Posted in Lost in Thought, Observations

Less Fear, More Adventure

I’m busier and more energetic than I was during previous months, but lurking under all of that is a feeling of sadness. I won’t say that I don’t know why… it would surprise me if there was even one person under the sun who doesn’t know the feeling. The more connected and involved you are, the more deeply buried is that discomfort, but it will surface eventually.

I think a lot of it is because things change so fast. You have parents, grandparents and friends at school, then suddenly it’s just your parents (maybe one parent), and friends at university (different friends)… then you are working and living somewhere else. You have pets, and when they die, you soothe your grief with new kittens or puppies, who grow old in their turn.

With every year, your past drops more and more behind, and all of a sudden you wake in the middle of the night and realize the sheer weight of all of the things you don’t have any more, some of which you didn’t even notice stopping or going away.

Every year it gets worse. The things and people you have right now, most of which you take for granted even while you love and appreciate them, will one day be mist and memories like everything else.

Even as you look around the room, paying more attention to your surroundings than you normally do, there’s something unsatisfying about the experience. Objects fade into hazy dimness after your gaze moves on, and it’s as though your here and now isn’t real… in fact, it isn’t! The moment is already gone, and what’s no longer in your sight (even while still in the room) is just memory… if that.

Your mind is the same — like your gaze, it moves over objects and environment, spotlighting things for as long as you care to dwell, then letting them slide into the dark. Having gone into that dark, it can be a struggle for some things to ever reappear again!

It turns into a merry-go-round or baggage carousel, with your thoughts as the same oddly shaped baggage passing time after time. There’s the big blue trunk… the drab rucksack… the red vanity case. The big blue trunk again — I’ll need it soon, but the moment’s not right. The red vanity case… so bright and pretty nobody would ever forget about it. Wasn’t there another one? What was it again, and do I care? I’m comfortable enough without it. Oh wait, the drab rucksack! I do need that because my documents are in it.

On some days the same bags pass repeatedly, and I can never understand why they don’t stay put in my mind for when I need them. Instead, they are doomed to constantly disappear, and when they reappear, I’m as surprised as I was the first time.

Some nights I use a particular thought to comfort myself, as though I’ve found a cosy spot and collected the red vanity case onto my knees. I open it and spend time admiring the colourful contents and inhaling favourite perfumes. I don’t move on from that for a while, but eventually my mind drifts away of its own accord, sometimes to scarier places. Finally those thoughts too, flit away, and I fall asleep.

I feel quite sorry for us as living beings. We aspire to be more, but are mere flashes of light and electricity; sparkling stardust and water. Amongst each other we walk, striving to keep each other fixed and secure, but things continually move on and change. New technologies become old in no time at all, and the sands shift beneath our feet.

And yet… nothing has changed at all. We’re the same people, living the same lives. I feel as though I’m living a life that somebody else has lived before me, experiencing trials and tribulations that troubled someone else in another age. The same words are used over and over through the generations… right, left, poverty, trade, global, independence, freedom, nation, kindness, love, fellowship, hope, despair. The old forces still stalk the land. We invent things… then decide the way we did things in the past were better, often because they were.

I’m rambling now; thoughts passing by repeatedly. I don’t know any more if they are connected — I’m just lighting on each one in turn.

This doesn’t mean we should cling to possessions no matter what. My family used to collect books, cameras, postcards, cat ornaments, Piggin ornaments, teddy bears, model cars… We also used to get into hobbies like silk painting, machine knitting, cross stitch, beadwork and more. Stuff built up around us and became a burden.

We made serious moves to declutter. The house is emptier but feels easier to clean and move around in. Things are easier to find. I remember a few items with regret and nostalgia, but in general there’s nothing I miss or would have back. I wish we had never accumulated so much stuff — it sat around for years and got in the way! Wasted space, wasted money, wasted energy.

We are more cautious buyers these days. The things we keep are those we really love or appreciate. Like everyone, we are limited… limited in energy, scope, memory, appetite, patience and time.

