Justification

 

I’m calling great big dirty bullshit on the word *just*

 

I put it to you the word just is a bullshit signifier; that whatever words come before or after it need to come under immediate suspicion because the fact that just is in the air means the integrity of the other words have, I believe, been compromised.

justart

Test it out.  Think of the times that you say just.  Listen out for other people saying it.  Is just justified for anything other than deliberate obfuscation to smooth over the cracks of something that isn’t as simple as the person saying it would like to convey?

I heard myself using just as a great big crock of smoothing over shit recently.  I was explaining to a friend how to set the alarm in our house in prep for her checking in on the dog one day soon afterwards.  I kept saying things like, ‘you just put in the code, then press one, then you run out that door and shut it before ten seconds has passed, then you just listen for a beep’.  Then I really looked at her face and thought again of a quote I first heard through an Open University course, I think it was Gregory Bateson who said it first;

 

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

 

The response I was getting was one of confusion and anxiety on the face of a very smart friend.  The problem was not hers – it was mine.  I was using the word just to cover up the fact that, deep down, I felt a bit shit about asking a favour that contained complicated instructions and no small amount of responsibility.   We restarted with a new framing that went something like, ‘this alarm is a prick. I’m sorry. I’m writing everything about it down and I don’t want you to worry about it if it doesn’t go smoothly, it’s not your fault and you’re a bloody star for giving it a go – thank you’.

So I’m clearing just from my 2017.  It’s hoodwinked me and got in the way of the open, more meaningful conversation I’m working to create by contaminating exchanges with a toxicity that works against the intention I have.

Just, I hear you knocking but you can’t come in.

Happy new year all.  x

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More about #Clearing40 here.

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We Need To Talk About Clearing

Well, I do.

In this year of turning to salute and wink at my forties as the fresh new chapter, I’ve been telling you about all the metaphysical things I’ve cleared and neglecting to tell you about all the literal stuff that’s been leaving the bodily grasp, too.

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So, in order of colossal effort to nae bother, this year I/we have;

  1. cleared out the garage
  2. cleared out the lean-to-porch-cum-boot room
  3. had two chimneys removed
  4. cleared out 80% of my crafting hoard
  5. shredded ca. four tons of historical paperwork (possibly less)
  6. Cleared the crap from the edges of the garden left by the old owner – piles of tiles, slabs, mounds of chuckies and, bizarrely, planks of wood woven into the hedges.  It’s so good to see these areas breathing now.
  7. Unsubscribed the email lists which collectively overwhelm me with ads, reminders and useless brain noise.  Newsflash: the information you actually need always gets to you.  Bonus: an uncluttered inbox is a thing of calm and productivity.

When I see it like that it doesn’t look like enough but alongside normal life it has felt like being in the domestic trenches, at times.

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In getting rid of material schizz I have realised – with an often fascinated, semi-detached cringe – a lot of the stuff I held onto was soaked with trauma.  Thinking back on that now – as recent as it is – I’m gobsmacked. What a thing to do.

Marie Kondo is right (and I’m going to swearily paraphrase here) – if you don’t hold something and feel joy, WHY the ever loving fuck are you keeping it?  In my case I think I’ve been hanging onto some things as evidence of my side of the story.  That realisation has lead me to really explore why I often live with a sense of waiting to be put on emotional trial.  It’s a weird burden  I see many women bear – this sense of being emotionally responsible for so much, absorbing shame and responsibility as if we were a mop and they were a spill, then never carefully freeing ourselves from the added weight.  I’m a firm believer that men and women are not very different creatures at all but I also follow that idea closely with acknowledgement of the social contexts of gender causing us to move through the world quite differently.  It’s not uncommon for us to place our feet, often unquestioningly,in the familiar prints of people who came before us and then to wonder how we got to destinations we’d have preferred to avoid.

The more I talk to friends the more stunned I am about what women in particular have gone through and are living with and surviving, often without expert support that would be justified a million times over, were case notes written up.  For all that’s good and joyful, we really should question where our ideas and the stuff in our homes comes from and whether we feel truly at ease and joyful holding any of them.

Two events which really feed #Clearing40 thoughts for me are emptying my Mum’s house after her death and, years later, working in a charity shop and processing other people’s old things.  Both experiences rammed home the reality that stuff is stuff – nothing more and nothing less.  We imbue all sorts of meaning into a thing and then there it is, in some stranger’s hands, cleansed of the past previously projected onto it.  What a gift.

We collect, I think, to document our journey or weight our value and we inadvertently give ourselves a lot of things to dust along the way.  As the time in front of me seems to move more quickly I repeatedly assess whether I want to be doing or dusting and, by fuck, I am so much more compelled to laughs, or the top of a mountain, or to sit and write than I am to get down and sweaty with the Dyson or feel guilty at the sight of an old rucksack and the myriad difficult memories it stirs.  I think that particularly for those of us who’ve lived through trauma, we need to make our homes an easy place to be – a place where we smile frequently and don’t reinforce things that drag our energy down.  In short, we need to maximise joy.  Because we deserve it too.  Everyone does.

I totally understand why people who’ve retired are increasingly downsizing and ditching, swapping older houses for new builds with light, clean-lines furniture and one minimal ornament. I didn’t get it before.  I thought they were mad, these people hemorrhaging stuff and deciding radical things like their one good colander is more relevant than their 3 shitey ones.  Now, simpler living beckons me seductively closer each year. I get high on seeing space where once there was clutter.

In short, here’s the  quantum metaphysical maths;

Space = Time and Light.

Time and Light = Possibilities.

Possibilities = Joy.

Can’t argue with science, right?

 

 

 

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.

  

Allow It

For the longest time I was scared that if I made a proper writing space for myself I’d fail to live up to it.  I had a feeling that if I went to the effort of making a space perfect I’d then sit in it, stymied by expectation and blocked by guilt of under-performing and using an area which could be better used for…. erm… anything or anyone but me?  A plant, perhaps?

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Isn’t it strange, when we really start to reflect on what it is about ourselves that holds us back from doing the things we need and want to do?

I felt that making a dedicated space for myself to write in would be like kicking off a beginning and an end at the same time- like the proverbial exercise equipment in most homes at some point – in it comes with good intentions and, eventually, out it goes as a dusty clothes horse everyone bruised shins on and cursed at.  Somewhere in the middle there was a choice, spoken or silent, to deviate from intention.  It’s quite often that middle time that’s the difficult animal to keep looking in the eye, I find.

I guess the thing I intuitively knew I had to do before claiming a space, was to claim a habit.  I had to turn my sporadic bouts of writing into a regular way of life.  I had to assimilate the practice of writing alongside everything else I did regularly or, I knew, the assertion of being a writer just would not take wing.  I had to do the beginning and the middle so the writing space would be a continuation and not an end because – fear of fears – if I didn’t claim the habit now another decade would pass.  Another ten years would go and I’d be sitting again, just dabbling my toes in the water I knew I could go swimming in but kept choosing to avoid for fear of failure.

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So I set about it.  Long story short, I now have a space in which I write.  It’s heaven.  I let myself trust after a year of writing for a minimum of four days a week that I had established a habit.  I quietly cleared an area, begged the family to not really mention it so I could slip into it without fanfare and restarted the sentence I’d got half way through in my bed the day before.

It’s nice, to feel calm enough to do things in my own time.  Additionally, the space has given me gifts I didn’t know were coming;

  1. Greater productivity – no set up or tidy up times means more time on the page.
  2. Capturing thoughts as and when they happen is easier and less stuff is forgotten, so less woe, regret and general negativity occurs.
  3. Occupying a space you know you’ve worked to deserve is a power in itself, and from this, like magic, more creativity and power grows.  Think Magic Porridge Pot but with words, coffee cups and epiphanies.  I have no idea where it’s all eventually heading.  I hope I get to a point of pointing at my screen and declaring I might have birthed a book but the more I enjoy the process the more the offshoots get more interesting too.

In putting together my wee space I’ve focused on a theme of imperfection which is just the ticket for double bluffing my stage-fright about living up to a setting.  If the setting is fairly shit, I’ve found, any output feels positive by comparison.  Better this way than the other, I reckon.  I remember trying to write in a cafe a few times.  I set things up beautifully, dressed up like I thought a writer might and out came nothing much at all.  I was too busy people watching, ordering pancakes and rearranging my arse bones on chairs that were never quiet right.  Thus, on this endeavour I have no matching stationery or furniture.  There’s a spider the size of a small continent living in the skirting board directly behind me.  The back of the desk looks like some cables bred with each other then lay down in dust for a fag before never getting back up again.  My monitor is precariously balanced so as to prioritise my neck rather than its aesthetic.  There is a new chair from CostCo that isn’t fucking up my pelvis but which smells very strongly and strangely of mothballs.  And so it is for now.  It’ll evolve, I’m quietly allowing it all.

Oh and finally, my inspirational quote quota flatly consists of;

motto work

Works for me.

An Open Letter to Open Letters

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Dear Open Letter,

As is traditional for the format, I’ll start by expressing that it’s with deep regret that I write this to you.  I used to like you, Open Letter.  There was a time when you were useful; necessary, even.  But things have changed and here I am now, addressing you both privately and publicly with no clear intention as to what I might achieve by doing so.

Unable to cast my ego aside for even a millisecond, I’ve decided to grant you an audience as you read this, Open Letter.  You won’t know who they are.  I won’t know who they are.  Actually, considering my blog stats at the moment, ‘they’ might not even exist.  However, the very hint at their possible presence is enough to create the sense of drama I need to give this letter gravitas and, Open Letter, I do believe in your heart of lettery hearts, you want and need to hear what I have to say about you and what you’ve done (and not done), don’t you?

Yes. I thought so.

You see the thing is I have a bone to pick with you, Open Letter.  In this crazy life that Michael Buble sings so well about I find myself with not one but two email accounts, a Twitter feed, a Facebook account for work comms, a mobile phone, a landline and a letterbox that an inordinate amount of shit-mail finds it way through, demanding I sort it in pursuit of information that might in some way be relevant to my actual life.  I have also more recently acquired a WhatsApp app and an Instragram account.  Additionally, I have two children who come home with raggedy bits of paper from their school with (a) information about how I am supposed to steer their way into a secure future and (b) what their choices are for activities week and school t-shirts that they refuse to wear anyway.   I’m sure that you’re starting to see my problem here; there are the things I want to deal with, there are things I have to deal with and then there are just the absolute heap of fucking shite things that totally waste my time and concern me less than the price of jellied eels but demand to be dealt with nonetheless.

Can you guess which category you fit into, Open Letter, in 2016?  CAN YOU?stamp

Of course you can’t.  If you could I think we all know that this line would then be the natural stopping point for this open letter and, as we all know too, this open letter simply isn’t long enough, self-involved enough or whingey enough yet.  So I’ll continue and ask you to bear with me because, yes, that too is traditional for the format and I’m nobody’s deviant.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.  At least not in public anyway.

But I digress.

Open Letter, I’m not sure if I ever told you about the time I was walking through Cameron Toll shopping centre and a man was nearby his wee stall and shaking his can asking passers by if they’d like to donate to Guide Dogs for the Blind.  The woman who was walking in front of me hadn’t noticed the 12ft rigid photograph he was standing beside which featured a blonde labrador wearing a harness and happily leading its owner across a busy road.  She also hadn’t quite caught what the fundraiser had said when he’d shaken his can at her.  She stopped in her tracks and asked, ‘whit is it yer wintin money for pal?’ He smiled and replied, ‘it’s for Guide Dogs for the Blind, hen’.  She paused a moment and tilted her head to the side before nodding then replying, ‘Naw. I dinnae like dogs pal’, then walking off to carry on with her  life, apparently without a care.  Now, it may surprise you to hear this, Open Letter, but, in a way, I bloody well admired that woman.  She asked a direct question, got a direct answer and gave a direct response.  She took no prisoners.  She didn’t think too much about the entire malarkey.  She just thought about what she liked and didn’t like, said it like it was for her and went about her day.

Life would be simpler, Open Letter, if we all behaved in such a way.  If we all said the thing that matters to the person whom it most matters to or where it stands to make an actual difference, life would be simpler and more efficient.  Some previously pissed around things might – at last – get done.  We’d fanny about less and see a few more results, like in Scandinavia and Germany.  We’d get more good shit done with a whole lot less angst and misdirected, wasted energy, basically.

The thing that’s pissing me off, you see, is that while everyone is writing open letters their time might actually be better spent writing a real letter if they really want a real result.  It’s a novel idea, I know, but bear with.  I acknowledge, of course, your shock in reading this suggestion.  Open Letter, friend of yesteryear, this bit must be hard for you.  You’ll have realised straight away that what I’m proposing would mean your death.  I’m sorry and yet simultaneously not sorry at all.  Think of it as liberation.  Stuff would get done but you’d cease to be.  It’s hard, I know, but do you think you might consider it for the greater good?  You’d almost certainly be remembered for quite some time for your selflessness, don’t you think?

Shall I tell you how I (we) got here?  In the last six months I’ve seen open letters to the following;

  1. The terrorist organisation who call themselves ISIS
  2. People who don’t pick up their dog’s shit
  3. Jimmy Savile’s ghost
  4. Three of the Kardashians
  5. Chris Brown
  6. Jamie Oliver
  7. George Osbourne
  8. Mother Theresa
  9. A man who worked on a fish counter in Morrisons

and, finally,

      10.  The entire population of America.

It’s all left me with the feeling that open letters are the thing we do when we can’t actually be arsed doing a proper thing.  Reading open letters alongside all the other comms in my life has, basically, started to take up way too much time and my willpower is futile in the face of outrage.  Just like with chocolates, if open letters enter my mental space and awareness I will consume both despite knowing full well that both things do not actually bring me joy and are fairly disruptive to my bowels.

So yes.  We’ve arrived at the crux of things now.  I’m leaving you, Open Letter.  You’re not allowed in my brain or my browser anymore.  People say that sometimes the 140 character restriction count in a tweet isn’t enough and in reply I say to them today that actually, it’s fucking plenty.  If you can’t make your point succinctly, is it a point?  You wouldn’t take the point of a pencil and try to make it wider and flatter, would you?  No, you wouldn’t.  Because that would make it more fragile, less useful and entirely cocking pointless.

I’ve written this to you today, Open Letter, because it was that or use Twitter (again) to tell people it’s really bad form to Tweet at people and tell them how to Tweet but could they please all stop tweeting links to open letters.  The last time I did that I disappeared into a black hole of irony for a fortnight and banging around in there with Donald Trump’s claim of being diversity-friendly was less of a barrel of laughs than you might lightheartedly assume, I can tell you that for free.

Sincerely,

Heather x

PS Fuck Off. clearing40logo

Days of Miracle and Wonder

It’s ten to one in the afternoon, I haven’t left the house apart from to hang up the washing in the garden and already I’ve been given six cues to not like myself very much.

When I checked Twitter this morning I had four new followers and six of my tweets had been favourited overnight.  Yay x 10!  Except no.  Three of the new followers were accounts with timelines full of before and after pictures of women who’d used anti-ageing treatments.  Three of the favourite clickers were similar accounts and another was a diet zealot with a bio urging me to get the secret now about how I too could have a body I could love.

The assumption being with all of this cack is that I don’t like myself.

It’s assumed I don’t like my skin.  It’s assumed I don’t like my face.  It’s assumed I don’t like my weight.  Ergo, it’s assumed I pretty much don’t like me.

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It’s also assumed that we can just ignore this kind of shit and pretend it doesn’t get in by osmosis.  And yet…. it does get in.  Because we’re conditioned to let it in.

I block them all but, dammit, it’s already slightly too late.  Their messages shout cheeky one liners from the back of my brain.  They’ve got into the bit where all the messages I’ve seen that tell me not to like myself exist despite the fact I regularly go back there and bludgeon them.  What can I say?  They’re persistent because they’re omnipresently backed up.

All those billboards, all those ads in expensive magazines where a woman sits wearing two grand worth of clothes, airbrushed to buggery and firmly artistically directed not to smile.  Having it all means looking like someone just pissed on your dinner – right?  Wasn’t that the message I was supposed to receive?  Whatevs.  The only thing we can be sure about is that even having it all doesn’t bring happiness and as women we’re supposed to stay thick enough not to notice that (and keep flicking our cash at the naked emperor).

Then there are the TV ads.  The ones that make you want to gouge your eyes out because they make you realise that if these ads still exist too many people on the planet think women are just naturally better at cleaning and baby-care than men and men are much better at doing flipcharts and power enhancing worky things. Duh!

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So I’m clearing what messages I can and turning on a different kind of TV.  This time I’m going for Tunnel Vision.  I will sing out loud when I come across women-hating Twitter accounts and have to spend three seconds blocking them.  It’s really hard to take in subliminal messaging when you’re singing Boy in the Bubble from Paul Simon at the top of your lungs.  I’ll keep treating misogynistically coded billboards and perfume ads as if they are shite-coated scorpions rising up in front of me; the only appropriate response being to scream and run or karate chop and spit F words.  I’ll keep watching Netflix instead of normal TV because life without the ads and the pop viewing bullshit is like gifting yourself two entirely new brain lobes.  I’ll hunt out the reality that chimes with me instead – stories that tell tales about women knowing their explosive worth and men who need more than a Playboy jumpstart to get turned on.  I’ll keep engaging in stuff that advances arguments littered with intelligence and creativity.  When the shitty parade of society rolls up in front of me to reinforce patriarchal messages I’ll turn the music up and show it my (gyrating, non-aspirational) ass.

In a hilarious act of radical defiance that’ll make men and women everywhere roll their eyes and wish I’d just get over it, I’ll continue to have the audacity to like myself.   

n.b; I was going to link to Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble video on YouTube here but sadly it would’ve meant subjecting you to an ad from Febreze featuring two women (and zero men) dancing joyfully around a perfect light and child filled home, generally having a marvelous, life-fulfilling time of cleaning.  Obviously I can’t be complicit in that kind of shite so here’s a subversive thrill from Malala Yousafzai instead.  I’m sure you have your own soundtrack that makes you feel great to accompany her, if needs be.

12 Powerful And Inspiring Quotes From Malala Yousafzai: