Ghost

I feel as though I am floating, uncertain and alone. The tethers that once anchored me have come loose. The lines between the life others see, the books that I read and the stories that I write are becoming blurred. These are all my experiences, a part of what I am. How much of my life is real, how much imagined? An individual’s perception is his reality.

I wrote a piece last week about life on line. I wrote it as fiction and yet, when it was finished, I realised that I had created something personal. When I look at the life I am living it has lost its solidity.

I read books to escape from the rejection. I write to cope with the hurt. I no longer fit into the worlds of those around me. Now that my family has grown they have their own interests. They are kind to me, humour me but do not seem to understand what I am.

I am a ghost, not quite here. I drift through my days. I read and I write. I exist on the margins.

 

The worth of a writer

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There have been a number of newspaper articles published recently about how difficult it is for authors to make a living purely from the sale of their books. I hear the same story from established journalist friends, that the mainstream media pieces they are commissioned to write pay a pittance when balanced against the work required to produce them. Money to live on is earned elsewhere, with appearances in newspapers, radio and television a means of self promotion rather than significant income. High earners in these fields are the exception rather than the rule.

I do not subscribe to broadcast television, rarely listen to the radio, and read whatever news is allowed to be reported on line, for free. I still buy works of fiction, but this is mainly because I prefer the physical product to an electronic version. I find walls filled with books comforting, inspiring. I furnish my home with books, buying them to read, to share, to admire.

If I, as an ardent consumer of words in many forms, pay little for my consumption, then how can I expect to be paid for the drop in the ocean that my own output represents? Yet still I feel it has a value. It would seem that this view is not always shared by those close to me, which I see as an indictment on how our society measures worth.

When I tell people that I am a writer their first question is often about where I am published. ‘On line’, I reply. I watch the next question form before it is asked, ‘Do you get paid for that?’ When I admit that I do not they lose interest. In their eyes I am not a writer because I do not earn money from this occupation.

My on line bio explains that I am a wife, mother, hen keeper and writer, yet none of these pays me in cold, hard cash. My husband is kind enough to ensure that I am warm, clothed and fed, although in turn I am expected to cook, clean, support and organise our little household. I sell a few boxes of eggs to friends each week which helps to cover the cost of keeping my hens. They still make a monetary loss, as do most pets. Publishers send me books to review so this side of my writing habit costs little more than my time. Do you see what I did there? I consider it a bonus that such writing can be done for free, I do not expect payment.

Just as I chose to marry, have children and keep hens, so I choose to write. What interests me about recent discussions is how society values a person’s worth based on cash they earn rather than on what they are giving back. It is my view that books provide value beyond measure.

It has always been the case that some may be unable to pursue their creative talents due to their struggle to eat and pay for shelter. The recent discussions suggest that this situation is getting worse. Just as a quality education and timely healthcare are now being priced so that only the wealthy can afford them, so a career in the arts has become more difficult for those who do not have separate, financial backup. This does not make it merely a hobby though. A writer may need a day job in order to survive, but that does not make them any less of a writer.

I am sometimes asked how many people read my work, as if this will somehow make it more worthwhile. My answer to that question is, ‘Enough’. If my output went entirely unnoticed then perhaps I would give up. Whilst I dwell less now on my reader statistics than when I first started publishing my work, I do still value the feedback that I receive. Do I consider myself a writer because I produce words or because they are read? I do not know.

When I read about author incomes falling I feel sympathy for those who could once live comfortably from such earnings and now cannot. My sympathy wanes when they talk of a drop in quality if established writers are not paid more, of a dilution due to the ability of anyone to publish anything for minimal cost. I have read some fabulous works from new writers. In my experience it is not necessary to be established and known to be good, although I would guess that this helps with sales. There have always been badly written tomes, some of which sell surprisingly well. Who is to judge what makes a book good other than the reader?

I am sometimes perplexed that a little person like me claiming to be a writer can irritate those who have been successfully earning money with this pursuit for some time. I am no threat to them. I seek readers just as they do, but am content to remain in my own small corner of the internet, promoting other’s work. Of course I feel good when I receive any sort of appreciation, just as I do when my husband or children take notice of my efforts to improve our home, but I do not seek any sort of fame.

Success requires talent, hard work and luck. There are excellent writers who have produced great work yet still struggle to get noticed by the mainstream. If I can do just a little to help them with my reviews and promotions then I will feel that I have added value. I know that I am not a great writer, by definition we cannot all lay claim to such an accolade. Still though, I produce words and they are read. I will enjoy my small successes when they come, when I am shared more widely or offered some reward for my efforts. I would appreciate not being put down by those who count value only in cash.

The world is in constant flux and I see no benefit in fighting inevitable change. It is my belief that there will always be those who wish to write books, and some of these will be good. Of course I understand the frustration of those who need to earn their own living and cannot now do so from writing alone. This will not kill the written word though, writers write because they are driven to do so.

If you do not like the current situation and wish to offer support, then buy more books. Read widely, read diversely, explore new genres and authors. There are worlds out there to discover, contained within covers and pages. Why limit yourself when there is so much to learn? Support a writer in the best way possible, read their words.

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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Beauty

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I have a very beautiful friend. She has it all: small frame; slim, shapely body; fabulous poise and posture; long, straight, jet black hair; smooth skin; good teeth; an open, friendly smile; brown eyes you could drown in. She is married with a kid and a part time job, she and her handsome husband own their own home. She also suffers from severe depression.

People ask her all the time, ‘How can you be depressed when you look so gorgeous, when you have so much?’ Society appears to equate beauty to happiness, with a lack of understanding that more may be required. On the other side of the same coin, when a person has an obvious disfigurement it is assumed that they deserve to be pitied.

When I read of a person suffering facial burn wounds commentators will look on the outcome differently depending on gender and age. If it happens to a young girl it is considered a tragedy that she has ‘lost her looks’. There is little discussion about the potential infections or future pain that a serious burn wound can cause. The discussion centres around the potential for cosmetic surgery, how she will feel when she looks in a mirror, how society will treat her.

None of this is new of course. We notice beauty and are initially drawn to a person based on outward perception, although this view is quickly coloured by actions and conversation. Still though, health appears to be undervalued except by those whose quality of life is adversely affected by a condition. When the illness is unseen there is a tendency to assume that the sufferer could get over it if they really tried.

In recent years there has been more open discussion about mental illness, yet still it is assumed that the young and beautiful have no cause, no right to feel down. Outsiders, sometimes even supposed friends, will look at a person and judge if they have an acceptable reason to feel the way they do. Years of suffering and self hatred are swept aside as well meaning passers by suggest losing weight, getting out more, a change in attitude as a cure. Become a different person and all will be well, just do it.

When the sufferer already looks perfect there is incomprehension that they could want more than they already have, as if beauty were the pinnacle of achievement. Could this be why, as an older woman, I hear certain peers talking with concern about losing their looks?

There are many older people who look fabulous, but even highlighting this is to give credence to the idea that beauty is so important. At what cost has this look been achieved, how does the person feel, what else have they achieved? When we read of mental health issues amongst the rich and famous does it help us to empathise if we can see something about them that we consider could be improved?

Nobody chooses to suffer a mental illness, and there is no treatment that can yet cure it. The best that can be hoped for is a strategy for management, improvement to allow for survival.

There is no doubt that achieving a healthy weight can improve physical health and thereby quality of life. An attractive haircut or a flattering outfit can give a temporary lift. What an ill person needs though is not a demand to change, but support and acceptance for where they are now, however they happen to look. Well people would benefit from that too.

 

 

 

 

Feminism in the modern world

Written for a ReadWave challenge.

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” (Rebecca West)

Emotive words like feminism can be difficult to use. I would call myself a feminist, yet often find myself disagreeing with opinions professed by others who would also describe themselves in this way. For example, I do not believe that everyone should be treated equally at all times.

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There are occasions when I would not complain about a job advertisement asking for a man or a woman; for example, a play or television show that desires a particular gender for a part. For every rule there will be exceptions.

What makes me angry is misogyny, and it is unfortunate that this is alive and well in our supposedly open and free, western society. It is not always recognised or acknowledged, but one only has to look at such examples as the everyday sexism project to understand that woman are not regarded as they should be, that rape culture is prevalent and accepted by many. While this type of behaviour exists, I would argue that feminism continues to be relevant and necessary.

For me personally, feminism is about recognising ability and offering choice based on individual circumstance. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend and graduate from university. I studied a subject that interested me (computer science), not one that was typically chosen by women at the time. After a decade of working hard to further my career, unhindered by the fact that I was a woman, I then opted to become a stay at home mother. I do not consider, as some may, that my education and work experience are wasted. I have used all that I have learned in raising my children and conclude that I help and advise them more effectively because of my life experiences.

