The blurt below was probably the nadir of my introspection, I don't think I'll go there again, although you never know. The blog as therapy, or as significant other for those of us who don't have one, is an interesting phenomenon. I've found it powerful and see that others also do, although many might not choose to read. Those of you who did, and left comments or linked to me, are amazing. Your generous and thoughtful responses warm my heart and keep me company.
Those who said I was describing them too, to some extent - well, you made me feel human. Thank you. No words suffice. As a student of the dharma myself, Leslee's and Isabel's wise words bring a message I can't hear too often, whose truth I've touched and known and will continue to reach for. Greg makes an excellent point: since I like to write, I might try writing something more cheerful! I'd really like to do that.
This was the end, the heart of something. It isn't going to go away. But life makes room alongside, or it doesn't. Even as I wrote it, and then spent much of the following few days thinking about it, the season turned here in London and we had the first really warm days. The sun shone strongly on the ghastliness and the beauty of everything, and I can choose to feel I'm part of it all - or not.
So, I'm choosing to try and move on and, as a gesture in that direction, finally getting around to a long-planned move to TypePad.
It’s been hard to write anything recently. Well, you can figure that out from the little written here. Too much going on, both at work, which doesn’t get any less busy and stressful, and in life, with major changes hovering about but not yet materialising. Perhaps the particular recent possibilities for moving home will not materialise. I don’t know yet and the uncertainty is pretty draining. But thinking them through has certainly brought the reality of coming change much closer. What’s more, these challenges of stress and change have brought me up hard and shockingly against my own primal and inexorable blocks and limitations.This is a snapshot of facing those blocks. It isn't how I feel all the time.
When I was a child, I felt completely safe and secure. My parents were deeply motivated by a Protestant ethic of duty to work, family and ‘decent’ standards of behaviour. Both of them clever, but ill-educated, they worked in entry-level clerical jobs which no doubt bored and humiliated them. They were never out of work for more than a few weeks, never late, almost never off sick, and I’m sure they were hugely conscientious. Although there was barely enough money, it was budgeted carefully: food on the table, on the dot, three times a day. If bills could not be paid, I never heard about it. I think they were paid, thanks to rigorous scrimping and saving, few clothes, no treats, no hobbies. In the eighteen years we lived together, I remember my parents going out in the evening perhaps twice. They didn’t get along and clearly didn’t make each other happy, but decent people, decent parents, didn’t separate.
What a huge sacrifice they made! I wish I was more grateful. It’s hard to be grateful because decency doesn’t include kindness, and it doesn’t include fun. The security I felt as a child was security under a cloud of unhappiness, a cloud whose darkness I only fully realised when I stepped out from under it.
If the total security of childhood home and family is also really miserable, if you escape from it eventually, when you can’t stand it any longer, it can mean you’ve internalised unbearable contradictions. To know again the security of home and kin and being in your place is both what you most want and what you most dread. This is, dispiritingly, my case. I’m wary, fickle, indecisive and elusive, both emotionally and materially. I touch, withdraw and always in the end remain alone. This is the pattern, over and over, only clearer as the years advance. Self-awareness is worth little unless it changes behaviour.
Change behaviour? Look at everybody else, how entwined, how anchored you are in family, lovers, home and obligations. The gulf between us is just too great now. Loner is a man: knight, cowboy, tramp. Woman as loner is nothing. Yes, how can this belief coexist with an adult lifetime of ardent feminism? But it does. I feel wispy, barely here, after so many years of drifting. Moving to the country, home, community, spiritual community, words, writing, communication: sometimes, often, these seem no more than a dream.
Looking back, seeing where this comes from, I am sorry, sorry to be bitter. Fucking up my life is my responsibility. Of course it is. Not my parents’. I wish I could pluck out the past, be someone else. Except that, in the end, like most of us, I think, I’ve never really wanted to be someone else, just a happier version of myself.
Breathe deeply, then, and take a firm grip on the handle of the door to change. My hand passes straight through it. Trying so hard not to be here, I have turned myself into a ghost.
¶ 1:26 p.m.20 comments
I’ve been half deaf this past week, from an ear infection; probably not even half, more like a quarter. Not so much deaf as ‘hard of hearing’ - and it’s much harder than I imagined.
Monday morning: zipped into office persona, click-clack efficient, not really me, but I’m good at pretending. When I pick up the phone I hear a muffled murmur. What? sorry? could you…? Tired from a night of sleep disturbed by pain, I drop the phone while transferring it from my blocked right ear to my good left ear. I NEVER hold the phone to my left ear; it feels all wrong. Every reflex of automatic, easy functioning in the world protests.
My friend, my good friend at work, comes in looking anxious and intense. Closes the door behind her. Something on her mind. It’s often not easy to move from professional mode to ‘really talking’, but today it’s much more difficult than usual. Unclear consonants slide away and I keep saying: what did you say? I can see she thinks it’s her strong Russian accent, that it must be extra strong today for some reason. She peters to a halt, embarrassed, undermined. It’s not you. It’s me. My ear’s blocked. She’s unconvinced. Meaningful conversation fails to flower.
So, here we are, in the early evening, at the Buddhist Centre. Diamonds of sunlight blink on the carpet inside the circle of cushions and dapple the Buddha’s bronze belly. I want to breathe softly and stroke all of it, all of us, with gentle fingertips. After meditation, we move into pairs to talk about a rather deep, subtle issue raised by the teacher. I haven’t met this woman next to me before, and I like the look of her. I’d like to say something warm and perceptive that sends her home feeling heard, attended to, with food for thought. But here, surrounded by half a dozen other sotto voce conversations, I can barely distinguish her words at all. So it’s mostly what? again, drawing all her puzzled, sympathetic attention to myself, and having to explain: it’s my ear… I’m not comfortable introducing a stranger to my ear. It provokes all kinds of vulnerable, embarrassed feelings.
What? - the week’s refrain. Think of it as the Zen koan: what is this? Many answers; no answer. Well, it’s more than I thought; a small thing, but its impact far from small. Coming up hard against habits and emotions, it’s been one of those fleeting, interesting glimpses the sick or injured able have of disability. We say we didn’t realise, we’ll remember this… and usually we don’t.
¶ 12:04 p.m.9 comments
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
My favourites, I think. They blink like stars beneath the trees - different from last year, not spread so thickly on the woodland floor, but each flower bigger, brighter, wider open.
Norman Kember, the British peace worker kidnapped in Iraq with Tom Fox, the American who was murdered by their captors, and two Canadian colleagues, was interviewed on the radio a couple of days ago.
The media picked up and repeated endlessly two quite predictable things he said (approximate quotations only):
Do you think you underestimated the risk of kidnap? Yes, we probably did.
How did you feel about the SAS group that rescued you? I was grateful. It's ironic, of course - me, a pacifist who disapproves of the army, owing my life to men from the SAS, the most violent group of all. But of course I was happy to see them and am grateful.
I wondered if I'd heard the same interview. How grossly the media fail sometimes. What lingered in my mind was the quality of the man. How he didn't try to impress or justify, but quietly told the facts, with no care for making an impression.
No passionate stating of his case, but only 'Most Iraqis are fine people. We felt so sorry for them, and wanted them to know that.'
Most strikingly, no impulse to manage his own image, to make himself the hero of a story. How many of us could resist that? How many of us would have said, ruefully, when asked about his relationship with fellow captives, 'Well, this isn't very nice, but after a while [after several weeks of days spent sitting in a row, backs to a wall, handcuffed together], I couldn't bear the Canadians' accent - I expect they felt the same about mine'.
His simplicity touched my heart. I think I will remember Norman Kember. I keep hearing his dry, undramatic voice and how it gave way, when asked about his wife, to silence and a gulping sob.
¶ 10:27 a.m.8 comments
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Being more open, more exposed – I’m intrigued by the way reflecting on my possible move to an open, blowy landscape has shifted into wider reflections on this theme. There’s probably nothing more important to any chance of change, communication, useful action. I’ve spent most of my life, you see, shutting myself down, pretending hard that I’m not here.
What a wonderful refuge imagination has proved. Without it’s sheltering arms, and later those of literature, how unbearably miserable I would have found life. And so, a solitary person, living mostly in my mind, is who I’ve been.
And, as well as a great blessing, it’s been a great curse, of course. Much of adult life has been a battle to come out and meet the world: a battle sometimes won, because of dear people happening along, because of passionate political feelings, because of a job that took me all over the world, the magic of the strange and new demolishing my reserve; and a battle often lost in drifts of depression and isolation.
What really made the tide start to turn a bit in recent years was beginning to practice Buddhist meditation – a practice of meeting the body, the breath, the air, in the present; of opening the heart to the here-and-now, to self, to others; setting up a pattern counter to that other pattern of closure adopted early in life. It was the ineffable encounter with the right thing at the right time. Sometimes I have a mad urge to be an evangelist for it – one of those dreadful street preachers with a megaphone. But the right thing at the right time is something so personal, not to be foisted on anyone.
However, it is time to say again that the online group I’m part of, over at 100 Days meditation blog, will start a new 100 days on Saturday 15 April. New meditators, in any tradition, are welcome then or at any time.
The wind rushes to meet you across these wide open spaces, taking your breath away, slicing into you. Break you open or tear you apart - is there a difference, except in the words chosen to describe it? Is the harsh wind to be viewed as aggressor or as an exciting, provocative companion? - asattacker or merely as pushing you hard, to a place beyond resistance? Attracted, repelled, reminded of all the other conflicting forces that buffet you, you hesitate. Hover long enough in the doorway of new experience, and the wind will take you anyway. Fly with it, then - or turn and run for your life!
I found great resonance in Isabel’s comment here yesterday: “I […] moved to a wide open landscape in middle age and found it both exhilarating and intimidating to relearn how to live without cover… exposed.”
In a long, intense meeting on Sunday with my companions in this possible venture to make a new home, I pushed myself, full of trepidation, to express my discomfort with the overexcited and inconsiderate way we had been exchanging views, interrupting each other. Didn’t say it especially well and soon after I said it I, in my turn, forgot myself and spoke roughly in just the way I had drawn attention to. But I was glad I had spoken, felt exposed, but also held and appreciated by the group - the tight, closed feeling of discontent replaced by honesty and warmth.
This is the way I want to be. If being in a wide open, windy place were to prove a support to this, I would be glad of it.
¶ 2:26 p.m.7 comments
Monday, April 10, 2006
Fens [this is an explanatory link to Wikipedia]. Flat. Endless vistas, wide skies, SPAAACE – I love that. It pleases me aesthetically, and can lift my heart. A horizon is a wonderful thing, which I have often missed and craved while living in London. But cold. The wind shrieks cruelly with nothing for a long, long way to the East to stem it’s force. This landscape isn’t gentle; doesn’t shelter. I love this place as long as I feel strong and energetic. In more vulnerable moods, it’s not always an easy place to be.
This may become home. It’s the best possibility to arise in ages. We will know within the next few weeks, probably, whether it can happen.
So, the lethal strain of bird flu has been confirmed today in Scotland in a dead Mute Swan (the native British species - I think this is one).
I remember the lurking thoughts of the virus at the back of my mind when I took this picture in Windsor Great Park some months ago, drawn to the common but always appealing beauty of a whole flock of them. A new and deeper fear replacing vague memories of being warned as a child that swans, if disturbed, might peck me.
Most immediately, I feel for the farmers who fear a re-run of the terrible experience of the most recent Foot-and-Mouth epidemic and the way it was dealt with here: the chaotic slaughter, the countryside filled with stinking piles of corpses and smoking pyres, the livelihoods lost overnight, the government seen as enemy not safety net, the ministry so reviled it had to change its name.
Despite the blanket media coverage over many months, I find I have little idea, really, of the level of risk. Perception of risk - the degree to which we are taught to fear crime and strangers, for example - is so commonly, so massively distorted.
I read the comments from my friends Pica and Dale with ever-so-slight indignation, thinking: well, I know that, I didn't mean I don't know that, I do read the more thoughtful newspapers, what I don't know is... then I realised I'd fallen into the trap of what I was criticising. Risk means WE DON'T KNOW. The "knowledge society" deals very badly with not knowing and would rather catastrophise than admit to uncertainty.
There’s something so beguiling and satisfying about views through archways, down corridors. Their symmetry delights the eye, and something deeper than the eye. They offer what life so utterly lacks, but the human spirit never learns to stop seeking. Edges. Frames. Tidy, finite, fixed perspectives. A sense of being held, but - with a view away into the distance - not of constraint. A pleasure indeed to look at, but important to see the illusion.
Here is a place. Bright, but gusty, in these wild and not yet welcoming early days of nearly-Spring. Could this be home?
For several years I’ve longed to move away from London, but, with no compulsion, no prescribed destination, floundered over doing it. After many explorations and contacts, some possibilities have gradually emerged. And now, suddenly, there are two – two concrete, interesting, tempting, different options.
So hard to imagine. So hard to want. Wanting means risking disappointment. Emotional investment in a possibility is something I fear, but know I soon must make. So in the coming weeks I’ll be hanging out a bit in both places, letting myself imagine, letting myself want, opening to intimations of what it would be like.
But, assiduously as I may research the social and cultural facilities, the local development plan, long as I may linger in the town cafes and explore the country walks, much as I may close my eyes and open my heart to atmosphere, that great intangible that is ‘feeling at home’ will not become predictable. It will be a leap, a risk. And I who am timid, who have let life push me around – do I have it in me to leap?
(No, I'm not actually contemplating living on a barge)
I have loved a place, as deeply and wholly as I have loved a person. But it didn’t happen overnight. I long to have that again, but know it isn’t something you can will.
Things have been sticky lately and I’m feeling tired and a bit shut down – not unhappy, but signally lacking in outgoing energy and enthusiasm, as evidenced by recent inability to choke out more than the odd sentence on this here blog. The longing for a new home and a different lifestyle has got itself somewhat submerged under coping from day to day. How, in this mood, do I open to these new possibilities? All muffled up still in my Winter clothes, how do I rub up against these places and see how they feel?
If not permanent, unmoving, at least, for months and years. A gentle under-note to the swirling clamour of words, both spoken and written: the gloom and fear, officiousness and hard sell of the public sphere, the staccato, self-referential chatter of the private. Words that hang there, enduring and weathering and alluding to things beyond their original intention.
Had to do this, so I could use the photo. Somepeople claimed it was forty questions – where's No. 14, guys?
1) Who is the last person you high-fived? Don’t think I’ve ever done this. 2) If you were drafted into a war, would you survive? I would refuse to be drafted - would flee if possible and face the music if not.
3) Do you sleep with the TV on? I used to – one of the reasons I don’t have one now.
4) Have you ever drunk milk straight out of the carton? No. Not out of fastidiousness. I don’t like the taste of milk or cardboard.
5) Have you ever won a spelling bee? No. I don’t think we had those.
6) Have you ever been stung by a bee? Yes. In the armpit when it flew out of a pillow case I was changing. Very nasty.
7) How fast can you type? 75 wpm. Tried really hard to get to 80, but this seems to be my natural limit.
8) Are you afraid of the dark? I was as a kid. Now I like the dark - not enough of it in the city.
9) What colour are your eyes? Blue.
10) Have you ever made out at a drive-in? No - I’m British.
11) When is the last time you chose a bath over a shower? Couple of days ago. Could cope with giving it up to save water, though.
12) Do you knock on wood? Yes.
13) Do you floss daily? No, though I should.
14) Can you hula hoop? Don’t know. I was quite good 40 years ago.
15) Are you good at keeping secrets? Yes. But don’t find it easy.
16) What do you want for Christmas? To be preparing for January meditation retreat in India
17) Do you know the Muffin Man? No, but I used to.
18) Do you talk in your sleep? Yes, at length, I believe.
19) Who wrote the book of love? Marilynne Robinson – “Gilead” is the book that springs to mind, since I read it very recently.
20) Have you ever flown a kite? Mmm, yes, lovely – it’s been too long.
21) Do you wish on your fallen lashes? Huh?
22) Do you consider yourself successful? No. I try not to think in those terms, but the conditioning goes deep.
23) How many people are on your contact list of your mobile? Don’t have a mobile.
24) Have you ever asked for a pony? Probably, but not very seriously.
25) Plans for tomorrow? It’s Friday. I’ll be looking forward to the weekend.
26) Can you juggle? Well, only two balls with two hands – that’s an achievement with my physical coordination.
27) Are you missing someone now? Yes.
28) When was the last time you told someone I Love You? Yesterday.
29) And truly meant it? Can’t imagine saying it if I didn’t.
30) How often do you drink? Maybe once a week - wine.
31) How are you feeling today? Not too bad. Spring is coming.
32) What do you say too much? Hopefully, ….
33) Have you ever been suspended or expelled from school? No. I nearly was from university. Not for anything interesting – I left the job in France for which I was allowed to take a year off.
34) What are you looking forward to? Spring.
35) Have you ever crawled through a window? Yes. I was terrified of getting stuck.
36) Have you ever eaten dog food? Ugh, no!
37) Can you handle the truth? I hope so.
38) Do you like green eggs and ham? What? Is that an American thing?
39) Do you have any cool scars? One near my eye from walking into a lamp post – rather a nice cliché.
¶ 12:31 p.m.15 comments
Random recent photos. And completely random is how I feel: thence the lack of anything substantive here of late. The shell is standing up, walking around, emitting words from time to time, but shell is what it is – knock on me and I’ll reverberate, or crack, perhaps, if you knock too hard. The skin is standing up, but inside there the organs, vessels, fibres are sleeping on their feet like horses. Sporadically, words and images bubble to the surface, but there’s no theme. I’ve lost the plot. There was a plot, wasn't there? I'm sure there was. It’ll come back to me, I suppose. Rest in the randomness. Let it be. It’ll all come back to me.