Refocusing

It is Monday morning. A new day, a fresh week. I am, as the title of this post suggests, refocusing.

I had been thinking I would write a post today titled ‘On Disappointment and Uncertainty,’ because that’s the one I had planned. It’s what I wanted to write last month but didn’t have the brainpower for. Because disappointed and uncertain was where my head was at for pretty much all of August.

I’ve already said I found August particularly hard, and that part of that was moving, but that doesn’t really paint a full picture of everything that was going on.

Before we got to the huge physical strain that moving was, there was applying for houses. And that was the emotional strain, because it seemed no one wanted to accept our application.

Waiting for landlord decisions is tough, in and of itself (especially when the answer comes back as no and you have to start all over again), but what that waiting coincided with for me was also waiting for responses from agents and publishers, waiting for a funding decision, and waiting for my A Level result. (I feel like there was something else in that list, too, but I’ve lost track of whatever it was at this point.)

If you’ve been following the UK news over the past month, you’ll know that results day was a clusterfuck. And if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know I was relying on a good result to, hopefully, kickstart my re-entry to formal education.

Well, I got an okay result. A grade C. Not exactly what I wanted, but not awful. And we found a house and moved in. There are some loose ends still to tie up the end of the moving process, but for the most part that is done. Huge, huge relief!

I found the uncertainty over these things legitimately debilitating. Hence my hiatus from writing. And reading. And posting here.

I’m still waiting on the funding decision – it ended up being pushed back until October – and I haven’t heard from the majority of agents and publishers I submitted to, but I’m not particularly stressing about that. Why? Because I have a plan. I almost always have not just one single plan, but a main plan and lots of smaller, sub-plans. I think that’s what made all the uncertainty hardest for me – all of the things being out of my hands. But going forward – recentering my focus on the future – not everything seems so dire.

I’ve had a poem accepted that I think is being published next month, in October. I have a short story due to be published in November. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I plan to be finishing the third book in my trilogy. As of this past weekend, I am writing again. I am reading again. I have an active list of reading and writing things to work through that is A. not crushing me under the weight of it, and B. not a list of physical tasks I must complete before even considering taking to my computer for words.

In under two weeks, I am handing back the keys to the old house. By that time, the minor work that needs done there will be wrapped up. It will have been cleaned within an inch of its life (several times over). I will have finished updating our address everywhere. Puzzle pieces will have slotted together and our payments will be all in order.

Things are coming together.

Huzzah!

Coming Back?

The organised chaos of my new workspace

*taps microphone* Is this thing on?

I think this is me, coming back from my little hiatus. I feel a little ridiculous for how weird it feels. Coming back, I mean, but also having been away in the first place. It’s only been a month, (only, she says!) but it feels so much longer. I feel rusty. Right now, I’m supposed to be taking part in a writing sprint but I’m weirdly hesitant. Gun shy, I suppose.

I’ve spent all of August and what we’ve had of September so far orchestrating a full-house move and it’s been… a lot. A lot of stress. Physical and emotional strain. I’ve moved before, a number of times, but specify ‘full-house’ move here because switching between student accommodation or transitioning from a single room in my parent’s house to having my own place is different from this. It didn’t have a patch on this.

It has taken all of my time and energy and it’s not 100% done, but mostly there, and now I’m back, here again. I got so excited by the prospect of being able to write again. I set up my new workspace and literally clapped my hands with glee. And I’m sat here… stalling. Scared? Maybe. Why am I scared? I don’t know. Like I said, I feel ridiculous for it. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think this is one of those things most if not all writers go through. I’m not sure if it’s burnout, but probably. Burnout sucks.

The ‘library’ area of my new house

But I guess the important thing is not attaching a label to my weird absence of words and focus on going forward. I am typing here, so that’s progress. I endeavour to come back here next week and write another post. And another one the week after that. I’m not entirely sure what those posts will be, but I’ll give it a shot. Because what’s my other option? Not write at all? Ha! No. That’s a truly ridiculous idea.

I’ve come back, so I trust the words will, too.

…in reading back over this before I hit ‘publish’ I’m tempted to say my apprehension makes sense, because writing can very much be like opening yourself up and bleeding. And I think my scabs from before are all hard, but that sounds incredibly melodramatic.

Also in re-reading, I’m concerned that I’m not saying anything new or different from my last post, but it’s an accurate representation of where I’m at right now, so… *shrugs*

It’s possible I’m overthinking this. Honestly, I’ll be fine.

Stay tuned!

Thinking

I’ve been thinking again about my past projects (pictured above), now have a bit of distance from them. They haven’t been out in the world for a while – I unpublished them over a year ago – and, in fact, one of them never even made it out to begin with. I killed my micro-poetry project before it ever really saw the light of day.

But anyway, I’m thinking about it because… because I’m kind of itching to start something new.

And I’m nervous.

I don’t know if anyone has been able to tell, but I’ve been finding it hard to blog, recently. Hard to motivate myself to do it. The words you’re reading now are the first ones I’ve written this month. Maybe I’ve lost momentum. Maybe I’m burned out. Maybe both?

Either way, I think I need a break. Which is funny, actually, because I’m not sure if I know what one looks like. A lot of the time, a break for me just means switching gears to do something else rather than stopping entirely. And it’s kind of the same here. I don’t want to stop entirely so much as I… well. This might sound weird, but I want to draw.

I’m not actually good at drawing, but I want to learn. I want to try.

I actually think I want to try Inktober, and I’m itching to put together a somewhat rough and ready zine from what I create.

…reading back over that last sentence, I am relieved that I still want to create. Maybe it means everything isn’t so bad as it feels right now.

I’m just tired.

I don’t know when I’ll blog again, but words will most certainly return in some way at some point. Maybe it’ll be in a month. Maybe it’ll be a few hours and I’ll then feel silly for having written this. Regardless, I’m gonna doodle in the meantime.

A zine is a fun idea, but I’m playing with it as just that; not committing myself to anything just yet.

I have mixed feelings about putting another thing out into the world, because of the aforementioned past projects. They all took so much time and energy (some more so than others) but, ultimately, I was unsatisfied with them. My standards kept rising and the books kept falling short.

No wonder I’m a little gun-shy.

…I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this. Maybe that’s my point.

I’m just thinking. Musing. Having a little doodle.

I’ll be back.

A Little More on Comorbidities

In my most recent health update, I included a bullet-pointed list of most, if not all, of my issues and talked a little about ‘comorbidities,’ which is a big word that just means having multiple conditions going on simultaneously (at the same time) that can also be, in some ways, overlapped (in terms of causes and/or symptoms).

In my list, I grouped a few of the items together, but I didn’t really explain the overlaps. That’s what I want to do today, and what I have tried to represent in the diagram above.

Before I get into it: it should go without saying that I am not a doctor and this post is purely based on my own experience, and my own limited understanding of that experience. But, you know, I’m gonna say it anyway: I’m not a doctor. Do not use this post as a guide to diagnose yourself.

Probably the biggest thing to note is how Fibromyalgia is right at the centre of the diagram and, also, at the heart of many of my issues. This is mostly because it’s an umbrella condition that has many different things rolled up in it. (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)

The main symptoms I have from fibro are chronic pain, chronic fatigue, problems with my joints (which can, in turn, make me more exhausted and my body more painful more quickly), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), depression, and anxiety (and fibro fog! Can’t forget that!! Though I incidentally did, in my first draft of this post. Plus points for irony!). You can have each of these things on their own, or even a few of them, without having fibro, but when you have all of them, it’s a pretty big indication that there’s something bigger at play.

For me, fibromyalgia is a big deal and the diagnosis made a lot of puzzle pieces click into place. But there are things in my diagram (and on my original list) that are not fibro related. Asthma, for example, has no link to fibro. Except, in my case, it’s triggered by allergies and my allergic response often then triggers my sinusitis and/or IBS symptoms.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has no direct link to fibro (at least that I’m aware of), but they both cause me abdominal pain. My IBS also causes me abdominal pain; depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand even in people without fibro; and I have a sleep disorder that has nothing to do with fibro, but it does double-down on the fatigue I get as part of my fibro. I’m not exactly sure my costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs and breastbone) is linked to my more general joint and muscle problems, but it seems fairly reasonable to me that it is.

Moving on from this, in the bottom right of my diagram, you will see a triangle of what I’ve labelled ‘specific learning disabilities.’ These are dyslexia (problems with words*), dyscalculia (problems with numbers*), and dyspraxia (problems with motor skills and judging distances*). All three of these are different and can occur on their own, but they can also often present themselves in the same person, and I am one of those lucky people to have hit the trifecta.

Bottom left of the diagram you will see I’ve listed my hearing problems, which I haven’t linked to anything. That’s because, as far as I understand, it’s a separate issue from all the rest. I don’t know what caused it and I’m still looking for a solution, but medical science is discovering new things all the time so who knows what I might find out in the future regarding it. Maybe it is somehow linked to my patchwork of other conditions and symptoms, or maybe it really is there all on its own.

I mostly wrote this post and made the diagram above for my own benefit, to help myself better understand how I do (and don’t) work, but what I want you to take away from all this is that it can all get pretty complicated.

It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve come to identify myself with the label ‘disabled,’ and it’s a big label with big implications. The diagram above might make it look fairly organised – simple, or logical, even – but the day-to-day reality is that I am really tired and sore pretty much all of the time.

Hopefully my explanation has been clear, but if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.


*I just want to note that the explanations of dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia I have given are super simplistic and in no way represent the full symptoms or definitions of those conditions.

On Friendship

This is, in part, a follow up to my blog post ‘On Adulthood.’ I’ve just reread it in preparation to write this and, wow, what a difference a couple of months can make.

On the first of March I said, and I quote, “My mental health is the best it’s maybe ever been… for right now, I’m okay.”

And then, of course, the world fell apart. Not just my world, but THE world. And I, like many others, am not okay. Far bloody from it.

But what has this got to do with friendship, you ask? Well, in that first post I talked a little about ‘Friends’ the TV show, and how I was relating that to my life.

I now want to do that again, because I’ve had some follow up thoughts. On both the show and reality.

I finished binge-watching episodes maybe two weeks ago. And where it had started out as a fun pastime, it kind of ended up as just another thing I wanted to power through and finish. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was taxing, in the end, but I definitely kept hitting up against some problems again and again (and again).

For example, despite being set in the extremely multicultural city of New York, did you know that Friends didn’t start consistently having black background characters until season seven? It took the show SEVEN years to make the token gesture of putting one or two people of colour in the background of each episode.

What’s more, there is so much anti-LGBT sentiment. By the end, there wasn’t a single episode that didn’t have being gay (or trans) as a punchline. And there were so many fat jokes for a show where every single character is skinny!

You might wonder why I even bothered to finish it if these things were bothering me so much, and here is the crux of the matter: you can both love and be bothered by the same thing at the same time.

Our experiences of things are rarely binary, where we either entirely adore it or cannot find a single thing to like. With everything, there is nuance. And that can be okay – because it is the intrinsic nature of things, it has to be okay – for the most part, but you need to draw the line for when it’s not okay. For when the bad outweighs the good and it’s time to give up and walk away.

If Friends had still been airing when I was making my way through the seasons, I may well have stopped watching. But since it had ended, and the end was a definitive thing that I was not far off, I decided to stick with it.

Recently, however, I decided I could no longer stick with a real-life friendship. Like the show, and like all of us, this person had good points and bad points. But my breaking point came when those bad things – like their sharing of harmful conspiracies and racist lies – became frequent enough that I couldn’t put up with it anymore. I challenged my friend, but they wouldn’t listen. They’d been poisoned by the same kind of crap they were sharing.

So, I broke it off. I unfriended them. And I walked away.

Sometimes things change – people change – and sometimes that’s for the better and sometimes it’s not, but sooner or later you will come to a line in the sand, and you gotta decide which side of it you want to be on.

It can be sad letting people go, but what’s the point continuing to share my life with people if I can’t live with myself?

Black Books on my TBR

I said I was going to read more books by black authors, and I love a good list, so here are some specific books on my TBR (to be read) pile I plan to get to soon:

Poetry

Novels

Non-Fiction 

I generally like to consume my non-fiction on audiobook, so I have my upcoming Audible credits earmarked for both of these.

Other

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy my other recent blog post about ten books by black authors I’ve already read and loved, which you can find linked here.

Summer Writing Update

My last writing update was in March. Before lockdown. Before George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets again. Before so many things, most of them stressful and traumatic (and some of them both).

The world has changed in some ways, stayed frustratingly the same in others, and we all are struggling on. So, let’s catch up.

I’m going to be talking about my reading and writing for the first half of the year in this post, but I recently shared a health and fertility update here, if you’re interested. And if you want to read about my response to the BLM movement, see here and here.

