Life Is Story and Stories Are Everywhere

Just recently I penned a guest post for another blog, the topic of which was the reason I write. I know people write for many, many complex reasons, and I think there is more than one reason that compels me to make up stories, but certainly one of the biggest reasons is simply to live more lives. To become other people, to step into their shoes, to create them and control them, to live with them and die with them. It’s the same reason I read, I guess. So that I’m not just me, living this one life.

What I also notice, as I go through my one, short life, punctuated by the lives of the people and worlds I have lovingly created, is how stories are everywhere. How they make up our lives and our worlds, and our day to day existence. Maybe you don’t always notice them, but if you look, stories are everywhere. Everything is, in fact, a story. Or at least, the potential for one. The inspiration for one.

When you get an idea for a story, it’s because you asked a question. You asked, what if? You asked, why? You asked, what is going on here? And you wanted to know the answers to those questions, so you made some up.

Children are wonderful at doing this. Natural play in childhood is nothing but stories and make-believe. I find this utterly enchanting. How they lose themselves completely in made-up worlds. These worlds and stories might make no sense at all to us, the adults, but to them they do. They set them up and let them roll. They start them out of nothing, out of the thin blue air. And they carry them on, for weeks, sometimes years.

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Look at this Playmobil set up. My 3-year-old got given a box of the stuff this week but it was his 10-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister who set it all up like this. I walked past it while tidying up and found myself wondering what was going on. There is one fellow, an outlaw, tied to the roof of a wagon, for instance, and I wanted to know why. There are a lot of rifles placed on a table in the sheriff’s office, and this was also obviously part of the story. The kids had dinner and went back to the Playmobil. I had to do other things, but I would have loved to know what happened next to all these people! This might look like play, and it is, but it’s also a story in action, one that I am sure will develop over the next few days.

A few days ago my youngest sat down to do some drawings on his chalkboard. I wasn’t allowed to join in, I was only allowed to watch. He started drawing big circles and little circles with lines joining them, up. He chatted to himself and when I asked about it, he gave the circles all names like Hop and Plop and Poop and said they were all holding hands because they were friends. They didn’t have faces, but some did have bananas! He then drew a square around them all and said they had gone into a house. This went on for a while, with my son adding further layers to the story. It was a lovely moment, art and storytelling interlinked quite naturally!

Children are just natural storytellers, and we should notice and cherish and encourage this as much as possible. Tonight, one of my older sons early creations, came back to visit us, and I was once again reminded how naturally children construct stories and carry them on through their lives.

When he was almost three, my older son used to get scared at night and get into our bed. We would ask him about this and he would talk about odd little creatures he called the Muckoos. In the day, his sisters would question him, and he would describe them in ever greater detail. (They were small and spiky and multi-coloured and liked to steal biscuits) They also kept him awake at night with their noise and they did lots of naughty things around the house. As the story grew among us all, my son started blaming the Muckoos when things went wrong. I wrote a story about it at the time, which I still have, and may one day do something with!

I’ve never forgotten the Muckoos, and I quite often call my littlest son a Muckoo, as in my mind it sums up a small child, mucky and messy and troublesome and cheeky! I sometimes call him Muckoo Madness, and he will retort; I am not Muckoo Madness!

Anyway, sometimes we have trouble getting the littlest one to bed, and my older son has been helping out the last few nights, by pretending to be a creature called Gavin, who loves stories. This in itself, is just gorgeous. He insists on sitting on a pillow on one side of me, while his little brother sits on the other side. They both get toys to cuddle and we all choose one book to read. Then ‘Gavin’ has to go back to his cave, and my little son happily goes to bed. What a way to use storytelling to encourage a young child to sit still and listen to stories! Tonight, my older son remembered the Muckoos, and ‘Gavin’ told us he was a Muckoo, in fact, the last of his kind. Quite a poignant moment, I felt! It was magical to witness this ‘story’ resurfacing after so many years and I am quite convinced it will continue to develop further layers and complexities…

And for anyone wondering what the last Muckoo looks like, my oldest son agreed to draw one for you!

