The Stories you tell Yourself

Mt Field 4
Of course, I went down a rabbit hole looking for photos for this blog post. I couldn’t find a sports carnival one (but I’ll add one if I find one later) but I tell you, these days don’t seem so long ago. My hair is a different colour now 🙂 And Jess looks a little more grown up.

Moz headed off to sports carnival last week. His school house is called Geneva (which is blue), the rest of the family are in Wittenberg (red). (The other house is Westminster but we don’t concern ourselves with those yellow-wearing people.)

As he got ready for the day he put on his blue T-shirt with a ‘Go Geneva!’

I responded with, ‘Go Witt!’ and donned a maroon jumper (which is close to red so I’m going with that). And then we reminisced that the whole thing is not as fun now that the kids are not at school anymore.

In days gone past we would have chanting competitions — three against one. Moz would wave his blue feather boa in our faces. We would all compare scores at the end of the day. It was all great fun.

Now, I had to remind myself that we’d had our school children time, and that it had lasted 17 years. Now, it feels like the whole 17 years took just a few moments.

It’s that whole, ‘blink your eyes and it’s gone’ thing that so frustrated me when I was in the depths of raising children, worn out, peopled out, and feeling like the interrupted nights and crazy days we’re never going to end.

Well-meaning people would smile and pat the kids’ heads and say, ‘Make the most of it. It goes so quickly.’ And I would grumble that it couldn’t go quickly enough, and that being grateful when I’m just so very tired is more than anyone should ask of a person.

But those crazy days do end. And we are left with only the photos we’ve taken and the stories we’ve told ourselves and locked into our memories.

I thought to myself the other morning that it is really important when we are doing anything to be careful of the story we are telling ourselves while it’s happening. Because that is the story that gets etched into your brain. It is the story that you will remember for years to come.

When I look back, I remember the crazy times and the exhausted times, but there are also some great stories that I can tell myself. The fun mornings before sports carnivals. The beautiful times up at the shack that I wrote about the other day. The ‘lotions and potions’ play that the kids had with all the ingredients in our pantry. The special cuddles with my son, the brushing of my daughter’s hair, the deep conversations. Those are stories I want to remember. And I’m happy to let the frustrations and irritations stay in my memories only in as much as they allow me to be empathetic with other parents going through the same things now.

I have the same choice with the days I’m living now. I could tell myself a story each day about how I have more to do than can possibly be done, and how I am interrupted when I’m in the middle of things, and how no-one put the washing out and I had to go and do it myself, and any amount of other small frustrations.

Or I can choose to be grateful instead that I get to write and edit for a living, that I get to work from home and have flexibility. That I am so incredibly privileged to even be able to give this a go. That I am so beautifully supported by my friends and family.

I know that this can get taken to the extremes of denial and pretending that the bad parts of life don’t exist and I am not advocating for that. But I am going to keep trying to keep the happy stories alive inside my memory, in my imagination, and maybe just deal with the less happy things at the time, and then let them go.

Do you find it’s important to remind yourself of the good, whatever  you’re going through? 

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Reasons to Journal

journaling

(This is not a Moleskine journal, it’s an old picture, but it is a Bic pen)

One of my very favourite books is Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster. One of the reasons I think I enjoy it so much is that most of the book is written in the form of letters that Judy Abbott writes to her mysterious benefactor. Now yes, I want a mysterious benefactor myself, but it’s the slightly naughty delight of reading someone else’s mail, of seeing right into Judy’s mind, that’s the thing I love.

Another such book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Welcome to the Working Week by Paul Vitos (written in email rather than letters, with a fair bit more cynicism and swearing). And then there’s always The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

All of them have this fun feeling of reading over someone’s shoulder, of seeing a new insight through their eyes.

I’ve been getting the same feeling lately through reading back my journal from last year.

I’m not being totally self-indulgent – I’m writing a book about 2017 using my blogs and I thought it would add some interest if you all (dear readers) had some insight into how I was feeling as the year went on. Ok, maybe I am being self-indulgent but I’m getting a lot out of it anyway.

Journalling is important to me. I don’t remember why, but I do remember that in grade 10 I decided to write a journal entry every day. I remember very clearly sitting in bed in the dark at 1am (I shared a room with my sister and couldn’t turn the light on) writing a few lines on a new page knowing that I would not be following the lines, I couldn’t see the lines, but I had to complete my journal entry for that day before I went to sleep.

I tend to follow rules like that. If I’m journalling every day, then I’m journalling every single day. No excuses.

I’m easier on myself now, I don’t make myself write every day, but I write most days because it’s so helpful.

Sheridan Voysey has some tips for journalling. He says that you don’t have to write every day. That you must not let anyone else see what you’re writing – it is just for you (write in code if necessary). That you date each entry (he records the time as well and I’ve started doing that too). That you write freely and honestly. That you keep it simple and that you write anywhere. His podcast on reasons to journal is worth listening to.

Why do I journal?

I mistrust my memory and love to have a record of my life. I think that part of me feels like I’d lose my life if I didn’t write it down.

I find that journalling slows me down enough to know how I’m feeling. I can be running around (either literally, or inside my own head) and stop to journal and write: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Oh boy do I feel tired.’ And then I go nap. Journalling gets me in touch with myself. It helps me to see if the problem I’m experiencing is physical tiredness, or just my own narkiness, or whether I have an issue I need to sort out with someone else. In other words, it stops me snapping at Moz when the issue I need to deal with is my own tiredness.

