Self-Respect

I am no Joan Didion, but lately I have been thinking about her 1961 essay on self-respect. I came across it while watching the recent documentary of her life: The Center Will Not Hold, shortly after arriving in Perth and finding myself awake in the early hours of the morning. I was feeling shit from screwing up an interview for a permanent job two days before I left London. I knew I wasn’t doing as well as I should have halfway through the ordeal – I had entered that purely terrifying state of anxiety wherein nothing you say makes any sense and the more you talk, the more you exit your body to look upon yourself with a sense of horror. Typically, as soon as I left the room I pored over all my omissions and realised what answers they had expected me to provide. What made things worse was that the job was at a lower banding than I had been working at for the last 4 years – I had decided to take a cut in my pay and my status because I enjoyed the job and the NHS Trust so much (I had been working in the role as a temporary staff member for a few months preceding the application). My fears were confirmed a couple of days later when I was told I hadn’t been successful at securing the position.

That’s it, I thought. Your life went off track in 2016 and it’s never coming back. You’d better look for another career because you clearly suck at this one.You think you’ve made all this personal progress over the last year but you haven’t gone anywhere. You can’t even get a job below the level that you’re apparently supposed to be. You should never have even been at that level. You don’t care enough. You’re lazy. You need to stop this now. You haven’t been suffering from Imposter Syndrome. You’re a genuine fraud. 

The thought of going back to the office when I returned from Australia and having to face all the people who expected me to get the position crippled me. I sent an email to my boss apologising for letting her down. Which is pretty embarrassing. The paralysis of shame was, in a way, comforting because it felt so familiar.

And then… something changed. I think I had a moment where I looked in the mirror and thought Well, so fucking what. What is this compared to the other shit you’ve dealt with? Maybe I’m not supposed to be a Speech and Language Therapist anymore. It’s not because I’m not smart or lack the aptitude. Maybe I’m just not as interested anymore. It’s been 12 years, that would be completely understandable. Or maybe I was so consumed by anxiety in the interview because I was daring to go for a job I would actually really, really enjoy. Perhaps I am so used to applying for higher banded jobs that I wasn’t sure how to pitch myself and forgot to mention the basic things that I do on a day to day basis. Maybe it was this, maybe it was that. The point is, it can’t be anything too terrible, because I’m not terrible. It’s OK, I fucked up on the day and I forgive myself; the journey continues. It felt so good to speak to myself kindly. I had a cry to my Mum, but then I said the words I needed to hear to myself instead of turning to a partner, or over-burdening my friends. That might not sound like a big deal to most people, but it was to me.

As Joan Didion said, it is a myth that having self-respect – an intrinsic knowledge of one’s own self-worth – will keep one “out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general.” It won’t. But it will determine whether you have the resilience and responsibility to look at these situations square in the face and make, in essence, a measured appraisal of your part. Self-respect is having a strong self-image rather than desperately trying to live out the roles and expectations that other people have assigned to you. Joan thought of it as a discipline that can be trained, and though I am still a fair way off presenting myself to certain people as I truly am (a flawed, imperfect human being with my own needs), I am a hell of a lot closer than I was a year ago, when my opinions of myself were based solely on how others saw me and the first thing I said to my therapist was “I have no idea who I am.” I have walked that “devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself” and I have learnt that unlike in my youth, doors will not magically open for me without hard work, I am no more lucky in love than anyone else, and sometimes I will fuck up things that mean a lot to me. I will lose things. People will leave. I will let others cross my boundaries and I will give them too much. I may not even be a very good person sometimes. But there is now an acceptance of myself running through my very core that not many external situations could shake. I fucking respect myself.

Oh yeah and a few weeks later, my work emailed me to say they’d had a change of circumstance and offered me the job. Pffffft.

embed-joan-didion-self-respect-vogue-text

Advertisements
Aside

“When the night was full of terrors

And your eyes were full of tears

When you had not touched me yet

Oh, take me back to the night we met”

  • Lord Huron

Dudley

One year ago to the day, Dudley was put to sleep. That’s the best combination of words I can form to express what happened and to contain my feelings on the matter in a nice little package that doesn’t spill out the sides and cause a mess. An active voice would not be correct – “One year ago to the day, Dudley went to sleep.” No. He did not perform the act. He did not choose. So…he was the object to whom the action occurred. In that case, which pronoun to use to allocate intent? We, he, I, you…all too incendiary…all too loaded. Don’t even get me started on the different verbs that could be used to describe the taking of a life.

I haven’t really felt like I’ve deserved to look back on the happy times with Dudley. But the alternative is to remember the bad times, and that would be doing him a disservice. And anyway, if I were to anthropomorphise Dudley (as is my wont), I think he would want to see me happy and to remember him well.

