Silver Splitters

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet for the past few months.  That’s because I’ve been dealing with a very painful personal issue which has sucked just about every ounce of creativity from me. I have wrestled with whether or not to talk about it in this blog. I actually started this post almost five months ago not knowing if I ever would post it. My decision in doing so today is because I’ve been doing a lot of reading around the subject recently.  All divorces are different, but they all share one common aspect; severe, gut-wrenching pain.  Although I am still early on in the process, this is how I’m trying to cope with mine.  It’s rather a long post, but if it helps one other person out there who is going through the same thing to know that they’re not alone, then it is worth posting.

There are times when life turns on a dime.  One day, my husband and I were  booking tickets for the holiday we’d been planning for several months. A few days later he came downstairs on a Saturday morning and announced that he was going to visit our (adult) kids and tell them our almost 38 year-old marriage was over. No discussion. When asked why, his answer was that, ‘It would be best for both of us in the long run’. And that was it! (Although I discovered later there was much – much – more to it than that!)

There’s a name for us, apparently – silver splitters or grey divorcees – and we’re the fastest growing demographic when it comes to divorce. So if you’ve been totally blindsided, like me, what can help you get through those first few weeks of suddenly finding yourself unexpectedly alone?

I’m only a few months into the process. I still have a long way to go in coming to terms with everything that’s happened – and my counsellor has warned me that it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better – but here are three things I’m concentrating on in my journey towards healing.

1) HEALTH: I’ve been pretty casual about my health over the past decade.  Between shift work, family obligations, my husband’s illness and life in general, my own health has scored low on my list of priorities. But something my mum told me after my dad died really hit home. Not wanting my brother, sister, or myself to worry about her, Mum made her health a priority, going for a long walk along the beach every day – even when it was raining and she could barely see for tears – making sure she ate well and getting plenty of sleep.

My mum was of that wartime generation that just got on with things, so I’ve tried to take a leaf out of her book.  Every morning I get up, brush my teeth, pull on my clothes and go for a walk along the river.  I bought myself a Fitbit recently and have programmed in 10,000 steps per day. By the time my walk is over, I’m already more than half-way to my daily goal. My emotional heart might still be shattered but my physical one has had a workout.

As for food, I’m trying to mostly cook from scratch.  Sounds like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be.  Throw some chicken and veggies in a wok, or even just zap a potato and have it with homemade coleslaw, grated cheese or a salad, and it can be cooked, eaten, and the dishes washed and put away before the pizza delivery man is even loading your order into his car.  It helps to keep only healthy food in the house so I’m not tempted, but I am allowing myself one chocolate treat a day.

Same with alcohol.  I drink only when I’m with friends and keep no alcohol in the house.

Sleep?  Well that’s the hard one, isn’t it? My sleep pattern has been totally disrupted and I can’t remember the last time I had a solid eight hours sleep. Most nights when I go to bed, all I can think about it is what has happened to me, both before going to sleep and the second I wake-up in the morning, and my heart just pounds.  There are nights when I can’t sleep at all, and pace the floor back and forth. (There’s someone in the apartment above me who also paces the floor at 2am.  One of these nights I’m tempted to go upstairs and see if they want to go outside for a proper walk!) But I’m trying to keep to a regular routine.  I tried some over the counter sleeping aids, but they fuelled some bizarre and even more upsetting dreams, so I visited my GP for a regular prescription.  He only gave me seven tablets, so I can only take them when I absolutely have to. I’m trying to follow the advice you find on websites about getting to sleep: no electronics an hour before bed, turn down the lights, soft music, write my diary and plans for the next day etc. But it’s hard. When I turn the light off, my brain whirrs into action, so most nights I am forced to play a movie on my iPad on my bedside table to hold back the dark and the raging tumult in my brain. If I fall asleep before 3 a.m. it’s a good night.

2) GRATITUDE: Many days I just sit down and bawl. I never knew – or understood – the incredibly powerful physical, as well as emotional, effects of grief, but when I think about who and what I have in my life I realise I must be grateful for my good fortune.

FRIENDS: I’ve never thought of myself as having a lot of friends, but the one thing I’ve discovered through this is that I do, and they are AMAZING.  You know who you are, so thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I’m very lucky in that most of the friends I’ve made over the years are friends that I’ve made through shared interests, and not social friends we made as a couple, so I’ve not had to face the nightmare of friends deserting me as everyone ‘chooses sides’.  Quite the opposite.  My friends have let me rant and cry… but also allowed me to laugh.  One friend in particular refused to allow me to stay the first few nights in my new apartment alone. Her company meant that instead of ‘imprinting’ my new home with tears and a sense of failure – plus the added grief of having to put my elderly dog down when she collapsed on the same day I moved out the family home –  we christened it with a bottle (or two) of wine, great conversation and a truly meaningful friendship. She and her husband have also helped me clear my things from my old house, which has made the whole process so much easier than doing it alone. Another friend took me clothes shopping.  I haven’t had as much fun shopping for clothes since I was a teenager. Another jokingly signs all her e-mails to me as a ‘Founding member of the BAAC’ – Bill’s An Arse Club. Another invited me to visit her in Victoria to celebrate my birthday away from sad associations. But they have all listened. Thank you. You have no idea how much you have helped. I could not be working my way through this without your support.

