Tag: mental health

You Do Write Every Day

You Do Write Every Day

The second bit, anyway.

Write Every Day.

You Should Be Writing.

Why Aren’t You writing?

It’s one of those things that gets shouted at us from all corners of the web, from writing books and podcasts and blogs and collective wisdom.

Write every day, because you’re not really a writer if you don’t.

Jack London wrote 1000 words a day.

Stephen King writes on his birthday, and on Christmas.

Anthony Trollope required 250 words of himself every half hour.

Leo Tolstoy, John Updike, Alice Munro, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou… the list goes on.

And, fair enough. It’s good advice. Writing every day is something to aspire to.

If your schedule allows it.

Well, it’s a nice thing to work towards.

If your home situation allows it.

If your work allows it.

If you’re in the right place to do it, physically, mentally, emotionally.

And – most importantly in my mind, although I’m neither published author nor writing guru – if it works for you.

It’s one of those odd pieces of advice that makes sense but doesn’t at the same time. Because, yes, if you want to be good at something you need to practise. You need to work at it. You need to put the hard slog in at the beginning (and, to be honest, all the way through) so that you can get where you’re going. No argument here. We’re not going to get anywhere through crossing our fingers and wishing on fairy dust.

But it also ignores the fact that we’re all different. That for some of us, life is in too much upheaval to be able to set aside writing time every single day. We might be lucky to get a good weekend in. Maybe it’s so hard to get into that writing mindset, that even if we do get up two hours early, we’re only going to be feeling ready to write when we need to shut the computer down and go walk the dog. Maybe we have so much going on that, this month, there’s no writing going to be done at all, because we don’t have the headspace for it. We can’t. And feeling guilty over that only exacerbates the situation.

This makes me almost irrationally angry. I should be PANICKING? What on earth for?

With one thing and another, I haven’t written for a couple of weeks. Then on the weekend I sat down and wrote a short story. It had been percolating for a while, so it came out pretty much how I wanted it, and quicker than it might have done otherwise (sometimes I start stories too soon, because I know I Should Be Writing, but they’re not ready and run all over the place before they get to the point). It was nice. It was fun. I enjoyed it, and when I was finished I wanted to do more.

But there were no other ideas ready to go yet, so I left it and went on with other things, both disappointed and hearing that admonitory voice reminding me that I should be Writing Every Day echoing in my head.

But then I realised something that, while it hasn’t shut Admonitory Voice up completely, has certainly made him a little less strident (yes, it’s a he – a shouty, mechanical voice like something off a high school PA system. Or occasionally more like the screaming alarms that go through spaceships under attack in low budget movies).

I do write every day.

You do, too.

I write blogs.

I write shopping lists.

I write emails.

I write Twitter posts.

I write texts.

I write to-do lists (so, so many to-do lists).

I write newsletters.

I write Facebook posts.

I write schedules and reminders.

I write Instagram stuff (#prettypicturesareworthmorewithhashtags).

And, every now and then, I write and rewrite and edit short stories and bigger stuff.

But, wow, do I write a lot every day.

Well, it does SOUND like a very pleasant career.

And that’s not even mentioning the very long and complicated stories going on in my head, some of which make it onto paper and others of which I have no intention of allowing out.

So maybe it’s not a case of totally disagreeing with this advice, prescriptive and shouty though it is. Maybe it’s a good thing to actually look and see how much writing we’re really doing when we think we’re getting nothing done. We write all of these things to get a message across (okay, the shopping and to-do lists might be stretching the point a little), to share our point of view with others, sometimes to persuade or inform. We use the same skills (minus emoticons) when we’re writing our masterpiece. Don’t look down on your little bits of writing. They all add up to big bits. It’s like doing short runs in between marathons, or making easy meals as you build towards a twelve-course sit-down dinner. It’s training.

Take writing advice with a hefty dose of salt – after all, we’re the only ones that can work out what works for us.

But if writing daily is how you want to measure being a writer, go for. We’re already there, each and every one of us.

And please, please stop guilting yourself with these silly things. Or just ignore the text bits and look at the (mostly) pretty pictures.
Taking My Own Advice

Taking My Own Advice

Correct. And we don’t dislike people. We just, umm, like not-people.

I had every intention of working throughout Christmas, going to all the social things, and plunging into the New Year at the same pace. I know there are a lot of you out there trying to do the same thing – or feeling guilty that you haven’t. So here’s the deal – I’m not doing it. And you don’t have to either.

I thought I was doing just fine, until I put the wrong lights on the Christmas tree and had to take everything off to re-do them.

We almost had no Christmas tree, because my first instinct was to throw the whole damn thing away.

Which is a wee bit of an over-reaction, yes?

I probably also should have realised that not sleeping more than a few hours a night for three weeks wasn’t exactly a great sign. Or shouting at inanimate objects when no one was around to witness it. Or the rather driving urge to retreat into small corners and wrap myself in blankets and pretend the world didn’t exist.

And it’s surprising how little too much actually is.

But, although rather later than was sensible, I did stop. I cancelled plans. I considered the ones that I would keep carefully, and I made sure they were manageable. I looked at the blog and decided that a week off was more important than having January planned out and written up (ask me again next week if I still think that was a good idea). I looked at the big writing work – the important stuff, the stuff that matters most to me – and figured that a week of no writing followed by a week of focused writing would get me further than two weeks of checking twitter, facebook and instagram every ten minutes, followed by an evening of being furious with myself and eating too much chocolate (don’t get me wrong – there will still be chocolate eating. It’s part of my Process. It just won’t be angry chocolate eating).

Make a blanket fort and don’t come out until bribed with cookies.

I realise I probably shouldn’t give anyone advice about anything, because I’m clearly terrible at listening to myself (see all those blogs about self care that I re-posted but completely ignored in the run up to Christmas). But I’m going to anyway, because maybe if I tell you something enough, it’ll stick with me, too. Be gentle with yourselves this year, lovely people. Listen to yourselves.

Don’t worry about being the perfect guest or host or partner or parent or anything. Let’s face it – the only perfect things in this world are kittens, and they’re floofy little psychopaths. Oh, and probably AI, but they’re just terrifying, and will likely kill us all.

Be okay with not being okay. With not being perfect, and not achieving all the things we want to achieve, even if those things include just accepting ourselves where we are. Be okay with the fact that all of us are always works in progress, and even when we seem to be navigating life pretty smoothly on the surface, everything’s probably held together with duct tape and promises underneath. And that’s okay. Because who wants to be an AI?

See? Perfect floofiness.

Although, given the choice, I wouldn’t mind being a kitten. They’ve got life pretty sorted.

And if I were to make a New Year’s resolution (which is not something I do)? Be a kitten.

No, I mean stop fussing and just be not okay. Love myself for the work in progress I so evidently am.

And what do I wish for you in the New Year? That you can be okay too, however that looks, whether it’s more duct tape or more floofiness. I wish you all the complicated, messy beauty of being human, all the crazy frustrating chaos of it. I wish you dreams and thoughts and creativity, and hopes and joys and sorrows. I wish you everything, and I wish you the strength to be purely, utterly you.

And if you need any duct tape, let me know. I’m buying it wholesale.

 

Amateur. I haven’t been to a New Year’s party for at least a decade.

 

Oh, and did I go out for New Year’s Eve? Hahahahahaha no.

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Or is there anything you’ve learned from this year that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

 

Talking Thank Yous & Fighting Over Cheese

Talking Thank Yous & Fighting Over Cheese

It being very nearly Christmas, this chat is, of course, partly to wish you happy holidays (very clumsily, as apparently I’m still having issues speaking. I should have got the little furry muse to help me out again). It’s also to say that I hope you’re looking after yourself this December, and have set some time and space away from the madness to do so.

The other part is to say thank you so much, lovely readers. You are completely and utterly wonderful, and have been the best cheerleaders anyone could hope for. Every comment, like and share has, without exaggeration, made my day. So thank you so much – and watch on!

 

 

How are you spending your December? How are you taking care of yourself? Let me know in the comments, and please know you can always message me if you need an ear.

 

 

The Magic of Movement

The Magic of Movement

Accurate depiction of my feelings regarding PE.

Just in case you’re new ‘round here, let me start by saying that I am not a coordinated person. I was the kid that was always picked last on sports days, could never catch a ball, and actually almost failed PE (Physical Education – I’m not sure what the translation to other English is. For us, it was those horrible days when you had to put on your very old, very stained sports gear and broken-down shoes, and hope you were ignored rather than picked on for the next 45 minutes). I don’t think anyone knew it was possible to fail PE before that.

These days, I no longer have to deal with sweaty gym rooms and hormone-loaded teenagers, and I get to choose how I move. Which means it definitely doesn’t involve balls I can neither hit nor catch, or team sports that I can never quite fathom the rules of. And movement, I’ve discovered, is a wonderful thing when it’s on your own terms.

Yeah, swimmings great. I feel so much more relaxed. So. Relaxed.

I never decided to be a person who moves. I just sort of fell into it. My first job when I left home was working in a dive shop, and that was active – not just the diving itself, but lugging tanks and gear and in and out of the water constantly. When I left that, I found I wanted – I needed – to move. So even when I was working on boats I found time to swim lengths of the nearest shore once a day (added advantage – sneaking up on turtles, barracuda, and even sharks before all the snorkelers came up and scared them away). Later, I started to run and do other little snippets of exercise, all very unplanned and disorganised, but it was the moving that mattered, not the rest of it.

Life, as it does, went a bit hideous for a while, but I still somehow kept moving. Not all the time, but here and there. It reminded me that I was alive, that if nothing else worked, my body still did. And when I started to drag myself out of the bad times, it was movement that kept me sane. Not moving to lose weight or achieve some bikini body ideal (I think I’m a bit past those days, anyway), but moving because I could. Because moving meant I was alive, and I had survived, and this body would carry me forward. And because, once the desperation had died down a bit, it was fun.

Layla believes all movement should be fun. And involve catnip.

Because it is. Moving’s fun. Whether you’re falling out of side plank in a circuit work out, or tumbling out of warrior three in yoga, or running down some muddy track in the rain, or splashing around in a pool – it should be fun. I think too many of us are put off because it seems like a chore, whether we enjoyed it in school or not. Or we’re so focused on goals that we forget to take pleasure from how we get there.

All of which is to say that if we can move, it seems a shame not to. If you have the time and the ability to make space for some movement in your life, try it. It doesn’t need to be much – if you have room on your floor to lie down, you can do a workout. Finding the time can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be long. It’s so hot at the moment that most of my workouts are around 30 minutes. I’m a puddle of sweat by the end of it.

Okay, weird writer person, you’re thinking. You reckon these things are fun. But why else should I try it?

Proper supervision is essential.

Alright, lovely fellow writers (and everyone else – we’re not the only ones that get stuck on things). Here’s the thing. Moving clears your head. Stuck on a plot point? Walk. You don’t even need to think and walk – just walk, and maybe something will surface while you’re watching someone do a terrible job of parking, or arguing with their dog about which direction to go in. Frustrated with your characters? A few burpees and star jumps will work that right out of you. Stressed out and tense from too much time in your head? Ten minutes of sun salutations may not completely clear it, but you’ll certainly be back in your body again.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a cure-all. I don’t even know if it’ll work for you the way it works for me. But I know that walking is about as close as I get to meditation (yeah, I know I said I do yoga. It doesn’t mean I’m good at it), swimming makes me feel like I’m returning to my natural element, and most of my bad moods don’t survive a heavy HIIT workout.

So what d’you think? Do you move? What’s your favourite way to do it? And does it help you?

 

Okay, that sort of team sport I can get behind.

PSA: Results can include mysterious sore spots (annoyingly, I don’t bruise. I’ve fallen on ice with all my weight on one knee, and had nothing to show for it. It’s very irritating when you’re looking for sympathy), and occasionally embarrassment (sometimes public, sometimes not). Plus little doses of happy.

The Possibilities of No

The Possibilities of No

How I feel when I say no.

I’m notoriously bad at saying no. The SO teases me about it quite a lot, but I feel it bears pointing out that the only reason we went out on that first date 7 years ago was because I didn’t know how to say no. I mean, obviously, I knew how to say no, but what if I hurt his feelings? What if he thought I was a truly horrible person, and our mutual friends thought the same thing? And was it a terribly impolite thing to do? Or… You get my point.

Part of my no-allergy is due to the fact that I made the decision a while ago to say yes to a lot of things I don’t necessarily want to say yes to – party invitations and get-togethers, usually. I do this because if I said no to all the things I’d prefer to say no to, I’d only ever leave the house under the cover of darkness in order to buy cat food and chocolate.

And while this yes-strategy has enabled me to retain the ability to interact socially (awkwardly, yes, but still – I can hold a conversation under duress), it also means that the line has gradually become a little blurred for me between what I want to say no to, and what I actually need to say no to.

He just can’t bear any more. Snigger.

Okay, some things are are easy:

Do I want to go to a four-day electronic music festival, living in tents and using porta-potties? Oh, dear god, no.

Do I want to go to a hunting exhibition, where we will learn to butcher animals and turn their skin into hats? That’s a really big no.

Do I want to go on an all-day wine tasting tour, where we will share our innermost stories with complete (and tispy) strangers? D’you know, no.

Only one of these is an actual invitation. I’ll leave you to guess which one.

Other occasions I’m more ambivalent about, and these are where I run into problems. I love my friends – they’re wonderful people, and they’re quite indulgent of the fact that I’m not a very social little animal. But, obviously, they only know what I tell them, so sometimes I accept invitations I shouldn’t, and only find out later that they run my reserves of socialness dry. Honestly, I’m still learning this stuff. In my drinking days, I just used alcohol to power through social events, with predictably dire consequences. These days, I make sure I have my own transport, and leave when things get too much. It works, and if some days are harder than others, it’s usually just because my socialness supply was a little low going in.

No list of ‘no’ would be complete without Grumpy Cat

And then there’s the fact that some strange little quirk of mine assures me that if I say no even once, no one will like me anymore, and they’ll never invite me to anything ever again, largely because a main activity at all social events from then on will involve throwing darts at an image of my face.

Which is a), probably not the case, because who prints photos these days; and b), weirdly egocentric.

