Neither of us were happy, so he packed his bags after just four months in our home together. I was left wandering the rooms of the big house with the garden overlooking the South Downs, wondering what happened. I’ve never been one for putting up. Apart from when it comes to love. With him, I kept waiting, year on year, for the penny to drop and for us to, well, just click. Every time we spent a few months apart, we thought we’d got the message and came back full of hope and passion. It never lasted long. And I’d keep putting up with it as long as I could. He felt the same.

I’m not one for over thinking things. That’s the best way to get nothing done, and the best way to make sure nothing ever changes and nothing gets interesting. You’ve got to keep adding stuff to the mixing pot. If I had thought too hard when I found myself pregnant, I would never have become a single mum, gone to university, become a writer, and had the honour of raising the best little girl ever to live. If I hadn’t, one rainy day, decided I was going to rescue a dog, I would never have met my Prince Charming, my Billy, who fills my world with love and joy. Even going to university, I just got the forms and did it one afternoon. I move on my gut instinct, and I am learning to trust it.

By conventional standards, I’m somewhere over in left field, grappling with alligators whilst those in the middle smooth down their shirts and move from one predictable step to the next with little fuss. Often, I envy them. They are stable; I am frighteningly bipolar. They have money; I spend mine. But I have feeling, I have passion. I have very high highs and very low lows. I feel everything, every moment of my life, wholly and truly. I mean everything I say, everything I do, totally and utterly, at the moment I do or say it. I have conviction, even in my errors. Aside from my low lows, there is a lot to envy there. I am passionate and I am turbulent. When I’m left to my own devices, shit gets interesting.

I have talents, and if I plough my energies into the things I love to do, the things I am good at, the things I am trained for, I can create. It is time now to have faith in who I am, and what I am capable of. I like myself more when I’m sitting at my desk, by the light of my anglepoise, with a glass of wine and my pen and ink pictures taped up to the wall in front of me. Dropping my fingers lightly over the right keys in order like I’m playing piano. When I’m playing words like music, pushing my passion into rows of letters on screen that together take on some meaning. This is how I’m blessed and cursed with these emotions of mine. That is where love and beauty exist, where fun and joy and triumph and magic live, in the poles. You do not find the glory and tragedy of humanity in the middle ground. Art is not something that can be done with numbers on a spreadsheet, or by organisation, adherence and safety. It cannot be done with rules, behaviour or decency. I am here to shake things up. This is my purpose. Money cannot buy it.

I may be mad, but you will thank me for it. It is better to be utterly ridiculous than utterly boring.

What is your madness? What is your purpose? Where, my love, is your passion? Show me…


Musings After Wine: Stains and Honesty

I am sitting here having a little conversation with myself in my head. You know, one of those where you bolster your own sense of self worth by justifying how you are right and good and definitely on the right track? Don’t think you have these conversations? Of course you do.

I am thinking about the time I tried to start up a discussion about the unconscious/unspoken games people play with one another, only for the (friend of a friend) person I was talking to to flat out deny he had any knowledge of such games existing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and turned his back to talk to someone else. At the time I felt terrible. As though trying to even discuss such a thing made me a proven mental manipulatress. I felt that the man’s rejection of the conversation was a humiliatingly personal slight against me, and for a while it really affected the way I spoke to people. Three years later, or so, I look back on my encounter with that man with a wry smile. What nerve in him must I have touched for him to shut me down so rudely? We were both right, just acting within our own emotional remit. Nonetheless, my self-bolstering voice allows me the luxury to look upon the man as a fool, for, from my perspective, an honest conversation is always better than a bland one. No matter how much we try to resist the call of the negative, gloss over and paint ourselves good and proper, the negative is persistent. You cannot escape it. It can no more be repressed than sunshine. It’s the darkness around the object that emphasises its luminosity.

The positive and the negative are, of course, merely labels we attribute to ephemeral things to gauge their effect on us. They do not possess the features of positive or negative outside the confines of human definition. We have the power to push some things back and draw others forward, and through language, we have the power to switch attribution of positive or negative on anything we choose, in order to experience it in a way that suits our needs. Whether that remains practical or not is another matter.

