This time next week - local time, not UK time, though I haven't worked that difference out yet - we will be on the plane from in Miami to Port au Prince. As it gets closer the weight of what we are doing seems to grow. It is more a sense of responsibility than fear now - though Martin has…
It's got to that point in our preparation for this trip to Haiti that I am heartily sick of thinking about it, working out what I still need to do, walking out the daily journey until we fly on 13th November. At least today is 1st November and we are in the actual month now - but part of me wants it to hurry up and get here and another part wants it to…
It's funny how all the threads of my journey come together again in this sponsored 'headshave for Haiti' project. 2 weeks on I am grappling with identity issues that hark back a long way...
It’s 2nd October – one of those grey, damp autumn mornings that depress the soul. I can hear the school children arriving in cars, the sound of tyres through puddles, young voices calling to each other in the street. I retreat back to bed with my large mug of tea. I do know I am very fortunate to be able to do this – a brief thought for my friends who are over-stretched teachers, my husband who is has been seeing patients in his clinic since 7.30am. Can I use the excuse that I am not feeling very well again? I have ironing and shopping to do: it’s just a ‘not really’ kind of day.
Perhaps because of the longterm lack of 9-5 structure in my life I have always created my own goals and projects to give purpose and meaning to the passage of time – I would rather say I am ‘self-employed’ than a mere ‘housewife’, as most women juggling life at home certainly are, they’re just unpaid! Anyway, on this rather miserable Wednesday morning the countdown is on once again… in 3 days time I will be having all my hair shaved off.
Why? I have lots of very good reasons I can give you, of course: raising money for a good cause, not wanting to go to a poverty stricken country flaunting my crazy red hair and standing out more than I already will as a white woman, trying to put myself in the place of those who have nothing. Have a look at Headshave for Haiti for all that and ways you can respond to it – because giving up my hair is, of course, the most personal of responses. But WHY do I always have to be so extreme?
My daughter admitted to me last weekend that when a young friend asked her why her mummy is shaving her head she replied, “Because she likes to be the centre of attention”! Owch! It was one of those bitter ‘introvert child lashing out at embarrassing extrovert parent’ moments and she at least confessed and apologised – but it gave me pause for thought. Not for long of course… if having bright red hair all this time hasn’t been me shouting “LOOK AT ME!” what is it?! “Look at me, I’m different, I’m me, I’m crazy, I want to express myself and I don’t care what you think!” I like looking like this! Rebecca had probably hit the nail on the head, as usual: my answer was that, as I clearly am the centre of attention, I just have to use what I’ve got: “Look at me now: I’m BALD!”
And I really will be in 4 days time. It’s like being pregnant for the first time when you can’t imagine actually having the baby in your arms. All the preparation is focussed on getting to and through the labour but then… at the moment of birth a completely new phase begins. It will be too late to regret it then! In fact, just as with pregnancy, it already is too late – a process is underway. I am not giving back the money that’s been given for Haiti – already quite a lot of money! – so of course I have to go ahead with my part of the deal.
Never a dull moment, eh? Perhaps I am doing this to avoid boredom, to give me something to focus on when we are still no nearer ‘escaping’. Going to Haiti this November is a long-standing dream of my husbands – I didn’t want to go there. Why would anyone want to go somewhere your life could be in danger from disease or violence? But I am doing it for him, and because the conviction has finally hit me that something should be done and because we can and probably we should. Perhaps everyone in the rich west should be exposed to utter poverty at least once in our comfortable lives – especially when there is an argument that says our society has been built on the backs of their forefathers’ labour in the slave plantations. We have a safe enough set-up in place – a team of people and connections on the island who will look after us. We can have inoculations that do little more than hurt our arms for a few days (though the rabies jab does cost £155 each!). It’s time to take the risk or die never having had the adventure.
I am giving my hair because I can’t run a marathon or climb a mountain – I can’t even make cakes! It is really all I have to give – and if my daughter is right, I may as well take advantage of my position and take as many people with me as possible! As I see it everyone should have the opportunity to invest in this along with us: I’ve even written an article for the local paper and put posters all over town… the whole hog, all or nothing Sponsor me!
Anyway, my hair will grow back – but not bright red. I’ve planned it 40 days before we go to Haiti so that so that it will grow back sufficiently to prevent me being a bald spectacle! People say I can dye it again afterwards, but perhaps after visiting the poorest country in the west I won’t feel like having bright red hair again – head-shaving itself is a sign of mourning in African culture. On the big countdown to my dreaded 60th birthday it’s probably time I started wearing a hair colour appropriate for my age anyway. Perhaps I have just been looking for an excuse and am glad it is not Sam’s death. Perhaps there is even an element of self-harm in it, my depressive anger coming out… People say I’m brave, but I don’t feel it: we’ll see how brave I am on Saturday night.
Deep down this is really about identity. I have been Redhead for some years… anyone can be ‘grey old head’. I am going to find out who I am, hiding under this mop. I am not going to be able to distract from the wrinkles and blemishes and although my friends say I will look great, I know I will not look as great as I have done and no, you can’t compare me to the young and beautiful Jesse J. I am facing the effects of ageing without props – and I am very aware that in Haiti very many people don’t even make it to 56 years old.
Who am I really? And will I be able to walk in both humility and freedom in the historic land of slaves? Because both are necessary if we are to carry any sort of message of life.
I remember September. Sitting in Saturday morning stillness it’s as if the new day is knocking on my window, calling for a playmate. What a day! Blustery clouds and bright, bright sunshine throwing intense shadows – that slight chill in the air that leaves condensation marks when the bedroom curtains are drawn back and tells us we have left summer behind: there’s no doubt August has been elbowed aside.
It’s funny, this is always the month I don’t want to see, but I fall in love with her again when she arrives. It’s the lovely clothes she wears, I think – the way she hides October behind her until the last minute. How can the herald of death and endings be a new beginning? Yet it always is.
Certainly, after the promise of Spring and the glory of July days, August is just too full-blown for my liking – she can’t hold herself in, she droops in the heat and swoons under the onslaught of showers, she stops walking and just stands there still and sweating like a menopausal woman. She quickly transforms to old age, like the ghost of Christmas present turning grey before he disappears. The march of time can never be stopped, no matter how much we long or mourn for it.
It is sad to see the lazy days pass, the opportunities for holiday weekends and leisurely evenings in the garden, but maybe it is time for a bit of order and focus again. The flowers have finished, desiccated leaves begin to drift down and last night it was getting dark at 8pm – perhaps I should just put my summer dresses away for another year, store away the memories and photographs, set my face for what comes next. Put on your work clothes, the school traffic is back – get on with it.
I certainly know what comes next for us this year: I have made a great big hook and hung myself on it! That’s partly because it’s always good to have something to focus on and work towards – to give life structure and meaning. Is it the Autumn term, the run-up to Christmas? Is it the countdown to 2014? What new initiatives or evening classes will carry us forward? How do any of us make the most of the time we have been given? Sometimes I look at people and wonder what they think is going to happen… are they just going to carry on going to the shops and taking the grandchildren to the park until one day they just… die? No – this is about making the most of the time we have left.
September is another month to make decisions – to choose life: every day sacred. Looking back – ah, I love looking back, analysing and appreciating – the summer has been busy and full, but today, here and now, another empty space opens up in the silence. How to make the best of it? How to live life to the full? I have what I might call ‘work’ to do, my project is now all prepared and ready to advertise – but perhaps today I should simply go out and play with September, to celebrate what is passing… and what is yet to come.
Here’s the link to my project if you want to know: I’ll be having my head shaved 4 weeks today and counting! Well… at least I am doing something to make my life count… are you?!
As I tried to express in my last post, I haven’t felt so full of words lately. Well….perhaps that’s not strictly true – I am still as full of the churning emotions, images and longings that want to find an outlet and still wanting to write: it’s not writer’s block. It’s just that the words have surprised me by not coming out in the same way. It’s obviously good – nay, essential – to go with the creative flow. But it’s also very frustrating when you think you’ve found your métier and know what you’re doing and then you don’t again. Happens to me all the time! As they say, ‘Constant change is here to stay’ – I’d better ’get with the programme!’
So it was back in March that I started a poetry blog with my on-line friend, Ray. He nagged me to do some ‘proper writing’ and I thought a lot of his stuff deserved a wider audience. And now… I have to admit it – I find that’s how I prefer to write. Instead of cathartic prose pouring onto the page, stories to be told, details to be carefully described, THIS happens:
There are many styles of writing
These days I prefer mine concentrated,
Thick with metaphor, sometimes sickly sweet:
Forced rhymes poured into a mould
Are turned out to wobble with emotion
And glisten with colourful adjectives.
As a child I didn’t like blancmange
But these days they’ve upgraded it to crème brulée
Or pannacotta with fruit coulis on the side
I’d like to think my word creations can ignore the competition
See off celebrity chefs with their distinct distilled ideas
No more for me the shading in of background facts,
Longwinded detailed description of the story-teller’s art,
All fat’s been cut away to leave them lean
No space for odd extraneous thoughts
My rambling tangents so beloved before
The therapy of pouring out the soul
To exorcise, express, elucidate…
The kernel of the thing, the heart,
Those perfect words particularly picked
Employing discipline of mind required to choose
And wield the scalpel to remove what takes away
To prune back hard and liberate the flow
Include some private references only I can understand
Alliterate and radiate (and smile)
And stay alert – the country needs lerts
There you have it! I don’t even know if it makes any sense or is any good – but it is proving strangely satisfying If you want, come follow my Ray and Redhead blog - there’s more getting posted over there than here now and I can’t just keep re-blogging my poems here- it feels like cheating!
Then there’s this other thing… The funny thing about longing to escape is you don’t know which route will open up. I’ve tried memory lane and escapism and raging and travel; then there’s acceptance/resignation/depression (all mixed up together). But recently another outlet has shown itself and as Sam son remains well I seem to have the head- and heart-space to engage with it.
I suppose you’d call it altruism or philanthropy – recognising that the needs out there in the world are greater than my internal ones. Yes, of course I have known this and it has been one of the things that has held us in – along with gratitude for the many blessings we do enjoy. But now it seems to be time to take some positive action and give away… whatever I have got to give. It seems I can escape from the internal struggles by looking and moving outwards - at least for a time, at least for now.
So we have a new project for the autumn – a crazy project. And if you want to know about it, guess what? There’s another blog! Come on over to Headshave for Haiti and find out all about it. I’ll see you there…
My son has a hole in his head
My girl has a hole in her heart
We're a wholey holey holy family
We have gaps that can't be filled
Large breaches in our boundary wall;
Way past the point of self-protection
Our vulnerability simply waits like a sitting duck,
In the open space between all that's been and what the fuck?!
He leaves for work at 7.19am today – a bit later than usual. As he walks down the garden path I can see his new trousers are a more faded shade of blue than the jacket. Oh dear, that’s my fault – I should have washed them both together… I do hope he doesn’t notice – that really would be the last straw.
This was the ‘cancelled weekend’: the friends we were supposed to go and see had a gas leak and therefore no hot water, the summer weather turned grey, his work took over from sailing – as usual. I was quite glad of the downtime – peopled out after seeing friends every day for the last ten. I may be a classic extrovert, but talking all the time can be quite exhausting… Anyway, I think my introvert tendencies are coming to the fore these days – “everyone go away and give me some peace and quiet!”
There’s a lot of anger in there though. Why now? I have reached some sort of impasse and the sense of loss is pressing in: God, I was in a bad mood yesterday! Perhaps my brain chemicals are confused as I try to adjust my dose of Prosac to stop the teeth-grinding at night; perhaps it’s just the menopause kicking into the next level. Sam has hit one of his cyclical blocks – that’s really hard – and the shift in friendship connections is leaving me in a state of mourning – isolated and stuck.
I had a very good friend I would share everything with at one stage. We did a lot together over the years, strongly identified with each others ups and downs, helped each other through. But recently things have changed, it’s harder to connect and sympathise now as our lives have gone off at tangents from each other. I have to shout across the distance and he doesn’t reply. Time to let go, I guess: I really can’t think of anything to say so I’m going to have to let the silence in… wait for him to come back if he wants to.
For over 12 years we’ve been investing in a group of young people – a lot of give and not much coming back. How can they cross the 20-year age gap to understand all the events and emotions of life-stages they have not yet lived? We didn’t expect anything. But now it seems that season is over too: our energy and grace has finally evaporated and they have moved blithely on into their future without a backward glance. Good, that’s what we wanted, its what parents do – make themselves redundant: “Be blessed! Go and be fruitful, happy, fulfilled! We wish you all good things”.
But for our own son this seems impossible: this is the point of deepest pain. Yet again Sam has hit the wall, unable to execute the final point of his long prepared-for project, filled with fear of failure and overwhelmed with the pointlessness of it all: “what would I even do with it if it succeeded?” That’s just an excuse, of course, because he simply can’t pick up the phone and do cold-calling all day everyday until he gets some clients for this whizzy new internet marketing course he’s supposed to sell. We always knew he couldn’t, even while he talked the talk and spent our money on a phone line and brochures. But it gave him hope – and now the hopelessness presses in again.
What can he do with his life – such as it is – in the wake of recovering from terminal brain cancer? What could be momentous enough to make it all worthwhile? Don’t give him trite answers and certainly not a menial job – he’s never been willing to work in MacDonalds or data entry just to earn money. What about a university course or some sort of training – just to get him out of this small town? No way… what do parents know anyway? A city life would be even lonelier and there’s no guarantee of finding anyone out there who understands any more than his acquaintances here do. Making money – the way of the world – is not what he’s interested in: there has to be life, desire, enthusiasm, JOY! He utterly refuses to just do something to be able to afford to travel or move. Well, we blame that on his unusual personality and other changes in his right brain… So it’s back to the internet then, the fantasy American girlfriends and getting by on benefits – waiting for a miracle or waiting for death.
