All posts by janeyballantyne

About janeyballantyne

A few of my favourite things: NY Dollar-slice Pizza, Hard Shakes, The Muppets and Twin Peaks. Good at: procrastination, meditation and drinking tequila Bad at: networking, meditation and taking selfies

Born To Run

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I moved to Bristol a year ago now, and one of the few negative things I can say about it, is that it is heavily populated with smug, lycra clad, iphone armband wearing runners. People don’t just go running here to avoid gym fees like normal people, here they share running stories, and osteopaths; they go running together, and alone; they go running before work, after work, in their lunch hour and then they still go to the gym.

Ok, so it’s a healthy city. I don’t have anything against that, of course, in fact it’s one of the many reason I moved here. My inactivity during The London Years was woeful and as 40/mortality approaches my desire to live long and prosper increases. It’s just the obvious enjoyment these people seem to get out of running, how it makes them feel, both physically and mentally, how they leap out of bed in the morning to squeeze in a half hour sunrise jog while I burrow deeper and deeper into the recesses of my duvet for that extra 10 minute snooze. It’s just so…bothersome.

But with the start of the new year, the appearance of a bit of holiday weight, and severe breathlessness when walking up a gentle slope, I decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

As I was putting my tracksuit on this morning for my first outing, my mind was giving me a lot of shit. ‘Janes don’t run,’ it said, ‘when was the last time you ran?’ ‘You’re going to look ridiculous’ ‘go back to bed’ etc etc and then something hit me. Janes DO run! For 2 months in 2011, in New York, this Jane ran every other day around the Jackie O Reservoir in Central Park and freakin’ loved it! The memory burst through the shit and gave me a moment of pure joy. I can do this!

So off I went, on a beautiful crisp and sunny morning, with my zeroto10km app, and my patient boyfriend jog/walking beside me. And do you know what? It was ok! Strike that, it was better than ok, I will reluctantly admit I actively enjoyed it. To be honest there was not a lot of actual running as the app takes a sensible approach with 1 min running followed by 1.5 mins walking, repeated for half an hour, but I did get out of breath and go red in the face and felt those tiny crazy endorphins pinging around the dull grey matter of my winter brain.

Basically, it worked, and I got a small insight into what all that smugness is about. So here’s the plan. If I run 3 times a week for 14 weeks following this app I should be able to run 10km by April. That’s a nice achievable goal, right? Ok it remains to be seen whether I can repeat this in early morning drizzle but I’ll give it a go.

I don’t think I am quite qualified to be one of the smug brigade yet, but I’ll put my hand up and acknowledge that maybe the problem is not actually them being smug but more likely a projection of my own feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, lack of willpower blah blah blah which allows me to hate them rather than myself.

So. The transition from Londoner to Bristolian continues a(slow)pace. It’s not all tie-dye and moon cups and there’s a good chance this move could do good things for the body as well as the… sole.

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100 Miles West – Here I Go Again On My Own

I had planned to start this blog by echoing (ok, copying) Hugh Grant’s opening voiceover in About A Boy – by stating that whoever said ‘no man is an island’ was talking a complete load of bollocks and that in my opinion all men – and women – are, in fact, islands.

Furthermore I am proud to be an island and wouldn’t have it any other way. I have lived on my own, travelled on my own, got drunk on my own (should I admit to that?) and basically hung out on my own, happily, for as long as I can remember. I am not quite as good (or bad?) an island as Hugh Grant, as I do have a lot of friends, a brilliant family and the odd lover who ensure that I am never ‘lonely’, but I essentially live my life alone and on my own terms.

This is how I like to see myself, but of course, the reality is a bit more complicated than that.

In 2011 I went travelling on my own to Mexico. I had a fantasy of being a solitary writer, secluded from the world, left alone with my imagination to create the stories that the constant buzz of my normal life had not yet allowed me to explore. I arrived in Isla Mujeres, ready to be an island on an island, a woman’s island no less.

I found the perfect apartment on the ocean, opened my laptop and…nothing. Nothing on day one or week one, or week two. So instead I spent my days walking into the tiny town, speaking worse that pidgin Spanish mainly to the guy in the laundry, having a beer, sitting on the beach in blazing sunshine or watching the tropical storms roll in – ok it was idyllic and I was happy-ish, I think, but I was also going slowly mad. I was too shy to strike up conversations beyond ‘una cerveza por favor’ and the lack of interaction with people, of normal conversation, of any connection to anyone who might be able to help me if I was in trouble did not fire my imagination in the way that I had hoped. Instead it made me paranoid, fearful, and more deeply insecure than I had felt in years.

