June was a busy time, with three weeks intensive examination work. It made me contemplate the hard work that a teacher and the students put in, all focused on the brief time slot in which the work of years must bear fruit. As for what I learned from marking 263 scripts over less than three weeks is this: it is possible to summon the single-mindedness and the concentration to complete a task with an external deadline, and to put off less important tasks until after the main task is completed.
Lesson learned: if I can do this for the exam work, I can easily do it for my own writing.
But what about if the deadline is set by myself? asks my friend Lauren (thank you, Lauren, for listening and for asking all these probing questions. I am grateful for our chats!)
Well, if I have set the deadline myself, it’s movable.
Hmmm…because I am a pushover? Because I don’t respect my own boundaries?
And then, a 500-word story on the theme of ‘Home’ I wrote back in February for a Spread the Word competition was the highly commended entry for the London Borough of Ealing, and I took part in a live library event to read it aloud.
Lesson learned: I wrote and polished this story in less than 2 hours: this shows that I can keep up regular short bursts of writing towards a longer work.
I intend to put both these lessons in practice in the Memoir Summer Stream (see below)
(With fellow London Writers’ Salon friends Meliha Avdic, Sharon Whatley, Nicolas Laborie and Shona Lowe, in Ealing Central Library, 28 June 2022)
The story is called Where the Hand is. It captures the magic of London from childhood until now: the smells and sights of a brand-new place in early youth, the pain of missing loved ones, the excitement of tracing the steps of famous writers, and the demolition of certainties, pulling the strands that make up one writing life.
Long before London became home, it had been an idea in my head.
To read the story, head over here. To download the anthology of the winning stories, click here.
And the rest of the strands…
summer projects first
Memoir and Life Writing Group
We are about to start a 7-week Memoir Summer Stream at The London Writers’ Salon from 14 July until 25 August 2022. Each of the fourteen participants will have one extract workshopped and will offer feedback on the work of others over the seven weeks. To find out more, head over to the LWS Memoir and Life Writing group.
Over this period our community chats will take place every Thursday from 5 to 5.30 pm BST. If you would like to join hundreds of other writers writing in community, join the free Writers’ Hour; one of the four daily sessions is bound to fit in with your daily schedule.
Summer with Seneca
Another summer pursuit with Kathryn Koromilas at the Stoic Salon. Here’s Kathryn’s invitation to Summer with Seneca, in her own inimitable tone:
Every summer, I find myself googling "travel."
I am responding to this seasonal urge to move...to Get Away From It All.
But, what exactly do I want to get away from?
The Scottish weather?
The thing is, of course, that wherever I go, I will have to take myself with me!
So, why not travel inwards. Destination... ME.
Join me this summer to travel inwards. Let’s go deep. Let’s dive in. Let’s traverse our inner terrains. Let’s do philosophy. Instead of running away, let's run inwards.
There is no better retreat!
And we can do this briefly. An hour a day and we are ready to engage again with family, friends, colleagues, community.
And who better to have as a deep, summer travel companion than one of the wisest (and certainly most audacious?) characters in all of ancient Rome: Seneca
Intrigued? Do join us for inspiring readings and discussions here.
…and the long-haul project
52 weeks to a good life
Our friendly, wise, supportive community at the Stoic Salon has been working through the Live Like a Stoic: 52 Exercises towards a Good Life book, and has met live on zoom five times so far.
Our next meetup is on Saturday 23 July 2022, when the authors themselves Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory Lopez will be visiting us to answer questions from the community. If you missed the first meetup with Massimo and Greg on 26th February, you can watch the recording here, or for audio here.
Here follow my notes on the ongoing lessons of the last four weeks.
Week 20 - Speak little but well (12 June 2022)
This lesson coincided with the beginning of marking the A level Language paper for Cambridge International. This intensive work came in handy: especially during the first week, it’s not a question of making the Stoic choice not to chat aimlessly, mostly about other people (to my sister, to a widowed aunt living alone), but more of actually not having the time to do it. At the end of the two weeks, I internalized the fact that there are better things to do with my time rather than chat.
Our group chat on slack also seemed to have put the lesson into practice - although, to be fair, everything that is posted on the channel, long or short, is usually wise and instructive. I suppose that some of the Stoic friends have already attained the state of “speaking little but well,” in which case they are well ahead of me.
Week 21 - Choose your company well (19 June 2022)
There is a close link of this week’s lesson with the previous lesson. I have been applying this lesson throughout my life, and Fate has helped quite a bit, what with the moves from a country to another, which meant that I left friends and family behind at times where telephone calls were too expensive and letter-writing too time consuming. Consequently, I have earned a ‘reputation’ in both Greek and Iranian families of being somewhat of a recluse, preferring my own company over that of others. I may have been applying Stoic teachings all along without realising it! Over the last 2+ years of the pandemic, I have found excellent company in online groups and I am ever grateful for the whole experience.
Week 22 – Roll with insults (26 June 2022)
Once again, life has given me no opportunities to practise this week’s lesson (is this possibly what a privileged life looks like?) but then I remembered that I used to be offended by comments on my size. In fact, I wrote about it here exactly one year ago, just after the end of reading How to Be a Stoic. I revisited the post, and was pleased to find out that the teachings that were fairly new to me then, like the Dichotomy of Control, are now much more firm in my outlook. I have taken baby-steps (steps nonetheless) towards what I felt I needed to learn, and carry on with more baby steps: I grow old, ever learning, according to Solo, the ancient Athenian lawgiver and statesman.
Week 23 - Don’t speak about yourself (3 July 2022)
A lively discussion has taken place in the slack community channel on where the boundary between two extremes lies. Between dominating discussions with “me, me, me” talk, to being so reserved as to give the impression of aloofness, I still find it hard to strike the golden middle. In fact, I have put this question down to ask Massimo and Greg, when they join us live in two weeks’ time.
I am thinking aloud here, to work out what I think: I wonder whether the two considerations below may help in shifting the focus from the need to talk about oneself on to the other person’s needs.
I need to try and be more comfortable with spaces of silence in conversation; some people (me included) need more time to formulate their thoughts so if the space between turns is always filled by the faster conversationalist, the slower one can easily miss all the opportunities to talk. At the same time, I seem to be uncomfortable with silence too, and often jump in with something inconsequential.
I need to try and be attuned to what the other person aims to receive from the interaction - to feel comfortable enough to ask them. “Do you need advice, or do you want me only to listen?”
We are starting Week 24 tomorrow (“Premeditate on encountering difficult people”), but you can still join us: just click here.
The heart meets the (left) hand and they embrace imperfection
This is a quote from the uplifting newsletter of my London Writers’ Salon friend Louise Coghlan. Guaranteed to raise your spirits!
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Beautiful writing from a beautiful soul Sofia! 💖I’m absolutely honoured to be mentioned in your substack 🙏🌟👈thank you so much 💖🥰 So lucky to have found you in LWS! Looking forward to reading lots more magical words from you! 💖
Oooh, lots to ponder here Sofia! xxx