Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reasons to Stay Alive? Mine? My family, my life through music and books.

I have mentioned before that I have suffered depression at various periods in my life. I have now reached the age when my life is somewhat more comfortable and less frenetic, I have gained a wider perspective. I am what I am and know when I am about to enter choppy waters - and I know it can strike at any time - so I can arm myself with the remedies that work for me, be they through medication, sleep, de-cluttering and mindfulness.

Depression affects so many of us but we are all individuals and our own depression varies widely. I read many books about it and have read many  personal accounts. One that resonated a great deal with me was Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton. 

But the most engaging account of this horrid black dog is Matt Haig's brilliant and honest account of his own depression. And no, it's not depressing; it actually had me laughing out loud on many occasions. Matt is a great guy. I love that his book is full, throughout, with huge love for his wife and children.  Everybody should read it, marvel and learn. (Yes, you: I'm talking to those many people who think depressives are whineing selfish miseries.) Matt's depression and the way he has leaned to cope with it does not mirror mine.  Depression is universal, yet individual.. Matt Haig's book reveals a startling fact of which I was not fully aware. It's worse for men. Having said that, it's no picnic for women either but did you realise that, although depression effects more women than men, men are more likely than women to commit suicide?

To me, what depression is not. A black dog. To me it is nothing like as concrete, as clear-cut or so well defined. I like black dogs; the bigger the better. To me, depression descends on me when all motivation, happiness, and interest in people, beautiful places and even a blue sky, oozes from me, rendering me flat, boring, stupid and tearful. I am a total pain in everybody's neck. Put me in Paradise and I would lie there wrapped in my misery blanket, made even more miserable because, at the same time, I ooze guilt. Yet I do not live in a war-zone. I have sufficient money. I am not starving, I have people who care for me etc etc. Am I boring you? Of course I am...

Anyway, touch wood and all that, I am currently in a good place and I can take pleasure in the smallest of things like snowdrops in the rain and being mindful of the taste of coal-smoke in the mist, a grass snake slithering across a path and disappearing into a land drain,and for sheer indulgence, hearing The Chaconne from Bach's Partita in D minor about which Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann:

"On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind. If one doesn't have the greatest violinist around, then it is well the most beautiful pleasure to simply listen to its sound in one's mind."

It was written at a time when Bach's wife had very recently died and yet, it doesn't depress me, it uplifts me. Funnily enough most of my favourite pieces of any music could be throught of as depressing but not for me: Beethoven's Piano Sonata no 29, the Hammerklavier, Schubert's String Quintet, anything by Enya and Bob Dylan, particularly, Mr Tambourine Man. Then there's Leonard Cohen's Suzanne; the most sublime poem in music I have ever heard. 

Going from the absolute sublime Bach to - well not the ridiculous - but taking me back to the early 1970s when the world was my oyster, I was in my early twenties, I was at university in London,   Not only is it youthful and joyous (unlike the Bach which is an outburst of grief) I can't help but want to dance and wave my arms in the air. It brings back vivid memories of maxi-coats and Laura Ashley dresses when I was in love with someone else's boyfriend.  That was a silly crush because, then, I really fell hook, line and sinker for a school-friend of his. - We shall have been married to for 40 years this September! So, it's All Right Now by Yes. 

So I like a wide variety of music but it is books I can never do without. They are my life-blood. Like many of us who write, I am addicted to books - buying them, collecting them, reading or rather, savouring, absorbing or devouring them. Although I am in the throes of re-writing and editing my latest novel, I have found that I am also reading an enormous amount of published books at the moment. I can only think it's because my mind is even more tuned to words. Here's a taster of some I have read, am currently reading or will do soon.

Is it me, or do publishers choose the end of January to deluge us bookaholics with a huge amount? My bank balance, which had only begun to rise again is now plunging back into deficit. I'd better get on and write a novel that might sell... or not.

And finally, finally. Here's a You Tube clip of one of my family, all so dear to me, when he was only 14. How time flies.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

I know it's only , as I write, 16 days into 2016. But, unless another book as stunning as THE OUTRUN by Amy Liptrot comes along and shifts it, I can confidently say that it will remain at the top of my best books of the year.

So what is it? Told in masterful prose, Amy's memoir or (biography so far) is about life on the extremes. In many ways, it parallels the life of many of us today, a totally happy childhood but with an undertone of her father's mental illness and her mother's Christian fundamentalism who later divorced. The parents were not from the Orkney Isles but made it their home and still remain but Amy was born there. Despite her English roots, she is a pure Orcadian.

Childhood becomes adolescence and as most young people do she longed to get away from the restrictions of her childhood that were more extreme than most of us with similar angsts. So when she got away to study and live in London, this girl of the extremes went off piste more spectacularly than most. Her life spiralled out of control spectacularly, soon gripped by the many tentacled beast of alcoholism. Many people fall in the same way but Amy's account of it is harrowing. She loses a man she loves deeply, struggles with homelessness, depending on supporting friends whom she lets down constantly. However, a core of sharp intelligence and sanity makes her attend a local authority addiction programme in East London. It means total abstinence - cold turkey - which she manages to stick to.

Having survived that she emerges, still battered, bruised and vulnerable, she chooses to continue her recovery back on the Orkney Islands. Back home, she begins to build bridged with her still separated parents and re-engage with all aspects of life from studying nature in all its manifestations - from snorkelling, walking, swimming in icy waters, bird-watching, star-gazing and delving into geology, landscape, weather, the Northern Lights, lighthouses, Norse myth and sea vessels and aircraft. You name it; she studies and observes it. Not having alcohol to support her like most of us have even in tolerable amounts, she at first shuns society. She moves from the reactively sociable life on Orkney's main island and spends a winter on the island of Papa Westray, (known to locals as Papay.) She soon begins to realise that her detailed study of all these things - all followed on-line is merely a manifestation of her own kind of mania.

Bit by bit she edges her way back into human contact. The paragraphs where she describes how a companionable young man touched her socked ankle is erotic although it goes no further. It is making connections.

If there is a theme in this wonderful book it is to explore in detail the extremes existence; all emotions from depression and mania; busy crowds and isolation whether it be flocks of birds, pods of porpoises, whales and one appearance of a walrus for a short time. It is about wild mania and the depths of despair. Never have I read a book which can explore the cliché so eloquently - that you can feel more lonely in a crowd than when on ones own.

I could go on...but you will be pleased to hear I won't. This is a book to treasure if you love books about nature at its most extreme. If you think it's cold now here on mainland Britain, then read this book and you'll never think it again. Read this book. Please.

To me, Amy Liptrot's The Outrun is the glittering treasure I picked up when idly beachcombing along the tide-line. And what a find.


As you've probably realised, my blog has been dormant for far too long - well, it's been a long winter.  Although this blog has b...