Reading

Sadly, because of the aforementioned global shitstorm, there is not a lot to report here. I am currently four books behind in my reading target for the year – 28 books read so far out of 65 (43%) – but am confident I can and will catch up.

Writing

Shockingly, I have been writing more than ever. I genuinely don’t understand how or why this has happened, because I’ve lost count of the number of times in the past three months where I’ve been close to tearing my hair out with frustration at my supposed lack of words. (As my long-suffering husband can attest.)

Here is a little breakdown in stats:

  • January – 9,000 words
  • February – 29,000 words
  • March – 24,000 words
  • April – 28,000 words
  • May – 32,000 words
  • June – 22,000 words

Overall, that’s 144,000 for the year.

Obviously the numbers are a little rounded, but compare them to last year when I wrote a total of 166,000 words over the course of the full twelve months, and 2018 when I wrote 146,000. It makes me wonder what word count I’d be sitting with right now if the world wasn’t on fire.

But what I will note is that, despite the steep rise in my word count, the projects I’ve been working on are not what I had intended right at the start of the year. For the most part, I haven’t really had the brainpower to work on “original” fiction, instead sticking well inside my comfort zone of fanfic.

Going forward, I have some plans, uh… planned. July is Camp NaNoWriMo, for which I have set my monthly goal to 30,000, but outside of that I’m keeping my writing goals for the rest of 2020 fairly quiet. Things are going on in the background, but it’s too early to talk about them yet. By the time my end of year update comes out, all will be revealed, so stay tuned! And please let me know how your writing is going.

‘Till next time!

Three Things I Have Learned Recently

If you’ve been following along with this blog recently, you’ll know that I made a commitment to learn more about racism as a means to combat it in my own life. One of the ways I’ve begun to do this is by watching more content by black creators on YouTube, and from that I have learned three main things so far.

Before I get into to the things themselves, I want to add a caveat that I’m aware this is only the tip of the iceberg and obviously I still don’t know a great deal even about the three things listed below, so it’s entirely possible I will get things wrong and I encourage you to merely use this as a jumping-off point for looking into things yourself. (Also, if you do spot an error please let me know!)

I’m gonna share a little about these things not for some weird kind of self-congratulatory reason (because, honestly, I’m ashamed I didn’t know about them before, not patting myself on the back for finally starting to catch up) but to pass on the knowledge to anyone else who might not know.

But enough preamble. Here are the goods:

What Happened in Tulsa

Tulsa is a city in Oklahoma. The Greenwood district had the wealthiest black community in the United States and was known as “Black Wall Street.” That was until 1921, when mobs of white residents took to the streets, murdered many* black people, injured many more, and destroyed homes and black-owned businesses. It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” AND – just to add insult to injury – it is mostly left out of history textbooks and high school classrooms. If and when someone tries to tell you racism isn’t a real thing, tell them about Tulsa.

*The numbers seem to be a little unclear, and apparently there were a few white people killed, too.

What Juneteenth Is

The anniversary of June 19th 1865 (now known as ‘Juneteenth’) is a day of celebration for black emancipation, but it was not in fact when slavery was legally abolished in the USA. This was just when, two-and-a-half years after it got outlawed, news of the change in law finally reached Texas and was put into effect there. Because Texas was the furthest the news had to travel, it was the last state in which slaves were liberated.

Though, actually, on this note: it is important to recognise that a disproportionate number of black people are arrested and unfairly put in the prison system (for things that white people ordinarily get away with, as well as legitimately for no reason at all), which requires them to use their incarceration time completing unpaid labour. So it can be argued that, in this way, slavery still continues to this day.

(In editing this post and having it looked over by an American friend, I am reliably informed that prior to this very summer of 2020 when Trump started making plans to have a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth, the term Juneteenth was not widely known about even by many Americans outside of Texas.)

Colorism is a Thing

We all know that racism is discrimination based on the colour of someone’s skin, with people of black and brown skin tone often being the ones discriminated against. There is a whole debate on whether white people can be subject to racism but I am not getting into that. I personally feel like the argument does a lot to take the focus away from what matters most, which is that day in and day out, black people are losing their lives, homes, and careers over such injustices.

(Note from my editor friend, which I feel better explains what I’m trying to say in the point above: “It is a semantic distinction. Nobody argues that white people cannot be discriminated against based on their race, but many scholars use prejudice or discrimination to describe that and keep ‘racism’ for the institutionalized prejudice against minorities.”)

At any rate, colorism is a phenomenon in which black people with lighter skin will face less racism than black people with a darker complexion. Generally, the darker your skin is, the more discrimination you will face, with people who can ‘pass’ for white experiencing the least of all. (Please note, this is a generalisation and there will of course be exceptions to the rule!)

Something to watch out for is when companies try and include a black person in their marketing to make themselves appear more inclusive/diverse, the black person they pick will often be light-skinned. If you’re only having your eyes opened to this for the first time now, you might be startled to discover that it’s actually pretty common. I ask you to dig a little into who is behind the marketing campaigns (Google is your friend) and question such things publicly (even if it’s just on Twitter).

In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear about what you may have learned recently in the comment section below.

Health and Fertility Update – June 2020

I don’t honestly know if anyone following my blog is interested in updates about my health, but I do know that I myself find them useful to look back on. At any rate, it’s been a year since I voiced my frustrations regarding trying to get pregnant and that was the last real health-related update I shared, so I figured this post was overdue.

In terms of mental health, I have been all over the place, but with everything that’s going on in the world right now, I suspect that’s the same for most people.

I talked before about trying to lose weight, but that’s ground to a halt, partly because of lockdown but also because my local Slimming World group disbanded prior to that and my motivation went out the window when my fertility consultant moved the goalposts on me.

I had been trying to get my BMI down so that I could access fertility treatment, and the entirely arbitrary number they had originally set for me to reach was a real struggle. Then, at my last appointment, I was told that the clinic had their funding cut and so they were moving my target BMI even more out of reach. Like, impossibly out of reach for someone with PCOS and my body type. While this was an obvious blow, I got some clarification over exactly what they had planned for me in the hypothetical situation I did reach the magical number and they told me IVF, which is not something I knew before then. Continue reading

10 Black Book Recommendations

I have not read a lot of books by black authors – this is something I will be consciously focusing on from here on out – but of the titles I have already read and loved, here are ten I really want to recommend:

  1. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – This is a YA novel that took me by surprise. I heard about it all over booktube for ages before ever picking it up, but am so glad I finally listened to the hype and gave it a shot because it’s now one of my favourite books of all time.
  2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – A classic novel told via the medium of letters. Heartbreaking at various points (trigger warning for all kinds of abuse) but handled so wonderfully. The characters are so fleshed out, they read like real people. It tells you not just what it’s like to be black, but specifically a black woman, and someone who questions their sexuality too.
  3. Becoming by Michelle Obama – Memoir/non-fiction from the former first lady of the USA. I listened to this on audiobook, which is read by Michelle herself.
  4. My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal – The story of a mixed-race boy who gets taken into care alongside his baby brother but is separated from said brother because the baby is white and therefore more likely to be adopted. Again, heartbreaking, touching, and very human.
  5. Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi – A poetry pamphlet about belonging, masculinity, identity, and coming of age.
  6. Tree Trunks That Hide the Elephant and the Whale by Willetta Fleming – More poetry here, this time from a woman local to me here in Northern Ireland.
  7. Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman – When I first started thinking about this list, I knew for certain I’d have to include Malorie but I had a hard time picking one of her many, many titles (she’s so prolific and so well-loved, I’m actually gonna do a separate post all about her and her books in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that). This YA novel (about a teenage boy who discovers his ex-girlfriend had a child by him and now expects him to raise the child) isn’t one of Malorie’s most well-known books, but it really touched me. There is also some queer representation.
  8. Unheard Voices – An Anthology of Stories and Poems to Commemorate the Bicentenary Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, edited [and including a powerful short story] by Malorie Blackman.
  9. My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay – This is a memoir about growing up in care, being abandoned, and finding yourself. When Lemn was taken from his mother, he didn’t even get to keep his real name. This is a startling look at what it’s like (or, at least, what it was like) to be raised within the ‘system’ in the UK, and how the system is (or was) so very broken.
  10. Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah – Benjamin is primarily a poet, but this is one of his novels. It’s middle-grade (aimed at a slightly younger audience than YA), about a boy who is torn between wanting to address the injustices he sees around him and trying to stay out of trouble. Soon, he discovers, trouble finds him and he is thrust into a situation well beyond his handling. There are some important topics and issues raised in this book, my only wish is that explored them a little deeper.

Coming soon: a list of ten books by black authors I plan to read next. If you have more suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below.