June Journals #17 ~ Loss and Empathy

I try not to engage with the news on this post. It becomes political – always – no matter what you say. So, for the sake of my family, I try and keep my opinions below the radar.

Whether it’s the fact I’m a Liberal Leftie with a Monarchist lean, or that I’m a Bremain with a hope for reform, or that I’m a non-Christian who lives and upholds (most) Christian values. It’s really no-one’s business but mine.

But I can’t write a trite post today. I can’t share pictures of my finished Jester or brag about running nearly 5k or talk about tennis. I just can’t.

There has been so much sadness this year. So much. The mind can’t take it in.

Famous people, icons, people that inspired me, taken too soon by illness.

Right-wing newspapers vilifying people fleeing war and oppression.

A handful of [redacted] so-called football supporters ruining it for the majority.

Gorilla’s dying. Children dying. Decent people ranting and pointing the finger.

Orlando.

I. Just. Can’t.

I have to stop reading the news. I actively avoid it most of the time, because my heart breaks open. I despair for the world my children will inherit.

Instead I gather my news from Facebook.

I watch videos of a man rescuing drowning kittens or a group of boys saving a dog. I look for the positive, humanist stories that keep my faith in humanity.

I hang out with my liberal leftie friends who are all for staying in the EU, who care about the environment and fairness and believe love is love is love. Whose hearts also break at every tragedy and who don’t immediately blame and judge.

I follow Jeremy Corbyn for heaven’s sake. You don’t get much further left.

And then he posts this:

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I didn’t know who Jo Cox was before today. As I say, I’m not overtly political and I don’t follow the news. But reading this, seeing this picture of the kind of politician I wish we had more of in this country (the world), I felt bereft.

Perhaps because she’s about my age, with two young children and a husband who will mourn her. Children who will ‘grow up without their mum’ (this made me choke). Perhaps it’s the honest goodness she radiates, or that she is everything I wish I could be. Whatever it is, I feel her loss acutely.

Most of all, I am touched that Jeremy Corbyn remembers her first as a person. The comments underneath are not so kind: immediately they are political, immediately they are blaming and hateful, disrespecting the values this woman clearly represents.

I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the hate and the trolling and the virtuous do-gooders so quick and ready to have – and share – an opinion even if it isn’t appropriate or even valid.

I’m sick of the blame, and the need to be right, and the refusal to even attempt a shred of empathy.

Empathy.

What ever happened to that? One thing my kids have learned from having a mother with depression and an inability to hide her emotions is empathy. I will cherish it, nurture it, encourage it, even if it means they’ll feel pain. At least they’ll feel.

If the world took one second to try not just to see something from another person’s perspective, but actually live and feel their thoughts and emotions, we wouldn’t be so polarised. We wouldn’t be so quick to judge. There is no ‘other’.

A post that sums it up perfectly (but is too long to share in its entirety here) was published by 4BoysMother – Melissa Fenton, Writer on Facebook today, in relation to the boy snatched by an alligator at a Disney Resort. Here’s an excerpt.

4BoysMother

This is what empathy looks like.

June Journals #16 ~ Fox Poo and Funny Weather

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Almost Done

Yesterday the weather forecast reported humidity at 80-90%. I think I understand my lethargy now!

It gave me the perfect excuse to sit in Waitrose – in their air-conditioned café to be precise – and do some of my study. And sew up some more of my son’s jester.

It’s a laborious process but it is fun seeing the final toy come together, even if it doesn’t much resemble the picture.

In fact I spent most of the day sewing. Except for the short time when I walked the dog – choosing a route through waist-high grass so she wouldn’t get all muddy on our normal route.

Big mistake. Big. Huge.

I could smell something awful as we reached the end of our walk, and thought I must have trodden in something. But, oh no, it was the dog, who had rolled in fox poo.

It stinks.

And it lingers.

Thankfully I saw on one of the kids’ TV programmes that tomato ketchup is good for getting rid of the smell. Even though the dog managed to shake tomato ketchup all over me, it did seem to work on the stink. Thankfully. Although the phantom smell will linger in my nostrils for days.

Amazingly, despite a dismal forecast, the torrential rain stayed away for my son’s cricket training. The sun shone hot on the pretty little ground, while the ominous grey clouds circled around the edge and grumbled to themselves like cantankerous grannies.

