On mammalian redemption

Last week during COP I saw a tweet with the slogan “We are not defending nature, we are nature defending ourselves”, and it got me thinking about what it means to shift away from the anthropocentric paradigm of man vs. nature. Our fates in the Anthropocene depend on us rewiring our societies towards a collective understanding of humans being not separate but part of nature, and I’m under no illusion that this will be nothing short of systemic and radical. It will inevitably involve a dismantling of our economic model, and the creation of a completely new reality, one that looks nothing like the consuming-hustling existence of Westerners over the past century. Part of me thinks that we are so completely unprepared for what is ahead, whilst at the same time everything about our lives is crying out for change.

There are many, many different practices that we need to embrace in order to truly get to the stage that collectively, we can claim that we are indeed nature defending ourselves (as many indigenous peoples are doing, despite all of the obstacles in their way). Regeneration, circularity, co-existence; just some of the concepts I’m at the beginning of a journey of learning about. But I’d like to propose a practice, that I’ve become very well versed in over the past nine months, as one of the paths to our return to nature: breastfeeding.

In essence, it could be the most basic form of being part of nature. Much as we seem to want to forget, we are, after all, mammals. Distinguished from other life forms by our three middle ear bones, fur/hair, neocortex, and our capacity to produce milk to feed our young. In practice, it has been one of the most neocortex-blowing, humbling, and rewarding experiences of my life. For nine months, so far, I’ve nourished a tiny newborn to a babbling, moving, growing infant. I’ve followed my instincts and read her cues. I’ve given the physical gift of a healthy microbiome and the emotional gift of a secure attachment. I’ve created constantly adapting antibodies during a global pandemic. We’ve danced the dance of supply and demand that has nothing to do with market mechanisms.

This isn’t the common narrative when it comes to breast/chestfeeding, which is often an arch of pain, struggles, labour and at times, grief. Because despite all of the benefits that science already knows and constantly continues to discover, our society makes it very very hard for parents to nurse their own babies. The data on how many women cannot physically breastfeed is both poor and W.E.I.R.D., but what is available suggests that it may be in the region of 5%. In contrast, in the UK, despite WHO and NHS guidance, only 1% of women make it to the recommended minimum target of six months of exclusive breastfeeding, let alone the recommended target of two years. And I have to say this most emphatically and at the top of my voice: this piece is not to shame or berate anyone for choosing or being unable to breast or chest-feed. There are so many valid reasons for not doing so in our current set up, and only the patriarchy benefits from the ‘mommy wars’. What I want to say goes beyond individuals, and is more a commentary on the mismatch between our species and our societies.

Several structural design flaws have led us here: split-second maternity leaves and nuclear family structures, leaving mums overwhelmed with the crushing burden of having to do everything under the sun, without a ‘village’, whilst also recovering from a major physical and emotional transition. At the very beginning of a newborn’s life, mothers need a quiet, fiercely-guarded period of time in which to establish the feeding relationship. Many traditional cultures across the world recognise this through 40 to even 100 days of postpartum rituals, where new mothers stay inside and focus on healing and feeding; practices in direct contrast with the Western obsession of everything getting back to normal as soon as possible. The latter leads us on a downward spiral, where continuing breastfeeding becomes the unique responsibility of the individual, rather than the task of the community to support. Breastfeeding demands energy, more energy than an active brain, and as such enters into direct competition with all other demands on our power. It demands free time, the equivalent in hours over the space of a year as a full time job. If women already face the double burden of work (paid and unpaid), an extra full time job is unmanageable. And this is even before considering the class and racial inequalities that block access to maternity leave, financial security and professional support. So instead of society valuing breastfeeding as a full time occupation, and protecting it as the most fundamental task in the first year of a parent and baby’s life, under late capitalism, we are offered the both the problem and the solution, all in order to prioritise other forms of ‘productive’ labour.

Other design flaws include the lack of technical and medical support that new parents get on what really matters. Mums don’t need half of the material things that they receive from well-meaning loved ones, they need sessions with lactation consultants, on hand for months to provide support and troubleshooting, to help establish a skill that is both instinctive, and at the same time, novel, learnt and at times very difficult. In other cases, the support is the problem. Misinformed doctors and midwives, often know more about formula requirements than normal breastfeeding behaviours and give out outdated or incorrect advice. For example, on my first day postpartum in hospital, I was told two completely contradictory pieces of advice by two different midwives within the space of an hour. I was also told that once my baby hit 5kg she would sleep through the night without feeds. Needless to say there is absolutely no evidence base for this arbitrary number, and it was bound to make me wonder what the matter with my perfectly normal breastfeeding baby when, nine months later, she still feeds at least n times per night (where n ≥ 1).

Then there are the societal and cultural practices, especially in this corner of the world, that are fundamentally in opposition to maintaining a healthy breastfeeding relationship, which thrives on proximity and flexibility. Sleep training, cough, I’m looking at you. Oh boy, am I looking at you. It was only about seven months in to motherhood that I realised how much of the formula industry was driving both the narratives promoted by mainstream parenting doctrines and also the well-meaning but disorienting advice that is passed on through generations: “it’s time to night wean”, “offer water instead”, “formula is so much easier”. This is then followed by the discomfort that people begin to express as the baby grows older: “once babies have teeth or can walk, it’s definitely time to wean”, “that toddler is too old to be breastfed, give them some cow milk instead.” Beyond the cognitive dissonance of replacing our own species’ milk with that of a different species (and claiming that it is more appropriate), we clearly have a deep rooted discomfort with breastfeeding, left unexamined to the detriment of our own well-being. This could be partly down to the widespread misinformation campaign promoted by the formula industry, and partly due to the sexualisation of breasts (this remains speculation on my behalf…).

However, I also think the discomfort goes deeper, circling back to this idea of humans controlling nature rather than being part of it. Breastfeeding demands responsiveness, rather than schedules, and it often defies logic. It requires a certain skill set that is highly dependent on our animal instincts, those ancient wisdoms encoded in our DNA for millennia, that we have spent mere centuries distancing ourselves from in the rush towards the efficient, independent and rational human. Maybe this is why it feels jarring, and why we pay lip service to the benefits of breastfeeding, but back away for creating a fertile society for it.

Maybe it’s time we were reminded that we are first and foremost animals. Mammals. That we are just one small part of an ecosystem. That we have the instincts to coexist in this system, if we want to. And maybe connecting to nature isn’t just about putting on a pair of hiking boots and leaving the big smoke. Maybe it starts with teaching our infants how to trust these instincts. How love is always available, and doesn’t fit into schedules. How we don’t need any props for connection. How we value them more than we value our free time, or our productivity. And maybe, through doing this, we can take one (amongst many) small step towards healing from the mindsets that have led us to destroying our planet and valuing all the wrong things.

So this is how I see breastfeeding. Not just a way to feed my child, but as a big FU to capitalism. A radical act. An expression of hope.

Bædside manners

“Jet leg? Do you know what jet leg is?”
Let me assure you, dear paramedic,
This ain’t no ‘jet leg’
Home is only an hour behind
And no amount of sleepiness
Could make someone shake, judder, stiffen the way he just did
Or make the face he’s making now

“Family, family
Do you have any idea what this could be?”
The guessing game you never expect to play
In a hospital hallway
None of my guesses won the game
“Family we’ve found a large mass in his brain”
I need a bucket I need a bucket

“We operate tomorrow, side effects include death, paralysis, personality changes”
His phone rings
He raises his hand, “let me get this”
“Yea, yea, big aggressive tumour, my kind, you know…the hard ones”
He laughs
I hadn’t noticed the red horns when I walked in the door

Intensive care is a precious commodity
Any wounds that family may have
Receive tough love
“Personality changes? No no, definitely not due to trauma, medication or surgery
Those will likely be permanent”
He said, of my husband of four years
Before swooping down the hall,
His scrubs flapping like a cape

“Bad genes”
He says, “this island is full of inbreeding.
Good job you’ll mix your genes with hers”, nodding at me
He hasn’t asked my name yet
But the chemo drugs he prescribes
Can cause infertility

Taking Stock

To my girl,

Thank you first and foremost for drawing back here; drawing me back to creativity and expression and reminding why we set this up in the first place. I needed it, I’m having another “what is this life” moment and I’m re-evaluating my priorities and self goals in the short and long term.

You asked about my relationship with music, reconnecting with Music… the “experiment” as you put it. Well, here’s an update.

