Cheerios: Extract from a Story

I decided to break the news over a bottle of wine; there is no need to be uncivil about these things, after all. Amber, I imagined myself saying, I loved you for twenty two years but I no longer do and I think it would be best for us to go our separate ways. I had quite a good sense of her response – one does not marry for two decades without learning to finish the others’ sentences. There would be tears, accusations and then, finally, a cold and resolute acceptance which would hurt more than her anger.

When she came home that evening, saw the candelight, smelt the perfumed air and saw the wine upon the table, a smile ghosted her lips. Those same lips brushed mine and then she looked me up and down and said,

“So, you’re going to tell me? I am glad you’re finally a man.” She uncorked the wine and poured two glasses. She passed one to me. “But I have to tell you something, too. We can’t have a divorce.” She watched me over the rim of her glass, grey eyes serious. “I’m sorry.”

I blinked. No tears. No accusations. Only a cold and resolute…what, acceptance? No, reprimand. I felt like a schoolchild held back for detention.

“Why?” was all I could manage.

“First, let me ask some questions,” she said. She sat and looked up at me. I found it ridiculous that I towered over her yet her gaze made me feel no bigger than an insect. “My first question is a little cliché but then again, you have caught me a little off guard.”

“It doesn’t seem like it,” I said bitterly.

“I wasn’t expecting the wine,” she explained. “Nice touch. So, forgive me for the cliché – who is she?”

“She?”

“The other woman,”

“There isn’t another woman.”

“No?”

“No.”

She considered, swirling the wine in the glass.

“That’s disappointing.”

“Is there another someone for you?” I remembered her earlier comment and found myself unable to say the word ‘man.’

“You aren’t playing by the rules,” she said and not unkindly either. “Please, let me ask the questions first.”

I raised my hands in defeat and she looked pleased.

“Okay,” she said. “Second question – the exact moment?”

I told her and she laughed, a full-bellied laugh, leaning her elbows against the table top and throwing her head back so that her thick hair pooled about her waist.

“Strange man!” she said. “So I will know not to eat Cheerios in the future!”

She stopped laughing as suddenly as she’d started. “Why no other woman?”

I shrugged. I remembered I still had a glass of wine in my hand and took a sip, avoiding her gaze.

“Is that your final question?” I asked eventually.

“Is that your final answer?” she returned, “Because it is dull and I will not answer yours if so.”

I shrugged again.

“Come on,” she said. “Another woman suggests that you have at least some remnant of passion in your life. I want that for you. You should want that for me also. So?”

“There would be no point,” I admitted. “I’m not after…that.”

“No one would do it better, you mean,” she said gently. “Okay, and now I will tell you why we can’t get divorced. Quite simply, we were never married.”

I stared at my wife, my lips trembling a little. I was ready to burst into laughter at the slightest sign of a joke but she didn’t laugh. I began to hate her for being so serious, for taking this so well, for turning the tables, as it were.

I walked over to the window and looked out. We live in a quiet neighbourhood, a ten minute walk from the seafront. It was dark now, so that you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the horizon began. Streetlights dotted the path up to our road and I stared at them until bright lights danced across my vision.

“Are you going to make me ask?” I said.

“Of course.”

I could almost hear the shrug in her voice.

“What the fuck do you mean never married?” I said.

“Don’t swear at me,” she said, rising and crossing the small distance between us. “You never did, don’t start now.”

I downed the rest of the wine. I couldn’t look at her.

“Oh fuck you Amber.”

“Fuck you back, Nicholas.”

I swiveled. I’d never heard her swear before. She stood close, her eyes like fire and danger emanating from her in waves. She leaned in so close her lips almost brushed mine. She touched a hand to my arm and we stood like that for a moment, dangling on something more fragile than a single strand in a spider’s web.

“I watched you walk down that aisle, didn’t I? I said the vows. I gave you the ring. I kissed you on our wedding day before our family and friends.” My voice was steady but my eyes watered. I couldn’t help it. “How can you tell me we weren’t married?”

To her credit, Amber tells me.

Five Tips for Moving at Your own Pace

I’m 21 years old.

It’s an awesome age, a strange age and a paradoxical age in terms of societal expectations. This is because you are seen as simultaneously young and mature.

