Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Digging. Slowly. August 29, 2014

Filed under: Creativity,Depression,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 6:57 pm

This morning I went to my allotment. For the first time.

Well. The first proper time. The first time I’ve done anything other than survey my land. Or show it off to anyone who displays the slightest bit of enthusiasm. Some people have seen it twice. In the same day. Sorry Mum.

It’s possible that I was a little over-excited. At the prospect of this brand new, weed-riddled start. So excited, in fact, that Wes took a picture before I left. Sort of like a grown-up first day of school. With dirty jeans and a trowel.

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Yes, that’s a tonne bag over my shoulder. Yes, it was empty. Yes, it’s now full of weeds. And exactly where I put it, in the middle of my plot, because it’s way too heavy to even think about lifting. Details, details.

I still have a lot to learn.

I spent three hours there this morning. Battling dandelions and bindweed and tall spiky purple things that I wouldn’t even like to guess at the name of.

I found slugs. Loads of them. Huge great slimy things. Ladybirds. Beetles. A frog. Just one. Brown and speckledy. Which sat right in front of me for a good long while before thinking better of it and heading for the nettles.

Oh, are there ever nettles. I’m certainly not going to run out of them.

I met a woman who complimented me on not rotavating my plot, because it would only have spread the bindweed. Which was totally my plan. Of course.

I met a man who knew instantly that it was my first day, and told me to take it easy. Little and often he said. And then he left. Roughly four minutes after arriving. Without doing anything. You have to admire someone who takes his own advice so seriously.

I met a lovely old Irish man. Who told me all about the previous owner of my plot, and the stroke she had suffered. Before confiding in me that his own wife won’t eat anything he grows, living instead by the mantra “there are no slugs in Morrisons.”

He also told me to help myself to his runner beans whenever I wanted. I’m 98% sure it wasn’t a euphemism.

Three hours, I spent there. Maybe three and a half. Until I got hungry. And my back hurt. And I came home.

Honestly, I haven’t cleared much ground. There are a lot of weeds in the tonne bag, don’t get me wrong. But there’s not a lot of bare soil to show for it.

It’ll be backbreaking work just to get it ready for planting. But I’m determined. Because for me, this feels like more than an allotment. It feels like a change of pace. A critical part of my slowing down. My being gentle. Accepting my place in the world.

Allotments are about seasons. Times when the ground seems barren. Times when the trees are overflowing. Times when you put hours and weeks and months of brutal hard work in, and you have nothing to show for it. Times when the weather foils all your best-laid plans. And times when you get an unexpected surprise.

Like the mint I found this morning, thriving in amongst the weeds. I totally have a crop already. Check. Me. Out.

These are the rules of nature. Life is the same. At least it should be. I think. But it doesn’t feel that way.

It feels like achievements and targets and pressures. A world of instant gratification. Where everything is only ever a click away. Where it only matters if someone else can see that you’ve done it.

In this world, there are no seasons. You can have peaches in January if you look hard enough. The Christmas chocolates are out in shops already. Even the weather isn’t left in peace – tabloids threatening total white-outs or raging storms. As though an-appropriate-amount-of-snow-falling-at-the-coldest-time-of-the-year is no longer good enough.

Everything comes with drama. With deadlines. With the feeling that you should have completed it, instagrammed it and moved on to the next thing already. Preferably yesterday. There is no waiting. None.

It’s making me tired. So, so tired.

The pressure is unsustainable. Something has to give. For the last few years, that something has been my sanity. Literally.

Not any more.

I’m going slowly.

As the sweet lady pointed out, I’m not rotavating my plot. Not because of the risk of spreading bindweed. I’m pretty sure it can do that without my help. But because I want to dig it. All of it. Slowly.

I want to know what it’s like. To feel the soil. To dig. And sit. And think. And, for a few snatched hours, not do anything else. I want to have a place that is mine. That is peaceful. That exists purely to make my soul happy.

It may sound foolish. Or wasteful. Or a poor use of my time. I could have spent three hours sewing name labels into Elvie’s uniform. Cleaning the bathroom. Filing.

But I didn’t. I needed the calm, the air, the mud. I needed my little patch of earth. My promises of slowness, of self-compassion, of seasonal living. Made tangible. Before my very eyes.

It may sound like a poor use of my time. If you ask me, nothing could be more essential.

Maybe one day I’ll win allotment prizes. Maybe I won’t. Perhaps it will yield huge crops. Perhaps it won’t.

None of that really matters.

There’s no rush. No pressure. No targets.

Thank goodness.

 

Being Alive. June 30, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Creativity,Depression — hannahoakland @ 8:32 pm

Eighteen months ago, I sat down at my computer and set up a blog. This blog. I agonised over it for hours…what to call it, which theme to use, how to link it to Facebook. Whether I was brave enough to write anything at all.

I decided that I was. Brave enough. And proved it by waiting six months before I wrote a single word.

That was a year ago. Near enough. Strictly speaking, it was a year ago last week but I’ve been collecting shells on a Cornish beach with my children, so this has had to wait. I’m ok with that.

Either way, my beautiful little corner of the internet is now a whole year old. It even had a ‘cake’. Thanks Wes.

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A year is a long time.

This year has been full-on. It’s been a year of owning up to depression. And starting medication. The year in which Elvie started nursery. And had her first case of nits. A year in which I learnt to grow vegetables. Conquered my fear of sewing machines. And decided never to go camping again.

It’s been the year when I realised that, in order to be anything remotely approaching sustainable, I need to go slower. Reflect more. Breathe more deeply. Spend more time outside. Watch less telly. She says, with Wimbledon mumbling away in the background. There’s room for improvement.

A year is a long time. And it feels significant. Especially for me.

I’ve always been one of the ok-I-know-how-this-works-now-I’m-bored types. I get tired of most things within a year or so. Itchy feet for new challenges. Greater possibilities. The longest I’ve ever stayed in one job was almost eighteen months.

Which goes some way to explaining why I find parenting so hard. Seriously. Elvie is nearly four already. That’s a lot of consecutive years.

I’ve suffered the same with my blog. Getting a bit bored. Losing the joy of it. Second guessing myself. Obsessing over stats and Twitter followers rather than writing anything half-decent.

I’ve been scared that nobody would read it. And then scared that everybody would. I’ve convinced myself countless times that I should stop. For a month. Or two. Maybe for good.

But I’m still here. Even after the twelve-month-mark-of-doom. Why? Good question.

The simple answer is this. When I write, I come alive.

I know who I am and what I’m about. It wouldn’t matter if nobody ever read a word of it. Amazingly, they do.

Here’s what I think. People read what I write because, somewhere deep inside, we recognise people who are doing what makes them alive. Really, truly Alive. And we’re drawn to them.

Being Alive is dangerous. It’s a vulnerable situation. Being your honest, open self. Throwing yourself into something. All in. Dispensing with the usual socially appropriate levels of cynicism and disinterest.

This year, it’s proved itself to be a risk worth taking. Being Alive has bought a whole new meaning to community. I’ve had the most amazing chats with the most incredible friends. I’ve had messages from people who have related to my posts or been inspired to deal with their own issues. I’ve laughed with people. I’ve cried with people. People I’ve known for years. People I’ve never met.

An unexpected bonus is that I’m starting to notice other people who are Alive. There are lots of them around.

This weekend we stayed at a Cornish B&B for my grandfather’s birthday party. Pendragon Country House. Seriously, stay there. All of you. Just make sure someone else is paying.

The house is beautiful. The garden is lovely. The food is stunning. Everything – jam, bread, pastries, three-course dinners – is home made. The welcome is phenomenal. There’s an actual suit of armour.

Within five minutes of arriving we felt totally at home. Despite the potentially perilous two-small-children-and-antique-china combination.

By the time we left, two days later, the owners felt like family. We swapped Cbeebies parodies and Gigglebiz impressions. There were hugs and kisses and thank you’s all round.

They were born for hospitality. For cherishing people. For spoiling them. For going above and beyond. For creating the possibility of an idyllic weekend, even with two small children in your luggage. They were Alive. And it made us feel amazing.

Being with people who are Alive rubs off on you. Howard Thurman sums it up better than I ever could.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

For Nigel and Sharon, it’s hospitality that brings them to life. For me it’s writing.

For you, it might be accounting. Or gardening. Making music. Listening to people. Teaching. Painting. Whatever it is, do it. Please. Don’t be afraid.

I need you. We all do.

You won’t regret it. I promise.

 

Not being perfect is actually fine. I think. September 25, 2013

Filed under: Adventures,Creativity — hannahoakland @ 1:11 pm

So here’s the thing. It turns out I’m a perfectionist.

Perhaps this is blindingly obvious to everyone else. But it’s had me fooled. I’m not really a details person, so I assumed that ruled out perfectionism. It just didn’t seem compatible with my life. With children who spend most of the day looking like this…

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…or this…

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On Monday afternoon I sent Elvie to nursery with hair that hadn’t been brushed. Since Sunday morning. Like I said, details. Not my strong point.

And yet, it would seem that perfectionism has got its crafty little claws into me. Despite my best efforts, and those of my children.

Several people have pointed out that the blog posts have been a lot less regular lately. Well spotted. Mostly, I’ve told them that I’ve been busy. That is at least partly true. It’s hard to do anything in an evening when it takes two and a half hours to get Joel to sleep. It can be hard to find the energy when we’re in the middle of a very silly fortnight where Wes is away substantially more than he’s at home.

It’s not the whole truth though.

The problem is, I’ve been getting a bit freaked out. I have so many ideas that they create chaos in my head that takes hours to untangle. I’ve always wanted to write, and now I’m writing and people are reading it and they like it.  Which should be great. Except that it turns out that succeeding is just as scary as failing. Maybe even more so. After all, if you’ve never succeeded, you’ve got nothing to lose.

This is familiar territory. I was the child at school who would deliberately get the wrong answers in tests, so as not to get full marks. Even in primary school the headteacher had to bribe me with an origami swan so that I would read to him properly, without pretending to struggle.

Back then there was a good reason for blending into the background. Kids are mean, and if you stand out then you’re easier to tread on. I learnt that the hard way.

But now? Now I’m a grown-up. Or at least, I’m 30 and married with two children and a house. Which means that I pass as grown-up pretty easily. I’m not so scared of being trodden on. I’ve given birth to two babies – I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be scared of anything.

So I’ve been wondering. If I’m not scared of what people will think of me, why am I still terrified of succeeding? So terrified that I’ve been scaling down my writing, almost subconsciously. Knowing that eventually I’ll get to the point where it hardly seems worth doing anymore, and I’ll quietly give up. Convince myself that it was nice while it lasted, and move on to something else.

After a lot of soul searching, I’ve come to this conclusion. I don’t think I deserve to succeed.

Why? Because I’m not perfect. And neither is my blog. Because sometimes I’ll have opinions that people don’t agree with. Or I’ll write a post that makes barely any sense. Or one that’s deeply uninteresting to anyone but me. I won’t write often enough to keep people interested. There will be typos and incorrect grammar. And eventually everyone will realise that I’m just a fraud and stop reading.

I know. It’s depressing. And this is with the medication. Just imagine what it was like in here a few weeks ago.

To be honest though, I’ve had enough. I’m so fed up of tying myself in knots trying to be perfect. Of giving up on things that I love, and that I desperately want to succeed at. I want to at least have tried.

So I’m back. I might not write every day, but that’s ok. I’m not perfect and neither is my life, or my children. Sometimes the chaos of the day will get in the way. Sometimes I’ll be exhausted. Sometimes I’ll need a night to untangle a load of ideas, or go out, or just watch a film on the sofa. But I’m determined to stop being so British and undeserving. To open myself up to the idea that actually, sometimes good things might happen.

That actually, sometimes, I can make good things happen.

Not perfect things. But good things. That’s good enough for me.

 

Notes on having nothing to say. August 21, 2013

Filed under: Creativity — hannahoakland @ 8:16 pm

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I don’t have anything to write about today. Usually, by this point in the evening, something has grabbed my attention, or annoyed me sufficiently, or made me laugh so much that I have a whole post prepared in my mind. Ready and waiting for the calm after the storm, when the children are in bed and the house is tidied. When I can sit down, drink tea and knock my ideas around until they make some sense.

But not today.

There were a few things that had potential:

The not-quite-two year old at the childrens centre, whose t-shirt read “In search of the perfect man.” Seriously, I have no words.

The magic of the internet pixies who make it possible for me to check the weather, the potential side effects of antidepressants and what films the latest Miss Moneypenny has been in. On my phone. In the garden.

The growing mix of excitement and terror that comes from Wes booking me into a hotel on Friday. By myself. For an entire night.

They’ve all got potential. Maybe one day they’ll find their way here as posts in their own right. But not tonight. None of them were ready.

And yet here I am. Writing anyway. Even though I don’t really have anything to say. Why? Good question. Here’s the honest answer.

I want to be a writer.

I’ve never really admitted that before. Not properly, and certainly not in front of so many people. I want to be a writer. I always have, for as long as I can remember. Apart from a brief spell as a child when I wanted to be a librarian. Mostly so that I could sit in peace and read all the books. I love words. I love playing with them, moving them around until they fall into place and say exactly what I want them to. It’s incredibly satisfying.

On Monday, Wes took the children out, and I got a taste of what my life could be. In a few years time when they are both at school. Spending my days writing; sitting in my kitchen, drinking tea. Popping out to pick blackberries or work in the garden when inspiration dries up. Admittedly there were no deadlines or angry publishers or writers block. I know that not all my days will be so idyllic. But I would love the chance to try.

My problem has always been one of confidence. It’s hard to be a writer if you can’t imagine why anyone would read your work. I’ve never been able to drown out the little voice in my head that tells me “nobody wants to listen to you.” Until now. It’s getting quieter every day. Thank you for that.

Everything I read tells me that in order to be a writer, you need to write. Even when you don’t think you have anything to say. It’s all about the discipline. About seeing it as a profession rather than a hobby. So I’m writing. And being disciplined. Because there is nothing I would like more than to do this for a living. I promise that one day, if I pull it off, you can all come to the launch party.

You and those little internet pixies.