What, not who

For most of my life, I have been defined by what I am rather than who, even by myself. By “what” I mean by my relationships or functions rather than as an individual. I have always been the daughter, the wife, the mother and more recently, the widow and even the girlfriend. Most people seem to perceive me as an appendage to someone else. I think that may be because I have always been surrounded by strong characters, whilst I have tended to be the quiet one.

My father dominated every gathering he was part of. As his daughter, it was always understood where my place in such society would be. Such larger-than-life characters overpower all those around them, often, as with my father, unintentionally. He always thought of himself as a genial and well-meaning figure, but in reality, he demanded and always got his own way. My mother and I would never dream of contradicting him, although I have to point out that he was never a violent man, just supremely sure of himself.

Growing up I had no problems with that subservient role. To be honest, I didn’t know any better. My voice was rarely heard and opinions rarely sought, but that never concerned me. Not at the time at least. My father’s unequivocal assurance that he knew best meant I did not have to think too much for myself. Even into my adolescence and early adulthood, his steely determination and unshakable self-assurance guided my choices, such as they were.

Looking back, even my marriage was orchestrated by him, all-be-it a little sooner than he had planned. Marriage transferred my position in society from dutiful daughter to dutiful wife and mother. In retrospect, I think he saw my marriage as just one more deal to be struck, a contract to be fulfilled.

When I look back at this period of my life I wonder exactly what was going through my mind. I was not unintelligent and I did have a lively almost tomboyish spirit. So why did I let these two men dictate my life choices so willingly? Both my daughters, Charlotte and Emily, are fiercely independent and enjoy freedoms I didn’t even imagine were possible at their ages.

Of course, getting pregnant before I could finish my degree put me on a path that none of us had planned for. At least, not so soon. There was no way on God’s Earth I was going to be allowed to have my child outside of wedlock. That would have been far too great a scandal for either of my parents to bear, so I was married off in haste and Emily’s appearance in rather less than the expected 9 months conveniently overlooked and never talked about, at least not in the social circles that my father was cultivating with even greater determination.

Of course, I will always play the roles of the daughter and the mother, but becoming a widow left me slightly adrift. Without the anchor of being a wife, I was a little unsure of how to define myself. Taking on and running the art gallery gave me a taste of how things could have been. For the first time I was just me. Clients and customers saw me for who I was and not my relationships. I may have lost the business but I feel that I have retained that independence of spirit that it ignited in me. For the first time in my life I am doing what I want to do and am starting to believe that I can be the person I want to be.

It is not easy to cast off a lifetime’s conditioning. I was born into a society and family to whom position and standing were everything and to stand against that was neither anticipated nor tolerated. One did as one was told and made the best of the paths one was expected to walk. I look around me now and feel so much pride in the strength and determination being made by so many young women to make their own mark in this world. Whilst I was never unhappy with the hand I had been dealt, I am determined that I will never again be the “plus-one” in any man’s life. I am me. I am proud to be me and I am going to enjoy being me.

The picture featured with the post is by American artists Debra Cartwright. When I look into her eyes I see the kind of woman I want to be: strong, independent and self assured. This is a woman that no one is going to mess with. All Debra’s pictures have this same strength and style. There is no denying their femininity but there is an undeniable inner strength to them as well.

The Travelling Companions by Augustus Leopold Egg

Time to move on

I know I have been quiet lately, but in my defence I am new to all this and haven’t really got into my stride yet. After all, what should one consider to be a suitable interval between posts? Too frequent and one becomes open to accusations of vanity and delusions of self-importance, too few and one is going to be ignored. I have come across individuals who are pouring out their hearts on an almost daily basis. It is hard to keep up with these people and their outpourings. Others seem to limit themselves to more infrequent postings. If there is an etiquette to this sort of thing I have yet to find it.

My lack of online activity is in no way a reflection of my offline life. Quite the opposite in fact. Since the start of the year, I have been forced to re-evaluate my life and reassess my priorities. Last year was rather difficult for me personally and financially. Both the relationship and the business I started the year with suffered dramatically thanks to Covid-19 and the restrictions it brought with it. My relationship with Robert ended in the summer after a disastrous couple of weeks in isolation with him.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been busy winding down my gallery business and sorting my finances. Exhibition items hve been returned, stock sold on and my lease ended by mutual consent.

It has been stressful and emotional. I had invested a lot of time and effort into the gallery felt it was just beginning to break even. Now it is just another statistic, another victim of the pandemic. Whilst the newspapers publish daily updates on the number of people who have contracted Covid, died from it, and now have been vaccinated against it, how many people have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, or their businesses through it?

Many of the artists I have exhibited and sold works for are struggling to survive. Friends who work in the theatre have had no work for almost a year now. My own story may be devastating to me personally, but it is nothing compared to what many others continue to endure with little or no support.

On the positive side, both of my daughters are keeping well and, if anything, are thriving. Emily has just started a new job working for a large law firm in Manchester. She is working from home which seems to suit her very well. Charlotte is settled in Edinburgh and seems to be enjoying student life, all-be-it not quite what she signed up for. She is lucky enough to be living with friends and not having to cope with student accommodation. I wish I could be with them. Hopefully by spring one or other of us will be able to make the journey.

Now that I have settled everything with the gallery and am satisfied the girls are safe and happy I find myself feeling somewhat adrift. With no gainful employment, no one to look after, and no social life to speak of, I am at something of a loose end. I suppose the first thing I should do is look for a new job or project. I have no immediate need to work as financially I am reasonably secure. For me, it is as much about self-respect and sanity as anything else. But what can I do in this strange and topsy-turvy world?

Maybe it is time to think outside of my comfort zone. I am not afraid of hard work and am open to suggestions. One of two of my friends have suggested volunteering to help with vaccinations or one of the foodbanks that have sprung up recently. I will give these ideas serious thought.

Actually, there are a few things that will require serious thought. I am a single woman, of a certain age, and although I am not exactly desperate to start a new relationship I do miss having someone around. But how does one go about finding new friends in the middle of a lockdown? I don’t really like the idea of those online dating websites. It all seems so clinical and detached. Yes, I know that some lucky people have found their soul mate that way, but I just don’t like the idea. And I have heard enough horror stories from others to put me off the whole idea. But where does that leave me? With no art galleries, theatres, bars, or other venues where I might normally expect to meet new people it seems I will simply have to learn to cope on my own for while longer.

Of course, I know I can always call on Robert. He has made it abundantly clear, on several occasions that he would take me back in an instant. Rather than being a comfort, I find that rather sad really. He is a good man, but not built for relationships. He is under a lot of pressure from his family to get married and settle down but I can’t honestly see that happening any time soon. At least not in a way that would make him happy.

As for what would make me happy, I am not so sure myself at the moment. For most of my adult life, I have been responsible for the welfare and happiness of others, mainly my husband and two daughters. Now I only have myself to consider and I am not sure how to do that.

Whatever the future hold, I am sure it will be an adventure.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte

These are interesting times

“May you live in interesting times” is reputed to be an ancient Chinese curse, but apparently it isn’t. Not that it matters where it came from so long as we all understand its meaning and intent. The idea of living in “interesting times” is, for many of us, a curse indeed. After all, what most of us really want is peace and stability in our lives, not the constant upheavals that “interesting times” would inevitably bring.

It is fairly clear, I think that we have all been living in interesting times recently. Any idea of “normal” has become something of a pipe dream as our lives have been turned upside down by events beyond anyone’s control. But, on reflection, I am in a bit of a quandary over all these “interesting times” curse. Yes, I do like my routines and stability. It is good to have some idea of where your life is going and what you can expect from day-to-day. But change and the pressure to adapt are key elements of Darwin’s theory of evolution and it is only through change that we can hope to grow and develop. Organisations or groups that rest on their laurels are destined to fail, often quite dramatically.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with change Change is good, even when it isn’t! I know that sounds like a contradiction, but as I see it, every change brings with it opportunities. The change itself may be initially perceived as bad, but in most cases, one can find something good, even if it just a foundation on which to build something positive.

Of course, what we have all been facing over the last 10 months has forced many of us to reconsider our priorities. My own circumstances have changed quite considerably since this time last year. Some of those changes are only loosely connected to the Covid-19 and its impact. The biggest change for me is my decision to close down my gallery. It is a shame and I wish I didn’t have to do it, but back-to-back lockdowns and a landlord who wants me out have combined to force my hand. If I am honest it was more of a hobby than a business anyway. Whilst I enjoyed it, I am clearly not a businesswoman and most weeks it barely broke even.

