Why do I have this? (Reviews of things I already own)

“To put your things in order means to put your past in order too.”

~Marie Kondo

 

I’m heavy. Weighed down. I’m surrounded by things that I don’t know what to do with and deepest consideration is being given to storage solutions.

 

I’ve written before about the melancholia of stuff. But I’ve failed to transfer thought processes into action, again. The struggle seems silly, this is the result of my choices and sheer fortune of having the means to accumulate such an amount of things. The weight of it, however, is crushing me now. I’m looking at it all and I don’t know where to start.

 

I’m not alone though – the need to shake off stuff is now the thing. Clearing out is the new hoarding – ironically with ranges of books and yet more stuff pushed out into the market place to address it. I’ve seen Marie Kondo, she seems lovely and of light, but I’m without the energy to put things in their place all at once. There is so much I don’t understand about the things I hold on to that to sort it all would be too exhausting to do it all together.

 

I need to think about how to approach this – the books, which as a collective I love, are far too abundant and I’m looking at some of the titles with confusion. Why do I have this? A question which runs through my mind on far too many occasions. I have books, it seems, for the mere fact of existence and perhaps without having ever been read or appreciated for their content. I hold onto them, regardless of attachment. How can one be attached to a volume you’ve hardly opened, never mind read.

 

Reviews are needed and they’re coming.

Meditations on Mother

This piece was first published on my original Quiet Radicals blog in 2016.

On my fifth Mother’s day as a mother I’m now in the mid-point of both being and having. It is a happy and fortunate position to be in as I know of there being many women in the world who are both mothers and daughters but with neither child nor mother to mark the day with. My thoughts are with anyone in this circumstance and I hope that if this is you that you celebrate as always being a parent – some things can never be removed – and you are a celebration to be had just as you. I grieve with you and praise you.

 

Maman – by Louise Bourgeois – outside the Guggenheim Bilbao

This year looking for a mother’s day card has been somewhat difficult – the cards in the shops laud the apotheosis of motherhood – “The one who is the very heart of home and family”, “your tender care”, “always there to give a hug” and “the wonderful ways you’ve made life special for the family”. This hasn’t really been my experience of my mother so it seemed false to present these as the ideal mother’s day card.

As I grew up my mother was not as other mothers were back then. Most of the mum’s in my junior school were mothers who worked jobs for pin money and kept house to a pristine level. Their children were the ones with the best clothes, the perfect home-cooked meals and time to have friends over.

Our house was a back to front house in the sense that it was my step-father (who is the only father I have ever known and am grateful for) who had to learn how to cook as my mother, around giving birth to two daughters after me, rose up from being “just” a teenage mother and took on college studies, followed by university studies and Law School, juggling jobs and attempting to ignore health conditions which would render her exhausted and often laid up in bed in the times reserved for family. My mother’s input into my life as a child largely consisted of educational sessions where I would revel in my mother’s attention as she chose to use the time to encourage me into reading, writing and knowledge. I would sit by her with an illustrated book of British history and savour the rare time together. This time became rarer and rarer.

Holiday times would largely be spent with my grandmother, which was an education of its own, as she would encourage imagination with creative activities – making dolls houses out of fruit boxes and dolls out of pegs – alongside long walks in the surrounding bleak countryside, with its scrub land and backdrops of mining landscapes. My grandmother had an uneasy relationship with my mother, her eldest daughter, but her relationship with us was so very close. Even in the trying times – such as when she issued me with my own harmonica and then angrily withdrew it hours later due to the annoying tones I managed to scratch out of it – we would find joy together (most memorably in the times spent around the turntable when Grandma would dig out her favourite 45s and LPs and we would attempt to co-ordinate, as a tangled troupe, the choreography for Little Eva’s Locomotion. I treasure these times because, just three days before my 14th birthday, I lost my beloved Grandma to cancer.

Throughout my teenage years it felt like my mother was largely absent – she would be working until late most weekdays then on weekends she would give her best effort to participate – ambitiously tackling walking routes with us which were far beyond her levels of energy. Summer holidays would mean travelling to the homes of family and friends who lived in interesting places and the family trying our best to enjoy life on a limited budget. This would result in unusual options – such as the warmly remembered trip to the York Crematorium open day – where I learned in truly seasonal summer fashion that bones don’t necessarily disintegrate in the cremation chamber and that the cremains have to be processed through a washing machine-like apparatus to produce the gritty ashes you receive in the brown plastic pot urns.

I digress… When I was around 16 years old my mother left home – she went to live in another town to follow a job during the week – again returning exhausted some weekends, whilst others we would come to visit her. After I left school I began the process of tearing myself out of the family – a necessary process we all have to go through to establish ourselves and I don’t remember being more distant from her than at this time when I was absorbed in myself and my own life with slight returns to the family fold at Christmas time – where I would be met with questions over my life choices, nitpicking over my plans for future advancement and sighs of disappointment when I didn’t push myself far enough.

In this account of the mother-daughter relationship – that seen through my eyes – I neglected to even deign to understand what my mother was going through experiencing and much less wishing for herself or even us. It was only really in becoming a mother that I was really able to start seeing my mother’s life through her eyes.

Now I’ve always hated this idea that somehow parenthood fundamentally elevates you. It’s a journey through doors that not everyone needs to open, which brings the same feelings, highs and lows, as any other creative process. If any other creation involved such concentrated work into each single piece I think the attachment would be equal.  I think however that every lived experience brings you closer to others that have been through the same journey as you and it is in this that I was able to understand my mother.

We both move outside the conventional paradigm of what it is to be a mother. For people of our back ground and our means there has been a very defined path for motherhood in both generations. For my mother the pinnacle of motherhood was probably best embodied by the Lynda Bellingham Bisto adverts. For my generation there has become the weird morphing of what it means to be a woman – we remain equals to our male peers until the point at which we procreate – then all bets are off and it’s the return to the icon of the domestic ideal of perfect house, perfect meals and perfect part time worker, deferring careers until our children are a little older.

My mother was already unconventional by virtue of being a teenage mum. But she has never aimed to be a meals-on-the-table mum or to keep a perfect house, which was fortunate as cooking was not her forte. She held onto her ambitions, pursued them and came to the top of her career which launched her, as one colleague put it, “into the ranks of the great and the good”.

This did not stop her from catching the early morning train, hours after arriving back into the country after trips abroad for work, to arrive in time to meet my daughter seconds after her birth, after I had texted to say I had gone into labour.

After a year of maternity leave, having been reassured at work that: “You’ll feel different after the baby is here”, I retained my need to progress, my feelings of ambition and my desires for my own success, which to me sat neatly by my child’s success and as an embryonic template as to what I would want for my own child. And that template, although I had not thought about it to that point, was very much built around my mother’s own road map to success. My mother’s legacy was that education and effort were the key to success and, perhaps, the key to successfully raising strong women was by providing your child with the basics – the desire to learn and a role model blazing the trail – not pandering to their needs. She has taught me that to be a woman is to strike out on my own path, to work hard and to be focused.  She would not accept second best for herself, much less for me. I will not now accept second best for myself, much less my daughter.

So, to truly reflect my relationship with my mother the card would have to read:

To my Mother on mother’s day – thank you for being strong, for not bending to convention. I’m grateful for you being intelligent, fierce and uncompromising. I see your love in your integrity, your support, which has been ever present through all life’s struggles, and in your expectation that I will do more and be more. I’m proud of you and love you x

On Mother’s Day: An Apology

I just wanted to say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I smiled and stayed silent when you said I make it look easy. I’m sorry I lied and said: “You just get on with it don’t you.” I couldn’t say how I’d sacrificed desperately needed sleep to pump breastmilk, dashed around vacuuming for your arrival and ran to the shop for cake, just to not look like a slug of a mother.

I’m sorry I made it look like I bounced back without a care, I put on my heels and make up to try to seem as much as I did before. I couldn’t tell you I had to do it to determine where they ended and I began, again. I wasn’t sure, but definition seemed to start with reverting to the material that marked me out before, as if unchanged.

I couldn’t find it in myself to tell you how hard it all was, from the pain and trauma of giving birth, the demoralising process of establishing feeding, the completeness of how you must give yourself over, in entirety, to the support of another human being.

I couldn’t tell you about the times the crying seems to go on for so long that, for sheer safety’s sake, you need to just put the baby gently in bed, walk out of the room, close the door and allow yourself to dissolve into tears on the floor. I couldn’t tell you there was no turning back.

I couldn’t because, good god, there are so many who will. They’ll tell you about the hours spent in labour, their horrific delivery, their sleepless nights, their soul destroying nightmare experiences.