FAMILY: I’ve had a bit of a rough patch with my siblings the past few years, but since all this blew up, their support has been phenomenal. Blood truly is thicker than water!  Thank you.

FINANCES: I’m extremely fortunate in that I’m currently not having to forage around for enough money to live on. For now I have enough to get by – as long as I’m careful. I don’t know what the final settlement will be, although I will have to tighten my belt.  50/50 – as it is in Alberta – might sound generous, but given, for example, I will now have to pay 100% of the costs of my monthly expenses on half the money, it is still a 50% drop in income. But I remain lucky.  I’ve heard of several girlfriends whose husbands have hidden all the money from them and they have been reduced to borrowing money from elderly parents or cashing in life insurance policies to have enough money to live until the settlement is finalised.  That should never have to happen.  You never know if it might happen to you, so if I can offer one piece of advice, it’s set up your own bank account if you can.  Figure out how much money you would need to live for three – six – twelve months and then work towards creating that safety net for yourself. Just in case.

JOURNAL: Some experts recommend journaling as a way of coping with the pain, while some research suggests that it makes it harder to move on. I’ve taken a slightly different approach.  It may sound rather Oprah-ish and new-agey, but I decided to start a Gratitude Journal.  If I could find five good things about my day, then I decided that, despite everything, I had to call that a good day. They don’t have to be big things.  Here’s a selection from my first month: Saw geese and goslings waddling down the street and failing to stop at the stop sign – just as well there were no cars coming; stunning view of downtown with the Rockies in the distance; great cup of coffee from The Good Earth; my granddaughter gave me a really tight, squeeze the air out of my lungs, hug; Marks and Spencer’s chocolate biscuits, mmmmmm; washed my car inside and out so she now looks new and shiny.

3) KINDNESS:

SELF:  There are times when anger and despair engulf me.  I feel stupid, discarded, and find myself questioning every single decision I have made over 4 decades. Sometimes I am literally breathless from terror, my stomach clenching and legs shaking, and it can hit anywhere – the grocery store, out for a walk, having coffee with friends. As a non-swimmer I can only describe the sensation as standing on the top of a high diving board, with no ladder behind me, and knowing I have to jump into 20 feet of water. It is physical and it is real and I am having to learn to deal with it.

In the past, like most women and mothers, I have put others’ welfare ahead of my own. Now I have to be kind to me.  I must be – mostly – what matters for the next little while.

There are moments when my feelings of betrayal, followed by sheer utter stupidity, are overwhelming. When my husband left me, he wouldn’t tell me why, just that we would be better on our own and that there was no-one else in his life. And I believed him.  Kinda Sorta.  But not really. However, over the past few weeks, the truth has been revealed – and it’s not great. Where I thought I had started to heal, I am back at square one, but it’s been made much worse.  His lies had also started to create a tension between me and my kids as they believed what their father told them. For months I’ve been questioning my life-long relationship with my husband – what has been true in all these years and what hasn’t.  Sadly, now the kids are questioning their relationship with him too. So if there’s one request I have, it’s please – please – may the spouse who chooses to end the marriage put all the cards on the table at the beginning.  When you walk away, you don’t just break up a marriage, you break up a family. It will hurt – dreadfully – but at least the healing for those left behind can start right away if all the facts are known from the start.

THE KIDS:  Last – but very far – from least. It may seem strange that I didn’t mention the kids in my gratitude section.  Of course I’m grateful to them.  From the bottom of my heart.  I’m not sure I could have got through this without them. They have been loving and supportive… but torn. As I said above, when a marriage breaks down, the family is changed forever. For the past 30 odd years, talking with them about their dad was part of every day, normal conversation. Now nothing is normal when his name is brought up. Maybe one day it will be again – but probably not for a long time.

There’s a common perception out there that divorce is harder on young kids than on adult kids, but with the recent explosion of silver splitters or grey divorces, research is suggesting that the opposite is actually true and the experts are only just starting to catch up. So if you are the parent of adult children, I would suggest you read this article from The Huffington Post on Adult Children of Grey Divorce.  While I, as the discarded older spouse, am struggling to find ways to cope with the day-to-day, both practical and emotional, our kids are suffering too. We must remember that even though our hearts have be broken, we are still parents and must learn/remember/try not to cross boundaries with our kids, no matter how much we want to. They are still our children. My kids and myself recently met together with a counsellor and I can’t speak highly enough about the experience.

So these are my thoughts from a few months in.  I know healing will be a long and slow process and I will long grieve the promised and looked forward to future that was ripped from me so suddenly on that Saturday morning in April. But I look around at women who have gone through the same thing and a few lines from a poem by Maya Angelou ring loud in  my head.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
I rise
I rise
I rise.

It’s still the middle of the night for me emotionally – and perhaps you, too – and I’m still afraid for the future. Dawn is not yet anywhere near the horizon. But even after the longest night, the sun rises. Oh yes it does.

So will I.

And so will you.


