Monday, 14 May 2018

Why is it so hard to make 'good' choices?

I like to think that I'm a reasonably intelligent woman. I manage to stumble through life without too much trouble most days and I have mastered being a civilised being in an increasingly complex world. So you'd think that making choices about my life would be a doddle, wouldn't you?

Well it's not as easy as that in Johanne's World.

I have a great gift for self sabotage. Wherever there are choices to be made I will veer towards the 'bad' choice like I'm magnetically drawn to it and have left my free will in dry dock. It doesn't even matter what I'm making a choice about, it can be anything and I am perfectly capable of making a 'bad' choice.

I know that giving subjective values like 'good' or 'bad' to choices is a bit silly but it helps to focus my mind on what I mean. A choice is neither 'good' or 'bad' in reality, it is just a choice but in certain circumstances I need to assign such values to my choices to differentiate between them.

Take food for example. I am old enough (God, am I old enough!) to know which foods are 'good', nutritious and have health and well being benefits for me. I know that I have a weakness for certain foods and do not exercise any form of control when eating them - I'm looking at you pasta, white bread and crisps! For me these are 'bad' foods and choosing to eat them is 'bad' for me, makes me feel sluggish and piles weight on or stops me losing weight. So you'd think it would be easy to choose the 'good' foods and to shun the 'bad' foods, wouldn't you? Wrong! I keep choosing the 'bad' foods, over and over again, for years and years and years. I sabotage efforts to make healthy choices, 'good' choices and I reel from one shameful episode of crisp scoffing to another toast binge.

So why do I sabotage myself like this? I wish I knew. I'm fed up of trying to sort out my diet, trying to improve my fitness, address my health concerns only to sabotage my own efforts. It's getting to the point where I don't want to start again and am on the verge of accepting that I will never make things any better. And that's a depressing thought.

I guess what I'm saying is that my ability to make 'bad' choices is stronger than my desire to improve my health. I feel really sad typing that as it sounds as if I have no control over my own life and lifestyle choices.

It's not only with food that I manage to make 'bad' choices either. Every day I wake up full of good intentions for writing. I fully intend to turn the TV off and the laptop on, to be productive and creative. And most days I leave the TV on and waste hours watching junk daytime TV, the laptop left cold in its case and my stories remain unwritten and untold. Again, I sabotage my efforts by making a 'bad' choice.

So what should I do? How do I break this cycle? I'm not sure, I really don't know if I can. Perhaps it's just part of my DNA or personality and I have to accept that. Maybe there is a way out, I'm not sure. I know that I can't keep sabotaging my efforts and feel good about it. I need to find a way that works for me, a way to make the 'right' choices, the 'good' choice for me.

And that's what I have to do now, to start making 'good' choices. I'm not sure how I'll do it, after all I have many years of self sabotage experience behind me and it won't be easy changing the habits of an adult lifetime. But I want to do it and that's got to be positive, hasn't it? Wish me luck ...

Thursday, 10 May 2018

What to do when a book recommendation isn't doing it for me.

I'm very lucky to have many good friends who recommend books for me to read. Some are even kind enough to pass books on when they've finished reading them. And sometimes I have found a real gem this way.

But what do I do when someone sends a book that they've loved but that leaves me cold?

It seems mean to discard the book. After all it was given with love and good intentions. But as I get older I'm less tolerant of spending time on things that don't bring me joy. And life is too short to spend it reading books that I don't enjoy. I'm also less bothered by stopping a book that isn't doing it for me. I used to think that I had to finish every book I started, even the real stinkers. I prided myself that I had only abandoned one book - Captain Corelli's Mandolin, I'm looking at you! Now I will put a book down and walk away if it isn't speaking to me. After all there are so many books to read and so little time.

But what do I tell the giver of the gift? Do I confess that the book wasn't for me? Or do I spare their feelings and say it was OK?

At the moment I'm struggling with a book that just isn't doing it for me. I find the writing clunky and it's grating on me as I read. I'm only a few pages in so I'll give it a little longer but if I don't get gripped soon I'll have to leave it. It's only fair to all the other book cluttering my desk, table, chest of drawers etc.

Sometimes, something has to give. And it's sometimes a disappointing book.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Book review - We Need to Talk About the Conditions of my Imprisionment by Michelle Tan

It's been a while since I had much to do with toddlers and small children so I put that out as a disclaimer right now. However, I was thrust back into the world of temper tantrums, fussy eating and Yummy Mummies as soon as I started to read this wonderful collection of thoughts about parenthood. Michelle Tan has assembled a witty group of parents to share some of the highs and lows of living with young children. But beware: you may find yourself laughing out loud as you share the embarrassment, the pain and the sleep deprivation that comes with the territory!

From the opening Fairy Tale for the Perfect Mother through to the title piece We Need to Talk About the Conditions of my Imprisonment I found myself smiling with recognition, snorting in solidarity and laughing out loud at the things parents go through in the course of an average day with little ones. I loved the brutal honesty of Why Can't We Have Sex Like The Coneheads? I empathised with the embarrassed mother in Where Do Babies Come From? I loved the children's dialogue in The Green Food Strike. Mostly though, I felt deep sympathy for the poor food soaked, sleep deprived, embarrassed parents who are struggling to get through another day which is being derailed by their offspring. I salute you and wish you luck. I'm also insanely glad that I've left those difficult days far behind me!

The book is released on 21st April but you can pre-order it from Amazon

Sunday, 25 March 2018

What to do with criticism. Or how I learnt to deal with it.

Recently I took an online course on writing short stories. I was looking for a push to get me going again after a brief hiatus and this seemed like the perfect way. One of the features of the course was the chance to have work read and critiqued by course tutors and peers. This appealed to me as I don't really have anyone who I regularly ask to read my work and give me hints about what works and what needs work. Maybe when I have a greater body of work that I'm happier with I may look for people to read things but at the moment I'm still finding my feet when it comes to short stories.
The peer review was very useful for a story I started a few weeks ago and have done some work on. The readers showed me the things they liked, the places where they were confused and I was able to straighten things out so it read 'better'. This gave me confidence and I continue to work on this story which is now more or less finished but still at the polishing stage.
I then submitted the start of another story, very much first draft, to the tutor and awaited their feedback. Reader, I asked for it! Lots of problems, lots to fix, the beginning of the story needs moving, too much showing etc. I was crestfallen. Hardly anything positive to say about it.
Now, not so long ago I would have weep real tears, deleted the story and giving up on any idea that I could be a writer. My writer's ego really was that fragile a year ago. Don't get me wrong, it hurt to read how much there was wrong about my story. After all, they're a bit like my babies and I can be a bit Tiger Mother about them.
This time I read his comments with a writer's eye. I looked again at what I had written and I could see the faults and the flaws. Yes, the story would be much tighter if I started it much later in my current narrative. Yes, I was doing to much 'head dwelling'. Yes, I needed to get to the point more quickly and succinctly. There was work to do but I could do it and end up with a  better story as a result.
So what have I learnt? That sometimes I need to step back, take another view and do the dreaded re-write. That first drafts are almost always not up to scratch. That time given to reading the comments of another reader is time well spent.
Finally, I learnt that taking the ego out and accepting some criticism is necessary to end up with a story that I am proud of, a story that one day may make its own way in the world.