Grit and Pearls

Each morning Granny Steph, Step-Granny-Steph, would put her face ‘on’. When she kissed me it was like smudging against a powder puff and talc traces would get left on my skin. Her silken silver hair was bobbed in careful hair-roller curls. She wore angora, alpaca, pure wool and silk, buttery and snageable but un-snagged, all in pastel hues. Her low-heeled shoes were a tiny size 3 UK and the never-too-much-floral perfume she wore lived on for years after she did in the heavy draped curtains and woollen pea green carpet of her large home. Her tuned-in un-pierced ears were clasped with large pearls or lacquered shell earrings. She also collected strings of pearls in soft pinks, greys, blues and cream –  cranked from their shell beds, formed by a ceaseless grating of grit.

We didn’t visit Granny Steph and Grandpa too often. But there were occasional cocktail parties where I would carry around large snack platters, weaving between their well-heeled friends who would peer down at the offering of whipped eggs and devil on horsebacks that Tilly had prepared in the orange and olive green kitchen. Tilly who worked and lived with them for 30 years and upon granny’s insistence, addressed them only as Madam and Master. Granny was from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, though she only ever referred to it by its former name, ‘Rhodesia’. She also called the gardener “Boy” – on one of the only times I was brave enough to challenge her, I told her that David was almost as old as she and that we (white people) don’t use that term any more. She chuckled, small- smiling at my lame challenge.

There were birthday parties too when Grandpa would play the baby grand piano (until Granny told him to stop). Or Christmas when we stayed the longest to feast at the white linen table, drink flat coke, open presents under the shiny plastic Christmas tree (her gifts to us always recycled or unopened gifts she had received like old bars of lavender soaps that all smelt like the same nothingness). We would play tennis on the cracked court and swim in the kidney shaped pool until it was time to bugger off back to our slightly less privileged lives and the house that we rented from Granny Steph.

On these visits when Granny Steph met me at the door her grey blue eyes would sweep me in, an unmasked appraisal; Granny-Steph-Sums-you-up. Each time I knew I would be found wanting and throughout my time spent with her it was there, a soft quiet ceaseless grating, that became part of my anthem of ‘you-are-not-enough’.

This and her careful curation of the time and occasions when we were invited into the circle of her and grandpa’s lives spoke of her perception of our value and, on a broader level, the value of us as family. Her judgement, maintained separateness, inability to see us or acknowledge our worth had for me a resounding impact. Creating, I think, an inherited pattern of being, perhaps passed from generation to generation.

At times Not Good Enough-ness can be traced to lineage but it exists, of course, not only because of this. I make a lot of space for my Should Haves, Could Haves and Not Enoughs. I know, so many of us do. And we’re supported by a culture of scarcity, of more of more and of endless comparison (these days powerfully reinforced via social media).

Our Should Haves, Could Haves and Not Enoughs take up space at our tables, in our beds, on our desks, resting in the quiet corners of our homes. They hold our hand in between ours and our child’s. They sit on the table at family dinners. They stand on either side of us while we look in the mirror. They steal away our paint brushes, our pens, our guitars, our mixing spoons and our keyboards. Simply put; they are the fear that gets between us and our loving.

But I’m on to them and their seepage of not enough-ness. I want to campaign for their end in my lifetime as part of my work with myself. When I open the door to myself, my child and to you, I want my face to light up.* I want Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, to be written into the creases about my eyes;

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees. For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Because I am not the soft hard smooth agitated pearl.

I am the Grit.

I am the Grit, Should Haves, Could Haves.
I am the Grit, Granny Steph.

And I am coming for you.

I am Enough.


Toni Morrison  asks, “When a kid walks into a room, your child, or anybody else’s child, does your face light up?” You can watch an excerpt from her interview with Oprah Winfrey by clicking on the link. (In this clip I was delighted to see that Toni Morrison is wearing pearls and clip on earrings just like Granny Steph’s.)


