Monthly Archives: April 2013

Z is for Zumba

Z is a hard letter, it’s been a hard day, I was stuck. So instead of ranting I’m posting a flash fiction piece:

I’m walking to meet you, leaving a trail of lies behind me like confetti at a wedding. A doomed wedding. One that stinks of convenience and the fear of being alone. I’m risking everything yet you treat me like I’m nothing. And still I come. My self esteem so low that I’ll accept any scraps of attention from you. For a very short while I’ll feel like I matter. But we both know that I don’t.

He thinks I’m at Zumba. No, that’s not right. I think he knows that I haven’t set foot in a Zumba class for months but he’s like me, preferring to live in a fantasy world, it’s safer there, easier.

Later, I’ll go back home and we’ll lie to each other and avoid each other’s eyes. The ghost of you will be all around us but for a while we’ll pretend that we can carry on like this.

But for now, I’m all yours. And neither one of us has any idea how lucky you are.

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Y is for Yes

I’ve said yes to a lot of things in my time and I have to say that I don’t regret many of them, even the things I probably should have said a big fat no to. I don’t think I’m very good at saying no.

It is exactly 29 days since I said yes to the A to Z challenge. I agreed at the very last minute, just before the deadline for entering. 29 days ago I didn’t even have a blog, never mind 30 blog posts. My friend, Barbara, helped me put something together as I am useless at anything to do with computers. I just sit, flapping my hands around in the general vicinity of the keyboard and hope something useful happens by chance.

I came up with a name, she did all the rest. I should point out that Barbara lives in Spain, so this was all done via Facebook messages which started out calm and fun with her gently encouraging me, but ended up stressed and sweary with her typing madly at me ‘Just shut up about widgets and f-ing blog!’ I could sense her wanting to slap me, I wanted to slap myself. I didn’t have a topic, I didn’t have a theme, my eyes hurt and I had no idea what I was doing.

29 days later I still have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve thought about blogging on and off for a few years but never actually got round to it. There’s a bit of a pattern. I seem to be better off doing things that I don’t actually have time to think through properly. If I think about something, and over-analyse it, it’ll never get done. When I have to submit a piece of writing, I nearly always end up doing it just before the deadline, I’m not really a planner. I don’t have mind maps and character descriptions, I just do it and hope it’ll all turn out fine in the end. Thinking about it, this is sort of how I live. But it’s worked so far.

I had a vague idea of what I was going to write about for a few of the letters. The rest were thought up on the day. Sometimes I had to ask my husband to suggest a title, sometimes I looked through a dictionary, often, I tried to fit a letter around a topic I wanted to rant about. And yes, quite a few of them were written with someone in particular in mind. (Some of them I’ve ranted at in real life, which sort of makes it ok, right?) Not that it matters, I’m pretty confident that the people I was thinking of are never going to read my blog, they’re far too busy retweeting their compliments and cack-handedly ‘approaching’ unsuspecting agents. Also, even if they do read this and recognise themselves, they’re not going to admit it.

And so I blogged. It’s very therapeutic. I’ve been hanging around social media for a long time, there are a lot of rants in there. This blog is sort of performing a public service; I blog and then go out into the world unburdened and less likely to slap someone.

So my message is, try saying yes more often, even if it scares you and you think you’ll mess it up. There are downsides to being unable to say no of course. I’ve ended up taking the minutes for meetings I don’t understand. I have a funny duster thing in the cupboard under the sink because the man who came to the door ‘looked nice’. Last week, I chatted on the phone to a woman for 20 minutes about a new digital tv service. It made me late for a meeting. I don’t own a television.

But I have made new friends through this and learnt a lot about how I like to write and have hopefully got into a routine of setting some time aside each evening to write something, which, at the moment, when I’m working every day and have children and stuff going on, is a miracle.

Also, if anyone can come up with a topic for Z, I’d be really grateful…

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X is for …X

X is for Ex. Or cross. As in making someone cross, or crossing someone. Either way, I have some questions for you.

Have you ever been in a relationship with a writer?

Have you ever been friends with a writer?

Have you ever worked with a writer?

Have you ever been at a party with a writer?

Have you ever walked down a street at the same time as a writer?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then the chances are you are in a book somewhere, albeit nicely disguised. As in, you’ll have different coloured hair and a slight name change, you may even have a smaller/bigger nose/ bottom (delete as applicable), but you’ll be in there somewhere.

You can relax though, I’m sure they wrote about you in a good way. I’m sure that once you work out which one you are, you’ll be proud to show your grandchildren and work colleagues. Unless of course you upset them in some way, in which case you’re doomed.

Writers are often quite introverted, they’re not really your typical confrontational shouty kind of person. You might think that when you dumped them/said something slightly mean/annoyed them a bit, that their quiet unassuming manner would result in a bit of moodiness, some sighing and a few passive-aggressive ‘It’s FINE…’ comments.

Think again. They are quiet because they’re wondering whether to make you the murderer or the victim. They’re imagining you in a sex scene where you can’t get it up. You are that mean girl in the story, the middle aged man with an arrogance problem. This is what they do. They immortalise you forever in the worst way possible. It’s cheaper than therapy, more socially acceptable than punching you in the face and it feels great.

But please don’t let this worry you, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just remember this. You are never more than five nasty comments away from ending up as ‘the fat naked man/woman who died in the bath, holding a vacuum attachment/cucumber’. You’re very welcome.

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W is for Words

Words are great. I use them all the time. I’m using them now, look…

I work with words and find them fascinating, they have so much power. Some are harmless, others can really hurt. Some have lots of different meanings, others only one. Some even look nice, they are aesthetically pleasing, others are really nice to say, like cornucopia, plethora or lagoon. Love is a nice word, hate is a bit spiky.

I’m really fascinated by swear words. Swear words serve a purpose, they convey certain emotions and are a useful outlet for anger or frustration. Sometimes, only a swear word will do. I find it really interesting how there are grades of swearing, some are more socially acceptable than others. Characters in Harry Potter books say ‘bloody’ a lot. I can write ‘bloody’ safe in the knowledge that I wont offend anyone, it doesn’t need an asterisk, it’s almost part of ‘normal’ language now. Not like ‘f*ck’. Bloody, like shit, looks down on f*ck. It sneers at it, they are in different leagues. They only ever get together when The C Word appears so that they can both look down on that.

The C word doesn’t even get an asterisk, it is far too dangerous for that. It is The Word That Shall Not Be Spoken. Give it an asterisk and who knows what ideas it will get, or what harm it will do us. Some people say that it even sounds aggressive but I think that depends on how it’s said. It is commonly seen now as a patriarchal insult but the ancient Egyptians used it as normal term for a woman and if you say it softer, it doesn’t sound so bad. Go on, try it now. I actually find it a lot nicer than some other, more acceptable words that are used to describe parts of my body. Vagina’s not a particularly attractive word, I think the original meaning is a sheath made of wood. Nice.

These words only have this power if we let them. It seems slightly ridiculous that we let them rule us in this way, they are just words. But that’s going to take a long time. I haven’t even written the C-word in full in this post as I know that some people will stop reading straight away. They’ll run away, shocked and screaming, their eyes burning. Maybe. But actually  it’s mainly thatI don’t want to upset people. And there’s a teeny tiny chance that my dad might read this one day.

It is a great example though of the power of words. We use them without thinking about why we do and I, for one, am grateful, even though I find some of them trickier to write than others. I nearly always type frineds, instead of friends, and brian instead of brain. (which, as you can imagine, went down amazingly well in my Psychology essays) and even though I am 40, I still can’t write the word ‘necessary’ without reciting in my head ‘never eat cakes eat sausage sandwiches and remain young’ because that’s how my junior school teacher taught me to spell it. It’s not a bad motto for life though, actually.

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V is for Verse

I love poetry. Those words always sounds like you’re trying too hard. But I do really like it. Poetry has a rhyme and meter that can carry you away in a way that story can’t. I still remember poems that I haven’t read for twenty years, I remember how they affected me. There’s one by John Clare, called I Am, that I found recently written on the inside cover of one of my diaries from when I was a teenager. It starts like this:

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

That kind of thing is pure catnip to a moody teenage girl from Grimsby, sitting in her bedroom in her Doc Martens. It appealed to my ‘nobody understands me’ psyche in a way that Morrissey never could. It was like he had written it for me, which was a coincidence as Robert Frost, who I studied for A-level and who, for the most part, bored me rigid, had also managed to write a poem just for me. ‘The Road Not Taken’ is a poem about indecision. How on earth he’d managed to know that seventy years later I’d be in a dilemma about which college to go to, I don’t know.

For all that I like poetry, I can’t for the life of me write it, which sort of makes me hate it a bit too, and I admire anybody who can. Each time I try it turns into some kind of dirty limerick, the ‘There was a young lady called Annie’ kind of thing, which is quite entertaining at parties but is frowned upon in polite poetry circles. I have problems with whether it should rhyme or not. I also don’t like how poetry isolates people. There’s a snobbery surrounding it and a feeling that you have to ‘get’ it. Poetry appreciation is sometimes the Emperors New Clothes of writing and I feel like I’m the little boy jumping up and down shouting, ‘But I don’t get it, it doesn’t rhyme!’

But I know what I like and that’s all that matters. From Pam Ayres to Brian Patten, Benjamin Zephaniah to E.E Cummings (yes, I know it’s supposed to be lower case but the pedant in me can’t physically type it like that, I tried and came back and changed it) I’ll happily read anything, as long as it sounds good.

I think you’ll find though, that for all her Poet Laureate-ness, Carol Ann Duffy would be quaking in her boots if she knew about the sheer poetic genius that led me to rhyme ‘Nottingham’ with ‘Front Bottingham’.

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U is for Unique

We are all unique, yes? We are all special and different. Social media is full of special and different people. There are so many outsiders out there that they have now become the insiders. Weird is the new normal.

Often the people who make a big deal about being odd are the most normal of them all. Actual proper weird people don’t talk about how weird they are, they just are without either realising or caring. It’s like those people who claim to be mad or crazy. ‘I’m mad, me,’ they’ll say proudly ‘I just do mad stuff all the time’. Really?

People think they are special and social media enforces this. They’ll write a tweet or a blog post or a status update and people comment and react. Every little thought is put out there, for everyone to see, there are no fleeting thoughts on the internet, it’s saved forever. Anyone can go on a reality tv show and become a celebrity, social media isn’t any different. For a few minutes after we tweet/Fb/blog we are mini-celebrities. We just need to remember that there are thousands of other mini celebrities, each as insignificant as each other. Just because you can put it out there to thousands of people doesn’t mean you should.

We are all odd and it is this which makes us all the same. Maybe it’s a need to stand out in some way, to even feel superior. To convince ourselves that there is a point to all this, that we do matter. But however weird you might feel, however much of an insider, there is always someone else like you. Someone else who feels just as weird and alone, as they sit there, reading the back of shampoo bottles and making up imaginary Oscar speeches in their head

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T is for Too Much Imagination

Imagination is great. It’s my best friend, my escape route. It’s saved me on more than one occasion; from boring car journeys and endless lectures, to school plays and insomnia. The list can go on and on. Every song on my mp3 player is a mini film, starring me; which is good when you’re sat on a plane; not so good when you arrive at work and can’t remember how you got there or where you parked the car.

Imagination gets a bad press, it is dismissed as ‘daydreaming’ and ‘not concentrating’. At school a teacher once told me that I had too much imagination, it was said in a way that made it clear that this is not a good thing. I’m not sure how you measure imagination though. Is it done with little probes in your ears that make a sound like a Geiger counter?

Imagination is important, it helps us to develop empathy and theory of mind. If we can’t imagine how we might feel in someone else’s position, how are we to help and understand them? We should be encouraging it, in whatever form it takes. As someone who’s worked with children a lot I’ve often been surprised at how much they’ve struggled with the idea of just writing a story, but then if I compare my childhood with that of a child today, there’s a huge difference. I had to make games up, there was no alternative, but children today have more television programmes and computer games to do the imagining for them.

They don’t have to imagine a certain scenario, it’s all there, they just have to point a controller and click. They also don’t get as much freedom to play outside as people my age used to. As children we used to go off for the day, just playing in a field near my house, we’d make up games between us. There was an old, empty house that we used to walk past on the way home from school, we’d climb through the bushes surrounding it and dare each other to go inside. We made up stories about who had lived there and each and every one of us swore that we saw the ghost of an old man in there, who was probably just a tramp sleeping rough. Or a shadow. It didn’t really matter. Imagination is contagious and once it’s got you there’s no escape.

So I’ve ended up perfectly happy with my diagnosis of too much imagination. It might mean that I often scare myself just walking down the corridor to the bathroom in the middle of the night (which is a minefield. If the ‘thing’ under the bed hasn’t got you then the burglar hiding on the stairs will). But it also helps me to work out how other people tick. I might even mention that in my next imaginary Oscar acceptance speech.

 

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