Follow your arrow

I’ve often wondered what age one has to attain in order to dispense wisdom.  I have I realise, dispensed a considerable amount of wisdom throughout my fifty years some of it with great confidence.  I realise now that I was probably blagging it, bullshitting in a really convincing way.  Convincing enough that I convinced even myself.  What did I know at 20, at 30, at 40?  What do I know now at 50?  Am I qualified yet?  Will I ever be?

I’m an avid reader of self help books, articles, web pages.  I gather nuggets of information from a variety of sources, both fashionable and anecdotal, as well as the researched and codified.  I like to explore the ideas behind beliefs, religions, thought processes – studying psychology itself with the Open University was a delight and gave me, I hope an ability to analyse, consider and digest.  And there’s so much information, so many suggestions, so many ways to ‘be successful’, ‘live a perfect life’, ‘be the best mum’, ‘do the right thing’.  The list is truly endless.

So how do you get to the point where you have the confidence to dispense wisdom?  And what, in reality are people seeking when they turn to others for help?  I like to say to people faced with the big decisions in life, that given enough time, those decisions generally make themselves.  What we do day to day, who we do it with, where we do it are all things inevitably driven by the ebb and flow of the lives around us.  We can make choices, sure, but it’s often felt to me that the real decision making is taken out of our hands.  And that you can ask as many people as you like what you should do, but at some stage, you’ll find yourself somewhere you had no idea you’d be and with little real idea of how you got there.  

I have a favourite phrase I repeat to myself when I’m at points in my life where I want change and it goes, ‘no Sweet, you don’t really want to be a firefighter’.  There’s no way, at any point in my life, I could ever have been a firefighter, but there were times when I wanted it with all my heart  – I’m five foot tall, weight 55kg and don’t like climbing ladders – not really firefighter material!  Like most people sometimes I seek complete change, a totally new direction, a new me.  But change doesn’t happen by deciding to be a firefighter – change happens when you choose to think a little harder about the priorities in your life, when you choose how to feel about what you do and whether it makes you happy or sad or useful or used.

Wisdom, or common sense?  I couldn’t possibly say.  Right now, after some major changes in my life, I’m trying to decide where to go from here.  But with the maturity that is one of the few good things about getting older, I’ve decided to take my time making my decision.  I’m watching the world, trying this and that, following the weather and the drift of the lives around me.  Before long, I’ll find myself somewhere – there’s no rush, is there?  

Maybe I should be a firefighter..?

Love and peace, Sweet

Advertisements

Stick

My father had a walking stick.  He hated it with a passion and it is my plan, now he’s dead, to burn it in one of my stoves over the winter.  The old man would appreciate the gesture.  The stick symbolised everything he hated about getting old, and there was a lot he hated about getting old.  We bought the stick together in a local shop that supplies leather goods, sports equipment and the like, which has been established for years – a sort of cradle to grave affair almost.  Well, plimsolls to walking sticks really, but you know what I mean.

My father aged reluctantly.  For many years he was in complete denial.  He was inventive with his ways of overcoming obstacles because he was a clever man, but eventually need overcomes pride.  He was unsteady on his feet and a stick was the only solution – don’t get me started on the time he needed a wheelchair, there’s a whole other blog post there – but it was welcomed reluctantly and with poor grace.  He would use it as a prod, poking at things in shops or using it to convey his disdain of litter on the ground or obstacles in his way.  The thump of his stick against his neighbour’s errant wheeley bin part of his weekly ritual.  He would use it when seated to rest his hands and chin, much like a small child and would play with it, swinging it on the wrist cord this way and that – repetitive and irritated.  He would point with it, swear at it, swing it like a golf club.  He was furious when hospitalised one time and the staff took it away because he wasn’t steady enough to use a stick.  They insisted he needed a Zimmer frame, or as he called it a ‘dimmer frame’.  I was never sure if the mispronunciation was a joke or whether he genuinely thought that was what they were called.  Either way, he assured us he’d be back using his stick before long as only ‘old’ people use dimmer frames.  He was 91.

I hated the stick too.  I hated what it meant about his health, what it meant about how our relationship was changing, would change.  Would end.  At first the stick was just used to steady his gait; then he came to lean more heavily on it changing his posture, his walk; next he used it to lever himself out of a chair.  Eventually, even the stick couldn’t help him get around.  Nor could the Zimmer which he used for only a short time.  A stick couldn’t stop the inevitable from happening, and we both knew that from the day we bought it.  It was why we both hated it so much.