When my friend Anna arrived in week four, I was mean to her. I didn’t understand what affect the last few weeks of self-imposed solitary confinement had had on my mental state. I was brittle and cold – reverting to all of the default personality traits I use when I feel under attack, not understanding that I was actually under attack from myself. I had gone into battle alone and was beating myself up over and over again – too much time to think and navel-gaze is no good for anyone.

A week with my Anna brought me down from the ledge though, and after she left I took a PADI diving course where I made some friends and one special friend (yes, it was the diving instructor – I really am that much of a cliché!) and had a beautiful, interactive, supportive, if not immensely creative, remaining six weeks.

My move to Bristol is a very different thing of course. Despite the fact I am suddenly detached from the amazing support network that exists in my corner of London, I do have friends here and many family members are down the road. However, I still prepared myself to go into battle alone, steeling myself to be strong, independent and, most importantly, on my own. I don’t NEED anyone, I came here so that I could support other people, be a rock for my family…It is hard to admit, once again, what a massive wanker I can be, but it turns out that I was not brought here to save other people, they are, of course, much more likely to save me.

I have been in danger of losing myself again – despite repeatedly saying that my move to Bristol was ‘no big deal’ it turns out it is quite a big deal after all. It’s tough to uproot your life and start putting roots down somewhere new, especially when you have been in the same place for 15 years. But it’s going to be okay because I am finally willing to admit that I might need to lean on people when things are a bit tough.

Between family, housemates, old school friends and wonderful ‘friend dates’ I have been set up on (dates with friends of friends who live here), I am maintaining my tenuous grip on reality and finding out how lovely it can be to have people to rely on. Also, being here doesn’t mean I have to cut myself off from my previous life entirely – I can still dip in and out very easily.

I am not sure I will ever fully give up my island status, but I am willing to admit that I do actually need to be part of an archipelego or to at least have a few bridges connecting me to the mainland…that’s what ‘it’s’ all about after all. As long as I can use the drawbridge once in a while so I can rock along really badly to Whitesnake.

100 Miles West – Busy Doing Nothing

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly time goes when you are not working and how damn slow it can go when you are.

I have been in Bristol for three weeks now and having predicted I would be employed by this point I am quite horrified to realise I have hardly started looking for work. After one disappointing rejection I need to get myself out there, but I have been SO busy doing nothing I just can’t find the time.

Ok, it is possible that I may have watched 24 hours of Dawson’s Creek during the past few weeks (possible I said, I will never fully confirm this horrifying admission) … and have maybe slept for between 10 and 12 hours a night… and I might even have been to a yoga class or two but even all these activities should not have combined to make me incapable of sorting out my future life?

I feel a little bit like I am on holiday, a little bit like I am skiving and a lot like I am avoiding reality, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing as long as I am prepared to recognise it for what it is and stop trying to find lots of things not to do.

Here are some fun things I have discovered about Bristol while I have been so busy doing nothing, weirdly they all begin with L:

  1. The library – The first thing I try to do when I arrive in a new city is check out the library. Bristol library sadly doesn’t rank among the greats, but it certainly has a certain charm. A lovely quiet and old fashioned reading room and a temporary exhibition space showing the history of tin mining in the South West. Perfect.
  2. Lovely people – everyone is so nice! This is not just a reflection on moody London, I have been to many places where people are not this nice, but here people just seem to understand that it is nicer to be nice and engage in 90 seconds of idle chit-chat than to cut to the chase. Refreshing.
  3. Lakota – is still going! The club where I mis-spent my youth and did things which I am too embarrassed to admit to even now is still going from strength to strength. It is an institution! Because of this I hope that one day I can proudly say I             a            at Lakota
  4. Long walks – I have always walked, wherever I am, but everyone seems to enjoy walking in Bristol and ‘going for a walk’ is an actual regular pastime. The countryside is a mere spit away and very beautiful it is too. I’ve seen red deer and everything.
  5. Light – ok, this may be a bit of a cheat because the evenings ARE getting lighter throughout the country, but it just feels like there is more sky here, and therefore more light, and light is very important indeed.

Oh and last but not least – hot boys, lots of them. Okay, boys doesn’t begin with L, but Lots does, as does Lust, and Love so who knows what this crazy city has in store.

