Growing Old Disgracefully • Not Your Grandma’s Grey

by Katie Paul on September 17, 2014

In less than a month I will be leaving my 40s behind and turning 50. Half a century. A big, decent, momentous birthday.

Rather than believing that my best days are in the past, I am looking forward to middle age. I don’t subscribe to the notion that joy belongs only to the young — in fact, I’m beginning to think that youth is highly overrated.

And I’m not the only one. I belong to a Facebook Group of women who have chosen to embrace their grey hair. They are a community of funny, sexy, beautiful, outspoken, sassy and kind women. I can’t wait to have a full head of long, white hair.

silver sisters

They (men, the media, our mothers, whomever) have conditioned us to believe that our greatest role in life is to have babies. Once that capacity is gone (or god forbid we’ve not been able or not been interested in having children) then we become invisible, washed out, used up. I say bollocks.

Older women are more powerful, more intuitive, more magical, and more creative than society leads us to believe. Perhaps they don’t want us to know this … perhaps it’s too scary.

As I grow older I care less about what others think, I don’t fuss over the small irritations of life, I’m more relaxed and peaceful, and I treasure each moment of each day. I’m a much nicer person than I was in my younger days — I’ve grown up and into my skin.

Hello 50s — here I am, ready to come into my full power as a wise old woman. I can’t wait!silver braid

What was/is your favourite age?
Do you enjoy getting older?

 

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Survivor Guilt

by Katie Paul on September 16, 2014

survivor guiltI watched a documentary on the anniversary of September 11, about those in the towers who survived that horrific day. Ron DiFrancesco, the last man to make it out alive, sat in front of the camera, tears pouring down his face.

‘The physical scars don’t bother me,’ he said. ‘It’s the guilt. Why did I survive when so many others didn’t?’

I have survived an implosion of a much smaller scale, one in which not everyone made it out alive. Four and a half years on, my life is perfectly wonderful. I spend all day doing whatever I want, I’m in love with a wonderful man, I’m healthy and totally sexed up. All my worries are small.

And yet in spite of this, I feel indescribably sad a great deal of the time. I am sad that men shoot their families and then themselves, that babies die in the womb or minutes after birth, that relationships grow silent, and that parents forget who they are and who they love. I am on the verge of tears every single day.

Why have I survived when there are so many others struggling with their pain? Why can’t I help them? Can I give away some of my happiness to someone else?

And then I remember that pain is part of the human condition. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to bear. Celebrating being the lucky one when others are ground into the dust feels wrong and inappropriate.

The only thing I have to offer you is hope. My small smudges of clouds today are nothing compared to the raging storms of the past. The weather always changes.

I have an umbrella.

I can lend you my coat.

It is already wet with my tears.

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Are You Okay?

by Katie Paul on September 11, 2014

are you okay

Are you okay?
I ask my boyfriend.
He frowns, knowing what the question means.
I’m not going to kill myself, he says.

Are you okay?
Compared to what?
Compared to the perfect wife and mother who has Louboutin shoes in her closet for date night and bakes sugar-free muffins for school lunches.

Are you okay?
It’s been four years, I must have gone through all the stages of grief by now.
Except I’m stuck at anger.
Is that even a phase? I can’t remember.
I’m angry that you did such a stupid fucked-up thing.
That you imagined no one cared, that no one would miss you, that we’d be better off.
That there wouldn’t be a great yawning hole in the world where you’re meant to be.

Are you okay?
You said yes, fine, no problem.
You said you were feeling better than you had in years.
You lied.

Are you okay?
I’m here aren’t I?
I’m taking the bad with the good.
It rains sometimes but eventually the weather breaks.

Are you okay?
512 women in the Suicide Widows Facebook Group light candles for their dead husbands.
Are they okay?
Will they ever be okay?

Are you okay?
Are any of us okay?
Do you hurt? Are you confused? Are you overwhelmed?
Are you anxious, lonely, sad?

Me too.
Me too.

