Saturday, 31 January 2015

Pain Relief


    ‘Hands do what you’re bid; bring the balloon of the mind
     That bellies and drags in the wind, into it’s narrow shed.'

     I said there are no words. I lied.

     There are words. There is something I need to write. It is consuming me utterly, and I cannot think of anything else I need to say. It’s there. Not the actual post, but the thoughts, the things I need to say, what I need to draw out of the tangled ball of string that my mind so often is.

     It won’t come until it’s called. It needs to be summoned. And until I release it, it will just sit there, keeping my thoughts running along the same track, running the groove ever deeper, the knife slicing further and further down. Like a Method actor, I am condemned to keep reliving painful memories and knowledge.

     So why haven’t I let it go yet? Because I can’t. Because I know it will be a painful thing to write, possibly one of the most painful. Knowing what I know hurts. Thinking about it hurts. Writing about it will hurt. But having written it will stop the pain.

     So just write it. Draw the infection out. Heal the wound. But I can’t. Because writing comes from inside.  And until I can be alone, I can’t open the door of that narrow shed.

Friday, 30 January 2015

There are no words

     There are no words.


     I can dress it up however I like, but at the moment, it just won’t come. I can’t write. I can’t think of things to write about. Even when I do, when the thought drops, the words aren’t there. Or the words are there, but the time and space to write is not. Or the time and space is there, but the words are not. Just disapproval, frustration, and no words.

     I seem to be spending hours of every day, holding my pen, a blank page in front of me. Or loading up Word and Blogger, only to stare blankly ahead of me, not knowing what it is I want to say, how to say it. How to even start to say it.

     It’s never been a problem before. Never. I could always write, I always knew what it was I wanted to say and how to express it. But it’s gone. It drifted away over Christmas, and it’s not returned. I’ve barely written anything at all this year, and I know, deep down, that the few things I have written aren’t good. They don’t read well, they don’t sound like my voice, they’ve not truly captured what it is I think. The overwhelming compulsion to take an idea, a moment, or a conversation and fire everything I have at it… It’s gone. And what if it never does return? What if the silence stays and I’m trapped again? Because if I can’t write, if I can’t harness the ideas that chase their tails, and pin them to the page, then what will I be?

     I’ll be nothing. Less than nothing. Because words are what I do. But there are no words.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Post-Post Panic

     So the last two weeks have been a bit weird, twatty bloggerwise.  An overheard conversation in a pub, a bit of private kvetching, a post about Public Archaeology that went down like a cup of cold sick with some… A bit stung by the response and the barrel of snakes I had unwittingly released, I thought it was probably best to retire from the world of blogging for a bit, and let the dust settle.

     Unfortunately, I couldn’t. Because before I wrote about The Public Centipede, I’d had an email, asking if I’d do something. And I had agreed to the request.  But the time that I should have spent thinking about how I was going to fulfil the request was instead taken up with peering at twitter through my fingers, and wincing to see various people having a bit of a snipe, swipe and scrap over my post.

     So when Thursday dawned… I really hadn’t thought too much about the request. As ever, I’d left it to the last minute. I’d confidently said I’d have it done by twelve. By half ten, the laptop was on. Coffee had been drunk. Cigarettes had been smoked. And I still had no idea how I was going to keep my end of the bargain.

     A flicker of alarm, no bigger than a boilers pilot light, began doing a groovy little shimmy in my head. My inner monologue went something like this:

     Start writing. I can’t. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. Just DO it. How? I’ve got no ideas, no angle, no corner pieces of the jigsaw. But you’re never going to until you start writing. But I don’t have anything to write! I’ll have another coffee. And another cigarette. Those five minutes will give me the time and space to find the right place to start.

     [Long drawn out five minutes. Brain goes into standby mode. Tumbleweed rolls a cross the road of twatty blogger inspiration. A wolf howls, somewhere in the distance. A cold wind whistle past]

     Ok… so that didn’t work. NOW WHAT????  Stop faffing about with the washing up!  Shit, it’s nearly eleven and not a word have I written… Less than an hour. Shiiiiit… I can’t let them down! Right. You. Laptop. NOW.

     And thirty-five minutes later, it was done. An email had been sent. An acknowledgement email had been received. Job done. Nothing to see here, people, move along, go about your business, get on with the rest of the day. Sounds like a plan, right? Oh, how I misjudged myself. The minor alarm of earlier now seemed like a memory of happier, simpler times.

     I showered. I dressed. I houseworked. I drank coffee. I smoked cigarettes. I played with my hair. But most of all, I checked my emails obsessively.  And when I say obsessively, basically I mean that I sat, hammering F5 like I was playing Lego Star Wars on the Xbox, for four hours, in b between refreshing the email app on my phone too. Every time my phone gave the chirpy little happy ‘ping’ of a new email, I dived onto my phone like a ferret on uncovered human flesh. But never the email I was waiting for. No, no. My inbox was suddenly full of emails from shops, companies, supermarkets, school, twitter notifications. Never in my life has my email address been so popular, and never has it made me fret more. Alone in the house with no one else to turn on, I pounced on myself.