We have the power to draw attention to some things over others. What we do not have is the power to eradicate them entirely. If all human work is the attempt to clean a stain (think about it), and the stain persists regardless, perhaps our energy would be better spent embracing the stain as part of the pattern, rather than persisting with fruitless attempts to blot it out. This is a long way around just saying that we should just be honest, whether it is what others want to hear or not. Whilst mind games, for example, are not pleasant when used against you, they do still exist. Whilst you may disagree with lying and strive to be truthful, you still lie whether anyone else knows it or not. You just justify those lies to yourself to blot the stain. Blot the stain all you like, but it will not go.

Wear it out. Wear the stain, and show you’re not scared to do so. Fear of the stain darkens it. Yoda will tell you what fear leads to.


Things To Remember When Life Feels Like A Losing Battle

Sometimes it feels as though, everywhere you turn, the people and events in your life are deliberately out to get you. In the words of Kurt Cobain, “Just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you.” I am particularly prone to interpreting patterns in people’s behaviours towards me in a negative light. Whether this is the case or not, I’m not entirely sure I can say. People are often completely clueless about the impact of their words and actions, and I am as guilty of carelessness in my interactions as the next person. I haven’t a clue whether anyone I speak to is upset or offended by anything I say or do. All I know is that I never deliberately set out to make anyone feel the way I am so often left feeling. Such is the human spirit, that the majority of us huddle over our down moments and would rather turn the sadness in on ourselves than confront things head on. Whilst this is obviously unhealthy for our self esteem and general mental health, the alternative, of telling someone how their behaviour has left us feeling, is not only emotionally difficult, but also fraught with potential peril. I can make educated predictions of how such conversations might go, and they inevitably leave me feeling worse than I did initially, with still more hurt and bitter memories to take away with me. A such, there are a few lessons that I, certainly, could probably take away from those instances where some interaction has left me feeling about one inch high and aching with misery and self doubt. If any of this rings true for you, then maybe you, too, can take some assurance from the words I offer.

We can never know what anyone really thinks of us.
My experience of the world is inevitably different from your experience. We are, as it is often pointed out, the sum total of our experiences, and as no two people on this planet have experienced the exact same external influences throughout every moment of our lives, it is safe to say that how we interpret and choose to deal with situations that arise in our lives will vary enormously from one person to the next. Whilst some people seem to be on a perpetual mission to manipulate, undermine and cause pain, who are we to say that this defines who they are as a person? If you could look into their hearts and see the fragile being quivering inside, in most cases, I guess we’d understand a bit better why they are the way they are and be able to find a common ground to work from. Perhaps we could even help them with their own happiness in the process. But for the most part, whether someone intended to hurt you or not by their behaviour, we can scarcely say. Even when someone’s behaviour is obviously offensive on a racial, sexual or other level, can we really be sure that this was their intention? Even if we ask them outright, how can we be sure that they’re being straight with us? As people are the sum total of their experiences, those experiences can sometimes lead people to behave in pretty antisocial ways. This is their pain trying to get out. If we can learn to take it as such, and walk away, simply pitying them for their need to pass that pain on, or go further to try and help them through that pain, then we can limit the damage that other people’s negative experiences of life can have on our own. This is, obviously, an idea that is problematised in the case where demonstrable violence (whether verbal, physical or otherwise) has been perpetrated. It can be very difficult to learn to live with the memory of abuse. However, there is some evidence to suggest that being able to humanise the perpetrator of such violence can have positive results on being able to move on.

Know thyself.
This is an ongoing journey, something that many of us struggle with from day to day. Sometimes, being able to bolster yourself against attack from within is much easier said than done. The odd mis-spoken word or perceived indiscretion against us can easily unwind any good feelings we might have had of ourselves. When self esteem is only skin deep, it doesn’t take much to break the surface and have an oozing eruption of self hatred come pouring through the gap. Why do we think so little of ourselves? Social norms, even within the context of an alternative or particularly liberal social circle, have a lot to answer for on that front. There is always a sliding scale of goals in any way of life up to which we feel we have to match. Most of us, even the most supposedly accepting and liberal, can be incredibly guilty of judging others within our circles for their perceived ability to hit the markers set for them. These markers exist outside of ourselves, and yet are never objective. Just as we can never know exactly what someone is really like, or what they really mean, so we can never ascertain how fully they meet those external expectations. One of the common markers of a ‘good’ person is the ability to be non-judgmental. However, there are, I believe, only a minuscule, tiny, microscopically small percentage of people who are truly thus. It is true, you can’t escape, you are being judged wherever you go. Whether you choose to deal with this by trying to adhere to the guidelines set out by the social norms of your particular social circle, in an attempt to limit the way you think you are negatively judged by others, or whether you know yourself enough to realise that these standards being set for you are bullshit to the core, to know and be confident in what your own intentions are, is a good way to shake off that sense of judgment. Forgive them, Lord. They know not what they do.

