Monday, 18 April 2016

Weekend off

I had the weekend off. Off everything. Officially, I had a 'writing weekend', and I did write and loved it. But mainly I didn't have to do anything for anyone all weekend. Ate on my own, slept on my own, walked on my own. In a place that looked like this:

and like this:

I've come back with recharged batteries. And an overwhelming feeling of gratitude because Babes not only accepts that I need this time off, but also encourages me to take it. I'm already wondering when I can have another one...

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Don't read this if you need to be cheered up

Tomorrow I have to go to someone's house with the children and eat and socialise and then go out and be outside and drink and socialise some more. I can't have too many drinks, because in the evening I have to drive to another city and find a parking space and find an old friend and eat with her and pretend I haven't turned into too much of an old hag. Without a hairdressers appointment first. Which would help, but which would be too much to add to today. Then the day after that, when I would happily recover from tomorrow, I have promised to go see my cousin in the city. I want to find something nice to take her because we haven't seen each other in ages. I think I will just nip into the Oxfam shop and get her something from there. It's close. It's easy. It feels like a good thing to do. My lovely sister, may her curries always include a korma, came to see us two days ago. I couldn't get outside my lethargy enough to fully appreciate her. I get so self-centred when I'm not chirpy. Can't get out of my head.

I've finished The Noonday Demon. I found the chapter on evolution fascinating. The author, Andrew Solomon, explained that depression is seen as a leftover from our tribal days. If a member of the group challenged the social order and was unsuccessful, they would get depressed and unable to try to move up the ranks again. This would be good for their genes because the strife would end. I found it amusing that in an aside he added that society no longer works like this. He's obviously never been a housewife.

Another thought I got from the book was that depression can stop people trying to hard to reach a goal they are never going to reach. Depression makes you unable to continue, thus providing a lull in which you can reassess your life and go in a more productive direction. It knocks those uppity thoughts right out of your silly little overambitious brain. Like if you entertained the ridiculous notion that you wanted to be a novelist when you couldn't even manage as an academic.

Rather comforting was the assertion that anxiety and sluggishness can be helpful in a mother. If you stay in your hut because you can't face the spiders and the snakes and the neighbouring tribe, then your kids are more likely to pass on their genes. Again, he thought this only applied to the past. Again - not a housewife.

A very useful concept I take away from the book: seeing moods as weather. Sure, you might be stuck in a month of drizzle, but sunshine is still possible. Drizzle doesn't make future summer not exist. The illusion of permanence, of eternity, is unhelpful. I find it quite a stubborn illusion.

I have to keep going outside. Start going outside. Jack has come to the age where he can go to the shops. He's out right now getting us our lunch. Where is the person who was tidying all the drawers into vertical bliss? I started Jack's room yesterday and had to stop half way. His school work and books are tidy, the rest I meant to do today. I must must must after lunch. I also have to stop scratching my face to pieces. It's getting to the stage makeup can't hide any more. Maybe I should stop writing this as well and definitely not send it out into the world. Maybe I should stop reading about depression. After a while, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I've just finished a large tome, am in the middle of two more and I have two waiting to be read. I have to go outside. Outside my mind, outside my little world, outside what I know, outside what I consider safe. I'm the same person who travelled to New York City on her own, staying in a hostel, in the post-9/11 world. It's fine. It's okay to go out there. To do things. The worst that can happen is I die.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Books are daily changing my life in manifold ways

I'm having some trouble getting my thoughts written down. Getting my thoughts out. Having thoughts in the first place. I will try to give it a go.

Today, my head was slightly clearer. It started at five-ish when I couldn't sleep any longer. I lingered a while, but then I had to get up to pee, and by then it was nearly half past six and I knew the alarm would go off at seven thirty so there wasn't much point sleeping again. I read a little in The Noonday Demon and it gave me some insights that I needed. Well, they were probably more like reminders, but still. I'm only halfway through the book and I'm not sure I would recommend it, because so far it has read much like an advert for the pharmaceutical industry and its antidepressants. On the other hand, I'm sure the author is sincere when he talks about how his pills have saved him. In any case, the chapter I was reading this morning talked about the connection between depression and poverty, and about how poor people are often poor because they are depressed and depressed because they are poor, and they cannot motivate themselves or pluck up the oomph to change their circumstances. Which made me see that lately, I've been lacking the oomph and I think it might have to do with the fact that I'm still not gainfully employed and therefore have nothing to stop me losing my oomph or slacking on the sofa all day, or pretending that knitting a tiny doll's blanket constitutes a valid day's work for a full grown woman.

I got up with Babes after the alarm went up and sat in my bathrobe having a cup of decaf tea and some cracottes with gouda, bemoaning my lack of action and oomph, until I could see myself through his eyes and how pathetic I was. Then I decided on action. Before action, though, I made the children unload and load the dishwasher (their job, not my opportunity for action - ha!). Meanwhile, I read on in a book I started yesterday: Born to Run. Now there's one I would wholeheartedly recommend to all of you. It's full of thirst for life, full of laughs, full of the will to go. It's made me want to become a vegan barefoot trailrunner. (My shin hurts just imagining it.) I took the children to the park for a picnic and stuck them in the big adventure playpark so I could keep reading. Finished the book tonight. I've already been out for a sneaky barefoot ten metres out on the pavement outside the door. Another thing it's made me want to do, is finally to start checking out potential new houses for us to move to. We should not be living in a terraced house in a concrete street any more. Reading about trail runs and adventures in the hills of Mexico made me feel deep in my bones, now more than ever, that I need to see trees when I look out of the window, and not walls. I'm also considering volunteering in the Oxfam shop around the corner. Some volunteer work should get me moving outside this head of mine sometimes, which would most likely be healthy.

I'm looking forward to the book I will read after The Noonday Demon: Reasons to Stay Alive. I have a feeling I will need it.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Monday book club

I'm in the middle of it. Again. And I'm telling myself that this is temporary and that my brain is lying to me. And I know it. And at the same time I know that I'm useless. And that it will never get better. All night, I dreamed of war and slavery and being hunted. When I woke up, my back hurt and my chest and I felt like I would die if I had to get up and make sandwiches and take the children to school. I didn't die. They have sandwiches.

Yesterday was too good. I had a great run with Jack. One of those easy ones in which I hop along with my back straight and a big smile on my face. I came up with a wonderful bit for my new book. I had energy left over to take Charlie to the park and run along while he tried to cycle on two wheels. And then more energy for choir.

This is temporary. This will pass. I am not ridiculous for wanting to write. Even if I never get published. There are sillier things to do. Tomorrow will be better. Today I will rest, do the washing, watch Frasier, take it easy. Tomorrow, I will run again and know that today was a chemical glitch.

On the topic of chemical glitches - I saw an interview with Andrew Solomon on his book The Noonday Demon. It's a big fat book about depression and came highly recommended by the interviewer. I've downloaded the preview and I'm thinking of reading the whole thing but I'm worried it will bring me down. (Haha!) Have any of you read it? If so, would you recommend it?

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Shock, horror

Marie loathes having her hair brushed. Hates it intensely. She grew it out until it was halfway down her back. Then hated getting "birds nests" and having the bother of me removing them. So when a bad birds nest appeared, she cut it out instead of having me tackle it. Cut it out pretty much to her skull.

A couple of days later I took her to the hairdressers to have the lot cut off. She's much happier now - no more torture.

Charlie took advantage of the trip and demanded to have his hair cut like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars I. There could be no mistake - it had to be like in the first movie, not like in the others. With a braid behind his ear, a little ponytail and the hair on top standing on end.

So far so good. Now for the shocking part. Because all this is just a couple of children experimenting with their looks, right? Not quite.

First of all, when Marie came down with her hair mostly gone, she assumed we'd be angry. She regretted the move herself. She seems to have been under the impression that you can cut out a substantial amount of hair without anyone noticing. All I did when I saw the sorry look on her face, was give her a big cuddle and tell her it would all be fine. By the next morning, she'd moved on from regret to pride and couldn't wait to show all her friends what she'd dared to do.

Next, when I took both children to the hairdresser, they assumed that I'd been cross with Marie. They were also amazed that I would 'allow' Charlie to choose this hairstyle. It's his own hair! On his own head! I was more amazed at how amazed they were.

Finally, when they both went to school, they both got a lot of bother from other children. Charlie had a very tough time with hordes of children running after him in the playground laughing and shouting at him for being a girl. Marie got called a boy. (Both were considered insults. I will leave that to another post.) I hadn't seen this coming. It's my mothering blind spot. I can never foresee how strongly children will react to situations they consider 'abnormal'. Both of them reacted beautifully, sticking to their guns, still happy with their new styles. I was so proud I let them have lemonade.

It's only through situations like these that I see clearly how much pressure there is on children to conform. To be little gender stereotypes. To not stick out. To become tidy factory fodder that won't argue with their betters. And for the most part, it's the parents that put the pressure on. Not one parent at the school gates reacted with a 'nice haircut'. All of them wondered at how I would 'allow' my children to choose for themselves. The same goes for every wacky outfit they pick out. Children have so little say over their lives already, why not let them at least choose what they put on their own bodies? Okay, I would not pick an outfit with several different types of pink and white polka dots layered one over another, but how should it bother me if that is my daughter's choice? The other parents seem to worry that it will reflect badly on them, their taste, or whatever. It makes me sad for their children.

