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I am at my absolute best when someone needs my help. There is no end to my generosity. But the people who do better then me, who are better then me, they do not inspire me, they scare me. I demonise them. I hide. I am not sure how I will go on. I hope this is just a phase. I hope I can find the joy again. Because for a moment, for a few weeks, it felt like I could do anything. Things were falling effortlessly into place. I'm learning brilliance is not effortless. Perhaps even mediocrity isn’t.
I am being inspired by Greco from Elena Ferrante’s books. Her struggles at university have struck a chord with me. Reading about her diligence reminded me of how hard I used to work. How hard I worked on my thesis. How many hours – I even gave up the summer vacation in my last year. My struggles have always been rooted in fear (of failure), and in an anxiety (to please), just like hers. And I do now perceive that something more is needed, that to write well one cannot write out of fear. One must write out of interest.
But her discipline has also reminded me that anything can be interesting if you work it the right way. If you give yourself time to think about it, to be touched by it, and find a path of your own within the maze. I think more and more negatively about the last three (four!) years spent on the last project. I'd been drawn into something which did not allow me to build on my existing work, which in fact cut me off from it, so that it’s only now I am reconnecting the threads, and realising that'll take effort.
I am feeling more and more resentful of the Shegoat, for using me. As K rightly points out, that did allow me, in the end, to get where I am here – but it does feel rather as if I got there in spite of it, not because of it.
Anyway, Lenu has inspired me to be more diligent. To commit myself to actually STUDYING – reading, and making notes, and learning by heart, and making sure I do indeed understand. For goodness sake, if not now, then when? Now I have the time and the freedom to build these lacking foundations.
I have given into the illusion that things in academia just come, without work, that people just are brilliant, and ideas roll of their keyboards ready formed, ready structured – and that if I find myself not conforming to this ideal, then I am deficient, dumb, and not worthy. And that in turn inspires the gut freezing fear. And from the gut the fear creeps up and freezes my heart and my brain, paralysing original thought, while also filling me with a nervous energy in which I grasp at straws and inevitably sink while I could be building myself a boat.
Wedding day. Five minutes before leaving the house:
- Are we doing wedding rings?
- I don’t know. Do you want to?
- Do we have any?
- I think I’ve got my parent’s rings upstairs… shall I get them?
- I don’t know…
- You’d look sexy with a ring.
- You think? It’s too late now I guess.
- So no rings.
- No rings.
So we've got two sets of female rings now. A gave me his wife's. I nearly cried. All three sit in a box. Feels a bit odd. Like everything has changed but nothing had.
The flowers made it. I can’t thanks C enough for her efforts, making me a crown, and a bouquet. The whole day was very low key. We were still in bed at eight, with the ceremony scheduled for ten. At twenty to ten, we were having a sit down coffee opposite the Town Hall with K’s dad. The messages started coming in: are you here? I knelt down so that C could put the crown of fresias and wildflowers on my head, and it felt like being knighted. It was warm, and not raining. It felt relaxed, altogether.
Once all had assembled, we made our way to the waiting area; J kept snapping pictures and K and I felt incredibly awkward. There were enough people there to make for a small, friendly, chatty crowd – there was always someone talking, something going on, so there was never an uncomfortable silence, or pressure to keep talking. A and his missus were stiff as usual, but we go way back… C was unusually tense and pale, perhaps resonating more strongly with the day due to the nearness of her own wedding, happy to play the assistant, for which I was grateful.
The registrars came to fetch us after a bit, and we followed into a smallish room with chairs covered in what looked like transparent textile condoms. I was struck by the plywood unit on which the audio equipment sat. The two officials were small, short, middle aged women with warm smiles and the manner not unlike nurses, seventy percent protocol, thirty percent human touch. It felt odd standing with my back to the room when the guests started to come in. I did not even notice the ‘appropriate background music’ being played, which we had speculated about with K earlier.
The ready-made, bog-standard ceremony speech read out of a folder was surprisingly moving. Not a mention of God, as K commented later; but truly lovely, and somehow hopeful; it spoke of happiness, support, and commitment. We stood shoulder to shoulder, awkwardly, and the registrar suggested we may want to hold hands; it was a marriage after all, she pointed out. We burst out laughing, but we did hold hands throughout, and I felt happy feeling K’s fingers squeezing mine. I listened quite mesmerised. At the ‘does anyone here present’ I glared behind my shoulder with pretend threat.
When it came to the vows, K addressed the registrar, mesmerised by the form; my ‘I do’ came out in the tone of voice so familiar between us, the playful, half-serious, half-teasing tone of voice, but the words were said none the less, and so it was done. And we were happy. We stood there, giggling at the continual mispronunciations of my surname . When she pronounced us husband and wife my friends applauded, and I turned around and raised my arms in comical triumph, like a runner at the finish line. We kissed awkwardly, and hugged properly, naturally.
The registrar turned over a blank page and suggested we have our pictures taken pretending to sign; we looked at one another brimming with happy amusement, and politely laughed in her face. I could see C wiping tears. It was brief, but it felt so full, a complete, utter moment, enclosed in that little room, inhabited fully by our young bodies, lived to the last drop, fragrant with the flowers. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. We walked out of there in joy, and I could hardly support the photo session on the steps, itching to go, to live.
Two magnum bottles of Prosecco and an hour of milling in front of the fountains on that unexpectedly warm day went down like a charm. People chatted contentedly, A talked J’s ear off, bless him, while little Esther paddled in the shallow channels, chasing after a paper boat I had made her out of an envelope from one of the many greeting cards. That too was a perfect moment, unhurried, contented. I nearly killed a pigeon with a champagne cork. A peeled off on the way to the restaurant, and I remember him waving, looking fragile, but energetic, happy.
We spent three and a half hours at the restaurant, held back on our way a huge lorry trying to avoid wedging itself between a building, a bollard, and a building site fence. We all clapped when it finally reversed into the yard. We had a very pleasant time over the meal. I hugged so many people that day so many times! In the full length bathroom mirror I could not help noticing my legs with the biker’s toning and tan… I did feel beautiful, in my summer dress, in my home-made flower crown, the tan, the freckles.
It started raining just as we got home, fat, warm droplets, a true summer downpour through which we ran laughing. Upstairs I helped K take off me the damp dress and I stood before him naked, with my crown of summer flowers, and we had sex for a long time on the bedroom floor. My blood was dripping off K’s chin, and he sent me into hallucinations of pleasure which had me clawing at the carpet, and I kept smelling the flowers, and feeling them, cool, on my breast.
I would not change a single thing about this day.
Writing from the mellow warm soup hot chocolate of feeling within, saltily brimming with tears, nonsensical tears of no substance or reason, everyday tears for a cloudy day and tired body, tears for life, for the movement. The train rocks, facing me two men mirror one another across the carriage gangway in their sleep, white in black shirt, black in white shirt, negative, positive. My soft mellow bones, soft mellow body. There was a cute new-born in the café where I sat with K, all hair and blue eyes. I’m ovulating, I said, pay no attention to me.
How does one arrive at this decision. For most of humanity, it’s history, not a decision at all, just an effect, the thing that happens, so of course you build your life around it, how can it be otherwise. Men with their choice of walking away. Women supposedly bound. The great new freedom. The impossibility this supposed freedom then presents you with. You're free to make the choice, but only as long as the choice you make is the right one. And as long as it’s right forever; what if you change your mind when you’re 50?
An impossible situation. Decide now – but the only right decision is to have children. Everyone who has children is happy (?), everyone who has children loves them (untrue). If you buy into this, you can’t go wrong. But love, happiness, they're complicated things, adaptable, flexible, but also contextual, fragile. Buddhism teaches – happiness is in transcendence. Mindfulness teaches – happiness is in being in the moment. In which case the decision truly does not matter. And if so, then why take away the material comfort, why fix it if it’s not broken? Would it be different if my mother were alive….
Fulfilling life is made in relationships. A relationship with a child adds richness. Exposes you to new things, takes you out of the comfort zone. Challenges you to question yourself, and to become better. To grow with them.
A content life is made with simplicity. Look at me, at my struggle to meet with friends even, most content in the warm glow of the lamp, with a book, on the sofa, next to K. No more sofa, no more contentment. Constant worrying. Constant planning. A full time manager of someone else’s life. Trapped, can’t walk away from this.
Conversely – challenged. Tired but happy. Moments of exquisite, painful happiness at seeing them growing beyond you, the delight at discovering their minds, falling in love with them again and again as they become new persons, new beings. Meaning of life issue resolved – living for them.
But, truly? Having children had not safeguarded B from depression, anxiety. How different is seeking self-confirmation in the love of the child to looking for distraction in a book, a movie? And so we come back to the ‘I’. It’s not about addressing an unhappiness, or filling a hole, or having something missing.
