Sorry For Ignoring You. I’ve Been Busy Stockpiling Toilet Rolls

This morning, I asked the old man the following question: If he had his time again, would he choose to relive his fifty-three years, or would he choose the sixteen-years of a dog? We have these deeply philosophical discussions, sometimes – in those rare moments he hasn’t got his nose stuck in the latest viral golf or dog video on social media.

Photo by Anna Franques on Unsplash

He chose the dog’s life, which I totally understand if you’re a pet lucky enough to have the life of The Princess – stress-free, with a focus on food and walks; where the only thing you really has to moan about is daily smotherings of love from your family. That’s not to say that I wasn’t a little peeved that he doesn’t want to replay the past thirty-five years with me – his soulmate. But I get it. It’s hard to focus on those brief moments of joy when there’s all that other stuff going on… And as I’ve been reminded over the past few weeks, the freedom from stress of a dog’s life is a very hard thing to achieve in the real world.

It won’t surprise you to know that the last post I started and aborted was an incendiary piece about my reaction to the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children. It was another exasperated cry about my dwindling belief in a system that fails women so badly, but I had to can it when a wave of exhaustion from saying stuff that seems to fall on deaf ears got the better of me.

What’s the point, I asked myself, when nothing changes?

And since then, the news has been dominated by the Coronovirus, the move of the Sussexes, the art of toilet roll stockpiling, and the impending financial crisis. Sadly, Hannah’s death has been put to the bottom of the crisis pile along with other less newsworthy examples of abuse – although, I imagine that even the most fervent deniers of the #metoo movement felt some relief about Harvey Weinstein’s incarceration and the possibility that it might put a stop to women moaning.

The problem is, lads, there are just so many examples of gender inequality that we’re unlikely to run out of ammunition anytime soon – a strong case in point being the now senior, white man race to the Whitehouse.

Those (and stockpiling toilet rolls) are a few of the reasons I’ve kept my head down for the past few weeks. That and a ferocious last edit of my manuscript before it goes under the expert scrutiny of the national literary treasure who is Anna Spargo-Ryan. The author of books The Paper House, The Gulf, and numerous other publications on mental health, Anna sold herself short by accepting my pittance of a donation to the #authorsforfireys appeal and agreed take a look at it for me.

And then there’s my son, who continues to keep us on our toes through his stormy navigation of young adulthood, and makes it harder to remember, sometimes, that these difficult moments in history and our lives make us stronger and give us purpose – something I don’t see a great deal of in my dog when she’s chasing her tail or eating poo.

What we have to bear in mind on those days when the clouds finally part, the sun breaks through and we are given small drops of the good stuff to help us carry on, is that things change. We have to keep believing that with time and education, we can undo the wrongs caused by toxic masculinity and inequality. I have to believe that Kurt’s passage through the complexities of life will get easier – which it did this week when he managed to win six pieces off the old man in a game of Chess, and that someday my little story will reach a wider audience and help people like me who are struggling for answers.

Making Jam, Authenticism, And Being Good With Who You Are

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I’ve had some opinion pieces published on various news sites and magazines over the past month. And while that’s a writing dream come true, the push from editors to include as much of my personal life as possible, can feel a little invasive at times. I have always endeavored to be authentic – which is why I didn’t freak my shit when Mamamia changed the headline of my piece on women drinking to ‘I’m A Functioning Alcoholic!’ – but obviously I do have to think about the people I’m writing about as well.

When an intelligent, highly-educated woman that I stalk  admire on Twitter – who I had imagined spends her free time reading Tolstoy and writing about the paradigm shift of Ptolemy’s astronomy giving way to Copernican astronomy – tweeted the other day that she was making jam, I was surprised by her honesty. This is a woman that has created a superwoman brand on social media in terms of her professional life and it seemed like media suicide to admit to doing something quite so mundane.

I quickly reprimanded myself for being so judgy – before questioning why I never want to make jam or why no one has ever taught me how to make it. It’s so easy to feel insecure and inadequate when you consume the lives of other people on social media. Indeed, when I sat back and really thought about it, a part of me was quite envious that a) this woman had been taught how to make jam by a grandmother – perhaps – a recipe that she would pass down to her own grandchildren – (it was a particularly hormonal day);  that b) she didn’t give a rat’s arse about what anyone else thinks; and that c) her admission made my enjoyment of changing the position of my sofa pillows on an hourly basis, slightly less tragic.

Suffice it to say, I don’t believe that making jam will ever be on my bucket list. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that making jam is more likely to be on the list of things I will never do unless I am paid for it, like planting cuttings, scrapbooking and collecting stamps. But, each to their own. I’m a firm believer in advocating any self-care or activity that leads to self-fulfillment, and just as I was hasty in my judgment of  ‘jam-making superwoman’, I’m certain that there are hoards of you out there who cannot imagine anything more boring than writing.

But let me get back to this woman’s ‘authenticity’, which is is the new black in my book, and something that I have always tried to cultivate on this blog and in my own life. For me, it means never being ashamed of who we are and the choices we make. Sure, we don’t have to admit publicly to our boring AF hobbies like this woman did, but if something makes our soul sing, we must never be ashamed to pursue it because of what other people think – unless it’s illegal, OBVS.

That desire to be more authentic has become even more important to me in this stage of my life. To the detriment of my family, I have a burning desire to unleash my views about the world and where I sit in it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy for anyone to broadcast their fuck ups – not even for me – which is why it took me months before I pushed publish on my first blog post. And yet, the more honest I am in my writing, the more confident I feel about myself – even if your toes curl at the mention of penises and excess body hair.

I love nothing more than to identify with the experiences of other people. I love to read about parents that are finding the gig tough, or that woman that lost her job or found the key to dieting – who obviously doesn’t exist. Their stories make me feel in touch and less alone. That’s why I love to admit to the world on a Saturday night that I’m in my jammies by 5pm or that I’ve gained 6kgs. We need to be as good with our failures as we are with our successes because they are what push us to keep growing. We need to be good with who we are, no matter what the expectations of those around us.

