Saturday, February 02, 2013

Really Thoughts


There’s a column in The Guardian’s Saturday magazine called ‘What I’m Really Thinking’.  It’s always anonymous, and it does just what its headline suggests: allows someone to tell their secrets without letting on who they are.

I was going to write for it tonight.  I counted the words of this week’s column, to see how many I’d be allowed.  I noted the email address.

It was that, or posting here.  But, I thought, too many people who might just still come here, over a year since I last posted, know who I am.  Do I really want them to know what I’m really thinking? 

Do I?  Do I care?  Don’t my best friends know anyway? 

I’m not sure, is the answer to that one.  I don’t think I talk about this very often.  I don’t know how to.

So I won’t be emailing in an edited-down piece of 250 words.  I will write here, I've decided, and let the thoughts flow: my 'Really Thoughts', that won’t let me rest, or sit peaceably with myself, until sitting on a page:

I’m fifty.  I don’t tell people that very often.  When the local journalist who interviewed me last year asked me, I declined to tell him on principle.  People start to put you in boxes, and decide things about you, and I’d much rather it came out, as it sometimes does once I have got to know someone, as a point of surprise.
Though there is slightly less surprise these days than there used to be, I’ve noticed.  It has long been a source of pleasure that there was always such a very long gap between what people guessed my age to be, and what it really is.  Recently I’ve found myself staring into my face, trying to map the infinitesimal changes which, compounded, ring in the extra years in a stranger’s perception of my age.
I’m a woman at 50 – actually I turned fifty last year, amid a series of gloriously planned, theatrical moments designed to make 2012 one of my best years yet.  It is really only now, ten months later, that the turning of the decade seems to have hit home.
Let’s look at the facts.  There are two ways of looking, I’ve discovered, depending on the day, say, or the weather, or my mood.
The first goes like this: I’m fifty and I have a stunning child of whom I’m inordinately proud and in 2010 I started a business doing something I have never done before, and at the end of last year, with a fairytale-like flourish to round off my special year, I won two awards for it.
The second, and the one currently playing at the cinema, runs as follows: I’m fifty, I’m an older mother, my extraordinarily unsuccessful marriage (which is not officially over yet because I can’t afford to get divorced) left me with literally nothing, having been forced to sell the only asset in which I had a large stake, my house, in order to pay off mounting debts; my business, though a runaway critical success, is a dismal financial failure and, more importantly than anything else at 9.15pm on a Saturday night, I am no one’s person.  I am alone.
The fifty thing.  I know I keep going on about it.  But something is happening over which I have little control, and I need to get an attitude before it obsesses me further.  Slowly, with perhaps one or two more people being thrown into the mix every day, slowly, slowly I am becoming invisible.  It is happening.
I have heard of this phenomenon from women, and their differing reactions.  Some love the fact that how they look no longer bothers their lives.  They can move through their lives unnoticed, reaching their destinations faster, unhampered by having to deal with the attentions and the judgements of men.
Others, like myself, feel bereft.  Now let’s face it, it’s not like I was ever heavily burdened by the attentions of men in the first place – being someone who grows on you with the knowing, and not one who makes an instant visual hit.  But there were, of course, always moments as I moved through the years.  To be honest, there are occasionally moments now – of admiration, of appreciation.  But now that the years are accelerating and the chances of finding a unique individual who would wish to share my thoughts, my life and my bed diminish, I feel the apparent, albeit unconfirmed, loss of such things just -  dreadful.
Having finally recovered enough of myself from the wreckage of my marriage to the Bim, I find the lack of physical contact in my life heartbreaking.  It’s like missing a limb, not sharing myself physically with another.  And I have discovered that it is getting harder and harder to maintain a healthy sense of myself as a younger-rather-than older person without that kind of intimate physical affirmation.  Will I ever, ever, I realise I am wondering, find someone who will embrace all of me again: my lived-in body, my stretchmarked stomach (once so astonishingly flat!); my less than perfect body lines?
These things, then, worry at me these days.  I am so busy with the day-to-day buffeting of life, ricocheting as I do from home to school to meeting, to the odd dinner with a friend, that I can’t often articulate this creeping fear, to myself, or to another.  I want to document it here so that I may know, one future day, what I was really thinking, at fifty, a woman, and alone.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Getting Here

It is almost as though I have had to write, yesterday and today.  It's as though if I don't channel the creative energy I have charging around in me I'll combust!

