Monday 25 July 2016

Are 'real' books your escape hatch? (Or are your bookshelves blocking your exit?)

Hi you. 

When was the last time you bought a book? Or, to be more precise, when was the last time you bought a real live book made of paper? You know the kind I mean: 
  • they're the ones you can easily flip through to find that amazing paragraph to bore entertain someone with; 
  • they're the ones you can easily bookmark using - hey, here's a novel idea - an actual bookmark ... or else anything else you have on hand. [Just tell me you're not a good-for-nothing corner-folder!!]
  • and they're the ones that come wrapped in exciting cover designs, and that never run low on power, and don't break when dropped from the bed when you fall asleep mid-sente....
Yeah. Those kind of books. Because, if you've bought one of those gems during 2016 then you're in part responsible for the rise in traditional book sales.

Yesterday, after lunch at my parents' my Dad read out a story from the newspaper detailing how  sales of traditional books rose during the first half of this year while ebook sales have seen their first drop since statistics on them started being kept.

"That's because of you!" Dad said to me. Although to be honest - as I mentioned on National Libraries Day- as, while I do read a lot, the majority of my fodder comes courtesy of a library or three. 

The majority. But not all. And Dad might have a point because I've already bought more books this year than in any recent times. So much so that a few months ago I moved a little vintage bookshelf on to our landing to hold part of my burgeoning personal library:
In recent weeks I've been tempted to start selling off some titles, maybe through Ebay, just to keep things flowing around here; to prevent some books just lodging, on the same spot, forever. Read once, never to be re-read; simply taking up space on my petite little shelf where space is at a premium.

But if I ever begin to feel like maybe I have too many books on there, at least I can say that at least my book collection hasn't quite blocked my doorway ... not like in this secondhand bookshop I recently visited: 
And it's not as if I've had to cut my door down its length and re-hinge it so you can both still use the door while keeping all of the books!
It reminds me of how Stephen King explains that he always has a book with him, another world to visit at the opening of a page, as he never knows when he'll need 'an escape hatch'.

I guess we all just need to make sure that, amid this 'real' book renaissance, all our metaphorical escape hatches don't block our actual exit!  


To continue the theme ...
  • What was the last book you bought? Anything to recommend?
  • Where do you keep your books? Shelves? Piles? In front of doors that only Hobbits can squeeze through? 
Feel free to tag me in photos of your latest read or your shelves via social media.

*Can't be bothered going through the torment of leaving me a comment while on your phone? I don't blame you. Just say 'Hi' through a less cumbersome app instead:

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Getting out from behind the curtain: a few thoughts on ambition, fear and what we can learn from various random wizards.

I know it’s not just me who, in the face the super-streamlined efficiency of micro-blogging via Instagram, now struggles with traditional long-form blogging. (Crikey, yeah, this kind of blogging has become ‘traditional’, old school, a mere whiff of WiFi away from being as on-trend as a Telegram. Times and technologies certainly do move fast.)

I know it’s not just me who struggles with getting round to completing those projects she started in a whirlwind of inspiration and excitable ‘newness’ … and who now can’t bring herself to return to see it through to the end.

I know it’s not just me who has equal amounts of both the ambition to do more, create more, reach more people … and the sheer gut-knotting, brain-whirring, horror of all that that would involve.

And, because I know it’s not just me who feels like this
, I’m sharing a piece of writing today which hopefully will help someone else reading it (maybe even you?) realise that it’s not just them either.

Because it’s me too.


Background: This piece began life a couple of months ago as a 30 minute timed exercise in response to a writing prompt which suggested talking about: The fear of putting yourself out there. Why do we feel it? What purpose does it serve? And how can we overcome it?It’s been edited and titivated-up since.

The photos:
 aren’t the best I’ve ever taken, but they fit with what I wanted to say today.

Finally: there are multiple, non-deliberate,  references to wizards in this piece ... who knows where they came from. Make of that what you will ...


Getting out from behind the curtain ... 
The fear of putting yourself out there. Why do we feel it? What purpose does it serve? And how can we overcome it?’ 

Sign at Beamish musuem
Two immediate, and sharp, prongs spring to mind when thinking about the fear of putting myself 'out there': The fear of rejection and The fear of failure.

Recently for me the key to overcoming the fear of rejection has been faith in my starting point, the idea, article etc which I’m trying to persuade someone else to look at. I need to wholeheartedly believe in that idea before I begin; partly because it provides the motivation I’ll need to pitch and self-promote with a clear conscience, but also (and perhaps most importantly) because that original confidence can later act as a welcome buffer upon rejection.

Rejection is hard enough to combat without it catching on the tinder-sticks of self-doubt as it stalks past sending them up in flames too.

The idea might well be rejected but did you like it? Was it good work? Were you happy with it before you asked someone else to like it? If not, then come on ... if you had doubts about it too, why wouldn't someone else? But if  you did like it, and it was good solid work then fair enough, you get a pass, you can sail on to the next pitch with impunity. 

Following rejection your self-doubt sensors may feel a momentary hot-flush ... but you needn’t abandon them to the flames while they to burn to a cinder. Although in those initial moments you’ll feel like it, don’t (neither literally or metaphorically) throw your work or your self-belief into the fire, just find another marshmallow to roast on it until you feel strong enough to try again.
Sign at Beamish musuem
For example: J.K Rowling may well have felt the heat of so many rejections but she loved Harry. Believed in Harry. And believed that someone else out there would too. And she was right.

So undoubtedly it’s easier to stay motivated when you know you’re on to something good, but how do you reach this belief? 

Like I say, it must mainly come from the work itself. Surely? But if so then how are we meant to reconcile the fact that something we thought was good was turned away by others? In this case I guess all we can say is that it just wasn’t for them.

Sign at Beamish musuem
That’s how my latest rejection email read at least: “this isn’t going to work for us”. Which, for a short time, was a disappointing answer but at least it was an answer. At least I wasn’t left hanging or pestering, and - because I still like the article in question - I'll find a place for it somewhere else. Another website, another magazine or right here sometime or other. 

And at least receiving a rejection proves I did something.  I put myself out there, once again, and I guess the more times I do it the more I’ll get used to the heat. 

Asbestos hands’ that’s how some people explain their ability to pick-up hot things without flinching isn’t it? Well maybe if we're intent on being 'out there' some of us need to cultivate ‘Asbestos self-worth’.

But what if, unlike J.K Rowling, you don’t know if your work is any good? Oh … that’s a tricky one. Of course you can ask someone else for their opinion but then that just takes you back in the realm of subjectivity where whatever it is you’re creating might never be for them; they're not your target audience; they’re just not that into you.

And - forgive me for doubting you but - are you sure you can’t tell if what you’re doing is any good? Surely you do? One way or another?

Maybe you don’t know it every hour of every day. But which of us do? 

(I mean, it’s usually only the people who really ought not to who often hold an unshakable confidence in their abilities, leaving the more reflective among us to do all the soul-searching. Did you ever read about my mini-writing-related-breakdown? If so you'll definitely know that I don't believe in myself 24/7 and I’m certainly no stranger to a crisis of confidence).

But at some point, deep down, under all that uncertainty, you can surely determine the quality of your own out-put. Or you know enough about its worth to keep you going. Or at the very least you recognise that there’s something there ... even if you haven’t found the words for it yet, let alone the confidence to share it with others.

Don’t you?

Don’t I?

Sign from a local museum: a quick refresher course on the purpose of doors ...
As for the purpose of that fear of sharing more widely who we are and what we do then surely it’s related to protection, to safety, to self-defence; all perfectly noble, perfectly reasonable, responses given the circumstances. Which begs the question “Then why do you even want to put yourself out there?”

Why are you contemplating it? Why would you risk it? What do you want to come from it? Why now?

And I guess it would be in taking some time to answer these questions that you ... we ... will unearth the answer to that final question: “How can we overcome it?

Because once you possess a clear idea of why you’re doing it, what you’ll get from it, what will make it worth the risk then you’ll be holding in your hands the seeds of the revelation on how you’re going to overcome all those fears. Those answers will become the motivations which will keep you moving, in increments, towards being ‘out there’ in whatever form that takes for you.

You, the small, soft, vulnerable Wizard of Oz, easing yourself out from behind the safety of the curtain …  revealing yourself as you really are,  in which case … 

… maybe we both need to just click our heels together three times … the answers have probably been with us all along.

Sticky-note I found stuck to a computer screen on campus during assignment deadline season. 

I have some interesting projects in the pipeline that will involve me having to put myself 'out there' once again later this year ... and you know full well I'll be sharing it all with your here when I can (chances are I'll be going on about it so much that you might wish I'd stayed behind the curtain). 

For now though, I'm eager to hear your side of things ... 

  • Are you struggling to put yourself out there, even though you want to? 
  • Do you know what's stopping you? Or daren't you even start questioning the feeling? (No judgement  here ... I'm absolutely just as bad. Nothing like a bit of reading/starting a new project to dampen down those scary deep thoughts ...)

  • Or do you have any stories, tips or motivation of your own that you'd like to share in the comments?
Let's start a conversation here* about ambition, motivation, fear, rejection, wizards, ruby slippers ... whatever ... 

I'm all ears (and pointy hat).

Julie x

*Can't be bothered going through the torment of blog-commenting while on your phone? I don't blame you. Just grab me on a less cumbersome app instead:

Friday 1 July 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: June

June. What a wash out.

While there were definitely some good things happening ... there was plenty of rain, grey clouds, and ... everything else too.

If you're like me (and, granted, you won't all be) I won't deliberately try to cheer you up today. Some of us don't want to be cheered up right? Things are difficult and real right now and the last thing I want is to pretend nothing has happened and just get back to posting about pets (come to think of it ... I never do that. Mainly because I don't have pets).

But I might just divert you for 5 minutes if that's OK? Normal despairing-of-the-world can resume later. How about, for now, you join me on a look back at June 2016  ... in numbers ...

How's this for a statistic? 
I spotted this ray of sunshine in York the other weekend. Something to take into consideration if you haven't already booked your 2017 holidays.

Maybe I'm drawn to eschatological signs like this because back in 2001 I called my English degree dissertation - on post-apocalyptic fiction - 'It's Not the End of the World'. Who knew that 15 years later the ability to analyse end times would come in useful again?

I'm 1 of the 48% who voted 'Remain':
I'm not going to talk about it all now. But neither am I going to 'be quiet now and just move on' as many Leavers seem to want us to do. Living in a democracy means that when I don't agree with what's happening I still get to talk about it.

While we're on the subject of the Greeks (they invented democracy right?) ...

We went to see Dan Cruickshank's talk on The History of Architecture in 100 Buildings:
Rubbish photo - better story
If you don't know Dan Cruickshank he's a historian who's worked a lot for the BBC and writes books, his latest of which was the subject of the talk he delivered at Middlesbrough Theatre this month. He discussed the meaning behind all kinds of buildings throughout history, starting with some very early examples from Syria and Greece, covering why they were made, how structural developments were made and what value civililisations have put on them.  

Then .. at the Q&A at the end, after other people had asked various questions, a boy in the front row asked him a very long and convoluted question about the Greeks and how they must have liked architecture because - and non one was quite expecting this particular reason - because in the Percy Jackson books/films the Gods of Olympus live in the Empire State Building so it must be significant to them. 

Cruickshank was very sweet and, recognising there was no simple answer to this, said 'I'm going to come and have a chat with you'  then let us all go home so we didn't have to sit through the kid's entire thesis and came and sat on the front of the stage near him so they could talk. Probably not the end he had planned for his serious talk .. but handled very nicely. It's things like that that leave an impression on people, isn't it, I'm sure many people - not just that boy - will remember his kindness. 

In other cultural news ...

We used our £10 National Art Pass card 3 times, visiting 3 museums/galleries in York, saving £10.50 so far ...

Back in April, I saw Laura Howard (@bugsandfishes on Twitter) tweet about a special offer where you could buy a 3 month National Art Pass card for just £10, which would allow you to get into all kinds of galleries and museums for free (the offer's ended now but there's a regular year-long price too). So James and I both bought one which meant getting into the 650 year old Merchant Adventurers' Hall for free ...
Where, amongst other treasures, I enjoyed this touching detail of how a wealthy woman left money in her will which she wanted spending on teaching '6 poor girls to read, knit and sew':
After that, seeing as how we had the card ... we hopped across town to The Yorkshire Museum (saving another £7.50):
Which is where James learned that he's slightly taller than the backside of a moa (a big extinct bird). 
And they say no knowledge is ever wasted ... 

Our 3rd saving came by visiting the York Art Gallery but, seeing as how I've already written a full review of the place already I won't go into that.  I will however share with you something else that happened in the Yorkshire Musuem ...

James's 1st brush with a bear this month: 
I know, it was a bowler hat last month and now it's a Topper ... I think he might be gradually working his way up to crown. 

And  I say it was his 1st brush with a bear because ... he had another ...

James's 2nd brush with a bear: 
This time it was at the Animal Inside Out exhibition  at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle where, alongside bears, there are 100+ other preserved animals on show. I took lots of photos ... but you're probably having your lunch right now aren't you ... so I won't share any more just yet.

Yet it is a fascinating show about anatomy and wonder ... if you can stomach it. And, to be fair, if I can, you probably can.

The best/worst part was when a tiny girl wandered up to the glass case we were looking in - pointed to a preserved human leg - and asked in her toddler English "Wha tha?".

"You don't want to know " I replied under my breath.

Now before I move off the topic of his heroism (posing with dead bears and all ...) let me tell you about ...

James's hole in 1!
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story ... or so they say.  During a visit to a suppliers who happened to be hosting a sport-themed sales promo one of the reps tweeted a photo of James clutching a golf club and his prize for getting a hole-in-one: a bottle Prosecco. So far, so impressive, except ... rather than making a single clean shot James claims it actually took him about 18 attempts to get the ball in the bucket! Apparently they gave him the prize as it was the closest anyone had got all day! But hey ... free wine!

His main concern afterwards was not that they'd 'embroidered the truth' but that they might invite him on corporate golfing days! When it comes to sport ... he makes me look veritably Olympian.  

On the other hand, if library visiting was a sport I'd be on top form this month.

I read 2 library books - from 2 different libraries - and attended an author event at a 3rd:

  • The first book I read was Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant which I really enjoyed. Part mythical fairytale part musing on againg and memory.
  • Next was Chris Kraus's I Love Dick which is not quite what the title suggests ... but you can imagine how cautious I was about getting the book down 3 flights of stairs and through the self-service machine without bumping into anyone I knew!
  • And lastly I read a memoir of avghost-writing career Ghosting by Jennie Erdal which wasn't from a library, I found that gem in The Minster Gate Book Shop - a 5 floor secondhand  book shop in York. As usual you can find links to all the books I've read on my Pinterest board.
As for the author event, that took place in a library I'd never been to before, involving a journey on 2 buses and memorising the names of the roads/bus stops before mine so I knew where to get off! I'm tempted to write more about this journey in a post of its own, so I'll leave you with photos of the novels by the authors in question, who were very generous in discussing their process and careers.
In unconnected news ...

I re-embraced the 1990s by using those twisty spongy rollers (is there a proper name for them?) for the first time in 20 years! 
The results have been varied - today for example I've had to put it in a pony tail as it turned out soooooo big and fluffy. I'd forgotten the 90s was the decade before frizz products were invented ... and with styles like these we needed them!! 

The first attempt wasn't too bad ... I just pulled on my (fake) leather jacket and pretended I was 14 again:
To complete the look I should have dug out my ripped jeans and my Walkman.

Speaking of my 'look' ...

I paid just £11.48 for these 2 monochrome pieces in charity shops:
The dress was £4.49 while the skirt was £6.99.

I've been completely and utterly re-inspired to seek out charity shop outfits lately and these are just 2 of 6 items I bought during June which in total cost just £32.45! (More on those at some time or other I'm sure.)

On the first day that  I wore the skirt it paid for itself with a compliment ... as she was letting us through the entrance turnstile at the Life Centre in Newcastle one of their staff members leaned in and said "I really like your skirt". How nice was that?

Just the kind of morale boost you need before going to look at the preserved internal organs of a gorilla and the blood vessels in a shark's liver.

Oh and, before you ask if everything I bought this month had to be black and white ... then maybe this will answer your question:
After 16 years of valiant service we finally had to retire our old car and welcome a new set of wheels into our lives. 
The fact that the new car - both inside and out - also obligingly matches my recent outfits is purely coincidental ... 

... probably.


So, that was my June. If you've got a post of your own to share then don't forget to leave me the link when you leave me a comment.

If you've been meaning to join in on social media then check out this photo by @ikibana_banana on Instagram as Miriam came up with her own clever way to share her May numbers via her IG feed!

And if you fancy joining in casually then simply share a story/photo with a numbery element to it,  use #monthinnumbers and '@' me @withjuliekirk and I'll hop over to see.


Well then, it's just me and you now July. What've you got for me?

Not hiding a warm summer and a stable government/opposition up your sleeve by any chance are you?

Julie x