Girls like cricket too.

It’s a baking hot day here in the UK, and I’m not watching cricket. Not that unusual an event for most people to be fair, but unlike a lot of people, I like the cricket. I would have liked to watch some today, but it’s probably for the best – I might have melted. It’s too hot. I got the usual ‘girls don’t tend to like cricket’ response to my queries about cricket, closely followed by ‘you’re definitely in a minority’. Well, yes, this is not a surprise to anyone really, I don’t do conformity as a rule.

Girls do like cricket, just as much as boys do. Of course they do. I did a quick straw poll of friends – all the girls liked cricket (more than one said they loved it) and only 50% of the boys actually liked cricket. OK, I do tend to hang around in the minority groups so this probably isn’t a surprise, either way. I have one friend who waxes lyrical about how attractive she finds her husband when he’s playing cricket. It’s definitely a good spectator sport.

Saltaire - cricket

Cricket in Roberts Park, Saltaire, West Yorkshire, 2009.

My dad likes cricket, but it was my ex who got me hooked. I spent 9 years dating a man from West Yorkshire – you have to like cricket if you date a Yorkshireman or you spend a lot of time alone in the summer, that’s just part of the territory. And it’s addictive, really addictive, you pick it up whether you intend to or not. I watched my ex play in local club cricket, I went to cricket matches with him, and cricket was always on the radio because that was all his dad listened to in the summer. I’ve learned a lot, and apart from the field placings (which I still get very confused about) I’ve got a pretty good handle on the game, I can even identify an lbw dismissal most of the time (go and look it up if you don’t know what it is).

The first time I knew I’d been bitten by the cricket bug was the summer of 1998 when England beat South Africa at Headingly – it was a test match and we went on the Sunday, the day England won. The sun was shining and I was with my ex and his family. It was non-stop action and lots of runs were being scored and South Africa lost their final few wickets at what seemed like a rate of knots. Of course this was all over the course of a day, so probably not as quick as it felt at all, but it was really exciting to watch as I’d never been to an international match before. It’s really lovely memory too, which is good considering what we all had to go on to deal with.

Headingly August 6th 1998 England vs South Africa - ESPN Cricket Info Getty Images

Headingly: August 6th, 1998. England vs South Africa (ESPN Cricket Info, Getty Images)

I used to live by Edgbaston cricket ground, on a sunny weekend we used to crack open the windows and listen to the cricket along with the radio commentary. I don’t understand how people don’t like cricket – it’s synonymous with a sunny summer day in my world, although I will disappear to watch tennis if there’s a conflict. I guess it’s not as fast and frenetic as some sports, not as immediately rewarding, but that’s part of its charm for me. I regularly sit in the garden at weekends when L is at her dad’s and listen to whatever international cricket match is being broadcast.

Girls do like cricket, just as much as boys do, it’s just that cricket is not the most popular sport for anyone. Not all boys like cricket either (I’ll go out on a limb and say not all Yorkshiremen do either, but they probably keep it quiet). Gender has nothing to do with it from what I can see. Girls do play cricket, of course they do, the England Women’s Cricket team are evidence of this. It’s not just a boy’s game. But girls aren’t usually given the opportunity to play cricket at school, that’s where the issue is from my perspective.
kids playing cricket

I was lucky, being on all the sports teams meant we got to try out some of the sports we didn’t normally do in games lessons (including lacrosse, which is a completely mad game). One of my friends became a fan of playing rugby and another was good at football, most of us loved basketball. I’m diabolical at football, but while I can catch and bat reasonably well in cricket, I’m utterly hopeless at throwing as I’ve got wonky elbows. Really, they are. They’re either put together slightly skew-whiff or being slightly hypermobile means the tendons developed in a peculiar manner; either way, my elbow faces the wrong direction (downwards instead of sideways when arms are stretched out). But, the point is that I got an opportunity in sport that others in my school didn’t get.

I don’t know if it’s improved or not, I’ll find out when L goes to big school I reckon, but if they’re still just playing hockey, rounders and netball I’ll be having words. All sports should be tried by all children – how else will they find what they’re good at? If the boys at my school had tried netball like we’d tried football, perhaps we wouldn’t have given them such a thrashing when we had a girls vs boys tournament! We beat them 17-2 in netball, seriously lads, were you moving at all?! They beat us 2-1 in football if you’re interested, perfectly respectable.

ball and stumps

But today I wasn’t allowed to go and watch cricket, I think mostly because it wasn’t a very good venue. That doesn’t matter to me, certainly not on a day like today, but apparently it’s a factor, which is sweet. This can be interpreted several ways, but the equivalent to me is music, so if it’s like this I get it. I wouldn’t want someone to come and watch me play in a concert at a crappy venue. First time viewing would ideally be one of the cooler places I’ve played, such as The Royal Festival Hall in London, or the Birmingham Town Hall (for anyone who doesn’t know these venues, yes I am totally bragging right now!) I’m not likely to play in these places again, but a proper venue and not a crappy church hall, with a decent band such as my old band or orchestra in Birmingham would be how I’d want a newbie to see me play. I don’t know if this is the correct analogy or not, but I suspect it’s close.

