August moon: day 7

What tends to trip you up?

My stumbling blocks tend to come in two sorts:


I always have at least three projects (I dislike the word, but it is widely understood, so let us go with it) on the go. One to work with my hands, one to work with my brain, one because it caught my eye, and so on. I said at the beginning of this week that I wanted to go forward, in all directions. The danger is (indeed, I’ve been having trouble with it this week) that I will try to throw myself whole-heartedly into everything at once and burn out within a couple of days. I want to make three necklaces and write a short story, maybe two, and oh yes, a couple of poems, and get the website online, and I want to do it all tonight. I manage perhaps half of one of those tasks, and then I’m knackered.

Then, of course, I get fed up with everything I’m trying to do and abandon it. Then I feel guilty about abandoning it and avoid thinking about it, sometimes for years at a time.

I’m trying to use this as a prompt to think more about providing myself with rest and sustenance. Not trying to fill the unforgiving minute – or, rather, learning to think of rest and relaxation as equally valid forms of distance to run. I’m setting myself realistic goals at the beginning of each day – for example, ‘on the train I will polish up that poem about the table for one, and when I get home I’ll get supper going, and in the forty minutes that it’s in the oven I’ll make a pair of earrings, and then after supper I’ll stop trying to do things, and will watch an episode of The West Wing and then go to bed’. Written down like that, it sounds exhausting, but it’s a lot better than kidding myself I’ll do EVERYTHING and failing miserably.


Monsters are the things inside your head that tell you things about yourself that are not true. Eve Jacques has a comprehensive and joyfully wacky take on them; so does Havi Brooks.

Mine are usually trying to tell me all the awful things that other people might conceivably say, in order to stop me bringing the glorious project of the day to joyful fruition. If other people don’t know about the thing I’m doing, they can’t say horrible things about it. This seems to happen to lots of people.

With specific reference to the mermaid project, known in real life as Operation finish and publish Speak Its Name, damn it, here is a selection of monster stories, some current, some defunct, some mutually contradictory:

– there’s no point, because nobody is interested in what is essentially a sweary Victorian social problem novel about the crossover between faith and sexuality
– there’s no point, because Vicky Beeching has come out and it isn’t needed any more
– [Evangelical Christian friend] will be upset
– the remainder of the friend group will conclude that anyone who upsets [Evangelical Christian friend] must be a truly awful person, and I will lose them all
– somebody will try to sue me and we’ll be bankrupted and end up living in a cardboard box
– it’s actually terrible and I haven’t noticed
– I have made some awful embarrassing mistake and everyone will laugh at me
– and so on

And the solution is, when I’ve finished howling into a cushion, to have a calm and rational conversation about it. For example:

Yes, Vicky Beeching has come out and this is wonderful news. What this means is that there are thousands of young people in the world who have just heard that there is a way to be LGBT and Christian. And yes, this is partly what I was trying to do with Speak Its Name. And yes, hers is perhaps a more interesting story.

But it wasn’t the only thing I was trying to do. In the beginning, it wasn’t even the main thing I was trying to do. In the beginning I was trying to explain the early 21st century academic equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question (and I, like Lord Palmerston, have now forgotten all about it). It’s gone a very long way from what really happened since then. What if there’s something else in my book, something that I’ve forgotten about, or don’t even realise is there, that is what it’s really about?

And if you think about the billions of people in the world, the millions of Christians, the thousands of LGBT Christians, is it beyond the bounds of possibility that there’s one person who hasn’t heard about Vicky Beeching, who, two or three years from now, when it’s old news and the conservative evangelical churches don’t play her music any more, will pick up a copy of my book in a school library or a charity shop and discover that it is OK to be who they are? Isn’t it worth going on with just for that one? I’ve written the book I wanted to exist. Is it too much to believe that someone else wants it, too?

And no, there still aren’t enough books about being LGBT and Christian.