     Look. Look – see that? That email you replied to yesterday? THAT’S what they asked you to do. THAT is what you were supposed to do, you blithering idiot. Not serve up some self-indulgent wanky bag of wind and piss that will give everyone brain poisoning. You silly little fool. Twatty blogger? Twatty… TWAT more like (I can be incredibly articulate and eloquent at times)

     And then of course, I couldn’t help it. I pictured the scene. The recipient of my email (sorry, so sorry) innocently opening the contents   and being confronted with a wave of mawkish sentimentality and overemotional rambling of the most pathetic type. It played out in my head like a scene from Dynasty…

     An office, somewhere in central London. A woman sits down at her laptop, and reads a document. As her eyes move down the page, her face changes from expectant, to doubtful, to concerned, to horrified. She calls over a colleague, and asks her to read the document. The same facial expressions follow, and at the end of each paragraph, the colleague looks over to the first woman, who nods each time, as if to say ‘I know.’

     Colleague: What are we going to do?

     Woman: I don’t know

     Colleague: No, but seriously, what are you going to do? You can’t use this!

     Woman: Me? Why is it my problem?

     Colleague: You bloody asked her to do this! It’s your fault!

     Woman: We all talked about it and agreed! It wasn’t just me! And in any case, I had no idea that we were going to get… this.

     Colleague: You’ll just have to email her and say we can’t use it Can we just pretend we never got it?

     Woman: No, because I emailed her to say that I’d got it. What? Don’t look at me like that! It’s standard. You’ll have to email her – explain that something’s come up, and we can’t run it today.

     Colleague: But she’s going to expect it to go up at some time. We can’t keep putting it off forever.

     Woman: Nah, it’ll be old news.

     Colleague: Not that old.

     Woman: Look, are you trying to help here or not? I mean, can you think of anything better?

      Colleague: Um… tell her… you’re dead?

     Woman: Piss off. [Long silence] Tell her mumsnet’s closed?

     Colleague: Plan. You do it.

     Woman: No, you do it

     [Descends into pitched battle with laptop being used as a weapon, mugs being hurled, bunting everywhere, hair pulled, toes stamped on, tables overturned, swivel chairs being used as battering rams, until the two combatants are on their hands and knees on the floor, panting, surveying the wreckage]

     Colleague: You know how to sort this?

     Woman: No.

     Colleague: Start a thread in AIBU.

     [Cut to house in Norwich.  A 35 year old woman checks her email for the 57th time, sighs, chews her fingers]


     I paced the living room floor, occasionally pausing only to log out and back in to my email account. Nothing.

     Still nothing

     More nothing

     Still more nothing.

     Oh god… What had I done? Why had I been so stupid? The Greek Chorus in my head clamoured ever louder. So loud in fact that I nearly rang Norwich City Council to put in a complaint about noise pollution. I sent a panicked message to a friend. Friend replied soothingly. I was off my face on anxiety, surfing the crest of fear and loathing in NR2. I could barely think of my own name. On the school run my feet weren’t working properly, and my knees were unco-operative.  And in the midst of the usual shouting, food demands, hanging up coats and sibling low level bickering of our arrival home… ping. An email.

     ‘You can see your guest blogpost here, and I’ll be putting it on the Mumsnet front page later.’

     [Breathes out]

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Public Butterfly

     On Sunday night I did something I’m not proud of. I deleted a blog post. Something I’ve done only twice before, when I unintentionally hurt people with what I’d written. It’s one of my Rules of Blogging – if I feel strongly enough to write something, then I stand by it, no matter what shit may come my way. I may be persuaded to think differently of a subject after I’ve blogged, I may change my mind entirely. But the blogpost stands, as do any comments, no matter how nasty, personal, or twatty they may be (other than the really sick ones, thanks Richard Dawkins fans!). If I write something, then it’s part of me.

     I can, and do, write about anything. My depression, graffiti, self-harm, Blogfest, miscarriage, Ed Balls, attempted suicide, music, my children, Page 3, ATOS,  religion. Bloody hell, I can even write about a trip to Notcutt's or indulge in a bit of wanky short storyness It’s all there. I’m happy to discuss. If you think I’ve got something wrong, leave a comment, I’ll more than likely reply. Talk to me on twitter. Or even email me if you like.

     I will put the post back up, eventually, when I’m feeling a bit less bruised. Considering some of the posts I’ve written in the past, I didn’t think it was all that controversial, and I’d hoped that people in Public Archaeology would see it as an opportunity for discussion. Some – most especially James Dixon of  the Public Archaeology 2015 project did, and I enjoyed reading his thoughts. Community Archaeologists broadly welcomed it, and saw it as reinforcing the idea that real people can make a real difference to archaeology. People, ordinary people like me, saw it as an expression of their views, and agreed with it.

     But a minority, a small group of Public Archaeologists saw it as… well, I don’t know really. But made it clear that they didn’t think much of what I had written, or the idea I suggested; that they form a clique that’s offputting, or that the public have any right to express their thoughts on Public Archaeology. Instead they directly and obliquely discussed my blogpost without involving me in the discussion.  Which rather proved my point. That I, as a twatty blogger, A Member Of The Public, am viewed as inferior, am not welcomed to Public Archaeology, and have nothing to contribute to it. I disagree on the first point. I am better than no one and no one is better than I.  The second point has been proven, by a number of people calling themselves Public Archaeologists, who sneered at the idea that someone outside of Public Archaeology could have anything to say that was worth their time and attention.  And on the third point… I think it is not so much that I have nothing to contribute to Public Archaeology, as that some Public Archaeologists have nothing to offer me, The Public.

     The academics, the scientists, the scholars… They can pin a butterfly down, label each and every part, discuss the DNA, talk about habitat, diet, mating behaviour. But when they scrutinise it as intensely as they do, do they ever take a moment to reflect on the simple complexity and beauty of a butterfly in flight? Or do they feel that would be beneath them? Because it certainly feels to me that some Public Archaeologists see this Member Of The Public as beneath them. And for that reason, Public Archaeology, I’m out.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Public Centipede

     I’ll be honest. This started in a pub. I’d escaped the house over the Christmas holidays, and was trying to write in my local, aided by a pint and some biltong, when a couple sat at a table opposite me. I wasn’t trying to listen in, but they were talking loudly, the pub was quiet, and I was not in the grip of writing fever…

     I don’t know who they were, other than they mentioned Public Archaeology quite a few times. What I do know is that they appeared to be engaging in some seriously painful handwringing about The Public and some project they were working on. ‘Do you think The Public will like that? Do you think The Public will understand this? Do you think we should contact that professional person to deal with The Public? Do you think Person A would be equipped at communicating with The Public?’ The Public this, The Public that…

     And, if I’m honest, it really started to get on my wick. Who, exactly, are The Public? Because the distinct impression I got was that in this case, The Public appeared to be one, multilegged, singleheaded creature, distinct from the couple sitting near me.  By constantly referring to The Public, they were distancing themselves from anyone who lacked their specific knowledge – in effect, othering The Public, in order to elevate themselves. Not once were ‘people’ mentioned, just The Public.

     As a few of you know, I have been described as a history obsessed moo in the past. I don’t know much, but I want to learn, to discover, to explore, to feel the past and be drawn into the details of people who went before me. To walk up worn down steps, to trace my fingers over ancient stones, to read about history around me, and then to be able to go out and see it for myself with greater clarity and understanding. It’s always been about people for me, right back to that bored ten year old girl in Salthouse, suddenly having her eyes opened. People. Not The Public.

     And this is where I take issue with some Public Archaeology, which seems to seek not to embrace people outside that specific profession, but to hold them at arm’s length. To refer to them as The Public, not as people, not as individuals, but as one homogenised mass blob of humanity who need to be spoonfed, told what they can and can’t touch, and need ‘special’ projects, designed for The Public, not for people. The Public, who are ‘allowed access’ to archaeology and the past, rather than welcomed in, inspired, encouraged, and valued. The Public, who simply by being referred to as The Public, are somehow lesser.

     Do we have Public Historians? Public Gardeners? Public Geographers? Public Chemists? Or do we have those professions, and people who work within them seeking to bring their message to a wider audience, without the need to add the word ‘public’? Something about the term ‘Public Archaeology’ irks me. It suggests an ‘us and them’ mentality, the archaeologists and ‘The Public’, an inner circle and ‘The Public’ being permitted to  look in, rather than valued guests and possible future contributors, which is surely where a lot of archaeology is going to end up… mutter, mutter, undervaluing of our shared past, cuts, lack of funding, heritage in crisis, bloody politicians… 

     Archaeologists should be the facilitators of encouraging people to get involved, to find out more, to fall in love with the world around them and see it anew, with a greater, deeper appreciation of something as simple a landscape feature, a building, or even some scratches on a wall. They shouldn’t be the gatekeepers, deciding when and where ‘The Public’ are allowed in, for how long, and under what conditions.

      I appreciate that everything has to have a starting point, that just because you build it, doesn’t mean that they will come. That archaeologists have to have ways and means of attracting people into their projects in the first place, a hook, something that will work as a method of enticing people outside heritage/history/academia in the first place. That some consideration has to be given as to how to get people to want to become involved. But a better way of doing that would be to engage with people as people, not as The Public, not as something distinct and different. To use facebook, twitter, blogs, whatever – hell, perhaps even real life interactions - to talk to people who are currently outside the inner circle of Public Archaeology, which can sometimes seem to an outsider as a very closed clique that only talks to other members.

     The Public aren’t a segmented single being. We’re people. Just like the people that archaeologists study.