Outside My Window: Homeless Love

A few short weeks ago the sun would only be setting at this time, but now it is deep night. Today it turned bitterly cold, as though the old gods are reminding us that it is nearly winter. There is no wind, and the pavement echoes with the sharp attacks of my boot heels.

I am walking aimlessly. I left the house with the intention of walking around the block to stretch my legs and clear my head, but now I seem to have set out for the city centre. There is a tearing feeling in my heart like thin fabric being ripped. If I keep walking, if I keep running over this knot in my mind, maybe I will reach a point of calm.

As I reach the heart of the city, I see that the Christmas lights have been erected along the main street of the south side. The sight of them makes something break within me a little more. I am irritated, it is not even Halloween yet, it is much too early for this – and still, I am thinking: “I don’t want another miserable Christmas.”

By the time I reach the university, the tears pushing at my chest and throat have ebbed away, and I have reached determination. I pass a woman whose face I recognise – the mother of a girl I used to call a friend – but I look away, afraid of being recognised. My anonymity is what is holding me together. It is allowing me to believe that I am a different person, in a different life, who will not break apart if this is unfixable. Who will not allow herself to be unhappy in this way.

Once inside the university gates, a feeling of coming home envelops me. The small flat I left only half an hour ago seems distant and alien – it has not seen me through the ups and downs, the terrible lows and the ecstatic highs that these old buildings have witnessed in me. Inside these walls, the greatest love of my life was born and nurtured. And now when it all seems to dangle over the precipice, its memory will be held safe by these monuments of time.

I cross the front square, feet hitting the ground uneven on the cobblestones, and sit down on the cold cement steps of the university chapel.

The world becomes still. I take my heart in my hands and imagine a life on my own until I can imagine it calmly. Until I am serene with the weight of it. I become tall again, my limbs stretching out into the gaps of my independence.

I watch students come and go for a time. A young man in a university society hoodie jogs past, face shadowed by the orange lights; two girls hang out of a dorm room, shouting down at someone below. Above the haze of the city lights and smog, right above my head at the highest point of the sky, pinprick stars gleam coldly. I imagine the worst – my heart rests a moment – and then the world moves on.

The warmth is leeching out of the thin film of sweat that had accumulated at the back of my neck beneath my scarf, between my breasts, under my arms. I feel as though I am sinking into the cold stone steps – or the stone is seeping out into me, turning me icy and paralysed under the Medusa-stare of the chapel. I rise, and zip up my jacket. I consider buying a coffee, and decide against it. It is time to go home.

On my way back up to the main street, I pass a woman crouched in a sitting position against a pillar outside a newsagents. She has the characteristic shabby, mismatched demeanour of all the homeless people in this city – clothes of indeterminate colour, torn and dirtied; hair dry and dishevelled.

But she is not begging; she is paying no attention whatsoever to the passersby. A large plastic carrier bag sits before her on the street, and out of the top of it, a tiny kitten’s head protrudes. It is young, barely old enough to be weaned away from its mother; a scruffy white little thing with a tortoiseshell pattern down its back. The woman dangles a black sock before the kitten, dancing it before its eyes before tugging it away again. The kitten’s tiny claws wave uncertainly, catching on the sock like needles, its green-gold eyes wide and excited.

The homeless woman is as enthralled as the kitten. Her features are tender and smiling, like the face of a doting parent. The moment catches on my heart. I wonder how often this kitten will go hungry in the long nights it faces on the streets, and tears press against the backs of my eyes again. I swallow, look away, and walk on.

 

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short story or vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area. It’s a little late this week again!

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Halloween Preparation

I keep expecting to fall into a routine these days, but so far it just hasn’t really happened – with the result that my supposed-to-be-Saturday weekly flash fiction will be a few days late again this week. But I figured that although I don’t have the time or energy to write the piece I have in mind, I would write a quick life update.

Halloween – or Samhain, or Oíche Shamhna, or whatever way you know it best – is my birthday, and this year I will be turning 24. It seems to me like a strange age to turn for some reason. It’s a bit in-between – still not quite mid-way through the twenties, but suddenly an awful lot more grown-up sounding than 23. It’s the age that my parents got married, and although it’s not an age that people get married at in my culture any more, there still is some coming-of-age feel to it that I wouldn’t have expected.

