New Year, New Challenges

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I hit the new year with my head up and my hands busy as I had so much work on. Between running the latest online course, mentoring a wonderful mentee, writing my regular column for Yorkshire Life, writing  a couple of small freelance articles, trying to find time to catch up on my book work so that I can submit the dreaded tax return and judging the Bridlington poetry competition, I have been feeling a bit run down. This was not helped by catching a bad cold which affected my sinuses and made sitting at the computer a real pain, at a time when I had scheduled back to back seven-day weeks until I was caught up. Sadly, as a freelancer I don’t get paid for sick time and any deadlines I miss directly impacts on the money that goes in the pot for bills, mortgage, car repairs (which seem to be every other week at the minute) which is a tad stressful.

Despite feigning nonchalance over the Arts Council England Grants application I made nine weeks ago, I had also worked myself into a state of nervous anxiety waiting on the results and when I found out yesterday I’d been unsuccessful again it really was a bit of a blow. I know full well that rejection is the name of the game in the writing world, but it’s still quite hard. I’m a full-time writer, a professional writer, but I don’t make enough money from my own creative writing to live off, so my main income is via running workshops, mentoring and running online courses. I’m very passionate about helping people to develop their writing skills and developing the confidence to write, and in my neck of the woods we are a fairly low average wage, so it’s also important to me to provide the services I do at a rate that people on low incomes can afford or at least have a chance to save towards. I work mainly online with clients because  it makes it easier for clients to do coursework and homework around their own lives. Most people I work with have family and work commitments and would struggle to afford travel etc, I know this because I struggle to afford to travel and I can’t afford expensive courses or retreats.

My main project at the minute is  my stage play, which looks at friendships between classes and the drinking culture of of a northern seaside town, the sort of town that I come from. The funding would have helped me to work on it to completion; allowing me to be able to pay my bills and focus for a couple of months on researching the topics I was writing about and actually sitting down to write. It would be incredible to be able to sit down at my desk and just write, just be a writer with no extra pressures to do any thing else. Awards which allow writers the time to write are a godsend. I’ve seen a few snarky social media comments about the TS Eliot prize and how it’s a ridiculously large amount of money, but for someone like me, and most professional writers are very much in a hand to mouth situation, it would provide two years of serious writing time, probably enough time to write a novel, or to research and write a full collection of poetry. That’s why prizes and awards are so important. Which is also why it’s a bit of a blow when you don’t manage to reach that goal and get the funding. I had a bit of a meltdown, because it naturally brought out quite a lot of feelings of not being wanted, of not being good enough, of not being successful enough to warrant the gamble from an organisation like the ACE, that is giving me money to work on my own creative endeavours. Readers, I had a junk food and wine night and a really good long cry. But my mood was boosted by some messages of support I received, especially from someone whose work I really admire, who had been successful with the ACE funding. Her project sounds absolutely brilliant, in fact looking at the list of projects that have been successful, they all sound relevant and necessary and the people who have won the funding are all talented and filled to the brim with potential, so there’s certainly no sour grapes here, I just feel disappointed that I aren’t able to make the step forward in the way I would like, it’s become harder again and I’m quite tired.

But I ain’t no quitter, and I know lots and lots of people who are having a crappier time of it than just the frustration of being turned down for a grant. I’ll just have to find another way.

In other news, the current online course is going brilliantly, I’m so impressed with those attendees who are really challenging themselves with sonnets and sestinas and actively considering how they are making their free verse poems work for them. The FB closed group is a hive of activity and I am seeing some genuine moments of support there, which pleases me and I’m pleased to be involved with this group, they really are a good bunch.

Which leads me to my next plug – I’m going to be running another month-long course/workshop in February, this is one of my ‘daily prompt’ courses, and you can find details Here it’s just £10 for the whole month and that includes access to the online closed group, where I am generally about on a daily basis to offer a little bit of support and guidance, though I can’t offer full critique on your poems with this one. These online courses are quite popular so book early to avoid disappointment. February’s course is Poems to Save the World and I hope that, in the current climate especially, it will provide a poetic vent for frustrations around the state of politics, the environment, the world at large etc as well as celebrating the good stuff in life. I hope to see you there!

