The curse of our times is time.

The curse of our times is time. The measuring of it, the chopping up and counting out, the whittling away, second by second, minute by minute, birthday by birthday; the expectation of our days numbered. How freeing it would be to not know how old we are. We have to live with this knowledge of life expectancy the whole of our lives. These predictions, how much do they become a self-fulfilling prophecy? As we age we become fearful, of the years slipping away, time accelerating in our minds as we slice the year into segments. As we reach forty, we think, ‘my life is half over’. What if we thought, ‘I have at least the same amount to live again?’ What if we didn’t even know? What if we measured our age in terms of how we felt? How much do we feel old because we know we are? Sure, we feel our bodies age, but how much do we fulfil what we expect because we expect it? Like listening to a doctor’s prognosis for the terminally ill, have we allowed statistics to define us? Our knowledge of our numbered days hangs over us, the overhanging overwhelm—our doom—causing us to ironically waste those precious numbered days in worry, denial, avoidance, distraction, procrastination, panic and despair. We are wild-eyed maniacs, manically multitasking, accelerating, as if trying to live life on multitrack means we live more life—rather than living more dilutely and divided and exhausted—as if we could somehow cheat time and nature. Turn it on its head: if we had no idea how long we might live, would we waste less time complacently in our youth? We have to walk the path between the illusion of immortality and the terror of mortality. Somewhere in the middle ground is the way to make the most of life without living in such a hurry we miss the savouring of it. Let’s not waste time counting it, cutting it up and mentally leaping forward and back along the neurons of socially constructed timelines. Let’s not mistake the measuring of the thing for the thing itself. Let’s be in the now, at least some of time. Otherwise, when are we going to remember to live?

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Advertisements

Celebrating the single life: it’s not just a limbo state.

It almost seems beyond people’s comprehension that a woman could relish the single life. ‘You just haven’t met the right person,’ or, ‘You’re not ready for it yet,’ imply that partnership is the default and correct state, and being single is a state of waiting for a partner. I find it quite astounding that people have suggested these things to me, a forty-six year old single parent, someone who has never had a moment of adult life not feeling beholden or obliged to anyone. No one finds it odd when you decide you’ve had enough children (although one woman in a shop did shout to her colleagues that I was selfish for not giving my daughter a playmate). No one tells you to get more pets because you haven’t found the right one yet. No one tells you when your children are grown that you need to start again and have some more. Because it is accepted that there are times in your life for different experiences. To feel content and whole in yourself is immensely liberating. I find it tiresome that in our culture romantic relationship is considered the only worthwhile way to live in life and that it must be maintained throughout life in order to be happy. Even the phrase ‘enjoy my freedom’ is frequently interpreted as freedom to have different sexual encounters. For me it simply means freedom to live my life and invest my energy where I wish without restriction or demands from others. It’s not sexual freedom, it’s freedom in a much broader and more fundamental sense. Most of all it’s freedom from obligation. It’s emotional and mental freedom-freedom from having to micromanage my life to fit around the constant needs and expectations of others. It’s freedom to make choices just for myself-literally physical freedom to go where I want and when. Of course it’s not necessarily possible or desirable to have complete freedom-most of us have some obligations, whether to children, elderly relatives, pets or our jobs, and that brings some satisfaction and sense of purpose and belonging. Our culture, particularly through the media, portrays a fulfilling life as requiring partnership. I’m not arguing against that as a life choice, but I am saying it isn’t always necessary at every stage in a person’s adult life. People who choose to be single are not necessarily doing so because there is something wrong or deficient. We are not necessarily missing out. On the contrary we may be feeling that there is nothing missing. I feel content and whole. I don’t feel lonely. I feel loved by family and friends. Romance is beautiful but it is also highly intensive, demanding and restrictive. No matter how good the relationship, there are expectations and compromises. It’s ok to say it is not in my plans to be in a relationship, and be happy with that choice. It takes more than the ‘right person’. It takes the right time and place, the right phase in life, and in fact it takes me to be the right person. It’s ok to be happy with solitude.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Canaries In The Mine #spokenword poem

(Trigger warning: mental health problems, suicide, self-harm, drugs, sexualised childhood)

This is a poem about how the pressures of modern society contribute to mental health problems. It is usually treated as an individual problem, but when so many people of all ages, in all walks of life, are suffering from stress and looking for desperate means to cope, there is something wrong with society. It needs a collective solution. The most sensitive and vulnerable people, or those under the most pressure, are the ‘canaries in the mine’, the first indicators that we are living in a sick society.

Canaries In The Mine

Canaries in the mine.
Kids that cut themselves.
New mums on Prozac,
Calpol poured down tiny throats.
Twelve year olds try ketamine
(already smoking weed).
Prepubescent boys
ask to drink girl’s pussy juice.
‘Mum, what does he mean?’
A teenage girl has overdosed.
Everybody’s glued to screens.
Can anybody see

canaries in the mine?
Glorifying suicide
on Instagram.
Everybody hates me.
I need to shave my legs or hide.
Mixed messages of
‘just say no’ hypocrisy.
Mass media betrays the truth:
the underlying adult world
a seething den of desperation,
pumping brains with dopamine,
while government departments,
all stained with cocaine trails,
a joke.

Canaries in the mine
Has anybody noticed?
Mental health in crisis.
Social workers having breakdowns,
and those with cancer, sick with fear
they cannot pay the rent.
Teachers taking months off sick.
‘Take personal leave and daily meds.
The problem’s in your head.
It can’t be in society.’

‘Canaries in the mine,’
you said, but far too late.
The miners are already dead.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

It’s not my job to fill that hole you’ve got. On codependency.

It’s not my job to fill that hole you’ve got. Nor is it your child’s job. It’s yours. My daughter is a huge and important part of my life but she’s not my everything, my reason for living, although she has enriched my life beyond measure. I respect her as a person in her own right. When she leaves home, of course I’ll really miss her, but my life won’t end. A new phase will begin. Because I am centred in myself. I am anchored in myself. This is the fundamental thing. I’ve had to work hard to get to that place. To not be dependent on others for my sense of self-worth, or to fill a hole. That doesn’t mean I can’t love other people. It’s the opposite. It means I am free to love other people without attachment and neediness. So I can love them appropriately and properly. They can still be their whole selves and so can I. We don’t need to get lost in each other, except in the bedroom. Otherwise how can each of us distinguish our own feelings and opinions from the other person’s? We can’t really see each other when we are too tangled up together. When each of us is whole, we can truly appreciate each other, and we can discuss and resolve issues more easily, because we can see what is within ourselves and what is coming from the other person. When we have learned to stand on our own two feet, we have the courage to look at ourselves, because we know we are whole. There is not a gaping void we are trying to pretend isn’t there. We can look at our faults and learn from them because we have self-compassion. Standing on our own two feet doesn’t mean being completely self-sufficient. We all need other people. But it does mean not placing unrealistic expectations on other people to fix what we have to fix for ourselves, although we might ask for support while we do that. It does mean not expecting one person, such as a partner, child or parent, to fulfil all our emotional needs. A partner or child is not there to fulfil any unmet needs we might have from childhood. We have to find a way to fulfil and heal that within ourselves, otherwise we project the parent role onto a person that is not our parent. Feeling excessively dependent on others to fix our emotional problems is disempowering because, firstly, it’s not in their power to do so, and secondly, by waiting for them to do it, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity. All healing is ultimately self-healing. Others are just there to help. Sometimes we might mutually support each other and work side by side on our issues, swapping notes as we go. Standing on our own two feet also means accepting that we are not the whole answer to all their needs. When someone has codependent tendencies and a desperate need to be needed, they can unconsciously hold their partner back from fulfilment as they try to keep them needy. In its most extreme manifestation it can take the form of controlling behaviour and manipulation to keep the other person from leaving. This leads to increasing isolation of the couple. They remain trapped together, frozen in a destructive pattern, where neither person can grow or find real fulfilment. The old saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I think that remains true in adulthood. The concept of the nuclear family has brought us some freedom and flexibility but having smaller families doesn’t take away that need for a bigger extended family. If we don’t have one, or they are far away, we can create our own, through nurturing friendships, and allowing our partners to do the same. When we have a range of people to rely on, it broadens our outlook. We realise that we are not dependent on one person. We are part of an interconnecting, evolving web of community. It’s not a threat if someone doesn’t desperately need you in order to fulfil their happiness. We can be together because we choose to be, and because we enjoy giving to each other, not because we can’t survive without each other. It’s not my job to fill that hole you’ve got. But I’ll make you a cuppa while you fetch your spade.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Never Give Up

In 2015, due to a serious illness, I had an operation that paralysed one of my vocal cords. Four months later I needed another operation which paralysed the other vocal cord. Due to my illness I had given up performing and started writing instead. After nearly three years of patience, perseverance and speech therapy I recovered enough control of my speaking voice to start performing my poetry. I love what I am doing and appreciate every moment. I have just started singing again. I may or may not get full control of my singing voice. It’s ok. I enjoy it for what it is. If I hadn’t lost my voice I would never have found my new voice as a poet. Three years ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d be back up on stage at all. The difficulties I have had to deal with have shown me opportunities and skills I didn’t know I had. It’s a long road but I have never given up hope. The things I have been through have shown me how strong I am. If you have a passion for something, if you live for it, you will find a way. Be patient and kind to yourself. Trust your process. Hold your dreams without being too attached to specific outcomes. Set yourself small targets. It may take time and you may have to adapt your plans, but if that is where your heart and soul is, you will find a way. Never give up.

©️ Janey Colbourne 2018

The Saga of the Loyalty Card

“Would you like a loyalty card?”

“Does that require a complex process right now, broadcasting all my personal details and signing my life away? I only want a coffee.”

I am tired and going for a train.

“No, no. I’ll just activate your card right now and add your points and when you get home you can go online and enter this website, then register your card, then we’ll send you emails every time we can offer you a free drink. It’s really simple.”

Yeah simple. Even though I am fully internet savvy. This is not simple.

“Do you know I have a wad of loyalty cards in my purse an inch thick? I don’t want emails. I have 5000 unread emails.”

“Why wouldn’t you want an email when you’re getting something free? It’s a free drink.”

“I don’t care. It’s too complicated.”

Really, I think, although I’m not rich, is it really worth it?

“It’s not complicated. Do you have a smartphone? You can get our app, then it’s really easy, you can just click on the app….blah blah blah”

My brain filters out.

“Stop, no thanks I do not want an app.”

“But it’s really easy. You get free drinks…”

In the end I gave up. He wasn’t listening. I took the card home and threw it away. Yes, really wasteful of me. Disgraceful.

I do not want an app for every single shop that I go to. Do you think I want to fill my phone, my emails, my attention, my consciousness, my entire life with shopping shit?

A simple loyalty card, that’s fine. Collect the stamps, then claim your freebie. But your loyalty is not enough. No. They want your soul.

It’s too complicated. Even though I am intelligent, computer literate, even internet addicted, it’s too complicated. They want your email, your ID, your loyalty, your attention, your consumption, your cash, your credit card number, your date of birth, your family, your friends, your habits, your hobbies.

“But it makes life easier!”

No, life was easier in the first place. You made it complicated, so you could hoodwink us into signing up to make it easier, by signing up to be pestered and harassed constantly.

Do you know how many companies send DAILY emails to their subscribers? Clearly they think we are sitting there waiting with baited breath to read the one and only email we get that day. I don’t even talk to my friends everyday. Just because I expressed an interest, dear organisation, who looked perhaps relevant to my life and worthy of further attention, does not mean I want to marry you. If you come on too strong, I will divorce you, nay I will take out an injunction. Do not come within a 1000 yards of my email address. Ever. Again.

That was 2016.

Fast forward to 2018, same company, different branch:

My wad of loyalty cards has grown, such that it takes me five minutes to find the right one at the till in each shop. But I still haven’t registered with these guys, because, well, priorities. And by now both my phone and tablet are too full for any more apps. There is no way a shopping app gets a look in on my devices. All my apps are for my work. Somehow I have acquired a loyalty card for this place, but failed to take the vital next step. I’m not sure what is holding me back from committing to this relationship. I must be a player.

“Have you registered this card? No? Well your points won’t be valid. You need to go online and register this card.”

“Oh yes and then you’ll be sending me emails. Do you know I have 10,000 unread emails?” Yes, it’s 10,000 now. (Ok, I know. I should delete them.)

My daughter interjects, “She’s not exaggerating.”

“Oh I couldn’t be doing with that, I have to deal with things straight away.”

Ok Mr Judge.

“No mate, these are emails I’m not going to read, because I’m not interested.”

He really doesn’t get it. I’ve been self-employed since 2001. I’m a disabled single mum with ADHD. I have a busy life, a pile of never-ending paperwork, endless emails. I have a backlog even of the ones I like to read. The volume of unread information I have saved for later is utterly, overwhelmingly vast. Because I’m a writer. It’s all information that is relevant, interesting, useful or essential. My life is full enough.

“So, are you going to register?”

“Well, ok, if I get round to it.”

“Do you like the design of this card?”

I shrug, “Well it’s ok.”

“Would you prefer one of these designs?”

I begin to panic. I thought he was just looking for feedback. Not another damn range of options. Will I ever get my coffee? Is this the Café California?

“No. I don’t care. It’s going in my purse.”

I’m mystified as to the possible importance of the card design to a blatantly scruffy, middle-aged woman (well, I’m a writer, innit?) who has already declared her complete lack of commitment. I’m not sure how he came to the conclusion it was the design of the card itself that was putting me off. But here we are. I fatefully uttered the magic words, “Please can I have a latte?” We are now hurtling through the portal to the Magical Land of Accessories, where we all love shopping till our arms drop off. Thank the gods I stopped myself from facetiously asking for platypus milk with my daughter’s mocha. Who knows what twisted universe we might have ended up in.

“But look, you could get one to match your smartphone.”

Through gritted teeth, I just manage to keep my tone light, “I’m not remotely bothered. I’m not going to look at it. It’s just functional. To be honest, what’s wrong with just a basic loyalty card and a stamp?”

He reaches over to pick up a different card. Give me strength. I know he means well.

“No, really, this one is fine. Not another piece of plastic. Let’s save the planet.”

I just manage to stop myself gleefully blurting, “That’ll be 38 dollars,” as he finally turns his attention to the till. After all, there’s no need to be rude. Those card designs were pretty fabulous, darling.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

P.S. Perhaps I should have shown him my smartphone.

“Have you got a card to match this please?”

9AC35CF4-164D-41B4-8813-9CAD20672544

 

 

#marchforourlives #guncontrolnow

On 24 March 2018 the students of Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School led the March For Our Lives demonstration in Washington DC, along with similar events across the world, to ask for changes to gun laws in the US, following a mass shooting at their school on 14 February 2018, in which 17 students were killed and 17 injured by a former student with an assault rifle. The demonstration was the largest student demonstration in American history. The demonstration was also a platform for young black people to speak up about the shootings of black people that often don’t make the headline news. The courage, strength and determination of these young people has me in awe.

What kind of world is it where the kids have to organise a protest because the adults failed to protect them? What kind of a world is it where kids are throwing up at the podium, with tear streaked faces, and they are being told they are not old enough to ask permission for their friends not to die, when they are not even asking for a ban on guns, but for a compromise. It’s starting to sound like the pleading of abuse victims trying to negotiate with their all-powerful abusers. What kind of a world is it where teenagers are examples of courage and fortitude, standing up in front of billions to ask for consideration of their personal safety, to ask that they can go to school and make it home alive? What kind of a world is it where the words of children move us to tears? What kind of a world is it where an 11 year old has more guts than many adults, to stand in front of nations to represent her people? Out of the mouths of babes…
We think we bring kids into the world to raise them and teach them, but it’s the other way around. They are the ones who show us where we need to grow.
If they can find the courage, so must we.

Janey Colbourne 25 March 2018

#marchforourlives