Fiona McVie inverviews authors on her website. She does perhaps the most comprehensive interview out there. It was great fun to do. Have a look at my answers at this link.
So for the last couple of months I’ve been living like Hemingway. Well, without the writing, so much.
Or the bulls.
No bulls this year. No fiesta in Pamplona.
But I have been in Spain, enjoying the sunshine, and drinking.
I’ve been getting up early, with intentions of getting lots of writing done.
I have a run, or a cycle, while it’s cool, then have a swim after cleaning the pool.
And I’ve spent an hour or two on the laptop, staring at the screen, as I scroll through my social media and read about the horrible things happening, the shitshow that is the former lone superpower, the rising death rates in various countries, and watching videos of the violent racism so many have to deal with and the violent reaction to any request for such racism to stop.
Then I get breakfast for my kids when they surface from their darkened bedroom around ten, and pretty much any chance to get writing done is gone until perhaps mid afternoon when I wake from a siesta and have another swim to get my brain restarted.
Of course, it’s a strange time to live. But we’re alive. And in the end, well, what more can we ask for?
People are worried, though. And I was thinking about this – about panic and procrastination in these times of pandemic.
Sometimes we think that when people panic they start doing things: racing around, becoming very busy.
But they don’t.
Instead it seems that they are paralysed and they do nothing.
However, perhaps their reality is that they see that given the futility of the situation, and their imminent demise, there’s basically no point in doing anything. Instead it’s best to just relax and do nothing.
Because doing nothing is in fact the best thing to do.
Perhaps it’s only when we’re faced with death that we realise that we should’ve been doing nothing all along.
The object of our existence is to do nothing.
Doing is not the important thing, it’s just being.
We should just be.
We should just watch, and chill out.
So while it seems that I have done very little in these days, and there are several books that are waiting to get finished and some to get started, I’ve decided to not worry about that because if I do get sick, I’ll probably just stop writing rather than race to get them finished.
I’ll do what I have been doing – looking after the kids, being with the family, enjoying the scenery and the flowers in the garden and the birds around the house.
At the end of the day, does it matter if the book is one third finished one half finished or three quarters finished if the book is unfinished? Perhaps it’s best to nearly finish at least, but I’m loath to spend my last days worrying about it.
Of course, I am not sick, and I hope I’m not in my last days – keeping the head down here!
So I have written some. And I will have some to show people soon.
And I never stop writing poetry.
So here’s some of that:
Where Would You Go To?
Racing downhill, skidding over gravel path between pine peaks.
Slide to a stop beside scarlet-poppy-strewn field of barley, golden
Eagles calling overhead, staring at gliding silhouettes, shielding eyes
Against glare of sun, hot upon shoulders. A lone figure, surrounded
By a chorus of chirps, whistles and warbles, sheet of susurration
Wind through poplar leaves under a blanket of blessed silence,
Among a bouquet of orchids and other wild flowers, wondering
Where would one go from here?
Eventually remounting, rolling onwards over eroded pudding-stone
Thinking this is the destination of a multitude, but home to me.
Many would trek to get here: the very idea posited as post-retirement
Plan, proposed to stretch the Mediterranean holiday eternally past
A year in Provence; sold to dozens of millions dreaming of this,
Present position I’ve stumbled upon for life. So,
Why would I want to do any more than simply be, here?
Everything I can add upon this blessing only gravy, icing.
What matter if my works are acclaimed or even hailed?
When their very creation brings my own elation, and this station
Provides all the time, and space to do so at my pondering pace.
It’s only left to me to accept this grace, riding though this pretty place.
Happy New Year everyone.
2019 was a stressful year.
2020 might not be much better.
But here’s some advice to keep you going.
The best medicines are, in order:
5 Hugs from kids (or animals if you’re stuck)
8 Fresh air outside the city
9 Diet Coke
10 A view of hills or mountains.
You might have your own order, but you won’t go far wrong when life is shite. Be careful with 4 and 6 of course!
You’re all adults out there…
This most important piece of news out today, I found on the second last page of the newspaper – an anecdote, a curiosity, an aside amid the Spanish corruption scandals, the French elections, the continuing shite that blights the lives of billions (there was one nice bit about a certain wall not getting funded by a certain congress, but besides that it was all boring same old depressing mess till reading the above) – right back beside the information that some local actress is going to star in some new film being made sometime soon.