Finally, I have a couple of readings coming up:

Readings

 

Fancy coming to see me and some other fabulous poets read? I’ll be doing a short set at Bridlington library on Saturday 26th January where we’ll be announcing the winners of the competition. I’ll be reading with fellow Valley Press writers James Nash and Matthew Headily Stoppard so get yourself down there, 11-12.30

And do you fancy coming and seeing what Dream Catcher Magazine is about? Then get yourself to According to McGee in York on 27th January, where we’ll be launching issue 38 with readings from contributors and the editors. There’ll be three ‘generations’ (we’re a bit like Dr Who) of DC editors present and there will be WINE. 2pm for 2.30 start

 

Catch you on the flip side

x

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What I read in 2019: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent

 

A Mini Review

The Essex Serpent

by Sarah Perry

Published by Serpent’s Tail

ISBN: 978-1781255452

When I first picked this up, drawn to it by the beautiful cover illustration and the fact that it was the Waterstones ‘Book of the Year’ 2016 and shortlisted for the Costa novel award 2016, I had high hopes. I thought it sounded engaging and thrilling with an interesting concept that excited me. I have a fairly eclectic taste in books but I was looking for something I could really get my teeth into and fall in love with. Unfortunately, as soon as I started reading The Essex Serpent, it started to irritate me. Now, this is entirely subjective and a completely personal opinion. I actually asked on social media for other reader’s options of it and got a mixed response, but there were a lot of people saying how much they loved it, how beautifully written it was how it was definitely one of their favourite books. I try very hard not to read forewords or author’s notes before I read a novel, because I like to make my own mind up about it, I like to be surprised and I like to go on a journey with a book and, for me, that involves not knowing it before hand, except through short reviews and recommendations. However, in this case I actually wish I had done, because I found the book so hard to place in a historical context without knowing the intentions of the author. There were not enough definite markers for me that would help me to place it, I couldn’t quite recognise the style of dress, housing or transport, even though all of these things are mentioned many times.  I had it anywhere from Georgian right up to the 1950s, but it turned out to be a ‘Victorian novel’.  I have now skimmed through the author notes and can understand what the intention was (to recognise that nothing much changes in people’s actions and the problems and superstitions which prevail in society) but for me that didn’t quite come through enough without some definite place markers.

Although I found the characters interesting, I never quite fell in love with any of them, I felt that I didn’t really know them well enough to do that. The book is written in such a style that it opens each chapter in a very scenic way, zooming in on the characters, as if starting a new story, I kept seeing the chapters opening up like a film, films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Shape of Water come to mind. But for me this stylised method of telling the story meant that the characters got separated far too much, causing me to keep checking to see where they fit in relation to other characters. I also felt it was a bit too romanticised, and there were scenes where I rolled my eyes a bit. For example, without wishing to ruin it for anyone, there’s a scene in a slum area of London where some upper middle class types are being shown round to highlight the housing crisis and we turn to see an urchin girl child smoking a cigarette in a torn and raggedy dress while wearing beautiful feathered fairy wings. One of the feathers floats down to land in a puddle as she flicks ash out into the street. I’m paraphrasing or paraphrasing the scene at least. It is like an Athena image of a poor child, the pedant in me insists that a girl in rags would not have own beautiful feathered fairy wings. There were quite a few scenes where I felt that way.

 

Having said all that, and I do feel bad because I wouldn’t want to criticise an author’s work, I did in fact stick with the book, right through to the end because I wanted to know what happened, and that’s a real skill for a novelist to have, to be able to suck someone in enough that even when they have doubts about their own enjoyment, they actually want to finish the book. I loved the idea of the serpent and the constant guessing, the manipulation of reality and imagination, and towards the end, in the last chapters when the characters are put to smaller tests of character and morality I felt they came to life a bit more, I started to feel sad on their behalf.

It’s not like anything I’ve read before, really, partly I guess because it does cross genres and maybe that just makes it difficult for my brain to contain it. Perhaps that’s why it is an award winner and so very popular. I would definitely recommend reading it for yourself and I would love to know your thoughts on it.

 

x

 

 

My 2018 Bests

 

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I thought it would be nice to round up the year with what I’ve enjoyed in the arts from people to films, art exhibitions to poetry. So here goes, if you don’t feature, by the way, it’s not because I didn’t like your work, I’ve enjoyed countless books, films, events and exhibitions this year, so thank you for enriching my life!

Best Novel

A tough one, I’ve read many this year. The one that stuck out for me was The North Water, by Ian McGuire, published by Scribner. You can buy it here. This is a terrifying, dark story. I read it almost in one sitting it was so gripping, but more than just a fast, electrifying, gritty plot line is the style of writing, both elegant and satisfying. I’ve just lent it to my husband and am already itching to get it back and re read it.

Best Full Poetry Collection

Again, a tough one. But the collection I’ve just read, Girls are Coming Out of the Woods, by Tishani Doshi, published by Bloodaxe Books, is one that I will keep coming back to. In fact I have only just finished reading it and I am re reading it. You can read about it here. What did I like about it? Powerful, unapologetic poems on difficult subjects, told without prevention. It blew me away. Go read it, go!

