Goodbye Lucky

On the 29th January 2020, we said goodbye to our beloved dog, Lucky, whom we’d had for nearly sixteen years. This is hard to write about – that’s why it’s taken so long for me to write and post it – but I felt like it would be a dishonour to him to not write about him so this is a piece about his life, how much we loved him, and how much we miss him. I’m not going to lie: I’m already crying as I write this so fair warning that this will be an emotional piece. It’s going to jump around a bit but I’ll try and keep it roughly in chronological order.

We first met Lucky when he was two or three days old. I was pretty young – only nine years old – so I don’t remember how we found out about the litter of Labrador puppies that needed homes but we’d been talking about getting a dog for a long time. In fact, it was one of the reasons we moved from London to Brighton. We didn’t want to have a dog in London. As it turned out, we lived all but next to a park and the puppies were on the other side.

Holding such a young puppy is a magical experience. They’re all sleepy and soft and they have too much skin. Plus, they smell amazing. I’ve never understood the whole baby smell thing but puppy smell is just wonderful to me. I don’t know if the puppy I first held was Lucky but I like to think so. And there’s no way for any of us to know.

We spent the next eight or nine weeks visiting them, playing with them and bonding with them. There was certain ones that had already been claimed and we ended up with the runt. Lucky, our beautiful, little runt. He was so funny looking as he grew. He was all disproportional: he had a long body with short legs, a big head, and a squished up face (don’t worry – he ended up proportional and I may be biased but I think he turned out to be the most handsome of the litter). But we thought he was gorgeous and loved him from the moment we knew he was ours. It was great to be surrounded by puppies, playing together and chasing and chewing each other, but we were just entranced by our baby and spent every possible moment with him.

Eventually they were ready to leave, eating solid food and mostly house trained. I remember the first night: he spent a lot of time exploring his new home (he was only allowed downstairs, giving our cat, Snubby, the upstairs floors to escape from him if she needed a break) and then fell asleep and we let him sleep on the sofa. He wasn’t going to be allowed to do that but we figured it was a special occasion. It was so cute. He was still so, so small. Then we put him to bed and went to bed ourselves. He cried all night, suddenly alone for the first time in his life. We all ended sitting on the top landing, out of his sight, desperate to go to him but knowing that it was the right thing to do. It’s what you have to do.

As I mentioned, we already had a cat, Snubby. She wasn’t a particularly social cat at the best of the times and she was deeply disgusted by this enthusiastic, bouncy… thing. She mainly stayed upstairs for the first few months but when she had to get anywhere near him, she’d swipe at him, leaving him bewildered as to why she didn’t want to play or at least engage. But she wanted nothing to do with him. Over time, she became a bit more relaxed around him (i.e. less swiping) but she never did anything more than coexist with him.

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We got to straight to work with the training. He was really smart. We continued with the house training, sit, stay, drop (the toy, stick, whatever he was holding)… he never quite grasped that one. Or wanted to grasp that one. He loved to bring you things; he just didn’t like to actually let you have them.

One of my favourite memories of training him though, was teaching him his name. In various combinations, we’d go down to the woods where there was a somewhat closed off path (meaning he couldn’t really go anywhere but down the path) and stand about ten metres apart. We’d call his name, again and again, and he’d run back and forth, rewarded with treats. We probably spent hours doing that and eventually he learned that his name was Lucky.

Season after season, we’d walk through woods, over fields, by the sea… Because of school, Mum working from home, and what turned out to be my Autism and Chronic Fatigue, Mum did most of the big walks but I still managed some of them. My favourite ones were in the summer, flinging balls for Lucky and he’d run so fast that he’d overtake them, sometimes tripping over his own legs. The woods and the fields… they were all especially magical at golden hour. Those are my favourite memories of walking him.

He also loved to swim, which was very helpful when he developed a problem with his elbow and needed hydrotherapy. Labradors are notorious for problems with arthritis so we knew that it was something we were going to have to deal with during his life (thank god we insured him: he had so many medical problems throughout his life). Anyway, he loved hydrotherapy. He would chase a toy around a small pool of warm water and the hydrotherapist would actually have to hold him back to stop him exerting himself (the jacket is a flotation jacket so he could focus on swimming and not on keeping himself afloat). He absolutely loved it and it really helped his elbow.

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One of my family’s yearly traditions is spending a week in Norfolk, usually in the autumn. We’d stay in a cottage and then a caravan closer to the beach and we’d walk through the woods and through the sand dunes. It’s one of my favourite places. I step onto that beach and it’s like I’ve found something I didn’t realise I was looking for. It’s magical.

Lucky has always loved it, from the lounging on the caravan deck to chasing sticks into the sea. As he got older, he managed less and less until he was basically just chilling on the deck with the odd walk around the caravan. But during our last trip together, we drove to the flattest beach and walked slowly out to the shallows. We paddled together and rolled the tennis ball that Lucky had picked up somewhere back and forth. We were very aware that this could be the last time so we took our time and tried to enjoy every second. Then we slowly walked back, stopping multiple times for Lucky to rest his legs. There was a sadness to the day but we tried to just live in that precise moment and having said all of that, I look back on that day and smile because I know Lucky was happy.

There were years of love, years and years of love. I wish I could describe all the details but we’d be here until Christmas. Longer. For a long time, my morning routine began with a shower and walking the dog at about 7am. That was my day and it was a good way to start the day. I missed it when life changed, even though the early start was early.

When Snubby was put to sleep in (2014), me and Lucky got even closer. He’d stick close to me and greet me with great enthusiasm whenever I came home from uni. He was always very sensitive and in tune with people’s emotions (the older he got, the more sensitive he got until he even had to leave the room when people on TV got upset). We spent a lot of time that winter, curled up in front of the TV together, warmed by the fire. It was very comforting.

About a year after Snubby was put to sleep, we got a new kitten, Lucy. My world just didn’t make sense without a cat in it. And Lucky’s reaction was so funny. You could almost see him rolling his eyes. I tried to make sure I still spent a good amount of time with Lucky, just the two of us. But I could almost see the ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ look in his eyes.

Hilariously, Lucy adored Lucky and wouldn’t leave him alone. She always wanted to play, bringing him toys and pouncing on him and so on. It was so cute. And he didn’t know what to do with that because he’d only ever known a cat that swiped at him. So it took him a long time to adjust. I don’t think he ever loved her the way she loved him but he tolerated her and her love of him. She was always in his bed, both when he was in it and when he wasn’t, and she even went on his evening walk around the block with him. It was adorable.

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Once the elbow issue had been resolved, he didn’t need hydrotherapy again for a long time. But then, as he got older and his muscles in his legs started to weaken and waste away, we went back to hydro. He loved it and would swim so hard that the hydrotherapist had trouble monitoring the extensions of each of his legs. Over time, he slowed down, content to get to the ball; he knew it would be there when he got there. We continued liked that for years, managing the muscles in his legs. As an older dog, we couldn’t build the muscles back up but we could keep him going, keep him as strong as possible. And he loved it. And I loved watching him do it because you could see how happy he was.

As I said in my Birthday Rules post, for my 24th birthday, I actually got to do it with him once, which was a really special experience. It was really hard work and there was a lot to concentrate on, but it was surprisingly therapeutic for me as well as him. We both fell asleep on our respective soft surfaces when we got home and could barely make it through the day. It was funny to think that I was experiencing what he experience every time he had a hydro session. It was a really cool way to spend my birthday.

Moving house changed things, as much as I wish it hadn’t. The living room was upstairs and having spent his whole life being told he wasn’t allowed upstairs (plus his rather dodgy legs – he was about fourteen at the time), it was a difficult adjustment. He did eventually make sense of it and join us upstairs, in the living room (where I spend most of my time), which made me so happy.

He was making his way upstairs quite easily until one evening when everything changed. I was sitting at the kitchen table when I looked up and saw that Lucky was tilting his head almost ninety degrees. I thought he was having a stroke. Mum drove him to the emergency vet and they said he would be okay but I wasn’t convinced. The next morning we took him to our usual vet and he was diagnosed with Geriatric Vestibular Disease, so he was essentially having constant vertigo. Poor baby.

The next couple of weeks were very stressful as he was treated and slowly recovered. He did eventually recover but he was never quite the same. Personality wise he was, but physically, he had deteriorated quite dramatically. His balance was awful and was until the end and his legs, especially his back legs, were very weak and kind of like they weren’t completely within his control. From that point on, he needed a harness so that we could help him up when he was lying down, as well as up and down the stairs into the kitchen. Plus his head remained tilted for the rest of his life. That always made me sad. It’s something you never think you’ll miss: your dog looking at you straight on. I really, really missed it.

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Interestingly, he became much more attached to my Mum after this experience. Apparently that’s not uncommon: for a pet to become particularly attached to one person after a traumatic experience like a period of serious illness. The hydrotherapist said she’s seen it happen a lot. He always wanted to be with her and couldn’t settle if she was absent, for ten minutes or a couple of days. It was quite distressing, not to be able to soothe him.

As I’ve already said, his legs were very weak. I got home a few weeks ago and he couldn’t stand. And whatever I did, I couldn’t get him on his feet. It’s like his back legs had given up. It was like he’d give up, like he was done. Like it was just too hard. It was horrible. I ricocheted between calm and rational and then terrified and frozen. I don’t think I can write any more about that night but in the morning, the decision had been made – as I’d expected – that he was going to be put to sleep. I knew it was coming and I knew it was coming then. I was expending every ounce of energy holding everything together. I felt like I was literally holding the pieces of the outer shell of my body together, and therefore holding all of the overwhelming emotions inside. I managed it for the most part, although a few tears escaped on occasion.

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We got him to the vet and stood around him, stroking him, as the vet gave him a series of injections and then he was gone. But this was different to my last experience, different to when Snubby was put to sleep. I held her in my arms as they injected the drugs and I still remember the moment she was gone. But it was like Lucky was already gone (god, this is horrible to write). That thought was a sickening, awful one but that’s how it felt.

They left us alone with him to have a few moments but when it was time to leave, I had Mum get someone to be with him. I just couldn’t leave him alone. I couldn’t do it, even though it wasn’t really him anymore. At least that’s what people say. I’m not sure what I truly believe about that. Anyway, we stood outside the vet (they let us deal with everything later) – the four of us – and cried. And cried. And cried.

We went home and I spent the day collating photos of Lucky because I needed to have something to do that related to him. I needed to hold onto him. And now we’re moving forward, physically at least. I don’t think we’re moving forward emotionally yet. I don’t like the idea of ‘yet’.

We’ve since had a card from the vet with his paw print and a little packet of forget-me-not seeds, which I personally really appreciate. That was really kind of them and it’s already really special to me. We’ll have to decide where to plant the seeds but personally I like the idea of doing it where we can see them. Through the kitchen doors, maybe.

Soon we’ll get his ashes and have to decide what to do with them too. One idea is to scatter them where we taught him his name. I like that idea. But it has to be unanimous and we haven’t made a decision yet. We don’t even have the ashes yet so there’s no point worrying about it just yet. We’ll figure it out.

As a soul, he was a bit of a legend. Everyone who knew him loved him, even people who weren’t that keen on dogs. He just had some magic in him. I love him more than I can ever express and I will miss him for the rest of my life. The house feels empty and there’s a big gap that actually feels tangible in our lives. I have moments of calm and acceptance and then suddenly I remember and the bottom drops out of my world. It’s awful. And I just want to cry all the time, about Lucky but also about anything and everything. I’m just so sad. My body – my universe – is just so full of sadness. I just can’t believe I’ll never see him again. I’ll never stroke the brown patch on his nose or stroke the softest ears in the world. And when I automatically glance downstairs as I move around the house he’s NOT THERE and it just doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s awful; I think anyone who’s ever lost a pet can relate to this.

I was talking to a friend the other day and they said that he lived a good life. And this friend wasn’t wrong. But when I think about it, I think the more important part is that he lived a loved life. And he did. He lived a very loved life.

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January 2020

January was tough. A lot of difficult things happened. Normally, I wouldn’t do a monthly round up but there were several things this month that I didn’t think would get properly acknowledged (in my yearly review or otherwise) if I didn’t. So here’s January 2020 and it’s highs and lows…

  • Assessments and meltdowns – I began the year working frantically and anxiously on assessments for the module I’d just finished. And as soon as I’d finished the essay, it was onto preparing the presentation, which absolutely terrified me. All of the work with no rest and all of the anxiety caused so, so many meltdowns. So it was a very stressful start to the year.
  • Presentation – My final presentation was very stressful. I worked ridiculously hard on a powerpoint presentation and script that described my progress throughout the semester with snippets of the songs I’d written and I thought I’d done okay but I was and am upset with my grade, mainly because the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feedback I got seems to contradict each other. There’s this thing we have called Results Counselling (or something similar) where we can go and discuss it all, which I’m gonna do as soon as I can get through it without crying (not just about the grades – it’ll come up later). Whether that will change the grade or not, I don’t know.
  • Choosing my timetable and beginning the new semester – My uni are really helpful about working with me to find a timetable that was best for my health, mental and physical. I really appreciate that they do that. I know that, as a disabled student, they have certain obligations to help me but this is something that causes me a lot of anxiety so I do really appreciate it. Special thanks to Ivy and Aislin for their help. And then the semester began. I’ve swung from overwhelming anxiety to calm and back again so many times that I’m dizzy. Right now, I’m okay. I think.
  • ‘Clarity’ came out! – The second track from my EP, Honest, was released on the 10th and for what is essentially a second single from an independent artist, it’s done really well. It was added to several playlists with lots of followers and it’s been played on a handful of independent radio stations, including Get In Her Ears, which I’ve followed for a long time. So that was really cool. It’s also had quite a lot of airplay on a couple of local independent radio stations, which feels very special even if bigger stations are ‘better’ for my career – their support means a lot to me. It’s been a lot less stressful and a lot more exciting than the release of ‘Bad Night’ (although that was probably because it was the first one and so all new and unknown). Having said that, there’s still a lot more to come…
  • My First DSA Assessment – As you probably remember from this post, it was a bit of a disaster. It was incredibly upsetting and we were basically told I would get no support as a disabled student. Things have changed a bit since then but I don’t want to talk about it until I actually know what’s happening, until it’s more than just speculation and hope.
  • Semester B – We’re only four weeks into the new semester so we haven’t gotten that far yet but it’s definitely difficult. Much like the first semester, the content is really interesting but there’s a new challenge this semester: the academic language. A lot of the time I have no idea what the texts are saying and that’s pretty distressing. It makes me feel stupid and like I’m not smart enough to complete a Masters and ‘what the fuck was I thinking trying to do this?!’ Just as I thought I had a question for my assessment essay, I decided it was too complicated and now I’m waiting to hear from my tutor about it. I feel frozen. It’s hard to research when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be researching, a problem I had last semester although in a different scenario. I’m doing my best though and I’m doing my best not to panic. But I’m keeping up with my writing and I’ve written songs that I like so that’s keeping me grounded even though they don’t get assessed. But it reminds me why I’m doing this: to write better songs.
  • Manic by Halsey was released – I love Halsey and I was very excited for this album and (Hurray!) I absolutely love it. It’s so different from Badlands and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom but they were really different from each other; there’s progression and evolution and exploration. This one is particularly emotionally vulnerable and to me, the often acoustic production reinforces that. I love all of Halsey’s albums and I think this one is the perfect next step. I love most of the songs but my absolute favourite are ‘Ashley,’ ‘Graveyard,’ ‘You should be sad,’ ‘More,’ ‘Still Learning,’ and ‘929.’
  • Sharné visited – One of my best friends from uni came to visit me (and my cats) and we had such a lovely weekend. We went to the beach at golden hour, made cookies, watched movies, and played with the cats. It was so, so nice. I had such a good time. She’s the best.
  • University gig – The full time students on my course put on a show and it was so cool to hear the songs they’d written and it was so, so nice to see my friends play and get the recognition they deserve because they’re such talented, hardworking writers. It was such a good gig and I wish I could’ve stayed to the end but I had to get home to Brighton.

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(Luce Barka performing ‘Be More Kind’ – a very beautiful, meaningful song.)

  • Richard visitedRichard came down to visit me (and, again, the cats – I’m sensing a theme) and we did some writing and production, which was really fun, especially given that I was trying some new things. We also worked on some stuff for the rest of the ‘Clarity’ release cycle and for the release of the next song. Ooooh…
  • BeFries closed – My favourite restaurant in Brighton closed this month temporarily and then permanently and I’m absolutely gutted. I loved that place, I loved the food, and I loved the people. I’m so, so sad that it’s gone and I genuinely don’t know where my new meeting spot will be because that’s where I took everyone.

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  • Announced ‘Clarity’ music video – I announced via social media (I’m having major problems updating my website for some reason) that the ‘Clarity’ music video would be coming out in early February! I’m so excited for everyone to see it! (It will have gone up by the time I post this but this is where I am right now…)

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“I’m so, so excited to announce that the music video for ‘Clarity’ will be coming out Friday 7th February! @rsandersonphoto and I had such so much fun shooting this and there’s a pretty cool surprise in there so we hope you love it as much as we do!” (x)

  • Cheer – This might seem small compared to some of the other things on this list but I watched it after hearing all the good press about it and it absolutely held up. It was shot beautifully and the pacing was really good. The stories of all the cheerleaders had me so invested in each of them and their places in the series, and in their futures. I cried in almost every episode.
  • The Grammys 2020 – I have many, many  opinions about The Grammys, about who should’ve won which awards (*cough* Taylor Swift for Song of the Year with ‘Lover’ *cough*) but mainly I’m just super happy that Natalie Hemby and Sara Bareilles won their first Grammys. I can’t believe that this is a first for both of them, given how freaking talented they are and how successful they’ve been but regardless of that, this is amazing news and I’m so happy for both of them.
  • Waitress with Sara Bareilles – The best moment of the month was seeing Sara Bareilles on her first night as Jenna in Waitress the Musical in London. She was incredible. The whole show was amazing but she was a magic all of her own. When she sang ‘She Used To Be Mine,’ (which I know is a special song to her and is a special song to me too) the standing ovation went on for so long that eventually the only way to stop us was to continue with the show and therefore force us to sit down. She was truly awesome and I felt so lucky to be there. I’m fortunate enough to get to see her again before her run finishes and I’m so, so excited.

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  • Track of the Day – In the interval of Waitress, I discovered that ‘Clarity’ was going to be Track of the Day for BBC Introducing in the South and played on the radio, on a show I haven’t been played on before. So that was massively exciting (apart from some confusion about the date). Fortunately, I wasn’t in class when they played it so I could listen and enjoy the feeling! Hearing yourself on the radio, hearing people introduce you and your song and spread the message you’re trying to spread is so special.

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  • Lucky – If you follow my social media, you’ll know that we had to have our family dog put to sleep in the last days of January. We first met him when he was a couple of days old and he would’ve been sixteen on the 9th February, so he lived a long and happy life (I hope he was happy – he seemed happy and we did everything to make sure he was). But saying goodbye to him was agonising and there’s been a massive hole in my life ever since. I miss him desperately. I want to write more about him – it just feels like the right thing to do – but I’m just not ready yet.

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  • #30dayfeb – My tutor, mentor, friend, and super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, is running a challenge throughout February (1st February – 1st March) under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother (the name comes from the name of her daughter, Liberty, who tragically died the day before she was born), to raise awareness about baby loss and money for the baby loss charity, Tommy’s. The challenge is all about doing something positive for your wellbeing everyday for 30 days. I know a lot of people are going to the gym everyday, doing yoga, and so on but given my chronic fatigue and chronic pain, I can’t do those things so I’ve decided to focus on relaxing my brain: mindfulness essentially but in a slightly less traditional fashion. I’m going to try and make a piece of origami every day because I can’t think or stress about anything when I’m doing it because I have to concentrate so hard. And I could do with some of that. You can sponsor me to do this, to try and do this everyday. Here are some of my attempts so far.

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So that was January. Yeah, 2020 – the new decade – began on a very stressful and sad note. I’m thankful for the moments of light.

‘Clarity’ Music Video – Out Now!

As of today, the music video for ‘Clarity’ is out and available for you all to watch! I’m so excited for you guys to see it. Richard Sanderson and Lois de Silva did such an amazing job and I’m so proud of the result. I hope you love it as much as we do.

Again, this video is different from anything I’ve ever done. They’ll be a Behind The Scenes of the video video coming soon where I’ll talk about it in detail but the idea of the double version of myself was really fun and having animation was really cool. And working with Lois was such an amazing experience; we went to college together and I’ve always wanted to work with her so getting to do that so early in my career was so special. She’s so good at what she does and she was so enthusiastic and professional about the project. I’m so, so happy with the final result and I hope you guys love it too.

My Current Favourite Book: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

For my degree, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a book recommended by my tutor and then I recently reread it for my Masters and remembered how much I love it. There are so many quotes that deeply inspire me and I’m filled with the urge to run to the nearest piano or guitar and write something beautiful because I suddenly feel like I can. It might not turn out to be beautiful but that urge gets me writing, gets me much closer to writing something beautiful than if I hadn’t written at all.

I recommend this book to everyone but especially to people who pursue creative passions. My brother the performance artist, one of my parents the Jazz musician, all of my friends and colleagues on my songwriting course. I know they may not like it, that it may not be their style, but if even one sentence inspires them then I’m happy, hence this post. I hope you like this collection of my favourite quotes from the book and that it inspires you to go and read the whole thing. It’s a fantastic book and I’m really excited to read more of her work (and listen to more of her talks).


PART I – COURAGE

  • “[Jack Gilbert] didn’t so much teach them how to write poetry, they said, but why: because of delight. Because of stubborn gladness. He told them that they must live their most creative lives as a means of fighting back against the ruthless furnace of this world. Most of all, though, he asked his students to be brave. Without bravery, he instructed, they would never be able to realize the vaulting scope of their own capacities. Without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, their lives would remain small – far smaller than they probably wanted their lives to be. […] I never met Jack Gilbert myself, and now he is gone – he passed away in 2012… I quite liked the way he lived inside my imagination as a massive and powerful presence, built out of his poems and the stories I’d heard about him.”
  • “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”
  • “I had creativity within me that was original; I had a personality within me that was original; I had dreams and perspectives and aspirations within me that were original.”
  • “It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”

PART II – ENCHANTMENT

There’s an amazing story (I won’t type it out in full because that will take forever so here’s the short version) where she’s very passionate about an idea but after a big life event, that passion had vanished. She meets Ann Patchett – that story in itself is beautiful – and something magical seems to have happened: Patchett is working on almost exactly the same idea, conceived at almost exactly the moment Gilbert felt she’d lost it. It’s a bizarre and incredible story that is almost worth reading the book for alone.

  • “Sometimes, when I’m in the midst of writing, I feel like I am suddenly walking on one of those moving sidewalks that you find in a big airport terminal; I still have a long slog to my gate , and my baggage is still heavy, but I can feel myself being gently propelled by some exterior force… It’s the feeling you get when you’ve made something wonderful, or done something wonderful… I don’t think there is a more perfect happiness to be found in life than this state…”

At one point she talks about how she wishes Harper Lee had written several easy to read books after To Kill A Mockingbird, just because she could, because she loved to write. She talks about how Lee was such a marvellous writer and how much the world could’ve gained from that but never got the opportunity because the huge acclaim of To Kill A Mockingbird completely changed her relationship with writing.

