Just give

We all know somebody who is raising money for charity these days, be it a sponsored triathlon, skydive or pie eating world record. It can be overwhelming to constantly receive requests for donations. I get it. But there are reasons you should donate.

1) These people clearly feel so strongly about a cause they are willing to go through pain, dedicated training workouts, losing their social life and risking injury to help others. Anyone who has that amount of compassion and belief in the work of an organisation should be respected and supported in their efforts.

2) They don’t ask for millions. With the wonders of Gift Aid, even a few pounds can raise even more than you give for their cause. A donation of £10 will give their charity £12.50, and this increases with every penny you give. So it’s not even going to cost you as much as they will get. If a person has fifty friends who all donate a couple of pounds, that’s easily over a hundred quid right there. And for charity, one hundred quid can feel like a million dollars.

3) People work hard for their cause because of their backstory. Maybe a family member has cancer, or they are outspoken victims of abuse, or they are a teacher who can see what poverty really does to children. Someone prepared to put in the hours of toil it takes to train for a marathon isn’t doing it on a whim: they have been affected in some way by the cause they are raising awareness for, and your support shows they are not alone. It isn’t only about money: it is about solidarity, about showing someone you care.

4) They are doing this because the people they love can’t do it themselves. Think about all those triathletes competing in support of their mother with breast cancer, or their grandfather with Alzheimer’s. As much as people seem to think raising money for charity is, these days, an ego boost of the highest order, it’s not. They feel helpless to do anything about the things affecting someone they love, so they show their support by finding ways to fund the people who CAN help. Macmillan nurses, research scientists, carers, safe houses – they all need funding and the government doesn’t stretch out its limited funds that far.

5) The government is crap. Services which should be supported by public money – such as research into heart disease, lung disease and all the other major killers of the population – are not, yet they are vital to the discovery of cures (*insert conspiracy theory here about keeping the population to manageable levels*). The government can’t even work out a way to support our mighty-yet-failing NHS; how are they going to cope with all of these major issues? They simply can’t. Charities step in where the government fails – it’s a sad fact. (Some charities, such as Women’s Aid or similar, should be independent of government anyway – but that’s for another post altogether). You might feel angry your tax isn’t going to these causes, or you might feel relieved. Either way, one day you WILL be affected by one of these major issues either directly or indirectly, and when that time comes you’re going to wish there had been more investment in research for a cure.

There are several charities close to my heart. But for now, where I’m asking directly for your support, I post just one link. A lady I’ve never met is taking part in a triathlon in May and her goal is admirable, achievable and downright inspiring. There, I said it, that word that everyone takes with a pinch of salt whenever put into the same sentence as ‘charity’. But I could never run a triathlon. I’d be lucky if I could run for the bus. I salute her ambition. A friend of a friend, she is participating in this run, swim and cycle challenge to raise money for Breast Cancer Care. If you can, donate whatever change you have spare – just like Tesco, Every Little Helps. http://bit.ly/141weLZ

Other charities worth a look to support include:

http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk/Home

http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Home.aspx

http://www.nationalbrainappeal.org/

http://www.womensaid.org.uk/

http://www.yorkagainstcancer.org.uk/

And there are literally hundreds of others you could help. You might not want to run a marathon, but there are people out there who do – I urge you to find some compassion and give whatever you can, whenever you can. There is always somebody more in need than you are, and one day you might need someone to help you back.

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‘Buzz’ off

I found myself apologising recently (it happens often). But then I had to go back and think on why I was apologising. Had I done something wrong? Nope. Had I offended someone with my oft-ill thought out views? Nu’uh.

So why was I saying sorry?

I was defending the fact I have really short hair.

Yup.

I was trying to explain to a lady that I am a femme lesbian – I like long hair, paint my nails and wear makeup. I own dresses and am learning how to dress for curves. (Turns out miniskirts are not the way to go when your thighs are the size of most women’s waists…why did nobody tell me this?). But she was insistent on the hair issue – if I was femme, why do I have a buzz cut?

I tried to explain that it all fell out because of medication. But then it became some kind of confessional – I don’t want potential dates to necessarily know I’ve been ill. They don’t need to know that straight off the bat, and when they do there is often the reaction of  ‘Oh. Well… so anyway yeah when I was on this date last week…’ and they slip through my fingers.

