Dreaming Of Another World

On the 17th of March 2020 I was sat in my car about to go into a primary school to run an after-school writing club. I checked my phone and found an email from one of the other schools I work at, stating that schools would be closing at the end of the week and all clubs were cancelled. I felt a whoosh of fear and shock and checked my news feed for more information, all of which confirmed that the government were closing schools and putting us into lockdown due to the outbreak of Covid 19. It was probably the most surreal moment of my life. I went into the school and ran the club and I haven’t seen those children since. I haven’t been able to work since either, apart from a few bits online. I can’t yet go back to the libraries, museums, halls and schools I normally work in.

At the end of that week, life changed for everyone over night, just like that. I blogged about it almost instantly because it was just so strange, so historical and unprecedented and because writing about it helped me to make sense of it. Here’s the link to that post; https://chantelleatkins.com/2020/03/18/and-just-like-that-everything-changed/

And then, being the highly adaptable creatures we often forget we are, we all just got on with it. We worked from home, or we didn’t work, we home schooled our confused children, we stayed in, we entertained ourselves, we thanked fuck the internet existed and we very slowly but surely got used to a new normal. Humans are adaptable. We’ve proved that. Perhaps we’ve all realised how resilient we are capable of being. At the start of this, I blogged about how everything had changed over night, I blogged about the ups and downs of home schooling and I blogged about how weird had become the new normal, as well as the positives I hoped could come out of the pause in our lives.

Life is for many of us, slowly returning to normal. At the start of lockdown, it was eerily quiet in our garden, with barely any cars sailing by. Instead we had a constant flow of walkers and cyclists. Now it’s back to normal and that’s a bit sad. But I’m one of them now, aren’t I? Doing the school run again.

And I can’t help feel a bit lost and sad. Don’t get me wrong. I want all of my children to return to their normal lives and I am desperate to get back to my writing clubs and workshops. I just can’t help comparing the stillness, the silence, the gentle creep of Mother Nature reclaiming what is hers, at the start of lockdown, to the way it was before Covid 19 stopped us all in our tracks.

But the return to everything else makes me feel sad. Driving here and there, constantly in traffic and adding to the fumes that are heating up our only planet. Racing against the clock to get it all done, pick everyone up and get everyone where they need to be, dreading getting up and it all starting again.

What we were doing to the planet before Covid 19 was wrong. All of it was wrong. And we knew that…yet we couldn’t or wouldn’t change. And then lockdown… clear skies, grounded planes, silent roads, birdsong, sheep playing on roundabouts and deer walking down the streets, dolphins in the canals of Venice…so many beautiful, beautiful sights. And in our homes, we became creative. We sought out more and more ways to entertain ourselves and our children. We got into gardening! And self-sufficiency! We worried about where food came from and whether we could get any. Our eyes were being opened and we found we were not helpless. We had power.

I’ve always been into gardening, with varying degrees of success. I think it is actually one of the most therapeutic and simultaneously rebellious things you can do. It’s hopeful. To believe in a garden is to believe in tomorrow, they say. And that is so true…. On my darkest days, when life weighs so heavy I can’t breathe…I need my garden, I need fresh air and grass and dirt under my nails. If I plant something, I am optimistic. I am hopeful. And I am clawing back power. We used to feed ourselves; we had that power and that connection with Mother Nature, and not even that long ago. But we’ve lost it, moved so far away from it we forgot it was even possible.

And to care about this planet we have to feel connected to it! We have to feel part of it, part of everything and we have to believe that everything has a right to be here, to be treated with respect and dignity.

And during lockdown, the most amazing things happened. People started growing again. There was a massive increase in people buying seeds and plants and greenhouses. I was overjoyed to see this, even among my friends and family and social media contacts. People were discovering, many of them for the first time, how addictive gardening is. People were getting excited about growing a lettuce or picking their own strawberries. There was also an increase in people getting chickens for the first time. And undoubtedly, there has been an increase in people exploring their local wild places and perhaps fully appreciating the natural world for the first time too. Pond dipping, bird watching, identifying trees and leaves, bug hunting, walking and hiking and playing in rock pools. I have seen so much of this going on and it’s absolutely heartwarming.

But what now? Do we all go back to our ordinary lives and forget any of this happened? I really hope not. I really hope people continue to think about where their food comes from, continue to grow some of it themselves, continue to make ethical consumer choices, continue to do their bit to fight climate change, continue to respect animals and wildlife, continue to walk and cycle if they can and so on. Because I don’t know about you but I am constantly dreaming of another world.

Another world where we are connected to wildlife and nature, where we respect and value and protect it above all else. Where money and wealth are not idolised or deemed more important than human happiness and dignity.

Sometimes I go there in my mind and wonder if I can make it possible, even just for me and my family. It’s perhaps not realistic, but something I can’t stop thinking about it. I call it my basic life. Because going back to basics is what I crave. In my basic life, I live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and rivers and streams and meadows. I grow all my own food and keep ducks and chickens and perhaps a few goats.

I have solar panels, wind turbines and a well. I have orchards. I go out each day and forage for food. I cook everything from scratch. I only go to the nearest town once a month for other supplies. I only have limited access to the internet. My kids are home schooled and spend their days swimming in rivers, climbing trees and learning survival skills. We sit around the fire outside at night under the stars, swapping stories and jokes.

I spend my time growing food, tending the animals and the children, writing, reading and listening to music and we are all at peace and at one with the Universe. Did I also mention our only means of transport is a battered VW campervan?

Haha, just a pipedream, but I like it. I go there in my head at night. I try to build up little parts of it in my real life, such as extending my vegetable plot so I can grow even more next year.

I dream of my basic life and another world while fearing and grieving for this one.

What about you? What do you hope changes when this is all over? Do you think this will ever be over? What do you think should change? Will you be changing anything in your own life? What kind of other world do you dream about?

Why I Love Writing #1; I Don’t Have To Live In This World

There’s so much to say about why I love writing so much, I thought I would pen a little blog post series on the subject. It’s easier to break it down into separate pieces that way. There are just so many reasons I love writing!

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If anyone asks me why I love writing, I’ll usually answer by explaining that I get all these characters and ideas in my head and just have to write them down, or I would go mad.

But it’s really so much more than that. For me, writing is very similar to reading and the things that attract me are the same. When I’m absorbed in a really good book, it’s like entering another world. We all know that feeling. Maybe you get it from reading or from watching films or from listening to or playing music. You’re removed from the real world. You’re lifted above it and beyond it. You’re in the past, or the future, on another planet, another time, living and observing and experiencing another life. For a small and precious amount of time, until something in the real world interrupts you, you are gone. You’re not part of the real world and are utterly disconnected from your real life.

For me, writing provides the same thing. When I was a child, I was shy and awkward and extremely quiet. I melted into the background and both liked and resented this. There were things about the real world and my real life that I did not like and wished to escape from, and writing gave me this. Maybe even more so than reading a book, because writing your own stories is even more liberating. You’re in control, you’re like God, the puppet master, creating and destroying and moving people around like chess pieces. Once I started writing, I drifted away from the real world quickly and dramatically. I created my own.

People used to say to me all the time; ‘you’re in your own little world, aren’t you?’ And it was true. I really was.

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People still say that to me now, and these days writing is there when I don’t want to live in the real world anymore. And let’s face it, things are pretty bad right now. It sometimes feels like the destruction of this planet is something I simply cannot bear. It’s so pointless and needless, so utterly senseless how can any sane person possibly understand it? And then there are people. Human nature, such a complex, multi-layered thing. There are days when I’m floored by how cruel and heartless humans can be and I truly fear we’ve reached the end days, not just on the planet, but in our humanity. It feels so desolate and without hope. Of course, there are just as many days when humans surprise and delight me, and I remind myself that most of them are basically good and trying to be good. But on the bad days? Writing is an absolute Godsend. I couldn’t survive without it.

It’s in my head when I can’t physically get to pen, paper or laptop. So I’m already removed. I’m calmer. Less weighed down, less frantic, less panicked. Like when I was a kid, I’m off inside my own head. Entertaining myself. The stories go with me everywhere. I am never alone. And then when I get the time to sit and put pen to paper, or tap at the keys on my laptop, I’m gone again. I’m lost inside my own head and I’m free.

To me, writing sometimes feels like a rebellious act. Because when it revolts or disappoints me, I cannot be forced to live in this world. I’ll go if I want to. I’ll check out. I don’t have to stay. I can write.

 

Hey! Stay Young! And Invincible…

The other day my fourteen-year-old daughter asked me what I was like when I was a kid, and the first thing that sprung into my head was my old nickname; ‘Cloth-ears.’ It was mostly my mum who called me this because I was always in a dream. I told my daughter that my favourite things when I was a kid are still my favourite things now; my pets, reading, writing, music, gardening. She said growing up seems boring, and I said yes it is, but you don’t really have to do it.

Growing old is inevitable...growing up is optional

You can’t stop yourself from ageing, but you can choose how you age.

After talking to my daughter, I realised that I’ve never really grown up. Okay, it might look like I have. I’m married, I have four kids, I drive a car, I have my own company for God’s sake, I pay my bills, pay my rent and all the rest of it. But when it comes to ‘adulting’, I drag my feet at every opportunity. I think this is why I hate phoning people and having people phone me. It forces you to act and speak like an adult. I’d much rather text or email. Of course, that could be the stubborn introvert in me too.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised I’ve resisted growing up at every turn. I was never in a hurry to be a teenager or an adult. I just wanted to write and read and play my favourite CD’s. I just wanted to be left alone, and I still feel like that now.  I put off going to University for two years because I didn’t feel ready. I got a job and worked, but that really just gave me more material for writing…

When I'm lyin' in my bed at nightI don't wanna grow upNothin' ever seems to turn out rightI don't wanna grow upHow do you move in a world of fogThat's always changing thingsMakes me wish

I was desperate to be a mum, and I was a young one at 24, but even that wasn’t about growing up. That was about love and fun and childhood. Being a mum has the potential for two things, in my opinion. It can lead you down a road of frustration and drudgery, where you end up repeating all the tedious things your mum said to you, lose your youth, your energy, yourself. Or it can be a chance to make childhood last even longer. Playing, make-believe, story-telling, arts and crafts, mucking about in the dirt, splashing in the river, making dens, tea-parties, imaginary friends, fairy gardens, bike rides, need I go on? I embraced all of these things with my kids and I still do. I love the fact that having kids means you get to go mental at Christmas and Easter and Halloween! I love visiting farms, and museums, taking them to festivals and castles, and on train rides. Would I do all these fun things if I didn’t have kids? I don’t think I would. I think I’d be glued to my laptop twenty-four-seven in a very unhealthy manner.

Then I thought about work. I’ve done my share of boring jobs. I’ve worked in a chemist, a supermarket, I’ve been a gardener and a cleaner. And then I chose a really fun career which also allowed me to carry on being childlike. I became a childminder. At the time this fitted in perfectly with my own young kids. I could be with them, have tons of fun and get paid to look after others too. I truly loved it. I have great memories of the things we all got up to.

As my kids got older, I started thinking about my childhood dreams and the lyrics of an Oasis song came to me one day when I felt myself drifting towards a kind of crossroads. ‘The dreams we have as children fade away.’ My youngest child at the time was starting school after the summer and I felt like there were dreams I had ignored and forgotten about. When I was a kid I wanted to work with animals and write books. I’d been too busy and too exhausted over the last ten years to do either. So I swapped childminding for dog walking, started fostering rescue dogs and started writing again.

_While we're living, the dreams wehad as childrenfade away_Oasis

And so here I am now. I turn 40 in a few months. 40, I tell you!! I don’t feel anything like 40! I don’t have a clue about so many adult things that I really struggle sometimes talking to other adults. I still feel like a child and I intend to stay this way. I’m still doing all of the things I love. Walking dogs, caring for my mini zoo of pets and taking in waifs and strays, attempting to grow my own fruit and vegetables, reading like a fiend, writing like a demon possessed, and doing whatever crazy childish things my kids want to do!

Anyway, just in case adulthood has you prisoner, here are a few tips to help you release your inner child when you can;

  • keep hold of the things you loved as a child; music, art, dance, whatever your passions were back then, there is no need to pack them away when adulthood comes calling
  • try to find employment in an area you are passionate about. Easier said than done, I know, but even if you can’t, try and do some voluntary work instead, or do it as a hobby. Never, ever give up the things you once loved
  • be silly. I can’t help myself. If you can’t say ‘wheee’ when you go around a roundabout, what’s happened to you? If you can push a supermarket trolley and resist the urge to zoom along and lift your feet off the floor, sort yourself out now!! Let your inner child out as much as possible. They know how to have fun
  • talk to a three-year-old. Or any young person. They will soon remind you how hilarious and carefree life used to be
  • go barefoot
  • go out in the rain
  • listen to new music
  • read books aimed at young people
  • put loud music on in the car and sing along
  • don’t miss the little things. Dirt, dust, sunlight, leaves, birdsong, tree bark, the sound of rain, the rush of a river, the flight of a blackbird, so much is going on under our noses and while little kids seize on these things and notice them for the treasure they are, as grown-ups we tend to forget

See, you don’t have to grow up! It’s optional! I suggest you fight it at every turn. And in the words of another great Oasis song “all the dream-stealers are lying in wait, but if ya’ wanna’ be a spaceman, it’s still not too late!”

It's funny how your dreamsChange as you're growing oldYou don't wanna be no spacemanYou just want gold Dream stealersAre lying in waitBut if you wanna be a spacemanIt's still not too lat