Thinking Out Loud : Swimming Gala

It is not that often I like to go back to my childhood and specific incidents within it. I feel that they are done with and that now I have largely accepted what was faulty with it and done my best to move on and be practical in dealing with the here and now. I am unlikely to end up in the same situation now I am an adult and so often there is limited information that I can directly apply.

However, the Butlins’ swimming gala is an event that maintains relevance in my adult life. As a kid I loved swimming, and looking back I was actually not that bad either, it is entirely possible I could have been quite good. I never found out because my mother never wanted what would have gone with my success. I swam at the Harrow and Wealdstone Club, but I never made it to the group which did competitions. Eventually unable to move up I quit. My parents let me, and I later found out, my mother had asked that I not be put up so I would not become eligible for full coaching with the early starts and travel to comps all over the country that could involve. They obliged. I was allowed to enter the club gala by way of the qualification process. You swam in your chosen stroke and distance and if you set a time you were in. Of course, it was all racing group kids. I had a go and I was in. On the night I arrived, got changed and sat and waited till my race. As an adult, I realise that all the competitors were warming up in a pool. They appeared and it was my heat; to go to the next round all I knew was that it was first 2 and then the fastest 2 losers after that. No idea what was going on, I got ready for the backstroke, I had practised a little on racing turns and dives, but I hadn’t had any coaching. In fact, it was a surprise that I was there.

I was third in my heat and I went home. I got changed alone, no one said a word, no one else in the place. I went home, no special tea. Nothing changed and I went to school the next day. The only recognition was the older kid who swam for the club saying didn’t expect to see you last night. Later I would find out I was the third fastest loser as well as 3rd in my heat, missing both by the usual fractions. This was years later and I had given up swimming by then. I was a loser, I didn’t get past the first round, I had been stupid to think any different. Of course as an adult I realise that I was 17th out of 56, and the only one who hadn’t been coached to race, and that it was quite possible that I had been faster than some of those had they been in slower heats as I had no idea of the standard of who I was against.

So I guess I was an okay swimmer really. My parents went to this holiday camp, I can remember it wasn’t much of a holiday, I was forced to do kids club stuff, which as the fat kid I hated, it was nothing I was good at. The highlight was getting a BMX for a morning (all my pocket money to hire it) and having a go on the ramps they had. Part of the week was swimming; I was looking forward to it because at least I could swim. The day came and as per usual we were split into teams, and then horror of horrors, I was given butterfly because I had made the mistake of saying I could do all the strokes. I was a backstroker, that was my only chance of not being embarrassed, I was in my trunks by the pool, the parents were there, I wanted to run, but I felt entirely trapped. It was only Wednesday, so I couldn’t run because there was the rest of the week to survive, and of course, I couldn’t embarrass my parents either, that wasn’t worth it.

The time came, we all trotted out for the one length butterfly race, completely exposed as the fat kid I looked around at the athletic bodies of every kid around me. I am sure they weren’t all athletic but they definitely were not fat like me. I guessed we would be gone in the water and I could sneak out while the winners got all the attention. I tried not to notice them limber up and did everything I could to try not to draw attention to myself. I just looked down my lane at the goal, the end, over, sneak off as there was a break after for lunch. I dived and I swam for my life, in the water all I could do was concentrate on my worst stroke, just absorbed in the movement until the wall, it was over. I immediately went to get out the pool fast, when I looked back. The lane either side of me was just over half way. In fact, no one was even close. I had beaten the entire field by the best part of 12.5meters or half a length of 25  metres in that pool. I got out, got a certificate, some stickers and my mum took a photo.

That was it, I went for lunch, the well done lasted from the pool to lunchtime and I put my certificate away and the stickers with it. The holiday continued. Nothing changed, it wasn’t mentioned, I got my well done, there was a photo, that was it. For many years I have looked at that photo of the beaming proud “fat kid” who had finally won something. I saw his top abdominal muscles, his shoulders developed from the thousands of lengths, his legs chunky from the miles cycling to and from the local pool to swim for hours in peace alone. I didn’t see a fat kid; I realise no one saw a fat kid, I realise the looks on those parents was not at the fat kid who was woefully out of his depth but at the swimmer who was about to win by a mile and disappoint their child. To me those stares were telling me I shouldn’t be there, and I was right, I had no right being in a holiday camp swimming gala, I looked like a competitive swimmer, I thought it was because I was the fat one.

