Monday, 25 June 2012

The Unlived Life

I listened to an interview with the psychoanalyst, Adam Philips, on my way to work this morning. He was speaking about his book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life.

Most of us, spend a huge amount of our lives, our actual lived lives, thinking about lives that we are not (in reality) actually living. Peculiar.

For every door we open, thousands slam shut.
Some seem eternally out of reach, locked and barred.
Or tantalising ajar, if only we could . . . .
Most of us don't get the glossy lives depicted in Hello magazine.
Doesn't stop us dreaming.

I don't dream of my life as Beyonce or Angelina. If only I'd been in the right place, could sing, could act, was more physically attractive, didn't prematurely eject babies from my uterus? I could have been a contender.

My unlived lives are far more modest affairs. I know that I still, on occasion, think of my life as a pharmacist. If only I had taken up that university place instead of sticking closer to home to be near my then boyfriend. Because that was worth it. Snort.

Or my life married to snort-inducing boyfriend. Double snort.

I was speaking to a colleague at work the other day who told me that, when he left university, he had two job offers. One working for the health service, where his lived life took him and how he ended up sitting over the desk from me last week, and another, at the Financial Times. And his face was wistful and animated as he discussed his possible future, years ago, as a journalist at the Financial Times. This life he never had still, somehow, lived within him.

These unlived lives are a strange mixture of hope and regret.

We seem to need to reflect on what we want, on what we could have, those lives that we do not currently live, in order to hope, in order to plough forward. To harness our frustration with the absence of what we want, to identify what precisely it is that we want, to plan and scheme and dream of how to achieve what we need, to live this unlived life of our yearning wishes.

If we could not imagine anything other than our real lives, we would have no spur, no push, no stick and no carrot.

And our frustration slides along a continuum, from the cries of the child to works of literature and music. That yearning, that frustration, that want, for the unlived life, those lives that illustrate what it is that is missing from our own? Accompanies us, throughout our days.

I think of my daughter. The single embodiment of my unlived life. A super dense entity, collapsing in on herself. With the weight of all my yearning focused on such a tiny point in space and time. Poor child.

Every scream I ever screamed as an infant. every sigh I ever sighed as a child gazing out of my bedroom window, melancholy for no reason that I could articulate. Every teenage tantrum and occasion of drinking myself into a stupor. This blog. Every word. Yearns. Leans. Towards her. The central mystery and, in some ways, the central figure, the defining relationship of my life.

I have identified, very precisely, what it is that I want. Something that I have no hope of obtaining.
A relationship with a real human being. A baby, a child, a young woman. Who would poop and cry her own screams of want and frustration and fall over and hit me and throw her food on the ground and read books and make cups of tea. Generating her own unlived lives, like streamers from her fingers as she was pulled through time.

But, no.

Instead I have a relationship with a strange semi-celestial being. Who seems to symbolise Death and wonder and love and parenthood. And so many, many mysterious, baffling things. A puzzle. A trap that encircles my hand and is, whilst not painful, intractable. The one who lives no life at all. Or every life with every possibility, reduced to something so small that she can carry them around in her pocket.

I do still hope for her. In ways that are, obviously and inherently flawed. Because that life, my life as Georgina's mother, here, in actuality, will remain forever unlived. A dream, unfulfilled. A love, unrequited. A daughter who can still light my face up with wistfulness and anticipation.

But the hope, the want, the yearning, still drives me forward.
Still encourages me to live.
Pushed forward by tiny, gentle hands. They are kind but insistent.
'Live," they say. "Wake up," echoing their twin's hands. Elsewhere.


But this isn't for her.

It's for a beautiful girl with a pirate smile. A feisty spirit.

How the years pass without you? Well, I just don't know.

Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band
Pretty eyed, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man
Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand
And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand

Monday, 18 June 2012

Hope There's Someone

I'm at work. Collaborating. Leaning forwards towards the computer screen. Identifying errors, here and there. Discussing what we believe to have failed. Tracing the bug in our formulae.

I sit opposite a young man, intelligent and quick. He has clever hands, I notice. They fly here and there. He speaks softly. Agrees vehemently, corrects gently. My kind of guy.

I hope I reflect him back to himself.

The office is quiet.

So we sit, waiting for our latest attempt to run through, crossing our fingers. Hoping that we don't cause the whole extraction process to keel over in horror at our inept attempts to speak the language of computers. We make desultory small talk.

Painful at the best of times in a roomful of people like me, who aren't built for small talk. Confident and happy whilst discussing numbers and computer code, we tend to struggle a little on more shaky ground.

We talk about subjects studied at university, him - law and politics, me - neuroscience and statistics.
What we did at the weekend, him - claims to be unable to remember making me feel very old indeed, me - my sister in law's 40th birthday party.


How many do I have?

Are they twins?
No, I say. Imagine that. That would be so tough. My niece and nephew are twins, it's really hard work.

I don't suppose he notices my slight hesitation.

The lady in the next cubicle chips in with, wouldn't you just love to have twins, get it all over with at once?
Oh no. I say. Not me. One at a time is enough for me.

I feel uneasy.
Not because I wanted to say something because what would I have achieved by saying that well, actually, whadda you know, my eldest (who isn't my eldest) was a twin but her sister died? How funny that you think that I might have had twins, what a coincidence.

I would have made two kind people feel awkward and upset. Perhaps. Momentarily.

Strange. How it still floors me. I don't need to cry or excuse myself. I don't need to say anything at all. Just smile and nod.

But it feels as though somebody is bending my fingers back.

Really? Says my husband.
Even after all this time?

Yes. I say.
I'm sorry. I know it should be different by now.

Strange how it does not become more acceptable with time.
It is easier to manoeuvre around. I don't need to weep or wail or tell people.
I don't need to go and hide and cry.
Her death is part of her.
Her taboo-ness, her hidden-ness, is part of her.
Awkwardness. Her mother's daughter. Poor child.
A hidden daughter that I can't really speak about because she is not socially acceptable.
But to me.
She is.
And what do I care about the rest?

But, as I walk out to go and buy my lunchtime sandwich, I can't help but think.
I held her. She was still alive.
I wonder if she felt at all reassured by my arms.
Probably not.

I think of her life. My daughter's life. I see dark and hear a distant thump, thump.
Perhaps I feel a sister, perhaps not.
Then I see a blur of disconnected, blurry images.
Loud noises.
Through half-formed eyes, half-formed ears.
Indecipherable and strange.
And then I'm gone.

Sounds a bit like a truncated version of my own life really.
I hope there are arms to catch me at the end. But I won't hope for too much.

I hope the painkillers worked. My darling. If I can't have you back. That is what I wish.
That you drifted away, in the arms of someone who could not have loved you more.
I've been wishing it since the beginning.
And because I'll never know.
I'll be wishing it until the end.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Further pluckings from the brain of the sleep deprived

Sleep. That blissful state.

In its absence my brain feels like a gummed up clock mechanism, full of stickiness and grit, wheels grinding and protesting.

My dear boy does not like to sleep. He screams and protests and wants company. His face is screwed up and red with anguish. He screams of how he has been betrayed, ill-used. If I am not too exhausted, I long to console him. At other times I lie there, too bone tired to get up, jabbing my husband in the ribs and whispering, "YOU get him."

Sometimes, when Reuben wakes me, his big sister keeps me up further still. In the wee small hours  with their cold, gray light. They find me cradling my cold, gray child. My sweet girl. I miss you so. Do you know that I pretend to hold you sometimes, when I am alone?

I consider the back of his head, still downy like a baby's. Although I suppose he is getting too big to be called a baby. And I feel his weight, the dear weight that is so sweet in my arms, that has always been so sweet in my arms. The pressure that he exerts upon the world that is so lost to his sister. The pressure of flesh. So very, very dear. Especially to those who have tried to pin scraps to the earth.

The consolation, of breast and arms. Of murmuring and endearments and pressing my lips to that downy head. That is sweeter still.
But I am only proof against life.
I have no consolation for the dead.
More's the pity.

And I want more life. I am greedy for life. An ever ravening maw with no concern for practicalities or finances or what anybody else wants. I just want to console. To create the misery that comes inevitably with the making of life and then to console.

I don't have time for risks. Only my own gluttony. Want. Want.

Want and fear.

Not a pretty sight.


Jessica and I go to the school open day. I meet Jessica's teacher, who is kind and young. So young that I can scarcely believe she is a teacher. But I suppose that is merely a sign that I am getting old.

Jessica gives her a hug which I consider to be a good sign. Jessica 'takes' to certain people and her judgement is pretty sound.

It's nice. She has fun. Sticking. Playing in the sand. Singing. She is desperate to be picked to be one of the 'five little speckled frogs' and raises her hand as high as she can reach but it is not to be her fate today. 'Maybe next time," I whisper in her ear. "Maybe next time you will get to be one of the frogs."

Ah but she is three. A young three. And some of the other children are nearly five. I feel the difference and hope that my plans will come off. And I think that they are ALL far too young but that is beside the point.

The decision rests with the head teacher. We didn't even know WHO that would be until April when school admissions decides which school Jessica will attend. But I had made preliminary visits to all likely candidates, just in case.

So Jessica's doctor will write a letter, stating the case. The head teacher and the special educational needs staff of all related (and some unrelated institutions) will have a meeting. And we shall see whether she will start school very shortly (in September) or next year (my preferred option). I want to fight, just not sure who to pick the fight with at the present time.


"How long did she live again?" he asks.

"Who?" I say.

"Georgina," replies my father.

Her name in his voice is like a gift. A rarity.

"Three days," I reply. "And a bit."

We had been discussing the current debate about whether babies stillborn before 24 weeks should be given birth certificates. In the UK, apparently, you don't get any form of certification if your baby is stillborn before 24 weeks. If your baby is stillborn at any gestation, you only receive a 'certificate of stillbirth' not a birth certificate or a death certificate.

Georgina has both a birth and death certificate. Just as I will have. Just as Jessica will have. And that brings me a peculiar comfort. It seems unfair that it is not always the case.


"So . . . you had to register her birth and her death at the same time?" he says.

"Yes," I say. "Yes, I did. I have to go now. See you later."



There is not enough time for you. My dear and much missed friend. Amidst working and children and laundry and cooking and cleaning and reading (because it IS imperative that I read A Song of Ice and Fire in its entirety because I am, in my heart, a geeky teenage boy, who knew?) and putting away and faffing about and dancing with Jessica and snuggling with Reuben and trying to repel the ants that are invading my living room . . . .

Yearning for the one who nearly was. I miss her so very much. I still can't resist thinking about how life would have been had she lived (I have the fairly unusual privilege of not having a Sophie's Choice aspect to that imagining, I don't have to pick between having Georgina and having her brother or her sister) and I miss her. Oh how I miss her.

But I'm not unhappy. I worry that my last post sounded miserable. I'm not miserable. I'm so far away from the woman of late 2008/2009 that I sometimes have to catch my breath.

But in my tiredness, skinned and vulnerable, I still miss her. My sweet almost-was girl. She is at my centre, my exhausted, flawed centre.

But I hope she's somewhere more like this . . .

White flawed enamel pots and a place on the shelf for everything you've got. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The anti anti-depressant

The anti anti-depressant - the works of W.G. Sebald as described by the psychiatrist, Lawrence Kirmayer.

It seems somewhat appropriate that I am countering my attempts to adjust my mood via pharmaceuticals with literature. Sounds like one of those stupid ass things that I would do. Because if you are taking anti depressants, the next logical move would be to take an anti anti-depressant, no?

One of the recurrent themes in Sebald's work, as far as my rather puny understanding goes, is the limited capacity of the human mind for the detail of things. His books tend to focus on the exploration of the histories of small, seemingly unimportant objects. Which are apparently chosen at random.

Thus a whole book, and a good book at that, a story of loss, of absence, of triumph and disaster is spun from one single central object. An old photograph. A stone wall. And Sebald begs the question, where do you stop? Because you can't stop when an object is human in origin, it could link to and resonate with and encompass completely or be a small element of many, many other stories.

An unlimited and, arguably, rather frightening potential. Vertiginous. Inhuman.

And if we approached every object with this Sebaldian world view in mind, we are soon staring into an empty hole. With everything inside it. Because what we are looking at is so vast that it is impossible to assimilate.


And I look at the graffiti, in a toilet, in a seaside town. I see x.x. loves x.x. except that they are not called x.x. Unsurprisingly. I can't make out who they are because what was once initials is so heavily scored out as to be unintelligible.

And suddenly I am a teenage girl, scoring out her once proudly carved marker. And the rejected lover. And her mother. And her father. Her friends. Possibly her cat. And I'm wondering about the argument that caused that vicious scoring out. Over and over.

And I blame W.G. Sebald. Thanks a bunch my far more literate friend. You certainly did a number on me.


So, my attempts to analyse literature aside, what point am I trying to make?

Writing the previous post led me to reflect on blog commenting, what fuels it, what makes me want to read every post in Angie's series, to say something about every post, to stamp my mark upon it and leave a scrawl underneath it. It is because I feel that I should? Or because I said that I would? What is driving me?

Perhaps part of it is some form of self-punishment. Because I don't like myself and I, most particularly, don't like myself without Georgina. I always felt that it would, somehow, be wrong to be happy without her. That to be happy without her would be to make her brief little life worthless.

So maybe I choose to take the anti anti-depressant. To know that my life is tiny and small. That there are hundreds, thousands of stories that I could read. That I could invest a part of my heart in. Names I could remember. Try to honour.

But I don't think it is quite that simple.

Because to me there is strength in numbers, there is a peculiar beauty in Sebald's world view. Of that vast endless black hole that we finally reach when we attempt to analyse cultural objects, individual stories, buildings.

Because my life IS tiny. It IS worthless. It IS small. One among billions and billions and vanishing away to nothing.


Beauty is truth, truth beauty.

Nobody ever promised comfort or cosiness. Perhaps we see beauty more frequently than we fancy.

To see the truth and not avert my eye. To see the truth in one, refracted back through ten.

And to hear the story that remains untold. Because I know that you are there. Silent. But I hear you, whispering. With my ear pressed down against the wire.

If I were a confidence interval I would not be 95% or 98%. There is no certainty in me. I would be the odds of my eldest daughter's chance of life. Disappearing-ly thin. And sometimes I hate myself for not being a semi-deity. For not remembering every detail, every image, every word.

So what do I hope to become? A strange being with the ability to absorb grief, to hold it close to the heart, to feel it, to remember? There's hubris for you.

But there is, perhaps, some grace in the effort. However feeble.

But I hope to hold a story, unrelated to my own, in my mind. Just passingly (which is far less than they deserve.)

To fill my mind with one. With yours. With the brief, the unsung, the tiny, the small.
The beautiful. The true.

Because in loving yours, I love my own.