May 2010

Karen wrote this recently:

Too often we think we CAN’T do something. What we really mean is we can’t do it by OUR rules.

I can understand that. On our recent trip to Prague, for instance, we spent one day out of the city, visiting Karlstejn Castle. Following our tour of the castle (given by a young woman who sounded as if she was bored sick of guiding tourists) we decided to follow a path marked by a signpost pointing to Beroun, the next station along the line. 13.5 kilometres, it said. Fine, we said. Not having purchased a map, we didn’t know what to expect. The path went up and down all the time – mostly up, it seemed, although we expected to go slightly down overall. Maybe because we began the walk at 1 in the afternoon, or because we only had an apple each and didn’t find a restaurant until near the end of the walk, we found the walk a bit tough. But still, it was doable.

What if you’d asked me to do the whole thing running without stopping? I’d have said no, I can’t. Possibly, if I spent a long time practicing running, I’d be able to do it. That’s just not something I want to do. That’s what Karen means when she talks about doing it by our rules: I’d only be prepared to run those 13.5 kilometres if I could do it without working at it. However, I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t be able to do that run, however hard they worked at it. There are people who wouldn’t be able to do the walk I did. I don’t mean those who are too lazy to do it or just don’t enjoy walking enough to try. I mean those who aren’t physically able to do it. What’s wrong with saying CAN’T in such a case?

Once, I worked with someone who was brilliant at telling stories of things that had happened to him. When he told a story, people would gather round to listen because they knew they’d enjoy it, me included. And I thought, I want to be like that. I enjoy giving presentations, being the centre of attention, and I want that to happen more often.

One time, he talked about his youth, about wild parties that he and his brother held every evening at their house. I thought about my youth, which was so different from his and I realised I could never be like him. I missed out on the experiences that could have made it possible.

There are enough things I struggle to do without trying to do the impossible. I feel better for saying, not that – I CAN’T do it and I’ll never be able to do it.

Since getting interested in the business of getting published, I have discovered several published writers who genuinely want to help other writers to achieve this status. I’m going to mention four of them. There are others.

Tania Hershman has compiled a list of UK & Ireland Lit Mags that Publish Short Stories and often blogs about upcoming short story competitions.

Nicola Morgan has posted lots of helpful advice about writing and getting published.

Sally Zigmond is posting a ‘hands on’ short story tutorial.

Karen Gowen is holding a contest and has something to offer to everyone – published, non-published or reader.

Women? No.

Writers? No.

British? No.

Nice people? I think so.

There’s only one thing I can say about all my readers. You can all read English. You can probably also write it and speak it. And that makes you very lucky.

This fact was brought home to me on my recent short trip to Prague (which was fascinating).

On two occasions I witnessed the problem of being Japanese. In our hotel, we waited patiently while the hotel staff tried to explain to a Japanese couple that they had nothing to pay because their stay had been paid for. I felt like clapping when the penny finally dropped.

In an art shop, where I waited patiently for my artist husband to choose a painting, I decided to help the conversation along:

Japanese Man: Can I pay yen?
Shopkeeper: Can you pay what?
Me: Yens. He wants to pay in yens.
SK: Japanese money?
JM: Japan money.
SK: Oh, I don’t even know … err….
M: The exchange rate?
SK: I don’t even know exchange rate.
JM: Ah. I pay yen?
SK: No. No yen.
JM: Ah. What pay?
SK: Krone or Euro.
JM: Ah.

Aren’t you glad you know English?

Of course, there’s at least one country where it’s hard to get around knowing just English. It’s called Japan.

I don’t know what to do and I’m hoping you can help me. I’ve been with my partner for four years. It’s been wonderful to have him by my side, supporting and encouraging me, urging me on. But recently he hasn’t been around so much. And sometimes we arrange to go out and he cancels at the last minute. I miss his support and encouragement. So I’m thinking of looking for someone else online, either instead of my partner or in addition to him. Is this a good idea?

Actually this is about my writing group. (If my husband is reading this, you can relax now.) I’ve been going to it for four years and it’s been wonderful. Some members have come and gone, while two others and the mentor have stayed. But sometimes people can’t come. Sometimes I can’t come. So we reschedule the meeting or postpone it. When this happens at the last minute, because someone can’t make it and we don’t have the quorum of three members plus the mentor, I get frustrated. The group forces me to write. If we don’t meet, it’s hard to continue. And I want to write more, not less.

I don’t think there is a similar English-speaking writing group in Jerusalem, so I’ve been wondering about online groups. Are they a good idea? How do you find them and how can I find one that suits me? I know I’d miss the social aspect of our fortnightly meeting if I left my group and wonder whether I could manage to belong to both.

Does anyone have any advice? ~Frustrated Writer

My blog stats have been going up and down like a dancing dolly. Not like a yo-yo. Oh no! Because that would be a cliché, which would never do. Besides, that gives me a chance to remember the rhymes and songs my mother used to recite and sing to me.

Dancing Dolly had no sense,
She bought a fiddle for eighteen pence,
And all the tune that she could play
Was ‘Over the hills and far away.’

Daisy, Daisy,
Give me your answer do.
I’m half crazy,
All for the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

I’ve got sixpence.
Jolly, jolly sixpence.
I’ve got sixpence to last me all my life.
I’ve got twopence to spend
And twopence to lend
And twopence to send home to my wife.

There were many more songs that we used to sing together. And on this day, when I’m feeling frustrated because my writing group meeting has yet again been cancelled at the last minute, it’s good to remember my mother as she once was, and to remember that there were happy times in my childhood.

I’ve been to three reunions altogether. Each time I was left with a different feeling, although two of the reunions were mostly with the same people.

The first one was with people from my secondary school. (That’s high school in the US. Maybe even in Britain now – I don’t know.) I spent seven years at that all-girls’ school – from age 11 to age 17 – and when I left I didn’t want any connection with any of those girls. It was that bad. And so it would have remained if it weren’t for the Internet and getting in touch with four lovely women who happened to be former colleagues. These women, via numerous emails, helped me to come to terms with the events of the long-distant past. It wasn’t that I blamed them or any of the girls at school; just that I wanted to block it all out. But, as I’ve said before, I think that was a mistake.

Anyway, the four all invited me to stay in their homes before the reunion, and by the day of the reunion, I wasn’t feeling too nervous about it. The event turned out to be very enjoyable and the best part of it, for me, was that everyone there treated me as a normal person – as opposed to our school years when they didn’t, as I remember. Actually, the hardest part was the conversation between those four and me after the reunion, which foreshadowed the subsequent reunion, but I ignored that and revelled in my feelings about the main event.

My next reunion was at my college of London University. It brought back memories of living in the impressive Victorian building, but not many memories of the students. In fact, in contrast to the people I went to school with, hardly any of the former students were familiar to me – apart from the few I’d kept in contact with. So the reunion was enjoyable but disappointing. I decided to give the next reunion, to be held this month, a miss.

The third reunion, again of my school, left me feeling very different from the way I felt after the first one, despite the fact that most of the participants had been at the first one, and they were all just as pleasant. We sat around a table and remembered our shared past, as one does at reunions. And I realised that we didn’t really share a past. That I didn’t remember the things they remembered, and they didn’t remember the things I remembered. And also, that the things I remembered were things they probably didn’t want to hear. They wanted to talk about the fun times and I didn’t remember any, because I wasn’t part of them.

So, it seems I’ve had my fill of reunions. How about you? From the comments to my previous post, I see I’m not alone.

I think this will be the first of a series of posts about reunions. If you want to say anything about reunions – whether you attend them or avoid them, whether you’ve had good or bad experiences, or anything else – please add your thoughts to the comments section. Thank you.

I’m going to a reunion today.
I think it should be fun.
I’ll see the girl who ran away,
Because she decided to follow the sun.

I’m going to a reunion today.
I think it’ll be amusing.
I’ll see the boy who couldn’t stay,
After he fiddled the wiring and fusing.

I’m going to a reunion today.
I think it will be jolly.
We’ll laugh about ancient Mrs. Gray,
Who never left home without her brolly.

I’m going to a reunion today.
It certainly won’t be dull.
I’ll tell them about my holiday
In Majorca – if there’s a lull.

I went to a reunion today.
That’s all I have to say.