It ain’t easy being stuck in here!

As it’s the half term, thought I’d partake in a little self-indulgent navel-gazing.

Dear friends, family, lovers, colleagues, acquaintances, the guy in the shop, and anyone else I have to interact with…

I know I’m a nightmare to live, work or otherwise deal with. I know I’m a pain in the ass. I know. I have to live with me all the time. The only time I get a break from it is when I’m asleep, or able to finally lose myself in another world for a while.

I know I’m a klutz. I don’t need a reminding eyeroll or a tut when I drop something. I know. How do you think it feels to drop or knock over nearly every single thing you try to pick up? And cock up every fiddly little thing you try to do because you can’t get your dumbass hands to do what your dumbass brain is telling them?

I know I’m socially awkward and panic and flap, then say or do the *absolute* wrong thing every time. The ground just never opens up fast enough. But, trust me, I’m perfectly aware of how absolutely ridiculous I look and sound. I’m giving myself a hard enough time already. Please don’t you tell me too.

I know I talk way too loud and a million miles an hour when I’ve had anything containing sugar or something exciting is happening. That’s just the part comes out, you only get a fraction of it. Imagine what it’s like inside my brain at those times. Picture what’s happening to my heart rate and my breathing. I don’t do it on purpose, if I could help it, I would. I hate it too. A gentle, loving reminder to slow down is all I need. Please don’t snap at me, I’m already fraught.

(Plus, I know I make weird sounds. Like, all the time. Even I can’t explain that one. They just come out. But I’m not sorry about those. The world needs comic sound effects.)

And I know that the flipside is inevitably a crash. I know I seem moody. It’s not you, it’s clichéd old me. I’m done. It’s exhausting being me, being stuck in here with this hot mess all the time. I just need to be catatonic for a while. Anyway, didn’t you want me to be quiet 5 minutes ago? 😉

I know I’m oversensitive. I know I overthink everything you say. That’s not a lot of fun for me either; trust me, I’d give far fewer shits if I could! But it also means that I am incredibly sensitive to you – your wants, your needs, how things are making you feel – I notice it all. And it means that I listen to everything you say – your hopes, your dreams, your wishes, your fears – and I remember them. I keep them with me always.

I know I want approval and affection all the time. But that’s because your smiles mean you see past the nonsense, all the things that make me a pain in the ass, and see me underneath it all. Because, when you wrap me up in a hug, all the noise stops. All the nonsense falls away and I feel a rare moment of peace, quiet and perfect clarity.

I know I’m a pain in the ass. But I know I’m worth it too. And knowing that you know that too calms me down better and faster than any number of pills I can pop or breathing exercises I can do.

 

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Ruminations on Social Grief

Why do we give ourselves such a hard time at the hardest of all times?

Grief is such a personal thing. We jealously guard it, and our memories of the deceased. We are almost territorial about it. Yet, for such a private feeling, it’s also oddly constrained by social considerations. A strange thing I have noticed: when someone passes away, we unconsciously rank our proximal relation to them. Gauge the level of bereavement we feel permitted to. Instead of just getting on with being sad, we wrack ourselves with questions of “how upset am I allowed to be? How upset am I supposed to be?” Essentially, we beat ourselves up about “am I grieving right?”

This adds unexpected levels of sensitivity to an already traumatic emotion. If we weren’t very close to the departed, we may find ourselves feeling insufficient when we observe the poignant grief that those closer feel. Perhaps, deeply unconsciously, even jealous of their clear-cut right to grieve without justification. If we were close, we may find ourselves feeling guilty that we’re less upset than we think we should be. If the illness was long or difficult, we may even feel a sense of relief. And then hate ourselves for it, becoming defensive if we suspect anyone is close to discovering we feel that way. I am convinced that poor, grieving souls shed more tears trying to reconcile what they do feel with what they believe they should feel, than they shed just plain mourning their loved one. Understanding what you’re feeling and why is the hardest part of grieving.

And while we’re trying to muddle all this out, we inevitably have to deal with many other equally muddled people who are at different levels and stages of grief. We can’t help but compare – dare I say, compete? We find ourselves surprisingly possessive of the memories we have. Perhaps even to the point we deride the little mistakes those less close inevitably make: “Why is he calling him Billy? He can’t have known Bill at all. I knew Bill and I know he hated being called Billy. Does this person even have any right to talk about Bill?” Then we realise we’re being horribly unfair to someone who is probably totally at sea having to publicly speak about someone they are very aware they didn’t know! When we realise how unfair we’re being,  there’s that self-disdain and guilt again.