I’m not ashamed of being ill. But I don’t see why it should define me. If I want to go out and have a bit of fun, why should I be paranoid about revealing the heavy doses of chemo I’ve been facing? People don’t know how to deal with it, and it becomes awkward. Either they ask lots and lots of questions, turning a potential date into a research session, or they can’t deal with it, make their excuses and leave.

Hello? There’s more to me than chemo, you know.

Song for a friend(s) (OK a letter, but still…)

My dear hearts,

The Big Move is in process: leaving the capital of the UK to go to the other end of the country where I know nobody, because I fell in love with a city. Recent life challenges have taught me to take every opportunity I can. And you my friends have given me nothing but absolute support.

To the girl who has become a library companion despite our differences in religion: telling me you stopped praying for me should have shattered my heart with disappointment. But when you told me it was because you knew I didn’t need your prayers anymore, because this world will fall at my feet and the heavens are willing me on, well. I don’t care what our religious differences are: your words were the best parting gift I could have received.

To my friend I’ve known since preschool, your words are kept private in my soul but I can promise you this: I will take your heart and wrap it in the finest layers of tissue paper to place it in the box marked Fragile. It will be safe with me, and I am honoured to have the knowledge you are with me regardless of where we are in the world.

To my housemates: I couldn’t have stumbled my way through the last year without you. But man am I looking forward to not having to watch football anymore.

To my colleagues: sorry, you’re not rid of me that easily. Benefits of being a writer: you can work from anywhere in the world. Hello, Skype.

To the more than forty people who turned up over the course of my leaving drinks: crawling home at 7am was a new record. It was an amazing send-off and I was truly touched by how many of you came to say goodbye.

To the friend who sent me the lyrics for Song for a Friend by Jason Mraz: all I can do is say them back to you:

Well you’re magic he said
But don’t let it all go to your head
Cuz I bet if you all had it all figured out
Then you’d never get out of bed
No doubt
Of all the things that I’ve read what he wrote me
Is now sounding like the man I was hoping
To be
I keep on keeping it real
Cause it keeps getting easier, he’ll see
He’s the reason that I’m laughing
Even if there’s no one else
He said, you’ve got to love yourself

You say, you shouldn’t mumble when you speak
But keep your tongue up in your cheek
And if you stumble onto something better remember that it’s humble that you seek
You got all the skill you need,
Individuality
You got something
You call it gumption
You call it anything you want
Because when you play the fool now
You’re only fooling everyone else
You’re learning to love yourself

Yes you are

There’s no price to pay
When you give and what you take,
That’s why it’s easy to thank you
You…

Let’s say take a break from the day
And get back to the old garage
Because life’s too short anyway
But at least it’s better than average
As long as you got me
And I got you
You know we’ll got a lot to go around
I’ll be your friend
Your other brother
Another love to come and comfort you
And I’ll keep reminding
If it’s the only thing I ever do
I will always love
I will always love you
Yes you
I will always, always, always, always love
I will always, always love
I will always, always love, love

Climb up over the top.
Survey the state of the soul.
You’ve got to find out for yourself whether or not you’re truly trying.
Why not give it a shot?
Shake it. Take control and inevitably wind up
Find out for yourself all the strengths you have inside of you.

To the person who knows who they are: without you, I would not be here. And I promise I’ll do everything I can to show it’s been worth the grind.

And now, for the move. Bring it.

With my forever gratitude at knowing such compassionate beings,

Evelyn

xxx

The writer, the writing and the audience

Stumbling into my first forays into online writing, it’s been an interesting month. Most striking has been the impact of social interaction online as dependent on whether people engage with your work or not. It’s all very well writing a blog, but if nobody reads it, what is it for?

It strikes me as strange how authors need to increasingly become ‘public’ figures, having blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. It used to be that the publishing house did all the legwork – for better or worse, until the dawn of e-publishing and the growth of the internet, this did the trick. It kept a wall between writer, writing and audience which now has to be deconstructed if people are ever to engage with your work.

