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Picking Away At Myself

The following article is my attempt at answering The Sandbox Writing Challenge — Exercise 5


 

Okay. My spade, my shovel and my digging forks are poised. Yes, gulp, I have several of each tool.

When I was younger – I wasn’t that young that I didn’t have a family (admittedly my eldest son had only just started primary school) – a director of the organisation I worked for insisted on signing off on my yearly appraisal and adding this comment:

“Kelvin is the kind of person who, if he sees a hill of excrement, will not act like other people. He won’t walk around it, pondering. Neither will he walk up to it and prod it with a stick. Neither will he walk around and around it, then manage or participate in ring-fencing it. No, Kelvin will stomp right up to it and wade right in. He will stomp around until he gets to the heart of the problem then he will share what he finds with his superiors so together everyone might find the best solution.”

I am unsure if this analogy sprang from some management book of the eighties or the nineties, however it doesn’t really matter. That director, who had an interesting an unusual name (which to share with you might get me into trouble), captured the essence of me.

Nowadays, I would like to think if I were still in multi-million pound cutting edge engineering, that before I stomped right in to those hills of excrement we tend to cover problems with until they become a mountain we cannot move, I would wear PPE first (Personal Protection Equipment – googles, boots, gloves, heck – a deep sea diver’s suit!) I would also like to think I would check the surroundings to make sure any onlookers were well back and didn’t get splattered by the proverbial hitting the fan – unless they wanted to be in the way, of course.

These days, having written this, I would also like to think I pray before acting and after thinking. That I would keep my thoughtfulness, prayerfulness and action in proportion to each other, while never losing sight of the undeniable truth that mountains, be they made of rocks or Sugar Honeyed Iced Tea, can be moved by faith and love.

The ingredient this director’s analogy seems to identify in me is: I am a man of action.

Digging deeper, I would also like to think I am reliable. I do those tasks others fear. I am not afraid of working alone in adverse conditions (I view writing as one of these areas where I have to face down my monsters every day – monsters who bang and crash and can roar that these words I am writing are rubble, and will never form part of that building I am the architect, builder (bricklayer, roofer, plumber, electrician, carpenter, plasterer, double-glazer) and inspector for.

Digging even deeper, I discover:

I am disciplined yet creative;

I am playful yet serious;

I am patient, yet sometimes I am intense;

I am energetic, yet it must be channelled.

Substituting my shovel and spade for a pickaxe and chiselling away at the bedrock of me, I find these nuggets:

I am a listener, conscious of not losing their voice;

I am strong, whether I want to be or not;

I am gentle;

I cannot help sharing;

I just cannot stop caring;

I am akin to these grains of sand slipping through my fingers.


400-9.3 Sand Grains Magnified 300 Times.jpg

Grains of sand magnified 300x courtesy of Dr Gary Greenberg

 

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Moments, Moments, Everywhere

The following essay is my attempt at answering The Sandbox Writing Challenge — Exercise 4


 

I struggled with this exercise. Everything I began writing felt contrived, I think because I was revealing too much of myself, in an undisguised way.

Mmm.

I am a writer. Writers write. Publicly, writers must possess the skin of a rhinoceros; privately, they need to be able to peel back their own skin to discover what is really going on underneath. Which is easier said than done. And writers read. They read copiously. Reading relaxes me, even if the story jolts me or jars me out of the fictive dream, or offends my wordsmithery. Yikes. I have said it aloud. I am standing up. I am hanging my head. Yes, I am a wordsmith.

Writing gives me pleasure.

Living brings me pleasure.

Being alive in the moment and listening to those sounds around me: the birds’ dawn chorus as I take our dogs into the garden for their pre-breakfast ablutions; the cars growling past me as I cycle uphill around our village at dusk; and every crazy sound in-between, from the church bells’ incessant ring to the softest ting of our doorbell, sending our dogs crazy, and that contented noise they make when they relax, upside down, paws drooping in the air, bellies and bits on display as they relax into those ridiculous banana poses.

Helping people creates pleasure.

From supporting a friend as they walk that lonely and scary journey from cancer diagnosis, through chemotherapy to surgery to radiotherapy… to listening to a neighbour yesterday venting off about work frustrations… to empathising with an elderly man I do not recognise at the recycle point today who tells me he lost his son recently.

