Conservation and change in Nidderdale

Here’s the full text of an opinion piece I’ve drafted for the Friends of Nidderdale AONB newsletter – where it did end up, albeit in edited down form. I thought I might as well archive it here. It was a bit of a spontaneous rant inspired by the paradoxical nature of the word ‘conservation’. Continue reading “Conservation and change in Nidderdale”

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Feminism, subjecthood and the right to desire

As an undergraduate in history of art at Cambridge, I remember struggling with the ‘feminist theory’ class. I found it hard to stomach what was being taught, which (it seemed) was concretely the rejection of all art which treated the female body as desirable. ‘Feminist’ art as it was presented to us seemed to embody anger and hate. Continue reading “Feminism, subjecthood and the right to desire”

Just like two women

Francis Cabrel is one of my favourite singer-songwriters, coming from the region of France where I lived for ten years. I learnt much of my French from his songs, as he writes with a great deal of intelligence and poetic sensibility and love for language and music – in the best tradition of la Chanson Francaise but also set apart from it.

His new album, however, has raised some questions and for me it’s an opportunity to think about translation a little. Continue reading “Just like two women”

All we like sheep

Although it’s poor style to start with an ‘incidentally’… It was odd when I googled the above phrase to discover (having sung it as part of the Messiah but somehow omitted to properly pay attention) that the sheep are not those who blindly follow, but those who dissent (in Isiah, they are those who wander or stray and who need a shepherd to bring them back to the correct path). It’s interesting because the cultural meme of a sheep corresponds, surely, more to the religious devotee than to the atheist. I’d forgotten that the bible verse gives the sheep the opportunity to make its own path. Continue reading “All we like sheep”

Some folks’ lives

One of my favourite Paul Simon songs is “Some folks’ lives” and I was reminded of it today meeting some other Harrogate Gingerbread mums and sharing stories. Here are the lyrics; have a listen:

It’s a song that, to me, now, poses an implicit challenge. Will we catch our star? Where do you turn when you’re at rock bottom?

And does stumbling always mean you fall? It’s the challenge to be one of those who stumbles but who doesn’t fall; to be a person who picks him or herself up and tries again, the star still in reach.

Maybe some folks’ lives do roll easy. Most, however, have been touched by loss, trauma, and darkness in life.

Many single parents have experienced very extreme situations in our personal lives and we are still negotiating them (and I’m increasingly realising that we are more numerous than it would seem on the surface). For us, a life that rolls easy is a distant dream from childhood. It’s a lost innocence. We feel there’s a small, dark sense in which we’ve grown up, and we can never go back.

For those of us who have been through nightmarish times, the only way to survive them is to plant our feet and claim back normality for ourselves and our children; to refuse to be beaten and to succumb to the darkness; and to take little steps to protect ourselves and make sure that we are surviving. We WILL be happy, and we won’t hear a suggestion otherwise.

Every separation, every heartbreak and relationship trauma is acutely painful in its own way and has its own idiosyncratic horror built in; on whatever scale that horror plays out. Sometimes the most spectacular endings are the easiest to deal with. Amicable relationships can result from horrible crises, and nasty fallout can result from apparently calm separations. Sometimes angry, passionate breakups might be easier than silent, private, empty tragedies: and vice versa. There are very few stories that resemble each other, and all of us have different feelings about our exes, and different wishes for the future.

All our lives are playing out at different speeds, and we’re all on different stages. There are the first weeks into single parenthood, the adrenaline-fuelled pangs, anguish of separation and battles for visitation; the philosophical 8 months in, where the immediate fog has lifted and you can enjoy a little perspective; the optimistic 16 months in, where life has settled, the urgent loneliness has faded, and the horizon forward looks clearer; and people four years down the line whose lives are reshaping and resettling gradually into new forms. Then there are people trapped in stagnant situations and for whom time doesn’t seem to effect change. Those of us who are just beginning to emerge from the darkness wish we could help them in some way.

We’ve all been at the lowest points where we don’t know where to look for help. And maybe help is there, in the shape of family, friends, or perhaps a faith that helps us feel stronger. But in the end, we have to rely on ourselves to grow a strength from inside: it’s the only way. We’ll deal with the ex, we’ll deal with the divorce, we’ll deal with being short of money, we’ll deal with the house, we’ll deal with the children’s tantrums and potty training and childcare, we’ll deal with the arguments and the tears and the fun things and the tiring things, we’ll deal with learning to live again, learning to love again, and finding a new place in life on our own.

Because no matter what we end up doing or who we end up living with, we’ll always be single parents. That inevitably defines us, right from the moment our innocent hope of making our ideal family broke apart, and until our children are adults and beyond. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There’s something liberating and strengthening about learning to negotiate life on your own terms and drawing up your own rules.

Now that we’ve been through what we’ve been through, life can roll however it wants; we’re ready; we may stumble but we’ll get up again; and some day, we’ll catch our star.

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