Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In celebration of 'easy everyday kindnesses'

"It didn't occur to me then, though it certainly does now, that it was years since I'd roused myself from my stupor of misery and self-absorption; between anomie and trance, inertia and parenthesis and gnawing my own heart out, that there were a lot of small, easy everyday kindnesses I'd missed out on; and even the word kindness was like rising from unconsciousness into some hospital awareness of voices, and people, from a stream of digitized machines." (p.528, 'The Goldfinch' by Donna Tartt)

What a sentence! What an exceptional ability to deep dive the words this author has and for finding a way to articulate the darkness and trauma of her central character. Just the choice of words, let alone the way they have been arranged to build and build and build a sense of emotional intensity - it overflows with the healing of words found for wounds that tend to overwhelm our abilities for articulation. Words that define the feeling of 'otherness' that can take away the very breathe we have with which to speak them.

I love how literature heals. How some stranger in another country sitting at a computer or a book with paper and pen can write one word after another and another and somehow have channelled some deep soul truth within my own experience even when my experience is radically different to the hero in her book or any of the other characters. The connection between our stories, despite their vast differences, is how authors can truly make difference feel divine. Linked. Less alone. More human. More fully lived by having gone on the journey with the hero, through trials and always moving towards some final unknown and perhaps unknowable conclusion. Ending as an opening. Into. More. Of. Me.

To sum up so much with each word and to follow it with more words that pack in meaning upon meaning and build and build the sentence into the state of mind of the narrator - the overwhelmed mind of a boy who longs for his mother's kindness or any kindness or any sense of belonging to someone or something other than the trauma that has shaped his journey.

Here are some of the definitions from the Macquarie Dictionary of the words this author chose to use in this sentence to create the impact of a mind consumed by post traumatic stress:
"1. a social vacuum marked by the absence of social norms or values. 2. the state of alienation experienced as a result of the absence of social norms or values."
"1. a half conscious state, as between sleeping and walking. 2. a dazed or bewildered condition. 3. a fit of complete mental absorption or deep musing. 4. an unconscious, cataleptic, or hypnotic condition..."
"1. inert condition; inactivity; sluggishness..."
"2. Gram a qualifying or explanatory word, phrase, clause, sentence or other sequence of forms which interrupts the syntactic construction without otherwise affecting it having often the characteristic intonation, and shown in writing by commas, parentheses, or dashes."
NOTE too the inclusion in this word of 'parent', the very thing this character longs for from shortly after the beginning of the novel, when he is aged 13, until the ending where he is an adult.

And the ending words 'a stream of digitized machines' - likening the idea of kindness as an unrecognisable, mechanical, technical concept separated from the narrators consciousness by this social vacuum, this absence that is central to the book at all times - his mother.

Motherhood, in this book, is celebrated by the journey of a boy who does not have his mother with him any more and what that absence does to him, the longing and the lack and the loneliness of it. The qualities of motherhood he longs for of an 'easy everyday kindness' are sort of celebrated by their absence as a central, active protagonist 'doing' things to him (or his mind).

A void can be present and active and a physical reality in the rooms of your mind. Feeling alone can be a permanent interruption in the sentence of your life. All sorts of emotions can trap you or free you or define you or gently pass through you on the journey that is life. The character in this book just keeps going forward, keeps moving, keeps messing up and making up and growing up and coming down and....most importantly finding words to shape a path through the darkness for those important glimpses of light or enlightenment or just plain truth (dressed up in pretty clothes).

I love this character - Theo Decker. I love his struggle and his humanness. I want to install him in my spare room and feed him food and easy everyday kindnesses. I want to listen to his thoughts and meet his friends and hang out with him. I miss him already.

Or, as his creator so beautifully puts it, on the last page of the book,

"Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair. But the painting has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time. And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently as if I were standing in a room with you. That life - whatever else it is - is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn't mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we're not always so glad to be here, it's our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open."

There is more but I have tried not to include any spoilers and the last sentences of a book are for the private pleasure of the reader in their own time. I will not touch that sacred space. The 'painting' referred to above is also a central character of the book and I won't tell you more about it either, except to say - a book with a painting as a central character has just got to be read.

Find the beauty in your life where and when you can and wade through the rest. Give yourself the 'easy everyday kindnesses' that a mother gives to her child if she is blessed with the opportunity and circumstances to do so. Create that opportunity and those circumstances for yourself. Become the author of your own life and chose the words that open up that sacred space for you to hold and to be held with love and light and kindnesses.

Love one another.

Oh, and if you haven't already, read this book. It is so, so, so, so good. It is in itself an act of 'easy everyday kindness', a kind of mother love for humanity and it does very much feel like the author is in the room with you.

And if you were lucky enough to have a mother who gave you this kindness and love, give thanks, pay it forward and celebrate the little unnoticed acts of the mothers you encounter in your everyday life. They are sometimes the unsung heroes and it is not until they are absent that their presence is often most felt.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nine Inch Nails Kinda Life

Before motherhood I used to get in these enraged moods from time to time and the only thing I could do to overcome them was to celebrate them by listening to NIN really load and screaming at the top of my lungs. Well, that was the only safe thing to do that wouldn't harm any of my loved ones or myself.
Since motherhood, however, I have to admit these moods come around a lot more often and much more loadly too. In fact, it wouldn't be exagerrating to say that I'm living a NIN's kind of life. It appears that almost daily I need to vent my spleen and there are not too many people who can do it as spectacularly as Trent Reznor on the NIN albulm 'The Downward Spiral'. Motherhood is a daily fight agains this downward spiral and yet sometimes its better just to relent and celebrate the intensity for what it is.
So, I try to go to the gym three times a week to listen to this albulm as load as possible without deafening myself (although, not necessarily avoiding damage to my ears) and my soul screams along to every word as I run run run to that place of rage and magic. It reminds me how powerful the passion of anger can be and how it doesn't always have to be a bad thing. At its best rage is a machine that is pure, raw, honest, cathartic and, above all, human. Its primal and powerful and even pleasurable, if you can just get past your own desire to control it or hide it. Which begs the question - why do we try to stuff the rage down inside us where it will do us more harm? What is so socially unacceptable about hiding our frustrations with motherhood? We spend our every waking minute with toddlers who vent their frustrations out on us without any editing and we have to allow ourselves to find a safe place to get that out so we can remain calm and centred and focused and loving amidst all the chaos, tantrums and trials of caring for our children.
For me, that safe place is, as always, inside music. And when it comes to the seductive celebration of the darker demons within and the enraged inner critic, there is absolutely nothing that beats a NIN's lyric as far as I am concerned.
So my best tip to mothers is - find a way to celebrate the frustrations and get them out of your system. Running at the gym with your favourite albulm and letting your soul scream a little bit makes it easier to face the day the way you want - with endless empathy and ceaseless compassion for your little toddlers frustrations with the huge number of new things they face every day. As you do, with them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rock'n'Roll Parenting

So another rainy day and my beautiful boys are insane with the constriction of inside play and at each others throats. We have done baking and watching Chugginton for a million episodes and any kind of play that is possible (eg. anything like painting or puzzles is out as Oscar is too young and just eats it, destroys it or runs away with it). We have even played outside in the rain - running up and down "go, go, go" until we were soaked to the skin.
Sick of kids tv I put my Tori Amos Live CD on and tried to get the boys to play independantly - Auden with crayons and Oscar with containers from our tupperware drawer. I needed some background music that kept me calm now - forget the boys needs for a half an hour and take care of myself. After much protest from Auden that I wasn't putting Chuggington back on he settled into his crayons whilst grooving out to Tori. Every time they do a close up of her face he points at the screen and says, "Mummy". He actually thinks its me, which makes me laugh and cheers me up no end - seriously, compliments are few and far between when your at home in your pj's with toddlers all day so you gotta take them where you get them, even if they are unintentional. Auden believes that I can play piano like that and sing..you gotta laugh. We start playing air piano together to the songs and Oscar is dancing. In fact, Oscar has turned into a being of light he loves music so much and every time a song ends and the audience clap both Oscar and Auden clap and cheer too. We are having our own live performance and the wiggles are nowhere in sight. Hooray!! So much fun and such a relief to my soul.
I tell Pete when he gets home that Auden thinks I'm Tori Amos. He wonders when we can go on tour and if he can be the roadie. We fantasise about another life and laugh about it together. The lightness of being continues. Always, always, the music brings us back.
Of course, perhaps Auden will get a few strange stares if he decides to sing some of his newly discovered lyrics in public. It might be kinda strange for a toddler boy to yell "Give me peace, love and a whore's heart" in the supermarket.
Here's hoping...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Autumn Swinging

I have always wanted one of those adult swings – you know the double seated chair swings? I have been imagining myself swinging on one with a book in hand and a cup of tea a lot lately. So it was with a sense of the surreal that I found one sitting abandoned at the end of my driveway in last weeks council clean up. It’s in need of a new coat of paint and the seat needs recovering but other than that it’s in perfect working order. I am completely in love with it and eternally grateful to the universe for granting me my secret wish.

This morning the boys have discovered it for the first time and we had a wonderful time as I sat in the middle with my cup of tea and book in hand and Auden and Oscar set themselves up on either side of me. I was able to actually relax and disappear into my book for about 20 minutes as long as I kept the swing going. This, no doubt, won’t last but until the novelty wears off for the boys I am going to drink in the deliciousness of some stolen me time within my mummy duties.

As we sat there, gently rocking, we were visited by the birds and the cool Autumn air meant I had to put on a jumper for the first time. Hooray! I am so glad to see the back of all that humidity. We are delving into the deliciousness of this divine cold weather, with the sun still shining and the sky neverending blue.

Something about the cool weather makes me want to go inside myself and cacoon myself not just in jumpers and blankets but also books, movies, writing. I want to go into hibernation in every possible way and just disappear into the interior of myself. That’s why I love it – it takes me back to me.

Or maybe it is just a coincidence that I am just starting to get some of that sense of self back after a couple of years of non-stop mothering to my two boys under the age of three. In all the exhaustion and selflessness of the intense first years of mothering, doubled up by the closeness of the boys’ births, I really had no space even to imagine being me again. Motherhood has felt like a marathon only without a finish line, nor a winner or loser, nor any prize money. Just pure hard work and the constant need to be attending to someone else’s needs, and those two very little someone else’ s not being able to express their needs through words – just different versions of crying, screaming, whinging and pulling on my clothing. Dragging me around and into their minds with every means possible except actual language. A crash course in extreme intuition and the courage to stand up for what you know and the need to defend yourself from outside forces that always know better. And doing all of that in a state of extreme sleep deprivation.

There is nothing like becoming a mother - to lose yourself at the same time as everyone becomes more critical of you in everything you do. If you can survive that then you have to be stronger, perhaps even wiser, but certainly encased in thicker skin.

So I am just peeking out from the fog of early motherhood into the land of Cindy. Reclaiming my right, in some small way, to be myself, whoever that may turn out to be in the wake of all this change and challenge. And it is the autumn weather and my new swing that have woken my slumbering sense of self from the distant and dark place it has been pushed into during these past few years.

In light of that I am going to make a promise to myself to write each day because writing is the best way I know how to get back to me.