Dear Women’s Magazines

Please don’t keep asking me to get the perfect body this summer,

I have the perfect body already.

This body – my body- has been with me a long time now,

I’ve grown quite attached to it, thanks.

It amazed me in my early teens, when bits grew and hormones

sent me crazy, in good ways and bad.

It saw me through my wild early twenties,

still functioning, despite my neglect.  It was a good sport like that.

It allowed me a few wild years, before warning me to calm down –

It knows what I need, even if sometimes I don’t.

It allowed me to grow two tiny humans inside it,

both born with their very own perfectly functioning bodies.

Then it let me feed them both for six months apiece,

sustaining me and them – even on two hours sleep.

My body allows me to walk for miles, to ride a bike, to swim,

to practice Sun Salutations and stand on my head.

It enjoys pleasure and its heart knows love.

Now in its fourth decade, it still feels a good fit.

So please, don’t ask me to change it

to fit in with some stereotyped ideal, or the latest fashion.

Don’t preach to me about how a woman over 40 should dress

or wear her hair –

I think I got this by now.

Stop trying to sell me cream to rid me of stretch marks –

they show the miracles my body has performed.

I do not wish to remove them; they show where I’ve been.

Don’t encourage me to follow the latest celebrity diet

to get some dreamed up ideal of a Perfect Beach Body.

I have a perfect beach body.  I have a perfect any place body.

I take it everywhere with me, I wouldn’t be without it.

It’s mine.

 

In This Room

I was lucky enough to have my second Ad Hoc Fiction win this week:

In This Room

He’s worried about the others.

The others who might get hurt.

I tell him, there are no others. There is nothing outside of this room, this locked door, this bed. Only us.

This moment.

People are always telling me to be more mindful. I’m being mindful now. Removing his shirt, mindfully. Pulling off my t-shirt, soaked with anticipation, it catches on my earring. I’m mindful of the earring slicing down my earlobe. I make a mental note to buy antiseptic tomorrow, on my way to the station. On my way to the train. The train that will whisk me back, belch me out in that other life, where I am all kinds of things to other people. Their entire universe, making it rotate.

But tonight, it is me rotating, spinning off these sturdy casters. The bind that has held me unbridling, unravelling.

In this room, with this man.

 

 

Where are all the Women?

So I read another one of those newspaper articles again this morning, you know the ones: ’25 Books To Read Before You Die’ nonsense. I never like them anyway – who’s to say what other people should read/do/think?

But this one struck a chord, because it related to a conversation I had with my daughter last night, and many comments I’ve read lately, online and elsewhere, about the issue of the lack of women writers in collections, anthologies, book prizes and so on.

This particular ‘essential’ recommended reading list this morning contained one woman writer.

Yes, one.

And that book was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There wasn’t one book on the list which would have conveyed anything to a young woman negotiating her way in the world.

This resonated particularly strongly this morning following a conversation last night with my almost 17 year old daughter who is studying A Level English Literature. She has to choose a book for an extended study towards this, to be started over the summer break. Her teacher (male) ‘suggested’ several for them to choose from, though they can have free choice.

The teacher had helpfully written the suggested titles on the board, which he encouraged the students to have a look at.

You know where this is going – right? All male writers. All male themes.

When my daughter was called on to discuss her choice, she advised him she’d be doing her study on The Bell Jar. When she received a puzzled look, she added, ‘It’s by Sylvia Plath, Sir’. He nodded, mumbled he’d never read it, wasn’t sure whether it would be appropriate, needed to ensure it had important ‘themes’ and ‘symbols’. (Perhaps his summer homework could be to read it…)

Anyway, all of this irritated me to a degree that I wanted to write a post about it. Because it seems to me that these lists and advice on what is considered great literature are just so outdated and unhelpful.

We keep hearing reports of concerns over young boys accessing porn at ever younger ages. About them then having unrealistic expectations from girls, acting inappropriately in secondary school towards them.

And Yet.

What alternatives are we showing them? Because this isn’t all about girls reading about the female experience; surely it’s also about educating boys about women. Showing them they dream about the same things they do; have ambitions the same as they do; desire the same way that they do.

When I read books like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, I learnt to understand elements of myself, of other women, of the compromises and negotiations that would need to be overcome to reach what I wanted out of life. Even the Brontës’ novels scream from the pages of repression and restrained desire.

