On… sharing an office

Fox and I share an office in our New York apartment. Literally share it: a small room, adjoining our living room, with two crappy desks from Overstock pushed up against each other, and two big huge flatscreen monitors blocking our views of each other’s faces. In other words, unless one of us is at the gym, we are probably within 15 feet of each other at EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAMN DAY.

This feels completely normal to me now, in the way that having him traveling two or three weeks every month with his last job, and living our entire marriage on WhatsApp, used to feel completely normal. People would make pained faces when I said how much time we spent apart. Especially when I had a tiny baby or two. I could see people thinking: ‘these guys are doomed, and she is NOT going to clean up on Tinder if there are breastmilk stains and babies in her profile pics’. But now, when people hear that we share an office at home and that we have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, they just scream “WHAT THE FUH HOW ARE YOU NOT KILLING HIM?”

So here is the big secret to sharing an office with your spouse:

Ignore each other.

Fox is not a writer. He works in start-up finance. No, I don’t really know what that means. He does a lot of reading and modeling (not that kind of modeling, the demand for 38-year-old red-headed Irishmen isn’t what it should be) and calls. I, obviously, AM a writer, so I just sit there and tap away furiously for hours, and frown and swear and get up and make tea and then taptaptaptaptap furiously some more. Sometimes I stare into space for a long time. Sometimes I stand up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore, this is a fucking RIDICULOUS story and I hate it’ and I go half-assedly Kon Mari my wardrobe or put on red lipstick or eat some chocolate standing up in the kitchen. Sometimes I go play with the boys if their laughter/screaming penetrates my writing trance, but they’re out most of the time. Mostly, I just sit there and sweat and fume and tap, and Fox sits there and thinks and calls and taps, and sometimes goes to the gym, or goes for a walk to think his way through a work issue, and we ignore each other.

The other question people always have is: don’t the boys drive us nuts? And well, not really. Other people’s children would, obviously – in London we lived on Colville Terrace and our bedroom, where I wrote, overlooked a school playground, and I hated each and every one of those screaming little bastards. But when it’s YOUR kids, it’s different. It’s harder for Fox, who is accustomed to the serene space of a finance office, but as I’ve probably said before in my adorably repetitious way, I used to work in advertising agencies and those places are fucking zoos. Good training for working from home with very small children. And of course, we have an amazing and wonderful and lovely nanny, who makes it possible. Ned plays, and eats, and naps, and plays, and then they pick up Errol from preschool at 3pm, and then they all go to the playground for a little while. And I normally stop working around 4pm or 430pm or so, and bake a cake with them or do a puzzle or play Lego or firetrucks or whatever. A couple of times a week I take Neddles for to the playground alone, or take Errol for after-school cake or a manicure (fact: four-year-old boys love glittery nail polish only slightly less than they love airplanes and Paw Patrol), just because it’s nice to have solo hang time with them. Then it’s dinner time and bath time and story time and bedtime for the boys. Then the day is over and we collapse in a heap, exhausted.

And there’s the rub.

Because at this point in the day, you have to NOT ignore each other. You have to talk, ackshuary liderellah talk, not just put on The Night Manager or Silicon Valley or Veep or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Younger or Amy Schumer or any of the other shows you both love. Talk about your day, and what happened with your work (which the other person genuinely isn’t aware of even though it happened just inches from his or her damn face). Talk about stuff in the news and what’s happening with our extended family and our friends and that article he read and that idea I had and that thing I’m worried about and you know, stuff. Conversation.

I find adult conversation ASTONISHINGLY hard after a day of making shit up in my head.

Not just hard. Impossible. It’s like there’s a wild, hilarious party in a room in my brain, and I just want to go back to that room rather than exist in the real world. You’re right: it’s probably not healthy.

Kid conversation is different. I’ll talk to Errol about volcanos and space and puppies (he is obsessed with them all) or play hide and seek with Ned, or make papier mache bowls or do watercolor painting with both of them, no problem. That’s easy, because it’s almost meditative. (Sometimes I cheat, and part of my brain is still thinking about a story while we’re drawing quietly, and then I have to grab the Crayola marker and write an idea out on the paper before I forget it.) The moment they’re in bed, I just want to go back to that party room in my brain and let my imagination do its thing.

But I can’t. I have to close the door to that room, remind myself that I can write tomorrow, turn my brain outward to face the real world and actually talk to my real husband. As soon as I do, I’m glad I did, because he’s hilarious and interesting, and reader, that’s why I married him.

