It’s up to me

It’s up to me

to save the world for him.

Stop the flood

from drowning his future.

Stop the fire

from burning his future.

It’s up to me

to choose right, shop right, buy right.

Feed right, eat right.

Read right, think right.

It’s up to me

to teach him to be kind, strong.

But not too strong,

to be a lover, not a fighter,

but the right kind of fighter,

who fights for rights.

He came to me by accident,

and now

it’s up to me

to get it right.

The thief of books

Sitting down to eat the remains of the day

at the kitchen table,

it was all quiet on the western front.

The return of the native had taken place.

And now, filled with sensibility rather than sense,

he scanned this brave new world with a pair of blue eyes.

He had been where angels fear to tread,

and now, back at this bleak house,

was regretting both his pride and his prejudice.

She, the lost girl,

was gone with the wind

into the shadow in the north.

And now he searches for desperate remedies,

prepares for one hundred years of solitude,

his heart of darkness but a handful of dust. 

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

*** written in response to a writing prompt on Peter Wyn Mosey’s brilliant website, here: https://peterwynmosey.com/2020/06/21/new-writing-prompts/

My blogging birthday and the writing road ahead

Photo by Clarinta Subrata on Unsplash

My other blog, The Everyday Radical, turned one this week. I wrote a little Happy Birthday to me post earlier on to mark the occasion – six days late, as is often the case when I try to write a post to mark a specific occasion. Better late than never, I guess.

Since I can write about whatever I like over here and it doesn’t have to be even vaguely related to saving the planet, I’m doing a self-indulgent brain dump of my current thoughts about writing, attempting to establish a freelance presence, not having enough time, feeling increasingly pissed off about lockdown, and other chirpy things. Hope it fills your hearts with joy, readers!

I started writing The Everyday Radical blog when my husband and I chickened out of getting involved on the front line of the Extinction Rebellion protests on Waterloo Bridge this time last year. To be fair, it was more me chickening out than him – he would’ve stuck it out, but I got all panicky about the police and my future CRB check status (important for the NHS career which I’ve since terminally (?) ditched). So we went and got sloshed in a pub in London Bridge instead. I was cross with myself and feeling like I should do something, within whatever limits it is possible for an individual to do something about the climate crisis, so I started writing. The idea was to document the various switches we made at home to live a more sustainable life.

The other driver for starting to blog was a conversation I had with a friend while on a long walk on the island of Paros, as part of a singing holiday that I’ve been involved with for a few years (info here if you want to join us in 2021, please GOD that we can travel normally again by then). We were just chatting about our lives really, and I was telling him some of the juicier highlights of mine, and he was finding it entertaining, and he said, “you know, you should write this down!”

I always wanted to be a writer, from when I was a nerdy seven year old teaching myself to touch type (from an old school Mavis Beacon typing program that my long-suffering Dad must have bought for me). I wrote most of a novel about my Grandma’s bad-tempered cat, Kitty – originally entitled Grandma’s Cat. Original dot matrix manuscript exists in a box in my loft somewhere, it’s going to be worth MILLIONS one day. I’ve got fragments of stories and poems that I’ve written over the years, but never had the BIG IDEA. And the touch typing was useful when I became a medical secretary, then I got the NHS bug and clawed my way up the management ladder, had a baby, burnt out a bit and ended up at rather a loss as to what to do next.

So I thought, hey, let’s just try a blog about something that matters, to flex the writing muscles, and go from there.

I started out pretty well, posting two or three times a week, but life (and a small person) gets in the way, and I’ve felt like it’s been fizzling out and I’m not doing it justice. I’ve read enough articles about blogging to realise that posting regular content and promoting the hell out of it on social media is the only way to build your following, and I’ve been sporadic at best with this. Monetising is tricky and not guaranteed to even generate enough income to cover the set-up costs. Trying to get sponsors to pay you to write product-placement posts is one option, but I don’t really want to do that – mainly because part of the sustainable living mission is about buying less, not persuading people to buy stuff they don’t need (even if it is Instagrammable bamboo accessories that no self-respecting eco-warrior can do without).

Meanwhile, I’ve got irons in a bunch of other fires too and I feel like I’m scatter-gunning my energy and not maximising the limited time I’ve got. I don’t want to go back to my previous day job, so I do need to work out a way of earning some money from writing, to justify “staying at home” after the boy starts school; hopefully next September he’s going to be at preschool five days a week. So do I focus on creative writing, and hope that someone publishes my novel? (Excerpt here – due to be finished in about 2025 at current rate of writing.) That feels risky, given the success rate of debut novels is pretty hit and miss, even if they do get published. Do I focus on short stories and try to win some competitions to gain some exposure, then pitch a novel to agents? Do I try to claw my way into the saturated freelance copy writing scene? This seems to involve pitching 824 article ideas, getting hardly any response and haggling about money. Time in vs. money out ratio – not great. Yet I do know people making a living out of this kind of writing, but it takes perseverance. Or do I throw myself at the proofreading and editing market and try to earn a reliable income that way?

This is not to even mention all the stuff I want to read and study and absorb and pontificate over. And the fact that my house is covered in a layer of toddler scuzz and cat fur and the freezer is nearly empty. And there’s a loft full of baby clothes to sell before our building work starts next spring.

Honestly, I don’t know how to unlock it. I’ve sat down and written a vague plan of how to get the most out of each spare chunk of day I can (this involves getting up at 5am and not spending much time with my husband). And I’ve written down a bunch of goals and aspirations relating to each strand of writing, to focus my attention. So it’s all there in my head – and my notebook.

But man alive it’s HARD. I’m so fed up of lockdown. And the government. And the media. And, somewhat perversely, all the humans. Especially the newbie cyclists on the FUCKING pavement. This is my biggest lockdown pet hate. You’re a grown up, if you’re not safe to cycle on the road, don’t cycle. The end. (And oh my god those silent but deadly bloody electric scooters, don’t get me started on those).

Anyway. There’s a silver lining of an additional morning of nursery school from the beginning of July, and an increasingly desperate hope that there’ll be a change in the rules to allow my mum to come and stay soon. Until then, it’s a day at a time, a blog post at a time, a session of proofreading training at a time (from these guys – it’s not glamorous but it could be the thing that enables it to be me that picks my boy up from school every day, rather than someone else).

And I’ve made £117 on eBay this week, which is extremely exciting.

If anyone is still reading, thanks for your patience with this very dull post. I will try to write a nice poem tomorrow to cheer us all up.

Love and kisses

SSL

Journal #6 – some thoughts about lockdown and personal responsibility

Jounral, pandemic, lockdown, thinking, monkey, worries,
Photo by Juan Rumimpunu on Unsplash

Hi out there, anyone who’s still following this blog after a pretty long period of nothingness. Lockdown life unfortunately for me has not been a blissful reflective period of copious spare time to grow vegetables, do jigsaws and write a novel. Like lots of folks with kids and caring responsibilities, I’ve had more to do, more stress, less help and less support. So – blah. I’m not going to whinge about it, but that’s why there’s been no posts – nothing here and not much over on Everyday Radical either (although some limited progress is being made on the novel, excerpt here from ages ago if you’re interested. Key development – it’s going to feature a dog called Daisy).

Anyway, the boy is back at nursery school this week, so to celebrate I thought I’d write something. All the writing guides tell you to write every day, even if it’s just a journal or stream of consciousness ramblings, and I would love to make this happen – I’m considering doing a super-organized block schedule of our daily routine to maximise time available (#5amWritersClub is a thing, folks).

But I mainly wanted to write today about some thoughts on the pandemic, to try and make these thoughts GO the FUCK AWAY, so I can think about some other stuff. (This is the reason for the picture of the thinking monkey, by the way. He won’t have whatever thought he’s having for very long, and it won’t turn into a ruminating, teeth-grindingly anxiety-inducing worry. He’ll just think about where he might find a banana, then go and find the banana and eat it, then scratch his bum).

