Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Through a Glass Darkly

From the sculpture gallery at Chatsworth

Many bloggers (who I greatly admire) have explained that their blog is a space for counting blessings, for appreciating simple pleasures, for capturing moments of beauty.   I completely understand that; this is our chance to show our best side. Many of us prefer to sing a hymn to happiness; most of us prefer to hear that song.  But I would just like to say that maybe there is also a need for a hint of disquiet.  Just occasionally, a murmur of pain or a streak of ugliness would not go amiss.

I know that I should know better, but sometimes a beautiful blog will make me feel that there are those amongst us who live perfect lives.   I don’t mind (well, not too much) that other people’s lives are more aesthetically pleasing and creatively engaged, but what really causes a pang is when other people’s lives seem happier.  I know, realistically, that there must be a shadow side to every beautifully lit image, but it is so easy to be beguiled.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the sad news that an old schoolmate had died.  Actually, he committed suicide.  When I read the obituary, it described a life that seemed perfect in every conceivable way:  Happy marriage; healthy children; successful business; great friends; loads of fulfilling hobbies.  Perhaps that was all true, but it read like a big whitewash of what was probably a normal human life that had become unendurable for some reason.

 I hadn’t seen this man in years, but his death has haunted me.  Was he the sort of person who always had to tell you how GREAT everything was?  Was he afraid to fail, to be frail? 

Last year I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World , and I remember thinking that always looking on the bright side can be so downright tyrannical.  Surely sadness and struggle are as much a part of life as the brighter, lighter side of the spectrum.  A positive attitude won't necessarily cure cancer, calm a surly teenager or lead to a good job offer in a bad economy.  What a comfort it is to say, "I feel low; I'm angry and sad," and have someone reply that they feel that way, too, sometimes.   

I think that there can be an incredible pressure on women, especially, to focus on the positive, and eliminate the negative.  I often feel like a cross between cheerleader and peacekeeper, always ready with the pep talk or soothing word – whichever is required.  I know that many women feel this way.  If I really want to tell the truth and let it all hang out (emotionally speaking), then I have to find a female friend.  As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m feeling a bit drained of buoyant spirits right now.  Thank you for your supportive comments; they helped.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


My youngest daughter at Chatsworth

An entire season of months has ebbed, and so many thoughts and experiences have just dried up and blown away . . . rather like the leaves, which are being shed with dispatch now that it is November.

We’ve had big things going on in our family life:  huge transitions in the youngest and oldest generations.  And I’m here in the middle, feeling battered by it all.  My husband has some pressing worries, and last night he twitched for hours until just giving up – long before dawn -- on the attempt to sleep.  That sort of sleepless night is more common than not at the moment. I don’t feel that the details are necessarily mine to share; so unsatisfactorily, I offer nothing but a tentative mood, an emotional residue.  Even though I’ve experienced only the most kind and sympathetic side of blog-friendship, it’s no use pretending that what I share here can be held in confidence.

Stress has made me selfish and solitary.  Certainly the act of blogging is as elastic as you want it to be, but for me, at least, the reciprocity of it is essential.  Over the past couple of months, I’ve been in this inward-looking state that hasn’t really lent itself to lots of external exchange.   I don’t feel that it is right “to talk,” if I don’t have the time or energy “to listen.”  Does this make sense?

 Hopefully, I will tunnel out again – and soon.

Chatsworth gardens, Derbyshire