Grief is ugly. It rips you up and forces you to feel unfair, horrible things. Grief is rotten. It is, bar none, the most harrowing emotion. Worse so because it never leaves. You just grow around it; let it become part of you. Another battle scar. It rears its head when you least expect it, a punch in the stomach. And yet, as fragile humans with our fragile places in our fragile hierarchies, we make the hardest times of our lives even harder by wrapping ourselves in cycles of jealousy, doubt, self-loathing, possessiveness and guilt. What is wrong with us?!

Unfortunately, there is no answer. We are who we are and where we are. This is just how it has to be. Primates who have orchestrated societies so complex that we unconsciously filter every emotion, instinct or reaction through generations of social conditioning. There is no solution; we are bound to torture ourselves with these conflicting feelings. But, I find, just being aware of that fact helps. We are far too smart for our own good, but we are not rational about our emotions. In all things, we are deeply motivated by fear, insecurity and social anxiety. Accept it. And if your irrationality throws up unfair thoughts about yourself or others, let those thoughts come. And let them go. Acknowledge that you’re perhaps acting unreasonably, apologise if you need to, but don’t make it another rod with which to beat your already battered self.

Creed

I’ve recently returned from an absolutely glorious – and much needed! – holiday in Bali and the Gili Islands. I was utterly exhausted from a long term at school, and it was all I could do to flop into a lounger with my book.

I don’t like being exhausted. I don’t like what it does to me, or my faculties. I don’t like the destructive side it brings out in me. I don’t like the way it interferes with all the pleasant little particles of life that I’ve woven into some semblance of ‘self’. It disrupts my reading, it stops me writing, it stops me pottering about in the kitchen listening to the Archers. Even if I have the same number of hours free, I don’t spend them doing the quiet, constructive things I love to do. I spend them drinking and bitching about how exhausted I am.

I like being busy. Busy is great. It keeps you buoyed up, makes you feel useful. But busy is to exhausted as a fifth cup of tea is to a fifth round of tequila slammers.  Exhausted doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve worked particularly hard or long hours (though, in teaching, it often does). It means that your reserves are, well, exhausted. Drained. And different things drain different people. You might only rack up 40 hours this week, and those at quite sociable times, but there’s chasms of difference between 40 hours spent on something you find energising, and 40 hours of something you find draining. Some people find interacting with people draining, and need quiet solitude to recharge. Some people are quite the opposite. Most people are a happy little fudge somewhere in the middle. (Mmmm, fudge…)  Exhaustion comes when you spend day after day doing that which you find draining without having (or taking) the time spend on that which you find energising.

Even before the end of this last school term, I was exhausted. Totally done in. Oddly, instead of trundling home after work and slumping into my bed as you’d expect a self-proclaimed ‘exhausted’ person to do, I’d find myself rebelling – out til all hours letting off steam, shirking responsibilities, over-indulging in everything going. Yep, that really helps you become unexhausted. Smart work. It’s a vicious cycle. When you’re exhausted, you stop taking care of yourself. You eat crap, you skip exercise, you drink and smoke and swear like a sailor. And, quelle surprise, you end up more exhausted, flabby, spotty and scared to look at your bank balance. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to see that that’s the slippery slope to depression and burn out.

Here’s the thing, though. And I’d hazard a guess that it’s the thing for so many teachers. It makes you question, it makes you doubt. Is this what I should be doing? Is this where I should be going? Am I any good at this? Is this any good for me? Currently, I have no answer to that. I flatter myself, not unreasonably, that I’m good at teaching. I can definitely do this. But this last term has really made me question: do I want to? I’ve thrashed since childhood with what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve toyed with every idea from mermaid to teacher to journalist to librarian to solicitor to teacher to pyrotechnician to librarian to teacher. Now hurtling towards 30, I’m still not any clearer. I’m thinking about starting over again with mermaid. Or pirate. Pirate mermaid?

