Thursday, 14 February 2013

Trust me, Wilbur

Mums.  They're never more annoying than when they're right.

For years the woman who pulled me out of a top hat told me to put 'nice things' into my head.  I was chastised for reading thrillers, for watching horror, for listening to Radio 2 at lunchtime.  Perhaps it's a special kind of knowledge that comes with age but I'm beginning to agree.

This review of Phillipa Perry's book How to Stay Sane highlights the importance of narratives to our psychological well-being.  Perry's book alludes to research which reveals a measurable negative impact on people's expectations of violence when they watch more television.  In particular, a quote by E B White, quoted in Maria Popova's article, struck a chord:
[Writers] should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.
Putting the tear-inducing ending of Charlotte's Web to one side, the words and images which we're exposed to have a powerful effect on our private narratives.  Much of the damage will take effect on a sub-conscious level.  As writers and readers we have a choice about how much damage we allow.  As individuals we can choose to feed our minds with bright ideas and kind thoughts.  When we write, whether for personal or professional means, we always have the opportunity to frame our words in a positive light.

I'm not talking about censorship or ignoring anything that scares or saddens us.  Rather, we can choose to re-shape our dark encounters, the late night terrors, by re-imagining them in a more hopeful aspect.  Take performance as an example.  My fear of standing up in front of other people is something I've struggled with for years.  At times I have worked hard, with the help of hypnotherapy at one point, to associate positive images with performing and therefore manage the fear.  But shadows have a way of creeping back in when you stop paying attention.   If we want to keep bouncing we need to tell ourselves the right stories again and again.

This is the short verse which I penned to summarise Unconventional Attitudes at the end of a performance:

Stirring and slinking, subtle and serpentine – stories
Saturate, penetrate, permeate - stories
Drawn into our fibres until when the flesh falls away
And the bones become dust, only stories remain
Opal and turquoise, ruby and sapphire – our tainted filtrations
Irregular, strange and exquisite.

If stories are what will remain of us when we are gone, shouldn't we think about which stories we'll inhabit while we live?  Do we want to fill our heads with horror, with expectations of violence, or would we rather absorb happy fantasies, dwelling on imagined adventures, epic journeys and great loves?  With this in mind, on an intentionally HAPPY Valentine's Day, I intend to share my time with as many loved ones as possible.  In the evening I'll be watching an inspiring woman perform some stories at Blackpool Central Library.  At bedtime I'll write the story of the day in my head and, whatever actually happened, I'll ensure I come out of it thinking 'nice things'.  Thanks Mum x



Standard said...

Did you actually buy a book called 'How to Stay Sane' ?

Love your quote from Unconventional Attitudes. That is a line I wish I had written - cant give higher praise than that. I think I'll steal it for the next time someone asks me why I read books.

Regarding writers lifting people up etc - does this mean I shouldn't be reading 'The Wasp Factory' by Iain Banks at the moment?

vicky ellis said...

I may buy the a gift.

Is Wasp Factory any good? I assume it's 'a little bit dark in places'.

And you can get your grubby mitts off my words (I'm really flattered thanks).

Lisa McFleeca said...

Really interesting read, although the idea of staying sane seems like a far gone dream of yesteryear, particularly when I consider my book and film choices over the last 15 years.

I wonder if aiming for epic adventure and great loves is the best idea however. What if in creating aspirations that end up unfulfilled we create a deep horror?

I had utterly forgotten about Iain Banks. Thanks for the reminder. I may have to use some of my vouchers in Waterstones tomorrow....

Thanks :-)
L x

Ashley R Lister said...

Great post - and I can' empathise with a lot of what you say.

However, I'm just about to settle down to review a couple of books. I shall consider your thoughts (about writing to lift people up) as I dip my pen in poison and explain that the problem with the current title is that it contains too many words and most of them aren't in the right order :-)