Have faith in your own self-worth.
We are stronger, kinder, smarter and more beautiful than we ever give ourselves credit for. This does not depend on comparison. This does not depend on what others tell us of our own value. If you know what you want to do, even a bit, or who you want to be, even a bit, or what you want to achieve, even a bit, then you’re fine. If you find yourself stagnating, talking yourself out of change that could lead to greater happiness or fulfilment because you simply don’t think you’re up to the task, then think again. You absolutely, definitely, completely, are up to the task of finding your happiness. Many of us will crawl through life, thinking that what we seek is out of reach, that satisfaction is only for a lucky few. That’s why there are so many office drones out there, whiling away their time for people in suits who couldn’t give a shit whether they live or die. Some of those drones will be happy, but the others will be handing over their pound of flesh just to keep their family from poverty. What a mean way to live. There are alternatives, but they are hard-won. With every choice you make in life there is a compromise. Just don’t stop checking yourself to make sure that the compromise you’re making is worth it. You are not stuck. You just need to push harder. And you can. The human spirit is stronger than you might think. Good things take time, and nothing worth having is ever an easy ride.

Love your story.
Some stories are roller coasters, with stomach churning dives and long, clunking, groaning ascents. Some stories are sad, but never always so. We are all stories, and yours is no less readable than the next. In fact, physically sitting down and writing your story to yourself everyday – i.e. keeping a journal – is an excellent way of both cleansing your psyche and documenting the story as it unfolds. It won’t take long to notice how things unfold are as compelling as any literary masterpiece, whether you write it ‘well’ or not. Keep it private, stashed away under your bed, or write it in a blog for the world to see (ahem), either way, it’s worth writing. It is always, always worth writing.

These thoughts come off the top of my head, and I make a point of not editing my work before hitting ‘publish’, so what you’ve read are just a few pointers I’ve found for myself tonight, sitting under a blanket on the sofa as the February winds whistle cold around the house. I’m, in case you haven’t already gather, in the midst of trying to process a few interactions that have left me feeling like total shit. Writing is the way I come to terms with experiences, and try and find a way through my feelings. That I choose to share them in a public space is often a good way to end up generating more of the negativity I’m trying to dismiss. But, hey, it keeps me typing. You may have your own ideas on getting past the bad inner sludge. If you do, I’d love you to post them as comments, or write a post of your own. God knows, we could all do with some help when it comes to letting go.


My Daughter, Beauty and Freedom in the Feminine

“One is not born, rather becomes, a woman.” – Simone de Beauvoir

And what is it, exactly, that makes you, finally, a ‘woman’? Is it your breasts, or the hair that grows? Is it in your style, in being able to walk in heels, look good in a skirt? Is it makeup, hairstyles, nails? Is it not farting, belching, taking up physical and verbal space? Is it motherhood, or sex appeal? Is it learning how to manipulate, to achieve by proxy? Or is it, simply, what you decide? I wonder if there is any such thing as ‘woman’, beyond a series of boxes to be ticked. And likewise, is there such a thing as man? Aren’t we all, you know, people, at the end of the day?

These are not original thoughts. They are questions that make up the entire politics of feminism, problematic as it is. Feminisms really… Everyone’s definition differs, and so there is no one concrete thing that makes feminism. Perhaps this is because of the line of questioning above. If there is no real definition of woman, at the root of things, it makes a muddle of any attempt to outline solid feminist principles. That is not to undermine the continuing value and necessity of a feminist discourse to the arena of human rights, where it continues, globally, to be fundamental to the futures of girls and women victims of some of the harshest sexism and gender-based brutality across the world today. However, this post is not designed to tackle these great issues head on, but more a discussion on how my role as a feminist takes form.

I raised my daughter as a single parent until she turned six, and though I now live with a partner, I am still primarily responsible for her parenting. Her father was absent until she was four, so I have had a pretty good run of things in trying to bring up a happy, intelligent and well-rounded daughter on my own terms. For that, I feel blessed. Single parenthood is hard, but I’m not sure I’d like the challenge of trying to do it as part of a couple. That’s a whole different shitstorm. I have always tried to be as conscious as possible of the example I set her, and the world I create around her, as I am all too aware of the implications of early conditioning on the adult self. As I have learned more about feminism(s), the world and myself, I have been able to feed what I have learned into my parenting. I haven’t always succeeded in doing the ‘right’ thing. Like every mother, there are plenty of things I look back on and cringe. But as time goes on, I grow more confident that I’m doing it right.

