Character Building Stuff

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What is ‘character’? We’re obsessed with building it, developing it, downright finding it. Or at least I am. Yet it was only today that I truly asked myself what I believe character to be.

 

As a writer, I am fixated upon imagining up characters that are the right mixture of complex, intriguing and likable. To me, this is essential for a reader to stay with a book or story. It is as easy as ABC. Step one, then step two, and so on, until you have character. Boom, just like that. Next level character, unlocked. 

 

But looking in the mirror and sizing up your own character is something else entirely. That’s a whole dimension of introspection that’s up for debate.

 

Of course there are things we all do not want to be. Weak-willed, cowardly, obtuse. But there is no clear path in life for avoiding flaws. Instead we stumble into sometimes painful situations which build character. What a miraculous achievement. Or it would be, if I knew what it all meant.

 

At the moment, my life is in flux. Everything is moving both quickly and intangibly . It feels as though the second I extend my hand to grip my life firmly, something shifts on its’ axis and I am thrown from my comfortable throne atop the island that is my life. Not every change is bad. Actually, all that is happening is so terribly, terribly good.

 

I am twenty-three.

 

I am healthier than I could’ve ever hoped to be.

 

I presented a story and paper at a conference in England and won an award for that same paper.

 

Yet, I feel a great deal of fear, nestled in my chest somewhere between excitement and anticipation. I force myself into new, intimidating situations which (so I’ve been told) build character.

 

As I sat in the lecture hall in Canterbury Christ Church University, waiting to be called to give my talk at the conference, my palms began to sweat and my heart rate spiked. I had to stop myself tapping my boot against the ground more than once. I am lucky to have such opportunities presented to me in life. But still, the nerves swirled in my stomach dangerously. Gratitude was not an antidote for anxiety, it turned out.

 

But when my name was called, it was like a flip switched in my brain.

Lights, camera, action.

 

Standing tall, I walked to the front of the lecture theatre with steel in my veins instead of blood. I was confident, calm. This talk was a simple performance and I was an actor of a well-honed craft. Was I feigning confidence or was I truly drawing from some well hidden well inside of me that was only visible in times of utter terror?

 

In truth, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the implications of that switch inside of me. Shaking in fear one moment, cool exterior the next. With control of that switch, it was undeniable. There is nothing I can not achieve, nothing I can not have. 

 

That’s why, to me, understanding is character building. Understanding on every level. Understanding of the plight of others, the failures and wonders of the world in tandem. But also understanding of my abilities.

 

More ‘character building’ still, is taking ownership of one’s abilities. We are responsible for our achievements in life. Responsible for our potential. We must accept the choice we make.

 

Should my life become small despite what I’ve always claimed I’ve wanted, well, that shortcoming lands on me. Equally, should I choose to be content with the life I lead, small or otherwise, than that joy is also a result of me.

 

Character is responsibility. Character is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Character is the essence of our choices, manifested into being. Character is the deep breath we take before entering the unknown.

 

Character is looking in the mirror and seeing the truth, but also acknowledging the potential.

 

With this in mind, perhaps character is not something to be built but to be designed. A whole new craft to hone.

 

Write soon,

Jennifer x

 

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The Concept of Adulthood

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To me, the concept of something has always been easier to accept than the thing itself. For example, when I six, the concept of going down the water slide was much easier than actually forcing myself off of the ledge with one small push. I understood the theory of the action, but it didn’t translate into that final bit of bravery quite as quickly. Now, so many years ago, I’m much the same.

 

During college, the concept of good grades, an impeccable social life and eight hours of sleep was also easier to contemplate, than to put into action. In reality, everyday I made choices about where to weight my attention. Grades, friends, boyfriend or sleep? Tick tock, my own pulse seemed to remind me. The day is almost done and what have you achieved?

 

I once told someone that I organise my mind by imagining that I am holding different lengths of rope. One rope for every faction of my life I had to remember. Yet when I am anxious or stressed, it feels as though those ropes are pulling me towards them in a myriad of different directions. Pulling until my bones pop from their sockets and I am on my knees.

 

Now, I am a college graduate. Now, I must transform into a real life adult. Time to be a useful member of society, the real world calls to me.

 

I can just about see it, just hovering there in the distance. My future. But it’s still hazy enough that I am scared to run at it with both hands. But those ropes are pulling again and it’s walk or be dragged.

 

I have plans and hopes for myself that even when they are just concepts, they will be challenging to achieve. And lately, I have been disappointed with myself with how I have been trying to achieve them.

 

Disappointed. But not discouraged. 

