February 2011


A river of stones and a river of tears. Unconnected, or are they?

***

During the month of January, I wrote a small stone every day as part of the River of Stones project. I tried to take notice of details, using all my senses. I think I still have a lot to learn about writing descriptions. Then my mother died and I found it hard to notice the little things amongst all the big things.

I decided my small stones weren’t good enough to submit to the forthcoming anthology and didn’t send any. But then I commented on Cathy Walter’s excellent post about the project and the anthology, and she persuaded me to submit. So Fiona and Kaspa are going to include half of the small stone I posted on 7th January in the anthology. I’m pleased.

Do look at Cathy’s post for more information on the whole project and the anthology in particular.

***

The other river is the one that flowed from my eyes this morning, while I finished reading Sotah by Naomi Ragen. I don’t know if everyone would be so moved by it. It tells the story of a girl trapped in what appears to outsiders as a very oppressive society. It’s a society I don’t know so much about, but one that isn’t completely alien to me.

But really, the novel is about the girl coming to terms with the realisation that the world isn’t perfect, not even the part of the world that she has been taught to believe is perfect.

I think I could find little flaws in this novel if I wanted to. But I don’t want to, because it’s beautiful and I haven’t cried like that for a long time.

***

If there’s a connection between these two rivers, I think it lies in emotions, without which neither would have any significance.

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Nearly two years have passed since I started this blog. In all that time, I’ve hardly mentioned my home town. Not here, anyway. I did write a bit about why I’m here in a guest post on Tania Hershman’s blog.

Why not? I’m not ashamed of it. On the contrary. I am proud of it. Of the whole country and this town in particular. So much has been accomplished, despite attempts to block all achievements – from without and within.

I haven’t written about it, because where I live is not one of the two themes of this blog: writing and social anxiety. And because it’s not a neutral place, to put it mildly. It’s a place that arouses emotions. In the present climate, those emotions are often hostile and I don’t want to deal with them. My main reasons for being here are personal, and I’m not equipped to take on the rest of the world.

One of the things I’m proud of is the biennial Jerusalem International Book Fair, which has been held since 1963. This year, I did something there I haven’t done before: I attended some author interviews. They were fascinating. I don’t know why I haven’t done that before. These are the ones I heard:

  • Aaron Appelfeld: an Israeli author who survived the Holocaust as a young boy, separated from his parents. What I took away from the interview is what literature is not. I can’t remember all the list, but I remember the last item: literature is not politics. That doesn’t mean you can’t write about politics, he said, but you can’t use it as an outlet for your political views.
  • Robert Cohen, from Canada. He spoke very well and held my interest all the time. As I listened to all these authors, I wondered whether I could ever become an author in modern times. I can see myself doing readings and presentations. But interviews?
  • Marina Nemat: a Canadian originally from Iran. Wow! That was some interview.  The audience was riveted by her story and the way she told it, starting at the end: certain people used strong language to try to dissuade her from attending the book fair, but she came anyway. She doesn’t do boycotts.
  • Guy-Philippe Goldstein, from France, discussed cyber warfare. Software put Iran’s nuclear programme back by five years. What if organisations with sinister motives could do this? I suppose we have to read his book, Babel Minute Zéro, to discover his prediction.
  • Oren Nahari, an expert in Japan, told us a lot about Japan and the Japanese, starting with his meeting with the emperor of Japan.
  • Dr Yohanan Grinshpon, told some stories from India – stories in which abstract ideas become physical objects and real objects and people can be made from thoughts. I found the stories fascinating, as a person and as a writer.

So, how did you spend your morning? I followed a link in an email and downloaded a free e-book by Fiona Robyn. I found it very interesting. It got me thinking about many things. In particular, about why I write.

Yes, I enjoy writing. I enjoy playing with words. I think I do it well – sometimes. More than anything, I write because it’s the only way I know of communicating my thoughts and feelings; the only way I can show people that I have something to say, that I’m not the dull, boring halfwit I appear to be from the outside.



Why do you write? Or why don’t you?

