A pencil and a dream can take you anywhere

Sunday, 17 January 2010


I may be the worst person to read a murder mystery novel, I am quite content to let the narrative transport me rather than actively engage. This can be particularly frustrating at a murder mystery party as I suspect no one and my apathetic side muffles my competitive side. I read murder mystery novels in quite a laissez-faire fashion, truth be told many characters merge for me (which may explain why I never know quite who to suspect) If a television adaptation is too long, I may get confused as to who was who in the first place and realise I should just stick to what I know. I could never really work out the ghoul in Scooby Doo either, even if they were the only other secondary character apart from the ‘pesky kids’ and Scooby himself.

I loved that my Grandad always said if he arrived at a hotel and Jessica Fletcher from ‘Murder she wrote’ checked in at the same time, he’d turn around, get back in the car and drive to another hotel. I mean why would you risk it? Poor lady, everywhere she goes, there is a murder (maybe she orchestrated it, I mean she needed something to write, the woman had deadlines, didn’t she? just a thought). I digress.

So basically things need to be far simpler for me, think I’ll stick to reading ‘Peter and Jane go to the shops’. I think the type of people who read murder mysteries, crave the complexity of those books. Can we not make things complicated enough on our own?

I wonder, like the ghouls in Scooby Doo, are the answers to our problems hidden in plain sight?

The world has helped us to make everything simpler, we don’t have to use gears we have automatic cars, need food cooking quickly? There are microwaves. You don’t need to put a record on or a tape in or even a CD on anymore because, thanks to a man called Ian, we have the ‘ipod’. We have drive-through restaurants; in America you can go to a drive-through ATM for Pete’s sake, sometimes you don’t have to leave your car for anything. This is a world where we have machines that can exercise for us. Want to diet? You can get a diet plan and a shopping list printed for you, lest you have to utilise your poor little hand to write ‘a packet of Ryvita and a pot of cottage cheese’. Want to find love? you need never leave the house. We call for pizza or a chinese meal and it's delivered to the door. We can order books, films and clothes off the Internet. Hate fighting miserable kerfuffling people at Christmas time? That’s what the magic wonderful wonder web is for. The world has used all its power to make things simpler for us, so why are we still complicating every-little-thing?

When I have a problem my mind seems to clog up, if I could visualise it I think it would look similar to spaghetti with thick sauce. Confiding it to a friend and asking for advice seems to untangle it slightly; their 20/20-blurfree-problem-vision versus my complete-problem-induced-cataracts seems to start the unravelling process.

Why is it, then, that when we look at someone else’s problem the answer seems to slap us in the face? What I propose is that when I have a problem, someone should present my problem to me, as their own, and when I have offered a solution they should then say “you know what? (Slaps their head) Silly me, that wasn’t my problem atall, that was yours!” Problemo solved!

I also think the biggest boulder that prevents us from solving our own problems is us, we place soooo many obstacles in the way, when someone offers a solution how many of us say, “I can’t because…” how many of those obstacles are our perceptions? How many of those roadblocks do we place in the way? Hmmm?

Believe me I am not talking about this as if I haven’t got any problems of my own, it has taken a few years to realise that we put some of those obstacles in the way ourselves. If the solution seems simple sometimes we think… hmmm that is way too easy, there must be a more complicated way, surely. While scratching our heads we decide (holds hand triumphantly in air and envisages a large audience for this speech) "Come hell or high water, even if it takes my whole life, all my energy, a large team of volunteers, a well publicised facebook group, a charity organisation, heck, if I have to dedicate my entire being to it I will, yes will, make it my mission to make this way more complicated than is humanly necessary." (A loud cheer erupts in the auditorium)

Why make it more difficult for yourself? I am not asking you to evaluate your entire life and pick the easiest answer, crap job? Leave. Unhappy marriage? Divorce. Those are not the simple answers. What I am asking is that you don’t make it more complicated for yourself; see if any of those roadblocks are your own reinforced slabs of concrete.

I am certainly no psychologist, nor am I presuming all problems are simple. I am suggesting if they are not deeply ethical or world changing stop minding the ‘what ifs’ and seek the simpler route. If you have good friends you can trust, talk about it. Or go with the impartial route, if my friend came to me with the same problem what would I advise? We don’t need to make it more complicated than it is. I have spent years studying subjects where as an audience or reader we were made to search for sub-texts and hidden things, we had to look for symbolism and some suggestions, I fear, were pulled off the home page of tenuouslinks.com. My friend had an English teacher who said that the reason the lady was called ‘Mrs Haversham’ in Great Expectations was a play on ‘have a sham’ ummm… think you are searching much deeper than the author anticipated there, love. I once had to endure a Science Fiction class one semester at university (in my defence it was the best of a bad bunch). In it, the *ahem*, geeks, debated an entire lesson on the intricacies and subtext of ‘Bladerunner’ that’s right, I said ‘Bladerunner’ (kill me, kill me now) some of their theories were extremely questionable and well, let's face it, a little over my head. I do, however, remember wondering (whilst fighting my boredom induced coma) if that was indeed the author and filmmaker’s original convoluted intention.

When you are young your parents break everything down, take it step by step, word by word, they don’t present you with ‘War and Peace’ as your first book, no we have ‘At the Zoo’ and ‘The very hungry caterpillar’ (still bedside favourites of mine) Why make it complicated and difficult?
Granted, “well then you can’t come to my birthday party” isn’t an acceptable solution to friendship differences, and “I’m on their side, not yours” won’t hold much sway in a peace negotiation.
But do we really need to look for more complexity and make matters harder all the time? Why yes, I think we feel we need to. Sometimes I want to look at the world through a child’s eyes, appreciate things for what they are, accept some of the things I am told, question things yes and yearn to know more, but not get ahead of myself and not make things harder than they already are.

