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Basket of Memories

  • Posted on August 10, 2017 at 11:30 pm

There is a series of drawings I should have bookmarked, illustrating grief. One shows two people walking side by side, each holding a handle of a basket marked ‘memories’. The grief version of this image is one person, holding just one handle. Memories are something else when shared, repainted, renewed. Something is forever lost in memories unshared.

And then there is the business of separations, and memories that are denied, memories longed for, memories stirred, and not the same from both sides. This poem began in light of my lost family: chosen and deliberate breaking of memories. And I have seen shared belongings in an unshared space, and wondered about the ways in which I am forgotten.

This poem is a poignant and very real portrayal of losing my family to my personal changes with which they could not cope or embrace. But then I thought about it after writing, and realise that it also applies to my mother’s slow loss of memory (even that I am her daughter), whilst well-remembered things could be found in her house. Things shared, that no longer are; things that could be shared memories, but are not.

The basket of my memories

has a broken handle, many spilled—

I found them arranged on your shelves
hanging in order on your walls

where my eyes are pools
not wells, and dry in the sun
between showers.

There is a mother and there is a daughter
who don’t remember, deliberately—
one doesn’t deliberately remember
the other deliberately doesn’t.

I am a memory in a basket
with no handles
a pool without reflection.

There is a photo of a cat who died—
on your shelf, on your wall.

The recycling basket lies by the door.

 

2017 © Andie Davidson

Memory and identity – about Blue grapes

  • Posted on September 30, 2016 at 8:42 pm

This is an explanation or background to the poem ‘Blue grapes’.

I am watching my own memory, as I have written here over these past years. Me then, me now, what I knew and what I did not. I have written about dementia, a devastating disease that touches most of us in some way, that is affecting my mother. I have written about photographs like memory. Is this a sideline or a sibling to identity?

As I talk to my mother on the phone, my voice is familiar enough, and she remembers her son setting off camping alone in the Peak District. And yet I worry that if I were to knock on her door now, she would not recognise me. She never knew she had a daughter at the time I remember her summer skirt, when I was so small and sat or on at her knee. My best memory of that may have been stimulated by a photograph of her wearing it. Which I saw many years ago. The photograph no longer exists because she threw it away, my memory does, hers may, because it is an old memory, where I am still her son.

Somewhere inside, she is still the same young mother, whilst outside her reality is badly distorted. Today cannot be reclaimed, whilst those old days are like fluctuating embers of a dying fire. The conversations we hold now are a tissue, always the same, very fragile, everything in a tenuous memory layer, nothing really in the present. I am in the opposite pattern, where my memories are least like I really am now. One of us is hanging on to the present, the other the past, as our strongest realities.

Our identities must be more than our memories, yet without them we don’t fully make sense of the present, and so my mother and I have slipped apart even more than my bad record of being in touch deserves. I feel more myself, she less, whilst we may both remember a time long gone when she was young and wore a skirt I shall never forget, in a pattern of blue grapes.

Hence the poem, which visually represents a dialogue that is slipping apart. It can be read as one voice, or two.

Blue grapes

  • Posted on September 30, 2016 at 8:13 pm

Blue grapes

                               I shan’t ask you if you remember

blue grapes on white

                                    you may remember much better than this morning

blue grapes on white and stripes

                                           this morning has faded too soon

blue grapes on white and stripes wider than my arms

                                               too soon to recognise the loss

my last memory of blue grapes

                                                    your cotton skirt printed

was a photograph of laughter

                                                         faded and thrown away

in green fields running

                                                              girlish mother country breeze

we were children in vivid grass

                                                                  throwing your wide skirt of blue grapes

memory prints of deep past

                                                                       wider than my arms being gathered and wrapped

fading with the son

                                                                              in single colours lost pink lost green just blue

that skirt that place

                                                                                     grapes on white with stripes so wide

skirt memory

                                                                                            blue grapes

of course

                                                                                                   how could we forget?

It’s not what you remember, but how

  • Posted on December 1, 2015 at 10:35 pm

A friend of mine has been writing what we hope to be a book, with some contributions from me, interleaving experience and reflection with research. It’s not about being anything, but the meaning there is in it, as it is. In some ways it’s a challenge. ‘How about a chapter on your experience of gender dysphoria?’ Sounds innocent enough; we both know that it isn’t a generalisation but a personal experience, just my narrative and my interpretation of it.

