I’m a big fan of muddy experiences. They become our greatest teachers when we’re wise enough to exfoliate with them; roll around in the deep until we finally feel ready to get clean.
Today, identify something muddy that kept recurring for you throughout 2013, and then ask yourself this: What’s the clear truth underneath this damn mud if I finally wash myself clean?
Not mud, I think. Dust. And some mould. But mostly dust. Cobwebs and fluff and hair and all sorts, all of it.
(I am reminded of the poet Bunthorne: O! to be wafted away/From this black Aceldama of sorrow,/ Where the dust of an earthy today/ Makes the earth of a dusty tomorrow! – not that this has anything to do with it.)
2013’s recurring muddy, or dusty, experience has been moving house. There has been an entirely ridiculous amount of moving. My father downsized in the grand fashion. I am told that this was just as bad as the last time we downsized – but it had the huge advantage of my not having to do a whole lot about it. Tony moved out of our flat into Tom*-and-Iona’s and then to Sawston. I moved out of our flat into Tom’s* parents’ house and then into Tom’s house.
That concludes the moving in which I played any active part, but there seems to have been a lot of it about – friends’ moves, colleagues’ moves, none of it straightforward.
Despite my gloomy allusions to dust, none of this year’s moves have actually been as bad as all that. In fact, I was pretty damn efficient, packed up loads of boxes on my own, coped remarkably well with having a stinking cold in the middle of it all, and did a decent job at everything that didn’t require a driving licence. (Tony did everything that did require a driving licence, and was fantastic.)
This mud, this dust, isn’t from 2013. It’s partly from 2007/8, as suggested yesterday, and mostly from 1999. 1999 is why I will tell you I hate moving house. 1999 was possibly the worst year of my life, though 2000 wasn’t much fun either. 1999 went on and on. 1999 was the year we had to move, because. 1999 was the year I didn’t get a say in it. 1999 was the year I was powerless. 1999 was the year I could have told you it was going to be awful and not do a blind bit of good anyway. 1999 was the year I had four different addresses, one of them twice. 1999 was the year I left the school I liked, joined a school I hated, left that one, went back to the first one, and found my best friend had moved away and I hated this school too, now.
1999 is why I hate moving. 1999 is why it’s a challenge, not an adventure. Washing the dust away, I find a scared, angry, fourteen year old self to whom nobody is listening, who is trying resentfully, self-sacrificially, to just shut up and live with it for the sake of holding the family together. (This does not work.)
I didn’t know she was still there. Not until I woke up three weeks ago in Sawston and heard the wind dashing up and down the estate did I realise that I was freaking out about the wrong move, that it was the wind off St Catherine’s Point that was chilling me, all the way back from half a lifetime ago.
This move is not that move. The occasional sense that I have now, that I have let the universe back me into a corner, is not the screaming lack of agency that was mine then. In this move (for it’s only one, really, no matter how many different ways I tot up our addresses) I have been setting my own terms all the way along. I have been able to go at my own pace, and ways for that to happen have turned up in a most obliging fashion. I have asked for things, and they have appeared.
This is not that move, but part of me is still in that move, and still scared and still hurting. I am trying to let her out. And so I have learned about being kind to myself. I have learned about choices. I have learned about compromise and progress and how to ask for what I actually want rather than what I think I ought to want.
Wash the dirt away, and you can see how deep the wound goes. Then you can make a start on patching it up.
*Two different Toms here, if you were wondering.