Chopsticks – #21daysofWriting – Day 21

Today’s topic is from my dearest and one of my oldest friends (not as in her age, as in our longevity together) Anne-Marie Garner. I love this woman beyond words. She is a powerhouse, generous to the core, smart, funny and cool. It’s an honour to be her friend. It is she who launched the beautiful Knot, Albert children’s book ( and website & merchandise – she worked HARD)  that inspired this challenge in the first place, so it is only fitting that the last blog in this series is hers.

What is WITH spa slippers?

Suzy looks at the snow-white things half attached to her feet. She shuffled here like a 80-year old Boca Ranton resident, slightly itchy towelling robe wrapped about her, hair scrumpled up in a scruffy bun. The slippers are, she reflects, only slightly whiter than her legs, and have no backs – elegant stepping ain’t happening here.

The other Hens have been squirrelled away by therapists. The waiting area is ambient, warm…  fancy magazines and a water cooler, the scent of every aromatherapy oil known to womankind heady in the dark air. Suzy scratches her bum cheek surreptitiously – her bikini is damp from the hot tub and steam room – it’s making her skin itch against the robe. She feels the nerves tugging and looks for distraction.

She has a nosey at the round lady and her daughter opposite. They are definitely mother-and-daughter. You can see how Round Lady looked in her 20’s. They too have “spa face” – facial oils seeping into pores, making their skin glassy and pink. Both are flipping through magazines, glass of cucumber water beside them.  Suzy likes the lady’s blue-grey toenail varnish colour.

A neat, black-haired, white-uniformed therapist, with what looks like chopsticks holding her hair up, arrives with a slip of paper. “Suzy?”

Suzy stands, her long figure unfolding and she tugs at the robe – tightening the belt, trying to make the weird garment longer.  She follows the therapist down a series of small, dimly lit corridors with low, melodic music and is aware, as ever, of her height and size. The therapist asks her some questions, Suzy answers politely, tummy knotting.

They arrive in in the room. The therapist invites Suzy to sit on the bed and introduces herself as Bethany, a slight Australian twang in her accent as she goes through the healthchecks and procedures. Full body massage today. What pressure does Suzy prefer? Any injuries or allergies?

All formalities done, Suzy is asked to “pop’ her clothes off – paper knickers available if she wants to wear those- and get under the blankets. Bethany leaves, chopstick-headed. Suzy is glad to get rid of the robe and her damp costume. She hangs it up so it might dry out more. As she fumbles with the paper pants, she is aware of her body. Her limbs, her torso, the weight and wobbles. She’s naked in a strange room. She tries not to dwell on that. She feels a welling nervousness, breathes. Gets face down under the covers.

Wrapped in warm blankets, alone in a room with some tribal shaman music playing, the air thickly scented, Suzy feels the opposite of relaxed. Stress. Claustrophobia. God she hates Spas. Faux-relaxation. You leave your brain at the door and are allocated timeslots. “Me time” on someone else’s timetable. Deep breaths Suze…..

Bethany knocks quietly and comes in. “Everything alright?” she asks, moving around the room, getting stuff ready. Suzy says yes… what else is there to say? She has her face in that weird hole thing on the massage table. Facing the floor. She feels very alone and a little teary.

Bethany holds a vial of something under Suzy’s nose.
“I’ve gone with aromatherapy oils that will soothe you – deep relaxation – just have a smell of these two and tell me which you prefer. Number one?” Suzy inhales deeply – oooh that’s good. “or Number two?” Who knows? Suzy thinks. And opts for the first.

Bethany begins with the legs. Suzy tightens at the initial touch, but then the warm oil kicks in and she allows herself to relax. Bethany checks the pressure is ok and Suzy find herself saying:

“I don’t really like massages” Christ! Where did that come from?

“Not everyone does. Are you alright though?” Bethany hasn’t stopped.

“I think so.”

“You are carrying a lot of tension – if you want me to stop at any point or if things aren’t ok, let me know?”

Suzy breathes. Settles. Her mind starts to drift after a while.

Chopsticks. She would be wearing bloody chopsticks. Who wears chopstick in their hair to work? Surely that’s not good health and safety?

They were cheap, the ones that triggered it all. Sitting in Wagamama’s with newly-snapped sticks, a black bowl of rice and veggies in front of her – it looked enormous. She was one of a group of teenage girls on a shopping trip, all fancy after the exams. She remembers sweating at the sheer size of the bowl of food. Eating single grains of rice with the chopsticks. Picking precisely and trying hard not to throw up. This was new. Previously she’d have eaten it and gone to the loo. One purge and everything sorted. Today she couldn’t even face the food. Her mate Maria noticed. Commented. Suzy tried to eat, mixing stuff around hoping it would disappear.

She remembers her black nail varnish matched the bowl, as she held the chopsticks with the paltry rice grain clamped.. and how well it covered up her nails underneath, yellowing from the stomach acid they so regularly came into contact with. Forcing that single grain toward her mouth…..

