How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #7

fellatio
This (and the photo in the previous post) are taken from an art gallery in Le Touquet,France. I was there with my elderly grandparents and at least one of them cottoned on to what they were looking at.

Dear Erica,

My name’s Josie and I’m sixteen this May. I’ve been a collaborator for a third of my life now and nothing has worried me too much so far. But some of my friends have started talking about -and are maybe even having – sex. I  just  wondered what your opinion was on that, when do you know you are ready and is it better to be the first one to have had sex in a collaboration or not?

Thanks,

Josie x

Dear Josie,

Thanks so much for getting in touch with such an important question: this one is relevant to everyone who becomes a collaborator and so it’s really great that you’ve given me the opportunity to answer it.

First of all it’s brilliant to hear that – five years in – you’ve not had any complaints or issues with your collaboration. I know a lot of our younger readers are super worried about those first few years and settling into their body share so it’s so good for them to hear about real life examples of collaborators getting on just fine and proving that the system works!

Ok. You’ve asked to discuss something quite serious and adult so I hope you won’t mind me talking to you like an adult here, Josie.

Now: how do you know when you’re ready to have sex? For my grandparents’ generation the answer to your question was simple; it’s when you’ve got a wedding ring on your finger. For my parents generation the answer was similarly simple and similarly didactic: wait until you’re in love; that’s when you’ll know. You’ll feel ready. Sweet little epithets Josie, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I have some problems with the wisdom of our ancestors. It fails to take reality into account and, I feel, the problems that wisdom caused were twofold:

1) These rules are too idealistic and fail to factor in human nature. Therefore they made the majority of people (who wanted to have sex but hadn’t found a marriage partner or fallen in love) feel weird or like they’d failed.
AND
2) These rules are oversimplifications and were, weirdly, overcomplicating sex by making people question the quality of the sex they were having and whether they really had been in love or whether this was the person they should’ve married etc, etc, etc. Basically,for those guys, sex = worry.

Both of these problems resulted in the same thing: our parents and grandparents ended up feeling confused, uncomfortable and ashamed of the sex they were and weren’t having and the whole thing caused a lot of upset. Part of those feelings (and the advice itself) came from the notion that your body was yours to preserve and to protect and, by extension, sex wasn’t something you should give away. It was like giving away a part of your self. 

Things just aren’t like that anymore.

We are lucky enough, Josie, to live in an evolved version of our parents society which appreciates the value of the mind as the source of our selves. We understand now, through the success of collaboration, that the body is just a vessel for a mind. Our ancestors often talked about this notion (‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ etc) but didn’t really live by it. We are the generation that practices what they preach.

So what’s my attitude to sex? It’s don’t overthink it. You think you want to try sex but aren’t sure that you’re ready? Go for it! If it turns out you don’t enjoy it then just chalk it up to experience. What other damage is there, apart from the imaginary damage you’ve been warned about by your stuffy ancestors? You think you want to sleep with three different guys from your school rugby team in one week? Well why not! It’s your life, your choice and if you think it sounds like fun then who’s to tell you you’re wrong?! You want to sleep with a guy from your drama group or football team but worried you’ll be the first of your collaborators? Don’t worry about it. You share a body but the experience of sex is about more than a body (or two bodies)! When they decide to do it for the first time is their choice; what you do when it’s you that’s alive and kicking is your choice, so long as you don’t impact your collaborators negatively (which is all covered in the Ten Rules For Harmonious Collaboration). 

Speaking of negative impact, there’s just one important point that I really need to stress to you Josie, and to make sure you really hear it I’m turning to capitals and exclamation marks. YOU! MUST! ALWAYS! USE! PROTECTION! I can’t make this point enough… the only way that you can really make your sex life someones issue other than your own is to catch an STI or get pregnant without prior planning and authorisation. Using a combination of condoms and birth control pills is the only way to make sure that, once you do make that step, you are treating sex with the maturity and responsibility that it deserves.

This is the generation that values mind over matter. If you’ve made your mind up that you’re ready then trust me Josie, that’s all that matters! All that remains for me to say is: good luck and have fun!

Love,

Erica xoxo

*

This letter had been one Erica had been putting off replying to for a few days, despite her editor pestering her to respond to it. Encouraging promiscuity was one of The Team’s ‘Spring Initiatives’ and she’d been briefed so extensively as to how to ‘pitch’ it that her response had been little more than padding out their bullet points into full sentences.

