Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Notes from the Spam Folder, 2: The Elementary Edition


Are you still here? Even after my last post

The first of my spam folder posts the other week was surrounded by an echo of well, does tumbleweed even make an echo? A few people have now commented but for an unnerving while there it was just me, shouting innuendo into the void, wondering - not for the first time - if following my gut and writing about what makes me laugh was a bad idea. 

And, really, it wouldn't be the first time I've felt like that. 

Remember when I went to that writing day and daren't read out anything I'd written because I couldn't be sure people would appreciate it? Yeah, well, the same goes for publishing that blog post. All of which goes to explain why twice this month I've floundered for an answer after being asked, by different people: "So what kind of writing do you do?" 

I'm going to have to work on a nice neat over-arching response to that question because it seriously needs to be something better than [a] how I'm currently replying and [b] the truth:
  • [a] how I'm currently replying - "Oh, erm, well, kind of just ... stories. From my life. About things that happen to me day to day. Like ... erm ... funny stuff." [When I'm in that situation I find it impossible to convince myself that it's funny let alone the person asking who is no doubt  highly sceptical of the comedic prowess of the bumbling idiot in front of them]. 
  • and [b] the truth - because if I simply told the unfiltered truth about the recent things I've written then the conversation would go something like "What do I write about? Oh, you know, about a lesson I learned from a trout I wasn't expecting, and a description of some rude spam messages I'd saved and erm ...well, a true-story about periods. No, please, it's OK, there's no need to smile and nod like that while backing away carefully and looking for the nearest exit out the corner of your eye ... please, come back ..."
In short: I need a branding overhaul, a smart tagline, a confident elevator pitch, because the thing is, I'm not actually planning to change what I write about ... so I'm just going to have to get better at packaging it. 

Which brings me to today's nonsense [clearly I haven't worked on a professional description for it just yet ...] 

When I used to get lots of spam mail [alas, those days are gone] after the risque ones the names guaranteed to stand out amid the sea of spam were the familiar ones.  And, where there any two names I'd be more likely to fall for than this pair
[BTW: I have my own responses to Watson's subject line: "These words make chicks horny" such as ... "I've cleaned the fridge." feel free to contribute your own ...] 

So yes, there was actually a period of time where my spam folder was frequently visited by the world's only consulting detective and his friend - for those of you who read my previous post you'll already have seen the man himself lurking there amongst the Bushes: 
[There's got to be a joke in there somewhere about a 'Sherlock in the hand' being worth more than ... something or other. Right?] 

Then maybe when the spammers didn't get any response from me with their 'Calvin' Sherlock they decided to go a bit posher:

Which didn't work either. Neither did a Biblical Sherlock:
But here's where they almost had me because, honestly, what could possibly be better than an an already impressive regular Sherlock? Well how about a rich one?

But if you still don't fancy that, how about an Italian version or two?
I even got a bonus message from an Elvis with this one and how did they know that - as a huge fan of The Good Wife [and if you're not, you ought to be] - a message from a certain Will Gardener would be bound to grab my attention?

Then, underneath the Hardman [!] we find yet another Watson with perhaps the title of one of the Sherlock Holmes cases that got away ...


While this next one is a good attempt at guessing the good Doctor's middle name:
But they're not quite near enough are they?

For those who haven't seen Season 2 Ep1 of Sherlock quite as often as I have: "It's Hamish. John Hamish Watson. Just, if you were ... looking for baby names." ... you can see what I mean here.

And yes, apparently my geekery knows no end. Unlike this post.

If all this has now whetted your Conan-Doylian appetite I'll leave be so you can visit more Cumber-Sherlock clips on YouTube ... or Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary for that matter. Either/or and you're in for a good afternoon. Or spoil yourself. Do both.

Unless you're more of a Basil Rathbone girl?

In which case: each to her own.

Julie x

p.s: when I'm not here - which is a lot of the time these days - you can find me sharing my usual oddities of daily life over at @withjuliekirk on Instagram. If you're there to, do come and say hi. 

