The 5 Surprising Things I Haven’t Missed In Isolation

Cute hamster in tunnel.
Image from Unsplash by Zimbahcat

What’s surprised me most about this virus and its impact on my life is WHAT I HAVEN’T MISSED in isolation. While the 5 O’clock shadow above my lip is evidence of how much my body has missed the minimal amount of upkeep it demands – there’s loads of stuff I thought my happiness depended upon that I haven’t missed of all.

Obviously, I’ve missed certain elements of my life – going to restaurants, weekends away, and trips to the movies, to name a few – but what this virus has gifted me is a window to put into perspective what’s truly important in my life and what isn’t.

Below are 5 surprising things I haven’t missed in isolation:

1. People

FRIENDS, before you rush to Facebook to unfriend me, hear me out. Because I’m not talking about people per se, I’m talking about people I don’t really know that I’m forced to mix with at large social events or in the work environment. You see, one of the chronic sides to my anxiety is my social anxiety, which I’m sure is not that obvious to most people – because I’m a professional at disguising it, AKA an alcoholic – but it’s a problem that explains why a big part of me is loving this excuse not to leave the house right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t become a recluse in isolation whose only source of happiness comes from her dog and bullying her husband – I’ve been working my butt off within the four walls of our home – but I think the extra enthusiasm for work has derived from my contentment at being alone, rather than under the gaze of others.

The work required to socialise is what kills me, i.e. the diplomacy required to fit everyone in and not offend anyone. So while I’ve kept myself busy during this time, I’ve not missed being socially busy and I’ve embraced the extra time and energy to pour into projects I WANT TO DO that I’ve had to put on the back burner in the past.

2. Shopping

There’s not much point in clothes shopping when there’s nowhere to go – not that that stopped me before – but on the rare occasion I’ve visited the mall for “essentials”, I’ve discovered that my desire to shop has all but disappeared – cue fist pump from hubby. Materialism really does feel unessential right now.

And it’s nothing to do with not having the cash to splash, it’s about that change in my priorities again. I used to waste hours at the mall, trying to live up to unrealistic expectations that now seen ridiculous. Like many women, treating myself and spending compulsively used to make me feel better about myself – now I wonder why.

3. My Anxiety

This is a strange one when governments around the world are preparing for a mental health emergency, but it makes complete sense to me. Aside from the ramifications of certain domestic triggers (hmmm…), my anxiety hasn’t been exacerbated by COVID-19 – if anything it has reduced, and recent research in Japan confirms that I’m not alone. This may be because triggers such as work have been removed, or it may be (my theory) that the threat of the virus trumps most of the fears anxious people like me ruminate about on a daily basis. COVID-19 is the disaster of epic proportions we over-thinkers have been waiting for our whole lives, and now it’s here it feels somehow more tangible. It’s like looking the enemy in the eye.

Added to which, health anxiety simply isn’t an option right now – I mean, NO-ONE in their right mind wants to end up in the ER at the moment, right? On the personal front, while having Kurt back at home has added some tensions, it has also removed the fear those calls in the middle of the night caused. Enabling or not, it is much easier to support him during this pandemic under our own roof.

4. “The Treadmill”

The treadmill issue ties in with people and my anxiety. While I like my routine, I don’t necessarily enjoy all of the functions on my personal treadmill. At fifty-four, I’m still trying to shape my life into the one I want i.e. working for myself (preferably from home); and doing something I feel passionately about that scales well with my work-life balance. This break from certain outside pressures has paused the tension that usually mounts. It has provided me the opportunity to step back and do exactly what I want for a short space of time, when I want to. I’ve been able to step off the treadmill and roll around in the bedding.

5. The Weight Of Expectation

I am aware that it is my personal responsibility to control the weight of expectation I feel – or so my therapist says. Everyone wants to succeed, but for those of us who measure success in terms of work- life balance rather than financial reward, that weight of expectation can feel heavier and be difficult to keep in proportion. This difficulty is interlinked with my anxiety and I can only describe it as needing to nail everything, to be there for everyone, not to let anyone down even if when I’m drowning. With less expectation, my head has bobbed back to the surface of the water again.

Of course, these thoughts may just be symptomatic of middle age

I can’t deny that I’ve had an innate desire to find more inner peace for some time, and for those of us lucky enough to come through this virus unscathed, a positive of this COVID-19 experience has been how it has highlighted areas of our lives we took for granted. Nature, family relationships, and my health have been pushed back up to the top of my priority list. I may be missing the opportunity to explore countries I’ve never travelled to before, but I won’t miss the anxiety that used to accompany those trips, in much the same way I haven’t missed my invisibility at our local pub.

Is there anything surprising you haven’t missed in isolation?

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C-Words like COVID-19 are never good, but most clouds have a silver lining

Historically, c-words have had a bad rap. For example, the c-word “c*nt” is described as a vulgarism for female genitalia on Wikipedia, and the euphemism for “cancer” used to be the archetypal c-word. That is until recently, when a far more sinister c-word entered our vocabulary.

I suppose it is fortunate, therefore, that the negative connotation of some words evolve over time. “C*nt” and “cancer”, for example – words deemed so terrible in the past that they had to be given euphemisms – have become increasingly popular in modern conversation.

