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    Why. Framing. Friends. And Tony Stark.


    2014 - 09.21

    I am one lucky unqualified entrepreneur. I have a mentor who has my back, but doesn’t gloss over the hits that life in a startup will swing my way.

    Business-stuff doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m a feeler, a dreamer, quick to laugh and just as quick to cry. I’m finding my way. It’s dangerous to go alone. Take someone who knows more than you do about where you’re going.

    In my first freeform game, The King’s Musketeers, I got to know Alex Jones as the Musketeers deposed him (as the evil king) and restored him to the throne (as his twin brother).

    um

    I was cast as a woman pretending to be a man running around duelling. AWESOME.

    We had a brilliant weekend of swashing and buckling and, discovering a lot of common ground including our writing, made Facebook friends.

    The following year we were fellow detectives in the world of Casablanca, and right at the end of the weekend, he mentioned he was there with his parents – a couple I had seen several times around but in games of 80+ players, had not actually spoken to much. Facebook soon after suggested his father, Chris, as a mutual friend, which seemed a good idea.

    I BLOODY LOVE FACEBOOK.

    Chris answered a Facebook plea for business advice. We had a couple of calls, where I displayed how staggeringly uninformed I was about all things business. We had more calls. And Facebook messages. Then he started letting me know when he was in London, so we could have face to face sessions.

    What Chris is very good at is looking not just as business, but what it means to be in business. We have had very frank discussions about the costs to lifestyle, relationships, sleep, stress levels. I’m not going into this naive and blind anymore. And I am lucky: Ras has seen me at my best and also my worst and every time I give into stress, he never asks me if I really want to go through this. He just asks what he can do to help, and assures me we’ll get through the current bump together. I don’t have to choose between him and the business, just like he will never have to choose between me and his musical career. So two key people have my back.

    On a Friday, a couple things came to head for me. It started with discovering that our Kickstarter video isn’t actually right as a kickstarter video. It’s a great little video, and has been the best part of my last month’s work in pre and post production – but it’s probably not our best chance at pulling strangers into our campaign.

    I have been working and working towards launching our Kickstarter campaign tomorrow and the key part of that campaign needs revision, if not re-doing completely.

    On Friday I sat in my coffice on the receiving end of a torrent of feedback on Facebook and PM – all of it helpful, all of it well meaning, but the sum of which I was not, at that time, equipped to deal with. In there, a few people really reached more directly out and ended up dealing with me in a heightened stare of aaargh but walked me through it, and I’m grateful (as I always am to everyone who fed back).

    I don’t know how to manage these new levels of fear and stress yet. I don’t know how to put so much on the line and have the line cut and while ill and sleep deprived, just go ‘ok. Bummer but here we go, Plan B’ without having an almighty emotional crash first. The video was the tip of the iceberg – there were other issues and fears around the project which jumped me on Friday.

    Which all led to the big question at the heart of all endeavour:

    WHY.

    Why am I doing this? Having to delay a campaign and throw out a month’s work will be the least of my worries if Imaginactive actually floats. Chris and I have talked about why he does what he does. He has a very clear understanding of his goals and rewards and is satisfied that they outweigh the costs.

    So I thought about that. I dug into everything that’s going on.

    I found an answer I’m happy with.

    And now I have a new tool: a frame tool. In a highly emotionally charged, exhausted state, my default frame for Friday was fuck my life. It’s hard to re-frame when you’re on edge anyway but I didn’t really have another strategy to even try and draw on.

    Ras is in Copenhagen. I should have been with him, for an important personal event, but I had to say no: I was launching a crowdfund on Monday. The day he left, the crowdfund strategy fell apart, as did I shortly after. I went home to an empty flat, ate all the peanut butter, started on John’s cereal box and genuinely didn’t know what to do with myself.

    So I put on Iron Man, and curled up on the couch with Tigger.

    A different kind of mentorship.

    A different kind of mentorship.

    A really helpful email from DiG came through.

    I started to regroup.

    Chris offered to call.

    I didn’t want to talk, but I also knew I had to get out of my head.

    I paused Iron Man, rang Chris, expecting a bit of ‘pull yourself together’. But I had a friend on the line, a mentor in the truest sense of the word.

    I started to re-frame the day.

    I finished watching Iron Man, fell asleep on the couch with Tigger, woke up when she got up later, went to my empty bed and lay awake until about 2am just running everything through my head, getting the heart of a couple of issues.

    I took yesterday off, which is an event in itself, and which let me think about the Why of Imaginactive. Think about framing. Inspect my weaknesses. I even went to the hairdresser, months late for my annual haircut.

    You get THIS with a HAIR CUT? Might have to start at least twice a year...

    You get THIS with a HAIR CUT? Might have to start going twice a year…

    I had a dvd night with two of my closest girlfriends and they sorted me out a bit further with a mixture of love and tough love.

    I was nervous about releasing the kickstarter video for feedback because my gut feeling was that it wasn’t right. I desperately wanted my paranoia be proven wrong.

    I was not. Everything I worried about came to pass on Friday afternoon.

    I took this as a terrible blow: my paranoia is real!

    Hollie and Eleanor re-framed that: my paranoia was true, therefore not paranoia but instinct. My instinct was true. Far from trusting myself less, I could take this as an opportunity to trust myself more.

    (that took some digesting)

    With Iron Man still on my mind, I complained that I wanted to be more like Tony Stark (post kidnapping, obviously) but have have none of his skills, business background, cast iron self-belied, teflon plating. Or, like, money.

    They reminded me that even Tony plays Tony Stark.

    We play roles. We imagine playing roles. Part of why I love reading and writing is the ability of characters to inspire us in our own lives, and to allow us to imagine being in theirs. Well, right now I’m on the other end of that. Tony crashes his suit and is pleased. He gets bashed around, thrown into walls, trashes his workshop, nearly dies in space – and it’s all brilliant to him.

    "...not bad..."

    “…not bad…”

    My journey isn’t that exciting but do me a favour: any time you see me falter, here’s the codephrase: ‘What would Tony Stark do?’

    Today I’m back to work. The kickstarter campaign has to run asap or we hit the pre-Christmas and new year crowdfund slow down and that’s it until March/April next year, and as Hollie says, all this momentum will be lost. We were already cutting the timing fine and now it’s even finer.

    Part of me is still freaking out about writing and trying to get my cast and crew back together for another video, with another edit, and in an even shorter timeframe.

    But.

    What would Tony Stark do?

    …ok, he wouldn’t write a blog about it…

    …he’d go off to the workshop. Mine isn’t anywhere near as cool and has a distinct lack of Jarvis and droids.

    But the coffee’s not bad.

     

     

     

    The Dirty Thirty does Tough Mudder


    2014 - 08.04

    I’m not a natural born runner and I’m sure not one of the hundreds of thousands of people signing up by choice to do a mud obstacle race. I am, however, dating one of those fanatics and when he decided his 30th birthday party was going to be running a Tough Mudder… I gritted my teeth and signed up too.

    Gritted my teeth REALLY hard. As you can see.

    Gritted my teeth REALLY hard. As you can see.

    As a fitness instructor I can work out for a good 3-4 hours at a time if needed but at 12 miles, Tough Mudder is a half marathon, largely on the inevitably eponymously muddy terrain, with what feels like the odd obstacle thrown in. There are in fact around 23 of the things, but they can feel a god-awful long way apart over that distance. The obstacles are all based on British Special Forces obstacle training and are therefore designed to test people against typical fears (fire, ice, electricity, heights, water) as well as strength, agility and skill.

    Ras and Ian last did the London Tough Mudder and admitted the Midlands Kettering course had considerably more mud. Not only that, but apparently feature mud: cow shit mud. Sheep shit mud. Sewerage mud. People-piss warm muddy water? Really doesn’t bear thinking about.

    Did I mention mud?

    Did I mention mud?

    That all said: Tough Mudder is one of the more accessible of the endurance mud races around. It is not even technically a race, in that, unusually, it is untimed, and the key focus is on getting around as a team rather than getting the fastest time. Most people do turn up as a team, with shirts and costumes (between cakings of mud, The Dirty Thirty were intermittently visible in our bright yellow shirts) and treat it as a rather extreme day’s entertainment.

    The Dirty Thirty (those who made it to the team start...) while still clean - Phaye, Ian, me (yes I am an air bender), birthday boy, April, Jess and Shanice

    The Dirty Thirty (those who made it to the team start…) while still clean – Phaye, Ian, me (yes I am an air bender), birthday boy, April, Jess and Shanice

    To my shame, my ‘training’ mainly consisted of 10-15 minute post-class runs, two to three times a week, for about…oooo…two weeks. My Trilogy bootcampers probably run 10-15 minutes a morning three times a week and could frankly run my socks off (running not being a main feature of the indoor studio and cycling classes I get my exercise through!) and indeed, it was in the running that The Dirty Thirty discovered Tough Mudder to be perhaps a little tougher than we were. Running on mud is particularly challenging for the hip flexors because of all the extra stabilisation required compared to, for instance, running on a dry safe path.

    Again with the MUD...

    Again with the MUD…

    So…there was some walking. Later, quite a lot of walking. But there were also dollops of camaraderie, silliness and the odd drama (falling from 12 foot walls is not recommended but thankfully Jess remained unbroken).

    4 miles, quite cheerful

    4 miles, quite cheerful

    The first obstacle on our Kettering Midlands course was a pair of giant walls – which the boys in the team hung around at to leg a bunch of other people over, probably knackering themselves a bit early in the day, but it was Very Chivalrous and absolutely in the spirit of the event.

    9 mile selfie - still running, still smiling...

    9 mile selfie – still running, still smiling…

    The third obstacle was my nemesis: the Artic Enema, aka A Freaking Ice Bath. I jumped in and out of the Copenhagen harbor a few times over Christmas but there wasn’t any actual ice in it.

    Now I won’t lie – I’d been threatening to skip the Enema, but at the time, as I suspected, it seemed the teamly thing to do to just jump in, go under the stupid tyres and hope not to go into shock.

    Was it awful?

    FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKSHITBOLLOCKSFUCK

    FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKSHITBOLLOCKSFUCK

    FUCK, YES IT WAS.

    It was exactly as awful as… jumping into a full immersion ice bath. And not just any ice bath, but a manky, muddy, full immersion ice bath full of screaming people.

    I thought putting the Enema so early in the race was poor sportsmanship from the event organisers, but actually, we arrived hot from the early running, and shot out ready to run again so shook the goosebumps off surprisingly quickly. I was a lot colder later in the event when we were too tired to run but had to keep going back into water and out into an unforgiving wind.

    So. Much. Water.

    So. Much. Water.

    So: I survived my greatest fear and was all woooohoooo for a time – until I started fretting about the Electric Eel. I’ve bounced off more than my fair share of electric fences in my time and just didn’t see the appeal of being voluntarily electrocuted. So: hands up, I boycotted that one on the grounds of ‘I’m not paying £100 for this sort of shit.’

    The rest of the Dirty Thirty were much more macho than me about it – and then in a cruel twist to them, I think I was the only one who didn’t get electrocuted in the final Electro Shock Therapy run for the finish line (MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA).

    Don't ask. Just run.

    Don’t ask. Just run.

    The rest of the obstacles blur. I made it through everything except the monkey rings, where I grabbed one, just grabbed the second one, didn’t commit and was left hanging until, squealing and cursing, I had to drop into the water and get wet again. Jessica and Shanice swung straight through that one like gymnasts while I waded my way across feeling the Sads.
    April doing it exactly the way I didn't: well.

    April doing it exactly the way I didn’t: well.

    The Island Hopping was actually surprisingly fun (I leapt like a frog from one to the next, feet wide and hands down – highly inelegant but effective). I really did freak out a bit on Walk the Plank, a sheer drop that looked too high by far. Ras and I were up together and while he gamely jumped on the required countdown, I dithered precious seconds and could frankly have benefitted from a shove. The water impact burst my bum bag, which was the end of our gels (potentially a blessing, to our taste buds at least). Making something of a comeback, I scaled Everest (a steep quarter pipe) on the first try – thanks to some helping hands at the top who caught and pulled me over.

    11 miles...says it all really...

    11 miles…says it all really…

    In the weeks before the event, I was not-so-quietly anxious about getting an injury which would then prevent – or greatly handicap – my teaching for a period afterwards. No teaching, no income, no eating. Now I’ve been pain free from plantar fasciitis since October and am very keen to stay that way, and the week before Tough Mudder I limped into my physio with a dodgy left ankle, stiff back and locked right shoulder. I started the race still with the ankle still under par.

    And yet…

    …I can only assume it was the ice bath, frequent dips into cold water and last hour and a half of chattering teeth that stripped every bit of lingering inflammation from my body, because I came out of Tough Mudder in better shape than I went in.

    I’d long before booked a pre-emptive massage for two days after and sheepishly walked into Cherie’s treatment room in basically the best shape I’ve been in for years.

    I know, right Vizzini?!

    I know, right Vizzini?!

    The rest of the team are already talking about the next event, and Ras and Ian are going as far as to consider doing a Double Tough Mudder (running it both the Saturday and Sunday). I am… not so enthusiastic for a return visit.

    Yeah, okay, we did have fun...

    Yeah, okay, we did have fun…

    On the long list of very fun awesome things I get to do in my life, four hours of muddy, teeth chattering, electricity and ice-ridden running/walking isn’t particularly high up there. It was certainly a tick off the old bucket list though and I’m glad I was roped into joining the Dirty Thirty – and am thoroughly enjoying the new lease of life my body has experienced in the weeks since. Not sure I’m game to risk it as annual physical therapy mind you…
    I was strangling him at the time for bringing me, but then I saw the camera...

    I was strangling him at the time for bringing me, but then I saw the camera…

    …oh, and of course it was Ras’ birthday party, which I womanned up enough to share with him. We took him out for drinks the next day, limping around London (and I mean holding the stair handrail limping), just to be a bit more civilised as well.

    And, you know… it was little romantic.

    I mean an eeentsy weeency bit.

    Still with the whole WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?? thing

    Still with the whole WHAT HAPPENED TO MY LIFE?? thing

     

    Of gratitude (and a love letter to Facebook)


    2014 - 02.28

    In the last of my trilogy of recent blogs (after which I resume writing on my current projects, so it’s ciao here for a while), I would mostly like to praise Facebook. I’d also like to say THANK YOU to quite a lot of people, and one in particular.

    So, of Facebook. If you’re reading this, you’re probably on it and have a fair idea of my usage. But can you imagine: I had to be more or less coerced into joining. It was back when I was leaving The History Channel to be a nanny in Italy, and I think it was Gemma who sat me down at my desk and basically did the registration for me while I sulked melodramatically.

    My first profile picture was a bad tempered cat icon from an online comic, as protest at the whole affair. Besides which, there weren’t really many digital photos of me at the time (which is probably just as well but seems hilarious now).

    Today, of course, I cannot for the life of me now remember why I was so reluctant to join.

    Oh wait – maybe it was because I have a highly addictive personality.

    Not that people become addicted to said personality, you understand – it’s that I become addicted to things easily. Exercise. Cornflakes. TV shows. Rasmus. Peanut butter. But nowhere has this proven more true than with Facebook, and thus ours is a… complicated relationship. I love the old book of face. But I’d probably have an actual book of fiction finished by now if I’d never been signed up.

    That said, I’d like to think I’ll eventually have more of a platform from which to beg people to read promote the existence of Mandala, when I finally do finish it, as a result of my addiction. Being a prolific user, I have many friends.

    arguably too many, and really, let’s not start on the number of photos...

    Arguably too many, and really, let’s not start on the number of photos…

    The number itself has been observed many times, often in a slyly accusatory manner – the insinuation being that I go out of my way to collect them, or even friend whore. The truth is that one of the few things I am not addicted to is Adding All The Friends!!, checking all requests carefully and ignoring many. But I am addicted to connecting with compelling people. If I meet someone interesting in the real world, I ask to friend them. It’s only been awkward a couple of times, which is statistically quite lucky, really.

    In April, for instance, I hooked up with a man I spent around 10, 15 minutes fooling around in a gym with. Months later, he turned out to be the love of my life. Potentially one of the most important chance encounters of my life would have gone nowhere did I not always have my phone to hand and a keen interest in connecting.

    That this may never have happened...I SHUDDER.

    That this may never have happened…I SHUDDER.

    Now that may not quite excuse the number of incriminating photos other people have of me from this weekend, dressed in glorious 40s garb but with my very contemporary mobile to hand – but I’m just saying. Wins and whoopsies. It’s a complicated relationship.

    So. I was signed up against my own will and yet Facebook was a life saver while I was in Italy. Then I came back to London and History, and for my life, and for a given value of normality, normal services resumed.

    A year or two later, the end of my contract coincided rather unfortunately with the 2009 recession and elimination of all further job prospects. My friend Hols pointed out that I was spending so many hours a week in fitness classes that I might as well try and be paid for them, as opposed to just packing up and heading back to Australia. So I became a fitness instructor and then my life started to get really unconventional.

    But I get to meet the BEST people.

    But I get to meet the BEST people.

    I’d always done Quite A Lot Of Things! but I was soon having a good shot at doing All The Things!!, which meant Meeting All The People, and happily hooking them up on Facebook. Facebook evolved from a social network to a networking asset, and then a creative tool – the amount of solid writing I’m getting done can be fairly accurately gauged by the frequency of AUTHOR ASSIST statuses (yeah, I know. It hasn’t been a good six months or so).

    So yes. I love Facebook. I don’t keep up with everyone on there (obviously) but I keep up a whole lot better than I did without it. I’ve had countless professional, creative and fun opportunities crop up and problems solved through it. And I get a bit of justified flak from friends about my practically unconscious habit of nipping off to cyberspace mid conversation, event, film, show or even – and this is how bad the addiction is – while in bed. With my boyfriend. Who was paying me plenty of attention at the time #GirlfriendFail

    Keeping up with old friends is wonderful but for me, one of the greatest blessings of Facebook is being able to connect with and develop friendships with people I would otherwise have never met, or have met only once or twice, and briefly. I may never meet them in person – but I have inspiring, hilarious and enlightening interactions with them (along with utterly banal ones too of course) nonetheless. Their lives cross mine and mine theirs in a way that was impossible a decade or so ago and is a privilege of the current social media age.

    So let me tell you about one of my long distance Facebook friends.  Rachel Wemyss Syme and I met, briefly, in the real world, at the launch of Nick Harkaway’s second book Angelmaker. I think, from hazy memory, that we mostly met in the foyer of Camden’s Gilgamesh on the way out, and were in the same group walking to the tube.

    On the way out - Nick in the middle with Olivia and Rachel to his right

    On the way out – Nick in the middle with Olivia and Rachel to his right

    We’d managed to miss each other all the way through the party, hit right off on the way out and therefore hooked up on Facebook. Incidentally, at that party I also friended Ian Whates, who recognised me from my evening as Slave Leia a few months earlier at the SFX Weekender.

    ...it was a highly inconspicuous cosplay debut...

    …it was a highly inconspicuous cosplay debut…

    Ian is now my first publisher – of both my photographs and writing – in a Femme Fatale anthology which launches at this year’s Eastercon (SQUEEEEEEEE!). Just two days ago I did my first ever signing sheets and actually felt like A Proper Writer.

    still just going SQUEEEEEEEEEEE

    …still just going SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

    I also there friended Olivia Du Bois, who again I think I met on the way out of the launch, and has since become a friend without equal.

    Also a worthy adversary, quite capable of kicking my ass...

    Also a worthy adversary, quite capable of kicking my ass…

    And I was only invited to the launch because I stalked Nick himself on Facebook after briefly meeting him at one of Si Spencer’s networking SWALC events, and discovering that he used to take part in Body Combat at Esporta Swiss Cottage with the unstoppable Chi.

    So. Moral of the story: YAY FACEBOOK, making bloody brilliant connections.

    Now all Olivia and I need is for Nick to write us into his next book, so we can cosplay ourselves. Otherwise, we've said we'll cosplay him, and tweed is expensive, y'know...

    Now all Olivia and I need is for Nick to write us into his next book, so we can cosplay ourselves. Otherwise, we’ve said we’ll cosplay him, and tweed is expensive, y’know…

    …and back to the story. Rachel is as prolific on social media as I am – probably more so, for she also has complete mastery over the mystery that is Twitter. We chatted a lot over the following year or so, but I was still hugely surprised to be one of a relatively small group of friends invited to attend her wedding. At the wedding, I made friends with another friend of hers, Jess, who within a week, had found me my Tiggertron to adopt. Behold the power of Facebook…

    ...facebook thereafter being known as CatBook...

    …Facebook thereafter being known as Catbook…

    …and the point is that through Facebook, I have developed a closer long-distance friendship with Rachel than I have with friends I live in the same city with and actually see more than once a year. And about a month ago, she did something utterly ridiculous; something which proved just how powerful Facebook is, and how generous people are, and how invested we can get in each other just over the internet.

    Recently, I became very run down. The biggest fear for a self employed fitness instructor is getting an injury or illness which stops you working. You might be surprised how many injuries and illness you can teach through, if you’re bullheaded enough, and I have spent the last four years working my way down the list.

    But I got benched by a doctor, who wanted me to take a month off. I couldn’t laugh at him – I was too busy crying. Take a month off? An unplanned month off? I’d just had a month off to go back to Australia for the first time in four years because I can’t afford more regular trips. Another month?!

    Being the private, introverted soul I am, I made no mention of this told the world about it. I’d argued the doctor down to a minimum and reluctant 10-14 days off. He thought this was a bad idea but not as bad as me attempting to take just Monday and Tuesday off, because that would have made it a four day weekend, which was positive luxury, right?

    I fretted – about my body failing me, about my failing other people, about this foreign sense of helplessness, about the loss of income my failures were costing me. About the fear that I was hitting that time so many instructors reach, when the physical cost of the job grows too high while inflation never makes it to your income, and pulling back just makes the whole thing more unsustainable than it already is. And I haven’t written the three or four books most writers need to break into meagre money making and Plan B (Become a PT!) crashed and burned a year earlier. So, there kind of isn’t a Plan C.

    And in a comment on a thread on my wall, Rachel said something along the lines of ‘I bet if half your friends threw a pound or two in a kitty, we could soften that blow.’

    And I said something along the lines of ‘that is too lovely but I will survive, thank you…’

    And she went and started a crowd funding campaign and asked most – if not all of my friends – for a pound or two.

    And somehow – and I’m still not entirely sure how, but the selfless effort of one good woman and the power of Facebook definitely got it started – this happened:

    Angels exist, and they are ALL AROUND YOU.

    Angels exist, and they are ALL AROUND YOU.

    And…

    …(Adele makes incoherent noises and gestures)…

    …I just don’t even know where to start. I’ve written 1,800 words over several days trying to work out what to say at this point, and I still don’t know.

    I know I need to say a massive, heartfelt and still somewhat bamboozled THANK YOU to Rachel for taking a wild idea and taking on my Facebook friend list to ask people for a pound or two to help me take a break. Years ago, Rachel burned out way more spectacularly than I was on track for, and has kept a motherly eye on me for a few years now, whispering words of caution and concern.

    I wish that she could have had someone like her present self to act as a guardian angel in her time of need. I hope I have the chance to pay her kindness forward in time.

    I thank everyone who wrote to me, either via Funrdrazor, PM, email or text to share their stories of burn out and implore me to take action now, as they wish they had when they were in my situation.

    I thank everyone who threw in one or one hundred pounds. I cried a lot after Rachel revealed the fund to me, and as I watched as contributions kept on coming in, even after the (very generous) goal was reached. Some of the amounts stunned me. Some of my cover instructors paid me the fees they had earned for covering my classes. Some friends, who I know earn less than me on a weekly basis, threw in 2 pounds or 5 pounds – which I know is as generous from them as 10 or 20 from other incomes.

    I thank all the people who donated anonymously – I can’t tag you in this post, even though I wish I could.

    I thank Facebook for facilitating this humbling surge of love, support and generosity from my friends. From people I know well, and people I have never met, whose lives intersect with mine nonetheless and who felt moved to help me out in a time of need.

    I thank everyone involved for showing me that any situation can be turned on its head. That I can hit the wall and look up to see hands reaching down to get me back on my feet. That from bad times, beautiful things can happen. That in darkness, candles unseen in the day burn brightest.

    And I thank you, dear reader, for even being here reading my words. Fitness instructing was supposed to be Plan B while I got Plan A – write cool shit that people will pay to read – underway. The faltering of Plan B has helped me refocus on Plan A.   My last two blogs – distributed solely via Facebook of course – struck a surprising chord amongst some readers and even though blogs are not the key business of Plan Awesome, all writers want is to be read. And for being here reading, I thank you for giving me your most precious asset: your time.

    Facebook is shallow by nature, skimming the surface of lives. But in coming off it to a page like this, I thank you for giving me your attention.

    Lastly, I hope everyone will have a Rachel at some point in their life – a friend to keep an eye on you when you falter, and to lend you a hell of a leg-up when you fall.

    My guardian angel x

    My guardian angel x

    Being Human, not Batman


    2014 - 02.19

    So I have a reputation of sorts.

    Well.

    Ok. More than one. Of all sorts. But.

    One of my reputations is was for being indefuckingstructible. It’s a relatively recent reputation and has absolutely nothing to do with the appearance of pictures like this over the last few years:

    Images: David Long, Rob Gallop, Sean O'Malley

    Me? Fictionally obsessed? Surely not… (photos: David Long, Rob Gallop, Sean O’Malley)

    Then I got a bit crippled last year, which was awkward, but generally speaking, I would bend but I would not break. I would always give myself too much to do and would try to see it through, and usually mess enough of it up to be annoyed at myself but not enough to cause anyone else catastrophe. And I went to work – which is to say I taught physically expensive fitness classes – sick and injured because…well…

    go hard or go home, baby.

    Right…? Because, like, that’s what Bruce Wayne would do.

    Ok, if Bruce Wayne dedicated his life to inflicting acts of exercise on people while being a wannabe writer…

    …..

    ….

    ..

    .

    …run that by me one more time…?

    …run that by me one more time…?

    So, ok. I cannot deny it: I am not Batman. I could not be Batman. If I got hit, I would stay hit, and with a definite lack of heroic stoicism. If I stayed up all night cleaning up London’s criminal element, ran a company during the day and all the while being the world’s greatest detective, then really, not many crimes would be solved, criminals captured only by accident and KirbyCorp would have even worse finances than my own.

    Another obvious reason I surely could not be Batman is my inherently sunny disposition. I grin my way through life with almost offensively relentless cheer. Most of the time, this is completely genuine – though I have a dangerously decreasing tolerance for well-intentioned people trying to find the deep inner sadness which I amclearly covering with my usual sunny disposition. I mean seriously, I am too undamaged to even be a ‘proper’ writer, much less a vengeful superhero.

    But the real reason I really cannot possibly be Batman is that it took Bane breaking his back to put Bruce out of action…

    3

    …whereas three weeks ago I just… burnt out.

    (more…)

    Love. Actually. Actually actually ACTUALLY.


    2014 - 01.31

    So I have some time on my hands. 

    Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say. And it hasn’t turned out quite as I planned: three month of relentlessly running myself into the ground (business as usual there of course) just crashed my romantic weekend break with an unfortunate visit to A&E -

    - now wait a damn minute – there’s another sentence I never thought I’d hear myself say.

    Romantic weekend break…

    This is someone else’s life, surely? I’ve interloped into another woman’s reality. The Adele I know never has ‘time on her hands’ and she sure as hell doesn’t do romance. In fact, she’s practically notorious for her spinsterhood. Romance would require, like, a boyfriend and a heart and everything.

    And YET.

    It seems, against all statistical and anecdotal evidence, that I do have a boyfriend. 27th January marked four months together and I still have to ask myself at least twelve or thirteen times a day: so come on Kirby, how DID this whole relationship thing happen again…?

    We didn’t even notice the 27th pass this week. We were otherwise preoccupied. Ras had a hard time getting me up. We needed to shop at the giant ASDA while we still had the hire car, so I wouldn’t have to suicide cycle home my mega-tons of fresh fruit and veg. I trailed him wearily around the supermarket and when he dropped me home, I did the only thing I could at the time: I lay on the floor and cried. He held me and talked me round, the way only he can, until smiles replaced tears. It hadn’t been the romantic weekend we were hoping for, but I cannot imagine circumstances under which I could been shown more love.

    1472737_10151951046325852_1140893854_n

    Best. Pillow. Ever.

    So. I have some time off work, therefore unexpected time on my hands, and many seriously pressing uses for that time. I have fallen inconceivably far behind on AFA, that novel just won’t write itself, dozens of books lay accusingly unread by my bed, accounts need to be filed and of course Tigger is sitting here next to me tutoring me on the absolute importance of the mid-afternoon nap.

    tigger

    Sleep, you must.

    But I am going to try to write three blogs, all recent lessons taught by Life with varying degrees of subtlety and brute force. I figure I have been forced to rest and reflect, so can process them the way I do best: through writing. One or two paragraphs may even be interesting to other people. They shall be:

    1. Love. Actually (aka ‘how I got dated’)
    2. Beautiful Lies
    3. Gratitude

    So…

    …about this love thing.

    (more…)

    Fragile Things


    2013 - 07.14

    There are many moments from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels that resonated strongly with my teenage self. One is from World’s End, and if memory serves correctly, it took place between a master and prentice of the Necropolis Litharge. As they prepared for a funeral, the master told the prentice that it was their Duty not to let their work harden them.

    That single evocative scene – in which the prentice was faced with a lifetime of tending to the grief of others – and that one line – it is our duty not to let us harden us – had a huge impact on me. I must have been, what, fifteen?

    And the understanding I took from those few frames of a comic became the foundation of my entire novel series Lien, in which an innocent young boy, journeying through the most hardening of life experience, must find his way back to innocence once more. Lien’s character arc is a circle, not a straight line; his challenge is to not let life harden him. To retain hope in despair, to always carry light into darkness. 

    It’s a philosophy I try to live by myself, but let’s be fair: you’d have to look long and hard and even then have an imagination prone to flights of tragic fantasy to find much darkness in my life.

    Fortunately I have such an imagination, and put it to good use in the writing of fiction. Friends and family have joked that I am no way near screwed up enough to have the mental and emotional gearing of a good writer. But I try very hard not to get screwed up by things. I’m very aware that while we have less control over what happens to us, we are entirely responsible for what subsequently happens within us. 

    So…I put a pretty strong handbrake on some Life Stuff, to keep on an even keel – some of it consciously, much of it unconsciously. We all put shit in boxes in our heads, we just have different shit and different boxes. Symptoms of this manifest in various ways. I spent the weekend discovering how some of mine manifests through movement. 

    Let me wind back a moment. When I was a much younger, I loved the idea of the metaphysical world, but aside from my friend Harmony’s dad, and a friend who’d gone a little to far, a little too deep, and built a damn solid box around it, I didn’t know anyone who could guide or encourage me. There was certainly nothing of the esoteric in my home life or close friendship group.

    Again: fiction to the rescue, for through books and later telly and films, I could both imagine and express the idea of deep inner personal power and a universal connectivity. I suppose Lien, with its books loosely themed on his progression through the chakras, is my way of exploring this realm.

    So from years back, I have An Interest, but no real-life application, for spiritual practice. And so when I was looking for sword courses in London, and came across a school based on Eastern spiritual practice, despite with my many over-commitments and the protests of both the budget and Diary of Doom, I signed up immediately for an intro course. And that’s been this weekend: an introduction to Tanren training with John Evans of Battodo Fudokan.

    John Evans

    Tanren is an eastern form of conditioning-training – tan meaning ‘forge, discipline, train’ and ren meaning ‘refine, drill, polish’, and forms the foundation of John’s sword work. In preparation, I’ve been reading (and recommend) John’s book Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent, which constituted a couple of hours of mental checklisting me, me, that’s me, oh bugger that’s me too in the general faults John identifies as inhibiting physical and spiritual development and performance.

    (more…)

    How to have a Good Day (anyway)


    2012 - 10.20

    This has been a Good Week, as proven by today being a Good Day. I fend off Average Days with an apparently limitless arsenal of Awesome Things Done With Awesome People (this is London after all, and if you can’t find limitless awesome things to do here, you’re dead and just haven’t noticed yet), and have too many awesome people around to have more than the rare Bad Day.

    But it’s been particularly Good. At least…that’s been my experience of it. What’s interesting is that on any other given day, given the same set of events and circumstances, my experience of it would have probably been Exceedingly Average.

    There is someone I will hold responsible for this, in due course.

    So first up, in the northern hemisphere winter cometh, meaning dark and damp mornings are now the norm: but Bootcamp, though dark and damp, was still a hoot. My boss, Ben, turned up unexpectedly after for coffee and said all the right things to reassure me about the work I’m doing with my new group (though feedback like ‘unreasonably cheerful for the time of day’ turned up)*.

    Next up I nailed two of the best cycle classes I’ve ever taught, one done off the bike with no mic or video system and only a boom box in place of my surround sound. Two people walked out though, and for a neurotic sensitive instructor like yours truly, this is always an awful experience – an open door to distracting, damaging thoughts like ‘they must be really hating this class’, which obviously leads to ‘they must hate me!’ and that debilitating conclusion of ‘I must be rubbish!’ (and an urgent desire to slink away to die behind the stereo).

    But today, that door didn’t open. I taught on, moving through the bikes, checking in on people, explaining and motivating and giving them everything I could – and for the two who left, many more came up after to thank me for still delivering a challenging, fun class.

    Pump rocked out even though we had to play pot luck on the tunes because I’d left the CD in another gym and the stereo was, bless its obstinate soul, being very particular about what it would play on the other three discs I had on me. Could have been very messy, but actually turned the class very interactive and I was amazed to discover that some members could remember choreography I had long since forgotten and tell ME what came next. Genius!

    Memory of a GOLDFISH

    Memory of a GOLDFISH

    (more…)

    Behind the Magic: Shooting Sparks


    2012 - 08.04

    Or: behind the scenes shooting at Utopia Forge with Carolyne Jackson Photography

    Photo: Carolyne Jackson Photography

    I’ve been threatening to blog about some of my shoots for some time now, partly because I feel the need to try to justify them in the first place (beyond ‘but…but…they’re FUN!’ and we all know my attitude to life, which starts with Fun and hopefully ends there also), partly because photography is a fascinating art and mostly because they’re FUN. Oh and let’s not forget that I am the pin-up for Early Senility and there are some things one simply shouldn’t ever forget.

