Finding the right way to unwind…

So this was the year I stopped drinking and forgot to tell anyone

It struck me after a supremely stressful week that quite a few people around me suggested I treat myself to a large glass of wine. Not unusual advice. How many memes, tshirts and mugs are there about mothers needing wine or gin? But what they don’t know: this was the year I stopped drinking. Well, I had two drinks in total and may have a tipple or not at Christmas…

Giving up was not a big deal for me. I am lucky that I don’t have an issue with addiction though I have been around it. Saying no up was just a case of stopping when I didn’t fancy the side effects anymore. I know it was the right thing because earlier this week I had a two day hangover from having one small drink. Somehow though kind friends, who haven’t noticed my lifestyle change, thought I had really earned a drink this weekend after a tough week. But I am happy that I decided against it though I really needed to unwind.

You see, this time last year I had a few social occassions (this is rare, I have little opportunity and very few childcare options). Being the fun mum I am I took it way too far and drank too much on those nights out. I got migraine level hangovers (bad), flushed skin like hives (awful) and a debilitating bout of anxiety (the worst.) So, with actually very little soul-searching, I decided to stop drinking.

It bothered very few people. Afterall, I don’t go out that much anyway. A few older relatives were a little put out. I can’t decide if it’s because they were hopeful I was pregnant (ha) or they just felt judged. Most friends who do know though haven’t given a hoot. Apparently I am not alone, Millenials (I’m almost that young!) are also give up drinking or “Dragged down alcohol sales” as Business Insider put it in an article earlier this year.

According to them, this is a side effect of a surveillance culture because any indiscretion is immediately online. As I say, I don’t go out enough to really humiliate myself but I still realised this year I needed a change. For me, living with the consequences of a drink has been too much. Because the “hang-xiety” isn’t the only reason it takes me to a dark place. I think we often ignore the depressant factor in alcohol in order to enjoy being less inhibited. I am writing about a protagonist at the moment who is really not good at parties. Her awkwardness like many around her is only overcome by drinking copious glasses of wine. I mean, I may have given it up but I can still imagine myself in this position. But weighing it up, I can cope better this way.

This is not to say, of course, that anyone out there who uses wine to unwind is an alcoholic nor that anyone doesn’t have a right to use whatever they like in the name of self-care. Afterall, I have the book Hurrah for Gin in my kitchen to turn to after a hard day of motherhood. However, for me, this year has been giving self-care a bit of a makeover.

It is all about finding what works for you, for me, escaping to books is great. I have on a number occassions this year camped out in my bedroom whilst my husband entertains my son. And it is an escape that sometimes you need. I have also done much more swimming. So reminding myself of this, after a stressful week, I have turned to these two things over alcohol to unwind.

All this is to say, handling anxiety is more important than if I feel awkward at parties or don’t have an easy way to unwind. So for me, I’ll pass on the continuous memes and the wine for now.

Update your vision

If you are feeling a little out of sorts, is it time to update your vision board?

The first time I tried to do a vision board, I was a little sceptical. As I suggested in my posted envision your life, it was hard for me to complete the task on a practical level because things have moved on since The Artist’s Way programme was written by Julia Cameron and like many people I have fewer magazines hanging about to cut up.

I think the words the images gave me: relax, rest, nurture, nature, beauty were all inspiring. They also speak to how I can improve my life. Cameron asks that you update the vision board three months later. This time I decided to use a Pinterest board. As it happens, I have started MumWriteNow.Com board on there because there are already so many great lists of quotes about writing I have saved. You can find it here if you also use Pinterest.

It was an interesting exercise, I think that I could see a change in what I wanted. I did have to make some initial searches about creativity which I think probably meant I self-selected my vision from the start. But even this is informative.

A sample of the vision board I created on Pinterest

The words that come to mind when reviewing this new board are: opening doors to new worlds, creativity, reading and finding inspiration. Maybe because I was directing the initial searches, it does feel this new board is more about the work rather than rest. That reflects both the changes that I have made by completing The Artist’s Way programme, but also what I need at the moment. In previous months I have had more time to write but craved relaxation, recently I have struggled to do anything but feel more inspired to work.

Somewhere in this visioning thing is a need to find a balance. I had to attend some productivity training at work recently. The tips were not completely new to me but they were a good reminder. The book on How to Be A Productivity Ninja that inspired the training encourages you to find your best time of day to pay full attention. When you have done so, limit distractions at that time. It was an alarming exercise in many ways because I realised there were often only a few hours in a morning when I was at my most productive. This is product of circumstances, – tiredness brought on by often alarmingly early mornings and overbusy days – give me little headspace for much productive time. But it does help me identify where I need to target working times so I can act on my desire to write more, read more and make my life more creative.

