Time and Time and Time and Time

Time is a funny thing. Bits of it move far, far too fast, and great long swathes of it are mudthick and sloooow and exhausting. At half seven this evening I was itching for it to be evening and dark so I could get to bed because I’m so completely knackered, but now it’s approaching ten and I’m not sure where the last three hours went, but I was going to be sleeping by now. Some of the time was spent fighting irritably with washing that didn’t want to be the shape it was when it went in the machine and I think quite a lot of it was spent scouring my painfully disorganised bookshelves for Victoria Coren’s memoir (For Richer, For Poorer – it’s brilliant, even though I really have never understood poker at all) in the hope of reading a few celebratory chapters before succumbing to glorious sleep. None of it was spent hoovering, which was my major goal for the evening.

It’s been an odd couple of weeks, which have cleverly encapsulated just about every feeling I’ve ever had about anything and anyone, save the very best and very worst, but certainly all the ones in between, relating to just about every different area there is in my life. This in itself is exhausting, but combine that with all the lengthy working hours and a few early mornings that were, even for me, an avid fan of the early morning, just too damn early, and you have a fairly frazzled me. Sometimes, frazzled is a good look for me. There’s a lot less overthinking going on in my brain, and I tend to smile more and get more done. But I also am not always completely there. That might be a good thing. The main point is, it’s quite confusing at the end of the day, indeed, the week, because it’s hard to understand what was when and where and why and how, and to even start to remember all the things I was meaning to do.

I’m not a brilliant list person. Shopping lists, sure. To-do lists? The trouble is, I make a to-do list, and it takes so much effort and attention that I find myself feeling that, in the very act of writing it down, I have actually done the thing. It’s not very clever. One of the things on my list for a long time was to update this blog, and indeed to update all my other blogs. I’ve managed a couple, but the important businessy ones have been neglected. At this point I’ve also realised that the cup of tea I meant to make about two hours ago when I was first going to write this blog never made it out of the kettle and into the cup. Clearly, it’s sleeping time.

Mostly, this is a placeholder from a very happy, very confused, very allthefeelings me. Still here, doing stuff, eating coconut oil from the jar and trying to jedi mind trick the tea out of the kettle, into the cup, and onto my bedside table. *concentrates*

 

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Watching Yourself Fail

It’s a horrible thing.

The thing you think about when you’re trying to calmly drink your coffee and watch The West Wing, and you realise you’ll never, ever, be as awesome as C.J. Cregg. You’ll be lucky to be 5% as awesome in your entire life as C.J. Cregg.

The thing you think about when you’re about to pay for something in a shop, and the assistant asks you “How are you today?” and you open your mouth to reply and say “Fine, good, yes, ” but your brain is capslocking I JUST SUCK I’M SO SORRY PLEASE HELP because it’s had a little flashback to that horrible thing.

Failing.

It’s such a strange word these days, is failing. It can be epic, comedic, brave, brilliant, and pitiful. But the real failure happens in the mind of the failee, the repeat-play, the billions of interconnected, miserable strands of story that weave and knot themselves into that one awful moment where you look around you and realise that you are, right here, right now, not just not doing what you’d hoped to be doing, not just not projecting who you wanted to be, but that you are actually, inside and out, not the person you thought you were.

At worst, you don’t think you’re going to fail. You don’t do anything you know, 100%, is going to fail. And if you do, it’s so something else will succeed. No, you do things – write a book, ask someone out, pitch your dreams, get dressed in the morning – either without hope or agenda because you must, because it’s Tuesday, because you can, or you do them to get somewhere. Learn something, Be something. Move forwards.

I’ve spent ten years of my life thinking I was moving forwards in a very specific sense. I did it because I could. I did it because I was learning. It was hard. I didn’t earn any money. I did have a lot of time. Time to read and write and learn, and to earn what little I could from strange, strange side projects that came and went like the tide, leaving me washed up and exhausted, but glad to have seen the sea (metaphors are weirder in the morning, huh?).

It didn’t work out. It hasn’t worked out for years. I should’ve seen it. Should’ve called it. You can start to see those strands here, in these words. Thoughts and regrets and misery and panic, if I’d done this back in 2007, if I knew what I know now, if I’d tried harder with this, taken that trip, gone for that job…it’s all in there.

It’s taken about nine months (as so many things do) to kick out of that amassed failure. To take steps to move, to try again, to go, as it happens, home, and as that happens, to my childhood home, which is not the cute east wing of our sprawling Surrey mansion, no, it’s my crammed, dusty, 5ft 8″ square old room, and I’m 5ft 8.5″ so, yeah, and yes, I’m an only child so I have ~issues and entitlement and massive, massive privilege in a certain sense, because hell, it’s just me, and my parents are amazing, wonderful people. But, a hideous situation because it just doesn’t work. My parents are old, they’re settled for the first time in their lives, they’re pretty happy, which they weren’t when I was growing up. I am actively spoiling everything they worked for, everything they’ve struggled for. I never wanted to be this…selfish. It’s why I left home at 18, it’s why I didn’t come back any of the times things were at their worst, it’s why I wake up every morning swimming in my own failure, and it’s why there’s a huge clock ticking in my brain every moment I’m here, get. out. get. on. keep. moving. it’s pretty tiring.

