Take A Seat

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My Mum’s best friend phoned at the start of the week and we had a fantastic chat about self-esteem, conflicting truths and lessons learned.  At the end of the call I said a too dramatic thank you.  I gushingly told her she was wonderful and amazing.  True to form she answered firstly with a considering silence and secondly with a request to take her off the pedestal.

Even before she’d finished the word, I got her.  I got it.

Being on a pedestal is crap.  Being on a pedestal pushes you up and away from the group – from the place you were learning and growing.  Being on a pedestal holds you apart, with a mic at your gob waiting for only your wisdom.  Pedestals are monuments to the false idol of perfectionism.  Pedestals are isolating.  Pedestals mean that the people who stand looking up at them lean back a bit from being their own best because they have someone to follow rather than to walk beside.  And, as my Mum’s pal said, pedestals don’t allow for mistakes and mistakes are inevitable.  There’s an important point about ego here too, I think. My Mum’s pal didn’t need or want her ego-stroked.  She called for connection, not vanity, and she wasn’t going to let me re-route it otherwise.

So I’m clearing the pedestal thing and assuming better than vanity of people I connect with who are fully engaged in living.  I rephrased my thanks and admiration and got specific instead: thank you for positively influencing how I understand things.  I’m grateful that you stay in touch, that we laugh and that what you know is teaching me more about honesty and assertiveness.

Note to self: hyperbole is hilarious in hilarity and disingenuous in connection.

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I’ve cleared quite a bit from the house too, including;  5 kitchen chairs, 1 dead laptop, 3 obsolete docking stations, 6 million cardboard boxes, a large bin bag of clothes and a broken DVD player.

Having 5 chairs around that were impractical due to vast weight & damage was a drain.  One of the chairs cost a fiver years ago from a charity warehouse.  I’d always planned to re-cover it.  The other four chairs were expensive but old and their covers were wrecked – torn, stained beyond chemical intervention and looking totally ravaged.  I planned to re-cover them too but I’ve now got honest about the fact that I won’t spend the necessary time or money learning skills & buying material to fulfill those plans.  I want to spend my time writing, being with folk I love, being healthy, creative and laughing.  Sewing machine time will not meet those ends, for me.  So the chairs have all been replaced with these replica Eames chairs, at £25 each from Amazon.

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They’re lightweight, you can lean back and sit in them all night and the white brings big shots of freshness into the room where once there was dark beige cotton and burned orange velour.  Also, no rips, tears, missing chunks, upholstery for dog hair to stick to and no previous owner fag burns make a pleasant change. clearing40 support logoWould you like more info on Clearing 40?  It’s here.   

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Clearing Forty

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I’ve always been a fan of living minimally but tangle up a few major relocations with kids, bereavement and coping with a sometimes appalling memory and I struggle to let go of things that have become clutter, incase I’m jettisoning periods of my life.  Despite my love of organisation, there’s  a point in my efforts where my brain grinds to a halt, pole-axed by the difficult stuff.

Yet, what I also know is that when stuff goes to the skip (or the charity shop, or  friends) I’m made indecently happy by the space left in its wake.  I feel lighter, younger, more creative, liberated and calmer when I decrease the stuff I have to store, clean, live with and see.  My fears about forgetting things are made irrelevant when I’m living fully at the time I’m reminded of something buried.  To remember something in an already happy moment makes that moment happier.  To be reminded of things amidst a fog of being overwhelmed by possessions and scared of more loss is a trigger for panic.  Trying to hang on to everything and everyone is a burden too great and demanding for me to bear.  Essentially, I now value the space that new things might arrive in more than I value souvenirs that signpost the past.  

2016 is my year to be forty.  In short, I need to lay out right away that I give very little fucks about numbers and wrinkles and lots of extremely thumbs up fucks about still being alive.  A round number year is a celebration. Every year is a celebration.  I will place my hands over my ears and sing really rudely in the face of anyone who would quite like to hear that I too lament my youth as the time my candle shone most brightly and all the yadda yadda brainwashed bullshit we perpetuate then call normal.

