No-one Should Be Left Behind

No-one Should Be Left Behind

August is now behind us and with it, my summer holiday. We managed to get away for a while (a big achievement, actually) and one of our destinations was Glastonbury. I’ve always loved the place, with its mix of spirituality, history, woo-woo and the best selection of metaphysical and alternative shops almost anywhere. We stayed in a tiny, quirky and rather fabulous B&B with the tiniest upstairs bathroom I’ve ever seen. Converted (I think) from a linen cupboard, I felt there was a danger of me getting jammed between sink and door if I had second helpings at dinner. The place had very comfy beds, superb breakfasts and interesting hosts, one of whom runs tours of various Avalonian locations. They also had a wonderful dog who reminded me of our long-gone Holly.

I digress a little, but it’s important you know (for context) that it was very much a place of alternative everything and despite being tiny (only two bedrooms for guests) it drew those guests from a self-selecting set of customers. When we got there, there was another guest who was staying, and she was there for two of the four mornings we were there for. It’s the conversations at breakfast that I’ve been thinking about since we got back.

You see, Morag (not her real name) was firmly of the opinion that as the cosmic energies (not sure how those are defined) forge ahead and the world changes and spirituality changes, those not willing to change and move on and leave behind “out-moded” beliefs, will be left behind or swept away, and forgotten. It got under my skin. I’m not someone who is able to hold an in-depth conversation before my second mug of coffee, and I’m also not someone who likes to argue or even fight, any time, let alone at breakfast. So at the time, I merely made some anodyne comments and continued to munch my very excellent breakfast. But I’ve stewed on it since then.

The human population is broadly divided into two camps: the risk-takers and the consolidators. In early human history, the need for both types is much more obvious. The risk-takers were the explorers, the people who leapt in and tried new things (sometimes with fatal consequences), found new places and so on. The consolidators kept the home-fires burning, kept the tribal histories and lore and taught the children. Both types are essential for a healthy society; various aspects of neuro-diversity also mirror this divide. Just as introversion and extroversion are hard-wired neurological aspects of self, this risk-averse/risk-taking tendency is also innate, though almost everyone becomes more risk-averse as they get older. It is possible and sometimes desirable to challenge one’s self to step beyond one’s comfort zone, but in essence, it is beyond the control of 99.9% of us to change that polarity.

So, in the eyes of people like Morag, those who do not gladly meet the changes are to be swept away and lost. Yeah, ta very much, Morag. How kind of you.

Sarcasm aside, it disturbed me massively. You see, in many ways, I’m risk-averse. I’ve explored a great deal into the metaphysical world for sure, but with a foot firmly in the camp of common sense and critical thinking and I’ve avoided swallowing whole the bovine excrement that’s on sale in the New Age market place. I’ve found myself returning to old truths and ancient, well-tried wisdoms from faith systems that are unfashionable now. You may or may not know that for the last 20 or so years I’ve been a Quaker Attender and the Quaker faith is one that very much believes in the idea of no one left behind. All Meetings for Business work on the model that unless there is complete consensus, then nothing is done. If just one person disagrees with the direction being proposed, no decision will be made. Surprisingly, this does not result in total stagnation; because Quakers are the people they are, it’s not unusual for someone to decide to agree to the will of the meeting, withdrawing their objection on the basis that the greater majority may be right and they themselves may be wrong.

There is a strange kind of snobbery about embracing new things; those who rush to grab the latest gadgets, systems, clothes, can be very disparaging about those who do not. Among the spirituality and alternative health movements, Morag’s attitudes seem ubiquitous; I’ve read tweets from advocates of “Juicing” that would not be out-of-place in a tract for certain brands of evangelical Christianity!

Life is not a race. Nor is our inner journey of spiritual discovery. We’re all on our own unique path; it’s not a snakes and ladders board and we’re not competing with others. It’s also impossible to gauge how far one person has already come on that journey because what might be a tiny step for one is a mighty leap for another. Those of us who are risk-averse should not be discarded as useless by those who are risk-takers, nor regarded as holding everyone back by our cautious natures. We are doing our best to follow our path, at our own pace. And that’s how it needs to be: no one left behind.

On this day in 2009…

…I posted my very first blog post.

I’d had the idea in mind for the blog title itself before I even knew blogs existed, but Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking took a while to come into being. I joined a co-operative blog, Cafe Crem, first, and after a month, I was ready to go it alone.

When I hit publish for this post, my stats will tell me I have done 970 posts in the eight years since I began.  There have been almost a quarter of a million hits. Thousands of comments, likes, shares. It’s been a huge part of my life. It’s where I began to reach out and meet people who (I hate the term) are my tribe. I’ve met a few wolves in sheep’s clothing too, got burned, got hurt. I hope I have touched lives for the better. There’s even a little book, intended as a part of a series using the essays in this blog collected thematically. The first book is on depression. There will be more (one day). There’s posts about my books, stories, poems, rants, paens, authors I love. So much here.

So, wish Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking a happy 8th birthday. Having seen many blogs begin, flounder, die, and disappear, I know that keeping going is quite an achievement and one I ought to be rightly proud about. Blogging is not longer what it was, as Facebook has taken the place for many, as a forum for sharing, but I will persist and hopefully, you will too.

Bless you all (in the true sense, rather than the wonderful passive-aggressive semi-curse of the American south) and thank you.

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.

I’m on the Pink Sofa ~ come and join me

Today I am being graciously hosted on the famed Pink Sofa of novelist and blogger Carol Hedges. Carol is the author of a series of Victorian “sensation” novels, which will appeal if you like detective stories set in Dickensian London. I’ve read and enjoyed the first in the series, and now there are two more to look forward to. You can find Carol’s books here  and my guest post is below, so do go over, have a read and comment too.

http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-pink-sofa-meets-writer-blogger.html

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

It’s alive! The Hedgeway is launched

Just a reminder that today The Hedgeway is being launched, officially, with a party over on Facebook  here

The book itself is available as paperback or as e-book. You don’t need a Kindle to buy e-books; there are apps for phones, pcs, tablets and Macs.

Here are the links for UK and US for the ebook version.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hedgeway-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00OW3TUY8/ref=la_B00766135C_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414739747&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Hedgeway-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00OW3TUY8/ref=la_B00766135C_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414739747&sr=1-2

For the paperback, go to my Amazon page and scroll down

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vivienne-Tuffnell/e/B00766135C/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

 

For other Amazon shops, either type my name into the search bar, or (neat trick) click the UK  or US link, then go to the address bar where the URL is displayed, click on it and alter the dot com or .co.uk to whichever suffix you desire, such as dot.de or dot.au.

The book is a short novella or longer short story and is only 77p or local equivalent for a limited time only. Reviews VERY welcome, but remember NO SPOILERS!

The party will be filled with a lot of fun activities, including a n attempt at live, interactive storytelling. Do join us, or drop by and enjoy the evening wherever you are. I am told I throw a great virtual party. Bring yourself, your music suggestions, stories (and even links to your own spooky tales) and have some fun.

 

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.

Moths, Mistakes and Other Miscellaneous Matters

 

Moths, Mistakes and Other Miscellaneous Matters

This is almost a kind of Dear Diary sort of blog post, a catching up of news and recent events. There’s been a lot going on, though most of it is internal and not really ready for public consumption.

First piece of news, if you were one of those who has been waiting for The Moth’s Kiss to appear in paperback, then the wait is over. It’s now available for purchase and there will be a cyber-party on my Facebook page on Sunday. I’ve been very pleased with the way Createspace works and how much easier the dashboard is to use than the one Lulu provides. I’ve gone right off Lulu when I discovered they’d made a deal with AuthorHouse, whose reputation may be discovered by looking them up on Preditors and Editors. But even before then I felt their customer services left a lot to be desired and I’m glad I only have a couple of books out with them. I intend to re-publish those via Createspace and withdraw them from sale via Lulu.

