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When I was in my early teens, say ten or eleven, I pretended to read a book about the Russian Revolution when we were on a family holiday in Spain. It was only the second and the last family holiday we’d had abroad. I remember I liked the name Anastasia. So I decided I’d call my daughter that. 

So at some point in time, the idea of having a child wasn’t entirely alien to me. Although my motives were mostly because I wanted to call my daughter Anastasia and not because I fully considered the implications of actually having a child, to be responsible for another human being. 

And calling a child Anastasia these days would commit it to a life of chavvery. Like calling your child Chelsea. Or Barcardi. Or Morgan’s Spiced Simmons. 

I’m now approaching 36. When people tell me they want children, are having a child or are considering making one soon, the look on my face says more about my attitudes these days towards the idea of making a new human being than words could ever convey. 

Befuddlement. Disdain. Sheer terror. “Don’t! They’ll take all your time and your money. You won’t have holidays. And they just scream! Did I mention that you’ll have to give up your life altogether?!” 

I suppose it’s fair to say that the idea of having a child is now so far out of my mind that I can’t fathom why anyone would ever want to do such a thing. 

It’s horrifically patronising of myself to put my personal (and extremely cynical) thoughts on the matter of child bearing and rearing onto someone else, but the idea does quite genuinely strike the utmost fear into my heart and head. 

I guess, in a way, I consider myself lucky to know exactly my stance on this matter. Day after day you see children dragged, ignored or chided by parents that should’ve had the same thoughts as I once did. I genuinely feel sorry for those kids. And glad I didn’t do ‘that’. 

The question I’ve unknowingly asked myself over the years is, “Could I BE a parent?” 

Now, while most people can become parents in the most basic form of the word (bodily things happening, child popping out approximately nine months later), to BE a parent in the most healthiest of terms, is an entirely different beast. I’m not quite sure if anyone could ever be 100% perfect for parenthood, but I’m certain there’s many who think they are. 

I know full well that I couldn’t be a parent. And I’m happier knowing that without having to find it out the hard way. It may be fair to say that whilst I’m not childlike in my outlook, I’m neither a fully fledged adult. And when I say ‘adult’, I’m talking about the Western social constructs around the idea of adulthood. People over the age of 16, on the path of employment, career, relationships, marriage, house buying, family making. I’ve never wanted the career path, the perpetual mortgage debt, keeping up with the Jones’, the big wedding, the boy and the girl perfect family unit. I know people that say things like “I’m getting now married because that’s what I have to do.” “It’s time for me to have a child because I have to.” It’s as if they’re checking off a fucking shopping list. I know people that had children because everyone else was having children, for an accessory factor, like a handbag. There’s people out there that have children because they’ll get more benefit money. A bigger house. A drunken Saturday night mistake? How can any of that be construed as a good reason for having a child? 

To go along with the idea of societal norms, I suppose there has to be some sort of genetic or hormonal desire to clone the self too. To feel that your life must not end, that you leave behind some sort of genetically similar remnant of yourself. I find that idea be narcissism in full action, despite it being nothing more than a preprogrammed instinct to ‘carry on the species’. Who are we to judge if we’re a worthwhile specimen to reproduce? 

See, I do understand exactly how this would play out if I did have offspring of my own. And it’s not pretty.

First off, it could never sit well with myself to bring a child into ‘this’ world. It’s fucking crazy out there. It has been for donkey’s years. Maybe since the beginning of time. The eternal guilt I’d feel not being able to shield them from all the things even I can’t begin to reconcile as an adult would be an eternal burden. I remember when I started primary school, that was it. My childhood innocence and naivety was entirely over. From the complexities of social interaction to a school system not tailored in any way to the individual but rather to blanket brainwash each and every child to see the world in someone else’s way, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t send ‘my child’ out into that. So what, just keep them at home, and enforce my worldviews onto them? Not allow them to socialise with other children for fear they’ll be ruined or discover the cruel streaks that appear within peer groups and society at large? How would that help them in the long run? Therein lies the insurmountable dilemma, don’t want to send them out into ‘that’ world, can’t expect them to get by in this world by keeping them at home. Don’t even talk about allowing them to become immersed in the modernity of their own culture. Watch the crap they get on the tele these days? No way. Listen to current chart crap? No, no, no. Dad has a fucking amazing collection of music and that’s all you need to ever know. Xboxes? Game consoles? Mobile phones from the age of two? No! You’ll be learning to play drums from age of three because dad needs a virtuoso drummer on hand to jam along with. 

See, I’d be a fucking shit parent. And I accept that. I couldn’t bring up a child to fit in with societal norms. Because I can barely figure that shit out myself.

It’s for many for those reasons that I don’t even have pets these days. First off, it’s too sad when anything ‘happens’ to them. Secondly, responsibility. When I go to work, I don’t want to leave them at home alone. When I want to go away, I want to be able to go away without wondering who the hell is going to look after their needs. I wonder if I could be perceived as being selfish for thinking this way. Tell you what though, most humans are, whether they admit it or not. You get one life to bumble through, I sure as hell can’t steer my own boat and someone elses at the same time. I’m also quite aware that the inadqeucaies of my own childhood, and despite my extreme awareness of them, they would most probably continue in a cyclic fashion. History repeating itself, etc. It’s quite interesting looking back through individuals in my family history and touching on their strengths and their many weaknesses, and thinking ‘None of these people managed to get it right, with their genes in tow, what chances have I got?’

I accept that. I’ve long accepted that I am a flawed character. But in all honesty, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t.

I’m not sure why this subject matter has been playing on my mind. I guess I like to try to unravel my own psychoses. The reasons I recoil in horror when people tell me they want to have children. I do apologise for not understanding the natural drive to continue the species. 

Then again, I’m half a nihilist and almost entirely a misanthrope. My views should come as no surprise. It’d still be nice to have someone that could play drums at hand though… 
And whenever I hold babies they cry anyway.

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Quite simply put, wow.

