Doo-Lally Dreams

By Alison May 28, 2024 11 Min Read

The dying light has speckled the chimneys across the lane like icing sugar through a paper doily and I am sitting here, wired with tiredness, eating the last of a box of chocolate truffles and drinking what might just be the very best cup of tea I have ever poured for myself. I have been thinking that no matter which way you look at it, there is almost always a little serendipity at play in the fabric of our lives. Someone comes into our lives, not for always, but just for a while, when they need us most. When they have a lesson to teach us. A version of ourselves to describe. An idea tickles our fancy and then starts to show up in the most unexpected of places, whispering, notice me. Or a long forgotten face turns up to show us that no matter how muddled we might be, how complex just getting through each day feels, we might just be on the cusp of everything we have long needed. Sometimes, all it takes is the scatter of glitter on a rooftop to show you that there is magic everywhere, that not all is lost.

I have been looking for myself. Out with lamps again. Searching among tangled sheets that are the evidence of tumultuous, muddled nights, for books with words that might just ring true lost under too many pillows. I stare into space a lot waiting for answers to write themselves into the dust dancing in the nothing. And finally I root through a box of photographs and find a picture of myself in the dungarees, vest and cowboy boots I always wore, and I think, oh, I remember her. She was many, many moons ago, but she hadn’t yet learned to wear the mask I eventually had surgically attached to my face. The mask I have been slowly unpicking, stitch by excruciating stitch recently, so that oh so painfully I am confronting all the ways I have been hiding, all the lies I have been telling myself, all the lives I have been trying to squeeze into: shoving a round peg into so many painful, square holes. Lives with corners, when I am soft and yielding and will never know how to fill them. Will never know how to take up the space others so rightfully claim for themselves, without fear of upsetting an apple cart full of difficult emotion and bimbling, noisy thought.

It is an unmasking. And I am by no means alone in its reveal for Ben is here too, also unmasking after too many painful years. Grieving the loss of the mother of his two gorgeous girls. Trying to understand who he is after so very many years simply managing all the things, managing the complex emotion exclusive to a highly intelligent, neurodivergent mind trying to fathom how it is possible to have traversed real trauma without offering sufficient weight to what might have just saved him so very much pain along the way. We are the same. In too many ways to count, we are the same, and we have not been who we should have been, so it hurts. Though there is relief in knowing that in its examination, there is someone who understands, who can hold a mirror up to the confusion and says yes, this is how it is, this is how it feels, this is how to stop the pain, still it remains complicated: a spaghetti junction of problems, and pain and feelings to unravel without an instruction booklet so that all too often there is confusion, always respect and kindness and sometimes, long conversations that leave us both in bits for there are no easy answers.

“To experience beauty on Earth, you needed to experience pain and to know mortality. That is why so much that is beautiful on this planet has to do with time passing and the Earth turning. Which might also explain why to look at such natural beauty was to also feel sadness and a craving for a life unlived.”
― Matt Haig, The Humans

It is beautiful. And it is hard. Really hard. For grief, even the most complicated of difficult grief, above all else has to be respected. And sometimes, too often, I have taken this funny, handsome man at face value: I have believed him when he says he is ok. I have not read between the lines of the endless texts we share. Have shut my eyes to mercurial mood; to the waves of grief, of anger, of pain that come and go because at the beginning of a new relationship we experience a sort of selfish, self-absorbed need to be all that exists to the other person, when in circumstances like this, it simply isn’t possible. There are no absolutes. No assured trajectory. Nothing I understand and yet feel safe within regardless.

I remember getting dressed up many years ago. Taking off the dungarees I painted in, to wear a long floaty skirt to attend a huge arena full of beautiful furniture I could buy for the gorgeous shop I had at the time. And as I walked from stall to stall, letting all the sophisticated sales patter of the glossy companies wash over my probably oblivious head, I happened across a stall full of beautiful painted furniture. A stall peopled by those in clothes like mine. Long, wild hair. Armfuls of bracelets. A man who humbly showed me what his company created and made me laugh in the process. And as we walked away with orders placed and brochures procured, my Dad said, those are your people Alison. You were alive with them. And I knew what he meant. I knew he was verbalising the discrepancy between who I surrounded myself with and who I could be in the glow of company like that and still I persisted in chasing what was my status quo, trying to follow rules I didn’t understand and trying so very hard not to notice that I was almost never fully alive.

At the same time there was a woman in my town, who ran a shop like mine. A shop full of painted furniture and tiny little somethings to putter with. She looked like me, with her long hair and arms always full of paint and wax, and she offered the same services that I did. But she was a truer version of myself than I was. She wasn’t trying to run the world, clearly didn’t think she needed to, instead she was pottering around her tiny shop, curating a beautiful collection of housey bits and wearing floaty clothes that made my heart stop. She never veered from her own aesthetic, as I did in order to people please, and she seemed happy in her broomstick cupboard of a shop while I struggled to fill the two storeys I owned with any sort of meaning. For a long time I envied her, and then I watched her from a distance. Admired her from afar. Tried, as I have always done with so many before and after her, to learn how to woman. Until her shop vanished and she disappeared and I wondered forever after what happened to her.

Then, just last week, after more than twenty-five years I saw her. For I have fallen a little in love with Ben’s dream of a life in a narrowboat and I have been neck deep in all things bargey and beautiful. Imagining. Stalking Instagram accounts full of people with bare feet and messy hair and tiny boaty rooms full of hanging plants and possibility. Floating apothecaries, bookshops and wool boutiques. Blogs that describe in dull, enchanting detail, the difference between the type of loos it is possible to have in the compact space of a boat without plumbing. YouTube vlogs from women running yoga businesses in their wide beams, couples baking cakes and serving them to passers-by through tiny hatches, decks full of herbs and hope and little joys. And a whole series of programs on channel four, in which I saw Emma again. For there she was, driving her narrowboat along the local canal, more herself than she ever before, her hair still wild and her joy as always infectious. Living out loud, in places I have become almost mute.

Serendipity. Serendipity that said you are on the right (tow) path. Not because a narrowboat is necessarily in my future but because I think sometimes life is beaming out signals we shouldn’t turn our backs on, even when the journey from A to B seems impossible, the canal boggy, the locks all but stuck. Right now though I feel alive. I go the gym and I come out feeling alive. Possible. Wildly, astonishingly so. (Almost her in the dungarees again). But so too do I feel tender. Fragile. My stomach too often empty and my skin pinched blue with anxiety. I am examining myself. Squinting at my own vulnerabilities. Picking at this jaded mask the way I might a scab. The way I have drawn blood scratching away at the two tiny spots on my left shoulder. Trying to fathom what it is to not understand that some things still exist when we cannot see them. Learning about grief at its most destructively beautiful. Trying to reason with what it is to suffer cherophobia and why it is so damaging. Reading Harry Thompson’s explanation of Pathological Demand Avoidance and relating too much to his logic to feel comfortable in the traits I see in Ben and I, and knowing how utterly complex this renders the (im)possibilities of us. Reading a book recommended by a friend who told me it speaks of the universe, of the messy, beautiful chaos of love stories and humanity.

“And I knew the point of love right then.
The point of love was to help you survive.
The point was also to forget meaning. To stop looking and start living. The meaning was to hold the hand of someone you cared about and to live inside the present. Past and future were myths. The past was just the present that had died and the future would never exist anyway, because by the time we got to it the future would have turned into the present. The present was all there was.”
― Matt Haig, The Humans

This then is me beyond Renaissance. It is me stripped utterly naked, taking the mask off and climbing back into my dungarees. It is me saying I understand myself better now and suddenly do not know myself at all and I am popping on a pair of the reading glasses I leave on every surface in the house to squint at who I am when I let myself be the gentlest, kindest, wildest version of myself. Who I am when I look at someone else’s journey along a canal and find within it, inspiration, encouragement, fire. Who I am when I step back from something I want, and let the story write itself. Trusting that it will be ok. That it will be ok, it will be ok, it will be ok…

What else am I trying to say? I am saying don’t be scared to ask for what you need, even if you risk everything you have come to hold most precious. If it matters it will matter regardless. Say the kind of words you have to even if they prove to be destructive. Ask to be loved in all your ruined places. Listen to songs that speak of a mind you are trying to understand: “And it’s true that I’m probably not worth the battery life. Why do you still stick around or let me stay the night? I couldn’t figure it out if you wrote it all down: Please write it all down.” I am saying take out your old photographs and find the real you. Keep giggling at wildly inappropriate memories. Watch Scooby-Doo if it is the only thing that makes sense to you. Forget looking for meaning and accept that sometimes only time can truly heal what hurts the most. (It will not be forced. Don’t try). Eat or don’t eat today. Find your people, find your person. Try as hard as you can to experience silence as room to breathe. Don’t expect what simply cannot be right now. Extend grace. Listen to your body. Dream really silly, big, wild crazy dreams and let them guide you towards who you most want to be. Even when you are terrified. Don’t regret what has taught you so much. Fall asleep holding a sweater and find yourself ridiculous. Watch the rain bang down your windows. Go lightly and force nothing at all.

“Two mirrors, opposite and facing each other at perfectly parallel angles, viewing themselves through the other, the view as deep as infinity... Love was a way to live forever in a single moment, and it was also a way to see yourself as you had never actually seen yourself, and made you realise – having done so – that this view was a more meaningful one than any of your previous self-perceptions and self-deceptions.”
― Matt Haig, The Humans

I am saying that sometimes we find in someone else what we need to discover in ourselves. That it is intrinsically scary to happen across someone who will not let you be the self you have been selling for too long, because too many of the illusions we labour under are simply wrong and most people are far too polite to speak the truth and will instead, stand back and leave you to it. I am saying allow yourself to be undone by that truth, allow those who love you to do as Harry Thompson says “to expose or highlight a part of you that has been shaded until that point, and let them bring something to the surface that needs to be addressed, repaired or gotten rid of. ” Don’t run. Don’t compare. Don’t choose the easy option because “to winnow out the most logical or convenient options is to miss the point of love and romance entirely.” Just exist in what it is to be seen until it feels comfortable and along the way eat Beefy Monster Munch, wander along the canal, be proud of the changing shape of your body because it speaks of the changing shape of your mind, take nothing for granted and take it all in just one day at a time. Until it becomes what it will be or slips away completely because it was never yours to keep.

Do it all. Find a muse like Emma. Let her show up in unexpected places. Stop forcing yourself into spaces in which you do not fit like a glove. Let yourself be a little doo-lally if only for a day or two and when it is time to let go, if you have to, be dignified and kind. Above all else, keep on keeping on. Keep clearing out the dusty cupboards in your mind, so that there is room enough to live as wildly and as honestly as you can in your tomorrows. Make room for possibility, narrowboats and hope for the girl in the dungarees. Forgive yourself for being human. Trust that it will be ok. That what is for you won’t pass you. And finally, please know that that you matter. (Because of course you do – you matter, truly, madly, deeply).

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