A Funny Business

Top of Pen with sunlightI am currently writing a work of non-fiction, which may not seem strange to anyone reading my blog, but it seems very odd to me!

My writing life to date, 40 years of it, has been made of  non-fiction: poetry, short-stories, and at least one novel in progress.  I suppose it shouldn’t have been a shock.  My first published piece of writing was an essay, which was produced in a medical review, and my main other chunk of writing has been for a community newsletter.  I’ve had the odd poem published in magazines, and competition anthologies, but when I think about it, most of my body of published work to date is non-fiction.

I was equally perplexed the other month when I found myself writing a semi-romantic short story for a competition entry.  I am not a romantic: I don’t read romantic fiction, or watch romantic films.  Ask anyone.  What’s more, I now have other stories in the same sort of genre queuing up to be written.  What in earth is going on?

I suspect part of the reason may be that, having decided to concentrate exclusively on non-fiction for the last few months, my creative brain is demanding some sort of outlet.  It’s behaving like a petulant child who’s been told she can’t have pudding!

So it seems that whilst I still control the pen, or in this case the keypad, there’s some part of my brain – a stranger to me- determining the output.  This writing lark is definitely a right funny business!


Photograph © Ursula Graham Dreamstime Stock Photos

Shoshul Meeja

Social MediaThis could expand into a dissertation topic, but I want to keep it short.  I decided to engage with the social media (SM) revolution a couple of years ago.  I live in a remote location, and it’s a great way of sharing photos of where I am and what I’m doing with family and friends.  There have been many positives – linking up with old friends from college; networking with people and groups who share some of my passions; disseminating information about missing people, or particular causes.  There are the negatives too – a whole host of them, and too many to list here- quite apart from the potential to waste time when we could be doing other things; better things, like meeting our friends, or talking to them on the phone, or may be even writing them a letter…… (OK, well maybe sending them an email then!)

A few months ago a young girl left her teddy bear on an East Coast line train.  Unless it was handed into lost property, and her guardians thought to contact them, there would have been no way that said girl and teddy bear would ever have been united in the past.  Twitter and Facebook made the reunion possible.  It’s a heart-warming story, and although trivial in the grand scheme of things, it does highlight the fact that SM can be a powerful tool for good.  It’s certainly enabled mass campaigning, and information sharing in a way which would have been difficult for minority groups and charities ,without big budgets, to engage in otherwise.  Of course there’s plenty of disinformation about, and naysayers will always be able to counter any positives with the corresponding negatives, but that doesn’t invalidate the point.

I live in an isolated hamlet.  It’s not easy to connect with people without time and often considerable expense.  For people who have mental health issues, connecting with on-line communities can be a valuable way to engage socially, albeit ‘virtually’.  There’s still research to be done in this area, but there’s no doubt that this sort of on-line connectivity can reduce isolation for some of our most vulnerable people.  It can also be a torment and a torture.

Our young people too, can be vulnerable, and very at risk from those who would cause them harm.  There are plenty of apocryphal tales of young girls meeting boys on-line who turn out to be older men, grooming them with ill intent.  We need to teach our young people the skills to avoid these scenarios, and as adults we need to be more engaged. 

Bullying, and sometimes associated suicide, has been a worrying trend in on-line communities, but it is also a worrying trend across the country in general.  In Scotland initiatives have been put in place to reduce the incidence of suicide, particularly in young men, because the numbers are so high.  When I was working in advocacy, over a decade ago, before the real advent of on line chat rooms and social networks, bullying was causing the deaths of young people then.  SM can amplify the effect and increase copycat trends, as was seen in Wales a few years ago, but SM itself is not the cause of suicide, although it can give the bullies an easier target.

As a society we need to try and grasp what’s going on.  Why our young people are feeling so hopeless and worthless that such ‘virtual’ bullying can have such a powerful impact.  There are lots of things going on here, and shutting down Facebook or Bebo (it’s coming back apparently) or the other 100 or so social networking websites will not solve the problems our communities are facing, any more than shutting down schools playgrounds or youth clubs will.

Powerful tools can always be harnessed for good or for bad.  It’s up to those of us who are aware, and who care, to remember that whilst SM can be a fun, controllable pass-time, and a good way of keeping in touch for most, for vulnerable people it can be a scary predatory world. 