I was supposed to be great. Not objectively. Probably at something. I have attributes. I have odd attributes, sure, but there are things I am brilliant at. They’re strange things. Planning. Strategising. Criticising. Advising. I can be wicked enthusiastic, driven, dedicated. I can see things, fix things, think not just outside the box, but outside the whole sodding system. I can’t sell myself though, much as this paragraph might look like I’m trying to.

I had a job interview last week. I used to be so damn good at job interviews. I loved interviews. I got every job I applied for, for years, whether I wanted it or not, whether I should’ve got it or not. I was just so sure that I would be worthwhile. I could convince anyone to take a chance on me.

So last week I sat there and tried to answer standard questions and all I could see whilst I was doing it was a murky flood of misery and anger and missed years and missed opportunities and I was not prepared, not at all, for all those feelings. I watched myself fail to get a job I’m not, tbh, sure I ought to have had, because I couldn’t do what I used to be so good at doing, pulling myself together and being honest and explaining why I could do things and being right about that. I started out that interview thinking of myself as well-dressed and bright and full of possibility, like someone who was in control of themselves and was going somewhere, was taking the right steps…and I finished up with a bright smile and a handshake on the outside, as my insides dived into a bucket of woe.

I look at the last ten years and I can brightside it wonderfully, I can, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in so many ways and I am grateful, I am, but I don’t compare. It’s not that I envy my friends’ careers (although I do, from time to time, whilst acknowledging that I could never accomplish them myself), but that I have so much mess going on here, I don’t know how to explain it, I don’t know how to…get rid of it so that I can get on. I don’t know who or what I turned into, but it is not the girl I wanted to be. So I tried to take the leap. I jumped off a high thing, and I’m in mid-air, trying to straighten everything out at once, trying to find/make money so I can try to find/make space to find/make myself.

The failing keeps repeating around my brain, kicking my heart and pulling on my nerves, stamping on my chest and whispering in the middle of nothing, are you really this stupid? I am.

I did a lot of things for a long time for the right reasons, and I have come out of that time in one piece, yes, just about, but I left something behind and I need it back.

I am here, at home, trying again not because it is my only option, but because it is everything, everything I want. I am trying to make Plan A work, from nothing. I started with Plan C, went onto Plan B, and they were all pretty grim in the long run so here I am, going for Plan A, following my heart, doing all I can to bend this tiny corner of the universe into the shape I really, desperately want it to be. I have lived more of my life for other people than I can even convey or admit to almost anyone, and for the last month I have been working incredibly hard on the inside to live some of it back for myself.

This was supposed to be a vague blog, more non-disclosure, something that didn’t look so very, very typical and grim, and yes, I’m still vague on the important details, the things that make me into a whole story and not a miserable statistic because I have to be, because they’re not my details, but they are the explanation. I don’t look good from the outside.

The failure, though, the flashbacks and circularity of falling feelings, the web of missing parts and the way I never went for the things I needed, that doesn’t look good from the inside, either.

On the plus side, I can’t give up. It’s all too far in, now, and what I want, what I could have, with the confluence of just a couple of other things, with just a few more hours, days, weeks of trying, writing, working, being better, trying harder, digging up all the dirt inside myself and throwing it behind me, it’s too good. I know what my prize looks like. As much as the failure is pawing all around me, the carrot of dreams (yep, yep) is shiny and bright and just there, right there, so close.

So here’s hoping that in the next interview, the next transaction with another human, the next chance I get to move forwards, I am better prepared to be myself. It is much, much more pleasant to watch yourself succeed.

“I’m Sorry You’re Upset” and other ways to patronise a colleague

I’m quite physical with my moods and feelings. I quite literally raise the temperature in a room by two degrees the moment I become irritated with the way a conversation is going. I don’t make unusual levels of effort to contain my facial expressions or moderate my body language, because, well, I’m busy thinking about the thing that’s provoking such a physical reaction, and I figure that it’s all part and parcel of human communication, seeing how someone feels about something, as much as discussing it and fixing it.

However. The problem I have is that, when things around me are difficult or not working, people treat me as if I were the only one experiencing this, as if the actual issue was my emotion, or feeling, or discomfort, rather than the problem itself.