I was brought up by parents who believed in the importance of being ladylike. To sit correctly, to speak correctly, to behave correctly, were high on their list of priorities for me. I am not sure when, exactly, I rejected this. I can pretty much remember thinking the whole notion of ‘ladylike’ was pretty condescending from a very early age. This is not to speak ill of my parents. My mother, in particular, was completely dedicated to making me the best I could be, and she has never ceased to be behind me, regardless of my inability to practice elegance or to be demure any more than an elephant can walk a tightrope. I’d always beat myself up about this unrestrained and total failure to keep it all held neatly together until I read Caitlin Moran’s hugely life affirming book How To Be A Woman a couple of years ago. With her writing, it was like a weight had been lifted. Turns out, there’s nothing wrong with me for not being ladylike, for enjoying drinking, swearing and thrashing around to drum n bass, laughing about my bodily functions and growing out my bush. Suddenly, it was all okay!

I don’t want my daughter to go through the years of worrying that there is something wrong with her for not scoring between those narrow girly goalposts. I want her to enjoy everything there is to enjoy about being human, without even the merest thought of what anyone else might think. So long as she plays the game to a level that makes her happy, then that should be the end of it. So, I am putting to bed a few pressing concerns that have bothered me:

Should she be allowed to paint her finger/toenails?
Yes, she should! I was always taught that it was vulgar on a child. But why, exactly? It’s just colour… Maybe a few decals, a bit of sparkle here and there. Is nail polish, in any way, a factor in sexualising a person? I don’t think so. Maybe a vampish red on long nails is taking it into sexual territory, but pastel coloured rainbows? Little bunny rabbit decals? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle themed toes? I don’t think so. If the argument against is to dissuade paedos, then, well, seriously? For every paedo that gets hot under the collar for a six year old’s toenails, there’s at least another who is more interested in the bare innocence of childhood. You can’t win against paedos with bare nails. And, anyway, should we really be restricting our daughters’ self expression out of fear of sexual predators? If we do, then they hold power over us.

Should I colour her hair with felt tip pens to make it look dip dyed?
This is much the same as the above. She wants pink streaks, just like mummy. So I bargain with her. If she lets me wash her hair, I’ll give her a few pink streaks with a felt tip, and it’ll all wash out the next time she washes it. No dangerous chemicals, no crazy sexualisation. Just a punk ass kid with DM boots and a denim pinafore dress, rocking her way into school like a boss.

Should I let her wear a cropped vest under her t-shirt?
This is a tough one, and one I haven’t got an answer for yet. I’m not talking about the miniature frilly brassieres that received so much hoo hah in the press. I’m gonna go with a big, fat NO on that one. But a cropped vest. Hmm. The reason she might want one would be to simulate the bra that mummy wears. However, the cropped vest does not resemble a bra. It does not do the job of a full vest though, either. There is about half the amount of warmth being delivered. So, what’s the point? So she can feel more ‘grown up’. That would be the exact same reason a child would want one of those little frilly bra horrors I talked about above. And my first reaction to that is NO. And the reason I automatically go for ‘no’ without hesitation is the notion of premature sexualisation. In a society where females are being reduced to sexual objects from an earlier and earlier age, it is our duty as parents to nurture their whole being and steer them away from the patriarchal sexualised image of woman for as long as possible. They need to learn fully their intellectual and emotional value over and above their sexual value if they are to achieve autonomy in the adult world. A child bra undermines that effort, and the cropped top is the same thing repackaged. It’s sneaky sexualisation, that looks more innocuous by being plain, white and disguised as a vest, but robbed of its practical value.

