Saturday, 20 November 2021

Going to hell in a handcart

I think it's hell you're after, matey.

Blimey yes.  There seems to be an air of malaise and gloom about us in the world.  If what I read and watch is accurate, something bad is happening almost everywhere. Even though I no longer watch the news, read newspapers or listen to the radio, I cannot miss the podcasts and videos on YouTube and from what I can see, there is no hope.  And then I go out from my home here in Bognor Regis, and everyone is still as nice as they ever were, the shops are full of stuff and everyone is going about their business, bustling about together and living the good life.  I wonder then, whether I am just protected in my tiny provincial town by the sea and the badness hasn't caught up with us yet.  I see protests in big cities on YouTube.  I hear Australia is now a totalitarian police state.  I see Austria has declared a lockdown for their unvaccinated citizens  with Germany and Europe set to follow suit and in America, the vaccine mandate is not only now steamrolling ahead regardless, it is successfully legally challenged and still it is steamrolling ahead.  I see on YouTube and in various articles that I do read that Gibraltar has cancelled Christmas, Canada and New Zealand have become wet and authoritarian beyond belief, and I wonder - why is Bognor Regis still managing to get by without all of this affecting us?  Are we just not affected yet?

There is, if you look for it, a change in the psychic weather.  Something has happened to we ordinary people and though most of us have retained our good manners and many are happy to go about our daily business, there are billions bound by a new fear, a new terror, that somehow they are going to die.  Not the old existential we-are-all-mortal die, but a gruesome, germ-warfare die.  It is here in the whole world, this fear.  It is attached to a new threat that was science fiction only a few years ago, but now is, we are told, and we utterly believe it because why would we not, lethal, indiscriminatory and almost supernatural in its power.  It is new and we are all going to die and it comes from China. Aaaaag. Certain actions will save us, we are told, and if we do not do them we not only effectively commit suicide (we die horribly and it is our own fault we were warned) but take others down with us too (they died tragically because we did not do what we were told to do and we knew others would die if we disobeyed, and still we did not do as we were asked and now not only are we dead, but everyone else is too thank you very much), so we are effectively murderers too.  But despite religiously doing what we are told, the fear increases because we start to not only fear dying suddenly from something we can't see that seems to have all the power in the world, we fear not doing these things as if that too will strike us down, and then we fear each other and now, billions of us fear everything.  And worst of all, this great invisible threat to life as we know it ignores all the roadblocks our great leaders and those in charge of what story we are told, tell us will stop it. As far as we can see, it is still out to get us.  It knows where we live.  And still, as far as I can see, life in Bognor Regis just tootles along. 

There is something that goes hand in hand with this fear.  It is compliance, compliance with whatever we are told to do and believe in, which far from making the fear better, makes it worse.  It gets worse because the information about the invisible super killing enemy in the air keeps changing, and the invisible super killing enemy is not taking any notice of what is in place to defeat it, so nothing really works and we have to find someone to blame.  Well it is not us, that is for sure.  It must be them, whoever they are, and we conveniently make them responsible for making we who have played by the rules, look foolish.  

The compliance is understandable.  The messages from our great leaders who thought up the life saving steps to defeat the enemy in the air, are clever, and make us feel like they care, and our great leaders have access to all manner of ways to make us believe in them.  We are all so deeply traumatised by the Russian roulette manner in which they tell us we are all to die or survive, that we hang on to our great leaders' every word, even when not much of it makes sense.  The thing about compliance is that it makes us feel as if we are doing something, we are in control, we are in this together, and as a group the thing we most fear can't get us.  And our leaders tell us that we, ourselves, are the most dangerous thing of all and so despite being in this together, we need to be in it together but far enough away from the next person that we cannot touch or breathe on each other, so that this thing that we are now personally responsible for cannot get anywhere. Or at least, it can, but it may get my neighbour or the next person in the queue and not me, because I am obeying. I am safe.  Unless I come across someone who is not complying and then it is an all over. Oh what to do!  Tell us, great leader, and make it strict and tough so we feel that you care!

Browsing the aisles in a carefree manner.  Not yet in Bognor though.

I do look at social media and I do look at headlines on the papers in the shops.  What I see there is a mad, crazy world of blame and counter blame, a panic driven wish to hide whole societies under the kitchen table in hazmat suits and to denounce ordinary living as lethal.  I see that vaccines are the answer, to protect the world from this armageddon.  Great, that is a relief.  But now I see that they lose effectiveness after about six months, and that they work wonderfully well (thank God) but they don't actually work that well, and it is all very confusing.  The narrative goes now, that unless all people from birth onwards take this magical vaccine, life on earth will end.  And to help us to do that, take the vaccine, we are given free doughnuts and cash prizes and always a pat on the back for our selflessness.  And anyway, if I read the headlines, social media and YouTube correctly, if we don't get ourselves vaccinated (once, twice, three times and now four and possibly more ad infinitum), we are too dangerous to work, to shop, to travel and to be around.  Best get it done then.  Phew.  And yet, many are not vaccinated, carry on living quite happily, and what does that mean for all those who are, and what does it mean for life on earth?  Oh it is all so maddening.  

Back to Bognor Regis.  I do not know who is vaccinated or not and no one is dying in the street.  There is no division into clean and unclean in Morrison's. People wear face masks that they take out, shake off the fluff from their pockets and put on in shops, and that is possibly the only way we are playing our part.  We make our masks suit our outfits and feel lovely in them, taking them off to chat and eat and drink, and to smoke too of course.  The fact that we have them, probably many of them in different colours, is enough. We have not had any riots or demonstrations, and so far, we are milling around and buying all our usual stuff on the High Street.  Maybe those who are still very afraid are still under their tables in their hazmat suits, so of course we won't see each other. 

But there is a malaise in the air.  Things are different out there, beyond Bognor.  It is not a good idea to be ill and need care at the moment.  It is not a good idea to want to travel out of this country.  It is not good to need to work and fear being made unemployable by not having a vaccine that you thought you had the right to decide to take or not take.  Not good to fear our great leaders shutting down everything for our own good, except that it is not for our own good, if we cannot earn money to live.  There is a malaise in the air and it is not good.  If I believed all the hype, I would say we are going to hell in a handcart.  It may be true, but so far, in Bognor, it is not.  

It's like this every day in Bognor.

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Saturday, 6 November 2021

I'm turning into my mum.

 

Waiting in the wings to become shameless and lethal too.

I'm turning into my mum.  Blimey, it's not a bad thing as such, I love my mum.  I have written a whole book about her dying, for goodness sake, she is big in my life even now.  The thing is, I point my finger in the same way as she did, my hair is turning into her hair, I say things that she said, I feel myself walking like she used to walk and I find myself saying with feeling in the dead of night, "Back Mother!  I am my own person!"

Mum was such a striking figure.  Small, elegant and ferociously intelligent, she relished a fight with anyone who stood in her way.  Never one to actually swing a punch, Mum would use her super power instead, a forensic perception of your weakness, and a pathological determination to bring you down, and use it without mercy.  As she got older, she became more confident and delighted with the success of her encounters.  Those left in her wake included bad salesmen, disrespectful shop staff, stubborn officials and anyone who refused to give her a bargain.  

Mother was also very kind indeed, and her growing fearlessness as she got older made her step into situations where angels would fear to tread.  In these situations, her forensic perception could be very strong and helpful.  But as children, my brothers and I would relish the idea of someone trying to pull the wool over our mother's eyes when out shopping for, say, some good piece of cloth in a market.  We knew that she could be underestimated, being small and beautifully dressed, but what they did not know was that she was going to kill.  And nine times out of ten, she did.  She got what she wanted - and somehow in the negotiations, mum would find out the name of her opponent, and their mother, father and grandparents' names and she would use them all to bamboozle the poor victim. It was a master class in assertiveness and sheer bloody mindedness.  

Later in life, mother became quite openly shameless.  We went on holiday to Ireland together a good few years ago, back to visit her family and see where she spent her childhood and I was to drive us around Southern Ireland in a hire car.  On the big day, I picked her up from her house, and drove us both to Gatwick Airport with our bags and snacks for the journey.  Though in her eighties, she was a powerhouse of energy and determination, and so looking forward to our holiday.  We were like kids on school holidays - mum could be wonderful company.  Walking happily from the airport car park, swinging our bags, chatting and planning our trip, we walked into the airport building and mother suddenly slowed down her happy, healthful and spritely walk and announced that she was disabled. She needed, she said, the special help that airports offer, the little car that drives you around, a wheelchair, and one to one care.  I was mortified and wanted nothing to do with this charade because I knew from old that she was on a roll, and I was sure she was on CCTV skipping around outside.  I told her she could go and ask on her own because I was going to hide. As she approached the desk for special assistance I watched her from behind a pillar in what I can only think was a perfect display of method acting.  She limped, and sighed, and staggered, and moaned and blow me down, she convinced them that she needed help immediately at the head of the queue, and not only that, because she (now) couldn't walk at all, she said she needed - and got - the special kind of lift apparatus that lifted her, me and her wheelchair into the aeroplane before everyone else, and to be helped into a seat like a dying hero.  I was mortified, mother was delighted and all the staff felt that they had helped an old lady live another day.  It carried on in Dublin where mother (who was still very beautiful) convinced a nice (poor) porter to wheel her off the plane, through customs and then actually right outside the airport building to where the hire cars were waiting a good ten minutes walk away, and put her bodily into ours. He even fastened her seat belt because she had so little time left to live. That, is chutzpah.

No pretending.

But now, back to me.  Obviously the above account is not me, (yet), and I do not want a fight (yet) with anyone.   My mother was tiny, and I am tall.  She was well dressed and loved quality and I, bless me, love colour and sequins.  I look fine, but it is obvious I like the jumble sale look.  How am I morphing into my mother?  I find myself listening to people in exactly the same way that mum did. I remember how careful she was when listening and how she could tell if someone was not interested in asking her about herself.  Sometimes Mum was a bit sharp but mostly, she had this strange kindness as if she knew it was important for her to just let them speak.  I am aware that I am holding my head in exactly the same way that she did, and I hear myself responding using her words.  There are times when my voice is exactly like hers and I repeat phrases and sayings that used to make me say, "Oh muuuuuuum!" in embarrassment when I was much younger.  Now it is me saying them, and they are coming out from my mouth as if I'd always been speaking that way.  I know my face is more like her than it ever was, despite me supposedly looking more like my dad. I can see her in there, she's in my face and when I put on my lipstick, which I wear because my mother always did so, she's taken over. 

Mum used to say she loved a bit of hard, brown crusty bread and butter late in the evening with some whiskey.  I couldn't think of anything more tedious when she was alive but now, what have I taken to having?  I can't wait to have hard crusty brown bread and butter of an evening but as I don't drink alcohol, I have mine with hot milk. (Sorry Cousin Kirsten, this always makes her feel ill).  When did a piece of hard brown bread and butter become beautiful to me?  How? 

I see myself being her when I deal with my grandchildren too.  I can feel myself being her.  I know now how she felt looking after my children, I remember watching her and being very curious about the seamless change in her from being a mum with beautiful long black hair to a stouter white haired grandma.  I find myself thinking about her and what she said and did, and understanding her now because I am also sliding seamlessly into being a stouter grey haired grandma. It is almost as if she knew the path that I would have to follow, that of getting older with all it entails, and also becoming a grandmother, and left little clues and presents for me along the way.  And because she was my mum and played second fiddle to no one, she is making me look and act more like her just for the hell of it.  

I am just waiting in the wings now to become shameless and lethal too. 

 

Hello Mum!

 

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Sunday, 24 October 2021

I had a dream

No sleep, no dreams.
Pre dream

I rarely dream. I listen to friends who do dream and wish that I did.  They always have so much fun, and if we were inclined to do so, we could spend ages unpicking them to find meaning.  Sometimes we do, like recently my friend dreamed that she was looking for her Prince Charming. He's over there, someone said, up in the maths tower which you have to climb.  My friend has a memory of swinging in through the window of this maths tower on a vine (like Tarzan) instead, so she didn't have to climb it at all. She did not say anything about Prince Charming inside so perhaps he had dived out of one window as she was swinging in through the other.  Wonderful. We couldn't work out what any of that meant, so perhaps we will wait for her next dream and try again.  I am told that I do actually dream, everyone does, but that I do not remember them.  Possibly because I wake a lot in the night and they don't have time to really get going, or because what deep sleep I do have crams them all in and my brain explodes.  I really do not know, and perhaps you can put me right on this.

Night time used to be a fearful place for me. Many years ago I did not sleep well, and did not want to face the darkness.  There was something about the long quiet dark hours of the night in which I could not escape from my own thoughts that made me try and avoid it.  I would resist going to bed, resist going to sleep, and keep the radio on to help me.  To lie down and stay still, to know that all the chattering in my mind would be louder and louder in the quietness, and to feel the anxiety in my stomach in the early hours when I woke after only a small amount of sleep, made life very difficult.  I did sort it out after many years and in the end, and it was quite simple.  Mostly, it was a decision to stop dreading the night, and to have a proper bed time and wake time.  I read a good book about sleep, put their recommendations into practice, and the long dark scary nights began to recede. I love my night times now.  I sleep very well in my own way, and don't worry about it if I don't.  But still, I do not remember my dreams.  

The dream

 My life is full of meaning.  The work I do, the people I meet and the places I go means that I am often concentrating hard on what the outcomes are.  Much of what I do is about energy and energies which includes healing work, listening work and creative work. It can be very intense - it is intense - which is why it works.  The deeper and more difficult things in our lives take time, focus and energy to deal with and when I am working with someone, I use love and kindness alongside time, focus and energy, and it draws on resources we forget we have.  Sometimes, my work is an encounter with someone out of the blue, and I may not know who they are or what their name is but we encounter each other and for the time we spend together, there is an exchange of healing and experience.  

When I go to London, I carry loose change so that I can give it to whoever asks for it.  One time, a very misshapen young man, obviously not right in the head, left his cardboard box and beckoned me over.  Would I go into the coffee shop and get him a sandwich and a coffee?  With sugar? I did so, and while I was buying it, he wandered in looking filthy and strange. I feared the coffee shop owner would refuse to sell to me if it were for this man, everyone stopped and looked at him.  But the coffee shop owner gave me a smile and said that as it was for this man, who he addressed by name, he must have cake too.  Apparently this young man is often in the shop, and the owner loves it when people listen to him and buy him what he asks for.  When they don't the owner gives him the food anyway. The young man and I left the shop, he asking me to come back another day, and buy him some more.  The healing here was through the coffee shop owner, and the experience was for me. The vehicle was the dishevelled young man.

So, my dream.  I dreamed that I was in a dark, black place, so dark that it was impossible to describe.  The blackness had a texture to it, like velvet.  It was not a frightening place at all, despite the deeper than dark darkness.  I had a person, that was neither alive nor dead, and in the darkness I had to lift this heavy body and put it back into its soul.  It was hard work, and I struggled to manage the weight of the body with me, and I remember thinking that I had no idea what a soul looked like, or where to find one. At that moment, to my left, a ball of light appeared which was so bright, so light and so beautiful that it took my breath away.  It was flat, not spherical, and in the centre was so much love and I knew that this was the soul I was looking for.  But I also understood that this amazing light was looking out for me too.  Somehow, I raised the figure above my head and into the soul and as I did so, I knew the figure that I was carrying was that of my son who has so many troubles.  In the distance I began to see other lights appearing, and I knew all was well.

Finding the soul and it finding me.

When I woke, I was filled with the beauty of this light, the feeling of peace after the body and soul were united, and the memory of the incredible blackness in which I was struggling to lift this body.  Days later, I am still in awe of the whole dream and keep coming back to the light.  I like to dwell on the power of this and feel the most important part of the whole dream is that the soul light, though it belonged to someone else, was magnificently looking after and out for, me too.  Wow.

Post dream

Of course, it was a dream.  But it felt more than a dream.  It felt like something hopeful, something wonderful, something beyond me.  I am reassured, inspired and relieved by it.  We struggle along in our lives, and many of us feel we are alone especially when things seem never to improve. Life can be so relentless and lonely, and at times, we long for reassurance that we are not wasting our time, that doing our best will pay off, that somehow things will get better. Even those of us with a faith of sorts can feel abandoned.  It is hard work, when the going gets tough. I do have a faith and I do believe in a God of love and kindness.  I do think there is a purpose to life and that if we can remember it, we are not alone.  Of course, we don't always remember it, how can we?  We are only human and sometimes it feels like we blinking well are alone. But this dream came to me when I needed something to reconnect me with hope, and I think it was a spiritual experience in a dream.  So much so that I have tried to paint the experience, which when I was doing it, boiled down to two colours, black and white.  But I did paint it and used Prussian Blue and Paynes Grey for the darkness, because those are luminous and there is depth to them whereas black is matt and flat. My head is painted in matt flat black which shows up against the depth of the blue and grey, if you look carefully.