Rather than banning your children from using SM networks, teach them how to use it effectively, so that their privacy is protected and they know how to stay safe.  Get them to keep their circles manageable, and to ‘un-friend’ anyone who is threatening or abusive; encourage them to think before they post.  These sorts of guidelines are equally food for thought for anyone, and would avoid a lot of the damaging remarks and hurtful comments that are made on a daily basis.  Once it’s posted it’s hard to ‘take it back’, but you can encourage young people to remove old posts and photos from their timeline that could be damaging to themselves, or to others.

If you work with vulnerable young people or adults, with mental health issues, or learning disability, or even older people who are lonely, rather than being discouraging and restrictive, encourage them to use SM responsibly, and to protect themselves by not giving out personal contact details.  If you have vulnerable people in your friends list, keep an eye out for them.  We won’t ever eliminate the risks altogether, but with a bit of awareness and more considerate practice, we can reduce some of the risks for the most vulnerable in our communities.  SM can be effective at reducing social isolation and connecting people who might otherwise find it hard to be in touch, but it can also cause a lot of damage.  Let’s remember that SM is just a tool, and like all tools it can be used for good or ill.


Is anyone out there? Why I’m still Blogging

Blog imageMy blog is like public transport -British public transport anyway – nothing for ages, and then 3 articles come along at once!

My writing life is like that too: it’s all or nothing.  I go for a while without writing a thing, and then dash out a story or a few poems, almost fully-formed; scribbled into life in a creative rush. 

I’ve always got ideas on the go, milling about in the creative ferment that passes for my brain, and perhaps this is the reason why there are gaps.  May be the pieces need time to coalesce from the primordial creative soup, forming into something coherent and concrete that can be expressed in language.  May be.  It might also be that I’m lazy and disorganised, and can’t be bothered to order my private thoughts into something articulate on a regular basis.

Whatever the reality, I am still writing my blog, 2 years after starting it.  I have no evidence that anyone reads it, other than spammers and lonely-hearts, but it is a beacon to myself nonetheless: a personal reminder that I have things I want to say; things that matter to me as a journeyer through this amazing, frustrating, capacious world.

Perhaps they will strike a chord with someone somewhere, but if not, I will still write them.   I’ve always written in this self-possessed and questioning style, long before blog-writing gave me the opportunity to broadcast my private musings in a public arena, and I’ll likely continue till the lights go out  (mine or the net, whichever comes first!)

Rabbie..not just for Burns Night!

Burns Night is almost upon us again.  It falls mid week this year, and I celebrated at the weekend with bashed neeps and tatties, although minus the dram, as it was lunchtime!  Burns suppers are celebrated across the globe, and not just in Scotland.  The national bard is widely respected, but I’m  not sure how widely read is he is outside of his native land.  Let’s admit it, the Scots dialect which he elevates to poetry, can be a mite difficult to understand, but if you’re interested in history, poetry, social structure, and most importantly for me, language itself, then it’s worth getting to grips with.  Some of the best British writers wrote hundreds of years ago in language which is very strange to our modern ears, but we don’t, or shouldn’t, dismiss Shakespeare or Chaucer because they seem ‘difficult’.

If you don’t have a tame Scotsman (or woman) to hand it’s worth trying to find one! If you can’t, the BBC audio archive has his complete works available, read by some of Scotland’s biggest names. The poems are meant to be read, or sung, out loud, and a Scottish accent of whatever persuasion, certainly makes the lyrics flow.  Their meaning seems easier to grasp when they’re performed in the native tongue, but failing that there are plenty of on-line and published translations available.

Burns wrote over 600 songs and poems that we know of, and it’s worth having a browse at a few more than the ‘Ode to a Haggis’ and ‘A Red Red Rose’ with which we’re all familiar.  ‘To a Mouse’ is a great example of everyday poetry.  Burns, a ploughman by trade, would have disrupted many a field mouse from their home and this poignant poem is full of observation, humour and a prescient knowledge that we need to share the earth’s resources.  He was also a keen observer of the social order and the hypocrisies of the ‘kirk’, as well as being a drinker and womaniser, so it is little wonder that he had popular support.  His first collection of poems,  published when he was 27, made him famous across the country.

