Tag: Thoughts

‘The Road’ (by Cormac McCarthy)

Questions and answers from Masters Degree in Creative Writing

This is perhaps the most stylistically distinct book on the reading list.  The novel’s typical sentence structure is unlike any others in this unit, matching a pared down prose style with an austere, unadorned world.  Yet despite its literary minimalism, it would also be true to say that McCarthy is a lyrical writer.  Do you think McCarthy finds poetry in sparseness? 
I do feel that McCarthy finds a lyricism and poetry in sparseness.  Sections I particularly felt illustrated this include pg 210 “They left the cart in the woods and he checked the rotation of the rounds in the cylinder.  The wooden and the true.  They stood listening.  The smoke stood vertically in the still air.  No sound of any kind.  The leaves were soft from the recent rains and quiet underfoot” (repetition of ‘stood’, concentration on movement and lack of movement – vertical smoke, still air, silence, quiet leaves, rotation, etc).  The sparse sentence – “The wooden and the true” could be interpreted in a great many ways, so the seeming simplicity doesn’t always simplify intended meaning.  Much seems to be more like prose poetry than standard descriptive prose. 
Also, I consider the following to be really endearing writing – “He’d a deck of cards he found in a bureau drawer in a house and the cards were worn and spindled and the two of clubs was missing but still they played sometimes by firelight wrapped in their blankets”.  It has almost a breathless quality, lacking in punctuation, but it is both sparse and lyrical. 
Many of the other novels we’ve looked at employ elaborate prose styles – polysyllabic, hypotactical, linguistically playful – whereas McCarthy uses a pared down and noticeably paratactical style.** Does this make McCarthy’s language any less charged?  Is The Road’s compression and concision in fact more powerful and/or provocative than the contrasting prose styles on this unit?
Pared down writing of a type referred to as ‘paratactical’ is undoubtedly the intentionally selected style for this novel.  According to an article on literarydevices.net, the function of parataxis is that it is “…useful in explaining a rapid sequence of thoughts in poetry and prose.  They could evoke the feelings in a similar way as though they happened at once.  It is a helpful device when describing a setting.  In simple word, parataxis helps the readers to focus on a particular idea, thought setting or emotion.  Also, cultural theorists use it in cultural texts where a series of events are shown side by side”. 
To get inside the mind of a complex person in a complex society (for example, the characters in “Arlington Park”), description and connection are required.  The psychological intensity needs description.  However, in “The Road” the society has been reduced to desperation levels and the human beings equally so.  I feel therefore that the short and snappy prose is both powerful and provocative.  Its lack of description and frippery simply mirrors the world in which the characters all live.  It makes the reader uncomfortable and miserable, and that is how this probably should be.  It also enables the reader to connect with the difficulties of the man and boy, in a way that detailed introspection may not.
Why do you think McCarthy writes in this particular style?  Think especially of the novel’s sentence structure – sentences that often read like individual clauses subtracted from larger sentences, so that something seems to be missing either from the beginning or the end of the sentence.  Does this make the novel’s images seem isolated, or does the prose work by a slow process of accumulation and accretion?  What is the effect of parataxis?
I believe that this style is used intentionally.  The world of the book is fragmented and the prose is too.  To some extent the imagery in the novel is a series of tableaux, but are connected by the isolation and desperation within.  I don’t feel the prose works because of accretion and accumulation but certainly the endless style consistency does add to the numbing effect of the writing.  Perhaps there is some element of accretion owing to the fact that the book does work towards a climax (the death of the man), at which point it ends. 
Can you find any notable uses of simile or metaphor? How does McCarthy use these devices?  Does his minimalistic style lend itself to lyricism, or is a significant effort of modulation required?
The beginning of the book uses these devices when the man is dreaming – “Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls.  Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granite beast”.  Interestingly, the very final paragraph of the book (pg 307) uses these devices – “On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming.  Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back.  Not be made right again.  In the deep glens where they lives all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery” – regarding trout in the streams.   
Regarding the rest of the book, there are far less than might be expected in a book of this length and depth.  I wondered if perhaps this encourages the reader to consider that still in the man’s mind there is a lyricism and appreciation of beauty and coincidence etc, and towards the end, we get this again and feel a little more hopeful – as if we may be looking towards new beginnings and new adventures to be had, etc. 
Parts of the book which do use metaphor etc, tend to refer to thoughts of the past or the future – pg 43 at the waterfall – “He’d stood at such a river once and watched the flash of trout deep in a pool, invisible to see in the teacoloured water except as they turned on their sides to feed.  Reflecting back the sun deep in the darkness like a flash of knives in a cave”. 
The novel has very distinct tones (ominous, forbidding, weighty, almost biblical) and textures (rough, hard, mineral), and uses a consistent palette of greys and shades (ashen, leaden, ‘the gunmetal light’ [p. 4] …) How does McCarthy evoke these qualities, and to what effect?
