The face of friendship

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I wanted to start this post by sharing with you my total number of Facebook friends. The number that represents who I am and what I have achieved in the social sphere of the twenty first century. The number that speaks of all of those paths that have crossed and connections that have been made. A number that, ultimately, lies. Because, as we all know, the number of Facebook ‘friends’ a person has bares no correlation to the number of friends they actually have in their lives.

I wanted to share that number but, after numerous new looks for the site and a general shift from surfing the full site sat at a lap top to flicking through my feed on my phone, I simply couldn’t find it. Which I guess is a testimony in itself as to how unimportant that figure actually is.

So what’s the difference and why is it important? What does it take for me to consider you my friend?

Today I was fortunate enough to watch my daughter play with a new friend. I watched as these two very different little girls moved alongside one another, slowly at first and them in wild, chaotic wonder, to write their rules. To define who each would be within that world.

And, of course, neither of them knew it. Neither stopped to consider the semiotics of their play. But, as I watched, I began to see.

I saw how friendships are formed by reflections. Reflections of ourselves in the eyes of another. Reflections and projections of who that person may need you to be.

And I think of my friends…

Old friends who I have known longer than I care to remember. Friends who I speak to every week and those I don’t. Friends who make days at work worthwhile. Those who I haven’t always found it easy to be friendly towards. Friends who I am only just finding. Friends I have danced on car bonnets with in wellies at four in the morning. Friends who know the worst of me. Friends who have only ever seen the best. Friends who have failed to stick around and those who have forgiven my failings again and again.

And each one of these friends shows me something about who I am. Who I could be. What it takes to be a person beyond my own introspective ideas. And then I think of those Facebook friends. Are interactions, past or present, big or small, ever really meaningless or without value?

They show me my role as I step out in to the world. Who I am, who I have been and who I may become. Never alone.

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Little pieces of me

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I always was a hoarder. I would keep everything, afraid to throw it out in case I forgot. Every possession I treasured, I treasured.

It was all there. Ticket stubs from first and last dates, flyers from clubs, love notes, letters unsent… I kept a keep sake from every moment that had made me smile. Items that held nothing but happy memories. And hope.

As I grew older and the memories moved further and further from my mind I still clung to these mementoes. It was as if just by having them I held the bricks, the keys, for happiness.

But I didn’t. And often, in retrospect, these treasured reminders simply made me sad. Made me long for a life that was no longer mine.

Piece by piece, and then in piles, my treasures became just trash. No longer items of importance because my identity had shifted. I was no longer to let things hold me back…

Pieces of a person

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I discovered this quote hiding in The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a book I lost myself in completely;
“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.” Francois De La Rouchefoucauld

In the middle of my twenties I had a complete breakdown. I say ‘the middle’ because the memory of it now is in montage. It broke me down so much that, at the time, I was just fragments of a person. Little tiny pieces struggling to survive. Often failing. And in order for me to even remember what it was like I have to reach out and grab those little pieces, often painfully, and pull them back. Some now feel familiar but others are still often so far out of reach, so apologies because this is not, and maybe never could be, the whole story.

But I remember the panic attacks. I remember them gripping hold of my heart and taking over my entire body; feeling sick, stiff legs, failing to breathe, head rushing as I screamed and cried uncontrollably. Uncontrollably. I also remember the near sense of relief when it was over. I could breathe. I could sleep.

And then the guilt. And the fear.

A cycle that I felt powerless to break. But that didn’t stop me trying. Smashing away at myself in whatever way I could. Self medication. Self criticism. Self loathing. Self punishment.

I learnt to survive by shutting down parts of me. I say survive but I wasn’t really. I played pretend. I learnt to be whoever you wanted to me to be. Whoever I thought you wanted me to be. Making the rules up as I went but sticking to them as if scripture, I became somebody else. Lots and lots of somebodies. So many that I lost myself in the crowd.

