advice

The Opportunities of Old-Age

a writing prompt piece

As a freelancer, I moved around, but there were one or two places I’d return to because they were better places to work. In one such place there worked these two guys. They were of a similar age, worked in the same team and were, in every sense, workmates, almost companionable. They were both humorous, and one especially so. Often they were like a comedy duo, The Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardy, that kind of thing.

Well, I left and then went back and only one of them was still there. The funnier one had retired. In fact, both had reached retirement age but the remaining one had negotiated to stay on, part-time, two days a week. He told me, it got him out of the house; out from under his wife’s feet; gave him something to do; earn a little pocket money. I thought he was crazy. I’d watch him at his desk looking disengaged. Occasionally his eyes would droop, and then close. At four-thity on the dot, he would go home.

Then one day the other guy popped in. He was passing the office and thought he might as well show his face; it was a face beaming from ear to ear. He said something funny which I’d heard before. He said, looking back, he didn’t know how he ever found the time to go to work. In retirement, his hours were fuller, and, I had the impression, with a greater sense of purpose and enjoyment than when he had to work.

Working is for mugs. The trouble is, we’re all mugs and there’s little to be done about it. Just don’t plan to be a mug all your life.

(284 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver prompt #222 – “The Opportunities of Old Age”

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Exhaustion

a flash-fiction piece

“Exhaustion isn’t a fit state to be in.”

Though his body could move no more, his muscles seemed not to rest; he felt no peace anywhere within his body, and his mind, if he could ever reconcile with it again, was stirring in chaos.

He lay agitated and regretful in an envelope of ache, desperately wanting a sweeter release.

“I said, exhaustion isn’t a fit state to be in,” repeated the voice.

He looked up at the old man smiling down.

“You needed the work done, Dad,” he groaned.

“I know,” said the old man, “but there’s always tomorrow.”

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Flash Fiction Challenge, April 25th – “Exhaustion”.

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes Exhaustion. Who is exhausted and why? Can you make art of exhaustion? Go where the prompt leads!

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Four Lessons for your consideration

This article in Artsy magazine on Willem de Kooning had me thinking whether there was an equivalent in painting and drawing to “writer’s block”. Why I should make this leap – more a sidestep in reality – when the article doesn’t mention anything like it, I don’t know but thinking does that sometimes. There probably are some similarities between the creative arts.

The article deals with de Kooning’s lessons in becoming an artist. I thought I might consider these in the wider perspective of creative work. There’s a link at the end to the actual article if you want to read that.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to be influenced by fellow artists’ work.

This is funny because I’m often unashamedly, and sometimes unconsciously, mimicking the work of others I admire. Sometimes I might even play around with stuff I don’t particularly admire.

I remember reading a story about Jimi Hendrix when he was seen coming out of a back street dive having gone in to see some second rate band. “Why on earth would a player of Hendrix’s standing bother watching a bad act?” He explained that even a poor player can sometimes give you a great idea about performing or songwriting. He took the influence and improved on it.

Lesson #2: Seek out glimpses of inspiration in the world around you.

This is probably the writer’s block bit. I don’t know about you but there’s always moments when I notice something interesting or inspirational. It might be a small thing, or it might be significant. It’s important to just log it in your mind – or jot a note down (I admire note takers a lot even though I rarely do this for myself).

Lesson #3: Pay attention to your desires, not the critics.

What motivates us? Yes, I think we all like a little approval, we like a little praise. Constructive criticism would be good too, providing we can handle it, though it’s not very nice; it depends where we’re at, past the tipping point of having gained self-confidence enough to brush off the nonsense stuff.

I think you have to be faithful to your desires.

Lesson #4: Embrace imperfection—even failure.

Whatever you’re into to, there ought to come an important tipping point when you realise that a mistake, far from being annoying or an embarrassing set back, is actually a real progression in learning your art. Failures make better teachers than successes. Of course, you have to look it squarely in the eyes and know why, and how to avoid it a second time, but this isn’t something you’re more likely to do with a success.

As a perfectionist myself, this has arrived later than it could have. I see perfectionism as a disorder and it still cuts deep at times but it shouldn’t hold you back.


Article: Willem de Kooning: How to be an artist (Artsy magazine)

image: The Privileged (untitled XX), 1985 by Willem de Kooning

Thesaurus

Self-identifying serious writer, Martin Amis, uses a dictionary all the time. I’m delighted by his confession because so do I. Really it’s to improve my sparse vocabulary but, like him, I often find the meaning of the word isn’t what I had in mind.

It’s interesting what he to say about talent, finding rhythm, and avoiding accidental alliteration amongst other things. He talks about crafting a sentence. I’m not sure how much I put into crafting a sentence. While I think that poetry ought to be recited, I hadn’t thought that way about prose; I probably thought this was a fundamental distinction between the two forms. However, yesterday evening I was remembering all the times when a passage in a novel enthralled me. I decided it wasn’t the narrative but the pattern of the chosen words. They were crafted, I imagine, for such an effect.

I suppose I haven’t any high aspirations for my blog posts but I still maintain if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I shall try to pay more attention to the rhythm in a sentence, resort habitually to the dictionary and thesaurus. All this will be time consuming, of course. I will make my mantra: shorter and better.


Portrait of the artist as a boy

Thinking about expression and expressive arts.

All art can be expressive but I could think of only three which fundamentally require external evaluation; singing, poetry and cooking. Others can be done in secret, away from the public eye, simply for one’s own enjoyment. Fun is 97% of the reason for doing it, bearing in mind I haven’t had the need to make a living by doing it, being an amateur, by definition doing it for love and just that.

It has to be said, I have no ambition for my creativity.

“What are you trying to achieve?”, asked a tutor. Though specifically about one piece of work, it made me think about all of it.

“To enjoy myself”, I would reply now.

What do we remember of creativity when we were kids? We worked freely, expressively, without much self-consciousness. Or ambition. Was it us who asked the teacher to pin our piece up on the wall, or ask our folks to put it on the fridge door? I don’t remember that at all. We worked, it was fun, and when it was done, it was done. Success or failure, if we considered those, they were just passing moments; irrelevant to the great plan. Though I doubt there was ever a great plan.

Growing up, we are told there is external value to all that we do. Often that the achievement must be monetary. I have been told I ought to frame some of my pictures, exhibit them and offer them for sale. But that work is extra work and it is not art work, so I haven’t much enthusiasm for it; no love at all.

I am an amateur. From the Latin, amator, meaning lover, and amare, meaning to love. When you look up the word amateur now, it means unpaid, unprofessional or ineptly done. It’s as if the world doesn’t appreciate love as motivation now, only money.

Questions

I am indebted to an art tutor of mine from several years ago who asked, after considering one of my worser efforts,

What is it you are trying to achieve?

This is now my $64k question and it should be applied to almost everything we do. We ought to ask it of ourselves first thing in the morning, and what harm would it do to repeat it last thing at night?

As I am about to leave my job, I was thinking about the job interviews I’ve had and the sort of questions interviewers asked me and how, if at all, this related to the job. Of course, of all those jobs I didn’t get I can’t say other than nearly all of those involved tedious questioning; my unconscious reaction to tedium may have contributed to being rejected, who knows?

The interviews that went well and resulted in acceptance usually went something like,

Is this the kind of thing you do/feel confident doing/think you can do?

What’s your hourly rate?

How soon can you start?

I don’t mean to infer that good interviews are over in less time than it takes to drink your cup of tea (actually, I learnt to decline any hot beverage offered because these things can be over embarrassingly quickly – embarrassing if you’re still sipping your scalding hot cuppa, discussing how nice the weather is looking with three guys eager to get on with their work. Always ask for a glass of water instead).

Good interviews show the human side of everyone involved, not the cynical, distrusting side,

Yes, I confess, I don’t really have a job relevant degree, the letters are phoney, I lied about having thirty years practical experience, I’m no way “computer literate”, and I absolutely loathe “teamwork”. My CV is a utter work of fiction I made up the night before emailing it over. All I have to offer is big balls and a brass neck, so tell me why wouldn’t you want to hire someone with those?

Despite presenting an accurate CV, they still want to check it out with their impudent interrogation. They doubted my honesty. Would you want a job that began like this?

I was only ever asked once the usually hackneyed question,

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

That interview actually concluded in a bit of an argument so no guesses how that went. I knew someone who was asked that question and answered, without irony and in all seriousness,

Running this company.

That has to be the perfect answer, whether you’re serious about it or not. I regret not having had a second chance to say that.

Leaving Work

Two things which have always given me a sense of a lift are leaving a Recycling Centre – always referred to us as “the dump” – after offloading a carload of unwanted tosh and rubbish, and leaving a job.

Of course, I can’t help feeling these two have something in common. A desire for minimalism and a clean slate.

I don’t have a lot of advice to give about the job only choose one you can leave as often as it’s convenient to do so. It’s a pity we are now largely conditioned to go for a “career” and stick to it, usually chosen at a time of youth and innocence – okay, naivety – and having to endure the thing through thick and thin.

The idea of a career is something you follow, always to be stepping forwards along a predetermined path, usually at the will of external forces. But I feel a job should serve life as much as your time and talent serves the job. Don’t be afraid to step back, or move to the side, or just stay put, if this serves you best. The priority goal is not to serve other people.

Or become your own boss. Take control. This is effectively what we feel we’re doing whenever we leave our job.


image by Patrick Fore via Unsplash.com

Approval

Like the proverbial wait for the bus, you see no posts about Bukowski on this blog for six years, then two come along within days.

First, I’m going to write a little bit about writing.

This morning, I was giving some attention to the WordPress app, turning over some stones which I hadn’t thought to turn over before, in the hope that it might reveal some interesting secrets.

I found a blog for a “creative writing” group local to me. I’m not sure about “creative writing” groups. This one explains how they meet up to discuss each other’s work and offer constructive criticism. Boy, I’d hate that, wouldn’t you?

I remember reading somewhere that writing was a solitary affair. It was a famous author who wrote that though I can’t recall the name. In resorting to Google for help, it seems there’s a lot of contrary opinions to this which I feel only enforces the sentiment. These opinions mostly appear to come from the undiscovered end of the author spectrum. I guess if you’re famous you don’t need to seek approval, and you’ll get the criticism, constructive or otherwise, whether you need it or not.

There was a series on telly where a white Englishman spent time with different authentic third world tribes. In one episode, some African tribesmen wondered why the white man showed a reluctance to join in with their social chanting and dancing. As a product of his world, he was self-conscious and inhibited, but in their world they hold, if a man can walk he can dance, and if he can talk he can sing. It was as natural and effortless as that. There was no critical evaluation of individual talent.

And so it seems to me if you can write, you can write creatively; isn’t it just the same thing but with a bit more oomph? Approval required? Nah. Just do it!


So, what about the Bukowski you promised?, I hear you cry. Okay, one of the Google returns I had was from a favourite place of mine, Brain Pickings, and it’s about a Bukowski poem read by Bukowski himself. There’s not much I know about poetry but I know it’s better said than read. I think Clive James explained how poetry carried its own music – I suppose in contrast to lyrics which nearly always need the partnership of a tune – and this music requires to be heard. And it’s good to hear the poet read his own words.

Choose to listen in browser unless you want to go to the Soundcloud site.

If you prefer to read the words I have a link below.

I find it a funny poem in the way the list of things he advises young men to do comes across like one of those “bucket list” aspirations, the sort where people try to outdo one another in daring, awesomeness and cool. Things which might mark them out as being individualistic though, ironically, requiring the approval of others to fulfil that goal.


Portrait of Bukowski by Abe Frajndlich

Charles Bukowski’s Friendly Advice to a lot of Young Men (from Brain Pickings)

Advice

In my searches around WordPress, I see many blog posts, and even a few entire blogs, advising folk on this or that. This had me thinking about advice. As I’m not in the advice business myself – unqualified – I thought about any advice which I was offered and could remember. Oddly enough, the first tip I recalled leads me to think up one of my own after all and, if I may, I’ll begin with this,

#1 Accept advice wherever you find it. Don’t let pride, prejudice or ego get in its way.

Actually, I also remember a scene from an old telly drama where a good man is intent on learning a new and useful skill from a cruel and despicable gang leader. After a while, the bad man considers why the good man is hanging on his every word, even asking questions, and seemingly treating him with undue reverence. In response, the good man says, “Even from a man like you, a good skill is worth knowing.”

#2 It doesn’t matter what you’re given so much as how you spend it.

This isn’t strictly the advice I was offered but a modification of it. It was given to me by a much younger person and the moment of precociousness astounded me more than the tip at first. Also, funnily enough, it is the sentiment in the lyrics of the Desmond Dekker 60s ska hit, Fu Man Chu.

#3 Always be prepared to run away.

Keeping with Chinese sagacity, there’s a little scene from the 70s US TV series, Kung Fu. Obviously, the marketing of this show was its martial arts, made within a trend of martial arts films and the popularity of kindred sports in schools and gyms throughout the land.

Actually, in the series, fight scenes were included quite sparingly and as much time was given over to explaining a kind of mindful lifestyle philosophy which may or may not have been authentic.

In the scene I remember, a group of student Shaolin monks are being instructed in complex and agile combat techniques using hands, body and feet. After a bit, the master signals a halt and gathers them around for a talk. Student Caine asks the Master, what is the best way to confront a hostile force, probably eager to learn some new and effective combat moves. Their Master tells them there is one important move; simply, “Run away.”

Of course, you can just walk away too, whatever. It saves getting into a fight or an argument which we all know is a total waste of anyone’s time.

#4 Is it ever a good idea to sign up to exclusivity?

Most things in life don’t compare to supporting a football team. (In all honesty, I’m not too sure why anyone should support one team, committing to it for life and, in doing so, take against all others. But I’m walking away from that argument.) Whether it’s religion, politics, philosophy, diet, lifestyle, whatever, if yours is a free life, you can follow whatever you want and reject whatever you feel isn’t right. And change your mind later.

For me, the best part of Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, comes at the beginning when Pi decides he’d like to be a Christian, a Muslim and a Hindu because he sees some virtue in all of these. Naturally, each advocate of these separate beliefs throws his arms up in horror at Pi’s desire, attempting to convince him it can’t be done. Yet they have no convincing arguments as to why. I think perhaps Martel got the idea from Mahatma Gandhi’s proclamation that he was a Muslim. And a Hindu, a Christian, and a Jew. No doubt had he made a similar speech today, he might have gone further and claimed to be Humanist, and Buddhist, and a Jedi Warrior to boot. The sentiment remains.


Okay, I’ve had a bit of fun and, as you can see, involved a number of low cultural references; and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Here are some links for your amusement,

Fu Man Chu by Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Clip from the series, Kung Fu

Clip from the movie, Gandhi