Orange

Our sign-name for Marmalade is ‘Orange’ – Sarah started it, and I have to agree. He is definitely orange. A more biscuit orange than flame orange, but he also has striking orange/amber eyes. He’s also very photogenic – whilst Chocolat is difficult to photograph in the dark, because the camera refuses to focus on her dark features, Marmalade’s features are almost neon…

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He also has rather dopey expressions; whilst his sister is complaining and grumping (she’s a typical tortoiseshell, but has her affectionate moments), Marmalade is either skittish, watchful or has a particular ‘look’ that is reserved for his favourite human, Dan,  when he gets home from work.

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(The look of love…)

Then again, there are plenty of those dopey, ‘What’s dis? What’s that?’ expressions.

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And here is a bonus photo of Chocolat stalking her brother (five minutes later, she pounced on him):

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(Such orange, so annoyed, much neon…wow)

Yes, I know talking ‘Doge’ is ridiculous.

‘And then there were cats, thought Dog. He’d surprised the huge ginger cat from next door and had attempted to reduce it to cowering jelly by means of the usual glowing stare and deep-throated growl, which had always worked on the damned in the past. This time they had earned him a whack on the nose that had made his eyes water. Cats, Dog considered, were clearly a lot tougher than lost souls. He was looking forward to a further cat experiment, which he planned would consist of jumping around and yapping excitedly at it. It was a long shot, but it just might work.’ – Terry Pratchett, Good Omens.

A Symphony

A few months ago, I got an email from a reader asking what it is like to be deaf. Not what access issues and barriers surround being a deaf person, but the actual feelings and sensations of being deaf. At first, such a question, framed as ‘not having one of your senses functioning properly’ was disconcerting – as I subscribe to the social model of disability, rather than the medical model. In recent years, however, I’ve begun to look at deafness and disability in a much more expansive way – being deaf is just different.

IMG_3290It isn’t better or worse than having hearing, it is just a different experience of the world. Yes, there are things that we need that the general hearing populace wouldn’t think about in day to day life, such as subtitles, captions and visual information, plus better communication (which, in my opinion, is important for everyone, not just deaf people), but I feel that everyone has certain things that make their day to day life different in some way from the next individual.

Being deaf from childhood, though, means my experience of deafness is different to people who have late-onset deafness or become deaf later because of illness. Or those people who have moderate or mild deafness. Or are partially deaf. People describe themselves differently – as hard of hearing, deaf, profoundly deaf, hearing impaired (which is one label I personally loathe), and there is also the big D little d thing, which I think is going out of style amongst younger deaf people.

Medically, I’m described as ‘profoundly deaf’ and I’m sure there’s something else in there too, to do with frequencies on a hearing test. Having said that, there are a few things you need to know – every single deaf person is different. There are some aspects of our experiences that diverge – access to things the main thing, perhaps attitudes we have experienced, the way we process information, usually visually (however, this can also differ from person to person) – but there are others that don’t.

The history of my deafness began when I was six years old – my Aunt noticed I wasn’t responding to the phone ringing – and my hearing was tested again. It indicated that I had high frequency progressive hearing loss (which means that I couldn’t hear sounds in the higher frequency and that my hearing was likely to experience drops as I got older). From then, I had a few hearing drops, the most significant one when I was about 13, and I stopped being able to hear sounds without my hearing aids.

IMG_3292I used to hate wearing hearing aids but now I wouldn’t go without them when I want to hear sounds. They are a part of me, even though I also value not wearing them and the near-silence (apart from the musical tinnitus!). I have had a few epiphany moments – I remember feeling self conscious about being deaf when I was an early teen, but then I also remember a feeling of quiet and confident acceptance of deafness being an irrevocable and important part of who I am.

That acceptance may have been compounded by having a sister who is also deaf, and having parents that have never made us feel inadequate. The audiology doctor I had when I was young was fantastic because he always reassured my parents and encouraged me to follow my interests. I never felt angry or misunderstood as a child because of being deaf. I had the usual issues with friends and sibling rivalry, but never felt as though I wasn’t capable.

I did experience some frustration at Primary School because of lack of support and teachers who didn’t understand how to include a deaf child, but for the most part, I muddled through and did a lot of reading, art and crafting! Secondary school was a completely different kettle of fish – simply because of the growing pains of being a deaf teenager.

So what it is like being deaf? There is no easy answer, and something that might take a lifetime to explain. I know what it’s like to hear – because I could once hear things without my hearing aids – but do I regret not having that hearing? Not necessarily. I’m not alone in silence, my mind is not a silent place, and there is no sad romanticism connected to being a deaf person.