But that strikes me as slightly odd. An actor is known for their different roles and, while tabloids do take interest in their personal lives, they would never (mostly never) read into the personal life of an actor within a role they played. Exceptions include, for example, openly gay actors who take on gay roles and freely comment in interviews with the press that they took on the role at least in part because they could identify with it on a ‘deeper level’.

But the reason I took so long to set up a blog – despite having had short stories published regularly since the age of 14 (a slightly-depressing-almost-12-years-ago) – was that people seem to increasingly prescribe what they know about the author to the fiction they produce. Despite my huge agreement with Roland Barthes, who was right long before the dawn of the web, it feels like I am one of a few remaining in this school of thought.

I write as characters. I am not a seventy year old man waiting to die. I am not a six year old girl who has finally learned to tie her shoelaces (mainly because I still struggle with this). I am not a transgender vampire who aspires to Broadway (storyline tbc…). But I write under pseudonyms, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that people will look for the ‘me’ parts in a story. They expect me to throw in clues about my life. It’s like Orson Scott Card becoming the latest Superman author – the massive backlash is because he is notoriously anti-gay. But is he going to make Superman homophobic? No, because his art – and the control DC Comics have over it – is separate from him.

I write stories. They are fiction. Make-believe. While I prefer realist fiction, some of it is sci-fi, some fantasy, some historical, some futuristic. That doesn’t mean I have a time machine (unless you count Wikipedia) or that I am a science fiction geek (still haven’t watched Episodes 4,5, and 6).

So it seems so odd to me that I have to generate interest in my fiction by putting myself, as a brand, as a person, out there. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to remain incredibly secretive – indeed if you read any other post on this blog you’ll see that’s me laying my soul bare – but creating the interest around me as a person in order to create interest in the stories I write baffles me.

I can’t help but feel this post isn’t quite finished. But I need to percolate the remaining thoughts into something more coherent. I lost my essay writing skills shortly after leaving uni (and seems the Masters isn’t doing much to help).

Getting there

Time for a serious post (yes, I do have it in me). No stories of Tomb Raider fascinations, no props to other bloggers talking about equal marriage.

I’ve been having a bit of a think lately. It hurt, but I pushed through. Sometimes it happens when you face your own mortality, and while through everything I have tried (and I hope mostly succeeded) to remain upbeat, the thoughts can drown out the positive vibes. As I sit here, in bed in a freezing room in London on a bitter February night, struggling to not throw up because the chemo is getting the better of me, I wonder about it all.

More accurately, I wonder about all those people who don’t have someone with them at times like this. I don’t, but that’s because I choose to. I don’t want my loved ones to see me frail, unable to keep food down, too tired to sleep and too bone achingly exhausted to turn over. I can’t even type: this is being written courtesy of the amazing Dragon Naturally Speaking, perfect so my hands don’t hurt any more than they need to. During the daytimes, when I do venture out the house, I am all smiles. There is no point in feeling sorry for myself, because as far as I’m concerned, I will get better, and there’s no point troubling anyone else with these ideas. Of course it’s difficult. Of course the chemo turns my insides into a mangey excuse for a stomach – they should market it as the new chemical peel, sure it’d get rid of wrinkles pretty quickly (and everything else besides. Who needs a nose/eyes/lips/cheeks – skeletal chic will be on the menu, you’ll see…)

I’m lucky enough to have started with a chunky enough frame to not look like a skeleton. But I am buying new clothes with the money I don’t have just to have trousers that stay up without the sumo-hitch every five minutes. I’ve even resorted to wearing braces instead of a belt. People who see me every now and then comment on how well I look – what they mean is I’m finally looking about the right weight for my height. These are the people who think my buzz cut is a style choice. Turns out, half the people in my old office thought the bald look was a style statement – apparently I can pull it off, which is no mean feat.

There are the well intentioned comments, the pitying head-tilts, the eyes darting anywhere but your face when they realise you really aren’t too well. People don’t know how to deal with this, but here’s the thing: neither do I.

