Feline Focus

Feline Focus
My latest puma, July 2016


Beloved companion to Sarah, Nov 2015

Window To The Soul

Window To The Soul
Watercolour Horse, June 2015

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties
Watercolour Lionesses, Nov 2012


"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Groucho Marx

Snow Stalker

Snow Stalker
Another snow leopard - my latest watercolour offering - July 2013

30 October 2013

Write On

“On action alone be thy interest, never on its fruits.”  Bhagavad Gita

I have recently realised that I need to do more writing, that I WANT to do more writing, that I really love writing, that writing for me is really important and good for me, and as such, should be something I do on a regular basis – namely every day, the way I do yoga, meditation, and prayer (which are also very good for me);  but that I have been fettered by my own beliefs about writing, and being a writer. 

I have been obsessed with the idea that the whole aim is to become an author, to write and publish books, that this is the epitome of writinghood (no, it’s not a real word, I know, but who cares?  All the words in every language in the world weren’t ‘real’ until someone first made them up: and even then some of them are a bit suspect).  And so I’ve believed that each thing I undertake to write is merely fuel for the fire of authordom, that it is simply the means to the end of becoming a ‘proper’ writer/author, and that I need to get my skates on if I’m to reach that elusive goal of one day writing a book.

I am abetted in my misguided aims by the society in which I live which is chiefly concerned with the acquisition of things – wealth, possessions, prestige, power, etc.  And the teaching of this credo starts in school, a place where learning is not about simply taking pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge for its own sake, but as a means to an end, the end being that you’ll be able to use it in order to pass your exams in the not-too-distant future, thereby assuring yourself of better prospects of a good job. 

Is it any wonder kids hate school, having to live with that kind of pressure, and being taught stuff they might have no interest in, but because it is what society dictates will be of use in their future lives?  And me?  Why, of course, I have dutifully copied that which I have absorbed beautifully from our society – I abandoned art because it wasn’t considered useful, and I took Maths (a subject I loathed, was hopeless at, and failed every time I sat the exam, which turned out to be thrice) because I took it literally when I was told that we would need it and English if we were to have any hope of getting a decent job.  And hence still being driven to prove that I am a writer by the fruits of my labours, and the lure of money and possible prestige and fame if I manage to become a published author of novels.   

Then, as the consequence of a conversation with my best friend, I came to see that, contrary to this belief, I am actually not novelist material.  I am a writer, and my strength lies in writing short pieces.  I guess, to use a sports analogy, I am the equivalent of a sprinter in the athletics world, rather than a long distance runner; some of which is undoubtedly shaped by having ADHD.  I don’t have the stamina to last a marathon or a ten thousand metre run – I cannot sustain my interest.  But I’m a bloody good sprinter, working well in short bursts.  (Ironically, I really was a good sprinter at school, and had hopes of being a professional athlete – which also did not come to fruition, it not being considered a viable career choice either.) 

So, rather than lamenting the fact, envying all those people who can and do write novels, and insisting on aiming for the impossible, I’ve decided that it’s time to accept, and adjust to, what my strengths are, be grateful for the gift that I have, and bloody well get on with practicing them, rather than continually giving myself a bad time (not to mention yet another reason for procrastination) by comparing myself, and compounding the lie that I could write a novel like everyone else seems to be able to do if I tried harder.  But where would be the point in that if, in the process, I simply ended up emulating everyone else, fitting myself to a genre, and, more importantly, didn’t even enjoy doing it?

So, as part of taking action to do more writing, I decided that I would do some every day, no matter what I wrote – I would try to stop restricting myself; stop being focussed on, and obsessed with, the outcome (the now ingrained belief that it has to be something that is going to be read by other people, otherwise it’s not worth the effort), and simply get into the process.  Because, ultimately, it’s the process that counts, not the end result.  It’s actually doing the writing that makes me happy, not having my eye on where it’s going.

Also as a consequence of becoming audience-focused (which is basically about feeding my ego), I have ended up, inadvertently, restricting myself to mainly writing for my blog (with the very occasional poem thrown in, which also gets published on here), because of my resistance to simply exploring an idea on paper and seeing how it develops.  Instead, I make the decision beforehand, so I basically set my own limitations.  And, being autistic and having difficulty with being inflexible, I have got locked into doing only one thing, and so become rigid about the way I write. 

My blog has ended up becoming the sum total of my whole writing experience; and, as such, I use it as the place in which to practice things which really don’t belong here, because I have denied myself the opportunity to do them anywhere else due to the limitations I have unconsciously set up.  Instead of being the place in which I primarily share my thoughts, ideas, and experiences, it’s become somewhere for me to practice my grammar, and the art of writing – so no wonder it often can seem so dry and heartless. 

