Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Beloved Aspie on self-driving cars

Well, Beloved Aspie (BA) suffers a little from vicarious road rage, by which I mean, he isn't driving, but he rages for me at other drivers' incompetences. Sometimes, I have to point out that I am not cross, so he needn't be. Mostly, he makes me notice how often I mutter about other drivers...

So when he started a conversation the other day about self-driving cars, I anticipated the worst. Obviously, they are a ridiculous idea, and will only cause other drivers hassle. Right?

Wrong. That was not where he was going with that one.

"Mum, I think self-driving cars should be given to old people first. There really is too much to try to do and worry about in new cars with the phone blue-toothed in and the sat nav in the dashboard. And all the driver is trying to do is get to the right place at the right speed. So if old people had self-driving cars, the car would make all those decisions for them and they'd be much happier."

That was a surprise. And in my usual over-enthusiastic way, I take the conversation further, "Would you extend that to new drivers as well, then, give them a chance to build their confidence?"

"Don't be stupid, Mum. They need to learn properly from the very beginning or they'll never be good drivers."

Well, that's me told.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Eckhart Tolle: my new BFF

Serendipity or synchronicity? Whichever it is, I love it when you pick up a book or an article and find yourself with exactly the thing you needed to hear.

I’m a bit grumpy today because I haven’t slept properly for the last few nights. I’m doing all the right things around food, exercise, drink, relaxing etc. but my brain isn’t listening.

I started this year with a determination/resolution to overcome both depressive moods and irrational anxiety – both of which I had been putting down to ‘that age’ and it’s associate ‘the change’.  I’ll be damned if I let hormones rule my life. However, as I researched and observed, it became clear that they were not the culprits.

I found myself drawn to pick up a book recommended a couple of years ago by a Buddhist friend. I have been practising Nichiren Buddhism for more than 20 years, a practice that encourages mastering one’s mind among other things. Whilst my practice remains constant, sometimes hearing things another way refreshes your perspective and reawakens your understanding. 

The Book is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

Very simply, he teaches that depression means too much living in, focus on, control by the past: anxiety means too much concern and worry over the future. Now, on one level I knew this as our Buddhism teaches that the past is gone and done and the future is only a dream, not yet here. But I guess I only knew this in my head and hadn’t really considered the physical symptoms as trying to tell me the same thing.

And I embedded and excused both patterns by thinking: well, bad things happened in the past that mean I have to have certain strategies in case they happen again; and forgiving anxiety as the natural condition for the Mum of a special kid, frankly, any mum.

What utter nonsense. What a waste of energy. What a distraction from being right here, right now.

I thought I’d been doing quite well working on being present and being in the now – until I observed my manic mind these last few nights. So I opened the book this afternoon to read:

‘The mind absorbs all your consciousness and transforms it into mind stuff. You cannot stop thinking. Compulsive thinking has become a collective disease.’

Certainly describes me in my sleepless state (and possibly a lot of my usual waking state too). 

Thankfully, on the very next page, Tolle offers an exercise. When you are lost in your mind, you need to draw your focus back into the body, feeling the inner body.

So tonight, if my mind is frantic, I shall try to follow his advice. I just hope in another chapter soon, he can tell me how not to hear the deafening tinnitus in my left ear that threatens to ruin my peace. 

To the here and Now friends. Be present and enjoy.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Author reality vs imagination

There is a veritable chasm between the author’s reality and the author’s imagination.

To write a story, one may draw on one’s experiences, but again, there is a chasm between ‘drawing on’ and recording. If I wanted to write a book based on my actual experience, I would, and I wouldn’t be afraid to call it my autobiography. If I ever get that interesting, I may even do it.

For now, I write stories that grow in my mind, fed by the things in real life that inspire, confuse or intrigue me. Sometimes it might be a theme, like death, grace, humour or prejudice. That theme might be something that sits close to my heart all the time, or something that has become current and prevalent for whatever reason.

At other times, the ‘experience’ itself can be a tiny moment, or random observation that develops into a full blown idea that ultimately has nothing to do with its conception.

For example, I wrote a short story called Grace (you can read it on my website www.sineadgillepie.co.uk) The first inspiration came from photos that a friend was putting on Facebook that were particularly beautiful and exotic. The second factor was an impending death in our circle of friends which was having a huge impact on my experience of daily living. The two came together to create the story – but it was neither about the photographer, nor the lady who was dying.

In the current novel …but I love you there is a scene involving a bunch of roses – one to which most women can relate. And yes, once upon a time I did receive a huge bunch of roses. However, together with the themes that were hovering in my mind as I wrote the novel, themes around prejudice and power dynamics in relationships, a character grew out of the roses: Hal. Hal is absolutely nothing like the man who presented the roses in real life. Nothing!

So, it has been interesting to hear some feedback where it is obvious to me that the reader has over related or over interpreted and seems to think that I am writing more truth than fiction, and changing their opinion of me accordingly due to all the things they are now ‘learning about me’.

I wonder if Val McDermid or A.A. Holmes had the same problem? If you write crime, are you merely disguising your own unlawful temptations? If you write dark psychological thrillers, is it because you are mentally disturbed? If you write science fiction, are you really just living on another planet?

Or are you drawing on the stuff of human nature and playing with it in your imagination because you are a writer?

I am looking forward to being questioned in the next few weeks by BBC Radio, and by the book groups I shall be attending, and hopefully by the audience at my talk at the end of the month. I want to be challenged about my choices of subject and my characters. I want to think about my influences and how they shape my work. But I hope to goodness no-one thinks it’s all true…