Those Bloody Crises of Confidence Part 1

You may have sensed it in my writing of late, but I’m going through a bit of a crisis of confidence at the moment. I’ve tried to buoy myself up by trawling through all the memes on my Inspirational Shit board on Pinterest and drinking more wine than usual, but any writer will tell you that the rejection of your manuscript – no matter how well you prepare yourself for it – is a very personal rejection, worse even, than when your child is the only kid in the class not to get invited to a party.

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Because I have nurtured this, my third child. I have sacrificed great chunks of life (that I probably should have spent with my own children) to get this baby out into the world. Indeed, I have probably been a better parent to my manuscript than to either of my own children. And I will shoot the next person that reminds me of JK Rowling’s sixteen rejections before Harry Potter was published.

 

And while I am still not ready to give up on it, sadly there are only so many hours in each day to continue editing and re-editing and, (as the old man reminded me so supportively the other day), these last fanatical strokes of the paintbrush of a scorned wannabe writer, might prove to be its final undoing, aiding my manuscript’s journey to its final permanent residence in the reject piles of Sydney’s publishing houses.

 

I assume that at some point you have to ask the question – is it good enough? – and if you can be completely honest and listen to your instinct screaming no, you begin the grieving process.

 

I’m not quite there yet.

 

However, inevitably, there is pressure from a certain department of the house to earn some money now that everyone has accepted that I haven’t written the next Fifty Shades – and rightfully so because wine and take-outs cost money. And honestly, what kind of feminist would I be if I expected to sit in my home office all week, being creative?

 

A bloody happy one, actually.

 

The problem with rejection is that a) it’s a fucking lie that it gets any easier and b) it seeps into every other aspect of your life. One day you’re skipping merrily through hot sand on the beach, the sun on your face, and the next, you’re a loser. Which means my head isn’t exactly in the right place to search for paid work at the moment. I’ll go so far as to say,  if I’m honest I’m feeling kind of lost at the prospect of this latest career crossroads, which feels much closer to the choice between the eighteen fucking lanes leading to the Harbor Bridge than a simple right or left turn. And I just know that I’ll end up in the wrong fucking lane.

 

Finding motivation gets harder each day because I know I’m running out of time and writing is something that can’t be rushed. That voice that used to get me out of bed, full of excitement, and tell me to keep going – that I CAN DO IT – sounds hollow now. I hate people who get published. Some days it is physically painful to listen to other people’s stories of success when I have nothing to show for my hard work.

 

And then the sun rises on another day and along comes Jacinda Ardern on my computer screen, modeling her feathered Kahu huru huru cloak, with her husband on her arm. And I look at her and I think, HOW FRICKIN AWESOME is this woman in the sort of dress-up that is way more suited to a GOT set than meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace. How bloody inspiring is it to see a young, female world leader, so proudly representing her culture, her politics, and her impending motherhood, whilst slaying the toxic gender roles of the establishment with one swish of that cape.

 

I want to be her. I want to be able to stand up like her in front of all my naysayers with that self-belief and be able to say that I did it.

 

And I looked really closely at those photos of her in the media and I did wonder if there are some mornings that Jacinda gets up, looks in the mirror and feels any doubt. Knowing that her (and more specifically her bump), would be under the spotlight, I wonder if that night she asked Tim as she got ready if he thought her bum looked too big in that Maori cape or if she looked like a bit of a dick. Because let’s be honest, not many women can work a shit-brown dress and a cape of feathers whilst heavily pregnant.

 

But I’m guessing that her inner voice wasn’t screaming negative thoughts at her. I’m thinking that the ghosts of those native New Zealand birds on her back were egging (sorry!) her on.

 

‘Go bitch! You show that Commonwealth Queenie who you are,’ they were screeching – because birds in this part of the world don’t tweet or twitter.

 

Well…whatever was going through her head that evening, she wore those dead birds like a boss, with no sign of any self-doubt.

 

And more importantly, I need that cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Some People Make You Feel That Pursuing Your Dreams Is A Cop Out?

live-your-dream-2045928_1920Currently, when I’m asked at social events ‘what I do’, I metamorphose back into a little girl, look down at the floor nervously and respond, usually in a pathetic whisper ‘I’m trying to write a book’ or ‘I’m trying to make a career out of writing’, then pray they don’t ask me about it. The look of pity, by way of response, is a given. It’s the sort of look you’d expect if you told them you were terminally ill or related to Trump or that – God forbid! – you’re a full-time Mum.

 

And because I’m a paranoid bitch with anxiety, I choose to interpret that look as they think I’m a failure and that they believe my choice of words is either a) a cover up for ‘doing fuck all’ ie. I’m a “lady who lunches”, or b) they secretly believe that as a fifty-something woman, surely I’m a bit past it to pursue my dreams?

 

Which all seems a little ironic when I thought that the fashionable thinking in regards to lifestyle is about having choices, escaping the rat race as quick as you can, (unless you love what you do), or chasing your dreams before North Korea nukes us. Literally, hundreds of memes enforce this view on my social media pages each day.

 

Perhaps I’m over-sensitive as well as paranoid, but (just occasionally) a ‘good for you!’ or a patronizing pat on the back for ‘having a go’ wouldn’t go amiss. I like to think that I am encouraging when someone describes to me what their job entails – even if secretly it does sound like watching paint dry.

 

Perhaps the reason so many writers and people who work from home appear trapped by the demons of their craft is the solitariness of the job, which inevitably breeds doubt. With no peer support or encouragement, or any chance of an ‘employee of the month’ award, you have to have a deep-seated belief in what you’re doing to survive.

 

Do people really think that I don’t know that I have less chance of getting published than flying to the moon? But will reminding myself that only 0.1% of the writing population get published – and only those with the first initials JK – spur my creativity to greater heights?

 

Even the old man looks at me suspiciously when I lie in bed an hour longer than he does of a morning, trawling through the news sites and social media in search of ideas.

 

‘Where do you think I get my ideas from?’ I snap back at him when he asks me what time I’m getting up, sensitive to the fact that I feel the need to justify my time.

