Kissing Games For Girls (A Companion Piece To ‘Good Kisser’)

Yesterday, in the deepest, darkest recesses of my word-processor, I excavated an unpublished article that I composed more than a decade ago.

‘Good Kisser’ (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/good-kisser-written-in-springsummer-2004/), a personal account which explores the discomfort I often experienced with regards to sexuality during my teens and early-to-mid-twenties, was not only a testament to how much my writing has improved over the years, but also a window into the ways that it has lost some of its boldness. Because despite the clanging cliches and baggy sentences, and the initial mortification I felt when I reread my proclamation to the world about how I was a ‘bad lesbian’, who often snogged men in straight bars out of boredom, I was secretly pleased with its unyielding honesty – and truth be told – a wee bit jealous of the devil-may-care attitude brandished by my twenty-five-year-old self.

At the time I wrote the piece, I had been single for about half a year, following a final dramatic break-up with my first serious girlfriend; I’d also recently thrown myself head-first into the lesbian dating pool once again and was revelling in the attention. Now, I won’t bore anyone with the specifics of my love life except to say that there were a lot of dates with a lot of different girls; there were also a helluva lot more knock-backs, but that did not dissuade me from putting myself out there time and time again. Back then, I was high on optimism, and it also helped that I was not too bad looking.

These days, I can’t imagine myself seeking romance in a gay bar. I can’t imagine walking up to a strange woman and asking for her phone number or offering to buy her a drink. But I did those things frequently, and without hesitation. My friend, Tracy, who often played the part of wingman, was thoroughly amused at the way I used to ‘work’ the room: staking out the attractive single ladies and then insinuating myself into their conversations, and often their affections; although she admitted to me later that the novelty very quickly wore off as, more often than not, the girls who were most interested in me turned out to be the ones we needed to steer well clear of.

A lot of the scenarios which occurred during that period were later embellished upon as I poured them into my fiction: I wrote mostly about bar-culture and queer-culture at this time; and my butch narrator, Vicky Romeo, gained a greater sense of humility as one by one her previous conquests came back to haunt her during one of the many rewrites of my novel, ‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’ (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/an-extract-from-my-novel-vicky-romeo-plus-joolz/), as well as a back story where she endured a lonely adolescence as the girl who had never been kissed.

Nothing was wasted. Nothing is ever wasted. Those hours I spent wining and dining Ms Wrong were valuable experiences, as were the lonely teenage years I whittled away by trying to make myself appear attractive to boys I didn’t really have the heart for.

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Writing For Well-Being – Freedom From An Emotional Prison

  
It’s been almost a year since I left my post as writer-in-residence at Polmont Young Offender’s Institution, but recently I keep thinking about prisons and similar places where people are isolated from society and the arts, and this leads me to wonder how my ex-students are getting on.  Most of the young men I worked with, during my two year stint, are in their early twenties now, and will either have received parole or moved on to complete their sentences inside adult correctional facilities; and with any luck they’re all behaving themselves.

Also, now that I’ve completed my diploma in Crime Fiction, I find myself asking ‘What’s next?’: it’s in my nature to constantly be on the look out for new challenges and learning opportunities, and once again I’m contemplating when, where and whether I should make my return as a practitioner of writing for wellbeing.  

My first foray into the facilitating of therapeutic writing workshops was in November 2004: it was the same year that I published my autobiography (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cracked-Recovering-After-Traumatic-Injury/dp/1843100657) and began studying a creative writing masters degree at Glasgow University; and despite having no previous experience in counselling  or teacher training, my old college lecturer, Dave Manderson, asked if I’d be interested in running a class aimed specifically at adults with mental health problems. I also had no idea how to go about structuring or running a workshop back then, but I knew I wanted to help – not least of all because Dave had helped set me on the path to becoming the writer I am today.  (Back in 1993, when I was in a fifteen-year-old inmate in an adolescent psychiatry unit, no-one once  suggested I might try writing about my problems or the traumas that I’d suffered – it was Dave, whose creative writing class I went to five years later, who insisted that I tell my story.)  And I believed the very least I could do was help him to help others find an outlet for their psychological pain.

