Manchester – May 22nd, 2017.

I woke up slowly this morning, listening to the birds singing outside the window. They’re still singing, fourteen and a half hours later, as I type this. I opened Instagram, and scrolled, and this was my first alert to what had happened in Manchester last night. I checked my emails for my morning digest from the Guardian and there it was. And today, I’ve mainly been angry. I’ve seen lots of posts about praying for Manchester, and I’ve seen lots of posts about how resilient the British are, and it’s all true but I’m still really angry.

  • I’m angry that one man – and so, so many men – had been sufficiently unloved and unseen so as to become warped by someone’s ideology of hatred and fear-mongering causing  him to act in the way he did.
  • I’m angry that one human being – and so, so many human beings – could be persuaded that attempting to blow up as many parents and their children as possible was a way to improve the world.
  • I’m angry that he died, in the explosion that caused so many deaths and injuries, and that he will never know (in this lifetime, at least) how wrong he was, and how misguided those thoughts were.
  • I’m angry that so many lives were abruptly ended, and so many more shattered,  because of one man’s urge to belong.
  • I’m angry that in this breath-stealingly beautiful world, war can invade children’s lives to such a degree. Not in England but all over the world, and with a myriad of devastating effects.
  • I’m angry that terrorism is, as Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan posted earlier on Facebook, so gendered. We don’t see women blowing up children and their parents nearly so often as we see it of men.
  • I’m angry that this may potentially push more people toward prejudice and discord within British communities – more dangerous than ever with an election so close to hand, and with the Tories so depressingly close to victory.

So tonight I stood in the garden in Dave’s arms and I let it all flood through the soles of my feet and asked the earth to take it away. I’m not a Christian but I thought of the lilies of the fields and how sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and I thought of the everlasting arms, and the earth that cradles us. And I thought of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet which is one of the few writings I hold to be truly sacred:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls. For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”

I thought of what the woman who cuts my hair said to me this evening when we were discussing our children’s schools: how her children, and others their age, no longer see skin colour as something worthy of comment. I thought of my daughter and her friends, of which I think only one identifies as cis/straight, and I recalled that it takes adults to teach children how to hate one another based on religion, or skin tone, or sexuality, or any other difference. It’s difficult not to be angry at such blatant stupidity.  (And speaking of which, “evil losers,” Trump, really? Now there’s an embarrassing human being.) And I sent out a prayer, a thought, a wish that the youngest generation learns enough from itself – from its many strengths and battles – to get smart enough to put an end to the insanity of its predecessors, to stop the stupidity, and to find a place where anger becomes rage: a rage against children dying needlessly, a rage against people being sucked up into unloving ideologies, a rage against Us and Them; a rage that burns away all the needless crud around the edges until there is only the core left. The core that we are all linked, that we are all in this together, that we are better working together than against one another.

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…

 

51IBWTQl0aL._SS500

 

 

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.

51yM+urR9QL._SL300_

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.

51hj6np0R0L._SL300_

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!

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!

 

Coming Soon…

In four days, I will be thirty-six. That’s definitely supposed to be Grown Up Territory – I wonder when it will feel that way in here in this little space that I call me? Most of the time now, I feel as if I have things reasonably in hand, but there are inevitably occasions when my inner four year old wants to take over. Does that ever end?

Life is much the same as ever. There are many happinesses in here; so many that I have to pay attention and count them out to really appreciate them. There is also, currently, an intention towards inviting the Universe’s abundance into this space, into my space, into our family. I read a wonderful post that Jo wrote that, as is often the case for me, sounded like it was being written by my wiser, more mature,  grounded self. She is speaking my words here, right down to the ‘we always have enough to get by’ but often by a seeming miracle. I  decided – probably about the same time that she did, and that’s what makes the magic, people- that ‘Just Enough’ was, and is, no longer enough. Time to open up, time break down the self-prophesies and self-harming stories. Time to bring about a new perspective and invite The All to present us with new options and experiences. It can feel treacherous to open up when there is so little leeway in one’s responsible, adult financial pose, but, then again, I was given the gift of seeing a post on Facebook today which said something along the lines of “you must spend your money with the certainty that it will return to you…because it has to.” This reminds me that, when so much around me is going well and bearing fruit, I have found a strange time to lose my trust and faith in the abundance that has always come me when it was needed or asked for. I can do this little by little, step by step, and with an increasing awareness of my self-sabotaging inner monologue, I can amend my focus back into the black and away from the red.

We will be more than OK.

Night Life.

Last night, we did something I had wanted to do for a long time: we went into the city and we walked the streets and absorbed some of the energy of Saturday night in Dublin. It’s been an awfully long time since I did it, and it was such a good feeling to see what I most wanted to see – the wild and beautiful diversity of people out for the night.

It’s been really hot here on the east coast of Ireland for the last week or so. Not by the USA’s standard of hot, but by our standards, very much so. Temperatures have been reaching twenty-seven or twenty-eight degrees and, for me, that’s Hide In The Fridge weather. It makes me sleepy and lethargic, even more so than usual. My brain shuts down and my limbs weaken under the wilting weight of the humidity. The glare of the sun is too much, too bright, for someone who’s favourite time of the day is inevitably very early morning or dusk. I like the in-between times rather than the bright and obvious midday light. Finally, yesterday evening, it cooled down. Everything swung back to a comfortable sort of eighteen degrees or so – which is my kind of t-shirt weather at the best of times – and I finally felt as if I could breathe. I can hardly describe the relief of feeling as if I could move again properly!

The whole city centre seemed like it was exhaling, actually, and there were so many gorgeous people out and about. This was somewhat tempered by the fact that, compared to how it used to be, the city was empty. Driving in at about eight thirty, people were conspicuous by their very absence. I don’t believe I have ever seen Town quieter on a Saturday night. But Temple Bar had a reasonable crowd, and the posters on the hoardings made me as happy as they always do: concerts, comedy gigs, theatre productions, protests, exhibitions – it’s good to see there is still plenty afoot in Dublin, despite its abandoned weekend.

There is something distinct and special about the Saturday night energy. I love people watching and I will be quite delighted to sit in a café during the day and watch the world go by. The thing is though that a different dynamic exists. It’s all a lot more structured, a lot more for show. People have a plan, a schedule, they’ve got appointments to keep and a set list of shops to visit. They have children with them or washing to hang out when they get home; they are, in short, preoccupied. Whereas people on a Saturday night are, generally speaking, looser, freer, more alive to the music and rhythms around them. They’ve done the prep work – fixed the hair, shaved the legs – they’re rocking the new clothes they bought earlier in the day and they’re ready for whatever comes next, but most of them are also OK with whatever’s happening now. They’ve got the buzz, and it’s a wonderful thing to observe.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s also the undeniable entertainment value of women in warm weather going out for the night. The skirts get shorter, the heels get higher, the tops get smaller and smaller. There are the usual orange faces and pink necks, the fake tanned legs and the white hands, the plasters covering the blistered heels. But it’s all good because there’s an underlying hum of excitement that infuses even the passersby with an element of vivacity.

The thing is, I suppose, that it’s like looking at what life should be like. It’s the hum of the Having A Good Time, or at least Expecting To Have A Good Time and, truthfully, what more do any of us want?