Which I’m rather glad about. You see, I’m rather partial to the word “c*nt” – in spite of how Americans feel about it. In my opinion, there is no better word to describe someone who is, frankly, more of a “c*nt” than a “knob” or a “dick”.

And it might surprise you to know that for many modern women, “c*nt” is not seen as a derogatory word. It is actually an empowering word for some of us, because we don’t see our genitalia as threatening, ugly or something to be ashamed of. We see them as a thing of beauty, a valuable weapon for our sex, and the embodiment of womanhood. It is my pride in my sexuality that empowers the word.

Modern women don’t see women’s genitalia as threatening, ugly or something to be ashamed of

Australian comedian Judith Lucy demonstrates her liberal use of the word in her wonderful podcast “Overwhelmed and Dying”. Indeed, so comfortable is Judith with the word “c*nt” (and pretty much every other modern expletive), recently she had a portrait of her c*nt made – You can hear about it on the episode “Hanging Up My Vagina” here.

Cancer was another c-word that was only ever mentioned in hushed tones

“Cancer” was another of those words no-one talked about either. During my childhood, the disease was only ever referred to as the c-word for reasons I’m still not clear about. Ignorance, perhaps, or a symptom of the anxiety that followed two world wars in which society had been encouraged into a short term, false sense of stoicism that the disease ignored. Of course, it didn’t help its popularity that cancer was seen as guaranteed death sentence back then.

Even today, medical researchers implore doctors not to use the word cancer (unless absolutely necessary) due to its power to induce panic.

Fortunately, prognoses have improved for many cancer sufferers, as has their level of public support and our general awareness about the disease. So much so, some cancer sufferers are quite comfortable to talk about their journey, including what they LEARNED from it – whether that’s a greater appreciation for life or a timely reminder to make changes before it’s too late.

As Martha Carlsen says: “Don’t be afraid of the C word. Go ahead and fear or despise cancer itself and what the treatments may bring. But don’t be afraid of the word. Saying it out loud won’t make the disease worse or cause your treatments to fail or scare your friends away,” here

And now this new c-word has reached our shores

So is COVID-19 the new c-word? Because the living hell that it has unleashed around the globe makes it is damned near impossible not to drop its name into every conversation or to lap up every detail of it’s trajectory like a dog with a bowl of ice-cream. This virus will leave a hideous legacy. It has taken innocent lives, threatened others, and its overall impact is certain to destroy far more than public health.

Yep, it’s a bit of a c*nt!

Nevertheless, I don’t think so.

I think some good can come from this virus

It may not be blatantly obvious YET, but this virus is responsible for some seriously good shit. It has given us pause for thought. It has forced us take a break, sit back and reflect on our lives and the choices we are making. It has made some of us stop taking our relationships for granted, drawn a line under the relationships of others, and redefined life goals for many. It has helped us acknowledge the previously undervalued foundations of our society who are now out there on the frontline, battling to save lives.

Maybe some of the changes it causes will be positive?

I hope so. While the toll on our mental health will be enormous and the impact on the world economy is yet to be calculated, I’m certain that the legacy of COVID-19 won’t be all bad. Positive changes are already being seen in the workplace, for example, and as a result of social distancing rules it’s likely that when employees come out of isolation in search of jobs, their priority will be ones that offer greater work flexibility for a better work/lifestyle balance; the responsibility of childcare will be shared more evenly between couples, and there will be a greater investment by the government into healthcare.

And while we have yet to see the full benefit of isolation on our environment, the signs are positive in terms of pollution and its effect on climate change as well.

On a personal note, this period has reminded me of how lucky I am that I married my best friend

Even I have noticed subtle changes in my own thinking over these past few weeks. Check-ins from friends and family have moved me and served as a valuable reminder to service my relationships more often; this taste of retirement has reassured me that I will have plenty of purpose when the time comes, and I have never felt more grateful about being married to my best friend.

And so, while c-words are never good, it is handy to remember that most clouds have a silver lining

What subtle changes have you noticed in your life?

“Clear intentions” may help you focus in lockdown, but treading water is also fine

It’s very easy to get sucked in by the words on those memes about writing a novel or finding a cure for cancer during this period of isolation, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me.

After all, who doesn’t want to defy the challenge posed by this pandemic and come out at the end of it with a Nobel Peace Prize?

Woman writing a list in a book.
Photo from Catherine Lavery on Unsplash.com

Personally, though, I prefer the memes that focus on simply getting through these trying times. Loser talk for some, I know, but it’s important to remember that not all of us are driven by competition or what “The Jones” are doing. For some of us, the best way to handle this type of crisis is by taking each breath carefully.

And that’s okay.

This week, I noticed several people on Twitter mention the need to grieve the loss of time caused by this pandemic, and in an article by Geoffrey Mak in The Guardian, he concurred that “Some days grief entails languishing in bed, because that is surviving.”

That’s essentially what I’m doing – I’m taking each day at a time as we wait for the finale of this virus’ terrifying journey.

Having Kurt back at home has helped distract me and forced me to set clear intentions each day as I’ve watched him discover the importance of setting them for himself. ADHD does not like being locked up in isolation or a lack of a routine.

His four goals the other day were to learn a new trick on his skateboard, to memorise a new song, have a bath, and edit a chapter of my manuscript that he’s sat on for at least six months, and by the end of the day he had ticked off three out of the four. And that’s okay.

