December Reflections 13: soundtrack of 2016

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These were the last three CDs I bought. They’re part of the soundtrack of 2016, but not all of it. Abba, Taylor Swift, Billy Joel… I saw Billy Joel live this year, a Christmas present from my middle brother, and a fantastic night. (It clashed with the Last Night of the Proms. Billy Joel played Rule Britannia, whence he found his way to Ode to Joy and finally into My Life. It was epic.)

What’s missing? Things I’ve sung, for a start. With work choir, Take That’s Shine; Katrina and the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine; David Bowie’s Life on Mars?; a song called Together we are strong by our conductor.The biggest audience of my life was at national delegate conference in June. I have no way of knowing numbers, but it would have been somewhere between five hundred and fifteen hundred. A lot of people, anyway.

For church choir, Elgar’s Ave Maris Stella; Rubbra’s Missa Sant’ Dominici; Poulenc’s Quem vidistis pastores; Howells’ Magnificat in G (we haven’t got to the Nunc Dimittis yet)… the most difficult ones turn out to be the most memorable, though I would be hard put to it to hum some of them. My one solo this year was in the quartet in Stanford’s Te Deum in B flat.

I was aiming to find a reliable top F and top G this year, but haven’t managed that. That’s a goal for 2017. I continue to try to teach myself the piano. Drink to me only with thine eyes and The Rose of Tralee have been much heard around these parts, very slowly and with some swearing.

As always, I get to know music best from the inside; if I can play something, if I can sing it, I can appreciate it, far more easily than if I just listen.

Winter Days: postscript

There is one thing missing, and that is my word for the year.

Nobody asked – it didn’t come up in Reverb – and so I was going to do without a particular word-for-the-year this year. However, there is one particular word that has been jumping up and down screaming at me to notice it. I have come across it in all sorts of contexts, and every time I do it leaps off the page, or the screen, or whatever it is.

It’s kind.

This is terrifying me in much the same way as generosity did earlier in this series, on account of being knackered. Compassion fatigue. And yet I know it’s not actually about that at all. Kindness costs nothing, indeed, particularly if I make it important to be kind to myself as well. And I remember 2013, when my word was love, how it all came in, how I found that I had already been swimming in the stuff. If kindness works the same way… yes.

I note that they seem to appear as adjectives rather than the associated nouns. Last year it was free, not freedom; this year it’s kind, more than kindness.

This year, then, is to be kind in, to be kind to others and to be kind to myself, to let kindness happen to me. Bring it on.

Winter Days: Silversmithing Class

In August, I signed up on a whim for a class at a local arts centre – 10 Wednesday evenings learning how to work with silver.

Annoyingly, I lost about five of those Wednesdays to work, illness or sheer bloody exhaustion. The autumn drew in and it got dark and I found it harder and harder to leave the house once I’d got home.

The other five were great fun. I got to: use a saw, use a blowtorch, hit bits of silver with a hammer, solder bits of silver to other bits of solder, use a polishing machine, use a pendant drill. The tutor was great: he showed us how to use things and then let us get on with them, and encouraged us strongly to come up with our own designs. This is pretty much exactly how I learn and work, so I thought it was great.

I made a ring, a bangle and a sort of torc (the last I need to polish up). I was reasonably pleased with all of them – largely on the level of ‘I made a thing!’; they were not perfect by any means, but still, making a thing is pleasing enough in itself. I would need quite a lot of practice to get good, that’s the trouble, and one evening a week – often an evening that doesn’t actually happen – isn’t enough. And of course one’s restricted in terms of tools: I have neither the money nor the space for my own workshop, and can do very little without one.

I enjoyed such of the course as I was able to get to, but I think that at the moment I need to stick to things I can do on the dining table. In the end, perhaps the most useful lesson I learned was how much I can reasonably expect of myself on a work evening.

Winter Days number goodness knows what: things ending, things beginning

When a door closes, a window opens. Or, when the door closes, we can finally see the light from the window that was open all the time. May it be so. Even so, I think all my doors are still on the latch at the moment.

Things ending: this month in which I begin the new year at my own speed, getting a head start. Things beginning: this new year.

Things ending, run to the end of the reel and wound up, flapping a little as the momentum runs itself out.

Things ending: my twenties. A decade of transition, of exploration, of losing my confidence and finding it again. A decade of trying things on for size, of ridiculous impulses and paralysing fears.

Things beginning, ever so slowly. My life as a writer who gets paid for writing. ($3: a token amount, token perhaps in more senses than one. A notification arriving 31st December: how’s that for a cosmic message? Except of course 31st December doesn’t mean much to me in terms of endings…)

Things beginning, and having to choose between all the bright wonderful things that might begin, in favour of the one or two that will.

December Days 25 (26): everything, and then some

Contextual theology: faith in what?

‘Contextual theology’ is spot on. If I’d got my act together and written this yesterday, I would have waffled at length about the Incarnation, and what it means about the importance of the present.

Context is inescapable. We cannot stop learning about our universe; things change; what we once thought was true turns out to be only a tiny part of what we now know to be true.

Faith in what? Faith in God who is infinite. Everything that I can imagine that God could be, plus everything I can’t imagine. God in whom we live and move and have our being; God who contains everything that we know – and that everything is always expanding, and that what we believed yesterday is not enough, and what we can imagine today is nowhere near the truth.

It isn’t so much that what we knew yesterday is wrong; it’s that we understand more about it. The new truth doesn’t contradict the old truth; it builds on it, reaches beyond it, adds dimensions upon dimensions to it. The more we know, the more we understand, the more we are able to appreciate the wonder of reality and of how much we can never know.

