The Last Time

– Excuse me brain, do you have a minute?

– Yeah, sure I’m between tasks right now, what’s up?

– You know we had that talk after Mslexicon that we wanted to scale back on the workload?

– Yeah, I remember, but the plan was gonna be that we did a bit of everything, right?

– Indeed. Except, I realise now there’s more work to do with the practical lifestyle change guys over there than was first anticipated… and I need a rest. You know, like proper ‘away from all the writing…’

[laughs] So all those unconscious signals we’ve been sending for months finally got noticed, eh? [shakes head] I’ll give you credit, a year ago you’d have been too far up your own arse to notice. This is definitely progress. So, what you wanna change?

excellentquestion

Hi there, novel. It’s been [looks at the calendar] a week since I touched you last. Right now, our two introduced protagonists are in a car park off the A13 hacking into a BT exchange to ascertain their motivation and to provide some exposition. There’s no way this story’s being written in time for a September deadline. You and I both know this. I’ll reset the schedules tomorrow and that poetry I’ve been tinkering with can come to the front.

It’s okay to admit your shortcomings. Right now, what matters more than the words is your own mental health. You feel that sensation as you type this and built up pressure slowly releases? That’s the bigger issue to fix. You still haven’t addressed it. If you don’t do that now, trust me, lots of stuff is just gonna disintegrate later down the line. Therefore, take the poetry and let it help you. It’s the therapy you need right now.

regroup.gif

It’s okay though novel, I’ll be back. Lemme finally get myself in some kind of workable order. It shouldn’t take long. We’ll pull down the schedules tomorrow and sort out the issues. I’m gonna go see my best mate next week, that’s gonna be awesome, and remember to take that gift I got as an apology for standing her up last month, coz head and heart still don’t work properly in tandem. We can totally fix this.

The poetry knows what it has to do. I’ve been watching it quietly, in the background, preparing our working space. It understands the pain and has a unique, special way to help me make progress. It’s been the unsung heroine around here for most of the year. I should bring some gifts too, when we both finally sit down. Knowing what matters most is really important, especially if what is yearned is an authentic voice.

I’m glad we had this chat, brain. It’s been REALLY helpful.

Money

Today, I am reminded of how our view of the World depends entirely on where we happen to be looking at the time.

I watched a fairly passionate discussion via Twitter over the weekend on the best means of selling oneself: a lot came out of it, not all of it was easy to read. It is abundantly apparent when you meet someone for whom Twitter isn’t a lively discussion platform. They’re often the same type of writer who inevitably look down on self-publishing as largely irrelevant. If you don’t have an agent, what are you even doing?

Some days, from where I sit, a lifetime of empathy and understanding is missing between those who publish ‘traditionally’ and their counterparts, who are often digital natives. Bridging the gap between these two continents can appear literally impossible, but there are those who try. When you watch these brilliant souls being taken to task or being belittled for their industry, it is beyond depressing.

In the end, all anybody wants is to be successful. That goes without saying, but I will say that a lot of respect was lost for both the individuals who employed an automated service to try and sell me a selection of their wares via Direct Message, as if I wouldn’t realise they’d paid a third party service to do just that. If I didn’t know what this was, I might believe they’d taken the time to target me specifically too.

Except, in both cases, all this was promotion for content I then had zero interest in consuming. Looking at their Twitter feeds, there was no believable discussion there either, just more advertising. This is ‘pretend conversation’ that is immediately muted, and then blocked, because these people really don’t understand what Twitter is, and it sure as hell isn’t Facebook or Instagram. Your methods will not work here.

isittimeyet.gif

When the time comes, and it will, I promise faithfully not to ram my work down your throats. Effort will be made to create interesting and unique ways to advertise myself. It sure as hell will not be a random, impersonal message into anybody’s inbox. The only way stuff ever changes is if you decide to go out on a limb and do something amazing. Those are the things worth remembering, whilst the DM’s are long forgotten.

True stars will shine without need for extra illumination…

July Short Story: Attitude

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during July 2019 via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Attitude

“You know the meme, right?
*Record scratch*
*Freeze frame* 

Yup, this is me. I just became the most successful female YouTuber of the last twelve months. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation, right? It was all a massive mistake.

I shouldn’t be here at all.

