I’ll be There for You

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Yesterday, my Husband sent me a text message, cheerfully informing me that he’d registered a WordPress domain. I will admit, there was a measure of surprise over this. I’ve been suggesting that, for about three years now, he might like to write about his passion for cycling: he creates a very good blog on company time, is my #1 Proof Reader of Awesome, and is the purveyor of good stories (although he does tend to ramble, but it is endearing.)

Then, things got serious.

The first batch of output last night was initially liked and then summarily rejected. A discussion was had over the brief, what this particular logo should really be like, and what it was my husband wanted to achieve from the exercise, and suddenly I was back at my first job, designing stuff for people. I’ve now sent him a selection of ‘new ‘ content, and am awaiting word on whether I’ll have to try again again. Between you and me, I think I like this one the most:

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(If you want to go see what’s going on, the blog is here.)

Normally, doing work for family would be a fraught, uncomfortable affair. This time around that is not the case: I’m even considering offering my writing services to Mr. Alt to talk about cycling from a ‘this is fucking scary’ PoV. Mostly, it is me pushing him to share some of the amazing stories he has gathered (especially when he went to Italy last month) and the frankly amazing work he’s done to restore a bunch of metal frames with wheels.

If you have a passion, I think it is your duty to share it with as many people as possible.

Sit Down

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This is new.

I am, this morning, in what is a robust amount of pain. However, there is no alarm or concern within that, because I know full well how my muscles now react when being conditioned. This is why the poking and prodding of physios and masseurs no longer hold fear for me. I am able to distinguish what is bad pain and what is good, and you can absolutely have good pain, people. Today is all about posture, and the fact my lower back is being asked to do things that, in 50 plus years, were never considered normal up until now.

It is, however, also a body’s request to rest, and I will be doing so for the day: not too long at the screen, lots of regular breaks, and much stretching of my lower back to ensure that the strength that’s being built is not ruined by poor posture. This is the biggest revelation of all: my body now will not let me slouch. Once upon a time, I could sit badly and not realise the damage being done, now all of the muscles in my core not only work properly but engage as a unit, there’s no way I can do so without being told as much. That’s a bad pain, and if I’m doing stuff properly, it doesn’t happen.

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Knowing this, and now grasping I want a full day’s rest a week, it is time to up my step count to compensate. I’d like to keep 84k steps a week as my benchmark: that would be 12k a day but as I’m effectively skipping Sundays now it needs to increase to 14k daily. That is easily done however by extending walk to and from the Gym, and better organising myself so that exercise gets done early in the day and not later. Therefore I have planned next week with a bit more care and won’t allow pixels to distract today, simply focussing on getting done everything I need to be to make this happen.

There also has to be a bit of thought given to Christmas, because if everything is going to be made that has to be, I’ll need to get started sooner rather than later…

Even in the Quietest Moments

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I can now Tweet up to 280 characters. I don’t intend to do that with the majority of my output, and here’s why.

Watching the annoyance and frustration last night as the feature rolled out in parts of my social sphere and not others, it was almost funny to think that this change was, for so many, being considered as some badge of honour. The sole reason this change has been instigated is to help advertisers use space to sell more shit and make Twitter more money. This isn’t some great championing for more speech and understanding we’re talking about. For someone like me, it is a curse as well as a blessing. The biggest upshot is, undoubtedly, that people will just stop reading.

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The major winner for me will be poetry and short stories: I can now create longer works to post… but as some people mute the stuff I posted in 140 characters, to begin with, length will simply make those posts less appealing and not more. That means I’ll need to work harder on visuals and clever use of space in posts, that it isn’t about filling every character and ‘optimising’ the output. Undoubtedly the format can be finagled, but to do so requires a willing audience, and watching the annoyance last night as people simply posted 280 characters of ANYTHING to see if they had the new limit…

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Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should has become the phrase that really matters. 280 characters in a Twitter fight are just as useless as 140 if you’re unable to make the point without resorting to abuse and anger. Proving a point succinctly and well, without ambiguity is still something many people could do with learning. Word economy is useful: more significant still is an understanding of when a word dump is appropriate. That’s something I’m still learning after 51 years.

The moral of yesterday’s rollout is that sometimes, being first is all that matters to many. That stuff about the other person’s social media feed always being more interesting is all in the eye of the beholder, you know. I’m not special, you’re not lacking, it’s just tech, and what will matter more long-term are the people who use the system to their advantage by embracing the positives and eliminating the negatives. No, I’m not going to be clever with the format until I am TOTALLY confident it can be pulled off successfully.

Time to watch other people and learn.

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World

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I’m going to talk today, both here and on the writing site, about my NaNoWriMo choice. The latter gets a more clinical attack on subject matter and motivation but here I feel compelled to discuss an issue that continues to irk, and has made me stop and think about what it is I write and how. My main protagonists in this story are a white man and an Egyptian woman. There’s a really good reason for this: I feel really comfortable writing them.

