A couple of weeks ago, I adopted Laura Veirs' song July Flame as a sort of personal anthem for the season. Whilst the world around me seemed to be revelling in snow and jingle bell tunes, I had an unashamed longing for summer. I really took the song to heart and found it a great comfort. And then, inspired by the song, I made this...
I don't know what to call it. It's round so maybe a mandala. Or a solstice light catcher. Or a paper cut. Or all three. Why not.
Since then I've also been stumbling across this quote by Albert Camus: "In the midst of winter I finally learned that there is within me an invincible summer." The few times I did stumble across it, I read it and my heart sank. My reaction was, "Oh, I wish." I then had quite a hellish few days. But, long story short, I came out through the other side and even found some contentment, some joy bubbling up out of nowhere. That's for another post, but last night I remembered that Camus quote and thought - yes. I found my invincible summer.
And then I saw that my friend over at Lickety Split posted this. I love that poem. I remember that it got me through some brutal fucking heartbreak about 10 or so years ago. This is a photo I took during that time...
"what matters most is how well you walk through the fire."
So there you go. Walk well. Mind how you go. Happy Solstice.
So you might have noticed that December has been a hard month for me. It hasn't all been bad. There have been ups as well as downs. And those ups have been pretty good while they lasted. But I thought they would help make the downs suck less. They don't. Having ups even gave me a false sense of security. Just when I thought I was getting through the worst of things, just when I thought I'd already hit my low point and was now coming out the other side, something happened to wallop me and make me see that there's always somewhere lower I could fall to. It made me remember that quote I blogged about a few weeks ago - "Abandon any hope of fruition." Not because I was feeling particularly morose and hopeless (ok, I was) but because there is a truth to it.
It may seem contrary to all your survival instincts and it hurts like hell, but when you are at that point when you feel there is nothing left to hold onto, when you feel there is no choice but to let go, when grasping and resisting and holding on - to anything - is so painful, you have to stop, that is the point at which things can start to turn around. And the hardest part: there's nothing you can do about it. Whether you resist it or welcome it - you can't make it happen. All you can do is be through it. Just be - when each minute feels like an hour and each hour feels like a year and each breath feels futile. Resisting makes it worse. I don't know what welcoming it does because I've never been able to do that. But I imagine it could make it worse too - like the anticipation of an eagerly awaited visitor who is delayed, and delayed some more and delayed some more and you go from being angry at them to wondering what's happened to them to fearing the worst, to trying to bargain with whatever force you might suddenly decide to believe in just to make things ok again, until you reach the point where you give up because they're not coming and you wonder what you've done to deserve this. And then they show up.
But life goes on. And they leave and may not show up again and the whole cycle begins anew. The only thing you have control over is trying not to escape. The only thing you can do is to be there, wherever there is.
One of my low points this month was when a batch of jam tarts failed. Go ahead, laugh. Yes, I cannot bake without swearing, but this was monumental. Things didn't actually turn out alright in the end. I was making them for a community centre fundraiser. I'd spent two hours making the damn things from scratch. But I made a mistake and that mistake made itself clear all over my beautifully rolled out pastry. I overfilled the tarts. When I pulled them out of the oven, it looked like there had been a jam explosion. I lost it. Obviously it wasn't just about the tarts. But they tipped me over the edge. I behaved just like a two-year old and had an almighty tantrum. Afterwards, the tarts were still ruined and nothing had changed.
Something happened to me then. Something in me cut off. I didn't notice it straight away, but when I woke up the next morning, I realised that I felt numb. Like there was a glass wall between me and the world. I didn't feel anger or pain anymore, instead I just felt nothing. A dull nothing. That distressed me, but even that sense of distress was dulled. I hadn't felt, or not-felt, this way for a long time. Something sank in me. I remember that the last time this happened, it went on for weeks. I tried to prepare myself for it, to prepare myself for having to live like this. All the things that seemed important, all the things I'd hoped to do, hoped to achieve, it all went out the window. I knew I wouldn't have the energy to even try. I knew that trying - to do anything at all - but especially to make me feel better - would only make it worse.
I was standing in my kitchen. Some of the ruined jam tarts from yesterday were still on a plate on the counter in front of me. I went to throw them away and noticed that one of them was a lemon curd one. I'd really wanted to try them, I hadn't had lemon curd for years. So I took a bite. The pastry still had a crunch to it, but also a buttery softness. The sweet tangy lemon burst on my tongue. The combination of the pastry and the lemon curd was exquisite. For a few moments I forgot about everything but those tastes on my tongue. Then I looked up and noticed the blueness of the sky and the outlines of the starlings on the roof opposite. The sound of their calls hit my ears like I'd never heard them before. Then I noticed that the glass barrier was gone, the dullness had lifted. I'd been pulled into the present moment by my senses. Nothing special, just tastebuds. But I could feel again. And I felt very fortunate.