SBS at Birmingham Town Hall

South Birmingham Sinfonia at the Birmingham Town Hall, Feb 2008 (yes, I’m in the picture)

So at some point, hopefully soon, I’ll be permitted to watch a cricket match, and I’m genuinely looking forward to it. Because I like cricket. Yes, indeed I do, girls like cricket too.

Vx

Anxiety makes me tired.

I’m tired, really tired. Not lack of sleep tired, although I didn’t get close to enough last night – apparently my brain wanted to be awake and thinking at 4am. I was less than amused. I mostly get enough sleep to function at a reasonable level these days, I’m just tired of the other stuff, not work, the other stuff that comes with being a single, independent woman with a kid.

I’m very lucky to have a beautiful daughter, a roof over my head, and a good job I mostly enjoy. I’ve got some great friends who listen when I need them to, and tell me off when I need it as well. But I’m still tired.

I’m tired of always making all the decisions. I’m tired of always having to do all the chores. I’m tired of being the only one who ever does anything in my life. I’m tired of never having someone to come home to. I’m tired of looking after myself all the time. I’m tired of not feeling able to ask for help when I need it, because I don’t want to bother anyone. I’m tired of feeling lonely. I’m tired of never having time to do the writing I really, really want to do. I’m tired of everyone thinking I’m confident and assertive when I’m often not. I’m tired of people finding me intimidating, which I find really strange given I’m such a big softie. I’m tired of being so prickly on the outside when all I want to do is give everyone a hug. I’m tired of people making assumptions about me rather than talking to me. I’m tired of not knowing where I stand with some people. I’m tired of not being able to ask.

coffee can't fix tired

I’m really tired of having anxiety. That’s what all those thoughts are about. Anxiety. I hate having anxiety, because it gets in the way of things I want to do and people I’m trying to connect with.

I’m ok, I’m just tired.

I’ve had a bad anxiety head for a while now, I’m not sure why, well I’ve a few theories but I won’t be sharing those here. I’ve only told one person how I’ve been feeling recently, I don’t feel I can tell a lot of people, but it shouldn’t be a secret. So many people struggle with mental health issues, and sweeping them under the carpet only adds to the stigma. I’m not crazy and it’s wrong of anyone to think I am just because having anxiety can make me seem a little nuts at times. So here’s me, pointing out it’s completely normal to feel a bit nuts sometimes.

Living with anxiety can be like living with a crazy person in your head who won’t shut up and is constantly telling you all the awful things that are going to happen if you even breathe a step out of place and aren’t in complete control for 5 seconds. Letting go and trusting other people is ridiculously difficult with anxiety, because anxiety tells you not to and tells you all the bad things that will happen if you do trust them. OK, bad things might have happened in the past when I trusted people, but there’s no evidence that will happen now, it’s just my brain is having none of it. Dammed brain on heuristics.

anxious and educated

Not having complete control when you have anxiety is really difficult, it’s a little easier when you know people well, but still takes a huge amount of effort. Because anxiety will tell you all the ways things will go wrong in every new situation you encounter. Every situation will make you nervous because you’re thinking of everything that could go catastrophically wrong no matter how unlikely any scenario is. Anxiety will tell you all sorts of rubbish and you’ll believe it, because you get twisted up in the spiral of worry and can’t tell the logic from the crazy.

It also means waiting for something can be torture, you’re putting control in someone else’s hands, which is hellish to anyone with anxiety. Patience might be a virtue, and when I’ve complete knowledge of what is around the corner it’s all there, I can display the patience of a saint. If I have no idea what’s happening and I’m not in control of the situation, then I go from patient to imagining every worst case scenario in about 24 hours. Give me a week and I’ll want to walk away just to protect myself from my own head.

life is a mirror

A lot of people get it, but they only get it when they know you’ve got anxiety. Until then, they just think you’re a bit crazy and are going to crack up. You’re not, at all, you might feel like it sometimes, but you’re not. I’m definitely not, but I might go and hide a bit more than anyone would like just to keep things on an even keel. I got used to living with anxiety a long time ago, but the constant pressure of having to do everything by yourself outside of work is exhausting and leaves less energy for looking after yourself and stopping the anxiety taking over. So when I’m tired it all gets a bit worse.

Anxiety is a bitch, just like depression it fills your head with lies and tells you people don’t really like you, they’re just pretending and they’re going to disappear when they’ve found someone less twitchy to hang around. You worry about things you’ve said, things you’re thinking, things you didn’t say, things you didn’t think, and you worry about what others did or didn’t do, and things they did or didn’t say. Anxiety will drive you crazy if you let it, it’s so difficult to keep the crazy thoughts at bay some days.

The fact I’m mentally tired isn’t a big surprise really, it’s been an incredibly tough year and one hell of a learning curve with a rollercoaster of emotions chucked in to boot. Of all previous years in my life this one is right up there for number of challenges and changes. I’ve also been on full-on work mode for the past 8 months, and there’s another couple of months coming up where I need to be working at full speed before I can even contemplate getting a rest.

I don’t really know how to fix this kind of tired. Coffee is something that I gave up a while ago as it affected my anxiety badly, I definitely don’t need that. What I need is the sort of break I can’t have. The sort where I actually get rest and someone else is there to do all the things I normally do. I think I just need someone around. Which can’t happen.

escher - hand and reflecting sphere

MC Escher – Hand and Reflecting Sphere

Is it just pride that I’m not asking the questions I want to ask or saying the things I want to say? Probably partly, but not just that, the onus is always on me, and for once I want it not to be. I’m tired of making the first move, of making the decisions, of being the only one who does anything. I’d actually like someone to take over for a bit, just to give my brain a rest from itself.

