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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!


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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

groovin’ and movin’ in my comfort zone

Hear that noise?  It’s the sound of me stepping, or even shimmying, out of my comfort zone.    This time next month, I will just have landed in Buenos Aeries, the ‘Paris’ of South America… about to embark on a week of self-discovery.  Well, I’ll be discovering if my feet are actually connected to my hips anyway, as I learn to tango in the tango capital of the world.

To prepare me for this little adventure, I’ve been taking salsa lessons, which reaffirmed my life-long held belief that my dancing hips got left in the shop when I was put together. A trip to Cuba a decade or so ago cemented this in stone…. which is about how fluid my hips feel when my feet are counting out the steps. Except, at my last class, it finally came together, and gasp!  My hips moved in the same direction, and to the same beat as my feet!  Now I won’t be slavering myself in orange tan and investing in diamante encrusted bras any time soon, but I think, with more lessons and a new-found mid-aged don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, I’m going to at least look like I’m resembling a Latin dance rather than a Morris dance.

I’m delighted with myself, and my new found talent hobby.  I’ve changed a life-long held view that I can’t do something into a second-half-life-long belief that I can.  It’s all part my promise to myself to undo a lot of the restrictions I, or others, have put on me, and to spend my mid-age exploring myself as much as I spent my youth exploring the world.  I also plan to learn to swim properly and achieve an open-water mile by the end of the year among other things because I’ve always believed I can only swim like my mother, and I hate swimming in the sea – all about to change. (Oh, and making the perfect Gin cocktail just because who wants to spend the second half of their life drinking anything but perfection?).

But stepping out of my comfort zone isn’t quite the backpack adventure into unknown territories it once was. I’ve reached that age when I have spent much of my life trundling outside my zone of comfort without a map and proper footwear, just because life is never a walk in a sunny park.   Sometimes life is great and as you expect, and other times it comes along and gives you a smack in the face.  I’ve had the life-smacks –  miscarriages, parent care, finding out my husband is gay – to name just a few, but I’ve also had more than my fair share of life-hugs too. So when I survive the unexpected, when I’ve walked out of the discomfort zone of grief, or loss or chaos and shock, I have been able to dust myself down and look back at my footprints and think, WOW, I did not expect to go there, but while the view might not have been great, I’m fitter for the trek.

Yesterday was the first time I haven’t spent St Patrick’s Day with my own children. Another zone of discomfort toIMG_8159 navigate. And this Easter will be the first Easter I won’t get to be the Easter bunny and leave eggs outside their bedroom and hide eggs in the garden. Someone took those experiences away from me, so I will create my own. I will take that discomfort and raise it a tango dance. I bought my dancing shoes and my lovely pal bought me a matching tango lipstick and I will spend Easter trying to make my hips connect to my feet, and heart connect to my soul and dance my way into the comfort of this mid-age state I have found myself in.

And maybe the hot flushes will be happening not just because I’ve reached a certain age, but because I’ve reached a certain stage where I can go dancing even though I’m crap, and I’ve reached a certain phase where adventures are available to me and I will sweat and grin my evenings away dancing, and flushing and knowing that wherever my steps in life lead me, I will own them

.. one salsa step, one freezing swim, one gin cocktail at a time.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saying sorry….. not.

sorryThis morning I found myself about to apologise for my appearance.  I have been fighting an infection, and I hadn’t bothered to ‘put my face on’ as my mother would say, I was in my pilates gear and looking, how shall we put it, like me. Without the effort. And as I rushed to meet someone, I was thinking in my head how I’ll apologise for my appearance as if I was somehow offending them by looking like myself (without the effort).  WTF? Yesterday I was caught off-guard when I thought I was about to meet one of my ex’s partners. I felt I wasn’t looking my best as if I should have to prove myself to them.

Why the hell should I apologise to anyone for the way I look? With or without effort?

