Facing the awkward, or how I use the word ‘dick’ repeatedly to describe my past behaviour but not directly apologise for anything.

I’m going to be completely honest – I have, in the past, been a bit of a dick (in the past?).  Who hasn’t? I respond in my head, somewhat defensively.  Well, yes, of course, we have all been dicks whether we admit it or not.  I am still in two minds as to whether I would rather have a palimpsest memory which would erase all dickish, awkward, embarrassing vignettes from my past life or if I would rather hold on to them, in the vague hope that one day I would ‘use them’ to become a ‘better person’.  Instead, these dickish memories just resurface at inopportune moments and often in such acute detail that I have to sing whatever other words I can think of out loud to drown out the image.

 

I am not going to share what these dickish memories are – I am not ready for such bald, invasive therapy (my sphincter just puckered like a flautist’s lips at the very thought of it!)  But today, I decided to confront the awkward – and try to work out why these moments are so awkward.  I’d read a little bit about emotional agility here, and I liked the idea of dealing with an inner critic as a source of possible information about ourselves, rather than a voice to be ignored and ultimately controlled.  Could I do the same with dickish memories?

 

Most of my awkward memories revolve around people I am no longer in touch with – I judge myself unfairly against other people and their reactions; to the extent that I often see colleagues and friends as an extension of myself and my somewhat harsh self image.  I am far more likely to dwell on a friend that I have lost than a friend that I enjoy spending time with – and over the years I have lost a fair few friends, either through my own volition (although I find it hard to even admit that) or because they just stopped calling. For example, I am not in touch with anyone from university – why is that?  So, in the spirit of ringing in the new, I am contacting  former acquaintances again – in some cases 19 years after we first met.   I’m focusing on the ones where I think my essential 21year old dickishness may have been the decisive factor in our parting ways.  This is telling – I don’t recall the other party being dicks at all – which means possibly I am viewing all this through a pair of shit coloured spectacles and actually, me not being in touch with them has nothing to do with my behaviour and everything to do with the fact that you can’t stay in touch with everyone.  In which case, by dusting off the hotmail contact list I am essentially opening myself up to a whole host of awkward moments anew.  What larks!

 

Of course, my other natural state is envy – so if anyone that I haven’t heard from in over 10 years is doing particularly well, there is a great chance that I won’t reply to them.  Kidding!  Again, in the spirit of ringing in the new, I will greet everyone with a generosity of heart that I am working on devotedly like a Shaolin monk at his calligraphy.  Naturally, through my shit coloured spectacles, I have to consider the grave possibility of the worst possible response: Nefny Who?  But at least that would mean that if I failed to make an impact for my dickishness on said person, then I can probably safely delete that awkward memory from my guilt-drive.

 

What do I want from this?  To be in touch with people whom I once liked?  To see if I can be forgiven? To exorcise my dickheadedness? To prove that I am a different person? Who knows?  Perhaps the challenge lies in facing one’s own awkward past lives rather than the abundance of renewed friendships that may (or may not) ensue.

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Enjoy the ride, man

There a few things for which I stop and congratulate myself; to be honest it is not, on reflection, because I do little to be proud of , because I am more often involved in pulling baby porridge from my hair (am I alone in enjoying the sensation?)  But here is one thing; since my son started crawling and rolling or both at once – crolling? I have raised nappy changing to performance art.  I would happily charge someone to come in and watch me change a nappy – stick some ‘Tubular Bells’ behind it and I could sell it to Cirque du Soleil.  After extensive reviews and rehearsal,and an out of town run, my son and I have decided that nappy changing should be a) done in total silence (effort grunts are acceptable) b) he should be allowed to coat his own hand in sudocrem and c) at least one limb should moving contrary to the rest of the limbs at all times (my own or his).

 

I am also proud of my ability to use my son as an excuse for all manner of slovenly behaviour.  Grocery delivery man arrives and STILL in pyjamas? I have a 6 month old baby, so …… you know (raise eyebrows and nod to self as if this is more than sufficient justification).  Floor of kitchen resembles that of a lowdown tapas bar on the outskirts of Malaga?  Well, you know, with a 6 month old baby, it is just so hard to keep it clean and etc etc.  My son is now 8 month olds – I am not neglectful , this just demonstrates for how long I have used these particular line of thought.  Again – practice has raised it to an art form!

 

But I have been thinking about the end of Maternity Leave and the big return to work.  All around me I am seeing mothers lose their shit at the thought of going back, mothers for whom Maternity Leave and childcare has been not so much a roller coast ride as a log flume.  There’s been lots of water and the trajectory has been pretty much downwards for the duration.  I am sure there are private moments of intense joy and calm – I know there are!  But the public aspect of early motherhood is characterised by fraught interactions and the idea that martyrdom is good.  This seems pretty universal across the forums of motherhood – from the coffee morning meet up, to the WhatsApp group, to the mothership (no pun in- well maybe pun intended) – the online discussion.  Intra-mum exchanges, in my experience are 75% of the time on the subject of their child’s health and development and usually conclude with a plea for reassurance or consolation.  I know that from time immemorial, mothers have come together to discuss their children and find solace in the tough times, but add to this the layer of singular angst surrounding return to work and the tension reaches panic room level.

I am on a life raft – a unique life raft which offers baby yoga and sensory sessions, but a life raft nonetheless, floating along, evaluating my own and my son’s life  and finding them pretty pleasing thank you very much.  Gradually I notice women disappearing – I don’t see them do it at first – suddenly they’re not there anymore.  And I notice women around me noticing this – and I start to hear a low pitch whining noise, and then I realise it is coming from the woman next to me.  And then I see her do it – she leans back and throws herself over and I never see her again.  And the mood on the boat, which had been so pleasant up to now, starts to change – it gets rockier, the women start to cry and the waves get rougher, because we’re lighter in number and I have to prepare myself for leaping over the side.  I want to spend as much time as possible just staring at my baby because I WON’T EVER SEE HIM AGAIN but I also want to enjoy my last moments of freedom as a person who has hobbies and a social life, so I divide my time between speed-reading books described as ‘life-changing’ on the sleeve and cuddling my baby – and feeling guilty about not doing the other all the time.

 

And then, I hope, I’ll get pulled over the side.  And it, like most things, will probably be fine.  Okay, I may not always have porridge in my hair to look forward to.  But I will probably even enjoy being a worker and contributing to society, not just feathering my own nest. I may even enjoy wearing clothes again.  Who knows?  All I can do at the moment is try to reason with myself and my frankly hysterical response to returning to work.  Did I mention that I have two months left before i go back?  Yep.  Ages.  But it is the Crucible effect, infectious.  Once one person starts frothing at the mouth about visiting nurseries and arranging pick up times, we all do it.  But I am determined to enjoy the ride for a s long as possible, dammit – a concerted fightback, if you will.  Here are a few things that I will try out to keep myself in check:

 

Make a list of things that are good about work.

But some new clothes for work

Give the hysteria I feel about end of Mat Leave a name and face, a character.  Mine has cats, flyaway hair and writes afternoon dramas starring Jason Priestley for Channel 5 (none of which are green-lit)

Sit still for a bit every day and be calm.

Plan in a few trips.

Wear pyjamas and don’t stress about the food on your floor.  Or your face.  Or in your hair.

All suggestions gratefully received!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Out

I’m playing fast and loose with the Daily Prompt today: although I’m only on day 7 of my blog-quest, perhaps a near week of work has led to the well of inspiration running dry.  But, just to be original I’m going to write about being on the inside, imagining the outside.

 

For a teacher, I’m an insubordinate old shrew.  I spend most of my day telling students what to do and expecting them to follow my orders.  A memorable dialogue from today went like this:

HIM: Miss, can I go to the toilet?

ME:  No.

HIM:  But I need to go!

ME:  Well, DON’T need to go!

Do I think I am King Canute, ordering back the tide?  No, I just know my students very well and the odds of this student felling nature call just as they are about to start an exam were highly unlikely.  And I’m bossy.

 

So I’m all for subversion outside of the classroom: a stickler for rules if I’m setting them, but following them?  Me, not so much.  For instance, I find the suggestion of someone telling me to relax utterly ridiculous.  How am I supposed to relax?  The mere implication that you need to tell me to do so infers that I am not relaxed, and probably with good reason!  Likewise, I find the process of meditating incredibly difficult: as soon as the voice intones that famous phrase ‘ connect with your breath, feel it’s natural rise and fall’, I find myself going through an artificial construct of breathing, forcing the air in and out of my lungs like a hand operated bellow, or, worse still, trying so hard to make my breathing natural that I ……eventually …stop ……breathing …altogether.  By this point, any thoughts of connectnig with breath, a genuinely natural occurence when I’m not thinking about it, are out of the window, and I sit up, scratch my head and open a book instead.

So, relaxation on command is not for me.  Particularly arduous are trips to the masseuse; as soon as I hear ambient music in a candle-lit chamber I know that it is an exercise in futility.  I spend the next 30 minutes urging myself to enjoy this indulgence but inevitably spend it worrying if I left the hob on or if the masseuse actually fancies me, because that last stroke was a little too friendly.  I often come out with more tension than I went in with, and have to feign gratitude at the end, barely making eye contact.

 

What a horrible person.  But how can I relax when you tell me to?

 

Fortunately I have found the antidote, and that is to seek out he opposite of relaxation for any therapeutic treatments.  I have had acupuncture on and off for years, with varying degrees of success.  Needless to say, the mesmeric, ‘ you will relax you will relax you will relax’ style does nothing for me, but my current practicioners is a minor miracle.  The sessions take place in an open fronted shop in Manchester’s Arndale Centre, which is a huge shopping mall, if you’ve never been there.  The Acupuncturists is between the sliding doors onto the High Street and a Milk Shake Bar.  Sessions take place in small cubicles with no noise insulation and everyone who works there is always shouting.  Always.  The noise of the traffic of gobby Mancunian shoppers (ususally kids screaming, laughter, someone having an argument on the phone) competes with the Techno music from next door and the shouting of the acupuncturists.  Did I mention that?  Because the cubicles aren’t insulated, you can hear the outline of everyone else’s ailments in consultation (one patient was requesting treatment to recover from a skipping injury, I kid you not).  The final harmony line is the clinic’s own choice of music, pumped in through a stereo; they tend to favour Mandarin versions of popular tunes, such as ‘Baby’ by Justin Beiber or ‘Poker Face’ by Lady Gaga. To complete the full sensory experience, I lay under what may or may not be someone’s beach towel for half an hour with pins stuck in my head.

 

This, dear reader, produces the most relaxing half hour of my week – more often than not I fall into a blissful half sleep, and wake, dry mouthed and groggy only when my doctor is applying the cups.  I walk out as if on air.  I dance home.  Then I lie down again and fall to slumber.  The only time I relax is when the odds are against me; when fate and geography and other people and beachtowels conspire against what normal people would want in a fulfilling de-stress. But I think in order to relax, I need to feel close to life; in my cubicle I am protected yet so near to a lot of competing activity, and it’s here that I find the most satisfying repose.

 

But that’s just a theory.  Like I said, I’m an insubordinate old shrew.

 

Enjoy the Silence

Noises Off Experiment:  Day 5

Hello!  If you’ve just found me, you may need to read the last couple of posts to work out what I’m doing.  If you like intrigue and are short of time, let’s just say I’m audio-fasting (thanks Rhi x)

Living in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, I have been blessed with an incredible view of the surrounding hills. The sky high rent affords me a sky high view of the brink of the shoulder of the Pennines, as it mooches off towards Scotland.  The weather at the moment is hormonal, swinging from sunny spells to fierce rain and the sky is a real Rorschach most of the time.  I like to think that the clouds are not the source of the problem, but its victim, pinioned to the sky, forced to obey whatever the weather throws at them (charming naivety or idiocy: you decide).  Whatever, I’m a cloud champion and today they have been majestic.  Great merchant ships of grey, looming into my window vision like the Deathstar, unencumbered by the literal sturm und drang which surrounds them.  They were immense and well ….cloud, in myriad forms right the way  to the horizon.  I tried some mental word association to see what would happen.  It went like this:

Kansas

Dorothy

Ruby Slippers

New Shoes

Aldo

I evidently need some mind opening alongside my audio fasting!  Still, taking in the clouds made me think about the term luxury and how misleading my perception of it is.  I think of luxury as a sky high apartment and a flatscreen, for example.  But at least the apartment gives me the opportunity to take in this spectacular view.  Granted, I could take in the clouds from somewhere less indulgent, but can I walk before I run?  The view is the thing, not the rest of what living here affords.

In fact, I have re-evaluated what I consider pleasurable and luxurious this week and have realised pretty quickly that a night in front of the box hasn’t made the shortlist. Television hasn’t  entered the mind-debate much for me this week, as it hasn’t been something that I have consciously missed and this is surprising.  Once through the door, the TV would habitually be on, for company, for edification (no, that isn’t true), for entertainment, for whatever reason, but rarely was it genuinely watched.  It was soundscape; all other reasons are pure subterfuge.  If I do sit down to watch something, I’m shuffling within minutes, checking my phone or my laptop or a magazine.  So my angst about losing the background sound was pre-emptive; there is no sense of deprivation, no withdrawal, just a happy change.  I realise now that silence is not an absence, a challenge, a trial; its a bona fide luxury, a true one, along with a few others, such as a chair, a window and clouds …

Creativity, good wishes and epiphanies

Noises Off: Experiment Day 4

Hello!  If you’ve just found me, you may need to read the last couple of posts to work out what I’m doing.  If you like intrigue and are short of time, let’s just say I’m audio-fasting (thanks Rhi x)

The power of the written word!  Something about contextualising my frustrations in print yesterday must have done me good, for I spent the rest of the evening with the attitude of a meditative android, calmly going about the business of making aubergine parmigiana and doing the  washing in an audio-free bubble, judiciously and easily avoiding eye contact with my mind (if that’s possible) for the duration.  No explanation as to why it was so easy to switch off after writing, but stranger things have happened.

