I went to London and found a heron feather. This was in Regent’s park, where I watched a man feed bread not to pigeons but a motley collection of slightly grubby looking herons; strange to see them ambling about in a rather ungainly fashion, and flappings wings aggressively instead of the usual riverside stillness.
Strange that in my time off, I ventured not out into the wilderness of Exmoor but instead to the heat and excitement of the city. And it was exciting, for the few days I was there, engulfed by all that activity and people, spending time with my parents. Strange to again be meeting my mum and dad out of the context of the family home, and then when it’s time to go home head off in different directions.
Also strange that we spent saturday morning, not rushing about the tourist sites or shopping districts, but leisuring floating down a tree lined canal that took us from “little venice” right into Camden market. As we waited for the boat to arrive, sipping coffee, I got my dad talking about his school life which was fantastic. Normally rather reticent and thoughtful looking, I love seeing him open up a bit and start being enthusiastic about conducting chemistry experiments in an old stable,describing the layout of his boarding school, with an orchard round the back. Taming jackdaws and being “fags” for prefects, or in my dad’s case be the “lightbulb fag” and making sure the lightbulbs were changed as needed.
On one level, I am still their child, continuing the quest for approval and acknowledgement.
However it is really nice that I’m now starting to form a new relationship with them, that is, getting to know and see my parents as people. We’re always going to have some fundamental disagreements in world view, but yet I can see aspects of both my parents in myself and it is enough to slowly build a friendship.
It has taken quite a lot of work for me to get to this point, and there is more to do, but I’ve stepped a little beyond the blame-parents game, and even to some extent the fulfill-parent-expectations one.
You see, what was bothering me really was not something my parents themselves could change, because it wasn’t coming from -them-. Yes, their words and actions might have fed certain fears, worries, hopes, assumptions in myself. And yes, my searchings have uncovered some unbelievably deep wounds and pains, but when I felt them, they went.
‘They’ say that when you’re a child you feel as if your parents are gods. You get older and realise this is not the case. For me, I also demonised my parents for a while, rejected everything about them, hated them for not being what I “needed”, desperatly wanted to get away from them, to become their opposite in some sense.
In my mind, my mother was warped into a grasping, skeletal woman, refusing to give birth to her child, even as the umbilical cord rotted and festered away. My father became distant, cold, faint, full of angry laws, dismissal and dissapointment. These two were like demons in me, in turn magnifying and distorting my whole experience of my actual parents. They were something for -me- to confront, since from my parent’s point of view they didn’t even exist!
That grasping-mother? I killed her in a dream a few weeks back. And she looked nothing like the exciteable Irish woman who was so pleased to see me in London last week, handing me a glass of wine and a plate of salad.
And today, when I think about my parents, I think about the people I spent time with in London. Trying food in Camden, going to the fantastic “Globe” theatre to see a live shakespeare play. In my mind, they have shrunk to people-sized, helping to make space for my own self to grow. Not to say the demons won’t come back – I know they will, but now perhaps I can be prepared.
Something else has happened. I’ve been recalling a lot of the -good- aspects of my parents. My mother looking after me when I was ill or scared late at night, no complaints, just patient compassion. My father explaining and teaching me maths, and physics, using imagery and metaphor so I could understand. Also his wonderful way of ‘dealing’ with me when I panicked, or worried, which was to get me to “go on then, have a good panic, wave your hands about and yell, just get it out” which always ended up in turning the tension to humour. My mother taking me to church and thus giving me some small taste of another side to life, my father’s science fiction and Asimov books, and our saturday morning trips to the library. The regular walks we took as a whole family, to forests, rivers, sea. There was a lot of good-stuff that they introduced into my life, and it seems to me now that “becoming an adult/individual” means not just exorcising the demons but valuing and taking on board the nurturing, teaching, encouraging, if not disciplinary aspects of mother/father. Learning how to do it yourself.
..actually I think it goes a step further. We humans seem to need many things – to be loved, cared for, encouraged, reassured, understood, challenged, excited, calmed, taught, nurtured, humoured. To learn patience, humilty, laughter, spontaneity and confidence. And the best thing is that we get these things from other people, not just from within ourselves. We can give out these things, and in return recieve them. I’m reminded of our language, that currency of communication, the potential for which is wired into our neural circuitry and yet we will develop it only when immersed in others already speaking.
On one occasion, many years ago I find myself holding my mother as she cried about the death of her friend. I’ve lain in men’s arms and felt protected like a child, but also wanted to hold thers and protect them like a mother…. WOW! I think I just realised something!
I’ve been stuck in this uneasy tension between reliance on parents, lovers, other people, and wanting to make everything fuck off and just be alone and looking after myself. Stuck because neither “option” seemed right. I’ve been swinging back and forth between the two for a while now, but recently I’ve felt a need to change inside and not just only be able to deal with the world by retreating away all the time. The challenge is to learn how to engage with the world as myself.
And actually, when I look at it, I’ve know this for a long time. You don’t get everything you need from one set of parents or a single partner, or yourself. I grew up with effectively, two mothers simulataneously, my ‘real’ mother and a earth-goddess-like woman Pam who was employed as a kind of nanny from the first few months of my life to when I left for university. It was Pam’s family, who had a lot less money but much more emotion that brought me up as a person, and taught me it was ok to laugh. And I’ve found or encountered many ‘father-teacher’ figures who converse and encourage me on subjects my own father has little to say. Not to mention finding, finally, a small group of friends who actually encouraged my creativity, drawing, sense of self and teenage explorations – now women who I’m glad to still be in touch with! (I love you guys) And beyond that, my relationship and interactions with nature, animals, birds, and everything from there which has gone into who I am now. Add to that the internet, livejournal, forums and so on, with the support, discussion, ideas… wow!!
I think William Blake said it right:
“as a web is to a spider, so is friendship to man”
conclusion/Cat’s “realisation of the obvious” moment : yes, it’s important to take solitude time.
And to keep learning how to nurture myself. But, nurturing myself isn’t something I have to go and sit in room by myself, alone, to do. Actually, it’s OK to get help from other people! (duh!) And even part of looking after yourself MEANS looking after other people, in a weird sense. It is healing to spend time with others, laughing or singing or discussing. (at this point I feel a bit tied in knots because my concept of where ‘I’ stop and ‘other people’ start gets very blurry)
I’m sure a lot of this is self-evident, but right now it’s the biggest part of my life, as I finally realise I’ve moved on from “home”, from my parents ‘responsibility’ to being my own person. Maybe I’m making a big deal of this. But the first week I got to Exeter, I found myself living -as- my parents, eating and thinking and shopping in age-old fashions. I realised I didn’t want to do this, because there is so much more potential, that I can, if I choose, do things “my way”. It’s a bit scary but also tremendously exciting. (which is actually my default view on life, I’m coming to realise!)
oh..and the heron feather. It’s now on my ‘shrine’ with the coyote skull, crow skull and wolf fur.
Herons make me think of patience and hope. This is a big thing for me right now, relaxing my need to be “making progress” where “making progress” means rushing and stressing about getting a new job everytime I get some energy back. It helps me to look at herons, because they show me a wisdom that is otherwise quite hard to spot in our hectic modern world; that standing still is not the same as doing nothing. And actually, if herons didn’t stand still paying attention they wouldn’t notice the fish. I’m tired of running around after bits of stale bread looking silly. 🙂
(and actually, there is a fish heading this way right now, but more on that if I actually catch it..)