Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Kitchen sink drama

Good things happened last week. My father's cancer treatment has stopped for (I think - he's a little bit vague on details, and very much "I do what the doctor tells me and don't ask questions") all the right reasons. Goldie asked me to make an apple crumble and the same afternoon on a dog walk I came across a big box of windfalls and sign inviting people to help themselves. I heard that my thesis was good enough, and I have an MA. The trees are beautiful, suddenly gold and red, with enough sun still to make them shine.

Hard things have happened too, though. Snake has decided that we should be divorced. I don't want that (although I don't see us being together in the way we were again) but it's happening anyway, however much I don't want it. Some things have been said that have hurt people - me and Snake, but other people too - and they can't be unsaid. I lost my favourite big grey scarf that protected me from cold breezes and hot sun and acted as a pillow and a seat and a towel as needed. I have many scarves for all those reasons, but this one was best. And I lost my car keys, which unbelievably means a 10 day period of the car being in a garage while it is reprogrammed. I spent Friday night and Saturday visiting people and crying (with the remarkable BB in her kitchen; with Ms K in the street; with my parents in their garden as we watched the most beautiful formation of geese noisily doing that thing they do; with Peel in her kitchen; with Snake in what was our kitchen).

Obviously, some of these things are fairly momentous while others are eminently forgettable. But things are hitting me just now. I went through an extended period of not feeling, of being numb and blocked and needing to be strong and OK and coping. And now, with my own space, with some hard decisions made, with the days getting darker, I'm feeling and feeling and feeling.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

We could send letters

Moving means disrupting the memories that have settled in their corners like dust. I have a trunk that belonged to the uncle I never met, the one who died of depression, and it came with me to my new space.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon I  snapped open the brass clips and opened up the past. The cards sent in response to the girl's birth, the red DM boots with gold stars that Goldie wore as a toddler.

And then there were letters. Big stacks of them. Carefully chosen coloured stationary (I remember the shop where we used to go to choose and buy this by weight); Christmas stocking gift cards; pages torn from exercise books; postcards; the delicacy of an airmail letter (and the remembered anxiety that the words with the furthest to go were written on the flimsiest of paper). And then the sketches in the margins, the clues of a postcode or a seasonal stamp, or an upside down stamp, or a collection of stamps taking up half the envelope to make up to the required amount. Handwriting. Handwriting!

Most of the letters were from one of 5 or 6 people, with a smattering of others that I'd kept for one reason or another. I scanned through a couple and then more, and more, and then sat until it started to get dark, reading and reading and being amazed and astounded at what was contained there.

Love, mostly. Some angst, Some anger, or sadness. But the biggest motivator to write a letter back in the 80's seemed to be love. How can I have forgotten how loved I was? How held by friends? It was revelatory, and confusing, and wonderful. Love.

I know there's a lot said about how the internet means that all our comments and opinions and feeling and mistakes will be held forever in the public gaze, that our information is more accessible now, but really, will anyone, in 30 years time, stumble across ancient messages in Messenger or WhatsApp or Instagram or Snapchat that tell them that in those years where they felt most isolated and charmless, they were adored? And if the do, will the memory be the same when there's no touch to it, no context of paper or stamp?

We could send letters - Aztec Camera 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Wading through light

When I was in the middle of a tough winter of depression and general misery, the one activity I sustained was walking. I didn't think too much about it, because there would always have been many reasons not to go (all of which boiled down to, what on earth is the point of anything?), but daily I took my small, ever willing dog and tramped through 3 or 4 miles of woods and fields. It was one of the wettest winters on record, and the going was made more difficult and far more symbolic of depression by being a matter of pushing through mud and rain, boots getting heavier and water soaking through to skin. In retrospect, it was a strange focus, a strange commitment, but I also remember it as the one bit of life that I felt able to maintain.

Last weekend, 2 weeks after I left the family home, Snake and I drove to Dunwich on the east coast, now a small village, with the capital city it used to be drowned long ago, and set out to walk to Walberswick. It was a beautiful, bright day but late enough in the year for the shingle to be largely empty of people. After weeks of pulling apart, unpicking the practical and emotional stitches that have kept us together for 25 years, Snake and I were practising being together in some new configuration.

I hadn't prepared well for a swim, but it felt necessary, and the beach was empty. I took off jeans and jumpers and before I could think better of it waded in and plunged under the water. After a second of stolen breath, it felt wonderful. I could feel the sun, and there was just enough swell and current to pull and roll me without it ever feeling that I wasn't in control. I wanted to stay in there, perhaps to join the seals that inhabit that coast, or to find a Selkie to take me in. It was hard returning to dry land.

As I waded out, Snake picked up my phone and took a photo of me, the sun so bright that all the detail of the sea was bleached out, giving the effect that I am wading through light, or cloud. This is another hard, hard season, with decisions being made that can't help but hurt people, and things that have been beautiful and right being unmade, unravelled....but it isn't depression. I'm still, I suppose asking "what's the point?" but instead of that being with the pre-ordained "there isn't one" answer I'd have given when ill, it's a genuine, "why this now? what next? where from here?" It's complicated and exhausting and frustrating, but it's a looking forward, a place of hope. Instead of that bitter struggle against mud and rain, I am pushing through light, finding things to love in this new, strange journey.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Looking back is for the birds

Sometimes blog silence is because nothing much has been happening and sometimes it's because too much has been happening.

Too much has been happening.

In the last 3 weeks my marriage has ended and I've moved out of our family home. Oh, and I wrote and submitted the dissertation for my MA.

I don't have wi-fi yet here, so this is on my phone and will be short. For various reasons I am still not feeling what's happened, still waiting I think for a time when it's safe for me to do that. But there's some stuff I've noticed, stuff I want to remember.

Our children, our 14 year old and our 20 year old, are amazing. They are incredible people. From the second we told them they have stuck with and kept trusting us both and, beautifully, turned to each other. They are such people. I am so in awe of them.

On the basis of very little evidence (I moved under a week ago and have actually had very little time here alone) but confirming everything I've ever thought about myself, I love living alone. I love living in a very small, self contained space. I love the combination responsible grown up and playing at house aspects of it. I love my new home.

We have many many incredible friends, and people are kind. People are SO kind.

I love my husband. I am deeply committed to him as my co-parent, as my chosen family. But since I left I have slept better than I have in, I think, years, on my ridiculous student-y, battered old futon mattress on the floor. And on Tueasday night with Ms.M, and last night with my children here for food and scrabble and hours of Kendrick LaMar (who they are teaching me to love), I kept catching myself laughing, and thinking, who is this? When have I laughed like this?

Sleeping and laughing aren't the only indicators of well being, of course, and there's a whole lot of other stuff, but I'm trying to read all the signals. Trying to find the new path.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Decorated city

I can’t remember when or why we decided Lisbon for a holiday, except a city seemed a good idea and it’s somewhere none of have been. Whatever, it was a lucky choice, a beautiful city, on a perfect scale.

I’d found a flat for us to rent for the week on line, in the same way that we did it a couple of years ago when we went to Zaragova. Once again, I chose well or we got lucky. A light, simple, cool space tucked away within walking distance of the whole city, with views across the river Tage.
Lisbon is a decorated city. Many buildings (including the one we stayed in) are covered with patterned tiles, the metro stations have detailed tiled artwork, and in a modern day reflection, there is ambitious, skilled graffiti and street art wherever you look. And it’s a city built on hills, with steps and precipitous alleyways and winding lanes, small shady squares and secret courtyards. Getting lost was inevitable, but we learnt to pinpoint a landmark and head towards it, zigzagging and doubling back as the eccentric layout demanded, but always making it to somewhere we recognised well enough to get back to base from.

We also found that Goldie has a far better understanding of topography than the rest of us, and an effective way to engage a teenage boy in what was essentially a series of city walks was to tell him where we wanted to explore on that outing, and then follow him. Not that he didn’t get lost, but he has the confidence, focus and competitiveness to make sure he got us where we wanted to go in the end, and the rest of us were happy to follow on, drinking in the surroundings.

Coffee was a big part of the week, and I’m going to have to do some kind of painful detox I think, although I seem to be tolerating the caffeine fairly well – haven’t slept for more than a couple of hours at a time for weeks, but that’s not too unusual. I loved the coffees we had – 50 cent espressos that are as an effective a mind altering drug as anything legally available, and big glasses of coffee with milk, alongside custard tarts or light sponge and cream cakes.

A couple of times we left the city for beaches, on one occasion a well heeled resort some distance from the city where we found a bay with a deep, calm pool of water. I swam and floated and revelled in the salty deep glory of it for a long long time, loving that I was in the sea, in the sea. Another day we went across the river to the far coast where the Atlantic crashed onto a sandy beach. It was too shallow and too rough for swimming but I waded out and let myself be knocked over, submerged, repeatedly.

But it’s the wandering around the city that has stayed with me. I love London, but I kept thinking of how blocky, how masculine, how built to impress with power it is, compared to this pretty, decorated human scale place.