Here we are again. The 31st December. The day we look back at the year we say goodbye to, and think about 2020, the year to come.
New Year is also a turn of the decade, this time. 2020!
I recall the big fuss around the millennium. The year 2000. Robbie Williams and Pulp sang about it. The media tried to convince us all technology would fail and we would end up in darkness. Are you kidding me? With all those fireworks, across the time zones, we watched as the world lit up the skies. Who needs lights? Maybe we all played a big part in a few degrees of global warming that year.
2000 marked a new century and it started out great for me. I was in a job I loved, working with an organisation I loved too. My job scope was being reassessed as team leader, with an appropriate pay rise. I was settled, confident, had a great life in and out of work. Marie was happier than she had been in a very long time. Except, unbeknown to me, not everyone was as pleased about my promotion.
Soon into this new century my happy wheels came off. I started to feel the mood shift in camp. People I loved and trusted started to turn their backs. Others made their bitterness felt more openly. Within a matter of weeks I would be assaulted at work, suffering a serious attack of a sexual nature and see my world come tumbling down. With that came a vulnerability which placed me slap bang in the clutches of not one but two manipulative people. They sat at extreme ends of the covert and open bullying scale, but it was a period which would see me wishing 2000 had never started.
Those memories haunted me. It is probably why I don’t put any expectations on a new year, not even a new decade or new century. No ‘new year, new me’. It’s a minute, an hour, a day. A day to celebrate a year passing.
What of 2019?
This year, 2019, has not been without its own challenges. I entered it not quite knowing whether my body was truly sick, or if it was my mind. Four months at the end of 2018 had me back and forth between doctors, hospital, and giving more vials of blood than a human should give away I am sure. I entered this year determined to get my blood levels right, all the while having to fend off medicals equally determined to blame it on my liver and lifestyle. Despite the original visit being about something completely unconnected. I am happy to report, by spring, my liver was proven healthy.
But I couldn’t lift myself up from being poked and prodded, questioned and doubted. It would take a total snotty meltdown in the surgery to finally get them, and me, to see the past seven months had affected my mental health way more than the rest of my body. Mental health support is well reported as lacking in this country. Delay after delay, I was eventually deemed not to fit the criteria. Did that mean not sick enough? A relief in some ways, but it would still take a further six months of perseverance before I finally got access to some talking therapy. I had to make it happen myself.
But while all that was going on, there were other changes happening in my life too. Good things. And I want to end on those, because those are what has got me through the harder times, and they are going to shape what 2020 looks like for me.
For several years I have been part of the Association of Scottish Businesswomen. I joined their committee in 2018. We put on an energising conference, celebrated successes through our annual awards, but most of all, we seem to have connected more with our members. I would like to think I have played at least a small part in that process. Because I love it when other folk feel they are part of something – especially if that is something I feel part of too. It is like we are part of a big team.
This is me, third from the right. The one who ignored the memo about dress code.
Each year I also get to be part of the Young Enterprise Scotland Company Programme. A programme which encourages 15-18 year old high school pupils to form a business, seek investment and make it profitable. I have been a judge and also a dragon at a Dragons Den style pitch. You know? Like a mini Deborah Meaden but without the piles of cash by my side. She also has much nicer nails than me.
Volunteering is incredibly rewarding. But it also takes time. I would work for free for that ‘feel good’ feeling. So balancing that time against commitments which bring my main income has been my biggest challenge this year, for sure.
Last year Mister Smith started to renew his own relationship with the camera. This year, with a photographer led trip to Botswana booked, it was time for me to get to grips too. We spent spring and early summer going in search of bird life on the Scottish coast, to practice the skills. Then we developed a spot in our own garden to capture our red squirrel population in action.
In August we arrived in Chobe, a little tentatively at first. But we had a ball. We learnt so much. I cannot thank Ann and Steve Toon (and all our fellow photographers that trip) for the support then and continuing.
The experience was not so much life changing but definitely a game changer. I was still painting furniture for my main living (the Artisan Bothy) but my enthusiasm had waned. I wanted to stay in Botswana. Not literally, but in my mind. I zoned out for several days and just wrote and processed images.
I had two pieces accepted and published. Travel Africa Magazine published a piece in their October-December edition about changing your perspective when you accompany pros on a safari trip. Meanwhile Wild Planet Magazine took a piece, about a rookie who has learnt to look for the little details through the lens, and featured it in the December edition.
‘I am a photographer’
When can you call yourself a photographer? Countless of my images were picked up and ‘featured’ across various online publications and groups – but by far my biggest coup was when BBC Wildlife chose my chacma baboons as their Wildlife Photo of the Day on 2nd November. Yay! Little squeeks!
With all that success under our belts, I finally felt confident enough to say my photos deserve air time. Steve and I decided to combine our efforts and now have our own wildlife photography page on social media. We printed calendars and Christmas cards, even took orders for artwork and prints. We enjoyed every minute of reliving Chobe and all our wildlife moments.
With a plan to photograph tigers in India and Otters in Shetland, 2020 is already showing promise.
I have already talked about my more journalistic type pieces. Travel and photography are my strengths. I hope 2020 will see more opportunities to publish articles in print. A part of me would also like to try some women’s health writing for magazines too. Let’s face it, I have seen enough of that to have a story or two to share.
And then there is good old Medium too. I only discovered this platform in November after a friend of a friend, and fellow writer, David Hope started publishing there. A platform which pays its writers based on the topics and articles its subscribing readers consume. We are not talking thousands of dollars here. More like a few dollars trickling in each month to cover the cost of the technology needed to keep She Wordsmiths online.
But the biggest thing, for me, is the community that exists. The support. It’s fun. And with a top writer’s badge in food, cooking, travel and satire already under my belt, plus editor status for four bigger publications, I can only assume I am doing something right. You will find my full back catalogue of Medium articles here
Now for one of the biggest pieces of news.
My Mum has asked me to help her publish a novel she started forty years ago. Finished and put away, she worked hard to get it under agents noses. I am a firm believer in wrong place, wrong time. It is 2020. Readers have changed. Content has changed. The way we access content? It has changed massively. And now, we can self publish if we wish and be selling electronic and paperback versions online too.
It is exciting, also a little nerve wracking. I feel a weight of responsibility in helping her make the decisions she will need to make. But for her to leave something behind, in this way, is going to be pretty special. Mum is 72 years old now. Still fit and feisty but age suddenly comes flying at us.
If not now, then when?
So what else does 2020 hold?
As I have already suggested, the turn of the date bears little relevance to me. 1st January 2020. It’s another day. I don’t get excited. There will be no fireworks. I just don’t love the whole ‘happy new year’ palaver at midnight. Maybe that is more true as I get older – and every new year is a new year less in the end.
It could be all too easy to look at the years that have challenged me most and say ‘good riddance’. But truth be told, I am mostly thankful for the years that have tested me. Take the year 2000. It was dire, yet it opened up avenues for me which were good.
An avenue which ultimately led me to here, now, living in Scotland, and looking forward to more writing and camera work next year.
And so 2019, though not always kind to me, might well have been the stepping stone needed to make a change. And there are changes coming. I can’t reveal them all but, for sure, writing and photography is about to become my biggest focus.
See, now that is good reason enough to say thank you 2019 and hello 2020 – isn’t it?