Writing about ageing.
A Stone. A Poem set to Sounds with Mark Hewins.
I am a stone, a stone a frozen stone.
A watching careful stone.
A stone a hard stone a seeing hearing stone
I am deep inside the stone.
Impenetrable, you cannot reach me.
Cold, you will not want me.
Distant, silent inside the stone.
Hard as the ground on a winters morning.
Drop me. I do not crack, my back does not snap.
No shadow is cast by the stone.
I am invisible.
Kick this stone it will make no sound.
Ice in the heart of the stone.
Rage at this stone, it will give no reaction.
No feelings in the heart of a stone.
A stone cannot bruise, a stone cannot sob –
a stone will never be hurt.
Drop a stone in the deepest of seas, and only a ripple –
only a splash – as it sinks to the bottom of the world and rests alone-
unseen – unnecessary.
A stone, a frozen stone, a watchful, careful, silent stone.
Prose on the subject of Loneliness.
Loneliness invades, often without warning.
Loneliness saturates the mind in waves-
swimming with the blood in your veins.
Loneliness creeps up in unexpected moments.
Loneliness in a crowd is a painful experience.
Loneliness hurts, loneliness haunts.
Loneliness is often impossible to describe to others.
You cannot flick a switch and turn feelings off.
Click. FLICK. Off. On.
Admitting to loneliness can bring retorts like ‘Well, get out and meet people.’ and ‘What’s stopping you?’ Insinuating that loneliness is a sign of weakness, a fault. ‘Get over it.’ As if to be lonely is to be a failure. As if to be lonely means you are tainted. As if to be lonely means you are a non-person, someone to avoid, someone who will be needy: a cling on. Some just accuse you of moaning, complaining, as if loneliness is a shallow feeling, shut up and get going. I know this, and I call myself a Moaning Minnie, berate myself for feeling lonely when other suffer so much more, but when it come the waves are like an incoming winter tide. I cannot hold back those waves. Stop!
‘I don’t care’ is wrong. It is wrong to point fingers and blame, caring can help, turning away does not. Not a good place to be with any issues with mental health.
I have had responses like ‘Ah well, you are getting older you have to expect that.’ as if that is a given? ‘ Loneliness is not just embedded in old people, a large red and blue tattoo proclaiming ‘Past it.’ And ‘Stay away.’ ‘Too old.’ Recently I was on the Campus of Christchurch Canterbury, walking in beautiful gardens. A Lecturer pointed out a recently planted Tree, a tribute to a young man studying at the University: he was a recent suicide. Depression and or loneliness, is not simply the preserve of the old, it is arbitrary in its random targets.
Young students away from home and struggling with the stress and the epidemic of suicide flooding through Colleges and Cities like a mental virus. ‘I don’t care’ is wrong. It is wrong to point fingers and blame, caring can help, turning away does not.
During the 1990s I spent some time in Cockermouth in The Lake District, setting up a Community Choir. One weekend, wandering around the Town before our session later in the day, I bumped into a local carnival. The streets were crowded. Families, friends, children’s parades, doting parents, brass bands and bonhomie. Stalls with local foods, Pubs open, the people spilling out onto the streets, cafes selling ice creams and chips, and I felt suddenly and overwhelmingly lonely. An exuberant crowd of friends, families neighbours, children and Grandparents; the lifeblood of a community.
Looking back over my mind’s shoulder, back to the area in London to where I was currently living with my Daughter Kasia, I was looking at another community that I was not a part of. I have moved too often. I had no old school friends, no extended family, no history there. Was I ever a local? Part of a community? A sense of the familiar, being familiar, belonging? PART OF?
I have lived alone for a long time now, and I love solitude? I enjoy my own company. I have plenty to do. I write I read I listen to Music. I potter and I occasionally, I perform, singing my songs. I keep the house and garden, there is no time to be bored. So what’s the problem? Some would ask, and do. Loneliness and solitude are very different. They are opposite in fact, one is peace, the other pain. Some just accuse you of complaining, tell others that ‘She is a Pain. ‘ as if loneliness is a shallow feeling, ‘shut up and put up’. Never complain, that is for other people, not outsiders. Insiders can complain, not outsiders. You are not one of them.
Loneliness isn’t a new feeling for me, I was always lonely, as a child as a young adult. My moments of Bliss have been with my children, dear beloved friends and when I am singing. When I commune with the seas, the trees, and Mother Nature. My hands in the earth.
This weekend, in the small seaside town I moved to in 2010, a big event down on the beach remembering the Great War, in what was to be a most beautiful tribute. I did not go. Once more, sad feelings crept up and tapped into my bones, seeped into my heart submerging me in a well of dark water. As I said, it can be lonely in a crowd.
I have not had a happy move. A few people have made it their business to make me feel unwelcome, in various ways: outright verbal venom spat into my face, or small acts of insidious bullying, gossip, outright untruths told, the hand up to my face, you are not welcome. I have been excluded, told I was not liked, rarely included in the many cultural events in the Town. Perhaps because of ageism? Perhaps being a DFL (Down from London?)
Of course, I have met other sorts of people, kind and friendly, but in the main, all part of the coupled world. And I have learned, that unless you know the couples, both of them and very well, do not go in, do not for instance ring up and say,
“What are you doing this weekend?’ Can I join you ?”
Being a traveller for a living can be both exhilarating and lonely. Having a childhood where I went to several schools, moved and moved, again and again, you do not build memories around the community, friendships, and shared experiences. When you do not attend a College or a University, an opportunity to make life friendships at that time in life where you are on that cusp of adolescence and adulthood, when you find the people who seem to be like you, sharing a love of music or art, a love of sport, film, finding your tribe, joining groups and societies. Travelling together.
When you age, you find the precious friends you have made, die, they leave. When you have known very little of family relationships in life, those dear friends are Family. Grief is as momentous as it is for blood relations for others. My love for those friends was as deep as if for a Father or Mother Sister or Brother. Some friends moved far, far away, to other Hemispheres, and Countries across huge oceans and vast lands.
I recently plucked up courage and went to an event. A woman sidled up to me and poured into my ear in silky tones,
‘Well, I hope by now you have learned that you need to do things for yourself in our community.’
I smiled, not immediately understanding. Although the tone was one of contempt and ridicule. Later, I thought
‘ I have been doing things for myself all of my life, I have been fending for myself out in the world since the age of 15.’
What did she mean?
This was someone who knew I had been shabbily treated by a small group with power in the Town and had asked if I would like to be involved in a couple of projects.
‘Ah, oh yes,’
‘at last, a welcome, an acceptance’.’
I sent a file with CV and some information about my work, as a performer, writer, and my Choir projects. It was never opened, never mentioned never referred to. One of many occasions that would prove to be meaningless words, promises, and plans, never to actually be. Gullible me. Never have I spent so many hours, months, years in one place where people would judge, mock, chastise and yes, bully in that way that some people do, quietly into the ear, or at you in the face, or behind your back, confusing me on the streets when you are greeted one day and blanked the next.
I’m still upright, wobbly, but upright.