    Get dressed. Have hair and makeup done. Realise I’ve forgotten to get pumped up. What’s a girl to do? Push press with a stupidly heavy lump of metal, of course…

    Therefore I shall constructively procrastinate over blogging a few of Life’s Big Bastard Questions with, instead, a little Behind the Scenes of a Photoshoot blog. Or in the case of my shoots, Behind the Magic because let’s face it: even my nearest and dearest would never have imagined a girl so infamously awkward, fashion-stricken and determinedly tomboy to…you know…model and stuff. (more…)

    50 Kisses – Love v Fantasy II mark II…


    2012 - 06.30

    Following yesterday’s draft for the SWF ’50 Kisses’ competition, I have an Edit By Community win! With thanks to all those who wrote with suggestions, I have a completed 2 page entry – similar but tighter, with not one but THREE kisses AND actually to length. Well. Marginally. Oh, and a happier open ending.

    Might have to try this more often. You guys ROCK!

     

    EXT. PARK – DAY
    LEATHER JACKET MAN (LJ MAN) – beautiful in his own right, and wearing an exceptionally beautiful leather jacket – proceeds.

    DONNA (V.O.)
    No. You’ve still lost me. You fell in love with the man – or the jacket?

     

    INT. LOUNGE – NIGHT
    MAGS perches on the arm of a couch, absently plucking the petals of a single red rose. DONNA sits more conventionally, wine glass in hand. On the coffee table, a half-eaten pizza and a flyer for Valentine’s Day Specials.

    MAGS
    Indeed, therein lies the question.

     

    EXT. PARK – DAY

    MAGS cycles past LJ MAN, entranced by his jacket. She slows.

    MAGS (V.O.)
    First: the jacket.

    DONNA (V.O.)
    You stalked him?

    On LJ MAN: MAGS now rides slowly behind, having turned back.

    MAGS (V.O.)
    I was enamoured. What kind of man could wear such a garment? I decided he must be a heroic figure. Lethally genteel. A spy, perhaps -

     

    INT. BAR – DAY

    LJ MAN leans against a bar, suave ala James Bond. Seeing an elegantly dressed MAGS, he pushes aside his martini to take and gently kiss her unresisting hand, his eyes on hers –

     

    INT. FUTURISTIC SETTING

    MAGS (V.O.)
    – or a steampunk space cowboy. The kind who cleans up six kinds or intergalactic vermin before breakfast.

    LJ MAN swaggers in with a stupidly souped up SF gun. Pulls MAGS in by the waist, kisses her extravagantly, while aiming the gun at the camera and FIRING –

     

    EXT. URBAN SETTING

    MAGS (V.O.)
    Or an urban superhero, fighting for justice and… other stuff on the streets of post-apocalyptic London -

    LJ MAN stands back-to-back with a cat-suited MAGS, surrounded by THUGS. They share what might be their last kiss, then draw their respective post-apocalyptic weapons to face their fate –

     

    EXT. PARK – DAY

    MAGS slowly rides past LJ MAN, eyes still glued to the jacket.

    MAGS (V.O.)
    – and then it occurs to me that the jacket might be a maguffin, and I was actually attracted to its wearer.

    DONNA (V.O.)
    Halleluja!

    Completely oblivious to the gate/tree/post/pedestrian she’s about to ride straight into –

     

    INT. LOUNGE – NIGHT

    MAGS
    Only then I fell off my bike.

    DONNA
    And did he chivalrously come to your rescue?

    MAGS plucks the last petal from the rose.

    MAGS
    Alas, no. And what if he had? How could he have possibly lived up to the man I had imagined?

    DONNA
    You realise this says a lot about why you’re still single.

    MAGS looks all secret-squirrel.

     

    EXT. PARK – DAY

    MAGS hauls her bike back upright, dusting herself off. Ahead, LJ MAN pauses, looking to MAGS as though he might turn back.

    She grins. Ready to give this a go anyway.

    50 Kisses – Love-Fail II


    2012 - 06.29

    So the London Screenwriters Festival is ambitiously running a competition to crowd source 50 short films. It’s called ’50 Kisses’, is based around the question of ‘what is love to you?’ and needs to be set on Valentine’s night – all of which make three really strong reasons why I only got around to writing an entry the day before it closes.

    Well, on the penultimate day I confessed on Facebook that I had no idea how to approach this question, and then started something terribly melancholy. Semi-autobiographical, you see, melancholy being a generally accurate emotive state for the vacuum which is my love life.

    Not that the 2 page films had to be about that kind of love – although the Valentine’s night setting probably screwed up a few more original approaches. I had a strange moment on the tube recently. I thought I’d try that on for size.

    2 pages. Set on Valentine’s night. Exploring love. Thoughts welcome.

    EXT. PARK – DAY

    Pedestrians and cyclists pass, going about their business.

    DONNA (V/O)
    No. You’ve still lost me.

    Amongst them weaves the back of LEATHER JACKET MAN (LJ MAN).

    DONNA (V/O)
    You fell in love with the man or the jacket?

    INT. LOUNGE – NIGHT

    MAGS perches on the arm of a couch, absently plucking the petals of a single red rose. DONNA sits more conventionally, wine glass in hand. On the coffee table, a half-eaten pizza and a flyer for Valentine’s Day Specials.

    MAGS
    Therein lies the question. (more…)