Since a 2020 TikTok trend (of course) involving ‘putting stuff out there into the universe’ we’ve all been talking about manifesting things to make them happen in our lives. It’s pseudo science, no doubt, but as with most trends there’s something intriguing about it.
I’ve always believed that words have power. Saying something out loud is often cathartic or even painful – it makes things real. Hence the fear around a curse and the relief in a blessing. When words are out, they can’t be taken back. Speaking over someone bears a lot of responsibility and we all bear the burden of taking care of one another (not to mention ourselves).
So surely there’s something in the idea? Here’s a weird one: when I finally started this blog and website in late 2020, I also joined Twitter and took ages pondering what my short bio should be. In the end I chose three words: writer, reader and chocolate-eater. Now what’s weird about that? I hear you ask. Sure everyone eats chocolate. Yes indeed. That’s not the weird part. At that point I was a secret writer and read books as a delicious past time. But fast forward mere months later and I had secured an agent for my writing and got a job with an organisation called The Reader. It was as if I had manifested those two words into my life by writing them down and sending them into the world.
But let’s not get carried away because apparently too much of a good thing is actually bad. Who knew? Psychologists suggest a balance between self-belief and self-delusion. Manifesting can bring nasty feelings of failure and disappointment, or even judgement of others. So the science tells us to watch what we say, remain positive as much as possible and get clear on what we want. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a thing so maybe, just maybe, our hopes and plans will fall into place.
As the New Year settles in I’ve been noticing various trends for newness or openness. ‘New Year New You’ has become ‘New Year Same You’ (much less stressful). I like this idea. January is dark enough without adding resolutions and impossible-to-achieve goals. But lists are fun; they involve pens and nice stationery and make you feel busy and important.
So here’s my New Year list. Hope it’s helpful.
1. Identify your favourite things (cats, books, trees, for instance) and spend more time with them
2. Swing wildly between complete sobriety and clumsy tipsiness. Everything in moderation, remember
3. Say no to events that involve PEOPLE
4. Then feel a bit lonely and regret it
5. Wear whatever you want
6. Then feel a bit self-conscious and regret it
7. Find a cause that you believe in and devote yourself to it - reward from the effort expended is sweet indeed
8. Tell the people in your life that you love them (if you do, that is, otherwise just continue to tolerate them and throw the odd eye roll in their direction)
9. Move around as much as you can - stretch, dance, twist. Your body will thank you
10. Write down secret things. The letter to someone who hurt you (don’t send it, obviously), the journal of deep thoughts, the list of hopes and dreams
11. Read as much poetry as you can handle. But approach with caution: it will magically work its way into the darkest sections of your heart and open doors you thought were long-closed.
12. Find someone to look up to. Think ‘when I grow up I want to be like insertname’
13. Listen to music. But that’s all. Close your eyes and just listen. But see number 11 above and approach with caution (your heart may not be ready to hear)
14. Sit by the fire and congratulate yourself on your many years of acquired wisdom
It’s said that memories fade. As we grow older our capacity to make new memories lessens and we start to focus instead on times long ago – Mrs Smith down the road who would swing her stick at kids who passed by, the odd young man at the bus stop who’d talk to himself, the teacher who’d smile when you got the answer right.
Life’s timeline stretches in a strange way depending on where we stand within it. It shrinks and expands and even stops. That long night in hospital, the day you stood on top of a mountain and felt the wind in your hair, the moment you said a final farewell. Images flash by and the heart struggles to keep up. Did you remember that right? Was it raining or not? Memories can be unreliable too, that’s the thing. Our brains are clever. They protect us all day long from things that can hurt and I think that’s marvellous.
But it’s important to pause on the timeline now and again and take stock. Particular dates are the perfect opportunity to do so. Tomorrow is the anniversary of my brother’s death. I’ve spoken about it before and yet every year, when the leaves change colour and the nights draw in, my body tells my mind to remember. I get lethargic, snappy and down. And soon enough I nod and realise what’s happening. Grief speaks to us and it’s worth listening. You can place it in a drawer for a while, if the time isn’t right, but soon enough it rattles around in there until you open up and take a look. It’s dark inside but the light gets in too.