McCarthy evokes the darkness and misery of the novel not only by the use of stark sentences, but also by the use of stark words – bleak, black, limp, long, cold, grasping, grudging, scared, shuffled, frail.  It just goes on and on.  The first time I read this book I was completely unable to finish it as I was very vulnerable at the time.  Finishing it this time, feeling stronger, I nevertheless did find the tone of the writing to be biblical in its inevitable apocalyptic portrayal and the ultra down-at-heel nature of the characters.  There were no kings in their towers, and no slaves etc.  Each person is as miserable and scared of each other as the next.  Also as one example, there were many little things – like when the man goes through a house and finds an apple on the ground outside. Pg 127 “He’d stepped on something.  He took a step back and knelt and parted the grass with his hands.  It was an apple.  He picked it up and held it to the light…”.  There is an air of miracle and of the parting of the red sea: the apple symbolises the purity of fresh food (now dried and withered) and the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. 
The novel isn’t broken down into chapters, but is instead made up of short blocks of text.  Why do you think McCarthy has chosen to structure his narrative like this?  And what affect does this have on you as a reader?  How does it affect narrative qualities like pace and suspense?  Does it add or remove a sense of scale (e.g. a sense of the relative importance or impact of specific moments)? Does it make it harder for the writer to modulate between different moods, emotions, experiences, different levels of significance?
There is no end and no real beginning to the story.  The short blocks of text give us a feel of a lack of structure to days and to lives, and to the grim monotony of their daily misery. 
I am not sure if pace and suspense are altered as a result of the block rather than the use of chapters etc.
Perhaps it does make it harder to discern the different moods, levels, emotions, significance etc.  But I actually think that the sameness of absolutely everything makes even small real events stand out a little more. 
How does McCarthy use dialogue?  What effect does containing snatches of dialogue in short isolated sections have?
Dialogue is presented as part of the prose, with no defining punctuation.  Unlike “NW” and “Arlington Park”’s treatment of dialogue, I did not find the unusual treatment in “The Road” to be pretentious and irritating.  I actually found it to be the absolute best option. 
Using the short dialogue sections does make things interesting.  It makes the reader feel that silence is the status quo and conversation of any kind is exceptional so therefore deserves its own section.
Why the removal of some punctuation (particularly in words like ‘cant’, ‘didn’t’ etc)?  And what is the effect of removing speech marks?
The effect of removing speech marks almost seems to be a depersonalisation of the humans, and mixes their utterances with standard prose.  The people are as much a part of the desolate scenery as the deserted houses landscape is. 
I suspect that punctuation was removed in order to make the reader more aware of the sliding effect of the misery – in other words, all senses of grammar and punctuation is lost because civilisation is also lost. 
How do thoughts of the man’s past life filter through into the present?
They tend to filter through regretfully as dreams, more than as positive reflections. 
How does McCarthy fill us in on the past, on both a cosmic scale (e.g. what has happened to the earth) and a local scale (the past life of the man and the boy)?  Is the narrative method oblique or direct?  What role does mystery play in the novel?
There is a lot of unclearness regarding what has actually happened to the earth and the people on it.  The mystery element is actually beneficial to the way the story plays out.  We don’t need to know about the people and the places and what happened.  We just need to know that it did.  We also need to know that everything, even the earth, has lost its identity and the oblique narrative expresses this well. 
How does McCarthy frame the book’s philosophy, ideas, symbolism?  Is there profundity in the novel, or is it too strained/forced? Does the narrative slip into allegory at all (e.g. the boy and the man stand for something larger)?  (The section pp. 178-85 listed in the close-readings below is worth looking at in these respects. Is this a parable?  A fable?  Or just a story?)
I don’t feel that the profundity of the novel is strained and forced.  Yes, I believe that the boy and man do stand for something larger – but they don’t need to.  They stand on their own as characters.   The quote on pg 179 is interesting “People were always getting ready for tomorrow.  I didn’t believe in that.  Tomorrow wasn’t getting ready for them.  It didn’t even know they were there”. 
Who says this on p. 209: ‘Do you think that your fathers are watching?  That they weigh you in their ledgerbook?  Against what?  There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground.’ ? And the section on pp. 279-80 beginning ‘He got up and walked out to the road’ to ‘To seal my mouth with dirt’; and the novel’s final paragraph? What is happening to the voice in these moments?
My first assumption was that the man had been responsible for the quote about fathers watching.  My afterthought was that it could have been the narrator breaking through. 
In these sections, the novel becomes more allegorical and more fantastical.  It is harking back to better times and looking forward to better times – temporarily removing the characters from the misery. 
How is time treated?  Think of the many painful moments that last and linger, and then how suddenly a series of days will simply pass in a clause (‘In three days they came to a small port town’ p. 280); or how the harrowing thought of the boy unable to leave his dead father is stated with no ornament (‘He stayed three days’ 301).
Time is treated as a fluid entity that is almost incidental.In a place where there is no reliance on jobs, on punctuality, or keeping appointments etc, the time itself is not necessary to be considered.So, the boy staying with his dead father for three days indicates that’s the time it took him to deal with it, rather than some arbitrary boundary that needs to be bidden.
**(Parataxis is when sentences and/or clauses are kept short and declarative, usually orchestrated by coordinating conjunctions [most commonly ‘and’] rather than subordinating conjunctions [‘therefore’, ‘because’, ‘so that’, ‘which…’, ‘perhaps’ etc].  Hypotaxis occurs in more complex sentences, often made up of multiple clauses which use subordinating conjunctions and qualifications.  Henry James’ writing is a prime example of the hypotactical style, and Ernest Hemingway’s of the paratactical.)

