52and40/12 Venus in Tweeds 

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When the bloke I fancied told me he lived on a west coast island and ‘commuted’ to Aberdeen for work, I pictured Father Ted’s Manse and grimaced.

‘How can you bear it?’, I’d asked.  ‘The flatness?  The wind?’

He looked like I’d spoken in Spaniel.  The following week I understood.

Sapphire sea in a white sand bay. The perfect cottage.

Mountains, seals, dolphins.

Sunsets, the Milky Way, mornings to make you feel reborn.

Him, in an Acid Croft T-shirt.

‘What about the commute though?’, I’d asked.

He put on Shooglenifity and drove.  52and40-1

More info on #52and40 here.

52and40/3 California Dreaming

In Scotland, another place is never far away if you need a change from where you are. When we first moved from Deeside and started exploring Edinburgh and surrounds my kids nicknamed East Lothian ‘California’.


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East Lothian was how they imagined life on the western US coastline to be – sunshine, beaches, big skies, ice creams and ocean.

I like being close to farmland and watching the seasons dictate different things to people.

So  on away days when we need to mix sand and soil with the city, we go to Scottish California.

If you want more info on #52and40 you’ll find it here.  

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?

 

 

 

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.

  

52and39/39 Rise, Fall and Wonder

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We watched the chimneys at the decommissioned Cockenzie Power Station being demolished on Saturday.  They touched, then fell together.

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Years ago, a friend had two huge pieces of art in transit. Each was on chunky canvas, about two metres square.  I loved them before I even knew what I was looking at.  One featured a crane; yellow, powerful, enormous.  It looked limited, a tight muscle ready to be directed in careful dance.  The other was the red rivet and line detail of treated steel: a new building emerging amidst city shadows.

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Little Red Tap Shoes

I have a story in Product Magazine this month.

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You can read the story here.  It’s about identity within the normal day and thoughts of a mother and child, a theme that’s a constant in my writing over the last few years.  The Mum in this story is a composite of my Mum and myself.  The daughter is a composite of myself and my daughter, as wee ones.

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When I was writing the story I was picturing the first house my parents bought in Aberdeen.  We moved up from East Kilbride in the first wave of the Scottish oil industry manning up with freshly pressed engineers for drilling out the liquid gold. Aberdeen was growing bigger suburbs every day.  Us kids in the new Barratt, Bett and Wimpey estates springing up on previous green belt knew to keep off grass that still looked more brown than green, or someone would shout at you.

Summers seemed hot and long back then, pavements and roads were fresh tarmac black with bright white highlight stones and clean grey kerbs.  When a new street was going up, dust from cement mixers travelled then rested; sometimes on the shiny dark green and burgundy leaves of newly planted rose bushes, other times on windows now proudly called double glazing. Trees were never taller than anyone’s Dad because they were all so young – the trees, that is.  It was harder to tell the Dad’s ages thanks to beards, interspersed with bald heads, suits, briefcases and randomness.

Skinny Rowans and Cherry Blossoms were sternly tethered with rubbery black straps to thick posts that would hold them upright in winter storms.  Then, suddenly, a building site we used to hurry past, turning our faces from the dust in the breeze emerged as a new thing.  A Supermarket.  We packed groceries into brown paper bags, marvelled at corridors of food, toilet rolls and milk in boxes and wondered if our accents would turn Aberdonian or American.

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I remember that time vividly and always fondly.  It’s impossible to speak for anyone else, of course, but memories and photos suggest strongly that we were all happy there, very much a family and part of a brand new community.

When I started to write the little girl for this story it was clear immediately that I couldn’t filter more recent memories of my daughter as a toddler out of the building imagery.  She and I are very alike in so many ways and memory fades and blooms depending on what the triggers are, I guess.  So, I took the story of some shoes I was given by my Mum’s new friend Mary and imagined how they’d be on my daughter’s busy feet, hanging the story off small events I remember from being my Mum’s totey, brown-eyed girl.  This is how I go down memory lane with someone who isn’t here anymore; I take my imagination and time travel a bit.  It’s good to take someone from the present on these trips, it anchors me in keeping moving forward and feeds the hope of being fondly recalled in my kid’s memories too.

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I hope you enjoy the story.  It was a treat to write it.  My incredible writing tutor – Helen Lamb – told our class a few months ago that shoe memories always hold stories.  She was right.  What pair do you remember, from when you were wee?

52and39/17 Reprogramming Yellow

The yellow on the wall there is my favourite colour. Ever. I love yellow.  But I don’t love Gorse. I got caught up in one day when I was wee.  It hurt.  Lesson learned: all that is gold may glitter [but can also hurt in that way where you silent scream at first, eyes wide in horror, so shocking is the pain].

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Gorse is a big feature in the natural Scottish landscape.  I’ve had to learn to see its colour and let that shout over the top of the bad memory.

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