Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twenty

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twenty

DSCI0082 DSCI0079Day Twenty

Angel lights and angel chimes

The putting up of the Christmas decorations is my cue to get out my collection of angel lights, and also the angel chimes. Angel lights are little metal whirligigs that hold a candle; the heat from the flame rises and sets the thing spinning. I have five or six, all with slightly different pendant themes; some have angels, some have deer, some have stars. When they spin they create patterns of light and swirling shadows in a darkened room. It’s a simple, magical thing that brings me great pleasure.

I wrote a short Christmas tale about an angel light that you can read here.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Eleven

Day Eleven

Getting greetings from old friends

The traditional Christmas card is a strange thing. I send fewer than I did and often send e-greetings instead, but when ones from old friends pop through the letter box or into my in-box, it gladdens by heart. We made it through another year, more or less. It’s a tiny moment of recognition that our relationship still matters, even though life has been frantic, busy, overwhelming and exhausting.

I see the words on an envelope and my heart lifts when I think, “Oh that’s So-and-so’s handwriting!”. Sometimes there’s a letter, often the round-robin newsletter, but I read with interest. I resolve, next year we’ll try and stay in touch better, and sometimes I do.

Sometimes gifts arrive as well. Because of all sorts of regulations, ones from the USA cannot be fully gift wrapped (in case customs open the parcel) so I am aware of the contents. One much beloved friend has sent me some truly beautiful Christmas ornaments over the years; tree baubles shaped like hedgehogs for example. It brings out the child in me, to open parcels with glee and anticipation. I’ve learned to have a sneaky peek at ones from that friend, because they’re usually items that enhance the home specially at Christmas, so I open those and put them out once the decorations and the tree go up.

There is something magical to realise that someone, somewhere, often continents away, has thought of you, and thought kindly, at this time of year.

St George’s Day special offer

Well, St George is the patron saint of England, even though he probably didn’t slay any dragons (endangered species!) and was certainly not English. However, for some reason he’s our patron saint and I’m very English and so are my books.

So, in light of that, Away With The Fairies (contains no dragons or saints, as such) is on a special countdown offer starting from today and will be 99p (or thereabouts) in the UK for three days before rising to a mere £1.99 for another three days before returning to its original and very reasonable price. It would be vastly appreciated if you pass this on to any friends, family and social media network as the greater the reach, the better the book will do. Thank you.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Away-Fairies-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B005RDS02A/ref=la_B00766135C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429773708&sr=1-1

What shapes us ~ nature, nurture or experience? A novelist’s view

It’s a great debate, nature or nurture, when it comes to who we think we are. While we may think we are our own person, that person is shaped both by upbringing and genetics and the experiences we go through in life. As a novelist, the shaping of characters is a curious process, half unconscious and half deliberate and I’d like to think that the fusion of the two has meant I’ve created some memorable folks amid the pages of my novels.

I was asked recently (several times) if Chloe’s grandmother in Square Peg is based on my own grandmother. My answer is that she’s not based on anyone(as such) but she’s probably how I’d like to be seen when I am granny-aged. I’ve also been asked how much of Chloe is me (just as I was asked how much of Isobel in Away With The Fairies is me) and I’d answer that question in the same way: a good deal of me is in her.

Yet Chloe’s Gran and her unconventional upbringing shaped her and brought her to the uncomfortable place she’s in at the start of the novel. Gran was one of those free-spirited women who blazed trails through history yet get almost no acknowledgements for the work they did. Trained as a doctor, she chose to spend her working life amid the poor, oppressed and marginalised people around the world, travelling and finding new challenges in a risky life. At some stage, she met and fell in love with someone whose child she came back to England with. She never saw him again, and returning to her home town and parents, people assumed she’d married while abroad but kept her maiden name for professional reasons. A generation before it would have been a massive scandal and a generation later, something fairly unremarkable, yet at the time the birth of a son out of wedlock was something she needed to keep private. As soon as her son was independent, she left to return to the work she loved, only returning when her son lost his wife in an accident. In the intervening years, she visited her family and sent presents home, usually gifts that reflected the community she was living in. Chloe and her sister are sent a colourful Pendleton blanket, packed with white sage, suggesting that Gran was living among Native Americans, perhaps acting as doctor on a reservation. The battered sandalwood Buddha that sits on the hearth is another such fixture in Chloe’s home.

