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Life in the big smoke

Oh pineapple you horribly devious fruit

There aren’t many things I don’t like just because of the way they taste, but there is one fruit I can’t stand. I’m sorry pineapple, but it’s you, with your sweet, yellow tropical flesh and your prickly skin. Unfortunately pineapple has always made an appearance in my life just before I get a stomach bug.

Strike 1 against the humble pineapple

The first time was my eighteenth birthday party. I know what you might be thinking, eighteenth birthday parties are normally followed by a bit of vomiting. This was different. I had some pineapple upside-down cake with my relatives, was floored by stomach pains and spent the rest of the day laying in a dark room. That was a couple of days before I was due to fly to Cambridge for an interview at the university. I was ill, seriously nervous and, I realise now, not very prepared for what studying English at Clare college would have meant. I flew out in the end, my dad booking a last minute ticket so he could come with me, and I walked around wide-eyed and amazed. I flunked the two interviews by babbling nonsense about Beowulf and then I flew home again.

Strike 2 against the pineapple

After that I avoided pineapple for many years, until I was working late at YLE one night and the only thing that looked appetising in the cafeteria was a plastic tub full of fresh pineapple. How bad can it be, I thought? Next thing I know I’m in a Mexican restaurant in town with some friends, running to the loo to … yes you guess it, vomit. I’m still amazed I managed to get the tram home that night and I spent the next week or so recovering, during which time I read many self-help books and decided it was probably a good idea to quit my job and move to the UK.

Strike 3 against the pineapple

On Monday Gerry and my brother had brought home a fresh pineapple. They encouraged me to eat some and I said no, telling them my story about what the fruit had put me through in the past. I only sniffed a piece and the memories started flooding back. I didn’t eat any.

The next day, which was the day before Gerry and I were due to fly to Finland for a short holiday, I woke up and felt bad, really bad. What followed was what someone else described as all the hangovers in your life coming back to visit you at once. We ended up not going to Finland.

So here I am. Finally feeling a bit better, wondering what kind of strange random chanceness is at work here. I’m starting to think pineapple and stress is not a winning combination.

One of my biggest problems or how to deal with that angry toddler inside you

It snowed this morning, big heavy flakes. It’s the worst sort of weather in this town, it keeps people indoors, only brave Londoners who have to work or desperately want their morning paper and a coffee hide behind umbrellas and hurry along the pavements. It snowed and then it stopped and now it’s just cold and grey. I’m in the studio. The heating is still not working, but at least we’ve bought a fan heater, it keeps my toes nice and toasty.

I’m writing, but I’m lagging slightly behind my target of 2000 words per day. After a marathon sprint during the last two weeks I hit some kind of wall on Thursday and Friday. Every time I sat down to write I experienced what can best be described as my inner angry three-year-old clenching her fists and shouting “I just don’t want to do anything”. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced this particular kind of vicious inner procrastinator, but if you have you know she (or he) can be a bit tricky to deal with. I’ve spent two days reading British newspapers, looking up interesting flats on Airbnb and reading about super volcanoes.

There are a couple of texts I need to edit. I have a finished manuscript sitting on the hard-drive, waiting for me to pay it even the tiniest bit of attention. I’ve written a couple of short stories I’d like to send out. But every time I start thinking about doing that final edit, about perhaps getting them ready for readers who aren’t my immediate family that angry three-year-old appears again.

I know what’s going on here. I’m afraid of being judged, of what people might think and feel when they read my writing, so I leave it all sitting on my hard-drive. I’m not alone here. I’m not the first person to runaway and hide because I fear rejection.

So I need to come up with a strategy, something that will appease that angry three-year-old. How do parents deal with screaming toddlers? Well I just googled “how to deal with angry three year old” and a lot of interesting stuff came up.

Among other things:

Don’t judge the child for their anger

The anger is the problem, not the angry child. So … the procrastination is the problem, not my fear of rejection? Basically feel the fear and do it anyway.

Find the anger triggers

“Work together to try to find out what triggers the anger. You’ll learn to recognise the early warning signs that anger is starting to rise.” (From the NHS website)

In other words – don’t focus on the end result, focus on the work, when the end result triggers anxiety.

Have a specific goal

“You could have a star chart on the wall and reward your child with stickers for keeping anger away for a whole hour, then gradually move to half a day, then a day and so on.”

Yes, I know lots of writers do this, they reward themselves in different ways for reaching their word targets. Would a glass of wine for every short story sent out work? Ice cream? Pancakes with maple syrup and bacon? A full hour of reading about super volcanos on Wikipedia? I’m sure I can find some kind of bribe that works.

Praise your child

“Praise your child’s efforts and your own efforts, no matter how small. This will build your child’s confidence in the battle against anger.”

This makes sense, we all know it makes sense and yet we never do it. Give yourself some positive feedback every now and then.

In the end the main thing is to keep writing, to ignore the temper tantrums, to not give in to angry toddlers and to always have some ice cream in the fridge. So… 2000 more words, here we go!

Image by Caleb George.

Fifteen-year-old delusions and tea

When I was fifteen I read about Sylvia Plath writing in her cold flat in London, the water pipes freezing on the outside of the building because it was such a harsh winter (one of the coldest in centuries). I used to think this sounded intriguing and I daydreamed about sitting in a cold flat somewhere in the UK, typing away with fingerless mittens and drinking lots of tea. I now realise that fifteen is a delusional age.

This is the coldest it’s been in London all winter. It doesn’t compare to the minus 20 degrees and snow hammering my hometown at the moment, but it is still quite an unfortunate time for the heating in the studio to break down. So here I am typing away wearing layers of woolly jumpers, my scarf, several socks and I’m still freezing. The only thing that makes it a bit more bearable is to drink lots and lots of tea. It’s not exactly lovely or glamorous or even that interesting, but then again not many things you idolise when you’re fifteen will be.

I have learned one thing though. Tea is great.

Image by Padurariu Alexandru.

The on and offness of life

How’s your January going? I thought this year would begin like the last one – slowly. Instead the pace from that mad pre-Christmas rush in December seems to have been ramped up even further. Let me put it like this, I’m drinking decaf in the mornings now because I’m already so hyped that I’m afraid caffeine would push me over the edge. There are to-do-lists swirling around in my head when I wake up in the morning.

I think I might need to start meditating again.

Mainly I just need to stop and breathe deeply (which I’m not doing at the moment). And I need to try to remind myself that life’s funny like this. Sometimes it pours, sometimes everything washes over you at once and you’re swept away. There’s nothing you can do about it. Then there are those periods when nothing happens and you look at your inbox and your phone thinking, “will it always be like this”. Perhaps we can call it the on and offness of life.

Here is a checklist for these on moments:

– Lavender oil
– Sleep
– Hugs
– Gratitude
– Perspective

Because of the current on-ness in my life this blog might be slightly less coherent, slightly more rambly, slightly more about what’s going on around me at the moment. I hope that’s OK. There will be more London posts coming up as well, but first I need to deal with all this on-ness that’s going on at the moment.

A couple of things on a January morning

– London is frosty and sunny and this morning was the coldest we’ve had this year so far. The sky was pale blue and a chilly pink that reminds me of home. Last night when we drove home the sun set over the city and the top floors of the houses in Dalston were glowing orange. The Smiths played on the stereo and all those thoughts that had been buzzing around in my head stopped. I landed right in the moment, listening to Johnny Marr playing the guitar, thinking this is all so nice. Those things you thought were cool when you were fifteen stay with you.

– I’ve started a new job. I’m freelancing for Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. It’s exciting. After about a year of not doing much journalism I’m back into the swing of things, booking interviews, reading papers, writing long lists of stories I’d like to do.

– I’m also trying to finish a project I’ve been working on since the autumn. At the moment I can’t say much more about it, but what I can say is that I’m slightly behind. I should be writing around 2000 words per day to stay on target. That is quite a lot. But I’ve been writing and writing during every spare minute I have and I’m finding that staying with a story this way is really quite good. All the characters are clear in my head, I know what I’m doing and where I’m going… most of the time at least.

– I’ve been writing a lot in Swedish lately.

– I keep coming up with strange new project ideas (for that one day when I have some down time) like writing short pieces based on London’s many ghost stories, that could also double up as a guide to the city. This does make sense in my head.

Image by Rebecca Johnston.