Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Living In Public

Once there was a woman with no secrets.

Her life was as translucent as the sunshine, honest as the day.
Her heart was as pure as
She had no dark corners or hidden thoughts.

She had no secrets.

She made a book. That told everybody, from everywhere, what had become of her.

She mailed a copy to . . .
old school friends,
friend of her mother's,
kids she went to playgroup with,
boys she kissed once then thought better of,
old work colleagues,
current work colleagues,
her husband,
her sister,
her distant cousins on another continent,
people who only knew her through her words.

Typed, black upon white.

She asked a few of them to look. 
A very, very few.

Most asked her.
To look.
At her book.
That she thought so unique.

But her book was, oddly, very similar to everybody else's.

Apart from the photographs of candles.
And her dead child listed in a corner. The lower right hand corner of page 59. Not prominently.

You'll find her if you look hard enough. Her first daughter. Georgina.

Some people do find her.

Other don't.

You think of all of those people. How they remember you. How you probably aren't that person anymore. They see you, the you in the book, walking towards them through dust, the dust from the rubble from a collapsing building.

Sometimes I'm surprised that all of these books are so crystal clear. The photographs and copied jokes so pristine.

That the photographs aren't clouded with dust. From all those buildings that must have fallen down in the midst of their construction. Making those clear statements fuzzy around the edges.

No . . no baby photographs here. Please move away. This is a demolition zone.

Family pictures missing a husband.
Missing a father.

Books maintained in the name of the dead.
Or books left to lie still in the name of the dead.
A disconcerting reminder.
Because one day yours will join them.
Flutter, flutter, flop.
Well maintained prettiness finally given up.
For lost.

But sometimes you'll find that the friend who was yours when you were thirteen.
Whom you became too dull for.
You'll find that friend and they'll know what to say to you.

They'll send you a folded up piece of paper. You'll be thirty something. But you won't have forgotten her handwriting.  Like a message passed in the class room. Like you used to. In those days before over burdensome books like this became the fashion. Can't pass those around. You're bound to get caught.

The piece of paper will say, 'I wanted to acknowledge Georgina. I know that there is nothing that I could ever say to make it better.'

And the teacher will ask, "What's so important in that letter Catherine W.? What's so important that you are not paying attention to me?"

And you'll swallow it. Smiling.

Because you don't have many secrets left.
Perhaps that isn't entirely a bad thing.

Undignified but hey? Nobody ever said that dignity was the aim.

And would she be adding this to her book? The woman. Who tried to have no secrets. Who was tired of having secrets.

Umm . . . . . . . . . let me see . . . . . . nope.

 Now I feel ok but every night before I sleep. I wish I had kept it to myself for me to keep.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Parallels and collapse

A reflection triggered by a post about parallel solitudes written by Kate at Sweet Salty here.

Another post written by Bon at about living in public here.

A huge thank you to Cathy in Missouri for making me think about these two posts rather than simply running away, clutching my over stimulated and electrified brain, screaming 'ARGH thoughts and  . . . um, stuff and . .  unintelligible, but excited, gibbering'! 

And . . . . listening to the radio . . . .ha! You never saw that one coming did ya now?

Catherine W?  Listening to the radio? Unheard of!

Still. All pulled together by listening to Matthew Parris speak about the death of his father on the Today programme this morning.


I listened to Kate's TEDxHalifax talk.

And then I sat. I sat for quite some time. As the little boy pottered around my feet, banging a pot.
Jessica was out. Swimming with her Daddy.
I sat. Bang. Bang. Clang. Tea going slowly cold. Jaw a-flapping in the breeze.
It's a habit.
I thought about all of those who had underwritten my own solitary journey.

Then I wrote a comment.
It's another habit.

I meant to write something about how lovely Kate's parents are. Because there is something in that earnest reflection through her parents' faces, of her (now fulfilled) ambition to be an author, back into Kate's six year old eyes? I hope I can do that for my own children. Even a little. To have that faith and encouragement.

About how I had bought The Dread Crew for Jessica and how I won't break the spine without her, not without my first-born, second-born daughter. And she isn't quite ready yet.