I bought a record player. My little red leather suitcase has pride of place in my living room, and often I sit on the the wooden floor basking in sunlight listening to vintage vinyl from Mum and Dad. Dreams do come true. Whole albums are listened to and time slows when I stop to take a moment to myself. I’ve bought new releases too, like ‘Hummingbird‘ by John Smith (the title track which I discovered using the app “Shazam” whilst standing in a music shop in Brighton in October).

Since June last year, I’ve taken action to strengthen my love affair with Music. I know you smiled when I told you that I joined an amateur musical theatre group, taking a leaf out of your book and treading the not-so-familiar boards recently in our 6 nights run of performances. I loved it. I loved being part of something and working together to create something real and concrete, feeling like part of a community. We rehearsed for months and it paid off, I made friends and it was great to have something in my life that wasn’t work but that required as much focus and attention.

I’ve been to more gigs! Lau in August (and in December) were a highlight, deepening my relationship with the Scottish music scene. What a night was had as part of the Edinburgh International Music Festival, a wealth of talent and experience right on my doorstep. I’ve since moved flat and am a mere stones throw from the Leith Theatre venue so I’m always keen to see what’s going on there, including seeing The Coral there  a few months ago. That night seeing Lau sticks out in my memory too, because I had finally stepped away from an incredibly negative relationship and the release was empowering. I spent the whole evening either dancing freely with Fran or eyeballing the bartender over multiple gin and tonics (to much success thank you very much, and the lovely J and I are still in touch). It wouldn’t be my story if there wasn’t a little romance mixed up in the music, and again I know you’ll smile because you know it’s true.

A life goal was ticked off last summer too! Well, perhaps not a life goal but certainly something which I had longed for since childhood. Liam Gallagher, you brash, cool and tears-of-joy inducing rock-n-roll star. From way back when I used to sit at the foot of the stone staircase in our house in NB listening through the door to my older brother’s tape player blasting ‘Wonderwall‘ I have loved Oasis. I must have been about 6 or 7 years old but I knew all the words. You didn’t disappoint, and I thank Ellie for being there with me, our friendship having grown from teenage days spent in and out of Aberdeen pubs and venues with ‘underage’ stamps boldly emblazoned on the back of our hands and eyeliner scrawled around our eyes. Ellie forever introduces me to new music and she’s in on the “let’s just get out and about and see what happens” attitude I’m trying to channel. We’re off to see a French group called Juniore tomorrow through in Glasgow and I’ve been listening to them non-stop for days. Fem, French, indie pop, 1960s vibes…what’s not to like?

Finally, I’ve taught music lessons at school; successful, engaging, interesting music lessons with my class, another bow to my string of teaching every subject and teaching them well. Okay, I put that pressure on myself, no one is good at everything, but music is my thing, and I want that to come across. So, long may it continue.

In conclusion, the “experiment” was a success, and continues to be so. Skip out all the above if needs be, it worked. Re-visiting a neglected passion has enriched my life and in less than a year I’ve had so many positive experiences that it’s good to stop and take note of them. Life is for living, love and joy and you’ve reminded me so.

Thanks, as ever,  tumblr_okojqmVsLk1qj60rgo1_1280

Love Carolyn. x

 

Love Letter

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Dear Music,

Where are you in my life?

I’m writing to you sitting on my sofa following weeks of concentrated mulling and musings, tentative discussions with friends and family, and a longstanding sense of longing which has culminated in this outward expression to you for help.

Music, I feel so disconnected. There was a time when going out to local venues and planning trips to concerts and festivals was my world; I met friends and familiar faces, I felt part of something, my perception of the comings and goings around me heavily influenced by the tunes which I listened to and that I shared with others.

There was a time when I would have said that a similar music taste was the most important thing I would have looked for in a relationship with another person; whether platonic or romantic, a shared interest in albums and lyrics frequently sparked what at the time were such deep and meaningful conversations, and some of the bonds I made with friends were established, solidified and have continued to stand the test of time based in and around a shared interest in music.

However, Music, I feel like we haven’t been on the same level in quite some time.

I don’t blame you, this is all on me; I made way for other priorities to the point that gradually the threads which had woven back and forth between us became dusty and slack from neglect. I can trace back to when it happened, when I no longer felt the influence of friends, romantic attachments, boyfriends, or the current trend in the scene. I can identify key stages in the development and evolution of my music interest and taste, but also the warning signs for where it all started to get a little lost and lacking.

Don’t get me wrong Music, you have always been and do continue to be part of my life, but I just feel like I’ve allowed this relationship to become predictable and unadventurous. I’m sorry.

No one is really to blame. The introduction of online streaming was, I’ll admit, a significant factor in changing our relationship. I pretty much stopped buying hard copies of CDs and iTunes gradually stopped being able to compete and took a back seat to the oh so alluring appeal of free music available on demand. It’s all become to easy, I’ve been lulled into thinking this has been a positive progression, and it’s not, our relationships has lost it’s meaning don’t you think? You may be strangely pleased to know that I do not however pay for the privilege of accessing tracks offline, any time any place, but continue to be loyal to my trusty iPod Classic when I’m out and about, with its 160 GB of storage space that is almost full but rarely updated in the past 3 years. In my car, it’s as if things are frozen in time between us, since this is the only place where I can listen to the CDs I keep in a box under my bed.

So, the music which I listen to daily is either stuck in the recent past or recommended by an online system based on a record of my online listening history (creepy). None of this I think is conducive to a healthy, adult, evolving relationship with you Music, in the here and now.

What should I do? How can we reconnect?

The first step was admitting there is a problem, and I think for me it is a problem, because, I miss you. So, acknowledging the problem has led to finding the words to share my feelings about this and seek help from friends and family alike. I have an action plan now, because I want to be more present with you, I want to feel that you have more of an importance in my life and for this, I need to get out there more, I need to find ways to be involved. Step away from the passive relationship with the background noise and playlists created by someone else, some place else, and uploaded for all to dip into but never really engage with. Seek out the new; new albums to listen to from start to finish and then repeat, new experiences at gigs and venues and discover what’s happening in and around where I live, be part of the community and make connections. I used to take on the world like this, and I need to remember how excellent this was and how it made me feel.

I will be better.

Love, Carolyn

P.S I may write to you again and tell you how I’ve been getting along, so watch this space.

Something To Say

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I haven’t written anything in a long time, other than a few letters to friends, and I despair slightly at my lacking correspondence because I can do better.

My lapse in creative writing could be put down to a new job, new town, new flat, “new chapter”…all excusable reasons not to write as much as they are possible experiences for which reflections and musings could flourish. Nevertheless, despite the intention to establish a “work life balance”, a feat which I have achieved to some extent, creative expression has been limited to lesson planning, setting up and reshuffling a classroom, and that one workshop I went to last month.

My dear Suzy has been writing with such a voracity and inspired fervour that on reading I came to the realisation that I had to take a step back from the “9-5” and take a leaf out of my little global adventurers book; I am starting to put pen to paper again!

I’ve dug out my notebook, filling up since we started this shared blog with sparks of ideas and opening sentences of stories which were left unfinished and as yet unpublished. Reading back over the pages, I can hear my voice in the words written down and I can feel to some extent the memory of the feelings I was trying to get across; confusion, admiration, love and friendship. But where to begin today? What do I want to write about/what do I actually feel like writing about?

Since this is a blog that I share with my great friend Suzy, it seems wise to think about what I want to tell Suzy. In the past, in fact occasionally even still, I would pour my heart out in a long-winded stream of consciousness scrawled on paper and send it off to Switzerland stamped and addressed, leaving me to patiently wait the response. Every thought that came to mind, stories about people I knew and what we were all up to, peppered with all manner of “girl talk” in the mix to make it interesting. So, I guess I could start by saying something suitable dramatic and loaded with gossip and intrigue:

Well Suzy, I’ve met someone new…

They say that when you’re not expecting it, that’s when it happens. I’ve always been sceptical of this phrase, it seems too neat and glib, and I still remain unconvinced by most sayings that start with “they say that…” But anyway, yeh, I’ve met someone when I was just out and about living life. I went to a gig with a friend, and danced, and met their friend and we got along pretty well. Simple as that, it was easy, relaxed and fun; there wasn’t lightning bolts and nervous chatter (much) but we have common interests and plenty to say. 