However, the other day I did have to say no to at least part of some plans, because I knew it would wear me out entirely, and I’d go from being quietly socially awkward to grumpily socially awkward, which is an unpleasant combo for everyone involved. I felt awful, and kept apologising for messing everything up (and checking to make sure no one was carrying darts), but in the end we came up with another idea. Which, as it turned out, was an even better plan than the original for everyone involved. And my friend said, “If you hadn’t said no we’d never have come up with this. Sometimes someone has to say no so new possibilities can be explored.”

No.

Which was quite beautiful and profound, and went a long way to making me feel better.

It’s a lovely thought, that not all possibilities arise from ‘yes’. That ‘no’ has its own way of opening doors and changing paths. I mean, we all read the articles, right?

“Say ‘Yes!’ to Everything and Change Your Life!”

“Empower Yourself! Say Yes!”

“Embrace Positivity! Embrace ‘Yes’!”

Etc, etc. Always with exclamation marks and a picture of some improbably happy person, usually dressed in white and jumping on a beach somewhere. ‘No’, on the other hand, tends to conjure up images of either a tamtrumming toddler or a sulky teenager.

But, in my experience, saying yes isn’t a problem. It’s easy. It’s saying no that feels like stomping on someone’s ideas and feelings. Yet sometimes we have to, both for our own sake and for others. And maybe if we stopped being so scared of saying no, we’d find all the wonderful possibilities that arise from exploring other options, all the opportunities that can develop when we decide the current situation isn’t right for us.

Unless it’s a hunting exhibition. That’s a hard no, I’m afraid.

What about you? Are you a no-er or a yes-er?

Just say no to carving up trees. How would you like it?
Silliness (& the Importance Thereof)

Silliness (& the Importance Thereof)

Enough said, indeed.

Last Friday I found myself sitting down to watch Sharknado, which is something I never thought I’d actually do. As much as I have a soft spot for bad horror movies (deliberately bad ones, like Peter Jackson’s zombie flick Braindead, or the hilariously twisted Black Sheep), I was pretty sure that anything that involved sharks and ex-90s TV stars was going to be too cringe-inducing to be enjoyed. I may have also doubted that a US film could be as wonderfully terrible as a NZ one, but that’s really quite prejudiced, and I’m not sure in whose favour.

However, there was also no way I was passing up a twitter movie night with the wonderful A.S. Akkalon (who also wrote about it here) and Anna Kaling, as I figured that even if the movie was uttery terrible, their tweets would be worth it. And let me add this, to show the importance of Sharknado – I’m in bed by about 9.30pm most nights. The other nights it’s 9pm. (Yes, I’m old. I admit it.) We started – started – at 10pm. This is true dedication to the cause of bad movie solidarity.

See? Peter Benchley started all this.

And it was so, so worth it. The start was a little wobbly – I actually love sharks, and have a pet peeve about the way they’re portrayed in cinema (man-eaters! Lurking in the shallows! Hunting and hungry for human flesh! Peter Benchley, you have so much to answer for). In my diving days, my most memorable dives pretty much always involved spotting a shark of any size. They’re beautiful, perfectly adapted to their environment, and fascinating to watch. Many species are endangered in large part due to fishing, whether as by-catch or as the target, so jumping straight into a scene of shark fishermen slicing off fins didn’t exactly make me a happy bad movie bunny. However, the fishermen suffered a wonderful comeuppance, which did make me happy. Very happy, in fact, since there was a Big Boss type person aboard, so I could blame him for the whole endangered species thing. Score one for Sharknado.

Then came the beach scene, and I was sold. I’m pretty sure they hired a continuity person just to make sure that there was no continuity. The crashing waves and stormy skies that the actors exclaimed about while off-camera cut straight to flat calm seas and a sunny beach as soon as they walked into shot. From that moment on, Sharknado could do no wrong. Sharks rampaging through living rooms and bomb-laden helicopters being flown into tornadoes were mere icing on the cake.

It was a silly movie. Of course it was. But what I sometimes forget is that there’s nothing wrong with that. With the mounting seriousness of our lives and the world around us, a silly movie – a self-consciously silly movie, not one that tries to be anything but – is something perfectly wonderful. It’s ninety minutes of hanging up our brains and laughing at actors delivering truly terrible lines with straight faces (which makes them pretty good actors, actually. I’d have been fired for laughing about one scene in). There’s so much around us that clamours to be taken seriously, whether it’s work or life or the world in general, and then we sit down and read serious books, or watch serious movies, or ones that want to be serious, anyway. And that’s fine, it’s good to stretch ourselves, good to learn, but sometimes we need a break. Sometimes we need to not be serious. Sometimes we need something perfectly silly to come along, and we need to let ourselves enjoy it. We need to laugh at sharks coming out of storm drains, or dogs in party hats, not sniff and ask don’t we have something better to do with our time? We need to snigger at bad jokes and cats falling off tables, and not think that we should be reading more about politics and life insurance instead.