Self-awareness from past disappointments has taught him the need to be realistic in his intentions.

Elaine Lipworth discusses the benefits of clear intentions to combat anxiety during crises such as this in her piece on Thrive Global here. She reiterates the importance of not “setting yourself up for failure and mentally beating up on yourself for not being able to achieve your goals,” (which is a quote from Khazan, author of Biofeedback and Mindfulness In Everyday Life).

I.e. The importance of setting up achievable goals.

Anyway, it turns out that I am very similar to my son in the respect of intentions. I am much happier with a routine and that’s why I’ve been setting my own clear intentions over the past week, along with some “ideal world” ones are are more like goals. You see, unless I keep myself busy, I find it impossible to escape the vortex of the media’s depressing post-mortems about every aspect of COVID-19, which exacerbates my anxiety.

These are my daily intentions at the moment:

  1. Daily exercise – Typically a walk or a short run.
  2. Pitching – Sending ideas for articles to editors
  3. Eating – Enjoying at least one special meal a day, or even trying out a new recipe
  4. Writing – Articles, my blog posts, and manuscripts
  5. Reading – As much as I can
  6. And clearing out my inbox daily

Things don’t always go to plan. Yesterday, for example, I had to forego my exercise due to a dodgy stomach that the old man insinuated was caused by too much Easter chocolate.

And that’s okay.

When it comes to those “ideal world” intentions – which again, I admit are closer to goals – I’m not putting any real pressure on myself to achieve them, but they include:

  1. Online learning – Completing a content marketing course and commencing an advanced web design course with TAFE – did you know that they are running some free, online short courses during lockdown? Check them out here.
  2. And I’m also teaching myself how to crochet – a skill I had hoped I’d have nailed by now and could share with the kids back at school, but I’m not certain that will happen this school year!
Crochet gone wrong.
My rows seem to be getting shorter!

Some of you will be thinking WTF! right now, while others among you – the would-be high-achievers – will be seriously questioning what I’m doing with my time. And that’s because we’re all different, and each one of us is handling the impact of this virus the best way we can, within the limited scope of what we understand about it.

And we’re not all in the same boat. Some of us will be balancing these intentions with work and homeschooling kids, while still others will be coping with the onset of mental health issues triggered by the virus and struggle to get out of bed each morning.

And that’s okay.

But if you ARE that person who is focused on simply “surviving” – i.e. whose best intentions are to watch Netflix, brush your hair daily, or make it downstairs, you can still try to be specific in those intentions. Don’t short-change yourself. Make them meaningful in some way is what Elaine suggests.

For example, you might try out some new healthier recipes when you cook, or try dying your hair. If you’re feeling strong enough to give a new “exercise” a go like Kurt, set yourself a specific goal linked to it. And if Netflix is what slows down those bad thoughts in your brain, try to prioritise some shows with educational benefits as well as entertaining ones.

On paper, this self-imposed isolation looked like “the dream” to some of us, but the truth is, that’s not always the case. Why? Because people need connection.

While there’s nothing to prove at the end of this period, clear intentions will help keep you focused on the end goal and a healthier outlook for what’s left of the year.

Who knows, you might even unleash some undiscovered creativity! Although I’m not sure mine will have anything to do with a crochet needle.

What your clear intentions at the moment? What’s working for you?

The 7 Best Ways To Find Your Christmas Spirit If You’re A Grinch

In spite of my newfound, VERY mature thoughts about the insignificance of consumerism in my life at this time here, I have launched myself full throttle into Christmas.

Living room with full of Christmas decorations.

To be honest, I’m a bit of a Christmas tragic. We were fortunate to have a mother who made the festivities so special for us that even though she died in December, the month remains my favourite in the year. In some ways, I suppose, I want to uphold her tradition of Christmas madness because it feels like a celebration of her life. My sister is as bad. So much so, we have an annual race to get the tree up first. I won this year. (Just saying, Ange).

When we lived in the UK, we used to wait until mid December before we put the tree up – although I’m sure that has changed as the world gets more and more embroiled in the commercialism of the season. But here, in Australia, we kick off the celebrations much earlier, probably because it is the start of our long summer holidays, or possibly for the benefit of the many migrants who struggle to find their Christmas spirit.

I fully commit. While many of my British circle don’t feel Christmas is the same in a hot climate, I have embraced the morning swim on Christmas morning with gusto, followed by turkey and Christmas pudding – even in 35-degree heat!

Needless to say, by late November I’ve already mentally signed off for the year and entrenched myself fully in plans for our annual Chrissy Drinks, what to wear on the special days, and Christmas shopping. This year, I’m even going to see White Christmas with some fellow Christmas freaks.

So, if you’re a Grinch and need some help in the Christmas spirit department, here are my 7 great ways to find it:

1.Add some sparkle to your home. OBVS, a tree is the best, but if you can’t be bothered, a liberal dose of tinsel and coloured lights will do the trick. I have a rather fetching bauble head piece that I wear.

2. Nothing beats the aroma of Christmas spices. I still make Delia’s Red Cabbage each year, even though everyone in the family hates it. The smell of cloves and cinnamon push me up one more notch on the Christmas madness scale.

3. Fish out the Christmas movies. I can recommend the latest piece of schmalz from the UK – Last Christmas – in spite of the reviews. Emma Thompson is superb, Emilia Clarke is magnetic, and Henry Golding makes for some lovely tree candy. Although, for my money you can’t beat The Holiday or the Christmas scenes in Bridget Jones.

