The Power of Music and Rain (A Moment of Reflection)

music-and-rain

Now this post may seem a bit random at first, but I felt compelled to write it after walking home from work this afternoon. I just find it fascinating the things that can make you feel better when you’ve been feeling low, and the good vibes that suddenly start flowing through you. Now I understand I am at the risk of sounding a bit new-age and hippyish (‘Right on, man!’), but please bear with me as I describe my sudden epiphany today…

So I’ve been feeling a little depressed and/or stressed out as of late. It comes and goes, but when its at its worst I just feel awful, like a rock that just wants to lie there and not do anything or deal with anybody at all. I’ve tried various meditation techniques to try and help myself, and also have been reading the rather fabulous book Frazzled by Ruby Wax – who once upon a time was someone I absolutely couldn’t stand and found rather irritating, but I have to take my hat off for her for the good work she has done around mental health awareness. It’s no mean feat to write a book attempting to help those afflicted by stress and depression and yet be a humourous read at the same time, but she certainly manages it effortlessly.

It’s been a great help to me and calmed the rather erratic pressure cooker that is my brain somewhat. I’ve always been a mildly anxious person but lately all my worries feel like they’ve been dialled up to 11 – whether I’m writing enough, whether I’m being sociable enough, whether my friends and/or family really like me or not, whether I’m relaxing enough, whether I’m making enough time for myself, whether some random thing I said a week ago made me sound stupid or not, etc. Stupid, silly things. But it’s only after I have a near-enough meltdown about one of these that I realise just how ridiculous I’m being. It’s an extremely vicious cycle, and one I’m still trying to fully break free from.

So, cut to today at work. During a free moment I was sitting having a coffee and listening to the radio, when a familar song came on. I knew it, but couldn’t for the life of me remember who it was by. Of course, in this (debatedly) wonderful age we live in, I was able to whi out my smartphone and ‘Shazam’ it. And it turned out it was ‘Sit Down’ by James. As it turned out, I already had another of theirs on my phone, ‘Born of Frustration’, which I had obtained via the Shazam method as well at some undetermined point of time. The reason the songs were familar to me was because my Dad had been a fan of them, and I’d heard them many a time on the tape player on many a car ride in my childhood. So that already made me think of simpler, more innocent times. Noticing the link to buy their ‘Best Of’ album that both of these tracks were included on, I bit the bullet and thought ‘Why not’ – it was only £6.99 after all!

So when I left work to walk home (a half-hour walk- I really should get around to learning to drive one of these days), I found it was raining quite hard out there. Cursing myself for not thinking to bring my umbrella, I still got my headphones out (as I generally do walking to and from work) and stuck the album on as that journey’s musical accompaniment. And as I did, other tracks suddenly lit a spark in my memory as well, such as ‘She’s a Star’ and ‘Tomorrow’. It was a nice little escape to nostalgia after a long day. The lyrics of the latter particularly struck a chord with me and were a nice reassuring balm for my wittering, worrying old brain – ‘Gotta keep faith that your path will change/Gotta keep faith that your love will change tomorrow’ – a mantra that kept me (literally) pushing through the rain and on my way. I didn’t even mind the rain – I let myself feel every drop, basking in it, smiling to myself – it’s quite possible that I made myself look rather strange to anyone passing by – but I didn’t particuarly care. I suddenly had a fresh outlook on everything, maybe things aren’t so bad after all, things can only get better from here, who cares that it’s raining etc. I was feeling something after being somewhat on autopilot for what felt like the longest time. And it was through the combination of music and rain, of all things. I almost had to stop myself from just standing there dancing and singing in it.

And I think it’s a very real danger for all of us – even if you aren’t feeling stressed, depressed, or both – it’s all too easy to fall into this ‘autopilot’ and find yourself not enjoying or appreciating anything – it’s a requirement, in my eyes, to let yourself go every now and then. Listen to that old song that you haven’t heard in years. Stop a minute to look at the scenery around you. Walk a different way for once. In fact, I’m tempted to apply it to my writing – just stop thinking about it so much and see what words came out, as I have rather ended up doing with this post, to be completely honest.