I think this paradoxical approach explains the twenty-something’s dilemma regarding what they should have achieved by now.

I bumped into someone I went to high school with the other day. She’s married, got a kid and a stable job already. I hope she will forgive me for using her as a springboard to my thoughts. I know several people my age who are married and with children on the way and I will also not be using any identifying fact in this blog post.

Anyway, I couldn’t help but think how radiant and happy she looked. After we finished a brief chat, my heart was filled with genuine joy. I thought, ‘Wow. She’s so happy! Great for her, doing awesome things with her life!’ and then I walked away.

It then occurred to me that if I told anyone about our chance meeting, I would probably get the familiar response of:

‘Wow! X has a kid? I feel so old now!’

Or:

‘Look at her! Husband and job like a proper adult! And what am I doing with my life? Clubbing and watching Netflix!’

Or:

‘Ugh. She’s putting us all to shame.’

And this thought made me really sad because although I am 100% guilty of comparing myself to other people in other departments, I can confidently say I do not compare myself to others in the ‘life accomplishment’ department.

Granted, I have made similiar comments because I feel that’s what should be said. I then instantly chastise myself for making such comments, even in jest. So here is a PBA (Public Beration Announcement): I’m going to try my hardest not to say any of those silly, self-deprecating things just so I can fit in with what everyone else is saying/feeling.

There’s nothing wrong with saying such things as a joke, but most of the time I can really sense the underlying jealousy behind those words.

But how on earth do you stay happy when you’re single, not satisfied with your job and still enjoy a healthy dose of Netflix marathoning?

Simple. You stay happy!

And okay, if that’s really not helpful, here is how I’ll break it down/what works for me…

 

  1. MAKE YOUR OWN GOALS

Honestly, the number one reason I never feel jealous about life accomplishments is because I’ve made my own short-term and long-term goals. How does this help? Simple. Because my short-term goals do not currently include a 9-5 job in a law environment, nor do they include a husband at twenty-one, nor do they even include travelling the world before I hit 23 (although that would be awesome). So why on earth would I be sad that I’m not currently living that life? So when I see people accomplishing all these amazing things, I am  free to be happy for them, proud of them and even support them. My best friend recently got married. It was such a joyful day for her but guess what? It was a super joyful day for me too! Jealousy is a negative emotion and like it or not, it will cloud your reaction to these events. You can’t be fully proud and supportive of a friend if you secretly wish you have what they do. Nor can you learn from someone if you are jealous of them. But true joy for their situation gives you the benefit of listening to them clearly, free of judgement and self-deprecation. When I see people travelling the world, I am happy and I make a mental note of how they’re doing it because somewhere down the line, that is my goal. But it’s for much later. Make your own goals 🙂

 

  1. RE-EVALUATE YOUR GOALS

Just because you have your own goals doesn’t mean you won’t feel jealous. It’s entirely possible to make goals and then still want what someone else has.  For example, say you have a goal to start your own business and so you are focusing almost exclusively on that. But whilst this is happening, your other friend gets a PhD, or buys a house or moves to another country. Just because you have your own goals doesn’t mean you don’t want these things too, right? So how on earth are you meant to not be jealous?

Well now it’s time to re-evaluate your goals, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Check your values. This might be painful but it’s helpful in the long run. Your jealousy may be the result of working towards the wrong goal. Perhaps after reassessment, you realise that what actually matters more to you than starting a business, is living abroad. Well in that case, adjust your goals and work towards that one instead.  You’re human. You can be flexible. Be honest with yourself – it’s your duty to live up to your expectations. Here’s the thing –you’re going to have to make some sacrifices to make your goal happen. So make sure it’s something worth sacrificing for. Maybe sacrificing getting that postgraduate right now is worth the joy and fulfillment of starting your business. Maybe not crossing the Niagra Falls or living in the Amazon right now is worth the sacrifice of staying home and raising your kids. So acknowledge which sacrifices will have to be made and then chase what you want (not what others want) wholeheartedly. This means that when others accomplish something, you can rest in the confidence that their accomplishment is worth currently sacrificing for what you’re working towards now.