A lot of the time, the battle and silence comes when we go out into the world – and find that the world hasn’t adapted itself enough to accommodate our needs – subtitles, captioning, sign-language interpreters, visual information, attitudes, government attitudes and legislation; the silence that comes from people who don’t understand or who are ignorant of the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people. There are many issues surrounding the institutional and social barriers that create a harder life for those of us who are deaf.

IMG_3291The actual fact of deafness itself is something everyone lives with differently. For myself, I can’t imagine a life without it: if I wasn’t deaf, I wouldn’t have met so many interesting and creative people, I wouldn’t have met Dan (we met online, and I only joined Bolt.com because a deaf friend recommended it) and I wouldn’t be as close as I am to my sister. My Mum wouldn’t be a captioner. It has had a positive ripple effect in my life, and the lives of those I consider friends, family and acquaintances. It has affected the way I see the world – my values and my opinions, my empathy and sense of justice. Perhaps I would be less aware of injustice and discrimination if I wasn’t deaf; it has taken me out of my own experience, and made me want to do something meaningful for other people. I seek out the fringe, the shadow-dwellers who have meaningful perspectives on the world and life.

Let me bring it back to the title – A Symphony. Deafness is a communication – a symphony that has peaks and troughs, moments of clear high clarity and valleys of sadness. It is a march towards progress – of the need for good communication, the right to have good access, to be seen as individuals with our different strengths and skills. It is the balance between experience and identity.

‘My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.’ - Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

A Very Literary Wedding – Part 1 – The Details

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It’s been a long time coming, sorry to make you wait! There’s a lot to cover with this wedding because we had a year of planning, crafting and creating leading up to the wedding itself. So if you’re interested – follow through… Continue reading

Monday Night Inspiration: Everything I Know

2014-02-23 14.49.36Over the past few days I’ve been reading Paul Jarvis’s book Everything I Know, a book about how to set up your own business and be creative. When I do buy books about business and creativity, they tend to attract me because they’re unconventional – they have advice and blueprints that don’t follow conventional business ‘wisdom’. I’m not aiming to have a corporate business: this kind of business doesn’t appeal to me because I value things and am passionate about things that might be considered ‘fringe’ or perhaps might be considered ‘unpolished’. Doing work that doesn’t align with my values often feels forced and joyless, which is why I don’t do sponsored posts or have advertising on my blog – don’t get me wrong, I think there is value in doing them for some people, but they just don’t work for me right now.

When I write, I’m not afraid of going deeper and exposing vulnerability, neither am I interested in having a business that shies away from my political values (equality, inclusion and diversity). In many ways, I think corporate culture and business is alien to many people, and doesn’t gel well with ground-roots activism, justice and heart. You just have to look at the difference between Starbucks and your local independent café. People can tell what the values and aims behind your business are, no matter how it is dressed up.

Much business advice is often all about how to sell yourself as a brand. The conventional wisdom goes that you have to be a certain way – professional, polished, uniform – but also have your own ‘style’ and to be ‘different’. The contradiction being that the conventional idea of professional is all suited up, corporate, grey and faceless, whilst having your own style is all about being true to yourself, following your values and being yourself – but for these advice givers, being yourself might mean a scaled back, less colourful version of yourself. This has always made me feel uncomfortable and inadequate. I have always wanted to create a business that doesn’t involve me wearing suits, carrying a briefcase, and being someone else’s idea of ‘business’.

So reading Paul Jarvis’s book has been a revelation. If your values don’t line up with someone else’s idea of corporate culture and business – then they are not the right fit for you. Come as you are – if informal is your thing, then why jump through hoops to fit someone else’s idea of what business means and looks like? Break the mould. Create a business around what you value the most and what kind of work you do best. Be less afraid to be vulnerable – courage and bravery are vulnerable. Paul Jarvis talks a lot about fear – how natural it is and that everyone is afraid of failing. Creativity itself is all about failing – about experiments – you experiment and yes you might fail but you just do it again, a different way. You show up and do the work, experiment, work through the fear and do it anyway. You create your own business and creative journey.

Simply – I’m still digesting the messages in Everything I Know, and I’m sure I will have more to say once I take his advice, but for the moment, this book has changed the way I think about doing business, and will do business.

‘It was only because I tried and failed (until I didn’t fail) that I successfully got the pieces back into the box. It didn’t work at all, until it did. All I had to do was keep experimenting with different possibilities- making choices and moving forward in the adventure.’ – Paul Jarvis.

Thinker in the Dark

People are often afraid of the dark: of what it symbolises, what it is – an absence of light, of not knowing or seeing. Darkness for you might mean sadness, despair, loneliness, depression. In our world we are taught that being positive, that light, brightness, noise and enlightenment are most important. That ‘thinking positive’ is the ideal. I’ve been struggling with these questions for many years. I’ve always thought that ‘thinking positive’ – chasing after euphoria, happiness, joy, was the ideal. That there is something ‘wrong’ with me if I incline to the sadness side of the scale. That feeling deep sadness or longing is wrong.

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Yet darkness, sadness and not knowing are all part of being human. When you’re someone who tends towards introspection – the darkness within – the metaphorical ‘in the dark’ is an essential part of moving towards new ideas. We are all in the dark. Sometimes we find light to guide our way, or there will be a ‘lightbulb’ moment.

For me, darkness means a few different things. I’ve always enjoyed stories, films and TV programs that tend towards exploring the darker side of life. Some of my favourite authors explore supernatural themes and the darkness within people. I know there are shades of grey and shadows within every person. Night is the time when I turn inwards, thinking about the world, indulging imagination and reflecting.

I used to be afraid of the dark because we all learn from a young age that there are things in the dark –  our over-active imaginations imagine things. Childhood isn’t really an idyllic time – there is just as much dark in childhood as there is in adulthood. Sometimes I’m afraid of the dark, of being alone in the dark – but at the same time, darkness has its mystery and joy, just as much joy as a bright summer afternoon.

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Exploring and expressing sadness, loneliness and longing is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with these feelings. Writing requires long periods of solitude, of sinking into and exploring the darker side of being human. The fear I’ve often felt about writing, about going deeper into ideas and imagination, are precisely because I have been afraid of the sadness or the loneliness that comes about from diving into that depth.

It takes a lot of energy to force ourselves to ‘think positive’ when our core selves don’t incline towards that kind of thinking. I don’t think I’m a particularly ‘negative’ thinker, but I’m a worrier, I can over-think things and definitely experience different kinds of low moods. But I’m slowly coming to accept that this is who I am – and that it doesn’t make life any less interesting, poignant or happy.

I aim for contentment, for gratitude and mindfulness, but not for a constant state of ‘positive thinking’ – which to me, personally, can be exhausting. Much like behaving like an extrovert is draining for those of us who are introverts. I feel that true happiness comes from accepting and understanding who you are – it’s a journey, and has taken me a long time to do so.

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I may still occasionally find myself buying into the ‘think positive and everything will change!’ thing, but change comes from doing things, making choices and acting on them, not constantly being upbeat and hoping that this will attract good fortune. My kind of positivity comes from thoughtfulness, hope, love, planning, learning and being open minded. A balance.

‘Introverts don’t need to get everything out into the light. We focus better in the dark. Rather than putting all our cards on the table, we can wait until the time is right, until ideas are fully formed, and until people are ready to hear. [...] There is a lot to be said for positive thinking, and an exclusive focus on the negative can be destructive. But denial of the negative is just as dangerous.’ – Laurie Helgoe, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength.

First comes love, then comes marriage…

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I’m wearing an extra ring! No seriously, it was a beautiful day – I got married on 1st February, our 13th anniversary together (we got together when Dan was 17 and I was 16). It’s been a wonderful journey and we put so much effort into the crafting, details and theme of the day – I can now tell you all that it was a literary/vintage/story/film inspired day. There were books, birdcages and two typewriters. We’re both having a week off to chill out and take stock of things (plus tidy up because everything is a mess in this house!), so you can look forward to a stream of DIY tutorials, the story of the day, and many more things besides. We also have a wedding website and blog for you to take a gander at (if you want to be nosy…): Liz & Dan. - the blog is the ‘Authors Notes’ section. Enjoy! We both had so much fun planning and putting things into action. Although the crafting took ages and was stressful in the end, the finished result was all worth it, and added more magic to the day. I hope you enjoy reading all about it when I get myself sorted!

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In which two weeks pass…

Whats been happening:

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  • Wedding crafting
  • Wedding panicking
  • Wedding decisions
  • Dress fittings
  • Insomniac nights
  • An epic tea-party, cocktail-party, candle-making, film-watching popcorn hen-party extravaganza (all in one night!)
  • Very little reading (sadly) – co-opted by wedding stuff…
  • Once Upon a Time marathon viewings
  • Game of Thrones marathon viewings
  • Much popcorn consumption

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As I predicted, this month has mainly been about wedding stuff, which has taken over most of my waking moments (and sleeping moments). However, I’m trying to carve out some time to just relax – last night I found myself dancing around the room on my own. Not strange at all. I think the cats were very confused.

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So as much as I want to write and blog, things have been taking a back seat this month as we race to get everything organised and sorted. I promise I’ll try harder though!

‘Busy days galore…thoughts in a kaleidoscope of dervish dances.’ Al Cash.