There are women who are happy to become an attractive accessory for a man. There are women who choose not to marry or have children and who are as capable as any of having a career that society would regard as successful. If these women are able and willing to follow these paths then I would not wish to condemn their choices. Most of us, men and women, will have a variety of aspirations and will have to make compromises along the way as limits are imposed by personal abilities, conflicting desires and individual circumstances. It is only when limitations are put in place due purely to gender that I would see cause for complaint.

Feminism exists because too many cultures have, historically, seen woman as of less value than men. They consider women to be flighty and vain, unreliable and overly emotional; whereas men are considered to be strong and determined, jolly good types to be trusted and relied upon. I suspect that men often choose a man over a woman for a job due to that natural human tendency to go with the known and familiar, to gravitate towards that which we see in ourselves.

All people are individuals and will thrive if they are not forced to conform to rigid, cultural expectations. Abilities exist on a broad spectrum and are fluid; all can learn and adapt as situations change. Problems occur when those in power seek to impose what they see as right for a section of society, when they refuse to accept those who choose a different way.

Societal expectations can be hard to oppose, but this is why feminism still matters. Men can be victims just as much as women with the expectation that they will provide, support and succeed. Feminism should not be seen as putting men down, but as a means to offer wider choice for all.

As we go through life we change. I am not the person I was at twenty or thirty. It would be sad if I was as this would suggest I had learned nothing in the intervening years. There is no ‘one rule fits all’ for men or women, any more than there is just one rule that fits an individual throughout their life.

I guess what I am fighting for is flexibility. Do not expect certain behaviours from me because I am a woman, because I am pale skinned, middle aged, middle class or British. Allow me to be me. I am both ordinary and extraordinary, as are all the people that I know.

We need feminism to stop those in power considering woman as one, homogeneous mass and deciding what is best for them. They do not know what is best for me anymore than I know what is best for you.

 

Life choices

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A few random thoughts for a Thursday, for no reason other than this is what I woke up thinking this morning.

1) If people could choose their shape without having to concern themselves about diet and exercise, what shape would most choose? What would be desirable if it could be achieved without effort?

I am wondering how much the beauty industry relies on those who are slim feeling superior. I know that perceived beauty does not equate to self confidence, but I do think that those who manage to stay slim feel that they have succeeded where the more rotund have failed. If all could choose their shape, then would most women choose to be the extremely slim shape that is currently sold as desirable? Would most men choose the supposedly attractive muscular torso? We can choose the clothes that we wear, and use this to conform to societal expectations or not. We use dress to express our individuality, or to fit in with the expected codes and fashions. If we could easily choose our body shape it would be interesting to see what choices were made. Things that do not cost, be it time, effort or money, are rarely as highly valued.

2) If people could choose, once only, to stop their body looking older, then at what age would they choose to stop? Given that they would continue to age inside, would an outward display of youth be desirable?

I doubt that many would choose to look five or ten or even fifteen years old for the rest of their lives. What about twenty though, or thirty? Would most truly wish to remain looking young?

I am well into middle age and have found a certain freedom in my changing looks that I had not expected. I have attained a sort of invisibility, no longer seen as desirable by the opposite sex or in competition with my own. I have had my career and I have had my kids. The pressure to succeed has been lifted and I am left with only myself and my loved ones to please. I am of little interest to the rest.

I am no longer bothered by sexist fools who think they flatter me by cat calling or attempting to chat me up. I feel safe when I go out alone, there but overlooked. It is empowering, exciting and a little daunting to have no expectations to meet. This is not to say that I am always comfortable in my own skin. When I am out with my children I dread running into their friends in case the way I look embarrasses them. On my own, however, I can relax. I merge with the background; there but of no particular interest to anyone.

There is still plenty that I wish to achieve in this life but I am now doing it solely for me. It seems that growing older suits me; stopping the clock on my looks would have lost me not just this freedom, but a valuable life lesson. Time travel can be as interesting and educational as exploring new places and cultures.

If all could look young there would be issues with couplings. We respond to looks in choosing a mate. Ageing is there for a reason; without it I believe some would feel deceived.

3) When you think of success, what level of success do you dream of?

I like the idea of being the author of a traditionally published book. As I have yet to write anything that could be submitted for publication this is unlikely to happen. If I did though, I wonder if I would really want success. Of course, I love the idea of being widely read, assuming readers liked my writing that is. I have a pipe dream of seeing my book in a bookshop. Financial independence would be pleasing but to achieve that level of success, which is rare even amongst published authors, there is a cost that I know I would struggle with.