I’m trying to take a step back from some things, difficult as it is and much as it’s making my head spin with all the thoughts that I’d rather weren’t there. And I’m trying not to walk away from a situation causing me a huge amount of anxiety. Because I know it’s just my head telling me rubbish and for once I don’t want to run away, even though it’s stressful. But I’m tired and I can’t do everything. And trying to do everything means I have less time and space to manage my anxiety. I’ve got priorities. I have to look after my girl, I have to do my job, and I have to look after me. Those that want to contact me will contact me. If they don’t then they don’t. If they’re good people they’ll understand that anxiety is making me act a bit differently to how I want to act but it doesn’t mean I care about them any less.

miscarriage 9

I don’t really want to hide, it doesn’t always help. But right now I’m tired and there’s no space in my head, so I have to hide and try and sort my head out just so that I can carry on, as I have to do. Some people will be let through my defences, if they wish. Some may have to wait a while. If I contact you, it’s because I want you around and I trust you. If I don’t, please don’t take it personally, I’m not disappearing, I’m just trying to slow down, or stop, the many trains of thought racing around my head. Because they’re making me tired.

Vx

Time Flies

Time flies when you’re having fun, so the saying goes. And it goes by quicker as you get older, and apparently when you have kids as well. I wrote the first draft of this blog because I’d been kicked out of my own living room, literally – L wanted to be by herself apparently. Charming.

I get her need for space this afternoon though. She was with her dad overnight and there’s a new baby there plus visiting grandparents; she’s had school the rest of the time along with a few hours with her busy childminder. She needs space from people, it’s not personal, she’s a mini-me after all and she can’t cope with non-stop human interaction. There has to be space to just be. But for me it feels like only moments since she was so very tiny and wanted to be around me all the time. The then-constant ‘mummy, mummy, mummy’ is tapering off, unless she wants something or gets too tired. This is only going to get more pronounced as she gets older. She’s growing up so fast, it feels like a few moments and a distant memory, both at once, of when she was a tiny baby with that delicious new baby smell.

time flies 1

Sometimes you just want things to slow down so you can enjoy them more, you want to tell time to stop rushing, slow down, let me breathe this in, let me breathe in your smell, let me just listen to you, because I don’t know when I’ll get to experience it again. Sometimes I just want to hit pause.

But time doesn’t work like that. There is no pause button, if there were it would be chaos.

So many things this past year that have felt like they’ve just zipped by. The new role I’ve had this year is closing in on a full cycle for this academic year, and still it feels like only a few days since I started. The only way I know it’s not been a few days are my confidence levels, which are considerably better than at the start of the academic year. I saw someone I’ve not seen in months, and until then it had felt like an eternity since we’d seen each other or spoken to each other; but now that I’ve seen him again it feels like 5 minutes since we last spoke. Which is all good as far as that connection goes, clearly, but time flies, and sometimes it feels like there’s never enough of it. The next time can’t come soon enough. But in contrast to that, it feels like I’ve lived up north forever, not just a mere seven years. My old life feels like a distant memory sometimes, almost like another lifetime. It feels so distant and I can barely even remember who I was back then – so much has changed, including me.

time flies 2

Physicists and philosophers aren’t the only ones who study time, psychologists do too. A colleague of mine knows far more than me, but here’s a quick mention of the bits I know about. Time is something we perceive and the things we do during time are processed by our brains. All elements relating to the perception of time are neurological at their core. As we learn things we have to form new neural connections in our brain; this takes time. Once we have learned this information, task or behaviour those connections become more secure and develop into ‘strong’ connections. Then we use these connections to learn more things relating to the original information, task or behaviour. Once we have learned a lot about a task we then learn the easiest way to do this, creating short-cuts between the different strong connections. As a result we use these shortcuts and the ‘long route’ isn’t used anymore and becomes weaker. The original connections disappear and the new, quicker, connection remains.

So as we get older we develop a brain that relies on shortcuts (heuristics), and the time spent thinking about doing tasks literally gets shorter. This means that the reason it feels like some things take less time than they used to do, is because they do. At a neurological level there is less processing happening and our greater use of heuristics means we spend less time thinking about what we are doing, so we perceive it as taking less time in reality. Our perception of time lies in the brain.

time flies 3

Time is a construct, it’s the 4th dimension. Some argue time is an illusion, some that it is constant. Time does appear to move faster at altitude. Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity led to the theory of gravity, and it seems that gravity and acceleration are part of the same continuum, and gravity slows down time and particles. This concept is known as time dilation and is the part of Einstein’s theory that means we might one day be able to see into the future. Not that anyone can right now, the sort of device built in the film ‘Paycheck’ isn’t going to be real any time soon.

So gravity has the effect of appearing to slow down the measurement of time at least, and time can be altered by our own brains, but also technically is still a constant since the universe doesn’t really care how we measure time, things just keep ticking on regardless of the number we assign it.

