Monthly Archives: October 2011

I love my friends but … (2)

So there have been 6 of us here at the shore and today we welcome our 7th member ( whose been on maternity leave from us but has come down from Oxford for a day of writing.

The 6 in the house include:
One Ace Couple
One Swedish Barista
The person we regard as an Editorial Wizard
A man called Joss.
And Me.

If you want to know more about us, Dave, our podcaster in residence is recording a special WG (writers group) edition of his show GBA ( I’ll send the link whenever the show gets produced but highly recommend you check out Dave’s series before then.

Back to the activities of our group these past few days ….

The evening we arrived (Wednesday) we set up home and ate a big meal together and since then it’s been a full-on schedule of writerly pursuits — hearty chunks of the solid solitude that makes writing possible followed by evenings fuelled by drink and debate as we critique each other’s work.

There are 6 types of writing spots found throughout our cottage.

1/ the conservatory table
2/ the conservatory’s soft furnishings
3/the dining room
4/the sitting room
5/the bedrooms
6/the back yard

All six give us access to an ocean view. And except for the bedrooms all give us access to each other.

Typically two people have taken the conservatory (often the Swedish Barista on the sofa and either me or the Editorial Wizard at the table.) Increasingly Dave’s been in the back yard overlooking the ocean or up in his room with his ukulele working on his song. The other half of the ACE Couple (
works at a small desk that’s technically in the sitting room but feels like it’s in the conservatory thanks to the huge pane of glass that separates the two.

During the writing day Joss ( stays in his room. Unless he’s reading the paper or on a food break. Or yelling from the kitchen, “this sink is stupid!” as he’s just done now.

The rest of us are spend the day working within ear shot of other people’s keyboard pitter-patter. The odd chair shuffle or a sneeze reminds you you’re not alone but surrounded by other tormented writers some of whom are entering that state of grace known as Being on a Roll. There are offers of tea for those on their way to the kitchen, but other than that there’s an unspoken group committment to considerate noise levels and gentle separateness.

Pajama-wearing is not only acceptable, it goes unnoticed. It’s possible that I’ve never spent such an extended period of time embracing my most scruffy self without self-consciousness… at least not surrounded by 5 others who aren’t family.

This is also the first time my clock has been in sync with the collective clock of a group of people sharing an experience.

We’ve been waking, sleeping, eating, writing, reading, fighting and playing exactly when I’ve been most ready to wake, sleep, eat, write, read, fight and play.

The looseness but togetherness of our individual daily habits combined with our group’s evening rituals has made this possible.

And that’s been possible because more than a group of hand-picked friends, we are a group of group-picked writers. And that gives us, despite all sorts of personality variations, a shared temperment. It gives us a natural right-working-ness.

It might even make us a team and not a group at all. Or, maybe, as one of us said during our GBA recording session, a group of people who share a writing friendship.



Filed under Not in London, On writing, Relationships

I love my friends but …(1)

We’ve lost internet access here at Lattern Cottage on our writers retreat …but through dogged determination my antique blackberry has pulled through and will permit me to post bite-sized updates to Panic Station.

Now – there is more to say about boredom. Who knew there was so much philosophical debate on the topic. Never mind a nifty framework or two. But we’re taking a break from exploring this state of mind (and its finer cousins which I promised to mention) so that I can report live from the retreat. Where boredom hasn’t stood a chance.

Since arriving here I’ve learnt something new about spending time with groups of people.

Here it goes:

The best groups to hang out with are not necessarily those full of people you’ve hand-picked as friends.

Sometimes the best groups to hang out with are those who’ve hand-picked you.

I mean no offence to all my lovely hand-picked friends. But it turns out I do love you more separately than all bunched together for days at a time.

