The Perfect Character Name!

Cruella Morticia

Last week alone I lost up to three hours out of almost every night that I could have been sleeping, three hours of each day that I could have been writing, and I SERIOUSLY annoyed too many of my friends, ….all over trying to uncover THE perfect name for a single character. I blogged about it, I dreamt about it, I lay looking at the ceiling over it, and I kept turning on my phone in the middle of the night as each new brain wave came, as to how to find it! I googled thoughts and ideas, I searched through the cobwebs at the far deep dark corners of every baby naming site, and I asked loads of people for help. I honestly felt that just out of my reach, was THE perfect name!

I wanted my readers to think Cruella DaVil, Morticia (without the good or funny bits), and the Wicked Witch of the West, all rolled into one, the moment they read my character’s name. I wanted the name  to fit her not just like a glove, but like a flag waved above her evil head! I wanted the world to know exactly everything there is to know about this character the moment they read her name! … I was soooo sure that the name was on the tip of my tongue, just outside my reach, and that all I had to do was look in the right place, ask the right people, and suddenly it would appear and I would feel like SUCH an idiot for not thinking of exactly that right from the beginning!

And so I searched and searched. I could find all kinds of names that said exactly what I wanted them to say, but all the good ones are already taken (Cruella, Morticia etc) and the rest were such obscure names that I could never make them fly. Sure, if I was writing science or fantasy (or both), I could have a field day creating names either straight out of Greek or Ancient Egyptian Mythology, the Bible, or the perfect mixture made up from them all, but I sadly don’t write those kinds of books.

My characters are all real people that lived and breathed and (and many still do), and so what I was looking for may very well not even exist. But I was determined anyway… By the end of last week I was tired and frustrated, and was getting desperate…. “Oh just insert a different name for now and then batch change it at the end” they said. “Go and do something else for a few hours and it will just come to you” they said… And dozens and dozens of suggestions were made, both in how to find it and actual names that could work, none of which quite fit the bill, or even lessened my anxiety in the mean time.

Quite frankly I was quite concerned at how much angst this was causing me, I REALLY should be able to just let it go for later, but I couldn’t. Writing non-fiction but having to come up with a book name for each of the characters to protect identities is hard. I was loving the other names which were falling into place and so far all were layered with meaning after meaning, inside jokes and clever twists that only I and one or two others will ever know, but suddenly we were stuck. NOTHING was working for this person, and it was important for that it was no less significant that all the other characters.

And then someone made a suggestion that had LOADS of inside meanings, but I instantly dismissed it on the grounds that it was otherwise best described as completely benign. I have learnt over the last few weeks that short of the extremes like Cruella and Morticia, different names have such different associations for different people. That while some names like little Suzie and Johnny are quite broadly considered to be quintessential sweet innocent “butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth” names, …little Johnny could just as easily work perfectly for the little brat who put the frog in your school bag and little Suzie could just as easily be the child who stole your sweets!

And so suddenly this most average of names, that could so easily be considered anything from strong or weak, sweet or bitterly nasty, is perfect… but perfect in that it means so much to ME, even if no one else will ever know that. I realised in an instant that if I had introduced this character in my story as Morticia, the readers would all know in an instant that she is a bad guy. But real life doesn’t work that way! We often have no clue that someone is unsafe until they reveal their dark secrets. If I had a character called Morticia, I realise now that as my readers would meet her, from that moment on they would be saying to themselves, “well you silly girl, everyone knows that she is clearly evil, stay away from her!!” and that that is ACTUALLY not what I want at all.

I want them to get to know her as I got to know her, and it is my job talk walk my readers through that journey. didn’t know what she was capable of until she did them, so why would my readers? No bad guys are bad because of the name that their parent’s gave them, and the parent’s intentions (well usually anyway) when naming a new born baby, are for the child to have a good name and for the child to grow up to be as happy and well rounded as possible. No one has a baby and calls it Morticia because they know that it will grow up to be an evil witch that eats young children right?! And so it really shouldn’t matter what ANY of my characters are called for my kind of writing.