Now that our court case has successfully concluded, this story can be told as the truth it is: no misdirection, no hijacking or derailing by other people. I get to explain that sometimes, honestly is the only way to go, determination and belief become their own palpable rewards. Those of you who’ve followed my channel since it began will know all of this, of course. It started as a joke that evolved into something far more important, and ultimately serious. Without you guys, and the journey we all took together, I wouldn’t even be talking about this now.

For everybody else, this started with a misunderstanding. My full name is Ellie Frances Cameron but as parents were divorced in my late teens, the married part’s dropped to make dad realise just how much of a dick he was for cheating on mum. I still haven’t forgiven him either. As a result, I recorded my first YouTube video as a rant about him: how I was so upset about what had happened between them. There wasn’t enough confidence to use my own face however and so I invented a cartoon character to speak for me. That was the moment when Merrie was born.

That video was the first of many game changers: when it hit thirty thousand views, something fundamental inside me altered. No longer were my mental issues something that I alone shared. Others understood those feelings: willingly prepared to listen, support, offer perspective. Of course, there were my own share of negative, destructive individuals who tried to derail the process. I simply ignored them, comparing their actions to those of my father. They were petty and selfish, only interested in destroying what was becoming an essential part of coping.

As I did and focused only on positives, the viewership rose. I wasn’t a huge success, anything but: there existed a camaraderie however that didn’t seem to be obvious with other people I’d watch or follow myself via Social media. Everybody else seemed obsessed with their success. Then it seemed like a good idea to set up an email address for what was rapidly evolving into something other people wanted to be a part of. It was a bit of a faff, but a Google Mail one was selected, linked to the rebranding I wanted to do both for myself and my YouTube channel.

What was not immediately apparent was how similar this address was to another YouTuber, one considerably more successful than me. This wasn’t their public contact address either, but one used to communicate with companies plus potential sponsors for his successful film criticism channel. The first time an email arrived for me by mistake it was a simple task to politely reply and point out the error. The person concerned eventually ended up following my channel, becoming a reasonably vocal supporter of my own work and videos in the process: they weren’t alone…

A slow trickle of mails continued for the next six months, and each time I politely pointed out the mistake, more followers appeared. This was in stark contrast to the original person these individuals were trying to contact. He had a reputation for being difficult and unhelpful. Then came the day when a large media organisation contacted me, thinking I was him, wanting to interview me about YouTube and their role within it. For a long time I sat, wondered if this would be the moment when I’d point out to someone they’d made a mistake and then regret it.

So, I took a chance. I composed a long, well-thought out email, telling my story as smartly as possible, sharing the best parts of my channel and being honest about how they’d ended up contacting me in error. I asked the researcher if they’d consider me as worthy of an interview. When no answer was forthcoming after a few days, brain put experience down to lost opportunity and moved on. It turns out a considerable amount of drama was unfolding that was not immediately apparent, until my namesake broke cover with a brand new video which changed everything.

Film criticism was dispensed with, full-on rant directed at me plus the fact I’d quite obviously reproduced similar address to ensure mail was intercepted and never received. The media organisation has pointed out how I’d redirected them back after the error… he then imploded. I watched the video very carefully, several times, as follower count began to rise on the back of ensuing drama. A reassuring calm appeared as it became apparent that this idiot had no power over me at all. A new Google Mail address was registered before my next video was filmed.

The response to his claims was refuted within 24 hours, with documentary proof, that he himself provided. He’d complained about issues getting the original handle he’d wanted for his site, because it transpired I’d taken it first. My address, registered several weeks before his. If he’d registered his show’s title and not a clever version of his own name, there wouldn’t have been a problem. I’d thought about taking it as an example, showing that in my rebuttal, but simply indicated it was possible: blaming others for his own shortcomings seemed unfair.

That online defence was posted 9am on Saturday: by Sunday lunchtime my subscription base exceed the man who I’d exposed as a liar. I’d created a bloody war of words: genuinely afraid of what being honest might have now begun. Then, via text message, came unexpected intervention. A friend’s brother, lawyer with a keen interest in online affairs, saw potential to make a name for himself. He’d been digging on my combatant’s history, legal precedent and the chances of getting a case into the courts. The truth should have real consequence for everyone online.

The rest, of course, is history. You’ll have read the details of my appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice yourself, know why I had to ignore comments and not talk in public at all about the case so I did not perjure myself. In the end being honest is what matters most of all. Today, we take a new step into a wider Universe. The media organisation who inadvertently caused the drama have asked me to tell this story on a wider stage. We are at a studio ten minutes from where my mum’s lived her entire life. She’s proud of me and that means a great deal.

You’ll see me on national TV in a couple of weeks… and after that, who knows what might happen? Anything’s possible. I appreciate you sticking with me through everything. The people who support and encourage here will never be forgotten. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Carrie puts down the phone; her first time watching that video. Doing it here, before I’m interviewed for this documentary on Online Celebrity for the BBC is ironic, I suppose. It’s an odd way to make the leap from PC to TV: I’ve learnt to adapt to change quickly, as now has she. My lover is still sceptical I’m capable of turning this situation to my advantage: ‘You can’t just walk into the room and convince a bunch of total strangers you’re the Next Big Thing, nobody will believe you!’ she told me yesterday.

‘Just you watch me. Just watch’ I’d replied.

It’s possible to be kind but determined. I can be capable and yet grasp what needs to be done to achieve something that a year ago seemed like a distant dream. My career goals, on my terms, and without the need to be mean or aggressive. This is best future, entirely in my hands.

We’ve been here since 10am; it appears they’re almost ready for us. This set seemed an odd choice of backdrop at first until it became apparent their aesthetic for the series was based on evolution: how the old fashioned methods of communication are updating at frightening rates. Except, in the middle of all this is someone I’ve not seen for years. It takes a moment to recognise him but yes, that’s David. I can’t quite believe that the awkward 16 year old who came out on his birthday is here, that yet again serendipity appears to be working in my favour.

He gave me the courage to admit that I was different. His voice has been one of the most strident on my YouTube channel, despite us not having met in a decade. David promised he’d find a way to make time out of an incredibly busy schedule to meet up: now his job brings him here. From across the room he signs effortlessly: “Anything is possible, never forget that. You break rules, rising star: everybody will know how powerful you are. I am proud to call you my friend.”

I am the deaf girl who has made good, ready to take her next step into the unknown…


 

Play to Win

It’s been three weeks (almost) since Mslexicon and my brain’s finally beginning to integrate what happened then with the reality of now, plus my life as a writer. Tomorrow is August and I want to do my damnedest to capitalise on what is undoubtedly alteration in mental attitude: this is not the same as what it was before. The change that counselling facilitated is manifesting in many differing ways.

I don’t need to have all the answers to start making a difference.

racheldoes.gif

The whole point of starting this blog (when it existed over on Blogger, how many years ago was THAT) was to tell stories. That still happens, but starting tomorrow a great deal more thought and effort will go into the process. It’s not like I wasn’t doing that before, OF COURSE, but there’s the need now to work that little bit harder. This isn’t about saving the best stuff for publication any more. It’s doing my best work every day.

If something ends up not being good enough, then it simply isn’t completed. I’ve been tempted, in the past, to rush things to a conclusion under the misguided apprehension that having something is better then nothing, and whilst that occasionally is helpful for self esteem purposes, it is not successfully developing my craft to a standard I’m happy with. That means being honest with myself.

notgood.gif

Having said all that, I doubt many people will even notice the changes being implemented. Most are for my own benefit, or relate to stuff outside the sphere of writing. If you follow my personal blog you’ll see a lot of the #accountability hashtag over the efforts being made to physically streamline myself for the journey ahead. Without the physical strength, mental fortitude is a lot, LOT harder.

It’s also my antidote to writing. This used to be my hobby, but is now pretty much the job, and therefore something else has to happen instead of that as relaxation. Exercise allows self-esteem to grow, confidence to be nurtured and success in places other than through someone else’s definition of progress. I’m competing with myself, and that’s a useful metaphor that can be dragged from the real world into my imaginary ones.

Anything that helps me become a better person is utterly worth the effort.

You May Be Right

This weekend, I learnt about Casuistry:

Casuistry (/ˈkæzjuɪstri/) is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances.

Wikipedia

Why the sudden interest? Well, it’s all the fault of a podcast my husband likes listening to, with a realisation that religion isn’t as black and white as perhaps I’ve always assumed was the case.

