• Blog

    A birthday and a re-beginning: looking back at 40

    Looking back at 40

    A few weeks ago, I was 40. I didn’t think that I would be one for much of a retrospective, but I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my life so far, and in particular the last decade. I know people always say that your thirties is the decade where you begin to discover yourself somehow, and in a way that’s true, but working through depression, burnout and subsequent therapy didn’t really feel like I was discovering anything at the time.

    I remember my 30th birthday. Taking a holiday from the cubicle where I worked and heading off to Spain to visit my dad and keeping my birthday quite low-key. I was 6 months into that cubicle job, depressed and not really knowing why. Looking back I was trying to deal with the burnout that had ended my previous retail management career, but of course in the midst of it, it was impossible to see. I just knew that I was miserable, and every day I dreaded heading to the train station to stand on the packed train full of commuters, to spend all day in an airless office, only to repeat it the next day, and the next. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of a rough 10 years of discovery. Here I am, at the end of those 10 years, definitely older, possibly a little wiser, but very much more at peace with myself. On my 40th birthday, I woke up in a tent in John O’Groats, a very different person to ten years ago. It’s been a ride, but a much-needed one.

    looking back at 40

    This looking back seems to have brought with it some clarity regarding this blog. Up to now, there have been some tentative beginnings, a lot of big thinking, but as I know now, the actual action is something I find a little more difficult. I didn’t really know what I wanted the blog to encompass, or what I wanted to say. I spoke with my therapist about how I’ve started to feel more solid in myself, a little more whole, but also like I’m at a point in my life where I’m really just beginning. I think I want to explore this, to explore who I am. Who I am now, I mean. I want to be able to look back and learn from the experiences I’ve had, the things that made me. All of it, the good and bad, the enjoyable and heart-wrenching. I want to take what I’ve learnt, those bits of me, and carry them with me as I explore this new decade. It’s a rediscovery of sorts, a journey back to self, an unpeeling.

    So that’s what I’ll write about. Rediscovery. Doing things and going places, learnings from life, the joy that nature brings me, aligning myself with the seasons. I’ve spent a lot of time not doing things, for various reasons, over my whole life, really. I spent a lot of time becoming somebody who I wasn’t, but I never really knew who I actually was, who I actually am. I think the process of discovery (or re-discovery) will be a lot of fun, and I am rather looking forward to it!

    It’s weird, I spent a lot of time looking at Instagram accounts and blogs and regretting closing down my old blog a little. I wondered what other people were writing about, and what people wanted to see. I was full of envy for those blogs and accounts full of beautiful pictures and perfect moments. I started and stopped a hundred times, and I’ll probably start and stop a hundred times more. This feels authentic, though. What can you do, but write about what you know? This blog has to be me, and this time I hope I can strip away all of those things I think I should write about, and just write about the things I want to. Hopefully they are interesting for others, too.

    So, this is me. Some words on a page, some thoughts in my mind. Time, tea and tales. All the learnings and unlearnings, the ups and downs, the ebb and flow. A new knowing, solid base, and a step forward. Here we begin.

  • Blog,  Making Things

    I’m so bad at art

    I never thought I could ‘do’ art, as much as I enjoyed it. It was something out of reach, for other people who I thought were way more creative than me. It was something I was told I had to give up at school and instead choose subjects that would help me get a ‘real job’. Now I’m tentatively giving a bit more space to that little voice that quite enjoys creating things. At forty, it feels like paying attention to a younger version of myself, rediscovering a part of me I chose to leave back in 1997, consciously leaving art behind to study another GCSE that I didn’t want to do at all. The past is the past, though. Now, it’s about the enjoyment of rediscovery. It’s newness, it’s challenge – and mostly, it’s pretty fun.

