Today I was brave

Today I took a spontaneous trip to London, to find a building in a part of the city that I’d never been to before. The building wasn’t boldly labelled and Google’s fancy maps only seemed to confuse me more. I had to ask directions.

The doorman took me to the lift, and then I was alone, travelling upwards.

The room I entered was filled with people I didn’t know talking to one another. Nobody knew me. I was merely a name on a list that was never referred to. I recognised a few people from the Internet – we all have people we stalk – but that just made them all the more intimidating. There was free beer.

This is not my sort of environment.

Yet, I’d decided it was what I wanted to do, that however terrified I might be, it was worth taking the risk.

But what did I fear? Looking a fool? Coming across as wholly naive?

The man whose talk I went to watch looked similarly nervous during his first slide, but he was talking about something he cared about, and when we really care it’s easier to push. Putting yourself out there, taking the risk is always a heart-thumping moment.

I went to London because I craved a look at a reality that’s a little different from my own. I wanted to put some concrete on a dream.

And because the best moments are heart-thumping moments. The fear is just growing pains.

Cutting my hair with the fabric scissors

By Posted on Location: 4min read

Last week I chopped seven inches off my hair. It took two snips of my largest fabric scissors.

But why?

Because, it’s just hair. 

Of course, I’m as self-conscious as any other woman in her mid twenties. I’m paranoid about weight, diet and remembering to do exercise just like anyone else.

From a financial perspective, my reasoning went like this… if I have £20, then I can pay for a haircut, which would make me look nicer? Or I can buy two books and spend a few hours curled up on the sofa reading. If you’re reading £20 and thinking ‘only £20’ you’re right. I’m definitely talking about the lower end of hair cut prices.

Most people I know routinely get their haircut. They use the same hairdresser, choose a similar style and pay the price. They’ve always done it, so they don’t take any time to ask why. A hair cut is a necessity. Isn’t it?

Choosing uglier hair is harder than booking an appointment. When a real hairdresser with talent cuts my hair, it looks wonderful. After all, I have a huge volume of long, thick, healthy hair.

But I want to own my choices – proactive choices based on my values and beliefs. I want to base my actions on thought.

Society’s expectations vs autonomous thinking

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, he describes this battle of balancing instinctual, inherited needs with the perceived expectations of society. In simpler terms, you need to work out how to be yourself whilst fitting in with society. Plus, try and be a positive contributor towards it.

All this requires, “a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not.”

To me, my haircut is of low importance. It has only a minor effect on my appearance. It’s true, I’m like anyone else who stares with envy at the photoshopped models. But once I get over the jealousy, I remember it’s chemicals and water-pollutants, hours of sitting in front of a mirror and some skill with a computer program. A haircut isn’t going to make me taller, thinner, prettier or happier.

Yet, I still fear being looked down upon, as if I am somehow uncouth. I have amazing hair. It’s the aspect of my appearance that instills open envy in others. In school I was told how wonderful it would look if I straightened it. I’ve been told to wear it down more often. I’ve been told to blow dry it. I’ve been told it’s amazing when curled. The possibilities of how amazing I could be if only I managed my hair better seem endless.

In the beginning

Not getting a professional haircut wasn’t the first step I’ve taken towards this neglect.

When I started buying conditioner, I bought it based on price per 100ml. Money was sacred.

It was quite a change from the luxurious conditioner that I grew up with – beautiful expensive bottles, decorated with exotic fruits and words like luscious and silky.

I love the smell. I love feeling how thick glossy and soft it makes my hair. I love long showers.

And then, I started reducing the conditioner I used. Nowadays I often don’t use it at all, despite washing my hair almost daily.

All small steps.

The hair cut

Whilst cutting my own hair might seem crazy, it wasn’t much of a risk. Before I cut it, it was twenty-six inches long. I took off 7 inches and what remains could be restyled and still considered long.

Building integrity

I’m grown-up and professional. Really. I’m sure that grown-up professional looking people don’t have hair chopped with fabric scissors.

At work, everyone else has beautiful, styled hair. In fact, so styled that I’m not sure what the natural hair colour is of almost half the women in the office. I see all this effort and yet, when I joke about my hair, I’m told that I’m not allowed to speak. That it’s unfair that I have such beautiful hair. Comments about split ends and thin hair follow.

I can tie my hair back and pretend, but I want to have integrity.

I don’t want to hide my choices, which is why I blog. Somehow it’s easier to speak through keyboard strokes. I’m giving you the choice of whether to react to my choices or not.

Back to the £20. I bought myself the Dalai Lama’s How to be compassionate – a handbook for creating inner peace and a happier world.

My word isn’t beauty; it’s kind. In the marathon of life, understanding kindness is going to make me happier than having prettier hair.

What do you do without thinking just because you’ve always done it?

On quidditch

By Posted on Location: 3min read

I’m stood at the edge the pitch terrified that any moment my little sister is going to be the one getting shunted into the ambulance that waits behind the goal line.

She’d say it’s a question of technique, if you and your opponent tackle well then you’re going to be fine. People get hurt when technique is bad. It’s why you’re not allowed to initiate contact from behind. Such behaviour would of course get you a red card.

It’s my sister who is on point. The person at the front of the formation of the team determined to win back that ball.

The guy with the ball is built like a hulk. My sister is 5ft3.

What ensues is terrifying. At a full sprint she throws herself into him. He staggers and stays upright. My sister bounces, rolls as if a stunt man on a James Bond film and gets back to her feet. Seconds later she’s at him again and he’s forced into getting rid of that ball rather than making a run for goal.

Sometimes they just go down. My sister neither gloats nor concerns herself with their ego. She’s already at the other end of the pitch with her mind set on the goals.

Of course, not all tackling is perfect. I’ve watched my sister charging forward, ball in hand, and get launched at from behind by a much taller chap. They both go down. The referee blows his whistle and the two of them stagger to their feet.

I breathe.

After checking this chap is alright, and assuring him that she’s fine, my little sister is shaking his hand with both of hers and consoling him on his disqualifying red card.

In fact, she shakes everyone’s hand, or gives them a hug, after every match. As does the rest of the team. This is a tribe of people who value each other.

It attracts all sorts of people. Some of the participants haven’t had a history of sporting prowess, something I can relate to, but here, amongst these people they’re wearing a team kit and despite being cherry faced and exhausted, they’re grinning.

They’re proud of themselves, proud of each other and proud of their sport.

A sport that I’ve been known to roll my eyes at.

Rolling your eyes at acceptance, and inclusive teamwork is ridiculous. Rolling your eyes at people helping each other become fitter and develop confidence within a safe, encouraging environment is ridiculous. Rolling your eyes just because these people chose their sport from a book that they loved and a story they are passionate about is ridiculous.

When I was younger I would tell my sister where it was and wasn’t acceptable to play pretend. She would look at me terribly confused and wonder why it was that one situation wasn’t suitable for playing Famous Five or something similar, but another place and time was acceptable. My mind would be racing wondering who would see, who would think us stupid or childish.

I never ran, because I would look stupid running. I never wanted to go to the gym, because I wouldn’t know what I was doing. I fear team sport, because I’ll just let someone down. Rolling my eyes is a defensive strike. I’m saying, your sport is silly, but what I’m feeling is a terrible fear because I can’t let my guard down like that.

I don’t know how.

But my little sister does. She’s at point, she’s got the whole team behind her and she knows it. She knows her job isn’t to get the ball herself, her job is to push, to fight and trust that there are two men poised behind her are ready to catch.

She hurtles towards a man twice her size and there’s no fear holding her back. She might be only 5ft3, but 5ft3 is all of enough when you know who you are.

I’m proud of her.

Not setting a new goal, but choosing a direction

There’s this whole new year thing coming up, all that evaluating life and setting new goals. It’s the sort of stuff I do obsessively anyway. I’m self-centred, overly introspective and often get lost in daydream about the bigger picture whilst being completely ignorant of what’s going on in front of me.

The Mother taught me that goals should be SMART. That is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. This was reiterated at work where my ability to point out floppy goals is seen as very useful. (Although we do screw up ‘timely’ on a regular basis.)

Anyway. My plan as such, and I pretty much always have a plan, is not to set another SMART goal. Nope. I’ve thought of a whole new aim that I’m very excited about.

You see I kept coming up against these blog posts that suggested that you should have a word for the year. I could have sworn I read one by Gretchen Rubin – but maybe it was someone else… Of course in Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert has a word for herself, and says cities have words. From her prison cell Rarasaur has a word.

So I thought I could have a word too.

But I don’t want a word that describes me. I’m obsessed enough thank you very much.

I’ve been pondering it, and I’ve decided on a simple word: ‘kind’.

Not because I’m unkind, but I know I can be a little difficult at times, and stubborn, and overly critical, or pushy, or grumpy. Or all the above all at once.

‘Kind’ isn’t a complicated concept. I ain’t going to forget it and it’s something I can try to be every day without too much hassle.

It’s up to you to determine if it works.

Hunting for Wally, ladybugs and a purpose

The desire to be something

Everybody wants to be something. Often that something isn’t well-defined. Sometimes it’s outright hazy.

Nobody wants to be nothing.

Being something is satisfying. It’s meaningful. It’s a reason for getting up in the morning, for your heart to gallop and your cheeks to flush. It’s an excuse for expressing yourself across the waves of the internet. It’s a reason to be the one to speak.

Not everyone wants to be the same something. My obsession might be your greatest bore. What’s your life-long quest and holy grail might be meaningless to me.

And then you want to be something more.

It doesn’t necessarily mean fame, it doesn’t mean changing a million, a thousand or even a hundred lives – although many do. It simply means that your life adds meaning to something somewhere, and then somewhere more. Always a little more.

In practice, being something worthy takes time. Meaning takes work to create. And patience.

A childhood dream

From when you’re a child playing dressing up it’s implied that you ought to know the name of your something. But most people don’t, and many who do change their mind.

In primary school I copied my best friend, the Noph. She wanted to be a vet.

In secondary school, in some sort of citizenship lesson, I was sat down in front of a survey on a computer screen and told I had to fill it in. The wise computer informed me I should be a technology teacher.

Aim higher.” The schools careers advisor wanted to push me. He told me to find out about being an academic. Professor Kate stood at the front of a lecture theatre talking symbols?

No, thank you.

The university careers advisor scratched his head and told me he couldn’t tell me what I wanted to be. He could tell me how to become many things. He could tell me how to get an internship. He could tell me how to get onto a Masters or a PhD course. He could tell me how to get a job in banking.

I know my something isn’t a physicist. But it used to be.

How to catch your something / How to find your purpose

I could see my something playing a game of Where’s Wally with me. Every time I thought I’d found it I’d turn the page and have to begin the search again.

Finding somethings, and finding love probably have a lot in common. When things ever get tricky with boys, the Noph throws me a piece of wisdom from a book we’ve both read (It’s not an exact quote as I don’t own the book, but wisdom isn’t dependent on exact phrasing).

Treat them like woodland creatures.

– Sarra Manning, Unsticky

I think it applies to men and my elusive sense of purpose equally. You have to stay alert. You have to keep watching. You have to be there to see it, but you have to be patient and you have to be gentle because it’s very easy to get carried away with ‘supposed to’, forget to listen and miss everything.

One purpose was never going to be enough for me. I’m hunting Wally’s whole family, not just Wally himself.

I don’t know how I’m going to change the world. I don’t know how I’ll describe my life when I reach 100. But all that fuss of feeling there should be a specific goal has dissipated.

I am something, and for now, even though I don’t know how to describe it or define it, I’m happy.

Listen, when I was a little girl I used to spend hours looking for ladybugs. Finally, I’d just give up and fall asleep in the grass. When I woke up, they were crawling all over me.

– Katherine, Under the Tuscan Sun (film)

How to be blissfully happy – notes to myself

By Posted on Location: 2min read

I woke up this morning, and then waited in bed for a couple of hours until I wanted to get up. I made myself a cup of tea, shook the last of my cereal into a bowl, dropped the cereal packet into the recycling box (just a large cardboard box since the real recycling boxes have mysteriously disappeared) and poured on the last of the milk.

My food situation is a cross between a surplus and a famine. I have plenty of biscuits, tinned fruit and custard, having inherited the Nonna’s tin supply, but in terms of fresh food I’m down to an apple, a reduced-price mini-courgette and a lemon.

None-the-less this isn’t at all bad. There was enough milk for one bowl of cereal and since there’s only me one bowl of cereal was enough. With my cereal I returned to bed, opened the curtain to let in the stunning sunshine, and set about practising Italian.

I am very much monolingual, but I have a bilingual dictionary and a wonderful curiosity.

An hour later it was 11:00 am. I got up, switched on my old computer, Alexandra, because the new shiny fast computer is having a hiccup. Whilst Alexandra was loading up I floated around the kitchen, relocated all the washing-up to a single surface and made coffee in the magic pot on the hob. Black of course because of the milk crisis.

I meandered around the internet for a while, finding pictures that make me smile and stories that fill my imagination with wonder. I never sit still for too long. Today I drifted between the computer and the kitchen to the sound of Italian pop classics and the gurgle of the washing machine.

I am trying to learn Italian. Casually, on the basis that if it works out like my obsession over Ancient Egypt I’ll be fluent in no time. If it doesn’t then I’ve better things to do. My efforts to speak Italian are somewhat hindered by my lack of attentiveness to sounds and my beautiful Yorkshire accent. When we were travelling Betty and I split the language learning. I remembered what words we needed, she said them. I can read the road signs, she can order salami. Her ears are trained in the study of phonetics and so she at least knows what sounds she’s saying.

I swept the kitchen floor – it was foul – using a dustpan and brush. The hoover refuses to turn on after it’s last encounter with the hovel’s floors. That burning smell…

And then, because it’s sunny and I am happy, and when I’m happy I don’t really mind chores, I mopped the floor too.