The perception that time is constant is something we all think exists, but reality is a construct in itself, a construct we create of all the things we perceive and perceive ourselves to have experienced. This reality construct we create is something we don’t realise plays tricks on us, perception can be a funny thing. Even understanding how perceptual illusions work, and why we’re being fooled, doesn’t make them any less powerful. I can explain how the Penrose Triangle and Kanisza Square illusions work, but I still can’t do anything but see them the same way you do. Time is just the same, our perceptions of time are both that it’s a constant and speeding up. Our brains are quite happy with this contradiction, even though it makes no logical sense for the two concepts to co-exist.

penrose triangle

The Penrose Triangle – only possible in 2D but is perceived in 3D


kanisza triangle

Kanisza Triangle: a triangle in the middle of the shapes that is perceived but imaginary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time feeling like it speeding forwards is sometimes a good thing, because spaces between seeing people we care about become shorter. But being busy helps time pass so if the time feels like it’s dragging then the trick is to keep busy and you’ll perceive time to fly! Then we get to see them again in what can feel like the blink of an eye. But what we actually want is for slow time down at that point, when we’re in a happy place, with people we care about or doing things we enjoy. And of course it can’t.

If we want time to speed up and take us to the next thing we’re looking forward to, we risk being so busy we miss out on the things that life is all about between the two time points. If we can speed up time, we can slow it down too. By doing new things, by getting to know people we don’t know very well, by learning new things, we can make it seem like time is slowing down. Routine and knowledge is what speeds our perception of time up, novelty slows it down.

cat smelling flowers

And I’m all for learning more, doing new things and slowing down to appreciate the little things that make life good. L might have told me she needs space, but that just means I’m doing a good job of raising her to be an independent woman who doesn’t need to rely on anyone, and isn’t afraid to be by herself, just like her mum. She’s one secure kid. That’s a good thing for both of us. It might feel like ages until I see the person I mentioned earlier again, but it’s not really, and that time will come soon enough. And I love my life up here, it’s where I feel at home and happy, so I don’t mind that my old life is a distant memory, particularly as it means the bad memories feel further away.

Time does feel like it flies sometimes, and nothing we can do can really stop it. We can slow down sometimes and appreciate the moments for what they are though. Life isn’t short but it can feel like it is, so hug quickly, and slow down and smell the roses.

Vx

Opening a locked door

Everyone has walls up to protect themselves. Mine are at least a mile high, I think most people are aware of this to some extent, I’m worse than most at letting anyone get close to me. I’ll chatter away but don’t really let anyone in very much, it takes me a long time to trust people, and most people haven’t had the patience needed to stick around. It’s been a problem in my life for several decades. But I’ve got to the point where this is getting in the way and I want to let someone in.

Everyone has been hurt, and everyone would prefer not to get hurt again. So we put up walls and stop people getting close. Mostly this doesn’t matter and we might not even notice. We’ve got people we trust, friends we know we can rely on, friends who’ve been by our sides through the good and bad times so we know they’re not going anywhere; so we focus on those relationships and don’t see our walls. We might even not be aware they’re there.

self confidence 5

Nobody new is able to get to know us very well and this causes problems and very often those knocking on the door of our defences end up walking away. This applies to all kinds of relationships, friendships, familial relationships and potential romantic relationships. Forming new relationships of any variety when you’re older is so much more difficult than when we were kids.

Then someone comes along and we realise that we quite like them, we want to hang out with them more, we want to let them in but have no idea how. We’ve spent so long behind our walls we’ve somehow barricaded the entrance and nobody can get in, often we find we’ve lost the key so we don’t know how to let them in either.

I’ve been through my fair share of crap in the past and done a lot to resolve the issues. I’ve even taken the bolts off the door to the defences I’ve put up around myself, which was a big achievement for me. I found the key but I’m hanging onto it for now. I’m scared of doing more. Actually opening up and letting people in is something I’m still struggling with. The stuff I’ve been through has taken its toll on the relationships I’ve had, all of them. I’ve not managed to let anyone get close, not really. There are a few people who I’ve let in, and it’s taken years for me to do that. I’ve got some good friends who know the effort it takes me to get to know someone new, but most people aren’t aware of it.

titanic

Forging new friendships is difficult enough when you’ve experienced negative and dysfunctional friendships in the past; but forging a new relationship with someone when you’ve been hurt to the point of giving up on men completely is downright scary. Allowing someone to forge a new relationship with you is difficult, for them and you, because they need the patience of a saint, and you’ll feel bad for not letting them in even though you really want to.

The advice I’d give anyone who’s trying to forge a new connection with someone who has mile-high defences is this: be patient, be honest, and don’t give up. They will come around if they care about you the way you want them to, and they will open up eventually. You will get to know them the way you may want to, so just be there and prove you’re not going to go away, and you’re not about to be put off by the giant wall surrounding their heart.

westley and buttercup 2

At the end of the day anyone with defences is scared of forging a new connection because we’ve seen and experienced how horrible it is when connections get broken. People leave and it’s shit. It hurts when you’re let down and betrayed, nobody wants to go through that again. I know I certainly don’t. I’m sure there’s more hurt for me around the corner somewhere, I’ve no doubt I’ll be fine after it, but I could do without it leading to someone I care about walking away.

