Just walk away…

This article first appeared a few years ago on Writing IT Better, with Rob Wilcox, but is still pertinent. Image by Laurence Walsh.

Yes, you’ve guessed it, we’re talking ‘time management’. Yawn.

Sitting in my office trying to write this, my children are talking to me before school (I should be pleased) and the dog is barking. Transient interruptions.

However, I am also receiving emails by the bucketload, Facebook messages, tweets and my WhatsApp is trying to engage me in a deep and meaningful conversation. My replies grow terser by the minute.

What to do? Because you can rest assured that I cannot write with all these interruptions.

Somehow, I need to have breakfast, make a drink (basic comfort essentials for work)  and crack on with it as time is short today….so, how do I switch people off so I can switch the creative juice on?

Why do I (and millions of others) not have the self-discipline to ignore the instant demands of the computer, phone, tablet, apps and other electronic wizardry which we keep in our faces 24/7?

Over to IT Rob to solve my problem: 

I too suffer endless interruptions in my day-to-work.  I have at least 4 different hats on, every day.

Time is always short. And as Dawn says, replies get shorter/terser and stress levels go shooting upwards.

There are lots of different ways of getting rid of the distractions such as:

– Turn off the internet – Really. Turn. It. Off.

– Close the door.

– Focus, and by that I mean stop trying to multitask, and either do one complete task, or slice up time and stick to it (like you would a meeting, or appointment slot).

There are tons more. Each will work for some people, and not others.  Some might work for a time, until your brain manages to work out a way of breaking your rules!

What I’ve been trying recently though does (for now) seems like a killer way.

Walk away

That’s right. Just simply walk away.  You are not doing your best for anyone if you have 10 different things spinning around in your head, and you’re also hurting yourself in the process.

Just walk away. Look at nature, and the beauty that is all around.  Whether you live in a city, a town, or are lucky enough to live by the ocean with waves and rolling hills there is always somewhere you can go to just slow down, gather your thoughts, take some deep breaths, and start again.





Should we get het up about punctuation?

It’s hard to believe that a book about punctuation became a bestseller, but that is exactly what happened with Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Truss advocated a ‘zero-tolerance- approach’ to sloppy punctuation, but how important is it? Well, even the first page resonated with me. Yes, I do gasp with horror and grow cross when I see stray apostrophes (you know the DVD’s, CD’s type). As Truss writes: For any true stickler…the sight of the plural word “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of a bereavement, though greatly accelerated.

She’s not wrong. Commas also get her goat, and mine. The biggie, however, is perhaps the semi-colon. The American writer, Donald Barthelme apparently wrote that the semi-colon is “ugly, ugly as a tick on a dog’s belly”. That is pretty ugly, though not nearly as ugly as removing it, and therein lies a tale (tail?)…

Truss notes that, according to critics, semi-colons are old-fashioned, middle-class and optional. Additionally, they are mysteriously connected to pausing, are dangerously addictive and too complex. Yet, a well-placed semi-colon can make a punctuation nerd swoon. It is easier to fall in love with someone who knows how to appropriately use a semi-colon.

Semi-colon or colon?

There’s a rather lovely distinction between the semi-colon – ;   and the colon –  :

…while the semi-colon lightly propels you in any direction related to the foregoing, the colon nudges you along lines already subtly laid down. 

There follows a joke about semi-colonic irrigation…let’s not go there…

G. B. Shaw said that when the second statement reaffirms, explains or illustrates the first, you use a colon.

So…I loved Opal Fruits as a child:no one else did suggests Truss.  Or Man proposes:God disposes

Colons are rather good for lists, e.g,, I did not like certain qualities exhibited by Mary Anne: haughtiness, superciliousness, arrogance and pride. 

So, where would you use a semi-colon? Easy. Between two related sentences where there is no and or but

Truss suggests I loved Opal Fruits; they are now called Starburst, of course. 

The semi-colon is called a compliment to the reader. No need to spell it out for an intelligent being. Someone I once knew reckoned that: “to be corrected means I am being understood”. Quite possibly, but it makes it no less annoying, especially if you are reading a published book (self-publishing authors, please take note).


Punctuation is important and we should fight for it, even at risk of being called ‘sad’ and told to ‘get a life’.

Bear in mind that a  comma can be a case of life and death. Sir Roger Casement was an Irish nationalist activist. You can read what happened here. The stakes are not usually quite so high but when pandas stop eating shoots and leaves and start eating, shooting and leaving, to abuse Truss’s phrase, then meaning changes beyond all recognition.

Punctuation matters.

Online writing/feedback services…

If you check my pay online page on this blog, you will see that I can now offer online writing classes, sending information and exercises to people who cannot attend writing classes, or who do not live locally.