Learning how to think differently is undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened in my life this year. It isn’t just objectivity that’s improved in this time, but the ability to look at situations in a sympathetic manner: effectively, being less harsh on myself in the process. My personal approach to problem-solving, it transpires, is not far from that of the Jesuits. Knowing this method has a name is, frankly, a bit of a revelation.

It’s also not an exact solution:

Casuistry is a method of case reasoning especially useful in treating cases that involve moral dilemmas. It is a branch of applied ethics. It is also criticised for the use of inconsistent—or outright specious—application of rule to instance.

That needs a wee bit more definition before we go on:

specious

As became apparent in the Podcast above, and the next one in the series (which talks about contraception and the invention of the Pill) you can solve problems in any number of ways: what one person considers morally wrong may be the polar opposite to what somebody else would consider as problematic. Experience is the key to how we all look at solutions: the wider a world view, the more likely is that decisions are made based on optimal criteria.

It’s why the predisposition of so many people to live in their own bubbles is a growing concern: it is life experience that allows a person the opportunity to give reasoned, responsible input and therefore make decisions based on the most diverse set of perceived situations. I’ve often been accused of overthinking my approach to life in the past, and those people are right. To strike the right balance is a incredibly tough ask sometimes.

So, what has all this got to do with writing?

marylyn.gif

When I was being interviewed on BBC 5Live about Places of Poetry, there was some discussion over how emotional poetry ought to be in reference to the subject matters in hand. Learning how to write objectively, especially when it comes to a form where economy of words can make a real difference, allows you the ability to problem solve a lot of situations where emotion must exist but not overwhelm.

It is the different between an impassioned feeling and a full-on rant: subtlety and clever word use will allow you to create vastly different solutions to the same problem. That’s also true in longer-form work: two protagonists are talking about a deeply personal event, that one feels uncomfortable about. How does one create a feeling of empathy between them? Is that even required with these two characters… how do their own moral compasses deal with casuistry within the framework of your narrative?

To understand your words, you must begin to understand yourself.

anyofthat

Part of the reason why my fiction has suffered so much over the years undoubtedly has to do with being unable to really give emotional depth to situations and characters. I thought that this would be easily remedied but, it transpires, there is a lot of work to do. Helping myself expand as a writer isn’t just understanding tenses or the importance of narrative flow. There needs to be a more spiritual, philosophical element to proceedings too.

The best writing is that which is compelling and ultimately life changing, and to do that one must be prepared to alter parts of our own being in the process.

The Luxury Gap

This post should have happened on Friday, but it didn’t. My personal blog has recorded the sordid details, should you be interested as to why: with time and space to deal with the fallout, it’s a salutatory reminder that dealing with anxiety and inability doesn’t ever go away, it simply becomes easier to rationalise. You’d think after the week I’d had that everything would be fantastic as a result. That’s not how this works.

Being mindful of self is the reminder needed to move forward.

There’s a lot that can be done to understand why self is as problematic as it undoubtedly is: some of you may stress at the amount of self-help flotsam that undoubtedly ends up online, but an awful lot of it is incredibly useful. The idea, of course, is to take everything initially under consideration: some advice may simply not be what is needed. It’s the equivalent of my exercise class trainer stating “this move may not work for you, here are the alternatives.” It’s your job to know what’s best at that moment and then give it a try.

This is one of the reasons why it’s important for me to follow as wide a range of followers via Social media as possible. It’s not about believing that somehow my experience represents a typical one for everybody else either. There’s so much difference in the world, such a wealth of individual experiences. I cannot possibly expect to be able to understand them all, but they demand both respect and empathy regardless. The only way that changes is if someone is actively hostile; then there are other paths to tread.

Fortunately for me, there’s an awful lot of love in my life right now.

I’ve spent an awfully long time not granting myself permission to be fallible. It’s okay not to write when you say you will, or to take time to do other stuff. It’s not sensible to compare yourself to anybody else either, especially if you’re trying to be realistic about objectives and goals. The path that you tread is very much individual to you. Don’t let others define you, and certainly don’t allow negativity to drag your dreams down to the gutter. You are enough. It is okay to get stuff wrong. Rejection as a writer is part of a path you need to tread.

Learning what you are is all part of the experience.

Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.