Invasion Of The Black Sludge

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I wasn’t going to write anything this morning. As consciousness seeped in, as my eyes wondered whether to remain clam tight and ignore my stirring body, I felt the black sludge enveloping my brain. I know it can’t always be rainbows, pixie dust and unicorns in there all the time, but why do we get the thick, choking black sludge seeping in, slowly and inexorably covering everything in its path? Its progression all the more devastating when life has been so bright before its return.

As with anything and everything my mind won’t just sit back and accept, it has to question and question like a nagging toddler. What is happening in my life? What have I done to trigger this, what have my thoughts been, what foods have I eaten? What exercise have I or have I not done? Always I want a reason, an explanation, and, of course, a solution. 

Most of all I wonder why this black sludge is so prevalent throughout our species. It seems to exist in every corner of every mind, an alien being spawned centuries ago, lying dormant until the time is right, until enough keys are in place ready to unlock its cell door and release it to gradually, slowly and sludgely  take over the world.

Do, we accept it as part of the human condition? Do we just keep black and carry on, as I was raised to do? Do we medicate it away? Is it ok to fight it with chemicals rather than constant tiring sneaky tactics of diversion and subversion? I don’t know. And I think that’s my weakness, that is when the black sludge knows it can seep in and take over. The soft under belly is exposed. When my mind is distracted by not knowing, when it is busy trying to work out how it can zap someone else’s black sludge, when it is confused, with no easy solution, desperately wanting and needing to do something, anything to help, when the body is busy fighting its own viral battle and starts feeling weak, that fucking sneaky beaky black sludge always senses, always spots the advantage.

Maybe this is Armageddon? Maybe the world truly won’t end with a bang, but with a black, sludgey, choked whimper of given up hope?

Ok, that’s enough, I’m not sinking down. That fucking stinky dark foul sticky slime is NOT going to take over. It is NOT going to dominate me, or anyone else I love. I will not lie back and allow it to gradually fossilise this body, this brain. I have fought it before, and I will fight it again. I have my own sneaky ninja methods, my own trip wires and traps. I DO have knowledge, and experience. I have fought it before, and I have won, am constantly winning, and now I need to teach my child, my children, my loved ones, I need to help them devise their own ninja tricks, help them create their own armour, to realise it is an ongoing war, not a lightning battle.

We can always cue the A Team music, we always have tools to hand, a workshop of supplies, and, if we are lucky, a team of like minded idiots around us willing to make whatever is needed. 

So… Cue music, let’s get to work…

 

 

xxx

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When art goes wrong…

 

I woke up and felt different, I lay for a while, scanning my body, my thoughts, wondering where the change lay. The events of yesterday lined up to be inspected and the suspect was instantly recognisable. My latest painting, the canvas I have been working on for a week…it was guilty, the cause of this unsettled nagging feeling, the worm of doubt burrowing deep. I don’t like it. I don’t like my latest painting. I woke up, and instead of being impatient to pick up the brush, I was inwardly groaning at the thought of battling my way insistently through the process of trying. Trying to make it work, trying to grasp the elusive wisp, the little mischievous Sprite that dances around the canvas and gives it that air of satisfaction, of completion, of ‘just rightness’ .

This is a surprisingly rare feeling for me, I am so used to the process of creating being the thrilling slide of a helter skelter ( my iPad wanted to make that heater skeleton 😂) a helter skelter ride…start from one point, knowing exactly where you will end up, a few twists and turns, but a rapid ride to your inevitable destination, and an adrenaline fuelled sense of satisfaction and closure.
But this is not happening today, I have got stuck half way down. It has happened before, but usually on something in my sketchbook that hasn’t gone quite right, or has bored me…so I just turned the page and started something new.

Why haven’t I done that already with this painting? Oh, I know why, and it’s almost text book psychology 101. I can see the opening paragraph of chapter 2 entitled “performance anxiety” . It would read thus…

” When an artist goes public with their work the natural spontaneity of the creative process gets caught in the spotlight of an imagined public gaze. All previous methods of creating freeze into fear ridden lumpy awkward movements, fumbles, where before there were caresses, teeth clashing, where before there were tender butterfly kisses. The pressure of performance causes a once passionate, pleasurable act of joy and creation to become a mumbled apology of disappointment and shame.”

My stubborn inner artist raises her head, disturbed by the clamour of frustration. “This will not do” she frowns. She surveys the scene of despondency and apathetic despair and sets to work. ” Come on,” says she ” Time to work this out” And hauls me to the tiny screen, almost places my hands on the keyboard and waits, hands sternly on hips, until I reluctantly and sulkily start tapping out the words, the words that will tumble around and around until they stand to attention and show me what I need to know…

Every artist goes through this, every artist has abandoned canvases that don’t work, poems that didn’t scan, books that refused to tell their story. It is not a waste of time or paint or money or ink, it is an experience that has moved you forward in your craft, lessons have been learned that may not surface for years. It is time to shrug and sigh, turn the canvas to the wall and move on. Forget about the watching public, the imagined audience. They don’t really exist, they’re too busy with their own lives, their own failures and successes. So sigh some more sweet artist, take down your sketchbook and go and play, return to the tender caresses that you know work for you. Not every performance has to be earth shatteringly amazing, oftentimes the quiet, simple act of self love and comfort is all you need. Turn to it now and enjoy the process once more, find the love, find the thrill.

 

 

xxx

Memoirs of a midlife, menopausal maniac…

…Or the reality of life as a menopausal woman.

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This is the reality, this is The Menopause 101, this is my truth…

For a start, I have come to the conclusion that it is definitely worse than puberty. I used to think they were similar, what with all the bodily changes and aches and pains, and it being entirely hormone driven. But now I realise that they are completely different rides at the fairground – not swings and roundabouts, more like swings and huge, terrifying rollercoaster, in the dark, with scary props and unpredictable twists and turns. Puberty is straight forward compared to menopause, it is, in fact, a straight forward journey going from one place: the sweet, simple innocence of childhood, straight to another: the steamy, tropical jungle of womanhood. All that happens is that hormones make your breasts grow, your periods start, your emotions go crazy and your libido rocket-charged. It all sounds so simple compared to the years of peri-menopause. During puberty the hormones are focused, they are like The Blues Brothers: On a mission from God…with just one goal, one aim – that rhythm and blues concert known as womanhood. In menopause we are saddled with hormones that are drifting into a sad decline of senile dementia. One minute they are perfectly compos mentis, aware of their surroundings, functioning normally. The next, they are in a confused fog of indecision, not knowing where they are, or which direction they should go.

So how does this all translate into real life? Well, every journey is personal. In my journey it means that one week I feel perfectly ‘normal’. I get up, have breakfast without thinking about it, get dressed, without thinking about it, do my chores, relax a bit…basically have a perfectly normal day without thinking about it. I underlined that because it is the key point. On those weeks my hormones are hidden somewhere, everything is balanced nicely, they are asleep affecting neither my body nor my brain. I can tell you now.. those weeks are rare.

Because then my hormones wake up, in the week leading up to my period, or possibly the 10 days leading up to my period, or shall we make that the 4 days leading up to my period? Who knows? Certainly not my body, nor my hormones, so they just go for the whole shebang of PMS for a fortnight, just to be sure. These hormones – the ones I think of as the bad guys, crawl out of their caves like the grumpiest, grizzliest bears. Bears that have woken up to find that it’s still winter, and they’re hungry, and someone shaved off half their fur as they slept – as a joke.

Every and any one these bears meet run the risk of having their heads bitten off, just for being there. These bears make me look at the world through the lens of cynicism, especially, and actually quite specifically, at the role of women in the world. These bears look at how women are compelled to constantly live up to a culture driven definition of attractiveness; to shave hair from their bodies, to push their breasts up and together, to paint their faces and style their hair, to be a certain shape and a certain size. These bears make me SO angry, when I realise that in every TV program I watch, the men wear comfy clothes and the women are forever in high heels, clingy tight clothes and push-up bras, always with full make-up on, even when they wake up in the morning for god’s sake. The bears make me notice these things, they point them out, constantly. They growl loudly in my head, relentlessly, until I realise that it is me growling out loud, protesting the sexism, the injustices, the double standards and the goddamned unfairness of it all.

So my growl becomes a roar…I will not stand for this, I will not perpetuate the imbalance in our culture. I do not need to be enhanced, smoothed, shaped and moulded into an ideal. And so I let my body hair grow, I pack away my make-up, I ditch my bras and determine to wear only clothes that are baggy and comfortable. I feel cross and angry, I feel confrontational and defensive. I make myself promises and resolutions…I am not happy.

My bear hormones also make me worried, and scared. I feel lost, I don’t know who I am, what my role in life is. I worry about my children, what will their future hold? Have I messed it up? I worry about my husband dying a hundred different horrible deaths, I worry about my parents dying and how I would cope. I worry that I’m more concerned with having to deal with sorting out the practical concerns of the aftermath of people’s deaths rather than actually losing them…I worry that I have no heart, no soul.

I worry that my husband looks at me and sees a hairy, fat, wrinkled old woman rather than a happy, hormonally balanced sensual wife. I know he doesn’t, and so I worry that I’m the worst wife ever who doesn’t appreciate the amazing husband she has.

I worry that I am drifting through life, just surviving, with no discernible direction. Just flitting from one fad to another, wasting my one precious, unique life.

I cry, a lot. I get angry, a lot. I despair about the future of humankind. I wonder why everyone seems to be duped into the whole School, Qualifications, Work, Achievements, Money thing. I feel like the little boy who sees the naked Emperor and wonders why everyone else is blind to it.

I look at my hairy legs and I think that they are ugly, no matter how many times I try and convince myself they are natural and beautiful. I remind myself that smooth, female legs are a cultural imposition – I get angry – again.

My period arrives… early, late, on time, it’s anyone’s guess these days. I descend into a week purely immersed in the physical body. Stomach expands, breasts throb, joints ache, womb muscles cramp and contract. Hair gets a life of its own, greasing its way through the days. My skin wants nothing to touch it. Even the softest, loosest clothes seem to scratch and chafe. My breasts decide they want to hunker down and hide in my armpits, the bags under my eyes develop into the blackest, darkest shade of purple, like theatrical greasepaint. The bear turns into a lost, lonely cub that just wants to crawl into a fur lined nest and be fed the comfiest of comfort food…No loud noises please, or sudden movements, my eyes hurt in my head. The irony of desiring to crawl into a safe womb as I shed the linings of my own is never lost on me. I believe that I will be like this forever, that my body will always hurt, that I will always feel the need to be curled up in a ball, wrapped in velvet. Just as I believed the week before that I would forever be angry at the injustices of woman. But that did not last, and neither does this, because my period ends.

I wake up and I realise that I am not crawling, bent and broken. My body does not feel like a pumped up balloon being trampled by a herd of rhinos. I look at my stomach and it looks, not bloated and tender, but soft, rounded and feminine. My breasts do not shout at me angrily that they should be free to hang where they choose; instead they demand to be clothed in lace and lifted up to peer out seductively at the world, to see and be seen. I look in the mirror and, instead of growling that my natural look is beautiful and should be accepted make-up free, as the norm rather than the anomaly. Nope, instead of that, I cheerfully sit down to enjoy the ancient ritual of applying accents and colour, painting my face as an artist paints her canvas. I run a bath and take my time smoothing and stripping my legs of their winter coat, oiling and moisturising. Not to succumb to some culturally defined ideal, but as a connection, a link, to that long lineage of femininity that knows the ancient ways of the wise woman, the secrets of the seductress, the knowing of the female body.

Yep…I’m feeling horny, and it’s a whole different world. I like it – no I LOVE feeling like this. Like a goldfish, I have instantly forgotten what has gone before, I forget the anger and the outrage, I forget the militant feminism and the frustration with our society, I forget the aches, the discomfort, the worries, the fears, the despair. I feel good, I feel strong, I am ovulating and am horny as hell.

My husband, my poor, long-suffering husband, finally gets to have sex…because his wife’s body wants it. This does not seem fair, it seems very one-sided, but this week I don’t realise that, because right now I believe I am cured, that I will always feel like this and that he is the luckiest man alive because he has a woman who wants him now, and again, and maybe even the next night, or two…

I breathe deeply and sleep happily…I wake, I cough, I groan. I look down at my clingy, black slip and ask “why the hell am I wearing this? I’m freezing, where are my soft, comfy pyjamas?” I get up and groan at my throbbing breasts that don’t want to be touched..like EVER AGAIN. My husband playfully pats my arse and I bat his hand away in irritation, jesus, can I just have some space here please? My goldfish brain has already moved on, swimming to the sound of my bear hormones laughing diabolically from their caves….

On the bumpy road to Sell…

Or how I made the brave decision to start selling my art…

 

I love painting, I love drawing, and doodling; creating intricate worlds woven with colour and golden thread. It has taken me many years to wear in my Artist’s Shoes, they have pinched and rubbed for so long, feeling uncomfortable, wrong, somebody else’s shoes, definitely not mine.

But I persevered, I kept trying them on, sneaking them out of the cupboard when the kids were in bed, only to throw them off in tears thinking I was kidding myself, they would never be comfy, they would always look and feel like somebody else’s shoes. I felt like a little girl tottering around in her Mum’s high heels, pretending to be a grown-up.

But there was something compelling about those shoes, those grown-up Artist’s Shoes. I wanted to wear them, I wanted to strut my stuff in them, I wanted to own them.

So I persevered, I kept on trying, until slowly, gradually I started to notice how they moulded themselves to my feet. They felt soft and comfortable. So comfortable in fact, that I could go for hours and hours wearing them, absorbed, passionate, loving the feel and the fit, never wanting to take them off. Not always though, sometimes I stumbled in those damn shoes, like a ridiculous bambi catwalk model, and I’d take the stupid shoes off and throw them across the floor, swearing I’d never wear them again….

But my husband, my best friend, would gently pick them, and me up, slip the shoes back on my feet, tell me how much they suited me, were the perfect fit, were just perfectly ‘me’. And I’d sigh, and cry, and put the damn shoes back on..But only in private, these were strictly bedroom shoes! Okay, maybe more like house slippers, but definitely not to be worn outside, in public, because then people would know that I was just pretending, just a little girl in grown-up shoes.

“But they’re gorgeous” my man would say, “You need to go out and show them off..” Really? I started to look at myself in the mirror, look at myself wearing Artist’s Shoes, and slowly, gradually I began to believe he was right, maybe they did fit me, maybe they did look kinda cool even? So finally, after many previous abortive attempts, one day, in my 49th year on this planet, I stepped out of the front door wearing my Artist’s Shoes. Because I had decided that I didn’t care any more what people thought of my shoes, for me they were the comfiest shoes I’d ever worn, they were a perfect fit, and they bloody well suited me.

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