Bethany has moved to the other leg. Concentrate on that. Concentrate on that.
But the motion of hands, sweeping over skin, connecting with muscle and sinew, the rhythm of her body being pushed and pulled….

The panic attack, when it came was, frankly, mental. Wagamama’s became really muffled and hot, her vision got blurry-then-clear-then-blurry. She couldn’t breathe. Like something was sitting on her chest. Her head faint and her brain feeling like… it was on another planet – she could hear one part of herself really clearly, and another part was just white noise. Mouth opening and closing like a dying-fish. Wanting everyone to just fuck off and feeling black, deep, terrifying nothingness. Her friends freaking out….. there’s a whole part after that she has no recollection of. She knows there was an off-duty paramedic who helped. She flat refused an ambulance, seemingly nearly screaming the place down – when she got her breath back – and the manager took her, Maria and the paramedic off the restaurant floor, into a back room. Her mum arrived an hour or so later, apparently. The other girls waited in a coffee shop nearby.

What followed was months of “intervention”. Shame upon shame upon realisation. Her body, painfully underweight; hidden so well by clothes. Her face gaunt and yellow; hidden so well under a mountain of make-up. Her teeth ravaged by puke – she runs her tongue carefully over the £4k dental work her job eventually paid for. Therapy. CBT. Learning to cook. Some weird lesson where she had to “make friends” with a raw chicken breast. Her whole post GCSE life altered by chopsticks and rice grains.

Bethany has moved up to her back.

As the motion of the massage connects in to Suzy, she suddenly feels sadness – all that time wasted. A life on hold as she battled herself, her body. There are muscles in her back now and soft fat and tissue. She can feel the density of herself – her solidity, her suppleness. She can feel that she is here – not trying to vanish, not a ball of self-loathing and small, hateful nothingness.  The tears come from no-where and  surprise her. She feels them on her face and the realisation makes her sob.

Bethany says gently “Things are shifting. Do you want me to stop for now?”

Suzy shakes her head, trying to breathe, unable to speak

“You can talk, if you want to,” She says, kindly. She softens her touch. Her hands less-pummelling, more soothing.  As she continues to move, it’s like she’s coaxing something from Suzy…

“I was ill. Eating disorder. I was gripped for a long time.”

“And now?”  her hands sweep up the spine, over the heart-space in the back

“Now I’m not ill” She sobs again, deep, big, fat sobs. Oh God this is awkward.

Bethany keeps har hand firmly shifting, moving patiently. Not stopping until asked.

Suzy re-assesses where she is. Her head is jammed in the face cradle, crying. She realises she’s face-down on something like a padded toilet seat ….. the number of times she had her head down a bog and swore never again. It’s ridiculous. She wants to laugh, suddenly. She hiccups between a sob and a giggle… feeling the laughter rise, her sides contracting. She is properly laughing now, the massage bed moving. The tears from before are now different tears and she is aware that Bethany has also started to shake with mirth…

“Another shift?” Bethany says, her voice high with amusement.

“I think that’s enough.. I think I want to stop now” Suzy says.

Bethany gently smooths her back a couple of times and wraps the towel over her.

“I’ll stay for now, unless you want to be alone?”

“No. Stay.. but can I get up?”

“Slowly”

Suzy gets up and wraps herself in the blankets – she looks, shiny-eyed at the therapist, who looks back kindly, gently.

“It’s the chopsticks” she says – and begins to tell the story.

Reflection

So this one feels like I’m finishing on a “Well.. I started fairly safely 21 days ago– now I’m just going for it”. I’m so far off L&D and Leadership and Change & my work world, I need to re-orientate myself – this blog was only ever meant to be a work one. And that’s ok.. I’m just conscious of it all.

I started with Chopsticks as in musical chopsticks and messed around for ages with a piano recital scenario – but it was unfamiliar territory and I got tangled up.

In this, stuff about physicality and touch – how small things can evoke big stuff – I’m on territory I know and recognise… I can write from here. I see shifts in emotional states, catch those moments that become realisations,  when I coach. I’ve been the girl on the massage table, realising a physical shift can lead to emotional shift too. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

Tomorrow is Day 22 – and there it’s about What Next and What more.

For any and all of you who have read any/ all of the Challenge Blogs, I am eternally grateful – so many of you have commented, contacted me, cheered me on. It’s been quite extraordinary. Thank you. J x

Nature is in dire straits, how do we communicate this to others? #21daysofWriting – Day 20

Today’s topic is from Jacqueline D’ath   from New Zealand – the only person who sent a topic via email & who I haven’t met yet, but hope we will Skype one day.

 

How do you communicate anything massive and nebulous to people in a way that they are likely to understand and respond to?  Lots of different ways, lots of times, with lots and lots of opportunities for people to talk together and take action together. Video, Audio, connection – tug heart strings, make minds whirr, get folk to connect to experience.

It’s a helluva title this one. One of those meta-narratives that makes me want to hide, trembling, under a duvet, hoping a wee scientist and a good-willed politician, along with a philanthropist and an activist will fix it. Because, y’know, what can I do? (This is my flight response – Run. Hide. Pretend it’s someone else’s )

There might have been a point in time that this strategy had potential – at the moment? I fear hoping for the above is… altruistic?