			

SIGNS

IMG_2048Life has been a bit challenging emotionally for me recently and something happened the other day that had me bawling. You know that kind of crying, where it’s so deep down in your soul you can’t stop till you’re exhausted? All I wanted in that moment was my mum – to be a little girl again, have her put her arms around me and promise me that everything will be all right. But Mum’s been dead for over 12 years, so that’s not possible.

Or is it?

I was babysitting my eldest granddaughter yesterday. She’s the spitting image of photos of my mum as a little girl – same hair, same eyes, same determined personality. She started rummaging through some of my necklaces, immediately zeroed in on one, picked it up and handed it to me. It was my Mum’s gold locket.

I put it on, picked up my granddaughter and gave her a hug. She gave me a big hug right back.

Thanks, Mum.  Love you.

USING THEME TO BRAINSTORM YOUR STORY

Many thanks to those of you who attended my workshop ‘Using Theme To Brainstorm Your Story’ at this year’s When Words Collide Conference in Calgary. Several people asked for a copy of my Powerpoint presentation. I am unable to provide that, but here are the main points of my workshop.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEME AND PREMISE
THEME is what your story is ‘ABOUT’.  It’s the emotional heart of your story. It’s the human emotion of your story which creates an emotional resonance within your reader. The theme of your story can be told in one word.
For example:
Love/Betrayal/Trust/Respect/Change/Survival.

PREMISE is the What If? of your story.  It’s your plot.  It’s what your story is ‘about’.  For example:
This is a story about a businessman who hires a hooker for a week.  (Pretty Woman.)
This is a story about a lawyer who cannot tell a lie for 24 hours. (Liar, Liar.)

JENNIFER KENNING QUOTE
The theme is the coded message that you consciously plan and the audience subconsciously decodes.  The theme should resonate through all of the characters and subplots and be interwoven into the premise and plot. The theme should be present in some form in each scene

Why does your script need a theme?  Because you’ve created this killer premise, but unless there is some emotional logic for the audience (reader) to connect to that premise, the audience (reader) will leave the theatre – (or close your book) – apathetic to what they have just seen or read.

EXAMPLES OF THEMES
Sometimes a good way to illustrate a theme in your story is to contrast it with the opposite. For example:
Betrayal/Loyalty
Poverty/Wealth
Truth/Lies
Resilience/Defeat
Pride/Humility
Sacrifice/Selfishness
Survival/Death
Tradition/Change

SINGLE WORD TITLES
Authors sometimes state their theme in their choice of a single word book title.  Ian McEwan’s Atonement.  Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

ROCKY 
I hate sports films with a passion – especially boxing ones – but I love Rocky and will watch it over and over again. Perhaps it’s because the underlying emotion of respect permeates every single scene in the movie, whether through dialogue, setting or action. Take one of the first scenes in the film – Rocky goes to his locker to find his key no longer works. His belongings have been relegated to the hooks on the wall, commonly known as Skid Row. What a display of lack of respect for Rocky, that is.  Imagine how he feels? His self-respect must be shattered. Apollo Creed also fails to show Rocky respect in a way that will come back to bite him. He thinks little of Rocky’s boxing skills – even waving off one of his trainer’s concerns when his trainer sees Rocky’s preparation for the match – therefore does not train for the fight. By the end of the match, Creed’s attitude has changed.  ‘Ain’t gonna be no rematch’.

Very often you will find that the same recurring theme crops up in your stories because it will be something that is important in your life or your value system.

Back in 1975, Sylvester Stallone was an aspiring actor with dreams of making it big. But he had a lot going against him including a slight paralysis of his mouth which left him mumbling.

Inspired by a boxing match between Mohammed Ali and Chuck Wemper, Stallone wrote the script of Rocky in 3 days. Producers were interested in the script – but not in him. Stallone refused to sell the script unless he played the title character. The film went on to be nominated for 10 Academy Award.  It won two, including Best Film.

In an interview about the Rocky films, Stallone said, ‘Until a man – and this means a woman too – has been through a real baptism of fire, when you are scared, when you are hanging on, when someone’s hurting you – then you are going to see what you are really made of and then you are going to get the only kind of respect in the world that matters and that is self respect. That’s pretty much what my journey has been. This has been about getting Rocky self-respect… and maybe a bit of that will rub off on me.’

THEME BRAINSTORMING TOOL

So how can you use theme as a brainstorming tool? Easy. Grab a piece of paper and draw a cross in the middle.  At the top, write PHYSICAL, and the bottom, EMOTIONAL. On the right hand side of the page, write your THEME, and on the left hand side, write the OPPOSITE of your theme.

Theme scan

 

CASE STUDY – TITANIC

James Cameron said that Titanic was about MAKING EVERY DAY COUNT. I hate to argue with such a successful director, but I’m not sure you can can make every day count unless you have the FREEDOM to do so. So for me, I would say the theme of Titanic is freedom, and it is illustrated by depicting FREEDOM and it’s opposite (ENSLAVEMENT) in dialogue, setting, action scenes etc.

So how can you use the above diagram to brainstorm your story?

In the case of Titanic, take a piece of paper, as above, and write PHYSICAL at the top and EMOTIONAL at the bottom.  On the RHS of the page write (what I believe is) the theme – FREEDOM.  On the LHS of the page, write ENSLAVEMENT.

titani theme cropped

Then you can brainstorm ideas which you think represent Freedom and Enslavement in physical and emotional forms.

