International Women’s Day…

quoteI’m not ashamed to admit I’ve taken a few drugs in my time. (The good thing about getting to this young age is I’m not afraid to admit to anything anymore as my Give a Fuck battery is running as low as my ovaries).

My early twenties were spent in London, weekdays pretending to know what I was doing in a serious of proper grown up post-university jobs, my weekends spent reverting to the comfort zone of being an irresponsible young person, going to parties, clubs and gigs.  Drugs were almost de rigour in 1990’s London… coke for parties, E’s for clubbing and various other chemicals for everything in between.

Then I grew up a bit (I really think adulthood should only officially start about 29) and the chaotic chemicals of parenting took over, condensing the cascading highs and lows derived from love endorphins and sleeplessness.

Now I live in a drug-free, but high and low world of hormonal changes as me and my daughter – her at the beginning of her reproductive years, and me at the end of mine – dance with our oestrogen levels like clubbers at a rave.    

As she prepares for her periods, I wish to fuck mine would just leave me a Dear John letter and get the bus. Peri-Menopause is like a Long Goodbye… just leave already!  “Goodbye eggs. Loved having you.  Sorry (not sorry) to see you go.”

I don’t need to take drugs anymore to affect my mood…. my body is doing just fine having a chemical meltdown all of it’s own.

The hormone havoc that is being played out in my female fury-ed house (I’m a single mum with three daughters – yes, welcome to the Horror House of Hormones) is like some sort of geostorm.  Bright sunshine one moment, lashing rain the next, thunderstorms at any time. I feel genuinely sorry for the younger two children who can be seen navigating the house by holding closely to the walls, unsure where the next rage will come from – their mother or their sister. 

But I rather like it. I like the feelings surging through me, the happiness so giddy, the anger so intense, they can’t be silenced.   I break into song and dance without warning, leaving the dog a shuddering wreck of nerves. Equally I can explode so fast, there is no time for a three minute warning for the kids to take cover.

I got so irritated by the hoover the other day, I just fecked the whole thing into the back garden, where still it lies, and will do until it apologises. And I will admit to feeling no shame.  It feels good to be angry.  It feels good to not hold back.  It feels good to be able to not give a fuck about crap like that, while giving a fuck about so much more important stuff.

Today is International Women’s Day… a day to recognise the power and beauty of the feminine and female.   I sat last night with a group of my women friends (under the pretext of talking about a book, but really we gather like a tribe at a watering hole, to talk about our lives, to laugh, to swill Gin and share ourselves).   Conversation went from the snow, to the book, to decor, and perhaps inevitably, to sexual assault. Because that’s were we are today. Thankfully.  As we went around the room and each told our stories, we realised how much we go through that we still don’t talk about.

In my mum’s day, body parts weren’t mentioned to such a degree that Breast cancer was whispered. I’m not sure I ever said the word Vagina out loud until I was in my 20’s. How glorious I felt  the other day when my seven year old (who went though the Vagina phase last year, and said it at every conceivable – and a few inconceivable – opportunity) asked what an anus was (she had heard it in Captain Underpants). When I told her, she was so delighted with her new word, she hasn’t stopped singing Your Anus!).  So we have made progress. But still not enough.

I look at my daughters on the cusp of their sexual, sensual, intellectual and emotional evolutions into young women, and I want them to know words, own words, and say whatever words they need to, without fear of being dismissed, demeaned or considered demented.    Be happy, be sad, be angry, be ambitious – be whatever they want to be.

I want to be careful that as we mark this day we don’t actually use it to talk about men. We don’t actually talk about the negatives of being a woman, and the vital fights that are still ongoing and necessary.  Today, as I chat to my girls at dinner time tonight, I want to talk about their potential, their dreams and aspirations and to talk about the amazing women we are seeing living feminism every day by being the best they can be. Isn’t that all we want?  The chance, the freedom, and the right to be the best we can be?

As we also mark the centenary of the Suffragettes, I want to focus on the potential rather than the position of women. As the early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft (most famous for writing A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792), said “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”   That.

But it was her daughter Mary Shelly (author of Frankenstein) who sums up where rage, not giving a fuck, #MeToo etc all lead to – “Beware: for I am fearless and therefore, powerful.”

Happy International Women’s Day.

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Times are a changin’ but they always were and always will.

 

qiote

As another year draws to a close, I will not be making any resolutions. I ‘should’ give up Gin, Facebook and Dorritos but my resolution last year was to give up the word ‘should’ so I’m sticking to that.

Actually I’m avoiding FB and Twitter as I’m overloaded with the whole World is Woe monologues that are currently on trend. That, and the happy Xmas shots with lots of false-fixed grins.

The world has turned upside down this year, but the world keeps turning all the same: the terrible predictabilities of Trump, Weinstein, and others; the ongoing balls up of Brexit; the lack of any decent support for people who don’t fit into the nice framework of normal people on Instagram – the refugees, the homeless, the shy.  Some things change, and some things stay the same…the thing is to keep moving.

I grew up in 1970’s and 80’s Belfast.  Every shopping trip involved a physical bag and body search (in every shop) and walking past soldiers with guns in tanks. Yes, that’s tanks. At the top of Great Victoria Street, the Belfast equivalent to Grafton Street.   Before heading into town, my mum and I would casually go over the plans in case there was the usual bomb scare and we got separated, as easily as we ran through the shopping list.  It was completely normal.  Yet look at the change.  I spent a weekend with a pal in Belfast as a tourist earlier this year, and the only shots going on where in the vibrant bars around me.

It used to take me four and a half hours to drive from Dublin to my parent’s house in Belfast, now it takes two. As a child, we used to be stopped at the border on our way to holiday in ‘The South’, searching flashlights waving over me in the back seat, checking I wasn’t a bomb; the boot opened, our holiday packing exposed for all to see; a soldier’s slap on the car roof letting us know we were ok to drive on.  Yet look at the change.  Now when I drive up the M1 and ‘cross into’ Northern Ireland, all I see are the trees and hills of the Cooley Mountains, beauty replacing the beast.

Change is happening all around. The #MeToo exposure is now as normal as bomb scare plans used to be. A year ago that would have been unthinkable. It’s taken a seismic Weinstein-shaped shift to awaken half our community to the fact that the other half have lived under pressure and fear as a normal part of life. Change is happening, some of it good and some of it bad.  But for the world to keep turning, a lot more has to change too.

I want my girls to grow up and not be groped by men who think it’s ok. I want their first kiss to be with an awkward, spotty boy who doesn’t know what he’s doing, rather than a middle aged man who has leered at her since she started her first Saturday job and then corners her one day, like mine was. I want change.

And while we’re at it, changing things for our daughters, I do not want their bodies to be used as forced incubators because this country doesn’t recognise the right for women to be able to choose their own reproductive experiences. I want change.

And some changes are more like natural progressions, transgressions of ageing and growing, but still needing to be embraced.

Once I was held hostage by screaming babies. Now they are pre-teens with full teen potential, they are holding me hostage in another way.  They are taking over my lounge… hogging the fire and watching crap TV when I want to keep them to that glorious bed-time routine of 7pm so I can indulge in great TV and drink Gin. The other night I left them to it, and went to bed with my laptop to watch Netflix with my electric blanket.   

I need to figure out the transition between a decade of parenting young children who have a strict and rigid bedtimes and who actually listen to me, and where there is a clear delineation between their time and my time, and now wanting to go to bed before my eldest has finished watching I’m a Celebrity.  I need to figure out how to carve out my space, and let them carve out theirs, without having too much distance with them.  For years, when I was married, I craved after Virginia Woolf’s Room of my Own to write. I have that now, although now I have growing kids, I need a Room of My Own to write, watch telly and think in peace!  So I did a Trump and built a wall. Only a small one, and Mexicans are welcome, but now they have a room and I have a room.  Sometimes change is necessary.  But building walls of any other sort are not the answer to change.