For some things a back-to-basics approach would be the more desirable route, that and a simple answer to a simple problem.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Who Am I?

“Who am I to tell you I'll always catch you when you fall?
Well I, I wouldn't be myself at all. I wouldn't be myself at all, at all”.
sang the great philosopher Will Young, pop idol 2002.

Who am I? We have all asked ourselves that very question at one time or another. Who do you say I am? I have many nicknames, Gussie Winkle (long story) Louisianna, Liesl, Loulabelle, LouLou, Neese (ok that from my almost two year old niece) Lou, Lola… the list goes on. I like these nicknames. I feel it reflects who I am to different people, I don’t morph into a different person with different friends (although that’d be a great superpower), but I think my friends see different sides to me.

Like most people, I have worried what others think of me, I still do sometimes, and then I catch myself and think “why do I care”? If they are not someone close to me why should I be bothered? (…“because they are people, people with eyes!”) I care most about what my friends and family think and their opinions do matter to me. I have enough good friends and an amazing family to challenge me if they feel I have done something wrong.

I dislike parties or meeting people for a couple of reasons… first, the dreaded question: What do you do? I used to make jobs up such as a diamond miner, or a sexer of oranges- cutting them in half to determine if they were male or female, someone who takes words we no longer use out of the dictionary (someone believed this and asked what words I had taken out lately, so I said ‘gullible’ he answered “really?”- walked into that one) I can now proudly say I am an English teacher, thankfully (wipes brow).
Second there is the “where are you from?” question. I always take a deep breath before I answer that one. I can’t say Germany because I am barely here, I am also not German nor am I fluent in the language (unless we are counting pigeon German) so I say it is difficult, I was a military child and have lived in sooo many places, it is difficult to pinpoint. Plus no one is ever content with just ‘England’ as an answer, ‘but whereabouts?’ Who are you, the ‘specific hometown answer regulator’, hmmm? Next time I should spill my drink on them, better still their drink and detract from the question, altogether (don’t say you weren’t warned).
I know why it is, we all want a common ground, and we want to be able to identify each other by that. I am like Jessica Rabbit; this is the way I was drawn. I am actually amazingly thankful for the fact I have moved around, I am not afraid of it (only the question about it).It also means I am hard to pin down. We are used to putting people in neat little categories and boxes, we don’t mean to, but we do. What if I don’t fit your box, who am I then?

I worry about where to say I am from, I don’t want to lie but find myself justifying it, I bluster answers like “ummm I live in Germany but I don’t speak the language (truth is I never speak to anyone) plus I shop in Holland and Dutch is, like, really hard.” Heck, I am tired of my own answers, my own justifications. I may make the name of a country up and then act offended when they don’t know where it is and shocked that they don’t know that English is their common language, whilst rolling my eyes. I now have visions of people googling it, or looking in an atlas for my fictitious country! (Cue evil plan laugh).

I was recently told that I looked German (by a Spanish teenager who didn't know I lived in Germany) then he concluded I may be Swedish (I suspect he had never seen anyone from either of these cultures or countries). My A-level English teacher once guessed I was either Norwegian or Irish, there is Celtic in there somewhere, it’s the fair skin and freckles. There is also a chance my family from Yorkshire originated from Vikings, but could have equally been from the Normans. My friend once introduced me as her friend from the Czech Republic (we met in Prague), I did have dark hair at the time- the girl leaned in and annunciating she asked “and –where- are- you -from?” to which I smiled and replied “Watford”. People often try and pin it down to where I was born. I was born near Manchester (and then spent 2 weeks there) although I spent lots of holidays there I don’t have a northern accent –but can mimic one if it helps. I lived for 9 years in the south of England but don’t feel as if it gave me any particular identity, I just joined the countless others who emigrated there.

I once was a part of a large church, I spent 5 years there and not just Sundays, it was my community, my social life, when I chose to ‘tear’ myself away I was left wondering who I was, I realised my identity was that tied up in it-scary but true. Since leaving almost three years ago, worry ye not. I know who I am now.

If we transcend the traditional methods of identification, what can we identify ourselves by? When I left that church I remember asking myself, who does God say I am?

My friend Isabel reminded me that first of all God says: “You are my daughter.”

This is an extract from 'the father's love letter', that I think answers the above question.

My Child, you may not know me, 
but I know everything about you. 
Psalm 139:1
I know when you sit down and when you rise up. 
Psalm 139:2
I am familiar with all your ways. 
Psalm 139:3
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered. 
Matthew 10:29-31
For you were made in my image. 
Genesis 1:27
In me you live and move and have your being. Acts 17:28
For you are my offspring. 
Acts 17:28
I knew you even before you were conceived. 
Jeremiah 1:4-5
I chose you when I planned creation. 
Ephesians 1:11-12
You were not a mistake, 
for all your days are written in my book. 
Psalm 139:15-16
I determined the exact time of your birth 
and where you would live. 
Acts 17:26
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Psalm 139:14
I knit you together in your mother's womb. 
Psalm 139:13

So it is fair to say I am me and if God knows who I am, well then that is good for me.

Next time we're at a party together, ask me who I am at your own peril.