Shameful Little Secret

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(Imagine a picture of a window here please.  I had lots on my now broken hard drive).

Why and how does self-expression become something shameful?  Is there a moment, possibly somewhere between toddlerhood and childhood, where you perceive an expectation, a sense of ‘normal’ and yield to conform to it?  Why conform to a selective view or opinion of ‘normal’?

We cities of humans like to belong and we sometimes learn, feel or believe that to belong we need to ‘conform’; we need to be all alike.  And we, at such a young age, rarely if ever can even guess or dream that are other ‘normals’ in the wider world.  Our world is narrow, perhaps within the confines of just one ‘home’, maybe stretched a little with hazy perceptions and understanding of other children’s situations through nurseries, preschools, hospitals and television.

The moment that a child steps into childhood is the moment that they begin their progress, emotionally and mentally, towards becoming an adult.  Being a baby is a self-indulgent affair, you can be what you like where you like, when you like.  You don’t have to conform to any social standards or expectations.  You can eat whenever you want, you can throw up when the whim takes you, you can poo in your pants.  You cry and someone will come running.  The world is all about you.

Childhood seems to have attained an almost mythical standing in our culture, we see it as a halcyon period, an idyll.  But only when we look back reflectively or wistfully or when we speak of childhood in abstract terms.  The reality is that childhood is about learning to conform.

Maybe you challenge that.  However, especially if you are a parent yourself, reflect on what your aims are, even on a daily level, for a child.  You want them to eat ‘nicely’, you want them to dress ‘properly’, you want them to speak ‘politely’ … the list goes on.  These are expectations, rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse, which you and the wider society will impose on each and every child.

Belonging is one of the most precious experiences that a human can ever experience; it is the whole point of being a human.  So I’m not really arguing that parents, or other adults, educating children is a problem.  The problem is when that ‘belonging’ has to come at the price of something else.

I guess all parents have expectations, hopes and dreams for their new-born.  Yet, they’ve probably not even met him or her!  This is where the problem is, this is where that price is paid.

Do parents, or any of the other adults, surrounding a child, who are that child’s ‘city’, force the child to conform?  You may have dreamt of a violin-playing virtuoso for the last three, four years but what happens when your child is deaf or just has no musical interest whatsoever?  Maybe you’ve got secret wishes for your child to have the education and career that you never could have had yourself, is that fair to project that onto a child whose skills, talents, aptitudes are not within the (narrow) academic spectrum?

Children want to please.  All humans want to please those they love.  It’s a simple truth.  But to please, to be accepted, to conform, to belong, how do they have to please you?  And is it at the price of their own skills and talents?

If you teach a child that success is knowing one’s times tables by the age of six, what happens when the child is slow to learn even to count?  They will, and do, quickly come to the conclusion that they’re a failure.  Is that fair?

If you only encourage and reward a child when he or she succeeds in one area, such as mathematics, will they try to develop their own inherent aptitudes?  Or will they just focus on that one area where you want them to succeed, in that one area where they now believe that success is only possible?  Is that fair?

Disinterest is often keenly perceived by young children desperately seeking to ‘read’ the world and people around them.  If you show no interest in their drawing but praise their counting, what does a child learn?  And if this happens time and after time?

Well, the child will come to the conclusion that drawing is not desirable, that it’s not even acceptable.  They may even come to the conclusion that it isn’t permissible.

(Well you did say to stop drawing and get on with something more important).

Why the examples of mathematics and drawing?  Well, I suck at both, to be honest, but it is much easier to quantify success in a subject like maths whereas drawing and other creative pursuits, they just come down to taste, opinion, even fashion.  We live in a society that likes quantifiable success, academic success which comes down to grades, percentages, facts.  Facts which are the same for every single person, 1+1 is always going to have the same answer.  It’s easy to assess, to quantify success.  Ask someone to draw a picture and who can really say whether it’s ‘good’?

(My answer to 1+1= is always window, which is why I probably never ‘succeeded’).