The therapeutic writing course was a pilot venture arranged between Reid Kerr College in Paisley and the town’s Charleston Centre, and it was scheduled to last six weeks; but on the last day as I was leaving, one of the students piped up: ‘When do we start back after christmas?’  In the end, it ran for more than three years, and I’m positive I learnt just as much from my students as they did from me. 

Since then, I have always felt that part of my vocation was to help others – primarily underdogs and people who are in some way socially excluded – to find their own voice on the page; and over the last twelve and a half years, I’ve facilitated writing workshops with an array of culturally diverse groups including LGBT Youth, the Renfrewshire Brain Injury Project and Paisley’s Disability Resource Centre.  My emphasis when working with these vulnerable groups has always been on using the written word as a tool for healing – I frequently use humour to do this – and I can only hope that most of my students have benefited in some way from the exercises I’ve set them.

I feel very strongly that the arts should be accessible to everyone, no matter what their background or ability is.  And it is my personal opinion that writing for cathartic reasons not only helps assuage negative emotions such as anger, jealousy and depression.  Ultimately, this helps reduce crime too, which is why I’m now looking into the possibility of becoming a mentor for talented ex-prisoners who have expressed a serious interest in pursuing a writing career.  

 

Recipe For Disaster

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Today I tried to make strawberry rocky road bars. ‘Tried’ being the operative word. Because I am rather well-known for my culinary catastrophes: brick-like biscuits, disintegrating scones and short bread fingers that’ve emerged from the oven as dough balls; not forgetting the rice milk I once spent six hours preparing as a romantic gesture for Antonia, which she later told me tasted like sewage. Despite this, and that fact that I prefer savoury foods to sweet ones, I would much rather spend the afternoon stirring cake mixture than watching lentils browning  in a pan.

The rocky road bar recipe which appeared in the May issue of ‘Vegan Life’ magazine (http://veganlifemag.co.uk/) should have been easy enough: there were eight ingredients (plain chocolate, golden syrup, margarine, strawberries, an apple, almonds, dried cherries and icing sugar to sprinkle on the top) and four simple instructions none of which involved timing or an oven; and I imagine most people (vegans and non-vegans alike) would have managed to go to their nearest supermarket, collect the aforementioned ingredients, and then gone on home to complete the task within … oh, half an hour.

Not me though.

To be fair, the rocky roads were not the first thing to catch my eye in the magazine. I’ d originally fancied making the double chocolate pie on the opposite page (59) – and that would probably have been a better bet seeing as I have an uncanny knack for making anything and everything that contains pastry turn out pretty much perfect – however,

despite the thrill of a pie crust made of Oreos which contained a rather yummy sounding strawberry filling, I was put off by the fact that the recipe was a tad more complicated,  and more importantly, involved a food processor; and aside from the fact that I’m slightly scared of food processors (I like all of my fingers attached to my hands), it had been so long since I used mine that I couldn’t  remember how all the parts fitted together.

However, having decided that I was definitely going to bake something today, I spent another full  hour deliberating over all the different dessert recipes I could try out, before narrowing my options down to blue-berry choux pastry or rocky road.  (I had been threatening to make choux pastry for months,  ever since my friend, Sophie, gifted me the Welsh vegan cook book ‘The Voluptuous Vole’).  And in the end, I decided that I’d go to the shops and make the choice whilst I was there, depending on whatever ingredients I saw first.

Stupid plan.

Stupid, stupid plan.

I understand that sometimes it is difficult to get a hold of certain vegan ingredients – things like silken tofu and egg replacing powder aren’t exactly thick on the ground.  But chocolate?  Blueberries, for god’s sake!?