Getting involved with someone again has the potential for being scary, even more so when you already have a sense of how it would feel if they were no longer part of your life. Just having coffee with someone can be intimidating, no matter how much we want to be there. It’s almost like forcing yourself to walk into a situation you really want but are really scared of at the same time.

I met someone for coffee yesterday, and I took a deliberate detour on the walk down to the place we met, and I almost turned around and went home. That’s just so silly, especially when I was meeting such a lovely person who I already know isn’t about to disappear. But I was still scared anyway, because this is someone I want to allow to get close, who may actually want to get close to me. But allowing that option to exist immediately serves up the potential to get hurt again. That’s the scary part. I’m still not convinced I didn’t kamikaze things a little at one point.

instant access

Defences seem to exist more firmly in person, at least for me, meaning that sending an email, or writing a blog, means we can say much more than we’re able to say face-to-face. Maybe it’s the online disinhibition thing that comes with computer-mediated communication, maybe it’s simply that the distance or the asynchronicity of communication which allows us a sense of safety. Probably all of these. Adding a sense of distance makes us feel a bit safer so we’re able to open up a bit more.

Email is a good option for those of us with defences, it gives us something that provides a sense of protection and allows us to open up without feeling quite so nervous. We can communicate from behind our defences without opening the door more than a tiny chink. It helps. Well, it works for me anyway, I can write far better than I talk, and it’s much easier for me to express myself this way.

Reticence about getting close to anyone comes from a place of having been hurt by those you cared about, it comes from a place of having seen trust get smashed, relationships being broken. However that happens it hurts. Sure I’ve dealt with the past issues and I’m good with where I am, what I’m doing and how my life looks. But that doesn’t stop be being scared of getting close to people again. I’ve healed, not forgotten. I don’t forget much.

memories don't always change

But I’m carrying on anyway and forcing myself to walk into a place to have coffee with someone. Because I want to see him more than I want my defences to remain in place. The defences will come down with him eventually, if he sticks around, I know this. One day. It will just take time. And quite possibly it’s the same for him.

leap-of-faith

But you can’t fight some connections, they’re instinctive and intuitively different to the majority of contact you have with people. So I need to be brave and continue on this path I’m on, and not run away.

Slow and steady is the way forward for those of us with mile high defences firmly in place. Keep chipping away at them, show us you’re going nowhere and we can trust you. You’ll get through eventually. Then one day we’ll hand you the key to the door and let you inside the walls we’ve put up. And it’s almost certainly going to be worth the wait.

Vx

Something must have got into me…

Writing is a funny thing, some days it’s really easy and words flow onto the keyboard almost without thought being needed – it can feel like almost a direct transfer of information from your brain and it all just sort of makes sense without really trying. Then on other days, just stringing a sentence together can feel like wading through treacle, and it’s all just so much effort that it hurts your brain, making you wonder if you should even bother writing in the first place. On these days whatever you write makes little or no sense and you end up deleting it anyway. Days like this are not good for self-esteem.

It’s felt a bit like the latter scenario for the past few weeks. Work has been so incredibly busy and I’ve not really had the mental space to do any writing. I’ve managed emails to friends just about, but even that took effort, particularly as I couldn’t say what I wanted to say anyway, the combination hurt my head and I’ve felt like writing wasn’t necessarily my thing. Fortunately I know that writing isn’t always easy, you need perseverance with that as much as with anything in life.

It’s been a lovely sunny day in the north, glorious for this time of year, and being by the coast is particularly lovely when there are views like this to be had.

coast 1

I was out this afternoon with a friend (a guy, I might have mentioned him a few times, and no, it wasn’t a date, felt like it but it wasn’t, regardless of the presence of jet-propelled butterflies) and had a long walk this evening to counteract the adrenaline from this afternoon. The combination seems to have released whatever blockage that’s stopped me from writing recently.

I love writing, it gets all the rubbish out of my brain and organises it. I think a lot, about everything, and I’ve usually imagined all the various scenarios (possible and impossible), but there’s only so much you can think about before it all gets in a bit of a muddle. That’s where writing helps me, it sort of organises the muddle and helps me make sense of all the things I’m thinking, and creating stories helps me organise a lot of the things that I’ve been through – creating alternative endings so that I can process everything and logically process the negatives, as well as put it all in context. Plus the things that are happening now are not really straightforward and I think too much, without much information to go along with them, something is needed to help process things. There’s loads of documents on my PC and plenty in my diary, where I’ve sorted out all the thoughts and figured things out – and vented when I couldn’t vent in person!

As well as being therapeutic and cathartic, writing is a creating process, you get to create something that others will read, although they may or may not like what you write! You get to write things that can transport people to other worlds or places in time, you get to elicit emotions and trigger memories; good writing can make people laugh and cry in equal measure.

Inside a book

Reading what has been written can transport us to any place the writer decides. If that’s a diary, it takes you back to the point in time you wrote about the scenarios, or the point in time someone else wrote about their experiences, showing you their innermost thoughts and emotions about the things they experienced. If it’s a novel you’re reading, you could end up anywhere from a local bar to the other side of the world, or even outer space. Wherever the writer decides to take you. It’s a journey and an adventure to somewhere else, a temporary escape from the world around you. A good book can make you feel lost within its pages and you need time to re-orient when you emerge from its pages and the world you’ve been taken to.

Writing is a really powerful tool, it can transport you into the mind of another person; all the things I write are giving you access to a little part of my mind, a little part of my inner consciousness, things that I’m willing to share with you, be that the things I’ve been through, the things I’m thinking or feeling, or the worlds I create in my stories. Take the following extract for example:

“Meg found them in the kitchen an hour later, still giggling but now covered in flour.  She watched them, mouth agape, and surveyed their flour-covered kitchen with dismay “What on earth happened in here you two?” she said, hoping it involved something naughty but suspecting not “Do we have anything to serve our customers Izzy dear?”  Izzy started to speak, but caught Jack’s eye and dissolved into giggles again “I had a small disagreement with the bag of flour” Jack said, looking at Meg with a grin, “and for some reason Izzy isn’t used to catching flying bags of flour so she missed, and, well, yes…” Jack looked over at Izzy and started laughing again.  Izzy was laughing so much she was having trouble speaking; she took some deep breaths and refused to look at Jack in case he set her off again, trying to gather herself together.  “Hi Meg” she managed before catching Jack’s eye and dissolving into giggles again.”

(extract taken from Cupcakes and Lies: by me! Hopefully I’ll get it published at some point…)

This extract gives you an insight into the book and takes you to a place that’s not this computer screen, it takes you to a kitchen where two people (who may or may not be involved) are having fun and laughing. If I’ve done my writing job right, then you can imagine the laughter and have already painted a picture in your mind of what all the characters look like. Writing gives us words, and then it gives us the space to fill in the blanks the words don’t cover. Writing takes us to another place, and allows us to enter that place and fill it with our own thoughts and contributions to the place we’ve arrived at. This makes reading a uniquely individual experience. I know what the characters look like, I’ve described them elsewhere in the book, but without that information, your brain has filled in the gaps and created the scene in your head, and you’ll all have thought of a different set of physical characteristics.

character climbing out of a book

Our brains abhor a vacuum, the absence of information is not an option for your brain. In ‘Ganzfield’ experiments, you have all sensory information removed (red light in the eyes and white noise in the ears, in a clean and empty environment where you can’t smell or touch anything) and then the things you see are then recorded. What you experience is hallucinations as your brain, in the absence of sensory information, creates something to process. Your brain is processing sensory information all the time, even when you’re asleep, so when it’s not there it’s a highly abnormal state and something the brain is not evolved to cope with. Hence hallucinations and interesting paranormal experiments.

So when a writer leaves out a bit of information, your brain fills in the blank with something that makes sense to you. Poetry always has partial information, and is interpreted in the context of the readers’ experience; psychological horror movies are typically far scarier than basic blood bath movies – for the simple reason that your brain can conjure scenarios that are far scarier to you personally than things the movie producers can deliver for you. The movie producers don’t know what scares you, they can only work in generics, your brain knows what scares you.

So I’m writing again, it’s been ages since I generated some writing and it’s nice that it seems to be all working again – which is good news as I need to do quite a bit next week! I don’t know why it seems to flow more now, maybe it’s the fact that my fingers were twitching all afternoon. It might be seeing someone I’ve missed, it might be the rest I’ve had from having a break from work, or it might just be the sunny and good day we’ve had today round here. Whatever the reason, I can construct sentences that make sense again, I can write words that sound halfway decent, words are flowing and it feels good to write again.

coast 2

Something must have got into me…

Vx

Not every day is a good day

Not every day is a good day, and that’s perfectly normal. It doesn’t make it easier when you have a crappy day though. And it doesn’t make it any easier when you haven’t had a crappy day (nothing wrong with today on the surface), but feel crappy all the same.

Exciting stuff, by definition, can’t happen all the time, otherwise it wouldn’t be exciting. Exciting means something outside off the ordinary. And ordinary is what happens day in, day out. It’s just exciting is few and far between and sometimes ordinary feels like it’s going to suffocate you with its blandness.

Everyone has a routine they go through every day, and it sometimes feels like you’re on some kind of demented hamster wheel after a while, this unvarying routine, this constant juggle of kids, jobs, chores, sleep, over and over again. I don’t know about you, but I never feel like I have enough time for any of it. And then I try and squeeze writing in around the sides, in time when I probably should be either working or sleeping (like now). Multi-tasking is a fact of life, regardless of whether we can technically pull it off or not (which we can’t, we have a finite attentional resource and struggle to perform tasks at the same time which need the same bits of the brain).

hamster-wheel-for-sale

I think after a while we realise this is normal, that ordinary is normal, the cyclical nature of our days is normal. Until we realise this we can get tied in knots, particularly in the age of social media. Everyone posts pictures of their ‘best lives’ online, nobody posts pictures of what life really looks like. Real life doesn’t always have make-up, or even clean clothes. There are frequently piles of dirty dishes in the sink, we don’t always smile and pyjamas are everyone’s favourite clothing.