So, this pandemic and lockdown situation is pretty rubbish for everyone, I think it’s safe to say. Even if you have no money or health worries and have a big garden and loads of time to develop a skill or enjoy your hobbies, it’s got to be a bit lonely unless you’re a total misanthrope – and even if you don’t miss people at all, watching the death rates climb must induce some sadness, or the fear of the disease must induce some anxiety.

My main feelings of late have been confusion and powerlessness.

First, the confusion. There are opinions everywhere, zillions of column inches and social media posts where every individual is convinced that their own view is right. We locked down too late and not hard enough, the schools are re-opening too soon, there’s going to be a second wave, the government are more interested in the economy than they are in saving lives, everything is completely fucked and we’re all doomed. Or – it’s no worse than seasonal ‘flu, we shouldn’t have locked down at all, lockdown causes more suffering and death than it prevents (people scared to go into hospital for serious but non-Covid things, or not wanting to over-burden the NHS so leaving it too late with Covid symptoms, the increase in domestic abuse, mental health crises, loneliness, depression and anxiety in older people hastening physical deterioration … the list is long). Or – it’s all a conspiracy and death certificates are being falsified. The whole thing is a man-made virus to make money for big Pharma by forcing everyone to be vaccinated. It’s all down to 5G. It’s a complex ploy to corrode our personal freedoms and we are on the way to becoming a totalitarian regime. {NB – I don’t agree with all of the above-stated views – obvs. You can guess which ones I do agree with in the comments if you want.]

It’s all quite interesting to me, as someone who is interested in politics and people and healthcare. But I don’t actually have time to research this stuff properly, and I’m not a virologist or an epidemiologist so I’m not going to pretend to have an expert opinion on the R value or the death statistics or the relative risk of lockdown vs. herd immunity. And, fundamentally, does it actually matter what I think? Is Dominic Cummings going to call me up and ask me my thoughts on lockdown easing strategy? No, of course not. (One opinion I will own up to is that he should have bloody resigned, and that he is running the show, and that he’s an arsehole – and that’s not a word I use very often). The government are in charge – I didn’t vote for them, but what actual power have I got to oppose them, really? Petitions don’t work, protests don’t seem to work. Thus, the powerlessness. And the subsequent attempts to LET GO of the worry about the things I can’t change.

I can only change my own behaviour. I can wear a mask in the supermarket if I think it’s a good idea. I can’t make you wear one. I can decide to stick to the social distancing rules. I can’t force my neighbours to do the same. I can only make a decision about whether to shop them (I decided not to, incidentally). I can decide to send my kid back to nursery school, based on my assessment of the risks and benefits for our family. It’s none of my business what you decide to do with your kid and I won’t bitch on social media about people who make different choices.

I struggle, though, to escape from the feeling that I should be DOING something about it. I think it’s the slightly dysfunctional hero complex that a lot of people who’ve worked in the public sector for a long time carry around with them – I spent 15 years trying to fix my little corner of the NHS, and now I feel like I can’t fix anything.

I was hoping that the process of writing this all down would lead me to some profound conclusions, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. So I will try to be like the thinking monkey, and just have a thought once, then let it go, and eat a banana instead. And maybe watch the news a bit less often. And think about what means of protest are available to us, beyond whinging on Twitter about Dominic bloody Cummings.

I’m going to try and post some more poetry soon, so give the blog a follow if you’d like to get an email when that happens. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week – who knows?

Peace and love x

Pandemic poetry #1

Slow

Down.

There’s nowhere to rush to.

For once, we’re not late.

Because

Nothing

Is

Happening.

What will it be like to wake up from this dream state?

To hear the aeroplanes overhead again

And watch the traffic standing still.

Until then, small one,

Just us.

On time, for once.

** Before you bite me, we were outside very early this morning and we didn’t touch anything or get closer than 2m from anyone else. We are in UK so not in total lockdown. Yet. Also, I know his coat’s too big.

Journal #5 – beans and bogroll – anxiety in the age of Coronavirus

Photo by Kien Cuong Bui on Unsplash

How’s everyone doing? Got enough beans and bog roll? Feeling dismayed at the panic buying? Feeling worried about the Government’s “strategy” and the number of ventilators we may or may not have?

I’ve been struggling, I must admit. And I am writing this mainly just to get my thoughts out, but if it helps anyone else then that’s great. I want to put a big sign up somewhere, maybe a banner along the top of the BBC News channel, which says, “it’s ok to feel anxious in anxiety-provoking situations!” It’s normal. It’s ok to want to buy all the nappies and formula so that you’re sure your kid will have some. (It’s not ok to actually buy them all, then sell them on eBay at a hugely inflated price. Obviously. These people are despicable. It’s also not ok to use this as an opportunity to tell people they should have breastfed or used cloth nappies instead. FUCK OFF). It’s really hard to only buy one pack though, if there are more there and you can afford more.

Which brings me to this horrible, gut-wrenching thing that I’m realising. We are SO privileged. We have a reasonable stash of food in the house. My husband will get sick pay if he gets ill. He has a knowledge job, so he can work from home and still get paid (I might kill him, though). I feel queasy when I see empty shelves, but I can’t imagine how queasy I would feel if I was a single parent on a zero hours contract, with school-aged kids and child care challenges, living week-to-week. You can’t get a supermarket delivery slot for weeks, even if you can afford to buy supplies. So what the fuck do you do if you haven’t got any food in and you need to self-isolate? How do you pay your rent if you can’t work, either because you’re ill or you have to look after your kids?

It’s hard not to think about this stuff – but what can I do to fix it, really? I can’t change who the PM is, I can’t change government policy, I can’t eradicate poverty. I can do what I can in my community (which isn’t much, with a toddler in tow). I can make plans to keep us all safe and sane in the event of lock-down… (serious question – in the event of lock down, does wine count as essential supplies?)

I’m setting small self-care goals to try and improve my own health and fitness and give myself something positive to focus on. I took my vitamins every day last week! Yay me! I am trying to drink more water, get my 5 a day, get more sleep. All of these things make the anxiety easier to manage. I actually feel quite positive today – but the week is young, my husband is working from home indefinitely and I am expecting nursery school to close any day now. So watch this space.

Meanwhile, I had a heart-rending email from one of my favourite musicians, Emily Mae Winters, cancelling her spring tour due to continuing uncertainty. Self employed folks, particularly performers, are REALLY going to struggle when all their work dries up. If you can, buy some music online (via Bandcamp, maybe), or if your data plan allows it, stream the fuck out of your favourite artists on Spotify or Apple Music so they get some revenue coming in. I am trying not to think about what’s going to happen if this goes on for months, and how many of my favourite humans are going to struggle, how many of my favourite local businesses are at risk. So – while you can still shop, shop local too. Just only buy one pack of pasta, please.

The ghosts of Valentines past

Image by Bianca Mentil from Pixabay

Scrolling through Facebook memories on Valentine’s Day is an interesting pastime. It’s easy to forget how much life has changed over the years, and interesting to remember the loves and losses of the past.

11 years ago, I was apparently “glad I’d had no expectations”. I’m just going to confess that I had to look at my CV to work out where I was in 2009 – I was in Plymouth, moderately unhappy being single, but working 100,000 hours a week, surfing and riding lots of horses at weekends and making the best of it.

9 years ago, I posted this absolute gem: “bollocking bollocking bollocks to valentines day”. SO grumpy was I that I even omitted the capital letters. Five people liked that post, four of whom I had had intimate relations with (in previous years, not in the immediate prelude to that post). Hmmm.

The following year, 2012, I posted a picture of an ostentatious boquet of roses that my boyfriend had arranged to be delivered to my workplace (not easy in a massive hospital where your office used to be a shower room). He unceremoniously dumped me three months later with no reason or explanation.

