A Week in My Life (Reading Week)

A while back, I had a reading week as part of my university semester, where classes don’t happen and we stay home to focus on our studying. Being a part time student meant that it wasn’t much of a change as I’m only at uni one day a week but not having to expend the energy that that requires allowed me to do more, both in terms of uni work and in other areas. Yes, I researched for my essay, prepared for a presentation, and wrote songs, but I also did a whole bunch of things for my job as a singersongwriter.


MONDAY

I got up, did my hair and makeup, and caught a train to London. I’d booked a slot at the Selfie Factory at The O2 Arena, thinking that Richard (Richard Marc, who also does all my photography – he’s a photographer as well as a writer, musician, and producer) and I might get some good social media content. I get very self conscious having my photo taken but I’m trying to get over that anxiety and it looked like fun.

I used the train journey to send a load of emails, which made good use of the time, and then I met Richard at The O2. The Selfie Factory was small but it had some really fun set ups and we had great fun, especially in the ballpit.

We got some nice photos and when our time ran out, we headed home. Again, I used the train journey to be productive and worked on a rough script for my university presentation – we all had to give presentations on our essay subjects the next week when we were back in regular classes. I’d already made the slides with the information but I wanted a rough script to keep me on track and provide extra information.

I got home and, even though I was exhausted, I practiced several of my songs as I had a recording session coming up later in the week that I needed to be prepared for. I wasn’t super familiar with the arrangements of the songs I was singing so it was quite hard work but I definitely made progress, getting used to the rhythm and melody. It was a good practice.


TUESDAY

I started the day with another big batch of emails: uni stuff, music stuff, gigging stuff.

That took an hour or so and then I spent the rest of the day doing research for my assessment essay. There’s not much to write about here really; I just read relevant sections of books, read articles, and pulled useful quotes, putting them in separate documents to keep everything organised. This session was focussed on imagery, specifically in songwriting, obviously. It’s surprising how few books on songwriting go into any detail around imagery.

IMG_5270

At least I had some good company (and entertainment).

I had a gentle evening, working on a blog post and watching old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. There’s something very comforting about the familiarity of them and the time when I first watched them.


WEDNESDAY

I spent the morning practicing for the recording session, going over the songs, and then, after lunch, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist.

The practice had moved since my last appointment so there was an element of anxiety about going but it was okay and turned out to be a really productive session. My psychiatrist agreed with my decision to come off the Aripiprazole, since it clearly wasn’t working, and we discussed what else we could try to help with my anxiety. We also talked about what could be causing my drowsiness and decided to try reducing my Pregablin as it’s clearly the current medication situation that’s causing it. So we’ll see how that goes. And considering we’re changing that, we decided to stick with the Diazepam for my anxiety so that we’re only changing one thing at a time and can clearly see the results. Otherwise you can’t tell what’s causing what. So that’s progress and we’ll just have to see what the effects are.

Late in the afternoon, I caught a train up to London in preparation for the recording session the next day, using the time to do some more reading for my essay. My frequent train journeys are great for any reading I have to do for my course. From Victoria, I made my way to where I stay in London: the flat belonging to one of my parents. I was suddenly, out of nowhere, overwhelmed with anxiety and although I took Diazepam as soon as the feeling started, it obviously doesn’t kick in straight away so I spent most of the journey talking to said parent, a mix of distraction and reassurance. I’d just started to feel calmer when I got there.

We had dinner together and then I spent the evening in the pursuit of catching up with my diary. It feels like a hopeless task; I’m so behind, what with the time taken up by uni work and managing my mental health. I’m hoping to catch up once I’ve submitted my essay. It’ll take a while though.


THURSDAY

I slept terribly. So terribly that I barely got any sleep at all, the worst I’ve slept in years. Maybe I was nervous about the recording. I finally got a solid hour or so just before my alarm went off. But it was an important day so I dragged myself up, got ready, and headed to the University of West London where we were using one of their studios to do the recording.

It was a beautiful studio and we had a lot of fun. Having said that, we worked bloody hard. We worked from about eleven until six, filming and recording for a project that I’m not going to talk about yet. It’s a surprise. It does mean there’s not a lot for me to write about, other than the fact that I’m super grateful to everyone (all tagged below) for the work they put in. I really, really appreciate it.

When we finished, I was so tired that I thought I might throw up. I manage to help pack up a little but eventually I just had to leave. I felt bad for not staying to the very end but everyone was very understanding. I got home and barely made it through dinner before falling asleep at about half past eight.


FRIDAY

I slept for twelve solid hours and woke up feeling like an entirely different person. Still, I had a slow, gentle start. I had breakfast, got showered and dressed, and did some reading for my essay.

Around lunchtime, my Mum arrived, on her way home from visiting her Mum (this was when we still thought we were going to Nashville and she’d obviously wanted to spend some time with her before we went). She’d stopped in London because we had a plan to have lunch with one of my best friends, Sharné, and her Mum, who had come to visit her. The four of us had hoped to spend a little time at the songwriters circle I’d played (the one I mentioned in my previous A Week in My Life post) but it was busy and loud and it just wasn’t the right setting. So we’d planned lunch at this awesome Italian restaurant.

