I’m back in Liverpool and everything seems the same same… but different.

Just as beautiful of South East Asia... but a tad chillier.

Aughabrack, just as beautiful as South East Asia… but a tad chillier.

Yes I have returned from South East Asia, and yes I have been dying to use that little wordplay since I first left.

But don’t let the title fool you, I’m not in Liverpool, I’m staving off the post-travelling blues by travelling to the slightly less exotic destination of Aughabrack for some home comforts.

I did return to Liverpool, and reality, with a bump (quite literally) nearly one whole month ago and must confess since then I have been suffering with the dreaded post-holiday blues. Reality, the mess of a bedroom, lengthy To Do List, mountain of washing and financial ruin which I returned to, really did hit me with a bump, as waking early (thank you jet lag) feeling rejuvenated, invigorated and determined to start off on the right foot I decided to kick-start with a morning run.

And it all started so well, powering up Parliament Street I had a whirlwind of ideas in my head, all sorts of plans and good intention to put things back in order. Writing ideas were tripping over each other in a bid to grab my attention, I was suddenly full of confidence and determination to get back on the job hunt, and most importantly, I was intent not to dwell on the fact that I wasn’t spending my morning lying on a beach. Sadly, that all that power cut out halfway back down the other side of the Anglican Cathedral and that right foot that I was sure I’d gotten off on caught on a loose paving stone and turned me and all my good intentions upside down.

It was one of those slow motion falls, you know what’s going to happen, you can see it unfolding as though you were a third person detached from the actual movement, stifling a giggle. It’s only as the ground makes angry contact with your hands and knees that you remember this isn’t some comedy fall you’re watching from the comfort of the sofa, that’s you right there going crash bang wallop outside one the city’s biggest tourist attractions, right across the street from your place of work. Not so funny now is it?

Lying flat on my back, staring up at the clouds I decided to focus on the silver lining – at least it’s early, too early for tourists, at least it’s the summer, no LIPA students around to revel in my literal downfall, and at least my only witness was a very kind-hearted taxi driver who offered to drop me home for free.

I gratefully declined, and hobbled home with blood-soaked hands and knees to curl up on the sofa and feel sorry for myself.

My mind might have thought itself fighting fit, but my body obviously wasn’t ready to get off the sun lounger and go back to porridge. I was tired, severely sorry to be home, and criminally skint. Fuck good intentions, I’m going back to bed.

Take me back to the islands!

Take me back to the islands!

Of course the wallowing passed with just the right amount of comfort food, a few convalescence trips to the pub with dear friends, and a brave venture back into the ugly world of freelancing.

Just as I was getting back on track, the tracks were yet again ripped from under my feet with the very sudden upheaval of my living circumstances and another financial punch in the face. But that is a rant for another day (watch this space).

Thankfully, the jet lag wore off after about a week, the home comforts have done wonders for the post-holiday blues, and my knees have just about healed, though they’ve left some unsightly patches in my tan. With a dreaded return to porridge and working life this weekend, it’s about time I gave a second attempt at knuckling down, starting afresh and getting off on the right foot… with eyes peeled for any bumps in the road, and maybe I’ll invest in some knee pads.

Before...

Before…

and After

and After

 

A Correction.

A correction.

For writers, words are our daily bread.

We try and taste all new words that we come across, endeavour to maintain a balanced diet of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, pronouns, all mixed together in the pot, producing sentences and stories to tantalize the tongue. We consume books, magazines, newspapers, novels, poems, plays, anything we can get our hands on to satisfy our hunger for words and the knowledge that comes with them. We learn about new styles and tastes, explore recipes from throughout history and national flavours, we could simply not exist without words. Life would be bland, beige and unexciting.

As a creative writer and an aspiring journalist there is one word that stands at the forefront of everything I write, printed in bold, capital letters among all others in my repertoire, that word is TRUTH. Even in my most fictional offerings, the foundations are built with truth, an honest representation of some place or person or feeling. Throughout history writers have endeavoured to capture their world and the people in it with honesty, truth and integrity, I think of Dickens, Austen, Joyce. We know their worlds as clearly as our own.

