Why are you so terrified of blank pages?

What if you do it wrong?

My question is more: what if you do it right? Doing it right is worse. Doing it right means you’ve done it how someone else decided to. That person wasn’t the same as you. That person doesn’t have the experience you have, the personality you were drawn with, the particulars of those adventures you’ve lived in, on and through.

I’ve been Mr Miyagied again by my friend and mentor Myke Dixon. He set me a task. I’ll say that the explicit purpose of the task is to express your creativity through different means – paper, pencil and coloured pens in this case. I’m a writer so I use only some of these tools and I use them differently when I’m etching out my stories. The implicit purpose of the task, however, was for me to realise that I’m a crazy person who has been so institutionalised by what’s been done before, by the wisdom and awesomeness of experts that I can’t even think straight for myself anymore and I look to others to provide the parameters of my creativity. My creativity.

Fuck. That.

So this is what happened. I sat down to do the task. My tailbone rested in a slight curve in the chair seat. My back perfectly vertical, I found the gap in my other fingers to place the ones on my left hand in between (my hands were really dry so the sound of my fingers brushing their way past each other wasn’t dissimilar to the turning of a new leaf in a book), then I stretched out. I had my tools and I had the bullet-point instructions for what I was going to do. I won’t give you the task – I’ll just reiterate that it’s a very simple one – in case you have the privilege of being Mr Miyagied by Myke too.

But I sat down. I laid out the paper; I took a pen (a lovely new one, with a fresh spongy tip) held it tight in my hand, and looked again at my phone upon which the instructions with their somewhat contradictory implications stood (for example, don’t take your pen off the page but also add colour).

I got up. I made myself a coffee. As the steamer fizzed and whirred through my milk, I thought: how will I start? I’ll draw a squiggly line, then maybe I’ll draw me as a stick person on the squiggly line, I decided. Should it be a squiggly line or a straight line? Squiggly. I’m kind of squiggly at the start of it all. Squiggly feels right. OK. What next? Who else is there on the line with me? And then, where do I go? And what next? Oh god, this is hard. Am I doing it right? I wonder if there’s anyone else who’s done this and has shared his or her experience on the worldwideweb?

I shit you not. That thought actually entered my little pea brain.

I’ll package this up for you quite bluntly. I was so scared of getting my drawing activity wrong– the purpose of which was to be creative and have fun above all else – that I almost checked to see how someone else had approached it.

Do I have so little faith in my own capabilities that I can no longer look to myself to draw my experiences on a thread of my own making? Yes, my life, my experiences, the way I see the world.

Holy shit. I have so far to go but it started that day. When I almost looked at someone else’s life picture to create my own.

Yours,

Embarrassed by my own rule-following,

Aimee Coleman

My Dad’s a feminist

I remember the sound. The slap of flesh against padded fabric. I looked down the shaft of my arm, seeing the mould of my fist still in the foam. Pulling away with one arm, I thrust the other from my waist, through my hips in rhythmic sequence. Exactly as I had practiced over and over for months, years even. I was preparing for my Karate grading (I think for my brown belt, second Dan) with my Dad, who I was also coaching through his blue belt kata techniques.

He stood upright, front knee bent, mirroring me on the other side of the padded shield, shoulder down like a Spartan, the full pad against his body, one tattooed arm resting over the top.

‘Good girl, great power,’ he said, ‘and again. Great. Have a drink, ‘ he said as he tucked the strand of hair that had come loose behind my ear. ‘Great that, sweetheart. Bit more through your hips and you’ll get even more power into it.’ I nodded into his smiling eyes.

He was whom I wanted to be like. I wanted his super powers. People who don’t know him are scared of him. People who do are stilled by his quiet care, even now. I hoped for the gene-swell of muscles, rounded and defined, to fill out my own body, my own biceps .I wanted to be strong enough that I might be free to be gentle enough for others to respect me, and my kindness.

On that afternoon, I walked away to the punch bag we had suspended next to the shed. The sky was warm; I was ready to call it a day for my combinations. But I started to jab without gloves at the bag like I’d seen my Dad do. The rattle of the chains sounded good but the force on my knuckles was immediate. I wanted to stop but I also wanted to show my Dad what I could do in this other discipline, this discipline where my biceps wouldn’t be hidden by the stiffness of a Gi. 

