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There’s something innately satisfying, even consoling, about a still, steel grey day in autumn when the rich, thinning shades of yellow and gold suspended on tree branches compliment the carpets of leaves that blanket every available corner of the ground and the lush green grass upon which they’ve fallen. So much of our urban landscape is nondescript and grey but, when softened by autumn’s changing hues, can assume a poetic calm that cushions the impact of summer’s passing, and despite the shortening of the days there are still things to warm the heart and bring a smile to one’s face.
When it comes to windows of opportunity, there’s a lot to be said for making one’s own window and then opening it. We so often fall into the habit of imagining that seizing the moment is something we do when the moment presents itself rather than recognizing that moments are somewhat transitory; they don’t necessarily presage their arrival and they certainly don’t linger. Therefore the waiting game is something of a lost enterprise. Too many lost opportunities down that route. And so I’ve made my window. More than that, I’m going to open it and see what I can see.
So is this it? Is this the day that tips the balance? I’ve been here before and seized the moment before, only to let it slip through my fingers like grains of sand. The problem is, the older I get the less time I have to play with. There are certain conversations one can only have with oneself, just as there are secrets one can hide from everyone but oneself, and after kidding everyone around me can I honestly go on kidding myself? The answer may be obvious but answers don’t always necessitate change. This time however, perhaps it should.
It’s the empty space that can feel so unsettling. Force of habit is a powerful thing and doesn’t relinquish its hold without resistance. Still, I’m no stranger to resistance. There are some things in life where denial can be an affirming experience. No, I deny you that option; no, I will not submit; no, you are not stronger than me, you
me, damn it!
Such are the conversations that filter through my mind, yet by throwing down the gauntlet I believe it is possible to arrest the decline; the absence of growth.
Empty space? I’ve bigger fish to fry.
It can take such a long time to arrive at a decision, yet once that decision is made,
made, it can seem in retrospect to have been a deceptively simple step to take, which then begs the question: why so long? It’s not like the earth moves and the heavens open. Nonetheless, it can feel a bit like waking up in a parallel universe. Everything looks the same but it isn’t; it’s different. Then further questions inevitably arise: what comes next and what happens now? In the absence of the heavy, burdensome blanket, what does one choose to be?
It’s two in the morning and I’m mightily pissed off! What
it about relationships? We always stumble over the same issues, lay the same traps for each other and go around in the same circles time after time. It’s not so much the words spoken as it is the intent behind them. Is it that we don’t know we’re doing it or are the triggers so ingrained that we live with our fingers twitching over them without even questioning why? Where does this contempt come from? And what possible purpose can such a waste of time and energy serve?
It’s one of those evenings when I feel too tired to write but damn it! I’m going to, even if it’s drivel. It was past two when I got to sleep, and despite a “sleep in” until 6:25 I awoke feeling shattered. Nevertheless I powered through the day and ticked all the necessary boxes. Had I fallen asleep on the train after work I wouldn’t have woken unless some passing stranger stirred or mugged me. Sometimes it’s hard to do more than the job during the week and missing hours of sleep doesn’t help.
Sometimes I get so dog tired.
It doesn’t matter how old you get there’s always someone who thinks they know better than you about what’s good for you or in your best interests. When I was younger I naively imagined I’d reach a stage in life whereupon I’d no longer have to suffer such intrusion. Time has taught me otherwise. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place in life for the opinions and insights of others. To the contrary, there are many occasions when I’ve sought perspective and insight from others. It’s the other, unsolicited kind that I find so tedious, however well-intentioned it might be.
Clarity. More than anything else, itís the sense of clarity that Iím noticing; that and the simple appreciation of the moment. It feels like having crossed over; of having emerged from beneath an impossibly huge, dark cloud stretching back as far as the eye can see. Itís early days to be sure but this time something feels different; different in the sense that, if I can just stay the course then all that has gone before makes some kind of sense and that in turn provides the foundations of a belief in my own self that no one can shake.
Iím fostering a new respect for sleep. For many years itís been something Iíve tended to deny myself. In my younger years if I didnít get at least eight hours sleep a night I was pretty much a basket case. More recently, five to six hours has been the norm. But just lately, my dreams have become so intense and vivid that I find myself wanting to sleep just so I can get to that other place. Itís like I have another life in an alternate reality and spending time there enhances and enriches the time spent in this one.
In choosing to let go and relinquish the obsessive behaviour a whole new space is opening up and itís the nature of that space thatís proving to be interesting. Time itself seems different somehow, as does my experience of it. There is a fluidity that wasnít there before and although itís still early days there is a sense of connectedness that Iíve not really felt in a very long time. Itís as though Iíve been split from myself and now that split is being given the opportunity to heal. And with healing comes insight, clarity and, dare I say, understanding.
Iíve been circling around the issue of painting for some time now. Iíve had other preoccupations I know, and circling does not imply avoidance. This is a process and many key elements are starting to kick in. But the painting issue is still there and I know that once I make a start then a whole new Ė oh, how I hesitate to use the term! Ė era will open up. Itís like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. With each piece in place the image becomes more apparent. Each piece is important; each piece is a step toward completion.
Iím getting there.
I’m beginning to adjust to the darker evenings. At first it seems weird to look out the window and realise that it’s still early even though it’s been dark for hours. The really cold, damp weather is still a little way off yet and the pre-Christmas mildness is actually rather enchanting in an odd sort of way, while the mornings are light enough still, at least while travelling to work, to provide some relief against the approaching winter months. It’s the season for reading, for watching films and drinking coffee in warm cafes. Yes, I think I’m adjusting rather well.
“Have you played this game before, Sir?” asked one of the students I was supporting today. It was a game of skittles with a ball and chain attached to a pole that swung around to knock down nine skittles. I had to stop and think, until finally it occurred to me that yes, I had, many years ago. And for the first time in over 40 years I recalled how my father made me a skittles game when I was a boy. It was a poignant moment, for it is the only time I can recall him making me something.
ďI donít think youíre assertive enough about what you want,Ē she said.
ďBut this is probably the happiest Iíve ever been,Ē I replied, defending more corner valiantly.
ďThat may be so and Iím happy for you about that but I just think you need to widen your scope and be more assertive about your needs.Ē Or words to that effect.
ďI donít agree,Ē I said. ďI just donít see it.Ē
ďWell I think youíre in denial,Ē she replied, believing me to be protesting too loudly.
And maybe sheís right; maybe thatís what this period is about.
Exactly what Sigmund would have made of it I donít know. Nor do I think I want to.
I had another of those dreams last night where some of my teeth were falling out, mainly the ones that have been filled. They had shiny silver fillings in them, which given that mine are now either porcelain or gold seems strange. I can still recall the feel of them rattling around in my mouth, the look of them laying in my hands and the disturbing manner in which my speech became slurred due to their absence.
Fears of decrepitude, no doubt.
It’s been two weeks now, a record for me, and I have this powerful sense of emerging from a deep thick fog into a place where for the first time in a very long time the sun is shining through. And I begin to appreciate just how much of me has been shut down. In some respects Bronwen was right. It’s not my relationship with others that’s the issue though, but rather the relationship that I have with myself. Then again, I guess that’s what she was referring to.
It’s amazing how adept at self-deception we become – that and self denial.
I guess everything comes down to the choices we make in life. And while many choices may seem pretty pedestrian and mundane (do I take the escalator or the stairs?) others can be reduced down to two categories – growth choices and fear choices. The thing about the latter category is that we often forget we’re making them. It becomes a habit, unquestioned and unexamined. Not surprisingly, that’s what’s emerging as an issue for me right now. It’s one thing to relinquish obsessive behaviour but in doing so there is a need to examine the issues such behaviour has been masking.
You were there again last night, tucked in between my other friends at the table of my dreaming. You seemed sheepish, distant and not at all like my dear friend of old. The distance between us was palpable, though not of my creating. As before, the tension was mixed with sadness for what once was and is no longer. And upon awakening I felt again the absence of your warmth and your regard. It still makes no sense to me. To become persona non gratis with no explanation and no apparent recourse is a bitter pill to swallow without choking.
It feels a bit like heading out into unchartered waters. What I’m endeavouring to explore is nothing less than transformational. That’s not to say dramatic. It’s not about appearances. It’s about an inward journey that is long overdue; a day by day process, a continual recommitment to something I’ve never managed to do before, at least not in this way or from this vantage point. I don’t even know what it’s going to look like but I’m beginning to get a sense of what it might feel like; a bit like waking up to myself for the very first time.