(At this point the ‘that’s because nobody wants to publish stuff about being LGBT and Christian’ monster wakes up. Rinse and repeat. Eventually the whole crew will shut up and let you get on with it.)

August Moon: day 6

What are the signs that you’re on fire? (not literally!)

(I think this one needs a tiny little bit more context! “What I mean to say is: I mean to say, how does it feel in your body when something really gets you going?”)

Time disappears. I can turn an intense beam of attention onto the task in hand and make huge progress without (I would claim at the time) having to think about it. (And then it’s two hours later and I’ve got fifteen hundred words down and suddenly I’m really quite tired.) I don’t get distracted by Facebook or ice cream or yet another cup of coffee.

I’m more alert. Colours are brighter. Everything is sharper, the edges more defined, the way they are when you’ve just got new glasses and not yet adjusted to the new prescription. The beauty of quite ordinary things, like sweet wrappers or dandelions, makes me cry. I look and look. I am open to everything.

I’m confident. Insecurities about what other people think about me evaporate. I know them and I trust them. There’s a joyful sense of sharing, of rejoicing in other people’s work and successes, and the way they respond to mine. It’s at times like these that I tell people what they mean to me. I glow. I trust myself: my sense of direction, my judgement, my conscience. I don’t get lost. I see things all at once with an intense sense of rightness.

Words aggregate inside my head, sitting there patiently like pearls until I’m ready to write them. I go for a walk and collect more. There’s a sense of abundance, of being on the crest of a wave that’s carrying me gleefully forwards. I could sing. Sometimes I do. I breathe more deeply There’s an impulse to physical activity. I want to run, to swim. However far or fast I go, I’m aware of there being more that I can throw into it.

Kat asks two further questions: What is the catalyst for this feeling?

Noticing. Sometimes I can induce it by deliberate noticing, conscious wonder. Sometimes it happens day after day, and each morning I wake up and see how full of wonders the things are around me. Sometimes it’s gone for weeks, months, at a time, and then suddenly it’s back again, and something catches me, and I stop, and see. Oh.

What is it that you love about feeling this way?

This: that I feel absolutely, totally, miraculously alive.

August Moon: day 5

What would your perfect work day be like?

I think I have two ideal work days, which are only ideal if I can alternate them.

The first looks similar, though God knows not identical, to my current schedule. I get up at half past six and do my morning pages. I’ll have been organised the night before and set both the bread machine and the coffee maker to provide delicious sustenance and gorgeous smells for when I wake. I won’t spill jam on anything. My cycle ride will be a bit longer than it usually is – say six or seven miles – and there’ll be a shower at the railway station reserved for my personal use. I’ll shower, change, and step onto the train clean and fresh.

The train ride will expand or contract magically depending on my mood. It might be long enough for me to get through an entire book, or it might be so short that I just sit and look out of the window at beautiful wheat fields and chestnut trees.

Work is interesting and absorbing. There’s plenty of it, enough for me to get my teeth into and not be bored. I work with perhaps ten or fifteen other people. I never have to answer a telephone. Meetings are fun, quick and friendly.

At lunch time, I sit with other people, but I have a book open. I’m generally disengaged from the conversation, and people don’t expect answers from me, but occasionally I make a comment or ask a question. Lunch is delicious, exactly the right quantity, and made by somebody else.

In the afternoon, the mood lightens. There is chatter and banter, and occasional hysterical laughter. I go home early, before the start of the rush hour, and in time to get two or three hours of daylight at home. I don’t even try to work in the evenings. I read, or watch TV, or lie on the sofa and listen to music. It’s not my night to cook if I’ve travelled to work.

On the other days, I’ll wake an hour or so later, and get on with morning pages and breakfast as before. I’ll go for a walk – probably a couple of miles – and let ideas percolate. Or maybe I’ll go swimming – with a lane to myself. Then I come home, put something in the slow cooker to look after itself, and do two to three hours of writing. I have a magic search engine that only works to find things I need to know for research. Lunch is an absolutely fantastic cheese sandwich, eaten in the garden – or I meet up with friends for a pub lunch.