And with children entering academic systems earlier and earlier with increasing pressure from exams, scattered like threats across their school years, and with schools and teachers themselves being pressured to ‘succeed’, there is a real danger that self-expression is lost in favour of those ‘facts’.

Self-expression is a beautiful thing, without creativity none of those precious ‘facts’ would have been possible.  Sciences may claim to be cold and scientific but they are made of thousands of bubbles of creative thoughts and moments.  People who thought outside the box, people who challenged the ‘facts’.

When a child internalises the message that creativity is shameful, we are taking something even more precious away.  And creativity is so closely bound up with identity, how can anyone dare to even think to take that away from someone?

I learnt, although later in childhood because I clearly was a slow developer, that creativity was shameful.  It was wasteful, self-indulgent, weird, different … in other words, unacceptable.  I learnt too that creativity was never deemed a ‘success’, that there was far more ‘important’ things that I ‘should’ be doing or learning.  I learnt that not only was I expected to ‘do better’ (how many times have you said that to a child especially to their artwork?) but that doing better meant doing something else.

Creativity became something shameful.  It became a failure because I could never be good at it and it wasn’t really acceptable.  I took the criticism seriously and heard the messages loud and clear that there were better, more important things that I should be doing.  Then somewhere along the way, I also lost myself.

The two are closely entwined.  Identity cannot succeed where it is only the labels that others give to you or where you are forced, or forcing yourself, to conform to some unwritten, barely spoken expectation.   Being yourself is an act of creativity, of self-expression.    Both require confidence.  Both require support and encouragement from childhood.   After all, the goal shouldn’t be to make children who ‘succeed’ but to form, educate, train, develop children to become successful humans.  There is a huge difference between the two, believe me.  We need creativity, it is who we are.

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Welcome to the Real World

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Swan's Head with Dripping Beak

When speccy spoke of pacing the other day, my entire being sighed and nodded knowingly in agreement.  You see, pacing is something of a ‘buzz’ word in chronic illness.  Although it’s not some magical cure-all or panacea, it does rather let the ‘experts’ off the hook.  The responsibility is handed firmly back to the patient, they are to manage their own illness, it is up to them.

Whilst I firmly believe that self-awareness and self-management are important, if not vital, components of maturity, of adult life, this doesn’t quite seem fair.  There was a reason why ‘experts’ were invented after all.  To be left, abandoned, to your own devices can be isolating, frightening and threatening.

It’s sometimes said that the best gift you can give the chronically ill is comprehension.  Support and understanding are absolutely crucial and they have to come from external sources.  Yes, as individuals, we can offer ourselves support and understanding but it’s not the same.  In fact, can any individual really generate and sustain support, understanding, belief, appreciation or acceptance if there is none forthcoming from external sources, the community around them?  (And when someone is chronically ill, can they really physically support themselves?  If they could, they wouldn’t be the ill ones).  This would require almost unfathomably ridiculous levels of self-belief and self-confidence.  I don’t think many of us have those.

Besides, chronic illness eats away at your self-belief and self-confidence.  It destroys value systems.  Even if you never, ever doubted yourself before, it will make you doubt now.  Sometimes you will think that you’re going crazy.  That’s why external sources of belief, support and understanding are so important.  No man is an island, apparently.  We don’t need flattery or lying to, we simply need to be acknowledged, for our illness to be acknowledged.  Or better still, understood.  Appreciated even?

Perhaps, they, those ‘experts’, feel that this approach is temptingly flattering.  You are the expert, you know yourself better than anyone and the nature of your illness too.  You are the expert.  Empowerment in action, another favourite ‘buzz’ word of our times.

However, it carelessly disregards the reality, how the dynamics of self, relationships, community, society really work.  No man is a self-actualised island existing in splendid isolation, an unconnected self on a planet of unrelated life.  As if such an ideal were even possible.  Or healthy.  We humans are cities, places buzzing with connections, with a strong sense of past and a need for a planned, controllable, reliable future.  We have habits, customs.  We are often living to the full extent, if not beyond, of our resources.

When we fall ill, we bring a lot of baggage with us.  Our own expectations, hang-ups, complexes, fears and prejudices.  As well as those of everyone else too.  We cannot be expected to become a self-actualised island in the face of such odds.  Nor should it be required, we are cities after all.

(As a side note, isolation is an often recognised and accepted issue for the chronically ill, so it seems a little unwise to propagate it).

There are other ways too that pacing is fundamentally flawed.

Another situation where the term ‘pacing’ is popular and enthusiastically adopted is in sport.  (If there couldn’t be more difference between these two groups of proponents!)  Top athletes, marathon-runners, you name it, they all talk about pacing, it’s a wonder-word to them too.

However athletes do not exist in isolation.  They are part of a team.  And not just any team either, these aren’t necessarily just their loved ones who for the chronically ill will make up the bulk, if not the entire population, of a support team. Oh no, the athlete is surrounded by ‘experts’.  Whilst it is recognised that he knows himself and his abilities best, he turns to external sources to help manage and advance, he knows that he cannot do it alone.  There will be a coach providing one-to-one support, usually someone who has a wealth of experience and knowledge in a particular sport.  The best coaches know the ropes and they know them inside out, upside down and back to front.  They have the inside story on each challenge that an athlete will face.  And they know their athletes just as well.  They know how to get the best from their athlete, how to maximise their potential, when to push’em and when to ease off.  But these days, it isn’t just the coach who makes up the support team.  These days, there is a vast network of ‘experts’, professionals in diverse fields all bringing their knowledge and experience to bear, to allow the athlete to achieve his potential, there may be nutritionists, physiotherapists, masseurs, sport scientists, doctors, psychologists, administrators, legal experts, public relations specialists … the list goes on.  No athlete is an island.

So with all this support, knowledge, expertise and belief propelling an athlete forward, does pacing actually guarantee a win?  Well, think over some of the interviews you may have heard with athletes after some event or other.  You will hear them talking of peaking too early, of having had a bad day, of the weather being against them, of the altitude being unfavourable, of having two events too close together, of having had troublesome journeys or connections.  Even with all these experts behind them, even with all their own self-belief and training behind them, pacing is fallible.  Highly fallible.  It is not a science.  We humans generate too many variables and respond so differently and unpredictably to situations, even familiar ones.

One Swedish furniture company apparently tests all of their new sofas with a special machine which simulates someone, a rather large someone, jumping on the sofa countless times.  They are measuring endurance.  When those figures are produced, they can then guarantee their furniture for a specific period.

What does this have to do with pacing?  Well, the essence of pacing is endurance.  And how do you measure that in humans?  We are not identical sofas manufactured to exacting standards.  (In fact, I’m pretty sure that some of us feel like second-hand sofas anyway).  But it means that the test is no longer fair because not all the sofas can and will pass.  And think of that old relic in your sitting room, just because it’s rather old and sorry, are you going to throw it out?  Or will you overlook its faults, it weaknesses because it’s deliciously comfortable and been part of your family story for such a long time?

There are other problems too when it comes to measuring endurance in humans, not only are we all built differently but we’re not tested equally either.  The tests that a human faces, even in normal everyday life, are random.  There is no uniform test.  And the tests that humans face are not necessarily designed to be passed with flying colours.  And how do you measure endurance when humans have the unpredictable trait of responding differently in the same circumstances?

Endurance is really the baseline of pacing.  Pacing requires you to establish what you are normally capable of, what you can usually endure.  Once you have established this elusive baseline, you can pace yourself, not exerting yourself beyond this threshold and therefore not exacerbating your condition.  Eventually you will be able to build on the baseline, increasing gradually in baby-steps increments your abilities, your endurance, your baseline.

There is some truth, some science behind this.  But even experienced athletes can find that their baseline fluctuates and that sometimes there are just ‘bad days’.  How much more so for the mere mortal struggling with a chronic illness!

Endurance, I don’t think, can be quantified and measured in humans.  Endurance seems to be one of those qualities that meanders between the physical and the psychological.  There are few things that are clear-cut, black and white where humans are involved.  And whilst an athlete knows that they can run this fast for this long or whatever else their discipline requires of them, a purely physical endurance, how predictable or reliable is chronic illness?  This athlete is an individual with high levels of self-belief and self-confidence, yet whilst he may be able to endure physically, the psychological can knock him for six.   Chronic illness does not neatly exist only in the physical, or mental, there is a great deal of psychological.  We bring all that baggage with us, remember?

So if endurance cannot be quantified and established, fixed at a set rate even one individual, how can pacing really be expected to work?

But then it gets more complicated.  We humans don’t exist at some monotonous baseline; we peak and relax, physically and psychologically.  Our lives are varied.  Even if we had that baseline fixed and we could measure everything we did against it, is that really how humans live?  Just because we are ill, even house- or bedbound, we are humans with a strong sense of will.  We want to do things.  We live in a society where our value is dependent on activity.  We measure success by what we do, how much we do.  There are things that must be done.  Life doesn’t stop when you become ill.  There are still all of these everyday responsibilities to be taken care of.  And there are times, when we just desperately want to do something, maybe to alleviate some of the boredom and frustration of being so ill so much of the time, maybe it’s because we just want a glimpse of our old lives.  We rarely say no.  We’re not programmed to say no.  And so our pacing suffers, even if existed in the first place.  Real life continues around us and continues to have expectations of us.  We also have expectations of ourselves too.  Modern society is not renowned for its measured pace.  And there isn’t much allowance given for the chronically ill.  Pacing goes out the window, you have to live.

Whilst Chronic illness can be boring and frustrating, it isn’t monotonous.  Whilst real life continues to throw challenges us, things that we must do regardless of our health or energy levels, chronic illness itself doesn’t exactly help matters either.  Few chronic illnesses are predictable.  They are not reliable.  Most of them aren’t even quantifiable.  So how can you apply pacing to the untameable?  The worst of chronic illness is never knowing quite how something will affect you until it’s too late.

Pacing allows a veneer of delusion that someone is in control.  That the beast of chronic illness can indeed be tamed, be domesticated and invited into polite society.  It would be a comforting notion if it wasn’t so obviously false.  But yet countless patients dutifully try to implement the impossible, they try to pace themselves, in an almost vain hope of recovery.  If recovery or remission does occur, it rarely seems to be anyone’s hands.  There is no success guaranteed with pacing and yet the patient has had to take full responsibility for the management and successful outcome of their illness.  Is this failure or just stupidity?

I don’t think that pacing can be that panacea; I don’t think it is the solution.  There is an awful lot more involved in humans, in illness and in real life.  Pacing is the equivalent of a highly restrictive calorie-counting diet; it’s punitive and doesn’t take into account those ups and downs, the feasts and famines of real life.  Oh, and they haven’t managed to invent the calorie either.  Pacing is a farce.

We need to be realistic.  We do need to recognise our personal limits and accept that these will often vary.  We need to recognise and accept that if we choose to participate in one activity then it will often be at the cost of something else.  We cannot have everything.  Sometimes we get a look at the cake but it’s rare that we get to eat it.  We need to accept these things for ourselves, to reject all the baggage and activity-dependent value systems that we were brought up with and are surrounded by still.  But we are not islands; we need the people around us to do the same too.  We need their support, belief and understanding in order to live, to be allowed to live at our own pace.

Pursuing Perfection

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Harvest Field

Pursuing perfection is something like pursuing cities of gold or fountains of eternal youth.  For the most part, these idyllic utopian states are just figments of the imagination, a fantasy that drives us mad in its impossible pursuit.

However, I do believe in trying.  Trying is something like that expedition, that journey in search of the utopia but instead of the focus being only on the destination, it just becomes a pinnacle, a summit for which to aim for, but it is the journey that is more important.  If we focus only our destination, we can miss out on so much and many of those things will be more important, more valuable, more enhancing than the mythological end.