I’m not sure I care how any of you voted, or even if you did. I needn’t play the role as a harbinger of doom as you simply need to take a quick look around you at this moment in time, but if you’re not scared just now, you should be. Really. Some of us already are.

I’ll assume this isn’t the aftermath of the storm. Nope. I’d love to go along with those that can even begin to sprinkle positivity and waves of hope on what has happened today, but I’m sorry, reality is calling. The events unfolding before us right now are most probably not even a mild gust in the run up to the shitstorm that is heading our way.

For a long while, myself and Nickey have stated that this referendum was not a cut and shut affair, and so many people I know seemed to think the same way. ‘We’re being asked the wrong question’, that’s how we viewed this EU referendum. Are the EU a perfect organisation? God no. But believe it or not, the option to ‘remain’ WAS the lesser of the evils we were presented with. The third option should’ve been ‘Stay within the EU and demand the restructuring of its practices’, or something to that effect. But we didn’t get that option. It was in or out. End of.

I needn’t even go into scandalous, putrid campaigns that helped to obtain the result that has occurred. We can blame the power-hungry psychopaths, Buffoon Johnson and Nigel Fartage. We can blame the propagandist British media cabal. But a huge amount of blame has to be dished upon the heads of those fucking ‘little Englanders’. I don’t care in which part of the United Kingdom these people live, I don’t care what colour their skin nor their backgrounds (which in some cases they have chosen to so easily forget), I use that term to describe the mentality they ascribe to. They may have been fed a diet of bigoted, xenophobic shit from every corner, but they lapped it all up. They allowed themselves to get taken in by the hysterical rhetoric, not because it was remotely logical or fact-based (it wasn’t), they sucked on the teat of lies and deceit because it appealed to their own inner prejudices, the ones they feel they have had to suppress for so long for being members of the ever evil EU with all its ‘foreigners’, sticking their noses in their land. Their hatred is based on the fact that people other than ‘their own’ exist at all.

They were played to a tee and by hell it worked.

All that needed to be said was the magic words ‘immigration’ and ‘immigrants’, and those ‘Little Englanders’ could go justify sticking their crosses in the box that has signed our fate. Fuck economy, finance, trading. Fuck freedom of movement (it worked both ways believe it or not, but why would any good islander consider leaving this little perfect place, I don’t know). Fuck that so many untruths were told in the campaign leading up to this referendum, because finding things out for yourself is just too fucking hard. Fuck all of that, and so much more. It all pales into insignificance when it comes to the islander mentality of those who still think the British Empire was a glorious thing, you know, because all those ‘other’ people deserved to be ruled over by the whiter-than-white elite, coming across the seas to ‘civilise’ the world, enslave, plunder, divide and conquer, and then leave the lands they ravaged in diabolical states of affairs. Were they offered the option for a referendum to remove their overlords from their lands?

My parents were born in India.
Nicholas’ lineage comes from Ireland.
We have an idea what ‘divide and conquer’ looks like. We also haven’t forgotten our respective backgrounds. My mother told me of times that the National Front would walk past my family in the street, to be spat upon, intimidated while bricks were thrown and homes set fire to. Nicholas tells of his grandmother’s memories of those signs on doors ‘No Irish, no coloureds, no dogs’ and the untold difficulties Irish Catholics faced trying to get by in a land filled with bigots that did not want them.

It has been said that not everyone that voted to leave is bigoted, but every bigot will have voted to leave, and today that same bigotry from days of yore is what helped to clinch the deal. For every step forward we have taken since those terrible days our respective immigrant parentage recalls, today, we’ve taken as many, if not more, steps backwards.

Those stuck in their small-minded ways have scuppered the future not just for generations to come, but for their very own generation. But those of us north of the border in Scotland have been here before. This is all a new experience for those in the rest of the UK, but the signs have always been there. If you choose to ignore them, then perhaps you deserve everything you get. But you’ve taken the rest of us down with you. This campaign was merely a power struggle, little public school boys playing games for their own gain. And the majority were suckered in, willingly in many cases.

And in regards to rise of xenophobic bigotry used to sway this referendum, this isn’t the first time such dangerous mentalities have prevailed over the possibility for true progression. There’s an EU country called Germany, we visited it recently. They’re well versed in a terrible period in their history, not so long ago that we shouldn’t have forgotten it. There are more than a few terrifying similarities between the earliest years of the rise of the National Socialists (the Nazi party) and what is happening around us.

I’ve been very, very quiet on social for over a year but I have decided to post this because I am fearful. Angered. Disgusted. Even more so than the last time I felt the need to react to the outcome of a referendum that was won through a plethora of misinformation and lies. This decision has consequences wider than most even bothered to contemplate, consequences which are only just beginning to unfold.

I fear for those in the direct path of the bigotry that has swayed this referendum. Fearful for those that question and those that challenge, those that genuinely care for those beyond themselves and their own kind. For every generation that is seeing doors and opportunities closing right in front of their eyes.

Of course I’d like to be proven wrong on my thoughts as to what is coming, but if you’re not scared, scared for yourself, your family, your children, your friends, your work colleagues, the people on your street, in your city and towns, for the United Kingdom and those all around us, you really should be.

Or you could always be that little islander, because you know, it’s easier than considering the wider implications of your actions.

It still amazes me how many people do not ‘get’ depression.

When my alarm went off at 4:25am I noticed a plethora of night-time notifications atop my mobile home-screen. One was a text message from my mate Stevie, it simply said ‘Robin Williams’. I assumed it had been sent to me by mistake, that it was meant for someone else. But at that time of the morning I’ve got to zoom around, if I’m lucky I might get to make a cuppa, have something to munch, jump in a bath, get dressed and sprint to the bus stop. If I miss my specific bus, I’m pretty screwed for getting into work on time save for calling a taxi.

Just past 5am I was on the bus to work and as I always do, I put on my headphones and dug out my mobile to see what’s been ‘happening’. Opening Facebook I was given an instantaneous explanation for Stevie’s midnight message. I knew Nicholas would be asleep but I decided to let him know:

“Sorry to wake you… Robin Williams is dead.”