Although this is about Granny Steph’s long reaching shadow I want to take this opportunity (because I may not create another) to recognise the times when she called me ‘Lambie’ and I felt the warmth in it or when she pretended not to notice that I had again raided Grandpa’s bedside chocolate stash. To give thanks for the feasts that she presented that were vast and delicious – I can still taste the caramel sweetness of crisped bacon wrapped around a soft prune as my lips and teeth pulled it off the toothpick. In some ways she was our benefactor and this made our relationship more complicated; would I have been able to grow up in a beautiful mountainside home without her as our landlord? I’m not sure. There was an intended warmth in the powdered grace with which she presented herself and in the delicious feel of her luxurious textiles. Perhaps a compensation for what I think was an inability to know how to to be generous or soft or kind. And when she died we found ourselves, after clearing and shifting a lot of shit, blessed and no longer in a rented house. Life is grey, not black and white, except maybe two things, there is fear and there is love and therein the choice.


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Finding heart

The joy of surrendering to a burnt and broken self.

“Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

I lay curled around my 5 months pregnant belly at the foot of the bed were my dad’s body lay dying. My step mum lay next to him and my sister sat in a chair at his bedside. We slept fitfully during what we sensed was his final night on earth.

I awoke with a start into heart-thumping immediate alertness with a line from the Lord’s Prayer spoken loudly from within me; “Thy Kingdom come Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” I am not a religious person, I had had only supplications for comfort in the weeks leading to this long night, I didn’t understand the words then, and I still find them beautifully ambiguous. But I do think that with those words, Grace, Spirit, Great Mystery – however you choose to know Her/Him/It – was letting me know that it was time.

I noticed the candles had burnt out. I found new ones and lit them and woke my sister and step mum. We noticed that dad’s breathing had changed again, with longer pauses, and that for the first time his hands and feet were colder, as his body put all available resources into his vital organs. I went and woke my husband, Tristan, who was sleeping in another room, “I think it’s time if you want to come…”

“He wants us to read Hanta Yo,” stated my sister. We all knew what she meant, Chapter XXV from my dad’s loved to coverless-ness dogeared copy of Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill. I remember feeling irritation. I wanted this night done, my body, heart and head ached and my pregnant belly was a taught hard drum from weariness. Our dad had been lying unconscious, after his final lucid hour of life on Saturday night, it was now around 3am on Wednesday morning. Now I am grateful she could hear his request and for the grace and beauty that unfolded as we read some of my dad’s favourite written words.

JohnNeaveCeremony_A5
My father (during his illness) at Silvermine dam. Hanta Yo: An American Saga by Ruth Beebe Hill

The four of us took turns to read and each time we stumbled or paused my dad would emit a shouting gasp to encourage us on. My step mum read the last paragraph, it took her the longest, perhaps she intuited that this was our final goodbye. And upon the full stop of the last line, ‘I am Ahbleza. I own the earth.’, he died. His final gasp, was to me, a rapturous sound, a sound you make when you are surprised by someone known to you. And in that fraction of a second gasp I got to witness that to die is a joy so complete.

There was so much grace. But I know, my darlings, that to live is mess. After his dying all we were left with was mess in a pool of grace. We were left here (sometimes it’s there) with all our broken-ness, all our sorrow, all our anger. And with this we had to weave threads even though the spool was almost too hot to touch. Left scorched, in a landscape of smoking ash dotted with silhouettes of things we thought we once knew for sure.

A few weeks ago my husband, son and I visited the Cederberg with friends. As we were driving the dirt road I thought of how dad cherished this landscape. I keep his ashes in a Shweshwe pouch in the glovebox of our bakkie. He loved driving, he loved Isuzus and he gets to come with us wherever we travel – it seems like the only place to house them. I took a small handful of ash and bits of bone from the purse and with joyful irreverence flung them to the side of the road to mingle with the dust our bakkie trailed and as I did I heard him cry ‘Yipppppeeeeee’. (I have quite a bit of ashes still and that allows me more irreverence, but this is certainly the first time I have thrown them from a moving car). Shortly after we rounded the corner I was smacked with the sight of another burnt mountain. The Wolfberg, though not too recently burnt, was laid very bare, all shorn, ochre and grey.

IMG_9139
Wolfberg, Cederberg, Western Cape, South Africa

But there amongst her burntness was a green heart. You see beneath a large white leaning stone is a small spring, from which Tristan and I have thirstily drunk despite the flotsam of dassie droppings. And so as she bleeds life into the scorched kliphard landscape about her a small green oasis has risen. Without the fire you would not know this spring, you would not know this green, you would not know the cracks and contours of the Wolfberg that are now laid bare to you.

I am grateful for being broken open by death, and deeply in-gratitude to my dad for sharing the grace of his dying and what a joy the moment of death is to the dying. And for the fire burning through all that once was after which seeds were dispersed and awoken, fire lilies blossomed and the mountain’s green heart was revealed. With this broken heart and less knowing mind I have never loved myself, the world or other beings more.

I believe if you can surrender and flow like the river or just trickle like the dassie-dropping-clogged-spring the gift of death is absolutely rebirth.

And so I heartily welcome in the death of this year and surrender to the arrival of another. Much love Lauriane

 

 

Dear Idealism and Dogma

“The things that make you unique, that make you you, are also the things that, unchecked, will ruin you.” – Shauna Niequest from Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Conversations Podcasts

When I heard this I had what Oprah calls an ‘Aha Moment’ (I cringe each time I hear Oprah say this, but it is a simple way of saying – Your soul pinched your half-asleep human self awake and got it to take notes). Replaying this part of their conversation over and over, I asked: ‘What makes me me, and is it applying itself overzealously?’

This by the way is a really nice way of asking yourself ‘What makes you f@*#ked up?’. Always a useful question, helping me unpack the strangulation of perfectionism. And to really HEAR when a friend said, “Your ideals will slowly kill you.” She was kindly speaking about herself but blessedly I banged my head into her words as they hung in the sweet mountain air and their resonance was gong-loud. We laughed loud and hard because we do that sometimes, instead of weeping.

One of the things that makes me me is my deep love of research and information. And if you give me the data in a soulful digestible way and I am interested I will ingest it and apply it to my life like a mofo. Whether it is about beekeeping, parenting or being human full stop. I cherish new ways of thinking about old ways of doing and will do old things in new ways of thinking. Joining every single FB group, podcast, Soundcloud stream, signing up for the emails, reading every book, and following every author that ever existed on that new way of thinking on old ways of doing. Immersing myself until I am saturated. A love affair.

At best this process of ingesting and applying makes me an informed, caring, forward thinking and thoughtfully doing human being. At worst it makes me a dogmatic, critical maniac.

Birthing ideals that easily slip into a unique blend of dogma. Of which I am at greatest risk when I care a lot,  when things are uncertain, and when I am feeling vulnerable. These days that feels like 90% 85% of the time. Dogma Mania has me analytically picking at every aspect of my life and the world around me. Endlessly highlighting shortcomings in migraine neon pink. Leading to tunnel vision, a lack of expansiveness, strangling perfectionism and a fear of engaging otherness / others.

One of the jobs our faithful dog, Sophie, takes most seriously is tidying up food mess. With her Weimaraner snout she is a natural and with a toddler her services are deeply appreciated. Occasionally however she applies herself with too much zeal and gets things that aren’t asking to be got. The incident of a friend’s 3 year old son’s croissant comes to mind… When we notice her locked gaze, her tunnel-vision-intent, we know it’s time to redirect and firmly ask her to go to her bed.

And so to dear idealism I say, ‘Thank you, thank you’ and in the same breath I say, “Dogma – On your bed!”

A recipe for invulnerability (yeah right!)

the so-hard-to-bear-uncertainty of being human

Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.” 

This deepening of vulnerability is one of the hardest things for me to cope with in being a mother, a parent. In the so-hard-to-bare-uncertainty of being human on a planet whose climate is changing; in a world rapidly shifting into new ways of doing; in a country without leadership beset with violence; in a city of dichotomy; in a neighbourhood of inequality, in a valley whose mountains burn; in a home with wobbly corners, in an un-nuclear family recently pruned of its elders; in this ever-changing body. To bring a child, a tiny human being, into this, into that seems the greatest folly. And yet there he is, growing still, a miraculous thing, defying a sea of uncertainty from the nano-second of his conception.

To ‘manage’ the expanding vulnerability of my heart I created a recipe. A Do Life and Parenting Perfectly recipe. I read / signed up for / followed  / subscribed / purchased everything that crossed my path on how to be a most-perfect-parent / human-being. Consciously and carefully holding and responding to my baby I tried to baby-proof my Life. Rounded off sharp corners, blocked exposed sockets and eliminated all emotional, physical and spiritual toxins. My dad died of cancer – I wanted every VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and Non-Organic out of my body, mind and home. I continually questioned myself and always felt I was coming up short.

Insert Truth: I’ve written this in past tense but it still applies today. I am in recovery.

I am finding that the recipe quickly ferments into Kool-Aid. And if continually ingested will likely kill me and possibly those I love. Including appliances, pot plants and pets (this can be taken as a-canary-in-the-coal-mine-first-sign).

Below are some of the side-effects (other than death) of using my invulnerability recipe.

Disconnection.
My Armour of Perfection generates painful disconnection. As I try my damnedest to be Perfect, and find yet again that it is impossible, I develop an insecure need for ‘rightness’. My inner and outer critical maniac works overtime. I push away the otherness of others, because if it does not look like me it is not safe. And disconnection deepens.

Boring Smallness
My baby-proofing makes life very small and very boring. It is a wonder I can leave the house. What percentage of the world has rounded off corners, unexposed sockets, is free of emotional, physical and spiritual toxins, VOCs and Non-Organics and operates the way I think it should? A very very tiny corner – maybe only our organic mattress floor bed.

Anxiety
With a capital A. My continual questioning breeds constant anxiety. It’s really hard to be fully present and I usually need a crutch or two.

So my Kool-Aid recipe makes me bored, small, anxious and disconnected. All the things I really don’t want to be or our miraculous-sea-of-uncertainty-defying-still-growing-small human to be. I am trying to wean myself off the brittle false security of my recipe. I want to live more peacefully and bravely alongside and within the barely bearable uncertainty of parenting and being human, and I want that for our small human too. My strength could lie in breathing into this uncertain pursuit.

 

 

What if we never arrive?

following and never arriving at your own North Star

reaching

Are you also searching for the arrival lounge?

Today my arrival lounge dream looks like a well rested, moisturized, calm mother with clean hair whose facial muscles aren’t twitching, and who has a weeks worth of meals labeled Monday to Sunday. So most likely my arrival lounge looks different from yours, and it can change on any given day. In summary it is a place of harmony, love and self-acceptance. There is creative mastery, personal success, recognition, financial independence, and these days content-independently-playing-well-fed-sleeping-through-the-night children. It is always beautifully decorated and lately there is perfectly crafted childsized furniture and finally that wooden play kitchen with working sink that I have been searching for. In fact it looks a lot like My-Dreams-Realised IKEA. Importantly it is a place where I can finally, after all my journeying and searching, put my bags down and rest.

Now can someone
please
point me
in the direction
of the fucking arrival lounge?
Seriously, who is running this show?!

Fairly recently I put the above question down and a new question presented itself in sort-of-fluorescent-flashing-lightbulb writing; What if this arrival lounge, the one with soft lighting and furnishings and mountain spring water, does not exist? 

For several years now I have enjoyed the idea that I am following my own North Star. However I didn’t think that I would never actually arrive at my North Star. How did I miss this? It now seems so metaphorically obvious, never mind speaking volumes of my grasp of basic physics.

So if there is no arrival lounge and life is only transitory (see how I just slipped that in there). All we must get is the transit lounge. In the functionally set up, sparsely furnished, transit lounge you might have a chance to have a quick pee, grab a snack and a sip of chlorinated tap water, rub your face and then it is onwards.

In the moments when I accept that I only get the transit lounge and that I and nothing ever arrives in a state of completion, I feel more spacious. It’s as if I a get a permission slip to be and do with a little less fear. And yes, things can be a little imperfect. And when things get hard, its only the transit lounge, This too shall pass. 

I get to rest too. There’s no plush furnishings to absorb my angst but, Here, Now, for a moment, I put my bags down and take a sip of that chlorinated water…
Right, onwards.

imperfect gifts

Sharing the imperfect gift.

When I was 17 I started an embroidery project on a large 1m by 2m bordered piece of black fabric that my mother had gifted me along with a basket of threads, fabric scraps and needles. I started real safe and tiny in one corner and then gradually got a bit bolder, creating a few different scenes as they came to me, a King reaching for the moon; a mermaid on a rock; a phoenix taking flight. 15 years later, at 32, I was still ‘working on it’ and it was still mostly ‘incomplete’.

Aside from the first honeymoon year of our 15 year courtship whenever I looked at it I felt a rising sense of panic and failure, it felt like a stifled scream. Parts of it were beautiful and parts of it were mediocre and I couldn’t get the parts to talk to each other. After initial feelings of panic and self loathing a powerful paralysing sense of overwhelm would settle along with a bone weariness. And so I would fold it up and put it back in its gold plastic bag, returning it to its latest cupboard (it has seen many).

During its life it has travelled and lived with me  in South Africa, New Zealand and Cyprus, it has visited Israel, and accompanied me on countless trips up the West and East Coast of South Africa. Its latest adventure was a road trip to the Kalagadi. A faithful shadow. In most of these places it has remained packed away; untouched, undone, unresolved and increasingly unloveable. Interestingly the times I have worked on it the most were times of angst; beginning with the immensely lonesome confusing times of my teens, then at the protracted parting of a sweet love affair and most recently whilst waiting for my baby to be born and my dad to die.

A few months ago I cut that fucker up.
Well no – not all of it. After such a long angst ridden courtship you’ll have to induge me an image of the angry artist but it isn’t true. In contrast I lovingly and carefully cut up the separate stories and then put the pieces back in their gold plastic bag and returned it to the cupboard.

A few weeks ago my sister turned 40 and I knew what I wanted to give her. I dug the pieces of my faithful shadow out of the cupboard and carefully pieced a story together. The story of the mermaid on the rock, a bird in the hand and a bird on the wing, a water phoenix rising above a swirling netted sea with fish and coral. And the mermaid has fabulous fake titties. I glued on some more sequins and little roses made during the honeymoon phase of my teenage years. Then I got the tailors at our local mall to do the border and mend the pieces together.

I gave it to my sister with a long-winded disclaimer of how she must return it if she doesn’t like it and that I would understand if it doesn’t fit in with her decor and I wont take it personally, blah, blah, blah (read; scared, scared, scared). I was giving away a child of my creative heart – it was fucking terrifying. My sister did the best thing that anyone can do in that situation – she wept. She said all the right things and my heart filled to bursting. I got lucky.

I chopped up my precious closeted fabric shadow and now part of my tapestry, the part that I made while waiting for Luca to come into the world and our dad to leave the world, has a home. To date it is the best thing (other than my son) that I have made.

To me now the most important thing I can do feels like truthfully sharing and connecting with my whole heart as much as possible. And I don’t get to do that if I allow fear to take the wheel. I don’t get to do that if there’s no space for vunerability. I don’t get to do that if I choke my spirit with perfectionism. In this time of personal curation of our projected image it feels like every aspect of our lives needs to look a certain way before it can be shared with the world. And I get it, I wanted it too, sometimes, a few times a day, I still want it. But when I am in this place I just stay there like a rabbit in the headlights. It is a waiting place and to borrow from Dr Seuss the waiting place, it is a most useless place’* 

So now done has to be good enough. Now I ask myself just to Show up. And I just want to Own it. Even if part of it is glued together and somebody else sewed the border for me. Because if I don’t get it imperfectly done I don’t get to gift it. I don’t get to share and connect and shift. And without sharing, connecting and shifting I don’t know if I can be truly alive. God bless the imperfect gift.

*Oh, The places you’ll go! by Dr Seuss