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.

Today was a good day

Today, I spent four hours crafting my first project proposal to a prospect.

Today, I was praised for my beautiful writing in a client post.

Today, I was hugged by a little girl who made me wait so she could say a proper goodbye.

Today, I playfully teased a little boy about him having a girlfriend and saw his cheeks turn pink.

Today, I met my brother off the tube for his second visit to the city.

Today, I went to a great Brazilian place for food even though I wasn’t hungry, because the company I was keeping was so good.

Today, the people spilling out of bars and onto the street made it feel like summer.

Today, I had ice-cream and cookie dough.

Today, it felt hysterically difficult to get out of bed. Today, I missed my final training run ahead of this weekend’s half-marathon because of said difficulty getting out of bed. Today, I spent much more time inside, away from the sun, than I did outside enjoying it.

But today… Today was still a very good day.

I would wish for three more wishes

The below is a post I wrote when I was feeling particularly frazzled. It’s been sitting pretty in my Drafts folder ever since because I was embarrassed by how entitled and whiny it made me sound. But after a day that saw me wearing all of my figurative life-hats (and sweating simultaneously – May heatwave, I see you), it felt apt to press ‘publish’ as I sat down to write at 11.10pm tonight and realised that, truly? I just wanted to go to bed.

I feel like the girl who rubbed the genie’s lamp.

You know the one. The ever-so-slightly spoilt girl with the red hair who figured that three wishes wasn’t enough so she went and asked for three more wishes. Because with only three wishes, how could she ever decide what to wish for? She wanted too much.

Likewise, with only 24 hours in a day, how am I ever meant to pick the work I’m to focus on?

How am I meant to write and pitch and market myself? How am I meant to give my all to my day job? How am I meant to see my friends? How am I meant to hear all the podcasts and listen to all the albums and read all the books? How am I meant to binge-watch both Girls and The Affair, while also giving mucho love to my poor, neglected Netflix subscription?

Today’s lesson, only to be learnt by people who actually don’t know how good they’ve already got it (HEY THERE! *waves*), is on the theme of getting your act together and prioritising already.

Making a plan.

Writing down said plan.

Sticking with said plan.

And not whining about it.

Where do I want to go? Why? How do I want to feel? What’s the ideal here? And then, what are the little baby steps to get me there (which, whether I like it or not, will have to fit into those darn 24 hours I’ve been given, along with everyone else)?

Sounds easy enough, but lately I’ve been clock-watching. Burning the candle at both ends. Sending text messages to friends listing all the things I want to do in life that I feel like I don’t have time for while not realising that even composing said text messages is taking up time I could spend chilling the heck out about all of this and just getting on with it.

Because the irony is that while we’re complaining about not being able to do it all, we’re actually not doing anything.

I know that we come to these realisations in our own time and we all need to get our frustrations off our chests. It’s alright to whine. A little. But even I’m irritated by the sound of my own complaints today.

The bitter fact is that life takes time. If we could have more hours or more wishes at our disposal rightnowthankyouplease, that’d be grand. But it doesn’t work that way. It takes dedication, diligence, all the things you’d list as your core strengths on your CV.

Noticing a theme?

I’m formulating plans over here. I’m absorbing lessons. I’m sending out work proposals. I’m watching and learning from the women who came before me. I’m being patient (even if forcibly so).

And I will keep going.

Why aren’t I taking notes?

I cried on the bus last night.

I cried quickly and quietly. Mainly on the inside. And then I got off the bus and bought a big bar of Dairy Milk chocolate and ate it before I got home. Because that’s what I do to make myself not feel empty anymore.

I cried because I read a passage in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, that goes like this:

“I saved my earnings and went on trips and took notes. I went to the pyramids of Mexico and took notes. I went on bus rides through the suburbs of New Jersey and took notes. I went to Eastern Europe and took notes. I went to Wyoming and worked as a trail cook on a ranch and took notes.”

She took notes, yo. NOTES. Where are my notes? Hell, where are the experiences I should be taking notes on? When was the last time I got on a bus and eavesdropped, or listened to a stranger’s story, or did something flipping noteworthy?

Slight aside: my friend actually suggested the bus thing recently.

“Do you know how many things you might notice on a bus journey, alone?”

(Shouts to this guy for having his creative advice always creep in on my blog posts.)

I hate this feeling of not having figured stuff out and having wasted my time and not having applied myself as diligently as I should’ve done. Is it a twentysomething thing? When I hit 30, will this feeling go away, please?