Teacher comes up very often in that cycle, as does librarian. But there is one underpinning constant that I never dared formally to add to the list. Writer. The only thing I have always wanted to do, always loved to do, always been able to do without feeling like a bluffing imposter, is write. Why didn’t I add it to the list? Well, I don’t know. I suppose I thought it vain and presumptive to think I could just ‘become’ a Bronte or a Woolf. I’ve always doubted that I could be a good enough writer to get anywhere. I suppose I felt disapproving pressure to get a ‘proper’ profession and squeeze writing in around that. I suppose I was scared, and perhaps a little embarrassed to share my secret hope with the world. We’ve all read Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Now, here’s the point (finally). I don’t get exhausted writing. It energises me. It fills me with 100% pure Liz Power, and makes me my best self. Even if I just spend a little time doing it. Now, obviously, if I spent 20 hours a day doing it every day of the week, every week of the year, it wouldn’t take me long to get exhausted. Any work is exhausting if you do too much of it. But I really am coming to understand, perhaps believe is a better word, that – if you have the luxury of choice in the matter – one should really be doing a job that keeps you busy, but leaves you feeling buzzing with self.

I’ve another year left on my contract at this school, and I’m going to use this year to consolidate everything I’ve learned about teaching, and everything teaching has taught me about myself. But I’m also going to use it to try, and I mean really try, to be serious about my writing. I’m not making any grand gestures or any big decisions. Perhaps something will click, and I’ll find a way to be an awesome teacher without draining myself flat. Or perhaps I’ll find my writing taking me to new and interesting places, leaving the classroom standing for dust. A year is a long time, and everything can change irrevocably overnight. But one thing is clear to me, I’m committed to do this for another year, but I obviously need to take more care to recharge and not be exhausted. If that makes me better at teaching, great. If that makes me want to continue teaching, also great. I really do love it. But if that is the step on the road to a glittering new career as a writer, who am I to complain? Really, making time to do something you love every day, even if that does take discipline, can’t be bad for you.

So, loosely sketched, here is my new creed. My promises to myself. The three undeniables:

  • Write. Write your socks off. Write something, anything. Just write. Write every day.
  • And read. Read like fury. Read everything. Read every idle moment. Fill your brain.
  • Take time to reflect. Carve a little island of peace out of each day. Let no-one invade.

That island is your sovereign fortress. Sit, gaze, walk. Just be.
(And roll those islands up into a glorious holiday at least once a season.)

If I can find discipline to do these things each day over the next year, whether I become the next literary sensation or just a more rested and effective teacher is immaterial. Because one thing I know is I will be less exhausted, and much happier.

Back on the Horse

Well,  it’s been over 18 months since I last wrote, ironically about writers’ block! In that time, a lot has changed.

After writing that post,  I decided to take charge of the rut I was stuck in. I upped sticks and moved to Myanmar in June 2014 to work as a Primary class teacher. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,  and it’s a pretty full on job,  as any school teacher will tell you.  I’ve barely had time to take stock, let alone write.

OK, that’s a cop out.  There’s always time to write, if you really want to. But I fell out of the habit and the months ticked by.  Then recently a friend asked me to do a piece for her travel website about my experiences in Myanmar. I found I had a lot to say, and slimming it down to a brief overview was hard. Harder than actually writing the stuff.

The experience has given me a fresh enthusiasm for scribing, and editing the piece has given me a lot of outtakes and ideas to use for future notes and queries.

So, without making any promises(!), here’s the piece I wrote for my friend’s site.  Do take the time to read the other wonderful ‘postcards’ on there too,  which are infinitely better than mine:

http://www.mymarcotravel.com/postcards/magnificent-myanmar

Hopefully I can conjure up some more gumph to keep you by turns entertained and informed. There’s a lot to be said about this place, being an expat, and teaching wee cherubs full time… But no promises, mind.  It’s a busy old life being an International Woman of Mystery!

Bloggers actually Blog

A short while ago I wistfully opined to one of my friends that “Maybe I’ll be a blogger when I grow up,” to which she retorted, not underisively, “I don’t think so. Bloggers actually write in their blogs”. Ouch! Burn! That one stung my delicate ego.

But she has a point. Writers write. And I’ve been doing a distinct lack of writing, and not just lately. Throughout my life. I’ve always told myself “I’ll be a writer one day”, but never written with any kind of drive or discipline. I tell myself I’m gestating, absorbing, preparing… but really I’m just not writing. Currently, I’m not a writer. I’m a linguist, an English teacher and sometime professional scribe of other people’s ideas. I can write, I just don’t. There’s always some excuse, but if we’re being honest, it’s one of two things. Either I’m not able to ‘be a writer’ for whatever reason, or I’m somehow stopping myself from ‘being a writer’.

