Or is it? I'm not sure...maybe...what do you think??

Friday, 25 February 2011

Dreams amidst the scarecrows of life

First of all, apologies for this post being a day late. Just as well you know I'm a disorganized procrastinator isn't it? It's half-term for us this week, so my priorities got shifted somewhat.  Excuses, excuses....

Which leads nicely on to the question for this week: why is it often so hard to do the things we love?
Why do so many of us fill our lives with so much "stuff" that we never get to do the things we dream of?
Why do so many of us turn back just as we start to get to where we want to be?
Why do some people seem to press the self-destruct button just as life is getting good?
What stops us making that last great leap forward?

For a lot of people I guess it comes down to one thing: fear.
Maybe the closer we get to our dream, the harder it would be to see it slip through our fingers.
Or maybe what we are really scared of is what would happen if we succeed, and we do make our dream come true. What would happen then?

If we've spent our whole lives dreaming of something, what happens to our lives when that something is no longer a dream but a reality?
Where do we go next?
What if the dream turns out not to be worth all those hours of wishing and working for it?
Or what if the dream works out fine, but our life is still...well, a normal life with all its ups and downs?
What if we don't have that magic moment that makes everything "happy ever after"?

I enjoyed reading an article on The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur blog [www.toiletpaperentrepreneur.com] recently (though the blog is an old one), about how to find your hidden talent.  What was the No.1 tip, according to Mike Michalowicz?   "Sorry, No Excuses Allowed."  No hiding your talents because you're scared it might not work out, no staying put and staying safe, then blaming your problems on someone or something else.

I know I'm guilty of this - I can think of a hundred external reasons why I never get round to sitting down and writing that tricky middle section of my novel.   But the truth really is, whenever I think about it I get scared.  Its hard to explain why objectively - after all typing words into a computer screen is hardly an extreme sport.  But what it comes down to it this - in my mind I can imagine what will happen in an alternative universe where I become "a writer".   I will be happier, more confident, prettier, better dressed.  My whole household will be happier, brighter and more smoothly run.   The children won't argue and domestic appliances won't break down.  I like my alternative universe.  

Now I'm old enough to know that the world doesn't work like that.   Becoming the next JK Rowling won't change my whole life into a fairy tale where no bad things can touch me.   But there's an even worse fear lurking just around the corner.

What if I am just no good at it?  What if I never become a writer, not because I selflessly devote all my time to my family, but just because I don't have the ability?
Is it better to fool myself that I could be great if only the rest of the world hadn't stopped me?
Or to face the music and find out?

I'm starting to come round to the idea that facing the music has to be better.  And then if I truly am awful I have two choices: carry on anyway, for my own pleasure; or move on and try a different dream on for size.

Someone once told me that the really clever birds know a scarecrow signifies not danger but the best crops.   So next time the scarecrows of life start crowding in, I'm going to try laughing in their faces, and carrying on skipping through the fields.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Grown-up Orphans

"Losing a parent is something like driving through a plate glass window. You didn't know it was there until it shattered, and then for years to come you are picking up the pieces."
Author Saul Bellow, quoted in The Nation and reproduced in The Week

I read the above quote this morning and it really struck a chord for me. It was that feeling you get when someone has managed to take what you have thought or felt and put it into succinct, eloquent words. So instead of the feeling just buzzing hopelessly around in your head, you now have something concrete that you can point to and say "there, that's what it's like".

I'm what I call a "grown up orphan". I lost my mum when I was 26 and my dad when I was 34. I should be clear at this point that I know I'm fortunate that I had them both around through all my childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood. I know there are many people who have to cope with losing parents when they are very young, and that must be heart-breaking.

But still, I expected to have my parents around for longer. They were a little older than some of my friends' parents (mum was 40 when she had me), but I just assumed that would mean I would get to the "where are they going to live/ how am I going to support them?" stage a bit sooner. It never crossed my mind that I was going to lose them completely.

I remember when my mum died (very suddenly), a colleague asked me if we had been particularly close, had spoken on the phone every day and so on. The truthful answer was no - not that we weren't close, but more in a once-a-week kind of a way. I was newly married, only a few years on from university and excited about my new life, house, career. I was still really at that stage of wanting to pull away from home and become my own person. Did this mean I should grieve any less? The only answer I could give was "but she was my mum!"

One of the unconscious assumptions of childhood is that our parents will always be there for us, no matter what. And when that safety net is taken away, suddenly we become aware that it is a long way down.

My mother never knew my children, never saw me pregnant, never compared our bumps, never held my tiny babies. She wasn't there either to tell me it was ok and she knew how I felt for the two babies I lost. My dad got to know my first child a little bit, but his terminal cancer was diagnosed when my second baby was a few weeks old, and died one week after his 1st birthday.

Neither of them have been here to see my boys start school, earn their swimming badges, or bruise their knees.  They are not there to give advice (welcome or not!), or to fill in the gaps in the memories of my own childhood.  And as the boys get older, so my awareness of the loss seems to get bigger rather than smaller. I know how much my mum would love doing their junk modelling with them; how proud my akela-dad would be when my eldest said his cub promise; how he would have enjoyed being the one to take them to their first football match.

My boys don't miss out: they are blessed to have another set of grandparents who are more than happy to do extra turns. But on a bad day it only makes it seem worse for me that my parents aren't even missed, that their memories will gradually grow fainter and fainter.

Do I look back and wish I'd done things differently? Maybe a little, but there's not a lot I could have done. A few more conversations perhaps, more hugs, less adolescent angst. But I can't change the person I was then. And if I'd had kids earlier, I don't think I would have been as good a mum myself.

So this post isn't to ask you to be a completely different person either. If your parents irritate the hell out of you then you are probably not going to suddenly want to spend every minute of the day with them. But perhaps the knowledge that your time with them is limited may help you bear with their faults a little more patiently, and try to remember a few more of the good things.

As Joni Mitchell says, you don't know what you've got till it's gone...

Friday, 11 February 2011

A Haiku Excuse (or is it an excuse for a haiku?)

This week in my home
Lots of new things have happened.
So the blog has not.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Choices, choices...

"My wallet's too small for my fifties and my diamond shoes are too tight!"

One of my favourite quotes from Friends because it sums up one of the fundamental problems in life: however fortunate we are, we seem to be able to find something in it to trouble us.

The more we have, the more we have to look after, think about, manage, decide.  And often, the more we want.   And this is never more true than in the area of choice and opportunity.

No one likes having the ability to choose being taken away from them.  We hate that feeling of being backed into a corner, with no way out.  Not being able to do anything to alter our situation leaves us feeling impotent and frustrated. As creatures with free will so central to our being, losing that option can seem the hardest kind of deprivation.

And yet at the other end of the scale, too many choices can be paralysing.   Particularly if like me you are not very good at making decision in the first place.  Or ever.

I'm having one of those moments today.  I have the opportunity to take my working life in about three or four different directions.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not sitting here with gilt-edged job offers on the desk in front of me.   But there have been conversations, e-mails, phone calls with expressions of interest, suggestions about how we could take things further.  And I'm in the extremely fortunate position of being able to consider all of them because I've a husband who is happy to support me both emotionally and financially.    How lucky am I?

So right now I'm feeling really excited.  And confused.

A couple of months ago I was feeling exactly the opposite: my (chosen) limitation of being there for my children seemed to render me with countless other mums looking for a satisfying, stimulating school-hours only job.  And so this sudden flowering of opportunities has taken me by surprise.
Shall I stay where I am, go back to something old and familiar, or give it all up and start again with something new?

And given that I find it hard enough deciding what to buy for tea, how can I decide what to do with the rest of my life?

But I've decided that for now I'll just enjoy the feeling of all these opportunities.  Its like standing in the middle of a wide open space and seeing all these different paths laid out in front of me.   I don't know where any of the paths will end up, and once I've chosen one I don't know whether I'd ever be able to find my way back to this crossroads and try again.   But I know I'm very, very lucky to be stood here right now, enjoying the view.   The diamond shoes might feel a bit strange, but they are still sparkling, whichever way I dance.