Pouncing Pressure, Hidden Hijack

I’ve been re-listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcasts this week, to ready me for five nights away on my own to catch up on writing my novel a little, with the novelty of no interruptions.  The thought of the time away is really a big deal when you’re a woman, a mother and a writer who works at home.  The first, second and last descriptors there are, in my experience, extremely difficult to manage alongside the act of writing a big piece rather than dipping in and out of smaller ones.  An excellent article in Harper’s Bazaar covers the issues I’m nodding at here and I suggest anyone navigating an unapologetically modern relationship or considering the messages they’re giving younger generations about gender roles reads the piece for comfort and fire-stoking.  It’s an absolute cracker.

But back to the Magic Lessons.  Every single episode feels freshly relevant.  Yesterday I did my own version of a homework task Gilbert sets a podcast guest in order to help balance an internal dialogue which often poleaxed ambition.  You can listen to the podcast here.  Reflecting on the task of stepping aside from the locked mind to exchange letters with both Fear and Curiosity, I was prompted to shine a light on my own fears because they’re currently presenting the biggest hurdle to productivity during my time away.

As a sidenote, a horrible irony here is that I really didn’t feel the weight of these fears until I booked some time away.  The act of booking the time, hell, the audaciousness of booking the time in some folks’ eyes, set off an epic domino chain in my head about pressure.  I didn’t realise the domino chain was happening until it was halfway through and heading towards an elaborate helter-skelter set of turns before stretching into middle distance further than my terrified eyes could see.  Think the domino chain in Collateral Beauty scaled up by a hundred and you’re there.dchtbc 2016 1

In a nutshell, the pressure-fear, wee darling that it is, has pretty much been whispering  self-loathing into my lugholes since I got my Airbnb e-receipt.  Here’s a fragment for your delectation;

‘Five nights away, huh?  That’s brave.  Or stupid.  Especially as you’ve had some really shit feedback on the novel recently.  Do you not think if you were going to have finished the novel you’d have done it by now?  I mean, you don’t even really have a good story, do you?  And you keep changing direction.  And you’re still not doing it the way you want it to, are you?  Because that way is shit and you know it. Your blindspot’s massive.  But yeah.  Have a great week away.’

Swim, swim, swimming I went.  Swimming into a pool of mindcrap.

That’s the thing about creativity.  It makes light and dark and balance must be imposed.

Despite the mindcrap, there was another voice in my head, quite possibly it’s the voice of leftover drugs from my teens but I guess that’s valid too.

The other voice says go and write.  And go and enjoy.  And lighten up, sweetheart.  You’re doing great.  Oh, and, most importantly….?  For the love of fuck write the book you want, the way you want it written, because evidently you care so much more about that than anyone else’s feedback.  How do I know that?  I know that because when you think about the book you want to write, you smile.  And that’s the thing.  Write a smiling book that you one-day-kinda-soon finish and to fuck with whether it ever gets published, read or respected by anyone else.  It’s either that or you’re carrying that baby everywhere while you try to write one that your heart isn’t in and one day realising the one you love isn’t there anymore – it just turned to regret.  It waited too long.

Writing that, I can hear the other voice more clearly.  It doesn’t belong to 16 year old me at a rave in Arbroath on MDMA.  It belongs to me AND Liz Gilbert, one of the woman in the USA right now making the world a better place against all the odds.  I dare say she’s scared and brave all at the same time.  How inspiring.

#FuckDominos

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52and40/29 Realignment

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I’ve been waking for weeks feeling badly misaligned.  We had builders in, next door have builders in, two houses adjacent had builders in.  With all the banging, shouting and stress there’s been little chance for creativity; each time I transported to inner space interruptions brought me clattering back.  In parallel, feeling predated a notch too far when I moved around in workout clothes for running and yoga, I switched to just walking.

Muted, twice over, my connections to peace.

‘Sad’, as the predator in chief himself would say.

Fuck that.  Comeback time.

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Read all about #52and40 here.

Writes and Wrongs

 

Until recently, whatever writing works I’ve had in progress were allowed to swim around my mind as they pleased.  From poetry to commentary to short stories and – the biggie – the possible first novel, I’m usually working on between 5 and 12 pieces at any one time.  Some months I finish several pieces and get to submitting – a great feeling.  Other months it’s just a case of nurturing, editing and thinking.  Every month though?  Ideas and inspiration everywhere.  Up character details crop in the fridge when I’m making a shopping list.  Over scenes go with my gaze when I’m staring at hills and listening to a podcast.  Down it’ll all go on a page when there’s opportunity.  And when there wasn’t opportunity?  Those ideas and inspirations kind of bottlenecked in a holding pen that became increasingly cramped.  Whenever I could, I’d lift out my clearest thoughts and liberate them in emails to myself so my inbox could be a holding pen too, perhaps a safer one in terms of things not getting lost.  Then it became impossible to deny that my inbox was becoming a mind boggling place to rock up in, too.  Ideas and inspiration everywhere are great but were they becoming too abundant?

