Baubles To Advent: Not Uplifting But a Call To Arms

Get into the Christmas spirit with this year’s must have item – the luxury advent calendar.

For just £35 you can get a £280 worth of M&S beauty goods behind 25 doors, Yankee Candle offers 24 doors of scented tea-lights and a mere £120 will get you a John Lewis gin calendar.

I’m not feeling it. I live in a country where the United Nations is currently investigating the poverty problem. I don’t feel like indulging. I want family, friends, warmth and time, not consuming to excess. I know there’s people out there struggling to survive, never mind contemplating opening a door to a different variety of artisanal gin each morning.

Last year, heavily pregnant with the twins and still off to work each day, I felt really quite helpless in the face of all the news stories around the disastrous impact of Universal Credit on families. I saw several people suggesting #FoodbankAdvent – to put aside an item for the food bank each day of advent. I mulled this over and realised that it would, by Christmas Eve, be much too late for the food banks to actually distribute the food. So I spent time researching food banks and tweeting the heck out of them – spending 25 days from November 8 2017 giving shout outs to food banks and encouraging people to donate each day – with the hashtag #BaublesToAdvent. Each set of tweets went out with jolly gifs along a Christmas film or song theme.

At the end of the time I also handed over my haul of goods to the food bank – it didn’t seem important to shout that out then.

This year, on restarting the countdown with the hashtag of #BaublesToAdvent2018 I found I struggled to choose and put out jolly gifs. Foodbank donations aren’t an uplifting Christmas event – it is a struggle for survival – its about deciding that we all have a duty to make sure everyone is provided for, without judgement. This is a call to arms, to fight to leave no-one in hunger.

 

So instead I’ve made two videos, just to help people understand what to do and why it is needed, and I will be showing everyone what I am doing and why I am doing it each day.

I’m lucky that I’m able to do this – I really know this – not everyone is. Please though, do what you can. Give your money, give food, give your time to your local food bank. If I had the resources to stump up for the G&T calendar I’d do even more…

Short-Shorts: The Last Sunset

Persisting. Tonight the sunset has prompted a short-short story:

The sunset at the end of the world painted itself onto the sky in a pattern Ayar had never before seen. The sunlight trailed shades of pink, orange and purple across the clouds as it melted over the black hills of the shadowed moorland. Dylan couldn’t bring himself to watch it and had retreated deeper into the grey stone house at the top of the hill, waiting for everything to stop. He had taken the tablets that had been issued to all by the government and went to lay on the bed, numb and calm under their influence. Ayar, ever the optimist, kept her huge and watery eyes opened wide, afraid to blink, just in case she needed to remember the detail.

Standing at the gate of Kimble Cottage, beneath the overgrown rose arch, she was savouring the details, as they had warned that the darkness that would fall with the last drops of the sun would be unending. She did not feel anxious, holding the pills in her hand, but felt calm for the very first time in her life. There would be no tomorrow, so her anxieties had all fallen silent. Instead of being hit with her usual evening headache, she felt a lightness, almost a compulsion to dance. Calm washed over her as the last of the light retreated over the hills.

She turned from the place she had seen the very last of the sun and walked to the other side of her trimmed lawn, each step of which she knew well enough to cross in the lightless night. It was strange looking up into the sky without the reassurance of the stars.

Ayar could smell the jasmine which, oblivious to the coming apocalypse, continued to fill the air with its seductive scent. As she looked over where she knew the dry stone wall stood at the edge of the garden, she could not see any glow from where the city had been and felt relief. There were no cars on the road as there once had been and, out there, in the house in which she was born she was with those she loved the most. Her beloved Dylan and, within the upstairs of house, her sleeping daughter Adelaide, who slept under the spell of a reduced doseage of the pills distributed for the children. Ayar still did not quite believe that the end was coming, but she wasn’t willing to let her only child suffer, if suffering was all that was left.

It was just them in the end, that was Ayar’s whole world, everything that she held close would be within her reach.

A Year To Save A Dream: I Don’t Want To Talk About It

“1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

– The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

 

Today was a day away from the comfortable little bubble of home. Away from my beautiful girls and back into the real world. “Keeping in touch days” are a way of keeping parents on maternity leave connected with the working environment in the UK – and today was my day to go in and be back part of my team for the first time since the arrival of the twins.

It was good to be back around these people again. They’re warm, funny and people I trust – I have missed them. Everything was as it always was – the scenery, the gossip and the little bouts of giggles. Time had passed but perceptible change hadn’t come to the office. Comfortable and reliable. My heart thudded to a stop against my ribcage though, when one of my colleagues said she had read my blog.

One of the biggest issues I have around my writing is actually sharing it with people. I worry about the quality lacking in some way and the idea of people reading it and seeing my shortcomings writ large brings sheer terror. Of course, I’m always glad to see the numbers tick up on the visitors counter and am happy to know people are reading. I’m always grateful to my dear friends who cheer me from the sidelines, but always in the recesses of my brain I think it kindness rather than merit.

Worse than the sharing is the onward step of actually talking about it. It drives me into self-protecting jesting. I chirpily mention to my workmate that maybe I’d be able to write a bestselling novel and never come back to work. I’m not really sure why I decided to joke about this. Really, that’s the dream.

But I don’t want to talk about it.

Everyone knows that wishes spoken aloud never come true. Add to that the unspoken fact that anyone who talks about writing a novel probably wont write one. I mean, who do they think they are? Who do I think I am?

I pause after making my joke as my colleague asks me if I was writing the novel. Now I know that I am working on something I hope to shape into a novel. I hold my breath. My first instinct is to just smile and deflect the question in some way. Who do I think I am? I’m no JK Rowling and it’s not like I’m Stephen King. But neither were they, until they were. All writers start somewhere and how the hell can I expect to be read if I can’t even talk about it. How can I share stories and worlds with people if I can’t find the words to describe it?

“Well they say it’s best to write about what you know,” I start. Against my instinct I actually start to say actual out loud words about the story I’m working on. Not my most articulate account of it – but I am saying it to another person – without agonising over it first. My colleague is kind enough to listen to my non specific ramblings without any visible signs of judgement. Like I say, these are people I can trust.

This isn’t a big tale of a victory over imposter syndrome, but for me it is significant progress. Saying it out loud makes me accountable. I’m a believer in being impeccable with my word – saying what I mean. In talking about it I feel I have to deliver. By not saying anything I will never have to produce anything and I can pretend my ambition doesn’t exist. That way, if I fail no one will know. By speaking this aloud I am compelling myself to act, to not live in dreams but to live out dreams,

I don’t want to talk about it – but I’m daring myself to try.

A Year To Save A Dream: Building The New

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Dan Millman.

Another day at the keyboard and driving myself forward to get in the habit of considering, on creating and on making change for myself.

I’ve spent too much time in the past, too much energy on focusing on the shoulds in life. You know those ideas our little internal narrator carries as being part of your acceptable standards – “I should work hard on these exams so I can get a good job”, “This relationship is okay so we should settle down” and the evergreen favourite: “I should be better”. Little, meaningless benchmarks which become a complex and codified structure for us to berate ourselves within once we fail.

It is peculiar really, how we co-opt these ideas in to our own subconscious. We speak the words in our own voices, that being the way that causes most harm because we only use them to hurt ourselves. And we, as you might imagine, are the traitor on the inside.

The shoulds were so ingrained with me that they contributed to my workplace stress becoming overwhelming and I had to enter into a period of therapy. Many people consider this idea with a sense of shame. I wear it like a badge of honour, it was the point at which I, that is to say what I consider to be the “real” me, actually began. I started seeing the shoulds for what they are and started to be kinder to myself. It allowed me to open the door to a love that wasn’t settling, that wasn’t an archetype I felt I ought to take on. I became free. Sure, it opened me up to the risk of hurt. I did get hurt, I did suffer loss, but it started to be on my own terms.

I got a taste of freedom. And I liked it.

Of course this was only a small part of the world in which I operate. At this point in time I am on maternity leave. This will, in less than five months come to an end. With it comes a return to work and, inevitably, a loss of a sense of freedom being away has given me. This loss seemed to hit me heavily in the last few weeks and any momentum and creativity I did have dissipated.