After lunch I have an hour’s nap – no more – and then spend a couple of hours doing something with my hands. I have a huge table that I don’t have to clear to eat meals off, and a couple of big chests for supplies. Beads, arranged in separate drawers by colour. Fabric, in layers. It’s a big room, well-lit, and not too hot and not too cold. I don’t get interrupted.

At six or half past I stop for the day, prepare something tasty and easy to go with the gorgeous stew in the slow cooker, and proceed as above.

I sleep soundly on fresh sheets, under a duvet that’s so big the two of us never have to fight over it.

August Moon: day 4

What’s hiding in your closet?

I realised a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been wearing a lot of grey this summer. I know why I’ve been wearing those particular clothes – quite by chance, these seem to be the ones that don’t get tangled in my bicycle wheels, which is an important consideration these days – but how I came to possess quite so many is a mystery. Perhaps it’s a hangover from my black-and-white university days, during which I tried to look as much as possible as if I’d been designed by Sir Cecil Beaton. That was the time that I realised that I really could get away with huge, fabulous hats. Not only could I get away with them, I could leave the police baffled and live the life of Riley on the proceeds. Gloves, too. I only really wear them for weddings these days, but I used to wear them to chapel every Sunday. Occasionally I went all black, down to the nail varnish. And the leather trousers. I still wear a lot of black in the winter, usually with red or magenta.

Anyway, leaving the monochrome aside, I like really strong, intense, colours. Mostly I gravitate towards the extreme ends of the colour spectrum – bright scarlet, deep fuchsia, royal or Roman purple – but I have a teal blouse (I don’t wear it much because it’s a pain to iron, but it’s very cheering when I do), a turquoise dress, a couple of orange tops. I add red or green into the black and grey, when I can. If I can’t, I throw silver at it. I love silver earrings. Beads, too, of all colours. I have the most gorgeous shiny black belt with a chrome buckle, which improves everything.

At the moment I am making substantial alterations to a dress I made seven or eight years ago, black circles on a jade green ground, so that I can wear it again. I have a hat to match. It’s fantastic. What about my other party dresses? There is the chequerboard dress, the little black one (short, with long lacy sleeves), the going-away dress (soft folds of navy blue), the black-and-white-striped dress (very sixties), my bridesmaid’s dress from Freya’s wedding, when I was 14 (raspberry silk, and very grown up), the long bronze one that I’ve never really known what to do with. Under the bed is my wedding dress, in a box.

The leather trousers and the hats were perhaps the first manifestation of the I will wear whatever the hell I want and not give a damn about what anyone else thinks about it attitude that I so enjoy today. Recently I’ve added bright red lipstick to that. You know what they say about girls who wear bright red lipstick? I don’t give a damn about that, either. Likewise, red hats, black knickers, short skirts. Last summer, when we were stony broke, my big indulgence was frivolous knickers. I write ever so much better when I’m wearing fancy knickers. True facts. I think it’s something to do with being impossibly glamorous.

What do I have lots of? Waistcoats. I wear waistcoats when I am being a pirate, an Elizabethan playwright (usually on a Saturday), or a Victorian governess with a secret life (at work, when I wish to convey a general impression of don’t-you-dare-mess-with-me). I have lots of long-sleeved cotton T-shirts, mostly with wide, shallow necklines. They are bright and comfortable and don’t need ironing, but go smart enough to wear to work. Dresses: V-necked, full-skirted, knee-length or above. I like skirts that swish. Bright summer skirts; a couple of pink cotton tops that work with them. Walking trousers in all sizes from 12 to 18. I’m not sure which ones fit at the moment. And a drawer full of boring T-shirts, also for walking.

