Day 7: and the beat goes on #40daysto40

I realise that over the last few days I’ve been emphasising mental health – this time in September is always a little tricksy. I thought I’d share some thoughts on music. As a (sort of) ex-musician (I’m classically vocally trained and can play a couple of instruments, but I haven’t really done anything with it!), music keeps me going. I need music in my life. It helps my mood, it helps me work at different paces (thoughtful lyrics, twinkly solo piano pieces arpeggiac heavy for concentration, high energy house music to make me type faster), it can make me dance (stand back, folks, I still flail!). I still have singles, mix tapes, and albums on CD and cassettes (although no machine to play the latter on).

If I’m feeling like crap and need a boost then I stick this playlist on random:

It’s a mix tape from me to you – feel free to skip tracks as I add to this from time to time. I make no apologies for the addition of seriously cheesy pop. (I never said that I was cool!)

I wonder how we’ll be listening to music over the next forty years. . .

Day 6: on not being able to find the words #40daysto40

It has been seven years, well, it will be seven years at 14:07 BST. Today is the day you were stillborn. I would write you a poem if I could. I am struggling to find the words. I still think about you every single day. If I were still in Stockport, I could visit where you’re buried, give you once again a small token: an autumn leaf, one with bright colours – perhaps a Japanese maple – with neon greens, sunshine yellow, firey red.

Sometimes, still, when I’m in the most unlikely of places, I’ll see a piece of clothing, or a soft toy with big plastic baby eyes. I’ll think of what could have been. And then there are silent tears, in T K Maxx, or in a supermarket aisle next to a selection of tee-shirts or flannel bigs. I’m sorry. I just cannot seem to think poetically any more. And I will think of you today in the words that I have. I mourn the words I don’t have yet. I will remember you.

Day 5: wandering and wondering #40daysto40

Oxford, 2006: Feeling unworthy. Tired all the time. More down than up. Overdrawn, heading deeper into the red. Overweight and gaining no matter how far I cycled. Trying to do all the things, then not being able to get out of bed nor open overdue bills. Although I didn’t have a name for it at the time: I was depressed, completely burned out. My doctor at the time, rather than throw antidepressants at me, prescribed: getting out ‘into nature’ and going for lots of walks (plus, consider changing job). Then he gave me a copy of The Guardian newspaper. . . Walking: along the Isis to Iffley lock avoiding vicious looking geese, squidging through Port Meadow, walking near ‘The Kidneys’, cycling to the various college parks – sneaking in and picnicking next to heavily scented and bee busy flowerbeds. Swimming in the canal near Donny Bridge, in the river during full moon. Boating adventures with ‘borrowed’ canoes near Magdalen college.

Todmorden, 2018: Still overweight, still slightly skint, but so much happier.

Sunday walk: through Buckley wood and around The Ridge, headed – almost vertically! – up towards Woodfield top, following country roads with whimsical sounding names: Doghouse Lane, Parkin Lane, Sourhall Lane.

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Descending to Gorpley Clough and following the slightly busy Bacup Road. Then, following the brook as if backwards and against the course.

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Through Gorpley Woods (deemed ancient woodlands).

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Up to Gorpley reservoir and the vista. Windblown and walking along the shallow wall of the reservoir – admiring the meld of late Victorian engineering, the human-shaped landscapes, the geological formation of the hills.

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Gathering leftover pieces of fleece to felt, the sheep gently munching and slightly inquisitive.

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Then home again via a pint and some chips! It reminded me that when I can – time and back willing – walking helps clear my head. Shared walking is even better.

Walking has helped me. Getting out into the woods and beyond does offer what author and naturalist Richard Mabey calls the ‘nature cure’. I think emerging oneself in wildlife is helpful but, for me, it’s not quite a panacea. (Sometimes I can’t walk as my lower back won’t let me. Sporadic sciatica, not bad enough for prescription drugs and never for ignoring without the addition of over-the-counter painkillers and some light stretching.)

Hopefully the next forty years, back and health willing, there will be more walks, more green, more lanes to tread, hills to climb and wildlife to meet.

Day 2: let’s get the heavy stuff over with #40daysto40

It’s still raining today, more vertical than diagonal today. The back garden is slowly turning into a marsh. I wonder whether Calderdale will turn into a giant lake with its own Nessie myths. I’m feeling rounded, fleshy, the feeling that I’m gathering hibernation weight for what could be a long winter ahead.

Let’s get the heavy stuff over with, this post comes with a bit of a content note: it will be about body image, about weight, about that feeling when you feel like you don’t fit. About fat. About perceptions of fat. About trying to control fat in questionable ways.

I have always been overweight. Even at my thinnest I had a soft peach belly roll that pushed against the size 10 jeans I’d borrowed from a friend and just about managed to squeeze into with shallow breaths and a sense of shame. That shame. That bloody shame from those who don’t matter, or the shame that has come from two generations of women ashamed of their bodies. Taking supplements, starving, being sick to fight the flab, to be considered, perhaps (whisper it) sexy.

I tried to fight back against learned behaviour. I did my best to question the crappy images fed into my head from the TV and make-up promotion heavy magazines aimed at young women. I tried to ignore the ribs and rounded orbs of Eva Herzigová looking down from those 90s roadside Wonderbra adverts. In my early twenties, I got my belly button pierced, I (sort of) embraced the curves on the good days. And I wrote: poems, feminist poems about ‘getting grief from a lettuce leaf’, a news article about posing naked for a charity calendar – modesty protected by three cardboard bees Penned a performance poem about not giving a toss about body shape and embracing body hair (performed with some serious beer courage). I ended a relationship with someone who made me feel awful and like the worst person who dragged herself across the surface of the earth.

And yet. And yet. And yet.

The familiar feeling, the fat shaming, the magazines located in what I call the ‘Self Hate’ section of newsagencies. (You know the ones: the magazines where one week they’re celebrating curvy celebrities, the next pointing out the stretch marks, every single line of cellulite, expressing mock concern and barely concealed disgust.)

Of course, it’s all rubbish; it’s about being healthy (and hopefully happy) whatever the size of your thighs. As I enter into my fifth decade, I am hoping that I care less about how I look and more about who I am, how my actions affect others, how I can speak out and listen and champion others who may feel similar.

And as this sign puts it:

how to get a bikini body for summer: 1. put a bikini on your body 2. stop giving a shit about what others think

Image from: https://boldomatic.com/p/LXJTNQ/how-to-get-a-bikini-body-for-summer-1-put-a-bikini-on-your-body-2-stop-giving-a

 

(I’d add a 3 which is it’s no-one else’s flipping business what you’re wearing! Whether it’s tankini or mankini!)

Day 1: taking stock #40daysto40

The rain is diagonal at the moment. It’s lashing, smashing, splashing it down onto the concrete pavings of the back garden. Soaked up by the newly planted lawn, an attempt to prevent runoff, a meagre gesture towards flood mitigation.

Apple tree in the rain, with the remains of the fence the last storm took out.

Apple tree in the rain, with the remains of the fence that the last storm took out.

In 40 days time, I will be 40. I thought it might be worth taking stock of the last decade, plus lob a load of random other thoughts out in this blog, my little corner of the internet. (Hello reader, thanks for reading!)

I was ecstatic to leave my twenties; I was quite miserable in my late twenties. I embraced entering the thirties with open arms and heart. So, entering my fifth decade comes with a little poignancy, the feeling of certain things coming to an end but the positive feeling that there are potential adventures ahead.

So with a vague countdown, here are some life stats (for what it’s worth)! Over the last decade:

  • I have moved house four times
  • I have completed two university courses (PGCE and MA) and about to complete the third (and final?!) one
  • I have had two jobs (one of which I honestly loved) and a fair few freelance/temporary contracted opportunities
  • I have co-authored a book, and have had several poems published. I am now not scared to call myself a writer (I was reticent for a long time)
  • I know a little more about botany and wildlife identification but am always learning
  • I gained four stone (70 pounds / about 32kg), lost four stone, and then re-gained two stone (35 pounds / about 16kg), in terms of ongoing fun with my weight (ah, the ongoing, and pointless, battle with my body image)
  •  I adopted three felines in a new quest to become the ultimate cat woman.
  • I have had the great fortune to travel around the world to: Hong Kong (via a looong stopover in Doha airport), Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Alicante, Rojales, Benijofar, Mercia, Torrevieja, Valencia, Paris (twice, not quite by choice), Bordeaux, Toulouse, Andorra (like a big outdoors duty free shop!), Barcelona, Cartegena, Bilbao, Oviedo, Spokane, Moscow (in Idaho), Chicago, New York City (twice – NYC kind of has my heart), New Jersey, Corfu, Copenhagen (twice, I love the city!), and Malmö. Plus wonderful trips around the UK (fun fact: I’ve now nipped to various places in every single county in England) and Ireland. The earth is so interesting, and I’m constantly astonished by the fact that I will never see all of it. And that’s OK; I’ll do my best to see as much as I can while trying to tread as lightly as I can. (Several of my travels were by train and boat, however, not all of them. My carbon footprint has expanded over this decade.)
  • I have done more things on my own which has become less scary as I get older but I’m aware of my place in the world and of my own privileges. (Or, at least, try to ensure that I’m more self-aware!)
  • I have made more friends which I’m completely blessed with, and have had the joy of working with fantastic colleagues
  • But I have experienced life-changing loss and the deaths of my step-grandfather and my granddad
  • Yet I am always learning.

Over the next forty days – not promising every day though because I don’t need that kind of pressure piled on myself – I will try to throw out some other thoughts, writing and photographs in the run-up to forty.

Oh, Jenbee, don’t be a clot…

The needle slips into the vein in the crook of my right arm, a pinching sensation, then there’s nothing until, when flicked accidentally, the pain is like the needle: small, slim, silver, sharp. I had a blood test on Wednesday and now I am waiting for the results. This is not a new phenomenon for me but this time, I thought, that I would write about it. I thought that maybe someone might find it useful if they’re going through something similar.* Besides, I love a good pun and ‘clot’ is thick with possibilities, platelets, and plasma.

I hate having the blood, or any other fluid, taken out of me physically or verbally. And, since 2011, after my Branwen was stillborn**, I’ve had quite a bit of blood – not gallons here, obviously, but certainly millilitres – taken and tested. Then taken and tested some more. Then, after a document was somehow lost in the ether between two hospitals less than 10 miles apart, taken and tested again. I’ve had cardiolipin tests, lupus tests, various other tests in the key of the thyroid. I was initially diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, but this was later retracted by one doctor who did so because she wasn’t sure, another doctor – about a year later – more or less stated that I was a hypochondriac*** and perhaps I’d be better off on antidepressants.

Back to last Wednesday: the pastel blue consulting room, Charlotte the nurse, the mini bloodletting, and Charlotte’s conversation/diversion tactic with tales of rescued kittens. Three vials of type O+ sat in the tray, each stoppered with a different coloured top – yellow and white – to be packaged up, sent to the lab, and scrutinised. With a typed note on what to look for: tests on thyroid function complete with a load of acronyms and numbers that floated into then out of my brain (TSH, TT4 I think) plus seeking out whether there’s any urea in my blood (mmm yummy, possibly checking kidney function). I make a weak joke about sending some of it to Porton Down to check my red stuff for any biohazard.

I have so many unanswered questions as to why I get cold easily, why I put on weight just by looking at chocolate bars, why I’m often tired (although this could be a B12 deficiency), why my hair and skin are dry – I’m prone to eczema – and brittle as autumn leaves, why my blood pressure is low and why my heart rate is more of a laid-back hippie than I am. On WhatsApp, I tell my mate Michelle about adventures with weird sporadic mini mood swings and that, once again, I’ve had a rummage around some online advice.

At the risk of sounding like your mum, is Googling symptoms a good idea? You don’t want to fall down some gloomy rabbit hole. 

No, I reassure her, honest I promise. I am using a combination of ThyroidUK, WebMD (with shovel of salt), having a re-read of the NHS blurb, and having a peek at some of the science papers via university login. Michelle gave me a good idea, though, I thought: ‘why not, let’s see what happens when you type the following into Google, for a Gloomgle list’. This is what appeared when I began a sentence with ‘what happens when your thyroid”:

  • is high
  • is low
  • is removed
  • dies
  • is overactive
  • stops working
  • is too high
  • levels are too low
  • shuts off
  • is off

What a list! Like poetry isn’t it?! So far, so nearly William Carlos Williams good. In a rush of macabre curiosity, I went there with the “dies” search. *Shudder* In conclusion, Gloomgling is a bad idea, kids, don’t do it. Back away from that gloomy rabbit hole and the digital lagomorph of information doom.

Anyway, I have tried to compartmentalise all this for a long time now (SEVEN YEARS!!); I’m trying to finish my corrections in the midst of some heavy global political shenanigans, a dollop of the usual self-doubt, and slight, occasionally moderate family turmoil. Any possible superhero superclotting ability will, at least, require some mental reckoning with and I’m trying to ready myself for some sort of result yielding either some answers or, more likely, yet another round of questions. (On the plus side, ‘antiphospholipid’ would be a corker of a word to get on the board in Scrabble.)

Notes

* I’m not a health blogger and this is not a health blog. I am not a thyroid nor phlebotomy specialist. I am not a venipuncture expert although ‘venipuncture’ is a great word. Normal caveats apply – if you’re concerned about having similar symptoms, or are undergoing treatment and things are not going well, please contact your local, trusted health professional.

** Click this hyperlink to elsewhere on the WildWrites site for some explanation and links to good advice and support.

*** Nope, sorry lad but you were wrong: I love universal healthcare but don’t love going to the doctor’s and sitting in the waiting room and feeling all the feelings for those there who are sicker than I am and staring at a dog-eared, five-year-old Women’s Weekly and feeling like sometimes I have to justify my visit; I hate pain; I’m crap at taking and remembering to take pills; I’m not a massive fan of hospitals – big fan of the care and kindness that is given to others, many members of staff work tirelessly and, honestly, the food isn’t too bad in some of them (eating a la carte a la ward in Stepping Hill Hospital? Well then, madam, do try the vegetable soup), but would rather avoid, thanks.

“take a look around / and look up way to the sky”

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Once again it’s been a little while, and now it is more or less autumn.

It’s been nearly four months post-PhD viva. I’m ploughing on with the corrections, still, although I’m feeling quite tired. After the viva, I was absolutely exhausted and feeling somewhat intellectually battered. I don’t think that I realised just how tired and emotionally drained I was. The end of May and most of June felt like I was trying to swim through hot treacle while wearing steel-toe-capped boots. Then there was some existential dread sprinkled on top of that: “what now?”, “who the heck am I?”, “oh pants have I deskilled myself?!”.  And the crushing self-doubt, oh my word the self-doubt has been truly horrible.

Alongside this, were several rejections from academic job applications. It takes a long time to fill these forms in, including the inevitable timing out of online forms, the cutting and pasting of information from Word Doc to tiny, digital square. The trying to big oneself up when one isn’t feeling particularly brilliant. The first few job applications took me at least a working day to complete – updating and tailoring an academic CV, the tailoring of the job statement, matching the skills/experience to hit the job specification/s, checking in with referees (no, not this type), tweaking the cover letter, checking for (inevitable) typos. And then nothing. Nothing or a flurry of “no”s. And, to be honest, it’s been pretty deflating. I love teaching – I’m a good teacher, I get excellent feedback, it’s one of the few skills that I am confident about – and I’m a pretty good researcher too. The precarious, and competitive routes, into academia are properly draining. People have discussed this — precarity, early career research, post-doc opportunities or lack thereof etc. — more eloquently: here and here and here and here.

Anyway, the need to financially contribute to the household has, as expected, now outweighed the amount of free-ish time that I’m willing to spend on applying into the void for an academic role, or arts and grants funding (not ruling this out, though, for future collaborative projects). Further, my own creative and critical writing is being neglected during Project Post-Doc, and if I’m not making time for that — my main area of research and art making — then what’s the point?! At least, recently, I have managed to squeeze a short story out and send it into the wild (more on this if anything comes of it).

Long story short:  I needed a job. I applied for and was fortunate enough to have been offered a temporary, part-time job at a local library. I am excited about this as, for me, I believe that it will be fulfilling, allowing me to work within a community setting and work with a small team of specialists while surrounded by books. What’s not to love?! I’m hoping too that this will give me a little stability and allow me to organise my time more effectively. The downside with the writing/editing corrections (apart from the weird, gnawing fatigue I still have) is that my time has felt a bit ‘baggy’ and I have lacked the routine that I managed to build up last summer (and in 2016 — the best time for writing and possibly the bit where I felt happiest in my PhD, before domestic things went a little pear-shaped).

Short pause: No idea if these words are interesting, or whether any of this is helpful for anyone’s eyes but if one person is enjoying this random set of thoughts then job’s a good ‘un. And thanks for reading thus far.

In other news: this week I’ve got another doctor’s appointment to check on the thing I’ve been fobbed off by various members of the medical profession since 2011 (another blog post, another rant, another time). I’m also running a creative writing session on Thursday which will be ace. AND, at some point, make some sort of plans or party thing to celebrate/commiserate the looming close of my 30s. As for a 2018 Goals update, for what it’s worth:

Goals 1 & 2 (finish PhD, get job) – well, bar corrections Goal 1 more or less done. Goal 2 is somewhat tangentially related to Goal 1. Project Post-Doc moves slowly.

Goal 3 (make stuff) – I’ve really enjoyed the crafty hobbies I’ve cultivated this year. I’m currently working on a review make for Minerva Crafts, Mercy Schwisow’s design the Beatrix Potter scarf/stole (once finished, this will be gifted). Since February, I’ve made two Grainline Studio Scout tees (one of which I wore to my viva) and a Sew Over It Lizzie skirt (it has pockets!). I’ve knitted five pairs of socks and have one currently on the go; socks are ideal portable projects for commuting. I’ve nearly finished knitting a Tin Can Knits child’s Flax sweater for my friends’ newborn. Before the end of the year, I want to have completed the Jennifer Steinglass designed Fern & Feather sweater and another Mina Phillips Dragon’s Teeth hat (it’s for me so definitely with the pompom).

Goal 4 (nurture friendships) – still ongoing. Sorry friends.

Goal 5 (make music) – don’t think this is going to happen this year, particularly if it becomes a “Big Deal”. I get terrible stage fright (performance anxiety?!) so don’t want to push this. Maybe next year. . .

Goal 6 (try not to be depressed) – ah, ha, haha, hahahahahahahahahahahaaaaarrrgh.

No idea when I’m next going to update here – I did have a plan to post on the run up to my fortieth birthday but it depends on how the corrections are going. There will, however, be a proper professional, academic, and workshops website coming with the relaunch of jenbee.me.uk either towards the end of this year or the beginning of next year. As previously mentioned, this space, this tiny corner of the internet, will move towards incorporating more crafting, cooking, stories, sporadic life stuff. Just in case I don’t update here for a while, have a lovely autumn, thanks for reading, and be kind.

Music inspiration:

Blind Melon, ‘Change’, Blind Melon

The inevitably titled “London Calling” blog post

I have a confession to make: I like London.

I’ve been told, in the past, that I’m not supposed to like London; I’m a ‘Northerner’ and, therefore, supposed to be genetically programmed to dislike the City. Somewhere deep down in our ‘Northern’ DNA we automatically expect Hogarthian scenes of depravity, vice, and eighteenth-century decay. Or perhaps we’re expected to be humbled ‘oo, it’s SO BIG’. Or we expect to be deafened by yahboorah buybuysell types in 80s pinstripes and/or ginormous Dynasty shoulder pads. Or be out-cooled by Shoreditch hipsters in chocolatey coloured corduroy turn-ups and no socks. Or succumb to being swamped, taking a tumble while the busybusy-outta-my-way-scum-I’m-too-important-for-you-crowds of the Tube rush hour crush you, and your dusty, barely used Oyster card, into the grubby tiling.

Outdated tropes. Outdated views. Outdated modes of thinking. (Although the latter situation did happen to me in Euston once. In a slightly less hyperbolic way.)

Anyway. I went to London on Monday night for a Tuesday symposium – a lovely Greek word used for being a bit fancy in depicting ‘a meeting or conference’. I’ve written more sensibly about the symposium on the Writing Rochdale blog.

The rest of this blog is given to whimsical memories that are possibly not completely faithful nor verifiable. . .

An image of Waterloo Bridge at sunset in May

‘Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, rolling into the night?’

London is one of those places where I feel like I’ve lived many other lives in this one life. I love walking through the City. In 2001, before I had read any Iain Sinclair, I had read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway several times – a character whose life was miles away from my own – and enjoyed Clarissa’s London perambulations, her internal ponderings of home, flowers, and the roadsides, ‘beauty everywhere’ (apologies if I’ve misquoted). A boyfriend-of-the-time lived in the City and yes, there are the nostalgic memories: skipping down myriad streets until lost and using maps in bus stop to relocate ourselves; kneeling in the wet grass to watch bumblebees in lavender in one of the many parks – I can’t recall which one; getting covered in the anti-climb paint on the Cutty Sark. That first-time-feeling of falling in love, and then strangely beginning to love the built environments: the concrete weirdness of Elephant and Castle, the ginnels near Aldwych, brutalism meeting medieval buildings – like two people who probably shouldn’t be friends but somehow are. Walking over Vauxhall bridge, following the changes of the worlds above the pavement. Curving around the Oval, a diversion through Kennington Park. Then the fast food fug – a chorus of grease, cheese, meat, the sharp note of warmed tomatoes – on the way to Camberwell.

Fourteen years, or so, ago, well after Camberwell, the clichéd and inevitable, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

No, let’s have an alternative London memory, another version of a life. Thirteen, or so, years ago – the handful of years of squats, campaign camps, joss sticks – three of us went to an all-night club. Walking from the south, accompanied with an outgoing sparkly haze that gave an aura to everything. Early sunlight bouncing off the painful red of a phone box outside the bright Portland stone of St. Paul’s Cathedral. ‘Dome’ became a word with bass resonance, pursed lips, inexplicable humour: duh-oh-meh. The perfection of a spider’s web at 6am, pear-shaped dewdrops filled with a refracted aspect of the cathedral in miniature.  Then, a small breeze whipped up a cone of white polystyrene pellets, pure magic.

What a strange thing it is to be alive, to move from place to place and to somehow take a piece of each place with you – even if only half-remembered. Mismatched memories. A patchwork of the physical and emotional. Wear it like a gown.

Or, go back further, thirty-three, or so, years ago, and I’m smaller with a blunt-cut fringe. My family and I have walked over Tower Bridge, heading towards the Beefeaters (why they weren’t eating steak?), the ravens, and the Tower. A stranger had chased after us; I had dropped one of my yellow security blankets on the bridge. I took it back with a shy ‘thank you’. There’s a photograph from that day, taken outside the gates of Buckingham Palace my face is part-hidden in the blankets. They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace. Christopher Robin went down with AliceWe were ‘Northern Tourists’, swinging hands, adhering to the visitor rites: the sights of the sites. Before the Shard. Before the London Eye. Welcome to the London Eye. Before the second Ring of Steel.

Seventeen, or so, years later, after Camberwell, back in London in 2018: watching the sunset from Waterloo Bridge and the sun dip behind the buildings. A walk along South Bank towards Blackfriars, witnessing a Waterloo Sunset was incidental; a gorgeous coincidence. Talking about possible futures (what to do post-PhD, where to go post-Brexit), wondering whether my long-suffering Doc Martens would survive a random attempt at mudlarking (possibly not), then offering to take a picture of a lad and his girlfriend (he would rather it be a Selfie). I wonder where will they be in years, or so, later? Crossing over the metal backbone that forms the Millenium Bridge – a cyberpunk throwback to The Matrix. Walking up towards St. Paul’s and finding it inevitably closed. Outside the building, a newly married couple took cheeky photos with a handful of well-dressed friends as if to pretend that’s where they were wed. The bride’s veil was the length of a black cab, a sea froth of chiffon. Past the couple, heading towards St Martin’s In the Fields, a bin cart rattles past, over the speed limit, bumping out a violent guff of bin juice, the scene now somewhat malodorous. But it’s OK, it’s expected; it’s the sort of thing that brings one back to the present, away from the trap of nostalgia. This ancient city with its ghosts, its memories, its palimpsestic mappings, its quotidian stories, its ups and downs, its human cruelties and opportunities, its dirt and glamour, and its literary depictions.

Yes, I like London, and it’s woven into my many lives.