Retreat, Retreat!

A few weeks ago my son wanted to listen to some music.  His friend had a little ipod and he wanted in on the action.  So I dug through that drawer that we all have in our house that is stuffed to the gills with all the crap that we don’t throw out or find proper homes for and found an old ipod nano that I had bought for Darko’s birthday (although indirectly and selfishly also for myself) back from the days where I could still run and we even sometimes ran together.rpk-tramplin

I charged it up and handed it over and he wondered around the house shouting too loudly until he was bored of it all and left it lying on the floor with all the other endless stuff that gets left there.  I picked it up to have a little listen.  Songs from another lifetime.  Because it belonged to my husband there was a lot of guitar based stuff on there.  And because it was also sort of mine there was a lot of Yann Tiersen.  It was interesting to listen to the contrast between tracks.  Then lyrics from one of my husband’s songs jumped out at me.

Retreat. Retreat. I’ve fallen at the low tide.

It was just one wee line in a song by The Editors.  I probably bought the CD for him back when we still did things like that.

But it thrummed through my head never the less. Retreat. Retreat.

Because I feel more tired than I can possibly say,  because I feel like the scales I’ve been holding over my eyes have fallen away and I’ve seen that nothing much matters really, not really, because I can no longer believe that there was a reason for it, for any of it, there is no great twist in the story, no sudden reversal where the jigsaw puzzle clips into place and makes a pretty picture.  The picture is broken, broken and it can not be fixed. Not ever.  Because the world isn’t turning to make us pretty pictures, we are just shadows burning each other as we pass by and some of those burns are going to be permeant, some of those burns are going to brand your damn skin.  Because I don’t experience things the way other people do, I just don’t.  I still want the world to be christmas morning, I am still looking for it, freshly fallen snow to cover up the shit.  But there is no snow, the weather just does it’s thing, it doesn’t mean anything either.  There’s no great message to it all, no purpose, we’re all just bubbles waiting to burst.

So retreat, retreat and shut the fuck up Stephanie because quite frankly I am annoying myself.  Just lie around and watch Jamie Fraser take his top off on Outlander or read shitty, awful books with improbable and stupid  love triangles over those somehow special girls with magical powers.  Distraction is a beautiful thing.  That’s why we all do it.

So I’ve been quiet.  Not really writing, except for rubbish. No poems. Fuck the poems. I’m tired of them.  And they are clearly tired of me.

There have been a few weeks like this.  And of course there has also been sleeping and crying (I cry a lot, it’s not really a cause for alarm, I am abnormally teary) and trying to feed my children with food that isn’t covered in  breadcrumbs. All of that.  But mostly I’ve just been done with it all.  The talking about stuff like anything really matters.

And yet here I am, waffling on again.  So yes, there was a little moment this week that made feel like writing.

It was a very small thing.

A thing that was a ripple out of something I had done a few years ago.  Nothing special, that’s important. This is not one of those moments where I say yeah, everything is so bland and ordinary but look, look at this special thing I did!  I did nothing special. I just bumped along doing the usual crap I do.  But my usual crap bumped someone else along and years later the result of that bump sparked into something else and I got to see that happen.

Small things helping small things.

So there is always that.

Later in the week I sat in my Primary 6/7 theatre class watching them dance.  We do this a lot. It’s all improvised.  They are one of my favourites because they go with this work more than most.  And we talk about a lot of things in that class (weirdly we talk a lot about how rubbish their sex education is but that’s another post for another day) but we also talk about the space we are making for each other.  About how in this moment they have the freedom to just really let go and be them.  The doors to the world are closed and therefor the doors to themselves can open wide.

And there they were, in the middle of a six minute dance improvisation and if you’ve never watched work like that before then let me tell you it’s pure bloody joy.  To watch, to do. And I thought small things.  Little sparks.  Little bumps.

I am mad as a box of frogs. I am never going to be a ballerina.  I am  never going to be most of the things I wanted to be in fact.  My life is a supermarket shopping queue.  Ordinary, dull, a lot of waiting and looking for distraction.  But here and there our ordinary things can touch, not to burn, not to  brand but to spark, maybe a little heat, maybe here and there a little fire.