We both love “One Hour Photo” and “Insomnia”. Although mostly known and remembered for his zany, energetic roles, these two films were his standouts for us. You know, those two films were released in the same year. Both showed Williams playing lonely, creepy, disturbed, intently serious characters, a world, no, universe apart from his days as ‘Mork’ in the late-seventies. But by hell he played those two roles so, so well. Scarily well. I don’t need to pile on the hyperbole, but he was an exceptionally adaptable man. He could play many different roles exceptionally well.

I’d read preliminary news reports and the word ‘suicide’ had come up a few times. I was pretty aware of Robin Williams’ demons, more than once he had publicly acknowledged them, even more often he’d use them as fodder for his stand-up material. Nevertheless, you always assume that those suffering behind the mask will battle through. That’s the trouble with masks, sometimes they can be difficult to separate from the person behind them so much so that others might not ever realise that what they see on the surface is not what’s present behind the façade.

When my therapist recently posed me the question: “Am I seeing ‘the act’, or am I seeing the real you?” I wasn’t entirely sure what the correct answer was. That the ‘act’ had become such an intrinsic part of my behaviour that even I wasn’t sure what was showing on the ‘outside’ is a testament to how difficult it can be for others to ever be aware of what’s going on inside of anyone that can ‘put on a face’.

Later in the day, when I finished my shift at work, I stumbled a into a conversation about that morning’s celebrity death.

“He’s stupid, why would you kill yourself? He had tons of money.”

That there is a line of speech actually said by a real, breathing person. A person living in this day and age, in a developed country where mental health and depression SHOULD be, by now, well known as 1) real and 2) a real fucking problem.

I was livid at such a brazen show of ignorance, but I kept my cool and continued the conversation with the more sensible of the two people present.

“He was bipolar.” Straight away, this other person knew what that meant and how it related to the tragic news that morning.

But this sort of stupid doesn’t just happen at ground level. I’d heard earlier that a news anchor on the Fox network referred to Williams as ‘such a coward’. Suicide is not ‘the easy way out’. It’s not ‘coward’s choice’. Suicide is a horrid event that happens because something in someone’s psyche tells them “There are no other options.” That those you care about will “be better off without you.”

Now, anyone with a reasonably clear frame of mind will know that even at the worst of times, there are options, that your loved ones and those who care about you will not better off without you.

But for someone in the utter depths of a depressive phase (I stress this word ‘phase’ as regardless of length they are phases and in many cases, with the right help, support and/or time, they will pass) their personal ‘logic’ is one of complete bleakness. And believe me, to that person, there IS nothing more. Others’ lives WILL be better. There IS nothing to live for.

THAT is the depths and despair of depression.

For many, depression isn’t something that happens for any given reason that falls into the realms of understandable for many:

Pet dies, you feel upset.
Lose your job, you feel worried and despaired.
Lose a family member, you cry for days.

These are normal reactions and feelings to things that affect all of us.

Go to sleep feeling on top of the world. Wake up and find yourself devoid of energy and motivation with no drive to do the things you simply have to perform to ‘function’ on the most basic of levels (eat, drink, wash, communicate). And worst of all, you’re not sure just why you feel this way.

THAT is depression.

Having so much money in your bank account that you never need to work again will NOT fix that. Being told to ‘man up’ or asked ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ or being told to ponder upon ‘how bad others have it’ will NOT help that.

But some care, understanding, patience and tact is a start.

That is the message anyone reading this should take away with them.

(Almost) Goodbye, Sandra!

As my contributions to the ‘2014’ project near their end, I stumbled a little piece of writing hiding in the depths of my laptop.

In November 2012, I decided to participate in NanoWriMo, but on my terms. No novel, just the aim of a short piece every day, try and give myself some discipline and focus, as well as getting the brain whirring with story ideas. Very quickly things went wrong. I began having terrifying night-time episodes (which may or may not be related to my epilepsy) and with awful post-episode exhaustion and migraines taking over my day, my plans for a daily story idea was well and truly scuppered!

I managed to get a handful of scribbles down when I could and contained within one of them was a character that stored away in the back of my mind. Her name was Sandra.

A few months later (and I’ve said most of this before so excuse the repetition), Matt of Pure Slush put out the feelers for the ‘2014 Project’. The very same day the initial calls for contributors went out, I sat down in the Waterstones bookshop café on Argyle Street, Glasgow and within very little time (very unusual for me) I had rough sketches for ‘January’ and ‘February’. Having just scanned over those very first drafts I’m a little stunned to see that the stories were almost (but not quite) fully-formed. But most importantly, two pre-existing characters from my years of dabbling were there on the page, and in danger of getting an outlet… And now it’s funny how you find yourself almost missing a character when you have to let them go!

http://severie.deviantart.com/art/goodbye-my-love-159454039

(Almost) Goodbye, Sandra! Image sourced here http://severie.deviantart.com/art/goodbye-my-love-159454039 and labelled for non-commercial reuse

So here is that piece of pre-history. Don’t judge it too harshly. This is the raw, stream-of-consciousness draft, just as I wrote it in November 2012, no post-editing. The title was a play on the title of a Kate Bush song… Hope you enjoy!

 

 

Swallows of the Night

“Introduce it to your lips”.

This man had a knack for making wine tasting sound perverse.

“Swirl it slowly, let it coat your tongue, and then spit.”

“Personally, I prefer to…”

Sandra stopped herself. I knew where she was going and nearly spat out a large mouthful of sauvignon, but that would be a waste.

The elders of the group, of which there were many, looked on disapprovingly, either disgusted at where her comment was heading, or that the fact that the two of us, did indeed, swallow.

Like I said, I was always told not to waste.

