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I need to keep it short and sweet on today’s Microblog Monday, after my last post, which was not a microblog post, despite it being about Microblog Mondays.

I’ve broken away from my usual modern literature reading in the last month, to read some enjoyable and interesting non-fiction, including Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B, and most recently, Sue Perkins’ Spectacles.

Some thoughts about aging, the first being the need to plan well in advance, and to make decisions before you think it is necessary, because by the time you need to have made some of these decisions, you’ll be much less capable of doing so.

Secondly, people often talk about maintaining dignity in old age, confusing it with pride, and implying that this is only possible when you are independent. However, I become more and more convinced that true dignity is being able to admit when you need help, and to accept that with grace.

The weather is warming nicely, and we’re all starting to be a bit hopeful that this year we might actually get a summer, after the disappointments of last year.

With spring well and truly here, with bright light earlier in the morning and later at night, the need for spring cleaning is becoming more and more obvious, and will need to be tackled soon.

I may not have cleaned, but I’m feeling quite smug that I only need to buy three more Christmas/birthday (thanks to my sister and a sister-in-law who both have birthdays on 20th December) presents before the end of the year.

 

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Keeping it simple

My regular Microblog Mondays habit has made me forget how to write. Or more correctly, it has made me forget how to write short sentences. I’m perhaps more naturally inclined to longer sentences, but I do try to write clearly and simply. I want to say only what is needed or is helpful, but that’s not always easy. I remember my thesis supervisor telling me that I wrote well, saying that my simplicity was a strength. I remember feeling surprised.

Yet when I joined a particular organisation a couple of years later, I didn’t feel that simplicity was a strength. In that organisation, it seemed to matter who your parents were, or where you went to school, the accent you spoke with, and how you pontificated, as much as what you thought or how you performed. Written messages were shared widely throughout the organisation, and this led to what I would call competitive prose. I remember laughing once at someone’s particularly arrogant message, when they used an obscure word but in completely the wrong context. My laughter wasn’t cruel, but rather it came from pure relief that all these seemingly arrogant people weren’t perfect. Maybe, at times, they were as insecure as I was?

In my late 20s, I had a new manager who wrote in short, at times ugly, but simple and clear sentences. It was a dramatic difference to his predecessor, who was Cambridge educated and prided himself on his more lyrical, often overblown style of writing. I fitted somewhere in between the two styles, but was encouraged to adapt my own style to that of my new manager. (Somehow, this prestigious organisation never really accepted that style did not, in fact, equal substance.)  I found it easy to shorten my sentences, and to insert a full-stop (period) instead of a comma.

In subsequent places of employment, I was freer to write in a way that came naturally, or that was, appropriately, tailored to the audience or the purpose.

Business writing is, of course, quite different to blogging or creative writing. I can be more conversational, and I can vary my style from sentence to sentence. I love the freedom this brings. I can be brief. Or not so brief.

Microblog Monday posts though, have played havoc with my writing style. I adopted the suggested eight-sentence limit as a rule rather than a guideline, and I’ve been doing it for so long now that I feel as if I can’t stop. If I stop, I’ve been defeated. So I carefully edit my Monday posts to eight sentences. I use colons and semi-colons, parentheses and brackets and dashes, all in the pursuit of eight sentences. That’s not my natural style either. I’d probably never even written a sentence with a semi-colon before Microblog Mondays came about.

I can’t blame Microblog Mondays though. If I wrote more often, breaking away from my self-imposed Monday discipline, I might find my own voice again. I want to try. And so I hope this will be a case of “watch this space” rather than a rolling of the eyes and a sarcastic “yeah, right.”

Mission accomplished

Yesterday I finished a major project. It was the third of the photobooks I have created from our trip earlier this year to Iceland, the Baltic, and Norway. I’m very proud of it, as our photos from Norway in particular are beautiful. It would almost be impossible to visit Norway and come away without beautiful photos. Some of my favourite photographs were taken out the front of the car as we were driving, and some required a bit more thought or design; here are just a few.

Fjaerlandfjord, with boats in the foreground and snow on the mountains

Fjaerlandfjord, from our beautiful hotel, is the cover of our Norway photobook

A bookshelf on Fjaerlandfjord, with Boyabreen glacier behind

Mundal, on Fjaerlandfjord, is an international book town

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route, surrounded in snow

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route

Fb reminded me that this time last year I had already booked our flights and the Baltic cruise, and I was right in the middle of researching and planning our travel. I realised last night that, on and off, I’d spent a year planning and organising our trip, being on the trip, or completing photobooks after the trip. Of course, those aren’t the only things I have been doing, but I do feel that now I have some real space to think about other things. It’s time to move onto other long-neglected projects, and you know, that’s quite an exciting thought.

 

Learning to listen

I’ve always listened to the radio, and I download their podcasts when I miss interviews I wanted to hear, but I’ve never listened to audiobooks (as, to be honest, I feared they would send me to sleep), until a few months ago when I became frustrated when the third book in a four-book series I was reading wasn’t immediately available from my library. So I downloaded the audiobook from the library, thinking “I’ll give it a try,” as I plugged in my earphones and set off on a walk.

The person reading the book was completely wrong, sounding like a man in his 70s, old and wizened, when the main characters were all young people, and even the side characters wouldn’t have been older than their 50s; it felt so wrong that I could not continue, and I decided that maybe audiobooks were not for me.

Recently, though, I’ve been doing a lot of photo editing on my computer, which is time–consuming and visual, and so I thought that maybe I should try another audiobook. I opened my library app, and saw that they had recently acquired Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett, fully produced for radio by the BBC, and so I downloaded it and began listening straight away. I loved it, tried another – this time it was Option B by Sheryl Sandberg – that didn’t have the same high production values as the BBC book, but was simply the voice of a woman who sounded about the age of Sheryl Sandberg, and so made sense.

I’m now on my fourth audio book – 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and narrated by the author – and I’m enjoying that too.

So now, when I have some simple tasks to do, I’m listening to audiobooks, because otherwise I feel that I don’t get around to actually reading enough books, and I have four hundred on my to-read list, and really, really don’t want to miss out on them.

In thinking about the #me too posts on social media from all the women who have experienced harassment, abuse and assault, I found one instance going over and over in my head, in which a senior executive of our company humiliated me for absolutely no reason, pushing the backs of my knees at a party so my legs collapsed and I ended up on the floor, inevitably leading people to assume that I had had too much to drink. I never took him to task, just as I never complained to my boss about the off-colour joke he told in our staff meeting that felt directed at me, just as I never told anyone about the two boys who attached me in a ditch when I was about 15, but I managed to fight off. Women are taught to feel embarrassed and ashamed when we have done nothing wrong, and so-called “decent” (and even not-so-decent) men are given a free pass when they use their power against us. #Me too; I’m really angry that this is the case, so angry that women are still treated as second-class citizens, and furious that we are expected to be quiet about it.

It was announced in the last week or so that the US have increased entry requirements for flights, and airlines have said that there will be increased passenger screening, including that we may have to attend interviews before boarding flights, and so I have to say, “sorry, my US friends and family, but your government is making it very hard to want to come and visit!”

I keep hearing people (on media and social media, though less so in real life) referring to people as having Resting Bitch Face. I’ve never liked bullying, and ridiculing someone for their looks is simply another example of that, when they can’t help having a down-turned mouth any more than someone can help having blue or brown eyes, or ginger hair (also an area of discrimination I find childish and despicable), and I find the use of the “B” word, which I try never to use as there isn’t a male equivalent, is just adding salt to my wounds. And for the record, although I have a mouth that turns down naturally, I also have a happy smile, and if you dare to say that I have RBF then you’ll never damned well see it.

 

 

Friendships on the ether

I’ve had a lovely hour or so, immersed in the lives of the initial x365 bloggers, back in 2006 and 2007. Even ten years later, events of the last weeks have shown strongly that we still have a role to play in each other’s lives, that we are important to each other, and that we feel each other’s joys and, sadly, our sorrows.

Most shocking to us all was when our dear Deloney suddenly lost his Mlle. Vague. Some of our group wrote the most beautiful tributes to her and to him (here, and here), which are beautiful whether or not you know him. Susan in particular talks about grief and love, and should be read. I am not so eloquent so I have written privately, and I continue to hurt for him. But it’s not about me. There’s only so much we can do when we live on the other side of the planet , but I hope there is some comfort from knowing that others are thinking of him across continents and oceans, especially if he’s awake in the wee small hours and feeling alone. I see others of our number, or friends of friends, reaching out to him, and it warms my heart and restores my faith in humanity.