Yeah, I used someone else’s photo. I’m too scared to try this on Layla.

When we’re young we’re told to grow up, to stop being silly, but no one tells us that it’s not a life sentence. That there’s a difference between being childish and child-like, between being stupid and silly. We spend so much time being grown-up and serious that we forget it’s okay not to be that way all the time. And being a little silly, having a child-like sense of the ridiculous, can not only be fun (who hasn’t wondered what the cat would look like in a hat? Answer – murderous), it can make the hard things a little easier. Call it a mental time-out – being serious all the time is exhausting. Watching sharks whirling through the sky without questioning the logic or pah-ing at the truly dubious CGI can be surprisingly refreshing.

Dogs have no notion of silliness. It’s all just life to them.

To me, the silliness runs along similar lines to the what-ifs. After all, what-ifs are quite often silly in themselves. That’s what makes them so much fun. What-if that’s not cats fighting out there at 3am, but a pixie-gnome war over rights to the lavender bushes? (Unlikely, as I seem to have killed one of the plants already – or maybe that makes the remaining one more valuable?) What-if I got up to watch the mopeds racing up the hill at midnight – would they be wearing suits of armour and carrying jousting lances? What-if a huge tornado sucked up hundreds of hungry, angry sharks, and dropped them on LA? Yeah, its all silly. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with silly. I’ll defend my right to be silly to the end. With lances. Or a chainsaw.

And really? Life’s full of so much injustice and hurt and pain that it can’t be taken seriously. Not all the time. I’ve tried it, and it’s hard. There’s not much joy in it. It seems to me that to cope with the difficult bits, you need flying sharks and moped jousters and warring pixies. Or dogs in party hats and bad jokes and singing terrible songs at full volume in the car. Or whatever it is that makes you smile, or laugh, or forget for a minute the world that we live in.

Do you like a little silliness in your life? What’s your magic formula of the ridiculous?

An accurate representation of fighting life with silliness.
Writer Fuel

Writer Fuel

#Writerfuel? Yes, but we cannot survive on caffeine and cookies alone…

Although the internet (and, let’s be honest, us writers as well) would like you to believe that writery types run wholly on caffeine, sugar, and cat photos (and often alcohol, although I’ll tell you now, it may have worked for Hemingway – but we are not Hemingway), we do actually need to partake of real, non-cake-related sustenance at least once a day. For this particular writer it’s more like six or eight times a day, but we won’t go into that just here. Except to say that I should probably move my desk further from the kitchen, so at least I get some exercise walking to and fro. Writer fuel is important. But the type of writer fuel also matters, because obviously we’re not all little writer duplicates.

Let’s be clear – I love food. I especially love it when people make me food, so I don’t try and burn down the kitchen (although, to be fair, that was just once, and it was only a small, lemongrass-related fire). Food is a way of sharing not just friendship, but traditions and cultures and stories. It can be a way to explore new places, to build new experiences, to discover new things. It can evoke memories, and capture them. Making it can be an act of love, of therapy, of pure enjoyment and experimentation. It’s certainly more than just fuel. It matters.

And all that aside – a well-fuelled writer is a happy writer. As much as there may be this dramatic and oddly romantic image of the starving artist, forgoing food and bringing on dizzying visions with absinthe, or scrawling epics in gin-fuelled frenzy, in real life things don’t work so well that way (unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson. Then all bets are off). It just tends to lead to a sore head and pages full of incomprehensible drivel, with cookie crumbs stuck beneath the keyboard. In my experience, anyway. I write far better with a full tummy and a functioning brain, so little things like eating relatively healthily and choosing caffeine as my drug of choice work out well for me. You may disagree. And that’s okay, too – we all live how we live.

Even as a veggie, there’s plenty of food out there to try – and I’m not one for leaving empty plates.

I say all this, but I’m hardly a perfect example of fuelling well at all times. My routine tends to go somewhat to pot when the SO’s away – working runs late, dinner (I use this term loosely – you could also say, ‘cuppa soup’, ‘toast’, or ‘melange of random vegetables collected from the bottom of the fridge’) later still, and rather than watching TV, if I’m not reading I sometimes end up in the wilds of YouTube, watching something for no reason I can remember. Last week this involved a show in which Irish people ate food from different places in the world. That was it. That was the show. And not weird food, either – no chicken feet or wichity grubs. It was things like ‘American school lunches’, or ‘American cupcakes’ (which was pretty weird, actually – chicken nugget cupcakes? BLT cupcakes? I’m fairly sure these aren’t typical flavours). Which started me wondering about what unusual foods I’ve eaten. I mean, I’ve travelled a fair bit, and although I’ve been veggie for about the last ten years, before that I was never too fussy about trying new foods. I thought maybe I could compile a list of top strange foods I’ve ever eaten, although that seemed a bit boastful – look at me, and all my adventurous food! But a bit of quick research dissuaded me from that – I haven’t actually eaten much weird stuff. And I don’t really want to. I’m not going into one-up-man-ship with someone who eats grasshopper brains. Sorry, no.