 

Perhaps it is envy. When you tell your friends that you work from home, it is rather like admitting that you’ve won the lottery or you got some half-price Blahniks in the sales, and you can hear yourself play down your efforts and try to negate the luck of that swim in the ocean at lunchtime.

 

But losing an income is not all fun and games, not when that second drink at the pub with a girlfriend can cause a domestic rift; the only holidays abroad you enjoy these days are those of your friends on Facebook, that you live vicariously through, and dinners out are a luxury. And chasing my dream was about more than being paid to do what I love, it was about putting my mental health first and being more cognizant of the preciousness of each day – which doesn’t pay well either.

 

And I know I am lucky.

 

Creativity Is Open To Interpretation

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Creativity is open to interpretation, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the world of modern art.

Now, I’ll admit that I know zilch about art, apart from what I like and what I don’t like, like the majority of people. I stand in front of a canvas and for the most part, I have no fucking idea how to interpret its meaning, although I try to keep an open mind. I understand that the enjoyment of creativity is generally subjective, and so when I look at a beautiful Aboriginal artwork – an abstract of colorful dots and circles that is supposed to represent a man fishing in a creek, I accept that’s what it is, even if my head is saying Fuck Off! And while I do have more difficulty connecting to the sort of contemporary art that looks like the artist tripped with a full pot of paint on their way to the easel, I can still appreciate the craft behind it.

 

Each year, the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney holds a competition and exhibition for portrait painting called the Archibald Prize, as well as one for landscape painting or figurative sculpture called The Wynne Prize, and finally The Sulman Prize for subject, genre or mural painting. I try to attend each year so that I can consider myself cultured.

 

As per usual, this year’s submissions produced some truly incredible work as well as some complete shite. But that’s just my very unqualified opinion.

 

Obviously, I’m not going to point the finger at the works I thought a two-year-old could have done because I am a philistine, and it is probably short-sighted of me to expect a portrait to look vaguely like a human face.

This piece, for example, is a work by Juz Kitson entitled: That which provides safety and the possibility of growth, that which you can put your trust in .I’ve linked it to the information given by the artist (I assume) about what it represents because I haven’t got a fucking clue what even the description means, yet I can still appreciate its beauty and the thought and craft behind such an amazingly complex piece of work. My interpretation of the piece might be “My uterus during menstruation”.

 

The point is, any form of creativity is a personal expression and it may or may not resonate with everyone. Think of some of the “crimes against fashion” that appear on the catwalks each season. How many times have you seen some new fashion trend that you decide you wouldn’t be seen dead in, only to fill your wardrobe with it the following season?

 

Ankle boots? I rest my case.

 

I like the idea of giving your “personal best”, even if the concept sounds like a cop-out to the competitive among us. Which it’s not because exposing your inner-most thoughts is terrifying. As the child of one parent who believed that my best was enough, and another who only acknowledged “first place” achievements – and was perennially disappointed – the idea seems a good balance to aim for. We all know in our heart of hearts what we’re capable of and although I have been known to achieve more with a push, there have been occasions when I’ve had to question afterwards if the pain was truly worth the gain.

 

This writing journey of mine has been a tricky one to navigate in terms of continued self-belief. One day I wake up and think I’m the next Thomas Hardy and the next, the fear of being rejected by Mills and Boon seems equally credible. Which was why I stepped away from the blank screen of my laptop and attended this exhibition – I needed to remind myself of just how subjective “creativity” can be. Because when you find yourself waist-deep in the sinking mud of a huge project, it’s easy to forget that everyone experiences self-doubt. I needed to remind myself that public acknowledgment for my work was never my goal. Indeed, very few people get that for their work.

 

‘Having a go’ is what is important – a part of the process that can be the most fulfilling of any journey and something we tend to lose sight of in a society that bases “success” on fame.

 

The lack of public acknowledgment for our work does not mean it is inferior. That’s why when friends ask me about the progress of my book and I find myself searching for excuses for why it is neither fully finished nor published yet, I feel like I have to remind them that I have completed a manuscript – an achievement in itself – a work that is the result of years of toil, passion, commitment, and pleasure, that has helped me grow, shaped me and allowed me to leave a legacy to my family. 

 

 

Ever Feel You’ve Lost Your Way?

I posted this meme on my Instagram page this week and it obviously resonated with my followers, so I thought I’d share it with you.

 

I have a morbid addiction to allowing those “bad chapters” in my life cloud the good ones, and sometimes the clouds get really dark and fluffy, and no matter how many “gratitude” posts I read or how many  memes about happiness I am inspired by, I can’t seem to clear them and retrieve the happiness from my soul.

 

You know that I am generally a glass half-full gal, (full to the brim if I can get away with it), who is only too aware of each person’s responsibility for their own happiness and the importance of living life to the full. And in general, I am quite proactive when it comes to soul-searching and finding impulsive short-term solutions to my problems.

 

But this time, I have struggled to find my way out of the maze.

 

I gave up one of the best jobs I’ve had a few months ago because mentally I wasn’t coping with its demands alongside the impact of other forces in my life, and I needed to take some time out to mend my broken wings. The loss of my salary – as pitiful as it is – means that we are cutting our cloth accordingly, (although not as short as the old man would like), hence the fourteenth house move.

 

The idea was to try “something else”, which was to be “writing”, you might remember, and the dream started off well. In the first month of my “sabbatical”, I returned to my manuscript, signed up for some courses, got my blog into better shape than it had been for a while and I felt excited. I was ready.

 

Not even the first rejections that began to dribble into my mailbox put me off and I managed to brush their implication aside. I know the story of JK Rowling’s difficult road to publication by heart and as I am obviously the next JK, I was mentally prepared for those evil little reality checks. What I was less prepared for was the outcome of my other dead cert plan during my time out – to get my son’s life on track while I was at home. Stupidly, I believed that under my supervision, his life would fall directly into place and when it didn’t – hasn’t – my confidence began to flounder. I questioned my purpose.

