Talk clever to me...

posted on: Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Throwback nearly twenty years and I was in my early twenties and I had joined the company that I spent most of my (first) career with. I'd dabbled in publishing for a few years prior and realised I would never make any money nor write my book at the same time, so you could say I sold out to the corporate dollar. I joined a massive multinational household name company.

So it's maybe month two in to my new job, I have got to grips with the commute and the coffee machine, I am overwhelmed by the enormity of everything and how much there is to learn and how much money the company are making; no doubt, there's a buzz. There's a feeling I am part of something. They heap on responsibility early because I am keen and fresh and smart. I wear suits and feel clever in a way that I never have before: look at me I have a proper job.

So I am sitting in the corporate auditorium awaiting what was called a 'cascade' which is basically where the bosses bosses boss comes to tell you what the strategy is going to be and how we are all going to pull towards it in an inextricable force. I sit there, it's 1998 and think: I have arrived. A parade of executives stand up in front of us and talk, with very few prompts about the amazing stuff the company is doing. Occasionally a woman stands up. Women in senior positions were rare but the few were impressive. I was hooked, they seemed so different to the college lecturers I had at University. They wore expensive clothes and had fine leather briefcases and they were as good - actually better - than the men. They were funny and sharp and as my time there extended I had the privilege of working with many.

Writing a book was the farthest thing from my mind! I wrote emails and technical documents instead. In fact most of the people there were super-bright and it became my norm to sit next to contemporaries in meetings and feel the intellect spilling from them. People were paid to think about stuff and to work things out and interpret everything over and over. For a time it was great. Then life got complicated (husband, kids, home) and the company soured (cuts, failing results, clever people leaving to go somewhere where they are appreciated).

So fast forward fifteen years and I found myself struggling. As this blog is a testament to, it's possible to literally chart over time my struggles from dynamic working mother to slightly beaten, not-very-well working mother. And so I stopped and took some time out. Then I left completely. Then I dabbled and tried to work out what the hell I should do with my life - I like to refer to this time as 'The Wilderness Years'. Then I started a Masters in Creative Writing and here I am, a year in, a draft of my first novel done, edits pending.

Funny how it goes.

When I first stopped working the thing I missed the most was being around clever people. That's not to say there aren't some seriously clever people dotted around on the school run or on line but I noticed I didn't so often get dazzled by an erudite argument or a searing point. Clever, it seemed, did not find its place in my everyday. Or if it did it lurked and was hidden by its prevalent counterpart. Banality. Lots of banal conversation, more than I knew what to do with.

I started listening to Women's Hour - it's a British institution and without its pod casts I would be lost. There is nothing like it. Every episode is steeped in clever and most of all I like it when a clever woman talks about what she knows and I can sit back and listen and marvel. I have found it's much the same returning to further education. Academia is full of clever people and where I am studying now is no exception. I figure the best possible outcome would be to finish my Masters and therefore  my book, get it published, then be interviewed on Women's Hour...wouldn't that be nice?!!

The advisory...

posted on: Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Everyone is full of advice. I am, we all are. At college we were discussing protocols for working in our tutor group and the question was asked: are you really listening or are you just waiting for your turn to speak? I thought about this; I fear I am a culprit. I am listening, for sure, but I hear myself interrupting people to speak. I wonder if this is a housewife thing? The dog doesn't talk so I am in silence a fair amount of the time. I want to say something.

Isn't that what blogging is about? Having something to say?

I formulate a whole raft of theories about raising teenagers. Now that I have one I secretly consider myself expert. I narrowed it down. My most pertinent piece of advice is this: eat dinners with them. That's it. I would say that has been the single most crucial thing I have done as a parent since I have had a teen in the house.

I used to cook two meals; one for them and one for us later on. I then gradually realised that this sort of segregated eating pattern was odd - not to mention the tedium of cooking two meals, two times loading the dishwasher etc. I read that in a survey of happy and successful women the common denominator they reported was having experienced home-cooked family meals each night when growing up. At the time I read that I was working and had been known to give my kids porridge for dinner with chunks of apple as sprinkles. I thought to myself, it's time to do better. I have written about this before but honestly I, like many others, didn't really know how to cook. I could make a meal, sure, but I was not a culinary expert. Having children made me into one. Now people ask for my recipes. Now I hear my daughter's friends referring to meals I have made.  Now I cook for dinner parties like a real grown up. This makes me smile. Look how far I have come.

I cook meals for everyone every night. We have all sorts and sometimes it's a really eclectic mix of ingredients - a staple in our house is [add name of any vegetable] topped with finely chopped red onions and drizzled with sea salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar glaze. Can I just say balsamic vinegar glaze has rocked my world?

At these nightly meals we talk - and if conversation is not forthcoming then I ask what was the best thing in their day. They know we sit for at least half an hour and talk, food is served on the table, they help themselves and there are always two or three choices of side dishes. I don't plate it up for them. This means they linger and we talk and in that time span we get family time. I also get a captive audience in which to talk about the hard stuff. The things that I think are important. Increasingly I come to the conclusion that raising healthy kids (and by this I don't mean vegetable consumption I mean what's in their heads) is all about giving them a secure base on which to make decisions. This secure base can only come from reiteration and having boundaries and on making sure that they know they have room to breath but also that the buck stops somewhere. It's in these daily instalments that I can drip-feed all of the wisdom and sense that we might have accrued and they can make their own (better) choices from it. So there is it. Cook and eat and talk.

Spookily on my other wisdom about raising teens, I received an email from a very nice woman I met on corporate trip I attended with my husband. Turned out she had stumbled across an article I had written for Selfish Mother and contacted me to say: 'Is that you?' I said 'Yes! Oh and I'm writing a book if you like what I write!' All very cool.

Meanwhile, at the hairdresser today I was advised to go more blonde.

And at yoga I was advised that I was using my extremities to do too much of the work in my postures and I must use my core.

I'm sure that if my dog could speak he would advise me that rolling in fox shit is indeed a good idea and that is why he so regularly does it.

By the way, there is actually some great advice here from my friend Amanda on blogging and business.

And more than anything I advise myself to stop looking at clothes on line and to do something more useful like finish my college work. So that's what I should do...