Short Story: On the Edge

The pale pink light gave the room a heavenly glow. Siobhan lay in silence, watching the cavity of her chest rise, then fall, then rise again. The dripping noise from outside her window had stopped; the rain must have finally subsided. It had kept her awake most of the night, which meant that she was not jolted from the security of darkness to give Aoife her night feed. Michael was supposed to be on duty tonight, but Siobhan had supposed that there was no point in waking him up. He’d have only been cranky, and God knows there’d been enough bloody rows between them in the last few weeks to last a lifetime.

‘You’re crazy, woman,’ he’d said to her at the peak of yet another row where she had threatened to leave for good. She’d even had her cabin-sized wheelie packed beside her, although she wasn’t sure what she had put into it. The decision to leave had been, as in times previous, a spur of the moment one, made because she couldn’t bear those nasty voices in her head. This time had been different, however. She had really hurt him.

‘If you hadn’t wanted your precious baby so much, I’d still be normal and not a bloody psycho,’ she’d screamed at him as she walked away, the sound of her own sobs failing to drown out Aoife’s.

She’d come back of course, hours later, and she knew Michael was relieved, even if he didn’t want to show it. They should’ve tried to talk it out there and then, but they were both tired from the fight. The constant fighting. Fighting to make it through the days, the hours. This had been exactly three weeks before, and now the pair of them were walking on eggshells. It infuriated her how he always tried to say the right thing, always tried to give her space. If he could find it in himself to be as much of a cunt as she had been, then she wouldn’t need to carry so much guilt.

A crappy mother, a crappy wife, thought Siobhan as she peeled off the bedclothes and slid into the tracksuit bottoms that she’d strewn on her bedside locker just a few hours before. She picked up one of Michael’s hoodies from the shelf, not because of sentimentality but because the excess material hid her grotesque frame, the extra pouch that now hung around her waist, like an internal bum-bag. She inhaled as she peered into the cot at her sleeping daughter, longing to feel that special connection. Aoife’s thick lips smiled, something which Kathleen, Siobhan’s mother-in-law had insisted was just wind. Well of course it was just wind, Siobhan had thought. It seemed that Aoife was willing to settle in anyone’s arms but in the arms of her mother. Siobhan didn’t know how she felt towards Aoife, but it wasn’t love. It wasn’t hate, either. It was nothing.

What sort of mother feels nothing towards their own baby? A baby that she had yearned for since she was given her first baby doll by Santa at the age of just five years old? Three years of expensive and gruelling IVF had given Siobhan a daughter more beautiful than she could have ever imagined, and yet at that moment, Siobhan didn’t feel that she was cut out for years of self-sacrifice, of putting somebody else first.

Trying to stop herself sniffling in the dark, Siobhan padded towards the door, watching the sleepy scene. It was almost romantic, like a Cow & Gate ad. A gentle inner voice tried to persuade her to take back off her clothes, to lie down and try to sleep, but Siobhan thought it was too late now. She crept into the kitchen and rummaged through the medicine box, pocketing every painkiller she could find.

Soon this pain would be over.

Soon she would be over.

Despite the high winds earlier in the night, Siobhan hadn’t expected to be peppered with cold, misty rain when she opened the front door. She smiled to herself as she momentarily considered bringing an umbrella. Ha! She thought. People who are dead inside have little call for umbrellas.

She walked over the Whitehall bridge. The road was gleaming black from all the rain, and the usually busy Daingean Road was quiet. She had it planned: she would walk a few miles down the canal, then she would take all the pills until she felt a little delirious. At that moment she would succumb eternally to the murkiness, allowing herself to sink to the bottom. She supposed that people might be sad for a few days – her sister Aine would take it particularly hard – but in that moment she was grateful that her parents were no longer alive to feel the pain. She wished that she was more religious, that she believed that she would be reunited with her mam, whose voice she yearned to hear with every fibre of her being. But she wasn’t.

The wind was gathering pace again, a perfect time to venture nearer the edge. This way, she wouldn’t have to jump. She might have been just out for a midnight stroll when she was blown in. Nobody would have to know. She was just about to step closer to the edge when a gravelly voice behind her startled her:

‘Wild night to be out for a stroll.’

At first, Siobhan thought she was hearing things, because surely nobody in their right minds (she didn’t fall under that definition, she supposed) would be out at this hour? When she turned around, the sight of a shadow startled her. Despite the wind, she could detect the metallic smell of vodka from his breath. Yet this person was not staggering: he was trudging along slowly, as if carrying a great weight on his shoulders. She felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck, ready to go on the defensive.

‘Mind your own business,’ she said at last. Couldn’t he see that she wanted to be left alone? It occurred to her that he could be dangerous, maybe capable of rape or murder. But then again, wasn’t everyone? ‘I don’t have any money. Leave me alone.’