Holding all these daily occurrences, and more, then lifting them up as I struggle to find the best way to pray for them is strangely soothing. Genuinely interceding for others helps me live a less fragmented and more thankful life.

Thankfulness relaxes me.

Being thankful for who I am, what I have been given – my health, my happiness, my sadness, my ill-health, being married, being lonely. Knowing my limits. Pushing my limits. Not being afraid. Of myself. Of change. Of people who use anger to mask from themselves how they truly feel.

There are so many facets to this diamond-shaped moment of pleasure, this shining moment of relaxation.

In true writerly fashion, here is a one hundred word flash fiction story that tumbled from my fingertips on the 16th January this year.


38768-Moments-In-Life.jpg


DEATH OF A MOMENT

by

Kelvin M. Knight

I am the death of a moment. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m no celebration arsonist; I despise fire and pain – mine not yours. Your pain and frustration, your hurt and anger, I cherish as I move around, never touching but always surrounding you to become a drain for your heart and your head. A drain which fills your heart with passionate pride, and stirs this white noise in your head. I am your fear, your greedy envy, your forgotten forgiveness, your guilt avoidance strategy. I am all this and more. I am the death of this moment, if you let me.

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My Eye, My Storm

photograph of screaming stillness by milkhiccups


The following essay is my attempt at answering The Sandbox Writing Challenge — Exercise 3 on stillness. A question that I did not misread, honestly. 😬

Plato once scribbled in his written works that: “…to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living…”

What is it that keeps you from being still?


 

MY EYE, MY STORM

by

Kelvin M. Knight

The answer to this question is straightforward: it is not being able to cycle or weight train, not being able to listen to people, not writing for people, not finding the right time to pray. Strange as this answer may seem, please allow me tell you why this is the case…

There is a stillness I find in cycling that is rather appealing. The faster or harder (uphill or against the wind) I cycle, the more this stillness becomes me. Similarly when I resist gravity using chunks of metal for as many repetitions and as many sets as I can. Conversely, when I am walking the dogs and start pondering something I tend to walk slower. A particularly ponderous issue might grind my dog walking to a halt. Thankfully one dog pulls and the other whimpers in a high-pitched and rather annoying manner if I, or anyone walking him, dares to stand still.

I take this mental stillness I get while cycling into those times I set aside for quiet reflection and internal or extemporary prayer. I try to do each of these activities daily. I would like to do them more often, after all most of us do eat three times a day – whether we sit still while we are eating is a whole new ball game – and we do stop for copious tea and coffee breaks. Well, we should at least have two a day. Shouldn’t we?

Listening promotes stillness. Listening actively encourages humility which helps me to gently hold on to this peaceful place and show the person I am listening to that I care compassionately about them. Hopefully they feel some of the peace I experience too, especially when I can offer it silently and freely to them.

Writing, strangely enough, also instils stillness. Even though words may pour from my fingertips. Even though I may be trapped in that fictive dream. Within this storm of emotions – that I am trying to capture and let slide through the reader’s mind straight to their heart – there is an eye. The eye of the storm. A place of perfect stillness. A place of  faith.

And I enclose a prayer that came to me this morning after I opted out of Wednesday’s morning prayer session offered twice a week by my local church. Staying inside church, I strode down to the lady chapel and, uncannily, felt these words floating inside my head as I prayed alone. Which was before looking at this latest Sandbox exercise, truly!

 

🙏🏻 Heavenly Father

When I feel like a leaf tossed around in the wind, thank you for reminding me it is your wind, your breath.

When my eyes are stung by these tears welling inside me, when it feels as though a thunderstorm is brewing within and without me, thank you for reminding me how your son calmed the storm because of His faith.

Faith with love can move mountains. This faith you kindly bestowed upon me when I was ready, coupled with this love you generously offer everyone, unconditionally, should be more than enough to move me.

Move me when I dig in my heels.

Move me when I refuse to budge.

Move me when I cling onto a grudge.

Move me when I am being still and quiet for all the wrong reasons.

Amen.