I practised Shukokai Karate twice a week from the age of four. I joined with three of my cousins, all older and less disciplined than I. The eldest cousins dropped off the quickest and I wonder if they needed another martial art to harness their energy. Maybe Muay Thai, or maybe Brazilian Jui Jitsu might have suited them better. Maybe boxing. Boxing seemed to me the cure for errant and escaping vigour. But maybe that would just have lead to bloodier fights between them.

I didn’t feel it then but on reflection, through those deep pink shades through which childhood always looks like summer, that Skukokai Karate was my martial art – it combined high intensity sparring with disciplined technical movement not dissimilar to dance. Self-defence stirred up with structured and powerful performance and since it had been decided that my contribution to ballet was too heavy handed, it was my way of reconciling my strength with my grace.

‘Come on, let’s do five more minutes.’ Dad said, firm and fair, like usual.

‘Can we do some boxing?’ I was negotiating. Almost immediately, my mindset had shifted to a zero sum game – from Karate to boxing, or nothing.

‘No, love. Let’s just finish the last few combos with the kicks.’ He said.

‘No, Daaad. Teach me some boxing.’ I pointed at him with my wide eyes.

My Dad had been a boxing trainer. Or maybe he’d shown one kid once how to throw a proper punch. I don’t know. He hadn’t told me this, my Mum had. That’s generally how I hear about the history of Rob Crowley – through my Mum’s anecdotes, or through my grandparents’. And even though my Mum and Dad are divorced, my Dad is still a hero to both sides of my family. Needless to say, there are a few missing pieces of the Daddy jigsaw that I’m still to discover, let alone press in.

I thought of him then as a Gladiator (remember the Saturday night TV show with Ulrika Johnson and John Fashanu? If you don’t I feel sad for you, those were the days of the best reality TV stars – professional athletes who were strong and fit and got paid to run around obstacle courses for a living).

Kicking around a football during the Summer holidays, listening to the pop as the leather deflected off feet, scratching my eyes puffy as cut grass leaped about us, I told my friends Dad was going to try out to appear on the televised competition – which he was, he told me he was – but for some reason never did.

My cousins and I talked about it a lot. We’d already decided whom we’d take with us to Blackpool in the new car he would win in the season finale. I can still see those cars now – great big monster trucks they looked to me then – red for the female champions, blue for the males. I wanted the blue one. Good thing my pops is a boy.

My favourite Gladiators were Jet and Shadow; my Dad’s were Warrior, Hunter, and Lightening. We talked about their strengths and statistics over our Saturday night treats like Malteasers and Mars bars and Doritos and microwaveable popcorn. Dad being a rugby player loved the gauntlet event (which for contestants, Warrior was possibly the toughest to overcome even before they veered headlong into one after the other of the remaining bulls is the queue – one hundred and thirty two kilos of rounded dense tissue, which may as well have been carved out of bronze for all its impenitent impermeability). My dad is that for me – a one-man gauntlet. He stands about me, all directions, one great hunk of animal matter, a deflector of force, a protector against those trying to run at me.

If you’ve not got a full visual yet, he’s built like a heavyweight. He has fists like ham hocks or gammon steaks, which he’d always open to hold my hand across the road – even beyond the time a child finds it acceptable, especially one as independent and self-sufficient as me.

His voice interrupted my thoughts: ‘No. Come on. Finish this before the ice-cream man comes round.’ He looked at his watch. He knew when my concentration was seeping out through my ears and toes, when he needed to push me on. He picked up the Karate pad again and struck up his pose in the middle of the turf.

I focused on the punch bag. I lowered my stance, as I’d seen him do. I brought my guard in to my cheekbones and I literally dug my heels in, which in boxing makes you vulnerable.

Karate I knew. It had been moulded into my muscle memory, my brain function; it was like a rod that reinforced my spine defining how I carried myself.

I practised Karate three times a week from the age of nine. That’s when I started taking it more seriously – I competed against boys and girls up to the age of twelve at a tournament and I was starting to prepare seriously for my black belt.  The other nights of the week I thrashed through a swimming pool, flicked and whooshed through a shuttlecock and splayed myself out in Goal Defence position at netball. I was OK at those other hobbies but I didn’t get half the respect from the other players as I did when on the mats. Respect was good – I liked that.  And I liked being able to apply my body as leverage.

