Random Musings: Worry

I worry.

I worry about being late, about getting lost, about having to face my husband with a speeding fine if I accidentally drive over the limit, or a parking fine if I am delayed and stay longer than my prepaid time in a car park. I worry that I will be blamed.

I worry that my children will see me as dull or foolish and think that this is typical of a mother, a woman. I worry that my husband will see me as dull or foolish and decide to leave. I worry that I will express myself badly and cause offence or that my silence will suggest agreement with something I find offensive.

I worry about losing my muse, about the quality of my writing. I worry about not reading the books I have requested for review as fast as is required. I worry that my review will cause pain to the writer who may think I do not appreciate how awesome it is to have created an entire book and had it published. I want to remind them that each reader is unique and nothing is ever universally adored.

I worry that I will get sick and inconvenience my nearest and dearest, cost our beleaguered health service a foolish amount for treatment that merely delays the inevitable. When it is my time to leave this earth may I depart quickly and quietly, no fuss as I slip away. I worry that I will waste other’s time and money.

I worry about letting my family down, about not fulfilling my duties as wife and mother. I worry that I have lost whatever it was that drew my husband to marry me, that I have allowed it to be submerged under all of my worries.

Shortly after my second child was born I went to the supermarket with my toddler daughter and young baby. When we returned I parked my car in the driveway of our home and carried the sleeping infant to his crib before returning to unload the bags of groceries. My daughter had climbed out of the car and, in my mind’s eye, had accompanied me into the house. Now she was nowhere to be seen.

I searched the house, checked the car, walked around the garden calling for her. I looked up and down our road and in neighbour’s driveways. From a mild irritation that she had not followed me as expected I moved to a concern over where she could have gone. It did not take long for full blown panic to set in. Retrieving her brother from his crib I locked the house and set off on a frantic search.

I worried. I worried that she would wander in front of a car, that she would fall in a pond, that some stranger would see my beautiful little child and whisk her away from me forever. I worried about how on earth I would explain to my husband that I had lost his beloved daughter. I had one job, one important job, and I had failed.

This story has a happy ending. A stranger had noticed my little girl as she toddled alone down a neighbouring street. He saw me and stopped to ask if I was looking for this child, pointing me in the right direction; stranger need not always mean danger. As I rushed to find her a friend who had been watching for me came out of her house with my daughter. She had seen her alone, known this was not as it should be, and taken her in to safety until I could be located. She offered me a brandy, concerned at my shaking and ghostly face.

I worry about being responsible, about doing the wrong thing. I worry that I will make a decision to act and it will not be what was expected or required. I worry about being blamed.

And I am blamed: for preparing and cooking the same boring meals or presenting a change that is not enjoyed; for trying to discuss a topic when my detailed knowledge is lacking; for not being as smart as my former achievements suggest I should be. I am berated for not fitting enough approved activities into my day or for not being always available and willing to do as others wish. I am blamed for not meeting the expectations that they have of me.

Occasionally I will book outings for myself to events that do not interest those I love. I work hard to minimise the inconvenience this causes them but still worry at my selfishness.

I worry.

When did I get like this? When did the smart, independent, young woman I used to be turn into this worrier?

Perhaps I would worry more if I did not recall that that smart, independent, young woman had her own, very different demons to contend with. My worries are a burden, but only because I am no longer so alone.

 

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A grand day out

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”  (JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit)

So yesterday I went on an adventure. Not a trip to Alaska such as my neighbours are currently enjoying, or even a trek to some misty mountains such as I used to enjoy with my husband. This adventure involved a drive of less than two hours to the city of dreaming spires, where I had arranged to meet up with a friend who I hadn’t spoken to in over twenty years.

If you have been following my blog for a while then you will understand what a challenge this was for me. I chose to drive to a city that I did not know. I chose to spend time with someone outside of my immediate family. I chose to do all of this on my own.

Naturally I planned as for a military campaign. Maps were googled, routes and alternative routes noted, car parks checked out along with buses and exact charges, so that I could ensure I carried the correct change. I was nervous but determined. I felt like a right woose for finding it such a big deal.

In the event all went smoothly, even the weather smiled on me, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my friend. It was interesting to see Oxford, even if it did seem stupidly busy and full of people. I guess I am not a city person. We walked, explored, had a delicious lunch in a lovely, old pub, and we talked and talked and talked.

