A Name On A Coffee Cup

She spies the cup on the table. Lid off. Its sleeve has fallen to the table, no longer needed by its owner to prevent burnt fingers that are already suffering from frostbite.
The cup, which is about a quarter empty, or is it a quarter full, she wonders, of brown liquid, has been abandoned by its owner.  
Mark.
That is the name emblazoned on the side of the cup, next to the familiar green logo. Surely it cannot be spelt right? It is probably Marek, or Marco. Or just perhaps they got it right for once. 
She thinks about Mark. Wonder what kind of job takes him from the Broadway into town. If he buys Starbucks every day he must be well paid, she thinks, before it occurs to her that she buys Caffé Nero soya lattes, one shot please, every day. It’s like a ritual, or is she obsessed.  
She skips her coffee today, in favour of catching the 9:08 Windsor & Eton Riverside. She has been late to work too many times recently. Already, stood on platform 6, she feels she is missing her fix. Maybe she shall take a leaf out of Mark’s book, and go to the Starbucks kiosk at Gunnersbury. Leaf. Tea leaf? No, Mark is definitely a coffee drinker. 
Could he already be drinking a second? No. His cup was still on the table outside the cafe, not joined by cups from Helen or Sanjay. He hasn’t been gone long. Long enough to hop on the Northern Line, north, not South. Not to Mordor. He’s probably passed Clapham by now, about to get off the tube at Stockwell and walk across the corridor to join the Victoria Line, also going North. Not packed today though. He takes a seat next to a man in his 50s reading about the death of David Bowie, and a woman in her 20s who opens her mouth as she applies her mascara. He opens his book. Hemingway.  
He’s a reader, as well as a coffee drinker. Yes, he read as he supped his morning coffee, and smoked his cigarette. Tried to quit last year, but the evil weed keeps him hooked. He can’t quit now, anyway, not with Amanda being the way she is. He is not ready to get married. She has been ready since she was 13. He always checks the condom after sex, and her pills in the evening, to make sure she’s still taking them. Sometimes she ‘forgets’. He remembers the last near miss.  
He is content in his life, but he knows that is because he glosses over the issues. Paints over the cracks. Layer, after layer, after layer. Layer Cake. I might watch that later on Netflix, he thinks.  
Later he arrives at work, for some reason craving another caffeine hit. Normally his morning Starbucks keeps him going until after 10am. But this morning he left some of it after receiving a call about an urgent matter requiring his attention in the office. He makes himself a coffee, his assistant Lula looking at him in surprise as he normally barks beverage orders at her.  Lula wonders if there are problems with Amanda again, not that Mark has told her this, only what she has gathered from carefully reading between the lines. As she watches him carry the cup out of the kitchen and stops to chat to one of the other partners, she wonders, and a smile plays on her lips as the fantasy plays in her head, the one where Mark proclaims his love for her and then makes love to her right there and then on the desk. Yes, Lula wonders.
She is so busy daydreaming that she does not hear her phone ring, the trill tone of an internal incoming call. 
Mark glares through the glass partitions of his office at Lula. Stupid cow, he thinks, slamming the phone down. Daydreaming again. Shakes his head. He is very fond of the girl, but sometimes her head is just not in the game. And in this business you need people who are totally committed to the game.
He thinks about Amanda again, and how he is not totally committed to that game. Far from it. He looks again over at Lula, and remembers how her hair fell over her face while she was dancing to The Final Countdown at the Christmas party. He thinks about Lula, and he wonders. 
As she gets on the Overground at Richmond, she wonders. And she thinks you can learn a lot about a person from their coffee cup. 

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Picking Up The Pieces

As this new year starts, I am very conscious of the person I want to become.  Having explored this arena for the last ten years, I feel I am finally getting closer, day by day.  

Having read an online excerpt of Matt Haig’s new book, Reasons To Stay Alive, I headed down to Waterstones one lunch break to buy it.  I have it in my bag this morning, but haven’t started reading yet.  I’m still floored by having finished Disclaimer, by Renée Knight, a recent debut chart topper.  With reviews comparing it to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynnn, another book that had a profound effect on me, I know I can write something like it, something clever.  My mind fails me with logic sometimes (I am, however, plentiful in Jodie Logic) but I can knit together the perfect tale in my mind.  

As I wait for the train to leave Gunnersbury, I think back to the reason for writing this post.   I think back to being in the car during the Christmas break, and hearing Jess Glynne’s Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself on the radio, and vowing that I would not be so hard on myself this year.  I am my own worst critic; I don’t publish blogs because I don’t believe they are good enough to read.  I start but quickly abandon any form of fictional writing because I just don’t believe I can get it out of my head and onto paper without it sounding stupid.  The minuscule amounts of creativity that bubble to my surface are quashed because I  just don’t believe in myself.  So when I say I can write like some of the current bestselling authors, I do believe I can; but there is that other part of me, the one that says no you can’t, don’t be so stupid!

Buying my soya latte this morning (a recent experiment to see if I was lactose intolerant which has really become a morning ritual), I decided to buy a gingerbread man (I do realise the epic faildom of screwing up my gluten-avoidance with this action by the way).  Anyway, the first gingerbread man I picked up and put down again, because I could see that his leg was broken off.  As I put the packet back and selected the perfect one behind it which was intact, I had second thoughts, and instead picked up the broken man I’d originally had in my hand.  

Don’t be so hard on yourself, I thought.  And don’t be so hard on broken gingerbread men.  They’ve done nothing wrong.  

  
Happy New Year everyone. 

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself – Jess Glynne (2015)

The Mystery of the Christmas Cup

The cup lays there on the tracks, its shape pristine, shining from the rain that pours down this morning at Clapham Junction, Britain’s busiest station, or so I’m informed by the signs dotted around.
The cup resembles Caffe Nero’s familiar light blue, but it has lost its brightness, the way litter does when it is left out in the sunshine to disintegrate. The company’s logo, its name emblazoned slap bang in the middle, is cocooned within a red wreath. The kind one might hang on their front door, as long as their door wasn’t red.  
I look at the cup curiously. The faded colour and the Christmas motif allude to the fact that the cup has been there some time, on the track next to platform 6, home to trains heading towards Reading and Waterloo & Eton Riverside. But it is the shape that confuses me. The perfect cup-shaped shape.  
It has rained a lot lately, as it tends to do these days during this month. Paper goes soggy when it gets wet, so why hasn’t this cup crumbled from the rain? 
But it is designed to hold water. Hot water in fact, infused with a little, or a lot, depending how you like it, of caffeinated coffee beans, or perhaps some hot chocolate. So it needs to be strong enough to hold hot liquid. Surely it can withstand a little rain?  
But I do not want to give the tall, sorry, regular, cup any more credit than it deserves. It should hold a cup of coffee, yes. Maybe two. It shouldn’t be able to withstand 8 months of rain.  
Of course it hasn’t rained for eight months solid, though it feels that way sometimes here. But we’ve had a lot of heavy rain this August.  
It is August. Almost the end of, but still the eighth month of the year. That is why the Christmas cup is so out of place. Has it really kept its shape for so long? 
My disbelief remains instilled within me.  
Perhaps they ran out of regular cups? Resorted to using the leftover supply of Christmas cups? No, this seems an unlikely explanation; surely they may run out of Christmas cups but not the other way around.  
Perhaps the cup belonged to a beggar, one who sits on the street with his hand out, waiting for a few coins to buy a sandwich or a bottle of White Lightening. Perhaps he (I am presuming the tramp to be a he), finally got enough to put himself on a train to Windsor, where he can visit the Eton Riverside.  
Unlikely, let’s face it. While they do have pubs in Windsor and even Eton, down by the Riverside, I’m sure, there are plenty of pubs to be found in Clapham Junction, should the tramp have received enough to pay for a pint.  
Maybe someone kept the cup, refilling it every day with coffee from home, being either too tight or too poor to buy a new coffee everyday. Someone with a complicated relationship with money but who likes to keep up appearances. But no. Someone resorting to those kind of tactics would surely not give themselves away by using a Christmas cup all year round.  
Also, I argue to myself, someone who is holding onto the cup for whatever reason, is not going to cast it away across the tracks at Platform 6. No. That is the behaviour of a guy in a suit, a businessman who is predisposed with his latest business deal to care about disposing of his trash in such a manner. Or perhaps a young dude in a hoodie, who also doesn’t care about littering the station.  
If only there was a witness I could ask. The way all the great detectives do. Excuse me madam, have you ever seen this cup here before? 
I think before I answer.  
No, I say. I haven’t ever seen this cup before. I have seen the torrent of water that falls from the roof next to the Pumpkin cafe, the one that is cascading down this rainy day. But I have never seen the cup that lies within reach of the drops that pour and splash over it.  
Am I an unreliable witness? I am here on the platform every day. Every working day at least. Most days I stand right here, where I am now, the best spot to get on if you want to get off closest to the stairs at Richmond. 
Why haven’t I seen the Christmas cup before? On the days I arrive with time to spare, I spend my minutes waiting for the train by looking around. I notice the far away platforms, the workmen’s building opposite, the footbridge. I even remember a beer bottle, Stella perhaps? Surprisingly unbroken despite being tossed away from the platform. But I don’t remember the Christmas cup.
The next day I return to the scene of the crime. A crowd has formed, and I struggle to get a good look at the evidence. Eventually I see it, and I am shocked at how it has disintegrated since yesterday. Of course, this autopsy reveals that the deterioration could not have occurred in such a short space of time. The cup has now been spun around, and I can see the inside of it is not a pristine white as one might have expected upon first viewing yesterday, but instead a dark black from all the dirt contained within. The perfect cup shape was no longer, having turned into more of an oval. The outside, no longer shiny from the rain, was a dull, faded colour. The Christmas motif is still there. We finally have our TOD (Time of Deposit) – which is given as December 2014/January 2015.

The mystery of the Christmas cup solved, I continue on my way to work. I will think of the Christmas cup as the new Christmas cups are unleashed in the coming months, and of course every morning, as I clap eyes on it at Clapham Junction, Britain’s busiest.  

Written 24th August 2015

Not What I Wanted To Say (But That’s Ok)

I must be getting better.  Five minutes ago I reached for my phone; reached for my blog through my phone.  Felt the need to vent exactly what I was feeling through the short burst of tears.  

But you know what?  I hesitated.  I don’t know why.  Here I am, five minutes later; the destination is the same, but I’m here to tell you what I did today, instead of what I felt.  

That is not to say that what I feel is not important, because of course it is.  But I feel myself reaching for those particular feelings like a comfort blanket.  One that I can pull over my head and encapsulate myself in, until the feeling goes away and I can face the world again.  

Instead, let me tell you some positives about my day, not negatives that don’t really matter.  

I wrote a short story on the way to work.  It’s very short indeed, and incomplete, but hey, it’s a story, and it’s short.  And it’s the second short story I’ve written, while commuting, in less than a week.  

I went to my book club tonight.  I finally made small steps towards meeting new people in this great city.  I’ve been going to this group for four and a half months, and it’s getting me meeting new people and reading books (and books that are not necessarily ones that I would have chosen).  More importantly, it’s getting me thinking about books.  Thinking the way I used to when i was at uni.  And thinking this way gets me inspired.  

I feel like there should be a third thing.  And there is.  This blog.  The fact that I’m reaching for WordPress, not the tissues (and really the tears were barely enough to warrant a Kleenex) is a sign that I have the right outlet for those times when things go awry.  That in itself makes me happy, although the tissue makers might not be so thrilled…

Are You There God? It’s Me, Jodie

He didn’t know if he had it in him to be a great writer but he was going to be some kind of a writer no matter what. Why not? He was good at it. More important, he got off on doing it. When the words came right, he got off on it in a big way. And they wouldn’t always be able to withhold the money from him on a technicality. He wouldn’t be eleven forever.

The Dark Half, Stephen King (1989)

I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I wish I could say that I wrote stories as a child, but I didn’t. I wrote one for my English class when I was eleven, and my teacher, Mr Pearce, obviously thought it was good as he read it in front of the whole class. I was beaming until I got the paper back, and there were red pen marks around the characters’ names, which I think I had sub-consciously taken from that great writer, Judy Blume, who I was a fan of at the time. My innocent plagiarism aside, I would not write any further creative fiction until the age of 32 when studying in Judy Katz’s Women and Lit class at Juniata College, during my study period abroad.

Like Thad Beaumont, the eleven year-old whose quote I have borrowed for my opening, I don’t know if I have it in me to be a great writer. But I know I can be some kind of writer. And like Thad, I get off on writing. I can re-read my blogs over and over with a sense of pride, and sometimes excitement that it was me who actually wrote it. I’ve never felt like I was good at anything until I started writing.

Of course, writing hasn’t always been an easy path. This blog is a testament to the journey I have been on through my thirties. My blog has been criticised for being too negative, but what do you expect from a blog called 33andlostinlife? Sunshine and roses? Well maybe some of you would. Those of you who have learnt to see the world with happiness, no matter what your situation. For me, that has always been a difficult thing to do and I envy your ability to see the world in a rose-tinted way without the need for spectacles.

This Wednesday gone, 28th January, was the third anniversary of starting this blog. As you will know or can calculate if you can do basic maths, I am no longer 33 years old. I am in fact 36 now. I have given much thought before to changing the title, and with each birthday I do consider changing at least my age. But I just haven’t been able to switch the title, because I still feel lost in life, and at times more than ever.

I now realise though that it is time to change that title. Perhaps it is the fact that I am defining myself as “lost in life” which keeps me on that path.

So soon, I will write my final blog as 33andlostinlife. I am sad to say goodbye to the one place I have felt safe to admit my feelings, frustrations and fears for the last three years. But I’m excited to be moving on to what will be a new…time in my life. I almost said chapter, but as I’ve learnt in the 21 months since I left Lincoln for London to start a “new chapter”, I’m just not very good at finishing things. Especially chapters, both written and in life. Creative writing is not my forte, though I hope one day it will be. But I am good at writing blogs, and yes I did just say so myself. I met American crime writer, Jeffrey Deaver, at a book-signing in Waterstones Picadilly last year, and I asked him for some advice on writing. He told me not to make it personal. Oops, epic fail. Anyway, one thing I struggle with is self-confidence, and if I think I am good at something, then I should continue to do it, no matter what the advice from one of my favourite authors.

I have thought long and hard about whether to just change the title of this blog to something different and carry on from here. In the two years since I started this blog, I’ve written 257 Posts, which have been viewed 15,723 times. Those posts provoked 221 comments and gained me 222 followers. That to me is a huge amount, and I have worked hard to build my following. While I hate to start my following at a big fat zero, I hope you will understand that I wish to keep 33andlostinlife for what it was – a way for me to journal my thoughts and feelings during this whole thirty-something crisis, and to give others the knowledge that they are not alone in what they are going through. It wasn’t meant to be a woe is me announcement board, although some saw it as such. What I will take with me though is that I had far more positive comments than negative ones, and not just from friends and family, but from other bloggers and readers from all across the world.

So I hope you will continue to follow my journey once my new site is in place, and I promise to blog regularly once more. This last two months has been a big transitional period for me and I hope you accept my apologies for disappearing off the virtual page. My apologies especially go to my reader, Angel, who has commented twice during my absence, to say how worried she was by my lack of posts. I wouldn’t normally avoid responding to comments, but in typical Jodie way, I couldn’t bring myself to write because I didn’t know if I should write anything else as 33andlostinlife. So I buried my head in the sand and ignored even the comments.

But I couldn’t avoid it forever and so here I am. Once I have found my new blog, you will be the first to know. I want 2015 to be just as productive blogging-wise as last year was, and for my blogs to be full of the positivity in life. I also want to expand outside of the blogging sphere and into other forms of writing.

In the spirit of new starts, I do accept that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I won’t become the greatest writer overnight. But perhaps with a little work, and a lot more effort, I can become some kind of writer.

The Power of 15,000 Views

Today I hit a milestone with my blog: 15,000 views. I have published, since January 2012, 234 blog posts (this one, assuming it makes it into the “published posts section” will be 235). I know that I haven’t written anything for a while. I’m not going to make excuses for myself, other than the fact there’s been a lot going on; mostly in my head, which has resulted in more sleepless nights than I care to admit.

235 blog posts and I still feel lost in life. I feel the frustration of having spent four years at university only to end up doing the same job as I did for 12 years before that. Except now I’m not making sure cancer patients get their diagnostic tests and treatments on time. Now I make sure the relatively wealthy get their Michael Kors handbag or their Jimmy Choos without too much of a delay. Maybe this is the reason I can’t take my job too seriously.

But it’s not all bad. Last Friday I attended a free journalism workshop, a taster session for a journalism Diploma I’m considering doing in the new year.

I feel the sadness at spending another Christmas alone, or rather, without that special person in my life. Christmas adverts, like the latest offering from department store John Lewis, make it clear that love is the ultimate goal at Christmas time. Like Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang in December 1984 and earning its place on all good future Christmas compilation albums, “love is the light scaring darkness away”. I have to admit I could do with some light in my life right now.

But it’s not all bad. This year, I won’t be physically alone. I’m making sure I spend Christmas Day with people who care about me.

I feel the pressure of being overweight, of having a balloon-sized stomach caused by food intolerances, of having bad acne at the age of 36, of stress causing my scalp to flake and scab.

But it’s not all bad. My skin is clearing up, albeit slowly, and I had a hair cut at the weekend which saw three inches of my beloved locks on the salon floor. But I look in the mirror and I see a new me, and I see at least a physical change where I struggle to make those mental ones.

2014 has been a tough year. I’m still struggling to find my place in this city, in this life. Right now I have so many physical afflictions that I can barely look at myself in the mirror. But it’s not all bad. Because tonight I wrote another blog post, and as long as I can write, I know that I’m on the right path. I may not have had much inspiration lately, but tonight I was motivated by the 15,000 views on my blog, because it means that people are out there reading what I have to say. I could lie and tell you I write for myself, which is partly true, but like most bloggers, I write because I want people to read it. I want to inspire, to amuse, to entertain, to sadden. I want people to know they are not alone in what they may be going through. The Thirty-Something Crisis, or The Mid-Life Crisis, or The Quarter-Life Crisis, at whatever age it occurs, is not kind. It treats everyone differently, and knows no mercy. This is my journey through it, and I thank you for keeping me company during these dark nights and not-so-bright days.

The Power of Love – Frankie Goes to Hollywood (1984)

John Lewis Christmas Advert (2014)

Gone Goal

On Saturday night I finally had the pleasure of seeing Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl at the cinema. As much as I love going to the movies, visits to the big screen have been few and far between since I moved to the big city, but Gone Girl was one of those few films I was desperate to see before it disappeared into that black hole between the big screen and my DVD collection.

Having read the book last year, I knew the storyline. After seeing the film adaptation, the screenplay having been written by Flynn herself, I was not disappointed. Gone Girl is still one of the most amazingly clever novels I have read and if I could write something half as good as that I would be happy. What am I saying? If I could write something half as long as that I would be grateful.

Since I did my first piece of “creative” writing in 2011, I have struggled to write any fiction with the exception of the odd fairy tale. They say everyone has a book in them, and while I have ideas, I have failed to write more than about two pages before giving up. Every so often I give it a go but the truth is, I just don’t feel comfortable with writing fiction as I do with writing about real life in my blogs. They (whoever “they” are) say you should write about what you know, and at this point in my life, while my sense of direction is skewed and I may not be able to make sense of my thoughts and feelings, I do at least know I am having them. With the help of some popular culture, I can usually successfully transfer them onto the virtual page and into reader’s minds.

One thing I take from Gillian Flynn is that she published her first novel at the age of 35. Author Jodi Picoult published her first novel at the age of 37, and crime writer Raymond Chandler published his first story at the age of 45. Perhaps the best-known contemporary novelist of our time, J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book at the age of 32. Proving that novel writing is not the monopoly of the teens or twenty-somethings, some of the best come from those with more life experience.

So for now, while writing a book seems like a gone goal for me, I take inspiration from writers like Gillian Flynn, and hope that one day I will be able to craft characters who are as deliciously complex as Amy Dunne and her husband, Nick.

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