Lali is blogging again, which makes me happy even if I’m not always able to keep up with her posts. Most recently, talked about things she misses from her life in green Vermont, and it reminded me how exotic some of my friends are, when she refers to her childhood in Spain and South America, or life with deer, bears and an ermine. Now, whenever I think of Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, which I saw on display in Krakow four years ago, I’ll be thinking of her. Like several of my very brave friends, she suffers from a chronic and painful condition, and as she remembered the person she was when she could cope with her outdoorsy and active lifestyle, I just wanted to hug her … carefully,  gently.

When Lali or IB write about Vermont, I always think of an AFS friend met in Thailand and again briefly in Delaware at Sharon and Chai’s in the 1990s, and when Dona writes of her family memories that never fail to touch me, I think too of other AFS friends last seen in Thailand in 1981 who live near DC, and other bloggers I’ve met through my other blogs who live there or nearby. I love it when the various parts of my life intertwine

Another of our x365 group has reappeared on Fb, after a difficult time, and I am happy to see her again, but sad to think of what she has been going through, and wish we could sit and talk over a coffee, though I’m sure she has plenty of people doing that with her too, not least another of our x365 number who lives in the same city, and who regularly brings another unvisited city to life for me.

On the brighter side, the lovely and clever Indigo Bunting wrote a birthday limerick for me that has made my day. I also was amused to find that, in her quarterly list of birds (that has taught me to be more observant, and to appreciate and love birds along with their crazy names), there was a Greater Yellowlegs, which made me smile. In another internet life, I was given the nickname Legs, and those said legs are Greater rather than Lesser, and although they’re not yellow, they are very pale and would at least glow in the dark as does (I imagine) the Greater Yellowlegs.

IB wrote a birthday limerick for Helen too, in which she bemoaned Helen’s absence from our blogging community. I concur. It always makes me happy when Helen pops back in to comment. She staunchly resists social media, where even Mrs S has returned to our fold, but if she tried it, she might learn to like it. And when I think of Helen I think of Deloney, and another blogger friend “met” more recently who lives in their city, putting it firmly on the map of places I must go before I die, because there are people I must meet before I die too.

Vesper and Craig have both also had birthdays this week, as have friends in the UK, met on the internet and in real life, and in-real-life friends from here are also marking another year on the planet, so it is not simply birthday season in New Zealand in October, but globally in Mali’s Sphere of Family and Friends. On the Libra and Scorpio cusp, there are so many people I love and admire, and I love to be reminded of this.

Birthday boy Craig lives in Florida, and when – as lately – things happen there, I often think of him in the same thought as I think of the friends I met through student exchanges in 1979 and 1980 in New Zealand and in Thailand respectively, who also now live in Florida, and who all talk about storms and space shuttles and post photos of manatees and sunny beaches and alligators.

These links around the world, born on the ether and solidified over the years, or born in real life and maintained on the ether, make me happy and sad, they educate me and delight me and sustain me, and add to the richness of my life. Our hugs may only be virtual, but our love is real. I am so very lucky, and so very grateful.

(a continuing series)

Create a list of your top favourite costume choices for this year.

I’ve never been into costumes, and never had the need to, especially as Halloween is not something many of us engage in here, certainly not those of us who don’t have kids or nieces/nephews in the same town.

Show us your pumpkin before and after whatever you chose to do to it.

Putting aside the fact that this sounds semi-risque, I think that the before and after of a pumpkin soup, which could be a particularly boring post (not that this is knocking it out of the park!) given that there are pumpkin recipes everywhere on the internet (even though I make a yummy one – hint, don’t ever use potato), and the before and after of pumpkin gnocchi (which I’ve written about before), would just be repetitive, though the mere thought of it makes me salivate.

Share a slow cooker recipe you love.

Besides the fact that it is spring, and slow cookers are going into an annual hibernation as we say good-bye to slow food and hello to salads and barbecues, I don’t own a slow cooker, because I would need to be organised and plan meals ahead to use it, and I tend to cook whatever I have in the fridge, usually as a quick curry or stir-fry, and besides, where would I put it?

Give 10 reasons why you’re glad it’s Fall.

I’m not writing this one for an obvious reason, given that I live in New Zealand (kinda the reason I’m not writing any of the other posts too), and I’m not glad it’s Fall because a) it’s not, and b) we never call it Fall here, as the correct word is Autumn; though to be fair I might write a version of this next April, as I can be quite fond of autumn, but only if we have a decent summer, and that’s never guaranteed … though today it is at least looking (and feeling) promising.