There isn’t really much difference between what I wear at work and what I wear when I’m not. The work culture is pretty casual, and I’m fairly smart. Or perhaps not smart. I don’t know what the word is. Not soignée. Not serious. Occasionally, but not always, glamorous. I think what I mean is, the only difference is that I don’t wear jeans at work. Other than jeans at the weekend, I don’t wear trousers much, having discovered that I have relatively short legs for my height, and find skirts more comfortable anyway. That’s a thought: I must get another pair of black jeans. And there’s very little that has writing on. Generally speaking, I don’t wear writing unless someone’s paying me to do it. Minimal synthetics, too; I find them sweaty and irritating. Really, I’m happiest in cotton.

I got rid of lots of clothes recently, when we moved into the new flat and things had to be put in places. Everything that wasn’t quite right, that didn’t fit (unless I really, really loved it, and didn’t think I’d find another in a different size), that was just not very interesting. I’ve dumped all my print wraparound skirts – they dated from my late teenage hippy phase, when I was desperately insecure about my body. I think the green crochet one needs to go, too, or at least be shortened substantially; I’ve never worn it much, because I’m always getting it caught in things when I do. The one surviving one, which I will wear until it falls to pieces, is horizontal strips of yellow satin and yellow-and-brown plaid. I wear it in the winter with a black top and waistcoat, and a red hat. That’s a kind of gypsy musician outfit, I think. Once I played the cello in the band at a barn dance in an actual barn. In Britain, in October. I wore that, and thick black tights, and fingerless gloves. My fingers didn’t quite freeze.

Shoes. Black patent Mary Janes. I’ve always liked Mary Janes – I vaguely remember seeing them in some picture book or other when I was very small, and concluding that they were the only proper shoes. And bright colours again – the deep pink ballet slippers with the gold toes, the blue suede boots, the red ones with four straps each, the plum velvet high-heeled boots.

What, in my wardrobe, feels most like me? That’s a tough one. The last thing I bought because it was so undeniably me was one of the pink summer tops, a floppy thing like an inverted triangle, with a low V-neck and ivory cutwork embroidery. But really, I think the clothes I love the most are the ones that make me feel a little bit more than me.

August Moon: day 3

What do you love?

I love my new house. And, since Kat’s prompt for today asks me to think about collections and bookshelves and other things that one might find in a house, I am going to show it to you.

I will hustle you through the front door and the narrow corridor, through to the back of the house, to the kitchen, where it suddenly all opens out. I am enjoying this kitchen. I’ve got room to put things away and room to put things down, and the tap runs hot within a few seconds.

My piano. I love my piano. I swapped a car for it – I can’t drive and I can’t play the piano so it was really a neutral decision. Both were inherited from my godmother Heloise. I love it because it was hers and I love it because it is utterly beautiful, such warm brown wood, such gorgeous art nouveau gilt letters, such a pure clear tone. It stands at the entrance to the sitting room, and visitors come in, and see it, and ask, Can I play your piano? The answer is always yes.

I would show you my current pride and joy, my newly framed pictures. Seven of them: five up on the wall, one propped against a box, one on top of the piano. They’re symbolic, in a way, of everything that I’ve been meaning to do for years and am now doing. The watercolour of lovely watery Annecy and the Montmartre drawing of me and Tony from our honeymoon; the three of my own photographs that say actually, yes, I can take a damn good picture when I put my mind to it; the photograph of Heloise, very beautiful in the late 1970s, smoking on the back of a Paris bus (3380, I think); my mermaid poster, screen-print in mauve and grey, for an exhibition I didn’t go to by an artist I’d never heard of, which none the less was the thing I needed to buy at the time.

