Thoughts

Strange and Scary Times

It’s been a year since I posted anything on this blog. It’s probably been more than a year since I finished a piece of creative writing. I started studying with the Open University for a degree in Environmental Science last year and between that, work and my family responsibilities I haven’t had much time for being creative.

But I have really missed that outlet over the last few weeks. I sat watching the COVID-19 pandemic spiral out of control, encompassing Asia, then Italy and now most of the world. At first I felt OK. My thinking was we just have to follow the advice and the rest is out of our hands (personally speaking at least). I was able to detach myself from it and it didn’t affect me.

That’s not the case now.

My day job is in IT and as the department started to move from our normal day to day work towards enabling the business to work remotely in its entirety, a familiar old feeling started to return. I suffered from general anxiety disorder for a prolonged period some years ago but had felt like I was getting a lot of my old confidence back in the last 6-12 months. Then this week, as I was packing up my stuff to take home so I could work from my spare room for the foreseeable future, as I contemplated that my kids wouldn’t be going to nursery for the next few months and my eldest might miss the start of her primary school journey after the summer, as businesses both local and national suffered the sudden loss of most of their custom, I started feeling scared again.

Now to be honest it’s an understandable response and I imagine lots of us are scared at the moment. I’m hopeful that this isn’t a full blown return of my anxiety problems and just a natural reaction to an unprecedented situation, but only time will tell.

But it has highlighted to me that I spent too much time doing things which are unhelpful for my mental health. I can keep informed on the pandemic without constantly monitoring the BBC and Guardian’s live updates pages. I don’t need to sit on twitter all night watching everyone react in horror at the raving inadequacies of our government and Prime Minister. I can do something else instead.

I still need to spend a large chunk of my free time studying, though my current module will finish soon and I’ll be free for the summer. But I don’t have to fill the rest of my time battering my mental health when I’ve got enough on my plate with work, the kids and my degree. So I’m going to try and start switching off the laptop and getting back into some writing and playing music.

Hopefully I can get back into the mindset to write some poetry again, but to start with I think I’ll start keeping this blog updated some more and dig out my to do list of songs and tunes that I was working on before other commitments took hold. If I feel like sharing I’ll post some of it on here.

In the meantime everyone needs to look after themselves, their families and their community.

Stay healthy in body and mind.

Thoughts

Pushing Out The Boat and other updates

I keep putting the URL for this blog on my bio when I submit writing to magazines and journals so I should probably start updating it again!

On the subject of submissions, I have a poem – Spikkin – published in the latest edition of Pushing Out The Boat. The magazine is produced in Aberdeen and features writing from all over, but with a focus on the North East of Scotland. As my poem is written in Doric and is about my relationship with the language of North East Scotland I’m particularly pleased that it has found a home in Pushing Out The Boat.

The magazine will be launched on April 7th at an event at Pheonix Community Hall in Newton Dee (near Milltimber, Aberdeen), where a number of contributors (including myself) will be reading their work.

I also had my poem The Haar accepted into issue one of Aberdeen based collective Re:Analogue’s magazine. However it looks like this has been delayed so I’m not sure when that will come out.

That aside it’s been a slow start to 2019 with a very busy personal life (who knew having two kids would be even harder than just having one!?) and a challenging work environment leaving little time or inclination to do any writing. Now I’ve also started an Open University degree in Environmental Science because I thought I should destroy what little free time I had left. At least that might give me something to write about on here when the mood takes me.

News, Thoughts, Writing

I Submit

I know and I understand that to be a published writer I need to do two things – I need to write and I need to send work to publishers. I’ve not been great at the former, but I’ve always been terrible at the latter.

Despite this I still spend a lot of time feeling hard done by, that what little I do submit, rarely gets selected. Which is stupid. I know it’s stupid, but I can’t help it. The feeling of injustice when I see a competition winner announced or a magazine published without seeing a congratulations email appear in my inbox is large.

This isn’t because I think I deserve to win competitions, or that my work is so good it just has to be included in the must have literary journals, it’s just that from the moment I send the submission I start to hope; and as we all know it’s the hope that kills you.

All that negativity adds up and the result is I feel pretty down about the submission process and I submit less. Which, when I was starting from a pretty low submission rate, means I basically stopped submitting work altogether. Whoops.

Two things happened recently to change my attitude. First, I had some success (hooray!). A poem I submitted at the start of the summer, to a new local magazine by a spoken word collective, got accepted for publication (due out in November). For the second time in a row it was one I felt was the weakest in the submission package, but I’m not complaining! It just shows that you can never know what will click with someone.

The second thing was seeing this tweet about Sylvia Plath. That’s nine months of submissions.  Just seeing how hard she was working to get work published, even after her first collection had been released, made me realise that it doesn’t really matter who you are or how good the work is. The sheer volume of submissions editors get means that most people, even Sylvia Plath, will end up with more rejections than submissions. So to get work accepted I have to make the odds work more in my favour and that means I have to submit more and worry about rejection less.

This week I submitted work to three magazines and revamped my submissions spreadsheet to better track what I’ve submitted, to where, and if it was successful. With that and a more positive, but realistic, attitude to the process hopefully I can get some more success with my work. Or is it just more dreadful hope?

Writing

NaNoWriMo Go!

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

As with most stupid ideas, this one seemed like a good idea at the time. From tomorrow, November 1st, I’ll be taking part in my first NaNoWriMo event. What started as an American event is now a worldwide community of writers who get together and try to blitz 50,000 words in the month of November – National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short.

I feel like I have a solid idea for a story and I can usually write pretty fast once I sit down and get typing. Theoretically, I reckon I can bash out the required 1667 words per day in half an hour to an hour per day. Which isn’t a huge time commitment and doesn’t need to be tackled in a single sitting.  Theoretically.

My biggest issue with any of my hobbies, but especially writing, is that I get very, very easily distracted. Even now, while doing some last minute prep by going over some outline plans, I’ve spent more time looking up specifications and parts for a Raspberry Pi project than I have tweaking characters and story setting.

So while I’m looking forward to the challenge and really looking forward to seeing the story in my head take shape on my laptop screen, there’s a little voice which is telling me I’ve failed before I’ve even started. There’s no commitment other than saying “I’m doing this” so failure doesn’t mean anything except I’ve not hit my word count.  Fingers crossed I can keep that little voice subdued enough to get some momentum started tomorrow to get me rolling into the first week of the challenge and beyond.

Anyone else taking part this year? Add me as a buddy at https://nanowrimo.org/participants/chrisoff/ and let me know how you get on.

Writing

Twitter Poems

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been using twitter as a platform for producing some very short pieces of quickly written poetry. Usually inspired by current events, or whatever is distracting me at my desk at that particular moment in time. The quality is patchy but there are a couple that I’m very happy with.

I’ve included a few that I like the most here. Follow me on twitter if you’re interested in seeing more or if you want to share your own short poems.

Thoughts

Goals for a new year

So 2016 was a year that happened. Frankly it’s developed a pretty bad rep, as well as quite a body count. It would be easy to wallow in all the bad shit that happened last year. Sod that, I want to waltz into 2017 on a cloud of positivity.

We had two fantastic family holidays in 2016, to Mallorca in June then Dornoch in October. I ran (slowly) the fantastic 15 mile Illuminator night race in Glen Tanar in September.  We had some great weekends away and I got to endure the hardship of being sent to Paris for a few days to work. I also celebrated some important birthdays with my extended family, went to some brilliant weddings and received news of some more to come.

Above all else, the year was full of the sound of my daughter and nephew laughing and playing.

Now it comes to the start of a new year and I naturally start thinking about what lies ahead. Hopefully a lot more of my daughter’s laughter, but what else? I toyed with the idea of setting vague resolutions like “Play more music” or “Run more”. However I work best when I have a set goal in mind, like a 15 mile night race to train for without my feet exploding halfway through.

With that in mind here’s a few (achievable) things I would like to accomplish this year:

  1.  Record an EP
  2.  Publish a poem or a short story
  3.  Run a sub-2 hour half marathon
  4.  Get my weight down to 11 stone

A couple of these are a little more difficult than the others but should still be achievable over the course of the year, or at least have significant progress towards them.

Record an EP

I’ve played guitar since I was fourteen and for most of my adult life I’ve written music and played in local bands. I left my last band a few years ago to concentrate on a solo music project I was working on, but once my daughter arrived I slowly played less and less until I pretty much put my instruments down one day last year and never really picked them up again.

Over the last month I’ve made a conscious effort to get back on the horse and pick up either a guitar or mandolin almost every day. The aim is basically to get involved again and start pushing the project I started 4 years ago back into being. Eventually I hope to play some gigs but I think my self-confidence is a long way from that milestone. For now I’d be happy getting my playing and my singing into a good enough condition to record the EP I wrote down a tracklisting for shortly after I left that band.

Publish a poem or short story

As a member of local writing group Mearns Writers, I’ve produced a number of poems and short stories over the last two years. While I’ve submitted a few of these occasionally to some local poetry magazines and the odd competition I’ve not made a serious effort to get anything published (aside from posting a few on this site and the groups own self-published anthology). I need to step up my submission game in 2017 and see if I can at least place in some competitions and get some good feedback.

Run a sub-2 hour half marathon

This is simultaneously the easiest and the hardest of my 2017 goals. I should have a sub-2 hour half in my legs. I’ve ran 2:01 at Skye, which is bloody hilly and there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to break that barrier. At the same time I’ve not been running nearly as much as I used to and I need to get my routine fixed and stick to it if I’m going to get anywhere close to this goal.

The Great Aberdeen Run is at the end of August and I entered on the day it was announced. That’s the target, though I might try a warm up race at the start of summer to see how I’m getting on.

Get my weight down to 11 stone

This goal will tie in with the previous one. If I train properly for a sub-2 hour half marathon I should lose weight. Since I started getting into fitness and sorted my weight issues over 10 years ago I’ve been stuck floating around the 12 stone mark. At the peak of my running routine, before my daughter arrived, I did manage to get down to under 11 and a half stone but that didn’t last long. I’m now back up to 12 and a half. That needs to be reversed.

Getting back below 12 stone should be easy. Exercise will fix that. Slimming down to 11 stone will need a bit more determination and willpower but hopefully I can get there by the end of the year.

There are of course plenty of other things I would like to do this year. I would like to worry less, focus at work more, cut out internet habits which reinforce negative thoughts, climb more hills and cycle many miles. Those are all good things to aim for but I think if I concentrate on these four achievable goals then I’ll be well on the way to a memorable year without putting too much pressure on myself.

Thoughts

Hey Internet, stop making me stupid!

Loose. Look at that word. That word makes me very uncomfortable now.  I know it shouldn’t. It can’t help it, after all it’s just a word. Looking at the Oxford English Dictionary the definition is: Loose ~ Not firmly or tightly fixed in place; detached or able to be detached; not held or tied together or contained within something. Plus a few extra definitions relating to sport or clothing.

However there’s also a single line, listed under the usage heading on the definition page, which refers directly to what makes me so uncomfortable about this word: The words loose and lose are different and should not be confused.

Someone should tell that to the Internet.

I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t come across the word lose spelled, er, loosely. I think I can understand why, the word is pronounced with a long O sound like pool or food. But then there are plenty of words which are pronounced similarly that only have a single O like prove or lose. Which is great until you remember that English is an anarchic mess of a language which contains the following words: croup, shrewd, suit, ewe, you, fucking luge, cue, queue, shoe, and rue. The long oo sound is not consistent in its spelling.

All this is starting to have a strange effect on me. I’m a pedantic sod at the best of times. A total grammar fascist the rest of the time. Seriously. The amount of restraint it takes to stop me screaming on the Internet at people for not proofreading blogs, news articles or even twitter posts is heroic. Most of the time I can just about forget the grammatical horrors I’ve seen, but the lose/loose error is starting to haunt my mind.

I can’t read the word now. So many people (most natural English speakers so they’ve no fucking excuse) are spelling it wrong that I’m now second guessing the word when I see it. If I read loose in a sentence I’m hearing lose in my head.  Mentally correcting this seemingly small error is ruining my online experience. It’s so common now that even when loose is used correctly I just assume it’s a mistake. It’s an effect so strong it often takes me a sentence or two to pick up the correct context again and reset to the correct definition.

I don’t want to accept this. I shouldn’t have to.

So this is my plea to the Internet. Stop making me dumb. Take some pride in your spelling. Read what you write before you hit post (seriously, most tools and web platforms even proofread for you) and above all fix these simple mistakes:

Lose is not Loose.
Your is not the same as you’re.
Lego doesn’t have an s on the end under any circumstances.
But maths does (as it’s short for mathematics).
Affect changes something, effect is the result of the change itself.