The Narky Nines

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I’ve just had my first week of living the narky nines and it does not bode well for the future. I thought the sarky sevens and insolent eights were bad but she’s upped it a level.

The full title is the narky narcissistic nightmare nines. If it isn’t passive-aggressive screaming sessions in her room, intended for a wide audience but just incomprehensible enough you have to engage (and further enrage) the beast to have a clue as to cause, it’s teenage-style pouting selfies wearing a ton of make up. The only spoken languages are sass and defensive sulking, and any form of gratitude is a thing of the past.

I’m exhausted, physically and mentally.

I lay upstairs today, after 24 hours of wakeover with her best mate (like a sleepover without the sleep) and realised I had nothing. No energy, no patience. No fucks to give. No idea what to cook for dinner. In the end I sent husband and hell brat off to McDonalds (with hell brat sulking all the way) so I could walk the dog in artic peace.

I know it gets worse. Don’t tell me, I haven’t bought my necessary vineyard yet. I’m going to need it!

In the meantime, hurrah for my therapigs… IMG_2721

The Problem of Potential

As I was sitting in the coffee shop yesterday, knitting (which is the new writing, don’t you know), I couldn’t help but overhear two concerned mums talking about their children’s schooling. It was a long conversation, and a private one, but the gist was very much balancing the achievement of potential with happiness.

By the time I got home, I had a splitting headache that left me zoned out for the rest of the day. It was only this morning that I realised why – the conversation triggered my anxiety. Because it is the crux of everything, isn’t it?

We spend our lives balancing survival with living. Making a wage with enjoying our money. Trading wishes for shoulds and back again. Behind it all is this constant message that we have to be the best person we can be. The richest, thinnest, most successful, happiest, living in the most tasteful house, watching the right movies, reading the edifying books, eating healthy nutritional sugar-free meals.

No one can live with the pressure of that.

It certainly drives me loopy. I know I’m a talented artist, a creative knitter, a reasonable writer. I know I was a good Marketing Manager, clever with numbers, a quick grasp of strategy, calm in a crisis. But I excel at none of those things: none of them are a driving passion that make me want to be the best at them. I flit from one to the other like a distracted five-year-old. And the guilt of not fulfilling my potential in any of those areas, never mind all of them, leaves me exhausted and incapable of achieving anything.

If I paint a nice picture, the advice is that it should become my future: selling cards on Etsy, perhaps, or painting commissions. Except if I paint when it isn’t for someone I care about, it’s no fun. And there’s no money in it. Ditto knitting. Ditto anything that isn’t to make someone happy, or to receive praise (we won’t go into how wrong that is as a motivation).

I achieved at school. I had straight As pretty much across the board. A first class degree. A Masters. I aced exams. I worked hard. It was all I knew, and I enjoyed it. I wasn’t trying to reach a certain goal – the doing was enough. The grade in itself was the reward. I wasn’t aiming for a good university or a specific career. But my success set an expectation of fulfilling my potential (to the point where I nearly got suspended for a week the first and only time I got caught smoking on site, because I was ‘setting a bad example’.)

No one could tell me what that ‘potential’ was, though, or what it was for. Only that I had to fulfil it.

And now I clean poop for a living. I muck out the guinea pigs and the hamster, pick up after the dog, wipe the kids’ bums. I cook and clean. Iron. Moan and whinge about it. Not exactly fulfilling the potential of all those qualifications. But it’s the guilt and frustration of that, rather than the chores themselves, that makes me unhappy. I love my guinea pigs, hamster, dog, kids, husband. I love my messy house and free life. And I’m not sure I know what ‘more’ looks like.

I follow Matt Haig on Twitter and Facebook. If you haven’t come across him, he is a best-selling author who is honest about his struggle with anxiety. At New Year he tweeted a succession of messages that have stuck with me (see the image above). I love this one particularly (and the Russian Doll one).

His message is powerful, and came at a perfect time for me, when the New Year Resolutions were insisting on improvement. But we are not iPhones. We don’t need an upgrade every few months. We are not Russian dolls with better versions of ourselves hidden inside. We are ourselves. We don’t need to fulfil our potential, we need to live the lives we choose to live, without worrying what other people think of us. There is no test at the end of life. Assuming there are pearly gates, or whatever version of nirvana you believe in, no one is going to say, ‘You never achieved a size ten / perfect grades / ….’ If there is a test, it is going to be, ‘Were you nice to people? Were you happy? Do you have regrets?’

Of course, this post is the exact opposite of my last one, which ended with a desire for motivation, for ‘smashing every expectation’. Life is a dichotomy. It’s precisely that contradiction, both for me and the choices I make for my children, that gave me a twenty-four hour stress headache. To ensure we don’t coast through life without a sense of achievement, but are not pushed to achieve beyond the point of happiness. To make sure the children don’t struggle at school, but to know that exam results aren’t all that important in the grand opera of life. To know that I can run to feel better inside but I don’t have to have the discipline of Jessica Ennis-Hill. To know that I want to be a best-selling author, but I perhaps don’t have the drive or emotional fortitude to get rejected thirty times.