I don’t know what to tell people when they ask me how I am. The truth often gets a short reply of ‘Oh….’ because nobody knows what to say. A lie feels morally wrong. The best response is ‘Getting there’. Some days, this is true. Some days, I want to grab them by the collar and shout in their face: does this look OK? Do I look healthy to you? Should my eyes be red, my teeth be yellow? Should my hair be patchy? Do I look like I can stay awake through this social engagement? Can I really get drunk with the rest of you instead of being despairingly tee total? Do you really think I might be able to get over this?

Lucky for them, I don’t do this.

Lucky for me, I don’t do this.

So for anyone who wants to know how I am – and how I guess most people going through chemotherapy might feel from time to time – here you are:

I feel terrible. I want my social life back. I don’t want the majority of my exchanges with human beings to be with the (amazing) Macmillan nurses. I want my most intimate moments to be with someone I at least fancy, if not love, and not with the sixth doctor of the month. I want to be able to eat the food I love without fearing I’ll taste it again when it comes back up. I wish I could have a machine which drew all of my pain out of me and stored it in a little box – even if I had to endure some of that stored pain bit by bit over a long time, that would be preferable to this constant, nagging bone ache that makes you feel hollow and solid all at the same time. I want to be able to sleep the night through. I want to be able to sleep without waking up in soaking sheets from night sweats. I want peace.

I want peace.

The more I think about it, the less I think peace will come. If I get better, sorry – when, I’ll be itching to get out and do the things I always wanted. Go travelling. Publish books. Learn archery. Learn Mandarin (OK this can be done now but have you tried concentrating with a 3-day migraine?). Take a yacht around the Caribbean islands. Move to a country cottage. Get a dog.

If I don’t, the only way peace will come will be when I die. And I don’t want that to be the next time I experience peace. I don’t want all this treatment to be for a painless death. I want all this treatment to mean something. I want to know that I feel like shit because there is something waiting for me afterwards, in this life. In the life I know exists. In the life I can see happening around me. I can hear it even now, the main road under my bedroom window. The window shakes every time a bus goes past. I can hear a toddler chattering away to her mum. I can hear a dog’s claws clacking on the pavement. This is life. I can see this happening and I want even these simple things to be mine. Without fear of pain, without my tendency to faint being an issue.

So many things that I want. And I will have them. Just, not yet.

Obsessions

Being somewhat of a hermit, I’m aware that my social life is…restricted. This is mostly by choice, because people overwhelm me with their fascinating antics and if there are too many people in one place, I don’t know where to look and my brain shuts down.

It is only when talking to my friends (in small groups, on the phone or via my best friend, Skype) that I realise how much other people are also like this. And how it’s the eccentricities of life that make the world turn.

Take obsessions, for example. Everybody has at least one obsession, even if they don’t want to admit it. Mine are numerous, no doubt increased by the amount of time I spend on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I love my own company, but I think your brain starts to latch on to things to create a commonality within itself after a while. Just as you might read a book your friend has recommended (I have yet to read ‘Get Out More and Stop Being So Weird’ , Hannah, just as an aside), which you would then discuss with each other, or see a film together, or go to the same party, whatever – I think the brain has a fantastic ability to create this within itself. Hence, obsessions become part of life – they are familiar, they are a subject you could talk to others about if placed in a suitable social situation, but more often than not (in my case, anyway) they are something for my own brain to occupy itself with when the other part of my brain is switched off into fiction-world. (I often have to leave stories brewing in the back of my head for a while before I can write them. They formulate by themselves, but I daren’t check they’re ready for consumption until at least at a simmering boil).

Aside from the obvious of writing, I have a few obsessions. Friends close to me will understand my love of Lord of the Rings stems from an unquestionable desire to be Aragorn, minus the being a man part. This fantasy of rough good-conquers-all heroism directly contradicts my hermit lifestyle – you never know, one day I might save someone’s life by wielding a sword at a goblin, but the likelihood of this ever happening decreases relatively with the amount of time spent away from other human beans.

