askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I have submitted my PhD thesis.

It seems to have been such a long time coming.  Hard to remind myself that, with all the faults I can already see in my thesis. this is a huge achievement.  There were times I didn't think I would ever finish writing my thesis, times I was ready to quit, there are times I did not believe I could complete.  But I'm here.  Compared to where I was in January 2012 - sitting on my bed in my room at my parents house where I was living to save money for a PhD, writing an application for funding, dreaming of being able to go back to University - the me from then would be over the moon at what I've done.  The goalposts move as you go through and I'm trying to force myself to judge the achievement I have *right now* by the standards of 4 years ago.

Last night I went out with a large number of friends from uni, and with another PhD student who I share an office with and who submitted on the same day as me, for cocktails.  It was a lovely evening and a really wonderful atmosphere.  I had put a picture of my thesis acknowledgements page on Facebook and tagged a number of friends who were mentioned in it.  A lot of people commented on and liked it, which was lovely, but on the way home from the pub at 1am last night, another PhD student told me that reading it (specifically, seeing that I had thanked David Bowie and Manic Street Preachers for contributing to my ambition, self-belief, and for inspiring me) had inspired him and reinvigorated his own sense of connection to various pop-cultural figures as something which matters.  It was about the best compliment I could have.  My little risk (I was anxious it was inappropriate to thank celebs/idols) to include those people in my acknowledgements paid off, in that it inspired someone else to celebrate their own sources of inspiration and talk about the 'low culture' of pop and rock in the high-culture world of academia.  

My terms.  That's what I feel like - I wrote my thesis and my acknowledgements on my terms.

Things are challenging with my family right now.  My 99 year old Nan died 3 weeks ago - she was my Dad's Mum and had dementia which had got progressively worse over the last 3 years.  In the end, she stopped eating and drinking and died within a week.  It was sad but not unexpected.  My Dad has taken it very badly - which is sort of inexplicable.  His brothers and sisters have not been hard hit, she was very old and had had a long independent life (to 94) before she became unwell.  My Dad has withdrawn and is not talking to my Mum or anyone else, really.  The funeral was on Thursday and we expected that would move him on but it seems to have made him worse.  I phoned him yesterday to share with him my delight at having just submitted my thesis.  He said "oh?" and when I said "that's all you can say?" he asked me to repeat what I was saying, which I did.  And then he said "yes?".  I nearly burst into tears at his apathy and said "thanks a lot, bye" and hung up.  He text me several hours later saying he had been waiting for a call from the bank to sort of my Nan's bank account and was not concentrating and...I don't care.  This is the most important thing in my entire life.  This is wonderful, happy, celebratory news.  The world does not stop when you lose someone and the only way to get through it is to grab hold of good things when you can.

I spoke to my Mum today - he had not mentioned to her that I had called so I told her about the above.  She said she is becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with him.  He will not talk about how he is feeling, barely speaks at all, and when he does all he talks about is his Mum and his childhood and his brothers and sister.  My Mum says she feels like he doesn't care about us (her, my brothers, me) anymore, she said "it's like none of us, none of this, matter to him".  

My Mum (due to various reasons) had two Mums.  Both of them died many years ago.  Her Dad died when she was still a teenager.  She has lost all her parents.  She has been through this.  And she was widowed when she was in her 20s.  She knows what grief is like.  And she will listen and help my Dad.  But he seems to not want any of us and not be willing to look outside himself or accept that people die.  And we all have to die eventually and 99 is an amazing age.  My Mum asked him to remember how lucky he had been to have his Mum all this time (he's 71). He didn't respond.

I'm angry.  And I'm sad that he can't even muster two words - "well done!" - for something so huge for me.  

And I'm sad for my Mum, for her having to live with him when he's like this.  She's angry and frustrated and worried there's something seriously wrong with him.

And, at the end of all this, I'm just tired and sad and feeling kind of empty now the thesis is gone and the viva is far off in the future - perhaps very far off depending on whether my external examiner is participating in the UCU industrial action - and I need to muster energy to apply for jobs and write some journal articles.

This isn't how I thought I would feel at the [almost] end of the PhD.  Bit of an anti-climax. 
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Today I turned 30 years old.

I've spent months freaking out because this is not the life I expected to be living at 30.

Today, however, I managed to beat the odds and buy tickets for me and [personal profile] forthwritten to see the Manics play The Holy Bible in full in December, then I taught two good undergraduate seminars, then I went home and opened gifts from my parents and brothers; then I spent 3 hours building a Lego Delorean and then my parents (who are visiting Brighton) came over and we drank a bottle of really nice champagne.

My parents and I went for a meal at a Really Good vegetarian restaurant, and somehow we got into an argument about theology in which I calmly debunked my Dad's entire belief system (turns out my Mum is an agnostic despite regular Church of England communion attendance and she bowed out of the conversation early) and got to a point where my Mum admitted my non-conformist/anti-establishment opinions were her fault; "it's my fault you're like this, when I used to read fairy tales to you in the bath I'd criticise them, like Red Riding Hood - as if she'd think the Wolf was her Grandmother just because he was wearing her cloak!".

30, it turns out, is a fairly good age to be.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I've been reflecting on my relationship with my brothers in the last few days.  