I’m excited to see what happens when I stop doing all the nothing I am currently doing and actually start doing something with the open and unpredictable future stretching in front of my fortunate arse.

100 Miles West – Movin’ Right Along… or not.

So here I am. I have moved. I am in Bristol. I am not in London. Before I got here I was aware of the emotional difficulty involved in moving – in uprooting – your life and making such a significant change. What I wasn’t aware of though, was the physical difficulty involved in moving. I mean actual physical inability to move. Every final step I have taken in the last few weeks has been accompanied by a deep gutteral gravitational pull, which I have been completely unable to control.

I started okay, as the packing of the boxes for the removals men began I did it with a spring in my step, some tunes on the radio and a smile on my face. However, as I neared the end of this packing ritual I could hardly get off the sofa to carefully wrap the remaining plates in the kitchen which then remained unwrapped until the wonderful removal man (and old family friend) arrived and did it for me in the twinkling of an eye while I looked on from the sofa. Frozen.

It didn’t get much better on my final day at work either. I was up to date, had completed solid handover notes and was ready to leave when 6pm rolled around….but for some reason I just couldn’t leave the office. I kept finding more things to pack and more goodbye emails to send and in the end I was dragged to the pub by a colleague. But it didn’t end there. I am an occasional big drinker (ahem), but not generally with work colleagues. On this night though, I didn’t want it to end. Knowing I might never see them again I suggested that old classic ‘Be At One’ for ‘one more drink’ and we were pretty much dancing on the tables until 2am. I could have stayed out with them longer but they dispersed, exhausted and broken and a little bit in shock by their sensible colleague’s transformation..

Then there was the final dinner party with my close friends which started off full of sophistication and ended with me on my knees Sweet-Child-Of-Mine-air-guitaring at 3am before being dragged into a taxi.

The next day I had to pack up the car with my final bits. There were only a few bags but it took me over 2 hours. After every trip to the car I had to sit down. Not because I was especially hungover but because every trip was taking me one step closer to the departure time. The moment of reality. When I finally got in the car and departed (4 hours later than planned) and arrived outside the house which was to be my home for the next couple of months, I sat in the car, paralysed, unable to take the next step which would lead me to my new life. Eventually my new housemate came and knocked on the window having seen me arrive and given up waited patiently for me to come to the door.

A trip to London the following week didn’t help as these steps were repeated over and over again and it is actually a wondrous miracle that I find myself here, in Bristol, sitting in a café and not on my sofa in my studio flat digging my nails into the parquet flooring while being dragged out by the heels by my new tenant.

But here I am, and it feels pretty good. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other, apparently – that’s all you can do after all and doing that simple thing has got me here and will get me to where I want to be. I am sure of it. One day at a time.

100 Miles West – Leaving London’s Never Easy

When I told a friend recently that I was leaving London his reaction was one of absolute shock. “But you leaving London is like the Ravens leaving The Tower of London! This is bad news, very bad.”

I mulled this over for a while. Might my departure from London really indicate that the Crown will fall and Britain with it? Or to put a (slightly) less dramatic slant on it – can I thrive in any other city but London? I have a habit of making decisions instinctively and not always recognising the impact of those decisions until they are right on top of me. And right now this move seems to be no different.

I have strong reasons for moving which include family, quality of life and a career gear-change but I am not leaving London because I have fallen out of love with it. I am not tired of London and therefore tired of life (thanks Samuel Johnson, that stupid observation probably kept me here much longer than I should have been). I truly love London. It inspires and challenges me. I am settled here. I have the best friends I could ever wish for here. I have a good job. I have my own place to live. I don’t mind the tube or the buses, the crowds or the bustle, the grumpy, gritty streets or the myriad other reasons most people generally give for leaving this crazy city. It wouldn’t be London without them. The doorstep living – with immediate access to the best theatre, cinemas, restaurants, bars, 24 hour shops which will give you a bottle of overpriced Rosé at 3 o’clock in the morning – is something you struggle to find elsewhere in such abundance.

So if I have the perfect London life on paper I have to wonder why I have spent the last four years trying to leave. For anyone who has followed this blog from day one (god help you) you will know that I spent the first year of it plotting and scheming ways in which I could move to New York. Being unable to get a visa, not having the stamina for student-hood again or the balls to ‘just go and see what happens’ I have had to abandon that dream for now. I then, somewhat reluctantly, took a job in Glasgow, predominantly to be closer to my mother, but found it to be a more brittle and unforgiving city than London. And at least 10 degrees colder. And yet I accepted a second and third contract there. During that time I was still officially living in London and commuting at weekends, but there was clearly something drawing me away. So now I am looking 100 miles west – to Bristol – a city I only previously knew from going aged 8 to the ice-rink and aged 18 clubbing to Lakota, but which I hope will give me what London seems unable to.

The Ravens at The Tower have their wings clipped to prevent them from flying too far away. Superstition surrounding that ancient stupid curse means those poor birds are destined to flit around as a tourist attraction, never able to fully spread their wings and fly. I can relate to that. It seems that despite my affection for London, I have not managed to fly in this city during the past fifteen years, and I just know that there are things I am capable of which I will never achieve here. I don’t know what those things are yet, but I am looking forward to finding out. As long as the Kingdom doesn’t crumble first.

The Greatest Love of All – Part II

Three months ago I wrote about my plan to avoid yet another winter of SAD so as we gladly arrive at the Winter Solstice I thought it might be time for an update.

I’ll be honest from the start here (as I tend to be) – it has been hard work, meant a massive lifestyle change and has cost a truckload of cash but for the first winter in years I feel like me. I have energy, enthusiasm and haven’t sobbed uncontrollably once (apart from during a recent trip to see It’s a Wonderful Life – hey, I’m not dead inside!) The self-pity has lifted and my perspective has shifted – I can see things objectively and appreciate my wonderful life for what it is. Pass the sick bucket.

I have, inevitably, also managed some spectacular feats of (often subconscious) self-sabotage – a trait which I doubt I will ever fully get rid of.

For example. A big part of my plan was to do regular hot yoga. I found a new studio, called Lumi, near my house and it was great. But about a week in I decided to have elective surgery to get rid of a small lump I’ve had on my leg for ten years that is of no medical concern but I just hate it. Four stitches later, I was told not to exercise for six weeks. Ah. I really can be an idiot sometimes. I took a deep breath and went back as soon as I could without bursting them – in many ways my stupidity just gave me more drive to do it than I might have had before. It’s often when you are told you can’t do something the desire really kicks in.

Doug at The Mindfulness Project runs an eight week MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) course, which is where I have found a way to be ok with just about anything, including my own stupid self-sabotage. Through discussion and meditation I have learned to ‘respond’ to situations rather than to ‘react’, to recognise how often I put my own interpretation on things which have no basis in reality and to take the time to enjoy being in the moment as life can change so damn quickly. You have to leave your cynicism at the door, but I highly recommend it.

In a screenplay I wrote a few years ago there was a character who had lived in a commune since the ‘60’s who was always meditating. I was taking the piss when I wrote that character. Now I am horrified to find I am doing the same thing. But it works! Being more aware of where I am in the world at any given moment has allowed me to engage with living in a way I hadn’t before and to be braver and stronger. I might have become a hippy but I still struggle with my demons in social situations…there’s no peace and love for me there, yet. A few weeks ago I went to the London Screenwriters’ Festival – a magnificent event where the keynote speaker, Chris Jones, made an impassioned plea to us all – “You are all in the same boat! Talk to each other, communicate, make friends because….you are FUCKING AWESOME!” This became the motto for the Festival and after that rousing speech I jumped up and down, hugged two strangers and skipped off to my first session. I was then mute for the next two days. Standing in a corner with eyes darting all over the place trying not to make contact or laughing inanely at jokes I hadn’t even heard while in the coffee queue. It wasn’t until the third day – when I had a word with myself, wore a low cut top and took up smoking again – that I actually started talking to a few people and it was lovely. Mindfulness, tits and fags – at least I know my MO for next year!

Part of the reason I was so shy at the Festival might be down to the fact that I couldn’t dissolve my nerves with a glass of red due to my ridiculous new eating habits. I went to see a nutritionist about my IBS and he immediately put me on a ‘no sugar no yeast’ diet. And it’s working. Remember the stomach I found hard to love in my last blog? I found it hard to love because it wasn’t actually mine! Within two weeks on the diet, one of the tyres from my belly had completely disappeared. The most important, and shocking, thing about this diet though, is that, after being on medication for high blood pressure for five years, my blood pressure is now lower than it ever was on medication.

The diet is only supposed to last three months and then I can start re-introducing things – thank god as I miss pizza so much, but all I can say is, it’s working – I feel fitter and healthier and it’s really not that hard – apart from when you are having a few days with your bestie in Dubai and you just happen to have a glass of champagne, and a couple of shots and… oh well, as I say, I’m learning to accept my self-sabotaging too.

Looking back on the last few years now, I think in order to cope with SAD I used to revel in it. In my lighter moments I used to call it my ‘melancholia’ and sweep around the flat in my black lace housecoat, back of hand raised to my forehead. Then things would get dark and I would despise myself for everything, for simply being me, and allow myself to engage with my perceived failure at being mid-thirties and ‘alone’.

Now I can see that person from the outside I want to shake her for being so ungrateful and melodramatic and losing all sense of reality. But I must be kind to myself, those feelings were not a conscious choice and were the result of chemical changes within my brain, changes which through hard work, cash and probably a bit of luck, I seem to have side-stepped this year.

My perspective has changed so much this winter that I don’t even care that I haven’t had sex ALL YEAR! I’ve kissed a couple of boys, and a girl, but no shagging and that’s something which might have made me deeply unhappy in the past and left me worrying about what is wrong with me but right now I’m relieved. I considered shagging someone on Friday night but then things got weird when he just wanted me to spank him repeatedly while we were dancing, and then while we weren’t. Hmmmm, I left him to it. Anyway, if you don’t have sex for a whole year that means you become a re-virgin – right?

2014, both personally and worldwide has been pretty shit. Horrific atrocities are still taking place across the world and having done some research into Syria and islamic state for a script editing placement I did a few weeks ago (full blog to be uploaded soon) I am terrified by  the complexity of the situation and where we go from here. In my family there have been too many hospitals, too much heartache and too much stress, but we’re still standing.

Now, change is afoot. I am moving to Bristol in January and am anxious and excited about it in equal measures. It is a move designed to place me closer to some of my family, to find a more balanced life and hopefully a bigger flat. I don’t yet have a job though, and part of me is concerned that this level of change, in the middle of winter, might trigger the old negativity. But I can’t stand still for fear.

So on this Solstice night, with the promise of Spring appearing on the very distant horizon, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Happy New Year.

 

 

 

The Greatest Love of All

For the last 4 winters I have spent a lot of time crying, filled with desperation and self-loathing, exhausted and unable to ‘snap out of it’. Happy way to start a blog eh? (stick with me, it gets better, I talk about tits soon…) I’ve hidden it pretty well, but I’ve basically felt like shit. I, and my GP, suspect I have a dose of SAD, or Seasonally Affected Disorder. When I first heard about SAD I didn’t believe it was a ‘thing’. Having now lost, cumulatively, nearly 2 years of my life, my ambition and my normalcy to it, I am certain it is a ‘thing’.

Therefore, since the beginning of August, I have been absolutely terrified of the coming autumn, and the inevitable winter which follows. The pattern has been as follows: by the end of July I am generally just about getting my shit together, feeling like myself again, feeling strong and capable and excited by life. And then September comes and the nights draw in, the weather turns in October and by November all sense of who I am is lost and my internal monologue is incapable of having one positive thought. But not this year. I recognise it now and can’t do it again. I want to avoid medication so have been considering what I can do to help myself to a happier winter before the darkness closes in. I am suddenly aware that I have to learn to love myself in order to silence some of the demons.

Almost without meaning to, I have started a very strange ritual recently. Every day I have spent 5 minutes staring at myself, naked, in the mirror. I have rarely, if ever, looked at myself naked before. And if I have it has definitely been with a critical eye, and a sigh of disappointment at my various flaws which are all I am able to see. And then I tut and walk away from the mirror. This time it has to be different.

I look at my breasts – in my opinion, one of my best features and yet I am not happy. They are probably a centimetre less perky than they used to be, and I much prefer them if I just hoick them up a bit and objectively my right one is larger than my left one and… I look at my breasts again. This time I see the pleasure they have given me, and many others, over the years. The outfits they have pulled together, the heads that have rested on them. That barely noticeable vein which crosses my right breast is not ugly as I have always thought, but is proof that there is blood pumping round my body, keeping me standing and breathing, and thinking.

I continue. I notice the stretch marks on my thighs which I’ve had since I was 15, and have hated every day since then. But I remember they are simply proof of my becoming a woman, the only time I didn’t have them was when I was a child so why would I hate something which is evidence of the fact that I have grown up? Growing up is surely a remarkable thing!

Then the belly. Which is really difficult to love. True, it is evidence of a lot of good times, but it has also given me a lot of pain. Personally I think I deserve a six-pack considering the amount of workouts it has had while throwing up the previous night’s party. And surely the regular agonising cramps from a variety of food intolerances must have strengthened the muscles? But I’m a long way from a six-pack. I try to think positive. Remarkably I still have a slim waist, and this means I can wear some pretty dresses and I am lucky that my waist has had a lot of arms around it. Ok, I’m not unhappy with my torso, but will continue to try and love the belly.

On to my legs. I am really quite short so they only look good in high heels but I can’t wear high heels as I fall over constantly and cannot bear the agony. It also doesn’t help that I seem to be growing bunions and have a bony lump on the top of the right foot. So, no heels. Just lumpy stumpy. But these legs have done remarkable things. They have taken me to the very top of Mount Kilimanjaro! And don’t forget Ben Lomond (a hill in Scotland, not a man, but they have also led me to many wonderful men’s bedrooms) and abseiling down Twickenham Stadium, and into a forest to see the biggest tree in the world, and around New York City a dozen times…and the list is endless. Ok legs, I quite like you.

I eventually rest on my freckles and wrinkles which instead of showing inevitable ageing are simply evidence of all the sunshine, both physical and spiritual which I have had in my life. Nothing negative there at all.

My final thought amuses me. I have never looked in the mirror because I have never been happy with my body. When I was 25 and a lot hotter than I am now, I hated it. I regret not loving it then, and I will regret not loving my current body when I am 50. As Caitlin Moran says, as long as you are human shaped, you’re doing ok. And I am definitely human shaped.

I finally realise that I need to recognise, as I never have before, that this body is not just a vessel for this strange brain, but is deeply connected to it and needs to be looked after and stimulated just as much.

After this exercise (which I advise everybody to try, it’s quite ‘eye-opening’) I have decided to take some, erm, exercise. I can see the contradiction of learning to love my body as it is, and then wanting to change it, but it is precisely because I am looking at my body for the first time, that I realise it deserves to be looked after, and I have never really done that. And besides, I am quite at peace with contradictions. My eldest sister recently said to me that accepting the contradictions in your brain was a sign of maturity, so just like I want Scotland to be independent and I really don’t want them to leave the UK, I am content with the idea that I can love my body as it is, but want to give it the chance to be the best it can. So hot yoga and healthy eating here I come (again!).

Other attempts to ward off the evil SADness include starting a mindfulness course to try and focus on memory and concentration, and to train my brain to see things differently. In the first session we ate a raisin and lay down for half and hour, so I think I’m gonna like it. I’ve made an appointment with a GP/nutritionist to finally get to the bottom of those stomach issues and I have joined the local library having recently re-discovered my love of books, thanks to my amazing pal, Lucy Robinson’s The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me, which got me into reading for pleasure again having not read anything for ages, in the misguided belief that I should only be reading the ‘classics’ or screenwriting textbooks which therefore led me to not read anything for a really long time because they were both, clearly, pretty boring.

Who knows, maybe I’ll avoid getting SAD this year, but if not I’ll be ready for it and if all else fails there’s always medication. But, and this is unusual for me, for this ailment I’d rather eschew the drugs and aim for a long-term solution.

So, dear Whitney – I know you couldn’t manage it, but you’ve inspired me to learn to love myself. After all the children are our future. And I decided long ago never walk in anyone’s shadows. And will learn to depend on me. Ok, I’ll stop now, and report back when I’ve found it, the greatest love of all, inside of me.

 

Girls on Film

As an aspiring screenwriter, one of my greatest pleasures is watching films (unsurprisingly) but some of that joy lies in the fact that I can now classify it as ‘research’. In fact, most of life has now become ‘research’ which is brilliant… you can’t write about life unless you live it, right?

I decided it would be fun to write about all of the incredible women who had influenced me in film starting from when I was a young girl.

  1. Fraulein Maria in The Sound of Music (1965)

Oh dear.

It seems there weren’t many inspiring women in the films I watched as a child. I should quantify here that I was a weird child. I didn’t really like cartoons and was therefore not a shoe-in for the fairy-tale propaganda spouting of Disney or other overly simplistic tales. I liked Rapunzel because she had long hair. And also because it had a bittersweet ending (blindness, a long-time before redemption etc) but there has never been a good film made of it. I also liked the naughty twin in The Parent Trap, particularly when she covered the cabin in string and glue, but the eventual reconciliation in that film jarred with the reality of my divorced household, so I only watched it once or twice.