Each time I do something like this I wonder why I do not make the effort more often, yet time and again I find reasons to stay at home. In many ways it is easier for me to go off on such adventures on my own. When members of my family are with me they will often criticise my nervousness, which exacerbates the problem. On my own I can check and double check everything without fear of irritating. I can miss a bus to walk back to my car and check that I locked it, thereby enjoying my day out more, knowing that all is as it should be.

So many of my friends live lives filled with travel and activity, I love to hear of their experiences. I keep my life sheltered in comparison, exploring little other than my little corner of the world on foot. I reach out via the internet, but it is not the same. I cite cost and family commitments, but suspect that these impediments are not as insurmountable as I sometimes suggest. I am making excuses, even if only to myself.

The adventures that my friend talked of involved sea water kayaking along uninhabited coastlines, remote mountain skiing, encountering bears in their natural habitat, finding wolf prints outside his tent. As someone who is scared of cows and off lead domestic dogs I would not wish to indulge in the activities he enjoys, but it did make me feel that I should be able to find the courage to at least leave my home more frequently.

In many ways though I found it easier to explore a city where I would know nobody. I like to be invisible, to go unnoticed. My fears revolve around criticism and letting others down. Too often I feel that I am not being whatever it is that they want of me, and I react by trying not to be anything at all.

Meeting up with an old friend I could relax. We were meeting to catch up with each others lives so I could be what I am, it was that which he would be interested in. With no expectations to live up to, and no plans to spend time together regularly (although hopefully we will get together again before another twenty years have passed) I could be myself.

I would rather spend time alone than feel obliged to act a part. Being able to relax in such fine company was fun though. I have interesting  friends; it would be good to spend more time with them.

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Self awareness and selfishness

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I am sitting curled up in my library, mulling over a very enjoyable few days during which I have partaken of an activity that I view with extreme caution these days; I have been socialising. It has given me a lot of food for thought.

On Thursday I went out for a walk with a friend who used to live in my village. She has been through a great deal in the past year or so, but appears to be in a better place now than she has been for some time. Although I have known her for quite a number of years, it is only recently that I have been spending time alone with her. As we walk and chat I find myself at ease in her company, which for me is relatively rare. I hope that we can find time to get to know each other better. It has been a long time since I have felt inclined to try to get closer to someone.

This weekend we have had long established friends down to visit. One of these friends shared some issues that I had not previously been aware of, which make her active participation in so many endeavours all the more commendable. I know that these are lovely, generous people and I value their friendship highly. They have made me think about how I cope with my own little life and my relationships with others.

I believe that I can be quite a jealous friend. Perhaps I have read too many books or watched too many films where each woman has a best friend, who they can and do turn to at every juncture in their lives. I have never been short of friends, but neither have I had that one and only best friend forever. My good friends have always had other good friends alongside me, and I have allowed that to colour my perception of how they value me. I have allowed myself to consider that I am less important to them because of the others in their lives.

Just as an elder sibling can feel jealous of a new addition to the family, so I have felt less valued when friends have talked of activities they have enjoyed with those closer to their everyday lives. I have not allowed for the fact that our capacity to love knows no bounds when nurtured and cherished as it deserves. My friends made the effort to visit us this weekend, even though their lives are full and busy, and I appreciate and value their willingness to spend time in our company.

I find it very easy to put myself down. It was mentioned how often I do this: I pointed out the flaws in the welcome cakes and cookies that I baked for their arrival; I booked a table at a restaurant so that I would not have to cook a meal that I expected would be a disaster; when dressed for dinner I pointed out that I had put on weight. I was not performing some foolish act whereby I expect to be contradicted when I speak negatively of myself or my abilities, this is simply how I think. Nevertheless, it is not comfortable conversation for others to listen to. I need to concern myself less with me.

My lovely friends brought us thoughtful gifts. I intended to send them home with a box of fresh eggs from our little flock of hens and had selected for them the very best from last week’s laying. In the flurry of goodbyes I forgot to hand them over and feel disappointed that I could not manage even this small gesture of appreciation. It somehow sums up my inabilities, yet if I am to learn the lesson that lurked in the background over these past few days I must not dwell on my unimportant failure.

We had a very enjoyable meal out last night and a lovely walk this morning. It is these aspects, along with the non stop conversation and comfortable sharing that I must focus on. I lack confidence in myself, not something that I can simply set aside, but I can recognise that there are people who choose to spend their valuable time in my company. I must try harder to focus on this and be grateful that I am so blessed.

