Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Conversations with myself.

Rain or Shine, by Cathy Cullis



Ugh, what am I doing with my life?

Right now? You're walking the dog.

No, not right now. Overall, with my life. What am I for? What's is the point of me? What do I doooooo?

Well you walk the dog, you take care of your family, this morning you did some laundry and hoovered the hall and sometimes you get paid to answer other people's emails...'

Uh huh. That's not really helping.

What do you want to do with your life?

Write. And take pictures.

And what did you spend this morning doing?

Writing. And taking pictures.

Interesting...

But there was no point to it, no one paid me to do it, it didn't make any money...

Oh. So money is the point. You want to get paid?

It would be nice, yeah.

Do you need to get paid?

I don't understand the question. 

I mean do you need to get paid? Do you need more money?

It would be nice.

Yes, but do you, right now, need money? Are there things missing in your life that you need that you can only have if you get paid for what you do? 

Um.... Well... No, not really.

Interesting. 

But if I'm not getting paid then what's the point? 

Are you happy? Are you getting better at what you do?
Yes. 

Maybe that's the point?

Oh shut up. What do you know. 

I know that you want to write and take pictures. I know that you do write and take pictures. I know that you want to get paid but you don't financially need to get paid. Maybe you would like to get paid, maybe emotionally and mentally you need to get paid but right now, this week, you are not getting paid.Yet there is the potential, that in the future, once you have scrubbed your step, you might be in the position to get paid. Is that correct?
Yes. 

Okay good, glad we sorted that out. Now maybe we can get on with doing what we do and worry about getting paid later? When we need to?
Maybe. 

You know we're very lucky that we don't need to worry about getting paid right now?

I do. I also know you added that bit so the Internet wouldn't hate us and think we're a whiny ungrateful bitch. 

I did. 

Thanks for looking out for us. 

You're welcome. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Let's go fly a kite.

The wind is as light as it gets in February, a mere 15mph - perfect kite flying weather. That yesterday two kites arrived in the post, completely unexpectedly, is serendipity at its finest.  
My aunt, their great aunt, clicked some buttons in Canada and had them sent to us and we are desperate to see them airborne. Or rather, they are desperate to see them airborne, I am desperate to go to bed as I have had a sort of a head and a sinus and a throat and a muscle thing for a few days and I feel like a bag of cold turd. But the bright blue sky, the glowing grass and the squeals of excitement from my winter-bored children draw me outside and into the red striped, metal framed, finger snapping deck chairs that used to live in my Grandparent's shed and make a once or twice yearly appearance on the lawn when I was a kid. Memories of skin sheared from knuckles turn to warnings that 'If you play with those chairs they will eat your fingers right off'. Sometimes I lie to my children to keep them safe.  
I lean into the taut canvas with a cup of coffee and watch as Nye shows them how to string the kites, where to stand, how to hold firm as he runs across the garden trying to catch the wind.  Huddled in my parka and hat and scarf and gloves and snow boots I shiver in the cut glass air of a February afternoon - watching my family play, listening to the dog go mental for the flying thing she is not allowed to attack and marvelling at the golden light that bathes my world.



Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Things and Thoughts



In Life

  • We have been in our new house for four weeks now and I love it. We are nowhere near unpacked because there's nowhere to unpack anything to and I'm haunted by the ever present knowledge that we have to pack up and move out again for two weeks in July (don't ask) but I am hoping we can find some semblance of order and homeliness before then and in the meantime the view from the front doorstep has earned itself its own hashtag
  • I have ground to a halt with almost all work-related things since we moved. No writing, no working on my etsy shop. Boxes of terribly expensive postcards sit looking at me accusingly and likely will until the easter holidays are finally, finally over.  Then I'm going to take on the world. Probably. Maybe. If this cold ever fucks off. On the upside I have got myself an actual job as a remote PA a couple of mornings a week. Turns out I'm better at answering other people's emails than my own. 
  • I am leaving the island in nine days and I am beyond excited. I am excited about four planes, two 7am trains, a multitude of TFL connections at the weekend (LOLZ), relying on the Brighton - London train running on time (double LOLZ) and juggling the baggage allowances of two different airlines on four different journeys, I'm excited about ALL of it. Most of all I'm excited about seeing my friends and photographing two lovely families and seeing how their little have grown and eating foreign food and being responsible for no lives but my own for five whole days. Bliss.
  • I am half way through Big Magic, which is pretty good. And Breaking Clean - which is mostly great, and A Clash of Kings - which is unfailingly terrible, but I can't stop. I'm aware that if I don't grow some self-control this is going to be a long term deal, what with there being 74 fucking books. It's far too big for the loaf of bread sized suitcase I have to fit a camera kit and five days worth of clothes into when I go away so maybe I can use all of that travel time to finish some real books. (Further reasons to get a kindle - I can take every GOT book with me everywhere I go. Hmmm...) 




Online

  • I loved this piece by Ruth Whippman - she of the quote in my side bar, she of the 'despair and faeces' comment. Stop fetishing parenting, she says, you're sucking all the joy out of it. She writes about the increasing pressure among parents (mothers) to subscribe to a philosophy, to have a mission statement in raising your kids other than 'get everyone to the end of the day in one(ish) piece,' She writes about the extremes of attachment parenting vs routine parenting and sums them up pretty wonderfully;

'The philosophies themselves may be opposing, but what they share is a kind of absolutism, a high stakes alarmist tone, in which the consequences of not sticking to the script can be lifelong and dire.   
In reality, whichever method you choose, your kids are overwhelmingly likely to turn out just fine. There is little evidence to suggest that any one loving parenting style has any particular advantage over any other, but still both of these basic parenting worldviews are firmly rooted in a kind of underlying terror.   
 For the routine-lovers it’s the fear that without a firm hand, a child will become coddled and dependent, lacking in resilience and unable to function in the real world. At the more cuddly end of the spectrum, it’s the heart-chilling anxiety that children are so psychologically fragile that without near constant attention they will suffer long-term emotional damage.' Ruth Whippman, The Guardian. 

I have added her book to my ever growing list. Not because I'm in pursuit of 'happiness' (Oliver Burkeman's incredible book saw to that a few years ago) but because I find Whippman brilliant and wise and hilarious.

  • These photos of Paris' Museum of Natural History during the 25 years it lay abandoned and its renovations in the early 90s are fascinating. As are these behind the scene's pictures of the Smithsonian's Natural History collection. I particularly love how straight this army of little dead mice are holding their tails. 




  • I've had a hard time following British politics for a while, since about the point where Scotland looked at the open door it was offered and said No, freedom isn't really for us. Ta though.' My denial that this happened is strong. I am loving Sam Gore's facebook page I See You and in particular this post about David Cameron, which should by all rights be the front page of this Sunday's Observer.

''But it's not illegal', they'll cry, as if the boundaries of the law are the issue, rather than the toxic hypocrisy of the idea that we're all in this together. 'Anyone could do it if they wanted', they'll cry, despite the fact it's a logical impossibility for the millions of us on PAYE. 'It's no different to using an ISA', they'll insist, as if putting away the few pence extra you've deigned to bless those on the minimum wage with is in any way comparable to setting up a company in a tax haven in a foreign territory. A few pence for a house they'll never be able to afford in the face of a broken rental market is somehow comparable to squirrelling away the excess millions your terrible friends couldn't spend even if they ate nothing but gold bullion and Fabergé eggs for a year.'

Read the whole thing, it's spectacular. I especially love the description of Cameron as a greased ferret slipping free from the ... well, you read it. I can't type those words where I know my Gran will read them. 


  • The wisest words I've ever heard spoken about peanut butter. I still eat it because it's fast and easy protein, but yes, I slather it in jam and no, I don't enjoy it. 


'Look at it. It looks like the contents of a nappy. It looks this repulsive to tell you that it’s bad for you, which it is. It tastes exactly how it looks, too, which is somewhere along the spectrum between awful and so vibrantly foul its flavour makes your entire tract, from top to bottom, twitch like a petrified whippet. Some people try to disguise the odious taste of peanut butter with jam. But these people are Americans. And if a nation that sees spray-on cheese as an acceptable repast thinks peanut butter is only palatable when smeared in jam, it’s time to admit something’s very wrong.'



*photos courtesy of the MusĂ©um national d’Histoire naturelle via Messy Nessy Chic

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Five, Ella.



A grin of tiny pearly teeth and a glint of pure, wild mischief flash from behind her overgrown golden fringe and she leaps straight at me. From the ground she is in my arms in the time it takes me to open my mouth, my 'what are you doing?' never getting it's chance to taste air. Her legs snap around my waist like magnets and with her arms waving in the air like a hippy at Glastonbury she is in my arms, my spider monkey - as light and as easy as her namesake. 
If her sister did that to me (and she's tried) she would knock me to the ground, give me a black eye and put my back out for a week. Ella is only a kilo lighter, has only ever been at most, a kilo lighter and yet she carries herself with such ease, flying just above the surface of the waves, that she feels little heavier now than she ever has. In my lap she settles in, curled like a cat and no more obtrusive. Sometimes an arm or leg goes awry and I get punched in the face but it's not clumsiness, more a case of limbs too long to control, jumps a little too ambitious to pull off, momentary forgetfulness that she can not in fact fly and I am not in fact an immovable object.



'You're not a snuggler like your sister' people tell her, but they've got it wrong, she is, she just takes her time to suss out who to trust, her need for an audience is minimal to non-existent in comparison to her twin's.
When I lie on my side to watch telly, with my knees bent up towards my hips – the only way I can fit onto our little two person sofa – she climbs into the triangular gap between my legs and the back cushions, resting her head on my bum and tucking her knees up to her chest. We fit together perfectly, one large and one little piece of a jigsaw, a jigsaw that builds the picture that is our family. The dog tries to climb in too, she doesn't fit but somehow Ella squeezes her in, wrapping her arms around her neck and loving her fiercely. 




Running off ahead on a still and perfectly crisp winter morning, the sun backlights her and with all of her height she looks both tiny, too small to be allowed out of my reach, and like that's it, she's off, see you later. Today she needs space, tomorrow perhaps she won't let you out of her sight. My independent, curious, ephemeral wanderer. 
Not that she isn't also batshit crazy at times, point a camera at her and her eyes will cross, her tongue will stick out at a wonky angle and an inhuman noise will emanate from her contorted face - it's not cool, whatever she might think. When the music comes on she dances like a wild thing, spinning moves from a break-dancing video we watched once, eighteen months ago. Her memory is a steel trap - when we need reminded where we were when that thing happened, when need the dog's lead un-lost or the way out of the woods pointed we ask Ella, she knows where shit is. Of course sometimes she gets confused, she is only five, although it's easy to forget - she was born older, with a look in her eye and a quiet fire burning steadily in her soul. 
I can't help but wonder what age she will reach when the world feels more comfortable to her, what age it is that her heart was born. Will she have to wait until she's thirty like I did, for her life to catch up with her soul? We can only wait and see and that - watching this spider monkey grow into and then beyond her world - is a prospect that thrills me.




Monday, March 28, 2016

Things.

Amy Judd




Yes, I'm already bored of and feeling trapped by the doing, reading, listening format - I really don't do well with blog series, as you can tell by the half a dozen that have fizzled out over the years and I can tell by the many many more that have never made it out of my head. 


So, instead, Things.

Things this week;



Life 

- we moved house. Almost a year to the day from leaving France. We now live 200ft down the road from the house my mum built (not by hand, because apparently that needs clarified for some people. My mum is pretty handy but she's not building a house handy) when I was 15. She sold it five or so years later and every time I walk past I'm all 'who the fuck are you and what are you doing in my house? By the way your daffodils look great.' at the people sitting in the kitchen window. Silently and inwardly, because I'm not a total lunatic.

- I'm maybe in the midst of applying to go back to college. Maybe. Shhh, let's say nothing more of it for now.

- I went to work last week, to take photos of a 3D printing workshop. I'm going to write more about it when the photos are done but hell, was it good to spend a day taking pictures again. I miss that.

- I'm considering spending £60 on a hairbrush (BIRTHDAY MONEY, I'm not spunking half of our weekly food budget on fripperies, much as the urge takes me sometimes). I don't know if this is a sign that I'm losing my mind or that I'm creeping ever closer to living my best life.


Writing

- Last week I came extremely close to throwing out everything I've written over the last three months. I haven't been working on it much because of the aforementioned moving and when I came back to it it looked terrible, awful, horrible. But a very wise friend said to me - when I was screaming into my fist and questioning what the point was -

'THE POINT. The point is to practise, The point is to get to a point where your writing aligns with your standards for good writing. The point is to write enough that you can revise it down to something you don't hate. The point is to show up and think the thoughts and do the work. That is the point.  
The point is not to be magically good. The point is to scrub your step until it shines.  
You CAN write. But the point isn't whether you can write. The POINT is to DO IT. You weren't good at marriage at first or pooping in the pot at first or being a grown up at first or drawing at first either, I bet. It took time. It takes time.  
Scrub your step, gal.  
Scrub it good.' 

I love that friend.  And the apps that allow friends who live far apart and in different time zones and in areas without mobile phone reception to exchange words sharp and fast and in real time. And internets that allow them to meet in the first place.




Books 


I bought a whole load of books this week. I don't have any money, but. None of them were the poetry books I mentioned last week which I feel a bit ashamed of. The books in question were;

For me

- Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Because I realised that I listened to one of the podcasts and completely loved it and felt invigorated and inspired by it and then forgot to listen to the rest. I'm not saying that I don't do the exact same thing with books but I'm more likely (I think, I hope) to stick with something that I can hold and read and see and feel. Also, the cover is gorgeous.

- Help, Thanks, Wow and Stitches, by Anne Lamott. Because I'm feeling a bit lost, and few books have ever un-lost me like hers.

- Breaking Clean, by Judy Blunt. I can't remember where I read about this but the passage that was quoted in it was desperately beautiful. It's a memoir (so research, innit?) about a woman taking her three children and leaving the homesteading community that her and her husband grew up and were deeply entrenched in. I've only read 20 pages but it's beautiful.

- The Art of Memoir and Lit, by Mary Karr. I found these via Laura's Pinterest page and I had to have them, for the same parenthesised reason mentioned above - research. Not because spending money I don't have comforts me when I'm feeling the aforementioned lost, no sir, not at all.

- A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. Um, well, yeah. I'm absolutely not going to leave all of those inspiring, life improving books deposited around the house like forgotten rabbit droppings as soon as this next GOT instalment arrives. Not one single bit.


For the Girls -

In My Heart, A Book of Feelings, by Jo Witek. Which isn't to say that the girls struggle with their feelings but SWEET JESUS, do five year olds struggle with their feelings. It's a beautiful book and we've only read it once but it taught us all some stuff about the things our hearts feel.


*Links do not generate me any cash. Not because I'm virtuous or not that into money, I just don't know how to do that 'earning' thing*


Online

- the couples who talk about their poo are the happiest couples of all. It's always nice when a perfectly unqualified stranger on the internet confirms that you and your husband are golden. Although, actually, my husband would like it to be known that I talk, he just listens, a lot. (Emphasis his.)

- period tracking, are you into it? do you do it? would you place a bluetooth enabled device up your fnuh? (the answers in my case are yes, yes, you must be kidding.)

- this article about Brewdog was really interesting to me. The desire to label anyone who comes up with something innovative and is exceptionally good at marketing it a 'pretentious hipster wanker' seems like a particularly British, and a particularly obnoxious British tendency to me. (For what it's worth; I've met the Brewdog guy, I have an extremely low pretension tolerance, I liked him.)

- Connor Stefanison's goat and sheep portraits are everything. This guy knows what I'm all about.






Monday, March 21, 2016

poetry and staying alive




'If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.' Emily Dickinson


Happy World Poetry Day people. 

I love poetry, I have done since I was seventeen and walked into a bookshop, drifted past shelves and over tables and was arrested by a beautiful face staring out at me from the cover of an anthology that promised a lot. Staying Alive – real poems for unreal times quickly became my bible, my gospel, my helpmate. I poured over its pages, reading and re-reading and marking and remembering. I copied poems into my sketchbooks alongside my first moody attempts at black and white photography, I stayed up late into the night reading 'just one more' for hours and hours, I carried it with me in backpacks and suitcases and pinned handwritten copies of my favourites to the wall next to my bed, alongside photos of home and the people I loved.

I cried heavy salty tears into poems that spoke of death and depression and miscarriage and war and I held my breath through dizzying pages dedicated to love and sex and birth and joy. I found reassuring glimpses of feelings I recognised and tasted the smallest but most intense morsels of ones I hadn't even come close to experiencing. I learned that love and death could be the most mundane things and that a bulb pushing through the winter earth or a toad sitting on a river bank could be almost transcendent. I learned about being, and staying, alive. 




Before I bought this book I knew no more about poetry than anyone who had just completed high school English, I was not and still am not knowledgeable about it and find myself embarrassed and mute around friends who know Poetry. I do not know Poetry and I likely never will but I know this book and I know a handful of poems from it and I know that my life is all the richer for it.
When I was eighteen I bought Staying Alive for a friend who was studying English at university. He went on to study poetry and many years later went on again to have his first collection Moontide published by Bloodaxe, that same publisher who brought me my bible. Inside Moontide is a poem dedicated to my girls, to Ella and Ammie, and when I read it I found myself crying tears into a poem for the first time in many many years. I think they call that 'full circle'.
Moontide went on to win a shit tonne of prestigious prizes and you should buy it immediately, because it's excellent. You should also read this interview in Poetry Spotlight where he talks about poetry its relevance and fatherhood  and his new collection which is coming out at the end of the year.
I don't read a lot of poetry any more. In the last few years I've read Niall's book and the Emma PressAnthology of Motherhood, which I recently bought for myself and a friend - partly because poetry and motherhood are dear to my heart, partly because it's a bloody beautiful book - and that's it. It's fairly pitiful. But I'm tired and my kids ate my brain and I don't have a lot of time for reading anything any more. I have deeply loved listening to Dominique Christina's poetry, particularly her Period Poem, which should be required listening for every single person who has ever had a period or been born as the result of someone else's period (everyone, in case you didn't get that.)
I still carry Staying Alive and its sequel Being Alive everywhere with me, they were the first things I carried into our new home and placed onto the mantelpiece and when I'm feeling lost but still capable of reading I delve into them, searching for answers I've already found but forgotten or for ones that have as of yet escaped me - because I still haven't read every poem in those books, am still capable of finding something new. I haven't bought the third book in the Staying Alive trilogy - Being Human - because I know I can not read it, can not do it justice, can not love it the way that I loved that first one. Being Alive has never quite kindled the passion I feel for it's predecessor. Maybe one day I will be ready for it but these words from Niall's interview ring true and comforting to me;

'The dynamic between a reader and a poetry collection is completely different [to that of a novel] – there is much more ‘investment’ by the reader in a poetry collection – there is a reason poetry has never been accused of being escapism! I think that if you have ‘found’ yourself, or a space that might be yours, in a poetry collection then it would be a peculiar madness that would quickly put this aside to begin the search anew.'

 



I will leave you on this World Poetry Day with two of my favourites from Staying Alive and a shopping list of books that I have, that I love, that I want - starting points for current and future lovers of poetry. 
Thoughts After Ruskin by Elma Mitchell and What Every Woman Should Carry, by Maura Dooley are the poems I have copied and carried and reread the most, they lie within two pages of each other in a 500 page book and it is under them that the spine is creased the deepest. 


Thoughts After Ruskin, by Elma Mitchell 

Women reminded him of lilies and roses.
Me they remind rather of blood and soap,
Armed with a warm rag, assaulting noses,
Ears, neck, mouth and all the secret places:

Armed with a sharp knife, cutting up liver,
Holding hearts to bleed under a running tap,
Gutting and stuffing, pickling and preserving,
Scalding, blanching, broiling, pulverising,
- All the terrible chemistry of their kitchens. 

Their distant husbands lean across mahogany
And delicately manipulate the market,
While safe at home, the tender and gentle
Are killing tiny mice, dead snap by the neck,
Asphyxiating flies, evicting spiders,
Scrubbing, scouring aloud, disturbing cupboards,
Committing things to dustbins, twisting, wringing,
Wrists red and knuckles white and fingers puckered,
Pulpy, tepid. Steering screaming cleaners
Around the snags of furniture, they straighten
And haul out sheets from under the incontinent
And heavy old, stoop to importunate young,
Tugging, folding, tucking, zipping, buttoning,
Spooning in food, encouraging excretion,
Mopping up vomit, stabbing cloth with needles,
Contorting wool around their knitting needles,
Creating snug and comfy on their needles. 

Their huge hands! their everywhere eyes! their voices
Raised to convey across the hullabaloo,
Their massive thighs and breasts dispensing comfort,
Their bloody passages and hairy crannies,
Their wombs that pocket a man upside down! 

And when all's over, off with overalls,
Quickly consulting clocks, they go upstairs,
Sit and sigh a little, brushing hair,
And somehow find, in mirrors, colours, odours,
Their essences of lilies and of roses.





What Every Woman Should Carry, by Maura Dooley

My mother gave me the prayer to Saint Theresa.
I added a used tube ticket, kleenex,
several Polo mints (furry), a tampon, pesetas, 
a florin. Not wishing to be presumptuous, 
not trusting you either, a pack of 3. 
I have a pen. There is space for my guardian
angel, she has to fold her wings. Passport. 
A key. Anguish, at what I said/didn't say
when once you needed/didn't need me. Anadin. 
A credit card. His face the last time, 
my impatience, my useless youth. 
That empty sack, my heart. A box of matches. 






A poetry shopping list, for you, for me, for friends; 

Being Human, all edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe

Moontide, by Niall Campbell

Her Birth, Rebecca Goss

The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm; A Coloured Girl's Hymnal

Sound Barrier
Life Under Water, both by Maura Dooley

The Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood, edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright
The Emma Press Anthology of Fatherhood, edited by Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright


Further Reading; this buzzfeed list of twelve British poets sharing their favourite poems is wonderful and full of launching pads to the discovery of new poems and poets. 


Happy World Poetry day lovers. I would love to hear about any poetry books you are reading / thinking of reading / once read a long time ago but still remember in the comments and you can find more of my favourite poems that I've blogged here by clicking the poetry tag below.