Friday, January 30, 2015

"How are you doing?" "What are you doing?"

These seem to be the questions everyone is thinking when they talk to me, though they're rarely the questions they ask me.  Yesterday I had tea with L and she asked directly how I was coping with missing Mike.  I like those sorts of questions and am good at answering them.  Most people don't like to be so direct, though. The question I am being asked most often at the moment is how I'm getting on with building up my stocks of pottery.  This is a question I am not so good at answering because the real answer is "I wouldn't start from here."

I'm not doing any pottery at the moment and although one reason is definitely my current cartilage injury, I'd guess I wouldn't be doing any pottery even if I didn't have an injury to take care of.  There are so many reasons for this that I hardly know where to start.  And, most unusually for me, I'm not finding what it takes to get round the difficulties and communicate to people what they really want to know.

Bereavement has very subtle effects and I'm not sure how well this is known.  It can affect your memory, your concentration, your attention span, your temper, your energy and just how much you have to give to anything.  Don't think these are all negative values, either; you can end up with more patience than usual, or concentrating on a boring task very well.  You can take to one task but not another.  Bereavement is not a constant state.  It is currently affecting how well (or badly) I explain things on the hoof, though I can probably make a better fist of it here.

Bereavement, too, is a sudden one-off event after which everything is different exactly because it is now "after".  This means that you should not expect a person to be 'getting back to normal' because nobody will be getting back anywhere.  Rather, you might wonder if they are establishing what normal now is.  I am on that road but like many important roads in life, the journey is probably more significant than the destination.

So where should the solicitous enquirer start, if not from here?  I suggest you start with "what are you doing at the moment?"  This is a question I can always answer and it will probably tell you how I am doing at the same time.

One week can be different from another but at the same time I am aware of engaging in a continuing process of finding the new normal.  Last week, for instance, I was mostly busy doing executor things (for the friend who died last March) while at the same time trying to make some new earrings.  This week I have been making some new earrings, planning some new textiles work, working on the makers' pages of Arcade Artisans (as part of my contribution to working in/for the shop which we all undertake), photographing my new earrings and processing the images so I have good images for later publicity, updating parts of my website and working on the website and newsletter for Crafts In Gloucestershire, which I run.  These are all part of my work as an artist.  I've also been to Ikea and been out to tea. 

In amongst all these things that are part of what will be normal from now on there is also stuff which is finite.  Stuff which I am doing little by little but eventually one day will be done, the things that are there to be done when someone has died.  To begin with this is mostly admin but now the tasks are more practical.  Belongings to go through, give to others, keep, re-home, sell, throw out.  Mike was not a tidy person.  So every fortnight I fill two boxes with paper for recycling.  (I estimate this will be ongoing for some months, such are the many, many boxes of paper stacked in various parts of the house.)  From time to time I sort out a section of his wardrobe.  And I do some of the tasks that were part of his 'domain', even though he didn't do them often, such as tidying up outside.

Today I transferred five or six bucketfuls of dead leaves, soil, detritus from firewood collections, etc to the compost bin and half filled a bin bag with rubbish from the same part of the yard.  It's not exciting, but it's enjoyable and I'm pleased with the result.  And it's part of the answer to "what are you doing?" and should also help you with "how are you doing?"  If you do, thank you for wanting to know.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Yesterday I found one of the coloured hellebores fully open.  The white ones, usually earliest, haven't opened their buds yet.  I love the hellebore season as they are the first things of the year to flourish in my garden and even in wind, rain (today) and snow they are a promise of seasons to come.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


From time to time I write.  Here are two very recent poems:

“I wasn’t sure if you would want this”
tentative gift of a book
of poems ‘of grief and healing’.

“I seem to remember you like poetry.”
I do, and I like poems about hard things
so eventually I read the book

and start to write my own poems again.

‘Not how are you but who are you?’

you asked, that first pub Sunday
after my husband,
and with this prescient question
a lifelong friendship was born.

I wrote, oh how I wrote,
a poem, triumphant,
heralding the future.
declaring myself.

Now after another husband,
and you, and she, all gone
we two remaining friends
see to your estate and sell your flat.

Inside the empty room for the last time
the tears flow and we hug,
two widows, I suppose, and yet
that isn’t who we are.

She and I must answer
‘Who are you?’ afresh,
no you, or her or him
to bounce ideas and love.

Floundering about in a pond
grown too big with too few
friendly fish

it’s not so easy.

Friday, January 23, 2015


"Self-indulgent" is one of the most common criticisms I've read about blogs, both individual styles and the blog phenomenon itself and let's make no mistake that Self-indulgence in all contexts is generally perceived as a Bad Thing.  In less formal circles it's sometimes known as Splurging.  One rarely reads any praise of Splurging either. 

I've also noticed a recent trend in criticism of psychotherapy and counselling because they encourage people to be Self-centred.  Being self-centred can be lumped together with some other, possibly unspoken, epithets such as Self-pitying, Wallowing, Self-aggrandisement, Showing off etc, all of which, if they are levelled at you and your blog, you can safely take as criticism.  Apparently, it's not good to consider yourself very much at all.

This poses some difficulties for the blog writer since it's what many of us are doing much of the time and it's been exercising my mind particularly over the last week or so as I have been pondering whether or not to post a particular poem on my blog.  The pondering has led me to think about self-indulgence generally and to realise that we don't always consider it to be a bad thing.

