I haven’t written anything in a little while. In fact, the last time I published anything on this blog was 12 February, which was well over a month ago now. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve been pretty busy. Over the last six weeks I’ve not only interviewed for and started a new job, but relocated from my one bedroom flat to a new house share with someone I’ve only just met (lucky for me he is rather lovely!) But because it’s been such a long time since I last wrote or published anything, I’ve been feeling a bit of a fraud; I mean, is it really okay to call myself a writer and blogger if I’m not actually producing any work?
Whilst it’s true that I have been a little busier than usual recently, I’d be fibbing if I told you that I’ve been so rushed off my feet that I couldn’t spare 30 minutes to jot down a few thoughts. The other part of this story is that I simply haven’t set aside any time to think or to write and, as a result, I’ve allowed myself to fall into a bit of a creative slump.
Is it really okay to call myself a writer and blogger if I’m not actually producing any work?
After discussing my ‘writer’s block’ with a fellow writer and blogger on Saturday (please do check out my friend Jo’s brilliant blog here) I’ve realised what the problem is; rather than just getting on with it, I’ve been putting quite a lot of pressure on myself to produce something noteworthy. And I suppose as a blogger it’s natural that I should feel a certain responsibility to write articles that are poignant and relevant to my followers. However, in trying so hard to produce something meaningful I’ve ended up overthinking all of my ideas and failing to write anything at all.
In an attempt to get myself back into the swing of things, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and publish this article. I’m aware that it’s a little unfocused and lacklustre compared to what I usually write, but it is a piece of writing nonetheless. After all, and as Jo very wisely pointed out to me, giving my readers something, even if it is a little dull and they choose not to engage with it, is far better than giving them nothing at all (I hope you agree!)
To those who are reading this, thank you for sticking with me – I’m feeling less of a fraud already.
One of the biggest decisions that a person can make is whether or not they will have children. When I was teenager I thought it was a given that I would, providing it was possible, have at least one child of my own. However, having spent a fair few years thinking about it I’m not so sure that parenthood is something I personally want.
The responses I tend to receive when I tell people this are, ‘But you’d be a great mother,’ or ‘Don’t you like children?’ both of which miss the point. As it happens I do like children – I absolutely adore my five-year-old nephew, and I love spending time with my friends’ kids. I also have no doubts about my ability to raise a child with all the love and care that it deserves. But does enjoying other people’s children and having faith in my ability to successfully raise my own mean that parenthood is something I should pursue?
The simple (and perhaps controversial) truth is that, fun and endearing as children are I have serious doubts as to whether I will thrive in motherhood or find in it the same level of contentment that I currently enjoy as a childless woman. You might assume when you read this that I just haven’t found the right partner yet, or that it just isn’t the right time for me to think about starting a family. And this is understandable; within our culture wanting to have children is not only an incredibly common experience, but one that is expected, and especially of woman. But for some, men and women alike, the idea of raising a child simply isn’t as appealing as it is for others.
Does enjoying other people’s children and having faith in my ability to successfully raise my own mean that parenthood is something I should pursue?
It’s often argued that starting a family is one of the most enriching and satisfying experiences that a person can have (if this is your personal experience then I fully respect that you have made the right decision for you.) But for someone like me who burns out easily, enjoys spending a lot of time alone, and often finds the expectations, needs and demands of others rather stress-inducing, parenthood (especially the pregnancy and early years bit) doesn’t seem all that attractive. Does this mean that I’m not maternal, or that I don’t appreciate children? No, it doesn’t. I’m very much in touch with my maternal side (there are many ways of expressing maternal love and affection) and I also understand from being an aunt just how joyful and life-affirming spending time with children can be. However, the difference between being someone’s parent and being their aunt is enormous. As much as I adore and am always happy to see the children in my life, I also highly value the freedom that I have to choose both when and how my time with them is spent.
Of course, as well as feeling uncertain about how satisfying parenthood will be, there are a number of other reasons why a person may choose to remain childless, ranging from lifestyle preferences and financial restrictions to anxieties about mental and physical health. Whatever the reason behind the decision, it simply isn’t fair to negatively judge according to our own needs and wants. We are each of us unique, and the experiences that bring us contentment in life may vary greatly from person to person. When it comes to creating little human beings isn’t it better for everyone, including our yet-to-be-born/perhaps-never-will-be-born children that we acknowledge rather than ignore our differences?
For many people having children is an enormously rewarding experience, and I hold a huge amount of respect and admiration for every one of my friends and family members who have chosen to pursue parenthood. But common and accepted as wanting to have children is within our culture, it is each person’s right to decide for them selves (without expectation or pressure from others) whether starting a family is right for them. For some people it simply isn’t; let’s please stop judging one another for feeling differently.
One of the books that I’m reading at the moment is a collection of essays titled Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in contemporary feminist issues. Featuring 17 short essays written by academics from across the globe, it’s the kind of book that you can dip in and out of and feel that you’ve learned something important from each time that you do. Over the weekend I delved into Laura Tarzia’s chapter on sexuality, which I’d been looking forward to since my last engagement with the book a couple of weeks ago. Focused on the complex relationship between sexual violence against women and female sexual desire, Tarzia’s chapter raises far more questions than it can possibly answer in a mere nine pages. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
When discussing the relationship between female sexual pleasure and violence in the past I’ve found myself feeling worried that challenging the healthiness of desires that exist outside of my personal experience will lead me to come across as prudish, ignorant, and judgemental of others; or worse, non-feminist. After reading more about it, though, I’ve realised that my concerns aren’t as naive or misplaced as I feared. As Tarzia states, there is a disparity between liberal feminism’s ongoing fight to eradicate sexual violence against women, and its acceptance of degrading sexual practices and experiences as long as they are ‘chosen’ and not unwillingly imposed. This is, of course, an incredibly complex subject to broach, but I strongly believe that it deserves our attention.
The idea that degrading sexual or sex-related experiences can be consented to by women within a patriarchal society is, without doubt, highly paradoxical, and can be further explored when considered in relation to the porn and glamour industries. During a discussion about the proposed discontinuation of Page 3 in The Sun newspaper a few years ago, my partner at the time argued that because the models had chosen to work within the glamour industry their portrayal in the feature wasn’t sexist or degrading. Scrapping Page 3 altogether, he suggested, would pose worrying censorship issues for our publishing industry.
It’s hard to ignore the possibility that our sexual fantasies, behaviours and choices may have been subject to patriarchal influence.
This is an argument that we also often hear in regard to women working within the porn industry and those performing any other work that involves ‘chosen’ objectification or degradation (recent debates surrounding Forumla One’s ‘grid girl’ ban, for example, demonstrate the extent to which the notion of consent in regard to women’s bodies remains a highly contentious issue.) What my partner at the time failed to perceive is the blurry distinction that exists between freedom of expression within the media and the normalised exploitation of women’s bodies (which some of us do willingly participate in). The average annual wage that Page 3 models were able to earn, for example, was not only extremely unstable (ranging from £12000 for beginners to £1M for the very successful), but incredibly modest in comparison to the huge annual profits that their naked bodies helped to rake infor The Sun.
I have personally always been more interested in the reasons behind the choices that women make about their bodies than the fact that they have been granted the autonomy to ‘choose’ in the first place. When we consider the immense power that traditional gender ideals have historically had over women’s lives in both the public and private spheres, it’s hard to ignore the possibility, as Tarzia highlights, that our sexual fantasies, behaviours and choices may have been subject to patriarchal influence. Whether or not a potentially degrading sexual or sex-related experience has been chosen by a woman, in a society founded on masculine ideology the choices that we as women make about our bodies may not always be as freely stumbled upon or empowering as we believe them to be.
In terms of consensual violence against women, BDSM and other such sexual sub-cultures are vital to consider. Existing across gender distinctions and binaries, these sexual practices facilitate the sexual subordination and dominance of both women and men alike. So as well as there being women who desire sexual violence to be inflicted upon them, there are also those who prefer to inflict pain upon their partners. There are also, of course, men within the BDSM and fetish community who desire to be sexually dominated by women, either because they seek to express characteristics that are discouraged in their professional and domestic lives, or because they enjoy seeing women who are routinely disempowered in society take on a different ‘role,’ so to speak. What is evident in all of this is that our sexual preferences and transgressions can be reflective of the power dynamics at play within both our public and private lives.
In a society founded on masculine ideology, the choices that we as women make about our bodies may not always be as freely stumbled upon or empowering as we believe them to be.
Considering also the performative aspect of traditional gender distinctions (within which men play the dominant role), and how this relates to perceptions of power in society, our sexual fantasies and behaviours can be seen to represent far more than simply a gateway to pleasure. In a society which both reveres and rewards men who display (or perform) behaviours that are considered ‘masculine,’ such as sexual prowess, aggression and dominance, it’s possible to see how women (traditionally perceived as less powerful) may be conditioned to both encourage and feel attracted to male violence.
Across the globe women’s bodies are publicly exploited and degraded on a regular basis. And whether it be through magazines, TV shows, films or pornography, we are all of us exposed every day to images that mirror a fundamentally masculine notion of sexuality. Bearing this in mind, an important question to ask is whether exposure to images and behaviours that openly degrade and objectify women has led us to embody and accept as our own sexual fantasies and beliefs that are rooted in misogyny.
I do not pretend to have any clear or definite answers to the questions raised in this article, nor have I intended to cast judgement or shame upon those who identify with the sexual desires and practices alluded to. One thing I am certain of, though, is that difficult and paradoxical as the notion of consent is when it comes to sexual violence and degradation, it is an issue that deserves our attention.
On 10 October 1980, Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech that would change the way we think about political decision-making for the foreseeable future. Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, she uttered the words: ‘You turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning’ – a phrase that would transform her refusal to reverse a terrible and hugely unpopular decision into an example of political power and virility. Thanks to Thatcher U-turns were now considered representative of inexcusable political weakness. And my how we’ve grown to love the stupidity and incompetence that they represent. As Nesrine Malik wrote in a recent piece for The Guardian, ‘There is nothing opposition politicians and journalists like more than a good old flip-flop.’
Whilst Thatcher is long gone from Downing Street, the impact of her political stubbornness has been immense. One has only to type ‘Political U-turn’ into Google to gain insight into just how much power her words held at the time, and how much the media continues to ridicule those who are guilty (as if it were a crime) of backtracking out of their political decisions.
Of course, in some cases political U-turns are wholly unfair and deserve all the ridicule they get. May’s recent backtracking out of her energy price cap proposal, for example, has left millions of over-worked and underpaid Brits with increasingly unaffordable energy bills to pay. But even in cases where U-turns are made in favour of reasonable objections and for the greater good of the people, we are still prone to condemning them as nothing more than lack of conviction. Unfair and misguided as some government U-turns certainly are, it seems there may be more than meets the eye to the disdain that many of us feel towards them. And I think this can be explained via meritocracy.
Politicians sometimes make mistakes. And, like everyone, they sometimes change their minds.
In a society which overvalues success and fears failure like the plague, it’s no wonder we’re so hard on those who demonstrate any kind of uncertainty about their actions or ideas. After all, the notion that we must never fail at anything, including any decisions that we make, is something that most of us internalise from an early age. It’s something that we’re first made aware of at school, where we’re expected to work hard for good grades if we are to achieve anything of value in life. And then at college and university, where we’re encouraged to compete with our peers for academic merit. It is then drilled in again when we reach the workplace, where we’re expected to keep moving up through the ranks and making more and more money as we go.
What we often neglect to realise in the pursuit of success is that, more often than not, failure is a necessary part of the journey. Other than the incredibly wealthy and privileged of our society, there are very few who find success without making some mistakes along the way. So, if we consider that political decision makers are some of the most successful people in the country, and that like everybody else they are expected to succeed without any failure, the idea that their U-turns are always rooted in incompetence seems pretty harsh. Politicians sometimes make mistakes. And, like everyone, they sometimes change their minds.
And this isn’t to say that I’m not well aware of the fact that some government U-turns are merely tactical rather than based on genuine mistakes. But I must say, I’d rather live in a society where political decisions are sometimes reversed than one in which policies are always stubbornly implemented and held in place regardless of the objections that they are subject to. In a democratic society, the ability of our politicians to admit their failings, change their minds, and decide to go down a different path is something that I would personally like to see more rather than less of.
Type the words ‘creativity’ and ‘advice’ into a search engine and it will come back to you with hundreds of articles, books, videos, and podcasts, all offering practical tips on the best way to tap into your imaginative powers. These range from developing a morning ritual for your craft, and surrounding yourself with creative people, to drinking lots of coffee, and spending time with either your own or someone else’s children. There is tons of advice out there for those who are looking. But is any of it really that helpful?
In my experience, reading up on how to harness creativity has only led to feelings of inadequacy as I have come to realise that my way of doing things is simply not in line with much of the available advice.
Far from being organised in any way or following any particular ritual or routine, my poetry writing process is pretty random, with ideas often popping up out of nowhere and demanding immediate attention when I least expect them. Depending on where I am at the time, I write these ideas into my phone or straight into a document on my laptop, and will often have a first draft finished by the end of the day, or a few days later if I’m busy with other things. The editing process is much more time consuming, sometimes taking weeks, months, or even years in some cases before a piece of work starts to feel finished.
There is tons of advice out there for those who are looking. But is any of it really that helpful?
I can also go for long periods of time without feeling any inclination to write poetry at all, something I’ve always felt annoyed by but considered a pretty standard experience amongst creative writers. However, after reading somewhere a few years ago that to properly harness my creative powers I should be writing at least a paragraph every day in a dedicated journal, I began to wonder if perhaps I wasn’t being as productive as I could be.
And so I tried to be more ‘literary,’ buying myself pretty notebooks and fountain pens, and setting aside time at the end of each day to write beautifully composed passages in elegant handwriting. Rather than helping, though, this turned out to be more of a hindrance to my writing process, as I found myself spending more time focusing on when and how I was writing than thinking about the ideas themselves.
Then I started to wonder if it could simply be the case that there are different ways of working. Returning to my disorganised ways, I realised that the answer to this question is, of course, yes. And to dispel the myth of there being a ‘right’ way of working that will suit everyone, I got in touch with a range of creatives working in various fields to find out how the process works for them.
Those interested to find out more can read the answers that I received below. In the meantime, though, my creativity tip to you is this: Do whatever feels right and works best for you!
Q: What inspires you to create, how do your ideas develop, and what does it feel like when a concept begins to emerge as a tangible piece of work?
My creative process begins with a need. This need might come from outside, or it might be internal. As a writer and a performance maker, my practice is diverse, and therefore the needs that stimulate it and the responses to them are also diverse. When writing, the need is most often an external one as I most often write to commission. I will receive a simple brief from my editors, and then it is largely up to me to discover a direction that the piece wants to go in.
My first step is to try and get some tangible sense of the ‘place’ involved, whether it is a real geographical location, or a place within an idea. I do this through watching videos, reading, talking to people, asking questions on social media, looking at photos...
Read Richard's full response
For me, everything around me can be a form of inspiration. My upbringing, my family, my partner, nature, my travels, an article in the paper etc.. I think of the creative brain as a sponge, something that can absorb many different things that you might overlook at first but sometimes come back to you years later.
I feel like my ideas develop in very abstract ways, sometimes it does come as a click, a wild thought that just pops into my mind, or sometimes it’s about how I am feeling or a place that I have been to. I think my biggest struggle is the same as everyone else’s, that is to start...
Read Fernanda's full response
I think that my surroundings and my life experience play a big part in inspiring me and when I’m in the right frame of mind I can get real excited about creating something.
The first beginnings of an idea come in different ways. Sometimes I find that when I am working on a piece of music I come up with something that may not fit the composition I am working on at the time. I try to shape this new idea quickly and record it really roughly before I forget it. I have many fragments like this that I have built up over the years...
Read Jez's full response
A lot of things inspire me to create nowadays, not just art, but life, experiences, insightful discussions, etc.. I usually get some kind of jolt/urgency to get the idea out. Once I start, I either go full throttle for hours or it can wane quickly or last a few minutes. Sometimes, the jolt comes but it's light, and I let the idea simmer for a bit, until I get uncomfortable keeping it in any longer...
Read Eyesha's full response
Inspiration comes from the outside, not so creativity. I have found it fascinating to watch and investigate its nature: creativity undoubtedly arises from within. There seem to be at least two kinds: an expansive one, which is kind of there all the time. And then there is the one which responds to limitation, to problems of any kind. Once it gets going, this kind flows with speed and focus, it has a sense of urgency. The ideas come fast, one after the other. Word after word, stroke after stroke, ingredient after ingredient (yes, also when making food).
So personally, I find that I need to get in touch first with that vast rhythm of creativity inside me, it’s like an ocean lapping at my shores, sculpting my inner universe, even when I’m not thinking about it...
Read Gertrude's full response
Writer, Actor and Spoken Word Artist
Similar to many, if not most writers, I have been writing all my life. Tatty old notebooks overflowing and poking out of every shelf in my home, and boxes crammed full and not quite closing in the loft are testament to some 30 or so years of processing life and the world through the written word.
Even though now any creative work I write gets typed up on my computer and copied to an external hard drive (when I remember to back up), I still can’t come close to dispensing with the notebook. In fact my preoccupation with always having something with me to write in has lead to a rather lovely supply of gifted-notebooks, given by friends who understand or enable this dependency...
Read Fleur's full response
During my graduation ceremony, the head of my university’s English department boldly stated in his speech that graduates live happier, healthier and more comfortable lives than those who choose not to complete higher education courses. At the time I thought, ‘What a load of tripe!’ Several years down the line I still believe this to be the case.
The notion that university attendance leads to higher levels of personal well-being is, I believe, a gross misconception founded on the outdated belief that academic study leads to higher salaries and, therefore, better quality of life. In a country where over half of the school-leaver population now goes on to enrol at university, holding a Bachelor’s degree in the UK today isn’t likely to improve either employment or salary prospects for most graduating students.
For those who hold unflinching career goals and are naturally gifted in academic study university is, of course, always going to be a beneficial endeavour. As well as being able to easily produce work that receives good grades, high academic achievers are also often blessed with the guarantee of professional well-paid work on completion of their courses, regardless of the subjects they choose to study. But for those who are uncertain about their careers, and who may also struggle to produce consistently good coursework, attending university simply doesn’t have the same benefits. Bearing this in mind, the question that I’d like to focus on is whether there is still value in attending university outside of the ‘happier, healthier, more comfortable’ myth. Personally, I believe that there is.
The knowledge and skills that I gained through studying fiction and poetry will always be worth far more to me than any job title or salary.
When I was choosing which course to study, I wasn’t sure about what kind of job I wanted it to lead to. With no specific career goal in mind, I ended up basing my decision on how enjoyable and interesting I thought any given subject would be. After all, what would be the point in studying for a career-specific degree if I might only lose interest in it later on?
Having always enjoyed and felt that I was good at writing, I decided that literature was the most appropriate subject for me. And I’m pleased to say that four years after graduating I have no regrets about this choice. Whilst my degree course has not made my life more happy, healthy or comfortable (life is still just as complicated and I’m still struggling on just a little over minimum wage!), the knowledge and skills that I gained through the study of fiction and poetry will always be worth far more to me than any job title or salary.
Of course, some may feel that attending university without having a specific career in mind is a little extravagant considering how expensive it is. However, I strongly disagree with the perceived benefit of education being so closely tied to the salaries and professional statuses that courses can lead to. University is incredibly expensive – that’s an unfortunate fact. But if there is a desire to learn and a feeling that personal development if nothing else may benefit from it, then doesn’t that alone make education a worthwhile investment?
I will likely spend the rest of my life repaying my £20,000+ student loan. But regardless of this ever-growing debt, I’d still rather be educated in a subject that I’m passionate about than spend the rest of my life feeling as though I’ve missed out on a wonderful opportunity. Higher education isn’t something that will benefit everyone in the same way, but regardless of the jobs and wages that university can and does sometimes lead to, the benefits of learning simply for the love of it should never be underestimated.
During a recent walk home from work I found myself feeling incredibly excited when I stumbled upon four unused second class stamps, the bright blue packet of which stood out against the dirty grey of the pavement like a lotus flower sitting in the mud. Strangely, it was the same level of excitement that I’ve felt on occasions when I’ve found significant amounts of money in the street. Stamps are by no means expensive, of course. But what they represent and what they are able to facilitate is, in my opinion, worth far more than the small amount of money they cost to buy.
When I was eleven years old my family relocated from noisy, polluted, over-crowded London to the very rural village of Hartland in North Devon. In addition to the isolation I experienced due to the profound lack of public transport to and from the village, the most difficult part of moving to the country was the distance it put between my friends and me. In addition to regular phone calls and visits, something that proved incredibly helpful was writing letters to my friends and receiving their replies in the post. This is something that I continued to not only enjoy but find hugely therapeutic throughout my early adolescence, up until the mid naughties when letter writing was sadly replaced with email and social media.
Some may argue that sending emails back and forth does the same job as letter writing in that it connects you to those you love and miss. And for the last ten years or so my main method of corresponding with friends and family has indeed been via the internet. But whilst email and social media has made keeping in touch incredibly quick and easy regardless of distance, writing and receiving handwritten letters facilitates a level of connection that electronic messaging just can’t compete with.
It was the letters that smelled of Indian spices rather than the typed emails I received that made the distance between us feel less significant.
When you receive a handwritten letter you are given an opportunity to learn a little something about the person who sent it. Are their words cramped together or widely spaced? Are the letters long and sweeping or short and compact? Have they scribbled out any spelling mistakes, or strained over perfectly composed sentences? And what about the stationary? Has your pen pal put effort into their chosen paper and ink, or have they made use of whatever they can find? Have they sprayed the letter with their perfume, or enclosed a little gift to make you smile? All of these details work together in a letter to give a real sense of the person who wrote it. When two of my closest friends left the home that we’d been sharing in Bristol to travel India for three months, it was the letters that smelled of Indian spices rather than the typed emails I received that made the distance between us feel less significant.
And there’s something so incredibly enriching about sitting down to physically scribble thoughts on paper; about kissing the sealed and stamped envelope for good luck before it’s dropped into the postbox, and then eagerly checking the mail every day in the hope that a reply has been delivered. It’s the time and effort that it takes, and the feeling of anticipation. It’s the not knowing if your words will make it to their destination, or if the person you’re writing to will take the time to send a reply. Most importantly, though, it’s the sheer joy that arrives along with a letter, and the feeling of closeness that you feel to the person who wrote it when you read their untidy, or neat, or illegible handwriting. Each person’s handwriting is wholly unique to them, and when you open a letter you touch the very same paper that the writer has touched. No matter how eagerly anticipated, or beautifully composed, emails can never achieve this level of intimacy.
The last time I sat down to write a letter was in 2015 when I was crowdfunding for my post-graduate tuition fees and sent letters of thanks to those who’d donated. Not since my own trip to India in 2010 have I written a letter to a friend just for the sake of it. What better excuse is there than finding a packet of stamps in the street?