World Weary Woman – her wound and transformation by Cara Barker
If you were to ask me (I don’t recommend it if you are looking for a cheerful, uplifting answer) how I am, my most common answer is “I’m tired.” It’s a boring answer, and to some, a tedious one. “Oh we’re all a bit tired,” is sometimes what the response is. I gnash my teeth and stay silent. The tiredness of chronic illness, of M.E and other exhausting and debilitating conditions, is not the same as normal tiredness, yet people never believe it. There’s a sense that those of us with these conditions are somehow glamourising our exhaustion, demanding medals and accolades for taking the bins out.
I’d go further, though. I’m more than just tired. I’m weary beyond measure, beyond expression. I’m dragging myself through life like this and I can’t seem to feel relief or find any real explanation. I’m grieving, true: grieving for my father, my family and also for my country and my world. But the weariness began a long while ago and is reaching crisis point.
So when I spotted a book with certain words in its title, I leaped at it.
World Weary Women” by Cara Barker (subtitled An Adventure in Creative Living) isn’t a massive tome. Only about 150 pages or so long, it explores the concept of extreme weariness, following a ten years study focused on what the author refers to as Type A women. Type A women are described (self-described too) as driven and high performance. Significant numbers of the women in the study had suffered profound losses such as bereavements, divorces, and 17 of the 36 had suffered the loss of a child. Having delayed publication of the study for reasons she could not explain, Barker was faced with something so profound, so terrible that it changed everything. Her only son was killed. In the aftermath of this tragedy, as the members of the study heard of it, each reached out to Barker in their own ways.
Barker writes: “Grieving the loss brought countless surprises, tortures and blessings, and a persistent sense that a story existed which could help me in a time of raging chaos. It took some time to find it – in the Grimm collection of fairy tales. When I found, “Mother Holle” I knew I was not alone. What I experienced seemed part of a larger, archetypal story. Although the particulars might vary, there appeared to be a unifying thread which reconnects us to redemption.”
In combining the stories of the women who participated in her original study, her own story and that of the Grimm’s fairy tale, Barker explores the driving forces that leave women exhausted and despairing of life, and hints at a way through. There are no easy answers, no self-help ten step programme to get yourself back on track. No recipes for exercises or diets or lifestyle plans. There are no calls to work harder, smarter, better, more organised. This may be why this little book, filled with great power and wisdom, isn’t one of those huge best-selling phenomena that people say, as of a holy book, “It changed my life!” For Type A people, there’s a trap in that sort of thing, that encourages the continuing mindset of hauling oneself up by the bootstraps, working harder and longer and later. Instead, the glint of light the book offers is about play. Specifically about creative play that serves the soul and not any external need for validation or approval, and my goodness, this is difficult. In a time when people are encouraged to turn their every hobby into a paying one, to do something creative for the sake of the soul alone is so counter-cultural as to be almost shocking.
For me, this is a faint hope of dawn, of light returning at the end of a very long tunnel. I’m not sure how or even if I can do it. It’s so enculturated that every activity has to justify its use of time and resources. Writers write to be able to sell books and make a living. Artists have to make what will sell. I’m not decrying any of that, because we all have bills to pay. But as an author (albeit a very minor one) the pressure to distort what I write so it passes certain criteria for being saleable, it’s seductive, frighteningly so. To write a book because it serves my soul’s journey, not in the hopes of selling a million copies, that is something I need to learn to do, and not be seduced into subtly changing it to suit what the market demands. When I wrote Strangers and Pilgrims over ten years ago, I wrote it because there was a story pushing through me. It did not, I believe, originate with me, but from something beyond me. I’ve been trying to write a sequel for some years. What constantly sabotages it is my fear that the book would not be well received, and would not sell. The concept of the book is beyond my capacity to tamper with it, and so we have had a sort of stand-off. I’ll write (most of it is long hand) when the channel, so to speak, is clear. The moment I try to shape it, it stops. There’s a second novel, again in long hand, that is running sort of parallel, and again, as soon as I try to shape it, it vanishes. It’s maddening.
I am going to read “World Weary Woman” again, and try to take more of it in, but I would urge anyone experiencing the same sort of extreme weariness to look the book up and get a copy to read. It may not contain THE answer, but it does contain clues and hints and is company for the journey you are on.