Being Helped

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Walking and cogitating: retreading the circles of dog world. I’ve been trying to compose this postcard and finding discomfort, not ease. There is a whole vista of vulnerability and exposure. Weirdly, some things are easier to expose than others.

A memory: I’m about four years old. I stand in the toilet doorway in the middle of the night. I’m covered in vomit and shit and see myself reflected in my mother’s gaze. She is repulsed.

I’m nearly sixty now, and have been blessed by many healing moments along the way. Nevertheless, I do believe that a piece of that tiny girl has been stuck in that doorway for most of my life: the doorway of shame.

I’ve just had a small (not small for me) economic crisis. The infrastructure of my little life started to unravel and I realized how tiny the space is, between a professional woman and a homeless one. I’ve been pulling and pushing an unforgiving bank loan around for years. The roots of it go all the way back to my psychotherapy training. It nearly did for me, dear reader, but for an extraordinary wave of kindness from friends.

My debt has been settled, my arrears paid and the small (not so small) matter of a bed I probably should have resisted last summer, but somehow can’t quite regret, all done and dusted. I don’t owe anybody anything. Well, except the debt of overwhelming gratitude. A debt, I think I can live with because it lifts me up rather than weighs me down.

And something else: this process of being seen in the forensic detail of my financial mess, some of it my own undoing, has built a bridge between humiliation and humility. The child in that doorway of shame has had a redemptive experience. Instead of being seen in her mess as disgusting, I was just loved and lovingly helped.

Notwithstanding the monetary gifts in the external world, giving me a new lung capacity that I didn’t even realise I’d lost, I have been gifted back a piece of my lost to myself, self.

That, even though money runs through this story, is priceless.

And, now I am actually writing this, it’s not so hard. Money has so much correlation to value, in this funny old world. And if I buy into that equation I become smaller. Diminished. I tell myself I don’t have any assets and can forget to see my brokenness, in the light comes in through the cracks, sort of way. I get caught up in a model that measures success and value, in relation to a particular kind of asset. The kind I don’t have many of.

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t mind a few more. I aspire to shoring up the banks of my little life with a bit more work: some extra cakes and a couple more humans in my psychotherapy room. As I said, it is a very small fall between okay and not. But, most crucially, through this very personal fall into economic chaos, followed by unimagianed debt relief, I have remembered where my assets really are.

I am loved, seen and forgiven. I have discovered, that while depression is indeed my home address, home is located in The Field’s Of Kindness. I’m allowed to make a holy mess of things, and find ways to recover. Perfection takes a hostage of heart and humanity. We are human. We are messy. It is like this. Hallelujah.

I didn’t know what to call this postcard. And then I did.

 

Salutations & Love

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http://advantagesofage.com is a wonderful beast! I am especially grateful for their encouragement and support of my writing.

http://advantagesofage.com/thank-mr-cohen/   is the link to my deep bow, to the Life & Work of Leonard Cohen.

The artwork was an unexpected gift on the morning LC’s death was announced. Dreamed up and drawn by my friend, Caroline Cadenza.

I stand here in the world without you in it anymore, still reeling from America having put Donald Trump in the White House. When I heard that you’d died on the 7th not the 10th, I couldn’t help smiling at your impeccable comic timing. Thank you for your last joke.

I could just write:

Dear Leonard,

I thank you.

Love
Caroline

It would, in essence, be saying everything. And yet, I do want to add my little voice to the prayers of thanks. A little square in the patchwork or a thread in the weave. So many voices saying thank you.

I received many messages when the world heard you’d died. I found out that way, waking up to the pinging of text messages from beloved friends. Many precious people told me I was their first thought on hearing the news that you had gone.

I am more touched by this, than I can say. The truth is, you can’t really see me without seeing how you live in my bones and blood. I first found your work when I was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital, aged thirteen. I can’t remember how or why, I had in my possession a small plastic record player and three LP’s. Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs Of Love & Hate, and Melanie’s, Candles In The Rain.