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Balance

The following article, dare I even say essay (😱) – the first on this blog post which was meant to be dedicated solely to flash fiction –  is in answer to the inspirational Impromptu PromptingsThe Sandbox Writing Challenge — Exercise 2 which is


“It’s all about Balance. Do you consider yourself a balanced person? What are some of the things you do on a daily, weekly, etc. basis to keep yourself balanced? If you don’t feel you are, what can you do to help you find some of that needed balance?”

I hope you enjoy reading about how being balanced gets the better of me as we play in this sandbox together.


BALANCE

by

Kelvin M. Knight

Do I read as much as I write? Do I listen as much as I talk?

I should read more, I know I should. I should listen more: more often, more acceptingly, more actively, less judgementally. I should, I really should.

Do I eat a balanced diet? Do I balance calories consumed with calories burnt?

Well, yes I do, of course I do. And no I don’t, of course I don’t. I am lowering my head here, even though a long, long time ago (nearly almost once upon a time) I stopped owning a set of scales to step upon. Each day I do genuinely attempt to eat more fruit and vegetables than meat and carbohydrates or pastry and cakes. I really do. Each afternoon, I do wholeheartedly give it my all when I go cycling. Each evening during my weight training slot, I do push a little heavier weight or do those few extra repetitions in each set of my routine. Unfortunately, I fear my waistline is evidence of my inability to match in with out.

So where does that leave my thinking self, my emotional self, my spiritual self?

I do try to stretch myself mentally every time I go shopping by adding up the price of all the items being swiped through the barcode reader and getting the total correct, to the nearest pound, quicker than the cashier. I also do a similar exercise each month with the bank statements and credit card bills, versus receipts and cheque book stubs. And when I am not lost in numbers, I like to lose myself in jigsaw puzzles, colouring books, word searches, spot the difference puzzles, and remembering, reminiscing – the good stuff not wave after wave of negativity.

But what about my emotional self? Do I cry as much as I laugh? Do I confront situations, people, as much as I avoid them?

No, sigh, no. However, I do voluntarily offer my ‘in feeling’ (as distinctly opposed to ‘with feeling’) gift once or twice a week to help others. I also strive to integrate this awakened awareness, moment by moment, into important parts of my day, my week, my life. This practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.

And as for my spiritual self, is going to church once a week really enough? Or is something more required, something midweek, something everyday, maybe even twice a day? A midweek Eucharist perhaps, coupled with daily morning prayer and evening prayer? And what about praising and glorifying our maker every second of every day? Is it a question of quality over quantity or that revised age-old adage: In for a penny, in for a few hundred pounds? Whatever it is, there are my wow moments, my bump into nature’s architect moments. For these, I am truly thankful.

I know, reading back over this post, it feels as though I have raised more questions than answers. So does that make me imbalanced? Or is balance the wrong word here. Perhaps the right word is harmony?

Yes. Am I in harmony with myself? I would like to think so. I hope so, for the majority of the time. Certainly, harmonising my four selves: my physical self, my thinking self, my emotional self and my spiritual self, so they might become my little orchestra with each playing a part of me is a worthwhile goal. Then I might become more than a banging gong, more than a discordant song; so that, in truth, I might become a part of that chorus we are all meant to share.

Dictionary Corner

Empathy from Greek empatheia (from em ‘in’ + pathos ‘feeling’)

Sympathy from Greek sumpatheia (from sum ‘with’ + pathos ‘feeling’)

(615 words)

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Doors Opening

DOORS OPENING

by

Kelvin M. Knight

When you walk through that door, if I smile at you, will you smile at me?

When you walk through that door, if I greet you with a cheery, Hullo, will you speak to me?

When you walk through that door, if I offer you my hand in welcome, will you offer me yours?

When you walk through that door, if I do or say anything wrong, will you think me rude?

When I venture through this door, I want to be smiled at.

When I venture through this door, I want to be greeted with sincerity.

When I venture through this door, I want to be welcomed as if I belong.

When I venture through this door, I don’t want coldness. Coldness is what I get at home, at work, in the gymnasium, in the supermarket.

This is your space not mine.

This is where you are you

and where I must be

just a visitor.

I have only been coming here for a few years

compared to your twenty years

your thirty years, your fifty years.

Half your lifetime

into a heartbeat of mine.