I realise the typeface on the above document taken from my Powerpoint – is too small to read (I’m the very opposite of a geek when it comes to tech stuff), but this gives you an idea of what your page should look like. Below I have listed examples from the individual quarters.  (These only a very selected few from my memory of the film.  If you watch it, you will find many – many – more.)

TOP RIGHT HAND SIDE. PHYSICAL EXAMPLES OF FREEDOM:
Rose poses naked for Jack.
Rose cuts Jack’s chains with an axe as the ship sinks.
Molly refuses to be confined by a social convention that insists she wait for a porter to carry her bags, instead deciding to carry them herself. (This is an example of the theme being carried throughout the story via sub-plots and secondary characters.)
Jack’s hair streams in the wind
3rd class is stark but full of life and energy.
Rose dances in steerage.
Rose spits into the wind.
Rose smokes a cigarette in 3rd class.
Rose makes love with Jack.
Iconic scene of Jack and Rose on prow of ship.
On the Carpathia rescue ship – Rose refuses to allow Cal to save her and return her to her old life.
Rose attempts suicide – preferring the release of death to living the life proscribed for her.

BOTTOM RIGHT HAND SIDE – EMOTIONAL EXAMPLES OF FREEDOM
Make each day count.
‘I don’t want your money.’
Rose’s love of impressionist painters who paint what they feel rather than exact depictions of their subject.
‘I remember how the sunlight felt – like I hadn’t felt sun in years.’
Rose says to Cal, ‘I’d rather be Jack’s whore than your wife.’
Rose finally has the freedom to tell her story to her granddaughter and the ship’s crew.

TOP LEFT HAND SIDE – PHYSICAL EXAMPLES OF ENSLAVEMENT
Rose ties her mother into a corset.
Cal puts his hand on Rose’s shoulder and tells her he will be her ‘first and forever’. Rose’s expression is bleak.
Cal beats Rose. She cannot fight back and the maid’s subservient position prevents her from intervening to rescue Rose.
Jack is handcuffed to the ship’s piping.
Rose smokes a cigarette and Cal stubs it out
1st class dogs are taken down to the 3rd class deck to piss and poop – a clear visual of the rigid class structure and people’s roles within the class structure.
People cannot move freely from one deck to another – they are held back behind metal doors.
1st class is exquisite, but there are rules to be followed.
Cal has a safe in his cabin.
Rose places Jack’s photo and the jewel in Cal’s safe and writes, Darling, now you can keep us both locked in your safe.

BOTTOM LEFT HAND SIDE – EMOTIONAL EXAMPLES OF ENSLAVEMENT
Rose: ‘It was the ship of dreams to everyone else. To me it was a slave ship, taking me back to America in chains.
Rose: ‘It was their whole world and I was trapped in it, like an insect in amber.
Everyone believed the ship was ‘unsinkable’ therefore Ismay, Smith and Andrews made fatal decisions. Had they not been ‘trapped’ in their thinking, the ship might have been saved.
Rose on the necklace Cal gave her – ‘After all these years I still feel it closing around my throat like a dog collar.’
Rose: ‘Why can’t I be like you, Jack. Just head out for the horizon when I feel like it.’
The sailors manning the lifeboats are so trapped in the British class system, that they allow themselves to be intimidated by the rich into lowering the lifeboats without filling them, even though there are not enough lifeboats for everyone aboard.

These are only a few examples, but hopefully it gives you an idea how using theme can help you brainstorm your own story.

Shakespeare By The Bow – The Tempest

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

I’ve always found this quote by Shakespeare both inspiring and comforting, so it was wonderful to hear it spoken aloud yesterday evening at Theatre Calgary’s production of The Tempest, performed in an outdoor setting amongst the trees of Prince’s Island Park.

Shakespeare By The Bow – formerly Shakespeare In The Park – is a quarter-of-a-century old Calgary tradition, giving newly graduated drama students the opportunity to practise their skills under the direction of a professional theatre company.

And flex those acting muscles they certainly did last night, with performances that were energetic, funny, thoughtful, considered and assured.

And magical.

IMG_1984

With a female Prospera replacing the traditional male Prospero, the setting was perfect and the costumes inspired. The audience captured all ages. (And species! I spied a few dogs there too.) Many audience members had come prepared with blankets, deck chairs and picnic baskets, while others, cyclists and joggers out for a run, or families out for an evening stroll, stopped to take in the entertainment.

This is the final week for Shakespeare By The Bow  – it ends on Sunday 16th – and I highly recommend taking a trip down to Prince’s Island Park to catch one of their final performances.  Please check out Theatre Calgary’s website for further information.

IT’S A BRAW, BRICHT, MOONLICHT NICHT, THE NICHT.

scottishblogIf I’m being totally honest, there are probably places in Scotland where they really do talk like that.  In fact, many years ago, when visiting Aberdeen, (150 miles from Glasgow where I lived) I struggled to figure out the nationality of the people sitting at the table next to me in the restaurant. Were they Dutch? Scandinavian?  Turns out they were Aberdonians, but with their Doric accents, I could understand very little of what they said.  (Eg Fit like?  –  How are you?)