For those of you who need catching up... I have three half-brothers, all older than me. The eldest two are my Mum's sons and the youngest is my Dad's son. From the top down they are 44, 41, and 39 (and I am 29, if you are also missing that piece of information). I haven't spoken to the youngest of my older brothers (often called "3 of 3" in this journal) for about 2 years since I decided that his bigotry - most explicit in his uneducated views on 'immigration' and abhorrent racism - was not something I would accept from anyone else, so why should I continue to associate with him.  Brother 1 of 3 has a 16 year old son and has been unemployed on disability for about 14 years now after having a breakdown when his marriage ended, he is diagnosed as having schizo-affective personality disorder, I'm sceptical of that diagnosis but I won't get into that now.  Brother 2 of 3 has recently got engaged to the woman he met 9 years ago whilst in mental hospital.  He has been in and out of mental hospitals since 1995 when he had a total schizophrenic breakdown. He has been declared 'in remission' from paranoid schizophrenia for some years now and is stable as long as he keeps taking his pills.

I maintain an amicable relationship with brother 1 of 3 and 2 of 3.  I have a lot in common in terms of world view, music and film taste with brother 1 of 3, unfortunately because he now sits in his flat all day everyday, has almost no human contact, and has given up on himself, he's more or less impossible to hold a conversation with him beyond pleasantries and me telling him what I have done that day/week/month.  I have less in common with brother 2 of 3, although he is the glue who keeps up to date on everyone in our family, phones round, organises family events, etc etc.  I spoke to him the other week, after he and his new-fiancée returned from a holiday and we talked about how he proposed to her and what he got for his birthday from other people.  He asked me what I was doing and I said I had marking to do.  He asked me what I was marking, I said "essays" he asked "your essays?" and I explained that no, I don't write essays, I'm doing a PhD, I'm marking the essays of students I have taught this year. "oh yes," he said "you've been lecturing this year".  I didn't bother to correct him, I've explained - in the simplest terms - what doing a PhD involves several times over, and explained that I am a seminar tutor not a lecturer as many times again.  Try as I might I cannot communicate anything about my life to him in a way he finds intelligible.

Last night I lamented to my Mum that I have nothing in common with my brothers (implicitly, she understands that when I say 'brothers' I only mean 1 of 3 and 2 of 3, I truly have cut 3 of 3 out of my life even though I technically now have 4 nephews and nieces thanks to his rabbit-like breeding with his girlfriend)  She replied that 1 and 2 have never had anything in common, I replied that they spend quite a lot of time together now and that 2 told me that when 1 went mad they began to have a more-typically brotherly relationship.  She laughed and said she supposed it gave them a point of commonality.

I went on to say I can't even get 2 of 3 to understand what I do for a living.  She said she thinks his memory is no good now, and went on to tell me about the last time he was in hospital.  

In some ways, every time 2 of 3 went mad it was the same, in other ways, it was very different.  The first time - when I was 11 - was the scariest.  If you have never seen someone totally lose their mind you can't understand what it was like.  If you are thinking "oh yes, I've known people with depression/OCD/anxiety/anorexia" then nope, you can't know it either. Schizophrenia and psychosis associated with type 1 bipolar disorder are unlike any other mental illness.  They are absolute.  They gradually creep and take away the person you knew.  You are left with a mess of a human, unable to hold a conversation, follow short logical steps, living, functioning on a completely different and entirely inaccessible (to you) plain.  My brother was never violent, but he still scared 11 year old me.

Imagine being 11 and your big brother, the man who has been a hero to you ever since you can remember, the man who looked after you and played with you and teased you and laughed with you, imagine him stepping out and a stranger being in his place.  

When he went mad in 2003 until 2004 it was the hardest, which is perhaps surprising as I was 200 miles away from him and my family at university and didn't have to deal with the day to day interactions with him, just the phone calls.  He was mad, raving, absolutely on a different planet mad, and it was the 5th or 6th time he was hospitalised since that first time in 1995.  My parents were exhausted as they'd had to fight to get him sectioned, and it just went on and on.  That last time, I think all of us thought at some point that maybe he wouldn't come back.  He was gone for so, so long.

My Mum told me, last night, that his doctor told her, that last time, that 3 of 3 was so ill he'd never be the same.  He said that once you go that mad, for that long, a part of your brain is damaged and it never recovers.  It just shuts down. My Mum hypothesised this was part of the reason for my brother's inability to understand what I'm doing, and retain that information.

I had an argument with my brother at Christmas. It was all from him, thinking I was attacking or undermining him when in fact I was confirming what he knew was correct and offering additional information.  My Mum tried to tell me, when we discussed it in February, that there is no point arguing with him if he has decided something is a certain way, and I should give way to him rather than arguing.  I couldn't understand why I had to give way and back down from every misunderstanding and he didn't - why should I always cave?  I suppose this is the reason.

One way or another, my brothers have gone a long way away from me and if I want closeness, and a relationship with either 1 or 2, I have to work out how to do it on their terms, on their level, at their pace, with their needs first.

I'm the youngest, the baby of the family.  It's very strange to have to re-conceptualise my entire relationship with them around their new, their current cognitive capacity.

It makes me sad.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 A couple of things have prompted me to write about my identities - or rather two of them.  Tonight; on being a (cis)woman, and being an Aunty.