    I’m so bad at art

    I’ve told myself this my whole life. The bar is quite high in our family, full of wonderful artists, designers and generally creative people. But the act of translating what was in my head to something on paper is something I’ve always found hard, and as a result over the years I just left it behind, as something I was ‘rubbish at’. I’ve found a few things I enjoyed – pyrography, metal clay, making a bit of jewellery – but always had a huge hang up about actual ‘art’, as I defined it to myself. Because I am not instantly Rembrandt or Picasso I think I’m terrible at it. Recently, though, I’ve felt it’s time to rethink how I’ve looked at ‘art’, and looked at myself. I’m challenging myself to get over that feeling of inadequacy, and to begin to enjoy the process of art as a thing in itself, rather than beating myself up about the end result. And if I end up still feeling inadequate, then that’s ok, too. I want to enjoy the process, rather than worry about the things I’m drawing being any good.

    Redefining art

    I love the process of getting so lost in something I lose track of time. I love to have a project in my mind and to sit and work at it until it’s done, just being in that moment, not hearing, not seeing anything outside of it until my eyes are blurry and I can’t remember the last thing I ate. Much of the time, although I like the end result, it’s the process that is the reward for me – I find the same with a lot of things I do. If it’s interesting to me, the act of ‘doing’ highly outweighs the project being ‘done’. With this in mind, I figured that the ‘doing’ is going to be a big thing for me. What do I get? I get a sense of fun, of enjoyment. If I remove all the pressure to ‘draw something’ and just make colours, and textures, and crazy shapes, then that is something I want to engage in. So one evening, I tipped the contents of my long-forgotten art box over the conservatory table, and began making a mess.

    The joy of mess

    I found a load of mica and oxide powders from the time I decided to make my own eyeshadow, and some jagged shards of brass left over from the time I was really into making jewellery. I went with the flow and just poured mica onto some paper, and smudged it around with my fingers. I imagined I was painting on cave walls with earth pigment – I made dots, I dragged long lines down the page with my fingers, I smudged red into yellow into brown and watched as the colours became ingrained into my fingerprints. I made some muddy squish by dipping my fingers into water. I scattered brass pieces onto the page, and moved them around, looking at the shadows. Was this art? Yes, I told myself. This is your art – the process, the curiosity. What had I made? A huge mess, that’s what. But did I feel better afterwards? Absolutely.

    I'm so bad at art mess

    Lines and Mountains

    I took a sketchbook to Scotland recently, as we tackled the North Coast 500. The daunting blank pages, the fine liners, the local galleries brimming with stunning paintings. I wanted to make time to just sit and draw, I wanted to switch off from the hustle and bustle of thoughts in my mind. I wanted to practise, and get used to that immediate fear that grips me whenever I think about drawing a ‘thing’. It took me a few days to get the sketchbook out of my rucksack, to open my roll of pens, to sit in my little camping chair, look at a mountain, and try and translate the sloping sides to something that looked vaguely similar on the paper. It was terrifying – the stress of trying to draw something that actually existed. Letting go of the expectation and the disappointment of not being an instant master illustrator is hard, but once I got into it, again, it was the process that calmed my racing thoughts. I felt myself relax into it, looking at those huge, silent, powerful mountains, taking in sharp lines and shadows, scree and heather. Letting go of perfection, letting my pen skid around on the page, drawing and overdrawing lines, breathing slower and feeling that focus slowly take me over.

    I drew every day after that, until we came home. I made a small zine of our trip, little funny drawings of stuff that happened each day. My sketchbook now has a few mountains and lakes, some terribly out of perspective woodlands and some messed up campsite sketches where the disconnect between my eyes, brain and hands is embarrassingly apparent. The difference now is that I remember drawing those sketches. I remember the process, and I’m quite fond of the end results, weirdly skew-whiff as they are.

    I'm so bad at art

    More and more

    I think I’ll draw more. I’m enrolled on a beginners animation course currently which is challenging me to draw a lot more than I would do otherwise. It’s quite nice to have homework, something that forces me to take time to sit down and play around with art stuff, even it it’s just a felt tip or a pipe cleaner. The biggest freedom for me is that shift in focus from the result to the ‘doing’ part. It’s something that’s come up in other areas of life, but applying it to creativity has been really illuminating and quite freeing. Removing the expectation of having something amazing at the end and being inevitably disappointed has just left behind the enjoyment of creation, instead. And that enjoyment is something I’d quite like to experience more. And more, and more.

