A wee update

Well that was a bit of an unplanned hiatus. Most days I sit down fired up, ready to write. Only to be horribly distracted, pulled in several different directions by one thing and another and as always writing is an easy thing to let slide.

That isn’t to say that I’ve been stagnating. Lots of things bubbling away.

I start an Open University degree course in English Literature and Creative Writing in October and I am beyond excited. I am so far beyond excited that it closely resembles absolute terror.

This is something that has been a secret dream for a very long time. But I’ve allowed self doubt and fear to prevent me even looking too closely into it. Not any more.

I might, heavy emphasis on the might, be considering setting up a business. I’m still at the weighing up the pros and cons stage. I’ve got all the skills, experience and knowledge to set myself up as a Virtual Assistant. Ultimately, it’s what I’ve been doing for the last 3 years.

I’ve even gone and got myself a client. But whether or not I decide to jump in with both feet might need to wait until August. I’ve got the 7 weeks of no school and nursery of the summer holidays to endure between now and then.

Even I’m not daft enough to consider setting up a new business and dealing with both my girls all day every day. So while I’m pondering and plotting I’m doing a bit of the background work. My key learning thus far is that I really do not like Linked In and that I am spectacularly bad at thinking of names!

I’m not powering through the books but I’m reading more non-fiction this year. A couple of highlights have been The book you wish your parents had read by Philippa Perry and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.

Philippa Perry filled me with hope that I haven’t irreparably damaged my children. While Caroline Criado Perez brought me back down to earth with a bump and let me know that regardless of any damage I have done both children are screwed as they’re female!

The eldest daughter is continuing to cause massive concern. Her mental health is so poor and we are really struggling to get help. Another strongly worded letter went off to the GP this week requesting that someone starts to lead the process. We are currently being passed pillar to post with each service claiming that another service is best placed to help. All the while leaving a 13 year old child very unhappy, completely unsupported and in real pain.

All the time that she is unhappy, unsupported and in pain she is creating havoc. We’ve had truancy, self harm and we think that she cracked my husbands rib. All in the space of a week.

Is it any wonder that I’m struggling to find the time to write?

In every end there is a beginning

I lost my job this week. A job that I loved. For an organisation which I was so proud to be involved with, let alone employed by.

I had an inkling that there were questions around the validity of my remote working. I knew that had I been closer to Glasgow I would have found opportunities to extend my remit and help out with more of the face to face, feet on the ground administration of the small charity.

However, I knew, and remain confident, that I was providing a valuable, cost effective and efficient service. Only it would appear that the powers that be disagreed.

I wasn’t consulted or involved in the decision. On Monday it was presented to me all tied up and with a ribbon on the top. Only there wasn’t actually a ribbon, that might have softened the blow.

I’m gutted. Eviscerated with the shame of it. I’ll find another job. I’ll manage to get money coming in. The dent in my confidence. The wobble in my self-belief and newly seeded doubt in my abilities aren’t so easily remedied.

I’m acknowledging the queasy, cold sweat of this uncertainty. I’m not wasting it. If I’m already feeling the fear I might as well capitalise on it. Instead of seeking the familiarity of sticking to secretarial and admin roles I’m venturing out into the unknown and am planning to see if I can get paid for writing.

The terror that this fills me with, the plethora of questions that I need to muddle answers to and the tiny flicker of excitement that this could be amazing are the best sort of distraction.

It’s really lovely to have a cunning plan while I’m curled foetal position, mainlining dairy milk and writing elaborate lists of ways to fast track karmic payback on my less than appreciative ex-employers.

Run for your lives

It will surprise no one to know that I have always leant towards the dramatic. “Run for your lives” was my childhood catch phrase. Oft repeated as I tore around the garden sporting a cape made from an old curtain and fully prepared to assist Wonder Woman in the foiling of dastardly plans.

I am the living embodiment of making a mountain out of a molehill and a drama out of a crisis.

Unashamedly.

I do really well in a crisis. I’m majestic under pressure. It’s the mundanity of daily life which I crumble under.

There is, isn’t there always, a downside. I am prone to panic. My imagination knows no bounds. Helped along by my extensive reading, watching and listening to post apocalyptic, dystopian and the end of the world fiction.

Should my long suffering husband be 10 minutes later home than expected he’s dead. No not in a threatening I’m going to hurt you way. In a horrible accident, police at the door, sobbing widow way.

Now a sensible person would use the tracking app thingy to locate him or phone to check in. I carefully and methodically begin planning his funeral. Agonise over how I am going to tell the girls. Break out into a cold sweat at the thought of navigating the parents in law without an ally. All because he’s stuck behind a tractor on the A96.

I am conscious that this probably isn’t terribly good for my mental health. Let alone my cortisol and adrenaline levels.

I have been attempting lots of mindfulness and distracting myself with gratitude lists and the like. It has had absolutely no impact.

About a fortnight ago I was having a bit of a wobble. In an effort to attempt to settle to sleep I put on radio 4, only to hear a news report about the escalating conflict between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. Immediately, I go straight to – do they have nuclear weapons? Shit I think they both do. I’m now navigating my way through the post-nuclear landscape to Tesco to get a shopping trolly and head out like in Cormac McCarthy’s Road.

Sleep was not going to come. I switched on the light and wrote. A big list of worries. It was a much easier list than those gratitude ones I had been agonising over.

Climate change.

Brexit.

School places.

The employment prospects of my eldest daughter – she’s 13 at the moment so I have a while to worry about this one!

Will we ever chose wallpaper for the bathroom.

India and Pakistan. Syria. Sudan. Yemen. All the other places where my limited geographical knowledge lets me down.

All featured on the list. The very act of writing them down released me of the need to continue to bounce them around my head. I slept better than I had in ages.

My new bedtime routine has me skipping to bed. Where I perch, pencil poised ready to list all the things that want to keep me up at night. I’m having such fun. As was my husband, laughing at me.

Although he shut up pretty sharpish when I threatened to put him in the blue suit when the grey suit looks much better open casket. It would appear that actually telling people you have spent large chunks of time planning out their funeral doesn’t lead to them sleeping quite so soundly.

I know how this ends

My TBR (to be read) pile is less of a tidy stack of books and more the contents of over half the bookcases in my house, a huge wordery wishlist and at least 75% of my local library. I will go to my death bed clutching a book and bargaining with the Grim Reaper for just one more wee chapter.

I absolutely have favourites. Books that I adore and attempt to foist on anyone who stands still long enough for me to push them into their hands. However, I very seldom revisit. Occasionally the notion will take me, only to be quickly overridden with the realisation that I already know how this ends.

My list of rereads is tiny: Good Omens, The Ocean at the end of the Lane and World War Z are the only ones which spring to mind.

The obvious exceptions to this rule are kids books. I reread some of my favourites to my eldest and now I’m counting down the bedtimes till I get to read them all again with my youngest.

We’re currently reading Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. She adores the films and the book is one which my husband read to my eldest so I’ve only read it once, about 20 years ago.

Wow, it’s good.

With all the brilliance of Alan Rickman, Dame Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, etc. on screen it is easy to forget just how magnificent a story this is. I’d forgotten far more than I remembered and I am loving rediscovering all these nuggets of JK Rowling’s genius.

All the foreboding, the clues that make sense only now I know how it all ends and the sheer scale of imagination. I’m in awe of the worlds that a good writer can bring to life. The threads that weave together to create this magnificent embroidery.

The first reading of a book for me is all about the story. What happens next, a race to the finish. What I’m discovering with this reread is that knowing what happens next means I’m able to pay attention to the mastery of the story telling. Freeing me up to look for clues, new discoveries and hidden gem. I’m loving it.

Even the exquisite delayed gratification of restricting myself to one chapter a night. I’m savouring this.

It’s almost making me consider rereading some of my favourites. I just need to work through the wee pile beside my bed first and maybe a page of that wordery wishlist. Just don’t let me anywhere near the library…

Feeling the overwhelm: Could pleasure seeking respark your joy?

I work from home, only have two children and am fine with our house being clean-ish but chaotic. I should have hours to spend as I please. Time to spend on activities to revitalise, refresh and rejuvenate me.

Except I didn’t. I spent very little time doing anything which brought just me any joy. All my focus was on other people. All my joy was derived from the happiness of others.

I know that I’m not alone in this. My friends, sisters and the equally exasperated women I encounter are all saying the same thing “we never get any time for ourselves”.

But we do. An Oxford University study has shown that we have lost some leisure time since the 1970’s. But we’ve only lost 2.46 hours a week. Leaving us with 113 glorious hours of free time. So why are 81% of women reporting that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope?

An operation on my ankle, and a period bed bound, gave me an insight as to why this might be. With instructions from the doctor to rest, I was relieved of all household and childcare duties. I worked from bed but the rest of my time was my own. I was miserable.

I had no idea what to do to spark joy. I watched hours of Netflix, convincing myself that an opportunity to watch all of the box sets was a great thing. It wasn’t.

Being stuck in bed wasn’t the problem. I was so disconnected from what brought me pleasure. I had no idea how to spend my time when all I had to do was please myself.

I brainstormed all the things that I could do to make me happy and started seeking joy.

I wrote letters to friends and family, delayed gratification but the flurry of post in return was joyous. I read, 9 books in 3 weeks. I wrote lists, journal entries and even a couple of short stories. I phoned people, not text, actual conversations. In short, I did things that I claim I don’t have time for when I’m on my feet.

It was heavenly.

Of course, I had to get back out of bed. I wasn’t dreading it. An idea was starting to form. It isn’t about the time devoted to pleasure it’s about maximising the pleasure in whatever time you have.

It’s easy to prioritise the needs of everyone else and much harder to take control and say “I need”. So start small.

I set my alarm 5 minutes earlier. This way I have time to disguise the dark circles under my eyes and apply an eyeliner flick and some mascara. It brings me great pleasure to feel pulled together and not see a wisened old crone every time I pass a reflective surface.

I’ve stopped talking the dog on our ordinary, boring route and now factor in an extra 30 minutes so that I can get to the woods or beach where walking him is an absolute pleasure.

