Too Many ‘Me’s

FINALLOGOKNITTYCATSGIFTS

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.

MrsDeansDoll

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.

Sad

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.”

No Words

IMG_9059The blog is my neglected third child. I don’t mean to be a terrible blog mummy any more than I ever mean to be a rubbish parent to my children.

But really I have no words.

I truly understand the phrase ‘words fail me’. It doesn’t just mean I am silent but that words have let me down. They no longer come, they no longer work. I can no longer use them to explain the world or describe my feelings.

I have no words of patience for the children or answers to their endless questions.

I have no words to put in my characters’ mouths or to make small talk at the school gate.

When I see a tower burning because some people’s lives seem to matter more than others, I am mute.

When a government gets votes despite failing the majority, the only words that come are unrepeatable.

When a PM with a vanishing mandate props up her party with money stolen from nurses and firefighters I am robbed of a voice.

So I am hiding in things that require no words from me. I run. I knit. I listen to the words of others who see the world the way I do, through songs and social media. (Spotify is my new soul mate).

Hopefully I’ll be back to my normal garrulous self one day. In the meantime you can always hang out with me on Facebook where I’m trying to kickstart Knitty Cats again.

After all, what can you do when the world smothers your words but express yourself in any way you can?

Time to knit.

Mini Adventure

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Today I am on a mini adventure.

I have left the family in the capable hands of my husband and travelled to Brighton. The lovely Paula Harward has invited me to the launch of her memoir, My Life in Colour, which I was lucky enough to help edit.

So exciting.

I have to admit, though, that the most exciting/scary part is being away from home alone for the first time in eight years.

It’s fascinating how nervous I was about travelling down by train. Nine years ago I was wandering around Kuala Lumpur on my own (having tagged along on hubbie’s business trip) and yet I left John Lewis in a frazzle last week because two strangers were having a row.

When did I grow so timid?

Actually, travelling has never been without stress, mostly in the planning. I hate to be late, and it terrifies me that I’ll miss my train or get on the wrong one (and I’ve done both).

It is weird being away from home too. I feel sort of guilty and disconnected. I had to go buy headphones and a book, having forgotten both, and picked up a Holly Webb that I haven’t read. (It matches the B&B bedding, so lovely!) In it, a girl talks of being connected to her absent mother by a golden thread. Being away feels like that. Except it’s a white smartphone rather than a golden thread.

IMG_7145These days we’re never far from home. My daughter just texted me a love heart she drew and I could video call if I wanted. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. As a parent it’s comforting – I don’t know how my parents coped when I travelled around New Zealand, with only the occasional text message or sporadic email from a grotty internet cafe to let them know where I was and if I was okay.

IMG_7146At the same time there is a sense of never being free, of never getting lost (I used Google Maps to find the B&B), of always being tethered. Of being reachable, connected. Being able to receive messages from my son that are full of poop emojis!

IMG_7084I took the dog on a different walk last week, and it was exciting to meander without timetable or anyone knowing where I was. It shows you don’t actually have to travel to feel free, or always feel free when you travel.

(As an aside, I was actually glad of my phone. Last time I did that walk I got hopelessly lost, had no internet on my phone, called husband for help which he was unable to provide, and ended up walking through an off-road Landrover course and across two sheep fields, eventually having to heave our 28kg dog over a 5ft barbed wire fence. Got lost again this time and Google Maps rescued me in five mins! Haha)

Whether I’m free or not, connected or not, scared or content, it’s definitely an experience. I can hear seagulls outside my window and the sea is a five minute walk from here. In a couple of hours I get to meet the two people who set me on my path as an editor and see a paper copy of the first book I edited that wasn’t mine.

I’d call that an adventure.

 

Giving Up Guilt For Lent

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Guilt-Free McD

So it’s pancake day already. Not entirely sure how that happened. I’ve just been for a swim and realised it’s only the third time this year and we’re two months through already.

The heady world of work appears to have been short-lived. Having had a completely unproductive week last week checking my email every ten minutes hoping for the next project, this week I’ve had to rediscover self-motivation. Funny how it can be lost in a couple of fortnights of someone else’s schedule.

It helps that I’m solo parenting this week, so having to be extra organised and switched on. Also the children ask me what I’ve done while they’re at school and I can’t keep shrugging and saying ‘slept’.

But it’s hard now I’ve tasted ‘earning money’. It’s hard not to feel guilty sitting down to watch Brave while knitting (albeit knitting things I hope one day to sell). It’s hard not to feel guilty taking the dog for only a short walk (because rain) or sitting in McD after my swim when I could have lunch for free at home.

But equally I’ve just resurfaced from the one week a month when my medication falters, as it comes up again hormones, and I have to fight the black thoughts. A week when tall buildings and deep rivers look inviting.

Today I feel joy in life again, after a week of, ‘Tell me, what’s the point?’ And, despite some horrific stories on my FB feed that have left me sick and sad, I’m aiming for content today.

My kids asked me about Lent as I made pancakes this morning. I explained about giving things up. They immediately suggested that wine and chocolate should be on my list. How well they know me. But I generally turn to those things to fill the hole in my soul when life seems stupid and pointless, or when I feel like a terrible wife, mother, writer, person. Which is often. Being unable to give them up makes me feel weak and pathetic and guilty that I’m not a better human being.

So this Lent I’m giving up guilt. Or I’m going to try anyway. It’s harder to judge whether you’ve slipped, compared with finding a glass of Pinot Grigio in your hand or scoffing down a big fat bar of dairy milk. But Lent’s about the effort right?

Working

Things I’ve learnt from being a part-time working parent (forgive me, you probably all know this already!)

  1. It is possible to live in ten times more filth than you ever believed you could
  2. Laundry breeds like gremlins in a bath
  3. A husband can locate clean socks on top of the tumble dryer if needed
  4. Children cannot locate clean socks anywhere
  5. A husband can make dinner (heat pizza) if required
  6. Dogs still need walking when you’re busy, or they misbehave
  7. Guinea pigs poo a lot. It doesn’t stop when you’re busy
  8. Kids can survive being told, ‘be quiet, go away, Mummy’s working’
  9. Kids mostly ignore being told, ‘be quiet, go away, Mummy’s working’ and will take it as permission to do a full song and dance routine when you’re trying to look up the plural of piranha
  10. Half term passes much less painfully if the kids are frequently told, ‘be quiet, go away, Mummy’s working’
  11. Coffee is not a food group, but it comes a close second
  12. A working coffee machine is essential. Make sure a new stove-top espresso maker is on order from Amazon
  13. If you go to bed exhausted at 8pm you will be woken up at midnight by husband and dog snoring and will lie awake for three hours
  14. 5.30am feels really really early when you were awake half the night
  15. Ironing doesn’t go away if you ignore it
  16. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ give you energy. Not hearing it makes you tired
  17. You can miss vegetables
  18. You can miss exercise
  19. You can miss boredom
  20. Getting paid is really satisfying
  21. Knowing you’ve done a good job feels good
  22. The saying ‘a change is as good as a rest’ is complete rubbish
  23. Eye strain sucks
  24. You can forget how to spell
  25. You can have to look up whether ‘hers’ takes a possessive apostrophe
  26. Working in bed is really cool and surprisingly productive
  27. It’s easy to take an accidental power-nap when you work in bed
  28. It’s nice telling people you work for a living
  29. Editing helps you understand what makes good writing
  30. You will edit everything you read forever