Table for One

You couples do not see me, you
who enter laughing, hand in hand,
sip from each other’s drinks, and share
an indecisive dish of olives.

I have my hands full here: fork
in the right; book
in the left. I turn
one-handed in the paper walls
of this, my chambre séparée.

The candle glows; the wine’s
a living garnet. O –

you need not pity me. I dine tonight
with Rupert Hentzau.

August Moon: day 16

Fast forward a year…

Dear Kathleen,

Good work noticing you’re ill and taking the day off work. ‘Better than this time last week’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’. And don’t worry about the butterfly attention span. Nobody is expecting you to focus on anything. You don’t have to do everything today, and working on getting better is still work. Don’t worry. You do get better at letting things sit and work on themselves.

Looking at you from here, I want to give you a map. I want to tell you, on the twenty-fifth of October, everything will suddenly become all right. Which is sort of true. You’ll see. This is the least glamorous part of the whole journey. You don’t know how far you’re going because every day looks the same and you don’t know yet how far you have to go. I promise you it’s not as far as you think. And nothing needs quite so much work as you think it’s going to.

Have a look back at how far you’ve come. Keep listening to Wenn ich mit Menschen- und mit Engleszungen redete. It is the most important letter in the world, and the music makes it more so.

Now. About being thirty. I’ve had a month to get used to the idea. It’s pretty good. You want to know about the ‘if not X, then Y’ question, of course you do, and of course you know that I can’t tell you which way that particular cat will jump. There are parts that I don’t know myself, particularly about Y. What I can tell you is that, as with all your cat-on-a-fence situations, you will go forward bravely whichever side it jumps, always remembering that there was, and still is, the other side. You don’t lose anyone you were, or might have been.

Keep loving. Keep trusting. It’s worth getting your heart broken. You are going to meet the most fantastic people this year, and the ones you’ve already met are going to turn out to be even more fantastic than you thought. You are going to reclaim every part of your life, rewrite all the stories that scare you. The people and things who reappear from your past are not as scary as you thought them.

You are brave. You always have been. Remember that it is all right not to be brave sometimes, that you are allowed to say how difficult it is. Ask for help when you need it.

Much love, and see you here in a year,

Kathleen xx

P.S. No, I’m not completely grey. Try Thirty-five 😉

August Moon: day 15

What if there was no need to wait until you’re “perfectly formed”?

It’s almost exactly a month until my silversmithing course begins. This will be the first formal tuition I’ve ever received in any form of jewellery. And I’ve just finished the first piece of jewellery I ever made with intent to sell. Everything I know so far is self-taught: I know it from books and from copying existing work, and from working it out for myself. I’m doing it all backwards.

And there is a voice in the back of my mind asking me what the hell I think I’m doing, who am I to put myself there with all the skilled jewellers of the internet and have the audacity to charge money for this junk. There is a voice telling me that I’m treading on people’s toes, that I’m being presumptuous, that I’ll be laughed off the internet.

To which I reply patiently that it’s not a zero-sum game; that if somebody wants to spend money on something I’ve made the chances are they’ll spend money on something someone else has made, too; that my stuff is not at all bad, really; that I at least have a decent eye for colour.

I’m not ready to go yet. I have a whole host of practical things to put in place: stock to make, regulations to puzzle out, pictures to draw, photos to take, cards to print, all that sort of thing. And I still have a cold.

And I’m a little bit afraid that the moment I’ve got it all up and running I’ll get fed up with the whole affair and chuck it. This is the thing. Once it’s up and running I want to be spending about an hour a week keeping it ticking over, and more if and only if I feel like it. I want to be ready to go already. I also don’t want to spend every spare minute between now and the go-live date, whenever that might be, frantically working through that list above and ending up hating it. I have no intention that this will ever become my full-time job. I have to trust it to not take over my life.

As for the other projects… well, I played the ‘what if it’s already good enough to go?’ game a bit earlier in the year. I sent the mermaids out to break the surface at the end of June, and we’re in the middle of the training montage – except it’s a door-knocking montage here (the bit which in a movie would be the speeded-up shots of calendars flicking by and me knocking on all the doors in town until someone lets us in). I remind myself that the film The Way cut out pretty much all of the meseta, and that’s a hundred kilometres that you have to walk through if you want to get to Santiago de Compostela. Piano lessons. That’s going to be an interesting one. I have to give myself permission to not be very good, like I did with Pilates. And as for Parisienne en Ligne, it’s done almost all of it itself. I just need to kick it into the right order and hand it over to the web host.

