Inflexible enough to qualify as stone

Today I went to another session of mother and daughter yoga. I am easily the least flexible person in every class I attend, and I have attended a few. I sort of take pride in my unofficial status of ‘person most likely made of stone’. But this is of little consequence, as I really enjoy going!

I can’t touch my toes in any known yoga position. Except sitting crosslegged, but think that ‘might’ count as cheating. I don’t fold over very well. I can’t twist. I cant put my hands flat down on the mat and hold any pose (I go with either fists or ‘splayed out fingers raised just enough to give the semblance, if not the actuality, of a flexible wrist joint’. It now occurs to me that I must have super strong fingers – fingers of steel! (But I know this something of a misnomer as I still can’t bar a chord on my guitar) But on a positive, I maintained ‘downward dog’ position for longer than I usually can, so for me, that was a big win.

Me and my daughter are monster funny when doing yoga too. Other mother and daughter ensembles are pictures of grace and elegance and we are sitting on the mat, mostly laughing with somewhat incredulous looks on our faces. My daughter is hypermobile, and as such finds some of the poses painful. I was told by my physio that I likely was too, and now my body compares to an elastic band that has been overstretched, which accounts for my lack of bendy. I don’t know what would make a person more bendy, and am not altogether sure that I would want to find out.

I play guitar, I swim, I dance, I game, I read, I paint. My hobby pursuits are varied and I have varying levels of success (much variance, oh so much, never play shooter type games with me, I will definitely not kill anything, unless it is on my side..). But yoga is different. I am genuinely terrible at it, but I still pursue it. Several thoughts occur to me as to why. Being bendier is a long-term aspiration, I want to be a springy elastic band, not a sad saggy one. But other than this class, I have not prioritised my journey into an undulating twisty twirly thing. I love this class for the glorious time I am there with my daughter. Experiencing the funnies, the violent massages (my young one is not always a gentle little flower, I think that she believes my body to be a piece of wood that has been very bad. And must be punished by a brutal chopping motion) and when I attempt to massage her, it tickles so much she crumples into someone six times as flexible as myself and occasionally we experience the success at mastering a pose.

Reflecting on this session it occurs to me that I show my daughter a woman, who despite failing multiple times, is still prepared to turn up, do her best, and feel immensely proud of her achievements. I show her that I am prepared to take risks (some poses really feel that way!) and whatever the outcome, I leave the studio in an upbeat, relaxed and happy mood. And maybe this is more important.

Map Point. How do I define achievement?

 

I am single

I have been on my own, single, without an other half for a fair while now. Years in fact. But the assumption is always that I will meet someone. Eventually. I was out recently with Robert and I bumped into someone that I had not seen for a while and her immediate presumption is that he was my boyfriend (he isn’t) but I get that. I guess if I see someone that I know is on their own and they are out with someone new, then I sometimes make that same presumption too. It is tricky.

I guess for me, the presiding issue is that I seldom, if ever, find anyone else attractive. It isn’t that I don’t admire awesome qualities in others, or appreciate the pretty (I utterly do) but I look on these qualities with the same sort of admiration that I apply to lots of things, a beautiful sunset, a Lichenstein painting, the complete Oxford Dictionaries. I love them all dearly, except I don’t want to take them home and keep them forever. Okay. I lied on the last one. I would absolutely love to own a massive set of a letter a book dictionaries. But essentially, I hope my meaning is clear. I have to have a lot of love for something to want to engage with it further.

Sometimes I do. But there feels to be a social pressure to this, until I am coupled off, I am unresolved, thus other people feel a need to see me ‘complete’. But what if I never have that sort of relationship again? Was chatting with my daughter about how she might feel if I had a relationship with someone and her resounding answer was ‘that it would be weird’. I agreed.

It isn’t that I have resolved to never fall in love and do the things of relationship. In the past, I have completed two seven-year stints at this, but I can’t judge my now against this sort of standard. What I wanted back then is not necessarily what I want now. So perhaps it would be useful to spend some time working out what I do want.

It is still the dictionaries.

Map Point. Am I still judging myself against past wants?

Love what you do

I had the most wonderful privilege of going on a supremely relaxing holiday with my Mum and daughter. There was glorious food, incredible surroundings and impeccable service. But this is not my focus, it was the contrast of coming home and visiting the supermarket that struck a chord.

I had completed my post holiday essentials shop in my local supermarket, cereal, milk, chocolate spread and some apples (these are key items in my existence) and went to the self-scan machine. I always inwardly berate myself whenever I use these machines, as more often than not there is a problem. My items don’t scan, discounts don’t come off, the weight of the items is deeply problematic, and sweet Moses you need to get your produce into the bag fast before the machine questions your commitment to bagging said item. However today I had a new problem, I had remembered to bring my reusable shopping bags and they were too heavy. The machine advised that my heavy bags necessitated the assistance of a member of staff. I called over said man of green, to which he barked at me that I could ‘Just click the ‘add bag’ button’ before he stalked off to contend with a product weight issue (I assume, based on the most likely contender). My lasting feelings about this encounter was this man really did not like his job.

Having just experienced the glorious highs epic customer service compared to this equally epic low several thoughts occurred to me.

  1. If you don’t enjoy something, find something else.
  2. The people in my local farm shop are always chirpy.
  3. The self-scanning machines are taking jobs. And customer sanity.
  4. Maybe supermarkets breed unhappy people.
  5. Maintaining happiness and motivation must be really hard for big organisations.
  6. People who represent a company are in the precarious position of being human.
  7. If people’s only motivation to work is money, can that ever be enough?

When I have been in jobs that I haven’t enjoyed, I have rarely stayed long. A job that doesn’t sustain you in some way is not something that should be a long term commitment. My most favourite jobs (other than what I do now) were highly physical jobs. They came with the perk of diabolical pay, but I came home covered in mud and physically tired and that felt good. And working in an office, looking after a filing system. This was good money for a job where my primary focus was to track down missing files. I have never particularly linked how much I am paid for a job to my happiness. If I enjoy something, then to a large degree, the money feels immaterial. This is likely because for a long time I wasn’t happy, so if something provides happy, it is precisely where I want to be!

And then there’s the subject of worth. Maybe my lack of connection to finances is down to ascribing a monetary value to my time, to me. It feels uncomfortable at some level having to decide my worth. That I have worth. But it is curiously empowering when I do. Recently for a job that I have been doing for around three years, the company suddenly decided that they only wanted to pay half of what I had been charging. I said no. I didn’t get excited or cry (shock or anger generally provokes tears.. then people think I am sad, and feel sorry for me. I am not sad, I am a ball of magmas rage, in liquid format!), I simply explained my worth. If someone wants my time, wants the skills and experience that I have, then that comes at a price. Knowing what I will and won’t accept in employment feels like a huge thing for my self-esteem. I have inherent worth and getting paid well to do something I love is a muchly beautiful thing.

Map Point. What is my inherent worth?

 

Moving pictures

Last night I went to the cinema with Robert. I have been friends with Robert for a goodly while and we socialise often, but until last night, the cinema had not been one of those places that we had been. I noticed this a long time ago, and when we made our new year resolutions I asked Robert to choose a film at some point in the year for us to see. And after eight months he found ‘Valerian’.

It may seem strange to be so insistent to engage in such a particular activity, but I love cinema. This expression is overused, surely most people enjoy films and the cinema experience. Obviously, I can never actually know if I am more passionate about film than the average person, but these are my words of love, they have been a lifelong endeavour.

The first film that I ever saw was ‘The Fox and the Hound’ I was around six years old and I went with my friend Katie and her family. I was spellbound, I cried at the film and we ate Maltesers from a box. One of the Maltesers that I ate was utterly solid. It’s strange the memories that stay with a person. From then on it was always an epic occasion to go to the cinema, mostly with my Uncle Dave and my brother. Uncle Dave also took me to my first ’18’ rated picture – ‘My Own Private Idaho’ it was a gritty art-house styled piece that we had to travel to London’s Trocadero to see. I was astounded by the quirky nature of the piece, my mind was blown. My Uncle’s first words post film were ‘That was bleak’. But for me, it showed me that there was so much more than the traditional commercial films with linear narratives. There was freedom and possibility to be discovered. Very occasionally I went with my Mum over the years, Snow White and Pretty Woman stand out, these times were special as I know how my mum mostly feels about cinema!