I was lucky to get the last two punnets of strawberries in the second supermarket I went to (that was after the detour to two health food shops).  And by the time I returned home, another two hours had past. I didn’t manage to get the dried cherries so I decided to add some kirsch instead (I had a quarter of a bottle left over from the black forest gateaux I made last xmas).  And I didn’t see the harm in melting together the various different dairy-free chocolate bars I had at home (they were all dark chocolate even if one was espresso-flavoured  and another had orange and geranium through it).  I added some freeze dried raspberry pieces and cranberries too just for the hell of it, and when I licked the spoon I thought the melty chocolate mixture tasted damn good.

In all honesty, I don’t know what want wrong.  I had a little trouble chopping the almonds and when I finally added them to the mixture the chocolate had gone a bit clumpy.   When Antonia saw my creation the first thing she said was: ‘Oh dear, hen, it doesn’t really look like the picture in the magazine, does it?’

I harrumphed.

Earlier, I ‘d given my friend, Fiona, a running commentary on my shopping and baking experience; and I did say the rocky road bars were ‘either going to be marvellous or dreadful’.

I can confirm, they were anything but marvellous.  In fact, in my opinion, my rocky road bars more closely resembled a muddy road, and they tasted like one too.  Antonia, on sampling them, very kindly said they were ‘not that bad’, but added that the biggest mistake I made was baking enough for about sixty people when there are just two of us.

Antonia takes a bite
Antonia takes a bite

Loyalty

When Antonia first suggested ‘loyalty’ as the theme for this week’s blog, my mind turned immediately to thoughts of longstanding friendships, and to partnerships and marriages and family ties, before pendulum-ing in the direction of disloyalty, misplaced loyalty, infidelity and betrayal.  Next, I thought of patriotism, of leaving Scotland, and of nationalism and the thinly-veiled anti-Scottish statements I’ve heard since arriving in Sudbury; and from there my ideas spiralled till they covered everything from naziism and neo-naziism to  secondary virtues such as duty, benevolence, sacrifice and servitude.  Finally, I considered my own loyalty, not specifically to my country or even towards other people, but to the extended beliefs and principles and humanitarian causes that have mattered to me over the years, as well as the commitments I’ve made towards maintaining my personal fitness and crafting out a career as a writer.

I have been vegan for nearly half my life now, and I’ve regarded myself a writer for an even longer period: I decided when I was seventeen that I would write a book about myself, my experiences and my views on the world, and I did (although at the time, there were many skeptics); and two years later, I pledged to follow a plant-based diet and to avoid wearing and using the by-products of animals, and I have stuck to that resolve despite the harsh criticisms from others. 

There have been other instances in my life, however, where I have not been quite so purposeful: I’ve started many short pieces of prose that have languished uncompleted in notebooks that are now gathering dust, and I once abandoned an arts council funded novel eight chapters in because on completion of my research (which involved travelling round several Scottish islands and trying to embrace their customs) I became disheartened with the subject matter; in January 2014, I made two New Year’s resolutions a) I would include more raw food in my diet in a bid to be healthier, and b) I would beat an old sports record of mine by running five kilometres in under twenty-five minutes.  I ate a lot of ‘Nakd’ bars that year, and possibly bought kale twice; I also grew bored of sprinting and took up both swimming and long distance running (which I always favoured over short distances) once again.   

 It used to be that when I set a challenge for myself, I’d be hell-bent on following it through to the finish, no matter how ill or unhappy it made me, or what the consequences were; and this was doubly to my detriment as I included kamikaze relationships and friendships into this equation, and the result was often a negative one albeit a frequent learning curve. I used to think that calling time on a goal or a friendship that was making me miserable was equivalent to throwing in the towel, to having no staying power, to being a failure; and during those times, I often found it hard to stay true to my own core values. 

