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.

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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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Please hold.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh | Molly Drummond

I moved to Edinburgh.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh | Molly Drummond

It’s been three days and I feel at home.

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Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh | Molly Drummond

Still a little strange, still a little anxious, but all things considered, doing okay.

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Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh | Molly Drummond

Normal service shall resume shortly.

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Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh | Molly Drummond

 

Wild (2014): forgiveness and stuff

First off, I think I have to make a statement upfront as a massive Gilmore Girls fan. Having finished this film, I can safely say that its references in the revival episodes of Gilmore Girls completely undermined the emotional gravity of the story. (It’s not the only thing the show did but hey, that’s another post.) And I know that’s the joke, that all of these women turning up at the Pacific Crest Trail have just watched the film and suddenly need to overcome their problems by hiking too, but it just seems to kind of miss the point a bit. From that episode I’d think that Reese Witherspoon (for at the time I did not know who Cheryl Strayed was) was completely overreacting to her mild middle-class white girl problems and her hike was a bit of a joke.

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Still from Wild (2014) – Filmista on Tumblr 

How wrong I was. And maybe it’s because of the time in my life when I’m watching it – I started it for the first time like a year ago when it was still on Netflix and I got about five minutes in before I gave up. It wasn’t right for me then.

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Procrastination versus compartmentalisation

(This post could also be called “Something other people seemed to have already learned but it didn’t click with me for like 22 years”.)

Unrelated photo of flowers I definitely bought to procrastinate dissertation.

I procrastinate. We all procrastinate. At some point in their lives, even the most productive of people will have stopped doing whatever it is they’re meant to be doing to watch videos of puppies for an hour and a half. It’s just a fact of life: dogs are too cute to NOT drop everything to watch them play with doors.

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