IF

Powerful little word, if.

You don’t have to add much to it to find yourself staring at the sheer rock face of possibilities. You see, with a little effort, that lonely little word can become, ‘What if?’ but also, ‘If only’ and without even having to really do anything, deep thought awaits.

In both of these examples, the little word ‘if’ teases us with the thoughts of that which didn’t come to pass. How often do we hear people saying ‘If only’ they’d done, or indeed not done, something which had brought them to a particular unhappy position. They lament having turned left rather than right, they shouldn’t have gone to bed angry or not had that last drink.

These and so many other examples all appear when we regret. We look at the world that we’re in and can identify that a single event was the one that made this specific timeline switch tracks. We regret and, thanks to the horrifying perfection of hindsight, can see exactly where we went wrong and long for the chance to just take that one thing back.

I’ve had an element of this in mind for some bits and pieces I’ve been working on but I’m able to cast a new view as my own life experiences grow.

The other example I gave of the power of ‘if’ was ‘What if?’ and it’s very similar in terms of the view of what could have been but this time, rather than just focusing on the event, now we’re trying to extrapolate from an event, what would have happened following the right rather than left turn. The easiest and possibly largest ‘What if’ is ‘What if the Nazi’s had won WWII?’ Stories have been told starting from this very ‘What if?’ and minds can wander in any and all directions playing with the ideas of the ‘What if’.

Now it’s the ‘What if’ that grabbed me recently.

I’ve been working on some short story ideas with a view to eventually putting together another collection of stories but I realised that the ‘What if’ would be the perfect place to start from. What if humans had evolved from lizards rather than mammals? What if the meteor impact that made the dinosaurs extinct carried a form of alien life which became humans? What if we are alone in the universe?

Now I appreciate that these ideas listed here float around a similar point but the possibilities are almost endless. I’m plonking away on a collection of ideas but I’m also reaching out to the world for other ideas.

Is there a ‘What if’ you’d like to see examined in a short story? Please comment if you have something you’d like to have me work with.

It could be amazing.

If Only!

CREATING MONSTERS

It’s been going on for years and years that authors turn a situation or person from the real world into a monster in one of their stories. Creatures of all shapes and sizes are used as metaphors for any and all eventualities and can provide a level of depth to what’s being written which may not have been as easily accessible without the outside influence.

I’m a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the different monsters which rumble across the screen each episode represent a different issue that may creep up in the real world. The use or overuse of magic is discussed as thinly veiled disguise for the same issues with drugs. A boyfriend giving a girl the brush off after they’ve got down and dirty together gets redeployed as Angel losing his soul and turning evil.

Now I’ve spoken previously about ways that writers can use their words as a catharsis to cast away pain and trauma but I’ve recently found a great example of an actor doing just that when creating his portrayal of a role.

While filming The Princess Bride, Mandy Patinkin was coming to terms with the death of his father to cancer and found himself able to place the brutal disease as the six fingered man so when he delivered the line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” he was able to fight the very thing that robbed him of his father.

I’m doing the same thing in my head at the moment. I’ve managed to start some work on a handful of ideas for short stories and in all of them I find myself putting the death of my own father into different elements to try and work through the grief.

I can only hope that mine are even partially as successful a Mandy Patinkin’s delivery. Thanks to YouTube, here’s the clip for you.

You have to watch to the very end and I can’t echo the feeling enough.

 

NORMALITY?

With everything that’s been going on recently, it’s brought it into sharp focus for me that trying to maintain a level of normality is really tough. Trying to do all of the things you have to in life gets really challenging when something brutal lands but the turning wheel of the normal will continue to turn, regardless of anything else.

So how do you maintain the slog through all of the normality when something else is trying to rip you apart?

That’s been the state of play for me for the last weeks and today was the first day back in work since my dad left us. I’ve been looking after my wife after she had an operation as well, so I’ve been able to keep my mind active but going back to work has given me a new challenge. In work, aside from the various times where life throws the occasional curve ball, work is familiar. Work is ordered. Work can mean that you delve into swathes of normality which can leave you with no protection against the thoughts of the monster attacking you.

This can mean distractions and all of a sudden you may have mistakes. Those on the outside know what you’ve been going through but normality still needs to be maintained.

Now this has been awful for us. I’ve hated the thoughts that have gone through my head and trying to keep my focus on what has to be done in the world around me has been tough. I can imagine that my family have had the same problems but what my mum is going through must be pulverizing.

But we have to go on when we grieve. We have to make sure that the real world continues even when we feel it can’t.

I think I’ll be able to create deeper characterisations in my writing with the added experience of what I’m feeling now and being back in the ‘office’ today did feel positive for getting me moving. The normal is a vital chunk of what we see and do and it’s so easy to have that become uncomfortable when something goes wrong but I’ve found that the normal is just another colour in the palette of life, and as such shouldn’t be overlooked.

AND THAT’S OUT

Over the last weeks, I think everyone would recognise if you’ve read my stuff in the past, I’ve been more philosophical. I’m a fan of comedy and making people smile is a wonderful thing, as I love to smile too but that hasn’t been to the fore.

In 2013, my dad was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a degenerative lung disease which has been slowly causing fibrous scarring to form throughout his lungs and has been robbing him of his ability to breathe.

It’s a topic of discussion which tends to crop up when we think about life with disease. Would you rather have ten years left but the final three be in ever growing pain or would you rather just have five good years and then pass on? It’s a question that we all have to consider for ourselves but the reality of that choice is so much worse than we tend to realise.

Could you live in crushing agony twenty four hours a day just to be alive for one more day?

IPF is a brutal disease that the British Lung Foundation is always looking for donations to help defeat. Please everyone, make the most of all the time you have with friends and family.

My dad died last week.

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FOR THE BEST

When you’re under a huge amount of stress and everything is going wrong around you, are you able to turn all of the negative things that you’re facing into anything even vaguely positive? When you have the crap flying at you, do you feel the need to to start swinging in return?

It’s a method that gets rolled out very often in story telling whereby the characters actions are explained, and often justified, by the external forces that they experience.

Anakin Skywalker is nudged, rather than shoved.

Each and every one of us will be the result of the experiences which make up our lives. A deep rooted fear of spiders may come from that time when you were a kid and the creepy little beasts ran all over you in bed. I’ve been a terrible passenger in cars after I was badly injured in a crash.

But when a great many of the worst type of events line up one after another it could become really easy to let the feeling of ‘why me?’ build up to the point where you would lash out. You snap and do something which is out of the norm just as a way to exert the very barest shred of control. From there you can continue to tumble as the pressure remains and soon, you’ve been behaving in a very antisocial fashion and have been pushing people away left, right and centre.

So could you be smashed down by the worst that life has to throw at you and not turn to the dark side? Could you take all of the horror and turn it to something which is much stronger and lighter?

On the most part, everyone sees themselves as being the good guy. Looking again to Anakin Skywalker, as each of the nudges bumped him, he reacted. He pushed back in the only way he could at the time until, without him even realising, he was clad in black and slaughtering people. Now this isn’t to say that anyone going through bad times will be just one problem away from going on a murderous rampage but rather than they want to have some ability to face the world and push back. So when everything conspires to grind you down, could you turn all of the hurt into an act of kindness rather than violence? Could you still do the good rather than just lash out?

I guess that none of us will ever know until we’re forced to face that choice.

I know that I’m doing my best to stay positive at the moment despite everything and I can feel the benefits. I’m still under the attack that all of the family are under but I’m trying to hold as much positivity as I can rather than just turning to the anger.

We just have to keep on swinging.

REACH OUT

Just how many of us are trying to get our voices heard?

Every day at work, at school, at home and at everywhere else in between, we all want our voice to be heard.

We want to know that what we say is seen as having value. We need to have that feeling of validation. That our ideas, and by extension, us in general are viewed as having worth.

So why do we all need to be clamoring to be heard?

As the world we live in changes and our interconnectedness as a species evolves with the addition of each new way we can share what we’re up to, there comes with it the new horror. If it’s so simple to connect with anyone and everyone, if any talentless wannabe with a webcam and a silly idea can become the greatest sensation the world has ever seen (at least for a minute), how could any of us struggle to be listened to?

The speed that communication works can make us all feel that the torrent of words is washing us away as we do everything to stay afloat. We need to know that our ideas have been noticed as they’re cast into the rushing waters, that someone out there just happened to be looking in just the right place at just the right time and agreed with us. When we see the ‘likes’ flashing up, it goes far beyond just being a fix to an addict, it can become the lifeline to a drowning man. In that instant when the thumbs up or orange dot appear, just for that second, we can know that somewhere out in the darkness that there was someone who didn’t think we were talking nonsense.

But this brings up another issue.

What if just being noticed is the goal and agreement with anyone is irrelevant?

Why do we see so many examples of people putting forward awful ideas just to provoke a reaction? The negative game of just trying to draw as many people as possible just to pay attention to what you say by being as vile or provocative as you can is a tactic readily used to shine a light on a given topic and all of the anger and blazing outpouring of righteous indignation play directly into the plan. So many people then start talking about all of the terrible things said and all of a sudden, the narrative is spread wider than with just a comment about something ‘positive’.

I have this great fire in me that wants to reach out to others. I can recognise that the world is a place where you can be left to feel as if you’re drifting alone and I’d love to reach out a hand to any and all who need it.

 

DEALING

When life is tough, we all have different ways that we cope.

When the things start to go wrong, how is it that each of us are able to manage the way we react?

The world can be a beautiful place filled with the most amazing wonders but, in the blink of an eye, can become the stuff of nightmares. Stress can build and as each day passes we can feel more and more crushed by the problems we face until, at some point, we could finally snap under the weight.

The human mind has the ability to bend and manipulate as all manner of stresses and sorrows attack it and it’s here that I want to examine the power of the written word.

When you have a terrible time, how do you cope? What are the things that you employ to help defend yourself, to protect yourself and to push back? We all do it. We come under attack from the external trials and tribulations of the world and following day after day of fighting against them, we get to the point of wanting to put the tools down and have a break from the fight. Helping to unwind your mind after a tough day has been called ‘fire watching’ from hundreds of years ago where a person would do just that, watch that fire burn and crackle. Just not having to think on anything and let your mind wander around the pretty shapes and colours gives you the chance to not actively be driving your mind, rather you’re just coasting down the road making the most of the scenery.

A great many people turn to drink, turn to exercise, take a holiday, make snap shopping choices, focus on work or dive into their hobby. I have two things that help turn my mind off. Watching the nonsense videos on YouTube and books.

Watching the contents of YouTube is great. Cat videos and people falling off or into all kinds of things just makes me smile. There’s never any complex narrative to try to wrestle with and there isn’t any need to expend energy on any kind of comprehension of what’s taking place. I can sit and ‘fire watch’ happy in the knowledge that my mind is on autopilot. I’m watching lots of YouTube at the moment.

The situation with books is very different.

Books offer the chance to challenge the mind to keep pace with the story. Rather than just existing, floating in the shallows but not venturing further, stories give you the chance to truly leave your troubles on the shore and escape. When you crack open a book, you’re no longer in the world where job or money worries, family concerns or health issues can get you. Now you’re flying through space, you’re casting magic spells, you’re hunting for the deranged serial killer and the reality just falls away.

I also use writing as a way to get myself through issues. By throwing myself into the worlds I write about, I can slam the door on the brutality of whatever is trying to rip me apart. In any book you read, the world has been laid out for you to explore but when I write, I grasp the added delight of shutting myself away in truly a world of my creation.

We all have our coping mechanisms when the darkness closes in. Whatever it is you do to help keep you ploughing forwards, no matter how small, can be a keystone in keeping everything together. When there’s something awful afoot, I need to close the world away for a while and that time spent in another world, even if just for a short period, can be a lifesaver.