Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes

Through the struggles of finding time, energy and inspiration to write I have been gifted with the help of many good friends.

On top of that I’m a sucker for a challenge. Aren’t you? I loved the 100 Burpees challenge – even though my abdominal muscles initially screamed in low-key hatred for my self-improvement seeking soul. I relished stepping out for 10,000 steps a day for Care International’s Walk In Her Shoes. I’m a persistent volunteer for mud runs and charity races – even though I hate running with a fierce passion.

Competing with yourself has to be one of the best joys – to push yourself and see what you can do.

Casual chats with dear friend and trouble-maker Ineke Poultney (@inkyworld on Twitter) triggered my latest challenge to myself. Bemoaning my lack of ability to actually sit down and write a book Ineke suggested, nay volunteered, to put me through my paces with writing prompts to help shift my writers block. Just five minutes a day of writing to stretch my imagination and force the block through by just writing.

Just five minutes.

I have to admit that, at the beginning, I was scared. Scared that the short compositions would reveal me to be lacking in imagination and short of storytelling capabilities. Just five minutes seemed to be too long. I was not sure that I could even sustain just five minutes a day for a week, never mind fifty days.

I’ve been very fortunate to have Ineke in my corner, her industrious and determined nature have kept me on track in our project. A keen writer in her own right, Ineke’s unique world view has informed some fascinating and creative prompts which flowed with a level of consistency which has exceeded the amount of energy she might have been able to give on any single day. For fifty days she provided a line to inspire a little moment of writing. For fifty days she offered kindness and support, gently coaxing and chasing me into working.

The result has been fifty pen pictures. Fifty beginnings. Fifty places from which bigger worlds could be drawn – I hope.

So today I offer four of these beginnings to begin the next phase of this creative project. I want to extend my writing, open myself up to more criticism, more challenge. Can you help?

I need just five minutes.

You have a day to choose one to be the next beginning of a short story, dear reader, then I will take 24 hours to turn around the beginning of your choice into a longer story.

Are you up for the challenge? Please, if you can take just five minutes, read these four beginings and make your choice by voting on the pinned tweet at @RubiesB4Swine.

Thank you. I just hope I’m not wasting your time…

Story 1: Show You Care

“The best way to show you care about someone is to allow them to be themself around you, you know. That is how he has been able to do all this,” said Simeon eyeing his brother whilst sipping the Malbec.

George was at the end of his own jetty with Eleanor sitting atop his shoulders, her little arms wrapped around the top of his head, preparing to climb aboard his own boat..

Rosalind blushed and softly spoke: “Wasn’t he like this before?”

“No,” said Simeon. “No he was not. George was just anger – fury and rage. He never seemed to settle before. I’d expected he would have managed to kill himself before now, or someone else. He was a walking death wish before you. Now look how he has changed, he has softened so much. I thought there was no way back for him after Dublin.”

“Dublin? What do you mean Dublin?”

“You know, after the incident,” nodded Simeon as he waved at a happily shouting Eleanor.

“What incident?” said Rosalind, genuinely baffled.

Simeon picked up the wineglass, gulped from it and looked towards George then around to his mother in the house behind, as if looking for a person to help.

Story 2: Gifted

Martha said she wasn’t much, wasn’t important, but shimmering light trailed in her wake.

She had met Grant from the underground, having arranged to meet him on her way home from work and before some class she hadn’t specified. For many years they had communicated by Twitter, the odd humourous exchange, the occasional retweet but, as she said, he’d never thought of her as much, not important. It was only on the day his father died and he could only manage a mention of his loss that Martha came into her own and stepped forward from the murky shadow of social media irrelevance. It was weeks before she suggested they meet for this coffee on her way home and he hesitantly excepted, still fragile from his loss.

The coffee shop was unremarkable, the coffee bitter and old, and he could not remember of what they spoke, but he left that day feeling lightness and – for the first time in weeks – he felt hope. He couldn’t describe why but there it was, nonetheless.