Sandra had won a ‘Winter wine-tasting session for two’ from a radio competition. She was always entering those sorts of things. Prize crosswords, Sudokus and word searches. Her sad, now jobless existence had taken us to a première of a film that we both hated, for a dire meal in a new Italian restaurant that ended up with us being banned for complaining that Sandra’s seafood linguine smelt ‘odd’, and a few other mostly mishaps. She never won the cash prizes, the ones she always said she’d share seeing as I’d have done three-quarters of the work for her. She wasn’t good with words. Or numbers.

But this wine tasting, well, she won it off Saga radio, an old aged pensioner’s radio station, only on digital. There didn’t seem to be any age restrictions and yet there was at least forty years difference between us and the other participants. At the least. One couple were complaining that there was only wine to try, and that they didn’t ‘particularly care’ for wine. The host was trying his best, but couldn’t win them over with reds, whites, desserts, rosé.

“We do have quite a lot of different wines to go through, you’d really be better not to swallow.”

We knew the comment was directed at us, we’d just gulped back a particularly nice red. And I usually hate red.

Sandra whispered, ever so slightly slurring in my ear, “Look at Hyacinth Bouquet over there!” She was trying to whisper, but the overspill was probably heard by everyone in the room. “Look at her big flowery hat!” She burst out laughing as the tall, thin host uncorked another bottle.

We gulped back the rest of the testers, after I’d told her to keep her voice down.

It was nearing the end of the session. Watching Sandra sway, I wondered how she’d got so tipsy on the tiny samples suited man had started pouring for us.

“Excu-excuse me, sorry, you seem to have poured a piss drop in my glass. Sorry, I do believe you are doing me out here.”

“Doing you out, madam?”

“Yes, well, doing, me, out, of, my free samples!”

Over to the side, Hyacinth Bouquet puckered up. “Excuse me, madam, but I do not believe that you need any more than you have already had.”

I noticed the others join together in a sympathetic pensioners nod.

“Well, Mrs. Boo-kaaaay! I won this and I believe I’m entitled to my… my…”

“You have had more than your fair share, quite obviously.” Hyacinth Bouquet’s male partner put his point in. Once again, aged heads bobbed in unison.

“Excuse me, some of us paid for this!” Another voice rose from the crowd. Sandra, was swinging her arms like a scalded child. Surely, she wasn’t drunk on samples.

“Well, all of you bloody…”

“Madam, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” The host looked over at my embarrassed and blushed face. “Will you please help your friend out of the building please, she looks like she needs a coffee.”

“Help? Help?! I don’t need help!” She turned towards the door. Or at least where she thought the door was.

“Wrong way dear!” Hyacinth Bouquet sarcastically alerted her, whilst I picked up Sandra’s handbag. And jacket. And her scarf. And one shoe that she’d left under the table. We all turned to a sudden clatter.

The door was slow closing shut and I couldn’t see Sandra neither inside, nor outside, through the smaller panes of glass.

“I think you might want to go help your friend.” The host said.

“She’s not my friend. She’s my neighbour.”

I walked over and opened the door.

“Oh Sandra!”

She was lying, half sitting, pushing herself up on the icy pavement, only two steps down from the door. One foot bare save for the faux skin-coloured tights. She turned around to cars beeping as they passed the scene on the busy road.

“For goodness sakes Sandra!”

There was a gash, covered in pouring blood, up near her right temple. I carefully walked down the gritted stairs. “How the hell did you get so bloody drunk on samples?!” I didn’t expect an answer as she sat up, murmuring.

“What are you saying?!”

The host turned up at the door with a gust of warm air pouring from inside. Behind his shoulder I could Hyacinth Bouquet, peering over. Noticing the blood he asked “Should I call an ambulance?”

“No, I’ll get her…” She stopped me in my tracks to shake my arm.

“There! That, that, bloody, bl… restaurant!”

She pointed over the road and sure enough, even in her inebriated state she’d noticed the restaurant that barred us after her last competition win.

She screamed across the road, “You… your LANG-U-AGE STINKS!”

There was a gasp from behind the wine-tasting host.

“Sandra, Sandra!” I slapped her arm. “It was bloody linguine. Ling-gwee-nee!”

Same Time, Next Week

Same Time, Next Week

So, so, so. I haven’t blogged in an age. I couldn’t say I’ve been particularly busy but time has been flying by.

Last time I was here, I was blogging about ‘unsettled stasis’, shaking things up in my day job just to get away from a role I had come to despise, and the possibility of a therapy referral.

First off, I did indeed end up in a new, challenging and responsible role in work. Me? Getting up at 4am to start work at 6am? This is the person who previous avoided 8am starts because it was too early for a night person like myself! Well, I’ve surprised myself on those grounds. And responsibility? Eek, something else I stringently ran away from in the workplace. Once again, I surprised myself.

So I went in this new role, trained for a few weeks and then turned the whole thing upside wherever I glimpsed opportunities to streamline and simplify. Wish I had the will to do that in our flat! Maybe I’m a bit OCD, or perhaps I have a thing for making things as easy for myself as possible. It was quite therapeutic, and for the first time in a long time, despite the stress that comes with the new role, for the first time in a very long time, I found myself enjoying the day job.

And I have still been moving forward with the ‘2014’ project. Just today ‘November’ was signed off… This is where it becomes truly terrifying because next up is… the ending! And the reason I don’t write much anyone? I can start things off, I can visualise seemingly endless middles. Middles that make “The Lord of the Rings” seem like a novella (so I can streamline in the day job, but with words? That’s where Matt Potter steps in to push me in the direction of discipline!) But endings? ARGH! But, it has to get there… There’s no choice!

Now we get to the title of this blog piece. “Same time, next week.” The first time my therapist said that I locked it in my head as a possible title for something.

Yep, I’m in therapy and I have been for a wee while. That’s all I need say about that. Apart from the fact that it’s fucking terrifying to walk into a room with someone that sits down and then silently stares at you. Really, really fucking terrifying. Also, my cake intake has upped dramatically since I’ve started therapy!

Post-therapy cake often looks something like this…

There you go. I’m still alive, I’m sort of enjoying the day-job but perpetually sleepy now that I run on an average of four hours sleep a night, and I haven’t previously mentioned my ‘psychotherapy’ because it includes the word ‘psycho’.

I’m not even that sure why I felt the need to write this, but I have and here it is.

Human beings, just when you think you’ve figured out how weird they are, you realise you hadn’t even scratched the surface!

DISCLAIMER: Any possible spelling, grammatical or completely nonsensical errors are courtesy of my eternally yawning self.

Unsettled Stasis…

In February, I got to spend three weeks away from Glasgow. The time off work had been organised to use up the rest of my holiday allowance for the year, but especially to spend some extra time down in London.

Leaving from London, the first week of our trip away took us to Belgium. This was essentially Nicholas’ birthday/Christmas present. It was nice to finally stay a couple of nights in Brussels. Despite our previous jaunts to Belgium, we’d never actually spent much more than a few hours walking around the capital, before continuing onto Bruges. Bruges itself was a mix of up and down weather and moods, the down being some utterly miserable rainy days and struggling to find places within our budget to eat. Eek, it sounds brattish, but I think I’d found myself slightly over-familiar with Bruges. Maybe the miserable weather put me on a downer. Either way, I don’t know how people do the same holiday resorts and destinations for years upon decades! Seeing as this was our fourth visit to Bruges I’m not sure what I expected, but I don’t reckon we’ll be heading back there any time in the next few decades… But lovely Belgian beer… and Belgian munchables… and the best apple crumble and hot chocolate I’ve ever had (yes, these treats from De Proeverie were the highlight for the foodie in me!)

Spiced apple crumble tart to die for! De Proeverie, Brugge, February 2014

Spiced apple crumble tart to die for! De Proeverie, Brugge, February 2014

With suitcases packed with as many Belgian beers as we could stuff in them, we arrived back in London and got down to visiting family.

The first time I went to see my mum she asked if we could go out the moment we stepped through the care home’s door and so we took her to my eldest sister’s house. And it was a nice visit. My mum seemed peaceful, quite relaxed, even laughing and joking at times (rare for her).

But I could tell something was amiss. Across the time spans of our visits down south the progression of the dementia had seemed a slow one. This time around I quickly noticed a huge change in her personality.

My mum could be quite cantankerous, crossing over into very difficult to deal with at times. In my interactions with her I first noticed this side of her personality had lessened significantly. You may consider that this is surely a good a thing. I didn’t.

It saddened me to see her so childlike, so vulnerable. She seemed meek, with little to no spirit or fight left in her. The second visit to my sister’s house was quite different to the first. The first time around there was very few of us, it was a nice quiet affair. The second time there was, undoubtedly, too many people present. I rarely socialise in big, loud groups (the last time I had to do that I downed an entire bottle of wine in fifteen minutes before getting to the venue of my friend’s birthday party… and by the end of the night this proved a fatal, mostly sickly, decision…) If I found the clamour difficult to handle, I can’t imagine what was going on in her mind. She seemed stressed and confused. We regularly withdrew her from the hubbub, letting her nap in another room, but she still found it hard to settle. Unfortunately she ended up suffering a nosebleed (something that has happened since), apparently caused by extremely high bloody pressure. Plainly and simply, those sorts of overwhelming situations are just not suitable for someone in my mum’s circumstances.

It was really nice though to spend time with my dad, installing a new PC for him, taking him out to find him a new computer chair, going to the supermarket and our second visit to the Nepalese restaurant in Woolwich (Kailash Momo Restaurant if you’re passing, this time around I got to try their thukpa, something my dad often savoured in his childhood). The kind of events we’d usually take for granted.

I spent the last week in London on my own after Nicholas’ holiday allowance ran out.

Had a trip to South Bank, popping into the Martin Creed exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. It was, erm, a bit odd. And I’m still not sure what to make of ‘art’ I saw there…!

Walk into the Martin Creed exhibition at the Hayward Gallery and this huge revolving sign spins at disorienting speeds!

If you’re over a certain height the Hayward Gallery will not let you into the Martin Creed exhibition as this huge revolving sign spins just above patrons heads at disorienting speeds! February 2014

And before I knew it, three weeks had disappeared and I was home. But not really.

During my last week in London a flurry of thoughts swirled up top, caused by a mixture of situations and circumstances. I talked in depth to Nicholas on the phone about wanting to move back to London because I felt the need to be near my parents, to reacquaint myself with my sisters, my nieces and nephews (as well as the new addition to the family, my great-nephew). The fact that I had always stated I never, ever wanted to move back to London had seemingly disappeared out of the window as I began to plot the move in my head.

When I came back to Glasgow, I came back with a cloud hanging over my head.

I talked it over with a handful of trusted people in work. Yes, of course this was a knee-jerk reaction to the noticeable deterioration in my mum’s condition. Yes, I have become increasingly aware of the mortality of those around me whom I love dearly. And yes, I am fully aware that in the real world you can’t just give up your job, your home, your partner and pack up your bags and head back to your childhood home just because your parents are getting old.

But Nicholas knows me almost as well as I know myself. And he also knows that I have long not been happy living in Glasgow. But he also knows that I wouldn’t be happy living in London. And that essentially, along with the noble, but unrealistic, notions behind my urge to pack up and move, there were ulterior motives involving my constant desire to withdraw from ‘the real world’.

But the sadness that came with seeing my mum’s mental state beginning to diminish wouldn’t shift. A building anger and frustration built up until ‘kaboom’. A month or so after I had got back into the usual routines of day in and day out, I found myself crying, shouting hysterically. I wanted to know why ‘this’ was happening. All I could say over and over was “I’M SO ANGRY!” I don’t think even I’d realise how angry I was until that moment there.