After years of hostility and pain, we were all finally able to enjoy a family Christmas in our new fractured family form (albeit it with me fortified on proscecco).  It was hard not to compare with the Christmases of old, but they had their problems too. My mum was present in her absence but she was there all the same.  No-one says change is easy.

This year has seen change for me personally too… amazing changes, painful changes, empowering changes.  I’ve got to the stage in my life where my balls are bigger than my breasts, and I feel that whatever winds of changes the next year brings, I’m hope I can embrace them, make them, strive for them, overcome them.

Way back when change was seen as a normal part of life Socrates said it best:  “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

I made a decision to live my life, and for better or worse, that means engaging. Sometimes there will be joy, and sometimes I will get hurt, but least I’m living, not retreating. As a recovering perfectionist, I have freed myself of boxing my life into bullet points and frames.

We spend so much of our lives trying to tick boxes until we arrive at The Day when we have it all worked out.  That day ain’t never coming.  Which is a great thing. Happiness isn’t a destination, its a state of mind. It comes and goes, and that’s ok. Life’s for living, and like all those stupid memes that tell us we deserve love and happiness I know that nothing actually happens for a reason… things just happen. And then you deal with them.  You survive change and you make change. Or you drift. That’s it.  Happy new year.

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When girls should be girls.

lipstickWarning: this post contains expletives, feminism, anger and lipstick.

I originally began to write this blogpost a week ago as a sashay through sexism to explore how my girls can be the people they want to be, regardless of their gender, personality or politics; why they should be able to be feminist, feminine, angry, caring, defiant, ambitious or just downright moody, if they want, without succumbing to, or grating against stereotypical pigeon-holing.   We had just come back from two glorious Swallows & Amazon-esque weeks in the wilds of Donegal where, isolated from TV, wifi, and city-pressures, we all became pure versions of ourselves – a little unwashed, a little un-hinged and more than a little sunburnt (who thinks about suncream in Donegal???).

It was going to be mildly amusing, terribly trendy and a little aspirational on my part as I reminisced, misty-eyed, about the joys of single parenting holidays with no technology whilst conveniently forgetting the horrors of single parenting holidays with no technology. The only reminder of that being the two empty Gin bottles I surreptitiously threw into the glass recycling on the drive home. 

Then something happened which took me on a 5* Cruise tour of the far-flung emotional destinations of despair, horror, fear, revulsion, humour, anger and pride, and what was meant to be a funny look at the glorious aspects of being female, might possibly turn into a tirade of tyrannical outing.

You’ve been warned.

So last Thursday I had a feature published in a UK national paper on how mid-aged women were finding it hard to find suitable men, because men still believed they should date younger women, but mid-aged women no longer wanted to date older men.  We women, on the whole, are ageing better than our male counterparts and prefer men our own age and younger (I speak to hundreds of women as part of my book research and a weekly column I write on mid-aged dating).  So I profiled five fabulous women in their late forties, and early fifties.  I had the audacity to call them sexy, sassy, and successful.  They, like me and many women I know, are single, independent and investing in our fitness, wellness and looks, and find a dearth of matching men in our own age group.  At this age, we are not that interested in much older men who perhaps don’t make that same investment. Apparently this outrageous outburst by mere woman woke the sleeping dragon of angry little men who marched out of their caves of criticism, brandishing their clubs and vile vitriol. Over the next 48 hours, I was subjected to quite the barrage of misogynist assaults.  I was called a cunt, a man-hater, a slag, a fucking feminist (I assume this was meant to be an insult) and even had one particular little angry white man make a 24 minute video (yes, that’s minutes, not seconds) on me and my article in which he laughingly asked is it any wonder an old slag like me is single – what man wants a woman who can no longer breed.

In the piece I spoke to an educational psychologist (more of this in a moment) who told me there are 7 mid-aged women on dating sites for every man.   As if that wasn’t depressing enough, I have a tirade of abuse making sure I don’t stick my head too far out of the kitchen confirming that yes, at 47, I am too old for most decent men and called a man-hater by angry little men who are afraid of anyone who might want to just be an equal.