They say we connect the dots of our lives looking back. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am now, with the opportunities I have before me, if I hadn’t been where I’ve already been. Things lead us to where we’re at. (And I’m not sure I’ve ever typed such a blindingly obvious sentence in my life.) But when you’re in the thick of it – creatively uninspired and mentally unstimulated, reading about Liz Gilbert’s roaringly artistic twenties as you sit in a London Bridge traffic jam, having left a super-inspiring event because you have to get up early the next day, and you’re exhausted but with seemingly little to show for your tiredness – it’s easy to feel like you must’ve messed up along the way. Like something must be amiss because your creative process looks nothing like the ones you like to romanticise.

But the thing I tend to say to myself after one of these tearful, tiredness-driven, self-inflicted rants? Get over yourself. You chose this life, Becca. You chose to be creative and you chose to pursue writing. No one asked you to do it. No one’s forcing you to want to be better. No one’s saying you should be exactly like NYT-bestselling author, Liz Gilbert. Only you chose this.

(And comparing yourself to a woman whose book was turned into a Julia Roberts movie isn’t helping, HELLO.)

So. Choose it I will damn well continue to do.

Every day.

It can only be by doing the thing that the thing ends up being done. And it’s only by opening my laptop every day that I’ll have some defence against my own tellings-off. Ha! I am working! Look!

Here’s to always writing, always taking notes and never giving up.

We’re all piss-poor to each other sometimes…

…But we’re all still trying our best, nonetheless.

That’s the message I’m taking from tonight’s IRL Panel event. There are two hours, eight miles and one delightfully-consumed rainbow bagel (it had to be done) between me and it. But now I’m writing about it (the panel, not the bagel), half-dressed on my bed, because I want to articulate my thoughts before I go to sleep and lose them to the night.

My friendships are my foundation. They come before most other things. I have a bunch of really rad people around me – people who back me, check in with me, let me be a weird mofo and even tell me they love me in spite of that. As a friend myself, I’ve been known to be intense. I can be* fiercely supportive. You’d better trust that I’ll be sharing your projects on Twitter, turning up at all of your shows, pestering asking you for milkshake dates bi-weekly (minimum). But then sometimes I become insular, drop off the radar, go a little bit Jason Derulo (I’m making up bad rhyming slang and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop me).

It’s ups and it’s downs. As with most things in life. And that’s my point.

I say I *can be fiercely supportive, because I’ve also been known to be a really bad friend. Like, actually quite rubbish when I was needed the most. I didn’t make the call. I didn’t send the text. I didn’t show up. And then, when accused of causing hurt, I didn’t own it and say the one ‘S’ word that would’ve fixed it all in an instant.

I can’t blame anything for that other than my own inner messiness. I discussed it with other friends, asked them to justify my actions, help me get shut of the shame that was drowning my insides. I was outraged by the hurt my other friend was feeling. Fingers in ears, la la la, this was all on her.

The truth is, we’re not all that great to our friends all of the time. This was one such example of me not being all that great. And I couldn’t admit that out loud until right now.

I can’t always show up. I won’t always be there. I can’t always drop plans and offer the grand gesture of spooning and a takeaway when my mate says she’s not OK on a Sunday night.

But what I can do?

Is the little thing.

If I can’t take round lilies and something boozy? Send a text. Instead of talking for hours on the phone? Drop her a voice note over Whatsapp so she at least hears another human telling her they care. And when none of those things happen and my friend feels like I ghosted her? Listen to her rather than shutting her down. And try to figure that, maybe, she might have a point.

Things worked out OK with this friend of mine. In fact, she was my mate-date for tonight’s event. I felt somewhat awkward when the (articulate and super relatable) panellists were talking about mates not being there for you… But things are OK now. Better places have been reached. And really, I’m not going to beat myself up for something that’s passed because I know that, at any given moment, we’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got and what we know. We mess up. We make mistakes. We defend ourselves to the point where it’s almost too late. But that doesn’t mean it ever will be. Too late, I mean. I like to think there’s always a chance to go back and make something alright again. Perhaps never quite the same, but alright, even so.

Cheers to Emma Gannon and Laura Jane Williams for putting on another fab event and for deciding to do this in the first place – to show other girls that none of us really knows what we’re doing here at all, in this messy thing called life, but that’s OK because we’re all in it together.