Reflections.

2013-12-27 00.53.51It’s been a few weeks since I wrote anything – and I do mean anything. Perhaps I needed a break after blogging almost every day in November. What I do know is that last year, on the same day, I was determined that the year I was heading into would be the year to end all years. We all wish that the next year is going to be amazing, that it will be filled with creation, learning, good fortune, and new experiences. My memory is short – this year I feel burnt out – but I’m starting to remember the things that made this year good. I did create some things.

I wrote a lot of things on this blog and learnt new things about myself and people – about resilience, being knocked down and getting back up, about the stripping away of confidence and how hard it is to build it up again. I’ve learnt that I’m too hard on myself, and that I also need to work at things if I am to be true to myself. I often find that I’m frustrated, because I feel that I’m less than I want to be, or that I’m not working hard enough. The contradiction is that I always feel better once I pick up that pen and write, or type something. Without fail, writing helps me to work things out. I haven’t lost that, even if at times this year I felt that I had.

This truly is a year that I’m glad to see the back of. Yet there have been wonderful things – being Freshly Pressed, having some amazing comments, adopting Chocolat and Marmalade, having a very Harry Potter Birthday, and the handful of trips in the UK this year (Southwold, York, Bolton/Halifax, Edinburgh). There has been magic and beauty, even in the hardest moments. The evening of Flossie’s death was hard, but we were all together and we made it through. There has been a lot of sadness but a lot of laughter too. I’ve realised that this year has shown me the depth of life, the reality of it but also the importance of believing in things we can’t see, like love, the choices we make, the importance of believing in yourself and the people around you. I’ve doubted my strength a lot this year but then there are always things that lift you.

I’ve also learnt a lot about introversion, and what my MBTI type is (INFJ – read here for an excellent blog post on what that means), and what I actually need and want. I love solitude – I need the space to think and process things. I’m not completely solitary, I don’t think that’s the point if you’re an introvert – some introverts love company (even a lot of company sometimes). I enjoy the company of people that take a considered approach to communication – no interrupting, plenty of quiet spaces for thinking, and no awkwardness if there are long stretches of silence. People who accept you as you are, and who you accept as they are. I think silence, quiet – are some of the most important things I’ve taken from this year. Especially when you’re a writer, or someone who creates, being at peace with silence or solitude is important. Respecting the space of other people who need that solitude to think and relax is important too.

So what do I want for next year? Simply – to learn, to write and to understand myself and the world a bit better. To make a difference to people. To spend time with my friends and family. To create and to build new dreams – for myself and for my family – especially since in February, I’m getting married. I hope that the dreams we have built together will continue to be built upon. We’ve all achieved things that we might have overlooked this year – I wish all my readers the best, and I’ll leave you with the wishes of Mr Gaiman:

‘I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.’ – Neil Gaiman.

The Cathedral of the Wild.

 ‘Now my stories are not the stories that you’ll hear on the news, and while it’s true that Africa is a harsh place, I also know it to be a place where people, animals and ecosystems teach us about a more interconnected world.

When I was nine years old, President Mandela came to stay with my family. He had just been released from his 27 years of incarceration, and was in a period of readjustment to his sudden global icon status. Members of the African National Congress thought that in the bush he would have time to rest and recuperate away from the public eye, and it’s true that lions tend to be a very good deterrent to press and paparazzi.

But it was a defining time for me as a young boy. I would take him breakfast in bed, and then, in an old track suit and slippers, he would go for a walk around the garden. At night, I would sit with my family around the snowy, bunny-eared TV, and watch images of that same quiet man from the garden surrounded by hundreds and thousands of people as scenes from his release were broadcast nightly. He was bringing peace to a divided and violent South Africa, one man with an unbelievable sense of his humanity.

Mandela said often that the gift of prison was the ability to go within and to think, to create in himself the things he most wanted for South Africa: peace, reconciliation, harmony. Through this act of immense open-heartedness, he was to become the embodiment of what in South Africa we call “ubuntu”. Ubuntu: I am because of you. Or, people are not people without other people. It’s not a new idea or value but it’s one that I certainly think at these times is worth building on.’ – Boyd Varty.

(To turn the subtitles on, press play then move your cursor over the screen and click on the drop down which says ‘8 languages’ and choose English.)

After all this time?

What can I say? I was one of those people (with my Mum and sister) queuing up outside a bookshop at midnight to get the next Harry Potter book. The films are some of the best book to film adaptations I’ve ever seen. I had a great time turning 29 and indulging my inner-geek at the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour on Monday: so much to see and take in – it’s a must for adults and children alike. It’s my last year in my 20s and my intention is to never grow up. Much.

“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape. – J.K. Rowling.