#cormac #cormacmccarthy #desolation #dystopia #review #theroad #thoughts

‘The Year of the Runaways’ (by Sunjeev Sahota)

Questions relating to Masters Degree exercise

Sahota’s novel is perhaps less stylistically innovative than some of the other novels we’ve read on the unit. How did you respond to his prose style? How would you characterise it (what key features would you identify)? Does ‘stylistic innovation’ matter to you as a reader?

The prose style is basic but I do view it as a kind of positive in this book.The ways Sahota writes does enable clarity and reduces the ambiguity we’ve seen in many of the other course novels, though I have to agree with certain reviewers who have described it as workmanlike, pedestrian and overly simplistic. The reader can tell who is speaking and won’t need to re-read sentences in order to make sense of them.It is a good job really, as there is already potential for confusion with the lack of clear characterisation and the use of Punjabi.I do find that when a book is complex of plot, or when the characters and places are words you aren’t familiar with, then I, as a reader, do appreciate a simpler format and style.
Stylistic innovation matters little to me when I am reading.What matters more is that the story is well told and effectively written, whether this is in flowery descriptive prose or in short, terse tag lines.Provided the style matches the material rather than overwhelms it, all styles have their plus points.
The Year of the Runaways follows four main characters – Randeep, Avtar, Tochi, and Narinder – through the use of discrete narrative sections. In this regard it might be compared to other novels on the unit, such as NW, Arlington Park, and The Heart Goes Last.
In terms of stranding, what differences or similarities can you see between Runaways and these other novels? Do you feel that Sahota’s approach has any significant advantages or disadvantages in relation to the others?What effects does Sahota’s approach to stranding have upon the way we interpret the novel’s characters? As in most of the other books we’ve looked at, plot and action aren’t always entirely clearly drawn. Clear stranding therefore does help, as does the revealing of character history. Did you find the novel more ‘readable’ as a result of this approach?
I am not sure that I find this novel overly readable.I like the style and structure but the lack of book’s length and its clarity regarding the characters did cause problems for me.One Goodreads review says “it’s as if Sahota has decided that realism demands minute attention to detail, no matter how uninteresting the detail. Yes, the lives of the young men are a grind, often boring, repetitive and exhausting, but the detailing of it puts a serious drag on the book’s momentum”.
The novel utilises third-person narration. As we have discussed in previous sessions, point of view has a fundamental effect upon the meanings generated by a novel. How would the novel have changed had Sahota opted to use the first person for each character?
The use of first person would have given the stories a more personal feel, and this wouldn’t have necessarily allowed us to view the characters in the same way.We’d be much more subjective rather than objective.Also, the novel seems to have been built on the external lives of the characters rather than the internal dialogues which are inevitable as a result of the use of first person.
The first chapter – ‘Arrivals’ – introduces the novel’s four main characters before focussing upon each on in turn. How successful do you feel this opening is? What kinds of expectations does it establish for the reader? How does it ‘frame’ the subsequent story?
I quite enjoyed the opening to this book, though it wasn’t always clear who everyone was.I found it gave a strong sense of how the young men lived and how seedy their lives had become.Yes, it does ‘frame’ the story by rooting its beginning in a time and place, but the reader doesn’t get a clear sense of who the story is about.What I found interesting was the acceptance mixed in with the conflicting interests, the religion and the secular society, loyalty and reasons for being where they were.The beginning of the book gave the reader a window into the kinds of people, the seedy locations, the overcrowding and some of the generalised anxiety involved.
Are the strands given equal weight in terms of length? Did you feel each character was equally well served?
Each of the strands is substantial enough to work as its own, but none of the stories would be enough to keep my interest.I do feel that a novel should be more than a group of interconnected stories, and I don’t think this novel succeeded.I can’t clarify about what element should tie them together, and on the surface it does appear that there are very clear connections between the characters, but to me, it seemed it was only their proximity and their lives.Psychological links are what I want, and I didn’t really get them here.
Narinder is the only character who hasn’t been completely squashed by the way they are all living, perhaps because she’s a local and understands the country’s systems a little better?Who knows?
I also wasn’t sure that any of the main characters were actually fully rounded – perhaps this is what stopped my feeling the links between them.Narinder is the most likeable because of her sacrifice but all the characters have sacrificed themselves quite large extents.All have suffered and all were important to the story’s flow.
How successfully does the novel deal with time (for example, you might think about the sections which employ analepsis, and the ‘present’ of the year in the title)?
It is hard to get into the world of this novel and to comprehend how these young immigrants must be living.We hear about what goes on but don’t get much feedback on how they feel about it.The novel takes place over a year and cover how life treats the main protagonists during that time.During the story, much is mentioned of their pasts, and this use of analepsis is necessary in order to get some sense of what the characters are background-wise in comparison with where they find themselves at the time of the novel’s writing. I don’t feel that the novel dealt with time all that clearly owing to the characters’ lack of inner lives. Though the majority of the novel’s narration and dialogue is in English, Sahota uses a great deal of Punjabi dialect throughout. Some of that usage is accompanied by clarification: ‘Not far from the train station he stopped outside a theka, a liquor store’ (41), or ‘“Vo he tho hai mera naam,” Kishen finished. A schoolyard phrase, about their names being all they owned’ (58). However, the majority of dialect is not defined: ‘So, even in England she wore a kesri. A domed deep-green one that matched her salwar kameez’ (3), or ‘Three days after Navratri, the rains came, blasting the red earth.’ (59)
How did you respond to the frequent use of Indian dialects in the novel? What sorts of effects does it generate? How does it position the (non-Punjabi-speaking) reader?
The frequent use of Indian dialogues can be dealt with in a number of ways.The reader can sit in front of a computer or dictionary and look up each unknown word, as I did when I first began reading this book.However, after a little while this impedes the flow of the book.It gives the effect of making the non-Punjabi speaking reader feel more of an alien, perhaps this being intended because the characters are all aliens in a foreign place too.I quite enjoy the frequent use of Punjabi words, but found the three male characters’ names and characters to not be well defined enough, so I got mixed up almost all the way through the book!A Goodreads review puts it very well- “
Given the presentation of his characters’ speech and thought into English, is Sahota’s use of Indian dialects necessary, in your opinion?
Because there is little interior life for any of this book’s characters, the story is all about who does what – and when.It is left to the reader to work out how the characters are feeling, emotionally.In some ways this makes the reader feel that the characters are more helpless and this draws us in a little into their lives with a sense of curiosity.Few comments are made by the characters regarding how bad their lives are, though they clearly live pretty unpleasant lives.It is my feeling that the static nature of the characters only really comes to life when the Punjabi words give them a sense of racial identity.
In a more general sense, how do these two types of usage (defined and undefined) position the reader, respectively? Is one approach more successful than the other, in your opinion? Might either approach work well, depending on the novel?
When the usage is defined, the writer is assuming that the reader is not a Punjabi speaker or familiar with the details of these lives.This puts the reader in a position of being an informed alien.When the usage is not defined, it gives another alien sense.It’s like being at a meeting where everyone else has a clear understanding of the agenda, specific business-related acronyms etc, and you are lost in a sea of strange language.You struggle on as well as you can but are always looking for clues to make sense of the situation.This book’s approach, using both defined and undefined, does actually work.It is one of the stronger elements of the novel.
Similarly, how important is it for the reader to have a grasp of the contexts of the novel – the Indian caste system, Hindu nationalist violence, the Sikh religion? Does the novel assume that the reader already possesses such knowledge, or does it impart it? How relatable did you find the story and its characters?
It isn’t important to have a grasp of all the contexts, though I think it is vital to realise that when the people come to another country, it isn’t all about economics – it is about family honour, politics, class, and so many other things.If a reader had no idea,then the background writing of India does give some background.Even if we don’t fully understand, we can appreciate some of what these desperate characters may be going through. There is a lot of veiled sociological criticism but, as a Goodreads review reads – “…
We have discussed the language of place and setting in relation to other novels on the unit (most notably Arlington Park and The Road). Think about the way in which India and England are described in The Year of the Runaways. Are these settings adequately distinguished or individualised, in your opinion?
Having never been to India I cannot speak from person experience, but I do feel that the setting is quite well described.I felt about the setting much as I did with that described in “Time for a Tiger”. “The Road” has a strong sense of place, though the details of place are more sordid and person-specific, rather than area-specific.“Arlington Park” uses a location built around a sense of middle class superiority yet simultaneous lack of satisfaction.The settings described by Sahota are specific and vibrant (in the case of India), but damp, drab and unfriendly (in the case of England).What the book lacks regarding character differentiation, it makes up for with the setting differentiation.
How does the novel explore the relationship between the ‘runaways’ and England? How ‘complete’ a picture of the country and its people does the novel offer?
The three male ‘runaways’ have little or no relationship with the country or society of England.Their existence within England seems to have been forced upon them by circumstance, and have become entirely an economic transaction, there being little or no inter-racial integration.This must be intentional, for how on earth could the workers be so exploited if their friend groups were able to defend them and give them a sense of contrast with the outside world of non-immigrant working people in England.Because of this, I didn’t feel there was a detailed or evocative image of England written.England was a backdrop for squalor, as was India, and, though there were clear differences between the European and Asian scene settings, I didn’t get a clear sense of place for the writing about England (though I did for India).Narinder, the only female runaway, was the only one to originate in the UK.She spent time alone, on public transport, at temple and community centre etc.She was able to do this, being a legitimate UK citizen.So, although she still spent much of her time within her own community, she did have more of a historical and current relationship with the country than the others did.
How did you respond to the end of the novel? Did it provide a satisfying pay-off?
Although I generally enjoyed the book’s simple prose, the use of Punjabi and the feel of the novel, I didn’t really feel the plot was satisfying, particularly the ending.  The only main female character seemed inserted into the action.  A man needed a visa wife, and in came Narinder.  Though her character was the most likeable and had the most convincing psychological status, she was required to give legitimacy to her husband but her story was very much too short, especially considering it was one of the major pivots for the whole book.  This was a book which was too long, disconnecting, and which lost my interest very quickly.  Like Narinder, the epilogue seemed added on as an afterthought and as a result it was unsatisfying.  I would have preferred the story to end inconclusively, possibly with the threat of deportations and the promise of a good job giving the reader something to consider about the characters’ future, rather than the reader being presented with a future of little interest. 