Alternatively, my response is something more disturbing: Hopelessness. We’re doomed. Pointlessness. Existential angst that weighs me down and depresses me.  I see the active briefing from those in power – doubting climate change, doubting that the plastic M&S milk carton found in Malaysia, or the carrier bag stuffed half way down an Barrier Reef Sea Turtle is really a problem – and my heart aches, my reasoning refuses to go anywhere other than: we’re screwed  (welcome to my freeze response. Approximate value to changing anything: zero)

I think facing into dire straits comes in the other responses: fight and flock.

When I feel I can take action – when I dig in to the outrage or the fear or overwhelm and connect into something more energetically useful than: I’m too small/ have no power/ someone else can work on this/ it hurts too much to think about – then I can take action. It might be in small ways – my buying power, my eating habits, driving habits, heating habits, clothing habits, voting habits. I can live like a person who is respectful of the house she occupies, rather than a spoiled brat on the brink of a tantrum because her fast-fashion choice is environmentally dodgy. (and my tech… I might well have to re-think my tech – how it’s produced and recycled, how long I keep it for. I’m already looking at it. It will hurt to ditch my Apple stuff – but not as much and as long as it hurts the environment or the folk who make the damn things.)

This is fight  – I’m not the most fighty person in the world, so some may see this small fight as being not-worthwhile, but I’ll argue that “look at the size of my contribution” might well be the thing that got us in this mess to begin with. If everyone figured out more simple, less consumable habits and committed daily to be less wasteful – we’d be on to something at least.

And if you don’t want to fight, maybe we can Flock – joining in and taking part with other, like minded people who are trying to deal with the dire straits –  I’m no scientist or politician, my Philanthropic abilities are laughable, but I can be an activist – I can encourage and join, fight and learn. There is power in movement – no power in apathy.

These conversations seem harder at the moment because of the noise and the brouhaha bubbling about politics, racism, sexism…everything really. We are so distracted with what divides us, we are forgetting that something much much bigger unites us – our home is in danger. Arguing over who’s in charge of the larder seems somewhat dopey… but here we are – bickering over occupation and rule of landmasses that, in the face of an ocean, a hurricane, a flood, a wildfire we demonstrably have no actual power over. Who are we kidding?

The topic asks: How do we communicate this to others? I’d ask: how do we communicate it to ourselves? David Attenborough is one secret weapon to wake folk up, clearly – but each of us has a role in figuring out how we will respond and live in the face of depleting resources.

Obviously, one of the things I would suggest is we pay attention to our natural world more. Put bird food out, grow wild flowers that help insects – even if you live in flat with a window box.  Take your headphones off and listen to the world – for birdsong, for the wind. Notice the smell of cut grass or flowers – seek things out that don’t smell like petrol or Hugo Boss. Connect in with this part of the world – we are not going to raise awareness, or live more consciously, we are not going to convince anyone of anything, unless we start from places like this.

I can’t answer such a question in a blog – but this is my best go.

 

 

Reflection

I think in “hot topics” like these, I feel out of my depth – I have no deep reading around this stuff – mostly it’s personal views and there are QUITE enough opinions raffling about the world at the moment. As I write I feel guilty – like I’m faking something – putting something out there that makes me sound much more Woke and Worthy than I probably am.

I couldn’t find a way to fit in the spiritual stuff – living in wonder, being genuinely awe-struck by how gorgeous out planet can be. Thinking of our smallness, not in a depressing “I’m worthless” way, but in a “I’m a tiny, important part of a great big thing” way…..

It was a tough one to write, in its own way – lots of editing and fiddling today.

Dreaming the Impossible #21days ofWriting – Day 19

Today’s topic is thanks to Twitter Aficionado, pragmatist and recent Author, Krystyna Gadd – 5th piece of fiction in the series and one of the longer posts. Again, I’ve take a small liberty with the title. But I hope it works.


Seamus unlocks the bottom lock, then the top and the middle one. Same routine every day. He pushes the door open and bends to pick up the mail. Shuffling through the bills as he heads to the kitchen, there is one big blue envelope, hand written address. He smiles. His sister. He opens it with a knife and there inside is a “Happy Anniversary” card, blue with sliver letters and hearts on it.

Karate, you big bear. 3 years today – we are so proud! It’s a magic number and you bring magic. So this next year will be extra special, promise. Keep chopping. Love Batfink & the Babies”  There’s a photo of Siobhan, his niece and nephews grinning at him.  He puts the card on the counter and pins the photo on the kitchen pinboard, muttering “daft cow” affectionately.

He switches on lights, puts the coffee machine on and puts bags in the bins. He washes his hands, puts on the radio and begins the morning routine. Checks the deliveries due in today, takes cakes from the fridge and sets them out on the counter, pulls out onions, carrots, coriander for the soup. Goes about his chores.