So yes, retreat, retreat, I’ve fallen at the low tide. Haven’t we all. I am operating from the gutter.  But even down here there’s the odd moment where all the things that don’t really matter still  manage make something interesting.

 

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The Scrapbook Life

I had scrapbooks as a kid.  I liked to cut things up and stick them, it was fun and I have always liked a good project.  I still have a little book I made out of the cuttings of shows I had been in as I was growing up. Scrapbooks are playful and they have their place. They are also, well, scrappy.  I doubt you would want to base your life on it.  But here I am, living the scrapbook life.aton-mebel

What am I on about?  I wish I knew. But what I am trying to say is that my life is made up of bits and pieces. It isn’t a singular thing.  There is no one picture that cuts across everything I do and if I am being honest, I wish there was

I have always been drawn to people who have had a focus.  I find the singular picture life appealing.  Those people who have their lives wrapped up in one thing, one piece of paper.  They know what they are all about. Which is not to say that they don’t have many parts to their lives but that they have one theme that reaches over the top of it all, like a bridge to sanity.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

My life is not so neat.  It feels scrappy. There are bits and pieces everywhere. I haven’t done any one thing for a very long time.  I have all these little cut outs making up my world.  Of course the family, the kids and all the normal things, but really I am talking about the work I do.  I have a craving for some kind of mastery, a specialism.  But I am too scattered for that, at least for now.  I do too much dabbling.

A little bit of teaching, a little bit of writing poetry, a little bit of writing scripts, a little bit of writing here on the blog, a little bit of directing, a little bit of performing, a little bit of movement based work, a lot of little bits.  I am just pottering around with all these unfinished paintings.

One of two things needs to happen.  Either a) I find a way to focus it down, pick my spot and grow my garden right there.  Or b) I learn to live with this mad allotment, keep scattering my seeds all over the shop, hoping that something might grow.  I don’t know which is the right answer. The first feels calmer to me, kinder.  The second just feels like reality.

So if I am in this scrapbook life for now, what does that mean for me?  How do I cope in the chaos?  With that feeling of not really belonging because I think this is what is at the heart of my search.  I want to feel like I belong, like I have some sense of community.

I think an artist (if I dare use that word and I do because I think we are all artists in our own way,  however humble) needs community, a sense of belonging. The people around them that get the work, the world of the creative.  People to share with, learn from, teach, trust, discover with.  Probably the best part of my teaching job was my lovely department, it was a joy to work with such beautiful, kind, generous, clever and supportive people.  On a Friday I didn’t rush off because I just wanted to bleather for bit.  At the moment  I have no one to bleather with and I miss it.  We all need a bleather.

There are no answers in this post because I have none. If I work it out I will write a book and be rich. You can all come on holiday with me.  But until them I must just muddle along best I can, try and grow my garden, try and manage all the scraps of my life, see if I can make some kind of picture out of them. Make something beautiful, make something necessary, something that matters

My daughter has spent half the day cutting out little pictures, she likes to scrapbook too.  I stop her to ask – What is mummy for?  She thinks for a moment and says ‘For the heart.’.  Before I have time to think awwww she does a little fart and smiles, then says ‘Or for the fart.‘.  And I think she is probably right.

Writing Well – The Little I Know

If you write then you want to write well.   We all want to be the best we can be at whatever we practice.berryjam.ru

If you are someone who has a tendency towards anxiety and depression then you also want to be well.  We all want to feel as well as we possibly can.

If you happen to write and also have a tendency towards anxiety and depression then you want to write well and be well both at the same time.

 

IS IT POSSIBLE?

When I first became unwell with post viral fatigue writing became a bit of a life line.  I had never entertained the idea of writing before.  Why would I write?  I was crap at English when I was at school, writing wasn’t even on my radar.

But here I was stuck in bed day after day after day.  No plays to direct, no workshops to go to.  If you are a creative person then the fastest way to trash your mental health is to stop creating.  Needless to say I became very low very quickly.  Writing was an accident waiting to happen.

And of course it turned into a happy accident and if my life were a film, which is sadly is not, then the film would have ended when I started to get published.  That would be a logical narrative surely, I get published, I find my voice and my health and my place in the world and get to live happily every after.

But life is rarely like a film and of course what happened next was everything unravelled yet again.  First my physical health then my mental health.  And at this point I was neither writing well or feeling well.