And this time last year I was in a steady relationship. It was hardly full of passion, but we were comfortable with each other and I enjoyed Robert’s company. He made me laugh even if we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things. In retrospect though, it is clear that we had very little in common, no common areas of interest. But we made it work and things were going well until the first lockdown. We decided that I would move in with him as we were both living alone at the time.

For the first week or so, everything went as well as could be expected. The rot set in about week three when Robert decided he was bored with the whole isolation thing and started socialising with various friends. I was not happy about that but turned a blind eye at first. I know, I should have put my foot down, but that is not easy with a man like Robert; he saw the whole thing as some kind of joke and refused to take the pandemic seriously. In the end, it became intolerable. It was also obvious that after just a few weeks under the same roof we had run out of things to say to each other. So I left and returned to my flat.

Robert and I remain good friends, but any spark that may have existed between us has long since been extinguished. Inevitably, he contracted Covid-19 shortly after I left and was quite ill for about a month. If it hadn’t been so serious I might have laughed, but he was very ill and it did change his view of the situation. He still resents lockdowns and seems to go out of his way to flout the rules, but he does keep his socialising to a small, select group. That I think is the best we can hope for there.

So I head forth into 2021 as a single, widowed, failed businesswoman in her middle age. When put that way it doesn’t sound very good, does it?

During the past year, we have seen so much change in the ways people work, socialise and live that it is becoming increasingly difficult to remember our pre-covid lives. There is little chance of things going back to exactly what they were. With so many of us embracing the technologies that have kept us together and allowed us to work throughout this tumultuous year, some permanent changes are inevitable.

We have been living through interesting times and think we will continue to do so for a while yet.

Woman at balcony window

What a difference a year makes

It is customary in January to look back over the previous year and consider the high and lows and the ways our world has changed. There is no doubt that there have been plenty of lows, some highs and more change than any of us could have predicted. Looming back at this time last year it is strange to remember that I had not heard of the new Coronovirus that was going to come to dominate all our lives. Yes, I had seen a report hidden away on the World News pages about a virus in China, but it seemed remote and unimportant. It didn’t even rate a proper headline.

This time last year I had a boyfriend and a seemingly thriving business. Whilst I can’t blame Covid for the breakup of my relationship (that would have happened anyway), it can take the blame for the imminent loss of my business. I will be the first to admit that we weren’t exactly making a fortune, the gallery was doing quite nicely. That is until the various lockdowns and restrictions hit. Now I face a very different kind of future. Don’t get me wrong, I am fine financially, at least for now, but it is difficult coming to terms with these drastic changes. It might have been easier if either of my daughters were still at home, but they have their own lives (one in Manchester, the other in Edinburgh) and I am happy for them.

So now I find myself at something of a crossroads. I am resigned to the fact that my business will not reopen so I need to find something else. I am not sure I am cut out for the role of an independent business woman. I thought I was but the past few years have taught me that I am not tough enough really. My skills are limited but I am sure I will find something, once things get back to normal. If they ever do.

I have also found it tough being single and living alone during the pandemic. When this whole thing started I was in a relationship. We enjoyed each other’s company well enough when we had our own interests to pursue. But being closeted in together during last spring’s first lockdown, the strain began to show. Looking back our separation had become inevitable, even before we found ourselves shut inside together 24/7. We are still friends but anything more than that is out of the question. So here I am, on my own for the first time in my life.

In some ways it has been pleasant having time to myself. It has taken a while to get used to it but at the moment I am happy with it. I do really miss going to the theatre and visiting galleries and other events, but at least technology allows us to keep in contact with our loved ones. I regularly video chat with my two roving daughters and have enjoyed many a virtual girls night in with friends. The downside is that I am sure I drink far more wine on these video chats that I did when we gathered face to face. But at least I don’t have to hunt down a taxi and brave the chilly winter rain at the end of the evening.

I think that it is important now that we all look forwarded with a positive attitude. At this time last year we could never have foreseen what was to come. Maybe that in itself is a lesson to us all. We can not afford to be complacent about anything. One never knows what the future will bring and as we have seen, the unthinkable can become only too real in the blink of an eye.

I think I have rambled on enough for a Sunday morning so I will take my leave now. If anyone is reading this – and I hope someone is – take care of yourself, keep safe, and be sure to think positive thoughts.

Unsocial Media

I read recently that David Attenborough has abandoned his Instagram account, Apparently, it was too successful. At about the time he set up his record-breaking account I made what many people aid was the rash decision to leave it all behind. I never was one for Twitter or Instagram, but I was, at one point, quite active on Facebook.

For many people, Facebook and the like have been a life-line during the trials and tribulations of the past twelve months. In the beginning, I was one of those. But after a while, I found the immediacy and intrusion too much, so I decided to close my account. Some of my friends thought I was quite mad. They can’t imagine life without the constant ping of new notifications and hourly updates from “friends” one has never met, and never will. It was lovely to keep in touch with old friends and the girls, but I found that the very immediacy that most people seemed to crave was becoming tiresome and frustrating. I found myself checking my phone almost constantly, getting anxious when I hadn’t heard the tell-tale ping for a whole ten minutes.

One thing I found was the way one feels completed to react instantly to whatever has been said or shared. There seems to be little time for contemplation or thought. I was just as guilty as anyone else – firing off ill-considered responses to equally ill-considered comments or criticisms. When I took the time to look back at what I had said I was filled with a mix of shock and embarrassment. So, I decided that I had had enough and was going to make a clean break; go cold-turkey as they say.

And I have to say that now, three months later, I can say it was the second-best decision I made in the whole year. I get my news from the BBC or The Times without having to consider its validity or veracity and I keep up with family and friends by talking to them. Yes, I talk to real people. Strange I know, and rather old-fashioned, but I prefer it that way. I have absolutely no intention of going back.

One of the most high profile abusers of social media has to be the outgoing US President, Donald Trump. He is a vile human being who abused his power and used Twitter as a vehicle to incite mistrust and hatred. Like most sane people I watched the events last week in Washington with a mix of disbelief and anxiety. To see those scenes playing out in America was something I will never forget – as much as I would like to.

I have never been particularly political but over the past couple of years I have found myself taking more of an interest. I don’t pretend to understand all that goes on but one can’t help but form opinions and be concerned, particularly when those in charge are so obviously inept or corrupt. In Donald Trump’s case it seems to be both. But he is not the only world leader who seems dangerously out of touch with reality. Until he became Prime Minister I was quite fond of Boris Johnson. As Mayor of London he was amusing but largely harmless. The Brexit campaign and everything since have proven to me that he is anything but harmless. His blustering and blundering are no longer funny, they are something we really need to be concerned about.

So, for now at least, this blog is my voice on the internet. Rather than just talk about myself or post images of my meals I will post when I feel I have something to say.

Hello 2021

As always, we start the new year with high hopes for what it may bring. Certainly, after the year we have just had, almost anything would be better. Events of the year have had an impact on all of us, mainly for the worst. Of course, some people have benefited from chaos and confusion, but for most of us it has been an awful year. I for one am more than happy to see the back of it.

As I look back on 2020 all I see is a series of final chapters. Thanks to Covid I have no social life to speak of and my business is in tatters. It was the year I became single again, a middle-aged mother of two with a failing business.

Of course, this new year is unlike any other we have experienced before. There have been no parties and no shopping for a new outfit to impress. I spent yesterday evening alone in the flat watching Jools Holland. I didn’t even crack open the bubbly – there seemed little point. I should have been celebrating with young Charlotte, but instead of coming home for Christmas, she chose to spend the time with her sister in Manchester. It goes without saying, I was disapointed by her decision but I understood it. Thanks to WhatsApp I was able to see and speak to them at the turn of the year.

At this time of year traditionally people make resolutions for the future. I don’t normally bother myself. As a teenager I would resolve to do any one of a number of things, but inevitably, within a few weeks it had been forgotten. But this year I am determined to see this one through. I read an article recently that suggested writing a diary can be theraputic. Not an appointment diary, obviousy, but a journal to record thoughts and aspirations. And that is what this blog is all about. It is my way to make sense of the past year and provide a vehicle for my imagination. How well it will go remains to be seen but at least I have made a start.

Happy New Year

Well, here we are – on the cusp of a new year. What it has in store we can only guess at, but we can hope for something better than the year we have just left behind. I will begin the year seeing through a resolution: to create my own blog.

I have come close to trying this a couple of times over the past year or so. I don’t know how it will go and unsure of what I will write, but it is certain to be an adventure.