A real grown-up is hard to find

Posted: August 13, 2010 in Life
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Do we ever really grow up?  Or are we doomed to be children in adults skin forever, speaking corporate language, wearing power suits (damn those shoulder pads for coming back into fashion!) whilst wondering what the hell it’s all about?!  Did Peter Pan represent the reality rather than the fantasy – that deep down we are all just children rebelling against the chains of age that the world ties us down with?  And at what point are we meant to become grown up? 16 or 18 or 21 perhaps?  Or maybe we never mentally reach adulthood; we just learn to hide our childish behaviour and only let it slip out when we get mad, drunk or fall in love! 

These last two days have been filled with very grown up things – trying to sort out a new mortgage and interviewing for a new job.  I just don’t feel ready for this!  My last foray into both events was whilst I was under a big long-term break up cloud and I really don’t remember a huge amount about it!  Only that they were things that had to be done.  Now I have to deal with them in a sane state of mind and it’s scary!  “I am having a grown up conversation with another grown up about very grown up things….so why don’t I feel grown up?!” 

“Do you have a will?” my mortgage broker asked.  What?!  Of course I don’t have a will – I’m only ten years old, why would I need a will?!  But I’m not ten years old – I just feel like it sometimes!  Particularly when I’m advising people OLDER THAN ME at work on serious issues and thinking “how did I get from wearing ra-ra skirts and sitting in the corner at the school disco to this?”!  Or when colleagues behave like bullies and make you feel like you’re back in the playground….but that’s another story! 

Thinking about not being grown up makes me think about my childhood.  In particular my stepfather, Alan, a pipe smoking, good-looking guy who I had hoped would be around for a long time.  I remember being about 8 when he and my mum married after a relatively whirlwind romance.  Unfortunately, my stepfather found it difficult to cope with a ready-made family and after a competition to see who my mum would side with first it all went sour.  There was a time in my 20’s when I looked back on his behaviour and thought how incredibly childish he was.  I thought that being in your late 30’s equated to being grown up and therefore you should behave like an adult.  How wrong I was!  I realise I’m now a similar age to what he was then and finally I can understand how people end up exhibiting not very adult like behaviour when dealing with relationships and coping with other people’s children.  Whatever you do, however successful you are, it seems like there is a small child in all of us, just waiting to scream and shout and shatter that grown up image that we all try to portray. 

So, do we ever grow up?  Judging by the behaviour of adults around me as well as my own behaviour sometimes, I think that in reality we are all stuck in our childhood, probably at different ages, but nonetheless often reacting to events in a manner which we should really have grown out of by now!  By our age…..

God knows how I’ll manage if ever I get married or have children of my own!  What a terrifying thought!  Don’t you have to be at least 60 or something to do that?!

Well, nothing wrong with being Peter Pan for now – he had some very useful skills!  *Sigh* If only I could fly life would be so much better….!!! 

“So Cat, are you married? Any kids?” 

“No, I’m happily single actually”

“Oh, right.  I see…..” (Nodding head, sympathetic look)

I wasn’t always single.  From the age of 21 to 34 I was very much attached to one man (Nearly married as I like to think of it!) and always felt a strange sense of pride and, dare I say it, possession when talking to people about my partner.  “My boyfriend” is such an affirming phrase – it says to people “I am loved therefore I must be worthwhile”.   Which surely means that being single says to people “I am not loved therefore I am not worthwhile”.  It’s not true of course but it’s this sense of being defined by your relationships that is so prevalent in today’s society and so damaging to those who are struggling to cope with the aftermath of a break-up.  However successful, charming and beautiful you are if you haven’t achieved coupledom then you’re somehow incomplete.  If you’ve ever read Bridget Jones (or watched the film) then you’ll know what I mean! 

After the crying shoulder, tubs of ice cream and bottles of wine, what’s one of the first things people say to us when we split up with a partner?  “Don’t worry.  You’ll find someone else”.  What’s the first thing most of us do when we find ourselves single once again?   We start looking for someone new!  Some might say we are gluttons for punishment…. 

I often see people playing seemingly happy families  – in the supermarket, on holiday, walking down the street – and I can’t help but feel a bit jealous.  But I have to remind myself that I’m only seeing snapshots, one moment in time when for that featured family everything is good, nobody is rowing and the sun is shining!  Who knows what happens down the next aisle, or in the evening when everyone is tired and fed up or when they get home and the baby starts screaming as the gentle motion of the pram stops giving comfort!  We always think the grass is greener but I cannot truthfully say that my life is any worse now than it was when I had a partner, it’s just different – in fact if anything it’s marginally better than before!  I have more friends and more freedom although unfortunately less money! 