However, day 4 arrives and i’m frustrated at not having attained a plateau of peace.  This morning, my internal radio accompanied me with a Doors medley and ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ by Prince, both of which swelled in my brain and burst through my mouth in intermittent melody blurts, forcing me to randomly sing half lines here and there, unconnected to anything else that was going on.  How odd!  On the way to the train I pre-empted several conversations that I may or may not have today (update:  I didn’t have any of them) and mentally tried out a few lines from each one.  This may of course make me insane, but this morning I preferred to see my current state as akin to the island infested by rats that Agent Silva reminisces about in Skyfall.  Mentally, I’m letting my thoughts over-run me (and sometimes it does feel like a swarm of movement and unstoppable tessellations).  I’m observing this, waiting for the poison to be ministered and the hubbub to subdue.  All weaker thoughts will die out till we’re down to just two giant mega thoughts who must fight to the death.

But this is a pretty nasty metaphor and inaccurate.  I don’t wish to kill my brain-chatter, just find a way of disengaging.  Thoughts bring creativity, good wishes, epiphanies.  Frankly, thoughts are what I’m writing to you right now.  And, more practically, it’s impossible to kill them off.  Like creativity, good wishes and epiphanies, they are endless and spontaneous.  Just not always relevant or helpful.  So I’ll turn my attention to the present again.  These critters have had free rein for long enough.

Outside the sky is a block of grey white, and the trees all shades of green and in between.  It’s about to rain …

3 days to go.

 

 

Loving Kindness

Noises Off Experiment:  Day 3

Ah.

Like Jon Snow, I’ve hit a bit of a wall (as has that probably now-overused metaphor).  Audio fast day two did not end well, and in the most surprising way.  I went to meditation class at the local Buddhist Centre, a wonderful and benevolent resource in the middle of Manchester, a class that I often attend and in the normal run of things, something that provides an oasis in the week.  But my current detox seems to have turned everything on its head.

“Tonight we’re going to go through the Loving Kindness, or Metta Bhavana meditation” said Kevin (admittedly not a superficially Buddhist-y title, but I’m sure he has another one that he’s too modest to use  during seminars).  I’ve done this meditation before and it’s lovely; you focus on a different person for each of the five stages and wish them happiness and health.  The challenge is that the penultimate stage you must send out good wishes to someone you find difficult.  Well, it was a barfight in my mind!  The silence and concentration around me magnified  my thoughts, turning them into a polyphony of sounds stretching back to the start of the day to the chiropractors appointment that I had cancelled and forwards all the way to weighing up potential problems with my summer holiday.  The more I turned attention to my breathing, the harder my mind distracted me, the mental equivalent of this:

 

I know a song that can get on your nerves

Get on your nerves,

Get on your nerves,

Get on your nerves,

I know a song that can get on your nerves

And this is how it goes:

I know a song etc etc till you fall down screaming.

 

Loving Kindness turned into Ire and Spite:  I failed to think a singularly nice thought about anyone and although Kevin has said that this happens and it’s okay, just observe the thoughts and let them go, I couldn’t!   Which was the aim of this week.  Ay me.

 

Subsequently, my ears are now craving a ditty, a jingle, a tune to give me respite from my thoughts and allow me to vacate the old headspace.  Meditation class last night showed me how frustrating and fraught living in my head is and how difficult simple can be.

 

4 to go ….

In the Co-Op with Bobby Womack

Noises Off: Day 2 of living without extraneous sound (or audio-fast as a wise and brilliant friend described it)

The morning silence is the best bit, I find.  It gives me the space to let out all the random fragments of song that have collected over the night (this morning: Native New Yorker) without weaving them in with all the other thoughts that have accumulated over the course of the day, the Breakfast news, alarm sounds and 6 Music.  To be honest, it’s rather like singing flat out in a sparsely populated concert hall and therefore quite awkward.  I hear the song, I try to offer it lodging, but ultimately it just peters out of its own accord.

Subsequently, all songs sound strange and ridiculous to me. In the Co-Op, Bobby Womack and Damon Albarn seem a mightily dramatic accompaniment to buying vinegar and tampons.  If I genuinely stop and listen, it is absurd.

 

Likewise, the man opposite me on the train plugged in and closed his eyes, as if dozing off at the start of a long flight.  Which in a way he is. If we’re unhappy with our predicament, music is a means of escape or at least a distancing and if we’re feeling good, it simply highlights our mood.  But for me, music is a conduit – how much do I really hear on the way to the mindset  where I want to be?  Not much, it would appear, as I’m beginning to appreciate the other soundtrack a lot more; the whine of the train engine, the clink the wheels make over parts of the track which seem less secure, this reminds me where I am.  Which is not too bad a place, in fact, certainly no worse than in the Co-Op with Bobby Womack.