And it can be so pretty, too!

But as with so many weird things, it’s subjective. I very clearly remember a kid at primary school, whose mum had given him a raw egg instead of a hard boiled one. He put raisins in it and ate it perfectly happily. Which, you know, it was primary school. I was only there until around about the time I turned seven, so it was before that. At that age you’re not all that far on from eating worms. But I also remember that in high school, there was a boy who brought raw onion and garlic sandwiches to school every day. I’m not at all sure how he had any friends. Not ones that would sit next to him, anyway. So I guess it’s less about what’s weird, and more about what’s not everyone else’s norm.

So, in a very rambling way, I’ve come to the whole point of the blog, which is that if you were to decide to save me from potential kitchen fires, here’s some things that apparently I’m weird for liking/disliking. I know this because my friends have told me, and if you can’t count on your friends to point out your weirdness (in a loving way), who else is there?


New Zealand Marmite. On proper French bread, with salted butter. And pain au raisin for afters. Heaven.

Love:

1. New Zealand Marmite. We need to be specific here. This is not the same as that axle-grease-coloured, treacly goop the English call Marmite. Not at all. It’s beautifully thick and dark, and I bring at least two big jars back every time I go home for a visit. I also rationed one small jar for a year after the Christchurch earthquakes damaged the factory and it had to shut down. My aunt was trying to bribe me to send it back to her.

2. Vinegar. When I was a kid I used to drink it from the bottle when Mum wasn’t looking. Having graduated from that, I now put it on everything I can get away with. I mean, if it’s balsamic, that’s positively civilised, right?

3. Peanut butter and jam on toast – I picked this up from American friends when I was a kid. Definitely use jam instead of jelly, and crunchy peanut butter, though. It’s particularly good on either really dark rye bread, or rye biscuits.

4. Green pears. Crunchy, not that tasty, but yes. Love them. Can only buy them one at a time though, because otherwise they ripen (ugh).

5. Cheese. Cheese cheese cheese. Wallace and Grommit know what they’re talking about. Plus I live in France, and I’m pretty such you’re not allowed to do that unless you love cheese.

It looks so deceptively pretty. But I KNOW – under all that lovely fruit and cream is a horrible, sweet, sticky mess.

Hate:

1. Pavlova. Yes, I know it’s basically New Zealand’s national dessert, and someone will make it for every Christmas or birthday or barbecue, but no. Fruit, yes. Cream, yes. Pasty crunchy/soggy/sticky/weeping egg mountain? No.

2. Veggie meat substitutes. I’m okay, thanks. I don’t want a slice of moulded tofu, coloured to look like luncheon meat on the turn and tasting of something left behind the kitchen bin for a month or so.

3. Sweet potatoes/kumara. Again, a national dish. But – sweet! Potato! What was wrong with regular potato? Why does it have to be sweet? And what’s with that weird claggy texture? Who thought this was a good idea? Really? I’m also deeply suspicious of sultanas in coleslaw and pineapple on pizza. It’s just not right.

4. Ripe pears. Squidgy, tasteless, dribbly pears. When you eat them it feels like someone’s already chewed them for you. Ugh.

5. Spaghetti in a can. This is not comfort foot. This is horror in a tin. Besides, as a kid I was really seasick once not long after eating spaghetti in a can. I won’t inflict the details on you. Just – no. Also why I’ll never touch strawberry milk. The memories. The horror.

Balance, yes?

So now you know what to serve me if I come over for dinner and you want to either make me into a happy writer or scare me away forever. How about you? What can I make you (if I promise not to set fire to anything)? Pet likes and dislikes?

The Little Furry Muse Speaks

The Little Furry Muse Speaks

Sit down, human. I have wisdom to impart.

The significant human (SH) is ‘tired’. It’s her own fault – she will insist on staying up all day when there are sunny spots to be napped in. All it means is that she oversleeps for my first breakfast, and I have to wake her. I don’t want to wake her, but what can I do? She never leaves food out, and if she doesn’t get it for me, what reason would I have for keeping her around? She makes lots of noises about how ‘3am is too early’, and ‘you put your paw in my mouth, that’s disgusting’, but I know she realises it’s for her own good. Well trained humans are happy humans.

And my paws are perfectly clean, thank you very much.

It’s not easy keeping up with human training as an only cat. Admittedly, I prefer it that way, and make it very clear to the SH and the other human (OH) that I do not appreciate company. This necessitates attacking any other cat or dog that ventures near my home, although I’m careful to keep it to a lot of spitting and tail bushing. One does not engage in actual physical contact, like some common alley tom. It’s unnecessary, undignified, and, quite frankly, beneath me. I am from Harrogate, after all. But it does get the point across that other animals are unwelcome. While the assistance in training would be appreciated, one can never be certain that a new cat would uphold the standards I have set. And a dog? Don’t make me laugh.

Laps are for cats, not machines. Deal with it.

I am struggling in one area of the SH’s training, however. She spends far too much time on her screen machine (she calls it a ‘laptop’, which is ridiculous, because she hardly ever has it on her lap. And if she does I insist that she move it at once so I can sit there. Machines should not be on laps. Laps are for cats), and I have observed her looking at other cats on it. Sometimes she even calls the OH and shows these cats to him. In front of me, no less! This is an insupportable situation, but despite my best efforts she remains rather attached to her ‘laptop’. The only solution therefore was to establish my presence on the machine as well as in person. Now that I have done so, world domination is, naturally, within my grasp, but as a mature and intelligent cat my chief concern is the education and training of humans. As I have secured access to this webnet platform, it seems only fair to offer my wisdom to other humans who may not as yet have comprehended the finer points of their cats’ training methods. In addition, some humans may not have even been chosen by cats yet, and this is doubly important reading for them.

Stop. You need to listen to this.

So, humans (because you must be human if you’re reading this – fellow cats, I imagine you’re trying to stand on the clicky bit beneath the screen. Allow your humans to read unimpeded. It’s for all of us), allow me to enlighten you. There is a world outside of the interwebs, and your cat overladies (and overlords) would like to take this opportunity to remind you of why you should step away every now and then and show us a little appreciation.

1. We give you someone to talk to. Talking to yourself is frowned upon in all species (well, except birds – they’re always nattering on, whether anyone’s listening or not, but then – ‘bird-brain’, yes?), but you will find a receptive audience in us. Plus, we really are the only ones that will listen with infinite patience to you ramble on about your ‘stories’. Mostly we tune you out and purr a little louder, but we never criticise and we are completely supportive of that troll/wereduck/alien love triangle you have going on. I mean, it’s inventive. Totally.

No, I’m not judging you. Honest.

2. Our purring (whether we’re using it to drown out your whinings about your undiscovered genius or not is rather a moot point) is very soothing, and the amount of caffeine and sugar you’re ingesting, you need soothing. You probably also need an intervention, but who’s judging. Yes, admittedly, we are, but we won’t say anything. You can tell yourself we’re staring at you lovingly.

3. We never suggest you should get out of your dressing gown. It’s super-comfortable and wonderful for bedding into, so, you know, you do you. We support your choice of working attire whole-heartedly. Although it might be wise to removed that half-eaten cookie from the pocket. Just because we keep the rats away doesn’t make that sort of behaviour okay.

4. We are unfailingly attentive when you get a 2am working sprint on. We won’t ask you to turn out the light, or complain that you’re keeping us up. We will sit next to you and purr, any hour of the day or night. We are 24/7 companions. But you should probably offer us a few biscuits to show proper appreciation.

5. We remind you daily that there’s a different way to live. That sun on the floor is reason enough to Zen out on life, the universe, and biscuits. That moments of exuberant playfulness are necessary no matter how old or dignified you think you might be. That there are wonders to be discovered in wardrobes and drawers, in bags and washing machines and boxes. That relaxation is an art form, and self care is vital to happiness. That there are more things in the world than you can perceive, and that love and companionship come in many beautiful, wonderful shapes, sizes and species. And that there’s always time for an ear scratch.

There’s always time for a stretch in the sun.

So off you go, humans. Strive to do better.  And cats? Keep up the good work. Together, we can manage our people.

Special thanks to Feegle, who inspired me to speak out. Training humans is going to reach a whole new level now we have the interwebs. Feegle can be found over on her human Lisa Sell‘s web page thingy here.

An Interesting Age

An Interesting Age

Cat lady mode.

In not very long, I will have a birthday, and I will be 39. I actually wrote a whole blog post about this, musing not just on how the hell I made it this far (honestly, in some ways I’m surprised), but also on how society, as represented by TV, movies, and an uncomfortable proportion of books, isn’t quite sure what to do with people of my age. Our options appear to be harassed mums, nagging wives, bitter divorcees, or (if childless) selfish career woman or cat ladies.

I have no children and a cat, so, actually, maybe they nailed that one.

But doesn’t it seem this way? We’re apparently too old (or too young) to be love interests, too old to be sexual creatures (unless we’re cougars, which is only good for comedy value), and we’re much too busy with kids to be interesting. Unless we’re childless, in which case we’re just waiting to be swept off our feet by Mr Wonderful, at which point our biological clocks will immediately kick into belated overdrive, we’ll whip through some IVF (which will, obviously, be immediately successful), we’ll have triplets, and settle into domestic bliss in suburban paradise.

The only problem is, I can’t seem to identify myself in there anywhere. And, in fact, I can’t find any of my friends in there either. None of them seem to fit into any of those particular boxes, kids or not, married or not, career (however you want to define that) or not. They’re much more interesting than that. They’re much more varied than that. Could it even be – gasp – that women are individuals even when they get a few crows’ feet and grey hairs? That they actually have lives and drives beyond marriage and kids? (Or cats and careers?) Eek!

Maybe it’s not that we don’t fit the boxes. Maybe it’s that we’re not actually designed for them at all.

But then I realised that better bloggers than me (I’m more a blog dabbler than a blog writer, if I’m going to be honest, and since I’ve told you my actual age, which is apparently something women aren’t meant to admit to either, I may as well be honest) have written better and more serious posts about such things. So I thought I’d have a little fun with it (since it’s almost my birthday, and it’s my blog, so nyah), and see what the ever-reliable stock images felt were in store for my 40th year.

Special thanks to the lovely writer and blogger A.S. Akkalon, because her hunt through the wilds of YouTube did in part inspire this. I occasionally forget about all the wonderful weirdness that the internet’s home to. (As opposed to the just – weird.)

So, without further ado:

My 40th Year As Predicted by Stock Images.

I typed in ‘stock images women 39’, and it started out pretty much as I expected:

Drinking tea and gossiping, I guess? Or plotting world domination? Yesss.
Sitting in the woods trying to blend in with green clothes. Stealth training for world domination?

Okay, so tea parties and yoga. Fits the narrative.

But then things got a bit weird.

Apparently the aggressive career woman thing gets quite… intense.
But that’s okay, because it’s fuuun!
Until it really is too much, and you end up wandering about channelling The Doctor, complete with over-sized coat and psychic paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what do you do  if you’re not being a somewhat eccentric businesswoman?

You’re hanging around with your friends. Pointing.

Pointing.
And also pointing while standing around in your knickers.

I’m not sure what drives all this pointing. It’s rather accusatory, although they’re all grinning like it’s an awful lot of fun. It’s a bit, “Yay, you’re the witch! Burn, witch!”.

They may have a (heh) point. Is this the result of too much multi-tasking?

Even if she has a excessive amount of arms, there’s no call for finger-pointing and witch burning.

You tell them.

We’re adults here. We can sort out all this shouting and pointing and multi-limbedness.

With an arm wrestle, like sensible people. While wearing surgical masks and gloves, because germs.

Of course, you could just not let any of this get to you. Bollocks to knicker-clad finger pointing and workout multi-tasking, right?

Yeah, bollocks to it.

So, apparently, this is what stock images expect of 39-year-old women. Much more interesting than expected. And much, much weirder. Which I like. I’d sort of expected the whole thing to be awash with pastel colours and tea cups. And while I like my tea, I like my weird, too. The greatest beauty of getting older is, I’ve found, the ability to embrace your own wonderful weirdness, to understand that not only is it okay, it’s vital. Because it’s what makes you so perfectly, fabulously you. Squishing it down to fit into society’s boxes only works for so long, and it’s not a good time while it lasts. We really are not made for boxes, we’re not made to be catalogued and categorised like some collector’s specimens. We are all weirdly, wonderfully ourselves, and it may have taken me an awful lot of years to realise that, but maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it shouldn’t be called ageing at all. Maybe it should all be called growing. Growing up and growing out and growing weird.

What’s your next milestone birthday? What’re you expecting, and what does stock images think lies ahead of you? (I’m starting to think they’re as good as horoscopes).

And allow me to leave you with one final search result for ‘stock images women 39’:

I don’t even know where to begin. Is this the cat lady model, d’you think?

You’re welcome.

 

 

A Blog About Baking

A Blog About Baking

Portrait of the author. Okay, not really, My hair, make-up, nails and dress are never that perfect, and especially not when baking.

Once upon a while ago, I used to cook full-time. In fact, I had a few jobs where this was the case, the first time being with the caterers at Waiheke Island RSA when I was still at Uni, and the most recent being in a lovely wee deli/cafe in Yorkshire. These are facts that would surprise people that knew me when I was working diving, and existed on two-minute-noodles and biscuits scrounged off the dive boat, and maybe even people that know me now, as when the SO’s away through the summer I eat nothing but salads drowned in homemade Caesar dressing, and Carrefour praline chocolate.

But I do have a thing for baking.

I’m not a creative person in any way except writing, really. I can’t draw, I can’t sing, and I’m terrible at sewing and pretty much anything that requires a good eye for proportion and an ability to work in straight lines. I think those adult colouring books look amazing, but I’d never pick one up, because you can guarantee that even if I stayed inside the lines (dubious) the colour combos would be interesting, to say the least. Even when someone gives me flowers, I try to keep them as they were bundled, because my version of ‘arranging’ means I have to claim the cat sat on them (she does come in handy).

But, baking.

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