I’m not sure what the world would be like if there were no limits in what we could have, do or remember! That sounds like a dream come true, but if nothing was fresh and new any more, imagine the boredom. It’s nice for things (and living beings) to constantly renew; not just corporeal forms but also minds and personal experience — for young lambs to be born for whom the world is still a shining wonder. For those of us who have lived some time, forgetting may have its issues, but it’s also a part of healing.

Perhaps, instead of grieving after what we have lost, we should look forward to whatever might still come into our lives; new loves we don’t yet know… even if it’s only more space and greater peace, or a more unpredictable and adventurous life.

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Posted in Health Issues, Lost in Thought

Mindfulness Experiment Gone Awry

A good way of escaping unwelcome introspection, I’ve read, is to imagine yourself in the ocean. The colourful fish swimming past you are your thoughts — you observe them swimming past, perhaps going round you a few times, then they are gone.

My initial reaction, really, is that I don’t want to be in the ocean! Just yesterday I viewed a photo of sting-rays and sharks nosing sharply around, and that’s the image that came to mind when I read the above idea.

Some of my thoughts might well be sharks, not clown fish. I wonder how many other people out there would empathize with this? Well, let’s just go with this mental image for a while, and see what happens. Here’s me floating in the murky sea water, surrounded by flitting predatorial shapes.

What is this shark? He’s looking right in my face, like the old fellow from that turtle film, Sammy’s Adventures. What does he represent?

Whoa!

When I started the exercise, I closed my eyes and visualized a 3D cartoon image because of remembering about Sammy the turtle, then linked the looming shark to the worries in my mind. Instantly, the oceans closed in. Depths dropped away below me, all my friends were gone, no safety anywhere. Nothing was in my future but cold drowning and too many teeth.

Do what you do with a nightmare — banish it. Swim back up for a few breaths of fresh air. I don’t think that’s what they had in mind… I’m supposed to be relaxing happily, my thoughts swimming past and disappearing unchallenged. How do you let go of a big grey Thought that’s taking far too much interest in you?

Summoning it up in that form may have been a mistake, unless I take control and cause it to swim away. Is that doable? No, it’s just hanging there in the water, staring at me. I can’t imagine it gone. Even if it swam off, it would circle round then return.

“Do I look like food to you?” as Sammy said to the wee red fish, who grinned toothily and nodded. This is not my idea of relaxation. Maybe I could try an inflatable swimming pool instead?

Hmm… Ground feels bumpy underneath, but at least nothing is swimming around in here. (Feels around dubiously). There’s grit in the pool, and bits of grass. When I climbed in, I took bits of the lawn with me, stuck to the soles of my feet. Irritating.

Any minute now, somebody’s going to scream at me to come in for lunch.

Posted in Books, Desktop Pictures, Technology and Software

They are Just Books

Time for bed… just wondered if there was anything to blog about.

I seem to have recovered my creative spark (touch wood) and have been making more desktop wallpapers… few of which ever get posted! I always find a reason to hold back, and I made three versions of the same one today. Haven’t decided which I like best, yet.

Green Photoshop design with a jewel in the middle.

Have finished reading Snobs by Julian Fellowes, which I enjoyed. Before that, I read Watching the English by Kate Fox, which was also enjoyable. Part of the reason I wanted to read it is that sometimes I wonder how British I am! There are things that have thrown me about other Brits (or folk in general?), and I wondered if the book would help. I recognized myself in some of the descriptions, but not others… (the pub culture, for instance. Any kind of pronounced drinking has always seemed to me bizarre, whether of tea, coffee or beer… but Kate Fox offers an explanation for it).

Both of those books have something in common — a wry look at the English class system.

Because of all the recent faffing about out-of-date browsers, I had to switch my blogging from my small old Mac to my big new one. I didn’t want to, but I suppose it will be easier to post pictures to my blog… this is my picture-making machine.