Impossible Dreams is three years old. A medium sized, bright, café in a “nice” part of town, rescued from a failing boutique clothes shop, run by the snotty and bored ex-wife of a local businessman. The shop had been part of her divorce settlement. Her resentment ran through the very fabric of the dresses and fancy tops she sold. Very soon no-one wanted to shop there. When Seamus saw the premises, he wanted to bring hope to it.

His redundancy money came in handy. Working with recommended trades folk and his own good eye for design, the café is now a bright, simple haven for anyone who dares to dream.

Open from early in the morning with the head-to-workers, then the mummies and the oldies and the freelancers, to late at night, when there are knitting circles and writing clubs, chess clubs and various meet-ups. Seamus finds he spends a LOT of time there. The idea came to him as he drifted off to sleep one night – so good it woke him up. Drawing on the last 5 years of pain, Seamus wanted a place where people could bring their dreams. One wall of the café is a great big painted oak, with hundreds of leaves hanging off it – each leaf has someone’s dream or hope written on it. When their dream comes true, they are asked to return to the café and take the dream off the wall for someone else’s to go up. They get a free coffee and are asked to tell their story on the website, or a video to Facebook or Insta.

People like Seamus’s idea.

In the first weeks, the tree looked really sad. It took ages to convince folk to put up their dreams, but now three years on, the tree and the café both flourish.

He knows Noosh and Geordie will be turning up soon, so he does what he tries to do every day and goes over to the tree to look at what it holds in peace. Seamus is a big man – 6 foot 4 and broad. These days he has a big red beard – something that in his  Corporate life would have been unimaginable – he unconsciously smooths his beard as he reads the leaves.

Some dream of being lighter, fitter, physically transformed. Some dream of love. Some wish for health, for wealth, for happiness. One man dreams of a very specific stamp for his collection. Another dreams of Olympic qualifying. There was a dream of an Ironing board for a few days. Someone dreams of being the opposite sex. A child wishes to go to Harry Potter World and be in Gryffindor. There are dreams of travel – one lady longs to return home to see her city, currently war-torn an unsafe; a man wishes to find his lost-love in New Zealand; someone is seeking to walk the West Highland Way. Another to drive Route 66. There are dreams of being famous, of being footballers or singers, dancers or actors, of winning prizes and accolades. Old Mrs McLean wished only for a cup of tea with her now-dead husband. Impossible dreams come in many guises, Seamus has learned. (He gives Mrs McLean free coffee often, figuring that particular dream really won’t be redeemable). Some wishes have been up there for the full three years – the leaves discolouring now and slightly curling. He wonders if he should re-write the dream on a new leaf, but somehow that seems wrong. He worries about what will happen if the café fails – where will these dream go?

Thankfully, a lot of dreams-come-true have happened and the Oak daily gives up a leaf or two a day as people come in to tell their stories. Somehow just putting the thing down on a leaf and pinning it to a public place seems to get customers motivated to go do what needs done. It’s quite a wonder to know.

There is one dream not on the tree. Seamus tries to convince himself that he has no dream now, that everything is fulfilled with the café – but his lonely heart has whispered each time he looks at the tree, recently: put a leaf up. It’s over five years since his husband, John, died, a crazy tumour that took him mercifully fast. Seamus died too that day and has slowly been reborn. He had never really talked about his private life at work, so his marriage and sexuality took some by surprise…It wasn’t that he was ashamed or anything, he was just private and focussed on his job and team.  So when it happened, his bosses were so busy processing that this man-mountain was not the Very Alpha Hetro they thought he was, they couldn’t see the extent of the pain he was in. This big capable, funny, quiet, assertive human. They had him pegged. He’d helped with the pegging. When the pegs came loose, it all went to hell.

It took six months for it all to fully hit him. When it arrived – the grief, the unstoppable sadness and the sheer terror that you could just lose anything overnight, no matter how beloved – the wheels fully came off. He thought he was coping – but grief took Seamus to darker places than he knew existed. He doesn’t remember much of that time. The sleeplessness, the anger, the fraughtness, the striving to be “fine”. He swears they made him redundant out of kindness. His sister swears they were “Feckers who don’t know how to give a shit”. Seamus prefers his story… he suspects hers is also true. His friends in the Company were sure he had a case against the business. He was too tired to fight and too glad to go. It took him months, and therapy with the tiny powerhouse Elsbeth, to get himself even daring to believe there might be a future.

He shudders. Not going back there today. And to prove he’s moving forward to picks up a leaf  from the small pile in the wooden box and writes “love” on it. He hesitates. Doesn’t pin in. Notes they are running low on leaves.

As if on cue to distract, Noosh bangs on the door, grinning and waving at him. He unsnibs the lock and she breezes past, with a “morning Seamus!” pulling off her shoulder bag and coat all at the same time, so she looks like she might get tangled. She’s already launching into a tale of What Happened With My Bloody Flatmate Last night and asking him what needs done. His meditation is over. It’s time to work. Geordie arrives a couple of minutes later and he’s straight into the kitchen, changing the radio station and starting food prep, Noosh talking at him as she wipes down the specials board. Seamus smiles to himself as he goes to check the till and the paypoint. He starts to makes the Gruesome Twosome their morning coffees. There’s a knock on the door and it’s the milk delivery. He checks it and asks Noosh to put it in the fridge. The second knock is from someone new. The bakery delivery is normally from the very efficient, rather bland Alan. This is not Alan. Seamus moves from behind the counter to open the door to a tall, brown haired man with a tousled, trendy haircut.