I’ll be sure to let you know how I progress with the ‘sorting myself out’ thing. Maybe recently turning 30 is part of what’s causing these feelings (surely I’m too young to have a mid-life crisis already?) But today was a turning point for me, when I really wasn’t expecting it. You know what? I think it’ll all work out okay in the end. It almost always does.

With love and best wishes

Stu

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, avaliable NOW!

Paperback – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Awakening-Selection-Poems-Stuart-Peacock/dp/1911476335

eBook-: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

Monday Musings: Does Facebook enhance or diminish social interaction?

facebookchart

Ever since its launch way back in 2004, Facebook has been touted as a tool to help you ‘stay connected’ with friends, as well as making new ones. In fact the website itself claims that its mission is to ‘give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected’ . However, I would argue that it often does the exact opposite of this – if anything, it can often disconnect us from the ‘real world’. Equally, it can give us a rather distorted and twisted view of it.
For example several people post status updates that are self-deprecating; a typical ‘woe is me’ declaration clearly intended to bait sympathetic comments from friends in response (‘I’m so useless’, ‘I’m so ugly and no one loves me’ etc.). Even if these are genuine cries for help from people suffering from depression, Facebook is probably not the best channel to seek guidance from! There are also posts similar to these that are vague enough to prompt the ‘What’s wrong’ or ‘Are you ok?’ responses, which the original poster will generally respond with ‘Nothing, don’t worry about it’ or something to that effect – when of course they really mean the opposite and intend it as a cue for the concerned private messages to start flooding in.

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Monday Musings: Keeping Your Inner Child Alive

 

child_universe
This beautiful image is ‘Child of the Universe’ by Josephine Wall

inner child
noun
noun: inner child; plural noun: inner children

a person’s supposed original or true self, especially when regarded as concealed in adulthood.

While I was working on my entry for the ‘Essex Belongs to Us’ competition yesterday, I found myself beginning a poem entitled ‘What Does Essex Mean to Me?’. Having been born in Colchester, and then growing up in Clacton-on-Sea (and then finding myself living in Colchy in adulthood), it is a county very close to my heart. As I started writing about my home town by the seaside, I found myself come out with the following lines:

The noise and lights of Clacton Pier

Bring to mind those simple times

Full of childish thrill and cheer

In arcades of flashing lights and signs.

As I then scanned my childhood years for other memories associated with the county, my mind then drifted further afield to Southend on-Sea

Or sometimes further to Southend

Playing with pirates and Peter Pan

The sort of amazing, magical weekend,

That you’d wish never to grow into a man.

By ‘pirates and Peter Pan’ I am referring to the attraction known as ‘Never Never Land’, which is sadly no more. Modelled after the magical realm of the same name from the Peter Pan stories, it was a truly amazing and fantastical place to visit when I was but a wee lad. So many castles within an enchanted forest where various model characters told tales, it was truly a joy to walk around and experience, and never seemed to get boring no matter how many times we visited it. Sadly it closed in 2001, but its one of those fond memories that I can still always hold onto (and the fairy castle still remains today, as the site within the link shows).

Of course, growing up is inevitable; Never Never Land isn’t real, and you can’t be a child forever – but it did get me to thinking how important it is to hold on to that child inside of you. As the definition above conveys, in a sense it is your ‘original’ or ‘true’ self. I am the person I am today because of my childhood experiences, therefore they are not something that should be cast aside or forgotten. There is nothing wrong with indulging your inner child occassionally.

For me, I find I do this first and foremost simply through the medium of writing, as I have inadvedently demonstrated through my initial attempt at writing about my home county. It is essentially an escape into another world, creating your own inhabitants who follow your rules. This is especially true if writing science fiction or fantasy, or simply any story where your character goes on an unbelievable adventure. I mean, I’m currently working on a short story that involves witches and talking cats! If I didn’t have that odd indulgence into the fantastical and/or downright silly I think I’d probably drive myself mad. A lot of the poems I have written are quite childlike as well in a way, now that I think about it.

My job also affords me various opportunities to let my inner child come out to play. As I support individuals with autism, among the things I do is take them out to the local ‘leisure’ pool, designed with children in mind, that is full of slides, rapid rivers and all sorts of fun things like that. And at the age of nearly 30, I can still have an absolute rollicking good time at a place like this, and find it’s one of the highlights of my week. Going to a local trampoline park is something of a treat as well, even if I do find myself exhausted after bouncing about for only 15 minutes!

