Writing Your Life Story

truth.jpgMy group asked me the other day about how to use real people in their memoir writing. I wish I had found this quote when I was looking for information to share with them.

Mark Twain said,

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

So obvious and so true, but how often it is hard for people to hear. I have been trying truth telling but often feel unheard.

Another suggestion I tell my group is that it is their truth and may not be someone else’s. Another quote:

Keep in mind that memories are subjective and tend to evolve over time.
[http://helensedwick.com/how-to-use-real-people-in-your-writing/ found 30th July 2018]

That is not to say that the truth changes but how you view the truth changes. There are facts that never change however. Things like “yesterday I went to see a waterfall with my in-laws.” That is truth. But then things like how busy it was, how warm/cold it was, whether it was a good time, bad time, etc become subjective. Even things like “your mum was really happy there” can be subjective. In reality she seemed happy to me but to other members of the family she could have looked sad, angry, distant, crazy, etc. Even thingswhat is truth like “Bob is an alcoholic” is not a truth unless Bob has told the family. So one could say “Bob appears to drink a lot and I am concerned that he is an alcoholic” or “Bob says he is an alcoholic”. Both statements are true because one is that I have seen Bob drink a lot and he has said he is an alcoholic. The concerned bit is my opinion. So with “your mum” I could say she seemed happy to me because that is my opinion.

So even though Mark Twain says tell the truth what is the truth is not as clear. Also as the second quote says our memories evolve over time. Emily Dickenson has a lovely poem:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant By Emily Dickinson
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

So facts are facts and are unchangeable but our personal truths of what happened to us to change and evolve depending on what story we tell. There are people who say that the truth of their story doesn’t change but I don’t think that is true 🙂 We are an evolving people and so how we remember things will change.

Another quote that came to me as I wrote this was

Jesus said “know the truth and the truth will set you free” John 8:32

Now I wonder with this if Jesus meant that as we grow and evolve our theology will change and alter. Hopefully grow. He was talking to Pharisees who had spent years looking at the scriptures and working out the truth of them. Jesus says it is those who are his disciples and who follow his teachings who will know the truth and be set free by it. For myself I find that understand that how I perceive a series of facts is not how truth_set_freesomeone else might perceive them then I do feel freer to know that what I understand is what I understand and not to have to spend time browbeating the other person to believe in things how I see them. So going back to “your mum was really happy there”. That is my truth. Another family member could say “mum was really upset there” and that is there truth. Maybe we need to ask mum and see what she thinks? But then maybe mum was happy at the waterfall but upset as she walked back. Maybe both things are true and each person saw her at a different time (Note this is made up to help with a point and not factual 🙂  )

It is not about having different morals as is feared by some with the post-modern conversation, but it can be that all truth is subjective to who I am, my experiences, where I am as I tell this tale.

So my hope is, with my memoir writing group, that they can be free to write their story in their words with their memories of the facts that happened in their lives, as each of us should be free to.

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Self-Care

stones.jpgThere is a lot of talk about self-care at the moment and yes it is very important, but what struck me yesterday was how you actually need a level of confidence to be able to care for yourself. I was made aware of this because when I mentioned that I was going to start kick-boxing the response I had hoped for, and needed for my confidence, was “well gone. Good on you” but the response I did get was “what do you want to do that for? It’s violent and dangerous.” Now if I had got that response a couple of years ago I would have not gone to my classes because my confidence would have been knocked, but I am still going to go because my confidence isn’t that fragile now. I am able to step out and do things without the need of full approval. The comments, once I was able to challenge that person, were all valid and made sense but they were not encouraging.

I think often we see people who are abused, in a bad place, addicts etc and think “why bigger-heartcan’t they get out of there?” “Why don’t they care for themselves?” But they can’t. They need someone to say encouraging things to them. I have a friend who works in a women’s support group and one of the things she says they try to do is to make the atmosphere as loving and accepting of the women as they are as possible. This is something we should do for all people – accept them as they are not as they should be. Even if we think as they should be would be a much better place. We need to give people encouragement so they can have the self-confidence to look after themselves.

I come back to the verse “love your neighbour as yourself” which doesn’t mean, I don’t What-is-Self-Carethink, giving and giving to someone else. But, I think, it means saying “if I’m an ok person then my neighbour is an ok person, if I can be kind and have self-care for me then I can be kind and care for my neighbour.” Or to look at another often misunderstood Bible verse about turning the other cheek. That again wasn’t about being abused and downtrodden but was about saying “the law says it is ok to slap my right cheek but I give you my other cheek which by law you are not allowed to slap. Will you do that too?” It is about being strong enough to stand up to justice not to lay down and be beaten. It is about self-care not humiliation. It is about self-care and humility rather than putting yourself last and being humiliated.

How have I got to this place? Slowly and with the help of others who didn’t even know. My work at Gwrych has been a great help even though at times it has been a struggle; a struggle with putting in clear boundaries, which of course only come with confidence and self-care; a struggle learning to say what I think about things but in a gentle way not aggressively, which I often stay quiet rather than say anything due to lack of training in how to gentle speak my mind; of learning to balance my time and not do everything. I put on, almost single handedly, an amazing production for WWI working with the local schools. I made mistakes doing it but didn’t feel down heartened by my mistakes. Doing that exhausted me but also energised me. I am running great writing workshops. Not a lot of people come but those who do are faithful and keep coming and I get amazing comments and compliments. Starting to take care of myself help. That started small by getting Kinspa membership and going for a swim and a relax in the hydro-pool regularly, which has led to going horse riding which has led to the kick-boxing.

For me some of it has helped that I am impulsive and do jump in, but when I am not feeling confident I also jump out quickly. As I said a negative word, like I got yesterday, would have caused me to cancel, but now I can keep going and doing what I want notself-love what other people approve of.

Coming back to the topic though of getting self-care – I would say when we see someone who needs self-care instead of expecting them to just do it we need to let them know that we think they are worthy of that self-care. Our role, as we come slowly able to lift our heads up from the gutter and look at the stars, is to help others know they are worthy.

(Interesting note – as I was getting images for this so much was about getting self-care so you could be better at …. whatever …. rather than just saying that it is ok to care for yourself. I don’t want to be better, do more, etc. I want to just be a more contented me doing the things I like doing. That’s why I care for myself. But again it does seem like we are always having to project outward and be “better”. Thoughts for another blog?)

Searching

I love this quote from Velveteen Rabbi’s son on her post Seeking: Seeing the ordinary through new eyes about how he feels on the eve of Pesach we search for hidden hametz and about searching for Easter eggs with his Christian Grandma.

It’s fun because it’s about finding something new in regular places. If you find something new to do, then you always have it with you. And that makes it like you’re traveling, finding new places, even though you’re not going anywhere.

It was this whole thing of “if you find something new you always have it with you” and about travelling and finding new places even though you’re not going anywhere. I think this is so profound and so deep and I wonder how often we, as adults miss it.

From my reading of Mindfulness if it about looking at what we know and finding newness in it, of being ‘present’ full with what we already know. How often do we take a walk along the same route and not notice how amazing it is and yet if we take a child or even just someone who’s not been that way before they see things we have gotten used to?  How often in a relationship do we just get used to the same old same old and forget why we got involved with this person in the first place? How often do we forget that some of the flaws we see glaringly now we used to gloss over before when we saw them through new eyes?

I want to be able to travel to new places without going anywhere. It is why I write. I can be here in my room, can take something I know and can rework it. I am working with some of my memories which come from running memoir-writing groups and I was looking at them with new eyes. What slant do I want to put on them now? That isn’t lying about what happened but, I think, saying I want to look at what I think I know with new eyes. I want to travel somewhere new with what I already hold in my hand. I can then choose what light I want to see it in. Even the most tragic circumstances, if I want I can see amazing things going on. But also if I choose, even in the best of circumstances I can focus on the one bad bit in it. I can choose how I view my life. Sometimes I need to search hard, sometimes like with the Dragon Easter Egg Hunt at Gwrych Castle, where I volunteer, finding the eggs is easy because they are so big, but sometimes it can be hard to find that spring flower trying to appear through this unseasonally cold time. But the buds and growth and colours are there just not as visible as the Dragon eggs.

It is so true that once we do find something new in familiar places we remember it and hold on to it. I remember finding a clump of primroses along a path where I walked the dog regularly. Primroses for me bring back special memories of a bright patch in a hard time in my life which does make them special. But now whenever I walk this path I not only look out for these primroses but also look out for other changes. For me finding that something new and special in familiar places makes me want to look more and look harder and find something else that I didn’t see before.

I think I need to make sure I do this in places that I have yet to find something new. Who knows what is hiding in those familiar places?

How to be honest

A friend of mine shared an email he had written to his place of work to explain how he is struggling with mental health problems. You can read it here  – A Personal Message to Friends and colleagues.

It is great, open and honest and something, I think we should all be doing – being open 800px_colourbox9264852about our mental health issues. I do have a few Facebook friends that are totally open about what they are going through too. But what I have noticed with my friend’s post and with my FB friends is that they have all been diagnosed with a something. I think this helps. With my friend in his post too he works in an office environment so can take time working from home, etc. But what about all of us who have not been diagnosed either because of not having gone to a doctor, not found a professional who sees the problems and who can’t take time out.

This isn’t a gripe and a “poor me” but I do think it is harder. I work from home and some of what I do I have to keep going with – like the Airbnb stuff to keep the house clean and have beds made up for guests. This does give me freedom from not having to work 9-5 too so it is swings and roundabouts. But I do find it harder, when I can hide away at home and then put on my brave face when I go out, to be able to be open and honest about how I feel. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. There are also people who work in core-value-open-and-honestenvironments that may not understand or be sympathetic. A friend of ours with borderline personality disorder who worked in sales was given sympathy but still expected to meet his targets in high-pressure selling.

So how can those of us without a diagnosis, who have stepped out of the normal working situations or who are not in a sympathetic work environment deal with this? At the moment I don’t know but I know that I am trying harder to be honest about my mental health even if it is to have lower expectations of myself in what I can and can’t do, to be honest about how I am struggling to cope with all the changes that have gone on in the last two to three years – us moving, changes in my children’s lifestyles, all the new people we have met and new things we are doing. So when I have a meltdown because my husband has taken longer than I wanted over doing some household job or other I can say calmly, once I’ve regained my thoughts, “it’s not you but just this on top of me still coping with the changes”.

I’ve a project I’m doing that I know I should not have taken on. I need to finish the project. I need to finish it because it is the right thing to do. Yes, I work on that “right thing” but I am now downscaling what I’m doing with it, realising that I can’t get the help I expected due to other people’s commitments, and that actually I don’t have the emotional energy to get it sorted. So I will finish it but I will be kind to myself and again realise that little things like the household jobs taking longer could cause me stress but it isn’t them it’s just life.

So what I have decided is even if I can’t be open and honest to others as my friend has been in his post I can be open and honest to myself, kind to myself and say that even though I don’t need pills and therapy I do need space and time. walk-away-in-love

The Three Kings

Yesterday I was involved in two Epiphany services and it got me thinking about those “Wise men” who journeyed to see the baby Jesus.

sp2There are 12 verses in the second chapter of in the gospel of Matthew that talk about what happened with them but all we are told about them is “Magi from the east came“, they go to visit King Herod because they know that this is where a king should be found, get told by his advisers that a prophecy says the ‘King of the Jews will be born in Bethlehem’, they go and visit Jesus and then don’t go back to see Herod. From these 250-300 words, depending on translation, the Christian faith has made up a whole mythology about these “Magi” that is now believed.

Because they brought three gifts then it has been decided that there were only three of them. Because we want them to be kind and humble people we talk of what it cost them to travel from wherever to see this babe. All through I feel we have dumbed them down, turned them into something tame and weak. So these are my thoughts on the Magi.

So they must either have been astronomers or astrologers or both or employed people who looked at and read what was written in the stars. That is almost a given. But why did stars-constellationsthey go to visit a new born king? I think it was because the stars foretold how great this King was. Why go and visit a great king? To get great gifts from him. I believe these Magi had money, either of their own or were in a position to tax the people around where they lived. I think they came in a huge caravan of camels and servants and tents and gifts. Why do I think this? Because everything I’ve read about King Herod is that he was a despot and would not have let in three lowly travellers even if they did say they were off to worship the new king. I believe, from all I have read about Herod, that he would have either dismissed them or had them killed. But he welcomes them in. They must have been an impressive sight and he must have known he couldn’t silence them. I believe they came with gifts, not just the gold, frankincense and myrrh that are mention, but much more. I believe the Bible only mentions those three gifts because they are the significant ones. I do believe that the Bible misses many details out. Why say that they gave other things when Matthew wanted to make a point to his readers of who Jesus is?

But you  know I think the most amazing thing that happens is when the Magi meet with Jesus. So picture a huge caravan of camels, of opulence, of power, coming to the house where Mary, Joseph and Jesus are staying. Here I believe it was the same house that Jesus was born in (as in he was born in the place where the animals lived) and that many of the wider family had no left after the census and Joseph was waiting for Mary to be strong enough so they could leave. Maybe even God had told him to stay and we just aren’t told that by any of the gospel writers.

So here they are in this little town when this cavalcade comes through. The town is in up roar. The Magi reach the house. They go in. There they see a normal couple. Remember Joseph was a tradesman and so wouldn’t be poor but wouldn’t be rich. Normal. But something happens to these wealthy, powerful men when they see Jesus.

Matthew says “ On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

What happened to make them bow down and worship this woman and child? What did they see? What happened? Something in meeting with Jesus caused them to change.

Now I’m sure Herod offered them something to come back and tell him when they had found the child but they don’t. They set off. I’m thinking they went quite quickly because Herod doesn’t chase after them but goes off to kill those poor toddlers in Bethlehem.

I just feel that on this day after Epiphany Sunday it would be good to just ponder what happened when the Magi saw Jesus that caused a change in them. And also how often we have preconceived ideas of what “King Jesus” is like but if we truly looked at Him then we would give him the gifts we had intended for another.

Winter Solstice

winter-solstice-scenery1366x76854654Today is the winter solstice. The day when the sun stands still for three days before days start to lengthen again.

Today I got a revelation as to why the early Christians picked December 25th as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It is a random day I’d always thought. Or had heard stories of how the pagans had celebrated on 25th because the sun had decided to reappear rather than disappear completely. But then I remembered another time when it looked like The Son had disappeared completely.

Two thousand years on from the event, knowing that outcome, as we also know that the sun will move on and the days will start getting longer, we forget what it must have felt like. Imagine firstly being a pre-science person and each year wondering if the sun would really continue or whether it would decided that it had had enough and the days lunar-eclipse-icelandwere just going to keep getting darker until there was no more. [Though maybe that isn’t so hard to imagine as we see the news and read the newspapers. We appear to be in dark times that are getting darker. So maybe we can understand.] Now imagine how it must have felt when you realised that the days were slowly minute but minute getting longer. I’m sure they had devises to be able to show them this was happening because their fear must have been great. Don’t think with 21st Century eyes and minds but with ancient minds who were not sure.

Then think back to that event two thousand years ago at Passover. So many people had given up everything – livelihoods, reputations, status, money – to follow Jesus and he’d been crucified. They knew he was definitely dead. If they hadn’t seen it they would have heard about the soldier putting his spear in Jesus’ side and the blood and water flowing out. Here was someone who was definitely dead. The Son had stood still for three days. The Son had been put in a sealed tomb – not because he was anything special but because it stopped the stench of a decaying body from seeping out. He had been still for 3 days.

I also think we miss some of this because the organised church decided that people wouldn’t wait that long so they put the crucifixion to a Friday and Resurrection to a copy_of_tombofkingsjerusalemSunday. Often I’d miss the whole Easter story by seeing the detail in that and so deciding it wasn’t a true story. There are not 3 days between Friday and Sunday no matter how hard you try. But there are scholars who have said that in certain years there are more “sabbaths” due to Jewish tradition and that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday. [I suggest googling this yourself before I lost the thread of what I’m saying 🙂 ]

So try to imagine you think this is the man who will light into the world, who you have given up everything for, but here he is not just one day, not just two days, but three days still. Dead. In a tomb. Imagine then how you would feel when he came to stand with you, when people you knew told you they had seen him. When people said The Son has risen.

 

It was like a big light going on. The whole idea of the sun staying still at the time we 1-3-1393234669celebrate Jesus birth fits hand in glove with the time we celebrate Jesus resurrection. God is so clever. And I also think as we do feel like we are entering a very dark time politically with Brexit, Trump, North Korea, wars and rumours of wars, refugees, more famines, and other atrocities we often don’t hear about we need to remember that it might look like The Son is standing still but the light is still with us and it will conquer the darkness.

Paths to Follow

Yesterday the dog and I went for a walk up along Conwy Mountain. It’s a walk we’ve conwy_mountain_walkdone before so I was walking without really thinking. There were times when I came to places where the path wasn’t clear and I had to guess where we were going and then we’d come across the path again. It reminded me of a time when my kids and I were walking in a Country park in Scotland and again we’d walk, lose sight of the path and then find something that showed we were going the right way – a green arrow, a bench, etc.

On Tuesday I went to see “Legally Blonde The Musical” and in that she has a set path that broadway-blonde_1she is going on – to marry Warner for love – but he decides he wants someone more “serious” and so Elle decides to become more serious. From this she finishes up graduating as a lawyer and winning a case based on her bimbo knowledge, but also her skill with reading people. Originally she didn’t know her path would take her to being some great lawyer, she just wanted to find a way to marry the man of her dreams, who she doesn’t in the end either.

So often we think we are on a path that leads us in a totally different direction, or not sure if we are on a path at all, but what we need to do is keep walking.

I was thinking of all the other houses we looked at before we bought this one. We had a path “to move up to the mountains and the sea and run a hospitality house”. We are now footprintsIliving in a town we’d only heard of 2 years ago, I’m involved in a project with a castle I knew nothing about 2 years ago, and we have friends and guests and neighbours we didn’t know of till we met them. If we had bought another house then our lives, our friends, what we do, would be totally different.

footprintsSometimes we don’t know the path, sometimes we do, but we do need to be bold and fearless and walk that path.

My son has joined the army this week. We have actually been unfair to him by asking him where he expects to go with his “army career”, and then at times worrying about what he’ll do after. My goodness he has only just joined and he doesn’t know what comes next. He can see the steps for the first 3 months. He can see some of the things he hopes to achieve but until he gets to A he won’t know what B is. That is the same for all of us. We had to buy this house in this town before we could start exploring what our lives would be.

What path will we be on in 10 years time? Who knows, but I know I will keep walking it whether I can see it clearly or not know that it is there in front of me.just-because-your-path-is-different-doesnt-mean-you-are-lost