August Moon: day 14

How will you start the journey?

I’ve just got home from my grand tour of England. I went almost as far west as you can go without hitting Wales, I went south and stood in the English Channel, I went far into East Anglia. I caught up with school friends, work friends and family. I went back to 1996, 2013, 1994. I talked to my future self, and I saw my nine year old self on video. I spent all of one day, and most of two others, ill in bed.

And now I’m home, and I’m exhausted. I want to start everything, and I don’t know where to start. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I feel that I ought to be starting everything – and ‘ought to’ is the oldest and most dangerous of all the monster phrases. It’s not what I want at all. And there’s no particular reason why starting should happen right now. So I shall give myself permission to begin exactly when I need to, and not before.

I want everything to happen, and I want everyone to leave me alone. I’m panicking a little bit, because I was too ill last week to do certain things I’d meant to (organise my thirtieth birthday party, for example) and it’s nearly September.

I’m reminding myself that no reasonable person would expect me to come home from what has actually been quite a stressful, people-full, week and start working on the next thing. I’m reminding myself that I have left tomorrow (a bank holiday here in England) clear for a reason.

How will I start the journey? I don’t know, yet. I’ll go to bed tonight and sleep, trusting and believing that tomorrow morning the fog will have lifted and the path will be clear. Maybe I’ll want to start everything tomorrow. Maybe I’ll have the courage to phone my new doctor and get the sickness certificate I would need to reclaim the days of leave I lost to illness. Maybe some completely new and surprising solution will have emerged.

I’ll start the journey rested, happy and confident. I’ll start the journey when I’m ready, and I will trust that this will coincide with the journey being ready to start itself.

August Moon: day 13

What are the stories that limit you?

Stories? I could fill a book with them:

– Doing What You Love is all very well, but one can’t expect to make a living that way.
– Doing anything other than What You Love is a betrayal of your artistic integrity
– expecting to make a living from any form of art is irresponsible and your family will starve
– of course it’s impossible to write without drinking/smoking/coffee
– we are the weird ones and nobody understands us
– it doesn’t matter how brilliant I am, nobody actually likes me
– if it doesn’t get eaten, it’s wasted
– it’s my responsibility to compensate for other people’s shortcomings and omissions

Some of these aren’t even mine. I’ve never smoked, for example. In fact, most of these are now neutralised. Naming them allows me to analyse them, take them to pieces, see how far they are true and where they are not. I’ve got into the habit now of picking up any such sweeping statements I hear myself making, stopping myself, and thinking: what? why?

So much for the verbalised stories. What stories are lurking in my head that I don’t even know are stories, that’s another question. What convictions do I have that I haven’t even thought to question? What could I do without those stories I don’t even know about? Now, that could be fun.

August Moon: day 12

What do people thank you for? How do you surprise and delight other people? (Because you know the truth is that you do.)

Thank-yous. The expected sort (“I did this thing you asked me to!/Happy birthday!” “Thank you!”) and the surprising sort.

There is the sort of thanks that is surprising because the thing I am being thanked for is so ordinary, hasn’t required any sort of special effort. “Thank you for sending that email.” I once worked with someone who had the habit of thanking and congratulating people effusively for doing the most trivial tasks, which, I found, rather lowered my respect for them – and myself. You are impressed that I sent a very simple and obvious email? You are clearly very easily impressed – or your expectations of me are insultingly low. Thanking me for doing the minimum I would expect of myself anyway. I fear I’m rather ungracious at accepting that sort of thanks, at least when it jars with my own estimation of the worth of or effort put into a particular task.

Then there’s the sort of thanks that’s acknowledging something that I didn’t even know I’d done. While I’ve a pretty good idea of the worth of my own work, I’m constantly underestimating my own self: I’m always surprised to find that people like me, miss me, enjoy my company. For example, I don’t think of myself as someone who smiles much, but a week after I’d left my old job I got an email from someone there with the subject ‘Missing your smiling face!’ That one made me smile – consciously – all day. My oldest friend – the friend I’ve known the longest, I mean – got married last week, and was tremendously grateful to me for coming. And, even though it felt absolutely right to have borrowed the in-laws’ car and driven half-way across the country for this, and I’d have got my own driving license and driven further if it had come to it (and it was in a tipi, and was huge fun!), I did appreciate her gratitude.

