February 2013


I’ve been working on a personal essay with my writing group. At the beginning of the year, I submitted fictional stories for them to critique, but after reading personal essays by other members, I decided to try my hand at one, too.

My essay discusses how I became aware of social anxiety and the effect that awareness has had on me. Naturally, it also describes my childhood, explaining how I caught social anxiety in the first place. So far, I have submitted the essay twice. Each time, the members and the mentor said they wanted to know more. They wanted more examples, more explanations, more dialogue. So I’m still working on it and the essay is growing.

One man asked me a question after the last meeting. “I’ve heard stories about difficult childhoods before,” he said. “I always wonder why the people can’t just forget what happened and move on.”

An elephant never forgets. Should we?

An elephant never forgets. Should we?

I stood there transfixed, not knowing what to say. I wasn’t hurt by the question; I knew he’d asked it because he wanted to understand. The truth is that there are many answers and someone was waiting to give me a lift home. But even if I’d had all the time in the world, I wouldn’t have been able to respond because… well… I have social anxiety. I don’t know how to think up responses on the spot.

“I suppose it’s easier said than done,” he said.

“Yes,” I replied, escaping with my lift-giver.

While editing my essay, I’ve been thinking about how I should have responded. How I could respond in writing. How I’m going to respond right here on my personal blog.

I tried to do exactly what my fellow writer suggested. When I left school, I tried to put all the nasty experiences behind me and start again as if they had never happened. But they did happen. They shaped the person I became. Ignoring them meant that I had less to talk about, because a big part of me was buried along with them. This was true even on the basic level: when anyone mentioned childhood experiences, I couldn’t join in with mine.

Today, I read an interesting blog post that tackles these issues.

You can’t shut out your own misfortunes because you need to piece together the reasons it happened, in order to communicate that to yourself and others.

says Joe Warnimont in the post.

There are other, less personal reasons why I want to write about these things. But I think I’ve written enough for one blog post. I’ll continue this another time, maybe tomorrow.

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A picture prompt this time:

Here’s my attempt:

Looking for a key

“What’s the name of this long-lost-third-cousin-twice-removed you want me to look for?”

“John Smith.”

“How am I going to find a John Smith?”

“I don’t know. That’s your job. I thought you could look up all the John Smiths in the country and ask them if their mother was called Susan.”

“Do you know how many John Smiths there are in this country? It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“Please don’t say that.”

“Because it’s important for you?”

“No, because I’m not allowed to write clichés.”

“OK. It’s like looking for a key in a grass field.”

Click to join in the fun

I hadn’t been to Eilat for a long time. It’s down in the very south of the country, on the Red Sea, about four hours’ drive from Jerusalem.

We couldn’t see everything in two half-days, but we saw quite a lot, starting with the dolphin reef.

Eilat: Dolphin Reef

Eilat: Dolphin Reef

We also saw saw flamingoes and other birds, the botanical gardens,

Eilat: Botanical Gardens

Eilat: Botanical Gardens

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Eilat: Botanical Gardens

Eilat: Botanical Gardens

Eilat: Botanical Gardens

Eilat: Botanical Gardens

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and the new skating rink.

We also tried to go out on a boat, but there wasn’t one sailing just then. Maybe next time.

The first thing I noticed was the youngish man who stood up and said, “I’ll tell the driver.”

Tell the driver? Was he crazy? He sounded like the old woman the other day who called out “Rega!” as she made for the open door, causing me to smile. Rega, literally moment, is what an Israeli passenger calls to the bus driver to warn him not to close the door because the passenger wants to get off. Despite eighteen months of living with the light railway, Jerusalemites are still not completely used to this mode of transport. Some of them, for instance, still think they should be able to buy the ticket on the train.

But this man, it turned out, wasn’t crazy. He knocked on the glass that separated our front carriage from the driver’s compartment. When the driver turned round, the man spoke to him.

“Someone’s dropped a Rav Kav between the train and the platform. I’ll try and get it. Don’t move the train.” A Rav Kav, I should explain, is Jerusalem’s version of London’s Oyster card. You can fill it up and use it to travel on trains and buses within the city.

The man reached down, retrieved the card and handed it to the grateful old man who had dropped it. The younger man returned to his seat and the older man touched his card on the machine and sat down, too. The train doors closed and the train pulled away from the station. I glanced at my watch. Almost one o’clock. A popular time for old people to travel, I thought, looking around.

Suddenly an old man with a knitted yarmulke stood up. There is a dress code here as far as men’s headgear goes. A knitted yarmulke means orthodox. A black one means more orthodox. A black hat  means ultra-orthodox. The old man with the knitted yarmulke said, “I lost my Rav Kav.” He took a pile of papers out of his pocket and started to go through them.

Another old man, with white curly hair and no yarmulke, said, “So it’s yours?”

There followed a convoluted conversation between Knitted Yarmulke and No Yarmulke, during which each tried to make sense of the other’s words. All the while Knitted Yarmulke went through the same pile of papers over and over, opening and refolding pages of newspaper and searching inside a wallet.

“Was it a Rav Kav?”

“What?”

“What sort of card did you lose?”

“A card for the train.”

“A single ticket or a whole card?”

“A card – a Rav Kav.”

“Someone over there found a Rav Kav. Maybe it’s yours.”

Knitted Yarmulke went to ask. “I heard someone found a Rav Kav and I just lost one. Maybe it’s mine.”

“No,” said the lucky old man whose Rav Kav had been retrieved for him by the younger man. “I dropped my Rav Kav and this man picked it up for me. But it’s mine, I promise.”

“I believe you. I’m not accusing you.”

They parted amicably and Knitted Yarmulke returned to his seat minus a Rav Kav.

“You can get another one,” said No Yarmulke.

“I know, I’ve lost it before,” said Knitted Yarmulke. “But I’m going home now, in the other direction.”

“Right, but another time you can buy a single ticket and go to get a new Rav Kav.”

“Right.”

I was glad that was all finally cleared up.

I’m… like… confused about why… like…  people… like… like, if you… like… know what I mean.

Facebook is the mother of likes, I think. It has many objects you can like. Posts, comments, pages, photos. In WordPress, you can like blog posts.

But why? Why does anyone like anything? Possibly you:

  • Just want to show you like the object.
  • Want to show you agree with the object.
  • Don’t have anything particular to say about the obect.
  • Are to lazy to say anything about the object.
  • Don’t particularly like the object but want to encourage the person who created or posted it. Saying, “This is awesome!” would be going too far, but one click of a like… well, that’s OK if it makes someone feel good.

While these can all be valid reasons, surely when you click that four-letter word you’re aware that you’ve made yourself  visible to a lot of people, some of whom might know you or know of you, but most of whom will not. Surely you’re aware of the possibility that some people might want to know more about this person who clicked this button.

In WordPress, in order to like a post you need to have defined a gravatar. I have no idea why it works in this way, but it does. A gravatar is a sort of profile. It tells people things about you. In particular, when you define your gravatar, or when you edit it, you can add links to it. You can direct people to your blog, Facebook page, Twitter profile or whatever you like.

And this leads to the reason why I’m confused.

Confused

Of the (currently) five people who liked my last post, only one has any link at all on their gravatar. And that one contains two links that no longer exist and no link to the author’s blog, although I know he has one.

And I ask myself

WhySurely most people who press like, especially on a blog post that is usually viewed by other bloggers, are interested in publicity. Surely they want new followers and are keen for others to find them.

So why don’t they all update their gravatars and include links to their blogs/websites/social media profiles? Perhaps they:

  • Don’t know how to.
  • Can’t remember their password.
  • Can’t be bothered.
  • Other (please state).

Those problems can be solved. I think it’s important to solve them. Don’t you?

Or not.

What a powerful video this is. I love the message:

Don’t fake it ’til you make it.

Fake it ’til you become it.

With thanks to David Allen for brightening up my Thursday.

I’d always thought not much happens in my home town as far as literary events go, but this month has been quite a revelation.

First, there was the excellent two-day seminar I wrote about here.

Then there was the Kisufim Writers’ Conference, of which I attended one session, a discussion about memory in literature.

And now, there’s the biennial International Book Fair, which I attended yesterday and where I heard three interesting talks/discussions. The first was a discussion of the works of the Israeli author, Leah Goldberg. The second was a talk by an Israeli author whose name I didn’t catch. I enjoyed hearing about his path to becoming an author and why he writes what he writes. “I don’t know why,” he said several times, but that didn’t stop him from saying plenty on the subject.

Thirdly, in a large, packed hall that I was lucky to get into as many were turned away, I heard the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks. He is an excellent speaker. He kept the audience enthralled with anecdotes, while holding on to his message: not assimilation and not segregation. We have something to give to the world and can do it proudly.

What did this have to do with literature? Lord Sacks has written fifteen books. At least, I think that’s what they said, although here I see he’s written twenty-four. That’s quite an achievement!

So it seems Jerusalem isn’t such a literary backwater after all.

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