Writing accents in a novel is tricky. Too much can turn readers off by pulling them out of the story as they try and work out what you’re trying to say. Too little can have a diluting effect as your story could be set anywhere.

As a Scot who’s lived in Canada for many – many – years, here are some common contemporary phrases I notice when I go back to Scotland on holiday. If you’re writing a modern day novel set in Scotland, you might find some of them useful to add a little colour to your setting.

WORDS:
Wee – Scots use this a lot.  Wee monster.  Wait a wee minute.  Wee boy.  It’s a wee way up the road.
Wean – (sound like wane)  A small child.
Rubbish – Garbage/trash.
Hiya! – Hi!  Hello!
Outwith – eg Outwith my control. – Outside (out of) my control.
On your tod – On your own.
Suss out  – Figure out
Uh-huh – yes
Aye – yes
Wheeching along – moving very fast.  eg wheeching along the road
Scooshie cream – Canned whipping cream.
Dead – Very.  eg dead nice
Toilet – Washroom
Bahookie – Butt
Cooker – Stove
Hoover – vacuum.  (I’m going to hoover the carpet)
Messages – groceries.  (I’m going for the messages. I’m just going for the shopping/groceries)
Kirk – church
Chum you – Accompany you.  eg How about I chum you along the road?
Go down the town – Go downtown.

OBSERVATIONS:
irnbrulolliesIrn Bru is Scotland’s soft-drink equivalent to whisky. In fact, I think I’m right in saying that Scotland is the only country in the world where its own homemade soft drink outsells the other ‘big two’ soft drink companies. The adverts claim it’s ‘made from girders’, and I have it on good authority that it’s great for treating a hangover. As you can see, you can also buy Irn Bru in ice lolly/popsicle form. (Check out this classic Irn Bru Commercial and see how many Scottish landmarks you can identify.)

Alcohol is sold in all supermarkets and village stores. The only time it’s not available is on a Sunday morning until 12.30pm – when you should be in church.

Children are usually allowed in lounge bars and pubs – with their parents – until 8pm.

Midgies (Scottish mosquitoes) arrive in May and go right through the summer until August. They are a tiny, but major, irritation and can spoil a holiday if you’re not prepared. To avoid them, stick to the beach, make the most of a windy day, or make sure you’re wearing repellant.

The longest running police drama in the UK was ‘Taggart’, set in Glasgow.

Glasgow Kiss/Glasgow Coma Scale. One leads to the other. A Glasgow Kiss is a vicious headbutt. The Glasgow Coma Scale is the scale used in hospitals worldwide to assess consciousness (or lack of it!) following a head injury.

There’s a (friendly!) rivalry between Scotland’s two major cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Depending on where you’re from, you might say that the best thing about Glasgow is the road to Edinburgh, or…  You can have more fun at a Glasgow funeral than you can at an Edinburgh wedding.

Back in the 18th/19th centuries, Glasgow was a major centre for the international slave/sugar/tobacco trade and was known as the ‘Second City’ of The Empire.

The three major Scottish Banks (Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank) all issue their own banknotes.

The Screen Machine is a truck that brings a mobile cinema to the Scottish Isles and remote Highlands so locals can catch up on the latest films.

Gilmerton Cove

Rightly described as Edinburgh’s Best Kept Secret, Gilmerton Cove is the place to visit if you’re a fan of mysteries. Hidden beneath an unprepossessing cottage on Gilmerton’s main road, historians and archeologists still don’t know for sure when this network of secret passages was built, or even what they were used for.

The entrance to Gilmerton Cove

Discovered almost 300 years ago, George Patterson, the local blacksmith, claimed he had hand carved the tunnels – in which he and his family lived – by himself, over a five-year period.  But could one man, on his own, really carve such an intricate series of ‘rooms’ out of bedrock using simple hand-tools?

cave

    Is that the ghost of a previous occupant at the end of the tunnel… or just a trick of light?

 

 

If so, why dig a well that doesn’t reach water? Why build a forge that has never been used? Were the tunnels really built as a home, or do they harbour older, darker, secrets? Were they used by Covenanters rebelling against the king?  A coven of witches?  A Hellfire Club? Smugglers distilling illegal whisky?

Is this a bed… or a grave?

Is it possible they were built by the Knights Templar as a place of religious reflection?  How about the Romans? It’s up to you to come to your own conclusions.

Who gathered here and why? To study? Pray? Drink?

 

Getting There:  Only twenty minutes from the city centre, Gilmerton Cove can be reached by car or by bus (3, 3A, 29). Guided tours take 45 minutes. Only 12 people are allowed per tour, so booking is essential via Rosslyn Tours.  Telephone: (011-44) 07914 829177

And afterwards, while you’re in the area, consider driving a further ten minutes up the road to explore the mysteries of Rosslyn Chapel.

The Scottish Parliament

I’ve just returned from a (literally) flying 48 hour visit to Edinburgh. The weather was stunning – I even caught a touch of sunburn – and although I’ve lived in Canada for a more than half my life, the trip reinforced how much Scotland holds my heart.