Are you okay?
We’re not okay, but that’s okay.
We’re telling the truth.
And we’re still here.

•••

 

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World Suicide Prevention Day • For Those Left Behind

by Katie Paul on September 10, 2014

world suicide day • for those left behindToday is World Suicide Prevention Day and the media is (rightly) awash with articles and posts on how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. My black/inappropriate sense of humour would like to point out that I’m obviously not very good at keeping people alive so I’m going to leave it to the experts.

But all joking aside, today is an important day because it gives us a chance to talk about this epidemic of loss that sweeps the world.

If one person dies globally from completing suicide every 40 seconds, and almost 80% of those people are men, there are many, many wives, girlfriends and partners left behind. This post is for those who are still here and have to live with the grief and trauma of knowing someone who chose to end their life.

It’s not your fault

No matter what you did or didn’t do, no matter how much your loved the person who died, it’s not your fault. You didn’t see it coming, you had no way of knowing what would happen. Perhaps now as you look back, you can identify places where you could have done things differently, but at the time you didn’t have the perspective of hindsight. You did the best you could in the unfolding moments of life.

Other people will blame you

When someone completes suicide, people are left with the unanswerable question of ‘why?’ A question without answers makes people uncomfortable so they will transfer their discomfort to you. They will whisper about you behind your back and invent a history of exaggerated conflict or dysfunction within your relationship. You can’t control what other people think of you and the stories they invent to make themselves feel more at ease.  Trying to change other people’s minds is a waste of energy. Ignore them and move on.

It wasn’t always rainbows and roses

Loving someone who has a mental illness is not easy. It is more than likely that your relationship wasn’t full of honest communication, affection and support. There is no shame in acknowledging that you didn’t always live in blissful harmony. Just because a person is dead doesn’t automatically make them a saint. Death doesn’t erase or minimise the pain you suffered while that person was still alive. It’s normal to feel relief alongside grief and sadness.

At some point you have to let go

We all drag around our ghosts — the memory of our first boyfriend, the unrequited love of the person who didn’t love us back, the dream of the fairytale marriage that didn’t come true. The ghost of a dead lover is ever-present and all-consuming. He’s the first person you think about when you wake and the last person on your mind when you fall asleep. You feel angry, abandoned, alone and in agony. We keep our ghosts alive by letting them take up space in our thoughts, space that might be otherwise filled with light and love. When it’s time to let go, you’ll know it. Say goodbye and let him leave. Life is for the living.

If your religion isn’t helping, then you can change your mind

Whatever you believe about the afterlife will come into serious question when you lose someone to suicide. For some people, anticipating a heavenly reunion is a comfort but for others, their faith in the benevolence of the universe slips away. You can believe whatever you want to believe, believe in nothing at all, or simply put off making up your mind. It is perfectly okay to not know or to change your mind.

Love will come again

A heart that has loved so deeply can love again. You deserve to find happiness again. No one will ever take the place of your late partner, but you shouldn’t want them to. A new relationship will be exciting and scary, different and surprising. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, for a few years or for a lifetime. Be open to love and it will find you.

•••

{see video here}

If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide contact
beyondblue 1300 22 46 36, Lifeline 13 11 14 or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22.

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story is a state of mind
I admit that over the past few weeks I’ve had trouble feeling creative at all. I’ve been so doubtful of my ability and empty of ideas that I’ve contemplated throwing in the towel permanently and have even been looking for a ‘real’ job. I felt depressed and disheartened, my inspiration and spark gone without a trace.

In a final last-ditch attempt to break my soul-destroying writer’s block I googled ‘how to write like Margaret Atwood’. I was sent to her resource page where she listed her recommendations for those called to the writing life. It was there I found a link to the lovely Sarah Selecky’s online writing program Story is a State of Mind*.

Story is a State of Mind – Review

Let me start off my saying that this course is more expensive than a book but less expensive that a Masters’ writing subject. Having read a million books and completed two writing degrees I can safely say that this program has done more for me than either of those two things. Let me explain why.

1. You can listen to the classes as well as read them. As I’m not a very good non-fiction reader (I skim too fast and miss half the information) being forced to slow down and listen was good for me. Sarah’s voice is warm, encouraging and confident. I felt as though we were having a conversation.

2. The writing exercises and assignments are brilliant and I have filled almost half of a new notebook. She encourages you to let the story come to you, rather than search for the story, with an emphasis on accessing the unconscious mind instead of writing from your head. I love this.

3. She provides an anthology of short stories to read and digest. If I would try to find these stories on my own it would take weeks as well as cost a great deal of money to buy collections in order to read a single story.

4. There is no requirement to complete the course within a set time (you have lifetime access), you don’t have to share your work or submit assessments. Although this might be problematic for some people who need firm deadlines and concrete feedback, this is perfect for introverted me who is happy to beadle away on my own. (She does offer a full interactive course called The Story Intensive* if that’s what you’re after.)

5. The writing style quiz at the end is possibly the best part. By answering a series of questions about things as diverse as clothing style and favourite cities, Sarah provided a personalised reading list of authors who have a similar style to me. Knowing who to read for inspiration is almost on its own worth the money I paid.

6. Although the course focuses on short-stories, it would be equally inspirational to memoir and blog writers. Sarah advocates using life experience as the building blocks of any story.

There is an equal emphasis on process and technique and even though I’m pretty knowledgeable about scene, dialogue, point of view, I was challenged to see things from a new perspective.

You can not know your story until it is written.
Art happens when you go off track. ~ Sarah Selecky

Rating

Quality – 5/5
Value for Money – 5/5
Smashing Writer’s Block – 5/5

Links

→ Story is a State of Mind

→ The Story Intensive

{If you would like to share your writing practice, I’ve started a Facebook writing group called Storytelling • Memoir • Lifewriting where we write every day. You’re welcome to join us no matter what kind of writing you do.}

*Affiliate Link

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On Sunday night, my boyfriend and I went to hear Jeanette Winterson speak at Sydney Opera House. She is a fiery ball of feminism and revolutionary thought. She read from her memoir and introduced me to the poetry of Adrienne Rich.

•••

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

When I left home at sixteen I bought a small rug. It was my rolled-up world. Whatever room, whatever temporary place I had, I unrolled the rug. It was a map of myself. Invisible to others, but held i the rug, were all the places I had stayed — for a few weeks, for a few months. On the first night of anywhere new I liked to lie in bed and look at the rug to remind myself that I had what I needed even though what I had was so little.

Sometimes you have to live in precarious and temporary places. Unsuitable places. Wrong places. Sometimes the safe place won’t help you.things get worse

Why did I leave home when I was sixteen? If was one of those important choices that will change the rest of your life. When I look back it feels like I was at the borders of common sense,  and the sensible thing to do would have been to keep quiet, keep going, learn to lie better and leave later.

I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.

And here is the shock — when you risk it, when you do the right thing, when you arrive at the borders of common sense and cross into unknown territory, leaving behind you all the familiar sights and smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy.

You are unhappy. Things get worse.

It is a time of mourning. Loss. Fear. We bullet ourselves through with questions. And then we feel shot and wounded.

And then all the cowards come out and say, “See, I told you so.”

In fact, they told you nothing.

{from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (c) 2011}

•••

darkness and water helped me to arrive here

We are Driven to Odd Attempts

By Adrienne Rich

We are driven to odd attempts; once it would not have occurred to me to put out in a boat, not on a night like this.

Still, it was an instrument, and I had pledged myself to try any instrument that came my way. Never to refuse one from conviction of incompetence.

A long time I was simply learning to handle the skiff; I had no special training and my own training was against me.

I had always heard that darkness and water were a threat.

In spite of this, darkness and water helped me to arrive here.

I watched the lights on the shore I had left for a long time; each one, it seemed to me, was a light I might have lit, in the old day.

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