We think other people eat dinner at the table every night, other people’s kids watch less TV, we only see the happy side of anyone’s relationship and we always think other people are socialising more than we are. They’re not. Really, they’re not. None of this is real, it’s simply a comparison of what people choose to share. And even if other people are doing these things more than you, so what?

grass-is-greener

All parents are almost permanently knackered (I miss having enough sleep, I really do, I love sleep) and on guilt trips because we didn’t spend enough time focusing on the kids, that we have jobs which take us away from our kids, that we’re so tired we’ve let our kids watch too much TV instead of playing with them or doing fun things out and about. And we all beat ourselves up for this. Thing is, we all have to pay bills and very few of us have a boss that allows us to spend all the time we want to with our kids, without dropping hours and pay of course. Most of us are always tired so let the kids watch more TV, because we’re too tired to properly interact with them all the time and think of fun activities to do. Then we watch too much TV. I don’t know what couples with kids do in the evening, I’m not one of them.

All adults think that other people go out more, that they watch less TV, that they have more friends, their relationships are happier, and most do more exercise than they do. Nobody goes out every night, everyone watches more TV than they let on (everyone binge watches stuff on TV), the ideal number of real friends is between 5 and 10, depending on the source you read, and the happiest relationships I know are rarely visible on social media (it’s almost like they’re happy enough not to display it – I know, such a radical approach).

life-is-not-a-fairy-tale

Today is a quiet day. L is at her dad’s, I’ve got work to do, despite having been there all day, and my house is just too damn quiet. My computer is on, cat is asleep across the room and I’ve got a glass of wine and a cheesy action film on the TV (cheesy action films with limited plot are surprisingly conducive to writing of all varieties believe it or not, easy to dip in and out of without missing much!).

I don’t mind the quiet most of the time, I don’t mind being by myself at all, it’s low on drama (which is good) but every so often the quiet is a bit deafening when L isn’t here. I’ve got used to the noise of a small person, and I don’t really like it when it’s not there, it’s not quite right somehow. I need something else around here sometimes. Someone. Could I go out? No, I’ve got a lecture to write (which is obviously going swimmingly), it’s not like that is optional. Writing this blog simply delays it until a bit later and means I have to spend longer tomorrow writing it instead.

That’s the other thing that’s wrong today, I’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it. And I don’t know how to make that work. It’s no different from anyone else I imagine, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. There’s always more that creeps in now, with every job, employers wanting more and more out of their employees, forgetting that there are things in life besides work. There are lots of things in life besides work, we don’t all want to work 24/7.

work-life-balance

Work to live or live to work? It seems to divide people, and sometimes depends on what you do for a living. But we’re usually one or the other. Which are you? I work to live, I want to live my life not be a slave to whatever job I do. Yes I love my students, yes I care about whether the work I do for them is good enough. Of course I do, it’s called a conscience and academic integrity.

But outside of this I want to write and raise my little girl the best way I know how – by being there for her while she grows up, by being a mum she knows she can rely on. She doesn’t just need a good role model, a mum who shows her she can succeed at whatever she puts her mind to. Sure I give her that, but she also needs a mum who will look after her, be there when she’s happy, sad, poorly and just tired and in need of a cuddle. She needs love on demand, and I need to be the one to give that to her.

live-for-now

She needs to know she’s my priority. Which she is, as most people already know, including her. That’s why she’s at her dad’s right now, for a double night visit, which in her world is a holiday with her dad, and very exciting.

So it’s too quiet for me here.

The people I want to talk to aren’t here and I can’t talk to them, because it’s late, they’re busy and with their families, so I don’t want to disturb them. Also I’m feeling mildly antisocial and don’t actually want to talk to anyone anyway. I’m nothing if not a contradiction sometimes. I’m also a little mad at one person I want to talk to, so I’m being stubborn and not talking to them for now.

So I’m writing, because today is a not one of the good days. But I’m sure a better day is just around the corner, somewhere, when I find time to get off this crazy hamster wheel of daily life.

Vx

Being a single parent is a lonely gig.

This isn’t a sympathy post, I’m good with where I am. I’m just having a bit of a moan really. But also I want to share what being a single parent is like, because nobody who’s never been one has any idea. At all. They try, bless them for trying, most people are lovely and do their best to understand. But they trip up on the assumptions society makes about single parents: we’re struggling, we’re broke, we’re constantly fighting with the biological father, and that we need rescuing.

None of those apply. I don’t need rescuing. According to Chinese horoscopes (it is Chinese New Year after all), I am literally the dragon – attempt to rescue me at your peril. I’m not broke, I’m definitely not struggling, and I get on fine with the biological father of my child.

It’s not the parenting side that’s difficult about being a single parent, although goodness knows that’s the most difficult job in the world. But every parent has that, plus the lack of sleep and reaching the end of their tether because children test boundaries. We all have moments of thinking ‘what the hell am I doing?’ and experience the sheer terror that you’re going to screw up your kid. That’s all totally normal, all parents get that, it’s definitely a shared experience. But in a couple you get someone to share life with your kid, or with each other, or simply moan about your day. That’s the bit that’s tough. There is nobody to moan with, the comradery of parenthood is simply gone.

single-working-mother

Now, this does also mean no arguments and no smelly socks to deal with, which are a definite plus. But the sheer isolation of a single parent is deafening. And that’s even when you have good friends to moan at a lot.

