Monday, 18 July 2011

It’s life, Jim, just as we know it

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sorry about no blog over the weekend. I got sucked into a rather unexpected sadness wormhole and could not haul myself out. I was too sad to type. And really, it was too boring to tell you about.

One of my students asked about writing as catharsis, when I did the workshop a couple of weeks ago. I said, rather sternly, that I thought one should keep that sort of writing to oneself. Good for one’s own burdened psyche; unfair to inflict it on the Readers. Everyone has their own sorrows; it’s not fair to indulge oneself in venting. Then I had to reconsider. I realised I had written an awful lot about death, here, because, oddly, it felt dishonest not to. It was all I could think about, and I could not fake it.

Well, I said, in the end, with a rueful smile; moderation, perhaps.

I go back and forth on this, in writing and in life. My instinct is to present my best, shiniest front to the world. This is partly because I dread dullness, and an undifferentiated angst dump is endlessly boring. It is partly because I think it is not quite fair to expect people to listen to one’s own sadnesses when they have plenty of their own to be going on with. It is partly because I have this odd thing about not being a burden. I am a huge believer that the mark of being a grown-up is taking responsibility for oneself.

On the other hand, if you are too shiny and impervious, you can repel people; they bounce off you like billiard balls. Generally, an admission of frailty with bring you closer to someone. They can sigh a sigh of relief, because they may admit their own frailties. It brings a tremendous sense of not being alone. Everyone has mad days and sad days and bad days, and days when they want to set their hair on fire. By contrast, the shiny people with the perfect hair can seem rather daunting.

So, in the spirit of moderation, I want to know: where does the balance lie?

I don’t know what happened on Saturday. I’m not sure if I was running before I could walk. Come on, I was saying to myself, it’s been 90 days. Good face on now, give the people what they want. Make a joke, have a rant, remember how lucky you are not to be living in the horn of Africa where people have neither food nor water. I don’t know if I was trying too hard, to get back to normal.

Whatever it was, it felt like something had walked in, thrown me across the room, and then left, laughing. So I’m in a bit of a crumpled heap. The rain falls and falls, and I hear two voices in my head. One says: come on, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. It says: buck up, because no one likes a cry-baby.

The other voice says: welcome to the human race. It says: did you really think that you were going to be the only person in the world who could avoid the human condition? It says: you can’t just overcome sorrow through sheer force of will. (I have a third voice which says: WHY NOT?)

This second, rational, rather kind voice says: sometimes you will feel overwhelmed, but that does not mean it is the end of the world. It says: sorry to fall back on platitudes, but this too will pass. And: tomorrow is another day. And: the sun will come out.

So there we are. Neither a lyrical meditation on the trees, nor a righteous rant, nor anything in particular. Just a rather messy, real, slice of ordinary life. Which, I suppose, is the point. Although I do rather wish I could have buffed it up and made it lovely and shiny for you.


There are, however, as compensation, some pretty photographs. I took my camera out rather diffidently today, as it is dreich as hell, and I thought I would only be able to capture dreariness. However, there is something interesting about the light on a dull day. When I do close-ups of the plants, it is as if they are generating their own internal light, to make up for the dirty skies above. It’s quite odd but rather lovely. It feels faintly symbolic of something.

Anyway, here they are:

The newest tree, my glorious little copper beech. I fear you may be seeing rather a lot of this one in the weeks to come:

18 July 1

And the magnificent new cotinus, whose beauty cannot be dimmed by any amount of weather:

18 July 2

For a fleeting moment, there was a swift break in the clouds, and some light fell in, illuminating my favourite view over the garden wall:

18 July 3

Wall with moss and philadelphus:

18 July 4

The focus on this is not quite right, but I rather love that it makes the purple geraniums look as if they are floating in space:

18 July 5

A rather serene salvia:

18 July 6

Honeysuckle, in her pomp:

18 July 7

An old wall with green ivy is not such a splendid and gaudy thing as a honeysuckle or a rose, but it has its own quiet beauty:

18 July 8

And see the dreich:

18 July 9

18 July 10

But then here is that internal light I spoke of, as if the cotinus has its very own lighting director:

18 July 11

As does the newest dog rose:

18 July 12

Cotinus with wall and viburnum and philadelphus:

18 July 13

And someone really is shiny:

18 July 16

This look is because I am making her wait for a biscuit, so she clearly thinks that if she puts her Grace Kelly face on she will be rewarded. And so she was:

18 July 17

No hill today. It is quite lost in the clouds. With any luck, it shall appear again tomorrow, like an amulet, like a sign.


