Non-fiction is hard

When I was little, I loved a handful of things: reading, writing, talking, and watching films.

In year 4, I wrote a poem that used the word ‘crystallised’ and I think I won some kind of award for it. I also learned the word ‘disgruntled’ and wrote a two-page story on a disgruntled troll and how he struggled to make friends. I’d say this was my first delve into metaphor, in that I was really, really bad at making friends at the time.

In year 5, we were asked to read a couple of paragraphs from our favourite book in front of our class. Most people chose Jacqueline Wilson books (great books, no judging) – I chose The Hobbit. It was the first appearance of Smaug. I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone.

At some point in the mid-00s, but I don’t remember exactly when, I hand-wrote an encyclopedia on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It was categorised and alphabetised. I read and re-read that book over and over until I had every detail noted down. Then I read it again, using my encyclopedia as a reference text.

In secondary school, I wrote three stories that made me feel proud. I can still remember them in part; sentences I was particularly happy with, and lines that still niggle at the back of my mind, because they weren’t as concise or as cutting as I had hoped.

Throughout this, I was always told that I should go into IT, or utilise my interest in the sciences. I felt like I let everyone down when I chose to study English Language; even more so when I added Media to the mix. At uni, I wrote a lot of non-fiction; essays, journalistic pieces, analysis. I picked apart other people’s work, rather than creating my own, and I think I wore away the part of me that wanted to make things.

I’m the worst to watch films with – I won’t keep quiet because I’m guessing the plot, trying to discuss the mise en scène, and critiquing (haha, I really mean ‘criticising’) the dialogue.

I’m pretty bad to have conversations with – I’m watching your body language, I’m working out why you paused for so long (or not long enough), and I’m making a mental note of phrases you say often.

I’ve practically stopped reading, too – my attention span is too short, and my eyes are too tired, and I spend more time trying to get comfortable than really taking in the words in front of me. (I’ll let myself off in one way – I do love an audiobook.)

And I’ve hardly been writing, either. I’ve been stuck in my head for a little while – I want to blame the move but I’ve watched a whole load of TV, so it couldn’t have been that time-consuming, really. But maybe it’s what I’m writing that’s been putting me off? Anyone know a feasible route into writing fiction?

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I’m doing me, boo.

If you’ve spoken to me at any point in the last few months you can probably vouch for what I’m about to say: I have been drinking too much, staying up too late, sending stupid texts, and palming it all off as ‘putting myself first’.

I haven’t been doing that at all, really. I mean I definitely have been doing the drinking and the not sleeping and the texting but I definitely have not been looking after me. I’ve been trying to avoid me, if anything. Trying to avoid spending time on my own, mostly.

I posted the other day that I had sorted out a flat and that’s not true anymore. It fell through and the struggle continues, which accumulated in a full-on numbness this morning after a slew of texts from my parents. I sat in bed, crying, generally just freaking out, for a really long time before I realised it’s a Sunday and it’s a bank holiday so there’s not a huge amount I can do today anyway. So I decided not to do anything today.

Honestly, it really helped! Usually, if I don’t do anything in a day I end up resenting myself – like I should’ve made plans or I should’ve done something spontaneous or I should’ve blah blah blah. But I made a plan (to do nothing) and I stuck to it, and that felt really good.

I’ve eaten by weight in pizza and a variety of berries, I’ve had a purple bath and put on a face mask, and I’ve chatted shite with my friends. I’ve watched a lot of TV and taken a fair few selfies and laughed out loud on my own. I haven’t let myself do that last one in ages, because I usually convince myself that I have to make myself small and quiet and basically invisible when I’m on my own. That comes from feeling like I AM small and quiet and basically invisible when I’m on my own – but I’m definitely not any of those things usually (well, in this case I mean metaphorically small, I haven’t mysteriously grown at any point in the last 13 years) and I don’t enjoy making myself feel that way.

I haven’t posted anything in a little while because I’ve been feeling conflicted. And hungover. That doesn’t usually help. Don’t get me wrong, I was fairly hungover today but, as hangovers go, it wasn’t the worst. I pulled through. I always pull through. I’ve been writing really heavy, spiral-induced posts and saving them as drafts and reading back when I feel better and subsequently deleting them. I don’t want this blog to be a memoir of my anxiety – I want it to be a reminder, even if it’s just to me, that the anxiety ends. It’s not instant, there’s no magic words, but it ends.

I’m feeling good today. And that’s not even the realms of fiction talking. I hope you felt good today, or that if you didn’t, you feel good tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Or just as soon as possible. X

Let’s just be good to each other, okay?

A couple of things have happened recently that I’m not super proud of. I mean, there’s definitely more than a couple but there’s only some I’m willing to put on the internet.

The first thing came about when someone I recognised, but had never spoken to, from uni asked me if I used to have blue hair. “I did,” I said, “because I used to be a lot more wild than I am now.” This is my usual response, FYI, and I’ve said it many times. It’s just that, in this situation, the person asking was serving me two drinks at a time and had been for a couple of hours, had probably seen my ridiculous dancing, and replied with, “You still seem pretty wild, from what I’ve seen tonight.” I know this wasn’t meant spitefully, and it was definitely just an off-hand comment made in jest, but I took my vodka cokes and hung my head in shame for, like, a bit, until Bey came on and the cycle repeated itself.

The second thing happened this evening, when I went to the corner shop and bought the following: milk, orange and mango juice, coco pops, a chocolate milkshake, a sharing bar of Dairy Milk (Oreo), chocolate raisins, and fizzy cola bottles. No judging, please, I’m an adult and I’m in control of my finances and my diet. I have been going to this shop very frequently for around two years. Everyone that works in this shop has seen me at my highs and my lows. This isn’t unusual for me. But this time, I laid my array of snacks at the till and was asked, quietly, but loud enough for me to feel the judgement, if I had just been dumped. First of all, no. Secondly, who the heck cares and why the heck does it matter when this is money that I would have happily spent elsewhere if it weren’t for the convenience of location and the immediacy of my sugar cravings. Dammit.

The third thing, though, has lead to me feeling the worst I’ve felt in ages. Because I know that what I did was avoidable and completely unnecessary. I’ve made this sound super serious and I promise I haven’t murdered anyone or committed grand theft auto. But I did something that messes with my morals to the core. I shit-talked about a girl to a friend because I saw her as competition for a boy that doesn’t deserve it. Not cool at all.

She was totally freakin’ sweet, too. Really lovely, seemed super smart, kind, fun to be around. The kinda girl that I’d love to hang out with, get brunch with, maybe go to a gig or an indie cinema with. Funny, but not in a try-hard way. Basically, I’d want her to be my best friend. But I sat and quietly glared at her, complained about her, at one point I think I made an effort to make her feel uncomfortable. And none of it was to her face, either. Not one thing.

Luckily, I had a friend that is a heckload nicer than I am that pointed out how stupid I was being. Not in as many words, but something to that effect. And it hit me like a tonne of bricks. You see, I was 1) overreacting, and 2) completely directing my hurt towards the wrong person. She hasn’t done anything wrong, she has had no impact or influence on anything that has happened before now (that I know of, or, at least, can prove) and she especially has not gone into this situation expecting to be shit-talked about. She doesn’t deserve it – no one really does.

Obviously that’s a bit of a generalisation – some people need to be told when they’re acting unjustly, but this often requires tact and structure. Something that a drunken Natalie does not have. Did not have. Never has had. And she wasn’t acting unjustly, anyway. So I’ve gone off track, a little bit.

I’m not going to sit here and make excuses – I’m used to doing that because it’s easy, it’s easy just to blame my anxiety, that I’m lashing out, that it’s representative of our culture. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to make other people feel crappy. My hurt doesn’t need to affect you in any way. Not like that. I used to be nastier than this, I know I did, and I’ve really toned it down, considering, but that doesn’t make it okay.

But it’s all got me thinking about why we do this – why girls are programmed to assume that it’s the other girl that has swept in to make your life worse. And I ended up listening, whilst hungover and thoroughly wallowing in self-pity, to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists and thinking about ways I can treat people better. I could spend days writing about all the reasons we’ve been trained to think in certain ways, but that’s a conversation for another day. Instead, I’m going to remind myself that I can change my actions, and that I should treat people how I’d like to be treated.

So I’m starting with this: I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel shitty for something that you completely, 100% did not deserve to feel shitty about. I’m sorry if my actions, my words, my thoughts, my gestures, my stares, and everything else, made you feel conscious or unhappy or angry or anything other than spectacular. I’m so sorry that I had a negative impact and I’m going to do better. I’m going to do you better.

I’ve always tried to have the mantra that girls should support girls. I don’t always do that but I know that it’s still the right thing to do. Please keep treating other people well, or, if you don’t already, please start. There’s too much other shit going on for us to be hating each other, too.

Look who’s not really freakin’ sad today!

In a strange turn of events, I’m in a park eating dried mango by the handful and I’m feeling OKAY. I wrote ‘good’, initially, but I didn’t wanna go too far into the realm of fiction today.

But ‘okay’ is still a pretty fine way to be feeling; I’ve bought Amy Poehler’s audiobook and I have a bag full of snacks (read: chocolate and various forms of mango), and I’m taking a break from just thinking about my life and actually letting myself enjoy it.

I know this probably doesn’t seem like a particularly wild Monday – I wouldn’t blame you for thinking so, if I saw me right now I’d think I was probably not doing my 20s right – but I spend a fair amount of time on my own inside, so the simple act of going outside for a bit is surely a promising sign, right? I think so, anyway.

So I’ve decided to write a list of small things that have brightened up my last couple of months, because I’m awful at telling people I appreciate them. It’s gonna be anonymous, and if you think ‘huh, I think I did that’, then you probably did. I’ve been thinking about small gestures that mean a lot and I’ve been trying to be nicer, too. Trying, at least. This starts with the tweet you’ll find below, because I’m a millennial and I’m incapable of my own thoughts, or something.

Anyway! The list is as follows:

1) being supported by girls – particularly girls I didn’t expect, not that they’re not absolute queens, but the situation is that I lost a fair few friends in a change of personal circumstance. Sending an ‘I heard the news, are you okay?’ message seems like a really small thing but it’s actually really lovely.

2) being asked genuine questions that start a conversation – ‘tell me about your upbringing’ is a really nice way to make someone (me) feel interesting and not super boring by having to say, again, that no, I haven’t heard of that super cool band, and no, I haven’t been anywhere cool recently, sorry.

3) making eye contact with my friends at work when something annoying/scandalous/hilarious has happened – I’m not on my own and I need to share how I feel about said thing, but I’m trying to keep my words to myself (trying). Sharing these little moments keeps me grounded, if anything.

4) getting the ‘they played this song and it made me think of you’ message – like thank you, I’m flattered and honoured and honestly kinda amazed that I’ve had even a tiny impact on anyone’s memories! It makes my heart feel fuzzy and like probably, actually glow a bit?

5) having those evenings where I just text for hours – gossiping about my hometown and boys, making far-off birthday plans, and telling my best friend how much I love and miss her (so, so, so much). She’s just text me and I told her I’m writing this but I’m not gonna tell her she has her own bullet point. I’ll wait for her to read it.

6) talking about my future but not in a scary, daunting way – gentle, playful conversations about things people have done or didn’t do and why, non-judgemental conversations that end with my favourite phrase, ‘you’ll work it out’ and not the most anxiety-stirring ‘you should’ve done this by now’. I’ve spent a long time feeling like I haven’t been doing enough, and it’s nice to start understanding that I’ve hardly just begun.

7) sitting on the steps opposite a bar/pub/club/etc, inebriated, and just chatting, making plans that might not happen but that are so much fun to create, like random festivals in the West Midlands and pop punk nights out and gigs we probably won’t be able to get tickets to. It’s the thought that counts.

8) getting strangers to take photos of us, and not feeling embarrassed when they take 30. I often feel like I’m pushing my luck, that my questions are a burden, but I’ve also always known the power of multiple angles and having a chance to do-over a photo until it’s cute (plus, the ones that don’t make the Instagram quote are the best ones to ponder over when I’m not feeling okay).

9) having our coffee club every morning – although it was harder without my darling angel who brings a smile to my face even when I’m spiralling hard at work – because it’s time to de-brief, it’s time to get the evening’s events off my chest (sorry to everyone who has to listen to me), and it’s time to have a coffee with my favourite people before the headsets go on and SAP passwords are entered.

10) sitting down after a long time of standing up, sharing some drinks and applying glitter (this is a recent one, thanks Pride), then feeling really heckin’ good about the way the world around me is going, even if the immediate moment wasn’t going exactly to plan. Because it doesn’t always have to be going to plan for it to be a really lush time, actually.

11) and, finally, hearing people’s stories after they’ve read my posts. I’ve never felt more connected to the people in my world, whether I see them every day or not in years. I always figured I was on my own, feeling too young and too lonely and too crazy, but now I know that I’m not and I know that it’s gonna be okay and I especially know that there are people that love me, or at least like me a bit more than I was expecting. Sometimes it’s hard to remember, but then I have a browse through the conversations I’ve had since writing these, and I know that this has just been a blip. And that blips come to an end. And life goes on after it does.

That’s enough for now, I think. If you’re feeling anything less than okay (or anything more, if you fancy it) then I recommend writing down some things you’re grateful for. My heart feels full. X

I’ve been spirallin’

I wrote a pretty long post (like, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of words) about my evening, and the anxiety spiral that absorbed my entire consciousness for a pretty large chunk of it. I went into detail about the beginning of tonight’s spiral – how I ignored the deep hum in my chest, even when it turned into an ache, and then a thud, and then a pounding, and how I stared at my reflection so long I couldn’t recognise my own face. I described how I tried asking for help, and, not for the first time, toyed with the possibility that my company was too much of a burden to try any harder. I didn’t reach out again, by the way.

I deleted that post, like so many others before it. I kept reading it over and over and over. The words were spelt correctly, they were in the right order, it all seemed to make sense, but I couldn’t bring myself to post it. I could practically feel people rolling their eyes as they read it, whispering about it (I’m obviously simultaneously thinking no one in their right mind will be reading this anyway, that’s the anxiety speaking, too), and then going completely silent when I’m nearby – not for feeling this way, but for talking about it. That’s the real problem, isn’t it? That’s the stigma in action. I don’t know if anyone would treat me that way, but it’s enough to stop me in my tracks. Over and over and over.

I’ve been trying to ask for help for years and I’ve always been too scared. I’ve managed to craft myself a pretty irrational fear of going to a doctor, alongside a tendency to make jokes when I’m uncomfortable/sad/anxious/etc, and somehow that means I’ve gone this long without doing anything about it. And I bottle it up until I explode, and then I feel irrational and spiral again. It’s a pretty vicious cycle that I’m too afraid to break. So I’m gonna write about it until I’ve found somewhere new to live or until I stop making excuses to ignore my mental health. And I’ve only got 6 more weeks to find a new home, so I’m going to have to work something out soon.

(p.s. I know that this medium is pretty one-sided, and I know that public comments aren’t the safest place for discussion. But I don’t want anyone to feel voiceless. Please talk to me, or someone you trust, or strangers on the internet by way of a blog post – anything that helps. It’ll be okay.)

Are blogs even cool anymore?

Hi, I’m Natalie. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of my close friends and you’re worried I’ll ask you if you read it when we next see each other. I promise I won’t do that. If you have, perhaps, a genuine interest in my inane ramblings, and, perhaps, the patience of a saint, then I say this: hello, welcome to my brain.

I spent about 0.5 seconds deciding what I was gonna name this blog before I thought to myself the exact thing I think every time I’m even moderately inconvenienced: I’ll work something out. For ages, I actually didn’t work anything out. Then, all at once, I put myself in a situation where I HAD to work everything out. And I feel good for it, most of the time. So here I am: working it out. And, somewhere on my list of things to work out, was a theme for a blog! And I haven’t worked that out yet, sorry.

Fun fact: I actually started writing this post a couple of days ago. I wrote, deleted, and re-wrote paragraphs on my amazing ability to procrastinate, how my mental health has been affected by my utter complacency, and about how I was gonna stare the real world right in the eye and sort my life out. Do you know what I did after that? I put my laptop down to get a snack, and I didn’t pick it up again. Case and point, gang. Case and freakin’ point. And I had only started writing the post BECAUSE I WAS PUTTING OFF DOING CHORES. So I didn’t finish this post AND I didn’t do many chores!!! I ate snacks and watched TV and maketh a good blog post, that does not, so then I spiralled about how unproductive I was being… instead of being productive.

SO HERE I AM. Writing a blog. The hardest part is actually just sitting down and doing it, right? And I did that – although it’s not eloquent or concise – and the next step is getting the motivation to do it again, maybe more than a couple of times, and maybe people will read it, and maybe they won’t, but at least I’m doing it. And maybe once I get this part down, I’ll be brave enough to do something else that I’ve been putting off – maybe I’ll use all that cross-stitch stuff (equipment?) that I bought, drunk, four years ago. Maybe I’ll finally learn how to speak Dutch (nice throwback there for any of my hardcore fans!!). Maybe, just maybe, I’ll register with a GP and begin working out some really quite important stuff. Maybe.

I’ll just have to work it out.