Posted by: stelladuffy | July 29, 2016

life is a square – after the not-OK

A year ago, more or less, maybe just ten months, I was in a bit of a state.

I was freaked about having had breast cancer for the second time – first in 2000, 2nd diagnosis in 2014 and the last of my surgeries in 2015 – probably dealing with a whole bunch of stuff (fear, body image, fear, pain, fear) that I hadn’t really had time to deal with when I was diagnosed the year before because surgeries and pain tend to (immediately) supercede the emotional stuff and the emotional stuff gets left behind until the pain and physical stuff subsides (or that’s how it works for me, anyway), and Shelley’s father had been really ill and died, and his painful cancer death coinciding with my second cancer was very scary.

I was also working loads on the beginning of the Women’s Equality Party (mostly between 11pm and 2am) – as were dozens (but maybe only dozens) of other people who had stepped up right at the very start, and all of us were doing masses of work to help make a brand new thing happen and all of it in our ‘spare’ time – and many of them doing way more than me.

I was writing a book because I am always writing a book, and the book wasn’t quite right and it needed a load more work before my publisher wanted it (rightly) and so I was rewriting that book, having started it in 2012. And I’d also started another book – because I am always writing a book and sometimes the stories need telling.

And Fun Palaces was taking loads of time. Because it does, because it was ‘just an idea’ that became a passion project that has now become the passion project of thousands of other people and how often do we ever get to have something that cool happen from a dream of making change, and so of course it deserves all the work and all the time.

But I wasn’t OK. I wasn’t sleeping (even worse than usual so that’s pretty bad), I wasn’t eating very well, I was doing too much and doing it all as perfectly as possible and I wasn’t OK. At all.

Now, today, I went off to record a radio in town and I realised I’m feeling kind of OK. It’s taken quite a lot and I don’t think OK is a thing you attain once and stay there (!) so I don’t think it’s done, but because I know we all have times where it is too much and because I know we all think we can’t cope sometimes and because I know what I did to get to feeling a bit more OK than not-OK, I wanted to share it here. Not because my way is right for anyone else at all, but because it took taking action. (Edited to add: what I mean is, it wasn’t enough to just wait until I got over being in pain from surgeries, and/or got over feeling like my future dreams/plans had been rocked – again, and/or got over being freaked about what a cancer coming back meant to my life span and potential mode of death – I had to do something to help myself deal with it. Time passing wasn’t enough.)

I saw a cancer therapist. Someone from a psycho-oncology team who knows about this stuff in a way that I don’t, from a different perspective. And that helped. It was only 8 sessions and so it was tough work, but very useful. There’s some about that here.

I started doing some mindfulness work. It’s slow going for me, and I’m slow at it, but perhaps that is just fine. This kind (MBSR), because it seems to take it seriously and that’s what I wanted. And only from books, I’ve yet to take the leap to go to a course. I will. (Yes I have a Buddhist practice, mine is a chanting out loud practice, which is similar, but not the same, as mindfulness. They work very well together, for me.)

I started a daily yoga practice. I’ve always done yoga, on and off, but never before daily. I’ve been doing some yoga (10 or 30 or 50 or 60 mins a day) since Dec 18th 2015, and it feels vital. Also, Adriene is bloody gorgeous and her spirit and attitude makes it really enjoyable.

I read differently – I’ve read very little fiction this year, but I have been reading some philosophy (all new to me) and some psychology around anxiety and mortality. It’s been useful to read stuff I would usually find hard-going, too academic, too heady. It’s been interesting to push myself as a reader.

I’ve walked more. Fewer buses, more walks.

I am not working any less than I ever have – I LIKE working a lot, I like DOING a lot – but I am also making an effort to have more days off. And this year, for the first time in as long as I can remember, Shelley and I had a week’s holiday and I didn’t do any work at all. I didn’t write, I didn’t edit, I didn’t write a funding application – I did answer a few emails, but only to save the big pile when I got home. It was astonishing. There was so much time just to sit and be, looking at the sea.

I have spent a little more time looking at the sea. And more time in the sea. (Mermaid bodies rejuvenate in water.)

So – it’s Friday evening. I am, as often, at home alone and working. And happy to do so. I have 65 more pages to edit of the book that comes out next year (the rewritten one mentioned above comes out this October – that one took 4.5 years, this one will have taken 19 months). And I’m OK, for now, which is fine.

Life’s a square : my friend Helen once told me her mother Josie said “Life’s a square, you’ll always turn a corner.” I’ve remembered it for years. If you’re in a bad place, you will turn a corner and it will get better. Eventually. That’s just how it is. Nothing remains the same. And from a good place, we will turn a corner and it will get hard. Life’s like that too.

It’s possible the trick is to remember that the good and the bad are all joined up – which is, always, far easier to remember when happy than when depressed.

It’s possible to stare at the sea a bit more.






Posted by: stelladuffy | July 8, 2016

on being unmother & Leadsom

Ah, Andrea Leadsom. The woman who now – along with her other glorious qualifications – thinks being a mother makes you more likely to care for the future of your country.

“Genuinely, I feel that being a mum means you have a stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.”

  1. Being a humane person makes you more likely to care for the future of everyone’s country
  2. Fathers probably care too (also, non-gender binary parents, them too)
  3. Some people have children, some don’t, we all contribute. Hey, I even contribute to other people’s kids’ schooling and healthcare in my taxes. As a chemo-induced-infertile woman, I actually want to, what with believing in, you know, universal healthcare and good & free education for all, whoever’s kids they are – I’m that indiscriminate & not-caring about the future …
  4. Here’s a thing, what if we could be empathetic and generous human beings without having to think it’s about us/our descendants/their descendants? What if we could care for the future of our country, our planet, all people, WITHOUT making it personal? Wouldn’t it actually be quite cool to give a fuck without it being personal? How selfish do you have to be to think you care more because you have kids? To make caring all about you? Can’t you just care because you’re human and we’re good at caring?!
  5. It is possible that those of us who don’t have children have actually thought of all this stuff already, and tried really hard to work out our place in the world, and how we can contribute, what with having children being really pretty commonplace (much as some of us might have wanted it) and not having them being the more unusual.
  6. And also, if having children made you all that worried about the future of the nation/world, how the hell are we in the mess we’re in now?
  7. No, I’m not ‘sad’. I was, it was rubbish having cancer at 36 just when I was trying to get pregnant with our babyfather, and losing five embryos post-cancer, and it was rubbish when my wife (then not even Civil Partner, because laws & homophobia, thanks Mrs Leadsom) miscarried and we realised the already-planned future for every woman of my age & generation (Andrea is my age) wasn’t going to be ours. It was definitely hard, like any grief for a future dream not made. And we moved on. We create, we contribute, we live. We really fucking LIVE. Just like you.
  8. Bet my large family is bigger than yours, Andrea – I’m one of 7, I have 15 nieces & nephews, 25 great nieces and nephews – and that’s only my side. On my wife’s side, Indian/Iraqi Jews (you’d LOVE them, Andrea), the cousins are legion. Loads of family. But so what? I adore my family, big and loud and bonkers though they often are. But SO WHAT? How weird to think that blood really does matter more than (as opposed to as much as) passion, than love. Because, you know, I didn’t marry one of my sisters, and I’m pretty sure Andrea’s husband isn’t her brother. We ALL love wider than blood, wider than family. (Unless you’re a Medici, obv.)
  9. It’s come to a pretty pass when Theresa May looks like the sensible one.
  10. Ah feminism. If only we’d had feminism before we leapt to post-feminism.
  11. I bet you all want to know about my shoes now. BBC News does, they’re still going on about May’s shoes. And Corbyn’s. (No they’re not going on about Corbyn’s shoes. They don’t care about the men’s shoes. Funny that.)





Posted by: stelladuffy | June 26, 2016

home thoughts from 1935

I’ve spent today at a hugely thoughtful, erudite, interesting and encouraging literary event at the Center of Theological Inquiry, in conjunction with the Morven Museum, in Princeton and Gladsone’s Library in Wales. Four authors (Andrew Nicoll, Sarah Perry, James Robertson, me), Sally Magnusson interviewing and in-depth audience questioning, an hour for each author, followed by a panel on EU/’Britishness’/national identity. Full-on, exhausting, and serious.

So many people we met here were worried for us, UK authors, without a European future to go home to. A man in the audience, an economist in his 80s, talked about ‘the America of today not being the one I remember from the 40s/50s’ – he went on to speak of the US then being more inclusive, less isolationist than now (and yes, many problems but, even so, heading towards a greater diversity, greater inclusivity). He said how it’s obvious to him that, economically and politically, the US and the UK’s increasing isolationism echoes the 1930s. That he’s worried for Europe and very scared of Trump getting in. That he and his wife mind getting older but they are also OK about dying before it gets worse.

Two of us on stage cried at his words. Everyone in the room knew he was right. It is getting worse.

We were then asked where we can find hope in all this – we’re artists, they wanted some hope from art (I like their faith in the redeeming nature of art, but I probably want my hope from historically-aware economists.)

Anyway … I mentioned my trust in my young(er) friends, their engagement with politics, their activism. That the non-isolationist interactions of social media can be useful, that twitter gives me access to strangers and new thought in a (usually) welcome and positive way. That if we know where we seem to be headed we MIGHT be able to change it. Others said very similar stuff. But it was enormously sobering and worrying that no-one in that room (almost all white, straight, certainly privileged, certainly people with influence and/or power) felt they knew how to stop this slide to isolationism and extremism, to a right that seems ‘merely’ right now and would have seemed extreme 20 years ago.

When I was 6/7/8 years old and NZ was in Vietnam, our ‘morning news’ at school was almost always the ghastly stuff we’d seen on the news the night before. A war that our country was in and that felt very close – that was very close. A few years later many of us spent our teens totally certain that we would die before 40 in the inevitable nuclear war. We believed it was coming.

Now I genuinely wonder if my generation (not quite boomer, not quite post-boomer) simply didn’t expect to live very long or for western ‘civilisation’ to go on for very long.

I don’t have an answer – but I’m pretty sure that a petition calling for a repeat of an expensive legal process (trying to get a different result) isn’t it.

An effective and vocal opposition would be a start.

Local engagement is vital. Community activism, grassroots up – with the aim of root and branch change towards inclusion throughout the system.

Talking to those we don’t already agree with might be useful.

The hand-wringing and name-calling is just wasting time.

It’s 1935. We don’t have time to waste.

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