Best Short Collection

It’s got to be Liz Berry’s The Republic of Motherhood published by Penguin. You can read about it here. If you’ve not heard of this collection you’re missing out. Liz Berry has a light touch and a wonderfully transportive style and these poems are doing what poetry does best, challenging perception through personal narrative. Brilliant, brilliant collection.

Best Film

Film is the medium I turn to when I need to unwind. I like films that are layered, interesting but also aesthetically pleasing. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri does all of these. It is dark, funny, brilliantly acted, brilliantly filmed. It’s moving and wonderful. Go watch it. Here’s an article about it in The Guardian.

Best Play

I saw Jess and Jo Forever at the wonderful Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, I reviewed it for The Stage. It was phenomenal, a true masterclass in gentle, humorous story telling. Great use of stage, great acting, there was nothing to fault. Bring hankies.

Best Art Exhibition

Another Scarborough experience. This was the Sylvia Pankhurst exhibition at Scarborough Art gallery. You can read about it here. The paintings are moving in their simplicity, and presented elegantly, with space to think. It’s something of a revelation, in the context of the suffragette movement, and made me think about the different ways in which we protest. I believe some of these paintings are now heading to The Tate, but it would be brilliant if you could go and support a small, but brilliant, art gallery in Scarborough!

Best Museum

The last time I was in Manchester was for the Northern Soul awards. While we were there I was dragged to the National Football Museum by my Derby County loving husband. I expected to be bored stiff, but it’s actually one of the best museums I’ve been to. It’s interactive, fun, interesting, historical and the staff were bending over backwards to present items and answer questions. A really great experience. Read about it here.

Most Admirable Poet

I’ve talked before about Antony Owen before, his work as a peace poet is something I admire so much. Here’s what I’ve written about him before: Antony Owen

Most Admirable TV Personality

David Attenborough, who is using his life to bring attention to the state the world is in. He could be enjoying a lazy retirement, but instead he’s out and physically spreading the message. I loves him. Read a bit about what he’s doing here.

Best Cookbook

I’m still in love with the Thug Kitchen books. Honestly, great recipes, lots of swearing. What’s not to love? Read about them here, mother forkers.

Best Cookery Blog

Less of a blog, more of a resource, I love drooling over the video recipes and have just bought their book: BOSH

Best Poetry Blog

Another tough one. Lots of poets blogging about poetry, about being a poet, about where the creative impulse comes from. Roy Marshall’s blog and website is one of those that covers everything and does it eloquently and thoughtfully. Read it here

Most Hardworking Editor

Has got to be the champion of the North: Helen Nugent. i watched her put together the Northern Soul Awards and am in awe of her abilities and stamina.

Best Instagram account to Follow 

There are many, but one of my favourites is natgeo – gorgeous pictures.

Best Twitter Account to Follow

Ian McMillan – worth following for his early morning strolls alone, as well as his gentle, friendly humour and passion for poetry. @IMcMillan

Best Poetry Magazine

I can’t really vote for Dream Catcher Magazine, being as I’m the editor. So I shall choose another fab magazine, this one is an online magazine which makes it accessible to all, something us poor poets appreciate! Ink Sweat & Tears are consistent in both quality and passion. Get yourself over there.

And that’s that. I hope you enjoy these as much as I have.

x

 

 