Only last year, a friend of mine in his forties finally dared to tell the world he was gay. In his forties. To start with, I was surprised. In this age, when being gay is supposedly normal. I am no longer surprised. If a little boy with a ponytail causes such a stir; if that little boy is made to feel that he is crossing a line of decency, of what is expected of him - anyone who is unhappy conforming to this stifling norm needs some serious guts to stand up and go against it. I hope my children will keep feeling that they can be whatever they want to be, look how they want to look, sing how they want to sing. I'm trying to raise three individuals in a society that would make them blend at all costs. I'm guessing it won't get easier as they get older.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The signs are clear

I know I have to go outside for a run and then write a few pages. I know it. You know why I know it? Because this is how I got ready before my shower:

And I know it even more because it disturbs me that I put the bra first and not the underpants. Because it's a pretty sequence, and the bra is less angular so it aesthetically belongs on the left, but surely pants go on first. And then the bra. And trousers go before socks. No, it's a mess. Another reason why I know I should go outside is the fact that I didn't select a belt or a jumper before my shower, and so I'm now sitting here with my trousers sagging and slightly colder than I'd like to be. But these were the clothes I selected and I am not some messy minger who changes her mind as she pleases so I may have to stay cold and builder-cracked. It's all about sticking with the plan.

Another way I can tell I need that run:

I know I need a run when all my tissues cry out to me to be covered in crochet. I'm not even showing you the two baskets, the other bedsock (one only - I ran out of wool) or the flying testicle (it's a long story - it was meant to be an angel-like cuddle but went disastrously wrong).

All I want to do is stay in and knit a dress for Marie. And laundry - ironing even. I'm dithering constantly between kicking myself up the bum for my lack of action and being kind to myself for needing a break, some silence. Various constellations of children have been home with flu, we've spent hours waiting in the doctor's surgery, I had to battle them to take their medicine. To top it off the school had a staff training day yesterday, just when they were all better.

Ironically, I'm meant to be reading a book I got from my delightful sister An, may her diarrhoea be a mere blip on an otherwise exemplary life. In English, it's called The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion - Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. I have the Dutch translation sitting next to me. And I cannot bring myself to read it. I don't know why. I have a huge mental block against it. I've flipped through it several times. Yesterday, I sat down with a cup of tea and an hour to spare and I could not take in what I was reading. All of a sudden, I urgently needed to cover another pack of tissues and watch random TV.

Right. I have dirty washing that won't sort itself into colour piles and pillow cases that need to be ironed and cups of tea that need to be drunk and (as a break) a dress that needs to be knitted. Tomorrow I will surely run and write.

Friday, 19 February 2016

My philosophy of life

Babes learned about different personality types at work. They identified four kinds - red, blue, yellow, green - and the idea is that once you see how someone works, you will be able to interact with them more easily. The course was called, amusingly, Win-win. Even though the packaging makes me giggle, I think it sounds like a very good idea, to teach a bunch of engineers and IT'ers about people and how to deal with them. (I admit I was a little jealous - I could do with a course like that.) I don't see it as a way to manipulate people (as some might), I just see an attempt to make life more peaceful.

It's funny, though. The first thing I wanted to do, was find out which type I was. Instinctively, I thought I was blue - methodical, precise, perfectionist. That has been my own story of me. Babes immediately said 'No way anyone whose philosophy of life is "Fuck it" is a blue person.' He put me between yellow and red. To start with, I was insulted. Yellow is okay, but red people sound like a right pain. Arrogant, pushy. (There is another side to them as well - determined, strong-willed.)

I didn't even think that 'Fuck it' was my philosophy of life. But, sure enough, during the week's skiing, I caught myself using that exact phrase several times a day. When we had to go skiing in a snow storm and I wanted to hide in the pub, 'Fuck it' got me out there into the icy wind. When I didn't want to drink from my snotty kid's bottle but I didn't have another one, 'Fuck it' kept me hydrated. When I had decided to be good and have less beer, then someone offered me a half liter glass - you guessed it: 'Fuck it'.

It's not such a bad philosophy, really. Except for the fact that Babes is quite British and doesn't swear and doesn't like me to either. (I'm never going to be a lay-dee. I say 'Fuck it' to that as well. It's obvious from the fact that my children have three options when they fart: 'Excuse me', 'That was a good one', or 'I'm a lay-dee'. It's funny that I get annoyed with them if they say nothing. They have to say one of the three.) I tone myself down for him. I try to behave. But when I'm tired, stressed, upset - I just think 'Fuck it' and let my true nature out.