Part of my degree was in film. This gave me scope to watch some pieces of elegance, chronic boredom, trippy, sketchy, deeply horrific and unfathomable. Cinema for me can be a group or solo experience, both have advantages. With groups, I can talk about the film and by myself, if I go during the day, I sometimes get the whole cinema to myself. This feels like the most indulgent treat ever. A whole film, just for me.

The experience for me growing up started with checking times on Teletext and long queues on a Saturday afternoon. The tickets were bought at the booth at the front. Popcorn was a new development in my life at this time, as was the accompanying large fizzy drink. There was an apprehension of sitting in the dark waiting for the bright lights and the excitement when the film started to roll. The smell of the theatre is one that is fixed in my mind, a mixture of old and popcorn. Coming out afterwards into the sunshine, feeling that I had been to another world and even now it is an adjustment to make it back to the real one. I always watch all the credits at the end as a mark of respect to the hundreds and thousands of people who work for months, sometimes years to bring me the privilege of ninety minutes of escapism. Me and my daughter also have the associative game of searching for our own names within the multitudes.

In various places in my house are all the cinema stubs for pretty much every film I have ever seen. At some point, I will collect them all together and turn them into a massive picture and I know, without ever having made this, it will be epic and make me feel much smiley.

Valerian was a very pretty film with some dark moments and some beautiful comedic vignettes. Thank you for choosing a film Robert and giving me the time to experience my great love.xx

The amazing Mr Roy

When I think back to how I imagined relationships would be, I based it on a premise that there was a ‘happy ever after’ without ever being totally sure what ‘happy ever after’ actually was. Am still not sure that I have an answer. Then I thought about some of the best and most lasting relationship advice that I ever received. It was from Roy.

Roy is someone who I completely love having in my life. He is patient and kind, insightful and humble, ever observant and has an incredibly wry sense of humour. His facial expressions convey more than whole conversations. Roy has given me much advice, always indirectly and never with judgement. What he said about relationships really stayed with me.

I had gone out for an evening in London with Roy, Brenda and several other of their friends. It was near Christmas and we had gone to a massive Catholic church for their carol service. There were a few bits we all sang together, but mostly we went to listen to the amazing choir and soloists that were performing there. I think that this is something that I would like to experience again. I also had the tail end of bronchitis. We were listening to someone singing in one of the inner chapels, their voice resonating as if in direct communication with God, utterly sublime. And I am desperately trying to not cough. The suppression was not really all that successful, as my throat was as tickly as my daughter is when I just pretend to tickle her without actually touching her (which is massively tickly). Roy had some mints which saved a lot of peoples enjoyment that night. Then at the end of the evening, when we could all talk, and I had indulged myself in a good hearty cough, I asked Roy why he had never married.

I was in quite a dire relationship at the time, I wanted to leave, but had not yet worked out the mechanics of how. Almost everyone around me knew how bad things were. I was nineteen and things were confusing. Roy was possibly in his fifties at the time, and am not entirely sure what motivated my question, but it felt important. He told me that he had never met anyone with whom he could share the love that his parents had for each other. Even now, this holds such resonance for me. He had seen something that he viewed as perfect, and he wasn’t prepared to settle for something that he perceived as less.

This was the first time I had heard someone put such definites on their reality. He had decided something and stuck with it. I was amazed. I felt as if so much of my life was compromise, acquiescent to the demands of others. Being just me seemed to be a problem, as it was much easier to passively change bits of me than to state my needs. This has never served me well, but something that I find familiar.

It is easy to be liked when I am doing what someone else wants me to do. It takes much strength of will to decide that I am going to be entirely me and not worry about the consequences. I know people who live like this and I often wonder how they never seem to experience the uncertainty, the panic that I can feel so readily. One part of me envies that, and the other part pities. If I never experienced such lows, how can I ever truly appreciate the highs?

Map Point. What is the most valuable advice I have received?

 

 

Sensational Shirley of Sittingbourne

Today I had an appointment in a town that I have never been to before. I went with Robert, as my personal inbuilt navigational compass is somewhat precarious at best. If there is an opportunity to get lost somewhere, then there is a strong chance that I will take it! We took the train from my seaside town to a little further inland and stepped out of the station.

To me, stations are always placed in weird places in towns. Usually somewhere slightly on the outskirts that a step in the right direction will land you in the main part of the town, which is good. But a step in the wrong one will render you wandering residential streets with a vague and desperate feeling that you should have packed a tent.

So I braved it and asked a local. Just to get us started in a direction that would not require the use of a primus stove. And we found Shirley.

Shirley was coming past the station with her partner MeMe (pronounced me-me). I don’t know if this is the right spelling and apparently it was not even his actual name, but a pet name that she called him. Shirley then not only pointed us in the right direction but offered to take us to our destination. She pointed out the local Costa which she said was expensive and then some local cafes which she said were much more reasonable and did really good food. On route, she also pointed out some good second-hand shops, the bingo hall and the shopping centre. Shirley was a natural town ambassador.

I asked Shirley about her accent, which she said was American. Shirley was from Michigan and had been in the American Airforce, and after her last station in Germany, she decided to come to the UK, as she loved it very much. This was in 1971. She then became a UK citizen and got married and had children. Her husband had died some years ago, and then she had met MeMe. Her granddaughter was nine and has autism and dyslexia, but had finally managed to make a friend and has just begun learning to read. She was really proud of her.

When we arrived at our destination, me and Robert then thanked her profusely for her assistance and went into one of the cafes that she recommended. The women running the cafe were awesome, they were so incredibly friendly and helpful. We sat in the sun-dappled garden and on the wall was some incredible graffiti. This was throughout the town as well, some truly beautiful graffiti adorning side alleyways. I felt compelled to photograph some of it. It was an amazingly enriched day. On our way home we got the station just as our train was about to pull in. No rushing, just an utterly chilled.

Someone told me a story recently that was along the lines of this. A man left his town in search of a new place to live. Eventually, he came across another town. Before he entered he saw an old man sitting just outside it, so he asked him what this new town was like. The old man countered this question by asking what his old town was like. The man responded by telling him that people there were mean, no one cared about anything, it had not been a good place to live. The old man considered his response and told him that the new town he was about to enter was much the same as his old town was. The man thanked him profusely and went in search of another new place to call home. Shortly after the old man was asked the same question by another man in search of a new place to live ‘What was the new place like?’ Again the old man countered with the same response as before and the man answered that his old town was a happy one, people were generous with their time and he had felt love there. The old man paused and chose his words carefully, and told him that the new town was much the same as his old one had been.

Map Point. How much does my world represent what I feel?

 

I love

I was thinking about how we can only love someone as much as they will let us. Even if you love someone with all of your being, if they are not able or willing to accept that, then that will cause hurt. I think that knowing how much someone is able to be loved at any given time and moderating my love accordingly could be the ideal situation. Only love is not math.

The first time I felt love in a romantic way I was nineteen. Retrospectively, I could call it all sorts of other things. One of those was the need for endorsement. Up until that point, I had never been in a relationship. The feelings were new, I didn’t know if I could be loved by anyone else. So it was exciting, that another individual on this planet, one with whom I had no familial connection, loved me.

I guess at the time I considered the relationship exciting. But as time went on, I considered it much less so. I ascertained fairly quickly that the person I was with was not kind, but nowhere in my skill set had I ever learnt that I was allowed to leave. Part of me had decided that if you loved someone, you stayed with them. Leaving meant confusion and upset, and as I had yet to have any experience of that, I continued with a relationship that was ultimately quite destructive.

