Do I lack the passion to be a Writer?

Sunday night, 11th July I submitted a 1st draft manuscript as part of the 12 month Write your Novel course I joined in October 2020, with Australian Writers Centre. Other students in the class and my tutor will read this draft and feedback to me.

It was a requirement to have a manuscript of 10,000 to 20,000 words, and be seeking a process to get yourself moving toward a finished manuscript.

This week, I feel free. Vulnerable and nervous that my readers will tell me it is a crock of sh*#, but relieved.

I wasn’t looking for how to write lessons. I was happy for writing to remain a natural, calm, almost stream of consciousness activity that I undertake, because I enjoy stories.

I’ve always dreamed of being an author. As 60 inexorably approaches it seemed a good time to seriously pursue that goal.

Sixty years old. It doesn’t seem possible that I’m coming up on old age. At what point do we cling to the froth of 40 is the new 30, 50 the new 40, etc? All I know is that generally I feel about 26, which probably also goes for level of maturity [LOL]. I’m supposed to be in an amazing place in my life where I know myself, have confidence in my strengths and abilities. Funny that.

My background is secretarial and I believe that things would fall apart if you didn’t have hardworking administrators. But have you heard of the Golgafrinchans? Their story resonated with me from the get go, particularly on the many days that I’m down on myself.

If you’ve read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of books, you would know about the Golgafrinchans. On their planet, I would fall into the class of ‘middle-men’  – people like hairdressers, consultants, marketers, insurance salespeople, telephone sanitisers. In other words, the people the world can do without.

The remaining two-thirds of Golgafrinchans were considered the thinkers and the doers and they fooled the middle men into departing the planet for places unknown with various ruses. The planet would soon crash into the sun, a swarm of 12 foot high killer bees was about to attack, or the planet was soon to be eaten by some sort of mutant goat. This two-thirds promised, we’ll be right behind you, and of course, the idiots departed.

It might sound harsh that I include myself in a fictional group of people described as the worthless ones, but often I feel it describes me. Lost, at a time of life when I’m supposed to have come into my own. 

What I looked for in a 12 month WYN course was feedback and deadlines. Because at work, I’m a robot slave but in my downtime, I’m a sloth. I work well to a deadline. Busy beaver, busy bee, take your pick. A course that says ‘here, and here, and here you will delver 5,000 words and at this point, a final draft’ worked for me.

However, for most the last few months I wrote to deadlines, and not a word more. Since October I’ve barely participated in the writing prompts I like to follow, the flash fiction. These great creative challenges hone your ability to say quite a lot, with few words. I missed it. But as queen procrastinator I didn’t allow myself that treat, because if I’m writing it should be on the blasted manuscript. 

For most of those months, I was barely writing.

With regard to this blog, somehow this last couple of years of COVID and Trump-related angst discouraged me from writing opinion. I’ve felt paralysed, as if what has been going on is too big. Add in the social media world of fake news, and I seem to have lost the ability to offer my naive thoughts.

If you want to be considered a writer, you need to write. Thinking about writing, dreaming about it doesn’t qualify you. I don’t have that many strings to my bow, but like to think of myself as a writer. But am I?

When I’m in the flow of participating in flash fiction, I write and enjoy it. I like to read (55 to 65 books a year). I’ve always wanted to be a writer, as in published author. 

But I’m not passionate, about anything. I’m not very emotional. There has never been a muse in my life. My characters don’t talk to me or follow me around looking for attention. Doesn’t a writer, any kind of creative actually, need to be passionate; emotional. 

I’m just practical, pragmatic, pedantic, process driven – workmanlike. 

Good news. I completed the draft and met the deadline. Good news. There is another MS with more words that called to me while working on the other. 

Bad news. I want to write fresh, alive stories – so flash fiction calls. I don’t want to rewrite and rewrite until the words turn into something the publisher wants. That part is boring. And I only have so many more years to waste.

BTW the exiled Golgafrinchans landed on planet earth and after eliminating the existing humanoid species, became our ancestors. Those who remained on Golgafrinchan enjoyed their lives without the middle men, until the day they all died of a disease contracted from dirty telephones. Irony upon irony.

A Christmas Letter

Bollocks to 2020, said everyone to anyone they met during the Christmas season. Or whoever they spoke to by phone or via internet connection because their town, locality, region, country was in lockdown – again! Or still.

Before we could get around to smelling the roses, seeking the silver lining, gilding some lily, we had to get past the bah humbugging of the year that was.

January brought trickling news of a mystery virus within  China. For some, antennae were raised, radars began to scan, and higher senses engaged in keeping an eye on things.

For others, it was something happening to somebody else. In China, no less. Who cared!

By March, if you lived in New Zealand or Australia (to name only two such countries) you were locked in – and everybody else was locked out.