More on this to follow … If you’re still talking to me

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Filed under Not in London, On writing, Relationships

Me vs. boredom part 2

I really hate it when the title has almost nothing to do with what’s inside the article. I feel so cheated. And so I have to report that the link I was chasing down yesterday was a let-down. It wasn’t about boredom at all, it was about mind-wandering and if the teaser had just said “mind wandering is good for you” (rather than offering up that suggestive piece of poetry about boredom being a window worth throwing wide open), I wouldn’t have read it. Because I know mind-wandering is good for me. Because I have designed my life to allow for as much mind-wandering as possible. Turns out I needn’t have bothered because one of the more interesting points of the article is that most of us are mind-wandering 49% of the time. What stops us being “present” is the interestingness of our brains. Neat!

But still … I did appreciate that bit of poetry about boredom. It made me stop and think.

And then it led me to wonder how I stack up on the boredom front, so I tracked down a copy of the the Boredom Proneness Scale and found to my great relief that once again I am luckier than I seem to appreciate

According to the research, two-thirds of the population score between 81 and 117 in their propensity for boredom (the higher the number, the bigger the problem.)

A tiny percentage (2.3%) score above 135 or below 63.

I scored 62!

Then again I’m not sure I needed a test to confirm this. My problem with boredom isn’t the amount of it in my life, it’s the degree to which I suffer when despite everything I do to ward it off,  it manages to sneak up on me anyway. Boredom is never a one-tentacled beast.

More on boredom and the merits of its much finer cousins in the next instalment as I report live from our writers retreat here at the lovely Lattern Cottage.

Follow this link to get your own BPS score.

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Filed under Not in London, States of mind

Me vs. Boredom

On my way down to the coast yesterday evening my train was cancelled so I took 3 unplanned ones instead.

Because of this I didn’t always have a seat and I didn’t get much time to do what I love to do on trains which is stare out the window and think up new solutions to whatever conundrum I most feel in the mood to consider (e.g., might I learn to be happier? is there a better way to file? should I live in England for ever? what shall I blog this weekend?)

What I did get a chance to do was watch the ticker tape of incoming emails to my blackberry which is how I spotted this RSS teaser as it crossed my textual path:

“Boredom is your window,” the poet declared. “Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.”

How boredom makes us think…

The idea that boredom might not be one of the greatest threats to my personal sanity grabbed my attention. If you followed my guilt-fest of earlier this month, you’ll know I like to keep busy and that one reason for this is that I feel I don’t DESERVE  a rest. What I didn’t mention in that post is that I also keep busy because boredom freaks me out.

For me, any hint of boredom is an immediate watch tower warning that I might be about to get depressed. And we cannot  have this. So we must not get bored. As far as I am concerned, boredom is no more than 2-3 seaweed-slippery, barnacled steps from death.

You may think I exaggerate, but this is what some part of me actually thinks.

The part of me in question is the fearful underbelly of my own personal life logic. When I turn up the volume on the whispering, nagging, deeply held assumptions that this aspect of my mind torments me with and capture these on paper or screen — then yes, in black and white it all becomes clear that some of these thoughts aren’t manageable or sane. But that doesn’t stop them from commanding armies of cooperation amongst my everyday consciousness.

Unfortunately, my new blackberry is rather an antique and no amount of clicking on the link about how great boredom really is, led me to the full article behind that teaser. I just got an error message when I tried.

And so I remain unenlightened. But it’s on the to-do list and as soon I get internet access, I’ll check it out and report straight back.


Filed under States of mind

Going on a field trip

This week’s posts arrive at Panic Station ahead of schedule. That’s because this is a special weekend. It started earlier than normal (today) and it takes place away from home (on England’s southeast coast.)

I’m holed up here in a place called Lattern Cottage.

Right now I’m seated at a wooden table at the back of the house looking out this window. It’s not the clearest picture but that’s because it’s not the clearest view — the windows are glazed with the fine mist of wind-flung salt and sand.  And you can’t see the beach, because it isn’t there right now. Just over the garden wall (that white thing with the circles) the tide is so high that a huge expanse of coast has been temporarily wiped out.