Some of me wonders if this is because I’m a girl who, whilst not quite in manic-pixie-dream-girl land (I’m simply not skinny enough to take the lead in an emo-romantic comedy, for starters), is obviously a bit unusual, quite possibly has silly hair and ‘immature’ clothing on. Perhaps I don’t project ‘stereotypical businesswoman’. I understand that feelings are difficult, that it’s human nature to want to stop someone experiencing negative emotions from doing so, but, especially when we’re in a business situation, rather than a personal one, I’m tired of people asking me if I just need to ‘take a break’ or if I’m ‘a bit tired’.

No. Or perhaps, yes. It doesn’t matter. It isn’t about what I’m actually feeling. It’s about the fact that there is a clear problem, which needs to be fixed. This happens to me a lot, usually when I try to, quietly, professionally, sensibly, fix something. And when I talk about being emotional, I’m not talking about being in floods of tears, being incomprehensible, or being hysterical, simply about being visibly pissed off or even just explaining that you’re uncomfortable with/unable to work amidst a state of affairs.

And this is where it seems to get wider, and how I do or don’t look is maybe not as relevant as I’ve wondered. I’ve talked about this with a number of friends, all of whom are far more professional and experienced than I am, and they’ve all got experiences that match. Times when you’re visibly experiencing an emotion as a result of a problem, and colleagues/bosses choose to focus on your emotional response, rather than the problem itself.

There’s little more irritating than being patted on the head/back/arm and told to go and get a coffee when you genuinely need to address an issue about computer systems or server backup tapes or Jeff in the post room or whatever. That look of concern/understanding/fear that says, “I can see you’re in strife and all I want is to get the hell out of this conversation ASAP” but disregards everything that would actually get them out of that conversation quickly and effectively and, eh, cease the negative emotion! Namely: recognising and resolving the problem.

I’m not sure if this is an exclusively female problem, so don’t let me be reductionist here. I’ve also had this experience of having actual, business problems reduced to my personal emotional problems from both male colleagues, and male and female bosses in the past, so there’s that. I do think, though, that there is a level of perfectly normal emotion in younger women that is treated as needy and out of place, rather than symptomatic of an actual, fixable issue. If I think of male colleagues experiencing frustration with a clear issue, say, infinite misdirected telephone calls, and their equally tangible and emotional responses, it’s laughable to imagine the boss coming up to them and gently placing a hand on their shoulder and asking them if everything’s okay at home.

I’m not saying that there aren’t times at which it’s appropriate to be compassionate or kind in the workplace, and I realise that this sounds rather like I’m complaining about an abundance of that, which is unfortunate, but when you’re trying to do your job properly and the environment lets you down in an obvious, fixable way, the fact that I’ve been driven to a place of emotion does not mean that I am not capable of continuing to be my workplace self and sorting out that problem. Telling me you’re sorry is fine, but I don’t need an apology from someone whose fault it is not; I need an issue fixing. Asking me if I’m okay is a peculiar response to my need to have access to my email.

I’m always wary of talking about anything as common to any group of anyone, but I’m curious as to whether more people understand what I’m talking about.

Five Things People Don’t Tell You About…Being Busy.

Maybe you’re usually a busy person. Maybe you work a proper job and commute a fair way to and from it. Maybe you have small children, or care for someone, or run your own business and don’t recognise the ‘off’ switch, or one of any other possible human combinations.

Until last week, I didn’t really have anything to do in my day. That is to say, no-one told me to do anything, and I didn’t have anything demanding I do simple things like get dressed, or open my front door. Obviously this state of affairs didn’t also include someone rocking up and handing me money for nothing, but my time was my own, and I could ‘work’ (doesn’t matter how much of it I do, I really struggle to call writing ‘working’) whenever I felt like it, as much or as little as I wanted.

The downside of being an unagented writer is that one must spend precisely fifteen times the amount of time spent writing trying to work out how to get an agent. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion this isn’t the genuine truth of things, that I could, in fact, have got an agent if I’d only spent more time writing something saleable, but that’s another blog post for the future. All the same, it’s meant that any semblance of being busy – writing query letters, polishing words, researching who I should try and how – has been reasonably grim, and that therefore I have had no qualms about spending at least an hour out of every afternoon in the bath watching Hawaii Five-0 or Supernatural or The Good Wife (these are the three most perfect bathtime shows: fact). I have been perfectly able to fit in at least one workout per day, if not two. I have had no worries at all about spending two hours chopping vegetables and cooking them slowly and making something delicious and, perhaps, even nutritious.

But this week, this week I have suddenly become busy. I’ve realised I need more money quite urgently. I can’t take my time. I need to actually sell some writing, get myself out of my shell, and achieve some paid work. This need has coincided with the coming together of the plans for Meddle, a project I’ve been involved with for several months. Suddenly, I’m in charge of tweeting (follow the Twitter!), which also means learning how to use HootSuite (which is apparently an application so complex that it requires an entire ‘University’ course and an exam to be any cop at it) and organising all kinds of things to make this exciting creative conference not just possible, but properly awesome.

To be fair to my previous self, I also felt that, because I had no money and no specific demands on my time, I also couldn’t, y’know, go out. Anywhere. At all. For anything. So I’d just be here at home, doing not much.

And now I’m still here at home, but I’m doing all the things.

This is fun.

That’s thing #1.

1. If you’re lucky, being busy is fun.

Now, I’m not stupid. There have been other periods in my life (ill parent, ill partner, anything to do with ill at all, tax return season, deadline time) where being busy has not been fun. But, if you’re working on something you love (eh, this is the theme of our first Meddle!) being busy is actually really nice.

At no point do you spend five hours concocting serious opinions on Lindsey Lohan. There are things that actually need to be done, and one realises that having an opinion on Lindsey Lohan is not, contrary to some sections of the internet, important for me as a woman, or indeed for me as a human.  I don’t need to learn about stuff that doesn’t require my attention right now.

2. Time has lied to you.

Long hours become short. Every minute is a possibility. At no point do you become angry that you’ve got five minutes to stand in the middle of the room and do nothing. No, any five minutes that presents itself to you feels like a vast swathe of time in which you might make a telephone call, check your to-do list has been done, remember to take your glucosamine so your knees will stop crunching, see if there’s any food in the kitchen, that sort of thing.

3. Having a to-do list is fun.

No, really. It is. I know some people love them. Traditionally, I haven’t, but that’s probably because my day previously looked like this:

  1. Breakfast.
  2. Write.
  3. Query.
  4. Make dinner.
  5. Drink tea.
  6. Work out.
  7. Research more things about what I ought to be doing.
  8. Have a bath.

There are plenty of people who actually do this before the sun has even risen. And that was taking up my entire day. Today, on the other hand, I barely managed #1 and #4, and justified a list with at least twenty different items on it, at least three of which I still have to do tonight. Why I decided I ought to blog instead of having a bath and watching Supernatural, I’m still not entirely sure – perhaps I think this little corner of internet might, might be more use to me than swishing about in warm water for a while. (40 minutes of staring at Dean Winchester’s face is, though, definitely something that is missing from my life right now.)

But back to the list thing. I have spent YEARS accumulating notebooks, stationery, all sorts of things that I would never write my fiction on because, to be honest, I struggle to commit fiction to physical paper in case I need to delete all the things and do it again. But when it comes to lists of objectively important things? Those, those I can commit to paper. Those I can commit to really awesome Sanrio stationery and super, unbearably cute notepads that I bought from the incredible Korean stationery shop at home in London because I need to look at those things multiple times per day and they in themselves aren’t that interesting, but if they’re surrounded by a happy duck saying “Good friends put a smile on our faces!” and “I can fly! I am faster than the wind!” and the magnificent “Dreams create hope! Hope creates chance!” (who doesn’t love a motivational happy duck?) then suddenly they seem like MY DESTINY and everything is great.

4. It is genuinely possible to forget to eat.

I don’t think I’ve forgotten to eat…ever, really. I’ve never had any kind of job that didn’t leave me desperate for it to be lunchtime for me to have a break from my desk, as much as for some food, and when I didn’t have anything else I HAD to do, creating a decent plate of food out of beans (I can do a lot with beans) was as accomplished as the day got. But today I got to about four o’clock and wondered why I was suddenly so stupidly hungry, and, lo, that was because I had forgotten about lunch. I even had lunch, and it was even a nice lunch that I wanted to eat, but it was still there. Perhaps I’ll remember to eat it tomorrow? Bearing in mind that I am in the middle of a general nutritional overhaul, this is definitely the kind of thing I must prioritise.

5. It is actually quite difficult to stop being busy.

I’ve never really understood the concept of workaholic, although I’ve known a fair few of them. I don’t think I’m an inherently lazy person, or anything, I’ve just, always been quite good at saying, now it’s time to sit down and have a cup of tea and not do anything at the same time. Today I have caught myself chasing after my phone and laptop and constantly checking said to-do list for everything, whilst panicking that I’ve left something off it. Yesterday I didn’t manage to stop wondering about the things I had to do at all, and barely managed to cease business even for Parks & Rec (suddenly I have decided that show is wonderful: I tried to watch it last year, but it didn’t work…is it possible that its peculiar positioning on BBC4 has made it better?).

This inability to just stop does not a better person make. At half four this morning I found myself in a panic that I’d done a thing wrong, and tried to fix it for ages before forcing myself to acknowledge that my eyes were crossed and I was trying to work on a screen I couldn’t even see.

Sometimes, it’s time to not be busy.

But that time is not right now.

I’ve got at least three things left to do on that list, like I said. And I really ought to work out. And maybe even find a minute to look at Dean Winchester’s face. Tch. See you later!