I would dread having to stand up in front of people to promote my book, to give talks or appear in the media. I feel no great need to impress the world, what I would like is to impress my little family. I suspect that they are the least likely to admire anything I could produce. Even if I achieved the perceived success of a best selling author my husband would probably criticise the quality and worth of my writing.

Given the number of people who queue up to audition for televised talent shows there are plenty of people out there who seek even momentary fame. Given the efforts that sports men and women put into improving their rankings there are plenty who crave short term success. Would all of these people be willing to suffer the costs though, the life not lived due to the pressure, intrusion and demands of fame?

I think that I would be happier with a small and quiet success, whatever that word actually means.

 

 

Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings

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I am coping with life as best I can, because that is all any of us can do. And some days are fun and funny, sunshine and roses, smiles and warmth. Other days I struggle to see beyond the clouds, even when I know that they shall pass. Most days I drift, the hours pass by as I try to make them count. I clean, I cook, I am there when required, and I write.

My role is one of support, my lack would be noticed more than my presence. The friends I meet up with for walks, my wider family, they have their own lives to lead. Would they miss me if I was gone? Perhaps there would be moments of sadness, but I am a shadow, appearing briefly before they move on into a different light.

I have yet to experience the loss of a close family member, a death. My mother once called me a cold fish for my lack of feeling and I carry that thought, untested for now. I see grief in others and wonder how I shall cope when the time comes.

I have lived through the passing away of grandparents, aunts and uncles, even a few cousins over the years. I cried for some, but not with the passion I felt at the death of my daughter’s teenage friend. The depth of her family’s loss touched me to the core. I felt that deeply, yet moved on.

I rarely cry over films, getting more upset at animal cruelty than that involving people. Animals trust and love unconditionally, whereas people can be so selfish. Is my lack of feeling selfish and cold? Is it a result of the armour I have built to survive?

I wonder sometimes who would miss me if I were gone. My absence would inconvenience; the jobs that I do must be done and would fall to others, who would likely find them mind numbing too. The one thing that I and I alone give is a mother’s love. Nobody could care for my children as I do.

I wonder if I am as cold and uncaring as some may think. Am I reflecting back my own experience or is it an innate part of me? Have I buried the warmth and love that I once felt so deeply to protect it, or to protect myself? I wonder how I feel; I wonder if I feel.

Do not criticise me for my perceived lack of emotion, if I do not act as you would. Too often I feel almost more than I can bear and struggle to cope. I bury, gloss over, make light of what is happening. I may not see life as you do, but I have not lived your life. And you have not lived mine.

 

Understanding Ithaka

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I start each week with a fierce determination to make it better than the last. I rarely feel satisfied with my accomplishments, although I am not sure why this should be. I am trying to get to some place that even I cannot fully picture, let alone actualise. The best I can do is to take small steps that feel like a move in the right direction, that give me a feeling of satisfaction rather than despair.

Last week I had four good days in a row. I put down a lot of writing, ate sensibly, met up with a friend for a walk and kept on top of my duties to my family. I wasn’t demanding too much of myself and I was feeling good. Then, on Friday, it all started to slip. Over the weekend I had a major slide and yesterday my mood totally crashed. I cannot explain why any of this happened, there were no specific triggers. I knew that I had to get myself out of the pit so I did what usually works: I immersed myself in a book.

A good book is such an amazing piece of portable magic. Curled up on my sofa, ensconced from the demons that whisper insidiously inside my head, I travelled back in time and across an ocean to live alongside a twelve year old girl whose family had messed up due to the death of her sibling when she was a baby. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ is a rich and engrossing read. It has it’s flaws, which I may cover elsewhere, but it gave me enough food for thought to enable me to process my own issues. It did it’s job for me.

I considered writing a post about how I was feeling on Sunday, but decided against. I was feeling depressed, but I do not consider that I suffer from depression. I have friends who do and I am in a much better place mentally. That I can pick myself up so quickly suggests mood swings more than illness.

Many years ago, when I was being treated by my doctor for ME, it was suggested that I might benefit from counselling as mental issues were a possible factor in this recently recognised malaise. I was granted six sessions under the NHS and went along because I wanted to talk to somebody, anybody, about how I was feeling, the storm in my head. I had been living in England for some time and was struggling to make friends. Although I had a lively social life, I found the English distant compared to my native Irish.

Growing up in Belfast it was common to call in on friends or family unannounced. When I first moved to England and started to get to know people from my place of work I would do this, and soon picked up that my behaviour was considered odd. I learned to phone ahead, to check that it was convenient before visiting. It made me feel that I was not welcome.

What I needed back then was a close friend, a confidante. I had plenty of acquaintances, but none who I could talk to about how I was feeling. Thus, when my doctor suggested the councillor I swallowed what scepticism I had and agreed to give the proposed treatment a try. It proved to be an interesting experience.

From my personal study of psychology and sociology I knew how counselling was supposed to work. It was unfortunate that the counsellor assigned had serious issues of her own. By the fourth and final session (I cancelled after this) she had unburdened herself and I realised that I could be a sympathetic listener, drawing her out, encouraging her to share. When we parted company I knew more about her than I wished, whereas she knew next to nothing about me. Perhaps I should have considered a change in career.

I found strategies for dealing with my own issues independently and life moved on. Now that I am, once again, having to deal with my demons I yearn for that still elusive confidante. My sister remains the only person who seems to understand what goes on in my head, but she lives in another country and has her own life to lead.

My mood swings may well be to do with age and the stage my family is at. Although the manifestation of my social awkwardness may be atypical, I do not believe that my neurosis is unusual. I wonder do most people simply have someone that they can talk to, or is the world filled with people struggling alone. Am I simply less concerned than most about admitting that sometimes I find the act of living tough?

Having spent the last three days getting through my latest storm I am now behind on a great many tasks. My house is a mess, I have stories unwritten and my urgent ‘do’ list grows ever longer. In three days time my children break up from school for Easter which will throw my everyday schedule into disarray. With important exams approaching stress levels are high and finding the balance between offering personal space and support tricky.

Life is the journey not the destination. I appear to be travelling without a map or a compass. I never did like surprises.

Ithaka (C.P. Cavafy)

 

 

We reap what we sow

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Small boy is no longer smaller than me, wears the same size of trousers as his dad, and objects to being called small boy. He rightly points out that I am now the most vertically challenged member of our household. It feels strange to notice the practical changes in these not quite adult children of mine. They look cramped when sat in a row on the back seat of my car; we no longer shop in the children’s sections of stores; laundry loads fill up due to  the size of garments as much as the number of items to be washed.

Some of the changes make life easier. My daughter is currently on a week of work experience and can catch a train to and from her destination, coping with the required transfer in the city with ease. She plans on going camping at the weekend and will make her own way home, hopefully by begging a lift off a friend but, if not, then by public transport. Next week she has her first driving lesson, another milestone on her road to independence.

My middle son appears desperate to shake off the perceived maternal interference in his life. He is happy to debate and discuss, but has no patience with any attempts to coerce his behaviour. I am having to learn to treat my children as I would any other adult, even if they are still some years away from earning that nomenclature.

I remember so clearly being my children’s ages and feeling the frustration that financial dependence creates. I try hard to balance offering security and guidance with enough freedom to allow them to become what they are capable of achieving. I know that I have it so much easier than many at my stage in life. My kids are not rebels, merely growing up and away from the apron strings that have tied them to me for so long.

I have a great deal of respect for today’s young people. They face a level of uncertainty and financial difficulty that the elders in their lives avoided yet were complicit in creating, even if only by default. The National Health Service is being dismantled, the welfare state capped, and pursuing further education now leads to massive debt unless the bank of mum and dad can pick up the bill; an option available only to the truly wealthy. If the economy does not change radically and soon then it is hard to see how my children will ever become home owners, something that I expected to achieve as soon as I entered the permanent workforce. With more and more companies looking to employ freelancers or zero hour contract workers, there is little guarantee of permanence in the decreasing number of decent jobs available in this country.

When others around my age or older complain about today’s young people I question if they have taken the time to get to know any. It often seems to me that it is the young people who are asking the pertinent questions and looking below the surface of issues, rather than merely believing the propaganda churned out by our so called leaders. Many of my peers appear blinkered by prejudice, convinced of their own rightness, no longer capable of unbiased critical thinking. They see things only from their personal vantage point, showing little interest in subsequent effects.

When I look at the people around me I find that I support dropping the voting age to sixteen. Young people are being shafted in favour of pandering to a growing elderly population with a strong sense of self entitlement. The spanner in the works is, of course, that so many young people see no point in voting. The political parties have become one, homogeneous mass of apparently untrustworthy self promoters, out to further their own interests above all else. As the elderly often appear to vote from habit the politicians can get away with a great deal so long as certain headline benefits are retained. It is no wonder that voter apathy is increasing.

Young people may not yet have the life experience to know how to present their case in an appealing manner, but perhaps we as a country need to be shaken up with a bit of straight talking. The elderly are not supported with the money that they have paid into the system over the years but by the money that is currently being generated or borrowed. With the wealthy elite doing all that they can to squirrel away their resources beyond the reach of government and country, difficult decisions must be made. I do not expect to have a financial cushion when I am old.

The world is changing. So many rail loudly against the effect rather than looking at the cause. My media feed is full of calls to sign petitions for change, yet still we are offered no real choice in elections. It is all short term thinking: my health needs, my pension, my comfort and security. Perhaps if we invested in our young people rather than ourselves then they could find a way to turn the country’s finances around and thereby look after us all.

I wish that I could offer my children a better adult world. Perhaps we need to sink more deeply into the mire that we have created, to affect the lifestyles of a broader spectrum of the population, before change will happen. Looking at the way young people are being made to bear the brunt of the current mess I will not feel justified in asking them to support me when I am old. Of course, I hope that my own children will be able and willing to look out for me, but the message they are being given by so many is that they must take care of themselves without the state support that their elders have enjoyed. If that is the message that we are giving them then we should be willing to bear the consequences when state support is withdrawn from all.

Progress

Did I mention that I had a busy week coming up? Having reached the half way mark I feel that I am on top of things, but only just. I have worked my way through the mind storm that blew up over the weekend, which I wrote about on Monday, and moved on. My husband is treading carefully around me. He recognises that I was hurt; I feel loved.

Yesterday was his birthday so we had a family celebration. It would seem that age is inversely proportional to the volume of presents received, but a cake was baked, champagne drunk and we had an enjoyable evening out at a local pub restaurant. It is becoming increasingly rare for my whole family to choose to spend time together which made this special.

Since the weekend I have been thinking about how just a few words can be misinterpreted causing unintentional pain. My daughter put on a new dress for our evening out and looked fabulous. It skimmed her figure perfectly, defining her waist. I commented that it made her look slim, which she immediately took to mean that she normally looks the opposite. It seems that I made a mistake mentioning size.

Are we particularly sensitive about the things that matter to us, or about the things that society values? I was hurt by the suggestion that I was wasting my time writing, despite the activity being of benefit to me and thereby also to my family (a happy momma is an aid to all). My daughter, despite being slim, healthy and beautiful, frets over her size, probably because it is discussed by her peers who see it as important.

However much we recognise what matters and what is superficial, it can be hard to live within a society that is critical of our choices. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why I find it so hard to cope with social gatherings; my way of thinking goes against the conditioning of so many.

My mother worries about my weight because, to her, how a woman looks will determine her standing in society. If I question her views then she takes this as a personal slight, a criticism of how she is. I know that she loves me whatever I look like, but the superficial is important to her and she will never be able to comprehend how little it matters to me. I say little because even I cannot dismiss it entirely. I can tell myself that it does not matter, but struggle to shrug off the influences I have lived with throughout my life.

Yesterday I attended a Parent / Teacher evening at my children’s school. My youngest is choosing the subjects that he will study for his GCSEs so it was important that I attend. I thought long and hard about what I should wear, how I should present myself. I did not wish to embarrass my son when so many of his classmates would be present, and I wished to appear competent and interested in front of his teachers. On this occasion, how I looked mattered.

I sometimes think that I would like to live in a small cottage in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by beautiful countryside but no other people. I could indulge in long walks, write to my heart’s content, and not worry about how I was perceived by anyone else.

Real life is, of course, not so straightforward. I wish to be with my husband and children, and they gain pleasure from the company of others. When I do get together with my friends for walks I benefit from their company. I am not an island.

I have progressed enough to understand my need to cultivate a greater acceptance of how others think and feel. I rail against what I see as attempts to change me. What I need to be working on is accepting that others choose to grant importance to how they are perceived; these differences need not be seen as criticism of my choices. Just as my mother cannot comprehend how looks matter so little to me, so I must not judge others harshly for caring about such things. What difference does it make to my life if they value how they are coiffed and costumed?

Today there is a cold, thick fog oppressing the countryside around my home. Tempting though it is to stay snug and warm inside, I will venture out to the gym. I will feel better for a little exercise, especially after last night’s delicious but indulgent meal. Improving my health will take time and work. At least this week I feel that I have taken a few small steps towards improving my mental well being.

superficial woman