June 2009


Frustrated presenterIf I said I had a fear of public speaking, you would probably believe me. You’d probably say, “Me, too.” After all, most people do fear public speaking, and I should fear it even more than most. And it’s true that most sufferers of social anxiety do fear public speaking and many to such an extent that they would never dream of trying it.

Sorry, but I don’t. I feel much more at ease giving a presentation in front of a hundred people than talking to one person – not everyone I talk to, but most people.

Why? Because a presentation is planned in advance. When I know what I’m going to say, I know I can look at any number of people and say it. I’m not shy. A conversation is spontaneous. When you talk, you have to be able to think up things to say. While worrying about whether your clothes are suitable for the occasion, whether the other person felt the sweat on your hand when shaking it, whether the expression on your face fits the mood you should be in, you have to make up some witty, or at least presentable, remark. And I’ve never been good at multi-tasking.

So I’m not good at talking, and knowing that makes me more afraid of it. Also, knowing that most people aren’t afraid of it and don’t understand others who are makes me more afraid of making a mess of it. And talking, as opposed to public speaking, is something we all have to do – often. And I want to talk, too. It’s just….

I think I’d rather have had a fear of public speaking.

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Hiking in Switzerland

People tell me I’m very brave for writing what I write in my blog. “I know,” I reply, biting my lip. “Maybe too brave.”

I thought about this blog for a long time before I started it. When I finally decided I was ready for it, I went ahead. I haven’t regretted it … yet. But I’m still frightened.

Once, on holiday in Switzerland, we started off with the children on a three-day hike. Rain was beating down and we knew that we were coming to a path on the edge of a cliff. Two people passed us, going the other way. “You’re brave,” they said to us, admiringly. That’s when we decided to turn back.

I’m not going to turn back. What I’m doing is not life-threatening, as far as I know, and so far nothing bad has happened because of it. Anyway, I’ve been too cautious for too long. It’s time to break out of this protecting, restricting, inhibiting fortress.

So, it’s all right to tell me I’m brave. I’ll take it as a compliment and not as justification for turning back.

Are you brave?

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 Baby

In my previous post, I suggested that writers’ blogs are shallow and uninteresting. By writing that, I have been introduced to some very different blogs, and especially mapelba, who poses some thought-provoking questions. The question in her latest post is: “Where do you come from? Does your answer explain your writing?” Some people come from some very dark places. I come from a place of love, protection and loneliness….

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I come from a place so deep in suburbia that the bus came only once every half hour – if you were lucky.

I come from a world of secrets and pretence. Of feeling guilty every time I forgot.

I come from a father who I now know was a people pleaser, who needed everyone to think well of him, and who took out his frustrations on his wife. And a mother who never understood that. I come from a mother who never understood many things. I come from parents who had had enough excitement in their lives by the time I was born.

I come from a place where religion is a noose, a chore, a secret, an embarrassment, a reason for keeping quiet. But also a fine tradition, an offloading of worries and hopes, an expression of sadness and joy.

I come from a place where teachers just taught and children were free to torment as much as they wanted. Where no one explained to them that their actions could be a life sentence.

I come from a place where loneliness is the norm and thoughts have no human outlet.

I write to tell the world that whole lives can be spoilt because of where they come from, if no one notices or acts in time.

I write.
My friends write.
They get published.
That’s wonderful.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs by writers lately. It seems every writer has a blog. That’s not surprising. Writers want to publicise themselves and their work, and writers can write. So, it seems natural that they should blog.

What do they blog about? About writing and publishing, about authors and publishers, about writing competitions and other news in the writing world. And, of course, about themselves, what they’ve written and what they’ve had published.

They write well, of course, because they’re writers. Sometimes, they’re even humorous. And yet, I’m starting to get bored with these blogs, because of the one thing they leave out: personal struggles. Yes, I know, they write about their pets, their children, the places they live in. But they don’t write anything really personal. We readers can’t tell much about their characters. We don’t know about the hurdles they’ve overcome, or the way their personal lives influenced their writing.

And I wonder how honest they are. They treat their writer friends very well, praising them for their skill and their good fortune when they win competitions or have their books accepted by publishers. But do they really mean that? Aren’t they just a tiny bit jealous of other writers’ triumphs? According to Ann Lamont in her wonderfully humorous and informative guide Bird by Bird, they certainly could be:

Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know – people who are, in other words, not you.

Not that I’m jealous. I haven’t got that far, yet. And I’m not criticising anyone else. I’m just wondering how all of this relates to me. This is what I’ve decided:

Writing involves innovating, pushing boundaries, being courageous. And I’m going to continue writing what I write, because, amongst other reasons, I don’t want to turn this into just another writer’s blog.

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Me at eleven

Me nowWe learn throughout our lives, but most of our learning is done in childhood. In eighteen years, we’re supposed to advance from knowing absolutely nothing to knowing enough to manage on our own in this complicated world. What we need to learn isn’t just how to calculate the area of a triangle, or the difference between “its” and “it’s” [sorry – forget the second one: it’s apparently not important these days and probably not PC to even mention it].

We also have to learn how to get on with other people, how to communicate with them, because we’re all in this world together and we need each other to get anywhere. Besides, it’s pretty boring with only yourself for company.

Most children get sent to school to learn these things. This seems a good idea because, not only do you learn academic subjects, but you also have to interact with a lot of people. What happens if it goes wrong? – pear-shaped, I believe, is the current term.

I didn’t learn how to communicate with others at school. Instead, I learnt not to communicate, because anything I said could be remembered and used to bully me. And my teachers, who knew how to communicate and should have seen what was going on, didn’t think of communicating anything to me or finding anyone else to communicate with me. Reports complaining that I didn’t take enough part in lessons, and monologues after years of my non-communication telling me to change my attitude weren’t exactly the right approach.

Someone should have delved deeper and made me understand how I felt when I was teased or ostracised, or when my only friend suddenly vanished. But no one did.

I’d like to think that things have changed in all the years that have passed since I was at school. I’d like to think that teachers now care about the emotional well-being of their pupils and know how to handle problems. I fear that this is not true. That, just like then, they act when children are disruptive and fail to act when they’re not.

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 Me and my backpackThis post is going to be different from its predecessors. I’m going to ramble on and see where it takes me.

I’m back from a three-week trip that was interesting and mostly enjoyable. It was enjoyable because I met a lot of people and, despite all the difficulties, I like to be with people. It was interesting because I made it so. Because I asked questions and also partially opened the blinds to let others see into my world – the good parts and the bad parts. And it brought home something I discovered before: that most people have problems, and it’s only when you’re open about yours that you get to hear about theirs. So, opening up has at least two advantages. It lightens the burden on you, and it helps you to realise that you’re not as strange and different as you thought. You look for similarities, you share your own experiences. You feel better yourself and you hope that you’ve helped in some way.

This probably all sounds obvious to you. But it doesn’t to me, because I’ve spent too many years locked inside my walls with the blinds fastened. Opening up still feels unnatural and therefore difficult. But it’s worth it.

I’m feeling lucky. Lucky to have some wonderful, understanding friends. Lucky to have a lovely, loving family. And lucky to have won a book: Tania Hershman’s The White Road and Other Stories. I hope my luck continues. Maybe I’ll win a short story competition, or find a literary agent, or both….