 

Hanging out on line

I have had a Facebook account for several years. Without it I would know a lot less about the lives of many friends I rarely see. Of course I am aware that I am only being offered the briefest of edited snapshots of their lives, but still. Still it is more than I would otherwise be offered; I am grateful for the little that I am given, for the link into a chink of their lives.

I was encouraged to join Facebook by a friend with whom I used to exchange regular emails. Since he and I have been on this supposedly social site we have not been as intimate. Can a largely electronic, text based relationship be described as intimate? I think that it can. I regret our loss of intimacy as I value the friendship and felt that I was giving something back. Inverted selfishness; I valued being able to give, as much because of the benefits to me as for the hoped for value to him.

On Facebook I keep most of my settings private. I try to take care over what I post, particularly photographs. I try to take care over who I will accept as a friend. I realise though that much of this is an illusion. The real reason why my friendship list is so small is because there are few people who seek me out. I have never in my life been one of the popular people.

This year my use of the internet has changed. I started to blog and put out links to my writing on various sites in order to encourage readers to pay me some attention. Having spent years carefully watching and listening, I started to put a chunk of myself online, accessible to all. I started to say what I thought and, more especially, how I felt. I started to befriend the internet in a way that I had never managed with the face to face people I knew.

As well as setting up this WordPress site I made use of Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Google+. It took me some time to get into the rhythm of Twitter but, at times, this is my favourite medium for news and expression. It offers soundbite communication and easy sharing of other’s musings in a quickly digestible, largely disposable format. When we attend large gatherings of friends and acquaintances isn’t most conversation like that?

I set up my Google+ quite some time ago but have only just started to use it in the past few weeks. I am not yet comfortable with the settings which seem tricky to manage compared to Facebook. Last week I commented on a Youtube video that amused me, and was quite shocked to see a link appear on my Google+ feed, shared with my circles, many of whom I know only from the blogosphere. I need to learn how to share more carefully on this medium. I need to decide how I wish to use it.

In general though, my active pursuit of an on line profile has made me less concerned about personal privacy. I question whether I have much to hide. I started to write under the moniker zeudytigre and that has largely stuck, but my Twitter account uses my given name and I now link it to this blog.

I also use my given name on Pinterest where I record my book and film reviews. I am not into cutesy craft, fashion or home improvements. I have managed to make this site work for me, the way I want it to. I may still add a board to link to this blog though; I want people to read me. I feel a sense of embarrassment admitting that.

Of all the sites to which I ascribe, my Tumblr is probably the maverick. I have yet to find a use for it beyond a means to take the pulse of a world of young people who know how to think for themselves. It gives me hope for the future. Whether or not I can harness it for myself remains to be seen; perhaps that will be my next project.

In November I took part in NaNoWriMo, an experience that gave me more confidence as a writer. I decided that I would like to pursue my fictional writing so set up a second WordPress blog as a home for some my short stories (Dreams and Demons). I also joined the writer’s community at Tipsy Lit (link via my sidebar button). I am gaining a lot of pleasure from this new direction and have had some positive feedback from other writers, which is always very satisfying. I still feel somewhat reluctant to describe myself as a writer.

With all of this activity to manage it now feels as though the internet is my hangout. I certainly feel more comfortable here than I ever did at physical gatherings of people. The one thing that I do need to watch is that I do not stop reading the books that do so much to feed my mind, essential if I wish to improve my writing. I can spend far too long on line.

As well as my writer’s pseudonym I continue to use my original avatar rather than a personal photograph on many of the on line sites that I frequent. As a back garden hen keeper, the picture of a mother hen with her three eggs seemed to suit me (I have three children). I feel more comfortable being known by that picture than by my face. Perhaps, in time, I will gain enough confidence to allow my true self to be seen more often.

As my children have grown away from me to pursue their own lives I have felt a need to fill the void that they left. My writing has offered me this possibility. Those who mistrust the internet and wonder at my willingness to open up to on line strangers may well be those who can easily socialise off line. As I am not comfortable in such an environment this space has allowed me to interact with like minded people who I would struggle to meet otherwise. My hope for the coming year is that I may expand my community of acquaintances and continue to find help and inspiration, as well as readers, amongst those I meet.

Finding the readers is a tricky balancing act. I wish to promote what I write but do not wish it to be the only aspect of my conversation. I do not wish to use my social networks purely for self advertising as that alone is bound to put people off linking to me. I am not yet confident that what I write is worth other’s time, that it is good enough to warrant their attention.

If this is where I go to party then I desire conversation more than mass attention. I wish to discuss, dissect and muse over the significant and the inane. I am interested in books, films, current affairs and politics; I am not interested in celebrities, cooking or fashion. I seek out the blogs and the sites managed by those who offer me insight and feedback.

Am I still only using my ‘friends’ for my own means? Perhaps that is all that any of us ever do. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is that we may also give enough back to make the interaction worthwhile for all concerned.

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Horse riding

This week’s Remember The Time Blog Hop is a Wild Card. Here I recall one of my embarrassing moments from back in the day. 

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“So,” my boyfriend of a whole week said to me, “J and I are going riding tomorrow afternoon. Would you like to come along?” Well of course I wanted to join them; I wanted to spend all the time I could with this adorable guy (who stopped being quite so adorable in my eyes pretty quickly but, at this stage, was my dreamboat). “You can ride, can’t you?” he asked. “Yeah, sure” I replied confidently. I had been on a horse before, I knew the rules; or so I thought.

Growing up it was my sister who adored animals. Over the course of the years that we lived with our parents she had a rabbit, a cat and a dog. What she really wanted though was a horse. She just adored horses. She read the books, watched the films and, every year, would ask Father Christmas to deliver her a pony. On Christmas morning she would wake up and pull back the curtains in our shared bedroom, hopeful that there would be a horse grazing in my parent’s back garden. I mean, wouldn’t this be just the perfect place to keep one?

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My sister had a best friend who also loved these equine creatures. They would spend hours playing with their large collection of Sindy dolls, each of whom was given their own toy animal to ride. On fine days in the summer they would set up gymkhanas on the front lawns of their parents houses, which were just a few doors apart. Occasionally there would be a disaster when the front leg of one of the competitor’s mounts would snap off going over a jump, resulting in copious tears and the immediate application of glue and sticky tape. The dolls were dressed in jodhpurs and tweed jackets more often than the fancy dresses that other girls chose for their improbably proportioned mini mannequins. My sister would get frustrated that their legs could not be properly flexed to sit astride. Getting feet to fit in the plastic stirrups was an irritating challenge.

And then my sister’s friend was given a real pony, kept in a field a few miles from her house. Naturally, my sister got to ride it. On one memorable occasion, I was invited along as well.

Lady was a calm and docile creature. I was shown how to mount, start, stop and steer. For the short time that I was permitted to walk her around the field she did as I asked. I thought that all horses would be like that. I thought that I could now ride.

Thus it was that, ten years later, I borrowed my sister’s riding hat (unsurprisingly my head had grown and it was uncomfortably tight) and set off for a hack with my boyfriend and J. Although I noticed that my brightly coloured, puffy anorak did not look as appropriate for the planned activity as their country jackets, it was not until we arrived at the stables that I began to feel that first inkling of concern over what I had so confidently let myself in for. It became obvious that these guys rode regularly; the horses that had been selected for them were active, sleek and huge!

The stable hand saw through my act immediately, but my pride was at stake. I assured her that I was competent and she reluctantly handed over the reins of the horse that had been tacked up for me. From this moment on, my troubles began.

The guys had taken their reins and mounted in what looked like one, fluid movement. My horse kept moving around the yard with me when I tried to approach the stirrups, leading me on a merry dance. The stable hand retrieved the reins impatiently and gave me a leg up in order that I may board the beast. Determined to avert a fast approaching farce, I confidently kicked my horse on and we set off at an unexpectedly sudden, fast trot. This was not a speed that I had experienced before.

The poor creature must have wondered at the dead weight bouncing around on it’s back; I dread to think what I must have looked like. I was holding on for dear life while my boyfriend and J assessed the situation incredulously. This hack was obviously not going to turn out as they had expected.

We reached the woods in which we were to ride and a short canter was proposed. My mount had obviously had enough and was no longer cooperating; this was probably just as well. J set off, by now showing his exasperation at my performance. My boyfriend glanced from friend to me and silently accepted that he had been conned. He knew that he couldn’t just abandon me and was gentlemanly enough to forgo his planned amusement to ensure that I came to no harm. We walked sedately along a few paths before calling it a day and returning the horses to the stables. I was mortified, but also silently relieved that I was still in one piece. At the very least, I had avoided falling off.

From the stables we drove to our university to attend a lecture. I had to carry my riding hat into the hall and was asked several times about my day by other enthusiasts. My boyfriend listened attentively as I tried to bat off interest without being shown up as the fraud he now knew me to be.

