Day 8: To Connect, I Need Alone-ness




Connecting to others, important as it is, can cost us something,  no matter how much we want or need to do it: time, psychological space, emotional energy. We have to balance competing demands for connection and for separateness all the time (not always easy to do as a parent, or sharing an office). When I am in creative mode, something catches my attention, and I start sorting and storing away things about it– like colour, texture, how it makes me feel, what it reminds me of– immediately, generally before I’ve even noticed. For a writer, and for an introvert, I need a lot of input, a lot of contact with the outside world, to get me past the threshold that lets me start making something out of what I’ve stored away. After I’ve made a first pass, or a second, I’m ready to find some space and alone-ness, even if it is just for a few minutes. The picture of the ‘PRIVATE’ sign is important. I just stuck it to the door of the music/book room, where my desk and my piles of books and papers sit. And where I need to sit, a lot, in relative peace and quiet, for big chunks of the next year, so that I can finish my PhD project. I’ll still need to connect to other people, still need to share what I’m doing and what I feel with other people, but I am *trying* to learn what it means to give myself the space to incubate and write a book, which will let me connect to people. If only it were all as tidy as that sounds.


Day 6: Cheap and the Other Cheap– What makes value valuable?

I took our eldest shopping for gym shoes today. He outgrows shoes in direct proportion to the amount of food he eats, and in inverse proportion to the amount of money, time, and patience I have for replacing the shoes. We’ve been talking for a few weeks about the extra shiny shoes that all of his friends have– and they’ve all got saggy ankles to go with the super shiny flat shoes. He has been angry at me for 2 weeks for calling the shoes ‘cheap,’ when “my friends say they cost LOADS, Mom. You don’t KNOW what you are talking about.”

He looked at the price tags on the shoes, and decided they seemed pretty expensive for “shoes that don’t even lace up properly– they look a bit like pretend shoes.” He picked them up, these shiny patent faux-leather pseudo-plimsols with no tread on the bottom, and said “hmm. I don’t think I could play basketball in these. They would hurt.” He thought about this for a while as he tried on other shoes. Eventually, as we waited in line to pay  for the suddenly totally cool but highly discounted shoes with actual rubber tread on the soles, he asked me if ‘cheap’ had more than one meaning. I explained that I considered the shoes his friends had to be ‘cheap,’ as in cheaply made, of poor quality materials, rather than ‘cheap’ as in inexpensive. We talked about the fact that some people he knows think saving money is weird. And that lots of people feel uncomfortable accepting money or gifts from other people (He doesn’t have this problem, he would like all of you to know. Find him on Instagram.). And then he talked about how weird it is that our book, The Last Pair of Ears, ”didn’t cost very much to make, because we made a lot of it ourselves, and that makes it the good kind of cheap.”  So if anyone out there would like a (good sort of) cheap copy of our ebook, let us know. Redefining value, one shopping trip at a time.

Day 4: Wondering Why?

I’ve just realised that I am so used to people not reading what I write that I feel detached. I’ve walled away any potential hurt or surprise that people don’t want to connect. I don’t like that. It isn’t at all what The Last Pair of Ears is about. The book is about love, and the way it sneaks up on and surprises the crap out of you when you least expect it. I wasn’t prepared for the way hundreds of dying and elderly people would nestle into my heart before I even knew it had happened, and stretch it beyond all recognition.

photo 3

We want to start conversations about things that matter to all of us. How we care for the very old and the very young, or don’t,  matters to me. It says everything about us as a society, as a species. Please send me a message if you need to talk about dementia or caring for someone who is dying; I will respond. Please DM either of us (@maryfmcdonough or @martynclark) or DM @gadflybuzz to ask for a copy, if you’d like one (we’ll just send you a link in return).

Day 1: Loss and the Perfection in Imperfection


Here at Gadfly HQ (aka the loft upstairs) we love, love, love tube amps. Love the warm, rich, analog 1970s throbbing purr you can feel in your sternum, the screaming distortion you can feel in your kneecaps when the Hammond organ really starts wailing. Our neighbours may not share our love for the purr, but they’ve not said anything.

Martyn bought a Marshall amp from his favorite musical/electronics period (1972-3) recently — and got a really good deal. Why? Because it wasn’t perfect. It is scuffed, and has obviously travelled in a the back of dodgy vans. It was missing parts of two letters. We decided to ‘fix’ the letters so that their imperfection, the bits they had lost, would still be obvious. Martyn cut out some bits of card in the right shapes, wrapped them in red cord, and we glued them on. I held them in place as the glue hardened. It took 5 minutes. Talking about it took longer than doing it, longer than making something together. When I look at it now, I can’t really remember what it looked like before. It doesn’t look broken to me in any way, and it sounds *amazing*, and it contains its own history, its own story. I wouldn’t love it as much if it were new.
Writing The Last Pair of Ears and turning it into a published book was a similar, if longer-term, experience. I wrote imperfectly about imperfect people. People who were losing their stories. I kept the scraps of of stories, and let the people go. I didn’t have a choice: they were already dead, and lived on only in my head, or were dying. Martyn and the boys decided to publish the book as a whole, because they kept seeing it on a bookshelf. They didn’t like the way I was getting it published, a story here, a poem there, potentially out of a fear of it being seen in its imperfect wholeness. It was and always will be a first book. There’s love in it, loss in it, a letting go of my fear of imperfection in it, and the finished book is a blending of my imperfect artistic process and Martyn’s. We’ve sent it out into the world to find you.

Today’s theme is LOSS: Make something today without worrying about it being perfect. Let something imperfect carry your  story out into the world. 

The Rules (or rather, more guidelines). Within 24 hours, you need to:
1) Set yourselves a time limit of 15-20 minutes max.2) Find some people who are up for making something with you. Could be  friends, family, work colleagues, clients, people you don’t know on the train.

3) Make something together, as a response to the theme. Have fun, making something that really matters to you. You could make a drawing, a photo, video, collage, painting, music, model, sculpture. Anything that you can share with us! Doesn’t really matter if it’s finished or not.

4) Post a photo / video / link on twitter to what you’ve made with the hashtag #makeamark, and copy to @gadflybuzz, just to be safe, or email it to us at

5) Follow @gadflybuzz on twitter, so we can send you a link to download your free copy of The Last Pair of Ears once we’ve seen what you’ve made. Oh, and retweet, so others can play too.

6) Don’t forget that our favourite entry each day wins a Hardback book.

On Becoming a Gadfly


We’ve (by which I mean Martyn and I) finished (for now) revamping the Gadfly website (again). Every time we make another pass, and look through what we’ve written, we make changes that initially look cosmetic to us, but really aren’t.  Our shared and individual senses of what we want the philosophy behind Gadfly to be get sharper with each edit. My interest in seeing how I can make consulting via narratives work, in seeing how stories can be used as a record of what we think we know, and what we want to be, grows with every word word in, every word out. Editing something that really engages me always reminds me of this Oscar Wilde quote:

“This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.”

I think this to-ing an fro-ing is an aspect of any creative process; we draw, paint, write, compose things into being and then have to decide when to stop for a while, when to give up on perfecting the imperfect. Creating anything demands a commitment to successive approximations we know will never really meet our ideal. Creating is making with breaking built in to it; without embracing failure, I won’t write a tighter poem, a more compelling scene, the next time around.

 Martyn has been Gadflying (Gadflyzing?) for more than 10 years, and I have loved watching his consultancy evolve as his sense of himself as an artist and musician evolves. I feel privileged, really, to be a part of where Gadfly is going, even though I’m not always sure quite where it, or I, will end up. Making necessitates breaking.







I tend to think of Fall (or Autumn, if you are fancy about these things) as a winding down time, a dying time. Every year, though, I see Fall Crocus (Colchicum), poking up through leaf litter and the rotting clumps of grass the mower leaves behind. They are a promise, a reminder that winter won’t last forever, that colour will be back with the Spring. They are the last colour I will see for a while, as the grey descends and the rain begins. And they have a cool plural, to go with their 1970s blue, mauve, purple, and orange palette: seeing more than one crocus means that I get to call them ‘croci’.

I’m a walking, talking obstacle

Orthopedics. Or Orthopaedics, if you prefer. Whichever. I didn’t want to go this morning. I was pretty sure that since there was nothing they could cut, staple, or put a bolt through that I would get the usual “I know you are hoping that we have the answer…” spiel. As it happens, and has happened over and over, I don’t want or believe in THE answer. I don’t think there is one. I would like to be able to convince all of the medical professionals I encounter of this, but they just don’t get it. I am trying to manage hypermobility, chronic pain, and weird nerve damage with varying degrees of success. Anything (like tearing my Achilles) that disrupts my high-wire juggling act needs to be looked at. Once everything has been done that can be done, I quite like being discharged. Really. I don’t need an answer, or THE answer, but I do need to talk to people who have seen more than one person like me, and might have some ideas about other things I could try that would make the juggling act easier. I’d actually really like not feeling like I’m alone juggling all the time.

I saw a registrar (translation: someone who thinks he’s a doctor already, but isn’t really) this morning. No consultant available. I had to listen to a speech about everything that’s wrong with me, all of which I know already, including the bit about me being a difficult patient because I ask questions. He eventually took a huge risk (at least it seemed like he thought it was huge) and asked me why I was there. I didn’t really have an answer, other than “because my GP made a referral in June, shortly after I tore my Achilles.” After quickly bashing my Achilles and determining that there is still a bit of a lump, he pronounced me within normal limits. Good to know, although we both knew there is nothing normal about tearing an Achilles without noticing or being able to move your kneecaps around like checkers.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which we (as a species- that biggest WE) persistently dehumanise each other. We negate each other. We don’t hear the pain or frustration or fear in someone’s voice. We don’t think beyond statistics and probabilities to the fact that cookie cutter treatment is bound not to work at least some of the time. This morning I was an inconvenience, an obstacle, but at least I got to leave and go home. There are one million displaced child obstacles in and around Syria. We think of each other as things, as problems; when, and how, will we remember that we are people?

What would Dorothy Parker say?




Today’s preoccupation: tone of voice. I’ve been thinking about Parker’s snide remark: ”Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.” It resonated with me this week, because I am in the midst of trying to give voices to voiceless people and things.

I’m working on a series of stories and poems about a collection of specimens in an anatomy museum. They are hard to look at, harder still to look away from. They don’t have names; I don’t know their histories; they have been dead for over 200 years. They are all babies.

Something about their muteness is compelling. I don’t like not knowing what they would have, could have sounded like. Don’t like not knowing who they would have, could have looked at. Don’t know what they might have become had they survived gestation, and I would imagine that many of their mothers didn’t survive either. Maybe they would never have been anything other than sideshow freaks who flickered in and out of families’ lives.

Telling their stories without too much pollution leaking in from my story is proving difficult. I’ve decided, today, that that’s an artificial distinction I don’t need to make, and my voice, my narrative has to be seen and heard alongside the version of their stories I am able to tell. I’d like for visitors to the museum to be able to see more than their deformities, their frailty, and feel the tenderness that I feel for these bottled babies, floating in the dark, on shelves in a basement. I can’t really preserve their stories, but I can show you where the fragments of their stories live: I can put what they make me feel into words that you can see.




Science Experiment

photo copyI am a lab rat. A guinea pig, if you will, for a study into arthritis, disability, and the benefits of staying active (even when you feel pretty crap). I have to wear an accelerometer for 60 days. Yep. You read that right: 60 days. I am not sure that I will be able to cope with the elastic-y belt thing, as it rides up and down and makes me feel fat. I may need to detach the thing, mark the top so I can tell which end is up, and carry it in my pocket if that won’t mess with the data too much. I can wear it swimming (as long as I don’t go below 3 metres), walking, jumping, doing housework, whatever, so that over time the people running the study get a better idea of what an active person with chronic pain and joint problems does.

I am taking part in the study because I think it is important to understand why some people living with chronic pain manage to stay active, and some don’t. We are all told, of course, by people trained in the use of NLP (aka, ‘the patient is ALWAYS wrong and always wasting time’) that it simply requires a flexing of will and a change of mindset and everything will be fine, or at least fine enough that they can discharge us and we will go away and quietly accept our fates and our disabilities. This is a consummate, guilt-inducing, avoidant load of horseshit in which no health professional worthy of the name should indulge.

Unless someone has lived with chronic pain, I don’t think they’ve got any right to act as though they have all of the answers. They don’t. No one does. No one can tell me why I am hypermobile, other than genes and damned bad luck. No one can tell my why the doctor I saw in A & E when I crushed my foot opted not to wear gloves or wash his hands before touching me. I can’t tell anyone why I didn’t argue harder for him to do either of those things. I also can’t tell you why I flog and flog and flog myself, despite being in pain, to get things done, other than that for me the psychological freedom that comes from accomplishing what I set out to do outweighs the potential for me to be less tired and less sore.

So I’ll spend at least part of the day, every day, for the next 60 days thinking about why I keep going,  like some slightly wobbly version of the Energizer Bunny, both when I should and when I really, really probably shouldn’t. I’ll let you know what I find out.



Yee-hah! Website and PhD Wrangling.






So. About this summer holidays thing.  TOTALLY INCOMPATIBLE with getting anything done, by which I mean, I didn’t manage (again again) to get much done on my PhD project, and my website revamp has been languishing for weeks. By which I mean, the entire time the boys were off school.

I have a few options. I could resort to full-on LALALALLALALALAALA fingers in my ears pretending deadlines don’t exist mode, or PANIC!!!!! mode, or just be a spectacularly neglectful parent all weekend, and let the boys kill each other or play PS3, or both, 12 hours/day, until I feel like I’ve made some progress. No chance of my PhD being the dazzling, high-wire, death-defying, transcendent blend of poetry and novel and a billion other things without it. And I have high standards, by which I mean nobody, but nobody, can do LALALALALLALALLALALALALAAA fingers in my ears like I can. Yeah, baby. Watch this space. But not too much, or too hard, because your eyes will get really really tired, and you’ll get bored.



(Cool head-banging thingie from Michelle Robinson’s website)