There’s a lot of talk about change and growth. It goes like this: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This is what informs a gazillion Instagram quotes. They say if times are hard, it will pass, and you will survive. In this form of self-realisation, which I suspect comes mainly in mid-life, you will be broken down first, and remade. This is the sort of thing people say to me. Oh and also – did you know? Time heals. Thank you very much. My favourite platitude in this regard is one which describes the life cycle of the butterfly; from caterpillar to chrysalis and onwards. A series of weird elemental processes which turn the grub into a pod, containing only itself. Let’s sit with that for a moment. A chrysalis full of oneself. There’s an emergence afterwards, a reformation to a beautiful butterfly. A trippy concept, I grant you. We like this idea, it’s an enduring touchstone to anyone who grew up reading ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ which can, I now see, be considered a guidebook to life. The caterpillar didn’t chose its transformation, it was subject to a greater force of change, determined by nature. Spoiler alert: it all turned out ok.
This sort of cosmic, mumbo-jumbo bullshit is what makes my days go quicker, and I spend time observing my reaction to change by telling myself, without blinking, that the universe sent me a shit-bomb just so that I could become the chrysalis. It’s all part of the wider plan. Surely? I will reach the butterfly stage, one day. Although, I’ve got to say, I was fairly happy being the caterpillar. I thought that was just fine. Little did I know that caterpillars don’t stay caterpillars.
There are so many nuances and swings of emotion right now, it’s impossible to keep hold of any feeling for any amount of time. Feelings peddle through (‘you are not your thoughts!’), as if there is a Tour de France of emotion cycling through my mind. Who is wearing the infamous ‘yellow jersey’? Presently taking the lead, is my husband, from whom I am now separated, followed by our children. What is the term in cycling; slip-streaming?
When everything you knew to be solid ground is quaking (see previous post on tectonic plates for an extension of this concept), it can be hard to stay upright. I’m told that this is also OK. Do not worry. The tremors will lessen and eventually, everything will settle. Look at San Francisco, which has stood on the San Andreas fault for millennia. All OK. Golden Gate still up. Alcatraz still spooky. Pier 39 still laden with seals basking in the afternoon sunshine. Incidentally, I’ve been to San Francisco a few times with my husband. I’ve been – with him – to pretty much every holiday/city break destination in the Northern Hemisphere.
Mental note: explore the Southern Hemisphere in future. See what I did there? Switch it up. ‘Embrace the new! Alter your habits!’
There are many, many words, some of which I write down, some of which will form my next book. I go to London, to a writing course and learn about myself and others, about their versions of a chrysalis, and we try to ascertain whether the world is ready for a written expression of our experience.
It’s all a bit high brow, but there is also, as ever with me, the frippery. Too much googling for clothes. Eyelash extensions. Puppy school. Roast dinners. Ikea on stormy nights with my daughter, just for the meatballs. Frothy films featuring Nancy Myers interiors. Dinner parties frequented by married friends. Improving my running times. Far too much googling. Falling asleep more slowly than I used to.
In the midst, my house started to inexplicably stink. The kind of acrid stench that makes your eyes water. I searched everywhere for the source, turning out cupboards, disinfecting floors, but nothing. I smelled a mouse or a rat. I thought it might be stuck in my drainpipes, which are, in an old farmhouse, a law unto themselves. The prospect of dealing with this unseen odour seemed to me to be unfair. Why the smell? Why my pipes? Who must I call to sort this problem? Then I reminded myself that sometimes in life there’s an unseen contributor, one you might fear but, in the end turns out to be insignificant and basic. It went on for a week. My children and I looked at each other crossly; why must we live with this? Whose idea was this? To live in the country, with rodents. This shit doesn’t happen in the city.
Then, when my husband had come to the house to drop off our son, the new puppy (a bundle of sweet-smelling fur, all puppy-dog eyes, love and tussle) bounded out with something dangling from her mouth. It looked like a skinny, grey rag. We cornered her, my husband and I, and did a strange dance to catch her with her prize. A dance which might have been normal and funny when he lived here, but now seems bizarre. An estranged couple in a shared, domestic pursuit. The puppy had a decomposed rat! The smell is lessening now, the air clearing, the rat a memory, still sharp but also discarded. I scroll through my Insta feed, I call my buddy, I have coffee with a friend, I text someone I used to know, and in future those I don’t, and the days go by in this chrysalis of mine.