I listened to each one of those people. Some of their advice I followed. Some of their thoughts I lived by. Some of them I fought with. Some of them I struggled to silence. But I was never sure who to trust; who held my heart?

Silence. Silence helped. I stopped. I slept. I shut myself away. I slowed down. I listened. I forgave.

I have no solution. But this was the start …

The little world we are building together

Family, Uncategorized

On a Friday, I am a mum. Don’t get me wrong, I was there when she was born and have the scars to show I am indeed her mother and that is certainly no part-time thing, but on a Friday (and, because I am very lucky indeed, a Monday and Tuesday too) it is my job.

But, sadly, some days that is how I see it.

Today I woke up at 4.45am in a foul mood. The mood was a hangover from yesterday’s mood, and the day before’s. I sighed unnecessarily loudly and rolled over to read (Facebook is reading right?) knowing all too well that a return to sleep would be impossible. I was already listening out for her sleepy voice and counting down my remaining minutes until I was ‘on the clock’. Not enjoying them, but wasting them and wishing them away. I grumbled as I sifted through the pile of clean clothes (I may be a stay at home mum but I never said I was good at it. Clothes get washed, if they are lucky taken down when dry and folded but never, ever make it to being put away) before settling for jeans. Again. As I sat before the mirror I could hear my daughter in the big bed with her dad next door. They were giggling and laughing and playing as they always do. I sighed again and thought to myself how easy it is for him to be fun when in half an hour he gets to walk out. Even though I know it isn’t.

And I listened again as she was telling him a story…

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It was a story about a boat and a baby and the fish in the sea.

I began to let my mind wander and I wondered where that boat might take me if I let it. Where would I end up if I let her imagination lead the way?

And I let it. Struggling at fist to stop talking and telling her what to do. Slowly stopping to listen and breathe and take our time. To let go.

And we had a lovely day in a world made for just the two of us. And I smiled…

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Let’s get lost

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So, this week heralds the start of this year’s Glastonbury Festival and, just as last year, I begin to turn down the volume on the radio as I get in the car and avoid logging in to Instagram. I cannot face the excessive excitement because, essentially, I am ridiculously jealous.

Instead, I will spend the weekend texting my best friend, just as I did earlier in the year as Coachella played out without us. Texts filled with promises and prospects of future fun. I will text her whilst I drink wine in my pyjamas on the sofa waiting for my daughter to fall asleep.

I have never been to Glastonbury and, let’s face the sad truth, I am now never likely to go. However, having been to a few festivals, as I am attacked by the build up from every angle, I can honestly say I wish I was there!

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Because I need to get lost. I need to shake my hair out, dress in clothes that cannot viably be worn anywhere else and play pretend for a few days. I need to run away from reality.

Everybody needs to escape. Everybody need to explore. Everybody needs an excuse to be somebody else for a few days.

But sometimes finding a few days is simply unrealistic. There are days (like today) when finding five minutes feels like an impossible task. And I know that, instead of walking out of a tent in to one world of make believe, I will climb under the covers and find an alternative world all of my own.

I will draw the curtains and turn on the bedside light. I will find an old, treasured favourite, inhale and begin. And, page by page, I will walk away. Slowly at first and then completely. I will reject reality and embrace my escape…

A favourite photograph by Tim Walker that speaks to me of the beauty of escape.

Through closed eyes

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When I was twelve I didn’t see anything.

As I sat on the steps and, with all too much anticipation, watched the world expand, my eyes started to show the first glittering signs of defiance. I ran my fingers through my strong, straight hair to pull it back in to the agreed ponytail and looked on as older girls sat, surrounded by boys even older still, in the centre of the room. Their smiles spoke of something else. Something still secret. And I longed to hear it. To taste the excitement that escaped each time they laughed.

But I didn’t see a thing.

I didn’t see how quickly I would transform in to one of those girls. A transformation greater than rolling the top of my skirt over three times and upgrading to a pair of platform soles. I didn’t see how my smile would speak to other people, how my laugh would echo in their ears. I failed to notice at all so how could I consider the effect? I didn’t see how those glittering sparks would grow to burn hot and angry, silently screaming where my voice would fail to be heard. Where words would struggle to show what my heart would become afraid to say. I didn’t see how strikingly beautiful I would become. Or how little that mattered. Or how much damage that could do. I didn’t see the dangers the excitement disguised. Or how I would ignore all the warnings. I didn’t see my dreams beckon me and whisper gently of all that I might have. I didn’t see how easy that might be. Or how hard I might have to work. I didn’t see how quickly that beauty might transform into something different, into something dark.

I didn’t see how I would long for those innocent eyes. That honest heart.

When I was twelve I didn’t see anything. I was too busy looking for it all.

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The first sign of fear

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If popular culture is to be believed (and, let’s face it, it isn’t) then every woman has that moment; that moment when their heart sinks, their eyes widen in disbelief, when they break out in a cold sweat as panic takes over before locking the bathroom door to cry in front of the mirror. That moment when they realise things will never be the same again.

The moment when they discover their first grey hair.

Obviously this is not the case for every woman. Most of us are lucky to get five minutes alone in the bathroom let alone enough time to embark upon our own existential crisis there! That lone, wiry, grey hair has simply become an unwanted symbol.

But with the UK beauty industry valued at fifteen billion pounds and a considerable amount of this made up by the sale of products and services designed to keep us ‘looking young’, can we really deny that this symbol has become highly effective in speaking of, and in turn to, many women’s fear of growing old?

This is, of course, due in part to the media’s representation of women. Women shown to be of any value are presented as thin, pretty and, of course, young. And there may be Dames Helen Mirren and Judy Dench showing us that this doesn’t have to be the case but, sadly, they have become examples of the rare exceptions that prove the rule. Fabulous actresses and women in general, they are still hailed as the solution to the portrayal of older women in the media (and yes, I appreciate the irony of mentioning them here!).

However, I truly believe that most women in the twenty first century, despite buying in to the latest fad or quick fix, are, ultimately, savvy enough to see through these models for manipulation. So why then does the prospect of ageing fill so many of us with fear? Surely it can’t be beauty alone?

Might it be the futility of and failure in attempting to avoid the inevitable – a sense of being powerless that only serves to reinforce many other doubts and fears? Or simply a sadness in mourning the loss of childhood hopes and dreams – a realisation that that reality is often a difficult place to reside?

A grey hair most certainly does not mark the end. But maybe women can be too insightful.

And maybe in this symbol they see the start of the long search for something more meaningful. And taking that first step can often be very scary indeed.

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Final marks

Love, Uncategorized

Now that you are lost, I find you everywhere. Soft sparks that remind me of that long extinguished flame. Sparks that make me remember and smile.

In a city I wish we had seen together, I hear the distant rumble of wheels on concrete. Words hidden in a long forgotten book. I see some ill fitting jeans. A film. A photograph. I walk down a once familiar street as someone new and there you are.

And I know my face has been replaced. As has yours. Time and again. Age and change have transformed us.

Something so strange at first, I now begin to recognise my reflection in these moments. Glimmers of myself, illuminated by blue light in a second floor bedroom at 3am. Safe and secure and certain of who I am. Who I am going to be.

I thank you for these scars. So deep and so true that they took a decade to discover. Marks to remind me of me.

Competitive yoga and the ever elusive art of standing still

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A few weeks ago I cried in a yoga class. As I lay sweating on my sticky mat I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter and, between stifled sobs, battled with the voice screaming at me. A voice that simply questioned;

How did I become this person?

To me, exercise is about getting your heart rate up, not lying around listening to chanting. The mere prospect of putting on workout clothing makes me feel vulnerable and exposed so why would I want to further contribute to this by doing something I’m not ever sure I understand? After all, anyone can run, but I had no idea what an upward facing bow pose would even require me to do! I hate to be out of my comfort zone. And I would never describe myself as spiritual. Shallow, yes. Selfish, definitely. Superficial, all too often. Never spiritual.

