Can you characterise Grief?

Grief can impact different people in a mixture of ways. Some will be unable to hide their emotions, allowing them to bubble at the surface. Such emotional turmoil can manifest in varied ways too; sobbing inconsolably can lead to guilt and then anger, which can be seen in the fervid desire for action in whatever circumstances they may have control over outside the death of their loved one.

Others may do their best to conceal their desperation only to have it show in the furrow of a brow, clench of a jaw, or downcast gaze. Each thought they have – hopeful or distraught – is hidden away deep beneath, but with an indication of it in each expression, like a wrapped present with a corner torn away.

Still, there are those that lie in between, able to contain their anguish in an appropriate manner and take it home with them. Only then may they break down, in solitude, no one to watch or judge or comfort. They are perhaps the people who know that such times are not to be centered upon their particular sorrow, but that focus should be instead on the one who has suffered their final moments and will never again be given the chance to cry, or speak, or love.

Then there are those who are stoic and seemingly uncaring, who do not shed a tear or break down, who cannot sit by a bedside or stop going about their daily lives. These are those who are unfairly judged, I think, as they do not react the way we ourselves would behave. The world for them is more black and white, they see situations where they can do nothing and choose instead to make use of their time in alternative ways. They appear to cope remarkable well, and are able to continue as if nothing at all may have changed. But, by and by, when the truth settles within them, when they have accepted the circumstances and have inwardly grieved, they will share their process with those closest and reveal their heart.

To take away something from this scenario, to even consider making the experience some use, I ask those of us that are writers; how would your characters grieve? Which of these, if any, would be their response to losing a loved one?

Do we even know our own character when it comes down to that particular heartache? Could you predict yours without having ever faced the loss of the one who brought you into this world?

Could you be average?

I never wanted to be average and I hate the word “routine”. I used to get itchy and uncomfortable whenever I felt life was becoming ‘ordinary’. I’m a little less concerned by the words themselves now. I’m living the life that makes me happy.

It’s likely that no two lives look the same, so what is average anyway? For many the fact I’m living my life the way I am, whilst managing two disabilities already makes me pretty extraordinary. We can cast judgment about our own lifestyle and routines as much as we like, but when it comes to others we have no idea of the challenges being overcome behind closed doors. Perhaps this is what makes each of unique; comparability then is a pointless activity.

I also try and follow the suggestions in this handy lifehack infographic. Some great tips in there…

Making friends

One or more of my friends and colleagues have at least once said to me how difficult it can be to make new friends in your thirties. It never occurred to me that, once you leave education, making friends becomes that little bit harder. There are fewer occasions that put you in scenarios where friendships can be formed. Of course, jobs can be an excellent place for forging new alliances, but I often find that these fade away once you are no longer working together. A shame, but not unusual in circumstances where the only things you tended to have in common were a mutual dislike of management structures and a preference for long lunches…

Strangely, as I’ve “grown up” – so to speak – I’ve managed to acquire a number of very good friends. Alongside my best friend from college, mentioned in a previous post, I’ve become close with neighbours, dog-lover and my Festival friends. All of these have all come about for reasons I can’t really explain. Although I perhaps have to admit that my inherited ‘talk-to-anyone’ attitude (thanks, Mum) has probably played a large part. As has my dislike for small talk, so I’ll always try and get straight to the juicy parts about what makes people tick. Maybe that’s the writer in me…

Consequently, I feel that I’ve made some lifelong friends in my thirties that enrich my life and genuinely contribute to my developing attitudes about myself, my work and my writing. I think I’ll always be looking out for opportunities to make new friends, however many others I have, because I like people; how they tick, why they do things; and most of all how I can help them to be their best self. After all, when I’m with my friends that’s how they make me feel.

How the BBC got Little Women so wrong…

What it must have been like in the writing room for the BBC’s three-part drama of Little Women; trying to decide which scenes were imperative and which expendable so they could fit it into a three hour production. As such, I could forgive them some of the missing details. It’s understandable why the Pickwick Papers didn’t make it into the filming schedule – after all, when I last read Louise May Alcott’s classic novel, I admit I skipped that chapter myself. So this review is not focused on the inconsequential scenes not present in the adaptation; my review is much, much more on the essential ones they missed out.

BBC Little Women

It was only in the final part of the drama that fury got the best of me. After tears of nostalgic grief for poor Beth my disappointment rallied as I realised that the BBC had skipped the most essential aspect of Alcott’s story. Our heroine Jo, whose one staunch characteristic has thus been her reluctance to marry (to be a tomboy, to not have to bow to convention, or even stoop so low as to fall in love to begin with!), is seen to change her mind on a whim. The BBC had her place her hand in the Professor’s and there we have it, job done: let’s skip to years later.

What?!

Not to mention that they eliminated one of the pivotal moments in the entire novel. Any storyteller knows that in order for their narrative to be successful something – or someone – has to change. With Alcott, all of her ‘little women’ make transformations; Amy from spoilt child into lady of admirable taste, Meg into a housewife happy with her lot, Beth…well, perhaps not Beth who will always remain so. Yet, the biggest transformation in Little Women happens to Jo. By the time she is reinstalled at the March household, trying desperately to replace Beth’s goodness with her own, she is convinced that life for her shall be one alone. That is, of course, until her Professor comes visiting.

What the BBC did, in wrapping Jo’s story up so swiftly and subtly, was rob all of Alcott’s biggest fans of their favourite ending. They neglected their main character, the driving force behind the story – for if it were not for boyish Jo the Marches may never have met Laurie next door, or become so acquainted with his teacher, nor would Beth have had to visit the Hummel’s alone – all of which would have turned the story on its head with no marriages for Amy and Meg, and perhaps a brighter future for dear Beth.

But the exclusion of Jo’s pivotal moment as she stands out in the rain with the Professor under that umbrella is, for me, inexcusable. The BBC had it, it was right there; if they had skipped over Meg’s disastrous attempts at jam making (which had no consequence given that they missed out John bringing home an unexpected guest) they would have made room for the crucial, most-tender moment for Jo’s character:

“Ah, thou gifest me such hope and courage, and I haf nothing to gif back but a full heart and these empty hands,” cried the Professor, quite overcome.

Jo never, never would learn to be proper; for when he said that as they stood upon the steps, she put both her hands into his, whispering tenderly, “Not empty now”; and stooping down, kissed her Fredrich under the umbrella.”

This is the happy ending that we all waited for; not the ribbon-wrapped scene of the March women sitting in the fields around Plumfield years later, with a thinly veiled hint that Amy’s child is sickly like her departed auntie Beth.

Little Women/Good Wives

I’ll stick to reading the classic novels

So, it’s no lie to say that had I been in that writing room at the BBC I would have fought for Jo’s alteration of character to be central to that final instalment, to let her have that proposal out in the rain and not simply alluded to with a hand in hand exchange during a sing-along. Little Women, for many, is defined by Jo’s story – in some ways Alcott’s story herself – and the BBC seem to have forgotten that. I was hopeful for this series drama because I adore Little Women and would gladly sit through their stories time and time again. But when such an integral aspect of the book is so neglected it tarnishes the whole and, as such, I’m not sure I can forgive the BBC for their adaptation of Alcott’s classic work when it so callously robbed me of my favourite parts.