So when I smile at you, I will try to understand why you don’t smile back.

So when I greet you warmly, I will accept your grunt, your frosty reply.

So when I offer you my hand in friendship, in peace, I hope one day you will be able to offer me the same, from your heart.

So when you walk through that door and I spread my arms wide in the warmest welcome, I pray that one day you will open your arms wide to other people, too.

(275 words)


400-4 Church Door Open Deep Inside.JPG

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This Essence of Me

The following piece is my response to the Sandbox Writing Challenge 2018 — Exercise 1 where the spelunking in the Cave of my Soul expert Impromptu Promptings encouraged us to:

“You find yourself in a quiet room looking at your reflection in this beautiful old mirror. What do you see? Is there anything in particular you like about yourself? Is there anything you don’t like? Tell us about it.”

I hope this exercise allows for a second bite of the cherry.


THIS ESSENCE OF ME

By

Kelvin M. Knight

This mirror may be old but my future is untold. I love tracing these intricate patterns with my forefingers. I hate glancing into the mirror at that person whose dark eyes are studying me. Better to feel every dent and groove of this gilt-covered wooden frame, from the gently arcing bottom to the crown-like top, clockwise then anticlockwise. There is a significance here, I know, something that will not long escape me.

I cannot escape me. Not here. Not now. I must look at myself: not a glimpse to check my hair isn’t sticking up before heading to work, and not furtive glances on those rare occasions that I shave, to check I haven’t left too many unsightly hairs around my lips or on my chin. I must look long and hard at myself. I must.

Why must I? Because this sandbox exercise requires it? Because my readers demand it? Or because I feel the time is right?

The time is never wrong. There is nothing to hide. Not on the outside and certainly not on the inside.

I am naked. That is the first thing I see. Naked yet strong. A strength in my legs, my arms, my chest, my shoulders which ripples to be used. I have always been strong. There I have said it. Now I see a trumpet at my lips and hear this discordant sound.

My hands jump to my ears, then slide over my eyes. Carefully, I peer through the gaps in my fingers. Still my strength is there. I have always been strong. For as long as I can remember I have always found a way to get along with this strength while still remaining gentle.

A gentle giant. That’s what I see. A gentle giant who is observing me calmly, contentedly. There are none of the dark stares I feared, no snarls, no baring of teeth, no flashing eyes, no muscles grinding my bones.

There is a smile. A welcoming smile. Revealing my off-white teeth, but not the gap for the tooth that was tugged out. A real knee in my chest dentist moment. Honestly.

There is a warmth in my eyes that surprises me. Because that warmth isn’t for me. This warmth is for others. For those I meet on my journey through life. For those I bump into as I cycle round and round this village we call home. For those I listen to who can never see me, who can never know me, but they can hear it, know it, if they listen, if they concentrate. That smile within me. That gentleness of my soul. That strength. This essence of love.

(445 words)

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Mirror, Mirror

The following flash fiction story is my response to the Sandbox Writing Challenge 2018 — Exercise 1 where the spelunking in the Cave of my Soul expert Impromptu Promptings encouraged us to:

“You find yourself in a quiet room looking at your reflection in this beautiful old mirror. What do you see? Is there anything in particular you like about yourself? Is there anything you don’t like? Tell us about it.”

I hope you enjoy my playfulness and my creative energy doesn’t crack anything.


MIRROR, MIRROR

by

Kelvin M. Knight

Mirror, mirror, on this wall, you see everything, you see all.

You see him. You see her. The way she melts into him. The way his strong arms envelope her. She fits within him. He fits within her. She feels at peace in his presence. He feels hopeful in hers.

Enjoying this peacefulness and hopefulness, you find yourself lost in their embrace. The way she adores him blossoms on her cheeks and on her lips, like forever flowers. The way he adores her shines in his eyes, even though his eyelids are closed.

You know there is nothing she does not accept about him, and nothing he does not accept about her. Before you, their love is unmasked, authentic. There is nothing they wouldn’t do for one another, in this snatched moment or the next. You see this as a bright light rippling before you, before fading behind you. Fading yet no less strong. Strong as their song echoing inside you. Her sweetly sung words for him. His heartfelt melodies for her. And your reflections for them, always.

(178 words)