“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right”.

Dumbledore. One of those rare characters whose complexity is rivaled only by their Dumbledoreseemingly inexhaustible crater of wisdom.

Risky at the best of times, I’ve been thinking a lot lately. About how to apply the grand sentiments of a world-saver, like Dumbledore, to an ordinary life.

Put it this way – I’m a Hufflepuff. (The protests of Potter-lovers and fellow Hufflepuffs, against the simplicity of the view that Hufflepuffs are somehow less something, are angry and grating, as uncomfortable as ripping fingernails apart).

“Imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?” The immortal words of Draco Malfoy. As much as it is in a Hufflepuff’s nature to argue that each house is exactly, precisely as important as the other, there can be no denying that Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff get left behind in the race.

The question I am left with is this: how do the people who blend into the background deal with statements like Dumbledore’s. You see, we have a choice. Harry Potter and his friends had to choose good. Those of us occupying unmentioned spaces in the books, ignored in corridors as Harry Potter and his friends rushed past, not receiving an invite to DA meetings and blurring into the crowds of colour at Quidditch matches – well, we had the advantage of an outsiders view.

Does that mean that, even before we got round to considering what might be the ‘right’ course of action (were we For Voldemort or Against), there was a slightly different ‘easy’ option – namely, not taking part at all. What’s to stop us embracing our nameless, faceless personas when the realisation finally dawns – this usually follows closing a book back into its neat rectangle and putting it on the side as sleep inevitably wins again – that we aren’t actually Harry, Ron or Hermione. And we never will be. (I’m sorry, I know it hurts).

This post is in favour of a life not spent doing nothing, just because we can, just because we are not protagonists in a world famous book.Without further ado, because there has been some quite substantial ado, this is my list of things I find most difficult not to duck out of and in which that that is ‘right’ somehow eludes me most often. Fighting these habits, I believe, is how we can apply Dumbledore’s words to a life most ordinary.

  1. Getting angry. People get tetchy when you get angry. Not necessarily getting angry at other people, more your opinions are coursed through with strains of anger. I have been told off more times than I can count – by strangers, by friends, but my family always hurts the most – about my feminist views. No, Mum, I don’t enjoy having my arse slapped from a moving car, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop walking along the main road to get into town. Brexit was another vote of no confidence in my opinions. My boyfriend told me to stop complaining; get on with my life. A valid point, I suppose. But if no one ever got angry about politics, if everyone decided to ‘just get on with it’, our world history would be very different and I’m fairly certain it would not be nearly as rich or interesting. There would be no Les Mis, for one. Anger equates to caring and caring leads to action. It’s very easy to sit down when people tell you to stop having opinions, but we all know that Alexander Hamilton would be telling us to “rise up”.
  2. Pushing yourself. Acceptable will always be an option. Schools will always push for the C grades they need and no further. Unis for the 2:1. But what if I worked for an extra hour each day. What if I turned the TV off while I’m supposed to be reading this essay. This book was probably written to be read, rather than stared at. What ifs are as unavoidable as illuminated road signs on a nighttime drive. Either we pretend not to notice them and stare intently at the road, concentrating very hard on driving in a straight line. Or, we could take notice. Just this once. And, I guess, that way, we would be a whole lot more prepared for the roundabouts looming, as yet unseen in the distance. 
  3. Grumbling. A pet peeve of mine, yet something I still find myself doing – often. The irony of complaining about complaining is not quite strong enough to stop me doing it. Sigh, and off we go again. This one adds the element of fear into doing what is ‘right’, because I’m tempted to theorise that we only grumble to put off action. For how long do we have to grumble that again no one put the bins out, until we actually do it ourselves. And if we continue to moan while we’re doing that, it’s probably to block out the smell or something. 
  4. Treating your body right. Flurries of excuses circle in my sleepy brain every morning. I can’t possibly go for a run because the shower’s broken, because it’s too hot outside – and I’m sure I’d promised myself a day off around about now. The excuses get weaker as the days pass. The slight, half-hearted squidge I give the lone kiwi in the fruit bowl is absolutely enough to tell me it is definitely gone off – ah well, just have to have another brownie instead. Fine, I had two. This cycle, again. Unfortunately these cycles tend to last significantly more time than the health cycles. Probably because it’s easy. The number one gear on the bike instead of the number six. Only, number six would give me a much flatter stomach and a much nicer bum, I’m sure.
  5. “Short as time is it is made still shorter by the careless waste of time”. Victor Hugo never spoke truer words, and that is saying something. Yes, I may have watched all episodes of Jane the Virgin this Summer, and yes, it was amazing, but was it worth 33 hours of my time over 4 days? God I want to say yes, but no, it probably was not. Jane the Virgin was definitely the best of it (at least she inspired me to get writing again), I have also scrutinised all episodes of 24 hours in A&E, devoured Suits and forayed into Sex Box before deciding that wasn’t really for me. When things got really boring, I’m ashamed to admit my phone would make an appearance, balanced precariously above my iPad so I could gaze at both screens with one eye on each. Careless, absolutely. A waste of time, even more so. 