And Mother’s Day proved an strange one. Upon finding a particularly nice photo of my mum I simply couldn’t stop crying any time I saw it. I’d also had some odd dreams (well, usually dreams are odd in their very nature anyway). This was one: I was in London visiting. My mum came home with bags of party food, streamers and balloons. She asked me if I was going to stay for a while but dismissively stated that I had to go back to work and I probably wouldn’t be back. She then hugged me and I whispered into her ear “Living without you in this world is such a difficult thing to do”. I woke up in tears that morning. Just typing that out I found myself welling up.

Watching a loved one with dementia slipping away seems like nothing less than enduring the process of two deaths, one ‘living’, and one in the most final sense of the word. I know that my family and myself are all going through differing stages of grief and mourning, all while our mother, grandmother and now great-grandmother are still ‘here’, with us. And it’s in no way a linear process; the stages come around and overlap, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, tripping over each other cycles, with no sense of acceptance ever being reached. I know most of us are uncertain there will ever come a stage of acceptance.

Ever since that last trip to London, I appear to have crawled into an insular unsettled stasis. Those last two cancel each other out surely? Example: on one hand creative writing ideas have frozen up (one of the reasons I felt a sudden need to pen this was to try and break down the block that is refusing to shift) on the other, my inability to enjoy my lowly role in the workplace has forced me to stir things up, looking for a sense of change, a distraction to break the mundane routines of the day job. And yet at home I simply curl up with my headphones on, blocking out that ‘real world’ that continues to persevere around me, when I simply can’t understand the hows and whys of its inner workings.

In a few months time I should finally be getting an appointment for a referral for counselling (the one the GP was begrudgingly forced to organise courtesy of the recommendations of that rather strange autism diagnosis appointment…) Nope, I don’t want to go back on pills. Yes, I do feel that the counselling route could help. The ‘kaboom’ moment from earlier simply showed me that there was a LOT of unresolved and ongoing issues that I have been constantly pushing as deep down as I could. I could possibly do with a primal therapy session involving punch bags and much shouting! Everyone should get access to these things on a regular basis!

Well, that was THE most words I’d typed out in one non-stop session for three months and that can only be a good thing!

Four months left to take my ‘2014’ stories to a satisfying conclusion. Yes, I’m fretting about tying it all up but I WILL get there! There answers nearly always appear out of nowhere when I’m least expecting them…

So come on ‘nowhere’… I’m waiting! 😉

Following on from last week’s (first ever) guest blog and continuing with the wonderful “My Writing Process” series, I now present you with a guest blog from Bonnie ZoBell who gives us an wonderfully honest insight into her writerly world!

Bonnie ZoBell: My Writing Process: Blog Tour

And now I hand you over to Bonnie herself, enjoyToday I’m taking part in the #MyWritingProcessTour. It’s so interesting and instructive to see how other writers go about their work. I was nominated by my friend, Susan Tepper, writer extraordinaire. Be sure to get a copy of Susan’s latest book, The Merrill Diaries, beautifully written and a thought-provoking romp through the U.S. and parts of Europe.

The awkward part about writing this blog post is that at the moment I don’t have much of a writing process because besides teaching, I’m in the process of birthing my newest book, What Happened Here: a novella & stories. I’m doing everything I can to ease her passage into the world, making sure she’s nurtured in every possible way, and giving her a good wholesome introduction with the hope people will be as good to her as they’ve been to me. At the moment, it’s on pre-release and available only on my site, but she’ll be officially launched on May 3rd. What I’ll do here is write about my process when I’m writing. I warn you: This process isn’t entirely the healthiest for children and other living things, in other words younger writers. Don’t show this to your students.

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What am I working on?

I’ve gone back to an old novel, most recently called Animals Voices—which I worked on for many years—because I think I’ve finally figured out a solution to a problem I was having. The story starts out with some young kids, the boy very curious about the unusual girl, after he gets over her strangeness and the way all his friends make fun of her, because she can communicate with animals. They grow up and marry and he is diagnosed with AIDS in the early years. Communication is difficult when no one will acknowledge the disease, probably even more so than communicating with owls. Then I’m going to go back to another novel that I also spent years on called Bearded Women, about a woman who goes to an electrologist because she’s hirsute. There are class issues between her and the electrologist, and it comes down to the main character needing to pluck other parts of her persona as well.

 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’d call what I write literary fiction, though I’d like to write more magical realism. Oh, give me anything to read that contains beautiful language and a good story, and I’ll devour it. Perhaps mine differs because of my love of setting. I’m thrilled going back to Animal Voices, getting the chance to revisit the southern part of Del Mar in San Diego, land filled with an estuary, all kinds of unique crawly life, and the magnificent Torrey Pine trees. These gnarled pines grow crooked because they’re on the bluffs right above the ocean and therefore get a lot of strong winds. They’d be creepy if they weren’t so beautiful.

I’m no minimalist, though I try to be as spare as I can. I like to think that sometimes I’m successful at writing beautiful, in-depth descriptions that let you see images in life in a unusual way without going overboard.

I’m whimsical.

 

Why do I write what I do?

I write because I love language and because writing fiction helps me figure out the world. I’d be lost without it.

 

How does my writing process work?

This is the unhealthy part: I’m a binge writer. I can go for days, weeks, even a couple of years and do nothing but write. I ignore my husband and animals, my hair gets dirty, my bills don’t get paid, and I wear clothes that should have been recycled some time ago if I get really passionate and possessed about what I’m writing. But it takes a toll. So after doing this for a while, it’s hard to allow myself to go back there—there’s so much deprivation. Unfortunately, the other side of it is that I can also go for a long time not writing at all. That’s where I am right now while I promote and regroup from my collection. But I’m daydreaming about those Torrey Pine trees.

 

My tags

I’m tagging three of my favorite writers who will take the baton next and telling you about their writing process:

Myfanwy CollinsLives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son. She has published her début novel Echolocation, a short fiction collection I Am Holding Your Hand, and her YA novel The Book of Laney is forthcoming.

James ClaffeyJames’ collection Blood a Cold Blue was published earlier this year. His writing has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies, and he is currently working on a novel based on his childhood in Ireland.