I spent the time with a friend I made many – many – years ago when we were both students at Aberdeen University; she studied Politics and International Relations while I majored in Social and Economic History. Having both lived in Edinburgh at various times in our lives, we felt we knew the city well, but one place neither of us had ever visited was The Scottish Parliament building at the foot of the Royal Mile by Holyrood Palace.

Parliament

The  building itself caused lots of controversy when it was commissioned; designed by a Spanish architect, it ran horrendously over budget.

What were those images of whisky bottles on the walls? we asked the guide.The famous quote by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns came to mind; Whisky and freedom gang th’gither.

‘Aye,’ the guide replied, ‘that’s what everyone thinks, but it’s supposed to signify people looking over the politicians’ shoulders, so they know they’re always being watched.’

whisky bottles

And then we came across a copy of poem, Open The Doors, written by Sottish makar Edwin Morgan for the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 2004. Although it was written specifically for the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament, there are lines in there that every politician around the world- be they local, national or federal – should recite every day before they begin their day’s work.

A Poem by Edwin Morgan
For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004

Open the Doors!

Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!

We have a building which is more than a building.
There is a commerce between inner and outer,
between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world.

Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box?

Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and heavens syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to the cemetery.

But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite and grey granite, seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete blond and smooth as silk – the mix is almost alive – it breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!

Come down the Mile, into the heart of the city, past the kirk of St Giles and the closes and wynds of the noted ghosts of history who drank their claret and fell down the steep tenements stairs into the arms of link-boys but who wrote and talked the starry Enlightenment of their days –

And before them the auld makars who tickled a Scottish king’s ear with melody and ribaldry and frank advice
And when you are there, down there, in the midst of things, not set upon an hill with your nose in the air,

This is where you know your parliament should be And this is where it is, just here.

What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture.
A nest of fearties is what they do not want.

A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want. And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want.

Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or forgotten.

When you convene you will be reconvening, with a sense of not wholly the power, not yet wholly the power, but a good
sense of what was once in the honour of your grasp.
All right. Forget, or don’t forget, the past. Trumpets and robes are fine, but in the present and the future you will need something more.

What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when we do tell you.
We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we
have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.

Edwin Morgan

The Virgin’s Promise/Notes

Many thanks to all of you who turned out to my workshop on Kim Hudson’s book The Virgin’s Promise at the Alberta Romance Writers’ Association yesterday. Because of the snowstorm, a few people who had planned to attend were unable to because of the weather.  So here’s the collection of three blogs I previously wrote on the subject.  I hope you find them useful.  And please go out and buy Kim Hudson’s book.  You won’t regret it!!

INTRODUCTION:

For those of us who’ve been around the writing block for any length of time and read books on the craft, it’s very exciting when you discover a book that takes a completely fresh approach and makes you look at ‘story’ in a whole new way.

imagesWhich is exactly what Kim Hudson does in her book The Virgin’s Promise. Deciding that the twelve steps of The Hero’s Journey didn’t quite work for her, she spent five years researching and watching movies before completing The Virgin’s Promise.

There are three main sections to her book: The difference between Myths and Fairytales; The Twelve Archetypes; The Thirteen Stages of the Virgin’s Journey.

In essence, myths are about self-sacrifice while fairy tales are about self-fulfillment. Myths follow the 12 steps of The Hero’s Journey while fairytales follow the 13 steps of the Virgin’s Journey. But don’t start thinking that one is purely male and the other female. Rocky, that iconic movie of the 70s, follows the virgin’s path, rather than that of the hero.

FAIRYTALES: (The Virgin’s Journey)
Centered on self-worth and self-hood.
They answer the protagonist’s questions: Who do I know myself to be? What do I want to do in the world, separate from what everyone else wants of me?
They can be casual, every day events that take place in the domestic realm.
They are a journey towards psychological independence.
It is a PULL towards a joy that drives the character’s transformation.
They are a journey to SELF-FULLFILMENT

MYTHS: (The Hero’s Journey)
Centre around obligation.
They answer the hero’s question: Could I survive in the greater world or am I to forever cling to the nurturing world of my mother for fear or death.
They are a journey of physical independence.
The hero usually leaves his community or ‘kingdom’
The hero is transformed by a need to conquer fear
They are tales of SELF-SACRIFICE.

THE VIRGIN: (The Virgin’s Journey/fairytale)
Knows her dream.
She brings her dream to life while surrounded by the influences of her ‘Kingdom’.
The obstacle for the virgin is her community.
The virgin is about BEING.
The supporting characters in the virgin’s story are out of balance and grow with her.
The virgin has friends.

THE HERO: (The Hero’s Journey/myth)
Faces mortal danger by leaving his ‘village’ and proving he can exist in the larger world.
The obstacle for the hero is the evil threatening his village/kingdom.
The Hero is about DOING.
The hero has allies and their goal is of mutual interest.

Please click on this LINK to her website. (If it says the link has been taken down, click on the X and – abracadabra – the site will appear!!)

ARCHETYPES

Read different books on archetypes and they might list six, fourteen, twenty-four, or even thirty-nine possible archetypes.

