Monday 23 May 2011

Births, Deaths and Marriages

The royal wedding seems ages ago now doesn’t it? It was quite a leap over that long weekend from world media focus on marriage (which we are taught is the ultimate act of love) to that of killing with the execution of Osama Bin Laden (whom we are taught was evil personified.) I suspect that those who felt some form of elation about the former probably did also about the latter. Neither served to make me feel more joyous, hopeful or secure on this increasingly fragile planet of ours.

Once again breaking news serves us with a tapestry of craziness fuelled by lies and consumerist propaganda. Those fucking seasonal ads to keep us all on track with what we should be doing with our money and time as we move from winter to spring to summer to autumn and to winter again - how we are encouraged to view life cycles as cyclical spending, focusing our minds on the external rather than the potential wealth of wisdom that can come from our internal worlds. There are lots of Homebase adverts on now for the old D.I.Y with the warm weekends, thank god for D.I.Y- a life saver for many men trapped in marriages of inconvenience who look to play out their hunter gatherer fantasies. For some, mending the garage roof or doing the patio is one of the ‘allowed’ time alone men get in marriages, just as women get their weight watchers and girls night out groups and spa days.

I know some married men living the suburban dream whom without the constant pursuit of endless DIY improvement and repairs would probably put a gun to their head before they would sit still and allow themselves to feel their fears and initiate a discussion with their wives. I relate to this behaviour however, as when I go home to my small hometown in Scotland, I spend a lot of my time either in the garage, in the garden or on the golf course to escape the heaviness indoors, of my mother and myself and our complex history weighted with grief and guilt - that in more testing times can feel like a swamp; such is the nature of the mother daughter relationship. Of course there are many enjoyable moments too - nice dinners together, an appreciation of good humour, sitting down the harbor in the sunshine talking and mum showing genuine interest in my score card when I’m back from my round of golf! Light and dark times; such is life.

It’s not just me who needs this breathing space, she needs to do certain things in order to cope with her life otherwise it becomes overwhelming. She needs to do her Thai chi and her relaxation breathing or her crosswords and soup making. We, the both of us, are a marriage of sorts surviving our journey together - the nature of all human relationships. I do observe the marriages of my peer group with fascination. Many have, what is called, a ‘regular life’ - the one that is sold to us from the moment we are old enough to read and understand pictures. One that I have envied in times of loneliness, but as one of my long time married friends always says - ‘the grass is always greener.’

I do not and have never had this ‘regular life’ that we are encouraged to aim towards. It fascinates me deeply and always has. Here is a familiar story we can all relate to, either because we know people like this, we were made from people like this or we are those people. The family. Two people initially drawn together out of lust if they’re lucky, now sharing a life sealed with a certificate and a band of gold, in sickness and in health…raising a family, sharing a double bed almost every night for twenty odd years…working hard in their respective jobs, providing their children with moral guidance and experiences from which they may grow, plans in place for them and a strict weekly routine of exercise and hobbies to keep them occupied. Hats off to this decent type of family for their commitment to doing the best they possibly can - much more effort than most are prepared to put in. Exhausting and repetitive I ask myself or comforting and ultimately avoidant? There is little talking between them of course, little truth if any at all. Much is said in many marriages and indeed in many relationships but not much talking. They begin through time to realize that they enjoy and want opposite things from life, they both live in a state of compromise, but are united in raising their kids. He, like so many men has never shed a tear in front of his wife or spoken about his true feelings and needs - yet when the lager flows he talks to a friend (considered to be a truth seeker) about his pain from various losses that still haunt him, the alcoholism and dysfunction from his own family of origin, and his longing for a time when he was a young man where he felt truly free to be whatever he desired - now a distant memory he reconnects with late at night through the music of his youth playing from a radio station form time to time. There is no sober talk of these subjects or the longings he harbors or the burden either bares. Life ticks along, the kids reach puberty and start to become their own people, the threat of exodus looms and mum and dad begin acting out their fears of being left alone. A sense of boredom and restlessness sets in; their minds increasingly turn to escape routes whenever they drink as they have done with regularity for years now. She wants more of this and he wants more of that and as they both struggle to not face what is a critical time in their individual lives they secretly grow more and more apart and seek to mask the anxiety those fears bring. Eventually it has turned into a “if it wasn’t for the kids…” scenario - very common this mindset with the married couples.

With mid life crisis building, it must be exhausting to keep that lid on a storm; like trying to contain a tsunami within a teacup. Of course you do come across the odd relatively happy family where there is a remarkable capacity for open hearted loving communication, where two parents have an emotional dialogue with one another and their children, but it is a rare thing, very beautiful when it happens but very rare. I’m not for one moment suggesting that ‘gay people’ who have chosen the ‘civil partnership’ or not are free of this cycle. I would say however, that because many people in same sex relationships do not have children, they do find it easier to leave one another when it starts to break down - this could be a healthy thing necessary for individual growth or a bailing out too soon before real depth has even taken place depends on the circumstances. I do feel that not having children does encourage the lesbian relationship (the one I have personal experience of the most) to remain in a perpetual state of adolescence. As we grow together, we do need a third thing to help our love deepen, a third thing other than a therapist (though we all of us need that for a while, and good one’s are hard to come by.) I mean, if not a child or a dog then shared passion - something else that we can both love together and separately, some way for us to be creative, to birth new life in some way.

If I’m truly honest I believe that the combination of two women is thee most difficult and perhaps limiting of all. The tendency to make our relationships symbiotic and claustrophobic and co-dependant can set in very quickly. Whilst all relationships are hard work, at least the heterosexual pairing has by its very nature and oppositeness that is so needed. Ying and yang, male and female. There are many jokes told amongst lesbians within our community (again a term we are so used to hearing - and I use it, but what the fuck does it really mean- 'our community'?) - about how quickly our relationships end - the old one about being together for two years; which in heterosexual terms is the equivalent to ten. Many of us have been in a relationships for longer but at what point did we really stop making it healthy? Stop having sex, stop talking, or for most even start talking? I know how many lesbians recoil in horror at the mention of our need for the phallus in some form. Lesbian, heterosexual, bi-sexual identified women, we are all women and we all need to be filled up, it is our nature. Therefore how do we really feel about the penis? About men? One way to look at it is that it doesn’t matter what we do, we can express love in whatever way we feel is our way. However the whole point of being psychologically minded is to explore what lies beneath, and on this subject all I’m saying in a nutshell is there are many complex issues that are seen as taboo by lesbians which invariably are about our feelings about us as sexual women facilitating masculinity within our relationships in the absence of an actual potent male. Some lesbians I truly believe deny themselves a pleasure they feel afraid to explore, as if it were a betrayal to the original meaning of what we are. Many older lesbians in my age group and above had to rise above enormous social pressure when we were younger in order to be seen let alone accepted, something I just think most young lesbians take for granted now. That pressure was so great at times it left us with no space to explore how we really felt inside about what we are. Now societal pressure to prove how ‘positive’ a ‘role model’ we can be in order to combat “homophobia” can leave many of us desperate to please; grateful just to be accepted. So when are we allowed to discuss what our same sex relationships are really like? When can we face our shadow without being ‘unhelpful to the cause;’ Address the patterns we continually follow? We are often caught between a rock and a hard place, fighting for the right to be what we are, which is so far removed from what we are told is the ‘norm’ to trying to proving that we are ‘normal everyday people like you so please accept us.’ If, like me, you are into your third decade of carrying this burden you will no doubt be feeling well battle worn by now.
Having all this to bare, it's no wonder that in our forties many of us arrive in new relationships in a completely exhaustive state, making the other a life raft in which we can just curl up and go to sleep in until other help appears. I’m not being judgemental about who and what way people choose to express their sexuality and love, I’m merely saying that all of us, gay, straight, married unmarried, we are all prone to the same disillusionment and difficulties in making relationships healthy and loving and open in a society that discourages truth and pumps us with fear and unrealistic expectations of others. How many marriage vows or wedding proposals actually speak the truth and go along the lines of “I promise to use you to escape from myself” or “I hope you can be everything to me and fill the void within.”
For better or for worse…as Ryan Gosling’s character Dean shouts at his wife in the brilliant 'Blue Valentine' as she is leaving him. "For better and for worse right? That’s what you said well this is my worse. THIS is my worse.” He cries. Yet people keep saying things that they just don’t know the full meaning of, the weight of. The power of words to hurt, to heal, the power of words. As I have said in my earlier blogs there is only one thing we can be sure of in this life on this earth and that is that everything changes - not what we are promised when we sign up for the old marriage deal uh? For most of us, we jump into arms, beds and contracts with people that we barely know, as they do not know themselves yet.

In mid life we start to feel death all around us, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, death in all its forms whether it be the actual death of our parents or friends to accidents and disease, the death of a love we thought would last forever, as in my case, or the feelings of loss that come with failed expectation and the letting go of former ideals and the tools of the past which were once so easy to use as a comfort seeker but now feel so redundant. For most, the pains of my age group are too much to bear and the chance to embrace this as a time of great renewal for a second term (health permitting) is too often eclipsed by the fear of loss and change it inevitably brings. As people continue to look outwards for the answers, the chaos within grows. Hence the term ‘mid life crisis’ and I’m seeing it in almost everyone I know my age.

I recently had dinner with a dear old friend whom I was once inseparable with but drifted away from over the years. She is a rampant capitalist and proud Thatcherite; on her bookshelf she keeps a copy of Maggie’s autobiography, which she queued for hours to have signed some years back. She has various properties and a constant tan from popping over to the South of France (I admit my working class ness will always envy the constant tan.) She believes nice things make us happy. She appears bright, chirpy and positive and is very excited about 'The Big Society'. She has recently gone back to the city to work, as she wants to “give it one more go.” What is “it?” I asked. “To make a go of it.” She replied, riled at my squinting and suggestion that her return to the city was in fact a classic mid life crisis move, she launched into an upbeat monologue in which she dismissed all notions of this, claiming it was indulgent to have therapy and think in that way and that I should get out more because I’m too isolated, too in my own head. (That certainly is my working day.) She spoke of nice restaurants in parts of London that I would love; yet I have no interest in visiting unless I was evacuated there in an emergency. She believes whole-heartedly in the “you just get on with it” ethos. This was the motto of my ex. I couldn’t disagree with that; you do indeed just get on with it - 'It' being the amazing and complicated journey of life which is full of enormous fucking suffering through which if we turn and face with truth and courage we can emerge from bathed in the very light we seek to find in all the other ridiculous ways (that serve us with nothing but a disloyalty to ourselves.) People who believe that thinking too much is not a good thing are afraid of what difficult feelings lurk beneath the surface, feelings that arise as we re visit our past and face how perhaps we have treated people and allowed ourselves to be treated. I believe the key to healing is to revisit in order to let go, not for the fainthearted I know. The task of owning our shit is not an easy one, but we all deserve this process called individuation, and that cannot be reached by just brushing it under the carpet and ‘Getting on with it.’ My friend shared her anxieties about having to maybe be in a position to look for love elsewhere if her current relationship was truly over. She said it doesn’t get any easier as we age to find someone. (Have to agree with her there.) We joked about how despite pushing 40kgs on the old bench press, it has less results as it did in our thirties. Yes our bodies change I do find that pushing weights and the daily press-ups of my entire adult life have more of a maintenance affect rather than improvement. Our skin begins to loosen, our hair needs more coloring to hide the grey and the hairdresser begins to suggest ‘permanent color’ whist we experience a mounting anxiety about our own lack of permanence on this planet and of those we have grown to need around us.

Every breaking second the news and media reports lives destroyed and taken away in an instance through war, or man made and natural disaster. We are constantly warned about the threat of “terror” (I always hear Vincent Price’s voice saying that.) Told that owning certain items and inhabiting certain lifestyles based on the envy of others will make us happy. With these images uploaded into our subconscious we venture out into the world each day armed with all this fear. It’s no wonder humans need to numb themselves most of the time as a coping strategy, it is this cycle of fear and the accompanying numbness that consumerism perpetuates and relies on - for as soon as we feel afraid we are taught to reach for the company of others in mindless chatter and manic laughter, flick through colorful magazines at pictures of botoxed faces with huge white teeth and fake breasts, with labels pointing to their various clothing items telling us how we can replicate them for half the price! The anti depressants, the fags, the cable TV with its abundance of channels featuring a cornucopia of young American’s with their totally totally totally…the endless bottles of wine we now consume. The fake spirituality with countless yoga classes yet still so fucking held in. The DIY must do, must fix this holiday (although some of that can be fun I admit it.) I asked one of my married male friends what he will do when all the work in and outside his modest property is finally completed - “there will always be something to do, don’t you worry" he winked knowingly.

I will never forget accompanying my mother to church a couple of years back and talking later downstairs to one of the many bohemian members there about mid life. To which my mother said “I was 43 when I lost your father, lost my job and had to bring you up on my own and run a house, I had no time for a mid life crisis.” I was stunned into silence. I have never forgotten that, so fucking sad. The truth was my mother was having a crisis of some sorts for a large part of my childhood, as indeed was my father. I learnt stuff about my dad and his history that even my mother didn’t know and I watched them both eagle eyed as I was throughout childhood and am again now. My mother was never allowed (like so many women of her era) to show grief and pain. Not over the loss of her children, which led to my adoption, or the loss of her independence, which resulted in marrying an old school Scottish man of a certain era. She was hard as nails at times, like her mother was to her, a formidable woman defiant to the patriarchal father in law who governed his family in an era where men didn’t even push prams.

It is unbelievable what my mother and many women have endured in family life. I often feel such guilt about their generation about how they worked too much, how the expression of emotions and sexuality within their human relationships was discouraged. How nobody talked about their real fears or even identified them for that matter. All the fallout from two world wars trickling down the family line from broken man and woman to broken man and woman. In my book 1979 I write about the insanity of the silence that purveyed after my father died and still to this day, nobody really asked me how I felt about it. I only really began talking about it 25 years later when I wrote the book. It was just their way of coping, the silence, men and woman of that era who just prescribed to the whole ethos of 'just getting on with it'. What goes on within the individual souls of those in marriage we often do not know, they are seldom given a voice. So often they are bound together in a duty that they have undertaken, and in my parents generation that duty was for life no matter what…so when we congratulate couples on their long and seemingly ‘happy marriage’ how do we know how happy they really are with themselves? We are always told who alarming the rising divorce statistics are, how it seen as mark of a society in downward spiral. Nobody can deny on many levels we certainly are hurtling rapidly towards the conclusion that the way we have been told to live is just not working. So perhaps the growing numbers of divorces are actually a result of people waking up to themselves. I sometimes feel families are necessary for a while in order to procreate and when the children become adults its time for the adults to get in touch with their child within and leave for brighter greener pastures, and so on. I do see a lot of people who seem happier in their second marriage or big relationship they enter into in their late forties and fifties, once everyone including them has really grown up. There is a lot to be said for the positive changes and awareness in our current society, and like I have said repeatedly before, if we could take our awareness of emotions and psychology from now and combine it with a simple life with less emphasize on material wealth as it was back in the day (Pre free market lunacy)

I think about my biological mother now in her sixties. I think about how she must feel so fucking cheated at being told to go to a home in secret and give birth to her baby (me), hand me over to strangers then come back again and ‘get on with things.’ How her and millions of women like her in the 40’s. 50’s and 60’s in particular but for many other years were told that they must give up their children as they were unmarried or pregnant and therefore a source of great social embarrassment. What scale of heartbreak must they carry their whole lives through after we are torn from them? How unfair it must seem to them that many young women can now have children alone and be given social housing, support and acceptance whilst they bare the life long scars of a less compassionate time. We all know the resentment that many of us have experienced whilst crippled by mounting income tax, about the growing number of young girls in this country having a baby then being provided housing and money without any contribution to a system that is so unforgiving on those who work for an average wage. However, we must bare in mind that mindset itself comes from a place of emotional and financial impoverishment - the same backdrop that leads to addiction. Not getting what you need when you are young makes you think you should get whatever you want for free when you are older. The suckling becomes the dealer on the street, or the nipple of the welfare state. Only the truth and acknowledgement of what system created this cycle, this widening gap between rich and poor will remedy this and only love - be it a tough one at times and healing will eradicate it. This will not come from the work of politicians across any party, whom govern or oppose with little emotional intelligence driven but by linear thinking, indulging in belligerent exchanges with one another, trading lies and deceit in exchange for votes whilst paying lip service to bankers and co operations making their wealth through unscrupulous and unethical means.

What is upon us now is work cut out for the lateral thinkers, the artists in all their guises, the psychotherapist willing to embrace heart as well as mind in order to heal the wounds of everyday family life, those of an esoteric nature who combine an ancient wisdom which respects mother nature and our relationship with the sun, moon and stars. Do not forget that spirituality is life itself, we are all a part of it whether we embrace it or not. Spirituality is not to be confused with joining a cult or attending a church and its religious practices, which can often seek to judge and oppress.

As a child I would listen to all the conversations that went on around me with adults and sometimes record them once I had possession of my rather cumbersome Hitachi tape recorder somewhere in the mid seventies. I would observe the mindless chitchat; the gossip and the exaggerated rehashed stories from the events of the day amongst those around me during get togethers. I would despair of the life that lay ahead, where contact with others seemed for most of the time to be based on exchanging information or reporting back. I made promises in my mutterings (alone or to my dog Hector) that I would learn what lay beneath the veneer, and so years later I turned it into making a living. Sadly, most of my working life and the potential to have loving relationships were eclipsed by all my emotional baggage and damage of that time and later. Until finally, I met someone whom I thought I could spend my life with, someone whom I shared an alliance with, who seemed so familiar from the first moment she put her arms around me. Someone whom I opened my heart, body and soul to in a way I have never before and her to me. Someone I saw as my life raft, whom had promised me the future I so desperately wanted. But guess what folks? It didn’t work out; I wasn’t ready and either was she. Both our pain from earlier in life and how it manifests in our hearts in our pathologies drove us apart.

I choose to sleep alone now and have done for a while. I am learning to be with me - long long overdue. I finally have stopped running from one to the next; an all too familiar pattern I have seen and experienced amongst lesbians in particular. I am stopping with me for a while. (As a Libran ruled by Venus with my moon, Mars, Venus and Mercury in Scorpio trust me it’s not easy, but I’m growing to make peace with it.) Its very hard and very lonely but I’m so aware now that one can only be comfortable with others when one is comfortable with oneself. People confuse liking being in relationship with avoiding being alone. Both are necessary. With all these words everywhere in this age of Internet, it can all feel overwhelming at times, and I am aware I have written a lot on this. I would now like to go somewhere without words and just rest now. Have you ever been in a hot, quiet, desolate, desert-like place, perhaps driven miles across sun baked land where you have pulled over and got out of the car to hear nothing but the heat and the crickets? Or gone to the top of a hill or mountain and heard and felt nothing but the wind? These are moments we need in order to balance out al this wordy stuff. It is the non-spoken moments of touch that have impacted on me the most in my life - one is the touch of her, my big love so far and the other is that of my father, when after his late shift smelling of cigarettes and waterproofs from his motorbike he would come up to my bed and stroke the side of head, his large hands making the noise of the sea in a shell across my ear until I slept. This small gesture in our very short time on this earth together has stayed with me for my entire life.

All we can do is be as brave and courageous as we can, be as forgiving as we can, stop lying to ourselves and others and stop hiding and masking - but only when we are ready (and trust me you know when you are ready.) We cannot be too harsh on ourselves and those who are not ready for this honesty. As the late and great comedian Bill Hicks said - “We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution" and we should seek to experience as much as humanly possible. We in this era and we with good health in this part of the world are afforded the luxury of that and we owe it to ourselves and to our parents and their parents who perhaps never got the chance. Don’t let the bullshit out there affect you and deaden you, don’t believe that life is just about buying a fucking house and getting a good pension plan by the time you’re 30. It’s about fucking living through all the light and dark, the joy and the suffering, living as authentically as you possibly can, as truthfully as you possibly can and as lovingly as you possibly can which has nothing to do with money or ownership. As time ticks along you realize that what we lose with age in the superficial sense we gain with depth. As Diana Garland (astrologer and great support to me in this time) reminded me of when I mailed her last year - “when the heart weeps for what is lost, the spirit laughs at what it has found.” This loss, as I have tried to explain before (but perhaps not in such a candid way) is a great gift, I see that now.

Please note: I’m not suggesting I’m an expert or a scholar of any sorts, merely a fellow traveler and I share this with only good intention, nothing else. (Nor am I using this for therapy as I have therapy for that.) I can be as funny and as light as the next person, fake even when one has to be, but I have been compelled to create this space to speak in a very specific way and that is from my heart, so please accept this in the spirit it is intended.

Thank you for taking the time to read me, I hope it helps in some way.

Love RC x