“Is this Impossible Dreams?” He asks
Seamus says “yes”
“I’ve heard about you.” Brown-Hair says cheerfully
“Oh?’
“The dream tree thing. I asked Alan if I could deliver today – I saw you on Facebook” He smiles excitedly, big green eyes, and open, honest face.

“Is it your anniversary?” Brown-Hair asks, nodding at Siobhan’s card on the counter.
“ The café. It’s three today”
“Ah. Magic number”
Seamus doesn’t know what to say.

“Well, I’ve got your delivery” and off he goes to the van.
As Seamus checks the order, Brown-Hair wanders over to the tree and starts to look at it.

“Wow. This thing is… incredible”
Seamus nods “Amazing, isn’t it? People put all sorts up there”
“Oh look. There’s a leaf here – on the table – someone’s not pinned it up”
Seamus colours and feels the ground sink.

Brown-Hair reads it “Love.” He says aloud. He looks at Seamus. “Can I pin it up?”
Seamus finds his mouth is dry. “Er. You should put up your own.” He says abruptly. “I don’t know whose that is”
He finds a leaf on the counter and heads toward Brown-Hair. As he hands it over, practically throwing it at Brown-hair, their fingers touch.. Seamus gets a bolt through him.
Brown-Hair looks shocked too for a split second, then composes himself “Do you have pen?”
“There.” Seamus says roughly, pointing, then turning, troubled.

Brown-Hair writes on the leaf and pins it. Seamus deliberately doesn’t look to see where he puts it on the tree, busying himself with coffee for Geordie and Noosh.

With her perfect timing, Noosh comes out with the Specials Menu. “Hello!” she says “You adding to our tree?”
Brown Hair nods and walks toward her, hand extended “Hello. I’m Dylan” he says “I’m the new baker’s boy”
Noosh giggles “Are you now? Well..” She shakes his hand, “..no offence to Alan, but you are already more fun.”
He laughs and Seamus feels his heart quicken.

“See you tomorrow then?” Seamus thinks Dylan’s saying this to him,  but can’t be sure.
He nods again, finding himself unable to speak.
Dylan goes and Seamus heats up the milk, burning himself on the steam and swearing.

Noosh is standing at the tree, having a good look.
He goes to give her the coffee and she looks at her boss, slyly.
“So Dylan has a dream.” She sing-songs
Seamus ignores her, heading to the kitchen to  give Geordie his coffee
She calls after him “He dreams of dating a café owner, Shay. It’s written right here”
Seamus stops in his tracks. Sighs. Keeps moving to give Geordie the coffee.

“Y’all right, boss-man?” Geordie asks
Seamus nods. “ I think I’ve got something to do, Geord.”
“Whassat then?”

Seamus crosses the café to the tree. He picks up the leaf from the table and pins it randomly near some leaves. Noosh, close to him, watching, sipping her coffee, approving.

“Did you do that on purpose?” She asks
“What?” Seamus responds, suspiciously
“Pin your leaf to Dylan’s?”
“Oh shit” says Seamus.

 

Reflections

My love of writing fiction continues – it feels gratifying and satisfying and I’m cautious about representing a gay man, as a heterosexual woman writing, and I trust it is ok enough.

Redundant Apostrophes & How They Changed The World – #21daysofWriting – Day 17

Today’s topic came from the deliciously gorgeous Liz Kentish who never every fails to bring joy.. this title has been hanging for 17 days… I love that she set it.

 

Where to begin with this bad boy?

I start here:

“Apostrophes. The difference between knowing your shit & knowing you’re shit”*

(anon)

My point being that a small piece of syntax can alter things dramatically. The devil’s in the detail, of course. Do Apostrophes change the world? Maybe not, but the use of language, how we write it and frame it is important. Words can wound or inspire. We are living in times where language can be altered, twisted….perhaps in a time where language may fail us; where it might be visual narratives, or kinetic actions that will speak louder. Where our shared language might have to be one of shown empathy, sympathy, care, kindness.. because words might just let us down.

I recognise I’m privileged enough to speak a language which has hundreds of thousands of words. Privileged further by a family who encouraged use-of-language, by access to teachers like the indomitable Nancy Patterson at Bell Baxter High School who stood her tiny, rotund frame on skinny high heels and banned us from using the word “got” (“You didn’t “got” to the station. There are a million other verbs out there. Use any other one of them”). But my strong English means I am lazy in other languages. The articulation I enjoy here, on the page, verbally, utterly fails me when I ask for a sandwich in France or when I try to read a menu in Hungary… I’m utterly dumb. Literally. Sod the redundant apostrophes…. In these situation I am massively disadvantaged… I disadvantaged myself by giggling during German lessons. Language matters. I wish I knew more of them.

