Having a vocation

old typewriter

I recently read this post by Sara over at Mum turned Mom. She discusses her difficulties with pronouncing to the world that she is a ‘writer’. I understand. I haven’t thought much about how I label myself in recent years, preferring to just live out each day and fulfil each role necessary (you know the score: care-giver, cook, cleaner, employee, nurse, driver, decision maker, party planner, and on, and on…) but nowadays I manage to squeeze in ‘blogger’ and ‘reader’ and ‘commentator’ too.

The problem Sara has is that she loves to write, she lives to write, but she isn’t a paid and published author. I’m the same and it got me thinking about vocation. I believe this word, this concept, has been commandeered by the careers police – those who would seek to define each person by what they do to earn their money.

I knew from an early age that I was in love with words, reading voraciously and writing for pleasure. I was steered through otherwise murky career waters by my Mum who could see what I had in me, even while I was floundering and being seduced by the idea of a Media Studies degree (pah ha ha!). I studied journalism ‘vocationally’ (at HND level) and then, disillusioned with mass market periodicals, I turned back to education and stuck my head firmly back into a *lot* more books in the shape of a four year literature degree which I loved and which I will never regret despite it doing absolutely sod all to show me which way to face as the subject of career choice once again loomed large. For me, delving into literature was like lifting a dark curtain on the rich cultural fabric of life.

At this point, I’ll throw my hands up and admit it – I’ve been a bit lazy OK? I could have done more with my life career-wise. I happen to believe that I’m as good a writer as plenty of people out there who get paid handsomely for the privilege of wearing ‘writer’ as their no.1 hat. The difference is in the drive but I still see ‘writer’ as my true vocation in life as defined in the dictionary thusly:
“an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which he or she is suited, trained, or qualified”. If you want (or are able or inclined) to earn money from this occupation then great, but if you don’t, why should that make it any less a part of who you are and for that matter, who you claim to be?

Because I was timid, crippled by self-doubt and woefully lacking in useful contacts as a very young woman, then lost in the detritus of everyday life, I never thought too long and hard about ‘making it happen’. Since that time I have been overtaken by munchkins intent on gathering up my rolling marbles, lost through a combination of childbirth and enforced custody in the padded cells of soft play, and they’ve been demanding a ransom of Peppa Pig ice lollies and Actimels in order to return them.

But finally some kind of fog is clearing. Reading and engaging with others who are pushing themselves forwards into a brave new world in which they embody their true vocation – well its opening my eyes to the possibilities.

And despite everything I have said about being a bit lazy and lacking a bit of drive, I know I can achieve great things – after all I completed a 20,000 word post-graduate dissertation on the subject of Information Overload (!) so just imagine what I could do with a subject I was truly engaged in…

 

Mama and Mored

Childhood

009

What does childhood mean to me?
Sandpits, mud pies, dandilion clocks,
A time which is stress and worry free
Teddy bear’s picnics and party frocks
and getting over the chicken pox

Endless summers on the beach
or games of tag at the local park
love and loss far out of reach
Imagination easily sparked
everything colourful, nothing stark

Party games like musical chairs
skipping and hopscotch and nursery rhymes
winning a goldfish at the local fair
ducks to feed and trees to climb
the world turning slowly, a magical time.

This poem was inspired by this week’s theme for The Theme Game as proposed by Jocelyn at The Reading Residence and Iona at Red Peffer.

The Reading Residence
Prose for Thought

Truth is more important than modesty…or is it?

BoyThis post is inspired by Sara at Mum Turned Mom’s Prompt for this week which is the above quote (minus the three little words I added there!) by Roald Dahl.

I have to admit that I was immediately sucked in by the fact that this is a Roald Dahl quote in particular and I immediately wanted to know when he said it and why. It is a quote from his autobiographical collection of childhood stories, ‘Boy’, and now I am very keen to finally getting around to reading this particular volume. Apparently he decided when drafting the book, only to include stories that could be considered spectacular and of course, that is what makes a good memoir and with Dahl in particular you know what he is capable of with regards villains and heroes and frankly, well, tales of the unexpected! So it is all the more intriguing that he has chosen to argue that truth is a virtue above all else, because what is he as a novelist other than a spectacular (and hugely entertaining!) liar?

I guess with this volume in particular you are given glimpses into the real life characters that probably formed some of the fictionalised ones in his stories so that is the truth behind the fiction. And the idea that to whitewash the truth or somehow gloss over parts of the story that portray you in a negative light is plain wrong and you should, essentially, own up and come clean, really make sense only in the context of silly boyhood things that one does as a misguided child. It is telling that there are no adult memoirs from Dahl claiming the same the rash virtue!

For me, as a blogger, and a user of social media in general, I try to be as honest as possible but of course the act of writing about oneself is a constant decision making process – should I talk about X? Should I risk having a rant? And to some extent – what kind of person do I want the world to identify me with? Let’s face it, you have a licence to entirely fictionalise yourself when you start up a blog, but really, I don’t think that’s what most of us want to do. Otherwise we’d just write a novel, right? But at the other end of the spectrum there is the social media user who glosses and spins and would never dream of even contemplating those three dreaded little words (“warts and all” – shudder). Some people over-share. Some people edit to their own detriment (because personally, I am left stone cold by anyone who claims to be a ‘domestic goddess’ or even anyone who implies that this may be the case).

Its a really hard line to walk as a writer and as a reader I have to be aware that I project my own opinions onto the writing of others too (was that compliment really a passive aggressive attack? Was that really false modesty and do I detect the flutter of demure eyelashes behind the keyboard? Is there some bragging going on here? And ultimately, am I guilty of doing any of those things myself?)…

At the end of the day (or should that be, ‘at the end of the page’?) I try to be truthful about my feelings (and my failings!) and I warm to others who do the same. I can be a green-eyed monster, I can be lazy, I can be hyper-critical and I can be insecure. But I can also be supportive, loving, analytical, creative, optimistic and charged with positive energy.

So that’s me. How much of the truth are you prepared to share about yourself?

mumturnedmom

The Theme Game: Paper

Cootie Catcher

This week’s theme of paper has not fit in easily with the drafting of a cohesive story. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people who do clever paper crafts with their children but I’m not one of them! When I think of paper, these are the things that occur to me:

  • I once trained to be a periodical journalist. Yes, I was destined for a career monopolised by the written word on the pages of a magazine. I had it in my head that a job as a ‘Features Editor’ would have rocked my world, but it wasn’t to be.
  • Confetti. Yes I once got married (twice actually). There was confetti.
  • Cootie Catchers (see above), remember them? Just about the only piece of pseudo-origami I’ve ever mastered and only because it was a great way of getting through a boring maths lesson at school! I’m just sad that I don’t have a daughter to pass this gem of a childhood time-waster down to (along with cat’s cradle and French skipping)
  • The much vaunted ‘paperless office’. Yup, I work in one of those (so how come there is so much shredding I have to ask myself?) and then I try to imagine an office with no computers (and probably a lot of cigarette smoke) – how times have changed…
  • And finally, the advent of the e-book – yes I have a Kindle (two actually) and yes, the technology exists to make the experience of reading off a screen more like reading from a paper page, but where is the artefact? Where is the art? Where is the joy of flicking through the pages, the smell of fresh print, the vibrancy of a well-designed cover? No screen will ever replicate those experiences and if it does? We’re all doomed!

Linking up to The Theme Game from The Reading Residence and Red Peffer. And also the All About You link and pin party!

The Reading Residence
#AllAboutYou Link & Pin Party Mama and More

And it was all yellow…

This week’s Theme Game theme from Jocelyn and Iona is “Yellow”.

In pondering the colour yellow I happened upon a few descriptions of what the colour symbolises. It is interesting to note that the colour yellow in heraldry used to symbolise honour and courage and yet nowadays its more likely to be used as a descriptive for cowardice.

Bright yellow is almost always cheerful, symbolising joy and happiness but can also be considered frivolous (you don’t see men dressed in bright yellow business suits or driving bright yellow BMWs)…
And then there are the daffodils… Spring!

Actually my first thought when I saw that this week’s theme was ‘yellow’ (and given the fact that this is a parenting blog) was that when I was first pregnant with JJ I went on to the Baby Centre website (as you do) to see what it was all about and did a bit of forum lurking. Not only did I notice the plethora of unneccessary acronyms (see this recent post by one of my favourite radical parenting bloggers Renegade Mothering) but that quite a lot of people had some quite cutesy message signatures including announcing whether they were ‘Team Blue’, ‘Team Pink’ or ‘Team Yellow’. I’m not quite sure how yellow (and not green/purple etc.) came to symbolise unknown gender in this context but either way it seemed to me a funny way of looking at the situation. I chose to find out the gender of both my babies at the 20 week scans – I could never have batted for Team Yellow. On the other hand I am no great fan of the blue/pink divide either and I bought lots of neutral colours for my baby’s bed and accessories anyway.

For want of anything more insightful to say on the subject I’ve knocked up a quick poem – please excuse the quality – its been years since I tried my hand at this!

Yellow

Yellow is a ray of sunshine
Yellow is a fireman’s hat
Yellow is a stretch of golden sand
Or a smiley face like that 🙂

Yellow is a saffron curry
Yellow is a tart citroen
Yellow is a ripe banana
or a sponge with custard on

Yellow pages give you answers
Yellow jewellery gives you bling
Rubber duckies join you in the bath
Daffodils herald spring

A meadowful of dandilions and buttercups
Fireworks as they explode
And no journey of discovery would be complete
without the help of a Yellow Brick Road.

And just to completely give you the full on yellow sensation overload here are some of the predominantly yellow pics I’ve posted on my blog up to this date!:

The Reading Residence

Favourite poems…

I have to admit that whilst I love words, language and writing I sometimes hear the word ‘poetry’ and it turns me off until I remember to actually read some classics and it sets my imagination on fire and reminds me of all the beautiful things that can be done with words and the feelings they can invoke. My grandma was a huge fan of poetry and she used to have a lovely book of best loved poems which I would pore over as a child and I once copied out some favourites but I don’t know what I did with those notes. Something recently triggered a memory of one of those poems and it made me want to try and remember…

The Unending Sky by John Masefield is really beautiful – an ode to space and infinity and the vastness of the universe which puts all human tribulations in perspective.

Space

The Convergence of The Twain by Thomas Hardy was one I learned when I was at school – its essentially an imagining of the underwater ruins of the Titanic and how it came to such a watery fate and its really eery, yet beautiful – I love the phrase ‘steel chambers, late the fires of her salamandrine fires’.

titanic

The poem Time to Stop and Stare by William Henry Davies is quite well known and it really speaks to me on a daily basis, particularly lately, in this life where children, social media and all the demands to keep on top of everything mean that we have to make a concerted effort to put the brakes on every now and again and feel some real, visceral pleasure from just taking wonder in the world around us, after all “a poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”.

stand and stare

Lastly I bring to your attention The Listeners by Walter De La Mare – another poem I was taught at school but which has stayed with me all these years. A quote from the beginning of this poem is written on the side of the Premier Inn in Guildford (near where I work) and I have to admit this makes me love Premier Inn! The poem is about ghosts in an abandoned house deep in a dark forest and how a lone traveller stumbles across this place one night – its really atmospheric!

Premier Inn Guildford

Never accept a negative label…

plodding donkey

OK so I recently read this post by Mummy Tries and I wanted to comment but, you know, do you ever read a blog post and feel that your comment would be inappropriate without a prolonged explanation? Well that’s how I felt. So instead I thought I’d just mention it here.

(Just as a precursor to these thoughts I should mention the fact that I come at this perspective from the point of view of a deep thinker who loves words and language and loves to analyze and deconstruct meaning. I studied literature at degree level and that included literary theory which encompasses the writer perspective and the reader perspective for pinpointing meaning so I am well aware that this is only my take on what was written).

The post argues that most people fall into one of two categories which are called ‘doers’ or ‘plodders’. There is a very balanced argument which says positive things about both categories (and, in fact, this is primarily a post about being inspired by others), but I can’t help but be a bit dismayed by the terminology. ‘Doer’ to me, has very positive connotations, yet ‘Plodder’ has quite negative ones. ‘Doer’ says: ‘get up and go; ‘energy’; ‘creativity’; ‘can do attitude’. ‘Plodder’ says: ‘drab’; ‘lumbering’; ‘uninspired’. Even Wikipedia points out that “Plod or P.C.Plod is a British slang term used to refer to a police officer, particularly one slow-witted or dull”.

I think the heart of my dismay lies in the feeling that, certainly lately, I would probably fall into the ‘Plodder’ category as I feel that I am generally reading or observing the creative and inspired projects of others yet not finding the time or energy to jump into the fray and come alive with projects of my own. At the same time I feel it’s a bit unfair that someone may now label me a ‘plodder’. I was trained in journalism (a long time ago!) so I know how useful labels can be in rounding out a written article and summarising contained ideas (and I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say I never do it myself). Look at parenting – nowadays we have ‘Helicopter Parents’, ‘Snowplough Parents’, ‘Attachment Parenting’, etc, etc. But really, as a human being it would be nigh on impossible to fall within such a rigid and defined category on an ongoing basis without ever doing something completely contrary (even to a deeply felt and consciously crafted way of life).

I was out Christmas shopping today (which I loved!) and a quick glance around Lakeland got me quite excited about what I could be doing for Christmas next year. Home-crafted gifts are a fab idea and definitely include a big dollop of love which bought presents don’t have. I love the idea of pressies in jars (and have a good friend who sells Christmas cookie mix in a jar and mulling syrup in a lovely glass bottle – both of which I will be sampling!). Its also a great way to keep it natural and (maybe even slightly) reduce your carbon footprint… I just discovered this page which shows some absolutely adorable ways to use Kilner jars. (I’m particularly loving the idea of brandied cherries or cocktail syrup which can be used as the base to create Mojitos, Margaritas and Mint Juleps as well as home-made sweeties, snow globes and pot pourri).

I’ll also be Elf on the Shelfing next year (EJ will be going on 2 and a half), and it is my intention to learn how to create some home-made bunting and cushion covers as well as some little crochet projects like flowers, handbag charms or something like this adorable fox stash basket:

crochet fox

I have no idea whether I’ll be any good at any of these things but I think I would enjoy doing them.

I may feel like I have very little energy or time right now, but I know that organisation and planning ahead are key to being productive and timely (especially with regards gifts) and that is my goal for 2014.

Sometimes you can be a dreamer and a planner and a thinker and even a writer, but anyone who is content to be classified as a plodder must be someone with very limited horizons (in my honest and humble opinion!).

Someone help derail my train of thought!!

speeding train

I was going to say that my train of consciousness is being very British at the moment – it really wants to go somewhere but it can’t because there’s too many of the wrong kind of leaves on the line. However, on reflection this is not actually true. For the past two evenings I have put the boys to bed, had a bath and something to eat, settled down to check emails, Facebook and any interesting blog updates intending to then move on to something more productive, but my train has been derailed and gone shooting off on a tangent, visiting random stations that were never meant to be on the schedule.

Before you know it its 10pm and I’m back at my point of origin with nothing to show for my precious three hours of child- (and to be honest, hubster-)free time (he’s been working lates). Last night, for example, I started off with Eeh Bah Mum’s amusing ode to the joys of Soft Play, was impressed by Cleopatra’s descriptions of her home made Lemon cleaning solution and fiery fig chutney, had a quick peek back at Put up With Rain by Lucy Benedict (not her real name!) and then, wanting to know more about her, got sucked into reading back-dated posts and discovered, little by little, more about her life, love of writing, how her and her partner met and got together, her family relationships, depression, suicide attempts, miscarriage, hatred of Disney Princesses, lust for Ed Balls (!) – at which point I realised that I needed to pull the train over to the sidings and take a little breather – I was beginning to feel like I knew more about her than I did about myself.

I then flicked back to Facebook, saw a link to an article in the Huffington Post giving a negative spin on the Russell Brand Paxman interview/New Statesman editorship and went over to see what that was all about. Interesting point of view but Brand is thoroughly defended through the backlash of comments further down the page including one which provided a link to a website which sets out an alternative future for the world contrary to the current regime/paradigm in which we live. I couldn’t resist and had to check out The Venus Project. That was quite time-consuming too and I’m not entirely convinced that they’ve solved all the Earth’s problems and satisfactorily answered a massive list of Frequently Asked Questions.

The train then finally pulled into Twitter-on-sea for a quick upload, I got sucked into some Katie Price c**p (for shame!) before my eye was caught by a link to an article in the Guardian written by the actress Natasha McElhone discussing gender equality (or lack thereof).

By this time the train was on a collision course with a rapidly approaching brick wall and I was beginning to feel extremely frustrated that the things I was reading about were written by people who were actually doing real things (and then writing about them). All I seem to be able to manage is writing about my random musings. I think I need to get a life and I’m not sure that the “I’ve got a 15-month-old”/Work Four Days a Week/ “Do all the Shopping/Organising/Cleaning/Cooking in this house” excuse is going to cut it for much longer. Am I being too hard on myself?

On cyber relationships and online communications

It’s a funny thing but, having only been blogging for 4-5 months, I realise that I now have a load of new friends through this endeavour as well as feeling like I am part of a dynamic and fast-moving enterprise which is quite exciting in itself. Obviously I have also been living partially in cyber-space for as far back as the introduction of Friends Reunited (remember that? Part of the dark, distant past of the social networking world!) and I jumped into FaceBook with both feet (bypassing the likes of MySpace and Bebo) a long time ago too.

Its interesting to see how different people like to use the available social networks (or just not bother using them at all). FaceBook usage has definitely changed over time with people who may have been regular users to begin with getting bored and dropping away to the occasional peep in through the door to see what’s going on. Others have a profile but never visit and then there are those who update a status once in a blue moon but never provide any real insight into their lives.

My mum and dad regard social networking with suspicion – wondering why on earth we want to share personal information with people in this way and worrying about issues of privacy and identity theft.

Personally I find the immediate and accessible nature of communicating in this way to be a massive positive in my life. With other friends from real life who live a long way from me (on the proviso that they fully engage with the medium) it is a way of maintaining a week to week relationship with a real working knowledge of what life is like for them (even if we haven’t managed to see each other for months or even years). We all live busy lives and sometimes we just don’t have the time to engage through other media when the quick status update or Messenger check-in allows us to touch base without getting into a full blown conversation. Of course there are times in our lives when the sound of a friend’s voice is the only thing that will do. My time with new-born babies springs to mind as a point in my life when I have crumbled somewhat and I knew that my best and oldest friend (who also experienced parenthood before me) would be there at the other end of the line to talk me through my (temporary!) panic and depression.
But on the whole, with life ticking over on a relatively even keel, I am happy to engage with my friends through the medium of cyberspace on a daily basis.

Before you suck your teeth in and shake your head wondering what kind of loser I really am, let me just point out that I engage with people in the real world on a daily basis too – I see my family every week and engage with work colleagues and friends who I have made locally through the parenthood experience regularly so its not like I’m sitting in a darkened room on my own with just a flashing cursor for company.

What I do find though is that it is easy to make friends online when you can see exactly what kind of person someone is from the way they write, the thoughts that occur to them and the way they choose to put it across. There is an immediate sense of “this person is on my wavelength”. Meanwhile others may criticise or completely fail to understand where you’re coming from, assuming that the online medium is some form of crutch for those who are socially inept or incapable of forming a ‘real’ friendship.

I think social networking is particularly useful to those of us with small children who’s ‘spare’ time (bah ha ha!) is precious – letting us share our photos and experiences – both good and bad with a wide range of friends (some of whom will know immediately and exactly where you’re coming from and might be able to offer some empathy or helpful advice at times of uncertainty). It is not about lonliness, it is not some sort of ‘cry for help’, it is allowing yourself to be absorbed into and engaged as part of a community. It does not replace face to face relationships, it is all about sharing and allowing others into your life.

Apologies if this post is preaching to the converted. Until recently I assumed that we were pretty much all singing in the choir on this one but apparently not! If you disagree and think I’ve got it all wrong, please comment and tell me why.

What parents want (in a blog post)

beautiful_lawn

Well, I’ve been at this now for about four months (blogging, not parenting). Phew. My initial mission statement included a pledge to be true to myself and write about things that remind me of who I am – both inside and outside of parenthood. Consequently I have written recently on the subject of (my take on) religion, ‘spirituality’ and alternative living arrangements, but these have been triggered initially by my experiences as a mother. Now, I know I’m still a newbie, so my readership is relatively low, but I’m starting to wonder about blogging within a niche. Its nice, its great to be a part of this great big ‘exclusive’ club, but its also really difficult finding anything new to say which isn’t really, properly personal (and therefore of not much interest to a big group of strangers who have a massive pool of similar blogs to choose from). Or its just same old same old: tantrums, weeing accidents, food fights, the deconstruction of the English language (eg, JJ’s hilarious rendering of ‘radioater’ – the device you go to for a bit of news and music when its a bit chilly outside).

I’ve been reading a fair few blog posts myself and finding that most of what I’m looking at is parent-related simply because I pick and choose from within this pool I find myself floating in. I’m having trouble extracting myself from my identity as a mother – as I said before, even my non-child related posts tend to end up being child related – I can’t help myself!

What my reading is teaching me though, is what other people (mostly parents) respond to. Top of the Tots100 right now: Edspire – the blog of a mother who lost one of her babies to SIDS. I’m sure this is very well written and heartfelt and a lot of people like a tearjerker, personally I’m more of a comedy than a tragedy kind of person. The Frugal Family always seems to do very well up there too and its an inspired idea to find yourself a niche within a niche – like GeekMummy too for that matter. There’s also a lot of parenting blogs which are written by people who are very crafty (as in “into a nice bit of crochet”, not “keen to devise an evil plan for world domination”), an example of which being Tea is the Answer. This kind of blog can be beautiful, generally very well designed, with lush, wonderfully arty photographs of craft projects and soft-focus poppets. Gorgeous, but just a little bit too humbling for someone who can barely sew on a button.

I have to admit that I tend to fight against reading the most popular blogs, favouring the little guy, the newbie, other people like me who might be struggling for a bit of recognition – a connection which those big, loud, successful bloggers probably don’t have time to attend to (too busy rushing off to the MAD Awards, or thanking the 6000 people who entered their ever-popular linky, no doubt).

At this point I have to hold my hand up and admit to my one reader (hi mum!) that I am a world class sufferer of GIGS (Grass is Greener Syndrome) and therefore, its probably wise for me to avoid looking at other people’s beautifully manicured lawns (bit like an alcoholic avoiding the pub).

But no, that’s not fair because the blogs I really love reading are brilliant in their own right – The Secret Divorcee (bit like reading the next installment in an engrossing novel), Listen, Watch, Read, Share  (another blog I admire for not trying to crowbar itself into a niche – lots of interesting thoughts, ideas and media reviews),  and my latest favourite, Raising Edgar (brilliantly hilarious take on all those old subjects related to the early stages of parenthood that you thought you could never return to again [and anyone (or two in this case) who would riff on a Coen Brothers movie (hopefully intentionally!) is alright in my book]). Interestingly my new blogging friend Cleopatra has just re-named and re-defined her parenting blog Cleopatra Says to hop out of the niche with Trying to Live Naturally – now focussing on her quest to reduce the old carbon footprint whilst living what sounds like an idyllic lifestyle in rural Spain.

Anyway one day maybe I’ll get to read someone else’s post genuinely giving me and mine the thumbs up and that would be a good day.