This week I’ve been on the receiving end of loads of small kindnesses.
Many moons ago, when Saint Mick and I were first teaching in Tanzania a teaching couple called Linda and Earl (last names now forgotten) invited us for Christmas lunch. They were of the mindset that if they were kind to other people’s kids (us), then someone somewhere would hopefully be being kind to their own absent children.
Perhaps some kids are born innately kind and others aren’t. I started to write that my own kids are blessed with the kindness gene, but, thinking about it, we do have old video footage of Annie, at only 18 months, giving her baby sister a hairbrush to hold, so as to take a ball – the preferred toy of choice – from her. An arguably kind action that was actually completely self-serving. Manipulation not kindness being the order of the day!
It’s possible to argue, and I think I probably do, that Linda’s and Earl’s act of kindness was also actually a selfish act - more Thomas Hobbes than John Locke! I even think I agree with Hobbes that people actions are all based on selfishness. What I’m not sure about though, is whether this means that life has to be ‘nasty, brutish and short’ for us all.
As adults, if my own kids can make someone else smile or feel good then they do so without thinking ‘what’s in it for me’. The same for all the other people who have shown me kindness this week. Everyone’s ability to be kind is though a learned behaviour and if we go with Hobbes, it is ultimately self centred, even if not self-consciously so. I wonder, does that really matter? What do you think?
I was chatting with my mum the other day and we got talking about things that she might have done differently and what advice she might have given to her younger self. She said she and my dad could have maybe spent a little longer choosing their first home, but she couldn’t really think of anything else that she would have changed. It is strange, though, how we do make hasty decisions over important things. I swear I spent longer choosing my last pair of jeans than I did choosing my wedding dress. In my defence, I wear them a lot and I think they do look pretty good!
I took it as a positive that my mum couldn’t think of much, within her control, that she would have changed and, upon reflection, I realized that I was pretty much in the same boat. I wouldn’t change too many of the decisions I’ve made either. Well I might have advised my young self to not over pluck my eyebrows, but guess that’s not overly profound or life changing.
Although I wouldn’t change many of my life decisions, as in things I’ve actually done, I probably would have changed my outlook a bit. I think I’d tell my younger self to chill out and to put the angst away, not least, because it gets a bit boring to everyone else around. Everything does not need analysing to death!
Lacking much wisdom myself, I asked my friends what advice they had for their young selves. This is what they said:
It seems that my own friends also have things pretty well sussed out now too. I’m going to add to my own list, to tell my young self to ‘live a little’ and, in the spirit of doing just that, I think I’ll go put the kettle on, and what the heck, I might even have a digestive too.
I was lying in bed this morning imagining the day that I would make it as a writer. I visualized impatient readers queuing out the door of Waterstones, whilst I preferred to do personal book signings at the smaller independent booksellers. Richard and Judy would beg for my text to be their next book club choice; and such would be my success that Michelle Obama would likely fly in her private jet to ask me to write a review of her next autobiography ‘life after presidency’ and well, just to have a chat and a cup of tea with me.
It didn’t stop there. Library cataloguers, across the world would fight over whether my book belonged in the classical literature section or popular fiction - the dilemma existing because I’d been tipped to win ‘best new writer’ and the ‘man-booker’ prize in the same year (I’d obviously then go on to advocate for it changing to person-booker); and the advance I’d been paid for my second novel was such that Saint Mick of Thana could retire and spend as much money as he liked on golf clubs without me batting an eye-lid.
Well a girl’s got to dream.
So far I’ve not been very successful, but I’m keen to learn and improve.
Linda Newbery, a writer I hugely admire. once kindly read the opening of a story I was writing for upper primary kids called Jimmy Dumpster. It was my first try at a longer piece of fiction. She gave me some helpful tips on writing and suggested I should try to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ more. This is advice I’ve repeated to many of my own poor GCSE English students over the years, but it isn’t easy to do. In my story poor 11 year old Jimmy was down on his luck and went missing, only to spend several chapters traversing through the interior organs of his mum’s body as a result of having touched a magic box belonging to his grandmother. It was in the depths of his mother’s bowels that he had happened upon his good-for-nothing step-father, heading South and searching for an escape route. As I recall Grandma had been a kindly soul whose main fault, (in addition to leaving a magic box around that could cause all kinds of mischief) was to hang her outsized pants on the kitchen radiator. Anyway, It will come as no surprise to learn that, about 10 000 words in, I abandoned the project. It seems fantasy/magic is not my forte.
Not to be put off I tried my hand again at story writing, this time with an older readership in mind. I aimed for a 1000 word a day output and lasted just over a week. The story was to be a hotbed of scandal and seduction and started with two sisters standing at the graveside of their abusive Uncle Pete, eyeing up the good looking pall-bearer who doubled up as one of the sister’s pizza delivery man. This part of the plot was to be developed into a who gets the guy cliffhanger. One sister worked as a disenchanted civil servant whilst the other one used her feminine wiles to live comfortably. Anyway, knowing little about feminine wiles, or what being a servant entails, you’ll appreciate that I ran out of umph and gave up. It seems romance isn’t my forte either.
Evidence suggests then that the possibility of anyone signing a book deal with me is as unlikely as winning the lottery - I don’t even buy a ticket and I haven't thus far seemed capable of finishing a project. I’m not giving up on writing just yet though. Winston Churchill once said, somewhere, that "success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." (I don’t know much about Winston Churchill, but Saint Mick does, so that’s good enough for me to want to listen to him).
I’m currently thinking maybe horror is the way to go – perhaps the antagonist will turn on their only friend, who has helped them recover from a severe mental illness, in an unexpected Jekyll and Hyde plot twist. Obviously I can’t give too much away because if I tell you I’d have to kill you!
Watch this space and if you see Michelle or Richard and Judy popping over to my place for a cuppa feel free to join us. It will mean that success is on its way.