And yet I like the notion of a redundant thing. Something that once mattered – that once had meaning. Childhood teddy bears or cuddle blankets, put aside as we grow. Old mugs bearing the race we ran, the school we went to, the holiday we had. Old books, read once, that we keep because they remind us of a time, a place or a thing. The old ashtray found by the person who hasn’t smoked in years. The poster of a concert once attended with a dismal ex.  These things are markers of moments. In their own way they hold resonance and comfort….when they become redundant (rarely overnight, they are not redeemable vouchers for a shop) it means we have moved, shifted – who we were isn’t how we now are. Sometimes we are strident about that – NO! I am no LONGER thatperson! Other times, we look more fondly at the memento, the thing-I-no-Longer-need.. and we might be glad that we have shifted, or quietly sad.

A redundant thing can still hold significance. If I were Maria Kondo, I’d be all “Get rid”. Yet on a day where I’ve just chucked a bunch of stuff in storage, I’m going to tell you: it ain’t that simple. Sometimes….things can be not-quite redundant… they can hold possibility “oooh… that’s going to look good in the new house – whenever the new house happens”. Call me indecisive. Call me weak…. Call me sentimental about my Granny’s table… just don’t call Maria Kondo.. She and I might clash.

These are times when we need to recycle, upcycle, make-do-and-mend. Times where waste should be valued, perhaps, and re-thought about. I’ve heard that Kondo’s call for us to declutter led to a rise in folk chucking stuff out – Where did it go? More to Charity shops? More to landfill? Did folk gift out their redundant stuff?  I hope we are wise where we can be.

And so as I mull on the redundancy of apostrophes and how they changed the world, and how this might just be my favourite title of the whole blog series, I’m thinking about language and things passing and about how redundant things might just show the world is changing. Yes, Liz.. maybe that’show redundant apostrophes change the world.

 

*I know.. technically it’s Grammar…

 

Reflection

Oh My God this one was late in the day…. busy Bank Holiday weekend meant writing was hard to fit in.. but a challenge is a challenge and I thought about the post as I went through my day. I’m delighted at the variety of stuff I have been offered.. genuinely had to roll up my verbal sleeves a few times and now I only have 4 more posts on this challenge, I can feel how Sad I’ll be when it closes… going to post now ( 9:30 pm) or I’ll mis today’s deadline….

Exploring the Outside – #21daysofWriting – Day 16

Today is more fiction and I took a liberty with the topic set by the glorious Ruth Dawson – she asked for “Exploring the Outside in Facilitation” – I hope I get forgiven for shortening it & going in a different direction.

Riba steps forward cautiously. Her feet feel really odd. Her steps are clumpy, clumsy – she’s never worn clown shoes, but thinks this might be what it’s like. She frowns down at the strange objects on the end of her legs and sighs. Pink unicorn wellies from Primark – cheapest her Mum could find – the glitter on the toes has already started rubbing off and is all over her bag. Riba loved them in the shop… but here…. Well, here they look weird.

She eyes the rest of her classmates, also newly booted.  Charlie’s gone for blue boots – plain, her leggings tucked in. Naade has gone for green – his long skinny legs poke out of the top – knees exposed, with smart shorts above. Honey’s wearing Pink too – hers have got pugs on them. She’s kind of rolled her jeans up over the top of them. Sadiq has black ones on with orange toes. Every single pair are brand new and everyone looks a bit mad.

Riba continues to experiment with walking, away from the crowd. She doesn’t like this place. She is grumpy.

Mrs Aston calls them over and introduces them to the Farmer. She’s younger than Riba expected and.. well.. a girl. Farmers are meant to be men and wear flat caps and have red cheeks and those tweed jacket things This one is in jeans and a t- shirt and a blue puffa jacket thing with no sleeves. Her wellies are also green – but flash ones, with a buckle.. scuffed and muddy. This adds to Riba’s sense of how stupid this all is. Nothing is as it’s supposed to be. Everything is new and strange. It smells weird – like poo and the park when the grass has been cut and the florist shop on the high street, all combined. It’s really quiet – she can hear birds and the wind in the trees – no cars at all. And now the farmer’s not even a proper farmer. This place is strange. She hangs at the back of the group, feeling sulky.

They begin with a walk in the orchard – the farmer lady explains the apple- trees and pear trees and what the Farm does with the fruit. Riba can’t listen because THERE. ARE.CHICKENS. Riba has never seen a live chicken before in real life. They are massive. She thought chickens would be the same size as a pigeon. And these ones aren’t just brown like you see in the Supermarket Ads – these ones are grey or white.. with a couple of brown ones scratching over there. They have beady eyes and weird wobbly jelly things on their heads & under their chins. Riba feels sick looking at them. Gross. She keeps them in her sightline in case they attack, breathing steadily – ready to run. Can she run in these wellies? She’d give it a go.