Endings and Beginnings: The 2018 Roundup

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So much has happened this year, it’s quite difficult to work out how I fit everything in. I set out in January to spend the year working on myself, as much as I was working on my writing career. I was turning forty and having a bit of a melt down (massive, massive understatement) because this coincided with the decision my husband and I had made way back in 2003, that when I turned forty we’d stop trying to conceive our much wanted family and accept childlessness. In reality we decided after the last disastrous IVF cycle that that would be the last cycle, and we wouldn’t go down the donor or adoption route, but I still clung on a little to the idea. Accepting infertility, embracing childlessness is never easy for anyone. It was especially hard after the incredible journey we had been on before reaching that point. However, I did feel I’d done quite a lot of the grieving around it beforehand, in the thirteen years of drugs, IVF cycles, miscarriages and of course the loss of our daughter, but it seems there was quite a lot more grief to come out. When I hit that age- boom – I imploded. My fortieth wasn’t anything like I’d wanted; we had no money, I felt like my career hadn’t progressed, I didn’t even look the way I wanted, I was still struggling with a bad relationship with alcohol and with food and diets. Fast forward to today and I am loving being forty. I can’t wait for my forty first. I am loving that I’ve done the hard work in grieving for my daughter and grieving for the family we’ll never have, and I can just get on with enjoying my life. And I am, I love my life. I still have some very bad downs, but 90% of the time I love who I am, what I am and where I am going. There are lots of things that have helped me reach this point, but two major ones are walking away from the diet industry, and changing my thought process around alcohol. They are both related, in a way, because my thought processes to both were about restriction and a punishment and reward system. I had to abandon a way of thinking about both of them which I feel society pushes on people to make it acceptable to be miserable. I’ve talked about The Diet Trap before, but that revelation: that this multi billion pound industry was standing on the misery of the little people at the bottom, ME, was a real eye opener.  Far from helping me to become healthy, restricting myself around food had enhanced feelings of good/bad failure/achiever in me and made me miserable. I bloody loved eating what I wanted at Christmas this year and I drank far too much without any guilt or remorse, weighing in on Thursday with just a 2lb gain and no panic or need to revert to starving myself to atone for it. I’m back at my beloved spinning class tomorrow morning with a clean head and a joy in what my body can achieve. Booze wise, I’d always thought that not drinking as much, or not drinking at all was about restricting consumption. But if you think of yourself as a drinker who isn’t allowed to/can’t drink, then it just makes the desire to drink even more crushing, in the same way that diets do. Before I’d say ‘I’ll be healthier, not drink in the week and only drink at the weekends’ which meant I spent the whole week waiting to have a drink and then drank two week’s worth of Sauv. Blanc in one sitting. As a society we have a funny relationship with booze, we tend tho think that if you can exert enough willpower over it and not drink whiskey on your cornflakes then you are fully in control – we will look with pity on someone drinking a can of lager on a park bench at 10 am, but won’t think anything of someone drinking a bottle of wine in the bath as part of their answer to a busy day, as a relaxation aid. Both liquids have the same chemical composition, they are both a drug which causes the drinker to feel an effect, the lager drinker and the wine drinker both get high. But we cling dearly onto alcohol as something fun and celebratory and acceptable, so we make rules around it to make ourselves feel better about the truth, which is that we are taking a strong, cancer causing drug whenever we drink. Anyway, back to me. I still drink. I think recognising that I was, at least in part, using alcohol to medicate quite a bad anxiety problem helped. But it also helped to be honest with myself about booze and to think outside of the general view of alcohol that society wants us to have. There’s a lot of money to be made in booze and the government does well on booze tax – just saying. Anyway, I have chugged through a fair old amount of booze over the festive period and loved it. But as a general point of view, I now think of myself as a non drinker who drinks sometimes, because I like getting a bit drunk. There’s no restrictions, no rules, I just changed my default setting to ‘non drinker’. I don’t really drink at home anymore, but if I’m going to the theatre I’ll have a glass of wine and then share a bottle with Chris when I get home, and that’s it. If we go to friend’s for tea sometimes I drive, sometimes I drink. It’s no longer a big deal. There’s no longer a feeling of ‘can’t go here or here to celebrate because one of us will have to drive’ – meaning that the night won’t be worth it without a drink. The night is worth it, if you’re wondering. I have discovered a love of good company and a real joy in experience which outdoes my enjoyment of alcohol. I’m enjoying stuff more as a result: using my camera to take early morning pictures, out in the car first thing knowing I’m not over the limit. I love it. On NYE I’m driving us to Flamborough for the Viking fire festival, and I’ll drive us back and then I’ll share a bottle of bubbly for the bongs and then probably go to bed so I can enjoy a nice fresh NYD dog walk.

It took a long time to get here, and I think part of the change in how I feel about things is the natural end to my grief over Matilda. I finished the collection that maps my relationship with her, and myself and my body and my self-image as a bereaved mother this year, and went right over the edge and into the underworld while writing it. I’ve not written about her since, in poetry, but I have just finished a long form article about her grave and the importance of grieving naturally without restictions. I will probably write about her again, but I do feel that the new collection, for which I am about to sign the contract, was almost like the end game of my grief, a fiery, primal retelling of myself which I am very proud of and will still be proud of even if the book flops. I started giving her things away, and that too felt right, and I started to look to a future with projects that aren’t based around stillbirth, I started letting her go, and am still, slowly letting her go.

If you’re on the journey of the bereaved parent, or the would be parent who is facing a future without children – it gets better, it gets easier, you can be a real, whole person again. I promise.

So that was my personal development year. Career wise I’d wanted to finish my next collection and have it accepted for publication, which I’ve done, and I had wanted to move into proper long form journalism. Long form is more suited to my skills as I’m an avid researcher and I like thinky pieces. I’m not an investigative journalist, but I write about human nature in a wider context. I was utterly delighted to land my first long form piece (short by long from standards, but in the long form style) for which I will have more news at some point. I’m so happy about that. It has been a huge boost to my confidence. In fact, my freelance career has really grown. I am now landing regular work, writing stuff I love and being paid for it. I started the year being paid just £4.65 for 200 words and am ending it being paid £100 for 200 words, which is a huge step up. I love being a full-time, freelance writer, but have a way to go before I’m making any sort of decent living. It’s coming. My poor long suffering husband is a God send really as he endures a very hand to mouth existance while I’m building my career, even though he has worked hard to reach a good position in his own work.

