Reverb, Day 12

#reverb13Day 12: Turning Mud to Gold

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.

Reverb, Day 11

#reverb13Day 11: Boldly Go

What challenges lie ahead in 2014? How might you meet them boldly?

Cambridge. Cambridge is one hell of a challenge.

My goodness, I’m scared of Cambridge. Or, rather, I’m scared of everything I mean by Cambridge. April, or maybe May, 2014: moving house. Starting all over again.

No, actually, what scares me is the idea that moving to Cambridge is going to be just like moving to Guildford was, back in 2007. That I will not know anybody except Tony who will not have time to see me and that I will take years to make friends and that I will feel as if everybody knows that I am a fraud and Do Not Belong There.

That is a reasonable thing to be scared of, because at least the first year in Guildford was pretty grim. It is also an unreasonable thing, because none of that is true any more.

I will be living with Tony. I have at least three university friends in Cambridge, an uncle in Ely, a cousin in Bury St Edmunds, not to mention all the AFPeople who really count as Tony’s friends but who are lovely. I am much better at making friends now than I was then. I will actually notice if I get depression again, because I know what to look for now. And, just as not everybody in Guildford is a millionaire three times over, not everybody in Cambridge will have three degrees.

But.

It is still a challenge. It is probably going to be much more of a challenge than my recent change of job has been, because a lot more is changing. I’m not starting from scratch, but I’m still starting. And we will be moving back in together, and will no doubt both prove to have picked up some foul bachelor habits in the intervening six months, and will have to get over all that.

I am allowed to be scared. I am allowed to be sad.

There was an art exhibition at my church recently, a selection of abstract paintings by a painter priest called Robert Wright. The titles were all, I believe, quotations from Thomas Merton. I was particularly struck by one entitled go bravely on. I liked the echo of to boldly go, and the painting itself was all red and gold and black and white, arrowheads and circles, which felt, yes, very sci-fi. Had I been feeling rather richer and less timid, I might have bought it; as it was, I have carried the title around with me ever since, and turned it over in my pocket when I had difficult decisions to make, and I think it needs to come with me for at least a while longer:

go bravely on

I will wear my cockle shell. I will remember that I am a pilgrim. I will move forwards to keep my balance. I will go bravely on.

Reverb, Day 10

#reverb13Day 10: Auto-pilot

Living life on auto-pilot can feel disorienting and dull. How did you cultivate a life worth loving during 2013?

How can you turn off your auto-pilot button in 2014?

I’m not sure I had much choice in the matter, actually. This was the year that everything changed whether I liked it or not. I had to move on. Staying on auto-pilot would have meant crashing into the cliff face.

Our landlady wanted us out of the flat we’d been in for four years. My husband got a job a hundred miles away. Everything was changing and even then I was scrabbling for ways to keep everything the same, even though it couldn’t possibly be the same. Even though I’d already got fed up with the way things were.

The universe very graciously gave me two shots at everything, and this turned out to be invaluable. Two holidays: one to cry and fight and sing, and one to sing and laugh and write. Two moves: one to grieve the loss of the home, and one to be thankful to have somewhere to live. Two job interviews: one to panic about how I couldn’t possibly cope at HQ, and one to get the job and realise I was going to love it. This autumn has almost been a repeat from 2008 – living in a room in Guildford and waiting for something to happen – except it has been so much better than 2008.

Which is all very interesting, but not answering the question at all, because the question is about what I did, not what anyone else did for me. There were four things:

a) insisting that holidays – namely, a weekend at the seaside, and choir tour – were going to happen, no matter how broke we were;
b) identifying four states of being in which I wished to continue for the next year and beyond (alive – sane – married – employed);
c) beginning to make a real practice of looking at myself and the inside of my head and finding out what I was feeling and why I was feeling it;
d) writing.

I promised you a story yesterday. I realise now that it doesn’t really answer the question, either, because again we are talking about external events; and even going by my new liturgical year, it happened before the start of this one. But I promised, and it’s not a story of what happened, it’s a story of what I did with what happened.

The women bishops thing. It hurt. It hurt a lot, and I don’t want to tell the story again. I was hurt and I was angry. I was furious. And I knew it was too good to waste. And it was nearing the end of Picowrimo and I had finished everything I had meant to write, and so I wrote about Synod. First, a scene in an oft-abandoned novel that wasn’t about Synod at all, really, except now it is. Then, a post explaining why I wasn’t going anywhere (still one of my best, I think).

The novel went on. All this year I kept bashing away at it. Three months of Pico and some solo work in between. The plot shrank and fell into place. The characters developed character. I had to rewrite the whole first section and it worked a million times better than I’d ever thought it could. It comes from Synod. It comes from my anger with Synod. It comes from my deciding to use my anger with Synod.

I was angry, and I did something with that. I directed all that righteous fury into something creative, something that might turn out to be good. I am very proud of that.

That, then, is how I turn off the auto-pilot. I must use what I am given, and feel what I am feeling.

Reverb, Day 8

#reverb13Day 8: What went right

What went right in 2013?