She would have felt a lot less uncomfortable sending it if she had ever really experienced sex. Sex, so far to Erica, was nothing more than a dull ache that she sometimes felt in the mornings.

For Emma, Forever Ago

Feminist Art

It wasn’t really forever ago, but it was for Emma and I was listening to Bon Iver a lot today to help me through my marking pile. I love the lyrics to Skinny Love. The imagery sits right in the sweet spot between impenetrable and stating the obvious.

This poem is less subtle but more cheerful. It came from the fact that, a couple of times this year, I have grown out my armpit hair. Although I am most certainly a feminist I wouldn’t say the origins of me growing out my armpit hair was a FEMINIST STAND. It just got a little long and people started noticing it. So I let it grow longer and people noticed it more. Four months in, it led to snickers from my students when I was writing on the board and a range of responses from my friends and colleagues which mainly expressed bemusement, disgust or annoyance at my silly attempt to ‘make a point’.

I wasn’t really trying to make a point, but what I learned was everyone has an opinion on female armpit hair, even though it’s a thing that all grown up women have unless they choose to get rid of it. Hardly anyone preferred or was indifferent to the armpit hair (shout out to Joz who was positively nonchalant) and most people felt, ironically, that it was just unnatural. I couldn’t really think of any other thing that people (certainly men) are universally expected to get rid of if they don’t want to seem unusual and like they are ‘trying to make a point’.  Although people have their preferences, I believe the pubic bush remains a safe lifestyle choice. For now.

Anyway, I wrote this for Emma because when I suggested she grew hers out she told me that hers was much more heavy duty than mine and that “a tribe would move in”. I liked this idea a lot.

What are your thoughts on women with armpit hair?

Emily x

The Day The Tribe Moved In To Emma’s Armpits or R.I.P. BIC: 1993-2014

The day they moved in was a sight to be seen,
Her armpits were happy as they’d ever been.
Grinning she plaited hair pillows and covers,
And took welcome gifts of eggs, milk and sugar.

The tribe baked a pound cake and gave her a slice,
Not just for the gifts but for being so nice.
They sat round and chatted with cups of sweet tea.
Emma was happier than she knew she could be.

“This neighbourhood’s really lookin’ up” they said;
“We’d been here before but the whole place was dead:
No streetlamps or gardens or bakery fresh bread,
No hand plaited pillows to rest our wee heads.”

“No matter,” chimed Emma, “You’re here now to stay,
The old feelin’s changin’; this new one’s made way.
“I’ve thrown out the razor, my fake tans gone too,
Screw anti-ageing cream! It’s gone down the loo.

This neighbourhood’s a changin’, tell all you know
Read this how you please y’all but: I’m letting go.”

All Good Things Come To An End

This is my favourite thing that I have written. It is a short story which came from a discussion with Pete. He claimed that, if given the chance, he would become immortal. I argued that being immortal was a bad idea because, eventually, you would get buried alive; being buried alive as well as being immortal is about the most awful thing I can imagine. Pete said that actually, it wouldn’t be so bad because the human mind is a powerful thing and would find a way to deal with it.

Fun fact: I wrote this story while staying in an Alpine lodge in Slovenia and, half way through writing it, I looked up to find three goats had joined me in the living room and were looking at me expectantly. They were total jerks but we hung out for the rest of the week anyway.

Emily x

P1040492P1040493

All Good Things Come To An End
Only two things mattered in the life of Philip Masterson. The first was that – due to a miraculous and marvellous medical advancement of his own making three years earlier – he was entirely immortal. That is to say: his life could not be ended by any means. If an appendage or organ were to be removed, no matter how viciously, it would regrow in seconds. If he were to be obliterated by an explosion, collision with a large vehicle or careful dicing, he would fantastically reform. His ‘vital’ organs were impervious to ‘deadly’ gases, poisons and powders. Some critics postulated that this state of existence was not actually immortality; seeing as he did not require food, oxygen or water to survive he was, in their view, not alive at all. Philip Masterson graciously acknowledged these suggestions but asserted that, for all intents and purposes, he felt alive. And what was life but a chain of feelings?

The second important thing about Philip Masterson was that at some point in his past he had – following an ugly altercation with one of his more impassioned critics – been buried alive.

Philip did not know for how long he had been buried alive. He had no way of telling the time, since he had not been wearing a watch at the moment of his burial and there was no light inside his coffin.

For the first few hours of his incarceration, as you might expect, Philip had tried to escape. Having no tools with which to do this, and with the coffin being made of metal and residing under several feet of hardened concrete, his attempts did not last long.

For the next few days Philip battled with what psychologists refer to as the ‘Kübler-Ross model’ or, more commonly, ‘the five stages of grief’. Those same psychologists might say that he was grieving his lost existence. He started by flirting with anger at the perpetrators of his entrapment. Then he attempted denial and lay patiently waiting to wake up for a while. In the bargaining phase he optimistically appealed to Pan, Shiva and Jesus Christ in the vain hope that one of them might answer and rescue him. He felt terrible self-pity in the depression phase. He couldn’t really think of a fate more deserving of his pity than being both immortal and buried alive. It was a relief when he reached the acceptance phase and was able to lie still and feel a bit less. He had a nap and recuperated.

After the first fortnight, the stifling claustrophobia that accompanied the acceptance of his fate became too exhausting to sustain. Waiting to be rescued or discovered was not a stimulating enough hobby. On the first Monday of the third week, the shedding of sanity could happily begin.

The next day, Philip decided to move into a mansion in his mind. He wasted no time with estate agents, solicitors or surveyors. In the real world – even with all of the wealth that his scientific discovery had brought him – he had had to stay within a reasonable distance of his children’s secondary school. The mansion that Philip found in his mind had the advantage of not being near anything – and not needing to be. On the front lawn stood a rectangular pond. Among the water lilies on its surface sat six stone frogs which periodically and whimsically exchanged jets of water from their half open, smiling mouths. He had seen something similar at a theme park as a child. The water in the pond oscillated between rich cerise and a cool cerulean. He had always loved the fountains in Barcelona that at night-time were illuminated in Technicolor. It was a bonus that his fountains stayed lit during the day. When he wanted it to, the water tasted like Dandelion and Burdock.

Sometimes in the evenings he would take a long bath. His bath was made of glass. Within the glass, beautiful tropical fishes darted and danced. On other evenings he would recline in his back garden with a pint of homemade ale and play Scrabble with himself. He always used all of his letters and the words he found were always satisfying. Contrary to popular belief, constant success did not become boring.

Philip learned to knit, to play the sitar and to recite the entire works of Shakespeare in twenty languages. His next plan was to write his own language and to translate the great works himself. He would learn to recite that too. He had another idea to watch all of the Hitchcock films in a row and to compress each one into a haiku. Philip’s evenings stretched out in front of him like endless, rolling hilltops.

Back in the metal coffin, deep beneath the surface of the earth and weighed down by several feet of hardened cement remained the real, live Philip Masterson. His wife, his children, his captors and his dog were all long dead. If anyone was left above the surface and had the inclination to uncover him, they would see a man who looked as though he was in a deep and very peaceful sleep.

Sometime later – at the point that the sun expanded into a red giant and consumed the planet Earth where he had once resided – Philip believed himself to be sat in his garden, reading the newspaper and eating a Big Mac.

P1000083
‘PARTRIDGE’ and ‘LICHEN’ were the most satisfying words here.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #6

I’m playing with the idea that the government has styled itself as The Team. I want them to have a name which is vague, anonymous and which insinuates friendliness.

Below, Erica begins to answer some of her postbag.

Happy Friday!

Emily xx

“The world’s problems shouldn’t be the human family’s heirloom” – Adora Svitak

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next

It was ten o’clock in the morning and so far Erica had achieved a great deal: she had made her bed, folder her pyjamas and brushed her teeth. She had switched on Classic FM and completed approximately fifteen minutes of light yoga while focusing on her breathing and internally stating her intentions for the day. She had set the coffee machine to brew while she showered and had switched to Radio 2 and had sung along to a song she liked from the Top Forty while she made toast and spread it with a precise sliver of Marmite which extended just so to the corners of her wholegrain toast. She had savoured the coffee and toast slowly, flicking through the news online, while still in her dressing gown.  She had completed the quick crossword and required a search engine for only two of the clues. She had dressed in black leggings and  an oversized shirt, had dabbed her temples and lips with some virgin coconut oil and applied a thin layer of natural brown mascara to her eyelashes. She had practiced her French for twenty minutes and replied to six personal emails. All this she had done, and yet a nagging part of her felt that she had done nothing. It was the part of her that sat down to write her diary at night – a healthy habit for a healthy and reflective mind – and that realised that none of this was worth writing in a diary. How many decisions did she make a day without anything changing?

She opened the folder in her inbox marked ‘letters awaiting reply’. For five days a week, her routine was the same. In the morning she picked letters, wrote replies and submitted them to her editor. In the afternoon she checked replies from the preceding day’s efforts, read through all of the underlines and annotations and edited her letters accordingly. The process in general took a week before her work was considered publishable: her editor was fond of reminding her that the ‘message’ she sent out should be ‘clean and peachy keen’. Sometimes Erica wanted to be mad at her editor for their insipid obsession with sanitising her writing, but this was difficult for two reasons. One: she had not really been truly mad for several years and couldn’t quite remember how to do it. Two: she had never met the editor and therefore wasn’t quite sure who to be mad at. She wasn’t even entirely sure her editor was always the same person.

She picked a letter at random.

Dear Erica, 

I am 9 years old and I am worreyd about my phisical tests next year. I am doing my best to be fit and ready for them but I a worryed about if I don’t get picked. Does it still feel the same? Also what if you want to carry on doing something for two days in a row do you have to stop? Sometimes I do a jigsaw and leave it out in my bedroom over night. Can you tell me what a normal day is like for you?

Thanks,

Joe xxx

The reply would be easy. Erica could at least admit that writing was easier with the interventions of the editor: paint by numbers instead of a blank canvas. It was exactly the kind of question that the editor enjoyed and she knew exactly the spin they’d like to put on it. She left in the spelling mistakes – the editor felt they were endearing.

 Dear Joe,

Thanks so much for getting in touch! It’s awful to feel worried about something, especially when you can’t control it. But hey, you did the right thing by writing in to me because, hopefully, you’ll believe me when I say that there’s really nothing to worry about at all!

First off, don’t worry about ‘getting fit’ for the physicals. While it’s always a great idea to be fit and healthy, there are all kinds of factors that can mean that your body isn’t placed in the top third of your age group, and lots of them don’t have anything to do with you! A family history of diabetes, not having had the measles yet… In fact, my case is the perfect example! There weren’t many nine year olds fitter or healthier than me, but my eczema meant that I just didn’t make the cut.

But hey: don’t feel sorry for me. Although I had all the concerns and doubts that you’re probably having now when I was told I’d be being moved to a new body, it was totally the best thing that could have happened to me. While it may seem scary to ‘lose’ your body, it’s important to remember that people’s bodies have always changed, often for the worse, and collaboration is an opportunity that our ancestors never had to change for the better and to increase our health and fitness. Remember: if you don’t get picked, you’ll be moving into a body that was tested as healthier and fitter than yours! The only way is up!

You asked me if it still feels the same. I ask you this: when you wake up in the morning and open your eyes, do you have to look in the mirror to remember who you are? Of course not. Who you are is what’s in your mind. When my collaboration began it felt as though I fell asleep and woke up just like any normal nights sleep. The only difference was the way I looked… and my skin didn’t itch any more!

That leads me on to your question about when you want things to run over from one day to the next. When your match is made, The Team will arrange things so that you always fall asleep and wake up in the same place. Although two days will have occurred in your body without you, it’ll be hard to tell. Plus – in collaborations it’s important that we take care of what we have: you’ll get used to tidying your jigsaws away and labeling them with ‘please do not touch’, just as much as you get used to putting yourself to bed ready for your collaborator!

Lastly you asked me about an average day. Well… I can’t imagine that’d be much different to the average day in anyone’s life… collaborator or otherwise. I wake up, practice some yoga, read a little world news and eat a healthy, balanced, breakfast. The Team has all kinds of great breakfast recipes online to help you with balancing your nutrition. I listen to some music to cheer up my mood and set to work answering great emails like this one! After a delicious lunch I will call my mum (she’s not a collaborator so she’ll often have a couple of days worth of gossip and news to fill me in on!) and complete a little more work. In the afternoon I’ll meet a friend for a stroll in the park or to hit an exercise class – spinning and Pilates are my current favourites – and we might treat ourselves to a frozen yoghurt or a trip to the cinema. Most evenings I prefer to come home and curl up with my cuddly old cat and a book. I make sure I leave myself in good condition for my collaborator (her name’s Jenny!) by removing my make up, drinking a pint of water and cleaning my teeth. Then it’s time to hit the hay and get some beauty sleep! When I wake up two days later I remember the day before as though it just happened. Not much different to any normal girl, I guess!

So Joe: your body changing is scary because it’s a new thing and I understand that. I mean think about it, it was even newer when it happened to me! But we humans have always been scared of the future… that doesn’t mean we should avoid it. So if you do end up upgrading, embrace it and get ready for a life of improved health and all the happiness that that will bring!

Hugs and kisses,

Erica xOxO

The words had flowed out of her so easily it was almost as though she meant them. She checked through to make sure the tone was as perky as her editor liked and clicked send. It was eleven o’clock. Erica had twelve hours of her day left.

“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”

Here’s a short story I wrote last year  having read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a collection of magical realist short stories. It made me interested in stretching the boundaries of possibility and not making a big deal of it.

Some of the story comes from personal experience. Most importantly, the manner of my granddad’s death and the unexpected calmness of my Nana’s reaction to it. I thought about how open and adaptable the human mind can be, which is where the premise of the story comes from.

I’m part way through writing a collection of short stories which all attempt to mull on this theme. It is best summed up by the lovely illustration below from one of my favourite authors: Kurt Vonnegut.

Emily xx

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5

Alone, but for the dog

It was an unfortunate series of events that had left June, deep in the throes of Dementia, alone but for the dog. Her husband Jack had just begun to notice the warning signs. Two weeks ago June had poured them both a nightcap but, instead of the usual glug of Glenfiddich, June had brought two tumblers brim-full of clear liquor. Jack had only to smell it from the tray to know that it was Pernod – the aniseed stench was petrol station heavy. But before the confusion had registered in his brain, June, a sipper by nature, had swilled the lot. Her eyes were glistening. ‘My father introduced me to real single malt whisky. None of this Jack Daniels shit the kids are drinking these days. It’s for the dogs’. June did not usually swear. Nor did she usually denigrate dogs. The dog was on the sofa within earshot of the insult but said nothing.

The Pernod had been living quite happily in the liquor cabinet for almost a decade now. It had been put out to pasture after the last meeting of their bridge club, which had dissolved on account of all the death and sickness which had come with being a club of septuagenarians. Jack and June did not drink Pernod. They didn’t like it. They liked Glenfiddich.

A week after the Pernod incident Jack died suddenly. He had woken in the night half way through a heart attack and within an hour or so he was gone. Most of the time, June still felt quite lucid (and the rest of the time she thought she did). She was clear-headed and composed as she traipsed through the motions of Dealing With The Death Of A Spouse, although it was really quite a blow. Having outlived all of their friends and having not produced offspring, Jack and June had been all alone in the world. Now June was completely alone. Alone, that is, but for the dog.

Being alone but for the dog might have been a problem for an old lady with Dementia, had the day of Jack’s funeral not also been the day that the dog decided to start talking.

June had been the only funeral attendant – an unpleasant but not uncommon fact of life for eighty-three year olds. Afterwards, as she clicked the front door shut behind her, she prepared herself with a deep breath for the first moment of domestic life post-Jack. It was to be her first evening as the sole resident of their sixty year marital home. She spent a moment in the doorway, not ready to enter the living room and see Jack’s empty chair. June contemplated the tragic inevitability of her future. People think that with old age marriage becomes a tale of companionship. They imagine that old people don’t experience desire once they cease to incite it. In the doorway, June briefly lamented the fact that she would never be kissed again. Desire, for June, had lived and died with Jack.

Wilbur was a Great Dane with black spots on sleek white fur. Six foot three when standing on his hind legs, he was named ironically after the runt piglet in Charlotte’s Web. When June found him in the living room after the funeral he was wearing a grey tweed suit of Jack’s with a powder pink shirt and braces. When June walked in, he furrowed his brow sympathetically. “How was it, June?”

June blinked and stared at Wilbur. He paused and then walked to the liquor cabinet. “Let me get you a drink” he said fraternally, pouring out two generous portions of Glendfiddich. “I’m joining you on the whisky if you don’t mind.” He winked at June as he handed her the glass. “Pernod’s for the cats”. June took the Glenfiddich and spoke at last. “You can talk!” It was a predictable thing to say but, considering the circumstances, reasonable. “Can we skip this part and start having fun?” Asked Wilbur, smiling. June sipped her Glenfiddich and nodded slowly. After a few moments she grinned and asked: “Who’s your favourite author?” Wilbur laughed. He had always been a great fan of June’s open minded nature. “Tolstoy, but I mainly like his short stories. I’ve not read Anna Karenina which I think makes me a bad Tolstoy fan. Do you like Bukowski?”

That evening June stayed up until 11pm: it was her latest bedtime in years. She and Wilbur were having so much fun. She read aloud to him her favourite excerpts from Anna Karenina and he recited his favourite Robert Frost poem, Fire and Ice. They laughed fitfully rifling through June’s old lipsticks and eye shadows and giving each other makeovers. June’s arthritis and Wilbur’s lack of opposable thumbs made their efforts equally ridiculous. Wilbur tried to recreate a montage fashion parade such as one might see in a teen movie. He put some Eighties Madonna on the Hi-Fi and bounded in and out of Jack’s wardrobe in various comical combinations, but ended up getting his head stuck in a turtleneck and eating a moccasin shoe in overexcitement.

When they were tired Wilbur made some cocoa and they built a fort from blankets and cushions to snuggle in and share favourite memories of Jack. If you’re wondering at this point whether Wilbur’s intentions were anything but honourable then put the idea out of your mind. Wilbur was a dog, remember, and a neutered one at that. Besides, he knew as well as you and I do that June’s understanding of romance lived and died with Jack. Wilbur knew it instinctively but you should know better; I told you only a few paragraphs ago. The new sleeping arrangement was undeniably symbiotic though. Dogs love blanket forts and old ladies love to be the little spoon.

Three weeks later June followed Jack to the land of peace and conclusions. She was in the garden deadheading marigolds while Wilbur recited The Owl and The Pussycat to her, substituting ‘dog’ for ‘owl’ and ‘OAP’ for ‘pussycat’. June was giggling and sprinkling the flower heads onto the springy grass at her knees as a warm feeling, normally associated with drinking red wine at lunchtime, spread dizzily through her. Gently she lay among the marigold heads and smiled her final smile up at Wilbur, who smiled softly back and bellowed jovially, “Go forth, Titania!”

The dog barked for an hour before a frustrated neighbour peered over the fence and saw the scene: a gaunt, wild haired old lady, lying dead in the grass wearing nothing but a stained nightdress, next to a distressed and lonely dog.

The death certificate cited malnutrition as the cause of June’s death but, had she or the dog been able to share the truth, the world would have known that she had died of happiness.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #5

Got a problem? Struggling to collaborate? Never fear, Erica's here!
Got a problem? Struggling to collaborate? Never fear, Erica’s here!

Erica is an agony aunt employed by the government. I like the idea that she developed an interest in writing at school in her angry poetry phase and went from diary writing to professional writing. It’s a funny fact that a disproportionately large percentage of the fictional world work in writing. Wishful thinking of their creators, I suppose…

The questions that Erica answers will be from the under-10s who are worried about their impending body swaps / physical tests as well as from teenagers struggling with the new challenges of collaboration. I’ve written a couple of answers below but am looking for more ideas. Please offer some suggestions in the comments section for the kind of thing that people might worry about in this area and I can turn them into letters in Erica’s inbox and write answers for them tomorrow!

Some things to bear in mind for Erica’s letters/responses: firstly, the government cultivates a friendly, conspiratorial character for itself which I want the reader to suspect but the characters to never outwardly suspect. Think Buzzfeed or indeed much of the marketing of contemporary brands (Innocent Smoothies, Tesco etc). Therefore Erica’s responses will need to be heavily sugar coated and sanitised. Furthermore, the government is faceless and, although they largely dictate the style of her writing, Erica has never actually met anyone that works for them. She gained her job online and her correspondence is always with the company, not with a specific member of the company. If anyone has any ideas for a fuzzy name for the government, please add that to the comment section too!

So below are some examples of the kind of letters I’m looking for and that I’ll be writing replies for tomorrow.

Emily x

Dear Erica, 

I am 9 years old and I am worreyd about my phisical tests next year. I am doing my best to be fit and ready for them but I a worryed about if I don’t get picked. Does it still feel the same? Also what if you want to carry on doing something for two days in a row do you have to stop? Sometimes I do a jigsaw and leave it out in my bedroom over night. Can you tell me what a normal day is like for you?

Thanks,

Joe xxx

*

Dear Erica,

My name’s Josie and I’m fifteen this May. I’ve been a collaborator for a third of my life now and nothing has worried me too much until now. But some of my friends have started talking about and maybe even having sex. I just wondered what your opinion was on that, when do you know you are ready and is it better to be the first one to have had sex in a collaboration or not?

Thanks,

Josie x

*

Dear Erica,

I’m a collaborator in my early twenties and was fit and healthy enough at ten to be able to keep my original body. I have always been really proud of this and thought it made me one of the lucky ones. 

Recently though I have been feeling quite sluggish and a little heavier around the middle  despite eating healthily and working out as per the government recommended fitness schedule. 

I’m pretty sure that the way I’m feeling is due to the bad habits of one of my collaborators. The other day I woke up and I could swear I could smell smoke.

What can I do to make sure that my collaborators don’t damage my chances of a happy, healthy life?

Thanks in advance,

Alex

“If you called your dad he could stop it all”

Daddy and Daughter 2
Happiness is: beer, word games and my dad. The Vendee, France. July 2010.

When I am asked if I am a daddy’s girl or a mummy’s girl I say I am a both girl. I am fortunate enough to have really close relationships with both of my parents. They both indulge me a lot, which my brother would probably say explains a lot about my personality.

My dad is basically me plus thirty years and a beard. When he saw that I had posted a poem about my mum he moaned about feeling left out. I sympathise with this because it is exactly what I would have done.

So in the spirit of celebrating my father – and the fact that I am my father’s daughter – here is a pair of poems. The first is from me to him on his 58th birthday and the second is from him to me on my 22nd. His was written to accompany a collection of 20 or so mix CDs he’d made for me. For a firefighting, beer swilling, outdoor meat cooking football fan, he’s pretty sentimental.

Mine should be taken with a pinch of salt, particularly if you are Pete. I just wanted the poem to reflect on how lucky I am to have a dad who has not only been a role model but has become a friend; I have my dad to thank for Fleetwood Mac, my driving licence, my ability to complete cryptic crosswords and every piece of barbecued meat I’ve ever eaten. Also, the nose, but you can’t win every time.

Emily x

Ladies, lock up your daughters

Daddy you’ve made it hard to find the one.
It’s not that all the boys who have been and gone
haven’t been met with your kinder side:
You welcomed them.
God knows, you tried.

But knowing you has set a bar
and no one else has gone as far
as you have.

Knowing – as I do – that you exist
makes it hard to turn these silly trysts
into something more crystalline.

I can’t tolerate a receding hairline
or poor grammar or not knowing
how to fuse a plug,
how to solve cryptic crosswords
or computer debug.

Surely there must be a man
who can do all the things that you can?
Who’ll sincerely sing Belinda Carlisle
and can cook
and walk over four miles
in an hour?

I feel it’s my responsibility
to find a better man than did mummy.
Otherwise surely it’s devolution.
But who constructs puns as well as you can?

Daddy you’ve heard this one before
But I guess they don’t make ’em like you anymore.

*

A Girl!

28, 5, 89
You came into my life
Blonde, boisterous, beautiful
Female!
I am not used to this.
Time flew, you grew
Confident, clever, inquisitive:
Frightening me with your independence
Years pass,
A tumbling mass of
Strange fire stationy days out,
Blue plastered ankles,
Academic brilliance,
Spatial ineptitude,
Inappropriate boyfriends,
You, holding a mirror to my face
Too soon you left
You’d grown, you’d flown
More years flow by
We reunite
Me, fit to burst with pride
You, a woman.

Prats-de-Mollo, August 2012
Prats-de-Mollo, France. August 2012