The Writers Cafe Review Series – Introduction

20180522_161312One of the many reasons I have decided to pursue a career as a writer, is because it gives me the freedom to work from home. If you have read my previous posts, you will know that my mental and physical health, continues to prevent me from being able to work. At least in the conventional sense of the 9 to 5 workplace environment.

Writers, so the stereotype goes, are not the most sociable of people. It’s another one of the reasons I am attracted to it I guess! However, I am aware that whilst freelance writing it is a fantastic solution to my work problem, I must be careful not to isolate myself too much. I still need to make sure I challenge my anxiety and not succumb to the urge to hibernate in my pyjamas.

Therefore, I am on a mission to look for nice cafes, where I can sit and write. Even if it’s just getting out for an hour a day.  This will also help me to become reacquainted with Eastbourne. Despite being here for almost 8 months now, I haven’t really explored much.

To keep me motivated, I am going to turn this into another writing exercise and create a ‘Writers Café’ review series. Every time I find a place that I really enjoy writing in, I will post a review here. Of course, this will be very subjective. What makes a perfect writing spot for me won’t necessarily be the same for others. In thinking about what makes a good writing spot for me, I’ve defined the following things as important.

  • Quality of my favourite hot drinks – Flat white with soy or oat milk / Green Tea
  • Seating – comfortability, space, plug sockets, outside space
  • Friendliness of staff
  • Ambience
  • Ethos – independent or chain
  • Noise – music or no music
  • Toilet – ease of access, gender neutral – (very important to me for my trans siblings)
  • Food choice and price

This may well change as time goes on and I chalk up a few reviews. It’s a work in progress, like all good things in life! I will update soon with my first review!

 

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Practising In Public

P-S-LogoOne of the main reasons I have put off sending any writing of mine out to publishers is because I thought I should wait until I was a better writer. I am my own worst critic, being a perfectionist comes as naturally to me as breathing. The trouble is I am never good enough, I struggle with this continually. I always set the bar way too high and end up knocking my chin on it. Then I just give up even trying to jump.

I worry about being wrong about my ability.  I think I write well, but what if, like those people on Britain’s Got Talent who are so utterly convinced that their playing of the triangle is legendary, I’m actually completely off tune and not at all entertaining? I worry that my spelling and grammar isn’t as good as it could be. I worry that I just haven’t got what it takes.

I could spend years waiting until I am ready. I could do a writing course, and once I am sure I have a flawless grasp of the English language and understand everything there is to know about writing, then I can begin to feel worthy of showing my writing to publishers. However, thanks to Jeff Goins, I realise that this is the least helpful way to go about things. In his book, ‘You are a writer so start acting like one’ he talks about practising in public. Although learning more about the skill of writing is a valid thing, more importantly, I must put my words in public. Receiving honest feedback and criticism is what will help me to improve.

My practising in public has started with submitting short stories to magazines. I have committed to sending out a short story to a magazine at least every couple of weeks. I sent out my first story a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had a reply to say, ‘thank you but it’s a no this time but do keep us in mind’. I wasn’t expecting success on my first attempt so that no didn’t sting as much as I feared it might. I have now submitted the same story to a different magazine and am waiting for a response. My second story will go out on Monday. I will just keep doing this, writing, and practising in public. This formula will work! It just feels so good to be submitting and to know that my writing is out there, rather than hidden inside my computer hard-drive!

Taking The First Step Into Writing As A Career

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Having declared myself to be a writer, I now need to develop this into a business which will allow me to write for a living. Currently, I am not quite sure what that will look like. However, it helps me to remember that I have a lot of experience. Although deciding that I am a writer has taken a long time, being a writer, I realize now, has been ongoing since childhood. In school my strongest subject was English. I loved writing stories, my Teachers often remarked on the imagination of my writing. There was even an incident where my Dad was called into school, as I had described in blood-curdling detail how my parents were killed in a shipwreck. It seems when a ten-year-old writes, “My Dad’s flesh was torn from his body as it was hurled against the jagged rocks,” is a bit of a red flag to a school Teacher.

I’ve also kept detailed journals since I was very young.  I loved writing about my life, about my feelings and reflecting on the world around me, and I still do.  My YouTube channel and my Blog writing, are also not the first time I’ve shared creatively about my life on a public forum. I began in my early twenties, on My Space, that wonderful retro social media platform where all the cool kids hung out, before Zuckerberg’s empire took over.  There, I shared poems and short pieces about living with mental health.