All this makes me sound like the worst, laziest person. Dumbledore was right. The time has come to choose between what is right and what is easy. Help a girl out in the comments and let me know what habits you find yourself slipping into with ease, even though you know you shouldn’t. Maybe we can all feel like good-intentioned, albeit currently sub-par people together. However, one thing is certain: choosing easy stops here.

642 Things to Write About – #23

Rene DescartesA light in your backyard gets brighter and brighter, until… Flash! Flash! Flash! What causes these flashes? Where are you, and how do they affect you?

I write this sitting in a powercut. The only light with which to write is the torch on my phone. I’m in an odd posture, knelt on the floor with my ankles crossed, elbows on my bed and holding my phone close to my notebook – we don’t get much light in the countryside. In the dark it casts a surprisingly bright, yellow circle of light across my pad.

Flash! The largest thunder storm I’ve heard in a long time has been ravaging my little town all night. The lightning lit up the whole room while we watched Bake Off.

I have just looked out of my window and it’s strange… there really is a light there. A steady light, I mean, artificial looking. Hovering. It seems to be getting closer. Blinking. Or is it winking  at me through the darkness?

It reaches my window. The Flash! Flash! Flash! is like a soundless knock on the glass. It doesn’t wait for an answer.

The light enters and halts right in front of my nose. So much so that I go cross eyed as I try to keep it in view. In my blurred vision, the circle of light becomes ever so slightly elongated, like it’s leaning back nosily, to get a good look at my face. It rises to the centre of my forehead and passes through my skin, through my skull and into my brain.

I look down at the black of my phone screen and see my reflection. That shouldn’t happen. It’s pitch black, there’s no light to make a reflection. A tiny dot of light is visible in the centre of my pupils.

Suddenly, I feel my hand start to move. I’m sure I’m not telling it to do that. I try to keep it still. No, it continues to move, tracing small circles around a space at the beginning of the first available line – like it’s getting its bearings. I don’t hear a sound above the heavy beating of my heart as the pen hits the page and starts to write:

Mistress, what cheer? A good even to you.

“Umm. I – “

Beseech you, understand my purposes. My name is Rene Descartes. I won’t stay long, just a quick stop this time. 

“I – This time? Wh-“

Shh. There is no time to chat, I must be getting on. You are only stop 350 this even, really I am very behind. Now, look again into that, that – thing – what do you people call them? No, quiet! Don’t answer, just pick it up.

I think he means my phone. Either way, my left hand has started to move that way of itself.

Now. Look into it – that’s it. What do you see?

“My face?”

A thing of naught! Look into your eyes. Into your own eyes – look deeply now. The light I sense you picked up on earlier. Yes, look closer at that light”

Without any other option I do as he says.

And what do you see?

“No way! What?”