Of course things weren't all fine after that. I've been sobbing for the Olympics for much of this week. And each time, I felt better after. But that's not the end of it. Of course it's not going to be all bad. But things will never be all fine either. The point is there is no real escape. So maybe, if you can let go and manage to be present, be mindful, pay attention, wherever you happen to be, maybe you'll find that there is also joy. Even in the midst of all the crap.
I've been wanting to write a post about the C-word for a while. I'll 'fess up right now and say that it's a hard time of year for me and the things that usually help me through life's hard times just don't work. (And that's code for, I become a miserable, morose grump.) It happens every year but it always hits me as if it's brand new. The fact that it happens in winter as well is just a happy coincidence.
Because my family is scattered between two continents and most of my
closest, oldest friends are living in other countries, this time of
year always emphasises and heightens the distance and aloneness that, at other times, I am able to tolerate and cope with. The last two years have been unexpectedly bearable cos we had some lovely neighbours over on Christmas Day. They were also far from their own families and we got on well. But they moved away this year. Plus, this is gonna be the first time trying to negotiate Christmas as a "broken family." Even without that though, I think it is a hard time for a lot of people, for all kinds of reasons. But there is a prevailing sense that you're not supposed to talk about that. What you're supposed to do is put on your false cheer face and grin and bear it. Otherwise people call you Scrooge or a Grinch or take delight in shouting Ba Humbug! at you. And it's supposed to be funny. Well it isn't. And sometimes, even when I try my damndest, it don't help. Today for instance, I actually woke up chirpy. Yes, you heard right. I woke up positive and determined to make the most of things. Then I took Jake to Sainsbury's.
is a whole 9 days away, and yet, people are out shopping like the apocalypse is
coming. Sainsbury’s on a Thursday
morning is not normally rammed. Today it
was. After managing to manoeuvre Jake in
the buggy, laden with a basket and carrying a 20 litre bag of cat litter past
ridiculously long checkout queues populated with the most sullen people on
earth, I get to the relatively clear self-checkout area, and wait behind the
person who is just finishing off their checking out. I’m just about to plonk the massive bag of
cat litter on the little shelf next to the check out I’m about to use when a
woman holding three small (not 20, 10 or even 1 litre) bags of vegetables and who had just gotten in the queue behind me, plonks them there
you’re ahead of me in the queue," she said, "I just want to put my stuff here.”
For the purposes of veracity, I'd just like to point out that she is no older than me, able-bodied and in possession of both her arms and all her digits. Anyhooooo....
turns to my gobsmacked face, frowns and says, “What? I’m not trying to cut ahead of you, I just
want to put my stuff there.”
“Yes, I was just wondering where I’m going to put MY stuff.”
said, "all you had to do was say if you want to put your stuff there, why do you
have to make that face?!” !!!!!!!
I surprised myself by saying,
“Because I have feelings and don’t like being harassed.”
put her hands on her hips and said, “All I wanted to do was put my things
there, you don’t have to make that face at me.”
I’m not a
fan of confrontation. Plus I was
sweating and knackered and my arm was about to fall off from holding the
fucking giant bag of cat litter. I didn't have the energy for a pointless argument so I decided it would be easier to join another queue. I
started to do so and she actually HAD A GO AT ME!
told you I didn’t want to cut in front of you, I just wanted…”
snapped. “Look, I don’t need this right
now okay? I have a child in a buggy and
heavy shit to carry so please, go ahead, put your stuff there. I’m going to join another queue.”
As soon as
I did so, the bleedin’ woman grabbed her three bags of veg in a huff and
The moral of the story is, (cos don't Christmas stories always have to have a moral): Sometimes, even when you get what you want, you still ain't happy. And that just about sums up Christmas.
There are 10 days to go till it's over. Will there be a happier ending to this story? Anything could happen, but don't hold your breath. And let's not forget the delightful arse-twitchery of New Year's Eve to look forward to.
If you were looking for something more warm and fuzzy, you can try the usual channels. There's more than enough of that stuff out there. <Ba Humbug>
You know when you're all cranky and ranting, say about Christmas, and what you really need is simple kindness and understanding, not advice, not patronising, not judgement? Well I'm fortunate enough to have a friend like that in my life - who, upon hearing of my ranting crankiness, immediately wrote to me, understanding what was beneath it all and knowing exactly the right thing to say - sending me the kindness I didn't even know I was looking for. Along with a link to this beautiful song and the exhortation that I am "stronger than December." Thank you. You know who you are.