Of Mice and Men

Internalised misogyny’s kinda like the rat who lived in our back garden. Every now and then it poked its head out of a small hole in the dry stane dyke and scared the living shit out of me (but thrilled the dog).

For soooooooo long I believed the rat was simply a large mouse.  Then, faced with faecal evidence to the contrary, I spent some time simply telling myself the rat was a large mouse and willing away  memories of the enormo-shits by the bird feed in the shed.  Denial can be a really handy part of adjusting to an unpleasant reality, can’t it?

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I did not want the rat to be as big a problem as it was – so I simplified it away and mentally minimised it to make it easier to think about.  La la la la la la.

Meantime, the rat had babies and I grew unable to continue deluding myself that the big pink semi-ropes intermittently hanging out the wee wall in the garden were anything other than rat tails.  Then, the sight of a rat climbing the 7ft clematis trellis turned out to be a moment even Instagram filters & wine couldn’t soften.

We are now minus a shed and a rat colony.  We found out the rats were living under the decrepit, old, rotting shed (very low air miles to the bird food) so it was time for the lot to go.

I’ve talked a lot about the rat now and not so much about internalised misogyny, haven’t I?  If you’d like to read me talking about internalised misogyny for reals, I’m chuffed as a rat in a slop bucket to say you can do just that on Bella Caledonia this festive season.

Slainte!

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Good Company

I’m proud to be a Dangerous Woman.

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The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh are asking what being a dangerous woman means and providing a myriad of answers, one per day, over the 365 days between International Women’s Day 2016 and International Women’s Day 2017.

My piece, entitled The Business of Incantations is here.

 

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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.

How to Trim Your Beard

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I’m well chuffed to have another story in Scottish Product magazine this month.  This time it’s about beards and breaking up and it’s getting quite a response on Twitter and Facebook.

The story is set in Rhu Cafe in beautiful Arisaig, looking over to Eigg on the Scottish west coast.  It’s 50:50 truth and fiction, so great fun to write.

Can you relate?

A Woman’s Work

This year I’ve found my mojo with writing for a minimum of four days a week when the kids are at school.

I have also, touch wood, learned the art of prioritising my work above the other things I can get involved with when at home.   Thanks to affirming conversations with creative friends and Liz Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcasts I’ve assimilated the fact that writing is the work I must do because it’s now harder and more crazy-making to keep it in than it is to let it out.

I’ve barred kids from looking at their spyware laden websites on my laptop, lest it dies a blue screened death.  I’ve got excellent at making back ups.  I’ve got way more comfortable with the house being minging at times.  I’ve stopped feeling guilty about the dog, the garden and the invites I’m declining to make space for battering down words.  I fantasise about one day having a cleaner but no longer answer the fantasy by getting up and doing all the cleaning with all the martyrdom.

I’ve realised that just like with running, unless I put one foot in front of the other the movement will not happen and the rewards will never come.  I have at last taken my work seriously, got extremely honest about self-sabotage and made myself accountable.  It’s paying off.

A 2015 highlight has been being a finalist for the 2016 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award.  Having always been one for swooning about Aesthetica’s beautifully expressed production values I felt it was a creative institution that was light years away rather than within reach.  Then I wrote something that I sensed might have a shot so I sent it in as part of my ‘why not?’ philosophy.  The worse that could happen was that it got rejected and, somewhat weirdly, I’ve got kind of hooked on rejections this year, so even that didn’t seem like too bad of a prospect.

As the Goddess Brene Brown says, ‘when we lose our tolerance to be vulnerable, joy becomes foreboding’.  I keep my tolerance to vulnerability close to my heart and say I’m OK with failing these days; I’m just no longer OK with not trying.

I wrote the Aesthetica deadline in my writing diary and fully expected to be pitching the story elsewhere in hopes of publication come December.

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Then, in late November I received an email to say I was a finalist.

Then, in early December I received another (really lovely) email to say I didn’t win.

And yet……. I feel like I did.

I took a shot and it paid off.  Another potential rejection flipped to validation.  The odds of both are slowly changing.  I love stepping in and out of the process to observe it and then be part of it again.  I love that rejections make me try harder and that if I just incorporate the feedback they make me a better writer.  I love that the positive affirmations of occasional publishing  are more than enough to stoke the fire of believing that I should totally just keep going.  I love the stories that now go everywhere with me in my head; I love that they make me look and listen harder to everything because they are hungry for details, moments and colour.  I love that I feel at last like I’m working on the right stuff even if the pay is absolutely crap – because the pay off is high.

The story I’ve written in the annual is called Mathematics.  Be warned though, the title and structure are juxtaposed to the subject which is about an experience that’s horrific (and alarmingly common for women) viewed through a logical lens.  There’s no soft way of saying it – it’s about rape.  Despite the less than cheery disclaimer I believe it’s a story filled with much more light than dark and that it brings something to the table that positively informs how humans treat themselves and each other.  If you read it and it means something to you I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Aesthetica annual is, of course, completely guaranteed to be packed with excellent short fiction and poetry.  It’s also a stunning coffee table book with a comparatively tiny price tag for anyone who loves being taken on journeys with words.   You can buy it here .

Guest What?

Just a quick heads up to let you know I guest posted at the fabulous Zeit My Geist blog last week.  My post is about surviving Post Natal Depression and acknowledging some of the strain it puts on relationships.  More than anything though it’s about love, health and good and bad luck because, at the end of the day, aren’t most things?

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You’ll find fantastic reading on ZmG.  Affirmative writing about identity is always a winner with me.  I particularly adored Anna’s recent posts about owning arrogance as a positive, feminist quality and 10 signs you’ve reached the ‘Fuck You’ level of life.  Enjoy…..

 

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?