Sometimes when I meet someone I just know in my bones that they are not safe one way or another. I feel that they are a handful or won’t be good for me, and so I avoid them after that. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with their name, and rarely do truly bad people show anything wrong on first meeting. So it is MY job to build my characters and to SHOW you who I experience them to be. It is up to me to bring the reader in to experience these people and to help them to dread or fear and feel any early warnings (or not), and to be shocked as well as I was if there were no warnings at all. If you and I in real life don’t get warnings of people simply by their names, then maybe my readers shouldn’t either?

What is a TCK?

img_1699A couple of months ago I was on a long haul flight between South Africa and the US, and sitting behind me was a family of four including two small children. By their accents, they were most likely all Americans, although the mother had a slightly different slant to her accent and she looked somewhat Asian in appearance. The children were probably around four and six years old and appeared very confident and at home with flying. I wondered if they were heading back to the US for Christmas as it was mid-December and many of my expat friends around the world were heading “home” (where ever that may be), for Christmas that week.

But my husband said that he thought that they could have just been to South Africa on holiday and were heading home, as “they don’t look as though they live here“. But then as one of the children who was getting rather bored asked his sibling if she would like to play “Ching-Chong-Cha” with him, I knew that they were not visitors heading home. Ching-Chong-Cha is a South African term that I have not heard used anywhere else in the world. My assumptions (which I am loathed to base too much on because you know what happens when you assume things!) were that those children had been in South Africa for a while to be learning that level of local wording, and use them as naturally as if he had asked her to play Dominoes. So without drawing any more conclusions, these children may or may not be Third Culture Kids.

I have heard the term TCK explained so many times and in so many ways (mostly well), but it is actually both very simple and quite complicated. It is as much about what it is not, as what it is, and there is a definite blurry middle ground to it. So I will try my best to explain it as simply as I can:

We are all born in a culture. It is less tangible to feel our own culture that we are born into because for each and every one of us it is everything around us and everything that we experience. It always amazes me when people tell me that I “have an accent” … as if they DON’T have an accent. We ALL have an accent, but we don’t hear the way that we speak, we simply think of ourselves as neutral and “normal”. But this applies to everyone in the world, we are all at home (under normal circumstances) in our birth culture. People who are born, grow up, and live in their own culture remain there, even when they travel or experience other cultures and it is hard to see our own. It the first culture that we experience and it is the one most natural to us. It is not referred to as our First Culture as such, but when a lot of “non-TCK” people ask what a Third Culture is, there is the assumption that there is a first and a second culture in order to be a third, as so I will use those terms for that purpose.

Living in your first culture you may have an opportunity to travel, to mix with people around you or far away in very different cultures, and you may even pick up some of their traits or things that you like about the way they talk, eat or dress, but for very much the most part, you still belong, behave, eat and live, in your own First Culture.

e.g.: ” I am Chinese”

(someone who was born and still lives in China)

For many many reasons, some people may decide then or need to move to a new country or culture. (In general, this does not include moving from region to region within a country). For some of those people, especially those who had to move due to circumstances beyond their control (especially in the case of war and poverty, famine and drought etc) it can be vital for them to retain as much of their culture as possible. These people do not want to lose who they feel they are, and they do not want to blend into the new culture. Even worse, many of them have no option but to relinquish not only their passport but their citizenship and take on new lives, citizenship, and passport. They might live in a new culture but they very much belong and even more importantly, IDENTIFY in the culture that they were born into. They may live somewhere else, but they retain in their souls, belonging to their original or First Culture.

e.g.: “I live in Australia but I am Chinese”

(someone who was born in China, moved to Australia,

but has retained their identity with their first culture)

Others who move country want to blend in and become (as much as they can) a part of the second culture that they live in. They have either moved because they want to embrace a different world, it can simply be that this is what they want for themselves and/or their children, or it can be that because there is too much pain, embarrassment or even hatred “back home”, they want to leave their birth culture behind, shake off the old, and take on a brand new skin. For any of these or a myriad of other reasons, these people choose to take on their new or Second Culture. They embrace the new and welcome the changes. Regardless of how well or poorly they manage to do this, they IDENTIFY with the new country that they now live in.

e.g.: “I was born in China but I am Australian.”

