A friend gave me a book a while ago with the words: “You need this. Read it.” I thanked her, then put it on the window sill in my office (aka The Graveyard of Random Notes and Lists of Things to be Done), where it continued to live for the next eight or ten weeks. A couple of days ago I finally picked it up. And I must say – she was right. I needed that book and it’s coming at a perfect time as well. Thank you Ilona!
The book in question is “Wishcraft: How to get what you really want” by Barbara Sher. I was sceptical at first. I had a period in my life where I got self-help books by the dozen out of the library and usually didn’t manage to read past the first five pages before I gave up in disgust. They always seemed to be written for other people, not for me. People who cared about career, how to manage a family, how to earn a lot of money. None of which applies to my life. However, Barbara Sher had me by the first page.
Her tone is so warm, so human, so down-to-earth that I immediately felt welcomed. And when I read on and realized that this book is not someone lecturing me on what I ought to have and ought to do to be a valuable member of society, but rather a book written by someone who tells me that everybody has genius inside them and reservoirs of talent and passion, whatever that passion may be! – and then goes on giving me exercise upon exercise for finding out what my passion is and what’s keeping me for living it and how to go about dealing with the things that stand in the way… then, I think, I have found a new friend. That’s what it feels like. Someone who encourages me, shows me my strengths, believes in me.
I think that I already had a pretty good understanding of who I am and what my strengths are and in which direction my passions lie. That’s not to say the exercises weren’t useful to me – far from it, I found it very useful to really sit down with pen and paper and make lists and think things through, but what I mean, is that there hadn’t been any huge surprises (so far).
However, this morning as I was sitting in the weak spring sunshine that came through the living room window, I did get a surprise. The exercise was to list twenty things that bring me joy. No explanations, no qualifications and the only rule was to get to twenty. So I did. I wrote down things like: reading, developing characters, cuddling with the dog, hiking, swimming, sitting in the sun, taking photos, being with friends, … When I’d got to twenty, I looked into the book again and the next part of the exercise was to make a table and to note for each item the answers to questions like: When did I do this last? Is it cheap or expensive? Do I do it alone or with others? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it intellectual, physical, spiritual? … and to add as many questions as I wanted.
I started doing it, but noticed very soon that the answers were mostly the same. The majority of things I like are cheap to free, outdoors, physical and intellectual or physical and spiritual at the same time (like hiking… for me, that’s both physical and spiritual), it’s done alone, I usually do it spontaneously and it doesn’t require a lot of planning…. and all of them I haven’t done in a quite a while.
And that brought me up short. So apparently there are all these activities that I enjoy and that make me feel good, most of which don’t cost me anything and can be done by myself without a lot of planning – and I’m not doing them??? Wow. Wait a minute. In other words, I’m forgoing a number of sources for happiness and contentment for no discernible reason except that I didn’t think about it or am too lazy to get up from my desk. What an eye-opener.
Needless to say, I’m going to make a conscious effort to include them into my present life. No use putting things off. Tomorrow morning, instead of talking the dog on our usual round, I’ll pack him into the car and drive somewhere new (up the hill on the other side of the valley, I think) and go for a really long walk. I’ll take my camera and instead of thinking of it as a necessary task that has to be performed, I’ll think of it as something that I have chosen voluntarily.
There, Barbara Sher – lesson learned, and I’m only in chapter 3.
If you want, try this exercise. Let us know what you found out. Even better, get the book and do all the other exercises. It’s fun and – who knows? – you might learn something new about yourself.
As befitting a year devoted to courage, I continued the process of unfurling from my self-induced state of reclusion and had a grand day out on Saturday. My youngest sister had to go the airport in the morning to fly back to England and since for unfathomable reasons it’s cheaper and quicker to go by car than by public transport, that’s what we did. I dropped her off and then navigated the car downtown, the town in question being Stuttgart (the capital of Baden-Württemberg, which is a federal state of Germany, the one right down in the south-western corner).
