breathe dearheart, breathe

Category: Stripping away (page 2 of 3)

What does your desk say about you?

Desk – Music and Sound Design from Aaron Trinder Film:Motion:Music on Vimeo.

Are you nomadic, without need of a desk? Or do you like your desk to be cluttered with inspiration? Do you use piles of papers as walls of protection?

Why are you the way you are?

This lovely short film is a gentle glimpse into the fascinating psychology of the desk as used by humans.

[Much as I love paperweights – like those glass ones from the 1970’s – I’ve never had one. What’s the point of putting something on a pile of paper when you are not in a windy place? But ah, now I see in this little film it is for those of us who love little scraps of paper all willy-nilly everywhere. You will see a bird one in actual use – stopping delicate little newspaper cuttings from blowing about! And I suppose also pleasing the fancy of its owner.]

What no television?

Maybe if TVs still looked like they did in the 1960’s I might still have one.

No. Maybe if television still ran the kinds of shows as it did then, and in black and white, I would not have felt an urge to “get rid” of our TV.

Getting rid of your television is a big deal.

Stripping away unnecessary furniture and clutter from your home is all well and good. But television’s phenomenal power over us is so subtle I think most people don’t even think of a television set as a piece of furniture. In fact, even I buy into the idea that those super-slim, wall-hung plasma screens are like art on your wall.

And yet getting rid of my television set has been the absolute, far and away, single most stupendously rewarding aspect of embracing my inner minimalist, my purist spirit, my inner wildness.

Adopting a simplifying attitude to your life, de-cluttering your home and stripping away unnecessary material things in your environment gets talked about a lot, because those things are obvious. But as a personal development attitude the concept of minimalism covers much more, including simplifying what you’re exposing your Self to in the bigger picture. And that includes media.

So I ditched television, I listen to one or two radio stations, read one paper once a week and go where instinct leads me on the world wide web.

I feel I have my life back. After several years of not having a TV I feel I’ve already gained millions of minutes that add up to years that would otherwise have been spent watching other people doing stuff. Now I wonder how I managed to do anything at all when I had a TV.

I first thought of becoming TV-free about 8 years ago. This was when I lived in New Zealand where the quality of TV shows is excellent. You get the best American, Australian and British shows plus great local content.

What I didn’t like was my slavish addiction to it. I found it difficult to turn the damn thing off. It was nice escapism. It was company. It kept me constantly ‘entertained’. I felt ‘connected’ to characters in sitcoms and series.

I stopped watching the news – I had read something about detaching from a desire to keep track of the international news media’s negative take on everything. Then I read an article about how TV is like having a stranger in the room who can pretty much say whatever they like. I muted the volume on every ad break – I couldn’t stand the intrusion of commercial hype. (And I was an advertising creative at the time!)

The whole TV abcess burst for me when I became a parent. I didn’t want my child to be a TV zombie. I wanted her to be a child. I wanted her to live life, not watch it. Simple.

So I only switched the TV on while she was sleeping. And then I kept forgetting to switch it on, not least because I became more appreciative of quiet. I can see now that this was a weaning period.

But actually picking up the TV and giving it to charity was an ambition beyond me until we moved countries. I was very attached to my television set. I had had it for years. Buying it was somehow a modern adult rite of passage. But we moved. It stayed, at the local charity shop – and I was so relieved.

I decided not to buy another TV in our new home and see how that went. That was about 3 years ago.

By now I’m used to the horrified expressions on people’s faces when they ask me if I saw the news last night or some other thing on the TV and I say ‘no, I don’t have a TV’. (People talk a lot about what they’ve seen other people do or say on TV!)

I really wish there were more people who didn’t have a TV. I would feel a lot less weird. People are kinda threatened by the idea of someone not having a TV. Yeah, I am dangerous – I have no telly, so there!

Now, please don’t think I’m some kind of guru because I managed to pull out the mass media IV cord and give up TV. I do still occasionally watch TV shows on BBC iPlayer. But since 6 weeks can go by without my having watched any moving picture I have to be prepared for things like sobbing over a scene with Kenneth Branagh in Wallander (which previously wouldn’t have affected me so dramatically) and being scared rigid by Damages because the effect of these dramas is magnified for me.

If you’re beginning to question having a TV, hold my hand and just get rid of it. You will not regret it for a moment. You will feel free. You may have to ride out some withdrawal symptoms, but it’s worth it. And you don’t have to go cold turkey on it. You will revel in your new active, selective viewing. And not accidentally scheduling your life around what time your favorite TV show comes on.

I’m sure there are loads of articles online that outline the benefits of unplugging from broadcast media – you get more stuff done, connect with your family more, talk more, are not mainlined into believing what other people believe, you’re not vulnerable to sophisticated advertising messages, whatever … and the drawbacks do include people thinking you’re a freak, because let’s face it, you are a freak if you don’t have a TV.

Quite apart from all the usual criticisms directed at TV nowadays, desensitizing us to violence and all the rest, as well as being persuaded to buy goods and services we didn’t even realize we wanted so badly before the ad came on, the thing I find poignant about TV is the empty streets and parks of our neighbourhood in the evening, the flickering of TV screens in every living room and people sitting staring.