Since the death of my husband people keep telling me to be kind to myself.  I'm not sure this differs much from indulging myself and therefore from Self-indulgence.  If it does, it's a fine line.  They're right about being kind to oneself, of course.  Guilt (which can be about anything at all) is one of the stages of grieving and it's a good idea to recognise that and not give oneself too hard a time if possible.  Bereavement takes its toll physically, too, and recovery will be speedier if one is gentle on oneself with rest and good food.  (This last is tricky if, like me, you need to avoid Over-indulgence in order not to put on weight.  But it can be done, with balance.)

An argument explaining the benefits of therapy or counselling and the need for considering oneself is for another time, but you can safely take it that I am in favour of them.  Briefly, though, it does seem to be somewhat accepted that you can't love others properly unless or until you can love yourself.  Understanding yourself puts you in a good position of being open, honest and available to another person, all bases for a good relationship.

So I'm hoping I may be building up some agreement that self-indulgence can often be a very good thing.  My final argument should be the clincher.  I am currently making more earrings, including some new designs.  One pair in particular is probably my favourite pair that I've ever made.  I've decided to keep them for myself.  I can make the same design again (though not yet as I haven't any more of one of the colours I've used) but every pair is different and this pair is mine.  I don't expect any argument with that.

I checked with H, and she said that in spite of the fact that I normally can't wear green against my skin, on this scale there was no problem, so it's a done deal.  I just love these earrings. 

And ....  just when I have (I hope) encouraged you all to agree that self-indulgence can be a wonderful thing, we come back to my original dilemma.  Should I post very personal, sometimes painful poetry on my blog?  Why would I want to?  The answer to the second question is that I don't see much difference between my creative writing and my other creative work.  I like to put my work where it is appreciated and I think some people might appreciate more personal writing.  The answer to the first question is ...  well, I don't know.  I think some people might not appreciate more personal writing.  Some people might not like reading painful things.  I don't want to upset anyone unduly.

The jury's still out.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Small pleasures

My tastes tend to be fairly eclectic and I guess my resulting style is unique.  When I gave my study/dining room a new look in 1998 I remember most people being very sceptical about the finished results when I told them my plan of dark red walls, ochre yellow curtains and very red carpet.  When the room was finished, I held a "big dinner" for about 12 people, my then closest local friends, I guess, and the room was unveiled with some ceremony.  Everyone liked it.  Since then everyone else has seemed to like to too, often to their own surprise.  The red really isn't overpowering. 

The overall decor, furniture and function of the room, including shelves full of books, CDs and clutter, haven't changed, though from time to time little bits and pieces get added.  The latest of these, two new small pleasures, are these Indian wedding garlands which I've hung either side of the mirror over the fireplace.  They're made from a card base, I think, with much gold thread embroidery and sequins.  My maternal grandparents brought them back from India in 1935 and since then they've been used mostly as Christmas decorations by my mum, who recently offered them to me because "they're just your sort of thing."  They certainly are.  I'm so pleased with them hanging up, now permanently, in my study. 

In the centre of the mantelpiece you can also see a miniature chest of drawers, another recent addition.  This chest of drawers was made by my paternal grandfather, in the style of Gordon Russell.  Gordon Russell started out as an Arts and Crafts furniture maker in Gloucestershire and the bedroom where I slept in my grandparents' house, also in Gloucestershire, was furnished throughout with Gordon Russell furniture, though I didn't know it as such back then.  I just always liked it.  As an adult, though, the Arts and Crafts Movement has certainly been one of my influences as an artist and my love of things miniature and the link to my grandfather are the icing on the cake.

Small pleasures.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Back to work

In a world where we depend on people working 24/7 in many service industries, where increasing numbers of people work from home at least part of the time, where we expect customer services to answer the phone any day of the week and where you can find a shop open somewhere most of the time - still the concept of 'the working week' is alive and well.  I spend so much of my time in or connecting with areas where conventional working hours and weeks no longer apply that I sometimes forget how many types of work still do occur in roughly conventional working week blocks.  And yet, 25 years since I inhabited that world full time, the working week is still something I measure my life in.

This week has been the first full working week of the year and of the new term if you think in the academic calendar (which I also still do to some extent)  so there is much talk about going back to work.  It might have been the first week of work of the year for me too but I have I sustained a subluxation of a cartilage or two.   Subluxation is a new word to me (meaning partial dislocation) but the event isn't.  I've damaged rib cartilages before, so I know this means two or three weeks allowing it to heal and that includes no work in the pottery.  I don't know anyone else who damages cartilages around their ribs but my GP tells me it's quite common, especially in people who work in confined or awkward spaces, like plumbers.  I was in the totally unconfined, straightforward space of my garden, pulling up a raspberry cane, trying to get as much of its root as I could, when I felt a ping or a snap or what my GP describes as a pop. 

Then, there have been a few other things in my life which are affecting my working week.  In my mind, life is not only measured out in working weeks but also marked out into sections by significant events.  Two such are destined to shape what my life will become over the next months.

Last March I turned 60 and began receiving a small pension from the teaching I did for the first part of my working life.  This income means in theory that I could now work part-time because I don't need to earn quite so much money.  In practice, so far, I have had to work when I could to try to catch up with falling stock levels.

Then November brought a much more fundamental life-changing event, the death of my lovely husband Mike.  I've been widowed before so I had some idea what to expect and one thing I knew to expect is that some things will be unexpected. 

The most unexpected thing that has happened to me in the last two months is that I don't know where I am with my work.  My head is making plans for returning to the pottery, what I'm going to make, where I'm going to sell ...  but my heart has been glad that I have been too busy doing other things.  I am really not sure that when it comes to returning to work, I shall know what it is that I want to make.