I could self-indulgently navel-gaze on this theme at length, psychoanalysing the various ways in which I ‘block’ myself, but I suspect that would be boring for everyone, me included, and entirely counter-productive. Most of what my friends would call “the trouble with me” is a ludicrous propensity to over-analyse everything. So I’ll just let that one ride. For whatever reason, I’m not writing. And, if I really want to be a writer, I probably had ought to address that. What to do? Well, write. Obvs.

Write what? Ah, now that one’s a little trickier. I can’t seem to entice myself with anything at the moment. I have failed abominably at consistently keeping a diary throughout my entire life, regardless of the number of beautiful, kitsch notebooks I buy. My latest acquisition is sitting accusingly on my desk as I write. The first few pages enthusiastically filled (with an equally kitsch matching pen), the rest a yawning blank. I can write letters it seems, betimes. Until recently, I was writing a sort-of-diary in the form of a booklet of letters to a dear friend telling them all about my adventures and (oh so witty(!)) observations. I could do that no problem; I always knew what voice to use. That’s the thing I can’t stand about diarying. It’s the same feeling as recording yourself and playing it back. Urgh. Writing to someone else, speaking to someone else, you’re never as conscious of your voice as of the message. But writing letters doesn’t seem right anymore either. Beneath my most recent failed diary is another notebook, bought with the intention of penning a thousand epistles to my dear late mother. I thought I had so much to say to her. But I can’t even open it, my mind is a blank. A guilty, gaping blank. And I can’t think of a thing to write to my dear old friend either.

So what about my blog, this blog? Well, look through my archive. Speaks for itself. I’m averaging less than one post per month. The last three have been nothing to do with the blog’s original intention (keeping my friends abreast of my adventures, and offering reflections on teaching), just feckless navel-gazing. I have drafts in the offing, they’ve been sitting there for months. Clever titles with no content; sketchy bullet points of half-baked ideas. All my ideas seem stale and lustreless; boring, uninspiring. Bleugh. I occasionally grace social media with the odd (half-)witty epigram, but even that’s dried up lately. It’s all I can do to share a link with more than a half-hearted, hackneyed adjective.

Recently, I’ve taken on some extra-curricular copywriting work. But so far, I haven’t done much writing, mostly editing. Now, this could be because the guy who commissioned the work is actually a very good writer himself, and furnished me with a wealth of raw material to use. I honestly couldn’t think of anything else to add, it seemed that he’d said it all. But I can’t help thinking it’s because I can’t write, because I lack imagination, lack propulsion, spark. Devoid of ideas, perhaps I’m destined to be an editor. A tweaker of other people’s genius.

Perhaps, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that noble profession. But that doesn’t stop me wanting to be a writer, it doesn’t douse the constant compulsion I feel to pen my thoughts, even if I never seem to get round to it, or cringingly recoil when I try to put pen to paper. And the fact remains: if I want to be a writer, I have to write. And if that means forcing myself to write, metaphorically dragging my lazy wordsmith ass out of bed, then so be it. As Stephen King perspicaciously notes in his fabulous ‘On Writing‘, just write. Write whatever, write every day, and hope that some of it will be good.

What does this mean for you? Well, not a lot really, and well done if you’ve followed this ridiculous, self-indulgent and largely circular thought process to this point. Either standby for a deluge of half-baked, quasi-philosophical and doubtlessly ill-conceived posts herein, or wryly observe a predictable return to being a blogger who never blogs; a writer who doesn’t write. I’m hoping for the first, but my money’s on the second…Que sirrah sirrah, we shall see!

The Joy of Non-Participation

Songkran thumps on outside, but here I sit in a suspended bubble of calm. I could go out and join in, and it would probably be a lot of fun, but there’s a kind of guilty pleasure in staying in my peaceful little apartment, with nothing much to do. I’ve spent a quiet morning baking some muffins, occasionally observing the Songkran madness from the lofty safety of my balcony, and listening to a wonderful audio book. Almost coincidentally, or at least not consciously, it’s “The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year”, by the late, great Sue Townsend.