Not out for an evening constitutional, not meeting each other, not talking to each other No. Sitting in little boxes staring at a piece of furniture in the corner. I find it really sad. But I guess the powers that be are real happy about this state of affairs.

Expectant families fall into costly trap

So you have a baby on the way. How exciting!

I wonder, have you made a list of all the equipment you’ll need? All the things you must have to help baby feel comfortable and you feel organised and ready?

OK, here’s what to do.

Take a deep breath and tear that stupid list UP!

It’s a trap, I tell you. A trap expertly laid which preys on your desire to be a good parent. It’ll cost you financially and it’ll cost your family emotionally too.

When I was pregnant I got myself into a right lather over my list of things I needed to get. Cot – which kind? Sheets, clothes, hats, nappies (which ones?!) towels, cloths, baby mat, toys, mobile, monitor -¦ it just went on and on, gaining extra items from every baby website I visited. The list grew longer and longer – kind of like in preparation for how long the  till receipt was going to be at my local giant baby goods store.

The equipment list became some kind of test. It seemed to represent my level of preparedness for motherhood. Somehow it felt like the more things I had on that list, the more equipment I had, the better mother I would be.

During one visit to my midwife I told her my concerns about all this equipment I need to get. I thrust The List at her saying, “I’m worried I haven’t got everything on here and is there anything I’ve missed?”

My midwife, who had helped birth thousands of babies, smiled gracefully and without so much as a glance at The List said, “Babies only need one piece of equipment: arms to hold them.”

OMG what a relief! ‘Arms to hold them’. Em, What? Oh, OK.

But then, panic, “what about a COT?”

“Baby in the bed” she said – firmly – and that was the end of the whole equipment discussion.

Not knowing then the whole baby-in-the-bed furore, I went with my wise midwife’s advice about this and many other things – much to the benefit of myself and my baby.

So if you have a list like mine – tear it up. No, really, give yourself a break. Take the pressure off. Don’t start cluttering up your home with a whole pile of stuff that will only come between you and your baby. Don’t think it’s helping you be prepared. It’s actually having the opposite effect because you’ll be relying on “things” and “stuff” to be ‘prepared’ instead of preparing yourself and having confidence in yourself.

No matter what people say to you – you do NOT need all that stuff when you have a baby. In no way does it represent your ability to be a good mother or father. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most baby equipment is designed to replace you as a parent. All of this equipment, this stuff, somehow comes between you and your baby and creates distance. (More about that another time perhaps.)

Babies need you – their mommy and/or daddy. The most important equipment they need is someone to love them and protect them. It follows that that includes your breasts, your arms, your songs, attention, whisperings and laughter.

In fact, having seen an amazing mum who was born without arms, you don’t even need arms to be a loving parent.

I was prompted to write this post today after seeing an advertisement for the Scottish Baby Show at the SECC in Glasgow at the weekend. An event which yes, celebrates the delight and joy of having a baby and that is a beautiful thing to bask in.

But it also brings together lots of people wanting to suck the cash right out of the pockets of expectant parents. This is relatively easy to do by playing on our natural, human ‘will I be a good enough parent?’ fears.

Only with this £1,500 pram, they say. Only with this factory-produced-for financial-profit formula, plus all the sterilising kit you need to go with it. Only if baby sleeps through the night and you’ll need a baby monitor because, of course, they also need their own bed which you’ll need to buy for £200 plus mattress plus sheets and of course a bumper.’

Does it not just make you feel insecure thinking about it?

There is a gigantic baby goods industry* built around making ludicrous amounts of money from new parents – and, like people grieving or going through other life-changing events, new parents are extremely vulnerable to the refined sales pitch.

Take the pressure off yourself. Don’t fall for the commercial hype. Don’t let ‘the baby experts’ attempts to “educate” you undermine your confidence in yourself as a parent. Just get what you want, not what some company tells you need. All the other stuff distracts baby from you, and you from baby. Make like a primitive human. Be more to your baby by having less.

All your baby wants is you.

*OMG I just googled “value of baby industry US” and the first thing that popped up was “baby FOOD [so only commercially-prepared baby FOOD] globally worth $37.6 BILLION by 2014 so am just too scared to re-google to get the ZILLION dollar amount of total value of the baby goods market in the US and UK – you do it….

Image borrowed from Mary Bogdan from her series, “Re-parenting the Inner Child”. (A subject close to my heart which I’ll be discussing soon.)

Accelerating fast from car-less to car-free

Like many others, I’ve had to change gears from driving anywhere I want to go to being car-less. And quickly shifting up to fifth gear to feel car-free, rather than car-less.

It’s been a hard road my friend, I won’t lie to you.

Having had the dangerous thought last year that perhaps part of my stripping away unnecessary things in my life might possibly include my car – how irrational a thought that seemed at the time – the universe has responded by wrenching that car right out of my hands.

It started with not being able to afford to fill the petrol tank. Then putting repairs on to my credit card. Next, rationing petrol and journeys. Consciously not using the car, walking instead of driving. And so now, the end of the road.

A few weeks ago my car received, not an MOT certificate, but its Death certificate. The cost of repairs needed for a new MOT exceeded the value of the car.

Today my car was towed-away. The kindly vehicle wrecker, John, who took it away pressed a £20 note into my palm in sympathy.

Really, he could have charged me for taking it away because in active protest at being scrapped my car had set off its immobilizer – for the first time ever. Its flashing hazard warning lights and shrill screams of alarm going on and on, and even John not able to switch the immobilizer off, were like an external manifestation of my own tiny internal cries.

£20 for a beautiful, vintage Mercedes Elegance 180C. £20 compensation for my bubble of mobile independence and protection being burst.

I took the cash. He took the car. We walked to the local shop and used the money to buy ice-lollies, sucking them in the fresh air and sunshine.

I feel really vulnerable not having a car. But I like it. I am just another soul washed and rinsed by the recession and, like so many of us, queerly but resiliently appreciating the living-more-simply-changes a lack of funds has brought.

I feel inexplicably, wildly, excited about the prospect of living without a car.I am liking the idea of leaping on and off buses. And communing with all kinds of people on public transport instead of locked in my isolated, safe metal space. Walking and noticing things, talking with people, waiting at bus stops, hearing birds singing…

But oh my car, my dear car!

I have never lived without a car.

It’s a scary thing, especially with a child and a giant dog and um, 3 cats. Plus, I’ve almost always had beautiful cars. I love cars. As a teenager I drove two Triumph Spitfires. I drove a black, vintage 1952 Citroen Traction Avant Light 15 as my everyday car for years and years in my Thirties. I’ve had 4×4’s and oh my darling silver Subaru Legacy stationwagon with its faux walnut dash … sigh … it’s over for now.

Wait a minute! I love cars, can I just say it again? I like vans too. I love the perceived freedom they give us, the style and grace they afford us, they sheer pleasure of driving, a leather-wrapped steering wheel in my hands, and a wide, open road ahead. I love going on adventures in cars, just driving and seeing where you end up.

But it’s over, for now. And I am glad. I feel strangely relieved of a burden. How very odd.

I have just ordered our economy-bulk, multi-journey bus tickets for a full month online. Our tickets to ride will be here soon and oh, wait – another benefit – I shall regress to when I was a school girl with my school bus pass!

If you’re interested in living without a car, make it easier for yourself by reading how others have made it a wonderful experience – like lovely RowdyKitten, Tammy Strobel, with her Simply Car-free book.

Borrowing beauty – how libraries help us embrace transience

I used to want to capture beautiful things and keep them close. I used to be sad that flowers died. I used to cling on to good memories. I used to have huge bookshelves groaning with books.

I don’t know why it has taken me so many self-help books, and traumatic experiences, to get to grips with the joy of experiencing fleeting loveliness – feeling the beauty deeply and effortlessly, letting it go – trusting that the world is brimming with beautifulness ready to be noticed.

Borrowing beauty in experiences, people, giving, seeing, feeling is a natural human state. Modern marketing seems to have divorced us from this state by creating artificial desires and offering attempts to fulfil them. By creating insecurities in us (the marketing ‘problem’) and seeming to provide self-actualisation in various shades (the marketing ‘solution’).

I don’t believe we are meant to hold tight. I do believe we might hold dear, however. Time is of no consequence; a moment of deep appreciation is a gift more rare than years of remembering the beautiful thing is there with you in the other room somewhere.

It is a lovely way to live. I think of the word ‘transience’. Previously I would have felt transience was a melancholy state. Now I rejoice in transience. We are all transient here, everything is. The secret is to embrace that and allow the pureness of being in the now to overwhelm us for that moment.

So it is after this lengthy somewhat tangential introduction that I mention the luscious beauty that is the new cover designs by Klaus Haapaniemi for two well-loved Patrick Suskind novels. I can look and look at these illustrations and — is it because of the www which allows me to see these covers whenever I want? — not need to possess them even while I love them.

As I said, I used to need to own books. Collect and imprison them in huge bookshelves. I don’t have that need any more.

Years ago a friend of mine was baffled by my buying books instead of borrowing them from the local library. I was baffled by his read-and-return attitude. I thought him superficial. Now I see he was wise.

After several years of borrowing books of all kinds from local libraries I find the library a magical infinite universe of books. I can even pre-order new books, order others and it’s all free so you can gorge yourself with anything – take a pile of books out, maybe only read one, take them back.

I think most people don’t realise how luxurious, how decadently indulgent, libraries make reading.

I can read volumes of reference and non-fiction books and not pay for them and float about in fiction from any era, not simply choose favorites chosen by a particular book store chain or independent book shop.

I do feel slightly uncomfortable about my love affair with libraries (and librarians, who are always lovely!) because I am also a novelist and of course if people don’t buy books, well, em, what then dear reader?

Image borrowed from Penguin Books/Klaus Haapaniemi. Thank you for making the world more beautiful.