And I thought about all the times I have apologised for being me – the way I’ve looked, the way I’ve felt, the way I’ve behaved.  Girls are brought up to be good, kind, pleasing and – my pet hate – to smile. Why do men always tell you to smile when you walk past?  What have YOU done to make ME smile I wonder?  Why should I give my smile away for free?

Why should I say I’m fine when I feel like shit? Why should I excuse my greasy hair and make-up-free face when when I’m not well?  Why should I feel bad because I get angry when I have plenty to be angry about?  Why should I say sorry for being cross when THEY are the ones who have behaved badly?

Because that is what is expected of us good girls.   Well this is one woman who is going to be good at being myself and not apologising for it.  I have three girls to raise, and while I want them to be good at stuff, I especially want them to learn to be good to themselves. Not good pleasing others. Not good keeping their anger, or madness, or ideas, or ambitions or desires muted in case they appear too loud or brash or unfeminine.

I am no longer going to apologise for my age, or my tired face, or my anger, or my madness, or my sadness, or my gaiety, or my humour, or my hormonal horror moments, or my happiness, or my giddiness, or my frivolity or my seriousness.   I will apologise for being late or rude. But not for being myself.

In this, International Woman’s Day I want to celebrate being me. With or without the effort.

A friend bought me a lipstick recently, for those va va voom moments we all love to have.  Admittedly today I’m not feeling very va va voom (and am not going to apologise for that). But when my next va va voom moment comes, I will smack my lips and pout in red  and smile -not because I’ve made the effort for someone else, and not because someone else has asked me to smile. No, I shall put on my lipstick and smile for me and no-one else. Sorry.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Love is…..

Dark chocolate caramel, Gin, Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Gin, the smell of a new book,

Oh wait no. Those are the things I love.

No, after a week of shops dripping in blood red hearts like a bloody A&E after a particularly chaotic Grey’s Anatomy episode, I have been pondering what Love actually is.

This was, bearing in mind, while I spent Valentine’s night on the sofa with my dog, not a bleeding heart in sight, sipping red wine and watching the Valentine First Dates Special.  Yet I wasn’t feeling all excluded by the couples collusion that love is a single red rose on a single day of the year.  I was quite content.  My daughters had given me a big box of Butlers chocolates so my Phenylethylamine (otherwise known “the love drug”, because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love) and serotonin levels (known as a mood-lifter) were covered.

When I was younger, growing up as a teenager in the 1980’s, there was a love bombing of cartoons with a cute (and naked if I remember rightly) couple in a variety of situations, with the words Love is….. written underneath. Each cartoon had a different answer to what love is, be that something as inane as doing the dishes or as saccharine as loving every little thing they do.

love-isIt was a moment in time, an innocence I might even have bought into for a while; the idea that love is that simple. Handing someone a red rose, or taking a wet plate from them and drying it while smiling.

Then life happened and the cartoons faded from fashion and the innocence faded with them.  Or I realised that love is much more complicated.  Love is rarely being handed a solitary and forlorn red rose. Love is complex and tricky and comes from the strangest of places….and for me anyway, rarely come from the textbook romance of the cartoons.

They rarely came from ‘The One’ – not that I remotely believe in The One. And not because the one I married turned out to be some one completed different.  We focus on the love of romance, but the loves that have – and do – sustain me most come from much deeper sources.

Love is… my friend who turns up at my door even when I never asked her to, because she knew I should have asked her to.

Love is…. seeing the first snow drops of Spring and feeling my mum smiling down at me.

Love is….. my friends making me smile every day with their contact and humour

Love is…. my girls, and everything they do, even when they are literally tearing chunks of skin out of each other and screeching like banshees and making me feel as if I am going mad.