Thankfully I don’t have children in the later classes though, as it began to pour at 7pm. And thunder too, I suspect, although I couldn’t hear it. But our dog, who hates thunder, paced around like a lost soul until bedtime.

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Stunning Weather

It’s a shame, because the rain is a blessed relief. As the first few drops fell, a cold blast burst through the window like the bringer of joy.

It reminds me of my short stay in India. One of my housemates ridiculed me for going in August – the monsoon season – but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Yes it was hot and sticky and yes the rain was torrential like I’d never seen before (but have seen plenty of since), but if I hadn’t gone I would never have truly understood the exhilaration of walking in a dress and sandals in a downpour, happy to be drenched to the skin.

The weather saved its finale for the bedtime hour. Sullen storm clouds still dyed the sky purple, and rain fell in buckets, but streaks of sun lit up the trees as if they glowed from within. And a double rainbow shone, as if to say, ‘hang in there, it won’t rain forever.’

Stunning.

June Journals #15 ~ Run Rescue

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Image from Pixabay

Goodness me, I’m halfway through my June Journals. Thank goodness for daily blogging or I might be going a bit bonkers.

I’m just so tired. Ever since a crazy day on Saturday, when I did two runs as well as painting a load of fencing, I’ve been exhausted.

I don’t think I overdid it: My two runs probably only amounted to about ten total minutes of running, and I’m used to clocking up 10-15,000 steps a day.

Even so, I can’t stop yawning.

Perhaps it’s the humidity. Although it’s rained non-stop (or perhaps because it’s rained; although this isn’t the Indian Monsoon season it feels pretty near), and the temperature is only 18C to around 22C, it feels hot and sticky and horrible.

Maybe it’s being premenstrual. Sorry, it has to be spoken of. I do slow down and get sluggish. And eat carbs. And chocolate. And drink lots of coffee. But I’ve been trying to eat plenty of fruit and drink water. Honest.

It might be a bug. My parents have had the horrible flu I had at Easter and I wonder if I’m fighting it off.

Or maybe it’s ennui*. Or hayfever. Or depression. Or laziness.

Whatever the cause, I feel like a cat in a sunbeam. I. Just. Can’t. Move.

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Image from Pixabay

I had a nap today, if four hours in bed counts as a nap, and felt 100% worse. Usually I’m good at naps. I wake up a bit groggy but full of energy. Today I had bad dreams, those half-awake sort, where you’re not quite sure whether you’re really shopping with your daughter and spending £100 on a pair of jeans in Topshop or it’s actually just a nightmare.

When my alarm went off to walk the dog I couldn’t open my eyes. Just couldn’t.

It was awful.

So I pulled on my running clothes. I don’t think I actually thought I’d manage a run, but I couldn’t walk the dog in the rain in an East dress (the coolest thing I own in both senses of the term!).

Then I strapped on the iPhone. And opened the app. I’m in week 4 of the 8-week Couch to 5k and I don’t want to stop now.

And then I ran. Like a slug. Slower than I normally walk, with those shuffley steps that aren’t really running. Week 4 starts stepping up the running time, and it was hot and sticky. Plus the fields are so overgrown it’s like doing mini-hurdles, getting over nettles and cow parsley.

But I ran.

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Troll. Pixabay

And afterwards I felt better. I had some energy. I stopped yawning and almost felt awake.

Before you super-fit people start gloating, and nodding, and thinking, ‘We knew it. Exercise is always the answer,’ it lasted about half an hour.

By the time I’d done the school run in the rain, cooked tea and fed the dog, I was crawling back into bed, dizzy and yawning and with eyes half closed.

I slept for two hours.

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe I’m a troll. Like in Terry Pratchett Discworld novels. Perhaps I only function when it’s cold.

Unlike the flesh and blood Troll of Scandinavian folklore that turn to stone only when exposed to daylight, Disc trolls are stone all the time, but become dormant and sluggish during daylight. […] Though apparently unintelligent, this is due to heat negatively affecting the conductivity of their silicon brains – Wikipedia

Whatever the answer is, I wish it would just sod off. I liked the energetic productive me of a week ago. And, while we’re at it, the rain can sod off too. It’s cricket Wednesday.