#india #punjabi #review #sunjeevsahota #theyearoftherunaways #thoughts

Migraine Breaks all the Rules

My eyes cling to the inside of their sockets with gritty and excruciating agonies, as my fingertips tentatively probe pulsing temples and press, release, press, release…

Close eyes, open eyes, close eyes, open eyes, as the icepack shocks against my flaming forehead.

I wonder at what point I might succumb to this pressure. Might weaken for good. Might transform into nothing more than the physical manifestation of a migraine. Another being.

A grey mass appears within my peripheral vision, and moves closer. Each action of this blurred shape makes me wince.

A cat. My cat. It makes a sound – a high-pitched yowling – and my foot automatically kicks out to make it stop. My cat cries and scurries off, its footfalls thudding vibrations throughout my frame. Later I’ll feel sorry, but for now, no.  I am suffering the self-obsession of the unwell. 

Blue light. White light. Speckled orange clusters. I beg for my vision to normalise. I beg whoever or whatever is out there to take away this feeling and to take me back to my ordinary self. 

My lids close. But it’s no relief. I’m painfully aware that my eyes still see, though their curtains to the world are drawn. Speckles of light. Blotches of light. Lightning flashes of agony.

I lay my head, as gently as I am able, onto my pillow. It has already been scented with a lilac night time spray. It is supposed to prevent headaches, or heal them as you sleep, but now the smell is stifling. I can’t bear it.

