Wotcha

If you like my soapbox moments or share my passions, grab a coffee or a gin and get comfy as you’ve happened upon my read me here update and it’d be great to have your comments along the way.

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Firstly, I’ve written as a guest blogger on The History Girls Frae Scotland recently.   I can pretty much guarantee you’ll love The History Girls Frae Scotland site for all its content, best described by themselves as ‘History, Heritage and Hilarity’, it’s a total delight.  The post I’ve written for them is about why, pushed by modern and historical politics, I came to create the website and online community I run called The Grantidote.

TheGrantidoteTrioThe Grantidote is a collection  of real women’s stories from people’s knowledge of grandmothers and other women who impacted their lives.  The Grantidote’s purpose is to create an intervention to a male-centric society in which toxic masculinity’s been normalised.  This may sound like heavy work but the reality’s different – it’s a pleasure and change never felt so accessible to me than through this simple but profound portal.  If you think you’ve a story about a woman to tell with me for this important archive, regardless of your gender, please get in touch.  Contributions can be little or large and I’m interested in getting graphic storytelling and spoken word included too.  Basically, the door’s wide open and the mood’s uber welcoming.  Dive in!

Second up, I was recently interviewed by Jane Woods for Changing People.  Changing People works with businesses and individuals to address gender imbalances in workplaces.  As someone who doesn’t have a career, this chat was terrifying and affirming and had me thinking so much about the discomfort and inadequacy I’ve felt over the years about the informality of my work.  My insecurities here are informed by quite extreme anxiety about money and security dating back to my teens, compounded by adult experiences with post-natal depression.  It was therapeutic to be able to step back from anxiety about my identity and see a bigger story I’m tentatively proud to call my own.

Third and last (and really joyfully) apart from a wee bit of novel writing and nurturing short stories and poems for competitions, I’ve also created spoken word content for Fearless Femme, a frankly brilliant new social enterprise based out of Edinburgh.  Fearless Femme will be providing, ‘a membership community where young women dealing with emotional and psychological challenges can connect with one another, and an online magazine that provides a wealth of advice and inspiration on improving one’s mental health.’  I mean, could it be more my thang if it tried?!?!  Watch this space for brilliant badassery kicking off in early 2018.

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Of Mice and Men

Internalised misogyny’s kinda like the rat who lived in our back garden. Every now and then it poked its head out of a small hole in the dry stane dyke and scared the living shit out of me (but thrilled the dog).

For soooooooo long I believed the rat was simply a large mouse.  Then, faced with faecal evidence to the contrary, I spent some time simply telling myself the rat was a large mouse and willing away  memories of the enormo-shits by the bird feed in the shed.  Denial can be a really handy part of adjusting to an unpleasant reality, can’t it?

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I did not want the rat to be as big a problem as it was – so I simplified it away and mentally minimised it to make it easier to think about.  La la la la la la.

Meantime, the rat had babies and I grew unable to continue deluding myself that the big pink semi-ropes intermittently hanging out the wee wall in the garden were anything other than rat tails.  Then, the sight of a rat climbing the 7ft clematis trellis turned out to be a moment even Instagram filters & wine couldn’t soften.

We are now minus a shed and a rat colony.  We found out the rats were living under the decrepit, old, rotting shed (very low air miles to the bird food) so it was time for the lot to go.

I’ve talked a lot about the rat now and not so much about internalised misogyny, haven’t I?  If you’d like to read me talking about internalised misogyny for reals, I’m chuffed as a rat in a slop bucket to say you can do just that on Bella Caledonia this festive season.

Slainte!

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Good Company

I’m proud to be a Dangerous Woman.

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The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh are asking what being a dangerous woman means and providing a myriad of answers, one per day, over the 365 days between International Women’s Day 2016 and International Women’s Day 2017.

My piece, entitled The Business of Incantations is here.

 

comme ci, comme ça

I put filters on photos all the time.  Some folk think it’s cheating.  Others couldn’t give a flying fuck.  Others still say it’s about creating your own reality and that’s an everyday essential (and sometimes radical) act.

I’ve realised it’s time to put filters on things I hear, too.

I’ve realised there are times I’m going to have to use small-talk and unsmiling eyes to get through conversations.  I’ve realised that people who don’t speak to me with their heart; people who instead speak with fear, agenda or negative conditioning, those people need me to adhere to their script in order for things to play out.

I’ve learned that some people can’t cope with my truth and that’s OK, because I have no intention of coping with theirs.

Those people are happier with, ‘It’s all downhill from here’, and, ‘out running to try to hold back the years?’ Or, the ever dreaded and deep as a puddle in a summertime piazza, ‘life’s a bitch, then you die…’

For them, among other things, ageing is binary.  It’s either good or bad.  At a push for nuance, it’s ugly.

My truth?  I’m not dreading being forty.  The only strong feeling I have about it is that I’m genuinely glad to still be alive.  I have much to do.  I run and eat well most of the time so I can get to fifty, sixty, seventy, eight and ninety; not so I can look thirty again.  I’ve known several people who died far too young.  Scared to be forty?  Scared to be any age?  Computer says no. Heart says no. Head says no.  Logic and experience say ageing is a privilege.  Nothing less. And wrinkles? Not half as scary as the thought of living life in the shadows of inevitability and shame drenched dogma.

Sometimes, I have learned, my mouth is going to have to laugh and my eyes are going to have to roll in jest.  Because we can’t change other folk can we?  And we can’t be on guard, all the time.  We can only change ourselves.  If I spend any more of my time getting exasperated about the negativity other people choose to direct towards me, I’m not going to have time or energy to do all the wonderful and necessary stuff.   So, I’m applying a filter.  Some words can get in my ears and hang around for a moment and then, pop, as soon as they’re gone, they’re gone. The filter eliminates them.  I no longer permit them an echo.

And the people who talk to me about life and clearly love it, maybe not every second but most of the time?  They get my heart.  They get my laughter lines and my genuine smile.  They get my time.  They get me to put down my pen, lean in and let their words decorate my thoughts.  They get echo and reverb and bass.  They’re few and far between, but those privilege-aware people who don’t need me or themselves scared?  The folk I can turn all filters off with?  Turns out they’re the best birthday gift at every age.

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If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy a prize winning piece I wrote entitled Vitruvian Woman, for the simply wonderful Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre in Somerset.  You can download the anthology of collected work via this page.  My piece is about the friend who likes you better when you’re smaller; the kind of friend in need of dealing with via a filter, in my opinion.

Privilege as a Parrot

 

Are you sitting uncomfortably?

Good. Then I’ll begin.

It’s like that at the moment, isn’t it?  That is if you haven’t absented yourself completely from the news and are staying engaged by degrees, trying to figure out what to do to help the world.  Sometimes, things feel hopeless.

Sometimes again, you realise rock bottom’s a great place to look up from.

Sometimes – and this is the most common one for me – sometimes uncomfortable means learning.  Like remembering shit things I’ve said in the past and being embarrassed and glad not too many people heard them at points when I clearly wasn’t learning – at points when I was sitting so comfortably I actually thought my opinions were right about most things, no development, devil’s advocate or exploration required.  Pass me a tabloid and call me Sugar Tits, because that’s how the world went back then and, I was sure, no point trying to fight what you can’t change.

Being on Twitter has schooled my ass.  Suffering ante and post natal depressions schooled my ass too.

Both things have made me sit uncomfortably and, know what?  Nowadays I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Every time I learn something my world view gets bigger; my perspective gets bigger.  My appreciation gets bigger.  My relationships get deeper because my empathy grows and the universe, at the same time as feeling more chaotic, also somehow makes more sense.  Learning means you get to see the patterns in things and when you can see the patterns there’s less to shock you and the things that need to be fought for become clearer.  Learning means you have a head start on everything and are OK with saying the words, ‘I don’t know’, which, I’ve learned, are great when it comes to shaking off the fuck awful armour of attempting to know it all.  ‘I don’t know’ lets in a more realistic rhetoric of accepting I’m not all things to all people.  I’m faulted, but I’m trying really hard to understand and improve all the things I’m affecting.

   
   
Depression took me from being the one who was always first with an opinion and plonked me at the back of any crowd, desperately trying to blend with the wallpaper and muted by synapses void of any of the feel-good.  When I was depressed, I unlearned talking without thinking.  I said tiny sentences inside my head repeatedly before saying them out loud – I was that scared of getting anything wrong, upsetting anyone or drawing attention to myself.  I was least distressed and confused in bed, lapsing in and out of sleep and receiving information from the telly, the radio or my extremely nearest and dearest.  I could process life at a radically restrained speed.  Too slow to allow a two-way dialogue out loud, my thoughts would suspend anything new next to what I thought I’d known before I got ill.  Then, with largely cold emotion, I’d notice the contrasts and with the defensive emotions that had kept me closed no longer in play, I saw objectivity in practice from my zoomed out, emotionally anaesthetised stasis.

As I started to get better with medication, I’d catch myself every now and then doing talking without thinking first.  It was strange, like watching an unknown child take their first steps; I was half detached, my personality re-emerging after the unholy clamour of the internal war, proud but tentative.   I was shaky but I could manage a bit of forward motion before going bright red and replaying words in my head afterwards, retro-checking for flaws.  Now I can go whole weeks of talking without thinking but, overall, I now also think a hell of a lot more without talking too.  I doubt I’d have learned that reflective skill without being taken to its cognitive classroom by chemical force.  