 

Everyday of this horrible, unknown is like pushing myself off of that water slide. Nerve-wracking, exhausting. There is satisfaction to in there, but sometimes it can become clouded by the fear of having to get up and do it all over again the next day.

And yet, I am changing. I am becoming a concept.

The concept of something stronger.

In college, I was like a leaf in a breeze. One step, onto the next and so on. Follow the lighted path to the exit. We hope you have enjoyed your four year trip. There were hitches and snags, but even those were carried by the same breeze.

 

Now, every graduate is facing the mouth of the big bad real world and is on their knees, soaked in sweat from the sheer exertion of trying. We are blasted by the voices of the older, been-there-and-survived hardened adults. Come on, get up. Time to face the music. 

 

But I don’t like their music.

 

So, I stand, knees shaking, heart pumping hard enough to be heard for miles. I tug on the ropes, reminding both them and myself who formed this concept. And who holds the ability to reform. I can become someone who not only copes but thrives in situations I choose to move from concepts to reality.

 

Disappointment can be tamed and erased. I do not have to be the big-girl-turned-adult the world expects to churn out. University is not an adult making machine. The mind is, however.

 

And I’m going to use my own music to get there.

 

Write soon,

Jennifer x

// This Girl //

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// This Girl //

One decade ago, a girl of thirteen played with the silver band around her wrist. A friendship knot design. There is a lot to be learned at thirteen and perhaps sometimes, too much. But this girl was excited. This girl was ready. 

One year ago, a girl of twenty-two slept more than anyone could possibly sleep. She was pulled under a cloud of exhaustion and stuffed to the brim with a lack of opportunities. It was almost always easier to sleep than think. This girl had burned out with no glory. 

One month ago, a girl of twenty-three was returning, victorious and, at least to her, utterly glorious. She had just left a burnt red country and was now back in luscious green. This girl triumphed. 

One hour ago, a girl of twenty-three picked up a pen to write words that are neither beautiful or inherently positive, but are true. Her words often get thrown by the wayside in her life, despite their power to her. They are an all-consuming vital force. This girl is learning. 

Oftentimes, the girl wrings her hands together and pops her knuckles just for the sake of something to do. She certainly did this as she stood on a shore of a tidal lake in East Africa.

Several hours earlier, the girl was the kind of tired that quakes the very bones. It had been an early start, when it was still dark out and the dogs barking was the only sound for miles. The purity of the sky was a glorious distraction whilst the girl and her friends waited for the car against the blackened gate. Without pollution, the stars did not even twinkle. They beamed with all of their might. The girl kicked the dusty earth around her and yawned, the glory of the sky at least half wasted on her. Perhaps another blanket might have been wise.

For a long while, the car drive was a blissful silence for every sense. Dark and quiet. The girl tried to sleep some more and when she spoke her voice cracked raw. She feels like this for days at a time sometimes. Happy in the silence of darkness.

But then there are blinding contrasts. This day was one of them. It stung at first it was so bright. The girl woke only when the car was pulling onto the softness of the white sand. The only sounds are chickens, children and the distant noises of lake water birds.

The girl became energized, infused through the sand. She was the waiting destination of the lit match, dropped onto alcohol. It was that fast. She became alive. One step at a time, towards the shore, this girl realized that she was perhaps no longer defined by her time spent dormant. When the urge became too much, she knelt just when the sand grew wet and pressed a hand into the water.

It was neither warm nor cold, but seemed more to mirror her own heat. It was as though this memory was truly to be formed for her to relish. A not-so-subtle message that times had changed and so had she.

The rest of the day was spent swallowed in the knowledge that this girl was no longer, that girl. That sad, sick girl was gone. This girl was electrified.

–  Jennifer Poyntz

Unpublished Whispers – Winter’s Swallow

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There have been nights when the coldest winds have come from me. I am the centre of the deepest darkness of the eclipse. Perhaps I have even consumed those around me. Is that possible? Their love inhaled, transformed into something foul and turned inwards. And yet, now more creature than human, even on the harshest of winter mornings, I rise. If only to glimpse the dawn. For a moment longer each day.

– Unpublished Whispers, Winter’s Swallow

Aside

Imagination and Logic in Tanzania

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Hello everyone,

For the duration of July and a portion of August, I traveled to Tanzania meaning that the last time I blogged was in June. So enjoy another rambling installment direct to you from my mind –

Imagination Vs. Logic: Tanzania 

 

I have lived a life categorized by lines and neatness. For as long as I can remember, I have felt calmer when my bedroom was clean and I have tackled any problem in a linear fashion. Identify the problem, weigh the options, choose a course of action. Yet as my teenage years faded into a hazy sunset and my twenties rose into a horizon of colours I had never before seen, the lines of my life got shorter. To my absolute dissent, I lost my health, and my ability to occupy myself with the organisation of my life. I no longer had energy to think from one week to the next, or even one day to the next. Each moment became entirely void of any purpose other than surviving life. I began to resent everything that came past the age of sixteen.

