Wednesday, 31 August 2011

I've hardly been anywhere, man

A little shout out to Peter Harris, who has spent the last 18 months travelling to all the destinations mentioned in the song I've been everywhere, man. Unlike me, he's achieving his goals for charity, rather than just because. Nice work Peter.

And I'm out of the gates

Sometimes planning projects is as much fun as actually doing them. Perhaps more fun, given it’s all about possibilities and imagination and less about expending any actual effort. Anyway, I have baby steps to report, as follows:

# 35. Bought green manures to put into mini-orchard over spring/summer to keep out the grass I pulled up on saturday. After which I really should have stretched, my hammies still ache from the unaccustomed exercise. p.s. I heart Eden Seeds

#20. Ordered rennet and other ingredients for making gallons of feta cheese from the lovely peeps at cheeselinks

# 24. Watched a TED talk at this linky

# 38. Went to Spotties and bought some poly cotton for lining skirts and some zips

See, it sounds a bit like I’ve merely been buying stuff and arseing around on the interweb, but really this is progress. It’s all about perspective folks.

40 things to do before I'm 40

  1. bake sourdough bread. then give starter culture and recipes to someone else.
  2. plant sunflowers with Elly
  3. go see an opera
  4. go on a proper holiday
  5. finish piecing blocks for my “old t-shirts” quilt
  6. learn new fingerpicking techniques for guitar
  7. run city-bay fun run faster than I did last time
  8. buy an overlocker and learn to use it
  9. make a meaningful video and post it on youtube
  10. learn to cook on bbq
  11. paint the living room
  12. record some of the songs I’ve written
  13. do kitchen science experiments with Elly
  14. get a tattoo
  15. do a wine tasting trip with Dave where neither of us has to drive
  16. get a dog, or get chickens. probably not both.
  17. help Elly make or decorate a kite, then fly it
  18. try out playing a banjo
  19. make or renovate a piece of furniture
  20. make cheese
  21. finish knitting 10 things from my ravelry queue (not all hats)
  22. donate blood regularly
  23. write my will
  24. watch a TED talk every week
  25. replant my veggie patch. install a second one.
  26. make a pinata
  27. rewatch all my favourite movies
  28. stay a whole weekend in a nice hotel with no plans
  29. make Martha a book about inspiring women I have met or read about
  30. bake an apple pie from scratch and make vanilla icecream to go with it
  31. do a WEA course on something just for the fun of it
  32. watch an eclipse or other astronomical event
  33. organise all my craft stuff and my work space
  34. stop buying cards and make my own
  35. de-grass, build shade shelter/bird netting, and plant fruit trees in the mini-orchard area.
  36. design and make some fun clothes for Martha and Elliot
  37. use my washing line more and my clothes dryer less
  38. sew skirts from all the pretty cotton I’ve been collecting
  39. go to gold class cinema with Dave
  40. make a gingerbread house
Some of these I have done before. Some will take longer than others. Some I'm unsure of - number 14 I'm looking at you. Clearly there's similarities throughout; I guess 2012 is going to be the year of making stuff.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

On depression etc

2011 has not been the best of years for the Webster family. Aside from my one huge highlight, the birth of my lovely daughter Martha, the universe has dealt us plenty of kicks up the karmic arse. One sister has been dealing with a family break-up; another with serious medical issues during pregnancy, and is now awaiting her baby’s birth and subsequent surgery. My dad died. At her six week check up we found Martha has a defect on her brain; we took to hospital yesterday for an MRI. Another scan found I have a (most likely benign) kidney tumour that needs investigating. What can one say to all this except ‘bollocks’. Suffice to say, it hasn’t been a good run.

Paradoxically, I am feeling quite good about the fact that I am not depressed. After the birth of my first child, the lovely Elliot, I developed postnatal depression. Most women who have experienced this would agree with my assessment that it is, to use a technical term, fucking awful. Many people who haven't experienced depression use the word to describe sadness, or a temporary phase or mood. Those who’ve been there know it’s more like being stuck in a giant dark chasm. Despite the regular fits of sobbing, for me it was not so much about feeling awful but a lack of hope. I really did feel that things would never get better, and would never be different. I didn’t just struggle to smile, I struggled to do anything; from a simple load of dishes to cooking a meal, to interacting with people like a normal human being. I wonder now how I managed to go back to work when I was still finding it a gargantuan task to change the cat litter.

Having been there, it feels pretty darn wonderful to not be there. Hey, the grass really is greener on this side! Smells a bit better too, what with the clean litter and all. I was very anxious about having PND a second time with Martha, to the extent that this was the major reason I had hesitated so long about a second child. I saw a psychologist during pregnancy and talked to my doctor about strategies. I also increased my meds the fortnight before she was born. Bless those little sanity pills. Despite my worries, my self assessment on the mood-o-meter currently reads, “You’re doing remarkably well, all things considered”.

I give this background not to dwell on what was a particularly horrible time or to ellicit sympathy for current shittyness, but to set some context for what I’m about to say about positivity and the 40 list.  I have to tell you I have always been leery of people who say all you need in life is a positive attitude. If you want to thrust a biro into the eyes of those who suggest you “make lemonade” you might well be on the same page. I can tell you that while depressed I could have cheerfully punched anyone who suggested that you can will yourself to look at situations in a more positive light. Depression just doesn’t work like that.

Nothing I’m saying here is meant to make light of mental illness or to suggest that you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you only try hard enough. But now that I’m not depressed (some years and some therapy and some good drugs later) I find it appealing to think that I can actively influence the way I react to the challenges life is throwing me, and be a positive creative force able to generate activities and outcomes that I find rewarding. Not by developing a pathologically annoying Pollyanna approach to life and repeating banalities about turning sour citrus into sweet beverage, but accepting that I can choose to spend less time bitching about the bucket loads of lemons coming my way and instead maybe use that time to sit on a blanket in the sun watching my three year-old enthusiastically blowing bubbles, giggling and chasing them around the backyard like this is the best thing God ever invented.

If this positivity affects anyone else, well, that’s a nice side effect, but it isn’t the goal. This is a selfish list. It’s my 40th after all. Because it seems to me right now, at this point in 2011, that the shit is going to keep on coming, and all I can do is choose whether to whimper pathetically for respite or just get better at distracting myself by doing stuff. I choose stuff. Anxious about turning 40? Bah! Bring it on.

What? Why?

I'm going to do 40 things, before I'm 40.

It started with a list on a blog, one of the many I read regularly, the name of which I can’t recall. I’ve never been fond of the concept of a bucket list. I’m not sure what was different about this list. Perhaps it was the fact that she had filled it with a mix of small and large, prosaic and touching, easy and hard things; and clearly goals that were relevant to her, that she had genuinely intended to do anyway, regardless of her approaching 40th. It included renovations and recipes, little jobs around the house, and simple things to do with the kids. Most bucket lists I’d seen before read like travel itineraries. I’m not a great traveller. While I sometimes fancy the idea of a nice holiday, and know there are places I wouldn’t mind visiting in person before I cop my clogs, I don’t think of these as real goals, and I have no great attachment to doing them or not.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t think of going somewhere as an achievement. Journeys interest me. Destinations don’t. Perhaps it’s because these goals are, in a sense, too easy. All I’d need is a babysitter, some cash and some time off work, and off I’d go. There’s no real investment of myself or my energies or talents.

I’m wondering if this particular way of looking at goals has anything to do with an introverted personality. I’m less interested in putting myself out in the world somewhere, and more in what I can spend my time doing. Clearly it appeals to me that this list will be particular to me, and will likely contain activities no one else would consider prioritising before their 40th. While I did send out a call to friends and families for ideas, I’m less interested in what other people think I should do (in the sense that I reject the notion that there’s validity in a universal list of “must do’s”, like books or places that someone has decided count as essential human experiences), and more interested in what I should do.

I don’t think there’s anything particular about turning 40 that triggered this. It’s a nice round number. I’ll be there soon. I'm 36 - did I mention that? No? Probably important. Sorry. It doesn’t bother me, although I have the impression that somehow our society expects me to be anxious about it, so it must mean something. This might change as I get close to 40; I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve always been the type of person who gets excited about projects. I’m looking forward to  retiring because I have so many hobbies waiting in the wings to be fully explored. Did I mention I'm 36? That's long term thinking for you. I usually have a dozen things on the go at once, in various stages of completion. Sometimes I throw myself into learning new things and then get bored, leaving a trail of unfinished jobs and unused equipment. Other interests last longer - I’m still obsessed with knitting after taking it up five years ago when I wanted to make a Gryffindor scarf. Now I knit lace and fairisle, design my own stuff, and merrily knit beanies for people I know who may or may not really want them. My partner is kindly tolerant of these fits of enthusiasm, although he’s well aware that I may lose all interest before I move on from talking about something to actually doing anything about it. He also wears his beanies. Bless him.  

A friend once remarked that I was the sort of person who is “always interested in things”. To me this was a flattering way of putting what I’d before tended to regard as an irritating tendency to jump wildly from one bright light to another, never quite an expert in anything, getting bored easily, and struggling to retain information I don’t find interesting. This character sketch is of course caricature. I’ve finished plenty of projects, some long and difficult, but if you glanced at my overflowing craft bookshelves or the box of cheese making equipment in the shed, you’d get the idea. 

Since we’ve had kids the amount of time I have to juggle my hobbies has shrunk, meaning I have to better prioritise what I’d like to spend my few spare hours doing. I’ve noticed that I increasingly start sentences by saying, “You know what we should do sometime when we have the time...” This usually elicits a well-deserved eye roll, or perhaps a bordering-on-hysterical giggle at the idea of having enough spare time to do more than catch our breaths. We do end up doing a few of these things, but others disappear into the virtual “to do” list never to reappear. At times when I do have a spare hour, and I’m sitting in my lazy boy, hands curled around a mug of tea, I feel like there are so many more productive things I could possibly be doing, if only I could focus on what they were and which were the most important to me. Did I mention my mother is a workaholic? I think she bred me as one too.