4. Go to Aldi and stock up on all their yummy Christmas treats. It is a scientifically-proven fact that calories don’t count at Christmas and while you might think you don’t need that DIY Gingerbread House, of course you do!

5. Christmas music – At home, in the car, in the shower. Sex is good, but absolutely nothing beats dancing around the kitchen to Mariah’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

6. Give/Donate/Be Kind. So we all know that the old saying that giving is better than receiving is a load of old bollocks, but even the biggest cynic knows that nothing beats the high to be had from “giving.” If you can find a way to donate or help someone at Christmas, I promise you’ll enjoy yours all the more. Whatever your budget, even the tiniest act of generosity can make a difference to those less fortunate than you. Buy charity Christmas, donate some cash, help the koalas, or thank the firemen, but make a difference! This year, I’m going to “donate a plate” for the homeless via The Wayside Chapel here.

7. Don’t be a Grinch and you might actually enjoy it. Be positive. Don’t worry about who you don’t like or who doesn’t like you at Christmas lunch, family feuds, or undercooking the turkey. There are fewer and fewer occasions when families and communities get the opportunity to simply BE together, so whether you are religious or not, look at Christmas that way. It is a reminder about what is important. No one’s really coming for the turkey (who would?) or the booze – they’re coming to see you, to see each other. They’re coming for that magical sense of belonging that lose sight of in our busy lives. Christmas has this incredible power to reinstate it.

Fortunately for me, after almost thirty years together, Scrooge has resigned himself to my craziness at this time of the year. He refuses to indulge in it – evidently, he has picked up that it is much safer not to burst my Christmas bauble – but each year, he dutifully buys the ice for the Christmas party, mixes the drinks, and then (I imagine) he rolls his eyes the minute my back is turned. On Boxing Day, when I am rocking in a corner, he skips around the house singing his self-penned “Christmas Is Over” song with gay abandon.

17 Signs Your Dog Is “A Princess”

Did I mention that WE’RE GOING TO HAWAII in a couple of weeks? Of course I did.

Three cute dogs sitting on their beds.

And, as you can imagine, it has been hard to contain the feverish excitement of the old man at the prospect of shopping in Honolulu, taking long, guided bus tours with complete strangers, and our first Luau.

But, like most parents, we’re experiencing the guilts about leaving our baby behind. We don’t have the boat, money or influence of Johnny Depp, and we hear that the Americans can be really quite scary when it comes to illegal immigration, so this time we are leaving her at home in the hands of a couple of baby…er… dog-sitters.

Note to self: remind aforementioned babysitters that “The Princess” doesn’t actually identify as a dog.

And because our dog isn’t any normal bone-chewing, butt-sniffing mutt, I envisage that the poor sods left in her charge will require some sort of book guide to her habits. She is, after all, a woman of a certain age, with special needs, who (suffice it to say) does not suffer fools easily. So, here’s some advice I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Sometimes, she eats breakfast, but more often than not she sniffs at the dog biscuits in her bowl in disgust and then death-stares you until you give her a treat.
  2. She has a part-time job as a door bell. If someone so much as breathes in the street, she becomes the true Rottweiler she was born to be – although she has also been known to sleep through several break-in attempts.
  3. Her favourite snacks are toast and Scotch fingers (preferably dunked in Lady Grey tea at 50 degrees). She will death stare you if you dare eat either of those without sharing.
  4. She is getting on in years now and has come to despise long walks. If she senses that a trek is on the cards – i.e. further than 2kms – she will tug on the lead in a type of doggie morse code to warn you to turn back. Such blatant abuse of her trust and freedom may trigger a depressive episode.
  5. Maintaining a body like hers requires a lot of water.
  6. “The Princess” likes to space her poos out on walks, to make the event more of a ritual. One log here, another a few metres on… She particularly likes to play this game when you are low on bags.
  7. Her two favourite meals are roast chicken and veggies (as in roast potatoes and nothing green, please) and Spaghetti Bolognese. She has excellent table manners and uses the living room rug afterwards as her napkin.
  8. Her preference in terms of sleeping arrangements is to sleep in the bed with you, in the foetal position, fur to skin, heartbeat to heartbeat. She will kick you intermittently to let you know that she is still alive.
  9. She does not tolerate other dogs, apart from fellow Spoodles. Any dog that gets too close to her rear end is dealt with appropriately. Interestingly, the same rule does not seem to apply to her own butt-hole inspections.
  10. She speaks three languages and is currently learning French from her parents’ latest Netflix obsession with foreign language series. Her favourite genre is Scandi Noir, and this is also her intended specialist subject for Mastermind.
  11. The highlight of her day – after any event that involves food – is to cuddle up on the sofa under her favourite blankie with Netflix and a glass of wine.
  12. She does not go outside in the rain, and during inclement weather she has been known to defy the age of her bladder and hang on for longer than one would believe is caninely possible.
  13. She is obsessed with balls – indeed, the word uses up five of her twenty-word vocabulary. Warning: she will jump off a cliff for a ball.
  14. Like most older women, she doesn’t tolerate idiots, doesn’t give too many fucks (unless food or plumbers are involved), and she has been known to suffer from the occasional mood swing. Her weekly visit to her therapist or a joint usually sorts this out.
  15. Common triggers: long walks, men, tradesmen, the vet, baths, the groomer, worming tablets, suitcases, Boris (the Maltese at no. 34).
  16. She is a homebody who does not cope well with transitions. She does a very believable impression of a dead dog attached to a lead when she is forced to do something she wants no part of.
  17. Vomit triggers: being in the car, homemade treats, any green vegetable, transitions, long walks, being left alone at home, staying with people she doesn’t know…

ENJOY!