It started out quite stressfully due to pouring rain and terrible traffic but once we were all together, it was lovely. They’re both so lovely. We all got on really well and have a lot in common; it was just unfortunate that we didn’t have longer. Hopefully we’ll get another chance at some point.

We said goodbye and me and Mum headed home to Brighton. When we got in, I curled up on the sofa with a couple of the cats and had some diary time. I was exhausted and really just needed some quiet, rest time.


SATURDAY

Richard came down first thing because we were performing at the Access Open Day at The Brighton Dome. We picked him up from the station and went home so he could drop off his stuff and we could have a quick run-through, especially of the songs that we’ve only just started to perform like ‘Clarity.’

We headed to The Dome and had everything explained to us, where we could store our stuff, hang out between sets, and so on. We were playing once at 12.30pm and again at 2.15pm so we’d have time to kill between sets. There were other talks and activities going on but I’m never able to concentrate when I’m about to perform.

Both sets went really well. I felt like my voice sounded really good, I didn’t make any (obvious) mistakes, and I felt really confident in my body and how I was moving as I performed. I’ve done a few gigs recently but before a couple of months ago, it had been a long time since I’d performed so it’s felt a bit like starting all over again. But this felt completely natural and quite possibly the best I’ve ever performed. I’m just sad more people didn’t see it because they were performances I was really proud of. But I had a great time, telling the stories behind the songs and singing my heart out. It felt so good. And that’s the important thing.

This is a picture from the first time I played there:

7071D4BF-46A0-4A51-A9D0-FC35184967BC.jpeg

When we got home, we were both still buzzing with adrenaline so I suggested we write a song since we’re not getting a whole heap of opportunities to write together at the moment with both of us on Masters courses. So we got to work and managed a track and half a song before we ran out of energy. It was really fun and I’m really excited to finish it.

And before the day was up, I put up a blog post as I always try to do on a Saturday. This one was the one about February Album Writing Month, where I tried to write fourteen songs in the month of February. I’m proud of succeeding in the challenge and proud of the post I wrote about it.

We had an early dinner and were basically falling asleep on the sofa so we dragged ourselves up and went to bed early. I was asleep within minutes.


SUNDAY

We had a gentle morning, watching Friends together and companionably working on different things. I finished a blog post and put it up, #30dayfeb Challenge For Tommy’s. It covered my attempt and completion of Liberty’s Mother‘s challenge to do something positive for your wellbeing from the 1st February to the 1st March. I’d chosen origami.

Richard went home because I had a few things to do, as much as I would’ve liked to have him stay and work on the song and chill out together. So we dropped him at the station, came home, and I got to work, practicing my presentation for the following Tuesday. I was confident with the material and the questions I wanted to ask; I just wanted to make sure it was within the time limit. So I ran that a few times and then spent the rest of the day resting. I also have dinner with some of my family on Sunday nights (when we can manage it) so that was really nice.


So that was my reading week. Not as productive uni work wise as I would’ve hoped – I wanted to have started writing the essay rather than still adding research to my structure – but it was very productive in the working-as-a-singer-songwriter sense. And those opportunities don’t come around super often so I’m really grateful for them. So it was a good, if exhausting week.

February Album Writing Month 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.

IMG_5542.JPG

19 for 2019 Reviewed

In January, I was inspired to try the 19 for 2019 challenge, setting myself nineteen goals to achieve by the end of the year. They didn’t have to be massive goals; they could be one off things to simply try. I was inspired so I came up with nineteen things and gave it a go. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of what a hell of a year I was about to experience.

