Read, read, read your books…

This week has mostly been about reading.  Some writing has occurred, but lately, I have just been stumbling from deadline to deadline scribbling away furiously in notebooks and typing like a demon possessed.

All these assessments left scant reading time.  Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh was the first book I finished, from my ever-burgeoning pile.  I was duty bound, after a suggestion that I not bother and just ‘wing’ my review piece.  The ‘honest injun’ in me could not live with that.  I often struggle with a book, film or music album, but I rarely give up entirely.  I like to give other’s creations some grace and try to find a positive.  You never know when you might need it yourself.

Eileen Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen made me want to give up half way through, so I shelved her for a bit.  I found it repetitive, and the novel was becoming monotonous.  You know you are nearing the end of your tether when you have to restrain yourself from shouting ‘OH JUST GET ON WITH IT’ at the pages –  on a packed train, no less.

I am glad that I persevered.  My cockiness of ‘I know what is going to happen anyway’ wasn’t entirely justified,  my ego was delivered a little surprise twist.  Eileen isn’t the kind of novel I’m used to reading, so I am giving myself a wee pat on the back.  If I want to push boundaries with my writing, then I have to be willing to do the same with my reading. It is all yin and yang, innit?

After having flung Eileen to the side with a sigh of relief, I could hardly wait to get my teeth into ‘Scar Culture‘ by Toni Davidson.  Kirsty recommended this to me during one of my tutorials.  I just started it and am halfway through already.  I can hardly put it down.  It is a horrifying, yet fascinating novel and I love the way it is written, all fucked-up and jarring in snapshots and using grim, real subject matter.  I can see why it was recommended to me, it is right up my dark, weird and twisted street.  I won’t bang on about it too much, because I’m not finished yet and I’m not fond of forming half baked opinions.  I like to make informed and considered judgements on these matters, who knows, I may hate it by the end, although that seems unlikely after the electrifying kick start.

scar culture

I’ve also been reading other classmates work and sharing mine.  I was a little nervous, as my work reaches into dark places that most people don’t want to see.  These things are demanding to be written, and I must obey.  As an earlier blog title proclaims, I have no control over what comes out, my writing is as random as the nonsense that goes on inside my head.  I fell asleep early the other night, forgetting to take my make up off and woke up at mental o’ clock with a poem about potatoes going round and round in my head.  It was particularly insistent that I write it all down.  So I did, and went back to bed two hours later with black eyes and fingers covered in blue ink.  This is not the ‘wood cabin, maroon cardigan, candles, log fire and old typewriter’ glamour of the writer’s life I had envisaged for myself.

black eye jojo

I digress.  The point that I wanted to make about sharing work is how valuable the process is.  Fear accompanies everything I do, so trusting someone with my writing is a HUGE deal for me, but the rewards are worth it.  And nobody has run screaming from me…yet.  In all seriousness, I’m learning that writing and refining that writing are two separate things.  A fresh perspective enhances your original piece, and even the most self sufficient of us need a little help, to become what we are truly meant to be.

 

 

Foos yer doos?

The title of this blog post may require translation.  It means ‘how are you?’ in Doric. Translated exactly it means ‘how’s your pigeons?’ to which the standard response is ‘ay pickin’ (always picking) which really means ‘fine’.  Forgiveness is granted if you are confused already.

The inspiration for this post comes from Lindsay’s class, which was mainly about sounds of words, dialects, phonetics and speech.  I love writing in my own dialect and have my own blog, often written partially in Doric.  Being half ‘toonser‘, half ‘teuchter‘ and learning some Weegie whilst living in Glasgow has given me quite a wide vocabulary.  Life experiences, like getting invited to have a ‘square go’ for calling someone a ‘Gadgie‘ in Dundee have highlighted the subtle and at times stark differences in the collective language we call ‘Scots’.

mon then 2

Doric is not an exact language.  I have relatives from Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen, who all speak differently.  Often, pronunciation changes a word, for example ‘Brochers’ (people hailing from Fraserburgh) would pronounce ‘mattress’ as ‘mah-trass’, making it sound like a new word.

Kirsty’s writing class also touched on this subject when we were asked to translate a piece of writing into our own dialect, which I found hysterically funny.  I’m not sure that I’d want to write exclusively in Doric, but there are little pieces here and there appearing in what may be becoming my 6000 word portfolio.  Just enough to pepper it with something alternative.

I’ll share some of my hen-scratchings that emerged from these classes.

 

Cheerio ye fuckin’ bams

Ah mine yon summer

Sun wis blazin ootside

Fit a fuckin’ bummer

I wiz stuck inside

ah by masel

cleanin  mingin student flats

aye, like i pits oh hell

ah’ll tell ye’s at

ma face wiz soor

sweatin oot buckets

fur a pittance an oor

am aff, fuck iss

Wooden-peg-clothes-peg-peg-dolly1

PEG

It’s a hing

fur hingin’ washin’

a widden hing or a

plastic hing ye’d

pit on a string

a line fur claes

ti dry oot

if ye hey a gairden.

Wearin’ dump claes

isna affa fine

sunny or windy

is best dryin wither

for claes fixed

by a peg on the line

 

This is a splendid peg, wooden and fine

Fit for a round hole

Or a windy line

Fixed around a washing pole

 

Doric Flash Fiction

Bit Grama, ah hinna any pennies ti get a taxi.  Ma grunny stifles a laugh wi her fingers.  I huff and fold ma airms cos ah hiv ti wait until she opens the door fur mi.  Ah hid a wee suitcase packed for biding wi her while mi Mam wis in hospital heyin the bairn, a wee sister ca’ed Stephanie, accordin’ ti me.

‘ARI please driver’, grama sais ti the taxi driver.  ‘Wi kin get ye new hings efter we’ve been up ti see yer Mam an yer new brither, Scott’, she sais ti me.  Ah wiz fizzin’ mad.  Mi Grama hid lost ma case on ih bus and I wis gein her grief fur bein si careless.  Ah hid turned fower twa days afore, so ah wisna in ih best humour onywy, bein shunted aff ti ma grunny’s on ma birthday.

She couldna hide bein amused.

‘It isna funny Grama’ ah telt her, ‘ah ma best things and favourite toys wis in there!’ I teen a lookie in the rear view mirror at the dour faced driver, pointed and sais ‘See – he disna think its funny either!’

Ma Grunny wis in knots and telt abdy iss story.

I am ‘fair tricket‘ with PEG.  I’ll leave the translations up to you.  If you are really interested, you can look it up.  I’ve been affa good by including some internet-linky-treats to get you started.  Writing this has certainly inspired me to research beyond my personal interest. The Doric Detective Agency… open for investigation.  I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere, but I’ll leave that for another time.

detective

 

Five Finger Death Punch

I smile when I hear the ‘five finger exercise’ mentioned in class.  It makes me think of the band ‘Five Finger Death Punch’.  At first, that is what I was silently cursing these exercises as, a death punch to the brain.  It is meant to be difficult, making you think and reflect, like weights for the mind.

Before I embarked on this course, people would ask ‘Oh, what do you write?’  The defence was always ‘short stories and crap poetry’.  This course is making me realise that I am capable of writing poetry.  I borrowed a book from Gail, meant to be for reviewing on DURA, but on reading it, knew instantly that I’m not knowledgeable enough to write an academic review.  It would have been an opinion piece.  Instead, I used it as inspiration.  I flicked the pages and let the universe decide.  Poem 8 from Beneath by Simon Perril it is then.

my sister went first

we’d a pact

that after crossing

she’d show she’d left

by gripping a weft

of unspooled wool

white-nuckle tight.