She half-jogged further up the canal path. It never occurred to her to walk back towards home, where there would be somebody waiting to protect her. What she did realise, however, is that she didn’t feel that she was worth protecting. She also noted that while she wanted to disappear, dissolve into the earth as though she never existed, she needed to have control over how it happened. God knows, she thought, it’s the only thing I seem to have any control over at the moment.

Her footsteps slowed, and when she was outside her own head she heard the hesitant footsteps behind her. The aroma of cigarette smoke was infused in the sharp October breeze. She sat down on the hill outside the old Daly farmhouse, inwardly cursing herself for doing so as the wetness crept in, leaving her derriere saturated. The violent wind had subsided; all she was left with was silence and self-disgust.

After a few moments, her companion crouched down beside her. He smelt of sweat, of old urine, of hopelessness. Bloody typical, she thought. Trust me to meet a drunk. Her partner inhaled, which started a violent coughing fit.

‘You ok?’ she asked, forgetting herself.

The man nodded. ‘Be grand in a minute,’ he said, wiping the tears from his eyes. ‘I’m well used to it by now.’ He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a long can.

‘You should quit the fags,’ Siobhan said, immediately hating herself for her own self-righteousness. Who was she to talk when she had the entire contents of her medicine box in her pocket, ready to take in one go?

‘I probably should do a lot of things,’ he answered her, his voice quiet. Siobhan heard the snapping of the can, and her stomach turned at the smell of fresh beer, presumably cheap. ‘You shouldn’t be out here so late. These parts can be dangerous for the likes of you.’ The beer trickled down his throat. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

‘What do you mean, ‘the likes of me’?’

He waved his hand, fanning her words away. ‘You know exactly what I mean.’ He rummaged in his pocket. ‘Smoke?’

‘No.’ Her voice was firm. ‘I don’t smoke.’

‘Ha. It must be hard to be so bloody perfect.’

Siobhan was relieved to smell the smoke; sitting so close to him, her bloodhound-like sense of smell detected urine and old underarm sweat, with the slightest hint of shit. She yearned to escape, to be at one with the swirling brown water in front of her. She took a deep breath, then another. Already she felt like she was suffocating. It wasn’t the feeling of comfort that she had been looking for.

‘Perfect. Ha! If only.’ For the first time since they met, Siobhan considered how she must appear in her companion’s eyes: a silly little damsel in distress, a privileged housewife who couldn’t possibly know what real hardship felt like. ‘You don’t know anything about me.’ She stood up, putting her hand in her pocket, feeling safer as she held the pills in her hand. As long as she had a plan, however warped that plan might be, she felt grounded. More grounded than she had felt in a long time.

Her stomach turned to bile as she thought about events earlier that day. It had started as an average day, or at least what she now considered to be average. She found it difficult to believe that just a matter of months before she was the manager of the Tullamore branch of the Bank of Ireland, bringing in quite a generous pay cheque. They’d squirrelled most of it away, of course, being sensible and thrifty. Aoife had been a surprise, a most welcome surprise. Her mere existence was testament to the fact that even the most highly paid and expensive doctors can get things wrong sometimes.

Aoife had awoken at six that morning, demanding her morning feed. Siobhan should have been well-rested; Aoife had slept since half nine the night before. Instead Siobhan had laid awake all night, unable to turn off her brain which was thinking at breakneck speed. What if she had dropped Aoife when she nearly tripped over that loose tile in the bathroom earlier? Aoife’d had a tiny bit of red in her spit-up earlier which Siobhan had assumed was from the strawberry she’d eaten earlier that day, but now she was worried that it was blood. She should’ve checked, and she didn’t. What sort of mother would allow her own child to bleed to death?

Siobhan couldn’t live with the constant inner panic anymore. It didn’t take a genius to work out that Aoife would be better off being looked after by someone more experienced, someone who would appreciate her for who she was. She warmed inside as she thought of Aoife’s blonde eyelashes, the tiny half-moons of her fingernails, the dimples that appeared when she smiled. Aoife was perfect. She deserved better than the fighting, than a mother who didn’t know what she was doing.

Another hacking cough disturbed Siobhan from her daydreaming. She stood up, and adjusted her jacket.

‘Anyway, it was nice to meet you. I really must…’

‘It was this very spot,’ the man said to her, gesturing towards the canal. ‘Where they found her. You know, I come here every night, try to work out why… She didn’t even leave a note.’ He wiped his chin on the sleeve of his jacket. ‘They say she killed herself, but I reckon that’s bullshit. She had three kids… she was happy.’ He lit a cigarette, the blue threaded smoke lingering in the calmness; the wind had passed, as Siobhan had known it would. ‘I’d only seen her the night before. She was smiling, laughing, dolled up to the nines…’

‘Who was?’ She only asked because she assumed it rude not to.

‘Karen. Oh, Karen. Now I’ve made a lot of mistakes – I’m sure that’s obvious – but she definitely wasn’t one of them.’ He pulled hard on the cigarette, as if he was seeking comfort. ‘She had it all, believe it or not – looks, brains – her mother’s doing of course.’ He crushed the empty can into the palm of his hand. ‘You hear stories, don’t you? Tell-tale signs, people losing interest in their lives -goodbye notes – we got none of that. No explanation.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ She didn’t know what else to say.

He shrugged. ‘They say men don’t talk. I don’t talk about Karen. I don’t know… maybe I’m hurt, ashamed… She could’ve fucking said something.’ The trees rustled gently in the breeze. ‘In the beginning, it was so simple. She’d been selfish, a coward – I thought maybe it’d been some silly woman hormonal thing, but they have pills for that now, don’t they?’

Siobhan scoffed. ‘You men are all the same. You think that solutions are so simple. And that we’re hysterical little women who know nothing about hardship. You have no idea what it’s like to have no control over your emotions, having to act all normal when your head is completely frazzled.’ Her voice started to break as she thought of her daughter at home. ‘How it feels to be completely useless and to have someone depend on you…’ Her chest shook with hacking sobs; she could barely catch her breath. The man looked up at her, nodding his head.

‘There,’ he said. ‘It’s out there. You’ve said it. So you’re a crap mum.’ His candidacy surprised her. ‘I suppose you beat her black and blue when she cries…’

‘Well, of course not…’ She was taken aback.

‘Or spend your money on high heels instead of baby formula.’

Siobhan’s fists clenched. ‘How dare you…’

‘Or head off for evenings out and leave bubs home alone. Leave a bottle in the cot, be grand.’

She laughed at the absurdity of the last one. She knew he was joking now.

‘You’d be surprised,’ he shrugged. ‘I’ve seen it. But Karen wasn’t like that, and neither are you.’ He stood up, wiping his hands on his thighs. ‘Go home. Get a nice hot bath.’ Siobhan screeched as he slid his hand into her oversized jacket pocket, taking out the pills and throwing them into the canal. ‘Things will be better in the morning. You’ll see.’

‘How did you know?’

‘Woman, you’ve been rooting in your pocket all fecking night.  This isn’t my first time to do this, you know. After Karen, I swore never again. Not on my watch, anyway. If you wanted to kill yourself, you would’ve done it by now. We’ve been here all night.’ He nodded at the orange rising sun and grinned. ‘For all you knew, I could’ve helped you. Murdered you. Look at the state of me. Wouldn’t blame you for making that assumption.’

‘I guess we can never know what’s going on in other people’s lives.’

‘Nope.’ He started to walk away. ‘Unless we choose to tell people. How can people save us if they don’t know that we’re drowning?’

She watched him walk away, and how he walked with a sense of purpose. She supposed he had nowhere to go. But, she realised, he had done an important thing that night – he had saved her life. She was still shaking when she got to the front door. A white-faced Michael greeted her, his face filling with relief as he beheld hers.

‘Thank God,’ he said as she broke down, wrapping his protective arms around her. ‘I was so worried, I thought you might’ve done something stupid…’ Both their faces were awash with tears. ‘I’m so sorry… I’m so glad you’re okay.’ He squeezed her closer to him.

And then Siobhan whispered the words she had always found so hard to say:

‘Michael, I’m not okay. I think I need help.’

He nodded, and finally Siobhan felt the weightlessness she had been craving.

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Unsocial Media?

I’m in writing mode now. But ten minutes ago I was flitting mindlessly around Twitter and Facebook, seeing what was happening in the world. You don’t need to tell me this is a waste of my time, of course I know that. By ‘waste of my time’ I naturally mean ‘waste of my writing time.’

A few months ago, I felt so guilty about the length of time I was spending on social media that I deleted both my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I think this lasted all of one day before I panicked and reinstated them. It’s sort of disturbing to know that ‘do you want to permanently delete your account?’ doesn’t actually mean what you’d think it would, as even after choosing this option your account can be restored.

It’s depressing how social media owns us. We all know how sharing pictures of our kids and our houses and our beautiful pets can make us look needy, narcissistic and fake. Who hasn’t been scrolling through their Facebook or Twitter feed at one stage or another and thought, ‘oh my God, this is a pile of rubbish, why am I still on social media?’

We’re told that social media is ruining the ability of people to make real-life friendships and conversations. Well, I’m sorry, but social media is not the sole scapegoat for people being lonely. I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t live in the same town as any of my family members. For many of us, it’s not a case of going up the road for a quiet natter with family or friends (I have one close friend living in town at the moment). People are out living their own lives in every corner of the world, and it’s social media that is keeping them all connected.

Social media has helped me in three areas of my life: as a mother, a writer and a person with a disability. When Ali was born, my friend added me to some wonderful parenting groups where clueless first time parents like me were asking questions about parenthood. Often I don’t comment: instead I ‘lurk’, nodding silently in agreement with other mums. In fact it was another mother’s open admission on Facebook that she was struggling with PND that ultimately motivated me to get the help I needed, take care of myself and write a blog about it. Knowing that I was not alone really helped. I also joined a reflux survivors’ page when Ali had reflux and seeing other parents come out the other side really gave me hope during this difficult time.

As a writer, being present on social media can be both rewarding and tiring. I’m still trying to find the balance between suave self-promotion and being interesting without just being plain annoying. In terms of rounding up an audience for my blog, I’ve found Twitter to be especially useful. Like most Twitter users, I haven’t a  clue who half of my followers are, but some have proven to be really useful contacts. For example I met a lady on Twitter who helped me find some secondary reading for writing my novel. I met another lady who’s teaching me about chocolate and making material accessible for the visually impaired.

Finally, social media is opening up the world for so many people with disabilities right now. Whereas before peer support mainly involved occasional meetings or coffee mornings, people with disabilities can now communicate with each other on a daily basis. This is so important given that there are nearly three thousand people with disabilities living in inappropriate nursing homes or hospitals and thousands more, be it through lack of transport or Personal Assistance, trapped in their own homes. Social media is becoming an increasingly popular tool for PWD challenging injustice in their everyday lives, and as a result, our stories are being highlighted by mainstream sources including local and national newspapers. People who were once voiceless are now becoming very vocal, all from the comfort of their own homes. The inability to get out does not necessarily mean the inability to participate, to count, and to matter.

So although I should probably curtail my time skulking around on Facebook and Twitter, I’m not ashamed to acknowledge that social media has helped me become a better mother, a more conscientious writer and a fiercer activist. I’m so grateful to be part of a virtual community that accepts and helps me. It certainly doesn’t beat face-to-face contact but it does make the world that little bit more accessible. Not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone.

 

Ps. If you enjoyed this blog, ‘like’ and ‘share’. Joking!

Pps. Well, half-joking anyway

Man, I feel like a writer…

I am writing this blog today in the hope that after I do so, the inspiration that I need to fix the middle of my novel will magically appear and afterwards my office will feel like it’s full of unicorns and rainbows.

It’s been two years since I left my job and decided that I wanted to be a writer. I wasn’t under any illusion that doing this would ever make me rich. It wasn’t the money I was seeking, or fame or recognition or anything like that. It was the sense of feeling useful, productive, being able to see on a blank page exactly what I’d produced that day. Having tangible goals. Doing the unthinkable and throwing myself out there, feeding myself to the wolves.

One thing that I did wrongly anticipate was having a real sense of pride in what I do. I’m ashamed to say that although I try to convince myself otherwise on a daily basis, part of me feel like a giant fraud. Especially when people ask how the novel is getting on (‘How long have you been writing it now? Two years?! You must be nearly finished.’) Nope, nowhere even close. I now realise that I probably should’ve started with something slightly more manageable, like a collection of short stories, but I can’t backpedal now. I’ll finish this book if it kills me! (and by the looks of it, it probably will).

Another frustrating aspect of my life right now is that I can’t decide whether I should focus on activism or writing more. Obviously, in writing the novel, I’m tackling both at the same time which, if I wrote it properly, could start a whole new conversation about how we perceive disability as an issue in Ireland (okay, perhaps I am being a little overambitious, but better to aim too high than too low, right?). But then I can feel myself being pulled towards being a full-time activist, always trying to make a difference, and I think to myself: God almighty, what is it I want?!

I’ve also found myself looking at the job section in the paper/on websites a bit more lately and every time I do so, I can physically feel myself trying to repress my urge to write. You said that if you weren’t getting a steady income by the middle of this year, you’d quit. This makes me turn cold. Inner voice, stop talking out of your behind! I can’t quit. People will laugh at me, think badly of me, I’ll have to start all over again and anyway, if I’m ready to quit, what is this magical force that keeps bringing me back to the keyboard?

Maybe it’s organising an event to honour Irish Disability Activists that has me frazzled, but I have to admit that being involved in this project has prompted me to think about the legacy that activists such as Martin and Donal have left to us. I look at them and others, and at what they achieved and failed to achieve for us, and remember their unwavering passion and I think, how did they never lose their passion? How did they and so many others keep going even when they were told they were wrong? They used their voices with confidence; I hide behind a computer screen.

With my words, where I feel safe.

I know that I’m probably going to return to the workforce, sooner rather than later, but I’d rather do it with something to show for myself. Something tangible, preferably a novel or some kind of written portfolio. Something to leave behind. A legacy.

