As a writer, I spend a lot of time in contemplation - sometimes if I am honest, it tips from contemplation into overthinking. there is a balance to be struck there, after all. As part of my regular writing process, I have to look inwards and to think about experiences I have had, scenarios that inspire me to write further, examples of emotional responses that cause me to reflect and to wonder about meaning and the next steps that might be taken.
When I left my teaching job two years ago, I struggled with this initially. I read a book about how to be a writer, I looked at articles and posts on social media and began to develop links with a writing community through platforms like Twitter and Instagram. The writing process looked very different from how I ever imagined it to be whilst I was a teacher. Literacy was always one of my favourite lessons to teach because I have always been excited by words, poetic phrases and stories that catch your imagination as they weave their magic across a page.
Despite the constrictions of an ever-narrowing curriculum, I always tried to instill some of my love of story and writing into the children that I taught. Rather than just being able to construct a grammatically correct sentence to pass an arbitrary test, I wanted them to have a space to let their imagination take flight, the skills to let their pen flow to tell their story. All of that is very difficult within the construct of a daily hour-long literacy lesson. Usually the first focus of the day, after the rush to eat breakfast, find all their uniform and belongings, journey to school, register and assembly. It is hardly surprising that the results on the page were seldom the written wonders that I was striving for them to achieve.
I have not been restricted to such a set routine, I do not have to be sat at my laptop ready to write at 9.15am and complete any work within a strict timed framework but I have found that it helps to write every day. Whenever I can, for however long I can manage, I try to write something. Often my thoughts and words are discarded at some point but, as if often quoted:
"You can't edit a blank page."
The times when I have fallen out of this daily writing habit, I have often felt a bit lost. I now find myself taking a notebook with me on days out, in case I feel the need to write something down. I have an increasing number of short documents in my 'notes' app on my phone so that, if all else fails, I can at least write there until such time as I can get to my laptop and write my thoughts our properly. Some days the writing flows from an inspired moment, sometimes I consciously sit down to write, to focus my mind upon the process and stop my writing thoughts from tumbling around with the overthinking laundry that has been put on spin that day for no apparent reason.
However, with that increasingly becoming my daily routine, there is a danger that I begin to compare this closely analysed life with those portrayed on various social media platforms. When we constantly see better bodies on display, better meals prepared and showcased, better holiday destination selfies, better social lives hash-tagged, it is easy to feel inferior and inadequate in comparison. But then it is worth asking yourself what it is that you, yourself choose to snap and post about on various social media platforms. (Outside the restrictions of our current pandemic situation, of course.) Even before the days of social media and smart phone pictures, when we took photographs of a day out or our holidays, we only chose to snap away at the good stuff, didn't we? We wouldn't exactly show the rubbish on a dirty street that we passed on the way to a beautiful vista, or the burnt bits or previously failed attempts at making a cake for somebody.
Back before camera phones, even the photographs we did have would be subject to the sifting out process of the shots worth keeping for an album, once they came back from the developing service. Yes, can you believe that we had to wait for maybe a week to see the photographs we had taken on a holiday? None of the instant gratification or deletion process that we now have as we point a phone at the scenes in front of us. I can remember the disappointment of picking up a packet of photos from Boots, only to see that half of them had stickers on them indicating the poor quality of the exposure.
The worst example of this was when one whole roll of film from our honeymoon was damaged somehow and none of the photos on it were worth keeping. The other roll of film had been for black and white photography, as my husband had wanted to take some artistic shots of landscapes and so forth whilst we were away. (He has always had a talent for photography.) However, when we look back at these shots, being black and white, it looks like they are from even longer ago than in reality and also I do not think there is a single shot of us together. Being the 'arty' film roll, they are mostly landscapes and clever macro shots of various plants from a trip to Ventnor Botanical Gardens. It is a pity that we therefore have little photographical evidence of us together, as a couple, starting out on our married journey together.
I may have digressed a little here, but the point I think we should all keep in mind is that the lives we portray, the version of ourselves that we display, is never the full story. We all know that to be true of ourselves, so it's worth thinking of that when we gaze with envy upon images posted by others, when we feel that we can never match up to the stories streamed before us. To be accepting of what we have and who we are, is the true goal. With all that we see played out before us, that we feel going on around us, it can take some effort not to lose ourselves among it. We should not apologise for who we are nor be tempted to fade into the background.
I am learning to listen to what both my body and my mind is telling me and to act upon that without feeling guilt attached to it. I am yet to reach the utopia of accomplishing this, but I continue to strive to do so. I had a bit of a wake up call a few years back. Not long after the funeral of a dear friend, I read an article about how important it is to be in the present - not in the shadows, but really present in your reality. Join in at events with friends and family, take part in conversations face to face and remember to take a few photographs of it all. Not to show off or boast, not just so you may have them as mementos of your experience but also, and here is the part that struck a chord with me back then, so that your loved ones may be able to find pictures of you when you are no longer around. Will your relatives and friends want to look at images of the places that you visited or will they be searching for your smile?
Nobody likes to think of their own mortality, but since thinking about the message of that article, my husband and I have actively taken pictures of ourselves enjoying the high points of life, whenever we can remember to do so. On days when life can feel too much, it is good to scroll through pictures that we have posted and let them bring a positive energy into the day and a smile to our faces - a thought that inspired the poem below and one that serves as a good place to end this blog post. There will be a time again when we can have those moments again and be ready to capture them.
Filtered skies and waterfalls,
Dishes of food porn,
Bubbles in a long stemmed glass
Against a summer's lawn.
Cats and dogs and furry friends,
Leaves upon a tree,
Buzzing insects caught in flight,
A sandy shore and sea.
Moments caught on camera
And posted every day,
None left for an album
To safely tuck away.
Colours, shapes and places,
Things that you see and do,
But when your children look for them,
Are any shots of you?
You may not be the selfie type,
I never used to be,
But now amongst the shots I take,
I sometimes just take me.
Poem taken from the anthology 'Diary of a Dizzy Peri' by Karen Honnor.
My husband and I on a day out at Hinton Ampner - National Trust, July 2018