I think modern travel offers many parallels.  We focus on destinations, the perfect, and we want to be transported there in the shortest time possible and at the greatest convenience.  Yet, in some ways, we miss out on the most important experience: the journey.  Journeying is about experiencing, discovering and connecting.  Without a journey, a destination becomes almost pointless, it exists merely in sterile isolation as a stereotype but there is no world beyond.  A destination is a resort, a beach, a hotel.  We choose it on its perfection criteria.

Therefore, I don’t think we should ever give up striving, that is the journey, and it can add so much to our own experience.  Placing the focus on perfection normally just brings us disappointment and disillusion.  It’s like insisting on aiming for one hundred percent in an exam where it’s just not possible, not for us, not for our families, not for our circumstances, not for our lives.  We need a ‘bar’ to aim for, to move us forward, to encourage us to achieve but when that bar is too high, impossibly high, then what good can it ever do us?

I recognise myself to be one of the most imperfect specimens of humankind; I clearly see my faults and weaknesses, so perhaps it would be easy to assume that I don’t have a problem with perfectionism.  I also veer to the negative, why would I try for the impossible?

But there’s the danger of perfection and pursuing perfection.

This winter has been one of deep reflection and self-realisation.  I am questioning each and every ‘old’ belief, thought or value and see whether it is really ‘right’, or balanced.   It’s an exhausting process which has taken me away from blogging.  My thoughts are distracted by this personal process and my words are recorded in another place.

I have come to realise that perfection is actually the standard that I have set for myself.  Surprising?  Perhaps.  I accept perfection as the only acceptable outcome, achievement is perfection.  Unsurprisingly, I fail.  I fail all the time.  And yes, I do see that by setting perfection as the destination, I can only fail.  So why do I do it?

Somewhere in my childhood, like everyone else, I acquired a set of values.  How our value systems develop, much less begin, is not an obvious or coherent process.  And sometimes we would do ourselves a favour in examining those long-held ‘values’ and seeing what they really are and whether they are actually of any value to us.

I learnt to equate perfection with achievement and success.  In other words, that achievement and success only happen when something is perfect.  Everything else is failure.  And so began a lifelong career as a failure.  I cannot attain perfection therefore I fail.  Every time.

Failure was, however, an unacceptable option in this value system.  To fail something was to be a failure.  It was something shameful, to be embarrassed about.  So I learnt to avoid the things where I was likely to fail.  Unfortunately, with perfection as the only standard, I risked failing a lot of the time, so the list of things that I avoided grew ever bigger and longer.

I learnt to hide my weaknesses, to bury them under some metaphorical carpet or other.  Mistakes being unacceptable, even unforgiveable, I spent a lot of my youth torturing myself mentally.  Making mistakes made me a failure, making mistakes indicated some grave fault of character or personality.  It all came back to me as an individual, I was supposed to be something impossible and when that didn’t happen, it was my fault.  Maybe I hadn’t tried hard enough.  Maybe I was a bad person.

I was embarrassed by all the things I couldn’t do.  My worth was measured only by the impossible and as I blatantly failed to meet that standard, I lost all self-worth.  With the focus on the things that I failed to be able to do, I quickly became a nothing, a un-achiever, a failure.

There was more to this complex fantasy of perfection.  I acquired the belief that talents are innate, that we are born with certain gifts, if you will.  As if we were programmed at birth to be good at one thing or another, programmed to succeed or fail in certain areas.  Personality thus becomes closely entwined with success.  I didn’t realise that skills not only have to be developed but they can be acquired.  We are not born as adults.  We learn to be adults.

Making a mistake does not indicate that we categorically cannot do something.  That was how I saw it, and perhaps see it still, because old habits don’t go easily.  For example, if you were good at art, the first picture that you drew would be perfect.  And then every other picture afterwards.  No one introduced me to a rubber, to correct and to learn and to develop.  I needed mental rubbers too.  I needed to be able to adjust and develop my self-perception, to rub out one waggly line and to redraw it with a more confident hand.

But neither my hand nor my mind learnt to be more confident.  One strike and you’re out.  That was the philosophy.  And it lives with me still.  I cannot draw because I make mistakes, because my drawing is not perfect.   I avoid drawing.  (Although I’m a distracted doodler, doodles don’t seem to need to reach any particular aptitude level. (Mind you, even those have been criticised in the past)).  I cannot describe myself as being ‘linguistic’, although I love languages and am forever dabbling in new ones and have long-term relationships with dictionaries.  Why?  Because I make mistakes.  Because I have not been taught key elements, I have learnt by osmosis in a rather miss than hit way; there are gaps in my knowledge.  My skills are not perfect.  Therefore they do not count.

Perfection focuses on what cannot be done, what cannot be achieved; striving for perfection means that we miss out seeing and appreciating all the other good things.  Because in a perfectionist world, they cannot count until they are complete.  And that ‘completion’ is impossible.

Actually, it just becomes a vicious circle.  If making a mistake is a categoric failure then it’s all too easy to become disillusioned, disappointed.  You give up trying.  And more importantly, you learn not to trust yourself.  When you have no confidence, you are more likely to make a mistake.  And so the cycle goes on.

I promised myself that this year I would dare to risk or risk to dare.  Trying something, anything, whether large or small, is a risk for me.  It has to go perfectly; it has to be perfect for it to succeed.  I’m starting to realise that this is holding me back.  I’m missing out on too much.  I’m missing out on being myself.

I need to dare to risk or risk to dare.

Am I Setting Myself Up for Failure?

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Boats Looking Out to Sea

Goals are targets.  Targets are things that get missed.

Sitting myself down and deciding what I want to plan for and aim for just seems utterly pointless to me.  I know that I will fail and having a list etched in black and white as tangible proof of just what I set out to do but haven’t achieved just overwhelms.  I am defeated before I even begin.

But I also recognise that without goals and plans my life will have no direction.  Perhaps it never has had direction.  All I aim to do is get through each day, one day at a time, with the minimal stress, pain and failure.  However …

I’m not keen on boats and being in them but as anybody who hasn’t even been in a boat before can tell you, it’s best to have a compass.  At the very least, it helps to know which way you’re facing.  And after a compass, comes maps, or charts as they seem to prefer to call them in the nautical world.  You mark where you are and where you want to end up.  You make a plan.

I need a plan if my life is going to find direction, if I’m going to try and be someone, not something, just someone living their life.  But as they want to.  The directions that I go in, that I take are entirely dependent on the winds and whims of other people.  I place pleasing other people far above my own happiness.  And I think that’s something that needs to be adjusted.

It’s been a deep winter for me; I have been lost and absorbed in reflection.  But it has been a good thing.  I know and I can see that I am progressing.  I am making progress.  I don’t think that I’ve recognised that before.  I’m starting to realise that the future isn’t quite the menacing monster that I always believed it to be.  I am beginning to think that I might be able to.

Able to do what?

Well, I guess, eventually, anything that I set my heart and mind to.

But to get there I’m going to need to take some smaller steps.

I can cope with small steps.

And setting goals isn’t just about failure.

I’m not a failure.

I could succeed.

I just need to believe in myself.

And give it a go.

And throw off all the stupid beliefs and complexes that hold me back.

Ballast can be a good thing; it can stabilise you, if you’re a boat.

But there can be such a thing as too much ballast.

It just becomes stuff, junk, weight.

Redundant and not serving any purpose.

It shackles you and helps you sink.

(I do believe in mixing metaphors, it seems).

So my first goal is this:

I need to dare to risk and I need to risk to dare.

(I couldn’t decide which one made the most sense, let’s live dangerously and go with both).

Taking risk has always been something very dangerous and even alien to me.  I actively avoid risk.  Risk is just about setting yourself up for failure.

I need to adopt this new attitude, I need to be brave, I need to believe, I need live.

So this year, I hope to move forward with that motto.

But measuring success, quantifying achievement can be difficult.

How do I know if I’m moving ahead or succeeding?

I need specific goals, targets to aim for.

Marks on a chart, plotting a specific course that I can follow.

I know that I may not always be able to meet them.  But as the Jester Queen once reminded me, many wise people think that failure is only a step to success.