I have been buying our Patrick O’Brian novels all over again… we invited a bookseller to our house to look through our books, and he took a lot that weren’t actually for sale. I’m still upset about the strangest books… like my small collection of Asterix comics, including one in French. (‘Ils sont fous, ces Romains!’) I bought most of them as a student, as a kind of ‘end of the day’ treat; a break from studying.

My mother said she misses books too… she had some in her possession longer than she’s had me! Her mother lent out a book she bought with her pocket money when she was a girl… Scottish Chiefs by Janet Porter. All these years later, and she’s still upset that it was never given back.

I guess I knew that books were important to us; worlds such as The Wind in the Willows are almost homes on their own… and you get used to having those particular books sitting there, lining the walls like bulwarks against the world. I still have my Wind in the Willows paperback copy. Printed 1973, quite battered, and with my name written inside along with ‘Primary 7’! But I feel that it’s MY copy, and not a replacement bought recently. This is the very copy that made me cry when Moley sensed his home nearby.

Still, it was a shock that I felt so strongly about losing the other books… you think “did they really matter so much to me?” Simply replacing them (possible in some cases) isn’t enough… you want your original ones back, like my grandfather’s copy of poems by George Mackay Brown. (I got my other GMBs back, but he had already sold that one after having it for just one day).

You would imagine this would label me as a die-hard ‘printed book’ reader, someone who would never use an eBook reader. It has had the opposite effect, though… the thought of having books that can’t be passed from my possession to someone else’s is suddenly very attractive. I can see an e-reader lurking in my very near future.

They are just books… so I tell myself! But I’m tightening my defences.

Posted in BlogFriday, Life and Family, My Cats

Only Human

I was struggling to come up with something for this week’s BlogFriday word, ‘tears’. I could research and write something factual, tell a sad or a funny story – I could talk about my tears, or someone else’s. We all have them, even if we have to squeeze them out of a bottle.

I wish I could have written Katyboo’s The self fulfilling Caucus Race – it reduced me to tears of laughter. I’m glad she went ahead and wrote it down anyway; I couldn’t have, mostly because I haven’t gone through her particular experiences. On reflection, I’m quite glad of that. I found her when following some tags the other day, and had to wrestle with an unworthy desire to keep her all to myself.

When you’re not gifted with so much ebullient humour, ‘tears’ is a hard word to write about. I don’t want my blog to be angry or miserable, though at the same time I want it to represent the life I’m really living. I was wrestling with these feelings when I got up this morning, and about the first thing I saw on my computer screen (apart from the 3D wallpaper from Caedes and an unsorted rank of desktop icons) was my horoscope for today.

“However you feel is how you feel, so don’t try to hide it. If other people are uncomfortable with your anger, your happiness, or whatever emotion you’re exhibiting, that is just too bad for them. You’re not a robot, so why should you act like one? Beware of people who think that hiding how you really feel is some sort of superior, more powerful way to be. Not acknowledging your feelings can become a very unhealthy habit – one that can keep you from having honest connections with others.”

Alright then… wasn’t the word ‘tears’? I have a bottle of them beside my bed.

The optician’s receptionist (I nearly called her the optionist) gave me them for nothing when I was complaining about gritty eyes. They don’t feel any less tired, but I smiled this morning at how shiny they were… it just struck me as funny, all of a sudden. I’m sitting-up mud with dark eyes glimmering out at everything. Just look at all of you, reading my blog. Take away the spectacles, the veils, the hats, the hoods, the hair and the sleepy, rubbing fists… behind them are eyes so shiny they’re like mirrors.

These drippy bad boys are full of natural painkillers. When your middle gets icy cold, that’s almost physical pain, not just emotional. The heat seems to squeeze out through your eyes.

The two of us living here in Mum’s house were supposed to be having an adventure. Thence we had fled, abandoning our own home. While Mum got on with things downstairs, we were playing Anne Frank in the attic, hiding out upstairs and sneaking down for food. Sharky was the last of four cats, and when he died, it was as though I was losing everything all over again: not just his love and companionship, but the entire feline crowd, our house, and the life we lived together.