For those who simply want constructive feedback on their work, I am also able to provide this. 8733721_orig

A cut too far…

Revisiting some older articles…this is an uncomfortable one…

When I commented on Twitter some years ago about an article on female genital mutilation (FGM) being different to and worse than, male circumcision, I did not expect the response I got, which included a couple of papers to read from Brian Earp, an ethics research fellow at the University of Oxford. This is based around one of those papers. 

According to Brian, I hadn’t really thought closely enough about the subject at all. So, I started reading more…

FGM comes and goes in the news, but in reality, it is ever-present. The British Government has described it as child abuse, and its practitioners as ‘perpetrators’.

Now, there is the issue of whether male circumcision should be treated in the same way.

Earp (2014) asks the very question about whether FGM and male circumcision should be procedures which are considered separately.  Surely, he suggests (in a much more educated and detailed way than I can here; read his papers) children, female and male (or intersex) “should be free from having parts of their genitals removed unless there is a pressing medical indication”.  I must admit I had never really thought about male circumcision. It is not part of my culture, nor something that has impacted upon my life. I’d never really thought about it as ‘mutilation’ for example, in the way that FGM has horrified me since I first heard of it.

So, how does the removal of male foreskin equate with the mutilation of female genitalia?

Well, Earp suggests the claims commonly made that FGM is equivalent to castration/total penectomy, and that male circumcision is just ‘a minor intervention that may confer health benefits’ are misleading, or plain wrong.

My thinking was more along the terms of rationale rather than pain.  I assume (d) that male circumcision has nothing to do with controlling male sexuality, whereas FGM eliminates any sexual enjoyment. Wrong. 

So, yes, I was one of those who felt that all FGM was unacceptable and that male circumcision, while not something I chose – or even thought about – for my sons, is nothing like as catastrophic. Reality is, I hadn’t really thought about circumcision for men at all. The Xhosa in South Africa still practise this rite of passage.


First, I learned that the World Health Organization  (WHO) defines no less than 4 types of FGM. The list, for ease (mine), comes from Earp’s paper:

  • Partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy). I’m wincing as I type.
  • Clitoridectomy as above and partial or total labia minora. Wincing more.
  • Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with the creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minor and major, without incision of the clitoris. Labiaplasty. Feeling slightly sick now.
  • All other harmful procedures for non-medial purposes: pricking, piercing, scraping and cauterization.

So, there are lots of ways of mutilating females. This video about female genital mutilation among the Afar tribe may be distressing but is also informative. 

It is the ‘minor’ types which are more common; rarely, however, some FGM involves excising the clitoris with a shard of glass and stitching the labia together with thorns, as apparently first performed in ancient Rome. The severest form is infibulation, where the vaginal opening is sewn up, leaving only a small hole for menstrual blood and urine. It is frankly abhorrent. 

Africa has the greatest amount of FGM, which is believed to ensure chastity before marriage, fidelity during marriage, increased male sexual pleasure (presumably due to ‘tightness’). It introduces a girl to womanhood (some party!) while also keeping her ‘clean’.

The tools are often unsanitary (increasing the risk of HIV and other infections) with the surgery often performed without anaesthesia. Blood loss can lead to infection and death (reports suggest that a third of Sudanese girls who experience FGM do not survive, a horrific figure).

The woman feels pain at the time of the procedure (I hesitate to call it an operation), again on the night of her marriage when her vagina is “reopened” and again when she gives birth. Things which, for most women in the west (though FGM is practised here, too) are associated with pleasure (or at least satisfaction in the case of childbirth) are painful in parts of Africa. All are linked to marriage and reproductive processes.

In the west, such operations tend, at least, to be carried out in more sanitary conditions with the permission of the parents. This does not make them right. 

What I didn’t realise was that in Africa, genital cutting around puberty is done to girls and boys alike, as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.  The Abakwetha tribe, for example, uses male circumcision among its boys; indeed, they are not men unless circumcised.  Increasingly, according to Earp, in many countries, the procedure is being carried out on infants, following the model of male circumcision in the US.

My view remains that female genital mutilation is never right unless there are very, very strong health reasons for it (as in a life-saving procedure, though it is hard to imagine how this could be the case). At least the world is waking up to the process, though I first read of it many, many years ago;  there are moves towards its eradication.

No such luck when it comes to male circumcision, it seems. My view on this has changed. I previously never thought of it or assumed it was OK; now it seems equally as wrong, with aforementioned health exceptions.

Male Circumcision


Again, there are different types. My thinking was probably of the old Jewish form which involved cutting off the overhanging tip of the foreskin (not pleasant, but comparatively less invasive). 

Modern forms apparently remove a third to a half of sensitive skin from the penis (about 50 square centimetres is mentioned, which seems a hell of a lot). This eliminates the gliding function of the foreskin, thus exposing the head of the penis to external irritation.

Traditional Moslem circumcisions happen between the ages of 5-8 (without anaesthetic). American ones are done soon after birth, with or without anaesthetic. Obviously, the same risks of infection (and death) mentioned for FGM apply, and other procedures in some cultures, which involve slicing the urethral passage can lead to urination problems. Testicular crushing is also an initiation rite in some areas of the world. I’m not wincing in quite the same way, as, guys, I cannot pretend to feel your pain, but it does not sound good.

The point Earp makes is that when we compare, as I did, FGM to male circumcision, we normally think of the most severe form of FGM and the mildest form of circumcision. He takes issue, therefore, with the suggestion that male circumcision is somehow harmless or minor.  Bearing in mind he is interested in ethics, it raises some interesting questions, such as: how does FGM or male circumcision on children square with principles of personal autonomy and the right to an unmutilated future?

Controlling Sexuality?

Along with many others, I still believe that female circumcision is an attempt to control female sexuality; it is patriarchal, and an expression of male domination. I did not see male circumcision as performing the same role, so now interesting questions arise. Earp makes the point that in almost every country where FGM is performed, it is carried out by women who see it as hygienic, ‘even beautifying’. The cultural value of it makes it ’empowering’. Male circumcision is often carried out by men, often as part of a similar rite of passage experience. Both may well have elements of sexual control attached, but certain cultures see it as a positive.

While it may be the women who perform FGM, I cannot quite accept that their complicity in the process suggests they are somehow outside the influence of male cultural domination affecting women worldwide, that it was all their idea in the first place. Would women really initiate the idea of mutilating themselves? They may accept it, but where did it come from?  Female virginity, purity, and fidelity are male concerns. Women may well accept the cultural norms they have grown up with, but, ultimately, a pure and faithful wife is something men worry about, not women. The implication is that women are not to be trusted, so if one physically impairs them for life, they can be.

I can accept Earp’s suggestion that there is no universal empirical association between patriarchy and genital surgery, because of cultural differences/variation in attitudes towards female sexuality. Put simply, there is no one universally accepted reason for FGM or circumcision. 

In some cases, as he points out, the women defend FGM, while the men wish to see it wiped out. I can understand this. Would most men really want a wife they can only trust because she can derive no sexual pleasure from their relationship? In some ways, it raises more questions about marriage than about sexuality; if women are prepared to impose FGM upon their daughters, then the cultural value of women only as marriage objects is a serious question.

There is also the issue of whether other cultural practices should be condemned as barbaric and harmful when we cannot begin to understand the belief system which has developed over many years. I get that ethnocentrism debate, but the impact of FGM on women matters to me more.

Why Circumcise?

So, what about male circumcision? Is that about reducing sexual enjoyment in men? Well, in contemporary America, probably not. Yet in Jewish philosophy (and I bow to Earp on this point, as it is not my specialism) male genital cutting was done for precisely that reason, to reduce lust by diminishing sexual sensitivity.

In western Victorian medicine, it was used to combat masturbation; more globally, forced circumcision within some tribal groups is used as a form of humiliation. So, yes, there are elements of controlling masculinity in the process.

However, women did not wholly escape in Victorian England, something we tend to forget. Yes, clitoridectomies were thankfully not the norm, but they were performed on some unfortunate women in Victorian England, presumably those deemed unsuitable to reproduce. Nineteenth-century gynaecologists, such as Isaac Baker Brown,  although vilified, performed clitoridectomies to treat various female psychological and physical symptoms including insanity, epilepsy, catalepsy and hysteria, alongside ‘masturbation’ and ‘nymphomania’.

So, Earp has a point. If male and female forms of genital cutting reflect different cultural norms and vary in type and rationale, how do we compare one to the other?

How can we say that male circumcision is “just a snip” and “not something men complain about?”

Male circumcision, he suggests, can be equally as barbaric as female genital mutilation (and I guess the very word, circumcision sanitises the process, rather in the way that processed meat in a supermarket stops people thinking about how it got there).

Male circumcision, he asserts, is often traumatic and painful. Earp mentions Nelson Mandela’s own account from “Long Walk to Freedom” where circumcision is a very definite test of masculinity, where flinching or crying out is a sign of weakness and thereby stigmatising. So, definite links to masculinity and proving one’s worthiness as a man by tolerating pain.


The big ethical issue is consent. Should children be mutilated, thereby impacting upon their entire lives, without their consent? The answer is, of course, no. If someone, as an adult chooses it for themselves, when not under duress to so do, who am I to complain?