I started listening to it this morning without making the connection; I didn’t remember that Ms Townsend had recently died until I started listening to Caroline Quentin’s comfortingly familiar voice. Having run dry of Archers episodes, I just felt the urge to listen to it. This isn’t the first time I’ve listened to this audio book. I first listened to it about a year ago, still reeling and repiecing myself after my mother’s death. I listened while walking lost and lonely around and around a brisk and beautiful Edinburgh, a million miles from my now-contented self, escaping the tropical heat in my little Chiang Mai apartment. Listening to it then helped so much. It hurt and it helped as it offered a comforting channel to wring the diffuse and suffocating pain from my broken heart. I wished then, and still dearly wish, that my mum had read this book. She would have found it in equal parts comforting, sympathetically infuriating, and hilarious, echoing her life and dreams and dashed hopes. Maybe it would have given her the strength to go on, though probably not for long – nothing could. The fact that the audio book is read by Caroline Quentin only compounds this feeling. Aside from being one of the funniest women alive, she reminds me so much of my mum. Always did. They have the same composed and vital beauty, the wry smile and twinkling eye privately laughing at a secret joke. The same open warmth and kindness, the evident inner strength tainted with the weariness of the good-hearted.

I’ve always been cautious of ‘turning into my mum’ – of falling into the precipice that I know is there, just out of sight, of becoming a broken person – and therefore wary of the urges I sometimes get to recede. By the end, my mum could hardly leave the house. When I arranged a Tesco delivery for her, she had to hide in the living room while the dreaded stranger left the food in the kitchen. The more she let herself pull away from the world, the harder it was to face it again when necessity beckoned.

Whenever I get the urge to stay in and do nothing, I can’t help worrying that the next day it will be harder to leave, and the next day, and the next day, until I too am forced into frightened hermitude. But I have to remember, I’m not my mum. I am her, and I’m not. She told me everything, she showed me the way even though she’d lost it herself. Consciously and unconsciously, she taught me how to make the most of the good stuff while avoiding the fall. And I must remember that ‘turning into her’ really wouldn’t be such a bad thing; despite her flaws and her brokenness, I honestly think she’s one of the best people who ever lived. It sounds cliched, but if you knew her, you’d understand. I can’t count the lives she touched and healed in her small, kind and loving ways. If I can be even a fraction as kind and intelligent and all-loving as she was, I’ll be proud.

At times like this, I try to remember that sometimes you just have to listen to yourself and what you really want, not what you think you ought to want. This is who I am. It’s who she was too. I can’t change that, and nor do I want to. I like me, and I loved her immeasurably. And we are just the kind of people who, sometimes, like to stay in and potter about and not do much.

When I come to think of it, I realise that was never the problem with mum. The problem came from the weariness; the crushing thankless weariness of a life spent giving and giving and never taking, like Eva in Townsend’s wonderful book. Like so many mothers of my parent’s generation, trapped between the glossy, stylish lifestyles sold to them en masse in the likes of House & Home, the burgeoning days of the enviably powerful new ‘career’ woman, and the stark reality of domestic expectation. The confusing frustration of realising your youth and best years are gone, ploughed into the propagation of progeny plus husband. The hollowness and conflicting emotions stirred by no longer being constantly needed, used and in demand as said progeny fly the coop. The bitter realisation that, in that time you’ve attained approximately none of the treasured ambitions of your dewy-eyed youth. Some women can take this in their stride, and enjoy full and exciting autumn years, living for themselves for the first time in 20 plus years. But some people feel too deeply. Sometimes the pains and the bitterness that stretch over a lifetime are too much to bear. In writing my mother’s eulogy, I could track her fall. Understand the spiral of her grief. In retrospect, it is clear to me now that my mother, and her parents before her, had deeply-ingrained depressive personalities. The cruel disappointments and bereavements that plagued my mother since her mid-thirties came so thick and fast, each worse than the last, that their pain still resonates now. Knowing myself now, and knowing the parts of me that are her, I can see now how she was never able to heal, never able to pick herself up. She was never off-duty. She could never stop being mum, being wifey, being sister. She never had the time and leisure to retreat and just be herself, happily contented in her own company. She’d spent so long contorting herself to everyone else’s needs and wills and whims that she’d forgotten who herself was.

When I think about my mother in those terms, I can perfectly understand the importance to her, and to me, of sometimes, just sometimes, retreating. Quietly, peacefully, and wholesomely spending some quality time by yourself. My mother never got enough of that when she truly needed it. Unable to find the time and calm to process the complicated emotions that welled and were repressed within her, she turned instead to drink and oblivion. Consequently, in the loneliness and sadness of her final years, as she saw her life and opportunities fluttering away, she overindulged in the peace of solitude, pulling the folds of grief and disappointment tight around herself and isolating herself completely.

