Friday, July 11, 2014

100 Days Project

It has been a tough couple of years. Not because of any outside circumstances - those are all wonderful, shamefully so - but because of me, and the idiosyncracies of my brain. When creative work isn't going well, I feel stunted and stammering and hobbled. It seeps out into everything else and makes it all a little off-kilter. Of course, the opposite is true as well - when work is going well, everything is magical. But it hasn't been going well for a while now.

If I had just followed my instincts and written the book without doubting myself, I would have something whole and developed now. Here come some metaphors. If I hadn't kept on opening the oven and poking at it, it would be baked by now. If I had just let myself say everything I wanted to say, it wouldn't be the stuttering thing it is.

I feel like the absolute least qualified person to be running my life. I should be in some kind of entry-level position, not in charge of the whole damn thing. I feel like I did when I started a new job and had to pretend to be competent while inwardly wobbling into a pile of pink, jellied uncertainty.


All that to say that I am struggling at the moment with writing past my self-doubt, panic and feelings of inadequacy. Hence my signing up for the 100 Days project.

I am going to write 1,000 words a day for 100 days. I already aim for this amount daily, but I end up fiddling about and editing and second-guessing myself, so for this project I want to sit down and just write until I have reached the quota - whether on Current Book, Side Project That Seems Terribly Appealing When Current Book Isn't Going Well, or Something Entirely Different. I hope that this will help me to push through all the self-doubt. Exposure therapy, sort of.

Here goes.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Work Week Chic interview at Stylish Sophisticate

The lovely Diya Liu interviewed me for Stylish Sophisticate. Check it out here!

Photography by Jonathan Reyes.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Black tie!

LOML and I went to a black tie event thrown by our friends Sandhya and Gaurav - because we don't get many chances to get this dressed up, I thought I would post the photos here to show our family and friends that we do indeed scrub up nice!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pony camp!

For a few weeks this summer I am working at my riding instructor's ranch as a counsellor at pony camp, in charge of arts and crafts (because I am still only learning to ride, and have barely cantered yet). It is a lot of fun - exhausting, because children, but fun. It's so good for me to do something creative without being able to control every aspect of the process, embracing the mess and letting the kids experiment and try new things rather than trying to force them to stick to my plans. I need to learn from them.

Staff shirt!

We made a crown for Charlie the barn cat.

Taco likes to help with the crafts.

Painting the horses!

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Life lessons from sidewalk chalk, and a new kitten

We spent a gorgeous Texas summer day yesterday celebrating a friend's birthday in his backyard, and I made a new friend - Aarini, a bright and creative little girl. We spent most of the evening drawing on the patio with sidewalk chalk.

We share a love of My Little Pony, so we drew a picture of Princess Celestia. And working with Aarini was an excellent lesson for me. When I made a mistake, she told me not to worry about it because even good draw-ers make mistakes and we can always fix it later. This is not a thought that occurs to me very often, because usually I think that making mistakes means I am a terrible, useless, No-Good person who probably shouldn't even bother trying, so thank you, Aarini.

And we have a new addition to our family arriving soon - Milo!

He is currently living with his foster-mum (and our friend), Claire, but after his neutering surgery will be coming home with us. The cats are unimpressed. The dog is excited.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thembi's Story - Help Needed

The Zimbabwe Educational Trust reached out to me asking if I could share this story and help them fundraise for an amazingly strong and resilient young woman in Zimbabwe who needs some assistance.  ZET is a wonderful organisation for many reasons - I am particularly impressed by how individual-focused their projects are, and how tangible their results. It's a really worthwhile cause.

When she was 15, Thembi (name changed for her security) was disowned by her mother's relatives and kicked out of her home after she reported her abuse at the hands of an uncle. After a legal battle, assisted by ZET and the Trinity Project, Thembi regained her home - but now she and her two-year-old daughter now have to survive on the $20 a month left over after the utility bills are paid.

Thembi also has cervical cancer, which is being treated, but which is a source of further expense (and, obviously, further emotional distress). Bills are mounting, and the legal process of executing Thembi's mother's estate will also be costly.

The Zimbabwe Educational Trust is working to help Thembi pay these bills and transfer her mother's house into her name. In their own words:

"We were introduced to Thembi on our most recent visit to Trinity Project. In cold, statistical terms Thembi is one of our success stories. We took on her case, overcome every hurdle, and fulfilled our 'project brief'. However, in this case there is so much more that we desperately need to do. We are better placed than other organisations to help Thembi as we know her well and have gained her trust. Unfortunately, our budget is so tight that when cases like this emerge there is simply no money available for us to go the extra mile."

You can read further details of Thembi's story here and here.

The best way to donate from overseas is through ZET's Global Giving page. The money will be funneled to Thembi by ZET through project partner, Trinity Project. Thank you so much for reading!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Baby Doll, or trying to write about hard things without over-thinking (possible trigger warning)

Mini Andrea

A big part of my depression and anxiety is tied into perfectionism, and so a big part of my recovery involves trying to let go of the need to do everything perfectly (which usually translates to paralysis and doing nothing at all). Writing and sharing first drafts is helpful in that area - usually I would polish everything to death, particularly something that is difficult for me to write about at all, but I want to become more comfortable with mess and imperfection. To that end, here's a stream-of-consciousness about something that happened when I was little that I find difficult to talk about, let alone write about. Thanks for putting up with and supporting me.


There are two of them, a boy and girl, thirteen and therefore luminous and exciting, more adult than the adults. Twins, too, so they are magical, like unicorns, and the girl has long dark hair down past her bum, almost, and the boy’s hair is white-blond. They are beautiful, beautiful, the most beautiful things in this hot flat with its slow fans stirring the carpet-smelling air and its plastic plant dying in the corner.
            “Just for a few days,” Mum is saying and “thank you so much,” and the other woman is saying that Mum can stay as long as she likes and it’s fine and of course she understands and OF COURSE she must stay as long as she likes and then she realizes she has said that twice and catches herself in giggles. Mum and this other woman look tired and faded next to the gloriousness of the Twins. The other woman has dark curly hair that makes her head into a triangle.
            The woman is speaking to the Twins now, They turn their Twin faces to her, luminous and unmarked. She is talking about you.
            “You’ll take care of her, won’t you? Good care.”
            You are a pink marshmallow of embarrassment, soft and and squishy under their stare. You wish you could just be in the room somehow, be a piece of furniture or a ghost so that you could watch them all without being seen. The fact that you are taking up space is a source of enormous shame. And they will see your big glasses and the haircut that mum gives you at home and find out somehow that you are only five years old, and then you will die, actually die. The girl is bored and perfect and says nothing, but you are grateful that she did not roll her eyes. The boy smiles, a proper smile and says, “I will take care of her, I promise,” and you go squiggly and warm in the head.

You will be staying in their room. There are bunk beds, two of them, which means they must have friends over to stay ALL THE TIME, probably. You think they must be very popular, because they are so beautiful and kind. Even the girl, who has not laughed at you even once. She climbs to the top of her bunkbed and says you can have the bottom one, but then the boy says you can have the bottom one of his, and so you don’t know what to do. You just stand there. The girl doesn’t care, though, and so the boy tells you to sleep on his bunkbed, and you put your things there. You have a soft toy with you, but you don’t get him out of the bag because you don’t want them to laugh. The girl has Barbies scattered all over the floor, and baby dolls, but no stuffed animals.

They play with you that afternoon – baby dolls, mostly, because the girl has so many. You have never played with them before because babies are boring to you, and you are most interested in the Barbies because they are tall with long hair and have cars and boyfriends and pretty clothes. You don’t want to be rude, though, and so you play with the baby dolls and with the He-Man and Action Man dolls that the boy has. Mostly, they just watch you play, because they are thirteen and sophisticated. The boy, oddly, seems more interested in you than his sister is. He helps you dress and undress the dolls, and even drips a little water on one of them from the bathroom tap so it looks like it has wet itself. He lets you name them. You think of the most elaborate names you can, to impress him. He is gentle with you, making his voice and fingers soft. He is kind. His sister gets bored and wanders off.

You play with one doll in particular, a blonde one with hard plastic limbs and head but a soft squishy body made of cloth stuffed with something. With her clothes off she looks strange, two different toys mushed together, but with clothes on she is a normal baby girl and nicer to cuddle than the ones that are hard plastic all over. She has eyes like blue glass with eyelids that open and shut when you move her, fringed with black lashes that stick straight out like the bristles of a brush and scratch your cheek when you hug her.

At night-time, there is a storm. You almost forgot about the night-time while you were playing during the day, but now it is here, and darker than usual because of the clouds and the power-cut. You are worried about using the toilet. You will have to ask where it is and then you will have to go there on your own, because you don’t know where Mum is. What if you make a bad noise, or, worse, a bad smell? Maybe you can hold it until you leave, whenever that will be. As soon as you think that, though, you need to go, really badly. You don’t say anything.

Mum is out with her friend – you don’t know where. The Twins are in charge of you. You had dinner all together before the adults went out, but no one has mentioned anything about a bath, and you don’t want to remind them. You get into your pyjamas. The power is out, but there is a greenish nightlight in the room for you that has batteries inside it.
            “I’ll tuck you in,” says the boy. His sister is in bed already, turned so that her back is to you. It is raining very hard outside now.

The boy tells you that you are going to play a game. You are going to pretend to be married. You feel a balloon of giggles in your chest.
            “Sean, stoppit,” says the sister from her bed.
            But he tells you that he is your husband and that he will look after you, like husbands do, and kiss you good-night. He kisses you on the cheek and you squirm. You have never been this happy. He tells you that he will kiss you whenever you want. You just have to ask. You feel that balloon of laughter again, and you ask, feeling a thrill of wrongness because something about this feels dangerous and exciting all at once. He kisses your cheek again.
            “Sean. Stoppit,” says the sister from her bed.
            You and the boy are giggling together. You are both so happy. He kisses both cheeks several times, leaving them damp and hot, and then climbs up into the top bunk. You hear his feet squeak on the rungs of the ladder and see the pale flash of his pyjama bottoms, then the bulge above you as he settles into bed. The storm is getting louder. If you are scared, he says, just tell him and he will come down.
            “SEAN. SHUT UP.”
            There is a flash of lightning so bright that, even through the curtains, the whole room goes white and featureless, stretching off into forever in every direction. The thunder comes right after, so close that you can’t even count ‘one chongololo, two chongololo,’ like Mum taught you. You are not scared, not really, but you call out to the boy to come down and look after you like he said he would. You never ask for things, because you don’t want to take up space, but he said that you could. The sister groans and you know you are annoying her and you turn into that marshmallow again, but then the boy is climbing down, squeak squeak on the rungs, and you smell his boy-smell as he climbs into bed next to you. The sister has decided to pretend to be asleep now, breathing too-deep angry breaths that you can hear over the thunder. He chose you over his magical Twin. The excitement balloon is fat in your chest.

In all the commotion, you forgot that you needed to pee. You tell him. He kisses you on the cheek and says he will take you. You feel so cherished. He walks you down the corridor that smells of carpet and paint, and he takes you to the toilet. He goes inside with you, which is embarrassing and you wish he wouldn’t. You stand in front of the toilet, waiting for him to go outside again.
            “It’s okay,” he says.
            You climb up onto the toilet seat and pull down your pants. He is watching. You know he is not meant to be watching but he is smiling at you and perhaps this is what husbands do, and no one has told you, because Mum doesn’t have one. You can’t pee, at first, but if you close your eyes you can pretend that no one is there and make it come out. You are embarrassed at the sound of it, and glad that it is raining and thundering outside so that it is not even louder. When you open your eyes you have finished. You can’t quite reach the toilet roll, but he gets to it before you can and rips off some squares. You are going to take it, but then he reaches in and wipes, and Mum does this sometimes so perhaps this is all fine, but when you imagine telling her you feel sick. He flushes the toilet for you and you pull up your pants. You don’t want to go back into the bed but he has been so kind to you, and so you go with him, and you get back into the bed, and you pretend to be married.

You only stay one night, after all. Mum says thank you and goodbye and makes you say thank you and goodbye as well. You can’t look at the twins. You mumble at your feet, letting the words fall onto the carpet. He gives you the baby doll you played with yesterday, the one that is squishy in the middle. One of its eyes has cracked open and the other is shuttered, but when you shake the doll they right themselves.
            “Look,” he says, and points. He has written your name in Magic Marker across the chest, on the fabric part, in capital letters. “See? It’s for you.”
            “Geez, Sean,” says his sister. She is pissed off, you can tell. It was her doll, after all. But she is too old to play with it, and so her mother hushes them both and she pretends to be gracious about it, saying that she would have given it to you anyway. Sean kisses you on the cheek again to say goodbye and Mum says he is a sweet boy.
“That was nice of them,” says Mum when you drive away. You can feel the doll, squashy and fat under your arm, but you don’t want to look at it.