For help with establishing life goals, I recommend: How to Reach Your Life Goals – Peter J. Daniels

Image result for how to reach your life goals peter j daniels pdf

 

  1. TAKE AWAY THE TIME PRESSURE

So, er…twenty-something’s. Here’s a little secret: you’re twenty-somethings! We’re not old, no matter how much we joke about it. So please, can we enjoy life as it is and stop thinking we need to have achieved one billion and one things? I’m not saying to be lazy and to coast through life because hey, life is short. But it’s long enough to truly enjoy if you focus on what you need to get done and not what the world tells you to get done in a very specific time frame. I know someone who dropped out of school, went travelling, published a book about it and is currently living abroad, enjoying life. Flipping yes! I on the other hand, have always lived in the UK, and am about to finish my Masters. Flipping yes! We’re both living our best life right now! What good is it to compare your life?! My path is not only different in direction, but different in time.

 

4. SEPARATE INSPIRATION FROM JEALOUSY 

So what happens if you have the same life goal as someone else, which you projected into the same time frame but said person has accomplished the goal and you haven’t? On one hand, yeah, that sucks. But on the other hand, this is awesome! Why? Because it means your goal can be accomplished! You have physical proof of this before your eyes. Sounds like inspiration to me. It also means that you now have someone to listen to and learn from. And, if you’ve been nice to them (continue reading to find out how this works – dang it, I should’ve written this in order shouldn’t I?) they will probably be glad to help you out. My mother calls this having a ‘teachable spirit’ and she is right. Be inspired by people and ask them how they did things. Inspiration promotes motivation which promotes action, which promotes hard work, which promotes results. Jealousy promotes bitterness.

I also recommend this video by iiSuperwomanii.

 

5.  DO WHAT YOU CAN 

I genuinely think that if you’re so busy working on yourself, you’ll have no time to work on harvesting jealousy. It’s a theory though, so test it out and let me know what you think. A while ago I found myself comparing my weight to someone else who had a six pack. Why oh why wasn’t I exercising as much as them?! But then I realised, hey, I was in a position of getting four hours of sleep a night with constant back to back meetings every day. Not only was time scarce, but so was energy. Could I change that? Uhm…not if I wanted to accomplish what I was working towards in that specific moment! Therefore it was obvious I wasn’t going to be able to schedule in an hour’s workout every day. So instead, I worked on what I could change: i.e. walking up the stairs to meetings, instead of getting the elevator, increasing my steps during my commute, etc. And I felt whole lot better because I knew I was doing what I could do, not what somebody else could do. Same theory applies to our love lives.  During university I wasn’t too bothered by relationships at all, yet when I left I thought I’d try out this whole dating thing as I now had more time. Instead of sitting around complaining that there were ‘no good guys’ I simply bought a book, read up on the dating scene and used it to get from 0 dates a week to at least 3. (I recommend Get the Guy by Matthew Hussey). Personally, I really enjoy and benefit from self-help books. Maybe that’s not your style. Cool. So find the method that works for you. The trick is to do what you can, when you can.

Image result for get the guy matthew hussey

So, I hope this was helpful. I truly believe being happy for others helps you in the long run. Why? Because jealousy is a whole lot more obvious than you think. And someone is a lot more likely to help you out if you’ve genuinely supported them in the past or at least been glad for them. We all know those friends who claim to be happy for us but are secretly seething when we accomplish something.  On the other hand, we hopefully have friends or colleagues who are so happy for us. It’s contagious! Be honest. You’re more likely to feel more favourable to the latter friends, right? So don’t go around pretending to be happy, just be happy. I have a friend who is AMAZING at this. She is constantly overjoyed whenever I achieve something. And guess what? I’ll return the favour! She’s doing it right!

So that’s just how I’m happy in the moment. I hope you are too 🙂  What works for you? Let me know!

GUINNESS

–It’s Welsh.

— It is?

— What is?

— It’s Irish. Obviously.

— Most people think it’s Irish. The man who’s famous for creating it –

— was Irish

— was Irish, right but was actually travelling from Wales to Ireland when he

[SOUND OF A CAMERA SHUTTER]

— Guinness. We’re talking about Guinness?

— he came across a nice little Welsh pub.

— nahh

— it’s a well known fact. Loved the drink so much he asked for the recipe.

Pause. 

bought the recipe and took it with him to Ireland.

— I don’t believe it.

— It’s a well known fact.

