Saturday 23 April 2016

Shakespeare & my sister. Life lessons from two people I've learned to listen to.

Alas. Poor William, I knew him Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

 [OK, OK, so, I didn’t know him. But then again, you’re not Horatio are you? So stop pretending you are. Look we’ve both been caught out now, so let’s move on ... ]

 It’s 400 years today since Shakespeare died.

Well today-ish as no one really knows the exact date.

[I guess no one put a death notice in the Evening Gazette about him; meaning all the Jacobean Grandmas probably didn’t go around asking everyone to 'guess who died'. “You know who I mean . Oh you do. Nice lad, liked making up stories. John and Mary’s son. The one with the earring …”.]

 Anyway … I couldn’t let the occasion pass without saying something Shakespearean here. And, regular readers will undoubtedly be able to guess which 9 words I’m going to start with. Ready ... OK all together on 3, 2, 1 go …

When I went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet … [you guessed correctly didn’t you? Thought so.]

Yeah, so, when I went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, well it was before I went actually, my sister took on the mantle of offering me some sage advice which she was particularly well placed to give.

  • Not only had she visited London in general more often than I had, like me, she’d done so to see one of her favourite actors, this time David Tennant, play Hamlet.
  • And … she’d followed that up by seeing another of her chosen ones – Tom Hiddleston – play Coriolanus. [So she’s one up on me. Not that I’m counting.] 
So, as a dutiful little sister who knows her place I not only listened to her advice, I heeded it. [And yes – as I can be relied upon to do – I also wrote it all down and made a note to blog it sometime].

So here it is alongside other famous advice-related Hamlet quotes namely from Act1 Scene 3 where Polonius doles out his fatherly wisdom to Laertes. Feel free to compare and contrast at your leisure:

No. 1: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: 
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; 
For the apparel oft proclaims the man. 

Jo’s sisterly advice to me: 
"Wear your walking shoes. You might think you want to wear something nicer but you’ll be so glad if you just wear the comfy ones.” 

I wore the comfy ones.

[Except when I went to the theatre when I wore wedges. And got a blister. Don’t tell her that part.]

No. 2: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: "Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar."

Jo’s sisterly advice to me: “Wear perfume”. 

Now, this wasn’t exactly direct advice that I was meant to follow to the letter. It was more like a random thought she had while casting her mind back – fondly [perhaps too fondly] - to her last theatre trip. As she put it: “I wore perfume when I went to see Tom. I mean, Corialanus.” 

Jo and ‘Tom’ sitting in a tree ...

No. 3: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: 
Neither a borrower nor a lender be; 
For loan oft loses both itself and friend, 
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. 

Jo’s sisterly advice to me: “Buy a programme.” 

 I did.

No. 4: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: "This above all- to thine own self be true." 

I know right? That’s from Hamlet. Another of the dozens of phrases from that play that we still rely on to funnel life’s clamouring mess into a single meaningful phrase.

And with that in mind … I share with you my sister's final - and perhaps most profound - piece of Hamlettean advice in the hope that one day it too becomes legendary.

Jo’s sisterly advice to me regarding pre-theatre consumption: “Eat something. Line your stomach. You don’t want to be sick on Benny.” 

 I did. And I wasn’t.

[Which is just as well really as – considering how hard they clamped down on people taking photos of the performance - I can only imagine what their response would have been to someone vomiting on the leading man from the front seat of the upper circle.]
The 115 year old edition of the play that Jo gave me for my birthday this year. 
What need I worry in this world when I can always turn to Will and Jo for guidance?

Julie x

Wednesday 20 April 2016

The writing day that made me consider giving up writing. [OR 'Another case of an overthinker being hard on herself then sharing it all on her blog']

Well ... this is tricky

Because, I don't know about you, but I've never read any blogging advice* which tells you how much you're meant to write about an event you've attended before you get around to the part where you admit that you went home afterwards and cried

[*If you find that article, let me know. If not I guess I'll have to write it. Come to think of it, maybe this is it.] 

The event in question was a 7 hour writing day in a country hotel.

And I need to start by saying that no one I met there 'made' me cry! It wasn't anything anyone said or did. [I mean, granted, I was a bit baffled when one of the hotel staff said she had to leave our buffet lunch out for one hour only due to 'Health and Safety' ... but I'm not so attached to salad and potato wedges that their removal can bring me to tears.]  It was just ... well, I'll get on to what is was 'just ...' in a minute, but first  ... 