2013 – a Grumpy Cat meme. “You make me a better person: we must break up.” (I’ll come back to this one…).

2014 – another cat meme. I’m not even going to replicate it here, it’s far too boring. Two photos of my cat (one of him sharing my Marks and Spencer steak). And a whingy status about being flooded and unable to escape the village (I lived on the edge of Dartmoor at this time. Alone. Except for my cat. Am I painting the picture here?)

2015:

“Roses are red / Gender is performative / Mass-market romance / Is heteronormative” —Stefanie Gray (Facebook attribution – can’t find this poet IRL, might be bollocks. Sorry)

Also this:

By this point I’d been alone for a LONG time – functionally alone, if not always actually alone. And I was mostly ok with it. Still nursing the ghosts of a few broken hearts, hugely sceptical about romance, holding no great ambitions towards marriage or having babies. Working lots, travelling lots. But angry at mainstream media and culture for presenting the only viable and satisfying life choices as heterosexual, monogamous, economically productive and also productive of more humans.

Valentine’s Day 2016 morning, I had pancakes on a borrowed houseboat in Haggerston with my boyfriend (now husband…), having quit my job, moved to London, gone freelance, fostered out my cat to some friends, and spent the first months of London life basically living out of the back of my Fiesta in various AirBnBs, while commuting to Essex.

Valentine’s Day 2017 – he bought me tulips and we got kebabs. We were living in a rented house in the dodgy end of Stratford. I was about 6 weeks pregnant. And very surprised. Life has this habit of surprising you, is all I can say.

2018 – I think absolutely nothing romantic happened. We had a four month old baby, I’d gone back to work two days a week (that’s another post – a mother’s place is in the wrong, whatever you do, remember that, folks). I was doing a brutal commute, so I shared some wisdom about commuting sins. Maybe I will write a super-original post complaining about man-spreading and scooters in the City another day.

2019 – nothing seems to have happened at all, or I didn’t feel the need to record it or share with the unsuspecting world of Facebook anyway. I think maybe we got a takeaway and had an argument, but I might be wrong about that.

Today, 2020. We (the small one and I) went to toddler music this morning; no major incidents were reported although there was a close call with a tambourine. We’re having a posh M and S ready meal feast tonight and prosecco, after toddler bedtime, to celebrate having survived December, January and this much of February. I have bought my husband two books which I want to read, and told him to buy me tulips. The small one gave me this after nursery school yesterday. Best card I’ve ever had.

Anyway, the moral of this rambling reminiscence, people, is that you can have a clear picture of what your life will be, and be accepting of it, have made your peace with it, be making the best of it. Or even enjoy it for what it is, not feeling the need for platitudes (still haven’t met the right one yet? No, Karen, I haven’t. Now fuck off to Frankie and Benny’s with your boring husband for nom noms and drinkies).

Then bosh, something magical comes along. And it’s all exciting and unexpected, then gradually it settles into normal. And a lot of the time it’s bloody boring and hard work and you talk about money too much and argue about emptying the bins, then you have a kid and you don’t get enough sleep and playing with toddlers is boring and he gets to have nice coffee at work and nothing’s fair about motherhood.

But at the heart of it, it’s what you make of it. All of it. And we make the best of it, me and my brilliant husband. And he makes me a better person (remember that Grumpy Cat meme?) And the good bits are bloody brilliant. And I’m looking forward to a big steak pie tonight. And that’s a lot of sentences starting with ‘And’. And so it goes on, this life.

An exciting thing!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is artsy-vibes-n2rnmaznag4-unsplash.jpg

I mentioned an exciting thing which has happened yesterday… and here it is!

I have been working on crafting my skills as a writer in various different formats recently, and I submitted a piece of flash fiction – which may possibly be an excerpt from a forthcoming novel, in about ten years’ time – to the very excellent collaborative writers’ blog, The Finest Example (the guys who also published my article about “zero waste” as a troublesome concept, under my other writing guise as The Everyday Radical).

And here it is, A King in Darkness. I’m very proud of it and super stoked that someone else thinks it’s worthy of publishing (yes, imposter syndrome having a field day here!) So if you like it, please flatter me and say nice things and share it far and wide!

Photo by Artsy Vibes on Unsplash

Journal #4 – Breaking Cover

So it’s been a while since my last journal post, which may well be a relief to anyone who is reading this. It’s been hard to find time for this, alongside my other blog, some paid writing I’ve been doing, and life in general – keeping a toddler alive, being ill off and on since before Christmas (MEGA dull), all the adulting that is boring but necessary.

But I do like writing these posts, and I want to keep the journal aspect of this blog going, as the fiction and poetry aspect continues to develop too. More on the exciting developments here SOON – but in preparation for said exciting development, I’m planning on breaking cover on this blog, so it’s not going to be quite so secret any more. Something is coming up linked to it which I’m super proud of and want to share with people I know in real life, so – BANG. The clock is ticking for the big reveal (I edited a bunch of stuff yesterday in preparation and pruned my Twitter history… not that I think anyone cares that much, but anyway. Made me feel a bit less twitchy).

Meanwhile, some actual journal-ish thoughts. I am really enjoying reading more books at the moment. My husband has caught the reading bug, so we are spending a few more evenings now reading, rather than binge watching crime dramas, and I do also sometimes read while the small one is watching TV (so fucking shoot me now…! See later in this post for some toddler parenting thoughts!) I have genuine aspirations now towards fiction writing, and I do believe that prolific reading is critical to becoming a better write – so technically I’m working, right?

I was quite inspired by this post from Raspberry Thriller, a blogger I follow, on the books she had read in 2019, and developed vague aspirations towards doing something similar as I go along in 2020. I use Goodreads to keep a record what I’ve read and want to read (guess which list is longer?), as well as follow various authors and keep up to date with what my friends are reading (some of whom are voracious readers, I envy them for having the time…)

So anyway, I just finished this amazing historical novel, part of Alison Weir’s Tudor Queens series, which I will write a review of soon. (I want to do it separately because I need to learn how to do the menu function in WordPress and this is supposed to be my “practice” blog…)

Lastly, I read something on Twitter today which made me cross – writing about things which make me cross often helps to dissipate the crossness, so here goes. There was a guy (a writer – I am following loads of writers at the moment, in the vague hope that one day something I write will go viral) who tweeted that he wished people talked more openly about how difficult it is parenting a toddler, rather than the usual “enjoy every minute” fatuous bollocks. Loads of supportive comments, empathising, making jokes in a sensitive way, sharing examples of horrific toddler antics (like, today my son hit me in the face with a digger), mixed with acknowledgements that the good bits are great (he also sang a whole Winnie the Pooh song with his dad at bedtime last night – cuteness overload) Highs and lows, friends, highs and lows.

Then some helpful person says “just wait til you have teenagers, mate, toddlers are a walk in the park”, or something along those lines.

Just fucking STOP doing this, please, humans. It’s so unhelpful. Yes, being pregnant might be easier than having a new born for some people, but telling an insomniac pregnant person who can barely walk but needs to pee every 20 minutes that they will never sleep again, or pee alone again, once the baby’s born – just why would you do this? It’s never going to make the person in question feel better. Would people do this in other circumstances? Imaging someone telling you they were going for a gall bladder operation – would you tell them that you know someone who had a horrendous recovery and the operation went wrong and they nearly died? No? So why would you say this to someone who’s about to give birth? Imagine a teenager talks to you about how hard they’re finding their GCSEs. Would you say, “suck it up, buttercup, A levels are much worse?”, “just wait til you go to university?”, “just wait til you have to pay 40% tax and work 70 hours a week?” NO, you wouldn’t, unless you’re a tosser. So don’t be a tosser to parents. Please. It’s hard enough as it is without these sorts of empathy fails.

Ah, better now. Thanks for reading, if you’re still here.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash