“The Mad Hatter: “Would you like some wine?”
The Mad Hatter: “We haven’t any and you’re too young.”
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
And no, I don’t mean that in the ‘person meets an ex and wonders why they ever broke up’ sense. I mean, of course, in the story sense.
This was actually meant to be a very short post. I was online Googling a quote, something short and cute to add to the blog before I went to bed. The one liner in my personal Twitter profile is a quote from Roald Dahl’s The BFG: ‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ As I was on Twitter, I decided to add a quote from The BFG to the blog and just ended up remembering how much I loved this story. The BFG is probably one of the most adorable, beautiful characters ever created.
‘I is reading it hundreds of times,’ the BFG said. ‘And I is still reading it and teaching new words to myself and how to write them. It is the most scrumdiddlyumptious story.’
Sophie took the book out of his hand. ‘Nicholas Nickleby,’ she read aloud.
‘By Dahl’s Chickens,’ the BFG said.’
-The BFG by Roald Dahl
I then started thinking about reading, how it started for me. The truth is, I was terrible at reading when I was younger. Apparently, I was so confused by words they thought I was dyslexic. After this diagnosis they, inevitably, placed me in the bottom set for reading and moved on with life. Thankfully, my mum didn’t think my confusion was something that was unfixable, so she taught me to read.
It started out slow. My mum would read a chapter of a book, giving me a paragraph to struggle through. She taught me how to sound words out, to go slow, because that’s the beauty of words: they aren’t going anywhere. She bought me audiotapes, allowing me to fall in love with the story as I played, which enticed me to sit by myself and follow the tapes with the books that came with them. Soon, I was reading a page, then a whole chapter. And finally, one day, I was able to read a chapter a night by myself, and I read Roald Dahl’s Matilda without any help.
Roald Dahl, for this reason, will always be one of my favourite authors. He had a way of communicating with children that I’m not sure anyone else could ever emulate for me. He is one of few children’s authors that I can still read as an adult and fall in love with again and again.
There are, however, books that fall into obscurity. Coming from a family that moved around a lot thanks to my dad’s job, I’ve lost a lot with each move. It’s natural. Things are misplaced or left behind. It’s also the hazard of owning SO MANY books. You start forgetting what you have and where you keep everything. So, I jotted down a small list that I can remember being there in the very beginning. These are the books that I first fell in love with, when I was still awkward and clumsy at reading. These are the books I should never have forgotten and will never let myself forget again:
Horse Pie by Dick King-Smith
Stig of the Dump by Clive King
Simon and the Witch by Margaret Stuart Barry (these audiotapes were amazing)
Sophie’s Tom by Dick King-Smith (audiotapes also amazing)
What Katy Did by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey
I loved all the Goosebumps books and audiotapes but I’ll choose the one I remember the name of off the top of my head: Say Cheese and Die! by R.L. Stine
This is still on my bookshelf but I can’t not mention it: The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson
Also, if you were a 90s kid, you might appreciate this: Click Me
As a writer the term ‘writer’s block’ is a familiar one, whether it’s being scoffed at or used in jest or disgust. What everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it seems to agree on is: it doesn’t actually exist. Kind of like monsters. I know they’re not real, but I still don’t sleep with my foot hanging over the side of the bed. Y’know, just in case something grabs my ankle.
Ever since I handed in my dissertation last month, I haven’t written ANYTHING useful. Writing this blog entry is actually a little bit of a struggle. I’ve spent more time recently staring at a blank screen or pages, willing something remotely imaginative to form in my mind. But nope. Once, I might have been dubious about describing this as ‘writer’s block’ mainly because before I’d even finished speaking someone would have inevitably jumped in with ‘that isn’t even a real thing.’
So, this blog post is going to be dedicated to how writer’s block IS a thing.
While thinking about this I even went so far as to Google the term ‘writer’s block.’ What I found were a lot of blog posts about how it doesn’t exist. How it’s something we can’t allow to happen as writers because we don’t have the time to entertain it. Unsurprising.
First off, if this logic actually worked I’d never get sick because I can’t afford to be off work. Frankly, I’m usually sick exactly when it’s least convenient. The first time I have ever had the flu – I also hope it’s the only time because man that was horrible – was in the last semester of my final year of undergrad. I had two essays due, and I was ill for over a week. In the land of essay writing, this is a very long time. I lay in bed the entire time, sleeping and listening to Harry Potter audiotapes on my iPod because that’s all I had the energy to do. There was no way I was writing two essays for my Nabokov and Literary Snobbery classes. Well, there was no way I was writing something coherent.
Maybe if I’d told myself ‘there’s no such thing as flu, stop being so self-indulgent, it’s not even that big a nose-bleed, just write your essays’ I would have gotten them both in on time.
I also found something on Wikipedia about it (yes you can’t trust it, but any student that tries to say Wikipedia hasn’t helped them pass at least a handful of essays is either lying… Or they’re so much better at researching than I was.) Not only does Wikipedia refer to writer’s block as a condition, it also linked it to this rather fancy word: disambiguation. According to another Wikipedia page, in this context this word describes ‘a phenomenon involving the temporary (psychological) loss of ability to write.’
Yeah, okay, back to the previous page, though. What follows are some pretty interesting subheadings: causes, coping strategies, and blank page syndrome. Basically, it echoes what those peppy blogs said, but in a more constructive way. What I’d read until now seemed to be a cycle of ‘you can do it’ to ‘get over it’ and back to ‘it’s all in your head.’ What I find most baffling about this attitude is, it all exists in my head. My imagination, the characters, places, words, feelings, that all make up a story come from inside my head. If my head stops allowing me to access it, then I’m pretty much screwed. This is maybe why I liked the phrasing used on the Wikipedia page:
A myth, a figment of my own uncooperative imagination – whatever – it’s still there. Yeah, maybe I thought myself into this writing dry spell, but I’m still going to have to figure out how to come out of it. I think it’s pretty obvious that mine is tied up in nerves over my dissertation, which counts for 60% of my final mark (terrifying) and I’m not worried that I’ll get over it. Well, unless I get my grade back and it’s completely terrible and I start to think maybe this writing malarkey isn’t for me… But that’s all for another blog post, I think.
The important point is, unlike the monsters under my bed, writer’s block is real, a construct of my own making or not. In a way, it isn’t even something anyone else needs to agree with me on. For now, it’s I can’t write, not won’t write. I mean really, if I had a choice between writing or staring blindly at a computer screen, it’s pretty obvious which I’d pick.
So, I guess my musing today has two significant points to it. One, writer’s block is real for me. Two, Wikipedia is still pretty freaking useful.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
- C.S. Lewis
It’s been a little while since I shared some new art, so I thought I’d pop this up. It’s a picture I drew recently for a friend of mine.Usually drawing doesn’t take me long, most without colour are finished within an hour or two. But I struggled a little – not with Ariel once I’d decided what to do, but when I was trying to figure out what to draw.
At first I was going to draw Rapunzel, but I tell you what, she’s one of the most difficult characters I’ve ever attempted. The end product was so terrible I didn’t even keep it around afterwards – it was quickly ripped into multiple pieces and is now floating in the ether. Or wherever recycling goes.
Disney is, and has always been, a big part of my life. For a while I’ve sort of chuckled about it and thought to myself: I’m 25, surely there’ll come a day when I’ll go to choose a DVD and I won’t seriously debate between Frozen and Robin Hood, before realising it’s my day off and I can totally watch both. Then, last night at 3am (it’s always night if you haven’t been to sleep yet, morning if you’re waking up) when all the good ideas come to you, that I realised instead: I’m 25 and I’m in the process of perfecting this playlist…
Chances are that certain maturity ship has sailed. Far, far away. I draw and watch Disney to chill out. I can hold my hand up and say I still watch Nickelodeon – Victorious is kinda amazing, if you haven’t seen it, you haven’t lived, my friend.
I would also like to point out, my attitude to Disney isn’t exactly the same – no, I still can’t watch the bit when Simba’s dad dies, but that’s a separate issue. For this point, one I shall end this post on, I’m going to leave you in the hands of tumblr:
I haven’t uploaded a story in a long while, so I have turned this musing into a sort-of-story.
So, I was updating my CV today and when I reached the ‘Work’ section what can only be described as an accidental-opportunity-for-procrastination popped into my head. I call it accidental because I didn’t seek this thought out by staring blindly at the wall for fifteen minutes, or typing in ‘cat punches dog in the face’ instead of something remotely related to what I’m writing. Nope, my brain actually offered me this one.
A few years back, I remember reading about this woman (I forget her name) who worked in retail. She started a blog (I forget the name of it) and after making an insane amount of people happy about her observations of the general public, they made a book out of it, collecting together all her genius blog posts into one amusing read. Okay, I never actually read the blog, or the book, I just read an article about both, but it was the idea of the blog that popped into my head more than the actual details of the story.