And that has been a triumph! Yes, we have sick. Yes, we’ve had dead. But on such a small scale, it has barely blotted the landscape compared to the rest of the world.

From the microcosm of Australia, it has been an anxious year for many reasons. We walked into the pandemic from the terrible stress of a traumatic (for many) bushfire season. Even those of us who weren’t in the line of fire, didn’t have homes destroyed, lives threatened, livelihoods erased – we lived with constant smoke, sometimes from fires several hundreds of kilometres away. The fires were close enough that if your house was older and therefore more flammable,embers floating into town were a perceived danger, even in large regional centres.

In the relative safety of a city or large town, you still felt for everybody else. How could you not, and be a thoughtful human being. If you were financially able, you donated. If you were physically and personally able, you volunteered. In our large town, we weren’t in any real danger but we had a go-bag packed, the car fuelled up, ample spare water, devices always charged, and important papers or valuables to hand.

From her Facebook account, Celeste Barber (Australian comedian) managed to raise over $51 billion from approximately 1.3 million donors from around the world. Huge sums came from those celebrities who could afford it.

What a triumph of human spirit and goodwill.

But as Celeste nominated the NSW Rural Fire Service as the recipient and their Trust Deed limits what donated funds can be spent on, the money couldn’t be used to help those who had lost everything – for relief, rebuilding and to help injured wildlife; a particular image that captured hearts around the world.

The NSW RFS can only use the funds for machinery and training (and as decided through court action) to assist injured firefighters, to support families of the injured (or killed) firefighters and trauma counselling.

The funds can’t even be used for other state firefighting services (only NSW). And definitely can’t be used to help the everyday people in the community who had lost so much, as was the intention.

To me, the inability to overcome the legal limits of the Trust Deed even though pursued in court (it requires NSW government legislation to overcome) highlights the craziness of 2020. We had deadly bushfires (Australia and the US) Brexit, Trump, that explosion in Lebanon and the Covid-19 pandemic. And I’m only naming some ones obvious to me. Depending on who you are and where you live, there will have been other priorities.

For a moment, the world came together. Strangers reached out with a helping hand. And the aid was caught up in bloody red tape and bureaucracy. What a tragedy.

And so to a degree, we were already in ’emergency mode’ when the pandemic triggered panic buying and hoarding. We were already plenty stressed and ready to react to this perceived (and ultimately real) threat.

DO NOT HOARD, said the government. DO NOT PANIC, they cried. WHATEVER. YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING, decried the people.

People were scared and it makes sense that the poorest and most marginalised people in the population were not going to listen to that patronising advice. They live in fear and stress all the time. They know to react to real danger. They know not to wait. People used to security, even if only modest wealth, might take longer to react and perhaps look down on those poor fools buying up toilet paper, pasta, rice and sugar. Those people who could least afford to be lost reacted to survive, as they knew to. In a very real catastrophe, they at least would have supplies to keep them for a while, as businesses closed, jobs were lost, people began to sicken and die.

Typical Christmas family gatherings include hopping from home to home, sharing food and anecdotes. Cheerful one-upmanship. The sharing of successes and ordinary disappointments. Shared food, shared hugs, shared kisses, hand shaking, leave taking, memory making.

Inevitably (of course) there are the years when people suffer serious losses that lead more to reflection and inflict unnatural darkness upon the event.

A normal Christmas for us is to share our travel adventures, to connect with our family around Australia, to rejoice at the births, weddings, graduations and new opportunities of friends around the world. Covid spread its evil shade over everything and tainted the seasonal celebration of life, love and the joy of giving.

I assume the majority of us were tired and dispirited by Christmas 2020, praying for miracles, wishing for a Happy New Year and a return to ‘normal’. The new ‘Covid-normal’ we’re getting used to saying.

While my husband and I celebrated a quiet and safe Christmas, without our children who live in another state, we remembered those in the world who can’t celebrate anything like a normal Christmas season. People who are still locked down, afraid and threatened by the invisible enemy, and by those who won’t harken the call to unselfishness. To listen to the guidelines, to stay indoors, to mask up and take it all seriously.

We all imagine and pray that 2021 will bring an ease, an erasure of the virus, a return to normal-normal. Unfortunately, at the time of writing 2021 is only days away and although vaccines are now in the wider community, and promised here in Australia by March, I don’t see them  as golden tickets out of the pandemic.

So …. I normally write a happy Christmas letter to my family and friends – but what was there to write about that hasn’t already been said BY EVERYBODY! There was nothing fresh, no particularly joyful anecdotes. For us, our children didn’t marry, have babies or celebrate milestone birthdays. Our nephew’s planned wedding became a covid-closure event.

We continued to work (often from home) and watched too much TV. I read even more books than usual. For the first five months, my husband and I walked heaps but somehow, by July, fell out of the habit. We spent too much time in front of the computer, particularly with the upsurge of Zoom and Team meetings.

