Disappointments are natural occurrences in life and there’s no escaping them. Whilst you can’t predict them, you can build up coping mechanisms to fight off the feelings of despair or anger and turn them into a learning experience.
I bet you know one or two people who seem to live charmed lives, at least on the surface. You might be a bit envious of them as they scoop every job they apply for, find the most attractive and successful partner without even combing their hair or find opportunities drop in their lap like gold from the gods.
Feel sorry for them instead as they miss out on the opportunity to grow and evolve. Making mistakes and handling crashing disappointments in life are the best ways of improving those soft skills that are important to relationships and gaining a deeper meaning of life ; communication, listening, empathy, appreciation of small things and resilience. Being challenged draws us out of our comfort zone and knocks the smug smile from our self- satisfied faces.
For many, disappointments come from setting unrealistic goals and expectations. How many times have you said to yourself or worse still another person, ‘By the time I am ( age) I will ( fill in gap). At one time, interviewers used to ask that very question. ‘Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?’ It’s a nonsense question. Our hopes and attitudes are constantly shifting and by laying out a clear plan for your future is a sure way of setting yourself up for disappointment.
Thing is, disappointment is never quite as bad as it feels initially. In fact, you might be relieved that you didn’t get that house or marry that person. It’s reassuring to think that something might be looking out for your interests ( God, universe, a leprechaun) but maybe something smashes your hopes because you weren’t in the right head space to accept it. I’m a believer in Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity. Everything happens at the “right” time. Whatever that means.
What’s the best way of handling disappointments?
Take a lesson from the Stoics. They believed that the only thing we can control are our reactions to whatever life throws at us i.e our thoughts and feelings. Most psychologists would say the same which is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a tool of choice in therapeutic practice.
Helen poked her head out of the back door and held out her hand to test for rain. The dahlias in her back garden nodded their bronze and yellow heads in the September breeze and looked so gorgeous she made a note to photograph and email them to her daughter, Sheena.
The chiming of the church clock reminded Helen she was going to be late for her computer class if she didn’t hurry. Pulling on her jacket, she looked round for her bag and slipped out into the light drizzle to walk the mile into town.
With the dramatic Malvern Hills behind her, the range of summer greens slowly turning to the colour of bracken and copper, Helen walked carefully down the steep slope, grabbing the handrail whenever a stab of pain shot through her knee. The doctor had said swimming would help strengthen the muscles but at her age she didn’t relish getting into a swimming costume to show off wobbly thighs.
It was difficult to miss the sign for Silver Surfers in the church hall belonging to the ancient Priory. As Helen followed the arrows she felt a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Sheena had taught her how to email and to attach documents and photographs and from time to time she searched for interesting bits of family history but that was as far as her knowledge went.
The room quickly filled up with people chatting over refreshments as Helen stood by the door watching them nod and laugh and wave to people they knew. Some smiled as they inched past her to find their places. A row of white laptops blinked patiently, as eager fingers flexed over keyboards in readiness for the lesson.
‘Hello, I’m Ray, the tutor. You are?’
‘Helen Watterson. I’m new.’
‘Welcome. Have you had much experience of technology?’
Helen explained her limits, explaining that she’d like to be able to write a short book of family history for her daughters. ‘Sheena keeps telling me to go on Skype but I don’t know what she means.’
‘What about business transactions? That’s what we’re doing today.’
Helen frowned and hitched her bag back onto her shoulder as she tried to make sense of what he meant.
‘Online banking, paying bills, buying things?’ He glanced surreptitiously at the clock.
‘Oh not banking. You hear terrible stories of hi jacking.’
Ray smiled and guided her to a seat between Martin and Joy telling her not to worry. Martin offered her a mint while Joy fetched her a glass of water.
‘We will help you if you get stuck. If we don’t get with the technology we’ll get left behind,’ she laughed. ‘See John over there? He’s eighty-four and is a whizz on the keyboard.’
Helen ran her tongue over her dry lips and took off her jacket as a trickle of sweat formed on her brow. A notebook at the ready, she focused on the overhead screen and tried to follow Ray’s instructions. Martin leant over and showed her where to click the cursor.
By the end of the session, Helen felt exhausted and tearful. Why had life become so complicated? What was wrong with the old fashioned way of going into the bank and having a chat with the clerk? Only yesterday had she gone into the branch at the top of Church Road and explained about her card being spat out by the hole in the wall.
‘Some of us are going down to the theatre for a coffee? Would you like to come?’ Helen was about to say she had things to do but Joy’s inquisitive eyes were also kind so she nodded, relieved to have a break from her empty house.
Over drinks she admitted that the class had scared her so much she didn’t think she’d go again.
‘Ray’s a good teacher but I’m not fast enough.’
‘That’s how we all felt at first. I was forced to go online as they say because my family live in Canada now. It means I can see my grandchildren playing and chat to them. They show me their homework and… well the pain was worth it.’ Martin, broke off a bit of his large cookie and gave it to Helen. ‘Cheer up. We’re a friendly gang and we’ll help.’