Yes, there are times I still miss him – I would be inhuman if after all those years I didn’t occasionally think of the times we spent together – but most of the time I don’t.  And yes, I hope I won’t be single all my life!  Because let’s face it, we are programmed to want to be with other people – this is not just a biological drive!  Most of us thrive on being around others – having friends is another way of persuading ourselves that we are worth something.  That if we were no longer around we would be missed, even if only a little bit.  And we enjoy the company of people who we share similar interests and values with.  So despite all the evidence that actually human beings should probably stay single (affairs, divorce, roving eyes of both sexes!) we still strive to find that ideal someone – the person we’re willing to share our life with if not forever then at least for a year or ten! 

But while we’re waiting to find the ideal there’s no reason not to enjoy the freedom of singledom – so all you couples out there don’t feel pity or sympathy.  It’s just another way of life.  And don’t feel envy either – enjoy what you have while you can as you may not always have it!!

Reluctant to Regret

Posted: August 10, 2010 in Metaphorical Musings
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When I first started this blog a few days ago I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to write about.  The concept for my blog was the notion of under achievement – the cat who fought to get to the cream only to find that it was off, or that another cat had got there first and left just enough for a quick, unsatisfying lick!  It was not about being negative, a loser, or a failure but just never quite getting to where you wanted to be.  Nearly….but not quite. 

Before my blog grows and my posts start to go in wildly different directions I wanted to take a moment to reflect on why I named my blog The Curse of Nearly Was!

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t spent hours in the past berating myself for my lack of success.  How many times I imagined where I might have gone on this journey of life if only I’d hacked away at the metaphorical overgrowth to get to the metaphorical yellow (or some other kind of brick) road that would have taken me in a totally different direction, instead of pulling a few branches off, getting a splinter and deciding that it was much safer to keep going on the nice, straight road where you could see into the distance and which seemed to promise comfort and stability.  You know, I hate that word – ‘stability’!  It’s a bit like ‘nice’ – nondescript and safe!  And yet for a long time I chose that direction, albeit keeping one foot on the verge as in truth I didn’t always trust that perfect looking road…..

I’ve never thought “I’d like to try that” and then not done anything at all to attempt to achieve it so I can’t comment on what its like to know you never tried.  I only know what it’s like to have never tried hard enough.  And you know what?  Sometimes it’s bloody frustrating!  Sometimes I wish I could go back and knock some sense into my younger self and tell her to get some balls (not literally….!).  There are constant reminders of my lack of success – my now empty house; seeing my drama school peers on TV or in the West End; my file of stories that have no ending!  That is why being a Nearly Was is a curse – you can’t get away from it.   You can’t think “Well I never tried so it doesn’t really matter”!  You tried because it mattered and the fact you didn’t achieve success therefore matters as well! 

But isn’t it a bit like that saying “Better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all”?  Better to have tried and not succeeded then to have never tried at all.  Because when you try there is still hope, even if it is slim or practically non-existent, and whilst there is still hope then the world is your potential oyster…..or stage!  And if I stop thinking of the things that nearly were and think of the things that are now then I realise how lucky I am.  My lovely friends, my wonderful family, my theatre work (albeit unpaid – that’s the main difference between being an amateur as opposed to a professional actress!), the great times I’ve had and continue to have and yes, my house!  All mine (well, and the banks!) and always as peaceful or as noisy as I want it to be!  How can I regret anything I’ve done when it has kept me on a good, if different, path and led me to this satisfying place? 

As I sit here in my cosy house, typing on my laptop, with my ice cold drink sat on the table in front of me, I look on the news and see the catastrophic events happening in Pakistan and I realise that I am in no position to complain about my life or about the things that have happened to me.  I may be a Nearly Was but I am still lucky enough to have been born into a family that cared, that don’t judge me for what I haven’t achieved, and into a country where I don’t have to worry about clean water and dry shelter.  For that I am truly grateful.

 https://www.oxfam.org.uk/donate/pakistan-floods/index.php

Blog’s it all about?