It might come to nothing, a few dates and shared moments, back and forth text messages before one or the other of us fades and it comes to a natural end before it’s really begun. But that isn’t the attitude now is it? I should just feel the feelings, delight in the possibility of romance and enjoy the opportunities for these exciting possibilities to playout. That’s the way to do it, be optimistic and pull down the little bricks we build up around ourselves when life nudges us a little in the ribs; go with it, and let the good times roll in. Why not eh? It might even get beyond the first date, a fabulous one at that, and then where will we be?

If this were a handwritten letter to Suzy, I would go into every detail of the meeting…who said what…the what, where, when of the date etc. However, this is not a handwritten letter sent from one friend to another, and there are plenty things that should be kept between friends and not shared on the internet.

A love letter to you, Puerto Rico

Oh those first six weeks of a relationship. Constant surprise, a lightness of heart, tinted vision. Those weeks when any small gesture will inevitably etch itself to the walls of one’s heart, as the indelible marks of our own personal romance.

Take that time we were driving through farmland in the south, looking for the infamous ‘La Frutera’ fruit truck. The forty minute detour was worth it, not just for the smoothie, but for almost eight minutes of absolute joy, Hector Lavoe’s ‘Vamos a Reír un Poco’, on the radio. Percussion against the dashboard, stars in my eyes.

Or the sight of a whale, out past La Perla, and two days later, seven dolphins jumping over each other on their way out of the San Juan Bay.

My hued glasses on, I secretly love your clichés: the way you can hear ‘Dura‘ blasting from at least one car driving by every day, and catch every word, even when the car windows are fully wound up. Dancing to Plan B in a dirty dark alleyway was one of the highlights of my weekend, but I also laughed at the poster in a bar that said ‘No reggaeton, no trap, no Despacito, no Marc Anthony’. And though the postcard palm trees have taken a hit recently, lop-sided and barren on one side, they remain resilient and lush on the other. A metaphor for life after a hurricane, perhaps.

Sometimes you make me feel like a second character in a magical realism novel. Take that Airbnb with the dock between the mangroves, and the view onto the rusty abandoned sugar mill. As we drove up, a half-naked, fully-tattooed, sinister-looking neighbour observed us. I felt slightly on edge, until he whistled, and a troupe of goats trotted down the road and into his gate. Or when I peeked through the window of a house in Old San Juan to try and find the source of some wonderful piano music, and I saw a woman standing by the piano, under a chandelier, dressed to the nines, with a white cockatoo on her shoulder.

I married one of your compatriots so it’s no surprise I’m attracted to your collective humour, but the open cheekiness still sometimes catches me out. On an sunset run through a suburban area, I crossed an elderly lady walking her small dog. I looked out of place and I expected her to stare me down, as she would have done back ‘home’. Instead, she gave me the cheekiest wink I’ve ever seen. Or when I went to buy soap from a shop down the road, and my mother-in-law introduced me to the lady at the counter ‘we used to go to middle school together’. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I used to check out the boys in her class!’.

I love the raging relentless wind over the old city: the wind of schooners and pirates, the rattles and whistles through the Spanish courtyards, the 17th century A.C. When I lie awake at night listening to the wind filing down the walls and the torrential rain appear from nowhere, I think about the previous inhabitants of these streets. Corsairs, scoundrels, hideaways, slaves, passersby. I think about the women who lived in these houses. Inevitably you get me thinking about my freedom and my existence, as any good lover should do.

There’s a leitmotif in my exchanges with family, acquaintances and friends, a response to any uncertainty, future plans or change: ‘Lo más importante, es que te guste‘ (the most important thing, is that you like it), I’ve heard, again and again. It’s so blatantly obvious, yet it’s never been repeated to me so blatantly explicitly. I’m still trying to understand the implications this little phrase could have on my life, my immediate and distant future. Now that its crept in, I’m not sure it can leave.

New loves teach you about old loves, old loves teach you about new loves, and love teaches you about yourself. These six weeks of uncertainty have most likely changed me more than a year of four seasons ever would. And for that, I’m eternally grateful for this time spent here, with the opportunity to drop everything, contemplate and investigate. Like a summer romance, we both know this will end eventually. Yet know, dear Borinquen, that a small part of me will forever be walking down the rainbow streets of Old San Juan, dodging drains and peeking into houses. Or running across the grass of the El Morro fort at sunset, trying not to get blown away. Peering into bromeliads to find a coquí. Playing dominos and drinking rum with guanábana juice.

Yours,
Suzy

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Metamorphosis

We used to have a regular routine; I would interrupt her from staring out into space and ask her what she was thinking about, and she would brush me off with an inane yet precise comment about the sound of the door handles or the complexity of the coffee pot. It was one of those simple mechanics of our relationship, repetitive and rusty, with me clumsily trying to pull her in closer whenever she felt distant. Of course, it is only looking back that I realise her answers always left little clues to a detached puzzlement towards her current form, and she always looked slightly relieved after sharing, as if I’d reeled her in from a deep abyss.

That day, speeding through the water back from Gilligan’s Island in the small motorboat, I was too busy looking out for dolphins in the open sea to notice her mind wandering. We were all tired: lulled by the saltwater, cold beers drunk at the beach, and the day’s sun. Our journey took us from the small island where we had spent the day, back to our holiday cabin in the bay, past shorelines of whispy half-moon sand strips and sprawling emerald green forests.

Some of us gently closed our eyes behind our sunglasses, embracing the last of the day’s sun. The rest of us faced the horizon, silently hoping we would be the first to spot a spurt or a jump from the water. I’ve recreated that day so often that at times it’s hard to distinguish the real memories from the added details from my imagination, but I know that she was sat on the other side of the boat, following the shore with her eyes. I glanced over at her at one point; her long caramel hair was flicking in the wind, topaz earrings reflecting the sun, her long tanned limbs poised and alert, her hand clasping the side of the boat. Spray danced up the sides of the boat, forming perfect white pearls that caught the light before falling back into the ocean. She looked completely normal, yet also, again in retrospect, to be travelling in a completely different direction to the rest of us. I resumed my scanning of the open sea. The next time I turned my head, she was gone.

**
The official report was a tragic drowning of a young female tourist, and unofficial explanations were in the dozens. I remained adamant that she was too strong a swimmer to drown in calm waters, and the divers never found a single trace of her. While my grief at her loss was overpowering, the qualification of tragic never sat right with me (although I never voiced this, mainly for fear of reinforcing some of the more sinister unofficial explanations of her disappearance). In the years that followed, I returned regularly to search for her: snorkelling over every square meter of the shoreline, pestering the same locals over and over, combing through old wives tales for clues.

It wasn’t until I widened my search to start hiking through the forests on the shore that I felt any closer to finding her. Even then I found little of consequence, but it was an almost constant sensation of being watched that kept me believing she was somehow just around the corner. I’d spot a dazzling blue earring, only to reach out to a small lizard tail flicking and disappearing into the undergrowth. I’d reach a gap in the canopy, and stare up at the turkey vultures hovering, so static that they reminded me of the blank look on her face when she stared out to space. I’d hear my name whistle through the trees, reverberating in the final notes of a frog call.

But it was the occasional lone iguana that stopped me in my tracks, and brought me a steady, grounding comfort. A stripe of caramel spikes down its back, its long fingers curled around a branch, and a pensive, unwavering gaze. I imagined her that day, travelling in a different direction, propelled by the ripples of a long tail, creating streams of silver bubbles in her wake, and then pulling herself on to the shore. These silent exchanges with iguanas gradually led me to decipher those blank stares and mundane answers of our past together: the symptoms of a being in captivity.

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New year, new mantra

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I started out 2017 by setting an intention for the year, embodied in a mantra. Instead of resolutions, which are often brought on by guilt and rarely kept, defining a mantra is a way of keeping a ‘fil rouge’ or gentle guidance throughout the year. When the clarity of the new year starts to fade in months long past January, it’s useful to have a small chant, or inner wisdom to defer to.

Last year, whilst basking in the sunshine on the Andaman coast, I set ‘strong core’ as my words for 2017. It came from a yoga session (as these things tend to do), when Adriene was talking about how having a strong core enables you to do what you want to be able to do: climb mountains, carry your neighbour’s shopping bags, stand tall. But ‘strong core’ was nothing to do with flat abs (although they would also be nice). Strong core was about working, concentrating and succeeding at a few core things: love, work and studies. I knew that 2017 would be a crazy busy year for me: it was my final year of my MA degree, my career was taking off, work trips were on the table. At home, Carlos was due to finish his PhD and we were planning for this to be our final year in Switzerland. I needed to be prepared for a lot of hard work and a lot of change. And I knew I could only succeed if I leave other things, those not core to the mission, to the side. That doesn’t mean that these were the only things I could do, it was more a question of where I could focus my energy.

Yet I find mantras often only reveal why they were chosen until after they have been used. Looking back on 2017 is like looking back at a storm, or even a wild, powerful, all consuming hurricane. There were small respites in the storm, but the next mushrooming and heavy cloud was always on the horizon. ‘Strong core’ was about being the solid tree trunk, and not being uprooted. Many beautiful and successful things were a result of the storm, and my strong core was just as much supported by myself as by loved ones. But there was no doubt that it was an intense year with moments of fierce stress. My friend Trish often signs off texts with ‘Hang in there!’. Strong core was very much about hanging in there, and maintaining a sense that at some point the storm would be die down, and that work could later start on sorting, regenerating and growing.

The beginning of this year has involved a lot of sorting out the mess from after the storm. As we prepare to leave the country, we are downsizing accumulated possessions (shedding debris in a sense), dealing with paperwork, ending contracts, closing chapters. My new year is not a perfectly instagrammable picture of fresh white snow, or a blank new page. Instead, I’m living through a transition phase, not quite autumn, not quite winter, not quite spring, nor summer. White snow covered in pine needles, leaves, and storm debris.

Yesterday, a week into 2018, my mantra for the year came to me (doing yoga, again, as these things often happen): ‘honour your inner teacher’. I don’t know exactly why this is the right mantra for 2018, but it seems to fit. The year ahead is uncertain, it is about change, adventure and growth. It seems natural that I need to make space to hear and listen to whatever is to be learnt from the experiences ahead.

Do you have a mantra for 2018?

Bittersweet

Thoughts on finishing one book and moving on to the next…

It’s not me, it’s you; it’s time to call it a day.
At the edge of one relationship and not quite ready for the next,
Caught on the cusp of sadness and anticipation.

Wistfully remembering the little details which unfolded on the pages,
Yet glancing guiltily over to the other side of the bed,
The next adventure winking, waiting to whisk me away.

Tenatatively, I’m letting go of the familiar script.
The intoxication, the polluting tendrils of a fiction which blurred reality,
Mirrored, distorted and reimagined chapters of my own life story.

I’m losing a friend, breaking things off with a lover,
Time has run its course and we push forward.
There are so many other possibilities waiting to tempt me.

Will the next one live up to the last?

What Does It Even Mean?

I saw a clip today whilst procrastinating and scrolling through the realms of misspent time on social media and it made me smile with such intensity I was near tears.

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It made me want to raise a fist and exclaim:  “yes, go you! This girl is on to it!” because I so admire her honest, youthful feminist attitude to gender stereotyping and how they explicitly affect her at such a young age. Daisy hits the nail on the head when she says: ‘Everyone thinks girls should just be pretty, and boys should just be adventurous…I think this is wrong, why should boys and girls clothes even be separated because we’re just as good as each other?’ Amen sister.

Where the boys’ slogan on a tshirt reads “Think Outside The Box” and the girls’ tshirt reads “Hey” Daisy doesn’t even know what sort of inspiration she as a young girl is supposed to get from wearing a tshirt with the slogan “hey”:  ‘What is that even supposed to mean…I don’t get it…what does it inspire you to do?’

My favourite part of the clip is where we see young activist Daisy with sheer joy, giggles and silliness take a stand against the separation of the clothes in the supermarket: ‘I want to be adventurous, and I think girls want to be heroes so I’m going to put them (the tshirts) in the girls section’ and off she goes; so bold, high-five Daisy.

Seeing such a reaction in a young girl is such a wonderful way to engage people in thinking about how we raise our children and the accepted labels and expectations we have for our boys and girls.

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I’m reading a book that I picked up on a little bookshop in London on my birthday by Irish writer Emer O’Toole titled ‘Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently ’. This book caught my attention in the same way this clip has done so today, and both are adding to the development of my own views on gender and exploring what it means to ‘act like a girl’. I think it is very important for me to think about this not only on a personal level as a woman in the twenty first century but also the impact that my attitudes towards gender and equality will equate in my professional practice as a teacher.