At my fingertips

About this time last year I was writing about the importance of corporeality. I’ve never had difficulty with accepting intellectual pleasures, but physical ones present immediate self judgement. Eating, drinking, drifting into sleep, accidental contact with another live being … you can imagine where this list might go, yet even the simplest of these can be a source of guilt and shame.

Approaching the bar of my local pub on NYE, I was pondering how best to get served. Wearing my favourite little red dress with a thick, long teal cardi thrown over and a blousey scarf round my neck to soften the overall effect. I was dressed up for my own amusement much more than anyone else’s.

I smiled at an older man who was by the bar, a friendly and habitual gesture that I’d not have remembered later if it hadn’t set a subtle chain of events in motion. He moved to open up a path directly to the bar for me, a welcome gesture, and I moved into the space enjoying the tiny dance of our interaction. As I did so, his fingers brushed into my space, fingertips gently against the curve of my hip for an instant. I felt the fleeting contact through the thin material of my dress, respectful with an undercurrent of patriarchy. A minuscule dance of communication that, if I’d wished to ward off, I could easily have done so.

Contrast that with the younger man, now next to me at the bar. Without realising it I managed to get served a moment ahead of him and petulance seethed from him as I turned to ask him if the drink in front of me was his (it was not). He perceived me as an equal unlike the older man, but also as a rival. He was taller than me, but I had the edge on him intellectually and in my ability to navigate the other personalities within the environment. I had a suspicion the situational nuances were lost on him.

I am not sure which I prefer. Both had their moments of intrigue and pleasure in the interaction spawned. I am not entirely easy with the brief interaction couched within traditional gender roles. As if I betrayed the struggles of feminism by not only allowing it, but worse, by the brief surge of pleasure at the subtle physical dance of it. At being human, with other human beings.

As a closing thought, I came across this while reading a book on window box gardening yesterday. The tone of the book suggests the author as a brusque, English, matronly character. I can hear her voice ringing with an air of no nonsense as she delivers the last few words. Maybe being in the thick of life isn’t so bad after all.

“[in support of the practice of avoiding gloves while gardening] … this at least lets the hands feel what they are touching, whereas gloves do not, a large proportion of the pleasure being on the other side of the glove – one might as well wear gloves while making love.”
– Window Box Allotment, Penelope Bennett

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Impression and impact

Finally, I come to writing up the last small thing that made a difference from my holiday back in April.

Saturday’s (Sat 12th April) little thing was a casual observation made by someone I don’t know very well. They* introduced the conversation topic so it was also completely unexpected.

I’d been at the University of Sussex Physics & Astronomy department student ball that evening, which was wonderful. In conversation, I was asked how long it had been since I left my job at the university. The observation from my conversation partner was that I am still greatly missed. What this description leaves out is the emotional resonance behind the exchange of those few words. When I answered, the strength of genuine surprise from the other party crashed into my awareness and caught me utterly by surprise. Apparently I answered with a time period much longer than they anticipated. It has, in fact, been two and a half years.

I protested a little and my conversation partner asked me if I noticed the way ex-colleagues faces lit up when they saw me again. I had and this is a wonderful part of meeting up with old friends and acquaintances. It has been always been that way with the communities I’ve been a part of in the last six years of my life. Maybe I take it for granted a little?

I feel like I’m boasting but on the other hand, this is my attempt to give an honest account. My learning is that building relationships, networks and communities with people is what I do, what I love to do and what I will always do. It is lovely to know it has a positive impact and is missed when I am no longer in a position to be a part of a particular community.

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The pic is from Friday, when I stopped by the Uni to say hello to ex-colleagues after promising myself I’d not leave it as long before saying hi again this time. I love the fact that they’re colour co-ordinated and I promised them social media fame 😉

*I’ve just introduced the person in question to my blog, so if you are reading this and recognise the conversation above … erm (1) hope this isn’t too weird and 2) know that it had an impact on me. Thanks for reflecting something back to me that I’d never have seen from that perspective all by myself.

Things I never thought I’d say

I am still catching up. Yesterday I blogged about Sunday’s little thing that made a big difference, this post is about Monday’s little thing.

On Monday I resolved that I will try weightlifting. Yes, you heard me. For anyone who knows me in person, that may be one of the most unlikely things you’ve ever heard me say. Or perhaps not and that is only my self perception. Now, the practical execution of this is a way off – I need to investigate and figure out how to do this safely and with correct training first. However, I’m determined to do it.

This started as a recommendation by a friend, whose opinion on physical training and exercise I value highly. I vividly remember not believing running could ever be for me until I started doing it. Therefore I am open to the idea that there might be other ways to train that I would like to have in my life that I am not yet aware of. My friend Kay has been gently suggesting I should take up crossfit for a while now and I am busy resisting. Honestly, the thought of crossfit scares the bejesus out of me. Weightlifting, though, according to her account sounds much more like something I am happy to give a go.

