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

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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

Dynamics of a Bus Journey

Teenagers talk tough sometimes, but underneath they are still vulnerable, sensitive, feeling human beings. We can be there discreetly for moral support without threatening their growing sense of independence and capability.

Dynamics of A Bus Journey

One thing guaranteed to make me feel old:
sitting near the back seat of the bus at night,
overhearing the strutting of young male egos,
blissfully oblivious their stench of testosterone

obliviates the need for their posturing, swearing,
ostentatious display, announcing drug deals and conquests
to the backdrop of football match sqeaking from phones.
Till some middle-aged drunk guy in shiny tracksuit

starts making advances and I overhear,
“You’re creeping me out mate, stop staring at me.”
So I turn, and suddenly see, not a beefed-up young man
but a vulnerable boy, revealed in his eyes that meet mine.

He’s taller than me and playing it cool.
Though he’s handled it well, I can sense his relief
that some mother has noticed his moment of need,
as the stalker abruptly gets up and leaves…

©️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

Real Life

A poem about living with disability or illness

Real Life

She lies awake at night,
eyes wired,
frantically reading
anything, anything,
to not think about it,
to patch up the cracks,
sew up the seams,
stuff the holes with cushions
made of trash TV and Facebook,
while the mould seeps
down the bedroom wall,
letters lie ignored
re: default sum unpaid,
again.
So sick, sick
of hospital appointments,
waiting in the waiting rooms,
waiting at the bus stop,
waiting for results,
waiting for the pain to stop,
waiting for her real life to start…

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

There’s also an audio version of this poem on my Write Out Loud poetry blog

What’s wrong with pornography?

Warning: thoughtful discussion of explicit/abusive content. 

Now let’s talk about something that’s uncomfortable. I’m not going to apologise for being somewhat graphic because this is important. I don’t have any objection to pornography in theory. I don’t see anything wrong in sharing one of the great pleasures in life. Unlike a lot of women, I’ll admit to having watched it. I have particular tastes. Now some of that is down to personal taste, but most of it is about values. I don’t like abuse or incest. Recently there was an article in the Guardian by Gail Dines about the trend for women being ‘choked’ in pornography. Now if you take a look at what’s trending on Pornhub, it makes for quite eye-popping reading, yet these videos have been viewed by millions. You would think ‘taste my farts’, ‘real dad fucks his daughter’, ‘brother and sister fuck’, ‘painful fuck and pisses in her mouth’ would be a bit of a niche market, but no, these are some of the top viewed videos that come up on the first pages of porn sites. There are even videos of women abusing themselves. Fancy watching a woman shove her hand down her throat and vomit for you, whilst being fucked up the ass by a sex machine? No problem.

Pornography is often the first view of sex that teenagers experience, more so now in the age of the internet. This is the first impression of what adults are up to behind closed doors. Now am I alone in thinking wtf? We need to talk about this with them, because sooner or later they are going to see it. Even if this sort of shit is not your cup of tea, finding respectful, consenting, non-violent sex on a porn site takes a bit of a search, seeing some disturbing sights along the way. Not all videos state in the title that they contain abuse. A policy of ‘just say no’ is all very well, but let’s be realistic, kids are going to get curious at some point. Come on, admit it, we all have. So it’s important that we have that discussion with them, whether or not it’s uncomfortable. It’s a sad fact of modern life that we have to have a conversation with our teenagers about the violence in pornography. We need to warn them about it. We need to make it clear that this does not reflect what they should expect from a real life relationship. I was going to say it does not reflect what happens in real life but then I paused. Why are millions of people turned on by abusive porn? What happens in these videos is not pretend. Women are really being choked, slapped and treated like objects. People really are being held down with their noses pinched shut while someone pisses in their mouth. You can’t unsee that once you’ve seen it. Hopefully the ‘dad and daughter fuck’ is not really that, but the age difference is real. How old are some of those girls? ‘Teenage girls’ and ‘college girls’ are probably the most prevalent titles for videos, some of them clearly in school uniforms, judging by the thumbnails. I would never click on a video with a title like that. Let’s hope they are over 18. Of course you could make the argument that people indulge fantasies they would never act out in real life. Gods, I hope that is the case. Nevertheless it is worrying. Is this what is in the heads of millions of people? Why?

Now I’m not a regular viewer of pornography, but I have seen it on and off over the course of my adult life, and I can see a disturbing change in the tone of what’s popular. There has always been an uncomfortable focus on the pleasure of men and the subservient performance of women. Then there seemed to be a growing trend for women showing that they wanted pleasure, expecting it and getting it. I thought there was some hope on the horizon. Recently the emphasis has turned to playing at incest and various types of abusive acts. Is this part of the #metoo backlash? One paragraph in the aforementioned Guardian article stands out for me,

“It is ironic that as women are speaking out loud and clear, the porn industry, together with mainstream pop culture, is promoting choking. In so many ways, choking women is a perfect metaphor for how women have been silenced. Women cannot speak the truth of their lives as long as men have their hands round our necks, or their penises down our throats.“

This is the greatest danger of pornography as it is currently. Not that we will all become promiscuous or sex maniacs. It’s not that sex is ‘dirty’ or even any moral argument that it should take place within a loving relationship. It’s the most basic human values that are being eroded. Respect. Consent. Not hurting people. And this comes down to one word. Objectification. When people are treated like objects, everyone loses their humanity.

We need to stop blushing and talk about it. 

©️Janey Colbourne 2018