The Happy Cartographer 1992

With a little bit of ’91 back story in which I definitely underplay how stressed I was, not so much lying to myself as determined to make it all okay. The effort is a bit too much, and after a year I do get miserable, and then I dislike my miserable self, and I dislike the self-loathing too. But it’s a learning curve, and it helps me understand the pile up of negative feelings that other people suffer. All the best artists have empathy.

‘November 1991

Daughter very ill with virus all week, so I am sitting in the college launderette cleaning sheets and missing lectures. My girl is more important. I did also spend a whole afternoon in Leeds looking for a Christmas Ball outfit. Depressed at myself for wasting time.

January 1992
The virus has turned into a lactose intolerance so my daughter is on a special diet and putting some weight back on but we have to go for more tests (sweat on Tuesday, apparently.) I’m behind in my work and feel I’ve got a mountain or two to climb. Not that worried, I’ll either do it or I won’t, in which case I’ll just walk around the mountains and forge a different path.
Feel very tired but my girl has been brilliant.

My daughter this week:
Rolling on the floor in a college hall-
“What’s wrong dear?” I ask
“A cow is eating my leg,” she tells me.
Shredding tampax and rolling on the kitchen floor-
“What are you doing dear?”
“Swimming, Mummy, with the fishes.”

February 1992
It’s a very fresh spring morning. The sky is glacier blue and just as cold. We had no heating card, the only heat in the house comes from the oven; so I’ve just baked bread, which we ate warm; or the kettle; so there’s cups of coffee to unfreeze fingers; and we have some sunlight which is a good illusion for warmth. And a postcard of Castle Beach in summer. 

November 1992
My journal has been packed away for months. Now we live at number 12, nine of us. We are quite squashed. I don’t have anywhere proper of my own to work. Money is the greatest worry, Access Fund hasn’t worked out. I have to um and ah before catching a bus or buying lunch never mind buying books or interesting travel. It’s frustrating. Time is tight as well, I want to do more writing but I get too tired, my eyes stop focussing.
This term has been fraught. I’m not as happy as usual, nor is my daughter. It’s a strain trying to keep her quiet in the mornings. Perhaps we made a mistake living here but there are advantages too.
I’m afraid of not coping. If I’m sensible I can see that I’m just going through an awkward time. My daughter loves nursery, has brilliant fun playing with everyone.
I’m feeling faded and old, ugly and uninteresting, useless and lost. I hate feeling this way, hate being ill, don’t get the point of it, it’s a waste of time. I try to jolly myself, change my clothes, do something about it, then it all goes flat again. I think it’s caused by a lack of control: I’ve got no space of my own, can’t afford to please myself, can’t stop being worried. After teaching practice there’ll be more time to concentrate on my own writing and drawing. I’m much more committed to making something of my creative work, which makes circumstances all the more frustrating. I get angry enough to run away and start again, live somewhere without any social contact: in a beach hut with a desk, a drawing board and a bed. I could work all day or night, lie on the beach and hear nothing but waves, never look at my reflection.

6th November 1992
Life is a little happier now. My student loan has arrived so we can afford Christmas. Went shopping for some presents in Granary Wharf, my daughter got her face painted like a cat and we all had fun and popcorn. Much more settled and relaxed, life has a pattern again.’

The virus brought dysentery levels of sickness and diarrea, even water wouldn’t stay down. I was trying to give my daughter high sugar snacks and milk, so some energy would keep her little body going. She was painfully thin and her belly swollen, and after six weeks of the doctor saying it will just sort itself out, frantic mum took the vomiting child on the bus to casualty. I was shaking with fear and the effort of not crying. The very first nurse we saw said, ‘that looks like a food intolerance of some sort to me, which can happen after a virus.’ She was right. I have a deep respect for the wisdom of nurses. I told my doctor he was an idiot, I made an appointment just so I could tell him off. Also, looking back, I think it was acceptable to be stressed by this experience. I got a dress from a charity shop in Wakefield, a silver one, the remains of which are still in the dressing up box, but my afternoon traipsing around Leeds was more about needing some time out. If I’d realised that, I would have gone for a walk along the canal instead, and come home refreshed.
By February I am back to treating poverty as a challenge to my imagination. Being poor has been a real bonus in that respect, I don’t think a comfortable life would have pushed my thinking hard enough.

And then there’s November 1992, a very important month. No reflection on my housemates, many of whom are still (brave people) my lovely friends, but the stress piled up and I did crumble in a bit of a pathetic heap. Homelessness was looming, college work piling up, I have no idea how I got washing done, my daughter was on a lactose free diet and any slip ups meant she was horribly sick, I had to get her to nursery which was 10 miles in one direction, and then get to my teaching practice, 10 miles in the other direction, reliant on the whimsy of public transport. Little wonder I kept getting poorly and overrun by negative thoughts, I was massively overtired. I needed to be put in the beach hut to recover. But! At the bottom of the abyss, we find the voice of salvation (a Joseph Campbell quote.) It was finding myself in this metaphorical ditch that started me thinking, how do you climb out?
I have a dragonfly tattoo on my left shoulder, which is a symbol of transformation, I had it done when I knew everything because I was 17 and I chose the Emperor Dragonfly as a positive emblem, something to encourage me to always be capable of transforming.  If you want to change, it is possible, but it will take effort. When you are exhausted, effort is a ridiculous thing to ask of yourself. It is so much easier to give in, to let circumstances run you down.
The very first habit to cultivate is to take responsibility for your self.
It was my fault I was tired, it was my fault I had no money. It was my fault I was whinging about it. Harsh to own up to, but the plan is to make yourself better, not beat yourself up.
All of my diaries, the organisational type not the journals, are full of lists. I made a note of what needed doing and how and when it was going to get done, including some rest time. It was a simple enough practical step. I recognised that some things would be late, and some things would not be done at all. I prioritised and everyday checked off what was done, rescheduled what wasn’t done. This is how I started to feel like I was in control of my own reaction, no matter how awkward life was. I don’t remember if I had come across Victor Frankl at that time, I was certainly trying to get inspirational reading done as part of my life education. (If you haven’t heard of him, Victor Frankl was a Jewish prisoner in a concentration camp, and he decided that the best way to not let the bad guys win was to not let them control his inner life. Put him on your reading list!)
It is funny how quickly we move from gloom to popcorn…
I should like to add that affording Christmas was more about the train fare back to visit family than the presents (I guarantee you they were mere cheap happy trinkets) and that it is the effort of putting myself back in charge that makes the difference, there wouldn’t be a loan coming in if I hadn’t scheduled the application!


Kwickix said…
This is a brilliant insight into the early life of a brilliant person, who WILL get recognition
Lisa Southard said…
Thanks Mr, even though you are a bit biased :-)

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