There are many things that appeal to me about it, but the thing that really clinched it  (which I am going to share publicly precisely because I am mildly ashamed of it) is that Kay advises I can gain a stronger, flatter stomach by lifting weights. I have been unhappy with how my stomach looks for years and telling myself I don’t care as much as I do for the same amount of time. Pretty much ever since I got myself back to a sensible weight after being severely underweight. I have no desire to make myself unwell to have a more aesthetically pleasing stomach, but if I can work towards it while still being healthy, then I’m interested to give it a go.

I don’t think this is only about vanity (though it may be and I am slightly ashamed to admit it plays a part at all). I am interested to challenge myself and to undertake exercise that I don’t think is likely to result in pain or injury. I am also up for trying new things, especially things I never thought would appeal to me, in order to see what happens.

All of this from a conversation with a friend that we started on the spur of the moment without any particular forethought. Talking to people about stuff is great because it has the potential to open up things I had no idea about.

I’ll definitely post more about the weightlifting as and when I do something about it. I have to stick to my commitment and do this now, or I’ll make a liar of myself to anyone who read this. Public declarations of things are great too …

Today’s song is Owl City’s Fireflies, which I rediscovered while browsing old playlists – it conjures hopefulness and magic for me and seems appropriate for today – which is interesting cos I’ve spent chunks of today feeling cruddy, unwell and on the verge of tears. You know what, I don’t mind that I’ve been all over the place today – I know my life is going in the right direction, because that is my commitment to myself and I’m acting on it 🙂

Making a difference

I met an old friend today who thanked me for some advice I gave him three years ago. He was starting an MA part time while working full time, something I was just finishing and we were talking about seminar discussions and how scary the thought of speaking up was. Today we were discussing how we each found the challenge of studying an MA resulted in a massive increase in self confidence, something of great value to each of us given a common historic tendency to under estimate the potential of our contributions to the world at large.

He reminded me that I told him to do what I’d done – push myself to say one thing in each seminar, to contribute one point just to get used to it. He said “… you told me that if I kept on doing that I’d find myself saying more and more in seminars and I did!” Apparently he found it such good advice he recently passed it onto some students about to start an MA that he was talking to.

I remember devising that strategy for myself purposefully to get over my fear of contributing to a discussion and my euphoria at realising about nine months later that it was working. How wonderful to know that my sharing that was valuable to someone else and to discover they thought it worthy of passing on.

In a very small way, I made the world a better place 🙂 #ftw!

On unremarkable things …

Turning an intriguing book over in my hands to explore the back of the dust jacket, feeling the weight of it as I balance it on my palms, turning the pages and inhaling the faint odour of the ink and paper, then flipping at random to read a fragment and letting the words crash into my mind and encountering how they sit there and what ripples of thought they cause.

***

Reading can be an intensely physical experience, both in terms of the emotion conjured by the subject matter (I wrote a whole MA thesis on this subject) and simply in the experience of the physical object that is the book. The latter is one we tend to take for granted, or at least I certainly do. I have been taking time to tune into the physical experience of being in my quiet time over Christmas and am finding it very restorative.

There is something wonderful about the opportunity to immerse myself in a physical experience of discovering new sources of inspiration and information. I do it less and less now as a result of shortness of time and the ease of finding books and music (my main go to sources of inspiration) that I already have some idea I want via the internet. I did the former yesterday, I found myself in Skylark – a wonderful little stall in the Needlemakers in Lewes that sells a fascinatingly curated selection of books. I also had an ambling roam through the music in our local music store, Octave*. It was so lovely to look without any particular intention, just to be open to exploring.

[*As an aside: the first review posted on the link I’ve posted to Octave (the music shop) is hilarious. Have a quick read if you have a moment 🙂 ]

I found three books that I was completely unaware of and would be fascinated either to read or to give to the right person in my life (that would be someone different for each book as gift giving is ideally a deeply thoughtful thing). I love the idea of gifts being a tangible characterisation of something about the relationship between the involved parties – expressing something of me and something of how I understand the recipient.

A Little, Aloud
http://www.thereader.org.uk/shop/anthologies/a-little,-aloud/c-23/c-67/p-105.aspx

I love the idea of championing reading aloud and if I had children I’d have bought this book already. When I do have children I will definitely read aloud to them. Maybe I can borrow some children to read to in the meantime? Or at least give this book as a gift to someone with the instruction they read it aloud to their children. Or even choose a book I love and give it to someone with an instruction they read it to their children. See what I mean about wanting gift giving to be something of me and something of the other person?