On the behavioural psychologist, he actually went on a ridiculous rant about ‘when’ men allowed women to get jobs, instead of getting ‘real’ jobs like lifting fridges up stairs (yep, ladies, we missed out on that one), we instead became things like educational psychologists instead of plumbers, electricians and people who carry fridges upstairs (I’m not making this up). The only thing that stops me being so depressed about the fact there are men out there like this, is the fact that it makes me laugh as I know he can’t even say psychologist properly, never mind spell it.

Someone took the time to bash women (and I would put his handle here except it would give him the publicity so I won’t… but you can look up my twitter @AlanaKirkWords and if you have 24 minutes to waste feel free.)  I spent a rather perplexing evening reading his – and his pal’s threads (one called Anti-Feminist) -where they just slag off women.  Quoting the article one said, “Successful women?  Successful at being cunts.”  Can I also add that I received a lot of emails from men wanting to date the women in the piece and agreeing with me (although they didn’t feel the need to make a video and post it on twitter using my handle.)

I’m not going to lie. I was initially pretty upset. I was a little scared, a lot hurt, and hugely angry.  In this post-Trump world, where pussy-grabbing is deemed irrelevant for a President who will swear to protect and serve a population of which half have said pussies, it’s given these cavemen a whole new lease of life. Which is why I took my three girls on the wonderfully joyful, and energetic and child-friendly march in January as part of the Women on Washington march.  When I wrote a piece for the Irish Times on why I took them (and my 80 year old dad) to the Dublin march I was abused online, by little angry men, one of whom suggested my children should be taken off me.

https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/i-m-bringing-my-daughters-on-the-trump-march-because-i-want-them-to-know-their-voices-matter-1.2942797

and here

Feminism is about equality. Plain and simple. It’s about the right for women to be and have anything they want, just like men, for the work they do.   Why does that scare some men so much??  And why does feminism scare women so much?  I was out with some gals a few months back, and the conversation must have turned to that awfully depressing picture of Trump and his white, middle-class male buddies all standing around him while he signed away women’s reproductive rights.  I mentioned something about being a feminist and one of the party turned to another and said in quite the snotty tone: “I’d never call myself a feminist.”

Why?   My heroine, the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defined a feminist as “A person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”  She is a virulent and vocal advocate for girls to be strong and wonderful, and I literally cannot see how anyone, male or female, could or would disagree with her.   She also loves her lipstick and actually represents a make-up brand too.  Yet she is strong and sassy and knows her own mind. Perhaps that’s the rub. Some men, (and by no means all obviously) don’t like that as it might just challenge their rung on the ladder.  For ANYONE who doesn’t think they should identify with feminism, please read this letter she wrote on how to raise a feminist.

Of course I was temporary hurt by these sorts of assaults. No one wants to feel that level of hatred. But that usually drifts way in boredom to be replaced by amusement and sadness. Amusement that men are so frighten by someone who is not aggressive, abusive or stronger, but by someone who just wants to stand on the same level playing field.  Sadness that it’s even an issue.  Just like I took my girls to vote YES in the marriage equality referendum for gay people, so I took them on  march for women’s equality

I don’t want me or my girls to become aggressive, bra-burning bitches (unless we choose to of course), but to be able to be exactly who we want to be. I don’t want them to have to ask permission to be themselves. I want them to know they can turn the knot in their stomach into a fire in their belly if they want to.

I love men.  I haven’t an issue with a gender… I have an issue with a mindset. There are plenty of male feminists who counter the cavemen.   The fabulous Irish Times Fintan O’Toole is just one of them and he wrote this great piece

But I just have to scroll through my twitter feed or read newspapers to read and see continual reminders that me and my girls still do not live in an equal society.   In the last few days alone The Huffington Post reports on latest research that women have to be ‘nice’ in the workplace to get the same as men who have no need to be nice.  You have The Sunday Times apologising for Kevin Myers anti-semitic views but not his blaringly, blatant sexist ones. You have The UK Times reporting on Algerian women campaigning for the right to wear what they want on the beach, but men telling them they can’t. On and on and on.

But there is lots to show my girls too.

The fact that the US nearly had the first woman president (she won the votes, the hearts and the Kudos, even if not the office)

The fact that Wonder Woman not only kicked butt but stole the box office show.

The fact that we have inspiring young role models for girls now – from Malala, Emily Watson and Katniss Everdeen to all the glorious reliables.

We even now have our first female Dr Who.

When I was a girl, hiding behind the sofa, while the rest of my family watched Dr Who in the 1980’s, I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to wonder if and when it would be a woman’s turn to morph into the long coat and take over the Tardis.  The trolls are already out, no doubt making jibes about driving skills and galactic map reading. Will it be possible to fight Dileks and wear the latest season shade of peach lipgloss?  Of course it will.

And this is the debate that rages inside of me as I raise three girls.  I want them to be free to be any kind of woman they want – and not be ashamed if they like lip gloss or speak ‘too’ loudly.  They can do and be both – feminine and feminist, strong and sexy, clever and superficial, intelligent and funny, career focussed AND / OR an earth mother.

Why can’t you be smart and funny and wear lipstick?  I am.

Why can’t girls be adventurous and brave and love nail varnish?   They are.

Why are girls who express a more adventurous side referred to in relation to their male peers – tomboys?  Girls are girls – and that encompasses all behaviours whether it be pink nailed, swashbuckling, rock clambering, glitter-loving, song-writing, surf-riding, piano-playing, tech-savvy, messy making, aggressive-fighting, lovingly-caring… and that’s just my girls.

They can beat the crap out of each other one minute, and then be making up a dance routine the next. They can be doing home-made science experiments (and not cleaning up afterwards) one day, and having face-mask pamper sessions the next. I am ‘guiding them’ to hoover as well as mow the lawn.  We meet the Ikea flat-pack challenge with gusto and bake prink frothy buns to celebrate.

Yesterday morning I lay in bed with my head against my daughter’s back. She had been scared in the dim darkness and had crawled into my bed for comfort. I listened to the beat of her sleeping heart, and wondered where it would beat a path to, what rhythm would it beat her drum, and I hope will beat for love, and beat the bullies, and most of all, I hope that heart is strong enough to beat all the -isms and -ists it might encounter.

But with the voices if my misogynist attackers still wringing in my head, I held her a little closer and vowed to give them the full force of my feminine love.

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ten good things about middle age

IMG_9049As I sip a G&T after a lazy sort of busy Sunday, I’m feeling rather contented. I haven’t had enough of the G to feel the T yet, so I’m assuming my hormones are having a lazy day too and letting me off the hook today. I’ve shoved over the dog, and am sandwiched between him and the cat on the sofa, ignoring the fact that there is loud thumping and squealing upstairs despite it being ‘reading’ time.

I’m just happy all the windows are intact and familia relations are relatively calm at the end of a weekend with no plans. I long for weekends with no plans, but of course as soon as we’re in them, I remember that plans are good for keeping three children occupied enough to prevent full scale, fully charged bickering, yelling, stropping, slapping, mess-making.  That said, we did manage to get some things done, and allowed me some mulling time.

I’ve been enduring, writing about and talking about middle age a lot recently. It seems every conversation I have with my gal-pals is about hot flushes, weight gain or hangovers. So in the spirit of political equality I’ve decided to balance things out with the upside. Yes there is one. There are ten in fact.

10 good things about middle age.

1.It is perfectly acceptable to have a mid-day, mid-age sleep

This morning I took my girls for a family run.  It was painful, exhausting and felt like it would never end. But their moaning eventual stopped and we started running.  Afterwards, I suggested we all have an hour of ‘me time’ and I promptly had a snooze on the sofa.  I’m allowed and have not a single pang of 30-something’s angst. 

2.My failing eyesight means I can overlook the dust

I’m so over perfection. It was so last-decade (35-45’s). This decade (my 45-55’s) I’m all about being squashed on my sofa enjoying a G&T and pushing the stray cat hairs under the sofa with my foot.

3. I am far less judgemental and far, far less tolerant.

I couldn’t care less about anyone’s political preferences, I just care if they’re an asshole.   And boy am I having a field day in this world political climate.

4. We are expected to be mad menopausal monsters.

So I can be one. Guilt free.

5. I no longer have to worry about having an hourglass figure where my waist is a smaller clothes size than my hips.

My middle aged middle has spread around the edges, a sort of blurring of the definitions of waist and hips. More room for Dorritos I say.

6. We are officially fashion icons

Yes, I’ve read it in at least 2 websites and 3 magazines. Grey is the new blonde. Youngsters in their 20’s and 30’s are now paying (I’ll say that again, PAYING) to get their hair dyed grey or silver.  Oh, how the sweet justice of it all wants me to break my one-Gin-on-a-Sunday-night rule.

7. It’s ok to take drugs again

The clubbing days of our youth might be over, but taking mind-altering drugs to give you a high is back – and GP prescribed!  Don’t ya love intravenous oestrogen!

8.  It’s absolutely ok to shine the spotlight on ourselves.

We’ve done the baby-making, child-rearing obsession thing and now can do the child-rearing not quite as obsessionally with one eye on them, and one eye on our own Netflix playlist. I am officially turning my office / dump room into a Teen Den, and caving in to buying a second TV in the house.   I am giving my lounge an adult make-over and once the sofas have been re-upholstered there will not be child’s handprint allowed. It will be a child / food / dog free zone. I can almost cry with the thought of it.  I am evening considering installing a drinks cabinet. Am now having palpitations.

9. We no longer have to be fashion victims or outcasts

Thankfully fashion has caught up with the fact that women in the 40’s and 50’s don’t want elasticated waistbands (although it has to be said, there is an appeal), twinset and pearls and ugly shoes.  We can get way with wearing ‘comfortable shoes’ by living in our Nikes, and staying stylish doesn’t mean wearing thongs and belly tops. And let’s face it, the current trend for off the shoulder tops with a mini-arm cover is made for bat-wing arms.

10. I no longer have to be the ‘good girl.’

That ship has passed.  I am sailing freer waters now where I no longer feel like trying to be liked, or pleasing people who don’t please me.   I was brought up in a time when women were told how to behave – demure, kind, thoughtful and quiet. Fuck that. I’m a new age in a new age of femininity where my voice is loud and proud, and I’m kind only to those who deserve it.   The only good girl thing about me is going to be being good at this middle aged life.

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Time travel

tardis2Dr Who used to play every Saturday night in my house when I was growing up.  I would usually be crouched behind the sofa, terrified by the mere mention of a Dalek while the rest of my family enjoyed the height of sophisticated 1970’s / 80’s TV.

The idea of time travel appealed though… a bit like that other 1980’s TV show Mr Ben – where you could enter a small squashed space and emerge into a different place and time. I would imagine myself in Jane Austin’s lounge while she scratched out her words with a quill and ink; or sit in Dickens’ study as he pondered Pip’s journey; or move forward to the shiny future where everyone seemed to wear cat suits (as they did in Buck Rogers and Star Trek).  My childhood imagination was fired with possibility. Little did I know that time travel was a real thing.

How else can I explain the fact that every time I’m asked my age, my brain says 32 but then I am whooshed forward in an invisible Tardis to the point where I am forced to say 47?

How come I’ve only just come back from dropping my eldest daughter to play school, the screams of separation still ringing in my ears, yet somehow I entered the wardrobe and found myself last weekend taking her around to see her secondary school, her nonchalant too-cool-for-school mask now firmly in place?

How come Facebook popped up a memory picture into my feed of my beautiful mum surrounded by her grandchildren, yet today I bought a bunch of wild flowers from the farmer’s market for her birthday, even though she is no longer around to receive them?

How come I only feel I became a mother and am still trying to figure out the instructions in Greek, yet my second daughter hits double digits next week?

How come time travel is a thing, and no-one told me?

But as I delve deeper into the mid-life experience, and research lots of its aspect for my next book, I realise that time travel is a constantly evolving thing and it can go back as well as forward.  (If only someone would tell my face). We can stand still and we can go back in time, we can relive loves and lives and moments by simply closing our eyes.

Facebook and Instagram might be maligned for being some intrusive, altruistic self-promoting spotlight, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to keep us connected to the present and the past. I keep track of people on Facebook that I would never ever get the chance to do without it, and with that am able to keep connected and time travel back to the me I was when I shared real time with them, be them my school pals, my travel friends or family members I rarely get to see.

But we can also keep living our younger selves, albeit it in an older body. I am in the place where I can time travel back to a space where I am single again, with all the terror and excitement that brings. I can go travelling again, learn to dance, and do many of the things I did at a different space in my life.  It’s not time travel I realise. Time is not travelling. Only me. I am flexible but time is not.

So I step out of the Tardis of Life and realise I need to catch up with the time I’m in. I don’t want to time travel, I want to time absorb. According to the stats, I have reached mid-way. But here’s the rub. I’ve no idea if I am mid-aged. I might be. I might live to be 90.  But I might live to be 115 so still be in my relative youth. I might not make it past 60 and am now in my dotage. I just don’t know if I’m at the early-years, mid-age or end-stage of my life.

I’m just at this stage of my life.  Last night I went clubbing. Yes, you read that right. This is the woman who will only go to a pub if I can be guaranteed of a seat.  But I ended up going to an amazing alternative dance venue (no drugs or drink) where I literally danced myself into a sweaty mess until the small hours.  Despite the fact I had to down a quick G&T before I went in just to reassure myself that I would have alcohol pumping through my system while I danced, by midnight and 2 hours of solid dancing I knew I didn’t need it.  I was high on life.  The place was as seething mass of limbs belonging to people in their 20’s right up to their 60’s.  It was like a festival without the mud.  I danced in a way, and for longer than I have since I was into the London club scene in my early 20’s.  Time hadn’t travelled. I have. And I can go anywhere/ anytime I want.

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Bondage, burritos and balance.

So it seems I don’t actually have two left feet.   I have two glorious dancing feet. Who knew?    Ok the last man I danced with probably wouldn’t call me glorious as I think I took out three of his toes, but last week, leaning tango in Buenos Aires, taught me again that I can do something I never thought I could – which is my new mid-aged mantra.

It’s said that the dance of tango is a metaphor for life. That when you learn to dance it properly, you learn to live properly.  I have to say I was sceptical. But, like the steps seduced me, I am converted to believing that if I incorporate what I learned about the tango into my life, then my life will be a better song to dance to.   There is a beautiful moment – I actually just keep wanting to use the word exquisite – at the very beginning of the dance, whereby you have committed to the embrace, and you sway together, barely perceptively, as your weight shifts onto each foot until both dancers are in synch.  Only when balance is found, can the dance begin. This slow rocking together is called the cunita – the cradle – called such because it feels like a mother’s safe embrace.   Every so often during the dance, you pause, still embracing and connected, and sway until your balance is found again. If that ain’t a metaphor for life, I don’t know what is.

As I am struggling to learn, you cannot dance the tango with your mind. You can only dance it with your senses.   For a control-freak like myself, this is a major head-fuck. And so it should be. Learning to live life with other parts of me is an important lesson.  Sometimes I need my brain to be in full throttle (menopausal mental pauses notwithstanding) but sometimes, you need to live on the seat of your flaming pants. 

I learned my mid-aged cliches keep coming, like errant hairs on my chin, this time fancying my 20 something tango instructor.  Not sure that’s a metaphor for anything other than giddiness.   But that’s allowed too.

But that aside, this really was a week of learning. And all it took was a few lessons, a bit of bondage and some me time.

Tango is so linked to healing that there is a specific branch of psychotherapy that uses tango to provide therapy.  Hence I ended up in bondage.

So it wasn’t real bondage. Obviously. But dancing blindfolded teaches you to dance by feel, not sight. I had to learn to sense when and where my partner was going to move.   It’s very nerve wracking… and very liberating.  To dance with only the music to give me a vague idea of speed, and only the minute shifts in his body weight and positioning to commit and move so that we danced as though every move had been pre-choreographed is an incredible experience and one I am only beginning to grasp.   When you watch a couple dance the tango it is like one person is dancing with four legs.   Well, it’s supposed to.. mine still looks a bit like two bodies and eight legs.

IMG_8372This all sounds very intimate, and it is. I danced with lots of partners over the course of the week, at lessons, practicas and milongas, and each time I had to learn to commit to the embrace, and find our balance and trust myself to listen and read his body.

Like when I began training for the marathon a few years ago, even though I never really believed I would finish it, I embarked on this experience not really believing I’d be able to dance. (And when I talk about dancing here I just mean being able to move around the dance floor without injuring someone, not the exquisite moves that professional tango-istas can do.)

But from my first lesson I discovered that while I am not rhythmically blessed, I can learn to overcome that.  But I need to make my damn mind be quiet. I need to embrace the moment of finding balance, and trust myself and what I am feeling.

I am home again now, my tan glowing and my feet itching to move. Thankfully I am unwrapping my tango shoes tonight for a new lesson. I know I am only at the beginning of this tango dance, I’m still fumbling and bumbling my way around, trying to shut down my mind and listen to my instincts.  But I know I am in the right dance, and that all I need to do is commit to the embrace and let go. Just like life after all.

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Don’t cry for me, Argentina…

……because I’m delighted with myself.  I’ve had my first day in Buenos Aires today, which, after nearly 24 hours of travelling, was spent mostly unleashing my needy skin to the warmth of a hot sun, and luxuriating in the highly strange concept of having a day off.  Yes, that also involved sampling my first glass of Argentinian wine (in said sun, but if you can’t be irresponsible on holiday, when can you?).

Given that I had planned this adventure months ago – to fly to the tango capital of the world to learn the sensual dance of dances – it was a little late in the game to realise mid-13 hour flight from London that in fact it’s an awfully long way from home.  It was as my little TV screen showed the plane endlessly flying over Brazil that it hit home how far home was on the other half of the world. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve done a long-haul flight.  Then I was young and carefree and the panic was in leaving my mum. Now, it felt so disquieting to be getting further and further away from my girls.

It was other-worldly.

A big part of me panicked. What if they needed me? I was literally at the other side of the world, across the hemisphere, out of reach.  It is wrong for a mother to be that far from her child.  The space and distance is vast. Ireland can fit in a city dot on the South American map.  Sitting on the plane, on a no-turn-back 14 hour flight, I felt lost in space and time, unable to contact anyone I love. As a single mum these last two years, my connection to the girls has veered on the leech-like. Now I felt wrenched away, bleeding.

But, like it takes two to tango, that panic was mingled with a delicious thrill that you can only get from the anticipation of a new adventure. I was flying to a vast country on the other side of the world, where nobody knows me, and I can be someone else entirely. Or me entirely.   A stranger among strangers.

And that is the constant struggle in my life – teetering on the beam, balancing the pull of them and the push of me.   And that is life.. so I will live it the best way I can, in a tango dance between the two. Earlier this week I took them glamping, and we had the best fun with their cousins.  We didn’t wash for three days, and barbequed bacon and sausages for breakfast.  Bliss on a stick.  But as life is one big constant schizophrenic sashay from the ridiculous to the sublime, I ditched the glamping for glamour and will now dance my socks off (oh wait, too hot for socks) in Buenos Aires. First lesson today… wish me luck!

IMG_8343

Me, waiting for my first glass of Argentinian wine after a 20 hour journey.

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