Mini Adventure

IMG_7142

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

img_6911

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

 

Cramp

img_6582

Healthy work habits

If I continue the analogy that I used in a previous post, of this year being about swimming away from Mummy towards Amanda, I think it’s fair to say that I now have cramp.

I’ve always been a bit all-or-nothing. My therapist said it was the cause of my poor mental health, that I see everything and live everything in black and white.

January was no different.

As well as working on the project I managed to secure through Findaproofreader, and planning and executing my daughter’s 8th birthday party (you know, making a glitter ball pinata and glitter jelly and glitter ball cakes and a playlist and all that jazz), I’ve also been buying and selling furniture to get our house where we want it.

pouffe

Knitted pouffe

Oh and knitting my daughter’s pouffe for her birthday. And trying to stay on top of all the domestic stuff like cooking and ironing (yawn). So, in the end, there’s been no time for actual swimming.

It turns out proofreading someone else’s novel takes a hundred times more energy and concentration than editing your own. To begin with, I only managed a couple of hours a day before my head was ready to explode. Thankfully it’s a good story, and so I wanted to know what happened next. I sent the finished work off today, on time and on budget. Hurrah.

But what’s really giving me cramp? The juggling.

I have always known how very lucky I am not to be a working parent. But there is one thing knowing you’re lucky, and another living the other life for a while. Especially at a time the school decided to double the kids’ homework (grrr to homework full stop, but especially for six and eight year olds), never mind Beavers and Brownies and karate and clubs and parties and play-dates. Oh my goodness, I don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Easter (or whatever that lovely phrase is).

img_6585

Amazing space

But it’s also great. I love having work to do. I am living the saying, ‘if you want something doing ask a busy person,’ as I’m getting much more done in a day than I used to. And I’m managing to work for more than a couple of hours a day, as my brain adjusts. New glasses help! (Turns out my eyes are getting better – there had to be some compensation to getting older.)
The best bit is spending my wages on a new wardrobe for my daughter (although that caused its own drama), not just to make her happy, but to sort out her room to make me happy.

Of course I’ve probably spent my wages about eight times over, but that’s not the point! The point is I have wages to spend. And let’s hope there is more to come, because I’m so jealous of my daughter’s fabulous wardrobe, I want to do our room next!

But in the meantime, I’m actually glad it’s half term in a week. I could use the rest, and perhaps, finally, get a chance to go for a swim.

Envying the Extraordinary

Raven.jpgI have just finished The Raven King, the last in The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater.

Oh. My. Lord.

Mind. Blown.

I loved the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, when I read it way back when (three years ago, apparently), and was bereft at how it just ended dead (well, bloomin furious is probably closer).

Then I read Dream Thieves and darn me if it didn’t happen again, although the beautiful organic prose made it almost okay. So, when Blue Lily, Lily Blue came out, I was still a little resentful, and not quite ready to re-read the first two and catch up.

I’m glad I waited because it meant I could consume all four books inside a month.

I’m trying to describe how I feel, without giving anything away: it’s a series that has to be appreciated without anything resembling a spoiler. The reveal, the experiencing alongside the characters, is the heart and soul of it.

To borrow a shadow of Maggie Stiefvater’s masterful imagery, I feel like I have hiked up an impossible mountain, thinking the view couldn’t get any better, certain I’ll be disappointed. And then the top is a panoramic view of a magical world. And then – and then – there’s a crystal ice-clear lake, and I jump in, and I’m shocked and shaking and tingling and alive all at once.

That.

I want to hold the book, the characters, the story, the journey, hold it to my face, like I do the guinea pigs, and sink into the warmth and comfort and escapism of it.

And yet.

I also want to write like that. And I know I can’t. And it’s okay.

Sort of.

It’s like at school, when I didn’t do A Level Art, because I was never going to get an A, and I wanted to go to Cambridge University (or other people thought I should want to, I can’t really remember) and because the other kids were just so amazing at all sorts of artistry I couldn’t even dream of, and I was never going to produce something like that out of my mundane and stubborn imagination.

So I did History and Maths and English Literature, and quietly slowly smothered my creativity and turned myself into an academic and then a number-cruncher.

*Shudder*

I can’t let my awe-ful (in the full-of-awe sense) admiration, hunger and desire for these books, this writing, this powerful imagery and incredible world-building, I can’t let it stop me being the writer I am. Just because I can’t get an A, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue to create.

But oh my. To write like that. To be able to give ten years to a set of books – ten years! To persist and dream and create and build and then – let go! How hard must it have been to finish? Just finishing reading them was hard enough. The only thing I admire more than the talent and vision is the sheer dedication and determination. I get bored writing a book after ten weeks.

Anyway, I’m still rather swept up in the Raven Cycle , the hyperbolic, dreamy, electrically charged world. So, sorry for the slightly dreamy hyperbolic post.

I’m not quite ready to come back to earth.

Normal service will resume when I tear myself away from the mountain top. Just a little bit longer.

A New Page

img_5917

My new obsession!

2016. We’ll that happened.

Whether you look externally or internally, whether it was euphoric Andy Murray world number one male tennis star, or terrifying politics both sides of the pond, or tragic loss of too much talent (and about half my teen idols) it was a year to remember. And forget.

I don’t do New Year generally. Since the children started school, my fresh start and broken resolutions begin in September.