Tomb Raider has been an obsession of mine since I managed to get TR3 for PC when I was about 12. I started playing it so much, I dreamt of being Lara. OK, I dreamt mostly of exploding Lara as I repeatedly got the ‘all weapons’ and ‘explode Lara’ cheats mixed up, but you get the idea. I haven’t touched the games in years, but on the 5th March nobody, but nobody, will see me for days as the newest installment is released. I like other games, with a soft spot in particular for Prince of Persia, but for some reason Tomb Raider captured my imagination. This is, probably, in no small part due to the fact I discovered Lara Croft around the same time I was discovering that I was a lesbian. In fact, I think it’s Lara’s fault. Damn you, fictional game character for ruining my chances at a ‘normal’ life…

Shoes are a funny obsession. I’m not a girly girl, really – well, I don’t wear makeup most of the time, but I like having my nails look presentable. I don’t own tons of clothes, but this is mostly because I’m a very odd size to fit. I hate shopping, but love that moment when you find a perfect pair of jeans. But shoes. Well, shoes are a special part of my life. I used to be very fat, with size 10 (UK) feet – nowhere really does women’s shoes that big so I mostly lived in men’s trainers. Then two wonderous things happened: firstly, the shoe industry realised women’s feet are getting larger, and in particular Evans really expanded their range to beautiful high heels, practical work shoes, flip flops, you name it. The second was that I lost a ton of weight and dropped a shoe size. Suddenly, the world of shoes opened up to me – more manufacturers were making size 9 shoes, and they fitted me! Lucky for me, though, there are still few and far between when looking at all high street shops (which mostly go up to an 8). This is good, because I would spend every penny I had on shoes I would probably never wear.

I do not understand this obsession.

My brain doesn’t even have a common thread of conversation with itself about shoes. If I overheard people talking about shoes in a coffee shop for more than a quick ‘Oh I like your shoes’ ‘Thanks, they were from Primark‘, I would move seats away from such inane chatter. But I find myself admiring shoes more than I like to admit.

Lucky for you people who are worrying that I’m turning into an actual girl, you should be assured that I obsess over my Dr Martens boots, Batman Converse and DC skate shoes. But still. My latest obsession – in fact, ones I’ve wanted since I was 14 and are probably related to my Tomb Raider obsession now I think about it – are in my possession.

These babies:

Boots

I feel like I ought to get over my hermit lifestyle and visit Egypt, raid a few ancient places, hop to Cambodia to spend time with monks and raid a few other ancient places.

Yep. It’s official. I’ve gone insane.

Other obsessions include:

  • Getting a dog (when I can afford and when I don’t live in a shoebox in a shared house with 9 other people)
  • Writing (obviously)
  • Films (both writing and watching)
  • The paranormal (this is a new one, watch this space)
  • Moving away from London
  • Writing (Honestly, it takes up so much of my headspace I need to put this twice).

That’s about it. That I’ll admit for now, anyway.

So, what are your obsessions? Please tell me I’m not alone…

My #Bigsteppin Valentine

Valentine’s Day is a day of love, and an unfortunate anniversary. I will forever remember how much I love somebody who gave his life too young (24) so he could protect others from harm.

From sticking up for people at school to working with the Samaritans and Shelter, he was always the go-to guy. He loved too much, too strong, and was too protective of those who – sometimes – didn’t even care about him. Nothing could ever keep him down, he’d take the knocks and see it as life experience. He was somebody who steamrollered his way down the street, always going somewhere, doing something – helping someone, protecting someone, and going about it with such humble grace. His altruism and kindness lasted to the end, and he showed me the importance of leading your  life with good intentions, high ambitions and hard work.

I want to say thank you, my friend, for showing me to live true to myself; for reminding me there are always people worse off who need my support; for believing in my capabilities and talents even before they began to show. He taught me perseverance, determination, hardiness, humility  and – above all – a respect for others. Nothing is ever too much of a dream to be held, and every day if you can do one thing to achieve your goals then it has been a good day.

I am blessed: I may be chronically ill, I may be jobless, I may struggle with humanity from time to time. He showed me if you don’t like something, change it: I can seek medical help, I can find ways to make money, and I can learn to get over my occasional misanthropy. I am fortunate to have the privilege to make these changes in my life. I have people who love me, and I have those I love with all of my heart and being, and for that I am grateful. Whatever the problems may be, I am lucky for my life, and every day I live it for you my friend.

My Raw Heart misses you and loves you.

Evelyn

xxxx