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(Well, seeing it like that I can see why it might look a little intimidating but give it a go. I can always add your name to my ‘long hand only’ list or would you prefer a translation?)
Writing is a pretty useful form of communication, we tend to write off (pardon the pun) entire civilisations as uncivilised or primitive simply because they didn’t develop a writing system and their oral histories have been lost or ignored. Writing can speak to not just two parties, the writer and the recipient, but the written word stays etched to talk to future generations and societies in a way that oral communication just cannot.
When I reflect over the couple of decades that I have been alive, I am constantly amazed by the rapid changes in technology. When I was little, LPs (or records) were still pretty normal things. I can remember CDs being developed but most of us still played cassettes. Using a similar ribbon technology, video cassettes were what we watched our films on and recorded interesting programs from the television on. We didn’t worry about scratches but ‘chewed’ tapes.
Technology was breaking new ground but it still wasn’t portable. The fax machine allowed instant communication from one place to another, even internationally but we still had personal cassette machines with bulky headphones (those seem to have returned for some reason) and carried ten pence pieces for emergency phone box calls.
I’m an unintelligent nerd or geek (I have no aptitude for the prerequisite sciences and maths or even computing) so I spent a lot of my later school years helping in the library. I think that the changes I saw in my time at school say the most about these rapid shifts of technology.
In middle school, we each had a certain number of green card square pockets or envelopes with our details on. When you wanted a book from the library you handed over one of these cards and the librarian (or monitor) would take the slip of pink or white card from the book and place it in your ‘library card’ before filing it in a special long wooden rack. The books kept those tongues of cards for much longer than there was this primitive borrowing system.
My senior school was high-tech. It had a computerised system. Probably DOS based. Green characters on a black screen and a multitude layer of menus to allow for navigation. We didn’t have cards anymore; our records were all digital, a window of dates and titles with our personal details. It wasn’t even a window like we’re used to on these modern computers, more like a frame. You’d have to go back rather than close it. And minimise certainly hadn’t been invented. I think the county library system was similar too.
Every week the library issued reminders for overdue books. It was laborious and accompanied by the unique screech of a dot matrix printer. Would today’s children recognise that noise? Or even the special paper that was required to fit within the teeth of its plastic cogs? We helping students would spend a long time peeling the punched edges from the paper then guillotining them into slips.
An unwanted ream (about five reams of modern printer paper) was also sometimes gifted to families for their children to use it for drawing paper. There were streamers to be made from the edgings and on the back was a magical system of green lines (on some but not all versions) that looked temptingly like musical scores.
The library system was backed up each night on a five-inch disk. Even my husband doesn’t remember those. His idea of a floppy disk is the three and a half-inch disks that were rigid plastic (sometimes, excitingly, in bright colours) that we used to back up our own work. The five-inch disks were properly floppy. A little like a bendy LP or record.
Before embarrassment finally won over, I saved countless stories to three and a half-inch disks. How much did those store? A mere megabyte of information? My camera now produces files of ten megabytes so that kind of explains why we outgrew that technology. But mind you, cameras didn’t make files back in those days. They were still using negatives, another ribbon technology.
Words are supposed to be permanent, a lasting record or memoir of who we are or were. But what happens when the technology changes this fast? Or when the writing becomes digital, embedded within legacy recording systems?
We can look at cave paintings from thousands of years ago and touch another hand, another human, his tangible marks connect us. Even vulnerable paper has left us an enduring legacy of countless billions of pages filed in libraries and archives.
Sometimes we struggle to decrypt ancient writing systems; we need discoveries like the Rosetta Stone that allow a translation between different forms, some now defunct. But the words were still there.
What about our words? Have we lost them forever?
PS. If you find that stone, let us know.
Do I dream? There are the terrifyingly real nightmares that drag me down into an abyss of muddled darkness where the images and thoughts of my mind labour through an Escher-like treacle, flashbacks and subtle reminders from the subconscious attempting to make sense of the crazy, messed up world that I live in. I skip through no fields of daisies. I dream lucidly sometimes too, most often conscious only that I am dreaming and that I’m desperate to wake, to be free and to shake off the cold fingers of the night still grasping at me and trying to pull me back down.
There are other dreams too, a blend of the practical and the wishful. I dream of paying the bills on time. I dream of doing the things that need doing. Quite often it just remains fantasy.
To accomplish great things, you must not only act but also dream, not only dream but also believe.
- Anatole France
Wise words, I wish I could carry them out but I dream of no future and I believe in little.
A few weeks ago, Just Be Enough prompted us to share our dream day. I couldn’t think of anything, find an answer within myself so I left it and got on with not doing very much, as I do of late. But the prompt stayed with me and I found myself reflecting on the subject regularly.
When we speak of dream days, perhaps it is of trips to mouse-eared theme parks that our minds turn to. Some elusive, magical destination. Something out of the ordinary. (Mouse-eared theme parks hold no appeal for me, I’m not a fan of plastic commercialism or of rides that torture and terrify me and keep counsellors and osteopaths in business).
But the posts that came in from other readers were revealing. Time and again, the same theme appeared. And it wasn’t mouse-eared and there was no park attached to ‘theme’. It was heart-warming and it got me thinking some more.
It was about people, often the people who are most precious to you, that everyone wanted to spend time with, to reconnect, to appreciate and to be with.
Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
The furthest I can dream is of having a day off, a day away somewhere in the sunshine, somewhere warm where I can sit, probably with my tent nearby on a campsite field, and knit or read or spend a little time just being me, just being in the moment with no pressures.
But if this was a magical dream day then I’d like a little more. I want some other people to be there. I want some good food to share with them. And I don’t want to be the one making it. I want sit down with those people and talk.
These people are nearly all dead now, there are one or two who are still alive, there are some that I have never met. I want to sit them down and around my table, to talk with them and hear their stories. There are some women in my family (whichever side or line) who have been incredibly strong and taken amazing journeys out of the ordinary, not just in place or distance. I want to ask them about it. I want to find out how they felt. Some of those people I will expect them to leave their innate prejudice of me behind. We will talk on my own terms, equal. Others will, with me, have to break down walls of cultural and linguistic difference. I have been separated from a family culture by the generation above me, by someone who was perhaps trying to better than their roots. I appreciate roots. I love stories. I want to hear. I want to connect. I want my father to be there too. I want to say goodbye. And I want to hear his stories too. Because I’m afraid of forgetting them and I always promised myself that I would write them down for him.
We will pass dishes and there will be meaningful, easy flowing conversation. I will find the right words to break down barriers, I will find my place amongst these people and I will belong.
Being a carer is something that I’ve written about before, about how it can be a much broader role than is first perceived, especially when we focus only on a professional home-help for the disabled or elderly. Modern life likes things appropriately pigeon-holed and boxed but such attitudes rarely do justice to the reality nor anyone any favours. We all should be carers really, people who care, every day of our lives. But there is more to ‘caring’ then just its root meaning.
Although I am not claiming that parenting is simple, when it comes to ‘caring’ I would suggest that the parenting role is the simplest. It’s the most easily defined and recognisable. You are meant to care for your children, you could say that it’s almost an intuitive response. You have the support of individuals and organisations. You have specific goals and timeframes.
When it comes to adult ‘caring’ then things get more complicated. A lot more complicated.
Why is that?
The person who is receiving the care is not a dependent minor. They may well have known a long life of maturity, independence and responsibility before suddenly finding themselves in need of care. Having to hand over their life along with any remaining dignity doesn’t put them in an easy position. Without even thinking of the physical changes, any change of health has huge emotional and mental consequences. And not just for the sufferer themselves. The carer is often a family member who has likewise been precipitated just as suddenly into this new arrangement. In fact, the carer may have previously been the dependent party in the relationship. What happens when your full-time breadwinner is too ill to work? Or is the sole driver in the family?
Just as the ill person needs to adjust so to does the carer. And that adjustment will need to be done together, there needs to be dialogue, meaningful communication. The process can even be similar to grieving. And you have to accept that both of you will be seeing, feeling and dealing with the situation differently.
It’s not easy living with a serious and or long-term health condition. I know that. But the ill person usually is best placed to receive appropriate support and treatment. What is on offer for the carer? Precious little. In the best scenario, they will have the full support of the person they are caring for but maybe not.
Carers have to walk a fine line, carving out a new role for themselves even if the relationship is falling apart around them for whatever reasons. They may be taking on all the responsibility, the duties that come with sickness whilst the person who is actually ill is practically delusional as to the reality or seriousness of their illness. And what point does a carer become a nagger, a paranoid observer or a call-the-doctor-right-now hysteric? Usually at a different point to the person they are caring for.
It needs open and frank communication between both parties, that’s for sure. The ill need to accept their limitations and know when and how to ask for the help to need. Because that carer needs all the help they can get in knowing what to do.
Mental health makes the challenge even harder.
What do you do when your loved one refuses to seek treatment or acknowledge their decreasing state of health? How do you balance motivating them yet not overburdening either them or yourself? Do you take responsibility for getting every single pill into them, for them getting to every single appointment? Do you remain on high alert even when they’re swearing that they’re fine?