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Dear Untamed Human Of Mine

Look at you, so utterly absorbed in all you do, so completely within the moment, not thinking backwards or forwards. Sadly, you do now understand the concept of ‘in a minute’ ‘not now’, ‘just wait.’ It’s weird how it once seem unfathomable that you would be able to articulate speech or instigate questions, but now, approaching your third birthday, you are brimming over with why? And how? Every time you open your mouth we are shocked by the new things that spill out. You make us laugh out loud daily with the things you come out with. It only seems moments ago that you were lying wordlessly in my arms.

It’s funny to me how you know your own mind already. You have a preference for how things should be done and tell me ‘not like that, Mummy.’ And it’s always over the smallest of things, like me trying to put your shoes on, or give you a kiss. It’s like you have to have the last word, the ultimate control over everything. You’re stubborn too. There are days when you argue with me over everything. If it’s raining and I say it’s raining, you will adamantly insist that it is absolutely not raining.

Your funny walks and your funny talks, though in the wrong moment, you will hate for us to laugh at you, in the right ones, you play the clown and laugh your husky laugh along with us. Your funny faces, your spontaneity, your wildness, you have no real clue how to fit in anywhere or how to behave, but we are teaching you, and sometimes I regret this.

When I tell you to hurry up, when I insist the shoes do go on the right feet, when I take your out of your car seat on the ‘wrong’ side, when I make you sit on your chair at dinner time, when I say no to your impulsive demands for biscuits or juice, I am taming you. I am teaching you how to behave.

We are all doing it. We are all complicit in your taming, restraining you from running wild, telling you not to jump in the puddles too much or your socks will get wet, telling you have to hold hands, telling you to hurry up, come on, we have things to do…

Sometimes I watch you. Sometimes I can’t stop staring at you when you’re in a puddle and set on staying there as long as possible because there is nothing more important to you in the world, and I am tired, I need coffee, and all the bribes of hot chocolate or CBeebies have not worked, because you just want to stay in that puddle. I stare at you, at how lost and absorbed and interested you are, swirling your stick around in the water, stamping your feet, walking up and down, repeating the same actions again and again, and it hurts my heart to imagine you in a shirt and tie and blazer, forced to sit still at school.

I can’t imagine you not like this. Wellies and mud, picking up sticks and stones, not listening to a word I say, with your crazy hair and your mucky face, because you hate for me to wipe it, and how you want to climb on absolutely everything, and how it drives me crazy sometimes when I am in a hurry, and want to get on, and don’t want you to hurt yourself and absolutely know that you will. Sometimes I hate myself for telling you to be careful, for warning you of pain you have no concept of. It’s even worse when I scold you because I simply want to get home, because I’ve had enough, because I’m bored, or tired, or grumpy, because I just want one moment to myself…

I wish there was always time in this life for climbing and balancing and puddles and crouching down to intently inspect your world, for wandering off, for taking the other path, for doing something unplanned and not in the schedule, for sitting down and refusing to move, for refusing to wear your hood up in the rain, for everything you love, for everything that holds your interest. My last child, my wild child, I long for you to be forever untamed, forever entranced by trees and tigers and muck and hose pipes.

I look at you sometimes,  and I think of all the things you need to learn to be. Patient, quiet, still, orderly. I think that we are preparing you for pre-school, which will prepare you for school, which will prepare you for employment, and I want to say no, no, no no! We’re teaching you how to behave. We’re teaching you how to fit in. We’re taming you and I’m sorry.

Growing Your Own; A Positive Rebellion

Gardening is a lot like writing. It starts with a seed, and with love, care, attention, commitment and imagination, it grows into something much, much more. For me, gardening and writing are similar because they both involve creating something positive and injecting it into the world. They both make the world brighter and better. They both involve hope, love and rebellion.

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I’ve always been attracted to gardening. My parents grew vegetables when I was a kid, and so did my grandparents. I have fond memories of sitting on cool concrete steps with a plastic bowl on my lap, popping peas from their pods. There is nothing in this world quite as divine as the pungent scent of a full grown tomato plant. As soon as I had my own place, I started growing my own. There is something so deliciously simple and satisfying about planting a seed and growing it into a plant, from which you can pick and eat food. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I can assure you it’s an incredible feeling. Like all is well with the world. Like you’ve just solved all the world’s problems, by tugging out a handful of carrots and shaking the dirt from their roots. It never fails to make me smile, the sight of home grown food, picked and ready to eat. It just makes you want to sit back and go ‘ahh’.

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We live in tumultuous times. There are many days when I want to avoid the news, for fear of what will dismay or horrify me next. I sometimes wish I could turn the clock back for all of us, back to a simpler time, where we all grew our own food, worked the fields, and reaped what we sowed.

When I am feeling distraught, just like writing, gardening will make me feel better. I forces me to take a deep breath, it forces me to get on with things, to get on with life, and to do something positive. Getting my hands dirty, feeling the soil under my finger nails, pushing seeds into the earth, it all helps me to feel grounded again and more in control. Being outside, kneeling in the dirt, choosing what to plant, putting my back into turning over the earth, it helps me remember where I come from, where we all come from. Gardening is therapeutic; I keep telling people this. I get my little man out there with me, and I want him to feel the earth and take care of the seeds, and tend them and watch them grow. Right now, I can’t think of anything more important for him to know and understand.

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Gardening grounds me, calms me and satisfies me. From the beginning, it is a labour of love and good intentions. I have the old adage of ‘you reap what you sow’ in mind nearly always, for I know I will get back what I put in. The seeds are the hope, you see. Like new life, bursting with potential. A freshly dug and turned over plot is like the womb, spongey and fresh, eager to provide and sustain. It’s exciting from the first moment you plant the seed. When it rears its head, it’s like birth. You care for it, water it, protect it and finally, you are rewarded with food. The cycle of life right there. And around it goes again, the plant itself providing the seeds from which to start the whole process again.

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When I’m in my garden, I’m calmer and happier, but I am also filled with grit and determination. For I am taking back control. Working the land, growing our own food used to be the norm. It was how we survived. But over time the food industry grew into a monstrous thing, delivering us convenience, but taking away so many other things. What have we traded, what have we compromised on in order to be able to do all our shopping under one huge roof? We’ve not only handed over control of the food chain to massive faceless corporations, we’ve compromised on animal cruelty and environmental damage and destruction. We’ve increased waste massively, through packaging, delivery, and distribution. We’ve lost contact with what is put into our food, what it actually is, where it comes from, and what or who has suffered in order for us to have it exactly as we demand it.

When you try to grow your own food, you remember how it used to be, how it could be again, how important it is to get back that control and to reconnect our roots with the earth we walk on. We have no respect for nature when we are removed from it. When all the hard work is done for us, when we have no idea how foods are made or what is in them, or what damage has been done to the planet in order to obtain them. I believe it’s crucial we teach our children where food comes from. Reconnecting them with the earth and their own wild roots is going to become increasingly important.

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It’s not easy for everyone to grow their own food. Not everyone has the space and barely anyone has the time. But in years to come, I truly believe it’s going to become imperative to learn how. We are going to struggle to feed people on this planet for many reasons. Climate change may be the biggest challenge of our generation, endless war, struggling economies and falling wages will all take their toll. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that food prices are rising.

Growing your own food, planting a vegetable patch, may be just about the most positive and rebellious thing we can do right now. It’s two fingers up to the establishment, it’s a break away from slavery to the supermarkets, and a refusal to be complicit in animal cruelty, environmental destruction and the taking from those who have less.

Growing your own is saying, go away, I don’t need you, I can do this on my own. I’ve got a new motto this year in my house. It’s ‘I won’t buy it, if I can make it myself.’ Now this only applies to food so far, and is a work in process, but a good intention heading in the right direction. I’m digging my heels in and saying no. I don’t need to buy supermarket naan bread when I make a curry, because I can save the packaging and make my own. I don’t need to buy pizzas, or jam, or pastries or pies, sauces, breads, cakes or biscuits, because I can make my own.

I need to be outside right now. This world is breaking my heart and filling me with terror. I need to be planting things, growing things, nurturing things. I need to be responsible for new life and hope and potential. I need to believe that good things can happen if you are a good person. I need to believe that there is a possibility for a greener, brighter future for my children.

When I am writing or gardening, I am reminded that I still have power.

 

 

The Many Roles That Make Up Who We Are

Last Tuesday was a fairly busy day for me.

I got up around 6am with my two-year-old, as is the norm. We had breakfast, got dressed, let the chickens and ducks out and fed and watered them all. Then we had our usual little mooch down the lane with the dogs. Back home, I had my coffee and he had a hot chocolate to warm up. These things happen every day.