This woman took her every day experience, one social media jokes about as being mundane and tiresome, and turned it into something that made people laugh, cry with said laughter, and take notice.When I heard about it, I remember thinking ‘I wouldn’t have enough funny, inspiring moments to make one post, never mind a whole blog.’
I’ve worked part-time for years in a variety of places, from shops, to supermarkets, to fast food restaurants (I lasted one shift in that one.) In one of my first jobs a guy – let’s call him Douchebag – shouted at me, to the point where my chin wobbled and I knew I was going to burst into tears right there, right in that very moment. It is the one and only time a customer has made me cry. After that, I got a grip of myself, and I toughened up. If people had asked me, I’d say in what I thought was in all honesty, that it took me years to like the general public again. But that isn’t true.
There are countless blog posts out there about how horrible retail is, how difficult, how mean the public are – and it’s true, people are just plain mean a lot of the time, but they’re not mean all the time. In this same job – a supermarket – where I’d had the unpleasant experience of meeting Douchebag, I also met a woman – let’s call her Lovely Lady. Now, Lovely Lady came into my work every Saturday and because I worked every Saturday at the same time, I always saw her. She’d come in, tell me about her husband’s apathy, her daughter’s marital woes, and her health worries. As an 18 year old, I didn’t have much experience in any of these areas to actually contribute, but then I don’t think she needed me to say anything. She just wanted me to stand with her for a few minutes, and give her a fresh, slightly bigger than usual sample of whatever we were trying to promote that day.
One Saturday I was working by myself, and a customer – Rushed Woman – popped away from my counter while I was preparing her order to grab a few items from the vegetable bit. At this moment, Irritable Woman strode up, and I quickly, but politely informed her that I would be right with her, that I was in the process of serving someone else, but I wouldn’t be long. I was then shouted at for about three minutes.
Irritable Woman informed me I was completely disregarding the rules of the ‘queue system.’ – Yes, I’m British, but I was unaware we actually had rules for queuing – Anyway, my counter argument of ‘whether or not Rushed Woman is standing at the counter, she is still in front of everyone else, her presence at the counter has already been established for her to place her order, thus completely rendering this conversation a waste of time,’ was ignored.
At this very moment, Lovely Lady appeared, just as Irritable Woman told me she was going to put in a complaint about me. Now, this was when my confidence started to waver, just a little. Rushed Woman appeared, collected her order and scuttled away, completely unaware of what had just happened. Lovely Lady had watched Irritable Woman leave, a look of outrage on her face. ‘I can’t believe she said that,’ Lovely Lady gasped. ‘And oh my goodness she’s striding off with purpose, and – oh, she’s actually talking to a manager.’ She turned to me and held up her hand. ‘You wait here, I’ll sort this.’
I could not, of course, go anywhere anyway. A queue had already formed again. So, I went back to my work. A considerable amount of time passed, and I just assumed I’d be getting spoken to later when my supervisor was in. When a manager finally appeared, I thought, oh no, this is it. This is going to be the first time I’m going to be told off at work.
Without waiting for me to say anything he said, ‘I’ve just spent the last twenty minutes listening to a customer -‘ Oh no, is he really going to tell me off in front of all these people!? ‘talk my ear off about how incredibly amazing you are.’
There was a look on his face that I can only describe as part-bewilderment, part-amusement. Lovely Lady had apparently explained the whole situation and, without waiting for him to agree with her that yes, I had been in the right, that, no, he wasn’t going to give me a formal warning or fire me, she continued to list every single positive point she could think to say about me.
What, I guess, I have said in a rather long-winded way, is that working in retail can be exactly what it says on the tin: tiresome, a bit soul destroying, mundane, exhausting, and it can make you hate people just a little bit. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, though, in a world of horrible people that will make a stranger cry, or complain about someone because they’re having a bad day, there are other people who balance it out. For the rest of my life, I’ll remember Lovely Lady. She might not remember me, or what she did that day, but that memory does and always will put a smile on my face. It will, without a doubt, always stand out as one of the best moments I’ve had working in retail.
I feel like this story needs to end in the right way so…
I couldn’t be on youtube somewhat aimlessly last night without watching videos I ALWAYS end up on when I’m there. I love love love this one. Nick Pitera, you are one talented guy.