While I was trying to decide whether or not to go the day's host, a poet and teacher, was so genuine, friendly and helpful, answering all my questions, that there was no reason not to sign myself up... and it felt good.  
Not only was it going to be a chance to start working on some article/memoir ideas I had floating around, afterwards it was going to make such a good blog post! There was even a cake I could photograph ... which, let's not forget, is valuable currency in the blogosphere: 
And it was a fabulous sounding plan to be able to say: I was spending a whole day writing, surrounded by 10 other writers, with warm-up exercises in the library in the morning:
...leaving the remainder of the day free to work independently in the cosy lounge alongside a roaring wood fire:
... in a room with a view for goodness sake:
... and with time to wander freely around the grounds whenever you needed some bucolic inspiration: 
It felt serious, 'proper', like I was letting the world know I was dedicated to putting pen to paper.

And actually, it was indeed all of those things. For 6 of those 7 hours I had a really nice time [and even the 7th, which I'll get round to, wasn't exactly hell on earth]. Which is why, ever since, I've been torn over how to talk about that day with you here. How much to say. What tone to use. 

The thing is, it's been tempting to simply offer up the basic 'this is what I did' version. After all, that's the one I had planned from the start. I was never intending to go there and ruin my self esteem purely so I could write a misery post about it and beg you for comforting comments [although, that actually did cross my mind later on when I was still feeling a bit delicate!]

But whitewashing over life's embarrassing stains is not what I'm about here; I can't justify only sharing the shiny clean parts. Prior to this particular moment of crapping-out of 'adulting' I'd recently scribbled this in my notebook regarding what I choose to write about, that "things that hurt / feel vulnerable. I feel like this is all there really is when it comes down to it." A month later and I'm forced to put my story where my mouth is. So this is it.

As someone who's experienced anxiety in the past I can honestly report that this wasn't that. Not at first. I felt perfectly fine about going and spending the day writing alongside strangers. I felt confident. Free and easy. [Talk about setting your expectations high.]

The day before I'd picked out which notebooks to take [I took fewer than I originally planned because this amount was just overkill] and set out a nice outfit complete with my favourite boots. And on the day itself I and even captured a smiley bathroom selfie ... and who does that when they're having a sh*tty day? 
[I'm aware there'll be those of you asking 'Who does that? Full stop.' in which case you probably don't know me too well.] 

Like I say hours 1-6 were great. Everyone was really open and friendly even if it was a tiny bit awkward chatting to strangers at first, especially upon realising - as often seems to happen to me - that most of the people there already knew one another, making me once again a workshop outlier!  
And actually, this was one of the things that gave me pangs about choosing to come to this event rather than my monthly crafty meet-up with friends which was happening on the same day. Because, while meeting new people is all very evolved and everything, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. [Wow, that's good. Someone should write a song about that]. 

BTW: I'd already taken this photo of a sad, lone, broken, bulrush prior to my post-outing meltdown. Apparently there's no hiding your true feelings from your camera lens!
Similarly psychologically revealing I'd also captured ... a folly ... [which I later came to believe my thoughts of ever writing a book were]:
... and a warning sign:
But hey, you know, apart from all that I was feeling absolutely fine and dandy. Nothing else even vaguely angsty on my mind. I mean, it's not like I photographed the pet graves.

Oh, yeah, well ...
But, yes, I was actually feeling perfectly happy for the majority of the day; we'd had our useful guided warm-up exercises, we'd written, we'd eaten lunch [within the allotted hour], we'd drunk tea, we'd chatted and by the final hour of the day all that remained on the schedule was a chance to get together to share what we'd been working on and get feedback from the group if we wanted to.

But I didn't want to.

And that was where my problems started.

I need to stress that I was under no pressure whatsoever to share my work. Far from it. I even asked if it was OK for me to sit and listen to the others even if I didn't want to share, and I was welcomed warmly. Neither the host nor the rest of the group had any issue with me not sharing anything.

But someone did.


Usually, throughout my life, if I've been happy with something I'm doing, I can look myself in the eye and stand by it come hell or high water. [Which sounds like a nimble move in a game of Twister.]
At school, the other kids didn't share my taste in rock music and teased me about both it and my matching wardrobe. But that never stopped me from wearing cowboy boots on non-uniform day or playing Poison's 'Flesh & Blood' album to the class when the art teacher allowed us to listen to cassettes in our final year. [Yes, cassettes. Because I am old].

And a few years back, when I took a screenwriting class, as I believed so much in the realism of my sweary-yet-heartfelt little script I didn't back down when another student [a middle-aged man] repeatedly criticised the amount of cursing I'd used saying "Have you read this aloud to yourself? Do you really think it needs all that swearing? EastEnders manages to tell gritty stories without resorting to it." And while I steadfastly and admirably defended my work to him I think we can all agree that my biggest achievement was refraining from telling him to f*ck off.


And yet - in the writing room - I found that I just didn't dare read anything I'd written that day. Which in turn made me wonder if the real problem was not whether I was too shy to share it, but whether that deep down, I knew it just wasn't good enough for me to stand by.
[If you're only just now realising that, yes, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool overthinker then, where have you been???? Also, you've obviously never read my Pinterest profile].

Worse was to come though when I sat and listened to the others share their work which involved a fair share of serious, deep, at times moving, poetry followed by an equal level of seriousness in the group discussion and feedback.

Now - this wasn't my first time at the rodeo - I have the cowboy boots [and English Degree] to prove it. And I can be as serious as the next literature lover when it comes to analysis [just ask James who has smiled and nodded his way through many an overeager textual and structural breakdown of the latest book I've been reading]. And if we'd been talking about anything but our own work ...

I just didn't feel there was any way I could puncture this learned atmosphere by sharing what I'd been writing because - as I described to a friend the following week - what I'd been writing was:

"notes, ideas, a few paragraphs for a piece about something I learned from a trout ... [yes, the fish] and also trying to think of ways a smear test could be said to be like voting in an election [long story ...]."

Yeah. Those old gems.

Imagine me announcing that to the group. "Well, this is a piece about a trout that I wasn't expecting ...". Or "The thing with the speculum is ...".

Again this is not in any way meant as a criticism of the other writers there - I'm pretty certain that, if I had dared to share, they'd have been as supportive of me as they were to everyone else. The thing that had upset me most was that - in the heat of the moment - I couldn't bring myself to share the kind of writing that I write. 

Which led to me worrying that, if I couldn't share it with 10 strangers, how could I ever seriously hope to publish a book of it? Which, in turn, led me to feebly, amid warm, unstoppable, tears, saying to James "Maybe I should just give it up. Maybe I'm just fooling myself". 

And, when I said it I meant it. At that moment in time it wasn't hyperbole. I wasn't being a drama queen. I genuinely thought it was an idea worth considering. 

For his part he looked at me like I'd just suggested I give up breathing, or another essential part of my life - like always scrutinising Holmes and Watson's costumes when watching Elementary or buying boots for example - and declared "You're too hard on yourself.

Then he listened to my latest in a long line of self-esteem implosions before drying my eyes and buttering me a scone. [Not a euphemism].

The following week several other lovely people offered their invaluable support too [thank you] and made me feel there was hope for me yet. Which, intellectually, I already knew but it still felt nice to hear an objective voice on the matter. 

And I already knew that I wasn't entirely fooling myself, that my words were worth something because ... [and I don't want to get too emotional on you here and now, unless you've got a scone to offer me after?] ... because I know there are people here who read my nonsense, and enjoy it. 

Even though I'd felt like an oddball while sitting around that table - a trout out of water if you will - I know that I have occasionally managed to entertain people here. A fact I'd been gripping on to that fact to keep me afloat while I sat at the table. And that means such a lot to me right now.

So much so that a week after declaring that I was never going to write again ... I girded my loins and sent in an article pitch idea to a website I really admire.  
And it's a weird article. 

On a topic far more embarrassing than the ones I already daren't read to the group. And, naturally, if anything comes of it, I'll let you know. 

But we can never talk about it. OK? OK.


I wanted to be honest in this post so that - if you were feeling out of place, anxious, unsure about your work - you'd know you weren't alone. I don't mean it to be a cautionary tale against ever attending a workshop you like the look of!! Quite honestly I'm still tempted to go to the next writing day in the summer, only this time maybe I'll take some more prepared work to read ... like the majority of the others had!

I'm glad of the experience now and it hasn't done me any lasting damage, [apart from how long this post's taken me to write.]

I think of it now like when you're exercising and your muscles tear slightly, which certainly hurts you the next day, but eventually makes you stronger.

So I'll keep flexing if you will. Even when [especially when?] it aches.

Julie  x


p.s: If you'd like to read about another workshop that caused me some anxiety [I'm nothing if not predictable] then visit:

 Meanwhile, to learn why I really ought to take a plastic zebra with me to these things visit:

Friday 1 April 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: March

Hello hello.

I try never to explain my blogging schedule here - no "I'm sorry I haven't posted in so long" posts from me because, who cares? But I'm going to explain today purely because I can't be bothered to change the intro to make it make sense.

And so ... I started this post yesterday but didn't get around to finishing it because I was out at my book club and for the 2nd time this month, my neck's gone [well not 'gone' like when you push a Sindy doll's head right down and she ends up looking startled, you know what I mean] but 'gone' as in: hurts. So ... here's yesterday's post today.

< End of explanation that no one cares about. >


That was frost this morning you know; on the roof of our extension. I saw it while I was cleaning my teeth. [From this window, if you're wondering]. Grey white and cold-looking. And it told me that, unlike what I'd thought before going to bed, when I'd planned what to wear today, I would actually still need to put on my winter coat today. And so I have.

In fact ... I was still wearing it as I began typing this. [It was chilly on campus this morning.]

So, that's today covered, but how about I fill you in on the remainder of this one and only 'March 2016' ... how about you settle in [with or without your coat on, I'm not fussy] and 'll share my month ... in numbers*.

*[My Month in Numbers is a summary of the month's events where I - and anyone else who fancies it - hangs their every day stories on the peg of statistics. For more details on how you can do this visit here.]

I printed 590 photos. 
Naturally, this isn't something that happens every day but - in this digital age - getting photos of all your special events and holidays is no longer something we* even do every season. Or every year.

Or even every few years.

I'm sorry? What's that you're saying? I can't hear you over the din of all the scrapbookers yelling "Huh. Speak for yourself. I still print photos!!!" I know, I know ... and you're doing sterling memory-keeping work and future generations of historians [and current professional printing companies] will no doubt worship you for it. But you're the exception. [Now there's a title for your next layout.]

I didn't even print photos professionally when I was scrapbooking, let alone since I stopped so it took something pretty momentous to get me sitting all day at my laptop, juggling two external hard-drives selecting which photos -from thousands - I should upload and send to print. The momentous thing was my Dad's birthday.

Like mine this year his was a 'special' birthday; in the way that, again like me, if anyone had sprung anything vaguely 'special' on him he wouldn't have been thrilled.  So what to buy him? How to celebrate?

Then someone posted an offer on Facebook where you could get photos printed at a reduced cost [yes, since you ask, it was a scrapbooker] and it set me thinking.  I thought about all those photos of holidays, special occasions, loved ones, days out and favourite scenery that my parents have taken but which - unlike the photos of mine and my sister's birth until the dawn of digital cameras - have remained in limbo, on a computer drive, rarely to be flipped through and reminisced over.

And that's when I decided to secretly copy hundreds of my Dad's photos from his computer while he was out [clearly I've missed my calling as a spy]. Then my sister and I also looked through our own files for photos that told other stories, then I sorted them all out, renamed them all with the dates they were taken, and picked the best to upload to an online printing service. A total which came near to 400. [I almost needed a winch to pick them up when I collected them in store the following day].

Inspired by the idea I also sat and uploaded an additional 200 photos of mine and James's photos covering the last two year and had those printed too. Just another 12 or so years left to catch up on ...

On the afternoon of Dad's birthday we sat and leafed through them all together. As if it was 1989:
All of which turned out better than the evening before where we'd gone all out to for a birthday meal where, despite having booked well in advance we waited 90 minutes to be served our food, and at least two of the dishes ordered were sold out [which might not have been so bad if they weren't both for the same person. Let's just say she wasn't amused.] 

I won't say where, but, needless to say, we won't be rushing back in hurry. The saving grace of the evening [apart, of course, from all celebrating together, of course I thought of that first. Of course ...] was that, as it was a special occasion, I at least I had an excuse to wear that jacket:
[I revealed all about the jacket of which the fur may be fake but the 'now I'm 40 identity crisis' is real in last month's number round up here.]  

I enjoyed wearing it even if my look was somewhere between a Bronte sister and a Jim Henson puppet. 

And while we're on the subject of Brontes and dark clothing ...

In the year of the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth ...
I attended another fun evening hosted by The History Wardrobe, this time it was 'Gothic For Girls': 
The talk - complete with period fashion items to illustrate - is a tour through the history of black clothing and the rise of the Gothic novel. The beautiful reference floor of Middlesbrough library was a splendid backdrop to the dark and dramatic fashion history: 
The talk starts with the original definition of 'Goth' way back in the 3rd Century .... us right up to the present day, with Lucy Adlington ending on the treatment of the 'Goth' subculture in recent years bringing back memories of being called a Goth at school. Which I wasn't.

But then I think maybe anyone without a bubble perm and a flammable shell suit got called that in 1990. Or maybe it was the bat earrings I wore on a non-uniform day once...

Either way ... people's opinions on my clothes has never changed the way I choose to dress. Not then. Not now. [I refer the jury to Exhibit B: the silky black faux fur coat above].

While we're lurking in the shadows with fashion and novels that go bump in the night  ...

We spent approximately 4 hours in Whitby. In the dark. 
We'd actually gone for a very light, bright and cheerful purpose ... Alun Cochrane's  stand-up comedy show:
And - it's only fair to say - that he lived up to his side of the bargain entirely; it was a great evening of laughing, inside in a tiny venue with around 90 complete strangers.

It's just ... things had already been a bit brooding when we tried to kill some time after tea but before the venue opened.

[BTW yes, tea was fish and chips. That's just the law when you're in Whitby. Someone I know once had a hot-dog when we took him there and, quite frankly I've never thought the same of him since].

For a start it was cold. For another start it was dark. Which, as an adult I can perfectly cope with ... in the sky. But across the sea? Along the harbour? That was another story.
I don't like deep water at the best of times but all all that black, moody sea really made my post-fish and chips stomach turn. And then there were the spooky  black moors on the drive home ... is it any wonder that ...

That night I had 2 full-blown nightmares with a side-serving of weirdness and panic.
I'll spare you the details but there were faces, and blood, and sharp implements. It's like I said on Facebook the following day:

"20 March at 12:04
Last night I went to a comedy gig where I laughed lots but then came home and promptly had 2 nightmares, one weird dream and in between couldn't close my eyes without seeing/thinking scary things (including thinking someone was going to break in and kill us both with a crossbow!). Am thinking maybe next week I'll go and see a horror film to maybe induce some nice light-hearted dreaming."

Is it any wonder that I turned to colour?

I compiled 17 rainbow colour-ways of new-style 'Interesting Bits' kits:
They're in the shop now if you fancy a browse.

In other number news:
  • I started working on 50 collages [to keep up-to-date with that project follow @thecopyandpasteproject on Instagram]
  • I posted 32 mini March moments to Instagram - I love micro-blogging over there, do stop by and catch up over there - @withjuliekirk - if you're around.
  • I watched 27 back-to-back episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, an online show where ... erm ... comedians get in cars and go for coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. I shouldn't need to tell you how good it is; the "27 back-to-back episodes#2 bit was a clue.
  • Approximately 26 years after we first watched it on VHS holed up in my bedroom and 29 years after it was first released [yes, it is- and indeed you are - that old]  I cashed in a birthday voucher offer from my sister to watch The Lost Boys together. Unlike us ... the film hasn't dated. But then that's vampires for you. 
  • I read 6 books all of which you can find linked to via my reading record Pinterest board
If I was like Oprah [well, that sentence could go anywhere, couldn't it?] if I was like Oprah, where she buys everyone the same gift for Christmas because it's so great, then I would buy you all a copy of Naomi Wolf's part memoir, part biography of her father, part instruction book for living a fulfilling, creative and contented life: The Treehouse, because it's a seriously life-enhancing read.  

But I'm not Oprah so you'll have to buy it for yourself [or borrow it from a library like I did].


So ... that was my March: 
  • A complete and utter month-long Gothic-fest. All black clothes, dark water, hanging out in Dracula's town ... at night ... and all those pretty vampires. 
  • All adrift with a sea of paper ... and, well actual sea
  • And all fur coat and no ... neck.
If you ever want to join in with your own #MonthinNumbers .... go for it, then let me know so I can swing by. 

Whatever April brings I hope it includes us, you and I [well, the nice, normal ones amongst you anyway] bumping into each other online somewhere. Either here, on Twitter or Instagram.

See you sooner or later.