Come Back to What You Know

My first blog back at 33andlostinlife sees me borrowing a blog title from an old song by West Yorkshire band, Embrace.  I’ve had my ex-husband’s Cigarettes and Alcohol, a mostly 90s Indie compilation on repeat album mode for the last month, and this song is one of the eight that I lately squeezed onto a playlist of favourites.  

On 15th January 2015, I made a bold statement on this blog that I was going to set up a new blog and write much more positive blog posts.  That was a great idea, and still is, but have you seen any new, more positive blog posts?  No, me neither.  

Almost seven months later, I find myself even more lost in life than ever before.  A stressful week at work last week has left that boat rocking, and I’m feeling the need to abandon ship more than ever.  Of course, it’s something I should have done a long time ago, so perhaps it’s a good thing, but actually finding something else freaks me out.  

The problem is, I want to be a writer.  So I want a writing job.  Ideally I’d be writing a column in a magazine like Lucy Mangan but I’m nowhere near ready for that yet, and not quite as ‘outspoken’ as the girl born to Northern parents who lived in the South (the total opposite to me) who writes for The Guardian newspaper and Stylist magazine. 

My dilemma is whether to get a writing job of any sort, or just go for a normal admin job, but one that pays a lot more.  London has horrendously expensive living costs and while I’ve found sanctuary in my small studio flat and garden (Update: Bish is very happy and spends all his time outside with the exception of when this horrible August rain pours, which keeps him housebound and sees him taking over my pillow), I still have very little money (if any) left at the end of the month.  Whichever option I choose for my next job, the one thing I’ve struggled with is confidence in myself, and that stands like the Berlin Wall as a blocker to any future moves.  

Confidence to gain some work experience as a writer.  Confidence that yes of course I can do that £34k a year data role (and bag a £12k pay rise).  Confidence that I must summon from somewhere if I am going to get myself out of this rut I face and move forward with my life.  

I’ve been inspired lately by two people.  One is Aussie Natalie Imbruglia, former lovely Neighbour and 90s pop songstress famous for telling us it’s ok to be cold and ashamed and lying naked on the floor when the love of your life turns out to be a bit of a knob.  A recent article in the Evening Standard magazine tells how Natalie suffered with depression even during her most successful period, becoming reclusive.  18 years later, she says “Food as medicine.  And I feel great.”  I will second that, although I have a feeling she’s not talking about scoffing a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk or Double Decker when she gets stressed.  Divorcée Natalie certainly looks fab at forty, and just as gorgeous now as she did back in 1997 singing Torn in those combats.  Her new album, Male, is out on 21st August.  Read her full interview here.

The other person to inspire me is fellow Northerner Danny McNamara, co-writer of 90s hit Come Back to What You know and lead singer of Embrace.  Writing his own blog in 2014, he tells how the inspiration for his songs comes from PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Suffering a traumatic childhood incident that “was traumatic, terrifying, and…almost killed me,” Danny reveals how “it’s literally coloured everything I’ve done since.”  Suffering PTSD between the ages of 19 and 22, he suffered multiple panic attacks a day, wasn’t eating, sleeping and went down to ten stone (63kg) – not much for someone who stands at 6 foot 2 (187cm).  

He used songwriting to get himself out of the dark place he was in, and aged 44 he says he’s better now, not just well.  More importantly he’s still writing and recording with Embrace.  He spoke out about his mental health issues last year because he was inspired by others speaking out about their experiences.  You can read his full blog here

I can agree with that.  And I’m reminded that the reason I started this blog was to get some cathartic therapy from writing about my own experiences with depression.  But more than that: so that other people could read about them and perhaps not feel so alone and sinking in their own negative thoughts.

I was told my blog was depressing.  Well, yeah, it’s a blog about living with depression, dur.  And while I’d love to be writing shiny, happy blogs, I’d rather be writing depressing blogs than nothing at all.  I have done some writing during the time since my last blog post; I started a novel which got to about 20 pages before I shied away from it.  But I haven’t looked at it for months, although I keep thinking about picking it up again, and that’s a start.  

One of my uni lecturers gave me what really was the most simple piece of advice: you want to be a writer, then write!  Since discovering my ability to write in 2011, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I know it is my destiny (not my density…although it does weigh me down at times).    But writing with depression is hard.  Although not impossible, as many creative people, including Natalie and Danny, will tell you.  

So for now, I’m coming back to what I know.  I was the most prolific  in my writing than I’d ever been last year, until my living situation ground that to a holt.  I’m well out of that now, and the person that told me my blogs were depressing is no longer in my life (thank God).  I’m going to continue this journey as [insert age] andlostinlife, because it’s my journey, and my stats tell me there are still people out there reading it, almost daily.  That amazes me, considering there’ve been no new posts for over half a year.  But maybe those people passing through will stop by for a bit longer next time, and those of you who followed me before will continue to do so.  I had gained a good following, and not just my friends and family, who of course I appreciate their support, but fellow bloggers from across the world.  

I can’t promise what type of blogs will follow.  But if you don’t like what’s contained within them you are free to leave any time.  This isn’t Hotel California.  If you do, then come back to what you know.  Because I am.  

