Alright

I never do anything fully, so I never do anything at all.  This phrase popped up in my journal this morning.  It’s a restless day, a day for the stay at home mums (as if any mum is genuinely a ‘stay at home’ mum now – we’re all too busy attending sensory/swimming/playdates).  But it is stay at home today, because of an unexpected and very beautiful snow fall which is now into its fourth hour.  Plus my son (I have a son now, eight months) is asleep in his chair and the house is more or less tidy and yes I’ve changed the TV License so well done me.

 

Stay at home – what sort of image do these phrases conjure up?  Home …comfort, home …safe, home ….sweet home.  Stay ….put, stay …still, stay ….calm.  All lovely and soothing if taken in isolation but far from accurate depictions of my experience.  When I genuinely am a stay at home mum (i.e today), these connotations are kind of soporific; I totally understand how people become sofa-locked when they are ‘stay at home’.. We become children – we work on a task and reward basis and if I ‘stay at home’ too long, the task reward ratio becomes ever slighter.  Day 1: I tidy out the drawers, freeze several meals and sort out life insurance, therefore, I shall meditate for half an hour and make a pot of tea.  Day five: I haven’t watched television for an hour, therefore I shall watch television for an hour.  You see? Who is the bigger baby here? When my son is awake, he is active, engrossed.  Sometimes I lose half a day being ‘stay at home’, dreaming of the things I’ll do when I’m not stay at home in the same way that, out and about, I dream of the things I’ll do when I’m ‘stay at home’ again.  Plus ca change.

This is not self-criticism, but written more in the spirit of acceptance.  The day is busy, but busy in a way that I never thought I would find busy – with dishes and nappies and stacking cups.  Being temporarily sofa-locked, I am going to wildly paraphrase here, but I’m thinking of the section in The Golden notebook when Doris Lessing writes about a change in her heroine’s character, when she moved from appreciating a certain hour as when day turns into night to seeing it as the ‘time to put the vegetables on’.  The day can be meted out thus; but it is no bad thing, it is how things are, for now. Continue reading

Build your beet basket! Build it high!

I’m going through a bit of a change.

No, not hot flushes (I’m always sweaty and flushed, so it will be hard to tell when they begin), nor am I coming out. Things are changing. I am undergoing change. change is upon me, etc, etc.

Like one of my chillis, this has been a bit of a slow burner. In fact, any change that I make is the result of many arduous hours of half-assed research, handwringing and procrastination interspersed with what I like to call the ‘settling process’, which involves many hours of oblivious television watching. Seriously, rocks form faster.

The most important part of any change-making I undergo is listening and subjecting myself to the stereotypes and pronouncements offered up by family, friends and media.

For example, I wore black trousers and a black polo neck consistently throughout my year at drama school. Urged on by my mother (who had never been to drama school), I was pretty much convinced that this was the uniform of all serious students of theatrical arts. I then went on to wear a mood ring during a vaguely hippy phase which culminated in me visiting a a pagan store twice in one week, feeling the relationship was becoming too intense and guilt buying a bookmark before leaving, never to return.

The black theme resurfaced when I moved to London, teamed now with Buffalo trainers and a droll expression, as my friend, who already lived in London and was therefore already always in black with drollface, assured me that this was ‘what Londoners are like’.

Well done, you noticed: my stereotypes are very image led – shallow me! And I think lots of them were formulated during childhood. Most of the time, they’re not bad prejudgements on a group of people or type of living; they mostly aim at being humorous (my family deal almost exclusively in jokes and jokes alone). Some of them are quite strange, specific and could only be deciphered if you belonged to my family (hence the title of this post).

I also feel that my keenness to adopt stereotypes and images when I was younger was because of a desperate need to afiliate (thanks Maslow). I would happily have joined any group that would have had me and if all I had to do to identify was wear a ring, bandana or shell suit, so be it. I was part of the gang – or so I thought. Sometimes the desire to fit in is stronger than the desire to be yourself, after all.