Love is…. that exquisite scene in La La Land when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s hands touch so tenderly

Love is….a neighbour calling me the other day just to remind me that she’s there

Love is….. a friend coming over to put my youngest to bed because she knows it’s exhausting

Love is….. laughter and Gin, and good books and warmth and the sun on my face

Love is…… my dad trying his best to figure out the chaos of my life and not be an asshole about it

Love is….. my brother sending me a teapot cosy for my birthday

Love is….. so many things…. and it is rarely a single red rose. It is a single rosy reckoning where we feel we belong.

Love is…. the little touches that make us feel better in a day of challenges.   So how delighted was I to find out I was receiving a little gift to make me feel better in a day of challenges.  I’ve said before how much I struggle with parenting alone, how much I miss the presence of another adult in the house to help mitigate the tsunami of rage, emotion, anxiety, exuberance, defiance, boldness, coldness, attention-seeking, love-needing, craft-loving, mess-making, fun-fanning, energy-exploding hormones that are three young girls.  It’s two years exactly since I heard the front door slam and my new life as a single parent began.  I’m not going to sugar coat it, (because frankly there is enough sugar going on in this house and most of it is in my stomach) it’s been so fucking hard I have sat on the bottom stair endless times and cried in the frustration of trying to raise three confident, charismatic daughters with the energy levels of a dying battery.

So how lovely an idea is this?  A box of love and goodies just for mums. (But I think for anyone really that we love and who needs a little lift..I know mums of cat and dogs who would love this just as much, because life is hard, whatever and whoever we are.)

Sharyn Hayden writes the brilliant Raising Ireland blog, and is author of the very funny book ‘I Forgot to Take my Pill.”  And now she brightens up days.  I can’t wait for my box to arrive, filled, I am promised, with surprise beauty treats with a side order of much-needed giggles thrown in.  If anyone fancies sending one (or making it a monthly treat) you can order them here.

It’s the little moments, the first snow drop, a surprise shot of sun on your face, a call, a text, a box in the post.

Love is….. never The One and never one thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Teaching my girls that a women’s place is anywhere she chooses to be

leia-resistanceSo two things happened recently that I never imagined. That a man like Trump could get to the Whitehouse (I mean, did you see that picture of him signing executive orders surrounded by a bunch of other white men?) and that my 80 year old dad would take part in a feminist march.   These two extremes show how much has stayed the same and how much has changed since I was a young girl.   Which is why I took my three daughters to the Dublin march in support of Women on Washington mach last Saturday.

When I grew up in 70’s and 80’s Belfast, a woman could just about step outside the framework of her place being in the home (although men wouldn’t have necessarily realised that yet), but a girl’s place was firmly still in the framework of being good, quiet, nice and under no circumstances dear, can you make a fuss.

The first time that I remember being seriously scared of a man was when I was 15.   ‘Fame’ was the height of sophisticated TV, and I wore my red leg warmers with pride. Rollerboots were the craze of the day, and all my friends were getting them.  My parents didn’t have spare money to throw at something so frivolous and but after weeks of pressure they relented, with the caveat that I had to earn half the money and they would put up the other half. So I got a Saturday job in the local fruit and veg shop, a 15 minute walk away from our house.  Going to an all-girls school, it was the first time I had really had much dealings with men outside of my own family and family friends.  It was a hard lesson I would keep learning.  The main man in the place buoyed up his boredom by making lewd comments. Nothing too risky but enough to make me feel uncomfortable and ill at ease in the women’s body I had started to inhabit after a lifetime of being in a child’s body.  He thought it was totally ok to give me saucy looks, winks, raised eyebrows and the odd throw away comment that made me cringe.   Unfortunately the man who delivered the fruit and beg stock believed he had the right to take it to a whole new level.  He thought it was totally ok to manoeuvre a child into the big stock fridge out the back of the shop and lock her in there with him.  He thought it was totally ok to grope her and laugh at her when it was obvious she wasn’t happy. 