In the event she swung

and I saw the slug

of her tongue

and wept

at her outstretched palm

Point of view

She had always been the braver of the two, living up to her elder sister title.  There were two extremes with her, the best and the worst.  Anything in between was unacceptable.  Demanding and telling at the same time, ‘I’ll go first.’ she said and promised to tug on the wool that was meant to hold them together on this latest daredevil adventure.  A discussion seemed pointless to the outside world, Shelley would always go first, but this ritual always persuaded her brother, making his second place bearable and justified.  She reeled him in with this tactic flawlessly every time.

Voice

I was fed up of being played around with.  These damn kids had their fun with me, I’ll tell ya.  I was meant to be a cute little bootie, or maybe a Christmas sweater, or a goddamn tea cosy for some a these English types, who like to drink tea in weird shaped pots insteada coffee like regular folks.  Instead, whadda I get?  Tossed over to a girl that shoulda been a warden.  She had dictator stamped all over her, I’ll tell ya that for nuthin’.  She turned my life into hell, twistin’ and knottin’ me around into cat’s cradles, passed along into her brother’s filthy hands and gettin’ God knows what all over me.  Here I am, all outta shape and dirty and whadda them two do? Takes my sister, a nice red number all new and unspooled outta the bag and takes her on some stoopid secret mission.  I’m still waitin’ for em to come back, they been gone a long while.

Rhythm

The jagged rocks jutted

from their hiding place

clawing with their points

for a leg an arm a face

 

The jagged rocks hungered

many an empty hour

sharply slowly waiting

poised  to devour

 

The jagged rocks rejoice

she enters their domain

woolly lifeline falls with her

ripped by the strain

 

The jagged rocks are sated

sporting bloody smiles

the hunger will return to them

in a short while

Place

The cave was a palette of grey and black.  Nothing shone or twinkled here, as if the darkness had sucked the beauty from it centuries ago.  It stank of death.  The jagged rocks hid the floor, sentinels poised to attack.  The air was thick with icy nightmares bristling your skin with wrongness.  Every fibre of human being screamed GET OUT, but the two children swept fear aside ignoring those instincts in favour of burning curiosity and took another step toward the entrance to Hell.

Gorgeousness

The unspooled wool twanged and snapped under the strain of her white knuckled grip.  Mark stumbled backward as Shelley fell in an un-choreographed surprise dance.  Open mouthed in horror, the silence of her scream conveyed her fate as the rock sentinels grasped for her flesh.  The head struck first, giving birth to crumbs of stone that rolled into the abyss.  The mother, a grey pyramid surrounded by a moat of blood protruded from Shelley’s right temple, her slug tongue reaching for her shoulder.  Her wide disbelief eyes stared at the roof of that terrible place, palm extended upward pleading to an unseen God.

I know none of these are perfect.  I know I am well over my word count.  Sometimes you have to take a few hits to get to the title fight.

beneath

I have no control over what comes out

I am sometimes afraid of my own writing.  I fear that I will reveal too much of myself to the wrong people and this (my crazy head tells me) is guaranteed to result in an event of apocalyptic proportions, of exactly what I have no idea.  Except that it will be monumentally bad.

I allow this fear to prevent me from writing.  This course has been a catalyst for ‘blootering’ it and giving me the freedom to just write, but in non-class situations fear can still rear its ugly mug and laugh in my face, becoming a block once more.

I was interviewing today in what I like to describe as my main job, the one that pays the bills, my bread and butter so to speak.  My ‘other’ job is not exactly work since it consists largely of watching people, shows and gigs, with a bit of ice-cream selling in the middle.

Thomas Truax

This is Thomas Truax.  He is an American musician, but I’d add performance artist and sound artist to that description.  I am also a little in love with this Victorian Gothic vibe he has going on, playing instruments he has made himself from a range of materials.  The Hornicator is made from a gramophone speaker, a mass of wires and (at a wild guess) the mike from a megaphone, whilst Mother Superior is a programmable drum machine made from what appears to be bicycle wheel parts.  Truax’s material shape-shifts from the hysterically funny to the oddly spellbinding to credible post punk riffs  – all delivered with an infectious familiarity that you feel compelled to pay rapt attention to.  Despite being paid, I do not view this as work.  It was an absolute joy of a shift.