Ah! Those halycon days! Those days when Thor was beating up everybody except the giant Maine Coon in the next street, when Lucky smiled at me from the back door, and Fusspot teased the seagulls and made them stress out all over my washing. Those days when I had an office to dislike with cordial passion, cat shows to get incomprehensibly excited over, and Star Trek Voyager showing every week on BBC2 at 6 PM. Just like Lister in the Red Dwarf, I’d settle down with my curries and shandy and didn’t have to worry about someone else wanting the Antique Roadshow instead. The cats weren’t into clocks and Welsh dressers.

I thought he’d be with me for years yet, with his kind wisdom, energy and humour. The two of us had moved away but could return if we wanted, to the scolding seagulls and the takeaway belching greasy smoke at the bottom of the garden. Together we were complicit in the lie that we could go back while choosing not to. My penpal described it perfectly when she said “Sharky was your bit of continuity” – that’s what made it so particularly hard to bear.

I’m no robot – it’s true.

Posted in Books, My Cats

The Spring Brings Flowers

From one of the essays I read:

The autumn with its fruits provides disorders for us, and the winter’s cold turns them into sharp diseases, and the spring brings flowers to strew our hearse, and the summer gives green turf and brambles to bind upon our graves.

(From ‘On Death’ by Jeremy Taylor, 1613-67)

Thor died in April last year along with Mum’s cat Jay. This year it was the turn of Fusspot in March. Four of my sister’s friends have lost pets in recent weeks, both cats and dogs. Two of Mum’s friends passed on. Then I read the essay. “Hmm,” I thought, “I was just thinking early spring seems to be the time… but then I have said the same about November, December, and January.”

Leigh Hunt’s essays on blissful slumber are still my favourites, inspiring brighter thoughts… all those who have left us have nodded by warm firesides and curled up in soft beds. They have known sleep and forgetfulness of care, and they sleep now.

Posted in Lost in Thought, Music, Pet-Minding, Rants

Nothing Lasts Forever

On Saturday I was tramping along in the hot sun, N’s dog Thundercloud at my side. I was thinking about the fragility of human relationships. In some nothing seems to be wrong but they fall apart anyway. All it takes is for one person to lack drive, to fear commitment, or to believe they can have something better with different companions. And yet there’s nothing wrong with living apart – we cannot own each other. It’s enough that people get along and give aid or friendship when needed.

Before that I had been thinking about the impermanence of other things. Nothing that we have thought, said or done will survive for all time. Only if humans somehow survive into infinity will a selection of our works and knowledge accompany them. But if the human race dies, everything we have created also dies.

While on that topic, there are the individuals – the plants, animals and people, dying one by one. It’s terrible to think of those we love just ceasing to be, yet immortality would be a terrible thing. Reproduction would have to cease if we didn’t want to live on each other’s shoulders, eight miles high.

I tried to imagine another world where every soul who has ever lived continues existence in more or less that form. How do they find the room? It must be full by now. It’s crowded enough where we are – how much worse would it be in this other world?

Still musing about doomed relationships and the fleeting nature of people and things, I passed a tiny, beautifully tended Japanese-style garden. Something about it was just too perfect and too manicured to be true.

“Somebody went to a lot of trouble with that patch of earth,” I thought, “and yet will be fighting with weeds and grass popping up where not wanted, and eventually will get tired of it and change it, or sell it to someone else who will dig up the whole thing and plant potatoes. And one day maybe it will all be barren land with rocks and scrub as far as the eye can see – no trace of this little place. Nothing lasts forever.”

And there it was – that phrase, the one that connected everything I’d been thinking. A song I loved as a teenager came welling out of a shadowy corner of my memories. I played it repeatedly in the house we left a long time ago in a town we no longer see. People and animals lived in that house who are long since gone. I haven’t thought about this song for years – and there it was in my head as though I’d been listening to it only yesterday.