*Ennui: “A feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.”

June Journals #14 ~ Silent Uncertainty

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Competition Novel

When I decided to stop working on my novels for a bit, and concentrate on my blog and the garden instead, it was with a sense of relief.

It isn’t the writing that’s hard – well, some days it is – but more it’s the silent uncertainty.

When I write a blog post, even a mediocre one, I know if somebody reads it. And generally at least one or two people do.  If I’m lucky I’ll get a like or even comment. It’s a lovely feeling.

As I have been fortunate enough to stay below the internet troll radar by being boring, unknown, and uncontroversial, the comments are supportive and encouraging.

Not so with books.

I can spend a year writing a novel which even my family won’t read and feed back on, because they’re too close for constructive criticism.

Without Beta Readers, my only sources of feedback are agents and reviewers. They’re not exactly a chatty bunch. If you hear back from an agent at all, it’s a polite, “this is not for me” message, after weeks and weeks of painful silence. Reviews, which are even harder to get, are all or nothing. Black and white. Fulsome praise or scathing disgust. I have come to dread them.

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Out with Agents

As someone driven by external validation, despite years of trying not to be, this lack of feedback on my efforts saps all motivation. Currently I have one novel in a competition, and two with agents, and the rest, as Hamlet would say, is silence.

It paralyses me.

Do I work on a current book, without knowing what’s wrong with it? Do I write another one, without knowing which bits I’m getting right, or whether anyone will ever actually read it. Should it matter?

How do novelists slog at a book for ten years, true only to themselves and their story? Where do they bury their self-doubt?

I should really join a writer’s group, although I’m currently a little thin-skinned for that. I’d probably weep at the first unkind word and give up writing forever.

Except I miss writing.

I miss producing books, discovering characters, creating. Filling that blank page.

So I’ll pour those words into my blog for now and try for patience.

Thank you for being listening voices in the void!

June Journals #8 ~ Hitting Targets & Hidden Terrors

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Proofreading Symbols

Yesterday was a day spent working on targets.

We were saved by our routine in the morning. I spent the night on the sofa escaping hayfever snoring, and fell back asleep despite two alarms (alarm #1 – eldest child 6am, alarm #2 – FitBit 7am). Alarm #3 didn’t even go off (youngest child) and had to be woken at 8am. That’ll teach me to take him swimming on a school night.

But routine kicked in. Breakfast, tick, homework, tick, dressed, tick. Might have forgotten to brush teeth, but that’s okay! We made it out the door.

Having got the children to school on time, I was left to appreciate how supremely fortunate I am to not have a job to hurry off to. One of the things I learned in recent years, through depression, mindfulness, and reading great blog posts, is the importance of gratitude.

And mostly, every day, I am grateful.

Grateful for my family, my home, my safety, my country, my health, my choices, my ability to be at home and give my attention to my family. Grateful for summer sunshine and green fields and walking the dog. Oh yes I whinge about not earning a living, but I wouldn’t trade what I have for 9-5 and the self-worth which I (probably mistakenly) believe that would bring.

So today I worked on my targets. I did an hour of study and learned about the strange and bizarre secret world of editing symbols. I painted a chunk of fence, although I should have checked the forecast. It’s cricket practice Wednesday, of course it was going to rain.

At least the scary facepaint dolls might get clean.

I also had a lovely domestic day, as I decided to bake some treats for my friend who is studying to be a midwife. She’s almost there and I’m so proud of her. I made chocolate banana bread and a fresh loaf to ease the pain. The bread didn’t rise but it was still yummy (we had the round loaf for tea!)

Another thing that made me smile today was realising how even famous people have their hidden terrors. I follow one of my favourite authors – Matt Haig – on Facebook. Although I haven’t read it yet, his latest book Reasons to Stay Alive has been a huge success. He’s about to do an event with Ruby Wax , and he posted this on FB today:

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This is the beginning of Ruby’s article:

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It just goes to show you should never judge your inside by someone else’s outside, be they famous or not. Everyone has their own story. So I’ll carry on learning weird symbols, painting weathered wood, and being super grateful for it all.

 

 

 

June Journals #6 ~ Face Paint & Finding the House

Yesterday was the last day of the school holidays. The kids wanted to do something fun: a soft play centre or a swim. I wanted to find my house.

Thankfully the sun shone gloriously. Great for two reasons. One, the children played in the garden most of the day and, two, I seem to have killed my tumble dryer. OMG.

As a picture tells a thousand words, here is a short story about the state of my house after a week of half term. (Who I am kidding, it looks like this all the time!)

And that’s just the kitchen, playroom, and ‘homework desk’. The rest of the house was too bad to share! By bedtime I’d found enough floor to vacuum the lounge and bedroom, and stacked the dishwasher, but the rest of it still pretty much looks like this.

The children decided to occupy themselves with face painting. I suggested they paint dolls rather than themselves, as it’s back to school today and face paint doesn’t come off so well. So they did. To begin with. The baby doll ended up completely black and is currently lying face down in the paddling pool. I hope no one calls social services.

Of course, painting dolls is boring. I should have guessed they’d do their faces. And generally that’s okay. I ended up with two rather cute puppies.

But boys, yes? They always have to go a little too far. My son came in black. Coal black. ‘I’ve been back in time and worked as a chimney boy for a day’ black. And when we laughed (mine was hysteria) he got upset and cried. And leaned against the wall and cried. And ran up the stairs and cried. There are black hand prints everywhere. I managed to get him to stop crying long enough to take a picture.

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It then took an hour in the shower and bath to return him to something resembling his usual skin colour. I am going to have to tell his teacher that the black marks around his throat aren’t bruises. Half term has been tough, but not that tough! Still, it kept them amused and, on the plus side, they had a bath without complaining. A win’s a win.

It’s been a great holiday but I can’t say I’m sad that they’re back to school today. 33 more days of school until the summer holidays, my daughter tells me sadly (she’ll miss her teacher). My son is ticking off the days on a calendar, because he doesn’t want to go back to school.

And me? I’m trying not to think about it at all.

June Journals #1 ~ And it Rained

Enjoying the Rain

Enjoying the Rain

Looking out the window it doesn’t feel like the first of June. It’s been raining steadily since mid-morning yesterday.

Mostly that’s okay.

I still did yesterday’s Couch to 5k run in the rain. It was quite nice. Well, run is stretching it a bit. I’m only in week two and, as the App happily informs me, I ran for a sum total of 8 minutes. As we took hubbie to Pizza Express for a birthday lunch, and I polished off a pizza and a slab of cheesecake, I did some yoga and a quick zumba routine when I got home. To be honest it was that or ironing – the kids were kind of occupying themselves without screaming, and hubbie was sleeping off lunch.

It’s always funny how I get more done when the kids are home than when they’re not these days. If I stop and look like I’m enjoying my leisure: reading a book or having a nap or – Goodness Me – watching a program I want to watch, they’re there in an instant.

I started watching Les Miserables while ironing the other day and within ten minutes both children were in the lounge fidgeting and chattering. If I did that through one of their programs there would be huffs and sighs and tantrums.

Actually, I did all of the above! In the end, as I’ve never seen Les Mis, and had no hope of following the sung dialogue amidst the muttering, I stomped over to the TV and put one of their movies on. Which meant they promptly left the room leaving me to fume and watch High School Musical on my own.

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At least it looks pretty!

So while they were actually occupied I cleaned the kitchen, re-waxed the table, mopped the floor, did some laundry, ran the dog, and did two exercise classes. Why can’t I do all that when they’re at school? It can’t just be having the day broken in half by the school run. Maybe we all need to feel like the boss is watching.

Anyway, I’m rambling.

I’m taking them to a Gym this morning so my daughter can hang upside down and my son can complain about being bored. Oh and I hear shrieking has started upstairs – that’ll be because I did something other than housework. Blogging counts as leisure.

That’ll teach me.

P.S. I forgot my ‘positive’ bit. As I listened to hubbie snoring at 4am this morning I was lucky enough to also hear the beginning of the dawn chorus. A bird sat right outside my open window and launched its heart into a beautiful melody, which was then picked up and carried on towards the distant rising sun. It was breathtaking and lulled me back to sleep. I am blessed.