Many people who undergo FGM or male circumcision may not complain; they may even go on to do it to their own children. But some do complain. That, in itself, is enough to make the process highly undesirable/questionable. A good number of people are being mutilated as children without their consent.

Sexism? Ethnocentrism?

So, why do we often perceive male and female circumcision differently? I guess male circumcision, in western culture, is more common and has therefore perhaps become more accepted or, to use the term in the paper, “normalized”. FGM is still very much the exception, and most of it does not happen on our doorsteps, so it becomes a cultural problem “out there”. Earp suggests sexism and ethnocentrism have key parts to play.

Male bodies are seen as powerful, resistant to harm and open to testing. Female bodies are seen as vulnerable, in need of protection. There is thus a “gendered vulnerability” which, yes, might be deemed to be sexist because we see FGM as more of an issue than male circumcision when, in fact, we should condemn both practices for non-medical reasons (and that opens up a whole new debate) among children.

Me? I think I was just ignorant of the facts. I still am; there is much more reading – and thinking – to be done, but hopefully, this opens up a debate in people’s minds (or even on the site) which is a small start.

Just write…in pen!


Listography (making lists of things) is a new fad which is proving a popular moneyspinner. Basically, you make lists of things in an autobiographical way.  It is not necessarily meant as an aid to writing, I guess, but if it is, then try a cheaper way of avoiding writer’s block/seeking inspiration.

Writer’s Block

When we struggle with something, it is well worth trying to think a little differently about our approach.

You must all remember this from Willy Russell’s Educating Rita.

“In response to the question ‘suggest how you would resolve the staging difficulties inherent in a production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt’, you have written, quote, ‘do it on the radio’ unquote!”

It is succinct to the point of over-simplicity but also useful. Think about the problem…and try an innovative way of tackling it.

I once attended a talk by the charming Cornish-based writer, Patrick Gale. The reality, he suggested, may be that we are stopping the creative process, by using a computer, instead of a notepad, pen and ink.

He first writes in pen, not on a computer, enjoying the blank page, the writings, the crossings out. To him, a page of writing is a start to the creative process. A page of word processing denotes the end of the creativity, and, I guess, the slog of getting things ready for a publisher.

So, what some of us with writer’s block may be missing out on is writing as a sensual, creative process.

Getting a decent pen and pad of paper is a simple writing tip to try (which listography expensively taps into).


Stop writing lists and get on with writing something useful like a story, a letter to an old friend, a blog post, or simply keep a diary…imagine!



There’s a lot said and written about friendship. It is really hard to define, meaning different things to different people. Given the universality of social media, many of us have Facebook ‘friends’ or people with whom we large share an interest (or several) and in whose lives we are interested. It does not mean we would see them as someone to act as a confidante or go on holiday with, or maybe even to go for a coffee with. You may not even like them that much. Time for a cull, perhaps?

There is no doubt that friendship is very important to (most) people, though oddly not all. Some people seem to have no close friends at all, and seem content that to stay that way.

When it goes wrong, though, ruined friendship can feel like the ultimate betrayal. As New York author, David Levithan, wrote:

“It was a mistake,” you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine for trusting you.

I know I have three or four women in my life I would count as really, really good friends. In 50 and a lot of years that is not very many, but friendship is qualitative. That said, other people come into and go from my life, too. And I do, even now,  slowly make new ones, female and male.

Friendship was important to me as a child, and nothing made me unhappier than my then friends falling out with me. It remained important as a teenager, to have friends to share secrets with, to laugh with, cry with, socialise with.

Few schoolfriends remain in touch, though I value those who do. It was at university where I met close, longstanding friends who stuck with me – and by me – throughout my adult life. And, the older I get, the more I care about them. 


I’d guess there are some key elements to friendship. Friendship is generally a non-sexual love; once desire enters the fray, it becomes something else. Can ex lovers truly be friends? Probably not, though they can be ‘friendly’ and ‘civil’.

It is also not exclusive. My friends have other friends too; hallelujah. We expect our friends to have other social relationships, to be socially competent, to bring something of themselves and from outside, to the friendship. We expect our friends, like us, to have ‘baggage’ which is important to them, and therefore to us: relationships, families, work issues, money, community or other interests. We accept them, faults and all.

They can have totally different personalities and ways of thinking to us but still be amazing friends. Vive la difference!

Friendship is said by the urban dictionary to be “a word for of love in which people develop a relationship without relationship as a goal”.

And that seems crucial. Friendship is hard to define precisely because you do not often have to think about it, to question it.  It is not an end in itself.


When it is there, you just know it; that’s not to say you take it for granted, but that it doesn’t require ongoing, continuous introspection or inspection. It simply works.

