I write, therefore I am?

What began as a perfectly reasonable day ended in me threatening to cry into my borrowed raspberry vodka cocktail.

I can’t quite put my finger on the point where it all began to unravel, but I think it was somewhere between watching Inua Ellams recite his poetry in my Publishing class and mock bidding for art’s festival funding in my Creative Professional Development class.

On the train home the tears sprung up. A seven hour stretch in class will do that to you. I suppose it didn’t help that I was also listening to a bit of Ed Sheeran on the Tube.

I suddenly became rather melancholy and morose. It was one of those uncomfortable moments when you begin swimming in sadness and are not quite sure why.

Fatigue? Frustration? What was it that ailed me? I still don’t know.

I just recall that the weight of the world slammed squarely onto my shoulders whilst I sat in Metro bar with my friends after class. I stirred up the plump raspberries that floated in the fizz of my drink and thought, what exactly am I doing here?

I am lonely and homesick and without two of the most important men in my life – my husband and son. The sacrifices of this MA get bigger every day. It’s been 10 months and 4 days since I last gave my little boy a cuddle or a goodnight kiss.

I push myself onward with blind reassurance – it will be worth it, completely, in the end.

In the meantime I struggle with feelings of guilt and fear and worry all wrapped neatly into a bitter package. I try to convince myself that I’ve done the right thing. For everyone. In the long run.

But it wasn’t just my guilt that made me abandon my drink and my half eaten bag of cheese and onion crisps. It was something else. Something bigger than me, that dragged me down with hooks of despair.

It was the writing.

I have never been so fully immersed in my craft and it is taking on a life of its own, morphing into something I didn’t know it could be. In the midst of tears that threatened to spill as the train zipped me home, I had  a very small epiphany that I think had been there all along; yet I had been ignoring it.  I want to keep writing and not just as a hobby.

How this realisation caused me to arrive at a mini meltdown I can’t understand but maybe it was the gravity of the acceptance. Finally admitting to myself that what I really want to do with my life is the thing I both love and fear the most.

Under the weather

Emilie caught a cold. So she gave it to Zoie. Who then gave it to me. When I taught my kids about sharing, this isn’t what I meant.

Now my house is filled with a chorus of coughs. A symphony of sniffles. A frenzy of fevers.

The past two nights I’ve spent lying in bed with a hot, stuffy, sticky toddler on my chest. Dead weight crushing my lungs, pinching my bladder. The slightest movement on my part setting off ear-splitting screeches as she protested my right to breathe, swallow, think. I had a wedgie I couldn’t resolve for 3 hours. This, is the definition of self-sacrifice.

And  in between these fretful nights, I sat in class. My longest was a 6 hour stretch. Slumped in my seat. Straining my brain to focus on contemporary art, the film industry, Italo Calvino, huh? I subsisted solely on vending machine fare scavenged from the uni cafeteria during 15 minute breaks. Paprika flavored corn crisps, blueberry fruit bites, and frosty cold Dr. Pepper.  Wholesome delicacies.

Dinner came in the form of a tub of chicken yakisoba, slurped greedily on the 21.43 Southwest train service to Alton. Heartburn was par for the course. And when I lumbered into the house minutes shy of 23.00, my real work began. Shrugging off my coat and scarf, hurriedly taking a minute to pee. There were medicines to be administered, little people to soothe. The shower, she is a luxury.

And to ice the cake, is my own sore throat. A bitter, grating, I’ve-swallowed-razor-blades type sensation. Thankfully it has eased somewhat. Somewhat.

At the insistence of my mother (what would we do without them?) I took Emilie to the GP today to investigate the contagion cough. I sat on a squeaky plastic chair and prattled off a list of symptoms to a slightly flustered lady doctor with a flame orange bob and a pronounced mole on her chin.  She’ll never need to dress up on Halloween, I thought. One of those thoughts you have in a split second before filing it away to the back of your mind with the rest of the Thoughts You Can’t Believe You Had — like when you wondered what it would be like to make-out with one of the Hanson brothers…

So the doctor did the ear thing, the throat thing, the temperature thing, the take deep breaths thing. Asked about allergies and aversions. Thought for a moment. Consulted a book. Consulted her computer screen. Had another go with the deep breaths, removed stethoscope, inclined her head and concluded “chest infection” in a decidedly triumphant tone. She returned to her computer and tapped at the keys noisily.

“One spoonful, 3 times a day. And 2 puffs if she’s wheezing.”

That’s all well and good — spoons and puffs. But a little honey and lime and sunshine never killed anyone. The drab weather is the culprit, I’m sure of it. Me and the kids need to be on a beach somewhere. Soaking up some UV love. Could she use that fancy pad of hers to prescribe us some plane tickets home? We are island girls after all.

“It’s going around,” says the doc.

Doesn’t it always?

