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I’ve found myself re-counting numbers recently. Second guessing myself. This morning, I counted the handful of change for my morning cappuccino three times. Three. Clearly, the trust has gone.

Maths has never been my strong suit, but still. It’s starting to verge on the ridiculous. At work I find myself struggling to grasp what the month number for May is (it’s five…isn’t it?). Is this just age? Surely not, I’m barely 32. The years of alcohol? Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling the reason behind this strange emergence of Dyscalculia is because I find myself in, well, a strange period in my life.

calc ageI have begun to question things in ways that haven’t crossed my mind for at least ten years. And it’s really annoying because, with my questions remaining unanswered, I feel lost and discontent. And the other, even more annoying, thing is that it’s only me that can provide any answers.

It’s funny how it is generally acknowledged that you become wiser the older you get and, by default, more confident. But my confidence is no longer the unwavering warrior it was when I was younger and knew nothing. Sure, I’ve got less tolerant of the selfishness of others and I am more likely to say so rather than hush into a corner and somehow blame their behaviour on my faults. And yes, I’ve become openly accepting of those with whom I shall never be friends, who shall never like me and vice versa. We are all different. But am I more confident with age? In a word (well, two) – not quite.

I suppose it depends on what confidence means to you. For some I imagine it’s having the guts to go out on stage in front of hundreds of people. To be able to take a risk, make that scary career change. For me, it’s having the strength of self-conviction – the total assurance that everything will turn out ok in the end, because you are you, and you can handle it.

My self-possession rose and peaked almost out of nowhere between the ages of 24 and 29. With hindsight – something I’m pretty sick of now – I realise this time is The Golden Period. The pressure is off. You become aware, for the first time, how far you have come in such little time. Your twenties bring with them an intense personal growth spurt that you have no real control over – grown-up stuff just happens to you whether you want it or not. You accept this fact, grow from it. You have money. You are young. You sit back and enjoy it for a bit. Uncomplicated confidence. You are going places and you know it.

But then you hit 30. Ouch. All that confidence so flippantly built ebbs away. But this time the subtle change in yourself, so frivolously disregarded when it moved in the other direction, does not go unnoticed. It starts to drive you a bit mad. You get angry with yourself. How could you let this happen? Why did you sit back and relax while youth and all its opportunities passed you by – look at all those chances you were too lazy to take. And now, now you’re just too old to do things. You’ve got commitments.

It turns out my star didn’t rise at the same trajectory and speed (hell, I don’t move at the same speed) as was mapped out in my twenties. I got too comfortable. Smug. Other people are younger than me now. It is annoying. They are annoying. To make matters worse they are more skilled than I both was and am now – they’ve been forced to do more internships than I’ve had hot toddies. They don’t need to do IT training. They don’t even call it IT – to them, technology is just life.

Life is hard enough as it is. And when the total confidence that everything will work out how you want it leaves the room, what do you do? For me, well, I’ve got to work out what it is that I want – it turns out thirty-something Gemma might have different (less ambitious) ambitions from those of ten years ago. And it’s sobering to admit that to yourself.

I think the key is nailing that fine balance between accepting who you are and what you can achieve whilst still treating yourself with the respect to challenge yourself and grow. Maybe once I solve that equation two and two might start to make four again.

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hand writing cropped 2

There’s something irrepressibly personal about handwriting. Always distinguishably you, it betrays a bit of who you are – as any old-fashioned crime drama will tell you. Forensic graphology aside, there is something very intimate about glimpsing the handwriting of others. That first time you catch your lover’s penmanship, for example. Your handwriting is there with you, unshakeable, from childhood and is very hard to essentially change (dotting your i’s with a circle like you trialled as a teenager doesn’t count).

But I worry that handwriting is increasingly becoming more of a nostalgic notion, a whimsy, than it is an actual part of our lives. As we rely on our screens and reach for the pen less our biros and our fountains are cruelly stripped of their responsibilities, relegated to notes and lists. Well, if a phone hasn’t got there first. Nowadays, if we’re writing something important, something big, something final it’s handled electronically, and the only time we physically handle a pen is to sign our name on the print out. Only the signature is left to trusted to the pen.

Until I started writing creatively again handwriting was becoming a fond memory. It reminded me of primary school visits to re-imagined Victorian classrooms at the Black Country Museum where handwriting was serious, we were told by a stern-faced woman in fancy dress. If you didn’t join up your letters you got the cane! We all shivered as we sat at the great mahogany desks. Especially me and the one other left-hander in the year group – a punishable offence.

Handwriting was a skill. It had authority. Literacy and language still is, of course, an essential part of who we are and a crucial tool in navigating the world we live in. But I often wonder how today’s children think about handwriting – do they feel they are being forced to practise a pointless exercise, something they’ll rarely use in real life? Like the way most of us felt about algebra?

Some people are, of course, gifted in a way that renders their handwriting an art form. My boss is one such person, her handwriting arresting, unapologetically bold and memorable – totally characteristic of its creator. An envelope addressed by her create an actual buzz. Is there anything capable of piquing intrigue more than receiving a handwritten letter? The feeling that leaps from the page. The bloody effort they must have gone to write it! The humanness of it. No auto-corrector. No spell check. Just your thoughts and the page. Not so easy to reign in your emotions with a pen in your hand. Not so easy to take the words back. You can’t press delete on a letter that people may hold on to for years. Forever.

pencil sketch editI find there is nothing quite so flagrantly impersonal as the handwriting font. These things cheaply tart up a letter with false authenticity. Without the pen, writing is mechanic and unsurprising. It keeps the writer, and reader, at a distance.

I am not exactly guilt-free. The last time I wrote a proper letter (ok, a fan letter) was to then Chelsea and England international footballer Graeme Le Saux in 1997. I cringe at the horror of what I’ve become (I cringe at that letter, too) – crooked fingers bashing away at a keyboard of some kind for the most part of most days. Even when cooking a recipe for God’s sake! And as a result I honestly feel as though I absorb less. Like I have become a little numb.

I’m not sure what any of this says about my very-much-electronic blog… But the one good thing is that creating it has, in a roundabout way, made me pick up the (coloured) pen again. Last week I began doodling, just to brighten it up. And then I realised what my doodles were doing was in fact personalising my blog, as though I had handwritten the posts. I look at it now and it is unmistakably me. I had forgotten what it was like, to spend so much time holding a pen. To craft something by hand. And that tactile handling has shot straight to my brain – I feel switched-on again.

My mother has since commented on how I seem to have come full circle. As a child I was always with an item of stationary in my hand. Whenever we went out for the day I would come back from wherever we were via the gift shop, inevitably the proud owner of a new pencil. Now I’ve got my parents hunting around the crevices of their house for all my old pens. I kept them, you see. Who knows when you might need them.

Handwriting will no doubt become trendy again as we hanker for the good old days – as we have recently seen happen in the UK with baking and make-do-and-mend crafts. But despite the inevitable onslaught of cushions and tote bags we will have to endure (no doubt all printed with handwriting fonts), this renaissance will be a good thing. Helping to secure the art of handwriting in our minds and in our hearts before we forget the joy it brings us.

Something out of the ordinary happened the other day – I lost something.

I never lose things. I am just not one of those people. I am organised. Boring. You can rely on me in a scrape – I will have that emergency tissue in my handbag; I’ve got the map to the hotel; yes, I’ve got some suncream you can borrow; yes, I have the last train time written down in my pocket notebook.

I do not lose things. Well…apart from the time I lost my passport. Life lessons learned: 1. Don’t take your passport to a festival, even a non-camping one, and 2. Hairdressers are good people (one from the Regis salon in Debenhams found said passport and returned it to me. I went back there recently.

Ok, so I lost something once. Although, hang on…there was also that time I left an amazing paid of vintage driving gloves on the bus. I cried. Really (turns out there’s a helpline you can ring).

Ok, so I am not quite as organised as I thought I was three paragraphs ago. But I’m pretty ‘together’ most of the time. So you can imagine my anger and disappointment when, on the last short hurdle of my commute home – the number 50 bus, I realised…I had gone and lost my house keys.

It’s horrible that moment, isn’t it – you must have felt it at some point? That sinking realisation that your treasured possession is not in your pocket, at the bottom of your handbag, on the floor. This is an organised person’s worst nightmare – how could I be so careless, so unlike myself?

You see, I will freely admit that I am a control freak – I think all truly organised people are. We cannot escape from ourselves. Which is why I was so unhappy when, in that moment I knew my keys were gone, I surprised myself with how careless and unreliable I could actually be. The last thing I want is to be surprised with the hidden depths of my character –  I want to be in control of me.

But if we were to rewind to seven years ago, to when I lost the passport, it is a bit of a different story.

Of course, in that first moment of realisation there was the familiar panic / terror / rage-at-self for being so stupid. What if I had to leave the country? Or, more realistically, buy alcohol? But then once I knew my passport was safe in Debenhams, I let go a little and actually felt a bit pleased with myself. Proud, even.

Because when I was a teenager, being the organised one in my circle of friends always felt rather lack lustre, predictable. Dull. How I longed to be as carefree as they driving around late at night with boys they’d just met at MacDonalds, running off to the Welsh seaside on a whim, bunking off school, walking into an exam having done zero revision. It all came so naturally to them. It made them so appealing – sexy. There was nothing natural about me trying to climb onto a yacht late in the evening in Sandwell Valley Park, when I’d only (begrudgingly) agreed to go on a short walk.

And so as a young woman I found myself fighting against the organised streak in me, wishing I could be more like my more un-together, dishevelled friends.

But I’ve found that as you get older the tables turn. It’s funny – people actually want to be like you. Those same free spirits want to know how you manage to get through life with few dramas and disasters. “I don’t know how she does it.” You feel brilliant (until you are inevitably asked to organise a hen do.)

You find your opinion changes, too. No long longer is the total disorganisation of your friends endearing or jealousy-inducing – it is f***ing annoying. Even they are annoyed by it, too.

This, reader, is a certain sign you have become a ‘grown up’.

At the end of the day, that organised streak runs through you like a stick of rock. And if you break it, you breakdown. Having to sit outside your apartment building on a step like a cat, waiting for the other (responsible) key-holder to get home, is a low point in life.

It is no shameful thing to be the boring, organised one. But losing my keys has reminded me that I am indeed human, and still capable of surprising myself – even if I don’t like it.

P.S. A few days later I found the keys – in my desk drawer at work. I think I can actually remember placing them in there…thinking I lost something else last week – the plot.

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