It was only as he followed Martha from the cafe – as she went back to the tube and he started to walk back towards his office – that he saw the irridescent air behind her. As Martha passed people by none of them seemed to notice, but their expressions changed as the shimmer caught their space and frowns and blanks turned to smiles.

He looked confused for a moment, uncertain as to what he was watching, before being shaken back to reality by a homeless man sitting close to his own feet spoke.

“Some people don’t realise how gifted they really are,” he said.

Story 3: Fighting Fires

Neil nodded his head sagely and added: “According to our Risk Assessment you do not need to alert the local fire brigade.”

“Who wrote the risk assessment? Guy Fawkes,” said Barry cynically. “There’s a fucking twenty minute indoor pyrotechnics display in the middle of the set. You wanting to have us all razed to the ground?”

“Barry, you know better than anyone that we’re working to a tight budget and that, where we can save we must. We simply can’t afford to pay for further work with the fire brigade, especially not after the cost of the fireworks each time.”

Barry grunted and shrugged. He knew he couldn’t just keep pumping cash into this tour. He was borrowing now just to keep venues on side, having maxed out several credit cards on ordering the “merch”. He pondered, for a few moments, scrapping the fireworks all together but decided that he liked the sparkles after all.

“Just make sure the roadies clear away the backstage area for crap before we go on.”

He then walked over to the curtains around the back and side of the stage, tripping over speaker cabling as he did, and lifted a piece between thumb and forefinger.

“These are fire retardant right?”

Story 4: No Names

“Maybe a name is not the best way to identify someone?”

“What do you suggest – numbers? Barcodes?” asked Sadie, baffled.

“It’s just so…non-specific. I’ve grown up with three Chloes, four Lauras and a total of six Gemmas,” said Hayley. “I have never been to a single educational establishment where I haven’t been the only Hayley. How are you supposed to feel unique in a world where you’re just so…so nondescript, so similar.”

“Is this truly about names?”

“Perhaps not,” sighed Hayley. “But I think I might be finished with the name Hayley Jones. I’m thinking of changing things up.”

Sadie tilted her head, with her mouth slightly open.

“So what? You’re going to became Regina Philange now?”

“Maybe, maybe not, but I need to shake off this life, this town.”

• Remember please vote for your favourite beginning on my pinned tweet @RubiesB4Swine – if you’re not a Twitter user feel free to vote using the comments below!

Short-Shorts: The Last Sunset

Persisting. Tonight the sunset has prompted a short-short story:

The sunset at the end of the world painted itself onto the sky in a pattern Ayar had never before seen. The sunlight trailed shades of pink, orange and purple across the clouds as it melted over the black hills of the shadowed moorland. Dylan couldn’t bring himself to watch it and had retreated deeper into the grey stone house at the top of the hill, waiting for everything to stop. He had taken the tablets that had been issued to all by the government and went to lay on the bed, numb and calm under their influence. Ayar, ever the optimist, kept her huge and watery eyes opened wide, afraid to blink, just in case she needed to remember the detail.

Standing at the gate of Kimble Cottage, beneath the overgrown rose arch, she was savouring the details, as they had warned that the darkness that would fall with the last drops of the sun would be unending. She did not feel anxious, holding the pills in her hand, but felt calm for the very first time in her life. There would be no tomorrow, so her anxieties had all fallen silent. Instead of being hit with her usual evening headache, she felt a lightness, almost a compulsion to dance. Calm washed over her as the last of the light retreated over the hills.

She turned from the place she had seen the very last of the sun and walked to the other side of her trimmed lawn, each step of which she knew well enough to cross in the lightless night. It was strange looking up into the sky without the reassurance of the stars.