I got hurt a few times. And the time it hurt the most stung double because of the great gaping rip in my pride. It was the naughty kid. The one with ADHD. His Mum dropped him off, with his money and his juice drink, for an hour and half of peace. He had lots of energy and aggression and not very much focus or technique. He was just wilding out.

He cracked me with a haymaker, right in the nose. I knew as soon as I was paired with him that he was going to hurt me. He was all coordinated unorthodoxy. I was all tentative poise. My hands, my feet, my legs were in the right place; my nose, regrettably wasn’t and before I knew it I was catching red droplets in my cupped palm and shuffling through misty eyes to the bathroom.

When I got there I let the tears fall out.

‘Is there anyone in there, love? Make sure you look around,’ Dad said.

‘Just me.’ I said.

‘OK, I’m coming in.’

‘No, don’t.’ But he did and I couldn’t stop the crying. As he held both sides of my face up to the fluorescent light and inspected the inside and bridge of my nose up close, I winced – partly though shame and partly through pain. Mostly shame.

‘It isn’t broken, love. You’re OK,’ he said and kissed me on my crown, getting up.

I wanted it to be broken. I wanted there to be a valid reason why (a) I was crying, and (b) I didn’t have to go straight back in and carry on sparring with the little fuckwit who had just embarrassed me in front of everyone. He was only a green built and I was on my way to black.

But, as Dad had just confirmed, there wasn’t a valid reason and I had to go back in. I stormed out of the toilet past my pops who stood with one foot outside the Ladies toilet and the other holding the door open whilst he cleaned the globules of blood that had collected on the rim of the wash basin.

‘Make sure you get him back.’ My Dad said in my direction.

I played it cool. I had straightened my hair and dried my face; I looked almost the same, except that my feet were twitching. He sensed the difference. Fuckwit Richard, I mean. Green belt, fuckwit Richard. It was as if he could smell the adrenaline overflowing from my torso and bleeding out to my extremities. And so he began goading me. It was like we were in the playground and I was trying to kiss him. A little ball of childish fury, I charged at him. I managed to grab his Gi at the shoulder and fix him to the spot for long enough to punch him in the gut. I felt him crumple and the wind get fixed in his throat. There were a few moments when I felt sorry because I knew I’d hurt him. But then he laughed. He looked straight into my eyes and laughed.

My teeth are clenched as I write this even now, twenty something years later.

Dad’s voice brought me back to the task at hand – karate not boxing. ‘No, stick to Karate.’

‘Yeah but I can box too,’ I said.

‘No! You can stick to Karate.’

‘Why won’t you teach me to box?’

‘Because you’re a beautiful little girl and boxing is not nice. Your face will get beaten up. Remember little Richard – when he punched you and almost broke your nose?’ Dad knew he was slapping me in the face with that little shit’s name, I’m convinced of it and it hit me twice as hard because for some reason I was already thinking of him. Greenbelt fuckwit Richard.

Dad knows me at a molecular level, so when he said it, he knew what he was doing. The mention of Richard and his cheap shot that left me crying made me want to tear-up with rage all over again. ‘In boxing, when you’re competing, that will happen all the time. And you won’t be able to be a model then, will ya?

Model. That’s what he said. As if that was the ideal career path for me.

Firstly, I had never wanted to be a model, though my Dad clearly did. Well, before I start my remonstrance, I’ll acknowledge that, he, like most parents, wanted me to take the path of least resistance to success. Secondly, my Dad was very biased. Bless him. To him I was – and still am – the most beautiful girl in the world. But. Well, don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with how I look, and this is making me feel incredibly awkward as I write. I think I just cringed. I’m far from model blessed. I’m something of a you look all right when you’ve got make-up on kind of blessed. You understand, I need not go on.

Thirdly, and most important of all, until that point I hadn’t actually realised I was a girl. I mean, I knew I was a girl.  Obviously. All the parts of my girl machine were all inventoried and correct. But until then, I had seen myself as a masculine feminine, an unlimited girl. That day I felt limits. Not my Dad’s limits. Society’s limits. He thought he was doing the right thing by not encouraging me to box because he thought I was awesome enough to become great at anything I put my mind to – even boxing – and that that was a problem for my future opportunities beyond becoming a boxer. He wanted me to use my brain and my leadership skills and even with that in mind, he thought he’d be doing me a disservice if he didn’t point out that society is more accepting of girls when they look pretty.

My Dad’s a feminist and to hear from him that the world is skewed against me and this the reason he wasn’t going to teach me to box, even though he made me the stubborn, independent, don’t tell me I can’t woman I am, made me furious.

I became a black belt. I beat James, Josh and Jack in the Maths triathlon. I played football

Twenty something years later I’m boxing with my husband in the back garden.

Parenting and dripping butties

She was a rum bugger, me Mam. Oh, she was!

 

I love it when me Nan’s stories start this way.

Got me to pinch some clothes from the Rag and Bone man and when he caught me, she slapped me good and proper in front of ’im and said: You better not let me find you doing that again! I was that shocked I couldn’t even cry, she adds with wide eyes.

Ha! A rum bugger my little granny. (That’s what we called my Nanna Joan’s sweet little old Mum. God rest her soul.)

 

So anyway, me Nan expresses her love through food – by emptying her pantry into our bellies and it’s from these little anecdotes she splashes into our dining table chats that I understand why.

 

D’ya want a cuppa tea? (Yes please.)

D’ya want a biscuit? (No thanks Nan.)

A piece of fruit? Go on, help yerself - those mandarins are lovely. Just try one. (OK, (after all, there are ‘best grandchild points’ to be won with fruit.))

A bag of Quavers? (No thanks Nan.)

I’m making a pan of broth – are you staying for some? (Always yes, even when running late.)

 

It’s because she had none. Food I mean. One meal a day at most. When she said meal, she meant ‘butties’. That’s sandwiches to everyone beyond Northern England. As in two slices of bread made a meal of by cutting them into four squares.

Ten kids in the house, we hadn’t eaten at all for a day and a half and our Mam pissed off on a coach trip to Blackpool! Just got on the coach outside our house, she did. Waving to us - smiling! Appy as Larry, she was. Ha! Bye Mam, yeah, have a lovely trip. We’ll just sort ourselves out!

 

What was yer one meal a day? I said.

Butties. Drippin’ butties, she replied.

 

Dripping butties.

Do you know what that is? I ask you. You there. Behind the screen.

Imagine…

Erm…

How will I put it…

Gruel.

And imagine that instead of oat slop it was the rendered arse cheeks of a bolting bovine.

Yummy.

Mad cow squelch.

 

Morals of the story:

1. Parenting wasn’t as big as it is now. (Nan’s moral of the story)

2. Be vegetarian. (Mine. But Nan can’t condone it. Unavailable for comment.)

Have you ever been to prison?

 

Have you ever been to prison?

Try to avoid it, if you can it.

It’s proper shit.

I’d be surprised if anyone enjoyed it there. Even repeat offenders aren’t there again because they like it, at a guess.

So I have a question: Why do we have prisons?

No, I get it – so real-life Boogieman Barry doesn’t rape and murder me as I sleep in my bed.

Turns out prison does a bloody good job of separating those expected to harm (because they’ve been found guilty of doing it before) from everyone else.

The prospect of going back there – as a prisoner this time – is something I think about frequently.

The experience of seeing my family member in there scared me. It scarred me too, I think. And though my criminal has landed right back there, I will not be joining him for a Saturday chinwag.

I think about prison more than I care to admit. Prison sucks. I don’t want to go there. But you never really know, do you?

When I heard what some prisoners had done, I thought, could I have done that? Yes, I probably could – with the right motivation. And I think that’s the scariest thing for me. You could catch me on a bad day, and before I know it I’m staring red-eyed at the single cot of my sin bin.

My point is: it can happen to anyone.

I’m also an idealist. When faced with thinking of an alternative, first I’m scuppered, and then I’m all like: let’s make everyone equal. 

Was that an eye roll? I felt it in my periphery. Fucking communist. Is that what I just heard you mumble under your breath, too?

But, and I’m serious now, this is a serious question: if we did a better job of equality, family, community, would prisons be as full? Would the current idea of prison need to exist?

And maybe the answer will still be yes. Maybe it won’t. What is freedom anyway, if so many people give it away so freely? Does it tell us something about the quality of our freedom in a free market society? Here she goes again, commi bastard. You definitely said it that time. I heard you.

But I mean, is there another way?

Is prison a monstrous tree growing out of soil doused with inequality (and not just economic inequality)? And if so, could prison grow into something else that better addresses said inequality?

I’m probably not talking about all prisons and all prisoners here, like I said there’s a reason we have them. But what if that reason has a different solution? We’ve probably done prison how we’ve done it for fucking ages. Could it be different?

