52and40/23 The Selfsame Well

IMG_2154

A friend died recently.  She was my writing teacher first (and my first writing teacher).

I can trace roads from everything I’ve had published in the last two years to Helen, her guidance at every way-marker.  Even with this map I’m disorientated; floundering in comprehending such a special woman being gone.

IMG_2243IMG_224052and40-1IMG_2145

In grief, all roads lead inevitably to my Mum.  Every funeral a little her funeral, too.  Profound losses only comforted by the extreme gratitude for having shared some of the world with extraordinary people’s smiles and stories.

Joy and sorrow, innit?

IMG_2152

Read all about #52and40 here.

Advertisements

52and40/19 Painted Ladies

img_1533

A friend took me to The Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh recently.  As an art academic and fellow ardent avoider of bullshit, she’s a joy to exhibition with; nips off at speed, buzzing back intermittently with jewels of information about whatever’s caught my eye; non-plussed about my mistaking statues of all short-haired blokes holding scrolls for another Burns.

img_153252and40-1img_1537

As well as my pal, my favourites on the day were Jessica Harrison’s Painted Ladies; the movement in those skirts whisked me back to making an ornament of my Granny’s dance on a windowsill.

img_1540

For more about #52and40, click here and follow on Twitter.

52and40/11 Dissolving Disasters

img_9856

My friend had been wondering what to inscribe on a  piece of pottery.  She found her answer through Google:

‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness’

Beautiful, isn’t it?  The kids and I have talked lots recently about ideas around either being part of a problem or part of a solution.  It almost sounds too binary to be valuable but it seems anyone can spot then talk about a problem.  The inspiring folk who provide light and change seem to be rare in their efforts to search out solutions, too.  52and40-1

img_9848

More info on #52and40 here.

Truths in a Cupboard

My name is Heather and I’m a fixer.

Pretty much any broken thing will do but I particularly like to fix people.  I can get caught up for years in fixing someone before realising, fuck, I’m at it again; I’m down the rabbit hole of fixing someone because it’s part of my cycle of learned behaviour and my controlling streak which, goddammit you slacking bastards, wants RESULTS.  NOW.  SO DO AS I SAY, RIGHT?

Further, while I’m confessing anyway… (ten dysfunction bonus points inbound here) I’ve realised my ‘helping’ people has paralysed them inadvertently, because until we each identify our own bullshit and start joyfully dissecting it, every interaction we have is just enabling the pattern we like to knit with the yarn of our daily reality.  So, I’ve realised, when my helping gets too helpful it’s basically complicit in the very shit-show it was trying to undo.

I was reading some of my teen and early adulthood diaries yesterday.  My multiple commitments to fixing people jumped out at me and made me cringe for the paradox of the god complex mixed with the insecure neediness.  Then, the cringe deepened as I realised I WAS STILL AT IT.  That very morning I’d emailed a friend with a huge solution to a huge problem.  I guess the good thing is that now I truly know and can start to marry up the theory properly with the lived experience.  I bloody knew that box of diaries was calling me for a good reason…. There’s nothing like a good cringe in a cramped cupboard to drive a point home, after all.

clearing40 support logo 2

I have to get better at meeting people’s problems with an ear and a question rather than a solution.  Listening, followed by, ‘what do you want to do about that?’ would be, I reckon, so much healthier than listening followed by, ‘what you should do is…..’.

I know myself that when I’ve had tough stuff to deal with I’ve craved someone giving me the answers.  I have even felt entitled to people delivering the answers to me, so convincing was my inner victim story telling.  I’ve asked people to tell me what’s in my blind spot to save me time and energy and hurt trying to work it out.  Better for the planet that way, right?  And the result?  I’ve never truly taken in what I didn’t learn for myself. Shit for the planet, actually.  The opposite of emotional fuel efficiency.  Twatfuel, if you will. Fully leaded.

I remember watching my Dad wallpapering a room when I was about 11.  Afterwards, I knew a little about wallpapering.  Years later, I attempted to wallpaper a room and it was an unmitigated disaster in which I almost stuck myself permanently to a dado rail.  Watching during learning is helpful, but it’s not enough.  How something looks and how something feels are two completely different things.  Wallpaper paste, it turns out, is  cold, soggy and slimy and makes different papers behave in different ways.  You have to get your hands in there to find that out.  It can’t be learned from lying on your single bed farting and alternating between watching your Dad and staring at your George Michael poster on the ceiling.

