Life Laundry

Julie Lawford Aug 18I’ve been having a bit of a sort-out and a clear-out lately; physical, emotional, psychological – and digital too. It’s come about through a combination of reasons. Dealing with the clear-out of my mother’s life, possessions and paperwork over the last 18 months has shown me, quite brutally, that just like her, I’ve been holding on to much more stuff (of every kind) than I should be.  It’s made me question what I’ve been keeping, and why, and look afresh at everything, challenging it to show me its value or its beauty.  Then the whole naughty gallbladder business over the last several months has made me feel, well… vulnerable… in a way I haven’t felt for a very long time. With this (hopefully) behind me, the need to reassert control over my life and environment has been compelling.  And for the first time in several years, some old stress symptoms were making a most unwelcome return.  Last time they’d proved difficult to shift and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again – ignoring the early warning signs, failing to deal with the stressors.

Time to think

Over the summer I had a lot of time to think, as I spent a few weeks doing little else whilst my insides settled down and my physical scars mended. This pause for reflection  helped me decide to use the remaining months of 2018 to consolidate, reassess and, personally speaking, regroup.

So as soon as I felt my energy levels pick up again, I got on to it.

Out with the old

I’ve been ruthless with the stuff that needed to go. I’ve been back and forth to my local tip with general and recyclable waste, garage, attic and cupboard clearance. I’ve been shredding… and shredding… and shredding more.  Old financial paperwork and old client work formed the bulk, but my philosophy has always been ‘if in doubt, don’t bin it, shred it’.  My local council very kindly told me it was ok to break the rules just this once  and put six bags of shredding out for the recycle collection in one go. My alternative was living with the six bags blocking my kitchen door, whilst I carefully filtered it out a little each week for, oh, I don’t know how many weeks, but certainly until long after Christmas. I’ve been clearing out my wardrobe and bagged-up stock of old clothes too (multiple sizes, remember my constant yo-yo weight battle?) so local charity shops and Ebay have benefitted. Horror of horrors, I’ve even been thinning out my bookshelves.

I’ve dusted top shelves, reorganised cupboards, glued and sewed loose bits of stuff, consolidated a giant bag of travel-size toiletries and sprayed some noxious pink treatment all over my lichen-stained patio and decking. (I’m not at all convinced it will deliver the results the marketing blurb promises, but time will tell.)

Emotionally and psychologically speaking, I’ve been tackling issues which have lingered in my life for longer than they should have done. In one instance this involved a difficult conversation, but once the talk was talked, the weight that lifted was palpable. Another, a resignation from a thankless voluntary position I’ve been holding because nobody else wanted to do it. After too many years, I’ve decided it’s someone else’s turn, and that’s that. I’m giving plenty of notice, but I’m not intending to make succession planning my problem.

Other changes are taking place, enthralling and unexpected. In recent months one or two friendships have reappeared, repaired or strengthened in ways I could never have anticipated, whilst I’m consciously letting other less enriching connections fall away.

To the administratively mundane… There was the bundle of more onerous desk-based jobs which have clung to my task list for far too long. You know the kind of jobs I mean; the ones which you stare at on your list every day, knowing they’re on there because they need to be done; but you can’t face actually doing them because they’re too complex, or boring, or tricky, so you move on to do something easier instead. Three down, two more to go, and already I feel so  much more in control.

Digitally speaking, I’ve been busy on the keyboard too. I’ve reorganised my data files, culled my contacts list, sliced away at my slew of email folders, sent thousands of pointless photographs to the trash-can and checked my back-ups are working. Phew!

Somehow, I’ve made the time to have major electrical works done at my house too, the list of little things that needed doing having finally grown so large that it involved three precious weeks of my electrician’s time.  Next stop – finding a painter for the top-to-toe domestic redecorating project – and I’m on it!

To blog, or not to blog

One last thing though, and it concerns you, my lovely readers. I’ve made a decision about my blog. You won’t have seen that much from me lately – and that’s because I’ve let myself off the hook, freeing myself from the self-imposed burden of posting regularly.

The decision I’ve now made, is to stop blogging altogether.

I opened this blog to build an audience for my writing. Initially I wrote about the experience of writing, then of trying to get an agent, then of self-publishing. When I ran out of steam on that front, I began blogging about weight-loss and healthy lifestyle, and lately my blog has ranged all over the place – no core topic, no strong stand, no clear message… and perhaps (though I may be being very self-critical here) not much point at all. So I’ve decided, for now at least, to call it a day.

I didn’t want to disappear without a trace, leaving those who care wondering whether something ghastly has happened to me.  So this post will stay up for a while, perhaps a month, before I take down the whole blog and leave a holding page. Not sure if I’ll be back or not, but I think, probably, not.

I love writing, you see. But I don’t make enough time for it. And when you have a blog, and you find yourself with a couple of hours to write, the obvious thing to do is to write something for the blog. Net result – no actual writing of actual fiction, no developing of Novel Number Two, happens. And that’s another thing that I want to change in this great Life Laundry period.

The process of clearing out the old, makes room for the new. And that’s what I’m hoping – intending – will happen. That in reasserting control, clearing down some of the clutter of my life, I can make time for the things I want to do more of. One of those is to focus more consistently on my health and fitness, and another is to write fiction, properly, again.

So – and I hope you will forgive me – this is me, signing off. For now, or for good, I’m not sure. But I really, really am so very grateful to those people who have actually read (and hopefully enjoyed) my posts over the months and years. Thank you for reading, for making yourself known, for commenting, for interacting – it really has been a pleasure.


What a difference a decade makes

Time passesOne of my blogging buddies, the often bemused but sublime Dylan Hearn, blogged on Suffolk Scribblings recently about a friend reaching their 40-year milestone.  I wrote about a similar experience not so long ago, on my now defunct first-pass at a blog (yes, if at first you fail…). Dylan’s blog made me think my age-related musings might be worth a re-airing.  I admit, it’s a bit off-topic but you let me get away with my rant about the colour pink the other day, so perhaps you will indulge me again:

A friend who turned 40 wrote to me: First day of 40, so far so good; nothing fallen off, changed colour or shrunk and no additional wrinkles.

I thought she might like to know what she has to look forward to:

By the time she hits her next Big One, things will be different. There will be crevices appearing, several of them – to call them wrinkles would be to do them a disservice. Valleys of doom, perhaps, canyons of dismay…. not simple wrinkles.

As to colour – her hair will begin to go monochrome in parts – she should not lose heart though, as she’ll be able to pull out the dull ones for a while. But she must remember to stop once the ratio of monochrome to colour turns against her. Where her hair loses, her skin will gain. Her once peach-like flesh will acquire a varied tonality, ranging from pale and pasty to florid, through rashy and spotty, to blotchy. It will flare from time to time in approximate response to something she ate or more likely drank, or when some thoughtless younger person turns up the thermostat.

A moment more on hair… there will be a day, one day, when she encounters a firm, unyielding protrusion on her chin. She will prefer to think of it as a hair but it will in fact be her first whisker. Others will follow.  It is an immutable law of nature.

As to shrinkage – my only experience is of the polar opposite, a waistline exploding outwards, a pair of chins blowing up like helium balloons and a cup size heading towards the middle of the alphabet (though this is not going entirely unappreciated). If anything shrinks – anything at all – she must praise the gods.

My friend’s birthday gathering took place at a cool and quirky restaurant – the sort of venue designed to make 50-somethings like me feel properly ancient. A gaggle of women of all ages, the mood enhanced by repeated selections from the cocktail menu, and conversation ranged widely.  Yes, we ladies know how to get to the nub of things, Loose Women stylie; and there’s nothing like a tray of Long Island Iced Teas with champagne chasers to drive the tone of the conversation along ever more intimate highways.

Age played a part in the talkabout, of course it did: the twenty-somethings still expected to meet the man of their dreams (aaah…); the thirty-somethings still hoped to have a family, one day, but not yet, please not yet; the forty-somethings were either experts in GCSE revision topics, or had become the fount of all knowledge on matters concerning the preservation of what remained of their fertile state. Advice abounded, from performing upside-down gymnastics after sex, through womb-level acupuncture to acquiring loose cotton underwear for ‘the boys’.   The fifty-somethings, befuddled on a tiny fraction of what we used to be able to drink, blotchy-necked and sweating from every pore, exchanged tips on the ins and outs of HRT and the best eye cream to ward off the crows-feet.

But it was a riot, yes, it was good – as nights-out go, it was one of the better ones. And you know the best thing? It was lovely to see the many facets of my wonderful friend, our friendship now of some 25 years standing, reflected in this spirited and affectionate gathering.

Friends and Writers – Another Year

Around this time last year I wrote about my group of writerly friends here.  One year on, we still meet every few weeks, and – up until now at least – still in the same creaky, low-ceilinged hotel bar which is the closest to a geographical centre-point between our homes.  Although this seems set to change; the barman is grumpy, the food is variable (although the name above the door suggests it should be excellent) and the gaggles of wedding guests a little too rowdy for us.  We’ve become reluctant to continue dropping £100 or so into their coffers each time we get together.

So it’s one year on, and over two years since the start of our little group, which came about, if you’re interested, as a result of us having endured the waste of a day at a thoroughly uninspiring short writing course.   Little of the framework of our gatherings has changed in this time.  We still discuss our work, especially our challenges, both literary and logistical.  We still share things we’ve learned and sources we’ve found useful.  We still occasionally read to one another and every now and again we try a writing exercise.  We drink lots of coffee (and water…) and we share a meal.  And we still natter on for hours about all kinds of everything.

Our writing has progressed by varying degrees over that time – work, family and other claims on our time and energy are the inevitable excuse.  Our friendship too has grown.

It’s an incredible thing, to make new friends.  People mostly have busy, diverse lives; we’re mostly reticent when it comes to engaging with strangers.  So it’s not easy to connect and open the door to a friendship even when there’s a shared interest or passion at the heart of things.  I think it’s great to have people with whom to share my novice writing experience and my clunky output.  But it’s even more special that I’m able to do this on a foundation of friendship.  Ladies, you know who you are – thank you!

Friends and Writers

I passed a delightful day yesterday in the company of two other budding novelists.  We occupied a table in the corner of a creaky, low-ceilinged hotel bar surrounded by wedding guests and ramblers.   Only the musky reek of a rain-soaked, sweaty Labrador threatened to intercept our pleasure.

We talked about our writing experiences, read excerpts of our work in progress to one another and critiqued as best we could, given our neophyte status. From that perspective, you could argue it was a case of ‘the blind leading the blind’.  We have neither an MA in Creative Writing nor a published novel between us (yet). But we are all avid readers, so we have that experience at least to offer one another.

And we are friends, which trumps all the above.

That means that we neither smarm nor flatter one another without good reason; nor do we hold back if we have constructive observations to make. All this needs love, integrity and above all, trust, which has begun to build over the few times we’ve met up in this way over the last couple of years.  Sometimes we pick a writing exercise from a book and rattle off a couple of hundred words on the spot.  Always we chat about what’s been going on for us, how far we’ve got, what challenges we’ve overcome, what hinders progress.  Sometimes we can help each other with advice or pointers towards a book or blog.  At other times, we do as girls are wont to do – we empathise, endorse and encourage one another.

That’s the privilege of friendship, overlayed with the pleasure of the creative.  I can’t think of many better ways to pass a rainy Saturday.