Posted: August 7, 2010 in Blogging
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God, I love this blogging business!  It’s only four days since I started my very first blog and already I’m addicted.  I used to spend hours on Facebook, updating my status, responding to comments, searching for new statuses to add my thoughts to; now it barely gets a look in.  As soon as I get up in the morning my mind starts thinking of possible stories for today’s post.  By the time I get to work I already have several ideas of what I could write about and it’s not long before they start bumping into each other, vying for the top space, hoping to make it onto my blog.  Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate because all I really want to be doing is updating my blog!  As soon as I have chance I log into my account and start writing a draft of my new post.  I know I’m not the best writer in the world; I don’t have much to say that is of any importance; my posts are not overtly intelligent, witty, funny or insightful and my knowledge of the english language appears limited compared to other bloggers.  But still I write in the hope that maybe one day someone will read my blog and find something in it that interests them or makes them think or perhaps just makes them chuckle for a second or two. 

And yet, I see the very real dangers of becoming ensconced in a virtually virtual world, writing for an audience that you will never know, never see, never truly understand.  The Internet is surely a haven for people with limited social skills – if it’s not possible to gain respect and appreciation in real life then you can log onto the Internet and find it there.   Anonymous producers of words which may or may not be truthful can find comfort from ego boosting comments on their ramblings; people you would never converse with in real life suddenly appear interesting and exciting when you read their innermost thoughts on the internet.  You could be a social hermit or obese recluse in real life but on the Internet you can be anyone your imagination allows you to be.   And therein lies the problem.  Blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting (I could go on!) may be mentally stimulating as well as a quick and easy way of getting your thoughts out to the world but it also encourages solitude and deceptively social but only virtual interaction.  Ever since the advent of email and the World Wide Web the world has been virtually shrinking but the distance between us as people has been growing.  Why go and talk to someone when you can send them an email?  Why meet a friend when you can Facebook them or follow their tweets?   I’m afraid I am as guilty of this as the next person but I am happy to say that it is mostly because I’m so busy in real life, not just in virtual life, that I’m left struggling to keep up with everything.  My blogging promise to myself is that I don’t become so addicted to divulging my random thoughts to all and sundry that I forget I have a life!    

I know that probably no-one will read this post once I hit the publish button but even so my thoughts will be out there, floating in the Internet Ether, ready to be read by anyone across the globe who happens across it at any time.  That’s quite a scary thought!  Still the point is that all this virtual interaction has a place in today’s society – we acknowledge and accept its limitations, its dangers but revel in the opportunities it offers us to connect with people, to be taught and to be the teacher.  And if it provides an outlet for those to whom life has been unkind and allows them to express thoughts that they could never do in real life or to real people then surely the world is a richer place for it.

What they don’t tell you when you’re a chubby, self-conscious 18-year-old applying for Musical Theatre courses, is that if you are successful you will in the not too distant future be confronted with The List.  A seemingly never-ending inventory of things that you have to buy in preparation for your first year at college.  At first glance it may seem innocuous enough; The Best of George Gershwin Music Book, a long black practice skirt, the odd Shakespeare text, nothing too worrying.  That is of course until you reach the dance section…. 

 It was many years ago now but just thinking about it sends a shiver down my spine.  The elation of being accepted into a well-known London drama school soon turned to terror as I glanced down The List to see ballet shoes, pink tights, black ballet skirt and cropped top staring back at me.  Cropped top?!  I was no skinny dancer with a tiny midriff and taught washboard stomach!  A genetic disposition to chubbyness and several years of over indulgence had left me with a very curvy figure and not one that I particularly wanted to show off!  So, it was with a heavy heart that I set off from the depths of Wales to London on a shopping trip with my mum and best friend Sarah.  Soon we were spending exorbitant amounts of money at Freeds of London, an old-fashioned, sombre looking dance shop just off Leicester Square full of very young and very skinny girls buying their pointe shoes and regulation leotards.  I was only 19 and, in hindsight, not that fat, but sitting in-between those 12-year-old stick insects I felt like their morbidly obese grandmother!  Several bags later the ordeal was over and we left the shop to move on to the next level of torture – the cropped top. 

The place to go for more modern dance gear in those days was Gamba in Covent Garden.  It was here that we purchased the shiny bright blue lycra two piece that become one of my most hated pieces of college clothing – a cropped top with a matching pair of knickers to go over leggings or tights.  To this day, I have no idea why I bought them – my usual colour was flattering black!  I can only imagine that a sudden burst of excitement at the realisation that I was actually going to drama school clouded my judgement! 

A few weeks later I stood in my first dance class at college, feeling very exposed in the shiny blue top with my stomach revealed in all its full, plump glory, facing Jackie, the woman who would go on to become my mortal enemy.  I had heard all about her from the other students before I even set eyes on her – the uncompromising, tough, modern dance teacher who took no prisoners.   And she did not fail to live up to her reputation!  But that’s another post….. 

Anyway, not long after that first dance class I had one of my most mortifying drama school experiences in room 301 – the dragon’s den.  Sporting my usual 1st year jazz outfit of black leggings and the aforesaid blue lycra two piece (I had cunningly dumped it by the 2nd year!) and stretched out on the floor attempting to do box splits, I suddenly felt the prod of Jackie’s foot as she stood behind me trying to push me down further than my child bearing hips would allow.   It was just too much for my legs and arms to bear and a few seconds later I lost my balance and my large blue bottom came crashing down towards the floor, finding instead Jackie’s foot!!!  In front of the entire first year!  Unbearably embarrasing at the time but a moment relished in later years – I had sat on Jackie’s foot – all 11 stone of me!  She never stood behind me again!

To all those musical theatre students about to embark on three years of hell otherwise known as drama school – study The List and make your choices wisely or those lycra moments may stay with you for a very long time….

As I was nearly getting up this morning, I happened to catch an interview with a researcher / author on BBC Breakfast who had turned her 7 year quest to find the writer of a French letter in a bottle into a best selling book. Now, one of my many non-achievements is that of not being a writer. Ever since childhood I have enjoyed writing and always felt that I had at least one book in me, possibly a trilogy. However I have never been able to find my perfect story or the Harry Potter / Robert Langdon / Sherlock Holmes charismatic character to hang a book on. I have ideas almost every day; some of them even make it as far as being realised in a word document, at least for a page or so, but are then resigned to my ever-increasing story beginnings file.

So, I wondered, as I sat watching the interview, whether her success was simply down to opportunity – a fascinating story just ripe for telling to the world, and literally handed to her on a plate, or rather in a bottle. But, when her friend brought her the letter she had found washed up on the beach and asked her to translate it, knowing that she was a fluent French speaker, she could have done the job and simply left it there. Like others have done. The opportunity would have deflated like a burst balloon and raspberried off into the distance, never to be seen again. And yet, the tragic letter from a mother filled with grief at the loss of her young son, prickled her curiosity and started her on a journey that not only took out a considerable chunk of her life but also gave her a great idea for a book. The fact that the writer of the letter was only found after the book was published is even more fascinating – the writing of the book ultimately became part of the quest, a hope that the person who wrote the letter might one day read it and solve the mystery. And she did.

I wonder how many opportunities I miss every day because I’m too busy or too short-sighted to see their potential? Still, maybe one day opportunity will strike long enough for me to lock the gates, grab it and publish it and I can make my way to the top of the seesaw. Then again, it’s a precarious life, sitting on top of the world, wondering when the heavy person opposite will either lose weight or just get off the seesaw and leave you to plummet to the ground. Perhaps turning a blind eye to Opportunity is not such a bad idea!

Posted: August 5, 2010 in Opportunity
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If failure sits opposite success on the seesaw of life, it stands to reason that those who attain neither end up on the pivot, admiring the people above and pitying the people below.  I am one of those people – lucky enough to get a place at the table of life but unlucky enough to end up with the seat in front of the table leg….  Yes, I am a proud member of the ‘Nearly Was Club’.

I have a long list of things I have nearly achieved and it’s one I continue to add to on a regular basis.  Some of my favourites include:

  • I Nearly Was a professional actress
  • I Nearly Was relatively slim
  • I Nearly Was married (okay, I admit that might be a slight exaggeration!)
  • I Nearly Was popular
  • I Nearly Was a writer

Being a Nearly Was, rather than a Has Been or a Never Was, is actually quite liberating and far more rewarding.   The only requirement for maintaining membership of the ‘Nearly Was Club’ is that you must actually try.  “But what if I succeed?” I hear you cry?  Well, if by any chance you achieve what you set out to do then you must move up to the Am Now Club.  But don’t worry; once you have started driving down the road of Nearly Was there are very few turning spaces so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever reach the, frankly dangerous, heights of Am Now!  The only fear you should have is of the Never Was….!

But joking aside, when do things ever go to plan?  Who, apart from perhaps a very small number of lucky people, lives a life free from frustration and “sorry, you’re just not quite what we’re looking for”?  So this is my blog – my story of life past and present as seen from the middle of the seesaw – not quite up and not quite down.