Fraulein Maria however was rebellious and brave but with an enchanting vulnerability which Captain Von Trapp just couldn’t resist and neither could I. She also ended up facing her problems, after The Reverend Mother asks her, “What is it you can’t face?” (insert in-joke here) which was a very valuable lesson for me, which I still rely on once in a while.

The theme of righteous rebellion continued with later films that I could relate to but the trouble is, I can count them on one hand. When you look at the huge films of the 80’s and 90’s it is genuinely shocking how few of them had strong female leads.

The first one which I remember making a big impact was Emily ‘up your bum’ Lloyd in Wish You Were Here (1987) set in wartime England, which I was obsessed with anyway, it about a girl who was just a little bit wild, liked boys, and wouldn’t do as she was told. I have a horrible feeling that something deeper was revealed later in the film which explained her behaviour, like a dark secret, but this wasn’t necessary for the plot of the film, she didn’t need some form of forgiveness or redemption, she was the freest, most honest, and engaging character I had ever come across and I loved her.

This was closely followed by Beaches (1988) which featured another free spirit in Bette Midler and one of the most heart-breaking studies of friendship ever, then Mermaids (1990) with Cher as the crap but ‘free spirited’ mother – I never understood why Winona Ryder complained about her so much (but I wanted to be Winona so I forgave her), then Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Café (1991) with the very definition of free spirit in Idgie Threadgoode and A League of Their Own (1992) which featured a full baseball team of free spirits.

Basically there was one film a year during this period which was of any interest to me and my friends. Not even sure if there was ONE in 1989…

Later I caught up with other brilliant films with recognisable women and friendships in. Heathers, Working Girl, Steel Magnolias, Mystic Pizza, even Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind! I probably (definitely) missed a few – after all, films for women never got a very wide distribution and they were often only in cinemas for a week and then not bought by the TV channels for years, if at all.

It seems that the female film-going market is only recently being recognised as a potential money-spinner. ABOUT TIME!

As much as I still love and admire the characters I grew up with, I am disappointed that I was so happy in my own ignorance that I didn’t even realise how under-served women have been in cinema. There were still great films with great characters and heroes, Indiana Jones, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, all of which I loved dearly, but often the women in them were pretty pathetic. There were a few films in the early 90’s which seemed to threaten the status quo, but nothing really came of them.

The first 18 film I saw in the cinema was The Silence of the Lambs (1991) my friend Rachel and I sneaked into the cinema in Bristol. We were so enthralled, and terrified, we hid behind our hands most of the time, but Jodie Foster as the main protagonist did not look remotely out of place and I don’t think we even commented on it, she did a great job, and was a great character. Rachel and I had been brought up in such an isolated world that we didn’t understand this was ground-breaking, we just thought this was normal. We simply didn’t realise how much work there still was that needed to be done for equality. It appears as though the tide is changing again and hopefully today’s tweenagers will have a much wider selection of heroes to look up to. Right, I’m off to see Lucy (2014), wish me luck.

Doing A Degrassi

I’m aware that it will be a very small minority who will have any idea what ‘Doing a Degrassi’ means, but hopefully, if you don’t, you can at least relate to the weirdness I am about to describe.

Back in the late 1980’s, I found myself in regular conflict with my mother over whether or not I could watch Grange Hill. She always won. I wasn’t giving up that easily though and I soon found an alternative in Degrassi Junior High – a series from Canada which my mother deemed acceptable because we have family in Toronto. It was so much wilder than Grange Hill!

There was a character called Steph in Degrassi who would leave her house in the morning dressed like a ‘nerd’ and then get changed in the school bathrooms transforming herself into a scrunch-dry haired, blusher and lipstick wearing goddess, in my eyes. She appealed to my ingrained rebellious nature and, as is so often the case with characters who exist in our formative years, has stayed with me as a reminder of our ability to transform ourselves into what or whoever we want to be, and also that things, and people, are not always as they appear on the outside.

At 37 I am still fascinated by our real selves as opposed to the projected image of ourselves we offer to the world and am never more aware of this in myself than when I go from my ‘real’ self, who appears when I am relaxed, happy and un-stressed to my projected self, who appears when I am highly strung, stressed and trying to be something I am not.

In my current job I have to get up at 5am on a Monday morning to get to work, travelling from London to Glasgow. I am not a morning person. This is an understatement. I roll out of bed, onto the tube, onto the plane and arrive in Glasgow bleary-eyed at about 0845. But, I have managed to find some joy in this commute. Never have I had a better opportunity to re-enact my childhood idol’s transformation than when I enter the toilets at Glasgow Airport. Often changing in a cubicle, I emerge smartly dressed and stand in front of the mirrors, just me and a couple of flight attendants, and prepare to apply the war paint.

