Modern conveniences Things you take for granted in a house, electricity, water, sewerage… At some point we will go back to living in a house, and oh how I will appreciate running water that never runs out, a rubbish collection, a flushing toilet, a washing machine, electricity… Currently the invertor has broken, new one on its way, which means no laptop, no electric toothbrush, only things which can be charged on USB. Doctors Collecting prescriptions, blood tests, screenings, hospital appointments, X rays… All are a three hour drive away. I follow narrowboat femmes on Instagram, they recently did a reminder to get cervical screening done, as many boaters miss out on healthcare. However our doctors surgery is linked to a good and familiar hospital. The alternative would be registering as visitors locally. The physical hard work John does all this, carrying logs from the car, shopping, gas bottles (occasionally), opening locks. Moving the boat every two weeks Going out to scout out where to moor up and where to park the car on a Friday evening after a hard week at work, driving both cars there and one back. Getting up and moving on Saturday morning even if it’s raining and you’d rather stay in bed. Last weekend we moved the cars at 10pm Friday, and then at 8am John woke me up with a cup of tea and got going. I took a bit longer, finding my thermals and gloves, and joined him at the first lock. John had filled the water and turned the boat around while I was at work, to save time on Saturday. John has done most of the moves by himself, so when I do drive the boat again it takes me a little while to get my eye in. After my first lock I was okay again. At the third lock a man came down, shouting at John. We hadn’t noticed that someone had left one of the paddles slightly open, meaning water was running out of the lock: so that was why it was taking a long time to fill, me jogging on the spot to warm up in spite of my many layers. I was a bit worried about John and the stranger arguing, two men with windlasses in their hands; I do have a vivid imagination. As I came out of the lock I steered well clear of the angry man and his boat, but he beckoned me to the middle, it was shallow at the edges, he said, and he apologised to John for getting angry. Then we were there, past a sweeping bend, a little row of boats and just green all around. Beside the towpath a huge log with intricate silvery-brown ivy. Right near the bridge and the road, (our last mooring was quite a walk to the car) and a proper non-muddy towpath. I hadn’t wanted to get out of bed but getting up, getting going and being out in the elements, seeing nature, water, and just getting on with it, even though I didn’t have to do that much, was actually very soothing after a busy week. Space ‘Sometimes I long to stretch my arms up above my head,’ John said. I can only do The Tree yoga pose with arms curled not pointed. Some friends recently moved from a van in a field, into a house in Norwich. It was so amazing to be in all that space; two rooms downstairs, spacious bedrooms, big pieces of furniture, and best of all, big, big wardrobes! I miss being able to see all my clothes at once. Between us we have three large-medium drawers, and a canvas small-medium wardrobe. And a bag of clothes in the boot of the car, from which I remembered to fetch my thermal trousers the evening before the move. There are people who have boats which are neat as a pin, with everything put away in lots of clever cupboards. We are on the messy side but in our defence there isn’t a lot of cupboard space and 48 foot or 14 metres for two people living aboard full time isn’t that big. When it’s a mess it does irritate, but it doesn’t take long to sort out. Simplicity/personal growth/spiritual wellbeing Always being close to nature, the swans, ducks and moorhens, the sound of the rain on the roof, very loud on the metal, alongside gratitude for there being no leaks. Living in such a small space, with so little, when most people have so much and think they need so much, ‘You realise how little you need to be happy,’ John said. Whatever happens in the future, I feel that this is a lesson which will remain with us.
*I’ve been listening to Placebo on repeat, the Meds album, another charity shop find of John’s.
So we completed #NoSextember successfully. I told all my work colleagues about giving up sugar and caffeine, and actually told a couple of them about the no sex aspect. It’s the most open and natural place I’ve worked, emotional and expressive. People regularly say ‘I love you’ to me and to the whole team. Eyes fill with tears of empathy when someone shares a sad story. Hugs are freely given. It’s a strange and wonderful work office, hence I felt able to share.
One person said, ‘In all the religions there is fasting. And by stripping away all these things, you begin to find out who you are. Who am I without my morning coffee, who am I without this show on Netflix I always watch?’
For me, always an outsider, to have some of the individual/unusual things I do, be understood… well it is very gratifying.
So without caffeine in the morning or during the day, you find out how you really feel, and if you are tired, if you need to go to bed earlier. I was in bed by ten, sometimes half past nine. Also without morning caffeine and guarana (natural caffeine) my anxiety was much better.
On occasion I actually felt as if I could just get up and go to work, without the usual worrying and fretting and wandering maze of thoughts and mini existential crises that accompany my mornings. Also my OCD was better; one day I even left a light on! (a sin on a boat)
I’d already experienced a biscuit sugar spike and crash; this month I experienced one from eating white bread. Avoiding sugar in sweet snacks increased my sensitivity to it in bread. It made me think how many people are lurching from sugar spike to sugar crash, exhaustion to caffeine buzz, all day, every day, without even noticing.
So it was nice to notice awareness increasing, which after all is the primary purpose of all this, not (only) a health thing per se.
