Being Mum

Some weeks I don’t get to be me, I don’t get to write, I am just Mum…

The last few weeks have been tough. We are applying for funding for support for my son and out of the blue the paperwork turned up. If you have ever received a document that goes into depth not just about your child’s strengths but all their difficulties too, you know this is a very emotional and difficult thing to read.

The way it has set me back most though is having to rely on others, whether trying to get hold of staff, getting an advocate to respond to the laughable offer we received from the local authority. And in the mean time trying to entertain little one over half term, deal with sickness, deal with household things. Sometimes the motherload comes crashing down upon you.

Photo by Pixabay on : Learning Education Law now as well as Child Development, apparently.

This has been very hard to handle. I made mistakes at work, I didn’t get things done I needed to, I have spent the week feeling ill physically and having aches and pains. Stress does this to you. It also robs you of the chance to be you, to write, to be creative.

Your circumstances may be different from mine, in terms of the difficulties I am currently facing I hope for you they are. But I know too that I have many things that make my life so much easier than others. So if you do get a week, two or three when the weight of the world tries to crush you what can you do?

  • Still go on Artist’s Dates. A couple hours a week to indulge in something that makes life a little more interesting. This was lucky because my birthday treat came in the middle of this mess so I had one already booked. I hope to share more about seeing the treasures of Tutankhamen soon, it was wonderful. Doing something for you but particularly for your creativity is a real lift at a tough time. I have written about some cheap and easy date ideas I would also recommend.
  • Use your journal. As you may know I use morning pages, and have written about how I try and fit in a few pages of journaling each morning. Boy did I have a lot to moan about in the last few weeks! It does help me to get down my worries, my fears and sometimes inspiration strikes.
  • Re-evaluate what you can achieve in a short time. I had half an hour this week where little one was entertained and I sat down and wrote. I surprised myself by revisiting the ending of the dreaded draft. I have been struggling with this ending for months! Something about the urgency of the little burst of time, a self-imposed deadline, helped me start to fit some pieces together I have been puzzling on for a while.
  • Cleaning up around my space has helped me. I find having a quick sort, doing a job I had been putting off like dusting the light shades, they gave me a small sense of control when I have very little over anything else. The burst of writing only happened after I finally cleared through some paperwork that had been cluttering up my dining table. It helps.

This month won’t go down as my most successful writing month, which is ironic given the #WritingCommunity are ensconced in #NaNoWriMo. But for me, if I just get through all the things I am being asked to do as my darling boy’s Mum, then I will chalk it up as a win.

The danger of civility

Who else was brought up to always be civil?

Politeness is a premium for a lot of people. That means that if you don’t agree, you find a way to navigate the conversation by agreeing to things you don’t agree with or by maybe making a tactful counterpoint. To make any argument you are expected to keep your voice calm, demonstrate control over your body and finish off conversations with polite enquiries. I heard myself thank her though I was I left angry by a call.

But what if there are many things in your life that make you angry, make you want to rage. I have been exploring these thoughts in my writing. Mainly it seems through pathetic fallacy where storms rage around a character as the anger bursts out. But when anger burst out in real life, I am not sure that it does feel like a massive storm.

Pain, the place from where your anger spurts forth, is interior. I studied the excellent The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry many years ago and I think about how it reduces the body to a mind without language. It is possible this is true for psychological pain as much as for a body harmed. Pain, anger, both of these things are all-absorbing. The world outside us swallowed up and if we truly give in to this pain, any wail comes from gut-deep. It bursts from inside, Alien-style, truly gut-wrenching anger is barely a metaphor for what happens inside.

Feeling out of control, at the mercy of outside forces, that is like the storm metaphor that comes up over again in my work. The world seems chaotic. No one can agree. The politics that I can’t bear to mention that seems to be ripping us apart in this country, well that should cause us pain. There are problems that are not being solved because we are so focused on Europe right now and we do have a right to be angry about that.

And isn’t that the real problem of learning civility at your mother’s knee? Born into people-pleaser people, let’s not make a fuss. Keep quiet about your anger or if you are seeing things going wrong: don’t make a scene. Does that ring true for anyone else? Because at times I wonder that we are not all more angry.

I write under the influence of my own anger. Right now, this week, I am trying to tackle the system. The one that is supposed to offer the right support for my son. And it makes me angry. Our needs, his needs being ignored are hard to stomach. Negotiating a complex system is hard enough but it comes with a side of this anger at a broken system. Because when people say the right thing but do not do the right thing, they are playing the civility game too. Built into our bureaucracy. When I deal with people, whether they are being helpful or not, I have to be polite. It is supposed to be collaborative you see.

And so when I write about anger I know I may never get down on paper how this feels. I hear instead the charge in my head of another’s more powerful words, “RAGE, RAGE, against the dying of the light…”

And then sit down politely at the meeting, smile, wish you good afternoon because we were all raised to be civil, weren’t we?

Nowhere to write

There was nowhere to go today. I tried a coffee shop but it was too noisy. As the clock ticked down til the time I had to return to my little boy I was desperate for a little space. As the café manager spoke loudly on their phone by me I could feel the frustration unfurl in my chest like a cat from its nap, unhappy to be disturbed.

A blue cover, an overlarge pen, flower and comfortable chair. Illustrates the seminal Virginia Woolf work "A Room of One's Own"
a beautiful cover: found this amazing article all about Woolf’s book covers

I found myself at the library with forty minutes to go. School children used up desks, littering them with paper. I missed the heaven of a carrel at University. In my days at the University of London library there were even blissful rooms you could rent. A desk, a hard chair, a view of concrete below and the best part:  a door. These private moments were spent reading, scribbling and often staring into the back of the mind rifling through thoughts. What a pure privilege.

Life now is a long way off the unimaginable hours I had then (and often wasted). Now, a baby cries in the children’s library, school girls chat and the incessant click of other computers interrupt my scattered mind. Today, I have to remember to send a birthday present, buy some cooking oil and worry about a school event. My mind has always been cluttered but the business of life, the motherload, overtakes it all.

Recently I have been tidying Marie Kondo-style, like half the world. In reality this means a mammoth pile of papers on my dining room table. They remind me, this is why you don’t write at home. It is of course a privilege to work only some days in the week. To have these secret quiet hours when my son is at school. But with them comes a need to not only clean the house but actually organise it so that it’s easy to clean. The pressure on my days off from the part-time gig is to not only fit in all the stuff, but also to be strategic about fitting it in. I am rambling again, because in these precious moments away from the house, my mind is refusing to focus on my work in progress.

The quest to find the perfect quiet spot continues.

New Year, New Writing

She whispers in my ear all the time. The newness fairy. She loves to distract me from my muse and tempts me with odd images of mundanity which spark little snippets of writing. She tempts me into working on a new idea.

The abandoned CD player I saw on a wall, with a paintbrush on top: did the painter never come back? The single burnt post on the fence near my house: did the arsonist get bored? The ice cream splat on the floor on a frigid winter morning: did a child get ice cream for breakfast in December? Single images that capture me but belong nowhere in my current novel.

I still haven’t finished the draft which I am pretty sure was my New Year’s resolution last year and probably the year before.  I have read endlessly about writing to the end. I berate myself but plod on, using ellipses so that I can get to the scene I want to write.  But I wonder, why is the new so appealing? So, it’s New Year 2019 and I am being lured away with new ideas, (including setting up my new blog) It must be time to share a list:

Six Ways New Writing Helps Your Old Writing

  1. Flexing your muscles. I am out of practice. The motherload over Christmas was intense. There were presents to plan, wrapping, extra shifts, parties to attend, cheese to eat. Intense.  A new idea came to me over the holidays and I sprinted off 500 words. I felt unfaithful, particularly as this ideas seemed a little comedic (funny takes it too far) and was a delight to dash off. Much more fun than the quagmire of the draft. But, much like me, my writing has gone flabby in December. Write that new idea just to be writing.
  2. New characters can appear. The arsonist girl who lurks round my neighbourhood has haunted me (maybe in my mind, maybe not). I even dreamt it was me at one point. The creative mind never sleeps, particularly after cheese and in this dream I saw the patch of blackened fence. (Am I burning fences at night? I don’t know anymore) When I start to write about her, it doesn’t work in the quaint rural setting of my novel but maybe it does? Maybe a dejected teen that I created somewhere else can somehow come and enrich the lives of my main protagonists?
  3. A new tense can help. I started writing in the first person, then switched to close third and now, who knows? It’s a mess of tenses. There is certainly work to be done in the edit! But on my recent writing course, I learnt the trick to switch back into first person as it is so much easier to access emotions. So,if I am tempted away by a new idea, I play around with what my character would do. Like playing the WWJD game. But not.When my work in progress saw the splat of ice cream she thought back to her childhood and watching her sister

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