52and40/39 Method in the Madness

I’ve been unitasking.  I like that this sounds like unicycling but actually involves zero circus fuckery.  Unitasking’s simply doing one thing at a time.  I can multitask but I make mistakes, get stressed and then there’s frustration about rushing or being a bitch to myself or some poor bystander along the way.  So, no more lunch while checking emails and walking the dog.  Now I’m just having lunch.  Then checking emails.  Then walking the dog. Hardly miraculous, but I’m certainly happier and this way feels pragmatically zen and paced for the times.

 

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52and40/34 Passing Place

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.

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52and40/33 Feel The Burn

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How is it October?  And 2017?  And, bloody hell, I’m 41.  Anxiety’s  a tide inside my flesh.  What if I don’t have time to do it all, whatever else ‘it’ might be?  Then, eight hours later, zen.

My five nights on Raasay were wonderful.  Even the fall into a wide burn as if it were a bathtub was brilliant.  I attempted a swing from a tree branch to cross the water and, well, the rest is history – especially the branch.  It was a moment time did slow though, so, beautiful in it’s own way…

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So Many Mugs, So Little Time

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.

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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. 

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      • 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.

       

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      Behold the Letting Go of Never-Used-Shite

      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’.

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      Interested?  Good.  More about #Clearing40 here and by following the hashtag on Twitter.

      Take A Seat

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      My Mum’s best friend phoned at the start of the week and we had a fantastic chat about self-esteem, conflicting truths and lessons learned.  At the end of the call I said a too dramatic thank you.  I gushingly told her she was wonderful and amazing.  True to form she answered firstly with a considering silence and secondly with a request to take her off the pedestal.

      Even before she’d finished the word, I got her.  I got it.

      Being on a pedestal is crap.  Being on a pedestal pushes you up and away from the group – from the place you were learning and growing.  Being on a pedestal holds you apart, with a mic at your gob waiting for only your wisdom.  Pedestals are monuments to the false idol of perfectionism.  Pedestals are isolating.  Pedestals mean that the people who stand looking up at them lean back a bit from being their own best because they have someone to follow rather than to walk beside.  And, as my Mum’s pal said, pedestals don’t allow for mistakes and mistakes are inevitable.  There’s an important point about ego here too, I think. My Mum’s pal didn’t need or want her ego-stroked.  She called for connection, not vanity, and she wasn’t going to let me re-route it otherwise.

      So I’m clearing the pedestal thing and assuming better than vanity of people I connect with who are fully engaged in living.  I rephrased my thanks and admiration and got specific instead: thank you for positively influencing how I understand things.  I’m grateful that you stay in touch, that we laugh and that what you know is teaching me more about honesty and assertiveness.

      Note to self: hyperbole is hilarious in hilarity and disingenuous in connection.

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      I’ve cleared quite a bit from the house too, including;  5 kitchen chairs, 1 dead laptop, 3 obsolete docking stations, 6 million cardboard boxes, a large bin bag of clothes and a broken DVD player.

      Having 5 chairs around that were impractical due to vast weight & damage was a drain.  One of the chairs cost a fiver years ago from a charity warehouse.  I’d always planned to re-cover it.  The other four chairs were expensive but old and their covers were wrecked – torn, stained beyond chemical intervention and looking totally ravaged.  I planned to re-cover them too but I’ve now got honest about the fact that I won’t spend the necessary time or money learning skills & buying material to fulfill those plans.  I want to spend my time writing, being with folk I love, being healthy, creative and laughing.  Sewing machine time will not meet those ends, for me.  So the chairs have all been replaced with these replica Eames chairs, at £25 each from Amazon.

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      They’re lightweight, you can lean back and sit in them all night and the white brings big shots of freshness into the room where once there was dark beige cotton and burned orange velour.  Also, no rips, tears, missing chunks, upholstery for dog hair to stick to and no previous owner fag burns make a pleasant change. clearing40 support logoWould you like more info on Clearing 40?  It’s here.   

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      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.

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      Saying Yes Less

      This week, two theories flew into my mind like large birds who are now sitting on opposing fences with my grey matter garden in-between.  On the left, we have The No Bird and on the right, it’s The Yes Bird.  They’re squawking at each other, determined that whoever is loudest is right.  I’m not going to lie, it’s noisy in here right now.

      Amidst the squawking, one bird has the edge.  One bird is chanting a word that we are less encouraged to use and it’s hypnotising my subconscious.  It’s The No Bird. I’ve come to like saying no, since I learned that I actually could.  A word that I used to be so scared of and so programmed against saying has become a word that helps me to feel safe, more fairly valued and in far calmer control.  There’s also a comedy to be found in saying no more frequently; laughter happens, I find, wherever honesty is involved. It’s a great leveller and anxiety killer.

      I keep seeing stuff that tells me to say yes.  I keep hearing that I should not only say yes, but also YES!  And hell yeah!  And yes, yes, yessss!  I’m being inboxed and tweeted with motivational memes reminding me to say yes to everything that comes my way today.  Leaflets drop through the letterbox urging me to say yes to diet clubs, takeaway pizzas, a weed free garden and two for one offers at Asda.  I turn on the telly and adverts scream at me to say yes to everything from solar panels to alpaca wool onesies.  We’ve unlearned No by opening the floodgates on Yes.  When did No become such a dirty word?   And why?

      Back in the brain garden The No Bird looks less frenzied.  Its squawks are more assertive, less hyperactive.  It has a radiant space around it which, if I’m not mistaken, looks a hell of a lot like time.  There’s a rainbow aura in-between the time and the bird too.  Maybe the different colours are representative of a whole load of choices.  With all this in mind, I’m more inclined to want to hear what The No Bird  has to say.

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      The No Bird appears not to be pecking at itself with self sabotage busyness.

      The No Bird appears to have a plan: time and choices.

      As I ponder those last three words for a minute I’m struck with the thought that as well as big houses, fancy cars, yachts and a pony or ten for the charity petting zoo, time and choices are the things that lottery wins buy.

      Time and choices are luxury items.  Time and choices are what we get when we’re in a good place and what we crave from a bad place.  Time and choices are coveted commodities, so why are we passing up the chance to have them and trading it in for all these Yesses?

      Time and choices are the things I see The Yes Bird does not have, because The Yes Bird is busy giving itself away to anyone who asks things of it.  The Yes Bird has mistaken martyrdom for positivity.  The Yes Bird looks frazzled and is now being asked by another bird to move along the fence.  The Yes Bird should hold its space in the world and say no to this most recent request.  It won’t though.  It’ll move, because HELL YEAH!

      My friend’s mother in-law has a fantastic saying.  It goes, ‘If you never say no, what are your yesses worth?’  These are the kinds of words that should become great friends to the overwhelmed parts of us that would be gone with the wind of demands if we didn’t shut the door on it and protect our personal priorities on a regular basis.

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      How do you say no? How does the word sound when it comes out of your mouth? Do you put a thank you behind it or in front of it?  Do you avoid saying it til the last minute and then squeeze it in, decorating it with a giggle, shushing it inside a mutter?  Do you sing it, so it’s harmonic on its way to someone ear? I had to stand in the kitchen one day saying and then shouting no, No, and NO.  It’s necessary, when your tongue has no muscle memory of the movements a word needs because it’s been AWOL from your vocabulary.

      Of course we should all say yes sometimes.  But not when saying yes becomes such a habit that it’s our default setting.  Not when saying no begins to feel like having a sharp stone in our mouth that we have to soften with apologies and excuses and exclamation marks that trivialise our meanings before we swallow it again, unheard.  Not when we’re in a culture where a women saying no means so much less than a man saying no. Not when it’s at the expense of ourselves and our right to live our own life, on our own wee bit of fence where things rarely feel crazy-making.

      No, to all of that.  Yes, to time and choices.