Should I let her play with Disney Princesses and Barbie dolls?
There are many ways to express yourself with clothes, hair and other physical adornments. It’s fun, and something that little boys are sadly robbed of by the oppressive patriarchy very early on. That is why kids like Barbies, and Disney Princesses too, with their elaborate gowns and intricate hairstyles. However, they do carry a very narrow expression of what beauty is. With little to no variation in the body shape, skin colour, hair or style of dress, these toys inhibit our children’s imaginations and sense of possibility for the self. That the body shape, in particular, is a repeated carbon copy in doll after doll after doll, speaks volumes about what society permits a woman’s shape to be. Their flesh is hard, taut. The breasts are vicious, gravity defying bazookas. That shit ain’t right, surely? I’m relatively slim, but those girls – sheesh! And yet, I still allow my daughter to play with them. Doing a quick mental scan of her bedroom, I can scarcely think of one female-replica toy that has anything other than a slim body shape. It’s a real shame, and I cannot actually think of a justification for allowing her to play with toys that perpetuate this myth of the painfully skinny, bazooka breasted woman. Other than she simply uses them to create stories, using her imagination. Perhaps any potential damage those dolls hold can be significantly undermined by the very strong vocal message of self love I teach her. If we create a home where no body shape is mocked or undermined, then she will be safe. However, jokes about ‘mummy’s fat bottom’ are commonplace in our family. The only way to deal with these jokes, in front of her, is to jiggle my booty and dance it around with pride. Pride which, luckily, I have in spades.


Happy Accidents and Embracing the Disaster

Isn’t it always the way that when you create something you’re proud of, the universe steps in and finds a way of snatching it away? That lost sketch from college, the hand-made birthday card that must have fallen out of your bag when you went to get out your purse for the bus, or the blog that mysteriously disappeared into the vapour…

I’ve suffered one such loss so far this year, and that was my blog site vanishing – pop! – overnight. I’d written several long posts into which I’d put a lot of creative energy and time, and received a lot of positive feedback and comments from friends and peers. The words and the sentiment of these posts meant a lot to me, and now I’ll never get them back. I’ve mourned them now, and though still grieving somewhat for those lost words, I’m preparing my relaunch into the blogosphere in my turbo-powered starship of joy and sadness and wonder. Not to overegg it or anything.

When I was in art college, back in my late teens, I had a tutor whose catchphrase was ‘happy accidents’. By this, he meant all those times you lost a favoured creation and had to start again from scratch, only to create something more authentic and original next time around, or spilling drawing ink all over the intricate illustration you’d spent a month on, only to find a way to incorporate the accident into the artpiece itself. When I was studying creative writing at university in my mid-twenties, I had another tutor, and his catchphrase was ’embrace the disaster’. When he spoke about embracing the disaster, he meant that I should look to all the obstacles and stressors keeping me back from creating, and harness them as the material for the creation itself. “You lost your blog and all your writing? You’re in despair? Write about it.” And he was right. When you embrace the disaster, whatever it may be, you make it part of yourself and become its master. That tutor’s advice has been my mantra ever since, both on- and off-page.

I’ve always suffered from erratic moods: a neurotic, depressive, highly strung demeanour. During the time I was studying for my Masters, it came in like a wrecking ball, and threatened to stop me writing, full stop. I went to my tutor and explained how I could barely drag myself from off the floor, and that all I could manage to write was self-indulgent, miserable shit. I’d have a good day and charge into a new interest or research angle for a creative piece, only to wake up the next day completely disinterested in the work I’d done. I filled up notebooks and notebooks with self-hate and paranoid delusions and bitter diatribes. My lack of focus, and impending deadlines, were making me a nervous wreck, prone to crippling anxiety attacks on a weekly basis. But in the sweet, musty cocoon of my tutor’s book-filled study, he reiterated the mantra. Embrace the disaster, he told me, patiently, knowing well he’d told me at least a dozen times before. And so, I did. I found all the little fragments of shattered promise scattered throughout the pages of my manic notebooks, and I pieced them together and found the story. It was not my story anymore. By taking all those shards of pain and rearranging them, sewing them carefully together in the right order, someone else was born. A happy accident, hiding in the pages of my most downhearted days.

I began this year high on the idea that I’d document One Hundred Happy Days, an online trend for blogging about the places we find happiness from day to day. Sometimes, those things are hard to come by, but I persisted, and found joy waiting in the disasters around every turn. Life, for me at least, is always a disaster because I’m erratic, and I charge and spin my way through days like a hurricane, a writer trying to narrow herself down to being just one person. Sometimes it gets me down that I cannot seem to be more stable, more unified or tamed, but so long as I can embrace the disaster that I am, and understand that my life is made up of a million happy accidents strung together to make my story, I can rise above the gloom, and carry on creating…

Writing in response to 1000 WORDS on the subject of creativity.