I couldn’t, because I couldn’t steal your hopeful anticipation from yourself. I couldn’t because uou deserved the time of feeling that it would be beautiful, that it would be natural, that it would be bliss.

So I am sorry. So, so sorry.

So what should I tell you?

I should tell you it will get better. I should tell you all those moments you hoped for will come, as blissful as you ever dreamed, as long as you become so, so much kinder to yourself. I should tell you I’ve been there, I’ve seen it, I’ve forgiven myself.

I must tell you that you should too, let the wonder and exhaustion and time overwhelm you, before it passes by.

Raising hope from Astonishing Kindness

 

The bleakness of the world goes on, as it ever has, and still we are here. Waiting.

 

We can wait for change, hunkered down with supplies, padded against the actions of the outside, but it brings us no further forward. We are not creatures who wait for things to happen, we are part of the world, part of its machinery of moving parts, ever progressing, even if it be to inevitable doom.

 

Kindness is change

Kindness, astonishing or not, is an agent of change. It attaches to people, brings them closer together. It makes bonds between people, in time and to place. It makes neighbours from strangers, associates into friends. Words of gentleness speak across the barriers of language, of culture, of faith and speak to something more fundamental. The need for safety, for understanding, for community.

 

It gives us hope that people might be better, that they can choose to be so. More is possible than simply making sure we are safe, we can make others safe too.

 Sewing and sowing

I hope now, as I watch my children grow and feel the fluttering of new life within my belly, that each stitch of kindness I sew into the fabric of the world, becomes part of a colourful tapestry that I share in with millions.

 

Ready as I am for the worst, I will continue to put effort out into the world. I want to raise hope like a crop, harvesting sheaves of it to share and to re-plant.

 

Grow with me.

 

Can we share some #AstonishingKindness?

The world is so bleak.

 

I’m lucky, I can make ready and prepare. I do what I can to protect hearth and home, to keep my children fed, clothed and housed. But, with what’s ahead promises a lot of suffering for a lot of people, many of them will suffer and are suffering before we will.

 

This week alone we’ve seen ahomeless man set on fire as he slept, extinction-prone sharks turning up in dishes in UK restaurants and a foodbank plundered and frozen food deliberately spoiled by the thieves. That’s just a little sample of the legion of horrors written of in the UK press. Callousness abounds, even if we ignore the likely cliff edge that approaches on March 29, and divisions are widening each day.

 

It’s enough to make you think of turning away from the world, for running away and keeping close only those things we love, for shutting the door to anything else. Preserve what you love, the rest of it can go to the wall.

 

But this world will not heal if we only reach within ourselves, within our smallest possible groupings. We have to reach out beyond this, make our worlds large, our knowledge wide and our generosity a way of life. The world will not stay away and to ignore it is as good as to condone it.

 

I’ve always loved the words of Maya Angelou. Her writing offers comfort, direction and above all an understanding that vulnerability is at the core of humanity, that mistakes are the mother of opportunities to improve. When I came across this excerpt from a poem titled “Continue”, a piece she wrote for her “daughter” and friend Oprah Winfrey, I found a sentiment that is so very needed at this time.

 

My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Maya Angelou

 

Astonishing a mean world with kindness is so very much needed. Again and again until it gets boring, until it becomes commonplace, until kindness is the norm.

 

So, to do my little bit, in the month of love, I’ll be using the hashtag #AstonishingKindness throughout February to do a daily blast of five tweets to bring more beauty, truth and love into the darkness.

 

Tweet 1. Highlighting foodbanks in the UK who have the highest demand in the lead up to Brexit in March and putting aside an item a day that I’ll contribute to MK Foodbank at the end of the month.

 

Tweet 2. Promoting a social enterprise which is doing real good in communities here in the UK.

 

Tweet 3. Identifying community projects in the UK who are bringing people together and making change for those in most need.

 

Tweet 4. Recommendations for brilliant and beautifuls reads – poetry, fiction, essays – anything that brings beauty, truth and love into the world.

 

Tweet 5. A story of real kindness – with a beautiful image to inspire hope for the day.

 

Of course I’ll need suggestions and contributions – most of all I’ll need your support. That’s what’s needed right now – support for each other in taking steps to draw people together, to push forward the idea that the world should be full of kindness, honesty and love, to prove that we can be better.

 

I’ll leave you with more words from Maya Angelou, words spoken as eulogy to Coretta Scott King:

 

“I pledge to you, my sister, I will never cease. I mean to say, I want to see a better world. I mean to say, I want to see some peace somewhere. I mean to say, I want to see some honesty, some fair play. I want to see kindness and justice. This is what I want to see.”

Baubles To Advent: How Very Close

I took my cache of goods to the food bank today, a little early before the end of my #BaublesToAdvent2018 campaign, but the food is bought and better there than waiting in my kitchen.

 

As I drove there, after the daily school run, in my battered war-horse of a family car I felt just how close this could be. When I arrived there, in my charity shop-bought coat and battered pumps, I could just as easily be asking for help as bringing an offering. My partner and I cut our cloth carefully to ensure a roof over our head, food in our pantry and that the children have all they need, but for my job we might be closer to needing this service than I would wish to think about.

I remember an old hand at work, discussing an awful tragedy which had come to our notice, saying: “There but for the grace of God go I.” Faith or not it is mere chance for a lot of us that we have not become too ill to work, injured or some other circumstances which might keep us from our incomes.

With the exception of the super rich, we all walk such a fine tightrope over these things. We must make sure we do what we can to provide for all, while we can, for tomorrow it could be us.

I Guess Dubstep Never Dies*.

I sat in the drivers seat of my car, sleeping babies in the back, awaiting the boy as he queued inside the supermarket for sundries and watched a couple walking towards the trolley park.

The woman was tall, strong and carrying weight in the legging and velour top combination that exposed her sturdy form as she carried her child close to her in her arms. A man, who I took to be her partner, shorter than the woman, shuffled steps behind her with a limp, bearing some of the burden on a stick. The child was around the same age as my two little ones in the car and was cosy in a snow suit, wrapped up against the chill of the shifting seasons which brought us to this, the first day of October. The man’s movements were less suggestive of injury than illness. The woman looked back at him and paused, smiling, a moment of genuine love and care. The child joined her with a tiny red-lipped grin and the moment was fixed – of happiness and love. None of the three wore clothes of any expense or structure, their shoes were cheap, everything was well worn and put together in the best way they could muster.

I looked at them and wondered what lay ahead for them. The future does not bode well for people with any vulnerability, particularly not in the current system. Meagre offerings for disability are being attacked and questioned in continuous waves in this political climate, relief from poverty even more so. I watch their child with sadness, wondering what sort of a life she will have in this coming world. I wonder for my own children, for my family.

You wouldn’t think, perhaps, that Deadpool 2 has much to say on this line of thought, but there is a part of the dark comedy Marvel action film that has resonated with me in this respect. If you’ve not seen it, it has a character, Cable, a time traveller who has come back from a dystopian future to kill a young boy, Russell, from the film to prevent him murdering Cable’s wife and daughter in his present. He takes with him a blood soaked teddy bear belonging to his daughter as a grim mascot. The journey has used up one of his two charges for time-hopping, the other he plans to use to return to his family once the deed is done.

In a series of events the main character, Deadpool, sacrifices himself to essentially save the soul of Russell and as he dies Cable, seeing his daughter’s bear become cleansed of blood, slides through time again, this time to insert a lead-based arcade token he has taken from Deadpool, into his body suit, to save Deadpool’s life, yet still allowing the sacrifice to be evident enough to reach the heart of Russell.

The point of this isn’t, as Deadpool crows “You did it for me…”, it’s a matter of hope, as Cable reveals his daughter’s name to be in the moment he slips the token. Cable knows Hope will be safe, but he also knows that without this premise, the premise of him being part of something bigger than himself to reshape the history of the future, the future will still be unbearable. Cable chooses to sacrifice the time with his family to try to be part of something more, to create a better world for Hope to survive in.

Hope lives in a world where people are willing to make sacrifices to make it better. That’s the truth of it all isn’t it. Hope lives when good people refuse to give in, where they work together, raising people up and standing in the way, taking the hits. We all like to think that, when the chips are down, we would be the people who would do our bit.

Well the chips are down.

There’s a lot to think about, for what needs to be done next. We all need to be part of something bigger, for my children, for the little girl in the snowsuit, for hope.

* Quote from Josh Brolin, as Cable, Deadpool 2