And I’m noticing that eight years on from that awful day the snapshots in the drawer are brighter – Stephen’s giggle, his adoring smile at his young daughter, his unbeatable sarcasm. He was kind and funny and gentle. He was here for a time and he was loved.
For those of us left behind, remembering is hard. But in many ways it’s easy too. And soon enough it folds itself within what is left and becomes part of who we are. And we find we can breathe again.
Apparently there’s a phase in publishing right now for ‘up-lit’ with gentle tension and happy endings. No more sustained peril and yet another beautiful young woman lying dead somewhere. Movie makers are also getting in on the act and are looking for the next big Rom Com (remember those?). Given the state of the world right now it stands to reason that we’re looking for light in our imagined worlds. Art can speak and these days we simply want it to say “It’s all going to be okay in the end.”
But I’ve come to realise that in books and movies I lean more towards darkness than light. A close friend pointed this out a while back and I laughed it off but it got me thinking. I’ve tried reading books that fall into the ‘cheer up’ category and I can’t finish them. I even struggle to write about happy things, choosing instead in a recent short story to bring a scary group of crows onto the scene who ended up chasing a pet dog. What’s going on?
It’s no surprise that children’s fairy tales are so dark. The brothers Grimm certainly knew how to teach young minds about danger, fear, identity and all things in between. I may have spent too many childhood hours within the pages of my ladybird books to emerge as an adult with any inkling of lightheartedness. I found a cloud and sat happily under it.
For a piece of art to speak to us, we need to connect with it. It might result in confusion or boredom or even transcendence (if you’re lucky) but something happens. Maybe for each of us this connection looks different. Laughing at comedy? Crying at romance? Shivering at horror? All good. The trick is to find your zone and embrace it. Seek it out even, because the feelings of catharsis and closure that happen within fictional or artistic worlds are truly special. There’s really nothing like it when you close the last page of a good book or watch the credits roll after an engrossing TV show. We’ve disappeared for a while, lived vicariously with dragons or monsters or friends or foes, and lived to tell the tale.
Life is not so clean. It’s messy: worries trundle on, uncertainty continues, bad people don’t get their comeuppance. So the tragi-comic land is one we need right now. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Light or dark, bring it on. Art is speaking and even if just for a while, we are listening.
I made a new friend recently. And I’m middle-aged! For some reason it’s so much harder as a grown up to form new relationships like this. We’re too busy, mainly, but probably also a bit too lazy and stuck in our ways. And there’s the potential for humiliating rejections that feel so much worse than simply being left to last during the school sports team selection, or left leaning against the wall at a disco while everyone else pairs up (although let’s be honest, those things did hurt our tiny addled hearts).
This new buddy came along all thanks to our new yellow door. Regular readers may remember that last year we wanted to freshen up our old white (or not-so-white) PVC front door and took the plunge and painted it yellow. I say yellow but I mean, really, really yellow. “It’s different,” according to our neighbour, Elaine, from down the road. And since our little terraced house opens onto the pavement this means that many passersby get to admire it as they go about their day (it is, after all, impossible to ignore).
So one fine August day I happened to be sorting out the recycling (as you do) and someone said hello. Usually the conversation ends here (or doesn’t even start, we’re not all that friendly around here) but this time the smiling new neighbour, just moved in around the corner, said how much she loved the yellow door, that it always cheered her up and she had always wondered if someone creative lived here. There followed a great blather about art, writing and the amusing nuances of our local community. It was great. There was a moment when things clicked – aren’t those moments precious? And I’m happy to say that we’ve since met up for coffee, talked and talked (and discovered even more similarities). Nina has even become one of our trusted cat-sitters. And all because of a yellow door.
But it’s also because of Nina’s courage to suggest we meet and find out more about each other. It so easily could have become just a one-off fun interaction. But when you find a member of your tribe – you know the ones, they make you laugh, they share your world views, they like what you like – you want to be around them. There’s that ‘click’ again.
So if you connect with someone, be brave and arrange to see them and foster that relationship. It may not work out (hence the bravery) but it’s so worth stepping forward and asking ‘do you fancy a coffee some time?’ In other words, ‘will you be my friend?’ Life can be lonely and isolating, but there are others out there who can be your fellow travellers through life. You might even find you’re peas in a pod. And who wouldn’t want to be that?