Now the winter days are coming and the days shortening, I shall burn the stick.  And no doubt hear dad rejoicing at its demise.

‘Burn the bloody thing,’ he’d say. ‘About time, too.’

Back up your files – it’s not just something people say…

So, I’ve suffered another loss.  Given my scale of loss these past twenty months, it’s not really that big a deal.  Were I not up to my eyes in a maelstrom of emotion, I would be angry at the hard drive failure that stole my video project from a while back and my stupidity at not backing up, checking up, making sure.  I tried very hard to be philosophical about it on Saturday – to accept that all is transient; that I have the memory of what I achieved, that I can recall the pleasure and joy I had at seeing a creative project come together, reach an audience and take me further along the road of learning.  Now, reflecting on the sad state of affairs that is my ex hard drive, I am just sad.  Again.  I’m tired of being sad…

I know I should have made sure it was backed up.  I know I should have transferred it from the laptop to my desktop.  I knew how important it was to me, and yet… and yet.   And because I know all of these things, I wonder why I didn’t do them?  Creativity is a crazy beast – it’s as exciting as anything else I know but the excitement of creativity is so hard to recapture.  That piece was such a joy to do, such a surprise to achieve, such a precious thing. Maybe, because of that, I was always destined to have to let go of this piece of work.  Maybe it’s an abject lesson in letting go of all that must leave us eventually.

Or maybe when all is said and done, it was just a hard drive failure and not a philosophical moment.

Back up your files folks – it’s not just something people say…

Love and peace

Sweet

How not to Talk to the Recently Bereaved

I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of condolences following my father’s death.  The majority have been eloquent, sensitive and thoughtful and whilst they are not easy to receive, they do what they say on the tin – offer comfort and respect.  But there are a few, mostly the verbal ones, that have struck me by degrees as trite, insulting and in a few cases hurtful.

I honestly think that most people have no idea what they sound like when they offer condolences, but I believe people are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances.  For most, having to talk to someone in the midst of loss is a rare occurrence.  For many it brings up painful memories for themselves and makes knowing what to say extremely difficult.  All of these things are understandable.

But in an effort to educate, elucidate and get the bloody thing off my chest, I offer a short course in ‘How not to talk to the recently bereaved.’

Example 1

‘You’ll never get over it’.  F*ck off, yes I will.  You want to condemn me to a lifetime of feeling like this?  Better to say, ‘you must feel awful right now, but you won’t feel like this forever’.  

Many people seem to think that getting over a bereavement is inappropriate.  But as something of a veteran (all four grandparents, both parents, both brothers, both uncles, one aunt, and one cousin) I can tell you that ‘getting over it’ is not wrong.  And you don’t get over it as such, you learn to live with it, without them.  And living well to respect the memory of those that have gone is the point.  Feeling okay about your own life with or without your loved ones is the point.

Example 2

‘You’ll get through it, you’re such a strong person’.  Tricky one this.  Sounds complimentary doesn’t it?  Sounds like the speaker has faith in your ability and knows you well.  Actually, what they’re saying is, ‘please don’t break down in front of me, I can’t handle it.’  What it does is make you hide your nasty horrible grief from view and keep it suppressed.  Years of therapy – cha ching.  

Strength is absolutely the last thing the bereaved have.  They need support, love, encouragement until they find their strength again – which they will.  Wish them courage, offer them help, don’t give them the responsibility of handling this alone because they’re so ‘strong’.  Do normal things with them, talk about the person that has died – bring tissues and you be strong, because one day you may not be so strong yourself and then you will understand why it’s such a horrible thing to suggest that it’s not okay to show weakness.

Example 3

‘You’ll never be the same again.’  Okay, maybe I will be changed but isn’t the loss of a loved one enough – you want to make the bereaved think they’re going to lose themselves too?  Cruel beyond words.  

Telling people they will never be the same again is pointless in fact.  We all change, all the time.  Not just when someone dies.  It implies that you have no value as yourself without the person you’ve lost and is such a strange thing to say.  Better to say, ‘life will be different for you now.’

And finally Example 4

That script that you read from, when you work for a bank, building society, insurance company, whatever call centre it is?  The phrase is ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ not ‘I apologise for your loss.’  Oh honey, it really wasn’t your fault!  Did make laugh that one tho’…

Love and peace
Sweet

Lists, and the writing thereof

I love lists.  I have a weekly To Do list – handwritten – that I happily work my way down during the week.  It’s all there, in my A5 notebook, week after week.  I can look back and see what’s been achieved, what’s yet to do, what keeps being carried forward to the next week, and how long I’ve been putting off doing the accounts.

This year, however, there’s been a gap in my To Do lists since the first week of January.  Because my dad died; and when someone is dying, it appears that there’s both a lot to do, and absolutely nothing to do.

At the age of 91, ‘the old man’, as he affectionately called himself, was steadily becoming frail, both in body, mind and spirit.  The time had come, and was acknowledged by all, including himself, and so began the longest two weeks of my life.  I had read somewhere that when someone is dying, normal life needs to be put on hold.  Turns out, this is absolutely true.  Not only is dying a very personal process, it is also a very unpredictable one.  According to the Hospice nurse I chatted with, some people will die almost as soon as the prognosis is made, some will fight and fight and appear unable to complete the final stage.  There is nothing To Do except wait, and watch, and respect the process.

After he died, of course, there was a whole new list of things To Do.  Funeral arrangements, financial arrangements, people to notify, a eulogy to write.  I have a separate book for these To Do lists.  I find a need a degree of separation, lest my life becomes consumes by the process and the practicality.  Most of the things on that particular To Do list have been accomplished already with more to come as the finances and legal details conclude, but I find myself at last free enough to start to write in my own personal To Do notebook again.  So far, aside from paying the Gas Bill, it remains steadfastly empty.  Because it seems that what’s left to do once a life ends, is both a lot and nothing at all.

Love and peace,

Sweet

RIP to a very lovely lady…

One of our choir members died last night.  She was a lovely lady.  Funny, charming, caring and thoughtful.  A good voice, a great heart and a penchant for a good old natter in the pub after rehearsals.  We shall miss her terribly.  Her husband too is a member, and the whole choir feels for him, mourns with him and I know, will love and support him through difficult times.

It’s hard to explain the bonds that are forged through singing and performing together.  As a group we learn together, laugh together, experience the terror of live performance together, support and nurture each other.  Above all we sing, and singing is a glue that binds people like no other.  Last year, when a close family member died, talking was the last thing I wanted to do.  But singing got me through – I couldn’t talk, so I sang as often and as loudly as I could.  I sang with my choir pals, and whenever there was a gap, when I literally couldn’t make a sound, someone else filled that space for me.  Because that’s what we do.  We sing together.

So we shall fill the gap left by our lovely Mo and sing our hearts out whenever we get the chance, and if we raise a few bob in the process for the Hospice that took care of her, so much the better.  Rest in Peace, lovely lady.

Sweet

Well I did warn you…

I did.  I warned you that I was not a prolific poster.  So here I am, a lengthy six weeks later posting again  ::sigh::

And I could give a whole ream of excuses – busy at work, busy with family, busy with myself (because I’m middle aged and I deserve me time!), busy with the landscapers, etc, etc.  I used to chastise my son and say, ‘don’t give me excuses, you could have done such and such’.  He always floored me with the response, ‘but they’re not excuses, they’re reasons!’  I never did figure out what to say to that one…

I was thinking today, after sniggering at Mrs Carmichael’s post about occupation, about what I’ve done work wise, or otherwise, over my adult life and what it says about me.  After my son was born, I was a die hard stay at home mum – but I studied.  Took up the challenge of a degree that I’d denied myself in my late teens and became a BSc (Hons).  Okay it took me fourteen years, dipping in and out of study here and there with long gaps and bizarre combinations of topics, but it suited me.  What I thought I’d do with the bloody thing I still don’t know.  And as it turns out, I’ve not really done anything with it since I got it in 2007.

I’ve not filled out a job application since I was applying for temp jobs in London in the heady days of the late 1980s (with my Filofax, padded shoulders, and bright pink high heeled shoes – don’t ask!) All and any of the work I’ve done since has come by word of mouth – a part time job with the accountants office that did my husband’s tax return, that fitted around school hours; volunteer work at a local Hospice; then paid work at said Hospice when they found out I could type, do bookwork and handle the eccentricities of the somewhat irrational but charming Fund Manager.  Then I decided to write, and that wasn’t work, but it led to work.  Often unpaid, but probably more interesting and challenging than anything I’d ever done in my life before.  Three years ago I put myself and a pretentious proposal forward to the leader of my choral society and I now run the office for 350 members.  No references were ever sought, no application form filled.  I guess that’s one of things that comes with age.  You become confident in yourself, in the skills you have, in the person you are and what you know you can do.  And that gets you a long way when it comes to work.

So what does all that say about me?  Some years ago, when I thought I really should get a ‘proper job’ again I went to a CV writing workshop run by a local employment agency.  I was wallowing in self pity, sitting amongst women significantly younger than me – management level ladies who’d had a career break for child raising and were keen to get back into the workplace.  Amidst buzzwords like ‘seeding your CV with key phrases’ and ‘outcomes and performance objectives’ I felt like a lost has been, who’d never actually had.

During one of those awful exercises where you have to describe your career to the person next to you I said ‘I’m stuck, how on earth do I describe myself in these terms?  I’ve only ever worked part time and been a mum.’  She simply asked me what I did day to day, what I enjoyed and what I really wanted to do.  ‘Just a few words,’ she said, ‘don’t overthink it’.  So we sat for five minutes whilst I muttered odd words here and there.  When our turn came for her to describe me to the rest of the room (the horror!!!) she read out this brilliantly crafted little paragraph that went something like this: ‘this is [Sweet].  She’s done a wonderful job raising her son over the past few years and she’s spent a lot of her free time studying for a degree with the Open University.  She’s intelligent, resourceful, caring and compassionate.  She’s creative and knows how to organise and is looking for a job where she can put all of her skills to good use.’  Turns out her background was Human Resources and she did me the biggest favour of my life.  She showed me that whilst I’d prioritised hearth and home, I’d also developed all the extraordinary skills you need for child raising and domestic life, and that life skills are always transferable.

My little resume about her was crap by the way, and I’m really sorry for that.

Sweet

 

Domesticity

There are men working at the bottom of my garden.  Repairing a fence, building a new shed where the old worn out one used to sit.  The bottom of the garden used to be a wilderness; overgrown, unsightly but incredibly private and peaceful.  But there are, as is inevitable in life, changes afoot.  The old Victorian house whose garden adjoins ours has been sold and the developers are moving in, so it’s time to reclaim the boundary from the Mile a Minute and Hazel trees, make the shed secure and repair the broken down fence.

I’ve a mind that this is a sad event – the peaceful, wild oasis that used to reside at the bottom of the garden will be tidied, spruced up and secured.  The foxes that live in the garden of the old Victorian house will no doubt relocate, although I’m sure I’ll still hear cubs in the spring play fighting in the garden again before long.  The robin with the white wing tip that keeps me company when I hang out the laundry at the bottom of the garden will no doubt weather the storm – he’s there right now as the builders dig, ferreting out insects happily and delighting in his robin-ness.

Before long there will be houses just over the fence where once there was an orchard, there will be children playing where the foxes used to play and there will be the noise and bustle of day to day life where there used to be peace.  But maybe we’ll make friends with the people who will live in the new houses, certainly people will have new homes, and the builders will have jobs whilst the houses are built and maybe, it’s simply time for things to move on.  And I expect the robin will still delight in his robin-ness, wherever he finds himself.

Sweet

On screen names and anonymity

I’ve blogged for years.  Not very consistently I’ll admit, or at least not in ‘public’.  And in truth, I don’t consider anonymous posting, public in any real sense but there’s a lot to be said for expressing oneself whilst concealed from one’s ‘real life’ and real family and friends.  Within a short space of time though, the screen name and new persona you have built for yourself becomes as much a part of you, the real you, as your real self – if you follow my drift!  And with that persona comes all the trappings of a normal human life – good relationships, failed relationships, the misunderstandings as well as highs of human interaction.  Just like emigrating and starting over somewhere else, life follows you relentlessly – the lawn needs cutting wherever you choose to live, as they say.

Anyway, a friend reminded me today that ten years have passed since she and I first chatted via a message board, then progressed to instant messaging, and then took the big step and met in real life.  Which means it’s a whopping ten years since I became Sweet Thing and Sweet Thing met someone off of the Internet!  Back then being anonymous was what it was all about, in the days before Facebook when the Internet was the big scary bad and no-one knew if someone could come and attack you in your home if you gave out your real name.  Sweet was brave enough to do things I wasn’t.  Sweet would post on message boards.  Sweet wrote fanfic and posted it and got feedback and became a little addicted to checking her email box for messages and comments. And Sweet made new friends and had a blast and some of those new friends, were destined to become old friends (see above).

Sweet found her own place in the world, and some days, I think she left me far behind!

So WordPress invites me to be Sweet again… and that’s interesting.  Because she was always a lot more mouthy that I am!

Sweet