Tamara Linse – Writer, cogitator, recovering ranch girl ~ broke her collarbone when she was three, her leg when she was four, a horse when she was twelve, and her heart ever since. She lives in Wyoming, and just released her collection, How to Be a Man.

 

About Bonnie ZoBell:

Bonnie ZoBell’s linked collection, What Happened Here: a novella and stories, will be released by Press 53 on May 3, 2014. She’s received a NEA fellowship, and currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College. Visit her at http://www.bonniezobell.com.

When I asked Guilie Castillo Oriard and Susan Tepper to participate in this writing process interview, Susan stated that she unfortunately doesn’t have much of a chance to maintain a blogging space these days… But why should that stop us?!

So, in a first for scribblingsimmons we have a guest blog!

But enough dilly-dallying! I shall now hand you over to Susan!

THE QUESTIONS:

What am I working on?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?

THE ANSWERS:

There is nothing I enjoy more than actual writing. Second in line is discussing writing and the writing life. I’ve been doing it for 20 years, both fiction and poetry pretty much simultaneously.

Right now I’m working on several new projects. One is a large project, it’s a three act play that I’ve written with a partner. A zany comedy and we have had a blast writing it. I’m also working on a poetry collection of linked poems revolving around a small room. I also have several novels written that haven’t been published yet, and one in particular (a road novel) that is dark and funny, that I hope to place this year or next.

Susan Tepper - The Merrill Diaries

Susan Tepper’s “The Merrill Diaries”, published by Pure Slush, July 2013

How does my writing process work is a good question. Because I don’t have a process. I’m a sporadic person who goes by whim and whimsy in all matters of life. If I get an idea, and it won’t let go, I sit down and turn it into a story or poem. I have a nifty new space all done up pretty and cosy for writing, but I still can write anywhere and I do. All last year I wrote ‘on the road’ in cafes, trains, planes, hallways, hospital rooms: wherever life led me. It was pretty exciting working this way, I made believe I was a journalist imbedded with the troops. It makes life more interesting to have an imaginative life (provided you know it is all imagination)! When I interviewed the poet Dennis Mahagin regarding his book Grand Mal, I was sitting in a hallway next to a large trash barrel of raw garbage. I mentioned this to Dennis and he wrote back: Susan you’re tough. I liked hearing that. You need to be tough in this business, you need a hide made out of steel.

Thanks for reading about my writing process.

For next week, I’d like to nominate the uber-talented writers Gay Degani, Gloria Mindock, and Bonnie ZoBell.

Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her recent title “The Merrill Diaries” (Pure Slush Books, 2013) is a Novel in Stories. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the author/book interviews UNCOV/rd. Her new column “Let’s Talk” appears at Black Heart Magazine. Additionally, her reading series FIZZ has been running sporadically at KGB Bar, NYC, these 6 or 7 years. http://www.susantepper.com/

I also tagged Guilie Castillo Oriard to take part in this writing process interview! Take a peek at her answers here: http://guilie-castillo-oriard.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/mywritingprocess-youve-been-tagged.html

If you enjoyed this and want to jump on to the #MyWritingProcess tag, please! Yes! Do so! Next Monday (or whichever Monday works for you), answer these four questions on your blog and tag another one, two or three writers to post their answers the following Monday. Why not leave a comment below letting me know when and where your post will be up so I can visit and tweet and Facebook and G+ and, you know, share it everywhere! Us writers must stick together 😉

My Writing Process is a series of blog posts in which authors ‘tag’ each other to answer some questions about their work. Gill Hoffs asked me to take part. She also asked Matt Potter to take part, you can read his answers here: Matt Potter: Writing tag – My Writing Process Q & A

About Gill Hoffs:
Gill Hoffs grew up on the Scottish coast, studied Psychology, Biology and English Literature at the University of Glasgow, then worked with children with a variety of needs (ASD and/or EBD, mainly) throughout the UK. She married her best friend and they now live in Warrington in the north of England with their son Angus. She can be found blogging here: http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/

What am I working on?
I’m now down the last of my five stories for “2014 – A Year in Stories“. It’s an ambitious and rather exciting project from the mind of Pure Slush’s Matt Potter and it goes like this…

“2014 – A Year in Stories” is a twelve volume anthology. Each volume is devoted to one month of the year, and therefore named “January Vol. 1”, “February Vol. 2”, and so on.

Each writer involved is contributing one story per month, and each of these writers is taking one day of each month – the 5th, the 13th, the 21st, for example – and setting their stories on that same day of every month. (So, for example, a writer takes the 10th – Friday 10th January, Monday 10th February, Monday 10th March, Thursday 10th April, etc – throughout the year.)

It was a great thing to get involved in and it’s allowed me to develop much more as a writer than any of my other dabbles!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I really am not sure about that one. Do I have a ‘genre’? When it comes to ‘style’ of writing I’d say that over the last year or so I’ve veered away from taking myself, and what I pen, too seriously. When I first started getting involved with other writers I made the assumption that to be taken seriously you had to write seriously (all very low-key and maudlin). But now I’ve allowed my wings to unfurl a little as I feel a little more comfortable in my own writerly skin, and this approach has been allowed to come to fruition with my stories for the “2014” project. I like to write about people and their inter-personal interactions. Human beings do, think and say the strangest things when you look into it deeply. They’re mostly odd, quirky, absurd creatures, and they become the way they are for different reasons. I’m really quite interested in translating the human psyche with all its foibles into (hopefully) humorous but ultimately touching stories.

Why do I write what I do?
What else would I do with the ideas that come to me during the day, when I’m stuck on a bus, when I’m at work and (nearly always) when I’m trying to go to sleep?! It’s simply another outlet, a way to somehow ‘leave something behind’.

How does my writing process work?
Process or habits? These two things often are at little blurry at my end. To start with, I jiggle things around mentally for quite a while before putting down any words. It was quite quirky to see Susan Tepper (a fellow ‘2014’ comrade) state that one of my ‘2014’ stories (March) played out like the opening scene of a BBC drama, because I often see everything as visuals, as if I’m watching it on TV or as a play. I place myself in the scene and crazily move things around, working out just what characters are saying and doing as the scene plays out. This mental rewinding, editing and playback can go on for days, weeks, months, even years with certain things I’ve worked on. I’ve also realised that I quite naturally pay a lot of attention to my surroundings. My job brings me into (far too much!) contact with the public and it’s quite amazing what you can get just from overhearing strange conversations. So many people’s lives are infused with tension, drama and often unintentional humour! The possibilities for inspiration and dialogue are simply endless when you have circles and people around you. I don’t write much at home… I’m too easily distracted! Nearly all my scribbling, editing, corresponding tends to happen in coffee shops after a shift at the day job. The caffeine, munchies, bland background music, uncluttered surroundings, it all seems to help me keep my focus. And believe me, that’s where the true challenge lies!
Thanks for reading about my writing process!

I nominate the following writers’ to share their own approaches with us next week:

Guilie Castillo Oriard – Guilie is a 41-year-old Mexican writer currently exiled in the Caribbean island of Curaçao, where she lives with seven rescue dogs and a very, very patient Dutch man. Guilie can be found blogging here: http://guilie-castillo-oriard.blogspot.co.uk/

Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her recent title “The Merrill Diaries” (Pure Slush Books, 2013) is a Novel in Stories. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the author/book interviews UNCOV/rd. Her new column “Let’s Talk” appears at Black Heart Magazine. Additionally, her reading series FIZZ has been running sporadically at KGB Bar, NYC, these 6 or 7 years. http://www.susantepper.com/

Outside the Spectrum

In the middle of last December I went for an appointment I had been waiting a while for. It was for an autism assessment. In the run up to it I was nervous beyond anything. I’d managed to get the day off work, which proved a sensible move. On the day I was a wreck. Sitting, waiting to get called through, even I was surprised by how much I was trembling.

Walking into the room the first words that were said went along these lines:

“Hi I’m *name I can’t remember* and this is *another name I can’t remember* and we’ve both been doing this for nearly twenty years so the buck stops with us. Whatever diagnosis we give you is the end of the line.”

Looking back on that opening statement, it comes across as arrogant beyond belief. Way to put someone who is nervous as feck at ease. But at the time, I put my trust in of the two ladies with their notepads and pens. After all, they had far more experience with this stuff than I did, as they were so eager to let me know.

The whole thing passed by in a bit of a blur. I answered questions, they asked my partner questions, they ‘hmm’d a lot and looked at me quite oddly as they jotted things down. They asked these questions in a semi-chronological manner, the basics about myself and what lead me to seek a diagnosis, then family, then schooling…

I laughed when they said the section about ‘family’ should be relatively quick and easy! Ha! We’d only barely touched upon primary schooling before one looked at the other and one said “Do you know?” The other nodded. “I know.”

It was at that point the assessment technically ended.

“You do not have classic autism.”

I can’t explain the feeling when they’d said this. Somewhat numb, a little shocked, still nervous.

“The reason why, and we asked this question a few times over to make sure, is because you were aware of other family member’s emotions when you were growing up.”

Oh. Okay then.

“And you may have dyspraxia. But there’s no tests for that.”

Oh. Great.

“There were plenty of things that could lead us to believe you have autism. The hyper-sensitivity to noise, your difficulties with functioning socially, etc. But here’s the details about an optician in Ayr that has been conducting research into different coloured lenses in glasses, and has found that sometimes helps with dyspraxia.”

Erm. Okay.

“And we’re going to write to your doctor and suggest psychotherapy. You seem to have some attachment issues.”

Now, the reason I haven’t written about this assessment until now, or even mentioned the outcome to anyone bar some very, very close friends, is because of that word.

‘Psychotherapy’.

When that was mentioned the little part of me that had been saying “They’re just going to confirm what you already know, you’re just fucking crazy and that’s the end of that!” punched it’s hand in the air, said ‘ner-ner-ner-ner-ner’ and stuck it’s tongue out at me.

That sounds fucking crazy in itself. But I think you might get what I mean.

Stupid thing is this. Psychotherapy is simply another word for counselling, something I had previously wanted the GP to get me onto. But then hearing someone else saying it got my back up. It’s akin to talking about your own shortfalls in a derogatory way. It’s perfectly ‘acceptable’. But if someone else, an outsider, dares to say exactly the same thing, then that’s an insult of the highest order.

‘Attachment issues’? ‘Psychotherapy’? Because I have a memory box, a few guitars and rather large CD collection? Seriously?! I could think up far better reasons (which were never touched upon) to have lead them to that conclusion, although the attachment issues was a new one for me!

I went away, stuffed my face in a restaurant, went home and nursed a mammoth post-stressful situation migraine.

A few weeks later, the GP that had (somewhat begrudgingly) set up the assessment had been trying to get in touch with me. I could only assume that he had received the letter about the outcome of the assessment and was wanting to talk to me about it.

“What’s the point?” I said. “He’s only going to say, ‘told you so’!” (He’d previously told me that because I was capable of talking in a pre-arranged doctor’s appointment, he didn’t see how I could be autistic. Oh, and for all the other stuff here’s some more anti-depressants!) And so I ignored the phone calls.

So, where am I left now?

Well, I’m not sure!

There’s a whole load of issues that are swirling about just now. Job dissatisfaction. General dislike of the human race. The first two often intertwine… Brain frazzles starting up… again! Feeling distant from my family. Losing all fondness for living in Glasgow with its bloody miserable weather. This could all be a case of winter-borne depression. It probably is. Do you know, we don’t really see the sun up much up here. Maybe a few hours a year…

BUT it’s not all so bad! I’m thoroughly enjoying writing and editing, especially now I’m back working on the ‘2014’ project after a (slightly too long!) festive break. I have a few ideas for a project I shant say much about until I’m ready to get it underway… I don’t want to create a beast I can’t quite see through!

And, at the very least, there’s still cake and gin! 😉