What we knew yesterday was good, but we have more of it today. One has to take all the evidence into account. Integrity demands it.

December Days 24: Remembered

An anonymous friend asks:

What would you like to be remembered for? If someone were writing an obituary, what you want them to include? Which achievements are you proud of?

I would like to be remembered as –

– the author of Speak Its Name, which I would like to have made a difference to somebody
– more generally, as somebody who could write, and did
– a person who was not afraid to admit how difficult it can be, whatever ‘it’ might be
– a committed trade unionist
– a singer who was prepared to sing
– someone who tried very hard to see things as they really are
– more than anything, a person of integrity

December Days 23: #ChristmasMeans

Help us spread the real meaning of Christmas to as many people as possible by tweeting what Christmas means using images, video and text

SHAN’T.

I am stretching the definition of ‘prompt’ a little bit here, since, while the Church of England has certainly prompted people to write about what #ChristmasMeans, I think I’m meant to do this on Twitter, and, you know, take it seriously.

I started on Twitter, but it ended up spread across several increasingly irritated and unintelligible tweets about why I dislike being told to do things on Twitter.

So I thought I’d write about that on here, instead.

I have never been able to take the Church of England’s hashtags seriously since their #EverythingChanges campaign a few Easters ago; anyone who’d watched five minutes of Torchwood must have been sniggering. (Not that Torchwood was without its clunky paschal imagery, I must admit. But still. The twenty-first century is when #everythingchanges, and you gotta be ready.)

Twitter encourages triteness. The tweets currently gathering on the hashtag are no doubt very sincere, but they are mostly making me want to vomit. I am a terrible Christian (but a very British one). There is not much room for deep theological debate in 140 characters – 115, once you include the hashtag – and simplistic religious messages, however pithy, set my teeth on edge. I am the sort of Christian who smiles at, and, yea, retweets, things like ‘Actually, axial tilt is the reason for the season’. (And this is the reason that I will never be invited to tweet from @OurCofE.)

And then I think I am just hopelessly contrary. Even things that I like doing, that I would go out of my way to do, can be soured for me by a Twitter instruction to do them. Go to this! Do this! Why not…? I growl, ‘I already do this, you patronising tosser’ or, ‘Sod off’. I very rarely retweet things that tell me to retweet if I agree, even if I wholeheartedly do agree – because I don’t want to place that same burden upon my followers. This is, I think, just my stuff about being told what to do, and I don’t know where I picked it up from, but it’s a thing.

On top of that, there’s that instruction to proselytise, in the superficial ‘ask a friend to church’ way, that I have never, ever, felt comfortable doing, that has never felt authentic. I will write some other time about my profound discomfort with the idea of ‘mission’, about getting free of that, about the liberating revelation that I don’t have to try to convert everybody. #ChristmasMeans is a ghost that haunts my past self, that tells me that I am an insufficient Christian, even though the harder I try the more diminished my faith feels. I didn’t actually have this in mind yesterday, when I added “I do not pressure or guilt other people into doing things they don’t want to, dammit” to my dammit list, but in fact it’s one of the oldest hurts I have, and no better for being partly self-inflicted.

#ChristmasMeans is also setting my teeth on edge, particularly coupled as it is with that old guiltbag ‘the real meaning of Christmas’, because I can’t help feeling that the subtext is ‘and you, whatever you are doing, are failing to understand what Christmas really means. You are celebrating the wrong thing, you are too selfish, too impatient, too taken up with worldly matters.’

And there are enough expectations placed upon people at this time of year as it is. I say this as a comfortably-off middle class person with no children who isn’t going to have to do any cooking until the 29th. I feel bowed down with the expectations that people – good, faithful, Christian people, in many cases – are putting on me, and it is exhausting to hand those expectations back to them graciously.

Insisting that we focus on the Real Meaning of Christmas just adds another expectation, unless we are also given permission to not take part in the Unreal Meaning. It has been a real struggle for me this year to write Christmas cards. I don’t know why; I know they ought to be simple for an administrative genius like me, and God knows I feel like a pathetic excuse for a human being for not even being able to write a simple Christmas card, but there it is.

I know that I can choose not to write Christmas cards. I know that some of the consequences of this will be: that some people will not hear of my new address; that I will go on some people’s Stinge Lists; that some people will not even notice; that some people will notice and wonder if we are still friends; that some people will notice and wonder if I’m all right. And so, because the thought of all that is daunting, I have written the damn things, and sent them.
I would like to know that #ChristmasMeans that I am not, actually, a pathetic excuse for a human being even if I do fail to write a single Christmas card. Somewhere, deep down, I do know that. But it doesn’t fit into 140 characters.

Do not get me wrong. For me, the Incarnation is the most important thing in the history of this planet. (Yes, for me, even more so than the Resurrection.) And yet #ChristmasMeans feels at once like an invitation to troll and like a burden that I cannot bear.

#ChristmasMeans turkey and mince pies

#ChristmasMeans new Doctor Who

#ChristmasMeans the most beautiful music ever written

#ChristmasMeans the most awful music ever written

#ChristmasMeans hard work

#ChristmasMeans I am, as ever, a social failure

#ChristmasMeans feeling horrible for rolling my eyes at the hashtag

#ChristmasMeans I am, yet again, failing to be a good Christian

#ChristmasMeans pretending I’m coping

I will tweet one single, serious response. It will not convey everything I am trying to convey. But it is the best I can do, and it will say this:

#ChristmasMeans you are OK exactly as you are.