Blank Page

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Oh, January – dry in so many ways.

Blank page. Blank mind.

Google blank page quotes.

“I live for the blank page” – Lisa Unger

“A blank page is no empty space. It is brimming with potential…It is a masterpiece in waiting — yours.”  A.A. Patawaran

Miserabalist me, January me, despairing at this positivity, keeps searching for something more appropriate to the current mood.

Apparently, Hemingway, having been asked about the scariest thing he’d ever come across, responded :“A blank sheet of paper.”  This, courtesy of writer Mary Anne Mohanraj. (I know quite a lot about her now as reading the rest of her website was the natural next step in the process of distraction.)

Oh, for focus’ sake.

All the stuff I should have done a year ago is creeping out from behind the (unfilled, unsanded, unpainted) woodwork.  Today, I transferred the painting and decorating equipment from garage to house.  It will sit there a month or two, no doubt.

I’d like to say it’s the January Blues, but blue is my favourite colour and when I think of it, my head fills with visions of Roman skies and Devon summer seas.  It’s more like the January Beiges or the January Blanks or the January Blands…Oh, for funk’s sake.

I’ll leave with a quote by the well known Anon.

 “A blank page is God’s way of showing you how hard it is to be God.”

 

January

January is not going to plan.  Usually, it is a great writing month but this year I am in a heightened state of procrastination so epic that house cleaning has actually occurred.  It’s not good.  Not good at all.

Of course, there is still all the cat stuff going on, not to mention parenting through the teen angst, which is hard as I feel like a thirteen year old myself a lot of the time. I still cannot type the without typing teh.  Why did I think 2014 was going to be any different?  It’s not like all the crap wipes itself out on 31st December and life resets itself to a perfect state at 12.01 a.m. on January 1st.

My procrastinatory tendencies are driving me madder than usual because I have the perfect motivation to write. I have a load of half finished stuff courtesy of NaNoWriMo and Writing Events Bath workshops, plus I have been placed first in a short story competition! Details to follow.

 

 

Purrcrastination

If November was the month of writing, December was the month of the c word.  Cats.

Distraction

Distraction

I never had pets when I was a child, never really liked animals at all. Then the offspring came along and so did pester power. First off, it was guinea pigs. Eventually, I caved in for the elder one’s ninth birthday.  She was overwhelmed.  I think I had convinced her I was never giving in and when I did, it threw her.  Needless to say, I found myself with extra mouths to feed and chores to do, cleaning out cages whatever the weather.  Remarkable the amount of poo a Cavia porcellus can produce, let alone two.

Some years later, the hardy creatures were still going strong, when the younger of my offspring began a determined campaign for a dwarf hamster. I Googled, as you do, saw the words “life span 12 to 18 months” and thought, why not? I elicited promises, indeed a signed contract, that I would not be involved in cleaning out etc. Off we went to the pet shop where a nice young man persuaded us that one tiny hamster would be lonely in its psychedelic plastic cage all by itself. So, Offspring number two ended up with a pair called Salt and Pepper.  Offspring number one, took custody of Pebble, deciding against a room mate for her as the only remaining dwarf hamster at the pet shop had the red red eyes of the devil.

They settled in. The kids could keep them in their rooms. Salt was minute, half the size of Pepper but madly active. In retrospect, I think she was channelling Sarah Connor.  She trained vigorously all hours of the night and day; doing pull-ups and monkey barring her away across the ceiling of the cage.

One night I was awoken by the most dreadful screaming.  Rushing to my daughter’s bedroom I found Pepper with her paws in the air, defending herself in alarmingly human fashion against a vicious attack by the diminutive Salt.

I duly Googled again and found contrary to the advice given, it is not a good idea to keep dwarf hamsters in a cage together.  Apparently, if they don’t get on, they will, and I quote, “fight to the death.”

What has all this to do with December being the month of Cats? Just trying to show that I really am not an animal person. I honestly am not a mad old cat woman. But living as we do in the countryside we are surrounded by rodents – and not just the ones we have spent good money on. Yes, I do see the irony. Mice inhabit the loft and scamper about in the spaces between good old stone and modern plaster board. Someone mentioned getting a cat – just a whiff of it, they hinted, would keep the mice away. The Offspring latched straight on to this idea – drawing up a contract of their own, listing how good they were going to be and all the helpful things they would be doing if only, if only, we got a kitten.

After a sleepless night listening to what sounded like a pirate dragging his peg leg round the roof space but was, in fact, a poor mouse with its leg cruelly trapped by an inefficient “little nipper”, the I.T. director uttered the words: We’ll have to get a cat.  

This, in earshot of the offspring. Well, they were two rooms away but the little bleeders have excellent hearing when it comes to things they want and not when it comes to me “reminding” them about piano practice etc. So, the deal was done and a little ginger kitten, which we named Bob Marley for no particular reason, came to live with us.

And it turned out I did like animals after all, or cats anyway, because they’re sweet to you. When you enter the room, they come up and rub their heads on your ankles and miaow and they look at you like they love you, even if really it’s just that you have thumbs and can open a packet of food. The Guinea Pigs ran away from me every single day when I brought them their food or pulled the rain cover over them. Ungrateful little…

Cats sleep a lot. They purr so you know they are happy. They’re very private about their toilette, unlike guinea pigs who on occasion eat their own and/or others’ droppings.

Resistance was fairly non-existent, then, when pressure for another cat began, and so we decided to get a kitten for Christmas, which meant week one of December was taken up with finding one.  Talk about procrastination… just looking at kitten pics online is distracting for one thing, but then actually trying to get to see one – it was impossible. As soon as an ad appeared, I’d contact the seller, but the kittens would all have new homes already and prices were going up and up as December went on.  I finally found one who had been let down by someone else.

I thought I’d better get Bob checked out by the vet. He’d been a bit lethargic, even by a cat’s standards and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t harbouring anything infectious. He was severely anaemic and no one really knew what was going on so the rest of the month involved endless vet visits, hospitalisations, conversations and brain meanderings about whether treatment was the right thing to do given he was just a cat.  Very hard.  He rallied, he faded, he rallied again, still with us, but not sure for how long, and in the meantime he has had to contend with the madness of Winnie, the crazy tortoiseshell whirlwind who bites and scratches indiscriminately and rarely seems to sleep. She adores Bob, and will run up to kiss him before swatting him round the head.  I could watch them for hours and not get a thing done…

Bob and Winnie

Bob and Winnie

 

Excuses, excuses

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No submissions in August. Not a word written. No submissions so far in September, although we are only half way through, and September is a good month to start afresh.

There were some practical reasons for the disruption – those anti-writing gremlins still hanging around, of course, plus a PAID job and a transfer to secondary school crisis, followed by the summer holidays.

Still, when I look at it honestly – the job was only 16 hours a week, the secondary school issue was resolved within a fortnight (two phone calls, one meeting) and as for the summer holidays… Well, the offspring are at the stage where they don’t get out of bed before ten, and only then with much prompting-slash-vigorous hoovering right outside their bedroom doors. I gave up suggesting that handheld electronic devices might be discarded in favour of going outside in fresh air, to pursue some more wholesome activity. Sunlight causes the same reaction in teenagers as it does in vampires, apparently.

In other words, they are old enough to entertain themselves. The photo above is one result of leaving them to their own (ahem) devices and their dedication to sunshine avoiding, sofa surfing, apptastic days. In my youth, we would have had to physically paint the cat in psychedelic colours, take the photograph, (although, I fear the cat would have been long gone) and wait a week for Boots to develop the film; not just press a button – sorry, not even press a button – glide a lazy finger over the screen.

So no excuses on my part. I had some time to write, but I didn’t.

 

I started writing this in July…

On 30th July, my submission count for the month was at zero, instead of the four I had promised in my self-imposed “treat-writing-as-a-job-this-year” campaign. There was a competition I definitely wanted to enter – Inktears Flash Fiction.

I got my act together and submitted two pieces of flash, then went on to the site to catch up with Anthony’s blog.  I discovered this:

http://www.inktears.com/Inktears/Thoughts/Entries/2013/6/5_Should_I_blog_or_should_I_write.html

which really says it all.

 

I should be doing something else…

I’m only here because I should be doing something else. And there you have it, the blog about procrastination has eaten itself.  I’m supposed to be writing. Not a blog post, either. On January 1st, I resolved to submit four stories a month and I’m struggling in June to submit one.  The anti writing gremlins are still staying with me, and as they’ve been here a month, they’re getting somewhat tiresome.  They are little worms burrowing into my brain, with their negativity. Much like the person, who having kindly given me a top, size Medium, looked at me wearing it and said, “I should have got you the Large.”  The AWG’s have the same effect on my self esteem when they whisper “You’ve read David Mitchell, haven’t you? Hilary Mantel? What are you still doing with a pen in your hand? What makes you think you have any chance with this writing lark? Give up now, loser…” etc etc “Oh, and by the way, you are too old and fat to wear sleeveless tops.”

Not only the writing worms are saying this to me, but an actual editor too. Yes, the one I spent all my time creating a pen name for, rather than concentrating on writing a decent story.  A polite letter arrived with the killer sentence –  “we felt the story line was a little too weak to hold the reader’s interest.”  Arggh! Stab me in the heart with a fountain pen, why don’t you?

But you know what? This feedback, like all the other critiques and comments I have received over the past couple of years, makes me think that editors are really rather good at their job. Without fail they manage to pin point, far more accurately and succinctly than I can, what I’ve been vaguely feeling is wrong with my story.