As the time stretches to a decade now since I was ill, I’m beginning to look back and say that although ante and post-natal depressions robbed me of memories with my babies and almost killed me, they also gave us great gifts.  In my quiet time my soul fell though wormholes time and again but, luckily, new information and knowledge did not.  Because I couldn’t talk, I learned to listen – even when I hated what I was hearing.  I learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and I can tell from the calibre of the people around me nowadays, that’s a very good thing.

And Twitter?  Twitter gives me the gift of being able to follow wildly intelligent and experienced people who’ve processed faster than me and are making me uncomfortable, privately, in the comfort of my own head as I try to catch up.   Twitter keeps me accountable for knowing and owning the difference between opinion and fact.  Perhaps most importantly, Twitter ensures awareness of my privilege rides everywhere with me, like a parrot on my shoulder, squawking at me intermittently and shitting into my comfort zone.

#BlackLivesMatter 

Other voices on privilege here and here.

  

How to Trim Your Beard

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I’m well chuffed to have another story in Scottish Product magazine this month.  This time it’s about beards and breaking up and it’s getting quite a response on Twitter and Facebook.

The story is set in Rhu Cafe in beautiful Arisaig, looking over to Eigg on the Scottish west coast.  It’s 50:50 truth and fiction, so great fun to write.

Can you relate?

A Woman’s Work

This year I’ve found my mojo with writing for a minimum of four days a week when the kids are at school.

I have also, touch wood, learned the art of prioritising my work above the other things I can get involved with when at home.   Thanks to affirming conversations with creative friends and Liz Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcasts I’ve assimilated the fact that writing is the work I must do because it’s now harder and more crazy-making to keep it in than it is to let it out.

I’ve barred kids from looking at their spyware laden websites on my laptop, lest it dies a blue screened death.  I’ve got excellent at making back ups.  I’ve got way more comfortable with the house being minging at times.  I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the dog, the garden and the invites I’m declining to make space for battering down words.  I fantasise about one day having a cleaner but no longer answer the fantasy by getting up and doing all the cleaning with all the martyrdom.

I’ve realised that just like with running, unless I put one foot in front of the other the movement will not happen and the rewards will never come.  I have at last taken my work seriously, got extremely honest about self-sabotage and made myself accountable.  It’s paying off.

A 2015 highlight has been being a finalist for the 2016 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award.  Having always been one for swooning about Aesthetica’s beautifully expressed production values I felt it was a creative institution that was light years away rather than within reach.  Then I wrote something that I sensed might have a shot so I sent it in as part of my ‘why not?’ philosophy.  The worse that could happen was that it got rejected and, somewhat weirdly, I’ve got kind of hooked on rejections this year, so even that didn’t seem like too bad of a prospect.

As the Goddess Brene Brown says, ‘when we lose our tolerance to be vulnerable, joy becomes foreboding’.  I keep my tolerance to vulnerability close to my heart and say I’m OK with failing these days; I’m just no longer OK with not trying.

I wrote the Aesthetica deadline in my writing diary and fully expected to be pitching the story elsewhere in hopes of publication come December.

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Then, in late November I received an email to say I was a finalist.

Then, in early December I received another (really lovely) email to say I didn’t win.

And yet……. I feel like I did.

I took a shot and it paid off.  Another potential rejection flipped to validation.  The odds of both are slowly changing.  I love stepping in and out of the process to observe it and then be part of it again.  I love that rejections make me try harder and that if I just incorporate the feedback they make me a better writer.  I love that the positive affirmations of occasional publishing  are more than enough to stoke the fire of believing that I should totally just keep going.  I love the stories that now go everywhere with me in my head; I love that they make me look and listen harder to everything because they are hungry for details, moments and colour.  I love that I feel at last like I’m working on the right stuff even if the pay is absolutely crap – because the pay off is high.

The story I’ve written in the annual is called Mathematics.  Be warned though, the title and structure are juxtaposed to the subject which is about an experience that’s horrific (and alarmingly common for women) viewed through a logical lens.  There’s no soft way of saying it – it’s about rape.  Despite the less than cheery disclaimer I believe it’s a story filled with much more light than dark and that it brings something to the table that positively informs how humans treat themselves and each other.  If you read it and it means something to you I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Aesthetica annual is, of course, completely guaranteed to be packed with excellent short fiction and poetry.  It’s also a stunning coffee table book with a comparatively tiny price tag for anyone who loves being taken on journeys with words.   You can buy it here .