May 2013


I’m going to tell you about someone I haven’t seen for a few years. I sincerely hope he’s all right and in a better place than he was when I knew him. I’ll call him A.

One of the strange things about attending a large dancing group is that you can know people very well by sight and have no idea what they’re like. Often, you don’t even know what their voices sound like.

FolkDancing2011A stuck out. He was tall and usually danced at the centre in circle dances. I was in awe of him because he knew all the dances so well. One thing I noticed about him was that he danced in a lazy sort of way, not moving his body as much as he could.

Then there was a trip. This isn’t usual, but there were reasons I won’t go into why any of the dancers who wanted could join this free trip to a water park. In the coach on the way back, the instructor discovered I came from England and he introduced me to A who also came from England.

In answer to my questions, A told me which town he come from and what he did for a living. Each of his responses consisted of one word and he didn’t ask me anything. I said, “You know all the dances really well,” to which he replied, “Yes.” And I, being me, soon ran out of questions and decided he didn’t want to talk to me at all.

After that, when I saw him at a dancing session, we exchanged hellos and nothing else. But I took more notice of him. He didn’t talk much to anyone, but I noticed he often gave a lift home to one girl.

One time I saw the girl outside the hall and asked her if she was able to talk to A on the way home.

“He doesn’t talk,” she said. “But I keep talking and telling him about myself. I don’t know if he’s interested or not.” Maybe it was the look on my face that caused her to add, “You don’t have to feel sorry for him. It’s his own choice whether to talk or not.”

I was so shocked by her opinion that I didn’t respond. I should have said, “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone chooses to be like that permanently.”

Maybe, like me, he chose to keep quiet for a while, to avoid being bullied, and wasn’t able to resume talking after the threat had passed. Maybe he was always shy. But to choose to live like that? I don’t think so. And it upsets me to think that’s what others think of people who don’t open up.

A stopped going to folk dancing. I think about him sometimes and wonder how he is. I hope he’s all right.

Advertisements

Catdownunder, in her blog post today, talks about the brain and our lack of knowledge of it. She ends her post:

And perhaps that is one reason why living things are so interesting and why we have so many people interested in trying to find out more. It is because we do not know – and that can be the most interesting thing of all.

In Israel, today, a lot of people want to understand how a man can walk into a bank and kill four innocent people and injure others – all because he couldn’t withdraw money from his account, which was 6,000 shekels overdrawn – not much at all.

Clearly, there was more to it than that. It seems he’d sunk into depression since being dismissed from his job as security officer ten years ago. He was dismissed because of poor relations with his colleagues (but, surprisingly, allowed to keep his gun). Neighbours described him as a loner. Of course.

***

I have to file this post under “Everyday life in Israel.” I started that category because I wanted to write about everyday life rather than the violence you hear about on the news. But this crime is far from usual. It’s the sort of crime we hear about in the US or elsewhere. Not here in Israel. We don’t do that sort of thing.

And that’s why ordinary people in Israel are shocked today. To think that even here there are people who are capable of shooting innocent bystanders for such an apparently trivial “reason,” or for any reason at all.

One more thing I have to say: There are many loners in the world. There are many people who suffer from depression. Very, very few of them could even contemplate committing a crime like this.

Path up to the monastery

Path up to the monastery

In quaint but comprehensible English, the leaflet from the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery provides a lot of information. The main building, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple, contains over 12,800 Buddha statues as well as the lacquered and gold-coated body of the founder, Reverend Yuet Kai. There are several other temples and pavilions.

Path up to monastery

Path up to monastery

What it doesn’t say is how many steps you have to climb to get there. No, I didn’t count them, but there were many. Fortunately, we found plenty to look at on the way, and much more when we arrived at the top.

Outside the temples

Outside the temples

.

.

.

.

.

Yuet Kai not only climbed the steps, but between the ages of about 71 and 79, he carried building materials up the mountain together with his disciples.

“Opening hours,” says the leaflet. “9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m everyday (except the heavy raining day or with over typhoon signal No. 8 or above is hanged)”

Outside the temples

Outside the temples

It rained the day we were there, but fortunately not heavily enough to close the monastery.

Outside the temples

Outside the temples

After visiting all the fascinating temples, we decided to eat in the small, vegetarian restaurant. We’d read the menu and fancied the spring rolls. I don’t know whether it was because not all the items on the menu were available or because the two women serving didn’t speak a lot of English, but we didn’t get our spring rolls. However the soup, noodles and tea were very tasty. The two women kept filling up our bowls and cups, and stood laughing at us as we ate. It was a little off-putting, but we took it in our stride and smiled back.

Outside the temples

Outside the temples

We didn’t believe this notice.

Monkey business

Monkey business

We also didn’t believe the young people from eastern Europe who told us to beware of the large monkey. After all, we’d climbed up those very steps and hadn’t seen any monkeys. But on the way down, there they were.

Monkeys

Monkeys

Fortunately they were too busy nit-picking to attack us.

I should have known. When D and I go away together, we go walking. Hiking. Along undulating country paths, and boy do they undulate in Hong Kong.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy walking. I enjoy the views and the country air and the exercise. Much better than the crowds and the pollution of the city. It’s just that sometimes, when D has sprinted to the top of a steep hill and I’m still struggling at the bottom, I feel a bit deflated. But when I finally reach the top, my high spirits return.

Sai Wan Shan

Sai Wan Shan

And some of the time we worried about the threatened thunderstorms. We experienced one of those on our first evening – from inside an underground train station. It certainly wouldn’t be pleasant to be caught in one of those with no protection around, but fortunately we weren’t.

We saw some magnificent views, but the one that interested me the most shows the countryside and the city on a misty day.

Shek O National Park

Shek O National Park

Shek O National Park

Shek O National Park

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

We walked through a fishing village with ramshackle houses and TV aerials and air conditioning.

Tao O fishing village

Tao O fishing village

We were fascinated by the myriad of fish shops, but didn’t feel tempted to buy any. We passed restaurants full of people eating tasty-looking meals, but were put off by Chinese-only menus and waiters who didn’t speak English. We felt more comfortable eating in the city, where English is spoken and written.

Back in the city, we marvelled at Kowloon Park with its birds, waterfalls, heritage museum, totem pole,

Flamingos in Kowloon Park

Flamingos in Kowloon Park

Totem Pole in Kowloon Park

Totem Pole in Kowloon Park

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

and much more. We enjoyed watching groups of little children in their colourful raincoats.

Kowloon Park

Kowloon Park

And there was more climbing in the form of steps leading to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, which deserves a post of its own.

Chinese White Dolphins

Chinese White Dolphins

Yesterday I blogged about my week in Hong Kong. Later I took the post down because I was told it sounded negative. That’s not what I intended at all. I had a lovely time there. So I will rewrite the post and attempt to make it sound as I feel. When I have time.

I Love HK

I’m so glad I decided to write these posts about memoir writing. I learned so much from them – first while writing them, looking up information and organising my thoughts, and then from the lovely comments, which enriched my knowledge and provided much encouragement.

As promised, I have summarised below what I learned from this challenge.

A is for Are you sitting comfortably

Out of the many lovely, encouraging comments, I chose this one:

“Memory is the grist to our mill as writers.” David Rory

B is for Beginnings

“Just as with writing a novel you can begin at a dramatic or crucially important point in your life and then go back later to show what led up to that point. Look at the way other memoir writers have done it, but then decide what you feel is right for you.” Jean Davison

C is for Craft

Angela Brown and Rosalind Adam added to my list of qualities needed to write a memoir, making:

  • Memory
  • Detachment
  • Insight into the past
  • Story-telling
  • Humour
  • Ability to draw the reader in
  • Order
  • Logic
  • Understanding
  • Perseverance
  • Honesty
  • Self-belief

Nick Wilford gave me some great advice on writing the memoir:

“How about placing a memoir in a historical context, of what was happening at the time; even if the author was not directly involved in those events it helps to build atmosphere.”

D is for Detachment

“I actually wrote a journal for a while in third person, which made me detach myself from everyday experiences, I learnt a lot from doing that.” chicaderock

“I found it easier to gain a healthy detachment when doing the editing rather than the first draft…. I think my early drafts were a necessary part of the process, and then when I was ready to put on my editing hat, I was better able to step back and decide how to shape the material.” Jean Davison

E is for Empathy

There seems to be a new sort of spam comment, which can appear to be a real comment because it pastes a sentence or two on the subject of the post. I think that’s what this is, because it seems to be part of a sentence and because the website in the link no longer exists (although searching for the string didn’t bring up any results):

“empathy is yes, in the details. Not the telling.”

Nevertheless it makes an important point. The details create empathy: the quiver in his voice, the stain on her dress, the empty glass.

F is for Feelings

“If… you don’t know what your feelings were then ‘sad’, ‘confused’ or even ‘emotionless’ are still appropriate adjectives.” Ann

“I think that the writing itself does generate feelings…. My experience is that when I write about something difficult in the past, there can be two results: either I become depressed and stuck (cause I haven’t really worked through this thing yet) – in which case I wouldn’t let anybody else read it – or I write myself to a better place.” Krina

“I think the fact that you felt you had to suppress and block out your feelings speaks volumes in itself, if you can get that feeling across to your readers.” Gill Downs

“Extracting feelings can be a tricky task. I’ve found that the best way to recall the feelings or emotions from a particular time, free writing worked well. No standards of what to expect when I wrote, simply me, a pen, a piece of paper, or three, and the release of the scene in all its horrible grammatical glory.” ~Angela Brown

H is for Humour

“Humor is so important! It’s not fair to just be intense and not allow the reader a chance to catch their breath.” AJ

I is for Insight

“When writing my memoir, sometimes I had to ask myself, could I be certain that my memories of how I felt about an incident then weren’t getting mixed up with how I feel about it now? Not always easy (though my old diaries helped a lot). I suppose this is where insight is linked to detachment, truth, memory and other aspects of memoir writing.” Jean Davison

J is for Journey

As everyone remarked, our whole life is a journey and so is the writing of it. What wasn’t said here, but was said in other posts in different ways, is that they’re not return (round trip) journeys. For better or for worse, there is no passage back to the place we were before.

L is for List of good memoirs

Nagzilla, catdownunder and David Rory added to my list to make:

  • Frank McCourt: Angela’s Ashes
  • Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle
  • Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love
  • Alice Kaplan: French Lessons: A Memoir
  • Stephen King: On Writing
  • Barack Obama: Dreams from My Father
  • Jean Davison: The Dark Threads
  • Reva Mann: The Rabbi’s Daughter
  • John Grogan: Marley & Me
  • Jo Carroll: Hidden Tiger Raging Mountain (a travel memoir)
  • Jenny Lawson: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
  • A B Facey: A Fortunate Life
  • John Steinbeck: Journal of a Novel

M is for Memoir

The comments reflected the confusion about what a memoir is. It’s usually a part of a life as opposed to a whole-life autobiography. Some commenters also think a memoir gives the reader more freedom. As Pete Denton wrote:

“I think biographies are sometime very factual whereas a memoir is perhaps more open to creative license.

“When we were doing assignments in life writing we were encouraged to add details that were not necessarily true, but more artistic license. Paint the picture more like a story rather than be biographical.”

N is for Narrative voice

“I know that fiction is somewhat different but one does have to deal with the narrative voice in similar ways. I face these problems when I have to change from descriptive background or scene setting to present tense narrative of intimate moments or character building.
“The clunk danger is always there, too.
“I think one has to give the reader some credit for knowing what you are doing and allowing for these transitions. Most readers are able to sense how the writer is using their narrative and will be complicit in the style one chooses. They will do as theatre audiences do; they will suspend their disbelief if one carries them along in a well-paced narrative flow.
“I guess I’m saying, one can over think this process. The craft shouldn’t intrude; the art is in the hiding of the crafting. The narrator should be the reader’s friend and guide but should never bully or prod with too much crafting made visible.” David Rory

O is for Organisation

“I chose mainly chronological order starting with the point of entry into the mental health system and beginning of treatment, as this led into the main theme around which the book was focused. Later, I used some flashbacks to fill in background details about childhood and of what led up to going into hospital. I felt this worked best for what I was trying to do.” Jean Davison

P is for Proust

Royal Holloway Girl added to my list of Proust quotes:

“I think one of the most relevant things that he says (it isn’t clear how autobiographical his writing is) is how things in later life take you back to a certain point in earlier life.”

R is for Reunions for Reflective Research

Jean Davison, Royal Holloway Girl, Linda, Ann, Su-sieee! Mac, and Rachael ‘Honest’ Blair all commented on my reunion question, mostly advising not mentioning the memoir at first. Just finding things out from general chatter and leaving the memoir to emails later on. The general chatter part is harder for me than they probably realise, so I’m not sure about trying to follow this advice, but I’ll consider it.

S is for Secrets

“When I was working with kids we worked hard to help them understand that there’s a difference between ‘good secrets’ (what you’ve buying your mum for her birthday – I was rubbish at keeping those) and ‘bad secrets’ (anything that makes you uncomfortable, frightened, etc. – and most children keep these, regrettably.)

“As an adult, I’d also distinguish between things that are secret (because someone would be hurt if it were disclosed) and those that are private (anything I choose to keep to myself for my own reasons, but don’t hurt anyone.)” Jo Carroll

T is for Title, Topic, Theme and Takeaways

“Themes are also important because they help you in the marketing process. Check out the series of guest posts that I’ve got on the topic of Themes and Premise.” My Rite of Passage

W is for Why? And Wearing White

“Songs do and did often speak directly to me. When writing my memoir I put in song lyrics which spoke to me about what I was going through at the time. Sometimes a song wasn’t exactly meant to be about those things but for me it fit well with my thoughts, feelings and the events I was experiencing. But when my memoir was accepted for publication I had to take the lyrics out because it was either too hard, or too expensive, to get the copyright permissions.” Jean Davison

X is for X-ray

“This is something that needs careful thought. Are we ready for the exposure? Do we want it? Why? I think it’s important to examine our motives for writing, or more importantly for seeking publication of, a memoir before going ahead and trying for publication.” Jean Davison

–0–

During the challenge, I visited several blogs whose authors were also doing the challenge, and read about song lyrics, recipes, animals, life in a Spanish village and more. I wish I’d had time to visit more blogs.

A huge thank you to everyone who commented here. You encouraged me to continue and taught me so much. Hopefully, this will lead to something like this:

My Memoir

But hopefully with a more exciting title and cover!

This was one of the rhymes I used to recite to my children:

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

So what did those little green messages mean in my posts this past week? And how dare I be only partly present for the last week of the A-Z Challenge?

Well, sorry about that, but it just worked out that D and I spent the week in Hong Kong and we loved every minute of it.

I will write more about this experience, but I’ll start with the weather. We left Jerusalem in unseasonably cold and wet weather and returned to typically hot summer weather. We missed Lag B’Omer, the bonfire-lighting festival, but as our children are now grown up we wouldn’t have participated anyway. Most of the country did, of course, and unfortunately, due to hot weather and strong winds, several fires got out of hand.

Hong Kong, as expected, was hot and humid, although the evenings were quite cool. At the end of our first day, the heavens opened for one of the famous thunderstorms. Fortunately we were just about to exit from an underground station. We waited until the rain subsided and then hurried into a shopping centre. The next day, rain was intermittent, but after that there was no rain to speak of until we were safely back at Hong Kong airport, where we watched the downpour through a glass wall and through a window of the plane.

So we were lucky with the weather, especially considering what we did. Can you guess what that was? I’ll tell you about it tomorrow or the next day. And I haven’t forgotten my A-Z summary post.