Manners Maketh Man

This piece was written for the July 2022 issue of Caitlyn Raymond’s fantastic Details Magazine, which is out now – you can find out more about it by clicking here!

When Caitlyn gave us the theme of ‘making a mental note’ for this issue of Details, I have to admit that I initially struggled a great deal when it came to finding inspiration. We all take a lot into account every day of our lives, and our brains are packed with all of the life lessons – both big and small – that we continually acquire. But as I rifled through my own mind, I slowly but surely began to panic. What could possibly be in there that was big enough to fill an entire piece, let alone be worth reading? I didn’t know what to do or where to turn, and time wasn’t on my side. I couldn’t back out this month, because I’d already done that once, and to do it again would be unprofessional…wouldn’t it? Maybe then, Caitlyn would think less of me as a writer – or even worse, as a person. What then? What then?

It was in that moment that I stopped in my tracks, because I realised I knew exactly what to do. My topic was already right there in my lap, because it’s informed almost everything I’ve done in my life since at least the age of 10. One day back in the mid-2000s, when I’d not long started at Minehead Middle School, I was sat eating my lunch in the hall when my helper came over to me looking rather straight-faced, uttering eight little words I’ve never quite been able to forget.

“Mason, you haven’t been thanking the dinner ladies.”

I can’t remember exactly how I reacted outwardly at the time, but I do know that my inner thought process was just the same as it’s always been – and from that day onward, I tried never to forget my manners again. I can’t claim to be perfect, of course, but I always try my hardest to treat others as I’d wish to be treated, which can sometimes be something of a double-edged sword, because it’s a blessing and a curse. Yes, it means your everyday life is probably more pleasant than it would be if you went out of your way to be rude and miserable towards others, but I’ve also found that – more often than I’d like to admit – it also leads to a certain amount of paranoia.

I’m willing to bet that in the last decade or so, not many days have gone by where I haven’t constantly analysed all of my own speech or body language in the presence of another person. It’s never taken much to trigger that, either – all I have to do is think about one tiny gesture, or a word inadvertently delivered in a strange tone, and my mind is working overtime for the rest of the day. In some cases, I find myself walking on eggshells around people, convinced they’re thinking about that one awkward moment just as much as I am. They never are, of course.

Over time, I’ve learned to calm myself a little more by always keeping my good intentions in mind. I never mean to rub anyone up the wrong way, and I do my utmost to avoid having that effect. If I do, I apologise straight away. It can be easy to forget that, so I make an effort to remember, and to forgive myself when I need to. It might come in pretty handy to remember that right now. Caitlyn most likely won’t have any complaints about my writing or my conduct, and I’ll definitely be back for the August issue. I hope so, anyway…

Mason

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In The Words Of The T-Shirt…

“…Just Do It.”

That’s what my old GCSE English teacher used to say, usually when we had to write an essay. Given that she had to mark so many of them, she never had much time for people who went “round the houses” – in other words, those of us who took ages to get past the introduction to the crux of the matter. All she wanted was for us to make and explain our point, and to do it promptly. To get the thing tied up and finished. It could still take me a while to hit the nail on the head, and I can remember writing many a long-winded paragraph, but I got there in the end – and that small quote is advice I’d do well to remember today.

As you’ll know by now, I’ve long wanted to be the most versatile writer possible, but I’m invariably held back by the belief that I’ll never write anything worth reading or watching, or that I’m too rusty to take on a specific project (such as scriptwriting, which – Jed Mercurio video lessons aside – I haven’t done since I left Winchester in the summer). I lack a certain amount of confidence, but I also know that I won’t regain it unless I press ahead and write regardless, so sometimes it seems like a somewhat impossible situation. There is, however, a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

My friend Abi works as a photographer down in Cornwall (sometimes she doubts her own ability too, but she really doesn’t need to – as you’ll find out for yourself if you contact her via social media). Her mind is endlessly inventive, and I admire how she always tries to push herself and her business further in colourful and distinctive ways in order to stand out from the crowd. This includes utilising film and the written word as well as imagery, and for her latest endeavour she’s decided to create a video featuring herself and her camera immersed in her beloved Cornish countryside, while she explains her motivations for doing what she does via voiceover. This element of the video needs to be personal, profound and sincere, it needs to delve deep into the effect her environment has on her wellbeing and creativity – and writing such a thing is no mean feat. I should know, because it’s a task she’s entrusted to me.