PART III – PERMISSION

  • “Go back far enough and you will find people who were not consumers, people who were not sitting around passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things. This is where you come from. This is where we all come from. Human beings have been creative beings for a really long time – long enough and consistently enough that it appears to be a totally natural impulse.”
  • “It’s your birthright as a human being, so do it with a cheerful heart. (I mean, take it seriously, sure – but don’t take it seriously.) Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out it. We make things because we like making things.”
  • “Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us.”
  • “I don’t want to be afraid of bright colors, or new sounds, or big love, or risky decisions, or strange experiences, or weird endeavors, or sudden changes, or even failure.”
  • “Most things have already been done – but they have not yet been done by you.”
  • “Anyhow, the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me. Just say what you want to say, then, and say it will all your heart. Share whatever you are driven to share. If it’s authentic enough, believe me – it will feel original.”
  • “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest of it will take care of itself.”
  • “Work hard, make the most of your opportunities, and grow, grow, grow.”
  • “[Tom Waits] told me that he’s struggled deeply with his creativity in his youth because – like many serious young men – he wanted to be regarded as important, meaningful, heavy. He wanted his work to be better than other people’s work. He wanted to be complex and intense. There was anguish, there was torment, there was drinking, there were dark nights of the soul. He was lost in the cult of artistic suffering by another name: dedication.  But through watching his children create so freely, Waits had an epiphany: It wasn’t actually that big a deal. He told me, “I realized that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds.” Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is. That realization, Waits said, seemed to open things up for him. Songwriting became less painful after that.”
  • “As I write this book, for instance, I approach each sentence as if the future humanity depends upon my getting that sentence just right. I care, because I want it to be lovely. Therefore, anything less than a full commitment to that sentence is lazy and dishonorable. But as I edit my sentence – sometimes immediately after writing it – I have to be willing to throw it to the dogs and never look back.”

PART IV – PERSISTENCE

  • “When I felt no inspiration at all, I would set the kitchen timer for thirty minutes and make myself sit there and scribble something, anything.”
  • “That’s what you have to do in the beginning; everybody imitates before they can innovate.”
  • “Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process… You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living.”
  • “It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfectionism is unattainable: it’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death. The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: ‘So many of us believe in perfectionism, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.’ Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes – but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work. Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even both to be creative in the first place.”
  • “We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it… At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.”
  • “Through the mere act of creating something – anything – you might inadvertently produce work that is magnificent, eternal, or important.”
  • “We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while.”
  • “I also kept remembering what may mother always used to say: ‘Done is better than good.'”

PART V – TRUST

She has a friend who is a botanist and teaches environmental biology at a university. And she always begins by asking who loves nature and all the students raise their hands. Then she asks if they believe nature loves them and no one raises their hand. “Then we have a problem already,” she says. So she starts with the relationship between people and the environment.

  • “To suggest that nobody ever made valuable art unless they were in active emotional distress is not only untrue, it’s also kind of sick. […] You will often meet artists who deliberately cling to their suffering, their addictions, their fears, their demons. They worry that is they ever let go of all that anguish, their very identities would vanish.”
  • “I have no great love or loyalty for my personal devils, because they have never served me well. During my own periods of misery and instability, I’ve noticed that my creative spirit becomes cramped and suffocated. I’ve found it’s nearly impossible for me to write when I am unhappy.”
  • “My desire to work – my desire to engage with my creativity as intimately and as freely as possible – is my strongest personal incentive to fight back against pain, by any means necessary,  and to fashion a life for myself that is as sane and healthy and stable as it can possibly be.”
  • “If you choose to go the other way, though (if you choose to trust suffering over love), be aware that you are building your house upon a battlefield.”
  • On the suicides or deaths of artists: “There’s a hole in our world from all the art those people did not make – there is a hole in us from the loss of their work – and I cannot imagine this was ever anyone’s divine plan.”
  • “I have chosen to believe that a desire to be creative was encoded into my DNA for reasons I will never know, and that creativity will not go away from me unless I forcibly kick it away, or poison it dead. Every molecule of my being has always pointed me towards this line of work – toward language, storytelling, research, narrative. If destiny didn’t want me to be a writer, I figure, then it shouldn’t have made me one.”

Gilbert’s first short story she ever had published was called ‘Pilgrims,’ in Esquire. They were all set to go and then they had to cut down the magazine and she could either pull her story or reduce it by 30%. She decided to reduce it and in the end, discovered that it had become this new, interesting story she’d never imagined it could be, leading into this next quote…

  • “What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand you imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”
  • “Everything I have ever written has brought me into being. Every project has matured me in a different way. I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into. Creativity has hand-raised me and forged me into an adult.”

When no story she was passionate about arrived, she just followed her curiosity. She ended up deciding that she wanted to have a nice garden and so she gardened. She learned more and more about the flowers she was growing (she preferred colour to order, unlike her mother) and she researched more and more until three years later, she started writing a novel about a family of nineteenth century botanists. It wasn’t an idea that she saw coming but by the time she was writing it, she was obsessed with the idea and the story. And she never saw it coming.

  • “As my friend Pastor Rob Bell warns: ‘Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.'”

At one point, she talks about ego and how “it’s a wonderful servant, but it’s a terrible master,” because all it wants is reward but it will never be satisfied because there will never be enough reward: “Left unmanaged, that kind of disappointment will rot you from the inside out.” She talks about how the Buddhists call an ‘unchecked ego’ a ‘hungry ghost,’ a description that I’m so inspired and obsessed by. It’s a song. And one that I can’t wait to write. A ‘hungry ghost’ is “forever famished, eternally howling with need and greed.”

  • “What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?”

PART VI – DIVINITY

  • “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.”
  • “We are terrified, and we are brave.”

I mean, I could quote the whole book but here are some of my favourite quotes and my favourite stories. I really, really recommend reading it. It’s inspiring, in a creative way but also in a personal way. It makes life seem bigger and brighter and more beautiful. Read it. Please.

“It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age…” (2010 – 2020)

This blog post is probably more for me than for you but since this is my blog, and a place I record my thoughts about my life, it felt important to write and post. A lot has happened in the last decade and I wanted to write about some of it, especially the bits that I know I will carry forward and even the bits I’ll leave behind, because I don’t need them anymore or because they’re damaging to the person I’m growing into.

There are a handful of things that I think are important to include – for context – before I write about this decade because otherwise important things won’t make sense. I moved from London to Brighton when I was six, eventually made friends and then lost all of them when I was 12, made some much better (amazing) friends, struggled with Glandular Fever and then Chronic Fatigue, which has continued to affect my life. And in 2008, my Dad died fairly suddenly. So I brought a lot into the 2010s.

So I’ve collected up some of the big things that happened in this last decade. I thought I’d write a little bit about them from a perspective ten years on.

EDUCATION

  • GCSEs – Wow, GCSEs seem easy now. Some of them were even multiple choice. Now my assessments involve weeks of research and planning and essay writing. But that’s not the point of this section. I look back at my GCSEs and remember feeling fairly confident – anxious in the way that we all feel when asked to prove ourselves or our knowledge but I felt like I knew what I needed to know. Mostly. I remember even being excited by some of the questions that came up because they were the particular sub-subjects (if that makes sense) that I knew well. My only frustration (other than my brother then doing better than me) was that I got an A not an A* in Maths after having always worked so hard and performed so well. And I really wanted to make my teacher proud although I think he was (of how hard I’d worked – he was like that). But I wanted to get the A* for him, to reflect how well he’d taught me and taken care of me.
  • A Levels – My A Levels were very stressful, which we – me and my family and my mental health team – think was partly to do with my depression and anxiety  starting to get really bad. Some classes were great and I loved them but others were actively traumatic. My Maths teacher for example was a real bully. By the time I got to the final exams, I was in such bad shape that, after doing relatively well for two years, I had to drop out of one of my classes and didn’t do nearly as well as I’d hoped and was expected to. It was very upsetting. But there were good times. I made some really good friends that I’m still friends with and we had a lot of fun together. The games of Irish Snap will never be forgotten. (Fun fact: I re-sat a couple of the exams but didn’t open the grades until after I’d gotten my degree.)
  • Got a Degree with First Class Honours – My degree probably deserves it’s own post (although I wrote one about graduating). There’s just so much I could say. I studied songwriting and although there were classes that I didn’t like or caused me extreme anxiety, I loved it and I learned so much. It’s the place that made me a real songwriter. The tutors were fantastic and I made some really amazing friends there, that I hope will stay my friends forever. I think my favourite part was the monthly Songwriter’s Circles where people were selected and would talk about and play a few of their songs. I got to play twice and my favourite experience was in my third year (even though I’d cracked a rib a week earlier). The circle involved Sweet Billy Pilgrim who I love (Tim Elsenburg is a tutor at ICMP and he was one of my favourites) and Lauren Aquilina (who was probably my favourite artist for most of my teenage years) and I played my debut single, ‘Invisible,’ live for the first time. It was a pretty big deal of a night.
  • Started an MA – So, as of last September, I started a Masters Degree in songwriting, at the same university where I did my BA. I’ve only done one semester and I was seriously struggling with my mental health for a significant part of it but it was amazing. I mean, I’ve written a whole blog post about it so that gives a more detailed look at the experience but despite the hard stuff, I loved it. I loved the classes, I loved what we studied, I loved writing the songs, I loved my tutor, and I loved the people in my group. There were a lot of positives, despite the severe anxiety I suffered from (and my OCD came back with a vengeance). It was mixed but I regard it ultimately in a positive light. I haven’t got my grades back yet for the module’s exams yet (which I’m very anxious about) so I’m just not thinking about that yet.

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PETS

  • Snubby was put to sleep – My gorgeous (if incredibly grumpy) cat developed cancer and had to be put down, which was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. I held her while they put her to sleep and I felt the moment she left – or however you want to describe it. It was so upsetting and I still miss her, even though we didn’t have a lot of cuddling or stroking time.
  • Got Lucy – It took me a good while before I was ready to have another cat because I felt like I was replacing Snubby, something I’m sure many people feel after a pet dies. But I missed having a cat in my life so we started looking for a kitten and we found Lucy. I feel so, so lucky to have her. She’s the most gorgeous cat ever. We call her Queen Lucy because she gets whatever she wants (within reason for a cat/pet) and because she’s the Queen of the feline clan we having living in our house.
  • Three sets of kittens – I’d always wanted to raise kittens so we decided to let Lucy get pregnant. She had three kittens and they were all just so adorable (there are many pictures on my Instagram). We found new homes for them all (somehow all in the same family and friends network) and life went on. Normal returned weirdly quickly. Then we decided to do it one more time and she had two kittens. We moved house before we could rehome them and through that process, we ended up deciding to keep them. And that’s how Mouse and Tiger came to be part of the family. And then six months ago, we were getting them spayed and Mouse needed to gain some weight before they’d do it. Turns out she was pregnant and had two kittens. We named them Sooty and Sweep and they’ve been a godsend in the last few incredibly stressful months.
  • Hydro-ed Lucky – I can’t believe that ten years ago, Lucky was five years old. That seems so young. He’s obviously now fifteen (his birthday is in February) so he’s pretty old and wobbly now. But he’s still full of enthusiasm and affection. It reminds me that, even if you struggle with something that does diminish your quality of life some (he’s very arthritic and had Geriatric Vestibular Disease, which had left him even more wobbly), there’s still joy to be found in life. Because he does. I love him to pieces. Anyway, my point was that I got to guide him in one of his Hydrotherapy sessions and it was such hard work. It took SO MUCH CONCENTRATION, guiding him and trying to keep an eye on all of his limbs and how much they’re working and stretching and extending. But it was a really cool experience and I felt very lucky to do it. No pun intended.

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MENTAL HEALTH/AUTISM

  • Major Depression and Anxiety – These developed when I was doing my A Levels and I’ve been battling with them ever since, even when on medication. My depression can get really bad, leaving me wishing I was someone else or wanting to die. But I find that easier to deal with than the anxiety, that winds me so tight that I feel like my spine might snap. I feel like I’m being strangled. It’s awful and right now, it’s as bad, if not worse, than it’s ever been.
  • Self Harm – I’ve struggled with self harm on and off since I was twelve but it was really bad between the ages of eighteen and twenty three. I don’t want to talk about it too much because I don’t want to trigger anyone and I haven’t used it as a strategy in a while. I did write a post about it a while ago, as well as one with tips for talking about it.
  • Trichotillomania – I took a year out between A Levels and university to do resits and at some point during that year, I started pulling my hair out (I wrote about that a couple of years ago). It was like this weird manifestation of my perfectionism: any hair that didn’t feel perfectly smooth had to go and so I would pull it out. I’ve made multiple attempts to stop but so far, I’ve always ended up starting again, especially when I’m under stress. I don’t know what to do about it really. I did see a specialist hypnotherapist once but I haven’t really had time to do much more than that because life is just so busy.
  • OCD – I wrote early on about my struggles with OCD, with my compulsive writing and for a while, it was manageable. But then, after a particularly vicious meltdown, it was retriggered and it got really, really bad. My psychiatrist had taken it off my list of diagnoses but he’s now rediagnosed me because I have to write everything down. Everything. Which is very hard to do while doing a Masters and has caused me significant stress. It’s a constant battle between working and writing. And now, at the beginning of the semester, the work is okay but I’m so behind on the writing.
  • BPD – I had to work very hard to get my psychiatrist to consider Borderline Personality Disorder as a diagnosis. I basically wrote a dissertation to convince him, just to consider it, not even to diagnose me with it: I have serious problems with abandonment, intense relationships, an unstable sense of self, self harming behaviour, unstable moods, feelings of emptiness and so on. I felt like it was at least worth pursuing and eventually he did diagnose me with it. That’s what got me to my therapist. We’re working on elements of it, as they pop up and become problematic, but it’s really, really hard to live with.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder – Being diagnosed with Autism wasn’t a shock by the time it finally happened. The presentation is different in women and as it turns out, I fit the criteria perfectly. The diagnostic process was very long and complicated so I’m gonna link to the post about it rather than repeat myself here.
  • Tried many medications – I’ve tried many medications in the time since my diagnoses, as you guys know since I’ve documented many of those experiences on this blog. I’ve lost count at this point, but it’s probably between fifteen and twenty. The side effects have been awful and most of them have made me feel worse rather than better but I’ll never give up trying to find the one (or the combination) that makes life joyful again.
  • Hours of therapy – I’ve been doing DBT for five years this February and it’s helped me so much. Sometimes it’s hard to tell because I can’t always say ‘it’s helped me do this’ or ‘it’s helped me overcome this’ because it’s day by day. But it’s helping. It’s been complicated the last year (that’s a story for another time) but it’s helped me so much. My therapist is absolutely incredible and I’m so, so grateful for her.
  • Autism research studies – I’ve done quite a few Autism research studies for multiple reasons. I want to know more about Autism and about the life that I’m gonna live. I want to know more about the differences in my brain and body and how to manage them. I also want it to be easier for the next person, for the next generation, for scientists, for doctors, for teachers. I don’t want to be an obstacle to be manoeuvred around and I don’t want that for anyone else and the only way to do that is to make it more understandable for everyone.
  • Blog – And of course, there’s this blog. It’s been really helpful for me to have a place to put all of my thoughts about mental health and so on. And I’ve heard from others that some of these posts have helped them and that’s amazing.