The other big thing that happened this year was that I was asked to take over the reigns of Dream Catcher Magazine as their first female editor. It’s going to be a challenge, I am still finding my feet and I am going to have to cut back on other unpaid work, but it is something I’ve wanted to have a go at for a long time, and this York based publication with its dedicated editorial team and brilliant work ethic is something I already feel proud to be a part of. I’m excited about my future with them.

And then, finally, the PhD. I decided, after having to take time off from it due to the stress of not having enough money to fund it, that I would have to think carefully about continuing with it. I finally decided, last week, to officially end the PhD. It was not an easy decision, there was a lot of crying and I am fighting feelings of failure around the decision. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to it without a maintenance grant, and I just can’t get funding for it. Sometimes you have to make really tough decisions that feel like the wrong thing, but are long-term right. I hate walking away from unfinished projects, I’m a hard worker, I like seeing things through. But this was not doable. Which leaves me in a very strange place. This is the first time in more than eighteen years that I have not been studying towards a degree. I feel a bit lost. But I also feel incredibly free. I have had the structure of learning around me all this time, and I suddenly feel like I have climbed out of a chrysalis. I definitely want to do another PhD, but it will be one which I am accepted for on a scholarship with a maintenance grant, and there’s a lot of competition with those. In the mean time I have started planning this year’s projects, there are just three:

  1. I want to finish my play and get it produced somewhere
  2. I want to de-clutter, and create an office for myself (this one is ongoing, but this year is the year)
  3. I want to write another short collection, for which I have an idea

That’s enough, alongside Northern Soul, Dream Catcher, mentoring, running workshops, running online courses. That’s enough. I also want to tackle my poor old camper van which is rotting on my driveway. I put a plan together for that too, which will involve a website and a blog, I imagine, because I like to make projects of things that interest me. I haven’t forgotten about doing my vegetarian/vegan blog either, but I want to work on the part of myself who can’t slow down, this year. I want to learn how to is slow down. It’s something I try to master every year, but this year I am setting out with less on my plate and a desire to be at peace, content and happy with my lot.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I will catch up with you in the New Year, when I’ll be back to bore you with my resolutions. In the mean time, there is still time to book onto my January course: How to Write a Poem I have a few places left and am just tweaking the first course notes now. Be lovely to have you on board!

X

 

Taking the Baby Things to the Charity Shop – A Big Thing, Part One

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This week I gave three bags of baby things away.  They were things bought when we were expecting Matilda. I was in full nesting mode at the time and organising everything with lists and plans between naps. I’d ordered most of the stuff on line and it continued to arrive after she had died, little packets of baby clothes and nappies and bibs and blankets arriving like a comet trail while she plunged on out of our lives. Initially, while we planned the baby’s room, everything was stored in our bedroom. I’d made space in a beautiful antique set of drawers and filled the whole thing with all the bits and pieces we’d need. I’d set the Moses basket up to make sure it fit where I wanted it and it was full of toys. There’s a picture somewhere of me, a mirror selfie, taken the day before we went to hospital, in which I am beautifully round and the Moses basket is in the background and the future is within finger tip distance. And they stayed there. For the first few years – five years?- I couldn’t even open the drawers without being consumed by grief.

Since I turned forty, since we crossed the line that would have been us stopping trying to conceive anyway, even if we’d not had the disastrous last IVF attempt which broke us, I have been attempting to put the desire to move forward into a practical plan. It’s been more than eight years since she died, but this is a complex situation. In fact there is a named disorder called complicated grief which often affects people who have been through a traumatising loss, child loss, a shocking loss, and while I’m not going to diagnose myself (what good would it do anyone?) it’s clear that there is certainly an element of that in my grief process. I’ve said before that eight years seems like a long time, but actually for four of those years we were in the middle of a legal investigation into the hospital which was found to have let us down to such an extent that they were partly responsible for her death. For the whole of those eight years, from seven months after Matilda’s death we were going through IVF to try and have our family, because our clock was ticking and we didn’t have time to wait, we were going through two miscarriages, it was all re-traumatising to say the least. Looking back, I must have been made of steelier stuff than I feel I am to have survived it all, alongside the bomb that was my baby’s death.