Sanity lies in finding the balance between motivation and the endless drive for perfection. Between fulfilling your potential for you, and doing what the world expects of you.

If you figure out where that path is, I would love to know! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some final Matt  Haig advice:

“Be happy with your own self, minus upgrades. Stop dreaming of imaginary goals and finishing lines. Accept what marketing doesn’t want you to: you are fine. You lack nothing.”  Matt Haig

 

 

Blog Block: Breaking the Silence

4eb37dd13f42674acbd12e3530d6f979-the-face-beautifulCan you hear them? All the blog posts I have written in my head over the past few months. Mostly at 2am, when my terrible sleep pattern has me wide awake, brain working, body dead. Unfortunately, by the time I’m up at 5.30am, the body is awake and the mind is numb.

They’ve been great posts though, I wish you could have read them. About my new obsession with the soundtrack from the Hamilton Musical and, as an offshoot, my undying respect and love for Lin-Manuel Miranda (look them both up: awesome!)

Posts about parenting anxious children, and wondering how much to interfere. Following a lot of Go Zen posts on Facebook (very useful: look them up!) and realising that the issue is very much more mine than theirs.

The parallels between running and writing: that was one post (in my head) I was particularly proud of. Sure to go viral (a girl can dream.)

Knitting. Christmas. Being self-employed. Writing competitions. Rejections.

Problem is, I know I’ve written about all the topics before, and I know how much it annoys me when the kids tell me a tale I’ve heard a million times. But maybe that’s life. It is circular after all. The same issues and achievements rock around for all of us, again and again. But sometimes reading the right advice or anecdote at the right time is the key to survival. Meaning there’s a point to the same posts rewritten ad finitum.

Anyway, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but one thing listening to Hamilton daily does for you is give you a sense of your own lack of purpose and motivation. So I am trying for a little more motivation. My husband bought me a t-shirt with one of the key lines from the musical: ‘Young, Scrappy and Hungry’. I’m only one of those things, and only in the sense of hungry for chocolate, but perhaps it isn’t too late for me.

I read this morning about how to make children resilient to failure, to life: about the fact that much of it is how we interpret the things around us, drawing either the positives or the negatives from a given situation. I’m very much a glass-is-practically-empty-and-it-is-all-my-fault kinda gal. Lately it’s been all about having no income. (I got refused for a credit card for the first time in my life. That sucked.)

But I realised, in the car driving home from my coffee in Waitrose this morning, where I had sat doing counted cross-stitch for a gift for my daughter, that I’m the luckiest person on earth. I get to do all the creative things I wanted to do when I was stuck twelve hours a day in a job I hated. So I’d better make the most of it and stop stressing about getting a minimum-wage job and how unfair it is when I have a bunch of qualifications. It’s my life, I need to live it and quit whingeing.

I’ll leave you with some words from Hamilton, that I’m going to try and live by. And if I find myself on the sofa watching Murdoch Mysteries re-runs, I’m going to forgive myself and move on. Because, you know, life.

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A Sense of It

I’m aware I have been silent for a long time on the blog. Lots of reason, some good, some not so good. So I thought I’d share this poignant description of living with depression. Particularly difficult at this time of year. To anyone who recognises at least part of this, know you are not alone. ❤️

Ubiquitous. Quotidian.

Depression is another planet. A planet that looks mostly like your own with the same basic physics and sometimes the same weather. The people here look like people you know, except they are all very far away and getting farther. Maybe you no longer speak the same language and no matter how very hard you try, you cannot communicate with each other. And maybe there is always something important that needs doing but you can’t remember what that something is or why it so urgently needs doing. Priorities are hell. Everything is equally weighted. Its all urgent or utterly inconsequential. You cannot know which. Everything is effort. You move from day to day, hopping across small islands of sleep. There are mercies. You don’t dream. You lie down and extinguish. You drift in the place of the not yet born and the no longer living. Eventually, you wake and your…

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Too Many ‘Me’s

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My Etsy Shop

When I started this blog, several years ago, (and I am so sorry, blog, for my recent neglect), I called it ‘Writer/Mummy’. I argued that my generation were increasingly the slash/slash generation, with several job titles and careers, and I was opting for Writer-slash-Mummy.

 

Fast-forward several years and, regardless of all the job titles that ‘Mummy’ incorporates (you know how it goes: cook / cleaner / confidant / taxi / ironing service / dog walker / general shit-scooper), there are now so many ‘me’s that I have lost myself in trying to find myself.