My ear piercings have partially healed up.  At one time I had 6 ear piercings.  I took the two catilidge ones out year ago - when I took out my eyebrow and bellybutton ones at 19-ish.  But my first ear piercings, the ones that were nice and standard, with a gun, smack bang in middle of lobes, they mean more.  I have acquired a sensitivity to most metals which means my lobes turn green within about 2 hours of putting earrings in, and wearing necklaces gives me a rash - not being able to find surgical grade titanium meant I just stopped wearing earrings...ever. It's been about 8 years since I wore earrings more than once a year.

I was 13.  It was the youngest age you were allowed to get your ears pierced at the local hair salon.  It was £13 with gold earrings and aftercare solution.  I went with my two best friends.  My Mum drove us.  I remember looking in the mirror in the sun visor of the passenger side seat thinking "this is the last time my ear lobes will look like this, this is the last time they will be untouched".  Funny, the things you remember.

I manipulated the situation so I didn't have to go first - Lucy went first, then me, then Claire.  They gave us the aftercare solution when we paid and Lucy asked the receptionist what would happen if she drank it, and the receptionist looked shocked and embarassed, and I replied "you'd die! Now come on and pay" and felt embarassed too.  Lucy made me feel that way often at that age, as an adult with hindsight I'm sad I was so young, so unable to reply as I would now.

I remember my Mum telling me when I was 9 or so that her ear piercings never healed up when  she didn't wear earrings because she'd had them so long.  Having my ears pierced felt like an important step to womanhood, an induction.  It's funny, my Mum never did - I remember her hugging me when I had my pants round my ankles after I'd just discovered my first period and her telling me, with a bit of a crack in her voice, that I was a woman now.  Bleeding or not bleeding has never contributed to my sense of womanhood.  Having my ears pierced has, oddly.

Someone I know on facebook posted one of those awful 'inspirational text over a photo background' things.  But this one gave me pause.  It said an Aunt was someone who supported and loved a child without the conditions and trials of parenthood - or in essence it did.  I've been an Aunt since I was 13.  I am an Aunt 3 times over now, soon to be 4 times over.  But I don't have any real connection to my nephews.  My eldest nephew has just turned 16, his parents - my brother and his mother - divorced when he was 2 and although I've been there in principle, I've more often *not* been there thanks to uni, and also his living with his mother.  He's not a person I think is great - I think the influences of his mother's brother and his mother's new husband (who, incidentally, is the same age as me and went to school with me) are negative - they encourage the 'laddish' in him and frankly in the past few years I've seen techniques I'd describe as bullying to get him conform to their attitudes - attitudes my brother has never been involved enough to refute but categorically would have.  As such I have a borderline homophobic, laddish, sexist, cocky nephew with whom I no longer have any real connection.

My other two nephews are through my other, youngest brother (the youngest of my three brothers, still 10 years older than me) - in some ways that brother is like my eldest nephew - the influences in his life were from his mother and her partner and were never in line with the liberal, inclusive perspectives which shaped me.  So a few years ago when I cut him out of my life that was inevitable, but he still has a 11 year old stepson and a 2 year old bio-son.  Both of whom call me Aunty.  But the influences he and his partner are inflicting on them not only are against me, as queer woman, they are against my friends - people of colour,  trans people, economic and political migrants.  So when their daughter is born next month, my Dad will be pleased in a vacuum where me, my Mum, and my other two brothers have only apathy toward the news, and I will be an Aunty for the fourth time.

I imagine, one day, one of my nephews or nieces realising they are queer, or finding themselves in a mixed-race or mixed-cultural relationship and them coming to find me, and us bonding.  But it's a fantasy.  The real picture is them growing up in their parents image, and hating people exactly like me, and generally like me, but making an exception - an exception they don't even recognise as inconsistent with their other abhorrent views - making an exception for me, their queer Aunt who sometimes goes out with people who aren't white (youngest brother didn't speak to me for 3 months when he found out the girl I was going out with was black) and has friends who are the kind of immigrants they abuse and want the BNP to send 'home'.

No, I don't love my nephews and nieces unconditionally, but I hope I'll be there to love them if their parents can't.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
67Threnody just posted a list of what she had bought people for Christmas and I really enjoyed reading it as, for me, the lead up to Christmas, buying and wrapping presents and anticipating everyone's responses is the best part of Christmas.

Feeling in a thoroughly festive mood after going to see It's A Wonderful Life at my local independent cinema (it was the first time I'd ever seen it, and it elicited a round of applause from the sold out auditorium at the end of film!) I thought I'd share with you the things I made for Christmas this year - in a bid to give as much as I ever do but on a much limited budget (£30 per person this year instead of the usual £50 I allow/have been able to afford previously)

First up three stockings which are for, left to right, my brother's girlfriend, my eldest brother, and my middle brother (whose girlfriend the first one is for);
Pics and more under cut )Pics and more under cut )Pics and more under cut )

Ta da! What are you doing for Christmas? What is the gift you are most looking forward to seeing the recipient unwrap?
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 Sometimes, in the depths of the blacks - blacks like the one I'm going through right now, triggered by the loss of my gorgeous little rat boy Nico yesterday - a memory pops up.  

A bright, shining, yellow memory.  And it's so vivid, and beautiful and warm that you cry for the joy and loss and greatness and passing of such a perfect moment.

Stumbling up to the results board in Bowland, through an almighty hangover.  Avoiding eye contact.  Scanning frantically down the results board.  Seeing my name in the 2:1, not believing it. Checking again, and again.   Bursting into tears - surprising myself at such a reaction.  Stumbling about getting hugs from course-mates. Eating strawberries. Calling Ali in tears and joy.  Going home - getting into bed to sleep off the hangover.  Perfect contentment.

It's a little gift from deep in my mind, I think, to make up for the usual 'kicking me in the teeth' act.

And it sometimes gives way to happy memories of the thing that is causing you pain right now - like Nico bruxing, and all the times I chatted to him and called him pickle, and all the times he nibbled my nose and chased my toes.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 When you clear your cache, cookies etc in google chrome the option you click reads "obliterate items from [drop down box] the beginning of time".  Wouldn't it be nice if life was that easy?

I have been toying with the idea of making this post for some time, but the day I've had today? 

Frequently, I dream about Ali.  The theme and end result is always the same although the circumstances change. We met or she tracks me down.  Apologises unreservedly, begs me to take her back, demonstrates she has changed and we reunite.  Indeed, these dreams have become so common I now reference them in my dreams, most recently I said to Ali, upon the moment of reconciliation "I thought there was something wrong with me because I kept having dreams we got back together and I thought it was because you were the only one for me that I couldn't get past them and everyone told me I was wrong but now we are back together it just proves everyone wrong and that the reason I had the dreams is because I knew it would end this way".  Imagine my feelings upon waking and finding that too was a dream.

A woman I work with, who I wrote about when she got her job at my work place back in December has cancer.  She is, as I lamented at the time, exactly a year older than me.  She found a lump.  A week later she was examined at the hospital.  A week after that they said it was cancer.  A week after that they started chemotherapy to try and shrink it so they could operate.  Now the cancer has spread to her liver.  Last I heard they were trying to work out if it was in a part of her liver they could remove.  Last I heard they were doing scans to see if the cancer was in her brain and her bones.  She is exactly a year older than me.  People our age aren't supposed to get this shit.  They are not supposed to be facing their own mortality like this.  I keep crying about it.  I barely know her, but she was nice, and friendly and seemed like someone I wanted to get to know and I made efforts to that ends.  I'm so angry about it, this is not fair.  She is 27 for gods sakes.

My friend S, the one who suffered a traumatic brain injury at the end of last year, text me tonight to ask if I was still looking for a place to live.  I said maybe, it was really down to price.  Turns out his girlfriend has been living at her parents for the last month "getting her head together" and tonight they decided to split up.  They bought a house together about 3 years ago? I feel a deep sadness for this ending.  I don't know the details about how things came apart.  I barely know her.

I had a massive argument with my Dad tonight.  There was an article on 'The One Show' by a woman from the Apprentice who said she went back to work 6 weeks after having a baby because it was the thing she wanted to do and then she spoke to other women who had kids who said her children would suffer.  My Dad said she was selfish and shouldn't have had children if she didn't want to stay home and 'bond' with it.  I said she was bonded with it and probably saw it every day.  My Mum chipped in that my cousin's wife went back to work soon after giving birth and her baby slept during the afternoon so it was awake during the evening when she got home, then my 'discussion' with my Dad intensified and my Mum went into another room and shut the door.  I asked him if it mattered, therefore, that the father went back to work after 6 weeks, he said it didn't matter, nor did it matter if the mother went back to work whilst the father stayed home because the bond with the mother was 'different'.  I asked him in what way it was different, he said "it just is". 

He said her priorities were all wrong if she wanted to work instead of stay home with a child. He said with priorities like those she should never have had kids because she clearly didn't want them.  I said thousands of people enjoy work and why shouldn't she continue to do the things she enjoys and have children, in effect, to have her cake and eat it.  He said he'd already said why; because babies need to bond with their mothers.  I said that was no argument or reason at all.  He said "I know more about this than you do" and then smiled smugly.

For the record, when I was little my Dad was a policeman.  He was angry all the time because he was either stressed or tired from a night shift or both.  My Mum was a housewife.  When I was older my Dad took early retirement from the police because he was suffering from severe stress and my Mum went to work and he set up a business doing people's gardens.  I remember the change that happened in our house - it was happier.  Tell me now that a woman not working is the most important aspect of parenting.

I know that motherhood isn't a magical valley where all roads are open and fulfilment lies at every turn.  I know that in essence, 'maternal instinct' is bullshit.  If it wasn't there wouldn't be thousands of books available on how to look after infants.  I know all this and so much more because I don't live next to women - mothers, I talk to women who are mothers.  I know that, for me, taking a year or more off work on maternity leave would leave me miserable.  I also know that for many women there could be nothing more wonderful than having that time to dedicate to their offspring.   know that parenthood changes your outlook on life.  I also know that changing your outlook on life is not automatically the same thing as no longer believing your work to be a central piece of who you are.  Most importantly, I know that neither of these positions is right or better than the other.  Rather, they are different ways of living which are adopted and practiced by different people.

The pressure to 'be' a mother upon giving birth is, as I understand from both my own mother and the accounts of many, many mothers I have read and spoken to, HUGE.  Pile onto that the insistence that leaving your baby in the care of relatives, childcare professionals or even it's father is a form of emotional neglect? You've got a big fat pile of sexism working away to stop women from making the choice they want - whether that be to take 1 years maternity or 1 month.  So yeah, I think I do know a bit about it too, Dad.

On an unrelated note, my brother's girlfriend had a c-section last week after 3 days of labour starting, being stopped, being started, stopping...and I have a new nephew.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 One way or another our parents shape our music taste; whether that is because we are busily fleeing anything that sounds like what we were subjected to or because it sounds like home.  I'm also of the opinion that, whatever response you have to your parents music taste on the above spectrum, there is always a single band carried on a generation.  For me, it is the Beatles.  

My Mum - as I have mentioned before - taught me to sing Yellow Submarine as the first song I ever learnt.  The Beatles were - and are - to her the single most important music moment in her life and whilst she saw some awesome bands live in the 60s the only story I ever hear about live music in her youth is the one that got away; her Mum went to buy Beatles tickets for her and her brother but by the time she got to the front of the queue they had sold out, so she bought tickets for the Rolling Stones instead ("I don't think she understood there was a difference", is how my Mum consoles herself on that one).

The band I want to gift to the next generation/my children? The Manics of course.  Not least of all because they will tie very nicely in with all the books I want to gift to my -as-yet-nonexistent- offspring.  What band do you want to pass on?  What music could you not, in good conscience, neglect to force on a new generation of listeners?

I think the most interesting and important aspect of this musical inheritance is the way it enables us to bridge the gap in culture, experience and age.  I could explain - without ever having to lay it out - to my kid that when I was young I felt alienated and desperate to believe that I wasn't living in an Orwellian nightmare - despite the way my peers might behave.  And in listening to the Beatles I learnt about the energy and optimism of my Mum's youth giving way to political upheaval and uncertainty.  In listening to the bands she didn't like; David Bowie, the Beach Boys, I learnt about the things she feared and found unsettling.   And by having my own responses and connections to albums like Pet Sounds, Ziggy Stardust and Rubber Soul, my Mum had a measure of what kind of person I was that comes through much clearer than any heart to heart could be; you can't fake an emotional connection to music. 

My Mum was (and kind of still is - you can't say a bad word about him in our house without her WRATH coming down on you-) a die hard Paul McCartney fan; she was always vaguely dismissive and negative when telling me anything about John Lennon.  Bear that in mind as I tell you that tonight came what I think is the clearest reflection of our relationship as mediated through music;

I stuck Rubber Soul on whilst I played with the rats, my Mum was in the bath in the adjacent room and shouted through the door "I still know every word to these!".  "Of course you do!" I replied.  Shortly after she came out of the bathroom, she pauses for a moment before going into her room and turns to me, saying; "I think you'd have been a John Lennon-er." I smile "yup, I think I would have been."

askygoneonfire: if you lived here, you'd be home by now (November the 15th)
You sit, in a worn down but well loved, lived in living room, you shout from there to the kitchen down the corridor.  The soul you feel most drawn to and most forgiven by shouts back to you; you laugh till you cry.

Text messages buzz, the doorbell rings, the landline dings; "I think I'm standing outside?"

The temperature rises as bodies pack into the insufficient but perfectly workable space.  The thrum of laughter, and smiles - smiling has a sound - and conversation drifts from the floor upwards, filling the whole room with a pleasant din, like a fog which envelops but also multiplies as it spreads.

It is tactile, and comfortable, and it is home.  

It is home.  Far more than 'home' was ever home.

All those idiosyncrasies which were shameful and hidden are jokes - shouted across the room.  All those insecurities which were poured over cease to exist.  Home.  This is what home feels like.

It's a knowledge that happens in the core of the bones and spreads outwards.  And then, suddenly and gradually, there has never been any doubt about where here is.

You catch yourself: just once in a while, standing there, amongst the din, smiling and feeling, even for a few precious moments, perfect contentment.


It is 11 days until I get to go home.  It is too long, and my retreat will be too short.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Mum: "The miner's strike bought your pram, crib, clothes, toys..."
Me: "what?"
Mum: "Dad [a policeman at the time] was doing loads of overtime so we got loads of extra money"
Dad: "Yeah! We even called Arthur Scargill 'Uncle Arthur'"
Me: "These are not the socialist roots I dreamt of!"
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 David Tennant returns to all screens showing the BBC next month in 'Single Father'  As a David Tennant fan, I am jolly excited about this.

I turn to my Mum and announce to her the screening date (Sunday 10th October according to the David Tennant page on twitter) and she asks what it is about...

"I don't know...a single father, I suspect"
"Oh......but he's not a single father is he? He doesn't even have kids"
"No, but he wasn't a Time Lord either"
".....Yes he was!"

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So, odd day. Started off, as every other Tuesday does, with therapy.

Suddenly realised something about me, and how I manage - or don't manage - my moods.

My Mum's most common refrain, if I, or my brothers, is playing a certain kind of music - such as Radiohead, the Manics (GATS, THB, JFPL only) etc etc is "why are you listening to that suicide music?" She even said it once when I was listening to Josh Ritter's Hello Starling (my response? "it's not suicide music, it's about the return of hope" her response "pff!")

It's an infuriating little quirk and no amount of explanation of what a song is about, or what a certain genre of music is doing will change her. However, it reveals a little about how my Mum deals with extreme feelings: WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT THEM.