 

As a creative, you can guarantee that as soon as you start to question your purpose, your ideas dry up and all productivity comes to a grinding halt. And again, even though the advice to writers is to keep writing through a “block” – even if the only words you get onto the page are a load of old bollocks – my focus had disappeared along with my confidence and the coordination required to juggle so many different balls and I went into self-protection mode. I began to avoid the blank screen that symbolised my failure completely.

 

I lost my way – perhaps because I’m better when I’m chasing my tail with no time to over-think. They do say that retirement is dangerous and although I am not in that position, I can see where the life of the wannabe “writer” – in particular, the lack of social interaction and abundance of focus for just about anything other than putting words on a page – can be dangerous.

 

It’s time to stop watching what time the neighbors leave the house to go to work; it is time to stop checking Aldi’s Wednesday and Saturday “specials” online; it’s time to stop looking up recipes on Taste.com that I will never cook. It is time to put those bad chapters behind the Great Wall where they belong, pull up my big girl panties again and find my way back. Which is why, my friends, I am gifting you this generous page of complete bollocks.

 

 

 

Time to Tear Down Mia Freedman

I needed to write this piece in defense of Mia Freedman of Mamamia, because she has been an inspiration for my own writing. Whatever her detractors accuse her of in connection to the debacle yesterday with Roxane Gay, I refuse to accept that her intentions in her approach to their interview were anything but respectful and professional.

“You don’t have to knock anyone off their game to win yours. It doesn’t build you up to tear others down.” (Mandy Hale)

 

I feel for Mia Freedman since yesterday’s very public condemnation from writer and feminist, Roxane Gay, in which the author accused her of being ‘cruel and humiliating’, appertaining to comments the editor made about her weight. IMG_6039

 

For some time, Mia has always been a target of abuse that she doesn’t always deserve – some might even accuse her of setting herself up for it. When you put yourself in the public eye and work with and for women and women’s rights, you open yourself up to the firing line and some days there will be sunshine and other days, a deluge of rain.

 

To be a good writer, you have to take risks and Mia wouldn’t have reached the echelons of journalism she resides in now without thought-provoking and incendiary commentary. Most of the time, I enjoy, learn from and share her opinions. She has highlighted issues that many women face, both in society and on the homefront. From mental health, work/life/balance and parenting issues to relationship and body image issues, there are very few topics that Mia won’t touch, and I have identified with several of them at different stages of my life. Although I am not naive enough to believe that Mia’s life is similar to mine, I enjoy her quirky style, her honest approach, and her ‘close to the mark’ opinions on sensitive issues.

 

As I dip my own toes into the murky waters of journalism, I can see how hard it is to always get it right and know instinctively the location of “the line”. Sometimes I struggle to find the balance between the truth and the level of hyperbole I want to use to make a story funny or compelling enough to get noticed, even though I know that if I step over the line, to betrayal and disloyalty, a good news story can go bad very quickly.

 

The competitiveness of the media and rivalry among writers, some of whom are prepared to disclose everything, can cast a shadow over that line. And perhaps Mia, with her experience, should have known better. She doesn’t need to write click bait headlines, sell herself, or compromise her integrity at this point in her career, especially when her magazine attracts the interest of high-profile writers of Roxane’s caliber, who Mia has the utmost respect for, clearly.

 

Yesterday, I think Mia made a genuine mistake, but I don’t think her intention was to ‘shame women,’ and she has since acknowledged publically her error in judgment. I believe it is time to stop casting stones in her direction and the predictable loser’s behavior of tearing down those that succeed.

 

Sensationalism will always sell, which is why I realized a while ago that I had nothing more to contribute to Mamamia anymore unless I was prepared to sell my soul. Although I share my family’s story on my blog, it is a censored version, but I know how easy it is to make mistakes when those bright lights first begin to shine; and I have done so many times – fortunately without the ramifications of Mia’s.

 

We all make mistakes – they’re how we learn and grow and they are endemic to human nature. If there is any lesson to learn from here, it is that the only non-fiction story we are free to embellish is our own.

 

When You Use Your Age As An Excuse Not To Chase Your Dreams

I went to a workshop on freelance writing on Saturday. Pursuing the dream, seizing the day, there are a number of clichés I could come up with to describe my final charge into a job that I love. adult-1868015_1920

I learned that journalism is not for the faint-hearted these days, with cutbacks and job losses and a sizeable drop in the word rate in recent years. And like many jobs in the arts, you have to be either crazy or passionate to go into it – and there’s probably a very fine line between the two. It’s also bloody hard work, and perhaps not something sane people ‘of a certain age’ should consider when they could be winding down with Ellen each morning.

Fortunately, there appears to be less of an ageist facet to freelance writing than in fiction-writing, where you need to be able to market your work physically as well as write it. Sitting on the stage of a writer’s festival, with knitting in one hand and inhaler in the other, is probably not the promotion a publisher is looking for when they try to sell your erotica novel. So the appeal of the freelance writing gig is that I can be back of house, slouched in front of my computer, clad in jammies, hair unkempt, toes being kept toasty by the dog in winter.

I’m not naive enough to believe that you can be anything you want to be at this, (or indeed), any time of your life. I suspect that it is too late for me to become an Olympic athlete or an astronaut for NASA, but then again, would I ever have really pursued those goals with such a distaste for sports and heights?

There were about fifteen of us wannabe writers in the room – an eclectic, somewhat motley bunch, each with aspirations of making money from doing something we love and at different junctures of our writing career. The full spectrum of ages and personalities was made more evident once we were asked to share an imaginary pitch and those different views, politics, idealisms and sensitivities sliced through the room with as much subtlety as a hot knife through butter. Most writers, I suspect, are opinionated know-it-alls who seek a platform from which their voice can be heard.

At the beginning of the session, our leader took full advantage of her position of power by asking us to introduce ourselves, and flashbacks of being picked on by my English teacher to transpose Shakespeare, flooded my brain.  Funny really – when all of us in that room were confident enough to put ourselves out there; had given up our Saturday to improve ourselves. I watched as each one of us squirmed in our seats as our turn got closer. Writers are not quite as gregarious when it comes to self-proclamation and hubris with the spoken voice.