I get to work transforming the puffy, sallow looking face in front of me into a powerful and energised business-ready visage. I work in TV so it’s hardly about powersuits and shoulder pads but I am not afraid to admit I am struggling on this current production so a bit of armour is vital. TV is a great industry in terms of working environment and generally you get a lot of like-minded people on a team and every one just wants to make the best programme they are capable of making. And we all know that what you wear and what you look like has little to no impact on that outcome. But I have found over the years, after wearing jeans and converse throughout my 20’s that actually, as a production manager I feel much more in touch with the job I am supposed to be doing if I dress a little smarter, a little less comfortably, a little more ‘managerially’. And so I do, and I enjoy it, and it helps. But the character I have created for work doesn’t feel like me. It is a necessary creation in order for me to do my job, but I find it hard to reconcile this character with who I become at the weekends and evenings when I either don’t wear any make-up or go all out and create a 50’s style and character which is more me than the business type.

It feels important to me to separate these two parts of my personality but I need to accept that the character I create for work is just as much a part of who I am as the character I am outside of work and I need to embrace my Degrassi transformation. It makes me feel stronger and have more faith in my own ability, and  I need as much help in that department as I can get at the moment.

I wonder if men have such trouble switching between character roles or even if it crosses their minds? Maybe in fact I am a rare woman who does this and other women feel completely themselves in their work job and I am just in the wrong job, which is entirely possible! Do you feel more confident if you dress a certain way at work? What outfit makes you feel brave or different?

 

Let’s Talk About Sex

Yes, This is me. Face framed by plastic cocks, falling out of a Wendy House at dawn, with a spanking paddle in my hand. I shouldn’t have to explain that this was after a particularly messy hen party, but I will – just in case anyone thinks this photo illustrates an average Saturday night for me…it genuinely does not. Now I shall stop explaining before I protest too much.

It’s an embarrassing photo granted, and one that at the time I insisted be deleted immediately, never to see the breaking light of day, but it wasn’t deleted and I am re-publishing it here because I can. Because in the world I live in I am free to laugh about sex, to talk about sex, to have sex. I am also free not to have sex, to make my own choices, to expect those choices to be respected. I know this world I live in is not perfect, but I am still free to expect equality and fairness and justice, to have my voice heard. There is work left to do, but the UK is one of the best places for women to live right now, and being in this place of privilege I am finally realising it is important for me to speak up, after all we have only progressed this far through communication and education, education, education.

About a year ago I was invited to write for a brand new online erotic journal. It was an idea spawned from the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, but the concept behind it was the antithesis of that. We wanted to write real stories about real sex by real women. We all agreed that FSOG, while undeniably popular, was not true enough, was lacking in sensuality, did not reflect our real desires and was too narrow in its exploration of BDSM.

So we started writing. To date we have written seven erotic stories each (some from real experiences, some fantasy) and I have written one op-ed piece exploring the difference between pornography and erotica. This publication is still awaiting approval from the powers that be at Apple but the publishers have rushed through another publication, called Quite Frankly, which will be a high-quality luxury print magazine of erotic images chosen by women for women. It will showcase known and unknown artists, photographers and models and contains interviews with the contributors and also with women who are working in the erotic world. It’s going to be beautiful and brilliant.

Writing about sex and being so honest about it has really opened my eyes to how important it is to normalise our sexual experience, our bodies, our sexuality itself. I fear it is the on-going cloak and dagger approach to sex which is in part responsible for the explosion of hardcore pornography and the sickeningly easy availability of it online. I am so scared for a generation whose first exposure to sex will be this graphic and unrealistic interpretation. No matter how hard the censors try, it is not going to go away so I intend to fight fire with fire and am looking forward to being involved with Quite Frankly – sub-editing and sometimes writing for them too.

The publication is aimed at adults but it’s the kind of thing which might be found by teenage children, in the same way that I found ‘The Joy Of Sex’ (how innocent my first exposure to sex was!) and I would much rather they found Quite Frankly, in addition to any of the stuff they might see on the internet, and that it provoked frank and honest discussions with their parents. I am looking forward to being at least a small part of this movement to find the beauty and the FUN in our sexuality instead of focusing on the fear, control and inequality which gives sex such a bad name.

Issue One launches 1st September, register your interest here: http://www.quitefranklymagazine.com/

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