Recent  posts over there have featured Hodor in a lift, a slightly double-chinned-selfie, a musing on stand-up comedy, and a library book with a, well, let's call it an 'attention seeking' title. You'll know the one I mean when you see it.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Notes from the Spam Folder, 1. The Nominative Determinism Edition.


It's an old cliche, a tale as old as time, but the phrase "You don't know what you've got til it's gone" never felt so true to me until that day my email provider upgraded their spam filter ... and my wild and wonderful spam-life came to an abrupt end.

We've all been there ... right?

Since then life - or to be more precise my spam folder - has never been the same again.

Something was lost that day. Something colourful; something real [well, not really real; not at all real in actual fact, rather it was all utterly and entirely 100% made up, but still ...]; something that gave meaning to my life and my ability to take take screenshots was lost. And all I have to remember it by now is, well, is those screenshots ...

Up until the upgrade, sometime last year, I regularly used to receive dozens, if not hundreds of spam messages a month. Not to my inbox, because my spam folder caught 99% of them, but my spam folder had become a place I really liked to visit.

I thrive on serendipity, I rely on the joyfully miscellaneous minutiae of our daily existence for 'material', and I scour for, hoard, and polish the plucked treasures of life ... therefore this loss of regular entertainment has been deeply felt.

But, like I say, thankfully, for posterity, I did take screenshots of some of them, just a few handfuls, just enough to remind me of the 'good' old days. Just enough to share ...

Notes from the Spam Folder, 1. The Nominative Determinism Edition.

"Give a dog a bad name and hang him" so the old saying goes. Label someone and then just watch how they end up living up it to the name.

Does your name reflect what you do for a living?

With a name like 'Kirk' I should either be running a Scottish church ... or the deck of the USS Enterprise.  Which I'm not ... but take, for example, the the time James had an appointment with a 'Doctor Nurse'. No, it didn't mean a 'Nurse Practitioner' or any other kind of hybrid healthcare provider, but rather Nurse was actually the Doctor's surname. [Playing doctors and nurses is literally a one man job for him].

Or take the woodwork teacher in my secondary school Mr. Sawden. Or the former Chief Justice of England and Wales Baron Judge.

Or Bob the Builder ...

And it's that same quirk of naming that links together the senders of this first batch of spam mail I'm sharing. Because what all these purveyors of unsolicited messages were suffering from was a bad case of nominative determinism.

*Warning to those likely to be offended by light smut: All of these spam messages involve sexy-talk ... and a small side-avalanche of willful double-entendre. So if you don't like innuendo then yo'd best look away now before I slip one in.

OK then, hello there you self-confessed smut-seeker you ... how about we begin with this set of correspondents who I can only imagine went into the business of bombarding strangers with adverts for porn and/or 'endurance' medication just to make the most from their family name:
I don't know about you but I imagine Bonnie has had to put up with her fair share of indecent inquiries in her time.

Oh and yes, before we move on, I know you've spotted that rogue Sherlock there [above] but hold your hounds a while because I have additional Conan-Doyle-ish spammers to share in another post sometime.  [Presuming I'm not run out of Blogland for filth in the meantime].

Until then ... we can only surmise that both Dick and the two Fannies here went into this kind of work after being beaten down by name-related-bullying at school. A case of 'if you can't beat them, send random strangers emails about them'

Aside: As for quite why so many Macduffs have gotten into the business ... I don't know ... if you can find the link between selling 'sex secrets' and a character from MacBeth then you're a better pun-maker than I.

Not so hard to define is this pair ... what with surnames like Longman and Roger ... I think we can agree that Amber and Darrell have found themselves in the right industry:
As have the Hardman family:

It must have been a proud day when Maynard [above] brought his son 'Junior' [below] into the spamming business.

Sheds new light on the idea of passing on the baton ... or handing down the family jewels ...