How England Made the English
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/may/18/how-england-made-the-english-harry-mount-review

This sounds fascinating and I have a person dear to me in mind who may well love this book, it’s concept being the way a physical environment has created the way we English are. That does assume that the book is well and entertainingly written, which is something I cannot judge not having read it.

Stoner
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/22/john-williams-stoner-review

This is the one that really calls to me on a personal level based on the description on the cover. I’ve never before encountered John Williams or this book, but I have a fascination with the exploration of the beauty in the ordinary or superficially unremarkable moments of life. In fact, I very much want to read this but cannot justify spending the money on a brand new book right now. It will go on the list of things to read and if I’m lucky I’ll remember it at some point when I feel able to justify buying it for myself. Isn’t the serendipity of stumbling upon sources of inspiration at the right time part of the joy of the exploration?

A day without plans

I don’t cope very well without having a plan for how to occupy my time.

Today’s learning about myself is just how much I rely on planning and following self imposed rules to manage my anxiety levels. This is no bad thing, it drives me to be both organised and productive. I plan myself into achieving a lot.

My day started with a loose plan for coffee with a friend that didn’t make it to confirmation. No problem, I just needed to figure put what I wanted to do with my day. Therein lies the problem – I am crap at deciding what I want to do on the fly. In fact, I am pretty bad at tuning into what I want to do, full stop.

There are all sorts of reasons for this (may be a subject for another blog post) suffice it to say that what I want to do at any given time is only one of many considerations for what I eventually decide to do. My anxiety is that whatever I want to do is not good enough (other people’s judgments of me) Or that what I want to do reflects more the path of least resistance than something that will add to the grand tapestry of my life (my own judgment of me)…

I hadn’t made that last distinction until I wrote it just now. I definitely need to keep on moving away from “being good enough” and towards “adding to the grand tapestry”. However, sometimes the path of least resistance is okay too. In fact, deciding to honour one over another is a decision I can change at any time. This paragraph is very much me unplannedly thinking out loud, which is interesting as it does link back to the original point of this blog post on a number of levels …

I found myself in a cafe at the end of my adventures today and I had an epiphany where all my low level anxiety about my decision making during the day evaporated! I was wondering if being in the cafe rather than having a coffee at home (always my default option, as it is cheaper) was the right thing to do and I realised I was there just because I wanted to be.

I realised that is what today was about, simply deciding what I wanted to do rather than appealing to the plan or to someone else’s decision or rationalising every last detail. And my instincts about how to guide this are pretty good, if I give myself space to tune into them. I find it hard to do that, to put aside my anxiety about being productive for long enough to allow myself to be creative and see what happens. I find it incredibly restorative when I do, though, and I definitely want to master both planned and unplanned being. It is all about having faith in my decision making ability and not NEEDING to stick to the plan.

I’m working on it … !

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‘Self portrait of overly analytical young woman in a cafe’ 😉

When facing my demons / I clothe them and feed them …

A blog post within a blog post within a blog post … As you read on it will become clear why I say this. I wrote the text below the stars at the beginning of July while on a train journey to Cornwall and never got round to posting it. My apologies for tardiness, I would like to share it now as the thoughts are still relevant and possibly an important part of the ongoing narrative of my blog.

*******

It has been a while. I’d like to say that sometimes I get too busy living life to write about it, but that isn’t true. I half wrote this blog post in my head a little while ago and my blog posts are always fragments of the commentary on my experience that goes on, interminably, in my own head anyway.

What I get too busy for is the polish required to smooth the edges of a shard of my history into something I am prepared to share. And, inevitably, in the meantime the narrative I create for myself shifts subtly. Or less subtly. So it is with this fragment.

A friend once suggested to me that a woman’s jewellery box tells the history of her lovers. Somewhere in its depths the idea struck a chord with me, but I’ve not been recipient of much jewellery and I’ve had an uneasy relationship with many men who I’ve felt some kind of admiration for, not just those who are past lovers. My version is a song for each man who has had a noteable impact on how I feel about men and my relationship with them as a woman. I created this as a playlist back in May and it started with a song for my Dad.

At first I thought the capturing of this playlist was really significant, but since realised it really isn’t. So rather than sharing the playlist in this blog post (as I’d intended to do) know that I am going to delete it and stop worrying about hanging on to this corner of the past.

I am not sure where this new found ability to let the past go leaves this blog. I will keep on writing, rambling and sharing, but perhaps not with the heavy emphasis on where I’ve been. I have a hunch this will lead me into using my writing (mirroring how I am now using my life) to explore and share my future in the big wide world, which is no bad thing at all 🙂

I’m about to step off the train in Cornwall and enjoy being out there in the world rather than stuck in my own reminiscences.

Wish me luck!