Ayar could smell the jasmine which, oblivious to the coming apocalypse, continued to fill the air with its seductive scent. As she looked over where she knew the dry stone wall stood at the edge of the garden, she could not see any glow from where the city had been and felt relief. There were no cars on the road as there once had been and, out there, in the house in which she was born she was with those she loved the most. Her beloved Dylan and, within the upstairs of house, her sleeping daughter Adelaide, who slept under the spell of a reduced doseage of the pills distributed for the children. Ayar still did not quite believe that the end was coming, but she wasn’t willing to let her only child suffer, if suffering was all that was left.

It was just them in the end, that was Ayar’s whole world, everything that she held close would be within her reach.

A Year To Save A Dream: I Don’t Want To Talk About It

“1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

– The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

 

Today was a day away from the comfortable little bubble of home. Away from my beautiful girls and back into the real world. “Keeping in touch days” are a way of keeping parents on maternity leave connected with the working environment in the UK – and today was my day to go in and be back part of my team for the first time since the arrival of the twins.

It was good to be back around these people again. They’re warm, funny and people I trust – I have missed them. Everything was as it always was – the scenery, the gossip and the little bouts of giggles. Time had passed but perceptible change hadn’t come to the office. Comfortable and reliable. My heart thudded to a stop against my ribcage though, when one of my colleagues said she had read my blog.

One of the biggest issues I have around my writing is actually sharing it with people. I worry about the quality lacking in some way and the idea of people reading it and seeing my shortcomings writ large brings sheer terror. Of course, I’m always glad to see the numbers tick up on the visitors counter and am happy to know people are reading. I’m always grateful to my dear friends who cheer me from the sidelines, but always in the recesses of my brain I think it kindness rather than merit.

Worse than the sharing is the onward step of actually talking about it. It drives me into self-protecting jesting. I chirpily mention to my workmate that maybe I’d be able to write a bestselling novel and never come back to work. I’m not really sure why I decided to joke about this. Really, that’s the dream.

But I don’t want to talk about it.

Everyone knows that wishes spoken aloud never come true. Add to that the unspoken fact that anyone who talks about writing a novel probably wont write one. I mean, who do they think they are? Who do I think I am?

I pause after making my joke as my colleague asks me if I was writing the novel. Now I know that I am working on something I hope to shape into a novel. I hold my breath. My first instinct is to just smile and deflect the question in some way. Who do I think I am? I’m no JK Rowling and it’s not like I’m Stephen King. But neither were they, until they were. All writers start somewhere and how the hell can I expect to be read if I can’t even talk about it. How can I share stories and worlds with people if I can’t find the words to describe it?

“Well they say it’s best to write about what you know,” I start. Against my instinct I actually start to say actual out loud words about the story I’m working on. Not my most articulate account of it – but I am saying it to another person – without agonising over it first. My colleague is kind enough to listen to my non specific ramblings without any visible signs of judgement. Like I say, these are people I can trust.

This isn’t a big tale of a victory over imposter syndrome, but for me it is significant progress. Saying it out loud makes me accountable. I’m a believer in being impeccable with my word – saying what I mean. In talking about it I feel I have to deliver. By not saying anything I will never have to produce anything and I can pretend my ambition doesn’t exist. That way, if I fail no one will know. By speaking this aloud I am compelling myself to act, to not live in dreams but to live out dreams,

I don’t want to talk about it – but I’m daring myself to try.

A Year To Save A Dream: Laying the Charges

“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

 

Ernest Hemingway

It’s been really easy to let the days pass by with the doing of the things. Time can pass so swiftly and, before you even know it, it is the end of the day of good intentions, where you are surrounded by chocolate wrappers and fighting sleep into the wee small hours to watch the last moments of a streamed TV series you’ve just binged. No productivity, having only the unsatisfactory sensation of having lost the time without even feeling it.

In the warm the time passes on a glacial but heat-stifled gauge during the days, until the sudden realisation that the sweeping in of darkness is when they call time at the nearby public house. Even sat at a desk in front of your keyboard in the sunlight leads to easy distraction – my mind often tethers itself to the lone cloud in the sky, soaring beyond the horizon with my attention. I’m learning even a brightly coloured top can prove a distraction to my brain, the reflection in the screen alarming to my eyes as I push through to see the display beyond and it becomes difficult to reign myself back in and push on.