I mention integrity because there is dishonesty in not telling the full story.

To recognise Father’s Day I wrote a brief, honest list of things which I had inherited from my father, lessons he has taught me over the years, but it was not our full story, not even a fraction of it. The truth of the matter is, and even now I only glimpse at that truth, is that the most important lessons my father has taught me have not been easy truths to accept. I have not made peace with them yet, as my father and I have not made peace with each other. He disapproves of my choices in life as much as I disapprove of his, that is perhaps the shortest telling of it. It has been a long time since I have wished him Happy Father’s day because ours is a tumultuous relationship, and truth means as much to him as it does to me, we cannot pretend and simply play happy families. We are each other’s catalyst, testing patience, breaking tempers, building character. The glimpse of my father’s influence on me which I tried to capture yesterday, did not do either of us justice. He will always be the most important and influential man in my life. He has made me who I am, the writer I hope to be, the shining example of everything I hope not to become. And someday I hope to be brave enough, at peace enough, to tell that story because I owe it to him as much as I owe it to myself. But not yet.

The most important stories we have to tell are always the most difficult to write.

A Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Narcissist?

Earlier this week an article on the BBC website caught my eye, it addresses the social media phenomenon which has become increasingly prominent on our Facebook and Instagram feeds, namely, ‘The Rise of the Selfie’.

Being (shamelessly) guilty of more than a few self-snaps myself (see above, exhibit A), I usually reserve judgement on others’ offerings, let he without sin cast the first stone and all that biblical bollocks, but the article (this one, right here) got me thinking, why?

What is it that encourages people to flaunt these posed pictures to the digital world?

Why do people feel the need to plaster their mugs all over the world wide web?

Why do I feel the need?

I’ve never given it much consideration before, but now, casting a judgemental eye over my Instagram account I’m hesitant to admit that around 20% of my photographs could be deemed guilty of the selfie hash tag.

By that calculation, am I 20% vain? 20% narcissist? 20% attention seeking?

Even as I write the words I can foresee my dearest friends nodding their heads in agreement: “Yes love, yes you are… though 20% may be a gross underestimation”.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider myself particularly vain or narcissistic but as someone who spends 23 hours of the day looking like something that’s just been dragged through a bush backwards, I quite like having photographic evidence of that twenty minute period directly after fixing hair and applying make-up  before it all begins to go downhill. Its quite nice to look back and think ‘Oh, I remember that day, that was a good hair day’ or ‘I remember that night out, that was an awesome night out!’ and inevitably ‘I remember that hangover, that hangover was worth every aching moment’. That’s what I see when I look at the collection of selfies which I’ve racked up since diving into the sepia-toned world of Instagram, but other people might see it in an entirely different light.

Of course, the psychologist in me (making up under 1% of my whole self, after enduring just three months of psychology lectures in my first year of university) would concur that these self-portraits are indeed a manifestation of some underlying ‘love me, love me’ insecurity, no doubt stemming from some unfulfilled emotional need in my past (send you answers on the back of a postcard to…).

But the writer in me (making up 63% and increasing daily) is more hooked on that term ‘self-portrait’. Essentially that is what selfies are, a modern day expression of self, one self-mutilation away from Van Gogh’s masterpiece. We may be holding a camera instead of a brush, painting with flash and filter, but it is the same premise, ‘this is how I see myself’. This is how I would like the world to see me.

It isn’t necessarily the true me, or the whole self, as my bedraggled look for 23 hours of the day will confirm, but it is the filter through which we see ourselves, the fragment of self we’d like to be remembered by.

It is the same in creative writing, we hold the pen, we set the stage, give life to the characters, direct the fates, we show the reader a filtered image of ourselves, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not.

It’s something I discussed with a fellow writer friend earlier this week, unrelated to the ‘selfie’ debate. As creative writers, everything we produce comes under the scrutiny of those who know us best, friends and loved ones, seeking out any autobiographical betrayals written between the lines. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves, not realising the source of inspiration behind a character of plot line until the second or third reading. Even the most fictitious stories are a kind of self-portrait.