And it works so well because it is non-physical and non-exclusive; friendship crucially underpins one’s life, rather than is the focus of it. One cannot say friendship is low-maintenance because it does require ongoing interaction of some nature – usually – to thrive – but all friendships have lulls that more ‘primary’ relationships might struggle with. I communicate with my good friends most days, one way or another, and I know where to go with my thoughts and questions.

Some say that you can pick up where you left off with a true friend. That seems to be true. Whatever bound you together previously  – in friendship –  is still there later, even if life path circumstances get in the way in-between. There is the popular truism that many people come into your life but only a few stay and travel the distance with you, but sometimes people dip back into your life at important times/moments, as if some inner sense tells them – and you – when it is needed. They can become vital.people-2559723_960_720

In friendship, there is a real concern for the welfare of the other person, and it has to be a relationship of trust, caring for each other’s feelings. And there is intimacy. You can tell a true friend anything; they will not judge but will accept you as you are. Friendship, as the saying goes, has storms to be weathered, but a true friend is there after the storm has blown over. They share the bad times and the good; they are people to rely on in times of crisis. And the people you first want to contact when there is good news/elation to share. They are not the people you kick into touch – or they you.

Working out who these people are is rather trial and error. They don’t come with a label. Sometimes we trust other people too much; we share too much of ourselves and we give too much of our time, only to feel saddened that someone we care deeply for would not do the same for us, so sometimes there is the harsh lesson to be learned that some people simply do not deserve our friendship. It happened in my teens, it’s happened in my 50s. We live and learn.

But let’s allow lesser known nineteenth century novelist and poet, Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, the last word, because she sums it up so very, very well:

“But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort – the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

Cosmic Ordering

Once upon a time, I was told I should look into cosmic ordering.

So, I did…because I always do as I’m told. Ahem. Reality is I just like to learn stuff.

Cosmic Ordering…puts me in mind of the film Ruby Sparks, where a struggling novelist creates a fictional character (the girl of his dreams) who then is brought to life. Imagine! Your fictional characters becoming real.

Or even the White Lies song, Strangers.  A sense of making something you want/need  happen. To succeed, you need to understand your requirements/desires and order events/shape the world to achieve them. Arguably it is happening right now with the activism of the amazing plastics awareness movement in Bude (and farther afield). There’s a vision and it is backed by action. 

However, there is also an element of external force, a sense of the unknown, drawing upon the energy of the cosmos, to make it happen. Many of us believe is some kind of power/force…out there.

In the film, the author wants the girl of his dreams. He thus creates her through his writing, and brings her to life (mirroring cosmic ordering very nicely) but, later realises, perhaps, that it is not all about what he wants and that others’ needs play a part in social interactions. Doubt sets in; the order veers slightly haywire. It sums up beautifully where cosmic ordering is questionable, where, from my limited understanding, it falls down.

There is nothing social about it; it is a very individualistic approach to life, paying little attention to the constraints of social structure. All a bit me, me, me! 


What is cosmic ordering in ‘normal’ speak?

OK, so cosmic ordering is a form of positive thinking, goal setting, whereby you effectively write down a ‘wish list’ and it comes to fruition. Nothing wrong with that, per se. It reminds me of all these vision boards which are so popular. Visualise and it will happen! It is very proactive, not countenancing failure. Another way of looking at it pertains to the laws of attraction, the idea of like attracts like.

“If we are basically positive in attitude, expecting and envisioning pleasure, satisfaction and happiness, we will attract and create people, situations, and events which conform to our positive expectations.”

~ Shakti Gawain, author of Creative Visualization

It’s a little like ‘magic’, abracadabra style, but relates more to attitude and positivity than anything too supernatural.

In a nutshell, if you have the right attitude and picture the positives, then that’s what you get. There is no place in this thinking for negativity or questioning, for cosmic ordering is based upon an almost blind faith that what you truly desire will come about. It differs from religion in the sense that there is no ultimate power, no god-like figure/s, to appeal to. It all comes from self, at one with nature, harnessing energy from the cosmos.


Sounds great. That’s easy then. Or is it?

It’s not that simple, of course, and therein lies the next problem.

The argument is that if you can’t hold that positive image and start thinking negatively, as in that will never happen, or I can’t have this or what if? then it won’t happen and you won’t get it.

Now that feels a little too convenient in explaining a theory failure, if I’m honest. If it doesn’t happen, it is entirely your own fault for not believing strongly enough. Hmn. Tell that to someone with a terminal illness who is desperate to survive. The very words battling cancer, for example, make it sound like there’s a choice. There really is not. 

It isn’t quite as simple as it looks, either, for keeping that positivity going 24/7 – never doubting success – is obviously difficult. Try asking those with fertility problems, marital problems, any problems…

Seemingly, if you get what you desire, then that is down to the energy of the cosmos, aided and abetted, it must be said, by your own positive thinking.

If you don’t, then that is down to your own negativity/ low-level belief. The cosmos takes your great idea and flings it back in your face if you are not positive enough. Well, sod off cosmos, eh? Oops, am getting negative.

So, the inconsistency seems to be that positive outcome is somehow structural but negative outcome is down to individual agency; the sociologist within tells me we can’t really have it both ways, for the concept is dichotomous.


Cosmic ordering or blind faith?

Cosmic ordering is a fascinating concept, which seems to require blind faith. There are no limits on what you ask for or desire because the cosmos is abundant. So, let’s face it, if you believe the sky is the limit, then the sky is where you will probably end up. If you believe that something is needed in your life and put in place strategies/steps to achieve it, then chances are it will happen, with or without the cosmos behind you. If, however, you believe something is pie in the sky, that’s where it will stay.

Such blind faith also requires proactivity/doing something to make it happen. As children, we are taught those good things come to those who wait, but actually, that is not the case. In the words of Josh Kumra, good things come to those who don’t wait. Good things come to those who actively seek them out. Like those anti-plastic pollution activists who were ahead of their time and refused (and still refuse) to give up their vision.

The power of the human mind…

The fabulous idea behind cosmic ordering is that, no matter how old you are, you should never give up on your dreams, according to the key proponent, Carolyn Boyes. And that’s fair enough, a good philosophy, for we all need our dreams and should do what we can to achieve them.

The term ‘Cosmic Ordering’ was originally coined by the new-age author, Barbel Mohr, who suggests that a closed mind rejects what the universe has to offer. I’m not sure how much the universe has to play in all this but the power of the human mind is indeed immense.

Certainly, the childlike and rather innocent belief that is needed to make ‘cosmic ordering’ happen must hold some appeal, for everyday fears and anxieties are put on the back burner.  It is also very uncluttered as ideas go, for you have to cast aside the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of everyday constraint and ‘think straight’. So, thought processes are involved, but they need to be approached systematically. When a desire is identified, we think of how to achieve it, like a mini project. We become the project managers, chasing progress, even if in a very minor way.

How does it work?

The theory of Cosmic Ordering, or ‘manifesting what you desire’ – I think –  works like this:

1. You decide what you want and when you want it – and you need to really want it.

2. You then announce your order to the universe, whether it be love, money, job, etc.

3. You do this in an open way without worry or concern – no suggestion that it will not happen.

4. You then tap into the ‘unified field’, a smidgeon of electromagnetism (bring on Einstein) that suggests our thoughts are creative and connected to the cosmos and each other.

5. You realise the vastness of infinite possibility. The sky is the limit, anything can happen….you open yourself to the possibility that it is there for the taking.

6. The universe – with some serious thinking/intention on your part and some even more serious action – makes it happen.

= success!

Making It Happen

Barbel Mohr, in her book “Cosmic Ordering for Beginners”  (2009) is into dream fulfilment. She suggests that if you expect everything in your life to be difficult, then it will be.

But if you ‘place an order’ for something, then your subconscious mind starts seeking opportunities to fulfil that order. Now, this I can get to grips with. Basically, when you want something badly enough, you open your eyes to it and see things to which you may have previously been blind. You look out for events, people, things, situations, that can help you achieve your aim, at the most subconscious level.

Cosmic ordering likes to draw upon quantum physics and interconnectedness. And it is when you develop a connection that you draw things you really want into your life. Rather like magic but actually primarily down to self. There’s an element of self-fulfilling prophecy about it.

Now, it might be said that people are more preoccupied with thought than action. Guilty as charged. I do an awful lot of thinking but rarely do I put those thoughts into action. Yet, it is the action that ultimately matters. So, this moves us onto the essential goal setting needed to achieve the outcome you desire, which is really what ‘cosmic ordering’ is all about. It is based around needs; thus, you must be able to identify these.


What Do I Need?

Mohr refers to Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs, a study of human motivation based, at the time, upon the elite 1% of achievers in American society. It is something which most people surely know back to front and sideways by now but, just in case, the needs are (briefly):

Level 1 – basic physiological – survival.

Level 2 – safety and security, holding onto the past, the familiar. We become immobilised by this because it is easier – and sometimes better – to do nothing. No risks = no mistakes = no punishment.

Level 3 – social and affiliation needs – direct contact, communication, love and belonging.

and then, as she says, we reach the interesting higher order part…and in order to get there, levels 1-3 need to be resolved first.

Level 4 – self-esteem, striving for acknowledgement, power, status, validation, recognition, and self-respect which can only be mastered by clearly recognising the lower needs.

Level 5 – self-actualisation, which is crucial. “What a man can be, he must be”.

To actualise self through talents, goals, ideals and desires. This is what we do for pure enjoyment. Art, social, conscious, fun. love. This is realising our individual full potential, accomplishing all that one can, becoming the most that one can be. This is the missing part of the jigsaw dropping into place. Most people probably never get there.


If only….

A point Mohr makes is that people on the verge of death rarely regret what they have done; they invariably regret what they didn’t do. “If only I’d….”

So, what cosmic ordering does is to make people think that anything is possible, where there’s a will there’s a way, and that society/others will ultimately not get in the way of something you really want. Whether this is ordained by the cosmos is moot……..but the reality is, whatever you want in life, you won’t get it by sitting back, thinking of the problems and not even daring to go for it…….

Silence is golden – seeking the perfect working environment…

There’s a wonderful website out there called Brain Pickings which hits upon all kinds of weird and wonderful things, a true miscellany of ‘interestingness’. An article there set me thinking. About the psychology of writing, it poses the question: does the perfect environment optimise creativity?

The big issue is: can a creative person write anywhere, or do they need daily rituals and schedules?


We’ve all heard of novelists who say they write for 4-5 hours a day whether they want to or not. And equally some will aim to write a few thousand words a day, whatever the quality. I suspect that for a novelist, creating a rather lengthy whole product, then some kind of imperative that makes you just do it is needed.

For article writers, and people involved in a litany of projects like me, then writing is more ad hoc. What arises in the news or through one’s reading/emails to encourage a reaction? It must be said that personally, I love the flighty approach to article writing, dipping from one issue to another, throwing a variety of items out there for public consumption.

However, when writing books, that ad hoc approach is not terribly successful, as I realised how long it took me to reach 25,000 words for one of my books, despite visits to archives and some attempt at systematic research. No, to do that, I need to crack on, slog, and put the hours in, focused specifically on that project. You can switch off the outside world, digitally, to enable this to happen.

Back to Brain Pickings, which quotes (from The Psychology of Writing by Ronald T Kellogg, 1994):

“[There is] evidence that environments, schedules, and rituals restructure the writing process and amplify performance… The principles of memory retrieval suggest that certain practices should amplify performance. These practices encourage a state of flow rather than one of anxiety or boredom. Like strategies, these other aspects of a writer’s method may alleviate the difficulty of attentional overload. The room, time of day, or ritual selected for working may enable or even induce intense concentration or a favourable motivational or emotional state. Moreover, in accordance with encoding specificity, each of these aspects of method may trigger retrieval of ideas, facts, plans, and other relevant knowledge associated with the place, time, or frame of mind selected by the writer for work”.


One of these issues is background noise. It seems that high intensity noise disrupts performance on complex tasks but improves it on simple boring tasks (maybe that’s why people have loud music on during routine work like cleaning, which is generally dull, repetitive and tedious. I’m not sure if age doesn’t also play a part. As a student, I could write essays through a ‘banging tune’ but now I’d have no chance. Silence is indeed golden!)

Really, it’s a highly individualistic issue. Kellogg mentions that Allen Ginsberg could write anywhere, but Proust and Carlyle almost needed their own padded cells to be creative.


I’m more of a Ginsberg but more for noting down ideas, swift paragraphs, etc., than knocking out a well thought out piece of prose. It also depends what the noise is. In another quote from Kellogg, Brain Pickings says:

For some writers, the dripping of a faucet may be more disruptive than the bustle of a cafe in the heart of a city.

How true. I can write while listening to the roar of the surf, but give me a dripping tap, or a ticking clock and I’ve had it. I’m on red alert, roused to the point of irritation, or even flight.

Kellogg also suggests that 1-3 hours at a time is enough. A good and dear friend of mine regularly exclaims loudly in the ‘alright for some’ vein, when she hears of my 9 am ish baths, saying she’s at work, stuck in her routine. I point out that I’ve usually been working 6 am if not earlier, so that is my break time. And she gets paid for her work. Mine is rather more haphazard!work-1627703__340

So, we may not need a special room with a special desk and special equipment, though these are good cues to tell our brain to crack on. Conversely, some noise or interruption may be acceptable, others not. What is essential is that we don’t become sidetracked by other things: emails, Facebook, magazines, housework, thinking. Indeed, the best ideas often come when out and about, in the natural world.

Rather like Thomas Mann who wrote: For writing I must have a roof over my head, and since I enjoy working by the sea better than anywhere else, I need a tent or a wicker beach chair. Much of my composition, as I have said, has been conceived on walks; I also regard movement in the open air as the best means of reviving my energy for work.filmmaker-2838945_960_720

I have been moved to write poems when by the sea or when overlooking amazing places like Sydney Harbour, that would never otherwise have happened.

I had the idea for my PhD thesis while walking round a reservoir (my head was buzzing, could not stop the thinking) though I had no intention of actually doing one.

But then the sheer hard graft, these days, involves a desk, a computer, lots of scribbled notes and some semblance of organised material. Once the inspiration has fired up, there’s the perspiration of getting it out there.

What works for you? Let me know.

They never ate a thing…

On the train to suburbia from the hustle of New Street Station, they passed station platforms still frosted by slowly-melting ice, forming hard clumps where the sun had not yet reached. Temperatures were low but they had on their warm coats, their boots, their gloves and they knew that soon they would be in a warm place, a warm place akin to hell, but a different kind of hell to the frozen streets where their breath froze in mid air.


Stopped by a woman near the Co-Op, she was asked to buy a Big Issue. She hadn’t bought one in years. The woman smiled, deeply personable, her English impeccable, and her headscarf flimsy protection against the bitter chill of the weak afternoon December sun. She parted with £2.50, in return receiving her magazine, a smile, and a ‘Happy New Year’ greeting. How bizarre that someone in such dire straits would wish her a happy new year.


In the nursing home, her father grinned, missing a few teeth. He was play acting, called her Betty again, asked about Fred again, wondered where he was again, talked about Egypt again, and asked the same questions again, and again, and again, and again. Still, it was a better visit than recently, despite him drinking her bottle of water, spittle sliding into it as he swigged. Giving him chocolate was a mistake though. It was smeared all over his teeth and dribbling down his chin. She wiped his mouth with a tissue which she disposed of carefully. He was playful with the teenage granddaughter he vaguely recognised from somewhere.


Later, inspecting a Las Iguanas menu back in the city centre, a man stopped them, right next to a burly black bouncer on the door. He asked for 60p to add to the change in his hand for a hotdog. She was a little taken aback at such a direct approach but fiddled in her purse, finding only a £2 coin. “Here, have this”. He said thank you and shuffled off.Her daughter approved, saying that the man seemed to have a plan, and after all, he’d only asked for 60p. Earlier, she had seen a young man stop to give money to someone in the subway, saying: ‘get yourself something warm’. Humanity in the city.


She saw the woman she had passed earlier on her way to the Apple Store, bidding her daughter to head for Tesco. There she bought a meal deal, proffering it to the woman whose mouth was full of the hot potato she had been given. She was pushing it down way too quickly, obviously desperately hungry. ‘Thank you, thank you’, she said, through mouthfuls of burning steam. Walking along back to Broad Street, and the canal network, she was asked many times for an offering. She had no more coins.

‘Funny how they ask you’ said her daughter. ‘You are very approachable. They let other people walk by, but they stop you’. One lady apologised for asking. She felt terrible. To have to not only ask for food or money, but to also apologise for it felt sad beyond measure. It made her angry about the plight of these people.

Another man was standing outside of the warm restaurant they were visiting. She felt terrible again, and wondered about asking the staff to give him a hot drink. Why didn’t they do that anyway? Company policy, probably. Or inured to it. She decided to leave a tip and give him some money as she left but by this time, he had gone. Walking back along the canal, they passed two young men, not well clad, with a dog which was carefully covered. They wrapped themselves in their sleeping bags, sat away from each other. One got nothing, the other was given a hot drink. Luck of the draw. Or location, location, location?

She went back to her hotel room and read her Big Issue, about how we shouldn’t judge the character of the homeless, we should just, like all the best detectives, seek solutions to the problem, as if we are trying to solve a murder. Given homeless people survive on average three years on the streets, murder felt a good analogy.  Homelessness is such a massive problem, yet every single person she had met had been pleasant, polite, desperate but wished her a happy new year, though theirs couldn’t hope to be.

The next morning, she popped to Sainsbury’s for pastries and juice. A woman sat wrapped in her sleeping bag outside. This time, no hesitation; she was getting into the swing of giving food to people. She bought extra and gave it to the sandy haired woman. Someone had got to the lady first but that didn’t matter, she needed all the food people could muster. She said: ‘God bless you. Happy New Year’.

Down to the Library of Birmingham, two guys were still asleep in their sleeping bags. One had an empty Quality Street tin by his bed on the hard ground. She had chocolate in her bag; it seemed fitting to put the chocolate in his tin so he would wake up to something good. He didn’t stir as she gently placed the goods at his side.

As they caught the train home, they didn’t eat a thing.



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