One of the difficult things I have done in the last week is to finally re-edit Strangers and Pilgrims. It was the first book I had published but I had little to do with the production of it to start with. I don’t want to go into it in any detail, but last weekend was for me a process of catharsis and forgiveness. I’ve long been aware that there are more typos in the text than is reasonable but have been unable to do anything about it. Even when I had regained control of the book, the circumstances around it made me feel so desperately ill and upset that I have been unable to face the process of proofing it again. I’ve not even actually read it again until the weekend. Imagine you had a child stolen from you at a young and formative age and then returned some years later without having the ability to tell you what had or hadn’t happened to them; that’s what it felt like. I was very uncomfortable about the book because I no longer knew it. I have had some amazing reviews, and I have also had emails and messages from people who felt that the book had truly helped them heal from trauma and sorrows. But I’ve also had some scathing, negative reviews that have smarted and have actually made it harder to revisit my own text for fear of what I might find there. One four star review stated that had it not been for the typos it would have easily merited five stars.

I’m not sure I can explain why I was so terrified of getting down and weeding out the mistakes. It needed doing and not doing it was going to potentially damage my credibility as a serious author. It became the elephant in my room. Last weekend, though, the strength to tackle it came and it was only when I had finished did I realise that the date (the weekend of Halloween, All Hallows’ Day and All Souls’ Day) corresponded exactly with the times the final section of the book covered. Spooky. I’d not planned it or noticed it until the end.

I also noticed something else. The process of editing was one of also healing: healing the less-than-perfectly-cared-for manuscript and also a kind of healing for me. I began to see why, for the first time since I wrote it, people had found it such a powerful book, one which had eased their sorrows and given the food for thought. I’d begun to believe that because it was flawed with too many tiny errors and associated with a difficult time in my life, that it was a poor book.

I’ve completely changed my mind.

I think it’s the kind of book that will polarise people, though, and I am fine with that. A few negative carping reviews, the association of the book with betrayal of trust and broken friendship had all conspired to make me keep that book at emotional arm’s length.

And that’s interesting for many reasons. I’m the kind of person who feels my faults outweigh my virtues and I tend to negate my own good qualities. I’d been treating the book the same way, which is so wrong. I was able to read the book with much greater kindness and understanding than I’d ever imagined I could, and I was able to see that it needed only the specks and spots removing, rather than needing to be completely destroyed. In some of my darker days I have wanted to delete the book entirely for its connection to painful times and bad memories. I knew that wasn’t fair so I kept it at a distance. I think unconsciously I knew the time would come for it to be given a new chance. So the Kindle edition has been re-uploaded, with a new acknowledgements page, and while I hope I have cleared all the typos, I imagine a few might still be there. If there are, I apologise. But this brings me to the other aspect of this: true perfection is not about the absence of mistakes, but rather the ability to bring something to its potential and more often than not, this will include scars and flaws. Unlike some, who believe that a failure to wipe out every little mistake as if it had never happened is a moral failure, I’ve never believed that there is such a thing as a fatal flaw. I don’t believe that a t in the wrong place or (horror of horrors!) a misplaced apostrophe, constitute a degradation of a book. I know that the finding of a mistake in a text can for many lift them out of the story in a jarring way, but that said, I think it’s inevitable that some slip through even multiple readers.

As I said earlier, I intend to produce a new edition of the book, with Createspace, so if you were thinking of buying a paperback, better to hold off until then, or accept that the current edition may not be as perfect as it might be.

The last months of 2013 are on us, and I hope to release The Wild Hunt in paperback very shortly, and also The Bet. Then there are the other novels who have been waiting very patiently to see the light of day and reach new readers. I’m working on those now. I’m also working on producing a couple of small volumes of poetry, themed according to various ideas. One is running with the provisional title of “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves” and the other, “Venus Squints”. I suspect these won’t be out before Christmas, though. I’m also working to collate essays from this blog for a book, but as that is a fairly massive undertaking, I think the likelihood is this will be a project for next year.

One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.

One click and you’re history ~ how social media makes us more isolated and intolerant.

You know the drill.