It’s hard to find a balance as a carer. You may have lost your best friend, your own support system. You are lost and alone in a place that has no name, no map, no solutions. You may or may not have the cooperation of the person you are caring for.
But the worst is the endless, draining, exhausting level of responsibility and pressure that you have to live with day in, day out. Sometimes it feels like someone else’s life is in your hands, everything you do, say or even think seems to be a determiner in their state of health, maybe even their survival. You find yourself taking on more and more, tasks that you never used to have to do yourself, tasks that you maybe didn’t even know needed doing. There is not a moment off-duty, you are permanently tuned in to their every symptom, reaction, feeling, whim, want, need, you name it. Even when you’re apart. Sometimes being apart is worse, the fear, the dread, it eats away at you.
And then there’s the emotions that goes with that endless, draining, exhausting rollercoaster. Sometimes bitterness seeps in as you wonder whether they couldn’t just make more of an effort, whether life really needs to be this way, a bitterness tinged with then quickly replaced by guilt and shame. The loneliness that sets in as your loved one withdraws from the world then from you. The pain and confusion of reactions, words and behaviours that would have once been incredibly alien. A fear for the present never mind the future, the future is too far away and unfathomable as you subconsciously scrutinise everything, analysing and recording, noting each subtle change, holding onto each one like time-lapse cloud patterns. The thousand and one worries that are yours and yours alone as seemingly the only responsible adult around, the financial, the administrative, the domestic, everything is on your shoulders, it is your burden to manage.
The pressure is overwhelming and ceaseless. There is no hope. Just endless cycles where good days see m far and few between.
But who cares for the carers?
While most of us wouldn’t be ‘glad’ that our loved one is ill, we do ‘gladly’ take on the challenge. Why? Because we care. We do everything and more because we care.
But our resources sadly are limited. We are human. Love doesn’t make us perfect. Or bestow some super power or immortality or whatever else is needed to care day in, day out, year after year.
That’s a scary and humbling and shaming thing to admit.
But carers can’t go on forever without rest or support. Especially when that’s not the only thing that they themselves are facing, their health may break or they may have other responsibilities and commitments to juggle with or some other crisis to deal with.
Who cares for the carers?
What help and support is given to them? Where can they turn when they have reached the thousandth breaking point and just don’t know how much longer or further they can go on? Who will listen to them? Who will relieve them of their burdens? Who will give them a supporting hand?
Carers do an awful lot, normally behind the scenes. They are stage managers who also run the lighting and sound whilst building all the scenery, rehearsing the actors and choreographing the dancers, learning understudy, drumming up support and backing and leading the marketing campaign. They do everything. Usually single-handedly. It’s fine for a while and the show goes on. But for how long?
Please remember the carers in your midst, appreciate them. Spoil them every so often, make sure that they have an evening off or a listening ear. And if you ever need someone to care for you, man up and work with them. Trust them and reassure them.
Please care for the carers. We all owe them such a lot.
She offers to help pack the shopping into the flimsy plastic bags, which I promise you all will be immediately reused as rubbish bags on site, and I reflect on how the world has changed. Long ago, or maybe it wasn’t so long ago, women shopped with baskets on their arms and headscarves on their heads at small shops where the shopkeeper would have promptly identified me as a furriner. I wouldn’t have had to say a word, I just wasn’t one of their regulars that was all. Now I’m shopping in the same supermarket as I can anywhere else and there isn’t much call for conversation, no small talk, just business.
I’ve always prided myself on learning a smattering of the local language on my travels, backing myself up on occasions with a lingua franca. I’ve spoken Spanish to a Bulgarian lorry driver. I’ve negotiated for the carpark machine change in Greek and more importantly, found out which was the better brand of Ouzo. I’ve learned greetings in Arabic. I can read, but never pronounce, road signs in Welsh. I’m a dab hand at manipulating phrase book stock phrases into something more useful. I love words, whatever their language, and the privilege of being to able to communicate.
We finish packing, only a small shop after all, topping up on the fresh stuff that we can’t store for long regardless of the weather and she smiles, I smile. I fish out the ubiquitous plastic rectangle from my purse, another change in this modern world of shopping.
I sum up my best expression, carefully practised in my mind, and as I hand over the card, say:
This is in response to the RemembeRED challenge to write a creative non fiction 400 word piece on Dialect and Colloquialisms, I came in with 280 words this week, always under or over!
I love the joys of dialect, the little quirky expressions and how the slightest change of a vowel can place you on the other side of the world so this challenge was right up my street, well good even. I also want to dedicate it to my strange-talking Norfolk-boy husband who despite leaving the county of his birth when he was a child still can be relied on to say ‘bootful’ and ‘toosday’ as well as other curiosities.