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After that, I left the house with my fourteen-year-old and drove us to the local community hall where I was running a writing workshop for 7-16 year olds. I do this every school holiday with my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business . I slipped off my ‘mum’ hat and popped on my teaching one, welcoming the children in, talking about writing and getting the workshop started. Once it was over, my daughter helped me put the tables and chairs away, and I was Mum again.

We arrived home and I slipped further into the usual role of Mum, with my toddler who had missed me. I only had time to eat some lunch, placate him with brief cuddles and chat, before I had to get back into the car to drive to another job. This time it was within my other role as a dog walker. I’ve only gone back to this fairly recently, but it was what I was doing before I had my youngest child. Back then, it was the perfect day job to tie in with writing. In between walking dogs, I wrote.

I put on my wellies and mucky dog walking coat, collected the dogs from their home and set off across the muddied fields of Throop, adjacent to the river, as usual, in total awe at the beauty of my surroundings. I was yet another me. The dog loving me. Never happier than when in the company of these lolling, wagging, slobbering beasts. Dogs are an obsession to me as much as reading, writing and music. They make me who I am, and who I have always been, and when I am walking along with them, lost in my own head, smiling at their antics, I am reminded of who I was as a child and of what I dearly wanted. To be a writer and to work with animals.

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While I walked, I slipped between dog walker and writer mode, throwing their ball and tossing them treats, as I thought up blog posts and articles and snippets of short stories in my head. Every now and then, as is standard, I had to tap something into my phone notebook in case I forgot it later.For this time, I was not Mum or writing teacher, I was myself, I was Chan.

Back home, a brief rest and then it was time to walk my own doggies again. I was definitely tired by then, and had just recieved a text from a good friend reminding me that it was drinks tonight. I had totally forgotten and instantly I thought no, I can’t, it’s been a busy day and I really need to do some writing and get an early night…At the same time, I desperately wanted to go. This is a group of friends I made through being a mum. Our 9 year olds have all been friends for the last five years, and our friendships have grown over that time. We try and meet up every now and again outside of school, as these days, we are seeing less and less of each other within the school environment. The boys are getting older and wanting more independence, and we’ve all noticed we now see less and less of the usual mums in the playground, as we increasingly drop the kids off and leave them to it.

I made myself go out and socialise, as it is not something I do very often. Like most writers, I’m an introvert at heart and love nothing more than my own company, my own imagination, and to round off the night, a good book. I was so glad I went, though, as I was able to enjoy a few glasses of wine, and strip off all the roles I had played in the day and all the many ‘hats’ I had worn. With the workday over, children in bed, and partners at home, we were all able to have a good moan and a catch-up, a bit of essential ‘me’ time!

This was a busy day, but not an unusual one and it got me thinking about how the roles we play make up who we are. But who is the real you? Are we ever really our true selves, or just different versions of us, presented in different ways, for different reasons? It got me thinking about the next week ahead. On the Friday I was lucky enough to be interviewed on BBC Radio Solent as part of their Dorset Lives section. I was incredibly nervous, but yet when I listened back, I was overwhelmed by how calm, confident and professional I sounded talking about my writing and why I set up my Chasing Driftwood business. I couldn’t believe that was actually me! I mean, was it actually me? Or just the version of myself I knew I had to present in order to get through that particular situation? It was certainly not the same me that gets ratty with my kids at home, or wanders by the river, splattered with mud, throwing balls for dogs! This week I will going into a local school for a meeting about a proposed school writing project, inspired by another writer, but put forward by me for this area. Yet again, I am sure the ‘me’ I put forward during this meeting is going to be different. Professional and confident, but she is also going to need to be warm and passionate about the project and how it could benefit the school.

Is there ever a true us? Does a real me exist? Is it the one who is left when I am totally alone, beholden to no one, with nothing expected of me? Or is it the one who chats to other mums inside the school gates? The one who drifts off inside her own head when out with her dogs? The one who runs the bath, and picks up the dirty clothes and makes the lunch boxes for the next school day? Or the one who plans writing workshops and presentations?

I guess I am or have slowly become all of these roles, and all of these people. They are all me, when I need them to be me. They are all parts of who I am and what make me an individual. Some of them did not use to exist at all, but now, here they are. Here I am. All these different faces and demeanours and personas. How very odd when you think about it!

So, what about you? Who is the real you? How many roles do you play out in your busy life? How many hats do you have to wear? Please feel free to comment and join in the conversation! I would love to hear from you!