The cats woke me this morning. Two pairs of paws thrust inwards under the door pulling it sharply against its frame. Two pairs of hind paws kicking relentlessly on its outerside. The effect was like a drumroll. Even the dog who is now deaf and sleeps at my feet picked it up and for effect, barked loudly in my ear. I awakened from dreams of spotted hyenas racing across the savanna, thankfully they were hyenas and not metamorphoses of myself having just devoured my husband in tandem with my lover. For those who have not read the Joyce Carol Oates story, “Spotted Hyenas: A Romance” take my advice, don’t read it before sleeping. Two months into the new job and I am beginning to get the hang of it, starting to know people and winning some real rather than polite smiles. The speed of work is cranking up and I am wondering how to keep some time for myself to to write, by which I mean free creative writing and not emails, reports, administrative documents lecture notes or research articles. I write every day of my life in the form of lists and bullet points but it is not creative. My plan is to write for a few minutes a day on whatever comes to mind and just let it flow. But the cats are demanding their breakfast, I have lectures to write and I tell myself that it is in those routine processes of everyday life that I can make a difference, I just need to remember that I am human, and keep the hyenas from the door. It’s tough in the food chain, wake up and make breakfast, it’s time to start the day.
I have always been a dreamer. Mind like a butterfly my mother used to say. Flitting from one thing to another. Asking seemingly random questions – in the midst of arithmetic – why do tadpoles become frogs? Why did I ask at that precise point? Perhaps because the commas between the integers looked like tadpoles, and the next lesson, my favourite, would be about nature.
And so I have spent my life thinking about the next thing, or the last thing, or things that connect with other things but not about this thing that I should be concentrating on at this moment in time. My teacher was not happy with the daydreaming. She is depressed, she wrote on my report one year. So everyone tried to make me focus, keep my mind on the task, keep eating until my dinner was finished, keep on with the homework. Eventually and thankfully they gave up. Daydreaming makes life so much more colourful, but I have always tried to switch it off when I find myself squandering away my time, or forget what it is I am supposed to be doing, or what our conversation is about.
It was during a guilty moment, when I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, that Scott Barry Kaufman’s (2011) article snared me and pulled me back into focus. His research found that daydreamers are more creative, and able to keep nightdreaming running while at the same time concentrating [of a fashion] on various tasks. People with this ability are less able to resist distraction, but are able to keep their internal stream of consciousness (dreaming state) running whilst doing relatively complex things. This enables them to make connections between objects, processes, thoughts and tasks that would not be possible if the dreaming state was completely switched off. Creativity therefore seems to rely on the brain’s internal dialogue making connections between normally unrelated things in novel and interesting ways. So the next time you catch me daydreaming, please don’t distract me, I am mentally composing my next masterpiece. If only it could find its way onto a page.
To be absolutely frank, 2014 is a year that I will be glad to put behind me. It was not without its good points, some of which were wonderful. There were two weddings in the family, and it was truly lovely to be able to share the beautiful and happy photographs of those family events as they unfolded over the days before and after the ceremonies, for that, social media plays an enormous role in bringing family together when miles or circumstances otherwise keep us apart. My cousins, the brides, were radiant, their grooms handsome and the photographs so lovely that it almost felt as though we were there together. The joy of those occasions though was sadly overshadowed by the unexpected death of my dear auntie (grannie, mum, great-auntie, wife, sister and friend) to all of us who crowded into the flower-filled crematorium early in the summer. We promised to her that our goodbyes would be a celebration of her life and celebrate we did, for she lived life to the full and enjoyed every minute. It brought us all together but reminded us too of how fragile life is, and how unexpectedly it can come to an end. We will miss her. This year for other reasons was one in which I decided to step off the treadmill or at least slow it down a bit. Apart from a lovely family holiday in beautiful Kefalonia in May, a quick business trip to Bratislava in June, and a visit to our daughter in London, I travelled only between home and work and stopped trying to deal with the 20-30 e-mails that arrive in my inbox every hour. When I can find a way to throw out the feeling of guilt with the junk mail, things will really be on the up. A highlight of the year was a school reunion. After 40 years one of our group of friends arranged for us to get together and surprisingly we did recognise each other after the first smiles broke through the wrinkles and the years fell away. Why did we not do it sooner? The work year was busy of course in an uninspiring, repetitive, mindless kind of way but lightened by a liberal sprinkling of social occasions, food, drink, music and excellent craic with family, friends and colleagues. My daughter’s thoughtful Christmas present of last year triggered an attempted self-reconstruction as a new kind of writer. Tired of hearing me say that I had always wanted to write fiction, she bought me a write-your-first-novel template from Nanowrimo. Inspired, I created several characters between Christmas and the start of 2014 , wrote a number of short scenes but realised that writing a novel in my “spare” time would need more than cutting down on my foreign travel. So I signed up for a creative writing class focussing on the short story instead, deleted the half dozen cringingly bad posts I’d put on this blog since 2011 and started again with some fiction. To all of my friends and family out there who have had my creative writing efforts pushed in-your-face over the last 3 months, I apologise. I hope you may have enjoyed some of it and I promise I will be more subtle in future. I may also experiment with material that is less safe, less pc, and more ballsy, gritty or dark. Raunchy might come later. The writing class is great fun, I’ve met lots of super-creative and talented people and am looking forward to next term. My husband has also been following a course of self-reconstruction, took his motor-bike test and arrived home with a brand-new, clean and shiny set of wheels. Mid-life crisis? No, he is trying to avoid parking charges by losing two wheels, or that’s his creative story! Well 2015 has arrived, let it bring what it will. Happy New Year everyone, let’s hope that the world will become a more peaceful and happier place.