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It’s awful when you’ve been in a flap for a while and you know you’ve been unintentionally rude to people – or what some people might define as rude.

Today I tried to make a list of everything that’s bothering me – things I haven’t dealt with because of feeling bogged down, intense and overwhelmed.

Top of my list – and keeping me awake at night – is all my unanswered emails, texts, facebook messages, requests, tweets, blog comments, phonecalls, etc. Things I perhaps have been expected to say or do for others and I haven’t. There are so many I don’t know where to start. The fact that my head gets so in a whirl sometimes that I have to ignore people makes me seem incredibly rude. I’m just not always sure I have an answer, or the right words. Silence seems better than blathering, stumbling or saying something I’ll regret. You only have to see how little creative writing I’ve done recently whilst juggling a sick child, a flash-fiction anthology and the final weeks of my degree to see how in a whirl I’ve been.

Being a perfectionist means I get my head in a zone – like a forcefield – that’s difficult to slide in and out of because I want to concentrate on what I’m doing. I can’t let something else take over my thoughts in case I can’t get back into what it is I am trying to do so well. If the phone rings when I am writing a story, I feel as if answering it will break that story. Something else that demands my brain and uses it in a different way takes me off the productive or the creative track and onto the problem-solving track or the sociable track which somehow seems faster and more powerful. The made-up, fake societal expectations of appearances and of being a parent and running a home can take over your life completely and I suppose I fear that constantly. Expectation is sucky. Expected behaviour, expected ways of doing things, and the assumptions that what is right for one person must be right for others exhausts me. Social constructs about what is right, and the done thing in general also often involve the word ‘polite’.

I turn down favours because I know I can’t repay them – I’m only too aware that there’s always someone ready to label you a freeloader if you don’t reciprocate.
I see or hear comments from others when they haven’t received the desired outcome from people: ‘I did a, b, c for them, therefore I expect x, y, z in return.’
When someone requires a reaction from me my solution is always to shut my eyes tight, hold my breath and wait until I’m thinking clearly. Or thinking in the right direction. So this often results in long silences.

It’s hard to explain the brain direction/track thing, the anxiety thing, the perfectionist thing, the overwhelmed thing because it’s just who I am and to me it feels normal. I expect very little from other people and when I find other useless, unreliable people who simply like me for who I am, we always get on very well. There’s a tiny handful of people who I hardly ever see or speak to and it doesn’t matter. When you care about someone you shouldn’t expect anything of them or from them, should you?

And yet people do and the expectation weighs heavily on me.

I was watching bees in the garden yesterday. Different bees liked different plants. The honeybees, with the higher pitched whiny buzz, liked the escalonia hedge and had a group-thing going on, the solitary orange-bummed bee liked hugging the chive flowers and humming in a low voice and the stripy bumble bees liked the apple blossom and they sounded almost angry if I got too close. And whatever bee was in the aquilegias was squeaking with delight! That they all had a different mission, different way of doing things, made a different noise and had different taste and yet they were still all bees made me think, we wouldn’t expect a bumblebee to suddenly start hanging out with honey bees and making honey. He’d struggle with the social expectations for starters

So I guess what I’m saying is that for those of us who are solitary bees squeaking away inside an aquilegia flower, trying to behave like a honeybee is exhausting. We do try because it is expected of us but it’s not easy and it’s not natural. I’m sorry if I seem rude but I’m not actually being rude. I’m actually working quite hard to bee (groan) something I’m not a lot of the time.

Patriotism is Green and Thoughtful and Free

I stared at a retweet on Twitter just now: “Streets of #Braunton look busy and patriotic in Red, White and Blue #Olympictorchrelay #NDevon”

I thought about this for a while. I’m not a flag-waver, I never have been and all this fuss in my local area for something which costs ridiculous, RIDICULOUS amounts of money is making me cross on many many levels.
There are people who simply cannot afford to survive day-to-day living costs and the government is telling them to keep tightening their belts – that there is no money – and yet we can afford this???

*&%$+?”*±§\ !

Our youngest daughter’s school are walking to watch the Olympic torch (well, one of 8,000 torches!) pass through the area today. I love the idea of taking kids on a walk out of school with a picnic to take part in something with kids from other schools. Bring on integration and fun and getting outdoors more often – Hooray!
But for this?
I’m also not impressed by the attention the Queen’s jubilee is getting. More expense, more pomp, more hype, more flag-waving. More ‘little people looking up to big people’ mentality. Can’t people see what’s happening here?! The have and the have nots divide has just exploded. I thought we were trying to undo that inequality in this country. We’re very quick to criticise other countries for it.

So I don’t like the Olympic torch relay.
I don’t like the Queen’s jubilee.
I don’t like flag-waving.
Does this make me unpatriotic, I thought?

I looked at the word ‘patriotic’. I looked at the dictionary definition. I thought about my country, my life, my loves and I decided I am most certainly not unpatriotic. Far from it.

I love the coastline and birdsong and badgers and butterflies and foxcubs and bees and gardens and countryside of our country. I love our scraggly little misshapen, tea-drinking island plonked in the ocean. I support our farmers, our fishermen, our schools, our NHS, our wildlife, our eclectic culture. I am so patriotic it hurts when I see any of those things suffering.

I think all the forced pomp and ceremony is distracting – at the moment it feels deliberately so, but I can completely understand people’s need to get excited about something, to be positive about something, to feel part of something – especially right now. One of the most wonderful experiences of my life was when I took part in a combined schools concert in the Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple as a teenager. The feeling of being part of something big and public was so wonderful that when the first notes were playing I felt as if my heart was bursting out of my mouth. That feeling is unbeatable and unforgetable and we should have opportunites to feel like that more often instead of stapling children to their desks. I just think the costs of all the ceremony in 2012 outweigh the benefits way and above anything patriotic. I think it is all false. And I am sad. Because I love people and worry for them and because I want to protect what’s real. Because I am patriotic not because I am not.

I’ve just read this: The Olympics represents the triumph of that class of people who used to obey orders without question, and have ascended to giving orders in turn. In consequence, there is order, hierarchy, “stand behind that there barrier”, and a belief that what really matters about your nation is that some bloke can suspend his education for years and at the end of it jump three inches further than a fellow from Papua New Guinea on here: Olympic Torch Route, day 3 – Philip Hensher explains why he is not feeling the wow factor as the flame makes a ‘historic’ visit to Exeter. He’s an associate professor of Creative Writing at Exeter University, don’t cha know, and he’s just got himself a new fan. 🙂


It was the flit of the butterfly’s wings that changed everything.

When she saw it, perched perfectly still on a nettle, it was dark – like her.
She liked that.
Quiet and dark.
And alone.
Folded up against the world.
She drew her elbows into her sides and watched its antennae twitch. ‘We’re the same – you and me.’

But then it lowered its wings and she saw that she was wrong. It showed off its rich red-orange and its bright purple flashes and powder-blue-eyed stare.
In a multi-coloured flash it took off.
She watched the creature’s papery flight lift and bounce and then disappear it; losing itself in a medley of yellow dots, orange silk hearts, green spikes, purple tongues and bright pink spears. Light petals fluttered, heavy pompom heads swung like upturned pendulums, and grasses waved. The colours altered as the wildflowers danced and bobbed in the sunlight. How inspiring nature was to have evolved a creature that adapted so cleverly to its habitat.

Sitting cross-legged and gazing out across the grasses and flowerheads, she tried to match long-unused names with remembered images: the red admiral, the tortoiseshell, the painted lady… but she didn’t know what this one was. Butterfly spotting had remained in her childhood with so many other ephemeral memories.

She wanted to take a photo. One day she would take the perfect wildflower meadow photo: sky, flowers and one other element: a bee, a bird, a distant hill, a butterfly perhaps…

One day…

She looked down at the unopened corner-shop-vodka, with the wonky label, hammocked in the lap of her long summer skirt and squeezed the pills in her fist until her palm begged to be relieved of the pain. Then she stood up – letting the bottle drop to the ground and walked back to the hospital, shaking out the pills like seeds along the path.

They’d said his eyelids had fluttered.
There was still hope.

A Timely Quote

I’m sharing a quote I’ve just scraped from one of my OU books. It’s an amusing paradox because although it’s in my course book, I can’t follow its advice. In a way I have to do the opposite and write about a lot of literary criticism (some of which I’m not making sense of and I’m not sure I want to).

It’s from a letter written by Philip K. Dick in 1981 where he responds to a
critical article (about one of his own novels) he has been sent and confesses that he finds it unreadable.

He writes:

‘Criticism, to be valuable, must make sense and must relate in some way to that which it analyses … [E]verything bad about academic literary criticism is found in this article; it is dull, it is pointless, and its only purpose – if indeed it has a purpose – is to exhibit the education of its author, who, I feel, really should read fewer books and, instead, play frisbie in a park somewhere with some little kids (and I might take that advice myself, in view of my recent writings).

Perhaps we are all spending too much time thinking and reading and writing when we should be out in the sun.’

Dick, 1981

(From The Popular and the Canonical, an A300 coursebook)

Unfortunately,  I now have to spend too much time reading and thinking and writing.

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