When I moved to England a few years later I decided that I would like to learn to ride properly. I booked some lessons and enjoyed the schooling I received until a pony decided to head towards a pole at speed and then stop, sending me somersaulting over his head. Winded but otherwise uninjured, I returned to the saddle but did not book another lesson. As far as I was concerned, horses and I were done.

The humiliation I felt at my experience with my boyfriend taught me a valuable lesson. It is probably as well that things did not work out in other ways between us as I would not have wished to live with the shared memory of that day. From then on I was a lot less cocky about what I could or couldn’t do, even if it did mean missing out on a few adventures. I had also learnt a healthy respect for animals larger than me, particularly lively ones, which stood me in good stead when my daughter developed a passion for all things equine.

Just like my sister, she dreamed for many years of having her own horse one day. If it does ever happen, it will not be on my watch.

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Read the other posts in this week’s Blog Hop by clicking on the link below.

The making of an incompetent cook – Part 3

(If interested, the beginning of this saga can be read here: The making of an incompetent cook – Part 1)

When I first got together with my husband he quickly realised that, unlike him, my skills in the kitchen were limited. He mocked many of my efforts so I left it to him to produce food for us. Gradually, as I watched and learned, I picked up enough knowledge to know how to treat various foodstuffs without the need to constantly refer to my cook book. I also started to bake the occasional loaf of bread or experiment with a tasty pudding. I found that area of food production more rewarding.

With the arrival of our children I left full time work and took on the task of running our home. I was determined to feed my little daughter and then my sons well, cooking up and liquidising batches of baby food for the freezer so that I knew exactly what was being consumed. As they grew older I would allow them some of the kiddy food that they tasted at friend’s houses and adored, but I was never comfortable serving fish fingers, sausages or chicken nuggets. I always insisted on large, daily portions of vegetables; puddings were most often made up of yoghurt and fruit. Even if I had missed out on the cookery, the healthy eating lessons that my mother had passed on had been well learnt.

When my third child started school I found myself with more time on my hands and dug out my mother’s recipes for wheaten, soda and treacle bread. I would try to bake a couple of times a week, a task that was welcomed by my family as I would produce a cake, crumble or a batch of cookies while the oven was on. Somehow this period saw many successes as I relaxed into the task.

As our family grew our house seemed to shrink so we planned an extension out the back. Along with this work I chose a new, large and airy bespoke kitchen. The work on the house took six months, during which time we lived out of one room downstairs. When it was finally finished I planned a big party with all our local friends invited. Naturally, I provided a supper.

My husband and I hosted many parties and dinners around this time with the majority of the food cooked from scratch by me in my fabulous, new kitchen. I would still try out new dishes for these events, but would back them up with trusted standbys. It was only when we started being invited back, to the reciprocal parties organised by our friends, that I began to feel that my efforts were not as impressive as they had seemed to me. So many of these ladies were admirable cooks, as well as having talents in table decoration and flower arranging. I should not have judged myself against their high standards, but my confidence in my abilities was knocked.

Why the disasters started I have no idea. My cakes started to sink, my bread became doughy, my puddings were undercooked. I began to dread having to produce food for anyone other than family, who ate whatever I produced although often with bad grace. I stopped inviting people round for meals, except for my in laws. They were always presented with the same sort of offerings; even I rarely went badly wrong with a roast dinner.

There were other things happening in my life around this time of course, many of which I have blogged about previously. Perhaps it was a culmination of everything that was going on that caused me so much disquiet; perhaps it was this that was affecting the shaky results I was achieving as I persevered with the daily grind of feeding my family.

One thing that my overall experience of cooking has taught me though is the importance of introducing my children to basic food production. My daughter has responded well to this challenge, producing a variety of pasta and rice dishes recently as required. Her desire to prove that she can be trusted to look after herself has encouraged her to take note of how certain dishes are prepared.

My younger son is less interested in cooking savoury dishes, but can at least make decent cheese or tomato sauces to go on pasta; he will heat up a frozen pizza for himself if left on his own at a mealtime. His pleasure in cooking comes from the yummy cakes and cookies that he will make unsupervised; these are often requested by visiting friends.

It is my older son whose attitude towards food reminds me more of myself at his age. Although he enjoys his food, he shows little interest in feeding himself beyond hydrating a pot noodle to go with his cup of tea and numerous slices of toast. I guess it is hard to interest a recalcitrant teen in anything unless they choose to participate.

My sister first picked up the basics of cooking from my mother, and I should have been able to do the same. When the lessons were being offered, I suspect that I just wasn’t paying attention.

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