Taking on a challenge
A few weeks ago I went on a course called ‘We All Need Words’ at The School of Life in London. It was my first day away from the kids since our son was born and I was both excited and anxious. It was great to have the chance to do something purely for me, but after months of the baby being an extension of myself, I wasn’t sure how I would cope without him. I needn’t have worried.
The course took place in a basement in Camden, which was kitted out with ornate wallpaper, velvety carpet and über-cool furniture. We spent the day discussing how to write more effectively, trying our hand at mostly short pieces including dating adverts and dictionary entries, and sharing our work. It was fun, surreal and out of my comfort zone. I’d highly recommend it. [http://www.weallneedwords.com]
Embracing writing exercises
One of my favourite exercises was crafting superhero stanzas. Our course instructors, the brilliant, down-to-earth word-smiths Molly and Rob, invited us to write a few sentences about someone we know, give them a superhero name and zoom in on one of their strengths or weaknesses. These may not be the typical qualities you would associate with a superhero – we’re not talking about flying, invisibility or weather-control here – but that is what makes this exercise so interesting; there is something unique and powerful to be uncovered in everyone you meet.
Inspired by Molly and Rob, I have decided to introduce you to some of the key people in my life, by way of a superhero stanza each. For each one, I’ve isolated a trait I admire, but have also hinted at their vulnerabilities. Do you recognise any of these characters in your own life?
- Mistress Grafter – She works from dawn to dusk in the service of others, her loved ones barely registering her efforts while strangers are touched beyond belief. Her body ages but her soul sings. And the phone keeps ringing.
- Calm Waters – He is a towering example of moral courage yet he has no religion. He thinks clearly about his desired goal and moves towards it silently, with infinite patience. Victory is almost certain, yet he keeps his emotions in check, restraint crackling in his fingertips. His strength, shimmering just beneath the surface, is not obvious and they do not see him coming. Until it’s too late.
- Mister Magnanimous – He is gives of himself gladly. His affection knows no bounds and he is the first to reach into his pocket in times of need. They flock to him, drawn by his charisma and warmth, circling him so he is in the very centre of it all, where he likes to be. But his expectations of himself are equal to his expectations of others, and his disappointments weigh heavily, threatening to destroy it all.
- Sweet Candy – She fills the world with her light and they drink it from her greedily, with grasping hands that leave marks upon her soft skin. One touch from her and sadness is banished. Desperate for her gifts, they trample over each other to reach her, but the light remains hers, and hers alone. Only the glimpse of a pink tutu in the corner of your eye suggests she was ever there.
- The Protector – He guides her with gentleness, tending to her needs with a love that is selfless and pure. You can almost touch the bond between them with your fingertips. It fizzes and crackles and will last beyond their physical lives. Father extraordinaire, who has taught his daughter to reach for her dreams and built a safety net under her with his own body. And yet, the wounds left by his own father are still there, stinging, raw, on the underside of his skin, hidden from view.
- Mistress Inkwell – She sends her missives into the world, hundreds at a time, hand-written in square print in a language all of her own. She sweats over these patchworks of text, bleeds over them, squeezing out her joy onto the page until there is nothing left in her. The brightly coloured envelopes arrive at their destination where they languish on the doormat, waiting, forever waiting for their readers.
- Spaceman – He puts himself first, his self-respect propelling him through the gates of opportunity. He has arrived at his destination already and has set his sights on the moon. He will reach it quickly, without a spaceship, armed with stellar determination and textbook intelligence, his wings powered by the prayers of others.
So, those are some of my superheroes. Who are yours?
‘Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald
‘Though nature be ever so generous, yet can she not make a hero alone. Fortune must contribute her part too.’ Francois de La Rochefoucauld