One thing I have learned over time is not to downgrade myself in these situations. I refuse to apologize for who I am these days, when in the past I would make feeble, self-deprecating jokes or give reasons as to why I shouldn’t really be there – a habit women are far more guilty of than men. Typically, the person who protested too most about her inexperience went on to deliver the best pitch and we all hated her immediately.

Most of the group, however, spoke with humility and passion and openly admitted to the rest of us strangers that they were still chasing the dream, (the unspoken words being), before it’s too late. Many of the younger ones were already in-house journalists and about to set off on travels that they would finance through their freelance work and some were already published authors, branching out in different directions of the writing industry – one they hoped would pay the bills. Several, like me, were scratching the itch.

‘Change’ is exciting and terrifying and in these situations when you have committed yourself to a situation, (and ‘flight’ is still a tempting possibility),  it would be easy to cave in to those ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ fears that mess with your brain. So it’s good to be with like-minded people, with similar goals; to be reminded that you’re not alone.

There are millions of us still searching for ideas and answers for ways to improve ourselves, and I know that I’m lucky to have this opportunity. There will be days when it is impossible to eradicate doubt from my mind, and in the same way that those progress prizes at school marked me as being not quite good enough, the old fear taunts me that I will always be known as Louisa The Trier, in Viking terms. But that’s okay.

I’ve stalled several times over the last few years in relation to taking this step, so I wasn’t surprised when ‘you’re too old for this’ rang in my ears as I walked into that meeting room on Saturday, pretending to feel confident. Youth and beauty are equated with success in our society and once you get past fifty, it is easy to disappear ‘over the hill’ unless you fight. 

It turns out that I wasn’t the dinosaur.

It’s time to change that internal rhetoric.

I Can’t Do It All

shouting-1719492_1920It was with a heavy heart that I closed the final chapter on my day job today, in pursuit of fulfilling some dreams and kicking some goals before it’s too late.

 

I’ve loved my job and at the end of my last ever face-to-face meeting with a client today, for a brief moment “doubt” stepped in. I was fortunate to meet so many interesting people in my role that helped me evolve into the open-minded/hearted woman that I’m proud to have turned into over the past few years. It also opened my eyes even wider to what the world can possibly think it is going to achieve by closing its doors to immigrants and denying all of us those precious opportunities to embrace, share and learn from different cultures.

 

I told my employer I was off to chase some dreams when I resigned because there is some truth to that story. But I’m also aware of how unprofessional it would sound if I admitted to her that in reality the balance between my work and home life has become too tricky to navigate, and something has to give. So I’ll admit it to you, my readers. I’ve been angry for a long time. I’ve sought medication and therapy to control my stress levels and calm the internal storms that keep raging, but they haven’t worked, so changes need to be made – for the sake of just about everyone who knows me. I’ve had to accept that I can’t do what we women are meant to strive for; I can’t do it all.

 

I’ll say it again, I can’t do it all, and I refuse to feel ashamed of that. It won’t be me who changes the world, and that’s ok. More specifically, I can’t support my son and his needs and loss of direction and hold down a demanding job at the same time.

 

I’m not superwoman or Gwyneth.

 

What I am, though, is bloody lucky, because I’m fortunate to have choices as a woman – they call it “privilege” these days – and I am aware that my choices are ones that many women will never have. The shame attached to that admission kept me at work for longer than I should have stayed, to the detriment of both my son and my health. But as they tell you at the gym – apparently – you need to listen to your body and your heart, so that is what I’m doing. The final justification I needed to make this momentous leap into the scary vortex of the unknown came from the old man when we were on holiday and I admitted to not coping – like he didn’t know – and he reminded me as I sat in the corner of the room rocking, that we only have one life, and that we are in the fortunate position to have choices.

 

I know. I bagged a good’un. 

 

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do: for the remainder of this year I’m going to get my son back on track, in a consultant capacity only, (as per my therapist’s recommendations), and as opposed to the way I used to try to help him as a meddling, helicopter parent. In the two weeks since my workload has lightened up a little, I’ve already seen the difference some quality time with him has made. For the past year, I have allowed his age and social presumptions dictate my own expectations for him, and I forgot that he is Kurt and he is his own person, and it has never been a good idea to compare him to his peers. His stepping stones to adulthood will happen when he’s ready, and they won’t be defined because someone has written in some parenting manual that he should be doing things at the same time as other kids his age. That never happened during his education, so it’s unlikely to happen now.

 

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the time to talk to him and more importantly, to listen to him. We’ve laughed together again, I’ve taken him to the doctors and for coffee and driving, and amazingly he passed his test first time – a massive boost to his confidence. And that success has infected all the complex facets of his personality and where he sees his place in the world in the best way, and on a practical level, it has meant that finally, he has some means of independence from us – a freedom he has yearned for but not quite been able to reach by himself.

 

He is already talking about travel and going back into education – without pressure from us. (Honest). More importantly, he is talking to me again, probably because I’m not barking or sniping at him at the same time as writing my endless “to-do lists” and deciding which parts of my life to prioritize.

 

So I will be here for him for a while longer, and in between the challenge of getting my son back into the realms of loving life again, (and I will join him in that challenge), I’ll also submit my book for publication and see if there’s any damned way to make the paltry sum of money I need to keep the old man off my back, from writing.

 

Concessions will need to be made, of course, so that I can chase my writing/perfect mother dreams – financial mainly, much to the old man’s delight. Because unless I sell my book (and the following twenty with film rights), we will continue to have the ugliest house in the street. The big car is already up for sale and I will have to return to the role of “house bitch” for a while as the old man works extra hours to formulate a plan of how to bridge the shortfall in our earnings. But as long as he doesn’t cut my weekly wine allowance, I will be stoic.

 

And every cloud has a silver lining – at least there will be food in the fridge again.