I recently read DJ Kirkby’s memoir From Zaftig to Aspie. It is no longer available to buy. The reason for that is the same as the only thing I disliked about the book – the mistakes. So I’m not going to write a review. I’ll just mention the things that stuck out, for me.

I was expecting more about what it’s like to have Asperger’s syndrome. There was certainly something of that, but a lot more about DJ’s unusual upbringing. I wasn’t disappointed, just surprised.

After describing her first smoke, DJ writes, “Thus began a love affair which was to continue for the next twenty years and that still tries to lure me into its poisonous rapture eight years after the last puff left my lungs.” I’ve never smoked, but I think that’s pretty normal. People who enjoy smoking don’t usually grow to hate cigarettes after they give up the habit. Their craving is always there in the background.

That reminds me of a BBC article about stammering that I read recently. In it, a successful headmaster who used to stammer says, “I don’t think any stammerer ever loses the fear.”

I think that’s a very interesting statement, not least because I think the same is true of social anxiety. In my view, no one is ever completely cured of social anxiety. Certainly, people I’ve met who claim they no longer suffer from the disorder don’t appear that way to me. Some so-called former sufferers might learn to present a confident façade, but the thoughts associated with social anxiety never go away. I don’t see that as a loser’s attitude. On the contrary. It means I don’t have to perform the seemingly impossible feat of crushing those anxiety-inducing thoughts. I have to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” to say what I have to say despite the thoughts.

The other thing that struck me in From Zaftig to Aspie was the similarities between Asperger’s and social anxiety. Despite the obvious difference – that people with Asperger’s often fail to understand the feelings of others, while those with social anxiety take too much notice of them – there are some similar consequences: a lack of communication skills, difficulties in recognising faces.

So this memoir has caused me to reflect on various issues. I might write more about those issues in future posts.

Note: I wrote this post yesterday. Today, after receiving that news over to the right, I’m feeling much better.

Recently, I wrote a post entitled Guilt. It was about guilt in Nicola Morgan’s YA novel, Wasted, and the way it spawns dangerous behaviour in one of the main characters. This current post is more personal, and it’s also influenced partly by Nicola Morgan. This time it’s her post about emotions and writing. She writes about events that can render a writer temporarily incapable of writing, especially fiction writing. She mentions emotions that stump creativity.

By chance, that post appeared exactly two weeks after my mother passed away, an event that caused emotions in me, although not the ones you might expect.

People, when they heard the news, started to talk to me or send me messages. They all said one thing: you must be feeling so sad. I said thank you and felt awful because I didn’t feel sad. And, because I didn’t feel what everyone expected me to feel, I thought there must be something wrong with me. It took me some time to work out the truth.

My mother was 98 and had suffered from dementia for at least five years. I felt sad five years ago when I realised I no longer had a mother I could consult with or converse with. I lost my mother five years ago, when nobody said how sorry they were. Working that out made me feel better but didn’t completely wipe out the guilt, because there were other reasons for it.

My mother and I were never close. I never shared my life with her, neither events nor feelings, especially as a child. There was a reason for that. She was over-protective of me. She worried so much about the little things that I felt I couldn’t tell her about the big things. In particular, I never told her that I was bullied at school. I wanted to protect her from further worry and also felt that telling her wouldn’t help me and could make things worse for me. I don’t know how much that was true. By not sharing, I drew a wedge between us that remained to the end.

When, late in her life, a suggestion was made of looking for a home for my mother near to where I live, I made enquiries and decided against it. I won’t go into my reasons for that here. They relate back to a way in which my mother made my childhood very difficult for me, although she didn’t intend that at all. The decision not to have her near me put more of a burden on someone else; perhaps that was wrong of me.

So, although I’ve found logical reasons why I don’t feel as sad now as people expect, I still have reasons to feel guilty where my mother is concerned.

Do feel free to comment on this post, whether you think I should be feeling guilty or not. I wrote it to let out my emotions and (hopefully) free my creative tubes.

30/1/11

A calm walk by the river past bobbing boats and a riverside pub.
I’ll remember that in my riverless hometown.

31/1/11

Some flights are boring.
Others are not.
The difference is caused by the person sitting next to me.
If only I had the confidence to take the initiative….