OMG and OMG...

posted on: Thursday, 26 March 2015

An eventful time right now, in our little household. We hurtle towards the Spring, all feeling rather thankful that we got through winter. The things I see on the news make my heart ache with half empathy, half horror. It's hard to know what to make of these modern times. How it seems to be about being in the right (or wrong) place at the right time.

All we can do is make what we have matter and to resist the urge to dwell on the silly, little things and instead see the wider picture. Live the life.

Meanwhile, I found out this week that I have been accepted onto the writing degree course, so I will start in September! Now that it has become a reality, I look back on recent months and feel pleased that I found myself a new place to dwell. Funnily enough, I have at the same time been approached to do some consulting work in my previous profession (I quite like having two distinct professions; the before and the after). The cut and thrust of business is always there in the background and I could feel myself being drawn back into it. But I realised that I am different now. I don't want to scale up another karmic debt in trying to find loopholes and ways to do things that shave off money and time. I'd rather spend my time constructing my first novel in my head. I'll do the work for sure, as that is what pays right now, but I was interested in my own reluctance to step back into my old ways.

There's a shroud on our house since the departure of Zayn Malik from 'One Direction'; only those with teenage daughters need empathise. I am trying hard to. I can have only respect for someone who walks away to consider their own karmic debt. So fair enough.

Things are gathering some pace with the house plans - I galvanise myself for the prospect of more building work. At least this phase is more renovation than boring utilities. I get to choose stuff. I am lobbying currently with my long-suffering husband for a pale pink sofa. This will be my only departure from the white, white, white theme. He's open to it. I figure: we have so 'done' beige, I don't like purple, blue is too cold, likewise grey...why not dusty pink?! I shall sit with it.

I finally collect my re-worked engagement ring today after months at the jewellers. It broke on New Year's Eve, so it feels like a long absence from my left hand. I am desperate to get it back.

We go next week to see family in Dubai. Thank goodness for that. I need a fix of family as much as I need a fix of sun. My sister in laws and their common-sense approach to life will be there in abundance and I need some of that. It's strange; you lean on family in ways you don't appreciate until they've gone away. And as for the idea of wearing a bikini after the aforementioned winter spell - OMG and OMG. Shocker!

What else? I kinda wish I was as cool as Isabel Marant who just sounds so chilled in this article.

I read The Glass Castle; the poverty and neglect described in it made my wince. My husband gave me a late birthday present - a first edition of my favourite ever book, 'Couples' by John Updike. I was kinda blown away. He's good like that :-)

I got closer to the deer who live in the fields near my house than ever before, and didn't have my phone on me to capture it. Ironic.

Lucky in so many ways.

How much do you shop?

posted on: Monday, 23 March 2015

I find myself drawn to woeful articles written about compulsive shoppers. A life's fortune spent on something she already had in her possession. I'm interested in the idea of shopping as an addiction. I furtively watch TV programmes about hoarders who keep every newspaper and every tin can, until their houses are colossal vessels of unnecessary stuff. I observe the Great British Public out on a Saturday afternoon, participating in the national pastime of commerce. I read blog after blog, of the fashion blogger ilk, featuring more clothes than anyone can know what to do with. The excess of shopping fascinates me; we acquire and then we acquire more. It is not as if any item of clothing 'wears out', instead we replace it or donate it and 'get something new' to feed this insatiable appetite.

I am right there with the best of them.

I have a complex relationship with shopping, one which I have written about before. Even as a child I loved it and see now in my children, the love of purchasing; not going home empty-handed. If I had subconsciously tried to dissuade them from having the same shopping impulses as me, I failed.

I look back at my childhood, which was spent shuttling between divorced parents and see that shopping undoubtedly represented a release, a treat, a thing associated with pleasure.

But shopping = spending and so is inextricably linked to how much money you have, or I suppose how much money you want to spend. As time has marched on and my socio-economic status has gone up from that of a beleaguered student to that of a fully fledged member of a wage-earning society, the spend has increased. Although there is still a ceiling, a point at which I think something costs too much for me to afford it. This becomes an increasingly abstract point as the expenditure of a family holiday or school fees or a new car skew the balance.

So how much do you shop? And what for? The essential or the luxury? And how much does your shopping habit get influenced by others? How affected are you by Pinterest or magazine articles?

My wardrobe quakes with replicated contents. I noticed a few years ago that I started buying the same thing over and over again; grey jumpers, the 'perfect' jean, Chelsea boots in varying colours. But ostensibly all the same. I tried to kerb this habit or at least shop much, much less for much, much more desirable items. Cashmere instead of lambswool. Leather instead of plastic etc.

Now I no longer earn money, my habits have changed again. I get the guilts in the knowledge that a pay-check will not come at the end of the month and wipe the slate clean. I return things that are not essential. I constantly monitor whether something has been sufficiently worn. I toy with selling on e-bay. I make platitudes to myself that maybe my daughter will be happy to inherit the more outlandish items that have caught my eye; the dresses that I have no where to wear but with which I can't part.

Shopping, to me, is the pursuit of style. Much is written about style and why we aspire to it. How some just have it, whereas others don't. Shopping is the acquisition of items that enable style to happen. An external human expression. The endless possibilities of a 'good outfit day'. I do watch those who don't partake in this constant pursuit. I have the desire to wear sweatpants every day vs getting properly dressed. I secretly long to do the school run in my pyjamas and Uggs, without being ironic. But I don't. I show up dressed in varying degrees of the formulaic Mummy uniform and I go about my day...wondering what to shop for next. First World problems...

image via crush cul de sac

What I really want for them...

posted on: Sunday, 22 March 2015

Anecdotally, when asked the question: 'what would you like for your children?' most parents will retort with unfailing consistency: 'Happiness'. With a capital 'H'. Of course. But increasingly as this parenting journey continues (I am 13 years 10 months in so far) I find that it is far more complex than simply wanting happiness for them.

I want resilience. I want them to be able to ride a storm. I want them to come up smiling after they get mud in their eye; literally and metaphorically. I want them to be able to see that bad times pass and good times arrive, almost imperceptibly and when they are least expecting it.

I want them to be able to chill and relax and not sweat the small stuff.

I want them to feel confidence. I want them to be able to walk into a room and not quake at the prospect of oh-so-many people to speak to. I want them to feel that they are the best version of themselves. I want them to look in the mirror and like what they see. I want them to get the feeling that they nailed it when they did their best, even if not everyone agrees.

I want humility. I want grace and resonance and the ability to look at the bigger picture.

I want ease for them. I don't want life to be too hard. But it can be a little bit hard so that they develop perspective.

I want for them to appreciate the way the world works, but not to distrust it.

I want for them to see value in everyone; male or female. I want them to know what feminism is.

I want them to be honest and true.

I want them to need me even when they are fully grown and living their own lives; safe in the knowledge that I will still do their washing and make their favourite dinner every now and then (as my Mum still does for me).

I want to like the people they choose as their friends, their confidantes, their spouses.

What I don't want is greed. Or over-reaching ambition that eclipses everything else. Or unkindness. Or for them to abandon everything that we raised them to believe in.

But of course all of these attributes weigh heavy and they may not exhibit all (or any) of them.

Parenting, as it goes on, is about accepting the children you have. My husband made the point, after last week's challenging interlude in the raising of a teenager daughter, that she is the product of nature AND nurture. What we didn't give her in genetics, we gave her in upbringing. The proverbial buck stops with us. And in that vein I have to say, I observe some parenting styles, the 'laissez faire' ones that come to pass as the teenager becomes too much of a handful and the response is: let go, let it be. Do less. As for me, I do the opposite; the harder it gets, the harder I work at it. I want to instill the important values when I have the chance.

And so we keep trying and keep talking and hope that what we are doing is working. But also that we are not over-egging the pudding; becoming those parents who do too much, try too hard. If ever balance were required, it's now.

I look to those who went before me, parents who have come out the other side and have raised functioning adults and say: I applaud you! It is not easy.

painting by jessica cooper

The power of suggestion...

posted on: Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Midweek arrives and I grapple with whether I should go running. I have a love/hate relationship with running. I love the idea of it; usually late at night when I can't actually go for a run, but imagine how nice it will feel and how I will get that familiar ache afterwards, of muscles expended. This usually coincides with some time browsing Pinterest or Instagram where I see some fit person looking motivated. But then the morning comes, I wake and think: maybe I won't run. I go through this internal monologue every time 'shall I? shan't I?' until I force myself to commit. Go for a run Lou.

The browsing of images though - the Pinterest boards, tumblrs and Instagram feeds - they are suggestive; pervasive even. The sphere of influence that I am subject to every time I swipe refresh on my phone is unreal, when you stop and think about it. And it's not media in the traditional sense; these are not all brands vying for my loyalty and my money, these are friends and acquaintances, people I am associated with or know of. Some are celebrities or ambassadors for whatever it is they do.

I am a self-confessed Pinterest freak - and actually would say that of all social media environments, it is one that harbours (as far as I can see) the least hate. On the whole it's good stuff and that is why I like it. Some of it saccharine sweet, for sure. But on the whole good and honest.

I've written before about the more subversive side of social media sites - the subterranean world of Instagram that isn't talked about, but is very much there. I see that the positive influences I look at can be just as powerful as the negative images that others look at. I occasionally stalk Instagram like some sort of bizarre reverse-troll. If I see something bad and negative - an account devoted to self harm or self-loathing - I report them! Honestly, you couldn't stand on a street corner showing off and glorifying pictures of suicide without being moved on, why should it be tolerated on line? Making things change in the world is all about many people taking action. If everyone did the same thing, maybe these accounts with names like 'wrecked mind' or 'slowly drowning' would close down. Maybe young girls wouldn't feel compelled to attract thousands of followers every day. Impressionable kids who don't appreciate the perversion of clicking 'like' to a picture that illustrates deep suffering.

So my idea is this: surround yourself with positive stuff. Good images. Happy people. When it gets hard don't get into the spiral of self-doubt. Get instead some resilient strategy to feel better. Walk the dog. Call a friend. Watch trashy, light-hearted TV. Go for a run. Anything but what lurks underneath and on line. Make the suggestive image a good one, not a bad one.

I know I sound rant-y. I know it. But the enormity of this access-all-areas Internet mess that we have created is overwhelming! There is always a counter-argument that for all the badness on the web, there is also good. There is kindness and camaraderie. There is finding your tribe. There is blogging and all the goodness that comes from it. I completely accept that the very thing I enjoy and exploit, in writing this, is also the subject of deep worry and concern for me. Bittersweet.

Surely the rule of thumb should be: focus on the good? Ditch the bad...

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