I have always secretly dreamt of having a book published, and indeed started many yet never finished. Over the last few years, I have had lots of chance encounters with writers, who have encouraged me to write. I feel like the universe has been telling me for a very long time that this is my path. I have listened, but I haven’t believed it. I haven’t believed in my ability and more importantly, I realize now, I was waiting to become a writer, rather than declaring myself to be one

I am still marveling at the series of events which have brought me to this point of realization. I greatly thank the friend who emailed me the link to an LGBTQ writing competition. It was in writing a short story for that purpose which then set off a chain of events and here I am, declaring myself to be a writer.

Where I go from here I am not entirely sure, but, at least I now know my path. As long as I keep writing, I am a writer and that is the most important thing.  The places my writing goes to, I believe, will evolve naturally as I find my voice.  Whatever the outcome of the story competition, the seemingly simple act of entering, has burst open the backlogged dam of creation and beautiful crystal-clear water is, at last, running free!

I Am A Writer – The Ahhh Moment

 

2018-bright-celebrate-769525.jpgIf you are familiar with me across all my other social media platforms, then you may have noticed some changes happening. I’ve been fiddling about with header images, taglines, personal bio’s and generally spamming your news-feed with all these changes (sorry about that!). Lots of you have been asking, “What’s going on?”

Grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit and let me tell you.

I have recently experienced one of those glorious moments where, after months of feeling so utterly terrible, a flash of clarity suddenly appears. I love it when these arrive, it’s like having a thought orgasm, it fills you with a rush of, “Ahhhhhhh!” and, “Oh God!” Suddenly everything is warm and fuzzy, and you are pregnant with ideas.

This has been a long time coming, I have been stuck for months and thanks to this beautiful baby epiphany, the way forward is beginning to make sense.

Since I entered recovery from addiction seven years ago, my life has changed beyond all recognition. Once clean and sober, I was able to look beneath the surface, to the cause of a lifetime of mental health issues. This allowed me to realize I was transgender and to begin gender transition. It also enabled me to learn to better manage my mental health.

This incredible internal change, awoke a passion to pass it on to others. If I could come from such a dark place, then I knew others could too. I wanted to make a difference, to support and inspire people to find their own path to recovery, whatever that might be.

The most logical way to make a living doing this seemed to be by becoming a therapist. I hadn’t been able to work for several years, due to my severe mental health issues. I needed to start slowly, to not jeopardize my recovery. I decided to begin a psychology degree with the Open University. Alongside, I could gain experience by volunteering as a youth worker and support worker. This would allow me the flexibility I needed, to be able to work on my recovery and undergo gender transition.

Around the same time, I decided to create a YouTube channel, to share the process of my gender transition in a video diary. The channel evolved very quickly to include not only my transition but also my recovery from addiction and poor mental health.

Surprisingly, lots of people began to watch my videos and interact with me. People left comments about how inspiring my videos were, and how much difference they made to their lives. Before long, my subscriber count grew into the thousands. I suddenly found myself doing exactly what I hoped to do, to make a difference, to inspire others to find their own courage to change. YouTube became my passion. I have wished so much that I could do it full time as my main career but making a living from being a YouTuber is rare. I also faced the additional issue that pursuing a therapy practice would mean giving up sharing via YouTube. It would not be ethical to have my personal life online for clients to find.

As I get closer to my graduation next year, I find myself incredibly torn about what to do. The career I originally wanted, is what I am already doing via YouTube. It seems ridiculous that I will have to give up doing what I love in order to make a living. But I have to make a living. Over the last couple of years, I have been mulling over options to find a way forward. One idea has been to use my psychology degree to move into research rather than practice, where I will still be able to make a difference. Importantly, I would be able to continue the work I do via YouTube.

I have also been writing. After being told by many people that I should write a book, I finally began putting my memoir together. I hoped that perhaps having a book published may be a chance for a career break of some kind, allowing me to make a living from YouTube.

However, nothing is happening in any of the above-mentioned areas. I have looked at a few post-degree research options and as yet do not feel inspired. I have several thousand words of a memoir but just cannot seem to put them together properly. I haven’t progressed any further towards paid work, my mental health and transition surgeries keep preventing me from doing so.

My mental health is currently a rather big issue. Unsurprisingly, as the last 12 months have been challenging on many levels. I am beginning to realize though, that this current mental health crisis could actually be a blessing in disguise. It has awoken me to some truths which, as is the nature of sudden truths, I can’t believe I didn’t realize before. The counsellor I am seeing pointed out to me that, in the grand scheme of things, seven years is not a very long time. I’ve put this huge goal on myself to get clean and sober, mentally well, fully transitioned and qualified as a practicing therapist in those seven years. It’s a bit of a big ask, isn’t it!