The other pictures, yes. Two montages, one of wedding photos and associated ephemera, the other, likewise, of the honeymoon. Photos in cardboard mounts and clip frames, friends and family. Collages, made to set intentions or to lay foundations for castles in the air. A nude by Andrew, the first real piece of art I bought. An odd little trio: the Maxwell equations, done by Anne in blackwork for Tony, a little crucifix, and my compostela. I walked five hundred miles to Santiago de Compostela and all I got was a certificate in Latin… Three yachts in the Old Gaffers race – a nod to the Isle of Wight, that. My year 9 Textiles project, marbled cotton with appliqué and beads: Atlantis with treasure chest and mermaid.

Yes, you would probably notice the mermaids. The mermaids and the ships and the shells. Ignore the photo in the bathroom; that was there when we got here. The shells are cockles, scallops, for pilgrimage. Many paths, leading to the same city. The mermaids are for transition, for breaking the surface. The ships are for trust, and for imperceptible progress.

Bookshelves: just about enough, now, at long last. The ones in the sitting room are ordered. Marching rows of series: Susan Howatch, Sadler’s Wells, Jasper Fforde, Narnia, Hilary McKay, John Buchan, Dorothy L. Sayers. Viragos. Poetry. Theology and LGBT and LGBT theology all skulking on the bottom shelf. Sheet music – mostly Tony’s, but, since we’re both altos, we share it. Tall, wide, hard-backed cookery and craft books, full of colour pictures of beautiful things that I might make, one day, and enjoy looking at in the mean time. In the study, the everything else shelf, to be reordered once I’ve cleared the two boxes that are blocking it.

Collections. Hats! If you look behind the door in my study you will find my greenhouse full of hats: winter hats and summer hats, formal hats and silly hats. Red felt and green, black straw, floppy magenta beret, wide-brimmed and brimless. I love them all. They are magnificent; they are my favourite way of saying, why, no, I don’t give a damn what you think about what I look like or what I’m wearing. In any case, they make me look fantastic. Dozens of packs of cards, each with a different, bright-coloured back: testimony to my huge, loose-knit family and its racing demon parties. Spices, jostling for space, some (cinnamon and ginger and paprika) always running out and needing renewing, but most of them nearly full, a pinch or a teaspoonful gone into some interesting new recipe. Things for making into things: beads, fabric, pens, rubber stamps. This idea about using up what you’ve got before accepting anything else is not helpful. Things have to fester for a bit so that you know what to do with them, and using all-new stuff is too slick and chilly. In the shed: the bikes. At the moment, n=2, a bike and a trike.

On my iTunes: opera grand and petty, the folk song army, rousing hymns, magnificently purple Victorian oratorio and sentimental songs. Things to sing along to. DVDs? Most of mine are Doctor Who: stories of infinite horizons, and basic human, or alien, decency.

What do I love? I love colour and flamboyance and adventure; journey and integrity; beauty and truth; love and joy.

August Moon: day 2

What is it that you do now?

What do I do now?

I have always felt the French expression metro-boulot-dodo sums up a lot, but not all, of my weekday life.

‘Metro’ in my case means a twenty-minute cycle and a fifty-minute train ride each way. Cycling is brilliant. It has to be a very horrible day indeed, knee-deep puddles and obnoxious drivers, for cycling not to cheer me up. I also enjoy the train: it’s very fast and, so long as I get a seat, it’s time to get on with stuff with very few distractions. Metaphorically speaking, I breathe in on the way out and breathe out on the way back. That is, I spend the journey to work reading, or listening to music, and the journey back writing.

My ‘boulot’ is administration for a major trade union. Nine months ago I moved from a regional office to the national office. These days I get to eat in the staff canteen. I also get time to think – largely about how much I like being busy at work. This morning I looked up some email addresses and continued rearranging the electronic filing system: more of a challenge than it sounds, particularly given that I will need to explain what I’ve done and why. I do wonder what on earth I’m going to do with myself when I’ve finished; hence the wish for Another New Opportunity to manifest itself.