I’m in two minds about whether or not I should accept it, largely because the lines are meant to convey her own perspective – so surely they should come from her? Nevertheless, I think I will, firstly because I want to help a friend, and secondly because it’s still an opportunity to show someone what I can do, even if it’s not on a massive scale. Abi doesn’t need to use any of what I’ve written once she’s seen it, but it won’t hurt me at all to carry on, even if it is only 500 words, and just do it.

Mason

Souligner!

You know when you make notes on something to refer back to later, but when you do they’ve been scribbled so hurriedly that they no longer make sense even to you? I’ve found that that’s happened rather a lot lately as I try to adjust to my new job. The notes have been growing by the day, whether I’ve been recording new conversations, methods or even interviews, but with every new scribbling has come the increased risk of confusion. Ironically, though, these may still be more of a help than a hindrance.

Back in Year 8, when I was doing French at school, I found myself doing pretty well (a few years later, I decided not to do the subject at GCSE, and my teacher was devastated after I broke the news). I could write it confidently and I wasn’t bad at speaking it either, with an increasingly accurate accent. There was, however, one small thing I couldn’t quite master doing work in my textbook – using a ruler. That wasn’t exclusive to any one subject – in every class, I thought the lines already on the page would be sufficient to keep my writing straight – but in French it seemed to be a particular problem for my teacher. With every passing week, it would slope further and further downward, and the same word would appear next to it without fail: “souligner!”

What does it mean, I hear you ask? Simple. “Underline.” It must have been there for weeks or even months on end, but I still wouldn’t make the effort to hold that ruler straight. When you have cerebral palsy, fine motor skills can be a tricky thing to master, but eventually, having seen one “souligner!” too many, I realised that particular ability was one I really needed to get on top of. Ultimately, of course, I did, and I’m willing to bet I did so much quicker than I expected to beforehand. I’ve never forgotten it, because it’s one of those tiny things that taught me never to be afraid of notes or feedback, regardless of how harsh they might seem, because at the end of the day they’re there to push you forward. That time in Year 8 taught me two things – a piece of French vocabulary and the correct way to use a ruler – and I’m keeping that in mind with every note I’m given in my new job. I’m bound to slip up mere weeks in, or even once I’m firmly established there, but what matters most is not the mistakes I make, but how I learn from them. Life is, after all, one big learning curve.

Mason

A Writerly Dilemma

After the year we’ve all had, it might come as no surprise to you that I had been struggling to feel as festive as normal. The Christmas lights and decorations have definitely improved that, though, and Mum and Dad have excelled themselves with our tree once again. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself sitting on the sofa and basking in its glow as I try to write something, be it for coursework or pleasure. I should probably place a certain amount of emphasis on ‘try’, because of late, not much new material has surfaced at all.

I’ve concluded that this is because of a constant battle, a dilemma of sorts, that goes on in my head. Every so often, I feel pressure to decide exactly what kind of writer I want to be, even though I’ve always maintained that I want to be as versatile as possible. As you’ll notice if you’ve seen the homepage of this blog, Third Time Enabled was created when I had time to kill after a Formula One qualifying session. Motorsport has always been a central part of my life, and so to some people the prospect of me going on to write about it seems only natural. It appears to be a logical step to me too, being the thing I arguably know most about.

The problem is, though, that only 50% of my brain thinks that. The other 50% worries about how well I could write about it – and beyond that, whether I actually want to at all. I’ve dabbled in motorsport reporting before, and because you’re talking about a fast-moving industry, where there’s a new story every minute, you largely have to stick to the facts, and you have to do so in a concise and easily digestible manner. Everything is black or white. I know you could say the same about any other form of journalism, but accepting that there seemingly won’t be much opportunity to spread my wings and show what I can do creatively takes a bit of getting used to.

The opinion piece, a much more subjective kind of writing, is more conducive to an inventive turn of phrase since it relies heavily on the author’s own view, but this is where another point of self-doubt arises. What if I publish something I have faith in and it transpires I have no idea what I’m talking about at all? Not doing a subject I love so much justice would be a great worry to me, as would pigeonholing myself specifically as a motorsport journalist. In addition to that, sometimes I think that I’m more comfortable just being a fan – kicking back and relaxing while I watch the Grand Prix on a Sunday afternoon. Turning it into my job could, in my opinion, be somewhat risky, and growing to even slightly resent racing doesn’t bear thinking about.