Looking at this in a new light, I now realize why I still haven’t managed to progress from voluntary work into paid work. Seven years is not long enough to develop the mental and emotional stability needed to practice. I need longer. However, I’m 44 now. If I keep waiting to be well enough to practice, I’ll be retired before I embark! I’ve been doing a lot of honest reflection, and as much as it hurts to do this, it’s time to say out loud that I am not able to pursue a career as a therapist.

In addition to my counsellor’s comments, a few other chance events helped me to suddenly see the light. A friend sent me a link to a writing competition, calling for submissions on the theme of pride. At the time I saw it more of a way to motivate myself to write, as I was struggling with my memoir writing.  Having not written a fictional short story for a number of years, I sought out a book to help me. I picked up, The Easy Way to Write Short Stories That Sell’ by Rob Parnell. It turned out to not only be a book about short story writing but also about how to get yourself into the mindset of a writer. Importantly, this book made me realize that I could actually make a living from writing.

Having really enjoyed the mindset exercises to develop oneself as a writer, I looked for a similar book. I found, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’ by Jeff Goins. This book is fantastic and has changed everything for me. The part which particularly resonated was about building a platform. Thanks to this book, for the first time, I can see how my YouTube channel and my writing can work together.

I feel like someone has just turned on a light and I can finally see a way forward. The reason I have been repeatedly declaring I am writing yet not making progress is not that I wasn’t sincere. I really did mean it, every time I said it. The trouble is I’ve been viewing writing and creating videos as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. It felt like a big dream and I should just wake up, sort myself out and get a real job, as I’m not going to make it as a writer and creator. You see the issue wasn’t that I didn’t mean it but rather that I didn’t believe it.

Isn’t it strange that when things make sense its so obvious that we feel silly even saying it because it is so obvious!

So, what has changed? Well, everything really. I am shelving the therapist path. I shall still finish my degree, I love the topic of psychology but for now, my path lies elsewhere. Now I’ve said that out loud I can fully concentrate on writing. The wonderful thing is that I can start now. I don’t have to wait to be well, writing can be worked around my mental health needs. I realize now that I can make a huge difference, not only with my memoir but also with short stories around the themes I am passionate about, change, recovery, gender, and sexuality. I’m pursuing all different kinds of writing and I am excited. My YouTube channel now feels like it has a proper place and purpose. I’m also seeing a fresh start for this WordPress site of mine too, once stagnant, now it can contain my writing process and progress, to supplement my YouTube updates.

This is why you have been seeing so many changes in all my social media platforms. I’ve been refocusing them, away from support work and towards writing and creating, streamlining them and tying them all together. At last, it feels like I have a direction.

I am a writer. I am a writer. I AM A WRITER. (Thank you Jeff).

I am incredibly excited to share this next phase of development with you all!

Much love and light

Finn

 

 

#JuJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 13th – ‘Hospital’

This blog entry takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan

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Todays prompt is highly appropriate for me as I am currently sat in hospital, wearing my rather fetching open backed gown, accessorised with compression stockings and super sexy paper pants. Today, as long as all goes well, will be the final stage in my gender affirmation surgery journey.

I find myself to be very emotionally reflective , which isn’t surprising really as today marks the possible completion of a journey that at one time I thought I could not find the courage to face. It seems unbelievable that almost five years has passed since I came out publically as transgender and began living as the man I knew myself to be.

Perspective is a funny thing, time moved so painfully slow in early days of my transition, the wait for assessments and access to treatment was a hugely long and tedious haul. At times I felt I couldn’t breathe, the focus it took to remain patient and mentally well was exhausting and overwhelming. However, once given the go ahead for hormones and then surgery, time began spilling through my fingers like grains of sand and I now look back on my second puberty and my growth into manhood with nostalgia.

The same skewed perspective exists for me in attending hospitals. For most people, the hospital is a place of fear and dread, but for me the very opposite is true. Whilst I am of course nervous about the procedure itself and not looking forward to yet another recovery of which this will be my fourth, the outcome for me is one I am very excited for.

With every hospital admittance, another aspect of my true self is revealed and a new sense of freedom is born. For me, hospitals are a time portal into a new, brighter and more comfortable world. Its just a little painful walking through the door.

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#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 8th – ‘Mongrel’

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan

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The word Mongrel immediately brings to mind the song by Baha Men, ‘who let the dogs out’, especially the line, “come back you flea infested mongrel”. That’s the association with the word ‘mongrel’ I suppose isn’t it? As something impure, unclean, tainted or ‘less than’. I can remember as a child having discussion about a dog and being told it was a mongrel. I remember feeling that to me, a mongrel sounded far better than a pure breed. A mongrel felt ‘on my level’, authentic, relatable.

Looking at the dictionary definition, mongrel is defined as “a dog of no definable type or breed”,any animal resulting from the crossing of different breeds or types” or “a person of mixed descent” [offensive term]

Why does crossing breeds or having no definable breed have such negative connotations? Is this just my perception of the word mongrel or is its negativity a common assumption? Maybe my perceptions of the word speak more about myself and my moral standpoint than the word itself.

I am a person who does not like to follow the herd, although that’s not always been entirely true. As a child I felt pushed away from the herd as I didn’t fit, therefore I was  angry and resentful of the herd, I so desperately wanted to fit but I simply could not, no matter how hard I tried. Maybe this is where my initial sense of relation with the word mongrel comes from; I could empathise with the dogs labelled as such. In growing up, I have learnt to embrace living outside the herd and now to me, having no definable type and being a cross of different types is something I embrace.

My gender is male and my body has been changed to reflect that, but my biology will always show the female history, I will be forever a mix; I cannot ever be a pure breed. The closest I can get to being a “definable type” is in being transgender but I don’t relate to that ‘type’. I use it for ease in explaining my situation but I choose to define myself differently, I am a man with a trans history. Transition is the state of moving from one thing to something else and as such, gender wise I have never moved, I have always been male. Physically I have moved my body has changed from looking female to now, approaching my final surgery, looking completely male. Once this surgery is complete I will, for want of a better word, be “post transition” .Therefore to me, I am a man with a trans history.

However you look at it I am a mix, a crossing of types. I am a man but on digging below the surface you will see that I have no truly definable type, I am a mongrel through and through. Writing this makes me smile; I have always related and felt love for mongrels, now I understand why. Who wants to follow the herd anyway? What is so special about being of one definable type? I actually think that’s very limiting and to be frank, rather dull!

Here’s’ to all the mongrels out there, WOOF!

 

#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 3rd – ‘Warning’

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan 

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I, and others that know me, used to joke that I should come with a warning label. I thought this was an amusing and lovingly assigned description of my character but in truth it was because I was a complete pain in the neck and at the end of my drinking days there was nothing amusing about me at all.

Today I am unrecognisable as that person, when people describe me now; ‘warning’ is the last label I would be assigned. People remark on my calm nature, yes I can be very excitable and hyper, the new born child in me is very evident, but I am a person in control of myself and a person you can trust yourself to be safe around. I still find this an astonishing change in just six short years of mental health and addiction recovery.

In order to develop this calmer nature, I have had to create a robust and sensitive early warning system, an inner lighthouse to alert me when a storm is arriving or when the sea may threaten to thrash me towards the jagged rocks of mental illness. I have had to become acutely aware of the various things that threaten my wellness and very good at noticing the early warning signs and to this affect, the inner lighthouse will change from shades of yellow through to amber and red depending on the threat of the situation

The last month or so I have been inundated with warning signs, my inner lighthouse had been brightly lit  as a solid amber, but due to Christmas obligations, I haven’t had much choice other than to just ride the waves as safely as I can with mindfulness. However, today the lighthouse switched on to full red warning alert as I attended my medical assessment for my sickness benefit.

Attending these assessments, as anyone who’s had them will attest, is never easy, but then add being transgender into the mix and the whole thing turns into a cringe making, anger inducing mess. I sat there bewildered as the assessor first got confused that I was a man about to change to living as a woman. After correcting him and after he had picked his jaw back up from the desk he then remarked that I made for, “a very convincing transition” and that he, “had seen other people who were not as convincing and I must be very pleased”, He went on to then ask me if I would like to be referred to as he.

Wow, warning light on full flashing red mode, sirens, bells, whistles, the whole shebang.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to sob, I wanted to just fall on the floor in a heap, curl up into the foetal position and let my whole body convulse with reckless emotional abandon, but I can’t cry, I just don’t, it doesn’t come out and I am not one to indulge in dramatic emotional displays, at least I am not today but six years ago I may well have done.  I’ve had enough at the moment, Christmas has been incredibly tough being my first one single after a really messy breakup, add to the mix having to sit with a total stranger and explain my entire mental health history, my entire addiction history and then intimate details of my dysphoria and gender transition, all crammed into less than 40mins, to someone that had the tact and sensitivity of an array of hedgehogs.

However, the painfully crafted warning system served me well, one of the skills I have learnt in recovery is knowing which battles to pick and this one just wasn’t worth it. I spend a lot of my time educating people and this chap needed it but today had to be about first things first, my mental health, and so I  took a deep breath, answered as politely as I could and just got through it.

Thank goodness for my inner lighthouse and its warning signs, for lighting the way so that I can choose the path of least resistance and just make sure I kept myself safe. Now though,i t’s time to drop anchor, hunker down for a while and wait for the storm to pass.