A few things collided over the past few weeks, as they do when you notice connecting dots. I read an article on the difficulty of clearing and cleaning a relative’s house when they’ve passed on. How do you know what is important and not, when all you can see is stuff?

Diana Athill (one time editor of books, now a revered author of blisteringly good books) said moving into a home into her 90s was a difficult decision for her too:

I came home, sat down in my little sitting room, looked round at the magpie’s nest of beloved things accumulated in a long lifetime, and felt: “But this is me.” The extent to which a personality depends on the space it occupies and the objects it possesses appeared to me at that moment overwhelming. How could I perform an act of what amounted to self-destruction? The answer was: I can’t! I can’t and I won’t, I’d rather die.

She expands on the decision further than that one paragraph. It reminded me of both being an Army Wife and emigrating from the UK. Since 2000 I’ve had (hang on *counts on fingers*) twelve addresses(?), I think.

Packing up the flat in Portsmouth to move to Melbourne took a while, Hubs and I slowly worked our way through our belongings, selling, gifting, donating. We eventually shipped to Oz around 20 boxes, carefully cataloging what was in each in case the boat sank on the way over, (most reassuring when you’re packing prized possessions). At the bottom of each box was a layer of books, amongst my treasures: a boxed set of Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series, a boxed set of Harry Potter, books my grandparents had given me.

Before I even started packing my books, I culled and culled and culled. Had I grown out the book? Had I finished with it? Had it finished with me? Over a period of months, I got my book pile down to what I simply could not bear to be without. Knowing I could always replenish books if they found me again, a good example: Perfume, brought once, lent, never returned; brought again, put in the discarded pile from the UK; brought again for Book Club, so now firmly hanging onto it. Mind you, that’s not quite as bad as finding a book in the Oxfam charity shop in Winchester that I’d picked up as I’d not read it in ages; opening it up to read on the bus on the way home, I found my name in it.

Any-hoo, a few weekends ago, Hubs and I had words. Nothing major, but given the cleaners had only been two days earlier, instead of dusting or vacuuming to clear my head, there wasn’t anything to clean. Dang, looks like I won’t get any cross cleaning done for the foreseeable future. Looking for something to work through, I turned to my bookshelves, my magpie’s nest. Reaching up for books I now needed to pass on, I cleared almost a shelf. Continue reading “Baggage”

Books I’ve read, six months in

Twenty four books over six months. Averaged out, even I can do the maths on that. Around a book a week, which ain’t bad. It’s more than I thought, but still not as many as I’d hoped. I’m very glad about my book club, as I’ve read a much more eclectic selection because of our choices.

I’m still re-reading lots. When I moved to Australia, I had to get rid of about half the books I owned, so as I find those I had to leave behind – I’m loving them. I brought a pile of second hand books in a shop the week before last, and was pleased with my haul. Books are so expensive here, $30 as oppose to £7 for a paperback –  which doesn’t even compute on any currency converter.

Currently on my bedside table I have Catch 22, which I’m dipping in and out of, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, I’ve got so many books on my kindle it’s not funny, but hey – I’m reading more, which was the point in the whole thing :)

Take the donuts

People who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know of my adoration of Amanda Palmer. I found her by accident, through listening to an interview with her husband, Neil Gaiman. Yes, him. He wrote his book ‘The Ocean At The End Of The Lane’ for her, I looked her up as I’d never heard of her and slowly she crept into my life. I read her book ‘The Art Of Asking and it broke me open, I’ve downloaded the audio book, spending a voucher Hubs had given me for a present on it. I want to savour listening to it, so it’s sitting there, waiting patiently. I don’t want it on while I potter about the house, so I think I’m waiting for car trip to listen. I’ll know when it is the right time.

Take the donuts. What on earth does that mean? Ask for help. Be grateful for what people offer to help you get through. Amanda Palmer has just said goodbye to her best friend of 30 years who passed away this week. Anthony, she wrote about him in her book, he was her next door neighbour, he was also her mentor, guide, friend and a second father to her. Both she and Neil Gaiman were in the UK, fulfilling work commitments when they got ‘that’ call. The one that says you need to come now, don’t wait.

Squeezed onto the last row of a flight to Boston. Not pulling the ‘Do you know who I am / we are?’ cards so they turned left on the plane; just get us home – please. Collective fans on patreon, facebook and twitter held our breaths, willing them home while holding Anthony and his wife within us all around the world. Support was sent to them both all over social media and so on to Anthony and his family. They got there in time.

It was a remarkable use of social media; for good, not evil, no trolling, just an outpouring of love and support. They both said that it helped that so many people were thinking of them while friends and family rowed a loved-one out on his final journey.

Take the donuts.

I used to follow various famous people on instagram, less so now as I got fed up of the pleading, jumping up and down ‘Notice me please!’ from people in the comments. Celebrities are more accessible than ever before, they can tweet news about a new film to millions, they don’t have to sit in interviews to get their projects publicised. Journalists are now often rehashing twitter feeds for ‘news’; you almost know everything within minutes of it happening. Whether it is news, or not. Most often not.

People who are famous for being famous; famous for sex tapes; famous by association as a sibling or parent of someone else who was/ are famous; are now listened to intently. Whether for good or evil. Kardashians, I’m looking at you. Please, start doing something constructive with your lives, for the sake of the millions of teenage girls who think that contouring is now an appropriate level of make-up to wear to school. Please use your influence for good. Not spawning a phase of girls sucking their lips inside a shot glass – FFS.

Both Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, from the beginning of their careers recognised that fans were important. They got the word out, shared stuff ‘All the things’ with their fan-base. They’re open, honest, very sweet and adore each other. Watching them on stage and the goofy looks they give each other, the interaction between the two of them was heartwarming. Was it any wonder that so many of ‘us’ reached out to ‘them’ – when ‘All the things’ they make, songs, music, art – whatever, touch us? When someone hears you; when their use of words or music and something in you resonates loudly, you hang on to it. We feel connections deeply, that’s why they’re connections, they’re more than just glimpses of something familiar.

I’m not very good at asking for help. It takes a deep breath and a leap of faith to admit that you’re drowning, not waving, struggling with life and being vulnerable. We’ve a lot of friends who are struggling at the moment, families with cancer affecting day-to-day lives,  I can offer help easily. Will run around like crazy after someone else, but less so after myself.

Take the donuts. When you need help, reach out and ask for it. Call someone. If you need some wallpaper hung, a birthday cake made, your car washed, dinners cooked, whatever it is, whatever someone offers you. Take the donuts. Here’s an extract from Amanda’s book where she explains it:

Thoreau wrote in painstaking detail about how he chose to remove himself from society to live “by his own means” in a little 10-foot x 15-foot hand-hewn cabin on the side of a pond. What he left out of Walden, though, was the fact that the land he built on was borrowed from his wealthy neighbor, that his pal Ralph Waldo Emerson had him over for dinner all the time, and that every Sunday, Thoreau’s mother and sister brought over a basket of freshly-baked goods for him, including donuts.

The idea of Thoreau gazing thoughtfully over the expanse of transcendental Walden Pond, a bluebird alighting onto his threadbare shoe, all the while eating donuts that his mom brought him just doesn’t jibe with most people’s picture of him of a self-reliant, noble, marrow-sucking back-to-the-woods folk-hero.

Taking the donuts is hard for a lot of people.

It’s not the act of taking that’s so difficult, it’s more the fear of what other people are going to think when they see us slaving away at our manuscript about the pure transcendence of nature and the importance of self-reliance and simplicity. While munching on someone else’s donut.

Maybe it comes back to that same old issue: we just can’t see what we do as important enough to merit the help, the love.

Try to picture getting angry at Einstein devouring a donut brought to him by his assistant, while he sat slaving on the theory of relativity. Try to picture getting angry at Florence Nightingale for snacking on a donut while taking a break from tirelessly helping the sick.

To the artists, creators, scientists, non-profit-runners, librarians, strange-thinkers, start-uppers and inventors, to all people everywhere who are afraid to accept the help, in whatever form it’s appearing,

Please, take the donuts.

To the guy in my opening band who was too ashamed to go out into the crowd and accept money for his band,

Take the donuts.

To the girl who spent her twenties as a street performer and stripper living on less than $700 a month who went on to marry a best-selling author who she loves, unquestioningly, but even that massive love can’t break her unwillingness to accept his financial help, please….



Just take the fucking donuts.

Ask and you shall receive

Yesterday I posted on my work site that I wanted to read more this year. Linking it with a process on how to make that happen for a goal you would like to achieve for 2015.

This morning I got an email from Carole who has asked for our ten intentions or resolutions for this week’s Ten on Tuesday topic. Overnight my girlfriend also tagged me on Facebook with this reading challenge. I’ve printed it out, passed it to a colleague who’s also in my book club and we’ve been talking about titles:

· A book with more than 500 pages – The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt still on my bedside table, I’m about half way through.

· A classic romance – Pride and Prejudice, has to be really!

· A book that became a movie – Possession, AS Byatt. Always on my annual reading list, I love it so.

· A book with a number in the title – Catch 22, would also qualify for over 500 pages too.

· A book written by someone under 30 – this I may struggle with

· A book set in your hometown – not sure one has been written?

I love it when the universe does stuff like this. While I’ve made my choice on what boundaries and habits I’m going to put in place to read more, having more suggestions to find other titles to help me get there is always helpful.

I don’t have any other intentions for the year. Hubs and I are going to have a planning day on 19 January, that’ll sort out some definite plans for both of us and for the family for the year. I’ve got some dates for runs I’m going to complete with my girlfriend need to add into the diary, but this year we’re going to remain flexible.