 

 

Why I Blog…

I had the chance to speak at a local library event recently about blogging, using this blog as my example. It had little to do with talent or notability, more an obvious case of nepotism as one of my close friends is a librarian there, but we all have to start somewhere.  diary-968603_1280

 

One of the aspects I talked about was why I write.

 

I’ve been writing since I first had NC, some twenty years ago, when the mental tsunami of things not being quite as they should be first hit me. I’m a fervent believer that buried trauma can be triggered later in life, leading to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and because I never dealt with my mother’s death when I was a teenager, that grief never went away.

 

And so I struggled with the early stages of motherhood – a bummer, as being someone with little self-confidence or sense of worth, I’d pinned all my hopes on motherhood being what I’d be good at.I could blame NC for being a ‘difficult’ baby, or the sense of isolation that can occur when you are the first of your peers to take the grown up step of procreation; whatever the reason for my mini break-down, I had few people to share my concerns with. I might have even have been suffering from post natal depression. But what I did know was that I needed an outlet, some way to release the pent-up frustration and pressure, and for me ‘writing’ became the perfect antidote.

 

Hence, my first book was about the anti-mother, the mother that sucks at it, who doesn’t fit into the smug rivalry of mother’s groups, struggles to breast-feed, feels no bond or fulfilment from watching their newborn breathe, and frankly, can’t wait to get back to the office. In terms of honesty and authenticity, I was ahead of my time, but back then I had neither the energy or the balls to take it to the next level.

 

This blog evolved for two reasons. The first came about after I was let go from a job, which provoked my second minor mental break-down, super-vulnerable as I was at the time, coping with Kurt and issues relating to his ADHD. The second reason was that the seed of another book was developing inside me, desperate to be nurtured and hatched and I decided to do it properly this time, to research thoroughly about how to improve the chances of success of a forty-something, so far unpublished writer.

 

Every article I read about getting published pointed to the necessity of a writer’s platform, in the form of a blog.

 

And as soon as I hit ‘publish’ on those first few outpourings, full of deep, desperate questions, searching for answers and readers who understood the terrifying emotions I was experiencing that had been caused by the humiliation of losing a job, and the fears of having a child that doesn’t tick all the boxes of ‘normal’ development – often in a humorous and self-deprecating tone because that’s a defence mechanism I employ to reduce the pain – I found I could I could cope with the isolation so much better. I had a safe zone. Catharsis.

 

I need to write now. It’s not a passion, it’s not a job, it’s something I have to do to keep me sane.

 

This little blog and the manuscript in my computer give me the voice to shout FUCK OFF! when life throws me a curved ball. It is my therapist, my therapy, and a space where I can be me.

 

And it has been my saviour, over and over again.

 

Many bloggers hit that wall of ‘what the fuck am I doing’ at certain points in the blogging life – (Mumabulous, one of the best writers I know, had a wobble about this topic recently) – especially if you’re not in it for the fame and glory and the whole idea of monetising and selling your soul terrifies you. And I have questioned my loyalty to this little online space repeatedly.

 

But I keep coming back. It’s like an addiction that needs to be sated, an itch that needs to be scratched, a baby that has to be released out into the world. Not because I thrive on attention – because sometimes I get little or no feedback from my readers- but because it is my favourite creative outlet to vomit up all the stuff that needs to come out to make me feel balanced again.

 

I was doing that Prima Donna thing that other day, strutting around the apartment moaning about why I wasted so much of my life writing a book that will never be published, and NC asked me why that mattered if I enjoyed the process.

 

And she’s right, of course. I’ll be back in the old man’s bad books for admitting to this but I’m not motivated by money, or even the kudos of having my name in print, really…(although I assume that the validity to be gained from being published helps with the self-doubt, something I struggle with on a daily basis).

 

Will I stop if I don’t get that? Probably not.

Self-Doubt, Writing and Giving Birth To Book Babies

Self-Doubt, Writing And Giving Birth To Book BabiesI’m nearing the end of the ‘book’ I’ve been writing, for what seems like the whole of the last century. I don’t really like to call it ‘a book’, because that sounds arrogant, and couldn’t be further from the truth of how I feel about my latest creation. This ‘book ‘of mine is, in reality, just a very long Word document that I have painstakingly crafted over the past few years, primarily as a kind of therapy, and secondly to fulfil some innate, crazy desire to write one good story.

 

Of course, my close friends are aware that I’ve wasted a large chunk of my life on this particular piece of writing, and so have started plaguing me about when it’s due.

 

The thought of which terrifies me.

 

It was the same when I first started my blog. It took me four months before I invited my close friends to read it because I’m terrified of failure and rejection. And although most people wouldn’t consider completing a novel as a ‘failure’, publishable or not; I do. (Actually a lot of people probably would).

 

Some of us are much more sensitive to criticism than others. Self-doubt, which I believe stems from anxiety, can be a crippling trait, and it prevents many of us from ever reaching for the stars. While a positive word about my writing can have me soaring for aeronautical miles, a small piece of what is deemed to be constructive criticism, can have me locking all the doors, burying myself in a mental coffin and hammering down every last nail.

 

When you are an unpublished writer, self-doubt haunts every hour of your craft, because there is no tangible proof that you can actually write. There are good days, when your fingers tap-dance happily on the keyboard, flirting dangerously from the sheer joy of creativity, and powerful verbs jump out of your head straight onto the page; everything feels right, like there was a reason and it is all worthwhile and makes sense. And then there are the days when you read a page over and over again and still come back to the same conclusion – that what you have in front of you is a load of bollocks and your name is attached to it.

 

I’m not a glass half-full person who believes you can do anything if you put your mind to it. I was always crap at netball.

 

It’s not like I have any pressure on me to write the next literary masterpiece. On good days, I would describe my innocent piece of fiction as chick lit on ice; on bad days, it feels as though Mills and Boon would reject it after the first paragraph. Not that I’m a snob when it comes to writing – I swooned in the first book of Fifty Shades.

 

It does help these days that I don’t care AS much. Generally. And that I know that my true friends will stand behind me to pick up the pieces when I fall apart after the first ten rejection letters and I start drinking heavily…more heavily… and then they’ll subtly remind me about self-publishing.

 

I’m secretly aware that I’m postponing the end of this particular gestation because I’m scared of the outcome, not because it’s not cooked yet. I’ve used ‘editing’ as an excuse for far too long, while I try to make this baby perfect; but nothing in life is perfect and colour and imperfections make life more interesting in general.

 

Yet I know that personal and commercial success rarely stem from fear, but come from having the courage to carve your name on your convictions.

 

I’m proud of this literary baby, whether it is recognised commercially or just by my loved ones. This baby was planned, made with love, and it will always remain a legacy of mine; of my love of a good story and having the balls to put it out there.

 

 

Mental Illness and Grief: Stories That Need To Be Written

It’s an interesting decision of mine, to carry on writing my book, when due to it’s subject matter, I know that my chances of ever being published are about as high as Glenn McGrath’s invitation to MC an RSPCA conference.

Grief
Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And no, it’s not because the subject matter of my never-to-be-published book is some X-rated erotica where Christian Grey actually gets his penis out, or a threatening feminist tale about how women will ultimately rule the boardroom.

It’s about ‘grief’.

You see, I have it on good authority, (thank you Kerri Sackville), that the topic of ‘grief’ is not saleable – even though ‘death’ is something that affects all of us, no matter which party we vote for, demographic or country we live in.

In short, the first chapter of my book opens with a suicide – SHOCK! HORROR!– because no-one wants to be reminded that suicide happens, even when the number of cases has almost doubled in certain age groups over recent years; and with the increase in drug use and impact of social media and cyber-bullying, we are certain to witness a huge surge amongst young people).

In a year where suicide has been highlighted in Australia due to the untimely deaths of celebrities Charlotte Dawson and Robin Williams, how can we still be pushing education about mental health issues under the carpet?

But back to the book. So how exactly did I get my book so awkwardly wrong?

Well mainly because having spent the past thirty-plus years grieving, I know a little bit about that topic and the ensuing mental illness it can provoke. And as a friend (who is still grieving and feeling misunderstood) pointed out recently, no-one can really understand grief unless they’ve been there themselves; so suggestions from naïve do-gooders to ‘move on’ can be highly inflammatory.

I mean, I get it…sadness and anger are uncomfortable emotions to be around in this world where we are supposed to spray a mist of happiness around us, and pretend to be upbeat and personally successful all the time – to fit in.

But grieving is an exhausting preoccupation, and like depression, the uninitiated can interpret it as a type of self-flagellation. But let me assure you, it’s even more exhausting having to pretend not to be sad and in pain, simply to appease the undeveloped senses of those around you.

Spookily enough, depression is a huge theme in my book, too.

(Definitely a bestseller on my hands!)

Depression is another wrist-slapping/don’t-go-there topic in the world of publishing, I imagine?

The point is, my book is therapy for me. It’s a story I needed to tell. It’s a story that will force my readers to deal with skeletons in closets, mental illness, guilt, family dysfunctionality and self-development head on.

And you’ll know if you read my blog, I happen to be an expert in all of those areas.

But I don’t view my little piece of never-to-be-published fiction as a sad story. The death of a loved one changes the future of those closest to them, but it can also create a sense of awakening.

‘Growth’ can emerge from the isolating cocoon of grief.

And there are some funny bits in my book, too, because I find it impossible to be serious about serious stuff most of the time. Humor and self-deprecation have always been strategies to help me cope with blackness.

We’re not all afraid to confront our emotions, in spite of what those silly publishers believe.

Did I ever tell you about how my foot slipped on the wet mud at my mother’s funeral and I nearly plunged headfirst into the hole dug for her coffin?

She would have laughed her head off.

Have Your Dreams Changed Now That You’re Middle-Aged?

(WARNING: Complete Waffle Alert)

 

Yes and No. Let me tell you why.

 

English: Sweet dreams dreaming of snowhite and...
English: Sweet dreams dreaming of snowhite and the seven dwarves – painting by Franz Schrotzberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my first dreams, (aside from marrying Donny Osmond or Prince Charles), was to become a cook. I was queen of the cheese scone, Macaroni Cheese and Bechamel sauce growing up – back in the seventies, some time before they discovered Cholesterol – and I believed that I had the potential to be the next Masterchef.

“A COOK!” my father spat at me in horror, “but what about all that money I’ve spent on your education?”

 

So I didn’t become a cook – even at home.

 

Then I was inspired by a beautifully illustrated version of The Wind In The Willows, that was given to me as a Progress Prize at school, (notice the emphasis on ‘progress’ rather than ‘first’ or ‘second’ prize), and characteristically impulsive, I decided to become a writer and illustrator of children’s books instead – the only flaw in my plan being that I couldn’t draw to save my life and I was ‘progress’ level in English.

 

"Macaroni" and cheese. No macaroni w...
“Macaroni” and cheese. No macaroni was available, so I used sedanini instead. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I did what every twenty-something with hidden talents and ambition does in a mild panic because their peers are all being offered fantastic jobs and I couldn’t even get an interview – I gave into my poor self-esteem. And that decision – to settle for what I COULD do, rather than what I was passionate about, has haunted me through the years.

 

But what about my personal dreams? Surely, they must have been more successful?

 

(Feminists, close your ears).

 

I’m not ashamed to admit that all I ever really wanted was to breed more of me and be happy – Disney has a lot to answer for. The old man never really stood a chance. (Although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting the fuck off house, Mercedes and diamond rings at certain points in my life, too).

 

So, have all my dreams been fulfilled, or have they changed now that I’m middle aged?

 

Again, yes and no…

 

Have Your Dreams Changed Now You're Middle-Aged?
Disney Couples Pt 2 by G-nuinart at http://www.flickr.com

I have the beautiful children, the bald but ‘fit’ husband and a cushy life in one of the most beautiful cities in the world; and for the most part I have been healthy and happy. I still aspire to be the next Helen Fielding, and Kurt may well be beautiful to me, his mum, but he has also been sent as a lesson from God, to remind me on occasion that the perfect package doesn’t truly exist in life and you have to earn true happiness.

