Pouncing Pressure, Hidden Hijack

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.dchtbc 2016 1

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.

#FuckDominos

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52and40/23 The Selfsame Well

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A friend died recently.  She was my writing teacher first (and my first writing teacher).

I can trace roads from everything I’ve had published in the last two years to Helen, her guidance at every way-marker.  Even with this map I’m disorientated; floundering in comprehending such a special woman being gone.

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In grief, all roads lead inevitably to my Mum.  Every funeral a little her funeral, too.  Profound losses only comforted by the extreme gratitude for having shared some of the world with extraordinary people’s smiles and stories.

Joy and sorrow, innit?

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Read all about #52and40 here.

52and40/17 Woman Down

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I’ve wondered who this guy is a lot.

Turns out he’s Everyman.  He’s Joe Public, apparently, the work of German artist Stephan Balkenhol.

And yet….

There are more women than men in Edinburgh (and Scotland).  How about a sculpture of the city’s Everywoman, instead?  Or perhaps alongside?

According to population data, she’d be between 16 and 29, living in a flat with a council-tax banding between A and C and as likely to be single as she would to be married.  Her life expectancy would be longer than Joe’s, too.

So where is she?

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More on #52and40 here and on Twitter.

 

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.  

When Calorie is The C Word

Women for Independence tweeted recently that they wanted to hear thoughts about food.  It makes sense.  ‘The domestic is the political’, as the saying goes and it’s a saying that needs to become overused and clichéd because it’s so damn true.   The more I think about it, the more I believe that everything that goes on in our homes and heads is politically linked.  The more we connect the ideas of home and Holyrood or the House of Commons the more we increase the understanding that political engagement is something we can exercise to influence things for the better, particularly in a relatively small country like Scotland.

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So here it is from me, you can provide the Food Glorious Food soundtrack from Oliver yourself. Or, you can (please) take it from my head where it’s played on loop every time I’ve thought about writing this post in the last fortnight.

I’ve been mulling over what my relationship with food is.  I came up with a few things; allergies, and hormonal conditions that need balanced with nutrients sprung to mind for starters.  How my family does the food shop came into my thoughts too.  But the main thing I kept coming back to?  The thing I kept trying to avoid thinking about so I could concentrate on easily quantifiable schizzle?  Well, that was an encounter that threw an axe head between my experiences of food and had a huge impact on how I feel about and discuss food and self image today.  It was an encounter that was emotional and I was hesitant about going there.  Yet… since it kept coming back to me I knew it was valid.  Then, the more I thought about it without kicking it away, the more I realised the emotions that are side dishes to food are a narrative we need to reconstruct to challenge ideology that limits woman in how they view themselves and are viewed by others in terms of their political (and domestic) impact.

Quite a few years ago I had a friendship group that I thought was pretty much perfect.  Three interesting women with different lives and outlooks crossed my path.  Thanks to some synchronicity in our weekly routines we soon found ourselves meeting once a week.   It felt positively Sex and The City and, fresh from being at home with pre-schoolers, I was happy for a sassy new highlight in my weeks.

Then came food – goddammit  – and the good times and diverse chat took a turn I wasn’t expecting when we agreed to make time to meet weekly for lunch.  The problems arose from the fact that I was not on a diet and they all were – permanently.  At first there was a jovial, bantery acceptance of the fact that I would always eat more than any of them at a lunch.  Then there was the triangle consensus between them to support each other in a plan to exercise more and eat less – I wasn’t there that day but was told of it much later.  In fact, in preparing for a big night out the plans extended to eating nothing but salad leaves and simply drinking water.  For days.  I was shocked and said as much, repeatedly, saying firmly but as non-confrontationally as I could, ‘count me out. Completely.’

Then there was the fact that we (they) seemed to have simply stopped talking about anything other than weight, food, exercise, ‘perfect’ bodies and diet cheats.  I had nothing to say on the matters.  In all my other friendships we talked about politics, ideas, the world, stories from our pasts, kids, our hopes, our dreams, work, relationships, learning, music, the universe, cake, clothes, art, spirituality…. and now here I was in conversational territory that was alien in its focus on just one area of self flagellation.  I was genuinely confused about how the same point could be made again and again and capture interest and emotion.  The conversations were leaving me blank and hollowing me out.  There was a vast irony in this that I didn’t see at the time; I was overweight and feeling good.  Everyone else at the table was a size 10 and feeling not good enough.  The confident women I’d met had, it turned out, been bluffing all along.  Worse, they’d assumed I had been too.  I was the odd one out.  Or, had they all just brought this out in one another and magnified it?  I couldn’t figure it out.

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Things got acutely strained the last time we met for lunch when, despite my consistent stance in the months before, my lunch was taken away from me halfway through the meal because, ‘let’s face it, you’ve had enough’.

The quick round up from there is that save some awkward exchanges we haven’t had lunch (or coffee, or drinks, or basically anything much) ever since.  It’s been a lot of years now.  They could never see what they did wrong and what they believe apparently works for them.  I could never get past having been overruled about my food, my body, my self-esteem and my need to talk about a gazillion things.  Those things are red line for me.  Nobody gets to tell me what I should change about myself unless I ask for their opinion – not overtly, not subtlely, not through words, not through behaviour or side glances.  We can discuss concerns, sure, but not if they’re based on vanity and someone else’s ideas of how I could appeal to them more.  That stuff is ridiculously less than helpful.   It’s something I feel even more strongly about since my son was diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine).  Regardless of what the covers of magazines and billboards tell us all, there simply is not just one body type, shape or form that is beautifulThere are limitless variations on beauty.  It’s a label that absolutely everyone is entitled to give themself.

For all the flag waving, self-loving feminism in what I declared at the time and in that last sentence, the whole thing deflated my self esteem like a stealthy puncture.  The sight of that plate being removed from beneath my face, my fork and knife still in my hands and the sound of those words hitting my ears has replayed in mental slow-mo more times that I want to admit.  I felt embarrassed, for a while, that I’d found myself beautiful and happily excluded from dieting and body-hating only to be almost bludgeoned into it by how society supports the heinous notion that every woman is a deep down self-hater who wants more than anything else to be skinny, even if it means she’s hungry, tired, stressed, neglecting her bones, internal organs, muscles or the neurons she needs to stay strong.

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I’d thought at some point the conversation would switch back to other stuff.  I’d thought I could keep the concepts of ‘my relationship with my friends’ in one part of my brain and ‘my friends’ shocking self-hatred’ in another.  I’d had no idea whatsoever that at some point those two filing cabinets were going to collide all over the space between them and contaminate me with horrible thought-worms that would root around whispering, ‘you probably are really ugly and unattractive because people you trust certainly think so’.  But the thing is I was also always going to fight for the thought that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, by my standards, when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see something repugnant smiling back.  I saw a person who valued so many other things so much more than she valued any thoughts about any size, age or conformity.  Dare I say it (society loves to hate women who value themselves so I’m out on a limb here), I also saw beauty.  I was raised that way by a mum who knew herself to be beautiful and yet was never on the cover of Vogue.  I fought my way back to that woman and have had to chalk up the bad experience to, well, experience.  Different strokes for different folks.  I need food for fuel and food for enjoyment and relaxing with people I adore and who adore me.   Sometimes I need food as a bonding prop at a meeting or a get together.  Breaking bread together is a good thing for connecting.  I will not be coerced into seeing it as something that makes me ‘naughty’ or ‘really good’.  Because I’m a self-determining adult.  Because I am a good person, regardless of my dress size.  A stick of celery, sixty five doughnuts, a gazillion runs and all the scales in the world have fuck all to do with that.

So there’s some of my relationship with food – the bit with the massive learning curve blip where I realised that context and echo chambers really affect self-esteem and self-actualisation.  I’m not sure what I could’ve done to have made things work out more happily with those friends. I live and I learn, hopefully.  And I still love lunch.

From food notes to footnotes….

I’ve been trying to find out who first came up with the phrase, ‘the domestic is the political’.  I think it might have been Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote (the frankly amazing); A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792).  Do you have any insight on this quote?  I’d love to know more about its origin.