What I love about Kim Hudson’s take on archetypes in her book The Virgin’s Promise, is that she boils it down to twelve (six male, six female) to represent the beginning, middle and end of human life. Each stage of life archetype has its shadow side.

The shadow side may be where the character begins his journey before he transforms. (eg Scrooge the Miser transforms into a Mentor. The Hero initially ‘Refuses the Call’.) The Shadow side is where the character will end up if he/she doesn’t transform. The shadow side can also be portrayed by another character in the story as a warning of what is at stake emotionally if the character fails to transform. Think Marty’s father in Back to the Future at the beginning and then end of the film. He transforms. Biff doesn’t.

THE VIRGIN’S PROMISE / FAIRYTALE THE HERO’S JOURNEY / MYTH
VIRGIN – WHORE
MOTHER /GODDESS – FEMME FATALE
CRONE – HAG
HERO – COWARD
LOVER / KING – TYRANT
MENTOR – MISER

THE VIRGIN’S PROMISE/ FAIRYTALE

VIRGIN: (Not necessarily female. Think Rocky.)
Hers is a journey of self-fulfilment.
Knows what she wants.
Brings her dream to life while surrounded by the influences of her ‘kingdom’.
She is about ‘being’.
Her obstacle is her community.
The Virgin has Friends.

WHORE: (Shadow side)
She is caught in a life that services the needs, values, power and directions of others to her own detriment and neglect.
She sells her soul to conform to the expectations of others.

MOTHER/GODDESS
Enters into a relationship. (Man/woman/parent/child/community.) That union leads to her wholeness.
Knows her power and uses her talents to nurture and inspire.

FEMME FATALE: (Shadow side)
To maintain an imbalance of power, the Femme Fatale will use emotional manipulation. (Think Cersei in Game of Thrones.)
This leads to emasculation, dehumanization and mistrust.

CRONE:
The crone releases her power to leave a positive impact on another.
She often puts the protagonist in a difficult situation where they are challenged to grow and transform.

HAG: (Shadow side)
Diverts the Lover/King from his true destiny into a hopeless union with her. She robs the next generation of its future and spreads dooms.
She cripples people with fear and interferes with their lives. (Think Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons.)

THE HERO’S JOURNEY/MYTH

HERO: (not necessarily male. Think Katniss in The Hunger Games.)
Faces mortal danger by leaving his ‘village’ and proving he can live in a larger world.
His is a journey of self-sacrifice.
He is about ‘doing’.
The obstacle for the hero is evil – usually an evil that threatens his ‘village’.
Hero has allies whose goal is of mutual interest. (Think of the scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz.)

COWARD:
He is so fearful of death that his life occupies a small space.
He fails to explore the world beyond his own village.
He has no confidence he can survive on his own.
Avoids anything that could lead to death or hardship.
(Think a bully or Judas.)

LOVER/KING:
Asserts his will over others (even against their will) to bring integrity, justice and security to the community.
He is challenged to surrender his heart to the feminine.
By allowing love to become central to life (not necessarily a woman – can be a child or friend) he gains a form of immortality. (Think Mr Tom in Goodnight Mr Tom.)

TYRANT:
Seeks to use power for personal gain and is unfeeling towards the feminine. (Not necessarily female.)
He asserts his will physically.

MENTOR:
Can be a philanthropist.
Transfers gifts of wisdom and knowledge to worthy recipients. (Think Obi Wan Kenobi)

MISER: (Shadow side)
Hoards his wealth – real or metaphorical – for himself.
Ignores the effect of his neglect on others. (Think Scrooge.)

THE THIRTEEN STEPS OF THE VIRGIN’S PROMISE:

In this third and final blog installment – The Thirteen Steps of the Virgin’s Promise – taken from Kim Hudson’s book The Virgin’s Promise, I can only offer you a hint – a flavour – of her concepts and ideas.

The thirteen steps Hudson describes are fascinating, all the more so because she compares them with the twelve steps of The Hero’s Journey. And if you read her book (which I highly recommend!) she takes several movies, which follow the Hero’s Journey and others which follow the Virgin’s, and points out each step.

Plus, you know she’s on to something important when Christopher Vogler himself (The Writer’s Journey) says in the forward: This book repeatedly pounds me how much I didn’t know… Many of the terms she uses are compatible with those of the Hero’s Journey and simply emphasize a different shade of meaning in some common signposts. But other elements of her grammar of storytelling are unique, recognizing turning points that don’t have equivalents in the Hero’s Journey language, that are uniquely feminine, or at least reflective of a more inward and emotionally based approach to drama and life.

 THE THIRTEEN STEPS

By Kim Hudson

 ACT ONE:

1) DEPENDENT WORLD: This is often the domestic realm. The people around the virgin are dependent on her or vice-versa. There remains a force within her kingdom – and within her – that keeps her attached to this world.
Material Survival
Social Convention
Protection
Need for Love.

2) PRICE OF CONFORMITY: This is about the suppression of the true self. Even if the virgin knows what she wants, she might not see a way of getting it because she may be:
Sleeping through life.
Living with restrictive boundaries
Living a life of servitude.
Facing psychological danger.