But, being the self-centred little being that I am, I was whisked back.
To a cold, dark January 2009.
To a spare room with a whirring computer fan.
To a house that was never quiet.
The pump, hiss of an oxygen concentrator mumbling away. Competing with the fan.
Plastic tubing draped everywhere. Metres and metres of it.
So that I could take my baby attached to the end, like a pendant, like her twin, all around the house.

A baby that hardly cried.
A mother that peered and sat. Shell shocked.
Long into the dark night.

In the NICU, babies work to a schedule. Feed on schedule. Nappy change on schedule. And Jessica and I had been there so long that we didn't know any different, I used to sit and wait. Whether she was awake or not. With a bottle ready. We would sit and wait. Looking at one another. Waiting for 4am to click round. When I would pick her up for a feed.

I used to tick off all her medications on a chart. My own, poor, home-made replica of patient notes.
A shell of a nurse of a mother.

And one night I think I typed, 'my baby died and I don't know what to do' into google. Because, I suppose, I was unhinged?

I don't know why I thought that a search engine might hold the solution but . . . . . there you were.

Those of you that arrived prior to the winter of 2009.
Although you didn't know that I had arrived.
I was there. Silently.

Sputtering and going under.
Glugging water into my lungs as I paddled along.
Through this strange life that I didn't anticipate and had managed no preparation for.

And you were there. Parallel.
And you were swimming.
In impossible, oil-choked waters.

Swimming gracefully or clumsily.

But you were swimming.
You were breathing.

Although sometimes you raised your fists to the sky and cursed that very fact.
And sometimes you revelled in your beauty and strength.
That is the right word.

And I could see you.
Out of the corner of my eye.
That kept me afloat.

And here I am. Still.


I turn on the radio after I've dropped Jessica off at school (and there's another LENGTHY rant that I won't post here!)

And Matthew Parris is speaking about the death of his father, eight years ago.

"I'm not obsessed by grief but I was surprised that, after dad died . . .

people said, for a while you won't quite come to terms with it, and then you'll suddenly find you have a period of intensely missing him, and then, gradually, you'll move on. They used phrases like move on or get over it, you'll come to terms with it, achieve closure.

Well  . . .  That didn't happen to me.

I missed him terribly. And I carried on missing him.

And I still miss him and I don't feel that there is anything wrong with missing someone who has been very important to you, they ought to leave a gap. People talk about grief as though it were some kind of temporary mental imbalance, some sort of disease that needs to be dealt with, cured by counselling. 

Grief is a natural reaction. And it's right, if they really loved that person, that there should be a permanent gap left and that they should miss them terribly forever. And there is nothing wrong with that.

There will be a period of intense grief when you can think of almost nothing else. You can't go off for a month and come to terms with it."

Typed whilst listening to a podcast so please forgive me for any typos or errors and know that they are not Mr. Parris's.

And there he was. Splosh. Swimming along in parallel. Matthew Parris. Columnist at the Spectator.
Hey there.

Because it didn't happen to me either. Getting over it.

And I don't agree with him. Because I don't think that missing somebody terribly, forever, is a function of how important they were to you or of how much you loved them. It doesn't work that way.

I don't think that there is anything wrong with 'moving on.'
I don't think that there is anything wrong with 'staying put.'

Because . . . as I swim along.

As I get older.

Those swimming alongside me. Become far smaller in number.
An ever decreasing sequence of pools.

Because there is no right way to grieve, no right way to parent, no right way to believe.
We are all muddling along, diverging.
And that's right.

When I was young, I thought that everybody was like me, felt like me.
When I turned my music up, I thought that I was doing them a favour.

So when I was at preschool . . . oh hello, humanoid being? Hey, let's go along in parallel. We can flick sand at each other.

At senior school . . . oh hello, fellow fan of Smashing Pumpkins? Hey, let's go along in parallel. Still going along in parallel with one of these in the form of my husband.

At university . . oh hello, you've read Hesse or Nietzsche or Chomsky? Or you are interested in researching x, y or z? Or you'd rather go out and get drunk than read and research? Oh the latter, well . . . HAI, let's go along in parallel. Just for a bit.

Then you get older.

Oh . . . .HEY there? You actually like statistics? Hey! Let's mooch about in parallel.

Oh . . . oh . . . . oh you have twins? Let's move forward together but not too far, don't lets get too attached, because I'll be leaving you shortly, sister-in-law and best-friend. Love ya. MWAH!

Hmmm. Premature twins. Very premature. One dies.


Until the night of my crazy search engine typing.


But . . .

the pool

Is shrinking.

That is the nature of parallelism. Maybe?

Other people are not there to swim alongside me. That is not their purpose. To provide a parallel from which to go, 'ahoy there Catherine W. I see you?' Because we are all immersed in slightly different waters.

Eventually your own experiences. Your own skin. Divide you from everybody. And I don't know if I really believed it, until I heard Kate say it.

The law of diminishing returns, taken to its natural conclusion.

Because the exit line is single file. As I've written before.

There is no hand holding there.

All the more reason to glory, to exult, to wonder, at those parallels whilst they do exist. To seize the hands whilst they are outstretched. Until we are inevitably forced to let go.

Thank you to all of you bloggers out there.

I'm here. I'm still swimming. Because of you.


And this is already too long. So I'm going to have to write about Bon's post next time I get a chance to write something!

Friday, 2 November 2012

That face

I don't listen to a great deal of music these days.


But. I was driving to work earlier this week. And I wasn't, for once, listening to talk radio which has inspired many a blog post around these parts.

But. Instead listening to an album that I haven't heard for many years.

'After The Fall' by Mary Coughlan. Which came out in 1997. Bought by myself. For my mother.  When I was . . . 18? And my own mother was 47?

Interesting re-listen. Equidistant between 18 and 47 at 33.

There's a lot of revelation about womanhood in her voice, in that album.
It's a four bottles of vodka and a slug of Ribena album.
It's a desperate album.

I saw her sing live just last week. I was tired. I thought I might fall asleep. I didn't want to leave the children with my husband.

Until Mary Coughlan sang. Then my breath was stolen from me, just for a moment. Because her voice. No matter how well reproduced. Is a thousand and one times better in person.

She asked the audience to call out songs they wanted her to sing. And I wish I had been bold enough to ask for this one.

'That Face'

'That Face,' is what I would have called out. Had I been cut from bolder cloth.

But the woman seated next to me called out for another song and I couldn't bring myself to compete.

Because I would have asked her. To sing it for us. Us here.


I often wake up and feel that I can't do this again. I used to feel that the defining word for Georgina's death was 'sorrow' but now, four years later, it is 'exhaustion.'

The morning holds no mystery. And the night. Well, as the song says, it holds only dread for me. That I am simply dragging myself through hour and hour and day and night. On and on.

Children who live. They keep you up at night. Children who die. They keep you at night too. Until you are ready to stroll downtown to the drowning places yourself.


But I hear this song and I think of the faces that I've seen here. The photographs that I've seen here. The words that I've read here.

Photographs of a particular child. Their child.
So very, very different. From every other photograph I've seen. Or will ever see. A glimpse into something that I can't really understand. It makes me want to bless them. Or genuflect. Bow my head. Cross myself. Gather the remnants of the only holy that I have left, to myself.

Although I've been a member of that ensemble myself.

I will never publish a photograph of my husband and I looking at Georgina. It's been too long. But I do have those photographs.

Of myself. Of my husband.

With that face.

That face.

That face that restores all my faith in the mystery of the morning. That takes away the dread. That means I can keep walking.

That is like a tiny silvery thread of light and hope in a place that often seems unbearable.

Because in a world that holds such gentleness. Such tenderness. Such love.

Such a world. Could it be totally awry? All wrong? Utterly hopeless and cruel? Surely not.

Even though they are dead.
Even though that makes no sense.

The love. Brings the light.

Look at the love upon that face.
Look at the light she throws around this darkened place.
Look at the world that bore her.
Look at the hands before her.
Look at the love upon that face.