(someone who was born in China, moved to Australia,

and has chosen to identify with their new or second culture)

Then there are the people who live in one or many second cultures because they work in the Military, Missions, AID and NGOs, the Diplomatic corps, and now increasingly, for international companies. These adults very much represent the countries that they are from, their passport and citizenship remain the same, they talk about “back home”, and in fact they not only very much retain their first or birth culture, but they often become even more patriotic about it. Because they live for very long periods of time overseas, they often find themselves having to defend their own culture, they miss so many things about it, and they identify even more strongly with it than they otherwise would. They no longer don’t know bout their own accent, they suddenly become very much aware of it.

These people have no intentions of taking on new cultures ( and for good reason, they have not immigrated). They may learn from these experiences and cultures, enjoy them, embrace them and even absorb much that is good and beautiful about them into their own lives, but they still retain who they are, and more often than not, their first culture is where they will return one day. Some of them do a single two to four-year posting, others are gone for decades at a time. Some get to go home regularly, others get that chance only once every four or five years.

e.g.: “I am Chinese.”

(someone who was born in China but lives temporarily in Australia for work,

and therefore they identify as belonging to their own … or first culture only)

It takes a long time, as in years and years, to learn a second culture, and often people who have moved permanently don’t completely assimilate for generations. But they are at least for the most part, able to choose whether they identify with their first country and don’t make that transition at all, or whether they choose their second culture and give it their best shot. Children adapt far quicker than adults and have way less investment in their first culture. Many of them are even born in the “new” country and so have nothing to compare it to. By default, these second generations only really know the “new” culture, and so this IS their first culture (as much as some of their parents don’t want it to be).

But many of the children of the overseas postings people, who were either born on a posting or moved there when they were young, get stuck somewhere in the middle. They assimilate into the new country fast, don’t have their old skin and accent and understanding to hold them firmly back in the “old country”, but because they go “home” regularly (or semi-regularly), often look very different, usually speak very differently, and have parents who are very specifically not locals, they don’t “belong” to the culture that they are living in either. Many of these children see where they currently live as their home and the place that they go to on home leave as completely foreign! The people that are supposed to be their extended family are often strangers and/or foreigners to them, and they don’t understand the life, customs, and culture of their passport nation.

Sadly, it is not nearly as much that they belong in BOTH as they belong in NEITHER. They are often launched into the world with nowhere ever to go “back to“. They are in many ways world citizens and often they live their formative, foundational years in many different cultures and places. They are often launched into the world through foreign universities not only outside of their passport countries, but where neither they nor even their parents have ever lived. They often feel like strangers in their own culture, but strangers everywhere else as well. They basically mostly align themselves less with a country and more with their parents and siblings, and with each other.

Third Culture is neither a place nor a box nor a somewhere. It is an almost abstract concept which is very very real to those who live it, not only when they are children but for the rest of their lives. Interestingly, it doesn’t simply apply to children who lived overseas for a few years and then return to the culture in which they were born. Those children may have all kinds of problems settling back in when they return with their parents to their passport country and so I don’t want to diminish their experiences at all. But Third Culture Kids spend significant parts of their childhood outside of their birth country, often never returning permanently…

Assuming for a moment that the little family who sat behind me on the plane are on a posting in South Africa and that they are going home for much needed real lifetime with family and friends. When this little fellow asked his big sister on the plane if she wanted to play CHing-Chong-Cha with him, she said “Nah” and went back to what she was doing. She may not have wanted to play with him, but her response indicated to me that she knew what he was talking about, but just didn’t want to play. At some point in the coming visit, however, he may ask that exact same very innocent and simple question of his cousin, his grandparent or even a friend, and the likely response will be one of confusion. In all likelihood, they will have never heard of Ching-Chong-Cha and will ask him what he is talking about. He will explain, and at some point depending on how good he is at explaining things (or not), it will dawn on whomever he was talking to that he is referring to what they call Rock-Paper-scissors!

