52and40/31 On The Fringes

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I loved this year’s Edinburgh Festival & Fringe.  It felt like mine as well as everyone else’s, for the first time.  My annual bout of imposter syndrome somehow didn’t arrive.   As my kids start to think of futures outside the city I’ve grown in mindfulness of what we have while we’re here because, as an accidental rolling stone, the sense that change is doing warm-up stretches is a twinkle in my eye.  The idea that I’ll return one day to the fringe as a tourist, sparking with happy memories, is fuel and shelter.

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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.

  

Install/Uninstall

I’m working on clearing a great big thing right now.  It’s tightly bound with a lot of the things I thought about last year along the themes of self-actualisation, self-esteem and self-sabotage.  The thing I’m clearing is the programming of a few hundred ideas and memories that all lead to one beautifully pleated but ultimately useless conclusion about womanhood and martyrdom being intertwined and about my time somehow being less valuable than my husbands or that of my kids (and, on some days, that of my neighbours, friends, yadda yadda, you get the idea…).  The bottom line is that I seem to have a default position of being quite keen on pushing myself to the end of the list and then moaning when I find myself, quelle surprise, grasping at the farts of my dreams.  In essence, I still have some dodgy software on board and it’s fucking up my printer.

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As my kids start to really think about their futures as adults I’m acutely aware of bunging in as much good modelling as I can before they take wing.  I want them to see that home is a place they can come back to in any version of themselves.  I want them to see that they need creativity like they need vegetables, movement, sunlight and laughter.  I want them to witness that all people are equal until someone starts playing out a scenario that oppresses others or oppresses themselves and that often that oppression is unintentional but to never become complicit in it.

So how to model all of that?  I find the answer is increasingly simple – by living it.

You’d be forgiven for thinking all of this sounds familiar because you’re right.  I’ve been here before.  It’s a station my train frequently pulls into because I find this deprogramming work needs constantly revised.  And why wouldn’t it?  Every time we switch on the telly, see a billboard or thumb through magazines we’re fed messages that women do children, cleaning, sex and body hate while men are for work, play, money and adventure.  A huge percentage of older people in our society reaffirm constantly that gender balance is something new age to have a wee giggle at.  So I figure that until the messages going in are balanced we’ll have to keep re-balancing them for ourselves.

I remember the first time I went for a run.  I was shit at it.  I had to do it again and again and again and again (repeat for about 2.5 years) until I started to feel like it was part of me – that the being a runner was at least as ingrained as the not being a runner.  Forming new habits takes time, especially when we have a whole cacophony of crap going on in our thoughts urging us to jump off the merry go round and into the crash mat every time we get disorientated.  The thing that makes me persist is the idea that I really want the result because intuition is determined that it’s the right thing and who the hell said it would be easy anyway?  

My thoughts are playing hide and seek on this whole deprogramming sexism thing.  It reminds me of standing in the playground at school when I was wee, turning 360 on the spot and trying to catch a glimpse of any movement of someone else in the game who was trying to get back to base without my detection.  Sometimes it was the flash of a jacket sleeve that didn’t match any of the other sleeves in a gaggle of girls.  Sometimes it was the glimpse of a bare knee above a white sock hiding among a huddle of grey trouser legged boys.  Sometimes it was someone’s face appearing from halfway up the corner of a white harled wall and then snatching backwards again, out of sight.

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I think we have to train ourselves to keep seeing it, to start remarking on it every single time in order that it gets absolutely no sanctuary in our decisions or changing self-image.  To scan the playground and notice the thoughts so they don’t get back to base before us.

This deprogramming work can, of course, be a little unsettling.  Unpicking beliefs that have shaped identity, experiences and personality is like walking into your comfort zone as if it were a cosy room and setting at bits of it with a pickaxe.  Shelves fall down on one side.  A previously perfectly propped cushion lands face down on the rug.  The tie back goes missing from one curtain and pages get ripped out of your once tidy stack of magazines.  Then there’s a phase of simply learning to sit down anyway; getting comfortable within the uncomfortable followed by reorganising things so they’re less fragile.  Putting up a new pickaxe proofed shelf.  Choosing new magazines or chucking the lot in the bin with a yee-haa of liberated delight.  Ripping down the other curtains and getting someone who knows what they’re doing to make you roman blinds for the joy of their simplicity, common sense and beauty.  Putting the cushion back unpropped and unplumped, because it’s easier to relax and sit back like that without a thought to what appearances you’re despoiling.

This morning a Twitter friend shared this wonderful footage of Jada Pinkett Smith talking to her daughter about life balance.  Whether a woman has children or not, what Pinkett Smith has to say is undeniably powerful.

Bottom line: when we fail to act upon our own need for happiness, nothing works.  

52and39/51 Back to the Future

I’m feeling festive in fleeting bouts that buzz like wee jingle belled flashbacks, all present and sparkly then, gone.

Nonetheless, home is hyggelig at this time of year.

Following prelims, my son’s deciding what to do with at least some of his future.  My head tells him to go with his heart.  His heart says he mightn’t be good enough.

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Watching someone struggle with a truth that you can’t wrestle to the ground…  it’s hard, isn’t it?  The future will have to wait a little.  For now, back to the (Christmas) present.

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Then just like that, there’s only 1 more week to go of #52and39. Read all about it here

52and39/26 When The Lights Change

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Relocating is an enormous hall of mirrors.  You’re a tourist and resident, a stranger and a statistic.

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It’s four years since spaces were unexpectedly available in an Edinburgh school.  I was there at 9am the next day, in the mad last hours of term.  At noon my husband found a rental house that allowed pets.

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At the last minute, everything aligned.  Just two days before, I’d pretty much written the idea off.

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I took a photo every day for a year.  It kept me hungry for finding silver linings and stories.

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Read more about #52and39 here.  52and39

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?

52and39/16 Time for Everything

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I often start the day wondering how I’ll get everything done.  I can get lost in a fog of over-thinking.  The things I’d like to do before 10am tangle up with the things I want to do before 2025 so that sometimes I shoot myself in the foot and lose my mojo a bit.

        

I have been asking myself a calming question recently and it seems pertinent as school holidays draw to an end and scheduling comes into view again;

What if, just maybe, what if there will be time for everything?