Over time, it has become easier to align my beliefs and my interpersonal connections with others: I have made friends with other people who are vegan (or who want to be), and being in a relationship with someone who is as dedicated to her artwork as I am to my writing helps me to feel grounded; I also consider myself very lucky to have a partner who cares as much about ecology and ethical veganism as I do.

The Sex Issue

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It’s three PM and I’m sitting in Cafe Jacqui’s with my Diet Pepsi and the sex issue of Diva trying to decide on what to write for this week’s blog. I feel a tiny bit awkward because I hadn’t actually realized that the May issue was the sex issue: I simply grabbed the magazine on a whim as I was rushing out of the house, thinking that reading one of the monthly columns might unlock some inspiration; but now I keep looking surreptitiously over my shoulder to see if the two octogenarian ladies at the table behind me have noticed on one of their many trips to the toilet that I am perusing a publication that is full of naked ladies.

Not that I’m particularly shy about my sexual orientation – my days of playing the pronoun game whilst trying to maintain a hetero charade are long and truly over, and there would quite possibly be a murder if Antonia ever heard me referring to her as ‘Toni’ – but similar to comedienne Susan Calman, I grew up in a household where sex was an untouchable subject (throats were cleared and channels were switched over whenever there was an ounce of nudity, or snogging scenes got a bit racy on the telly); and like she says in her latest article (‘It’s Getting Hot In here’), I also would ‘really rather we didn’t talk about it at all, thank you very much’.

And I know, that this might come as a surprise to some people – especially those writer friends of mine who’ve read the graphic lesbian sex scene in my girl-meets-girl novel ‘Vicky Romeo Plus Joolz’, not to mention the post-bath-time chapter early on where my young butch narrator gets on down with a hand-mirror to examine her vagina for the first time – but I really am quite shy when it comes to watching, reading about or discussing carnal topics; it’s all very well making my characters hot and horny and sexually liberated between the sheets of my manuscripts, but those people aren’t me – and if they were, I certainly wouldn’t be giving anyone a running commentary of what I get up to in the privacy of my bedroom!

To be on the safe side, I decide to quickly flick past the top five sex toy guide and the photographs of scantily-dressed couple Emily and Ali, and fix my gaze on Joanna Benecke’s queer grooming column. This month’s focus is on ethical make up and it includes the low down on Super Drug’s B range, a new-to-the-UK vegan brand called Pacifica Beauty, and a company called VF who specialise in cruelty-free face paint (veganfaces.co.uk); there is also an information box which goes into detail about
shark liver oil, boiled animal fat and other unappealing ingredients like cochineal beetles that are used in the production of non-vegan makeup, and I begin reading it with the best intentions, right before my gaze accidentally wanders to the opposite page where there’s a P!nk For Peta advert featuring the caption ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ alongside an au naturale picture of pop star Alecia Moore…

I don’t stay to read the next page which is about masturbation (another theme which has popped up multiple times in my writing) because I realise it’s nearly closing time, and besides I’m starting to sweat inside my hoody and I’m not certain it’s the heat that’s causing that. Also, I’m not sure whether the owner (who just walked past) was coughing loudly because she wanted me to leave because she was anxious to clear up and go home, or whether she just wanted me and my cheeky magazine to leave, period. Alternatively, I suppose she may just have had a summer cold.

As soon as I go home I plan to have a cuppa and a Nakd bar whilst checking out the film and TV reviews on pages thirty-one to thirty-three, before Antonia comes hammering on my door for her dinner; because, really, that’s about as risqué as I get.

Confection Perfection

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‘If a confection company produced the perfect candy bar, what would it contain?’

I posed this question to Antonia and her friend, Sarah, when we were sitting outside ‘The Cabin’ (http://cabininthepark.com/today whilst drinking our soya coffees. Sarah said she wished there was a vegan banoffee bar, whilst Antonia misunderstood what I’d said and began listing all the various chocolate bars she’d previously eaten before giving up dairy, right before we descended into a debate about whether or not there had ever existed such a thing as a ‘Peanut Boost’ and what exactly was in a ‘Star Bar’.