The waves are practically banging on the back door of the house and I can barely hear the click of my keyboard above all the racket that wind and water can make. It’s perfect.

I’m here with 5 others. Usually we meet on Wednesday evenings in the squashed back room of a pub near the City — where there’s a low-hanging bulb, a window which opens out onto the alley below and just enough space for the group of us to squeeze our chairs ’round the table.

We are a writers group. One of those magical, communal inventions like carpools or AA meetings — where people with a similar problem band together.

We share dinner (3-4 packets of crisps), drink red wine and listen to each other read our latest work aloud. And then we critique it. Some of us say a lot, some of us say less. Some of us are better at fixing dialogue or grammar and some of us go big picture. We do what groups do best — we bring different things to the table.

And because it works so well we decided that we should organize a writing retreat where we string together several evening meet-up’s.  So that’s what we’re here to do at the shore this weekend.

That and to do whatever it is each of us do when we write (stare out the window, surf the net, flick through the paper, get up and make more coffee, go for a walk, send a few emails, do the dishes and here and there make some progress on our novels and screenplays and short stories and songs and podcasts and blogs) — except that for this weekend each of us gets to do that in a house full of other people attempting exactly the same. With the rise and fall of the tide as our clock.


Filed under Not in London, On writing

Stranger coincidences

After yesterday’s cliffhanger I can confirm that the stranger involved in the loss of my blackberry is a thief. Even if they aren’t usually a thief, on Saturday they became one. Oh well. I know nothing else of them. They may have stolen my blackberry for the most noble of causes. They may not even know that they are a thief – perhaps they saw my blackberry lost and lonely and assumed it was their blackberry and threw it in their bag and have yet to work out that now they have two blackberries and by the time they realize this they might be in Iceland and may be miles from the nearest post office and it could be weeks before Michaelangelo (the real name of the actual guy who is responsible for security at London’s Corinthian Hotel) receives the returned blackberry and tracks me down with the good news.

But I think it’s best that I simply accept that it’s more likely that the stranger involved here is actually just a thief and my blackberry is not getting posted back from Iceland.

It’s been an eerie couple of days without access to texts, emails … never mind a phone. But I should have a replacement later today.

The weird coincidental thing about the theme for this past weekend’s Panic Station (if you’re just tuning in now, we’ve been talking about strangers) is that unbeknownst to me The School of Life’s Sunday Sermon yesterday was also about strangers! One of Panic Station’s regular commenters attended the sermon and sent me some photos of it (which because of the whole stolen blackberry thing, I only received when I got to the office this morning.)

Hopefully, as a BIRTHDAY PRESENT TO ME (yes, today is my birthday) she might reply to this post to let us know whether she enjoyed the talk.

For the those of us who missed it (which I reckon is almost everyone reading today’s blog), The Guardian has posted an adaptation of Miranda July’s “sermon” here ….


Filed under Events, London

Consequential strangers

Today I wait to find out whether a consequential stranger will or will not reunite me with my blackberry which somehow vanished yesterday between 7.35 and 7.50 pm in the stunning Corinthian Hotel near Whitehall in London. It almost ruined our special dinner – this distraction of the missing lifeline. It’s such a mystery what could have happened. Somewhere between the ladies room and a table of two friends waiting for me in the restaurant, the blackberry vanished. The fact that it’s been turned off makes us believe that a stranger is involved in the vanishing.

Because of this logistical handicap I have today, I may not be able to blog what I’d planned to blog – which was dependent on a non-stranger OK-ing a short story about the affect of strangers during the tsunami that hit Thailand the day after Christmas in 2004. All my contact details for this source are with my blackberry and nowhere else.

In the interim, I offer a Sunday Sermon in the form of a 30 minute radio show from NPR where the author of Consequential Strangers talks to us about her book and callers share significant interactions they’ve had with strangers.

Hopefully more later from me and even better, me with my blackberry


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