The farmer-lady starts talking about chickens and the eggs they produce. Naade whispers to Riba that they poo out eggs and she giggles.. but then worries that eggs are chicken poo. Has she been eating chicken poo? She feels sick again. She gets past the chickens as quickly as she can.

On from the orchard, they do a woodland walk. 20 kids in pairs, Mrs Aston ushering them along, the new teaching assistant making sure no-one gets left behind. It’s muddy. Really muddy. Her pink boots sinking in brown, soggy, sloppy goo. The goo is messing up her new wellies. Riba wants to wash it off. She feels stressed and horrible – how much longer does this go on for?

The Farmer has stopped. She is talking about the trees and saying trees can talk to each other, through their roots underground. Riba looks at her classmates and sees most of them are listening – how stupid are they?  Trees obviously do not talk. And how could you have an underground conversation in the dark? She’ll not tell Mum this when she gets home, because her mum might think the trip was a waste of the £3 she paid toward the bus. This place is stupid. This Farmer woman is Stupid. Riba wants to get back to town.

Now everyone has to help plant a tree. The ground has been mostly dug-up, but Gary-the- favourite volunteers to dig, when asked and he and Honey help scrape out mud and dirt and put a little twig thing with a white bag on it in the ground. Honey’s pink pug boots are covered in mud, Riba notes. Even more than her own. And thatisn’t a tree. It’s a stick. They are planting sticks. What is happening?

They walk on to to see some sheep. The Farmer explains it is spring, so there will be lambs. Riba is cheered by this. Lambs are cute. She’s saw some at the City Farm last year with her Uncle and Cousins. She subtly tries to get more mud off her boots on the grass. The farmer explains that some of the sheep are still pregnant and the class might see a lamb get born. This doesn’t sound appealing to Riba – shouldn’t the mum-sheep go to vet hospital or something?

The lambs are surprisingly noisy in the barn – the farmer explains they stay in doors for a few days, then they will go out. Each lamb has a tag on its ear so the farmer can track them and stuff sprayed on their bellies so a cord doesn’t get dirty or something.  The farmer has some brand new lambs – born this morning – which need to be tagged. Do the class want to see? Riba opens her mouth to say “no” but the rest of the class say “yeaaaaasssss”. Riba tries again to get mud off her boots. She feels hot and cross.

The Farmer is talking about lambs and spring or something. Riba can’t tune in properly. The Farmer takes the lamb, which is making a really really loud noise, and holds it between her knees. The Farmer takes a tool in her hands and pulls the lambs ear out. Oh my God what is she going to do to the lamb? She’s piercing lamb- ears in front of everyone? Riba feels hotter and can’t breathe properly. There is a “clunk” and the lamb shakes its head, unsteady, big tag attached to it’s ear. Riba looks uncomprehendingly at what has just been done. They pierced a lamb. They….

“Mrs Ashton?” Sadiq says “ I think Riba’s fainted, Miss”

 

 

 

Reflection

I wanted to do an anti-nature thing. I am a huge fan and advocate of being outdoors, of the country and all that nature can offer, but there are a lot of kids who grow up in urban spaces that are, understandably, completely freaked out in a rural environment. I wanted to write about a bit of that. The freakishness of being taken out of a familiar place, particularly when everyone else seems to be getting on with it and not seeing how weird it is.

I grew up on farms and we regularly had schools in (obviously I never saw them..because I was at school) and one day a kid did faint.. so I’m reimagining that. I like Riba and her grumpiness, her utter refusal to just go with the crowd….

The Power of Music – #21daysofWriting – Day 15

Today’s topic comes from top Twitter type Mark Catchlove 

The Power of Music.
Where to begin?
ABC?
Do-re-mi?
De La Soul?
La Boehme?
Bohemian Rhapsody?
Rhapsody in blue?
Blue Monday?
Manic Monday?
Do we begin with a beat?  Something that reflects a pulse?
Or with a melody?

When I read a dictionary definition of a melody – a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying; a tune.” – it’s so far from melodic, it makes me smile at the daftness… Some Things? Some Things are beyond words or descriptors.

Music is a language all by itself.

It can seep into your body, through your ears or through the thump of it, the vibration of it through your skin and your bones.

It can be terrible and tinny and annoying – pop-py, repetitive, surface throw-away crap.
It can be so stupidly beautiful, that everything stops and you are entirely alone with it.
It can be something that bonds you with a thousand strangers, as you sing together – one tune, well known, uniting.
It can be lofty, intellectual, refined.
It can be basic, dirty, gritty, ubiquitous.

It can be painful – I once met someone who found music excruciating – all music. No-one understood how this could be (I didn’t either). It drove them from restaurants, it upset them in lifts, shopping was hideous for them….it seemed to literally hurt their body. I remember saying “you are allergic to music?” and they said, basically, yes.  My reaction of “shit that’s AWFUL” was one they got a LOT. But it wasn’t awful for them. That was their life. Worse was folk like me saying: “How Awful” ALL THE TIME.

