Category Archives: Mid Life

Witness my Journey

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A New Adventure

This is my plan to begin again.

Two years of creative drought are over, and though there are still challenges in my personal life which could prove equally difficult, I have decided I can’t allow myself to be so completely crushed next time around.

So I’m on a journey.

One step at a time, baby steps. Reminding myself.  Beginning again.

Its actually quite hard when you have been effectively out of the creative loop for so long, and there is no expecting to pick up exactly where you left off.  My typing fingers are rusty, my imagnation has stalled, my physical strength is unreliable, and I am far too likely to lapse into ranting at the mirror in the bathroom in the mornings, and then being in such a bad mood that I fail to find any corner for creativity the rest of the day.

Its time to inch into new habits, little actions that mount up, tiny movements that ease me into a new frame of mind.

I’m on a journey, and I’d like to invite you along with me.

I don’t know how its going to turn out, and if I’m going to get anywhere, or if I’ll end up back at square one, but I hope that you and I can both learn from the experience.  So I’d like to set out for you the little steps I am taking to ease myself back into writing again.

Firstly, I’ve made a vow to read more.  Yeah, I know, this from the woman who can’t walk past a bookskshop or a library.  This from a woman who has permanent damage to her shoulder from lugging around a handbag full of books, just in case she finds herself in a queue without some way to entertain herself.

I did a bit of analysis after Christmas, and realised that the majority of books I read last year were non-fiction.  That, or Terry Pratchett books I’d read before that I knew would comfort and distract me through admitedly difficult times.  I remembered the days when I was taking my Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, days when I consumed really good writers like Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Helen Dunmore and others.  I realised I couldn’t remember when I’d last read a new work of fiction.

So my new New Year’s intention was to read.  Widely.  Novels, yes.  A bit of History and, obviously, non-fiction.  To remind myself what good writing is.  And so far I am doing quite well, helped by the fact that we’ve been clearing out my late mother-in-law’s sustantial book stash, from which I have benefitted greatly.  I had quite a haul of books for Christmas too, which I’m looking forward to devouring.  The important thing to note is that I am excited about the idea of reading fiction again, which I haven’t been for a long time.  Which is a good sign.

Secondly, I’m pursuing a writing practice.

I read Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful book, ‘The True Secret of Writing’ at the end of last year and I was blown away by it.  I started doing timed writing practices in the manner she suggests.  Pen to paper. Write whatever comes.  Its heaven.

Thirdly, coaching.  Yes, you heard me right.  My dear friend, the poet, Heidi Williamson, is also a writing coach, and kindly agreed to take me on as a client.  Our first session was mind-expanding.  I’ll write more about this experience in future, but let me tell you, I’m sold.

I’d been wrestling with getting out of my own way to do writing practice, and Heidi suggested I make a deal with myself to do two sessions a week, on the days best suited to my schedule, which for me is Monday and Thursday.  So far, I have yet to default.  Which is unheard-of for me. I do it on other days too, which feels like earning huge brownie points.  Its only a little thing, twenty minutes at most, but it feels like a monumental change.  And I’m keeping a promise to myself, which is adding to my confidence.

Fourthly, not pushing.  This might seem counter-intuitive, but Goldberg suggests that you need to do writing practice for at least a year before you have even begun to accumulate enough material to track what it is you would like to write about in a sustained way, such as a novel.  So I don’t really have a particular project.  I’m just writing.  I’m being gentle with myself, because goals tend to freak me out and stop me writing.  There is plenty of time for them later on, when I’m ready anyway.

The whole point of not pushing is to enjoy myself.  I’m not going to write if it isn’t fun.  So why make it hard.  I want to enjoy it.

No doubt I will add to this routine in future, but this is my core plan to gentle myself back into creating.  I read somewhere recently that ‘Creativity is the expression of the Soul.’  My soul has taken quite a battering in the last two years, so I need to nurse it gently back to health with love and sploshy paints, and definitely no strict rules.

Finally, I mean to document my journey here on this blog, which has been sadly neglected of late. I want to tell you how I get on.  A bit of accountability, yes, but also a project to get me blogging again.

So I hope you will join me on my trip to Creativity,

with love,

EF

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Sometimes I forget

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You may think things are quiet here at Evenlode’s Friend.

Well, I suppose they are, on the website at least.  Not inside my head, however.  Not inside my life.

I haven’t been writing much here lately because, well, I’m going through another growing phase.  By which I mean, the shit really hit the fan again.

Sometimes you need to take time off for your life.  Sometimes you need to remember to take care of yourself.  And thats what I’m doing at the moment.  Intensively taking care of myself, and Husband, who was recently diagnosed with coeliac disease, almost a year since he was told he had diabetes.  This, along with coping with dementia caring, and my own health issues, has rather forced my hand.

Sometimes you need to take the time to devote everything you have to healing.

And the really odd thing is that this morning, I was reading an article about creative blocks (which sadly now, I just can’t find) and I thought:

I’ve forgotten how to do this.

I’ve been so focussed on healing my life that I’ve forgotten my creativity.  I’ve been so immersed in studying nutrition and recipe books, delving into spirituality and psychology, chanting mantras and ploughing through academic papers on brain degeneration in Alzheimers patients, that somewhere along the line, I’ve forgotten how to write.

Forgotten how to create.

Something new.  Something unique.  Something mine.

A creation that is truly of my soul.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten.  I still tell myself stories at night as I fall asleep.  The stories of love and redemption that comfort me in the midst of the storm, enough to enable me to believe that there is something good at the other end of all this.  Because I’m an old romantic at heart.  Because I believe that there has to be hope.  Because I believe that a hug makes everything better.  Even if its only a hug in a story.

But holding a pen?  A crayon?  Conjuring the contents of a new character’s pocket or handbag? Wondering why a character might take a tennis racket on a train trip to Switzerland in 1947?

Where did that go?

Cue that slightly dazed feeling that something is missing, like a limb, but you can’t quite work out where is has gone, or how, or even when.

I know that what I am doing right now is deeply necessary to my future wellbeing, and that of Husband.  I know I need to step up to the challenges that face me.  I need to delve deeply into my Unravelling.

But I don’t want to do what I did this morning, and sit there, staring at a photo of coloured pencils on a blog post, and feel a yearning that took my breath away.  Somewhere in all this, there has to be space to create.

Sometimes, I forget.

But from now on, I intend to remember.

Happy creating,

EF

Word of the Year 2015

sussex churchI am quietly resting tonight in the post New Year’s Eve Exhaustion space. You know the one. Everything hurts, you’ve had very little sleep, you’ve eaten far too much rich food, your jeans are cutting you in half (didn’t they fit just right this time last week?), and tomorrow you will fall into that Chasm of the Unknown which is 2nd January when there are no more excuses, the holidays are over, and you have to get back on the bike of normality.

Yeah, you know what I’m saying.

(I wouldn’t mind so much, either, but I don’t even drink! Husband did all the booze last night, and I woke up with his hangover. It’s just unfair, especially when he is all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and bouncing around the house with our god daughter, teaching her how to be Gandalf stopping the balrog in the mines of Moria – at 10am? I mean, puh-leeeeeze!)

This is that annoying time of year when all the bloggers on the interweb seem to trot out their reviews of 2014, with accompanying pictures of their glamorous lives, glamorous friends, glamorous spouses, glamorous homes etc etc.

I can’t remember much about what happened in 2014 because I am still recovering from it.

It was a tough one. Christmas especially. It has been dominated by the stress of caring for two very elderly, very frail parents-in-law, one of whom has stage two dementia, and at a distance. There have been the falls, the hospital visits, the fights over carers, the distressed phone calls. We’ve been learning new nursing skills, dealing with social workers, pharmacists, medical practitioners, and a national health service that seems weirdly incapable of taking account of the needs of those with dementia, even though the elderly are their primary client group. All this, trying to keep our own lives running, expanding the Husband’s business, and managing my own ill health.

The last two years have been periods of extreme growth. My word for 2013 was REVOLUTIONARY. My word for 2014 was DARE. Both pretty heavy-duty action words. I felt like I needed to step up to the plate, to make big changes. But after all those revolutions and fear-facings, I am just utterly exhausted and drained. I need something gentle this year.

So my word for 2015 is EASE.

I want to be at EASE with myself. I want to get to know myself better, to feel authentically me, to feel more settled and confident in myself instead of constantly pushing at the edges, as I have been.

I want to be at EASE in my creativity, not to be forcing it, but rejoicing in the work I make, whether it is a new story or novel, or a piece of needlepoint, or a favourite recipe. I want my work to be rich, jewelled with the unusual, and deeply infused with peace and contentment.

I want to EASE into my life more, to spend more time nurturing myself, working out what I need to get through what will undoubtedly be another tough year. I need to be gentle and compassionate with myself.

I want to have more EASE in my life – less pain, more comfort, and a more comfortable environment. There will be nesting, creating, new healthy eating recipes, yoga and pilates (gently) and lots of mindfulness. And, hopefully, a holiday.

Most of all, I want to be at EASE with and in the present. I want to accept where I am right now, at this turning-point.

This year, Husband will turn 50, I will continue my journey towards menopause, and we will likely be saying goodbye to those we care for in some form, whether it is completely through death, or mentally, as a beloved parent passes into the mist where she will no longer recognise us in any meaningful way. I want to be able to support Husband as he midwifes his mother through this endtime. I want to help us move into this second half of our lives with optimism, health and peace of mind. I want us to EASE into this new phase with hope and positivity. I want us to have something beautiful and vibrant left after this time of caring is over, not simply wreckage and exhaustion.

I can’t say I relish the prospect of 2015, as elder care eats more and more into our lives. But I intend to do what I can to see that it is as much an enriching process as it can be in the circumstances. I look forward to exploring myself, my spirituality and my creativity in the face of these ongoing demands. I don’t know what will come out of it, but I know that it will be something deep and wise.

I wish you a happy, creative and fulfilling 2015,

EF

Bun

bun“You know I love you, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but-“

(That’s always the point when you just know you are about to be gently insulted…)

“-wearing your hair in a bun like that puts ten years on you. You’re a beautiful woman and you don’t make the best of yourself. I only want to see you looking as pretty as I know you can, but that hairdo just makes you look old, and you’re not.”

Oooooo-kay.

Wearing my hair in a bun just became a political act.

She’s my best friend, and I love her. And yes, you sometimes need a best friend to tell you that that shade of pink really does nothing for you. Who else can tell you stuff like that?

But why did she have to pick my hair?

Let me explain – because there is so much back story to this one that I hardly know where to start.

I stopped colouring my hair about two years ago. I live on benefits so I can’t afford to get it coloured at the hairdresser, but it was more than that. Dyeing at home is messy, time consuming and frankly exhausting, especially when you have a chronic illness which makes holding your hands above your head pretty near impossible. And exposure to the chemicals really is ‘a bit not good’.

So I am going grey. That in itself is an act of defiance.

We went to a 60th birthday party recently, with guests who were generally aged 45 or over. Mostly well over. Of around 30 women there, I was one of only two who did not have coloured hair. The other was nearly eighty. That synthetically-hued head-count shocked me more than I can say.

When did hair colour become the new norm? (Probably about the same sick moment that pubic hair for women became impossible, but I think I’m glad I missed that, and besides, the infantilisation of women for men’s sexual purposes is a whole ‘nother blog post.)

I have to tell you that I don’t particularly rejoice in being grey – at least not the shade of it that I am at the moment. It will be better when it finally goes ice white, the way my mother and grandmother went. At the moment what I have looks a bit like an accident in a pepper factory. But it is what I am, and if the alternative is wrestling with harmful chemicals in my bathroom, then I’m more than okay with it. It feels right. Sometimes I feel old, and miss my brown locks, but it’s only a temporary feeling. Mostly, I don’t even think about it.   After all, I’m only forty-seven.

The bun thing is an extension of the grey thing.

I hate hairdressers. Going into a hairdressers is to me the equivalent of walking into a room filled with all the trendy girls at school who bullied me and made me feel small because I didn’t have the right clothes or make-up, or a boyfriend. If you asked me what hell looked like, I’d tell you its eternity in a chic hairdressing joint.

Which is one reason why I don’t get my hair cut particularly often. These days, I go to a place where I can just walk in and have a cheap cut, no questions asked, not have to make any small talk, or get to know anybody, or feel inadequate, and walk out again. I go regularly to get my fringe trimmed and to keep split ends at bay. My hair is in pretty good condition as a result. I look after it. I just don’t go overboard.

I had to have a lot cut off a few years back, when it got into bad shape. I went for a bob. I really felt I looked old then. Middle-aged. Like a fat woman who had given up. It was horrible. I hated it. I cried when I got home and looked into the mirror, and swore to regrow it immediately. I’m a long hair person anyway. Short hair just isn’t me.

However, I hate having my hair in the way, so I wear it up. When I was younger, it was thicker, and I could wear it in a French plait. Now it’s so thin, it looks like a rat’s tail hanging at the nape of my neck. No more plaiting for me.

I can put my hair up in a bun, though. A small bun, but a bun nevertheless. I twirl it round my fingers and stick two pins in, and away I go. No need to spend an hour blow-drying, which I couldn’t do anyway – the holding my arms up thing again. I just fix my fringe, pin the rest up, and go.

To me, its simple, elegant, and neat; kept out of the way with the minimum of fuss. And nobody else I know wears their hair like that, so I think its pretty original. An act of defiance. A Post-Modernist statement about self-definition for women in their middle years.

But apparently, it is not.

According to BFF and Husband, I just look like Mrs Pepperpot after a week-long whisky binge.

But you know what?

I don’t care.

Neither of them have come up with a viable, easy, chic alternative.

And actually, I don’t want them to. I like my hair as it is.

I’ve finally reached that much fabled time in my life where I’m happy with my body, and pretty happy in my skin. I actually like my hair like this, and I choose to wear it in a bun because I’m a bun kind of person. It feels as much a trademark as my BFF’s blonde locks or a slash of blood red lipstick.

I was reading an excerpt from India Knight’s new book about how to be a middle aged woman in the Sunday Times the other day, and my BFF’s words echoed what I felt when I read Knight’s bitchy remarks about ‘Hampstead Woman’. I.e.: Who the Hell are you to judge?

This is who I am. I am a woman of 47 who chooses to wear her (greying) hair in a bun.

I could get my hair dyed, but I choose not to. Just because I could, it doesn’t mean I should. I wouldn’t be staying true to my authentic self if I did.   And the whole point of my life right now is about being authentic. Authentically myself for the first time in my life.

And that is the core of the issue for me. I want people to love me for who I am. And this is who I am.

So actually my BFF did me a favour, because the most wonderful thing happened when she gave me her opinion.

I thought, bugger that! I like the way I am!

That, dear reader, was a first.

I have never, not once, in my entire existence, ever rejected somebody’s criticism of my appearance with such concrete assurance and self-confidence. (I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been able to reject someone’s criticism of my appearance at all!)

I can’t tell you how good that feels.

So I love my friend for telling me she doesn’t like my hair this way.

Because she has reminded me that I do.

And I know this post isn’t about writing, or creativity, but it is about being a woman. And as a middle-aged woman, I hate the way society makes me feel I must be a certain way in order to be acceptable. There are no role models for women like me that aren’t painted, surgically enhanced Barbie dollies in suited pseudo-armour.

The best role model I have at my current life stage is the celebrated artist and outspoken transsexual, Grayson Perry. And if that doesn’t say everything about the way our society treats women, I don’t know what does.

Happy coiffing,

EF