But things have started to change recently. Really change. After years of diddling about, I finally learnt how to practise Transcendental Meditation. My battles with my negative talking mind have been well documented and while my audio fast gave me some respite (as does writing), mindful meditation hasn’t suited me. After reading ‘Catching the Big Fish’ by David Lynch, I was inspired to finally give it a go. I will write more about it at length elsewhere,but suffice to say that I am enjoying the process and wonder whether my shift in perspective has led to other changes.

After one lost Saturday too many, I finally gave up alcohol. This has been miraculous – who knew being clear-headed could be this much fun? Please bear in mind, that I used to get the most God-awful hangovers, like the inside of my head and stomach lining were being peeled back simultaneously. I looked like I had been poisoned. I had been poisoned! Dumb ass that I am, it has taken me this long to realise that maybe alcohol and I didn’t get on too well.

From this point on, the floodgates have opened. I’ve stopped eating all dairy except for goats cheese and most meat as well. Naturally the stereotype dial has just shot past ten and up to eleven, but please, give me a moment of your time. I’m no fan of animals; pigeons are satan’s minions and I’ve no desire to pet a monkey. But recently, when I’ve eaten steak, I’ve heard screams. Not because I’m eating in bad neighbourhoods. I mean mental screams. And I’ve clunked down on far too many of those chewy veins that you get in chicken, the bits that make you gag then spit hurriedly into the nearest receptacle, then spend the rest of the meal wondering what sort of monster is lurking in there. So my reasons are really those of a fourteen year old girl, except I am also aware of the benefits of a plant based diet. If it’s good enough for Prince, it’s good enough for me.

It’s this final change that has led to the most stereotypes. Stereotypes extempore, as I’m about to demonstrate. When I told my mother about my swtich in diet, she responded ‘oh go and build your beet basket, then’.

Beet basket?

I’m not entirely sure what a beet basket is and neither is she, but I love her crystallization of what being a vegetarian teetotaler was. God, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But is eating dead flesh and poisoning oneself?

I can’t guarantee that all these changes will stay (vegan cheese ain’t fooling anyone and tempeh tastes like the devil’s drainscrapings), but they do at least feel like changes from within rather than without. They’re not a mood ring for the soul. And in the meantime I shall continue building my beet baskets with pride.

Make like Patti

I went to New York recently (she says casually like Cindy Crawford would, or a businesslady from the 1990s).  Okay it was April in fact, but it’s been a turgid few months since then, filled with regret and lassitude at no longer being in New York so it has taken me a while to write.  New York is ridiculous; having haunted my imagination since I was of Athena poster buying age, I wasn’t disappointed  by the steam from the drains, the yellow of the cabs or the sheen from the mirrored skyscrapers.  It all felt unreal and familiar.

 

Boozed up and jetlagged, I took notes from every day of my stay, but do you really care what I did?  Does anyone? That’s my business.  From childhood, I vaguely remember ‘slide shows’, where we would formally gather with other families at nieghbour’s houses to have a guided tour, with projected images, of what they did on holiday. You may remember Don Draper singing the praises of the home projector on Mad Men, but he clearly never visited the denizens of Hull, because all I recall of the slide show is the click and the whirr of the machine and Uncle Brian or Aunty Sue telling us the date and time that the picture was taken, where it was taken and normally who had been sick or was about to be sick at the time of execution.To be honest, if I ask you ‘how was your holiday?’  Just say ‘fine’ or ‘shit’ and leave it at that (actually if it was shit, I’ll probably want to know why.  I’m such a schadenfreude freunde). Looking at my travel journal (which I imagined as a full blown epic) I can tell where I got bored of writing about what we did, because it becomes a ‘did list’.  And it’s awful.  If you really want to know what I did, go and read ‘Just Kids’ and pretend that I’m Patti Smith.  That should do it.

 

So now, we’ve established that I’m not going to give you the blow by blow of my trip, what am I going to do?  I’m just going to write about two things that I noticed, that’s what.  

 

New Yorkers have to have the last word, which means, as a Brit, you can get stuck in some serious politeness showdowns.  Here’s an example from a restaurant that we went to.  It’s between a waiter (played by Don Draper), me (played by Patti Smith) and my husband (played by Betty White – why not?)

 

HUSBAND:  I see what you mean about slide shows and i totally agree.

ME:  Great

WAITER:  More water?

ME:  Yes, please.

WAITER:  You’re welcome

ME: That’s great, thanks

WAITER:  Not a problem

ME:  Great job, well done

WAITER:  My pleasure

ME:  Lovely.

WAITER:  Fantastic

ME:  Nice one.

WAITER (running away, shouting over shoulder)  ENJOY YOUR MEAL!

 

As a Brit, I like to patronise waiting staff, to make them feel cared for and listened to, but most importantly I like to seal off the conversation by having the last word.  Every rejoinder takes away from my benevolence!  Really, I should face facts; my platitudes are squat: a damn big tip is worth more than a feigned grin and attentiveness.

 

Unless our visit coincided with a Tresemme conference, the men of New York have hands down collectively the best male hair I have seen anywhere on ths planet!  It is spectacular: lustrous, bouncy and product free.  Curls the colour and density of wet sand, worn long, nestling on shirt collars and flopping over foreheads.  Full white clouds of cauliflower.  A crisp afro.  I had full blown middle aged man hair envy – something in the water, perhaps?

 

Yes: everyone shouts at each other a bit, sandwiches are massive and the skyline is amazing.  But should you visit  New York, I recommend that you check out the pompadours and try to out-polite a waiter.  

 

And pretend your Patti Smith.  But that’s just a general life lesson, isn’t it?

 

Magic Eye Me

Please forgive me; I offer this post not because I think I am inherently more interesting than anyone else.  In fact, once I tell you how i discovered these things about myself, you will probably agree that I am inherently less interesting than you.  

That’s okay.  

I don’t wish to come across as someone who believes that they should be the focus of a column in a Celebrity magazine, called something like “20 questions!” “Get the lowdown!” “The skinny on …”  Good lord no.  I barely rate a mention in my workplace newsletter or all staff email list.

 

That too, is okay.  My brain contains dark workings, too febrile for the general public ……

 

Not really, it’s just that I’ve had a week off and I haven’t done much with it, which has been truly liberating.  I think back to the article in the Onion, headlined, “Area Man disappointed to find that he has failed to sort his life out in week off.” Or something like that, the point is that I work in a job that regularly grants me a week off (no I’m not a spy), so I’m all too aware of the “I will turn my life around” phenomenon that hits and I’m cautious of its effects.  Monday: get a new job. Tuesday: sort out will and revolutionise wardrobe and living space.  Wednesday: Get fit.  Thursday: See all absent friends and family.  Friday: Meditate the shit out of it. Saturday: Sort out finances. Sunday: Repeat Wednesday and Friday.  This is made more challenging if you have any add ons, like seeking a life partner, or the desire to learn to cook or horse ride, or master an instrument for example.

 

Allow me to take on the guise of a salty seadog, propped up at the end of a beer sodden bar, holding a few novices in the palm of my hand and pausing to suck on a cheroot before delivering my credo.  Beware the week off: it fulfills nothing but your well of disappointment and shame!  You will never sort your life out in a week off.  A more believable timetable runs like this: Monday: sleep in.  Feel bad about sleeping in.  Tuesday: Get up with good intentions. Wander into town at midday and feel bereft.  Wednesday: Try to do the things that you set out to do on Monday and Tuesday and realise that it will never happen.  Thursday: Netflix. Friday: Drown out impending doom feeling about work through any available vice.  Saturday: Look at what other people have done on their week off. Sunday: do laundry, cry, drink.

 

Sorry – that’s just how it is.  If you are a novice!  A better option is just to accept that not everything will be achieved and that this isn’t your one-shot at success, anyway.  This week, I’ve been to the gym, watched an entire series of House of Cards, done some writing, done some walking, failed to get Prince tickets.  That’s a good haul, all told.  Well done me.  Through hours of not doing very much I’ve also found out some previously incommunicable things about myself.

 

I am a Magic Eye.  The longer I stare, the weirder the fruit.  For example, through long bouts of not doing much, I now know that:

The default taste in my mouth is parmesan.

I can gauge how stressed I am by how many hair bands I can avail myself of.  The fewer I have, the more stressed I am,

Facially I do have a better side, but I can never remember which it is.

As child, I remember being so bored that I danced full out to the theme tune from Sons and Daughters.  In a room on my own.  Full out.

 

Don’t worry, I’m back at work next week

This is the end, my blue-eyed friend, the end

So I did it. I blogged consecutively for a month.  A major achievement since my output prior to this was as erratic as Scott Carpenter’s (and sometimes as discordant).  Allow me to be a little indulgent here; partly because I am genuinely proud to have turned up every day for 31 days, but also because I have been incarcerated in bed by the snot vines that I reported on yesterday.  I feel we should have something momentous to mark the occasion as I look back on a month of blogging, the highs and lows.  If you’re reading this, maybe drink a glass of prosecco or put on the music from the BBC Sports Personality of the Year to give it a sense of gravitas.  I’m going to do both.

 

There were days when I was genuinely terrified of having nothing to write and they were usually the days when I produced the things that I was happiest with, when I just turned up and let a thought grow on the page, like the post about the Girl from Space.  I think my blog genuinely reflects me, in fact it helps to order the thoughts I harbour about myself privately. I understand myself better through writing.  To my mind, the picture you get is of someone is pretty inconsistent, who wants to be better and who is frequently drawing on memories from childhood and making sense of them as an adult. I don’t think I’ve ver really done this before, and maybe you can’t, not until you are in your mid-thirties and you, if not your life has settled down a bit more.  Still musing on that one….

 

Lest I get too Carrie Bradshaw, I think my most popular posts were recipes and my most sinister was the one where I wrote about spying on people through their front room windows.  The most çreatively bereft’ award goes to my post about Law and Order, probably and any cheeky re-blog that I may have slipped in on nights when there was no time.  

 

What this blogathon has taught more than anything else is that ideas are infinite, and that sometimes it is better to do it and see what happens than procrastinate and die alone.  The blog community is full of positive supportive individuals and I defy anyone not to feel more confident in themselves after turning up every day and writing, writing, writing.

 

Now I am turning into Carrie Bradshaw, or maybe even Doogie Howser, so I shall bid you adieu.  Keep the home fires burning.

Stef

Thought jogging

I’ve been reading a lot of Sara Paretsky novels recently, specifically the V I Warshawski detective series.  In fact, I’ve read nothing but these novels since summer.  I devour them, often reading one a day (decadent, much?)and I’m beginning to experience a sense of loss, because I know there are few left; it is taking me longer and longer to search a new title out.  Because I read them so quickly, I often forget the titles (a Kindle curse) and have to read the precis only to discover that I’ve already shared that particular journey with V I and Mr Contreras and Lotty and the dogs.

Why do I love V I?  She’s a woman in her thirties and forties (she ages in real time) but she does all the things that only, and rarely at that, women in their early twenties do.  She gets her ass kicked, gets right back up, and fights back, and fights dirty.  She is unfettered by the things that women in their thirties are supposed to be concerned about; children, meeting the right man, washing the dishes, looking pretty.  And she loves her mum.  I cannot applaud her enough and she has given me inspiration from the first time I came across her.

 

And she runs every day.  5 miles at the least.   I have tried to be a bit like her ever since.  Not fighting crime and the patriarchy, but running as often as I can, which is an immense tribute from me, as I was not built for P.E.  My mum was an early conspirator in the avoidance of sports.  She was once uncovered in the gym horse, aged 12, smoking a woodbine, while her peers leapt gracelessly overhead.  she never forgot the bollocking that was meted out to her and was therefore always happy to write me a note to get out of cross country or hockey or whatever godforsaken physical jerks we were ordered to undertake.  Many a happy hour was spent holding the netball bibs on the sideline blissfully unaware of the venom boiling in the teacher, Mrs Marshall’s, perfectly toned stomach.

So when I say run, it’s more of a trot and instead of thinking about achieving that golden time or distance, I usually think about anything else.  Or read a V I Warshawski novel.  Another crime detective, Magnum PI once said that he did his best thinking when he was swimming  and for some strange reason this is the only piece of notable advice I hold on to*.  I can never remember anything worthy that Mark Twain, Jane Austen or Noam Chomsky said, but Magnum has lodged with me.

 

Because it is true!  Something about engaging the body in one activity frees up the mind to do other things, even if it is just a little mental spring cleaning, better than any effort to relax or meditate may do.  I am unlikely to solve any major intrigue, but I am likely to remember where the misplaced casserole dish is, or resolve to call a long-lost friend, or plot what to do with that unruly boy in my year 9 group.  Or devise a wonderful plot twist for my own novel.  Or whatever.

 

Like I say, I’m unlikely to break any records any time soon, but I will sort my life out a little bit during a 30 minute bluster on the treadmill.  Mrs Marshall would be proud of me. 

 

*Not entirely true.  The other piece of advice that I recall on cue comes from Annie Lennox in a Smash Hits from the 1989.  Always wear rubber gloves when doing any form of housework.  Thanks, Annie!

Morning thoughts

Today the well is dry, dear reader.  Do you ever feel like technology is a pathetic fallacy?  My trusty bluetooth keyboard has given up the ghost as well, as if mirroring my mood.  So I am typing this out on my tablet, like a hormonal teenager in the  midst of a heated texting argument.   This morning, when I woke up, I had tons of ideas on what to write to you today, but now, 8 hours later, they have vanished in a haze of ….well, they have just vanished.  Every piece of writing advice starts with, or includes the maxim: keep a notebook with you.   You never when the idea may strike! Needless to say, I haven’t followed this guidance.   As I sat down to write, in a panic, these were some of the flustered thoughts that came to mind:

What if chairs ruled the world?

What if chairs hadn’t been invented?

What if we visited a planet where there were aliens who had once visited earth and decided that chairs were the scion of our existence and taken back the idea of chairs to their own planet and decided to worship them?

These spring from the  mind of a woman on the verge of futility, and possibly in need of a good sit down.  You may be relieved to see that, even in my weakened position, I haven’t decided to ‘run’ with any of these.

But o, what were my ideas from this morning?  I won’t dwell on this, but rather offer some tips on how to remember key morning thoughts if you are as disorganised as me.  Remember these do not come from one in the lofty position of ‘functioning writer’, but will hopefully act as an aide memoire to me, too.

Firstly, get a dictaphone. With headsets and bluetooth  and what not, you won’ t look any more insane than the rest of the morning commuters who are talking to themselves.  You could even bring a sense of urgency to your recordings if you pretend to be Agent Cooper!

Secondly, text it to yourself in note form.  These make for remarkable reading later that day as you try and decipher what the hell you were talking about at 6.30 am.  Be careful not to send these to family members.  A message which reads: ‘chairs rule earth?’  Is likely to cause some consternation regarding your mental health to an ageing parent.

Thirdly, whisper your idea to a fellow commuter, one who you know always gets the same train home as you.  A human dictaphone!  They can remind you later and I’m sure, if they are anything like my band of passengers on the red eye, they will be thankful to contribute to the wondrous process of creation that you are weaving.

Naturally, any and all of the above may get you arrested in one way or another, but remember: writing is sacrifice!  Maybe this was why Dostoevsky got banged up!  All of the above make me realise something else about writing.  There is a safety in locking down the words on a page that it isn’t offered by saying them aloud.  I wonder how many of us would feel comfortable writing what we do if blogs took an automatically spoken form?  If they were communicated through speech?  Would we write the same? Would we write at all?

And what if chairs ruled the world?  I think I’m going to buy me a little notepad.