  1. "I do rather wish I could have buffed it up and made it lovely and shiny for you."

    You do. By your honesty, your integrity, your elegance of expression, and your beautiful images (both verbal and photographic) - oh, my goodness, you do.

    Just remember to be kind to yourself.

  2. Cassie - you are always so lovely and reassuring. Thank you.

  3. The vast majority of blogs I come across make me feel inadequate and miserable-- people who write of the perfect-in-every-detail wedding they single-handedly organized, or the marvelous cocktails they drank on a spaceship hovering over Alaska or something. Those blogs are pure posturing marketed as "inspiration."

    You, in stark contrast, focus on the things that are obtainable to everybody if they pay attention-- the trees, the hills, the dogs (!). And your posts about sadness, far from being embarrassing or off-putting, are written beautifully and have the effect of reminding me that those emotions are universal and if I am feeling them-- as I have in the past and will again-- I am only normal, not some freak who needs to get her shit together and stop whingeing. By the way, that third platitude-filled voice is, in this case, the one to listen to, isn't it?

  4. Ellie - what an absolutely lovely thing to say. The cocktails on the Alaskan spaceship made me laugh a lot. And very clever point about the fine line between inspiration and posturing.

  5. It's what grief does. It backs away a little, and then hits you when you least expect it. That sounds grim, but it does get easier with time, because you know it ebbs away again.

    My sister died in 2004, and I still get these moments of despair and wanting her back RIGHT NOW and thinking, if only I could see her one more time, just one more time...

  6. Johanna - not grim at all. Lovely and most reassuring comment. Thank you.

  7. "Life is a ride. It's just a ride." (American comedian Bill Hicks)
    I haven't figured out how to have those moments of extreme, delirious ecstasy without also encountering other times of crushingly abject despair.
    What I DO know is that I don't want to give up those wonderful highs (the birth of our daughter, now 23, still so stellar). (NOTE: I am NOT bi-polar or anything like that!). And I certainly don't want to experience life on the "flat line".

    Lovely and shiny are nice. Authenticity and honesty are more important (to me).
    I appreciate anything you are willing to share, Tania.
    (Send those voices on "vacation", curl up with a cuppa or go out in your incredibly beautiful verdant space for a walk with the Pigeon.)


  8. I think Cassie and Ellie have said it better than I ever could....when you write of your grief it is done in such a self effacing and almost humble way that there is no question of indulgence of any kind.
    I love the beech, and doesn't the Pigeon look incredibly youthful and vital in those beautiful photos?
    thinking of you.

  9. I want you to know that there isn't a day when I leave your blog without taking away an image that doesn't affect me.

    And those remnants are precious because of their quality, and honesty and generosity.

    Whatever you choose to give us,
    I ALWAYS feel I can trust you.

    Thank you.


  10. Everyone I know who has experienced grief has said that after the initial shock, the grief ebbs and flows. Some people perceive what just happened to you as hitting a wall, others of us felt like we were hit by a wave of grief from time to time that we just had to ride out until it subsided. However you perceive it, it is, I believe, a normal part of the grieving process and you should try not to berate yourself for it.

    Your posts are lovely and honest and sincere and always so eloquent, even when shadowed by grief, and your photos are stunning. Yours is one of my favourite blogs and is all the better to my mind because, as Ellie said, you focus on the experiences we all have.

  11. Hello, i'm new to commenting but have been wanting to say for a while how you posts of late have been a true inspiration. Your words have shown true emotion and I so prefer to read about peoples highs & slows in life. I, like Ellie, am rather fed up of reading about people's magazine perfect lives and appreciate your honest reactions to your grief and love sharing in the moments of happiness. Thank you.

  12. Grief can be a bit like the ocean and waves; just when you think it is calm and smooth and safe, and that you can relax, a huge wave will come out of nowhere and dump you (and leave sand in your bathers).

  13. Nae bad ava Tania!

    (I trust you get what I mean and please forgive the explaination mark but I felt it was necessary.)

  14. Really lovely comments; thank you so much.

  15. When my Dad was sick I got more blog readers and that disturbed me, they seemed to liek to read about my person sadness. NOw I post less about this. But for you I think it is different. You have buil;t up a group of people who like and care about you and it we don't read this because we like seeing suffereing but more because we like you. Or at least I do. I also love your writing.


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