They were desperate times. I was preoccupied with suicidal thoughts, but could not carry them through. Something was holding me in the world and I couldn’t bear to be so held. I was angry, frightened and more horrifyingly alone than I had any vocabulary for. You had the words that pierced my soul. I didn’t need to understand all the narrative threads and themes, which I didn’t, but I found an echo of the places I was utterly broken, inside your poetry and inside your voice. You became the thread of some prayer, holding me in this world.

It hasn’t been a breeze. I’ve wasted a lot time fighting with depression, from the complete denial of having any such thing, to the final battles of defense against the truth of having the baseline kind. Surely, I could have some super ups to counter the weight of down?

About the same time as you were reporting your depression was gently slipping out of you, I was finally, after all else had failed, learning to welcome mine. I was discovering the taproot of my own tenderness and you, as ever, were helping me. I have loved you for your exquisite writing, for the particulars of your dear voice, for your grace and humanity, not to mention your wicked sense of humor. But, maybe above all else, I have loved you for your tenderness to the human condition and your compassion for our small endeavors. It is through your body of work that I have come to understand, I am both broken and I am whole.

I know you needed to come back out on the road for financial reasons, but the fact you kept circling the world, long after your bank balance was restored, was something else. That last, grand tour, in several chapters over some years: well, I hope it was as good for you as it was for us. What a privilege of heart, to have been at a handful of those shows. I saw you in London, Brighton, Madrid, Florence and Ghent. I heard you say, more than once: ‘Friends, I don’t know when we’ll meet again… but tonight we’re going to give you everything we’ve got.’

Oh my, how you did. And how much gratitude flowed between the audiences and the stage? And, up on the stage too, as you kneeled before your musicians and bowed and bowed again. We were all thanking each other, from the ravaged and beautiful heartland of intimacy. You sure could make an intimate thing happen in a jam-packed auditorium.

In 2013, I got to meet you in a hotel bar. I was waiting to check in and when I looked up you were sitting a few feet away. I did not think or look before I leapt. As I arrived at your chair, I realized in an almost imperceptible micro beat, that I was intruding. It was too late though, and to be honest, I can’t be too sorry. I got to see you, upon my request to shake your hand, bring yourself fully into presence. No going through the motions, or half hearted, tired gesture for the zillionth fan. You called yourself to attention stood up and took my hand in both yours. You looked at me properly, like that was your only concern in that moment, and graciously received my gratitude for such good company, along the, sometimes treacherous highways and byways of life. Thank you, my dear. You said, in your achingly, familiar voice.

A year later in the summer of 2014, whilst enduring a rather desperate day in my little life, I was compelled to make you a video letter. This was a dreamlike experience, as I recalled afterwards. The evidence remains though, and my rough, technically speaking, badly made film, went out into the world via YouTube. It wasn’t until several months later that I realized you had seen it. I came upon your note to me on Allan Showalter’s website. To know that you took the time, about six minutes in fact, to take me in and receive my love and gratitude, makes me smile. Your response too.

Dear Caroline,

Deeply touched.
More than I can say here.
Thank you.
Love and Blessings,

Leonard

I wasn’t too surprised to hear of your death. Even though you had been perfectly discreet about the details of your illness, it seemed you were near the edge of this world. Your beautiful love letter to Marianne was both cryptic and explicit. Your last album: a love letter and a goodbye, if I ever heard one.

I have wondered on occasion, how it has been for you, to be so loved, by us, the recipients of your blessed work. As your son, Adam, wrote a few days ago – your hand forged a tower of work. You are renowned for your kindness to fans. Friends, as you called us. The paradox of your deep privacy, offset against the naked offering of yourself through the work. You spoke very directly to your people through that doorway. You were such a doorway for me.

Some people have attributed you with godlike qualities. I’m not so comfortable with worshipping my fellow travellers, being by nature more of love and respect sort of girl. I don’t think you liked that kind of adulation much, but regardless, it always seemed to me you were so very human. I think you touched so much in so many, just because you gave sublime poetry to the most universal of human dilemmas. You gave us ourselves. You showed us we are luminous as we stumble along, doing our best and doing our worst. Thank you for your life, and for the discipline and devotion to your craft that is the architecture of that Tower Of Song.

In some ways, I haven’t managed much constancy in my life. Not until more recently anyway, as I have found my way to The Fields Of Kindness. You, though, have been a constant. You have been with me all the way from that corridor floor at the psychiatric hospital. Sometimes I can hardly believe that little girl made it and is now walking towards 60. I wouldn’t have made it without you. I mean that most sincerely, Mr. Cohen. I hear your songs and poetry, even when I am not listening to a device or reading a book. You have infused my life with light, by showing me how to include and even celebrate, the wretched and the wrecked. The light does indeed come in through what’s broken and sometimes the only word on my tongue is, Hallelujah.

About Caroline Bobby

Caroline Bobby is a Psychotherapist & Writer.
She lives in London with Leonard The Dog, and Bebe the 3-legged cat.

Being Touched

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This morning I was touched by my own predicament. On my knees on the sheepskins, not exactly praying, but not exactly not praying, either. Somewhere between exiting bed and entering clothes… crawling into another day.

And, today, I was touched by my own predicament. Touched in the understood sense of touched. My heart ached with tenderness. Salt water pressed behind my eyes, and I felt my little self, through the cracks where the light slips in. I often feel nothing, and that’s a predicament of it’s own. To paraphrase Mr. Cohen: it might be empty but that doesn’t mean it’s light.

Recently, I was discussing ‘being touched’ with my friends. I have this sense of myself being touched, even when I can’t feel it. That idea, if it is an idea, sustains me. Underneath the crushing weight of depression on a daily basis, I am touched by Grace.

When I say Grace, I mean both the mystery and the exquisitely, ordinary things. I don’t quite know how it has come to pass, that I can feel touched when I can’t feel. It’s a peculiar thing and if I think about it too much, I make my head hurt. I just know it makes it possible to keep practicing welcoming rather than fixing, this thing called depression.

As Leonard writes:

You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had

Somehow, I have found the only song I ever had… and it makes it okay to be in the world like I am. More than okay, in fact. More like at home.

Oh, precious Life… merciful, unforgiving, holy, terrible, ravaged  and beautiful, Life… whatever am I going to do with You?

 

 

Today (so far)

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My strategies are slipping through my tired hands and it isn’t even 11am. I didn’t make it to morning Dog World, because I am buried so deeply inside the weight and darkness that my responses are in slow mo. A simple hello leaves me flailing like a fish on a hook, just trying to make a simple hello back. Where does my voice go? It’s the weirdest feeling, having to drag the syllables up from so far underground, that by the time they make it, the moment has long gone.

So, we went to the cemetery instead, where I don’t have conversations, or even fragments. More nods and mumbles in passing. It’s a different kind of Dog World with the dead and the trees.

If by chance I passed by Mr. Cohen on my heavy, footed circles round the graves, he would doff his hat and I would make the smallest inclination of my tired head. It’s one of those days. It often is.

I can’t go on but I do. And sometimes there is a lot of space around this paradox of my life… now is not such a time. Now. Right now, my lungs are too tired to try, and there is no space around the paradox of keeping going.

And I go on.

Elephant Day

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Walking to a London park with Leonard The Dog. Through gritted teeth and spikes of nameless fury, I am attempting to practice my Practice. Welcome… WECLOME… welcome… to this and this and this… I crack my jaw, doing a fair imitation of Munch’s Scream. I’m not sure if I’m getting some queer looks from passers by.

I am full to bursting with compressed and compacted anguish. I could burst. I really could. Burst.

Quite suddenly, I see, quite vividly, an elephant. Now, I’m not much prone to visuals. I am more a fragment of words sort of girl. But here, on the way to a London park , I am visited by an elephant. She’s lumbering and lurching in half circles, listing badly to the left. Do I have some trace memory of wildlife films? Have I seen an elephant do this? This elephant is clearly not okay. Her trunk is hopeless weight, her knees are buckling and she’s going down: a big, falling elephant in my minds eye on a London street.

I don’t even know about elephants. I don’t know if this is actually, factually, how one would fall. And the sound: Oh Lord, the sound of this elephant as she lists and lurches and falls… I don’t know if this is the true sound an elephant makes? Or just this one? This elephant inside me has been shot in the hip, or knee capped, or something quite inconceivable. Elephant depression. And, the sound of an elephant’s sorrow is too much for the ears or heart of a human, to tolerate.

Leonard The Dog is having a pee. Here I am on the way to a London park, having some kind of elephant breakdown and Leonard is cocking his leg up against a London wall.

I keep going. Dogs are good like that: good at moving forward. We walk and slowly my elephant bleeds back into the mystery. Now, at home in Bed World, tapping out an elephant report, I feel the tears behind my eyes. I see my own small endeavor to make postcards from my small sufferings, as the prayers for Mercy, that they are.

 

 

 

 

 

The Beat Goes On

 

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The thing about being a base line depressive, rather than an episodic one, is the weather conditions are relentlessly predictable. I’m thinking about this as I wrestle with another new day and the beginning of a new week, and I feel, as I often do, that I can’t go on.

So, I try and keep it simple and kind and practice what I preach. It’s just a precious little day, I say… a little day in my little life and I can make it through. And because it is so the same, and yet not the same, I find myself thinking about repetition and how over and over again I make the same moves. Every morning is a shock. Every morning I struggle mightily on the hook of waking up. Every morning I say no and life says yes.

In May 2015 I wrote this on Facebook:

Mornings take it out of me
The poems don’t work anymore

I’d like to wake up different
Like women in shampoo commercials
Especially the ones they shoot in Greece
I’d like to throw the shutters open
On that salty, blue, white world
And raise my face up to the sun

Here, in the Kindness of a London bedroom
I wake up wrestling with each new day
Watched over by Leonard The Dog

It describes a repetitive experience, in that it looks like this every morning. It is simply, just like this. And still, every time is new. This is the point I am groping and fumbling with in this postcard. Every time is new… those of you who are kind enough to read me will know I do return to the Morning Theme. Maybe I’ll always be writing riffs about mornings. Maybe the break of day is my muse.

I titled this postcard, The Beat Goes On, partly as a bow to my home/dance group that goes by the same name. And because the beat does go on, until it doesn’t for each of us… we go on doing the things we do, rolling on through life as life moves through us.I am grateful beyond measure to have washed up on the shores of tenderness and found a lot of human wreckage there. I am in good company. I am broken and whole. And the beat goes on, as my heart pumps life through my system and I fall through these days that are faster than they seem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death & Longing

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A little riff on death and longing, published this morning by the marvellous http://advantagesofage.com

Dreaming of Death

I’ve always been preoccupied by death. As a child I worried a lot about dying in the night. I worried about being suffocated or split in two by a speeding train. The psychotherapist I grew up to become has some thoughts about those fantasies, but that’s another riff.

It hasn’t been the easiest journey to reach what I call ‘the fields of kindness’. It has taken most of my life so far, to truly start to soften and relax. By that, I mean relax with who I am and where I find myself. Surprising, just how elusive simplicity can be. Simplicity was patiently waiting for me all this time.

I offer this preamble, because I want to talk about my relationship to and with death. It would be reductive to say something like: she’s had a broken life and lives with depression, therefore a self-confessed longing for death is suicidal ideation.

I have been suicidal. I tried to die for the first time when I was thirteen and for the last time when I was thirty. I didn’t understand why I kept failing. I was desperate. I tried every which way. Plastic bags on my head, razor blades, hanging, overdoses. I couldn’t quite let go.

Now I get it. I was in unutterable pain and death called me long and loud. Now I get that life was calling long and loud too. I love life, though it has taken a long time to arrive. I can love life and long for death at the same time.

I don’t know if I long for death just because living with baseline depression is unforgiving, and every morning is a shock. I don’t think it’s just that. This human and embodied world has never, quite felt like my natural habitat. At a cellular level I am aching to go home.

In April 2014 I started sending Postcards from the Window Ledge and it has proved the most redemptive writing I have ever tapped out. It was time for me to forgive myself for being depressed. Even more radical, it was time to welcome the one I am, rather than keep chasing down the one I think I need to be. Oh my, what a homecoming.

And now, I live, more or less, in The Fields Of Kindness. Kindness to what is, rather than a sanitized, feel good version. It can be fierce. My fields are situated on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. The winds blow in and waves crash on the rocks. The grass in my fields always tastes of salt.

Because I have been blessed to find this wellspring of compassion, inside me, for myself and for this crazy, broken and beautiful world, my longing for death is now much clearer to see. It has become simple, like so many things have. Some people long to meet a human partner in this world and I long to leave it. I make that compareision because this longing has a very particular quality. I think it is the same longing. A universal longing.

It is more usual to discuss a longing to meet a soul mate, at a social gathering, than to bring up a longing for death. So, I am rather chuffed, that over the last couple of years, partly by blogging from the window ledge and by talking about something unspeakable, this longing of mine has become visible, included and even loved. Last weekend I was at a gathering of my home dance group and our teacher ended a teaching point with the words: unless you want to be dead… No, not you Caroline, she added. The group chuckled. Oh, how much I loved that comedic lightness of touch and acceptance.

I spend a lot of time imagining my dying and death. Not unlike the wistful dreaming of meeting a beloved. I riff on it in my mind. It’s a narrative I visit often. I add detail and follow threads, like writing a song. I know it’s slightly off key to daydream about getting a terminal illness, but it’s not off key to me. I find it deeply soothing, even as I know that fantasy and reality are different and accept I have no control over how and when I die. If God’s a joker and I suspect he/she/it is, then I’ll probably die in a car crash. I’ll be gone in an instant and miss the whole thing. I don’t want to miss it. I want to experience every last drop of it. I think I’d die well, if life gives me the opportunity to test my thesis.

Death has a bad press, but what if it was as tender as birth? Having been privileged to welcome a daughter, and to say goodbye to a sister, I know it to be the very same border. The first breath, as we enter the embodied world and the very last one as we slip out of human form and back into the mystery.

One of my roads not travelled, is a heart-house funeral service. I see it quite vividly: big house, gardens, bodies received and tended to, families and friends cared for, groups, prayers and rituals of all and no denomination, community, art, music… above all else, space held for the ravaged beauty of death and dying: a kind, compassionate and human space, for this utterly human experience. I’m a death wife in my soul. And a birth wife, so to speak, because that borderland of first and last breath, is my kind of land. I like it there. It’s simple and quiet. And intimate. And when you’re there, there’s nowhere else you can be.

I’m not one of those dynamo types, the ones that make dreams and visions happen in the actual world. I’m unlikely to build my Heart House of Death. So maybe my contribution to the death conversation is just this: my notes, the odd riff, a postcard or two, and a tendency to bring up death at dinner parties.

About Caroline Bobby

Caroline Bobby is a Psychotherapist & Writer.
She lives in London with Leonard The Dog, and Bebe the 3-legged cat.

The Only Song I Ever Had *

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This afternoon I came upon this riff from 2014. I find myself touched by how the song changes and doesn’t change, both at the same time. Both the old and the new, the new and the old. *As Leonard would say: the only song I ever had.

My little life is tired
It wants to lie down in the green pastures
of that half remembered psalm

It wants to lie in a slipstream
of clear water and be
Washed
Out to sea

My ramshackle apologies for poems
Notwithstanding
And my postcards from the window ledge
That catch the odd joke
As they fall
Don’t always save me

My little life is tired now

My little prayers
The useless rage
My hopeless hopes
The scratched out page
All the tattered remnants
Of the misremembered
And revised
Are gathered at my bedside now
To gently close my eyes

I need to put my head down
I need to float, or rest,
On this raft of hungry words
This lusting after death

 

 

365 Days With Leonard

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On April 6th last year, I went to Bush Hall with my friend Rachel and saw Sharon Robinson sing. As Leonard The Man would say, the incomparable Sharon Robinson… and, it was the very last day of life before Leonard The Dog.

