Happily Imperfect‽ Posts

It’s been six months since my Dad suddenly passed away. Since then I’ve been working through my grief and, somehow, stumbled across an Instagram account by Dr Laura Williams who shares writing prompts as one way to help people process their grief. It immediately struck a chord with me as my go-to method for dealing with things is to start writing. What follows is a suggestion from one of her prompts (sort of mish-mashed into a couple of others).

I’m sharing this with you all because grief is odd and weird, but maybe you’ve had similar thoughts to me about your grief and that’s ok. It’s also ok if you haven’t or are still figuring it out, no matter how long it’s been.


Dear Dad,

I’m writing you this letter in the hope that my grief will give you some solace. I’m writing you this letter although I know you will never read it. I’m writing you this letter to help myself because you aren’t able to anymore.

I still can’t quite believe it’s only six months since you left us. Six months since those final days in the hospital, six months since the last goodbye, six months since the phone call from the hospital telling us you were gone.

We’d only left you an hour or so before, looking calm and peaceful and already at rest as we told you how much we loved you, and stifled the worst of our tears. We left the hospital and drove back to your home, then the three of us sat together in the living room, waiting for the call. I answered my phone and repeated the awful words to Mum and Jennie.

We all paused as it sank in.

Then we all gathered around Mum and cried together, the depth of our love growing with each sob as reality tried to push in; but we weren’t ready for it yet, so we held each other close and pushed it away, a closed circle of quiet strength, it was just too awful to consider our lives without you in it.

This was the form my grief took for the first few days, a constant battle of pushing away the horrible truth, keeping it as far away as possible so as somehow to keep it from being true. It just wasn’t possible, you couldn’t be gone, not yet, not with so much more life to witness, so much more love and joy to give. It wasn’t fair.

It still isn’t.

Since then my grief has morphed and moulded into something else, a constant companion waiting in the wings to interrupt at random moments; it’s odd the things that trigger memories of you, of us, but I take comfort that they are all happy memories even though they are now tinged with the sadness of losing you.

I cry sometimes without warning and give myself willingly to those moments, whether they are just a few silent whimpers or deep anguished sobs. Sometimes a single tear is all there is to mark another day without you in my life.

My grief is not constant.

Sometimes I catch myself realising that I didn’t think about you at all the day before. Is it a good thing that the time passed without you in it? Does it signal a lessening of my grief? Or is it a bad thing, marking the beginning of your slow removal from my conscious thoughts? I ask you these questions even though I know you can’t answer, even though they aren’t the kind of thing we’d even have discussed before. Before.

It’s funny now to think of the clichés that I’ve read and seen repeated too many times to count, all rendered true by your passing. I didn’t spend enough time with you, that’s for sure, but such things are clichés for a reason, no-one ever spends enough time with their loved ones. I don’t regret that, I have nothing but fond memories, joyful moments shared, to look back on and they always bring me the solace I expect.

I always thought my grief would be a huge mess of emotions, days of surviving, of clinging on to any scrap of love or happiness to get me through this unthinkable event. Then at some point I’d move into the humdrum days of the life of the fatherless, crying would become less and less frequent, thoughts of you would start to dim, a slow fade to black, sands dropping through the timer until empty.

But it isn’t like that at all. I knew this, of course, I’ve read enough accounts of grief to know that there aren’t defined stages, that they don’t follow or loop or arrive in any order, nor do they stay distinct, and nor are they the same for everyone. It is one thing to read about grief, quite another to experience it so profoundly but please know that I’m finding living with it is both harder and happier than I imagined, more bearable than I thought possible.

It’s odd to be learning about something new when all I want to do is walk in to the living room and see you sitting in your chair.

I learned a lot from you, inherited other things. My curiosity, my love of books, my propensity for tears, my silly sense of humour, my kindness, my geekiness.

I find myself diving deeper into my grief at times, not to wallow in it but to better understand it. I get an odd comfort from dredging up long forgotten memories, and I can feel the relief of still having those available to me, the emotions washing over me despite the cold melancholy that accompanies them. These moments are not a wailing, sobbing, grief but a nurturing one, a balm on my rawest emotions, a salve of all the love you gave me whilst you were with us. It’s nice to still be able to feel that, to sense you and know and trust the love you had for me, to keep you with me that way.

It’s been six months but we are coping, we are learning how to live without you by, I think, keeping us with you. We talk about you still, laughing at some things, bemoaning others and it makes me understand, now more than ever before, just how much I am my your son. The realisation makes me smile and cry all at the same time.

This is my grief, these constant combinations of emotions, never distinct, always tumbling over each other for attention, a morass of frustrated glee and quiet discomforts. A few times I’ve embraced the sadness completely.

One day I was overcome by the fact that you weren’t here anymore. I can’t recall what triggered it but it overwhelmed me so deeply. I sat on the edge of my bed and waited for the tears to arrive, but grief cannot be forced, my eyes remained dry and the lump in my throat, the rock lodged there, refused to yield. Later that day, walking Dave in the evening gloom, a line from a song suddenly brings tears to my eyes. I walk on and let them fall willingly to the ground.

I miss you.

I’m still trying to understand how to deal with this grief and all the maelstrom of emotions it brings from day to day but that’s ok, I have so many wonderful memories of you to lean on that as terrible as it is that you are gone, I console myself knowing that my life would’ve been far worse without you as my Father. It’s a constant whirl, a raging hatred of the world that took you away from us, and a blessed calm that we knew you at all. How rich our lives are now, how poor we would have been.

In the midst of all this there are realities we face as well, we know your IBM was worsening and soon you’d lose the ability to walk, to care for yourself and, undoubtedly more importantly in your eyes, to care for Mum. We know you’d have hated relying on others, to have carers fuss over you, and ultimately we know your end would have been a miserable one as you slowly lost all muscle control. It is not a life I would wish for anyone let alone my own Father, and I think we all take some tiny comfort that whilst your death was too soon and too sudden, at least it spared you that ignominy.

I spoke at your funeral. The words came easily at the time and still hold true, but I wanted to say so much more than I did but that day wasn’t all about me, after all I was speaking to, and for, others. I hope you would’ve been proud of me, I think you would. It took a lot for me to stand there, a fatherless child, but I knew it was something I had to do for you, for me.

I will say these things again, I will say how proud I am to be your son and I know you were proud of me, proud of the man I have become. These recent years, with my own happiness something you commented on, a rare occurrence in itself which made the impact all the deeper, the richest of them all. I learned so much from you, have inherited your penchant for bad puns, questionable colour choices, and a trend towards silliness to make people smile. I have your warmth and care stored deep in my heart, I echo your curiosity for new things, and hope I have your light caring touch when needed.

The more of you I recognise in me the happier it makes me, yet I still remain sad that we can’t sit down and discuss these things, not that we ever would.

Returning to cliché then and I’ll say that I hope I can become half the man you were, and if I can manage that I’ll have done well. And no, no jokes about your height, not this time.

I still can’t look at a photo of you without bursting into tears, I don’t think that will ever change.

I hate that you won’t ever read these words.

I miss you so terribly.

Your boy, always.

Life Personal Musings

Hello Daisy,

Welcome to the world, a world that just got a little bit better because you arrived. We’ve known your name for a while now and I have to say it suits you so well.

So in a similar vein, as I have been doing for your big sister Lucy, I thought I’d introduce myself; I’m Uncle G, hello! You’ll see me from time to time along with your Auntie Becca, but all you need to remember is I’m the one who will ALWAYS take you for ice cream.

I know things are all very new right now, but don’t worry, I’ve seen how loving and caring your Mummy and Daddy are so trust me when I say that you are in good hands, plus you have an extra special big sister to look out for you and be your friend. I guess I have to admit that little sisters are ok, and I promise I’ll do my best to guide your big sister in all the ways to help and tease you! Hey, it’s my job, I’m Unky G (blame your sister for that, although I do wonder how you’ll pronounce it).