Maybe you didn’t quit smoking or lose those pounds or go to Paris, but something did work, did happen, and/or was realized. What was it?

Everything.

Fine. Almost everything. Seriously, so many things have gone right that I am not counting the ones that didn’t. I spent months of this year waiting for things to happen and then they did:

– There was the long chain of events, which started with Tony finishing his PhD – then passing his viva, then getting a job, then submitting, then my realising that I actually do like my career, then applying for the Only Job I Would Ever Want, not getting it, and then discovering and almost accidentally getting another one – and which will finish in about April when we move back in together.
– Whatever it is that has happened in my brain, where I am good at stuff and I like myself. This has been gathering speed over the last few months, and kicked in seriously over the past couple of weeks, and I am flabbergasted and so very happy.
– Learning to ride a bike. An actual, honest-to-goodness, two-wheeled bike, on the actual, honest-to-goodness, road.
– Breaking free of the ‘you must eat all this food or it will be WASTED’ mindworm.
– My novel! It has a plot, and characters with characters, and things happen because of other things and it’s sitting at 90,000 words and is nearly done.

Thank you, 2013. You have been a wonderful year.

Reverb, Day 7

#reverb13Day 7: Reveal your self(ie)

Please post your favourite picture of yourself from 2013, self-portrait or otherwise!

Jim and KathleenDancing with my father-in-law at his wedding. If I recall correctly, it was the Grease megamix. I love it.

It doesn’t really match up with my mental picture of myself (largely, I suspect, because I never smile as broadly as that when I’m looking in the mirror, and also I almost always wear glasses now) but then they very rarely do, and it’s very definitely a picture of me.

And:

I am clearly having a fantastic time. I am rocking my chequerboard dress (made for me by my mum years ago) and my two starched petticoats (made by me, this year). I am also wearing very obvious lipstick and not giving a damn. And I am looking out of the picture and am pleased to see people. This is very much a picture of me this year. It was taken almost six months ago, but it might almost be a picture of me from last week. I have come out of my shell over the past month, but now I can see in that photo that it was already happening in June.

Reverb, Day 6

#reverb13Day 6: Memories are made of this

“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.”— E.S. Bouton

There are so many “precious things” that are presented to us each day; discoveries and treasures found in simple moments, memories we wish to store in our hearts and keep with us forever.
What precious things have you gathered in 2013?

Which memories from this year do you wish to keep with you always?

3267 features quite heavily:

A very early morning, chilly and excited, chugging up an all-but-deserted A3 at 25 miles per hour, with the silver birch trees casting long, long shadows in rose-gold light, serving coffee from a thermos in a rag-tag collection of plastic mugs. And the delighted grin of the lorry driver overtaking us, not quite believing his eyes.

The long drive to Cheltenham for the Bugatti La Vie En Bleu weekend, on a hot, sleepy, June day that stretched into a drowsy, perfect evening. The back of the bus to myself, wondering which particular rattling noise was the one that had everyone so – rattled. Standing on the back platform and smiling at the cars passing us. Eating salami and French bread in a layby. Listening for all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. Fish and chips in a pub, and watching the last rays of the sunset striking Bredon Hill.

And the next day: sitting in the bus, with scores of beautiful old cars screaming up the track behind us, and the smell of grass and oil and warm leatherette. Just for a moment, nobody on the bus to tell about how it was built in 1935, and ran in Paris until 1970 when my father bought it straight out of service, and how all the smokers had to stand on the back platform, so that was always packed and the saloon was always empty, how the spare seat in the cab is probably for an army officer in the event of the bus being requisitioned, and how the lever on the back platform is an emergency handbrake in case the driver collapses – but, at the moment, none of that. Happy people and hot coffee and this is what we are for.

Earlier in the year, trundling nervously around and around Woking park, determined to get the hang of cycling on two wheels, and, every time, passing a brilliant yellow crocus growing between the roots of a tree, and being startled by it every time.

Singing I Was Glad at Sarah and Rob’s wedding. Dancing to Call Me Maybe at Jim and Val’s. Laughing at Sarah’s inspired choice of postcard for me (we all had book covers; mine was The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism.)

Of late, pelting home from Evensong on my scooter, the pavements deserted and the air pleasantly chilly and the thrill of speed.

The interview for the job I didn’t get, which I think was the most enjoyable one I’ve ever had.

And this one: on the M25, Tony driving the in-laws’ car back to them after the move. A CD of hymns (from Ely, I think) on the stereo, a showery day. A rainbow over Heathrow, and planes flying over it, under it, through it, and then: Tell out, my soul, and the two of us putting in the pom pom pom pom, and smiling.

Reverb, Day 5

#reverb13What was the greatest risk you took in 2013? What was the outcome?

I don’t know, yet. At least, I have my ideas about the greatest risk, but I won’t know the outcome until well into 2014. Perhaps longer.

This whole autumn was about risk. I had a choice of risks. Risking my career, risking my marriage, risking my sanity. (I’m not sure that’s hyperbole, either.)

I have a feeling that it looks from the outside as if I chose to risk my marriage rather than my career. I chose to keep doing my job. I chose to stay in Surrey while my husband moved to Cambridgeshire.

As it turned out, I got the mythical ‘something in head office’ and my job moved to London. As it turned out, I’m still in Surrey and he’s still in Cambridgeshire. We’re hanging on until April or May. All the while, it’s a risk.

I am happy in my own mind that it is a justified risk. I am pretty sure that chucking in my job and starting over again with temping in a new city would have been disastrous, for my mind and for my marriage. I am enjoying my new job and the associated prospects of career progression, although I haven’t yet adjusted to the length of the commute and the size of the workforce. I am happy with this risk. I don’t think I could have done anything better with what I had.

But.

But I still don’t know how it’s all going to turn out.

Reverb, Day 4

#reverb13Day 4: Grieving

This past year, we have all experienced so much loss and experienced so much grief — in relationships, through sickness and death, from mental illness or abuse, because of finances, even due to the need for healthy change.

It is good to honor those shifts, to fully feel them, so that we can let go of what needs surrendered, and remember what is worthy of our love and gratitude.

What have you lost, what are you grieving?

Today, the answer that is screaming to me is, Guildford. And by Guildford I mean the Guildford office, and by the Guildford office I mean the people in it. It has been three days at HQ, and today was the day that I finally got my head around the idea that I wasn’t going back to Guildford. (Which makes sense. I have previously worked at HQ for two consecutive days, but never three.)

I said I would miss them all horribly, and I am. The interesting thing is that when I said that, I had no conception of what missing people actually feels like. (Similarly, I said the commute would wear me out, and it is, and I had completely forgotten what fatigue is actually like.) I have been thinking things like, right about now somebody will be making a detailed plan for surviving a zombie apocalypse, and the rest of the team will be standing around pointing out the flaws in this. Stands the church clock at ten to three? And is Laura asking who wants tea?

I am playing with the idea that I am leaving, not losing, these people. I am remembering that moving on was necessary, and that it will have been what I needed to do.

I’m going to the pub with them next Friday, and then the Friday after that.

Going backwards – I am not grieving for the Woking flat. I might have expected to, had I known I’d leave it this year, but I’m not. It was four years of my life, four good years, but the end was sour, and exhausting. I do get a little twinge of nostalgia when I pass through Woking on the train, but I’ve moved on from there fairly painlessly.

And Melbury – my father’s too large, too crowded, too ruinous house. No, I don’t miss Melbury. Brigitte, gone to Nigel. She was going to be my bus, but I don’t need a bus. Nigel will look after her far better than any of the rest of us.

Other people’s grief: not mine to talk about, so I shan’t.

Way back at the beginning of the year: Cousin David, who will be resting in peace and rising in glory. That grief is done, and good things happened. Cousins I didn’t know. The assurance of the validity of my own spirituality.

Leaving, not losing. Loving and letting go.

Reverb, Day 3

#reverb13Day 3: Listen to your heart

Each day for 31 days, I sat quietly for a few moments with my eyes closed and my hand on my heart and asked, “Heart: what do you need?”

And then I listened. Sometimes the answer came in the form of a word. Sometimes an image. Sometimes a sensation.

Try this today. What does your heart have to tell you?

This is a very short answer. Usually I would keep this sort of exercise to my own paper journal, for fear of the entire internet showing up to laugh at me.

But I have been out drinking wine and eating chocolate with the church yuppies (well, we’re not yoof) and am feeling pleasantly melancholy and uninhibited, and here it is:

free

Apparently my heart didn’t think the answer needed to be a noun. Or to have capital letters. Nor am I really sure what it’s referring to. But there it is.

Possibilities include: the feeling I have of having been backed into a corner with regard to moving, career, etc; a long-running crush; attempting to do this exercise on the 1730 off London Waterloo.

Or it could be it’s none of those. I will find out. Or I won’t. We’ll see.

Reverb, Day 2

#reverb13Day 2: Nourishment

The way we nourish ourselves determines our ability to shine our light in the world. And nourishment doesn’t just come in the form of food and drink and sunshine; it’s equally important to nourish your spirit.

What made your soul feel most nourished this year?

If I said, the sacrament, my parents would probably disown me, and I can’t help feeling it’s a bit of a smart-arse answer, and I am still not quite High enough to be entirely comfortable saying that. And yet it is true.

I have become particularly aware this year of the way my faith has changed over the past few years, the way it has become less about what I believe and more about just being there. And how by ‘just being there’ I mean both the actual physical turning up, and the intense conscious mindfulness that I attain for maybe ten seconds. How it requires less effort and more heart. How it is less defensive and more loving. And a lot of that is about there being something that is real and true even when my brain is not working or my heart feels dead. How, while everything is real, this is the most real thing of all.

Just being there. Sitting with myself. Getting to know myself. Unravelling the snarls and the tangles in my history and my present. Pulling the stones out before digging the manure in. Or something like that. I have explored a lot of The Fluent Self this year, and that’s helped a lot with all this. Being kinder to myself.

(And then of course I will always say: music. Specifically, singing, which helps me get inside things like nothing else. And interesting things have happened there, recently, but I think I’ll save them for the moment.)