Friday 29 September 2017

Sofas and spiral staircases

I recently asked my young adult son to send me a photo of his sofa and the narrow spiral staircase he has to go up and down to get to his fourth floor flat. (There is no lift).
Used to his mum’s occasionally odd requests he duly obliged and here they are just for your viewing:

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about sofas and spiral staircases and how life likes to present us with such things. And I’ve been thinking how differently two people can view the exact same tricky situation they might find themselves in.

How optimistic or positive you are can depend on a lot of factors. Often past experiences and the influences of significant others play a major role in the amount of self-confidence, self-belief, determination and resilience people develop. But reactions can also be quite mystifying, extraordinary and unpredictable too. Sometimes being told something can’t be done or won’t ever happen simply makes you even more determined. Fortunately.

I say fortunately because there are a lot of extraordinary achievements  that would never have been achieved had pessimists or realists or just those with less imagination and determination been listened to. Think of Stephen Hawking who overcame a form of motor neuron disease to make remarkable scientific contributions, Franklin D Roosevelt’s determination that got him through polio and paralysis, or deaf and blind Helen Keller who defied all the odds to become a world renowned speaker and author.

Then there are others like amputee Marlon Shirley who set world records in athletics and the now annual Rickshaw Challenge in which children and young people face all sorts of personal challenges to help others.

What these inspiring people show is that when we believe that obstacles are interesting detours rather than complete roadblocks then we can often find a way.

 “It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe." said Muhammed Ali. I like that. In other words, often, it's not the mountain, metaphorical or otherwise, that stops us, but our attitude towards it and how much power we give to niggling, negative thoughts that tell us it can't be done.

 And this can apply to all the everyday, ordinary life problems, annoyances, tricky outcomes and decisions too. Most of us, thankfully, have lesser obstacles and demons to defeat. But all of us, at some point, face disappointments, rejections, anxieties, loss: mental and emotional demons.

I didn’t see my son and his friend tackle the obviously minor and light-hearted challenge of getting a huge sofa up four flights of narrow, winding, spiral staircase. But I did hear the determination in his voice before he attempted it that a way would be found. I’d loved to have seen the triumphant look on his face when they got it to the top.  I hope he keeps his enterprising and optimistic attitude to things in life. I have a feeling he will.

So what does this have to do with authors or writing or books? Believing in yourself and finding an inner strength or power is often a theme in children’s fiction.  My favourite kind of story is one where characters discover, against all the odds and their initial beliefs, that they have an inner power that was there all along just waiting for them to realise it. But difficult situations both big and small, are real parts of real life, not just things in stories. So stories with characters who work out how to ignore the pebbles and climb the mountains, as it were, inspire and teach in a subtle way.  Don’t children’s authors have a wonderful opportunity and important part to play in helping children discover and see this?  I think so.

Because sooner or later we all find that, aswell good and happy things, life is full of all kinds and types of “sofas and spiral staircases” too.

Hilary Hawkes

Photo credits: sofa and staircase: Matthew Hawkes, others pixabay


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Love that comment about ignoring the pebbles and climbing the mountain. So easy to slip into a negative frame. And yes let challenge our readers. And I loved the analogy. I have a 45 year old son with an esp awkward staircase and a huge leather couch. And we are going through the same debate. My initial response is knee-jerk and though he has long, long, long ago, left the nest, still feel the need to solve it for him... !!!

Hilary Hawkes said...

Thanks, Dianne. Good luck to your son with the couch :) Does make you wonder what the builders were thinking though doesn't it?!!