— I like real Irish beer. I want to go back to that place that did the free pint. the two pints for the price of one deal

— paddy’s lock

— yeah that one but i want to go with people who don’t like beer so i can get all their free ones. like rich does.

— rich does that?

— yeah he goes around the pub asking people for their spare pints when they don’t drink them

— nutter

— and he just says can i have that pint –

— and they let him/have it

— they let him have it!

Beat 

— what was that place in brighton? they did American shakes kinda thing…

— can’t remember

— it was nice there/wasn’t it?

— really nice

— how long till we’re

— 20 minutes

— home

— no less than that. if we’re…no less than that…10 minutes i’d say

— got your purse?

[SOUND OF A CAMERA SHUTTER]

— reckon the barriers are open

— we could jump the barriers. jump em and see if the police come running after us

— i’ve actually done that before

Beat.

— in paris. with fifty kids. cause we were on the wrong er

— you didnt!

— the wrong er

Laughter. 

— we got the wrong tunnel

— its illegal

— no its not. its ingenuity. resourcefulness.

— listen to her – it’s illegal

— not as illegal as telling fifty kids to jump a barrier so they could see the Louvre

— in paris!

— paris!

— only me

beat.

— we didnt see the Louvre

— anyway, youre the criminal

— me

— yeah

— me

— yeah

— wheres my wallet

— honestly i reckon its…

— yeah but just in case

— …open

— hang on. me? criminal?

— yeah. you. the true criminal.

— what on earth for?!

— for saying its Welsh, duh.

My Favourite Writing Quotes

As I sit here feeling ever so slightly under the weather, I thought it might be nice to inject some positivity/motivation into my surroundings. And fortunately, I can do so from my bed (the joys of the internet) 😉 Here are some of my favourite writing quotes. I hope you find them as encouraging as I do…

  1. You can’t edit a blank page – Jodi Picoult

This is number one for it’s sheer brilliance. Every time one of my friends shares their writing woes with me (from insecurity to plot struggles or just general frustration) I refer them back to this quote. I know, it’s so simple that the pure genius behind this mantra might not resonate yet. Take a moment and let the message permeate you

As writers, we must finish our work because the work will never be any good until we finish it. People procrastinate work (myself included) because they’re scared the finished product won’t be any good or the time it’ll take to refine is too long.

But the time is going to pass anyway.

2. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better – Anne Lamott

Well, it’s true…

3. Don’t tell me the moon is shining – show me the glint of light on broken glass – Chekhov

These words are  moonlight – both illuminating and beautiful. Chekhov doesn’t simply state ‘show don’t tell’ and leave it at that. He shows us just how it’s done.

  1. No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. ~CS Lewis.

I like this because it’s a real reminder to stay HONEST with yourself. This also removes the pressure of having to be original as well as the pressure of trying. Here we are encouraged to just be

  1. Know that the Creator lives and moves and breathes within you. So those dreams? Risk them. Those words? Write them. Those hopes? Believe them. ~Elora Nicole Ramirez

Words are powerful. With words, God spoke creation into being. God loves art and therefore so do you. Never waste love.

6. I find that discussing an idea out loud is often the way to kill it stone dead. –  J.K. Rowling 

I’ve never agreed with anything more. In the age of social media I think it’s so tempting to post every little thing we’re engaged in but as Rowling has said – why kill ideas stone dead?

7. Write with the door closed – rewrite with the door open – Stephen King

Always helpful to be reminded of how to write and edit a book- you know, the fundamental part of authorship.

8. ‘I want to be a writer when I grow up. Am I insane? ‘Yes. Growing up is highly overrated. Just be an author instead’ – Neil Gaiman

INSERT ALL THE CLAPPING EMOJIs. This is great and I think every child should hear it.

9. ‘Be ruthless about protecting writing days’ – J.K. Rowling

You can shut yourself away from the world and focus on your passions. J.K.  Rowling says so.

10. Unless the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter – African proverb 

Let’s tell our stories and our realities.

11. Writing is the best way to talk uninterrupted – Jules Renard 

I remember the first time I read this quote and I felt so…ENGLIGHTENED and INSPIRED and felt the need to write there and then. I hope this quote fills you with the same reminder of the sense of utter freedom that comes with writing.

12. Either write something worth doing or do something worth writing – Benjamin Franklin

Ironically, a great quote about writing tells you to just go outside, ignore writing, and LIVE for a little.

I like (Y)

 

 

So that’s it! Which ones do you like with/disagree with? 🙂 Any I should add to the list? Let me know!

Nikki

x

The strangest reading slump ever aka the war on narrative

This is a cry for help. I am having the weirdest (non) reading slump I’ve ever experienced in my life.

If you don’t know what a reading slump is, it is basically a phase in life where you no longer feel like reading.  You start a book and can’t seem to finish it. A reading slump is ruthless. It can last for months, or if you let it, years. It doesn’t care whether the book is excellent. It seeks…restlessness and anarchy! For an avid reader, reading slumps are annoying/stressful. (I went into a year-long reading slump during my undergrad, which was a bit awkward seeing as I was doing a BA in Creative Writing).

The trick is usually to keep on trying to read, and reading different things. If you usually read YA Fantasy, switch it up to a contemporary romance, or a crime novel, etc. It excites your brain which very often just wants variety.

Since January, I’ve been feeling very apathetic about the books I was reading. They weren’t awful, don’t get me wrong, but they just weren’t holding my attention. I tried to read a variety, but everything just annoyed me. Irrationally even angered me. I had no idea what I liked to read any more, no genre to comfortably slot into, and that scared (and kind of still does scare) me.

And then my friend loaned me a copy of Optic Nerve by Catherine Walsh. And then I began thinking about House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski, and then I began reading more and more books on racial history for my MA and then the nail hit (the pin dropped/insert random maxim here)

I bloody hate narrative.

I am going through the WEIRDEST reading phase whereby I cannot STAND narrative. Who cares about carefully constructed plots? Slaved over characters? Neatly pigeonholed themes? Solutions wrapped and tied up with a nauseating bow?

Not me.

Give me drama, give me despair, but let me think. Or don’t let me think. It’s all the same.

Which is why this is so strange. It’s not a reading slump per se, because I can and do want to read. But it feels like a reading slump because it’s characterised by me looking at 98% of the books on my shelf and thinking “ughhhh” regardless of it’s artistic merit.

Optic Nerve by Catherine Walsh is an epic poem. The words seem randomly jumbled together (and at points, are):

High wide

hand

            understand

away

          ancient gardens

wake up

                happening

Head full of

       immensities

world small

again

expansive

stretchy

 encompassing

 

sketchy

      life

 

But I love this. My brain didn’t have to think – and you know what? It didn’t want to. I enjoyed reading words for words’ sake. Letting the rhythm, and sometimes non rhythm, of the words wash over me, soothe my narrative-tired brain, and allowing me to take in words for nothing more or less than what they are. This poetry book has made me think more deeply about issues than other narrative-based books. I can’t even tell you what it is about, but I can tell you what it made me think about at certain points.

Words in any sort of logical, chronological format are really annoying. Too traditional. NEXT.

It’s so much more interesting and stimulating to have words splashed all over the page, sporadic, interrupted by an “incorrect” use of grammar. Total linguistic anarchic feast for the eyes and the mind and your soul.

I am aware, by the way, that I’m becoming that sort of weird arts enthusiast who walks into an abstract expressionist exhibition and claims to find depth in a blank sheet of paper with a single ink drop on it, but hey, someone’s gotta be that girl.

Also, let’s talk about cultural theory and non-fiction in general. This is so much more interesting than anything else at the moment. I think the reason I’m enjoying reading so much theory at the moment is because

  1. It’s fascinating. So many theories. So much knowledge out there. I’m hungry for it
  2. These non-fiction books aren’t telling me a story and I really appreciate that.

This is very much at odds with what I do as a writer. I love to write fiction. I LOVE creating a narrative. As a writer, I love and appreciate narrative so much. It’s not only my interest but my skill and my passion.

Which is why this is the weirdest reading slump ever. I’m enjoying it but I’m also wary of the fact that I need to be careful and not let this last for a year. I should, as a writer, be reading fiction too!

But then this takes us back to House of Leaves by Danielewski, which I CANNOT wait to finish reading. (I had to place it on the backburner due to being busy) but it’s fiction in a way that won’t annoy me because not only is the story so unique, but it is an example of ERGODIC literature, in which the information is presented in a unique and totally mind-boggling format, making you question your idea of what a novel can and can’t be.

I end this totally ironically sporadic blogpost with a recommendation: Everyone should read House of Leaves. Everyone.

:’)

8 Tips for Creating Semi-Autobiographical Work

I’m currently working on my latest play, For a Black Girl. It’s a semi-autobiographical, semi-verbatim play. In non-theatre jargon, this means I have used dialogue from experiences I’ve encountered in my life, and also dialogue collated from discussions with people I have known. This blog post is all about my experiences of writing and performing in a semi-autobiographical play. So whether you’re working on semi-autobiographical work or not –  hello and welcome to the blog post! Here are 8 things you should consider when making semi-autobiographical work…

  1. Check Your Motives 

Listen, we’ve all had people hurt us in the past. And yes, the story you’re trying to tell may very well centre around the hurt and the people that caused it. But check your motives!  Ask yourself if you really need to mention that ex boyfriend or girlfriend by name. Is it imperative to the narrative that your audience can pinpoint exactly who hurt you in real life, or is it simply imperative to your own frustrations? Yes, it can be highly therapeutic to lash out at figures in our own lives, but you’re writing this for a reason other than revenge, right? (Because revenge comes in many forms and I’m not sure a poetry anthology is quite gonna hack it). What are the wider implications here? What is the message of your play/anthology/novel/film?

By all means, use real life experiences to shape your world. If you have a strife-filled relationship with your father and your work is about abusive fathers and therefore negative filial relationships are evident in your work, then that’s fine. But if you just want to one-up someone, I would advise seriously thinking about why and how (if at all!) this is benefiting your audience. Don’t be fuelled by hatred!

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2. It’s okay to have secrets 

Here’s a crazy suggestion. Unless you’re  fine with everybody knowing the ins and outs of your personal life (if you are then that’s awesome, kudos to you), put LIMITS on what you will or will not reveal. You don’t have to tell people which parts of your work are actually based on you and which parts are fiction. I would even go so far as to suggest that even if you think you’re fine with spilling the metaphorical beans, test yourself first. Reveal secrets to your audience  little by little. If you’re battling an addiction to alcohol, drugs and sex, why not try revealing just one of these addictions? If after your first ‘confession’, you feel emotionally exhausted, paranoid, and downright terrible, this will show you that you’re not yet ready to be so honest about your experiences with everyone. Protecting yourself is key. Yes, art is important but if you’re going to be mentally unstable as a result, your art is going to suffer anyway. And let’s remember that our audiences are not delicate. They can deal with your secrecy. Will they be pissed off? Maybe. Does it matter? Probably not. Nobody has a right to know EVERYTHING.

Here’s an example. We played a game in class last week. Everybody had to stand on one side of the room and say a truth about themselves, such as ‘I love the colour blue’ or ‘I believe in true love’ or ‘I love Beyonce.’ If you agreed with the statement, you stayed standing beside the person who articulated it. If you disagreed, you walked to the other side of the room. After a couple of rounds someone said something along the lines of, ‘I wish I could be having sex right now.’ I confidently walked to the other side. I knew it would be an unpopular opinion but not one person joined me and for a split second I felt a little awkward. Some people in my class were visibly shocked and I felt I owed them an explanation. I could’ve explained it away by saying I’d actually had  sex that morning, or by saying I just didn’t feel like it. Maybe I had a naturally low libido? Maybe I was asexual? Maybe I’d been through some sort of experience that put me off it? Maybe I just didn’t want to? Maybe I was just being controversial for the hell of it? But just as I was about to justify my opinion I realised – actually, no. Why should I? Let them suffer 😉 Let your audience be shocked if they want.  Let them suffer if they want. That’s not on you. Curiosity only killed the cat, not humans.

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3.  Protect Yo’self

In a particularly harrowing scene in my new play, I ended up being much more emotionally fraught than I ever thought I would be. When we finished the run through, my fellow actor turned to me and said, “Should we have safe words?” I think understanding, trust and empathy go a long way, particularly when working with topics very close to home. Be ready to revisit emotions. Be ready to face your inner emotions but also be ready to deal with them externally. Putting yourself in the public eye can be daunting and audiences as a whole are varying in their abilities to be sensitive. In fact, sometimes the public have done nothing wrong but their mere reaction creates heightened emotion.