I also feel like I have changed so much over the past two years that it really does herald a new time in my life. I feel as though my mind works in a different way now than it did. I have come into my own academically and creatively, and I feel ready to really start embracing my talents and figuring out which ones I will be focussing on for the forseeable future, and which ones I will be gently letting go.

On a lighter note, I’m quite excited about Halloween coming up because it’s my favourite holiday of the year – and not just because it’s my birthday. I don’t have very exciting plans for this year, and I haven’t put much thought into my costume yet, which is unusual. But I know I’m going to really enjoy it all the same.

Anyway, I think I’ll hit an upswing during the week, and once November comes I’ll have so much writing to do that I’ll be forced into some sort of routine! I’ve also started applying for volunteer positions. So hopefully November will be a productive and more structured month for me than October.

 

NaNoWriMo: Here Goes Nothing

Despite clamouring about it on Facebook, Twitter, and in comments on other people’s posts, I haven’t actually written a post about NaNoWriMo yet. I’m pretty sure I mentioned it in passing, but I’m surprised at myself for not writing about it properly, as it has been a major decision for me.

I had already decided I was going to write a novel this year. But I had given myself the highly unambitious deadline of 12 months for a first draft, and a measly 2,000 words a week. I was non-committal – writing a novel was just one of many things I wanted to achieve in 2013. Other  goals including doing academic reading and writing, starting to paint again, doing more photography, finding a job, getting my Etsy shop up and running again. Basically, I was spreading myself pretty thin.

But then I had this realisation – I was just spreading myself this thin because I was afraid of committing to any one thing.

I have been afraid of failure.

I have always been afraid of writing. Despite primarily identifying as a writer (and a musician, but that’s a whole other story) for the majority of my life so far, I have done very little writing. And for a long, long time the quantity of my writing was decreasing with every year. In university, I was “too busy”. And eventually I got out of the habit entirely.

Sirens & Muses has been revolutionary for me – it has got my writing juices flowing again for the first time in half a decade. But still, I was holding off.

You see, the thing is: I did my Masters in Library and Information Studies because I decided I did not want to be a writer.

What a thing to decide, at the age of 21. When I hadn’t even given it a go. I still held onto a vague idea that I could write in my free time, but I spent a few years trying to let go of the idea. I wanted security, supposedly. A mortgage, a husband, a dog, 2.4 kids.

But really, I just didn’t want to fail.

I was absolutely terrified that if I tried to really write – tried to really be a writer – I would fail. And then I would really and truly have to give up my life’s dream, not just because I “decided I wanted to take another path” but because I couldn’t do it.

Something clicked in my head.

One day I just thought: I’m going to write a novel. And I’m going to do it now.

National Novel Writing Month was originally going to be a means for me to get 50,000 words down of my original novel idea. But my boyfriend soon convinced me that this was a bad idea. My “actual” novel is something precious to me, and he reckoned that if I tried to write 50,000 words of it in a month I would stall, would be paralysed. He suggested that I take November as a time to experiment with my writing habits – to start with a fresh idea and not have to worry about failing at it.

At first I was dubious. I had this idea that I was bad at coming up with stories – that’s one of the reasons the short story form has never really worked for me. But when we got home that afternoon, I just took out my laptop and came up with a story idea, just like that.

It turns out I don’t think I’m so bad at it after all. I just never really tried. The thing about writing – about anything – is that you have to actually do it. Story ideas aren’t going to pop into your head that often if you don’t sit down and think about it. Your writing is never going to get better if you don’t practice. And you can’t be a goddamn writer if you won’t goddamn write.

What I hope to get out of NaNoWriMo.

I realise that building NaNoWriMo into such a big, momentous deal in my head is not particularly conducive to not freaking out about it once I start. But it’s not really about “winning” for me.

What I do hope to get out of it:

  1. Writing discipline. I’ve already gotten better at sitting down and putting metaphorical pen (fingers) to metaphorical paper (keyboard) through maintaining this blog. But it hasn’t exactly crossed over into large amounts of creative writing. Aiming for 2,300 – 2,500 words a day (mon-fri) will be the first time I’ve set myself a challenging writing goal, and it will force me to actually sit down and JUST DO IT.
  2. Writing habits. Similarly, I have yet to find out how I work as a writer. I have no idea if I’m more productive in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening; if I work best in my flat, or in the library – in a quiet environment or in the midst of hustle and bustle. I’m already starting to feel that extensive planning prior to writing might be a very good thing for me, but I won’t be able to tell until I get going.
  3. Letting go of my inner editor. This is a big one. I have come to realise that this has been the main barrier to my writing – the invisible force field slowing me down to a maximum of 500 words a day. All drafts need editing and rewriting. And ultimately I will be more productive by letting the story flow and polishing the sentences later. If I want to achieve the 50,000 words I will absolutely have to do this, and I think it will be a very valuable lesson for me.
  4. Accepting the need for rewriting. Conversely, or maybe subsequently, I have been terrible at rewriting, too. My tendency to try to force out the finished product as I go has inhibited my ability to go back over what I’ve written and pull it apart. But by allowing myself to write more freely, I automatically necessitate a major rewrite come December.
  5. A rough first draft (fingers crossed). If all goes according to plan, I will have my first draft of my (sort of) first novel. And that prospect alone is exciting enough to propel me through the month. Having previously envisaged slaving away for a full calendar year just to get the words on paper, the idea of getting such a large chunk of prose down in such a short space of time is exhilarating. Even if I don’t get the full 50,000 written, it will almost certainly be an infinitely bigger step in the right direction than I have ever taken before.

So wish me luck!

I will be keeping you updated on my journey once it begins. It all starts, funnily enough, the day after I turn 24, which is the age my parents got married. I haven’t been looking forward to 24, and I think it helped propel me to really shake up my life and get going with this properly.

For those of you who are also taking part, feel free to look me up on the NaNoWriMo website – my username is Áine Warren (aine-warren). And most of all, good luck! It’ll be an interesting month.

Outside My Window: Where Life Takes Us

When he was a child, as he grew older, he had an idea in his head of what his life might look like, what shapes it might take. It was rarely a definite picture – it was more of a general feeling or expectation. Sometimes specifics would creep in, and he would imagine being married to certain woman, or going to work every day for  a certain job. But mostly it was vague, fleeting. He might see a sunlit kitchen in the morning, a sea of faces of his audience as a lecturer or musician.

It was often drawn up in negatives. He saw the failures of the future: the desk job when he really wanted to be on stage, the poverty of his student days, life in a run-down house in a bad neighbourhood, growing old alone. Or just the smaller disappointments – a life more stressful than it was enjoyable, the realities of mortgages and raising children, a wife he loved less than he could have.

At some point in his twenties, he started to feel himself stepping into this future. He lived the college days he had envisioned; he moved into a shabby apartment that wasn’t all that bad considering his lack of money; he had a relationship with a girl more real and more vividly beautiful than he could have ever dreamt up.

And every now and then he found himself in a moment that defied his expectations entirely. He became skilled in things he had never dreamed even existed, and felt things he never would have expected. Sometimes he caught himself living out a life that he would never even dared to imagine for himself – a snapshot of the life of another, luckier man.

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area.

Outside My Window: Cat Fight

It’s mid-morning of an autumn day and the sun is leaking out a last burst of rays before the rain rolls in. My small home office, so dark in the afternoon and evening, is filled with sunlight. This is my favourite time of the day; when the house has emptied and the day is still ripe with possibility.

As I raise my second cup of hot black coffee to my lips, there is a sudden explosion of sound outside the window, and my arm jerks, hot brown tears of coffee spilling over the sides of the mug. The noise is indeterminate at first – a crashing or violent hissing, maybe – and then a piercing banshee wail erupts from right below the windowsill.

A cat fight. The hideous howling is familiar, and I am on my feet and at the front door without having made a conscious decision to intervene. By the time I get there, a small but agile tabby cat is slinking away, slipping through the wrought-iron gate into the street. Kitts trots over to me from the undergrowth of bushes by the window, proud and purring, a precise and vivid line of blood dashed across her white nose.

