Posted on March 2, 2020
So my university tutor/friend/mentor/super inspiring person, Sophie Daniels, ran a challenge throughout the month of February (including the 1st March to create 30 days) under her artist project name, Liberty’s Mother. The name Liberty’s Mother comes from the name of her daughter who died very tragically the day before she was born and so Sophie has been working incredibly hard, raising awareness about baby loss and money for baby loss charities, particularly Tommy’s and Sands. And so for this month, Sophie is running a challenge about doing something positive for your wellbeing every day for thirty days.
I know a lot of people are doing physical things, like yoga or going to the gym or something that builds up their physical strength. But due to my chronic fatigue and chronic pain, those aren’t options for me. So I decided to do something good for my brain, something that relaxes my brain because I’m really not good at relaxing my brain. So I decided to make a piece of origami everyday because I’ve always found it calming; I can’t concentrate on anything else while I’m doing it. I guess it’s a form of mindfulness, although I’ve always struggled with the concept. I’m not great at origami but hopefully I’ll get better. The idea is that, if you manage 30 days (or if you’re feeling generous, regardless of how many days), you can donate here and help raise money for Tommy’s.
And I did it. I managed a whole 30 days. Here are my origami creations.
So, if you want to, you can donate to Tommy’s or click here for the JustGiving link for the specific challenge. If you choose to donate and want to include my name in the message, that would be lovely but regardless, thank you for your kindness and your generosity. It’s very, very much appreciated. And if this inspires you to try something similar for 30 days, go for it. It’s a good motivator. And I also encourage you to follow Liberty’s Mother on Instagram because Sophie’s written some amazing things during this challenge. Here’s just one example:
View this post on Instagram
#babylossawareness #30daychallenge #posttraumaticstress #30dayfeb #babyloss #yogainspiration #psoasrelease #psoas @hotyogahouse @hotyogawimbledon @yogahookuk Why yoga is great for baby loss recovery … today I realised what it is that I am letting go of during this 30 day challenge doing hot yoga. Over 9 years ago now, I gave birth to Liberty. Beforehand I was told that my daughter had died inside me just before she was due. I was told that I must give birth (for the first time) to her dead body, then decide ‘whether’ to hold her. They said ‘we don’t know how she died yet or how she will look, prepare for anything’. During the whole 24hours over which this took place, I remember feeling as though I wasn’t really present but was in a film. Behind the camera watching the action and not feeling what was happening. This is what our minds and bodies do when they fear we cannot handle what is happening to us, that it is too emotionally dangerous to live in real time. Afterwards we have the ‘post traumatic stress’ because we haven’t lived the real time stress. It’s stored in our brains but it’s also stored, like all our difficult emotions, in our bodies. Yoga helps us to gently release the emotions, feelings and tensions that we hold in the muscles and tissues in our bodies. Postures that get down deep into the psoas muscle particularly, really help as we store deep held stress there. It’s been nine years since these events, (I have also had two babies, moved house twice and somehow kept a hold of my mind, my career and my marriage in the meantime), and it feels like the right time to release the last of this deep held stress. If you’ve experienced baby loss, try yoga my friends. I have also benefitted from talking therapy and other physical therapies but yoga is by far the most emotionally healing thing I’ve had in my life. It’s been my greatest friend, energy, support and healing system. Give hot yoga a try. ❤️Liberty’s Mother
I have to admit, this challenge was hard for me. It was stressful to make sure I managed a piece everyday when I’ve got so much on. There were some days when I hated it. But there were also days where it made me smile. And my Mum has been very funny, filling the mantle piece with every piece I’ve made, even when they’re terrible. I have to say, that while I initially thought it was silly, it’s actually inspired me to keep going. It’s been hard – sometimes really hard – to find the time but I did it and I’m really proud of that.
If you try a 30 day challenge, good luck! And if you donate, thank you! I hope this post has inspired you. I hope you have a great, positive day.
Posted on March 1, 2020
FAWM or February Album Writing Month is an annual songwriting challenge where participants must try to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February. Unless all you do is write songs, it can be a real struggle. If you have a job or are in any kind of education or have time consuming responsibilities, you’ll have limited time to write so it’s definitely not easy. Having said that, it’s a great way to motivate yourself when you’re in a rut or when you just want to challenge yourself.
I’ve been attempting this challenge on and off for several years now and I’ve only achieved it once, which was helped by my BA in Songwriting requiring me to write three songs a week (roughly). That definitely made things easier. So once I’d written those, there was only a handful left to write.
This year, I decided to try it again, since I’m back in education, doing a Masters in Songwriting. However, this semester is based around an essay with only the suggestion of writing a song a week. So it’s significantly harder than the last time I tried this in songwriting education. I’ve also been struggling to write for the last several years. The last time I managed this challenge was probably the last time my songwriting brain was really working. Since then, pulling all the elements of a song together has felt all but impossible and the outcomes have been very unsatisfactory, to me at least. Other people haven’t always felt the same. I believe that it was my failing medication (Phenelzine, for my depression) that negatively impacted my songwriting. That continued when I took different medications and only lifted when I started taking Phenelzine again at the end of last year. My brain and my songwriting brain just lit up again and I’ve been writing and writing and writing ever since then. So I decided to try the challenge again. I was a little more flexible this year, what with all of my Masters work so, as well as writing full songs, I also included edited songs as long as the edits were serious edits: not just the odd line but refocusing the song or rewriting major sections.
These are the songs I wrote:
- Halley’s Comet – I’ve always been fascinated by Halley’s Comet and how it repeatedly passes Earth, particularly how it passed on Mark Twain’s birthday and the day he died. So I tried to write about that, about that relationship. I’ve tried before and this one is better but I’m still not sure I’ve quite got it right. I’ll keep playing it and see what occurs to me.
- Bad Dream – This is a song I wrote with two friends, late in 2019. I loved it but on reflection, after some time had passed, I realised that it didn’t quite fit my original concept and wasn’t quite going in the direction I wanted it to go. So I edited the verses and chorus so that it fitted with what I wanted to say. And now it describes a situation feeling like a dream rather than a situation basically being a bad dream, if that makes sense.
- Helping a friend with her song – Me and a good friend of mine sat in a cafe and spent an hour helping each other with concepts and lyrics for songs we were both writing and I had so much fun helping her with her song. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t know whether she’s planning to release it or do something with it but it’s a great song and I can’t wait to hear the final version.
- Starlings – This song was a uni assignment where we had to write a song including lots of details of the place we considered home and so I wrote about Brighton and growing up with my brother. But once I’d finished it, I realised that it had ended up too focussed on my relationship with him, rather than my relationship with my home so I had to do a serious rewrite.
- Starlings (Version 2) – This version was better, much more focussed on home and Brighton with details of growing up with my brother and my friends and the settings that all those moments took place in. There’s strong imagery and each section says something different and important and I’m really proud of it.
- Prison – I wrote this song with one of my favourite cowriters about how sometimes the things that imprison us are of our own doing; we create our own prisons without even realising. We worked on a track as well and it sounds really cool. It definitely needs redrafting – there are lyrics that aren’t as true to the emotion as they should be or as effortless as they should be – so I’m looking forward to doing that.
- Pieces – I wrote the chorus of this song in the shower (there’s actual science behind having ideas in the shower that I want to write a blog post about) and had to stop the shower to record it. And once I was done with my shower, I sat down at the piano and wrote the rest of the song in one go. The melodies are quite different to my usual ones, which is exciting, but I’m not happy with the bridge yet so it needs some editing.
- Hoping For More – This song was kind of traumatising. I tried to write about something that I don’t think I was ready to write about and then spent the rest of the day anxious and depressed. There are certain things I don’t talk about, not even in therapy – difficult things in my life or from my past – and I thought I’d try and figure some of it out through songwriting but I don’t think I was ready and it ended up really upsetting me. I can’t even say more than that.
- Gone – I had bits of melody going around in my head for this one and a first verse that sounded like an emotion I’d been feeling and so I finally sat down with it and wrote the chorus, the other verse, and the bridge. I think it all fits together but I’m going to sit with it for a bit and see how I feel about it.
- Curve in the Road – I wrote the chorus for this song years and years ago but could never write the rest of the song; there just wasn’t anything that fitted with it well enough. It always felt like two different ideas. But I think I’ve managed it this time but I’m gonna give it some time and see if I still feel the same way.
- Fragile Home – This has been an idea I’ve been thinking about for ages but I’ve been unable to put the concept into words. I took it to a friend and we worked out the message and wrote a chorus. We ran out of time to write more but I went home and wrote the rest of the song.
- Easier – This is another song I wrote last year and absolutely adore but there were parts that could’ve been better so I’ve been thinking about the song and the lyrics and the people behind it. So in the last week, I sat down with my guitar and wrote a whole new verse and generally smoothed out the song. I’m really proud of it.
- Cry – I had a very intense conversation with some very close friends that I found very upsetting (although I had been upset all day so it was a combination of things) and so the idea for this song came from that experience, how the stories of other people can create big emotions even though they’re not your stories. It’s not perfect yet; I’m still messing around with the lyrics. But it’s a solid start and I really like it.
- Lucifer – I did a load of research on the real story of Lucifer but so many stories contradicted each other that I based my song on Lucifer from the TV show Lucifer. I actually really like the song and can’t wait to work on it more. Plus it’s an AABA song (it doesn’t really have a chorus), which I don’t often do.
- Grow – I haven’t finished this one yet (a really fun, empowering, pop-y song) but that makes fourteen and a half songs and so I have achieved the leap year edition of FAWM!
I wouldn’t put all of these songs on an album together because they’re so different and disconnected but I’ve been so excited and motivated around songwriting, which I think I has a lot to do with this challenge. So that’s really cool and really pleasing so I’m really happy with the result. Now, unfortunately I have to get back to my uni work.
Unfortunately I can’t include links of these songs for you to listen to, although I know that recording and production is part of the challenge. I just haven’t had time. Maybe during the next month I can do some demos. I also wouldn’t want to put the songs out into the world because I don’t know which songs I’ll be officially releasing. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.
Posted on February 29, 2020
After my last post, I was scrolling through my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist when I saw this video. It may have been masochistic but I watched it and thought it might be relevant to post here, especially after my last post.
Our experiences (my recent experience at least) are very different as her cat was ill for an extended period and Lucky, although struggling physically, was happy and engaged and as healthy as an old dog could be until the night before. There wasn’t really time to come to the decision comfortably (or as comfortably as possible) but, for me, as distressing as it was, I knew it was time. It felt like he was telling us that. So again, (potentially) different scenarios.
She talks about Quality of Life scales and I looked them up but again, that sort of thing wasn’t really applicable in our situation. The change was so dramatic that we would’ve taken him to the vet regardless. In my opinion, I’m not sure a scale or internet numbers can make that sort of decision for you. I think that’s a decision only you and your vet can make.
She mentions financial situations, which is an important point. We were lucky (a pun that never got old – at least for me) that Lucky was insured so we were able to get him the painkillers and medications he needed, the hydrotherapy to build and then manage muscle mass, and cover the vet appointments. If I could give anyone with a pet one piece of advice, it would be to insure said pet. It’s been a life saver, quite literally at times, with our animals and I’m so grateful. It’s also given us the time to get used to the idea of the loss of them because it’s often been less sudden (Lucky might’ve deteriorated in a day but he’d been struggling – with support – for a while so we were aware of the situation).
“If your pet is terminally ill, you may have to put them down before you feel comfortable doing so and if that’s the case, it’s okay. I want you to know it’s okay.”
She mentions five factors that help you to make this decision:
- Do they have more good days than bad? – As I’ve said all the way through, Lucky deteriorated in one day so although he had bad days, his health was pretty consistent day to day. It was a very sudden decision.
- Mobility – Lucky’s mobility was always his weakest area, health wise, so this was an issue and ultimately the one that made the decision for us. In the end, he just couldn’t use his back legs. He couldn’t stand and that, I think, was what left him so low and uninterested in everything. He suddenly couldn’t move and I can’t imagine how difficult that sudden change was for him.
- Are they in pain? She talks about how her vet says you can tell an animal’s in pain when they stop interacting. – Lucky had constant pain from his inherited arthritis but we were managing it with medications and hydrotherapy but after his bout of Geriatric Vestibular Disease, his existing problems seemed to become worse. But he was so loving and excitable that even when he could no longer jump up to greet you, he bounced on his paws out of joy. It makes me cry to remember that.
- Are meals difficult? Are they losing weight? – As a Labrador, Lucky was always very excited about food. That continued to the end of his life but he was losing weight and muscle mass and in the end, he couldn’t get up to eat.
- “You. How is this affecting you? Are you financially able to support your pet down this road? Is it more compassionate for the both of you to end their suffering now? Does the illness require you to be at home all the time to monitor them?”
She also explains the process of the in home euthanasia of her cat, Jimmy.
“What I found most comforting in this time is the following words from my therapist: ‘Jimmy found a loving and wonderful mother in you. That is a part of life that transcends time and gets to be yours always. Your time with your pet is yours, always. And you’ll know when it’s time to let them go. It’s a very brave, compassionate, and really hard decision but I and your furbaby trust that you will do right by them.'”
She ends with a variation on her usual closing: “I’m Anna Akana. Go and adopt some fucking cats and love them for me. Goodbye.”
Posted on February 22, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted on February 15, 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.
(Luce Barka performing ‘Be More Kind’ – a very beautiful, meaningful song.)
- Richard visited – Richard 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.
- 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…)
“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.
- 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.
- 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.
- #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.
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.
Posted on February 7, 2020
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.
Posted on February 1, 2020
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.