Walking home that day I knew I would never tell my parents because I didn’t know then that it was totally ok for me to stand up and make a fuss. I endured that job for a few more months, but by the time I had saved enough money, roller boots were no longer the thing (as my parents no doubt had already worked out).   Every job I had through school and university involved men thinking it was totally ok to make comments about my body, touch me and make me feel uncomfortable. 

It took me decades to work out that it was totally ok for me to make a fuss and stand up for myself.  I will not allow my girls to take that long.

I still remember the shock of waking up that morning of the US election and realising the impossible had impossibly happened. 

In the previous weeks I had told my daughters a little of what was going on, and being sure that the impossible wouldn’t happened, I stupidly told them the awfulness of that man. So it was a hard morning when they woke up and I had to tell them that actually the impossible man had won.

“But he’s horrible to women?  How could they vote for him?” my eldest asked.

I didn’t have an answer for her. But I do now.

When it seemed like the world was endorsing misogyny and ignoring such blatant ignorance the antidote was a global resistance.

Dublin held one of the 673 marches that were organised in solidarity of the Women on Washington march, and I was there with my three daughters and 8o year old dad with the millions of women and men around the world.   I didn’t bring my girls there to politicise them or make them raging roaring feminists.  I just wanted them to see that a woman’s place is anywhere she wants to be, including on the streets standing up for themselves and that it’s totally ok to make a fuss.

I know lots of the naysayers will point out that the marches made or will make no difference. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t on the grand scheme of things.  But I felt galvanised and it was the start of the crucial conversation I need to have with my girls growing up that they can ALWAYS make a fuss and it is NEVER ok for a boy or a man to make them feel uncomfortable or dish them. 

I wrote about the reasons why I was taking them for the Irish Times.   I got trolled. And for a split second I felt like I did, locked in that fridge with a man who thought it was ok to put me down.   But then I realised his attitude and comments were exactly why I needed to take them.   I then wrote again about their reaction to the march.

I wish I’d had the confidence to tell that man in the fruit and veg shop – and all the other boys and men who thought it was ok to do and say what they did – to back off but I didn’t.  I do now, and as I say in the articles, I hope my daughters understand that they are supported by millions of other women who have their back, and that it’s totally ok for them to stand up and resist.   We wore our Princess Leia stickers proudly – a woman’s place is in the resistance – and promised next time we’d all wear our hair in her buns.

The Women’s March on Washington far exceeded all expectations.  About 1.2 million people gathered in Washington, DC and another 3 million gathered in cities and towns across our nation, making the Women’s March the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history (and regardless of the ‘alternative facts’ being presented, more than the inauguration day). With 5 million people marching globally, January 21st was likely one of the largest coordinated global protests in world history, and I am delighted my girls will know they were part of that.

In my house a fart is called a trumpet, and to fart is to trump.  Fitting.  A lot of hot wind that makes your face curl up in revolt.   And revolt and resist we will.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Having resolution – saying yes to kicking the crap out of this year.

So it’s a new year and all that and I’m only emerging now from the fug. In fact I’m so knackered from all the partying cleaning, eating cooking, playing Santa Trivial Pursuit, that I already look at least five three years older than last year.

I’m not good with New Year Resolutions. Most people fail within days. I failed on the first day.  It started ok (I don’t count the actually 1st as I was travelling back from Edinburgh with three small children and an elderly dad, the flight was delayed and they changed departure gates THREE times so I had to navigate said three young children, elderly father, four hand luggage suitcases and multiple coats through a seething mass of hungover Hogmanay revellers – so the bottle glass of wine I had when I eventually got home does not count). So, the 2nd is really the 1st. Ok? So it started off well. I had a spinach and mango fuelled nutribullet, seasoned with goji berries, golden flaxseeds and coconut water, a very minimal lunch of egg and pitta bread. So far, so Glorious New Year New Body Approach. And then. Then the girls left to go to their dad’s and you know, the fridge was empty, and sure, I’d been very good for a whole 6 hours, so I ordered a Bombay Pantry curry, with garlic and coriander nan, had two a glass of wine. So ok, that’s not the best but I had been good. But then out came the Christmas collection of chocolate and let’s just say for the next couple of hours I looked like my daughter’s hamster when he’s stuffing all the seeds in his cheeks for later.

Fuck it. My resolution is that life is for living. And that is my resolution for this year. To resolutely live my life well (ok, that does mean more nutribullet and less wine), and to be brave and bold and fight the fear that sometimes stops me doing what I need to do.

Recently I convinced my middle daughter to do something brave.

‘I’m scared,’ she said. ‘I know,’ I said. “Being scared is ok. Being scared but doing it anyway. That’s what brave is. And let me tell you a story about a brave little girl I knew once.”

And I told her about a little girl who stood up onstage and did a talent show dance on her own even though everyone else had partners. I told her about a little girl who was so small she couldn’t get on the seats in play school but who leant how to scoot with her legs going like the clappers because she wouldn’t be held back.  I told her about the little girl who swung off a trapeze so high her own mum wouldn’t do it.   She smiled as she realised who that little girl was is. I told her she had the heart of a lion, and the that being brave is about saying yes, and being scared but following your dreams anyway.

And I thought about myself and my heart. The heart of a lion throughout many periods of my life, the heart of a lioness since I became a parent, but like many women, my heart is often braver for others than it is for myself.   My heart has been filled with great love, and my heart has been kicked in the goolies. My heart has strained with effort and burst with success, and my heart has shrivelled with rejection.  But my heart still beats, no matter what state it is in. And as long as it’s still beating, I’m going to beat the best of life into it. 

So I’ve decided that 2yes017 is going to be the year of saying yes.   Yes in every way. Yes to adventures, and yes to me-time, and yes to scary things that will drive my dreams forward, and yes to saying no.  I am learning how to hold onto life’s orgasms.  In a year as bad as last one when my beautiful mum died, and I waded through the muck of marriage disintegration, in a decade as crap as this, I’ve discovered something amazing. I can be truly happy.

I keep having moments of sheer, unadulterated, right-in-your-face happiness.   Little mental orgasms. Delightful OOOOh’s when I feel something inside me and it’s not rage, but a roar.

When the first experience exploded on my day I thought it was a late surge of alcohol anxiety from a previous hangover. But no. I stood, I assessed, and I concluded that in fact, what I was feeling, was actually a surge of surprising wonderfulness. Since then, like discovering orgasms as a teenager, they come more often and last longer, as I perfect my technique of identifying the surge, staying in the absolute intensity of it, and then holding onto it as long as possible.   

And what is most delicious about these surprising surges of sunshine is that, unlike the random happiness of youth, I feel these are earned. Every bad thing in my life that has happened, every kick, every knock, every wrecking ball that has swung through my carefully crafted life, has made me appreciate happiness all the more.

I have found real happiness in the rubble of life. That doesn’t mean I don’t have apoplectic down days, and terrible times and moments of loss so great I feel my skin stinging from the slap. 

This Christmas was very hard.  The first without my mum, the second without my marriage.  I remembered the previous Christmases of my life, filled with noise and people and love, and here I was with my depressed dad and my ex husband and wondered how the hell I got here. But I also had three fabulous girls who’s sugar-overdosed Santa joy filled the loneliness and drowned out the sound of the love that is gone.  Yesterday I stayed home while my girls spent the day with their dad and his new partner. Another shaky major step on the journey to a new unknown future.  But I’ll own it. It’s my life and in whatever state it comes, I’ll own it and make the best of it.  Age takes away taught skin and lush lashes, but it gives knowledge that we are strong.

So yes, there are still bad days. But I have found a contentedness I’ve never felt in my life before. A calm that I know who I am and for once have no idea where I’m going.  All my life it was the other way round.

