A Few Small Repairs – Shawn Colvin. (1996.)

A small Amazon packet landed on my office desk today while our Receptionist was handing out post. I unwrapped it before I left work and carried the case gently out to the car with me. Sunshine flooded through a very grubby windscreen as I turned the key in the ignition and slid the CD into the player; suddenly there’s the mandolin and…

 

"Sunny came home to her favourite room,

Sunny sat down in the kitchen.

She opened a book and a box of tools,

Sunny came home with a mission. "

 

It’s early July 1997 and I am walking the hill from Bangor train station to the upper levels of the town, giddy and fizzing and feeling like there must be a movie camera somewhere recording my life. There is a young man walking down the hill to meet me, although I hadn’t expected it, and I can feel the blood rushing in my veins as he comes closer. It’s a nondescript middling summer day but it feels as if I’m being blinded by all the light in the world when he smiles at me. I stay for a week, back in the town that feels most like home with the man I fell unconsciously in love with, before I have to go back to Dublin to work so that I can save for my second year in university. I daydream of Beaumaris and the Menai Straits while I sell hiking boots and restock sleeping bags, and I think of all the occasions we’ll have to visit his friends in Pen-y-Bont when the new term comes around.

It is summertime in Dublin, maybe the third week in July, and he disembarks from the ferry in Dun Laoghaire with a small rucksack and his guitar in its case, planning to stay for a week. He stays for the rest of the summer until, disorganised as usual, we go back to Wales together, a week too early, and have Upper Bangor to ourselves for several days before all the other students return. We stay at his place and greet our friends as they return in dribs and drabs, catching up on news and dodging the sly grins because, yes, we are together now.

It’s October 1997 I am curled up snug on a rickety single bed in an upstairs bedroom in a Victorian terraced house just a two minute walk from the main University building. I have a room of my own in on one of the campus accommodation sites about ten minutes away but he has a better bookshelf beside the bed where we lie and read snippets of poetry and prose to one another with out feet poking out of the covers. I am fond of my room in halls; it’s my own space, relatively peaceful and with a view out of the large window of the sports fields behind the site. It has a small wet-room with a shower which is modern and clean, and a heater beside my desk. His room can be chilly, the window rattles when it’s windy outside, and the shared bathroom is damp and, frankly, kind of disgusting  but he keeps his guitar here, and has a TV. So I am wrapped in his old green towelling dressing gown as he potters around in a t-shirt and boxers while we ponder upcoming papers that we need to work on. The room smells of the eucalyptus oil that’s been heating in an oil burner, and Marlboro Lights. Autumn is creeping up and we sing Joni Mitchell’s ‘Urge For Going’ while it plays on his PC as the skies darken outside.  In just a few days, he is going home for his twenty-first birthday and I don’t yet know that his parents are unaware of my existence…

 

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For Shame, Woman.

I don’t know about y’all but this week’s been a doozy. Tuesday and Wednesday had me so spun out that I couldn’t find the ground before I fell on it face first (anger, tears, complete inability to deal and use full sentences: a legit case of white-girl “I can’t even…”) I came the closest I ever have to walking out of the office and not coming back – ever! I went home exhausted and frantic, and the only bright spark in my day on Wednesday was having found some Alice Walker talks on Audible. That saved me from total debilitation. Thursday was light and airy, and then Friday was a headfuck all over again.

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For the majority of this week on my daily commute I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s The Gifts of ImperfectionIt’s very like The Power of Vulnerability and she’s so chirpy it can be difficult not to swear at random intervals just to break up the earnestness but I suspect this is more about my cynical defences kicking in because, overall, she’s dead right. I can’t help but admire her dedication to encouraging people to talk about the damage we do to ourselves and others with shame, and the masks we wear because of it. I know it’s something that’s deeply entwined in my being, and I know from the way my face heats up when I listen to her writings that it’s something that is still present for me. I suppose I was brought up to be ashamed of most of the person I am; that’s an easy thing to have happen when one of your parents doesn’t like you very much, and the other one just isn’t very interested one way or the other. I’m pretty sure that, these days, the number of people whose opinions I value can be numbered on less than my ten fingers but I also understand that this may simply be because I’ve closed a lot of myself off from caring. The whole notion of vulnerability is…well, difficult. Mainly because I think we build up these outer shells for a purpose; no one walls themselves off from the world just because. There’s usually a reason why we feel it’s necessary, and I think we have to be quite gentle with ourselves as to why we did it, and what we stand to gain by chipping away at those walls. So, yes, Brene’s teaching me interesting things. Relevant things. And it’s appreciated, if a little close to the bone by times.

It was especially close to the bone on Friday when Evie woke up feeling dreadful about life, and was found sobbing on our bed at ten past seven in the morning. It was quite clear that she couldn’t go to school, and it was also quite clear that Friday was month end in work, and my boss was sick, which made it nigh on impossible to take the day off.  I gathered us up  sufficiently to get her to her grandmother’s house, and then I had to leave my sobbing daughter to go into work, and that was a whole new level of guilt and shame. If we follow the definitions of guilt being ‘I did something bad,’ and shame as being ‘I am bad’ then, yeah, we pretty much cover all the bases with that. I don’t know that there was a right course of action to take there but whatever way I played it, I was inevitably going to feel shit about it. Speaking of which…

Dave & I went to a talk in Evie’s school on Thursday night given by Dr. John Sharry who was discussing helping teens deal with anxiety, and he mentioned something that was very interesting to me. He said that there is some evidence to suggest that fathers/male guardians deal better with emotional overloads, rather like E had on Friday. He says that it may be because males tend to be more matter of fact about things, or that they just don’t notice as much as their female counterparts. I think he’s potentially missing one vital point: I think it’s that fathers are much less likely to take such breakdowns personally. I spent most of Friday on edge, working frantically, and straight through lunch so I could make sure I got out the office door as soon as possible. D walked past us huddled on the bed on Friday morning, went to work, and got on with his day. I hasten to add that this is not remotely me having a go at him, although I may have ranted a little internally on the day. He just seemed to assume that it was all under control and so he continued as planned. I don’t even think he was entirely wrong but I know that I couldn’t do that. Thus, my theory on men not taking these things as a negative reflection of their parenting. And while I know it doesn’t help to fret about it, and life goes on, yada yada yada, somehow, on that particular day, it didn’t help.

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Oh but what did help? The good stuff, the Alice Walker stuff that I mentioned before,  kept me going this week. One of the three things I found was Alice Walker in Conversation With Gloria Steinem which rather annoyingly fails to mention in the title that Wilma Mankiller’s also part of the discussion. The fact that they’re three close friends who have been loving and supporting one another for years make this a beautiful conversation to listen to. If  you know me at all, you may know how much I love Ms. Walker, and how much I feel she has taught me through her books: practical things, spiritual things, over-archingly beautiful things; Gloria Steinem has been, thus far, less read but just as admired for her honesty, and her unending belief that we can be more, that society can be fairer. To hear the three of them talk is to listen to the aunts you never had but always longed for, the wisdom and fun of an older generation that I think needs to be heard just as much now as it did in the ’60s and ’70s. I grew up without older relatives of either sex with the exception of my mother’s mother who fell largely out of my life when Dad moved us to Ireland; from memory and hearsay she was a deeply repressed woman. She loved me, and she cared for me but even at such a young age, I never felt a commonality of spirit. I am immensely grateful that she was the person who started to teach me to read when I was about four or so, and who set off a life-long love of books but there was, somehow, never a very strong connection there. She was someone who ‘did their duty’ but I don’t know that she ever had much fun in her life. I suppose two world wars, an unhappy marriage, and a long widowhood could certainly have that effect. Still, there we go. She was who she was. Still, if there’s one thing Clarissa Pinkola Estés taught me, it’s the importance of the guidance of older women, and if I had to choose whose feet to sit at and learn, I’d choose these three any day of the week.

One of my biggest light bulb moments from this conversation was from something Gloria Steinem said when talking about solitude, and her path to finding it. She said, roughly speaking, that when one has been neglected as a child, one often doesn’t feel as real as the other  people around, and that there is a notion that one has to be useful in order to be real. I think I may have gone into temporary shock when I heard that because it’s one of those ‘Oh, someone put it into words!‘ things. I always thought my feelings of disconnection and unreality had more to do with not knowing any other children until I went to school at the age of five, and being raised in a pretty much adult-only environment, So when I started school, my first class teacher wrote in my report that I used to do so much for her that she often felt superfluous in the classroom. I didn’t make friends so much as I made impressions. The only way I knew to make any connection was to make myself helpful or to offer something people wanted – being me was simply never enough, and I never expected it to be. I learned that in England, and I learned it in Cork. I learned it in each job I had – do more, know more, take on more, seek signs of approval and then try to live there, in that space where you are seen – until the will to maintain that level of usefulness gets very old, very fast, in which case I have felt guilty because I wasn’t keeping up enough, or doing enough, or for feeling exhausted and enervated. Round and round and round we go… Feeling the need to be of use, and feeling shame and guilt when it’s simply not possible to maintain the necessary energy/momentum. Ugh.

Brené Brown says the best way to combat shame is to talk about it, to connect with other people, tell our story, and accept it for what it is, and to have compassion for ourselves. (Well, she’d say ‘we have to own our stories’ but I only just worked out this week that she really means ‘accept’ in English!) I think these are, as Martha Beck might say, simple but not easy things. In this, as with many other issues right now, I think it’s more important than ever to keep trying. Gently but firmly. From Adam and Eve onward, shame has been a distinctly patriarchal tool for keeping women silent and isolated, which is not to say that women haven’t tried or don’t try to shame other women. I guess it only ends when we get a very clear picture of how we want to be, and then work towards it.

Sunday Morning: Sunshine & Birdsong.

A sunny Sunday morning and I’m sitting up in bed having just finished working on a spreadsheet for my boss, and a few emails that I happened to see in passing. Dave’s awake, Evie’s just woken up and has staggered downstairs to get tea, and J and the doggos are determinedly asleep/quiet. Tomorrow the Easter holidays will be over and the sprogs will be back to school for their final term before the three months of summer spread out into the distance. This year is flying past at incredible speed.

I have a job interview on Tuesday, although the time has yet to be arranged, and the possibility of another job option on the horizon. It has all happened relatively by chance but it’s interesting to me that half the people in our office (literally) are looking for new positions at present. I happened to be blearily scrolling through Monster at half six the other morning and saw something that looked vaguely interesting. When I called the recruitment company that was handling the post, they all but took my hand off – I’d only called to ask for the details of the company hiring so that surprised me somewhat. Still, it will be interesting to see what comes of it. I feel thankful that I’m old enough not to feel that I have to jump at the first thing that presents itself, and also that I’m aware of the need to interview prospective employers as well as being interviewed myself. I was trying to explain to one of my younger colleagues recently that I refuse to jump from the frying pan into the fire, and that there’s a reason people stick with the devil they know. But then again, I suppose I was never particularly impetuous.

It’s possible, nay probable, that we’re going to have gas central heating up and running within the next few weeks. I don’t know if you can possible imagine my excitement! We’ve survived pretty well for the last twelve months with a fire and the back boiler, and the dogs are big fans of the fire, but I will breathe a sigh of relief when we don’t have to rely on J to light or maintain the fire in order to come home to a Not Entirely Freezing house. I think he will too, come to think of it.

So I suppose that now would be a good time to get up, and have a shower, and do something useful… Happy Sunday!

Coming Around Again.

Once upon a time – probably about ten years or so ago now – I had a blog on JournalHub or some such site called La Que Sabe. I wrote about my children, about my family, my father who was separating from his fourth wife, my friends, and generally treated it as my pottering about spot. I was very fond of it. And then their servers got hacked, or crashed and died, or, I don’t know, something and several years of writing disappeared into the ether. I don’t do backups because, really, who cares? It vanished and I thought that it probably was a fitting close to an odd part of my life.

I left blogging alone for a bit but, in time, came to miss it, and ventured to WordPress to hang for a couple of years. I’m a sporadic writer at the best of times as you can see from the back catalogue here, and the days of me posting regularly probably aren’t going to show up again any time soon. (Fair warning and all that jazz…) I gave up on LQS in 2014 because I really didn’t feel that I had anything new that was worth sharing, even with the very small number of people who ambled past occasionally. I abandoned it at the side of the road and left it to die, alone and neglected.

Towards the end of 2015, I got inspired to do something quite different. The notion of The Muddy Peacock blog popped into my head, fully formed, along with the knowledge that I wanted to be able to express a part of me that I keep largely hidden on a day to day basis, probably more out of habit than out of any fear of, well, anything really… I wanted to be able to talk about (ick!) my spiritual side, my (gack!) vulnerable side, my (oh really, do we have to do this?) vulnerable side but in the firm context of my daily life. I’m a Brit. My toes curl and my whole body cringes at the word ‘spirituality.’ I put my cynicism and sarcasm on as part of my daily wardrobe, and they’re very comfy indeed, thank you for asking. I had no e-courses to offer, and no ‘brand’ to sell; I just wanted to be able to explore the notion that, occasionally, one can have a deeply moving moment of joy while waiting at the checkout in Tesco and that, at other times, one can end up sitting in a supermarket car park not wanting to go home because there is just no strength left for cooking dinner or checking homework after a day of petty and pointless skirmishes in one’s place of work. I wanted to have time to dwell on the notion of meeting oneself for coffee for an hour each week, allowing an opportunity for reading, writing, or scrolling through the ‘Gram if that’s what was needed. I intended to broaden my focus to find the myriad things during a day that I can be really, deep down grateful for: it could be a really good cup of tea, or the light on my dog’s coat, my daughter’s curls, or my son’s deep brown eyes, or a text from a friend, or a really on point meme. The little things, as someone said, are what make up a life; a tumble of moments strung like beads on the necklace of your day. So, yeah, it was a great plan but it really didn’t happen the way I wanted it to; I lost focus, I had too many other things going on and, ironically, last year was the perfect time to look for the little things given that it was, by most people’s standards, fairly shit. So, all things considered, I failed that test. It was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t make TMP look the way I wanted it to look. Mainly, though, it was a good idea with insufficient planning and follow through. (Why, yes, it does sound like my life, now that you come to mention it. However did you guess?) When the site came up for renewal last December time, I let it go.

So the other day, I was logging into my employer’s website, which is also WordPress based, and unthinkingly put in my email address rather than my work details. I do this a lot – passwords/email addresses are a pain and I was doing three things at once. Lo and behold! The back end of LQS appeared before my eyes. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who just snickered like a ten year old boy reading that…) I hadn’t thought about it in three years or thereabouts but it was still there. And I was so happy to see it that I paid the fee on autopilot without pausing to think whether or not I actually wanted to resurrect the old dear. And that is how, my darlings, we find ourselves here, surrounded by cobwebs, and dust, and the overall aura of neglect. Aren’t you glad you came? Ssh. It’s OK. I can patch it up in no time, I promise. I had been thinking about it – not LQS specifically but the final somewhere, the forever blog as Jo put it recently. I had been thinking of the sea, actually, but someone else had laid claim to theseabetween.com which was the closest to what felt correct. So perhaps this will be just fine as it is.

It’s entirely in character: the main reason that I’m pootling about here this evening is the fact that I’m supposed to be writing something that I’ll actually get paid for. So, natch, procrastination is the way forward. And the deadline’s tomorrow but hey, what’s the worst that could happen, right?  The important thing is to get started and this, encore une fois, is what I’m about.*

 

  • You do remember that, don’t you, Encore Une Fois? The terrible video, the proper 90s danciness of it. Yes, it was awful but I kind of love it anyway.

 

Weeding.

When I was in university, someone – whose name I cannot recall, and whose origins elude me now – told me that I had no natural power.

I cannot recall how I came into contact with this man over the internet – of course it was a man, and of course I encountered him over the Net – but I do remember that it was relatively early on during my forays into Wicca/Witchcraft/Thealogy, and I remember that I took his judgment very hard indeed. From the dim and distant past (which, in this case, is about 1997) I recall that he promised to be a teacher and guide in the worlds of the wise but now, with the benefit of hindsight, I suspect he was – as so many are – some bloke sitting by his PC and enjoying the modicum of power that comes from getting people to send you their photo so that you can make judgments about their natural abilities, witchy or otherwise. Not being usually quite so gullible, I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to send a photo and a lock of my hair to a randomer in the States, much less to base my self-worth on his reaction/reading of same. Perhaps it was the Living Away From Home For the First Time thing, or perhaps I was simply more vulnerable than I realised? Either, or neither, of those things could be the case, I suppose. What I didn’t realise until this week, though, was how much I still carried that judgment within me. It’s odd, isn’t it, these little things that we carry? These little spores that can become huge underground networks of poisonous fungi which undermine our foundations. We come to expect it from the things our parents said or did, but we don’t suspect that strangers can have the same effect with their throw-away comments. Turns out we carry it all unless we are very vigilant indeed, and I am, generally speaking, horrendously oblivious a lot of the time.

Having been given a new perspective, however, I henceforth aim to take more care with the opinions that I store!

 

What’s Your Normal?

Almost a year ago, I sat here on this very sofa, in much the same cross-legged position, and I wrote about how I needed to find balance in living with my husband and our children in my house. All together. All the time. I expressed the opinion that it often feels as if I operate better solo, and I vouchsafed that, in spite of this fact, I loved having us all together in a home of our own; I just needed to find a way to balance the seemingly endless company with the solitude that I desperately seem to need.

Now, this evening, I am sitting here and, while I still concur with the general findings of my musings at that time, I find I have something to add. An important something – for me at least – that deserves to be said; that needs to be acknowledged. It is a something that struck me last Friday when I was off work sick – which seems to the only time I ever have the house to myself – and, though the words took a while to fully come through, I eventually had a bit of a Eureka moment. (An Eureka moment? Dunno. Anyway.) It’s quite simple, and it’s probably quite obvious, but then things often are from a distance, aren’t they?

My realisation (and I mean my real, astonishingly clear, brain-freezingly important realisation) is that living with other people is not my normal way of life. The reason that I find it difficult is that I have done it so rarely in my life, and it really is something I need to be gentle with myself about. I blithely toddled into being a married woman  again just over two years ago, and totally ignored the fact that the last time that I shared my living space with another adult full time was when I lived at home with my mother – and that was at least fourteen years ago, and only for about four or five months. I shared a house with people in my final year in college in ’99 but I had my own huge room and I wasn’t part of their gang of friends; D and I shared the same house when we were living together/married before, but he always worked nights so for at least five nights a week, I had the place to myself. (I’m not including the children in this because, somehow, for this issue, they don’t count.) TRM never lived with me so that doesn’t count either.

I’m an only child, of only children. My mother and I are solitary sorts by nature. We like other people for a while, but we get exhausted by them very quickly – the more so as we age, I suspect. My father is Mr. Gregarious, but he is quite happy to live on his own if he can meet people of an evening for pints, or for dinner, and he no longer needs the constant company that he thrived on in his working days two decades and more ago. People find me odd because I have the hermit compulsion quite strongly within me; I am deliriously happy to lock myself away from everyone and everything for a weekend, and not talking to anyone at all from Friday at 5pm to Monday at 8.30am is my kind of heaven. There used to be time for me to do that, but that came to an end when we became a two-adult family again. I did really well for the first year or so, until Christmas rolled around when I descended into a fog of depression. All of a sudden, even though I had been looking forward to Christmas for the first time in possibly ever, I got sucked into a major gloom and couldn’t get out.  I have been in varying states of grey since then, and I wonder now if I am feeling stuck because, subconsciously, I have no room to manoeuvre. I also feel that there’s a very strong chance that my at-home only sleeping-verging-on-narcolepsy may well be another subconscious escape mechanism. Everywhere I turn there is another human being taking up my precious space and oxygen! I think I have also finally realised that I do not have to be immediately rational about this feeling, although it would nice to become so in time.

I am making my way through Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star and this is one of the things that has arisen for me. I think it was also the thrill of an illicit afternoon one day last week, spent entirely alone with my headphones and my book in Starbucks, that made me realise what I have been so very desperately missing. (The fact that I left work early on day because I was feeling horrendous – cold, sore throat, stuffed up head, etc. – and realised that I couldn’t go home without spending the rest of the afternoon running around after other people, never mind being able to just give into being sick and go to bed, made me pause for thought.) Settled at a table with my salted caramel mocha, Ms. Beck, and Rudimental, I realised that it was one of those occasions where I could feel the blood rushing through my veins with sheer exhilaration. If you had offered me a free round trip to anywhere else in the world at that moment in time, I wouldn’t’ve taken you up on it. Not even if it was my own bed which, two hours previously, I had almost been crying for! I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and it felt like a long time since that had been the case. (Which, upon reflection, isn’t very fair given that I spent a wonderful Saturday with my best friend in Glastonbury the weekend before that so, y’know, probably a bit spoilt overall but moving along….!) The secret to it all, I think, it the no other people bit. That is what so much of it hinges on, and maybe why I am so unhinged. Whatever the case may be, I have made myself a promise. It involves me, and a coffee shop (because, at the moment, this seems to be the sort of environment that I crave: homely yet anonymous, I suppose) and at least one hour a week of whatever feels best, consciously acknowledged as Me Time where no one else is invited, or wanted, or required. And perhaps, if I give myself this time, in this way, changing the components as desired, I will, in time, make it back into balance with my home life.

I thought, at first, it was all about missing my house which was so very much my space – and to some degree, that is the case – but I have come to realise that it might in fact be missing the room to breathe, unencumbered by anyone else. There is a strong possibility that Room To Breathe may be my next tattoo: it really is that important to me!

Honey – Two Years.

Two years ago today, my Honey-dog came home to live with us. Two other dogs have joined us in the intervening years, but she is still my baby and my best beloved. I waited thirty-four years to find her and she changed our lives completely.

My little truffle-hunting Moomin-pig

My little truffle-hunting Moomin-pig

She loves her daddy best of all.

She loves her daddy best of all.

Honey with Fudge and Ronnie, her adopted sister and brother. So many smiles!

Honey with Fudge and Ronnie, her adopted sister and brother. So many smiles!

A happy girl after her Adoption day pork pie and scotch egg this evening.

A happy girl after her Adoption Day pork pie and scotch egg this evening.