Saturday, 30 December 2017

Is that metaphorical?

Because they’re shooting pheasants round home this morning and Ellie hates the noise – she runs back if I try to walk with her – we drive a couple of miles to some National Trust countryside.

As we leave the carpark the river is high. I hope there isn’t a sudden surge and car is washed away.

The river is high as we leave the carpark
There's no sign however of what Frog calls ‘witches’ knickers’ – the pieces of plastic bag draped over trees by flood.

'Witches' knickers' (in May 2012)
There are lots of other people around and the paths are muddy, so I go off piste and head for ‘my’ island.

But it’s gone. All there is to show for the grassy knoll where Ellie and I have spent several happy hours is a band of ripples and some grass-tops.

Grass-tops and a line of ripples: my one-time island
Ellie is as surprised as me.

Ellie wondering where the island has gone
We find another spot to sit and I watch the scudding clouds and the racing river - keeping an eye out for flash floods. The sky is like a friendly giant and I wonder why humanity ever wanted to tame nature.

When we get home I tell Frog what's happened to the island.
'Is that metaphorical?' he asks.

Monday, 25 December 2017

That shiny happy person

As the website My Horrid Parent says, criticising parents is still taboo, and it is especially difficult to do when the abuse is psychological rather than physical. More often than not you can prove the results of physical abuse, whereas psychological abuse is invisible. It’s hard to quantify and hard to explain. After all, if parents clothe and feed you, make sure you have a good education and give you material things, what is there to complain about?

I have touched on the subject in previous posts, not I hope in a spirit of blame but because I need to untangle the situation. As a child you blame yourself and carry on loving your parents. As you get older you make excuses for them. They did their best. They didn't know what they were doing. They had good qualities as well as bad ones. You understand that the abuse was the result of their own pain.  You try and look at the situation from a karmic point of view and be thankful for the chance to learn and grow. None of that however gets to the root of the problem. It misses the point. First and foremost you have to name the actions for what they were.

And a funny thing happens when you do. Your perspective changes. You flip. You stop being a victim. Suddenly you feel free. Suddenly you are that shiny happy person you always knew was inside you but only appeared when you got right away, preferably to Australia the other side of the world.

I’ve been reminded recently of the pictures of the Dutch artist M C Escher. Is the world black or white, convex or concave, going up or going down? That shiny happy person comes and goes. One moment I see her, I am her. The next I’m not.

Image result for escher

Image result for escher

Image result for escher

Those few of us who do dare to criticise parents feel a kinship. We have struggled through the snow and reached the safety of the pub. It’s cold outside but we have each other.

And I hope that soon the shiny happy person will be here to stay.

And here finally are some Christmas rules that Frog has picked up from Facebook (from a liberal American he follows).

1. Do not go into debt trying to show people how much you love them
2. Do not go home to see your family if it damages your mental health
3. If someone criticises your weight, eat them.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Artists and farmers

House-building is like road-building. Demand is never satisfied and at some point one just has to call it a day. Sadly, that day has not yet arrived in Devon.
    A few miles away from us in the middle of the countryside a whole new town has recently appeared. Where the inhabitants come from, what their skills are and where they work I don't know. A farming couple however, displaced from their farm by the development, has recently set up shop on land two fields away from us.
    They started with one barn, then built another, then installed a caravan so that someone could look after the animals in the barns, and now have a house. Before the house was built, I protested strongly about it to the planning department. My protests didn’t have any effect of course and luckily Sue and Jon are charming and have not held them against me.
    This morning, as Ellie and I struggled up the lane through the mud and the puddles, Jon came hurtling down the hill in a vast tractor with lethal prongs sticking out of the front and a vast muddy trailer behind. He slewed to a halt in true Devon fashion next to Ellie and me so that we could have a chat.
    Jon is a sensitive man, deeply upset by his exile and committed to both his animals and the organic way of farming. As he talked I realised that artists (of all kinds, including me) and farmers have a lot in common.

We both spend most of the time on our own
We both wear terrible clothes (Why make an effort if no one is going to appreciate it? Why not just be comfortable?)
We both work for love, not money
We’re both independent to the point of pain
We both feel misunderstood by the world at large.

When Frog and I first moved to rural Devon in the 1970s, the population consisted largely of artists and farmers, with a smattering of complementary therapists and not much else. It was good to be reminded of that time.

As I have no photos of my own of 1970s' Devon, here are three by the wonderful James Ravilious. (Follow the link for more and better quality.)

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Mud-wrap and wintry watermeadows

Recently I’ve been very confused, so two days ago I asked the universe for guidance, a small hint about the way forward, some encouragement about my writing perhaps. That night I had a dream.
    I was being given a detoxifying mud-wrap but, hardly had the process started, than the therapist disappeared leaving me in public half undressed with clumps of mud stuck to me.
    What could be clearer?
    I’ve started to open up about sensitive subjects and then, at the first sign of trouble (family disapproval), clammed up again. I’ve started a healing process and then abandoned it.
    But it’s too late to back out. I’ve already got mud on me. The public has already seen me without all my clothes on.
    So my New Year’s Resolution is to Carry On.

And, talking of the New Year, brings me to the festive season and my best wishes to you for Christmas and your own New Year. Thank you for reading this blog. Double thank you if you’ve commented and, even if you don’t comment, I feel your presence.

Here is a photograph I took of some nearby watermeadows one January. It’s what I’m using for my Christmas card this year.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

With the turning of the year

From time to time over the last few decades I’ve attended many writing workshops, usually ones run by the wonderful Roselle Angwin. The most recent (in 2009, I discover to my astonishment) was a weekend entitled ‘Stranger than Fiction’ and involved writing our life stories. I disgraced myself in my eyes by sobbing for almost the whole two days but nobody seemed to mind and, as I kept saying, it was such a relief to be in a place where you could be unhappy. Not that I was unhappy, but I’d tapped into a place within myself that didn’t normally find expression.

Over the last few months I’ve found myself in some dark places. This is I suppose partly because of everything that’s been happening, starting with my mother’s death in February. It’s also because of the blog in which I’ve opened up several subjects I normally keep under wraps. And now, with the turning of the year, the world itself is darkening.

December sunset
I suspect that my migraines are the dark places struggling to get out, and for the last two weeks, in advance of the visit of my brother and sister-in-law J and K, I’ve been suffering on and off with the condition. This is not because of J and K, because nobody could be kinder, but because they represent Family and for me the negative connotations of Family outweigh the positive.

Yesterday evening, 36 hours after J and K left, I thought I was better and I celebrated with a glass of wine. Big Mistake. I woke in the night feeling dreadful again. My emotions were in turmoil. Obviously the blog, which was supposed to be a healing exercise, wasn’t working. What’s more, I’d upset another member of the family with some of the things I’d been saying.
    ‘I’m going to stop blogging,’ I said to Frog, ‘and delete everything I’ve written.’
    ‘No,’ he mumbled with admirable perspicacity given that he was at least three-quarters asleep.
    Immediately I felt better.

This blog – at present – is revealing a side of me that I’ve kept hidden for my family’s sake for much of my life. It’s bound to cause trouble. But to be whole and healthy I need to come clean about that side, and this blog is the only place I have at the moment where I can. I just have to keep going. 

January sunrise

Monday, 4 December 2017

Back to fiction?

Creativity takes energy, and since mid-October I’ve had none to spare. Hence the dearth of blog posts.

Now however, with the dog mended, my computer working again (fingers crossed), and a pause in the sorting of stuff and in building work because my lovely brother J and sister-in-law K are coming to stay, life is easing up and I can feel the creative urge returning.

I don’t yet* have anything important to say, however, so here instead are some pictures of, or rather from, ‘my’ semi-island where the dog and I spent another dreamy hour or so at the weekend.

I’ve been transfixed recently by the beauty of the elements – a white sky, a grey river. Sometimes I wish I could paint or make music as those media surely would express that feeling so much better than words, or even photographs.

Maybe I should get back to writing fiction. Maybe that would say what I want to say.

* Whoops. That 'yet' just slipped out but as I read it back it sounds rather conceited. I shall leave it in, notwithstanding.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Synchronicity or what?

I’m a firm believer in synchronicity. By synchronicity I mean that what happens in the external world mirrors what’s going inside us, that we create our future with our intentions and that everything that happens is part of a web of meaning. This has been borne out so many times in my life that I’ve given up doubting it in spite of the majority view that the whole idea is complete boxxocks.

If you’re clever you can use consciously this quality of the universe – you can tap into the web, getting exactly what you want and finding signs everywhere as to what’s going on. Sometimes however – like now, for me – the whole blinking thing is a mystery.

I’ve told you about Ellie and her injury.

I’ve told you about our building work inside and out – the new bathroom, the knocking down of wall, the earth-moving - and I've told you about the sorting out of shed, garage and house.

The new bathroom
I've told you about my mother's death earlier this year and about my mental and emotional clear-outs – the two events from 40 years ago that have haunted me ever since and of which I want to be free.

I haven’t however told you about my email and computer problems. (Skip this bit if you want.)

During the summer I lost all my old emails and destroyed the email programme I was using through my own carelessness. Then, around the time Ellie was injured, I was unable to send or receive messages with the new programme I'd installed. (Not my fault this time.) I'm now unable to keep any records of messages sent, received or deleted and have lost my email address book.

Two weeks ago I got a new computer and as soon as it was plugged in up in my room it started to misbehave. Because our computer expert Ian had had no problems with it in his workshop, Frog and I then tried every possible combination of peripherals (luckily Frog-the-hoarder has a good supply) – screens, keyboards, mice, leads, connectors, sockets, printers, scanners – at the same time running my old computer as a control. The old computer which had appeared to be on its last legs behaved impeccably while the new computer continued to crash. It’s now gone back to Ian for re-testing.

My study looks like computer repair shop. I’m limping along with half an old computer. My files and pictures are all over the place on memory sticks. I'm using four different email programmes. We think we're going to have to try a completely new system of broadband.
The computer repair shop (my study)
Yes, now I come to think about it, there probably is a connection somewhere in all that. But what it means and what the heck I can do about it I don’t yet know.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Colour everywhere

On Saturday,  Frog, Ellie and I go for a walk by the sea.
Even though it’s a grey day and nearly winter, there's colour everywhere.

In the evening another bird flies out of the black hole:

I cry for my lost innocence, so precious to me and so unimportant to the other person.
I cry for all the pain those events have caused Frog and me, and my family.
I cry for the person I was over forty years ago, so frightened and so alone.

I hug that person in my imagination and tell her that everything will be all right.

Friday, 10 November 2017

The short version. So far.

Many years ago when out with our dog (not Ellie – a previous one) I heard something that sounded like canvas in a gale. The noise got louder and louder until eventually I stumbled on its source – a tiny crate in which were imprisoned three black crows who were beating their wings against its wooden slats. Shaking, I started to undo the knots in the string that held the crate shut. At last, after about five minutes, I had them undone and was able to lift the lid. The crows rose like rockets, turned south and vanished into the distance.

Freeing those crows was probably the naughtiest thing I’ve ever done and I’m shaking, writing about it now. What they were doing there, I don’t know, but I do sometimes see dead crows hung up at the edge of fields and I believe farmers use them to deter other birds.

I remembered that incident this morning when discussing with Frog how I could possibly follow the last two posts. Since lifting the lid on one of the most painful incidents of my past, so many emotions have rocketed out that I haven’t known how to begin to explain. The two strongest however are anger and shame.

I was angry because I felt I'd been treated as a disposable commodity. I was ashamed because I’d been an idiot and because I’d been immoral (since he was married).

And why the black hole? Three things, I think. It was the sink into which I put all the emotions I couldn’t deal with. It was the culmination of an upbringing (and I include school in that) that valued only the intellect and neglected body, emotions and spirit. I wasn’t equipped to deal with life and I had no one to turn to except friends who were as confused as I was. Thirdly as a woman, for lots and lots of reasons I felt like a non-person. The black hole was the lowest point of my life and the springboard for everything I’ve done since.

So what did I do next? I left my job and joined a friend grape-picking in Australia. After a year working my way round that generous, exciting and beautiful country I came back to the UK, went to university as a ‘mature’ student, and met Frog. Some of the rest you already know.

Well, that’s the short version. So far.

And here is a picture from my walk this morning. I tried to capture a picture of crows but they kept flying off. So this will have to do instead.

Monday, 6 November 2017

An island no more

On Saturday, as I worked up the courage to write the previous post, I walked in some nearby watermeadows.They are not open to the public and I reach them by climbing over a series of gates marked ‘Private’. That way, I hope to be alone.

I headed for a part of the river I last visited in March a few days after my mother’s death. I was looking for an island that Ellie and I had reached by wading through some shallows and where I had sat and brooded for a good hour, watching the swirling water.

But it was no more. The river level had dropped and the island was now the tip of a stony peninsula. Notwithstanding, Ellie raced over the stones ahead of me. She remembered the place.

On the 'island', with the stony causeway to the right
On the causeway, looking towards the 'island'
On Sunday, twenty-four hours after I'd published the post, I wanted to delete it. I was overcome with embarrassment. How naïve I’d been, led astray by my own romanticism and lust. What a cliché. How could I possibly tell the world about something so private? How could I possibly let the world know how human I really am underneath?

‘Keep going,’ said Frog. ‘This is the whole point.’

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Breaking down walls

I’ve told you about my difficult relationship with my parents and I think the telling has helped in that the last time I thought of them it was with love. Now I’d like to tell you about something else. It’s not something I’ve ever told anyone except for Frog and my counsellor and I’m not quite sure how to go about it.
    It always helps to have a theme because then you can come at the subject from an angle rather than head on. You can take one aspect instead of trying to describe everything all at once.
    So I’ve decided that the theme for this post can be walls, and the breaking down of walls, for several reasons.

Yesterday Frog, with me as gofer (fetching tools, unscrewing towel rail and looroll holder, catching one end of the plasterboard as it came off, taking carpet outside and giving it a good clean, offering annoying advice), started to remove the wall between our bathroom and the small spare bedroom next to it.
    It’s all the fault of our friend Jo. She used to do up houses and she suggested that instead of struggling to squeeze our new bathroom into the old space (which meant that we couldn’t do more than update what we already had which was not what we wanted), we should expand. So that’s what we’re doing. Help!
The vanishing wall between our bathroom and the bedroom next to it

Women everywhere (and some men) are at the moment breaking down the wall of silence around sexual harassment and sexual assault and these, I’m afraid, are my subject too. (I might get to it eventually.)
    When I lived in London in the 1970s both were rife. It was just what happened. Women were fair game. They were there to be demeaned and intimidated – mostly it has to be said by strangers (in the street, on buses, on the tube) and people I worked with, rather than friends. You never thought to report it.
    I made the mistake of falling for someone I worked with. I thought he was different. He liked books, music, art. He was intelligent, unlike the hooray Henries foisted on me by my parents. In addition he was twenty-seven, seven years older than me, which gave him a certain glamour. At least, I thought I’d fallen for him. He certainly pursued me with a vengeance and sometimes it was hard to distinguish one’s own feelings from the mass of lust that came at one from all sides. One’s own feelings didn’t seem to matter. You weren’t supposed to say no.
    I’d led a sheltered life and never slept with anyone before, which only seemed to increase his ardour. ‘You’ll never sleep with me, will you,’ he said one night as we sat together in a trendy Thai restaurant. I didn’t see that for the challenge it was. I decided to prove him wrong.
    Afterwards, when he’d gone back to his wife and I sat in the bath watching my blood seep into the water, I found myself falling down a bottomless black hole.

That black hole has been with me ever since.
    It’s a secret I keep from everybody except the two mentioned above. It builds a wall between me and friends: how can I possibly begin to explain?
    It stops me feeling. I stand on the edge of the precipice, too scared to make the final leap. I have no trust. It’s been a barrier between me and Frog ever since we met.

And I want rid of it.