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A couple of years ago an acquaintance of mine expressed her view that running ruined her perception of other people’s attractiveness.  She asked if I knew that running would make my face saggier because of all the wobbling and detaching it would do from my skull as I bobbed along in lycra – a similar concern was noted about my breasts, too.  She advised that I take a selfie that very day and then set a reminder on my phone to compare it to my future face in 12 months time.  I advised her to do the same and guaranteed that – shock horror! – we would both look older in a year, because of time, not running.

Trying to stop ageing is like trying to dry the tide with a tea-towel.  So enjoy it instead, I say.  I’m not sure that I ever held the idea that relevance and beauty come with 25-30 year leases and I’m glad for that.  I never realised that was unusual until I started getting older though, til other people started talking about my body and age as if they were public commodities that were working against me somehow.

My Mum sat in front of me one night saying thank you to her beautiful feet and rubbing balm onto them.  I think I was about thirteen.  Her beautiful feet had bunions and they took her on every walk she asked them to.  They helped drive her car to unknown places on adventures.  They gave her freedom.  This was the thing she knew was beautiful and through that lens her view of her feet was too.  Time limited notions of appeal are only reality if you permit them to be so.

I’d been thinking long and hard about what to do for this year’s blogging and waiting for an idea that chimes so much that I can commit to it for twelve months without it dragging my energy down –  52and39 was always invigorating to write and I want to keep that feeling going.  Then it hit me: why not combine the obvious – the celebrating life and the clearing out?  Why not launch the entry into this beautiful, fresh decade by gifting myself space, time and motivation for possibilities?

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So Clearing Forty will be the 2016 blog thang.  My aim with this series is to get to where 2017 is a glass of Chablis away; where home is an even easier place to love and to have blogged at least twelve monthly stories about chucking, keeping and getting sorted.

First post soon.  Meantime, here’s to your face, my wrinkles and being alive, alight and supportive of women at every age.

Runaway Stories

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This time last year I was all geared up for a new job that was going to include part time writing- HURRAH!  Life goals securely on track!  And then….  SPLAT.  The company’s plans to set up a base in Edinburgh folded and I was in receipt of yet another email telling me my details would be kept on file, thanks, sorry and best of luck.  Having spent the Christmas holidays mentally and domestically preparing for going out to work I found myself in a landscape with a job shaped hole in it which I knew I was going to fall into in no time at all.

The fear set in.  The fear that comes from needing to write and yet not writing consistently is a large and thundering thing.  You look fine on the outside but on the inside there’s a storm.  Stories build up inside of you and crash against each other like furious waves.  Endings wallop into beginnings, words are thrown in the air tumbling back down to land in the wrong places, with the wrong punctuation.  You grapple to hold onto ideas and drop life-raft notebooks faster than you can repeat golden starter sentences in your head that you need to write down and preserve.

A friend and I have been discussing how to deal with being a writer when life will not give you time or opportunity to be a writer.  The answer, I think, is that somehow you must and do find a way.

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Had that email of January ’15 not arrived I mightn’t have found my way.   In a fit of post-rejection frustration I googled writing courses in Edinburgh, found one that started that day and signed up for the last place on the spot.  I hated that instead of earning money I was spending it but I knew my mental health needed the release rather than the analysis. Four hours later I walked into a classroom.  We were each asked to introduce ourselves.  I said, ‘Hi, I’m Heather.  I used to write, I’ve lost my ideas about what to write unless someone instructs me and I need to be taught how to discipline and develop my ability’.