And let's not forget the contribution the Wood family have made, what with Justin [above] and [below] the woman whose name could not better reflect the promise she makes in her subject-line: 

eg: "What do you do for a living Aida Wood?", "Yes, that's right, how did you guess?".

Although perhaps one woman qualified to give Aida a run for her money in the named-to-suit-her-profession stakes, is this sender ...

Likewise my all time favourite correspondent [who, alas, I forgot to screenshot] - couldn't have been more appropriately or eye-catchingly named. Like Maynard and Junior who we've already met - he was another member of the Hardman family; Rusty Hardman, to be exact. The name of an ex-porn-star if ever I heard one.

But finally, let's take a moment to spare a thought for those in the industry who - unlike our previous cast of characters - have been saddled with names that actually contradict what it is they're trying to sell. I mean, no matter how virile this chap may be, just how many of his 'affordable-priced pharmaceuticals' is he likely to sell when his name makes him sound like he hasn't 'enjoyed' himself for quite a while ...

-----------------------

Over the years there've been more Dustys, more Aida's and Hardmans [or should that be Hardmen??] Many more. But, it's like I said at the start ... you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. 

You think rude spam will last forever. You think there'll always be another chance to snigger, to marvel at its filthy ingenuity, to screenshot it. But you're wrong. 

If you're fortunate enough to have an email provider with a shoddy spam filter then just take a moment to be grateful, take a moment to visit the folder, take a moment to marvel at the bizarre new friends vying for your attention, and then take a screenshot of all your favourites. 

Just don't - under any circumstances - click any of the links they've sent you. Not one of them. Not even if it's from trusty Rusty. Do you hear me? Good. 

Julie 

--------------------------

p.s: If this post disappears you'll know that I'm struggling with the inevitable spam comments its bound to attract. 

p.p.s: Before I actually do go - just to save us an embarrassing conversation later - you do know that I know that they're not their real names, don't you? Yeah. Fine. Thought so. As you were.  

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

My Month in Numbers 2016: April


Do you want the honest truth?

Now that I regularly use Instagram to document my days - as they happen - this monthly round-up is starting to feel like I'm going over old ground. The good thing about putting everything into one blog post it is I get to share larger photos and I can write more about what happened. The bad thing is ... I end up selecting and uploading lots of photos and writing so much that it takes up hours of my time ...

But now I've had my moan, let's not worry about all that now. It wouldn't have been the first time I had a wobble/existential crisis about writing during April ... so let's dive into my month, in numbers ...

I attended a 7 hour writing day in a country hotel: 
If you read the blog post I wrote all about it - The writing day that made me consider giving up writing - then you'll already know all about how hours 1-6 were great while hour 7 made me panic and reconsider my dream of ever writing a book.

Since I published that post the day's host has since replied in the comments section, so if you want to know what she thought of my confessional then hop over to find out. And, speaking of comments ...

Rarely have 16 blog comments meant so much to me. 
If you were one of the 16 who took time to leave an encouraging comment on that post than thank you. So much. I can't even tell you what it meant to me. Your polite requests /outright demands that I don't give up writing, and your out-of-the-blue declarations that you'd contribute to a fund to get a book printed were just the most rewarding thing I could have read. And the personal stories you shared made my heart burst. Thank you.

And the month continued to treat me gently after that, ending on a particularly high note ...

I was asked for ID in Mark's & Spencer's while I was buying wine [in the '£10 meal for 2' offer]And while it's not the first time it's ever happened ... it was the first time since I turned 40.

All thanks to good genes, plenty of make-up,  and the poor eyesight of M&S staff.

While we're on the subject of messed-up chronology, in April James and I went back in time - twice.

We dropped in on 1914-18 - courtesy of the 'Horses At War' day at the Beamish open air museum:
There were all kinds of wartime equine scenarios playing out across the 300 acre site from how horses were used in farming and village life, to transportation and battle ...
These re-enactors of a lancer division were a pretty impressive sight and it certainly did make you aware of the living, breathing elements of a war which fortunately none of us saw close-up.

However, modern woman that I am, it did also make me consider just what kind of risk assessment they had to fill out before taking part: "You want to do what? Ride horses? OK. Right through the public areas? Where there's nothing stopping anyone from stepping in your way? OKaaaaayyyyy, riiiiight ... And, sorry, what's was that you said? Oh, you want to do all of that while controlling the horse with one hand while carrying a long sharp stick in the other? Have I got that right? I see. Well, you'll have to fill out this form."

Appropriately enough there was a handy field hospital/camp on site too ...
Alas, try as I might, I didn't spot Christopher Tietjens anywhere [and you know I tried.]
Also while were at Beamish ... we hovered on the bridge to get a good shot of the No.34:
And stayed to get an even better shot when its steam engulfed us as it passed beneath:
I would have taken an even more engulf-y shot from when the train was directly under us, but at the time, I was too busy being engulfed.

We also dropped in on St.Helen's Church, which in this layout dates from the 1820s. But walking past by this building used to be much easier for us ...
This church used to stand in a cemetery 2 minutes walk from our house.

Over the years it became run down and threatened with demolition until Beamish stepped in and dismantled, moved, and rebuilt it brick-by-brick on their site 40 miles away!

The whole project is now finished, and for the first time in my life [as far as I can recall] after years of walking past it, I finally went inside:
Not only does this feel like regular old time travel [an atmosphere which Beamish always instills]  ... for those of us familar with the original location of the building, this particular site feels like they've added teleportation into the mix too. [You can read more about the church here].

But perhaps one of the most memorable moments for James was having his facial hair officially acknowledged. Here it/he is on the vintage tram:
While we were standing outside the bakery a young member of staff [all of who dress in full period costume] walked by us wearing his waistcoat, rolled shirt sleeves, pocket watch ... and handlebar moustache. As he got nearer, their eyes met over their crowded facial hair, and just before he drew parallel the young man declared "Nice moustache!" Pretty sure it made his day.

[p.s: any of you who've seen the 'tache/ bowler hat combination on my Instagram this week, won't be surprised to learn that he's always threatening to go to Beamish in a cobbled together costume of his own. To blend in. I'm a saint. A saint I tell you.]

Right then, hold on to your hat [be it bowler, topper or just plain woolly] and let's zip forward in time, but not quite as far as today ...

We dropped in on 1939-45 when we visited the Yorkshire Pie & Mash Shop in Saltburn:
It was a lovely way to while away a Saturday lunch time; friendly staff, vintage decor:
Lovely food, loose leaf tea ... and they even gave us original 1930s papers to read while we waited:
And no - I didn't steal and/or cut them up!

Clearly in the 1930s people were also worried about their weight but for different reasons than people  are today.
And I'm thinking about weight because ... April was an especially scone heavy month:
I had at least 5 ... but very likely more. It's very easy to lose track.

Book related numbers.
April was an especially wordy month for me what with starting with a writing day and moving on to ...

The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Alas.
When I met up with my sister for our weekly 'drinks and nibbles' night she'd dressed the scene...
... with things she just had to hand. She'd also printed off lots of Shakespearean quotes that we still use today and we spent the night plucking them at random and guessing which play they came from. I guess that's just the kind of family we are.

[It's a bit like how, the following week, at Mam's house said "It's just what I've been messing with today" before presenting us with a multi-dish homemade tapas banquet.]

While looking for things to photograph for the blog post I wrote [Shakespeare & my sister. Life lessons from two people I've learned to listen to] I discovered that ...

 I own 3 copies of his 'Complete Works':
I seem to just keep accruing them. After all, how complete is complete?

I read 5 books 
None of which were the The Complete Works of Shakespeare but it did include 2 classics:
  • I read Persuasion by Jane Austen for the first time and wondered what on earth had taken me so long. If you want a good place to start with Austen, it's right there. 
  • And I reread The Catcher in the Rye as it was one of the options on my book club last month. It had been around 20 years since I first read it and I loved it so much this time around that I kept reading sections of it out loud to James. I came to the conclusion that like youth, this book is wasted on the young. Then promptly spoke to 2 people who'd loved it the first time but now hated it. You can't please everyone. 
The other 3 books were:  
  • Further Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes
  • Heft by Liz Moore 
  • and Lover by Anna Raverat [which was so, so very good]. 
  • If you use Pinterest you can hop through to links about all the books I've read this year here - right back to 2013 in fact]. 
I also started reading 3 practical/theory/writing books - but as I haven't finished them, I didn't count them.

And I picked up 2 free books at a World Book Night event. 
The event was held in the library at work and was great not only because - spending 12 hours a week in there - I knew exactly where I was going [I hate finding new places!] but they also gave everyone attending £2.00 to spend in the cafe [tea + Maltesers thankyouverymuch], plus the free World Book Night books and a free book bag to put them in.

The evening also included a talk by the author Helen Cadbury who, I must admit I didn't know anything about, but even without having read her books, it was still really entertaining. As well as reading from her book she covered more generic topics such as the writing and publishing process - so there was plenty to keep me interested. She was an engaging speaker and - if you live in the North East/Yorkshire - you can catch her on her on one of her other author events in the next few weeks [visit her events page here].

And finally [because I want to finish this post before June] ...

I shared 20 [of a total of 50] 4x4 inch collages in the The Copy and Paste Project Instagram exhibition I'm hosting with Kirsty Neale. 
This is a selection of mine and Kirsty's work - hop over to our shared Instagram account to see our collected works:
a compilation of collage images

We'll be sharing a collage-a-day for 26 more days until we have exhibited 100 works in total so do drop by for a look [you don't need to have an Instagram account to browse].

-----------------------------------

And so ... I'm now gently sliding a sleeping April off my lap and leaving it on the sofa while I head off into May.

Into sunshine [I hope. Please weather. It is Spring now.] Into more books. More collage. More writing (I decided not to put down my pen just yet ...). 

If you've blogged your numbers link me up and I'll be round to visit you
(Jennie and Ruth I'll be there soon!).

Thanks for reading me and offering your support this month. Here's to May. 

Julie x 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Shakespeare & my sister. Life lessons from two people I've learned to listen to.


Alas. Poor William, I knew him Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

 [OK, OK, so, I didn’t know him. But then again, you’re not Horatio are you? So stop pretending you are. Look we’ve both been caught out now, so let’s move on ... ]

 It’s 400 years today since Shakespeare died.

Well today-ish as no one really knows the exact date.

[I guess no one put a death notice in the Evening Gazette about him; meaning all the Jacobean Grandmas probably didn’t go around asking everyone to 'guess who died'. “You know who I mean . Oh you do. Nice lad, liked making up stories. John and Mary’s son. The one with the earring …”.]

 Anyway … I couldn’t let the occasion pass without saying something Shakespearean here. And, regular readers will undoubtedly be able to guess which 9 words I’m going to start with. Ready ... OK all together on 3, 2, 1 go …

When I went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet … [you guessed correctly didn’t you? Thought so.]

Yeah, so, when I went to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, well it was before I went actually, my sister took on the mantle of offering me some sage advice which she was particularly well placed to give.

  • Not only had she visited London in general more often than I had, like me, she’d done so to see one of her favourite actors, this time David Tennant, play Hamlet.
  • And … she’d followed that up by seeing another of her chosen ones – Tom Hiddleston – play Coriolanus. [So she’s one up on me. Not that I’m counting.] 
So, as a dutiful little sister who knows her place I not only listened to her advice, I heeded it. [And yes – as I can be relied upon to do – I also wrote it all down and made a note to blog it sometime].

So here it is alongside other famous advice-related Hamlet quotes namely from Act1 Scene 3 where Polonius doles out his fatherly wisdom to Laertes. Feel free to compare and contrast at your leisure:

No. 1: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: 
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; 
For the apparel oft proclaims the man. 

Jo’s sisterly advice to me: 
"Wear your walking shoes. You might think you want to wear something nicer but you’ll be so glad if you just wear the comfy ones.” 

I wore the comfy ones.

[Except when I went to the theatre when I wore wedges. And got a blister. Don’t tell her that part.]

No. 2: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: "Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar."

Jo’s sisterly advice to me: “Wear perfume”. 

Now, this wasn’t exactly direct advice that I was meant to follow to the letter. It was more like a random thought she had while casting her mind back – fondly [perhaps too fondly] - to her last theatre trip. As she put it: “I wore perfume when I went to see Tom. I mean, Corialanus.” 

Jo and ‘Tom’ sitting in a tree ...

No. 3: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: 
Neither a borrower nor a lender be; 
For loan oft loses both itself and friend, 
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. 

Jo’s sisterly advice to me: “Buy a programme.” 

 I did.

No. 4: 
Advice from Polonius to Laertes: "This above all- to thine own self be true." 

I know right? That’s from Hamlet. Another of the dozens of phrases from that play that we still rely on to funnel life’s clamouring mess into a single meaningful phrase.

And with that in mind … I share with you my sister's final - and perhaps most profound - piece of Hamlettean advice in the hope that one day it too becomes legendary.

Jo’s sisterly advice to me regarding pre-theatre consumption: “Eat something. Line your stomach. You don’t want to be sick on Benny.” 

 I did. And I wasn’t.

[Which is just as well really as – considering how hard they clamped down on people taking photos of the performance - I can only imagine what their response would have been to someone vomiting on the leading man from the front seat of the upper circle.]
The 115 year old edition of the play that Jo gave me for my birthday this year. 
What need I worry in this world when I can always turn to Will and Jo for guidance?

Julie x

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The writing day that made me consider giving up writing. [OR 'Another case of an overthinker being hard on herself then sharing it all on her blog']


Well ... this is tricky

Because, I don't know about you, but I've never read any blogging advice* which tells you how much you're meant to write about an event you've attended before you get around to the part where you admit that you went home afterwards and cried

[*If you find that article, let me know. If not I guess I'll have to write it. Come to think of it, maybe this is it.] 

The event in question was a 7 hour writing day in a country hotel.

And I need to start by saying that no one I met there 'made' me cry! It wasn't anything anyone said or did. [I mean, granted, I was a bit baffled when one of the hotel staff said she had to leave our buffet lunch out for one hour only due to 'Health and Safety' ... but I'm not so attached to salad and potato wedges that their removal can bring me to tears.]  It was just ... well, I'll get on to what is was 'just ...' in a minute, but first  ... 

While I was trying to decide whether or not to go the day's host, a poet and teacher, was so genuine, friendly and helpful, answering all my questions, that there was no reason not to sign myself up... and it felt good.  
Not only was it going to be a chance to start working on some article/memoir ideas I had floating around, afterwards it was going to make such a good blog post! There was even a cake I could photograph ... which, let's not forget, is valuable currency in the blogosphere: 
And it was a fabulous sounding plan to be able to say: I was spending a whole day writing, surrounded by 10 other writers, with warm-up exercises in the library in the morning:
...leaving the remainder of the day free to work independently in the cosy lounge alongside a roaring wood fire:
... in a room with a view for goodness sake:
... and with time to wander freely around the grounds whenever you needed some bucolic inspiration: 
It felt serious, 'proper', like I was letting the world know I was dedicated to putting pen to paper.

And actually, it was indeed all of those things. For 6 of those 7 hours I had a really nice time [and even the 7th, which I'll get round to, wasn't exactly hell on earth]. Which is why, ever since, I've been torn over how to talk about that day with you here. How much to say. What tone to use. 

The thing is, it's been tempting to simply offer up the basic 'this is what I did' version. After all, that's the one I had planned from the start. I was never intending to go there and ruin my self esteem purely so I could write a misery post about it and beg you for comforting comments [although, that actually did cross my mind later on when I was still feeling a bit delicate!]

But whitewashing over life's embarrassing stains is not what I'm about here; I can't justify only sharing the shiny clean parts. Prior to this particular moment of crapping-out of 'adulting' I'd recently scribbled this in my notebook regarding what I choose to write about, that "things that hurt / feel vulnerable. I feel like this is all there really is when it comes down to it." A month later and I'm forced to put my story where my mouth is. So this is it.

As someone who's experienced anxiety in the past I can honestly report that this wasn't that. Not at first. I felt perfectly fine about going and spending the day writing alongside strangers. I felt confident. Free and easy. [Talk about setting your expectations high.]

The day before I'd picked out which notebooks to take [I took fewer than I originally planned because this amount was just overkill] and set out a nice outfit complete with my favourite boots. And on the day itself I and even captured a smiley bathroom selfie ... and who does that when they're having a sh*tty day? 
[I'm aware there'll be those of you asking 'Who does that? Full stop.' in which case you probably don't know me too well.] 

Like I say hours 1-6 were great. Everyone was really open and friendly even if it was a tiny bit awkward chatting to strangers at first, especially upon realising - as often seems to happen to me - that most of the people there already knew one another, making me once again a workshop outlier!  
And actually, this was one of the things that gave me pangs about choosing to come to this event rather than my monthly crafty meet-up with friends which was happening on the same day. Because, while meeting new people is all very evolved and everything, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. [Wow, that's good. Someone should write a song about that]. 

BTW: I'd already taken this photo of a sad, lone, broken, bulrush prior to my post-outing meltdown. Apparently there's no hiding your true feelings from your camera lens!
Similarly psychologically revealing I'd also captured ... a folly ... [which I later came to believe my thoughts of ever writing a book were]:
... and a warning sign:
But hey, you know, apart from all that I was feeling absolutely fine and dandy. Nothing else even vaguely angsty on my mind. I mean, it's not like I photographed the pet graves.

Oh, yeah, well ...
But, yes, I was actually feeling perfectly happy for the majority of the day; we'd had our useful guided warm-up exercises, we'd written, we'd eaten lunch [within the allotted hour], we'd drunk tea, we'd chatted and by the final hour of the day all that remained on the schedule was a chance to get together to share what we'd been working on and get feedback from the group if we wanted to.

But I didn't want to.

And that was where my problems started.

I need to stress that I was under no pressure whatsoever to share my work. Far from it. I even asked if it was OK for me to sit and listen to the others even if I didn't want to share, and I was welcomed warmly. Neither the host nor the rest of the group had any issue with me not sharing anything.

But someone did.

Me.

Usually, throughout my life, if I've been happy with something I'm doing, I can look myself in the eye and stand by it come hell or high water. [Which sounds like a nimble move in a game of Twister.]
At school, the other kids didn't share my taste in rock music and teased me about both it and my matching wardrobe. But that never stopped me from wearing cowboy boots on non-uniform day or playing Poison's 'Flesh & Blood' album to the class when the art teacher allowed us to listen to cassettes in our final year. [Yes, cassettes. Because I am old].

And a few years back, when I took a screenwriting class, as I believed so much in the realism of my sweary-yet-heartfelt little script I didn't back down when another student [a middle-aged man] repeatedly criticised the amount of cursing I'd used saying "Have you read this aloud to yourself? Do you really think it needs all that swearing? EastEnders manages to tell gritty stories without resorting to it." And while I steadfastly and admirably defended my work to him I think we can all agree that my biggest achievement was refraining from telling him to f*ck off.

Repeatedly.

