My Sluggish Return

Every return begins in a departure lounge. Mine did too.

It was a late evening in the early 80s. I was in my bedroom behind its closed door, my ear pressed hard against it, listening to a story about a boy becoming a man. It was recounted by my parents’ friend in the lounge of our family home at the time.

The bare bones of it were that when he was eighteen he decided to spend a night on top of a local hill. Alone. He had never – before or since – been so scared, he said. In that darkness and aloneness his most frequent visitor was Fear. Making sure he stayed awake all through the dark night of a New Moon. Until dawn, when he walked down the hill, knees still wobbly but steps steady and strides wide. And by the time he reached the bottom the boy was no more and a man returned.

I was so in awe of his tale about initiation and the transformative power of courage that I wished at that moment more than anything in the world to go on the same adventure myself.

I was twelve at the time and as with anything pre-teens once the hormones kicked in all that was before became irrelevant.

Until three years ago.

An event popped up on my Facebook wall, as they do. It was for a Wilderness Vigil – four days and nights alone in the woods, fasting. It was the lightening that reignited my long-forgotten desire.

It finally came true this August.

Which is incidentally all I am prepared to tell you about it. Possibly ever. Or at the least, for years to come.

And not just because it’s my prerogative, but because it’s also the prerogative of the experience.

Let me however tell you about my return.

We were warned about it.

We were told it would be difficult. But return we must – the meaning of our experience rests completely on it.

At first it felt right to feel removed from the wider world I left behind. Not wanting to “get out & mingle” too soon felt appropriate. I know this was healthy because my more private world and intimate connections felt so wonderfully deepened and richer for it. The goodness of return was fertilising the tenderer grounds I walked on.

Then two days ago I woke up with an urge to go into London. But to my utter surprise it was an irredeemably flat affair. I was literally dragging my feet through galleries and bookshops – places that never, ever before failed to infuse me with excitement and inspiration. And then it hit me – so that’s how it feels to struggle to Return?! It’s actually a physical sensation. Or rather the psychic feeling is so strong that it manifests somatically as muscular lethargy. But knowing I had to return for my dear life still didn’t help because I still didn’t know how. And I didn’t know how because I didn’t feel it in my body.

Until yesterday. After an encounter with a slug on a walk through my local woods.

It was the same colour as the mud path it was slithering across. It was in fact a miracle I didn’t step on it. Feeling grateful, I stopped to look at it closely. Such fragility – the softest of exterior, the slowest of movement, harmless to its core and yet exposed daily to harm’s way.

(Exposed softness & harsh exteriors. Don’t we all know the juxtaposition, slugs or not!)

Continuing on my walk I soon crossed paths with another walker. As we exchanged nods of acknowledgement. I wanted to warn him of the slug so he wouldn’t step on it but ended up saying nothing. Once he walked past me I started to feel uneasy about my decision. I stopped and turned around but he was already disappearing behind the trees.

The spot where the slug was seemed quiet and undisturbed enough. But I had to be sure. Filled with both hope and dread I walked back. My hand covering my mouth, just in case, to stop the shriek of horror escaping. At first I struggled to see the slug. There were so many wet and dry shapes of the same colour I just couldn’t tell what was what. And then, I saw it. Its tiny head with cute little antennas turned to mush. A life extinguished because I chose to remain silent. A life squashed because I chose not to act on my gut feeling. And as the weight of this responsibility continues to squeeze my heart – far into the future – I also feel it’s imbuing my body with life, the life I struggled to reclaim upon my return. My life, the slug’s gift to me. But as I watch the curtains draw on this uneasy dance between life and death I feel deep and poignant gratitude for its gift

You Are I Am Me

What follows is the truth of my current state. Current, as in continually felt – and silenced – over the last few decades. Today, here, thinly disguised as a “poem”. For those who recognise themselves in it – you are welcome.

YOU ARE I AM ME

You want love, happiness and world peace

But

You won’t do the hard work that’s necessary to make that happen.

HARD being the operative word.

Instead

You keep making excuses why

You can’t.

And you watch movies and reek of empathy for the vile characters in it.

Because that’s art. It’s amazing. It’s safe.

But you are missing the point.

You feel compassion for those scummy people

Because you recognise the same scum in you.

But also

Because you recognise the rejection such scum is subjected to.

You identify with their humiliation and infuriating powerlessnness.

The kind of stifled fury that makes them want to carry guns. Shoot people. You know the kind of fury I’m talking about? I know you do.

But you are missing the point.

You read and write fiction and poetry full of characters you wish you could be.

But you ridicule the literature that could help you become one of them.

You use humour to mask self-hatred.

You love comedies

Because they give you permission not to take yourself seriously.

But when your lover, friend or boss verbally abuse you with the same cutting vitriol you don’t like it. You complain.

But you forget that you are backhandedly complicit in the hate game. That you endorse such behaviour with “you gotta laugh” crap.

And because of all that, you are full of bile.

And cliches.

Like this poem.

Full of inauthentic sentences. Someone else’s linguistic scraps. That were someone else’s before they were theirs. And someone else’s before theirs.

Because you can’t be asked to dig deeper to find your own.

But you’re missing the point.

You make friends with your kind of people. The kind who get you, who you share all sort of beliefs with. Because the other lot – the ones who are on the opposite side of the spectrum from you – can be pretty harsh. Their words making the bile bubble up to the surface. Where it reeks. And not unlike that empathy you feel for your vile fictional heros.

But you’re missing the point.

The point being that you cannot. You have no right.

To complain about the state of the world you live in. Of the life you have.

It doesn’t work like that.

You can’t knock things about – however cleverly and artfully you cloak your digs – then whine about how nothing’s standing upright anymore. How everything – and everyone – is crooked.

When you can’t even hold yourself up to your high standards.

Like this poem can’t.

And one more thing.

In missing the point you are missing a chance.

The chance to make a difference for the better. You know, the stuff you say you want but when it comes down to it the whole nauseating rhetoric of it makes you squirm.

Because it’s too close for comfort.

But why am I telling you this when you know it all already?

When you are I and I am me.

The healing power of talking to strangers

We’ve all experienced it. With people who we can’t help but open up to for no apparent reason except that we feel we can trust them. Instinctively. Uplifted by this feeling we find ourselves effortlessly telling them things not even our closest and dearest know about us – our secret feelings, buried dreams and fragile hopes.

I met such strangers. Many times. At parties, on park benches, train stations.

Sometimes their train arrives before they had a chance to respond leaving us only with the healing power of being witnessed. However briefly.  And other times we are waiting for the same train. So our confessional turns into a conversation. Stranger’s responses inviting our further unfolding. And with each response and unfold we deepen. Our knowledge of ourselves. Ourselves. However slightly.

We’ve all been that stranger to someone at one time or another. It’s a wonderful free service we provide for each other.

But I often wished I could speak to such strangers every time I needed to. And at far greater length than these fleeting moments tended to last.

Because even though I have friends I could call on when in need, sometimes it’s a stranger I need. Because I need feedback from someone who isn’t invested in me. I also want a fresh take on my problem. And because I want the conversation to be all about me. Unapologetically. Without the expectation – perceived or real – to reciprocate. Instead just settle my debt by paying for the stranger’s help, time and wisdom.

For a while I wished someone was providing such service. And now I do it in case you wished for it too.

What qualifies me to help you

Moon has been in Virgo for the last two days and all I can think about is my work and service to others. Particularly the therapeutic kind. And what qualifies me to help people in a professional capacity (i.e. being paid to do it).

What I discovered over the years of being a patient, client,  a ‘therapeutic’ friend and a professional NLP coach – with some happy clients I hasten to add – is that professional training and knowledge of the subject aren’t enough to qualify a helper. 

And even though all of it is very important it is primarily important to me and for me. It helps me help you. But it doesn’t qualify me to be your helper.

Because to qualify is to fulfil certain conditions necessary to feel helped.

qualify (verb) – to be entitled to a particular benefit or privilege by fulfilling a necessary condition.

Only you can know what those conditions and benefits are.

What makes you feel helped? What kind of help do you need? How do you ask for it? How do you know you’ve been helped? What kind of person makes you want their help? Why them specifically?

And only you have the answers to these questions. For you.

We all have our own way of asking for, accepting and implementing help we receive. Which is why models and tools only work when highly customised. And to customise them to suit you in all your idiosyncrasies you need to disclose them fully. And you are more likely to do that with someone you feel certain kinship with. And you can only discover the depth of that kinship by getting to know them. As a person. Hence my writing here being of very personal nature.

I want you to see me for who I am – shadows and all.

In my writings and other visual work I lay myself pretty bare – even if not always so prettily. I do it because it helps me heal. And because I want to attract the life and people – including you, my potential client – that match my own vibration. However dissonant at times.

It’s also the best way you’ll know if I am qualified to work with you.

If my inner life, my failures and my triumphs, my courage and my vulnerability and my themes – identity, art, female body, beauty, astrology, friendship, love and spirituality to name a few – are made of the same fibre as your being and your longings.

And if you find they are and you’d like my help do get in touch.

Where Is Home No More

I wrote this poem in 2004, when I hit my first full blown identity crisis. Reading it now, it could have been written now. It was about my national identity, a quest for meaning of a life thisplaced. A quest for greater belonging, for a place I could call home. But nowadays, today in particular, Where is home? seems an outdated question though. More aptly sounding one, I feel, would be: WHAT is home? In my case, thinking on my keyboards, as I write this, the home is – freedom, safety and warmth (the feeling kind).

MY LIFE (OR IS IT?)

I don’t remember her

birth, but
I remember the days after my brother’s:

Cetinje. A harsh Montenegrin town
– even harsher history (is that a bad thing?) –
was that morning clammy and slippery.
Up and above a figure in white. Framed.
The smiling mum.
Below and under, two necks (my dad’s and mine)
overarching, aching, shouting (or just excited?).

What follows is the domino effect of too many blisteringly blissful days numbing me down (was that why I lost sight of her?) so much so that I fled to foreign lands (apparently perspective is good and big picture even better) from where I could see my hometown across the Adriatic sea.

But the tongue was full of foreign rattle messing up my senses.
I still couldn’t see her.

So I fled even further (was that bigger picture?) to England (or is it Britain? Am never sure)
where I could finally spread my – by now defeathered – wings
which, by the way, felt good (or is it jolly good?).

So I stayed. And stayed. And eventually over
stayed.

But what could I do when England (or is it Britain?) just did
it for me?
Mainly paid me
back my dues, lent me my come
uppance so that, at last, I could

See her.

Although not as I remembered her (nor as her brother remembered her)
But I could, see her.

And at last my
life began to make (English or British?) sense.

(or did it?)

Mind Your Language

These are peculiar days for the writer in me. In London UK. The Summer Of 2016.

What does it mean to be one in times like these? The privilege and responsibility of having my own voice. The consequences of not having it. And the power of language to inflame and heal weighing heavily on the freedom of speech.

“If you feel profoundly unwitnessed then the move to voice will almost always become savage not dignified.” (Martin Shaw, a mythologist and storyteller)

I’ve been both. Savage and dignified, voiceless and voicefull. All through choice though, even if it didn’t feel like that at times.

I remember my first wobbles as I tried to give my inner world a voice. It was fittingly a short story about a mute classical singer. I loved the idea of thwarted self expression finding its way out on high notes. As for the story, it wasn’t good literarily speaking. Which is why I was surprised when the only negative feedback I got from my creative writing class was that it was offensive to a non-verbal disabled person. It was my first – and so far last – time my writing inflamed someone’s wound to the point of silencing me. And how conflicting!, I thought, that my choice of language – the very word “mute” – had the actual power to heal my own wound.

The episode sent me on an precarious search for ways to unleash the power of language – so I can heal – while not inflaming the wounds of others.

Eventually, I thought as long as I only speak for and of myself without trying to speak in anyone else’s name my language will only be serving me. Hurting as well as healing. Far easier said than done though, yet it was the only criteria worth measuring myself up against, I thought.

But how does this work since last Friday? How do I keep my language in check and write only about things I feel, know and understand without implicating others?

And how do I even dare write about personal stuff in the face of such a collective calamity? Because the collective far outweighs the individual, right? Wrong, I think. There is no collective without individuals. And wishing to smudge the ‘I’s in the hope the collective will look more homogeneous is unity created the wrong way around.

“New Labour offered ‘redistribution’ but no ‘recognition’ (…) It failed to deliver what many Brexit-voters perhaps crave the most: the dignity of being self-sufficient, not necessarily in a neoliberal sense, but certainly in a communal, familial and fraternal sense.” (Will Davies, Senior Lecturer of Politics at Goldsmiths)

I recognise the spirit of islanders in this excerpt. The spirit I have great respect for. Cut off from motherland, left exposed to the elements and their own devices the only thing they’ve got, they can rely on, count on, is them selves. Independence becomes them. It is how they know they are who they are. It is how they feel strong and whole. And only whole individuals can make up a stable and strong collective.

“Amongst people who have utterly given up on the future, political movements don’t need to promise any desirable and realistic change. If anything, they are more comforting and trustworthy if predicated on the notion that the future is beyond rescue, for that chimes more closely with people’s private experiences.” (Fintan O’Toole in Irish Times)

I’ve seen this first hand. When working with delinquent youths who today would belong to the very demographic profile of the UKIP Leaver voters – poorer, un & less educated, white, English, let down by the system and disillusioned. Even back then, they felt deeply insignificant and inconsequential. And it wasn’t a vision of a future – any future – they wanted. It was the feeling of belonging to a place and a community that they needed. And needed urgently. Desperately. It was a matter of life and death. Their own.

It is indeed a bleak inner landscape. And when such a person cracks open they spill out as if from a wound that’s been festering in its own pus for far too long so the only way they can come out (at first) is toxic.

“If we want to heal the wound, we must stop throwing ‘the facts’ at each other, and stop pretending to be such rational creatures. All feelings are relevant and real, even if the “facts” we find to back them up may prove not to be.” (Phillipa Perry, psychotherapist in The Guardian)

I agree. And believe too that looking for an intimately common ground with people whose actions and language inflamed me might be a way of healing our respective wounds. A ground where I strip myself bare so I am more comfortable sitting next to their naked truth. And they mine.

So I think I will continue to write about my own personal issues – shadows, my body and emotional discomforts, to name just a few – in spite and undoubtedly inspired by the crisis we find ourselves in today.

Where facts will always be subject to the scrutiny of only my own feelings and experiences. And where the facts of the lives of others are equally undeniably their own.

Because only when faced with individuals – face to face, one to one, life story by life story – can we get past the most damaging collective malaise of our times, the alienation from one another. And from our own Selves.

Which is why I cannot bring myself to go to any marches organised by the likeminded folk of the Remain camp no matter how much I empathise with their causes or how much my own life in the UK may depend on their outcomes. Because it’s just another collective act made up of broken hopes and dreams. Fear too. Gathering strength and force in numbers – not much unlike the force that triggered its creation. In its potential for further inflamation, that is.

So instead, when this weekend I find myself at a party potentially dominated by voices of Leavers – of the UKIP tonalities – I will be mindful of my language. Because I want to understand. And be understood. And for that I need to use words that will soothe our strained senses, tired minds and broken hearts.

But like I already said, this is FAR easier said than done and I may well fail miserably. And as a result join one of the marches. But if so, I sincerely doubt I’d consider it a personal victory.

Instead, I will see it as a failure of my care and strength to preserve my dignity. My humanity and kindness. My individuality.

The Ocean Within

Just read an article about octopuses and how their DNA is unlike anything on our planet. They are – it’s official – aliens.

But that’s not why I’m posting it here (link in the comments). Its conclusion lit me up.

Presumably unintentionally spiritual – or astrological – it’s an instruction for decoding the meaning of life:

“It turns out that apparently, we’ve had under our nose a link to humanity’s mysteries. And that many of life’s greatest enigmas can be solved if we only decide to pay more attention to our ocean and everything inside of it.”

Whereby the ocean I take to be a metaphor for our own psychological depths.

Instead of focusing on how we appear on the outside and how high up we can reach we should turn ourselves in. Literally.

If we want to decode the mystery of who we are, that is.

But also astrological. Neptunian. Wherever we have Neptune is where we can touch God. Or as some of us – the nonbelivers in any one particular God – would say:

Follow your Neptune to experience the godliest bliss of all, the unconditional love.

For The Love Of My Body

With these photos I am putting my money where my mouth is. Walking my talk at long last. Acting on my convictions as opposed to just merely paying them lip service.

For years I’ve liked, shared and praised women who proudly (or just bravely?) showed their bodies in all their “imperfections”. I was in genuine awe of them. So brave. Refusing to be told what beauty was and how theirs wasn’t. Or what a wrong size, shape and colour their bodies were. And yet under the shower, bed covers and clothes I felt the very shame these women were shaming. I felt so small. Ironic really considering the size of my body was the source of it.

The catalyst that moved me from thinking to doing was fittingly my body.

Emulating my heros. Spiderman from my childhood. Dracula from my teens. And my favourite grown up superheroine - the beautiful blue shapeshifter - Mystique.

Emulating my heros. Spiderman from my childhood. Dracula from my teens. And my favourite grown up superheroine – the beautiful blue shapeshifter – Mystique.

The changes it had been undergoing for the last few years have all been either premature (menopause, arthritis and osteoporosis) or completely out of character (skin problems). All quite painful at times and unapologetically inconvenient. Nothing to worry though, all mild, relatively harmless and common enough. But living with them, being reminded of the limitations they pose – no matter how small – on my body day in, day out, got me thinking. Hard and deep. About my relationship with my body.

As it happens it’s a sad story. A story of unrequited love. My body’s for me.

The Birth of Venus in Aries. My take on Botticelli. His is a gentle demure and cellulite-free Venus. Probably born in Taurus or Libra. Mine on the other leg can take infernal heat, is born in a rough unseemly oyster shell and is a mirror-smasher. Celluitical of course and dressed. In M&S cotton high briefs. For comfort.

The Birth of Venus in Aries. My take on Botticelli. His is a gentle demure and cellulite-free Venus. Probably born in Taurus or Libra. Mine on the other leg can take infernal heat, is born in a rough unseemly oyster shell and is a mirror-smasher. Celluitical of course and dressed. In M&S cotton high briefs. For comfort.

It’s been a hard pill to swallow. Admitting how much I fucked up someone. Betrayed someone who is faultlessly loyal to me. It’s perverse really. It’s like my body’s health became all too painful a reminder of my emotional dysfunction. So I had to make my body dysfunctional too. Only to reject it with renewed vigour for reminding me of my mess.

It’s been exhausting. Devastating actually. And unsustainable.

Time to choose another way.

Starting with Acceptance. They say it’s the surest path to Love. Especially if you travel with Gratitude.

Being sociable. Joining Titian's party of semi-naked women and of course fully clad men. But what happens in High Renaissance stays in High Renaissance.

Being sociable. Joining Titian’s party of semi-naked women and of course fully clad men. But what happens in High Renaissance stays in High Renaissance.

The Master Of Watery Heights

Yesterday morning I woke up startled.

I had this inexplicable, out of nowhere urge to look up the Sea Goat. A mythological creature. Also the astrological symbol for Capricorn. A constellation my natal Moon resides in.

In the skies above me, funnily enough, the Moon was also in Capricorn. Void too (making no aspects with any other planet). A time of quiet. A perfect time to reflect.

Maybe this oddly deformed creature – half goat half fish – will resonate more fully with the home I have built for my own soul (Moon=Soul)?

When I think of Capricorn some of the first traits that come to mind are: dry, cold, precise, structured, stone-faced, hard. And yet here’s a creature with half of his body belonging to the water, the ocean. Ocean as in emotion, feeling, intuition, Piscean & Neptunian chaos. And deepest compassion (for the whole of humanity as opposed to any one particular individual).