And I realise; Kitts has no conception of her own mortality. At fifteen years of age, she is comparatively slower than she used to be – she spends the vast majority of her days sleeping, and when I stroke her back I can feel her bony shoulders through the still-sleek orange fur. But in her mind, she is immortal, invincible. A young, fit cat dares to invade her territory and she retaliates. For Kitts, there are no greater consequences beyond the now.

I hold my hand out for her eager rubbing cheeks; her stiff whiskers bristle against the back of my hand. And for a moment I wish I could share her sense of timelessness.

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area. It’s a bit late this week due to illness!

Over-thinking

The last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I don’t deal well with transitions in my life, usually – and the past couple of months have been one transition after the next. Getting back together with my boyfriend after two and a half years, getting one of my molars pulled, finishing my Masters, realising how emphatically I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being a librarian, realising how much I do want to get serious about my writing, trying to decide whether or not I want to do a PhD in the next few years… the list is practically endless.

My biggest problem is not so much to do with the turmoil and readjustment that comes with change – conversely, I do relish the freshness of a new start – but with the way I over-think things. As soon as a new world of opportunity opens up for me, I start trying to plan it.

Planning is good. Planning can help to alleviate anxiety, can lead to greater productivity, and can even provide motivation and inspiration. Planning the next few weeks, or even the next few months, seems to me to be a generally positive activity. The problems start when you realise that you are trying to plan things that are going to happen in 10 years, 20 years – when you start trying to plan out the rest of your life, and think you can act now in a way that will influence these things directly.

This is my downfall. As soon as I decided I was going to give writing a real go, that I was going to actually start writing a novel, I started to worry that I wouldn’t have enough money in 10 years’ time to settle down and have a family. Not to mention all the worries I had about the 10 years running up to that – whether I should be trying to get a part-time job, how difficult it might be for me to get a job later with a big gap on my already sparse CV, how I was going to keep paying my rent if I wasn’t making any money.

Last Friday, I got turned down for yet another library job, and I decided to partake in National Novel Writing Month this year. I got up the following Monday at 9am (early for me, shame on me, I know I know) and started planning not one, but two novels – I wanted to work on something different for NaNoWriMo in order to avoid the paralysis that might ensue if I tried to work on my “actual” novel. I was excited, enthusiastic, and felt like I had a purpose in life for the first time in a long time.

But meanwhile, every night when I went to bed I started thinking about careers and mortgages and how many words I might be able to write in a day and what I could do part-time on the side of writing and…

By Wednesday I was exhausted. I went to bed early, feeling anxious, and fell asleep almost instantly for an hour – then woke up and couldn’t sleep again until after 4.

Yesterday was not pretty.

I’ve no idea why I didn’t just stay in bed for the day. I turned into a ball of misery and ended up sitting my boyfriend’s flat crying about EVERYTHING.

I knew that my thinking pattern was highly self-destructive, but it just helped to hear him say it. He looked at me and said: “No-one can plan what they’re going to be doing for the rest of their lives. Even if there’s something you really, really want to do, all you can do is try, or just do it as long as you want to or can do it. Sure, what you do now affects what happens in the future, but decisions you make and how you spend your days right now does not have a direct bearing on what you’ll be doing when you’re 40 – not in the way you think it does.”

Wise words. I really hope I’ve learned my lesson on this one. Sometimes you just need to take each day as it comes. I do have to do some thinking about whether I need to look for a part-time job, but beyond that I really should be taking this year to just try things out and see how I enjoy it. See if I can bear sitting down every day knowing I have to write a certain amount. See if I can actually do it.

So I’m taking the rest of today off. And if I have insomnia next week I’ll sleep in as late as I want to!

Under Foot

I absolutely love this time of year. Sure, the days are quickly shortening, and we have maybe less sunshine and more rain than in the summer (though this year the summer was so awful there was no perceptible change except in the temperature). But there’s something about the clear light, the crisp mornings, the autumn colours, that set my heart pumping with joy.

I was laden down with a full backpack and my camera in my handbag when I stepped out into the street on Saturday afternoon. The sun had just come out and the street was lit up, pavements covered with fallen leaves. I just had to heave everything off my back and take some pictures.

I put my camera into a more accessible area in my bag and continued on my towards the canal – the way to my boyfriend’s flat. I took a few more photos on the way.

It’s funny, I seem to always become more active at this time of the year when everything is dying and declining. There are a lot of squirrels around my neighbourhood at the moment – one particular friend hangs around in my back garden every day, burying nuts in the flowerbeds for winter. Sometimes I feel like those squirrels – a scurry of creative activity spurred by the dropping temperatures and falling leaves.

So for the moment I am very happy – I am writing more and taking more photographs than ever before, and it feels as if the rest of my life is truly starting.

Lazy Weekend

I’ve been having a wonderful, mostly lazy weekend. It started out not so great, as some of my plans on Friday fell through and I found myself finishing dinner with some friends and on a bus home at 10:30. I had just been turned down for another job and was feeling a bit miserable, so I rang my boyfriend who was at the Hard Working Class Heroes festival in town. And so my night turned around – I met him and a few of his friends in the Workman’s club for the last three bands, one of which was particularly wonderful – an electronic trio called Chips. I drank tequila with abandon and we danced up near the stage, and life felt better.

Saturday and today consistent entirely of lazing around in my flat and in my boyfriend’s, faffing around on WordPress and doing a bit of writing. My boyfriend follows football (soccer) so yesterday evening mainly consisted of watching Match of the Day, and we went to a pub for him to watch a match this afternoon while I edited some photos. For lunch we got pancakes, bacon and maple syrup in a café near my flat – an inspired combination, and something we don’t eat enough here in Ireland.

Sometimes I feel like my life is a little insular these days, and I’m not making enough effort to spend lots of time with my friends. And I wonder what my life would look like if me and my boyfriend hadn’t got back together – would I be spending more time with other people, or would I be lonely and adrift? But I’m happy, content. I reckon I’ll let myself settle into this new life and see where the chips fall.

Outside My Window: Feeding Ducks

Outside My Window is a weekly series every Saturday on Sirens & Muses where I write a short vignette based on something I see outside my window, outside my door, or on the streets around my area.

Laura crouches at the edge of the canal, crumbling pieces of bread between her tiny fingers with the kind of focus only three-year-olds can muster. She frowns at the crumbs as they escape her hands to float on the top of the scummy canal water, and is transformed with glee as the ducks dart about pecking at the pieces.

I stand behind her, a firm hold on the back of her red coat, and can’t believe how tiny she is. The smallness of my daughter is just part of life, and if anything I sometimes can’t believe how big she has grown, how the tiny creature that made its way out of my wife’s womb could have turned into this little person. We marvelled at her smallness then – it took weeks to get used to the delicate hands and feet, the paper-thin miniscule fingernails, the tiny whorl of her soft pink ears. I felt clumsy and huge at first, afraid I would hurt her with my big awkward hands.

Her hands still get lost within my palms, but now she has a soft nest of dark hair, vibrant green eyes, and an increasingly expanding mind. She is like a flower unfolding, waking up to the world. She asks questions about the world around her and I can see her soaking it all in. Every day of her life builds her personality – every sentence spoken to her, at this age, could change the rest of her life.

In five minutes’ time, her focus will have shifted – she will lose interest in the ducks, distracted maybe by a passing dog or a sudden fierce longing for ice-cream. But right now, this moment, this action of crumbling the bread between her fingers and letting it fall to the waiting ducks below is her entire world. Her sparse eyebrows knit together, the smooth baby skin rumpling slightly between them; her moist rosy top lip pouts in concentration. She achieves without thought a state that most adults can only begin to achieve in meditation and mindfulness exercises.

Laura turns her head and looks up at me, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. ‘More bread, Daddy!’ A tidal wave of love rushes over me as I smile at her imperious tone. I tug the plastic bag out of my coat pocket and hunker down beside her, tightening my grip on her coat with my other hand. We crouch together on the cold stone paving and look out on the still, murky canal water, the willow trees reflecting in its glassy surface.