And yet - in the writing room - I found that I just didn't dare read anything I'd written that day. Which in turn made me wonder if the real problem was not whether I was too shy to share it, but whether that deep down, I knew it just wasn't good enough for me to stand by.
[If you're only just now realising that, yes, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool overthinker then, where have you been???? Also, you've obviously never read my Pinterest profile].

Worse was to come though when I sat and listened to the others share their work which involved a fair share of serious, deep, at times moving, poetry followed by an equal level of seriousness in the group discussion and feedback.

Now - this wasn't my first time at the rodeo - I have the cowboy boots [and English Degree] to prove it. And I can be as serious as the next literature lover when it comes to analysis [just ask James who has smiled and nodded his way through many an overeager textual and structural breakdown of the latest book I've been reading]. And if we'd been talking about anything but our own work ...

I just didn't feel there was any way I could puncture this learned atmosphere by sharing what I'd been writing because - as I described to a friend the following week - what I'd been writing was:

"notes, ideas, a few paragraphs for a piece about something I learned from a trout ... [yes, the fish] and also trying to think of ways a smear test could be said to be like voting in an election [long story ...]."

Yeah. Those old gems.

Imagine me announcing that to the group. "Well, this is a piece about a trout that I wasn't expecting ...". Or "The thing with the speculum is ...".

Again this is not in any way meant as a criticism of the other writers there - I'm pretty certain that, if I had dared to share, they'd have been as supportive of me as they were to everyone else. The thing that had upset me most was that - in the heat of the moment - I couldn't bring myself to share the kind of writing that I write. 

Which led to me worrying that, if I couldn't share it with 10 strangers, how could I ever seriously hope to publish a book of it? Which, in turn, led me to feebly, amid warm, unstoppable, tears, saying to James "Maybe I should just give it up. Maybe I'm just fooling myself". 

And, when I said it I meant it. At that moment in time it wasn't hyperbole. I wasn't being a drama queen. I genuinely thought it was an idea worth considering. 

For his part he looked at me like I'd just suggested I give up breathing, or another essential part of my life - like always scrutinising Holmes and Watson's costumes when watching Elementary or buying boots for example - and declared "You're too hard on yourself.

Then he listened to my latest in a long line of self-esteem implosions before drying my eyes and buttering me a scone. [Not a euphemism].

The following week several other lovely people offered their invaluable support too [thank you] and made me feel there was hope for me yet. Which, intellectually, I already knew but it still felt nice to hear an objective voice on the matter. 

And I already knew that I wasn't entirely fooling myself, that my words were worth something because ... [and I don't want to get too emotional on you here and now, unless you've got a scone to offer me after?] ... because I know there are people here who read my nonsense, and enjoy it. 

Even though I'd felt like an oddball while sitting around that table - a trout out of water if you will - I know that I have occasionally managed to entertain people here. A fact I'd been gripping on to that fact to keep me afloat while I sat at the table. And that means such a lot to me right now.

So much so that a week after declaring that I was never going to write again ... I girded my loins and sent in an article pitch idea to a website I really admire.  
And it's a weird article. 

On a topic far more embarrassing than the ones I already daren't read to the group. And, naturally, if anything comes of it, I'll let you know. 

But we can never talk about it. OK? OK.

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I wanted to be honest in this post so that - if you were feeling out of place, anxious, unsure about your work - you'd know you weren't alone. I don't mean it to be a cautionary tale against ever attending a workshop you like the look of!! Quite honestly I'm still tempted to go to the next writing day in the summer, only this time maybe I'll take some more prepared work to read ... like the majority of the others had!

I'm glad of the experience now and it hasn't done me any lasting damage, [apart from how long this post's taken me to write.]

I think of it now like when you're exercising and your muscles tear slightly, which certainly hurts you the next day, but eventually makes you stronger.

So I'll keep flexing if you will. Even when [especially when?] it aches.

Julie  x

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p.s: If you'd like to read about another workshop that caused me some anxiety [I'm nothing if not predictable] then visit:


 Meanwhile, to learn why I really ought to take a plastic zebra with me to these things visit: