Friday, 26 June 2009

In Mourning

Ugh. I’m crying again.

The good news is that my new career has been confirmed. I have a future.

The bad news is that I’m in mourning, for my old career.

It was a small thing set me off. Well, it seemed small. But the more I dwelt on it, the bigger it got.

I was reminded of a sentence I’m particularly proud of. I like the way that happens, the way all my books have particular lines which stand entire in my head. So, anyway. I went off to the Russian translation, to see how that bit came out.

Butchered. That’s how it came out. It went from one gloriously-rich analogy to three bare words. Which do you prefer: “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun” or “It's her, innit”? It was that kind of thing. Not that I’m comparing myself to Shakespeare. I’m not Shakespeare, I know that. That’s part of my problem. I know I’m not a great writer, that even the original in its native language is no literary masterpiece and unlkely to set the world alight. If I thought I were a misunderstood genius I’d be a lot happier. I could sit here muttering at those bastards holding me back, or go down arms aflailing, shouting to be heard and ignoring the just-not-quite-good-enough truth.

But anyway. Every time I look at a particular line in the book, the translation comes up lacking. I know, I could be wrong. It may be language, or culture, or the English was overwritten and the translation is stripped back and elegant.

Or perhaps it’s a crap translation.

If this were just one territory among many, it wouldn’t matter too much. But this is the only version of my book available. My book, that I slaved over for four years. That I edited and rewrote and rewrote again. Every line pored over, tweaked, perfected… and now it’s gone. And somehow I managed to lose my agent, at the exact moment when I really needed one, and there’s little chance of anyone reading my words, the ones I wrote, rather than someone else’s approximation of what I maybe sort-of meant.

And I have to let it go. Because I have a new job to start very soon, and it’s going to take all my time, and this is the wrong moment to be looking for a new agent or writing a new book and I just have to wave goodbye.

Yes, it’s only temporary. I can come back to it, in a few years’ time. Maybe one day in the future I’ll find another agent and they’ll fall in love with the book and find people other than Russians that want to read it. But for now… it’s over.

And I’m grieving.

And Another Thing

And the whole stupid mess turns me into a blubbering self-pitying tedious one-track wreck, which is fucking annoying to say the least, for me as well as you.

Poor bloody me.


Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Let Life Begin

[apologies for wonkiness - and copiedness-from-comments-boxness-ness - i have a baby on my lap. will attempt to come back later and tidy up a bit]

Lucy's talking about a list of things to do before she's 40. I'm going to be four decades long in only three weeks, and the very thought of such a list makes me want to jump back under the duvet and not emerge for at least another month.

But I have a good excuse: I (possibly rather sillily with hindsight, but there you go, I had little control over the timing) went and had a baby when I was 39, and that rules out most pre-40 excitement.

I was thinking last night, though, that although I disapprove of age-related moaning, a lot of my recent miserablism has been exacerbated by pre-40 jitters. I feel as though I'm about to be Officially Old and haven't achieved a whole load of stuff that's only going to get harder - if not impossible - with age.

I'm having running battles with myself these days about a giant banner I've erected above my psyche. It reads Failed Writer. My second book is only available in Russian. My first book is barely available at all. Neither of them are much good. And crucially I'm about to stop writing altogether, before I manage to finish my third.

It's all bollocks, for many reasons: I'll return to writing in the future, the Russians are perfectly capable of being discerning readers, and crucially writing is something that tends to mature with age, not get harder. There are few skimpy bikinis involved in the life of your typical writer. But still. I'm not where I wanted to be, where I thought I'd be.

But still but still. It's basically bollocks. So I gave me a good stern talking to and reminded myself that life begins at 40 and there's a load more excitement ahead. So that's all right then. And fuck lists.

Here's my list of things I'll do before I'm 40.

1. Whinge.
2. Cry.
3. Whinge a bit more.
4. Sob.
5. Eat cake.
6. Nurse a crying baby.
7. Eat chocolate.
8. Make a massive To Do list containing items like "sort out broadband" and "hem trousers" and "make a squillion doctors' appointments for every member of the family".
9. Eat chocolate cake.
10. Fail to do any of the items on the To Do list.
11. Fail to do any of the items on this list, and then get swallowed up in a giant existential feedback loop.
12. Cry.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Globe and Jerusalem

Oh artichokes, the baby's ill again. It's so utterly mundane and yet it takes me by surprise every time. And every time I despair at how utterly wretched it is to spend a significant chunk of time in the presence of a baby - my baby - who won't stop crying. It can destroy my psyche within hours.

I think the problem is I'm just not very good at giving all of myself. I can give bits of myself, that's fine. But I need to keep some back. I'm just not martyrly enough. It must be that rogue testosterone (the finger thing, you know). But that's not really fair. There are men who can give all of themselves. I'm just not one of them. Hmm, that came out wrong.

I look forward to Tuesday mornings, because I get glorious delicious time to myself, just me, the house my oyster, after three whole days of Full Time Mum. So it's doubly frustrating when maladies wait until then to manifest themselves.

If only I could get used to it, but I guess evolution has relied on that not happening. Ho hum. Oh well. Could be worse. I'm not properly depressed. Not yet, anyway.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Coming Clean (or wiped with a damp cloth)

Just cos I mentioned this elsewhere and have no real reason to be cagey, the nuts are books. Novels, to be specific. I am a novelist. Currently a slightly frustrated one, given that my latest has only been published in Russian and shows no signs of coming out in English any time soon.

Oh, and yes, of course I'm jealous of Bete de Jour's talent/success... that's no secret. But I'm also quite open about liking the book and hoping it does well. I just don't believe it's real.

But anyway... I might carry on talking about nuts, flimsy analogy though they represent, out of sheer perversity.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Russian Nuts

Oh yeah, and my Russian nuts have come out. Which is just bloody weird. I received my very own basket, and they look quite like English nuts, only they're all in foreign.

So... being as how the nut analogy is pretty much falling apart, cos unlike real ones my nuts can't be truly enjoyed in anything but their consumers' native country... it's all just totally odd. Nobody I know can eat my nuts, or admire their aesthetic splendour. Noone whose opinion I crave will ever know whether my nuts are any good.

Which means I can pretend they're the best thing ever, and you can't disagree.

Also I got paid. Which was a total shock, cos payment is normally slow. So, I have incomprehensible nuts but money in the bank, which is better than a dunk in a frozen pond. So I win.

The Mind Murders

My mind's been at it again.

You know, now I think of it I often dream about having dead bodies to dispose of. Just the other night I dreamt that I was visiting my grandmother and accidentally killed some bloke who was hassling her. I bunged his body in a clothes chest and hoped for the best, then days later realised it would smell. I started to panic, but couldn't decide whether removing it would make things better or worse.

Well, anyway. Last night I dreamt that a close relative - let's say my brother, cos I don't have one of those so I won't upset anyone - died. It gets hazy at this point, in the way dreams do. I don't know whether I or my father was responsible for the death, but for some reason we felt we had to hide the body. So we dumped it in a pond in my parents' back garden. The pond froze over. All fine. Until the pond thawed, and the body - still frozen - floated to the surface. So we dragged it out and defrosted it, in the faint hope that... oh my God, there was my brother, in front of my eyes, coming back to life. I can still see it. He sat up, opened his eyes, hugged his knees and looked a bit bewildered. And for a moment, for my father and me... there was such delight: The person we loved, who we thought was dead, had come back to life... and then there was guilt and horror. We slung him in a pond when he wasn't even dead. But my brother went grey and rigid again, and it was all just a horrible reflex, awakened by the thaw.

Then a friend called round wanting to do something suitably incongruous like visit an art gallery. I hurried them upstairs to my bedroom so they wouldn't see my father with the corpse. Meanwhile my father had been listening, and had rushed upstairs with the cadaver... leaving us to walk in on him, bending over the stiff and looking decidedly dodgy.

And if that weren't enough, I then dreamt I was given a pampering spa day as a present by a friend... only to find that colonic irrigation was part of the package, and when I protested they got all sinister and started showing me the slimy worm-like products of other people's bowels. Apparently the process involved taking a pill and then suffering from extreme vomiting and diarrhoea for a couple of hours... but feeling marvellous afterwards. And being me and not liking to complain, I tried to convince myself this was a good thing and maybe I didn't mind so much.

So, psychoanalysis: I think I've done something terrible and am desperate to hide the evidence, even if it means shitting it out on some health spa bog. Which will be good for me in the long run. Yeah. That'll be it.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Too Good to be True

Gah, I agonised over whether to write this or not. But I was encouraged to by the subject himself, so here goes.

I mentioned the other day that I'd been reading - and enjoying - Bete de Jour; Intimate Adventures of an Ugly Man. I've been following the blog for ages, and this is the most engaging blog-turned-book I've read. He reveals details he only hinted at online, and I was dying to know the truth. The writing, as on the blog, is a delight. He's erudite, ascerbic, funny. He has a turn of phrase to love (for the entertainment) and hate (because you're jealous).

The blog is called Bete de Jour. The blogger uses the name Stan Cattermole, and claims to have a face like a bag of elbows. Having suffered all his life from the label "ugly" - not least at the hands of his parents - on the eve of his 30th birthday he made a decision. He was fat and flat-bound, had never experienced a loving relationship and was determined to put things right. So he started a blog, and to a large extent it worked. It brought him sex, recognition, friends, confidence and a book deal. The book itself is a moving, self-aware, honest account of the whole experience.

But... there's a problem. It's been doing my head in, and here it is: I don't believe Stan Cattermole exists.

At first I was too battered by emotion to think critically, but as soon as I did the doubts appeared. His parents, spectacularly inhuman bastards who never even smile at him, are two of the most two-dimensional characters I've seen in fiction, never mind real life. Of course there are hideous child-abusing monsters who ruin their own children's lives... but they're complex human beings, full of contradiction and confusion. Not these two. They get drunk, throw plates, watch sport and jump from one cliché to the next. And then... well, I won't spoil the book. But it has an everything's-all-right finale which is really hard to believe, on so many levels it's like a giant Scooby Doo sandwich, with layer upon layer of saccharine, cliché and poorly-researched lie.

There are many other less-than-believable aspects of the book. The neat narrative arc of the year he chose to blog. The fact that he moved from book deal to review copy in less than six months. The online sex encounter which, although hilarious and brilliantly written, has been done before, in similar shape, by online comedians. The porn-film rape which reads like an urban myth. The modern classical concert enhanced by a fire alarm, which is an urban myth. The way he lost his virginity.

The details of his family were apparently too raw to be blogged. But he describes how he wished his online readers would tease it out of him, craving their friendship and support. I emailed him after reading that part of the book - telling how, when I read the hints on his blog, I didn't push for more out of respect for his privacy. If only I'd known! I would have been there for him!

But as soon as I started doubting, the whole thing felt wrong. And the author is anonymous, so none of it is verifiable. Yes, he has a real-life friend with a blog of his own, but who's to say either of them exist?

I wasn't sure whether to write this review, because I might be wrong - in which case it could appear downright mean. And because... for a long time I believed in him. I had my doubts when he first published the porn-film encounter on his blog, but I pushed them to the back of my mind because I loved the idea of the tragic man with the massive heart. And the wit, and the intellect, and the great writing ability.

Does it matter? If it's not real, hasn't he just written a great novel? Didn't I enjoy reading it, and isn't that the point? Well, maybe. Sadly as a novelist he's got great writing style, but the plot... is a bag full of elbow-shaped clichés. And as a blog-reader who offered support and advice, I feel daft. Gullible. Cheated.

But for all its flaws, it's a great book and he is - in some senses at least - a brilliant writer. I hope Bete de Jour does well, and I hope this review - if it has any effect at all - will encourage more people to read it. As long as Stan refuses to confirm anything, the whole thing becomes a deliciously post-modern game: Read the blog, read the book, and decide for yourself if it's real.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Good Stuff

The baby, bless his little being-looked-after-by-someone-else toes, has gone to nursery today. I think yesterday was all about the teething. I don't know though. You never really do.

So today I'm all on my own in my delightfully-quiet house and I'm preparing for something Very Important I have coming up, something which will probably determine whether I can do my new career or not. And joy of joys, I'm so enjoying myself. It's using skills I haven't used properly for years, and I'd forgotten how much I like this stuff. To have a job which involves doing it all day every day feels like bliss at the moment. I know it won't be that simple - nothing ever is - but for today I'm feeling positive, which is a brilliant thing.

And it's all very well talking in riddles but it does get a bit wearing after a while, so I'm thinking I might start a new Totally Anonymous blog where I can write properly about the new career. Sadly it really does need to be anonymous. Properly anonymous, rather than this place, which is only halfly anonymous. Speaking of which, given that many of you know who I am anyway and the original reason for talking nonsense about nuts has now disappeared... I should probably stop talking in squirrel riddles too. Except that... I'm getting rather fond of the squirrel thing, ludicrous though it is. And I'm worried that there may be some other reason, which I haven't thought of yet, for being a bit circumspect. I have a terrible history of opening my gob (wielding my pen / keyboard) at inappropriate moments and letting all the wrong stuff fly out. So, hum. Dunno.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

So Fucking Hard

It's just so fucking hard. I got less than four hours sleep last night. Because I stayed up late reading this guy's book (and it's a great book, and you should all read it, and some time when I'm not sleep-deprived and at the beck and call of a screaming baby I'll write a proper review), and then my baby kept waking up, kept waking me up, wouldn't settle. And then when we finally got up at 6.30am this morning, less than four hours after I went to bed, he wouldn't stop crying.

He keeps getting ill, and God it's just the worst thing. Not just because I love him to bits and it breaks my heart to see him in distress. Not just because I have a cold and a headache and every time he screams it pierces my brain. But also because of planning, and feeling like I have even the tiniest modicum of control over my life. In the last three weeks I've had to cancel two trips away, one visit to a friend, several trips to my yoga class and the swimming pool, and several days which were supposed to be spent deisgning nuts. Any of the things I might do to keep me sane - getting out of the house, getting exercise, seeing other people, being creative - might be snatched away from me at a moment's notice, and suddenly here I am again, screaming baby in my arms, unable to even go to the toilet or get myself something to eat without making him scream even more or have to have a baby - crying or otherwise - on one arm.

Somebody once told me that depression and anxiety are all about lack of control. That's how torturers work. Flashing lights on and off, refusing to allow prisoners access to basic facilities or choice over what happens next or sleep... it fucks people up.

It seems like everyone else manages to cope with these things. There's something wrong with me, I'm not wired right to be a mother. But then apparently that's a classic symptom of post-natal depression. The belief that everyone else is coping better than you. Nobody finds this stuff easy.

Ah well. He's asleep in his cot for now, but it won't last, and in the meantime I have a Really Important Interview for my new career next week and the preparation time available is dwindling fast, so I better go do some swotting. Just thought I'd have a moan here first.


Friday, 5 June 2009

Yoyo Rollercoaster

I had a good day, sorting out a lot of boring but urgent tasks. The pile is smaller and I am no longer sitting on it. I feel a lot better. I might even get to some nut-designing next week. I might even feel good about it. Fuck knows though - anything could happen, and it's a while since I managed to predict the shape of a day or week with any accuracy at all.

Just, you know, I don't want people worrying about me. I'm all right.


Depression is a strange thing. Sometimes it involves conscious "oh woe is me" type thoughts, but most of the time it's a weird chemical sludge. I can feel my brain chemistry changing. I feel drugged, even though I'm not on any medication and would rather stay that way. Some of the time it feels like PMT. I get clumsy and grumpy. I can't think straight. Tiny things like my baby son wriggling so much I can't get his dungarees on, or my other son jumping up and down and shouting "bibbidy bobbidy doo" repeatedly, make me snap - the result being an apparently interchangeable growl or sob.

There's a slight buzzing in my head, hidden behind a wall of treacle which makes me wander around in a permanent fog. Of, er, treacle. OK, so I'm mixing my metaphors, but anyway...

I can see that the sun is shining and my sons are super-cute, I can see that objectively I have nearly everything I ever wanted, but all that does is make me feel inadequate, for not being able to enjoy these things.

It's not constant. I have good days, good weeks, but the sludge can return in an instant, and I forget it ever left.

I think I should just pull myself together. Sometimes I even can. I know I should think positive thoughts. But I never know whether I should be trying to control it and fight it, or just give myself a break, cut myself some slack, accept that sometimes I feel sad these days, and that's just the way it is.

I could summarise my whole life like that: It's been a constant tension between chilling out and fighting. I'm never sure which one I'm supposed to be doing. This is what you get for being a lazy control freak.

It's always afterwards that it hits me. I once suffered from acute anxiety. For a while I stopped functioning altogether. I had an anxiety attack that lasted a week. I was ill, on and off, for about a year. And it kicked in, as anxiety often does, just after a prolonged period of stress in my life. I fought the fires, and once they were out I fell in the hole they'd left behind.

This time it's depression instead of anxiety, but it's a similar situation. Over the last two years I've faced miscarriage, redundancy, debilitating illness, childbirth. More recently there have been smaller things: a baby with a high temperature that wouldn't respond to mdeicine. A car that died and needed to be replaced. A professional whose services were vital to my career, but who let me down when I needed them most - and had to be sacked. And now here I am, everything is calm again, the house is in some sort of order, I have my lovely baby who I went through so much to get*... and I feel rubbish. As long as I was still aiming for that new-baby goal, I had to hold things together. Now that it's all over, I can fall apart.

I knew it was a risk, having another baby, particularly so soon after a miscarriage. I knew it would be hard. I worried about what effect it might have on my mental health, but I went ahead it with it anyway. Maybe I shouldn't have done it. Maybe I should have left more of a gap. Maybe I shouldn't have tried to go self-employed after the redundancy - particularly when I knew there was no immediate prospect of any significant income, and home-based isolation is the last thing you need when you've just had a baby. But regrets are pointless, and sometimes you just have to go for what you want and hope for the best. Maybe if I'd held myself back I would just have got depressed sooner, rather than later.

Maybe I need to let the misery happen, get it out of the way and then move on. Or maybe that's tantamount to wallowing, and will just make it worse.

That's another symptom: A pathological inability to make decisions and then stick to them.

At least I've got September sorted. I'm not changing my mind about that.

*"get" seems like the wrong word for another human being. I got my baby. But I did. I wanted him, and then I got him. It always makes me laugh when people throw the accusation of selfishness around in respect to parenthood. It's selfish to have lots of kids. It's selfish to have none. Both things are true. We have, or don't have, children... entirely for our own benefit. But that's fine. It's how the human race survives. Although it's ironic that both having and not having children can also destroy someone.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sad Squirrel

I'm not a happy squirrel. If I'm honest I've been sad, on and off, for a few months now. The good news is that I'm not sad all the time. The not-so-good news is that one of the main things which pushes the sadness aside is overwhelmedness. Life keeps hitting me over the head, and then I get so busy defending myself from the blows that I forget all about happy or sad and just do hectic instead. Or maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe it's better to be busy. I dunno. I just know that whenever things slow down again, I find myself on top of a giant pile of crap. And it needs sorting out, but it's really hard to organise a mound of chaos when you're sitting on it. And I'm a control freak, and I have a small baby, and I keep forgetting that people with small babies are supposed to take it easy and not keep trying to sort everything out.

Today I am having my first Spare Day for about three weeks, after various tedious fires (ill children, broken cars, weddings to attend, yadda yadda) needed fighting. It's not spare at all, of course. I'm sitting up high on this heap, and I'd like to be down on that floor with no mess in sight.

It overwhelms me. It depresses me. It tires me out.

The future looks both better and worse. On the one hand it contains a sort-of cure to one problem and a total cure to another one, but it also promises a whole new pile of crap.

The sort-of cure is for the problem of My Career. I feel like a failed nut designer. I know the Russians are launching one of my nuts next month... but they're in Russia, speaking Russian, and now that they have their very own Russian nut-polisher who has converted English to Russian, they're not very interested in me. I'm not even sure they'll give me news on how it's doing. It all feels very remote. I've been paid, and my part is over. My latest nut won't be ready before September, I have no deals in the offing and no advocate to find any new deals, and I'm about to embark on a brand-new career which will completely fill the next two years of my life... so there'll be no more nut-designing for a long time, and I'm waving goodbye to that part of my life for a significant chunk of time. But it's a sort-of cure because this new career is something I know I can do, and do well. So it will (hopefully) bring success back into my life... but via a different door.

The problem it totally cures is the one of What Happens in the Future. I was facing nothing but failure, bankruptcy and uncertainty. Now I have an income and Something Rewarding To Do to look forward to, so that's very good.

The whole new pile of crap will be caused by the new career, which will be time-consuming and exhausting and will leave me with even less spare time to sort out the daily detritus that life and babies create.

I'm assuming that I'll pick up in September. It's exciting and I am looking forward to it, and I'm hoping that being busy with something I like will create a much better daily mindset than being busy with domestic crap whilst watching my erstwhile career dribble away through my fingers and down a large smelly drain.

People who like my nuts don't like it when I get all defeatist about the nut-designing. They try and tell me that success may be just over the horizon, that the Russian nut may lead to bigger and better things. They tell me off when I talk of failure. They hate it when I suggest that I may be done with nuts for a lot longer than two years. Maybe forever. Maybe I'm just not cut out to be nut designer, I say. Rubbish, they say.

They're probably right. I probably can't stop even if I want to. But I look back at my nuts... and I think they're a bit crap. And I wonder if I have the time, the commitment, the energy... or the ability required to improve my craft and make better nuts. I'm depressed, so of course I think this way. But the practicalities mean that I have to put it aside for a while. Maybe when the kids are older it'll get easier. Maybe I can save up some money from my new career, then take some time off and design a beautiful new nut. Or maybe I won't even want to. Maybe I won't miss it, will be happier without it and all its tedious ups and downs.

But as for the Russian nut suddenly taking off... this is what all nut designers live on. As well as fruit designers, tree designers... everyone who creates something new and hopes that someone somewhere might notice it and go wow. They live on hope. They have to. But for most, the hope is misplaced. Most nuts die in relative obscurity, most designers are never noticed, were mediocre to start with and even if they weren't don't have enough luck or spark to get anywhere much. I know I'm not supposed to talk this way... but that doesn't mean it's not true.

I just know that I feel tired and grey, and currently want nothing to do with any of it. I'm gradually reducing my commitments, as well as contact with the nut designing community, which if I'm honest just depresses me even more (sorry), in preparation for September.

I have an appointment with a doctor next week. Maybe they can help.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The Wedding Bead

We went to a wedding on Saturday night. We were told not to bring presents or money... just a bead. Preferably one with a story behind it.

When I was in my early twenties I lived in a flat of my own, in a run-down area of Manchester. My main preoccupations were politics and parties. If I'm honest the parties got the most attention. Most of my friends lived within a half-mile radius and we spent a lot of time in my shambolic flat, talking nonsense and admiring pretty things. Various flatmates drifted in and out, one of which was Rachael. She’s still a close friend now, and a funny caring ballsy woman.

I had a patchwork coat she coveted, and she had a necklace made from incredible beads. They appeared to be made of turquoise foil, surrounded by swirls of coloured resin. They caught the light like tiny crystal balls. If you stared into them hard enough you could see whole movies unfolding in front of you.

We agreed to a swap. She got the coat, I got the necklace. Even though it was very small and choker-like, and there's something about my neck and chin and ears that doesn't suit chokers, I wore it a lot. I would stroke the satisfyingly-smooth beads, and invite people to stare into their depths. There was one bead that was flawed, with a rough scarred surface on one side. I turned it around to hide the injured side. A friend noticed what I was doing, and it became Our Special Thing. Whenever he saw me wearing it he would find the flawed bead and turn it around for me with a ritualistic solemnity and a twinkle in his eye.

My patchwork coat has long since died, and I've discovered that the distinctive twisted links which connect the beads are made of red gold. The whole thing is rather valuable. I should really give it back. Occasionally we agree that I should return the beads, and I promise that one day I will... but I never do.

It broke one time, and a link was lost during the repair. A bead had to be removed. I still have it. I still wear the necklace. I may have worn it at the wedding. I'm not sure, as I'm writing this post before the wedding but posting it afterwards, and I haven't decided yet... but anyway. The bead will be my gift, and this is its story.