Personally, I’ve always preferred savoury to sweet things and crisps and nuts to chocolate and candy (although I did once make the mistake of trying chocolate-flavoured crisps during the early nineties, and in my opinion they were truly, truly vile); but back when I still consumed animal products, I was partial to the occasional ‘Cadbury’s Fruit ‘N’ Nut Bar’ – although to be honest, it was cartoon advert with the wee jingle that I liked best about it: it went something along the lines of ‘everyone’s a fruit and nut case’ and has been stuck in my head ever since; the other thing I remember trying around the same time period (summer of 1993) was a dairy milk block of chocolate that I’m sure had strawberry yoghurt in it and may have been called something like ‘Silk’ or ‘Satin’. Nowadays, I wouldn’t thank you for a rice milk alternative to either of these things; and with the exception of the legendary ‘Vego’ bar and ‘Go Max Go’s vegan version of a ‘Snicker’ aka ‘Jokerz’, I generally avoid sweeties that arent high in cocoa and low on sugar, whilst my super sweet-toothed girlfriend can mow through ‘Moo-Free’ snacks and ‘Mini Moos’ like they are going out of fashion.

I like Booja Booja’s products, for instance their ‘Hunky Punky’ chocolate icecream which contains simply water, agave syrup, cashew nuts and cocoa; and today I finished my second box of Booja Booja luxury truffles since Easter. I think it’s fair to say that if Booja Booja brought out a fist-sized cherry cognac truffle-bar then there’s a chance I’d be a little bit fat. However, being the fitness freak I am, my favourite candy bar would have to be something that contained some combination of superfoods and several different seeds as well as having a fruity middle and a rich dark-chocolatey topping to pique my taste buds. I’ve pretty much described the box of ‘9 Bar Indulges’ that I won a couple of months ago from ‘Vegan Life’ magazine, the same luxury cereal bars I devoured within days of opening and then couldn’t find anywhere in the shops.

I asked Antonia again what her perfect candy bar would be and the conversation went something like this:

Me: Ok, so you can have any kind of candy bar you like.

Antonia: Emmm… I don’t know… A vegan Lion Bar…

Me: Seriously… you could have anything in the world, any ingredient, and that’s what you choose?

Antonia: Uhh, well, I don’t know, a Toffee crisp then…

Me: (sighing) Use your imagination, hen, if you could invent your own sweetie what would it have in it?

Antonia: Oh, well, (she grins and I can almost see a wee lightbulb switching on above her head) I would have rice milk chocolate on a waifter (pause) no, wait, a caramel waifer… plus a layer of that squidgy chocolate stuff that’s in the Boost …obviously it would have to be vegan… and those wee chewy bits you get on the outside of a Toblerone… I think they might be nougat… I would like those on the top … and I want lots of them…

Me: So you don’t want much then.

Later, I googled ‘Peanut Boost’ and ‘Star Bar’ and discovered they were the same thing. Apparently, the Star Bar preceded the Peanut Boost but it was taken off the market and then rebranded, only to later be taken off the market and renamed Starbar once again. I can’t even remember what either of them look or taste like so they couldn’t have been that good.

Divergent

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Last night, Antonia and I went to the cinema in Braintree to see ‘Insurgent’, the second film in the ‘Divergent’ series, which is based on Veronica Roth’s trio of sci-fi novels aimed at young adults.

Set in the futuristic dystopian city of Chicago where society has been divided into five factions (Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite and Amity) determined by personality type, the Divergent books follow the story of Tris Prior, an Abnegation-born sixteen-year-old who defects from her faction after discovering during an aptitude test that she possesses rogue ‘Divergent’ traits that make her an apparent threat to her closely-controlled civilisation.