A story may be weak, but it is never dead.  And this one’s still got a chance of life.  I’m planning to turn it into a flash fiction.  In the spirit of rallying my writing reserves and getting some work out into the public domain, here is one I prepared earlier.  My first ever piece of flash fiction, it was placed third in Flash Fiction World’s March 2013 competition.  Read it herehttp://www.flash-fiction-world.com/going-back-to-frank.html

 

Procrantination

I had been studiously reading the newspaper while eating lunch. Doing two things at once. Very efficient.  Getting up to embark on my next task – yep, I was going to do some writing, having managed to avoid it all morning – I replaced the paper on the coffee table. Out of the corner of my eye it looked like the wood grain was fluid; the table no longer solid. Not me losing the plot. It turned out to be a mass of busy ants hurrying between the papers, tissue box and remote controls that hang about on there.  Further examination revealed many more milling about on the carpet and mountaineering up the table legs.

Not being an avid housekeeper, cleaning rarely makes it onto my to do list. As soon as it’s done you have to start again, much like gardening and decorating.  Best just to let a certain fuzzy sludginess build up, I find. Although, if people are coming to stay, I do actually shift the need to clean up to the top of my list and get round to doing (most/some of) it. In acknowledgment of my general lack of housewifely qualities, I had chosen a neutral (okay, dust coloured) carpet with flecks in it, including, rather cleverly I thought at the time, black flecks, to disguise the black sock fluff that gets everywhere since everyone in the household now wears black socks. Because the winter has gone on and on, and we’re all still wearing socks in June, there’s more sock related fluff than ever, providing ample camouflage on ant day.

It takes quite a long time to catch ants. Perfect procrastination for a Monday afternoon. Once you remove one from its path the others get giddy and gad off in all directions.  In the end, I gave up on being humane and was down on my hands and knees with the sticky roller used to remove ginger cat hairs from dark clothes, and on occasion from the cat himself. (He seems to enjoy it; perhaps I could set up a cat spa.)

Cat and Carpet

Cat and Carpet

Anyway, the roller was also very effective at catching ants, although perhaps cruel.  I felt like I’d committed genocide, and of such an industrious and non-procrastinatory species. They do just get on with it, ants, don’t they?

I suppose my sticky clothes roller approach to ant catching is a more modern, handheld version of my grandfather’s method of dealing with the same problem.  He used to tie sticky paper round the trunk of the plum tree to catch insects making their way up towards the fruit.

Still, I’m feeling very wary about karma. It’s strange being god-like and all powerful over something so much smaller than yourself.  I don’t like it at all.

 

Pulling teeth, blood from a stone, words from my pen

It’s half term and my brain has decided to go on holiday, leaving my body here to deal with the rain, lethargy and a visit from the anti-writing gremlins. I can’t seem to get any words down.  Even my list, usually overflowing with things that will never get done, is lacking in vocab. Only two words on it, but written in a variety of styles, as if to encourage inspiration.

Blog Post

BLOG POST

Blog POST

****BLOg post***

BL… well, you get the idea.  If I could work out how to highlight it on here, I would.

In addition, there’s a weekly reminder in my phone that keeps pinging at me: BLOG POST. I’m determined not to be one of the seven gazillion bloggers who fail in the first few months, leaving their poor blogs sad and lonely. No readers is one thing, an AWOL writer, quite another.

So finally, today at 3.30, I dragged myself to the computer.  My usual warm up routine followed: checking emails and flicking through spotify.  For some reason I was drawn to the music of my (later) youth.  I was creating a playlist including The Proclaimers and The Beautiful South when my offspring lolloped in.

Much eye rolling about my musical taste ensued.  Then, further unasked for distraction. It was suggested that I try out some bands of the up-to-date variety.  DaftPunk (Who?) Currently number one, apparently.  Biffy Clyro – not a female country singer as I had assumed with a name like that, but a Scottish guitar band.  Think they have had a go with that pen name generator.

Delightful as this quality time was, 4.30 pm approached and I suggested that due to the late hour, offspring might like to commence the day’s revision.

Standard response received: “Its not my fault.”

Of course, I know that nothing is your fault when you are thirteen. No. Haywire hormones, overprotective parents and annoying teachers are to blame for everything.  I remember it well. Daftpunk aside, I’m not that much of an old fart.

“Anyway,” continued offspring, “you haven’t done any work today either.  Why don’t you stop listening to The Procrastinators and get on with some writing.”

Out of the mouths of teens…

It’s The Proclaimers,” I muttered and duly logged on to pull teeth, squeeze blood from a stone and finally get some words down.

 

 

 

Procrastination gets things done

Procrastination gets things done. So someone tells me. A distinctly positive, glass half-full sort of person. To be fair, the pro in procrastination does make it sound like a let’s-get-on-with-it, all action sort of word, along the lines of progression, proceeding and productive. I suppose what he’s saying is, you may not be completing your tax return or cleaning the oven, but you have, in desperation to avoid doing those things, finally put together the ikea chest of drawers which has been lurking quietly in the garage, wrapped in its packaging for the last two years.

It is most likely that I should have attributed “procrastination gets things done” to someone famous and worthy. The person who said it to me is an accountant not a philosopher, after all. Where would we be, I ask you, if it turned out that the bean counters had all the answers?

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I thought this week’s procrastination would be setting up Google Analytics for this blog. But it didn’t take me that long to do: about an hour watching youtube videos yesterday and only ten minutes actually doing the dreaded technical stuff this morning. I’m not sure whether it was worth it to find out that the IT Director is my only reader.  I know, I know – I need to tell people about it.  Maybe that will be my objective for next week.  Ha ha.

Another potentially time wasting activity has been creating a pen name. There are websites out there capable of generating one for you. These are the first three presented to me: Nobe Benvenisty, Rolando Giacherio and Agripina Dyke. I am not making this up. None of these are quite what I was aiming for.

Have a go yourself http://www.namegenerator.biz/pseudonym-generator.php.

Not only did I spend/waste time on various of these name generators, I also researched the pros and cons of using a pen name. This caused me to waver. There was a perilous moment when I thought “Nah, I’ll just do everything under my own name.”

Then I changed my mind again. Procrastinator’s prerogative. I decided to go with a combination of family names in the end. Everything I’ve had published so far (okay, four stories) has been as a result of entering online writing competitions. My first proper submission using my new pen name is sitting in its envelope waiting to go to the post office…

 

Waiting for the great procrastinator…

When I log onto this blog it always takes an age to connect through to the page where I write the post.  On the tab, next to the whirling circle that is trying to convince me how very hard the wonderful world of web is working on my behalf, it says: Waiting for the great procrastinator. Never fails to make me laugh.

What doesn’t make me laugh is the experience I’ve had twice this week at 6.30 am. Outside the back door, something has given our rubbish a comprehensive going over during the night. The estate agent’s details, when we were buying the house, described the area outside the back door as “the courtyard”.  I know from that you are envisaging a beautiful tiled area adorned with tubs of vibrant flowers and perhaps an Italianate water feature.  Refer to the photo below to see how wrong you are:IMG_0918

Yes, it is a patchwork of cracked concrete, tiles, mismatched bricks, drains, weeds and dusty old leaves, and we call it “out the back.” It’s not beautiful, I admit, but a liberal layer of mouldering food, bacon fat-coated foil and other items that should really have gone into the recycling bin, does nothing to enhance it.  In these circumstances, the only thing even a  great procrastinator can do, is ferret around for rubber gloves and then get straight out there with a bin bag to clear it up.

A great job with which to greet the day.  Sets you up nicely.

Not sure what is responsible for the mess. Badgers are bothersome round here, and the most likely suspects. However, there have been two malicious looking cats hanging about. The day after the second great trash debacle, we spotted them sitting on the roof above the “courtyard”, looking like a couple of wise guys. I wouldn’t put it past them to have tipped over the bin and wrangled off the sophisticated device we have boncoed together to keep the lid on. (To bonco is the IT Director’s verb meaning to fashion something oneself, instead of just buying the actual item required to do it properly.) Perhaps he will get a word into the dictionary before I come up with anything – see Blogcrastination.

Anyway, whether or not the feline mafia of rural Gloucestershire are tipping over our rubbish bins, I’m pretty sure they are terrorising our sweet ginger moggy.  IMG_0588-001

The IT Director is a total techno geek. Techy gadgets are the only things he will buy immediately, without waiting for a boncoed device to fail first. In response to the trash and the evil cats, he’s ordered a spy cam for the “courtyard” to see what is going on out there at night.

Family Reactions to news of the spy cam:

Offspring 1 – “How much did it cost? You could have paid me that much to watch out the back all night.”

Offspring 2 – “You are sad.”

Me – I was slightly creeped out, to be honest.  It made me think of that Trinny and Susannah programme where they used to restyle women. I remember an episode where the husband of one of the women nominated her secretly. He hid a camera in their bedroom and they filmed her without her knowledge. I always thought that was bit weird. Imagine the production team having a laugh at her dancing round in her knickers, singing The Power of Love by Jennifer Rush into her hairbrush, or whatever.  So, with this in mind, I asked the IT director:

You are just going to be filming outside aren’t you?

“Why? Are you worried I might film you and what you get up to all day?” he asked, with alarming insight.

Err, yes, actually.”

“Well, don’t worry,” he said.  “It’s triggered by activity.  So, you’ll be fine.”

What can I say? My reputation precedes me.