Perhaps we’re all sailors at heart out upon the ocean of life, exposed to the elements, unsure of where the next storm or the nearest shoreline may emerge; alone, casting our nets far and wide in search of sustenance, scouring the skies for a sign, a meaning, a reason to be here in the first place. Maybe we tether our boat to another’s or sail with a fleet to guard against the unknown, or perhaps sail solo, choosing to ride the waves alone and read the winds as we travel on, ever searching, seeking, for what, we’re not entirely sure.
It’s becoming ever more interesting. I feel myself becoming sharper, more in tune, more aware of myself. It’s a positive feeling. I’m making myself sleep more. I’m making myself eat better. I’m making myself – but wait! “Making” is perhaps a little misleading. Choosing. That’s the word I’m after. I’m choosing to do these things and more. And while I’m under no illusions about the fact that I’m staring down a precipice (and I do look down), looking is not a problem. That’s not to say it couldn’t become one. I’m simply choosing not to surrender to the allure of vertigo.
It sometimes seems that life is a state of mind. So much of behaviour is determined by things unseen – wild imaginings, delusions of grandeur or a mortal fear of worthlessness. Sometimes it feels as though the mind has a life of its own, inventing alternate realities while we sleep and affecting our every waking action in ways we rarely understand or appreciate. Perhaps the greatest challenge we face in life is getting to grips with how it all works; taking ownership and responsibility for it by embracing the relationship between what we think we know and what is actually so.
You see it all the time, people behaving as though they are the stars of their very own reality show with an audience monitoring their every action and scrutinising their every move. I suppose in our media-savvy culture where here in the UK on any given day we can expect to be photographed some 300 times or more by CCTV, such a phenomenon is to be expected; a kind of collective acting out for the benefit of all those significant others. Children do it all the time; teenagers more so.
Being comfortable in our own skin is no easy feat.
Where does one draw the line? At what point can it be said that the point has been made, the theory tested, the job done? How do you decipher the code that determines the fine line between self-deception and self-denial? If for every action there is a reaction then how can you ever know for sure which of the two divergent paths to take? I guess you don’t. That’s the whole point. At any given moment the choice remains to be made anew. It’s poetic, to be sure, not to mention frustrating at times. Nonetheless, that’s the way it is.
It’s been a day when the idea of throwing in the towel and getting a different job – any job! - has seemed a highly desirable one. More than that, it’s been a day where I’ve had to come face to face with this whole decision making stuff. It’s one thing to wax lyrical about growth choices and fear choices. It’s quite another to actually act upon it and follow through. I’ve no desire to go into detail here: suffice to say I succumbed to a heady sense of vertigo and received a sudden and unpleasant dose of instant karma as a result.
It’s late, in every sense of the word, but the bottom line now is that I’ve won. I’ve turned a corner and decisively set a new personal agenda. I wondered whether this was going to be the month when I finally broke through and it has been. The earth hasn’t moved and the seas haven’t parted but I have changed. I’ve taken a stand and I’m sticking to it. That’s not to rule out the occasional backward slide. I’m human, not a saint, but I now have a measure of my own strength and I know what I’m capable of.
I’m feeling knackered! Is it to do with getting older? I don’t know. I used to thing that was something that wouldn’t apply to me. Isn’t that what we all think? Sometimes I put it down to having a demanding job, but is it any more demanding than being a cop, or a nurse, or serving behind a counter all day? All work takes its toll. Sure, I have to engage emotionally while at the same time maintaining a professional detachment. Perhaps it’s that dichotomy that wears me out. All I know for sure right now is that I’m knackered!
I made the fatal mistake of reading the morning paper on the way to work. By the time I’d finished I’d allowed the doom and gloom of its contents to filter down and overwhelm me with a melancholy that belied the relatively refreshed state in which I’d woken up. If I allow myself to I can become horribly despairing of the state of the world that is communicated via the tabloid press, its sensationalist headlines howling for my attention and its simplistic journalism filling me with self-righteous indignation and a horror of things over which I have no direct control.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. With so much marking and report writing to get through it was a real bonus to be afforded the opportunity to push on through with so much of it with so little interruption. It was a really nice way to finish off not only the week but also the month. In recent years November has become a time of introspection and I come to the end of it feeling a little less dispirited. And though there may be darker days ahead still, I now find myself feeling a little more optimistic and upbeat.
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