We’ve been living the life of continuous cruisers, moving every two weeks. We said goodbye to the swans of Kings Langley, my first swan friends since my dearly beloved in Northamptonshire. The Kings Langley swans were very pushy, not only tapping to get us to come out like swans do, but continuing to tap on the boat with their beaks while I was right there! At the next place the swans were different, younger (paler beaks) not as forceful.
There were birds I had never seen before, like a cross between a moorhen and a mallard, black with blue and red, matching the big rusty boat opposite. Each evening a woman in the house nearby fed a group of almost-grown goslings, again a variety I had never seen before, a milky orange colour, whilst mum, hardly any bigger than them, watched from atop the rusty boat. ‘I love it here,’ I said. ‘You say that every place,’ John said.
The boat next door had a giant cactus or aloe vera plant outside the back door. One day they were gone. ‘We never even got to meet them,’ I said. ‘That’s the way it is,’ John said.
I’ve started swimming again, three times a week, primarily for the showers before and afterwards but also hopefully the beginning of a long road back to some kind of physical fitness, that like many seekers, I have neglected on the spiritual path.
I fill up a 2 litre bottle of drinking water at work and bring it home each evening. John fills up the 5 litre bottles either at work or right now at the water point which is not too far away, and we put it through the freestanding water filter just to be sure. Soon we will pass the water point and fill the tank up.
Electricity has been manageable; John bought a little USB smoothie maker- the USB chargers are a different circuit and so far always work, as do the lights. The Nutribullet- which has to go into the normal plugs on a different circuit- runs out after a while, and the hairdryer is a complete dead loss. I give it a blast at the swimming pool but the only time I have shiny silky properly dried hair is once a month when we stay at John’s mum’s.
Getting rid of rubbish in public bins discreetly is another challenge…
For photos and more follow me on Instagram always_evolving_ever_real
I think I accidentally triggered her by what I said, just assuming she was a doctor so with the programme, I mean we were still just about at work.
The first time I gave her a lift she was out the gate about to walk, she put on a mask. I hadn’t car shared in Covid so it hadn’t immediately occurred to me, I put one on too and opened the windows.
The second time I’d offered in the morning, I’d said I might be late leaving but wasn’t, and waited for her, even searched her out. She had a sick child, one that had come in almost dead, from home. This time I put on my mask straight away, but said if she needed to take hers off to talk- she was handing over to the weekend doctor- I was ok with that. I’d been tested that morning, I said, her still seeming like a regular doctor.
‘They’re optional in America,’ she said. I said, ‘Oh yes, it’s crazy, what’s happening in Alberta,’ telling her something I’d seen on Instagram about a child at school, his parents sick at home with Covid, the teachers powerless to send him home, him at school potentially infecting everyone, no one wearing masks.
‘There’s no evidence of transmission if not symptomatic,’ she said. No warning bells yet. Me saying, ‘Oh is that why the doctors are not wearing masks?’ The locum doctor had stopped wearing a mask, following Boris’s advice to the public rather than the NHS and our employer’s rules.
‘How much medical knowledge do you have?’ she asked. There was a pause. ‘Well, I’ve done anatomy, physiology. Bones, muscles. A bit rusty…’
And then it began, ‘Research..’ ‘You can read it, I can show you.’ A big, pressured speech, no attention paid to me, to the fact that I’m driving or to what I may think.
I’m concentrating on driving, eyes on the road; as John always says, never look at the person who’s talking to you, it’s dangerous. We stop at the drop off point at the station, it’s busy, I want to go. Plus I want to go home, it’s Friday; I waited for her at work. She’s still talking. Eventually she starts to get out. ‘I don’t know what the company view is so don’t mention this,’ she said. ‘They promote getting the vaccine, that’s their view,’ I said. ‘It’s ok, I won’t say anything, I have friends with different views,’ I said, pacifying her, but giving her my word at the same time.
Although I was tempted several times, I haven’t told anyone at work. I briefly wondered, what if she’s Harold Shipman crazy, but I’m sure she’s alright, it’s a special confined madness, this Covid thing. At last, as she exited the car, after blasting me from inches away, eyes staring, ranting and raving with no mask, she finally thought to ask- a little late, I thought- ‘Are you vaccinated?’ ‘Yes, I said.’ She looked, a little horrified, a little disgusted. ‘Well take care!’ she said loudly, as if I had just told her I had leprosy, and hit the roof of the car as she left.
Well that was weird, I thought to myself.
I mean I can be flexible according to who I’m with. But I choose consciously; friends, family. I’ve been to an illegal gig, I’ve visited during lockdown, I’ve hugged people before we were vaccinated, but it’s the thoughtlessness, like someone in a religious fervour espousing their religion without thought to check my religion first.
I mean not that it is a religion for me, but once you’re vaccinated you can’t do anything. That’s what people don’t get, why tell me now, I mean I don’t care; their horror-filled world of doom isn’t the world I inhabit, but nor do I want to be dragged down or involved.
She didn’t say anything specific or scary and seemed so crazy that it was that which took all my attention. The vibe was the opposite of calm.
Admittedly it did scare me when my friend told me, when John and I had both just had ours right at the start- we were early being health care workers- that it’s going to do x. John said, ‘Tell me what she said,’ I said, ‘No, it’s scary.’ He said, ‘Tell me, so that we can bear it together.’ That’s how much he loves me.
John has a friend who is always sending him stuff to read. Why would I want to read stuff like that when I’ve been vaccinated? John told him. It’s the same as when I was pregnant, I had a book about it but I didn’t read the chapter on complications.
John’s friend still eats animals because he likes the taste, and kids himself that they can be killed in their sleep without them even noticing. Not hurting animals is really important to us yet we never bombard him with vegan stuff.
We avoid going down cul de sacs, or if we go down them, we don’t stay there long. We keep moving. We hold it all, the BBC news, the hospitals, the friends and family with Covid, long Covid, the people who have died, the people scared of Covid, the people scared of vaccines, the conspiracy theories, all of it, and make our own calm course through it. That’s the work, for us, spirituality speaking. We got vaccinated because it felt okay to do so. We work in healthcare so it’s going with the flow. We like to travel so it’s aiding that. We work on intuition.
It’s like the fact that we don’t have a religion to fall back on, it would be comforting, I’m sure, to have a certainly held belief to hold fast to, but we don’t. We make up rituals, meditations, purification months. We oscillate between philosophies. It’s not about holding onto a position, it’s the seeing past it, observing it all, navigating our own made up course through it all.
We find ourselves serendipitously in probably the best place from which to embark on this year’s cleansing month. We’ve already both given up alcohol, cigarettes and all other things in that realm. Our last hurrah was the end of May Bank Holiday; June, July and August have been completely straight edge.
After recent excesses- letting myself eat loads of the new vegan Jammie Dodgers (the ones in the dark red packaging) on my last day at work before my current holiday, experiencing a sugar rush crackle and a blood sugar crash; John’s birthday ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s cookie on cookie dough vegan) and the associated sick feeling of indigestion, and cakes, I’m really ready to give up sugar.
So for me, sugar and caffeine. It helps me not to eat between meals or get hungry during the day to take a guarana in the morning, but it brings on feelings of anxiety which I could really do without. At work, drink water or a nice herbal tea- bring some, add to the shopping list. If I get hungry, so what, I can take snacks and use it to top up on nutrients- peanuts, avocados, as well as my usual oat cakes and bananas.
The younger me would be horrified, and it still pains me a little to admit it, but giving up sex for a month is easier the older we are. With aging has come aches and pains and reduced fitness and energy as well as a subtle shift in libido. Or maybe not so subtle, I used to be a wild animal. The other day John was laying on the bed and I came though to ask or bring or get something and just held onto his feet, I could have held them forever, a kind of massage, holding, reflexology, it was really intimate and special. Sometimes I feel like just laying top to toe and holding each others feet is pure heaven. The menopause- I guess it’s that, so many symptoms, how do I know what’s what- has brought extra sensitivity so that discomfort is easily triggered, wearing tight knickers or trousers let alone sex. The mind or libido is willing but the body is often not so easy, not so comfortable.
John has recently got seriously back into meditation and tuning into his shamanistic energies. I’ve been doing some of the same guided meditations although not to the same extent. Hopefully we will do a ritual once a week, a circle or a four corners meditation.
As per last year, as much as we can, no processed food and cook from scratch.
How can we help others if we can’t do it ourselves: talk about or at least accept sex, aging; work together successfully, complete what we set out to do, eat well, overcome addictions, meditate, etc.
Already I’m changing, today I went into a cafe by myself and had coffee, diet coke and jam on toast (another last hurrah that I still feel sick from hours later), paid for on my phone. I went out with just my smartphone and a fabric mask both tucked inside my bra, and a bag of recycling to get rid of. Two people asked me for directions, which I take as a sign that I am going in the right direction.
I saw a lovely post on Instagram by one of my favourite bloggers about her relationship with her mother. In spite of very real failings and difficulties, she acknowledged that she is loved. She also said that she knew her mother had a very difficult life; and that Millennials and Gen Zers have a reputation for being ungrateful. The night before I had yet again, been processing my own difficulties re my son. I had begun to feel an acceptance that things will never change, that he won’t ever realise the effect his words have on me, or move towards a more balanced understanding that acknowledges the present and the past, the parent’s experience as well as the child’s. So that Instagram post really hit the spot. At the time I just dropped a few hearts in the comments; this is my longer response:
I love and respect the unique challenges and skills which each generation typically has, the Silent Generation, The Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials (Gen Y), and Gen Z. I enjoy reading about the characteristics, differences and culture wars between e.g. Millennials and Gen Z- side partings and skinny jeans beloved by Millennials and hated by Gen Z, Millennials fighting back when Gen Zers tried to cancel Eminem. I am Gen X, my husband is (just) a Baby Boomer, my son is a Millennial, my step son is an old Gen Z or a young Millennial and my step daughter is Gen Z.