I was very excited by the first ‘Divergent’ book. It was my favourite in the trilogy, although part one of the film adaptation was pretty nail-biting stuff and part two (in mine and Antonia’s joint opinion) was even better. Both book and film were fast-paced and slightly furious, and I identified heavily with the feelings of guilt and anxiety that Tris experienced when she was faced with the choice of leaving her family in order to find her true identity or stay with them out of a sense of misplaced loyalty and duty. I know it’s a rite of passage that most people go through during adolescence, but it was particularly poignant for me because even though I left my parents home nearly seven years ago, having a brain injury has meant having to do things much later in life and I only truly left their guardianship eight months ago. We thought Shailene Woodley was particularly brilliant as the somewhat volatile Tris Prior, and I thought Naomi Watts as the leader of the factionless was, well, rather hot… but I don’t want to say too much and spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen or read the first installment yet…

Antonia and I have been having a running joke recently about what would happen if we were suddenly transported into the pages of one of Roth’s books. Having read all of them (apart from ‘Four’ which is a recently released companion book of short stories) just weeks previous to our movie outing, we are both well-endowed with the knowledge of customs, beliefs and dietary restrictions of each faction. I personally fancied myself as an Erudite initiate – not because they are the most intelligent but purely so I could spend all my time reading, writing and learning about new things. I’m certainly not noble enough to join Abnegation who value self-sacrifice over any other quality; and as much as I value honesty, I could never deliberately ride roughshod over someone else’s toes just to tell my version of the truth, so Candor wouldn’t be suit me either; Dauntless is out too because their whole idea of jumping off moving trains and buildings just for fun seems like a scary prospect (Antonia said it’s also because I’m what the Dauntless-born call a ‘pansy-cake’). To me, Erudite seemed like the perfect place because I could just sit there and google things on the internet. However I realised that I probably wouldn’t pass the IQ test, and if I did I’d be laughed out of the place for being vegan because the Erudite aren’t particularly compassionate.

In the end, I decided the most appropriate faction for me would be Amity. Being the most peaceful, tolerant and friendly lot I’m sure they’d have no problem with my vegan ethics, and I could be perfectly happy living on their eco-farm ploughing the land and planting seeds… and reading my books. Antonia the bleeding heart said she’d go with Abnegation. This is typical coming from the person who once told me her mission in life was ‘to serve’. But she then went on to say that she thought she’d be a Divergent – of course, in my opinion that’s because she always has to be the best at bloody everything!

I’m looking forward to seeing the third film (‘Allegiant’) even though I wasn’t happy with the ending of the book. I’ve got at least another year before it is released though, so I suppose now I’ll have to go and read Roth’s short stories now – either that or start ‘The Hunger Games’.

London Vegan Adventurers

Today, Antonia and I went off on a vegan adventure in London. I suppose you could argue that all our adventures are vegan ones because we are vegans and have been for years, but in this instance we did specifically go in search of previously untried plant-based products and unconquered veggie establishments.

We ended up in Bethnal Green, a part of London I’d never visited. In a cheery wee charity-run coffee-shop called ‘The Gallery Café’ (http://www.stmargaretshouse.org.uk/thegallerycafe/). I was excited to find this place because it had been recommended to me by a chap I’d met last January in ‘Inspiral’ (a vegan café in Camden which overlooks the canal) who told me that it was his favourite food venue in London. And, after sampling the food and the atmosphere, it wasn’t hard to understand why. Between us we ordered a full English breakfast (which was comprised of veggie sausages, beans, mushrooms, toasted sourdough bread and a generous helping of scrambled tofu) and a cheesy, garlicky potato bake with salad. We did our usual eat-half-then-swap-plates, although I ate about three quarters of the food because it was so tasty, and because Antonia has been ill recently and it’s stunted her appetite.

