Saturday 27 December 2014

Bereavement and Creativity (3) | Desert Island DMs continued

The rest of the short story I began in my last blog entry ends thus:

I spend my early 30s free and single with my cat Pringles for company. I take my court shoes to Oxfam and live in a pair of Dr Martens, teamed with jeans. I insist on Ms as my title and wear my DMs when dancing and demonstrating; from UB40 to Poll Tax Marches. My loving parents support and challenge me in equal measures as I clarify my personal politics and develop a more positive sense of self.

At 37 I meet Phil, become stepmother to his three children and give birth to another. We all live well together. The shoe store is under the stairs and my work shoes and DMs lie jumbled together with Phil’s brogues and boots, a number of pairs of Clarks and Start-Rites, football boots and dancing shoes.

In my 40s, I move away from DMs, although I couldn’t wear a heel now if you paid me. I try once when shopping for a party outfit but can’t take a single step. It’s back to Clarks and the like. I add to my reading on foot development and know the damage high heels do to a woman’s feet and her posture is comparable to that of foot binding. I like my feet. They are a nice shape with neat toes. I feel a little smug about this. I could be a celebrity’s foot double.

In my 50s now I’ve deserted Clarks for the second time, upon discovering a new brand of comfy, quirky flatties. When the sun comes out, I swap them for sandals and paint my toenails to match the colour of the leather. But my favourite shoes are a pair of pink nubuck loafers. Yes, fifty years on, I’ve found pink again. I discovered this lovely footwear in a shop on the outskirts of Covent Garden, on a trip to London. There’s more time and more money, for these sorts of trips now. I’m more confident in my sixth decade than I’ve ever been. Happy in my own skin. Happy in my own shoes.

There is great sadness in this decade, too. My mum, who was very concerned about shoes herself (and the owner of the best, most colourful sock collection I’ve ever known) died not long ago. In whatever shoes I’ve worn, she has walked along beside me and I miss her company, her support and her guidance.

If I had to choose my favourite pair of shoes to date, it would have to be my DMs, because of the personal development they represent in my life.  But with luck my shoe story won’t be over for a while yet, and the coming years will bring more in which to walk, run and play.

Who knows? Maybe the best is yet to come.

Gayle's 'Gayle'  Biker Boots
This year, more than two years since I finished this story, I discovered a range of Dr Martens boots for women in a variety of colours called 'Gayle' Biker Boots (yes really). Here’s a picture of my cherry red pair (I’ve got some in black too). 

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Bereavement and Creativity (2) | Desert Island DMs

What follows is the beginning of a short story – Desert Island DMs - I wrote not long after my mum died in January 2012. It is a story but there are many connections with my own life and the shoes are all ones I have owned and worn. The piece has appeared online previously as it was shortlisted for the then publication FiveStop Story:

Have you seen that advert for shoes? Clarks I think. Looking down, actors chant, ‘New Shoes,’ as if in a trance.  When I’m famous and asked to chart my life, I’ll do it through shoes.
I’m two (my mum has told me this story and I’ve seen the photo) and sitting on the step of our house. The front door is red, like my shoes. They have shiny buckles and are probably Clarks, or maybe Start-Rite. I’m dressed in a pink knitted outfit - a coat and hat with kitten ears – lovingly made by my grandmother. I’m squinting in the spring sunshine and looking sweet enough to eat. Soon after the picture was taken I fell into a puddle, staining my lovely pink suit and scuffing my shoes.

Lying on a trolley in the Accident and Emergency Department of our local hospital I wonder why I’ve still got my shoes on. I’m six and bang heads with an eight year old as I run from the classroom following the going-home bell. It wasn’t the first time I’d run out of school. After the first day I decided that I’d rather stay at home. The headmistress had to shut the school gates to stop me escaping. I don’t remember much about the hospital visit, except for my shoes; brown lace-ups. It must have been winter; no buckles this time.

I’m 16 and wearing a pair of platform shoes (usually I wear gym shoes or desert boots) for a night out. They’re candy striped and pretty, but pinch my toes. From O’ Level Biology I know that foot bones don’t fully harden until we’re in our mid 20s. So the shoes we wear in previous years determine our future likelihood of bunions, corns and other nasties. My platforms hurt all the way through the The Towering Inferno and distract me from fighting off my date’s wandering hands. That evening I dump the platforms and the boyfriend; both I and my feet feel happier as a result.

White high-heeled wedding shoes mean I am lucky not to trip over my dress and fall on my face. I cling to my new husband walking down the aisle. At 21 and 22 we are both fairly wet behind the ears. I dye the shoes blue after the honeymoon, but never wear them again. Mum told me I wouldn’t. Simon, my husband, is promoted four times in as many years and I buy court shoes in a variety of colours to wear to works’ events and dinners with the boss. At my job in the local garden centre I stick to my desert boots, or flip flops.

Our years together are tempestuous. During one loud, hot argument in a Greek supermarket I throw a large red juicy tomato at him. He apologises to the bemused, shop owner, pays for the tomato and our other purchases and grabs my hand. We run back to our holiday apartment so that we can ‘make up’. I look at the tomato seeds in his hair as he simultaneously tugs down my shorts and kisses the sand off my toes. I’m still wearing my flip-flops. We grow up together and grow apart. After eight years of marriage we part.

To be continued . . . 

Bereavement and Creativity (1) | Painting, Writing and Other Creative Endeavours

When someone close to us dies our everyday world is disrupted and we need to find ways not only to cope with our loss and the associated grief that we feel but also with not having that person in our lives on a day-to-day basis any more. It is increasingly acknowledged by grief counsellors, therapists and scholars concerned with death and bereavement that there is a place for creativity – including the production and presentations of music, visual arts, stories and poems, drama and so on - within bereavement. Such activity is thought to be one result of and to assist individuals through the grieving process. The production of online memorials is a fairly recent way of collecting together and displaying such materials although grief related creations have been produced and documented throughout history. Some examples of the artefacts, images and other outputs produced and the value of such production are considered by the authors in a special edition of the journal Illness, Crisis and Loss that my friend Deborah Davidson (from York University, Ontario) and I are currently editing (due to be published in 2015).The fruits of such activity can be useful not only for the person who produces the piece(s) but also for others. We know, for example, that music and fiction enables listeners and readers to experience emotions — their own and those of others — and understand them in relation to the contexts in which the emotions arise. Similar can be said about art and drama. For many grief is a long process and the making of ‘things’ in memory of those who have died and/or as a way of expressing emotions along the way is helpful for some.
Memorial . . . by numbers

During my own grief journeys I have experimented with different types of creativity. I still have the picture I painted following my miscarriage in the mid-1980s. Not much skill or even originality displayed here as this artwork is in fact the result of a ‘painting by numbers’ kit but for me this piece is priceless.

More recently following the death of my husband and my mum I have written a number of (short and not so short) pieces of fiction; some of which are clearly related to my own life, some less so. Prior to 2010 I had not written this way since childhood although I had always hoped to follow my dad who had some success at publishing short stories in the 1960s. All of a sudden I had some ideas. Thus far I have had a few short stories published both online and as part of my academic sociological writings on relationships and on loss. Earlier this month my first (and I hope not my last) ‘paper’ success was published in a collection following the annual women’s fiction competition by the Hysterectomy Association

In addition to these experiments with art and writing I also find knitting
therapeutic and fun and I enjoy the pleasure that friends express when 
I present them with the scarves and other small garments that I 
have produced.

A scarf in progress
I share these personal examples
not in any way as ideals or
exemplars but to illustrate that 
any of us, maybe all of us,
whether we consider ourselves
to be artistic or not, 
can find comfort, pleasure
and a sense of achievement
in such work.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Relations and Relationships (2) | Love, Marriage and Commitment

The stereotypical family – as described in my last blog entry (heterosexual couple and their biological children) – is sometimes referred to by sociologists (and others) as the ‘cereal packet family’. That is the family most often depicted as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ (words I question and challenge), not least in social policy and through media representations such as adverts. We could just as easily refer to this family type as the gravy boat family or the washing powder family. . . I could go on. In addition to the rigid structure at play here watching British TV we could also often be forgiven for believing that white, able bodied people are the only ones who shop. Difference and diversity then – both in terms of family construction and social stratification – are often missing from these images. At this time of year a dominant image is the ‘Family Christmas’. However, for some a representation of Diwali, Hanukkah, or indeed no festival at all, would be much more appropriate. This is just one example of cultural difference for in reality not only are there many different family forms but also different family practices; different ways of doing family life (Morgan 1996). Furthermore, ‘kinship’ is much more fluid than traditional conceptions and current policy makers often imply. So affection and obligation towards others is not solely, or even, based on blood ties or marriage vows.
Private family life has long been pictorially displayed through, for example, cave drawings, art and photography. The growth of family photography as a social practice began with the professional production of the family portrait in photos such as this and later shifted to an amateur social activity through which ‘the family’ recorded itself. The family album is both very private and yet historically has conformed to the rigidly standardised cultural form and consisted of visual memories that record special times and positive emotions, happy times and events. Facebook and similar (including blogs such as this) subvert some previous conventions as our personal photographs and albums become permanently public for all to see.  

Morgan, D. H. (1996) Family Connections Cambridge: Polity