Linda Proud’s Thirty-Minute Emotional Workout

Recently I inadvertently pressed a link to the Trimdown Club, the site behind all those ‘belly fat and banana’ ads. As it was my first exposure to this kind of advertising, I fell for it and am twenty-five quid poorer. Their ‘money back without a quibble’ guarantee begs a definition of the word ‘quibble’. They just plaster you with ‘freebies’ and extend the length of the ‘guarantee’. Worst of all, all you ever hear from them is more ads. It is such an effective way of marketing, I thought literature could benefit. So here we have Linda Proud’s Thirty-Minute Workout for your Emotions.

Imagine that, fascinated by a cartoon of a kitten crying, you have just pressed a button. What follows is in video form, but there is no slide bar saying how far you have yet to go. It could last forever, saying the same thing over and over, with nothing to watch but the words appearing on the screen sentence by sentence, punctuated with occasional selfies of satisfied customers/devotees laughing or crying, and no mention of kittens. So, thank you for pressing the link. Here we go… Cue vid.

 

Hi. My name is Linda Proud. I used to be a researcher, always looking stuff up for others, until I taught myself how to look stuff up for me. And what I discovered was amazing. My novel will change your life. With just half an hour’s reading a day, your brain will get a full workout and your emotions a deep cleansing. The cleansing of the emotions by drama is nothing new. I went searching in ancient texts and found that the Greek playwrights knew all about it and even had a name for it: catharsis. Yes, big word. Catharsis. With a dose of catharsis every day you can weep, laugh, experience alarm all from the comfort of your armchair. Not many people know that. In fact, I may be the only one, but I am willing to share it with you. If you read this right to the end, I will show you how to experience emotions so powerful that you get a full cardio right from the comfort of your armchair with your body completely still and relaxed. Here is what Fern experienced reading my novel (Vid clip 1). This is what Niagra experienced (Vid clip 2). This is Sean before and after reading my novel. See how bright and washed his face looks? That could be yours! [This opening paragraph is to be repeated four times with the words slightly rearranged, illustrated by more, many more, before and after video clips, all slightly fuzzy]. At the end of the presentation (pronounced pree-sentation):

This novel cost me my life to write. If you work out how many hours I put into it, each copy is easily worth about a thousand dollars. Amazon doesn’t know I’m doing this but, until they find out and start whacking me with their ‘no undercutting’ clause, I’m going to let you have it for MUCH LESS, yes, MUCH LESS. My novel will change your life for just $197.

But it doesn’t stop there. There are bonuses. I’ll accept your friendship on Facebook and Twitter without question and send you countless self-promo emails and video clips. Every day you will receive a link to another presentation about another of my novels, and each time I am mentioned in the press, you will be among the first to hear about it. You will get unequalled access to all my thoughts and doings via my blog, streamed right into your brain with no off button. All this at NO EXTRA CHARGE.

As it is a Monday morning and I’m feeling stupidly generous (that’s catharsis for you) I’m going to go further, much further. That heavily discounted price of $197? It just dropped. For this week only, you can buy my novel for $97.

Oh, I just can’t stop myself. Generosity is a drug. That’s catharsis for you. For today only, you can receive my novel as an ebook for just nine dollars. Yes, you read that right. NINE DOLLARS.

End with big yellow Paypal button.

Do your bit for literature! Buy books! Start to feel again!

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The Butterfly goes Free

Before the onset of this bout of acedia, I’d had an idyllic week at Brantwood on the shores of Coniston Water, in a ‘self-arranged’ writers’ retreat. Highly recommended, that: find some writing buddies, rent a beautiful place and enjoy a week or more of total immersion. Perhaps the acedia was the result of returning home to normal life (and distractions), for when the light is bright, the shadows deepen. Anyway… While at Brantwood, staying in the lodge, I became reacquainted with John Ruskin whose house this was and whose spirit is everywhere.

I first met JR in my post-hippy, PreRaphaelite days, as the man behind the Brotherhood who had suggested their name, the art critic who was awakening public appreciation of what we now call the early Renaissance. Anything before Raphael was good; anything after – JR found it wanting, saying that from the high Renaissance to his own time, art had relied more on pictorial convention than observation of nature, until the advent of Turner. So, in fact, I owe all my novels thus far to Ruskin. Back in 1971 I was deep in what was at the time diagnosed as agoraphobia (this I now doubt), but a light came on the moment I wondered what ‘Pre Raphael’ might mean. That led immediately to reading everything I could lay my hands on about Botticelli; then my reading about Florence in the 15th century and the Medici; then writing what would turn out to be four novels. I had been found in the darkness by a Muse with a torch! And my Muse – perhaps his name was Ruskin.

I realise now that my life has been dogged by acedia, manifesting mostly in my ability to become bored. So quickly and easily do I become bored that I tend to carry an activity bag with me whenever I travel: a kindle, a notepad, perhaps some knitting, anything to guard against unexpected free time. I have deluded myself all along that this had something to do with the protestant work ethic, that every moment should be usefully spent and productive. Pish. I was just terrified of boredom. So imagine my horror when I went out the day before yesterday to meet a friend in a park and ride, setting off early to beat traffic jams, promising myself a good reading session should I get there early, only to realise half way there that I’d forgotten to bring anything to read. I actually broke out in a sweat! And then laughed as I recognised and accepted the challenge I was being offered. Could I sit for half an hour in a car park with nothing to do? DD had bought me a notebook for my birthday, too small and pretty for practical use, but I’m using it anyway, and it’s so small it fits any pocket, so I happened to have it with me. The car found a place in front of a hedge and for half an hour I looked at bramble leaves and how they spray from the stem, at rose leaves, at hawthorn leaves, at the viscious barbs that are rose thorns and the gentle pricks that are hawthorn, and I made miniature drawings in my tiny book and, know what? I was as happy as the proverbial Larry.

Intrigued by Ruskin during my stay at Brantwood, reading the quotes set up here and there in the gardens that rise above the house, and dipping into the anthology that, like Gideon’s bible, is to be found in every guest room, I decided to find out more about him and, when I was asked to give a talk at Art in Action, I proposed one on Ruskin, ‘Writer, Artist and Seer’. Nothing quite like a public talk to give a study some focus. That study turned out to be the path through the bog with long, spindly Ruskin striding ahead saying, ‘Come along, come along, let me teach you how to see! Have you not been diagnosed with macular degeneration? You need to learn now to use your eyes before it is too late.’ My Muse!

And so I spent the spring and early summer, learning how to rest the attention on natural forms, to see something and say what I saw plainly. I’ll write more on this anon. For now it is enough to say that ATTENTION is the cure for acedia, and those ancient monks knew it, enjoining each other to put some zeal into mundane tasks.

‘If I could but lie down in Coniston Water,’ Ruskin said, suffering from his own demons, ‘I should be well.’ DD, seeing how well I was on my return from the Lakes in February, intimated that he would quite like to take the cure himself, and so we went to Coniston in June, hiring a cottage at the south end. And we were both healed. I remember one moment, sitting at the jetty below Brantwood and feeling a sensation that I described to myself as ‘opening of the heart’ but which is not that. Not in reality. What happens is that one’s limits disappear and the sense of the individual is lost in the sense of the whole. Happiness! And as the feeling lapped my being as the waters of Coniston lap against the harbour that Ruskin built himself, I saw the demon face to face, that mean-spirited horrid sprite who says, ‘Don’t be happy! You’ll die!’ How true that turns out to be! For in happiness the bored, crabby, dismissive me does indeed perish.

Life now consists in keeping up the practices and bringing Coniston home which, as my experience in the car park proves, can indeed be done.

I finally freed the trapped butterfly using the glass-jar-and-card trick that works on spiders. I took it outside and set it free over the flower bed. It had surprising strength left in those torn wings; it circled the flower bed, circled the garden, fluttered over next door, circled their tree, not stopping to eat at all; fluttering in joy and freedom it flew until it was just a dot and then disappeared from view.

Coniston water dusk

The Shredded Butterfly

Apologies for long absence. Each time someone new has registered an interest in this site, I’ve felt guilty, believing that the Ancestral Voices had fallen silent, perhaps forever. But now at last I am hearing distant sounds again, a song deep in the forest, and I thought this would be a good time and place to say what has been going on, in case anyone else is or has been or will be similarly affected.

It happened in March. It was as if a sink hole had opened in the soul and everything drained out of me. First went the writing. As I usually take the summer ‘off’ this should have been normal but I knew it wasn’t: when a friend asked how the book was going, I heard myself say that I’d given up writing. After that, everything else began to slide into the hole, everything that interests me and gives pleasure: knitting, reading, learning the piano, walking. Dreaming. When my dreams went down the hole and left me an insomniac, I began to do some research and after a few clicks on Google came up with ‘clinical depression’. As if I’d just realised I was drowning, I began to beat my way up to the surface. As a call for help I began to tell others what was going on. Some said it was philosophical detachment but I knew it wasn’t. This was not freedom: this was bondage.

It was a friend in Chicago who wrote back at once saying, no, not depression but ACEDIA. She recommended Kathleen Norris’s Acedia and Me, A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life, which has been a powerful part of the cure.

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Acedia is not a condition, it’s a vice. One of the ‘eight bad thoughts’ identified by the desert fathers, it became combined with sloth to form one of the seven deadly sins of the medieval church. Monks who had somewhat overdone either their studies or religious observances or both could succumb to this demon who starts asking pertinent questions such as ‘What is the point?’ They called it the Noonday Demon. Norris describes it as a state of restlessness, of not living in the present and seeing the future as overwhelming.

There were many causes for my succumbing – a less than enthusiastic critique was one – but what really began to get me down was the writing business itself, the festivals, the glorification of the few and the overlooking of the many, the sheer amount of books being written – it was all adding to a weight pressing down on me. Really, what was the point? I left the Royal Society for Literature and disengaged from all literary events. It was over. I was finished as an author. In the depths of it all, I had one thing left and that was my love of sacred geometry. While my creative life crumbled, I drew patterns and, buying some gouache paints, learnt to paint within the lines. A good exercise in attention.

And attention, it turned out, was a major part of the cure; I’ll write about that tomorrow.

For now I am staring at a peacock butterfly which has been trapped in my writing hut for at least a day. Yesterday it was a beautiful butterfly  tapping in vain at panes of glass that do not open as windows, ignoring the one that does, perhaps kept away from it by the draught, the very draught that spells its freedom. Now its wings have been shredded by the effort; it is exhausted, starving, and refuses all offers of help such as a big green leaf to step on. It just renews its vigour, walking back across the desk to launch itself against the glass as hard as it can. Butterfly dust falls on paper like glitter powder. I consider picking it up but surely it will crumble to nothing in my hands. O, my soul…