Sadly, it is unlikely that as it dawns on them they will stop and think and then say to him “oh I have never heard that name before, here we call it Rock-Paper-Scissors, isn’t it fun that things have different names all over the world?” Instead, they are more likely to at best look at him blankly and say something more like “Oh, you mean Rock-Paper-scissors” (as if this is the correct name rather than simply a DIFFERENT name), and at worst there is a good chance that they will laugh at him as well as “correct” him. He may not ask them to play this game with him, (although at his age in my experience children often want to play the games that they learn a lot), so it is likely, but even if he doesn’t, there is a good chance that he will ask for some Nik Naks or a Fizz Pop and get the same reaction. He may well wonder why cream comes in a spray can and is sweet instead fresh like he has perhaps got used to in South Africa, or any one (or more) of dozens of other examples. He will likely not know what a Tootsie Roll is, or any number of iconic American brands are. But he might ask for custard or jelly guava juice which will all bring either blank stares or the “wrong” result.

No doubt he has already faced the same thing in South Africa where he would have called nappies “diapers” and jelly “jello” and his friends there not known what he is talking about. In time he has picked up Ching-Chong-Cha and I am sure a number of other things, he probably says “Ja” instead of yes sometimes, and so to an outsider, he may sound a little South African, but to a South African he sounds American. He may identify more with one country or the other depending on how long he has been there and how old he was when he left “home”. But to the locals in both places, he is too different, he does not even sound like he belongs to either of them. Which means he then belongs nowhere.

So it is less about him being more this or more that or a little bit of both. It is about what he is NOT. It is more about what he gets wrong than about what he gets right. TCKs rarely belong anywhere other than with each other, and their conversations often include which airports are the worst than which superstar they admire. They hopefully still learn to read and write, but they more often than not experience first hand, more of the world in their first couple of decades than most people learn in a lifetime. There is a HUGE amount that they gain, but it comes at just as great a cost.

e.g.: “I am … um … born in China but grew up in Australia and the USA, went to Uni in the UK and now I live in Denmark… and I have dual citizenship ….”

(someone who was born in China but grew up living temporarily in Australia and the USA with his parents for their work, but he went to the UK for university because his best friend from Turkey was going there and his parents were working and living in Kenya at the time and this was the closest country with an English speaking university and the time zone is only out by a couple of hours …

and therefore he identifies as … hmm … and he is from …. too hard … and so feels most at home with other TCKs like his friend from Turkey and his other friend from Canada, who are pretty much in the same boat and even though they only met at twenty years old, and are from different cultures and have lived in different places, he never has to explain himself or his international accent to them!)

While that might sound extreme, it is by no means the most diverse end of the spectrum. Many of our friends move every two to three years through work especially with the Diplomatic Corp, the armed forces, or International Companies. That means that assuming that school finishes at age eighteen (not including Tertiary study), it is not unheard of for those children to live in up to six different countries by the time they finish school, and often none of those years are in their passport country.

At the more simple end of the spectrum are children who moved permanently to a second culture with their family and for one reason or another were never accepted there ….sometimes because they simply stand out way too much, other times it is because they have no history there and history is very important to the locals, and other times it is because their parents wanted to retain their first culture and will not allow their children to assimilate. Many years ago my parents moved into a long-standing farming community. They met a lady in her late eighties and they made the mistake of calling her a “local”. Oh no she said, “I am not a local”. Fabulous thought my parents, they had found another “outsider” and so they asked her when she moved there and from where. She had moved there when she was six years old, and she came from ten kilometres down the road!!!! There are simply some communities where you will NEVER belong no matter how long you have been there or how hard you try!

Children who move somewhere and never fit in often want to return to where they belong, and have spent their teens waiting to grow old enough to “go home” but when they got back there, they have changed too much, taken on too much of the second culture, and they are never accepted as belonging there either. Which leaves them stuck in the middle as well. Belonging nowhere.

This is where it gets tricky, I am pretty sure that the eighty-six-year-old lady who moved down the road when she was six is NOT a Third Culture Kid. Not only because she is not stuck in the middle somewhere (she clearly identifies with where she is from), but also she did not go very far… Some people can tick all the boxes and yet somehow manage to totally identify and “belong” in their passport country and would not consider themselves to be TCKs at all, and others only tick a box or too, but find themselves somehow not belonging anywhere, and having more in common with other TCKs than anyone else.

