A room of my own

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I’d never ordered room service before tonight. And even this first time, I deliberated for an age. Isn’t it a bit too much, the tray charge? I could just go down to the restaurant. I really don’t want to leave my room… But whatever, I’ll save the money and see more of the hotel.

Except there was a minimum half-hour wait for a table. Call it fate.

So I dialled the extension number for room service, with pretty much no idea of the protocol (it’s so painfully obvious that I don’t do this stuff), and ordered a pizza to my room. Added chips at the last minute, too. Because there’s a thing called ‘carb-loading’ that I felt was necessary tonight.

Tomorrow morning is the Royal Windsor River Trail Run. My third half-marathon in two months, but my first off-road. And I’m certain I don’t have the right shoes for it. But the route is promised to be “picturesque and scenic,” so I’m gonna attack/enjoy it in the shoes I do have regardless.

Because I have a tendency in life to simply wing it.

And in the meantime, I’m here, in a hotel, with lots of greenery out the window, and lots of q u i e t. I haven’t put the TV on, because to break the quiet would be sacrilegious. Instead I’m on the bed, stuffed full of room-service food, and typing this post on my phone as my eyelids get heavier and heavier.

And I’m completely alone.

I feel I’ve been in a cocoon lately. Supremely uninterested in small talk (or even much talk at all). Late responding to messages. Itching to stop and simply be. And tonight, as I munched on a goat’s cheese pizza, listened to the Modern Love podcast and, yep, felt blazingly aware of my solitude, I knew I wouldn’t have it any other way. Not really.

I feel like life is a series of phases. Sometimes I’m intensely sociable. I’m at every event, I make plans every night. And other times, I’m insanely introspective. I show up to places alone, don’t think of inviting others. Want to keep my head down. Just me, and it.

(I once learnt that I’m an “introverted extrovert,” so this switching of phases makes sense.)

The trick, I’ve found, is in going with the phase. Feeling into it, not resisting my own company. Not trying to distract from it by showing up to stuff my heart’s not really into, or by spending wayyyy too much time scrolling Instagram pictures that I know are staged (because who doesn’t arrange their room service on the hotel bed just so). Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always fun being on your own. But as I’m getting better at it, I find it is nearly always illuminating and important.

Especially when goat’s cheese pizza is involved. (I am SO about this room-service life.)

Virginia Woolf once wrote that a woman should have a room of her own if she’s to write. I’d attest that a room of one’s own, just for a night, especially one with a made bed and food delivered to its door, can provide blog-post fodder and just feel really, really nice.

Mum knows best

Today, I had a 5.20am wake-up call. I had a training run to fit in before work. And I woke feeling utterly exhausted. A bad mood was lingering and on my run, my legs felt leaden, protesting against what I was willing them to do.

In short, I was feeling nothing but sorry for myself and wanted only to crawl back in bed and sleep for a day. And maybe a night. And maybe then a whole extra day, too. I was tired, basically. And tiredness does not a happy Becca make.

But then I text my mum. Told her I was low. And her reply?

“You’re doing great.”

Three simple words that made me smile from my very insides.

I then listened to Drake (loudly) on my drive to work. Wrote two articles for a client. Pulled off an awesome social media campaign for another – and genuinely felt SO excited and as if my work is actually pretty cool.

I wore sunglasses. Met a friend for coffee and talked about work – and then not work, too (my GOSH, so refreshing!). Spoke to my brother on the phone. Watched Girls. Got Chinese food. Am about to have a bath.

Today turned out quite nicely in the end. And all because I told someone I was feeling crap. And then listened to what they said in return.

I’m not going to tell myself I’m doing great in a moment when tiredness is clouding my judgement. But I can choose to allow it when someone else says it to me. Even (or especially) when that someone happens to be my mum. <3

“Real artists have day jobs.”

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I am really into this interview with comedian, Sara Benincasa, in which she says:

“Many artists have day jobs. The presence or lack of a steady paycheck does not indicate whether you’re a “real” artist. You’re a real artist if you make art.”

Halle-fricking-lujah.

Let me tell you a story. I moved to London in September of 2013. I’d recently given up on teaching (another story for another time but one which I’m ITCHING to tell you). I knew I wanted to write, but also knew I had no qualifications or solid experience other than birthing a few unknown blogs and writing web copy for a designer in exchange for a logo for my then website, which didn’t end up staying online for long (I’ve been such an idea flip-flopper – but again, another story for another time).

So. My experience was in education. And childcare. And I figured it made sense to continue in that vein. Just to fill the gap, you see. While I earnt my writing stripes and got myself established. So I took a nannying job with a south London family who welcomed me with brunch and open arms.

In my head, I’d be out of the job and writing full-time within a year, tops.

Fast-forward to now, and I’m four months shy of three years in said job.

Recently, I’ve been feeling impatient with this whole deal. Because HELLO, this isn’t going to plan. I’m supposed to be a professional by now.

But something over the weekend clicked. Perhaps it was reading a chapter from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, in which she urges artists not to quit their day jobs.

“To yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.”

She talks of not burdening our creativity with the responsibility of paying for our lives. Once that pressure’s on, the fun’s sucked dry. And didn’t we become writers/artists/creative people because it feels good?

Fact is, I live in one of the world’s most expensive cities. I have credit card debt and student debt. I have a car I don’t need and rent to pay. (And I like going out to eat. A lot.) To quit my job before I’m financially ready would not be smart. To expect that of my writing would not make it happy. So I decided to be a grown-up about this (first time for everything) and just look at things a bit differently.

I mean, really, it’s not so bad. My writing is squeezed into school hours, or evenings, or whenever I’m not procrastinating. The family allow me time out for meetings and events. And I’m able to pay my bills and still afford a life I quite like.

And none of that is to mention the two insanely wonderful children I get to spend time with every day. Who I dab with, dance with, and form pop groups who sing nursery-rhyme remixes with. Who I bake with, read with, and do handstands in the kitchen with (shh). Who I take swimming and cycling and to drama performances where they SLAY. Who teach me about Minecraft and internal combustion engines (these kids know stuff) and do accents for no reason (there’s nothing like hearing a six-year-old Londoner say “me lassie” in a thick Scottish accent).

The oldest, he’s a cool one. He has his own YouTube channel and Instagram with witty captions, and he’s not even in double figures. He’s irresistibly inquisitive and has a sensitive heart (though he’d never admit it). The youngest, I’ve been around for three of her birthdays. That’s almost half of her life. The way she beams at me in the rearview mirror from her spot in the back of the car melts my heart on each school run.

So, yeah. I’ll keep writing. Business will keep going. And as for the day job? Right now, I’m sitting tight. I’m being smart. Because I’m more than OK where I am.

“Boring” is needed, too

I have friends who write poetry about intensely important things. Who start ethical businesses where even the ink used to stamp the logo on the packaging is sustainably sourced. Who write eloquently and hilariously about the realities of mental health.

And I love them for it. The admiration is so real. And I fully let them take centre stage on this.

Because that’s their zone of complete and utter flair. That’s where they’re brought to life. We (and by ‘we,’ I mean the world) NEED these really great people to do these really, really great things.

But for me and my art, it feels different.

I write about running and port-tasting and being alone. About not daring to ask a guy out, and the absolute enjoyment of having a bath.

I mean, it’s all a bit inconsequential, really. In the grand scheme of things. A bit mundane. It’s not like I’m shifting social consciousness or raising awareness of anything but my own stellar ability to navel-gaze.

At least, that’s what I’d been thinking. But this weekend, I received one of Hollie McNish’s poetry books in the post and listened to Kathy Burke on the Distraction Pieces podcast. Both make stunning and very funny art about the everyday life I know. An everyday life I can relate to. And both made me realise that it’s OK to talk about the things that seemingly aren’t important, as much as the things that really, absolutely are.

Just like life doesn’t have to be all big trips and big moves in order to be fun, creativity doesn’t only have to look like fighting injustice.

Listening to Omarion on the 176 bus can be fulfilling. Making art about breakfast cereal can be meaningful. Some of my favourite poems are about everyday things, such as future offspringstarting to like someone, the human body and three-hour hugs. Also, about complaining, because while mundane things make valid art, it’s always worth holding on to some perspective.

When it comes to what I do, I know my voice matters. Because someone will relate. And here’s a little secret I know: your voice matters, too.

Art and business can focus on the (to some) remote yet legitimately important parts of life and how to make them better, and that’s incredible. I’m in awe of and thankful to anyone who can translate an atrocity or a need into a piece of art that makes others wake up to it.

But just as the above is relevant, a blog post about you feeling rubbish today or feeling happy today or not even knowing how you feel today is relevant, too.

Just in case you needed to hear that, too.

Why I love words

Poetry

I frowned. Leant forwards in my seat. My eyes widened. My jaw dropped (I’ve read that in books and could never envision it but it actually does happen). My hands shot to my cheeks, my mouth, the top of my head. I drew breath sharply. And that was about just one performance.

Last night, I was due to catch up with a friend who’s back from touring his one-man show around the country (including in Hull! Near where I’m from! How exciting is that?! And I mean that entirely sincerely). I text him to make plans and he invited me to a poetry night.

I first started attending poetry nights just over two years ago. There was one that I went to right here in Streatham – a really intimate event with music and spoken word, the audience on comfy chairs and fresh smoothies to hand. What I heard there made my skin tingle. Instantly, I was hooked. On the wordplay, the stories, the rhythm in the delivery. How many more events could I take in? Apparently, lots.

I became an audience regular. Posting pictures and check-ins on Instagram and Facebook. Getting to know poets on the scene, some of whom I’m now thankful to call friends. I never once contemplated performing myself. The pressure of eyes on me, the vulnerability in that, the hot lights and all the opportunities for my hands and voice to shake… Nope, it doesn’t feel like my place. But I’ll take what those on the stage do and allow it to inspire me. To let what happens onstage excite what goes on the page.

After a while though, I reached saturation point. Turns out you really can get too much of a good thing. I reach these points in life generally. Fully absorbed in something to the point of near-obsession. Passionate and involved. I’m all in. Then it feels like my mind fogs over and I just don’t have another inch of room in there. For anything. I’m full up. Need to refocus. Need to rest.

It happened with poetry. I had to step back, let the poets do their wonderful thing, and I’d be back.

And back, apparently, is what I am. I’ve been approaching events again, clicking my fingers at the words that make my brain gasp. And then last night, at Chill Pill, my whole body reacted. It was like the newness of those first spine-shivers in Streatham all over again. I felt privileged to be in the room. I felt proud of what words can do. I felt awed by the mouths that mould these words, these simple, everyday words, into real, tangible pictures in my mind.

To the poets, I thank you. Keep doing what you do and I’ll keep being there, because my creativity needs this.

Staring out of windows

SandwichFresh out of a central-London client meeting, I came across a place on the corner of Old Compton and Frith Streets that describes itself as “a haven for the convivial.” There was a spot that I decided had been reserved for me, at a bench by the floor-to-ceiling glass doors which had been pulled all the way open. It’s like I’m sitting right on the street.

I’m currently situated between two American ladies having a business meeting on one side, and two fringe-wearing, afro-having Irish guys on the other. They’ve been talking about an album called ‘Staring Out Of Windows’ and one of them just called Damon Albarn an arsehole – “but I really like his music.”

I had my business hat on, ghost-writing a piece for a client, but I put my laptop away to enjoy a classic egg-and-cress with chips (and my standard tomato-sauce mountain on the side). I’m slathered in suncream, because I may technically be inside, but the doors are pulled back and the sun is BLAZING and my poor skin can’t quite handle it. I’m also really wishing I could find my sunglasses…

Honestly, I love post-meeting Thursdays and I love the freelance portion of my life. I know I’m lucky to have a schedule that lets me settle in for the afternoon at a Soho cafe where the waiters can’t stop smiling and keep my glass topped up with water. But as I was posting a picture of my sandwich and street view on Instagram, I couldn’t help but think of the reality behind it. Like the fact that I asked for tap water to drink and spent an inordinate number of minutes working out the cheapest option on the menu so I don’t have to spend too much of the money I earnt babysitting last night.

I’ve been sitting here all lunchtime, revelling in every inch of the sun. But also feeling guilty, like I should’ve just gone home and had a jacket potato, because when you’re trying to build your own freelance empire, every penny counts. See, it’s a balance. Some people might say there’s no such thing, but I respectfully disagree. It’s cutting back on lunches out. It’s spending more time at home and in places where I can work for free, or for the cost of a (reasonably-priced) hot drink (and in London, that’s hard to find). It’s keeping track of everything I’m spending and everything I’m making and adjusting my habits accordingly. It’s making lists and setting budgets and being strict with what I do.

But, yes, sometimes it is enjoying the egg-and-cress sandwich in the sunshine, as well. Balancing being responsible and a shouty sense of “YOLO!” And cutting myself some slack about it.

It doesn’t have to be a massage to feel good

On any given day, I’m made up of 50% coconut oil (it’s a revelation for the skin, trust me), 10% coffee (I’m a recent, ecstatic convert) and 40% dry shampoo. Many mornings (perhaps more than I’d like to admit), the extra 20 minutes I’d need to spend washing, conditioning, drying, straightening and trying failing to volumise my hair feel superfluous. Why bother when there’s a gigantic can of powdery stuff sitting right by my eyelash curlers which can give me a less oily, albeit slightly grey, head of hair in a couple of sprays?

But on the mornings where I listen to my alarm and make it into the shower before 6.40am (I’ve worked out strict timings to guide my mornings, yet I’m still late for my day job more often than is OK), I pretty much stay feeling myself for the rest of that day.

The time it takes is always worth it.

Case in point. Today, I had an appointment for a massage. I booked the hour via Groupon a couple of months ago and have had the date in my diary for a few weeks. Then today rolled around. I had a to-do list looking like Everest and I had a piano recital to attend (ah, the multifacetedness of my work life). Yet I was expecting myself to take more than an hour out of my afternoon to head to Brixton, seek out this so-far unknown place, and attempt to switch off. In my head, it was a myth. But my Groupon voucher would, at some point, expire and I don’t like to waste money where I can help it. So I went.

This story clearly isn’t going to end any way but well.

The massage therapist was a sweet girl, a little younger than me, who chatted breezily as she kneaded my tender calves to make the pain of it more bearable. She offered me water and gave me the first foot massage of my life (I know!) and we swapped stories about moving to London and quitting jobs we hated and getting turned off by annoying men in nightclubs who don’t get that we want to dance alone.

At the end of the hour, I knew my time in the car park had run out, but I was feeling too zen to care. What will be, will be. You can take my money with a fine, but you can’t take away the knots in my back. Only a deep tissue massage can do that.

To be honest, I’ve become really bad at taking time for me. I don’t wash my hair as often as I used to. I rarely cook for myself of an evening. It takes me an AGE to finish a book (I’ve let my book club down twice and I don’t believe I’ve actually finished a book in three years). I fall behind with new music and don’t keep up with any of the TV shows people talk about. I have an inbox overflowing with emails from my favourite writers, their stories and updates begging to be read. My brain switches too quickly from one thing to another. Anything else feels long. I go from work to Twitter to Whatsapp to YouTube, back to work again, then to oh what’s this article and look my friend did this cool thing and haha this Azealia Banks meme is too funny. I’ve spent the past two or more hours flitting between writing this post, sending text messages, posting to a client’s Twitter account, scrolling through my own Twitter timeline, booking tickets for upcoming events and sporadically checking Facebook. Each burst of attention is so short, these things feel to take no time at all. But they suck my days and my energy dry.

With that in mind, today was real nice. I’d book a massage every week if I could, but oh wait, my pockets aren’t overflowing with money. However, it doesn’t have to be a massage to feel good. Today reminded me that taking a period of time to stop and focus on just one lovely thing, with no distractions, even when we don’t feel like we can, is really quite important.

Let’s do it more often. Me, and you, too. Report back. I want to be inspired by your downtime.

I’m not an inspiration

Yesterday I ran a half-marathon. In sweltering heat. And I’ve since been called awesome, amazing and an inspiration.

I’m truly thankful to anyone who might think that of me. But the word ‘inspiration,’ I take some issue with.

The girl whose weekly newsletter I just read, in which she talks about celebrating three years of sobriety? An inspiration.

The couple getting through an unexpected diagnosis with massive fundraising efforts and beautiful writing? An inspiration.

The girl whose writing workshop I attended last summer and whose stunning poetry is now on a fricking Beyoncé album? An inspiration.

The girl who came through a really rubbish case of bad luck and a serious brain infection to bring the world gorgeous poetry and one million lovely letters? An inspiration.

The friend who turns down social invites (for real, I was just told I can maybe get a date at the end of May…) because he’s laser-focused on where he’s heading and works harder on it than anyone I know? An inspiration.

The friend who deals every day with a level of anxiety she has no words to describe, but who’s ‘fessed up to the fact and upturned her whole life to pursue her dream career anyway? An inspiration.

The friend who beat cancer’s lousy ass last year, continued to teach FULL-OUT dance classes week on week, and is now in New York (!), pursuing his dreams of being a pro dancer? A straight-up inspiration!

And they’re just the ones that immediately spring to mind.

I either know and love them in real life or there are mere degrees separating us. Ordinary people. Doing extraordinary things. Mostly dealing with extraordinary circumstances. And doing so fabulously.

I’m just an ordinary person, too. But does lacing up my running shoes and touring East London on foot for a couple of hours put me on a level with those listed above?

This isn’t a sly plea for your protestations of “yes, you are an inspiration, Becca, stop playing it down,” etc. Trust me. I know running is hard and not everyone is able or feels called to do it. But you know the phrase, “If I can do it, so can you”? Oh man, I get it now.

I started running at the age of 20, so I’ve put in a fair chunk of time with this madness. I started because I got breathless going upstairs. I started because running round the block made me want to vomit. I started because I wanted to get fitter.

I continued because the way it made me feel when I kept going? Yeah. I liked that.

I’ve raised money for charity in races past, but mostly I just run for myself. Selfish running, if you will. There are no monumental odds I’ve defied or near-insurmountable challenges I’ve attempted. I’m just another girl. I’m just like you.

And while I sometimes feel I don’t have the same right to a voice as someone who’s come through hardship (because why would anyone really care?), I’m happy with being just another girl. I’m simply here, dealing with regularities and my own messes, hopefully showing that if I can run/walk 13.1 miles on the hottest day of the year, on a day I was terribly undertrained for, on a day which saw the St. John’s Ambulance crew be needed more than in any other race I’ve known, then you? Well. You can do anything you put your glorious and capable mind to.

Because we’re all just ordinary people. You, me, Warsan Shire and the rest.

And if she/they/I can do it? Oh, you. You can do so, so much, too.

Broken, burnt, but bloody happy

Ah, race day. The day the weather gods decide to take the mickey and present us with the hottest day of the year so far.

But the gods couldn’t stop me from tackling today’s Hackney Half head-on. Oh no. Lack of adequate training and heatwave aside, I was doing this.

Sub-2:00 was my goal. A PB would’ve been sub-1:58. But I wasn’t far into the course when I realised those goals were mythical. Judging by the (in my experience) unprecedented number of runners needing medical attention (big up to St. John’s Ambulance), I figured that just getting to the finish would be an achievement in itself.

And what a race to the finish it was. Strangers came out of their houses, handed out high-fives and Jelly Babies, sprayed water from bottles and hose pipes, waved homemade banners, shouted and whooped and hollered. Kids high-fived us from the side of the course. Other runners played music from portable speakers, even took song requests, offered each other sweets and sustenance, cheered on the elites when they passed us on the other side after what felt like five minutes.

The way these events bring people together always gets me.

Even the leader of the Labour Party was out in force. (Yep, I saw Jeremy Corbyn getting a selfie with another spectator at mile 12. I was just gutted I didn’t have my phone on me, to be honest.)

2:12 was my result in the end. 1:59 for my brother – and with only a month’s real training under his belt, that ain’t too shabby. The times become irrelevant on a day like today, though. The medal, the t-shirt, the goodie bag of treats, are all nice to have. But, yeah. The way these events bring people together always gets me.

What’s wine got to do with it?

Today was gorgeous.

I showed my brother how we do brunch here in London. My flatmate then joined us on a tube ride north. The three of us landed in Chalk Farm, searched in vain for pineapple juice, then made our way to Primrose Hill. Until today, its reputation (thanks to several hundred Instagram shots noted and envied) had preceded it. I’d never graced the spot with my presence, but that’s because I just  hadn’t realised I was waiting for today.

We took a detour to Primrose Hill Market. Since we hadn’t found decent pineapple juice in the corner shop by Chalk Farm station, we settled on a bottle of wine instead. (It’s practically the same thing.)

A couple of taster-shots of wine into the sales pitch was when the kick up the backside came. This guy (his name got lost among the bottles) had been running the UK arm of this wine company since January. Only five months. And here he was, with a market stall, running events, in talks with restaurants, making things happen on a full-time basis.

“Say goodbye to your days off,” he said.

“It’s hard work,” he said.

“But it’s worth every second,” he said.

Me and my flatmate (fashion designer/independent businesswoman extraordinaire, excuse me) exchanged glances. Are we really sacrificing days off in our own self-made working pursuits? Are we truly putting in the necessary graft? If this guy could be out here, selling us wine, giving the spiel and being all inspiring, all in just five months, what could we actually achieve if we did this thing right?

It’s all lessons. It’s all a work in progress. Just watch this space.

One thing we did do right? Was this day.

Primrose Hill with those two (plus wine) was a beaut. I ate lobster for the first time in Canary Wharf (verdict: I’ll be happy if I only eat lobster one time in my life). I took them to my favourite ice-cream shop where they have chocolate on tap – literally. And the weather stayed kind to us all day.

Primrose Hill

As Saturdays go, this one was not bad at all.