And it shouldn’t stop there. There are many relatively new and emerging women writers who are setting out to tackle stereotypes. Vendela Vida, Caitlin Moran and Elisa Albert are three I’ve read recently where I’ve thought these women have something to say.

Without encouraging both genders to discover what makes one another tick, we have no hope of bridging the gap between the sexes. And young people are the first place to start. Because they are so open, so willing to accept, less inclined to stereotypes. I see this all the time with both of my daughters.

It’s not that I think the male writers should be taken from lists, awards, school syllabus. Not at all. I love men. I’ve read plenty of books by men that have inspired me, deepened my understanding of the world, helped me to see what makes them tick (I don’t need to list them here, there are plenty of lists with them on already). I live with a man. Some of my best friends….well, you get the picture.

The whole point here is that if we are to improve the elements we are unhappy with within our society, we need to understand one another. We need to be open and frank and accept our differences as well as our similarities.

Happy reading – read whatever brings you joy!

Kate x

 

Grace Paley

I wrote a little something on the wonderful short story writer, Grace Paley, which has been posted on the Thresholds blog, a place that is dedicated to celebrating all things short story.  This is my first piece for the site.  If you’d like to take a look and have a read, here is the link:

http://blogs.chi.ac.uk/shortstoryforum/two-ears-three-lucks-a-profile-of-grace-paley/

For anyone who has yet to discover her writing, Grace Paley’s stories really stand out as being different from the rest; powerful and yet subtle, they discuss the seemingly small things in life whilst showing us the bigger picture.  Remarkable, and highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in the genre!

Happy reading!

Kate

 

My Name Is

It started with her name.

She gave it up quite willingly; exchanged her father’s for her lover’s, at the altar. Standing there in an ivory dress and her grandmother’s pearls, she had felt a tiny snap as a bit of her broke off, but nobody else seemed to notice.

She carried on much as before, though each time she was called by the foreign, imposter name – at doctor’s appointments and such – she felt a little bit more go. Each time she was referred to as ‘Simon’s Wife’, she heard the snap; felt a little less.

Just a tiny freckle, or a fingernail, not enough for anyone to notice.

With each child she birthed – three in total – she felt a little bit more slip away. She was beginning to notice the gaps now, the lack of an earlobe; the loss of a tooth. Each time she was referred to as ‘Matthew’s Mum’, more flesh shrivelled. She kept looking around her to check if anyone else had noticed, but nobody seemed to.

Some days, in the fog of packed lunches and dirty football kits, she struggled to recall her own name – so long it had been since anyone had used it.

And yet, it was such a pretty name, if anyone cared enough to remember it.

Even her husband, grown grey at the temples and stressed around the eye sockets, didn’t use it often. In company, she was dear, or darling, or simply: she.

In bed, he favoured other names – or none at all. She would have liked him to use her name then – especially then – to whisper it as he had before, back when she was a whole person. A full, energetic, sensual woman with a name and a job title and a purpose.

Now she had other names too big to fill: Mother; Wife; Homemaker. She felt she had lost her own identity, had become a cardboard cut-out of a person; invisible.

It was with mounting horror that she looked into the hall mirror one hot Sunday afternoon in June to see a gap down her right side, where her arm had been. Her short-sleeved top just hung, the sleeve pointing out away from her shoulder. A rounded shoulder blade stump poked out of it, like the nose of a cartoon dog.

She walked out into the garden and poured from the jug of homemade lemonade, awkwardly, using her weaker left arm. She glanced around the table, but none of them appeared to notice the missing limb.

Matthew played Tetrus on his tablet; Sophie texted, fingers furiously tapping the keys of her mobile. Tim, the youngest, grumbled that he had not been picked for the football team. Her husband read the sports page of the newspaper.

Simon…she started, unsure where to end. He glanced up from the paper, slight irritation etched across his face. Do you notice anything different – about me, I mean?

He flicked empty eyes down and back up so quickly she hardly saw them move. A tiny smile, indulgent, the way he looked at the children when they gave him a homemade birthday card.

New top – very nice, he said, returning to the football results.

She excused herself to get more lemonade. Nobody thanked her.

As she walked through the warm house to the kitchen, her left foot faded out and she imagined she felt a tiny piece of her heart disintegrate inside her chest.

 

Kate Jones©

First Published in sicklitmagazine.com

Clearing the Decks

I read a review a while ago on the KonMari method of tidying. Not the most exciting topic, obviously, but having wanted for a while to get my house in order, both physically and metaphorically speaking, I ordered the book from the library for further investigation.

Marie Kondo, http://konmari.com/, I discovered, (who came up with the KonMari method: the name comes from the mixture of her two names), advocates clearing the space you live in in order to feel less cluttered mentally and emotionally. She asks you to question whether the possessions you own bring you joy or serve a purpose in your life. Some of her ideas are kind of wacky, (she suggests ‘thanking’ your handbag for working hard for you all day, and allowing it to rest for the evening, for example), but some of what she was saying made sense.

Living in a fairly small house, with two growing daughters, I was in desperate need of clearing some long held clutter. I began to look at having a clear-out, starting with my clothes and assorted accessories; the many creams and perfumes I get bought every year that I never use; the dresses I kept ‘just in case’; that handbag I only bought for a wedding.

Despite me previously holding the conception that I am not a very active consumer (most of mine and my family’s belongings come from local charity shops, and we hardly buy anything), I quickly filled around 4 large bin bags of stuff just from my own wardrobe.

Moving on to books, as Kondo suggests, was more difficult. There are some I love because they remind me of a special time or place I first read them. Some are ones I will read when I’m in the right mood. Some were gifts that feel wrong to give away. After some debate, I managed to sift a few out.

When it came to the personal stuff though, things got a bit more tricky. Kondo advocates throwing out excessive photographs, old letters, greetings cards, personal mementos. I did throw out an astonishing 3 bags worth of old papers; bank letters and that kind of thing. This has made more space, keeping just one small box that is only around one quarter full of necessary documents. This has made it much easier to find stuff when necessary.

But the old cards, photos, mementos… I have to admit, I completely failed.

Pulling out several boxes, I found my 16 year olds first pair of shoes. While she was reading up on which University to apply to, I was pulling out her first mother’s day card to me. I found love notes my husband sent me when we first dated. A scribbled sign he put in the windscreen of the car when we abandoned it outside the hospital: ‘Wife in Labour’. Notes my mother left me around the house; a sketch she made of my daughter.

I just couldn’t part with this stuff.

I’ve done a bit more research these past couple of weeks, since starting this quest to de-clutter. A great website on the subject – http://www.theminimalists.com/ – talks about not needing to hang onto all this stuff, that the memories we hold are enough. Easier said than done.

I decided I would keep the personal stuff, as it brought me joy to sift through it, but I consolidated it instead, placing items such as photographs in one box, which makes it easier to find them when I want to, and throwing away anything without any personal connection.

I’ve experienced some resistance on this quest at home, I have to add. My daughter’s keep taking things out of recycling or the bin; my husband is afraid he’s going to come home to an empty house.

At first, I was getting all worked up about that. I tried to convince them how great I felt, getting rid of loads of excess ‘stuff’. Then it occurred to me: I can only do this for me. It’s me who feels cluttered, both physically and mentally, not them. If they want to do this, they can, any time they like. I just need to concentrate on me.

Having read more on the subject, I’ve discovered Minimalism isn’t about having an austere space to live in, white walls and a single vase on the table. It’s about bringing more intention to your surroundings. Having space, both literally and figuratively, to unwind and relax, to enjoy what you have, to spend time doing what you love, with those you love.

I’ve found things I’d forgotten I owned, felt it less necessary to spend time tidying up after everybody and just spend time with them instead. Once I cleared a lot of the accumulated clutter, the mental clutter I’ve felt mounting up for some time started to clear, too. I felt like I could finally breathe, and it’s had a positive effect on the non-accumulation of more things I don’t need, too.

When I go out now, and think of buying an impulse purchase, I put it back, think it over. Generally, I realise I don’t need whatever it is. I remember that I have something similar already, and it isn’t necessary to have another whatever it is.

I definitely don’t live in an austere house with white walls. The various off-colour walls have handprints from my youngest daughter’s painting; my wardrobe door has pictures made by my kids blue-tacked to it still; and I have an overflowing pin-board of quotations and photo’s that make me smile.

But I feel clearer headed, more in tune with the things around me, more of a conscious consumer. It’s definitely something I would recommend if you’re in need of shaking yourself up a bit. Just don’t try to force the people you live with to come along with you!

Kate x

Ps. I had some great news last week: I WON first place in the Flash500 competition! If you’d like to have a read, here’s the link: http://www.flash500.com/index_files/fqfp16.htm