saturday evening

I slept until 12:30pm in the afternoon. I didn’t get dressed until 3:30pm. It’s now 7pm. I’m sat now at the kitchen table, smelling banana bread baking and seeing the school outside my window gleam gold in the dying sun. Scott is sat opposite me, resting his chin on his hand –

and I got distracted and his laptop needs to charge so now he’s sat further away from me on the sofa under the window, lit by the screen he frowns at. The guy next door or in the flat below aggressively strums his guitar, like he’s practising for his Mumford and Sons concert next week.

This is the setting for tonight’s anxiety. I slept through the morning, woke up with no energy to stay awake, kept falling back asleep. I flitted between listening to Flight of the Conchords to watching a film I didn’t enjoy to debating re-downloading social media apps to my phone. I accomplished very little indeed. So now banana bread is baking in the oven.

This is a period of big life change. Yes, again. I was writing very similar things this time last year. I’m finding a place to live, reducing my hours at the full time job I’d become comfortable in and, probably most excitingly, starting a masters degree in a subject I really care about. These are challenges that I need to solve which this time last year caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety. And I’m definitely not going to sit and here and type out how much better I am at handling change than last year or how much my life has improved – that would be false and also a little bit patronising.

Life doesn’t seem to work like that. It’s not a line drawn endlessly upwards, only ever improving. It’s far more cyclical. Back in May and June, I was feeling noticeably settled. A few months later and everything’s up in the air. The good thing is, however, that this time around, I kind of know that things will be okay. Things will actually sort themselves out and that’s not just a phrase my mum uses to calm me down. This period is daunting but it will be fine and it will end and stability will come again.

The sun’s disappeared, leaving behind a pale blue sky. Night draws in again.

 

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lines

A line has two sides. The debate has two sides. Are you for or against? Are you with us or not? In America, they call queues lines which honestly makes a lot of sense. If you’re at the front of the line, you’re on the front line, down in the trenches, going over the top, and you’re also the first to get inside. If you’re at the back of the line, you’ve got a while to wait, you’re a sub.

A coin has two sides, except technically three if you include the endless side circling the initial two which I referred to at the start of the sentence. When you flip a coin, it lands on heads or tails but it rarely lands on that endless side. The bit in the middle is rarely acceptable and when faced with a decision that requires a coin flip, it is often that middle bit we exist in. One day I would like to flip a coin for someone and have it land on the rim of the coin for a bit and the person’s gut would swoop and in shock at the chance happenings of a coin not landing on heads or tails, they would realise what they wanted. It’s the flip, not the landing, that tells us what we already knew.

But back to that line, the one with two sides. Two sides, both alike in dignity. Two tribes, fighting over pride and their determination to survive and for their right to lead their lives. A line winds its way between its sides, joining the two whether they like it or not. Inextricable from each other, they exist because of the other.

Yet neither can live with the other survives. Neither can live while the Other survives, if we keep seeing those unlike us as the Other, if We see them as They, if We see Us as We. The line is drawn when a border is made and reinforced by a wall, built on lies and rage, directed at the wrong targets, down not up. The line of a bullet as it leaves a gun, barrel to teenage chest because of a hand in his pocket. The line leaving lips and a mind reeling in disbelief as a smile leers, unwanted hand on knee. The line of a cursor as it beats slowly, waiting for the hate to pour out onto buttons, pressing vitriol into pixels, pressing tweet after tweet into feeds and feeds.

The line of the straw that breaks the camel’s back, that forces a reaction, that forces the sides to agree, used to be extreme violence. It used to be shocking to see the lines forming numbers that rose and rose after explosion or shooting or natural disaster. An image was used by the Leave Campaign of an endless mass of people, the line so long here that the sides aren’t even in the frame. We are meant to think that the line does not have sides, that it is endless and will always be unless we vote to LEAVE. ‘BREAKING POINT’ emblazoned across the grass that lies underfoot of the humans, this is the end of the line, we are told. This is the point at which the long line of compassion ends. Close the borders. End of the line. Full to the hilt. Go home.

Home is a line and a line and a line and a line and look at that, you have a wall. You only need a few more. But look at those sides of those lines, they’d look excellent with a floor and a ceiling too. A line has two sides but added to other lines it can have so much more.

Look at the lines of airplanes in the sky, one side moving quickly, the other left behind, indistinguishable from the clouds already drifting up high. Look at the lines of fireworks as they rise from the side of the ground to the dark vast night, the end of the line, the inevitable burst of colour as it bangs and subsides, becoming only a memory, one part of a whole. Look at the lines of the buildings as they stack on top of each other, sides meeting each other at odd angles, bricks and tiles and window frames, alongside more sides.

The lines of volunteers after a national emergency. The lines that form a hashtag, creating space for honesty and truth where before there lay shame. The lines to vote at referendums despite violence from those who would seek to stop the drawing of two lines in a cross.

A line has two sides. On its own, it separates. It divides. It creates opposing sides. Look at that line, that long thing in between, graciously linking two unthinking sides. That tool of empathy, it requires contemplation and waiting, allowing for patience. Common ground of the sides it lies between. Add another line, link more sides together, expand outwards.

The sides are not left or right, black or white, binary is not the language anymore. Binary: a language created of zeroes and ones, circles and lines.

A circle is just a line with no end.

 

rain

it started to rain this morning.

the first time i remember being aware of the break of a storm was watching a cinderella story – i assume that i came across the metaphor before then, but nothing sticks with me quite like a hillary duff movie.

hillary duff tells chad michael murray that waiting for him to come to terms with his feelings for her was ‘like waiting for rain in this drought. useless and disappointing.’ a classic line that floats into my head whenever anyone uses any of those words or when hear you me by jimmy eat world plays (which isn’t that often but the situation does arise).

a heatwave has spread across the UK. hosepipe bans flood the country. everyone is sticky and sweaty and always slightly irritated. grass is straw, the ground is dust. the feeling is that brexit is doomed no matter what happens and nobody quite wants to think about it because it’s the summer and july and too warm. people quit their jobs. they fly away to hotter countries and they post photos on instagram.

but it rained this morning. it’s overcast in edinburgh and the leaves on the tree outside my window are dotted with moisture. i swore i heard thunder earlier on but it was just a loud bang from the building site over the road.

a change is gonna come. that lyric is from a song that i can’t remember and if this wasn’t this moment in history, i wouldn’t be able to google it and tell you that it was originally recorded by sam cooke but it’s the aretha franklin version i hear when that lyric floats into my head. i would have told you it was bob dylan or leonard cohen for some unknown reason.

everything is the same, everything is changing, july is a month like january that stretches endlessly and yet leaves before it can become anything tangible. unlike january, a month most people wait out to end, july is filled with pressures to enjoy every moment. the sun comes around so rarely in the UK – get out and make the most of it whilst you can. filter every golden hour that comes along, preserve it online so that when the rain comes, you can still post a throwback photo.

it’s drizzling outside. a thin film of rain over everything, green leaves even greener, gulping every drop before it ends.

what i like about here is that we’re equipped to deal with a bit of sun and a bit of rain and actually flourish with both. the diversity of weather is the foundation of conversation here. it affects our lives day-to-day.

what we can’t deal with is seemingly-unending stretches of one or the other. our infrastructure is not equipped for extremes, leaning too far to one end of the spectrum.

i thought about trying to make a political allegory out of that, about our need for diversity of voices, for change, for balance, but i’m too tired and it’s my one day off and it’s july and maybe not everything has to mean something else, something bigger. maybe, today, i just want to talk about the rain because i’ve missed it.

 

 

 

writing about writing

Well. It’s been some time.

Writing blog posts became an easy way for me to be productive. If I was feeling creative in some way, I could sit down in a coffee shop somewhere, get my laptop out and join a club of frantically typing, headphone wearing, serious thinkers who congregated to drink flat whites and stare at word documents. I would write for solid chunks of time, unleashing whatever was on my mind on to the screen and then read over it quickly, rushing towards the gratification of pressing publish. Suddenly something I’d made was out in the world for people to read if they so wished with not a great deal of effort from me.

It helped that if I posted something good, then I’d get praise and compliments from people I know. I am someone who, no matter how hard I try not to, values the opinions of others too much. It felt really good to hear that a) people were reading my stuff in the first place and b) that they were enjoying it. One person even said that my openness about my experience of anxiety was helpful to them which was probably the best thing I’ve been told about anything I’ve done, ever.

But blog posts were not fulfilling, as pretentious and up myself that sounds. I got to the point of opening a draft and having no motivation to write anything, knowing that it wasn’t going anywhere anyway. I beat myself up because I wasn’t working on a novel, I didn’t have any side projects, I wasn’t creating anything. All I was doing was writing the odd post and not much else. I told myself this was because any time I had, I was drifting towards the ‘easy’ thing: writing short posts instead of committing to a longer, more difficult project that wouldn’t have the same instant gratification.

I would love to say that I’ve taken a break from writing blog posts in order to work on something bigger and that my debut novel is out next year, but it’s not. Quite honestly, these last six months have been spent trying to figure out what I want to do with my time outside of my full-time job and I’ve struggled to commit to any one thing. I went to a short story class for ten weeks, have written poetry and read a LOT. I’ve tried loads of things and nothing’s stuck. I’m not working on my magnum opus all the time but still switching between tabs and word documents, working on something until my mind drifts and I choose to work on something else.

That’s how it’s always been and I think I just need to be okay with that for a while. I have to have faith that at some point a project will develop towards which I’ll want to direct all of my attention. It’s okay not to have that one big idea yet. It’ll come. And even if it doesn’t, I’m quite happy to work on lots of things at once and embrace the sporadic nature of it.

The irony of this blog post is that I’m writing it to put off doing anything else.

Tea

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My mam asks me if I want a ‘cup of char’ but she doesn’t call it that all the time.

The object – the cup the water the teabag –

the intention is always the same

but the words change.

On nights after 12 hour shifts, she asks if I ‘fancy popping the kettle on’,

voice already drifting, eyes already closed.

She falls asleep for the next two hours, still wearing her uniform,

said cup of tea – strong, no sugar, bucket-sized – grows cold on the coffee table.

Tea tastes different when made at home, when my mam makes it,

handing the steaming mug over.

Tea with everything in my household:

tea with breakfast, lunch, dinner

tea with wishing you were thinner

tea with exam grades and acceptance letters

tea with bad reality tv

tea before catching a train and leaving.

I leave and learn that putting the milk in first is wrong.

I return triumphantly telling my mam that at university I learned the right way to make tea.

She watches a little sadly as I pour the water in first.

It’s still a point of contention as she hands me the same steaming mug,

joking that she made it ‘my way’.

Tea when I come home, seven cups a day

and the caffeine withdrawals I experience when I leave again are worth it because

it’s a language we share, a lesson she taught me

that making something for someone is how you show them you care,

even if all you can give them is hot water.

 

Putting the me in Medusa.

When I was nine, a boy called me Medusa.

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We were learning about Greek myths for the day, the only time that topic came up in our curriculum, ever.

Medusa had snakes for hair. She was the monster so grotesque that looking at her turned you to stone. She had three heads and lost one, died when Perseus defeated her.

The boy looked at Medusa and looked at me and decided my curls were serpents.

If I had been Medusa, he could not have looked me in the eye and called out in class. He wouldn’t have dared.

I knew little of the myth to which I was compared. I googled her that night, found out a little of who she was: a human turned ugly as punishment, her hair replaced with snakes. In other versions, born monstrous, a gorgon. Sometimes one head, sometimes three sisters but always grotesque and always to be killed. To be feared. Her gaze was lethal.

I’ve liked her ever since.

Perseus rode around with Medusa’s head, wielding her as a shield against his enemies. Athena, famously born of Zeus alone, wears Medusa’s head on her breastplate. She is cut up and killed, her power to be used by others.

Feminists have attempted to reclaim her as an image of female fury and power. In a short manifesto, Mary Beard describes succinctly how the classical world has and continues to have a heavy influence on our perceptions of power and who has the right to wield it. Once again, I found myself reading about my monster.

We were young. And we didn’t know what we were learning. Greek myths were fun stories about monsters and victors, gods and, you know, other old stuff. That’s all they were, surely: just stories. That was one lesson on one day in primary school, a tiny insignificant hour of my life, a comment which the boy has surely forgotten now.

But as Mary Beard points out, it is these things we take for granted that form the building blocks of our understanding of the world.Today female politicians are often compared to Medusa in an effort to ‘decapitate’ them, photoshopped on to an image of a screaming feminised monster. ‘Male mastery over female power’.

I take it as a point of pride that I’ve held on to that memory for so long. Because of him I feel an affinity with Medusa, in every form of the myth, born monstrous or punished unfairly. I understand the antagonist; I was painted as one. I will never root for Perseus.

 

Winter by Ali Smith: a pause in the disconnect

‘Ali Smith writes about memory and truth and belief and delusion and nature and protest and distance and disbelief and lies and the possibility at once for both hope and sadness.’ These are the notes I scrawled into my notebook in a coffee shop on Saturday morning. I was up early for a rubbish reason and had carried Winter around with me in my bag all week yet barely started it. I left later on having read it furiously to the end.

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Let me start by saying that I am a big Ali Smith fan. If you met me at any point during my final year of university, you probably saw the anguish on my face as I told you about how badly my dissertation was doing or fell asleep as I raved on about Hotel World and There but for the.

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Some feminist faves

(And yes, feminism is a lens through which we critique, not something that a ‘fave’ could necessarily ‘be’, but that’s not as snappy a title, is it?)

Reading:

Rebecca Solnit’s ‘The Mother of All Questions’: On a particularly bad day, I sat down in a Waterstones, having picked this up from the gender studies section and read about 40 pages in one go. Solnit’s writing is immersive, flowing so steadily and yet always with a sharp wit. This comes through more in some essays than others; when talking about campus rape, Solnit remains persistently calm in her outrage, presenting the facts and the response, highlighting hypocrisy through mere juxtaposition. When talking about the ever-present white-maleness of the literary canon, she cracks jokes at the expense of writers and novels, knowing that this topic, however important representation in the media is, can also be picked apart for its sheer stupidity. ‘Men Explain Lolita to Me’ is one of my favourite essays I have read for the simple reason that Solnit writes about the Twitter users who tried to educate her on her opinion with the same kind of fascination that David Attenborough talks about polar bears in the Arctic.

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H.G. Wells, The Rights of Man: history repeating itself

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I checked this out weeks ago for a bit of light reading.

An act of gross cruelty or injustice that occurs in Manchura or Dunzig is as much an Englishman’s concern now, as if it occurred in Nigeria or Cardiff.”

H.G. Wells wrote the manifesto, ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man’, in 1940 as a response to what he felt was the vacuum of reason as to why the Second World War was taking place. Urging authorities to make plain the rationale behind sending people off to fight yet another war, he and his cohorts set out just under ten clauses which all authorities globally could agree upon as the end goal, the ultimate society. These ideas would ultimately contribute to the Declaration of Human Rights by the UN in 1948. He also formed and support PEN, a society formed of international writers who were dedicated to the freedom to read for all, and the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty, an independent council that campaigns for human rights issues in the UK.

I’ll be honest, I picked up this book because Ali Smith wrote the introduction to the Penguin reissue in 2015 and I’ve apparently made it my lifelong goal to read everything she’s ever written. It was £5 and I bought it from Lighthouse Radical Bookshop in Edinburgh. It seemed like a good fit. But why, in 2017, would a text written in 1940 about human rights still be perceived as progressive now?

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