January, and a new start

OK, I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. I ended last year by determining to get up at a decent hour each morning, as this was something which has been difficult for me all my life. That’s been cracked, with the minor glitch sometimes of feeling pretty groggy an hour or so later, but, all the same, it’s still new for me and something of a challenge which I’m proud of myself for rising to. I’ve never been good at going to bed early and, as a direct result of that, mornings are hard. But, all in all, I actually prefer it this way, as my days are considerably longer than they were.

This is just as well, as I’m getting busier than I’ve been in some time, working on proofreading projects, writing my own books (yes, books plural, as my focus demands more than one thing to home in on), editing ones I’ve already written so they’re as good as I can get them before I start sending them out, as well as reading as much as I can (I’m currently – finally – reading Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, in keeping with my continued obsession with all things Chinese). On top of all that, of course, is my training, which is becoming an increasingly important part of my life. I’m aiming to take another grading in a couple of months’ time and, as our instructor said last night that he wants us all to take at least two gradings this year, perhaps I can get myself to pass fourth pattern by the end of 2011. At least, that’s now the plan. So, the sooner I grade (and pass) third pattern, the more of 2011 I’ll have to learn and grade fourth. As patterns have become my favourite thing in kung fu training, partly because I love to learn how to do something different every so often and partly because they’re fun and a good way of working out, this is something I’ve taken on as a personal challenge, not only as a way of pleasing my instructor (though I know he would be even more pleased if I began eating meat, or at least fish, which is something I haven’t done for almost 21 years) but as something I can do to further my progression. Patterns are a way of altering the way the brain works, forging new neural pathways as you learn the movements and your body gets to know it so your brain doesn’t, in the end, intervene. If you’re not good at something in the pattern – not finishing movements, no conviction, bad stance, weak beginning, etc – it shows that aspect of your personality. Hence, if you can change this in your pattern, you can change that part of your personality that needs improvement. As I get older and I realise how brief life really is, I want to fit more in and become a better person, so learning patterns is a way of doing that. I think it’s the best way of doing that.

I’ve also vowed to make the trip to my beloved Inverness this year, to see my best friend in the world, because I haven’t seen her for seven years (shame on me), and I want to be able to give her printed copies of my trilogy. My finished trilogy. For her to be my first critical reader of all three. So I need to be able to do that, which means doing enough to finish the third book and edit all three before I go.

Occasionally, I consider all of this and think I must be insane: how much can one person do in a twelvemonth, after all? But with the extra hours I’ve bought for myself by getting up earlier each day, I know I can fit it all in. Last night, I had my first taster of what it is to be a writer who sells books, as the people in the club who had ordered one got a copy of my book from NaNoWriMo 2009. I signed each one and it was a strange but very good feeling seeing how pleased my friends were to receive the book at last. It’s not a professional binding, just A5 using a hole-punch and two treasury tags per copy, but it’s a personal thing. I’ve asked for feedback, as these are my first paying readers, and I do have plans to publish it ‘properly’ later on. The thing that feels the strangest is the fact this is one of my babies and I’ve forced it onto the world, albeit among friends. The people who read it will have a good idea of some of the things that go on in my head, and that’s a daunting prospect, one no doubt felt by every writer at some stage. Writing is a very personal and solitary thing, and to have others read what you produce, in my case mainly by stream-of-consciousness, is like letting them further into your soul than they’ve ever been before. But I trust these people: they’re my kung fu brothers and sisters and non-judgemental in a way I need them to be, but I’ve asked for honesty in criticism because I know they also know how to be tactful.

That’s what being part of a club like this means: camaraderie, fraternity (what’s the feminine equivalent of fraternity?), trust, respect and friendship. We have all these things and more, because we don’t call instructors Shifu but by name. One of the instructors calls our Chief Instructor Chief, but he refuses to be called a master (‘You have to die before you become a master’) and that lends an air of informality to our club but with the necessary level of respect and filial piety.

So, that brings me to the end of the first post of 2011. The 3rd February is the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. With Yin (feminine), aquamarine and Piscean links, water will be significant this year. Let’s put this to our advantage and make the best of what we have.

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