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Happiness is not the goal…

If only I had noted the name of the artist for this piece. It was one of the ‘Artists! Get involved’ pieces at the Yoko Ono exhibition in Lyon. As lovely as the image is, it has nothing to do with what follows. It is rather sweet so thought I’d share it anyway.

The other Saturday whilst skimming the Guardian, I found a terrific little quote from a book that I thought was about parenting. 

“Our time with our kids is precious and fleeting. Instead of consuming it with overthinking and anxiety about terrible things that will probably never happen, we would be better off just loving them, talking to them, enjoying them and letting them know us for who we are.” 

This excerpt is from Ruth Whippman’s book The Pursuit of Happiness and Why It’s Making Us Anxious. Thinking I might as well purchase a parenting manual, I bought the book. But then found out it has not much to do with insights into parenting but is obviously more about this need to run after happiness like it’s the most important thing on earth.

It is an interesting read and for me, she’s preaching to a choir in which I find I’ve been a member for ages.  Basically, happiness isn’t found with millions of hours of introspection. Happiness happens when there are others involved. 

Years ago, someone told me, ‘Happiness is not a goal – it’s a by-product.’ It’s not the thing to chase. There are other things to focus on and if that other thing results in a happy feeling then good for you and whoever was involved.

The other week I was incredibly low. It was a long, tedious week that dragged and at the end of it I asked myself this very philosophical question: Why do I feel so shiiiiiiiiiiit?!

Upon reflection, it was down to the fact I had not spoken to anyone over the age of 2 1/2 for about a week. No meaningful conversations with friends and I hadn’t talked to any of my parents that weekend. Single parenting can be heart achingly isolating. And of course, it was a week of holiday from nursery, which meant I hadn’t been able to work much either.

It’s community. It’s friends. It’s real life connections that make life meaningful and apparently the by-product of connecting is a side dish of happy. 

Single parenting (Jesus, is she still going on about this?!) has its own special challenges and I have to admit, trying to feel connected to other people has been the most difficult task. Online anything isn’t a substitute. I tried online dating for an hour. Hated it. I had some interest but not what I was looking for. And hey guys ‘a photo of me at the pub with some beer’ isn’t a good selling point. There is also Twitter and Instagram to while away the hours, but if anything, it just makes me feel more disconnected.

So. There is no plan to be happy, as I feel in general, when life is terrifically balanced, I’m a contented soul. There is a plan to stay connected to friends and make more of an effort to shed a hermit lifestyle. My calendar is looking active again and I’m anticipating catching up with interesting, wonderful and caring people. I’ve even booked myself in to see a Steinbeck theatre production.

It all starts tomorrow night with a toddler picnic at a friend’s house. After 5pm! What does outside look like after 5pm?!

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Me and Yoko Ono. 2016, 2008, 1962. (Lyon, Newcastle, New York)

Here is a true story of extraordinary coincidence.

Recently, I have been on holiday to visit a friend in Lyon. This story could possibly include a date in the mid 90s when Gaëlle and I met in Nebraska. She was a French foreign exchange student in my small Nebraska town. I remember her as being kind, intelligent and beautiful, all of which are true today.

I chose to visit Lyon so I could reunite with my friend and meet her family.

On one day, we went to a modern art gallery to see the Yoko Ono exhibition. This exhibition took three floors and it was magnificent. Many of the works invited you to interact. Some pieces were made from audience participation years ago and this is when I stumbled upon an amazing coincidence. 

The above image stretched across a broad white wall, displaying 60-70 small typed cards. These were ideas from participants in an exhibition held in New York in the early 60s. I didn’t read all of the cards, as there was so much to see and we were slightly pressed for time. I read the first five or so, walked down the line, then read this one:

It was a massive surprise and I’ll explain why.

In 2008, whilst living in Newcastle, England, I visited a Yoko Ono exhibition. She was there, presenting her work, diminutive and larger than life. She shone a torch/flashlight into our faces and said some things. Part of the exhibition was to ride around the city in a Daimler hearse and so a friend and I did just that. At the time I thought it was just part of a series of events and exhibits created for the Baltic in Newcastle.

You can imagine the surprise I had, me living in Edinburgh, visiting my friend from high school in Lyon, discovering that an exhibition in which I participated in Newcastle, was the idea of another person participating in an exhibition in New York with an idea in 1962 for someone to ride around a city in a coffin car. My mind is still reeling.

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Two pieces of super ace advice…

This blog post has been slowly formulating in my mind over the last hour so thought I should just commit and send forth.

Recently, I have read two bits of advice that have not exactly been life changing, but at the very least have helped me to lighten up on some stuff. As I found them very useful I thought I would share and spread these useful words further afield.

No 1. Once you send it out into the ether, forget about it. This has almost everything to do with social media. If the following doesn’t sound like you then self congratulate on being a 100% well adjusted, perfectly confident human being. If however you can self apply (bonus points if you get the reference) then well done for being honest. You know when you post a photo on Instagram or send something out on Twitter or use FB and then you fret about that thing you sent? The advice is: Forget it. Stop worrying/stewing/feeling the need to retract it/apologise for it or explain it. How people respond is their own decision and you cannot control it.

A big massive footnote to this is obviously don’t send forth cruel, mean-spirited, hateful crap. No no no. I’m talking more like ‘oh no! I just posted an architectural photograph on Instagram and might not have cropped it properly or used the best filter! My entire self-worth is wrapped up in getting more than 27 red hearts!!’ 

 Mayfair vs Rise

Another example is more personal and that is of the blog. Like, uhm, this one for instance. A few days ago I sent out something honest. I am experiencing what is familiar to many. Single parenting can be tough going sometimes and I know I’m not the only one that struggles with certain themes of this kind of living. After posting, I did have a small freak out and almost deleted it. I’m glad I didn’t as it was my most read post by far. Many people sent messages saying that their experience has been similar. It’s a wonderful thing to read something that resonates. And if it made someone else feel understood or not alone in their own scenario than that too is a wonderful thing.

No 2 ‘The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck’ is a terrific read. This point is a short one. There are only so many f*cks you can give in life as you are not limitless. Your energy and time are finite so decide carefully what is worth giving those f*cks to. This also brings me back to social media. I do use it for fun and to promote my work but am I going to allow it to gauge my self worth/talent/use to society? Am I going to give one of my hard earned self respecting f*cks to that? No. 

Now go forth into the world, release you pretty images of books nestled alongside vinyl in Perpetua.  Do it for fun and amusement. Don’t waste your f*cks on fretting about your likes. The most important like is that you like yourself and most likely, that will make you likeable to others.

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Adding up the good moments

The above illustrations are stickers printed from Lisa Hoffman’s watercolour and sketch collection. When I’m feeling creative but have only minutes to create something on days when Lottie is not at nursery and refuses her nap, I create a sketch using Lisa’s work as a starting point. There is always this need to make something. Draw something. Make a mark. And it bothers me when I don’t find the time to do this. 

She dishes these out in limited collections. To have a batch of your very own please find her on Etsy.

With L’s realisation that none of her other buddies are napping, she has decided to join their ranks. Gone are the halcyon days of her two hour afternoon naps. Shortly after closing the door to her bedroom I would gather my supplies, sit by the window and paint something like this:

So now the afternoon is filled with activities. Yesterday we created cut paper houses, drawing lions inside. We found our inspiration from Helen Stephens’s book How to Hide a Lion. The activity lasted all of ten minutes but those ten minutes were pretty wonderful.

We also make cookies or watch a movie or find dead mice in the garden. That last one wasn’t planned and I nearly vomitted all down the front of myself when I almost stepped on it. Or, we cheer that atmosphere right up by listening to Paul Simon on a loop.

Each one of these things add up to the goodness of life. And some much needed thankfulness in the heart.

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Your special kind of loneliness and the sacrifice you make.

This might come out like a very long and tiresome rant. I’ll try to reel it in and make some kind of sense and connection to Others Out There. For my two readers, you might have noticed I use this blog as therapy. How astute. You’re right. But it’s free and available whenever I need it.

Loneliness. A bit of a taboo subject as most turn their back on the topic and pretend it isn’t happening. It’s almost like pretending the weather isn’t happening or the gravitational pull that keeps us attached to the earth isn’t happening. It is there, in a dark corner, waiting for its chance to let you know it exists.

It might be as you’re waiting in the queue to pay for your groceries. Or it could be at a wedding/funeral/caleigh where you might feel like you know everyone/no one. It could find you knee deep in a relationship or free as an eagle to fly around as you like. 

Mine finds me in various parent and child activities and usually with coupled up friends. Example today: Soft play. At the best of times, I hate soft play. At the worst of times: I hate soft play. L and I did have many blissful minutes going down the slide but for the most part, I run interference and try to keep L’s head from getting trampled on by boys that are too old and too big to be there. I can’t sit back and let her play with her dad whilst  I enjoy hot drinks with friends, as he’s not there. Instead I abandon hot drink and friends to crawl around the ball pit, hoping to not break an ankle.

L is lovely and fun but I find these scenarios difficult. It makes it obvious that we are Other and feeling Other is not always a happy place to be in.

Example two: 30 nights that are all the same. Repeat. I’ve been breaking plans as fast as I make them. I do love our routine and I like that I can work my way through books that are engaging, fascinating, thought provoking or are a bit of chick lit frivolity. With that said, I don’t want to do this 365 nights of my life. As anyone solo parenting knows, when 5 pm strikes, that’s you not breathing fresh air until the morning. 

In an attempt to shake things up a bit, I am now trying to plan one or two activities a month to a)get out of my house and b) get out of my head. Easily done, right? Not so much. After texts to friends and unable to pay a sitter, I’m scrapping plans before they are even entered in the calendar. Right now it’s not a problem as I’ve planned a mini holiday for later this month. Looking forward to that is pulling me through endless nights of crap telly. But after that it’s all a blank. And I see that on day 29 Loneliness has scribbled its intent to visit.

So. What are you supposed to do when you know how your special kind of loneliness wants to visit and rummage around in your head a bit? First, for me, it’s knowing the sacrifices I’ve willingly made to be where I am with what I have. It’s also knowing when sacrifice hurts the very nature of your person and to know when to hold on to something you shouldn’t give away.

And when you’re a single parent, sacrificing your entire person to your child is a slippery slope. How do you give her everything without depleting yourself to nothing? How do you carry on with work and earning money (without showing the worry of the lack of) but present yourself fully intact and ready to listen and engage? How can you be both parents and do all the fun creative, active, rough-housing, disciplinary, quiet, loud, cooking, tidying whirlwind of activities that you know she needs? 

You can’t.

You can’t.

You can’t.