 

But like all horizons, this lengthy patch of pain passed. It is still ebbing from my life with each day taking me a step further from who I was forced to become. And as all those limitations left, I was filled with a sense of possibility that overwhelmed my thoughts and disrupted my dreams.

In June of 2016 my friend traveled to Tanzania for five weeks. Barely a week after his return, I pulled myself from the depths of my brain fog to see him and hear all he had experienced. Later that same evening I told my parents of his experiences and they commented on how phenomenal it would be to see Africa at such a young age, through an organisation with such positive aims. When I said that I wished I could go, my relentlessly supportive mom told me that perhaps my path to Africa was not going to be as direct and maybe I would see the continent later in my life, if my health gave me some reprieve. For some inexplicable and quite illogical reason, I felt particularly miffed at this. Despite having to sleep for hours after simply meeting a friend for coffee, despite the pajamas that were my uniform and despite the cement in bones and fog in my mind, I mentally demanded an answer to the question of why my path had to be different.

 

One year later, on the last day of June 2017 armed with two of my best friends, I sat on the first of three planes that would take me to Tanzania. The thirty-six hour trip to the Olive Branch for Children’s Zion Home, did not exhaust me more than the average person. Just one year on, and I was filled to the brim with being gloriously average – a feat that made me feel like pounding my chest about and screaming about to the arrivals of Mbeya airport.

 

Over the course of the next five weeks, every aspect of my personality was challenged. Yet what was challenged the most was the labels which I had given myself my whole life. As a race, we self-assess on a near constant basis. Physically, we have mirrors to hone in on those aspects of our bodies we like or dislike. Emotionally, we watch our reactions to situations and judge ourselves either sufficiently decent or lacking. However, what we don’t account for is the filter which we use to assess our gifts and shortcomings.

 

Indeed we have logic. We can see when we succeed or fail. But we also have an imagination which is specific to each of us. Dependent upon what we have experienced, our perceptions of ourselves are altered. Before this trip, I deemed myself to have a terrible sense of direction because my father and sister always take control of such situations. My imagination had dramatized my inability to think for myself. The reality was very different, but my imagination outweighed my logic.

 

Tanzania taught me that as a race we may all be watching the same TV, but no one sees the same channel, when it comes to perception. Therefore, can we truly disregard another’s view on the basis that ours might seem less tinged with imagination?

 

A child, a wondrously gifted child took my hand one day. We were playing dodgeball and a layer of dust of a thickness which I had never previously experienced coated my face. In the midday sun, my sun cream that smeared my freckles made me feel sticky and uncomfortable, but there was a game to be played. This child who holds an uncanny ability to grip one’s attention held my sticky, freckle-ridden hand and told me that I looked beautiful. Fighting back the knee-jerk reaction to laugh and brush off the compliment, I was hit with the understanding that we were both looking at the same TV yet our channels were different. I had chosen to see myself as unattractive, allowing my imagination free reign over my insecurities and causing the worst kind of introspection known to man. Whereas this child saw something entirely different, whilst looking at the same picture. How could either of us be wrong or right?

 

In truth, we’re not. I was both beautiful and ugly at the same time, both unhappy and blissfully content, depending on the point of view you stood with. Just as the view from a mountaintop differs depending the direction you stand, the view of yourself differs depending on if you choose to see reflection or reality. Imagination or logic. Africa gave me the gift of that understanding. All one has to do is tilt their view and hatred can become love, because all things are linked and utterly dependent on our choice of emotional filters.

There is something freeing about having your every breath for five weeks be something new. Nothing that I saw, smelled, tasted, heard or touched was as it was at home. Except for me. I stood at the mountaintop, remaining firm and true while I craned my neck in every direction possible and saw the dangers of looking only one way, for your whole life.

Had I not gone would I have known the power of acknowledging that there is a different kind of beauty when you are present in each moment with both imagination and logic? Perhaps I would have, in time.

 

I don’t know if the power of this knowledge will stay with me, or it will fade and disappear the further my life travels from Tanzania. Though I don’t doubt that the knowledge of the difference a year can make will always remind me the importance of placing both feet on the cold floor, and getting out of bed. One day, it will be with the aim of meeting a friend to hear of their adventures and smile. Another day, it will be to drive to the airport to travel to a different continent. Both days start the same, and lead to the same place. With a single step to a mountaintop.