I gave a wan smile and thanked her. Downstairs I gathered up my sniffling, snotty offspring and we set off toward the high street pharmacy dreaming of palm trees, parrots, and pina coladas.

Hopes, dreams, and what?

I'm the gal on the right.

Last week’s assignment for Creative Development was to write 500 words on the  “hopes, aspirations, and goals for your career.”

Hmmm.

This would be an easy task provided I actually knew what they were.

Hopes? I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow because I have a mountain of laundry to hang outside.

Aspirations? I aspire to make it through the next week on a minimal grocery budget.

Goals? My goal is to go through life with my sanity intact.

But seriously, (or perhaps I was being serious?) I’ve never really sat down and thought about it. I mean really thought about it. In the context of, “what do I want to be when I grow up?” Because 28 is hardly grown up. Trust me.

What I really want out of a career is lots of money fulfillment. I want to do something that I enjoy. Something that I am good at. Something flexible. Something fun. And of course it goes without saying that the pay should be better than decent. But. I just don’t know what that is. Yet.

I set out to do this MA as a way to discover myself. Nevermind that I have been discovering myself since my first day of university 11 years ago! Who starts out studying Pre-Med and then switches to Creative Writing? It seems I have been indecisive since day 1, no?

Well what is it that I’m good at? Let’s make a list. Lists are fun.

  1. Writing stuff, all kinds of stuff
  2. Planning parties
  3. Decorating
  4. Editing other people’s writing
  5. Crafty things
  6. Procrastinating (honestly, that pic at the top sums up my life)

Anyone know of a career that combines some or all of the above? Drop me a line if you do.

My life assignment depends on it…

Conversations, collages, and other people’s husbands

Last Wednesday’s Creative Development class involved planning an imaginary party, playing a rousing game of “red light, green light” and a show and tell of some of the collages our fellow classmates had put together. It reminded me of a class I took back in college called Remedial Childhood. We rode bikes in the woods, had picnics in the park, and did lots and lots of colouring – of course. And yes, I earned actual college credit for participating. Why can’t all classes be that fun? Check out my collage:

Thursday’s Narrative class saw us discussing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. The class seemed evenly divided into camps of those who loved it and those who abhorred it. I was somehow in the middle, leaning heavily toward adding it to my list of Books I Have Started But Have No Plans to Ever Finish. The discussion was lively. I threw in my two cents about the story being largely plot driven, the lack of emotional connection between the characters and the reader, and the role of Lisbeth Salander as a false heroine. The teacher was also not a fan of the book and advised us to watch the movie if we had a strong constitution. She called it brutal. I think I’ll pass.

Class finished off with a heated debate about the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Arguments were focused on whether or not it was appropriate for an author to tell someone else’s story while claiming it as their own. I decided to play devil’s advocate. I posed the question “can a white person tell a black person’s story?” There were claims that race was not an issue — that this was simply about not allowing the person who has experienced an event to give it their own voice. I disagreed. It is a race thing. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Oh look…. why didn’t I notice that elephant in the room before?! On the other hand, is this not what writer’s do? They create. Tell tales. True ones and not so true ones. Because someone did not experience the Holocaust does that preclude them from writing about it? Whatever happened to creative license? Discussions, discussions…

I skipped Thursday evening’s class to go drinking at the pub. Ok, not exactly. I reluctantly attended a parent’s night out at the local “family friendly” pub/restaurant. (I did skip class though). Once I’d finished my first glass of cheap wine, I was feeling decidedly more relaxed and managed to make a few new friends. The moms I met were ok – some were downright lovely – but it was the dads who were the most friendly and sociable. All of these husbands, cheerfully mingling. Chatting about bruised knees, bike rides, and babysitting. Dads who had attended the Harvest Festival and Quiz Night with enthusiasm. Stay-at-home dads, work-from-home dads. Dads fixing the lunches and doing the school run. I was in awe. Hooray for men like them! I got on so well with these guys, probably because deep down I knew they would not be judging me on whether or not I was wearing last season’s shoes.

Refreshing.

Tattoos and collages

No, it’s not what you think. I haven’t joined a craft-loving biker gang. Haha.

My first two assignments of the semester have been to read as much as humanly possible of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (no small feat, I assure you) and to create a collage of images that represent ME.

I have managed to trudge through to an impressive page 103 of dragon girl and diligently snipped out a plethora of magazine words and pictures that I feel can somehow give a little insight into what makes me tick. Photos of babies in bright onesies and fun phrases such as “My sex life is non-existent”. Yes, this is my life.

In class last night the question was asked “what is creativity?” My definition would be this: creativity is flexibility, spontaneity, uncertainty.  Creativity is finding new ways to solve old problems. Creativity is taking risks. Creativity is unrestrained ways of thinking, about anything and everything. Creativity is different. Unique.

