I used to think my softness was a weakness.
That it stopped me climbing the ladder
to the mythical treasure trove of wealth and happiness
that awaits those who dare adventure to those dizzying heights
If I could grow a thicker skin,
Harden my heart,
Then I could make it to the top
and leave everyone else behind.
How wrong I was to wish my softness away
It could be my superpower (if I let it).
It is the lightness I need to move among things
without shaping them.
To hear the landscape speak of its ancientness
and feel the pine scented breeze move through me
blurring my edges into the sunny fields.
Is it the slowness I need
to break from my task
and find my son watching me, grinning
hands above head,
toe curled against the softest of thigh flesh.
Reminding me to gather him up.
It is the openness I need
to fill my days with brief conversations,
so that I am rarely lonely
“I lived in Rhodesia for 35 years with my husband
I moved here last year
Even when it’s sunny I feel the cold”
I sense the weight of her grief
and pause with her, to remember
the sensation of the African sun in her bones.
It is the kindness I need
to learn before I judge.
To quell the fires of my son’s tired anger
with love or a story
(even when I too am weary and cross).
How wrong I was to wish my softness away
It could be my superpower (if I let it).
I don’t want it to end. This burgeoning June.
There are poppies. Everywhere. In gardens and on wild, untended street corners.
Rose bushes bend double under the weight of their flowers. Swallows dip and soar.
Dogs bark. Mowers hum. Peas blossom.
Long evenings of play end in baths to clean strawberry stained fingers and soil caked feet
Then we collapse onto a sun warmed bed and watch the blind flap gently, flooding the room with dusky, golden light
We return home tomorrow after three weeks of being nomads. It doesn't really look like home and we don't have a proper bathroom or kitchen but I can bake bread again and we can sleep in our own bed. As I get older its the small things, seemingly ordinary things, that bring me the most joy.
'If you want a golden rule that will fit ... the true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life" William Morris
I went to boarding school when I was sixteen.
It seems like an odd choice looking back. Closing yourself off from the real world just as you're about to gain some real freedom, opting for a really full, rigid timetable (including Saturday school) when I could have left school altogether if I wanted.
And it seems REALLY odd, perhaps hypocritical, given my passionately held left wing values**. But... back then I wanted to go. Desperately. I blame Enid Blyton.
You see it all began when I read Mallory Towers, I was probably 7 or 8 and I fell head over heels in love with the idea of it all. The names, the Englishness, the adventures, the monogrammed trunks full of tuck, the jolly hockey sticks enthusiasm of the girls. In the last year of Primary School, when decisions were being made about next steps, I asked if I could go. My parents considered my request but said no, I was too young, if I still wanted to go when I was 16 then I could.
After five years at high school my desire did not wane. If anything it increased because my sister went to a mixed (gasp!) school in Shropshire that took boarders. So in the summer of 1997 I took two exams, aced two interviews and secured an English scholarship.
That September, when we drove through the big iron gates and the beautiful red brick building came into view, I remember feeling like the life I had imagined for myself was finally becoming a reality. (I should point out that this 'life' was largely based on books I had read, many of which were set 50 - 200 years before I was born, with Jilly Cooper's Imogen * thrown in for a bit of 'modernity'. It seems quite remarkable that I even discovered feminism or socialism for that matter but somehow I did)
Boarding school was everything I hoped it would be and more. The beautiful building, the grounds, the 24 hour hanging out with friends, the falling in love, the weird and ancient traditions, the busy, rigorous lifestyle, the sport, the fun. Nothing disappointed. Not on thing. It remains one of the happiest periods of my life so far.
I settled in to my new life like a proverbial duck and made lots of lovely new friends, including Tim (who we also called Fish, although for the life of me I cannot remember why). Tim was cool because unlike most of us he wasn't trying. He liked the music he liked because he liked it. He was clever but didn't pretend he wasn't. He was ok with being into history and biology and studying hard. He was interested in loads of things - this might have been because he was a day boy so went home every night to enjoy life outside the perimeters of the school grounds. This meant the subject of our conversations extended beyond the usual who was going out with who and who had broken up and where we were going to go on our next weekend of freedom. That said, we spent a lot of time in tuck shop together, indulging a shared passion for sweets and messing about. I remember one summer afternoon we invented a game called 'sling the ling', which basically involved throwing a dustbin lid as far as you could across the terraces. This occupied us for several hours. We were seventeen.
Tim was kind and clever and very funny. I loved him all the more because we were never romantically attached and full disclosure, this makes Tim quite a unique figure in the male population of Ellesmere College class of '99.
When we left school we wrote to each other fairly regularly for a while, it's funny to think that email was only just a thing, I still have on of Tim's letters including a detailed drawing of a sweet shop he had visited and thought I might like. But then after a while we just sort of lost touch. I mean obviously we're friends on Facebook but I haven't actually seen Tim for well over a decade.
Back in April I found Tim on Instagram and sent a message. We had a little conversation. I just reviewed it and it's an extremely revealing conversation if you want to determine what stage of life we are at. I talked about where I might plant my peas and Tim was thrilled to have discovered the Instagram messaging feature.
Anyway. Several messages and many emojis later, Tim asked if I would be up for doing a commission for his parents joint 70th birthday celebration. Which of course I was. This is the finished illustration.
This is first time I've done a commission without experiencing a sort of constant sickly panic. Perhaps it’s because I’m more confident about my drawing now, or that Tim sent me loads of really great photos so I could get a real sense of who I was painting, or that I’ve been meditating a lot so can control the unhelpful self doubt better.
It doesn't matter. It's the very first time I’ve painted something exactly how I wanted to paint it and I’m really pleased with the outcome. I know Tim and his parents are too because he sent a photo of them posting for me exactly how I had painted them.
In that moment, when I saw how pleased they were with the drawing, I felt like the life was meant to lead was finally becoming a reality. It was a similar feeling to the one I had when I drove up to Ellesmere College that evening in 1997, except I'm not trying to be Darrell Rivers or Elizabeth Bennett or Imogen I'm just being me. Katie Watts. Illustrator. Liberal. Boarding School survivor.
Thanks for this opportunity Tim - to do the drawing and realise that I'm living my best life. I hope to see you in the flesh soon.
If someone you love has a birthday coming up, I would absolutely LOVE to make a painting for them. Email, text, Instagram me or order through the shop.
*This remains one of my favourite books and I will not hear a word against it
** Would I send my own children to boarding school? I couldn't afford to anyway but even if money was no object, I wouldn't. It doesn't give you an inclusive or realistic picture of the world and it left me with a tonne of social anxiety which I'm only just overcoming. But I LOVED it all the same. I wouldn't change a thing. I had so much fun and made lifelong friends.
I know, I know. Two posts in as many days. I'm really spoiling you. Don't get used to it though, I doubt I can keep this heady pace up for long, especially on the tiny amount of sleep I'm currently getting.
I made this comic as a gift for Moya (top left of top left panel) who is practically family and had a big birthday last year. It's taken me MONTHS to finish but the moment finishing things is super important to me. I'm terrible for starting loads of things and not finishing them. I get carried away in the giddiness of newness but I get bored really quickly.
However, I've learnt that completion is a REALLY vital discipline, with each piece of work I finish, I learn so much. What I don't like, what I love, what I'd like to explore more and I can use all that for my next idea. You probably all knew this ages ago...
Anyhoo. Here is this comic. Several months after I started it but finished nonetheless.
This is a true story about one day during a four week visit to stay with Moya and Paul in the USA when I was 15. We ate our way around Pennsylvania that holiday and this day was no exception, although it was on the more extreme side of average consumption.
Being maced in the face in this fashion, though deeply distressing for a short time, is genuinely one of the funniest things that has happened to me.
I hope you enjoy.
You might have already seen this page from my sketchbook on Instagram. If you have, please enjoy it for a second time. If not come join me over there, I've all but given up the other social medias but IG is a warm, safe, pretty place where I like to hang.
So. I'm 12 weeks into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Emetaphobia and Generalised Anxiety. It's fucking hard this self improvement gig. Christ, I'm so bored of my own thoughts. I sent my sister a text asking her if she also got tired of being herself and she said all the time. So I wonder if it's normal even if you're not completely self obsessed as a result of CBT.
This week's 'homework' (if you have a phobia CBT homework means doing shit you hate on your own time) anyway it involved watching videos of people being sick. It was truly, toe-curlingly, disgusting. Why on earth people feel the need to video themselves or their family yacking is beyond me.
The most disturbing one was of a drunk man with his face painted like a clown vomiting copiously - Monty Python levels of puke. I sort of found that one funny it was so very dark. His name was Flip Flop if you want to go check it out for yourself. (My youtube suggestions page was a horror show for few days but I've cleared my history now and feel enormous relief).
I think the therapy is working. We shall see. I'm just working on accepting where I am every moment of every day. Sometimes that's up and sometimes that's down but honestly that's a whole other blog post. I'll get to it when I can.
For now, let's say I'm a work in progress and that my friends is ok with me.
December was long and dark. I lost myself in its timeless, sickly days, shrinking into my head where the voices of catastrophe are loud and dominant.
Each day as the sun sets my hope goes down with it. I light the fire and blow hard on the embers until they catch. Banishing the darkness with flames, finding comfort in its crackle.
“I don’t even look forward to a cup of tea, even my tea joy is gone, ” I whisper in a tiny, despairing voice, “it sounds small, but it’s not.”
The Universe keeps sending me messages. Telling me not to worry, showing me that I am strong, that life is fragile and uncontrollable so I need to find a way to be ok with that.
Like the storm with the same name as my sister (who is gone) that found us at sea. As the rain and wind battered the boat, the lights of the port rising and falling in the dark, I sang my son to sleep under a table.
You can cope. You are strong.
And at lunch when Bart lost his breath. I watched, helpless, terrified, frozen to the spot as he flailed and gasped and ran. The restaurant door swung shut and I wondered if I would see him again.
Life is fragile. You have so much. Live gratefully.
I am listening but it’s hard to give in, to accept that you have no control over any of it. Over death, over life, over your kids and who they will become, who you might lose and when.
My first, fleeting response to this knowledge is to ask, “so what’s the point?” But I already know the answer to that question.
Life is the point, love is the point.
I need to breathe, to resolve to learn how to live courageously and abundantly in the present. That must be my new year’s resolution, for this year and the year after that and the year after that and so on, until I am not so afraid.
Until the voices of catastrophe can’t be heard over the din of trees blowing in the breeze and the crackle of bread cooling and the sound of my littlest boy laughing delightedly at his brother who loves him and people telling me they love me.
I am a mother of two. I have two boys. My beautiful boys.
I like to say it to myself, it gives me pleasure in the same way I expect a new bride might feel when she says ‘my husband’ to a stranger. There is a sense of fulfilment in the uttering of the words, confirmation of a dream made real.
I am a mother of two.
I am awkwardly rediscovering selflessness. I am plagued by thoughts of all the things I’d like to do but can’t (read a whole book, write one, go to the theatre, go to bed and wake up at noon, drink an entire bottle of wine).
These things will have to wait, they will come too soon I know.
I am a mother of two.
I survive with little sleep but find that, in the darkness, when I press my lips into the soft, billowing, cushion of your cheeks, my tiredness disappears.
Life passes in slow-fast hours, where nothing and everything happens. Where I perform endless, small, menial tasks and accomplish so little of what I set out to do each morning and yet…I am keeping a human alive.
I try not to be disgusted by the reality of my body. It is doughy and misshapen but I search for beauty in its soft, swollenness, try to admire what I see in the mirror; a miraculous machine that conjured you from nothing.
I summon energy from the depths of my being to read you your bedtime story, so that at least for a moment each day, it’s just the two of us again. I make you laugh so you know that I still love you. (You call out ‘Daddy ‘ in the night now. My heart breaks a little every time.)
I am a mother of two.
A diary comic about a terrible night's sleep.Read More