We’d started out from home with blue skies and a rose-and-gold sunrise, but we’d encountered the first snow on the way down already. When I’d parked the car and walked the couple minutes to the centre, I sent my middle sister this picture and text:
I’d forgotten the acute sense of being connected and at the same time gloriously alone that you get when drifting through a big city, but I recaptured it as I tried my way through some new clothes (everything sorely needed, some of it coveted, practically nothing that fit), navigated some shoe stores (same story), ate my way through a variety of international take-away food, listened to street musicians, smiled at the pigeons huddling everywhere to be away from the snow, and looked out for the small human interactions, the gestures, the words, the movements that make a city come alive.
At one point it got really cold and I bought myself a cheap pair of finger-free gloves, choosing, from the rainbow of available colours, the electric-blue ones, which went together awesomely with my choice of nail polish for the weekend, hot pink. The rest of the day, I felt like shoving my hands in front of every stranger’s face and say: “Look! Pretty, isn’t it?” I didn’t. I didn’t take the gloves off again though, not even when I was sitting in a café. I enjoyed too much the feeling of being colourful again. And since you guys are my friends and won’t call the police on me for harassment, I’m gonna shove my hand in front of your faces. Look! Pretty, isn’t it?
I’d toyed with the idea of spending part of the afternoon in one of my favourite museums (an ethnological museum that has the most interesting special exhibitions and is a mine of creative inspiration!), but they closed early, so I didn’t manage. Instead, I spent the time in the two major book shops, feeling calm and happy in a way it’s only possible to feel in the presence of large numbers of books. These are the ones I eventually chose to take home with me:
They are all in the area of contemporary fantasy, which wasn’t planned as such. I pondered the poetry and the crime section just as long and the classics even longer. I was very tempted by a new edition of On the Road, with beautiful photography and set in a clear, stark font, but eventually decided to go for new stories. Now I wonder if there’s a deeper meaning behind my choices. Maybe I long to escape into a magical world as well. (Well, I know I do, I just didn’t know it was this easily translatable into book choices).
I’d also thought about going to the theatre or the opera in the evening, but there was nothing on that particularly interested me and after a whole day of walking and strolling and standing I was pretty tired anyway. Tired, but happy.
Happy because I bought four books whose covers I adore and that I can’t wait to read. Happy because I let myself drift, which is freedom and pleasure in itself. Happy because I smiled at people in cafés and behind counters and people making music and most of them smiled back at me. And happy because I haven’t lost the knack of noticing small, easily-overlooked details in the rushing crowds that make me laugh and think.
Life’s pretty good, all in all.
How was your weekend?
Alright, so I found the perfect way to distract myself from my NaNo panic. After spending ALL day yesterday procrastinating by doing “research” into how to create perfect characters – everything from character charts, questionnaires, articles on character voice and how to write the opposite gender, … – I saw an update on “Princess” Monica’s blog where she raved about GoodReads and I caved in and signed up.
Now, I know you won’t believe this, but I really, honestly had not been a member there before. I hadn’t even checked it out. Yes, you’re allowed to laugh and no, I won’t hold it against you if you shake your head in disbelief and tut-tut disapprovingly. It’s justified.
I had been meaning to check out what it was all about forever, but it always landed at the bottom of the to-do list, plus, I don’t much like hypes and that’s what it felt like. But since I signed up last night, I have already acquired deep circles under my eyes, who in turn have gone red and swollen from staring at the screen so hard. My fingers on my mouse-hand are hurting from clicking on those teensy stars and I have landed myself with a new addiction. Hussa!
I’m also slowly starting to see why so many people are on there. True, so far all I’ve done is set up a basic profile and wreck my brain trying to think of all the books I’ve ever read and enthusiastically clicking ‘Want to Read’ on everything remotely interesting, but I can see that’s it’s a really good way of discovering new things to read. It’s also a really neat and specialized way of exchanging opinions about books and I think I’ll head over and check out the lists now, because I’ve been meaning to start reading some steampunk and I just don’t know where to start. I’m guessing the lists will be helpful there.
What’s your opinion on GoodReads? And what should I definitely try/look out for/experiment with? Any tips?