In that spirit, here are the photos and videos of him that made me lol today. They remind me that in these moments, and many others like them, he was happy.

#Brenonas

My mini-speech at my little brother’s wedding, held on 25th November 2017 at City of Perth Library.

“I hope by now everyone has had a chance to have an oyster or six! What a moving ceremony that was – let’s have another round of applause for the gorgeous couple – Sofi and David!

For those of you who don’t know, I’m David’s older sister Jill and I’ll be your MC this evening. I’m going to wax lyrical for a couple of minutes and then run through some housekeeping for tonight.

Besides the lovely Kate, who I now have the honour of sharing big sister duties with, can I get a show of hands for how many older siblings we have in the party tonight? Okay…quite a few…great! So you’ll understand that when David and Sofi said “Can you come to our wedding and be the Master of Ceremonies,” what I heard was “Can you come to our wedding and boss everyone around?” “Of course, YES,” I said, after I’d stopped crying, “I can definitely do that.” In all seriousness, David didn’t have much of a choice about me ordering him about when we were kids, but I’m incredibly moved (and surprised!) that David has actively chosen this today. So thank you.

Now, this library has a special significance in our family, in that David’s and my Dad – Stephen – used to bring us here on the weekends. That was long, long before it was renovated. Although the building looks different, the memories are still here, and I know that those memories form an integral part of David’s essential makeup as a human being. Just as the library has been re-shaped from a solid foundation, so too have Sofi and David built upon their histories and the strength they share as a couple to form their lives together.

This is what they do! And they do it so well. Both of them build, create, design, beautify and dream, safe within the stability and love their connection provides. Both of them have the practicality and creativity to take things and together, make them better. You only have to look at David’s boat he built that wasn’t complete until Sofi sailed in it, their shared adventures in Brisbane, Sofi’s gorgeous art and design that David celebrates and supports, or the beautiful home they’ve made for themselves in Osborne Park. I think this building is a perfect symbol for how Sofi has helped shape David into the excellent man he is today. Not only for that, but I speak for all the Brennans when I say it represents the dynamic effect she’s had on our entire family. So thank you Sofi.

We’ll hear more about the wonderful couple when we have the speeches at 7pm. At 8pm Sofi and David will cut the cake and have their first dance. At 10.30pm I’m going to start bossing you around and telling you to leave the building. We absolutely have to be out of the library by 11pm, and as anyone who’s ever irritated a librarian knows, that is REAL.”

Thank you lil bro (and now lil sis!). Love you both xxx

Life/Death/Life

I recently became acutely aware that somewhere along the line, I got lost in the woods in relating to heterosexual men. This is a problem because I love them and one day, so the idea goes, I will probably end up hanging out with the same (lucky?) dude most days until I die. Or they die, whoever goes first. Prior to someone’s death it might be quite nice to have a pretty house, go on lots of holidays, have some kids, have lots of sex, smile and laugh a lot and eat some good food. That would be cool, and by the time this happens we’ll probably be able to coordinate a joint  Netflix stream directly to the Apple iChips in our brains. Sounds fun!

I know that if I want that to happen, and I do, I need to find some way to forgive men, find a gentler way of relating to them and stop being so cynical about their intentions. For this reason I chose a male psychotherapist, and I am slowly allowing myself to trust him in hope that a masculine influence will help me find a path back to healthy relationships. I need to acknowledge and understand my own role in creating difficult situations. It’s still a murky mess and I have no idea what I’m doing, but hopefully I’ll get there.  There are men who want relationships with me, there are men who want to be friends with me, there are men who want to be friends and have sex with me, there are men who only want to have sex with me.

I’m trying to understand that there’s nothing inherently cruel or dismissive about any of these options; I have wanted men in all of these different ways for my own reasons at some time or another. Sometimes the way they want me may not be clear to them straight away and this can make things confusing – it’s difficult for me to be patient with that but it’s what happens in life so I have to try. I am also striving to accept (and here’s the kicker), that someone wanting me in a different way to how I want them does not mean they think I’m unworthy or unloveable. It’s just two people wanting a human connection in two different ways.  I’m slowly accepting that the love I give as a friend is worth just as much, I suppose in some ways even more, than the love I could give as a partner. In an even bigger challenge, I’m becoming resolved to the fact that I have absolutely no control over how, or how much, another person wants me.

A mismatch in the ways two people want to be wanted by each other sometimes means it’s too hard to hang out, and the loss can feel really upsetting. It can be hard for both people not to feel bitter about not being able to get what they want or think they need from the other person. It may feel really lonely for a while. In Women Who Run With The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés explains the importance of embracing the  Life/Death/Life nature of femininity. In her most powerful form, a woman knows when to look at a situation she had previously nourished, and let it die. People are usually scared of this happening and rail against it, thinking that only death can follow death. In actual fact, nature makes it so that death always clears the way for more life. Allowing a situation in which two people are unhappy with how they relate to each other to die gracefully, clears a path for new life. I suppose in the case mentioned above, this could mean a new way of relating to each other that makes both parties happy, or it could just mean being able to move on and find what they want and need from other people without bitterness in their hearts.

I’m tired of being bitter, and I’m exhausted from being so angry for such a long time. I just want to be able to love, and sometimes loving someone means letting them go.

IMG_6376
DIAGRAMS HELP

I am growing

How do you act like you just don’t care?

Boys, boys, boys everywhere.

Telling you their innermost thoughts,

looking so kissable…fuckable.

Me too! I agree…

Want someone who’s into art, but who’s

down to earth, and smart enough

not to buy into the wank…

it’s you.

Wanting to be cool, but real.

To be ‘in’ you just can’t feel

(that’s so not fun).

So I fuck up once again,

my pride gets sacrificed to men.

To be a good time girl

you have to be a good time, girl.

Tits, ass, flirting, kissing, wrestling…

how dare you think it was something more?

How dare you…who do you think you are?

I am happy because i’ve set indifference as my default.

Pride means you are unempathetic,

narcissistic.

Can’t be proud to feel.

  • Untitled, 2010

The (Surprisingly Good) Emptiness

A therapist I saw in London at some point last year ventured that I may have spent a lot of my life running away from The Emptiness – avoiding the repetitive drudgery of everyday existence by escaping in different ways – usually into relationships. There are other ways of escaping too, travel and constantly moving being the most benign of options!

Get off the rollercoaster of drama she said, and learn to live outside the realm of constant crisis, conflict, change and hedonism. What you will be faced with is yourself, and this is what you’re escaping from. Do some deep work, go home and explore your family dynamics, face your past and then face The Emptiness. If you ever want a family, she added, you will have to be comfortable with a quiet and unrelenting repetition.

Obviously that sounded terrifying and boring in equal parts.

Anyway, I’m in the bit now where I’m facing The Emptiness. When I first got back to London I was on a total high – fuelled by an excitement at seeing my friends, a cheerful panic induced by needing to find a job and a place to live, and the return of my libido after a long grief induced absence. And, I suppose, a fear that if I stopped and spent a night in, I would be met with the crushing realisation that I am on my own here. It’s been a bit of a process – all of the old escapism instincts kicked in over the first couple of months I was back. I had a bit of a moment where I realised that they were causing more anxiety than they were alleviating – particularly in regards to being in weird ambiguous potentially romantic situations that were more annoying than they were rewarding. It took a while to realise it doesn’t have to be that way. So I chose to spend some nights in, cook myself some healthy food, do some exercise and focus on myself. Now when I engage in hedonistic behaviours, I feel I’m mostly able to do it for the right (fun) reasons rather than running away from something. The choices I make about the people I will let into my life and to what extent are clear, solid and I make no apology for them. The red hot, molten anger that had been flowing through me this year has cooled and solidified into the boundaries I should have always had. The amount of fucks I give about a range of things and how much of my behaviour is driven by shame or ego are in proportion, and overall I just feel really calm, grown up and for the first time in a long time, generally happy. Happy being single! Weird and alien but such a relief. I feel desirable because I think I am desirable, not because anyone else does or does not. The sexual experiences I have are clearly defined, and only good communicators who are committed to mutual, respectful enjoyment are allowed. I’m being super picky and focusing on quality over quantity.

The thing about The Emptiness, now that I’ve stopped railing against it, is that it’s actually quite a lovely peaceful place. Sometimes I get a bit lonely (a night spent in through a lack of opportunity feels different to a self-enforced night in) and sometimes in the quiet, the lid is lifted on painful things that I had to lock away for a while. A few nights ago, out of nowhere, I had a dream that my dog had come back to life, and he had to be put down again. I woke up crying and I’ve found that after going through a period where I could talk about him with some bravado, I’m now in a place where I can’t look at pictures of him, or talk about him without crying. I think it’s important to be able to open that box of hurt that I had put away and ignored for a while and tackle it in manageable portions; on Saturday night my friend was saying it’s important to be able to  have feelings in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you. If I have a cry every now and then about Dudley, or about anything else, it’s OK and I’m OK.

One good thing that’s come out of having more time to myself is the amount I’ve actually been able to focus on my own interests. Through living in West Hampstead again I’ve been able to reconnect with the group I used to get together and make art with every week – I hadn’t been for 3 – 4 years and I was welcomed back with open arms. I feel like I’m learning new things and challenging myself and I love it. Emptiness, you’re alright x