Monday, 29 August 2011

"What I Really Think" By The Dalai Lama

I wonder what the Dalai Lama really thinks.  My cousin Maddy, when the chips are down, says think Loveliness.  The Dalai Lama does Loveliness, and is trained to be above average in the human being stakes.  He twinkles and smiles, he does meditation and politics, he fasts and wears robes and does not do cold turkey without a cup of tea.  He is full of mindfulness and love.  But what does he really think?  While he is meditating and slowing his heart rate to a tenth of, say, mine, does the image of a cheeseburger cross his mental line of vision?  Does he ever wake in the morning and say under his breath as the icy air creeps under his robes while dressing, "No more Mr Nice Guy.  I am going to smack someone today."  As people queue up to touch his hand, does he ever want to say, "Gerroff."

The Dalai Lama is the top Lama.  There are plenty of other Lamas, all of whom are trained to be Other and Wonderful.  What do any of them really think?  Because the Dalai Lama is a public figure, I am very taken with his hypothetical book, which will never be written, called "What I Really Think."

So as ever, comparing myself with the Dalai Lama, I have been thinking of the difficulty of writing a book called "What I Really Think." If I wrote about all the things that happen and what I thought at the time, this blog wouldn't be the jolly, measured account of life and love in Bognor Regis.  It would be a teenage tantrum about things not being fair, and how I hate everyone and it is all their fault and why does everything always happen to me etc.  And there would be a list of people I hate and what I want to happen to them.  I would be lost in self pity and want to tell you all about it so you could plan revenge on my behalf and I would be the centre of attention in the playground.  But - I work through that stage before coming to write it all down for the world to see.  I do Loveliness, and think of things like consequences,  and have a cup of tea.  Often I don't even mention the things that really bother me, in case I tell the truth to all of you and get really personal. I am always in danger of folding my arms and pouting and wanting to stun people into submission by my silence.  I suspect that it never works because the victims of this powerful tool of  Pouty Silence are quite relieved and think oh good, she has shut up and now I can get on with my life.  I, on the other hand, hope they are saying, goodness how wrong I am, it is all my fault and her stalwart silence is covering a truly broken heart and a gentle righteousness that is a lesson to me.  Does this ever happen to the Dalai Lama?  If he maintained a pouty silence, those around him would think he is just meditating again and leave him alone.  Don't make a noise, they would say to each other, he is in another realm.  Whereas the DL is wanting some real attention and someone to say poor you, have a cream cake and tell me where we have gone wrong.
I am always wanting to find peace and love.  And adulation and glory.  I want to do the right thing and I wish I was wise and deeply memorable.  But I want that while being fed my favourite foods and being told at all times that I am fab, my paintings are fab, that my writing is fab and that really I am the bees knees.  At all times.  And when someone tells me they don't like me/my work/anything about me, it is because they are simply jealous.  

I did go to France with Alan, to join the wonderful novelist Olivia Fane (her new book On Loving Josiah is out now) and her husband, and 20 other people in a Chateau in Cherbourg.  I did paint there, and I did almost finish the portrait of Nush Khan Levy. I did feel very vulnerable too, because the people who we were holidaying with were very cultured indeed, and I realised that they may not like what I paint at all.  No one said anything about the portrait, I didn't get the Blimey you are Marvellous comments that I long for, but then again, I didn't get the sniggers behind the hand either.  I loved painting in this holiday in France.  I loved how easy it was to set up in the attic there, and I loved how I actually did it.  One guest staying there was an art teacher and an artist of high renown.  When she came up to see what I was doing, I was afraid that she would say this, Antonia, is on a par with painting by numbers.  But she didn't, she gave some very helpful practical advice which I followed and felt even more proud of myself for even starting to paint on holiday.  Instead of just talking about it, you understand.

So what do I really think?  I think I must go now and collect Eileen from the station.  She is coming to stay so that we can work on A Graceful Death together, and for her to have a bit of peace.  Eileen always tells me what she really thinks.  If I don't go and collect her on time, she will think that I have deserted her and fallen forever into a pouty sulk.  I had better go and get her, and tell what I really think, which is that having just arrived at my house, she should do all the housework for me.  

You can imagine that Eileen will not spare her words telling me what she, too, really thinks. 

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Chin Up, Chest Out, Best Foot Forward, Smiles All Round

I am fine.  I am wearing pink.  I am glowing with a gentle tan applied a few days ago and still here, I have not taken a bath in case I go all white again.  My studio feels like home once more, and yesterday I had the birthday meal to end all birthday meals .  I had chips, crisps, sweets and a white bap with processed cheese and overfried onions. I drank diet coke and sweet tea from a polystyrene mug.

My hair it shineth.  My kids, they joketh.  My house, it is clean forsooth. And my garden, it noddeth (with flowers) and all is peaceful in the August sun.  

Yesterday I was 51. I had the most wonderful birthday, I had so much attention and kindness from everyone that somehow the tension from the last few months feels as if it is evaporating.  There was a certain Oh what the heck! in my heart as I woke this morning, and a very slight bubble of excitement in my tummy as I thought - I am going to make a list!  This list was a sensible list.  It was a real Can Do list of small and effective actions that I could do today that would, possibly, make tomorrow easier.  It was six items long.  It involved lists of people to email with teeny requests and reassuring statements.  It involved phoning a certain lady who I want to speak to about training to be companion for the dying. And it started with a very sensible item, "Ask for help". 

Two wee miracles happened in the space of two days that enabled this recovery.  The first wee miracle -
I have been longing to go away on my own to paint and write.  Just a week, I reasoned, one week of utter silence.  In a small cottage, by the sea, in a thriving little village, where I can be solitary amongst other people, and use the silence to create.  St Ives!  I said to myself, is the answer.  Well, the cost of getting there, the cost of staying there and the difficulty finding a nice place that would suit me was too difficult.  "Woe," I said finally.  "I live by the sea in Bognor Regis, I have my studio here and a constant food source.  I will stay here and create my St Ives holiday here.  Woe."  The next day, a busy travelling and seeing people day, I received an email which was titled "St Ives Invitation".  I was just getting out of the car at the time I received it, and managed to say "What the," before falling out of the door.  I sent it on to Alan and asked him to read it because I thought it was a joke.  A while later the email came back via Alan saying It is true!  Go!  St Ives awaits!  

An old school friend that I have not seen since about 1976 had seen me on facebook, had read a few blogs, had looked at the work, and had had an inkling that I should be there, in St Ives, in her renovated cottage while it was waiting to be sold, in order to lift my heart and spirits.  She had intended to write and offer a wee holiday there before, but had not got round to it.  But the day she did send the invite, was the day I most needed it, and the day after I had thought that it would not be possible. And she lives in St Ives!  Blimming heck that is spooky but welcome.  So I am going.  I will work out when, and I will go.  

The next wee miracle -

I have been doleful and morose of late.  It is true.  I have not been able to work, I have felt empty of inspiration and heavy of heart.  I have been fatigued right to my very soul.  "Wassit all about?" I asked myself morning noon and night, as I trudged around the house eating bread and butter and feeling fat.  Yes, lots of worrying things were happening with my boys, my Youf of Bognor, and still are - but - the effect on me was to put me into a state of Shut Down.  Why, I would mumble, when I could bring myself to remember all my painting enagagements and deadlines, am I watching my artistic life slide away from me?  And I cannot for the life of me, give a jot?  And then there would follow a terrible feeling of panic and helplessness.  Haven't I done enough?  I would say with sad eyes, to the wall, to have made some difference in the world out there, without always having to push myself and work so hard?

On Friday, the Sunday Times contacted me about an interview for A Graceful Death.  

Enough said.  Even if nothing comes of it, someone out there, who writes about The World beyond Bognor, was interested enough to want to talk to me about my work.  That contact from an established newspaper has woken me up.  "I am fine now!" I said to myself.  "Time to wake up." 

And today, because of the two miracles and the lovely birthday, I have made my list of six things.  I have already done four of them.  I have stepped out of the coccoon I have been in and am emerging slightly crumpled, as an Artist again.  Next week I go to France with Alan to join a house party.  Until a few days ago I had planned to run away and hide there.  Only Alan would be able to see me, I would be the Recluse that Must Not Be Disturbed.  Now, thanks to the St Ives and the Sunday Times email, thanks to my lovely birthday, I am taking my painting things to Cherbourg with me, in Alan's lovely posh car, and spending the week painting the portrait of Nush Khan Levy that I should have painted ages ago, for A Graceful Death.  And I am excited about it.  

"Ahhh," says the Dalai Lama reading this.  "All things have ebb and flow.  All things are cyclical.  You have just finished your ebb and are starting your flow." Thanks Dalai.

Monday, 1 August 2011

How Can I Not Work?

This may look like the cry of a workaholic who is seeing the light. 

It may look like someone who is snowed under and longs for Batman to come and take it all away.

What I am actually saying is No, really, what can I do to not work?

Today is my first day back in the studio for ages.  Today I am not only doing all the washing and getting some food in, I am dealing with my desk and all the backlog of papers piled up there.  I am going into the painting part of the studio and saying Pah!  Chicken Feed!  I can do this.  Bring it on.  I am saying to myself - Now what is it I am avoiding most, and then saying That is the thing I will start with.  The phone is with me, the computer is on, my teapot is full and my diary is open.  The paintings that need to be done have been set up a while ago and I will joyfully remove the cobwebs from them and blow clouds of dust from the paints and brushes.  I have lit a scented candle and opened the windows, and have practiced smiling while doing all this to get myself into the mood, to tell my subconscious to tell me that it is all so much fun.  Look what you can do today! I want my subconscious to say to me, what a lark!  So much painting, so much creativity, you know you love it and Lo!  There is tons of it to do! Piling up!   (Easy, easy.  Deep breaths and Smile.  Do, as my dear cousin Maddy says, Loveliness.  Do Loveliness)

But what is really happening is that I am afraid.  I am afraid that I am not able to do it any more.  I dread the idea of starting because it feels like a mountain to climb, and I am only wearing flip flops.  At the top of the mountain are my Goals.  I am at the bottom feeling weary and fat, empty and boring, and having to put my sunglasses on to glimpse at the golden shining Stuff at the top of the mountain.  Which, if they are my goals, I have put there.  How did this happen?  How did my goals get so distant and so dazzling?  If I put them there, where was I on this metaphorical mountain when I did so?  And then how did I get to the bottom of the mountain and feel I can't look up to these goals without shading my eyes?

I don't really know how it happened, but it did.  There have been Family Issues, yes.  We all get them.  Decisions to make - big ones, yes.  We all get them.  There have been personal issues too, like getting older and being different to how I was a year ago.  There have been health issues which have come to nothing and as far as we know, I am as tickety boo as I have always been except - except - I have become terribly terribly tired.  I am coming up for 51 and am menopausal.  I am well but changing.  My family are changing too, the children are getting older and are trying to prove that they are invincible, that they are always right and that I should blinking well get a life, but after I have proved I love them by getting in their favourite ice cream.  My parents are getting older and are saying what they really think very loudly in public, and my friends - ah. My friends are changing like me.  They are often terribly tired, and they have, from time to time, ground to a halt too. It is reassuring to try to explain to a friend how blobby and unexceptional and miserable you feel, to hear them say, I hear you.  I too am a Dowdy Frump. 

 I have been to Ireland again.  This time I went for my annual stay with Darling Dublin Friend and her husband, The Nicest Man In Ireland and their family in the cottage they have by the sea in Arklow.  I have been going there with them from before I had my second and third child, and they had their two.  There is history there, tons of history, and it is full of happiness and memories.  My history there is only that I go every year from just after my daughter was born, then bringing each of the boys with me as they arrived in my world. The deeper Irish memories and histories of this cottage are generational, full of the myths and stories of all those that have been there over the years. My visit to Arklow, with my two sons in tow, was to mark a turning point for me.  I had decided this before I went.  While at Arlkow, I told myself, my introspection will have reached its limits.  I will make a plan for a sensible and practical return to the studio and my life therein.  I will, I said to myself before I went, prioritise.  And if I come first on my list, well blow me down, lordy luvaduck, it's not such a bad thing.  So now, having spent that time in the silence of the cottage in Arklow, where there is no telly, no radio, no music, no distractions but the gentle and uplifting conversations with those around me;  no distractions but the very cold sea to swim in and the sand dunes to lie in; no distractions but the books to read, the board games to play and the mammoth meals to cook and eat, and having spent that time in silence, I am ready to come back to the studio and just Start.  Theoretically.

So here I am.  Not, as it happens, tired at all.  Onto my second pot of tea, and some phone calls out of the way.  The washing is done and is drying nicely on the trampline. The shopping is done, so Furiously Independent Son, who is upstairs at the moment, will have ice cream and green tea when he wants it, and daughter is unexpectedly collected from the train station.  The mess of papers on my desk has been marked, sorted, stapled, hole puched, and thrown away.  I am wearing a very fetching summer dress, I am wearing perfume, I am challenging my inner blob. Tomorrow I will paint, tomorrow will be different.  Tomorrow I will wear my painting boiler suit, and that means Business.  Can't back out of it then.  I will arrive early, and say matter of factly to my studio -  Morning.  Just going to do some masterpieces, don't mind me, just doing my job, thanks very much, and so on.  There will be a little pouff of dust as I sit on my painting seat, a brief intake of breath as I select a brush, and the day will begin.  I will bear in mind that even the most accomplished of artists have spent a day gazing at their work, and just before sundown, tweaked a single tiny detail with the smallest brush they own.  That will give me scope to do quite a lot, if doing the single late-in-the-day-tweak is still acceptable.  Even is I do two tweaks, that is progress.

In the meantime, I have begun the steady trudge back up the mountain in my flip flops.  I have been thinking, that you do have to stop and think about things.  You do have to spend time not being effective and not being productive.  You do have to  give up and give in and crumple like a slow motion video of a tower block coming down, and you do have to allow youself to be vacant.  It is good to sit in your blobbiness and try and remember what you are here on this earth for, and eat white bread sandwiches with Nutella.  But there is no other way out of it, I think, than eventually saying to yourself (as if speaking to a very old dog that needs to come in out of the rain and keeps sitting down in the mud with exhaustion, tail wagging, and still trying her best) - Come on old thing, time to shuffle back into the day to day out there.  Can't be that bad, can it?  Start at the beginning, don't expect too much, and just do what you can.  There now.  (Dog falls nobly but pathetically over the threshold and tears all round from the assembled kitchen staff).Watch this space.