Wotcha

If you like my soapbox moments or share my passions, grab a coffee or a gin and get comfy as you’ve happened upon my read me here update and it’d be great to have your comments along the way.

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Firstly, I’ve written as a guest blogger on The History Girls Frae Scotland recently.   I can pretty much guarantee you’ll love The History Girls Frae Scotland site for all its content, best described by themselves as ‘History, Heritage and Hilarity’, it’s a total delight.  The post I’ve written for them is about why, pushed by modern and historical politics, I came to create the website and online community I run called The Grantidote.

TheGrantidoteTrioThe Grantidote is a collection  of real women’s stories from people’s knowledge of grandmothers and other women who impacted their lives.  The Grantidote’s purpose is to create an intervention to a male-centric society in which toxic masculinity’s been normalised.  This may sound like heavy work but the reality’s different – it’s a pleasure and change never felt so accessible to me than through this simple but profound portal.  If you think you’ve a story about a woman to tell with me for this important archive, regardless of your gender, please get in touch.  Contributions can be little or large and I’m interested in getting graphic storytelling and spoken word included too.  Basically, the door’s wide open and the mood’s uber welcoming.  Dive in!

Second up, I was recently interviewed by Jane Woods for Changing People.  Changing People works with businesses and individuals to address gender imbalances in workplaces.  As someone who doesn’t have a career, this chat was terrifying and affirming and had me thinking so much about the discomfort and inadequacy I’ve felt over the years about the informality of my work.  My insecurities here are informed by quite extreme anxiety about money and security dating back to my teens, compounded by adult experiences with post-natal depression.  It was therapeutic to be able to step back from anxiety about my identity and see a bigger story I’m tentatively proud to call my own.

Third and last (and really joyfully) apart from a wee bit of novel writing and nurturing short stories and poems for competitions, I’ve also created spoken word content for Fearless Femme, a frankly brilliant new social enterprise based out of Edinburgh.  Fearless Femme will be providing, ‘a membership community where young women dealing with emotional and psychological challenges can connect with one another, and an online magazine that provides a wealth of advice and inspiration on improving one’s mental health.’  I mean, could it be more my thang if it tried?!?!  Watch this space for brilliant badassery kicking off in early 2018.

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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

52and40/15 Embers

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The zombies are calling me.

People who refer to other people as ‘they’.

‘They’re all the same’, and, ‘that’s what they want you to think’.

People who’ve given up on hope and change and hunkered down, rolling a boulder called fear into the cave doorway and frowning about how they’ll get the smoke from the fire to vent in a closed space.

I feel the temptation.

It’d be easy to sign up for the Daily Mail and play Loathe My Neighbour.

But, goddammit, I’ve no experience of easy ever feeling worth it.

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Read more about #52and40 here and follow the hashtag on Twitter.

52and40/12 Venus in Tweeds 

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When the bloke I fancied told me he lived on a west coast island and ‘commuted’ to Aberdeen for work, I pictured Father Ted’s Manse and grimaced.

‘How can you bear it?’, I’d asked.  ‘The flatness?  The wind?’

He looked like I’d spoken in Spaniel.  The following week I understood.

Sapphire sea in a white sand bay. The perfect cottage.

Mountains, seals, dolphins.

Sunsets, the Milky Way, mornings to make you feel reborn.

Him, in an Acid Croft T-shirt.

‘What about the commute though?’, I’d asked.

He put on Shooglenifity and drove.  52and40-1

More info on #52and40 here.

52and40/4 Goldilocks Desk

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The season so far’s been kind in Edinburgh. Underfoot the ground’s mercifully dry and the sun seems brighter for longer than in recent years. 52and40-1

 

 

I’ve moved my desk to a window so I can soak up as much light as possible while I work. It’s made such a difference to feel connected with outdoors and in; from clouds, buses and birds on one side of the glass to the simple luxuries of late afternoon radiator warmth and lamp light inside.  At last, I’ve found a balance that’s just right for me.  Phew.

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What’s #52and40 all about, Alfie? The answer’s here.

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