So, you see, although it might not seem ‘healthy’, when I feel the urge to excuse myself from society, I know it’s best for me to obey that as the need arises. I know mum should have done more of that when she was younger. And I know I should do it not grudgingly or anxiously, but joyfully. To indulge in it, but just a little. It may sound selfish, but it’s important for me – and I think for everyone – to make that time for yourself. See musings passim on the difference between selfishness and self-care. Give yourself the time off! Stop worrying about missing out or ‘being boring’. I’m never bored when I’m on my own – in all honesty, are you? Who gives a flying fruitcake what other people think – chances are they’re probably envious anyway. It’s vital for your mental health, and your happiness, to just do what you gotta do, but via a healthy and wholesome means. For me, that’s occasionally spending a day withdrawn from the noisy, confusing, and exciting world, quietly pottering. You’ll know what it is for you. Listen to yourself, know yourself; understand when you need to push yourself into something you don’t really want to do, but also when you need to say “OK, forget about ‘should’, let’s take today off”.

Love Yourself – Happy Valentine’s / Makha Bucha Day to Me!

Valentine’s Day can go suck an egg, so far as I’m concerned! It’s become an over-hyped exercise in commercialism that’s increasingly isolating – for couples and singles alike – with its enforced heteronormativity. Most years, I can pretty deftly ignore it. This year is no exception – thank goodness! But this year is a little special too. This year, Valentine’s Day coincides with Makha Bucha day – a Thai national holiday – so I have the day off work.

The spiritual aims of Makha Bucha day are: not to commit any kind of sins; do only good; purify one’s mind. OK, fair enough – these concepts seem generally good, and are open to interpretation. Most Thai Buddhists spend the day praying at the temple, and making merit. I’m not Buddhist, but I think we can all do with reflecting on the coincidence of Makha Bucha and Valentine’s.

Is romantic love sinful? Many traditions would have us believe it is, on some level. Particularly in its physical expressions. But I don’t think so; it’s good and wholesome and natural – and, well, fun! Anyway, I’m not interested in that today, but if you are, take a moment to consider the ways romantic love is beneficial to you and others (do only good!), and how it is harmful. It can be both things. Consider the difference between benevolent love and violent appetite.

Why stop at romantic love? Isn’t that how Western Valentine’s day has become so disgustingly over-balanced – this obsession with romantic fulfillment? Instead of spending the day lamenting the shortcomings of your romantic life, consider the joy brought to your life with other kinds of love – familial love, platonic love, the general love you feel towards the world, and which you feel reciprocated when you feel peace. The love you have for your interests and passions. And – this is my focus for today – the love for yourself.

Now, I think we can all agree the first of those types of love – familial, platonic, general, passionate endeavour – are generally good, wholesome, and not sinful. (Though, sometimes they can cause us to act sinfully.)  But that last kind – love for yourself – is that sinful? Is it wrong and selfish to love yourself?

I’d argue that self-obssession, and relentless self-interest are, indeed, sinful (in the sense that they are harmful, damaging), but that proper love for yourself is, in fact, healthy, pure, and important. Self-love, self-acceptance, self-knowledge: they are the very keystone of your interaction with the rest of the world. All other love, understanding and action begin and end with your attitude to yourself; how it affects your interpretations of the world – whether it distorts and skews, or deepens and augments.

I’d go so far as to argue that, until you can love and accept yourself wholly, honestly, and exactly as you are, any other love you give or receive – romantic, familial, general – will contain a harmful or disruptive element of distortion. Your own insecurities and fears will (unconsciously) skew each action and reaction. I truly believe that this, and almost entirely this, is the root cause of all relationship problems; an incomplete knowledge of yourself. To love fully and freely, you must have a complete, honest, and frank relationship. This is true as much for yourself as it is for others. If you can’t be fully free and honest with yourself, how can you be with others? And without that freedom and openness, how can you ever love fully and well – without sin, or harm, or selfishness, or whatever you want to call it?

So, this Valentine’s / Makha Bucha combo day, Buddhist or no, single or otherwise, take the time to give yourself a little love and attention. Look inwardly, lovingly and honestly, and accept what you find there. Enjoy its uniqueness. You have a special relationship with yourself that you can have with no other being. Take the time today to enjoy it and reflect on it – not sinfully, but purely. Do yourself some good, and by extension those around you; those you love.

As a corrollary, I would note that I don’t think a little indulgence is sinful either. In fact, as with everything, a little indulgence is a good thing – only an excess is harmful. And what better way to consider and enjoy self-love than with a little healthy self-indulgence? Pander to those little desires that only you fully understand, that special ‘me time’, whatever form it takes. You know what it is; that which makes your heart light, gives you that warming thrill,  and leaves your mind free and easeful. Maybe it’s as simple as a quiet cup of tea and a biscuit, or a walk in a green space. Maybe it’s a lie-in or a long shower. Only you can know.

As for myself, this morning I’ve enjoyed the luxury of quiet time with myself, indulged in a little navel-gazing, a little self-learning, and a bit of yoga. And I’ve treated myself to a delcious brunch treat. Perhaps a little unhealthy, but didn’t we agree a little indulgence is good for your soul?

Valentine’s Self-Love Brunch Treat – Bread & Butter Brunch Pudding

I was going to make myself pancakes, but I had some chocolate bread that wants eating up…. this little idea popped into my head nearly fully-formed. A bit like eggy bread, a bit like bread and butter pudding, it makes for delicious brunch!

Jpeg

I’ve used chocolate bread, but you can use any bread you like – brioche or some kind of tea bread is probably best. And I think only yeasted bread can give you that lovely texture and flavour. I’ve also used raisins, cashews and almonds because I had them to hand and quite fancied them, but you can use whatever dried (or fresh!) fruits, nuts, seeds you fancy.

You will need:

  • Sweet bread of some kind (chocolate bread, brioche, etc… up to you).
    1-2 largeish slices, depending on appetite.
  • 1 or 2 eggs (1 egg per 2 medium slices, or 1 egg per large slice)
  • A wee slosh of milk (about 2 tbsps), or cream if you’re feeling very naughty
  • Sugar and lemon juice (optional, to taste)
  • A small handful of dried or fresh fruit, nuts, seeds (optional, to taste)
  • 1 tbsp Butter or veg oil (for frying)
  • Whatever you want for ‘topping’, honey, chocolate sauce, syrup, yogurt… depends on personal taste, bread choice, fruit choice – use your imagination! (Though I used honey, it pours easier…)

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until well combined, and beat in a wee slosh of milk, about a tsp of sugar (if adding, the type is up to you – I used demerara for rummy flavour) and a wee squiz or lemon or lime juice. Jpeg
  2. Stir in your chosen fruits and nuts.
  3. Place one slice of bread in the mix. Let it lie for a couple of minutes, then carefully turn it over (be gentle or it will break!).
  4. Let it lie for a couple of minutes on that side too. If you’re doing more than one slice, carefully remove and set on a plate (if you’re just doing the one you can let it lie in the mix til you’re ready to cook).
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for any additional slices of bread.
    Top tip: If you’re having coffee or something similarly fiddly with your brunch, you can get it on now while the bread soaks. Once you start cooking, that will take all your attention. This is a needy little treat!
  6. In a frying pan, heat the butter or oil on a low-mid heat.
  7. Carefully lower one slice of soaked bread into the oil (a good spatula or fishslice is a godsend for this job!). If you have a large pan or small bread, you can put them all in, but don’t crowd the pan. If your pan is small / bread is big, cook them in batches. They keep warm a good while.
  8. Let the bread fry for a couple of minutes, until you see the egg on that underside has cooked and is starting to brown. Jpeg
  9. Carefully turn the bread over (use 2 spatulas, or a spatula and a fork if it’s veering to floppy, as the actress said to the bishop).
  10. Cook on this side until the egg is cooked and starting to brown.
  11. Continue turning and browning til it’s done to your satisfaction – about 2 or 3 minutes each side. (Remember that egg continues to cook out of the pan too, so if you want it a bit soft and gooey, take it out when it’s still ‘not quite’).
  12. Turn off the heat, carefully remove the bread from the pan, and arrange with all due ceremony on a serving plate.
    Jpeg
  13. Anoint with your chosen topping – honey, yogurt, dew collected at dawn…
  14. Enjoy with full awareness of just how good you are to yourself.

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