And I suppose, isn’t that what activists and writers have in common: the irrepressible need to leave their mark on the world? Seems they’re not so different, after all.

Shoe shopping

…AND… whatever male audience I might have had is now gone. Oh well!

I’m a rare specimen, me. One of a kind you might say. For example, I HATE shoe-shopping. Apologies to my friends with screen readers who may have just been shouted at, but you need to understand the extent to which I hate it. I think I may hate it more than a typical man does.

See,  the thing is, because of the way I walk, I tend to wear away the inside of my left sole at an alarming rate. So, at most, I tend to get two months tops out of a pair of shoes or boots. And the complications don’t end there. Because of my awkwardness I can only choose from an extremely narrow selection of shoes. I’d like to think that i’d have a selection of shoes in my wardrobe but the reality is I only own two, maximum three pairs at a time.

So when I go shoe- shopping, I have to eliminate the following categories of shoes.

  • High heels, for obvious reasons. For those who don’t know me, I walk as if I’ve been on the beer for three days straight, all the time. If you’re ever looking for a TV extra for the part of drunk randomer, look no further.
  • Mules. They slip on so easily, and also slip off just as easily.
  • UGG boots, or imitation UGGs. There is just too much room to move around in there, and my ever-moving foot likes a little restriction. When I buy imitation UGGs, there’s usually a toe-shaped hole in the left one within five days of purchase.
  • Pumps hate my feet and refuse to stay on. I usually make the mistake of forgetting this until I’m at a wedding or function of some sort rummaging in my bag for hair bobbins to put around them and my feet so they don’t come off.
  • Shoes with laces: Listen, I’m 33 now. If I haven’t mastered tying laces by now, I’m not gonna.
  • Crocs: thankfully not fashionable but also won’t stay on feet.
  • Sandals/flip flops: My toes hate being exposed. They get embarrassed, they’re shy. When wearing these my feet tend to ball up, leaving me frozen on the spot. Lovely.

So what’s left? Granny sandals with Velcro straps, sensible boots with chunky soles and slip-on runners. These are a nightmare to find  unless they’re in season. It’s horrible.

Well, okay. I admit my footwear issues are not as pressing as famine or the threat of terrorism, but having the right shoes is kind of important as far as I’m concerned. They make walking and staying upright a hell of a lot easier, meaning that come the end of the day, I’m not as fatigued as I would be with the wrong shoes.

I believe it was Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird who said you never know a person until you walk around  in their shoes. So, my friend, if you’re wearing high heels, you’d better have a camera ready to send the clip into You’ve Been Framed.

The Innocence of Anna

Yesterday, my dad called in and delivered an unexpected surprise: an old newspaper article from 2001, written by two of my Transition Year classmates about the performance of my play, Waiting for Anna, in the Sacred Heart School. The paper itself is now tatty, dog-eared and smells damp, but the memory of that period of my life is as clear and fresh as if I were seventeen years old again.

 

waiting for anna 30007

Aforementioned Article published in the Offaly Express, 5 May 2001

 

A year before, I was sixteen, getting ready  to sit my Junior Cert with only a vague idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I hated study at the time (yes, believe it or not) and the prospect of going into fifth year made me feel sick.  So, in spite of the fact that I would be nineteen leaving school, a year older than 90% of my peers, I decided to do Transition Year and chill out. Little did I know that there’d be little chilling involved!

To get into Transition Year, there was an interview process. I was nervous and when it came to my turn, I was asked what skills I had to offer either by way of the Mini Company or other projects. Before the thought of writing a play had crossed my mind, the idea fell out of my mouth into the thoughts of Ms F, who was interviewing me to determine if I was a suitable TY candidate. Within twenty-four hours Ms H, the drama teacher, had sought me out and congratulated me on committing to write the TY play. It was madness. The only play I’d ever read was Romeo and Juliet, and I suppose Waiting for Anna does share similar themes: two teenagers falling in love against their parents’ wishes, running away to be together. Thankfully nobody dies; that’d be a tad extreme.

I set to work in the summer of 2000, spending all my time at the computer typing, composing, tittering to myself. I decided to have fun because I didn’t think anyone was ever going to actually read it, let alone play it out on stage. I got to know all the characters individually, each one based (and named after) someone I knew and loved. I laughed out loud, I sobbed into my chest. The first draft was completed on the 13 September 2000, at twenty pages long.

Writing Waiting for Anna was the most pure writing experience I’ve ever had. I had no perception of myself as a writer; it was just something I wrote. I never thought to edit or censor myself either, and all in all Ms H took very little out. Handing it over to be read by my classmates is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In the beginning, they  didn’t know I’d written it and felt free to pull parts of  the dialogue apart and make it their own, although these occurrences were rare. As the writer I was more than happy to walk away and leave my friends to their  own interpretations, but then Ms H insisted that I co-produce the play as well.