Afterwards, Antonia went to an art exhibition in Whitechapel, and I waddled a few metres along the road to the Museum Of Childhood. I had a really good time looking at all the vintage kids’ games and toys, especially the He-Man figures and the Carebears and the old-fashioned super hero comics. However, I was mildly disturbed by the 1960s stuffed koala bear toy which was a dead-ringer for the koala my mum has had since childhood. According to the placard in the MOC, it was made from kangaroo skin – and I don’t know why this should offend me more than the leather seat of an 80s chopper bike or the many happy plastic farm animals on display, but for some reason it did; and I know I’ll never be able to run my fingers across the fur of mum’s koala toy ever again.

Later, we reconvened and went to Kensington on an egg hunt. I like Hotel Chocolat (because they’ve always catered well for vegans) and I’d heard they had some original Easter goodies. However, the only seasonal dairy-free delicacy I could find was a dark chocolate ‘egg sandwich’, and I couldn’t separate that in my mind from real egg-salad sandwiches. So we sampled a couple of their hot chocolates instead and went along the road to Wholefoods. And despite there being a much wider variety of cruelty-free eggs in this shop, I emerged from the chocolate aisle with a box of Rhubarb and vanilla Booja Booja truffles (and a packet of chicken soup flavoured ‘Ten Acre’ crisps) and Antonia picked a giant Vego bar, some jelly sweets and a bag of marshmallows for her Easter treat.

(We did get some normal foodstuff as well… fat green olives, dairy free almond-cheese spread, veggie haggis… thinking about it is making me salivate so I’ll say no more…)

On the car ride home, I began compiling a list of all the vegetarian and vegan places we’ve ever been to for my new up-and-coming blog page ‘Bean There’ (it was Antonia’s idea), along with a mental plan of where I’m going for my next London Vegan Adventure.

Self-Love-Hate

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Yesterday I created a collage out of a pile of old ‘Diva’* magazines. I’ve called it ‘Self-Love-Hate’ because it mirrors the way I often feel about myself and my writing. It also represents the shifting internal homophobia that many lesbian women experience throughout different points in their lives.

I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s ‘Vein Of Gold: A Journey To Your Creative Heart’, which is a companion volume to her acclaimed self-help manual,‘The Artist’s Way’. First published in 1996, Cameron describes VOG as ‘a pilgrimage’, ‘a journey of healing’ and ‘a prescription for artful living’, and it includes advice on how to combat creative stumbling blocks as well as over a hundred inspiring and imaginative exercises which focus on ‘inner play’. (I have been working through this book for over five years now, and although it has produced several light bulb moments, I’ve sometimes found it to be a bit of a slog)

Anyway, yesterday’s cut-n-paste task appeared on page two-hundred-and-fifty-five in section six of the book which is entitled ‘The Kingdom Of The Relationship’ – the book is separated into seven sections each one dealing with a different aspect of creative restoration. Here, along with other recommendations on how to evade destructive interactions, it is suggested that you collage your most toxic creative relationship. This was initially a bit of a puzzle for me, because having read several of her other books I am more than familiar with her thoughts on how to eradicate the people she refers to as ‘crazy-makers’ and ‘creative monsters’; and I realised that after doing many of Cameron’s exercises (and attending one of her conferences in London last year) that I’ve successfully managed to ditch, diminish or diffuse all of the other negative influences in my life. So… the only person left was myself.

The thing is, I have had several small successes over the last few months: I’ve finally finished a collection of short stories and a novella, as well as receiving a hundred percent on four out of five of the assignments related to the distance learning crime fiction course I’ve been doing. But often these tiny wins are only enough to stave off doubts for a few hours or (if I’m lucky) days; and then I’m back to storming through the house like a tasmanian devil, threatening to destroy every word count and manuscript in my path. And I don’t know why I’m like this. Or when it started. (I suspect it’s been a gradual disintegration of confidence over the years that one day suddenly snowballed.) There’s no point speculating though. It only leads to procrastination and then frustration because I could have been using that wasted time to solve a plot-orientated issue.