In summation: if you’re sharing an office with your spouse: ignore them. And then don’t ignore them. Repeat.

 

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On… Sunday’s On The Phone To Monday

A few months ago I met Christine Reilly, a new author whose book, Sunday’s On The Phone To Monday, just came out. We chatted about writing and publishers and novels and copyedits, all the usual author stuff, and she’s just the loveliest woman ever.

She was kind enough to offer me an advance copy of her first book, read it, LOVED it, decided to blog about it, procrastinated as I have mild blogphobia and most of my posts take me a month to review and then in the end I don’t post them anyway, wrote a little review, decided to wait a week or two to review my review because writing is rewriting and I hate reviews that give you the whole plot of the book and also blogphobia, and now here we are.

Sunday’s On The Phone To Monday is AMAZING. And you will love it.

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This an incredibly beautiful and thoughtful novel about family and sisters and music and growing up and – most of all - love. All kinds of love. It gave me that thoughtful dreamy feeling afterwards. I felt peaceful and happy and nostalgic for a New York City childhood that wasn’t even mine. I adored it.

I also adored the soundtrack to the book. Sunday’s On The Phone To Monday’s playlist punctuates specific moments in the story perfectly, and puts your brain in the right year at the right time – from Tracy Chapman and Tom Waits and Elton John and even The Beatles. Such a nice touch.

Please check it out, not just because you’ll love the book, but because you’ll also love Christine – she is funny and charming and stunning, a born novelist with a sharp-but-thoughtful writing style that makes you simultaneously relax into, and engage with, the story. This book is going to be a huge hit, and she has a giant career ahead of her…

 

 

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On… nightmares

Well, of COURSE I love this, like most people I love anything that tells me I am more creative than your average bear. But also, it’s just a relief. Ever since I was about 21, I’ve had night terrors. Which means that about three nights a week, I wake up screaming.

As in, SCREAMING.

Sometimes I point at things in the corner or on the light, sometimes I get up and walk around the room, sometimes I open curtains, take pictures off walls, grab the duvet and pull it off the bed while yelling at something to go away. I know. I am crazypants. Yah, sharing a bed with me must be annoying as fuck. Fox says he can mostly calm me down before it gets to getting-out-of-bed levels. In the olden days, when I had roommates, I just had to white-knuckle it alone, while I woke up, with a sore throat from screaming, on the stairs or the floor outside my room. One time I screamed so much that I woke up my roommate on the floor above and she assumed I was being murdered so she HID. FOR REAL. (Thanks dude.)

And nope, nothing really bad has ever happened to me. I was never kidnapped or raped or exposed to undue amounts of Billy Ray Cyrus music. We have loosely tracked it to my blood sugar levels – if I eat something like yoghurt or almonds before I go to bed, I’m less likely to go full banshee. It doesn’t happen, at all, when I’m preggers. But aside from that, it just happens.

I’m always kind of embarrassed about my night terrors, because people think it’s so weird. Or they assume that I must dread going to sleep (nope, love it) or that I wake up in the morning with memories of being petrified (not really, if it’s bad enough that I wake in the middle of the night I have a residual feeling of fear, but otherwise I wake up my usual annoyingly happy self).

But now I can say that my night terrors are just part of being a writer. Yeah. Suck it.

Two other things in this article really connected with me: one, having a dreamlike quality to waking thoughts. On any given day, even when I’m not actually sitting at my laptop, a substantial percentage of my brain is daydreaming my way through a story. It makes me vague and a little deaf (my best friend from college called me Vagueness), and I have to make a large effort to be present and aware of my surroundings. Children have really helped me with this, as you can’t really daydream when there’s a fighting chance you’ll be cleaning up spilled cereal in two minutes if you do. And two, the heightened sensitivity to all emotional experience. I am the kind of person who gets so upset by news about death, or pain, especially to children, that it feels physically painful to read the newspapers. (I live in a hearts-and-flowers world where the New York Times only has the Arts section, the Metropolitan section, and the Style section.) Tell me your sad personal news, and I’ll cry with you. If I think about certain lines from songs or movies, or a documentary my friend Kristen made about the sexual abuse of deaf children by priests, the first story in In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders (which is a comic short story, I am just a FREAK) or certain details I know and wish I didn’t about what the Nazis did, I’ll feel so overwhelmed that for a minute or two, it’s like I’m drowning in sadness, and I have to cry a bit just to let the feelings out. It’s SO PATHETIC. I always thought that everyone felt like me and I was just a weakling. The kind of wimpy dick who let shit affect her so much, it was almost pretentious. But no! I am not pretentious (at least, not in this way). It appears this is just part of being me, like not remembering numbers longer than two digits, always dancing like it’s 1983, and being able to tie a cherry stalk in a knot in my mouth with my tongue. (Yah totally sexy, right? No, because I look like the old lady who swallowed a fly while I do it.)

Anyway, enough about ME. Read the article from NYMag below (I could post to the original story on New Scientist but who has the time):

People Who Have More Nightmares Might Also Be More Creative

Nightmare is kind of a weird word, etymologically speaking. The night part is obvious enough, but mare has more of an unexpected history: In old English, it was the word for demons who were thought to possess people as they slept. The compound word, nightmare, was originally a term for the spirits themselves, only later coming to refer to the dreams they caused.

The term has stuck, but nowadays, psychologists have a few other ideas about what causes nightmares. Writing in New Scientist earlier this week, psychology PhD candidate Michelle Carr, who studies dreams at the University of Montreal’s Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, explained the two dominant theories: One is that they’re a reaction to negative experiences that happen during waking hours. The other is “threat simulation theory,” or the idea that we evolved to have nightmares as a sort of rehearsal for adversity, so that when the real thing rolls around we’re better equipped to handle it.

Whether or not they function as a training ground for real-life situations, though, nightmares do have some real benefits for the people who thrash and sweat their way through them, as Carr noted. One 2013 study, for example, found that frequent nightmare sufferers rated themselves as more empathetic. They also displayed more of a tendency to unconsciously mirror other people through things like contagious yawning, a phenomenon that’s been studied as an indicator of empathy.

Carr, meanwhile, has found that people who have constant nightmares also tend to think further outside the box on word-association tasks. Other research, she explained, has found support for the idea that nightmares might be linked to creativity:

Sleep researcher Ernest Hartmann, while a psychiatrist at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston in the 1980s, found that people seeking therapy for nightmares were not necessarily more fearful or anxious, but rather had a general sensitivity to all emotional experience. He concluded that sensitivity is the driving force behind intense dreams. Heightened sensitivity to threats or fear during the day results in bad dreams and nightmares, whereas heightened passion or excitement may result in more intense positive dreams. And both these forms of dreams may feed back into waking life, perhaps increasing distress after nightmares, or promoting social bonds and empathy after positive dreams.

The effects go further still. Hartmann realised that this sensitivity spills over into perceptions and thoughts: people who have a lot of nightmares experience a dreamlike quality to their waking thoughts. And this kind of thinking seems to give them a creative edge. For instance, studies show that such people tend to have greater creative aptitude and artistic expression. Jess and Chris [two of Carr’s research subjects] scored highly on a test to measure this, called the boundary thinness scale, and both are artists: Jess is a painter and photographer, Chris a musician.

And, in a satisfyingly tidy stroke of cosmic balance, Carr’s research has found that people who often have nightmares also tend to have more positive dreams than the average person.

“The evidence points towards the idea that, rather than interfering with normal activity, people who are unfortunate in having a lot of nightmares also have a dreaming life that is at least as creative, positive and vivid as it can be distressing and terrifying,” she wrote. “What’s more, this imaginative richness is unlikely to be confined to sleep, but also permeates waking thought and daydreams.” Even after people wake up and shake off the nighttime demon, in other words, a trace of it stays behind, possessing them throughout the day.

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On… Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

I am looking the fuck forward to seeing this.

 

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On… Anniversary 2016

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The 2016 Anniversary Portrait is DONE. And yes, this morning was as traumatic as that photo looks, that is indeed a photo of a toddler in a trench coat screaming in misery while his parents laugh and kiss above him. Our actual anniversary yesterday was twice as traumatic, as it involved a trip to ER and stitches for the same tiny redhead after a playground adventure went awry. (He’s fine.)

You can see the rest of the anniversary portraits here. (I am still stunned we manage to do this year after year.)

So here’s a quick making-of-the-damn-anniversary-portrait blow-by-blow. We walked to City Hall, took the first set of photos, realized that we should wait for the sun to be on the plinth thing and do it again, waited for about ten minutes (which is a LONG TIME when you are two and four-and-a-half), bribed the boys with the promise of ice cream if they just waited nicely, finally got the damn photo, got some ice creams, and finally walked home. End of anniversary portrait, 2016.

