You are not failing. You are not hopeless. You are not broken. You are not rubbish.
If you are anything like me then thoughts like these revolve around your head every day. They scratch at your eyes in the middle of the night so you have to open them and stare all over again at the lies you are perpetuating because these are the things you feel. But feelings aren’t real. Feelings are not facts. All too often feelings are nonsense.
I know that you have long read that you must learn to trust your feelings. I also know that you have been taught to listen to that oh so feminine of traits – the instinct – so you already know instinct is quite separate to feeling. Feelings live in your head while instinct is a whole body possession. The goose-pimples on your arm. The stone inside your stomach. Instinct can be trusted because it pushes feelings aside and forces you to acknowledge truth so we ignore it at our peril.
But not so with feelings. Feelings are born from thoughts and thoughts are nothing more than a litany of mindless words formed in your head when you have quite forgotten how to look for your own truth. And heckity-pie aren’t we just abundant with thoughts and feelings these days, for wouldn’t the internet and the TV and the media and the lies we tell each other be enough to send us all insane?
Modern life means that at every second of every day we are confronted by perfection. Or perceived perfection. We read a blog and decide she who wrote it is perfection. That she follows every last piece of her own advice to the letter and always looks like she has fallen out of the pages of a magazine. But neither the written word nor a picture frozen in time can tell the whole truth. We do not know her: only the manicured version of her life she is willing to share. For she, like you, like me, feels shame about the gaps inside her head: the places where she doesn’t feel whole, lets people down, gets screechy and eats pot noodles when she is supposed to be eating kale.
We have to stop comparing ourselves to half-truths. We have to remember that even those we consider our closest friends do not always share their truth. That the woman we admire from afar may be living through her own particular type of hell and that glossy hairdo is merely her only means of controlling a life spiraling out of control.
We also have to stop pretending. For there is no glory in hiding our experience. No reward for stoicism. None at all. It merely further enables our misery. Perpetuates the myth that telling the truth about our lives would be letting the side down, when actually telling the truth in a safe space is the sigh of relief that gives other women – our sisters, our friends, the woman in the library, the blog reader – permission to live out loud too.
Once in the supermarket, the lady at the till served me with tears in her eyes. And I was looking at her and she was looking back at me and in the end I couldn’t bear it and I asked her what was wrong. She told me that her best friend was in hospital dying of a brain tumor that very day, and I, deep within my own grief, only two weeks after Mum had died, told her that I was not coping either and there we were: holding hands at the till. Ignoring the queue of horrified Middle-Englanders. Acknowledging another woman’s pain and feeling better for it and then carrying on with our lives because there was no other choice.
We have to learn to ask. To stop being polite. We have to look in to he eyes of both those we love and those we do not know from Adam and dare them to tell us the truth. Women are so very good at faking a life. So ludicrously wonderful at having ha ha ha isn’t he funny conversations when HE is breaking her heart at every turn. And more than that the comparison has to stop for it is that which inspires the kind of devastatingly low self-esteem that tells us at every turn that we are not worthy.
This then is what I want you to know: we are who we are in this moment. Doing our best in these circumstances. So very few of us are wicked. Or stupid. Or both. Some of us are dealing with the unimaginable. Some of us are barely coping. Some of us lie next to men who have long left the relationships. Others walking around with a pain in their chest that terrifies them the moment they have a second to think about it. That woman there? She has a Mother who will, even now, not let her breathe. And that one over there? She is in the midst of an affair (of the kind that is going nowhere) that makes her feel at once alive and so very, very dead. Your best friend may never step in to the shower because she cannot bear her body, or may always insist on visiting you because her house is falling down around her and she is too tired to deal with it.
The trials and tribulations of modern life are not to be underestimated. Social media is turning our children in to heartbreaking monsters and we cannot prevent it. Men are suffering the kind of mid-life crisis’s that make no sense but destroy our families anyway. Our parents are ageing before our eyes. We are less beautiful than we were yesterday in a world that insists beauty is the only currency worth having. We eat too much. Alcoholism is rife among women of a certain age and the frittering of money on tiny bits of nonsense prevalent and threatening to our own financial security.
Life is horribly hard. And despite all the images we are bombarded with it is hard for everyone and we are all making it up as we go along. Today then I want you to know that you aren’t rubbish. Or broken. You are surviving in difficult times, challenged by the need to live up to the standards you imagine the rest of the world is living up to.