And here is my guess:

I am not the only person in the world who is in this position.

Other people out there must have similar struggles, must also be fighting to balance writing well with being well.

So I am interested in this question:

How do I create without breaking?

And this is the little I have worked out so far:

 

1. ROUTINE HELPS

This may seem obvious but when you are struggling with anxiety or depression actually routine can be a hard thing to pin down. If it’s hard for you to get out of bed then how hard must it be to make a fixed time to create?  If you are going through a difficult patch, for whatever reason, holding onto some kind of routine can be the only way you will ever write anything.  When it is hard to make yourself do things, knowing you have a commitment to write for an hour might just make the writing possible.  Of course this is not always the case.  Sometimes self care has to come first in which case number 2 is in order.

 

2. FLEXIBILITY HELPS

A routine can be great until it’s not.  When it becomes a fast track for beating yourself up then it is no longer helpful.  If you are failing to meet your own demands it can be easy to use this as fuel to make yourself feel even more horrendous than you already do.  Sometimes what you need is just to let yourself off the hook.  Sometimes more sleep really is the answer!

 

3. PRIORITISE SLEEP

I spent my first year getting up at 5:30 am to try and catch time to write before my kids got up. When it worked well it was lovely.  The house was quiet and the day was clean. I got my work done before the house and the kids started their endless demands on me.  There is a lot of writing advice out there that sings the praises of the early morning write.  If you want to write make time for it they say, and the best way to do that is to get up before the birds.  This is great advice as long as it serves you and for some people there can be several reasons why it might not, such as:

YOU HAVE KIDS – often my daughter would wake up when I was in the middle of writing. Cue very stressful mornings where she was tired and grumpy because she’d woken up too early (she is often in bed with me byt this time and if she wakes and I am not there then she just gets up, regardless of the time) and I was narky because she’d interrupted my writing time.  The whole thing became unpleasant pretty quickly.  And that’s assuming your kids sleep through the night, if you are still being woken up several times a night then sleep is precious commodity.

YOU HAVE SOME PHYSICAL HEALTH ISSUES – turns out if you have a chronic health thing going on, like post viral fatigue, you kind of need your sleep.  I spent a lot of time that year feeling pretty horrendous, the truth was I needed the sleep more than I needed to write.

YOU HAVE SOME MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES – this is another one where I failed to pay attention to what my body and spirit was telling me.  If I am tired I am on a fast track for feeling more anxious and more low.  I am just one of those people who does not deal well with sleep deprivation.  I might get my writing done but the rest of the day would fall apart pretty quickly because I just couldn’t cope with the demands of my day without a lot of rest.

 

4. FORGET WHAT EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING

This is easier said than done.  I have a lot of friends doing well, it’s lovely.  Sometimes it feels like everyone I know has found the work they are meant to be doing in the world except for me.  But I’ve gained nothing from comparing my life to where other people are, yes they might be carving out careers, successes and all sorts of lovely things while I am still bumbling about in the dark but fighting your reality wastes a lot of energy.  Work, instead, with just allowing what is to be.

 

5. ALLOW ALL CREATIVITY TO BE EQUALL

I used to feel quite distressed if I didn’t create something that I felt was worthwhile.  I needed to make stuff I could submit or it was all utterly pointless.  But of course you need to write a lot of shite in order to get to the good stuff.  Some days shite is all you are going to get.  It’s all part of the process and it’s OK.  Not every moment needs to be a break through.  Making a goal of trying to be brilliant is going to lead to burn out pretty quickly, learn to love the lardy writing as much as the trim and toned.  Let it all be allowed and treat it all with a warm welcome.  Focus on just making rather than trying to make magic.  The magic is not your problem, it can take care of itself.

 

6. LEARN TO LIVE WITH YOURSELF

This is a work in progress for me, I imagine it is a work in progress for most people.  If you are struggling with anxiety and/or depression then the chances are that your relationship with yourself is not always hunky dory.  But it is very hard to create from a place where you don’t like yourself much, not impossible, but hard.  I’ve lost track of the days I couldn’t stand to write simply because in that moment I couldn’t stand myself.  If you can find a way to allow yourself to just be then the writing stands a far better chance of making its way on to the page.

