Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Book shame

Just a quick one here, though I'm hoping to be back tomorrow-ish with some words about my hopes for 2015.
For now, though, an issue that's been vexing me: what do I feel about the books that I love? Or, can I get over my apparent need to write or talk only about the more literary, impressive, books that I enjoyed, and be more open, with readers of this blog but also with myself.  Repeat to self: if you enjoyed a book, you enjoyed it. They don't all have to be great literature, and there is no need to be ashamed of anything that I'm reading.

It's so hard! And it's all about the constructed self-image, not that I take a great deal of care about this but I do like to think of myself as someone with good taste (I suppose we all do) and I'm also aware that I go on about how little time I have. Maybe my imaginary reader scorns me for guzzling my way through the Susan Hill series of Simon Serailler books, or for having enjoyed  All Hallows at Eyre Hall as much as I did. I look at these and am fairly confident they're not going to win prizes or be widely known in 100 years, and one of my inner voices says that this must mean they're not "worth it"...worth what? My reading time, or my writing time, or the reading time of anyone who visits this blog or my Goodreads page? Or is it even more laughably conceited than that - "these books do not merit my endorsement, because I am a Serious Reader who must only be associated with Very Serious Books"?

I am packed with self-loathing when I find myself suspecting this is how I'm thinking, and so an early resolution for next year is this: I will read what I enjoy, which might sometimes mean a fine aesthetic appreciation, sometimes a furious socio-political engagement, sometimes a happy nostalgia, and sometimes the pure reading pleasure of something I can't put down. I will not engage with the part of me that wants to put the books in boxes as worthy or unworthy, "high quality" or "low quality", and will test out a new assumption: a book is "high quality" if it made me involve myself with it, and kept me reading - I can trust myself on this, and share my thoughts on it. It will improve me as a reader, and as a writer, because the more I can identify this magic ingredient, the better I'll be at spotting it as a reader, at helping to draw it out as an editor, and even trying to produce it myself as a writer. I'll go back again to Francine Prose, and learn from her every word, and I will get over myself a bit!

All this will work with the help of my glorious new Paperwhite (reading! All the time! In the dark! One-handed! New books at a single click!) and I swear I will write about them all, even if they only get a few lines, and this sort of honesty will improve everything. Though I'd never admit it if I read Fifty Shades of Grey.... 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Adding a phrase

My singing teacher gave me a piece of wonderful advice.

Sometimes you're learning a song and the breath control is hard, because the phrases are long. Take, for example, the first line of Linden Lea, an English classic and grade 4 piece, I think:

"Within the woodlands, flow'ry gladed, by the oak tree's mossy moot"

Even if you're taking the whole song at a bracing gallop, it's a long one, and because it's right at the start of the song you're not quite in flow yet, but it spoils it if you breathe in the middle. When I started singing this I'd always be turning a bit purple by the end, and "mossy moot" would come out as a hissy, last-bit-of-air-escaping-tyre, squeak.

How to get this better? Practise the phrase, not as it stands, but with an extra sub-clause at the start, so sing, again and again:

"Within the wood, within the woodlands, flow'ry gladed, by the oak tree's mossy moot"

Your breath budget now has to last a few syllables longer, and you get used to spreading it right to the end (with perhaps still a tiny bit of hissy squeaking at the end). Then, sing the phrase again with the extras cut off the start, and wonder of wonders, you've got loads to spare, you cruise through it easily and triumphantly, so much that you're not even having to take in a massive gasp before starting "the shining grass blades, timber-shaded, now do quiver underfoot" (another long one).

As with singing, so with life. When I had a small baby, who rapidly became a toddler, I thought my life was full to bursting. Meeting his needs was consuming every scrap I had to offer, aside from what I spent on work. Then I had baby 2, and more than double the demands on my time (surprisingly, the existence of a smiling, disney-eyed snuggly mother-magnet doesn't make a three year old less clingy), and gosh, these six months have been hard. But when Bonzo goes off to playgroup some mornings, my time sighs and stretches into the space, I revel in the slowness of life with the baby, we potter and chatter and burble and tickle and it is easy, so easy.

That was step 1, the first extension to the phrase, and it was building up my strength and skills at handling two. Then, enter the scruffy dog, a beautiful shabby needy lurcher, and now there are three warm bodies that all want to be touching me, three potential danger sources all of whom could hurt any of the others (and themselves - so there are nine different hurting combinations available, before you count one of them hurting several at once). The chaos levels have stepped up further, and the carpets are hairier, but the big blessing turns out to be the way that it's just drawn my breath out for longer. Now, when H goes to work and takes the dog with him, "all" I have to deal with is two children and there are "only" two sets of needs (mine don't count). I feel foolish at how well this mind-trick is working on me, but at the same time it's wonderful. I don't feel more overwhelmed with three dependents; I feel more capable at all the times I only have two, or one.

Of course all this sends me back to my terror in pregnancy about whether I could possibly hold enough love for both of my boys, whether there was enough of me to go round. It turns out that there is, that actually the "me" has grown (no, "I have grown" doesn't say what I want it to), and that my mothering muscles are strengthening with each day of (tear-inducing, soul-breaking, exhausting) exercise. 

Now all I need to do is work out what to use all that spare breath on...