So do your best and do no more. Be a woman less ordinary at every turn. Ask questions and find comfort in other peoples truth. Acknowledge your shame. Write it on a piece of paper and give it form so that it is no longer something fleeting but something concrete you can put in to the bin. Give up being so hard on yourself. Carry on muddling through. Stop listening to that voice in your head. Let other women help you. Don’t contribute to the myth of perfection. Don’t add to that noise. Stop standing still. Do little things. Big things. Things that scare you. Don’t wallow. Don’t stall. Seek help. Stop allowing the mutterings of teenagers to sting you when they know not what they say. Find your tribe, a community, a book-club where truth is poured like so much wine. Don’t take the kind of calls you know will cloud your day. Don’t allow the child to crawl all over you when you long for just a moment when your body belongs to you and you alone. Be your own bodyguard. Say no. Calmly but quietly. Have conversations that hurt. Stop comparing yourself to anyone at all. Tell yourself you are doing your best every time you pass a mirror. Out loud. In fact screech it whenever you find yourself alone. Screech it because you can and because screeching feels good and telling the truth feels astonishing and mess doesn’t matter and your children probably wont grow up completely horrible and you are OK.
Right now, in this moment you are OK so tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and pop your feelings on a bonfire.
I do know it isn’t Christmas anymore. Honestly I do.
But one afternoon just before Christmas I found myself with an hour to spare and a box of truffles. And a quick shufty around Amazon turned up the most wonderful little literary treat and it started off a little peculiar and turned out to be about housekeeping (because sometimes the universe likes to send me the loveliest of unexpected surprises) and the joy of being alive. Which frankly are one and the same thing really.
I forgot to tell you because I am rather hopeless blogger but I’m telling you now so all is well and good and thus I will re-iterate: I know it isn’t Christmas, but do download A Faraway Smell of Lemon anyway won’t you and decide to take it to bed with a cup of hot chocolate made the Napoleon way, this evening? It costs less than a pound or a dollar and it is really rather scrumptious.
Who doesn’t want a little pretty on their wrist? I know for sure that I do. And though I rely almost completely on my mobile phone for telling the time, I do love to see those who remain so very dedicated to their wrist watch and wish rather heartily to be in their gang. Wrist watch wearers have always struck me as such sensible people. The sort who probably haven’t tucked their phone into their bra, in case, heaven forbid, they should find themselves less than inches away from their technological lifeline.
I live in hope you see, of turning sensible. Though it seems unlikely at the grand old age of 44 that sensibility will settle on my shoulders I do believe it is important to keep on believing that even the most ludicrous of notions are still possible even when there are hairs growing out of your chin.
So you see now that I have happened across a range of Cath Kidston watches on Very.Co.Uk hope is springing eternal. For there’s a watch or two I might just want to strap to wrist. One I might remember to wear in the same way I remember to wear my Fitbit. One that strikes me as strapping a little happy to my arm. I do so like to add a little happy to my black uniform. A pretty scarf. A pair of earrings tinkling when I turn my head. A vintage brooch to catch the eye…
So umm, yes. Cath Kidston does pretty watches. And I am never, ever going to be sensible. Not even when I grow up.
Yesterday in my Facebook group, one of my lovely Living Roomers posted her “Honesty Injection” and it was a little bit of true wonderful. And so today in the spirit of Kathryn, I hereby present the first in a new series of “Honesty Injections” because I want you to know that my life is just like yours – in all it’s messy, crazy, sometimes ugly glory…
The day begins not with birdsong but with high winds whistling down the chimney and screeching a not so merry tune in the Victorian fireplace in my bedroom. A room with temporary wibbly-wobbly grey fabric wardrobes and seven boxes of overflowing nonsense scattered about in lieu of the furniture I cannot yet decide upon.
I can’t bring myself to start the day. Three days in to the new term and there is already an element of the groundhog that I can barely tolerate. Downstairs Ste will be mutely making porridge for himself, for life takes most of the day to warm up his voice box, while in the far room down the landing stairs, Finn will be unconscious under a tangle of the duvets, quilts and pillows he insists on pinning himself asleep with, and will when I open the door to kiss him awake, point blank refuse to get out of bed, insisting that he needs five more minutes of the kind that will no doubt turn in to forty five.
I know how he feels, so for the moment I lie listening to the trundle of lorry’s heading towards the motorway on this oh so busy road. When I get out of bed I will have to hunch as I try to get dressed as the blinds I have not yet replaced on the two little windows in this room do not quite reach the windowsill and passers by must so very often be treated to a flash of my chubby thighs. For a reason I cannot fathom I have thrown my all in to getting all the other rooms liveable in this house but have in my wisdom chosen to ignore the very room that could set body and soul at peace.
In the bathroom I huff to myself as I straighten the towels scrunched over the rail and put the toothpaste my family cannot lift off the sink back in to the cabinet. I brush my teeth, worry about my gums and go to wake Finn up. He is, as predicted, flat out asleep, though his room is now always tidy (his need to control his own space I think spinning from the chaos inside his head as he learns to navigates his Sensory Processing Disorder), he is himself a beautiful, rather stinky muddle of ruffled hair and acknowledges me with a teenage grunt as I sing Good Morning and switch on the fairy lights draped across his desk to help him blink his grumpy eyes awake.
Out on the lane, my neighbor’s recycling bin has blown on to the road and spilled McDonald’s wrappers, pizza boxes and wine bottles all over the road, my path and his. Cars are screeching to a halt in front of it and in the end Ste goes out in his pajamas to right it. In the kitchen I wash dishes we left last night after a late supper and feel a bit sick to the stomach when I realize that yet again there is no milk. While having a milkman delivering milk in lovely glass bottles is all fine and dandy, if he doesn’t deliver it until after breakfast it rather defeats the object. I make a cafetiere of black coffee and feel like smacking someone. Mostly because in the night the fence panels the builders have left in the garden have blown everywhere and at any moment the wind could topple the huge metal gates they have propped against the gate and bring the conservatory crashing down upon our heads.
In between filling lunchboxes and setting the domestic machinery ago-go with today’s laundry, I run in and out of the kitchen to the hallway to screech at Finley to get out of bed. Though I would prefer music in the mornings, in the living room, BBC breakfast is starting my day with a litany of misery I deeply resent. Ste is still quiet until outside there is the smash of glass. For the milkman has delivered the milk, plonked it down in front of the step and the darling little postman has knocked it over so that there is glass and milk all over the path. I rush out and refuse his offer of money to fix it, get a dustpan and brush, and have Ste crawl on his hands and knees under the car to fetch half the bottle so I do not run over it and burst my tyres on the way to school.
I refuse Ste’s offer of a sunshine smoothie and a slice of wholemeal because with five minutes to spare Finley has just arrived downstairs with perfectly coiffed hair and a pair of Harley Quinn socks that are definitely not school uniform. I decide that if he wants to get in to trouble at school it is up to him, for I am learning to pick my battles with my new teenager and I know that his teachers disapproval is more effective than mine when he can so very easily charm me with the kind of kiss he presses on my head with the words “little Mummy” though I have never been little in my life.
He ignores the beautifully laid out breakfast table (one wonders why one bothers!), gulps down tea and then I rush him to school for he will not walk since he was run over, with the car screeching all the way as the fan-belt is on its way out. At home I close the door behind me and breathe a sigh of relief that the morning is over and the house is my own long enough to add another three thousand things to my list of things I must do before life will feel perfect. Perfect is something of an ogre. A constant mither on my mind.
In the little laundry room I peel off the mouldy spores growing on the sky blue chipped paint and take a soggy cucumber out of the spare fridge I keep forgetting I own. The door to the outdoor loo has been flung open and the room is full of leaves but I can’t bring myself to go out and fix it because it smells of the many builders who have used it and I am convinced a family of rats live in there though I am assured this is deeply unlikely and I am preposterous.
While I know it would take only moments to scooch around with the steam cleaner to remove the faint prints left by those who will insist on wearing shoes in the house I decide instead to ignore that and the many hand prints on the conservatory doors and opt instead for a cup of mint tea and ten minutes being a bad housekeeper and playing Sim City when I could be improving my life…
And now I am here. In bed. With yet another cup of tea and the mustard yellow floral quilt pulled up high though I am fully dressed in my usual uniform of black. I am cold and I feel weary. But despite the fact that Ste has laid out a rather bizarre arrangement of Nivea products on the top of the little junk shop drawers currently living in the corner of the room as if he was setting up shop himself, I am comfortable here away from the stares of passers by, and from my own need to keep a watch out for those who seem to live by the clock on this lane and do exactly the same things at exactly the same time each day as if I have found myself living in The Truman Show…
I am longing for Summer but while it is blowing a hooley outside I will work here. My laptop propped upon a cushion and my head full of ideas. Later I will prepare a plate of sliced roast beef and my beloved pickled onions and though I know the very thought of pickled onions in bed is outrageous I will bring them back up here regardless.
This then is my reality and I do not mind it at all.
What if today was the day you decide to do as much as you can manage? No more, and here’s the rub, no less.
If you are anything like me (please say you are like me – I feel better in a crowd) then this business of housekeeping is a fluctuating matter. One day full throttle. The next nothing at all. And equipping yourself with all the fancy scrubbing brushes and ecologically sound cleaning fluids you can find just doesn’t make a jot of difference to what comes to pass on any given day. Rather it seems to be a matter of the very careful weighing up of hormones, energy levels, mood, kids, and reason to be interested.
Oh yes, let no man or women assert that we are all in the mood for disinfecting the u-bend at any given hour of the day. In fact should this be true then I must insist you find a hobby. Housework exists to support our way of life – not to be our way of life and the minute it becomes obsessive, is the very minute I suggest you have a lie down with a flannel soaked in hot water and rosemary oil so you can take a thorough squint inside your empty soul.
Ahem. I’m clearly feeling feisty today.
Anyway my point is this: housework has to be done. Surfaces have to be lickably clean. It is awfully nice to have fresh sheets and so much easier if the children aren’t careering around the house naked in search of clean underwear. We have to do it and we do it because unlike some of those we live with, we have a certain amount of home-related pride and we feel better when life is primped and preened.
But some days housework is hard. Some days tipping milk in to our tea seems like an effort so chances are such days are not those we are likely to find ourselves dragging a step-ladder upstairs and tackling the dust bunnies in the eaves. And it on those days I am urging a new “as much as we can manage” attitude to keeping the house spick and span. Even if that means hoovering the living room with your bottom parked firmly on the sofa. Or swiping the shower screen with a squeegee just before you step out to get dry enough to go and swoon in dramatic, melancholic style on the chaise lounge.
If however, doing what we can on the days we don’t feel like is important, then so too is doing as much as we can manage on the days when our hormonal stars are a-lining. The days we feel so fully alive we rather fancy hopping around the shops and buying lots of things we don’t need and dragging the dog around the woods, and meeting everyone we know for coffee and generally wasting entire days busy doing nothing when we could be channeling our energy in to scrubbing, sorting, getting wildly KonMari about the insides of our cupboards or getting ahead on a decorating project.
Oh yes: those days when we have got energy and determination beaming out of the top of our head are just right for really throwing ourselves in to the domestic melee and getting a grip on it, so on the days when we are wearing fat pants, eating chocolate for breakfast and feeling more than ready to launch the next cheeky chappie who tells us to smile, we can feel more than OK about skulking in our bedrooms and losing ourselves in our much loved stack of Georgette Heyer paperbacks with a truffle stolen from our comfort drawer and earplugs jammed firmly in our ears.
This then is doing “as much as we can manage” and it requires us to be totally honest about how we are feeling: to tune in to both our body and mind, assess what we are capable of and act accordingly. You see if BrocanteHome is about anything it is about extreme self-care and we practice that both when we are gentle with ourselves AND when we are disciplined enough to do what we are more than capable of doing.
What can you manage today?
A New Year is filled with too much possibility isn’t it? A person could get overwhelmed and find herself wanting to chuck out everything from her make-up bag to her entire way of life. A person you see can get carried away when it would serve her better to allow the New Year to settle in first. To reveal itself later, when Winter Hygge has truly done its job. For wouldn’t it be better to hibernate now and re-invent ourselves later?
I am such a person. A person who has rushed out to buy herself everything necessary to Bullet Journal and felt the flush of embarrassment when her thirteen year old looked at her sternly and said “Now is not the time for jumping on Instagram bandwagons, Mum, now is the time to blog.”
Oh yes! Blogging. That’s what I was doing. And though I have been doing it for thirteen years I worry that I have quite forgotten how and find myself more willing to deal with the midnight burglars said to be prowling the streets of my locality than turning up for my own, lovely, precious, self-inflicted work. I am too anxious. Too twitchy to be able to make sense of myself right now. And anyways I thought I might find myself in a bullet journal. People say they are life-changing. Sensible people say such things! But oh what a rabbit hole of pretty pattern and pointless scribing it could it could be when a person should be blogging…
Anxiety is such a funny old woman. She pokes you with crooked fingers just when you are getting in to your stride. She whispers “Who do you think you are?” just as you are falling asleep and has a way with words that ties your good intentions into troubled knots. She will not be soothed with your endless cups of rose tea. Nor accept a little round of homemade shortbread and agree to keep her mouth shut. Oh no, not her. Not she who laughs at the elaborate baths you take, chin high in restless leg improving salts and stands mocking the dreams pinned to your vision board. Instead she tries to force you to start again. Oh heckity pie yes, there is nothing Anxiety likes better than a clean slate and before you know it she has got you believing that nothing, oh but nothing, not your work, your relationship, your body or any of the thoughts in your head are good enough and thus must be re-invented right here and right now. With no time to recover from the onslaught that was Christmas. No allowances for the kind of weather that really should have you doing nothing other than sipping soup under a cosy quilt. No excuses accepted at all.
Anxiety you see is the New Years best friend. She lurks around all December, allowing you your fun but come January 1st she pounces, stabbing you right there in all the bits you are trying to teach yourself to love. Twisting her dirty fingers into your scabs and telling you there is no time to dither, one simply must GET THINGS SORTED. And by things she means all things. Every thing. And she will not rest until you have found the perfect planner. Signed up to the diet club. Thrown money on an improving course and chucked every last edible bit of Christmas out of the cupboards. Because she is a mean old bat. The kind of mean old bat who needs dealing with by sending her screeching in to the drowning rain when you simply refuse to do anything other than practice the kind of extreme self-care that January really calls for.
For yes, now is the time to snuggle. And kiss. And read. And binge-watch. Now is the time for good red wine (instead of festive plonk), warm rounds of Camembert stuffed with garlic and rich chocolate brownies eaten straight from the oven. For starting difficult books and playing Monopoly. It is for baking cakes for kids coming in from the cold and nibbling late night slices of hot, thick buttered toast, just because you can. It is a time for healing from the slings and arrows of family forced upon you during the festivities, for booking holidays and inviting friends over for early suppers. It is a time for soothing your weary soul, mending what has to be mended and surviving evenings when you just can’t get warm.
Just the right time methinks to tell Anxiety to sling her hook. And take her Bullet Journal with her.
So a few days ago I wrote about the lull and now I want to talk about the frenzy.
Heaven knows why but Christmas arriving at the weekend thrills me. Christmas on a Sunday seems just right to me. Much better than Christmas on a Tuesday! So this year I do believe we are blessed with festive order and if we play it right we can truly enjoy the week before the holiday arrives, without feeling the kind of demented we only ever experience when we can’t decide whether to ice our stockings or stuff our Christmas cake.
You see it is time. It is time to work yourself in to a complete frenzy and get everything left on your list done. While I usually try to encourage a graceful swan approach to the season (even if those webbed feet are crazed beneath the water), today I am saying, nay, ordering you to go bonkers; to work yourself in to a complete festive frenzy so that you can declare yourself done by Monday morning, and then sit back with a smug smile and truly enjoy the abundant gifts the season has to offer.
Right, so that means there are three days left to do everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.
I’m talking close family Christmas cards written and gluten-free stuffing shopped for. I mean the kids presents wrapped even if it means staying up until the early hours to get them done. I mean getting to the shops at silly o’clock in order to pick up the last of the gifts on your list, taking that trip to the farm to pick up fresh mistletoe, anything that can be cooked and frozen now for Christmas dinner, cooked and frozen! I am talking about rooting out the Christmas stockings so you don’t find yourself clambering in to the loft on Christmas Eve,and wrapping that gift you bought for yourself so you can pop it under the tree.
(You DID buy YOURSELF a gift didn’t you? NO? Have I taught you nothing at all?? Add it to your to-do list RIGHT NOW and get thee to the loveliest boutique you know post-haste! And for heavens sake stop making me SHOUT in capitals please!).