However, I digress.  As much as I would like to fritter my word count away on Thomas Truax, and yet another obsessive musical journey, I was talking about my main job, which I hardly consider work either because I truly love it.

We were interviewing for a support writer for one of the projects I manage.  A section of the interview was a writing activity, so we could get a taster of how the candidates would deliver a session with our participants.  This is where the fear kicked in.  Cue lots of inner monologue expletives.  We did three separate activities from the interviews, so to fulfil my blog commitment, and to avoid typing up the five pages we are meant to write for Kirsty for a little longer, I will share what came out.

Interview 1

dark day colours

masquerading as her true self

midnight black and muddy white

exposed

Interview 2

The autumn leaves dance around her face as she gazes up in wonder at the man who seemed like a giant.  He shows her how to make a sycamore seed into a helicopter, his diamond blue eyes twinkling with mischief.  Rubbing the stalk between his palms, the seed spirals off into the rain grey sky.

Interview 3

Don’t give me the whole truth

But don’t feed me no lies

Don’t give me flickered glances

I want to remember your eyes

Don’t fill me with heavy sorrow

And don’t you dare cry

Don’t give me a wave, love

When you say goodbye

Writing

I have no control over what comes out, but I’m learning that isn’t a bad thing.  I’m starting to get what Kirsty is trying to teach us about not discarding the scored out lines and words.  I’m learning to let go.  I’ve even used a little bit of what came out today for my five pages.  It isn’t finished or polished but it is becoming something.  I think.  I need to let myself colour outside the lines for a bit so that I can get the best picture and remind myself that sometimes, the best picture is outside the lines.

 

 

Today, I finished…

We read an extract from Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter in class.  The words leapt from the page and slapped my face.  ‘Read me, read me! You know this!’ they cried.

I bought the book.

DSC_0060

I started reading.

I cried, several times.  I laughed, so loud on the train that people were staring at me.  I did their thinking for them.  ‘Look at that sick weirdo, reading a book about grief and laughing. Tut, tut, tsk tsk.’  I smiled and kept on reading, lost in the words and the feelings once more.

I finished the book today.

I am afraid to write about it.  I am not ready.  I look at Facebook.  I make a cup of hot, sweet tea – writer’s fuel, that is.  I look at Facebook again, mindlessly scrolling up and down, minutes dissolving into the ether of useless information.

I finished the book today.  My blog post is due tomorrow.   I must begin writing.  Just write.

Music will help.  I make a playlist.  I take a photograph of the book for the blog.  Break up the text with pictures.  I capture another image, of the book I have finished on top of the other books I have yet to finish, but would find easier to write about.

DSC_0059

It is 10.47 am and I haven’t eaten a thing.  I grudgingly make brunch, accompanied by yet another cup of tea. I look at the writing table I have set up.  Maybe I should hand write it first I muse, and rummage around for my notebook and pen.  Is everyone’s writing process like this?  Maybe there’s an image for that?  I google ‘the writing process’.

Writers pie chart

Twitter distracts me further.  I throw my phone down on the table in frustration and consider taking a hammer to it.  Instead, I pick up my pen and finally begin to write.

So, here we are.  I finished the book today.

Max Porter artfully uses dark humour in his description of looking out from a maelstrom of grief, setting the scene with a series of detached observations.  I have been a central character in that parade, surrounded by family, close friends, part-time friends, strangers, wannabe friends, and drama-by-proxy addicts, tripping over themselves to dole out advice or share personal experiences that have, frankly, fuck-all to do with anything you are feeling.

Porter shares the circus of it all with stark honesty, harnessing the spaced out feelings of the first few days perfectly. Grieving feels like being ripped out of your own life and plonked on an empty stage in an empty theatre, to star in an absurd play.  The audience float around outside the theatre, whilst the you that everyone sees smiles weakly, nods, croaks thanks.  The unseen, simultaneous roles of you respond quite differently, often with a great deal of swearing and, an occasional punch in the face.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a fractured account of shared experiences written from multiple perspectives in a myriad of ways.  The writing style achieves the feeling of making complete sense, whilst making no sense at all.   Crow, our antagonist and hero rolled into one is invited in, yet invades the remains of this family.  Throughout the narrative, Crow hops and darts around the boys and the father, tormenting and saving, hurting and healing.  He pecks at the darkest parts of humanity and is the father, the boys, grief, anger, hope, the past, the future  – a black mirror in which to view ourselves as we truly are.  I found this book easy to read, drinking in all its darkness and light.  Heartfelt honesty and clever imagery paints an emotive masterpiece that is accessible to all, whether you have been cast in the death show or not.  You may finish this book, but it will not be finished with you.

Books end.  Grief does not.  I finished my blog post.

ENDS

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I’m an Aberdonian in Dundee…

Fit like?  I am Jo, native Aberdonian, former teuchter and adopted Glaswegian.  I also have blue hair.  I’m the scary one that spends a great deal of time trying not to swear (as much) in class.  I have always been a writer.  Since I was a kid, my nose was either buried in a book or I was scribbling furiously in notebooks –  in between catching tadpoles and fighting with boys.

My all-time favourite book is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  I was spellbound by Roald Dahl’s imaginative storytelling, absurd hilarity and wonderful hyper-real characters.  I read George’s Marvellous Medicine countless times, along with The Twits, using the world of fantasy and magic as an escape from the real world.

I read a short story called ‘The Pedestrian’ by Ray Bradbury and went on to trawl my way through everything he ever penned, but I have a special fondness for Something Wicked This Way Comes.  If you haven’t partaken already, I insist that you do.  From then on, my love affair with weirdness and wonder has done nothing but mushroom, bordering on the obsessive.  I drooled over books that had a series of three or more, becoming a sucker for Science Fiction and Fantasy. I devoured titles by Douglas Adams, Phillip K Dick, Terry Pratchett, David Eddings, JRR Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, Stephen Donaldson and a whole host of others.  I love the anticipation of being sucked into another world.

I’m not what you would call ‘well read’, and feel a little intimidated by the academic parts of the class.  I just read what I like.  I was possessed by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its relevance to the present day continues to astound me.  I own a giant, ever growing book pile which includes one huge book containing seven George Orwell novels.  I will finish it one day, but something new always gets added to the pile.  I accepted a long time ago that I’ll never be ‘done’ reading.  There are simply too many great books, there is no finish line for me.

I adore the strange and unusual, so when a friend suggested that I read Kurt Vonnegut, I selected Slaughterhouse Five.  I was not disappointed.  I love stories that fling your brain around in a knapsack and chuck it at a brick wall, so that half way through the book, you are going ‘eh? Fits this aboot?’ and by the end of the book you are still not really sure because it is all up for debate.  Slaughterhouse Five did that to me and I am insanely (literally) looking forward to reading more of his work.  I am not a fan of sugary ‘new equilibrium’ Hollywood endings.

I recently finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  I was really disappointed and quite annoyed, because it took me ages to finish.  I really struggled with it.  My high expectations that it might give me some answers about my own grieving process were not met in the slightest.

I am currently reading two books (I have a terrible habit of reading several books at once) The Grief Club by Melody Beattie – not what I would usually read, but on advice I gave it a whirl.  One chapter at a time is all I can do, but I am getting lots of healing from it despite the slow going.  The other book I am reading at the moment is The Zen Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – a superb collection of essays and short stories about his writing processes.  I am practically overdosing on inspiration despite being just halfway through. It inspired me to find this course.

What do I want out of this year?  I want to scream in the face of fear, write anyway and become my own Ray Bradbury, a writing rebel with pen poised, ready to break all the rules.

book pile