So yeah – no wonder I’m sad – and fucking angry. We are as stuck as he is – because he is. We drove round some lovely villages on Saturday: I dared to reach out for my dream of a country cottage. We even found one for rent! So near and yet so far… it’s not right and I know it. We have to wait: mark time.
There are more Monday morning journeys to work in an ill-matching suit, more oppressive grey days in the Midlands while the rest of the country is baking in sunshine – more ups and downs to negotiate. I must grieve all these losses – denial, anger, bargaining, depression – and find acceptance again.
So that’s all very therapeutic, dear readers. Now all I need to do is find the grace for today.
I hate that I haven’t posted on here for 2 months but I love that having written about Sam’s birthday last time, now it’s MY birthday week! I love that birthdays are such a marker for looking backwards and forwards. I love that it gives such a great excuse to remember what’s important and who loves you and even for them to say it out loud…or at least in a card! I had a great celebratory party with special friends at the weekend and tomorrow morning I’ll open all the thoughtful presents they brought to celebrate my new number. I don’t like the number, but other people seem to live with the downward slope to the big 6-0 – and at least I don’t look my age yet, even if body parts are failing piecemeal year by year.
Ageing – another thing there is no escape from! Lately I have stopped thinking about it so much, I suppose, this ‘longing to escape’: the acute pain of it, the desperation and yearning, has receded with the belated onset of summer – and the amazing fact that Sam our son with the so-called ‘terminal diagnosis’ – remains very well. In fact on 7.7 – did you see? – he won Wimbledon! Oh… maybe that was Andy Murray, my mistake But apart from the fact that our son can’t hit a tennis ball and has no money at all in the bank, let alone millions, you could be forgiven for getting them confused: Sam is only 3 days older than the new British champion too.
It’s strange to think when Andrew was hiding under a table from the gunman wreaking havoc in Dunblane’s school gym in March 1996, Sam was at elementary school in Palo Alto California, putting on an American accent so he wouldn’t stand out too much. Both 26 year old men have lived a life less ordinary since then in utterly different ways…
Anyway, the long winter has finally passed – although I am still trapped in many ways by the circumstances of life and still often enjoy escaping into memories, dreams, books and movies, I don’t feel it quite so acutely. This is the 7th month, my favourite month, my birthday month, and along with the lovely weather we have been enjoying all the 7′s… especially underlined on 7.7 by Murray ending a 77 year wait for a British man to win Wimbledon with only Ginny Wade’s women’s finals victory in 1977 to boost the national morale in between. Gosh, I remember that so well! I was working that Saturday in a Salvation Army maternity hospital in Hackney as part of my nursing training, watching the match on the ward television: it really was another era! We all suggested that the woman who gave birth to a daughter during the match should call her Virginia… but I think she preferred Tracey or Sharon or maybe Elizabeth. That child will just have celebrated her 36th birthday: that’s ageing at work again and no wonder that I can’t recall the girl’s name!
Moving on to May 1987 and the births of 3 boys: on 12th our Sam-son in Cambridge, on 15th Andy Murray in Glasgow and a week later – the lucky number 7 again – Novak Djokovik arrived in Belgrade. Who could have known what the next 26 years would hold for any of them? What will the next 26 years hold for me, I wonder…We just have to live a day, a week, at a time – and see what comes next.
Perhaps I have become better at this recently. I haven’t given up the desire for a country cottage retreat but perhaps I feel more settled, more accepting of life, better at living in the present. That could be one excuse for getting out of the habit of this therapeutic blogging about escaping (like I need an excuse, like anyone cares except me!) Perhaps I am not in quite so much need of the release valve?
But it turns out I really DO care: at the moment, although I’m putting up with a distracted housewife’s life, I will often describe myself as “a writer who is not writing”! What do they call that in the acting profession – “resting”? But I don’t want to be resting from writing anymore than actors would choose waiting on tables over treading the boards! The frustration is all with myself and my inability to make time for creativity: instead the thoughts run round my mind in a crazy meleé. I’d much rather be processing like I was a year ago! But, as with the 3 men above, there are seasons of struggle and release, winter and summer, in life. And yes, I have been resting over these months – and it has been important. Perhaps now I will be able to write less out of pressure and more out of pleasure!
Apart from all this seventh month’s 7′s bringing such a fulfilment of promise – which is strangely enough the meaning of the number 7 ‘perfection, completion’ – there was another anniversary on 7.7 that seems to have gone unmarked. It was 8 years since the London bombings in 2005. It seems the world is full of death and life: let’s hope 8 lives up to its meaning as well and delivers the nation – and this writer – a ‘new beginning’
That would be a good birthday present!