Monthly Archives: February 2013

crying while I work

There have been a lot of tears on Radio 4 today.  I don’t mean that James Naughtie has pinched Winifred Robinson’s dinner money or somebody has dug up the snowdrops in Peter Gibbs’ garden.  No, the focus has been on what makes us cry.  First of all we had the obligatory clip from Barber’s Adagio for Strings (which apparently is under a moratorium in Hollywood for overuse) on the Today programme (just mistyped that as the Toady programme – Freudian?).  Then we had a whole half hour with Geoff Watts investigating why we cry.  I am getting out my hankies before Saturday Live tomorrow, goodness knows what they will come up with and Broadcasting House will no doubt be awash with tearful and emotional anecdotes.  I don’t think I’ll even bother with Desert Island Discs, the guest is a developmental psychologist.  Bound to be bucket loads there.

What I found really interesting (apart from the Barber ban) was that apparently when people were asked what made them cry they tended to say a loss of a loved one, something bad happening to their children etc.  All very noble and predictable.  But when asked what had made them cry most recently they answered, loneliness, rejection, fear.

So we like to think that we cry over the misfortunes of others, but in fact we cry over our own. Actually I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that.  Our loved ones do not die on a regular basis, at least not for most of us.  Bad things do happen to our children, but again it is more likely to be that they didn’t get the part of Mary in the Nativity Play rather than they lose a limb in a landmine accident.  In other words, whilst we do cry over such things, they don’t happen very often.

On the other hand, we suffer personal setbacks on a daily basis.  Most do not reduce us to tears.  But we all understand the concept of the hair that broke the camel’s back.  And we all have a particular Achilles’ Heel, the situation that brings us down no matter what.

I cry easily at films and music (very common apparently, to be brought to tears by visual art, buildings etc is very unusual).  I can bring myself to tears very easily for dramatic effect in a play.  I cry at funerals, even those of people I am not very close to, certain hymns I find almost impossible to sing without sobbing and the opening solo of “I waited for the Lord” reduces me to tears in seconds, although that is perhaps because I am taken back to the moment I heard my daughters sing the duet at Evensong in Durham Cathedral.

However, wound me and I will do all I can to hold back my tears.  Vulnerability is all very well if it is not mine but on behalf of somebody else.  A case in point is anger and frustration.  I am easily brought to tears by anger brought on by frustration.  Many, many years ago (over 30)  when just beginning my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics we had to sit exams at the beginning of the Michaelmas term to confirm we were doing the right subjects.  I went from A student to failing every single one.  I had never failed an exam in my life.  I was shocked, so were my teachers.  I was called in to see Dr Carpenter who railed at me for not revising.  I had revised, I had revised endlessly and I got angry.  Unfortunately I cry when I’m angry and poor Dr Carpenter was faced with a 16 year old girl wailing her eyes out in his office and his anger quickly turned to sympathy, which obviously made me madder and the tears got worse.  Viscious circle.  (For the record I should never have taken science A-levels, but the shock of failing an exam meant I worked like a Trojan at subjects I loathed in order to get the grades that had originally been expected).

Apparently there is not difference between the amount that girls and boys cry as toddlers.  As they grow up boys cry less and girls take the crying lead.  Is this nature or nurture?  We will probably never know, but as we age we control our tears.  We consider some to be acceptable and others not.  Some to be allowed to be public and some only to be cried in private.  Where do we learn this?  Is it cultural or is there some personal, unique to only us, guideline that we put in place?

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It’s done

It’s done, it’s gone, I have sent it away.  Having edited and edited, trimmed, corrected, re-written and tweaked I finally put Timesmudger to one side.  The hidden circle of Dante’s Inferno then revealed itself in the form of the synopsis.  Never has a single word put more dread in my heart since the school nurse said “Next!”and I got a very painful BCG injection. Various dreadful attempts littered the kitchen table, a handful of monkeys could have made a better attempt, let alone the infinite number that apparently can write the entire Shakespearian canon.  Rescue came in the form of the Crabbit Old Bat  (see Miracle Cure post below) and after some serious keyboard bashing and excellent criticism from Sandie  I had something I was happy with.  (I can only hope that Stephanie Thwaites at Curtis Brown feels the same way.)

The covering letter was a breeze after that, particularly since I don’t have a glowing publication history behind me to list.

Then, finally I hit the submit button.  I’ve done it before, but last time I was a naive ingenue.  I sent out what can only be described as a literary dog poo.  This time I am older, wiser and have taken a shed load of criticism on board.  But is it enough?

In which I may fall off the straight and narrow

Everything is going swimmingly.  The synopsis is taking shape; I am finally saying goodbye to my tiny part time job so that I can concentrate on writing; my planners and goals are shaping up nicely and I am totally on track.

Then I read Plan.Create.Succeed  For pity’s sake, that is just not playing by the rules.  When somebody is on a restricted diet you don’t ply them with recipes for double cream baked New York Cheesecake.  So don’t show a recovering journal addict a new idea for a journal.  And if you really must do it, then choose a cheap binder.  But an A5 Osterley?  What do you think I am made of?  Cast iron?

I love it, I love the layout, I love the idea of having all my journaling in one place.  My lovely and very beautiful red Chameleon is not used for my writing notes because it is freestanding, I want it all together.  Having said that I cannot give up my freestanding Gratitude Journal and  Commonplace book, so perhaps I don’t really need an A5 plum Osterley journal.  I certainly can’t afford one, but I do lust after one, just like Helen’s.

In which I discover a miracle cure

If you are a writer you might want to look away at the next word.  I am giving you fair warning that it may cause paroxysms of choking, hot and cold flushes and a feeling of bottomless dread.  Synopsis.

However, this is no longer the chronic and painful condition it once was.  There is a cure and I have found it.

I am writing a synopsis.  I would rather pick my eyes out with a toothpick, but I suspect that my bloodied face is not going to sell my book so synopsis it must be.  My book is not linear which just added to the frisson of terror as I approached the blank page.  The page remained blank for a long time as I found other more pressing jobs requiring my attention.  The pantry has been gutted, the barn has been cleared, industrial quantities of knitting have been completed and I have over 15lb of marmalade and 7lb of rosehip jelly.  I do not have a synopsis.

Well that is not exactly true.  So far I have three synopses.  One is one sentence long, the second is one paragraph long and the third is two paragraphs long.  There is much still to be done but at last I am moving vaguely in the right direction.  Any anyway we have enough marmalade.  The waver of the magic wand was the Crabbit Old Bat whom I have renamed the Most Wonderful Person in the Entire World Somebody Should Make Her A Dame.

No I am not on commission.  Yes you must buy her book on how to write a synopsis.  And just to tickle your fancy.  Here is my one line synopsis.

Thirteen year old Poppy discovers she can smudge time, but preventing a murder leads to betrayal, revenge and the revelation of a hundred year old secret.

Now off you go.  You have work to do.  That synopsis is not going to write itself (more’s the pity).