lvii

I’m sat in our studio at the bottom of our new house in a village we now call home. The typewriter my wife bought me is on the gorgeous old oak desk we found on eBay and then had to figure out how to move across half of Oxfordshire from the home of the old, warm couple who had clearly adored the thing.

My wife has worked tirelessly to clean and beautify this little place. It’s not a shed, it’s a whole other room to our house, a place that’s just as welcoming but also and importantly different from where we live, a place we can physically ‘go’ not just wander in to. A place to work. A place to write.

There’s no wireless here, which I am infinitely grateful for – no sneaked Googles, no crafty Wiking, no distractions apart from the weather, the pigeons roosting in the tall tree spanning our neighbour’s garden, the slight smell of musty forgetfulness almost now entirely replaced by a clean, fresh air.

She’s pinned posters and notes and cards on the wall, filled the desk drawers with usefuls, filed my writings, put up curtains to frame the intriguing circular feature window. I feel safe, but I’m here for a reason not an escape, and I feel focused as well. There is no reason to be here other than to work.

I’m still distracted despite all this. Something which should have happened a long time ago is starting to come to pass, conversations I should have begun with my parents all those years ago now look like happening just in the next few days. I have no idea, only hopes, about what will happen.

What I want, most of all, is not to point fingers, not to accuse, not to blame, not to get lost in a battle of responsibility for the way I feel. I am not responsible for the actions or the feelings of others, and no one but me is responsible for my own actions, decisions and feelings. But nonetheless there is responsibility on the agenda.

It’s not important to me to seek apology, pity, forgiveness or validation for the way I feel. I hope for understanding, for talk and honesty, for open mindedness. All I want is to make myself understood, to be honest for once without fear or fearfully protecting people from how I feel. How I feel is a result of many things, not merely my own imagination or perception.

There’s no room for apologies, and I have to be prepared to be brutally honest. But as much as it’s time to be listened to, I must still listen, I must still be as open as I expect from my mother, my father, anyone. I need to talk and to listen to lots of people now, to be honest with people who I’ve only ever presented an edited version of myself, even if they thought I was being more honest with them than with anyone else.

Sadly this whole process is exhausting, and leads me into a place where the only writing I feel connected to, capable of, is solemn, self-examining, perpetual pondering. My aspirations for the book go way beyond just my memory, just what I recall happening, mere moments of my life. I want to see the answers, and where I can’t see I want to explore, and where I can’t understand I want to question – not just rerun.

For that I need this latest development to happen. I need both ends of the string, I need to listen because I need to see and understand (not blindly defer to or demurely accept) the other perception, the other position, the other perspective – just as much as I need to be confident in my perspective, just as much as I need to hear the wider, less involved perspective of my wife.

I had intended the book to be asking questions about manhood and how to be a man because I felt unable to be one. I’d expected the book to help me see the man I could be or could have been. But now I realise that it isn’t a process I can go through while writing, while exploring, and remain unmoved or passive. To fulfil my aims I need to go through it all again, but for a reason – to express to those who need to hear my true feelings, my honest thoughts.

One of the reasons I know this conversation which is coming is important, vital and fundamental to my growth and understanding and confidence is because I’m not looking forward to having the conversation, to having my smokescreen cleared away, my mask removed. Hiding isn’t healthy, for anyone, and if the book is about that then I cannot continue to live, let alone write, unless I stop hiding and start being myself, expressing myself, with everyone in my life.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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