It is part of human nature, in our DNA, for us to belong and be accepted by our own tribes, and for many of these kids they don’t fully belong in the country of their passport, but nor do they belong in the country that they spend much of their childhood. And so they have formed a fabulous community with other Global Citizens. It is bittersweet on many many levels and while there are many sites which I LOVE, that do a fabulous job of unpacking and explaining the life of a TCK both first and generation, this one is the one of the shortest and easiest, (and I often wonder if non-TCKs even get the captions?). So if you want to see what the above looks like played out, check THIS out.

 

Where I hang out:
@JPeaSmith
“Here she comes, running, out of prison and off the pedestal: chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.”  ― Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

Naming My Characters

NamesIt’s been fascinating reading and chatting with people about how they come up with names for their characters, and even more interesting going through a few exercises myself. Some people have said “don’t overthink it, just come up with a name and stick to it, it doesn’t mean anything” and then on the other end of the spectrum, others have said that “it is like naming a child, it is ever so important, you can’t go back on it, and you don’t want to get it wrong!

I have never been very good at naming anything and I do think that names are really important, not so much in their meaning, but in how they work for people and what we associate with each name. I am very aware that each us has very different experiences of people and so a name that is pure, sweet and angelic for me might just be what nightmares are made of for you. However we all LOVE names like Cruella de Vil, because apart from the obvious, they REALLY have the same association for most people. You don’t have to think too hard about the kinds of people that Rose and Vixen are either!

But as I am writing a non-fiction book, and most of my characters are very real people who will most likely not wish to be named, I want their book names to reflect my experiences of them, and to somehow belong to them and make as much sense to my readers as their real names do to me. Maybe I am asking too much? But most of the names amazingly just fell into place and felt very natural, and I am super happy with how they came about, what they allude to, and what connections they have with the other characters. So I want that to be the same for all of them! But I am totally stuck on one of them, and it is one of the major characters. And so after going around in circles and not hitting onto a name that I believed was hanging just out of my reach and would no doubt  be ever so obvious once I grasped it, I decided to ask a trusted group of friends to remind me of what it would be!

This was going to be the most simple task and they would all come back with pretty much the same answer right? I wrote to each person individually so that no one would have their train of thought hampered by anyone els’s, I gave them a VERY clear description of the character (and in fact an over the top description so that I was sure they got it!), and I didn’t even think twice that they would all know exactly what to call her! This was their brief  … yes, WAAAAY over the top, but I wanted to be very very clear, and anyway, I could always tone it down later if necessary:

  • She has been referred to by others as a snake Cobra and a witch
  • Her name has 2 syllables so that needs to remain the same
  • All names that we have come up with end in the sound “eeee” (either an “ie” or a “y” and that is too soft for her, and does not suit her AT ALL.
  • Sharp sounding ending is better if possible.
  • Cruella de Vil suits her down to the ground but that would be just ridiculous!
  •  She is very boney and sharp featured
  • She eats children … (OK, she doesn’t ACTUALLY eat children but she may as well eat them!)
  • She has straight dark hair with blue eyes
  • She was often considered attractive in her day but she eats her prey for breakfast

And then I sat back and waited for the replies…

Six people came up with between three and ten names each, and so there are over thirty names on the list that match this description, but not one of them came up with the same name as another! Two names are out because I have already used them for other people, (not people as mean as this character, but I had picked and used them for different reasons), a dozen of them I associate with really sweet kind people, another dozen were great but sadly don’t suit the exact person, and a small handful were perfect … until I checked the names out and found them to have been already used in modern film or TV shows and so for many, they are VERY loved characters! It left me with one which is perfect … but it breaks too many of these rules on what not to do… I know, there are exceptions to every rule, but if it breaks three or four of them, then maybe I need to think of something else?

Ugh! This is waaaay harder than I thought it would be!

Oh, and suggestions would be MOST welcome!!!

Book Review: Alexandra Fuller

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.05 PMI have just finished reading a bunch of books by the same author, (Alexandra Fuller), and I couldn’t put them down! There is no Trilogy or “order” to her books, which aren’t exactly in sequence, but I found it easier to read them in the order in which they were written. I first found “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness”, and after reading just a few pages, I quickly realised that in the book she was referring a lot to things from her first book; “Don’t Let’s go to the Dog’s Tonight”. But I loved her writing style and knew that I was going to enjoy these, so decided that it was worth taking the risk and buying her first book as well (investing in two books that I had not yet read, by an author unknown to me felt a little risky!). But I promptly put the book down and bought the first one on Kindle to read straight away … I had already settled in to read for the night and so I didn’t want to wait!