It’s about wanting to do this particular thing, to go on this particular life changing adventure, path. So it is not dissimilar to any other one – moving to a new country, changing jobs. It’s more life-changing than the other ones perhaps, but on a continuum. So, do I want this particular stretching of the self? Is it the best, most enjoyable, most meaningful use of my time, of my life? Days and days of saying no don’t go there stop it stop screaming stop spitting stop crying stop shouting don’t run away come back here.
Worrying about their future. Worrying about them making the right choices, questioning what those choices could be. Quarrelling out of sheer tiredness. Feeling angry with one another, bitter. Perhaps splitting up, if things go really badly, if the baby doesn’t sleep, if they’re a clingy child who needs constant attention (unless he does fall in love with it completely and utterly like in a modern fairy tale, but people only change so much).
And so, all these rationalisations. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The good, the bad. Child the improver, child the destroyer. Child the love story, child the nightmare.
We sat on the steps between the play area and the living room, ignoring all the comfortable sitting spaces of the dining room table, two sofas, and counters. We had wine and chatted, and I felt immensely relaxed, centred in myself, content. I had no fear. That may have been the first time this had ever happened. Even the most potentially painful subjects – children, our parents – engaged me without harming me. I could open myself up, to a point (some things remain hidden). She teared up inexplicably talking about our family in the rural town, and her respect for them.
For her that sense of a connection must be configured differently than for me. I find it impossible to live in both worlds at once. I think that’s because one of those worlds is the one in which my identity struggled to define itself, where I had to protect myself from definitions others, and circumstances, were forcing upon me. Returning there always implied painful identity wobbles as I struggled to make sense of my other-life from that perspective. For my sister the lineage is clearer. Not defining herself against, but from that context – as a growing, achievement, success.
Other little, throwaway statements, and detailed accounts, which allowed me to get close to her, and which encouraged me to persist in the new idea I have, that people are not like the preconceptions we hold of them, that I know less rather than more about the world, that it is valuable to keep open and willing even to be contradicted. (An insight I don't intend to apply to bullies). She said their American friend is more right wing than them; accounted in detail her reasons for having children; talked about the differences between her and her husband’s temperament.
This vote was a call of desperation from a populace that feels no-one gives a shit about them. I've been listening to various local radio stations travelling on fieldwork this morning. So many people calling in to say : I voted leave, and I wish I hadn't. I just wanted to give the government a bloody nose. I wanted someone to pay attention. It makes me want to cry, because these very same people who are angry, depressed, and indignant at the way they have been treated by subsequent governments have just handed control over their lives to the most...
...self-serving, cynical politicos this country had ever seen.
So to all of you who like me feel heartbroken and distraught today - don't believe it's all hatred and fear, so many of the people who voted out were just fed up and trying to make themselves heard. Please let's not give up..
Watching the Leave campaign's reaction to the result, I am struck by how Boris and Michael look like two naughty schoolboys caught stealing jam from the pantry... body language speaks volumes.
I kind of keep thinking it will all go away. I know I am lying to myself.
A ray of sunshine on this awful day. I just received this heartbreakng card from my neighbors: "Dear Anna. given the incredible events of the last 24 hours I just want to say a couple of things. Firstly, I am very sorry and ashamed of the referendum result which I completely abhor. Secondly, you and your fellow countrymen are VERY welcome, respected, and values - at least by decent Brits!' It's the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. We all had a cry in in their living room. Little D was so happy. He thought they were having a party.
In the last few years, when people asked me where I was from, I used to say: I am originally Polish. I used to anglocise my surname pronunciation slightly, or even introduce myself as Anna Unpronouncable, which always got me a good laugh. Not because I was trying to hide my identity, but because I felt such a strong attachment to the UK, a local patriotism even, and I wanted to signal the strength of my connection. Most recently however, and without having consciously planned it, I have started pronouncing my surname fully and correctly, with a defiance I was...
...not expecting to feel a need for. Many friends and colleagues have been telling me that, like me, they are tense when walking the streets. Looking into the eyes of passers-by thinking: how did you vote? Half braced for racist or violent remarks. There are fewer smiles on the street right now, and the ones that are shared seem shy, apologetic.
I went for a run today. Rescued this elderly couple's dog from drowing in mud. Smiled at people, they smiled back. All seemed good in the sunshine. Momentary amnesia. When it comes it will hit all the harder.
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