Sunday 21 June 2020

Focus on the cushion by Anne Booth


My husband told me that, in the 1970s, a footballer called Malcolm MacDonald, a striker for Newcastle United, talked about making your strengths so strong that your weaknesses don't matter. It didn't matter if he wasn't known for his genius at dribbling, passing or tackling - he was extremely  good at being near the goal, receiving passes and kicking or heading the ball into the net, and, playing to his strengths,  he scored a lot of goals for his team.  My husband told me that the fans did not want Malcolm MacDonald to be running back 70 yards to defend. They wanted other people in the team to play to their strengths, but his job was to play to his. Defence was just as important a job as scoring goals, but that wasn't his job.

I was feeling very sad about all the problems in the world at the moment and how I couldn't fix them. My husband, who is very kind and wise, and someone I admire very much for all the things he has done and does that I cannot do,  told me to stop focusing on my weaknesses and be more like Malcolm MacDonald and to play to my strengths, and that as a writer, my strength was using words. So as a writer I am trying to do my bit to make the world better by using words. My recent children's book 'Bloom' with Tiny Owl is my attempt to use my best words to show how kindness makes us all bloom. And my words have been paired with Robyn Wilson Owen's illustrations and they say things my words do not say.

 But there are still so many issues, and each one of us in The Scattered Authors Society is only one writer and we can only use a certain number of words and we cannot have informed opinions about, or write books on, everything!  I have also been doing a part-time Theology course, and this weekend I have to write an essay on Contemplative Prayer, and that is very interesting, because I have been reading about being still and silent and how inadequate our words can be, and the importance of going beyond words. It might seem a rather challenging thing for writers to read, but all of us know it at some level. We know we are writers, and we know how important words are, but we also know that our  words can never capture exactly what we are trying to express.

As Carol Ann Duffy says in her beautiful poem 'Words, Wide Night,'

is what it is like or this is what it is like in words.'

Our words alone are not enough. That's just a fact.  It isn't just that they benefit from illustrations, like 'Bloom' does with Robyn Wilson Owen's illustrations. Whatever we do on our own will never exactly do what we want, or change what needs to change.  We have to play to our strengths, whilst recognising our limitations, as writers and as humans. But together, in a diverse community, expressing  different voices, and listening to each other, and amplifying the voices of those who have not been allowed to speak, we can make a difference.

And this gives me an excuse to end by sharing my new cushion.

I have a comfortable but very shabby chair which we got second hand. I don't know how to upholster it. I wanted to buy a new one, but I cannot afford to replace it. So I have bought a cushion for it.

It is still shabby and worn, and there are still teeth marks in the chair legs from when our dog was a puppy. But I LOVE looking at it. It isn't a perfect chair, any more than I am a perfect person or writer, but it has two big things going for it - it is very comfortable and, if I focus on the cushion, it is now beautiful to look at.  I think this cushion is now one of this chair's strengths. I bought this cushion specifically for this chair. They work perfectly together.

I am going to finish before this metaphor runs out, as it does have some rather glaring limitations.  Just to say - if you feel inadequate, remember that as a writer you do have your words to offer. And if you are better at writing in some ways  than others, focus on them. I know that this doesn't quite work.  I know that my chair still needs reupholstering, and it isn't good to have teeth marks in the chair legs (which are not in the picture!). I also don't want, by comparing my writing to a chair, to  say that my writing is shabby and worn out!  I am doing my very best to make my words as lovely as they can be!  And I do know that it is best to work on all aspects of your writing and we need to stretch ourselves. I just mean that I know I will never be good at everything and that as a writer that includes types of writing eg writing Horror or Thrillers, and so I am going to focus on getting better at what I CAN do, as life is too short to get depressed about what we cannot do and there is so much to do that we can do, if you know what I mean.

As I overheard Gandalf  say to Frodo this morning, whilst my daughters were watching 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring',

'All that you have to do, is decide what to do with the time that is given to you.'

And I also want an excuse to share my cushion.


Nick Garlick said...

Love your cushion. Will try to buy your book - funds willing.

Joan Lennon said...

'Focus on the Cushion' is going to be my go-to phrase today - thanks, Anne!

Sue Purkiss said...

It's a wonderful cushion! And the book looks lovely too.

Heather Dyer said...

Lovely, Anne! x