Like so many women called upon to care for those who need it, Chloe’s grandmother reluctantly returned but never fully settled into a life of a suburban general practitioner and her restlessness was only assuaged by working with the fringe communities, like Romanies and other travellers. Chloe spent enough time as a child among these communities that she grew to identify unconsciously with the marginalised and the outcasts and not with respectable middle class values of those more expected to be her peer group. She also learned a lot of very dubious skills, like how to fight and use a shotgun. Combined with her plain-speaking grandmother’s influence, who taught tolerance for differences of faith, ideology and race but resistance to blind convention and mealy-mouthed maintenance of a status quo of injustice, Chloe arrives in a place where she’ll be tested to her limits simply to survive without going under or losing integrity by acquiescing to the kind of hypocrisy that would make her grandmother spin in her too-recent grave.

It’s not only her grandmother’s influence that has brought her to this turning point in her life. Her childhood and her student days shaped a woman who is combative and uncompromising, yet her choice of husband has also changed her. Clifford has not tamed her, but rather has seen her wildness as something to cherish. He sees her plain speaking as a virtue; not as the college wives do, as rudeness and a lack of community spirit. He’s not the kind of ordinand who wants or expects his wife to be a stereotypical help-meet, organising prayer groups and baking scones; it would bore him senseless and the spark he has with Chloe would gutter and die if she became meek and conventional.

Chloe isn’t someone who needs a horde of friends, but she does need kindred spirits to keep her from sliding into despair, and she’s lucky to find one in her first year of college who keeps her from the darkness of total isolation. But it’s not until their final year when the anarchic Isobel arrived with her ordinand husband Mickey, and a bond is formed between two square pegs that will endure some terrible times. Isobel is someone better able to walk the line between being outrageous and acceptable. She’s had a bit more practise, swapping from a degree chosen to placate her father to a degree in art to please herself, and somehow keeping it secret long enough to produce work her father can see is potentially a career builder. She’s also able to accept some compromise, cutting off her dreadlocks and removing her piercings before she and Mickey start at college. She sees them as peripherals and not really that important to her identity; she can go ‘plain clothes’ for the duration and not see it as infringing on her core identity. She makes the perfect mole.

Authors sometimes talk about back story, of knowing who your characters are, and how vital that is even if little of the background appears directly on the page. It’s about knowing marrow-deep precisely who they are and how they came to be that way. Chloe inherits her grandmother’s not-inconsiderable intelligence, her red hair and her questioning nature, but perhaps not her tough and resilient hide, impervious to the opinions of most other people. Her time growing up with such a role model taught her not to suffer fools gladly but it’s only experience that teaches how to spot rogues and frauds, and only experience that can teach self preservation in impossible situations. There’s a saying that the secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go, and that’s the one secret that Chloe’s Gran really needed to have taught her.

Special limited time offer for Away With The Fairies

For a limited time only, Away With The Fairies will be on offer at first 99p then going up to £1.99 before returning to its normal price of £3.08. UK only.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Away-Fairies-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B005RDS02A/ref=la_B00766135C_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410250853&sr=1-2

Why do we care what others think of us?

Why do we care what others think of us?

I sometimes see people declaring that they don’t care what anyone thinks of them. I envy them this, at times, because I do care what other people think of me. I know that can’t change anything, and I ought not to be a people pleaser (and I’m not) but nonetheless, it bothers me what others think of me.

It upsets me when people have a poor or negative opinion of me. I know it shouldn’t but it does. It means that I hate the idea of anyone visiting when the house has slid from being amiably Bohemian to being an out-and-out mess. I have a sliding scale of how far into the house people are allowed to penetrate, depending on how much I trust them not to judge me and find me wanting. There are few people I would allow near the scullery (it’s a utility room but I like the old fashioned word more) because it’s inevitably a chaotic mess of recycling, cleaning equipment and it’s also where the cat litter tray is stationed. Very few people are ever allowed upstairs; not because it’s a mess (though sometimes it is) but because it’s the most private and personal area of our home.

But why do I worry about the state of my home? Surely no one has any right to judge how I run my own house? You’d be surprised how many would consider they have every right to denigrate someone for their lack of pride in housekeeping. That aside, it comes down to shame. I am ashamed of being such a poor home-maker. The script in my head runs like this: It’s not as if you actually work, you’re home all day after all, how can you live with all this mess, doesn’t it bother you that you haven’t washed up yet, what have you been doing with the time, you lazy, feckless waster….

Familiar?

On a good day I can counter this with evidence that actually housework isn’t important to me, that I do what’s really needed, and far from not working, I work very hard. But the script does keep on running and running, and I’m far from conquering it with the realisation that I’m not a housewife and never will be, that I have another calling. Because writing is a vocation and like any vocation it takes more time and energy than those who don’t write can imagine. The end results of writing (like this blog post) are the one tenth of the iceberg that’s visible.

Another area I get upset by is my appearance. I’m never going to be a size ten, let alone a size zero. My illness has meant weight gain, and there are days when leaving the house feels like I am a lone mammoth heading out into the vast empty steppes for hunters to throw spears at me. Of course, the spears are unkind words, and thankfully they are rarely voiced directly at me. Yet the disparaging comments that are directed daily in torrents at the overweight and obese fill up a space that we all hear. The assumption is that fat people are lazy feckless greedy pigs, stuffing their faces and never shifting their lardy arses to get any exercise. It permeates social media and it permeates society. I’ve heard people dismissively condemn the overweight as stupid too, claiming that since the equation is calories in, calories out and adjusting to make sure you eat less than you expend is hardly rocket science, ergo fatties like me are also thick as pig shit. Needless to say, it’s far from that simple but I’m not discussing this right now.

Surely it is easy to say, ignore it all, that people who don’t like me/you do not have opinions worth valuing?

Well, that may be true but it’s been noted that it only takes one negative opinion to outweigh dozens of good ones. Most writers forget about their swathe of five star reviews when the one single starred one pops up. We remember pain and censure more readily than we do approval and kindness.

So. Why do we care what others think of us? Why does it matter so much?

We’re social animals, tribal beings. To lose approval means to risk losing your place in society. At one stage, to be ostracised (here is the definition of it under Athenian rule http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostracism) meant certain death. If everyone turned against you, you were doomed. No one would help you, no one would sell you food. You ceased to exist to all intents and purposes.

The psychology of ostracism

Most of the research on the psychology of ostracism has been conducted by the social psychologist Kip Williams. He and his colleagues have devised a model of ostracism which provides a framework to show the complexity in the varieties of ostracism and the processes of its effects. There he theorises that ostracism can potentially be so harmful that we have evolved an efficient warning system to immediately detect and respond to it.[29][30]

In the animal kingdom as well as in primitive human societies, ostracism can lead to death due to the lack of protection benefits and access to sufficient food resources from the group.[31] Living apart from the whole of society also means not having a mate, so being able to detect ostracism would be a highly adaptive response to ensure survival and continuation of the genetic line.

It is proposed that ostracism uniquely poses a threat to four fundamental human needs; the need to belong, the need for control in social situations, the need to maintain high levels of self-esteem, and the need to have a sense of a meaningful existence.[29] A threat to these needs produces psychological distress and pain. Thus, people are motivated to remove this pain with behaviours aimed at reducing the likelihood of others ostracising them any further and increasing their inclusionary status.

( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_rejection )

The anxiety that the first signs of rejection bring to us, are, I believe part of our collective unconscious. These days, it’s unlikely that we could be rejected to the extent to which we would die from lack of social acceptance, but I do feel that a part of us dies or becomes deeply dormant, the further we are rejected and reviled.

It becomes a question of caring, not too much but not too little either. People whose opinion we value will seldom actually reject us, but it’s deeply painful when they do, for a reason that goes beyond the fear of social isolation. It’s because it taps into our fears that those pejorative terms our inner critic hurls at us may actually be accurate representations of who and what we truly are.