The other day my eldest daughter was talking about anxiety, and I said I had suffered from it all my life. Terrible crippling panic-attack laden anxiety.  She looked at me and asked why I was no longer anxious. And it was only then realised I wasn’t.  Because I know now that no matter how awful life is, I can pick myself up.   And now I know no matter how amazing life is, I can appreciate it.

I am mid aged and feel like I am starting my life over again.

Do I wish I was less hysterical calmer?  Yes.

Do I wish I could control my weariness and frustration better? Absolutely.

Do I wish I didn’t get so gargoyle cross and bad tempered? Definitely.

Do I wish lots of things were different? Of course.

But am I happy? I can be.

Time is choice.  We have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.  For me then this year, 2017, I want to fill it with yeses.   Yes, when my girls ask me to play with them. Yes, to learning new things. Yes, to stepping out of my Ugg slippers comfort zone and finding confidence. Yes, to keeping my body as physically, emotionally and sensually fit as it can be. And yes, to saying no to people and things that are no good for me.  Time is choice, and we are lucky to have it. I’m saying yes to resolution to live life well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Voice Training

When I first wrote out this piece yesterday I was scared to post it. It was too serious. Too angry.  As a woman, I have been conditioned to be nice and I did promise my readers some lightheartedness after a year or so of misery-lit. I realised I was scared to be truthful, when the whole point of the post was about telling the truth!  So I’m posting it.  If you decide to keep reading I promise you a laugh at the end.  I chose that joke partly because even though I first saw it 30 years ago, it still makes me chuckle. And also because it sums up how women are trained. We are gifted. But sometimes we don’t use our gifts. Time to start pulling the door open and stepping into the room. So here’s the unfunny stuff first…

I always thought I had a voice because I was loud. It’s only recently I realised that volume just got me noise, not noticed.

But as I write more and more about women’s issues, and stand up for myself in relationships where previously I was loud but unheard, I realise that voice is about standing by your convictions and speaking out when necessary. There was a TED talk last week on speaking up by negotiation expert Adam Galinsky, where he explained that our power determines our range of opportunity to speak up.  “Women have the same needs as men to speak up,” he said, “but they have barriers in doing so.”  He claimed that gender differences were power differences in disguise (as if women needed to be told this!).  The one time that women equal men when it comes to speaking up is when they advocate for others. We are better at doing it for others than ourselves. So as I reach the middle of my life with a genuine feeling of excitement, I am learning to stand up, speak out and lean in.

I recently listened to the fabulous Irish Times Woman’s podcast with the incredible Mona Eltahawy who wrote the book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution. I was in the car at the time, and tears were streaming down my face at the power of her words.  As a muslim woman who was arrested and sexually abused while in custody in Egypt, she has grabbed her own power from those who would have controlled it, and uses it to blistering effect.

So I felt a little braver when a piece I had written came out in the Irish Times recently. For those of my readers not familiar with the Irish situation, women are denied the choice here to make decisions affecting their own reproductive rights, and in a tense atmosphere, there is a campaign to revert this. I strongly felt that often the messages are being lost, and the fact that real women, with real complicated lives were not having their stories told. So I decided to tell mine.

Unexpectedly, I got an amazing response. The debate is so divisive in Ireland that I fully expected a tsunami of abuse.  But a lot of people, while offering their support, called me brave. I don’t feel brave. I felt sacred when it came out. Scared.  Writing it in the comfort of my kitchen was one thing. Realising that people who know me, but didn’t know about me, would read it, filled me with slight dread. I expected the trolls to backlash. But they didn’t.  I got overwhelming support. But as I went to bed last night I wondered about the 10 women who had flown that day to the UK because taking charge of their lives here is a criminal act. I thought perhaps they were home again now, having an early night because tomorrow they will put their faces on and keep going. I thought about the women who were lying awake in bed, having kissed their children goodnight, knowing they are flying tomorrow. And tomorrow’s kiss would be a little more intense NOT because those children have been chosen but because life is fucking complicated, and messy and we all make mistakes amid all the ball juggling we do, and the unplanned happens, and one time it is the right time and another time it is absolutely not the right time.   Choice here is not one child over another. Choice is about the power to make the best decisions for you and your family at that time.

It takes two people to have unprotected sex, yet only one to bear the physical repercussions. Why is all the responsibility put on women, and all the power taken away from them?    If there is choice, there can also be greater support such wider, better – far better – sex education, and not just on the mechanics of procreation and contraception but all those issues that impact it – consent, peer pressure, date rape, rape, alcohol abuse, sexual safety, and while we’re at it, sexual pleasure.

I am learning not to be ashamed of my voice, even when it might upset people.  As long as I don’t  hurt people’s feelings, I am ok with that. Plenty of people hurt my feelings when they are misogynist and sexist and trump all over our place as equals, deserving equal pay, equal power, equal respect, equal safety, equal everything. I know of several women who have been raped. Several. I know serval who have been sexually assaulted. Several. I know several women who have been physically hurt by a man stronger than they are. Several. I know plenty of women who have been subjected to casual, cruel, or targeted sexism. Plenty.

I have three daughters and after I explained to them that yes, a man like Trump actually did become President, I knew I had a harder hike up that mountain that I’m climbing to keep them brave, help them know their own voice and to use it, guide them to trust themselves even in the midst of gender pay gaps and sexism, and believe sometimes against the evidence, that they are valued and valuable.

But I will advocate for them, and I will also speak out for myself. My voice is no longer as loud as it once was, but it is much stronger.

OK… now I promised you a laugh… oh this still makes me smile..


Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Trumping Frumping

orgasmSo I spent Saturday in London. Not shopping (that was Friday, results to be worn at the Irish Book Awards tonight). Not sightseeing (that was Friday too, at the Charles Dickens Museum where I got to see his worn leather desk; mind blowing). Not socialising (yep, that was Friday too, dinner with a fabulous writing pal). No, I spent a Saturday in London at a conference discovering, among other things, how to perfect my orgasm. Who knew at 46, I still had so much to learn?

So that was actually just part of the day, albeit one that left a lasting impressing. The conference – Magnificence in Mid-Life, was run by the wonderful The Mutton Club, and included all kinds of topics from Colour analysis, to eating your way through the hormonal minefield of menopause, to jumping around with parkour. What was most interesting though (apart from discovering that two well-placed drops of Arousal Oil will have you smiling all day) was that the room was filled with women trying to find a place for ourselves in a society that places us in the wrong box. We don’t see ourselves in the stereotypes that the media and tradition would like us to be.  We don’t see ourselves represented properly – and if we do, a misogynist backlash puts us firmly back in our place.  In the week that Trump’s success at the polls showed that society does not care that women are graded, degraded, bullied, and thought less worthy, it was both unsettling and comforting to see a gathering of women not content to be put in their place, but to instead search for meaning, search for pleasure, search for fulfilment, search for a place on the stage.  Like the term ‘teenagers’ was invented in the 50’s to describe this previously unidentified group of children, so perhaps we will soon see a new name for women approaching, in or after menopause who see no need for pause on their sexuality, their beauty, their balls and their ambitions. We are rebels with a cause – to be who we are, and not who we are expected to be.

Trumping misogyny (and racism, and homophobia) is the goal for liberals in the US for the next four years, but trumping frumping (and invisibility and recognition) is the goal for women over 40 everywhere.  While we all laughed at some of the devices being bandied about to help us perfect that orgasm, it was clear there were women there who were not at ease with the idea that their needs need attention.  “Use it or loose it” was the mantra of the session.  With or without a partner. With or without toys.  But taking the time to find your sexual mojo, find it, explore it, enjoy it. But that advice relates to every part of our lives; our intellect, our creativity, our love, our ambitions, our fitness and health, our libido, our boundaries, our limitations, our mental health, our passions, our potential. Use it or loose it.  Trump that.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Talking yourself in off the window ledge.

keep-calmIt can be very windy up there, clinging on by your fingertips, the gusts pulling you every which way.   I have learned to talk myself down from the metaphorical window ledge over the years and it’s becoming an interesting new trend, the idea of how we can talk ourselves in or out of things, talk ourselves happy or heartbroken. (I’m not talking here about talking ourselves into another slice of brownie here. That’s impossible).

I used to be a Drama Queen.   Can you believe it? Before Life started playing emotional volleyball with me, I actually used to go seeking drama!  Now I just pin myself to the wall and hope I don’t get seen when the swirling skirts of Life’s Drama Queen swooshes past me.

In my 20’s and 30’s I sought out life, making small things into dramas just to get that feeling that something was happening (even though plenty was). Then in my 40’s when lots of stuff REALLY happened, I did the opposite. When real drama hit, I went calm.  I went controlled. I went….. the opposite of Drama Queen. 

I realised that in times of real crisis, there is no time for drama.  You’re too busy fighting or flighting, or eating your way though a small cavern of dark salted chocolate. 

The power of our own mind, is far more damaging than any crisis we might face.  No matter what goes on around us, the only thing that matters is how deal with it.

I wrote an article recently about women who have literally talked themselves celibate, despite having partners who fancy them.  I know women who talk themselves out of things all the time because they’re not sure other people will think it will look good, or be ok.  My mum was terrified of being ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ – the worst crime a middle-aged woman could commit – and would talk herself out of perfectly flattering and fitted clothes because she believed she had reached that age where women become de-sexualised, and should fade into the background of society (while remaining at the foreground of the family).

Two new books have come out recently on this idea of how we think drives how we behave, and if we can change the way we think about something, we can change the way we succeed with something.

The first is called Designing Your Life which explores how you can change what’s not working in your life by turning ideas on their head.   More biased towards your working life, they explain how we have two kinds of thoughts in life: “blockers” and “enablers”.   (I would add to this that these labels also refer to people in our lives too – get rid of (or learn to block) the blockers and surround yourself with enablers!)

When we’re being dysfunctional, we get stuck on the blockers – “My house is stuffed to the gills with crap and looks like its been ransacked by a gang of very untidy burglars and therefore I can get NOTHING done”. We can learn to talk ourselves down from that and use enablers to push ourselves to action – “Right, make a list and tackle one room at a time.”

It’s all about reframing the problem (rather than coming up with answers.)  When I ran the marathon two years ago I never believed I could do it. I would look at the map of the 26 mile course and wilt. Then someone gave me a spreadsheet of training runs, and told me to only look at one week at a time. Three miles. I could do that. Then five miles. Then six miles. Before I knew it, I was on the week that said 18 miles and when that happened the course map suddenly looked possibly, just maybe, do-able.

Reframing the problem – and in life, reframing the story – helps you see it in a way that perhaps you might just manage.  See yourself as a forty-something year old frump and you will be a forty-year old frump.   See yourself as a women ready to unleash herself into the second half of her life, and you suddenly can emerge wearing leopard skin boots and laugh at those ridiculous articles with headlines such as ‘Women over 50 shouldn’t wear jeans!’    Reframe that picture right away – women over 50 should wear whatever the fuck they want.  With frilly knickers on to if they so desire.

The second book out is a lighter approach but with the same sort of idea – it’s all in your own mind: the power to self-elevate or self-destruct.   In his new book Happy, Derren Brown (the magician) explores the idea that every day of our lives we tell ourselves the story of what happened to us.  What he teaches is that we can change that narrative.   The events won’t change but only how we react to them.

Last year, all I could see was loss. My marriage ended (about as dramatically as it can get), and I had to face a whole new life and situation.   This year, all I can see is opportunity.

Thank goodness my Drama Queen years are over.   I have taken her portrait down and reframed that picture.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment