How I pay my rent on earth…

I was sad to hear about the death of Muhammed Ali last week. I’m not a boxing fan, but I like many others across the world knew him from the iconic picture of him in the boxing ring with Sonny Liston – usually with the quote ‘Float like a  butterfly, sting like a bee’ imprinted on or next to it.

Over the weekend however, I learned more about him, and his story. I had known he was Muslim. I hadn’t known that he hadn’t been born into a family who were also Muslim. To be honest, I don’t think I was fully aware that  he had been born in America. I hadn’t known that he had taken a stand against the Vietnam War. I felt a strange sense of pride when I learned that. There were quotes and picture memes – screenshots of his memoir, pictures of him sitting alongside Malcolm X and other icons. Of course the screenshot of the world’s most hated US Presidential Candidate’s tweets showing his ignorance or hypocrisy (hard to tell which).

But one really struck me.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here”

I didn’t pay much attention to Muhammed Ali, but what strikes me looking back with the media commentary on his life, is that he was a man who walked his talk. He stood up for his beliefs – even if it cost him.

There’s a running joke amongst my Ranger Guides about ‘my wages’ as a Girlguiding leader. It’s a big part of my life, my volunteer work with Girlguiding, and when people see the amount of work it takes because the organisation runs as professionally as possible – they are shocked at the amount of responsibilities I have to take on. Permission forms, updating records, keeping accounts, creating and sticking to budgets,  organising trips, contacting members and their guardians, writing risk assessments for activities. This past term I’ve been mentoring one of the Young Leaders (now an adult volunteer) through the first module of her leadership qualification. At the weekend, two worlds collided as the Rangers came to my work for a special party we’d organised for the centenary. As we went through the details at our meeting a few days before hand and I explained I was the employee who would be running their party they laughed and pointed out “This is the first time you’re going to get paid for your work with Girlguiding!” To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me, I would have happily worked the hour for free, and in fact did stay late the night before, and came in early the following morning to prepare everything.

This last year, and in the last couple of months in particular, it has been tough to keep going and I’ve wanted to turn around and quit volunteering for a variety of reasons. But I keep going back because there are those moments where something transcends and I can’t imagine not being a cheerleader for the girls I work with 2-3 evenings a week. And I think back to when I was the girl that leaders were encouraging to take hold of this or that opportunity Girlguiding could offer me, or bringing a group of my fellow Guides to cheer me on in something.

Someone served me. And now I’m serving the next generation. I’m basically paying back what I earned all those years ago. I’m earning my keep on this earth.

I hope.

One day I’m going to die, and though it won’t be covered in the media like Muhammed Ali’s death has been, I still hope people will remember me as someone who stood up for what she believed in, and walked her talk and was kind to other people.

Friendship, social media & mental health…

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There are lots of people who say that friendship can’t be built over social media. I really beg to differ. I began blogging this time 9 years ago. I had just returned back from Australia, started going to a new church in a part of my home city that had looked down on me as a teen and was getting over a pretty catastrophic relationship. Oh yeah, and I was about to discover that I couldn’t do the same job I’d spent the last year doing without going back to university.

However, back then I was barely 23 and had time on my side. As much as there was a huge amount change and upheaval that year I really had very few doubts that I was exactly where I was meant to be.

On the other hand, I was questioning a lot of things and trying to work out what I was meant to be doing.

That’s where blogging came in.

To be honest blogging was just a cathartic way of processing my thoughts. I’m an extrovert by nature so I’m always thinking out loud (just ask my friends, colleagues and family…). I never expected to find community in it. But I did.

People started to follow my day to day life (which boggles my mind, it’s not like I’m interesting) but also as I began to share some of my life story and on days where I was questioning my life and faith, I discovered that others were out there saying ‘Me too! I thought I was the only one‘.

