Not wanting to stink up the space with what’s mostly on my mind, I didn’t blog much last week. But because this is an exercise in honesty, I’ve decided to put it out there. I’m afraid – you could say worried – about admitting that I am worried.
I’ve been so deeply submerged in our self-help culture that voicing worries seems something worse than dirty. It is weak. That positive thinking mantra is louder than we think. We’re supposed to believe in the innate power of our minds to transform our situations, quell our fears, even heal our cancers. Above all, we must never see ourselves as victims or sufferers.
When the media showed renewed interest in realistic pessimism last year. I welcomed it with open arms.
It made me think about how I respond when people air their worries and I’ve been thinking about it again this past week because I’ve been, well, worried. Generic reactions include: “I’m sure it will get better”, “Things will work themselves out” and anything else that clings to the belief that ‘good’ will just make it’s way here.
I don’t at all think we’re being callous when we respond like this. Often, when I say things like this I am genuinely hoping to extend comfort to the other person. Being on the receiving end, however, I know I feel like the other person either hasn’t seen the reality of my experience or doesn’t have the time or feel we have the intimacy to actually engage with it. Fair enough. But let’s see it as it is instead of fooling ourselves that we’re being optimistic on behalf of others as if positive thinking in itself constitutes empathy.
The problem of worry is even more complicated for me when it comes to my faith. The Bible tells me not to worry, to trust God. I’ve even heard people explain these kinds of passages by condemning worry itself as sin and telling the worrier that they are failing to trust Him. But surely, to never fear, worry or be intensely concerned would be pathological. We’d have little impetus for self-preservation, taking steps to sort out the troubling thing, even to pray.
On that last note, I can’t believe that God would want me to come to Him with my enforced positive outlook. To say to Him: “Please help me with this thing but of course it’s fine, because I trust You” feels anemic at best and dishonest at worst. In fact, it feels like I’m telling God He’s too stupid to see how scared I am and to engage with me in my fear.
Instead it makes sense that the exhortation not to worry actually means not to allow worry to ‘have the last laugh’, so to speak, to control and consume me. And I can’t help but feel that admitting that it’s there is an important part of tackling, not necessarily worry itself, but the things that worry me.
Now when I routinely break down on a Sunday night, looking at the week ahead, terrified and overwhelmed by everything from money to the creature to my ability to organize, I’m learning not to beat myself up about it. It doesn’t make me a weakling or a bad person. The thing about worry is that it only reflects again that we’re in touch with our humanity. And, for me, it helps me to start my weekly climb again.
So we accomplished the big move and have left our city flat for a house in an area just outside the city that actually feels oddly rural. Our garden is enormous and that’s not just the city dweller in me speaking. We’ve counted four water features and five bird feeders.
The ‘plan’ is to grow our own vegetables and keep the rest of the garden in a state fit for respectable people, we shall see. I think I’ve killed my poinsettia from Christmas. I’ve been warned to stay away from the basil plant. My mum will remember me moaning about having the water our millions of potted plants.
At least we’ve not got the tropical heat to deal with here. No, instead we have seasons that I have yet to understand, a world of change that leaves me reeling with confusion over dark and light, warmth and cold. Perhaps the gardening will bring me home.
All in all, I’m feeling grateful. As always, money is an issue and the creature kicking about is enough to make me worry from time to time but she also makes me feel strangely connected with nature.
There is life out there and life in here. There are so many little spaces in which I see God.
Oh and while we were moving I coughed my belly button out.
Image: Di the huntress (I will post pictures of the real thing soon. I’m just out and about today)
1. Remember to keep the medicine cabinet fully stocked – running out of paracetamol when I’ve come down with the cold and am only allowed paracetamol is not fun and a real grown up would remember this when healthy.
2. Permanently stop leaving the dirty dishes until the morning, regardless of how tired I am after dinner.
3. Have a designated place for my keys so my reason for being late is no longer the pathetic “I was looking for my keys”.
4. Stop eating family-sized bars of chocolate just because I’m stressed, sad, angry, tired or bored. Or for that matter because I’m happy.
5. Stop obsessively watching rubbish teen programming like 90210 and The Vampire Diaries.
6. Do things rather than write them on a piece of paper and then lose said paper.
My body has decided it’s time to do something about my ego. Rightly, it figures that making me climb bum first then legs together into a car as if I’d forgotten to wear underpants would be the best way to go about it.
It started with the swim session I told you about the other day. You know, the one where I began to accept my body? Well, it turns out that while I had come to terms with the whole mountain-boobed-globe-bellied thing, my body’s limits and I have still been at odds.
I honestly tried to be good. While my friend Emily went straight into one of the faster lanes, I decided to stay in the frustratingly slow lane. I was so bored that I promised to upgrade next time we go. I still managed to overdo it.
The day after, I felt the pain in my arms. Good pain. But I also felt it in my thighs. Weird. My legs can usually deal no matter how out of practice I am.
As the day wore on, after a 45-minute walk, I realised that actually I felt like I’d been spending too much time on a horse (this was my imagining what being horseback might feel like. I’ve never been).
Was I really that unfit? Surely a little 20-minute swim couldn’t de-commission me so easily. I basically told my body, “Don’t be such a weakling” but was relieved when we took the bus home.
I suppose another person, a more cautious and sensible type, would have decided that it was time to take things easy. Whatever part of the brain enables someone like that to arrive at such a conclusion, it’s clearly gone missing in my I’m-only-pregnant bravado.
So, since we’re moving home this weekend, I’ve been packing and climbing and lifting and even jumping – basically daring my body to do it’s worst.
Then last night, I packed and stacked a couple of boxes and began to push them over to the other side of the room. Oh. That bending didn’t feel too good. Ok, let’s give them a kick across instead, shall we? Uh, sit down.
I spent my night having to sit up every time I wanted to change positions and had to get dressed this morning sitting down. I naively thought the worst thing that could happen was that my back could go out. That’s something I could deal with. I’ve grown up with scoliosis so backaches and I are well-acquainted.
But why the Gorgon did no one tell me that about half of pregnant women do their pelvises in? Is this some kind of sick joke – hiding information like this from the uninitiated?
I rang up my midwife today and she tells me it’s incredibly common. Really? REALLY? Then why no little warning? All the mothers I know, I’m adding this to the list of things you never told me about pregnancy. Not that I blame you. It’s not exactly polite conversation. But let’s add this one to the stinging nipples, shall we?
One of the incredible things about pregnancy is that every time I think I’ve got the hang of things, that I’m now a pro, nature has a way of reminding me that this is the one experience that I can’t control.
There’s only room for my baby or my ego – my body won’t hold both.
We’re packing up the flat to move into our first house this weekend and I’m coming face to face with my usual lack of organisation. One suitcase has books, shoes, a mini djembe drum, a hot water bottle, hangers and a game of chess. My mother would look at this, amused, and wonder what these things have in common. They’re all stuff that was living room at the time, Mum. I’m sorry, you did try.
The topic of tidiness was revived in our flat yesterday because I’d flippantly mentioned that I don’t bother to fold clothes on a Facebook status. That’s no surprise to anyone who’s lived with me – especially those who witnessed the legendary bomb sites of my university days. They probably wonder at me saying that that’s the only thing I don’t bother to do.
Bit by bit I have and am taming my natural disorderliness. Except on bad weeks, and let’s face it, we’re moving so this is one of them, the world we live in is more or less tidy and usually pretty clean. (I feel the need to mention briefly that while I can live with messy, even I’ve outgrown dirty.)
Books make their way back to the shelves with my mother’s voice inside my head saying, “How you keep your surroundings reflects how you keep your life” or, when we’d properly vexed her with our sloppiness, “You people feel it have a slave inside of here. You waiting for the maid to come pick up after you.”
