Tag Archives: Lists

Ball envy

November.  Everyone you know is really busy, right?  The world is full of harassed people, cramming in actual work before the party season starts.  But not me.  I’m in a writing hiatus, with projects awaiting the green light.  See these thumbs?  Officially on twiddle mode.

It’s all terribly frustrating and there’s nothing I can do, but wait.  You’d think, as the avid list-maker I am, that spare time would be a Godsend.   There’s a chocka-full Christmas present list, the Things I’m Going To Do To The House List bursting with tasks.

But the old adage – if you want anything done, ask a busy person – is so true in my case.  I’m dithering for Britain.

I should be used to waiting.  Waiting, after all, is a writer’s curse.  Mostly you sit at your desk waiting for inspiration.  I have various tactics for these times, my favourite – apart from writing lists – is the curiously satisfying task of de-fluffing my keyboard with folded over sellotape.

My beloved husband, Emlyn, spends his time cruising the BBC site, digging up ‘fascinating’ trivia facts with which to entertain and enlighten me.  Yesterday’s being that a new species of grasshopper has been discovered which has testicles which account for fifteen per cent of its bodyweight, making it officially the creature with the biggest balls on the planet.  ‘Imagine. Fifteen per cent.  That like an equivalent of a whole human leg,’ Emlyn said with a faraway look in his eye.

Gareth, our dear friend the poet, told us over dinner last night, that he too suffers from occasional bouts of ball envy.  He’s invested in a hamster to amuse him during the lonely hours as he strives to complete his PhD.  He pokes food through the bars and talks to his blind little hamster with its grandiose triple-barrelled name, Gabriel Dante Rossetti.  Gareth’s quite smitten with his little writing buddy, despite the hamster’s curiously large balls.

And talking of balls – and there is a link here – I’m pleased to report that my creative writing course started well this week.  I had a bunch of extremely talented twelve and thirteen-year-olds, who were an utter joy to teach.  I’m already excited about our next session together.

I’ll admit that I was a tad nervous before-hand, due to my entirely different kind of teaching experience which happened somewhere deep in the Winnersh Triangle, last summer.  (Which, for those who don’t know, is that oddly over-signposted area in the tangle of motorways just outside London.  Where, whenever we pass it, we can’t help but sing Barry Manilow’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and wonder if we too are about to disappear.)
I was speaking at two library events – one at lunchtime and one in the evening, and with an afternoon to kill, I volunteered my services to the English department of the local comprehensive school.

The harassed teacher who met me in the corridor during a stampede of kids, shouted in a war-torn kind of way that they were a ‘man down’ and hoofed me alone into a class full of texting, gum-chewing, blank-faced seventeen year-olds.

Scary.

It became immediately apparent that they couldn’t give a monkey’s that I was a published writer, or that my books have been translated into 27 languages, or thought any of my anecdotes were even remotely amusing. I started to feel like Naomi Watt’s character in King Kong, doing ever more elaborate tap dances and cartwheels to amuse the great beast.

I cut to the chase and got onto the creative writing session I’d planned.  This is all about accessing one’s seam of inner creative magic, I told them. They seemed sceptical.

I urged them to pay no attention to spelling, punctuation or grammar and banned them from crossing out.  They had to write.  Fast. For ten minutes. And even if they wrote ‘banana banana banana’ then their inner critic wouldn’t get air time, and eventually they’d get creative.

I gave them the first line to get them going.  ‘The shirt that he wore was…’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said, as they started, ‘Anything goes.  I’m un-shockable.’

Not entirely true, as it turns out.

At the end, some of them seemed to be satisfied with their endeavours.  I plucked a few out at random and read them aloud.  Then I picked on the smirking Goth boy in the corner.

‘The shirt that he wore was… tucked into a pair of tight black leather trousers,’ I read. I scanned down the scrawl, my cheeks flushing. ‘Inside were a pair of unfeasibly huge balls straining to get out…’

Oh God. I’d started so I had to finish.

Well, the best I can say about the humiliating – and lengthy – description of self-pleasure that followed, was that at least it included the rather lyrical phrase ‘squirrel coloured pubes’.

Afterwards, I ran to the car and called Emlyn, who was eventually sympathetic once he’d stopped laughing.  ‘You told them to write about what they know.  What did you expect?  What else do teenage boys do?’

Good point.

But I’m starting to think that maybe I’ve got a case of ball envy too.  Not the actual wanting of them, but the fact having something like to obsess about in the way that men do, would occupy my mind whilst I’m waiting for my news.

Do other women have ball envy too?  Do you?  Maybe we should set up a website.  A self-help group to find something bigger and better than balls, something that us intelligent women can singularly obsess over too.

Answers on a postcard/email please.

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Doing the ‘To Do’ List

Does anyone else write endless lists?  I spend my life writing the damn things.  I can’t help it.  I’ve even just bought myself a new Moleskin notepad for jotting notes down on my next book, and instead of exciting plot ideas and cool character names, it’s already filling up with ‘To Do’ lists.

The thing with obsessive list-writing is that I don’t find it particularly satisfying, even though on each list I always include something I’ve already achieved, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off.

I’ve been writing ‘To Do’ lists all my life.  I found a list in my parent’s attic which I wrote when I was nine.  It said:  Grow up.  Live in London.  Get married.  Be a writer.

How simple!  I should be thrilled there’s a list I’ve finally completed.  Even if it took me 30 years.

I think the problem is that my lists these days, is that they are so panoramic in their vision and not at all specific in their time limit, although it’s always my outlandish assumption that each list is a day’s worth of tasks.

Take today.  At one end of the spectrum are the small things I need to do.  These include: wrap present.  Send text about a play date.   Both list-worthy entries and not to be forgotten.  So far, so good.

However, in the middle of the list, is the whole bunch of every day tasks that are permanently repeated on every single list I write:  load washing machine, make kids’ beds, take out compost, unload dishy, go to supermarket, school run etc etc.  This stuff runs to a page.  I don’t know about you, but when I start committing the machine of life to paper, it seems absurd that I ever get anything done at all.  But the list isn’t finished there.  Oh no…

Because now comes the occasional jobs section of the list.  This section can get a bit out of control and can make me feel a bit panicky.  Today’s pressing tasks include: mow lawn, clean cooker, sort car insurance, put landing pile of clobber in loft, take jumble to charity shop, dry-cleaning, hire carpet cleaner….Stop!  STOP!  See what I mean?

Then at the end of the spectrum there’s the big stuff.  A hang-over from my nine-year-old self, perhaps:  Get a new computer. Learn to speak Spanish.  Put solar panels on the roof.

I think list-writing is an entirely female affliction.  Emlyn never writes lists.  Or if he does, it’s because I’m dictating the shopping list and he goes to the shop and buys exactly what’s written down.  No more, no less.

See, I don’t get it.  How can he do that?

Because I go to the supermarket and obviously I have a list, but  I never look at it.  Why would I consult it?  I wrote it, so I know what’s on it, right?  Wrong.  I always forget the one thing I went to the shops for.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that secretly I’m an off-list kind of girl.  I write lists and then do a fraction of the tasks on them.  So for example, the washing is still in the washing machine, the kids’ beds are unmade, I haven’t wrapped the present, mowed the lawn, or organized solar panels for the roof, but I AM off for lunch instead.

All of which leaves me wondering, why do I write these list at all?  Are they a job advert for a magic fairy, perhaps?  Or is it because I can control my world on a piece of paper and not in real life?  Or is it just that I’m a writer and writing lists is a justifiable literary procrastination?  Maybe I’ll put that on my list of things to find out.

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