Two points to make:
One, if watching animals and trees on TV can reduce stress (and there are reams of positive benefits the study, done by UC Berkely, no less, details) imagine what actually going out into the parks, the countryside, the seaside does for us!
Throwing stones in the sea: what better stress disperser exists?
And why don’t we do it more? We all return from our beach holidays relaxed: yes, we have no work, but just sitting on the beach relaxes, and we should do it every day if we can, or at least get to the park and watch the ducks.
Can you feel the tension lift just looking at these bluebells?
Two, why is this way back at the bottom of the news?
We are in the middle of a stress crises. We have a tsunami of suicides, self-harming and addiction. People are going to medical health professionals of all sorts and taking many medications to help them get through life. And yet, this simple source of relief, if not potentially a complete solution, a cheap if not actually free aid, which can help us with this crisis, is practically ignored by the media.
If it were a study claiming eating butter could cut stress (or chocolate, or even lettuce) or help some other serious health problem, it would be much further up the order of importance.
Your doctor would tell you to avoid alcohol, eat fibre, cut out saturated fats, eat less sugar, lower salt intake, stop smoking etc. if he/she thought it would help keep you alive and well and happy for a few more years. There are campaigns for all these going on all the time. Laws are changed to help us quit smoking, have healthier diets, drink less.
And yet, will we see any move to get people out into parks, to have wildlife documentaries subsidised by the department of health? Will we have laws to protect ecosystems so they can be used to make further films, or see famous people encouraging us to climb mountains? Probably not.
But I hope so. Because we should. I personally won’t be happy until I see David Attenborough get a Nobel Prize for Medicine. He’s certainly saved my sanity…
A child in the countryside is a happy child!
This is straight up, in that it concerns a real kid, my kid. I’m not worried about anything she’s doing, nor do I need Supernanny to come rescue me from my own idiocy as my three-year-old destroys my house and life. I’m pretty ok as a parent, but I do have a small concern, about the topic of religion. There lies the “certain extent” – I’m not sure to what extent I’m going to follow any suggestions.
My daughter has just learnt about Jesus (the Christ one – since we live in Spain you have to qualify). This was inevitable. Two of her great uncles are priests and they live with her grandparents. I’ve no big problem with the idea. She’s been baptised and we go to the mass presided over by one of the uncles in the small village church when we’re there for Sunday lunch. She knows enough to be fairly quiet while in mass, too. I lost my own faith a long time ago now. I’m still spiritual but the church – especially the Irish church, but this isn’t the time to talk about mass “graves” and manslaughter charges – makes me mad.
Unlike Richard Dawkins, who seems to have his knickers in a twist about even reading fairy tales to kids, I have no major problem with having kids believe in magical beings. Their lives are filled with imaginary beings, from the Easter Bunny, to the Tooth Fairy, to the Three Magic Kings and Santa Claus. When a child straddles cultures, like my daughter, they’re nearly doubled. What’s another one going to do? While Dawkins claims to never have believed in Santa – which might be a reason he’s such a dour sonofabitch – my daughter does, and furthermore believes that he comes when she goes to Ireland, where he’s called Santy.
Looking at it scientifically, I can’t see any difference between having her believe in a big magical old guy with a beard who brings gifts to good kids and lumps of coal to the bold, and another magical old guy with a beard who rewards the good with a nice afterlife and makes the bold burn in fiery coals of hell. (Hell, a place that the pope doesn’t even believe in any more, making it worthless even as a children’s swear.) I’ve said that before. The advantage of God, is that the threat of his displeasure works all year round, not just before Christmas.
While Dawkins is against all magic, the extremists on the other side of the divide would, ironically, probably agree with him about fairytales – they were the wankers who said reading Harry Potter would make kids want to practice magic etc. at the same time failing to see that religion is nothing other than a belief in magic – though our parish priest (the one informing my daughter about her friend Jesus) has basically admitted in mass that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was at best a bit of hand-quicker-than-the-eye trickery if not just a show of solidarity that got the crowd moving: the old, you show yours first and then I’ll show mine after routine with the grub.
Getting back to God and Santy, we don’t need the threat of divine displeasure of anyone (or the threat of displeasure of the teacher at the crèche, which I’ve heard some parents do). If she’s bold (Irish for naughty in case you haven’t copped), then I am sad, and that should be enough. And it usually is, so far (touch wood). She’s a sensitive child. She worries about people littering, and has a hard time comprehending that people do what she’s been told is wrong, and would not now do herself. I’ve had to explain that there are bold and even bad people in the world – she’s had belongings stolen already, and she kinda gets it. I have explained that the big bad wolf is only doing what wolves do and that we eat little piggies too, and she gets that – though she did think I was only messing at first, like I do when I say the bird she’s pointing to is an elephant and she replies with an exaggerated “Nooo! It’s a magpie! (or whatever it actually is). She understands that animals die and we eat them, and to be honest, when she sees fish swimming in a pond or tank she rubs her belly and says “yummy yummy.” She has yet to differentiate between the two Spanish words for fish: one for swimming the other for fridge. She knows that if you don’t water plants “they get very dead,” and she understands that people die and we’re sad and though it makes her sad when she thinks about it, she already gets sad at the airport, and says out loud that she’s sad because so-and-so have to go home or she can’t stay with them, so it’s something she’ll have to get used to along with the other minor melancholia of life. She’s a sensitive child, as I said, but I haven’t held back on the truth of life and death (and though she’s seen lots of real-life storks, nobody’s ever suggested that they have anything to do with sprogs).
But my question is, does she have to know all about Jesus Christ right now, straight away? She has been informed that to be a friend of Jesus she has to go to catechism class (yea, here in Spain the schools don’t prepare kids for their first communion: separation of church and state and all that). But she’s telling me how “Jesus was taken by some bad people and put up on some sticks and killed.” I mean, WTF? I’ve yet to talk to talk to the priest about this, but I reckon three years old has to be a bit young for that. It definitely seems to be for her. I turn off the news nearly every night here so she doesn’t keep asking why the police are beating the shit out of people protesting an eviction, or just going ballistic on some demonstrators because they can get away with it. It’s hard to tell kids to go running to a cop instead of away (like the police say asking parents not to threaten their kids with “telling a policeman” when they’re naughty – better to say you’ll tell Santy, I reckon) when the cops are gleefully baton charging innocent commuters and popping off plastic rounds down the platform of a railway station, hundreds of yards from the building (full of corrupt fuckers, but that’s another day’s discussion) they’re supposedly protecting. I’m not saying I’ll tell her to run away, but drop into a foetal position is probably good parental advice. I don’t think she needs to know about Jesus Christ’s torture and crucifixion to “be his friend.” Am I being too sensitive?
While I know that some sound humanistic behaviours were advocated by JC back in the day, and I hope he’d be on my side of the police barricade in an eviction situation, I wish we could just skip him altogether and go straight to Ghandi. After all, it’s basically the same message (commits huge error and offends Hindus the world over, but blunders on regardless) but Ghandi has the advantage that he actually achieved something in his lifetime and was so old when he was assassinated (and a few bullets is not quite as gruesome as crucifixion) that we can basically gloss over that bit when we’re talking to preschoolers.
And when do the good people of the world – you and me – think the day will come when we won’t have to hold back any of the truth to young kids, because we won’t have situations where the police are beating protesters (or innocent bystanders), or the army are shooting rubber bullets at drowning migrants to keep them off the beach? When will be not have to turn off the news showing old and infirm pensioners being forcibly evicted from their paid-up house because they signed as guarantor for a son or daughter who bought a shitty flat for an exorbitant price and then lost their job, and the government only gives 400 euro dole, from which they’ve to pay a 400 euro mortgage and keep four kids alive and clothed? My only consolation is that some of it is just news that can be actually turned off the television – that at least she’s not going to school in the US and so she doesn’t need to be trained for the possible event of a “bad person” coming in her school to shoot her and her friends – and I say that as a hunter and gun owner: I’d rather earn a privilege than share a right with a load of fuckwads, especially fuckwads with high powered weapons.
If you can’t answer the question with anything other than my own response: “never, and it’s best to just toughen her up to get prepared for the shit that she’ll have to deal with, which will make our petty problems look, well, petty, if not simply quaint and laughable,” well, then, perhaps I don’t need any advice after all.