The community has shrunk somewhat, as a lot of those original friends have stopped blogging and I really miss their writing. Thankfully there are a core few that I’ve stayed in touch with through twitter and facebook, and several that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person. Three of them even travelled to Edinburgh to stay with me because they were determined that I was to celebrate turning 30.

The two years since – well they’ve kinda sucked. Every time I start to think things are getting better, it feels like the universe says “HA! That’s what you think!”. It’s made me feel like a failure. I feel incredibly lonely as gradually a whole chunk of my close friends have moved away, and money has been so tight and public transport so expensive (another shout out to the government for privatising rail services…). Social media is the worst for letting you know how much fun your friends are having without you. Or any time they are in town and didn’t let you know so you could spend some time with them.

However, back to the benefits of social media. Two of these ‘online friends’ have over the years shared with me when I have shared with them (and the rest of cyberspace) about things relating to mental health, crisis, grief and loss. One of them has started sending me messages letting me know how she is thinking of me and praying for me. Another sent me a card this weekend letting me know she was there for me if I wanted her to be. I haven’t been able to properly respond in the way I want to, because right now every day is tough and talking about it makes me start crying. When people ask me ‘How’s university going?‘ or ‘So what are you going to do about [insert some kind of big life thing like employment or landlord responsibilities]?’ I can literally feel my blood pressure shoot up and want to scream, yell, burst into tears and feel like I’m going to throw up. So many nights I go to bed with a plan of how I’m going conquer the world regardless of all the crap thrown at me and what a failure everyone may think I am. And so many mornings I wake up and just can’t get out of bed or the house because the thought of facing it alone is just so depressing.

So, all a bit more than any of you needed to know. today I planned on sending an assertive e-mail, making a chart for Guides, reading some books, writing an essay, going into town to run an errand and all I actually accomplished was putting some clothes in the washing machine and  hanging them up to dry.

I share that just in case you’re also looking at the facebooks, instagrams and twitter of all the people who went on dates, family parties, sat in cafes, went on trips, ran marathons and feeling even worse about yourself as a result. Maybe you didn’t even manage to remember to get the clothes out of the washing machine (something that happens to me often, I’ve also found myself going to get loads of laundry out the machine that I’d already hung up because I have no memory of doing it). Well. Take heart sister/brother..

…You are not the only one.

Every society tells stories, but I’m afraid to tell mine…

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I wanted to be two things when I was growing up. A dance teacher and an author. Both these dreams got shot down pretty quickly by family members because apparently those aren’t ‘proper jobs’. However, while I know deep down that becoming a dance teacher is out of the question now, being an author is never out of the question. But I get scared of being rubbish, scared of being rejected. Like I know incredible authors got a ton of rejection letters before they got published…but it doesn’t make me feel any less anxious about the whole thing. And it stops me from finishing the stories I have in my head.

More specifically I’ve wanted to write children’s books. I still love children’s books which my friends think is an amusing quirk – though they’ve given me credit on occasion for finding books that their kids/nephews/nieces love. 🙂

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Discovering some children’s books at a vintage fair.

But oh the fear! I went to an incredible conference at my university a couple of years ago which one of my Germany roommates invited me to (she was doing a Masters in Children’s Literature and Literacy). It was all about picturebooks, and it fuelled that fire even more. Through going to different conferences mainly aimed at children’s librarians (another job I would love, love, love…and another job that our government is cut, cut, cutting) I met the head of Children’s library services for our city, and he invited me to become a judge for this incredible writing competition we have each year for primary school children aged between 7-11 years old. It has become my favourite weekend of the year when I go to the central children’s library to pick up 100s of entries and take them home to read to whittle it down to 10 entries for the final judging panel. Their creativity (when teachers have allowed it) just makes my heart more full, and I often annoy the snot out of everyone around me by bursting in a room or calling on the phone exclaiming “oh my gosh, this is amazing!” before proceeding read them a poem or short story I’ve discovered that has made me smile or laugh.