Auntie Becca and I are so happy you are here and we are both looking forward to spending time with you, getting to know you, and spoiling you when we can although we know you’ll get plenty of that from all your grandparents! One thing to remember though, don’t get used to it, try and play it all down, act cool and they’ll only try harder to win your affections (even though they’ll have them already, but don’t let them know that either!).

I can’t wait to be part of your life as you grow and while I hope that you won’t copy your sister when she was a baby and burst into tears whenever I enter the room (thankfully that stopped after a couple of months) I know that she will help you with so many other things and will be there whenever you need her. As will I and Auntie Becca. That’s all part of the deal of being an Uncle you see, I’ll always have time for you, whenever you need it, even if it’s when you hit the stroppy teenager phase and need some time ‘away from that lot’, there will always be ice cream and hugs here for you. You should know that the same offer applies to your sister though, no favouritism here!

The world is a little bit upside down right now but hopefully, by the time you are ready to venture out into it and meet people properly for the first time, it’ll be a little bit more normal. Until then I’m sure there’ll be plenty of photos and video calls! And as soon as we can we will be there to meet you in person and give you a cuddle.

I know you’ll be loved and cared for so well by your family, and I’ve no doubt that in no time at all you’ll be sharing all your thoughts with everyone, likely at the same time, and speed, as your sister and your Mum. I do feel a little sorry for your Dad, he’s never going to get a word in edgeways.

So, welcome little Daisy, we hope to see you and get a first cuddle very soon!

Lots of love,

Uncle G and Auntie Becca

Daisy

Right you, first things first, at what point are you going to stop growing up so damn fast?! Every time I see you, you’ve changed. Long gone is the adorable toddler who would bumble over and hold my hand and laugh and giggle, and now here you are, an inquisitive, funny, girl who is just a little bit of a showoff but in the best possible way. You have such a warm, caring side to you too, it’s wonderful to see that part of you grow as well.

It’s been quite a year! I know you’ve enjoyed all the time at home with Mummy and Daddy, just as I know you’ve missed all your friends at nursery but at least you get to see them for a bit longer before you head to school! I must try and remember to ask you what it felt like to live through this pandemic as a 4 year old, will you even remember the way the world changed? Will you remember how well you adapted?

Of course, closer to home, the world changed even more dramatically. Your Grandpa died. I think your age was to your benefit as you took it all in your stride; a little confused at first, but somehow you knew to give Grandma more cuddles, to be a little quieter at times as if you could sense that all the adults were a little bit sad. I wonder how much of him you will remember. Will you be able to recall just how much he loved you and doted on you? How he loved to make you smile? How many times that damn noisy squirrel toy had its batteries replaced just because it would make you shriek with laughter? It’s an odd comfort to think back on those times even though they only ended a few months ago, and I hope part of him stays with you as you grow.

And the world will change again all too soon for you when your new baby sister arrives! What an exciting time! I can only imagine how good you are going to be with your little sister. I know you will love her, and protect her, and look out for her as she grows, and if you ever need any tips on how to wind her up and tease her let me know, I’m sure the things I used to do to your Mummy will still work!

Sadly, we’ve not managed to spend as much time together this year as I’d hoped, but the moments we have are already fond memories for me and your Aunt Becca. Getting you hopped up on ice cream and churros, playing in Victoria Park just made me realise how fast you are growing and, just like my Dad, how much I love to make you smile and laugh (and scream when I’m chasing you!). Every time I see you these days you do something that makes me pause, something that makes me see how smart and thoughtful and imaginative you are, and that driven side of you, that determination, well I hope that stays too (and ignore people/men who say women shouldn’t be forthright!).

I know your Mummy and Daddy are so very proud of you and all the glowing reports you get from nursery, you are kind-hearted girl, with a ready smile, and I hope to spend a lot more time with you this year as I’m sure there are plenty of flavours of ice cream yet to try.