I have done my best to strike up a balance between writing about motorsport and everything else the world has to offer. This blog has a sister site, MOH Racing, founded in February last year – but as I type this now, only nine posts have been published on it. There must be some way I can overcome these lingering self-confidence issues, give equal attention to both of these blogs and any other projects, and maintain the versatility I’ve always wanted. Only time will tell – perhaps it can be a secondary New Year’s resolution for 2021.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Mason

The Teams Experience

WordPress seems to have a new layout, so I thought I’d start this post with a nice drop capital (and some white boxes, although those might only be temporary). As it happens, now seems an appropriate time to try something new. In what has seemed like the blink of an eye, the third and final year of my degree has already arrived, and in light of the unprecedented times we’re living in, it’s already proving to be very different to either of the previous two. As I write this, we have completed one full week of lectures, and have experienced the first taste of what we can expect from teaching, at least until Christmas.

It now relies heavily on rotation, and our timetables have been designed to allow us all to be both present in class and remotely via Microsoft Teams. When we’re there in person, we enter, sit at socially-distanced desks around the room and the session proceeds more or less as normal, with us making sure to wipe down our desks before and after using them.

Ours is a course that benefits greatly from face to face interaction (particularly when critiquing work), so it’s a shame that that has been (understandably) reduced, but within every Teams meeting are smaller ‘breakout groups’, which we can enter with two or three other people to share files. I haven’t had much experience of them yet, but I have found them to be a source of the teething troubles tutors and students have been having with the software. In a session last Wednesday I went into one with three people, only two of whom could show what they’d written – the other file was nowhere to be found, even after it had supposedly been uploaded more than once. In addition to that, we only tentatively added comments to one another’s work because we weren’t sure that our edits would be saved, although we eventually discovered that the documents save themselves automatically whenever changes are made, so we left that group with our confidence boosted for the rest of the semester.

Certain people I’ve spoken to have been sceptical of the tutors’ ability to get on top of Teams, but I think they’ll find it easier to get to grips with as the weeks go on. They can only prepare for so much beforehand, after all. On Tuesday last week, in my very first class of the year, three of them had difficulty seeing and hearing each other as they introduced one of my modules, and struggled to adjust to a few of its features, which they’d anticipated in their training over the summer – but everything came together in the end, just as I knew it would. These minor hurdles will be overcome, and the new methods will be second nature to us all. I for one already feel very comfortable, and ready to tackle whatever the next three months bring, just as I always have been.

Mason

Keep Calm, Chop And Change

Hi everyone, my name’s Alex. I’m a friend of Mason’s and a fellow Creative Writing student. I’ve been fortunate enough to be offered a post on this blog, but I’ve never done a blog post about me as I’m used to telling other people’s stories, so bear with me!  

I decided to cut my hair from shoulder-length to pixie one Saturday night in January while I was alone in my uni house. I hadn’t planned to go that short when I picked up the Ikea scissors and faced my reflection. I hadn’t planned past the slightly bored thought of “I’ll give it a trim”, which I’d had for the past year. So I snipped in a few more layers, took a centimetre or so from the ends and found myself wondering – not for the first time – how it would look a bit shorter. Maybe a lob length. My sister had just started growing her pixie cut out and I’d admired her confidence when she got hers cut, but felt – because we have different bone structures – that I wouldn’t be able to carry one off. I put on a playlist – I can’t remember it now but it probably didn’t help to rationalise what I did next – took a handful of my hair and chopped it at my jaw. No turning back once you’ve done that, is there? It felt…empowering? Crazy? Like I’d stuck a metaphorical middle finger up? Of course, a lot was behind this, not just the desire to try a new look. I’d spent my whole life feeling self-conscious, awkward, like I didn’t belong anywhere, as though no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t fit in. Nothing really felt personalised in my physical identity.

I felt free to be so drastic partly because I wasn’t with anyone (so didn’t have to worry about being dumped because I’d changed), partly because I was no longer bothered if people didn’t like me (and if they cared then I no longer wanted them in my life), and partly because nothing else had worked. I don’t know how long that first chop took, but I’ve never regretted it. I love that I cut (and still maintain) it myself. No-one else had any part in creating it and there’s something really satisfying in that.

Changing to become more authentic is the most terrifying, empowering thing because it’s a leap of faith. Chopping my hair into a pixie cut challenged me – and not just in my cutting abilities! It challenged me to step out from a role I felt I’d been playing for years that had got good reviews, but wasn’t authentic. I didn’t want to be a carbon copy or a blend, I wanted to be me and I wanted to be that person unapologetically and honestly. Cutting my hair was the first major step towards cultivating a look, a lifestyle, a persona that suits and reflects me. Not society, not socially popular images, not stereotypes, not what’s seen as attractive. Just me.