Well it was a risk that paid off well and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not sure that it is a book for everyone, but she is both bold and outspoken and says things as they are (in fact more so, she doesn’t just call a spade a spade, she calls it a “bloody shovel” (swear words and all!), and at the same time she leaves a lot to the imagination. If you are looking for detailed descriptions of gory nitty gritty then you won’t find them here, …yet her descriptions of her surroundings, her feelings, her experiences, through the eyes of a child, make you feel like you are there, and the details that she doesn’t give, are almost better off not said because you can easily fill them in much better for yourself.

She has an English and Scottish heritage (both by her lineage and her own birth), but she is also the second generation to be born in the UK yet be brought up in southern Africa. Her early life is a rich and yet heart breaking tale of one lived at the very raw edge of life, both for herself, her siblings, her parents, and all the people around her.

I don’t like knowing the plot of a book before I read it, so my reviews are much the same, but suffice to say that the first book is definitely the place to start if you have any interest in her stories which can best be described as memoirs. Because she wrote “Don’t Let’s go the the Dog’s Tonight” first, everything in it is fresh and new and it helps to know nothing (or very little) beforehand. The rest of her books however often refer to that first book, but other than that are self contained and can be read in any order. She pretty much refers to much of her life in all of them and my only criticism if I have to have one, is that the same stories can sometimes be repeated in more than one book, without any new insight, understanding or new detail or information.

The first book gives her story from a child’s perspective completely, and I found it easy to separate how she experiences life then, with what she now adds to each part of her story from an adult perspective. “Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness” tells the same story from her mother’s viewpoint and beautifully adds background, an adult perspective, and an understanding of how it was for her and why things happened that were otherwise confusing for Alexandra as a child. “Scribbling the Cat technically tells someone else’s story, but it is very much part of her own story as she goes back and explores what it would have been like for an adult to have lived and fought through the war in what was then Rhodesia, through her childhood. It gives a different perspective yet again, to what was going on even further afield of her life, but around her and affecting her childhood deeply.

I love history, but not so much in the numbers and dates, but rather in a sense of people and places and the rawness of human beings. I don’t much enjoy autobiographies or memories as such either, because sadly, not everyone who lives a fascinating or eventful life, or has an amazing story to tell, can tell it well! But this really struck a chord for me as her story is beautifully written, is made up of very raw, real, human beings, and it tells the history of the places she lived, in a way that was not too many lists or boring details, but a recounting of human cost and sacrifice.

The fact that she lived in countries that I have never been to but in many ways were very similar to my own, held huge interest for me, particularly as she was born less than two years after me, and so we share an era as well as a corner of the globe. I enjoyed learning more about the world around me, in one sense on my own door step yet just that little bit further away than the edge of my own country..

But I think that the biggest thing for me, was that without actually ever saying so, she tackles and exposes what it is like to live through long term trauma.

In the last decade the world has been opened up to the reality of incredible abuse stories. Time and time again they pop up, and on levels that many of us cannot begin to comprehend. How can this be possible? How can these things happen without anyone seeing or hearing or knowing something? These stories need to be told, and the world needs to know what is happening under their noses. But just because not all trauma is as bad as those massive horrendous human tragedies, that we must lose sight of the every day people who are also suffering. This book is not one of those massive stories, rather it is one of consistent trauma, and is a huge reminder how it is so easy to miss, growing up with everyone simply doing the best they can or know how, coping with life and tragedy and hard work, that little people get lost and broken and fall through the cracks.

In Gregory Jantz book “Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse“, he says:

 

“Emotional [trauma] is harder to spot and easier to deny. But just as physical and sexual abuse have signposts to mark their presence, emotional abuse too, …. has common traits…”. “Damage can be done in a one time traumatic event… or be a consistent low level pattern over a period of time” … and that “repetition obscures the severity”.