Someone has hurt you. These days it’s just as likely to be someone on a social media network as it is to be someone in real life whom you see face to face. There’s a reason for this.

I love social media. There’s a better chance of finding your tribe than simple geography allows. There’s quite simply MILLIONS of people out there. You can refine your basic parameters and hey presto, instant social circle.

Except for one thing. Most of them will be hundreds if not thousands of miles away. You see them only by the words they write. Or by the statuses they post on Facebook. Or by their blogs. A few you progress to chatting with on messaging facilities. Even fewer, on Skype. Some you talk to on the phone. A very small number you end up meeting face to face. My goodness, but this is a wonderful feeling. I have had coffee with some chums, stayed with a few others, chinked glasses in cocktail bars with one or two, given city tours to others. It’s a good feeling.

But there is a downside. People are not cardboard cut-outs, acting out my fantasies (steady, the Buffs!) but real people with lives, thoughts, feelings of their own. They think, live and believe things that are quite different to the way I do. Sometimes I see what friends post on Facebook and Twitter and I recoil in shock. Truly. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting atrocity, I saw things that made me shake. People I believe to be decent, good folks airing their views on gun ownership that were quite at odds with my own beliefs about guns. I saw fights break out over it.

Every time something powerful happens, I see the same thing. People fighting over their right to believe what they do, whether it’s in a political stance, a religious one or over music. It rapidly gets nasty, and what usually follows is a blazing row followed by a silence. The silence is usually because one or other of the parties involved has deleted or blocked the other.

In an instant, years of internet friendship is gone. Every Christmas present posted, every jovial exchange, every key moment shared in their mutual lives, all lost.

Don’t agree with my political stance? Deleted!

Dislike my religious faith? Unfollowed!

Hate my liking for cats and of posting pictures of kittens? Unfriended!

Object to sharing of youtube links? Blocked!

It’s too easy.

Imagine the person you have taken umbrage at is standing in front of you, helpless. You have a gun. You can put it to their head and without fear of consequence, you can pull the trigger, and that will be it. Would you do it? No, of course you wouldn’t. But in many cases, that’s what’s really in the minds of people when they remove another from their virtual life. Getting rid of a problem permanently and without mess or apparent consequence.

It diminishes all of us. It dismisses the very real value of learning to get on with people we don’t agree with all the time. It stops us learning to live and let live.

Each time a person cuts out someone they find they’re come to loggerheads with, something happens they don’t see. They lose the mirror others hold up to us and to our own behaviour and attitudes. We need others to disagree with us sometimes, because it helps us reassess our core values and beliefs. It stops us feeling as if we are paragons. Believe me, I hate anyone criticising me, having a pop at me for something. But like anyone else I need it. I need to see the other side of a story, the side I don’t want to see because it makes me uncomfortable and angry.

Someone had me hovering over the unfriend button because they were posting some pretty disturbing things about abortion, but I stopped. I spent time thinking about something that upsets me and it was good for me to do that. It reminded me of why I feel what I do about that subject but it also taught me that people always have reasons for their feelings. I’d dug a little deeper, just by reading their posts and comments, to see that there had been severe suffering that had brought them to this viewpoint. I felt compassion and I was able to step back and disagree, but allow him to hold his view as a valid one. That’s the key, you see:

You are not me and I am not you. You have been places I have not been and never will. I have done and seen things you have not. You have reasons for your beliefs and so do I. I may not agree with them but I would defend your right to hold them.

But the more a person hacks away at those who don’t quite fit their world view, the smaller their world becomes. Each time a layer of others is pruned away, the remainder become more and more closely scutinised for any signs of heresy.

I’d like to end by sharing some words by Anthony de Mello, from his book, The Song of the Bird:

The Old Woman’s Religion

A very religious-minded old woman was dissatisfied with all existing religions, so she founded one of her own.

One day a reporter who genuinely wanted to understand her point of view, said to her, “Do you really believe, as people say you do, that no one will go to heaven except you and your housemaid Mary?”

The old woman pondered the question and then replied, “Well, I’m not so sure of Mary.”