5 Life Lessons To Take Away From “The Sopranos”

We’re grieving in our household because we’ve just completed the final series of The Sopranos.

Cover of "The Sopranos" boxset available at www.amazon.com.au
The Sopranos boxset available at Amazon.

But before any hardcore Sopranos fans jump in with an “I told you so” assumption that our grief is linked to THAT final episode – trust me, it’s not. The old man loved the ending, and while I’ll admit that it finished a little too abruptly for my liking – because I’m one of those sad fucks that likes a happy or at least a conclusive ending and I was desperate to see T say sorry to Carm, JUST ONCE – even I was good with it.

No, we’re grieving because the series was just SO BLOODY GOOD!

Admittedly, when the old man first suggested it, I poo pooed it as not my kind of television – because, frankly, there are enough murders of women in real life and the Mafia is hardly known for its work on human rights or equality. But you know what marriage is like, with its galling expectation to fucking compromise all of the time. So I agreed.

And when it comes to violence, let me confirm that The Sopranos doesn’t disappoint. The drama is horrifically violent in parts – in my opinion, often gratuitously so – which is why it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For example, I can honestly say that the realism of Dr Melfi’s rape is one of the most harrowingly brutal scenes I’ve ever watched.

BUT…and it’s a mega BUT… there is just so much to learn from the series about the human condition. It was just so ahead of its time. But before I go into detail about what I took from it, here’s a quick synopsis for those of you yet to watch it:

In a nutshell, the story is about the life (work and family) of Tony Soprano, a sociopath, and the boss of a Mafia family in New Jersey. When he starts to have panic attacks – due in part to PTSD (caused by the toxicity of his own family), and in part (we suspect), to some level of social conscience about his work – we watch how he continues to justify the shocking decisions he has to make in the name of male pride, his family, (and HIS FAMILY) through social change and the ageing process.

So, what do the shocking truths of Tony’s life teach us about our own:

  1. To start with, the time period in which the series is set makes you realise just how far we’ve come in terms of political correctness. Homosexuality is demonised by the Mafia, as is the idea of not being a “real” man and even putting family ahead of “THE FAMILY”. Then there is the vigorous disapproval of seeking help for mental health issues, and the way that women are abused and subjugated. If ever there was a story that highlights toxic masculinity, this is it.
  2. We are also given an insight into PTSD caused by toxic parenting and how the cycle of abuse may continue. This comes to light during the therapy sessions between Tony and Dr Melfi and then evidenced in the relationship between Tony and his son, AJ.
  3. As we watch Tony’s struggles to evolve and raise his kids in this new, modern world – one in which their views are respected – we find ourselves identifying with his plight as the parent of teenagers. Many times, I found myself identifying with his frustration with AJ (his entitled son), and Meadow, his daughter, who dare to argue with their father about what they want to do with their lives, in spite of their parents’ expectations and power.
  4. Watching Tony’s evolution from husband and serial adulterer into a middle-aged man with guilt issues, is at times tragic, funny, deeply moving, and always mesmerising. The old-fashioned power and behaviours of the patriarchy are evident throughout, but the wind is starting to blow in the other direction and there are signs of their demolition as the female characters become more empowered.
  5. It is a lesson about relationships. In spite of the fact that Tony can’t keep it in his trousers, you know that he still loves Carmela deeply. However, trust is one of the main themes of the series. We know that successful relationships are built on trust, whereas groups such as the Mafia build them on loyalty. Relationships become vulnerable as people grow, and those that rely on nothing greater than lip-service don’t tend to last. Tony works hard on relationships that are meaningful to him – i.e. his blood family’s – but he remains deeply untrusting with outsiders, leaving him isolated, in spite of his seeming position of power.

These lessons, and so many more, is why The Sopranos is such addictive viewing. James Gandolfini’s portrait of Tony Soprano is enthralling to watch. He was highly acclaimed for the interpretation of this chilling, yet charismatic character, which makes the tragedy that his own life was cut so short, somehow all the more poignant. I miss that smile, already.

In Australia, you can watch The Sopranos on Foxtel or buy the boxset from www.amazon.com.au

21 Pieces Of Advice I’d Give My Teenage Self…

An article in “The Times” last weekend and my coming birthday inspired me to think seriously once again about what I’ve learned during my half-century. I’ve written posts in the past on the topic of the wisdom gained in middle age – mainly in relation to the advice I’d give NC, my daughter, but amazingly I have “grown up” some more since then, (as has the place of women in the world) – so I think it’s time for a re-evaluation.

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

I envy NC and the support her generation receives from the multitude of inspiring female mentors in the media, at work, and within her social group, as well as the government and independent services they have for their mental health etc. And I hope that with more awareness about women’s rights, the majority of our young women are now finally aware of what exactly is within their grasp. But the success of their future – and I use the word “success” with an implicit meaning of personal goals – still comes down to getting the fundamentals right.

Middle age is a funny old time. We joke about still feeling seventeen or eighteen, and yet it would be ignorant to believe that experience and the power of time have not played some part in influencing our perspective from then to now. If I’m honest, I’m not certain I thought about anything very much in my teens, beyond meeting the education goals set by my parents, getting a boyfriend, and securing a job, but then we didn’t have as much insight into what was happening on the world stage back then.

So here’s what I would advise my younger self if I had my time again:

  1. Don’t assume that education is the only means to an end. Further education is a massive decision for a young brain and, these days, a huge financial commitment. One size doesn’t fit all, and many of our most successful entrepreneurs never finished school. Follow your heart when it comes to your career. You can always return to education at a later date.
  2. Trust your instincts more. Sure, there is a stereotype/Instagram version of success that we are pressured to aspire to, but if you have any niggling doubt inside you, you don’t have to be a sheep. It is unlikely that your doubt will disappear, and ignoring it may cause you and the people that love you a lot of pain in the long term. Listen to your body is something else I’d like to add here – and not just the physical signs that something isn’t quite right, but the mental ones as well.
  3. Value yourself. People will tell you that you are too young to make big decisions, too fat to wear those jeans, not good enough at such and such to follow your dream, but you are your own person and this is your life. Worst case scenario – you will learn from your mistakes. Remove anyone who doesn’t value you or respect your decisions from your life.
  4. Never trust or stay with a partner who doesn’t treat you as an equal. Nothing to add.
  5. Always take responsibility for your own finances. Even if you take time out of work, make sure that you don’t compromise your financial independence by that decision.
  6. Be assertive. Women are known as the “gentler sex” – and it’s true that we make great carers – but in the business world that can be seen as a weakness. One reason that women earn less is because they don’t ask for a pay rise. So be assertive about what you are entitled to.
  7. Don’t be scared to voice your opinion. Time and time again I hear women say that they can’t communicate with their partner. If that’s the case, you are not in an equal relationship and it’s not working.
  8. Accept your body for what it is. There are some things diet and exercise can’t change, so stop wasting your time trying to achieve the impossible. Live a healthy lifestyle, but don’t get sucked in by the unrealistic expectations of models in magazines or social media. You have so much more to give.
  9. Read more.
  10. If you have to chase a friendship, let it go. They don’t value you.
  11. You will have to fake it to make it and that’s okay because everyone’s doing the same thing. Don’t allow yourself to feel like an imposter just because you’ve pushed yourself to take on a new challenge. Take a leap of faith. Imagine if you succeed!
  12. Compliment other women. In fact, compliment everyone – those few words have the power to change someone’s day.
  13. Tell those closest to you how much you love them, more often.
  14. Move forwards not backwards. Regrets can be useful as a learning tool but demotivating if you focus on them.
  15. Don’t be afraid to say sorry. In particular to your partner and kids.
  16. Exercise self-compassion. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There will always be someone with more and life will feel tough at times, but no one is perfect.
  17. Don’t be judgy. Instead, be empathetic – you have no idea what someone else’s life really looks like from the inside out.
  18. Take a greater interest in politics. I know that they’re boring when you are still ignorant about your own mortality, but you can change the world if you want to. And if not for yourself, for your kids. That’s what living in a democracy is all about, and it’s a privilege denied to many. It infuriates me when I hear of young people who haven’t voted and then moan about how the system never changes.
  19. Dreams can come true, but they take hard work, resilience and commitment. (Taken from GreenGlobalTravel). And to get there, you will most likely need to take some risks.
  20. Don’t grow up too soon. There’s plenty of time for that.
  21. Travel – as often as you can.” “After a life-changing trip, Jennifer Hill realized the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. As she’d tell her younger self, there are always reasons you can find not to experience new things—but the benefits of doing it anyway can be amazing.” (The Muse)

9 Reasons Why Empty-Nesting Is So Much Better Than I Expected

Since Kurt left home – the last of our young adults to leave the nest – friends keep asking us how we are coping with our loss, how much we miss him, and whether we’ll get another dog?

Black and white image of young man looking to view of city.
Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

And my diplomatic answer is a resounding YES – of course, I miss him terribly. The house isn’t quite the same without his raw energy, and I still feel that pull on my heartstrings whenever I notice something he left behind; or that queasiness in my stomach when he doesn’t pick up my calls or return my texts.

But I can’t lie – it is also quite liberating not to have that pile of twenty or so extra towels to wash each week; it is much easier to sleep without earplugs; and I have found this wonderful new window of opportunity of approximately two hours each week when I don’t have to replace toilet rolls.

Most of all, I don’t miss the silent judgment of healthier-than-thou mums in the supermarket as they glance at the Kurt-food in my trolley.

In truth, the old man and are having the time of our life. And while I know that some of you experienced empty-nesters out there will wince at that rather self-centered admission – and I am prepared for those times when I sit down and sob over a guitar pic I discover under the sofa or the hidden box of dinosaur nuggets in the freezer – here are my reasons for it:

  1. Our relationship is better with him now. Luckily for us, he appears to have forgiven us for fucking him up, and, even more amazingly, he appears to want to stay in our lives. We spend short bursts of “quality” time with him now, rather than extended “nagging” time.
  2. The house is really clean and tidy. It’s not that he was a grub – but, well… you know how intolerant you become in middle age about empty glasses left around the house, clothes drying on the back of your favorite chairs, and (did I mention?) permanently empty toilet roll holders. The old man also doesn’t miss Kurt’s free access to his wardrobe, either, and the daily search for a pair of clean socks.
  3. SOME of the anxiety linked to our responsibility to turn him into a responsible adult has gone, along with that albatross around our necks of having to be his role-model all of the time. We can get pissed as farts, watch porn and swear at each other with gay abandon. Hell! We could even smoke weed if we wanted to – strictly for medicinal reasons, obvs. We remain delightfully ignorant of the ingenious ways our child is sticking up his middle finger at society now – hence we are sleeping better. We don’t wake up to the stress of getting him out of bed to go to school or work – he is managing that by himself now – and quite honestly, I hadn’t realized how exhausting “enabling” him was, or what pathetically easy pushovers we were.
  4. Our food shop has halved, which means it takes me about fifteen minutes to zip around Aldi. It also means that with spare dollars to spare, I can sneak into Woollies now and then. The best part is that we can eat what we want!
  5. We can walk around the house in whatever state of deshabille we want. There’s no need to lock doors when we’re in the bathroom. There are no more screams of disgust at the sight of our old, sagging bodies, and best of all, we can nap in the afternoon – without someone prodding us to check if we’re still breathing or what’s for dinner.
  6. We can eat out in nice restaurants again now without having to consider fussy palates or the cost of paying for four adults. We can go out later – after the babies and toddlers have gone home to bed.
  7. The silence is golden. No door-slamming, rapping or sibling arguments.
  8. Our wine and beer stash has a longer lifestyle, as does the loose change in my purse.
  9. We don’t argue about the kids as much or judge each other for how we parent them. We have assumed roles for who deals with which issue when they call – the old man deals with money, while I share my limited advice about cooking and how often to clean sheets – which has always been NEVER unless someone is coming to stay.

This period feels eerily like that rose-tinted stage of parenting right after I gave birth. It is similar to that sense of euphoria I felt as I looked down at the faces of my newborns for the first time and felt so damn grateful and proud that I had got through it. Just before I remembered that the thing in my arms was real and that I couldn’t hand them back when it got too tough or if I changed my mind.

What Advice Would You Give Your Daughter As She Transitions Into Womanhood?

Women supporting women.

When I was growing up, I wish someone had told me to bury the past, to keep my eyes focused firmly on the road ahead, and to embrace the company of women.

An out-of-the-blue email from an old girlfriend prompted me to write this post. The first true girlfriend of my adulthood – ie. after kids – we were the only two mums in our parenting class with babies that refused to commit to the stepping stones of perfection outlined in the parenting manuals. Shamed by a smarmy group of other first-time mums whose kids were nailing them, we got through the shit show on wine, whinging and WTFs.

It took me a long time to connect with women. Raised through my teens by a single and unconventional father, it wasn’t until my late twenties and the births of my own children, that I was thrust among the fairer sex. Before that, the majority of my friends had been men. Sharing their black and white space, that felt devoid of emotional complications – other than those unfortunate misunderstandings about the status of our relationship – I felt calmer.

Since then, of course, I’ve come to terms with the bollocks to be found in the majority of self-help books about the search for happiness and personal fulfillment. Experience has shown me that the streets aren’t paved with gold, that life can be grossly unfair, and that the only way to make any sense of life is to make the best of what you have. And this newfound wisdom has helped me understand more about the differences between men and women, and the reason why friendships with men used to appear more attractive/straightforward. It’s because they have fewer layers.

Sounds derogatory, I know. Although, not as insulting as the word “depth,” which is the one I really wanted to use. But hear me out, because my employment of the word is not meant to be a judgment about men’s personality flaws or their shoddy housework skills (this time), I use it to champion women and the female experience of life.

I believe, that because the role of women requires so much more emotional labor and intelligence than theirs, (which I spoke about here), and we experience greater physical and emotional trauma – eg. during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause – we experience a more visceral understanding of ourselves as humans and our place in this world. You only have to look at the women who have experienced near-death experiences in childbirth, or from rape, or those whose husbands left them on the poverty line, with nothing but the kids, for examples.

Whereas, men – and I’m generalizing here because this is not a discussion about the mental health of men or the stress some experience as sole earners of their family etc – seem more transparent, more easy-going, (dare I say) less judgemental than women. (Obviously, what I’d really like to say is “simple” – in the nicest possible way.) And while there are no doubt evolutionary and physiological explanations to why one gender carries the burden of more emotional baggage than the other, it is nevertheless impossible to ignore the societal influence of male privilege. Perhaps, that’s why, (on a social level), men seem less confrontational than women – who are judged throughout their lives, making them complicated creatures.

While I’ll admit that many of my closest female friends have always secretly terrified me, fortunately for women, kids are a glue that draws us together. The uncanny ability of our offspring to extract emotion from the most determinedly cold hearts, to frazzle nerves, to provoke self-doubt and tears, and to force us to question just about everything as they chip away relentlessly at our resilience and turn our brains to pulp, are the main reason the coffee morning was invented.

In spite of the suspicions of certain men, the purpose of the coffee morning is (generally) not to discuss the latest fashions, the most energy-efficient washing machine, or the last time we had an orgasm. Coffee mornings are about support, about building resilience and sharing experiences. Men should try it, sometime.

Women are there for women on those days the dam bursts. When all those tantrums in the supermarket have finally worn you down; when the barrage of abuse at dinner time (each time you force their kids to eat peas) becomes too much; when you lose your job; or when you burst into tears in the vegetable section of Coles because someone took the last ripe avocado.

Who better to rely upon in those situations than someone who has got the tee-shirt, on those days you’re sobbing into your phone, wine in one hand, and the scalp of your third child in the other? The truth is, your girlfriends are the only ones who can help you make sense of the new, terrifying vulnerability that comes from having your emotions and hormones put through a spiralizer.

Because THEY’VE BEEN THERE.

Personally, I’m a pretty rubbish girlfriend. Over the years, my attempts to feign the habits of a worthy friend have improved, but alas, for the main part they remain superficial. I try to be better than the sub-standard set of female instincts that nature provided me with – to remember birthdays, special events, cards etc – however, an unhealthy obsession to overthink, a possible case of early onset dementia, and a natural scattiness have determined that I will never be that thoughtful, perfect friend that some of us are lucky to have in our lives. I can only hope that those friends who always make the first call or send the first text understand that my silence is unrelated to their worth.

Sadly – and yes, here comes the excuse – some people travel through life with the baggage of their past stuck as firmly to their shoulders as a backpack. And it has been easy to blame my detachment issues on any number of things – and I do. I am what they call an Olympian “victim”. The divorce of my parents, the loss of my mother (and some things that even I’m not ready to share) have been assimilated (rather than dealt with), to protect myself – a self-defensive mechanism that has had some unfair repercussions for our kids, in particular, our daughter.

NC has recently entered a phase of self-reflection. Like her mother, she has struggled to open the box fully on her emotions, but as she matures she is becoming more aware of the dangers of that choice. A bystander to the emotional carnage caused by the death of my mother, and our struggles with Kurt, she has inherited my need for control when it comes to her emotions. The concept of a free fall terrifies her, but she can’t ignore the logic of her scientist’s brain: that putting up barriers will prevent her development and thwart any positive relationships in her life – what she needs to reach her full potential.

Hence, there are two pieces of advice I wish to share with my daughter: the first is to surround herself and nurture relationships with a group of strong, intelligent, and diverse women who will challenge her and blow the wind in her sails when she needs it. The second is to put her heart on the line and to dare to love and trust.

What would be yours?

The Twelve Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Get Married

nathan-dumlao-576661-unsplash

We go through different phases in our marriage. Sometimes we love each other with the intensity of Jack and Rose in Titanic; sometimes he’s George and I’m Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Normal, right?

It didn’t take me long to work out that marriage involves a lot of hard work and luck. There is the luck that your ambitions don’t change with time; the luck that you don’t meet your other soulmate on a chairlift at the snow after a row, and the luck that the shared moral code that bought you together in the first place doesn’t radically change during your (potentially) half-century together.

There are times when long relationships can feel as viscerally painful as someone pushing their finger into a boil – the reason, no doubt, why so many fail. But when they work, they are enlightening. 

The old man and I are in one of our quarterly sessions of testing each other’s tolerance level at the moment. It’s a game we play to keep our marriage interesting. Getting on my tits at the moment is the noise he makes when he chews on the ice cubes in his Friday night Whisky, and the way he needs to be in the exact square meterage of the kitchen as me, ALL THE TIME. Getting on his man boobs is my habit of snoring around 5am each morning, (a divorceable offense, apparently), how I leave old sweet wrappers and coffee cups in the car, and my ridiculous expectation that he leaves the house at least once a month.

The topic of what questions to ask yourself before you get married has been covered many times – most recently in Lucy Mangan’s hilarious assessment in The Guardian here. And because hers is such a great list, I’ve stolen one of her questions to kick off my own:

  1. ‘If there were a seismic event in Anglo-European politics brought about, say, by the wanton selfishness and ineptitude of a former television PR man who had unaccountably made it to the position of prime minister, which left the country riven, would you be on the same side?’
  2. Does your partner cook?
  3. Will they make you breakfast in bed, for no other reason than they love you?
  4. Will they take the bins out without argument, looks of resentment or risk of retribution?
  5. Are they against all forms of discrimination and inequality?
  6. Can they make you laugh all the time, even when you’re really cross with them?
  7. Do they have a problem with spending? Actually, allow me to rephrase that. Do they have a problem with you spending too much? And, (ahem), do you have a problem with them not wanting to spend anything at all? If you can’t agree on where your money goes, I can personally guarantee that this is a recipe for disaster that can only be overcome if they agree to 2 and 3 and 4.
  8. Do your goals match? Of course, dreams and ambitions change over time, but if your partner’s long-term goal is to travel around the globe on a yacht and you get seasick, it’s something to think about.
  9. How do you resolve disagreements? Does it really work when he shuts down like he’s on a silent retreat, while you take off like a rocket?
  10. How well do you really know each other? Do you know what your partner will order off a menu before they say it? Will it begin to annoy you when they order a burger at every meal?
  11. Level of self-centeredness. If there’s only one cube of chocolate or cookie left in the jar, will they give it to you?
  12. Do you really believe them when they swear they’ll take the kids and leave the dog should you divorce?