I think using vision boards can be illuminating. I think they can uncover your internal desires quite quickly and succinctly. I also think if you are going to do this Pinterest is one of the best tools out there because there is such a huge library of photos and quotes ready for you. I would say though that this activity needs to be joined up with goal-planning. Boring I know, but I use an Excel Spreadsheet to plan my work (though it often feels haphazard!). And then the intention to work also needs to be thought about in terms of when you can pay attention to it.

Now I just need to get on and open the doors to new adventure…

REVIEW: The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

I have followed the author Ailish Sinclair for while and know we share some interest in Folklore and ancient places in Britain so I was excited to finally read The Mermaid and The Bear . It did not disappoint.

Set around a  Scottish castle in the 16th Century, this historical romance starts with an escape from a horrible betrothal. The book is told from the perspective of the rather naive Isobel. She is full of romantic ideas and fairy stories and is quickly at home in the delightful setting of glades and stone circles. The stories she tells become intertwined with the Old Ways taught to her by the affable Bessie Thom. The relationships that build in the castle, and the beautiful historical details especially around the Twelfth Night celebrations are very captivating.

The only criticism I might level was I was hardly surprised by the events in the second part of the novel. But that might be that the mixing of religion, both the Old Ways and Catholicism through the Christen Michell character was never going to end well in that era of Scottish history. With James VI mania for catching witches, we always feel that these strong-minded independent women may be in danger in this world. However whilst some of the things that go wrong for dear Isobel and Bessie and Christen are unsurprising, the way Isobel draws her own conclusions about how all the women’s beliefs sit side-by-side is done very well.

Overall the characters are lovable, I found it interesting that their lives intertwined slightly with Shakespeare and also touched on LGBT culture and attitudes at that time. It really felt that there was a depth of historical knowledge informing the narrative which I always enjoy. My only lament was that I wished I could learn more about Jasper who equally had a fascinating tale to tell.

I really enjoyed the historical detail in the novel even though at times it is a hard novel to read. I appreciated how the author cut away from the most violent acts. I think it will appeal to historical fiction fans including those who enjoyed Stacey Hall’s The Familiars.

Subtitles are the new reading

Struggling with time to read?, I have a novel solution!

I remember giving up on The Grand a few years back, a Spanish period drama because I was no good at looking at the subtitles and kept having to rewind. Full confession, I have watched very few foreign language films: Y tu Mamá también is the only one I can remember enjoying as I always found all the reading too distracting.

I don’t know whether it is the pace of shows I like or the sometimes naturalistic mumblecore of the dialogue but during Mr Robot, I recently switched on subtitles and it’s been a revelation. I think where you are following a complex plot they help. Particularly in this show where the subtitles designate if Mr Robot or Eliot are speaking (for those who are unfamiliar, I won’t spoil it to say there is a blurring of the lines as to who is speaking at times.) Also the depth at which you can understand and appreciate the script, particularly where there is long, complex monologues from Eliot. These make an exquisite read as well as the compelling acting by Rami Malek.

And so it has spread to watching other things with subtitles. I suspect it is only working for me where the content is in English because there is not such a need to catch up. My husband laughs at me, of course, but I think it enriches the experience.

Alongside loving The Good Place, I have also been listening to the podcast which is a brilliant companion to it. The bits I enjoy the the most are hearing about the writer’s room and how ideas are developed and played with. As well as being inspiring (and it’s a pretty inspirational show), this has made me think differently about the idea of editing and changing ideas.

I also think subtitles can only help you sharpen your dialogue. Getting that balance between info dump and character can be tricky. One tip I use for writing dialogue is to record it using voice memo. It gets nearer to real speech that way. But I think seeing how screenplay plays out is interesting, people in heightened reality of films may speak for longer than you expect but get a lot across within their words.

Often TV can feel like a passive activity. Or I dismiss it’s value, though amongst the reality rubbish I watch, I also see some really amazing shows like those I have described. What makes it feel more productive is to make it a more active practice of appreciation. By really reading the script and understanding more about it, I feel like I am learning all the time.

Am I the only one who loves a subtitle?

….I wrote more about Making Time to Read on a previous post, if you’re more of a novel person.