I fear that I am lazy, feckless, untalented, a show-off, ungrateful, chaotic, greedy, etc so when this is played back to me by suggestions made either directly or indirectly, it magnifies that horrible inner critic to shouting volume. And that feeds in powerfully to the fear that once one person has rejected me, everyone else will follow.

In the wild, it has been observed among chimps that an individual who is cast from the group will often wander away to lie down and die, even though there is food and shelter around them. Like chimps, humans can and do die of loneliness.

The Journey Home Begins With ‘Sorry’ ~ on reconciliation and relationships

The journey home begins with “Sorry” ~ on reconciliation & relationships

I’m a great procrastinator when it comes to Christmas things. I object to anything remotely Christmas themed until at least advent and I’m seldom in the mood for festive frolics till mid month at the very soonest. This means that the majority of my preparations are crammed into seven to ten days. I count myself ahead if I have managed to get the tree up by the 20th. The thing I procrastinate the most about is the cards and until this year I wasn’t sure why. Usually I finish them and think, why did I put it off so long?

This year, as we moved in the autumn I needed to do a round robin letter (never done one before) to give our new address and a brief resume of the year. I don’t mind other people’s round robins, even though there’s a general loathing of them that gets expressed through the media (and social media) and apart from one that began, brace yourselves I’ve got leukaemia and went downhill from there, they’re usually nice to read. So equipped with a sheaf of printed letters I opened my address book and found my reason for hesitation.

As I leafed slowly through, I realised it was full of people, not merely names and addresses and some of them were no longer in my life.

Some had passed away. Those made me sad, but I had good memories of them.

Some have drifted away. That’s normal. Not all friendships are forever; they have their moments, a shared experience, and they decline. You have good memories, a smile when you think of them and usually a card at Christmas. Sometimes those are rekindled, and it’s as if nothing has ever happened.

And some are sundered from me.

Not many. I’ve been lucky generally that I don’t make enemies. But in most of our lives there are people who hurt us. Those who can hurt us are generally those we let in, and trust, and care about. And in turn, we too hurt others. Either inadvertently, or deliberately.

I’ve seen a good deal of discussion lately via social media about cutting people out of lives, both from those at the hard end of the cut and those wielding the knife. There’s a school of thought that has it that we should remove from our lives anyone who is seen as being negative or not what we need/want. I’ve heard of people recently who have been told they are being ‘let go’ by friends. It’s horrible, frankly, doubly so at the Christmas season of goodwill. We do not really know what another person has been going through, and to judge someone else as negative and needing weeding out of your life is bad enough, but to tell them so in such terms… To me, that is needlessly cruel and desperately selfish. This year I had two people do it to me.

But when it comes to broken relationships, ones where the hurt still smarts, the last words echo in your memory, even years later, what of those? You may think, their loss. Imagine then you find one day they have died. If you find yourself thinking, I wish I’d…., then perhaps there’s unfinished business left.

Some there is no way back with. You have no idea where they are, or how to find them. These are ones you have to leave in the lap of the gods. I have a few of those,and for those I may have hurt or who have hurt me, I can say simply, “I am sorry. I wish you well in your journey. I am here if you want to talk,” and hope that somehow those words may carry on the wings of quiet hope. There is great, unseen power in such prayerful words. Someone hears them, even if we speak them silently.

But others, we look at their names and we think, they must hate us, they’d never let me back in. It doesn’t matter which side of the hurting you were on, there is fear in an approach, a fear that our overtures will be rejected, opening the wounds again. Perhaps this time of year is the safest. One may send a card, knowing that if they tear it up you will never know. But it may pave the way towards a little dialogue later, the proverbial olive branch.

I do not wish to live in conflict with anyone. I would make my peace with all, and offer my ‘Sorry’ as a hand towards any soul with whom I am not in harmony with. Sorry for my part, for every relationship breakdown has two sides(or more) and no party is completely innocent.

May your Christmas be filled with peace and harmony.