These books of Alexandra Fullers are very much a watershed. An unpacking of what has been unresolved and an airing the family dirty washing “as is”, without making excuses, justifying or protecting anyone or anything, or laying blame either. Alexandra does an amazing job of saying it simply how she experienced it, and does not come across as bitter or angry.

And to me anyway, these books are a huge reminder that not all abuse, neglect, or trauma, is dramatic, unspeakable, Gob-smackingly terrifying, purposeful or deliberate. That it is way too often simply an outcome, a fallout, a set of terrible circumstances, or a lack of awareness, help or understanding … but that the impact is just as severe!

 

To Valentine or Not to Valentine? THAT is the question!

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 1.58.44 PM

Over the weekend my Newsfeed was been filled with a mixture of those adding photos and messages of love, (both sending stuff out there and sharing what they received)… and those deriding the “holiday” and sharing their disdain (or even hatred) for it!

My husband and I had a long chat about it last night. I have always had very mixed feelings on Valentine’s Day, as well as on Mother’s and Father’s Day. In my experience, I have come across many people who struggle with all these days for all kinds of reasons; either it is a painful anniversary of something going badly wrong, a hurtful reminder of broken relationships, feelings of missing out, grieving for their own lack of romantic love on Valentine’s Day, or loss of healthy or strong parent-child relationships on those other days. Bad memories, unhelpful reminders, stabs through the heart, and anger instead of love…

And having survived another year of being wished Happy Valentine’s Day over and over by everyone from friends to shop assistants, and being given heart shaped lollipops and chocolates at the service station, the street corner and the restaurant where we went for dinner with friends (which had NOTHING to do with Valentines Day), … as well as having a loving husband who refuses point blank to recognise any of the stupid, ridiculous, money making, commercial Hallmark holidays.. …we climbed into bed and I brought up the dreaded subject! The elephant in the room, the thing that neither of us had mentioned for three days since we were given the first lollipops on the way home form work on Friday afternoon.

He said as he does every year, that “we don’t do Valentine’s Day” as if this is not only something that we have both agreed on and discussed, but even more so, as if it is a position to be proud of. A bit like “we rise above that kind of nonsense” or “we don’t get sucked into that, so aren’t we clever!” and I struggled to answer, not because I didn’t agree with him, but I couldn’t help wondering whether I myself do not entirely agree with his stance either! So he asked me what my needs are, … do I have a need for him to buy me flowers on Valentine’s Day?

We stopped to talk about it and while I felt a little put on the spot, he gave me all the time I needed to think it through… and quite quickly I realised that I had always felt or assumed that there were only two options and that I could only pick A or B. That almost everyone I know is either very much for or passionately against Valentines Day. That it is extremely polarising, and there doesn’t appear to be a middle grown. And as I processed that, the next though that quickly followed was that I didn’t think that I was truly in either camp! I wasn’t strongly committed to either point of view.Or more accurately, I had a level of discomfort for both! I think now that we processed it last night, I think that for all these years of knowing his strong stance on A (against) and my lack of conviction towards B (for), I had pretty well just gone along with A for all these years. But is there a middle road? Are there any other options to pick?

And so we had an amazing discussion and almost from nowhere, I processed my thought and tried to find words for them at the same time, I realised that my stance on Valentines Day is this…

I have always been very passionate about community, connectedness, relationships. Family is everything to me and so is my God. I don’t believe that God created Christmas or Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day or Valentines Day, or that there is any moral aspect to any of them. BUT, if you look across all cultures in all corners of the world, from the poorest of poor all the way through to Royalty, from the most advanced down to the most primitive, and if you look all the way back through history since time began (regardless of belief system or science based framework of time or history), these three things, community, connectedness, and relationships … a sense of belonging to your tribe, have always been the glue that binds human beings together.

And human beings love to come together over a meal, a special meal if possible, and to remember and recognise each other and the mile stones of life. It is in our DNA, it was what we were designed to do; whether it is a coming of age ceremony in a remote village, a wake in the pub in Ireland, a wedding, a funeral, a swearing in ceremony in parliament, a baby head wetting, or a cigar after a birth. We celebrate baby showers New Year’s Eve, and we celebrate deaths, marriages, farewells and welcome homes. It is what we do. It is what binds us.

As do our relationships. We celebrate the anniversaries of when we started dating, got married, had a baby, and bought our first home. We love to be told that we are loved, and we show our love to each other in a myriad of ways: through words of encouragement, acts of service, giving and receiving of gifts, hugging and kissing and holding hands, and/or spending time with each other. It is part of the fibre of our beings, both physically and emotionally, as well as spiritually and psychologically.

I believe that Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th of December, but Christians as a culture have celebrated His birth each year because it is something important to them. It has nothing to do with the date. Obviously dates are a vital part of all celebrations, but the fact that when exact dates cannot be remembered or found, we still celebrate anyway, … as humans we find a date and we make it ours. This applies to everything from adopted children who’s birth paperwork was dodgy, to people who are born on the 29th of February. If you were born in a leap year on that date, you don’t miss out on three out of four birthdays, you just make do and pick the closest one that suits!

I believe that we were designed to celebrate our love for each other, our connectedness, and the special people in our lives. There is a reason that the world calendars used to be filled with everything from Christmas to Thanksgiving to birthdays to Independence Days. Labour Days and Queen’s Birthdays, and so the list goes on…

Why? Because as humans we like to stop and remember. We like to recognise and take stock. If there was no Christmas or Easter, those who know and love and have a relationship with Jesus will still go to Heaven. Marriages would survive if you never remembered or celebrated what date it began. And amazingly, people with cancer are fought for every single day (and hard!), not just on “Daffodil Day”. But when we stop now and then, and say to those we love “today I want to celebrate you” or “today I want to remember you” … and sometimes to say “I love you every day, but today is a fabulous excuse to stop and say that I am glad that you are my mother, or father, or the love of my life, or you are fighting your battle with illness like a champ! There is a jolly good reason that band new special days are added to our calendars every year. We now stop and recognise wars ending, diseases being fought, even national tragedies.

It is really easy to say “but I love you everyday” …. but the reality is that we lead busy lives, there is a lot going on, and sometimes we forget to show it. Others of us find it super difficult to say “I love you”. And for them, these special days are a blessing, a time when they can easily show how much they love and appreciate their parent or spouse or loved one, without having to find the words themselves.

I believe that if Hallmark had not come up with these silly excuses to sell greeting cards, as human beings we would have found another way. We WANT to celebrate and we love any excuse for a party!

This for me does not take away AT ALL, from the fact that these human celebrations (not just these three “tacky” ones, but the big “more acceptable” ones too!!), are a source of pain for those who miss out. For those who don’t have anyone to share them with, or that they had tragedies occur on those days in their history, or are a source of some other kind of pain, my heart breaks for them as it does for my own pain, and the sad stuff that pops up on each and every one of these celebrations is immense..

And so I guess, when all this came out of me last night, in the end I decided this:

No, I don’t want him to buy me flowers of Valentines Day as such. But I do think that it is a natural human response to want to be celebrated and loved at ANY celebration of the year. I am extremely blessed to have someone in my life who tells me he loves me a lot, and totally means it and shows it in all kinds of ways, all through the year. But not everyone has that, and even those who do, don’t like “missing out”. NO ONE wants to be left out of the celebrations around them.  We all love being remembered and told that we are special. I would love it I think if on all the “celebration days” of the year, that he would tell me that he celebrates me on this day as well as all days!

And so to those of you whose loved ones made you feel special yesterday, I am truly truly happy for you and I don’t believe that it was tacky or silly or shallow. Enjoy!!

But just as importantly, for those of you who felt sad or angry yesterday, for those who felt that yesterday was salt rubbed into your often open aloneness wounds, I deeply deeply feel for you and I hear you!

Celebrate away people, … but please, can I ask you not to forget that some around you are hurting, and also give them a reminder that you love them too xxx

 

First Blog…

So much to say, so much to add, … I’m torn between Blogging and writing and right now writing is winning (which is a GOOD thing!) but I am not keeping up with my blogs so I think that it is time to move some of the more relevant stuff from there to here, and keep it all in one spot! I’ll just keep blabbing away but no longer all over the the place hehe 🙂