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MUSIC

  • Concerts: I have been to so many concerts and shows over the years; it’s the only thing I really spend my money on. They just feed my soul. I’m not gonna talk about all of them but I wanted to list some and tell a couple of stories: Tim Minchin, Taylor Swift (RED Tour, 1989 Tour, and Reputation Tour – I can’t pick a favourite), Emeli Sande, Kacey Musgraves, OneRepublic, Sara Bareilles (she dedicated ‘Uncharted’ to me after I left a letter for her and it was one of the best moments of my life), Against Me!, James Bay, John & Jacob, The Shires (I’ve seen them more times than I can count – we met before their album came out so we’re kind of friends, maybe?), Fall Out Boy, Imagine Dragons, Rachel Platten, Halsey (every show is amazing: she puts everything into it from the graphics to the outfits to the stage), Adele, Kelsea Ballerini, Kalie Shorr (only in Song Suffragettes so far but I would love to see her new solo show but I won’t be in the US yet), Natalie Hemby (at Tin Pan South – I adore her), Liz Rose (she invited a load of us up to sing ‘You Belong With Me’ by Taylor Swift with her and it was this completely magical experience), Frank Turner, Jordan Gray, Lauren Aquilina (I saw her a couple of times when she was an artist and then we played a Songwriter’s Circle together at my uni and then we wrote a song together – what is life?!), Sugarland (after years of loving them), Jennifer Nettles (solo), Cassadee Pope, Maren Morris (from a tiny show at Omeara to the front row at the Royal Albert Hall, I’ve seen Maren multiple times and she never fails to blow me away), East of Eli, Lady Antebellum, Paramore, Ingrid Andress (I first saw Ingrid in Nashville and then again in London and she remembered me, which made me so happy), Kina Grannis (who I’ve been following on YouTube for YEARS and was desperate to see live), Kelly Clarkson, and Carrie Underwood.
  • People I’ve Met: I’ve met some of these incredible people after shows or at special events and some of those experiences are the most special of my life: Rachel Platten (I won a meet and greet totally by chance and it was a really special experience – she gives amazing hugs), Halsey (I went until about two am in the freezing cold and then, when I tried to talk to her, I suddenly couldn’t say what I wanted to say – hopefully I’ll get another chance one day), Kelsea Ballerini (it was really early in her career so I’d love another chance now that she’s written so much more because those songs mean so much to me and I wish I could talk to her and tell her why), Kalie Shorr (I’ve met her a couple of times and she’s so lovely and as much as I wish we could be friends, she’s way too cool for me), Liz Rose, Emily Shackelton, Natalie Hemby (she’s so lovely and has been so kind to me – I can’t wait to see her again when I’m back in Nashville), Frank Turner, The Shires (As I said, we actually kind of know each other, although not well, but I’ve met them so many times and they’ve been lovely every single time), Emeli Sande, Jordan Gray (we had this amazing chat before the show and she gave me some really important advice for which I’ll always be grateful), Lauren Aquilina (I was so nervous the first time I met her that my legs were shaking so badly that I thought they’d buckle; after that we met a few times, and then wrote a song together), Maren Morris (I’ve met Maren twice and as hard as I’ve tried, my anxiety has prevented me from saying what I’ve wanted to say but hopefully one day I’ll be able to), and Ingrid Andress (it was really, really nice to see her when she played in London and although we’ve been trying to write together for years now – being in different countries does make it hard – hopefully we’ll manage it at some point).
  • Musicals – I’ve also seen a couple of musicals: Wicked (which I love and Willemijn Verkaik will always be my Elphaba), Hadestown (the cast were amazing but the show didn’t really move me), and Waitress (which is one of my favourite things ever and I’m about to see it with Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music, playing the main character, Jenna – I’m so, so excited).

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Ingrid Andress at The Courtyard Theatre in London (2019)

MY MUSIC

  • Learned to play guitar – I started playing guitar just before my sixteenth birthday and got my own for that birthday. I’ve been playing ever since. I wish I was better but my mental has really interfered with my ability to play/practice. But I’m working on it.
  • Rock Choir – I spent a handful of really amazing years singing with Rock Choir. I was the Rock Choir Baby because I was the youngest by quite a bit (I was fifteen when I started). I loved it. It’s just a shame that that time ended so negatively.
  • Starting performing – Playing in front of people was scary but it felt right. I felt this stillness, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
  • Wrote many, many songs – I started writing songs in 2011 so who knows how many songs I’ve written since then, especially writing three songs a week at university. Probably hundreds, which is pretty cool.
  • Written with some amazing people – I went to uni with so many amazing writers and I’m now studying with some amazing writers again so
  • Made amazing friends, met one really important co-writer – I’m still friends with many of my course mates but there’s one, Richard Sanderson (or Richard Marc on social media), who has been my partner in crime for years now. We have so much fun together and I love writing with him. He’s been incredible – instrumental even, pun intended – in the whole Honest EP project. A legend if ever there is one.
  • Performed a lot – I tend to do it in phases due to university and so on but I’ve definitely performed a lot in the last few years.
  • Went to Nashville multiple times – Nashville is a magical place, I think, for anyone who loves music. I’ve been there several times now and it’s just so awesome and if I didn’t have the difficulties I do, I’d seriously consider moving there. But alas, that’s not possible. We always go for Tin Pan South, the songwriting festival in March, which is a week of two songwriter’s rounds a night and it’s just an amazing, amazing experience, especially if you’re a songwriter I think. My favourite Nashville memory is in the next point…
  • Saw and Played Song Suffragettes – Song Suffragettes is an all female weekly songwriter’s round for up and coming songwriters. I’ve been to quite a few now and they’re always so cool. The songwriting is incredible and I’m always amazed that these girls aren’t signed and releasing music, supported by record labels. And then the second year I visited, I got to play, which was one of the best moments of my life. I loved every second.
  • Played The Bluebird in Nashville twice – I also got to play at the very famous Bluebird Cafe during my first trip. It was the open mic rather than an actual show but I’ll most gratefully take what I can get. Everyone plays and then, if there’s time at the end, they pull names from a hat to see who gets to play again and I did! That was very cool and very special.
  • Played a label showcase –  Playing a label showcase is a very surreal experience. For me, it was just a normal show but you’re very aware of the high stakes. It ended up being a really fun show, even though I was incredibly nervous about screwing up. But it went really well. And all my people showed up for me, which meant so, so much. Afterwards, I was offered a management deal but it turned out not to be the right thing for either of us. It was a big compliment to be sought after though.
  • Performed for charity events including Oxfam, TWLOHA, Young Minds, Ambitious For Autism, Disability Pride, Autism’s Got Talent, Brighton Soup, SummerFest, Sussex Mental Health Forum, and more – Playing for charities is always really rewarding, even though you rarely get paid. I’m always trying to help and make things better and it feels so good to be part of something that helps people, that’s creating change, and hopefully the songs I’m playing resonate with the people listening. I’ve actually been invited to play at a couple of these things, which is another big compliment.
  • Made an EP – Despite one of the worst periods of depression I’ve ever experienced, me and Richard managed to put together an EP with the help of a handful of very talented musicians, finished off by an awesome mixer and masterer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long and I will always remember this first project; it will always be special. There was a period where I was too depressed and anxious to even talk about it but thanks to Richard, the work continued and I’m endlessly, endlessly grateful. I’m really proud of it, even as a self proclaimed perfectionist so that must be saying something.
  • Released music – I’ve released a single and two songs from my current EP, Honest, something I’ve been dreaming of for years. So it’s amazing and exciting and wonderful, even if it is the most freaking stressful experience of my life.
  • Made and released music videos – I get very stressed out by watching myself, especially watching myself lip-sync but of the two videos that are already out, it hasn’t been too bad. I worked with two very thoughtful and generous people, which made the process actually enjoyable and I’m really grateful to them (Rosie Powell and Richard Sanderson) for making something so stressful so collaborative and fun.  I actually can’t wait to keep releasing them.
  • Got some radio play, including BBC Introducing – Radio play?! What?! BBC Introducing?! What?! It sounds so surreal to me, that people are choosing to play my songs on the radio for people to hear. It’s amazing and I’m so grateful. Plus the songs have been added to some really cool Spotify playlists, which I don’t know a whole lot about (I don’t often use Spotify) but watching the streams go up is very exciting.

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Photographer: Andy Voakes Music Photography / bigbearphotographybrighton

TRAVEL

  • Australia and New Zealand – We spent five weeks travelling up the East Coast and into Central Australia when I was fifteen. It was an incredible trip and I’d love to go back, especially to Sydney (and the super-speed boat rides around the bay – one of the most fun experiences of my life). I particularly loved The Whitsunday Islands (the sand there is so fine that it squeaks when you walk on it). I think that was my favourite place. But travelling around in a caravan with my family was really fun, if stressful at times. I’m so glad it’s a trip we got to do together. And then me, my Mum, and her Mum flew over to South Island, New Zealand for five days and I just fell in love. I don’t know what it was but I just loved it from the moment we got there. Another place I think I could happily live if I didn’t have all of my problems. We explored Christchurch, flew up to the top of a Glacier, and watched baby seals play under a waterfall while the adults lounged on the beach. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible.
  • Berlin – Me and my family went there for a long weekend and it was incredible and beautiful. I mean, it’s a city, so it’s not all perfect and pretty but we saw some amazing things: art galleries and installations, memorials, cool restaurants, and so on. I felt very attached to it as a city.
  • Turkey – Some family and I went to a little village on the coast of Turkey between my AS and A Level year (I remember this vividly because I had to do my summer work in the bedroom, the only room with air conditioning). It was beautiful. We had a tiny balcony where we ate breakfast every morning and above (well, I guess, behind) the village were these spectacular) mountains and that was when I fell in love with mountains. I’m very grateful for the trip but it was very hot – hot enough to melt the tarmac off roads in certain areas – and I don’t handle the heat very well so it was a struggle. I wish it hadn’t have been so hot so that we could’ve done more. I did have a relaxing time though: reading books and eating good food in fabulous weather.
  • Netherlands – I have family in the Netherlands so I’ve been there several times, especially when I was younger (and we’ve often stopped briefly in Belgium). While I do like Amsterdam and Driehuis, Alkmaar has been my favourite place so far. It might be a city but it felt like a small town and I loved walked around and discovering the little shops and restaurants and churches. Plus we ate plenty of poffertjes (they’re like teeny, tiny pancakes but not quite and you can eat them with almost anything). SO GOOD.
  • Paris and Venice – For my Granny’s 80th birthday, she took us to Venice, via Paris. Unfortunately they’d just had the highest rainfall in twenty years so the water was almost knee high. They were providing Wellie Boots that looked a bit like they were made out of (sturdy) plastic bags. Apart from my Granny’s safety, the whole thing was pretty funny. Even with the inconvenience of the extra water, I loved the city and we travelled to some of the islands. I particularly loved watching them blow the glass on Murano.
  • Switzerland – I was lucky enough to go to Geneva for two days with my best friend from sixth form and although I was anxious as all hell for the whole trip (this was when my anxiety and depression were becoming a life altering problem), it was really cool and I’m really grateful to her and her Dad for having me along. We got to go to CERN (we’re Physics nerds) and although the underground tours weren’t running, we got to see the control room of the Large Hadron Collider and that was REALLY, REALLY COOL. Plus the science-centre-sort-of-thing attached to it was fun. The lake was beautiful and I loved looking at the mountains in the distance. I love mountains.
  • Ireland – Mum had to work in a couple of different places in Ireland and decided to make it a little trip, starting in Dublin, and it was a surprisingly wonderful place. Not that I thought it would be boring but I didn’t expect to enjoy the experience so much. There was music everywhere and all the people were so nice and there were so many interesting little shops. At least where we were situated. Then we went further south and it was just so green. It was so beautiful. I loved it.
  • Iceland – I went to Iceland at the end of 2018 and as you’ll know if you follow my blog, I wrote a whole blog post about it. It was very stressful because new experiences are stressful for me but it was absolutely incredible. I know I’ve used that word a lot. But the glaciers were beautiful and the diamond beach was the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen and the Northern Lights, as faint as they were, were one of the most magical things I’ve ever witnessed.
  • Norfolk – I’ve been going to a little seaside Norfolk town every year since I was two and it’s become really special. It’s my home away from home. I step onto the beach and I feel different, like I’ve found something I didn’t realise I’d lost. We used to stay in a cottage but now we stay in a caravan closer to the beach, which is so nice. I love it there. It will always own a piece of my heart.

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At the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany (2011)

HARD STUFF

  • Had my heart broken – Being in love is always kind of complicated for me because I can love someone without it being romantic. But I still love them with all my heart. Anyway. At nineteen, I had my heart broken for the first time and it was crushing. She was so cold and just cut me off without a word. It took me more than two years to get over it and feel like myself again. I did see her again, just once. But I didn’t get a decent explanation. In fact, it seems like she was rewriting history to make herself feel better. But I’m good now, in that regard at least.
  • Christina Grimmie was killed – The night Christina Grimmie died, I was out at a friend’s EP launch, spending time with lovely people. I went home on a high. And then I woke up to social media posts praying for her and using RIP hashtags, telling stories about what she meant to them. I was in total shock. She’d been such a big part of my teenage years and I’d always been so inspired by her videos, by her incredible voice and dynamic personality. I’m only glad I didn’t have to be in university that day because I don’t think I could’ve managed my emotions. I kept crying, bursting into tears at random moments. I spent most of the day on the floor with the young kittens we had at the time: they were exploring the world with excitement and wonder and that helped. A bit. It reminded me that there was still good in the world, that there was still innocence. I still think of her often, watch her videos and I wear a bracelet to remember her, so that she’s always with me.
  • Moved out of my childhood home – Last year, I moved out of my childhood home (or at least the one I’d lived in for about about fifteen years – so most of the life I’m aware of) and it was hugely traumatic for all of us, especially since we weren’t going to continue living as one unit. We all cried a lot and slept terribly and it took weeks to not hate it. I don’t hate it anymore. There’s a lot I like about the new situation but I think that the old house will always be home in my mind. But whether it is or not, we’re doing okay. We’re doing good here.
  • Ten years without Dad – I don’t really want to write about this; I’d rather write about it in it’s own post. But it was hard. It felt like the day should feel big and important but it just felt like a normal day. And that was really hard.
  • Claire Wineland died – I discovered Claire’s YouTube videos in early 2019 and I just fell in love with the way she talked and her perspective on life, her perspective on so many things. It made my day every time I saw that she’d posted a new video. I was so excited for her to get her new lungs and I spent every moment of that week when she was in a coma, thinking about her and her family, sending them all the love I could. And then she died and I was devastated. I still am. Writing this is making me cry. I miss her. I still really miss her and like my Dad and Christina Grimmie (and my Grandad), I wear a bracelet so that she’s always with me.
  • Autism and Mental Illness – As you’ve probably just read in that specific section, there’s been a lot of struggle and pain. It’s been really, really difficult and sometimes I don’t even know what to do with all that pain.

OTHER

  • Made some amazing friends – I have friends I’ve known for ten years, friends I hope will still be my friends in ten years, friends who also have Autism and understand me in a way that others don’t, and I have new uni friends who I’ve only met recently. They’re all freaking wonderful in their own unique way and I’m grateful to know every single one of them.
  • Met Amanda Tapping – Amanda Tapping has been one of my heroes for so long so to meet her was amazing. I was so nervous but she was so kind and attentive and she held my hands the whole time we spoke. It was a really special experience that I’ll always be grateful for.
  • Voted in multiple elections – This is something that’s always been really important to me and although, in that time, we’ve never had the overall result I’ve hoped for, the person I’ve voted for in my constituency has always gotten in and she’s incredible.

So there you have it: a rough guide to my decade. I hope this wasn’t boring as all hell because it was very therapeutic for me. So, yeah, I hope you like it. Have you written something like this?

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BEHIND THE SONG: Clarity

Today I posted a new video, telling the story behind the inspiration, the writing with Imogen Davies, and the production of my current single, ‘Clarity.’ I’ll let you watch the video but again, it does relate to mental health so I wanted to post it hear, as well as on my social media. I haven’t explained the experience that gave me the idea because I don’t want to get in the way of the way someone applies the song to their life or interprets the story. It’s a song about something difficult so I feel weird saying, ‘I hope you like it!’ but I hope, when you listen to it, it means something to you. I hope it makes you feel something.

