52and40/28 Ties That Bind

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Months ago, husband and I scoured our west coast map for unseen places, zoning in on Glenelg.  We went last week, exhilarated by the drive over The Ratagan Pass which had us whooping, awe-filled and delighted about the backseat being uncharacteristically empty so nobody was chucking up.

It was a flying visit, but a great place for orientation with Skye as the Arnisdale shore’s just 600m across the water.  Glenelg’s history’s fascinating – and prescient.  We’ll be back in future to bag the ferry crossing and drive up to Elgol (and whoop more).

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52and40/14 Benediction

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We saw Collateral Beauty.  The film whisked me back ten years to a hell of a week.  Mum had been admitted to hospital in Aberdeen with a DVT.  My son had his sixth birthday party.  I hadn’t organised a thing for Halloween.

The morning after cobbled together trick or treating, Mum called from hospital and gently explained she had terminal cancer.

The world stopped as grief started.

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Who I’d been until then died with her and (slowly, painfully) a new gratitude for life was born.  Heather 2.0.  An unwanted, bittersweet fresh start.

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52and40/8 Spirit Level

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I’ve known folk who did everything for change and, at the end of short and happy lives, died.

When change moves at a glacial pace it’s hard to know what the point is.

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I think the point is to make your life a laughing one full of hopeful risks and challenged potential anyway, even if the only payback is a clear conscience.

A clear conscience is a radiant experience, after all.

Change is drip-fed right up till the millisecond the damn breaks against the pressure.

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What’s all this #52and40 malarky anyway?  Read all about it here.

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52and40/6 When They Go Low 

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Everyone’s a tourist, up Calton Hill. You can see in all directions and take in the various curiosities providing perfect photography props.

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You can grab coffee and cake then wander through art.

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I was reminded of Berlin, up Calton Hill. Different accents, space for everyone; no tension between worker bees and butterflies. The National Monument, our memorial to lives lost in the Napoleonic Wars, stands in its long since abandoned state of grace as people climb up it to smile and laugh for iconic photos and memories.

History & modernity at a peace.

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Read more about #52and40 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?

 

 

 

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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.

Runaway Stories

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This time last year I was all geared up for a new job that was going to include part time writing- HURRAH!  Life goals securely on track!  And then….  SPLAT.  The company’s plans to set up a base in Edinburgh folded and I was in receipt of yet another email telling me my details would be kept on file, thanks, sorry and best of luck.  Having spent the Christmas holidays mentally and domestically preparing for going out to work I found myself in a landscape with a job shaped hole in it which I knew I was going to fall into in no time at all.

The fear set in.  The fear that comes from needing to write and yet not writing consistently is a large and thundering thing.  You look fine on the outside but on the inside there’s a storm.  Stories build up inside of you and crash against each other like furious waves.  Endings wallop into beginnings, words are thrown in the air tumbling back down to land in the wrong places, with the wrong punctuation.  You grapple to hold onto ideas and drop life-raft notebooks faster than you can repeat golden starter sentences in your head that you need to write down and preserve.

A friend and I have been discussing how to deal with being a writer when life will not give you time or opportunity to be a writer.  The answer, I think, is that somehow you must and do find a way.

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Had that email of January ’15 not arrived I mightn’t have found my way.   In a fit of post-rejection frustration I googled writing courses in Edinburgh, found one that started that day and signed up for the last place on the spot.  I hated that instead of earning money I was spending it but I knew my mental health needed the release rather than the analysis. Four hours later I walked into a classroom.  We were each asked to introduce ourselves.  I said, ‘Hi, I’m Heather.  I used to write, I’ve lost my ideas about what to write unless someone instructs me and I need to be taught how to discipline and develop my ability’.

Happily, I got exactly what I asked for from the course.  I went in there week after week and talked about what I found hard rather than showcasing what I found easy.  I dropped my guard and didn’t question whether I knew more than the teacher.  I ditched my ego.  I learned.  I worked like I should have worked at school.  I listened and made sure I didn’t hear my own voice dominating conversations.  I got my mojo to an extent I’ve never had it before.  I signed up for the next course and committed myself to the cause again as if it were a third child to fit into the family.  I was about to say I haven’t looked back since but the thing is I really have looked back on all of that. Every single rejection of 2015 lead to a decision to do something unexpected that worked out incredibly.  I look back all the time at the writing class and remember how amazing it felt to ask for help and then to receive it wholeheartedly and, let’s be honest, with desperation as a motivation.

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All that said, I’ve found it’s important for sanity to accept that there are times when it’s difficult or impossible to write too.  It’s been really key for me to work out the circumstances in which I can’t write so I don’t waste any time  indulging a method that doesn’t serve me.  I can’t write much in the weekends or school holidays when the kids and husband are home – there’s so much distraction to fight that it begins to feel like tantrumming and martyrdom on my part.  So what I do in the times when I can’t write is I take in other people’s stories.  I do this by watching really well written films or TV programmes, reading books, visiting blogs, listening to podcasts, intelligent radio programmes or, if other people are about, by sticking on story telling music and letting it become part of me by osmosis while I ask folk for their stories.

Filling up with other people’s stories stops your own stories from escaping, you see.  

I think it works by a largely passive process of knitting experiences, memories and thoughts into a garment you wear on the inside.  I’ve found the garment can’t be removed until you pour it onto a page sometime in the future.  Knowing this means my internal panic about losing stories is forever over; I am my own filing cabinet.  Quite often I’ll send emails to myself if I’ve thought of a line I’ve really fallen for but mostly I just put my stories on pause and let other people’s creativity flow, knowing it’s enriching my own.

I think the bottom line is only you can tell your stories so it’s a matter of extreme importance that you keep them safely stored in engaging, colourful and expansive content at the times when they have to wait inside you.

There’s a dark side to be aware of though, I believe.  What I absolutely don’t do if I can’t write is handover my brain to trashy magazines and shit storytelling of the tabloid kind.  In my experience these types of stories are corrosive to a positive sense of self and pull thoughts away from the best self to a conscious coma in which I’m relieved of many of the useful and beautiful things I previously had to say.  Since it can take quite a while (several weeks, usually but sometimes months) to rid myself of the negative effects of just ten minutes of exposure to shit-lit I reckon it’s better to have a completely zero tolerance approach to it.  If I come across it in a waiting room I do myself (and the world) a favour by shoving it down the back of a chair or into the bin in the toilet. And yes, friends who are reading this who’ve noticed magazines go missing…  It was me.  I had to do it to stop internal bad weather.

#sorrynotsorry