It took me a little time and a lot of emotional wrangling to get my head around what I needed to do to shake this funk. In embracing my freedom I seemed to be afflicted by a loss of industry. With no should there was no driving force behind making change, nothing it appears to motivate. Also the shoulds started to regain a foothold around motherhood and my relationship – I started behaving in ways which fitted an internalised vision of the nuclear family instead of taking up my own space and building into myself a sense of needing time and space for creation.

I discussed things with the boy and tried, in my usual hamfisted and clumsy way, to explain that I needed help to get myself back into a sense of forward motion. I don’t ask for help easily, ever, but I have the luxury of having an actual partner in my life who understands me, respects me and helps me, without ever being requested. We agreed a way of working both of our creative natures into the day – he works best at night whereas I need the light to even get started. We carved up the care of our children and the care of each other.

I turned to my own thinking on the matter. Instead of being chased by should I needed to be running towards something. I’m not trying to keep up with an appearance to complying with any expectation – I am chasing my potential. I need to go full force, not into battle but into building, into creation. That is truly the best of the woman’s way. Not in breaking, but in the entire power of Gaia, taking what we are given, wholesale destroying and making anew. Turning any lot into creation, into home, from the very darkness in us which takes life itself, binds it to our life force and births it into the world.

Not all women have children, but all women have the power to be mothers, to bring creation and change into this world. Now is my time to embrace that.

A Year To Save A Dream: Missing The Rain

I miss the rain.

In this seemingly endless scorched summer, marked by a crescendo of the humming noise of life lived out of doors, the accumulation of scents that mark out windless days and relentless light, I feel in need of precipitation and growth.

My mood has been low recently and my creativity as dry as the sandy loam which currently sits beneath the remnants of yellow grass which make up the local recreational spaces. I’ve been trying each day – using Jocelyn De Kwant’s Creative Flow both as a helpful maintenance tool and as a lock pick to try and help me break back in to a sense of forward motion. It must have helped because here I am. Writing.

Although the evidence of my stagnation is all around me, as I am surrounded by numerous false starts of projects with pens, paints and decoupage. Even as I began to write this piece I have to break away to cut my nails, having been irritated by their clacking on the keyboard. The fact I haven’t been annoyed by this earlier in their growth is a marker of the distance between my creativity and myself – it means that in the days or weeks since their last trim I haven’t reached out to my keyboard at all. More than a slight annoyance, when I have a short story project to work on.

My apparent inability to create has brought no relief to my sinking mood, which I attribute to my feeling of not being able to affect change in my life. After Christmas I will be heading back to work, away from my family and especially from my twin babies. This seems to be something I cannot avoid and the likelihood of avoidance only increased by an inability to create a livelihood elsewhere. The sight of my children’s faces give me relief but then trigger an anxiety about being away from their sides as they grow.

I’ve been blessed in the concern of dear friends, old and new, but my inability to articulate what ails me has hampered rescue attempts. It seems that in this tale, I need to save myself.

So I do. I have been kind to myself, rested and taken care. But no-one escapes abandonment on a desert island with bubble baths. Action is required. So I sit down at my keyboard and write. I will work my way forward, because I know no better way.

The Difficult Talk

This evening my Biggest Girl came back downstairs after bedtime in tears.

She was afraid that something might happen to the twins and that they might die. She was worried about everybody she loves dying. It’s a usual part of childhood development – a chat every child and parent has in families full of love.

This conversation always tears my heart a little, as it happens every few months at the moment. I remember being that age myself and sobbing on the stairs for the same reason. The sudden realisation that everyone will die.

I remember my mum and dad speaking in reassuring tones of heaven and life being for a long time and my anxiety around death eventually settled. As I grew older those who died were elderly or ill and it seemed like blessed release.

As I grew older still I learned that death was often indiscriminate, sometimes fast, sometimes slow but always inevitable, if painful. I lost people I loved after long illnesses or suddenly and unexpectedly. I heard and saw death at work all around me.

I came to accept death as part of life and did not fear it, some days even wishing for the day when my energy would be called back into the altogether of the universe. My shifting from form to another energy, as energy is never destroyed, only changed.

Then came my Biggest Girl and death was something to fear again. An uncontrollable constant, which threatened the love I had made flesh. Every day I do what I can to protect my children from death’s looming threat, I hope each day I win.

I tell Biggest Girl death is nothing to fear, that it is like going home and we will be surrounded by those we love, to be happy and cared for always.

“So it’s just like it is now only forever?”

I bite back tears, smile and reassure her, then cuddle her close and send her to bed thinking of this weekend’s plans for a campfire and toasted marshmallows.

After every one of these conversations with my Biggest Girl I am her, I am that little girl crying on the stairs.

I hope we go to that place I describe to her. I try my best to live it now. I’m lucky enough to love these people with whom I have made home and those I welcome into it. My life, to me, is heaven, so death’s shadow once again makes me afraid. I have everything to lose, in a losing game.

Ultimately I remember Shakespeare’s words on the matter, words which mark my grandmother’s grave:

All losses are restored, and sorrows end.”

Ruby Recommends…

Need the dish on new experiences for you and yours? Bored of financially driven magazine recommendations? Try some of these…

SEE

French Netflix Original I Am Not An Easy Man is a must watch – I struggle with dubbing as one of nature’s face-readers – but I persevered and was rewarded.

The premise is the chauvinist Damien (Vincent Elbaz) is flung into a parallel universe where the patriarchy has been swapped for a matriarchy – as one character points out the women are the stronger because they give birth – and he discovers the norms for women are lumped onto men in their entirety.

Leading woman in a man’s world, Marie Sophie Ferdane, is the absolute star as Alexandra, a successful author who counts her conquests with marbles, boxes to ease her troubled mind and who embodies a Don Juan character into a female body.

The aesthetic of the film is brilliant, applying this “matriarchal” sensibility to the modern world in a convincing and detailed manner – right down to the absurd manscaping expected of the boys – as nonsensical on men as it is in women.

I’m desperate to see a sequel, which is tantalisingly dangled in front of as Alexandra appears in this world at the end…

HEAR

Partly Political Broadcast – In the hundredth episode of the fast-paced, wry take on the current political landscape, you’re spoiled to a recap of all the greatest insults for our favourite politicians. Your Twitter hot takes will no doubt benefit – “Haunted Toby jug in a suit” Nigel Farage, “Catalogue model for Dynorod” Theresa May, “Quentin Blake drawing” Jeremy Corbyn and “Badyear Blimp” Donald Trump.

Hosted by comedian Tiernan Douieb, probably named by the fairies who replaced him with a changeling, this is a high energy bounce through the horror of modern politics – must listen.

READ

Reclaim The Earth: Women Speak Out For Life On Earth – edited by Leonie Caldedott and Stephanie Leland

This isn’t a new book – first published in 1983 by iconic publishers The Women’s Press means it is 35 years old – but most of the truths of the essays in this book still stand firm. Topics such as nuclear proliferation, chemical pollution, land rights, childbirth, infanticide and ecology remain as relevant, if not more pressing, today. Reading these words written by women a lifetime ago has really refuelled my passion to make change in the world. I’ve dog eared so many pages it would make any librarian weep – but there’s a lot to reread so forgive me. I also note that you can pick up copies via Amazon for as little as 18p – check it out now.

EAT

Blue cheese and roast beef toastie – we discovered this on the specials board of The Larder Cafe, in Buckingham, which in of itself is a real find (farmhouse plated breakfasts – cor!). Lush – especially with their fresh mint homemade potato salad – but we reckon you could knock this one up at home too.

LEARN

Are you a creative soul who wishes that your artistic exploits formed more of your working life? You really need to make a start with Meg Kissack’s That Hummingbird Life – this amazing website is chock full of leaning resources, pro tables, an amazing podcast (which I have often harped on about via Twitter!). If you want to take things a step further Meg, positivity superhero and talent excavator, also offers one to one mentoring and courses. Bullshit free rebel rousing? What’s not to love.