  1. Stop pulling my hair out – Complicated. I’ve gone long stretches without pulling my hair out but then the stress induced habit has usually been replaced by another one. Right now I’m going through an incredibly stressful time and have recently started pulling again. Maybe next year’s the year.
  2. Read ten books – I read a handful of books early in the year but I didn’t really start to enjoy reading again until I read This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. I devoured that: he has a beautifully personal writing style. Not long after that, I started my Masters Degree and I had an overly ambitious reading list so I read a lot. Plus, I had a phase of reading books from my childhood when I went through my bookshelf. So I definitely read more than ten books.
  3. Get a tattoo – I still haven’t managed to do this. I still like the thought of getting one and have multiple ideas but I really don’t like the way they blur over time. I don’t think I could bear to have a blurred tattoo on my body so I still haven’t gotten one.
  4. Continue swimming (or let it evolve) – There were periods of the year where I did manage this but sometimes the medication I was on meant I physically didn’t have the energy. And then when the kittens were born, I loved watching them in the early mornings, which was when I swam (before the gym got busy and stressful). Add in doing the Masters and what a drain on my energy that was, I haven’t been swimming half as much as I’d life. It’s definitely something I want to get back into in 2020.
  5. Write more songs – Given all the changes of medication (something that always seems to affect my songwriting) during the first six months or so of the year, I wasn’t able to write. I tried. I tried really hard and managed a few with the help of some wonderful cowriters. But now that I’m back on the Phenelzine, I am able to write again, alone and with others and I love it. For me, writing a song is the best feeling world; it’s feeling alive, it’s feeling connected to myself, to my soul, to the universe. It’s feeling real. So I’m writing again, as much as I’m able. And as I’ve started my MA, I’m writing for that too. I’m very aware of how much I’m learning and how much my songwriting is developing.
  6. Get my photo albums up to date – I did. And then they got out of date again. It was something I’d hoped to do over the Christmas break but I’ve literally been working on my assessments every single day. Fortunately my photos are well organised so when I have some time, it won’t be a terrifying task to attempt.
  7. Pursue the cause of my tiredness – I’ve tried. My god, I’ve tried. I’ve seen doctors and been to the Chronic Fatigue Clinic for a general session but that wasn’t at all helpful. I knew everything they told and have known for years and the other people there hadn’t been dealing with it for a fraction of the time I have been. So I didn’t feel very positive about that experience. I’m waiting for a follow up from them but I had no idea when that will be or how much it will help me.
  8. Improve my instrument skills – I barely did anything musical for a significant part of the year due to medication side effects and crushing depression so I’ve probably gone backwards in my instrumental skills. Having said that, I have been working on them since I started the Masters (particularly the piano so I didn’t have to carry a guitar up and down from London). So not a total loss. And hopefully this will continue as I continue with the Masters.
  9. Watch a meteor shower – In January actually, I did manage to catch a meteor shower and it was beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how magical meteors are; they’re just takes me breath away. And there was one huge one that streaked across the sky, like a knife cutting through the roof of a tent and letting in light. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
  10. Write more poetry – I did write a little poetry, but that was only during NaPoWriMo. Either my mental health was going down the drain or I was too busy writing songs for poetry. Why is there never enough time? Sometimes I feel like the world is moving really fast around me while I move at an ordinary speed.
  11. Finishing decorating and organising my room – I started to and then I somewhat undecorated it with the creation of the music video for my single, ‘Bad Night.’ While it’s mostly been returned to rights, there’s still some damage (a fist sized crack in the plaster that I haven’t gotten around to repairing). It’s just one of those things that’s always on the list but slips down to more urgent things. Hopefully I’ll get there at some point.
  12. Find an alcoholic drink I like – I’m now back on a medication that means I can’t really drink. The odd drink is fine but yeah, I can’t really drink. Before that though, I tried a lot of different types of alcohol and just really hated all of them. I also discovered that I’m allergic to limes, which are in a ridiculous amount of alcoholic drinks, including one that I actually did like. The one drink that I do enjoy is a passionfruit mojito even though it does contain lime extracts. So far, drinking them – and I’m not drinking them very often – doesn’t cause a reaction.
  13. Find a tea or coffee I like – Nope, they all still taste awful to me. I find it frustrating because drinking coffee is such a ‘normal’ thing and I feel like, having been denied so much by my Autism, it’s unfair that I don’t even get to be normal in this tiny way.
  14. Get invisible braces – Success! I was fitted for invisible braces and have received the first half of the set. I did really well at wearing them for a while but during the second half of the year, I haven’t done so well. It just felt like too much when I was struggling with serious anxiety. I’m hopeful that, with what seems like a less stressful semester starting January, I’ll be better at wearing them.
  15. Go rock climbing – Nope. I would’ve loved to but again, all the medication and energy stuff made that impossible. Another dream for another year.
  16. Participate in FAWM – I tried really, really hard to take part in February Album Writing Month but as it was (obviously) at the beginning of the year when I was trying different medications and therefore really struggling with my writing, I didn’t get far. I made several solid attempts and wrote several parts of songs but I didn’t manage to write even one full song.
  17. Participate in NaPoWriMo – Again, I tried and did write some poetry but nothing I was terribly enthused by. And I wasn’t particularly consistent and didn’t do it everyday but I tried. I tried.
  18. Donate blood again – I would’ve loved to have donated blood again but a lot of the medications made me ineligible to donate, which sucks because it’s something that’s really important me. So this is off the cards for the moment but as soon as it’s possible again, I’ll be back.
  19. Join the bone marrow register – Another one I’ve failed at. There’s just been too much health stuff and I’ve just been too unwell to think about it. Plus there were long stretches where I simply forgot. I want to do it so it will stay on the list until I manage it.

So it’s a pretty mixed bag and considering the year I had, I’m surprised I managed any of them at all. I’ve struggled throughout the year, especially recently, with how little I’m achieving and the frustration and anger and guilt that comes with that, that comes with living with mental health problems and a developmental disability. I’m trying to focus on the fact that, where I could, I tried. I tried to do as many of these things as possible.

Overall, an interesting challenge but I think I’ll try something different for 2020. I haven’t found the right kind of goal system yet so I’m just gonna have to keep looking and keep trying.