For example, when it comes to blogging, I now have a goal.   I’m going to aim for three posts a week.  Nothing too hard to achieve, if you look back at most months then I’m already meeting this target.

So why set a goal that I’m already perhaps reaching?

I need to do this with baby steps; I first need to confirm to myself that I’m not failing before I take any further, more ambitious steps.

I don’t want to tie myself down though, commit myself to a statistic.  I want to write because I want to.  I don’t want blogging to be about numbers, although numbers can be nice and reassuring.  I’m going to be reasonable on myself.  I’m going to set a goal which is reachable, attainable, possible.  I won’t set myself up for failure.  And especially because of life and health, it’ll be an average that I’m working on, I’ll average it out across the entire year, some weeks the words and posts may come more often than others.  I want to write a minimum of 156 posts this year.  We’ll see how it goes.

Talking of health leads me to another goal, perhaps a harder one to measure or assess.

I want to be honest.  I want to be honest with myself.

For example, when I need to rest, I will rest and when I can’t do something, I will accept that I can’t.  I will listen to my body.

And of course there’s another big thing in my life:  knitting.

How do you set goals in knitting?

Well, I suppose you could aim for a certain number of stitches per week or month.  But that is highly variable, depending on yarn weight and my rather suspect tension.  Five stitches can be very little or an entire row, depending on the project.  And I know that there are people who can calculate how many stitches there are in a particular project but I’m not one of them.  Actually, frankly, I don’t think I’d want to know.  I get demoralised by numbers higher than what I can count to (normally about 30).

Each month, I’m going to write a list of the projects that I want start and finish.

I also want to start a new project from my Knit Now magazines each month too.  As someone pointed on the Ravelry forums, it’s so easy to open a new magazine issue and go ‘ooh’ and promise to one day make this piece or that, but do we ever?

Well, the magazines are sitting on the shelf, the patterns are still there.  And it’s about time I got on with it.  I’ve lined up my favourites in my Ravelry queue and I’ll slowly tackle them.  One project at a time, one month a time.

I’ve already noticed that my knitting goals are also tied to my goal of honesty.  There days and even weeks when I can’t knit as fast or as much as I would like.  It can be bitterly disappointing and frustrating but that’s why I have got to be honest with myself.

I’ve never shared my goals with anyone.  I’m not even sure if I’ve set goals before.  But here are just a few and I know that you’re all prepared to take yet another (long-winded, I’m sure) journey will me.

I wonder how I will do.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Growth

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Sometimes growth is about appreciating your own achievements, however small.

Wee Chilli Pepper

Like this diminutive jalapeño (actual size 2 cm approx), it might not be a record winner but I grew that.  It even ripened on time unlike my earlier escapades with tomatoes, they eventually ripened in November.  In a summer that wasn’t as good as it promised, I think that’s something.

Sometimes growth is about letting go.

Manky Feather (literally and figuratively)

We don’t always have to hold onto things.  This is a Manky feather, literally and figuratively.  It’s shorter than my index finger but it represents an awful lot of growth in this little blue tit’s life.  I might hold on to this, being the sentimental fool that I am, but there are other things though that I need to let go of, sometimes I need to move on.

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Release

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Release has obviously always been the plan.  I may sound like a bad bird-parent but release would mean having my sitting room back, a clean sitting room where I would be able to sit and knit or work on the computer without dodging poop and being pecked at (and that would also mean that you would get to see more photos).  Release from the constant focus and commitment of being a bird-parent.  I have a lot of respect for you child-parents who are signed up for at least eighteen years of this.  (Although, hopefully your babies will master the art of bowel control one day).

Release.

Release is about letting go, the moving on from a particular episode.  Do you know what?  I don’t think that there will be release after all.  Manky will always be with us, in our hearts and in our memories.  And I am not the kind of parent who doesn’t worry.  I worry.  A lot.

Even when (and it’s looking more like a when rather than an if) Manky goes, I will worry for her (or he/it).  I’m that kind of person.  It’s why release is not an overly joyous occasion.  It might be the mark of success that she goes free but what happens after that?  Survival is a different matter.  And not an easy one.  And this Manky-bird of ours has a track record.  It’s not a good one.  (I’ll tell you about some of her hairy escapades another day but you all already know that she’s something of a miraculous survivor anyway).  No, release is bittersweet.

I suppose it’s an issue for all parents, whether of children or of birds.  How long can you protect them for?  How long do you keep intervening to keep them safe?  When Manky goes free, she could be caught by a cat within an hour.  It isn’t a pleasant thought but it’s a reality.  (Husband says it isn’t nature because cats aren’t natural, especially not the ones round here).  Have we failed her if that happens?

But is it fair to keep a wee wild blue tit in a sitting room for the rest of her life?  Is that fair or natural?  (To any of us).  No, there comes a time when even Manky-birds must face the world alone, to take their chances.  However hard or harsh that may be.

We turned our balcony into an aviary last week with plastic mesh that’s usually used over plants to keep birds out.  We also plugged up the hole to the drain pipe.  (It’s best not to give Manky too many chances).  It took two days to tempt and tease her out, we’d get her on to a shoulder, a hand or a head and slowly shuffle out of the door.  We’d shuffle out with her on us but then she’d realise what the game was and dart back inside to safety, clinging to the curtain and looking out with big eyes at the world beyond.  You would have thought that there was a force field in place where that door used to be.  She’d fly towards the door of her own accord then ping back off the empty space.  Crazy bird.

It’s obviously not curiosity that’s killing this bird.

But she got there, starting with swift darts out then back in to the safety of her sitting room then spending more and more time out there, investigating the tomato plants and peeling mastic off the window trims which are waiting to go back up.  There’s a lot of things out there for a Manky-bird to peck.

Yesterday she was out and could hear the neighbours below talking so she started chatting to them like she does us then got frightfully indignant when they didn’t answer her.  She also likes to sunbathe in a hanging flower-pot, wings spread out, belly in the dirt, soaking up the sun.

Her confidence has grown.  We sometimes don’t shut the (inside) sitting room door fully because we know she likes to hear us and has never tried to get through the gap into the hall.  (She’ll sit on the fish tank, staring through the gap and will us to come to her but no more).  The other day husband was sitting in the bedroom (well, we have been relegated from the sitting room) when this bird suddenly darted through the door!  He had a hard time persuading her to go back out the window on to the balcony.  She wouldn’t let him catch her either (which kind of bodes well).  This morning Manky rose with the dawn (she’s always been a bit of a layabout, I was up before her the other day) and was chirruping to the seagulls.  She didn’t pay us any attention until we started getting up and having breakfast.  Then she put in her own requests.  We told her to wait, as we always do.  Before we knew quite what had happened, a little blue tit had squeezed in through the gap in the barely open windows (it’s been a real scorcher) and was scowling at us from the curtain pole.

We put her food outside yesterday too.  She still has a cube (well, actually these ones are bottle-shaped technically) of baby food daily.  Beef stroganoff, her favourite, it’s the one with the highest protein count (and that isn’t brilliantly high, an adult macaroni cheese ready meal, worryingly, has more protein in) and it isn’t chicken.  There’s something wrong about feeding chicken to a blue tit.  Very wrong.

She likes her food and water high up.  She doesn’t come down to ground anymore.  It’s all good things.

Her little feet are perfectly made for perching and climbing, she can scale brick walls quite happily and has a funny little habit of hanging upside down on the washing line.

This afternoon we took down the net.  Eventually she took a couple of flights out into the big wide world.

Manky’s free.  Manky’s fledged.

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Breaking News

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I’m sorry to bombard you with posts, especially if you’ve very kindly subscribed to have my posts delivered directly to your inbox, but this is breaking news that I just had to share.  First though, I’m sorry that there’s no pictures but I’m a little behind with my processing but this is important.

One bird just flew out of our open door.

And then another.

Two down, two to go.  Plus Manky.

We have succeeded, two babies have fledged.  It makes your heart soar.

I will keep you posted.  And I’m very sorry for crowding your inbox.