I had a go. By the end of a day of hard writing and thinking, I wasn’t particularly satisfied. How many different ways could I have told the story as a chapter (not a whole big boring book)? Rather a lot of trans people have written their own books, and some are really good, and helped me. I have also seen some that are not so good, and are a reflection that many of us want just to tell our story, though we are not all writers. I guess if I were asked to tell my story to several people with very different backgrounds, I would tell it differently each time. So what matters most to me?

The more I think back, the more my story connects up, as I remember little things, the circumstances of the times, the pressures not to speak of certain things, the need to conform, and even the lack of sufficient understanding to think that I might not have been what everyone told me I was. On one level my story is a happy life. On another it is life characterised by a constant fear. On one reading it is very singularly my own, on another terribly familiar. But the reason that I have this story at all has an absolutely common thread, understood by every transgender person.

I am looking forward to seeing the file ‘The Danish Girl’, and have seen the trailer, and a few interviews with the key actor playing Lili Elbe, Eddie Redmayne. If the trailer made me cry, I’m sure I won’t make it through the film. The big trigger, I expect, will be that first unavoidable confession of knowing your gender is different. The way I phrased the feeling of falling into that realisation, was ‘it just feels perfect’.

The trouble with revisiting the story after several years, is that having settled very perfectly, you can still remember that there was real happiness in your life before too. I don’t want to lose that, but neither is it easy to embrace. If I look at photos of my daughter’s wedding a few months ago, or of my ex-wife looking really happy, giving the wedding speech, her being there and not me … or remember too vividly past Christmases … or holidays, or at pictures of happy homes we made and shared … and … and … Then I remember that but for one thing about me, everything was good.

The story of Lili Elbe, and of many other people who have transitioned, is one of devotion. Love somehow survives the hurt and carries on. Here, there will be pain and loss too, but something mattered too much to let it go. And this is where too much reflection and retelling the story doesn’t help. I was one of the majority who lost their marriage and family, and my deepest regret is that it was for no other reason than my gender. I still recall saying: ‘I can’t walk away from this. You can. Please don’t.’

Rage spoils memories

I was trying to remember something I said when writing the chapter, and from searching around, came across a few pages I wrote at the beginning of transition, when I knew it was all over with my wife and family. It was rage in black and white. Rage that I was not allowed to be angry, that I had to be the one who must understand how difficult this all was for everyone else. It was rage that this one thing that made me feel perfect at last made everything else fall apart. That I could come to a clear understanding, and that in doing so I was no longer wanted as a partner, companion, parent, even though I was still me, crawling out from under a blanket of fear where I had stayed for the sake of everyone else.

And behind that rage was a whole lifetime of tender loving memories that felt completely betrayed. Yes, I had to understand how difficult this was, how impossible for those closest to me to sustain. So every time I hear of love enduring through transition, I remember. Memories of rage? Memories of betrayal? Memories of happiness? Memories of love?

Just as I could think after writing my chapter, of all the ways I could have told the story, so there are many ways of remembering. And it is hard to remember how I had to walk away, not from my own love but from a door closed by others. I think it takes a lot longer than I had thought, to wipe the soot and dust off good memories, so that they don’t simply hurt, but become treasures. I struggle sometimes with talking about a good life that I had, as if by confessing their goodness I want them back. I don’t, because they are long past, and they were all a shared possession, not just mine. And I don’t ever want to live with fear again, least of all fear of my authentic self being a reason not to be loved or wanted. So somehow I need to become able to see photographs, read things and remember, in a different way, where the ending isn’t part of every moment. I will get there, but it has been a reminder to me that just as you can tell your story to other people in many ways, so you can to yourself. Mine is not a sad story, just a brilliant chapter with a very sad ending.

I really don’t want to live with any resentment or anger, and largely it has gone. I simply want to feel gratitude for everything good that has happened in my life. Right now it is good, I am grateful for the love that I share, for the life my partner and I are building together, and for all the new experiences we bring to each other. Life is all about learning, all the way, beginning to end, and after so much telling over the past few years, now I still need to learn how to remember well and safely, because the story continues.

Change and impermanence

  • Posted on August 9, 2015 at 10:25 am

I lay on the beach, a slight warm breeze and a hot sun making my skin aware of its wholeness. Salt water was drying as the sea slowly drew nearer my toes with the tide. I have lived by the sea for twenty years but rarely ventured in. I think I have always balanced its cold unpredictability against my uncertainties of how strong a swimmer I am, and how much I like cold water. I remember still one Easter, at about the age of 13, jumping into an icy river from a snowy bank and losing my breath. It was teachers showing boys what it is to be a man. That isn’t what I learned. Ten years ago I impressed myself by swimming about one kilometre on solo visits to the pool. Impressed, but not convinced.

Today I had been persuaded to get into the sea, and was the first to dive into the waves. And here I was, fully aware of my body and how right it felt, in public, on the beach, in a swimming costume and feeling complete. Another first. I fully understand the Buddhist tenet of impermanence, that everything is in a constant state of flux. I protested too long that I was not changing, and that I was ‘just the same’. In some ways I am, and in many ways I have moved on far from where I was just a year ago. My confidence in the sea was in part due to the fact that I now swim 2.5 km in the pool without feeling exhausted. And also because on our recent holiday, we visited a thermal spa with a number of increasingly hot saunas and an outdoor cold pool. Right now, I am facing things that challenge my boundaries (my ideas of things that can’t change) more easily. Maybe the experience of transition made a lot more seem possible. Maybe the previous feeling of impossibility in ever resolving my inner conflicts made me less willing to create change in other ways.

I stood uncomfortably in a cocktail bar, beat music hammering a tired and aching head, surrounded by glassy-eyed people enjoying the jerky dance that one square metre and a cocktail glass in one hand allows. Was I just too tired? Am I too old? Both may be contributing factors, but I have never felt comfortable in this reality that isn’t really. As yet, that hasn’t changed as yet. I was fascinated by the dramatic hyper-efficient moves of the bar staff as they performed a chemistry more complex than I have ever done. I thought of the money changing hands. I thought of the lives behind the bizarre dress in groups out to celebrate maybe a wedding or a birth. I thought of the empty silent bar tomorrow and a thousand heavy heads earned from the rewards of Monday to Friday in unloved jobs. And how the bar staff feel after many hours every night in the loud darkness and constant flow where you can barely hear the orders. And I knew that for me, as yet, this discomfort has not changed. Maybe I don’t want it to.

This morning is bright and sunny. It will be hot. I watch it from the window, unable to sleep long enough to repair the night. It is also still wedding season. Many weddings featured in our conversations over a birthday dinner, there are family and friends, and my colleague at work. I was wearing my pearl earrings, simply because they matched a non-pearl necklace in colour. I feel they have no value, as I remember buying them from a shared account, to mark 30 years of marriage just weeks before leaving. I hope my daughter will have a sunny day like today in two weeks time, for her wedding. I am wondering who I can ask to take and sneak a few photographs for me. It reminds me that once, I was starting out, with all the hopes of a lifelong commitment, of learning, sharing, developing the expected lifetime of change. To a program, to a happy conclusion, and to passing the same expectations on to the next generation. This was how life was to be. The right kind of change; but I wouldn’t have called it impermanence. No – I think I would have used the word permanence.

I interpret, because I don’t know, that my daughter is angry that her father must always have known what he was going to do. Maybe she feels betrayed and that I lied, and took something essential away from her. Whether that makes her feel that I changed beyond recognition, I also don’t know. But this is a change that she didn’t want to change her life. People give me encouraging words, that one day she will come round. I don’t even know what ‘come round’ means. That she will change her mind, or that she will change? Or that something else will change her?

I wish I could talk to her about change. Marriage will change her. If she has a family of her own, it will change immeasurably. She has no more guarantees of permanence than I had, and it is only by changing that she will be able to find a complete and fulfilling life. She and her husband will change over time, and sometimes change isn’t
what happens to you, but what you decide you can do. I hope they can change together, that they will allow changes in their lives and treat it as bonding rather than dividing. Most of all, I hope she comes to understand how important the response to change can be, that it represents growth, not loss. Maybe one day she can lie on a beach and know that her life changes have made her more than she was. I hope she can go on pushing her boundaries (I’m still not sure about the skydiving!) and letting go. And maybe one day she will stand glassy-eyed in a cocktail bar and know that she finds herself more truly in solitude. Maybe that’s where we may meet again.

Meanwhile, from this sunny place, I want to wish her well. I wish I could, but I cannot even get a message to her that she will accept or read. I cannot change that, but yes, it may also be impermanent.