some thoughts on life and happiness..

I've not posted here in a while - first I was writing some of my novel and haiku, then I was only writing haiku, and then I found myself not writing as often, and it's a slippery slope!

It's been a funny few weeks here, though of course by funny I mean far from funny. A number of events have conspired to give me a very pressing, very real, spiritual kick of awakening.

Firstly I learnt of the death of a friend and colleague, Bill, who knew of his cancer only two weeks before he passed. We'd been planning to meet for lunch for a few months, and the daily grind of work, in addition to my current lack of planning and control, had conspired to keep our conversations to brief "Hellos" as we passed each other in corridors and hallways. The lost opportunities to connect, and the sharp reminder of the transience of life, have prompted me to really re-visit my priorities, and the urgency with which I strive towards the goals I determine.

Secondly, a number of events occurred that really brought home how much I've been treading water for the past year. The combined stresses of my own poor health, my growing unease and feeling of entrapment and the ever-present concern brought on by my wife's long-term illness really came home to roost, and made me realise that the status quo is nether sustainable nor is it tolerable.

Thirdly, Iain M Banks, one of my favourite authors, and a real creative inspiration, lost his battle with cancer. This hit me pretty hard, especially coming when I was still in shock at the suddenness of Bill's passing.

Fourthly, I learnt that large numbers of my friends and colleagues might be losing their jobs, but that I have been 'slotted in place' - which means I have the twin anguish of not having the opportunity to take redundancy (which would have gone a long, long way to supporting my dealing with the second area above), and I get to watch friends lose their jobs unwillingly. 

Finally, I learnt this week that a family member might have pancreatic cancer. While this will affect their immediate family far more than I, in practical terms, it's yet another prompt that quality of life must take priority over materialism.

 

What does this mean, beyond the usual bouts of self-pity, and genuine emotional upset..?

I don't yet know - all I do know is that the status quo must change, and I need to find my way to a healthier and happier future. This realisation itself, I believe, I hope, is a significant first step on that journey.

Some additional steps on this journey that I've already decided on include:

- Better management of the time and energy I allow to be consumed by work. I can't afford to quit at the moment but, even more importantly, I cannot afford to allow the trap to continue to be self-reinforcing..

- Re-booting my meditation practice, and attempting to make it part of my daily routine. I've allowed this sustaining and nourishing practice to fall into disrepair, and even more so, to become a source of guilt for not making the time to fit it into my schedule...

- Writing more - this means more work on my writing projects, more haiku and more blogging. I see writing as one of the most viable avenues I can use to forge a happier future for myself - even if it doesn't provide an actual income I hope it will provide spiritual, mental and emotional succour.

- Not over-extending myself. While there are lots of other things I'd like to be doing, such as learning to design and develop mobile apps, and learning to play the piano, and to learn more languages, and to re-start my martial arts practice, and... and... I realise that right now I need deeper changes, rather than just more distractions from my current spiritual malaise...

Memories of I.M.B.

Recently Iain Banks announced that he was suffering from terminal cancer, following which a group of his fans set up a site for people to share their feelings and thoughts. You can find Iain's announcement and the guestbook here: http://friends.banksophilia.com/ 

As Iain had made such an impression on me as both a reader and an aspiring writer, I wanted to say thank you for his work and his life. I've included a version of this below, adjusted to the third-person.

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Every so often there appears an author who has a singular impact on you. The reasons can vary - it can be a topic that hits home, or characters that you can relate to, or the sheer excellence of the writing. 

For me, that author has been Iain (M) Banks. 

I still remember the first book that I read of Iain's - Consider Phlebas - and the subtlety, care and insight in the writing that struck me in a way that the novels of few other authors have done before, or since. I moved on from that first novel, reading through many of his other works, and I've continued to be struck with the care and insight to his writing that I've never encountered elsewhere - at least never across such a diverse and prolific canon. 

While Iain's literary fiction has always enthralled me with the strength of the characters and mesmerising narratives, Crow Road in particular, his science fiction writing is what has always stuck with me, in particular the focus on The Culture. This does something that I've only seen in genuinely original and insightful science fiction - it imagines a state that, in part at least, we can aspire to, it acts as a beacon of hope that we can imagine our way towards a better future. Without such inspiration our way forward as individuals, and as society, could all too easily end up being charted only by politicians and businesses, and as such we owe Iain, and those like him, a debt of gratitude for sharing their views of a different, better future.

I remember also a visit to the York branch of Waterstones many years ago, where Iain was giving a reading from his latest novel, and a general talk about his life and work. I remember the dry sense of humour, self-deprecation and integrity as a writer. I also remember Iain's kindness to a young man, and aspiring writer, standing at the end of a line of fans, with two carrier bags full of your books to sign, along with a copy of the latest novel. His patience and kind words as he signed those piles of books have long resonated with me, and stand with me still as testimony to his integrity and compassion, both as a writer and as a man.

Iain, you will be missed, but your memory will live on through your work, and the people it inspires to think of what more could be.

triptych

We're having a little fun over at App.Net, arranging a little global secret santa (#adnsecretsanta - sign up *very* soon or it will be too late - last day today), and I wanted to contribute something - hence the following triptych of haiku..
I hope you enjoy..
D

with a festive heart,
I put the finishing touch,
on a special gift..

though separated,
by many miles, behold,
my gift now given

unwrapping slowly,
the mystery awaits you,
a pleasant surprise

acknowledging defeat, acknowledging victory...

Well, running at a shade under 17,500 words as at the 19th November I have to acknowledge that I'm not going to 'win' nanowrimo this year.

But I've won in more important, more fundamental ways.. I've won because those 17,500 words are the first of many - they have reminded me that I can still write prose..  Badly written prose perhaps, with an awful lot of polishing and re-drafting to come, but still, I am confident that by the end of this process, however long it takes, I will have written, and published, a novel. It's a confidence that I've not had in many, many years...

It's also, I hope, broken me of a bad habit that has consigned many 1/2-decent ideas to the bin - the need to re-draft the first chapter before the last is written (and, indeed, usually before the second is even started...).

The idea of writing to the end before you get too self-critical is hugely powerful, and it's taken this exercise to remind me of the fact..

While I'm not going to stop writing the novel, in acknowledging that I won't complete it before the end of November, I am going to be able to find more balance with the maelstrom that is my life. This in turn means that the journey ahead will be more sustainable. I have a lot to re-learn about the craft of writing, but I am now confident that I will, one day, be an author as well as a poet...

Thank you nanowrimo, for giving me back my faith.

day ten

Well, it's been a tough old week - work has been ridiculously busy, and the words have been slower appearing than I hoped - though some of that has been down to some Civilisation V distractions (won - took off to Alpha Centauri for a science victory earlier today). I'm up to 8502 words after a few slow days, a day off yesterday and having just sat down to begin today..  At the current rate I'm due to finish on December 28th (slightly skewed by not having written anything yet today!).

What I have been finding is that while what I've been writing is far, FAR, from a finished article so far (dialogue re-write and more vivid descriptions are the least of the things I'll be looking at in version 0.2) I am writing words, and given that it's been so long since I wrote prose, I'm pretty pleased.

Also, given the amount of stress I'm under at the moment, for all sorts of reasons, the act of writing mindfully has been a real release.

*fingers crossed* I'll manage to make up those 28 days...!