Indulging in nostalgia is also a perfectly healthy thing, I find. Well, I think we all do it. Play old ‘retro’ video games from when we were growing up, listening to old music we loved (that the grumpier of us may insist is better than any of the rubbish they put on these days). Heck, this is precisely what I’m doing when I write one of my ‘Years of My Life’ entries on this very blog! As long as we’re not permanently living in the past with our rose-tinted spectacles on, there’s nothing wrong with reminiscing back to simpler times when we have the spare time to relax and bask in them.

So remember the good times. Be a little silly now and then. Go and jump in a few puddles, jump up and down on a trampoline. Sit down and write about the imaginary world that you find yourself daydreaming about. You’re never too old…

Love and best wishes,

Stu

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, available NOW for download as an eBook on Amazon. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

Monday Musings: Making the Most of Life

lifeisanadventure

So, I can’t help feeling like I’ve got myself in a bit of a rut lately. I go to work, I come home, I have dinner, try and fit quality writing time in wherever I can, while also worrying about whether I’m letting myself unwind and relax enough (only to feel guilty about not writing or doing something productive when I attempt to relax), go to bed, wake up and go to work again, rinse and repeat. I mean sure, I spend plenty of quality time with my boyfriend, I get out to see friends occasionally (though it appears this gets increasingly hard to organise as you get older), but I still have the nagging feeling of being trapped in the same old cycle day after day, month after month, to the point where I just wonder what the end goal is, what the hell it’s all for. I suppose not having the structure and context that university previously provided me with may well be a contributing factor to this (I probably would do a Master’s if I could afford it!), but I just constantly find myself thinking ‘Surely there’s more to it than this’. I’ve always been someone who’s focused on the bigger picture, the bigger questions, so it’s particularly frustrating to find myself feeling like this. Being creative is essentially a lot of what keeps me sane, I find, whether that be working on my novel, writing poetry, or sometimes the odd bit of art if I’m in the mood. And above all, I want to get out and see the world while I’m still able to, and share good times and amazing experiences with those closest to me, with work being a means to an end to be able to afford to do these things and be able to live comfortably. I’m very much someone who works to live, rather than simply living to work. I cannot understand people who completely exhaust themselves working something insane like 70+ hours a week; surely there isn’t any time left to actually spend the money you’ve earned and truly enjoy life? Time is such a precious thing, and if we aren’t careful it can slip through our fingers so easily, and before we know it months, or even years have passed – and what have we to show for it?

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Songs that Speak to me: ‘Everybody Hurts’ (R.E.M.)

everybody hurts

‘Everybody Hurts’ by R.E.M. is a song that has always had an effect on me, and means a lot to me. From the days I regularly heard it on family car trips on cassette tape (my Dad being a fan of the band himself, and therefore why I became an avid listener of their work too), I always associated with it with going through the hard times in life, and the pain that people go through when they are at their absolute lowest. Yet, and while this may seem contradictory, I have always found it to be one of my go-to songs when I need cheering up, or if things are not going right. This is because of the lyrics that, while quite simple, give you the strength to hang on, to keep going despite all of the crap going around you. The band’s guitarist, Peter Buck even noted the simplicity of them compared to the band’s other works, “the reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers”, he explains, noting that high school can be many people’s idea of hell and perhaps comparable to the anguish in the song.* (I personally won’t rush to disagree with him). Indeed, they are quite clear and concise, a far cry from the quirkiness of spines and orange crush, or ‘vitriolic patriotic slam fights’ – quite possibly the most simplistic song of their entire discography. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however.

everybody hurts 2
When I first heard the song, I remember asking my Dad if the song was meant to be about someone dying, and his answer was something like it being about all of the sad things that can happen to people. My young mind personally associated with the passing of my grandparents – I knew that my Dad grew up without a mum, and that Mum grew up without a dad. The grandparents that remained died not long after I was born, so I never really got to know them properly. I clearly remember this song stirring such feelings in me, and making me quite misty-eyed. Equally, however, it taught me that death is something that affects everyone – because, as the song says, everybody hurts sometimes. The ‘sometimes’ is a particularly powerful sentiment. We live in a world where it constantly feels like showing your emotions is a weakness, and it can sometimes seem that others can handle life much better than ourselves and just ‘get on with it’, not understanding why some around them are depressed and unable to handle things. This is reflected in the general lack of awareness of mental health issues in society today. However, as the song reassures us, everybody has moments where the world just becomes too much and they fall apart, their brave face being nothing more than a façade. The video for the song is also quite a powerful demonstration of this, as it depicts one of the most mundane, yet frustrating things that we encounter in everyday life – a traffic jam. As we shift between each disgruntled driver and passenger, subtitles reveal their inner thoughts – either simmering, bitter resentment towards those they are stuck in a car with, or a heavy pain that they feel they cannot reveal to their loved ones. However, as the song reaches its climax, everyone simply decides to get out of their cars and walk. This helps in imparting the general message of the song that there is a way out, that things will get better – and that it’s ok to face the pain and let it come out emotionally –‘cause everybody cries’ – but, it does also implore you not to give up – ‘Don’t let yourself go’, it tells you, ‘hang on’ and ‘Don’t throw your hand’ – perhaps suggestive of suicide, urging someone to not end it all right there and then. In fact, The Samaritans actually used the song in an ad campaign during the mid-90’s, showing how simple and comforting its message can be.

everybody-hurts-singing
While I’ve never quite been depressed as to that extent, as I mentioned it has been a song that I find does comfort me if I’m feeling low, or if I’ve simply just had enough of things for one day. It can strike a chord in particular if you don’t have someone to go home to – the opening lyrics of the song in fact refers to ‘When your day is long, and the night is yours alone’; if the struggle of the everyday is not fulfilling or becoming so humdrum that it is making you feel numb to everything, the prospect of coming home to an empty house and no one to vent these feelings to, no shoulder to cry on, probably doesn’t seem all that enticing either. Before I was in a relationship, I often bore similar frustrations. This is part of why the song works so well and speaks to such a wide range of people – it can be about the passing of a loved one, the struggles of grief, or another equally harrowing event, but equally it can also be about simply becoming bored and frustrated with life, or the crippling feelings of loneliness that cause us to fall apart when we are alone. Though as the song also assures us – most people really aren’t alone. ‘Take comfort in your friends’ it advises us. Indeed, it can be easy to shut out friends and family during particularly dark times, and the stigma towards mental health probably doesn’t make us any more willing to unload our emotional turmoil. But, even if they don’t exactly understand, just the fact they are a listening ear can often be enough of a comfort. And in lieu of being able to find an actual person for that in a pinch, this song in some ways quite adequately serves as that. Its continuing popularity and resonance since its release in 1992 shows how relatable it is – it peaked in the charts in many countries and there have been many, many different cover versions over the years, culminating in it being chosen as a charity single to raise money for the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, with many artists (both established and contemporaries) performing for it.

"We Are The World 25 Years For Haiti" Recording Session

So yes, a relatively simplistic piece it may be, but ‘Everybody Hurts’ has always been a song that has spoken to me, both as a child and subsequently growing into an adult, showing that it resonates with people of many ages. Having always been passionate about mental health issues, and being quite an emotional and sensitive person myself, the reassurance that it is ok to hurt, to cry and let everything out is a great comfort to someone like me, who just wants to stop the world and get off sometimes.

*Quoted from the liner notes of the album In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, available NOW for download as an eBook on Amazon. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

Monday Musings: Appreciating Time Alone

poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—

Edgar Allan Poe, ‘Alone’

(read the full poem here)

Sometimes, we all need that alone time – to recharge, to take refuge from a demanding world; whether that be by curling up with a book, or simply stopping to sit and take in the natural beauty all around us. And that isn’t just me spouting some hippyish nonsense – it can often do our mental health a world of good, as well; there is a marked difference between being lonely and simply being alone. If we didn’t have snatches of time to ourselves (even if they can often be difficult to find), we would likely be driven crazy within the madding crowd.

I find myself thinking about this in the midst of writing my novel, as two characters end up having a discussion about this ), the small pleasures of solitude.(which thinking about it, may be a tad ironic…) Both appreciators of fine literature, one of them quotes a passage from Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,…

Byron beautifully illustrates his point through his use of words – the ‘pathless woods’, particularly appealing, implying the idea of simply going for a walk in the forest just for walking’s sake – why does there have to be an ultimate destination? And while it refers to a ‘lonely shore’ this is not portrayed as something negative – for it is near a deep sea with ‘music in its roar’ – indeed, is there a feeling quite like sitting on the beach alone, simply listening to the sounds of the sea, the wind whistling in the air?

Of course, finding one worthy to ‘share’ your solitary spots with, your secret places to get away from it all, is one of life’s simple joys as well. There is something to be said for being ‘alone together’, of course 😉 But let’s not forget to appreciate our time alone as well – as the same character in my novel says, ‘Solitude is not something that should be actively avoided’ – make the most of it when you have the luxury of a little ‘me time’!

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, available NOW for download as an eBook on Amazon. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

Monday Musings: What makes a Writing Space?

writingspace
The words ‘organised chaos’ may spring to mind…

So today, as I try to muster up the motivation to write, I find myself thinking about the space that surrounds me; the space where I flex my creative muscles, where the work (sometimes) is done; whenever I can find a few spare hours in the day. For me, this space is the spare bedroom in the house that me and my boyfriend have now been living in for almost a year. This room, however, also functions as my ‘games room’ – that is, where another television and all of my game consoles live, as that is a passion of mine not shared by my understanding spouse; so distraction is always lying in wait. Somehow I am able to resist most of the time, however. What I find a more dangerous distraction is simply the deadly trap of the world wide web (although I hear there are programs you can download to keep you more focused, and options in browsers that limit your use of social media sites; this may be something I will investigate); my laptop sits upon the desk (well, originally a dining table), fetched from downstairs where it is generally used for idle internet browsing and my daily dose of YouTube, with the intention being for it to transform into a productive writing tool once it has entered the sanctity of the spare room. This does not always go entirely according to plan, though I do give myself a firm slap on the wrist every time I inadvertently find myself opening Facebook on one of my Firefox tabs (and again for even opening an internet browser at all) – so I can usually keep myself disciplined this way. I will, however, generally have my headphones on and have some sort of music playing as background noise – trying to stick to either a simple shuffle of my collection on Media Player or to one of my playlists – rather than constantly chopping and changing, as this does not exactly breed productivity. I’ve spoken to some people who either don’t understand how I can possibly work and concentrate while listening to music at the same time, or other writers who don’t share the compulsion to. For me, however, I find it a necessity. It’s often the only way for me to get lost in what I’m doing – illogically, I find silence distracting. Sometimes the music may even inspire what I’m writing. I have to have something going on in the ears in order for my eyes and fingers to focus on the task at hand, it would seem.

So, going back to my writing space itself. What do I have around me as I sit here writing this post at this very moment? Well;

  • Coffee (possibly a writer’s best friend or simply a very suggestive placebo – it works well either way).
  • Two notebooks full of random jottings and ideas, some of which may even take form on the computer screen someday.
  • A few books: The Roget’s Thesaurus, 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco’s Writer’s Grotto (recommended to me when I attended a writer’s group session where local writer Laura May was a guest, full of weird and wonderful writing prompts for those irksome times when you’re a bit stuck), a book about Van Gogh which I realise has been sitting here since I wrote this poem a while back, the idea springing from one of his paintings, and also No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, which I may or may not attempt when November, aka NaNoWriMo rolls around.
  • My printer, whose primary function is to print pages of a few days ago, to look over and mercilessly dissect with my trusty red pen.
  • My Writing Timetable which looms over me on the wall, which is followed most of the time. Again, wrist-slapping may prove to be a good motivator if I fail to meet my scheduled time.

I find this space serves me well most of time, though the desk may need to be cleared of all the miscellaneous clutter I have conveniently not mentioned in the above list. Where do you sit down to write? Has it been crafted specifically to be your writing space, or do you find you can adapt to whatever surrounding is convenient at the time? A few people have said to me that they can often quite happily sit down at a Starbucks, or a similarly overpriced coffee chain, and type merrily away on their laptops while sipping at their lattes – not something I have attempted, though according to my brother, if I did do this I would officially be ‘one of those coffee shop douchebags’. Maybe so. In truth, I would rather be huddled up in the solitude of my spare room, where I don’t feel like I have to constantly look busy, or indeed ‘like a writer’.

Where do you flex your writing muscles?

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, available NOW for download as an eBook on Amazon. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M