TAKING A SEAT AT THE TABLE

My first tentative steps into the blogging world was five years ago and looking back I can barely recall what the hell I was writing about, probably nothing much of note, although I am pretty sure that the blog and the accompanying writing was pretty ‘undeveloped’ to say the least.

I didn’t really know what I was doing and so would post sporadically and when I did click ‘publish’ I would be so eager to simply get something out there that I wouldn’t necessarily stop to perform a simple spell-check. Jeez… Particularly in those early days of blogging, I didn’t really consider the reason why I wanted to publish certain personal stories online or even the quality of the output. I just knew that I wanted to write.

Therefore in a bid to develop my blog and to take more consideration into the direction in which I want to take my site, I have decided to register with WordPress Blogging University 101 (again!) The first time I did this was in a different blog’s past life about three years ago. I met some wonderfully supportive fellow bloggers coming from a vast array of fields; photographers, novelists, chefs, fellow teachers, poets, students and many more.

At the time I had recently moved for work and found solace in the awesome community. But in all honesty, I lost direction with the blog itself after six months or so. Once again I had failed to consider what I was doing and why and so that early enthusiasm* dwindled into once again sporadic posts. Every time I even so much as looked at it, I felt despondent and frustrated, that was until I finally closed the site.

And the worst part? I don’t think I even graduated.

Ok, so perhaps there are worse things than not graduating from Blogging University 101. But in this case, there is, I stopped writing. And for quite a while. My job was busy and draining and when I tried to get stuck into something, I felt completely void of ideas.

So here is my commitment: I am going to post at least once a week.

Small steps and all that.

* I recall once challenging myself to a commitment of posting at least twice a week, something that at the time was unrealistic considering the demands of my job.

WEBSITE REVAMP

I recently followed through with something that I have been reminding myself to sort out for a while now… a website revamp.

It has been a long time coming.

Although I loved the simplicity of it how my site looked previously, where the landing page consisted of bold featured images, after some time of trying to figure out why it just wasn’t working anymore for me, I realised that the images took centre stage more than my writing. It was more ‘style than substance’ in terms of first appearances. Plus I was ready for a change, I think that is one of the wonderful things about creating content and finally hitting the publish button, you are releasing a little of yourself out there, into the world and that includes how the content appears.

So the overhaul included a biggie – a change of template.

I believe that my site now appears fresher, bolder and I, myself am feeling reinvigorated by the revamp and ready to crack on with producing more content 🙂

BIRTHDAY TRAVEL

I am on holiday – yippee!

I am also alone on holiday and it’s my birthday.

I am sat in a cafe that my boyfriend told me about when he visited this city, this was before we met. He has just text to ask how my morning has been and I have checked in with a few friends, family, my emails and I have turned to writing.

The cafe itself however is gorgeous, a small colonial style house with moulding exterior yellow walls that has been converted into a three floor eatery, with tiled floors and peeling paintwork. A mish-mash array of wooden furniture with a large bookshelf made of bamboo and Chinese lanterns provide the only internal light. Equally, with the heavy leaden clouds outside, you could be mistaken for thinking it is the nighttime.

So why have I chosen to spend my birthday on holiday and alone?

I have moments of pondering that very question. And this is certainly one of them.

The last time I did this, that is solo travel, was around eight years ago and I took myself off to the south of France for one week, specifically Nice, Monaco and Cannes. I was in the midst of a difficult period with a boyfriend (we hadn’t actually broken up but it was evidently on the cards) and my response to the difficulties we faced was to leave the country, naturally. My soon-to-be ex-boyfriend at the time hated the idea of me off on what he believed to be a jolly holiday whilst he wallowed in frustration and angst, but there had always been something niggling away at me throughout our relationship, certainly in the last few months. It wasn’t working and I felt trapped.

There were periods whilst I was away where I almost felt trapped again, but in a very different way. Trapped with myself and with only my thoughts for company.

We as humans are naturally (and evolutionary) for the most part social creatures. A degree of solitude may be good for the soul, but for me I find myself craving some social interaction after a while, which you could argue is equally good for the soul.

If I had stayed in a youth hostel I perhaps would have made some connections which may have led to some evenings out, but my shyness and introverted nature (which at the time I had not realised or certainly appreciated) resulted in me spending my evenings alone, usually at the hotel with a glass of wine.

In amongst the trips to Monaco, Cannes and wandering the narrow streets of Nice I had moments of utter contentment; why had I not done this sooner? I fell in love with the south of France and for the freedom it gave me for those seven days. But likewise there were periods of darkness where my inner voice criticised me and made me question what the hell I was doing.

When I was waiting for my return flight to the UK, I had one of those epiphanies that can arise from periods of quiet, something so vivid and clear. Despite spending the week alone, I had never felt lonelier than when I was with my boyfriend at the time.

The irony of the situation was that my boyfriend and I actually stayed together for a little longer, another year in fact! To him, it was as though I had never been away and whenever I tried to talk about some of our issues or even the trip he would shut me down. This of course led me to shut down even further and which led inevitably to another contributing factor of our break-up. 

This time, I am a little older and hopefully a little wiser in more ways than one. Firstly, my trip is more adventurous in nature involving some time in a big city, moving onto a hiking tour and then a few days excursion on a boat. Secondly, emotionally I am in a far better place.  In the past I was made to feel guilty if I wanted some time alone – even if I wanted to visit friends. Now I feel quite the opposite. My boyfriend and I are supportive of our mutual desire for space and time alone and if that includes a holiday then it includes a holiday.

THE COSTS OF AVOIDANCE

I like avoiding stuff.

Difficult stuff, like about what things hurt and upset me. For instance I love to avoid those conversations that you know are going to be tough, but sometimes need to be had, whether it is with yourself or someone else.

I tend to put a smile on things in public, feign happiness and acceptance. But then who doesn’t?

Over a year ago I felt deeply let down by one of my closest friends. Instead of addressing my upset with her about how I had felt treated, what did I do?

I bitched and moaned about her to mostly mutual friends and even some people I didn’t even know that well. I was left (and still am) feeling incredibly guilty, as I had opened up a fragile part of our friendship into the public sphere and permitted others to comment and pass judgement.

But my reason for not speaking to her directly was simple. I didn’t want the confrontation because of the potential explosion that it could cause. So I tried my hardest to avoid it all costs, despite deepening the scars associated with the issue for me. It seemed easier to brush things under the carpet than face them.

Another common avoidance strategy I have is related to my family. Growing up I often felt quite removed from my parents. We clashed over values and how we related to one another, and in turn how love was expressed. Mostly we were a unit of familiarity, which consisted of us getting on with our daily lives, only coming together for dinner and sometimes at weekends for rare trips out. Love was not something easily given and expressed. I knew I was loved, but there were many times when it felt like the love was held at arm’s length or it came with conditions. 

I know that I am being unduly hard on my parents. At times I was challenging, spiteful, I questioned their authority on many unnecessary occasions causing upset not just for me but also between them. Many times I was frankly irritating. So no wonder they wanted to avoid dealing with me. But I found it so difficult to express myself that I turned inward and to writing.

SAFETY NET

I can rationalise my preference for avoidance; it’s a self-preservation thing. If you avoid doing something in the first place, then you won’t be disappointed or you won’t disappoint others. It keeps things safe. It keeps you safe.

But always trying to stay ‘safe’ isn’t always the best way to live.

When I made the decision to move abroad for work, my mother’s first reaction was, ‘Why would you want to do that?’

It has taken her nearly four years and finally a visit to the country that I now call home for her to realise that by staying in the UK, (working and living where I did) was probably the biggest avoidance strategy I could ever make – I was avoiding living my life.

I was living in the shadow of what I thought I was expected to be. The same shadow prevented me from questioning the status quo. I avoided taking my degree choice seriously as it was easier not to, so I opted for something that I thought would bring me success, whatever I believed that was at the time, but it only made me poorer for it (financially but also creatively). I avoided asking myself what I wanted out of a relationship before finding myself a few years into two separate romantic relationships during my twenties and early thirties, before it dawned on me how unhappy I was. And throughout it all I avoided finding out what I am and what I can potentially be.

So I am about to challenge some of the status quo a little more and for the first time in ten years I am going on holiday, alone. I will be travelling without the aid of a friend or partner and only have my mobile phone as a support network.

Saying that I am nervous would be underestimating it.

Why am I doing this? That’s exactly what my mother commented when I told her. In fact anticipating her response, nearly led me to lie and tell her that I was going with Daniel or a friend. But then I would be heading down a well-trodden path right into another circle of avoidance.

I don’t want to keep hiding in the shadows forever, I said to her. And I meant it. 

SPARKS

So I have sat down to write.

I have no formal plans (i.e., I am definitely not at work today), no social engagements, nothing that could and should distract me. I have even turned off the internet so that I don’t feel the urge to check Facebook, the news or my email. Yet, after an hour or so I am tinkering with the structure of sentences rather than actually writing anything new; flicking between ideas for some blog posts and then a couple of other fiction pieces.

In effect, I am procrastinating.

I don’t want this to happen. I want to be productive.

I have lots of things that I want to be doing. I want to complete the plan for a story idea that I have. I want to make a proper start on the story that I had months ago that I have completed a plan for.

I don’t want to be sitting here wasting time.

I feel a familiar sense of frustration bubble away inside of me, but the bubbling never reaches boiling point. Time to write and to be with your thoughts is so precious that I want to make the most of it, savour every little second.

I get up and make a drink, perhaps that will help. I wait for the kettle to boil and wipe around the kitchen surface, noticing specks of dust. I should really give the kitchen a thorough clean. One where each room is disemboweled of objects and scrubbed clean of dirt and grime. I have all the cleaning products ready to go… then the kettle boils and I tell myself to sit at the desk.

It’s as though the ideas could burst out of me sometimes, and I cannot write fast enough or for long enough. It’s these times that I try and focus upon when I’m struggling, praying for a window of inspiration.

But then writing isn’t always about the inspiration, those sparks; instead, it’s reminding yourself that you are letting yourself be one with the words forming in your mind. The images conjured need to be instructed to pause for a moment so that they become clearer, tangible.

The sentences, the grammar don’t always make a whole heap of sense at first, certainly not to others if they were to read them. More often than I wish, sentences are left dangling in mid-air, unfinished or not started. But I can’t bring myself to hit delete, in case they form something more coherent later on, so I hit return and push them further down the page out of sight. For now.

Sometimes when a spark does strike and I am writing fast and loose, I find that a part of my mind wants me to become distracted. It dares me to stop, to check my email or just to take a break. Because doing this, listening to that part of myself, the doubt, allows the insecurities that I have about what I want to say take precedence.

I sit back and allow myself to daydream and for my mind to wander, the cooling tea in my hands.

The sparks will come, I know it. I’m ready for them.