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Distracted by books at a market stall in Paris. I’d found the French translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

And stories are important. Not just the life stories, but the imagination stories. I do believe that fairy tales were often the ways in which morals and life lessons were taught to children by their families back in the day. A few friends continually tell me that I need to share my own story, but I worry that there’s no point because no one would want to read it.

But worst would be if the characters in my head never get to be loved and read. There are my reindeer and there are my superhero wannabe brother and sister duo, Mattie and Zander. I worry they’ll never make it from my imagination to paper. But somehow I worry more that they will and people will just go “Pffffftttt”.

Yep. I still haven’t been able to combat my fear of failure!! (Clearly).

Quote of the Week: The power of stories

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There is a lot of this going on in the media right now. With politicians, world leaders, newspapers using their platforms to tell stories and speak words that dispossess and malign.

Never give up on telling the stories that can empower and humanise and repair what has been broken.

Thank you Brandon for being one of those storytellers. May more of us use our voices, our blogs, our pens, our facebook sites, our actions to add to that fabric of humanising storytelling.

 

Quote of the Week 41: Don’t let them make you feel less worthy

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This week’s quote has a strange place of inspiration: The Edinburgh Apple Store. Months ago I went in there hoping to purchase a new laptop since my current one was starting (and is continuing) to die a gradual, slow death. Rather than go online, I thought that since we now have an Apple Store in our city I could have the joy of going in and picking a laptop that I could try out and feel, rather than just seeing a picture online.

I went into the store one day and tried to catch the eye of the staff. Nothing. I did all sorts of things to make it really obvious I was interested in the laptops. Nothing. Eventually after about 20 minutes of being in the store I managed to get hold of a member of staff. Asked questions about the research I’d done, how much, could I get my student discount, was it possible to buy one today. “Um…yeah”. She couldn’t have been less interested in selling me anything. I was in total shock. She made me feel dumb for wanting a laptop with a DVD/CD drive in it (apparently they’ve stopped making them this way) and in the end I felt so rubbish, irritated and crappy that I just left the store. I later found out that others who had visited the store had got similar treatment.

Today I decided to give them a second chance. No one greeted me or so much as caught my eye. In fact most of the staff seemed to look and then immediately look away. I stood there for 20 minutes yet again, and eventually after standing next to three staff members chatting and staring at their handheld devices I cornered one and asked if I was able to buy things in this store, and whether there was some kind of system for being able to get help from the staff (bearing in mind they seemed to wander round with the iPads – I wondered if there was some kind of queue I was supposed to check in with, like the meat counter at the supermarket or the collection counter at Argos that I’d failed to see the sign for or something). I’ll admit the guy seemed more of a people person than the last person I spoke to, but still was evasive at giving me any information about buying a laptop. So I left again, trying not to voice the sarcastic responses in my head.

I felt angry that a bunch of staff ignoring me as a customer could make me feel that way. But then I think back to searching for dungarees the other week, and every shop I went into within a few minutes someone offered to help and were happy to answer my simple question “Does your shop sell any blue denim dungarees?” and I realised that my reaction to the staff in the Apple Store was a choice.

I let their dismissiveness make me feel inferior. Of no value.

In my head, I was Julia Roberts in that shop in Rodeo Drive.

And the sarcastic, feisty, ungracious inner Laurie kinda wants to find a shop with better staff who treat customers like humans, make eye contact with them when they come into their shop, go out of their way to help them and offer advice and information about their products when asked for it…and then go back to the Edinburgh Apple Store with a shiny new laptop and say

“Do you work on commission? Big mistake! Huge!” 

Just as a wee side note, I think it’s kinda nice that the actor playing the hotel manager who helps the character of Vivian get help from a woman in another clothing store, in another film quotes Eleanor Roosevelt in another film with a young woman who is being made to feel bad about herself. 🙂

Quote of the Week 38 – Learning from the kids

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I haven’t actually read The Little Prince. I remember going to see the film with my school at the Filmhouse (I think?) many moons ago. But I love this quote.

Grown-ups rarely understand anything. And it is tiresome for children to always be explaining things to them.

Children just have this way of seeing things from a unique perspective. Becoming sarcastic, jaded, prejudiced…these are all things I think that children learn. A few months ago I watched my friend’s wee girl make a friend in a bookshop cafe. The girls were from different cultures, spoke different languages, had different skin tones. They didn’t care. They just shared admiration for the ‘special toys’ that they’d been allowed by their mothers to bring with them and shared them with each other. They didn’t need words – they communicated without sharing a language and proceeded to chase each other and play around the cafe.

There are times in the last year where I’ve been down in the dumps. And usually the only people that have been able to bring me out of my funk without even trying are my friends’ kids! Whether it’s Miss Sweetroot sending me a picture excited about the teeny koala she got free in the latest edition of the Jacqueline Wilson Magazine, the Jambino making me go down the slide designed for under 10s at the Zoo, Princess Monkey crowning me with a pink sequinned cowboy hat, Mr Teapot showing me his newest gymnastics tricks or the Mini Kahuna telling us he doesn’t think he can be the next Jon Foreman because he plans to be a Power Ranger…yep. Kids are just awesome.

I’ve lost count of the times their wisdom has thrown me. Miss Sweetroot and Elastaboy have always been particularly gifted at catching me off guard with their questions or commentary on the world. It does not shock me to see how people are learning from Robby Novak (aka Kid President) and his guide to being awesome. Nor does it shock me to see how much people are learning from a frank and articulate wise teenager called Malala Yousafzai (I wonder if Malala grows tired from all the explaining to the “grown ups” she is still having to do).

So often, we can look at kids and think what they are doing is crazy. Yet we watch and wait and somehow it can all end up making perfect sense once we stop looking at it from our weary adult perspective and look at it from theirs.

Something we should maybe do a lot more often…

 

 

Quote of the Week 34 – Living is short, learning is forever

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This week has been pretty horrible. I’d gone into it hopeful – I’d had a lovely weekend where I’d managed to catch up with two old friends and their daughter for a couple of hours, then in a madly planned Saturday off went to Ali McGregor’s Jazz cabaret for kids with my friend and her two awesome sons. Then rushed from there to the Book Festival to take another set of friends two awesome kids to see Nick Sharratt at the Book Festival. There he very kindly signed a book for my friend’s son who was there, a book for another friend’s son birthday and also took time to admire my friend’s daughter’s artwork and took it from her (with her permission) to write a lovely comment at the bottom. It made their day. And it was lovely to watch and be a part of seeing their encouragement and joy from the whole experience.

Then Monday came, and I got a call with another rejection. I was at the ice rink with some friends at the time. I was more gutted than I let on. For the first time, both my Mum and me had a good feeling about the job I’d applied for. I really liked the place – I could picture myself working there with that community. It was going to be close to where several of my friends had relocated to. I would have a car again. I’d have my weekends back. A regular income. No more zero hour contract.

Tuesday came, and I was in charge at work. It was a relentless day and we were unprepared for it because it had been so quiet the day before. I didn’t get lunch until 3 p.m. and I briefly checked my phone to notice my friends posting a prayer request for their 16 week old son who was in England recovering from a risky heart surgery. He had taken a turn for the worst and they were asking for prayer. I was concerned but I was sure that by the next day things would have turned back around again. I was so wrong. Exhausted from 11 hours at work, running to join my Mum at a book festival event I’d gotten her for her birthday, I checked my phone as we got into her car to make our way home.

My friend’s son had died.

Lying in my room next to me right now is a present I had gotten him months ago. I’d intended to give it to them at a party they’d had after his first surgery to give all their friends a chance to meet him. I’d been at work that day, and my Mum had gotten caught up in some stuff and came home later than expected to hand me over the car so I could make it over to their house before their party had ended. I was annoyed at the time but thought after the festival was over I’d text them to arrange a time to meet another time to catch up and meet their baby boy.

