Brenda McHale loves to play with words, either as a writer or as a copy editor and proofreader. Her working life has spanned over 30 jobs from making chip pan baskets to childhood practitioner, so it’s perhaps not surprising that her writing is also eclectic. She has featured in The People’s Friend, Northwards Now, Reader’s Digest, Early Years’ Educator and in Plastic and Rubber Weekly, which is much less interesting than it sounds. She has ghostwritten several books on environmental issues and personal development, topics she cares deeply about.
Although she loves to write short stories, her Mlitt has convinced her that her real love is non-fiction, and her portfolio of memoir pieces confirms to her that everyone really does have a story in them. Writing allows her to sort her own story out. As someone famous once said ‘How will I know what I think until I’ve written about it?’ She loves, LOVES, to research things and her favourite thing to do is to get lost down the internet warren and pop up somewhere unfamiliar and unexpected. She is currently working freelance, writing children’s non-fiction books, which allows her to indulge this passion. She considers herself lucky in life.
(After ‘I Could Live Without Speaking’ by Chelsea Hodson after ‘Autoportrait’ by Édouard Levé)
I usually wake with a song going through my head on a loop. I don’t know if other people do, I have never thought to ask. I have just one friend who I trust enough to believe her when she says, ‘you will love this book’. All my passwords mention ‘happy’ in them. I am slow to anger but then snap like a crocodile and enjoy taking my victim down. I rarely stay in touch with people when I move on from a job or a place and have stopped saying I will. I can go many hours without eating. I never tell jokes and neither do any of my female friends. My left ankle is misshapen in just the same way as my mother’s was. Anxiety runs through my life like a major faultline. I rarely forgive myself for bad behaviour but am too quick to forgive others. My family tree has twice been struck by lightning: when I discovered my father was adopted, then when I was told that my siblings were half-siblings. I do not have a head for hats but have developed a head for heights. When I curl up with my partner early in the morning we remind me of meerkats, a tumble and tangle of arms and legs. My earliest memory is of my little brother being put to bed after breaking his leg: it might be my earliest jealousy too. I was 28 when I went abroad for the first time. I was 40 when I flew for the first time. I was 50 when I skied for the first time. Bridges of Madison County and The Martian are movies I can follow along with the dialogue, and I’m embarrassed that neither of them are highbrow. If someone asks me the name of the book I am reading I rarely know, even if I am physically reading it at the time. I would never do karaoke. My back teeth are all filled or missing. The smell of rubber reminds me of dentists. The comments on beautiful music videos move me more than the videos. I miss my father calling me darling. Leonard Cohen was the only famous person whose death made me cry. I am a persistent picker of skin imperfections, like a monkey grooming. My grandmother was born the same year as Celtic football team was founded and was prouder of that fact of her life than any other, which I think is sad since neither was under her control. I wish my mother had got to go to Egypt. As I get older I like warm weather more and cold weather less; I used to be the other way. I am both perfectly content with my life and want to change everything. Practicing gratitude is easy for me. My first reaction when someone tells me of a problem they have is to try to fix it for them. A man who smells good can make me turn around in the street and follow him for a while, just for the pleasure of it. Sunlight sparkling on water always makes me feel happier. A line of washing blowing like prayer flags moves me more than any work of art I know. There is no sport that I can play even reasonably well, which doesn’t bother me at all. I am a physical coward but emotionally brave. To just accept that other people don’t think like me has made my life much calmer. I have had episodes of déjà vu twice in my life, which sounds like part of a joke. I sometimes start a sentence with ‘when I was a mother’ though I mean ‘when my children were young’. If I am interested in a thing I research it obsessively, and then just drop it like hot rocks and move on to another obsession. I often zone out and realise that I have been sitting stone still for ages, the only times I am statuesque. Like 87% of the population, I think I’m a better-than-average driver. My daughters drive too fast and say they learned it from me. I don’t believe in god but I sometimes pray anyway, because I think it can’t do any harm. I’m a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, membership number 14372. I think middle-aged women should always make eye contact with each other, to say I see you and you are real. My most important theory is that we have not reached a stage in evolution where we can cope with the world we have made, so most of us go mad in some way. I am neurotic about my physical privacy but sometimes think I reveal too many private things in my writing, as in this instance. People should think more carefully about whether to have babies, though I didn’t think about it at all. I don’t like formal meals, even if the food is fantastic, and would rather have a picnic. I spend a lot of my time thinking that the way we do things in the modern world is strange. I often feel like an observer to the world around me, as if someone else has put it all together and I am following a pattern set down for me, all the while thinking WTF? Most of my memories are sad ones, even though I think of my life as exceptionally good overall. My best ages were 10 and 24. Fifty was also pretty good. Someone who takes their glasses off can look so vulnerable I have to look away to protect their privacy. I rarely have money, and it bothers me, but not enough to do something about it. I think that ‘nice’ is an underrated word. The sound of chickens clucking is the sound of contentment. When I hear small children talking French I am impressed, even if they are French, then I laugh at myself. I like most people but am also scared by most people, even children. I don’t hold a grudge and can’t understand why others do. I have just been given a hunting knife, and holding it made me feel powerful in a way I liked. I like modern art-gallery buildings more than the paintings they house and would rather look at them empty. My favourite smells are wood smoke, fresh-sawn wood, and patchouli oil, which smells like essence of wood. Every time I eat halloumi I am surprised other people can’t hear the squeak. I never expect someone to remember my name and automatically like them if they do. I often say ‘I was saying to X last night that…’ then wonder why I don’t just say what I was going to say, without this preamble. I know a little bit about a lot of things, which can make me sound quite smart, superficially. I love to laugh when I’m alone, because it means I can put everything into it, slapping my thighs and throwing my head back. I am easily swayed in my point of view and put it down to being a Libra. I only believe in star signs when it suits me. My childhood friends and I made a den in the garage of someone we didn’t know and visited it regularly for a year; they never found out as far as I know. I don’t think the eyes are the window to the soul. I can remember the registration of my very first car but not my last one, and sometimes not my present one. My sense of direction is so bad I don’t know which way to turn when I come out of a room I’ve just gone in to. I fool myself sometimes, with all manner of things. When people get louder I get quieter to show them how it should be done. I love the crisp clean smell of cold when someone comes in from outside. I take photographs of other people’s lines of washing and now my daughters do the same; we are going to make a book some day. I think people should wear whatever they want but should also expect that others will judge them for it. I can point to where my soul is located but not my spleen. I am a pacifist who loves old military paraphernalia; I accept the contradiction in myself.