In many ways, she succeeded in shaping my view of what an adult home should look like, in terms of tidiness, even if I do backslide – except when it comes to folding the laundry. I remember opening my mother’s drawers and looking through her things as a child. I loved how neatly everything was kept, how sweetly even the littlest most delicate things were folded.
Perhaps, because she is my mother, I’ve come to see this as ‘the epitome of all that is womanly’. As a result, I feel not just un-dainty but unfeminine for my obviously inability to do the same. I could fold my underwear but, mercy knows, I’ll never get it to stay that way.
I realise now that a lot of it is because I don’t see the real point of folding. I know it means you can find things more easily but I actually enjoy the hunt and rediscovery inside my drawers and cupboards, even if I do get frustrated when we’re about to be late for a wedding and none of the dresses in easy reach fit me.
I know it means you can fit more into a draw when it’s folded nicely but…ok, I’m actually not convinced of that fact.
I also know that some people prefer the straight lined creases that come with folding as opposed to the all-over creases that come with stuffing but let’s be real, I hate ironing far more than I do folding and it doesn’t happen unless there are wedding, funerals or work events. Anything that absolutely needs to be uncreased gets hung not stuffed and so is excluded from this here diatribe against folding.
Mind you, I do go into a folding frenzy when Laurence and I have a fight. Rage tends to lend me special self-righteous cleaning powers. The place is never so tidy as when I’m angry. He jokes that he just needs to wreck my moods more often for us to stay on top of everything.
The reason why this is a question at all is because of the debate we’re having about what kind of parents we’re going to be. The blueprint for parently housekeeping that we’ve both grown up with is almost inexplicably orderly and it doesn’t mesh with either of our personalities. We both dislike visible clutter but neither of us honestly give a toss about what happens in the drawers.
But aren’t “real” parents supposed to care about the little things like that? How else will the skiddywinks learn? Do they even need to learn? Why oh why is this important? Please tell me that it’s not.
I don’t know if I can or would fight a battle with my children that I can’t or won’t win even inside myself.
I think the UK may have missed out on the phenomena of “The Pick Up Artist” a VH1 television series. I got sucked into it one summer when I was home with my parents, which often translates into me watching a tad too much cable. It involves a group of shy men being trained to change their luck with women (apparently in the show’s terms this means seducing women for casual sex) and is based on a book that a few of my friends back home seemed to really get into.
Don’t have a clue what I’m talking about? Here’s an interview for your amusement with one of the show’s stars ‘Mystery’ who claims that “Being picked up by a pick up artist is a privilege.”
Really it’s the worst kind of entertainment, so self-assured and trashy that it pretty much parodies itself. Where the chips am I going with this? I started thinking about it today in passing when I was considering what it’s been like trying to settle into Bristol.
We moved here last summer and only now do I feel like I’m making some potentially deep and meaningful connections. The first step is where the difficulty lies – getting a new acquaintance’s number. I’ve met a few potential friends at parties, cafes, other people’s houses, church meetings, pubs and getting into the conversation is actually not that difficult once I push past my natural shyness barrier.
Then the moment of truth comes, will I initiate the exchange of numbers? She’s got no reason to initiate it. She’s settled in her life, her social group. So it’s up to me to make that move. And more often than not, I don’t. I just hope we’ll bump into each other again.
I know this problem isn’t unique to me. Just a couple of weekends ago I was chatting with a friend who moved back to the countryside to live with her parents and asked her how her social life was going. She told me about one instance in which she’d had a lovely chat with a woman about her age who was in a similar situation and also lived in the village. At the end of it, she gave the other woman her number but, because she didn’t have her phone, didn’t take hers. The woman never got called.
Little by little, I’m improving my method, inventing reasons to get someone’s number (actually, that’s pretty much how my husband and I got together!) and casually orchestrating the second meet-up. A lot of people meet me halfway – I add you on Facebook, you invite me for a cup of tea, that kind of thing. But I can’t for the life of me work out why it’s so difficult to stretch out and make it happen in the first place.
So here’s to me and other friends who’ve moved out of Brighton, our university town. May we pick up quality women – for the chats, not necessarily the sex.