At the time my need level was high. It was less to do with anyone else, and more about me. I was feeling sort of broken after a most interesting secondary school adventure and was looking for someone to fix me, without realising that fixing me, was very much my own task. Being with someone else just because I felt low, and they gave me a temporary high, is not a good method for overcoming years of having low self-esteem. In fact, it is a woefully poor choice.

Over the years I have come up with several definitions for what I have considered love to be, and I still don’t feel it is something that I could feel definitive on. Love grows. But this is my current understanding. The love we feel is all the same love. It varies in intensity from person to person, but it is the same feeling. Sometimes that feeling is tempered with familiarity, idolatry, need, and likely a thousand other things too. The way that I used to think about love, was mostly how I felt it for other people. It took me a long time to realise, that this is the expression of love. I needed to start with me.

Map Point. How much will I allow myself to be loved?

 

 

 

 

All hail the bucket

Music festivals are definitely one of my happy places. I have not been to one in years, but during my twenties, I went to a fair few, and they were so much fun. One year I went to Reading Festival with Kathryn. We were prepared. We had purchased a tent, which apparently is helpful, food, and other essential liquid provisions. We were packed and ready. My then boyfriend was driving us down with his friend (they were possibly going fishing for the weekend) so off we all set.

We had been in the car about five minutes when a reality struck. We had forgotten the eggs. This was not catastrophic, more eggs could be purchased. We could move on from this minor error. Another ten minutes down the road it transpired we had forgotten the tent. We had to go back for this one, it is allegedly a central tenet of the camping experience. And neither of us felt mad fussed about dying from exposure. So the journey continued uneventfully until we got to Reading, when the traffic started to move woefully slowly. It was a hot day. Eventually, we got out of the car and went to the place of festival, only to have to return to the car some minutes later as we had once again, forgotten the tent.

Likely the best thing that I packed for the trip was a bucket. This bucket proved king! It could be sat on, used as a makeshift table and also used to carry stuff. I seem to recall on the first day we walked into town and purchased new speakers for our little walkman so we could listen to cassette tapes of the bands that we loved when we were not seeing them on stage. We were all set up, we had the basics of festival camping – music, alcohol, food and shelter.

Two things stand out about the first night, the first was the marvellous game we played whilst engaging in the second thing that stood out massive absinthe consumption. The game involved us stretching out our guylines as long as possible (all the tents were closely packed, most people had not bothered with the luxury of pegging their temporary domicile to the ground) and waiting for drunk people to walk into them. They did, often, and will much profuse apology. I don’t believe we actually injured anyone, but after an hour or so, we upped pegs as we feared for the structural integrity of the tent.

I wish I could say that we saw more bands, but we utterly didn’t. Camping is hard and with effort, so we agreed that as long as we saw two bands each day, that would likely see us through. There are bands in the lineup that retrospectively became some of my favourite artists, but I never saw them at the festival, because as previously stated, camping is hard.

We did manage to wash our hair each day using only a bucket of water each (the bucket rocked hard!). Kathryn made some seriously inedible noodles topped with processed cheese (muchly poor choice) and I didn’t wander off and get lost too badly. And when we did make the effort to see some bands, we almost got to the front.

For those unfamiliar with making it to the front at a festival, it basically involves using all your body weight to manoeuvre forwards whilst simultaneously getting to know around eight people all at once, incredibly intimately. We watched the Foos. Dave Grohl is a festival legend. It was starting to rain, the floor was becoming a little muddy underfoot, and on the cool night air, we could see the steam rising from our squashed together bodies. And then Muse came on. And the jumping started.

If you didn’t jump you were at risk of falling over, if you did jump, slightly less risk, but still a strong possibility. People were falling down everywhere, and whilst people were helping them back up, me and Kathryn decided this might be a good time to exit the masses and return to the ‘oft left behind’ shelter. In this chaos, I lost a really good hoodie. When we finally downed camp, we found an abandoned supermarket trolley in which we put all of our stuff. This was a godsend on route to the station.

It was an incredible few days and one for me that transcended the simple act of going to a festival. I was going through the motions with my life, nothing new, everything just ticking along. Taking a step back from my ordinary, seeing my life with a fresh perspective was a definite start point of an ongoing adventure.

Map Point. What do I see when I look at my life from an outsiders perspective?

 

 

Certainty of spirit

Things that should be obvious.

  1. Good pain meds if you have a wisdom tooth removed. Especially with prolonged extraction and stitches (two).
  2. Left and right.
  3. Not wearing sandals when it rains.
  4. Not wearing socks, boots and jumpers when it’s sunny.
  5. Remembering to buy new shoes when old ones wear out. Or compensating with how you walk to account for the damaged shoes.

Many things in life appear to be straightforward. Some things are so amazingly simple, yet for some reason, I choose to make even the smallest task complex. It is definitely a skill. But when thinking about concepts and feelings, the waters can muddy.

It seems very natural to love people. We have our families and friends, people who we enjoy being close to, but at the same time, when I have felt sad or down in my life, this seems to be gloriously easy to forget. It’s as if the love we know we have from the people in our lives seems to evaporate, and although we are aware of their presence, it seems very far away, even if they are right next to us. But most obviously in my times of need, it would seem natural to seek out people who love us, rather than shutting off.

This is one of the biggest transitions that I feel I have made in my life. Learning to ask for help. It seems to be such an inconsequential thing, asking someone for a little of their time, but it can feel almost impossible. What if they are too busy? What if I am being overly needy? But what if by having someone help me, they actually feel empowered? Maybe with the same sense of contentment that I feel when I make someone’s smile a little brighter.

I think that both of these things have the same natural start point. Trust. Learning to trust myself was a hard journey. Knowing that I am capable and having confidence in my skills is one stage. For me, the other was knowing that the people in my life loved me very much and that if I needed help, then all I had to do was ask. They may grumble, but they wouldn’t let me down. It surprises me how far some people are prepared to go for just one person, how much love they have so ready to give. To me. Asking others for help has made me stronger, I see love projected.

  1. Not plunging foot into bath water from which intense steam is rising.

Map Point. Am I good at asking for help?

 

 

Who needs sleep?

The first time that I can remember not being able to sleep was over my degree exams, I was in my twenties. I suppose for some people it is entirely normal to react to a stressful situation in this way. This period was short lived, and I thought no more of it. It was after my friend  Michael died some years later that insomnia visited my life with an increased intensity, that never really entirely left.

There seem to be two main parts to insomnia, falling asleep and staying asleep. The falling asleep was an issue. I recall my Mum telling me that as a baby I never slept for more than a few hours and then was awake for the next six. She used to use a detuned radio to help me dose off, and this for me is something that mostly still works. Only now I have upgraded a detuned radio to YouTube meditations. I know that within a couple of minutes I will be in the marvellous land of shut eye. But then there’s part two.

The hour of 3am is an hour that I see too much of. Almost doesn’t matter what time I get to sleep, 3am is my sleep time homing beacon. I will wake up, and generally, I will recall all the things that I have been thinking about when I was asleep and then I will start to actively think about them in my more wakey up status. This aspect of insomnia is one that I have found to be especially harsh. During the small hours, I sometimes clean my house, play inane facebook games or a variety of other tasks, including online discussions with all my fellow insomniacs. By around five thirty, exhaustion kicks in and I can sleep. Sometimes.

Sometimes I think that my insomnia is a sort of tribute to Michael. I know that when he was diagnosed with cancer he almost stopped sleeping, eager to enjoy every moment that he had to its absolute fullest. And maybe that is something that I have latched onto too. So much of life is taken up with practicality, that it’s utterly essential for me to make use of all the time that I have. It is too easy to allow time to be sucked away.

So with this thought in my mind, whether I get a whole night’s sleep tonight or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is an enjoyment of my time. Whether I have a sleepy day and do very little, or ten blissful hours and wake up feeling like sunshine, embracing each day with as much or as little energy as I have is what is important. Today has been a sleepy one!

Map Point. What do I love to do?