Come Back to What You Know – Embrace (1998)

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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.

Single, Successful AND Falling Apart? What an Achievement That Would Be…

“She’s single, successful, and falling apart” read the billboard poster back in 1998. Ally McBeal, the young, unimaginably thin lawyer who danced with babies and fantasized about having sex in a car wash represented every young woman who was trying to make her way in the world. Facing the difficulties of working with her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, trying to make it in the legal profession and fighting a biological clock in the form of a dancing baby, Ally McBeal gave us weekly entertainment and a soundtrack to cry for.

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“Well at least she’s successful” is the bitchy comment I read in one magazine at the time. Because it’s true, Ally McBeal is the rarity in this world; she has a profession that she can call a career. Most women of her age don’t have that. Which leaves them single and falling apart.

I for one can identify with that. I have never had a career. At school during our final year we had a class where we went round the room saying what job we wanted to do when we left. I said I wanted to be a secretary. Six years later I was a secretary – and I hated every minute of it. Being a secretary involves being organised and thinking ahead on behalf of somebody else. I can barely do that for myself, let alone someone of Professor status. After spending four years at university, I am still no closer to that elusive career than I was at the age of 15. While I have a rough idea of what I want to do, which is getting paid to write, I still don’t know exactly how I’m going to do that. Writing blogs is a step in the right direction, but this dream definitely needs more work.

I do feel like I’m going off on a tangent, which I tend to do. So back to the point. Ally McBeal, for everything else she may be, is at least successful.

I found out a few months ago that one of my closest childhood friends is not only sucessful, but, well, she’s pretty big-time successful. On top of having a journalism career for a well-known national newspaper, she’s already published one Kindle book, and has just published a “proper” book. The subject? Her thirty-something crisis.

I have to say it took me by surprise. We lost touch around the time I got married in 2005, although I would like to say that wasn’t the reason. While I have very fond memories of my friend who I spent many a half-term holiday with after her parents moved away, I did feel the green-eyed monster lurking today. When you are trying to assess how well or not you are doing in life, the last thing you need is for someone you know that you can compare yourself to doing a million times better.

It must be a time for ghosts from the past. I found out recently that a classmate of mine died several years ago. The news didn’t really surprise me, for the last I had heard anything of this girl was reading in the newspaper about her, and it certainly wasn’t a celebration of any achievement. While she obviously had her own issues, I feel nothing for this person, because of the way I was made to feel at school. Anyone who has read this blog before knows I still have issues, even at my age, about school-related incidents.

So here we have two people from my childhood; one, a really good friend, who has made a success of her life and the other, someone I would rather forget, who no longer has the option to make anything of life.

I would place myself somewhere in the middle. I have my issues, and lately I have been mooching around rock bottom.

Since I started on my own thirty-something crisis some eight years ago, the one thing I have been able to use for encouragement is the discovery of those who are passionate about what they do, or are making progress towards achieving that. While studying in the US, I took a journalism course, and for one of my papers I chose to write an article called Follow Your Dreams: Chasing the Dream. In it, I interviewed a twenty-year old student from my college who had bagged himself a summer internship working on hit TV show, Weeds, and a former mature student who was working as a reporter for the New York Post. I remember being inspired by both of them, who through their hard work and perseverance were well on the way to their dream jobs.

Back at my home university I volunteered at a community radio station (www.sirenonline.co.uk) and I was lucky enough to be able to choose people to interview, many of which were involved in music or writing. Coming into contact with such people each week really inspired me that I could pursue my dream too.

I think since I moved to London though, despite the capital’s cultural hotspot, I haven’t been able to seek out those same people as I did before. And because I have felt my own dreams being stifled, it has been hard to feel joy towards those who are following their own dreams. I found out about my former friend who wrote the book earlier this year, ironically through a guy I met while internet dating, who had worked with her during one of her earlier jobs. At that time I was unable to accept the fact that someone I once knew had achieved exactly what I wanted, with bells and whistles. It hit me hard. She had endured the thirty-something crisis, which led her to an adventure worthy of not just a novel, but a memoir. She travelled the world in a boat while I struggled to get out of my home city. I have to admit, I still feel a little jealous. And I guess that is the reason this blog has taken such a long time to write. I had to dust it off to finish it ready for publication.

But I think I am finally ready to put that jealousy to good use. It’s time to start being inspired by people again, rather than to beat myself up by the fact that someone has achieved something that I have not. I have been searching for that job I can be passionate about, and the best way to achieve that is to find inspiration from those around me. While I may have been beaten to writing a novel, there’s room on the shelves for more than one. And the blogosphere is created such that there is room for everyone. I will take encouragement from the fact that someone I once knew has achieved the dream of having a book published, and that if I try hard enough anything is possible. Like Ally McBeal, perhaps I can at least aim to be successful, even if I am still single and falling apart.

*Emma Bamford’s memoir Casting Off: How a City Girl Found Happiness on the High Seas is published by Bloomsbury.

**I did promise in Jogga-Blog to the Moon that I had a moon-themed song, and well this one just seems to match this blog. Plus it’s from the 80s. What more could you want?

The Whole of the Moon – The Waterboys (1985)

Labels on a Train

Beautiful.
Money.
Forget me knot.
Prada.

On a survey of four consecutive people getting on the train this morning, these were the words on their clothing or accessories.

Isn’t it interesting what our items say about us?

Beautiful was by no means the prettiest woman in the world, but she had her own sense of style.

Money looked like it was an aspiration, but not a current state.

Forget me knot was a fairly normal girl, but probably not one that you would forget in a hurry.

Prada looked like a fashionista to me.

Maybe we are defined by what we choose to wear or carry.

In my hand right now is my Travelcard in its case, a freebie I got from an author event given by the flowery-accessories lady, the lovely Cath Kidston. To mark the 20th anniversary of being in business, having opened her first store at the age of 34, the age I was at the event, she had written a book about the experience. At the time, I couldn’t afford a copy for myself but bought two personal signed copies for friends who both love her stuff and want to go into business for themselves. The name of the book is Coming Up Roses.

So back to your items defining you. I don’t feel like it’s long now, people, until this homelessness will be behind me and I’ll be coming up roses.

Inspirational Women: Chantelle Campbell

Last night I watched Rebuilding the World Trade Center, a documentary made about the rebuilding of the towers that fell in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  Using time-lapse photography and interviews with the construction workers, the documentary gave an insight into the love and passion that those workers have for rebuilding the World Trade Center, most seeking inspiration from their fathers and grandfathers, who helped build the original towers.  Anyway, while this IS an inspirational blog, it’s a blog about women, so I’d like to focus on one of the two women featured in the documentary, Chantelle Campbell.

Chantelle was working as a secretary in a building next to the original World Trade Center, the day the towers fell, although she wasn’t due to start work until 12pm, so thankfully was not in the building at the time.  She recalls how her job involved her “looking nice” but that after 9/11, she wanted to do something she could be passionate about.  So she made the huge change in career, becoming a concrete carpenter.  Chantelle says a lot of female carpenters are happy doing light work, and fetching coffee, but she says, “I want to be seen on the same level as the men… I don’t have the type of personality where I’m going to back down. That gets me a lot of respect.”*

Chantelle is a prime example of someone who decided to quit her job and seek a new career, in what is still very much a man’s world.  As well as being a woman doing a demanding, physical job, she is also a black woman.  Having recently read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a fictional story about the wealthy white southern women and the appalling treatment of their African-American housekeepers during the 1960s, based on the author’s own experiences as a white girl growing up in the Southern USA with a black “mammy” (a black woman who cooks, cleans and raises the children), it is inspiring to think that Chantelle was able to work outside the domestic sphere in an office, let alone in the male-dominated world of construction.

Like many of the workers interviewed in the documentary who are second- and third-generation construction workers and owe their passion for rebuilding the World Trade Center to their fathers and grandfathers, Chantelle says that she wants her children and grandchildren to know that she helped rebuild the World Trade Center.  I too, want my children to be inspired by what I’ve achieved.  My female relatives have definitely inspired me in a lot of ways, but I know they have not achieved that elusive career to be passionate about.

 

Because Chantelle used to be an office worker, I can empathize a great deal with her desire to change jobs for something that offers much more job satisfaction.  While my own dream role is far less physical than the one she took on, knowing that it is possible to make such a huge change leaves me feeling like being paid for writing is finally within my reach.

 

*Thanks to www.theartsdesk.com for their review of Rebuilding the World Trade Center, from which I have borrowed some of the quotes and information about Chantelle.  Read the full review here http://www.theartsdesk.com/tv/rebuilding-world-trade-center-channel-4

 

Inspirational Women: Introduction

Some time ago, I had an idea to blog about inspirational women.  Since I started my thirty-something crisis around eight years ago (yes, well before I hit 30), I have been looking for inspirational people around me, not only in those lucky enough to become famous for what they have done but also those more closer to home. The last couple of years, during my degree, one of the subjects I enjoyed studying was women’s literature.  Here I found not only inspirational women writers, but also inspirational female protagonists.  Since I am a woman, it makes sense that I focus on the inspirational female population for this blog category, because after what women have been through, from Eve being tricked into eating a poisoned apple in the Garden of Eden, to Madonna snogging Britney at The MTV Video Awards ten years ago, women have been blamed for a lot of shit.  This is why I believe it’s important to recognise those women who have inspired me, some in a small way, others in a huge way, not just as a nod to them, but to remind myself, especially as a woman who needs some inspiration right now (read http://wp.me/p2ayN0-tW if you need enlightening), that it is possible for women to achieve greatness.

While I hadn’t intended to give a nod to any particular woman in this introduction, I would like to mention that wonderful little girl in the 1980s TV advert for the A La Carte Kitchen, who by serving baked beans and Swiss roll to her daddy for breakfast in bed, proves that you can be inspirational at any age, particularly when seeking revenge on the opposite sex.  Maybe he should have bought her a toolkit for her birthday instead  😉