 The next day, my friend Wendy drove me to a smallholding in Cambridgeshire and we brought a small dog home.

 I loved Leonard before he was even in the world. I loved him as a possibility in my heart and a shard of grace in the mystery. I loved him when I met him aged 5 weeks and he breathed a tiny out-breath on my chest.

 Oh, I said. So you’re Leonard.

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First day home

 I loved him immediately he became my dog. Yes indeed, instant love. And then came discovering and uncovering him.

 Funny thing about falling in love, that it both does and doesn’t take time. I knew I loved him, but I didn’t know who he was… now I know I love him, and I know him. He’s in the beat and breath of me.

 We’ve learned each other through the turning of this year.

 He makes me laugh. Often. He makes me laugh in the bleakest moments, when it’s all, just too much to bear. He’s a natural comedian. He helps me remember that this life is tender, funny and awful, in equal and unequal measure.

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Leonard meets Pip                                                   Bed World

 Let me tell you our morning story. As those of you who kindly read me, know, mornings are always a shock. I struggle up from the dust of dreams, resisting consciousness with all my might. I mutter and mumble and groan. Every morning, Leonard The Dog meets and greets me on this border and brings me in. He’s so happy to see me. I get my face washed all over. Now, for some that might seem very unhygienic, but for me this is a daily blessing. My favorite bit is when he kisses my closed eyelids…

 After the dog kisses and a short grace period, Leonard starts getting me up. He gets a particular glint in his lovely, brown eyes. He barks. I call it, The Bark Of Longing. It is shrill. And when I beg him for mercy, for five more minutes, he gets hold of my bedding with his teeth and tugs. I laugh and groan. I get up. He’s happy, and it has to be said, a tad triumphant. It takes less than an hour to get from first blink of my horrified eye, to walking out the front door with Leonard. It’s a repetitive movement. It’s a meditation. It’s loving a dog. And given how I have excelled at falling and failing in the mornings, sometimes for days on end, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

 Many things that I love about being with Leonard, I’m very aware some might say about being with a lover. I haven’t gone completely nuts. It’s not an erotic thing. But, gosh, it is so very physical and sensual. I adore his little body, the way he looks and how he feels under my hands. I like the way he smells and how he runs, and how soft his fur is. I’ve learned his sounds and his rhythms. He snores. I wake up in the night and he’s there. I dream about losing him sometimes and have to wake up and check.  He’s there.

 I’ve had some fine lovers in my time and a few brave attempts at making a partnership. It has taken a long time to understand, that while I am capable of great depth and intimacy, I’m not really built for sustained proximity. I need a lot of space and solitude. Otherwise I can’t breath. I can breathe deep and freely in my dog love affair. I tell him the story of us, as we amble and romp. Going out and coming back in again with Leonard is something I now do twice a day. Everyday. These slow walks are bookends to each day. It is an intimate thing to walk through a whole year of days, with the one you love.

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With best friend Daisy Mae

 He’s gregarious and open. He expects the world to love him back. Mostly it does. He knows me too. Of course he’s not writing blog posts and poems about me… but he knows that I belong to him. I’m his person and he’s my dog. He has taken me in and I live inside him as he does in me. It is quite something, to be loved and trusted by a dog

 Getting Leonard is the best decision I’ve ever made. The very best. He hasn’t cured my depression. Of course he hasn’t. But he’s showing how it can be to move more with the weight of me. That old embodied despair can walk and walk and walk… walking with Leonard is a prayer and I need it. Dog prayer. The very best medicine for this ravaged heart.

 Thank you, dear Leonard, for our first year. Thank you for being my dog.

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Bebe & Leonard in Peace Talks