I recognise the pain of the Gen X and Baby Boomer parents who are accused by their kids of being bad parents responsible for all their kids’ problems and who respond by calling them ungrateful. But I don’t think it’s helpful to fight across the generations, and I hope that in time there’ll be more of a discussion. (Please note I am not talking about wilful abuse and neglect of children here, I’m talking about loving parents who did their best with the knowledge and resources they had at the time) I spend a lot of time on Instagram and there’s two memes I see regularly:
1. ‘My parents when I try to tell them that my mental illness may have been caused by my childhood,’ (hand pushing away, not listening) This hurts my feelings because the meme maker/main character has no thought at all to the effect of their words on the parent. As I have experienced, there is no deeper pain than being blamed for your child’s problems. Maybe that pain was intended and revenge was justified in this case, but once it’s made and circulated then it potentially loses its specificity and specific target. Parents put their hands up in ‘stop’ because they aren’t strong enough to bear it. Do we all ultimately want to punish our parents into the same devastating pit of despair which we ourselves feel and blame them for? Maybe. But ultimately holding onto blame, pain and anger tends to prevent healing and growth.
2. ‘You don’t remember? Oh right, my childhood abuse was to you just a f***ing Tuesday!’ The second meme bothers me for different reasons. A very close friend of mine was repeatedly raped by a family friend from the age of seven. Her abuser knew what he was doing and would never have forgotten. So we can’t be talking about abuse like that, we’re talking about other things, things parents do that they may or may not know are harming their child.
I have an example of this. John’s ex, P, the mother of his children, invited her mother round to stay. During this time P confronted her about things her father had done when she was a child- he had locked her in a trunk (a blanket box or ottoman, not the boot of a car, for non UK readers) he had made out it was a game, but it wasn’t a game to P. P confronted her mother, herself a victim of what might be called coercive control today, emotional and physical abuse by the father/her husband, an angry, controlling man, about why she had stood by. More than twenty years later, John still remembers sound of the mother howling like an animal from upstairs. He didn’t but he said he wanted to wrap his arms around her; the mother’s howls years of suppressed guilt, or the sudden realisation of an unbearable truth.
I love memes. I’m fascinated by them. I love the way that, like graphic novels, the image and the words together become something so much more that strikes right into the heart in a super fast and very direct way, as well as being extremely specific (the man who forgot to add cow’s milk into Oreos being praised by vegans is a favourite of mine)
I think the reason that I, and other parents of Millennials and Gen Zers get upset by things like this is two fold. One, we didn’t have any memes. We had no social media. We didn’t have a powerful way to share our experience across the generations and the world. No one heard us. No one listened to us. No one asked us. We were left outside pubs or to sleep in cars when our parents went for a drink or to parties. Parents moved house or made big decisions and wouldn’t have dreamt of asking our opinion. My mum had a whole procession of male lodgers who she allowed to take me and my sister for drives or babysit us.
John’s mum was a lot more savvy re sexual predators, but took him across the English Channel in a small boat with no life jacket in a storm, on the whim of her tax evading boyfriend. To this day she is devastated, and if it’s brought up now she will be moved to tears, ‘I can’t believe I put you in danger.’ But mostly she won’t speak about it. The Silent Generation. Her own mother, she believes, died because her husband refused to buy her a washing machine, literally worked to death. My grandmother told me about wash day and boiling water in the copper, hands red raw.
The second reason that my generation gets triggered by these memes is, we tried. We read books, we were self aware, or thought we were. We knew we wanted to do it differently. Just like my mum when she raised me in a more liberal, hippy way than she had been raised.
My mother never mentions the lodgers, but I know she feels bad about the fact that we spent our childhood thinking we were going to be vaporised or die of radiation sickness, we lived in East Anglia, near the American Airbases with their nuclear Cruise missiles, and we were enlightened about the nuclear threat and very involved in CND. I never minded about that, but I suppose it’s the same as environmentally aware parents today (e.g. the guy from Extinction Rebellion saying six billion are going to die)
But the trauma and the mistakes and the love flows back and forth across the generations. Perhaps the only way forward is to accept it all and keep on living, in the present and in the future.
We’re on the move! We will soon be leaving the easy stationary lifestyle of the busy marina for the freedom and peaceful nature of being out cruising on the canal. We’ll still have access to the marina facilities (laundry, showers, chemical toilet emptying and rubbish disposal) for a few months before being completely independent.
John has already joined a gym, I’ll be next, if only for the showers. John actually goes to the gym, I’m not sure if I will, although I did used to get a buzz off the treadmill at my old work. We have a shower on the boat it’s just easier if you use one elsewhere so that you don’t have to constantly fill up the water tank.
Along the canal there are chemical toilet, rubbish disposal and water points, provided by the Canal and River Trust and funded by the licence which all boaters pay.
Continuous cruising means exactly that, that you have to move every two weeks or so, up and down a stretch of reasonable length, in order to satisfy the definition. Like most people, we have to stay in one broad area in order to not be too far from work. We have our route planned, with John able to remember a lot of his old haunts as he continuously cruised here for five years, and was doing so when we met almost twelve years ago.
John goes to the gym on a Saturday or Sunday morning and I’ve spent a couple of those mornings making practice videos, of meditation/relaxation techniques. I’m focussing on content first, before I buy a camera and put a nice top and a bit of makeup on. My plan is to put a few videos up on a new Instagram account and offer bespoke one to one relaxation/meditation/stress management using a down-to-earth occupational therapy and spiritual wellbeing approach.
Netflix: Recently watched two French series- Call my Agent, complete at four series not cancelled in the middle of the story (I find that so irritating about Netflix), and then Family Business (season one with season two confirmed), and have now started watching Atypical from the start as the new season is out.
It seems quiet on WordPress, what’s everyone been up to? I think writing posts has been hard during the pandemic, if so, please let me know what you’ve been up to in the comments, and who knows, maybe it will help inspire a post. I’m grateful to everyone who’s been able to keep on posting whether regularly or occasionally. I love reading blogs rather than scrolling, although I am guilty of that too. Speaking of which, follow me on Instagram always_evolving_ever_real
So I had this thought. This great thing happened at work and I paused for a moment to really feel it and it made me think, the pain doesn’t go, the guilt doesn’t go.
I remember reading an article about grief, about how people say time heals as if you go back to normal but that never happens, it’s always there. You live with it, it is part of you but it gets maybe a little easier to manage. Like when you have a duvet and you’re trying to stuff it back into the cupboard and it doesn’t fit, that it maybe gets a bit easier to manage or a bit easier to put away.
So I live with the pain like V our friend the musician. Last time we saw her she looked radiant with a stunning new short haircut. She told me that all her life, drink or no drink, drugs or no drugs, she has episodes. The highest of the highs, making music, being on stage, connecting with the crowd, and the lowest of the lows, I’m gonna kill myself I’m gonna kill myself I’m gonna kill myself. She was trying to shave her head and her husband grabbed her and stopped her and that’s why she’s got this groovy new haircut. My mental health training kicked in, I might have said have you sought any help but I didn’t actually say what about antidepressants although I was thinking that. Even though I don’t take them. Despite one evening after my little yoga/dance session listening to Primal Scream I was blind but now I can see and thinking, that’s what I need to do I’ll go on antidepressants! I can be happy! A flash of insight but I still didn’t do it. John said about V well without that maybe she wouldn’t make the music and maybe she can learn to live with it… I thought maybe that’s where the music comes from even though I know that’s a cliche, the whole tortured artist thing.
Anyway this thing happened at work where in the multidisciplinary team meeting, the patients’ families were on zoom. These people, it’s as if you’re watching the news and there’s parents of children who have been abducted and they’re making an appeal. Those parents just look so broken and that’s what these parents look like. I was moved, I thought I’d like to do something for them, maybe some meditation or relaxation. I mentioned this to the new family therapist who is full of compassion, she said she wanted to start a family group and so we decided to do it together.
The first week I taught them counted out breaths* and we did the Metta Bhavana and then week two I did shoulder shrug** and then I did relaxation through the five senses… imagining yourself on a beach or in a wood or garden and all the things you can see, hear etc… one of the men nearly fell off his chair. I knew that one woman had a lot of trouble sleeping so I told them about Jody Whiteley on YouTube and mentioned The Joy of Painting (also on YouTube) put on to soothe by the BBC during lockdown, my mother in law and my sister in law had told me that it made them sleepy and was relaxing. I watched an episode, my eyes filled with tears, what a good man, ‘There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.’
*Firstly become aware that you have four parts to your breathing, the in breath, a little pause at the top of the in breath, the out breath, a little pause before the next in breath. Next, count your next ten out breaths. Count only your out breaths. Notice how your breathing magically slows… Great for the dentist etc.
**First breathe out, allowing you shoulders to relax. Then breathe in slowly and deeply, at the same time slowly drawing your shoulders up to your ears, so that the top of your in breath coincides with your shoulders being fully shrugged up. Hold that tension and your breath for a moment, before gently releasing your outbreath and lowering your shoulders in a controlled way, as if you were lowering a weight on a pulley. Safety- be kind and gentle to your body especially if you have shoulder problems. Don’t do loads in a row- the deep breaths may make you dizzy.
A few days later the family therapist said to me the woman who couldn’t sleep had been doing the shoulder shrug and had put on Jody Whitley and went to sleep straight away. A few days after that she said to me, ‘She wanted me to let you know she tried your technique of relaxing with the five senses and she was asleep before she’d even got past listen to the sounds outside the room,’ (which is the beginning bit where you’re drawing yourself inwards)
I felt very moved. I didn’t say anything at home but later when I was in bed a couple of little tears came out, just indulging in the feeling. I felt like it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career. When you work with people who are so complicated and there’s loads of other people working with them how do you know if what you do makes any difference… But here was somebody who was suffering who couldn’t sleep, I taught her something and then she slept. Even for me with all my negativity it was impossible to argue with that. I made a difference. That was worth doing. I did something good.
The next day driving to work I thought that’s where the compassion and the healing that worked for the woman came from; it came from my own pain and guilt and suffering. That’s where the healing comes from or at least that’s where the motivation to help comes from. And I thought that’s kind of the real meaning of the word Alchemy.
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like you’re planning a vacation to Italy. You’re all excited. You get a whole bunch of guidebooks, you learn a few phrases so you can get around, and then it comes time to pack your bags and head for the airport.
Only when you land, the stewardess says, “WELCOME TO HOLLAND.”
You look at one another in disbelief and shock, saying, “HOLLAND? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? I SIGNED UP FOR ITALY.”
But they explain that there’s been a change of plan, that you’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
“BUT I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HOLLAND!” you say. ‘I DON’T WANT TO STAY!”
But stay, you do.
You go out and buy some new guidebooks, you learn some new phrases, and you meet people you never knew existed.
The important thing is that you are not in a bad place filled with despair. You’re simply in a different place than you had planned.
It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy, but after you’ve been there a little while and you have a chance to catch your breath, you begin to discover that Holland has windmills. Holland has tulips. Holland has Rembrandts.
But everyone else you know is busy coming and going from Italy. They’re all bragging about what a great time they had there, and for the rest of your life, you’ll say, “YES, THAT’S WHAT I HAD PLANNED.”
The pain of that will never go away.
You have to accept that pain, because the loss of that dream, the loss of that plan, is a very, very significant loss.
But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you will never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.
John and I had talked on and off for years about writing a kind of anti-parenting manual, or an honest memoir. I had resisted, feeling blocked, muggy and even slightly re-traumatised just discussing it. But John said he wanted to keep it hopeful- if not actually light and amusing- and so offsetting and limiting my tendencies to go all the way down and thereby hopefully protecting my mood and mental health. Once we had decided to do it suddenly articles were everywhere, and of course the more you look at stories on a phone or tablet, the ‘suggested stories for you,’ the more you get.
One of these was an article about an online support group called The Motherload The article was about the fact that they had to tighten everything up stop getting direct messages to protect their mental health because people had been so abusive and it became too much for them. It made me think how mean and judgmental women/mothers can be which is also why it’s so hard to share difficulties, as these people had tried to create a really nice online environment with their motto ‘Sharing the load of motherhood, without judgement.’
It also made me laugh that their examples of shameful things to admit to, that people could share on the forum but wouldn’t be able to share on their own Facebook or whatever, were things like for example you let your child play on their tablet for longer than you intended to or that you ordered a takeaway for tea…
It was like the other week when we were talking about our embryonic ideas for this book and John’s sistersaid that the worst thing that ever happened to her was that her daughter once threw some French books out of the window because she didn’t want to have a French lesson. As John said to his sister, we don’t want to be dismissive of people’s experiences but…
From our perspective the above examples are laughable of course, and for dealing with the things that we’ve gone through and for anyone dealing with things of a similar magnitude they’re gonna need a bigger boat. I suppose that’s what we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to build a bigger boat.
I put a photograph of the beginning of the word document with a very brief announcement of what we were doing on Instagram and had a couple of thoughtful responses including a long and thoughtful message from our dear friend S, the only person who truly understands my experience as a mother. John and I have just discovered the joys of speech into text and so we read out S’s message to the computer and then each spoke our response. I’ll check with S before it gets published but I hope to include her message and our responses within the book. This is an extract from John’s response, which is for anyone who tried their best to do a good job and parented with tons of love but had a lot of difficulty:
I want to say something about how I think all of these women have done such an amazing job and they never give themselves credit for it and very few other people do and I suppose also you know what this book is about is about giving that a voice and it’s because they feel shame for the things that they perceived to have been bad or wrong they don’t want to talk about it so they don’t get a chance to have any positive feedback from it because they don’t mention about it in the 1st place (speech to text we haven’t mastered punctuation yet!)
We are writing our own stories of parenthood, which are very different: I became a mother at nineteen and was a single mother for most of the time. John became a father at forty and can talk from the other side, of being a separated father. Both of us went into our journeys full of love and the very best intentions, both of us have guilt from mistakes we made. We also have friends to interview who parented with love despite being alone, being victims of domestic violence, having mental health problems, having problems with drug addiction, and who are still here, as are their children now all grown up. We hope that in sharing our stories others may feel less alone.
“Our stories are all we have. The only thing that can save us is to learn each other’s stories. From beginning to end….For every life we know, we are expanded.”― Karen Fisher
Blessings from the West, the deep commitments of the lake
I love that line; it conjures up the near fathomless depths of real proper grown up love, reassuring me and at the same time reminding me, that’s Love: the deep commitment. Search the waters of your soul. Dive down into the murky depths, even though you are afraid of the dark, the weeds, scary fish, broken glass or rusty spikes or whatever you could find down there. It’s hard to believe you can be afraid of yourself, but it’s true. That’s why Love is scary. It shines a light, not just a warm golden glow of happiness type of light; it also shines a searchlight deep into your soul, uncovering everything that ever happened to you, everything you were ever afraid of. Although as the saying goes, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Who is scared of fish, after all, or rusty things or broken glass? It’s beautiful down there, below the surface, in the dark, still waters of the lake. It’s beautiful down there, you just never realised it. Don’t be afraid, go, down to the bottom of the lake. That’s Love, showing you it’s okay. You being brave enough to go there, that’s Commitment.
I took Ecstasy for the first time, at the age of forty, with John. We didn’t go clubbing. We sat on the sofa and talked. The drug was like a Search and Destroy missile, cleansing me, going down into the depths, leaving nothing left unburned. I sat and told him about a really horrible time I had had at school, that I had felt so much shame about that I had barely ever spoken about it. I didn’t hide my face. I sat with my head up, making eye contact the whole way through. It really wasn’t so bad after all. It was in the past. I felt the shame and the pain being washed away by Love.
Later, I meditated, like in The Journey. I travelled back in time and I looked at that time at school from the point of where I am now, a place of healing and peace and for the first time I saw it in a different way:
I am a unique individual. I have strong drives: sex is important. I don’t like to be bound by rules, either the rules of 1980s sexist society and the double standards about sexual freedom that still exist today, or the radical feminist doctrine that I was exposed to at the time. I woke up: I met someone and we woke up together. A friend was also doing the same, but I went a bit further. Boys talk, and the playground, like the office today, thrives on gossip. It seemed cruel but it was just light entertainment for them really, just like the sexual misconduct and affairs of people I don’t really know are in the office today.
I was only eleven years old though, and had no one to walk alongside me, everyone who knew, even my friend, was unanimous in their condemnation. You would have to be an exceptional human being to have withstood all that and walked with her head held high. I walked with my head bowed, through walls of boys chanting taunts, explicitly announcing to all what I had done, or had done to me. What would anyone have done? I denied it, I walked in shame for as long as it lasted; weeks, months, years? I took short cuts and laid low. I avoided certain places. I checked everywhere. I declined invitations on certain routes. The boys would always be waiting. A wall of shame and humiliation, so unbearable I thought I would surely faint or disappear but I never did; there was no escape from the torture. It was unbelievable but I had to believe it. I don’t think many people would have been able to do anything else but just imagine if I had. If I had somehow believed in myself, in spite of the censorship of everyone around me. If I was as I am now: free and accepting of what and who I am.
I would say, yeah, so what? You boys, you’re just jealous and curious. You girls, well, you’ll come to it soon enough anyway, so what’s all the fuss about. It felt good. Yeah, and I am proud that I didn’t care, that I went further than you, that I followed chance and opportunity and circumstance and the desires of my body and IT FELT GOOD. Some women go through their whole lives and don’t experience the pleasures I had standing up in that brick cupboard or sitting on that orange box in the maintenance shed or wherever it was. It’s my body, it was my body then and it’s my body now and I respect and honour the pleasures that my body requests of me and supplies me with.
Because if I can’t accept myself, how can I expect anyone else to? If I’m saying, deep inside there’s something disgusting about me. I’m dirty, I’m spoiled. I’m different. I’m not like other girls.
Although sometimes, once you’ve decided that you’re ready to go down there, sometimes the Universe tosses you yet another bone, and lets you off the hook. Whatever it was you’d just rolled up your trouser legs and taken a deep breath to face… has miraculously disappeared, healed of its own accord. Intention is often all, no action required. I don’t need to go down there. I don’t even have to take a last look at it. I can cut the line from up here and I never have to think about it again.
It wasn’t always like this. I used to wonder and wonder: Would that, coupled with a naturally sensitive nature, be enough to cause me all the problems I’ve had? Would that explain why I felt normal when I was about five, that I looked normal, felt right in my clothes, went to parties and had friends and then later, from seven or eight or nine, felt dirty, like a leper. Like I’ve always felt since. Like I want to cut myself but never do. Like I deserve to die when I make a mistake. Like it’s okay for me to suffer. Like all the good and happiness wasn’t meant for me. Those feelings run through me like the words in a stick of rock.
I wanted an explanation but at the same time I wondered if my explanation would be enough. How bad did things need to be? Would I be disappointed if I went all the way down there and found there was nothing after all? Would I really get any satisfaction from uncovering past horrors? But if I don’t find anything then I don’t have any excuse for how I am. I tick all the boxes: punky/alternative troubled teen, unconfident, promiscuous, can dissociate sexual feelings easily, poor self esteem, permanently guilty and anxious. It offers a neat explanation for my personality, which I quite like. Or am I just a fantasist, looking for that neat explanation that lets me off the hook. So that I can say, oh,so that’s why… and haven’t I done well,considering, instead of: I am largely a failure, hanging onto life by her fingernails.
In the end, though, I decided to let go of all the imaginings and explanations and just live with myself as I am now.
Psychologists call it an extinction burst: when you start trying to eradicate an unwanted behaviour, sometimes at first it kicks back harder. So after you renounce whatever it is you want to be rid of, you need to stand firm, because this backlash against happiness will surely come. Like when I was first living with John and I was so happy and yet my OCD was the worst it had ever been. Or like now, the most spiritual I have ever been, the most relaxed, and yet, these dark thoughts return even on the brightest day: You are useless, you can’t do anything. I feel awful, I am such a failure, I am all alone, etc.
I’ve thought a lot about causes and cures. I’ve talked to psychologists and therapists and people with different religious beliefs and I’ve read books about personal growth and healing and spirituality. I have wondered whether my suicidality and these horrible self sabotaging thoughts really were little demons that had taken up residence in the chambers of my heart. Or were they the result of old ingrained negative beliefs or unresolved trauma.
Whether or not these problems need to be banished with cognitive behaviour therapy, whether I needed to be prayed over, have my chakras unblocked, sit on a beach and do a ritual, meditate, do candle magic or just write it out… As always, I tend to get distracted and overcomplicate things. The answer is usually the simplest possible. So if I’m tying myself up in knots or thinking too much, I’m probably on the wrong track.
In the end though, as always, it all comes back to the beginning. It’s not me going down into the scary depths, it’s Love, searing through, and all I have to do is sit with it and forgive myself. All I have to do is sit still and say to myself, over and over again, you are loved.
I’ve continued to submit my book to one or more agents every weekend (the first step is to get an agent, usually). Today I submitted my book to Hay House (a publisher which does accept unsolicited manuscripts); due to the volume of submissions this is now via a form (rather than sending cover letter, sample chapters etc) where there is space for a 500 word synopsis. I’d previously honed my synopsis down to about 300 words so I tacked on some details about me and where I see the book fitting, the kind of information I would usually put in the cover letter.
I’ve used the agent search facility at Jericho Writers and the one at Writers and Artists. I’ve looked around the bookshop for titles in some way similar to my own and googled who the authors’ agents are. Friends have told me about similar books and I’ve searched my memory and found and submitted to those agents. Right now I have no more on my list.
So I thought I’d ask the WordPress community. I’m going to paste what I submitted to Hay House in full below. Who knows, it may help one of you who are writing your submissions. If when reading it you think of any books that in some way resonate with my story, please do let me know in the comments so that I can google the author’s agent. And if there is anything I can do in return- read a sample of your manuscript, provide motivation or any advice on your projects, please do let me know.
With very best wishes
I fell in love with you and I cried, a spiritual, personal and travel memoir of a year in India and Southeast Asia, complete at 113,000 words.
In April 2017 my husband and I asked ourselves: What would we do if we could do anything? It was scary but we decided to sell up, leave our jobs and go travelling, along the way unpicking the conditioning of property, career and security and exploring what a life with less stuff would look like. We gave away most of our possessions and in March 2018 we went travelling for a year to India (where we spent seven months in all), Thailand, Tokyo, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam.
My book documents the trip through the eyes of a relatively inexperienced traveller. The sights, sounds and colours of India and Southeast Asia, the physical and emotional ups and downs, my anxieties and my increasing confidence, the connections we made and the fascinating people we met.
I share the personal challenges, discussions, reflections and spiritual realisations of a year of travel and a mid life rebirth; the search for meaning and reclaiming ones purpose and the process of separating from family and becoming someone new. All wrapped up with noticing beauty- the external environment and the internal world intertwined.
It is also in part a mental health memoir documenting moments of despair and suicidal feelings. My journey is about self acceptance and finding a way to forgive myself for mistakes of the past. It’s also about living before it’s too late and trying and learning to be happy.
This was a pre Covid19 trip of a lifetime, making connections with local people and fellow travellers and putting beliefs about minimalism into practice by living out of a small backpack for a year of slow travel.
I have a long running personal blog with readers who are supportive of me personally and have followed my travel journey with great interest, commenting that my travel writing makes them feel as if they are there too and admiring my honest vulnerability.
I have been a dedicated writer for years, attending creative writing classes, self publishing small books (Self help for the suicidal (Rachel Doran), Make it Happy: a short guide to long term relationships (Rachel and John Hill), and How to find Heaven on Earth: love, spirituality and everyday life (Sadie Wolf) the memoir of my spiritual awakening, and am a published writer of short stories of women’s erotica under the name Sadie Wolf with Black Lace and Xcite Books.
I feel my book will appeal to people who enjoyed All the Way to the Tigers by Mary Morris, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, A Round-Heeled Woman by Jane Juska and The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.
PS My husband came across this fascinating article. I go to work in a responsible job, manage in society (well just about) while at the same time I have felt all the states described. ‘The mind is as big as space,’ as my old meditation teacher once told me.