Life’s Lessons…Learned In Mysterious Ways (Like While Jogging)

Ok, now you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, YES, I ACTUALLY WENT JOGGING.  Difficult to comprehend for those who know me, but my pot-belly, apparently a well-known trait for Cancerians, is beginning to stick out further than my boobs, especially in a sports bra, and thus, I decided, something must  be done.  After losing a stone and a half (9.5kg) in the space of a few weeks back in 2010, managing to keep same weight off while nom-noming the vast range of American delicacies available to me during the five months I spent studying/travelling in the US last year, the weight has slowly crept back on, thanks to bingeing on the delight which is British chocolate, something which I blame partly on the four months I spent working as a temp for a company that provides equipment and prizes such as medals for those taking part in sporting events.  Hence, somewhat, my desire to work-avoid now.

Anyway, back to the pot-belly.  Whenever I think of pot-bellies, I think of Johnny Depp, who I seem remember used to have a pot-belly pig.  So now I’m waffling, back to the blog post in hand.

Having struggled to shift the weight I’ve now put back on, I decided that I must try and lose it before it becomes hidden underneath a mountain of jumpers in the attempt to keep myself warm during the cold winter, resurfacing only when I’m ready to wear a bikini in the back garden again.

I’ve been running a few times with my friend, Susan.  We’d followed our usual route through a busy part of town, running a bit, walking a bit, then running a bit more.  I’d promised myself I would run alone, during the daytime, since I had the free time, and thus I rather surprised myself this morning, by putting aside my copy of David Mark’s The Dark Winter, a debut crime novel that already had me gripped, and by getting out of bed, putting on my running clothes and being out the door within five minutes.

I had already decided to run a different route to that which we’d previously taken on a quiet Sunday morning.  I wanted somewhere a little quieter, where I could soak in the sunshine and feel smug about running, imagining myself to be running somewhere far more exotic, like the Santa Monica boardwalk, or Central Park.  Which was fine, on the way to my destination.  It was on the way back, when I decided to come back a different way, that it happened.  I got lost.  In my home city of Lincoln.

Running back along the river, I passed a group of fishing men, and woman, who may have started drinking already, even though ten o’clock had not yet struck.  Their yellow tent gave me the impression they’d been there all night, but perhaps it was just somewhere to go should it rain during the day.  I can’t claim to be an expert in fishing, a “sport” that does not interest me whatsoever.

One of them, the one closest to the river, said “good morning”, which, in hindsight, was the way you do when you know something that the person you are saying it to doesn’t.  I said “good morning” back and nodded at the others, who nodded in response.  I only got a little further down the riverbank, when the path cut between the grass seemed to fade, becoming little more than a faint line through the long blades of grass.

Here, I had a choice, I could go back, back past the fisherman and their early morning tipple, or I could plough on ahead. I’d seen another lady jogger just in front of me earlier, and before I’d passed the fishermen, I saw her running back down the other side of the river, and had assumed she’d run this way, over the bridge at the end, and back down the other side.  Not wanting to look like the novice jogger I am, I looked at the invisible ‘Point of No Return’ sign usually reserved for film heroines, and decided to continue.

I jogged until it became impossible to jog further, and waded through the long grasses.  I saw the path pick up again, running upwards along the river bank, and followed it until again, alongside the back gardens of people’s houses, until it became lost once more among nettles and other weeds.  It picked up again and I ran down the river to near the water’s edge, then followed it until I came to the end of the houses, and I couldn’t see what was round the corner.   It was at this point that I had to admit defeat.  Reluctantly, I headed back, through the nettles, up the hill and following the back gardens, came out alongside what appeared to be old people’s flats, and back out to civilisation.

Knowing now where I was, I confidently headed back along the streets, completing my journey along one of the busy roads in the city.  By this point, I didn’t have the energy to run, every time I attempted it, I could feel my chest wheezing and my stomach hurt.  So I strode home, trying my best to look like I was walking because I’d run 10 miles, rather than the two or three I had completed.

Upon my return home, I grabbed the glass I’d used earlier to pour myself a tiny glass of water, enough to swallow my Prozac.  Instead of filling it with the Diet stuff I was craving, I poured myself a full glass of water from the tap, and insisted to myself that I drink that, and then I could have a glass of the liquid I was desperate for.

Reflecting upon my jogging experience, I realised that I’d learned some lessons.  1) Keep it simple: On my first solo run, I’d planned a new route, somewhere I was only vaguely familiar with, and changed said route along the way.  Hence, resulting in my getting lost in the wilderness.  In American Studies, much study is given to the theory of the “wilderness” and “civilisation”, the “wilderness” deemed to be man’s place and “civilisation”, woman’s.  Was it wrong, when faced with the choice of heading back to the safety of civilisation, instead I continued on through the wilderness?  Returning to civilisation, only when necessary.  2) What is the second lesson, I ponder to myself?  I returned today with a great sense that I had learned several lessons.  I guess the second, is not to be so ambitious.  Perhaps that is the same as the first lesson.  I know this is a problem I have.  I get these fantastic ideas that I’m not always capable of carrying through.  But you know, I wouldn’t change a thing.  You don’t have ambition, and where does that get you?  I guess I will always end up taking the path of most resistance, and, sometimes, yes, it will hurt.  But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth the journey. ❤

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Ms Jekyll and Little Miss Hide

Last night I went to an author event at my university, the University of Lincoln. Writer Jon McGregor, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, published in 2002, had arrived in Lincoln to read us some stories from his new book, This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

I had been a fan of author events ever since I saw American crime writer, Michael Connelly at the LPAC (Lincoln Performing Arts Centre) in 2009, as part of the Lincoln Book Festival.  This was a few months before starting my American Studies degree.  I remember being so inspired as he spoke about his new book, The Scarecrow and read passages from it.  After that I saw Jeffrey Deaver, on an uber wet day in Lincoln at Waterstone’s (or is it Waterstones now, I heard they removed the apostrophe) on the High Street.  He was signing copies of his latest book, Roadside Crosses.  As with Michael Connolly, I mumbled something about being inspired by him and left happily with my signed copy.  I also saw Jodi Picoult at the LPAC, although I didn’t have the money to buy her new book.  I seriously regret that now.  Especially since she is one of the authors I am using in my dissertation. 

Anyway, back to Jon McGregor.  The first story he read was called Looking Up Vagina.  The crowd laughed at the word, like a bunch of schoolkids, which was funny because that’s what the story was about.  A little kid in his last year of primary school, who got bullied for being the first one with pubic hair.  The story is littered with words from the dictionary, beginning with the letter V.  Despite him being bullied, the little guy finishes the story by talking about how he is going to leave one day, go to a big city, go to university, and how those bullies will still be here, working in factories, looking for someone else to pick on. 

I have to say I think I held my breath through most of that 4 page story.  I was bullied at school, and I always told myself I would go to a big city, and that they would be stuck here, in this place forever while I would be doing great things, living a great life.  I never wanted to go to university though.  I could have; my grades were good enough, but I saw university as just another school.  Full of ‘it’ people and bullies. 

I did move to London just after I turned 19.  I worked in a hotel in Russell Square for nine months, before landing a job as a Paralegal in a city law firm.  I had promised myself I would spend a year there at least; by the time I left I had spent a year there.  But I hated my job and the lady I lodged with just began ignoring me.  So I felt like I had no choice but to reluctantly come home. 

I got a job, I got married after a few years, then I got struck by the 30-crisis, at the age of around 27.  What was I doing with my life?  Why did I have such a crappy job?  Why was I so unhappy?  Days before my 30th birthday, I had an epiphany.  What I truly had always wanted, was to live and work in the States.  So I began to work towards doing that, by going to university (the one thing I had always said I would never do) and in January 2011, I did live in the US (well temporarily).  Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as all that.  But I’m sure you’ll hear about that later. 

So back to Looking Up Vagina.  I’m now 33, I’m back in my home town, in fairness I have lived here all of my 33 years with the exception of the year in London and the six months in the States.  I ask myself why am I still here?  I should have left years ago.  I shouldn’t still be here now.  I’ve suspended my studies, due to my lack of concentration.  So I’ll be here for at least another 18 months.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  What I do know is that I’m still haunted by those five years I spent at Cherry Willingham Comprehensive School.  Even now, as a (semi)-confident thirty something, I still have bouts of shyness, fears of large groups of young people and a feeling that everyone is talking and laughing about me. 

Last week I went on a spur of the moment trip to the US.  Through Twitter, I had found out about a band called Mission Hill, from Boston, Massachusetts and had interviewed their singer/songwriter, Adam Jensen, on the radio show I co-host on Siren FM (www.sirenonline.co.uk), The American Dream Team.  They were playing the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston to celebrate the release of their new CD, Nowhere Man.  So I spent my last £500 on a flight to New York, spent a few days there, then took the Megabus up to Boston. 

On Friday night, the night of the gig, I made my way over to the Hard Rock Cafe on Clinton Street.  I confidently walked into the restaurant and made my way over to the bar, where I took a seat.  I ordered the cheapest beer and began chatting to the barman.  I told him I was here to see Mission Hill and he said he would go see if they had arrived.  They hadn’t so I waited. After a while, he told me that he’d spoken to the band and that they’d be out to see me.  So I waited.  While I waited, I thought about how crazy it was that here I was, thousands of miles away from home, thinking I was this big radio star coming over to interview a band.  I watched the people queueing to get into the gig.  They were happy.  I felt like I was at a party I hadn’t been invited to.  All the cool kids were going in, and I was alone.  Like I’m always alone.  Not included.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to interview the band.  I mean, I wanted to be a writer and I couldn’t even write.  How could this once shy girl just go ahead and interview complete strangers.  I wanted to fall apart.  So I paid my tab, and asked the barman to let the band know I had to go.  Just walk through, he said.  It won’t be a problem.  No, I can’t, I replied.  I, I, have to go. I think I have to fly home.  Just go through! he said again.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  I looked back at him, knowing I was.  I can’t, I whispered.  I picked up my bags and walked out. 

I held back the tears until I was out into the cold Boston air.  Then they flowed.  They flowed like a tidal wave.  If there’s one thing I’m really good at, it’s crying.  I wandered around Boston, heading in the direction I thought would take me to the hostel, but I found myself lost.  I asked three people for directions, but I just couldn’t work out on the map where I was.  Eventually I made it back to somewhere I recognised and headed straight for the hostel. 

I booked the Megabus back to New York, which was leaving in an hour and a half.  I continued crying throughout the night, every time I thought of what I’d done, when the band’s singer tried to call me, when he sent me a Facebook message asking Jodie what happened to you tonight?? 

So what did happen to Jodie Orton on Friday 3 February 2012?  She didn’t exist.  Jodie Keen, the ultra shy twelve-year-old, who couldn’t talk to anyone, who was afraid of everyone, had made it into the future.  But she was still that vulnerable little girl, scared to reveal her true self in case everyone laughed and humiliated her. 

The 24 hours after that, I almost gave up.  I continued to have bouts of crying.  I spoke to my parents on Skype and obviously worried them to death.  I told my dad I felt “defeated”.  All I wanted to do was go home, give up writing, give up the radio that was giving me all these delusions of grandeur, give up any ideas of following my dreams.  Following your dreams?  What a crock of shit.  I would go back, get a “normal” job and just try to be like everyone else. 

But I realised that I couldn’t do that.  To live a “normal” life, doing a boring job, it just isn’t what I want to do.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have lots of friends with jobs and families and houses and if I had that opportunity I would take it.  But I don’t.  And I don’t want to live my life in fear.  I don’t want to give up on my dreams.  I’m 33, goddamnit.   I know if I can’t live, or even follow, my dreams, then I don’t want to live at all. 

So I hauled myself out of the dark, dark place I was in.  I started to write on my long journey home.  Not loads, but little bits.  I’m going to return to Siren FM, because I enjoy it.  I realise I may not be the kind of person who can speak into a microphone while she’s alone, but put someone on the other end, one of the amazing people that we talk to on The Midweek Drive Morning Edition or The American Dream Team, put my fellow presenters in the studio, and I know I can do it. 

I’ve still been up and down like a rollercoaster this week.  In fact, just like I have the last year.  But writing is what I want to do.  So I have to just do it.  I know I CAN DO IT.  

I’m gripping the hand of the scared, 12-year-old Jodie.  I can’t let her regress into the past.  I want her to stand next to me, hand in hand, seeing the future, seeing that it is ok to let go of the past, to reveal that person that she always was but that she kept contained within herself, for fear of being bullied. 

For now she may be Little Miss Hide.  But very soon she’ll be Little Miss Sunshine, and I’ll be Ms Jodie Orton, writer, radio co-host and confident, beautiful, positive, 30-something.