I will admit, I had some very wrong preconceived ideas about what the practice was and who it was for and so, until now, yoga had never really been for me.

And then, after a year and a bit of the full time job that being a parent is, my sister in law offered me the opportunity to spend a cold and wet Saturday morning ‘laying around’ in 40 degree heat, child free, for an hour and a half. And didn’t care what I was required to do.

And so, dressed in my Topshop leggings and an ill-advised long sleeved top, I found myself here. My preconceptions accompanied me to the class and, as I lay down on my mat I began my interrogation. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m the worst in the class? What if I have to chant?! But, as always, these superficial fears were accompanied by something deeper; What if doing this makes things different?

Because, ultimately, I am terrified of change.

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I’m terrified of anything new. The unknown. Too comfortable with the familiar.

At once the teacher proved every thought I had ever had about yoga wrong (I have included a link so you can see why. Wow!). She was strong and powerful and reassuring and fun. And the class nearly killed me!

But I stuck with it. The trouble was, my sister in law is good at yoga. I, on the other hand, have the shortest hamstrings known to man. As she moved through her sun salutations and on to arm balances I saw her step up to the challenge. I, on the other hand, had found my comfort zone and was stopping there.

And then, mid-way through a Sunday morning session, I heard the word, ‘headstand’. And a little voice inside me squealed with delight. I had secretly been practising headstands alone in my bedroom for the past week. I could do headstands!

In an attempt to appear modest, I moved to the wall with the rest of the class. I took a deep breath in, placed the crown of my head firmly on the floor, pushed my bottom in the air and began to walk my feet towards my head. But they simply wouldn’t lift. And, as I started to force the matter by pushing off the ground, another little voice spoke up; you can’t do it, not here in front of all of these people.

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The rest of the class passed in a blur. All I can recall are those words. And the feeling as I lay there on the mat. I was angry for my judgments. Scared of letting them go. And frustrated at allowing myself to become this person. Someone ruled by judgements. Someone ruled by fear. Someone standing in the way of the change they claim to desperately need. And as the tears burnt hot in my eyes I began to forgive and look forward…

Because sometimes it is easier to root your hands and feet firmly to the ground, lift your hips and push your stomach skyward than it is to stand still.

Wise words

Family, Love, Uncategorized

Somewhere at the start of my twenties I broke into the stale shell of a Chinese fortune cookie and read these words;

Time, nature and patience are the three great healers.

And I was lonely and in need of healing and those words spoke to me. They seemed to make sense. And I folded the slip of paper, sipped my complimentary Baileys and tucked them safely in to my purse.

I carried them with me. I carried them with me on good days and bad. I carried them with me to work. They were there when I was proud and determined and positive. They were there when I was tired and bored. I took them with me when I travelled. Nestled in my hand luggage they bypassed passport control and went straight through security. They were there on nights out. As I waited at the bar they rested alongside my lipgloss and listened in to the girly chat. They were there with me at 3am in the bedroom of a stranger. They were there on first dates and on last. They saw it all. I carried them with me closely and cast my eyes over their italic font again and again and again. I forgot about their presence. I forgot about the pain. They were a constant; solid and safe. They were there all day, everyday.

I thought the words were guiding me. Time was on my side. Time kept passing me by. I felt a bit better. I went outside. I walked. I breathed in the fresh air. And I waited. And waited. And waited still.

Then today I took this picture;

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My daughter proudly holding high her first strawberry. Planted weeks ago by her own fair hand, she has checked on them daily, each time turning to me to say firmly, ‘Not yet.’

I have no idea where the words from the fortune cookie have ended up. I can’t remember the meal where I acquired them. Who I was with or why I was there. I laugh that I chose to keep them.

But I see those words in her smile. I understand them. And I know that a part of me has been healed.