I am deadly serious about INSISTING that you make a big fat long list of absolutely everything left to do before Christmas and blooming well getting it done over the next seventy-two hours…
You see work until you drop now and from Monday you will have one lovely week to just be. Right there in the bliss of the season. Work until you drop now and you can spend your free time in the week before Christmas enjoying the proper pleasures of the season. You can watch cheesy Christmas films and play board games. You can sit and stare at the pretty lights on the tree and sip at a glass of mulled wine in utter peace. You can read the kids Christmas stories mindfully, wholeheartedly, without wishing they would fall asleep so you can get back to playing hunt the sellotape in the piles of wrapping paper downstairs. You can take yourself to a steamy coffee shop, drink a gingerbread latte and feel calm in the midst of the chaos, and step out late in the evening wrapped in scarves and gloves to walk around the neighborhood feasting on the festive displays of lights and loveliness.
It would be worth it wouldn’t it? Feeling bone-tired for a few days so you can relax those shoulders come Monday and enjoy Christmas the way it is supposed to be enjoyed. It would be worth it because sometimes the after-glow of frenzied activity is a joy all by itself, and feeling smug is something we should all treat ourselves to at least once a year don’t you know?
Ready, steady… go!
The turkey is ordered and at least some of the presents are wrapped. The tree is up and dripping with nonsense, and all the films I want to watch have been marked in yellow highlighter pen in the Radio Times… a ritual from childhood I am not willing to give up, though if the truth be known there is so little time at Christmas to watch anything peacefully, particularly anything that does not please this house full of boys!
But school is not yet finished and the internet has not yet delivered all the gifts I have ordered. I have not iced the Christmas Cake and I am yet to churn out a single mince pie. The weather is mushy. Drizzley and yucky. Not crisp and white as Hollywood insists it should be. For the first time Finn refused to accompany me to the Christingle service and a little drop of sad fell on my Mummy of a Teenager heart, and today I have got a little tummy bug about which you really don’t need the details.
My Christmas isn’t picture perfect. But I feel Christmassy regardless. And Christmassy feelings are most of the battle aren’t they?
(For without them Christmas can feel like the most awful drag and those who harbor draggy feelings in December really aren’t good for our souls and must be banished to festive Coventry without so much as a nod to their inner Grinch).
This then is the lull. The calm before the cinnamon scented storm. It is the moment when much, if not all of Christmas is done and there are only fripperies to be organised and enjoyed. It is the time to notice. To sit by the lights of the tree and experience Christmas. To stop and actually listen to the words of the songs piped in to every store and to savor the first sip of that oh so retro bottle of Babycham. It is time to take flowers to the graveside of those we have lost so we can wish them all the love of the season, and to spend quiet time with those old or ailing and for whom Christmas has become just another day. Time to watch the children’s nativity and to truly treasure every single second of it, (for all too quickly they are too old to play silly shepherds or haphazard fairies), and it is without doubt time to get in as many early nights as possible with a stack of Christmas chick-lit and a flask – yes, a flask!- full of cocoa…
In my own lull, I tend to contemplate and reflect. I spend evenings with my Leonie workbooks and a pink pen, tearing through sentences for my eyes only, trying to make sense of what has happened in the year just gone and fashioning dreams for the year coming, with my fingers crossed and bound for a year better than those in my recent past. Another ritual of my own devising I cannot see myself ever wanting to give up in any given December in my future… for in its own way it shapes my year and though during this year there have been occasions when I have been barely able to breathe, let alone achieve, still I have been ticking off so many of the 100 things on my Leonie list and it continues to astonish me that writing a wish down is often enough to have the universe conspire to deliver it to you…
Tonight, I have got a couple of silly Christmas novels on my bedside, lavender starched pajamas laid out on my cosy yellow eiderdown, and a row of twinkly tealights lined up along the cast iron mantel of the fireplace in my bedroom. It is cold and I am not sure I can face a bath, but I will shower quickly and coat myself in the sandalwood and germanium sleep balm I am currently obsessing over, read through the wonderful descriptions of all your Christmas’s described in the Living Room, and kiss my family goodnight.
I am tired. Tired and Christmassy. Tired and content. This then is the lull.