When astrologers talk about Sagittarius they always take into account the duality of the Centaur – half archer half horse. And rightly so. But I am yet to read and hear astrologers talk about the dual nature of Capricorn. Half goat (Pan, Devil) half fish. What is this creature? What’s his story?

* * *

Once upon a time, a few millenia ago, Pricus the Sea Goat lived happily with his children in the Ocean. He was an immortal who could manipulate time and was favoured by the Greek gods. Then one day his children got curious about the rugged dry lands stretching in front of them. They couldn’t resist the call for adventure and headed out into this arid landscape. Only to discover that their fish tales turned into hind legs, hooves and all. Worse yet they also lost their ability to speak and think.

When their father Pricus found this out he was devastated. So he decided to turn back time and warn their children of their terrible fate. But to no avail. The children still couldn’t resist the allure of the heights. Pricus too kept turning back time over and over again until he finally resigned himself to the faith of his children. And his sadness for losing them. Forever. He then begged Chronos to let him die but as he was so loved by the gods his wish was refused. Instead the gods gave him a home in the sky – the Capricorn constellation – from where he was able to watch over his children forever.

* * *

The first thing that struck me about this myth is young Sea Goats losing their ability to think and speak. On one level this is about losing the power that made them extraordinary – they were animals who could think and speak like gods and human alike. On another level, this is about losing the knowledge of their native language, their homeland tongue. And if their home is Ocean – where the only language spoken is feelings – then in order to survive in the tough mountainous landscape they had to lose their ability to feel. Or more accurately, the ability to express the depth and breath of their feelings.

So far so old news about Capricorn.

Everyone who ever had a relationship with a person with a strong Capricorn principle will tell you that it takes a looooong time to gain their trust. Then a little bit longer to have them open up and talk about their intimate feelings. But they are also probably the only sign with whom happily ever after is not just a fairy tale ending.

Another old wisdom about Capricorn, an Earth sign, is that he gets all he lacks (water) from his opposite – the kind, soft, loving, tender, caring Cancer, a Water sign. That’s true. For Cancer, that is. Not for Capricorn though.

The fallacy of this storyline is that it overlooks that Capricorn already owns his own Water. And of a higher octave than that of Cancer. More evolved. Neptunian. Piscean. Water Of Enlightenment.

But unlike Pisces who only speak the language of the Ocean – symbols (art) & feelings (performance) – Capricorn can speak both, the language of the Ocean and the language of the Land (reason, intellect, spoken word, the language as we know it). But only if he doesn’t forget to return to his watery home. Because if he does, he loses the Oceanic language.

But the story of two languages is just half of the story.

If young Sea Goats disobeying their father and leaving home are teenagers and young adolescents going on their first independent adventure, then finding a way to keep both languages alive is being 30 – when we have to find the balance between work and our personal lives and needs.

But the best part of this Capricorn story – the one that poses the greatest challenge to this watery master of heights – is about integrating his oddities.

Unlike sexy and seemless fusion of the Centaur body parts, the Sea Goat’s is disharmonious. One part becomes useless when the other is utilised. So to use them both at the same time – because that’s really the only way to wholeness – is going to take some skill. Artistry actually. But not necessarily pretty, sweet or cute kind. More like real, raw, tough. More like No Frills.

When Capricorn speaks his truth – from that stoney heart now glistening with watery wetness – it can seem incongruous with his image of cool detachment. Kind of like the image of a goat jumping from peak to peak on his fish tale. Or diving into the ocean hooves first.

But that’s what lends this creature credibility. That’s why when Capricorn is emotionally outspoken and courageously emotional he is the beacon of integrity. Because in that moment he owns both of his ends – dry wit and wet soul. And that earns respect.

The Art Of Witnessing

Earlier today, I was pondering the question of privacy and what it means to me.

Wondering, as I cried by the lake about my nasty painful skin infection and all it signifies for me: the abuse I exert on my body. The compulsive mindless eating. The extreme dieting and excercise. The Dionysian alcoholic excess. And the criminalest of them all – body shame. (But on that topic in more depth another time.)

And wondered I so. Why would I, in such a vulnerable state, dread to go public with it? Why wouldn’t I post it, “live” as it were, here or on Facebook? Why couldn’t I bare to have witnesses?

By the way, I had to slip on the mud and fall on my bum to sober up and come to before I could change mood gears and go from deep sadness to intellectualising the experience.

I’d hate witnesses because I wouldn’t get what I’d need. Which would only make my already fragile state worse.

I suspect when people see someone crying and very upset they are compelled to come forth with great deal of sympathy. And offer lots of comfort.

I know I used to do that. It was my kneejerk reaction. And yet I always had this niggling feeling that I was faking it.

Probably because it wasn’t what I needed in those times. And nor did other people, I suspected.

What I do need though is to be witnessed.

To have someone quitely, non-judgementally be present in that moment with me. And not offer a hand or a hug. They don’t have to understand me either. And definitely not offer solutions. Just be there with me. Till my words and tears dry up.

* * * * * * * * *

Occasions that called for my witnessing were truly special. A sacred privilige of being trusted.

And I too was lucky to have been on the receiving end of witnessing a few precious times.

Its silent power holding me safely acknowledging my existence.

The quietly attentive presence of another human being with me in my most fragile state.

The powerful stillness of being heard and seen.

I tell you, there’s nothing quite like it.

Monsters Of Intimacy

If I was getting married – and if instead of a wedding song we could have a wedding TV drama to play as we take our vows – I would pick Flowers, the latest drama gem from Channel 4.

What a nourishing feast for the heart and mind that was. If you missed it – it ended last night – please please watch it, somehow somewhere! You will be a richer person for it.

It is a love story told from the dark side – and of course all the more real for it. Although ‘dark’ might be too upbeat a description for it. Better yet – disturbingly bleak but breathtakingly poetic all at the same time. Maurice, played by the moodily handsome Julian Barratt is a suicidal husband of Deborah. Played by the emotional-complexity-incarnate Olivia Colman. A seemingly happy go lucky wife and a mother of two odd ball adults still living with the parents. And to complete this wonderful mix of main characters is the sweetest Japanese gay cartoonist you’ll ever meet. Shun, who is incidentally the creator of the show – Will Sharpe.

A part from showstopping performances by everyone, the drama is also visually stunning. The story is set against a backdrop of Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite pastoral scenery, including also the characters usually inhabiting such mythical landscapes. A sumptuous repast for all the sense, I tell you.

But what moved me the most was the message of what real love is made of: the mysteries of who we are. But not the put-on, acted out, self-protective kind of mysteries – that is the stuff of uninitiated youth. What I’m talking about – and the Flowers – is the real, palpable mystery of another person. The fact that we never really ever fully know someone we share our life with. What’s more, we don’t ever know our selves fully either. It is only when we experience something for the first time that we encounter a part of ourselves we never met before. But so does the person we live with. And those are the monsters lurking in the shadows of real intimacy – will we be rejected for it or loved even more?

While we ponder this we grow apart. We need the distance to allow our monster to come out so we can see them more clearly. When we do though things get even scarier so we pull away even further. The partner unaware of this process is left feeling excluded, worried, upset. So they start pulling their weight away too. Seems only fair. And the gap widens ever more, until it feels unbridgeable.

But the love strings between the couple are not really breakable. Just stretchy. Always with a point of return. Different for each couple though. But when it’s reached, the two lovers are yanked back together with a force not unlike a gigantic sling. Shattered from the impact of this encounter they may feel broken, hurt, angry. But considerably truer too.

And it’s like a new life is injected into their relationship. A next level reached by crashing into each other.

Such is the importance of imploding for any shared future to be unfolding.

 

Honesty, the love synonym

Earlier today, while I was out weight-walking an image stopped me in my tracks.

A tiny bright red leaf lay on a dry grey tarmac with no other life anywhere near it. Until, as I was taking the photo, a gust of wind brought into the frame an even tinier ocher colour leaf. As if to say to the Red “you are not alone anymore, I’m here with you now. Everything will be better and easier now you got me by your side”.

This got me thinking about the nature of support.

Particularly, the kind of support we are looking for when we are stalling. When we know we are ready to commit that act that terrifies us yet something is holding us back. Something is missing – the last coble piece to pave our exit path.

If we were open to love, we have probably attracted a soul mate and are soaking in the unconditional love such union blesses us with. If we have earned it, we have a good friend or two whose nurturing love and support we can really feel . If we can afford it, we may have a therapist challenging us to step into the space of our greatest resistance.

But I witnessed in others – and experienced it in myself – that all this, as helpful as it is, has easily not been enough.

And I think it’s got something to do with honesty and trust.

We may not trust enough our therapists because we pay them to support us – do they believe in us because we pay them or because we are intrinsically worthy of their faith in us? Also, it’s an unequal relationship. And I don’t mean one is a trained expert and the other brings problems. I mean, it’s inequality of exchange – one is giving money, other the support. But to balance things out the roles would need to be interchangeable – the therapist to bring their money and shit and the patient their support. For that however we have friendships.

The problem with friendships though – like with any other love relationship – is that because you love what you have with the other person you may compromise parts of yourself to keep things great between you, not rock the love boat that your friendship is. Like boats some friendships are built to withstand harder knocks than others. But all have a tipping point. And not knowing where that point is may be the thing holding us back from being our bravest even with our truest friends?

My own experience with needing support to be my bravest hasn’t been so much in friendships – so far so lucky – but in my love relationship. Not knowing where our tipping point was, held me back numerous times until I just had to give our love boat some hard rocking or I was going to topple over all by myself. And rock hard our boat very much did. But we’d eventually manage to steady it. Our boat always changed course as a result and we with it, but sail away we continue.

So, by empirical deduction I conclude that unless we can be unconditionally & painfully honest with our friend, therapist or lover – and they with us because the reciprocity is critical! – we may struggle to find the kind of support that will take the breaks off our stalling engine and deliver us to our bravest, strongest, bestest selves.

But there is a fourth option, I believe.

If there’s no one in our life we are able to share our unconditional honesty with, we need to give ours to ourselves.

But that’s another topic all together! For another time…

Off to soak myself in a bath now.

Dreaming my way back

I still remember my first ever nightmare. I could have been any age between eight and twelve when I dreamt it.

I was walking along a marina in my hometown, near the water’s edge, wearing my grey skirt with a red pattern. Then all of a sudden I lost my balance and started falling into the sea. Or did I throw myself? Till this day I’m not sure which was it. If I did slip, I certainly – in my dream – didn’t panic. Instead, I just leaned into the space that opened up in front of me and let myself go. How beautiful, I think now, that image is. Yet at the time I woke up terrified.

The skirt was the key to unlocking the dream’s meaning. I used to strap it around my head and wear it as if it were my very own long hair. I’d walk around my bedroom, swaying my head from left to right loving the feeling of soft fabric brushing against my bare girl’s back.

Looking back on the dream now, I can easily see that it was an awakening dream – awakening of my sexuality, my feminine, my power. I’m sure I knew that at the time on a subconscious level. But it was the very knowing that scared me into waking up! In it was an offering of light I was to use to illuminate my journey through womanhood. But that light was too bright! Its scorching intensity a result of generations of denial – women not using it to decode their own version of Feminine – was too hot for my young hands to hold.

Consequently, the story of my becoming a woman has been a solitary and uncomfortable tale of endless battles between my inner “demons” fighting for Integration and my “virtues” repeatedly defeating them with incessant Rejections.

I wonder though what kind of woman I would have grown up to be if I knew how to shed the light on my girlhood dreams?

Fast forward, forty years later and you’ll find me dreamcatching my demony shadows unawares, bringing them out of the bizarre plotlines and strange landscapes and into my living day light.

Forty years too late? Can’t afford to think so. Fun? Sometimes. Mostly it’s actually quite hard work.

But the greatest promise this inner work holds for me is that it removes all mediators – coaches, counsellors and therapists of all kinds – and connects me directly to me. To my own wisdom. My own truth. The one I neglected the most.

It’s time to resurrect it.

PS In case dream & shadow work tickles you too, I highly recommend a book called Inner Work by Robert Johnson, a Jungian therapist. It’s an easy read with practical steps for interpreting dreams, plus a clear overview of Jung’s relevant work – on the shadow, the power of dreams and the wisdom of our unconscious.

Today was a huge day for me. I broke up with my therapist.

We’ve been together on&off for six years. She saved me from prozac back in the spring of 2008. She helped me cure a few of my long standing physical ailments with which came a lot of emotional healing too.

She was amazing. She was The One for me. She had exactly what I needed – independence, highly individualised spirituality, toughness, openness, wisdom, intuition, depth, courage, creativity, integrity, playfulness, maturity, honesty and kindness. Basically, all the traits I desperately needed to reawaken within myself.

The work we were doing was digging the gold out of me as well as deepening our bond.

During one of our breaks from therapy we met up to discuss a business collaboration. But I backed out – just like with many other people many times before and after. It actually took me to be out of work for some time to finally accept that I am a lone worker, a free lancers, and not a team player at all.

During another break we met up for a coffee and a stroll around our local park. It was lovely to spend time with her outside the therapy room but it also felt off – bumpy, uneven. She knew everything about me and I not so much about her. Not the most natural or easy starting point for a friendship. We didn’t meet for coffee again.

The last time I reached out to her (this January) I needed help with quite a few physical issues and an overwhelming sense of stuckness. What I didn’t realise was that I already started getting unstuck on my own. And that going back to her was more about closure than seeking help.

For what was to be our last session she suggested I bring a shadow – a part of me I feared expressing the most. For a week I considered them all but none felt scary enough to show to her. And most I already did. This wasn’t surprising though. After all, anything I couldn’t bring to anyone else I brought to her – it was the safest place I had.

And then it hit me. The one thing I couldn’t bare thinking about sharing with her was ending my therapy. And there it was. My scariest shadow. The only one worth bringing to her. So I did.

But I didn’t know the half of it! The difficulty I had trying to get the words out! Couldn’t believe it! I struggled for probably good 15 minutes – WTF!!! I thought. I mean – the discomfort, the shakes, the dry throat – the hell of it all!

When I eventually did say the words I was first gutted and then relieved. For the rest of the session we dug out some more gold. When we parted it was with lot of love which helped sooth my aching heart. Yes, heart …… I just ended one of the most meaningful relationships of my life …. but it was time…..

The chapter of my life I’m in now is all about looking to myself for answers. I feel an organic unfolding into the readiness to do exactly that which I never quite felt before. It was triggered by a challenge a friend threw at me recently which among other things rubbed my face into the vast knowledge and understanding of human predicament I accumulated over more than 30 years. A lifetime worth of research, observation, first hand experiences, reading, studying, going on courses, workshops, talks, therapies and talking to other people – and then talking some more and reading some more ……. All of that more than equipping me for the descent into my own darkness to get the light. To face my greatest fears and write home about it.

Touched by a spider

OR HOW TO SHUDDER YOUR WAY TO COURAGE

A couple of weeks ago I had a dream about searching for spiders (for some reason!). When I gave up thinking I’d never find one a black spider crawled out of a crack in a stone bench I was standing next to. At first I couldn’t make out what it was – something in the crack was black, furry and wriggly. Then all of a sudden I felt her soft legs brush against my bare ones. This, of course, sent me into a flapping frenzy, catapulting me out of my dream and – thank god! – into the comforting whiteness of my freshly conditioned bed linen.

Long story short, and after a few days of thinking and interpreting, I realised the spider was one of my scariest shadows: my vulnerability. The horror I feel just thinking about being fragile, helpless, with my guard down in the company of others sends me to the same kind of anxiety delirium that the spider in my dream did.

So, in the name of discomfort (my theme from almost two months ago is still running, gathering quite a momentum too) and as a way of honouring the dream (me, my truth) I’m bringing my shadow – my vulnerability – out into the open.

My posts here on FB – for the last two months in particular – have been one way of feeling vulnerable in public.

Another way has arrived today. Silly? Definitely! But so effective too!

As I opened the box with the big black furry spider in it I was reliving my dream all over again! The crack of the box, the shiny hairs looking like they were moving. The revulsion and horror surged through me with the same intensity too but this time I was prepared. I didn’t flap, scream or run off in a frenzy. I couldn’t unpack the box for at least half an hour though. But hey, one step at the time!

The smaller spider key ring is less furry but far scarier. The idea is that every time I reach into my bag to get my house key I’ll have to experience that same feeling of being touched by a spider. Gulp.

Shudder me!!

Let me confess

With cold setting into my bones all day yesterday, I have no choice but to spend this morning nursing myself back to 36 degrees Celsius. What bliss!

I find there’s something deeply comforting in feeling physically weak. Feebleness gets me off the hook of having to try anything for anyone. All that’s required of me is to just rest and be. (cue: soft moan…..)

So, understandably, I’ve been taking plenty of Cosy, drinking lots of Self-Indulgence and flicking through Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill, when this hit the spot:

“There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional), a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.”

It quickly got me sitting up in my bed and spinning my yarn. (you’ll get the edited version of course and naturally hours after it actually happened but you knew that already)

So what do I feel like confessing today? Age almost 47.

That I still don’t really know what I’m doing.

That that scares me often enough times that I have no choice but ask for help.

That asking for help makes me feel super vulnerable.

That revealing my vulnerability makes me squirm in slime.

That slime is where I came from – so why does it feel so……..yucky?

That the time has come for me to own such yucky feelings.

That – given all of the above – I have nowhere else left to go but out.

And that now – after all that confessing – I have nothing else left to feel but elated.

Well. On that note. I’m off to create some shit.

And leave tons of crumbs behind so I can find my way back when the time comes.

Butterflies abound.

A Compiled Poem

My day flew by today! A great feeling.

Started a pet project of my own. About words. Poetry mainly. Collage-y too. Old and new. And the Female, of course.

It’s been on my mind intermittently for nearly a decade now. So, today’s mainly been about blowing the cobs off the webs, bringing them back to life, then seeing where they’ll take me on their eight legs. Finding inspiration all around me, I hasten to add gratefully: talented friends, uncomfortable experiences and my bookshelves full of sizzling wordsmithery.

One such book is Striking Root – a collection of poems by Ifigenija Simonović. A Slovenian born poet who lives in London and works as a potter in Covent Garden. Or so told me lovely Tony Rudolf who translated the poems in English and published them. He also thought I’d like them and gave me a copy. Oh boy was he right! There aren’t many books I go back to often but this one is it. So crisp are her words. So simple. So true. I can never tire of them.

Ifigenija together with Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and Elena Ferrante  would be honoured to be sharing a page my personal choice of mighty wordsorcereresses – my friends Olja,Tee and Kerry. And forever grateful to me, of course, for bringing them together.

The poem that follows is what these seven amazing women sound like when they come together:

PILE HER UP

(a word compilation poem)

I was broke as a yawn,
A breathing woman
Alone. Speaking inside my head.

Dragged away
To my present
Living hell.

I look through the keyhole
And I cannot even
Tell if it’s empty
My kitchen sink-cum-alleyway.

Hot and cold taps running simultaneously.
Like my water-diet.

Stopping surprised
I’ve dropped my brain
Into a brand new shape.
A small monument to insanity.

I am dead, but I’m fine.

Writing for fun and pain
Straight from the heart.
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz.

Do something.
Or I’m moving to Tyrol. I already have the dress.

CREDITS TO:

Olja R-Knezevic lines 1, 16, 22 & 23
Emily Dickinson lines 2 & 14
Ifigenija Simonovic lines 3, 7, 8 & 9
Tee S Francis lines 3, 4, 5 & 9
Kerry-Fleur Schleifer lines 11, 12, 13, 15 & 18
Elena Ferrante line 17
Sylvia Plath lines 19, 20 & 21

Art & Identity In Migration

Every time someone asks me where I’m from, I give them the same answer: “From the country that doesn’t exist anymore”. Oblivious to what that might reveal about me. Only caring about the truth. My truth. That I am from Yugoslavia and that my country does not, indeed, exist anymore.

For years my answer got unremarkable responses, leaving people mostly nonplussed if sometimes amused. Until a few years ago when an unsuspecting woman gasping in horror said: “WOW! What did THAT do to your identity!?!”

Yes, er, hmm….helped me reconstruct it?

If I’m not Yugoslavian anymore, then what am I? Serbian? Montenegrin? British? By law maybe all three but which one do I feel like? None, I say. Or better yet, all three at once. And more. Cos don’t forget to add to my mix some Croatia and Macedonia, lots of Bosnia and Slovenia, Italy and Israel, traces of Russia and Africa, and a bit of America. Now, THAT concoction of a nation I could relate to.

Because you don’t just switch sides.

When your history – your language, the familiar landmarks – is banished, your genesis rewritten, and your home turns on you, you unravel fast enough. And you get angry. A lot. And you mourn. A lot. But at the end when all the sadness is gone, a deep hole is revealed where a sense of belonging once was. Waiting to be filled up again. But this time with a story written by you. Line by line. Paragraph to chapter. A whole novel. Or collection of short stories.

Or canvases.

Like the ones of my friend artist Tomislav Terek.

Between 1995 and 2015 Tomislav wove his story, thread by thread, pulling off fragments from broken histories suspended somewhere in between countries new and old, remembering long forgotten dreams and reconstructing them.

As I stepped into that small but cosy space of We Serve Art gallery in Harrow & Wealdstone what surprised me and gave me the most pleasure was the mixture of styles showing in his work.

Sure, there were pieces with shared tone, format and themes but there were at least five such groupings in that tiny space. “I get easily excited” explained Tomislav in English so that my partner could understand him too. “I get an idea in my head,” he said, “and then throw myself into it with all I’ve got not really worrying if it resembles anything I’d done before. If it does, fine. If it doesn’t, fine again.”

Now, how exciting is that?!
Creating art without expectations, so refreshingly unpretentious.
More real. And personal.

Who we are is so fragmented, fluid and elusive. To define it neatly or express it in a homogeneous style is to do it injustice. So when an artist exhibits his work that appears stylistically inconsistent it’s a rare and precious thing. It’s a VIP invitation to enter his intimately eclectic interior and make yourself feel (un)comfortably at home.

Go Home Van – a children’s toy satirising British foreign policy – made me laugh. That is, until one of Britain’s most exported catchphrases took a dark turn tightening my throat where that laughter came from: Keep Calm and Go Home.

Next, I was transfixed by the elegant beauty of an ivory wishbone set against a black background. Fragile like the dreams once shared and broken; a dignified survivor.

Few camera clicks later, I was in front of a photo, set in a frame within a frame, which took me back to the time my country ceased to exist. But it wasn’t very clear (what is ever though?). My mind tried some filters for clarity – nostalgia, sharp blow, watery eyes – but the image only grew out of focus.

I had to quickly look up (the emotions welling up inside me needed to subside) when I spotted a small white canvas covered in short black hairs. They could be dog’s. Or not…. And I was laughing again.

We mingled for a while longer, then left. I felt spent but inspired.

I wish there were more exhibitions like it.

With bumpy stylistic terrains full of sharp and unexpected turns. That cracked open your heart and stimulated the brains out of you.

What If

There are a few small lakes and fish ponds in my neighbourhood each one surrounded by lush woodlands. One in particular is our favourite  resting spot  on our weekend walks. It has a small bench overlooking the ducks, the willows and a few cottages that wouldn’t be out of place in the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale.

Last Saturday. as we sat on the bench soaking up the autumn sun I saw a woman outside one of the front gardens stroking a cat.

She looked up and smiled at us. We smiled back. The cat, probably disturbed by this exchange, jumped off her lap and ran into the house. The lady shrugged her shoulders chuckling. I, very much drawn to her, joined in the chuckle. She engaged me in a brief cat-banter but I soon – softly (not to offend) although swiftly – grew quiet and withdrawn.  She left me to it, smile still on her face.

In my peripheral vision I could see her get up and tidy the patio from what seemed like a clutter of gardening tools. She was tall and moved slowly but nimbly. She wore a green woolly jumper two-sizes-too-big, grey trousers and a beige hat. I loved the hat – it had one pom-pom on the top and two at the end of each ear flap.

She must have noticed my peaking. She was about to go inside her house when she turned towards us to wave and smile at us. Thousands of butterflies stirred in my tummy and fluttered upwards until they lodged my heart in my mouth. Thankful for this feeling, I gave her my biggest smile and an overzealous hand-wave.

I was so happy I could cry. I almost did too. My eyes welled up, heavy glistening drops hanging onto my eyelashes for dear life (that’s how formidable the force of happiness I was fighting was!).

What if instead of just waving good-bye she started a conversation with me over her pretty little fence? What if I followed my craving and got chatting to her? What if we clicked (as I imagined we would) and she invited me in for tea? What if I accepted and we spent couple of hours in her quirky but stylish sun lit front room, talking about everything and anything, tripping over each other’s words, discovering endless shared passions…. the love of autumn weather, mischievous cats, lyrical literature, leftist politics, eclectic fashion, rich food and bespoke spirituality,….

What if we then parted because the conversation – our exuberant exchange – slowed down a couple of paces? What if this was effortlessly mutual?  What if we both didn’t have the need to make arrangements for another time? What if we both knew that the moment we shared was exquisite but that it was only a moment and any attempt to recreate it would be about something other than the wonder we just shared?

As I pieced together my What Ifs, weaving them into one another like multicoloured threads of a friendship bracelet, my heart beat with joy at the promise this encounter held.

And as the October wind picked up, and my partner and I got up to go home – while the nice lady inside her house sipped her tea alone – I tucked the tender promise into the warmth of my pocket. I was going to put it on my kitchen window seal next to my bushy basil and parsley. I was hoping it would add a real flavour to a real friendship one day.

This post was written in November, 2010

Cruel kindness on a leafy lane

I was taking a very short break before my final ascent up a steep leafy lane, with weights around my ankles and wrists adding up to over 5 kilos in total, when an old man stopped to ask me how those weights worked.

Although he looked very frail, a sparkle was still illuminating his eyes. I smiled and approaching him I undid my weights to show him their mechanism. He soon told me all about his daily exercise routine and how that kept him in a decent shape despite the cancer eating him away; how lonely he was and how not even his church friends cared enough to visit him occasionally; how he kept himself busy by collecting electrical refuse for a charity; how his memory was failing him and he couldn’t read books anymore (although he wasn’t really an avid reader anyway).

He did ask me a question or two about me but I was acutely aware of his much greater need to talk and be heard so I kept my answers brief, feeling happy when he used them as segue to tell me about himself.

While he was talking I often drifted off though, keen to observe myself instead, curious about my reactions to him. I was humbled, touched, deeply saddened and felt myself welling up a couple of times. His loneliness was so palpable and his yearning for human contact almost unbearable. I was aware that what I was giving him was not a great deal to me but awfully precious to him – time and attention – and soon I was feeling a dread creep over me. I could break his heart by simply ending our conversation.

Realising this terrible imbalance of power, I felt so uncomfortable that I started to edge away from him, busying myself with tying the weights back onto my wrists, hoping to end this encounter as gently as possible.

Thankfully, I thought, he appreciated what I was trying to do and went along with it. However, as we were parting he asked me one more question: would I mind helping him raise money for his charity? He then continued to quickly inform me about how I won’t have to do much, just leave used foil and electrical stuff outside my house and how he’d pick it up, how he’ll send me references so I know it’s a legitimate charity and how grateful he’ll be to me. Feeling cornered, I said ‘yes’ and before I knew it, I was giving him my address.

I got in my car and as I sped off, I grew uneasy.  I just gave my home address to a total stranger! A loner. A disgruntled man, let down by and deeply disappointed with his fellow humans. All I could think of to console myself was that even if he was criminally inclined he was too frail to be really feared – I could overpower him easily if ever he posed a risk to my safety.

After this initial assault of paranoia, I settled into a more pragmatic mood.

I will honour my promise and help him with his charity collections, but it’ll be a one off. I cannot – nor do I wish to – offer him more. Also, I will stop using that leafy lane for awhile for my daily exercise routine.

I waited anxiously for his reference letter which arrived two days after our encounter – he dropped it off in person. He didn’t ring a bell which was a huge relief although it made me feel pathetic for having all those paranoid thoughts.

His letter was crushing. It was written by an unsteady frail hand in an old fashioned handwriting telling me how talking to another human being gave him hope again and a new spring in his step. He also thanked me for my time and for listening to him: he called me a “very nice and kind lady”. I was distraught. I felt I was the ugliest soul in the world. I wished, oh I wished so much in that brief moment that I could give him everything he needed – company, occasional visit, listening ear, compassion. But I knew better. I knew I didn’t want to.  As my heart ached with sadness and pounded with guilt, my resolve grew – I had to dispel any hope he may have had of our continuing acquaintance.

I wrote him a kind enough but very short and completely unambiguous letter of my one-off intention to help him with his charity and instructions for him to collect the goods. I did as I promised and he collected as he promised. We never met again, nor exchange any more letters.

I did see him a few weeks later outside his house attending to his hedge. He looked as healthy as last and only time I spoke to him, I thought to myself with great relief.

*   *   *   *   *   *

I still wonder if I could have done anything differently. More kindly.

Maybe I should have been considerably less accommodating and encouraging when he first approached me?

But, at the time, I could give him what he needed. In fact, I was only too happy to oblige. So, not to give him what came to me so easily seemed to be to me unkind…..

If only he could have left it at that…if only he could have been happy with the moment not wishing to recreate it…

As for me, maybe I could have acted on my knowledge that people do want more of what they like – I know I do. But that would have felt like I was patronising him – as if he was a child and I, an adult, knew better what was good for him.

But that just wasn’t me.

It goes against my sense of right and wrong.

We are all free to make our own decisions and choices – and live with the consequences.

Including me and my feeling of guilt for the way I came undone after meeting a frail old man on a steep leafy lane.

This post was written in November, 2010

Jobless eXistenz

My dad was a big fan of a quote “You are what you do” and being a daddy’s girl I cherished it and carried it into my adulthood, adopting it as my own. But despite much tenderness I’d feel whenever I let my father’s voice and values speak through me, this maxim has also been – nestled among many other things – at the root of my anxiety:

Work is utilitarian: it needs to benefit at least two people – the giver and the receiver. So, unless I am useful to someone I have…. well, no worth. To put it even more simply, my worth is determined by others.

Until now this never particularly bothered me, since most of my life I spent in work of one kind or another. After numerous and often fun short term job stints through my teens and early 20s, I went permanent. But the lengths of my permanent jobs never really did justice to the meaning of “permanent” as I never stayed anywhere longer than six months. Eventually though, I was lucky enough to be presented with the opportunity to become a limited company which allowed me to finally be able to choose when, who – and most importantly – for how long I work.

Uncertainty is inherent to the life of a contractor – the gaps between jobs are nothing to be phased by and pragmatic by my (professional) nature, I always relished the thrill of the chase for the next contract.

But this time it was different. Since I ended my last contract (six months ago) I actually made no effort to find work. To begin with this was deliberate but my break from anything work-related was supposed to end in October when I was supposed to focus completely on looking for work…..

Middle of October (2010) and I still haven’t made even the smallest step towards finding work; haven’t even felt a stirring of intention!

Yet this jobless, unquantifiable existence can feel so uncomfortable, as I struggle to justify it, unable to measure my contribution to the life I continue to live regardless.

Such ponderings make me feel uneasy. And for the most part of my days I do my best not to consider them. I revel in my life of no external pressures after all. But now and then – fortnightly? – I am plunged into the depths of this identity crisis.

The most difficult thing is to imagine myself working again. Even things like job searching or being interviewed are unimaginable to me.

And as I torment myself with these thoughts I continue to lose myself in the ever expanding spaces of my jobless interior.  Who am I without my professional ID? Where have I disappeared with my work gone?

Sure, I could be identified with a string of other labels such as a female in her 40s, childless, petless, jobless, mortgageless, friendless, etc etc, except they denote only a small segment of the whole, known otherwise as me.

My professional identity on the other hand seems to package me far more completely than the other more personal labels. As a good project manager I know I am a big-picture person, good communicator, in control, able to balance conflicting objectives (budget, time and quality), adaptable, etc. All these attributes, I’d say, paint a picture of a person well equipped for living a good, sensible life.

But stripped of them, my identity spills out of this professional container and overflows. I can’t seem to catch it, hold it or make much (solid) sense of it. It strays fast and far, covering so much ground that I find myself all over the place. It trickles down my window sills, sneaks through my dusty kitchen cupboards, twists around my shampoos, body scrubs and bath salts, crawling all the way to the cobwebby ceiling corners of my bedroom.

But no matter how thin this fluid identity spreads and how many contortionist manoeuvres it makes it doesn’t seem to break. Not yet anyhow. Even at its thinnest or most twisted it somehow pulls itself. Not back together though, but by springing into newer, denser shapes.

These moments are not pleasant – they scare me and make me feel like that alien blob from Cronenberg’s film eXistenZ – but I do have a vague sense (or hope?) they will serve me in good stead one day. The challenge is to stay with these amorphous times, without judgement, disapproval or impatience and just let me be. The lesson might be that of a greater acceptance (of myself and then by default of others) and that – particularly when in work again – will come handy. So I persevere. And maybe, in a curious way, I’ll even learn to enjoy it.

This post was written in October, 2010