Lots of people thought I was having a crisis, lots of people thought I was crazy. Lots of people probably still think all those things, but I’d rather be honest about who I am and what I want. Trying to stuff myself into an image that increased self-doubt and insecurities already in existence – due to constant comparisons with everyone else – hadn’t worked. But accepting those insecurities, owning them and stepping out from who I felt I’d always had to be helped to overcome a huge block. I realised that you can change but the people who like you for yourself won’t give a damn what you look like, and if they do? Well, there will be people out there who love who you really are, and you should look out for them.

So that’s the story behind the hair.

Thank you Mason for letting me contribute to your blog!

Alex

A Quad Bike In The Lobby

Remember the ideas I had for my forthcoming short film, set out a couple of posts ago? Well, you can now forget them all, because they’ve been replaced by something that I think could be even more promising. The new idea was devised in a haze of desperation, when the clock was ticking down to my first official workshop session and I still didn’t have anything good enough, despite my best efforts. At the eleventh hour, I shut myself away in the library and focused on the method I’d used before, combining locations, objects and mise-en-scene to find something I could work with. I wrote down a number of throwaway suggestions. Most of them were so hopeless that they aren’t even worth mentioning, but just when I thought all hope was lost, there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. It came in the form of a single line: “man rides quad bike through hotel foyer/lobby?”

This image definitely piqued my interest. In order to have someone pull such a dramatic stunt in a place like that (and I’d envisioned it as a posh hotel), there has to be both a major reason and major consequences. He certainly wouldn’t have a job afterwards! From these thoughts, the rest of the story began to grow, and after a couple of workshops with our tutor, this is what I have. My protagonist, a porter working at the hotel, will arrive one morning and be immediately hassled by a snobbish and aggressive manager as he carries out several thankless jobs. We will soon learn that this is a regular occurrence which has made the porter feel belittled and demotivated, and has eroded his confidence. The story’s inciting incident will then come when he finds an expensive watch lying on the carpet, unseen by his manager. Intrigued, he takes it to reception and is told it belongs to an elderly lady who arrived the previous day.

When he reaches her room, he attempts to return the watch, only for the lady to immediately reply that the watch has been stolen from a local jeweller’s. The porter is stunned as she explains that the theft is among the things she has written on a list of risks she wishes to take, as she feels her life has become stale in old age. Throughout this interaction, she demonstrates a clear mischievous streak in defiance of her years, and gradually inspires the porter to take a risk of his own. Inspired by his hatred of his job and manager, he decides to tender his resignation in the most chaotic way possible. That’s where the quad bike sequence comes in!

There’s still some more development to come before I commit the story to a script, but at this point it seems to be shaping up well. What I have to do next is a step outline, which will break down the idea a little bit more, and then I can start the screenplay itself ahead of its due date on 22 December. I’m definitely confident about both. It’s much easier to feel that way when you’ve got an idea that’s developed more naturally, rather than one you’ve forced – even though I forced myself to come up with it in the first place…

Mason

 

 

Fade To Black

Towards the end of July, I wrote about a script for a short film that I was gradually developing from a short story I’d written last year, Warm Leather. Knowing how badly I procrastinate, I was doubtful that I’d manage to get it finished anytime soon, but I’m now pleased to report that I’ve broken the habit of a lifetime – I have a complete draft! I typed the words “fade to black” on Tuesday last week, and quickly shared what I’d done with a small group of friends. They may have been slightly biased, but the feedback they gave was largely favourable, so for now I will stick with the draft I have – my next objective is to send it elsewhere and see if I can find some more informed advice.

After so many years of only managing to write snippets of script, it means rather a lot to me to have committed to this one through to the end, even though it’s only 14 pages long (quarter of an hour in length, rather than the half an hour I had anticipated). It’s given me a solid starting point to develop and grow the story where necessary, and if nothing else, it’s been good practice for the “Creating Short Screenplays” module I’m starting in Winchester next semester. I couldn’t be happier with my progress so far, and if I can find the right place to send it next, then who knows? Maybe this won’t be the last update I give you…

Mason

 

As If It Were Yesterday

I am back within the sanctuary of my own four walls, after an excellent but very tiring weekend at the local festival I mentioned on Friday. It brought great music and a great atmosphere in equal measure, even if the weather was a touch on the windy side (although we couldn’t expect much better being exposed on a hilltop). Nothing was going to stop anyone from having a good time. Everyone seemed to be intoxicated in some way, either by the entertainment or copious amounts of alcohol – it wasn’t always easy to tell. Whatever the case, spirits were high, and this was a joy to see as I gradually explored the site. Alongside the food and drink on offer, there were independent stands selling numerous products of all shapes and sizes, and a couple of other tents hosting artists who weren’t on the main stage. Hordes of festival-goers left them bursting at the seams as they all jostled for position inside – those who only saw futility in such an exercise opted to peek in from the edges, listening patiently and hoping to catch at least one glimpse of the acts up front.

I spent a considerable amount of time as one of those people, a quiet but interested observer as I wove my way through the crowds. Some faces were those of strangers, some of firm friends and family, but others occupied a strange – and yet very welcome – space in between. I refer to the people I spoke to whom I had not seen in some time (years, in certain cases), but was delighted to see and pass time with again. To my surprise, several of them seemed pretty pleased to see me as well, rushing forward to say hello as if we had never been apart. One or two people even gave me hugs, which definitely weren’t expected! The conversation was perfectly normal – we updated each other on where we’d been, what we’d done and what we were looking forward to most – but I didn’t mind that at all. I liked the fact that the other person was comfortable enough to talk to me as though we were the closest of friends, even after so much time had passed between encounters. In one way, it also reassured me, since I do tend to worry about being a nuisance or inconvenience to others, that perhaps I’m not such a bad person to talk to after all. These people were therefore able to have a significant impact on both my weekend and my general outlook – it just goes to show that taking even five minutes out of your day to chat to someone really can go a long way. They may be surprised to read something so deep about my meeting them, but I thought it important that they should know what it meant, however fleeting the greeting.

Mason

The Pull, Part 10

What you see before you might not look like a masterpiece, but I felt it appropriate to share a photo of it here, because this meal – this humble stir fry – is the first one ever to be cooked by my own fair hands. As you might have guessed, Mum used her Yoda-like mastery to guide me so that I would know everything I needed to cook for myself in Winchester. When she announced yesterday that I would be making my own tea tonight, I was filled with a mixture of confidence, intrigue and the fear of the unknown, but now that the meal has vanished from my plate I can safely say that only positivity remains. I am very optimistic that I will easily be able to reproduce it on demand when I am living alone, and this is due in no small part to what Mum did to soothe my inner doubts.

After I had made sure my hands were well and truly washed, I rolled across to the worktop by the cooker to see that the chicken breasts had already been laid out on the appropriate chopping board. Mum explained that in Winchester, it may well be easiest for me to use chicken that has already been diced, but she took this opportunity to make sure I could cut it anyway. Obviously, raw chicken does not put up much of a fight against a knife, so slicing it into smaller pieces was hardly an issue for me. When they had been swept into the wok, to be coated in the hot oil I had poured there, I was surprised by exactly how quickly they all cooked through. There was an instantly noticeable transformation in the appearance of the meat, and I got to see this up close as I tried tossing it about with both tongs and a spoon. I concluded that the tongs were most effective when dealing with chicken, since I could examine and move each piece individually, but when the somewhat slithery vegetables went in, I favoured the spoon to turn them collectively. The grip tongs have on those isn’t quite as firm, that’s for sure!

Then came the noodles, specifically those of the “straight to wok” variety, which Mum had very thoughtfully purchased. They were tightly packed into a large block within their packaging, so it was suggested that I unpick them carefully over the crowded pan. I had expected to immediately drop the lot in with my butterfingers, but I was ultimately able to add them in small quantities – until the last batch, which did fall in a large cube that only narrowly missed the kitchen floor. It was in, however, and now only minutes remained before the contents of the wok would be the contents of my plate. I had never previously realised that cooked noodles did not change colour, so I learnt another small lesson when Mum told me that they only appeared darker in her meals because of the soy sauce she stirs in prior to serving. I used the spoon to break up the last of the noodles that were clinging together and after a couple more minutes, dinner was ready.

The wok is pretty heavy, especially in the hands of someone like me, so Mum initially doubted my ability to lift it and transfer the food to the plate, but I quickly proved that such fears were unfounded by easily tipping it all on. As it sat there steaming away, it was somewhat lacking in terms of presentation, but Mum – as you can see in the photo – had the foresight to try scattering the mangetout in an artistic manner (which might not have worked so well). With that, it was on the table, and in my stomach just as quickly. As I sat back staring at my clean plate, I wondered what else I might be able to accomplish in the kitchen with Mum’s ever-reliable assistance. She tells me that a simple plate of pasta in sauce will be next. A few days ago that might have daunted me, but I suddenly have no fear, and I can clearly see the benefits these new abilities will bring in just a few short weeks. Bring on the pasta!

Mason