Nothing lasts forever
Of that I’m sure
Now you’ve made an offer
I’ll take some more

Up till then I had just been trudging and thinking in a dull kind of way, but suddenly something changed. There was joy and rediscovery, mixed with sadness.

Nothing lasts forever…

Bryan Ferry!

haunting solo…

I loved that singer. Did he think about the same sort of things? When did he just fade into my past and remain forgotten? When did I become somebody else?

When I turn the corner
I can’t believe
It’s still the same old movie
That’s haunting me

This song has been in my head ever since that moment and I don’t want to let it go. It reconnects me to my past and brings perspective to the present.

For now it’s the same old scene – but nothing lasts forever.

Edit Feb 2008: Comments to this post when it was on Blogigo:

kateblogs wrote at Jun 12, 2006 at 13:28:
What a wonderful post. So evocative.

drifting wrote at Jun 13, 2006 at 07:21:
What kateblogs said!

jasrus1969 wrote at Feb 10, 2008 at 23:50:
Heard this same tune on Ashes To Ashes the other night, lovely tune, very thought provoking and just glad I tracked it down.

Posted in Hearing Loss, Rants

Slough of Despond

Feeling unexpectedly depressed! My faith in the system is at an all-time low. My hearing gets worse and worse, and I’ve been on the NHS waiting list (to be assessed for new hearing aids) for over a year. While putting up the Christmas tree, I was trying to listen to Mary’s Boy Child by Boney M, and realized I couldn’t hear the singing voices, just the beat. I don’t know if that’s because it was a CD instead of the records and tapes I used to listen to. The frequencies are possibly different.

Space Cadet (on TV) is not helping. I looked in for 20 minutes and felt angry. At least one of the young people swears every time he opens his mouth, even when he’s being affable. He probably thinks it comes across as vivid and expressive, but that’s a mistake a lot of people make. I’m hardly Miss Goody Two Shoes when I think no one’s listening, but tonight I was feeling pretty dismal already. And whether I watch it or not, I feel we are all affected by the principle of the show. It reminds me of the fable about the boy who cried wolf. Credibility is important – yet so many people give their credibility away without a second thought. Then we wonder why we struggle and why the world is so cynical.

While I’m on this tack, I’m reminded of when I asked people on a message board what the key to happiness was. To my surprise, take-up was slow to start with, and there were comments like “what a heavy topic!” It seemed to me perfectly straightforward – perhaps it’s ‘heavy’ because we wish to close our eyes to other people’s state of mind, or to the inadequacies of the system. Eventually the ice was broken and more replies came in, often along the lines “don’t compare yourself to others – be content with what you have.”

I’ve considered it – there’s some truth in it; for instance, it would be unrealistic for someone to be unhappy because he couldn’t paint or draw while people around him could. His skills are just different. His unhappiness might be understandable if the system determined that it was especially desirable to be artistic, or that all those who are not artistic must be abnormal or ‘not trying hard enough’.

When it comes to being happy, I think our greatest need is to ‘fit in’ and be accepted. Part of that involves looking around, seeing what the others do, and working out what we can do ourselves in order to fit in the best we can. We also look to see if we’re being appreciated. We need to feel of equal worth – maybe have a little bit more so that we can feel slightly smug!

The problem arises when individuals and businesses assume that the security and happiness of others is less important than their own strivings to do well. It’s not realistic to say “relax, you’re fine with what you have” – it’s impossible to relax when you know something has gone wrong in the scheme of things, and it’s even worse when you see people taking their relative prosperity and stability as an excuse to feel superior. I’m comfortable with what I have but I don’t feel secure – and not everybody is so fortunate. And it’s not because ‘the less fortunate’ couldn’t (or didn’t want to) do better. The problems we have are much bigger than any failure to pull our weight.

Perhaps I’ll feel brighter tomorrow morning, though of course nothing will have changed. Human nature is nothing if not resilient…