As always, love and hugs and high fives,

Unky Gee

Lucy

The new year rolls around and as the Weightwatchers adverts start appearing I find myself looking back over my aims from 2020 and wondering what to do next. I try not to fall into the ‘New Year New Me’ thinking but I think it’s natural to have a sense of looking ahead.

That said given everything we’ve all just lived through last year, right now thinking ahead is tricky and feels almost futile. What’s the point of planning anything when we are still living through last year?

I’m aware that a new year actually means nothing, it’s just another turning of a page in a diary, yet pushing all that aside when I focus on how well I held on to the things I aimed to do, I feel proud and content that I created some new habits and held on to them even through the worst days.

Changing habits is hard so I started small:

  1. Write in my journal every day.
  2. Meditate for 10 mins every day.
  3. Stretch every day.

First things first, I knew ‘every day’ was a stretch, I even said so at the time – “I’m presuming I’ll be able to hit the primary aims every day but I know that won’t hold true. Life will get in the way at times and that’s ok, I’m just going to go with the flow and see what happens” – so it’s heartening to look back and see that I managed to stick with these more often than not, good enough to meet the larger goal of forming new healthy habits that have stuck.

I guess that was the point of these being aims and not goals, and whilst it may just be a trick of language, it still allowed me to be more than happy that I was going in the direction I wanted to, as the destination was never really the point. Having these as aims removed the pressure and any (self) perceived sense of failure that could’ve landed if I’d stated them as definitive goals. It’s a subtle trick but one which let my perfectionist brain be ok with not marking things complete every single day.

Throughout 2020, as the world changed around us, I found these three things to be very grounding and they’ve definitely played a big part in maintaining my mental health throughout lockdown and beyond. The intention was to create some good habits around things I knew would benefit me, little did I know in January just how crucial and helpful they would turn out to be.

Equally they’ve helped me discover more about who I am, and helped me listen to myself more and put more trust in my own values. That has, in turn, let me start to relax and take on new challenges, things which in the past I’d have set out as goals and built plans around and likely have failed at meeting, but as these are a knock-on effect of the aims then I feel much more relaxed about them, letting myself take my time as I know that just doing them is all that matters, the achievement will or will not arrive, and that’s ok.

Looking ahead at the coming year, and presuming that it will continue to be a year full of challenges, the usual hopes and fears remain but I already know that these three habits will remain as a foundation to build on. It feels good to finally have gotten them bedded in, habits that are now part of who I am, and how I define myself. I am a person who writes in a journal, who meditates, and spends time stretching every day, and I feel better for it.

So what lies ahead in 2021 then? What are my aims?

The short answer is I have no aims I am looking to achieve in 2021.

As I said at the top of this post, not only does it feel futile to set out aims or goals given we have no real idea of when things will return to any kind of pseudo-normality (personally I doubt it will be this year if at all) but I managed to get through 2020 without anything more specific than the aims I’ve already mentioned so why push to set new ones?

There is an argument that, as arbitrary as it is, even using the change of year is a good marker if one is so inclined as to look at the self as a thing that can be gently improved day to day, month to month, and year to year. A new year means one cycle is complete, so it’s time to start another. What I have learned this past year, outside of anything I aimed to do, was that by freeing up my mind and attention I ended up doing a lot more for myself than I have for a long time. I’m running again, I’m cycling regularly, I’m eating well, my mental health is good, my relationship is good, and I might even dare to suggest that I’m starting to love myself for who and what I am. All of that from a language shift and an ability to trick my own brain into allowing part of my aims to be negotiable.

As an example, in my post last year I mentioned that my long standing goal to run a 5K was exactly that – it may take me all year, or it might not happen until 2021. I am not putting a time scale on it, but it is where I want to get back to in time – and I whilst I did get to a physio who helped with my knee, I quickly fell away from running during the early weeks of lockdown as I turned to cycling as a preferred method of exercise. Yet in the past couple of months I’ve gotten back into running (I don’t mind running in the cold, hate cycling in it!) and am half-way through the Couch to 5K program and I’m enjoying it all.

If I’d set ‘Run a 5K’ as a goal for last year I would’ve failed it early in the year, likely by getting a small injury, and that would’ve been me. A failure because I didn’t plan/train properly and meh blah ‘what’s the point’? The very negative, self-loathing mindset that I’ve managed to avoid pretty well all year.

Don’t get me wrong, goals can be positive things, I’ve no doubt about that (even if you cheat and game yourself and call them aims) and if pushed I will admit there are three things I want to do this year but they all just feel like extensions of the journey I’ve been on through the last year already.

No I won’t list them here, they are just things that will happen. And if I don’t achieve them for whatever reason, that’s ok too. Which, in turn is probably the one true aim I have for myself this year, the one thing that I’ve been subconsciously building towards throughout last year.

And thus I hereby declare that, in this year of 2021, I will aim to cut myself some slack.


What about you? Are New Year’s resolutions a bunch of nonsense? Did you set some but have already fallen off track? Or are you excitedly progressing yours already? Whatever you choose, I hope that you are good to yourself first and foremost.

Life Personal Musings

2020 was a year, a year like no other but still just a year.

For many it was a struggle just to get through each day, the toil of lockdown on the mental health of many is something we won’t fully appreciate for some time, and tragically many didn’t survive at all. I don’t think we will really know the full impact of the coronavirus for a few years at least, as the effects on society will linger long in the memory. What an awful awful time.

Whilst there is much to say about the horrors of 2020, for now I want to turn and look at some of positive things that came out of the last few months, they may be harder to see amongst the onslaught of bad news but there was good news and good things were happening.

It’s been well reported that, for some, the enforced lockdowns and stay-at-home orders let them explore new hobbies and get to know themselves better and, by and large, I include myself in that category whilst acknowledging all the privilege that I have at the same time. I know not everyone was tuned in to Joe Wicks, or perfecting their sourdough.

Personally there was a lot of good in my 2020 so I’m going to focus on that, and I already have reasons to believe that 2021 will be a better year for me, even though I will need some patience as some of the things will only happen when they happen!

Becca

First things first then, and I have to start with how grateful I am for my partner. I think this year has brought us even closer, made us even stronger, and although we have been tested in many different ways we’ve come through it supporting each other and spent a lot of time smiling and laughing (at each other). She is a constant source of calm and understanding, and her patience and compassion are things that still catch me.

Dogs

Sticking close to home, as we all had to, I definitely have to mention the fur babies. Walks with Dave and snuggles with Sasha have made even the worst days tolerable.

My Family

As a family, we had to deal with the sudden passing of my Dad, and the love and support we all gave each other is something I will cherish.

Small changes

Other things stick in my mind, with a lot of the year spent at a slower pace it meant I was able to question my approaches and attitudes to some things; being more mindful with what I bought and where I shopped (I’m not Amazon free yet but a lot closer), checking in on friends more than normal, and taking time to sit quietly and enjoy the silence are small changes that will sit long in my memory, things I will take forward into the coming years.

Books

I also managed more time to read and while it took a while for my concentration levels to return I managed to read 41 books last year. Highlights were:

Music

Music-wise I didn’t really spend much time listening to much other than the radio and some tried and tested playlists, I’m hoping in 2021 to find a bit more energy to seek out new artists.

TV

I also watched some great TV, including the wonderful Ted Lasso, sci-fi in the shape of The Expanse and The Mandalorian, and more recently the increasingly lovely and funny Schitt’s Creek.

The rest

Add in climbing Ben Lomond, many glorious walks, long cycles, embedding a meditation routine into my day, and many other small moments of happiness and I can quickly start to build a picture of 2020 that isn’t dominated by COVID.

And I’m not alone, there were many other good things that happened around the world last year, many reasons to be cheerful.

On balance, despite the world shifting around us, and with a lot of luck and privilege, I can look back on 2020 with some level of happiness. It will, of course, be the year of lockdowns and of a shambolic Prime Minister, but at least Trump is on his way out and a vaccine is coming.

I think 2021 will be a year of adjusting to a new normal but I’m hopeful that there will continue to be good things around, we may need to seek them out or carve space in our lives to allow them in, but I think it’s worth reflecting back and carrying what positivity we can into the coming months.

Life Personal Musings

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Our clutter isn’t relegated only to material things.
We clutter our lives with destructive relationships, careers, obligations, rituals, busyness, minutiae, news, media, politics, gossip, drama, rumours.

We clutter our attention with glowing screens.
We clutter our creativity with distractions.
We clutter our free time with trivialities.
We clutter our desires with attachments.

Our lives are brimming with existential clutter, emotional clutter, mental clutter, spiritual clutter.
So much so that it’s hard to distinguish what is clutter—and what is not.

We are stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious because we’ve filled our lives with disorder, chaos.

Though there is a solution.
Look at an object, a commitment, a habit.
Does it bring tranquillity or increase your well-being?
If not, let it go!

Not an easy fix,
but a simple one.

Joshua Fields Millburn

I’ve been decluttering again.

In my never-ending battle to get rid of unneeded stuff, and find places for the things that are needed (half the battle sometimes), I’ve taken a different tack and started sorting through different parts of my life and questioning what is truly important to me.

It’s not been easy. The last few months, pandemic aside, have been very trying for me and my family yet, in a way, they’ve been hugely instructive as well, especially as I now have a little distance from which to view things.

Obviously, the sudden death of my father in August is the largest disruption, but since then my Mum has had issues with an abscess causing her to need a short stay in hospital and more recently she had not one but two falls, cracking vertebrae the first time, and her pelvis the second; My Mum is a stroke survivor of 9 years with limited use of her left side so that makes things a little trickier still. I spent a couple of weeks living with her to get her through the worst of it. And still, more recent news includes the death of a close friends mother, the list goes on…

This is all to say that, as always, life continues to throw curveballs because clearly a global pandemic that is killing people and destroying livelihoods – not to mention a Prime Minister that is killing people and destroying livelihoods (but none those of his chums obv) – is apparently not enough to deal with.

But enough with the woe is me.

I’m lucky, very very lucky in comparison to many.

I’ve been able to work through the pandemic and my boss has been supportive of my need for sudden time off and the resulting skewed working hours here and there, something that would’ve been impossible to manage if I was still office-based.

Throughout all of this my amazing partner has been an absolute rock, I don’t think I could have gotten through all of this the way I have without her and it’s helped me learn a lot about our relationship, and myself. My friends too have reached out and been there whenever I asked, and all in all, I feel very loved and supported. I hope I’ve been able to offer a shred of that back to them but, I fear as always, I’ve not quite been there enough.

I look at my acquaintances, more recent friends made in the past few years, and can see that I’ve fallen out of touch. It’s natural, I think, to shrink your world when things get hard so I’m looking forward to a time when it can start to grow again, to embrace those people once more, figuratively and literally.

In a way, this minimised life has forced me to look at how I live more than anything, the habits I have, the things I do and don’t do. As I’ve mentioned here I’m now someone who meditates almost every day, I stretch almost every morning, and even though we are heading to peak food consumption day, I’m still being (mostly) mindful of what I put in my body.

Christmas is another good time to focus on why we have so many things. I look at where I’m sitting now and can see things I don’t need and/or don’t use, and I’m glad that my family is adopting a no presents for adults rule (small mindings aside). We do the same, Becca and I, and it’s twice the fun to spot something small that I know she’ll love.

Next year will bring more challenges no doubt, Brexit will loom large through January and February as we adjust to whatever that brings (does anyone really know?), and as the vaccination and COVID variants continue to battle perhaps we need to look to the summer for more respite, and the chance to reconnect.

However I’m convinced there will be good news next year, one way or another, and as an aide to that part of my recent decluttering thoughts have been about the news I consume, both in terms of volume and source. I’m still reading and keeping up but find myself spending far less time getting lost in the discussions and what-if-ery that seems to be more and more prevalent.

Ultimately things will play out as they will so let’s focus on what is here and now, right in front of us. This is the now we can be a part of, and now, more than ever, I feel the need to push all of the other noise away, taking a broom to the clutter that feeds in via social media, news website, radio announcements and newspaper headlines.

It feels good to be clearing out a little, even if it’s only really a mental adjustment, a bit of stock-taking here and there to remind myself of the things I’m keeping in my life as much as the things I’m pushing away. Switching the focus away from all that clutter to only the things I’m keeping, the things I really need, make it all so much easier.

Life

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The nights are fair drawin’ in, eh!

Walking a black dog at night can be a little tricky, and while he doesn’t get off the lead we do have a light-up collar for him, just in case he makes a bid for freedom (to chase a cat, or a bird, or a leaf …). And so, safely adorned, Dave and I take our evening pre-prandial wander around the locality and given the time of year we are delighted to see an ever-growing number of emblazoned homes, festooned in their Christmas finery. It’s such a joy to see them popping up, a tree here, a glowing star there, especially after such a turgid year.

But wait! Something is amiss! It’s something that seems to have changed over the past few years, like the subtle change of a tide, and if anything it seems to be getting worse!

Where are all the colours?! Where are the tawdry baubles, the glowing bulbs, the dazzling tinsels?

Walking through our neighbourhood is a sad affair these days, as more and more houses light up for Christmas it seems that more and more of them are opting for Instagram friendly, exquisitely decorated trees that all have one thing in common; THEY LOOK BORING!

Looking across a few windows the other night and the only difference between the lights on the trees, proudly displayed in grand bay windows, is which type of white/yellowy light has been used. One house has a vibrant white twinkle, the other a gentle golden glow, and not one had any other colour on display.

Yawn.

These are not the Christmases of my youth. Now I know that trends come and go, but I’ll be so happy when the current trend of these seeming magazine perfect Christmas trees, in all their matching decorative glory, is gone and we can again return to the fun and frivolity of a nonsense Christmas tree. One decorated with all manner of weird and wonderful ornaments, gathered together over the years, festooned with coloured tinsel and ablaze with multi-coloured lights of every colour imaginable!

It feels churlish though, this year of all years, to let this pet hate bubble up. In reality, I’m just glad to see the lights, the feeling of some normality, the season of goodwill and all that but it still gnaws away at me. Whilst I no longer buy into the rampant commercialisation that Christmas has become, at least it was always colourful and upbeat. To look at some of these trees I have to wonder why, when you have the PERFECT excuse to brighten things up on these dull winter nights, why you would opt for ‘warm gold’ as the colour scheme of choice.

Last year I was wandering around our local DIY superstore and was boggled to see perfectly laid out displays with matching tinsels and baubles and ribboned bows in perfectly dull and boring colours, a deep teal there, a bronze shimmer here, boring boring boring!

Is it just me?

Or is it just where I live? Is it only the homes that can afford to follow fashion that indulges in new lights, new decorations, matching this, coordinating that, because they have the money to be able to? Is this some form of class divide? Glasgow is small enough that by simply changing my walk a little, taking in slightly less affluent streets, brought a noticeable change in the colour of the lights blinking at me from their windows.

Regardless, the thing I enjoy most about Christmas is the lights that seem to glow all the brighter on these dark nights. And if I’m being truly honest I don’t mind the boring lights all that much, it’s just nice to see them cropping up more and more, bring some joy to a year that desperately needs it.

Life

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I’m staying positive.

I’m fighting the fear.

I’ve been telling myself this for a while now, repeating it like a mantra. It’s not a command (stay positive!) but a statement of how I’m feeling, even when I’m not feeling it; I’m staying positive. I’m very much of the belief that you can fake it until you make it, so I’m staying positive.

It’s getting harder though, finding that balance between caring for myself, caring for my loved ones, and caring about others. As the news gets darker day by day, so too do the nights. The weather has turned towards winter, and with gloomy days ahead I find it harder and harder to keep others in mind. I can feel my world shrinking to the immediate, to my kin, and it’s more and more of an effort to retain anyone outside of my bubble.

I guess this is natural at this time of year, it’s when bears hibernate after all, when blankets and warm fires become appealing, closed curtains and lush candles to increase the hygge. I do love Autumn, but as it bleeds away and the colours dull I can feel my attitude changing. Perhaps that is why Christmas, and the all the colourful decorations and lights that go with it, remains such a joy, a simple way to bring a dash of playful hues into our homes, to lighten our moods and help us pause, and then breathe out.

Is this year any different? It feels that way and listing the reasons seem to make it obvious; on top of the looming unknowns of Brexit, we are back in lockdown again with a global pandemic worse than ever, I am only months removed from the death of my father, and worries of how my Mum will cope in the coming weeks as she will soon be released from hospital again after her second bone breaking fall in as many months.

But despite all of this I’m staying positive, because I know myself well enough and understand what might happen if I don’t.

It would be easier to huddle tighter, to drop my view more and more until all I can see are my immediate surroundings, all the better to protect myself for the continuing onslaught the world seems so willing to inflict. I know it’s not just me in these situations, I know how lucky I am to be where I am in my life right now despite all of the negativity that swirls around.

So I stay positive because if I don’t I know my fears will rise up, confident in their place in the dark, and start to consume me.

All of these thoughts (and ohhh so many more) had been gathering pace over the past week or so, making me weary as my brain zipped around all the dusty corners it could, consolidating all of my smallest fears into a maelstrom of how I was destined to fail at ‘my future’ (no, I don’t know what that really means either but it’s the only way I can think to describe it).

There I was, close to a place I recognised from previous visits, doing my very best what if-ing about things I have no control over whatsoever, ignoring and nullifying any accomplishments, and trying to (over) plan my way ahead so I wouldn’t fail.

It was an odd moment to step back from all of that and see it for what it was. At the end of a recent group meditation (on Zoom obvs) I realised what was happening and where I was headed and thought, with complete clarity, fuck that! Been there, done that, do not want the t-shirt.

Instead I decided to take control and confront that list of fears my brain had cobbled together and, lo and behold, things aren’t as bad as they seem.

There is one thing in particular that became apparent, that the one thing I really need to let go of is the vision I have for my future, the future where I am again a house-owner, with a nice big garden for the dogs, a (double) garage for the bikes, a place for Becca to park her van (and when that goes a camper-van), a place that will be too big for us just now but that’s ok too. There are practical fears writ large over all of that, money being the most obvious, and not being able to see clearly how we get there was starting to gnaw away at me.

Of course we may not end up there (in a place that looks suspiciously like my childhood home only bigger), but that doesn’t matter and it most certainly isn’t something I should fear. Which, whilst it all sounds very obvious now, was something I hadn’t even realised was nagging away at me.

Naturally there are other fears still rattling around but they too are diminished not only by being identified but by being discussed with my partner. We are on this journey together after all and whilst we are both a little impatient to get on with it, we know we are in a good (privileged) place right now and that makes us both happy, which is all that really matters.

That last phrase sounds glib, almost a throwaway line yet it holds the crux of all of this. As long as we are both happy, what more do I really need?

So instead of worrying about all of those fears I have pushed them away as the nonsense they are and now I am looking at my life as it is today and making small changes to improve things. I’m reminding myself of why I am doing the things I am doing and retaining, as best I can, my optimism for the future and my sense of positivity.

Things I know

I can’t impact what has happened in my past, and I’m glad it got me to where I am today.

I can’t impact the future other than to be mindful of it and considerate of the fact that it will happen one way or another.

Today I can be happy, I can be positive, I can smile, laugh, and seek out the small moments of joy that hide away in the gaps of our lives.

Life

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