This is where discipline comes in. You have to sit down and just write. Just get on with it. I have made the space of my desk and tidied, then re-tidied the area. I just have to write.

Just write.

Hemingway was right. Some times it flows easily. A few weeks ago, after fitful and anxious sleep, I woke and felt an urge to sit and write. I was emotional about the passage of time and, feeling myself so very small and powerless in the forward torrent of time, I was able to anchor myself and weave the upset into words. It flowed and was release. Happy enough with the piece that emptied itself from my fear, I took courage and put the story forward for a competition.

At the moment I have set aside my drilling equipment and I’m having to lay the charges. Not an idea to be seen and all efforts feel disingenuous and full of artifice. But I am writing.

As long as I have the passion enough to get up each day and sit down before the computer screen, to open the file and to set down words to tell a story, even if it is just my story, it is enough. It is all I can ask of myself.

A Year To Save A Dream: Building The New

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Dan Millman.

Another day at the keyboard and driving myself forward to get in the habit of considering, on creating and on making change for myself.

I’ve spent too much time in the past, too much energy on focusing on the shoulds in life. You know those ideas our little internal narrator carries as being part of your acceptable standards – “I should work hard on these exams so I can get a good job”, “This relationship is okay so we should settle down” and the evergreen favourite: “I should be better”. Little, meaningless benchmarks which become a complex and codified structure for us to berate ourselves within once we fail.

It is peculiar really, how we co-opt these ideas in to our own subconscious. We speak the words in our own voices, that being the way that causes most harm because we only use them to hurt ourselves. And we, as you might imagine, are the traitor on the inside.

The shoulds were so ingrained with me that they contributed to my workplace stress becoming overwhelming and I had to enter into a period of therapy. Many people consider this idea with a sense of shame. I wear it like a badge of honour, it was the point at which I, that is to say what I consider to be the “real” me, actually began. I started seeing the shoulds for what they are and started to be kinder to myself. It allowed me to open the door to a love that wasn’t settling, that wasn’t an archetype I felt I ought to take on. I became free. Sure, it opened me up to the risk of hurt. I did get hurt, I did suffer loss, but it started to be on my own terms.

I got a taste of freedom. And I liked it.

Of course this was only a small part of the world in which I operate. At this point in time I am on maternity leave. This will, in less than five months come to an end. With it comes a return to work and, inevitably, a loss of a sense of freedom being away has given me. This loss seemed to hit me heavily in the last few weeks and any momentum and creativity I did have dissipated.

It took me a little time and a lot of emotional wrangling to get my head around what I needed to do to shake this funk. In embracing my freedom I seemed to be afflicted by a loss of industry. With no should there was no driving force behind making change, nothing it appears to motivate. Also the shoulds started to regain a foothold around motherhood and my relationship – I started behaving in ways which fitted an internalised vision of the nuclear family instead of taking up my own space and building into myself a sense of needing time and space for creation.

I discussed things with the boy and tried, in my usual hamfisted and clumsy way, to explain that I needed help to get myself back into a sense of forward motion. I don’t ask for help easily, ever, but I have the luxury of having an actual partner in my life who understands me, respects me and helps me, without ever being requested. We agreed a way of working both of our creative natures into the day – he works best at night whereas I need the light to even get started. We carved up the care of our children and the care of each other.

I turned to my own thinking on the matter. Instead of being chased by should I needed to be running towards something. I’m not trying to keep up with an appearance to complying with any expectation – I am chasing my potential. I need to go full force, not into battle but into building, into creation. That is truly the best of the woman’s way. Not in breaking, but in the entire power of Gaia, taking what we are given, wholesale destroying and making anew. Turning any lot into creation, into home, from the very darkness in us which takes life itself, binds it to our life force and births it into the world.

Not all women have children, but all women have the power to be mothers, to bring creation and change into this world. Now is my time to embrace that.

A Year To Save A Dream: Missing The Rain

I miss the rain.

In this seemingly endless scorched summer, marked by a crescendo of the humming noise of life lived out of doors, the accumulation of scents that mark out windless days and relentless light, I feel in need of precipitation and growth.

My mood has been low recently and my creativity as dry as the sandy loam which currently sits beneath the remnants of yellow grass which make up the local recreational spaces. I’ve been trying each day – using Jocelyn De Kwant’s Creative Flow both as a helpful maintenance tool and as a lock pick to try and help me break back in to a sense of forward motion. It must have helped because here I am. Writing.

Although the evidence of my stagnation is all around me, as I am surrounded by numerous false starts of projects with pens, paints and decoupage. Even as I began to write this piece I have to break away to cut my nails, having been irritated by their clacking on the keyboard. The fact I haven’t been annoyed by this earlier in their growth is a marker of the distance between my creativity and myself – it means that in the days or weeks since their last trim I haven’t reached out to my keyboard at all. More than a slight annoyance, when I have a short story project to work on.

My apparent inability to create has brought no relief to my sinking mood, which I attribute to my feeling of not being able to affect change in my life. After Christmas I will be heading back to work, away from my family and especially from my twin babies. This seems to be something I cannot avoid and the likelihood of avoidance only increased by an inability to create a livelihood elsewhere. The sight of my children’s faces give me relief but then trigger an anxiety about being away from their sides as they grow.

I’ve been blessed in the concern of dear friends, old and new, but my inability to articulate what ails me has hampered rescue attempts. It seems that in this tale, I need to save myself.

So I do. I have been kind to myself, rested and taken care. But no-one escapes abandonment on a desert island with bubble baths. Action is required. So I sit down at my keyboard and write. I will work my way forward, because I know no better way.

The Difficult Talk

This evening my Biggest Girl came back downstairs after bedtime in tears.

She was afraid that something might happen to the twins and that they might die. She was worried about everybody she loves dying. It’s a usual part of childhood development – a chat every child and parent has in families full of love.

This conversation always tears my heart a little, as it happens every few months at the moment. I remember being that age myself and sobbing on the stairs for the same reason. The sudden realisation that everyone will die.

I remember my mum and dad speaking in reassuring tones of heaven and life being for a long time and my anxiety around death eventually settled. As I grew older those who died were elderly or ill and it seemed like blessed release.

As I grew older still I learned that death was often indiscriminate, sometimes fast, sometimes slow but always inevitable, if painful. I lost people I loved after long illnesses or suddenly and unexpectedly. I heard and saw death at work all around me.

I came to accept death as part of life and did not fear it, some days even wishing for the day when my energy would be called back into the altogether of the universe. My shifting from form to another energy, as energy is never destroyed, only changed.

Then came my Biggest Girl and death was something to fear again. An uncontrollable constant, which threatened the love I had made flesh. Every day I do what I can to protect my children from death’s looming threat, I hope each day I win.

I tell Biggest Girl death is nothing to fear, that it is like going home and we will be surrounded by those we love, to be happy and cared for always.

“So it’s just like it is now only forever?”

I bite back tears, smile and reassure her, then cuddle her close and send her to bed thinking of this weekend’s plans for a campfire and toasted marshmallows.

After every one of these conversations with my Biggest Girl I am her, I am that little girl crying on the stairs.

I hope we go to that place I describe to her. I try my best to live it now. I’m lucky enough to love these people with whom I have made home and those I welcome into it. My life, to me, is heaven, so death’s shadow once again makes me afraid. I have everything to lose, in a losing game.

Ultimately I remember Shakespeare’s words on the matter, words which mark my grandmother’s grave:

All losses are restored, and sorrows end.”