I was introduced to his work a few months ago when I was having my lunch break in the Cruse Bereavement Care office and our administrator, Mary, handed me her phone saying "Here Marie, watch this, you'll love it. It's right up your street."
Glancing down at the phone I was momentarily dazzled by a man in a pristine white military uniform, complete with shiny gold buttons and a chest full of Commendations.
It's fair to say that the Admiral had my full attention in the blink of an eye. I was reminded of Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman- which is never a bad thing. I clicked on the You Tube Play Button and fell into a mesmerised silence. Listening to the Admiral's speech, given in his lovely deep voice, the world did not exist...and that's when he first gave me butterflies.
It's been a while since a man gave me butterflies. The good butterflies. The kind that soar in beautiful formation through your entire being, lifting your spirits on stained glass wings until you feel that you can achieve anything. Like I said, the Admiral gave me some serious butterflies!
As I carried on with my day counselling bereaved clients, his speech played over in the back of my mind. So much so that I found the video on You Tube when I got home and watched it again. I'll link it at the end of this post so you can watch it too. It's so simple, but so powerful and empowering.
So when I discovered that he had written a book called Make Your Bed, based on his speech and his experience as a US Navy Seal, I knew I had to get it. I was intrigued and I wanted to read what he had to say. The book arrived today and I have spent a happy afternoon between the covers with the Admiral, because, why would I not?
And he gave me butterflies again...though this time they weren't so good. This time they were the stomach churning, anxiety driven moths of fear, because he was writing about the time he was terribly injured in a parachute jump that went very wrong. That chapter made for a painful reading experience. But the rest of the book is great. He talks about his time in Iraq and Afghanistan; what Saddam Hussein was really like in the days following his capture; how he made it through his Seal training. Most of all he describes how his military training can be applied to everyday life, by everyday people.
I was especially moved when reading his chapter on Giving People Hope. Although he was talking about losses within the military, it really struck a chord in me because that is essentially what we do at Cruse as counsellors. We offer people hope in their hour of need. We hold on to hope for them, until they are strong enough to carry it for themselves once more. We are a ray of light in their darkness. It's a tough job. It can be very difficult knowing what to say to someone who is grieving and all the training in the world doesn't make it any easier. You have to honour their grief and respect that their world has changed forever, and you will never make it all better for them, no matter what you say. But empathy goes a long way towards healing. Empathy is a good beginning.
Make Your Bed is a little book. It will fit neatly into your handbag or kit-bag so you can keep it with you as a mobile mentor for when you're having a particularly bad day. It's the kind of book you can dip into when you feel thwarted, or you want to quit, or you feel frightened. It will make you see that you are strong, powerful, resilient and courageous. Mostly it will offer up a military-strength pep-talk whenever you need it, so if you're fresh out of soldiers, you could do worse than spend the Prosecco money on this book instead. And if you don't want the book, here is the Admiral's fabulous speech on You Tube..get ready for the butterflies!
Women know when they have been violated emotionally, physically, or verbally. And no man has the right to tell us otherwise. Our bodies shake, they burn, they do all kinds of things when they remember. Our muscles remember. We know by the way we feel when we have been violated. Even when we are drunk we know the difference between welcome and unwelcome..."
Extract from Brave by Rose McGowan
Powerful stuff. Rose McGowan, perhaps better known as Paige Mathews from Charmed, has written nothing short of a call to arms in her memoir Brave. I must be honest and say that I don't usually read what the publishing industry terms, misery memoirs, but I was intrigued to read the book that sparked off the resurgence of the #METOO movement. If you believe all the media hype, then we are on the brink of a game-changing time for women. I hope that is genuinely the case. I hope it isn't just the media paying lip service to change. The conviction of Bill Cosby gives me hope.