I bought my husband fancy headphones. It was a completely selfish gift to give me peace while he watches tv of an evening. I spend those blissfully quiet, child free hours reading.

I grab myself a take away coffee at the supermarket. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable the weekly shop is when I’m adequately caffeinated.

I haven’t managed to add a 25th hour to the day. But these wee nuggets of genuine, completely selfish, joy make my days. And as with anything the more you go looking for joy the more you find.

Daydream believer

This year has started in a bit of a frenzy. I may have done the over committing thing and I’m spending quite a lot of time dashing between plates on sticks trying to keep them all spinning.

I’m reassuring myself that I’m not surrounded by broken crockery. Things are actually getting done. I am achieving more than I thought I could. There are casualties, of course there are, I haven’t read a book in over a fortnight, unheard of, and season 2 of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel remains unwatched and neglected.

Despite the no books I am reading, probably more than usual. One of my commitments is the Superlatively Rude Writing Course and you can’t write for magazines without reading magazines. Homework was never such a pleasure at school.

That said homework at school didn’t come with such crushing self doubt and stomach churning anxiety. There might be a bit more too it than luxuriating with a glossy mag and a cup of coffee. It is way beyond my comfort zone and I am having to remind myself constantly of Tara Mohr’s words on fear.

So I’m making the time. Prioritising my dreams and neglecting my fears. It feels good.

It’s the most ‘wonderful’ time of the year

Christmas is my absolute favourite. A small goth part of me wants to be all cool and claim that Halloween is my jam. But pretty coloured fairy lights, Bing Crosby, dedicated stationery and compulsory letter writing, a whole plethora of mythological figures, the sanctioned gluttony of the most delicious and decadent foods and the requirement to see and celebrate with all my friends and family.

Given free reign I would deck the halls with boughs of holly, have at least one Christmas tree in every single one of our rooms, of course there’s room for a wee tree in the bathroom and singlehandedly drain the national grid with the electricity requirements of bazillions of fairy lights.

One of the aspects of parenting I was most excited about was involving smalls in festivising. If toddler + glitter = carnage then bring it on. All the best dressed houses have glitter in the cracks between their floorboards. It’s fairy dust.

Christmas crafts, baking, trips to see the big man, carol singing, pantomime, sneaking into bedrooms to pop stockings at the end of their beads and basking in the glow of their joy as they rip into Christmas morning.

Only that isn’t actually anything like our festivities. Change and deviation from the routine must be minimised. Decorations must be contained to the living room and even then much lower key than I would like. Weeks of anticipation, build up and reminders that ALL IS NOT NORMAL will not be tolerated.

I understand. Life is unpredictable, confusing and hard to understand on the most boring and dull of days. Christmas is system overload for my eldest. It always has been.

As a tiny she was petrified of Santa. Not just wary but proper terror. The blood curdling screams she let out when Santa approached her at the supermarket silenced Sainsbury’s the Saturday before Christmas. I remain convinced people thought that at the very least she had lost a limb. She has never allowed us to put a stocking in her room. The thought of Santa coming into her room while she was sleeping took sleep completely off the table.

We now spread our Christmas over several days. Partially to minimise the impact. Partially so that we have plenty of time to deal with the inevitable meltdowns, dramas and crises.

This year we’ll do the meal, just the four of us, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. There will be presents, probably a walk on the beach and a tonne of chocolate consumption on Christmas Day. Boxing Day will be for R&R&R&R – Rest, Relaxation, Recuperation and Repair. Then on the 27th we’ll head down to my parents, hoping that at least one of my sisters and her brood will have already gone home because she can’t cope will all the family all at once.

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting because this is the final hurdle. We’ve been deep in firefighting mode since the 2nd of December. School starts to change. There is talk of dances – nope not a chance, trips to the pantomime with the drama department – cue weeks of trauma about who she will sit next to on the bus, PE morphs into Scottish country dance classes – traumatic to most teenagers let alone the socially impaired and this is before people stop wearing what she expects them to – her fury at a teacher having the audacity to wear a Christmas jumper and pudding earrings could probably have helped me power a good few of those bazillion fairy lights.

Balancing her needs for home to be a sanctuary with my desire to mummify the house in tinsel is hard enough. Throw an excited, Santa daft 4 year old into the mix and things get, well interesting just isn’t quite right, I need a metaphor around nuclear fusion.

I’m running myself ragged trying to meet the needs of two girls so diametrically opposed that it should be funny. Only we can’t laugh. The eldest is horribly paranoid and will flip out believing that we are laughing at her. The little one is so excited that if we start laughing you know she is going to join in. I’m confident that she is going to prove that the scene in Mary Poppins where Dick Van Dyke has tea on the ceiling is possible. There is enough DIY to do around here without having to repaint the ceilings after scraping over excited children off them.

So while it will always be the most wonderful time of the year, please excuse me if I don’t look full of the joys of the season, I’m spent. But I absolutely mean it when I say that I hope you have a magically marvellous Christmas and that 2019 is happy and healthy.