Tag Archives: friendship

The power of connection

Recently, my trips to London have been more about connection than ever before. I mean, they always are in a way – catching up with family or friends, seeing the people I miss since we made the move down to Devon.

But the last couple of visits – as with many of my recent encounters with friends – have meant more than that.

The conversations I have shared have been on a different level. Driven at first by growing incredulity about 2016 as its carnage unfolded, and now by hope that 2017 might just be a time for change, we have discussed our fears about the world and revealed our plans to combat them in whatever small way we can.

Sometimes this has meant continuing conversations started online, or dusting off shared values that have lain dormant for years. And sometimes tentative comments about the state of things have led to entirely new connections being revealed, the realisation that people with whom I became friends mainly through circumstance in fact have way more in common with me than I ever dreamed.

Yesterday began with the donning of pussyhats with one of my bestest buddies. We made our way to Grosvenor Square to join the women (and men, and children) marching in protest at Trump’s inauguration, marching to say that we do not agree with the values that he represents and in fact find them reprehensible, marching to say that we will not stay silent in a world where those values are being normalised through his rise to power, and the rise of right wing divisiveness all over the world.

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Ours was a quiet and familiar connection in the midst of the crowd, a togetherness that we used to enjoy on a daily basis and now happens way too infrequently, a standing side by side with the values we know we share without even having to talk about them. The words we did exchange spoke of trying desperately to overcome the sense of helplessness that simmered beneath our convictions – thoughts of what on earth we and all of the people we stood shoulder to shoulder with were supposed to actually do to make a difference once the march was over.

I’m still mulling that, but what came next strengthened my resolution afresh to make sure it was something, and something good.

Even before the march was scheduled I had planned to be in London yesterday. We had to duck out of it early, not having anticipated quite how well supported it was going to be, in order to arrive almost on time for a memorial service.

The person we were remembering would not have minded that we were a little late. In fact were she still around she would undoubtedly have been marching by our side.

We were celebrating the life of a mentor, colleague and friend we lost far too early at the end of last summer: the indomitable Morlette Lindsay, a force of nature unsurpassed by anyone I have met before or since, the woman who not only taught me how to follow my heart and be the teacher I wanted to be but taught me to stand up for what I believed in and knew was right even if (especially if) it felt like the whole world was telling me I was wrong. Sitting in St Bride’s church yesterday afternoon, and afterwards at the pub, it was clear that she had touched the souls of every single person there in similar ways.

I hope she had some inkling of how important she was to me. I’m not sure I ever came out and told her, and I regret that – but I can make sure that her spirit lives on in my refusal to stand by and watch whilst our humanity gets twisted out of shape, and in the playing out of my determination to find a way to make things better.

I could have happily stayed in that pub, remembering Morlette and reconnecting with friends and colleagues who I have lost touch with over the years, for the rest of the evening, but my day was not done yet.

From there it was on to the West End, to meet old drama school buddies. These were friends who I got very drunk with the week before the EU referendum last June and realised that we were all fighting the slide towards a society driven by fear and hate in our own ways.

Yesterday we were headed to see one of our number perform in The Kite Runner at Wyndham’s Theatre. It was exciting to see him on such a significant stage, wonderful to see this story I had loved in book and film form brought to life through theatre – and humbling to be reminded how the narrative we are in the middle of right now has played out in so many different places and times before, and never with positive consequences.

Again the conversation turned to what we are supposed to do to stop this permutation of that narrative in its tracks, and the realisation hit that the things we can do will be different for all of us – and in fact all of us are working out our path to a better future even as we worry that it doesn’t exist.

From the actor bringing Khaled Hosseini’s powerful story to new audiences, to the translator embodying internationalism and connectedness with every new commission, to the sports journalist planning a move to current affairs in order to influence the way people engage with what’s going on in the world.

And the writer, trying to find a way to make my words mean something beyond the spilling onto the page of the thoughts inside my brain.

There is more we can all do – more we will do – but it is heartening to remember that in many ways the revolution has already begun.

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

We went to the most magical grotto today: having met one Santa on the train at the weekend this was another quite lovely experience.

The wait was longer than we expected, and the boys were bouncing off the walls by the time we got in. Watching them, though, transfixed by the fairytale forest and hanging on every word spoken by the youthful elves as they readied themselves to meet the man himself, was a powerful reminder of just how young and impressionable they are.

It is going to be a very special Christmas.

A tribe of writers

Did you know that there is no collective noun for writers?

I suppose it’s not so surprising, really, what with writing so often being a lonesome experience: sat with a notebook, or in front of a computer, or reading a novel, or lost in important imaginings.

But actually, it’s pretty hard staying focused on all that without a group of people around you that know what it’s all about.

Plenty of people have mulled over this question of what that group should be called: I quite like ‘an alliteration of writers’ – if only for how it sounds. Or a ‘hyperbole of writers’ – but maybe just because it’s one of my favourite words… For me, my group of writers is most definitely a tribe.

Mainly our interaction exists in this virtual world – we met through social media, and our blogs, and through the wonderful What I’m Writing community. I found it all a bit awkward at first: I realise meeting people online has been pretty standard for years now, and on a more personal level I don’t think I would ever have become reacquainted with the man who became my husband if it hadn’t been for Facebook. Still, though, it took me a while to get my head round the fact that these people who I knew only through their words, who I had never actually met in real life, could become my friends.

Turns out that was nonsense.

It is different, getting to know people online. But in a lot of ways it cuts through all the crap. Reading people’s blogs is like a little window into their souls, and much as it can feel strange sometimes to share perspectives on the world which might only come out in real life after hours of chat with people who are essentially strangers, it all becomes worthwhile when you find the words which dance around the same frequency as your own – and even more so when you meet the people who wrote them.

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When you end up with a lunch like the one we had on Saturday, which starts at 1pm and lasts into the evening, with eight creative and talented and opinionated and awesome women sat around a table sharing their thoughts on everything from politics to parenting to relationships to, of course, writing. When you realise that somehow by bonding over words of fiction you have happened upon a group of people who share a deep injustice at the state of the world and the determination to do something about it. When you accept that each one of them will do that differently, but that’s ok – just like we’re all going about this writing thing differently, and that’s ok too.

We spent ages dissecting the pros and cons of self-publishing and agents and independent presses, of aiming high versus getting your words out there, of writing what you want versus trying to shape your work for the market. And our conclusion? They’re all just different ways of doing things, and we all have different perceptions of the way that will work for us.

And that’s ok. And more than a little bit liberating.

I am so grateful for all of the amazing friends I have met during the different phases of my life so far, and to have come across this brilliant group of women now, just when I’m starting to own this current incarnation as a writer, feels almost too good to be true.

Because although writing is by its very definition a solitary pursuit, there is a strength in numbers that cannot fail to help when the self-doubt sets in. And after Saturday, it feels more than that: we protect each other, sure, but we inspire each other too – and egg each other on to pursue our own impossible dreams.

The world has felt like an increasingly scary place to be this year, and whilst part of my response to that has been reaching out to old friends and finding with relief that they are very much still there, the fissures that have opened up in our society have made me doubt whether my place within it is quite as secure as I once thought it was. Having focused for a long time on carving my own path, confident to choose the road less travelled if that is the one that calls to me, I am feeling the need for back-up.

And here, through my writing tribe, whether they are tapping away at a keyboard hundreds of miles away or sharing just one more glass of wine across the table as day turns into night, I might just have found it.

Writing Bubble

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

It’s hard, learning to make friends.

We spent the weekend with one of my oldest and bestest and her two kids, the elder of whom is weeks younger than Arthur. He was so excited to see her.

Things weren’t always entirely smooth. There were moments when Arthur’s experimental interactions crossed the boundaries, moments when I wanted just to sweep him up and replace him with a child who was perfectly socialised and knew not ever to push or hit or kick.

Looking at this image – of all the images I have as memories of the weekend – it would be easy to forget that it had not all been smiles. But it is important to remember, I think, what a huge amount of subconscious negotiating is going on when our little people are learning to share their world with others.

Ultimately, though, they were learning to be friends, these two. By the end of the weekend Arthur cared enough for her opinion not to want to make her sad or cross. When they went to say goodbye, he gave her a little kiss.

And when she kissed him back he visibly melted.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Solitude

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For a long time my greatest fear was being alone.

I’m not sure when it started. Possibly around the time that I stopped believing in the fairies at the bottom of my garden and realised how mean people could be.

Often I would feel lonely even in a crowd. Especially then.

It took me forever to shake that gnawing teenage angst that no-one really understood me – or even wanted to. I had friends. Some really great friends, I can see that now. But at the time my paranoia wouldn’t let me appreciate them as much as I should have.

As you can probably imagine this didn’t bode terribly well for functional relationships. In my twenties I pinballed between variously inappropriate men: some lovely, some not so lovely, but none the right person to fill that chasm in my soul, however much I tried to convince myself that they were.

I began to think I should maybe look elsewhere, and decided to give internet dating a shot. It wasn’t really my thing, but I convinced myself I was being old-fashioned. I knew an increasing number of people who had found their soul-mate online after all.

One evening, after a couple of glasses of wine, I settled down to fill in the (rather lengthy) questionnaire which would give me access to one of these internet dating sites. As I made my way through the questions, responding as honestly as I could, I couldn’t help but begin to feel excited. This site was building such a detailed profile of me that it promised to only show up ‘deeply compatible’ potential partners. Whatever idiosyncrasies I feared I may have, well, they would have them too! No more trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, so to speak. This was it: my chance to find the perfect partner.

And then the results came back.

They started by saying they were very sorry, that this didn’t happen often. Well, ever actually.

But in their database of over three million people they did not, in fact, have a match for me.

This really makes me giggle when I think about it now. And it did then too, once I’d got over the initial shock. No wonder I’d had trouble finding love, had never been able to shake that niggling feeling of being alone – there simply wasn’t anyone out there who I was compatible with!

I decided it was time to make peace with myself, to accept my wonderful uniqueness for what it was, to begin to revel in being solitary rather than being afraid of it.

It didn’t last long. A couple of months later I found my future husband (sort of online as it happens) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Whilst I think I had finally got to a place where I was happy on my own, it’s hard to put into words how wonderful it was – and still is – to have found the person I’d been looking for. We have only been together for five years, but in that time we’ve shared so many adventures.

Now that we’ve embarked on this great adventure of parenthood together I’ve pretty much forgotten what it feels like to be alone. And the little person who has shared almost every minute with me since his conception almost three years ago does not care that I’m a bit peculiar. In fact he probably loves me even more because of it.

I admit that nowadays there are even times when I crave a bit of solitude.

But then I look back at how far I’ve come, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am finally happy in my skin. And whilst it might now be a moot point, I am no longer afraid of being alone.

 

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A breath of fresh air and friendship

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We haven’t got out enough so far this year. There have been plenty of reasons why: the weather’s been pretty pants, sniffly colds have never been very far away, and on top of that there is of course the small matter of a novel that needs editing…

So when this week we had friends to visit and the sun came out to greet them we breathed a sigh of relief and headed out into the fresh air.

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There’s nothing quite like hanging out with old friends to rejuvenate the soul. Emily and I were partners in crime when we were sixteen, and I feel so lucky to still have her in my life twenty years later.

She is about to embark on an uber exciting house-building project with her family, so they began their stay at my folks’ place to get some inspiration from the major renovation they’ve just completed. Whilst we were there we made the most of the beautiful countryside: feeding the chickens, seeking out snowdrops, and exploring the deep dark woods.

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Arthur spent a while at one particular tree, scratching away with a stick. I asked what he was doing and he said ‘writing’ (silly). When I asked what he was writing he said ‘the story of mummy and daddy’. Nothing like the great outdoors for a bit of inspiration.

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After twenty four hours in the beautiful South Hams we headed back to Brixham. There had been much talk of penguins, so there was nothing for it really but to head for Living Coasts. We finally got to try out the new year-round ferry, and spent a day in beautiful sunshine in Torquay.

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We had a bit of a stroll (and the obligatory fish and chips) and then headed to our awesome coastal zoo. The toddlers were in their element here, and it was so lovely to watch them explore and bond.

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On their last day we stayed closer to home. It was properly freezing, but we made it to Breakwater beach for some bracing pebble throwing.

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Though our friends were only here for three days, I feel like we’ve crammed at least a month’s worth of adventures into that time. And on top of that I’ve been reminded how lucky we are to live where we do: we will most definitely be getting out more in February, whatever else the world throws at us.

 

My word of the week this week is friendship.

The Reading Residence

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

The lost art of letter writing

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I had several very late nights last week. Not just because I was on a mission to get myself organised before the craziness of Christmas sets in, but because of what I found in the process.

I have always been a bit (a lot) of a hoarder. This is generally something I chastise myself for – resulting as it does in me being surrounded by piles and piles of stuff that I have no idea what to do with. But this week, as I sat on the floor surrounded by these pieces of paper dating back twenty five years and more, I was very glad that I find it so hard to throw anything away.

There were letters from friends I have not seen for many years, and from those who I still count amongst my very best. From boys I was once in love with, or who were once in love with me. From my brothers, who it is hard to believe were ever so little, and from older family members who it is hard to believe are not around any more.

They were written on pages torn from files, on embossed notecards, on the backs of envelopes, on handmade paper, and collectively they transported me back to a very different time. A time before email. A time before text messages. A time before Facebook. Or WhatsApp. Or Twitter.

There are so many ways I keep in touch with people now – and probably if there weren’t I would find it hard to keep in touch with as many people as I do. But there is something incredibly touching about those fading and dog-eared pieces of paper, about the effort of writing out a message by hand, of finding a stamp and an envelope and a postbox.

Very few of the letters contained anything of much import. And yet in their banalities and ramblings they said more than a carefully considered few lines on a special occasion ever could. And often, hidden in the clutter of the everyday, there were flashes of the souls of those who wrote, of what I meant to them – and them to me.

I often look back on my later childhood and teenage years with feelings of sadness and regret. I struggled with depression and anxiety – the degree to which came across starkly in the tortured diaries I also discovered. But my memories of that – blurred themselves by my reluctance to fully transport myself back to the waves of misery I felt at the time – have clearly clouded the reality of the very good times I had in between, and the very, very good friends I had around me. How they put up with me I’ll never know; I fear my demons made me incredibly selfish at times.

As well as this quiet self-reflection, this archive from my past got me thinking about something else too. Letters are going to be very important in my third novel. It was a letter from that world, a particularly significant one, which was initially going to form the basis of this post. But that was before I found my stash. And what those letters have reminded me is how different communication was in life before the internet.

I’m looking forward to reading and rereading the letters that were sent to me so many years ago as I continue to unpick the lives of my main characters. So much of their friendship – and their love story – will unfold as they put pen to paper. The waiting for their letters to be read and answered, the delicious anticipation when an envelope addressed with familiar handwriting falls through the door, the peeling open of that envelope and becoming immersed in that contents for a few precious moments: all that will need to find its way into my novel.

And I think also it needs to find its way back into my life. I have so many friends and family who are not as geographically close as I would like them to be, and whilst the internet has brought with it the wonderful ability to keep up with what they’re doing with their days it will never replace the simplicity or the complexity of a letter.

So whilst I’m not normally one for new year’s resolutions, I can feel one simmering here – one that will mean that pile of letters from my past may still have the chance to grow.

 

Thank you to Sara over at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: a letter…

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