People saying when partners are away is the same as being a single parent is so frustrating. It’s not, it’s really bloody not. It’s solo parenting for a while. It’s completely different. Their partners are on the end of the phone and they’re coming back. They can say ‘when your father/mother gets home….’ or put off chores they don’t want to do. There is no ‘alone’ in solo parenting when your partner is away. Psychologically this is a massive difference. You don’t feel alone, even when you’re by yourself.

single-moms-are-superheroes

When you’re a single parent, there is nobody coming home, and we are all too aware of this. There are interminable evenings without anyone to cuddle up to, there’s rarely someone to talk to about how crap your day was, there’s nobody there after the kids are asleep. If nobody is free on the end of a phone, I moan to the cat, who really couldn’t give a shit. For single parents this is the norm. Lonely is normal. The isolating loneliness, despite having amazing friends makes life very difficult at times. This is every day, not a couple of weeks. Every damn day you’re alone in what you’re doing.

The concept of ‘free time’ is a weird one. I have loads, I know I say I’ve never got free time, but I do, loads of the stuff, I’d even love to fill it with people sometimes. But my free time is in the evening when L is asleep so I’m not able to leave the house. I don’t have a raft of babysitters and I don’t live anywhere near any of my family, so popping out simply isn’t an option. So as a single parent you have to redefine your ‘free time’ to mean when you can leave the house unaccompanied, and it looks like you’re being awkward because there’s so few points you’re actually available. 

To some it can look like you’re too busy to fit anything else in your life and that you aren’t that interested in them (because people find time for those they care about right?) so they think you don’t really want to spend time with them. Which is all nonsense of course, you’re just stuck. Literally. You’d love to spend time with them but there’s a sleeping tiny person who relies on you upstairs. So you say you don’t have any free time, but it’s a total lie, you have loads of free time, there’s only so many chores after all, it’s just you’re stuck at home and can’t go out that’s all. Phones work well, people should use them more. Random visits work as well, but the dress code involves pyjamas.

cat-in-pyjamas

People don’t tend to understand what they’ve not directly experienced. It’s nobody’s fault, and most people try so hard to be lovely, supportive and understanding. But we are the sum total of our experiences at the end of the day, and we all know that we can’t understand another person’s life unless we literally walk in their shoes. All non-parents have no clue how to raise children (although some seem to think they do), sadly they don’t come with an instruction manual. All parents wonder if they have no clue as well, we’ve already worked out we’re flying blind with this parenting gig. We’re all totally winging it here, but we’ve worked out we’re winging it for the most part and as long as there is wine and coffee, we figure we’ll get through this.

And there’s no set template for how to navigate becoming and then existing as a single parent. But one thing is for damn sure, you’ve got no idea what you’re made of until you try.

I thought I was pretty good at surviving stuff, I’d gone through plenty of crap and somehow made it out the other side ok, I would even have said I was doing pretty damn good. Then I became a single parent, and that was hell. Not only was it hell, but I had no option to fall apart and take a break from life, as I had done with every other breakup I’ve been through. My formula for coping was never an option. I was in the worst break up of my life and I had to stay in one piece, not only that I had to fight for what I knew was right. Because there was a small person who demanded my entire attention, all my emotional resources and stripped me of sleep while the situation I was in stripped me of what felt like my sanity. 

I have never experienced anything like it, and I never want to go through that again. It was constantly wanting to break down but not being able to, constantly having to put another person before your pain, needing to somehow function properly, to somehow keep working, to keep your life together. When all I wanted was to hide under the duvet.

being-strong-red-shoes
Yes, things worked out for the best. Yes, I’m doing great now. Yes, I got through it, of course I did. But it’s a long dark journey and it took so much support and counselling for me to make it. And the shit just keeps coming. Every day is hard. Every day is minus someone to come home to. Every day you’re the only adult in the house, with all the responsibility, with all the worries, with all the bills and with nobody to share it with. It doesn’t matter how good at this parenting gig I am, how good I am at keeping my life together, it’s exhausting at a whole new level I’ve never experienced before.

I’ve said I’m tired of drama, I’ve said that a lot, and I am tired of emotional upheaval. But I’m mostly tired of this, the nothing, the endless hamster wheel of single parenthood, the lonely, the sheer endless space that comes from nobody being there. And only single parents know how that feels. You don’t get to fall apart, you have to be strong, all the time, there is simply no other choice.

the-pity-train

This isn’t a blog looking for sympathy. I don’t want that. I kick ass as a single parent and I’m well aware I’m somehow doing a great job at it. I’m not convinced I know how I’m achieving that, but knowing I am is enough. And I would sure as hell rather be single than lonely in a miserable relationship. Those suck. I’d rather it be just me and my girl, dancing round the kitchen and watching Tangled for the millionth time just because. We’re a team. She’s got a good role model and I get told I’m ‘the best mummy ever in the world’. No, I don’t want sympathy, I have a good life. But sometimes some company that doesn’t demand purple crackers would be nice. Some company that listens and doesn’t make any demands, who just wants me to be me.  Oh and a nap would be completely awesome of course.

single-parent-are-superheroes-jpg

So for anyone who’s ever said they’re ‘being a single parent for a week’, please don’t. The term you want is solo parenting. We know you don’t mean any harm by your comments and you’re making light of a situation you think you understand. We don’t take offence, we know you don’t understand. But it does make us both cross and very sad. Because you’re not a single parent, and we know you wouldn’t ever wish to be.

The single parent gig is hard and it’s lonely, there is no way around that. Don’t wish for it. You don’t want it.

Vx