On many days, I believe I’m a true mixture of both.

There is absolutely no doubt I am completely happy being biologically female, especially now the curse that used to afflict me monthly has gone. I’m at ease with the body I am rebuilding and feel no desire to alter the fundamental construct. However, it would be disingenuous to say I believe I think and act in the way I see a large number of women do. Makeup holds no allure. I do not desire to dress or act in an overtly feminine manner anymore, and the same is true of tending towards masculinity as an alternative. In terms of appearance, androgyny is increasingly appealing. However, my sexual appetite and desires remain unchanged.

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There is a part of me that wishes we didn’t need to make specific social groups the enemy, but feminists need white men to hate them and people of colour and ethnicity deserve the right to hate everybody who is white because they’re in charge. I get all this, I really do, the complex social and ethnic strata that now damns and defines every action taken as a writer. Yes, I could make my male protagonist Afro Carribean but I don’t feel comfortable appropriating because no, I sure as fuck don’t have permission. 

My Egyptian woman comes from a time period I know a lot about and (again) feel I can write with a measure of conviction. The key here is confidence, not political correctness or social mirroring. I am very much a product of my age, but the characters that are chosen as my cast need to have believability in the story told. In that regard, supporting characters mirror the ethnicity of the World but are not at its core. There’s a reason for this, as will become clear in the narrative, but for now, I’m happy with why my fictional people are the way they are.

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A lot of this is down to simple biology, as this is a story with science at the core. There has been a crucial change however to the sexuality of a number of characters, based on acceptance of what I am becoming as a human being. In many ways, this story has the potential to become hugely autobiographical, if I allow that to happen. However, what matters most is the sanctity of plot and action. I’m not here to make a political statement, simply reflect what I am when writing.

Mostly, last night I stayed up late and stared at my work in progress and found myself thinking ‘somebody will hate this because I made a white man the hero.’ Then came the more significant revelation: whatever happens, someone will be upset. If I spend my life worrying about the reaction of others and don’t simply do what matters most to me, then there will be no progress at all. This is about narrative on my terms, and as a result… we stay with the plan, and I stop stressing.

Whatever I produce will be the best of what I am.

Everybody Dance

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My legs still hurt from Friday’s PT.

I’m on a fairly strict food and exercise regime right now. The plan is to see if the removal of certain items from my diet will have any long-term effect on helping me finally shift the most stubborn of fat. It is slowly beginning to work. Also, I need to work hard or eat less. Right now that means more miles and more reps so I can still enjoy what goes into my body. It’s taken five months but there’s also a list of foods to avoid, which sadly means that a couple of favourite snacks are now unsuitable for consumption.

It’s a small price to pay to be healthier than I’ve ever been.

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Mr Alt’s Italian Job is on: I got a phone call from him during the School Run. He was on the Milan Ring Road and it sounded better than when he’s on the M25. Technology’s scary like that sometimes; if you free yourself from the restraint of thinking that says ‘no, can’t do that’ then anything really is possible. I look forward to pictures from his journey too, because my husband is really very good with a camera. It is another one of the reasons why we mesh as a couple so well.

ALSO starting the week with a poem that encapsulates what I am in two verses is brilliant, extremely liberating and frankly the way I want to start every week from now on. On the To Do list is the long form work I’m creating for the grown-up, fancy shmancy Poetry contest. It won’t be nearly as fun as this, but they all count in the end.

Just gotta keep writing them werds.

Saturday

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I know, instinctively, that the days of not pushing myself are over. The moments when I’d rather just curl up with a duvet and a good book, especially after a poor night’s sleep, are over (at least for now.) Lying awake at 3am this morning, in the midst of a hot flush that was so fierce my skin felt as if it were melting, I remembered the mindfulness practices I am learning and reduced panic to an inhale, exhale, focus on the breath. Amazingly, it worked. There is always this rueful disbelief when something I’ve been taught turns out to not only be helpful, but a revelation.

This week has been a lot of that.

Journeys are not simply getting to your destination: more often than not is the stops along the way that define the final trip. Today, that means sitting in a clubhouse built as Legacy content for the 2012 Olympic Games: a place that is buzzing with life and enthusiasm, where a continuing commitment to sport has become the true significance of events from five years ago. Watching women warm up outside the window, a really decent men’s hockey game on Pitch One below, is the reminder that life happens in ways I forget.

The TV above me is the reminder of a constant backdrop of concerning and often disturbing World news: Brexit, Iran’s missile testing, an escalation of world tensions that then put my existence against an even larger backdrop. Once upon a time all I would have cared about was the stuff that directly affected me. Now I realise that, with 50 years on the clock, the time for such selfishness must be over. The moment has come to try and find ways to give back beyond my personal bubble. How I do that is still very much in flux.

There are starting points, however: the Patreon this week, when I focused on personal development, got more interest than at any point in three months, and I’ve learnt an important lesson in combining academic and individual experience. I’m writing something this weekend to help a friend hopefully resolve a personal issue successfully, grateful I can utilize a skill for good. Then, I am giving back to my husband, which to my shame I should have done a long time ago. He is the kindest and most forgiving of men in that regard, and I am very grateful that there is still the opportunity to do so.

Once upon a time, a Saturday alone would have been my desire, but I’ve spent far too much time alone already. Destiny remains mine to dictate only to a point, and the understanding now that I willfully, for so many years, wouldn’t push myself out of that bubble… it is like looking at someone I no longer know or understand. Most importantly, at 3am this morning, came the final understanding that introspection makes for great poetry, wonderful fuel for fiction, but crap content when I write a blog. The days of blaming myself for things out of my control may finally be coming to an end.

Sometimes I am told I care too much about things that do not matter, in the wider scheme of the planet. When this happened before, my reaction would always be the same: well, it matters to ME and that is all that is really important. Only now do I grasp the truth, that only by stepping back from emotion and truly thinking about WHY things happen can you ever expect to improve as a person. Only after having children has there been the ability to put self aside and truly learn how basic emotional reactions matter, and that you have a direct control over consequence.

Only by being able to accept what is wrong with me have I been able to change.

I’ve officially had enough of introspection. The best work I do however is with that quality at my core and not the periphery. The trick now is to put aside the stuff that doesn’t matter to focus on the people and things who do. Next week is the most important week of my new ‘career,’ where my own actions will effectively make or break a potential stream of revenue. If I’m going to succeed in this venture, I cannot afford to allow myself to lose belief I am able to do so. Sometimes, you instinctively know when you’ve fucked up, and then there are moments when you simply have to trust your gut that this is the right path.

I am on the right path. This is the way forward.

Last Train to Transcentral

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Today is certainly not the first to involve literary disappointment. By 5pm I will be sad, but that maudlin state undoubtedly will be short lived. That’s the problem when you enter contests and someone else wins. However much I could sit the night before and imagine myself as successful, the harsh reality of modern publishing is that inevitably you have to do an awful lot of work for little to no return. For all the sweat and angst  expended, there are thousands of people doing the same. If gambling has taught me anything, it is that odds are not worth knowing, because they won’t ever help in the end. What you need, like it or not, is the patience of a saint and the ability to keep bashing your head against a wall until you die.

I’ve also discovered it helps if you’re rich too: the poem I submitted yesterday (for a contest I’ll hear the results of in December) politely asked for an entry fee before I could enter. The next mentorship I’m considering asks the same for each poem submitted, up to a maximum of six. In this case it’s a sure fire means of raising cash to pay for the mentoring, but I can’t help but feel that somewhere, something is not right. I haven’t really investigated the world of novel submission yet, but even the thought of this currently is enough to give me the vapours. Now I’m serious and capable of a finished manuscript, it will be 2018’s task to get that bandwagon finally rolling.

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Of course, all of this is simply sauce for a metaphorical goose. I don’t need to expound on the health benefits of writing and that the significance of doing so is continuing to outweigh the desire for critical acknowledgement, but these bills won’t pay themselves. So, whilst I write blogs and essays, poems and fiction need to start pulling their weight considerably more than is currently the case. Throwing work at contests and mentorship chances could end up driving a lesser woman to madness is all I ever get as feedback is silence: ‘no correspondence will be entered into’ is the equivalent of a door slammed unceremoniously in your face, multiple times.

Yet, I know only too well that to be successful, that failure is essential. You must learn from every poem, grasp the significance of each unsuccessful attempt, and hope exasperation can be kept to a minimum. The belief must be that if you are truly good enough, eventually, someone will notice. However, would I be more attractive as a writer  if I paid to submit six poems to my mentorship scheme as opposed to, say, only three? Do I have to ensure I hit a specific word count for a story to show I ‘understand my genre’ or can I just write from sheer love of the task? A lot is expected from authors in the modern world. Knowing how to social media successfully is probably quite a way down that list.

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What is becoming apparent, at least from behind the screens I now inhabit, is that failure is relative. I’m never lost for things to do of late. There’s never a day where I ponder what there is to be done. Boredom has become utterly non-existent. As I sat yesterday afternoon between two guys at the Gym, both of whom were using lighter weights than I was, it became apparent that success isn’t just relative but increasingly subjective. I can’t confidently handle a mountain bike, yet doing upright rows with 16kg weights is second nature. Everybody has to start somewhere. Not stressing about outcome allows process to become habit, and fear to no longer hamstring your progress.

Yesterday’s poem was possibly the most personal thing I have ever written, and by doing so an important mental block has shifted. I am no longer afraid of allowing genuine, unfettered emotion a release through my work. This ultimately will never be anything other than a Good Thing [TM] and knowing this means that in the next few weeks, nothing and nobody is safe in terms of subject matter.

I am ready to deal with disappointment, however it decides to manifest.