Someone who tries to teach without allowing the learner to really touch the experience is short circuiting too. They’re ensuring that their words and actions have resonance only in that moment rather than allowing them to time travel in a memory of tactile experience and how it changes our awareness.  That’s what I’ve been doing with my fixing – I’ve been providing solutions off the peg without getting my friends to try the clothes on before they buy.  I’ve been so intent on fixing that I’ve forgotten what I’ve learned: change and learning comes from within, so by all means help but for fuck’s sake, give someone the space to create and grow it for themselves beyond that, even if it’s infuriating to watch.  In fact, especially if it’s infuriating to watch. Hands. Off. Of. Over. Fixing.

IMG_4798.JPG

In the last year I’ve noticed how much negative space in art really speaks to me.  CreativeBloq.com describe it well here;

“Negative space is, quite simply, the space that surrounds an object in a image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition.”  

I’ve been letting the concept of negative space slide in assuredly to my writing and also how I arrange things at home.  The effect has been one of realising that it’s often what is omitted or removed that really accelerates a story or mood.  Sometimes more is more, but, the older I get the more true it becomes for me that less is more; that if there’s no space left around something then that thing is by default constricted and limited.  I think the same is true of personal change.

I thought a lot recently about an argument I had with someone years ago.  We were both adamant we weren’t going to bend to each other’s will.  In the heat of the moments, no one gave ground.  Afterwards, with time and space airing out the thoughts, we both went on to make changes which conceded each other’s point pretty significantly.  Slowly, we were able to admit to each other that change had taken place and we’d both been right and wrong.  We hung on in there because the relationship meant a lot and we knew each other to be well intentioned, non game-players, despite really pissing each other off.  Negative space and time saved the day.  And learning.  Funny old world when you consider where positivity can grow from, isn’t it?

PS. If you spot me fixing anyone, tazer me. Ta. clearing40logo

 

Take A Seat

clearing40logo

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.

clearing40 support logo 2

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.

eames replica.png

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.   

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

When Calorie is The C Word

Women for Independence tweeted recently that they wanted to hear thoughts about food.  It makes sense.  ‘The domestic is the political’, as the saying goes and it’s a saying that needs to become overused and clichéd because it’s so damn true.   The more I think about it, the more I believe that everything that goes on in our homes and heads is politically linked.  The more we connect the ideas of home and Holyrood or the House of Commons the more we increase the understanding that political engagement is something we can exercise to influence things for the better, particularly in a relatively small country like Scotland.

wordathlon

So here it is from me, you can provide the Food Glorious Food soundtrack from Oliver yourself. Or, you can (please) take it from my head where it’s played on loop every time I’ve thought about writing this post in the last fortnight.

I’ve been mulling over what my relationship with food is.  I came up with a few things; allergies, and hormonal conditions that need balanced with nutrients sprung to mind for starters.  How my family does the food shop came into my thoughts too.  But the main thing I kept coming back to?  The thing I kept trying to avoid thinking about so I could concentrate on easily quantifiable schizzle?  Well, that was an encounter that threw an axe head between my experiences of food and had a huge impact on how I feel about and discuss food and self image today.  It was an encounter that was emotional and I was hesitant about going there.  Yet… since it kept coming back to me I knew it was valid.  Then, the more I thought about it without kicking it away, the more I realised the emotions that are side dishes to food are a narrative we need to reconstruct to challenge ideology that limits woman in how they view themselves and are viewed by others in terms of their political (and domestic) impact.

Quite a few years ago I had a friendship group that I thought was pretty much perfect.  Three interesting women with different lives and outlooks crossed my path.  Thanks to some synchronicity in our weekly routines we soon found ourselves meeting once a week.   It felt positively Sex and The City and, fresh from being at home with pre-schoolers, I was happy for a sassy new highlight in my weeks.

Then came food – goddammit  – and the good times and diverse chat took a turn I wasn’t expecting when we agreed to make time to meet weekly for lunch.  The problems arose from the fact that I was not on a diet and they all were – permanently.  At first there was a jovial, bantery acceptance of the fact that I would always eat more than any of them at a lunch.  Then there was the triangle consensus between them to support each other in a plan to exercise more and eat less – I wasn’t there that day but was told of it much later.  In fact, in preparing for a big night out the plans extended to eating nothing but salad leaves and simply drinking water.  For days.  I was shocked and said as much, repeatedly, saying firmly but as non-confrontationally as I could, ‘count me out. Completely.’

Then there was the fact that we (they) seemed to have simply stopped talking about anything other than weight, food, exercise, ‘perfect’ bodies and diet cheats.  I had nothing to say on the matters.  In all my other friendships we talked about politics, ideas, the world, stories from our pasts, kids, our hopes, our dreams, work, relationships, learning, music, the universe, cake, clothes, art, spirituality…. and now here I was in conversational territory that was alien in its focus on just one area of self flagellation.  I was genuinely confused about how the same point could be made again and again and capture interest and emotion.  The conversations were leaving me blank and hollowing me out.  There was a vast irony in this that I didn’t see at the time; I was overweight and feeling good.  Everyone else at the table was a size 10 and feeling not good enough.  The confident women I’d met had, it turned out, been bluffing all along.  Worse, they’d assumed I had been too.  I was the odd one out.  Or, had they all just brought this out in one another and magnified it?  I couldn’t figure it out.

cm quote

Things got acutely strained the last time we met for lunch when, despite my consistent stance in the months before, my lunch was taken away from me halfway through the meal because, ‘let’s face it, you’ve had enough’.

The quick round up from there is that save some awkward exchanges we haven’t had lunch (or coffee, or drinks, or basically anything much) ever since.  It’s been a lot of years now.  They could never see what they did wrong and what they believe apparently works for them.  I could never get past having been overruled about my food, my body, my self-esteem and my need to talk about a gazillion things.  Those things are red line for me.  Nobody gets to tell me what I should change about myself unless I ask for their opinion – not overtly, not subtlely, not through words, not through behaviour or side glances.  We can discuss concerns, sure, but not if they’re based on vanity and someone else’s ideas of how I could appeal to them more.  That stuff is ridiculously less than helpful.   It’s something I feel even more strongly about since my son was diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine).  Regardless of what the covers of magazines and billboards tell us all, there simply is not just one body type, shape or form that is beautifulThere are limitless variations on beauty.  It’s a label that absolutely everyone is entitled to give themself.

For all the flag waving, self-loving feminism in what I declared at the time and in that last sentence, the whole thing deflated my self esteem like a stealthy puncture.  The sight of that plate being removed from beneath my face, my fork and knife still in my hands and the sound of those words hitting my ears has replayed in mental slow-mo more times that I want to admit.  I felt embarrassed, for a while, that I’d found myself beautiful and happily excluded from dieting and body-hating only to be almost bludgeoned into it by how society supports the heinous notion that every woman is a deep down self-hater who wants more than anything else to be skinny, even if it means she’s hungry, tired, stressed, neglecting her bones, internal organs, muscles or the neurons she needs to stay strong.

logo1

I’d thought at some point the conversation would switch back to other stuff.  I’d thought I could keep the concepts of ‘my relationship with my friends’ in one part of my brain and ‘my friends’ shocking self-hatred’ in another.  I’d had no idea whatsoever that at some point those two filing cabinets were going to collide all over the space between them and contaminate me with horrible thought-worms that would root around whispering, ‘you probably are really ugly and unattractive because people you trust certainly think so’.  But the thing is I was also always going to fight for the thought that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, by my standards, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see something repugnant smiling back.  I saw a person who valued so many other things so much more than she valued any thoughts about any size, age or conformity.  Dare I say it (society loves to hate women who value themselves so I’m out on a limb here), I also saw beauty.  I was raised that way by a mum who knew herself to be beautiful and yet was never on the cover of Vogue.  I fought my way back to that woman and have had to chalk up the bad experience to, well, experience.  Different strokes for different folks.  I need food for fuel and food for enjoyment and relaxing with people I adore and who adore me.   Sometimes I need food as a bonding prop at a meeting or a get together.  Breaking bread together is a good thing for connecting.  I will not be coerced into seeing it as something that makes me ‘naughty’ or ‘really good’.  Because I’m a self-determining adult.  Because I am a good person, regardless of my dress size.  A stick of celery, sixty five doughnuts, a gazillion runs and all the scales in the world have fuck all to do with that.

So there’s some of my relationship with food – the bit with the massive learning curve blip where I realised that context and echo chambers really affect self-esteem and self-actualisation.  I’m not sure what I could’ve done to have made things work out more happily with those friends. I live and I learn, hopefully.  And I still love lunch.

From food notes to footnotes….

I’ve been trying to find out who first came up with the phrase, ‘the domestic is the political’.  I think it might have been Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote (the frankly amazing); A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792).  Do you have any insight on this quote?  I’d love to know more about its origin.

52and39/12 Whispered and Overt

I love a quote from Sarah Jessica Parker that I’ve scribbled in one of my old notebooks.  She was talking about the character of Carrie from Sex and the City during an interview I heard back in 2008.

My mind regularly returns to those words.  They’re what I want for myself, from my friends.  They’re what I’m trying to give my friends, from me.

Something I love about city living is there’s more licence to be yourself.  Generally speaking, there’s less commentary (whispered and overt) about how you compare to others.

Phew.

52and39