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Oh, the places you’ll…write

Oh, the places you’ll go.

I’ve been in Banbury this weekend, a quiet trip away to work and visit my mum. Embracing the cliché, I decided to write in cafes.

The benefit of writing in a café away from home is that I can enjoy all of the normal writing in a café experience without the interruption of my friends/neighbours wanting to know what I’m doing (Just call me Happy Mrs Misanthrope)

I also have a bit of an issue of setting. I like to mix it up. Too long in one place and I lose my rhythm, get bored and self-conscious. So, after a couple of hours in one coffee shop, I switched to another.

amsterdamThe first, a gorgeous little café called Café Amsterdam, was delightful. Quiet, just the right level of background noise, delicious little Indonesian spiced treats called Bami Bites, which I gobbled so quickly I burnt my mouth. Peaceful, GREAT coffee, free Wi-Fi. Can’t beat that for a workspace.

The second was a more commercial venue; the Café Nero on Banbury High Street, sitting outside in the sunshine.

I got to appreciate just how many people wear leather jackets and how damn jealous I am of every single one of them (my leather jacket crush has been going on for some time. I don’t think I can last much longer without one. (I thought my leather trousers may cure my hankering but, if anything, it’s made my leather crush far worse)).

Where was I?

Ah, yes.

Outside, in the sunshine.

It was noisier by far, but the conversations were carried out in languages I cannot speak and therefore they did not intrude on my chain of thought. Just a melodic bubble of vowels and consonants. I imagined it like being a baby who could not yet understand, gaining my meaning from gesticulations and facial expressions whenever I dared to look up.

The smells. Now, I do not condone smoking. I don’t smoke myself. But there is something very atmospheric about the occasional breeze of smoke across my laptop. Sets up a nice atmosphere, a contrast to the floral scents travelling from the flower stand opposite my seat. Kind of makes me feel like a real writer (rather than a pretend writer, which is how I feel most of the time.)

We all have our favourite places to write and I am in no hurry to prescribe a setting for anyone, let alone myself. But I think mixing it up certainly helps me to keep my focus. Even if it does mean having to put up with the large, red-faced woman with the mushroom shaped haircut, staring unblinkingly at me whilst I write this…

 

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The Wobbles

As a writer, I spend my time making stuff up, writing it down and sending it off. I don’t spend very long looking inward, but rather looking outward, examining what I see and not who I am or, even, who I want to be.

I have had, what I would describe, as a wobbly week.

The reason for this is the attention I have been paying to my public profile, the image I portray to the world. Not the image of me writing in my pyjamas, a piece of lego stuck to the sole of my foot and a tea stain on my t-shirt, as is so often the case. In this age of social media and instant connectivity it has become more important than ever to get out there and, well, connect. Readers, bloggers, fellow authors, publishers, agents, editors: there all online and I need to be too.

Viewing myself from the outside and analyse the image I portray, the person I am going to be seen as being is a little odd. A little scary.

I have come to a stage in my life where I am relatively happy in my own skin. I know where I want to go, what I want to do, who I want to do it with. I am, essentially, pretty happy in myself.

But… am I happy with how others may view me?

So much of my history has been spent practising the necessary skills of not caring what people think of me. I’ve mastered this pretty well. I’m happy with my style, in all senses of the word. So, when I eventually confronted the idea that other people are going to form their own ideas of who I am, I suddenly got wobbly.

It made me question everything I have spent so long practising not caring about. What a pickle. It made me look like this:

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I may not care what people think.

But I do have to be aware of it.

And it’s this awareness that gives me the wobbles.

It’s a funny business, creating a social profile, a space where anyone from the world can see you, judge you, comment as only they see fit.

The best way to solve this problem, this slight knee-weakening anxiety, is to go ahead, bite the bullet and do it. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram I’m coming for you.

So, here I am, right now, as I write this. Headphones in, feet tapping to Maroon 5 as I work, doing the thing I love doing most.

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A reminder to myself that I am who I am. No need to change, just to, perhaps, brace myself and not waver.

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In-Joke

My sister, Alice, came to stay recently and we had a ball. The joy of close friends and family, or even better family who double up as close friends, is the frequency in laughter, the sheer joy of their company.

All Alice and I have to do at the moment is tell each other, as straight-faced as we can, that we use antlers in all of our decorating and we fall into a fit of helpless giggles. Childish, ridiculous, understood by no one other than ourselves. It is the very definition of an in-joke.

Whilst laughing with my sister over the sheer excess of venison I currently have, on account of needing nothing but the antlers, I became suddenly worried that this would not last forever, that one day I would not laugh like this with my sister, or with my friends, that my children would grow up without seeing me giggle like a fool. I wracked my brain for a memory of one of my mothers lying doubled over on the floor with laughter tears streaming down their face on account of an in-joke with their own sister or friend but came up blank. I tried to think of any of the ladies from my village. Anyone I had seen in town.

At some point in life do the in-jokes stop? Do we get so good at controlling ourselves that the laughter halts on our lips and we merely hum out a giggle whilst dying of laughter inside and unseen?

That thought is so very, very sad because laughter, true, joyous laughter, is a beautiful sight to behold.

I tried to console myself with the fact that I have many in-jokes with my fictional entourage. One of the characters I’m currently writing frequently makes me laugh. And that’s OK, right? It’s normal to say to these folk in my head, “Hey, Selina, remember the time when…” whilst I laugh out loud and she laughs silently inside my imagination where no one else can see her or hear her. That’s normal, right?

Then I remembered, much to my utter joy (and relief), a scene I was witness to on a train recently. Two ladies, post-sixty, huddled together over a table on the GWR journey from Paddington to Reading. They had just been to see Fifty Shades Darker at the cinema and were giggling about it, heads together, in such a high-pitched, helpless squeal that it was impossible not to smile at the sound. One reached over and touched the elbow of the other in a certain, pointed way and, for reasons unbeknownst to me, this simple movement set them off again for another few minutes of shoulder-juddering laughter. For the rest of the journey, a dance ensued. The women would control themselves, sit straight faced and talk about something unrelated, their eldest son’s law degree, their husband’s broken lawn mower. Then one would lean over, touch the elbow of the other in that certain way and that would set them off again laughing and talking about Christian Grey.

I hope this is the way my life pans out. I hope that aged one hundred and two, I can be found on a train laughing with my friend about something no one else gets or doubled over in a giggling fit because my sister had just asked me if I have any antlers to spare.

And no, Alice, I have none to spare.

I’ve used them all in my decorating.