On the bright side … I’ve worked on my writing dream. Enrolled in writing courses, attempted to participate in more flash fiction opportunities, and seriously tackled one of my work-in-progress novels.

I woke up post-Christmas and decided that 2021 was the year I would present a finished and polished manuscript to publishers. Publication is not a given, of course, but I’ve been inspired by feedback so far given in the Write Your Novel course I’m involved in. So, bring it on.

Note: Apologies for the dreariness and overall depressing nuance of this article.

Cheeriness in photos!

Simply 6 Minutes – Quelle Horreur

#simply6minutes #gymhorror

Simply 6 Minutes – 22Sept2020

Nausea rises!

It does not compute that I am back in a school gym.

All those years of forced comradery. Forced athleticism.

I was no kind of gym junkie. Jock. Cheerleader.

Get me out of here, was top of my playlist.

The smell as you enter so reluctantly, brings it all back.

Gym sweat, gym gear, peer crushing, humiliation, bullying.

Not for me memories of past triumphs. Game night. Winners!

For me it is the little guy, the loser, the nerd.

Now as a parent, I find myself here with forced smile and bonhomie.

Supporting a child who also does not fit. Who does not want to be here.

I feel huge guilt and pressure. As a parent, I need to encourage team spirit. Love of the game.

As a person, I hate it all. I need to take my son’s hand and walk away. From the expectation.

What’s wrong with loving your own company, reading, gaming, talking long walks in the country.

In the name of ‘team’ we ask for ‘sheep’ ‘same’ ‘blend’ ‘belong’ – internally, I cry ‘ONE’ ‘ME’ ‘ALONE’.

How much of this do I reflect back onto my child. How much of it is his own identity?

I don’t  know, but I don’t think I assume and turn that pressure onto him.

I think he’s his own person – and I encourage that.

Then I get the summons. Game night. Assembly. Presentation night.

And numbly we enter, dragging our feet, heads down, breath held.

And into the dark past we trudge.

https://christinebialczak.com/2020/07/14/simply-6-minutes-writing-challenge

  1. Set up a timer or sit near a clock so you can keep track of the six minutes you will be writing.
  2. You can either use one of the prompts (photo or written) or you can free-write.
  3. Get ready and write for 6 minutes, that is it! Can you write a complete story? Can you think of a new Sonnet? Can you write 400 words? 400? 500? There are no restrictions on what kind of writing you do, but you should try to be actively writing for six minutes.
  4. After you are done writing, include your word count and then post back to this page #Simply6Minutes or include your link in the comments section. Pingbacks are enabled.

Friday Fictioneers – the Mother in Law

Photo Prompt @ Dale Rogerson

She knew when I arrived today it would be dark; the light broken.
I always knock; I never buzz.
Is it a lark, or deadly intent? The doorknocker from hell.
An allergic reaction could be the end of me.
I don’t know why she hates me. Perhaps I’ve joked too often when partaking at her table.
My comments could be softened.
Blasted woman. I’ve tolerated much. Too many words, embittered. Too much emotion, littered upon the plate she offers.
Her daughter treasures me. Grandchildren dote on her every word. BUT, mother-in-law today, I see, has finally had enough of me! (100 words)

Fibbing Friday 18th September 2020

New to this challenge … so here I go!

  1. What exactly is Yorkshire pudding?

A rotund young man from Yorkshire.

  1. What is treacle, and why do people make tarts out of it?

Treacle is that bitingly sarcastic ‘thank you’ offered to one of the ‘Happy Friday’ crowd, as you hand them a sharply sticky (sugar free) apple pastry; also known as tart.

  1. What is the key ingredient of haggis?

Ground up old mother-in-law (of the unfriendly kind only).

  1. How is toffee made?

You get a toff …. And go for it!

  1. How did pound cake get its name?

One day a virtuous nutritionist, realising that sugar in the form of cake was detrimental to waistlines everywhere, tried to change mindsets by putting a negative name on to a cake. Good luck with that one!

  1. Why is candy corn so named?

I believe the name derives from the Dentists of America Association, who believe candy shaped like teeth (aka Oompa Loompa candy in the trade) will:
a) bring them more clients or at the very least
b) discourage people from eating the candy corn

  1. What is marzipan?

A mad hatter who has run out of hats; therefore, pans.

  1. Why is a baker’s dozen so named?

Originally, bakers were notoriously bad at addition and so in the early days, a baker’s dozen just meant ‘quite a lot’. Over time, they settled amicably on a true number.

  1. What is meant by the idiom, “Too many cooks spoil the pot”?

Well, when brewing a batch of marijuana, one needs to keep ones wits about one. And therefore if there is more than one, and one is ‘wired’ it just doesn’t work – and the pot may well blacken.

  1. What is meant by the idiom, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”?

Sauce isn’t gender biased and currently enjoying a surge in popularity.

I am woman

I had a work teleconference to attend this afternoon, but as I’ve effectively had a panic attack and am full of anxiety, I sent in my apologies. And while eating my late lunch, I jumped on to one of the news sites I follow and read this headline –

‘JK Rowling’s career declared ‘dead’ via #RIPJKRowling hashtag’.

I knew immediately that this would be about her position and comments on transgenders (and other such things) on the day that her latest book is published. You may not be aware that JK Rowling has expressed opinions (via Twitter) over recent times about transgenders (and other things) that has caused lots of negative and angry reaction. It just so happens that:

  1. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how people can’t take a contrary position on transgenders (or make any kind of comment that is not immediately supportive) without being judged harshly and condemned.
    This could also be true of taking a position on black matters if you’re white, police matters if you’re black or a criminal, white matters if you’re black (or a white idiot, supporting black matters to the point where you’re rejecting your whiteness), First Nations if you’re from a long line of colonials, or white, etc and so forth and so on!
  2. I picked up the latest Cormoran Strike book this morning (JK writes this series as Robert Galbraith). Apparently (I haven’t read the book yet) there is a ‘male’ transvestite serial killer. Oh no!
  3. And of course, the world has gone crazy and you can’t possibly suggest that a transvestite could be a serial killer – especially if we suspect that you are against transgenders (even though I understand that a transvestite is a person who enjoys cross-dressing and is not necessarily a transgender; who is a person with a gender identity different to their gender at birth).

What has happened to it being okay to hold an opposing opinion? JK Rowling and some of her contemporaries express this as the intolerance of opposing views. A link to a letter shared in Harper’s magazine in July 2020 is here. I have pulled out some of the phrases and declarations that jumped out at me:

  • The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.
  • … spreading more widely in our culture is … an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.
  • We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters.
  • … the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal.
  • We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.
  • This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time.
  • The restriction of debate …. invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.
  • We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other.
  • … we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.
  • We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement …

I’ve read several articles that discuss the position and comments that JK has made, and it seems to me that she is being quite reasonable. But in the cancel culture we currently inhabit, it is almost impossible to speak against any of the current trends and alternate lifestyle positions (I didn’t say ‘choices) without being harshly judged and vilified.

It is quite helpful for me to have access to this letter because it helps me present to you snippets of somebody else’s word explanations for the feelings I’m trying to express. And as a writer in a writing community here on WordPress, a cancel culture impinges on my ability to express myself and my thoughts, and have open debate and conversation.

I am a white, middle-aged woman whose husband earns a good living and the pressure has been off me to reciprocate in the financial sphere. I have been extremely lucky. Therefore (apparently) it seems that I am not allowed any opinion on anything or anybody else, because ‘who am I to talk’?

I’ve an almost guaranteed freedom of movement and safety just because of who I am, barring the standard risk of accident, home invasion, or visitor of the murderous persuasion.

But, I’m also in a perfect situation to be an avid observer of the world. Through listening, watching news programs, following social commentary, interacting in my community and above all – reading; I get to see things and hear things from a stand-off position that allows me some understanding of things, without having to live it. In fact, having to live things can close you off to other possibilities and opinions, because you are in fact living it.

My observation is that JK Rowling and others aren’t saying it is wrong to be transgender. She has expressed concern at the large numbers of very young people showing a desire to transition – where has it come from, has it been pushed on them? People who feel lost and don’t know where they fit look to popular culture, and aspire to what seems the surest way to be loved and accepted. Being transgender could be perceived as trendy, and if you’ve uncertainty about your sexual identify, perhaps transitioning could seem like the way to go.

People arguing against the prevalence of transitioning are asking ‘has the right decision been made for this person? Is it being made for the right reason? Were there other alternatives. And in a society where support, support, support seems to be the creed – don’t ever suggest that somebody cannot  – it is important to be able to say that the decision to transition is by true definition ‘life changing’ and to be undertaken carefully.

And here I clumsily interject as an example; look at the overuse and prevalence of Ritalin and other amphetamine type drugs administered to a generation of children unnecessarily. Dare I compare?

I do feel bamboozled by all the changes in society. The idealism about rights, the bombardment and intensity of expression about wants, needs, rights. What we used to think of as minority groups (and I’m not talking black people) have such loud voices and the platform now – that they are disallowing the rest of us to have or express a contrary opinion. They want to disallow me to identify as a woman and a mother as per the most base definition. A woman bleeds, gives birth, marries a man (if that is her choice). She is the feminine parallel to man. I have absolutely no problem accepting all the different types and ways of being in this world.

I don’t want to be identified as cisgender, because you want to be labelled as ‘across/other’, you want me to be labelled as ‘same as’.

I am a woman; don’t cancel me out. And, don’t cancel my right to voice.

Friday Fictioneers – Blue

Wilmington

Photo Prompt by Rochelle

It hasn’t changed. I quietly weep.

If I waited for another five minutes, I swear dad would come through that glass paned door.

In standard heavy work boot clad feet, deep blue denim shirt, with his darkly tanned and leathered skin and bright dazzling smile. He’d push his way out, full of enthusiasm for the day.

With Bluey, his faithful Beagle leading the way.

What a team. Full of love. Inseparable. Friends for life.

And death.

Daddy died in a site accident, timber crushing his strong body.

Bluey dug desperately, for hours.

Then pined away; succumbing to heartbreak. (98 words)

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a story in response to a photo prompt – in 100 words or less. You can find other stories here.

Death of the brick and mortar store

Once upon a time, I was a retail store owner – operator of a brick and mortar bookshop. It was a labour of love for this book tragic!

The Australian Booksellers Association doesn’t consider an independent bookshop viable in a town whose population is approximately 5,000. Our town was the regional centre for up to 15,000 people; but that was still considered a challenge.

I continued to work part-time with my husband in our Farm Management Advisory business, while working full-time in the bookshop. Usually, I employed one other staff member for Saturdays and occasional backup – but unless I was out of town or on holidays you would find me at the bookshop.

I didn’t take a salary. I did buy a lot of books at cost price. So many books came across my counter that it was irresistible!

I loved that shop! So did the town, my kids and my husband. We only ran it for five years, with a stock turnover goal of three to four times a year. Annual turnover grew from $80,000 in Year 1 to $250,000 in Year 5.

There are many ways to measure success in business – and I guess No. 1 would be profit. Because why else are you in business? Otherwise, it eats into funds available to you and your family. And our children were still young enough that every cent counted.

My husband was making a good living and the bookshop met its own costs, provided a welcome service to the town, employment for one other person – and I was in heaven!

That is a success story to me!

Since that experience, I’ve had a hyper-awareness (particularly around Christmas) of the stresses and pressures that retailers face. I feel it in my heart as I observe the ebb and flow, comings and goings of retail business around me.

Take a moment yourself to notice and sympathise amid your Christmas retail splurge. See the shops that are rocking it? There are many people browsing or queuing; overwhelmed staff tending to urgent and often impatient customers.

But at the end of the day, there is satisfaction. Sales are up, wages and overheads covered, and perhaps there’s a profit. They haven’t overstocked but stocked enough. Another Christmas survived; perhaps another to look forward to.

Now take a 360 degree look around the mall, arcade or high street you’re standing in. How many other shops can you see that are quiet? I don’t know why they’re quieter; perhaps it is just that they’ve a niche market. Maybe their product isn’t the current fashion.

Perhaps, Christmas is not their season to shine.

How have they marketed? Do they present in an appealing way? Is there enough stock, offering the abundance of choice we all expect and demand?

Are these businesses just tired and can’t find the juice to work at it anymore?

In retail, the need to earn your big bucks at seasonal times, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, mother and father days to name some – and the abundance of choice we now have and expect – have lead to the demise of the retail specialist. In my opinion.

We need more reasons nowadays to give a storefront retailer our attention and they need our business, more and more.

Giving ‘added value’ can be a winner for the business and a welcome draw for the customer. Done well!

Think books and chocolates; and book lights, bookmarks, book bean bags, audio books, tv tie-in products, stationery! Behold, budding author; notebooks!

For a bookshop, all these products add to the book experience – reading, writing, comfort, enjoyment and relevancy. Still specialists, but adding value for the customer, with more reasons for us to enter the store, stick around and buy.

When done badly though, it can be too confusing. Something in the window draws your attention, but when you scan it seems there’s no continuity or consistency. Lack of a clear theme can be straight up off-putting. Do you even bother to enter.

If you do, try asking a question about or around that product. Chances are that the salesperson doesn’t know anything past the price, what they have in stock and whether they can order more. They won’t be able to engage much deeper than that, or promise anything else.

A good bookshop, however, with the right tools can really connect with you over that book, or author. How many books has that author written, and in what format? The due date of his next novel might already be in the system. The salesperson may also be able to tell you if the wholesaler still has stock and how many; yes, tools can be that good!

Somebody on the staff will enthuse with you about the author or the book itself. They’ll introduce you to other authors that you may enjoy, based on this one purchase. And they could set you on the path to a heavenly journey of years duration with somebody new.

If they’re a quality specialist bookshop. You won’t have this experience with a Target or Kmart store, you can be sure of that; on any product.

I would caution you though. However good your bookshop is – don’t expect too much extra engagement with staff in the week leading up to Christmas. They are exhausted, they are pulling their hair out, they’ve had too many negative experiences already to even face the good customer, and they just plain don’t have time! 😊

I have digressed.

I personally see those empty, quieter shops and I feel for them. Imagine them watching all the flowing traffic passing them by into competitor stores, and their hearts breaking.

Imagine, spirits lifting at footsteps, at bodies heading their way, only for their spirits to drop when the steps stop short; or walk right on by.

For a while, shops open with excitement and hope; but as the weeks go by and the time opportunity winds down, despondency sets in. The shopkeeper will either hang on longer each day hoping to catch the late shopper or will begin to close early and give up.

Come the New Year, there are now a few empty spaces in your mall, arcade or high street. Come the next Christmas season there is less competition, fewer brick and mortar stores, fewer opportunities to be tactile with your product choice, less human interaction, reduced liveliness in your mall, arcade or high street of choice.

My heart hurts as I observe the shops in my wanderings. Consumerism is not good for the soul. But it does give livelihood and meaning to the modern retail business and employment to many – especially the young and under skilled.

One day, the consumer of my generation and older will look around and miss the days when we could touch that dress, pick up that book, spray on the sample perfume – and talk to someone.

In another generation, shopping online will be the norm! And only the oldies will remember how it used to be. Another generation of the young ‘won’t get it’. They won’t understand what the fuss was about; won’t know what they’re missing.

For all that there must be positives to a total consumer market operating in the cloud, the heart and soul connection will be lost.

Okay; we can buy what we want in one million different colours, at great prices, in a speedy and convenient manner. A drone will deliver and ‘happily’ collect and return the product when it is not quite what you expected.

But at what cost to the spirit of humanity.

AND at what expense to the environment. Packaging!

Greta Thunberg – modern Joan of Arc

We have all by now heard of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl who made headlines around the world in August 2018 by refusing to attend school in the face of climate devastation, and the severe ramifications for humanity.

The simplicity of her stance in striking inspired school children around the world to emulate her, to call out government and declare that ‘enough is enough’.

This girl and her journey should be an inspirational one for us all. Her actions represent the quality and bravery of the upcoming generations – our children and grandchildren.

Greta’s message resonates with her own generation. School children continue to take action, skip school and protest. I assume that these children have been supported by their parents and schools. Some children would not have been supported in this action and just ‘wagged’ school. Perhaps others have not participated, whether by their own choice, or because they haven’t been allowed.

To see a variety of stories around the topic of Greta, climate change strikes and our reactions to this, check out The Guardian.

This month, Greta travelled to New York to attend a UN summit on climate change. She brought attention to her quest by travelling via yacht, instead of flying and contributing to the carbon load. Then we heard her speak.

It is surprising (and embarrassing) the vitriol pouring from so many after listening to Greta. Some of the people commenting in the negative do not surprise. They have almost nurtured an expectation as people that are behind the times, misogynistic, unsympathetic about difference and climate change deniers. Even those that may have some sympathy and awareness of the climate fiasco, aren’t prepared to hear a 16-year-old girl ‘tell them off’. And unfortunately, her presentation style grates.

Have you heard the slang sayings ‘fish wife’ or ‘harpy’? Derogatory terms for ‘a course scolding woman’ and ‘a very unpleasant female person’. These hateful descriptions could be applied to the presentation style.

Let’s be honest here. In marketing, beauty sells, sexy sells, a honey toned voice sells. Promises of success, wealth, love, safety and longevity – for ourselves and our children – sell. A message of doom, coming from a red faced and screeching teenager, that does not sell.

People also question who is feeding her the agenda? She has presented fact-based, scientific reports to support her case. But who is feeding her the line?

Does it matter where she is getting it from, if the information is accurate, science based and might help to create a required shift in consciousness? But of course, one socially awkward 16-year-old girl can’t be allowed to just stand up for her beliefs, with passion. Because it makes the rest of us look bad. Lazy, selfish and apathetic. Really, it comes down to selfishness!

I have at least one friend on Facebook who has not been shy to share phrasing such as “irritating and annoying”, but who at the same time announces that “we are too stupid and selfish to do anything significant until it’s too late, so (I’m) just counting down the clock until we are engulfed in war and natural disasters of our own making.” This is one specific person, but I feel it covers a gamut of feeling from people. And many people will hold back from saying the negatives, because in a PC world we aren’t encouraged to express the unpopular majority viewpoint; otherwise, we become the monster. That new term for favouring one group or thing over another  – reverse discrimination.

I personally, passively worry and acknowledge that whatever I do will make little to no difference, with regard to anything, but especially to climate change. I also don’t have confidence to take a stance on something if I don’t personally understand every detail behind the issue. Basically, I’m not a scientist, and throw my hands in the air.

I have, however, for many years now boycotted the cheap product (discount) retail stores – the one buck shops, two buck shops, euro shops, reject shops – even KMart or WalMart or Target. Stores that sell a lot of crap that won’t last long, with a high proportion of plastic.

Plastic that not only litters and doesn’t decompose, but (I believe) wastes fossil fuel (oil) both as an ingredient and of course in the manufacture process itself.

I also actively try to not just collect stuff. Except books. I have to admit. And I’ll continue to buy books until the day it is legislated that we are no longer able to use trees to create paper.

Generally, I pay the carbon tax on airfares too. Not every time.

Now, if every single person in the world followed or performed even these small steps – it would make some difference. Every single person.

But:

  • This doesn’t apply to desperately poor people; they can’t afford to collect crap.
  • Developing countries want what we have, aspire to it, and why not?
  • Each generation engages in the notion of the next generation being better off, it is what they’ve worked for. This really peaks with ownership and wealth.
  • Two buck shops allow us to buy whatever piece of rubbish that appeals, allowing us to feel we’ve some say, some power, some ability to beautify ourselves and our homes.
  • Comfortable people – those at any level of the wealth spectrum that fools us into thinking we’re safe – don’t want to change.
  • Somebody else will sort it out.
  • It isn’t real.
  • It is somebody else’s problem. AKA some future generation.

One of Michael Moore’s books, and I can’t remember the name at the moment, has a scene where his granddaughter lends him a pencil to write something. There is some sort of disagreement where he uses it too quickly, or wants another, and she scolds him because pencils are rationed – all due to how his generation wasted resources and ruined the world. I’ve googled it and found it is Dude, where’s my country? Click to read an extract. Published in 2004.

My point is, Michael Moore was referencing climate devastation in one of his books in the late nineties, early noughties.

It is now 2019.

Another very scary book I have read in the last 15 years is the Chaos Point, which clearly identified a tipping point as the end of 2012. That after this point, it was too late. Published in 2006. This book did become a bit weird for me, as it moved into talking about ‘expanded consciousness’, and so I didn’t finish it. But the ‘facts’ described early on were frightening.

It is now 2019.

I’ve been a science fiction reader all my life. And so many other speculative fiction novels (let alone non-fiction offerings) have addressed the potential devastation of climate change. As in so many areas of science, these fiction authors have predicted what has become truth.

Somebody has to jump up and down about important things. On a smaller scale, mothers and fathers do this! How else do we learn to grow into good and responsible humans? Your teachers do it. Bosses do it. Doctors try to come down hard about your health. Scientists have been trying for years to wake us up. The Michael Moore’s, the Al Gore’s, the Bill Gates’ – to name some – have all cried ‘open your eyes, we can make a difference, we can make a change’. And, now Greta.

These people are unfortunately trying to sell us inconvenient truths. We don’t want to hear them. It is easier for us to scoff, and find reasons to denigrate the message and the messenger!

I haven’t heard Greta’s full speech. I switched web pages. I don’t think I thought negatively about the message – but I did react to the delivery. I was immature. I was being self serving; selfish.

Good on you Greta Thunberg, and your support team. Thank you for trying. You are making a difference. I don’t want to hear the message. I am concerned about the impact the pressure will have on you. But I do, applaud your dogged perseverance.

Galway Street Music AKA Buskers 2019

Busking is what I’m talking aboot!

I’ll begin with a contemporary, bleeding obviously famous ex-Galway busker – AKA Ed Sheeran! Now, I didn’t know until I’d been in Galway a while, but apparently Ed busked in the streets of Galway before fame found him. And Galway (seems) to claim him as their own. And of course, he’s reciprocated with his song Galway Girl and by filming his famous video here – even if he used a Dublin Girl, Saoirse Ronan, in the clip.

I’ve paused to listen to many buskers while in Galway and have been blown away by the quality and youth of some musician buskers. Children, and I’m not talking teenagers or young adults, but children. Two or three of them, most likely siblings, I’d say. You know how siblings have a special complementary sound in their tone and harmony? Well, it seems obvious to me 🙂 But these kids are not only singers. They’re playing multiple instruments, with skill and passion. It is amazing and what a great training ground for them.

Not only do they get performance practice, they get to experience some adversity too! I’d guess at a few – weather, getting to their spot, rejection (no coins) elation (crowd loves them), weather, internal issues (having a bad day,, one of them doesn’t want to play, got colds, mum and dad are over it) weather, hecklers (hopefully not too many of those for the children) and even, red tape.

Wouldn’t anyone hearing angelic harmonies out of the mouths of babes stop in their tracks, amazed, dumbfounded and proud for them? Anybody with an appreciation for music – and a soul – would.

There are of course lower quality performers. They may be desperately having a go, because why? Well, I can only imagine. I’m not in their shoes. I’d assume their first impetus is earning some coin. And it would only be coin, because I’m talking about the ones who just aren’t any good. I’ve seen and heard a few older people especially and wondered “do they think they’re playing well?” In fairness, I think to myself, perhaps they used to be good. Maybe it is that their style has had its day, or it would hold up if they were part of an ensemble. Did their mothers always tell them they were brilliant? Do they know that they’re only mediocre, but stuff it; they love what they’re doing and they could use the extra coin.

Who am I to judge? And I only am judging because they’re forcing it on me by playing in the street. Everybody, anybody, should sing, play, dance like nobody’s watching. Full of joy and free of judgement. Unless you insist on sharing it with me 😀

There are some bloody brilliant ensembles and bands busking in Galway. To name two that I’ve really enjoyed are the Galway Street Club and Dead Letter Devils.

I’d describe the first as grunge, exuberant, loud, authentic, Irish and explicit. They’re on Spotify if you’re interested in looking them up. I love how their drummer uses a tea carton! I love to tap out a beat – I think I’m very good at it and keep thinking I should get drumming lessons. The musicality of banging out a beat on a wooden box blows me away. It puts a smile on my face.

Dead Letter Devils‘ Facebook page describes them as a foot stamping mix of bluegrass, swing, old timey and just a dash of folk-punk. Another loud and out there, enthusiastic band. Love it. Looks like I can only find their music by buying a CD off them on the street. But I never stay to the end to find out how much they cost. I’m also too self-conscious to sneak in and check their collection box 😀

That’s another thing I personally have trouble with – the donation. There are so many buskers and you can’t tip them all. And I haven’t necessarily heard the entire song / performance, just appreciated what I heard as I walked by. So, what’s the etiquette?

I find it easy enough if there isn’t a crowd around the performer. But for those amazing groups mentioned above, the crowd is big. And I come along, don’t know how much longer the performance will go on for, and really want to ask how much their CD is, but don’t want to a) wait or b) interrupt the performance – or c) bring attention to myself 🙂

I really hope that for these guys it is about the exposure and not (at least in this performance) about the money. Because there are a number of them in the group – seven or eight? And the money being offered has to be shared around them all. So, this is when it comes down to the opportunity to busk – the ability to gain attention and reputation, spread through word of mouth or by the serendipity of an event manager of some sort also passing by.

Last weekend I was wandering around and came upon the Galway Busker Community group in Eyre Square. Some of their members were performing, but their purpose was to entertain while bringing our attention to new by-laws about to be put through Galway Council, ‘seriously restricting’ busker rights in Galway.

Most of the contention was about lack of consultation with the busking community, and also that busking was a grassroots way for performers to be discovered. Galway Street Club shared on their Facebook page that because of the ‘platform of Shop Street in Galway, they and other performers have had the opportunity to perform across Ireland and Europe’. And that the Galway Council has seen this and ‘used their image and reputation in advertising in their bid for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture’ (which they’ve won!).

The by-laws include such rules as – short version:

  • Crowd Size. Must immediately cease performing if public access to or from any premises is restricted, due to a crowd gathering. So, if people have stopped to enjoy their music the band would have to stop playing – because a crowd has gathered! 😛
  • Amplification, backing tracks and use of drum kits are expressly forbidden. Amplification is needed due to the background noise of busy streets, and use of drums is an integral part of most band music
  • Censorship. ‘ … act, say, do or sing anything that may cause alarm, distress or offense …’. As the band says, this means that anybody even having a bad day who takes offence can complain and the band would be fined up to 1500 euros at any time.

Now, you can see some sense in what the Galway Council is trying to achieve. And although I, like so many others, love the expressionism, musicality and pure entertainment of street buskers, if you’re in business in such a tourist-centric town, you’d feel the need to be heard.

But ‘hello business’ – what is your main focus. That you need tourists in your city, in your street and then in your door. Well don’t these entertaining buskers help attract the tourist? Or are they just a pain in the butt with their noise, crowd pulling (interfering with access) and (potential) bawdiness.

I’ve twice been inside a retail business and had a conversation with staff about how awful a particular performer was on the day, with their comment being “yes, he’s always out there!”. So, if the businessman is also afflicted with a shite performer, then that’s a relevant point in the conversation.

I don’t know if Galway buskers have to audition before gaining a permit, whether they even have to apply for a permit. But there are areas in the world, including Australia, where this is a requirement and at least then you would expect an enjoyable standard.

I’m not a journalist and I don’t do real research for my light and observational writing. And so, I haven’t looked closely at the full detail of the by-laws. The Galway busking community cries ‘highly restrictive’.

At a glance, what I’ve seen looks sensible. There’s a balance to be found between creative license and practical reality. And if the busking community is correct, then perhaps the problem is really the lack of consultation and collaboration writing these by-laws, rather than the fact that they’ve come into being at all.

As a visitor to this medieval city, buskers add a festival element and entertainment value that seem to me, worth bottling. Galway City Council and the Galway Busking Community working together would be music to the ear of business, community and visitor alike.

Further reading

https://www.joe.ie/music/galway-music-irish-591663

#galwaystreetclub #thisisgalway.ie #galwaybuskers

Galway Street Club – image is not my own. Taken from thisisgalway.ie event page