I digress. The reason that I’m writing all this down is so that people going through this will know they are not alone. If there is someone else who, like me, feels like they are a bit of a freak, that everyone is looking at them like they are needy and attention grabbing – playing on something that happened a long time ago to garner attention – or feeling judged because other people have managed to get over a loss like this…etc etc because that’s what we all do, isn’t it, judge ourselves against what others think of us, if it’s you, and you are struggling like this, if you’re awake at 3am every night thinking about the sheer overwhelming nature of deconstructing your life and giving it away, about deconstructing your child’s life, and worrying about how it looks like you don’t love them, or that they didn’t mean everything to you, or that they might be somewhere thinking they aren’t wanted, I understand. It’s understandable. I want you to know that there isn’t a time limit, that letting go is hard. It’s completely understandable. Please don’t feel like you can’t get past this. To those reading this who are facing a future without children, it doesn’t mean you’ll never be fulfilled or happy, if you’ve lost your baby and everyone is telling you that you’ll be better once you have another baby, I understand, I understand that your baby wasn’t replaceable, that your child is relevant and is still a huge part of your life.

So I had been through all her things and bagged them and sorted them, and it was emotionally exhausting, I had to do it in tiny little bits, breaking down this life that has over laid my actual life for eight years. It often feels like there was a point at her death when my future split like a forked road, but the other fork didn’t go in a separate direction, it stayed on top of the one we were following. I’ve become so familiar with that life that on my back, or on my shoulders. I think of the grief analogy of the rock that I’ve carried round, it’s slow degradation, how it started as a boulder, but now it is a pebble in my pocket, and I realise I am still walking like I am carrying a boulder. And more, though I wanted to carry the boulder, I don’t want to anymore.

The things are really in three parts, four if you include the IVF stuff. The THREE BAGS: changing mat, reusable newborn nappies, nappy liners, disposable nappies, muslins, cot mobile, books, bottles, steriliser, baby monitor, dummies, travel bottles. THE BABY BATH: which includes baby slings, baby carriers, the bath, the little mobile wash unit, the baby bouncer. THE MOSES BASKET: which includes the basket and stand. The basket will be the hardest to deal with, and will be the last to go. It feels symbolic. How much of this process is symbolic, ritualistic? There’s a natural tendency to make sense of things with ritual. It’s something I find endlessly fascinating.

As well as all this, there is still the problem of the bag of sharps bins and IVF literature, all the other bits of the TTC journey. All the bedding and maternity clothes are dealt with: I have sorted and I am keeping for the sewing project I’m planning.

The three bags were moved to the spare room. I had thoughts about selling the stuff to raise money to fund a resource I am hoping to set up. But I started to question how much of that was just an excuse because it is so painful to let them go, the fear of the pain is quite a force.  I found that when I thought about letting them go I would often have panic attacks, and my hands would shake and the rising, emotion? Grief? Anxiety – who knows, it’s an unbearable feeling – would make me want to claw everything back, pull it all back to me and cry. I wanted to say “I’m sorry’ to my daughter, as if letting go of her things was letting go of her, as if I had let her down, failed her.  Every time I went in the spare room to do the ironing, or to work on my sewing machine the bags were there on the bed. It meant that I was thinking about them, and it meant that I was placing my feelings around them in order. I started to imagine what it would be like to just give them away. Crucially, I started to visualise placing the bags down and walking away. I visualised getting into the car and driving away and I found that I was feeling freed by it. Sad, but freed. Then I knew that this was do-able. That this was the right time, finally. Who would I give them to? I still wanted good to come from them, I decided on St Catherine’s Hospice, because my brother in law had received such beautiful, careful care from them when he was dying of cancer. I chose a village ten minutes drive away- it needed to be close enough that I wouldn’t change my mind when driving over – it also needed to be somewhere where I didn’t know anyone who lived there, because the thought of some friend saying ‘look at the bargain I picked up from the charity shop’ and it being something of Matilda’s would upset me too much. Similarly, I didn’t want to be driving past the shop display with her things in. On the day, I made the giving away part of my list of errands. I knew if I made it too significant, if I thought about the enormity of it, it would drown me and I wouldn’t be able to do it, so I just picked all three up, put them in the boot of the car, took some parcels to the post office, then went to the charity shop, parked, walked across the road with them, opened the door (at this point I have to say everything became like a dream -unfocused and tunnelled and dissociated and strange, like watching someone else) and I walked to the counter with my bright-smile-armour on and said “I’ve brought you some things” put the bags down, turned round and didn’t say anything else and walked back to the car.