Ha! Do you see it? You see it, don’t you! See me I should say, of course.

There is a tiny, genuinely tiny little man sat in a chair inside my head. I don’t know what to add to that sentence.

Don’t worry I’ll do the talking.

“You know what I’m thinking?”

Of course! I am in your brain after all. Yes, I am Rene Descartes and I am here, leaving my writing – you will find your own script has changed to resemble absolutely my own, 400 years aold – as proof that the pineal gland exists! Mr Ryle has dragged my name through the mud quite enough! It is time I proved my theory once and for all. Human beings are controlled by a tiny man, the soul we might say, located in the pineal gland in the brain. On the morrow, thousands of people all over the world will wake up to scripts of this strange white parchment, just as you have here, with my writing on them. The pineal gland exists, I am sitting in it now, directing your hand precisely to imitate my own. Quite the monumental proof, I hope you will agree.

“I-“

Hush,  I did not ask for your input. As I was saying –

“But, Mr Descartes – “

Hush! My time with you is up; I must get on to my next vict – ahem – appointment. Yes. Thank you kindly for the use of your brain. I do commend me to you. Farewell!

I have only time to think that I, for one, will be telling nobody of this encounter in the morning, and that it’s strange, as much as Descartes wanted to contradict the accusation that his theory creates nothing but a ghost in a machine, in doing so he really had become a ghost controlling a machine. My mind is starting to go fuzzy. And, just as if the power has been cut in my own body, I feel myself fall into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

642 Things to Write About -#22

dreamsDescribe trying to remember a dream

A Visit to the Dream Factory

There’s lots of squinting blindly into the distance as I try to make the journey inside my mind. 

I wonder what the imagination would look like if I was creative about it?

Probably the least creative idea imaginable, conveyor belts are the first thing that spring to mind.

Let’s try again.

Okay, so maybe there are huge vats of bubbling, viscous liquids on each side of the belt. Rich purples, so bright it could only have been produced with artificial flavours and colourings… or by the mind. Waxy lemon yellows, royal blues, strawberry jam reds. Some of them even flecked with particles of deeper red, adding interesting, delicious looking textures, like the seeds in raspberry jam. Oddly, the popping bubbles that burst from the surface of each vat, disgusting had they been emitted from grey and brown, pulpy liquids, look more intriguing than anything else when bright colour is added.

Yes, that’s what remembering a dream is like. Being on a conveyor belt and getting distracted by each thought in turn, looking closer at the details and wondering, just wondering. Does this all mean something? I gloss over some elements – even miss them out entirely. My attention is fully focused on one element until… too late! I’m at the end of the conveyor and the dream has ended.

Better go back to the start, see if I can notice anything new this time round.

There are some dreams that don’t seem quite interesting enough to share. So maybe I embellish. I mean, if you look REALLY hard and REALLY close, there definitely is a slight sparkle emitting from the Elphaba-Green vat of liquid. No one will know if I quickly twist the dial on the side of the vat. Up, up a few notches. Just a few. It’s only a little bit underhand, nothing major. Voila! The sparkles are turned up and the dream is more interesting, more magical, more how I would have made it if my brain had been turned on when I dreamed the dream. This isn’t rewriting, just expanding. It’s a little more exciting, and this sparkling, golden, wonderfully flashy element is a little more integral to the dream as a whole.

The more I go over and over the dream, my feet start to notice odd bumps and dips in the conveyor belt. Maybe the conveyor isn’t as simple as I first thought. Maybe I was wrong to dismiss it. Finally, I look down to see what I should have seen all along. The core of the dream. It could be a patchwork quilt of thoughts, a yellow brick road of borrowed ideas, a concrete pavement, or none of those things at all.

Whatever it is, I know only one things as I squint with effort to remember my dreams, and tap them out on my laptop screen. I know that, once I have woken up and left that remembered dream forever, it can never again exist in its organic state. My awoken mind will embellish, focus and ignore until it creates a dream interesting enough, acceptable enough to be told to other people. This dream factory, my dream factory, will never be good enough, never be comparable to better minds than my own.

642 Things to Write About – #21

5-Tiger-Lily-And-Hook-cartoon-for-kidsDescribe A Dream You Remember

When I was 9 I had a very superstitious friend. (We would later fall out over going on a ghost tour of our home town – funny, the things we fall out over as children). We were sitting on the school field on a particularly sunny day. Me squinting at her as the sun glared down, almost as if it was trying to penetrate my skull and get into my mind. She was lying back on the grass, not bothered by the intensity of the light. She was describing a dream she’d had recently.

She had been wearing an emerald green, satin ball gown. Dancing, there had been so much dancing, she told us. Her dress had twirled around her as she was spun by captains dressed in red, and courtly gentlemen in black. Their strong arms would catch her back again, leading her on to the next move in the dance while she remained dizzy in a swirl of colour and twinkling jewels. She remembered the ball room. The most enormous windows, stretching from floor to ceiling, the glass panels as big as doors offered a glimpse into the world outside. The light from the stars throbbed between bright and dim, in an echo of her rapidly beating heart. She reckoned it was the court of Queen Elizabeth I. And, crucially, she had had this dream three times.

“If you dream anything more than twice, it was true! No, honestly, my Mum says so! If you dream the same dream more than twice, it’s a memory from one of your past lives. I wonder who I was…”

Her voice had tailed off dreamily as she imagined, her mind embellishing the experiences of this person she had once been. Soon a handsome gentleman turned up for her to dance with each night. Rather than being passed from man to man she would wait all night to dance with this one, tall, dark and handsome stranger. Well of course our young minds ran with that one.

I was envious of her beautiful past life. There is only one dream that had recurred – also three times – in my sleeping state.

Captian Hook chasing me and my family (us in a 4×4 car, Hook and his pirates in their flying ship) up a hill. Somehow I doubted that this was my past life.

Hook and his men chased us endlessly up that hill. It was shaped like a Mr Whippy 99, the road carved around it, forcing it into that distinctive swirling shape up to its narrow peak. Round and round we would go until we reached the crest –

–  And at that point my imagination would always become self-conscious. It would realise, quite suddenly, that this story wasn’t something already written to be followed, without choice, until its end. No, my mind was imagining. And now it didn’t know where to go.

So we would hover, the flying Jolly Roger would rise in front of us in the air, and just sit there. The pirates would lunge and my family would lean back in terror. The pirates would lunge and my family would lean back in terror. And again and again. My brain would sometimes flip between the two – weak attempts to add diversity and intrigue to the dream.

I remember nothing more distinctly than the faces of those pirates. They were terrifying. Teeth bared, spittle visible both on their teeth and leaping from their mouths as they shouted and screamed with glee. Like monkeys they would cling to the rigging and use their extremely long, bandy arms to reach towards us through the air.

I never really knew what they were planning to do to us. I remember swords. The type that begin slim at the handle and become wider and curved along the sword’s length. The picture of these glinting while we hovered in the cloudy sky is so clear in my memory, that I imagine my family’s fate would probably have revolved around those swords. If my imagination had ever made it that far.

Looking back at pictures of the Disney film, the pirates are not scary at all. My nine-year-old self felt very differently. Terror would spread through me, like liquid filling its container, no sooner did the fright spill from my heart than it was everywhere. Inescapable. Maybe that’s why my brain held out on devising an ending to this story – I was just too scared to find out what might come next.

It has only just occurred to me that when my imagination became self conscious at the end of these dreams, I was probably starting to lucid dream. Giving it a name like that sounds very impressive, but really I think instances like that were the beginnings of a mind that doesn’t trust my own creativity to end the stories it starts. A mind so doubtful of itself that it either couldn’t, or chose not to provide me with the satisfying endings that I would later turn to books to find.

Take A Break

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you” – Anne 50-ways-to-take-a-breakLammott

It’s time we all started taking unapologetic breaks.

What’s the most important word in that sentence for you? Started? Time? (It’s already running away from you even as you read this). What about taking? – As if time for ourselves is a kind of theft. Breaks? Well, that sounds like the time we steal for our own, selfish use is irreparably damaging something. Snap! and it’s broken in half. What that something is, however, I am yet to figure out.

For me, the word that sticks out from the rest is ‘unapologetic’. How many times have we all read the blog post, obligatory on each page, that begins: I’m really sorry I’ve not posted in a week/fortnight/month/year (ahem, myself of three months ago). This is followed by a self deprecating ‘not that I expect any of you noticed’ and a list of excuses detailing how very busy we’ve been. Anything, anything at all to stop people thinking we’ve been – that most shocking, most scandalous of all words – lazy.

I’m going to break the habit that is my own and everyone else’s and admit that I have been lazing. No runs and five and a half Harry Potter books later, my Summer has become a haze of late mornings, baking and watching Team GB smash the Rio Olympics.

Of course it would be wonderful to be able to swim like Adam Peaty, do Gymnastics like Simone Biles or a triathlon like the Brownlees. But you know what else is pretty great? The perfect temperature cups of tea I’ve been happily sipping for the past two weeks, momentarily surfacing from my books. The most I have had to contend with is the eternal struggle of trying to hold an eight hundred page hard back book open in one hand and somehow still manage to read whilst drinking from a very large mug. (On a related note, if you are a slurper of tea, I whole-heartedly encourage you to take a break and fix that immediately. Please. For all our sakes.)

I’m not saying this willing lethargy of many days and many nights will continue forever. Writing this post is actually signalling its end. I’m in a liminal space. I already miss that ongoing, if dwindling break and at the same time appreciate the purpose that writing just one blog post provides.

Time off is not, and never will be a bad thing. It’s been said before, but no matter how many times we repeat it, our time does indeed remain short. Your time remains short. It is, after all, yours to do with as you please. So grab it, take a firm grip – loop your fingers round and cross them tightly together if you have to – wrench that time back from the capitalist leeches, and that part of yourself that thinks you are only worth something if you are working. (Capitalist leeches are, I imagine, black, writhing, slippery. They look deceptively humorous in their square spectacles, giving the impression that they are trustworthy and intelligent. We should know better).

So. Grab a book, a pen, grab your trainers, or a hoola-hoop. Whatever it is, just for an hour, a day or even two, abandon your desk and take a bloody break. You’ve earned it.

642 Things to Write About – #20

You watch an old movie and realise its about you…silent-movie

The movie started off silent. Black and white. It’s a silent movie, but the actors don’t seem aware of that. There’s no turning to the camera with exaggerated expressions, echoing The Scream. The actors go on moving their mouths quickly in rapid conversation. 

A young girl with a blonde bob is shown – a six year old flapper, if we want to continue the classic movie references. Do I recognise her? She’s playing on a slide with her older brother. Except this brother keeps choosing to walk up the slide the wrong way, blocking her more traditional route downwards. The time is sped up, as if someone has pressed fast forward. The children scurry around like rats, and tumble around, ever the inexpert gymnasts.

The jilting screen somehow manages to transition smoothly to the next scene.

We’re at a family barbecue. There’s no doubting it, these people are familiar. The same family members we don’t talk to. Arguments over a will or two had ended those relationships a long time ago. But this was right at the start. Even the people who made those troublesome wills, they’re there too.

As the child gets older the sound starts to come too.

I realise, my heart, though tingling with excitement, drops suddenly from its rightful place down to my stomach. Even then, there’s no hint that it’s reached its resting place – because this is me.

That silence. Maybe that was the time my preschool teachers told my parents I was a mute. (Actually, I was very loud at home, I just chose not to give people I didn’t like, i.e. the teachers, my voice – in other words, I was a selective mute). IT all made sense. That’s why mine and my brother’s mouths had moved with no sign that others wouldn’t follow.

But – interesting movies require interesting subjects. That’s not me.

First day of primary school, before we know it followed by secondary school. Holidays across the world – one or two notable incidents include a near-drowning and being peed on by a bat. Moving to university. Ahh no, this woman on the train next to me looks very drunk. Yep, there she goes puking her guts up before falling asleep across her seat and locking movie-me to her window-seat for the remainder of the two hour journey. That memory is no less painful watched back than being lived.

Yada, yada, yada.

All this stuff specific to my own experiences probably isn’t interesting to you. Why don’t we look at the stuff we would all be thinking if we were to watch a movie of ourselves.

Namely – what happens next?

As we approach that part, getting exam results and doing internships, boyfriends and an endless number of firsts – and the apprehension starts to build. What’s stronger – the desire for nothing to go wrong or for everything to go right? The feeling, somewhere between excitement and fear, cannot be placed exactly. Somehow it is neither of those things and both, all at once.

The moment is here. Creepy is the word I could use to describe watching my movie-self put that DVD in the player and sit down to watch it, just as the real me did, just an hour before. I reach for the remote, unsure if I really want to see what happens next.

Suddenly, the world decides for me that paradoxes like this aren’t allowed.

A powercut plunges my house and the street into complete darkness and the TV off. I scramble to the hallway and find some matches in a drawer.

Striking one, I leap back.

A weeping angel is in front of me. Teeth bared, claws out and leaning forwards. In my shock, I drop the match. She touches me; I transport to the past.

And that, my dear readers, is how I, quite unexpectedly, quite randomly in fact, got stuck in the movie of my life.

642 Things to Write About – #19

You find out your neighbour’s brick house is actually made of painted books. Which one dobook-igloo-1 you want to read and what happens when you take it?

Did I want to read Les Mis or Winnie the Pooh? Litte Dorrit or The Wizard of Oz? The Kite Runner, A Fine Balance, Shantaram? Harry Potter, Birdsong, Half of the Yellow Sun? An obvious choice stood out: The Book Thief.

The Problem. There’s always a problem. The Book Thief was right in the centre of the house, just above the door. Stealing necessitates subtlety. But how?

Screw it.

I knew there was a ladder in my garage, silence would have to be my cover, and stealth. Channeling Mulan I lightly ran back towards my house and, 2 minutes later, returned with the ladder.

I leaned it against the House of Books and carefully, ever so quietly, I started to climb.

It was too short!

Luckily I’m a good problem solver – at least, it says so on my CV. Balancing on the second to last step, I pushed my weight up, onto tip toes. I’m a physical embodiment of “reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground”. Or the rung of a ladder, as it may be.

Like a game of Jenga, I used my fingertips to prize the book gently backwards, but as I did so something caught my eye. A duck-egg blue book, with a blank space on the spine where the title should be. The authors name: my name! Is this the as yet unwritten book I’d always longed to write?

Sucking in a breath unconsciously but loudly, my hand drifted away from The Book Thief. Even further up (stretch!) and to the left.

Jenga again.

“Oi! What do you think are you doing?”

I look down. Mr Johnson is glaring up at me.

“Oh, Mr Johnson! Don’t worry, I’m just looking!” I hoped he wouldn’t sense the note of panic in my voice.

But his shout had made me jump.

My stretching hand came back down quickly to stabilise myself. As it did so knocking The Book Thief, left jutting from the side of the house before I’d been distracted. My weight pushed the book down on a pivot, lifting those above it up. Dislodging them. They came back down with an almighty thud. Unbalanced, the pile threatened to fall on top of me.

Threat, of a sudden, became reality. I was buried in an enormous mountain of books.

I heard his footsteps, bare bone against the tarmac, long before I saw him. Death’s gaunt and shadowy face looked down at me.

“Liesl, I thought we’d agreed? No more stealing books…”