I carry my soon-to-explode skull tentatively to another unscented pillow, and as it lays itself down, the pressure behind my dulled orbs threatens to pop like a boil of badness.

Neck pain. Nose pain. Cheek pain. Socket pain.

Shoulder pain. Back pain. Chest pain. Fingernail pain. Ear pain.

Scalp pain.

Hair pain.

Each and every follicle pain.

A dull, heavy ache in my heart pain.

The ‘wearing my soul in a crash helmet’ pain.

The ‘wish it was all over’ pain.

The ‘floating above it all’ pain.

The ‘ceiling hovering’ pain.

The ‘wait and see’ pain.


My favourite piece of creepy art

Look at this picture. I mean, just look at it! 
It’s a little girl with tiny doll-like hands (or Donald Trump-like hands). She’s wearing a huge white bonnet, and what seem like multiple layers of smocks.
But it isn’t an image I’ve picked up randomly on the internet. I found it (the real painting) but then I let it go.
Two years ago, I was wandering round the lower sales floor of Bygone Times in Eccleston (Chorley, Lancs). It is a huge complex full of collectables and antiques and generally wonderful stuff, as well as  the usual tat (because one person’s tat is another person’s treasure!).
Tracy, and I were wandering about, looking AT the usual stuff, and looking FOR the usual stuff.
Doubtless we were also wondering how much longer we could wait before we legitimately mentioned to the other that perhaps it might be lunchtime…
And we encountered a portrait. There are huge numbers of portraits in Bygone Times, but this was not like any other I’d ever seen there.
Actually, I’ve seen a great many portraits in a great many art galleries, and this one was undoubtedly unique to my eyes.
As I often do when I encounter something amazing and more than a little bit odd, I decided to take a photo. 
But the photo proved to be inadequate for my needs. 
Why, oh why, didn’t I take the painting home with me instead of its electronic image?
I should have bitten the bullet and put it under my arm instead of just wracking my brains trying to justify bringing it home and making a space for it on my already far-too-busy walls.
It isn’t just because the picture itself is so compelling that I can’t stop looking at it. I’ve more practical reasons for wishing I’d picked it up.
I’d love to use this image as a book cover for ‘Can’t Sleep, Won’t Sleep, vol 5’ (a book of short stories).
That’s why I’m asking for help to identify this amazing and unusual image.
Does anyone recognise the painting or the style?
Was it on your stall at Bygone Times?
Did anyone purchase it? (Go on, you can admit it to me – I love it too!)
Has anyone seen it hanging eerily on the wall of a house?
Or has it perhaps been homed in a skip, having brought horror and havoc to all who associate with it?
Seriously though, if anyone knows even the smallest thing about it, please email me on scottmartinproductions@gmail.com.
Excited rant OVER – thanks for reading!

#creepy #art #can’tsleepwon’tsleep #bygonetimes #chorley #creepy #donaldtrump #eccleston #eerie #littlegirl #lunch #painting #thoughts

Christmas Card Rhymes

I was asked to put together a few very simple Christmas card rhymes – with a Christian rather than a secular feel. These were what I came up with. Feel free to use them on your own Christmas cards, but do credit me!

This card is sent

This card is sent with tidings
True strength and joy it brings.
For there was born a Saviour,
For there was born a King.

Could he be my Saviour?
Could he be yours too?
The crying baby born that day
Would grow to speak the Truth.

Could he be my Saviour?
That boy, God’s gifted son?
Yes – on that day, a boy was born
Who would save everyone.

No room at the inn

No room at the inn,
But the stable was free.
The first home of a boy
Who would soon die for me.

No room at the inn,
But God’s house isn’t there.
So where is God’s house?
It is everywhere.

No room at the inn,
But my heart has room free.
And there’s room in the Church.
Both for you and for me.

A stabled lamb

An angel speaks
To shepherds, awed.
“A boy will come.
Your God. Your Lord.”

A stabled lamb.
A newborn boy.
Three wise men visit
Full of joy.

The son of God.
He has arrived.
To influence
So many lives.

A mother’s pride,
A father’s love.
A precious gift
From God above.

More than

More than – a baby born.
More than – a prophecy.
More than – God’s child on earth
More than – what eyes can see.

Love – how we live our lives.
Love – how we spend our days.
Love – how we talk to God.
Love – how we learn to pray.