Wow, thanks for everyone who voted on the NaNo novel! The numbers are in and it stands as this:
Option 1 (comic urban fantasy): III
Option 2 (children’s adventure): IIII
Option 3 (literary fiction):
So it looks as if I’ll be attempting some literary fiction. That’s a new one for me and I have to tell you, I’m a little intimidated by it, but in the end, challenges are good, aren’t they? Help us to rise above ourselves? Make us better and stronger people?
… alright, it did sound more convincing in my head…
Okay, I’ll be serious. Serious about planning, that is. Since it’s already the 18th (!!! gahhhhh! how did that happen?!?!?) and there is lots and lots to plot and plan. Some things I already know though. The names. I don’t how how you guys deal with names, but for me, it’s pretty much one of the first things I know about a character. Not always. Sometimes I know who he or she is and then find a name that fits them. But usually, the name and the character of the person come to me in a bundle. And then, once they have that name, that’s it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I might want to change it later on, because maybe the name has to sound different or maybe it conveys a ‘wrong’ cultural background or two names in one story sound too much alike, but in that case, it’s just bad luck. Nothing I can do about it.
I mean, just imagine if you took it into your head that you really didn’t like your own name that much and you decided to go by another. Maybe you have a second name, maybe you’ll change your surname to something else… but underneath, in your own head, wouldn’t you still think of yourself by your original name?
I can see how a change of name would help if you wanted to become a different person. Just like clothes, I guess: you put them on and you just feel different. They allow you to leave your personality and pretend, for a little while, that you are more fun or more quiet, more outspoken or more professional, more this or that or anything else that you can think of than you usually are. That’s one reason why people dress up for job interviews or for dates or for festive occasions – it’s an outward signal to themselves and it bucks them up to be professional or at their most charming or in their best festive mood. It helps. It’s certainly part of why I only really use make-up and fancy jewelry at certain times (like interviews and exams and parties and so on). In the end though, you’re still yourself when you take the clothes off.
A change of name, of course, is more permanent than clothes and I’m sure it would help you change, just by always reminding you to be different and act as a sort of guide to the new you. But that’s exactly my point with characters: once they have a name, that is them. I cannot change the name without changing the personality. And the other way round, if I think that that secondary character (or even, in one case, the main character herself) really has to be different to fit in the story, then I need to do them from scratch: new personality, new name, new character. The old ones gets put in a back corner of my head, where they sulks for a while, crossing their arms in front of their chests, huffing and kicking at the dusty furniture and pretending not to be hurt, until they snatch up a random particle of inspiration and hold it up above their heads, its light reflecting back on their faces and lighting it up with a wild hope and glee and they shout at me: “That’s my story, right there! All mine! My story! Do something about it! Move, come on!”
(I don’t know if your characters sulk or are hurt or angry at you or shout at you and order you about, but I fervently hope they do, because if they don’t, it might mean I’m crazy after all.)
So, yeah, names are IMPORTANT. They define people. They define characters in novels. And I have the names for my next book, and attached to that, the personalities of the characters. That’s a good start, right?
All the writers out there: do you find names as important as well? Are you able to change them in the middle of the story or is that utterly unthinkable for you?
Beware of reading novels.
You get eaten alive. Your thoughts are not your own. Your dreams are being taken over. Your waking moments are haunted by others’ thoughts. Your language changes. Your outlook changes. Your perception of the world changes. Your priorities most definitely change. (I’ll just finish this one chapter, and then, then I can finally sleep, like I wanted to at the beginning of each of the last five chapters.) You are out of your own control.
And not always, upon finishing a book, are you richer for the experience. Often, a bit of yourself stays in that story. It calls you back and makes you remember long-forgotten passages or characters or pictures from a book you read many years ago and have not thought of since and that you cannot recall and that passage will haunt you for days and weeks like a ghost at the back of your mind and not let go and everything you see will remind you of what you loved and then lost and then forgot and then remembered and lost again – that world that you lived in for a few days and cannot go back to, and you will feel poorer for it.