I wanted to read the book that blew the lid off the cauldron and exposed the stink of the brew that simmers beneath the surface of all society everywhere, not just Hollywood. Because sadly, if you are a woman, very little in this book will be news to you. It will feel very familiar. The leers of grown men when a young girl walks down the street; the inappropriate touching brushed off as accidental; the sexual assaults repackaged as 'a misunderstanding'; the mind games and control.
The blame for being beautiful; the body shaming for not looking like a porn worker. Industry professionals banding together to protect a man who behaved badly, who behaved wrongly, and their subtle hint that the woman he wronged is unhinged, neurotic and should probably be in therapy. It's all too familiar to women from all walks of life.
What is fresh and new is reading how Rose navigated her way through an extraordinary life. How she managed to keep her spirits up is nothing short of amazing and a testament to her deep resilience. She says that she was born for weirdness and she has certainly had a varied life, going from poverty to the wealth of Hollywood in a relatively short space of time and almost by accident. She has had to fight every step of the way though - nothing came easily to her and there was always a price to pay for it.
Brave is a fiercely angry book. As I was reading it I felt quite pummelled, so strong is her fury - it rolls off the page and hits you square on. Her anger is understandable and warranted, yet I do think that some will use it to try and discredit her truth and her message, which is that men must be held accountable for their behaviours and attitudes towards women, and that society as a whole has to change.
For centuries women have survived, when really we should be allowed to thrive in the same way that men thrive. I agree with much of what she has to say, but the aggressive delivery made me wonder if anyone will really take notice in the long term. As I was reading, I had the lyrics to The Veronicas song going round in my head "I was born just to take you on...I'm like Snow White with a gun; shoot you down, bang bang you're done" because that is effectively what this book aims to do - shoot down the monsters masquerading as men.
I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about Brave. I'll probably need to read it again before I make up my mind. But I will say that it is certainly a book worth reading and one that carries a strong message. I also think it is a book all men should read. Sadly though, I doubt if many will, and if they do, they are more likely to react negatively to her anger, than to understand the lasting harm, trauma and damage done with their objectifying attitudes towards women.
Because they've ALL done it - they've all got their porn habits, their mistresses; they've all name-called and wolf-whistled women they don't know in the street; they've all gone in for the 'accidental' brush up that is never an accident; or the inappropriate pass made when they are in a position of power. They all deserve to read this book, on repeat, until they get the message.
It has been a very busy and studious few days. On Friday I did my last day on placement at Cruse Bereavement Care and I am now taking a break from volunteering for the summer months. So my Placement is now over, but I have not been idle, because I have had to finish writing my placement report essay.
This was a long, tedious piece of work. The criteria to be met was very repetitive and boring. There are certain words in the English language that I now loath and despise and if I get asked to evaluate or reflect on one more thing I think I'll scream.
The whole essay came in at around 15,000 words, so not as much as I had thought it would be, but still three times as much as our fly by night tutor told us it was! Remember that this is 15,000 academic words - so it is by no means fun to write. I'd rather write a book. I have scanned in all the paperwork and now the entire unit is uploaded via the online portal and is awaiting the examiners to start marking finals. I can do no more than I have done. It is now out of my hands.
I feel tired, drained and relieved to have it in and to be free of the stress of it for a while. Because whatever happens, it means that today, I actually finished my training! There might be a tweak of the essay and a quick re-sub to do, but all the hard slog is over with now and after five years of it, I am ready for the break.
It has been stressful. There have been sleepless nights where I have been checking paperwork at 4am to make sure it has all been signed off correctly. There have been bad dreams that I have lost all my work and need to begin again at level 1. Nightmare! There have been stress induced migraines and nose-bleeds. It's just not been fun.
The work itself hasn't been intellectually difficult - if anything, the subject has been rudimentary, bombastic and boring. It's just tedious hoop-jumping and academic work is designed to induce stress in students. So much box ticking, just for the sake of it. So much paperwork to be signed off and checked and double checked. I'm glad that it is over now.
There is also a sense of the surreal. It is hard to believe that it's finally finished and complete. I am now at liberty to free my creativity once more. Tomorrow is my first day of freedom from counselling in five years.
"It is quite permissible for gentlemen, even married ones, to pay their addresses to you," she said. "They may express their devotion and even their passion. It is for you to have mastery over them, and in that sense the title of mistress is an honourable one. But it is never permissible for you to allow any man to go beyond the bounds of propriety. And you must keep your suitor guessing, and at arm's length, for men do not value what is easily obtained. Even the lightest kiss is a great favour, you understand. The greatest jewel you possess is your honour..."
(Margaret of Austria)
from Anne Boleyn; A King's Obsession
Anne Boleyn; A King's Obsession is the latest novel in Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queens series. It begins when Anne is a little girl of eleven years old, and follows her journey right through to her execution. The novel is nicely written, with lots of historical content that seems to have been well researched. Weir is after all, a historian first and foremost and she has written many non-fiction books on the Tudor age.
Unlike other books about Anne Boleyn, this novel does not present her as a romantic heroine. Here she is an ambitious young woman who craves power, and she uses the king to get it. She plays a long game, reeling him in and then spinning him back out again - the age old practice of courtly love, as described above in the excerpt from the book. She is ruthless in her ambitions too, having no hesitation in persuading the king to have her enemies named as traitors and put to death.
As everyone knows, Anne Boleyn achieved her dream of becoming queen of England and sitting on the throne beside Henry VIII, but as this novel recounts, her victory is short lived. Unable to bear a living, thriving son, the fickle heart of the king soon turns away from her and seeks out the love of Jane Seymour instead.
Anne's cleverness in stringing Henry along and ultimately gaining everything she wished for also proved to be her downfall, for she unwittingly sowed the seeds for other ambitious young women to follow suit, and whereas once Henry turned away from his first wife Katherine to her, soon he turns from Anne to seek out another potential new queen. Anne learns that her power is only as strong and as lasting as the king's love for her, and as his love wanes, so too does her power and more importantly, her safety.
I like this novel because it illustrates perfectly what happens in a relationship when a man no longer has to chase the attentions of the woman he claims to love - in short, when she stops being his girlfriend who he would travel miles to spend a few hours with, and instead becomes his wife who is always on hand, waiting for him at home. She goes from being a mysterious creature he can't wait to be with, to a familiar convenience and from there, inevitably at some point, she becomes inconvenient and a nuisance he wants to shake off.
This is an uncomfortable truth of marriage, or cohabiting, that is rarely addressed in women's fiction. It is one of the reason's I will never live with a man again! Courtly love, remaining somewhat unavailable, rather than being at his beckon call, is the only way to keep a man's interest high and his affection strong.
When Anne is being pursued by the king, she is the flower of the Court. She is surrounded by handsome young courtiers, who pay her flattering attentions, write love poetry and songs for her, while Henry sends her billet-doux by the score. She is given little gifts and tokens of affection, and all this is acceptable, because she lives a chaste and virtuous life. Yet still her enemies call her a whore and a harlot.
In truth, I think Anne Boleyn was an exceptionally clever and strategic woman, who got everything she wanted from the most powerful man in the country. She used her sharp tongue and clever wit to ensnare the king and feed his infatuation with her, but once enthroned, she challenged him too much and made the mistake of outshining the master. If only Henry could have foreseen what a queen Elizabeth was going to be, he might have cherished Anne for the rest of his days. Alas, her star had to fall as quickly as it had risen and so the novel ends at the scaffold.
I have enjoyed reading this book and I am looking forward to the release of the next novel in the series, which is published in May. I have to say though, that Anne Boleyn is my favourite of all Henry's queens and one of my heroines, so I love reading new books about her. Having said that, I am interested to read Alison Weir's take on Jane Seymour next month. If you are a fan of Tudor fiction, you will probably like the Six Tudor Queens series, which promises to be every bit as enthralling as Phillipa Gregory's Tudor series. Enjoy!