Thursday, 5 September 2019

One good thing

The ticker tape streeling through my mind in various shades of urgency does not stop. I need to just accept that it has not and will not ever stop. Except, of course, it might. But for now, while there's just me and the girls and the meals to prepare and the house and the garden and the study deadlines and the driving lessons and and and and See? Endless streeling which can quickly become strangling if I don't keep snipping at it like it's some enchanted forest of briars with something worth having in the centre. There is nothing in the centre. All this effort to snip off this task and that task, get as much done as I humanly can...if I could magically make it all done; then for one shining, bleak moment I would have nothing. And I've never liked nothing. I've done a lot of workshops but they've never won me round. (It's the hen thing again.)

So I am left with the doing, but a deep need to be doing less frantically and more gracefully. Maybe I could go at my ticker tape thicket with a scimitar instead of shears. Maybe I could stop sometimes and look back at all I have actually done. I get so determinedly focussed on what I have yet to do that I forget I have achieved at all.

I have raised an exceptionally lovely human all the way to nine and a half. Here, she is industriously making granola balls for everyone at the outdoor skills camp the following day, wearing her Dada's T-shirt which has been her nightie for seven and a half of her years. I have just confiscated the maths workbook she was doing in bed by torchlight. Kids these days...

And another wild and wonderful human all the way to three and a half. Here she is on her daily forage for breakfast, still in her onesie :).

I have, through both luck and judgement, come to this spectacular place to raise myself and my children:

So far so loved-up and homely, but what gnaws at my bones is the writing I have not done. And I don't know why, when it's the one thing which brings me OUT into the world with a ferocious courage I can barely believe when I am unwriting. Yes, the time lost feels like time unwriting work which now will never be. It is a tragic loss, if only to myself. Every circumstance I could stutter in mitigation matches that of someone who just wrote anyway.

'Tis as 'tis. No more unwriting. Poems have been coming, which is new and surprising. I have sent some of them out with sturdy boots and knapsacks to see what they can make of themselves. The final year of my degree starts very soon. It mercilessly chomps at my time, but also makes me read good writing deeply and so fills the wordwell. And a tiny but perfectly formed job has been placed in my hands. I keep looking down at it like it's a bird's egg. It feels fragile; it has not yet begun; it may only last a short while. Terri Windling has asked me to be her assistant. We will discover the exact shape of the role as we go, but basically I'll do some of the non-creative work which is intrinsic to the business of writing and editing. I'll learn a lot and get to spend time in the happy company of Terri and the famous Tilly.

Sometimes you just need to achieve one good thing:

In the spirit of which, I have cut my own hair. Again. So here I am looking very pleased with myself despite 3yo quite painfully getting her foot caught in my earring. And, yes, I do know filters exist.

Friday, 16 August 2019

On hens and enlightenment

Terri Windling recently wrote a blog post which included Parker J. Palmer's thoughts on 'the admonition to 'keep death before one's eyes daily''. I started to write a comment but it became too much and so I returned, the prodigal blogger, to share with you my thoughts on death and enlightenment, through the medium of hens. (Did you miss me?)

There was a time when death was 'before my eyes daily'; I couldn't escape it. Perhaps it is a lack of courage in me, but when I lived with a moment-to-moment consciousness of my mortality and that of all the people I love; looking to the future became impossible. I literally couldn't plan, even a daytrip, even a meal. Life was difficult. And terrifying. 

I think of that time when people talk of 'being in the moment': I just couldn't make it work in my actual practical life. I was like the chooks I cared for when I lived in a commune. One would suddenly flutter over the gate. She'd peck about for a bit, then notice how far she was from the others. Bocking in alarm, she'd hotfoot it to the gate and flap and fluster there indefinitely, living quite perfectly in the moment, having forgotten that with just a short run-up she could easily fly back over the gate, and not possessing the imagination to plan that in her future. Eventually I would walk pass and scoop her up, mutter some insulting words of endearment and chuck her back over. By the time she'd landed she'd have forgotten there even was a gate. 

There is a real wisdom in letting go of the constant planning and organising and controlling the minutiae of our lives. I get that. And a lot of the past is best forgotten just to free up a bit of brain space for poetry and PINumbers.

But the years I spent at the gate, so close to death I saw it every time I blinked, they remind me to keep life, too, 'before my eyes daily'. I like to plan good meals for my girls, and it is a blessed relief to be able to imagine them older than they are now so we can plan many happy days together.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Working for Love

The third essay's been handed in and the house isn't a total hazard to the senses, so I've snuck in a bit of actual earns-me-money work! Specifically, four new cards:

'Moon and Roses' (bring your own Becherovka); forever shining in full bloom:

('The Rising Moon' card to the right is taken from Danielle Barlow's wise and wonderful 

Finally an 'I'm Loving You' Valentine's card. Apologies to those who have been asking for this for ages:

and a couple of Thomas's prints which have also been requested as cards:

the ever-popular Bagpiping Angel:

and 'The Last Human', which is my favourite because it is full of such faith in humanity:

See, I don't just muse about Victorian gothic texts and desperately try to keep up with all the new ways to do maths homework and help small people blow the noses of inanimate creatures. Sometimes everyone else goes to sleep and I do some actual work! I love those times :).

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Storms are Forecast

Christmas was good! We sang carols in a big barn. We hosted friends at our house. We had a very good time with all my family and I enjoyed the sense of holiday I always get when I'm at my parents' house. We gave and received lots of presents and ate lots of good things. I even did a bit of studying in quiet moments, not that there were many of them.

Manna and my dad reading 'Press Here' for the tenth time:

Ember ice skating for the very first time (my dad on the left, about to crash into the barrier and my nephew and sister on the right helping not at all):

About halfway through present-opening, the girls hit a lull and got engrossed in one new thing. Ember drew an intricate tesselating design for a tree in her notebook ("It's like your art, Mama") and Manna made colour-sorted cog towers. I had a cup of tea :).

One of our loveliest gifts has been Manna's very own quilt, made my her great grandmother. It's toddler-bed-size, but so lovely I couldn't wait and she's using it in her cot already. Everyone in the family has one of these. They are all different and represent hundreds of hours of work. We are very lucky.

And we have been doing some 'normal' things too, things which we know make us very happy. We have been to our lovely mum-run forest school and marauded about with sticks.

Ember has done more rushwork with Linda Lemieux, who worked a lot with Thomas and taught him all he knew about weaving and basketry. It is special to both of us to see Ember showing such enthusiasm and aptitude for this. Here she is, happily engrossed in a basket, with splendidly muddy trousers :).

My mum showed me some 'lovely' photos of myself. I was appalled and cut my hair at once!
So instead of this:

I now look like this:

Well, actually right now I'm in my pyjamas, but I won't inflict that on you.

We have enjoyed the bracing Dartmoor weather (read: sideways rain) and taken advantage of milder days to scramble about outside and, of course, splash in all available water.

More storms are forecast; internally too. I have made it through the sixth anniversary of Thomas dying. Usually I hide in my house behind the biggest bag of crisps I can find, but this year I experimented with going out. A friend had organised a clothes swap (very hard to resist on any day), so I got a babysitter (another thing I 'don't do') and had a good evening seeing how I look in clothes I might never actually buy. Fatter than expected, is the first answer (those damn steroids!), but also pretty good. So I have a selection of the kind of clothes I love...and a bright yellow miniskirt which hasn't been out yet, but definitely will.

On Monday 29th, Manna will be exactly the age Ember was when Thomas died. I cannot hug either of them enough at the moment. I cannot look at them enough or say enough prayers of thanks that they are mine and they are here and that, thanks to my mum, I will be here for them for a very long time.

Storms are forecast, but if you're dressed right, you can cope with anything.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Life On Steroids

This week my blood crashed. I ran out of platelets, which means I basically stopped clotting - quite a whoopsie, medically speaking. After a day of hanging around hospital trying to study while my wonderful friends and family cared for my children, I was put on an 'astronomical' (my GP's term) dose of steroids to sort me out. Which has worked, pretty much. I need to stay on them for a while, which is not a fun prospect, but I am learning a lot about myself in the process.

For a start, I am not - and never have been - lazy. Sometimes I look at other people's lives and wonder why I can't summon what it takes to achieve what they do. I can really blame myself for that, especially if I imagine my girls are missing out on something. But it turns out that as soon as I have energy I use it to do all those jobs I have been planning to do 'when I have a minute'. When you can't sleep, you have a lot of minutes. So once I am off these drugs, I will endeavour to be kinder to myself. My autoimmune stuff comes with fatigue and that is not a moral failing - just a fact.

Right now, for example, it's 11:45. Downstairs is a wonderfully enormous spread of presents I am giving this year, in the process of final organistaion - last wrapping, checking siblings have a similar pile, double-checking everything I ordered has arrived...but I am not downstairs. I am upstairs with Manna who has woken as her chicken alter ego and is lying in her cot, requesting "book, book, book". Normally I would stand by her until she slept again, or sit on the bed and read if it took ages, but tonight I have seized this chance to write the thoughts I couldn't capture earlier. The difference between being glad I can get something done rather than relieved I can do nothing for a few minutes has an enormous cumulative impact. I wonder if I can teach myself to be more productive after this.

I am also less careful, less particular, less afraid on steroids. If I haven't got time to clean something properly I will give it a quick wipe - much more effective than my usual perfectionist ploy of leaving it until I have time to be thorough...which can take a long time. Bish bash bosh is the way forward.
And the fear: I had a spider encounter which would usually have put me into a phobic state, but I barely flinched. I still needed it out the house, but I could put it out gently and pragmatically. I have since learned that my cortisol is suppressed by these drugs, which makes perfect sense.

And I am not sleeping enough. I have a body knowledge of a deep exhaustion, but I am restless. I cannot stop or sleep like I need to. It is 1:15 now. Manna is silent and wide-eyed. I am much the same. I understand why they wean you off these so slowly - a crash now would be from a dangerous height.

So it is good to be achieving things - I don't know how else I would have got ready for Christmas - but this is not sustainable. The biggest loss is being unable to match Manna's pace. She wants me to read the same book over and over, but not even read it - just point at the pictures and repeat the names and noises of things and play Boo with the flaps and then do it all again. This is how I spend hours of every day. This is how I don't vacuum much. Now my whole house has been thoroughly vacuumed, but I don't feel I have spent enough time just being with my daughters. I built one Megablocks tower, but then I'd finished so I moved on and left Manna to crash it by herself. These days are precious; I can vacuum for the rest of my life but I don't have many years left of children young enough to sit on me and sing action rhymes.

And I can't cry! I keep wanting to. I feel a pain in my throat and face and heart, but I cannot release the tears. It reminds me of the first phases of grief - at times I could not stop crying and at times I could not start.

I have been thinking of those times a lot over the last couple of months because the other big thing happening in my internal world is a dire countdown to the day Manna is as old as Ember was when Thomas died. Their birthdays being only four days apart, it is all too easy to flashback to when this bright and plumptious child in my arms, full of delight and secure in her world, was Ember. It is all too easy to flashback to how that security quaked terrifyingly; how she would freeze, motionless, at a sudden noise or unexpected touch. Only breastfeeding could reassure her on a deep enough level then, and let her howl like she needed to. I felt I was literally giving love into the centre of her body.

And now I still sometimes see that scared little girl in my eight-year-old Ember. I get heart-tearing flashes of how that deep peace and unshaken confidence in the world will never return for her. It is hell to be unable to give her that and all I can do is just keep loving her - when she's screaming while I brush her hair, when she won't get ready in the morning, when I find her still reading at 9:30 after she's been weeping with tiredness all day...just love, as much as I can manage, all the time.

So this Christmas is going to be mixed. It will be the first year Manna will really participate and I will love her enjoyment, as I always love Ember's. I will be with my family and I am looking forward to giving out presents. But in my mind will be a photo my sister took at Christmas six years ago:
Ember, holding a card, looking healthy and happy, meeting the eye of the camera;
Thomas, horribly pale, visibly exhausted, watching her with huge love;
and me, also pale, watching Thomas and looking very worried.

We didn't know. We were assured he would be okay until he was in his fifties. We didn't know...but there is no denying the fear in my face that last Christmas together.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Make Me a Match

Walking home from school drop-off this morning, one eye on Manna's remaining shoe, idly planning tea, I suddenly realised I could quite comfortably spend the rest of my life in romantic solitude and celibacy simply because I hadn't explored the other option of dating someone. That doesn't seem a good enough reason. If I'm going to be alone I want it to be an active choice.

Next I realised how terrifying the prospect of a date feels. I haven't been on a date for...takes off socks...fourteen years! I mean, within that time has been a whole start-to-finish marriage, but we had already been mates for years, so we skipped the dating bit. And there's been no-one since Thomas died, which is much longer ago than it sometimes feels.

Then I realised I would have to try this anyway or I would always be wondering and feeling a bit cowardly. Damn.

I have no idea how this can possibly work. In fact, I have lots of ideas about why it can't work:

- I have so much emotional baggage I may have to bring a Sherpa to each date. I just still love Thomas and I think I always will. I'm not very good at falling out of love.

- Like I said, deeply out of practise. I can't imagine myself being anything other than shy, awkward, flustered, garrulous/struck dumb, sweaty, embarrassed, hysterical and generally weird should a date ever actually happen.

-I'm all about my girls. Just running my parenting, home-making, tiny business life leaves no spare time, energy or emotion. How could I possibly fit a partner in?

-I still can't drive (sore subject), and who wants to come all the way to my tiny town every time they want to see me?

- Childcare. This should have been at the top of the list. I do attachment parenting as if anything else would result in the immediate death of my children (because a small, traumatised part of me believes it would). So I find it hard when I am not with my children, particularly Manna because she's still just a plumpet. I can leave them with other people (and will have to regularly for the flippin' driving lessons), but it gives me a background anxiety which will not aid the trying-to-look-sane-on-a-date mission.

- I can't remember how to do sex. The whole idea is quite horrifying, although I definitely remember it seeming like a good idea in the past.

- And even if I did remember what goes where, I can't possibly make babies now I don't have ovaries, so I need someone who's happy I have kids but doesn't want any (more) of their own...but I think I'm getting a bit ahead of myself there.

- Oh, and I forgot that I don't have breasts either! So we're looking for a straight man or gay woman who is somehow not particularly into breasts! My Flat & Fabulous sorority report that they're out there, but it does seem like a big ask.

Gosh, all that doesn't look good, does it? Ho hum. On the plus side:

- I'm awesome! I am kind, clever, honest, loving, fun, creative, witty, courageous, confident, loyal, interesting, strong and bold.

- I look fine, if you can get past the no-breasts thing. My body does its job beautifully and my face suits me - it really refelcts who I am - so that's good too.

- I'm not picky because I don't have a clear idea of a 'type' I'm looking for. I can't even specify a gender. I would just like to meet someone who is kind and clever and fun, not too short and has a respect for my family and my work. There must be some of those, surely.

So, that was today's big thought. Now I need you good people to scour the land on my behalf and send me hoards of admirable suitors, or, even better, just the one who will make this seem like a really good idea. It'll be fun...I hope.

I'm scared of putting this out into the world. I'm scared that nothing will happen and much more scared that something will. I'm scared, but I'm doing it...

Two sides of me:


Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Happy Mummyversary!

Four days! What with Manna being a magic science IVF baby, you would think I could have planned things better, but that is the magic in the science: actually it is just as impossible to know when you might become pregnant via a petri dish as it is when making a baby in the traditional manner. So, I became a mum for the second time four calendar days (and six life years) after the first time. Having done the double birthday week once I can see pros and cons. All the stress, planning, expense, shopping, wrapping, inviting, cooking for both celebrations all in one week - but also all the fun and memories and opportunities to celebrate these gorgeous girls I get to live with. I felt a bit harrassed and very proud. I thought of my mum and wondered if my birthday is still a source of pride for her. Does she still take a moment to think, I made that person. Blimey, I must be awesome! I hope she does, because she is. 

To raise a child is the most ridiculous and magnificent adventure. The first moment you really feel like a parent - at the birth, as soon as you know you're pregnant, the day you bring your birth or adopted child home, whenever it is - that day needs celebrating. I have made a card full of forever flowers to honour the day a normal, muddling-along woman became a superhero. Hooray for us! We may still be muddling along, but now we are doing it with so much love for another person. We mums are truly heroic.

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