I obviously won’t get the chance to do that now.

At least not on this earth.

I went to work with tears running down my face the next morning. I was sad for my friends unimaginable loss. I was remembering other friends who’ve had to bury their children. And I was angry. My friends are amazingly kind and generous people. Why them? Why anyone? Why after everything had gone so well, did that have to change so quickly? And why hadn’t I gotten a job so I wouldn’t have been working that weekend (and so many others) and a car so I stopped missing out on seeing the friends I love and am drifting apart from more and more. Why hadn’t I just taken the day off? What did it matter that I didn’t get paid wages that day? I would have seen my friends and met their son while he was on this earth.

So I’m going to add to Gandhi’s comments. Don’t just live as if you might die tomorrow, live as if the people you love could die tomorrow.

And learn as if you’ll live forever. The more you learn, the less ignorant you’ll be, the wiser you’ll become and hopefully you’ll have more to give to this world.

It may even be that what you learn may prevent some lives from ending before they really got started.

Quote of the Week 32 – Steps of faith

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I really lack faith. I’m full of faith for other people, but when it comes to myself I’m the biggest pessimistic risk assessing all the things that could go wrong.

If faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase, what I fear is that in the darkness there is someone at the top ready to push me right back down. Or there’s one of those child safety gates that are actually Laurie-proof. (Does anyone else find that child-proofing is a barrier to them? Seriously, there should be prizes for successfully putting a toddler in a car seat these days with all the complicated straps and buckles…but I digress).

This last week has been weirdly tough, and I blame the Timehop app. Usually I love it reminding me of fun memories and even sucky moments that I can now laugh at. Last week though, the application has been bringing up the facebook posts from when I had the interview and received the news that I had been successful in my application to work at a pregnancy crisis centre. Before I left Aberdeen I had spent a year training to be a volunteer counselling support worker at a similar centre that was getting ready to open there. I’d also spent my last two years at university focussing my studies on women’s health and maternity care. It had been tough to leave Aberdeen knowing that I was leaving that dream behind. And yet, as it happened, taking that first step was actually leading me to working in the field I had unexpectedly become so passionate about.

In the last year, I watched both the charities that I worked with in that field close down. And then two charities that I had got to know through that work close down as well (one was a sexual health centre for young people, the other was a national organisation that provided support in the field of fostering and adoption). I have faced rejection after rejection, and have gone from eight years of being a boss, to being back in jobs where I’m the bottom of the chain and earning minimum wage. Not to mention a month where I had to ‘sign on’ and live off piddly government benefits and endure weekly humiliation and interrogation. It’s been a humbling experience to say the least. I am super lucky now to be in a job where the staff are friendly and I never dread going into work. Don’t think for a second that I’m not grateful to be in work because I am. But I miss doing what I loved and was (I hope) good at.

And so I need to have faith to take those first steps. It gets harder and harder to fill in and submit job applications, turn up for interviews and put yourself out there. Every time I do I face that fear of someone waiting to stand in my way and send me straight back down again.

But when I don’t take the first step, I may miss a beautiful view from the top that I can’t see yet.

Quote of the Week 31 – gaining victory over fear

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Last week I chose a quote on fear. This week I’m doing the same, because I think fear is something all of us struggle with.

Fear is not always a bad thing. Fear can keep us safe, because there are things that it is healthy to be afraid of or decide not to do for fear of what may happen.

For example, I like to stay away from the edge when I’m walking on things that have a long drop down. Years ago I went on a Geography Field Trip to Morocco. I was hiking with some of my classmates on Toubkal. At one point I was on a donkey along an arête, when the donkey tried to overtake a Dutch woman on foot as the path widened slightly. The guide had disappeared for a second and as I tried to warn the woman and somehow stop the donkey that I had no control over (there were no reins like there are on a horse) the donkey pushed passed her and she fell. The next thing I knew I was holding onto her as she was almost hanging off the side of the highest mountain in North Africa yelling for a guide. Had I let go, she likely would have died or been severely injured.

However, I generally have no issue rock climbing. There are ropes and harnesses and I’m generally not afraid of falling – the rope and harness will catch my fall. I won’t lie and say that I enjoy the coming down part, that moment when you lean back to be at a 90 degree angle to the rockface is a trust exercise.  There’s a moment of fear that crosses your mind ‘if the rope doesn’t catch me – I could fall and die’ and then somehow you push through because you know the likelihood is low.

I don’t think we should be ashamed of fear.

I do think we need to practise choosing to face fears when we know there is going to be a potential positive outcome if we do. That is what breeds courage….when we triumph over fear.

Every time I get on a plane, I’m having courage over fear. It may not look like it when I’m jumping at every noise made by a fellow passenger fearing they are going to be ill. But I am. Usually when I get on a plane, it’s with the knowledge that at the end of the journey I don’t want to take there’s a destination that is going to be worth facing my fear for.

I find that how I find courage, is knowing that there are people who have my back.

I was afraid to go to Morocco all those years ago. I was quite as afraid of being on planes as I am now, but it was a factor. There was also a 12 hour minibus journey. And I was afraid of people getting sick from the food or water. The difference was that we weren’t going on a coach, and four of my good friends were going too. They knew me, they knew my fears and they had my back. All of those things I was afraid of happened. Someone was sick on one of the planes – but thankfully I was seated at the back with our friend who kept me distracted through the flight and I didn’t know about it until after. One of our teachers got food poisoning during the 12 hour minibus journey. My friends covered my ears, hid my face and hugged me close so I wouldn’t be able to see or hear anything each time our bus had to stop.

I’m sure there are other things people have found helpful to help them gain courage in the face of fear. I’d love to hear how you find courage…maybe we can all find some tips for facing our fears so we can triumph over them.

Quote of the Week 27: Be yourself

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Be yourself. It’s the message we tell our children. It’s the message we tell our siblings. It’s the message we tell our friends.

The business world tells us differently. Often we are expected to conform. To dress a certain way, to act a certain way, to speak a certain way.

I jokingly posted a photo in my instagram feed when I got a few pairs of floaty summer trousers to wear when I’m working in the cafe this summer. On the days where the temperature is a little above Scottish baltic, the combination of moving around, coffee machines, microwaves and the largest toaster I’ve ever known – we get a little hot and sticky! Floaty trousers are the way to go. I’ve realised how comfortable I am wearing them – back in the day I was known for my long skirts, my sarongs over big baggy jeans and bucket hats. When I went up to high school, my clip on hoop earrings, backpack covered in keyrings and messages about the Sea Turtle Protection Society got me the nickname from the S6s of ‘hippy girl’ behind my back (a friend told me about it years later). Actually, it’s probably a fairly accurate – if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a little attached to first world comforts.

As I get older, I find that I feel simultaneously more and less secure about who I am. In one sense I’ve embraced who I am and who I want to be – and I’ve stopped trying to be someone I’m not. I know what I’m good at, I know what I’m rubbish at, I know what I like and what I dislike. On the flip side, I also feel like I have defend who I am more as people question a 30-something university educated single woman who believes in God but isn’t doing online dating, who isn’t wearing a business suit and doesn’t buy fashion magazines or get excited by Clinique bonus time.

There’s nothing wrong with business suits, fashion magazines (well, actually there’s a lot wrong with many fashion mags, but that’s a different conversation), make up or online dating. It’s just not ‘me’.

The challenge I think is to be ourselves and not be ashamed of who we are. To realise that we are each unique, and the world needs our uniqueness for something – because altogether all our differences cover all the bases needed to make the world keep on going.

So. Remember. Everyone else is already taken.

Be Yourself.

And may I add – don’t be ashamed of who you are.