I think there’s something there about the difference between being grateful for who I am, and being grateful for what I do, and the different levels within ‘what I do’.

I very much like it when I do something that I think is good, and so do other people. There’s a story of mine out there on the internet (not under this name, so I’m not linking) which someone has tagged with the comment ‘Empowering as fuck’. That pleases me, a lot. And, on the occasions where I have put a lot of work and somebody notices, I’m really happy. That doesn’t have to be serious, either. Still on the topic of emails (I do do other things at work, I swear), I remember with great fondness a comment something like “I like your emails, Kathleen, they make me laugh”. I appreciated that; I can’t remember what the original was about, but I think I had gone to some effort to make it amusing as well as informative. The sort of thing that I was secretly hoping for a thank-you for, but I wouldn’t have admitted that to anybody, particularly myself. The secret little glow that comes along with, I was hoping that this person would like this thing, and they do. Much like the birthday present that is absolutely perfect for that particular person, and that they like just as much as you hoped they were going to.

And then the things that fall outside my job description (any of my job descriptions), that are none the less appreciated. I used to be – and am beginning to be again, now my new colleagues have caught on – the woman that people would look to if they had something that needed a thorough going over for spelling mistakes. Also, they liked it when I brought in home-made fudge. Fudge and proofreading. Sweetness and accuracy. Yes. That’s what I want people to look to me for.

August Moon: day 11

What is the perfect space for you? How can you start creating a place like this in the spaces you already have at your disposal?

Where am I now? I am sitting with my legs stretched along the length of a sofa, my netbook balanced on my knees and bouncing as I type. I’ve retreated from the dining room (which is being tidied, loudly) and kitchen to the conservatory, which is below the reach of the wi-fi.

I have a pretty good view. Beyond some household debris (a broken office chair, a mountain bike, a Lloyd Loom armchair) is an open French window; beyond that, a trapezium of decking and a buddleia bush, and beyond that, the sea. I can hear grasshoppers, the waves swishing gently on the rocks, a seagull or two, someone shouting down in the carpark.

I’m reading Fame is the Spur at the moment, and the central character is being provided with a study – a rare luxury in the working class nineteenth century world he inhabits. His parents find him a desk, give him a chair with a cushion and let him light a fire in the grate; his friend puts in some bookshelves, and they make regular expeditions to a second-hand bookshop to fill them. There are red curtains and an armchair. Even in 2014 it sounds pretty good.

A space that is mine and mine alone is non-negotiable; it has been ever since I moved in with my partner. The current study is the best yet. I have a bookcase, and my desk and computer, and my pictures on the walls. There is a sofa bed to sit (or lie) on when I want to read, or think, or write long-hand.

What can I do in the short term to improve this space? I can buy a lampshade. I don’t usually look at the lamp, and the light is gentle enough that I don’t notice the absence of a shade, but it would be nice to have one. I can empty the three boxes that are blocking the space between the bookcase and the wardrobe. I can rearrange the books, so that the poetry goes into the study. I can put a tiny little plate next my keyboard, to hold the daily chocolate ration. I can remember to shut the door to minimise the likelihood of my being disturbed.

Improvements that require quite a lot of money, and possibly a whole new house: I’d make it a little bit cooler in the summer. (I’ve not been there in the winter, yet.) I’d swap my desk (which is really a dressing table) for one that’s less likely to do injury to my shoulder and upper back. I’d arrange for more horizontal space, so that I have a surface on which to write as well as to type and I’d have a pinboard. A chaise longue, or a day-bed – either way, big enough to curl up in or to sleep on. And yes, I’d have an open fire, or perhaps a wood-burning stove. A gas ring and a coffee pot. Heavy, red, curtains and a thick, comforting carpet. A window – a big one – that opens to the outside.

In the dream house my study won’t even be given over to guests. We could have people to stay every night of the year and I’d be able to carry on as if they weren’t there. I’d have magic mind-reading wi-fi that would only give me access to the sites I needed for research. There would be far more bookshelves.

I’d have a separate room for the more practical things, very light, with big windows and white-painted walls. A big press to keep fabric in, and one of those merchant’s chests for beads, every drawer labelled. A huge table that I don’t have to clear mid-piece. An Anglepoise lamp (I’ve always wanted one, anyway).

I’d keep this view, though. Who wouldn’t?