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All in all, the confusion of real world and fictitious worlds was becoming at best distracting and at worst, confusingly destructive.

At around the same time I noticed the failing holding pens, I finished a 5 month series of workshops for writers with big works in progress at Edinburgh University.  Lead by writing tuition supremo Helen Lamb, myself and another eleven students attempted to further nurture stories into the world.  Feedback was the order of the day.  A lot of the feedback that changed my work came from listening to other writers consider and adapt their work.  It was an incredibly valuable process but my lack of mental organisation lead to something of a creative meltdown when the workshops ended; the feedback pushed more ideas into the holding pens with the consequence of  my brain starting to forget everything I needed to remember to run my real world, i.e., the shopping list, kids’ schedules,  getting to the dentist, etc.

Then, much worse than the forgetting of fairy liquid or fillings, my writing started to suffer.  I’d sit down to type and find the conduit thoughts normally came through blocked.  Coffee and music coaxed a few paragraphs onto the page here and there but cognitive disorder made it hard to tell if they were any good or not.  Cue much deleting, restarting and a whole load of Word documents being saved with bizarre titles and not a lot of content.  More holding pens, damnit.  More doing of a thing that was clear in its intent to not yield good results.  An invite to insanity, some say.

This was a terrifying situation to have arrived at after going through the long process of establishing a consistent writing habit over the last two years.  The part of my brain that likes to catastrophise was whispering this was the beginning of the end.  ‘See?  You can’t handle it when the pace picks up’, it said, showing itself to be a callous little bastard with no vision, once again.

The part of my brain that believes everything’s possible kicked in about a fortnight later, thank fuck.  ‘You can do this’, it said, and, ‘you just have no idea how, yet’.  I had a little weep fuelled by relief and terror, picked myself up and asked for wisdom from more experienced writer friends about how they’d schooled their thoughts on world-building into forward moving productivity.

How had they dealt with creating worlds within a world?

With regards the novel there was a strong consensus in the advice: partition time for writing and world creation and stick to a plan as much as possible.  For short stories, the feel was to let them happen as you work and worry less about what comes and goes – they always work out in the end (or hit the bin with rare regret) – this tallies with my experience too, hurrah.  The rest of the time?  Be in the real world.  Stop taking the imagined world everywhere – keep it the fuck out of the fridge, especially; give yourself some headspace that isn’t a holding pen for anything, otherwise you’ll drown in your spiralling imagination and hold off new ideas from entering.  The truths of creativity are riddled with paradoxes, I find.

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I initially thought methods around disciplined partitioning were unrealistic for my messy, non-linear brain and kicked against them a bit.  I’m a difficult mum, wife and friend, at those times of frowny adult-tantrumming.  Pity those who encounter me when I’m not in flow.  But, like any muscle used repeatedly, I’ve found the energy within getting stronger for a more disciplined course, with practice.  I’ve stopped the hotch-potch method I was engaged in before of skipping from one part of the novel to another, sending ripples of change in every which direction that were hard to keep track of.  Now, instead, I’m making extensive notes in a planning spreadsheet to stop impulse from wreaking havoc.  I ultimately still don’t know if it’ll end in a book but, by fuck, I’m keeping on with the keeping on and definitely learning in the process.

So far, touch wood, the new method’s working.  When I sit down to write the novel now there’s a new energy – the story’s evolving according to a plan and still offers room for  spontaneity of the unreckless variety.  In the name of Clearing40 clarity and minimalist joy, I’ve taken things a step further, too. For at least a while I’ve called a stop to feedback and discussing the novel in detail while it and my process are shape-shifting.  This might sound counter-intuitive but the meltdown’s reminded me how easily influenced I am and that this plasticity is simultaneously a good and bad thing.  Yet, with 5 months of feedback from twelve folk in the bag for that particular piece of work, I feel confident in thinking I’ve more than enough to chew on already.

There comes a point when, like with all things involving change, from haircuts to house moves to what to make for tea, I think we have to draw a line and own the process; sit with all the contributions, stop subconsciously taking suggestions and move forward making the thing into our own thing.  Then…?  Hello, cathartic relief and onward journey.  Mistakes will be made, sure, but I find them more constructive in motion than stasis.

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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.

 

52and40/2 Karma Chameleon

When I’m actively writing I immerse myself in whatever art and humanity I can find.  I talk lots.  I fill up with music to wallop my right hemisphere.   Notably, for mid-project fuel, I rarely read.52and40 1

I do a thing with accents and writing; I unconsciously temporarily meld with whoever’s engaging me.  It’s a chameleon-like habit since childhood – we moved a bit and Scots accents vary a lot.  Maybe I’ll develop immunity as my writing voice gets clearer?

For now, I remain, the worst read and most accidentally ambiguously accented writer in Scotland.

This week’s photographs were taken in and around the beautiful garden at Oxgangs Neighbourhood Centre.  Curious about #52and40? Read more 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.