There are those who can read music, write music – to me that’s wonderful.. The sheer privilege of being able to create music, not just consume it. Oh what a thing to have. If you are musical in any way shape or form, I hope you appreciate the landscape you can navigate….. I don’t mind if you think you are awful.. if you can play,  if you can read music – if those tiny strange notations on a bunch of straight lines makes sense to you, or more miraculously still, if you can look at that page of notes and “hear’ what it is there,  in your head, without a instrument interpreting it. Wow. That’s a thing.

Without thinking too hard, powerful musical moments can come to mind. As a child, scooped up on my Mum’s hip, as she swayed about the kitchen singing Abba’s “Thank You for The Music” to me. Feeling giddy with the movement and the joy.  Singing in the School Choir for some competition and literally feeling the resonance of voices around me – my arm hairs rising and being slightly freaked out by that. Dancing to “Fools Gold” in a village hall in Fife, copying dance moves off the cool kids, wearing a sun-hat indoor & dressed in jeans so baggy I needed two belts to ensure safe upkeep… having sense I wasn’t a little kid any more. Heading up the M6 with my best mate to her Hen Do in her new fancy “I’m a lawyer now” car, top down, singing Wham songs and Billy Joel (even though it was 2000-and-something) and feeling life gets no better than that. Standing in Albert Square in Manchester last year, 1 year on from the bomb, as the crowd sung Elbow’s “One Day Like This”  -crying with strangers at the awfulness, the sadness, the resolution of staying united.

Standing stunned at the purity of Suzanne Vega’s live voice, last summer, as she sang songs I had endlessly played on a crappy tape machine in my bedroom – emotion shifting through my body I didn’t fully understand – nostalgia, happiness, melancholy for simpler times….

Music evokes.

It is magical, powerful….how lucky we are.

Finding your voice – #21daysofWriting – Day 14

 

Today’s topic is brought to you by Gina Chapman, who is an all-round good egg & Twitter -type.

When I started all of this, I didn’t know what writing would fall on what date. That a post on “voice” would come on the day of a controversial European Election was definitely not part of the plan.. and yet here it is.

Over the past few weeks and particularly the past few days, the “voices” I can find and hear seem less-than-satisfied. I hear anger. Fury. Hatred. I hear people yelling at other people, sometimes on the same “side”. I hear voices of anguish – depression, loneliness, anxiety – our mental health under siege. I hear fear, loathing, despair. I hear brave voices, kind voices who are exhausted because they are shouted down by louder, less kind, more entitled ones.

I hear sensible, informed scientific voices given no credence or space. I hear the very things I thought I and everyone knew – the earth is indefatigably round – questioned and “disproved”. I hear the denial of rights, the dehumanising of each other to the point we are objects, rather than living, breathing, marvellous, daft, dumb, clumsy, striving beings.

It feels like a shit storm.

I want to switch off, curl up, knit for the winter, watch old movies with cups of tea, drink a LOT of gin, go walk in the hills… do anything to escape the madness. But it’s not going to be that way, for a while….buckle in, good people, we are in an epoch of change…Finding your own voice in all of this may require some care.

I can feel my natural hope and optimism being tested. The stoicism I try to find – the thing in me that says I can and will endure, and that to endure in a good state requires certain things of me – can be hard to locate at times.  I have to work at being kind when I can be, without being a pushover. To call out BS with what grace and humour I can muster – and stand within the reaction that comes back (no-one likes their BS being called. Including me.) without getting vengeful or hateful… it takes practice… sometimes I am vengeful and hateful – I tend not to spread that around, when it comes. There’s enough of it about. Keeping my own council is often better for everyone.

In times of such negative emotion it can feel like an act of rebellion or naivety to seek something more affirming to counter the crap. Words like cheerful or happy, joy or fulfilment, contentedness, love – these words are still seen as trite, unimportant and right now, they don’t get a lot of space. We need to find them space.

Reclaiming and living these words, actively, daily might just be the counter-cultural shower we need to wash away some of the current shit. So if I give myself permission for shameless joy and daft laughter, which starts someone else off. If I grin into the wind as I cycle & someone else grins back. If I take such pleasure in that first mouthful of raspberry brownie that I HAVE TO SHARE THE BROWNIE. If I take the bin out for my bonkers old neighbour because it’s a kind thing to do & no-one walks out of that deal worse off. If I send love to my friends who are feeling hopeless or chewed up, in a more useful, active way than “U Ok Hun?” and try to listen or nudge them to a thing that might help or away from the thing that doesn’t. If I vote in a way that represents the things I most closely believe will be better for me and the environment I occupy. If I politely push back at invitations come to Some Big Place to observe a “manel” bestowing mono-cultural wisdom on the less-well informed or say I don’t want to Chair one at some other Big Place and that statement gets traction. If I do these things and a hundred, thousand other things that make stuff better and less hateful and more harmonious…

If I actively participate in not participating in the brouhaha because I don’t do well in those spaces and my voice would weaken… if I write from my heart and put that into the world, with hope and belief that where we are at right now “this too will pass”. If I do these things…I’m not part of the problem, for now.

So maybe it’s not about finding voice, but finding when actions really do speak louder.