For example, there are some things I have included in my play that I am no longer hurt by. You may be in a similiar position. Let’s say a person  caused you pain or said a particularly horrible comment (that happily also makes a killer line of dialogue. So considerate, right?). You’ve forgiven the person but it’s dramatically relevant so you include it in your work.  Life goes on. BUT, when certain audiences experience the play, they may be shocked, indignant, and angry on your behalf. You begin to realise: woah, that time my girlfriend called me a ****x@!!** was actually NOT normal. Or, wow, I’ve actually had it tougher than I realised. 

If this happens, take a moment breathe. Revisiting situations can be helpful, but reigniting old pain due to OTHERS’ perceptions (also known as reopening long healed wounds) may not be helpful.

So keep yourself safe and decide BEFOREHAND how you’re going to employ this safety (whether physical or emotional). Do you need safe words? Do you need to debrief every now and again? Do you need to step away from the project once a month? Do it.

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4. Not Everyone Will Get It 

You may be stupidly honest about a particular joyful moment in your life or a particular sad moment. But to an audience, it is ultimately just that: a moment. People may niggle with certain details or straight up disbelieve something which BLATANTLY happened in real life. I remember writing a short story during my university years, in which a character with a well regarded profession said something very offensive to the Black British protagonist. Immediately my creative writing class came alive with cries of:

  • Unrealistic!
  • Inauthentic!
  • [Someone like that] would never say [something like that]
  • The part that didn’t ring true for me was…

I found it very difficult not to laugh because of course, this was the ONE and ONLY part of the story that was literally verbatim. It had happened. It does happen. In fact, my lecturer at the time who is also black was the only one to stand up for me! Remember that other peoples’ experiences may blind them to your own. We walk the world in different ways, which may leave some of your audience like…

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Being easily offended will not serve you well. In fact, I would go so far as to say…

5. Be prepared to be offended 

You’re putting your life (or at least a part of it) on display for everybody to see and critique. Bear in mind some people – emphasis on the *some* – may delight in ripping everything apart. It only takes one scroll through the youtube comments section to be reminded of just how much certain people enjoy spreading mockery and pain. People are going to have a problem with your life and with your experiences. I know. Crazy right? They are, after all, your experiences, not theirs. But nonetheless, you’re putting yourself out there, so be prepared for the worst case scenario of (gasp!) disagreement and/or outright mockery.

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6. Artistic License is Your Friend 

There are pros and cons to using artistic license in semi-autobiographical works. Pros? Well firstly, the form wouldn’t exist without artistic license – it would just be a memoir or an autobiography. Secondly, you’re an artist right? This is where you get to have a bit of creative freedom! The con is that you cannot control what other people think about you. Even if you explicitly say that a particular part of your book/play/whatever, is not about you, people may forever wonder if it really is. Again, this shouldn’t be a problem (see point number 2) unless you care what people think. People like to boldly declare ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks about me!’ but realistically, there’s no shame in it. After all, if your semi-autobiographical performance is all about alcoholism, are you okay with people questioning your own recreational activities? (I think this sort of illogical assumption happens to many artists, regardless of whether their work is pure fiction or based on fact. But with semi-autobiographical work, such assumptions aren’t entirely illogical!)

Following the first read-through of my new play, one of the cast members turned to me and her first question was: “Is this autobiographical?” It isn’t. It’s semi. But people naturally jump to conclusions when they sense parallels between you and your work. Especially if you share certain characteristics with your protagonists – age, sexuality, race, etc. So make artistic license your friend.

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7. BE AWARE OF FORM 

This is similar to artistic license. Don’t be so precious about recounting everything that happened in its exact format. Create work that suits the form!  For example, there are a number of conversations in For a Black Girl which, if I’d transcribed word for word, would make a pretty boring visual and auditory experience for the audience. Just because in real life the conversation began ‘hey how’s it going?’ ‘pretty well, you?’ ‘yeah good thanks’ ‘how’s your mum’? doesn’t mean that all of this needs to exist in your text. BORING. A balance between truth and fiction needs to be reached and you can achieve this by a) skipping to the more interesting parts of the conversation or b) abstracting dialogue & relationships. I.e. Perhaps in real life a random passerby made a comment that you want in the play. However, if it doesn’t suit the theme and atmosphere in the play, can you assign this dialogue to someone else? A friend? A lover? Does it have a similiar vibe? Does it achieve the meaning? I think novelists are pretty adept at doing this, simply because a book is so vast there’s bound to be a whole loada dialogue in there that was gleaned from overheard conversations. But other art forms can use this technique too! Get creative.