I work from 8.20am to 4pm, meaning that I miss most of the crowding on the roads and the trains, and that I get home at about half past five, and so get a decent chunk of evening. If it’s my day to cook, I pick up sundries at the Tesco on the way home. How enthusiastically I go about cooking depends on my mood, my energy, and how much stuff we have to use up. It might take me two hours to make a stir fry. Or I might rustle up two courses and lunch for the next three days. Either way, the mental effort involved has to be deducted from a limited sum available.

Apart from that, my evenings tend to be occupied in writing up whatever I wrote on the train, writing a bit more, making beautiful things (usually with beads, but sometimes sewing) – those still count as boulot – and messing around on the internet (definitely dodo). About twenty minutes of internet time is catching up with friends and reading stuff I genuinely find interesting; the rest is distraction and procrastination.

I would like to reduce my internet time, and exclude mindless meandering around long-dead comments pages that I’m not actually interested in. I’d like to notice when the switch flicks from ‘awake and productive’ to ‘sleepy and unable to disconnect’. And I would like to replace that with actual rest. Lying on the sofa listening to music. Getting an early night. Reading.

Dodo – and so to bed. I feel that any more time I could devote to bed would not be wasted.

August Moon: day 1

Set an intention

Starting at the beginning, and in the middle, and at the end. Spiralling around and around, soothing the hurts and remembering the dreams of the me-that-was, looking ahead, asking advice of the me-who-will-be, who already knows how to do everything I want to. And, more than anything, being here, now.

As luck would have it, I’ve just got to the end of The Artist’s Way and (is this a normal reaction?) been sorely tempted to go straight back to the beginning and work through all the exercises I missed the first time round. I’m going to lay off that for the duration of this fortnight, though, and concentrate on August Moon.

I walked out just now to look at the moon rising over across the river, huge and low and buttery-yellow. I had thought I might not be able to; we have had so much rain today, and great dark clouds to race against. But the rain had stopped and the clouds cleared, and, although the river was high, it was no longer lapping at the grass, and the wind had fallen to a breeze. And the moon was worth looking at.

Here are the four and a half things I am working on at the moment:

– my novel (!) Speak Its Name is, after seven years, as finished as I can get it, and currently out knocking at agents’ doors. Admitting to its existence in so many words, in public, is a new adventure as of this very minute. This is the project I’ve been referring to for ages by oblique references to mermaids. I will probably continue to do this. My intention is to keep faith in this thing, in my work and in the world’s need for it; to refine and direct it so that it breaks the surface and gets out there. Relatedly, poetry. To keep writing and posting it.

– something rather unexpected that’s developed over the past couple of months is a renewed interest in beading and general jewellery making. I’ve signed up for a silversmithing course, beginning in late September, and am considering how I can get this hobby to become self-sustaining. I don’t want this to become a career or an obligation, but I am making more things than I can wear, and spending more money than I can afford (so say the monsters), and I am fairly sure there are people out there who would wear beads depicting clusters of galaxies in polymer clay. This is Operation Silver Ship Strelsau, and my intention is to come up with an actual plan for launching it, however many sails it turns out to have.

– piano lessons! I’ve been promising myself piano lessons since before we moved house. The piano has now been tuned, and I have the contact details for a piano teacher. I need to send an email. My intention here is to remember that I don’t have to be good at everything immediately – which I fear I’ll need to.

– Operation Parisienne en ligne. Long story. My father has a bus – well, three buses. The buses need a website. I have no mechanical skill, but I can write, and my partner is happy to help me get this online. Intention: get this put together and public.

– Operation Another New Opportunity – which is a half-thing, really, as I’ve no control over whether the opportunity opens or not, only whether I jump into it if it does. This is my day job, and the feeling that I have now done absolutely everything that is open to me at my current grade. My intention is to jump, if it opens.

My intention with regard to all of these is perhaps best summed up in the phrase ‘forward! in all directions!’ I do not expect to get everything done in two weeks, particularly since I’ll be on holiday for one of them. However, I do wish to get my head into the space where they seem like things that I will do. Wish me luck!