Currently I am trying to juggle personal assistant / etsy crafter / ebay seller / writer / runner / karate student as well as all the usual wife/mother/taxi driver/school-paperwork-handler duties.

And I am going slowly mad.

ImageOn top of that, I’m not actually doing any of the jobs particularly well. Instead I spend all my time playing a daft game called Farmville Tropic Escape, which also has me completing lots of chores and tasks. The difference is the instructions are clear and the rewards are clearer. I never have to wonder what on earth to cook.

I’ve deleted the darn thing twice.

But there is something addictive about knowing what you are supposed to be doing, accompanied by happy smiling faces and cute somersaulting dolphins.

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Teacher Gift

With all my different ‘me’s I don’t have a scooby doo what I’m meant to be doing. Should I finish one of the far-too-many knitting projects I’ve started? That’s hard, because I’m used to knitting for individuals, and so am motivated to finish because it’s a gift for someone I know and love.

Now I’m knitting for profit, for a.n.other, and the finishing part (always my downfall) seems impossibly hard. Besides, if I don’t finish the items, and list them, I don’t have to come to terms with the bit I’m even worse at – the trying to get a sale part.

Ditto ebay selling. I had a couple of early successes, picking up new and nearly new stuff at charity shops and selling them on ebay to fund my own charity/ebay shopping obsession. But now I have a few items listed that haven’t sold, and it’s creating more loss than profit.

And as for the PA role. Well. That was a bit of an odd one. I applied to do a gentleman’s typing and ended up responsible for selling one of his properties. Not exactly in my comfort zone, and I’ve tried to quit once already, but he’s such a dear, with no one really looking out for him. So I’m persisting. Just.

MslexiaWriting? Well, mostly that’s dead in the water. Except I entered a novel in the Mslexia competition a couple of weeks ago, and the annual Times / Chicken House competition is looming again.

I haven’t missed a year yet. But to enter I really need to dig out an existing manuscript and really work on it until it’s at least half as good as the books I love to read.

There’s that motivation / finishing thing again. Aint gonna happen. But writer is the ‘me’ that’s lasted the longest, and I’m not ready to see it die.

The problem with all these ‘me’s is that I’m Jack of all Trades and definitely Master of None. My son had his birthday this week and, in previous years, I would have arranged a party, made a cake, remembered to buy a helium balloon, and made him feel special. He spent this birthday sobbing because the secondhand nerf gun I bought didn’t work, and instead of a party we’re going to the zoo with a voucher I got last Christmas.

My daughter seems to have hit teenage meltdown a few years early, and yelled at me the other day that I’m ‘Always too busy to listen to her’ despite me trying to get these school-hour jobs precisely so I can be there for them. But my head is so cluttered (and the house even more so) that I’m just a mess.

First Sale

My first and only etsy sale

If I’m honest, I want to do the things that earn me praise. I read a great article about Bliss, and how we lose the passion we had as a child (that gave Bliss) through schooling, switching it for the things that will get us noticed / praised / rewarded.

I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but there’s no doubt I do most of what I do so that someone, somewhere, one day, will pat me on the back and say, ‘well done’, rather than because my passion brings me joy.

Dangerous.

Anyway, I’ve been reading up this morning on the difference between complaining and venting. I’m definitely not complaining. I made this bed, however itchy the sheets and lumpy the pillow.

I’m not really even venting. Perhaps just using the blog as a way to clear my head, as it has always been. Chatting away to a tribe of people who I know understand. Ask any writer / artist / general creative person / parent whether they feel like they’re juggling a hundred different wants / needs / must-dos, and they’ll all say yes.

Really I already know the answer. Take on less. Concentrate more. Delete the app. Finish the knitting projects. Vacuum the lounge and stock the fridge. Look, easy. Right?

Well, at least I can put a tick against ‘write a blog post before you forget how’ even if this post is just a long boring whinge. One step at a time.

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For some reason I felt the need to share this beautiful tribute to a person I don’t know (written by a writer-friend) ❤️

M T McGuire Authorholic

This is a difficult one to write.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I decided I needed to get my books a re-edit.  I’d rewritten bits, added scenes and generally jiggled things about and I wanted someone to go over them. Someone who knew the things I didn’t know like what sized dash to use when and when to use a semi-colon and when to use a colon. I needed a gimlet-eyed grammar spud and the fellow I usually used wasn’t around.

As I pondered whether to wait or find a second editor a post about editing appeared on a blog I follow. I’d give you a link but it isn’t there anymore. After a brief comment saying I thought I needed a line edit and a proof read someone popped up in the comments saying I might not. She said her name was Kate and what…

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Noticed

I read a quote on Facebook this morning that said,

We are all just waiting for someone to notice… notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage. And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift.” – Rachel Macy Stafford, Only Love Today

It made me realise that all the things we see in the news, all the stuff happening – good and bad – is a result of people trying to be noticed.

Watching in horror at what is happening in Charlottesville, I realised that the problem with white privilege is that most people are not aware of it. If you are born into a position where you don’t have to fight to get a vote, fight to get equal pay, fight not to be searched for no reason on the streets, fight to be allowed to marry for love, fight for representation in government – if these things happen just because of who you are and where you were born – then you don’t feel noticed.

The counter-reaction ‘All Lives Matter’ to ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the perfect example. We all want to feel special, but if you don’t realise that you are special just by winning the birth lottery, you need to find a new way of being noticed. Never mind that ‘being noticed’ for many is being abused, hated, feared, belittled and demonised.

And oh, social media; the perfect platform for the invisible. Trolls, trying to be noticed by being controversial. Bigots and racists and Trump supporters getting a voice and being noticed in their droves, screaming into the void and not caring who they are stomping over in their desperate need to be somebody. Even average, probably lovely, people on my local Facebook social page, bragging about calling 999 because someone is playing their music too loud at midnight on a Saturday.

Us creatives write our books, knit our toys, paint our pictures, and then wait for the world to notice and be impressed (or maybe that’s just me!) We look for nice reviews, good reactions, a heart emoji on a Facebook share, because it makes us feel special.

Actually, that’s true for everybody. I read somewhere that the physical reaction to getting likes on a Facebook post or a Tweet is similar to the high from a drug. That’s why children are glued to their phones, seeking affirmation. The louder, busier, noisier the world gets, the harder it is to feel special, the more extreme our efforts need to be to get heard.

I think about when I was a child. I knew about twenty people. I knew people were my friends because they said so, or sent me a note in class, or came round to play.

I got noticed by being good at school. I was desperate for teacher praise and it took me all the way to a first-class degree. My sister was ace at gymnastics and competed at county. We felt real because of what we achieved, and it made us try hard to excel at those things.

My kids now want to have YouTube channels and Instagram accounts. They’re 6 and 8. They want to be noticed by people who don’t know them and won’t care about hurting their feelings, and they don’t understand why I am reluctant to let them. I want them to have the simpler life I had – I want them to compete at karate if they want recognition, or excel at school. I suspect that feels like too much work, when they watch Kacy and Jacy with their 1.7M subscribers and 8M views (Although the girls must have worked so hard to make as many videos as they have, and they do some crazy things). I cringe every time they lovely girls sign off their videos with “We love you sooooo much.” Really?

There is an upside to social media of course. We can connect with our tribe. We can be noticed by people who are like us. As I was searching for the Rachel Stafford quotation above, I read the page of the book that it is from (I must read the whole book, it looks lovely. I follow the Facebook page). Rachel describes an incident in a café, where her daughter reassures someone who made an error by saying, “That happens to me.” That is the core of tribe. We can be noticed and appreciated by people who get us. Empathy goes a long way, and is at the heart of good noticing. Noticing to be able to say, “Me too”.

My blog is my happy space of followers who understand me, who accept me for who I am. Ditto the parenting blogs I follow on Facebook. The one where 500 people shared photos of their messy houses to make a mother feel better about not being able to live up to the glossy magazine ideal. The blogs with mums reaching for wine in the holidays or wanting to sell their kids on ebay (don’t be silly, you made him, sell him on etsy, one meme says). Being noticed by friends who see you having good days and bad days. Social media can stop us being lonely. But there is a fine line between quenching the desire to be noticed and life being defined by the search for it.

That said, actively noticing people can be such a positive thing. So much of children playing up is because they want to be seen. Although by this point in the summer holidays the phrase “Mummy, look at me!” is driving me to distraction, remembering what is at the heart of it makes life so much easier. I can tell when my children feel like I don’t see them. That’s when they nag and pester and fight and become impossible to live with. They’ll even take shouting and tears from me as evidence that they exist: Any reaction is better than no reaction. If I’m not careful I’ll turn them into Twitter Trolls. Recognising what is at the root of it means occasionally I know to stop, turn off the phone, make eye contact, actually notice what they’re trying to show me. It’s exhausting but oh so rewarding. And a little noticing goes a long way.

For me, too, I can tell when I’m grumpy with my husband because he hasn’t seen me, or something I’ve achieved. These days I just hand him the words. “Please notice that I spent two hours cleaning the kitchen because your dad is coming over. No, that’s not enough Wow, more noticing please.” It works, for us, even though it makes me feel like a petulant child. And for him too, often the most invisible person in the household because he asks for so little. Telling him he looks handsome (rather than noticing he needs a shower!) transforms him. I should do it more often. But we do our best.

Sometimes we steal the line from Avatar, which puts it more succinctly than a thousand-word blog post.

“I see you.”