 

7. HEALTH FIRST – ALWAYS

No matter what is going on put your health first.  If that means pulling out of a project so be it. No one likes to step back or step down or not be part of things.  I know I am terrible for signing myself up for far too many projects because being busy sometimes feels easier than just being with myself but it usually doesn’t end well.  So I’ve made some hard choices, I’ve stopped doing somethings, stopped being part of some projects.  That can feel nippy, you can feel left out, behind, a bit more lost than you did before.  But both creativity and wellness needs space.  If your body, mind or spirit is telling you that you are doing too much then your job is to listen hard.  The alternative is pushing yourself even further into whatever pit it is you are trying to avoid with all your  busy, busy work.  So cut class, drop out, be quiet and still.  Whatever it is you are trying to fill with all the noise is going to need a chance to speak, don’t make it shout louder than it needs to.

 

So – just some thoughts, if they are useful then great, if they are not then great too, it’s always helpful to know what doesn’t work.  And there is always more to learn.  Most important of all, I believe anyway, is that you find a way to keep creating in those dark spots, it might just be the light you are looking for.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rubiks Cube, not a Ball

I want to be a ball.  A nice round ball.  With one lovely colour.  A ball knows where it’s at. It understands it’s job and how to do it.  It just rolls around, there are no sharp edges.  It’s soft.  Easy to play with.  Useful. A ball has one surface.  But I am not a ball.Как работает традиционный сэндвич?

I know people who are balls.  I think they are lucky.  I envy their roundness, their one simple surface. Balls have just one thing to do and they do it well, really well. It’s all straightforward stuff when you are a ball.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

I tend to see three ball types on my travels.  There are the yoga balls, all bendy and beautiful, the writer balls all wise and wonderful and the theatre balls all shiny and smart.  They love what they do and they do what they love and they have found there place in the world.  I would like to be a ball, I would like to know my place and I would to have just one thing to do and do it really well.Movie Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

But I am not a ball. I am a rubiks cube.  What this means for me is that I have a lot of sharp edges, a lot of corners.  Also too many surfaces and they are all different colours.  Day to day I find it hard to work on one surface without messing up all the others.  I have to think about the blue side when I am working on the yellow.  I don’t have time to make each one  perfect because I have to tend to all these different moving parts.  I am not mathematical, I can’t make it work.

The year after I left teaching and before I started the youth theatre I really only had one side on the go.  I did no theatre that year.  I did no movement/exercise that year – I wasn’t well enough.  I just did the poetry thing.  And because I just did the poetry thing I was able to travel a fair bit in that year, from a complete beginner to someone with a basic understanding and the beginnings of a publishing record.  But when I was reading I was reading poetry and when I was listening I was listening to poetry and when I was doing courses they were poetry courses and when I spent time with friends they were poetry friends.  I was as ball like as I am ever going to get.  I liked it, it was nice.

And then other things started to creep in again.  And they were not bad things. This area needs a youth theatre (and I need some kind of road that might lead to an income!) and I needed the yoga, badly.  It has transformed my  health.  But now I am juggling.  Juggling squares.  The house, the kids, the fact that I am a mother to a child with additional needs, the time I need to move and do yoga, the time I want to sit still and be quiet, the creative work for the youth theatre, all the admin work for the youth theatre, any work I am doing in the schools, then the time to write, edit, submit.  And that’s before I make time to see family and friends or read a book for leisure or even just take a walk.  Those things often don’t get a look in.  I don’t like multi tasking.  I just want to worry about one thing.

I watched a video this week from a guy who does two hours of meditation a day.  He said we all have the same amount of time and it’s up to us how we spend it.  I understood his point but also thought he was speaking from a place of privilege.  Yes we all have the same amount of time but we all have different challenges and responsibilities within that time.  A single parent of a severely disabled child carries  a level of responsibility that a single person does not, someone who does not need to worry about money has a different set of needs to a person who absolutely must hold down their minimum wage job.  It gets my back up with self development gurus pretend the playing field is equal when some people are playing on a posh field with the best equipment and coaches and others are on their own kicking a football around the street.

Not that I think I am that person, I have a lot of luck in my life actually, a lot of privilege.  But I am still not a ball.  Not just now anyway. And yes I realise, that if you are a ball you are probably not the lucky bastard I imagine you to be.  I am sure there is a fair amount of being kicked about to put up with.  Never the less I somehow I need to find a way to deal with all the little bits and pieces of my life.  Somehow I need to figure out how I can focus on all my sides, not at once, but at least equally and not at the expense of one another. And then I need to allow it all and know that nothing is wasted, nothing is lost.  I am not a ball, but I still want to play.

The Reset Button

My son is crying and it’s my fault.  He is crying because his minecraft world had been frozen up by some strange xbox glitch.  He is crying because I thought the best way to save the situation was to press the reset button.  He is crying because, while pressing the reset button did fix the glitch, all his work disappeared. He is crying because although I have given him extra time to remake his world he no longer feels like building it.  Reset buttons are good but there can be a price to pay.покраска металлических поверхностейПолынь

I watched a TED talk the other day on taking a daily ten minutes of silence.  It’s not the first time I have watched it but obviously I didn’t bother to to do it last time.  This time I know I need to.  All week I have been experimenting with what I call 10, 10, 10.  Three ten minute slots of silence – one first thing, one midday and one before sleep.  I called it 10, 10, 10 partly just because I like to give things a name but also because I had a fabulous director once who, when he liked something you did, would say it was 10, 10, 10.  So far I have learned:

It is a much better way to start/end the day than looking at bloody facebook which I find stressful and addictive in a bad way.Watch movie online Rings (2017)

Making a change like this is hard.  I hope I can stick to it. I am afraid I won’t.

Flexibility is important if it’s not to become a big massive source of stress.  If my daughter wakes up at the same time of me, as she often does, then so be it.  It can all wait.  If it feels lighter to do it later then I do it later.

It’s like a little reset button in my day.  I have to stop, stand back, be silent and still.  For ten minutes I power down.

Sometimes things get lost.  Often these are good things. Like the hours of me trying to think my life better.  If this were possible I would have done it by now.  But sometimes I lose the layer of protection I have in place, I have to stop and see that deep down I am really quite afraid.  That feels pretty uncomfortable. As I said before.  Reset buttons can have a price.

But I do think it’s a price worth paying.  Your other choice is just to let everything run and run and run until eventually the screen freezes or glitches or just blacks out.  You wouldn’t leave your computer on 24/7 and expect it to still run well, and yet often we ask ourselves to do exactly that.

In the house I’ve been busy resetting too.  Every year I have a resolution to declutter and every year I don’t quite manage to do it.  This year I am on a mission.  My house creates stress, stress is the enemy.  Less stuff equals less stress.  So it’s all going, as much as I can.  Including things that I hang onto for sentimental reasons, old notebooks, old diaries, old keepsakes.  All of it – going.  I have found the idea of minimalism appealing for some time now, I would like to reach towards some kind of version of this.  This is mainly motivated by laziness,  the less stuff there is the less I need to tidy and clean.  That’s the dream anyway, that and a cleaner.

Finally there’s the writing.  I am busy trying to switch that thing back on after a very long reset.  This week I wrote for the first time in ages.  It was awful in a good way by which I mean I managed to sit down and write but what I wrote was just drivel.  That’s ok, I can’t expect to just start running again after all this time.  I’m just coming back to life.  By day three I managed to write something that looked like it could be something.  If I keep going the whole system should reboot eventually.

So 10, 10, 10.  Or even 1, 1, 1.  It would be enough.  A minute to be still, quiet, to power down and disconnect.  On that note I am switching off for ten minutes now, I might lose a few buildings but I’ll have a faster connection when I return.

Stuck in the Middle

Why has someone not created a career advice service specifically for people having a mid-life crisis? Surely they would be raking it in?  I’m pretty sure I would have them booked out for the foreseeable future at least.

I’m thinking a lot about focus this week.  Last year was easy.  I was focussed on writing, that was it.  I wrote when I could, read when I could, learned as much as I could from  both.  I did a couple of lovely Poetry School courses and workshops, submitted like a maniac and even managed to get published.  Easy peasy.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

This year already feels more complicated.  Five weeks ago I set up Little Red Theatre Company.  Last year I steered clear of all things theatre.  It felt easier that way.  I even turned down the offer of cheap tickets to go and see Punch Drunk in London.  I hardly recognised myself actually.  In a strange way it felt better to stay away from all things theatrical than it was to admit to myself that I wasn’t actually doing anything theatre based.  And so it might have stayed if I hadn’t promised my son’s school some voluntary work

Angus Council don’t provide any drama specialists in any of their Primary Schools, they never have.  Soon they won’t be alone as drama provision is currently being cut across Scotland  I didn’t see a professional theatre production until I was about fifteen.  Coming back to my home town it was strange to see how little things have moved on.  No youth theatre, no touring theatre, nothing.  Then I went into the school and I saw what I might be able to do here.  So I suppose I got a bee in my bonnet and it felt right to try and do something to change things.

On Tuesday I attended an excellent training session with Enterprise Scotland, it’s given me a lot to think about which is brilliant except for one thing. It has given me a lot to think about.  I’ve always admired the multitasking type, my brain can’t really cope with that.  I like to think about one thing at a time.  My question just now is can I think about both theatre and writing?  Part of me thinks yes, they are both creative, but another part of me also knows that every yes you say in life dilutes all your other yeses.  So what will happen now?  Don’t ask me, I’m having a mid-life crisis remember.

Still I did my drafts. Some that felt less awful than last week which was nice.  I also did a couple of submissions.  I had planned three but I could’t quite get the third lot to feel right just yet.  I didn’t hear back from any of the submissions currently out there.  I dragged myself through another sonnet.  I am still surprised at how hard I am finding that particular task and I did do some editing but it wouldn’t describe it as a particularly brilliant session.

And that was it,  another muddled week in which I muddled along in the middle of, well, some kind of muddle.  Hurrah for middles, that’s where the jam is, I hope!

 

The Bad Week Post

It’s been a bad week.  I do not want to write this blog post.  I did not want to write seven rubbish poems.  I did not wish to do anything.  But here we are, a pots must be written because I’ve said so and the bit of me that says so is more bossy than the  bit of me that has had a bad week.

One of the reasons I don’t wish to write this week is because I don’t know how to do so without sounding either passive aggressive or moany or both.  So I won’t write about all the rubbish stuff, it won’t change anything anyway.  Instead I will mention the game my daughter wanted to play last night.  It was the end of the day. I did not want to play a game.  I felt sad and I wanted to sleep.  But she won’t sleep in a grump so I snuggled in and said OK.  This is what she wanted to play:

Let’s say all the things we love.

I can’t remember all of her loved things  but they included snowy days, her special blanket, mummy’s face, ice cream, autumn when the leaves twirl down, reading books and making pictures. Four year olds are wise creatures, it was the perfect end to a terrible day.

So numbers this week:  the poems were written.  I can’t even call them dreadful drafts, they were abysmal.  I have not had a decent writing session all week.  Usually at the end of the week I have at least one draft that I think might be worthwhile, not this week.  All dross. However it is the end of January and I have a grand total of 36 first drafts from this month.  I am hoping my theory of poetic statistics is correct in that at least one of  those has to be half decent, time will tell.  My editing session fell foul too, I have found a flaw in my wait three months to work on a poem plan.  After three months I pretty much hate them all.  The newer ones I still fancy a bit, the three months on ones are all farting in bed and leaving dirty underwear around the house.  I don’t want to be with them anymore.  This week I relented and let a couple of poems from this month skip ahead in class and be part of the current editing batch.  I also skipped ahead with my sonnet.  I knew that most of the sonnets were written about a young man, what I did not know is that the first seventeen are dedicated to telling the man to procreate so that he can pass his beauty on.  I couldn’t stand to learn yet another please shag and don’t waste your beauty sonnet so I skipped on to sonnet 21 instead.  Still no easier to learn, my brain is clearly well and truly befuddled.

No submission news, I plan to do a few next week, and I entered one competition.  Other things I have learned this week:

1. People are often rubbish,

2. That includes me

3. Somehow people still make beautiful things

4. I want to make beautiful things

5. Most children’s animations will contain Brian Blessed at some stage.

6. Often I feel just as afraid and alone as I did when I was fifteen.  I am starting to think this is normal (for me at least).

7.  There is no point in adulthood where you house suddenly looks like it came out of John Lewis. This kind of magic does not exist.

 

That’s me, over and out.