It’s no surprise to me (or to Antonia who once received a rather risque Diva-inspired valentines collage from me) that my hotch-potch of clippings included naked ladies; there were also three pictures of Wentworth’s Nicole Da Silva (aka Frankie Doyle) alongside Orange Is The New Black’s Lea Delaria (Big Boo) and Laura Prepon (Alex). The word ‘queer’ appeared three times in different fonts as did the word ‘vegan’. The collage wasn’t intended to be a masterpiece. I simply cut things out willy nilly as I skimmed through the pages, so any subtexts that may have arisen are accidents. And in retrospect I think it’s far too cluttered, and I could have did without captions such as ‘study this’ and ‘I’m changing my name’ and ‘how to write pulp’. It was a worthwhile exercise though, and I enjoyed doing it. But I’m still waiting for the ‘clarity and relief’ that Cameron claimed came to her when she worked on this same theme.

I asked Antonia what she thought of my new magnum opus and how it fared in comparison to my previous collages. She simply shrugged and said: ‘I don’t know, hen, they all look the same to me.’

*Diva is popular UK magazine about lesbian life and style

Eclipse Of The Heart

Today is the first time since 11th August 1999 that the UK will see a solar eclipse. It is also the day that Antonia’s brother, Joshua, is getting married. On one hand, this wedding has been a bit of a whirlwind – Josh and Penny only got engaged at Christmas – but on the other it’s been a long time coming, considering that they’ve lived together for the last twenty-one months with their three and a half children (Lucy and Russell from Penny’s first marriage; baby Sebastian; and the one on the way), and were once, many years ago, childhood sweethearts. Of course, there were a couple of disasters at the eleventh hour: Penny falling and twisting her ankle last week on Friday the 13th; and then yesterday the mother, father and youngest sister of the bridegroom almost didn’t make it home in time from Fuerteventura after their plane was redirected… By the time this post is let loose in cyberspace, I’ll hopefully be in the Sudbury town hall watching the lovers tie the knot. This is only the second (full) wedding I’ve ever been invited to. The first was Sophie and Tracy’s seven and a half years ago, although we weren’t allowed to call it a wedding back then. I was one of two ‘best women’. If I ever have a wedding I’d like it to be a vegan one. Antonia agrees. I suppose it’s easy saying that when you have a vegan partner. But then I’ve talked to other vegan couples and they’ve said that they wanted a vegan wedding too but their families objected. When I say vegan wedding, I do just mean the food. Obviously, if I was going to wear a kilt then I’d want it to be a non-wooly one with a sporran that was made from something other than dead animal, but I certainly wouldn’t insist that all my guests had to be wearing faux leather apparel (unless I was paying for the outfits) because that would be a wee bit intolerant. I also wouldn’t say to my omnivrous or vegetarian friends ‘oh sorry, you had a cheese toastie yesterday so that means you cannae come’. Anyway, I may never get wed. And not just because of the vegan thing. Because even though it’s legal for gay couples to marry now in the UK, I still have my reservations. Mostly, I worry about disappointing my parents: a) because I’m never going to be that a traditional bride in a meringue (or any) dress; and b) because my mother has made it abundantly clear over the years that she would prefer it if I were to marry a man. So, of course, I worry about inviting my parents to the wedding. And I worry about not inviting them. I don’t know what would be worse: if my mother were to decline an invite, or for her to appear with her face tripping her all day long. And if I didn’t invite her, how could I invite my dad and my sister? I suppose we could always elope. But then I’d miss the wedding waltz and a golden opportunity to buy a snazzy new suit. I may not be one for traditional customs but I do like formal-wear; and I’ve always fancied myself in a crisp white morning suit with a matching waistcoat and tie… Anyway, this is supposed to be about Josh and Penny… I hope they both have a really wonderful day. I’m sure they will… unless Penny goes into early labour in the middle of the ceremony… but that would make for quite a good story!