Anna consumed me. In many ways I became her. She was the unwitting victim of psychological and financial abuse at the hands of her boyfriend Tom, but this wasn’t a straightforward ‘good vs evil’ story. Tom’s life had been hard, whereas Anna came from a privileged background. Tom wasn’t evil; in fact he had a lot to be angry about: having to leave school early, losing his mother and bound to support his hapless, unemployed father. All he wanted was control over his life. And believe it or not, even though I wrote the bloody play, I can only understand Tom now, nearly sixteen years later.

And here I am, sixteen years later. trying to forge a career for myself in writing and finding myself envious of that confident seventeen year old who didn’t know any better. I miss her. She wasn’t self-conscious about every little thing that she wrote. She didn’t care who she offended as long as her message got out there. She would’ve had the confidence  to throw herself out there at the mercy of an unreliable audience.

She wouldn’t have hordes of short stories hidden away on her laptop, never to be read by anyone.

She would have finished her novel months ago without giving two flying figs how it would be received, if it made sense or if people would relate to the main character.

Some people become less self-conscious as they get older, but I seem to have become more so. A lot of it has to do with being a disabled parent, but that’s not the whole story. I’ve been told, both by people who know me and people who don’t, that their favourite blogs and stories of mine are ones where I share my own experiences. I do believe that the best writing has passion and personality and reveals a bit about the author, and yet doing so makes me nervous. Every time I press that ‘publish’ button up there, for a second I feel physically sick. Why do I do this to myself? What if I’m being annoying, repetitive, or coming across as self-righteous? Is it time to revisit the idea of getting a normal office job, and ignore the little voice that says I’m happier as a writer?

Obviously, owing to a lack of time-travel facilities, I’ll never be seventeen again, but hopefully that doesn’t mean that I can’t learn how to write again without the burden of self-consciousness.

As my friend used to say ‘what other people think of you is none of your business.’ Maybe, one day, I might fully agree with her.

 

Night off work

 

Me: I think I’ll take the night off.
My conscience: But you’ve got so much work to do.
Me: I’m tired, and not in the mood to work.
My conscience: You’re not going to get far with that attitude are you?
Me: I’ll feel better in the morning, and I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow.
My conscience: Hmmm, sure. And you have the cheek to wonder why your novel isn’t finished yet?
Me: Hey, I deserve a night off. I have a kid, kids aren’t easy, you know.
My conscience: You have one kid, she’s five and let’s face it, she’s far from a handful. (Pause) You know, you’d get so much more done if you deleted your facebook account.
Me: I only check it to see how my blog is doing.
My conscience: Hmmm-hmmm. Yeah, sure. Not to randomly scroll through photos.
Me: Oh here, forget it now, I’m definitely taking the night off. I need this.
My conscience: Ah, go on. You might as well. And if you want, we can even call this conversation work, if it makes you feel better.
Me: (eyes misting) Thank you.
And that’s Tuesday’s work done and dusted.

Memories of Mum

As the most loyal of my followers know by now, May 7th marks two completely separate events: my little sister’s birthday and my mum’s (now eighth) anniversary. Of course they’re not separate at all; every year until the end of time (or of our family’s time anyway) we will think of the joy that Laura Ann Maye brought into our lives while weeping for our beloved mother who we miss more than words can describe.

Laura is twenty-eight this year, but it’s hard for me to think of her as older than eighteen, getting two birthday cakes at her birthday dinner and screaming as her hair caught fire from the candles. She’s in Helsinki now, working as a Postdoctorate Research Fellow at Aalto University (I double-checked this on Facebook), and yet I still think of her as my ‘little’ sister even though in many ways, she’s more of a grown-up than I’ll ever be.

Every year, memories come flooding back to me, and as I’ve already extensively spoken about my grieving process, I thought I would instead share some of them with you to show you what an amazing, quirky, and often downright inappropriate lady my mother was.