If you haven’t heard the song yet, you can buy or stream it here and the music video will be out soon.

The First Semester of my Masters Degree

Now that I’ve finished my assessments, I thought it might be an interesting idea to sit down and write about my experience of the first semester of my Masters Degree. Because I’m doing it part time (mainly to protect my mental health), I’m only doing one module rather than two, which is what the full-timers do. The module I did was called ‘Creative Process’ and it was four hours of uni time, a two hour seminar where we talked about different areas of the creative process and then a two hour workshop where we played the songs we’d written based on the ideas and concepts we’d talked about the week before. It was a really interesting module and I wish my mental health had been better so that I could’ve focussed and enjoyed it more.

I feel really lucky when it came to my group and my tutor.

My group was only about nine people (when the other groups were much larger as far as I know) and they were all absolutely lovely. We were all really different, both musically and life experience wise (but I guess that’s what happens when you get to Masters level), which was really interesting when it came to writing and socialising and… just everything. It was a completely new experience and one that I’m really grateful for. Up until now, I’ve mostly been surrounded by people my own age with similar experiences.

Everyone was so, so good, all in their own way. They all had their own style (some had particularly beautiful musical signatures, some wrote from interesting perspectives with thoughtful lyrics, and so on) and it was so interesting and exciting to see how they developed over the semester. We were and I know will continue to be so supportive of each other’s music and development as songwriters. It always felt safe to bring in something I felt unsure or insecure about and the feedback was always constructive and because the person wanted you to get better; I never once felt like someone was being mean or looking down on me. It was such a supportive atmosphere and I’m so grateful because I think that was a huge part of what helped me to grow so much as a writer.

I made two really good friends in particular, both of whom I’m still in the same group with to my absolute delight. They’re truly beautiful souls. One of them, Luce Barka, wrote this amazing song during the semester and has said she’s happy for me to share it with you guys. I really, really recommend it…

I also had a fantastic tutor, Isobel. She’s a really cool, independent singersongwriter, which I think made her an especially good teacher because she’s very immersed in the industry we’re all trying to get into, in her own, distinctive way. She’s also dealt with serious health problems (which she has talked about publicly so I’m not breaking her confidence or anything) so I felt like she was a really good tutor, especially for me. She understood, or had a kind of understanding, of what I deal with. She was a really, really great tutor, in discussions and when giving and guiding feedback. But for me personally – and this is my blog after all – she was incredible when it came to helping me manage the course against all of my issues. When my anxiety was overwhelming, she helped me adjust the tasks to make them easier while still allowing me to do the task and learn the skills. I am massively appreciative of how accommodating and generous and kind she was, even before  she received the Student Support Agreement (the document with all my information and recommendations).

Anyway, she was amazing. I learned so much, obviously from the course but also from the way she delivered it and the feedback she gave me. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a writer and I feel like she’s a really big part of that. Plus, I’ve never had a teacher who was so understanding, who helped without hesitation, with just my word to guide her. I can’t properly express how much I appreciate that. It’s never happened to me before and it felt so wonderful to be treated as if it was something you just do, rather than being made to feel like a burden or an obstacle to be manoeuvred. So, as much as I learned (and I learned a lot), that is what I’m most grateful for and one of the things that I will always remember about this semester.

The first few weeks were really, really tough. After my massive meltdown in Victoria station, I was having meltdowns every day (as I wrote about here), which was having a big impact on my mental and emotional health, also leaving me physically exhausted. That significant meltdown was triggered by an email from the Disability Coordinator (who was also an Autism Specialist), suggesting a very last minute change of plan for our scheduled meeting which still leaves me bewildered. As an autistic person, sudden changes of plan are known to be highly problematic. That, plus my existing anxiety, caused a massive meltdown that took a very long time to recover from. And it left me feeling less than confident in her ability to support me even though we had had a positive first meeting and I had left feeling cautiously optimistic that this time it might be different. It then didn’t improve as actions promised at that meeting didn’t get done, leading to more meltdowns. So that was a real complication and painful part of the semester.

Having said all of that, I loved the classes. We learned about songcraft, collaborating, imposter syndrome, professional practice, perfectionism, and so much more. It was fascinating and fun and the briefs, while often stressful (with only a week to write the song), were interesting and challenging. I wrote some songs that I’m really proud of and I feel like my songwriting grew a lot because the briefs were challenging.

We watched this video in one of the classes and I thought it was really good so I thought I’d share it:

I loved it – loved getting better at songwriting – even the bits that pushed me and made me feel uncomfortable.

However, out of class was another matter. We were expected to do research that would later become the foundations of our assessment essay and presentation. Except whenever I asked, they wouldn’t tell me what the assessment entailed and just said it was ‘self directed learning’ so I didn’t know what I was actually researching, which caused me terrible anxiety. I created a reading list of books, articles, and interviews about creativity and songwriting but as hard as I tried to do the work, my OCD – my need to write everything down – battled against it. And usually won. So if I wasn’t writing, I was reading. I had no downtime. I was constantly anxious, like, end-of-the-world-anxious. And I felt like I was failing.

They explained the essay and presentation in the last couple of weeks but I still didn’t really understand. The language was complicated and vague and while I understood the general idea, the grading criteria was pretty ambiguous. I didn’t know what I had to do specifically to get good grades. I need clarity. It was incredibly stressful.

It took a couple of last minute meetings with my module leader to really understand what was expected of me but I was now facing a myriad of problems. The research I had been doing had little relevance to the subject I was writing about so I’d have to redo all of that, as well as actually write the essay and prepare the presentation. Plus we were in the final two weeks of the semester and the university would soon be closed for the Christmas holidays so I would have no way of contacting anyone for any support. I was wound so tight I felt like my spine might snap. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I’m really grateful for those meetings but I just wish the assessment had been clearer earlier in the module so the research I was doing could’ve been more focussed. With all the problems associated with Autism, like chronic fatigue and chronic pain, time is something I have to be incredibly thoughtful about.

I worked every day of the entire holiday (apart from Christmas Day, which I spent with my family – something I don’t often get to do) but the assessments were always in my head so I felt like I couldn’t take a break or have any time to rest and recharge. I still didn’t feel sure that I was doing it right but still, I worked hard on it and gave it everything I had. I finished both the essay and the presentation with time to spare, allowing myself time to redraft and prepare, giving myself the best chance of doing well. I submitted the essay, despite big technical problems with the system, and I did my presentation to the best of my ability, despite finding presentations incredibly difficult. Now I just have to wait for the marks.

Now, having run through the whole semester (and having reflected a lot on the difficulties), I just wanted to share a couple of specific, positive experiences:

  • For one of the early seminars, we had a guest tutor, who works primarily as an expert in Personal Transformation, come and talk to us. Because we were such a small group, he was able to really talk to each of us about our lives and our creative struggles. Considering how little we knew each other at the time, it was amazing how open everyone was and I think it’s part of the reason we became so close and supportive as a group. It was a real bonding experience to hear all of these personal stories and I personally felt really honoured to be part of it, to have been trusted with those stories.
  • One week I brought in a song that I was really proud of. It had a repeated line in it – “it’ll get easier” – and everyone picked it up really quickly, singing along and harmonising. It was beautiful and emotional and it was one of the most special moments of the semester for me.
  • During my research, I found a quote by Paul Gardner that I’m endlessly inspired and intrigued and excited by: “A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.” There are so many things that could mean. What do you think it means? Or what does it mean to you about a particular thing in your life?

Overall, it was a very mixed bag. The good moments were great and made me feel amazing. I got a lot out of it. But I spent a lot – A LOT – of the semester in crippling anxiety and I had a lot of meltdowns. It was fucking hard. And the marks haven’t even come back yet. I’m terrified that I’ve done horribly. But I’m trying not to think about it. I’m just trying to get through this new semester. Which may be even more stressful than the last.