And now it’s time to return to dragon girl… page 104 and counting…

Just one amazing thing

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to read and loved to write even more.  I’ve always said if there was only one thing I was good at, it was writing. But deep down I don’t think I ever truly believed that. Believed in myself. In my writing ability. And it has certainly held me back. Sadly. My greatest fear is rejection. Clearly, I’ve chosen the wrong passion! Rejection seems to be par for the course when it comes to this writing gig. I also crumble under criticism. I take it so personally. When I write I feel vulnerable. I am expressing myself in the rawest form. I feel exposed. And to have what I write criticised, even constructively, makes me feel unworthy. My constant refrain is “I’m just not good enough.” I’m not a real writer, it’s just all in my head. A fantasy I have created. This is what plagues my thoughts daily. That I am simply faking it and that one day someone somewhere will wake up and say “you had us fooled but now we see right through your charade!”

I’ve always thought that perhaps if I could write just one amazing thing then I would prove something to the world and to myself; that I really had what it takes all along. Then I could die happy. But that amazing thing hasn’t happened and I am not sure if it ever will. I do not have a niche, I haven’t found my voice. I feel like I am stumbling blindly in the dark. I cling to the hope that if I keep taking classes, keep learning more about this craft that one day, miraculously all the pieces will just fall into place. Things will simply click. And I will be a real writer just like Pinocchio became a real boy. Where is a blue fairy when you need one?

In my narrative class today, I felt the feelings of unworthiness come creeping back in with a vengeance. One by one, around the room, my fellow classmates reeled off names of authors I had never even heard of let alone read. Up until that point I had considered myself fairly knowledgeable about all things literary. Now suddenly I felt lost and slightly embarrassed. I smiled and nodded along, pretending to know who Gail Jones and Scott Blackwood were while silently cursing myself for never finishing The Alchemist or purchasing the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I made mental notes to expand my reading repertoire as soon as possible.

All this self-loathing has sucked away my last dregs of energy. I feel spent. And empty. And I still don’t really know whether I’m coming or going or what I truly want out of all of this. Perhaps I should have taken up Chemistry or Maths. Something certain, stable, and predictable. Fact-based. Dull. I would have died a thousands deaths and I know it. So I write. For the sake of writing. Because it’s all I know. And for now, at least, it’s good enough for me.

First day back

The day started out in misery. I awoke with cramps reminiscent of the throes of labour and cursed the day I was born with a uterus. Luckily, my mom offered to do the school run scoot and got Emmie  showered, dressed, fed, and out the door in record time despite an obscene amount of dawdling and backtalking on Emmie’s part. I managed to drag myself out of bed long enough to share a warm scone with Zoie and then we both went back to bed until 1.30pm. Bliss.

By 3.15pm Emmie was home and I was dressed, dosed up on paracetamol, and reluctantly ready to head into London town. I made it to the station ambitiously early and stopped at charity shop to buy a book for the train journey. The book I chose is about a little boy whose imaginary friend turns out to be a demon. Nice. I’m fairly certain I will only read it in the daytime. Near a church. When it’s sunny and the birds are singing…

Somehow I managed to find the correct classroom in record time and sat in the front row, because I am the definition of a nerd scholar. And because it is exceedingly  difficult to fall asleep when you are in full view of the teacher. As an icebreaker (fairly pointless as I knew most everyone in the class already) we played a “game” where we had to describe a fellow classmate and assign them a color and a song. I described my subject as “calm and collected”, assigned her the color “swimming pool blue” and imagined she was a piece of classical music, one instrument.  The teacher said I was a wonderful story-teller and that I engaged him. He said listening to me speak made him want to lean forward in his seat. Well I just about floated out of the room, my head was so in the clouds after such a barrage of compliments.

On the way home my Oyster card decided that the first day of class wouldn’t be the first day of class without some Oyster drama.  As I stood in front of the bus driver breathlessly explaining that my card DID have money on it, the embarrassment and annoyance washed over my already fatigued body. I could feel the cramps returning as the driver gave me a dismissive wave of his hand which meant “I know your broke ass don’t have any money, just go sit down before I change my mind.”

Seeing the light of my front door seemed to be the most lovely thing in the world. A beacon of hope after a tiring day. The oasis in the desert, the light at the end of the tunnel – pretty much every cliché you can think of rolled in to one. I was greeted by a pajama-ed Zoie screeching “mama!” and dancing happily in the hallway. Emmie was long asleep and I crept into the bedroom to stroke her hair and tell her I love her. Seeing her sleeping so peacefully gave me a stab of guilt that I had missed the bedtime story, the cuddle goodnight…

I ran a hot shower and rinsed away fifteen hours of stress. And now as I type, the soft folds of the duvet engulf me, pillows caress my shoulders. Soon I will melt away into the sleep I have been craving. It was a good first day. Better than many. I suppose I can’t complain. So I won’t.