  • ‘Girls! Oh my God girls, get up quick, it’s 8.15! You’ll be late for school!’ I jolt awake, not even thinking about how dark it is and turn on the sitting room light to discover that it’s not 8.15, it’s 3.45am and mum has looked at the clock backwards.
  • Interesting fact – mum handmade all of our communion dresses as she disapproved of the ‘poofy’ look. Everyone thought mum had bought mine in Laura Ashley. Mum also handmade a lot of her own clothes – jackets, dresses, skirts, waistcoats.
  • Mum was the worst at accumulating shite (no other word for it), collecting keyrings, little notebooks, Harrod’s beanie babies, candles, little pebbles. That was fun after she died, trying to decide which collection meant more to her! Not.
  • Mum was an artist. In her early days she did a lot of portraits, then she went through a phase of drawing violins, then front doors surrounded by pretty flowers. She made her own Christmas cards. She even painted designs on the little doorknobs on the kitchen presses. She loved bright, bold, primary colours. She did an interior design night class in Portabello College. If she had pursued this line of work. she’d be famous now. Beyond a doubt.
  • I have a ridiculously sweet tooth, something I inherit from my mother. It was her that introduced us to sticky toffee pavlova and knickerbocker glories. Honestly, I don’t know how we’re all stick thin either. Think that my siblings and I should donate our bodies to medical science.
  • I wouldn’t classify my mum as a scary person, but by God – the day she found out I’d told Sr Concepta in fifth class that my computer at home was broken and I had to write everything down (which was a lie, I just hated the computer) she called into the school, marched up to my class and said ‘Sarah Maye, get your ass out here right now!’ She ate me. Till the day she died she never lived it down.
  • We did get to spend some quality time together though, like all the times we went for various appointments, first in the CRC and then in Musgrave Park in Belfast. I remember walking up and down corridors and halls with these bobbly things all over my thin little legs and mum telling me I was modelling these special diamonds. I also remember falling in love with the doctor in Belfast (I was ten) and mum telling him all about it. Morto.
  • I also remember coming home from a respite holiday in Roscommon when I was eighteen and walking in the front door. The first thing my mother said was ‘What the hell is that thing around your neck? (It was a new chain, from JP) Who is he?’ After explaining to her that I’d met a boy and we were now an item, she smirked, took up the A4 pad that was on the coffee table and started explaining the birds and the bees, with explanatory diagrams. Lads, I’m not joking – she knew what she was doing because it was the best contraceptive ever. A year later and JP and I were still nervous of leaving the ‘holding hands’ stage. All I could picture was that bloody diagram.
  • I’ll never forget the day that Laura came home for the first time, and mum saying I couldn’t hold her until I fastened my dungarees on my own. The fact that I remember this should illustrate how real the struggle was. She placed her in my arms and I remember thinking how tiny she was and more to the point, how unexciting she was. For a while all she did was snooze in her Moses basket and lie there waiting to be fed and changed (lazy git). I couldn’t wait for her to grow up and play with me. And to be fair she, Stephen and Alex were the best siblings ever.

    But Laura and I are close too. I’ve been privileged to watch her through school and attend both her college graduations. Laura, I’ve no doubt that mum is immensely proud of you and what you’ve achieved. And it’s so unfortunate that your birthday is also her anniversary, but you know what? She wouldn’t want you to be miserable on your special day.

So have a lovely day and don’t feel one bit guilty about it, because the 7th May may have taken Mum from us, but it also brought you, and we are all so lucky and grateful that it did xx

Apologies for absence!

Hello to my adoring fans! I hope you are all well.

Hoping to get my blogging mojo back soon (probably will as soon as I’ve posted this, lol) but may not be around for a week or two owing to other projects like my first commission of the year (Watch this space), trying to submit something for A Date With An Agent (for which I fully expect to be selected of course) and another blog in progress for an activist group called By Us With Us. We’re a new group made up of  people looking back on the history of the Independent Living Movement and joining together to face the future. You can visit our blog here.

But don’t worry: as Arnie says, I’ll be back…….

I am a WRITER!

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‘So, what do you do?’

This is a question I get asked all the time, and although it’s nearly been two  years, I’m still embarrassed by it

Yesterday I agreed to do an interview with an undergraduate studying for her final year in Psychology in DCU. She was a lovely girl, ambitious, and easy to talk to. She reminded me of myself in my younger days.

She wanted to examine the factors that influence or hinder people with disabilities in accessing employment. I knew it would be a little cringey; I’m ten years older than her, practically a relic, and I’ve voluntarily thrown myself back down the career ladder (not that I was far up to begin with, but anyway).

She asked me if I’m actively looking for work, and I said yes. (Three rejection letters this month alone, in fact). I know what kind of angle she was looking for: my employer’s premises wasn’t accessible, I needed extra technological accommodations, I would become fatigued if I had to work full-time (there’s an element of truth to all of these). But these were not my sole reasons for not looking for work.

Puzzled by the end of the interview, my companion asked me again, ‘So, is there anything else I need to know? Like what do you do in your spare time?’

I shrugged. ‘I’m pretty active in the Independent Living Movement,’ I said, then I lowered my voice, as if I was divulging a dirty secret. ‘I’m also trying to write a novel.’

My companion perked up. ‘You what?’ she stammered.

‘I’m working on a novel. I don’t know how it will turn out, but it’s taking up a good deal of time at the moment.’

My companion shook her head. ‘Fair play. That sounds like a lot of work.’

‘Well, it’s certainly not as easy as I thought it’d be when I started it!’ She  laughed, and I relaxed.

I think nowadays as mothers, a lot of us feel pressure to prove that we can do and be it all. I’ve been  at home with Alison for two years, and working on my writing in this time. This way I can have the best of both worlds. I can work as much or as little as I am able. I’m pretty happy, but still wary of how people perceive my choice to do this.

And to be honest, I don’t know why I care. For now, I’m doing something that is working out well for me and my family.

I don’t know if this will work out, if my novel will ever get published or if writing will ever be the career I’d imagined it to be.

But for now, I am a writer, and a mother, and delighted to be able to do both.

My 2016 Appraisal

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Because I’m now my own boss, I have to monitor my own progress. This can be a disaster. Sometimes I think I’m doing much better than I actually am, while other times I think I have failed miserably at life. So, in trying to determine whether 2016 was a success or a flop, I did what any smart self-employed* person would do: I made a list of my original goals and did a realistic assessment of how I performed and where I need to improve. Here goes:

 

(1)    Get into shape

Ah yes, this old chestnut. I joined Aura Leisure Centre in Tullamore in November 2015 and for a while went twice a week, once a week, once a month… I’m doing my physio twice a week/when I remember but I recently purchased a treadmill which I use at least four times a week. Or I was, until I came down with this horrible virus thing that is doing its best to wipe out the Irish population. I admit the last time I used it was two weeks ago. DON’T LOOK AT ME!

Verdict: Fail, I know, fail. But I’m trying. God loves a trier, right?

 

(2)    Write a novel

I saw how award winning novelist Louise O’Neill wrote two novels in as many years and thought hey, we were in the same class once upon a time, so logically that should mean… Nothing. It means nothing. I will not be publishing two novels in two years, or possibly ever, for that matter. This novel is my baby, so much so that I hate telling people about it for fear that they’ll say it’s unpublishable. I also have to write the middle of it which I’ve been procrastinating by writing shitty little blogs like these.

Verdict: Well, I’ve worked on  the same project for eighteen months, and I haven’t deleted it – that counts for something, right?
 

(3)    Give up chocolate

Yeah, this hasn’t happened. I will be the embodiment of Death by Chocolate. I have zero self-control. In order to be successful at this in 2017, I must somehow get rid of the four remaining boxes of chocolates lying around the house first. Once these are gone, I’ll have a fighting chance. It’s only logical.

Verdict: Fail.
 

(4)    Update this blog regularly:

Firstly, I ask you to discount the first six months of the year. I was blogging elsewhere, on a far less accessible website (all hail WordPress). July and September were not great, admittedly, but considering I’ve been working on a novel as well, I don’t think it’s been too shabby… right?

Verdict: Pass (Yay! Go me)
 

(5)    Find a new job:

(Job as in paying job) No I haven’t done this yet. Bad Sarah. But I have done a job interview skills course and a CV preparation course so, you know… Hopefully in another twelve months… (Of course part of the problem is that I should be trying harder. I know, I know, my husband is so lucky to have me)

Verdict: Meh…

 

(6)    Do a Creative Writing Course:

Yes, I did this, and got a Distinction Diploma in Creative Writing. That’s something I suppose….

Verdict: Pass.
 

(7)    Start driving:

No this hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve passed my theory test, so it’s probably advisable to stay off the road in 2017.
 

(8)    Learn how to cook a meal for the freezer that doesn’t involve mince:

Yup, I’ve done this. Beef stew! (With beef pieces, not mince). And……… shepherd’s pie (oops, that involves mince). I know, my culinary skills are just fantastic.
 

(9)    Cut down on social media:

Aw, but then how would I share my literary genius with you all? I did close my Facebook account for like half an hour. In my defence I permanently deleted my page a few weeks ago, (or so they claimed) but when I signed back in I was back online, no questions asked. I think it’s time to admit that social media owns us.

 

(10)Be the best goddamn armchair activist I can be: 

I’ve passed this with flying colours I think. When I was researching the progress of the disability movement in 2016, I had to look no further than my own Facebook page. It looks like my old job (which included raising awareness of disability issues on social media) is going to take longer to leave me than previously thought. The difference between sharing stuff on my own page and work’s page is that I don’t hold back in giving my tuppence on what I read. I suspect people are bored of me but I don’t care. I’m committed to the perusal of equality for people with disabilities. No more, no less. We’ve also made progress in ensuring that the recommendations as outlined in our Access Review (that is, the Laois/Offaly Leader Forum’s Access Review) has been implemented. I’ve also committed to helping the National Independent Living Movement in any way I can.

 

Overall verdict: Not a bad auld year. Must try harder** in 2017. Happy new year!

 

 

*desperate, approval-seeking writer

**way, way harder