The Scots dialect in which he wrote is not a completely dead language, and many words creep into common usage, so it’s worth a delve out of interest, to see what words and phrases have survived.

Burns was not the only poet to write in Scots; Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote in Scots, and Robert Tannahill,  known as the ‘Weaver Poet’, is contemporaneous with  Robert  Burns, and there have been other makar’s throughout the centuries.  Not only dead people write in Scots!  John Mackintosh, a local chap, is a talented and thoughtful poet writing today in the Scots dialect.  He has produced two volumes of poetry and they’re certainly worth looking at.

Whether you’re Scottish, British, or from another corner of the English speaking world, I would urge you to take a new look at Rabbie Burns, and some of the other poets writing in Scots; you may be surprised.

We do not accept spammers or weirdos here!

I know; I shouldn’t rise to the bait;  I shouldn’t respond to spammers and nitwits, serial commenters, abusive people, and all those who have nothing better to do with their time than post inane comments, links to money making schemes, optimisation sites, writers websites, sex websites or anything else that I’m not interested in and will NEVER look at!  I should ignore them, and bin the comments without a second thought.  I do bin the comments of course, they are time-wasting trash and deserve to be permanently and forever deleted, but I can’t help wondering who does this sort of thing and why.  Is it some ‘robot code’ searching for key words, or a real person trawling the net, fishing for suckers?  I don’t know, and I shouldn’t care.  I have already wasted more time, energy, and grey matter on the subject, than the combined thought of every person who has tried to comment on my blog.  I know this, but still I wonder!

May be there are people desperate for cash, or worse, communication; may be they are addicted to what they do; may be they really don’t have anything better to do with their time.  How sad.

There!  I’ve thought it. I’ve said it.  I will give it no more consideration!

For all you sad, sorry, poor and lonely people out there, feel free to try and post your comments: they will never be read.  They will never be approved for publication.  They will ALWAYS be deleted.  Understand the meaning of futility and do something constructive rather than wasting your efforts in this futile attempt to entice me.

Please don’t waste your time – or mine!

Anyone with anything real to say, please feel free to comment!



The Art of Perception

I’ve recently finished reading the ‘Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ by Aimee Bender, and would definitely recommend it as a good read (although please note that this is not a review of the book).

It’s an interesting take on the familiar – the pain, sadness, poignancy and humour of family life; the difficulties of growing up, and the cognizance we all develop about those closest to us that sometimes we wish we hadn’t.  If you’ve not read the book and think you might like to, I won’t spoil the surprise entirely.  Rose is a perfectly ordinary eight year old who, on the night before her ninth birthday, discovers she can taste her mother’s emotions when she bites into a chocolate-lemon cake that her mother  has made for her.  This unusual talent is both a gift and a curse for Rose, and food suddenly becomes contentious – a  threat and a challenge, as well as a way of understanding the world.

It’s an interesting premise.  As someone who has a better than average sense of smell  and taste – the two inextricably linked of course – I know that I can detect things that other people may not.  The nuances of flavour in a tea or a wine for example, but also more malodorous scents that for others may be less noxious.  As a child I could never walk through a department store without gagging, and even now, strong perfumes have the potential to give me a headache.  Perhaps these heightened senses always have a down side as well as an up.  Unlike Rose, I can’t smell whether you’re having an affair, or whether you’re sad or angry, but I could probably tell what you’ve eaten, drunk, smoked, or sprayed, for what it’s worth!

We may not all have heightened senses, but we all attain an awareness of our environment and the people in it through interpreting and organising sensory information, be it from one or all of our senses.  Someone who is unable to see has to rely on their remaining senses more than those of us who are sighted, and I suspect this changes the way they perceive the world  and the people in it.  Someone who is unable to see what you look like is unlikely to judge you by your designer shoes and handbag, or lack of.  I’m notsuggesting that it’s a benefit to be blind, or that we should go around sniffing everything, of course not, but it could be beneficial to feel and appreciate our surroundings more, to take notice of our perceptions and to be more intuitive and less judgmental.