My swimming life was instructive as a child because it taught me that I was a loser and that winning didn’t change anything. Success didn’t change life, I had a job, I had 2 jobs, I paid keep, I did well at school, so I should, I won something, it was a nothing event at nowhere, I failed at the Club competition, what did I expect? The looks of the parents confirmed that I was fat too. I hated school, swimming was not the way out, success in the world was not the route to happiness either. I grew up wanting to hear the words “well done”, wanting a bit of fuss and wanting my success to change something, even it that was just picking what I had for tea.

As an adult, I ended up in a relationship just like that of my childhood and so I never strove with everything I had to be a success because there would always be people better than me, and any temporary win would not change the fact that I was a loser and not a successful person. The belief that I was the person I had been told I was and was treated like informed how I made my way through life. At work, I would work hard and try to do well, and find myself sacked the first mistake I made. It did not take long for me to try and be in the middle unnoticed. At school I worked just hard enough to stay out of big trouble, I wanted to be somewhere else, the teachers made it clear I wasn’t good at school stuff and the odd time I poured all I had into something it came back with the same grades as when I didn’t. Leave fatty alone was my life. I had a great overhand right that helped with the latter.

As an adult I was, for so many years, that little boy trying to get by, trying to be happy without someone noticing it. Being happy only lasted till someone noticed and then it would be taken away. Success was something you kept to yourself, it was only yours, no one cared, no one even wanted to know. It wasn’t healthy. I know now how terribly debilitating it all was, it was no wonder I was plagued by crippling depression and that in an abusive relationship anxiety came to paralyse me. Now I preach that other people’s picture of you is only real if you make it that way, that you celebrate success and learn that you can succeed and to not accept external definitions or measures of what success is. You can set a world record and come third, see the achievement for what it is, not the definition someone else gives it.

So I look at those swimming Galas and learn; I did what was never expected of me, I was able to be the real deal when I had no encouragement, no coaching, no help and definite obstruction so why can I not be the real deal now. I may not be the best in the world, but someone will be and if I never aim to be I never stand a chance of being that someone. Most of all I look at that little boy and I realise that he was petrified, he was terrified, he felt like running away every second till that whistle blew to start those races, and that while he felt like he did not belong, that he was an alien in the land of others, that little boy stood there anyway. And more than that, that frightened little boy stepped up and did good, he did really good.

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Monday Night Reflection: Prison of My Mind Revisited

Monday Night Reflection: Prison of My Mind Revisited

I remembered this last week thanks to a Facebook posting by hypnotist Elliot Wald, and reading my initial thoughts I felt that the subject needed another thought.

Initially, I felt that the prison of my mind had developed almost exclusively as a defensive response to real situations. Over time I have seen that there is actually a more complex interplay between the real and experienced, the feared and anticipated. I cannot separate the two, and perhaps they have a shared root and are why coercive abusive control is so effective. You experience consequences of behaviour, consequences are threatened and become implied, so you start to fear and anticipate based on the real experience using the evidence of a limited number of sufficiently traumatic incidents. It’s not worth the beating you got last time you did it, or even its not worth the beating you got last time you got caught thinking about it. This is clearly a less than unique situation statistically, but is a distinctly different class of anxiety and imprisonment.walls-of-your-mind

When that relationship ended, it was the equivalent of the doors being unlocked and the place being shut – with all the power and supplies left on. Necessity forced me to leave the confines of what had been my life; for some things this was a welcome and much-wanted release, for others, it was a terrifying venture into darkness. The most common feature of this transitional period was fear. Fear because of the behaviours that had previously led to consequences and because I was conditioned to expect them, but also fear because when she found out what I was doing she retaliated and brought consequences. She did not want to relinquish control. I have said before her intention was to drive me to self-destruction and I firmly believe she thought she could drive me to suicide.

The reality was it took me a fair while to realise that I was in a prison, the early days were about coming to terms not just with what happened, while dealing, in a very practical sense, with what was happening, and then processing the implications this had about my past. Recognising that the marriage was abusive was difficult not only because it was 13 years of my life, it was because my marriage was no different to my childhood. I simply refused to believe.

However, once I began to accept that my behaviours had been conditioned over a lifetime of “consequence” avoidance when in reality the consequences were not entirely or sometimes even remotely predictable, I then was able to understand how I had imprisoned myself as a protective measure. Which is how abuse works, you do what you are told to avoid the consequences and to stay safe, however, over time what is safe changes and becomes more and more restrictive and the conditions that qualify you for safety increasingly unattainable. It becomes predictably random, you know when a consequence is overdue. Sometimes you even provoke a little to get a smaller consequence because you feel a big one is looming and you are in no fit state to take the onslaught.