Plus, it takes me so long to write one article because I’m so busy crafting  it, then editing and re-editing it, until it’s polished to my liking - all skills which really belong to a different mode of writing.  By the time I’ve completed an article, whatever I’ve written about is old news in my life, and I’ve gotten bored with it anyway.  There’s nothing spontaneous about my blog, except for when I get the titles popping into my head.    

So now I’m trying to do things differently.  The last article I wrote was a miracle – conceived, written out, typed up, and completed within the space of two days.  And I’ve told myself so many times that I can’t do it like that, that I can only write one way, the way that I’ve described.  Obviously that’s not true.  Ten years ago, before the advent of blogging, I was writing short stories.  Now I tell myself I can’t do that anymore because I struggled in the interim with writing anything at all. 

And, having acquired the magical label of autistic, one who struggles not just with social stuff but imagination, it’s as if I have taken to heart and absorbed the idea that my imagination is limited in all areas of life, including creativity.  Which, based on the evidence, is patently not true, nor logical.  But, as the saying goes, “What you believe you become.”  And I have become a rigid writer.  

Now I have to believe differently, and change what I do to come into line with the new beliefs.  And, I have to say, I feel rather excited, and hopeful, about it.  No more labouring under the illusion that I have to, or even want to, write full length novels.  Thank God for that!  My brain was on the verge of meltdown from the effort of trying to conceive an idea that I could string out over the length of a whole book!           

27 October 2013

Soup, God, Writing

“When you wake up first thing in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh.     (From Winnie the Pooh, by A A Milne)

This is the order of importance in which my mind regularly places things – food first (and/or numerous variations -  computer, reading, yoga, etc), then the state of my soul, and creativity last.  Often it’s more a case of food first, last, and all the time, which just represents the level of my obsession. 

I would like to tell you that this isn’t true, that like a good, recovering, spiritual person (the one I aspire to be) I actually do put God first.  But that would be a lie.  And what would be the point of lying anyway?  To impress other people?  To appease my conscience and God (which suggests that, contrary to what I supposedly believe, or tell myself and other people that I believe, that God is still synonymous with punishment, fear, and a demand for absolute obedience, who will withdraw all help if I don’t get it right all the time)?  To compound the illusion I have created for myself, which would enable me to continue in this way - placing my obsession with, and dependence upon, food above all else, especially God?

My aim is to put God first, especially as my life goes a lot more swimmingly, and I feel so much better, when I do follow Good Orderly Direction: and sometimes I do manage it.  But, as with all else, I never get it perfect, which is as it should be (though I’m hard-pressed convincing my rigid mind of that fact a lot of the time).  So I often start the day really connected to God, and then drift off, and then come back, and then drift off...  It’s a bit like a dance, where I keep forgetting the steps and letting go of my partner’s hand, or wandering off to dance with other people, with whom I find myself distractedly fascinated, but ultimately incompatible (they keep treading on my toes, or bumping into me, and taking up way too much of my personal space).  Or, just as likely, I gravitate towards the refreshments, where I can be found stuffing my face with, or looking with longing at, all the food that’s on offer.

But it is ‘progress not perfection’ that I aspire to practice (to borrow from the Big Book of AA), which in this case would mean spending more of my day consciously aware and in contact with God, so reducing the amount of time I fritter on my favourite occupation, procrastination – something at which I excel, and have developed into an art form itself.  Plus, being guided by God (or conscience, or soul – whatever you want to call it) is far better, and more conducive to a stress-free, productive, joyful life, than being driven by self-will.  Kind of makes me wonder why I don’t try it more often.        

09 October 2013

Kindling Hope

Kindle – to inflame (eg the passions); to provoke, incite; to be roused

Does the phrase “lose yourself in a book” mean anything to you?  Well it surely does to me, and in the very literal sense.  I believe that the actual saying is “lose yourself in a good book”, but I’m not choosy.  I can lose myself completely in anything - all sense of who I am, what I believe in, what I feel.  And not just for an hour or so, while I temporarily drift off into a fantasy world, and get caught up in the story, and someone else’s life.  When I return to reality (IF I return) then it doesn’t stop there. 

The book may have ended, but the story persists...  at least in my mind it does, where the characters continue to exist as real people.  So, not only have I lost myself but, in return, I have breathed life into a bunch of ostensibly fictional individuals – my life for theirs.  I still exist, but that’s about all I’m doing, while they thrive and grow: and I come to resemble the living dead.

And I could have been mistaken for a zombie, just lately - all because of my love of reading.  Or, more accurately, because of my resistance to being chained to this thing called reality.  And then there’s that other peculiar characteristic I have of becoming emotionally attached to objects.  Books and words, in this instance.  E-books, to be precise.  On a Kindle, to be even more specific.

Yes, I recently joined the multitudinous ranks of Kindle owners.  And, just as quickly, I became a disowner: though, hopefully, this state of affairs is only temporary, until I learn to become a responsible owner who doesn’t abuse their Kindle mercilessly!

It was given to me for my birthday in July, the shortest-lived present I’ve probably ever had.  By August I had to give it back, for safekeeping.  Safekeeping from me, that is.  In that short span of time I managed to download nearly a hundred and fifty books (possibly more, with the ones I had read and removed before The Great Purge), most of them free, and chosen from the romantic fantasy section, which encompasses countless sub-genres (like steampunk; urban fantasy; historical; vampires and the rest of the undead, etc) – my taste is nothing if not eclectic.  And I’m not picky.  Well, not about books, anyway.  Unfortunately.  It is this regrettable lack of discernment, when it comes to reading matter, which has got me into trouble.  Yet again.

Before the Kindle, it was reading ebooks on the computer.  It was for this reason that my friend bought it for me, in order to save my eyesight from the strain it was suffering, due to the all-day reading marathons it was being forced to endure.  And in the hope, perhaps, that my compulsive reading would be found to be directly attributable to the stimulating effect that the computer seems to have on my brain: and that it would, therefore, dissipate when confronted with the non back-lit screen of an e-reader, which more closely resembles the experience of reading a real book.  No such luck. 

It is an unmitigated fact that I have been having trouble with reading since long before I acquired a computer.  Libraries and bookshops used to be my favourite places in which to hang out.  I would spend hours loitering with intent: so much so that on one occasion, whilst lingering in the local bookstore yet again, I was accosted by the slightly disgruntled salesperson, who seemed to take offence to my habit of flicking through the pages of the books during my weekly visits, but never actually buying anything.  I didn’t have any money, and I just couldn’t stay away from the shop, but I couldn’t explain that to her.  I just loved being around books – rows and rows of lovely books.  Heaven!  And, in the library particularly, I felt safe: it was a haven of peace amidst the clamour of the world, a home away from home.  In fact, it was often preferable.  And now I’ve discovered I can recreate the same experience, hanging around the virtual bookshop that is Amazon’s Kindle store!
The truth is I love reading.  I always have, and I have always had a prodigious talent for it.  In books I found not only a source of information, entertainment, and stimulation for my brain, but also a means to escape the realities of life.  And it is my use of it with the latter intent that now causes me grief, especially when combined with my lack of sagacity and discrimination in my choice of reading material.  In short, I don’t care what I feed my mind, just as long as it serves my purpose.  And my purpose has always erred a little on the side of the nebulous. 

Back then there was good reason for wanting a bolthole - living, as I did, a drab, mundane, limited existence, imbued with fear, anxiety, and an ever-increasing sense of hopelessness and confusion.   But that was back then.  The value of that particular reason for reading is now defunct, and yet I continue to employ it.  What once was habit has turned into compulsion – a driving force that resists all logical reasoning to assuage it.  

And so to the present, bypassing my sundry attempts to control my progressively intractable obsession (including giving it up entirely for a while).  And the advent of that amazing reading device, which allows access to hundreds of books instantaneously, without ever having to leave the comfort of one’s home.  What a marvellous invention - when used responsibly.  I guess that would be the bit that I've been missing, then, yes?

As a consequence, my life has been put on hold whilst my compulsion has raged free and unabated, until it has become necessary to make a choice – a real life, or a fantasy?  Living my own life, or reading about someone else’s, while I slowly slip into a spiritual, mental, and emotional coma – the body still functions, but that’s about all that’s happening.  There’s a light on, but everyone’s vacated the premises in favour of the Kindle store.

Therefore, having placed my Kindle in the safe custody of my friend, until such time as I have been restored to some semblance of sanity with regard to my reading behaviour (and my dubious choice of literature), I am sticking to reading my ‘real’ books for now: the kind I used to read, which engaged my mind, lifted my spirit, and imparted words of wisdom, often from unexpected sources (have you read A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh?  Or The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett?)

This is in preference to employing my classic manoeuvre of going from one extreme to the other, and deciding that I’m not meant to read anything at all.  Instead, I’ve come to the long-overdue conclusion that it’s not the fact that I read that is the problem, but rather what and how – much the same as with food.  When I read the literary equivalent of junk food, I get the same result that I do with food – I set off the compulsion for more.  I have never yet found myself driven beyond reason, and sanity, to keep reading Winnie the Pooh, or The Chronicles of Narnia.  Nor will you ever find me bingeing on broccoli, mung beans, or rice.  Somehow they just lack that certain je ne sais quoi.

And so, having been de-Kindled, I find that hope, and the possibilities for change, have been rekindled.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
An experiment in watercolour and gouache

Quotes Quota

"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.

"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."

From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Copied from photograph of the same name by Roberto Dutesco

Quotes Quota

"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama

"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."

Malcolm X

On The Prowl

On The Prowl
Watercolour tiger

Quotes Quota

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step."

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

C S Lewis