Sorry, I started by saying I had a question but apparently that means somewhere between five and fifteen. I’ve probably got another fifty in my head as I type.

OK, so I’ve had an idea. What if, instead of being banged up in this shrine to inequality where people are likely to end up there again, what if two criminals are paired up? Ideally they’d be matched (like job share) – people who have similar personalities, similar skills but very different lifestyles, for examples. One from the country, one from city, or one who has accumulated wealth and one who committed a crime to secure wealth.

The share house arrest project, we’ll call it. You have to stay with that other person, you have to teach each other the skills you know and you’re responsible for the other getting out. (What if you have no skills? Tough shit, make one up.) You don’t get out until he does. You live with him for a period of time then he lives with you for a period of time. You both get home schooled too.

I’m an idealist I know but. But if the system’s broken, it’s worth brainstorming, right?

Fuck, I don’t know. I have a thought and a typewriter (not really, it’s a laptop). What do I know?

I’m grossly simplifying as I think about this, I know. But isn’t that what modelling is? Scaling down to make an idea or solution or system manageable?

There’s some bloke (he’s probably got a PhD. in criminology or some such and he probably wants to put me in prison right now so I can see what kind of animals live there so I can better assess my stupid presumptions).

And yet, in the interest of throwing ideas around here, I’m thinking the idea of prison as we know it might be out-dated. Really it’s a cage for savage animals isn’t it? When only some are savage humans.

Prison or job share? Job sharing seems more productive to me.

Either way prison sucks. Avoid it if you can.

Are we all addicted to certainty?

Probably. Most likely. I am, definitely.

There, I got it off my chest.

This addiction may have in part contributed to my fear or reluctance to write – in the real world where everyone and no one is watching.

See, without certainty, I don’t know if my efforts will be fruitful, do I? Will it be worth it?

I went to see a fortune teller. A tarot card reader. Actually, a medium, I think they like to be called.

Truth be known, I'm embarrassed to tell you.

Anyway, I’ve started now so I’ll try to get to my point with minimal discomfort.

Pam's her name. She and her waddling dog led me into her kitchen and invited me to sit at her table. The cards were there, laid on top of a purple embroidered scarf pretending to be a tablecloth. I loved how I felt warm when she looked at me. Her eyes said: you're gonna be alright, you are.

Pam isn’t a numerologist but she applied her numerology skills first to determine what kind of person I am. I think her summation of me was wrapped up in a familiar anecdote: when an argument gets heated and I’m not prepared for it, I can’t articulate my ideas in the moment under pressure and I explode because I can’t process my thoughts quick enough. Pretty accurate I would say.

She had me in the palm of her hand.

This was over a year ago. She said a number of things: that there’d be a big celebration in May (we got married), that my husband is in a period of transition and thinking about becoming a partner in a business venture. Amongst a lot of other things.

I think I know what you’re thinking. You’re smart, I can see that. You’re thinking: it’s a bit vague isn’t it? And yes, especially in my iteration of the session, some of the notions that held a glint of something but settled in amongst the kicked up dust.

But then she’d be so specific: you’ll get a new job, there’ll be a marginal pay rise, and you’ll get a company car with a car allowance. A car allowance!

Hmm.

What I couldn't answer my husband, Chris, (honestly) when he asked me why I’d visited Pam, I'll answer now. (I think I gave him some bullshit about being curious.) I went because I wanted old Pam to tell me that I was going to be a writer. I wanted it to be written in my stars. I wanted to know for certain that this is the path I needed to take.

Currently I’m rummaging around in the dirt, trying to find golden nuggets, pretty shells, bones even; burying some words in little rabbit holes for future treasure hunts, polishing others I find strewn or abandoned along the way.

Some days it’s easy and I love it.  Others it’s like snatching at a Rubix cube, where I twist and wrangle different coloured words together until the matching ones appear in a flush – it takes longer than I want but I get there.

I’m all in now though. If down this long dirt track it doesn’t feel right, I’ll need to reassess and maybe when I get to the next fork in the road I’ll keep going straight.

What I know now is that nobody – not even wise old Pam – can tell you whether you’re going to be a writer or not. If you want it, get it. If you don’t, ‘home James and don’t spare the horses’.

Pam, love, you've been great, but I don't need you any more. Hugs.

I think I’ll just try this thing and see where I get to.
 
Ps. I'll write a short story about the reason I still hold on to something of a belief in psychic power. If it's any good I'll put it up here (on my stories page: www.aimeecolemanwrites.com/stories).

Whom do you write like? You have to know to be viable.

Do you know whom you write like? Have you thought about it?

Okay. I’m going to lead you down a garden path now. You can think about those questions as we walk.

Feel it – the dew from that leaf as it brushes the back of your hand, the crunch of the shale underneath your shoes.

It’s okay, I’ll hold your hand. I’ll show you.

It feels weird doesn’t it, holding my hand? You don’t even know me yet.

But you will if you make it to the end of this journey.

I apologise; my palms are clammy. I’m nervous.

Imagine your literary heroes’ faces have all been chiselled from stone and the path I’m leading you down is lined with these sculptures – your favourites and some others too. Others that haven’t made the shortlist but you like them, you’ve read some of their stories twice but they’re not the ones. The ones you look up to, aspire to be, the ones you use as saltshakers to sprinkle the magic into your work.

Who are they though? Tell me. I don’t know them like you do. What do they stand for? Why do you try to emulate them? What do you borrow from them? Their long sentences? Their vernacular? Their genre? Their style? Their world?

See, I did a writing course recently and when we talked through the process of getting published, our course lead asked us which author our work was most like. I remember thinking: Fuck, I don’t know – I’m my own special kind of mediocre. She told us how important it is to know whose your work is like and include that in the pitch so the publisher can see that your work is viable.

Who is that for you? Pick her from this pathway lined with your idols, feel the cold stone beneath your hands, cup her cheek. It’s not their real face, only an effigy, but say thanks if you wish.

As we carry on walking down this path, your heroes lined up on the right, mine to the left, I can see you’re wondering who I’m going to select. How they’ve influenced my writing, though as I run my hand along their heads I can almost imagine them crumbling – rejecting my touch – or coming to life to take a bite out of my hand.

You can feel my palms and fingers getting sweaty, can’t you? It’s making you nervous too, isn’t it? You already know it’s someone too big for me, too incomparable. It’s that moment at the karaoke when the lady with the little lungs and the lovely voice takes on Adele.

I stop now in front of him and you see his face. I’m looking at him, not you, and yet I can almost feel your eyes cartwheel three hundred and sixty degrees. You laugh.

It’s Charles Dickens. It can’t be. Then you look into my face and you see that I’m serious and you go silent.

I can explain, I say.

Please, you say. Your eyes are kind.

He’s just someone who has influenced me. I write literary fiction. I write about the under class, the victims of capitalism.

OK, you say, and you lead me away to the next.

It’s not long before I stop again. You see her face now and you can’t decide if this is one is funnier. It’s serial bestseller, Martina Cole.

She writes about the criminal underworld. She writes commercial fiction but she writes about gangsters and low lives and underground heroes fighting it out, I offer defensively.

Okay, where to from here? I would really like to just stop. I’m just not sure I can take you any further. I look at my watch, hoping you might take your cue to leave.

You don’t and I continue to the end of the line.

What do you know about British Grime? I ask.

You look at me like this is a trick question, or like it’s a joke you have no hope of guessing.

Grime is a genre of rap specific to the UK. Bugzy Malone is an artist who has put Manchester on the map. The pictures he paints take place in my landscape. He’s from my world, too.

You nod with your lips tight together.

This question has touched a nerve with us both. It’s addressed every insecurity we have as writers. It’s stripped us naked – exposed who we are and who we want to be. Oh God. The shame. But why not be inspired by the best, the greats? We’ve got a lot to learn, that’s a given. With each step we become closer to those who inspire us. We might never get to be anywhere near as good but at least we’re trying.

I must leave you now. I’ll leave you with the link, the pathway to my short story: Never too young to Die. [ www.aimeecolemanwrites/stories ]

You may not see even a trace of a Dickens, a Cole or a Bugzy Malone, not a speck of their dust in my words. But you’ll see me. All bright eyed with fear and wanting.

I don’t know which is more terrifying – if you don't see any of them or all of me.

If you like it, don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of this page.

***

Aimee Coleman is a writer of no frills literary fiction – and that’s just one of the contradictions she loves to play with.  She’s a staunch supporter of the underdog and a self-styled dog with a bone.

Compromise and conviction

People say.

People say: do exactly what you two want – it’s your wedding day.

Don’t. Compromise instead.

We did exactly what felt right to us. Wholly unpolished. Almost ad hoc. We had a brilliant day. Perfectly imperfect, just how we like it.

So don’t do what we did. Compromise instead.

Our relationship with our Dad is stretched to the point where a year later, we’re on a crag up high and the line is threatening to snap. Like a faulty tendon, we’re all trying to get the circulation going again with blood injections from the heart, but it’s thin and worn and who knows whether it can regain the structural integrity it once had.

But that's not what this is about.

It's about compromise.

We got married in Edinburgh. I’d never been there. We organised it from Melbourne, Australia. 

Tuesday 31st May 2016.

On the morning of the wedding, the sun spilled around my husband-to-be (as if one more sign from the universe saying this is the one). We sat laughing over breakfast about how drunk our parents were the night before – at the impromptu drinks that seemed to emerge out of the cobblestones.

His calm infused me; I took it in with my cold freshly squeezed orange juice and hot steaming cup of tea.

Breakfast at seven. Lunch for immediate family, grandparents and best friends at twelve. Ceremony at three. Party at seven. Everything in between was up to you.

It was no frills in the most beautiful way. A registry office – albeit a 19th century historic hall - then our family and friends entertained themselves for a few hours until the party in an underground speak-easy  “the caves” where the undesirables of 18th Century Edinburgh used to hang out – prostitutes, wheelers and dealers, shifters of contraband.

No frills.

Homemade casserole (bit too much potato and not enough beef), bread and butter (too cold and hard to spread), cake, music and dancing. With a unilateral mandate on the music that we like: hip-hop, dance, and garage. My favourite part of the night was an aunty trying out her new salsa moves to DMX.

Bring your own self to every situation.  Just like we were doing.

Conviction.

We relied on everyone contributing their whole selves to our day – to get out of it what they wanted. Our conviction: we, above everyone else, would enjoy this day of celebration of our nearly twelve years together. We’d got each other through the toughest times as the toughest team. We were promising each other that day that we would do that for each other, ongoing. Above all else.

Our hope was that everyone enjoyed the day. But they didn’t. We can’t do anything about that now; and we’re dealing with the consequences.

Compromise?

The question we naturally come back to is this: would we have done it differently knowing what we know now?

The answer to both is no. And that’s conviction.

We decided what we wanted – an imperfect and impromptu experience – and we committed to that. There are rarely such days when you get to be wholly selfish, only partially prepared, and without doubt.

On reflection, this is a learning I’ll take through life and encourage others to think about. Because it’s not just about a wedding day; it’s about career decisions, the way you present yourself to your friends and family, your points of view and what you stand for. Set out to please yourself and your values will ensure your conviction comes from a good place. You can’t and shouldn’t try to please everyone.

There will always be those who don’t like it.

Compromise. Some of the time. Most of the time. All day every day. Whatever you think. Whatever feels right for you, for your team, for those you serve.

We always compromise. We do that for each other. But compromise where compromise doesn’t compromise us, our values, and what we want.

 

© Aimee Coleman 2017

The world painted by you

For Chris

I thought I’d write you a letter,

All the words that paint you,

Shine on you,

Make you who you are,

And what you mean to me,

What you are to me,

Who, where, when you’ve been to me.

 

But it’s the words that wear you,

That get their meaning from you,

For me.

 

Words paint pictures and you paint words.

You paint stories.

 

Lovely, long, bright-light stories,

Blurry like when you remember,

Summer holidays through sandy, salty,

Too blue, too green eyes.

Through fish-and-chips-with-salt-and-vinegar flavoured lips.

Never rain, but rain has passed.

 

You’re me.

You’re the memory of me,

At my happiest moments.

Little me, medium me, big me.

Me now.

You now.

 

You were there.

You’ve always been there.

Guiding me, coaching me, making me better.

More determined, more active, more expectant of people.

Of life,

Of things to come.

 

Less tense, less worried, less scared of shoulda-woulda-coulda beens

 

Of time.

 

So instead I’m writing you a poem.

Of words that make pictures,

Pictures of you.

Pictures of orange, yellow, blue,

Of warm and hot,

Of just baked bread brimming with butter,

Of caramel scented, cup-of-tea-with-one-sugar tasted,

Silky sweet postcards,

Of us together.

 

When our faces were nearly new,

White like porcelain, bronze like gingerbread.

When your hair was fuzzy,

When it was flicked with Vanilla moose.

 

When Samson met Delilah,

And back again.

Back to the flick.

Full circle.

 

And so it goes,

More to come,

Little yous,

Little mes,

Don’t be scared.

I’ll be there,

So will you,

Time is time.

No fear.

Apprentice wanted

I have never been the best at anything.

Not ever.

Never.

 

I have grit.

Stalagmites, stalactites,

Great limestone caves of it,

Resilience.

One dark smoking abyss.

 

What I can offer you is a team,

A one-woman advocate,

And competitor.

 

Pull your weight,

Drag your fists,

Wash the dishes.

 

I’m the team.

I give you that.

Have you heard that saying: Jack-of-all-trades, master of none?

That’s me: I’m Jill.

 

So I know.

 

Do you need me?

I don’t need you.

You don't need me either.

But you can join me if you like.

 

Experts need not apply.

 

You and I.

Equal.

Grateful.

Sama-sama.

 

I need flames.

Cracking, smarting, skin liquefying,

Shame.

 

You feel it? The water?

 

Polar, though.

What can you give me that I can’t give you?

 

Either way, get to.

 

Have you taken a slap,

A gut-punch,

And a driving drop kick?

 

Have you been ever-glorious?

Fists smashing to the heavens,

Wings of flying sweat?

Alone in the amphitheatre’s white circle.

Hand up, it’s you.

Only you.

 

No-one else?

 

Did you rub her face in the dog shit on the way?

 

Have your eyes been burned by the stench of it?

 

Always won?

I’m not interested.

 

I lose,

Every day,

All the time,

Always.

 

Are you a loser, too?

 

Hoping.

I’ve been knocked out,

Tooth-chipped,

Nose cragged out to a ledge,

And ugly.

Bloody.

Left for fucking dead.

More than once.

 

Twice and thrice.

Hundreds.

 

But I’m a worker,

A carrier,

A bell ringer,

A marathon runner,

 

In life. (Bad knees.)

 

Sprinting is for innocents.

Not an old mouse,

Mice.

Edging,

Scurrying, tracking, running,

Trading the cheese.

 

Bang.

 

I caught you.

Not very ladylike,

Snot slipping down the slide,

Between the point of the nose,

And the pinch of the lip.

Pooling there, sticky,

Icky.

Sorry,

For itself,

Angry for itself.

 

Self. Self. Self.

 

Teeth bared, all gums and gnarly stones.

Growling.

Grrrrrrr.

They can’t take it.

Can they fuck.

 

Your blood is thin,

Your heart-beat weak.

Pip-squeak.

 

There’s nothing we can do together.

 

Maybe you’re just not ready yet.

Done it all.

Except be bad,

At it all.

 

Come back to me then.

In ruins, hat out, no pennies.

Write something. Chop-chop.

A lovely chat I just had with myself...

Write something.

Erm...

What about that cat?

The cat. The cat. The cat... Erm. The cat sat on the motherfucking mat. Ugh! 

Nice. Classy. Well done. If I haven’t told you before, you’re a grrrreat writer. You’ll be published in no time.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

They can't help. Why don’t you write about what you’re thinking?

You're what I'm thinking! And you won't hush yer mouth. Oh God, there’s a giant gaping hole where my brain used to be.

It’s fucked off on holiday, hasn’t it?

Yep and left you - the dregs - behind. Thanks for your support, as always.

You’ve been sat here for twenty minutes.

Stop timing me. Christ!

Well you need telling. Otherwise you’ll sit on yer arse all day staring at those leaves twitching. Thinking about whether you can make those leaves shiver into something beautiful and poetic. Maybe a story might grow out of one of those cute little buds there.

Apparently I can’t.

No. You can’t.

I’m going to make some beans on toast.

Are you joking?

No, I need brain food.

You need to keep your arse squished against that spongey chair cushion. Looks like its melted a bit though. Yer arse that is. You might wanna take control of that. Not now. But probably tomorrow.

I’m a shit writer and I’m fat - is that what you’re saying?

Don’t be stupid. Actually, don’t be stupider. You’re not fat, you’ve just put on a kilo or five. Better to be proactive about these things.

If you don’t leave me alone, I might cry.

Emotion. Good. Then you might be able to write something worth reading.

Fuck you.

Well actually, it’s fuck you whichever way you look at it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                       By Aimee Coleman © 2017