As a semi-committed diarist, self-portraiture is something I’ve become cringingly familiar with. Anyone who has ever kept a diary will know what I’m talking about.

You flick through the decade old pages on which you confessed your most personal thoughts and secrets as a hormonal, thirteen year old girl and you just cringe, physically, vocally, most emphatically. And that’s you, that’s a shade of your former self making you cringe. The you who was still experimenting with fashion sense, hair colours, handwriting, friends, that is a self portrait of you becoming yourself.

Worse still when you flick through the pages of diary only three, two, one year old, and still cringe, perhaps not as dramatically because the emotions which spilled out onto the page then may still be a little raw, wounds may not have healed entirely. But there it is, the real you in black and white, a self portrait that you can’t edit. Blurring the edges or adjusting the filter won’t change it.

I kept another kind of diary a few years ago, one entirely made of up of selfies. I attempted, and inevitably failed, to keep a photographic diary, one picture a day for 365 days of the year. Looking back over the 200 or so images, they have an even greater impact than the cringe-worthy words written in decade old diaries with hearts over the ‘i’s. These selfies didn’t follow any of the Instagram standards, these images caught me not just in my preferred hour 1 state of perfect hair and make-up  they captured the me the rest of the world sees in hours 2 to 20, and sometimes the exhausted self that retreats home at hours 21 to 24. I smiled to camera when the day had made me smile, in some photos I just look fed up, in one or two it’s clear I’ve been crying.

One series of photos really brings me back, during the Rugby World Cup in 2011 when I was working two bar jobs, finishing a busy night in one bar at 3am and getting up at 6am to be in work for the televised matches in the other. Over a series of three or four days you can see the physical strain of burning the candle at both ends, running off two or three hours sleep a night, eyes still wide from the rush of adrenaline in one image, struggling to stay awake in another. The final selfie in the series is taken at around 5pm on a Sunday when I had just worked the last shift in a two week run, I had been up since 6am, operating on naps, and this picture caught me just before I KO’d for an actual real 8 hour sleep. The following day I am entirely myself again. And smiling.*

From my attempted photo diary: Candle burnt out at both ends.

From my attempted photo diary: Candle burnt out at both ends.

Weirdly, seeing the pictures now, I don’t remember how exhausted I was all that time, I remember how bizarre it was working in a bar full of drunks at 9am in the morning, serving full Irish breakfasts to people who had been going steady from the night before, these people were running on less sleep than me, but did have the advantage of alcohol on their side. I remember when cabin fever kicked in and there was no other way to keep going than by laughing and dancing.

It almost recollects as fun.

But I don’t want to do it again.

I’ve been there, I’ve taken the photo, that will do.

That’s what I like about selfies, the real ones, snapped at all hours of the day in night in various states of sobriety and mental attitudes, it’s honest.

The quote from the article which struck a chord with me was from Dr. Pamela Rutledge, from the Media Psychology Research Centre in Boston. She said that in selfies “we see ourselves alive and dynamic, a person in progress” whether that’s in weight loss or beard growth, its a snapshot of us becoming the person we want to be (very after school special I know, but we all need a taste of Sesame Street in our cynical little lives).

So if selfies are on the rise, I embrace them, after all I’m a seasoned people watcher, this way the people come to me. Yes people only tend to share the snapshots of themselves looking good (which, let’s be honest, none of us are really interested in) but it’s only natural, I’m sure even Van Gogh discarded a few self portraits where his hair just wasn’t sitting right over the bloodied bandage.

Self-portraits are a very personal thing, but all portraits are meant to be shared… unless you’re Dorian Gray.

* Further research and date checking has established that on the said date, rather than sinking into a long deserved eight hour sleep, I power napped, was in MOJO by 10pm, drinking jugs of sangria by midnight, playing darts by 2am and slipped into comatose on a friend’s sofa at around 6am.

Because you know, you can sleep when you’re dead.