I went to see my son and decided to tell him.  I showed him a photo of the painting, and he liked it.  There is always a chance that when one talks of a dream experience like this, that it will not be taken seriously and dismissed as nonsense.  My son was quite taken with it, and I am glad.  Since I had to raise him above my head into his soul again, and he was jolly heavy, it was the least he could do.  Ha ha.

Post script - a dream experience like this does not necessarily change things in the world.  It would be wonderful to think that suddenly all is well, and that we are all healed.  We live our lives as we choose, and our stories are our own, even if we feel they are not.  Life is nothing if not an ongoing, extraordinary, painful and joyful series of lessons, experiences, losses, gains and understandings.  A dream like this, though I describe it as a spiritual experience inside a dream, is for me and I take from it that I, and my son, are not alone. I take from it a feeling of comfort and connection that is beyond what I normally experience, and a knowing that the whole of existence is vaster and more intense than I could possibly know in my day to day life.  I like this, and it helps me accept a bit more what I cannot change. 

Light is everywhere, even when we cannot see it, which is most of the time.

  

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Saturday, 9 October 2021

Rebellion in my soul.

 

Twin passions, net curtains and Ribena
  How it started.

I was born rebellious.  A nice little girl, born to wonderful parents in a Catholic/Protestant household which was properly mixed faith in those days, I was brought up to behave well.  Except, I did not always want to behave well.  It seemed, to my little fairy brain, that behaving well meant no glitter, no dressing up in net curtains, no running away from nursery school. Why would we not want to do all those things? I wondered.  Following my heart did not always turn out well though and I soon understood that it was better to do what was asked of me.  I do understand, it is no fun having a class full of good little children with one wayward fairy disrupting everything.  And I only ran away from nursery school once, but I did so with a pretty beaded purse I had found in a coat pocket in the cloakroom on my way out.  My mother returned me and the purse to school where everyone was very nice because at five, I was considered too young to be a proper criminal.  Later, at my nice convent school in Liverpool I found a shed full of packed lunches brought in by the children.  I must have eaten a good third of them before I was discovered, and though it looked bad for me, I had no idea that these were lunches for other children.  It was just a mountain of food, and so I dived in. I was discovered in a Ribena coma too, I had never experienced Ribena until I found it in all those lunches and could not believe anything tasted so good.  I vaguely remember focusing on going through the mounds of packed lunches like an addict looking for more Ribena.

At no point was I aggressive, mean or willfully naughty.  I just did not understand the rules and so I went my own way.  I suppose now I would be given a label and extra support.  In fact, my father who always thought I was perfectly fine, did take me at my school's request to an educational psychologist.  In their report he was told to give up, because I would never make O levels, let alone A levels.  I remember that session and being asked to do some drawing.  I drew male hippies in bell bottom trousers and flowers in their hair all over the place and did not really engage with anything else that was part of this assessment.  So my father, probably a fairy himself too now I come to think of it, took me to another one.  I must have liked this next educational psychologist because I came out as super intelligent.  Everyone liked that result better, so we went with that one.  I want to balance this, and say that I am neither educationally subnormal (first assessment) or super intelligent (second assessment), I am just a creative person much like other creative people.  Very creative people (me) have a different take on life, and it is as simple as that. 

However, I did get to university, I did go into the real world afterwards, and I did find it all very difficult unless - I could do my own thing.  And therein lies the rub. 

  

Doing my own thing.

From the word go, I did my own thing if I could get away with it.  I bleached my hair white in the early nineteen eighties and then coloured it pink.  Instead of getting a job, which was very hard because I was inclined to be a bit unemployable, I squatted in old houses and flats in London and made art, met mad people, and became very alternative.  But even that did not feel completely right.  I liked being nice, and it upset my family that I was so far on the edges of polite society.  Too right, polite society would have run a mile if they had had to engage with me.  I could tell them how to break into empty houses, how to find the nearest reggae sound system and where to collect your dole money.  But I was at heart too nice to be this far out of the loop.  Despite living in squats and having pink hair, I was a moderate in the eyes of my companions, I was nice and I didn't smoke, take drugs or drink.  I must have seemed odd even to them.  I spoke well, was well educated, and thanks to my mother I knew how to make a proper bed and to wash lace.  I did not really fit in. 

Bolt cutters and a cheery smile

I did get a job, eventually, and became a well paid member of an economic consultancy as a receptionist and then an assistant librarian. It was a culture shock, and very good for me.  I really tried to conform, but it ate at my soul, and after ten years, I left. Not without much gratitude and respect for the lessons learned, and I think economics improved quite a lot after I had gone.  I was not very good at my jobs.  But people liked me, I liked them, and I think I was kept on as light relief. 

Doing my own thing, trying to understand the rebel inside and living in the real world outside made me ill.  I hadn't the courage to be really me, nor the ability to integrate the conventional world around me into my own world.  It seems now, looking back, that I had many lessons to learn and most of them were about who I really was.  Once I got that sorted, I could make sensible headway with everything else. 

It was tough.  I married my first husband, lost him (mutual agreement) and had my three children.  (Before my husband left).  I struggled with money and life but I managed.  This is no sob story!  The moment I began my upwards journey was when things could not get much worse, a friend offered me space in her studio to paint, and I took it.  I became a full time proper artist.  I was, at the time, a divorced mother of three tiny children and weighed sixteen stone.  Within a couple of years, I had lost five stone, run a London Marathon and was calling myself Artist Exraordinaire. Well done Antonia.  Except that I still couldn't work out how the world actually worked, and still had much to learn, experience and understand.  Onwards and upwards, then, carry on with the journey of life.

And now -

Here I am.  Aged 61, once divorced, twice widowed, living alone and making my way as an artist and many other things besides. I have grey hair, four grandchildren (not linked), a studio and some peace. 

The rebel in me is much quieter now, but more discerning.  I have done much homework, I had to work out who I was and who I am and yes, it is ever changing.  We never really arrive at the definitive Me, every time we think we have done so, life throws something else at us and back we go to square one. But as we get older, we retain the memory of who we have been and who we want to be, and somehow it is not as hard as it used to be when we were younger.  So now, I feel better about stepping outside the box because I feel better about myself.  I do not have to worry about so much.  So now, acts of rebellion feel like the right way to go.  Unless I get arrested or kidnapped, neither of which I want, I can always come home and shut my door and unless either my brain malfunctions or my hands fall off, I can write, paint and draw. I can cook, pick flowers, and make things. I can be creative, I can be a fairy.  But a rather unconventional, grey haired fearless one.  These days, I take my personal freedom very seriously.  I live my freedoms and do not wish to comply with nonsense, but I do not need to make a fuss about it, I just do it.  Once, long ago, when I had pink hair and frightened my mother's posh friends with talk of what bolt cutters to use on locks of empty houses, I felt I bumbled from one crazy situation to the next.  Now, as I get older, I care much less about getting things wrong - though I do still care - I have enough history behind me to know I will probably be OK.  In fact, it may be that this next stage in my life is where I man the barricades at last.  Rebel Grandma has arrived.

 

Rebel Grandma.  Naughty, but nice.

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Friday, 24 September 2021

What has lockdown ever done for me? Surprisingly, some good.

Waking up and smelling the tea.

I resist the idea that any good at all has come from such a destructive thing as a lockdown. It is well known that I do not agree with it and that I believe it has caused incalulable damage and trouble for everyone.  Whatever I feel about lockdowns as a policy, they were used, will be used and are here to stay. And so, it's best I find a way to get on with life.  This is something I have done, and somehow I am still alive, so are you, and the world has not ended. It may have tilted on its axis, but it did not end.  I look out of my window and the honeysuckle in my garden did not give lockdowns a second thought.  The sea at the end of my road went in, and out, and ignored all the madness of mankind.  Walking on the Downs as I do showed me the beauty of nature was immune to all of this stuff, and gave me and all the other walkers there some hope, some joy, some perspective.

I am lucky.  I live alone, I have a garden, I don't have to look after anyone and I can work from home.  There are shops nearby to buy food and I have internet access to go online and I have a phone to call people.  No one depends on me.  I do not have to keep a shop open, find a way to make a business work, lose sleep over losing money with a lack of customers.  Antonia Rolls is one lucky bunny rabbit.  

All that aside, lockdown gave me panic, loneliness, fear, isolation, helplessness.  Same as most of us.  Lockdown shut down my great year, the one I had worked so hard to create, and my busy world came to a screeching halt.  And, on top of that, nothing worked any more, all the support structures that I had unthinkingly depended on crashed.  No one could mend my oven.  No doctor appointments. No hugs from my grandchildren. No nothing from anyone.  I was an island in my own lovely home, cast adrift forever under house arrest in a pretty prison in Bognor Regis. But I could still get takeaways delivered, that worked.  And Amazon parcels were safe.  And I could wave at people from my window, that was nice. Here in Bognor no one monitored how many times I went to Sainsbury's in a day so I was never arrested for forgetting the milk and having to pop back for it. 

Waving to the Amazon delivery man who is like me still alive.

But.  Here I am a year and a half later, in my Bognor home, alive and well and somehow changed for the better. I have benefitted from lockdown as well as suffered.  And actually, all things taken into account, I have barely suffered. Not like those who have no money, no choices, no space, no help, no hope have suffered.  I was angry and sad like most of us were, but my suffering was not helpless and distressing as those who were ill and isolated were, those with children and no options or resources in confined spaces were, those who were too terrified to go to their front doors were, those locked behind protocols over which they were powerless were.  No, I had a great deal going for me in that I had space and agency and autonomy.  I cannot say I suffered compared to those who actually did.

What changed?  I was removed from the bustle and chaos of being permanently busy.  I was forced to stop.  I did not like nor appreciate it, there was a terrible realisation that all I had worked for was being dismantled without a backwards glance.  I had a new exhibition on addiction as part of the Brighton Fringe all set up and ready to go in a venue of my choice.  I had the A Graceful Death exhibition showing at a Dead Good Day Festival in Southampton, and a one woman show at that same festival.  I had a marathon walk for Macmillan, fundraising for cancer help, and in my mind the gateway to international stardom was to be opened.  It was all coming together.  And I was fitting my book into this sparkling schedule.  Of course I was distressed to find that it was all cancelled and all that beckoned was another morning in my sitting room in Bognor Regis.

Thrown back onto myself, like many of us, to actually do nothing was impossible at first.  I planned all the jobs I had put off and did them.  I was still feeling busy and purposeful.  Everything wooden in my garden got painted blue.   Furniture I had wanted to upcycle got upcycled. I discovered gardening, I experienced zoom, I tidied my studio and hoovered the floor. I planned my meals, and eating became my highlight of the day and still the lockdown continued.  My father still languished in his care home with his dementia and Alzheimers, now hidden from all of us and left to sink into depression and nothingness on his own.  He could not know why none of us visited any more, and once when I tried to zoom call him as he lay in his bed, with the help of one of the carers who were so wonderful, he tried to find the phone where my voice was, and flailed his arms around making small frightened sounds.  I did not do that again, it made me cry and it showed in my voice.  In the end, he simply stopped living and I made a video about his dying and death. My brothers and I made it to his bedside in time but it should never have been this way, and you can see the video here  Dying Not Quite Alone In Lockdown 2020

During this enforced time of absolute leisure, I began to question myself, what I believed in, and how I was living.  It was a painful process.  For one thing, I saw just how much I had taken for granted.  It never really occurred to me just how hard doctors, shop workers, all those businesses out there who's main job was to make my life easy, work.  Now that they were all gone, I saw just how much I relied on them.  Another home truth I did not want to acknowledge was that if I was all over the place, which I was most of the time, did it mean I could be a little superficial? I did not like that.  It became clear that the more I was doing the less I got done. Now, when the country and world had closed and I was alone against my will in my house, unless I planned my days one after the other so that I could keep busy, there was free time.  Free time was scary. I began to sit down more often and think.  And then I found I would day dream.  And then I found I enjoyed it and soon, I would spend whole afternoons on my sofa doing nothing.  Perhaps I would read, perhaps I would stare out of the window, perhaps I would make lists.  But I discovered that time passing was not my enemy and that there was a much quieter, less anxious person inside me.  I began to enjoy and accept the passing of time and I began to notice the play of light across the days in the rooms of my house.

Another thing happened.  I began to question the news.  I had wholeheartedly accepted everything I heard and read until the first lockdown, and now I began to ask questions.  Things did not match up and now that I had time, I could see that what I was seeing, living and experiencing was not what I was being told I was seeing, living and experiencing. This too was uncomfortable.  I was being challenged to think for myself.  Many things that I held dear because they were so easy to believe turned out to be more complex.  Much more complex.  All my easy certainties needed some careful unpicking and now that I had time to do it, now that I was not distracting myself by being so busy that I could not think, I found I had to rethink many of my beliefs.  I stopped listening to and watching the news. 

My spiritual life changed. With this new time on my hands I began to ask myself what do I actually believe in? This went hand in hand with looking at what I thought I knew and questioning how authentic I thought I was, and asking myself what I was afraid of.  Why do I keep busy?  Why does it matter if I succeed?  What do I mean by succeed? What and who are my priorities?  And how much time do I give to looking after myself? Does any of it matter?  Not in the sense of hopelessness, but in the scheme of things how important are any of these fears? 

A wise person once said that nothing is all just one thing, it is made up of balances. So lockdown has forced me to wake up in a way that nothing else has and not for the reasons I would have imagined.  I still got Covid, and obviously, recovered. But being in lockdown took me off the hamster wheel and made me take a look at my life.  It has forced stillness on me and made me see that constant movement is not necessary.  Quietness, contemplation, simple things are just as necessary as movement.  It has put my feet on the ground and given me space.  It has also made me more aware of the world around me and given me focus.  I did not know I lacked focus until recently. 

I have, in effect, woken up and smelt the coffee. (Except it is also well known that I drink tea, but waking up and smelling the tea does not have the same punch.)

Post script - it is also well known that I am in no way an evolved human being, yet, and that though I am grateful against my will for having been shaken up by something I do not agree with, nevertheless it has started something good.  All I have written about here is true, but knowing things are true and living them are very different things.  All I wish to say is do not be fooled into thinking I have the answer to the universe now.  I do not, not yet, and when I do, I will of course let you all know.

Not yet perfect.  Unfortunately.

 

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Saturday, 11 September 2021

The healing room. Making earrings in the sunshine.

 

Claire working on a piece of complicated jewellery loveliness

Ups and downs

I witness many stories.  It is what I do, whether through art, words, image or presence, I witness lives, livings and sometimes, dyings. Though I have experienced my own fair share of stuff I do not know half of what other people have to deal with.  It is always surprising to see how other people deal with the lot that is dealt to them and how, when I think I would not manage to cope, they do.  And also sometimes, when I think I would cope, they do not.  There is so much tied up with living.  It is never a simple straight line, peacefully stretching without interruption from morning till night for ever and ever. Oh no, it is a bumpy, complex affair that can hold both peace and conflict at the same time if it wants, can defy our logic and reason. It shows us that we are also full of paradoxes, we are both simple and sophisticated, we are both full of wisdom and full of ignorance, we are up and we are down - and no matter how we try and control events, or go with the flow, life simply happens to us often and we struggle to explain how and why.

When things are going well, we think we have the answers.  This is how the world works, we say, this is the truth of things.  But when things go what we would call badly we are shaken, our certainties are challenged and we try and find answers to make sense of it.  We want reasons for why things happen, and often because we no longer feel in control we look outwards for where to put the blame. 

 Me

Mustn't grumble.
I live in a lovely home, with a garden that I call my favourite room in the house.  Now that my children are grown and live away from here, I wander with joy and surprise (at the silence and order, mainly) through the empty rooms and feel both utterly delighted to be able to do what I want, and a little guilty at the lack of sentimentality I have about being alone at last.  To put that into context, I raised my three children alone and without a leader (as Horace Rumpole says, the wonderful grumpy old barrister from John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey books. His first triumphant win as a young barrister defending the undefended was despite the lead barrister in court not being there.  Rumple won it alone and without a leader).  I had very little money, space, time or peace in those early days.  Now that I am older, and time has moved on, I can live in glorious solitude (mostly) in this lovely house in a way I could only have dreamt of at one time.  I love my life here.

My friends

My three close friends here live with cancer, the results of cancer surgery, and the uncertainty of living itself.  I have seen the effects of illness on their bodies and have watched the struggle to keep their minds from giving up. I have also seen their determination to live and live well, to find ways to get through, to laugh and look for the silver lining, while telling it like it is.  

The healing room

Before she began her chemo, my  friend Marie was visiting.  The sitting room here has doors that open onto the garden with its flowers and colours, and a big oak table covered in beads, threads, earring making wire and old necklaces to be dismantled and re used.  The sun pours through the garden doors in the afternoons, the big old bright pink sofa is covered in African print cushions, and the sound of the seagulls calling outside reminds us that the sea is just at the end of the road. It was Marie's idea to come and sit at the table when her chemo started, when the treatment for her cancer became difficult, and to make beautiful things with colourful beads in the sunshine.  We asked our friend Claire to join us.  Claire is finding her way back to strength and a place in the world after life changing surgery.  Her cancer treatment from ten years ago has left her vulnerable and physically changed, leading to her recent operation to have half her jaw removed.  So she joined us, and the healing room began. Though she is well now and working again, our friend Gill drops by, just for the love of it, bringing her warmth and wisdom and laughter.  Gill's cancer has also left her physically changed with disabilities for the last twenty years that may floor most of us, but that Gill works with, understands, and will not allow to define her.  

Marie and the box of hair

The healing room is not really called the healing room, but that is what it has become.  Once a week Marie, Claire and sometimes Gill, come to sit and eat, drink tea, play with beads, and create in the late summer sunshine.  It is a space to laugh, forget the difficulties of getting by, and also to talk of things both good and bad.  Each week, something is different.  Last week, Claire arrived with her hair dyed blue.  This week, Marie arrived in a turban with her hair in a wooden box.  She and her boyfriend had shaved it off now that the chemo was kicking in, and it was falling out by the handful.  Instead of making jewellery this week, Marie is going to make something with her hair.  What she ended up making was a false beard and eyebrows and made us all laugh.  But she is serious, and is aiming to make little figures with it.  Marie is a very extraordinary artist.  She will do it. And Gill?  Gill brings flowers, and cakes that she makes, and sits with us understanding all that Claire and Marie are saying.  It has been her story too. 

 

While Gill helps polish the silver (I know) Marie tries out her new hair-beard.

Later, when they have left, I think of their courage.  I think, how would I feel if I were dealing with a possibly life limiting illness?  Marie is beginning her treatment, and has a long path ahead.  She has only just recovered from heart surgery too.  How would I cope if my hair fell out? How would I cope with open heart surgery followed by chemo followed by another operation?  I am not sure.  I hope I do not have to.  Marie's energy is inspiring, and her beauty is wonderful.

I think of Claire who has more will to live, and to live well, than most people I know.  A tiny person, who has a feeding tube into her stomach, half her jaw missing, and a need to eat enough calories not go under seven stone and yet is as elegant, creative and beautiful as a model. Claire has sass.  There have been many tough days for her but she will not give in.  So it is no surprise that she turned up last week with blue hair.  Claire uses real silver for her earrings, and brings her own.  She can swallow but not well.  We give her tea in a teeny cup made for one of my grandchildren.  She manages half of it.

Gill loves the sea, the sky, the wind, the rain and the breeze in the air. She belongs in nature and swims in the sea all year round.  She is tall, slim, brown and free.  Life has been challenging for Gill and I know that she has made the choice to be better than much of what life has thrown at her.  Gill can't eat much either, she has no lower bowel after her cancer and an operation that left her in difficulties, but she does all that she can to live well and that living well includes loving all of us, and supporting us when we need it.  She dropped by the other day to have tea with Marie, Claire and me, before going off to swim in the sea again, and because she is Gill, she brought us home made cakes and flowers from her garden.

And so -

This is how our healing room looks then at the moment. It seems to have created itself, and we are all a part of it.  What seems to work for all of us is the fun, the creativity, and the forgetting of the world out there, unless we want to remember it, in which case we do.  

There's a big world out there.  It is full of people who find pockets of light in difficult times.  For as long as it lasts - our healing room seems to have created itself when the need was there - there is a pocket of light for my friends and me, here with the beads, the garden, the light and the cups of tea and Gill's cake, with the unspoken gathering of people who do not give up and do not give in, and who want to let go for a while in good company together.

 

Claire me and Marie.


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Sunday, 29 August 2021

My consciousness is both a divine free floating hippy, and an annoyingly open minded mum.

 Bognor Regis. Where all the deep stuff happens.
My mind is a wilful person in my head with no manners

I walked home from doing something or other last week through Bognor, my mind flitting here and there, thinking and chattering away to itself, as it does.  The day was beautifully sunny, the gardens bright with flowers all along the road back to my house.  I was wearing my favourite pink sundress of all time, since the last favourite one of all time, which had disintegrated and had to be thrown away.  This current favourite sundress of all time is showing signs of old age now too, it is only a matter of time before I will have to find yet another one.  Despite the warmth of the sun and the smell of the salty sea in the still air, I noticed that my mind kept taking me back to memories I would rather forget.  I should be enjoying every step of this walk home, I thought, how can I be thinking of these difficult things and not enjoying this peaceful summer loveliness?  And, I thought, I am wearing my pink summer dress.  Does that not count for something?

It made me think.  What is my mind doing, that it hones in on discomfort like this? Have I any choice?  It is true that I was thinking without thinking, so to speak.  I was not taking part in the physical walk, I was deep in the stuff going on in my head.  It was not all bad, much of my focus was on things I had to do that day which were very nice, but my mind would veer off at a tangent and become embroiled in things from my past, conversations I wish I had not had, bad judgements that led to bad outcomes, and without noticing the shift, I would be back in those things I don't want to think about.  But once aware I was able, also without thinking about it, to come back to my planning once more.  But I felt as if it had the upper hand, that I had to follow its lead, not the other way around.

I wondered about how single minded my mind is.  It does its own thing regardless of what is going on outside my head.  I mean, I can set up a lovely space in which to sit, for example, with smelly candles and red cushions, and think Yes, that will make me happy.  But if my mind doesn't want to engage, and be calm and happy, it won't.  Ungrateful wretch, I may say of my mind, but it is on a roll and doesn't care.  I have read of many strategies to tame the mind, to create awareness, to be mindful and come back to the moment, but I find them difficult to put in place when in the middle of a wilful and determined thinking experience.  There is therapy, at a deeper level, and professional help, but I wasn't quite that bad on my walk home in the sun in my pink dress. It was very curious, I thought, that despite not wanting it, despite having a nice day, and despite having real things to think about, my mind was walking off into the middle distance and fixating itself on problems.

My mind, I thought, is like a wilful person in my head that has no manners.  And then I thought, what is my mind?  This is where we can get lost in thousands of years of speculation and research, many books have been written, many wise people have tried to work this out, so rest easy.  I have no answers and we won't get heavy. But what I did come up with, is that perhaps my mind does not own me, I own it.  Do I have to go down these rabbit holes? Sometimes, yes, sometimes I have to mull over uncomfortable things and it doesn't do to evade them.  But who is in charge?  Wouldn't it be nice if it was me?  For myself, I mean.  I am not in charge of your mind.  You would hate that, I would paint things red and make you drink tea. The point is, I wondered, on this walk home, that perhaps once I know my mind has gone off on a tangent, can I exert some control over it?  Can I say to myself, No.  I am not going there, I see your game and I am busy thinking nice thoughts over here. And there are other things to think about, like the brain and consciousness. 

There is the question too of whether the mind is the brain, or is in the brain, or is something completely separate.  And what is consciousness? If I can step aside and see my mind as a wayward thing in its own right, how am I separating myself from my mind?  If all these thoughts are coming from my brain but now I am conscious of them, does that mean that I am operating independently of mind, body, brain and consciousness, and there is a me that is observing the whole process? 

What does it all mean, Batman?

Well, let's say that the thoughts that I have in my mind come from my brain.  And if I am aware of it, am conscious of it, then perhaps there are three things at play here, all of which are mine, so I will take ownership.  If I were to create characters for these three things, my mind, my brain and my consciousness, it could look like this. My mind is sometimes an unruly, undisciplined trouble maker. It can be really smart and on the ball, but it likes to do its own thing and thinks it owns the world.  My brain is a task orientated professor that has been running things for me since before I was born, has been in the job a while now and has no time for slacking.  My consciousness is both a divine free floating hippy, and an annoyingly open minded mum.  Never bats an eyelid at the weirdness of life, but wants me to keep it real because it knows me so well.  Often waits for me to catch up with it, and is never surprised at anything.

And then of course there is the Me that is observing the whole process.   

With this trio now playing in my head, and as the observer that is outside the whole darn thing, (possibly,) I decided to get to know the one that started all this questioning, my mind.  I decided to have a date with my mind and get to know it.  

The date with my mind.

Got my tray of tea, getting ready to go inside for a date with the unruly rebel within.
 I made myself comfortable, sat down with a good half hour to spare and scrunched up my eyes in an effort to go within.  I was having a date with my mind but did not know where or what my mind actually was, except that it had to be inside me somewhere.  This will be fun, I thought.  What it boiled down to was me watching what I was thinking, and observing where it all went.  That means the free floating divine hippy mum followed the undisciplined trouble maker with a view to understanding what it was doing, so it could be reined in a bit.  The professor would then put a plan in place to cement the understanding. 

I do realise that this is a very simplistic approach.  There are more things going on in my head than just my mind, brain and consciousness.  There is my life experience, my personality, my will and for some, but not for me, there are illnesses and conditions that affects the mind too.  But for the purposes of this little exercise, I was curious to know why my mind was so intent on doing its own thing and what on earth was its agenda.

I came up with a few observations.

  • I quite enjoyed seeing my mind as a character, and felt as if it were a bit of a wild animal, in that I did not really know how to approach it or what it would do.
  • My mind, that unruly and undisciplined troublemaker, can insist on following its own mind, so to speak.  If I am not paying attention, it can cover a lot of ground and make me feel very uncomfortable.  It can get stuck on tracks I do not want to deal with and is very wilful.
  • If I am outside it all, then I am the observer.  And in control. Once I follow my thoughts, I can choose to stop thinking them.
  • Ha ha ha. Rubbish. 
  • While I am feeling thoughtful and unstressed, this all makes sense.  
  • When I am feeling anxious and burdened, the divine hippy, the silent professor and and the unruly troublemaker (consciousness, brain and mind) are having a drunken party somewhere and can't even stand up straight.  I have to be very tough and bossy in order to make myself feel better, and it can be hard work if they are all out for the count.

The conclusion.

I started this blog wanting to know why my thoughts do their own thing and lead me into uncomfortable places.  Why, even if everything is nice outside do I get stuck in loops of tricky thinking?  Being creative, I decided to give my mind, brain and consciousness personalities to explain to myself why this happens.  I love the quirky, I love thinking outside the box, and this little idea of having a date with my mind really appealed to me.  It also made me laugh.

It is just another way of getting to know myself.  Every time we think we know who we are everything changes and we start again.  I spend much time trying to live a good life, to understand how to be a better person so that I can offer more to the people I meet.  But everything we do, investigate and long for comes back to the question Who Am I. 

The conclusion is that the mind, brain, body, spirit, consciousness that I am writing about here, is me.  It is all me.  I am all of it.  Especially the me that is observing the whole process, and that is where, I think, the real power lies. Who am I?  Does my mind rule me, or do I rule it?  Now that I am a bit more aware and have had a date with it, perhaps I can decide to rule my mind and see how that goes. And if my thoughts rule me in a way I wish they would not, I love the idea of thinking of them personified as a wild, unruly house guest that needs to be pulled up short. 

If you had to think of your mind, your brain and your consciousness as personalities, what would they be?  And who is the person observing it all in your case? Interesting way to spend a bit of down time.  

Still trying to work it out.

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