But, like many, I have dragged myself over the finish line of 2016 so very ready for a new beginning.

Not resolutions, well not like lose weight and quit wine (as I read somewhere on Facebook, no one likes a skinny sober b!tch anyway). More like kick up the bum thoughts.

I got to the end of 2016 without really knowing what happened. Personal achievements were few and hard to recall. I only wrote one book and I feel ambivalent about that one. I did help edit a memoir, and found it rewarding. And we did loads to our house. But still.

I’m a mess of anxiety and contradiction. My kids called me lazy yesterday because I keep hiding in the bedroom, often asleep for hours at a time. I did point out that their 5.30am starts might have something to do with it (although that just makes every parent I know smugly point out that their children have been trained not to wake them until at least 7am. I must have missed that section of the parenting course. Oh, wait…)

But actually I’m hiding from myself. The mess of guilt and duty and boredom of being a work/stay at home mum. I loved helping another author bring their book into the world, but working on someone else’s deadline was ‘real’ work. The kids did childcare (and hated it). The house suffered. People ran out of clean/ironed clothes. I realised however much being a SAHM sucks sometimes it’s easier than self-employed mum.

But.

I was a person, I was appreciated. I was paid.

So, 2017, my plan is for structure. Goals, achievements. The children can adapt to a working-a-bit-more-often mum, just as they adapted to karate mum. This time next year I will have written novels, plural. Perhaps edited a few for others. Maybe even sell some craft on Etsy. Exercise. Read more. Hide less.

Yesterday I took the children swimming and was able to swim away from them (while watching over my shoulder) properly for the first time. They didn’t drown. They did fine.

2017 I’m going to swim away from Mummy towards Amanda. But I’ll still be watching them. Because Mum is a job for life. Just maybe not my only one.

Happy New Year.

Cadge me a Curse Word

img_5623Recently my use of ‘Mummy Words’ (mostly ending in uck) has increased exponentially. I seem to be in a permanent grump, with the children, the dog, the weather, the traffic. And it expresses itself in short sharp swear words.

I did wonder if it’s because of some of the parenting blogs I follow on Facebook, that make swearing not just okay but a fundamental part of surviving parenthood. My favourite at the moment is Peter and Jane. If you haven’t come across it, and you have children living at home (or indeed a husband addicted to gadgets or a judgy dog) and you don’t mind more than a few words ending in *uck and *wat, then I highly recommend it. It’s easily the highlight of my day, although possibly it contributes to my rage by vicarious experience and empathy.

But, thinking about it more recently, I have realised what swearing is to me at the moment. It’s a packet of cigarettes.

I started smoking when I was fourteen and realised it was the only way to get a break when working in catering. I did a summer stint in a posh burger bar at Goodwood Races, and soon joined the girls having a crafty fag in the ladies toilets.

I rarely smoked excessively. Only when I absolutely hated my first proper job, shortly before having a breakdown and quitting everything, did I reach anything like a twenty-a-day habit. Then it was because two other girls I worked with were having a hard time too, and the ‘Fancy one?’ email used to come from one of us to the other two at least every half an hour.

I quit smoking when I went travelling in New Zealand and realised I couldn’t possibly afford it. Until I fell for the manager of a hostel I was staying in, and learned how to roll my own so I could cadge a light on the hostel steps – the only way I’ve ever known how to strike up a conversation with a stranger. It worked too, we lived together for a while.

Of course I quit smoking for good over eight years ago, when I discovered I was pregnant. I can honestly say I haven’t had a single one since. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve inhaled deeply a few times when passing someone with a roll-up or a Marlboro Light.

I am a hypocrite too, because I hate smoking now with the zeal of the quitter. I don’t even like people vaping near my children, and I’m amazed anyone still does it.

Except…

At times like this, when I’m super-stressed, and the world feels out of control, and people are asking things of me left and right, and the children are being vile, and the weather is awful, and I just want it All. To. Stop. I miss it.

I miss drawing deeply in anger on a burning stick, I miss the camaraderie of the cadged fag. I miss the control. The doing something. The reason to be still for five minutes to do nothing but breathe, even if it is breathing toxic life-ending chemicals.

I realise that my current addiction to coffee, my previous need for a glass of wine every night, my constant search for chocolate or cakes or something to feed the soul hole, are all part of the same thing. Trying to fill the void. Trying to find control in chaos.

And my latest addiction? (Apart from wine and coffee and chocolate and sleep). Swearing. Being able to use forbidden words. Relishing the bite of them. Giving myself permission to tell the family to FO to their face, however wrong it is, just to take back the wheel of my life and who I am as a person.

I love my family. I love my life. I remember being shocked when my doctor asked me in a judgemental way if I didn’t like my children and regretted having them, when I explained my antidepressant dose didn’t seem to be enough to survive the summer holidays. And I couldn’t put into words the dichotomy of love and hate, of giving everything for them but yearning for something for me, the finding of self in being a mother but the massive loss of the self I used to be. The loving being needed but the suffocating prison of it. The days when I can’t breathe because of the pressure of needing to be a person I’m intrinsically not inside: calm, patient, loving, tactile, organised, nurturing.

And on those days I go back to my life working in a bar, or travelling, or hanging out with educated women who say fuck, and I swear.

And I love it.

Can I cadge a swear word?