They chatted about their families and how hard it was to be away from them. By the time they said their goodbyes, Helen had to admit that the internet could be a lifesaver.
The walk back up the hill to Rose Cottage, past the art gallery and the little bookshop, seemed less of a drag as she thought about the new friends she’d made. They’d even invited her to join their music appreciation class.
As Helen turned the key in the door, she caught sight of the postman trundling his trolley along her lane. She waited to see if he had any bills or more junk mail for her recycling bin.
‘Your garden’s looking lovely,’ he said, rooting through his bundle.
‘Thank you. It’s a bit of a struggle because of the slope,’ she laughed, patting down her hair as the wind tugged strands from its band.
‘A letter for you today.’
Helen felt the smooth, creamy envelope between her fingers and frowned. The writing sloped to the right and was like the flowing copperplate that she had once learned at school.
She took it into her sunny living room and looked out over the common where dog walkers stopped to chat. Malvern was such a beautiful place to live even now Jack had gone. Digging through a drawer of her bureau she found his silver paper knife and slid it carefully under the flap, wondering who on earth it could be from.
Dear Mum, You said you would love to receive a letter in the old fashioned way so here it is. ….
Many years ago it was suggested that I wrote a memoir about being married to my Iranian husband and my experiences of the racism we suffered in Birmingham and the effect the Iranian Revolution had on our lives. It did in fact break us up and break him down. An interested agent produced a ghost/co-writer who is a best- selling novelist who came up with a “hook” which he said would get the book on the New York Times best seller list.
As I travelled back from London, the ink barely dry on the contract , my head buzzed with what it all might mean; fame, wealth, a film deal like Betty Mahmoody’s “Not Without My Daughter.” I could have written that book myself as we were in Iran at the same time and shared similar experiences.
As the adrenaline rush subsided, stark reality slapped me in the face. I had two young daughters of mixed heritage and they were vulnerable. I knew that if my ex-husband and his family were to find out about the book, and this was in pre-internet days, we would be at great risk. His network of cousins was like a spider’s web across Europe. By the following morning, I’d decided against it.
Memoir is a slice of your life and there is a bit of that in everyone, trying to punch its way out. With blogging, self-publishing and social media to get it out there, the memoir has never been so easy to write and distribute. As we get older and bits get chipped off by life’s demolition ball, we reach a point when sharing our experiences, often for altruistic motives, becomes a driving force in our lives.
The big problem with memoir as I see it is that nobody really wants to read it unless it inspires them in some way such as a story of survival.
It’s hard enough getting a novel published and out in paperback in the book shops. With so many books being published every day, unless you are well-known for something else – invention, performance, discovery or a celebrity, the chances of your story being of interest will be miniscule. Memoirs of traumatic childhoods were in vogue a few years ago or of young women being abducted and taken out to some Arab village to be married off but there is only so much the reading public can stomach of the misery genre.
Memoir, like autobiography, is a positive thing to do if it’s to provide a record of your life and family for those coming after you. The memoir can be cathartic and aid transformation. It’s a way of finding some closure even if no answers.
If you are looking to publish and be damned, then there are a few considerations before you set off on what can be a very painful journey.
ü Memoir is a slice of life not the whole of it. The first task is to choose which slice.
ü Memoir is not fiction. It is about truth. You can’t make up things and wrap it round some facts. This cheats your readers and you will lose credibility.
ü How will the people mentioned in your memoir feel? Are you going to ask them in advance or risk their wrath if they don’t like or agree with how they are portrayed.
ü Libel can be a big issue in memoir writing. Avoid character defamation. These are real people not figments of your imagination.
ü Don’t use a memoir to exact revenge.
ü Whilst I’ve said it can be cathartic, it shouldn’t be used as therapy. This will lead to a stream of consciousness rather than a carefully constructed story.
ü Step back from the first draft and wait. Let it shuffle into its clothes in its own time. Go back and re-read with a red pen in your hand. As with any book, be ruthless with its pruning.
ü A memoir is not about painting yourself as some conquering hero nor should it be all positive or negative.
Jackie Buxton, Author of Tea and Chemo presents a prime example of how writing a memoir can help others. A breast cancer survivor, she has racked up over 80 five star reviews and has inspired not only women in a similar position but people fighting all kinds of cancer and the hospital staff treating them. I asked Jackie for a few words but as she has written so eloquently about why she wrote Tea and Chemo I am going to give you the link below so you can read her own words.
I’ve been asked if The Cruelty of Lambs is part memoir. In the strict sense of the word, no it’s not but I’ve drawn deeply on many personal experiences and allowed the characters to experience and react to them. My niche market has developed as writing about the tragedies within ordinary life. I shall continue to write snippets of my own life into my novels if the day ever comes when I feel comfortable writing my own story.. or when I am so famous, publishers are banging on my door demanding it. J