I've always been rather British about this and concluded that not speaking about dramatic emotions is good and right. But over the years, and through the diagnoses that attitude has begun to change. I am thinking about how this attitude affects me because if I do move back in September, I'm going to be living under the same roof as it again

My main fear is that if things do go a bit pear shaped emotionally/mentally for me again I am going to be under enormous strain trying to keep it hidden - as I did as a teenager - which, of course, compounds the problem. I've spent the last 7/8 years expressing most of what I feel as it happens to my friends and partners, and being allowed the space to simply express it, with no repercussions, no being told not to think/feel those things, no being told to push it away, ignore it, no being told it's "not as bad as you think" or "you always take on so, don't" or simply "you'll feel better tomorrow".

The thing is, all of these bits of 'advice' from my Mum come with the best possible intentions. Deep, deep down she truly believes that if she doesn't acknowledge any of the things I say are happening to me/I'm feeling then they won't be feeling. My two eldest brothers had complete mental breakdowns - full on break with reality - and she very nearly managed to pretend that things weren't as bad as they were/happening for the reasons they were. In short, my Mum makes denial a world class sport.

The effect of all of this is that somewhere in my head is the hard-wired idea that both expressing and experiencing extreme emotions of any kind is wrong. It's reductive and not a little absurd to suggest that all my problems come from this deny/suppress environment, but I think it's fair to say it doesn't help.

Interestingly, my Dad has a very practical approach to all this, he's brilliant at coaching and counselling my brothers and has the gift of being able to provide practical perspectives and solutions to emotional hardship. However, I'm his only daughter, and I'm the youngest.  I feel like being number 4 of 4 kids with some sort of mental health failings means that I am the failure, I am the disappointment and if I told him I'd either disappoint or worry him - most likely both.  I don't want to do that.  

Of course, social factors aside, most of the things that mentally shit me over are probably genetic.  Genetic like the ligaments and joints that comprise my knees.

After I finished with therapy and had lunch I headed along to the Doctor's Surgery to talk about my knee pain.  My burning, flaming knee pain that happens whether I stand up for 8 hours at work or not and I was told that.....I have arthritis!

Joy.  Bought glucosamine, despite my massive scepticism of alternative remedies and went away with instructions to keep my knees straight when sitting - i.e. not sitting with my legs splayed apart with the knee joint turned outwards and to never cross my legs.  Or do the breast stroke when swimming - although I used to swim competitively and was taught to swim racing breast stroke which has a much straighter extend rather than kicking to the side so I might ignore that one.  Finally I was told to work on building up my quads - continue cycling to work and do some weird toe curling exercise when sitting.  Le sigh.

My seagulls remain in ruddy health and are growing like weeds.  Managed to capture two not-very-good occasions of them feeding, in each case I got my camera to the window after the main feeding was over.  Turns out nature is difficult to film, who knew!

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Friday, June 4, 2010
What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of your father? 

It strikes me that lately I have been thinking a lot about where I come from, I thought it didn't matter.  Who I was, I was quite sure, was contained in who I am now.

More and more I am reflecting on what it means to be part of my family, to have grown up in the little village I'm from...

It struck me the other day how absolutely unique to country kids my childhood was - from stomping about in the river all summer long, to peeing in the bushes of the nearest field when our ancient school bus broke down for the hundredth time that month in the middle of nowhere.  And when I thought about this, as I sat on a Brighton and Hove bus filled with school kids, I felt glad in the deepest parts of my being.

And where all of that came from, that uniqueness of experience, is tied completely and absolutely to my family.  On the most basic level my parents are to thank for my country upbringing as they decided to up sticks - and in my Dad's case, transfer his job - and move to the country so that I could grow up, as they had done, in a village.

For years I put pretty much everyone I was close to ahead of my family - my friends, partners, even the parents of partners and friends.  But quite suddenly, after me and Ali split, I found they were more important to my happiness than I had ever imagined.

Most vital in this discovery was my Father's role in the weeks and months following my breakup.  I found I was more like him than I knew. I found our lives were taking eerily similar paths at the same respective points.  I found him to be wise in the ways of people and the world - a well of untapped wisdom just waiting for to turn the constant presence in my life and recognise both what I needed to acknowledge and where I could find all the things I needed to form a sense of who I was in the world and start forming an identity as who I was now.

I never thought that at 25 I would be reevaluating my identity and starting to add new explanations to my mental image of who I am and how I became that person but here I am.  The biggest prompt to this...soul searching is the wrong word, it implies too much angst, but something like that...has been thinking about the people who made me who I am, the place that made me who I am and the ways in which all these factors continue to shape me.

So what comes to mind? Stability, warmth and helping me find a way to start all over again but do it in a new way. Someone who made me the person I am, and continue to discover.

Oh, and the man who subjected me to about 4 times the amount of his music taste as my Mum did (the first song I learnt was Yellow Submarine, taught to me by my Mum, the first singer I ever imitated was Crystal Gayle, go figure) which, after about 20 years of loudly rejecting, (but being quietly influenced by - my music tastes are guitar based indie, folk...)  I suddenly realised I both loved and missed it.  Which is why, tonight, I'm watching 'Queens of Country' on BBC4, singing along to every single song with an almost innate knowledge of the lyrics.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So, as the interwebz is well aware, Janet Street Porter is a class A prick. Her article in the Daily Mail (aka the Daily Hate, Nazi Daily and Toilet Paper) today is entitled 'Depression? It's Just the New Trendy Illness!'. Personally, I prefer to call it I'm Janet Street Porter and I'm a massive knob

It's hard to know where to begin when responding to an article so utterly motivated by ignorance, intolerance and downright stupidity, but I'm going to try.*

My family isn't so much 'touched' by mental illness as saturated in it. I try and count up the number of grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, siblings and cousins afflicted with anxiety, stress, depression or any of the myriad of other mental health issues and I very quickly run out of fingers. It's pretty much
all of us.

Janet Street Porter may be interested to hear, however, that my family are working class. They *are* shelf stackers, cleaners, care workers, caretakers, administration staff or simply terminally unemployable. Is their experience of depression, anxiety or stress any different to that of the middle class Street-Porter so doggedly condemns? No. Or, in the longer answer, yes. They don't have the ear of the media inclined towards them. They do not have the education of the people who write books (what's that, Janet Street Porter, you've written two books? Goodness, aren't you clever!) that sell thousands, they do not have the high flying careers that afford them the opportunity to talk about their depression/anxiety/stress on tv, radio and in the paper, but they do have the shared experience of insurmountable despair, blackest depressions, unmanageable stress and ultimately, the horrific isolation that is being diagnosed with one or all of these conditions and having to work through it; speaking to as few people as possible in order to minimise the outpouring of intolerance those words provoke.

I was delighted to read that depression didn't exist until just a few years ago. Presumably what I, and my relatives had been suffering until then was some sort of general malaise, perhaps a touch of ennui. Indeed I found it remarkable to discover, from Janet Street Porter's article, that depression didn't exist
at all in the sixties. I'm sure my Mother, whose first husband killed himself at the end of the sixties, will be most relieved to learn he wasn't suffering from depression as it didn't exist, no doubt he was just testing the strength of the tree branch with the rope he tied around it.

It's also been a delight to learn that 15 years ago that when my Father was forced to retire from the Police force - a job he had aspired to throughout his teens and was passionate about during it's execution, due to stress which he simply couldn't recover from whilst continuing to do the same job - it wasn't in fact stress that forced him to leave. No, as that particular condition is only an invention of the last 5 years he was in fact suffering from hypochondria! The wife and child under 10 who he placed in financial straights by his 'illness' were in fact callously endangered! If only he'd decided not to be friends with the people who were upsetting him, that would have fixed

Finally, it has been reassuring to see that had my eldest older brother been successful in his suicide attempt Janet Street Porter would have attended his funeral encouraging us, his mourning family to laugh! Because the world being rid of yet another misogynist bastard, another 'man [who has been] in charge of everything'. After all, the miserable mental state he was in, the continued non-existent self esteem that frequently prevents him leaving the house for days on end? All of that is, in her words, "
karmic revenge" on mankind.

But of course, my brother is gentle, and kind, and loving and, unfortunately, deeply unhappy. He is not a misogynist, he has never been in charge of anything, on account of being working class. He deserves none of the things the world has thrown at him. He does not deserve the chemical imbalance in his brain that foils his every endeavour. He does not deserve to die by his own hand.

And yet Janet Street Porter believes he does. And she believes I should be happy about it, she believes I should laugh.

The thing that perplexes me is why stop with a critique of depression, anxiety and stress? What about the incidence of OCD? Are all those sufferers just being pathologised for being a good housewife! What about schizophrenia? It's nothing if not an attention seeking wilful neglect of reality! Indeed, if we're going to argue that every disease that doesn't have the same rate of occurrence as a Brazilian slum isn't real then we better add anorexia to the list. Those skeletal boys and girls are just a bit too keen on exercise and attention seeking in their rejection of food aren't they!

It's perhaps rather reflective of my intrinsic belief in human compassion that I thought ‘articles’ like this were a thing of the past. I’m so, so unhappy to learn that they aren’t. Indeed the only positive I can seem to find is that I wish I was as lucky as Street Porter that neither I, nor my family or friends had been touched by depression, anxiety or stress and I could be so ignorant of it all that I could simply write it off as the new yuppie malaise.

*There have been lots of responses already in the blogsphere and in the press, all of them condemning Street-Porter as far as I can see, with this in mind I have decided not to tackle her on the 'facts' she presents, but rather the reasons the article enraged and saddened me, on a personal level
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So, in what can only be described as a predictable development, I have been signed off work with 'stress exhaustion'. As I remarked to a friend on Friday, I can and have continued to work whilst this stressed but it does not end well, and why make myself ill over a job I hate?

I've just begun reading Moby Dick and, like Ishmael, when I feel the hopeless melancholy and pervasive paranoia descend my greatest wish is to flee the soulless city for the wild and absolute anonymity of nature. I find myself in my parents house where the question of how I've come to have a week off work remains prominently unasked.

I'm finding some sort of comfort in the silence which envelops this house, only the birds break the silence morning or night. In the void left by city bustle, of course, rests my frantic thoughts. A lifetime of listening to the anxious nonsense which spills forth provides no help in trying, as I am now, to quieten that hysterical rambling.

On Saturday night I attended a family gathering for my Mother's brother's 70th birthday, it's been around 8 years since I have seen that side of the family and once again I was misrecognised as my brother's girlfriend; a peculiar and embarrassing mistake. My Mother's other brother asked me if I still wanted to do a PhD, I told him I was desperate to, he told me he anticipated it's completion so that he could boast about having a Doctor in the family. I smiled. I am the first person on both sides of my not unsubstantial family to go to University, an honour which seems to leave me irrevocably distanced from a family of the terminally unemployable and the lifelong incapacitated. It's odd to regret your success in that sense and harder still to sense the weight of pride which urges me on to gain appropriate employment and fulfil that most loaded of words, my 'potential'.

Which all leaves me firmly where I started, laying in bed at my parents house, reading a book by torch light wondering just how much the protagonist and I have in common. Am I, like Ishmael, fated to go down this disasterous road too blind to change course, too weak in the face of hopeless destiny to break out an original course?
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
This afternoon I've been communing with the rats a bit and investigating their music tastes. Apparently the Manics are a hit with their particular favourite thus far being the cover, Take the Skinheads Bowling. Later I was playing Five Leaves Left and apparently Nico is a big Nick Drake fan as he came to sit as close as possible to me and the speakers and sat there struggling to stay awake as Mr. Drake's folk styling's lulled him to sleep.

In the interest of simple motivations I bring you cuteness, in picture form. It basically illustrates what I was saying the other day about them mocking my insomnia with their absolute commitment to bed-based comfort. Reux is the one at the front in both cases with Nico just behind him. Click either picture to embiggen.

I purchased some rat supplies this afternoon from the Pets at Home website, whilst browsing for a few more items to add to my basket in order to get free delivery I came across two items which made me laugh and exclaim 'wtf?!', respectively;

Goats [Book] (just read the description/synopsis)

Grooming Wipes (WHY?!)

Tuesday will be my first Queer Theory reading list blog post. Are ya excited?! I actually am...
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Well my reading list here on dreamwidth has fairly well exploded as a result of the friending meme, the content is all delightfully varied and interesting but alas does not seem well suited to mobile browsing as most posts are longer than is comfortable to read. Alas alack etc. Time to get the laptop fixed and relaunch my online life.

I'm having a peculiarly exhausting week and have resolved that whilst I can at present do nothing about my depressingly bleak working life, slogging away as I am in retail, I should take the opportunity to enhance the quality of my free time. I have decided to begin reading, and in some cases, re-reading queer theory. If, as my ambition continues to run, I am to return to academia, this activity will at least keep me thinking in the right way. Lucky bloggers that you are I intend to post short reflections on what I'm reading and hopefully spark some decision.

Happily my brother selects books from my Christmas wish list at random and along with a Terry Pratchett this year I also got Mad for Foucault which looks to be a fascinating reevaluation of the roots of Queer Theory.

This brilliant plan of academic recreational reading coincides nicely with a period of insomnia. I say 'period' as though it's a fairly inoffensive blip but of course insomnia never is. I'm stumbling through my days like the living dead as countless people tell me "you look tired". Yeah, thanks. Getting to the point where I'm having memory blackouts, was I asleep? Did I dream that? How did I get from the kitchen to the living room? I'm quite sure the rats are taunting me, every time I go into the room they yawn and stare blearily at me from what must be the most decadent of comforts: a fluffy, urine scented, slightly holey, hammock. Ah the life of a rat.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Sorry if you have no interest in this but not planning to stop blogging about them any time soon. They're basically the most important thing in my life.

Rat relations continue to flourish. The day before yesterday they both played *with* me instead of *next* to me for the first time. Nico decided I made a brilliant vantage point and spent most of the evening standing on my knee. So cute! Last night Nico climbed up my arm in order to sit on my shoulder. He *chose* to be shoulder rat! My flatmate came back from a 2week holiday yesterday so tonight I got the rats and brought them downstairs. This is the first time I've walked around whilst holding them and they were *perfect*- sitting at the back of my neck and then on my crossed arms and generally looking so cute you could die.

ETA: ok, that was dull. But I'm excited! I'll do a real entry tomorrow.

Rat Tales

Mar. 10th, 2010 09:49 pm
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Last night two exciting things happened. Number 1, I realised the rat boys are at the same stage the girls were at at this age; they were just as insane and popcorny. Number 2: Nico let me pick him up last night without doing the Squirm of Doom. Which meant for once he didn't hurt himself as I put him back in the cage, and, it was also like, bonding and progress!

Thank you everyone who told me to stick with it, especially [personal profile] forthwritten who pointed me to a brilliant rat forum.

A Letter

Feb. 3rd, 2010 10:02 pm
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (askygoneonfire)
Dear Mum,

When I was 8 you told me mixed race relationships were acceptable, but you didn't think they were ok, because the people would inherently be too different. And their lives would be too difficult.

When I was 14 you told me you liked David Bowie until he "said he was a bisexual" then you didn't like him anymore.

In the two conversations we've had in the last two days I've revealed to you that I have a girlfriend, and that she's black.

You quietly hated my last girlfriend. I always assumed it was because she was my *girl*friend. Perhaps it was, partly. Tonight I learned you can overcome al of those ideas. You're happy for me, really happy for me.

Thank you. I know I wasn't any of the things you expected from a daughter. I know I'm not like anyone else in the family, I never have been. I'm wilful, and argumentative, and opinionated, and stubborn. Actually, stubborn is genetic. But I'm the first girl on either side of the family to run at life like this. You've been forced to change your opinions on a lot of things because of me. And you're 60, how many 60 year olds find themselves being made into liberals? I'm so proud you were able to adjust to me, given I sure as hell wasn't going to adjust to your ideas about the world

Thank you for being happy for me

Your daughter.


askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
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