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I blame the parents!

So, how do you do Christmas? Up until I was in my mid-teens, I thought it was perfectly normal to have people you didn’t know well spend Christmas Day with you, whether it be for Christmas lunch or tea. It was usual to wrap a gift to give to a child you didn’t know (and would never meet). We were brought up being told that it’s better to give than to receive (although we still got far more presents than our parents could probably afford, was it not for my mam preparing for Christmas from the January sales onwards).

We have hosted distant family, friends, an old man with no family (that my dad got talking to in the village). Anyone that we hear about that has nowhere to go somehow finds a place at our table, that seems to expand and contract to fit the people around it. We’ve tried to carry on the tradition that my parents started, now that we host Christmas (in our tiny little house) and we do takeaway meals/deliveries for the people we encounter that can’t come or can’t deal with the chaos (eight or nine people and a many, many dogs). This year, my dad mentioned a local man liked to see our annual menu (there’s a story behind the menu: we have a dog with separation anxiety so doesn’t like to be alone. So, we said that we would host Christmas lunches from then onwards and, since we had inconvenienced everyone, we vowed to offer the best meal we could, hence the menu. We try to offer four choices per course, just like in a pub or restaurant and release a menu every October, so guests can choose). Anyhow, it turns out that he’s alone as he doesn’t see his family, so we’ve offered a takeaway (with my parents being delivery drivers). Not sure if he’s taking us up on the offer yet, but it’s an option.

Another brilliant thing we’re involved in, is a charity called Feeding Families. They co-ordinate donors (who wish to give a Christmas hamper) to recipients (who are in need of a bit of help this year). There is a set list of items and you buy them and deliver to the family during Christmas week. The feeling of giving someone a bit of a break at Christmas is amazing. Our whole family is getting involved: my sister, parents, auntie. I’m so proud of the generosity of people in this region. The organisers deserve a huge amount of praise as they are on target to help over 1200 families in need this year (so far).

I’m so grateful that my parents gave me the gift of caring, as not everyone does, and I’m glad I had such wonderful role models. Bill Murray, in Scrooged, says it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eObVoC0dOp0


Social Media Detox

When I was first diagnosed with M.E., it was the mid-eighties and I was a young girl. There were no mobile phones and although there were home computers (we had an Acorn Electron and an Atari console), there was no email or social media. I was essentially house-bound with only books and daytime TV for company (aside from my family, of course). It was a lonely existence. I think this explains my attachment (or call it dependency) on Social Media – people on tap! 

I’ve realised that Social Media (mainly Facebook; Twitter less so) had begun to monopolise my day. I was worried that I would miss out on something and kept reaching for my phone to check my notifications. Or, if I’d logged on to my laptop, I’d invariably forget about what I wanted to do and find myself immersed in friends’ worlds. There were the things you wanted to see but sometimes people would share things that might feed a particular anxiety that I have or you might see things that are upsetting (missing people, missing dogs and so on). Facebook is a little like The Truman Show – millions of stories being played out in realtime. It started to feel like Too Much. I was almost more invested in other people’s stories than my own life – it was easier. 

On Sunday, I decided to take a break, just to see if I could. It’s unnerving, deliberately isolating myself again, but it feels necessary. It feels freeing but I still have the feeling that I’ll be missing things. And even after one day, I’ve seen a difference: yesterday I got a job done in the house that I’ve wanted to do for months. Yes, the TV was on and you could call that a distraction but it doesn’t draw you in like Social Media does. Today, I did some admin that had a deadline and I’ve been doing my Creative Writing homework without clicking across to Facebook and losing myself for several hours. I have given myself some time. Next week, I’m going to start working on my novel again (after I clear some more things from my To Do list).

Why now? I needed to conserve some energy, as my husband has a big birthday this month and we have a lot of things planned (nothing most people would call big, but any commitment is big to someone with an unpredictable condition like ME). What I’m missing most is a place to put the comments and thoughts I would usually post, so my blog will have to be a kind of diary for the next month or so. It will be interesting to see how long I can keep this up. Hopefully, long enough to get Fresh Heir completed. 


Class

 

I’m about to sign up for another term at a local Creative Writing class and it dawned on me that I’ve been doing these classes for the better part of a decade. People come and go, but there’s a core group that is there more often than not. What struck me as odd is the fact that no real friendships have formed over time – we take each other or leave each other (or perhaps they take me or leave me!) In most situations where there’s a shared interest some kind of connection is formed but not in this case. We feel comfortable (and trusting) enough to share our work, at its most raw, but don’t swap email addresses or add each other on social media. I attend the class as much for the social aspect as I do to learn from the tutor (and other class members) – I don’t see many different people from day to day. Is it weird or do you think other people in the class spend time with each other without including me? Or, have I been watching too much Community over the summer?


Always learning.

When I posted in 2017, I told you I had enrolled on an MA course. Happily, I graduated in 2018 with an MA in Creative Writing, despite some challenges. I enjoy learning and the academic world, so I thought the natural next step would be a PhD. I am a researcher at heart.

The first issue was actually finding a university that offered online research opportunities. It may surprise you to learn that inclusivity doesn’t include everyone – it surprised me. Organisations are keen to encourage those with physical or mental challenges to participate (which is great) but don’t always consider those whose challenge is actually getting to a place to study. Telecommunication is good (although, again, won’t suit everyone) but many universities actually require students to physically attend at least once a term. Even once a year is too much for some people. Sadly, conditions like ME and anxiety don’t give you time off to attend uni. I’m using those as they are the conditions that I’m familiar with – there are many, many others. I can only write about this from my own experience.

I found a university that ticked all the boxes.  What next? A research proposal. Neither of my previous courses prepared me for a PhD application. I don’t know anyone, personally, who has studied at this level so turned to Google. I found it lacking, for once. I felt like people like me probably shouldn’t be trying to infiltrate academia and that it must be knowledge passed on like hereditary titles, to those in the middle or upper classes.  I cobbled something together, after reading that a proposal is simply stating the direction you’d like your research to take; the supervisor would guide you and, as you progress, you will fine tune it. 

I was invited, by email, to attend an interview. Another hurdle. At this point they knew I suffered from ME, so I explained that I had difficulty in travelling. They kindly agreed to a telephone interview, which I stumbled my way through (it wasn’t a good communication day and I think I overused the word ‘thingy’). Apparently, I got my point across and I was asked to narrow down the focus of my research (as I’d expected). My potential supervisor was friendly and I think she understood my strengths and limitations. I was thrilled, as I know how hard it is to be accepted on a research degree course.

As time went on, I heard nothing more. It felt silly to email them and ask when I’d get more details (I had funding to apply for). Weeks became months. The supervisor had taken a sabbatical and then asked for more information, which I provided. Still nothing. I corresponded with someone else, who acted as a liaison between me and the potential supervisor. Nothing. I emailed at the beginning of September and received an Out-of-Office reply – that person had retired (no mention of that). I sent an email to the Admissions office and was finally told that they’d now decided my research was not robust enough. I was told by several people that I had four worthy projects within my initial proposal, so I was gobsmacked. There was no offer to help me pinpoint the proposal that would work for them so I assume they didn’t want to work with me. Again, it’s just an assumption because I have no-one to ask. I googled ‘working class PhD’ and was really disheartened by what I read. I’d hoped to be inspired but it seems like it’s somewhat of a no-man’s land: considered elitist by family/friends and not elite enough by colleagues/peers.

My disappointment turned to annoyance. There are few PhD opportunities; fewer if you’re from the wrong background. There are fewer still if you have any kind of condition that limits your physical attendance at the university (while they still claim to be disability-friendly). It feels like organisations need to be educated on the fact that we, the limited, exist and want to learn. In the days of computers and tech, it should be easier than ever. I’m applying somewhere else. They’ve made it clear that they prefer students to visit the campus, but there was a note of a ‘But…’ I don’t want special treatment. I want to be able to have the same opportunities as a standard applicant. And if I fail, I’ll do so on my own merit or lack thereof!

 

 


All new!

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog and WP has changed a lot since then. I might make a mistake (or many). I’m going to try and blog more regularly, particularly about my trials and tribulations with higher educations. This is just a test post, to see if I understand the WP tools, so I’ll speak to you again soon. Keep your fingers crossed that this works!


Reflections

This year has passed by in the blink of an eye – it doesn’t seem long since last New Year’s Eve. I always like to reflect on the year gone by, but I don’t really want to dwell on this one: it has been a nightmare. I wish you could switch the year off and on again at midnight, to reset things and make everything ok, but sadly, it’s just not possible.

I generally try to stay positive but I’m going to struggle to find them for 2017. It began with my in-laws being hospitalised and, a week in, we lost my mother-in-law. That left us to try and get the best possible care for my father-in-law and, let me tell you, it was not easy. There are obstacles thrown in to your path and you suddenly have to become an expert in elderly care. You also have to find the courage to stand your ground and a voice you didn’t think you had! You also have your eyes opened as to the lack of dementia support. Luckily, we fought and got him the best care but, sadly, we lost him last month. It was a release for him but a loss for us – a generation of the family. There’s still a lot to sort out, I’m sure. The Elf Walk was a great way to honour Arthur and I hope we can all do it again in 2018 – it raised valuable funds for The Alzheimer’s Society.

Even our dog had dementia, and we dedicated a lot of time to caring for her. Lots of people will read that and roll their eyes. I feel sorry for those people. We loved our dog like a child (nobody can quantify that) and when her day came, we did what we could to make it as easy as possible for her. It was three months ago and we miss her. She left a hole bigger than her size.

My grandad had a fall down the stairs a few weeks ago and is being cared for in hospital. Well-cared for, thankfully. That left us to care for my grandma as the council is too short-staffed to provide full care. The family is drained but what other option is there? I hate to use the term ‘Tory Britain’, but I detest our current government and I wonder if 2018 will bring our first workhouse (cleverly named, but a workhouse all the same).

Foolishly, despite all of these things going on, I embarked on an MA. What a fool. I’d love to say that all the factors above contributed to my poor feedback but I’m just not engaged in the course. Dare I say that I’m lazy or not clever enough? I want my own voice, rather than that of an educational establishment. I’ll never conform, so I can’t imagine that 2018 will bring me a graduation ceremony. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with saying that I’m not good enough – writing, art, etc. It doesn’t mean that I’ll stop doing those things…

I want to look for some positives for 2018 but I just don’t want to feel the pressure to achieve anything. I think we just need to…’be’…for a while. We’ll do our bit to support others and maybe treat ourselves a little more kindly than we have done but I’m not going to force resolutions upon us this year.

Sorry for the negativity but if you can’t be honest in a blog, what’s the point. If you’ve read this (or even if you’ve just skimmed to the bottom), I wish you the year that you deserve: good health, good fortune, good friends and happiness to you and those you care about. I genuinely hope that 2018 is an improvement on 2017.


Pre-Christmas Catch-up!

Where do I start? On a light note, perhaps? We went to see The Killers in concert in Newcastle and they were incredible. I have wanted to see them live for years so we splashed out on the VIP Package – let me tell you, VIP obviously stood for Very Impulsive Purchase because it certainly didn’t get us any preferential treatment. Yes, we got a decent seat but aside from that, still had to stand in the cold (even though we were led to believe we’d get in early). There was a VIP ‘host’: this host simply passed us our special ‘merch’ – a cheap-looking tote bag, supposedly designed and endorsed by the band, and a VIP pass that didn’t even bear the band’s name. The fact that these items littered the arena seating after the show says it all… We also had our pre-Christmas lunch at the fantastic Blackfriars in Newcastle – if you ever get the chance to eat here, do, it’s a wonderful place: warm ambiance, great service and the food is always delicious.

And then there was the bad stuff. My father-in-law was taken in to hospital at the beginning of November and the family got The Call on the 3rd. We were all around his bedside but he obviously didn’t want to leave until we gave him some peace. He passed away few hours after we left, having been stable all day. It’s been an awful year for loss and it never gets any easier.

Paling in comparison, my MA isn’t going well, either. It’s not what I expected (poetry-heavy and very little input from tutors). I just had my first round of feedback for the first module and it wasn’t good (I know there was a lot going on with Amber and Arthur passing away but I can’t say I’ve given it the attention I should have). Essentially, I don’t know how I’ve dared claim to be a writer for the past decade – I have issues with structure, my poetry is rubbish (I agree) and so on. I must admit, it’s making me regret my decision. I wanted to learn how to write properly and, although I accept the criticism, there are no pointers as to where I went wrong. Not one of my better decisions…

Back on a higher note. We were honoured to take part in the first ever Elf Walk in Newcastle (The Alzheimer’s Society) and we participated in memory of Arthur and Amber, who both suffered from Dementia. Our team (me, my husband, two nieces and my sister-in-law) raised around £500. It was a 5km walk, which sounded impossible (or improbable) but we took it slowly – there was a woman, walking alone, on two crutches – inspirational! Check out the ITV and BBC local news websites and look out for me among the sea of elves. It’s like Where’s Wally (Where’s Holly?)

That’s all for now. Going to try and come back more often.


Overload!

I’m feeling a bit overloaded at the moment. Doing an MA in half the time is, as most people would expect, doubly demanding but it feels almost impossible. I’m wondering if I have the creativity in me to do the course justice. Life is regularly trying to get in the way and the hectic schedule leaves no room for M.E. crashes and general seasonal exhaustion. I’m hanging on by my fingertips at the moment and don’t think I’ll resign up to the additional Creative Writing classes next year – it’s too much. Oh, and the reading is intense too: reading about writing is hard when you know you should be writing! Temporarily giving in to a sinus headache and risking being the dunce of the class. Nap time!


Review: Impractical Jokers Live!

It’s been an ‘annus horribilis’ this year and we had very little to make us smile. However, my sister introduced us to a programme that I should have hated, on paper. I’m really not a fan of practical jokes at all, as I don’t like people being made to look foolish just so someone else can get a cheap laugh. The difference with this programme was that the group of four friends (who’d known each other for decades) tricked and embarrassed each other. I didn’t expect to be amused. I didn’t anticipate laughing out loud but, in our deep, dark days, we howled like idiots. Laughter really was the best medicine. We heard that they were touring so decided that, even though funds were short, it would do us good to get out Ticketmaster struck again: fourth row tickets in the basket, Ticketmaster glitches – no tickets. Second time a similar issue and third time was the charm. Not only were we going to see ‘The Tenderloins’ but our friends were going too. The ‘horrible anus’ struck again and our poor friend ended up practically bedbound and is awaiting back surgery as I type. We all felt guilty for going without her. Really guilty.

Security for shows is tight now. The queue to be screened snaked around the arena but better to be safe than sorry. It took us about half an hour to get in but we were so glad they postponed the start as the warm-up act was absolutely hilarious. He was an American comedian called Steve Byrne and his act revolved around audience participation…and those that did participate were great sports. The atmosphere was improved further when the whole arena sang along to Mr Brightside by The Killers (my favourite song). Steve shook my hand as I perched, on one bum cheek, almost in the aisle, as I tried to see around the high-haired gentleman in front of me. ‘Hi, I’m Steve!’ – I wavered on one buttock as I stretched to meet his handshake.

After a short intermission, Sal, Q, Joe and Murr came out to thunderous applause. I didn’t know how the show would work on stage but it did. It was a mixture of anecdotes, sketches, jokes, audience embarrassment (involving an iPhone and the sentence ‘I tested positive’), unseen footage from their show and basically, lots of warmth and good-natured mocking! We rarely stopped laughing (my cheeks began to ache) and the time flew. It was worth every penny and I am still disappointed that there was no ‘meet and greet’ option. The guys seemed really down to earth (Q wandered on to the stage with a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale in his hand) and it would have been fun to meet them.

I know this really wasn’t a proper review but I don’t want to give too much away, in case you ever get a chance to see the show. It’s really not my type of thing…but I’ve seen every single episode of Impractical Jokers many times and laughed each time. It’s rare in life to get a little time when you get a few hours to set aside your worries and just laugh. I recommend it.


Week Three already.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t let my tendency to procrastinate get in the way of my MA, considering that I’m also doing a local writing class. However, life didn’t get the memo and decided to throw in its own spanners. Broken boiler, leaky bath and, worst of all, we lost our beautiful dog, Amber, who will forever be the ‘A’ in Holly A Harvey. I’m not going to lie: it’s been tough to concentrate; tough to focus on anything, really, but I kept my promise to stay on top of my coursework (albeit by the skin of my teeth, last week).

Strangely, I’m feeling invisible on this course. I’m doing the right things. Commenting on the forums; replying to other people (often just to show that I have read what they have to say) and doing the writing exercises. So why do I feel invisible? My own posts remain unanswered and my efforts with no feedback. Even the poem I so reluctantly submitted didn’t appear in the workspace this week. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t good, but it shows that I’m participating. I wonder if other people can see my posts and I’m starting to get a little uneasy. I already felt, after the first week, that my list of books that I read wasn’t up to scratch. I just don’t enjoy the classics (aside from To Kill A Mockingbird). I’m starting to wish I hadn’t travelled down this rabbit hole…