3) OPPORTUNITY TO SHINE: Something happens here that allows the Virgin to reveal her talent, dream or true nature. It can be:
Directed by fate.
Actively pursued.
A wish fulfilled.
A response to someone in need.
The result of a push from the crone.

4) DRESSES THE PART: This can be a fun moment for the audience or reader, but it is NOT a frivolous moment.
She becomes beautiful.
Receives a physical object she begins to use.
Participates in a fashion show and knows her potential.
Undresses (not necessarily physically) to reveal her full potential.

ACT TWO:

5) SECRET WORLD: Once the virgin has had a taste of living her dream and made it a tangible reality, she creates a Secret World in which to experiment and practice in her journey to realize that dream.
Creates her world: This can be a physical place or a state of mind.
Fear of Discovery: What if she’s found out?

6) NO LONGER FITS HER WORLD: She starts to see her dream as a possible reality but it becomes clear she can’t keep juggling the two worlds forever. At this point she may become:
Reckless.
Attract attention.
Declare her task too hard.

7) CAUGHT SHINING: Her two worlds collide and the consequences she feared come to pass.
She grows too big.
Circumstances change.
She is recognized by the dependent world while she’s in her secret world.
Betrayed.

8) GIVES UP WHAT KEPT HER STUCK: This is a MAJOR turning point. As Hudson says so beautifully: ‘Just as a butterfly sheds a drop of blood as it emerges from it cocoon and experiences a period of vulnerability, the virgin must sacrifice some of her past to move into her future.”   

In her Price of Conformity, she had an experience that developed into a complex, burying her pain and creating a belief or pattern of behaviour that keeps her from taking action and claiming her life. 

In this major turning point, she brings that belief or behavior to a conscious level and challenges it. She has lost her dream life and must take the steps necessary to make it reality. This begins with letting something go or of allowing it to die. The usual reasons to remain in the dependent world are:
Fear of Being Hurt.
Fear of Loss of Love.

ACT THREE:

9) KINGDOM IN CHAOS:
The world becomes uncomfortable.
The Kingdom uses its power to bring the virgin back into line.

10) WANDERS IN THE WILDERNESS: It was easy to follow her dream when the dependent world still existed as a fallback position, but it’s a different matter following the dream no matter what the consequences. She finds herself faced with:
Test of Conviction.
Moment of Doubt.

11) CHOOSES HER LIGHT: She trusts herself and pursues her dream whatever happens.
Last stage of transformation.
Introduces her true form to the kingdom.

12) RE-ORDERING/RESCUE: This is when her shadow side is truly banished.
She – and others – see her value.
Reconnects with her kingdom.
The false rescue. (In a false rescue, the Hero will fight for the virgin but only to prove he is brave or to assert his will over another.)
The Test: When the hero fails to value her true nature, the virgin must reject him.
Multiple rescues. There can be multiple rescues, each one testing the virgin.

(In writing a compelling romance, the rescue provides the CRUCIAL obstacle to love. The hero fails to value the virgin in her authentic form due to his:
Immaturity – Ever After
Fear of Commitment – Pretty Woman
Fear of Embarrassment – About a Boy)

13) THE KINGDOM IS BRIGHTER: The virgin has challenged the kingdom and thrown it into chaos. They have accepted her back and made adjustments to accommodate her AUTHENTIC nature or dream and realize the Kingdom is better off for having gone through this experience as it needed change.
Evil has been uncovered and removed.
New life has been injected into the kingdom.
Unconditional love binds the kingdom.

So there you have it – The Virgin’s Promise in thirteen steps. But as I said above, this is just a taste of Kim Hudson’s book. Please check it out, examine the films she talks about and you will see the important differences between the journey of the Hero and that of the Virgin. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In My Father’s Footsteps

1936 copy

My mum and dad in 1936.

I’m a bit of a Luddite, but IF I’ve managed the technology correctly, my book In My Father’s Footsteps will be free on Amazon on December 26th and 27th 2014.

Several years ago, I traced Dad’s footsteps from the village in France, where he was stationed in 1939/40 as a young private in the British Army, to the bloody beaches of Dunkirk. It was one of the most important journeys of my life.

My Dad was born on December 25th, 1914, the first Christmas of the First World War. He would have turned 100 years old this Christmas Day. Sadly he died when I was only twenty-four, so I have now spent more of my life without him than I have with him. He was a lovely man and I still miss him.

If you are interested in reading the book, please click here.

Merry Christmas. Wishing you and your families health and happiness in 2015.

 

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style -Day 12

COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET

It might seem odd that my last ‘favourite’ thing in my Twelve Days of London is a flower market, but you have to remember that, when J and I flew out of Calgary, we left behind temperatures of minus 30C with windchill. To be faced with such colour, and a LEMON tree – an actual real lemon tree – it was a true feast for the eye.

lemon trees

The Columbia Road Flower Market operates every Sunday from 8am until 3-ish. And it doesn’t just sell flowers.  You want a Christmas tree?  They’ve got Christmas trees!

thistles

The street also boasts an eclectic collection of independent shops, art galleries, vintage stores and coffee shops, so if flowers aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of others things to see.  (And it’s only a 10 minute walk from The Geffrye Museum, one of my favourite museums in London.)

lumbio2  indeer