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Write soon,

Jennifer x

Unpublished Whispers – Queen’s Independence 

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“Queens rise and fall with your breath. A sharp intake, stunned at my intellect, perhaps? A low hiss, affronted by my confidence? 

Let me ask you this, and only this; 

What happens when you stop breathing?” 

– Unpublished Whispers, Queen’s Independence 

Creative Writing in Tanzania

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Hello there,

My name is Jennifer O’Connor, and as you likely know, this is my blog. I am so grateful for you, for clicking onto this page. In short, I am a twenty-two year old Irish student and this summer, I am travelling abroad to Tanzania to teaching story-telling and creative writing in the Olive Branch for Children.

The Olive Branch for Children was founded in 2005 by Deborah McCracken. Our main objective is to help remote communities in Tanzania assess their primary needs and establish programs that target the most vulnerable.

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The primary aims of the Olive Branch are the following;

To help the most vulnerable individuals and communities become empowered through community-specific and community-led programming.

To reduce the impact of the HIV epidemic through a multi-faceted approach; prevention, care, education and empowerment.

To support vulnerable children in their efforts to regain their health and to pursue their academic goals.

To reduce the injustice in the world by ensuring that the most vulnerable communities receive access to their basic needs and rights, including access to lifesaving medications, and to lobby on their behalf for greater equality in the future.

To develop new ideas that can be used by The Olive Branch for Children and other organizations and communities in their efforts to develop and change nations like Tanzania.

This summer I am so excited to be able to contribute to this organisation with all of the skills, enthusiasm and hard work that I can offer. 

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Travelling with the National University of Ireland, Galway  society Draíocht, I will teaching a morning class to young children with a more limited knowledge of English and in the afternoon, I will teach teenagers and we will work towards running a short story competition.

In order to purchase books, to pay for printing and other administrative charges for teaching both children and teenagers, we have to raise a minimum of three hundred euro.  You can find the Olive Branch on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=olive%20branch%20for%20children

If you’d like to donate, which I would appreciate more than words, you can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/olive-branch-for-children-tanzania

*All money raised on this page is directly donated into the bank account of the Olive Branch for Children.*

CheckYou can find them here:www.gofundme.com/Jenschronicfund

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The Writer’s Personality & ILF 2017 

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Hello everyone,

I’m back again with more musings and ramblings. This time I wanted to speak about the personality of a writer and how difficult it can be to understand, which came into focus for me at the International Literary Festival in Dublin where I won a ‘Date with An Agent’.
Enjoy,
Jennifer x

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Why are you the way you are? 

This question has been in my mind almost every moment of the last few weeks and has even disturbed my dreams. For the next two weeks, I am on holidays with my family in Spain. Family is, to me, a source of comfort and grounding. However, there are still moments when I become a juxtaposition as I adore my family’s company but find myself feeling so terribly isolated within my own mind.

Like in all families, though thankfully less than most, we argue and disagree, we call each other out and spare little time for feelings in doing so. Honesty is the defining emotion in my little family of four. Growing up with the same level of honesty, means that I cannot help but be honest with myself as well. And this means that despite the level of security I indulge in with my family, I am hyper aware of my differences to them. None of us are carbon copies of each other, and my sister and I are far from similar in our temperaments. She is held up like a mirror against me and I to her, where we have to identify our differences and move around them and grow closer despite them.

Yet at times when I find us walking down the street, an intense need for silence overcomes me which I cannot explain. I grate around the edges of other people who enjoy constant talking, as this exhausts me as socialising always has done.
At the age of twenty two, I have not yet been able to compromise an acceptance with my own sensitivities. Instead I am bombarded with the hateful part of my mind that questions why must I need alone time so often, and pushes the knowledge of how hurtful that may be to the fore of my every interaction. This effects my happiness even in the moments when I am meant to have cherish the memories I am forging with my family and swells my mind with doubts of how could they possibly like someone as temperamental as me.

On a recent Saturday I attended the International Literary Festival in Dublin as I had secured a ‘date with an agent’ by being selected on the merits of my novel. In truth, I had not given the day an exceptional amount of thought as my final college exams loomed over everything until I felt smothered. What I had considered, however, was the benefit of meeting other writers like me. Like me. It was a promising thought. I was excited because I never feel saner than when my feelings are validated by someone with my equally high aspirations.

I had to leave Galway at half-past five in the morning and though I was tired, I was vigilant about following Google Maps through Temple Bar with a friend. The theatre where the event took place was thronged with people sporting messenger bags (not unlike my own) and coffee cups. The ages of the writers varied greatly but everyone held the same energy that arises only when you are actively enjoying your passion; uniqueness. It’s a funny thing to witness first hand the special energy which we all hold when pursuing a creative pattern in life. We all feel the same type of unique, which is in itself an oxymoron in practice. Everyone wishes to be different, even though we already are.
When I was upstairs with the other Young Adult writers who were selected, I made conversation through nibbled bites of my energy bar. Everyone was apprehensive about meeting the agent, the wonderful Polly Nolan is Greenhouse Literary. I felt little to no apprehension about this. No, my nerves centered around trying to predict my reaction to seeing all of these talented writers and an agent who is excellent at her job. It is the dream come alive for me, straight from my positive visualising mind and onto the hardwood floors of Smock Alley Theatre. Would I find myself envious of everyone else or intimidated beyond words by Polly? Already, as with my family, I was preempting my possible poor reaction which might hurt someone else.

I tapped my boots against the floor until I made the whole bench shake. When Polly arrived and the questions from my peers began, I realised how ridiculous it was of me to ever expect myself to feel jealous or intimidated by these people who are just that – people.
The rest of the day felt as though I was moving in a fog. I had not purposely isolated myself but once again, I found myself disagreeing with other people, though I didn’t say so. When I need to write like I need air, then the answer to any question I could ask is to keep doing. How can anyone expect to achieve results without doing and backing up their ambition with action? Agents and publishers may reject you, but the solution to every rejection is to keep writing. To do otherwise is to accept failure in an industry that thrives off of a good work ethic. Habitual actions bleed success.

That day, my why am I like this question was answered. It is up to me to control my level of self blame. I am a thinker. I need silence more than conversation in the ratio of any one day. I am who am I because of what I do everyday. I am always seeking means to improve upon myself, my work and my own success. My work ethic is strict and because of it, I achieve days like my time with Polly Nolan. I will continue to work for opportunities and drain them dry whenever I can. I am at odds from other people because I am at odds with myself and each stage of my personality as I try to evolve to do better and work harder. How can I possibly understand the harsh opinions of others when they are at odds with my most recent upgrade in morality.

Perhaps everyone at the event that day felt the same. Perhaps they too felt a little at odds with the formal organisation of the place. I will never know, most likely. Regardless of the uniqueness of my emotions, I am happy to have taken part. From the first step into Temple Bar to the last round of applause for authors Catherine Anne Howard and Hazel Gaynor, I was trapped by my own contemplation that to be as reserved as I am was wrong.

If I am as preoccupied with doing as I say I am, how could I possibly waste more time with perceiving myself as being anything? The bottom line is always happiness, and the event on Saturday brought home that there will never be any other life for me other than writing. To achieve this, I need to do, not think and perhaps one day it will be me on the stage in Smock Alley Theatre advising others to keep writing.

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts & I’ll write soon,

Jennifer

Unpublished Whispers #2 – Distance Between Us 

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(This is the beginning of my new series, Unpublished Whispers, which  I’m going to start where I publish the snippets of books I’ve started and never finished, and likely never will. They will all be short and sweet, for the aim of expressing the main themes I adore writing I hope you enjoy!)


The Distance Between Us 

Your eyes glistened in the darkness. A perfectly blue, wide-eyed gaze, all iris and no pupil.

I was watching you and you were watching the ceiling. This was in perfect symmetry with our love, the awed and the distant. Yet now, I watch only the future.

  • Excerpt from a book I will never write, Unpublished Whispers #2

Unpublished Whispers #1 – Beating Your Chest

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(This is the beginning of my new series, Unpublished Whispers, which  I’m going to start where I publish the snippets of books I’ve started and never finished, and likely never will. They will all be short and sweet, for the aim of expressing the main themes I adore writing I hope you enjoy!)

Beating Your Chest 

The professor’s green leather chair was perfectly streamed in moonlight. Her glasses slid down her nose as she surveyed the young girl who was arguably her favorite student.

 

“I don’t know where to go now. Or what I’ll be, without this security.” The girl said, somewhat ashamedly.

 

The professor leaned forward and the girl’s chin lifted in response.

 

“You will climb through mud, to the highest mountain with the steepest peak. And there, you will stand with your hands beating on your chest, echoing for all to hear, commanding the attention of the world. You will make them do much more than listen – they will hear you.”

 

The girl’s answering nod was enough to cause new, towering waves to break a resounding crash against every shore of the world.

 

  • Excerpt from a book I will never write, Unpublished Whispers #1