    I'm so bad at art

  • Blog

    Giving yourself permission to be

    Giving yourself permission to be

    I start most sentences with ‘now I’m 40…’ recently. It seems as though I’ve somehow shifted into a new phase of life, in this fourth decade. Although, it may just be a serendipitous coming together of a lot of things from the last few years, but the timing seems right, in a way. Has anyone else felt something similar as they get older? Like a settling into yourself, almost? Now I’m 40, I feel that… haha!

    I wanted to do a sort of ‘this is what I’ve learned’ thing, but I’m not that great at condensing things and I’m really not good at advice. So instead, here is a collection of thoughts and maybe one or two of them will resonate with someone. Or not! If you’re looking for an actual, helpful list of things, you can find that here, or watch Ethan Hawke’s TED talk on creativity here, which is pretty good. I like to read people’s thoughts and experiences and so I’m just going to ramble out some of that, instead.

     

    Letting go…

     

    In true Sal fashion, I’ve got loads of things I want to write down, but not really any idea how to start. I want to try and describe this shift into being able to choose what to hold on to, and what to let go. Although I think it’s not really a conscious process so much as a “I can’t be arsed with this any more” vibe instead! (Also, can I just interject here that the washing machine has just finished, and the glorious sunshine has immediately disappeared and now it’s raining. Humph). Anyway, I wanted to type out those things that are on their way out, in a sort of great final ‘sodding off’ list. So here they are:

     

    • Caring about being overweight: there’s a whole lot of history here which I won’t bore you with, but I imagine some people may have some similar thoughts. Safe to say, I’ve somehow become so annoyed with the whole thing that I refuse to care any more. Instead of trying to lose weight, I’m thinking about health, longevity, mental health, and sorting my duff knee out. Realising that bodies exist and change over time, and I currently exist in this one, at this time.

     

    • Thinking the only riches are monetary: I remember in my twenties absolutely wishing for just one day off a week, where I didn’t have to think about work. That wish seemed to work rather well although I seemingly forgot to ask the universe not to f* me over in the process – now I have a lot of time, but also a chronic illness and an inability to actually sustain a full time job. Hooray. Safe to say, if time was money, I’d be the next Elon (but less of the actual, y’know, Elon-ness). But if money was money (hear me out), currently I have not much at all, personally. What I’m trying to say is that there are loads of other things that are also good. (I hate that 9-5 ‘work’ is normal and love a good wallow around in the possibility of a rose-tinted utopia. But this is not the time or place! Also, big awareness that money is a thing we need in our current society, and all of the issues that come along with that, and the lack thereof).

     

    • Not doing things for myself: this is a work-in-progress, an ongoing theme in therapy, and something I regret looking back years and years. But, better late than never – I’m getting there and this is something I want to talk more about on the blog, the whole process of rediscovery – or discovery, as I’m not sure I ever knew myself properly. It’s like I’m an onion and each layer peeled back is a surprise – “Oh! I can actually do that? I’m allowed?”. Safe to say, I’ve got my first tattoo booked in, I’m learning that I can ‘be creative’, and the brighter clothes (and huger earrings) the better. I’m taking the first tentative steps, but looking forward to peeling more of those layers (without the obligatory onion crying of course). I just figure it’s so much effort to fit in and I’m just so tired, so see ya later to all of that.

     

    • Pretending I haven’t got a chronic illness or neurodiversity: I am over it. Yes, I get tired. I can’t organise myself out of a paper bag. Some days I need to just become one with a blanket. I can’t remember what I did last week, or this morning, or an hour ago, or annoyingly literally five minutes ago. But I can remember every single word to PJ and Duncan’s debut album (is that a brag? I’m thinking yes). I know that there is a paperclip in an old business card holder in the second drawer down on the third shelf in the office. My mind thinks in universes, but doesn’t know how to start a single thing. Things that are boring are impossible. I have to stop myself doing stuff when I feel fine, because if I don’t then there will be at least a 3 day waiting period before I can do anything else. Some days I’m buzzing, some days I’m buzzed out. I don’t feel bad about it any more. It kind of links into the previous point, I think. It just is, and I just am, and that is all.

     

    It’s weird that even typing that all out is a mixture of anxiety and worry about it being ‘out there’, and a relief at the same. It’s taken 40 years to kind of realise that “I can’t be arsed with it” is actually a legitimate life rule and one that I am finding copious joy in applying. I’d love to hear what you can no longer be arsed with, also.

    But, although I am loving the gradual process of letting stuff go, there are actually things I want to lean into, as well.

     

    …and holding on

     

    It’s taken a loooong time and a lot of therapy to get to the point where I am actually starting to put myself together as a person. Lots of reasons and I’m sure no one wants to hear all of that stuff, but the upshot is that I can play and wear things and believe and be good at things and take up space and be a woman and celebrate that and all the bits that come along with being a sentient being on this little planet. So, let’s find things to hold on to. Here are mine:

     

    • Doing things for physical health and mental health: I used to be very healthy, and have become less so, for a multitude of reasons. Everything is relative – there is no one size fits all. So letting go of comparison (a biggie, still a work in progress) and choosing things for health is something I am doing!  I can’t stick to a routine, so embracing the rise and fall of interest, tentatively making friends with this body, (although body positivity is beyond me – I’m more of a neutral kinda person right now, and that’s a good place for me) and doing things to keep it going for a few more years at least. No diets, no exercise plans, no rules. Just choices in the moment, and moving a little more, as I can, when I can. Owning those days when I need to do less, or do something wild, or just hide from the world, or be in the world. It’s all good.

     

    • Advocating for myself: This is frustrating, and I’ve got a lot of self-internalised bias, and slowly those walls are coming down which is a good thing. Asking for help, exercising my rights, making sure I don’t just go ‘ahh it’s ok I don’t want to be any trouble’ (as much as I want to). Not apologising for how I am, not trying to make myself small, or agreeable. Doing things I want to, taking opportunities. Owning those parts of me that usually I want to change to fit in. Being confident in my choices. Bring it on!

     

    • Embracing play: I played a lot as a kid, and that was excellent. Somehow that disappeared totally and I missed it. This new of re/discovery is a good time to re/discover playing for playing’s sake. Doodling. Drawing. Wandering. Playing music, making music, creating, singing, making NOISE! Bouncing around to a song in my head. Getting excited about things and places and ideas. Ideas! Following a train of thought and becoming so enthusiastic (and not bothering that I’ll never figure out how to start). Short-term, intense interest. Re-discovering old interests! Finding things out. CURIOSITY! More of this, much more.

     

    • Generally existing: I’ve spent my life flitting between personalities according to who I’m talking to (that rejection sensitive dysphoria got me good). Putting a name to that, and finding a reason (turns out I’m not just a crap person) has been wildly illuminating and the resulting freedom is rather enjoyable. It still happens, but I know it happens, and I can now try and figure out who, what, and why I am, at this moment in time. We all change, in time, in location, even day to day. But overarchingly, there are some constants. Existing and being able to say “yes, I believe this”, “yes I think that”, “yes I am this” and not just blindly agree with whatever the other person says to avoid any sort of criticism… it’s crazy to me! What a feeling! To exist, as a whole, as your self?! Wow. It’s blowing my mind. There’s always that tinge of sadness that it’s taken me this long to get here, but that’s ok. Everything needed to take this long.

     

    So, I’m not sure that made any sense at all, but I feel better for writing it all down, so I suppose that’s a net positive. Everything is still very much a new thing, and there are forwards steps and backwards steps, and not really an end goal, just the turning of a corner and a new kind of light hitting my eyes.  I’m curious if anyone else has felt similar. Letting go of things, moving forward with others, feeling more settled, enjoying the journey of growing older but not necessarily wiser!

    I’m all typed out now. Time for a cuppa!

    (I have just remembered that I was going to hang the washing out, back up at the top of the post! The rain has retreated over the side of the valley. I’m going to chance it. This could be a mistake). 

    (I wish I could write this many words for my university course).

    Sal x

     

    Blue sky with white fluffy clouds. Text box below reads 'mid-life identity, letting go and holding on: rediscovery'.

    Five people in silhouette, jumping in front of a late sunset. Text below reads 'mid-life identity: giving yourself permission to be'.

     

     

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