My nephew moved in with us a few months ago, all the way from a Pyrenean idyll in the south of France. It’s really interesting seeing someone discover Edinburgh, it reminds me of all the compromises we’ve made along the way as well as the rewards of the move. It’s also interesting living with a ‘new’ person full-time. It holds a mirror up to everyone’s personalities and quirks and asks whether you’ll each change or grow the things about yourself that are suddenly more visible. Mostly, it feels like an excellent challenge.
I’ve been re-listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons Podcasts this week, to ready me for five nights away on my own to catch up on writing my novel a little, with the novelty of no interruptions. The thought of the time away is really a big deal when you’re a woman, a mother and a writer who works at home. The first, second and last descriptors there are, in my experience, extremely difficult to manage alongside the act of writing a big piece rather than dipping in and out of smaller ones. An excellent article in Harper’s Bazaar covers the issues I’m nodding at here and I suggest anyone navigating an unapologetically modern relationship or considering the messages they’re giving younger generations about gender roles reads the piece for comfort and fire-stoking. It’s an absolute cracker.
But back to the Magic Lessons. Every single episode feels freshly relevant. Yesterday I did my own version of a homework task Gilbert sets a podcast guest in order to help balance an internal dialogue which often poleaxed ambition. You can listen to the podcast here. Reflecting on the task of stepping aside from the locked mind to exchange letters with both Fear and Curiosity, I was prompted to shine a light on my own fears because they’re currently presenting the biggest hurdle to productivity during my time away.
As a sidenote, a horrible irony here is that I really didn’t feel the weight of these fears until I booked some time away. The act of booking the time, hell, the audaciousness of booking the time in some folks’ eyes, set off an epic domino chain in my head about pressure. I didn’t realise the domino chain was happening until it was halfway through and heading towards an elaborate helter-skelter set of turns before stretching into middle distance further than my terrified eyes could see. Think the domino chain in Collateral Beauty scaled up by a hundred and you’re there.
In a nutshell, the pressure-fear, wee darling that it is, has pretty much been whispering self-loathing into my lugholes since I got my Airbnb e-receipt. Here’s a fragment for your delectation;
‘Five nights away, huh? That’s brave. Or stupid. Especially as you’ve had some really shit feedback on the novel recently. Do you not think if you were going to have finished the novel you’d have done it by now? I mean, you don’t even really have a good story, do you? And you keep changing direction. And you’re still not doing it the way you want it to, are you? Because that way is shit and you know it. Your blindspot’s massive. But yeah. Have a great week away.’
Swim, swim, swimming I went. Swimming into a pool of mindcrap.
That’s the thing about creativity. It makes light and dark and balance must be imposed.
Despite the mindcrap, there was another voice in my head, quite possibly it’s the voice of leftover drugs from my teens but I guess that’s valid too.
The other voice says go and write. And go and enjoy. And lighten up, sweetheart. You’re doing great. Oh, and, most importantly….? For the love of fuck write the book you want, the way you want it written, because evidently you care so much more about that than anyone else’s feedback. How do I know that? I know that because when you think about the book you want to write, you smile. And that’s the thing. Write a smiling book that you one-day-kinda-soon finish and to fuck with whether it ever gets published, read or respected by anyone else. It’s either that or you’re carrying that baby everywhere while you try to write one that your heart isn’t in and one day realising the one you love isn’t there anymore – it just turned to regret. It waited too long.
Writing that, I can hear the other voice more clearly. It doesn’t belong to 16 year old me at a rave in Arbroath on MDMA. It belongs to me AND Liz Gilbert, one of the woman in the USA right now making the world a better place against all the odds. I dare say she’s scared and brave all at the same time. How inspiring.
Combine science with a down-home accent, first class storytelling and an appetite for progress and I’m more invested than a Tory parent at an Oxbridge open day. Professor Brene’ Brown has captivated me in recent years with her research and analysis of human experience and how we might use it better for health, relationships and global good. Needless to say I’ve got her new book and will be spending a significant portion of the future with my face in it, smiling and no doubt squirming about what I need to change.
I’ve been waking for weeks feeling badly misaligned. We had builders in, next door have builders in, two houses adjacent had builders in. With all the banging, shouting and stress there’s been little chance for creativity; each time I transported to inner space interruptions brought me clattering back. In parallel, feeling predated a notch too far when I moved around in workout clothes for running and yoga, I switched to just walking.
Muted, twice over, my connections to peace.
‘Sad’, as the predator in chief himself would say.
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).
What’s that? You need more #52and40 goodness in your consciousness? Clickety click here then, you brilliant, curious soul.
Years ago, while reading about dog training, I learned the phrase, ‘pressure creates counter pressure’. I was struggling with our then enormous puppy pulling on the lead. The phrase underlined my feeling that yanking back was only making my arm hurt more and my stress levels soar. So I stopped yanking back. Disengaged from negativity. Got used to standing, waiting for fresh eyes and curiousity. Eventually, it worked.
Scotland’s at a crossroads about whether, among other things, we value evolving multi-culturalism over a United Kingdom. Yes or No.
Pressure and counter pressure.
What’s all this #52and40 malarky about then? Find out here.
I’ve been a whirling dervish of clearing productivity. I’ve been thinking of the future and where we might be in five years time when, in all likelihood, the kids will be doing a lot more of their own things and none of us will need to live near school anymore. I’ve also been thinking about not getting too fixated on the future as well, lest I forget that actually, today’s the day we’re guaranteed so the happiness of now is much more important than perceived ideas of what might yet come. Tricky, isn’t it? You don’t want to take actions which scupper future choices but equally, a life lived in fear of hindsight is hellishly restrictive.
Anxiety about trying to control known and unknown variables kicking your arse as you move forward is never a great progress companion, I’ve found. As with most things, maybe the best approach is just to find a balance between planning and the now and maintain that as joyfully as possible, deleting unnecessary positivity-sucking-crap wherever it lurks and factoring generous margins for spontaneity into adaptable plans for the longer term.
One thing I am sure about for the future, however, is I want to own less. My first ten years of coupledom & parenthood had a definite theme of accumulation. By contrast,these last ten have moved onto a mind trajectory of simplification. That said, god knows we’ve individually and unitedly self sabotaged along the way – a new dog the size of a small horse, anyone? Old house at the very outer reaches of our budget to renovate rather than new house to simply enjoy and branch out from? Oh yes. Hello to you, contradictions.
An upside I didn’t see coming a few years back and have found out through daftness, I guess, is necessity really is the mother of invention. Too skint to buy a garden trellis that would mean more flowers to look at in summer? That’s a thought that lead me to up-cycle an old bunk bed step ladder I found behind a shed. Neither the looking nor the thought would have happened without the need. With cash for the trellis I’d have gone to the garden centre and bought one with decidedly less quirk. I know which trellis feels more like me.
[Side bonus: one less thing for landfill, too.]
Creativity’s like blowing into a Fairy liquid bubble cluster with a straw – each breath pops more bubbles up, sometimes huge, sometimes small. All that’s required is energy, space, inclination and wonder; the willingness and the audaciously human playfulness to still see a bubble and all its irridescent, cheap-as-chips-lustre as wonderful. If you can do that in the face of a world telling you to be serious, scared and reactive I say you’re winning because it certainly makes me feel like I am.
But back to the clearing. In the last seven days I’ve battled and won in the following cupboards;
Ovenware. Turns out that as we are not bakers we do not need 5 loaf tins, 16 muffin trays or 42 different shaped cake tins. Revelations!
Mugs – two varieties, only one of which was in a cupboard. Firstly, the corporate logo emblazoned type of coffee mug husband brings home from work promos and sticks in the cupboard till they’re all jostling like a cuppy version of a coin spilling machine at an arcade. Secondly, the facial type of mug. I’ve pretty much removed myself from Instagram for now – my feed suddenly seemed to become more faces than places and things and, lovely as faces are, it was the places and things that hooked me and inspired good work. So, for the moment I’ve jettisoned the app and am pondering what (if anything) needs to come back. While I ponder it’s probably also responsible to note the time gifted back from temporarily ditching a social media app: by my reckoning it’s between 60 and 90 minutes in 24hrs and this feels good. Of all the commodities in my life, it’s time I adore and lust after the most so I’ve no excuse for wasting it.
Aprons. For all the ‘we are not bakers’ reasons stated above. The kitchen hooks are dancing in the space and Mount Washmore will shrink as we focus on filthying just one apron, rather than a five-a-side football team of them. Hurrah!
Books, CDs and DVDs. Cheerie bye, redundant media and word collections. I’ve downloaded two apps that are helping me with this – Music Magpie and We Buy Books. The thought that I can transform stuff into cash as well as space is a handy motivator. Also, I like playing shoppies with the scanning in barcodes malarky.
Craft stuff. Yes, more of it. It seems I’m letting this collection go bit by tiny bit; jam jar of google eyes by jam jar of polystyrene eggs. What can I tell you? I’m shedding an old skin scale by scale, some months. There’s yet more to go. I’m sorry.
Games we don’t play. Like most of the above they’re on their way to a local charity shop. Farewell Cluedo & KerPlunk, time for you to go off and give other folk a shot of yourself and your luck based shenanigans.
As well as thoughts of the future and how I can’t be arsed cleaning stuff in the meantime, I’ve been super inspired by two programmes on Netflix, first off The Minimalist’s documentary is fricking ace. Its message is basically, live a deliberate life. That’s a phrase that just oozes appeal, freedom and sense to me because it reminds me succinctly not to get caught up in stuff – metaphysical or literal – that isn’t teaching me, aiding me or making me smile. Secondly, The Happy Movie, another documentary about how our accumulating behaviours mostly go haywire and can wreck things we thought they’d create. Both programmes are truly excellent brain fodder and left me totally uplifted and ready to chuck more, invent more and buy less.
There’d be no light without dark too though, would there? In case you’re hating me for being a smug, swotty Kim & Aggie-esque-clear-minded-bastard, know that I epically failed in the pared back Xmas department. Not only did I buy MORE decorations I also bought more cheap plasticky shit for stocking fillers. Watch this space for how ace I am for clearing them out sometime in 2017 when they’re tripping me up all over bedroom floors and never being used anyway (#anotherkindofmug). I’ve also bought a ton more books as I’ve managed to finally get my reading mojo on and, if they’re shit, I can sell them all afterwards on one of the above named apps too – HA!
So there you are, confessions and achievements done. I’ll leave you with this (possibly paraphrased) quote from The Minimalists, because I thought it so staggeringly brilliant, ‘Use things, love people. Not the other way round’.
Interested? Good. More about #Clearing40 here and by following the hashtag on Twitter.