I drove away and didn’t stop to think, though in hindsight it might not have been good to drive as it still felt dream like and strange and like watching a TV show of someone dealing with their dead baby’s things, their un-family’s things. I went to Morrisons and sat in the car park and gulped down the wall of sad that was coming. And honestly, honestly, it was OK. I went and did my shopping and though I thought about the strangeness of the things being somewhere else, (I’d had to stop this line of thought as I was taking the bags to the car because I’d started thinking – this is the first time these things have had outside air on them since we were bringing them into the house and I was round as a water melon and struggling with a baby kicking and the future was a sharp, bright place with different fears – this sort of thing would stop me getting anywhere, but is OK when I don’t have anything to do and can just dissolve) I don’t feel upset by it like I thought I would. I didn’t have a proper melt-down panic attack, though I couldn’t think properly for a while and the whole day was a bit like that-putting things in the wrong place and staring blankly at the computer when I should have been writing. I don’t feel like I ‘survived’ something. I feel like it was an ordinary thing. It was an ordinary thing and an extraordinary thing at the same time.

So they are out there now. And I actually feel happy that someone who might be wondering how they’ll afford their baby’s things is picking the things up and buying them, that that money is helping someone else at a painful time in their own lives. The things are deconstructed, no longer my complete set, they have lost the power of being a part of my life and they are gone and I am a step further towards the spare room being my office.

If you have reached this point, thank you for reading such a long and over thought piece about something which probably doesn’t resonate or connect with you, but will almost certainly be a part of someone you know’s experience – a work colleague, a cousin, a street neighbour – because us mothers who cannot mother, us mums with our wisps of what was and what might have become, we exist, we’re not alone, we’re just not seen so readily.

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How Not to Fall into the Diet Trap

food sandwich eat fitness
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I imagine I’m going to take some flack on this. But I wanted to just share with you a revelation which happened over a long, long period of time. I might have talked about this before, if so, sorry!

Who here has ever been to a diet club, or bought a diet book, or a magazine, or a tin of powdered meal replacements, or signed up to some online eating plan or bought a book about how not to diet, or tried hypnotherapy or used a corset which told you when you had eaten so you could eat less, or used a small plate or eaten only a certain colour food?

I’ll wager a lot of you, women mostly, have just mentally raised your hand. I am definitely one of them. As an example, here are the diets that I can remember doing:

  1. Calorie counting
  2. Cabbage soup
  3. Grapefruit
  4. High Fibre
  5. Low fat
  6. Weight Watchers
  7. Rosemary Conley
  8. Slimming World
  9. Exante (extremely low-calorie meal replacements)
  10. The Body Coach
  11. Low Carb
  12. Low GI
  13. Slim Fast
  14. NHS diet
  15. Atkins
  16. Other Keto
  17. various eating plans of one form or another, usually found in magazine and newspaper supplements

These are the ones that I can remember off the top of my head. There are more. I’ve been dieting since about the age of twelve up until this year. Some of these diets I have revisited on several occasions. In fact, I was in love with Slimming World because it appeared to be without shame, without restrictions. If that’s entirely true, why did I, every time I restarted the diet after not following the plan and regaining the weight, go to a different club each time? Why have I visited six different clubs, instead of going back to the same one where I’d gained weight? Ah yes, because I didn’t stick to the plan and therefore I failed.

I have had success with all of these diets. Yes, that’s right, I am an over weight person, recently at my heaviest, and I have had success with all of these diets. So why am I not sitting here as a size twelve telling you all about how the way to be healthy and happy is through any one of these diets? Because the thing about the diet industry is that it is designed to work only when you are feeding it money. If the diets listed here worked forever why are we not all slim and healthy? Why is every group not full to the brim with long-term target members instead of the one or two who, statistically, fit this model perfectly? Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti healthy eating, I’m not even anti diet, I am anti multi billion dollar industries taking advantage of vulnerable people. How does it work? It works by ensuring that whenever the diet doesn’t work, the person doing the diet is at fault. Because, you know, trust the plan, the plan works, if you follow it 100% you will see 100% results etc etc All true and I don’t doubt it. But this is also where the shame of failure enters into the equation. The industry which makes money from selling people the ideal of slim AND healthy AND happy is the same one that relies on the perpetuation that people above a certain, small size, cannot be happy and shouldn’t ever ever dare to say that they are happy with the way they look. We are taught that there is something wrong with us, we’re shamed in the name of health. This is what is perpetuated by the media. As an experiment, go and stand in front of any shop magazine rack and look at how many covers show something about How To Lose Weight and/or This Celebrity Has Gained Weight, alongside a picture of them putting their bins out with their dressing gown flapping or even, shock horror, wearing a bikini on a beach holiday even though they are NOT A SIZE ZERO. Because, you know, making someone feel utterly shit about themselves is definitely the way to make them want to eat better. NEWS FLASH: we already feel pretty shitty about ourselves. It’s not helping us be healthy, it is making us look for the quick fix that will reduce us to small and acceptable before any one else notices how wrong we are for society.  If we weren’t constantly made to feel that we aren’t the right fit for society (and I see this sort of targeted harassment in perfectly healthy individuals too, not just fat people, and in female celebs who are routinely asked about their weight in interviews) we might have a chance at feeling good about ourselves and wanting to be the best that we can be with what we’ve got. Research has proved over and over that if your self-confidence is high, then you are more likely to choose healthier options and to not want to diet.

Let’s face it, being over weight is just a relay race of shame – from the media, from clothes shops (do not get me started on the randomness between clothing sizes in different shops) from people who use ‘concerns about our health’ to vilify us from their platforms of perfect size. The old – it’s easy, you just eat less and exercise more  -brigade who have never had a compulsion to over eat, or perhaps just don’t LOVE food the way we do or perhaps have never made the connection at some point in their lives that the immediacy of sweet or salty or full is a natural, in built, evolved method to make us feel good.

I’ll get backlash for all of this. But I want to be clear – it’s fine to follow a diet to lose weight, to go to a diet club to lose weight, the clubs are great as a social hub. But don’t fall into the diet trap, don’t fall into the trap that says that unless you follow this diet to the T, you are a failure. They are setting you up for a fail, and you need to be the one to not fall into that. How do they set you up to fail? They change the mystical rules on you. They change the points or syns or method from one day to the next, they change the plans and you have to change to fit them, they bring out new books which tell you there is a NEW improved way to lose weight and YOU CAN EAT ALL THE THINGS AFTER ALL. It’s like a desperate horrible whirlpool of sadness and it plays to the fears you keep buried inside you.  I watch people panicking because a yogurt was syn free one day, and then has one syn in it the day after. It’s the same yogurt. And it’s unlikely that yogurts are the cause of someone being over weight. There is always, dangling in front of you, the silver bullet which says YES YOU CAN EAT WHAT YOU LIKE AND LOSE WEIGHT. You can’t. Unless you want what you are eating. If you fill your daily calories (calories being an amount of energy. Energy doesn’t change, ever) up with food you love, then you are doing just that and you’re not paying five quid to then discuss for an hour how to make a fake mousse out of quark and low-fat hot chocolate sachets, or pizza out of two weetabix.

Diets based on points systems can’t be transferred into what I would call a normal life and normal eating habits. You might have an encyclopaedic knowledge of  points, but those little rascals change them, and it tempts you back because you want to get it right because, you know, if you follow the plan 100% then you will see results. And if you can’t take that points system into the real world, then you’ll fail and you will come back. Any diet that tells you eating a million processed noodle pots is ok because they are free food, but avocados have to be counted because of the fat in them is doing you a huge injustice, and playing you like a fiddle. So the lesson is, don’t be played like a fiddle. Take what you want out of the diet, and don’t feel shame.

It’s taken me this long to realise I have nothing to be ashamed of in the way I look. I could be the ugliest person in the world, and I wouldn’t have anything to be ashamed of, because that’s just the way I look. I do and have struggled with the way I look all my life, I’m not beautiful, at an angle and with a filter I can occasionally pass for pretty but I’m not pretty pretty and I’m over weight. That doesn’t mean I aren’t attractive, (let me tell you now, I think that’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, because I am conditioned to think that saying I am happy with myself and not wanting to change myself is wrong in today’s society) my husband finds me attractive, not everyone will find me attractive and FFS does it matter? I am proud of my body and what it has done, what it has been through, I’m proud of its loyalty to me in keeping me alive, I am proud that it steps up, imperfectly, to everything I ask it to do. I have things that don’t work so well, but that is also part of what makes me me. I have had a hateful relationship with myself and my body and with food for so, so long. The biggest tool in health success is liking yourself as you are. That’s it, if you like yourself you want the best for yourself.

So here endeth my rambling notes on the multi billion pound diet industry and the way it eats people up, ironically. If you’re wondering, I count calories and I go to the gym and I am losing weight steadily but actually, I aren’t that bothered about it. I walked out of one of the above diet clubs last year and vowed not to fall back into the trap that had kept me prisoner for so many years and it was HARD to break out of that diet mentality. Whenever I felt like a fat failure, the thing I reached for was the silver bullet of another diet club or book or plan. I thought I knew how to eat healthily, but what I actually knew was how to follow a plan. The idea of eating avocados and nuts as part of a healthy diet made me feel weird because there is a line that says these food are ‘good’ and these ones are ‘bad’ and by attachment, the person who eats the bad foods is a bad person. I don’t beat myself up for eating what I crave at any one time, and by doing that I crave healthy food, I’m more open to foods because I don’t worry about them. I am not perfect, I am not a success story, I am just in the middle, bumbling along at my own pace, and I am utterly fine with that for the first time in years.

In other news, not really news – I still have places for my January get writing course, see This Page

I wish you happiness and health wherever you are on your health journey.

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