Friday, 27 October 2017

I Will Show you Fear in a Handful of Dust

Not that long ago, I wrote a book called Seventy-Seven Ways to Make Your Life Very Slightly Better. Nobody read it, not even my agent. I published it myself but had no idea how to promote it, so it sank, very graciously, into the vast uncharted sea of the internet.
The funny thing is that I was really proud of that book. It came out of an idea I had in the week of my father’s funeral. I wanted to write a book called What to do When Your Dad and Your Dog Dies. (You can see I am all about the snappy title.) I wanted to write that book because I wanted to read that book and I found out, to my surprise, that nobody had written it. I’ll  have to write the fucker myself, I said, furiously.
I didn’t write that book, but after my mother died I wrote the equivalent.
The reason I’m proud of it is not that it is filled with shimmering prose, but that it is filled with some really quite decent ideas. I have to tell you, in a most vulgar way, that I surprised myself with my mid-life wisdom. It turned out that all those books I had read and all those sage friends I had talked to and all those thoughts I had thought had really produced something. I knew some stuff.
I do know some stuff. Here is the lovely thing about being fifty: you accumulate, over the years and years, some excellent stuff. You have learned from experience and mistakes and griefs. You get your priorities straight. (Mine, obviously, are love and trees.) You understand about the power of kindness and the importance of trying to behave well, even if you don’t achieve it all the time. If you are me, you write all that down and you astonish yourself.
Then, if you are me, you get to a point when you start stuttering and you realise, with a rather nasty shock, that there is a yawning gap between theory and practice.
I am shit hot at theory. Ask me anything. Ask me anything and I’ve got a theory for you. I know about cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias and projection and displacement. I really have read some books. I am, I discover, F for Fail at practice. It drives me nuts that I can know so much and still run into the sands when it comes to actual life. I keep thinking that I wish someone had written a manual about how to do life and then I realise I wrote that damn manual and it still isn’t enough.
I’m thinking at the moment about fear. I’m psychologically stuck just now, and I haven’t been able to work out why. I’ve been fooling myself because I can do the simulacrum of the high function. There are a lot of things in my week that I do well, that bring me joy, that give me a sense of achievement. I write about all those things and put them on Facebook. I take pictures of those things and make videos of those things with jaunty little soundtracks over the top and post them into the ether, saying, tacitly: look, look, look at me with my jazz hands.
Those things are good things, and I don’t denigrate them. They mostly take place outside, in the bright Scottish air, because they all have to do with horses. The problem is that I then go back inside and get stuck.
It’s fear, I finally tell myself. It was the second anniversary of my mother’s death this week so I was thinking about grief. I was thinking about the last six years and all those Dear Departeds – my mother, my father, my godfather, my dogs, my little Welsh pony, my friend, my cousin. I was thinking of the more distant relations and the old friends of my father, all of whom fell off their perches one after the other, so that it seemed an entire generation was going gentle into that good night. I thought: there is a lot of fear in grief.
Or, at least, there is a lot of fear in my grief. I hate to admit this but it is true. There is fear of mortality: everyone, including me, is going to die. There is fear of abandonment: everyone is going to die and leave me all alone. There is fear of failure: I shall never write the dazzling book of which I dream and then I shall die.
There is fear as I go down to the field and bask in the glory and might of my red mare, the beat of my heart, the light of my life. Some horrid, creaking voice in the back of my head says: don’t love her too much because she will die and you will be destroyed. The loving her too much ship has sailed, and it fills me with terror.
Another voice fires up. It says: why are you telling them all this? The Why Are You Telling Them voice has been yelling at me a lot lately which is why I’ve been off the blog. My tiny one-trick-pony frets and concerns and daily pleasures are too mundane and boring to make a blog, that voice says. I live a small life and I love that small life but I suddenly decided, as the fear got me, that it was too catastrophically dull to record. (It’s fascinating to me, but I thought it was not really fascinating for anyone else.) That’s why I started making the videos with the jazzy soundtracks.
I address the critical voice. I say, sternly, ‘I’m telling them all this because the only thing to do with fear is admit it.’ Write it down, write it down, says a benign, sing-song voice; that is a kind voice and it knows that everything is better when it is written down.

I have no buggery idea what to do with all these fears. I think they are a part of grief and I think they are a part of the middle of life and I think they are a part of being human. I can’t fix them up and pack them off. I can’t put them in a nice parcel and get lovely Pearl the Postwoman to take them down to the depot. I think I have to look them in the whites of their eyes. I think I have to keep staring at them until I have their measure. I think that I have to confess to myself that I am only human and humans get frightened sometimes. And perhaps then I shall stop being stuck. 


  1. I wanted to start my comment with ”Dammit girl, Seriously?” So often, you write my story. Perhaps it is a more universal story than we realize because we are all pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps like our dear departed mothers and dads taught us to? Individually, we are stuck but kicking on- if I just keep plugging along and emulating passion and momentum and competence, surely it will suddenly transform and I can be passionate in the true sense. Passionate as I was at 25 or 35 or 45 years of age? Yes, keep writing this story, Tania, darling. You making sense of the grief and weight of the accumulated life helps me to realize that I haven’t lost my mind. You are one amazing human being and your gift with words and insight has touched my life. I am not the only one. Dammit girl, you are writing about my life and I thought I had disguised the paralysis so that no one would see it. Perhaps this is part of the Damn Plan.

  2. Dear Tania, I read your Seventy-Seven Ways book and really enjoyed it. Many bells rang, so thank you. I meant to tell you at the time, but of course I did not. Your blog today has prompted me to tell you now; better late than never, I hope. I think perhaps people underestimate the impact of the loss of our parents. I frequently feel as if I am drifting, sometimes more afloat than others, without the steady anchors that they provided. Love and trees xx

  3. I bought it! It's on my kindle, ready for me when I need it. (Come to think of it, I need it now).

    Please do keep telling us things Tania. I love your writing, I love your blog, and I quote you in my head all the time - "say the thing!".

  4. I've bought 77W. And read it. And thoroughly enjoyed it. And come back to it. Much love. xx

  5. What follows may be because I am in LA - on a terrace off Sunset with the whole of the city stretching out before me, and therefore feeling a bit new age floaty hippy.

    The honesty of your writing is always breathtaking and rarely fails to strike a chord. Fear and fury have been on my mind a lot this week, almost certainly because one of my best and most loved friends died far too young, but I have come to the conclusion, however bonkers it sounds, that fear makes you brave. Recognising it, looking it straight in the eye and letting it know, you know its there but its not going to stop you. I think it a corrosive and dangerous emotion if it gets out of hand, but if it is accepted its actually helpful. It stops us from being reckless, careless and thoughtless. The one thing we really mustn't let it do is frighten us.

    It is OUR fear, no-one else's, we own it and its ours to control - not the other way round.

    This probably makes absolutely no sense on account of the worst jet lag I've ever known and having had two, possibly three Fridays this week on acccount of lunatic travel schedule. But if you make it your friend it can only make you stronger.

  6. You are the voice for all of us! Don't ever stop. You are wonderful! xx

  7. On my kindle to read when I need it - so tonight then. All the above comments ring true with me too, keep writing, fighting, sharing...please x

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Tania, you first articulated the "me too". You tell me and I want to read it because you can articulate what is hard for some of your readers to, and the things that happen in one "small" life happen in millions of others. I am no better equipped to deal with it, but it is immensely comforting to know that someone else feels the same.

    You write beautifully, so you could do the equivalent of wearing the mythical binbag in written form and I would want to read it, for your words.

    You have inspired me to start riding again, to explore your form of horsemanship and to remember to be kind. Those are just the couple of examples I can think of, off the top of my head on a Monday morning as I read this. So thank you. Emily x

  10. All of this. Especially what Fi said -- in spades. I have been trying to figure out how to avoid death for decades, the fear of leaving being almost worse than the fear of being left (because, for me, all these things, good or bad, have "monkey's paw" surprises built into them. Taking that from the short story of the same name by a W.W. Jacobs -- I never knew the author, just the story. In short: be careful what you wish for. So, if I wanted to "live forever" -- and avoid my horror at not being here -- it would mean seeing everyone I've ever loved die. The horrible tricks of a vivid imagination, but that is exactly where my head goes around these sorts of things.) And I can't even say I'm jet-lagged or basking in hippy inducing sunshine.
    I just had a Big Birthday, a decade one, and people I don't personally know but who are known to me are dying -- AND they're "younger" than I am. Gloria Steinem is in her eighties as is Yoko Ono. While I think neither looks her age -- whatever the HECK that means -- they are "that" much closer to the ends of their lives than even to the middle! It just freaks me out. With that comes the fear.
    I embrace what Fi says about eyeballing fear, respecting the "sensible" cautioning (ie don't drive drunk; avoid mushrooms and berries in the wild if you can't identify them, etc.) and then getting on with whatever "it" is.
    I also recall a slogan on a T-shirt worn by an artist I admire which read: "Fear makes the wolf look bigger." which (I just this moment found out) is apparently an old German proverb.

  11. The best advice anyone has ever given me about fear was to surrender it to a higher power, although when it was really paralysingly terrifying, she used to suggest I tried magical thinking - draw an imaginary circle of white light around myself and think kind thoughts about myself and others. I was deeply sceptical but it worked, and still does when the surrendering doesn't. I think if we are not scared we are probably dead but that doesn't make it any easier for us. Grief makes everything so much worse, especially fear, and you have had so much recently. Good luck - lovely to have you back here, Rachel

  12. My mother died recently. I have re and re-read all your posts about about your similar grief. Thank you. Helen

  13. شركة امست للتنظيف افضل شركة لتنظيف المنازل والشقق والفللوالبيوت والمجالس والكنب والمفروشات والخزانات بالقطيف والمنطقة الشرقية لديها عمالة مدربة وخصومات هائلة طما توفر خدمات مكافحة الحشرات ورش المبيدات بالقطيف باسعار رخيصة ومناسبة وخصومات هائلة

    شركة امست للتنظيف
    امست للنظافة القطيف
    شركة امست لمكافحة الحشرات
    شركة امست لرش المبيدات

  14. افضل شركة تنظيف بالقطيف تقدم خدمات نظافة متكاملة علي اعلي مستوي بدقة وجودة ومواصفات قياسية واسعار تنافسية فتعد الشركة الاولي بالقطيف لتقديم خدماتالتنظيف بجودة وسعر مثالييينفهي خير مثال لراغبي الحصول علي نظافة شاملة مع التعقيم وباسعار مناسبة

    شركة تنظيف بالقطيف
    شركة تنظيف منازل بالقطيف


    شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالقطيف
    شركة تنظيف مجالس بالقطيف
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بالقطيف
    شركة شفط بيارات بالقطيف

  15. هل تعانون من الحشرات وكثرتها واضرارها البالغة نقدم لكم افضل شركة لابادة جميع انواع الحشرات بالضمان وهي شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات حيث تقدم اليوم افضل العروض والخدمات بارخص الاسعار بخصم 50% لفترة محدودة

    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات
    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات بالدمام
    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات بالخبر
    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات بالقطيف
    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات بالاحساء
    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات بالجبيل
    شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات بجدة

  16. شركة المثالية للتنظيف افضل شركة تنظيف بالمنطقة الشرقية تخصصت في تقديم كافة الاعمال المنزية من نظافة ومكافحة حشرات بالمنطقة فلديها افضل الخدماتبافضل جودة واوبارخص الاسعار التي لا تتوفر الا معها كافضل وارخص شركة تنظيف بالاضافة الي خدمتا مكافحة الحشرات ورش المبيدات الامنة والفعالة علي الحشرات بجميع انواعها .. تقدم لكم اليوم افضل العروض والخدمات بخصومات هائلة يمكنكم الحصول عليها من خلال الروابط التالية

    شركة المثالية للتنظيف
    شركة المثالية للنظافة
    شركة المثالية للتنظيف بالدمام
    شركة المثالية للتنظيف بالخبر
    شركة المثالية للتنظيف بالقطيف

  17. wow !!! beautiful and so lovely work :) i really like your good idea so much.Thank for sharing.


  18. I think this is one of the most significant information for me.
    And i’m glad reading your article.
    But should remark on some general things, the web site style is perfect,
    the articles is really great : D. Good job…


  19. imo install
    imo beta
    imo messenger
    imo online
    Once the installation is complete open the emulator on your computer screen.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin