get’ the person they were giving to… we all know it is better to give than to receive, but isn’t it so much nicer if you receive something that you like – love, even – something that shows the trouble taken, the thought that went into finding that perfect gift, for you. (And don’t get me started on the passive-aggressive side of gift-giving, those insidious digs from disapproving relatives, or co-workers, or frenemies (ghastly word, but perfectly encapsulates the signified) that are designed to demean the receiver… really, you’re prepared to spend money just to be petty? Baffling!) I have been the lucky recipient of perfect presents. And of odd ones too. Christmas can be such a minefield. But I digress.

Once upon a time – and it feels such a very long time ago, now –  I was seventeen, and awkward, and confused, and hopelessly, stupidly in love with someone who turned out to be very bad for me. And I had a pen-friend, a friend-of-a-friend, who was also seventeen, and awkward, and confused, and of whom I was platonically fond. That Christmas (1988) he sent me an unexpected gift:Chanel No 5

Obviously it was full, then. It contains the echo of the scent, now. Not yet fading, still potent, still elegant. Timeless. And the most romantic thing I have ever been given. I wish I could have thanked him better.

Now, Chanel is the gift I give to myself. A bottle of scent – though not No 5 – a powder compact, a lipstick. Now, at last, I feel grown-up enough – sophisticated enough –  to be a woman who wears Chanel. But this was my first, and it remains a treasured icon.

Taking stock, briefly

So that’s Christmas done, sorted, achieved, catered, cleared up. The tree is still twinkling, there is still a surfeit of satsumas and nuts, and my husband is suffering with the ‘flu. I however am merrily tucking into the sloe gin, and doing not very much in as slothful a way as I can possibly get away with. After all the anticipation, and list making, and baking and icing and cooking and roasting, – and now, drinking – I feel stuck in a sort of limbo. Normality will not really return until Monday 3rd January, and possibly not even then. But something is clicking and whirring deep inside my head – or that may just be the sloe gin, I’m a bit hammered now, to be honest – the burn-out after November has healed, and there’s an itch to begin writing again. 2011 promises to begin well, in that regard at least. Do I plan to make any resolutions? Probably not. But I plan to write, oh yes, there will be a LOT of writing, much more than this year. And that’s a promise!

The year turns, and I have things still to do before I sleep.

I am a fraught person. I seem to have lost a day somewhere this week – what on earth have I done with it?! – but then, staying up until 4am trying to get things done (including ironing, ffs), can seriously alter one’s perception of time. Quite detrimentally too.  And I have lists. I have lists in various pockets, in various rooms, in varying states of nearing completion. Perhaps I need a Master List? It can’t hurt. Much. As for the lost time, I’ll get it back somehow; the year has turned, the Longest Night has passed in silent darkness ( I missed the Lunar Eclipse) and soon the hours of lengthened light will slowly make themselves felt.

We’ve finally had Real Snow here. Very pretty, bloody cold, and more than a little irritating. Oh well. The art of being sanguine is a fine thing to cultivate. We can’t usefully do anything about the weather except learn to live with it and get on with it. At least we’re not snowed in here, unlike other unfortunate souls elsewhere.

Thinking about it, I do believe this will be the first White Christmas I will have ever experienced. My daughter is terribly excited at the prospect. And talking of first experiences, I took her to see her first film at the cinema, The Voyage of the Dawntreader. She loved it, although the sea serpent was jolly scary – thank goodness we saw it in 2D. And it was a lovely film, moving and magical, and exciting, just as it should be. The adaptation for the screen was tremendously effective too; I’m not going to go into the tired debate about whether the book is better than the film, or vice versa. A book is a book, a film is a film; different structures apply to the narrative and its effective presentation/communication with its respective audiences. But in adapting one into the other, choices have to made as to what stays and what is changed. The fine details must be relevant to the altered narrative to justify keeping them. So, given how the Dawntreader’s story has been altered (I won’t spoil it for you) I found it strange that what, in the book, is a small but deeply felt moment of faith and love answered in the darkness, when Lucy calls to Aslan to help them escape Dark Island, becomes, in the film, sadly pointless. The great white seabird appears, but to what purpose? They aren’t trying to escape the Dark at that point, but are having to confront it. I can only hope that this apparent blip is the result of choices made in the cutting room, and that it will regain something of its emotional power and resonance in the eventual release of a director’s cut dvd/blu-ray. So if anyone knows Michael Apted, could they sweetly mention this to him? I’d appreciate it!  ;  )

Right. Back to the pursuit of making Christmas happen. There are presents yet to wrap, cakes to ice, paper stars to make. Here are some I made earlier.

I want to write like music

So it’s December. At last! The rest of the country appears to be largely snowed under, while in my corner of the Cotswolds we have barely more than a few really hard frosts to contend with. It is bloody cold though – I’m typing this with two blankets over my knees, a pashmina swathed around my shoulders and head, wearing fingerless gloves while the fire blazes.

I won. By November 29th I completed 50000 words. Sadly the last 4000 words were nothing to do with the rest of the novel. Owing to a madly busy weekend of real life stuff, I lost my focus, and could not get it back. So I resorted to off the cuff stream of consciousness, a rambling, drivelling cascade of puerile rubbish. I uploaded the file for verification, achieved winner’s purple, and then deleted the whole sorry mess. So the work in progress is still a work in progress, and I’m stuck in a scene that I cannot remember the point of, or how to get to the end of, because my focus has evaporated. This is beyond frustrating, as you may imagine. So I’m conducting a little experiment. This month I intend to write as little as possible. I’ll still be thinking, and plotting, and scribbling in my notebook, but until this scene properly coalesces again, I’m not going near it. And there are plenty of other things with which I must fill my days and hours in the meantime. The Christmas shopping has begun; the cake is sitting, quietly tipsy, in its tin. The sloe gin lurks in the back of the cupboard, darkly luscious in its promise of a late night fireside tipple. There will be Christmas cards to make, parcels to wrap and post, paper stars and small felt stockings to make, the food list to compile etc etc etc. (Which reminds me, what on earth have I done with the Christmas card list?)

I have just looked out into the garden – it has been snowing. Everything is covered in a thin layer of royal icing.

During NaNoWriMo, I was listening mostly to film scores; their epic sweep helped me to focus. Thinking back over the previous month, thinking back over what I have been trying to write, the magic that I have been trying to capture, to infuse my words with, the emotions that I hope to instill, I realise that I am at an impasse.  For what I want is to be able to write like music, that seemingly effortless flow from note to note, that draws the listener into the narrative by the heart as well as the head. And  the grafting crafting side of me knows that the writing of that music was likely as filled with effortfull anguish as the words that I try to arrange into the sense that will make my story flutter. And yet, and yet… It’s all in the redrafting, and the editing. Or it will be, once I finish the first draft. And I will. But not this month.

In the meantime, I will endeavour not to burn the mince pies.