If Benjamin Franklin said it, it must be true…

So despite all my good intentions, I’ve done it again, I’ve left my beloved little blog unattended and neglected, cold and unloved for far too long yet again. Here I come, crawling back to my one true love after flirting and sowing my writing seed elsewhere (here at Yuppee and here at Get Into This if you’d care to indulge).

I am quite used to making up this kind of ground. I am chronically late to meet friends for lunch, the clock at work runs five minutes fast, mine runs twenty minutes late, I always forget to ring my mum back, I push deadlines to the absolute limit, I get distracted by shiny things and You Tube videos of cats, I plan on being late for my own funeral just so friends and family believe that is actually me in the coffin.

Of course I could reel off the twenty-seven thousand excuses I have to hand, most of them fairly substantial, as to where I’ve been recently, but rather than relying on embellishment like a true writer I will be perfectly honest in a brief history of the last few weeks. Since the beginning of March I have been operating as a one woman Mothers Day Card production line, getting coerced into drinking into the early hours by a dear friend back from the desert for a gin-soaked weekend, going to loads of gigs, rejoicing in the misfortune of others (cruel but infinitely satisfying), finally finishing Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, catching up with old friends, mourning Ireland’s performance during the Six Nations, doing St Patrick absolute justice by partying for as long as my body could physically stand it (my voice gave up after three days), and then suffering with unimaginable fear, having my ego rubbed and then beaten to a pulp, and going against my better judgement to play, as always, the romantic fool.

You may not believe it, but in the pursuit of a career as an actual, real, grown up writer, I consider all of the above research.

For my birthday last year I received a notebook in a huge bird-themed group of presents from some very dear friends, and in this notebook all my pearls of wisdom get scribbled down, usually, frantically, by the light of my phone thirty seconds after lying down to sleep. Full of good intentions I romantically noted one of my favourite quotes on the opening page, from Benjamin Franklin:

“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing”.

You see, like I said, research.

At the raw age of twenty-four I will not pretend to have anything of universal importance to write about just yet, although documenting my life and times as a bar wench may prove otherwise. But in the meantime I must go out, be merry, grab life by the proverbial balls and live it up, which is why another favourite quote of mine is ‘no good story every started with a salad’. So in Lena Dunham fashion I have been dedicating every hangover and heartache to the pursuit of my writing career. Eventually it will all pay off.

In the meantime, I promise not to neglect you my darling little blog.

At least not until the next drink-fueled religious holiday.

Not Just Another Blank White Page

It has been little over a fortnight since I last put metaphorical pen to paper yet somehow it feels like it’s been decades. I am going to assume that this over-exaggeration of time lapsed is simply another compulsive symptom of becoming a “real” writer – in the same sense that alcoholics count every second that they have been on the wagon, a writer is tormented by every day when all they produce is yet another blank white page.
It would be lovely to blame writers’ block or psychological burnout or other such professional hazards, but I’m afraid to say my absence is due to much simpler, baser reasons – it’s been damn cold this month.
Yes, that’s right, I’m attributing my creative block to brain freeze. All the snow and slush and gale force winds have completely smothered, drowned and blown away every creative notion I might have had.
As well as trying to keep warm, I have had other distractions – work for one. Along with writers’ block and mild alcoholism, one of the greatest threats to a writer’s career is having to balance an actual job alongside it to ensure you can pay rent. But somehow among it all I have found the time to get started on a few of the New Year’s Resolutions I wrote about here a few weeks ago.

Full of goodwill, a friend and I went along to a local drive to give blood for the very first time. I’ve never been particularly squeamish about needles, unlike my father who used to stand facing the wall when I received my boosters as a child, but up until this point I hadn’t even had blood drawn at the doctors more than once. I was a little nervous, but mostly just excited, after all, giving blood is one of those selfless good deeds which really does save strangers’ lives. But as full of good intentions as I happened to be, my body wasn’t quite prepared to cooperate. Whether it the extreme cold or the excessive consumption of Baileys and cheese over the festive period I’m not sure, but my blood decided it was staying put. After squeezing the life out of my bicep to bring forth a vein, a very lovely, very patient nurse, did her best readjusting the needle to find a steady flow but to no avail. My body was having none of it. After producing less than a Martini glass of O Positive my body decided it had done enough for the good of humanity and went faint. It is amazing just how quickly the goodwill can fall right out of you when you find yourself upside down under a full-powered electric fan.
But I had given blood for the very first time, as little as it was in the end, and bonus life experience, I had fainted for the very first time too! It wasn’t on my list of resolutions but hey, two birds one stone!

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Now completely at ease with the idea of needles, and with the bruised inner arm of an intravenous drug user, I was determined to continue on a roll – More holes in my skin!! So in an effort to feel more like a grown up I did what every seven year old girl does with her First Communion money, I got my ears pierced. And none of this pissy gun thing in Claire’s Accessories, I walked into a serious piercing shop where other people were waiting to get holes in their tongue, nipple and various other painful places, and proudly asked a woman with more metal on her than the Golden Gate Bridge, if she would put some little holes in my ear lobes. And the lovely metal woman obliged, giving me an endearing ‘bless your cotton socks’ look I had expected. I even got a sticker.
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In other resolutions news, I have successfully baked two batches of scones by Granny’s foolproof recipe, made what can only be described as an ‘Any Veg Going’ soup and have only been to Tokyou once. Image

I’d say five out thirteen ain’t a bad start by the end of January. Whether I have started as I mean to go remains to be seen.

Realistic Resolutions? Yeah right…

Well that’s that then.
The excitement of Christmas has subsided, the Quality Street have been devoured, the countdown is over, the living room floor is collecting pine needles and a breakfast of chocolate and wine is no longer considered perfectly acceptable.
The media have been busy with end of year reviews reminding us of all the must-see films we didn’t get a chance to go see, the must-read books we still haven’t gotten around to reading and the year-defining albums we’ve never even heard of. The shops have very swiftly put to bed their ‘Eat, drink and be excessive’ mantra, filling their shelves instead, with fitness DVDs, exercise equipment, dieting pills and nicotine patches, while casting a judgemental eye on the extra pounds we drag along the aisles, and the fewer pounds we have to spend at the tills.
It’s January 1st. Everyone is skint, sick of turkey and ham sandwiches, and full of unrelenting optimism for the year ahead… Isn’t it wonderful?
2013 is here, and so far I’m impressed.
My Les Miserables anticipation is at breaking point, travel plans for the summer look promising (in that they might actually happen this year) and despite a potent combination of rose wine, Polish vodka, four hours sleep (a nap) and a roast dinner I actually don’t feel all that dreadful. You’ve gotta love New Year’s positivity! Look at this year, all shiny and new with the wrapping still on, so full of possibility and potential…
This will be the year! You watch, by this time next year I will be a millionaire! I’ll have the body of a Goddess, I’ll speak two new languages and will have successfully finished and published my first book. No problem.

Clearly, realism is not a friend of the resolution.
So to give myself more of a fighting chance with the New Year’s hopes and dreams I’ve put together 13 more realistic resolutions to tackle in the coming year.

1. Learn how to bake bread.
2. Make more soups.
3. Be a good gig reviewer and actually keep up to date with new music so that when it comes to the best of 2013 lists I will not be left wondering who all these young pups in the top ten are.
4. Give blood (finally).
5. Get my ears pierced (finally).
6. Watch more classic films so my common response to the mention of any critically acclaimed movie will no longer be “Never seen it”.
7. Spring clean the extensive collection of utter tripe on my Media Player and iTunes.
8. Remove Tokyou as the default response to the daily wondering ‘What will I have for dinner?’
9. Visit London (finally).
10. Learn how to like coffee/red wine/Guinness.
11. Learn how to combat hangovers with something healthier than a giant bag of Heatwave Doritos.
12. Find the ultimate Little Black Dress.
13. Break the bad habit of a lifetime and stop becoming so emotionally attached to fictional characters… except my own.