Sunday 23 October 2011

Feeling the Feelings, Thinking the Thoughts

This is quite a brave thing to do.  It feels very uncomfortable to sit and feel what we are really feeling and think what we are really thinking, right through to the end.  For example, I feel worried to death about getting the exhibition A Graceful Death ready for Birmingham next week.  Don't like this, I say to myself, Laaa laaaa laaaa, and I drown out the thoughts and look for a nice way to not feel anxious.  I do some more housework, Laaa laaa laaa, can't have silence because it makes me anxious so I put on the radio.  Going into the studio gets harder and harder to do.  I need to talk to the Glorious Clarissa now for hours, and then to Lovely Lucy Martin, Whirlwind Extaordinaire, and then to Olivia who will agree with me on everything...

I have been advised to sit down, when this is happening, and really feel the feelings and think the thoughts, and in squaring up to them, taking them on board, wrestling them to the ground, see that it isn't quite as awful as I think it is.  I have been told to take a pen and paper and make a plan.  But not until I have felt the feelings and thought the thoughts.  Until, in other words, I have faced up to the insurmountable problem of worrying myself to a frazzle about, amongst other things, next week and the exhibition.  Such a simple idea but so difficult to do.

We all know about my Sons.  Fabulous creatures, both of them, but quite a handful.  Feeling my feelings and thinking my thoughts about them was at first very alarming because I expected the logical conclusion to be that I would have to sell them both on Ebay.  I thought, if I actually follow my thoughts and feelings through  to the end concerning these two, I may find that I am not a very nice mother.  I may come to the conclusion that selling them to NASA is a good thing, and that they would do very well in space learning how to orbit for a few years.  What happened was much less exciting.  I did sit down and let it all happen, and I realised how very tired both boys were making me.  That tiredness was spilling over into all other areas of my life, and the anxiety about putting together the exhibition for next week was not helped by being so exhausted keeping my Man Cubs going.  I felt real anger towards them both, and I felt real compassion.  They simply haven't got a clue.  There they are, thinking with such conviction that they have nothing left to learn and that they are in control;  there they go, furiously judgmental and self righteous and then, coming to me because there is a spider in the room and they can't stand spiders.

After a little while of discomfort, feeling and thinking, I realised that I am doing the right thing with the Sons.  That is a relief.  I also realised that I am tired and angry and need some time off from them.  And that it is, actually, up to them quite a lot.  Not up to me.  Hoooray.  Now that lets me off the hook a bit.

As for the exhibition.  Well, thinking and feeling and so on, made me cancel everything that I could until further notice.  I simply need the time here to get the exhibition properly sorted, catalogued, prepared, packed, finished and mirror plates screwed onto every single painting.  There are now 48 paintings.  Blimey, that is a day's work and no mistake.  I still have to finish a painting for it, and I still have to plan my journey.  And to leave everything in place for 14 Year Old Son to survive the week with a friend who is coming to stay to look after him, and of course, to make sure the friend is safe. (Here, have this taser and don't be afraid to use it). After sitting and thinking about the exhibition, I understood that I was avoiding getting it ready and that I felt it was too difficult.  Well, it was too difficult if I was planning to do a hundred things other than the exhibition in the hopes that it would all go away and that somehow, Eileen might do it all long distance when I was not looking in between doing her own job, her degree and her own photography work.  So.  After sitting and thinking and feeling, the eureka moment was Cancel Everything, and so I did.

Another major Don't Want To Know Laaa Laaa Laaa item on the list is my health.  I am a veggie and I don't drink alcohol, I love water cress and I think chickpeas are fab.  But, I am a twit when it comes to sleeping well, being realistic about how much I can do, and being sensible.  So, sitting down and thinking and feeling and so on, makes me see that I avoid sleep.  Idiot.  What do I want to do that kind of dumb-ass thing for?  I avoid sleep because when I lie down in bed there is nowhere for my thoughts to go except round and round, and because I don't like feeling the feelings and thinking the thoughts and so on, they are chaotic.  And I get nervous and I get overwhelmed and the best way to deal with that is displacement.  Empty the dishwasher!  Get up and even though it's midnight, put the washing on!  Clean the bannisters!  And now, since I am up, do the hoovering!  Oh no wonder I have been feeling worse and worse.  I don't sleep, I try and avoid thinking and I am not facing up to anything.  And when I did start to unravel it all by letting myself think and feel all the way through, the things I was worrying about weren't that bad at all.  The most sensible outcome from that particular little sitting and thinking lark is that I have been exhausted for well over a week now, and have been sleeping early instead of late, having a wonder-snooze during the day and longing each morning for night to come so that I can go to bed all over again.  Blimey O'Reilly.  It's tipped a bit too much the other way though, and once I have caught up on my rest, I will be more normal.  Don't laugh.

Well.  Perhaps things are improving.
  • Boxing Boy, the sweet natured Viking in our midst, has just bought me a penguin biscuit.  Seeing how quickly it went, he went and bought me another.  
  • Furiously Independent Son, the extemely angry and world weary despot in our midst, has just done two loads of his own washing.  
  • It is just after 10 past 6, and bedtime is getting nearer and nearer.
I'm going to take all the penguins to bed with me tonight, I know where they are hidden.  Result.

Saturday 15 October 2011

An Amorphous Mass Of Nothingness

Yes, well, amorphous-ish. Amorphous mass of nothingness is about a state of mind.  It is what happens after a dramatically busy week where the plans you have for being gently industrious, are steamrollered and you spend the week reacting and going Yikes!  and Duck!  and What?  When, eventually, you get to an oasis in the madness, and quite by chance you have some peace and quiet, you sink in slow motion onto the sofa and cry aloud with insight, Amorphous Mass Of Nothingness and know that you have described what has happened to your mind.

It sounds majestic.  It sounds nihillistic.  It sounds fancy.  It sums up the brooding grey clouds of formless thoughts that rise from nothing and go back to nothing.  It sounds awfully clever.  It's very effective.

So here I am on my sofa.  I have never sunk so far into amorphous masses of nothingness that I could not go and make a pot of tea;  I sit here with my tea and a bowl of wild rice and garlic and think that perhaps the mass of nothingness was temporary and that I am over the worst.  This last week, my 14 year old son, who we call Boxing Boy, had a surge of testosterone and turned into Colonel Gaddafi.  We are dealing with it, and when things have died down I will say to him, Well, that didn't get you very far did it?  Banned from polite society and wearing leg irons, tsk tsk my son.  Time to find another approach to life.  And the other son, the older one who we have called the Muppet, or the Furiously Independent Son, he has not found a way out of his furious unhappiness yet.  I stand in the side lines watching and waiting for a way into his world, and thinking what if I never will?  What if he is lost to us forever?

Back to the sofa.  I like it here, it is a rare moment in my house when no one, absolutely no one, is home except for me.  My lodgers are out.  My children are out.  Alan is on his way back from Greece, and I am utterly alone and utterly silent.  I have had a bath, I have made the tea, I have got my books, but all I want to do is Nothing.  Not read, not eat, not talk, not even think.  All I really want to do is listen to the silence.  My grandfather clock is tick tocking behind me, and the odd car is swishing by outside, and in between those sounds is such a deep quiet that I can feel my soul recovering.  Funny really, I had this past week set aside for plodding along with my preparations for A Graceful Death in Birmingham next month.  I thought, I have been such a busy bee, such a focussed individual, so nice to everyone, oh my reward will be to be hidden away in my studio painting and fiddling and humming away to myself - a dab of paint here, a tweak there, emails pinging to and fro between me and fascinating people, it was to have been a glorious week.  But it wasn't to be. If you are to be taken seriously in this world as a painter and a person of substance, said God, you need to be able to deal with character building stuff that I will chuck at you when you are least expecting it.  And so last week was a week of character building stuff that I was certainly not expecting.

However.  Despite the madness of the past week, I have done the following.  It's quite impressive -
  • Started the Sue and Stuart portrait diptych for the new A Graceful Death exhibition next month
  • Wrote and sent out a press release for the same exhibition
  • Bought a shed load of food
  • Went to see my Old Dad in London and took him through the Soul Midwife course that I am going to do with Felicity Warner next month
  • Listed and noted all the paintings for AGD and repainted bits of them that were damaged and had marks on them (like boot marks.  Not really, just thought that was quite funny)
  • Spent the afternoon in the Hospice making tea, chatting and listening.
  • Collected my daughter from Haywards Heath because she was too tired to move (she is a student nurse and works too)
  • Did a mercy trip to Petworth to save my mother who had a cold and needed her bed changed, a nice hot bath and some oatcakes and smooth pate.  
So sinking in slow motion onto the sofa this afternoon crying Amorphous Mass of Nothingness was perhaps not so much a state of mind that was a result of the Sons and their bids for World Domination, it was perhaps an appeal.  After all the dreadful things that the Sons got up to last week, Amorphous Mass Of Nothingness was a desirable state to be in, a relief, no less.  Instead of the images of Wagner and Valkryies and impending doom with full orchestra, the image is more of Morpheus and dreams and the underworld.  Oh I like that.  When my household eventually come home, they will find me happily suffering from the latest designer condition, the amorphous mass of nothingness, which prevents me from doing any dinner or washing up.  For ever.

A Graceful Death Exhibition
Paintings from the end of life
St Martin In The Bull Ring, Birmingham B5 5BB
 Open daily
 4 November - 29 November

Open Event with poetry workshop by Penny Hewlett, poet in residence
Thursday 3 November 2-4pm
 ~Tea and Cakes. All Welcome~

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Getting Older. Lessons From Joan Collins and Lionel Blue.

I have been reading two very different books by two absurdly different people who do have one extraordinary thing in common.  They are old.  And the subject of each book is the world according to them.  Two things in common, then.

The first is called Godseekers by Rabbi Lionel Blue.  The second is called, spookily enough, The World According to Joan by Joan Collins.   I don't quite know how old Lionel is but he must be over 80.  Joan is, I think, 78.  I have been reading eagerly to see what they have to say about life, age and themselves and whether I can prepare myself for the day I wake up and turn either 78 or 80.  Here is what I have learned.
  • Joan can't help being the way she is.  She has always been this way and is lucky to have wonderful skin and a superb figure.  
  • Joan works hard to maintain her looks and it is a shame that other people let themselves go and become ugly and old.  
  • Lionel is full of fun and advice for those who are in difficulties with their lives.  He was, he says, a dreadful bore when he was younger and deeply unnattractive.  
  • Lionel says that a sense of humour is vital to get one by and that God has a finely developed one.  Life when you are young can be terribly earnest, and a good way to lighten up and see things from a different perspective is to laugh at yourself.
  • Joan is outraged at how badly everyone dresses, behaves, thinks and is these days.
  • Lionel says he enjoyes the company of his friends and is grateful.
  • Joan thinks that if everyone was a bit more like her she wouldn't have to complain so much.
Recently, Olivia Fane (On Loving Josiah, her new book and worth getting) asked me how I was getting on.  Oh, you know, I said.  Feeling tired and frumpy.  Haaa! said Olivia, I know what you mean.  I am spending my days at the moment watching my body become older and feeling my youth drain away.  I am preparing, said Olivia, to be old.  And if Olivia is doing that then you can bet your bottom dollar that she is doing it with gusto.  Olivia has no vanity at all.  She does not care a jot whether she is old or young, whether she is well dressed or not.  She is so eccentric, so cerebral and so funny that she is a tonic to be with, and always takes a slightly sideways look at life and has absolutely no intention of behaving well for anyone.  

I am feeling tired and frumpy.  I have watched myself pare away at my busy schedule so that often now, I am sitting alone in the afternoons, with nothing much to do.  I have been sleeping more and have stopped fussing about doing as much as possible Now because I ought  to and am left with, well, not much.  Time, a bit of silence, a feeling of weariness and some more time.  And of course, the world has not come to an end. None of the kids are dead from starvation.  The house seems to be ticking along without being hoovered and we all have quite clean clothes to wear, much of the time. All that needs to be done is done, and I am quite enjoying the sitting alone in the afternoon with nothing much to do.  I have taken to having a nap.  I am finding that I am longing to snooze in the afternoons and go to bed early.  I say to myself, Lie down on that sofa, in the sunshine, and have a little think about things.  Go on, and later, if you feel like it, you can see if you need to do an email.  Don't mind if I do, I say in reply to myself, and within minutes I am drifting off into that delightful half way land between sleep and waking where all things are possible and Joan doesn't mind if you tell her she ought to be a Marxist like Lionel was once.  

Getting older has been very much on my mind these last months.  I am 51.  Oh, I hear you cry, like Joan, you don't look your age.  Well, thank you kind people.  Fact is, I do look it.  I see my face and sometimes when I can bear to look, I see my body.  I am never going to be smooth again, if I want to be firm I will have to do as Joan does, and jolly well make the effort.  There are lines on my eyelids, there are deep lines from the corners of my nose to the corners of my mouth, and if I don't go every six weeks to the hairdressers I would look like Gandalf.  My fingers look like chicken bones, my neck has those double parallel vertical lines from under my chin to my collar bone, and oh this is something Joan avoids by painting her lipstick on with glue and giving herself a bigger pair of lips than she actually has, my lipstick bleeds along dozens of teeny lines around my mouth.

I don't mind all the above so very much. With determination, I can still scrub up pretty well and once at a gathering of people, being an extrovert I can have a laugh.  What I do mind is that I am much slower, tireder and more forgetful.  I seem to sigh as I get up from my chair and lope off to wherever I am going, stop half way, wondering why I am there and gratefully lope back again to the chair where I sit back down again with a second sigh.  This intrigues me.  What happened to the zappy 50 year old?  When I wake up in the morning now, I think that what I would like to wear more than anything else is a blanket and slippers.  Once, when I was 50 and younger, I would select fancy clothes and colours and feel Yes!  Bring it on!  Now I think, wonder if anyone will notice if I wear my duvet all day and if I pass the sitting room, wonder if I can have a lie down before I do anything else?

I read Joan with interest.  It is important to her that one doesn't let one's standards drop.  It is important to make the most of yourself and to stay healthy and fit.  Quite right.  I read Lionel with interest too.  It is important to him that your God is accessible and that you can tell your God off when you are fed up.  To Lionel, life is hard but there is a way to cope and kindness to ourselves and each other is fundamental.  Miracles are possible in the strangest of places, and to Lionel, people need their miracles.  Joan looks a million dollars for her age, but seems unkind, competitive and intolerant.  Lionel looks like the back of a bus but is wise, loving, humourous and kind.  

Still, it would be nice to look like Joan and be like Lionel.  Perhaps that is the plan for being 52.  Until then, until the feeling passes, I will get back into my duvet, compare notes with Olivia, and have another snooze in the sunshine. Bliss.