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8. Be flexible but don’t forget the original intention

Perhaps the most important. Any work of art is a long and emotional journey. Be prepared to edit, revise and listen. But remember your original intention, always. You’ve done so much hard work – you owe it to yourself.

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So that’s it. Nikki’s 8 tips on creating semi-autobiographical content. Hope this helps! Any more you can think of? Let me know!

My (somewhat unconventional) Motivation in Life

I have a number of motivations in life. I’m a Christian and my main motive in life is trying to run the race that is set before me and to do everything according to God’s will.

I’m an artist and I’m motivated by life and what I see around me, what I consume.

I’m a highly goal-oriented person, so I am motivated by myself.

I enjoy motivation in general, so I am motivated by other people, sermons, self-help books, even instagram pictures!

But another one of my main motivations is somewhat more morbid.  It’s a motivation that people don’t speak of as often. People often say they need more motivation for life, or motivation to study, or motivation to GO FOR SOMETHING THEY WANT IN LIFE, without considering this particular piece of advice.

Here is what I use. Maybe it’ll be helpful for you.

A really popular phrase used to inspire motivation is: “You’ve only got one life,” or, for those of you who are down with the kids of 2014: “You only live once”/YOLO. But let’s take into account the more morbid undercurrent rippling beneath these words, because YOLO can easily be interpreted as:

 

You (yes you) are going to die soon.

 

People my age don’t tend to think about death very much, although I’ve heard your thoughts turn more morbid once you’re in your forties, fifties, sixties and so forth. But isn’t it important to consider now?! I mean, if you’re in your twenties, statistically speaking, you may have less than 80 years to go. So you’ve lived 1/5th of your life already. (Hot damn, there’s a thought). Every time I wonder whether to do something NOW or to put it off until later (or even do it at all) I think, ‘Nikki. How many years do you have left? Just do it.’ Insert Shia LeBeouf meme here…

I don’t mean to say I walk around constantly thinking about death, nor do I believe it helpful to run around frantically worrying that your time is running out. However, death is definitely something I consider when making decisions. One life. One death. THEN YOUR TIME ON EARTH IS OVER. For goodness sake, go CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN, go FINALLY DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE DRAINING YOUR ENERGY, go WRITE THAT BOOK, go DO THE SCARY THING THAT PEOPLE WILL JUDGE YOU FOR (who cares anyway, right? They’re going to die too).

I remember when I was younger, I read a verse in the Bible that basically says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning, than to go to a house of feasting.”  This confused me, particularly as I understood the overarching message of the Bible to be about the GOOD news, about living a life filled with joy through Christ. So why would I want to spend my time mourning? What I now take this to mean is that: Hey, it’s great to consider death. Why? Because hot damn, it’s coming and when it finally does, I hope you danced in the streets, you connected with people, you wore the clothes you wanted to wear, you were kind and you chased your dreams. Ultimately nobody cares what you do, so you may as well do it. And do it to your fullest potential. If you’re going to love someone, then my goodness, adore them. If you’re creating a work of art, then by George, pour everything you’ve got into it.

This is how that verse finishes (I must admit, I’ve just googled it):

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

How amazing is this? To me, it doesn’t seem like the author is saying that it is better to mourn. Rather, it is better not to ignore misery. In essence, when tragic things happen it is better to study them, than to run away because ‘death is the destiny of everyone’. When tragic things happen, we may as well learn from them.

This week it snowed. I watched my UK friends grumble and groan and avoid the snow like it was a white plague from above. I watched my non-UK friends stare at the sky in wonderment, not even feeling the cold because they were so mesmerised by the miracle of frozen water and seeing snow for the first time. The UK people wasted a whole day of their life complaining. (Life is short! Ain’t nobody got time for that) and my non-UK friends cherished the day. I learnt an important lesson.

So yes, it’s great to remember the house of mourning, to remember that life on earth is fleeting. So my message for you today?

Think about death more.