Journalling stops the hamster wheel of thoughts inside my head. Once it’s written down, it’s written and I can move on. If I leave the thought in my head then it can swirl around and never get dealt with.

And finally, I can look back on my journal and see where I’ve been.

I tell many newlyweds, especially those I know who marry young like Moz and I did, about how comforting it was to read my journal from our first year of marriage. You see, no matter how bad things were in the next few years, it never got as bad as the first year. (Our first year was hard work, but worth it).

And looking back at last year I can see objective evidence that the days were hard and busy but I can also see the record of cosy nights in front of the fire, peaceful walks along the beach, little pockets of peace and joy through the hard times. It gives me strength and encouragement for what I’m walking through now. Which, by the way, is nowhere near as bad as last August.

It doesn’t take much to journal, you don’t need a fancy book or a fancy pen. I have a very fancy Moleskine journal at the moment – a Christmas present from my parents – but I have a motley arrangement of journals on the bookshelf to my left, all colours and sizes that I’ve used through the years.

The pen I use is a Bic biro. Nothing fancy there! But I like the way it writes. But you know, you can use anything. Some people like to use a really fancy pen, a fancy journal, do drawings and so on and make it a special part of their ‘me time’ and others like me just like to get the words down on the page. Whenever and wherever I find myself.

Some people like me keep all their journals. I hope to go through my boxes soon and find the one I wrote in in grade 10. I think it will be interesting to read. Others like my mother-in-law destroy them. That can be really cathartic. A nice journal fire when you’re saying goodbye to some particularly dreadful part of your life could be an excellent symbolic gesture.

Words are my thing, obviously. But I think a lot of us can find joy in journalling.

Do you keep a journal? What have you found best or worst about it? Or have I tempted you to try? Let me know in the comments.

Memories

I don’t have the world’s best memory. I am not one of those writers who can remember everything that happened to me through my childhood. I forget great chunks of happenings and I’m dreadful with people’s names.

I was part of  a science panel the other night on the radio and the announcer asked me why I chose chemistry. I said that I remembered my grade 12 chemistry, how much I enjoyed it, and that was the major factor in my decision – the decision that has led to my career in chemistry. So the announcer (naturally) asked what it was that I enjoyed. I couldn’t really remember. Then she asked what was the teacher’s name – the teacher that has had a major influence on my life. I couldn’t remember. I still can’t. Dreadful.

My daughter can remember details about the house her grandparents lived in when she was two years old. Actually, I remember that when she turned two I suddenly got really stressed. I was pretty sure she’d be able to remember things from then on, and I knew I wasn’t doing great at this parenting gig, and that now she’d be able to remember what I was doing. It added a whole layer of pressure! (We coped alright though, I now realise that everyone struggles with the parenting gig, I think she’s grown up to be a well-balanced and healthy young woman, and brilliant too, of course).

When the kids were younger I blamed my shonky memory on the number of things I had to keep in the front of my brain: who had eaten what and how long ago, when the sunscreen was last applied, where the socks were dumped, and where the favourite toy was last seen. There wasn’t a whole lot of room in the head for anything else.

Now I don’t have those sorts of excuses. I still have the same memory issues though.

Instead of trusting my creaky memory, I hoard. I have journals that reach back to 2010 sitting on my bookshelf in my study downstairs, and I’m hopeful that somewhere I have the journal I wrote back when we were married in 94 and the journal I remember writing in grade 10. They are important to me, though I don’t go back and look at them often, they store my memories, my feelings, my struggles and joys of the years. And I’m hoping they will be a great resource for my writing too.

My email is another place where I hoard. When the IT guy set up my new computer it took ages, simply ages, to load up properly.

‘How much saved email do you have?’ he asked.

‘Heaps.’

‘That would be it.’

It is.

Every so often, I go to the ‘sent’ folder and I copy email after email to a word document I have set up for this purpose. I’m up to 2005. Emails I set to my parents while they were in the USA. Emails to my sister when her life turned upside down. Emails to my brother, thanking him for the flowers he sent. Work emails, school emails. All of them documenting my life.

Last night I read something about ‘my rat dying on the operating table’. I had forgotten about the big biochemistry project I did that required operating on rats and changing the nitrate levels in the blood to see how that changed the blood perfusion. It’s coming back to me now but without the email record I may have never remembered.

On the subject of rats – or rather mice – there was an email about the mouse plague we had in our old house. About a mouse that dropped onto our bed in the middle of the night, ran across DH’s face and ended up in my slipper. You’d think an experience like that would stick in the brain but until I read it in the email, I had completely forgotten.

I think there are just too many memories to keep them all in the front of my brain at one time. I have forty three years of experiences. Living with them constantly would be much to great a burden to bear. I’m already absent minded enough without all those memories swirling around me. But it’s so much fun to go back through what has been written down and relive the memories just for a while.

Sometimes I would like to keep only the good memories and delete the bad ones, but that wouldn’t be my life. My life is the good memories, the bad, and the things that I can’t even remember but that have shaped me on the way through.

I read somewhere a long time ago that the most boring real person is much more interesting than the most interesting fictional character.

But don’t ask me where I read it. I can’t remember!