The Day my Life Changed

When the nurse came into the room and told me – ‘I’m so sorry, Lesley, but it’s time to consider your choice of funeral director’.  That was when my life changed. 

Until that point, the prospect of losing my dad had always been at the back of my mind, as a cruel threat.  Like when we were in Anglesey together and he fell asleep in the holiday cottage. It was the year after the death of my mum, or perhaps two years after. However long it was, his grief was still excruciating, and numb-able only by alcohol and company.  I’d been putting the children to bed and returned to our huge holiday home living room.  Dad’s position (head fully back, almost at a right angle to his body, mouth wide open, eyes closed, skin grey) shocked me the second I saw him.  I edged towards him, calling his name.  My hands shook as I reached out to shake him. He woke.  Oh my god, he woke.  He was alright, just deep asleep. 

And there were times when his drinking was out of control.  His first introduction to my new boyfriend was when I had to call him to help me pull my dad up from the kitchen floor.  Again, it was in the early days after mum’s death.  Again, there was the involvement of the numbing power of drink.  My boyfriend was nonplussed – he’d told me many a time that his entire early life had revolved around over-drinking.  He was accustomed to scooping up people.

So, I’d been worried about my dad before, and been there to help him out, but I’d never been told that he was dead… 

I barely had a chance to respond.  I’d been talking to dad in the cardio ward, holding his hand and having a giggle.  The nurses were extremely concerned about dad’s blood pressure, heart rate, potassium levels etc.  He’d gone into hospital because he’d felt dizzy and fallen in the kitchen.  He thought he’d broken a rib.  But when he arrived they realised his fall was likely due to a mild heart attack.

He’d broken into a far more major heart attack when I was with him.  I was encouraged to leave the room as they began to resuscitate him.  I was led, gently and compassionately, to the Family Room and remained there alone, for 30 minutes.  During this time I tried to dad’s partner and other family members.

The door opened.  ‘I’m so sorry, Lesley, but it’s time to consider your choice of funeral director.’  She told me they couldn’t bring him round. 
They’d been working on him for half an hour, with no response.   He was gone.  And, within a few moments of me hearing her words, and staring at her in disbelief, there was another knock on the Family Room’s door.  ‘We tried one last time.  We got him.  Your dad’s back.  34 minutes, and we got him back.’  Or words to that effect.

I was a mess.  And that feeling lasted for another fourteen months, till I received the news, on Brexit election day, that my dad would not survive from a terrible heart infection which had led to pneumonia, chest infection, liver failure, kidney failure.  The doctors had done what they could, but it was now all about end of life care.  And the following morning, I received a 5am phone call from Wythenshawe hospital advising me to come down.   I told them I would be with them as soon as I had dropped the kids at school.  But there was something in their voices I didn’t quite understand.  I wanted to ask if he was dying, but I knew they weren’t able to tell me.  I said I’d be there as soon as I could.  I roused the kids and told them I had to go to hospital and they had to come with me.  Within a few hours, dad was gone.  A heavily pregnant nurse who’d cared for dad wept almost as much as I did at his leaving us.

Special moments.  I was glad I was there for him, as he had always been there for me.  But I also wish I hadn’t been there.  Because as we approach the 2 year anniversary of losing my dad, I know that every time I think of this story, I will cry.  Because these are defining moments, not in the life of my dad, but in the death of my dad.  Things are still too raw for me to be able to confine these to the back of my mind for now, to be pulled out in quiet moments of contemplation.  Soon, I shall only dwell on his life: on his funny but infuriating IT support calls; on his insistent generosity; on his 2 digit text messages – OK; on his cheeky smile; his silly dancing; on the way he walked with hands behind his back; on his sports jackets and his explosive laughs at the most mundane of mainstream comedy.  He was one in a million, and I was lucky to call him my dad.

Narcissist in our Midst

The narcissist considers herself to be intelligent, complex, analytical, logic-based, and something of an enigma. 

To the stranger she seems strong, secure and in tune with her own needs, and she loves to exploit that, but the reality is that her character is underdeveloped, pitiful and weak. It’s a weakness which seems strong – she energises when required to fight, she seeks a battle which will enable him to (over and over again) establish what she feels is his superiority over the remainder of the human race – the fools and the decent, responsible people who (by and large) willingly comply with what is required for a smoothly-run society. 

But the fools’ general acceptance, our general acceptance, is what keeps the world running.  Narcissists mistrust that.  Perhaps they outwardly demand political change and overhaul, but once again they’re often hiding their own truth behind a facade.  A narcissist needs those very systems as much as the rest of us do.  Without those systems they would not survive, as they do not have the character to effectively support themselves – they need the financial backup of the state.  Perhaps they hate the police and law and order in general, but would be the first to make the call if a group of youths were getting a bit too rowdy.  There’s a constant and underlying hypocrisy at play.

‘My’ narcissist: she’s surly, sturdy and intimidating.  You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but there’s something uncommon about her body language, about the way she holds her neck and shoulders, about her stance and about her stare… It may be indefinable, but it is certainly not quite right.  Not quite trustworthy.

And if you’re the person I think you are then you feel things, you think things, you empathise and always try to look at the brightest glowing embers of your fellow humans.  You probably also try to view shortcomings as challenges or chinks in otherwise flawless armour. And guess what – you’re just the type of person my friend and her narcissist comrades are looking for.  They need you to make them function and each will draw you into their world by love-bombing you early on – so you’re inclined to think the best of them in later times of cruelty and pain. 

At first there will be gifts and compliments and tolerance, but soon (and these things start small so you can’t always see them till it’s too late) you’re backing away, defending yourself, constantly dealing with insults and unpleasantness and unhappy times. 

If you are happy, the narcissists give you reason not to be.  You look to outside your relationship for relief, only to find that they destroy those relationships, or even destroy the people themselves.  Soon you, the empathic being that you are, will be providing the narcissist with precisely what they require, perhaps out of fear – or perhaps through misplaced loyalty… or perhaps (and this is one of the reasons why their love-bombing is inevitable) the hope that all this may be just a temporary phase they are going through.  It isn’t.  It’s permanence and it’s reality.

Narcissists give you nothing but flattery, commands, insults and grief.  Why? 

Because this person can only take.  And you can’t heal a narcissist – not ever.  This person will never be changed because, to change, first you need to want to change and understand that change is required. 

But narcissism is egosyntonic.  No narcissist may tolerate any thought or statement about themselves which challenges their own existing belief system.  They cannot accept that they may be unpleasant or might benefit from some form of behaviour management, and they are certainly not people you would ever find studying a self help book for nuggets of truth and assistance. 

Consider asking someone what, if anything, about their personality they would change or like to work on. Most of us thoughtful types would surely put forward a suggestion – perhaps we’d like to remove our negativity or gain more confidence or decrease our gullibility or take command of our lack of self control…. whatever.  Most of us have our suggestions.  Some of us have a great many.  Narcissists, on the other hand, would state with great bombast that you must be crazy if you think that it’s them that’s the problem.  They are perfectly in control.  They are just right as they are.  They are perfect.  This is what they do – projecting their own mental condition back onto you and to anyone who dares question them.
After all, this is simply a game, the game of narcissistic life, and, yes, a narc will play till the end.  But they will play only by their own rules as those are the only ones acceptable to them.  When you wish to play another version of life – the normal, not narcissistic game, no matter how many times you may try to explain, the narc will say, ‘No. You’re a fool, that’s not the game’.  You, your thoughts, your possessions… all inadequate, all wrong, all pathetic – so they say. 

So why won’t they let you go? Why do they hold onto you if you are so inept?  Because you, you poor ordinary soul, are his lifeline and link with normal humanity – his victims.

Life with a narcissist is a form of hell, and just about the most unpleasant time you will ever experience.  They say one thing and when you question them about it they deny it (that’s called gas-lighting).  They project their weaknesses onto you.  They demand their narcissistic supply (a supply of attention, good or bad, which keeps them fired up and makes you unwell, confused and hurt).  Oh yes, they hurt you.  They make excuses and give the hurt a reason, but my God, how they hurt you.

And it’s all for one reason – because of their desire to control you and keep you with them.  Not out of any kind of love, because this person won’t experience love as you or I know it, but out of their need to be with someone who meets their need for control.

Complex aren’t they, these narcissists?  Well, they’d certainly like you believe that – that they’re full of intense mystery and hidden depths – but the reason they need to intimidate, bully, hurt and siphon off your powers is because they have none of their own.  You see, at the start of their lives, when the emotional self was maturing, they stagnated.  They’ve never moved on towards full emotional maturity or into a state of taking responsibility for their own actions, growing their own true personalities, developing their strengths and improving their weaknesses.  They’ve remained in a semi-toddler state going through the functions of being a real human being, but not actually managing.

It’s all an act.  The only thing that isn’t an act is the nastiness.  And you, the normal, the empath, the victim, the enabler, had better get out when you can, as soon as you can.