Reading that back, it seems so simple, but in reality, it is crushingly complex. When you realise that you have a life full of conditioned behaviours and that you have predicated your choices on survival that realisation leads to a void of certainty and a sea of questions. Mostly these are things like, what do I really like to watch, what do I really like to do, where do really like to go, but they also include questions like who am I, what am I about. For me, when my marriage ended I lost what were core elements of my identity, husband and father. With those went the associated responsibilities of those roles. They were stripped away while my past was rewritten. So not only did I lose those identities, my legacy was erased as well. All I had done to that point in my marriage (and life) was recast and retold to fit the story that was being peddled and the identity I was being given.

Saying this was difficult is to seriously under report the extent of the effect this had. I was one text message from suicide. I felt I had nothing, my parents had passed away, I had no relations and friends were keeping a safe distance while my abusive ex lashed out at anyone associated with me with the fullest destructive force she could muster. Some were arrested, others nearly lost jobs, and real life damage was done in way that goes beyond he said, she said. This involved Police, Social Services, and agencies that were legally obliged to act on what she was saying on the possibility that it was true. Knowing all along that mud sticks and that damage could be permanent. I was physically lonely, and it was the internet that allowed some people to be supportive and miss a lot of backlash.

The upshot of the turmoil and change was that my prison had protective utility long after I could have left. I felt tremendously vulnerable, to the point I locked myself in. I felt unsafe, even in my own house, being arrested at 5am, having my door window smashed by her, and the threats made me feel vulnerable and seeing children playing reduced me to tears. My sanctuary was no fortress and I knew it. Still, I hid, literally and figuratively.

The prison of my mind was still intact. Life happened I moved away, but still she was there trying to destroy that chance. Of course, those efforts ultimately served to achieve nothing, and to those that engaged with them they simply reinforced my version of events. Reassuring as this came to be, I was stuck with a whole bunch of behaviours that were conditioned responses. The task is still working out what those conditioned responses are and then breaking them and engaging in what I call intentional behaviour.

2017 is my year of recognising, possibly more explicitly than ever before, that I need to make conscious choices about habits, and things that people probably don’t spend any time thinking about. Things like wearing different shoes, or what shoes I pick for which occasion. It is listening to music and reading books not worrying about any judgement of my choice, it is about watching a show I used to watch with her because I do like it and separating out the context from the thing as much as possible. I spend time wondering about places, like Sherwood Forest, on the one hand, I love it, but it is the place my children with her all went for their first holidays, and I went there with her. I have no desire to relive the past, and I want to build new memories. For now, I have decided that places are decided upon case by case. In this case, Sherwood is, very sadly, off limits, rather like the organiser she gave me for starting my first job. Whatever merits there are and utility there may be, it is not something to carry around every day. My future lies somewhere else, time to find a different forest and build from that place of peace, not an old one. The Baltic represents the opposite, we did not share that place, even though I went there with her, it was not our place at all. The Baltic was me and my son’s place, we shared the hours there and so it was okay to bring it into my new life because those memories are unsullied. My smiles real, no context other than loving time with my boy smiling enjoying himself. And, of course, the hindsight that I was giving him a unique life experience that will weave itself through his life. Just as he has woven himself into mine.

I have written about pictures and light switches, and how these are indicators of a peace, and of how my conditioned behaviours are changing over time. It is these changes that are driving my deliberate move to be intentional. I have managed, not out of any conscious move, to realise where I was and contrast that with where I am. This consciousness has brought with it the awareness that I am still carrying around habits and responses that were learned as protection from consequences.

This is most evident when I am placed under stress or duress, where of course, highly conditioned quick automatic protective responses are exactly what I needed. The ability to quickly move into a position or minimum harm and maximum defence with the least exposure to permanent damage is an essential that I no longer need. Rather like taking your hand off something burning hot, it is very difficult to unlearn what has been a very useful behaviour up until now.

So what of the Prison of My Mind? It is certainly not what it used to be, and becomes more derelict by the day. The truth is I still visit, and I stay a while, sometimes I stay too long, other times I wander into forgotten corners, however, for the most part, my visits are brief. Habits are changing, importantly I am settling into who I am, recognising what is the cowering protective me, and what is the living life me, and being the living life person deliberately until that becomes my habit.

In other ways I have to recognise, anxiety and the default to protective ritual, my fear of the unknown and my management strategies, are things that while intertwined with the protective learned behaviours have also established themselves independently. I have to assess whether or not I need to change these behaviours. Whether change is productive, useful or health and having decided what needs changing I have to work out what the replacement is going to be if a replacement is needed.

One day the prison will be a memory, I have a feeling it will always be a memory tinged with fondness and framed with a wry smile.

Monday Night Reflection: New Year – New Me

I bet I almost had you with the title there. However, while we can make fun of the legions of overly enthusiastic New Year’s resolutioners that will start new exercise, crazy juice detox programs and other similarly well-intentioned but ultimately doomed ideas, it pays not to feel too superior or get too smug. Some of these people genuinely want to make a change, and I challenge anyone to honestly say that they don’t get a little reflective and perhaps even a little motivated to do something different when a new year rolls around. I feel a similar thing near my birthday, recognising that this line in the sand can be a good starting point or ending point.

I have not made a new years resolutions, the joke that I made the new year’s resolution not to make new years resolutions is somewhat appropriate. I believe, like Tony Robbins teaches, that I can make the decision to change in an instant, that like Ray Lewis has implored with passion, “I am not the man I was a few moments ago”, while I recognise that the act of implementing and embedding that change takes time, the decision, that choice, is instant. I wrote about wearing different shoes, that for me was a decision to change.

My big project, and if you like, my project for 2017 is to be intentional in implementing changes I have already made but failed to embed as habitual behaviours, like wearing different shoes. I have lots of shoes, more than one watch, bracelets that like, oodles of t-shirts that all fit perfectly, I have lots of choices. And because I haven’t really ever thrown many things away, I have now amassed a lot of stuff. I should say that with clothes, in my ex-relationship I only had around 10 t-shirts in my wardrobe at any one time and things could disappear for months, so it was prudent when I needed an item daily to have more than one weeks (I had 10 sets of thermal underwear for example). When I moved out, and it wall all brought to me, I realised how much stuff I really had and actually was able to get rid of things that were just not me, especially clothes I had worn trying to be someone else.

The thing is, probably like anyone with self-esteem issues coming off the back of a life marked by abuse of some kind, while I had choices available, I simply acted out of habit. Wearing the same t-shirt for days to save washing, not showering to save water or because I had got in trouble for the time it took. Things like why are you showering now when you could be with your kids, or you can’t shower now I am waiting on a parcel and going out, they create behaviours that stick. In my case, I’ve started noticing I have quite a few of these behaviours that I can break away from.

However to break these past habitual behaviours I have to be intentional. At one time, I thought simply making the choices available would be enough, and I have wasted a lot of money having multiple items in pursuit of the magic number of choices that will set me free. Failing to recognise that too many choices will paralyse just as no choice will imprison. The reality is, I had the same prison I had all along because the bars were in my mind. Breaking out of the prison of my mind has been the theme of the last few years, in fact, the purpose of the majority of what I do is now as a result of that endeavour. How I look, how I spend my time, the relationships I cultivate and who I cultivate them with have their root in destroying that prison. Somewhere along the line, I realised that while the doors were unlocked and I could now come and go as I pleased, I was choosing to return to the prison. The prison had become my home, and I was comfortable in it, I was scared of the outside world and of freedom. I would go so far as to say not only was I comfortable in my prison, my prison was comfortable for me, it protected me and kept me feeling safe, markers of my institutionalised brain.

Having had a dysfunctional and abusive childhood transitioned into troubled teenage years and into a dysfunctional abusive marriage I learned protective behaviours, patterns of reaction and thought that allowed me to be happy and cope with the situation. It felt normal, I believed that my experience was the majority experience, that what I saw was the same face that I gave to the world and that behind it people were just like me. Statistically, looking at the prevalence of abuse, I was onto something. The reality is, the majority of people do not live a life like the one I had, and that my belief that was happiness and “perfect” relationships were things other people had was based in truth. I still feel that the life I have now is somewhat unreal, going to end inexplicably and that something will be revealed that causes it to crumble away, even though I have nothing and no idea of what this “thing” could be. My experience of happiness is of something fleeting, transient that is replaced with hurt. When it came to happiness there was always a price to pay, and part of me is waiting to find out what that price will be.

That was my life experience, and when you experience a life of consequences and finding happiness in adversity, where success is taken away, belittled and celebrated so you can be knocked down, you build yourself protection. The sad fact is that the better you manage to protect yourself, the more effective your barriers and coping mechanisms are the more imprisoned you become, the easier you are to abuse and the tighter the abuser’s grip becomes.

I was lucky, I was thrown away, however, while I avoided having to run and escape, that ultimately was all I avoided. I am not a man who walked out on his family, instead, I was made into something worse. My freedom from abuse has come at a cost, the piper has to be paid, happiness has a consequence. The pattern is hard to break.

However, living intentionally is about breaking the grip of the past on the present. Being intentional is about living in a way that recognises that the situation that made my mental prison a sanctuary has passed and that the prison is only that, a prison that holds me back, confines me and isolates me, depriving me of my liberty to be happy. That living in the prison is no longer a wise choice, and that my enjoyment of life and the richness of relationships is never going to happen behind the walls and bars of isolation. The challenge is to act despite fear; fear transcends rational or logical thought, in my case this is a fear that used to be a danger. Because just as the film tells us, fear is not real, danger is real, when danger transitions to fear because the danger is over, acting on the change is much more difficult because your fear is rooted in what was a reality.

So this is not technically a new year’s resolution, I made it before new year, however, it as a resolution for the new year. It is not new, when I embarked on my post marriage life I was immediately living differently in a practical sense, but mentally I was also immediately living intentionally. The difference is that now, I recognise what I am doing is intentional and deliberate, I realise that it takes commitment, persistence and dedication to change intentional behaviour into habitual behaviour, and last of all, I am systematic about my intentions. I am not driven by not being someone, which my early efforts certainly were, I am driving by a positive vision of who I am and having how I act and who I am inside, be congruent. Not drifting along on habit, I feel, is a challenge for anyone, for someone escaping or surviving abuse it is more difficult because the behaviour previously had utility. In the same way screaming and crying works to get a new-born baby positive attention and its needs attended to, it doesn’t take long until the reaction is very different. Outside the abusive situation, it can be very much the same. What worked to protect you in danger does you harm when you are not. This can be extremely pervasive, not just in how you handle personal conflict, but in my case it extends to the smallest thing like how I get dressed, the clothes I wear, how long I spend getting ready, whether or not I shower, yes, which shoes I put on and even the music I have in a playlist.

While I may resist the temptation to make a New Year’s resolution, I am not immune to the pervasive spirit of reflection. In fact, I embrace it. If more people took the time to reflect, and even knew what constructive reflection was, as opposed to maudlin in the past, then I think people would find more happiness and direction.  When I write a Monday Night Reflection, I am not the same person when I finish as I was when I started, they change me because I want them to and because taking the time to pick a thread or two from my life and look more closely at who I am, what I do, how I behave and what I think makes me more conscious of what I am doing. Reflection drives me to be intentional, to choose who I am and how I act in the world. Reflections drive thoughts and other reflections as well as creativity.

Finally, while I may not have made any Resolutions, I have made plans. My big project to be more intentional extends past just wearing different shoes and taking a shower more often. Living intentionally is also about setting goals. I am wary of setting goals, I deliberately set only one or two big goals for a year because I know that within a big goal there are a lot of steps and milestones (little goals) to achieve along the way. In my creative life, there are an almost infinite number of possibilities I could explore, my focus is on a few, Learning to sew using a sewing machine, as well as by hand, and ultimately learning how to make clothes, and other fabric items is one of them. In my professional life I have one goal which will involve a lot of milestones, and when achieved could result in some amazing rewards for me. These rewards are what many people would call goals in themselves. For example going to a big conference would be a goal for most people, for me, the goal is what I need to do to earn the right to go there. The conference could be cancelled, I could get sick, I may have a responsibility that precluded my attendance, a whole bunch of things could stop me going to this conference, however, what I achieve to earn my place cannot be taken away. The recognition of that achievement can be denied, but the work, the effort, my achievement on the journey and what I learn on that journey I possess by my effort. That is what really matters to me.

It is then into 2017 with deliberate intentions and s.m.a.r.t. goals I go and I, of course, wish anyone who reads this a productive and happy year – new or otherwise.

Monday Night Reflection: Home

It is just a place, me and the other grubby children with dirty faces playing down the park or on the green. Stopping for cars, our little junction serving as our centre court had few interruptions and rain only stopped play when our mothers said so. We ran, rode our bikes, never new but often shiny, played football badly and dreamed of stadiums somewhere with posh sounding names. We talked with walkie talkies till they got out of range, we ran to the shops round the corner our pocket money jangling along. The treasured haul that didn’t last the hour.

We paid no attention to those faceless streets, the endless same of council dreary that has not changed in twenty years. Back then it was a blank canvas on which we painted our dreams for so short a while. We laughed and chattered; busy little bees, no idea that the place, was not our toy or precious painting, but something rather insidious instead. As time passed, we played less and less, the walkie talkie batteries never replaced. My best friend moved away after he was not allowed to play with me. I never found why and he never gave his walkie talkie back either. Someone said it was because he was Catholic, but I really never knew what that meant or why I didn’t get my walkie talkie because of it.

As I grew older my mother kept me in, set rigid curfews and precise boundaries. I went to places I shouldn’t but I always came back on time. I thought it rather draconian and I learned to stay inside, going out became a fight. I am glad of the days no mobile phone or I would had to check in regularly as well. It wasn’t just the leaving, the endless questions surrounding the when, where, who and intention of my departure. Hanging out was not even close to a good reason, that got you home by 8pm latest did that one. 9pm was always it, or as it came to be, just when something interesting might happen.

House arrest got easy, a computer and games. TV, like going out, was fraught with danger, watch the wrong thing and no TV, no TV meant no games. My mother thought a week was a short time too. I got the message loud and clear, I flicked on and was trying to work out what the program was, when my mother looked in, instantly recognised a banned program, and it was gone. Today I wonder how she knew, and why she thought I would watch it with my door open right in front of the stairs so you could see when you came up? She never said, and I knew not to ask or argue, that only made things worse. My father, bless his heart, got it down to just a week from the month it had been. He never told me, I never knew he had my back like that.

Locked away, watching the sea of back gardens from my window, reduced to set places and set times, known routines and familiar places. The estate where I once played took on a menacing air. Across the road became darker and fraught with danger, the park, my football ground, with makeshift hosepipe swing over a little brook, became off limits and out of bounds. I looked in and wondered some days, even when the fence was nothing more than posts in the ground, I never stepped in not once. I missed a lot perched on my little island. The place never changed, nothing changed. The dull dreary sullen bricks indifferent to it all, a life or death equally insignificant to those cold and damp council walls. The houses frowned, and I joined in, head hanging down hoping no one would see me. Those kids who once made up another team, or the Indians to our Cowboys never spoke a word, I learned silence.

I came to be the place I grew up, there but not part of anything, sullen and detached from what was real and was makebelieve. The world of suits, careers and briefcases in another world from mine. Like clean windows and brand new cars, work was rare and never lasted long. Whatever a career was, it could be, if you were lucky, a ticket to somewhere better. Not sure where better was, how to get there or what it looked like. It had to be good because they never came back. I had no idea what drugs were, but they sounded fun, I was told of prison, but it didn’t sound that bad, they seemed to get meals they chose and allowed outside. I heard stories that people got jobs when they got out too, I wondered why school was considered such a great option quite a lot as well. Rules and constraints.

I stood outside my house, where the skip that took my childhood away once stood. Thankfully the new owners were out, like when I left the gate wasn’t fitted, and the grass could have done with a cut and tidy. The Hedge seemed neater and the little walkway to the front door had shrunk from the wide expanse of those childhood days. The windows had changed, and the front door too, but they still frowned and looked familiar to those that I drudged home to so many times. You never ran, late was late from one minute to an hour. And hour was better, you had a better time and you could say you misread the time, rushing in 1min past meant you had tried it on. It got easier to stay inside, no internet, no people, no pressure.

Going outside was not only navigating the barrage of questions when you wanted to go out, it was the interrogation when you returned. Where had you been, what had you done, what had you said, and I learned that a simple account was not enough you had to know why. Staying home was easy, reading a book was easy, sleeping was easy. I was like my house, just enduring, staying the course not out of any conscious will but because I was made that way and so had no choice in the matter.

I am standing on my old drive, I am 12. I can stand where my Dad hit me, I can stand where my mother dressed me down. I can stand where I wasn’t good enough and where I had let everybody down. I can stare at where all hope was lost and my dreams were dashed. I can stand where laughter became tears, and friendships disappeared, I can stand where triumph turned to dread, I am standing where the skip that took my childhood away stood.

Like the place, I am standing where I grew dreary, weary of life just after it had started, and it was quiet. As a child sirens had never wailed, when you heard one it was always barely a whisper, and it was the same that day, nothing, no birds singing no dogs barking, everyone knows to be quiet here. The police never came to where I grew up, and the buses stopped when it got dark as long as I remember. I drove down the road I had walked on all those school days, completely different with the park gone and the houses now generic and the same, but I knew where I was, it felt the same. Driving to that house my heart grew cold and I braced a little out of instinct.

Worse happened in other houses, the walls they didn’t care. The roads sauntered on past, indifferent to us all like those they carried.

I stood in the place, the place I grew up, it was never home. People called it home not out of belonging or pride, more from a sense of the alternative, homeless. I stood there with my wife, and she stood knowing much more than I realised about the little boy of 12 still standing there not knowing why. The place speaks, like it speaks to everyone, no one here is home. This place was just that, a place. A station platform, only the homeless stayed, everyone else moved on, either back or forward, but no one chose to stay.

 

At 16 I moved away and by 17 in my own flat a long way from the little street of my childhood. I broke away and so I went to school, but never hold a job for long. Moved around, had jobs and money, lost jobs and money. Owned a house and had a mortgage once but the Council estate brought me home. This time most of the country from the place where I grew up, a dreary house on a faceless road, different but same. So familiar, the distant sirens, the roads that didn’t care and walls that could speak of horrors but like the people didn’t dare. There was a broken telly, and grass that needed cutting, something felt familiar. I stayed there for 5 years, the longest I stayed anywhere.

One day, in that foreign land, I stood, inside, and looked out across the river, to houses just like mine, just as dreary and equally as weary in a place I called home.

Poetry Corner: Certificate

It just says November, a time now far away,
Not a date, no mention of a day,
I never went, no pictures or gown,
No handshake from a relative of the crown,

On a weekday I will have gone to work,
No excuses about missing Church,
No proud parents or friends I made,
Another workday with tempers frayed,

I said it didn’t matter to me then,
Looking back, I get sad again,
Nothing changed, perhaps it should,
No one said, the boy done good,

Hidden away in the darkest nook,
Torture just to take one look,
I changed your frame in hope,
That happiness would interlope,

Proof of achievement some would say,
It matters not then, not today,
Never walking proudly or standing tall,
If you never rise, you never fall,

I have no recollection, no story to tell,
My pride is broken, nothing to swell,
I had written my dissertation tome,
And the doors closed on my home,

My time was done, I was cast out,
Not one of them, no longer devout,
I had stayed the course, I had success,
Already broken, of that, I confess,

I sit your new frame, new place, new wall,
Grew just in recent years, new to standing tall,
Of you, I should be so very very proud,
What I had done proclaimed, my voice rather loud,

Just sitting there and gazing at the light,
Me, right there with you, fearing the night,
Resting on my desk somewhat benign,
You are nothing, the significance is mine

Monday Night Reflection: Why my Book isnt Written

There are a lot of people who say they could be a writer, probably as many as those who say they could have done a lot of things like get a degree or be a sports star. The problem is … and you can insert their “reason” for not, being born in the wrong place, time, social group, income level or whatever. The harsh reality is they could not have been what they are talking, precious few have the ability to be elite in that chosen field, and even fewer have the mental capability to take the risks of dedication and consistency with no promise of reward like those are at the top do.

It is not particularly uplifting or motivation to say, actually you can’t be whatever you want to be, there are some things you will never be good enough to above competent at best. If you have a twenty four inch inside leg I would not be trying to be an elite runner, just as someone five foot one is going to struggle in basketball. However, what really lets people down is their mindset. They do not have have what it takes, and even more importantly they are not interested in developing those skills. The prospect of working for years with no guarantee of payoff or reward beyond the journey itself is abhorrent to them. Quick and easy is what they want. I really had a lightbulb moment not so long ago when I was thinking about our financial situation and shoring a few things up and paying the mortgage off. I thought “if I am lucky I will get the chance to earn some good money too …”. However, most people I have ever heard say, “ If I am lucky I will win and …”. They are not wishing for the prospect of hard work to make the money, they want it now as a gift, bypassing the hard grind of making money.

I realised there is a huge chasm in how people think, and that those on one side, the quick easy gift side do not want to pass over to the work for it side. Yes, winning a lot of money would be great and I do do the lottery, but I do not consider it a possible exit strategy. So it is with this background, recognising that I am on the work side, and that looking back at my life I have been prepared to work with not guarantee of success multiple times to the point that I have a large amount of failures because I was prepared to risk everything to be successful, that I came to realise that I have developed a fear.

My fear is that once again I will work hard and not fail, but as happened too often, not get the chance to fail. From injuries preventing both professional try outs and then a career in the armed forces to working hard progressing a career in a company that fails due to fraud from the directors. I have anchored myself in a pursuit where the journey is most of the point, where your competition is as much yourself as it is anyone else, and where in short I am no where near the top so much that failure and success are related to personal achievement and perspective.

Creatively, the same fear has driven me to quick results. I love writing poetry, one of the things I love about poetry is that, for me, is that I can produce poems quickly. They may need a lot of work and end up completely disregarded, but what I produce is a recognisable poem, and I can produce one or many in a day. In their raw form they look finished. I have accomplished and have something to show.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the relative speed of poetry production, it is rewarding and enjoyable on so many levels. In this context the journey of writing, the learning, the practice, the journey of writing is a huge component of what makes writing so engaging. However, what poetry also does is it allows me to finish. Unlike the frustrations of my life, and some where life changing, poetry allows me the final act and an ending. My work has a payoff.

Which is awesome, however, not recognising this fear of working and then getting nothing at the end, not even recognition of the work and effort, has seriously held me back. I do have a longer story idea, I have characters, I have a setting in time and place, background story, backdrop, a start, motivations, and an ending – however, those pieces are haphazard and independent because I have been afraid of developing them. I have not worked on joining the start and the end together with a narrative journey, although I know what the theme and issues of the story are. My fear has kept me disengaged because what if I write the story, the story is good, and it goes nowhere. What if I send it to publishers and such and it gets rejected until there is no one to reject it, what if my idea is stolen and they get the success and the credit from my work. Would this crush me; would this be the hammer blow that knocks me down so bad that I stay down.

This fear is why my book is unwritten. Where once I would work with no guarantees of success, recognition or payoff, now that prospect is too much. Thinking about those times that ended with nothing, and in some cases I ended where I started before the work like the journey never happened, is painful. To give perspective I worked for four years, legitimately earned my reward to have that taken away from me by the decision of someone and that is not mentioning that I lost nearly everything in divorce apart from my clothes, computer, books, my favourite spoon and a couple of mugs. To work again and have nothing the very thought itself is a crushing weight.

The book is going to stay unwritten, unless I can address this thought pattern and face the pain of those losses. I have to grieve over what I lost, what was taken because until now I had to carry on as if they never happened. Pretend they were nothing, when in reality, they had been everything. I never got to process what had happened, what it meant to me, and what was left at the end.

The hardest thing is explaining this fear, because it is not a fear of failure. I am ok with failing, I am ok with not being the very best, both of these are familiar and I have learned to live through them. Being ok with them does not mean I am happy or content with either, it simply means that I have learned to live with both. Failures are at least proof that I am trying. Which maybe is my point, when I fall short of getting the opportunity to fail, I have no proof of trying. Failure is a result, it is an end point. It is hard to describe because I am grieving the lack of loss. It is like nothing I have experienced, ive done the seeing a girl and never having the courage to talk to her and try and get a date thing, I have missed opportunities through poor judgement and lack of self belief but they are different to this.

I know, until recently, I had not even considered the impact of these never was incidents on my life and judgement. I was not conscious of their impact until quite recently when I was getting ready to compete. I guess I can say it here because no one knows me, I had a minor heart attack, and it has been a long road back. The competition was a big deal and I said for this one “I either come home with my shield or on it”. Two weeks before I got sick, I was running a fever, delirious with hallucinations. I should have been hospitalised, thing is my wife didn’t even ask. She knew I would never willingly go. I got to the competition, I did it, I did well enough, even if that was not as well as I wanted. Three days later I was hospitalised, because it took two days to convince me I wasn’t getting better. I had an obstructed bile duct and pancreatitis. It was then, in that preparation for that competition, that I realised, the prospect of having trained so hard, prepared like I had, I could not face not actually competing, I would rather have gone and failed, and I nearly did, than not gone at all. I had to come home with my shield or on it, and it was close to being on it.

So it is with writing, I am choosing the easier psychological wins, the next step in my development as a person is to learn to risk again, and risk not getting to fail because there was a time when I did, but then one time to many the opportunity was taken away, and often by circumstances not under my direct control. One example is a few years back I was again getting ready to compete, and I was at my all time best, in fact I am not back there now, and I broke my big toe, clean. I didn’t do the competition, with my shield mentality I probably would have gone and done something anyway. But, at the time, I took the good advice and skipped it for another day instead of going with my instinct to go anyway.

What happened next was, a short time after I was close to being hospitalised with anaemia. The issue was at least one bleeding stomach ulcer, that was sorted with medication, however, the lack of iron meant a weakened immune system and having coeliac disease certainly wasn’t helping matters and I succumbed to multiple infections while my body slowly recovered. The rest of the story is, I am still working to get back to that point, because that broken toe was the last time I was physically healthy, almost like it pulled the trigger for other parts of me to start breaking, hopefully peaking with the heart attack, although the still partially obstructed bile duct is not a good party.

That is enough rambling. Time to move on and let the Mouse do his thing.

Poetry Corner: Little Red Square

I wonder where you went

That little square I made in primary school

You sat by my bed for years

I remember you so clearly

Red, with coloured thread

I was so very proud of you

I took my time, so very careful

At the end of term I took you home

Showed you to my mum, she frowned

And told a lie that it was nice

My dad he did not fake

I went to my room

He still shouted about it

I don’t know what he said

He wasn’t happy and he wasn’t proud

My mum looked sad,

I worked hard for a long time

I thought it was great,

My favourite colour made by me

Only one would ever be

It didn’t matter

I kept you so very safe

But my mum made sure you were gone

When we moved house

She cleared my stuff

I never saw you again

You taught me well my little square

People lie and pretend they care

I learned well my worth and place

To hide my tears and hide my face.