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On… Everybody Wants Some!! (update!)

Finally saw Everybody Wants Some!! on the weekend, and IT IS AWESOME. I was worried it would be a sexist bro-fest. But instead it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s easy, it’s just… it’s so damn good. It’s a movie about dudes, sure, but it’s not sexist: the female characters are given as much depth and thought as the male characters. (Unlike shit like The Hangover – when I watch those dude-fest movies, I’m reminded over and over again that I’m not invited to that party, that women are a punchline or a punching bag – but we’ve discussed this in previous sessions.)

I love Richard Linklater movies because you can watch them and have total trust that you’re in safe hands. The storytelling, the tone, the dialogue, the characters, the pace – it’s always smart and thoughtful. This movie is about college and freedom and figuring out who you are and how to be yourself, but be part of a team… it’s just… it’s really fucking good. See it.

I posted the UK trailer in the below post, just for good measure, here are the US ones.

Also, the music is always outstanding in Linklater movies. I’ve been listening to this on repeat for three days. Enjoy.

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On… Everybody Wants Some!!

The original trailer for ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’ – the new Richard Linklater film – didn’t really do it for me, which was moderately devastating as I can recite Dazed and Confused out loud, word for word, scene for scene, as a piece of performance art.

But then a new trailer dropped yesterday and NOW I AM EXCITED.

 

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On… living the 90s

It all started about two years ago when I had an idea for a movie about four female best friends, who go to their twenty-year college reunion and are cast back in time to 1996. (It’s called Undergrads, I sold it to New Regency, it’s really damn funny, and now it’s in development so… who knows.) I immersed myself in the 90s when I was writing the movie and um, I never really stopped.

Everything was simpler in 1996, and not just because I was a teenager, but because the entire world was simpler. Think about it. It was before 9/11, before Britney, before George W Bush, before reality TV, before Spanx and Brazilians and revenge porn and ISIS and Donald motherfucking Trump. Can you imagine a world without those things? Yeah, man! It was fucking epic! The internet was around, but only just, and no one really cared about it. Everyone wore bad clothes in a great way. Hair was big and bouffy (and my hair in particular was great, I can say that because I am now practically bald… people think babies ruin your body but no dude, my body is totallyfinewhatever, my hair is like a troll doll in chemo).

Plus, men were hot, like this.

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Humminahummina.

(Sorry about saying humminahummina.)

ANYWAY. Here’s how you can make your life just a little more 90s.Let’s start with dark bricky blue-red matte lipstick.

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Russian Red was one of the original MAC reds, and I discovered it in 95 or 96, when an MTV DJ was raving about it in Allure magazine, and it doesn’t get more 90s than that. If you can’t be bothered to buy a lipstick, just go to CVS or Superdrug or whatever, and buy a cheap red lipliner – Milani, Rimmel, whatever. Any cheap red lipliner is guaranteed to be a strong red with bluish undertones, because I don’t know why stop asking questions.

And of course, the 90s was also a time of matte brown lipstick. Thank you, Bobbi Brown. You don’t want to look like Fairuza Balk in The Craft (just trust me on this one) but there is something very pleasing and flattering about a soft, slightly shiny, browny-tan lipstick. Try Make Up For Ever lipstick in N7 - I wear it nearly every day right now - with the infamous MAC Spice as a lipliner.

I’m not a huge manicure person – too impatient – but I had manicure with a friend a few weeks ago, and choose a dark bricky brown-red that made me supremely content with the universe and my place in it. I think it was Essie With the Band. (Side note: yes, everyone did wear Chanel Vamp in the 90s, too, but it was called Rouge Noir then, and because I couldn’t get it in Hong Kong I had to mix red nail polish and black nail polish in a water bottle cap and hope for the best – I know, such a beauty MacGyver. However, Vamp has never really gone away and therefore doesn’t look as fresh and throwback as this. See how much thought I am putting into the 90s for you?)

I think I posted about big hair a year or two ago, but recently I figured out the easiest (read: laziest) way to get big 90s hair. 1. Stop blowdrying your hair 2. Instead, when you get out of the shower, smush this stuff with this stuff in your palms to make a paste, and then rub it over the ends of your hair. 3. Ignore it. Go about your day.

A motorcycle jacket. Yeah, man. Own it.

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This one from Zara makes me feel like Cindy Crawford in House Of Style, but, um, not as hot.

The flip side of wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket is that you might look like Danny Zuko or, god forbid, Johnny Nogorelli.

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This is not the look you are going for.

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This is the look you are going for.

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Or, even better, this. Drew!

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Straight leg, high-waisted, 100% cotton blue jeans. Yuppers. No stretch. Pure thick cotton. The problem with stretch jeans is – duh – they stretch. And darling, stretch equals sag. You might call these Mom Jeans, but the key difference is: you don’t want any darts or pleats, okay? And don’t go too pale. It really doesn’t look good unless you are 5.11″.

You can can try these ones or these ones but I got these on sale and I am SO in love with them.

This is what you want your jeans to look like:

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Or even better, this:

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Next: a navy velvet scrunchie.

I KNOW. DON’T SHOUT AT ME. Carrie Bradshaw’s opinion of scrunchies isn’t the end all be all, damnit, she’s not the GOD of scrunchies or whatever. It looks good and it feels GREAT.

Bonus: I think it might be helping my troll doll chemo hair, as it had so much breakage from hair elastics. I’ve also been making nice soft hair ties out of old black opaque tights, which feels charmingly thrifty in a 90s way, though perhaps that’s just me.

Now. I got my scrunchie from Topshop but it’s all sold out – I would like to think because I instagrammed the below photo but, um, probably not. So I did some research and found this one for you on Etsy, because that’s the kind of gal I am.

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Next, the music. I am very specific about my mildly-indie-alt-rock preferences, and I’ve posted about some of these before. I listen to Veruca Salt and Silverchair and Mazzy Star and Harvey Danger and Marcy Playground and Nine Inch Nails and the Counting Crows and Blur and Oasis and Cake and Hole and Kirsten Hersh and Cracker and Spacehog and The Flaming Lips and Pearl Jam and Six Underground and Alanis. Fuck me, we loved Alanis in 1996. And Jeff Buckley! If you ended a relationship in 1996, you probably made your boyfriend listen to ‘Lover You Should Have Come Over’, awkward church organ intro and all, followed by ‘Last Goodbye’. Then you cried a lot, chain-smoked cigarettes with your girlfriends while listening to the Alanis CD all the way to the end until that secret track came on, and then you went out and got drunk and danced to this, even though you hate that fake disco trance 90s shit. It’s not that I liked the song, it’s that DJs liked the song, and no matter what I did, they wouldn’t stop playing it.

If you’re thinking ‘sheesh Gemma, you’re so predictable, cool it with the angry guitar and crooning chicks music’ then try Salt’n’Pepa and Montell Jordan and Warren G Regulate ft Nate Dogg and OPP and, Ini Kamoze and East 17 (fun fact: being able to recite every lyric in that song, in my best Dagenham accent, has genuinely made my life better, so hop to it). There was also a lot of bad pop music, but I’m not the kind of asshole who’s going to put Cotton Eye Joe in your head.

Watch Hindsight. When I first heard about this show I was ever-so-slightly wary (Fox told me he’d seen an ad for it on the subway and I was like “WHAT? ARE YOU FUCKING WITH ME? THAT SOUNDS LIKE UNDERGRADS”) but it is actually this is a charming, quirky little VH1 show with a killer soundtrack. It was cancelled, which is a shame, but you can see why: you can’t do a time travel story without an ending, and TV shows just go on forever, ad infinitum, until we hate Kelly way more than we ever hated Brenda. So the question becomes: is the Hindsight chick going to go back to the future and see what she changed? Or is she going to stick around in the 90s and stop 9/11 and that terrible Stereophonics song from ever happening? Plus she kept bouncing from her old husband to her new husband and I couldn’t figure out who she loved. But anyway, watch it for the fashion, the soundtrack, and the fantastic relationship and banter between the best friends.

There are some things to avoid from the 90s, of course. Everything from the very late 90s – anything from 98 onwards – sucked ass. You know, like butterfly clips and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Mama I Love You by the Spice Girls. I have a theory that the 90s took a nose-dive because everyone freaked out that the leader of the free world had been cigar-banging Lewinsky and sploodging all over her Gap dress. God! How innocent we were. I’ll take a little sploodge over sociopathic corpocracy any day. But hey, I’m old-fashioned like that.

Lastly. It’s always good to remember that there are some great things we have now that we didn’t in the 90s. Things that make life better, like the Valencia filter. And highlighter. And group texting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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