Happily, I got exactly what I asked for from the course.  I went in there week after week and talked about what I found hard rather than showcasing what I found easy.  I dropped my guard and didn’t question whether I knew more than the teacher.  I ditched my ego.  I learned.  I worked like I should have worked at school.  I listened and made sure I didn’t hear my own voice dominating conversations.  I got my mojo to an extent I’ve never had it before.  I signed up for the next course and committed myself to the cause again as if it were a third child to fit into the family.  I was about to say I haven’t looked back since but the thing is I really have looked back on all of that. Every single rejection of 2015 lead to a decision to do something unexpected that worked out incredibly.  I look back all the time at the writing class and remember how amazing it felt to ask for help and then to receive it wholeheartedly and, let’s be honest, with desperation as a motivation.

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All that said, I’ve found it’s important for sanity to accept that there are times when it’s difficult or impossible to write too.  It’s been really key for me to work out the circumstances in which I can’t write so I don’t waste any time  indulging a method that doesn’t serve me.  I can’t write much in the weekends or school holidays when the kids and husband are home – there’s so much distraction to fight that it begins to feel like tantrumming and martyrdom on my part.  So what I do in the times when I can’t write is I take in other people’s stories.  I do this by watching really well written films or TV programmes, reading books, visiting blogs, listening to podcasts, intelligent radio programmes or, if other people are about, by sticking on story telling music and letting it become part of me by osmosis while I ask folk for their stories.

Filling up with other people’s stories stops your own stories from escaping, you see.  

I think it works by a largely passive process of knitting experiences, memories and thoughts into a garment you wear on the inside.  I’ve found the garment can’t be removed until you pour it onto a page sometime in the future.  Knowing this means my internal panic about losing stories is forever over; I am my own filing cabinet.  Quite often I’ll send emails to myself if I’ve thought of a line I’ve really fallen for but mostly I just put my stories on pause and let other people’s creativity flow, knowing it’s enriching my own.

I think the bottom line is only you can tell your stories so it’s a matter of extreme importance that you keep them safely stored in engaging, colourful and expansive content at the times when they have to wait inside you.

There’s a dark side to be aware of though, I believe.  What I absolutely don’t do if I can’t write is handover my brain to trashy magazines and shit storytelling of the tabloid kind.  In my experience these types of stories are corrosive to a positive sense of self and pull thoughts away from the best self to a conscious coma in which I’m relieved of many of the useful and beautiful things I previously had to say.  Since it can take quite a while (several weeks, usually but sometimes months) to rid myself of the negative effects of just ten minutes of exposure to shit-lit I reckon it’s better to have a completely zero tolerance approach to it.  If I come across it in a waiting room I do myself (and the world) a favour by shoving it down the back of a chair or into the bin in the toilet. And yes, friends who are reading this who’ve noticed magazines go missing…  It was me.  I had to do it to stop internal bad weather.

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Eleven Things

Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and you couldn’t buy honey in supermarkets for £25 a jar I was tagged by Daisy and given some fantastic questions which I immediately started answering and then promptly forgot about.

Now here we are in 2016 and thanks to the KonMari method of decluttering I’m looking through life for things that spark joy, which is how I ended up in my drafts folders like a woman high on the delete key and possessed by minimalism.

So here, at last, are Daisy’s questions and my answers…….

1. Of all your birthdays so far, which was your favourite?

On my 37th one of my best friends came to Edinburgh and we went out in ‘undone’ clothes just to have a few drinks and a good catch up.  We ended up on a Stag Night with a load of Newcastle & Durham guys who were a hoot.  Afterwards we pushed a rikshaw taxi up a hill it was struggling on and made the passengers & rider scream with terror, which was, we felt, hilarious.  Then we got a chicken kebab and walked home.  In the morning said BF got up early with my kids and husband, put a party hat on the dog and they all made me a lovely breakfast and gave me presents.  So yes, that was bloody fab.

2. Have you ever been on television? Would you want to be?

No and no.  I do however fancy a bit of radio.

3. Do you have a ‘signature dish’? If not, what’s your favourite thing to cook?

My signature dish would be Spal Bol cause I’ve cooked it so bloody much now I can do it with my eyes shut, my brain in sleep mode and one leg disengaged from my pelvis like a horse having forty winks by a stone dyke.  Spag Bol continues to be a great way to smuggle a multitude of veg into the kids without them screaming about Childline and ranting about the pointless, disgustingness of courgettes, etc. I’m pretty good at Quesadillas & chicken bhuna with bucketfuls of fresh herbs in both.  So don’t come to mine for fine dining but if you like healthy comfort food… get in (and bring Chablis).

4. Think back to when you were 16. Is your life now how you imagined it would be then?

At 16 I’d just been chucked out of school and had had some spectacularly shit things happen in my life in the immediate years before.  I’d also freshly fallen head over heels with my Prince of the Underworld criminal boyfriend. My middle class life now couldn’t be further from what I had  then and I’m not sure I imagined much at all at that time, past the twenty four hours immediately in front of me and a bit of Bonnie and Clyde based fantasising.  It feels like a long time ago and yesterday.  I’m only now really sticking together the pieces about what the road was from there to here.  I’m lucky, that’s for sure.

5. What’s your most visited website?

Twitter.

6. Show me your favourite photo of yourself.

OK. It’s this one, taken by my husband.

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We were having a laugh in a hired van which we’d use the next day to move from Bonnykelly in NE Aberdeenshire to Banchory, on Deeside.  We giggled our heads off, just the four of us and the dog.  We were all excited by the big change that was coming and I LOVED that being in the van was such a novelty.  I look at the photos from that night and I’m whisked back on a huge smile about what a tough and daring little team we’ve often been.  I also love the fact that at that stage in their lives the kids felt only excitement about change – they trusted their Dad and I completely and didn’t have so many external cues about fearing change and railing against it as a default reaction.

7. What’s your dream job?

Songwriter. Working in studios with musicians and singers.  And writing satirical comedy for TV/novels/radio.

8. Are you a cat or a dog person?  Or a horse or a lizard?  You get the picture. I’m trying to avoid asking what’s your favourite animal?

I love cats, dogs and horses.  However Twitter has really amped up my visual addiction to photos of all sorts of baby animals.  Otters (who hold hands when they sleep, FFS) have really enriched my life and calm me right down when I’m freaking out.  So judge me.

9. What’s the one song that will always get you on the dance floor?

Too many to mention.  But My First, My Last… by Barry White springs to mind as a starter.  Then Teardrops by Womack & Womack.  And Do Ya Wanna Funk, by Sylvester.  I listen to them all when I’m running.

10. Which blog post you’ve written do you feel  deserved a bit more love than it got?

On my old blog I wrote about female on female sexual abuse and it was met with what felt like a horrified silence and a definite sending to Coventry by some in the blogosphere which was markedly more twinset and pearls oriented then that it is now.  Safe was the safety word.  It was never going to work with me, was it?  That negativity really floored me but also pushed me to stumble onto the thought that I didn’t need those people’s approval or validation anyway.  In fact, when I got down to facing my values, I realised I didn’t even want their validation.  From there, Wordathlon was born and I bloody love it.  It’s truly me in a way my old blog never was.  So ultimately, a shit thing transformed into a brilliant thing.  I really, really dig when things turn round like that.

11. If someone was naming a cocktail after you, what would be in it and what would it be called?

It’d be called The Mother Inferior.  It’d have gin, elderflower tonic, wads of ice, a huge slanty slice of cucumber and some frozen blueberries, impregnated with blueberry sloe gin.  It would come in a massive red wine glass, duct taped onto a full size tube of sour cream and onion Pringles.  The name would be a nod to the fact that I think trying to be a perfect Mum is a crock of shit that makes you insane and produces kids who’ll struggle to live with humour and creativity.  I think it’s better to do your best most of the time and accept that the times when you can’t or don’t are the ones that keep you relateable and curious.

Thanks to Daisy for tagging me.  She’s a really inspiring woman who makes me laugh and think. What better kind is there?