Dear Diary: You Can Never Hide

One of the great things about life is we can hide, work, family, hobbies, athletic endeavour combinations of those afford us wonderful opportunities to hide away from reality.

While we get away and pursue some noble and worthwhile goal to the applause of our peers, we can hide from facing something bigger, and more frightening than the challenge we tackle for the world to see.

But when the goal is achieved, the project is over, we instantly seek the next one to avoid the chasm and void of light where we know we face the truth we have been hiding from all the time, so we stay in the darkness calling light.

How long can we pull the trick of self-delusion, do we pull it at all?

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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: An Audenary Tale

Turned the clock, brought me home,
Soothed my weeping with your mellow tone,
Made it okay when I cried about my mum,
Bring out my muffin, let friendship come.

Let my new life steam on ahead,
From me once considered better off dead,
Put me back together and taught me how to love,
Let the world rush by, each push and shove.

You are my North, my South, My East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought my pain would last forever: I was wrong.

My mistakes forgotten, I put out every one,
Pack up your fears, walked away, said and done,
Sleep peacefully and sound like you always should,
Because of you, my life has turned to good

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.

I am Strong and Courageous

 

strong-and-courageous
Created using an Imperial War Finish Typewriter: A Postive Affirmation for Everyday.

 

 

Monday Night Reflection: How to Hate Me.

I am tired, if I spend too long writing this, it will be a Tuesday morning reflection. However, it has been a very busy Monday, and I have to admit, I have become a Christmas tree up before December person this year. I would love to have a deep, meaningful reason for this; the reality is I was excited for no particular reason to put the tree up; which became trees. Yep the lounge got a tree and the kitchen dining room also got its own tree with lights that flash in multiple ways, which has made me somewhat more giddy than my age would suggest.

Life happened and rather a lot of it stood up, and although some of it was spent in a far more crowded place than I would like, Monday was a success, even if the gluten free lasagne sheets completely let me down dinner tasted great anyway. If Monday has been a success it comes at the end of what was, on reflection, a successful week.

blackburn-town-hall-possibly
Photo Credit: Anonymouse The Third (Me)

My daughter had her 21st Birthday party which, while making me feel very old indeed, was a complete success, including four flavours of jelly on the party buffet (the children’s menu) and kids party games, thanks to my friend who just happens to be a professional DJ of fourteen years and children entertainer of even longer. There were some, shall we say, interesting interpretations of the dress to impress suggestion on the invites. The girls of the night smashed it out of the park, the boys, oh dear …. I guess with some I should be glad I couldn’t smell them at twenty paces.

Did I mention, I have debilitating social anxiety, which begs the question, “how did I negotiate a 21st birthday party?” The answer lies in how I cope with my anxiety generally, I avoid facing new situations alone, I always have an escape plan when possible, and I make the situation as familiar as possible. This week I was talking to a fellow traveller on the anxiety road. We talked a lot about how you end up isolated and fearful, sharing the negotiations that happen just to get past the front door. The variable nature, the seeming lack of any need for trigger, but I was able to share how I am able to do things which terrify me, and would, given any chance paralyse me. The first thing I do is reduce uncertainty, my life is dominated by travelling to places I know well. If the place is new I go with someone I trust, my wife being the obvious choice. Even before then I may drive to the place, look at it from outside, if that is not possible google street view and maps, with the sat-nav programmed. If it is a situation that causes severe anxiety then I will have a get out plan. Being know to be less than 100% health at the moment has made that easier, but in the past I have had “alarm activation” call outs, and of course travelled in a separate car so I am not needed for lift duty, if that was possible. I use Premier Inn, a chain where the rooms at every hotel are almost identical; it is all about familiarity and being able to keep the unknown elements to a minimum.

Being able to share my strategies for coping with my anxiety, and we did have many similar elements and feelings, and sharing that I fake it, in that I identify what the behaviour of a confident person would be and copy it. Taken from Tony Robbins, most people cannot tell the difference, and this person was one. They were astounded that I could spend ten minutes debating with myself before getting out the house. And, the fact that I could manage the sheer terror of new situations, in the ways I spoke about, was an extremely helpful revelation. I felt honoured and humbled that this person had chosen to spend what was a not insignificant amount of time with me opening up about their challenges, feelings, emotions and difficulties, the fears, the paralysis of depression and anxiety. This is a real privilege to me, and something that disarms me because I cannot really understand how I engender that trust in someone who at the start of the conversation had only really seen me about. It is also incredibly therapeutic to be able to share my own challenges, my feelings, and alongside compare and share strategies for coping with this debilitating internal struggle and incessant negative dialogue. I could not even lay claim to having an answer, and I still have days where making it out of bed is a massive achievement, and while my strategies can make me appear normal. Appearance is all it is, in reality, I have been in the anxiety management game so long that my life is very well set up in how it minimises source of possible terror by its very nature and structure.

Thinking about how often I have had the opportunity and privilege of talking to people, who are essentially still strangers when we start, about their innermost fears, feelings and challenges actually left me baffled. On the one hand, I have the undeniable fact that my appearance is designed to give me a quiet life, in so far as it discourages random interaction. Parents regularly shoo and usher their fascinated children away as if I were some Gruffalo incarnate. Which is cool, and kids staring in wonder is one of the cutest things there is. If you choose to look a certain way, which I have, then you have to accept the reaction that your appearance creates, and that is exactly why I have chosen it.

Take the time to talk to me, and of course, appearance and persona quickly reveal themselves as nothing more than social camouflage. And, not even particularly good or sophisticated serving only as a basic filter for interaction. If you fall for them then that saves me having to engage with you, if you see through them then it is significantly more likely that you are someone I can engage with and your sentences will not start with “did you see …” with reference to some celebrity or soap based TV program or ” did you hear about …” in relation to some Z-list famous for being famous so-called celebrity, over paid sports person or musically illiterate pop sensation, which is what I am looking for.

I want to listen more than I want to talk, although I have stock, what I call public domain stories I can share to create a feeling of familiarity and comfort, that I rehearsed with a friend many years ago, and have information, which while personal, is nothing that hasn’t been on the internet at some point as so is available to a few million at least, that I can share so you can get to know me a little better. I want to listen because I am interested, I want to know the person I am talking to, the real them, and I want to build friendships, not vague acquaintances. I am very lucky that I have gradually built trusting relationships with a few people. This is because I have stages of friendship. You start furthest away and through actions can move inwards, you can also move out, and it is a very rare individual that can move to the innermost level of trust at any sort of speed. That innermost level is the level at which I can genuinely be hurt by someone. The sort of hurt that causes grief, I have made the mistake of granting admission too soon, so I am, now, even more guarded than I used to be. There are actions, like stopping me committing suicide that will get you in close in a hurry. There are possibly five people in that innermost circle, but that may actually be four.

Despite the fact that I guard my closest level of friendship closely, I am a friendly person and have a friendship network, many of whom have been tremendously supportive through my life journey. Their non-admission to the inner most level is a reflection of my own trust issues, not any quality they do or do not possess. I am terrified of being hurt, and so have always sought to keep the number of people who can really hurt me and cause me emotional harm to a minimum. Which probably sounds odd coming from someone who was abused. Perhaps, being abused by someone who had gained admission to that innermost level is why it is guarded, and perhaps it was they who made sure it was not populated so they could maintain control. I have no idea whether I was guarding, they were, guarding or that it is just a sensible way to be, it is how I am.

The thing is, I want people to know who I am. When you meet me, I want you to assess me, and because I realise that not everyone can like everyone and because I realise that this means I may not be someone’s cup of tea, I want anyone who doesn’t like me to actually dislike the real me. What saddens me about my past is that there are people who dislike, and actually more than that, will hate me, because of the stories told about me. I know my appearance and persona will cause people to dislike me, however,if you are shallow enough to dislike me for my appearance then my life is richer for your absence, and perhaps maybe the planet would be better without you too. I have no space, time, need or desire for people who are judgemental, bigoted and what I call “…ists”.

My experience of people whose self-description ends with “… ist”  has not been overwhelmingly positive, from racists, sexists, feminists, to psychologists and scientists, personally and professionally it puts me on red alert. Prefix your “…ist” with fundamentalist and it’s a long way back for you. I will be civil, I may engage with you, we can be on great terms and even a sort of friend (depending on your … ist, of course) with who I share and get on great. However, as a self-identifying …ist, you have set a level limit.

While I am aware that we make sense of the world and people using stereotypes as crude, rapidly deployed frameworks, I fully expect them to be developed and adjust in the light of reality.

On the friendship level it has been a fulfilling and rewarding week, being an ear let alone being able to have a dialogue about coping strategies and ideas, is a huge privilege Talking with friends about being disliked all the way up to hated for who you are, what you actually stand for, and judged on your words, your actions and the consistency of the two; opposed to stories is something important that I had not realised was as significant to me as it actually is.

While I have told my self I do not care what people thing of me, clearly I care a lot about what people think about me in so much as I want them to be thinking and judging the real me and not a story version. Sometimes I really wish I could be like the autistic lad I knew who did not, not care about what people thought of him. He could not comprehend why anyone would think about him, let alone go so far as to have an opinion about him. He was very much his own person, very functional, as well as bright (brains to burn was the phrase), and of course without the prison of expectations and the inner need to control what people thought about him, was very free in his choices through every portion of his life. His jam and Dairylea sandwich was a particularly tasty invention that came from the fact he ate what he wanted,  how he wanted, when he wanted it.

My successful week continued creatively. My poem: To Carry On was a highlight for me and I am very happy to even proud of that piece. I have also been able to experiment a little, and while no profession photographer I have enjoyed sharing photographs and am looking forward to learning a little on how to manipulate. This also gives me options to travel outside, which whole being terrifying and tiring, is also very rewarding and great for my mental and physical health. The more I can break out of the prison my anxiety would make for me the better I feel. It was enormous fun to work with paint and create the picture frame, I am considering editing a picture of the final product to remove anything that can be used to identify me or the recipient, so I may just leave that where it is.

I am feeling a desire, or perhaps internal pressure to summarise or conclude this reflection. The summary is that this week I have been able to focus on the silver lining more than the cloud. Slowing down due to the pain and illness has allowed me some opportunities that business would preclude, and removal of the pressure put on me by me to be “productive” in that rigid sense I had constructed as meant I have felt better about reducing measurable outputs and doing other intangible things instead.

I also got my cooking mojo back – I may not want to eat it, but I am enjoying cooking again, although I will leave the innumerable food photos to my istagram as their creative merit is not high, and my dishes while tasty are definitely not art.

 

Poetry Corner: To Carry On

The sun sets, the news is bleak,
Dawn rises, the news is bleak,
You fall in love, but the news is bleak,
A loved one passes, your news is bleak,

You fight to sleep, every day this week,
Pulled to dark dark places, every day this week,
You give it all, it’s not enough, every day this week,
Suicide fills your mind, every day this week,

Your limbs like lead, the darkness creeps,
Thoughts go slow and the darkness creeps,
Taking breath painful as the darkness creeps,
Death would be release, still the darkness creeps.

What was long gone, no light to seek
Future hidden with no light to seek,
Shadows foreboding with no light to seek,
Oblivion shining, there is no light to seek.

All fight is gone, tired, weak,
All hope is gone, I am tired, weak,
Your light has gone, you are tired, weak,
You love is gone, now tired, weak.

Stood in black, the tears they leak,
Stood in line, the tears they leak,
Alone is the black and the tears they leak,
Eyes tired from the tears they leak.

Lay your head full of memories you keep,
Hold them close those memories you keep,
Take comfort, take solace from memories you keep,
Find strength through the memories you keep.


 

Poetry Corner: Trigger Warning

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground,
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much,
Till you spend half your life just covering up,

Hit the ground before I knew it wasn’t the end,
Too much never came, the blows never went,
And you start to go numb when it rains,

Go stupid because you can’t understand,
Stop when you can no longer crawl,
Say nothing, do nothing, feel nothing at all

The kicks no longer hurt, the bruises never show,
Waiting for the next blow, another thing that didn’t happen
One day just memories in a song you never wrote.


Photo Credit: Woods of Desolation

Monday Night Reflection: Productivity and Sickness

Statistics can be an awful task master. My last posting was my last Monday Night reflection. I am wondering, where did the creativity go, and what is my measure of productivity.

Last week I hurt, Monday was a euphoric good news day. The reality was somewhat mixed, while I found out I don’t have cancer, which is good news. The fact is, the cells in the biopsy are pre-cancerous, and that means monitoring for changes, more biopsies and more waiting for results in the future. In addition, the pain that led to two hospital stays came back. Life slows down, I am tired quicker, I need to sleep more, and sleep is more disturbed, and I am slower. Everything takes longer when I hurt, and mentally the sharpness goes. The spring of creativity can become a plod, to a trudge, to nothing. Last week, it became nothing. Prompts lost their attraction, I was feeling that I was relying on prompts far too heavily, old material looked like spent ammunition, not many recycling options, and for new material I wanted to look at different inspirations, expand a horizon or two. I got bogged down, I read, I read my usual mix of relevant and useless material, but ducked things I knew would be really relevant.I spent a lot of time on Facebook. I had no desire to create, no desire to consume, no desire to engage, I didn’t even want to want. I wanted my life back, where at the very least I have some desire to create or produce something.

I felt that my week had been unproductive, that I had accomplished nothing because I had not posted on my blog. I was disappointed that I had created nothing and that I had let myself down. I suppose, luckily, I sat and did a little bit of wallowing in that feeling. I quickly started to realise, that my blog is not a stick, it exists and an outlet and medium for one aspect of my creative self and as a safe place for the Mouse, that part of me that deals with past trauma and experience. My squeeks are my own, and they exist because I made them exist to serve me and my purposes, I was by feeling guilty and beating myself up over non-production in a very bad place and creating the very negative relationship with my blog that I had consciously moved away from not so long ago.

I also realised that not only was I slipping into a negative relationship with my blog, but this was a negative relationship with my creative self. I had literally forgotten that I could create something other than poetry and that, in fact, exploring creativity outside poetry was really exciting. I had made space to write poems, not space to write anything else, read anything else, do anything else. There are things I wanted to do that I had suspended completely. It also became clear that while I had been cultivating a negative relationship with my creativity, I had also developed a negative and unhealthy relationship to productivity. My todo list had gone from a mixture of things I had to do, usually one or two, and things I get to do and things I would like to do (often too numerous to be realistic) and had become a checklist of things I had to get done to feel like I had earned my place in the world that day.

The problem being that I was still writing my list as a mixture of have to do’s and would like to do’s. My list of would like to do’s can be impossibly long and serve only as a reminder of a wish or thought. Even the reinstitution of my ideas pad, quite simply a ring bound A4 pad where I write things down, from usernames, id numbers, booking references to ideas, thoughts, and things I would like to remember. It is ring bound so that I can go back over it and nothing is thrown away until its time is done. I use pages facing up, then when I get to the end turn it over and use the backs going the other way, that somehow makes it easier to use. In the same way having 2 screens reduces distractions because I can have what I am using up on both. For example, I could be writing this on one screen and have some picture research on the other and I can switch as my attention span wanes. I have a tangle to help my fidgeting when I am listening and trying to concentrate. I realised that I had slipped into a one-dimensional productivity mindset. Done and done within a rigid framework, had become the measure of whether that day was good or bad. This is a terrible idea, when anyone is ill their productivity will change, and their ability to do certain tasks, maybe even all tasks, is diminished, combining this with an impossible to-do list is setting myself up for disaster and negativity.

However, this negativity trap was not the only problem, my view of what was productive had become narrow. If it was not my blog or something that increased revenue directly, it had lost value. The problem is, that driving income and revenue is not my goal, my business project that had stalled while being ill is not about generating an income, it is about being positive, spreading positivity, and making people happy. My belief is that by following what is important to me that enough income will follow. I have done this before and while the enterprise was not perhaps the financial success other people wanted to be, the fact that so many lives were changed in such a short time and the impact was so positive that I have am still asked to do it again, is proof enough of concept. Following your core values and seeking to be a positive change is a worthy goal even in business. My losing sight of what productivity in my life means had resulted in a negative view of myself and my role.

In the week of no blog posts, I have been a good friend and supported friends through tough times, something that takes time. I have spent time just being with my wife, letting the conversation wander and the two of us sharing fears, concerns, hopes and dreams. Nothing unusual in that, we have always done it, even when we were dating, however, it is important, and worthwhile acknowledging this is doing as much as putting the bin out. I have done house errands like shopping and getting prescriptions, continued sorting through my things, been to the post office to send items sold, said thank you. I have also cooked, cooked a lot and am even hosting dinner this week. Today, I have painted a picture frame that is being recycled for a 21st birthday present and cooked some more. Looking back without the blinkers of my rigid mindset, I have done a lot. Talking with a friend in need is not a burden on my life, it is an essential component of my life. More than posting a parcel or writing a poem, that half an hour is the difference to them and it is the world to me. When my friend rang me in tears, it was the greatest compliment I could get, that they chose me to be the shoulder they wanted to cry on. Humbling hardly encompasses how it feels to be chosen by someone vulnerable in that way. Two days later I was able to spend an afternoon with them, and stand with them as they struggled with the new situation they faced. Those things may not make a to-do list; they are what life is all about.

My productivity focus was an alien one. I do not like to say, it was a getting things done approach because I am actually a big fan of the GTD approach from David Allen because it frees up both time and headspace for the most important part of life: relationships. It allows you to focus 100% on what you are doing, knowing it is the best thing you could be doing. In the negative sense of getting things done, however, that is exactly what I was doing, seeing life as a checklist to rattle through quickly so I could get onto the next checklist. The slide happened imperceptibly  and very nearly locked itself in. Perhaps being sick had made me vulnerable to the change, or maybe, I had simply taken the path of least resistance and conformed to the world’s definition of productivity; and the very antithesis of mindfulness.

As I run out of steam, I am still hurting and I still have things to do, in fact, there are things on my todo list still. Luckily they are small 5 minute or less items, and I have done much more besides what is on the list. Time has gone insanely fast, and I have been slower than I would have liked to be. I feel, sincerely, that I have perhaps dodged a bullet or averted a war in realising so soon that I was becoming so negative and so bound up in values and attitudes that were not my own. That I was conforming to someone else’s reality and standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Night Reflection

The plan was to write a short reflection about how the Mouse creates, it was supposed to be a short but informative insight into how the Mouse relives the emotions of the past, lives in that very moment and that by being very present in the past, something anyone familiar with mindfulness would recognise, and letting those emotions be without doing, is part of the creative and therapeutic process.

But, that seems pointless, contrived and irrelevant. The first reflection was a spontaneous reaction to life. I need to write, not talk, write about life. Writing is a discipline and a craft when you talk it can be about flowing and the thoughts are left unchecked and unmarshalled. When you write, even when you are a decent typist, the flow has to be slowed down, there needs to be a moulding of the thought into words. Emotions are marshalled and made to adhere to rules of spelling and grammar. While the piece itself can meander and wander, within that there are rules of structure that mean writing is a creative therapy. Writing makes me think in a way talking never can. With writing you have the chance to edit, to reform and rework a thought, and when you do, the feelings and driving forces of that thought can be explored, not just to craft an accurate expression but also you can delve into the deeper roots of that thought. Writing allows you the chance to examine the roots, logical base and evidence of a thought, of an emotion, of your feelings and by marshalling those elements, writing is therapy where you can be counsellor and patient at the same time. Much like saying a thought out loud can reveal the absolutely baseless and ludicrous nature of that thought, feeling and emotion, writing it can reveal that the ridiculous thought is without roots in reality or it can reveal the very thread of reality that leads to what lies beneath. You can literally enter the rabbit hole and see how deep it goes. When you do, if you commit to the process of not stopping, not bailing out, you can reveal what lies within. This can expose trauma, hurt, insecurity, anxieties, it can disturb demons, and stir up a storm of emotions, which is fraught with its own dangers. However, the reason you can raise the storm is because that storm exists to be stirred, these are the unresolved elements of a past in turmoil. By disturbing them you do not create anything, you reveal everything.

Here I am today, my biopsy results are not officially in, just I was rung and told that nothing worrying was found, in other words, there is no cancer was found this time. Of course, the fact, this time, finishes the sentence is not without importance. This marks the start, rather than the finish. I know the cells are classified as precancerous, that is urban_isolation_i__by_faiblessedessens-d4ovxubwhat growing up with medical professional parents, having been a medical professional and hanging out with medical professionals does for you. It makes you able to research the medical literature and miss the pitfalls of google by reference to a textbook when you need to get started; either that or you know someone in the field who you can ask. It is a blessing and a curse. What no amount of culture or training can do is stop you being worried, stop those that love you being worried. It doesn’t stop them knowing people who have lost husbands, wives, friends to cancer at near enough your age, it cannot make it less close to home. So while that wait is over, the wait to see what, if anything is next lies ahead, not having the actual results, makes the predictions and likely outcomes all completely theoretical, and discussions fruitless.

I also have to handle the fact that once again I am in pain, once again I am taking morphine, and once again I am using a little alcohol to finish the job the painkillers are not doing. Overall, physically, I feel rough, what is worse is that it is showing, people have started to notice that I am grey and look unwell. So there is a fuss, which while for many would be a welcome acknowledgement, for me fuss pushes a lot of fear buttons. Being ill, unwell and taking on the patient role was not a positive experience. Growing up illness meant you had to work harder, you definitely could not rest if you were fighting through. It was awful, I hated it, the only good bit was getting Heinz tomato soup and being allowed 2 slices of bread instead of one.  This pattern continued into adult life, recovery was something that happened to professional athletes, definitely not me. That could be why I wanted to be a professional athlete, they got sick they rested, they got injured, they got rested up, given rehab and special recovery. Their special fuss wasn’t to made to feel like a burden that had to work extra hard to cover for the fact of being less capable due to illness or injury. I learned nothing stops for you, and if you don’t do it, then it is waiting for you and more when you come back. No one covers for you, no one picks up your slack. I guess, the fuss was never a positive association, and I am having a hard time breaking that association.  The worse thing was always that I wasn’t looking to quit or opt out, I was hoping for a break and a rest to get my energy back. Responsibility and obligations you don’t get to quit. I’d love to say that stopped as an adult, but I had to wait till this relationship to be with someone who works harder when you are ill doing things that are beyond you so you don’t have to. My wife stayed with me all day when I was admitted to the assessment unit, took the day off work, was there till 4am when I was finally admitted and then was back as soon as the ward opened and stayed with me till the end and she had to go. This was the first time, in my whole life, anyone stayed with that long. There were no complaints, I was not a burden, it was to make sure I was ok, nothing more. I feel, perhaps I should focus more on the fact that I had this happen at all, because there are people who will never experience it, but at the same time I feel that something was very wrong given the number of admissions from childhood onwards that I was in my mid-forties when the first occasion occurred. That was something that happened on TV or films, not in real life. Somehow, even being ill, is breaking new ground as an experience for me, which is something to process in itself.

In this context, creativity has felt very much a side thing, I have created, but it has been slow, and I feel lightweight. There is so much unfinished around the office/studio, there is a whole load of writing project work that lies sketchy at best, not ordered, or formed to anywhere near where I want it to be. I look around and nothing is finished, everything is parked up and pending. It’s not messy, which, I have learned is how I create, it is chaotic, which is not something I do well. I am organised, but I am not neat, I am prepared but I am not necessarily orderly. I have systems and I get things done, but I am no minimalist or neatnik. At this time it is not creative disorder, it is not everything at the ready, it is a state, and I am finding it hard to work through to where I need to be. I have too much stuff a minimalist would say, yet everything has been used inside 6 months so thowing away is difficult. A first world problem for sure, however, creatively, it is slowing me down when I am already not working at full speed.

Coupled with my reduced work capacity and output overall is that my concentration capacity is reduced. Which impacts my reading, that is frustrating. What also frustrates me is how material has moved to audio and video. I am a relatively fast reader, and so reading compared to listening means I can get through a lot more material; I am used to devouring much more than is possible when the medium is audio or video. What takes an hour to say I can read in much much less, and I process the written word much more easily. I am dyslexic and listening is hitting me in my dyslexic breadbasket, that is an area most affected. Whereas my ability to read, synthesise, understand and summarise is 99th percentile, my reading out loud is around 3rd and my listening comprehension doesn’t get out the teens. I guess that could be the fact my dyslexia comes with a significant number of ADD traits. I have a great tangle, that helps enormously with my finger fidgeting in a positive way.

I had no plan for my reflection; all that professional training on how to do a structured reflection that I could use and I am sitting at a keyboard wondering what I was actually reflecting on, why it is gone midnight and my brain is working now instead of when it would be much more socially acceptable to be working, and what it is I set out to achieve when I started writing.

Which is the point, I had no plan, I just wrote, I wrote what came into my mind, what pushed itself to the top. I shared that consciousness, and now my thoughts have lost coherence and structure I am done. But, I don’t want to be done. I want be deep, meaningful, heck, I want likes and follows too. Which is a complete derailing of the blog, its purposes and reasons for being.

This blog has just had its’ first birthday, yet for much of that nothing happened until, well, until I changed my mindset. Nothing changes unless you do was so true. I decided that rather than locking myself into purely therapy postings and being focussed on the traumas of abuse, coercive control and violence, I was opening up the field to the creative. In probably an ironic turn, by saying anything goes, I ended up heavily focussed on abuse, coercive control and violence. By saying I didn’t to only look to the past, I have in fact been very heavily focussed on the past. I wanted the blog to serve me, I was not even sure I wanted readers, I am not sure I do want readers. I left it public because I know that blogs do not shoot to fame and they do not turn any online success into monetary pressure without the sort of work and effort that I could avoid deploying. The appeal of being able to have that level of control was massive, and if it got to much there is always the option of shutting down by going password protected. As an enterprise, blogging offered safety and security a theme in my life. I crave safety and security, materially, emotionally, creatively – in all aspects, any risk has to come with a safety net. I have rolled the dice risked everything and lost, that loss was devastating. The learning experience I could do without, the successes amazing as the are feel diminished by the fact I failed. The crushing reality that if I was forced into full-time employment that I would mentally crumble as quickly as not quicker that I would physically is a stark and unpalatably harsh reality that in the flow of the mundane and trivial I avoid very successfully indeed.

While at the same time, I am working hard, I am producing words, I am sorting and sorting, I have a business plan and a business planned. I have projects and project ideas parked up ready for the opportunity window to be opened by me when I am in the position needed to open them. I would hesitate to say ready, and we are never really ready for what chasing our dreams will really mean. I would say I am chasing my dreams, but this was never my dream. I could not have dreamed of this, I did not know the life I have was possible, that it was something that could exist. Not in real life, not in the life I was expected to have, not in the life of one so broken and in need of being fixed. I cannot say I am making it happen, that would sound like I am forcing something. Instead of me making things happen, they are happening, life is creating the spaces needed for me to be where I am. It is so impossible to describe, that setting off with the goal of being myself, that was it, being me. First making sure that me was indeed really me, healing me up or should I say, taking the journey of healing and living life as I took that path was all I had in mind. And from that goal, I saw things and I have added them as goals and pursued them. I never knew any of this was here or possible.

So where is this reflection?

It is drawing to an overdue close grateful. Not grateful for everything, definitely not saying everything happens for a reason and the universe has worked to bring me here. I do not think that. I brought me here,my decisions, my choices, good or bad, wise or stupid, I came to this place through my life. And everyone can explain the why with their own philosophy. The reality is, I gave up on why a long time ago. The why is someone else’s story, rather like Job, the long narrative is not for me, I get the journey and the whale.