What happened?  I keep asking myself.  How, how did the shift occur?  I hardly dare trust it, but certainly for some weeks now I have been waking without the constant, debilitating sense of failure and fear of the summer months.  Instead I have a conscious determination to effect the changes I want to see for myself and Anna-mouse.  These changes are much the same as they were a year ago, and six months ago, but somehow they appear to have become attainable, rather than desperate fantasies serving to re-inforce that awful subtext of gloom.

In the middle of August, really not that long ago, there was a day when I gave in: I arrived at the doctor's office, sat with my head in my hands, and wept.  When I returned home I sat at my computer and did the best thing I could have done that day to keep myself sane.  I wrote to a circle of closest friends and told them that I was not okay.

The robust, steady, loving and practical replies I received in response to my outpouring upheld me at that time when I could barely imagine a well and happy me.  And it was the knowledge that I really wasn't alone, even though I so frequently felt it, that kept me walking out.  Literally.  A cleverer part of me decided that moving my anxiety was better than sitting with it, so every day I took myself to a local playing field and walked around it.  Round and round.  As many times as I could.  Which wasn't many at first, because I was weak and my chest hurt and my body had forgotten that it is strong.

Somehow, I began to lift.  After many long and moving discussions with friends about its pros and cons, I decided to put the packet of Prozac the doctor had prescribed me to the back of the cupboard and spent instead an extraordinary amount of money I didn't have on vitamins and minerals and herbs.  I began the tortuous mental unpicking of what was left of the Bim and me, to free him for his new love, and free me to accept it.

A glorious person gave me some money.  I bought some nights in a luxurious hotel, took hot bath after hot bath, and when I returned from that trip I knew that I could begin the previously unthinkable task of selling my house.  It sold!

And here we are, four months, one house sale, one acting job, one school term, one near-perfect first date and one month of daily blogging later, in an entirely different place.  I shouldn't be surprised - I mean, it was me who made the journey - but how did I get here?  Yes, okay, the near-perfect first date has had much to do with my recent delight with life, because in just half a day the lovely youngish man reminded me that possibility comes in all shapes and guises, and that it comes to me, as well as to others.  But now I know that the near-perfect first date might remain a near-perfect only date you might expect me to be diving, mightn't you?

But I'm not - and I don't know why!  Inexplicable.  Really, I wish I could name the thing which took me from that summer place and brought me here.  I want to bottle it so that when the darkness comes again I can unstopper the bottle and take a swig.  Or, more satisfyingly, give it to others to ease their pain.

I have a feeling that time has something to do with it.  A sense of the trajectory of one's own life is a perspective almost impossible to have when young.  Now that I am ending a decade I am struck with an urgency to act.  I have a sense that if I don't act now, while I can, much could pass me by.  I have discovered that it adds a piquancy to the smallest moment, thinking in this way.

While I live some more trying to figure all this out, I want to record that it is simply amazing, recent morning after recent morning, to wake with hope instead of dread.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tea Break

It was a day full of rain here in the south east of England, last Sunday.

Most of the day the clouds held the water just above our heads: great grey cushions bursting with drops.  Finally, around five, they began to fall.

I was outside when the rain began, at the tea tent, because the country house in which we were filming did not allow food and drink inside.  The house was somewhere north west of London, buried in rolling fields dotted with sheep.  We all 'aaahhed!' when we first walked in.  It was the perfect setting for our scene - a library masquerading as a public school staffroom during the First World War.

I had been awake since some ungodly hour in the morning.  It was still dark when my driver picked me up.  The luxury!    We flew around the M25 as dawn pinned the trees to the horizon.  These days, when I find myself actually doing the thing I've always wanted to do since donning a pair of fingerless mittens and a scowl to play the part of Scrooge at the age of seven, I am wise enough to savour every minute.

The 'second' met me at Base Unit and guided me across the muddy forecourt of the outbuildings to my portion of a winibago: my own little portable room, complete with shower and toilet!  Soon they brought me to make-up; then it was back to shiver at the icy hands of the wardrobe lady as she laced me into a corset.  Instantly I am standing straighter, my figure is transformed and once the clothes are on I have become the stern, high-collared person I have been cast to play.

Then begins the waiting, a very special art every actor has to learn - particularly challenging in a corset, when sitting down for too long or in too low a chair is agony.

Just before lunch they call me and the rest of the women in my scene to a 'line-up' for the cameras.  We are driven through the estate to the house and ushered into a billiard room, where we run our lines in a mood verging on hysterical.

I love actors, I think.  I love the way we get through.  I love the way we all know we're dispensable, and make light of it, and deliver, excellently, because we also know that we're better than our parts and that we will make the thing look even better than it already is.


Looking round our characterful shapes and faces, I see that thought has gone into our casting, and I know that it is not often that a chance like this comes around, to work with the best.

Suddenly, we're in the room and 'on'.  One, two, three ACT! a favourite tutor of mine used to say at drama school, and it was a bit like that, really.  We were there to deliver, almost first time, which is what we did.

A couple of hours later the scene was in the can.  There was a little frisson as we realised that a couple of the series' stars were filming in the room next door - they wandered by in evening dress, and for all the world, bar the cables, and cameras, and countless crew, we were there, in the latter stages of the First World War, glimpsing the staircase of a gentlemen's club.

Someone mentioned tea and sandwiches and a couple of us grabbed our coats and headed out into the bitter cold.  Lunch had been hours ago, and anyway we couldn't eat much because of the corsets. We grabbed polysterene cups and thick cut, generously filled triangles and giggled our way through the break.

All of a sudden I was the only one out there, nursing my steaming tea, facing the dark as the rain began to fall.  Rivulets of water glittered in the headlights of a location truck as they coursed from the roof of the tea tent.  I could see my breath.

And I felt happy.  Looking through the rain to the black fields beyond, taking a break from what I do best, contemplating the year that has passed and the year that is to come, I was happy.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Update

Remember that 'really quite possible first date'?

Happening.

Tomorrow.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Postscript

Oh the luxury of not having to post!

But the eagle-eyed among you will note I have not quite managed to stay away...

Readers will no doubt forgive a little slow down before working my way up to frequent posting pitch again.

And a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone who accompanied me on the NaBloPoMo journey.  What a generous, big-hearted community the blogosphere is.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Finale

I have to catch the 2255! I shriek above the cacophany that is London traffic on a Wednesday night not long before Christmas.

We are legging it, fast as we can, from Covent Garden to St Pancras to catch the hi-speed home.  A fair old walk at the best of times.

These central London streets that I know so well are aglow with Christmas light frippery.  Every bar, every cafe, every restaurant and hotel sports its share of winking, twinkling fairy lights.  It is mild and blowy, and after the elegance and gravitas of the ballet viewed from the 'gods' of the Opera House, I am crazy with life.

I really can't miss this train!  I'm thinking - and I really can't.  To write twenty-nine posts in as many days, and then fall at the last fence because I can't make it home before midnight?  Unthinkable!

We make it with moments to spare, shouting out short-cuts, dodging day dreamers, hurtling up the escalators and into the train triumphant.  We chat happily all the way and I leave my friend one stop before her own, dashing down the platform and into the car park to my car.

Come on, come on!  I berate myself when I can't find the car key, throwing the contents of my handbag onto the tarmac.

It's an exhilarating, somewhat hair-raising drive home.  I'm gleeful as Kent Town's own lights, tame in comparison with London's excess, fly by me on the bridge, and hold my breath as I accelerate through an amber light.

The cat greets me at the door, I climb the stairs two by two, flick all the switches, press all the buttons... and here I sit in my coat, casting glances at my watch as I have done for most of my twenty-nine posts during NaBloPoMo in order to slip this final posting under the wire before midnight.

The day's sore head and tension have lifted.  I am filled with the possibility of all things.  In the next few weeks alone life holds a house move to the new place which Anna-mouse will make our own; a really quite possible first date, and the knowledge that I can write, fast, anytime, and people want to read it.

Hopeful, more hopeful than I have been in a very long time, that I have come unstuck and am free to move on.

Ladies and gentlemen, thirty posts, a bow, curtain.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New worlds

I keep starting this post and then deleting what I've written.

I've been wanting to muse about love, and the lovely youngish man.

But I'm tired and instead I find myself simply marvelling at what it is - I mean, what's the process? - that the human heart goes through to recover from injury and fully engage once again.  It's incredible, this organ of ours.  Really, I'm speechless with admiration at the human facility to suffer, recover and carry on.

And when I have a look, I see that my own recovery is far more complete than I thought it was.  I guess the Summer had something to do with it: falling into a very black place, seeking the advice and solace of friends, and eventually, slowly, dragging myself out from there.  

My despair was fuelled two-fold, I remember:  it was sparked by my financial situation growing more and more desperate, and then the bonfire was well and truly lit by the Bim meeting his new love.  It absolutely wasn't that I wanted to be with him in stead of her; it was, I later understood, that his meeting Mary left me having to face being, and feeling, completely alone.

It took longer to admit to myself that I was not only alone, but very lonely.  I struggle with writing this even today.  I'm not sure why I find it such a difficult thing to admit to.  I suppose it's because I want to believe that I can be all things to myself, but I found myself alone in the car recently speaking my loneliness out loud for the first time, and I knew then with a heavy heart that sooner or later I would have to look for the remedy.  

But then the remedy came towards me on Friday night with an open heart and huge smile and it didn't seem such a scary thing after all, re-connecting with the company of men.  And yes it would be wonderful to feel that connection again - but if that doesn't happen the gift of the encounter is immense.  

Suddenly, whole worlds out there have come into focus again, and I may not have to experience them alone.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Living the Life

I am currently too excited to think, speak, or write.

It's a long time since 'Livvy's Life' was about... well, life.

Real, live, happening right now Life!

Can't stop.

xx

Sunday, November 27, 2011

This Weekend

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note and a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note; a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse and a house for us to live in.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note; a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse; a house for us to live in and an art gallery in a disused shop.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note; a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse; a house for us to live in; an art gallery in a disused shop and a lovely man inside it.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note; a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse; a house for us to live in; an art gallery in a disused shop; a lovely man inside it and a hour of conversation.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note; a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse; a house for us to live in; an art gallery in a disused shop; a lovely man inside it; an hour of conversation and a glass which was half full.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note; a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse; a house for us to live in; an art gallery in a disused shop; a lovely man inside it; an hour of conversation; a glass which was half full and two awards from fellow bloggers for my blog.

This weekend I went to market and found a five pound note; a new pair of school shoes for Anna-mouse; a house for us to live in; an art gallery in a disused shop; a lovely man inside it; an hour of conversation; a glass which was half full; two awards from fellow bloggers for my blog...

...and a large sign right in front of me so that I could not fail to read it which read:
'Livvy, you are going the right way.'

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reviewing the Surprise

Quiet.  Contemplative.  Retreating back into my single space for one and a small, golden-haired half.  The happy, glowing bubble in which we stood to hold our conversation seems barely credible today.  Did it happen like that, I want to ask?

But it was important.  It was momentous!  The lovely youngish man I met yesterday re-introduced me to possibility: to connection: to love.

Often in recent years I have looked at what I assumed to be the mountain I would have to scale even to put myself into an available space and dismissed it as unthinkable.  I began to feel older, really so much older, and with sadness I recognised that the Bim had taken something intangible but necessary from me where relationships with men are concerned.  Something in me shrank so small when I was lied to so many times by the person in whom I had placed my trust.

So yesterday was joyous because suddenly I understood that almost without noticing it I have moved away from that position, and there wasn't a mountain to climb at all!  Instead, there was a clear flat open plain with a beautiful horizon to navigate, and all I had to do was decide to step onto it, which I did, when I persuaded myself to enter the gallery alone.

It is possible I may never see the lovely youngish man again.  It would be a shame that the obvious connection we both felt would not be explored, but it would not be a tragedy.

Loving another person is such a brave thing to decide to do.  Yesterday evening, for the first time in almost a decade, I was allowed to remember how the very first steps to that decision feel.  What I was reminded is that sometimes you don't have to spend an ounce of energy making the decision at all.  Sometimes, if you simply choose to take it, the way is clear.

I began to believe, then.  That love... is a possibility.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Surprise

I was tired.  I dragged myself there.  My friend the Poet was one of the artists exhibiting; Anna-mouse was happily ensconced with her favourite playdate playmate, and the Bim was all lined up to pick her up, so I had no excuse not to go.

I sighed and gave myself a team-talk as I neared the place: Come on, Liv, you can do it...  Arriving at social events alone is never the nicest.

I kept my eyes peeled for the Poet and found him glowing and happy in suit and purple tie.  I relaxed, and was handed a non-alcoholic beer.  And then someone was walking towards me with a huge smile, as if we were old friends, and I thought yes, I met you once, I've no idea where, but I'll play along.  He knew who I was, though, and we simply began to talk.

What can I tell you?  How shall I put it?  Surpisingly, utterly unexpectedly and in an utterly unlooked for way, this person changed the picture.  The life picture.  My life picture.  Just by standing there and talking and appearing to be interested in what I was saying, and wanting to know more.

At one point the Poet asked me to say hello to his wife at the other end of the gallery, as they were about to leave.  Reluctantly I did as I was told, and I left my coat there saying I was coming back, and when I looked some ten minutes later, there he was, waiting for me, and I returned to the same spot as before, and with a Hello again the conversation resumed.

Eventually, I had to leave.  I was supposed to be cooking Anna-m's supper.  I could only think she must be very hungry, but it wasn't worrying me like it normally would.

I said I had to go.  I said his name and said what a pleasure it had been talking to him.  I wondered how we would say goodbye.  He made it easy by stepping into a brief hug.  I thought, I like the way his body feels.

Driving home, stopped at the traffic lights, I burst into sad-happy tears.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

House Hunting

I am looking for a house.  The one I live in now is sold.  If all goes to plan, I am supposed to be moving out in three weeks time.  I won't go into the financial contortions that have brought me to this point.  Suffice to say that the immediacy of the move dawned on me with force today, now that The Deadline is over for another month.

Yes, I agree, it's quite astonishing I've barely mentioned my imminent move in (quick fanfare) twenty-three straight days of blogging.

The house that I'm looking for will be up for rent.  The house I live in I own.  Well, I jointly own this house with the Bim.  I won't be owning the house I'm looking for, it's to do with the aforementioned contortions.  No, I'll be renting that one.

I did go to see two houses for rent about a week ago.  I fell in love with the first one.  I suspected I was going to when the property details described it as a 'one-off'.  You know something's up with a house when they describe it as a one-off.  A 'house with character', they said.  A one-off house with character: someone like me (who wouldn't mind being similarly labelled) is going to fall in love with that, now aren't they?

It was the quirkiest house I have ever seen.

It's an odd shape, isn't it, I said to the painter putting the finishing touches to the triangular sitting-room.

Ah, he said knowledgeably, that's because it's a wedge.


Trust me to fall in love with a wedge.   He was right, though: the house had been wedged in between two others, like a slice of pizza.  Most of the rooms were triangular-shaped, or some other shape whose name I should have learned in Geometry.  It would have been useful, living there, for helping with Anna-m's homework.  ('Mum, is this an isoceles or a scalene triangle?'  'I don't know, darling, go and have a look at the bathroom').

So anyway, I said yes I'd like to live in this wedge but the landlord cast his vote some other way: probably something to do with the financial contortions and not being able to prove that it has been me, not the Bim, paying the mortgage on our house for years.

The lettings agent, a fierce young man whose untruths I recognised because of my stirling practise with the Bim, took me to see another house as balm for not winning the first one.  I was so disappointed that I wasn't going to have to grapple with wedge-shape problems like how I was going to fit my rectangular furniture into the triangular sitting-room, that I couldn't appreciate the second house he showed me.  I walked around it, yes, and everything about it suggested that life would be easier there than living in the wedge, but I was heartbroken to have to settle for a conventional second best, and said no, I don't want to live here, thank you.

Today something made me drive to the second house again.  I got out and peered through the window and thought Perhaps I could live here.  When I got home I called the fierce young man and made an appointment to take Anna-mouse to see it on Saturday.

I'm looking for a house.