 

But the icing on this middle-aged cake is that I have a more informed idea of who I am and what I want now. I’m a very different person to the woman I was in my twenties, who had so little confidence in her own abilities to succeed. I have ‘experience’ to fortify me now, and out of that experience, some wisdom has evolved.

 

FUCK, I sound old!

 

How many times a year do YOU catch yourself saying ‘if I had my time again? or, ‘If I’d known then what I know now,’ like I do? We say it because it’s true. if I’d had this wisdom and confidence back in my twenties, my work life would certainly have gone in a very different direction. But luckily, the wisdom of maturity that I’ve acquired with age, also reminds me that regret boxes are futile and only serve to drag us down.

 

So what I’m trying to say, (badly…and I know I’m waffling but it’s been a tough week), is that the real difference in my dreams in middle age is that I’m excited about them now – whereas in my twenties I felt threatened by them, like the walls were closing in and I was going to run out of time. The sort of sad truth is, I really AM running out of time now but just as the pressure to look good has dissipated with age into unimportance, so has the pressure to appear ‘successful’ in the eyes of my peers. I don’t fucking care what people think of me now and it’s wonderfully liberating.

 

I only care about my personal goals.

 

And perhaps my dreams are a little more realistic now, too. They still involve my family, (who remain the most important thing in my life), and my small career goals, but mostly they involve my passion to enjoy life and live it to the full with the people I care about.

 

Here are my middle aged dreams:

 

To spoil and then hand back my grandchildren, once I persuade my kids to have them.

 

To earn a living as a writer.

 

To be able to guarantee that my children remain healthy and content with their choices in life, are driven by happiness and not money, and are NEVER tempted to pour miserably over a regret box.

 

That the old man and I can tolerate each other for another thirty years and be like that couple in The Notebook and die at the same time, so that neither of us has to live without the other. Because that would be very strange.

 

That we’re not disappointed in the retirement we’ve worked so hard towards and that when we get there, the old man doesn’t start rearranging the kitchen cupboards or telling me how to food shop.

 

Have your dreams changed in middle age?

 

Why I Write

I’ve delved back into ‘the book’ with a passion over the last couple of days due to a ‘no screaming clients zone’ at the day job. It has been more orgasmic than watching the make-up sex scene in The Notebook. 

Why I Write
Found on ingridsgedichtenenverhalen.blogspot.com

 

Well, nearly….

 

I’ve finally finished the first edit and have checked the structure to see if the storyline makes any sense whatsoever and I’m quietly excited by it.

 

I think there’s something for everyone, unless you’re intelligent – flawed characters, human weakness, black humor, inner turmoil, sordid sex, social injustice and resolutions.

 

It’s a kind of realistic chick lit where real people are dealing with real problems yet still manage to forge and repair relationships along the way.

 

And did I mention that it still manages to be funny…in parts?

 

Best remind me not to market the book, personally.

 

But what I also rediscovered this morning is how much I FUCKING LOVE WRITING, whether it’s the book or this blog. It’s why you can’t stop me, even when I write those posts that no-one reads.

 

I love this little blog and over-sharing my opinions on just about everything to do with middle-age; although sometimes I do question who could possibly be truly interested in my boring little life and how I can make it sound more interesting than it actually is.

 

Why I Write
Found on imgfave.com

How can I put the Cosmo into My Midlife Mayhem?

 

Sure, I can be gross, I can shock and I’ve written a few posts about willies and vulvas because being mildly offensive comes easy to me but I need to keep the blog interesting for ALL my different readers and sometimes that’s a struggle – if you’re not my identical twin, say.

 

Whereas in the book, I can write about whatever the fuck I want. I can create the sort of characters I would like to meet and be friends with, describe the sex I’d like to experience and develop whatever situations I bloody well want. It’s like having a superpower, and published or not, the book will always be my legacy.

 

But back to this blog hop I was invited to – ‘Why I Write’ – by the absolutely fabulous Brenda at Mumabulous, who shares my far-from-healthy interest in hawt, young men – here are my answers to the questions:

 

 

What I’m Working On

 

See above.

 

How Does My Writing Differ From Others In My Genre?

 

It doesn’t, and I don’t see that as a bad thing, necessarily, because I want my readers to feel they identify with me. There are a lot of us women out there experiencing the delights (!) of teenagers, (in particular those lucky enough to have those of the wildly talented ADHD strain), the glorious symptoms of Menopause and the spontaneity that goes hand in hand with a long and tedious marriage or partnership.

 

But if you’re looking for intelligent or considered thought, My Midlife Mayhem is probably not the blog for you. If you’re looking for a belly laugh at the bitch-fest that is ‘getting older’ and can accept my impulsive, scathing style of writing, give it a go.

 

Why Do I Write?

 

See above, and….

 

Three main reasons:

 

  1. It saves me a fortune in psychology fees and stops me from bolting the minute I can’t cope, tearing my grey hair out or drinking three times the weekly allowance for women.

 

  1. I’m probably a complete narcissist and love the attention although I haven’t even truly admitted that to myself yet. I’ve always had trouble making and keeping friends. I think I’m funny – other people don’t. On the blog I can be ME without having to worry about offending people. Writing gives me a virtual friendship group of characters, fellow bloggers and readers and it takes the pressure off me to leave the house and be sociable.

 

  1. Creativity sates me. I need a creative outlet. When I can’t be creative, I wither and drink. I’m a far better writer than I was a furniture painter.

 

How Does My Writing Process Work?

 

My family is fundamentally my muse and triggers might include an off-the-cuff facetious comment from the old man (who can still be funny, VERY occasionally) or an impulsive act from my son Kurt. I am an overly opinionated person anyway and the blog serves as a very accommodating forum to air my misguided opinions.

 

There is a process of sorts – a note on my iPhone if something titillates me, a rough draft straight onto the page without a lot of thought and then I go back to it several times until it feels authentic and is funny. I add the humor after the first written vomit.

 

And there it is. Why I write. Bet you wish Mumabulous hadn’t asked.