If you want to find out a little more about the language that they speak in this corner of England then check out these two links, some things are as alien to me as their landscape but in other pronunciations there is a similarity with the West Country tongue that I am far more familiar with, although less common and less retained than the dialect of the East.
Write on Edge has been prompting us to work on dialogue this last week, well I was away and not really in the right place to conjure up meaningful words. But at the same time dialogue was a theme resonating in my own life.
An exchange of ideas via conversation
Where a group of people talk together to explore their assumptions of thinking, meaning, communication, and social effects
Dialogue is essential in more than fiction, it is the essence of nonfiction, that is, our everyday lives. Many people feel that it is our ability to communicate that makes us human. But all that make me wonder why then we find so hard, if not impossible at times. Sadly it’s the important things to the important people that go unsaid.
Have you heard the cute little phrase beloved of kitsch fridge magnets and the like, ‘friends are the family we choose’? I like it. It’s true. Friends can be closer than family because blood isn’t enough to keep people together much less like them. True, good friends are one of life’s greatest honours. I’ve also seen somewhere in the blogosphere another phrase, beautiful and true, about how family (therefore the friends that we’ve opted in) are the ones who travel life’s road with us.
But while I’m all for friends and my personal definition of ‘family’ is generous, why has family fallen so much from favour? Why are we no longer being held by our family ties? Distance, lifestyles, communication?
Maybe if we now get to choose our ‘family’, we should also be thinking to get to know and opt some proper family members into that elite circle. It’s so sad when someone passes and you’re full of regret that you never got to know them better or realise only then that you had so much in common with them. But it’s too late then. Get to know people, talk to them.
Family is changing but it doesn’t have to bad thing. We’re apparently a generation empowered and besides which we have so much communication technology available to us that there needs to be no excuse. It might be a different type of relationship but with email, social media, mobiles and goodness knows what else along with more longstanding things such as telephone and letters, there is no distance that is too great. You can keep in touch. There are no adequate excuses if you truly value your relationship. Send a text message, send a card with a mile long twee poem and your name at the bottom. No excuses.
It becomes a tragedy when family, close family nevermind anything further, knows so little of each other’s lives, when they don’t know each other and their shared history. When all they can share is moments of grief that drag them together and still they have no words for each other. It’s a tragedy when they come together in that grief to mourn a passing that could have been prevented with just a little dialogue.
Please, please reach out. If you love someone, talk to them, tell them that you love them and more importantly, encourage them to talk to you and genuinely listen. Teach your children to believe in family and to always communicate. Don’t be fooled into thinking that bottling up, sweeping under the carpet, hiding away are the techniques that will give you a long and happy life. Man up as the Americans say and cry, hug, talk and listen with those you love. Whatever your tie to them may be.
Talking saves lives. Talking saves families.
Hello and welcome. I don’t know yet if we’re going to be friends or even how long this relationship is going to last. It’s always apprehensive starting out on a new project and I have to admit that I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, if I can’t (or at least if I don’t think I can!) get it perfect then I won’t even bother trying. So, yep, procrastination is a wee bit of an issue at times. Which is why I’m here and not in the sink. Ssh, don’t tell.
I love stationery, especially beautiful new notebooks. I love the crispness and cleanness of the paper, I dream of what will fill their pages. Then I stash them away as I’m scared of ruining them by writing the wrong things.
Writing things down is such a commitment, isn’t it? We live in such a throwaway culture where we don’t expect our words to be taken seriously anymore: text, social media, even email. We blurt out statements in pidgin English with mashed up phonetics, mangled grammar and woeful vocabularly then we drop them into the ether and never expect them to land. Is this conversation or catharsis? Neither? We’re always surprised when we reach people and develop relationships by these means but we persist all the same.
But to write a diary, a letter, to correspond either with ourselves and our innermost thoughts or with another person even whom we’re close to is far beyond our comfort zones now. We want temporary, we want fast moving, we want transitory, we want here today and gone tomorrow. Who wants their thoughts to come back and haunt them in ten years time? We’re always seeking the future, in the belief that it’s a better sunnier future. The past is just luggage that we’d rather leave by the roadside. We don’t treasure it as much as perhaps we should. But it means that we’re doomed to repeat mistakes and that our relationships will suffer.
So here it is. I commit these words to the transitory white paper of the Internet full of fear that someone will think me an idiot (it’s a recurring theme of my life) or that someone will spot a hideous typo or grammatical error. Be nice, it’s taken a lot to get here.
See you soon.