Week-end: in hell

Only in terms of media consumption, though. This hasn’t been a bad week for me.

Cot quilt in patchwork diamonds, mostly blues and greens.

The good

A really lovely meeting yesterday morning with the current spiritual director and the previous lay director of Ely Cursillo. We all turned up in pink tops, entirely coincidentally, and ate delicious brunch, and had the proper catch-up and said the proper thank-you that’s really been waiting since the spring.

And my ma stayed over Thursday night, en route to The North. I like having people to stay.

The mixed

Glamorous as it is to travel to work by hovercraft, the early start that staying on the Isle of Wight implies does leave me very tired at the end of Monday, and then there’s the rest of the week to get through.

The difficult and perplexing

Life would be easier if I didn’t have to turn round half way up the hill and cycle back home to make sure I actually have shut the garage door (of course I had), meaning that I didn’t have time to lock my bike up at the station, meaning that I then couldn’t get the train I’d said I’d catch because it didn’t have room for me and my bicycle. I’m getting better at trusting myself to have done this sort of thing, but I’m not nearly there yet.

And the cat puked extensively over the ground floor this morning. Of the approximately three million things I’d wanted to get done today, cleaning up cat sick wasn’t exactly top of the list. But it had to be.

What’s working

Putting the current ‘to do’ page of my Filofax in between the current two pages of the ‘week on two pages’ diary. I’ve been refining this with different coloured pages for work tasks, immediate priorities, and small steps towards big projects. I watched the official Bullet Journal introduction video and, while I now get how it works, I still don’t think it’s ever going to match the way my mind works. This, however, will do for the moment.

Reading

I’m already behind on The Embroidered Sunset. Yesterday I bought four books in a charity shop and read two of them: The Wire in the Blood (Val McDermid) – very self-consciously darker and edgier, almost approaching self-parody in some places. Anybody who looked like they might die horribly, did; any prospect of justice being served was undermined; and the hero is the saddest sack in the history of sad sacks. And The Climb Up To Hell (Jack Olsen), an account of a 1957 attempt on the north face of the Eiger and the ensuing rescue attempt. The phrase ‘play stupid games, win stupid prizes’ comes to mind. I’ve been interested in the NFotE since 2016 or so, though the closest I have been, and the closest I intend to get, is the railway up to Jungfraujoch. I can’t say that this felt entirely unbiased, but it was certainly absorbing.

Meanwhile, on the subject of hell, cycling through the poetry bookcase brought me back to Inferno, canto VI to be precise.

I started The Voyages of Cinrak The Dapper (A. J. Fitzwater) and will see how twee it gets. I’ve been dipping in and out of A Desire of Tramcars and the French half of De buurtspoorweg|Le vicinal. And also A View To A Kill, Paris Is Well Worth A Bus, and a 1970 guide to Paris that I found in an Ely junk shop. For reasons.

Writing

Book Bus Stories! I printed this off to take down to the Isle of Wight and discovered that it’s almost done! Eighty per cent, I’d say. This looks like it really is going to happen for Ventnor Fringe 2023. Of course, I’d been putting off the trickiest bits, but filling in the gaps has come easier than I’d expected. Next thing is to get out the lino cutters.

Making

As the photograph at the top of this post indicates, I got the mystery patchwork done, and indeed it is no longer a mystery and is now with its recipient. I was up at seven o’clock on Sunday morning getting the edge finished, though.

Watching

Ventnor Arts Club put on a Bicycle Film Festival to mark the passage of the Tour of Britain, and carried on regardless of the cancellation of the race. This meant that I was able to watch A Sunday In Hell, the film about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix race. It’s very good. Sure, on one level it’s just another documentary, but it’s beautifully shot and beautifully paced. And it captures something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on television: the experience of watching a race from the side of a road, waiting and waiting and waiting (there are a couple of people with a card game laid out on a picnic blanket) as well as the more familiar start-to-finish television race.

It’s fascinating to watch it in 2022 and see what still endures (mechanics hanging out of team car windows to fix bikes on the move, for example) and what doesn’t (mechanics riding on team car roofs).

This concludes the … in hell section of this post.

Cooking

Baked apples, with a bit of sliced crystallised ginger in with the sultanas.

Eating

Extremely good scampi at Besty and Spinky’s at Ventnor Haven. I’m quite fond of the little balls of breaded pink paste you get in pubs, but this was something entirely different. This had a coherency and a flavour that I’d never encountered before, and interesting seeded breadcrumbs. The menu promised me that I wouldn’t be disappointed, and I wasn’t.

And extremely good French toast at the community café in Duxford.

Noticing

A just-over-half moon and Mars in among Aldebaran and Elnath (I had to look them up), with Jupiter a little further to the east. Several deer in the fields, and, also, one field with Canada geese followed immediately by a field with the ordinary brown sort.

In the garden

Apples and pears. I need to do some pruning.

Mending

I took my brown leather handbag into the shop where I bought it, and got the handle sewn back in. And there’s a growing pile over the banister that needs attending to…

Appreciating

Photos shared by two of my brothers, who are off on separate heritage transport expeditions.

Acquisitions

I went slightly overboard in Cambridge yesterday (I haven’t been for ages, OK?) – paper tape, a pair of embroidery scissors, some turmeric and a cork yoga brick in Flying Tiger, some DVDs from Fopp, and the aforementioned books from the hospice shop (the other two were A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and one of the Ruth Galloway series).

Hankering

Today I have tried out Tony’s nice German leather pannier bag satchel, and I like it. He’s going to give it to me if he can’t make it fit his bike.

Line of the week

There are some gorgeous descriptions in The Embroidered Sunset: how about this one?

The houses are stone, rising up the steep cliff in tiers, and they have those red pantile roofs, marcelled like mother’s hair in old photographs; smoke rushed hastily from the chimneys, there’s always a strong wind blowing, and the gulls never stop making a row.

Saturday snippet

One of the Book Bus Stories, which is now considerably more of a story than it was:

There was a little eddy of movement inside. She froze; then it was too late to flee. Two of them were coming out, arm in arm, laughing together, but not too absorbed in each other to spare a glance at Althea.

All she could do was endure the disinterest on one striking face and the pity on the other.

This coming week

Ma returns on her way back to The South. The in-laws stop by to celebrate Tony’s birthday. Bi Visibility Day. Some more Book Bus Stories.

And I might listen to the Queen’s funeral (I really don’t like watching church services on TV; it feels terribly intrusive). Or I might go out for a bike ride. Or both.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: doubly literary

Hardback copy of 'Double or Nothing' by Kim Sherwood, paperback copy of 'CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space' edited by Elly Blue, small metal cat with crystal eyes

The good

On Thursday night I went to the launch (or at least the second night of it – it seemed to be a multi-day event) of Double Or Nothing at the British Library. So did a lot of James Bond fandom. I got to meet David of Licence To Queer in person for the first time, and some of the other LtQ contributors and other denizens of Bond Twitter. Bond fandom is great. We are all well aware that our fave is problematic as all get out, and that saves a lot of time and bad feeling and lets us get on with the actually interesting conversations. And these conversations were very interesting indeed. In one of the non-Bond-related ones it turned out that two of us had stories in the same small press feline feminist cycling anthology. (What are the odds? Double or nothing on that one if you dare. There are only eleven pieces in the thing!) So I ended up feeling even more literary than I’d expected to.

The mixed

One of these days I’ll manage to find the balance between the things I want to do, the things I need to do, and accounting for my limited capacity. None of the days this week was that day.

Today was Ultreya GB, the gathering of Cursillos from across the UK, hosted by London and Southwark Cursillos, beginning at St Paul’s and ending up at Southwark cathedral. It was a great day, and I was very proud to carry the banner for Ely, but I was tired when I left this morning and am very tired indeed now.

The difficult and perplexing

Monday was grim. At one point I said, ‘There is nothing that I want to do, and everything that I should do is BORING.’ Then I sulked in bed for an hour or so, then did some things. The most memorable one was paying the council tax.

What’s working

Making sure I eat something every three hours. Though this is a bit double-edged, as I’m really noticing when I fail to do that now.

Reading

I finished Wanderlust. And (presciently, it now appears) CATS: Cycling Across Time and Space. Began Double or Nothing, obviously. And Havi’s new post.

Writing

Half a blog post on my pet cover copy peeves. You might get the whole thing next week.

Making

Good progress on the secret patchwork, in spite of the cat’s best efforts.

Watching

Only Connect is back on! And so is Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Looking at

Some lovely pieces by Ely Guild of Woodturners, who had an exhibition at the Lamb over the bank holiday weekend.

Cooking

Orchard fruit (i.e. apple, pear and greengage) crumble.

Eating

Crumble. Good for pudding and breakfast. Beef rendang from Borough Market this lunchtime.

Moving

I took the road bike out for the first time since I had it serviced in the summer. It turns out that hauling a town bike up Back Hill twice a week has made tackling the Coveney hill on a road bike a mere triviality by comparison. Maybe I should start logging my commute on Strava. Or not.

Noticing

I saw Hodge the cat when we arrived at Southwark cathedral, but he scarpered pretty quickly.

In the garden

The roses have returned for a second round. The vine has produced a load of very small pippy bitter grapes. I can’t face attempting home winemaking, so it’s a free for all for the birds. We continue to get tomatoes and French beans and greengages.

Appreciating

The little leather bag I got in Heidelberg. Into this I can fit my phone, my ridiculous bunch of keys, and a cereal bar, and it buckles under the saddle of my bike. I was hoping it would go over the handlebars, but the straps aren’t quite long enough. Never mind. It does very nicely under the saddle.

Planning

Christmas. Expedition to Belgium. Expedition to the South of France. Keeping some weekends free for Pete’s sake.

Acquisitions

A nice metal mop bucket to replace the plastic horror from Tesco that I’ve been cursing for the last seven years. (Every time you squeeze the mop out in the strainer thingy and then try removing the mop, the strainer comes with it. It’s infuriating.) Double or Nothing.

Hankering

There was a rather lovely carved stone nativity set in the gift shop at Southwark cathedral. But it was more than I would want to spend on a nativity set, and I might be at the point where my Playmobil one has become the correct one and doesn’t need replacing.

Line of the week

Oh, Babette, you cool kid sprawling in your honest cotton-shirted grime, boy, I never had a chance. I wasn’t from your neighborhood, where everything had pockets: coarse pants, softball gloves, subway corners, airshafts between women’s bars, where delis sat at the edge of high-rises feeding siren music to the pavement. All-night groceries with strong meats, girly calendars, an angry wilderness of empty lots and broken family hearts.

This is from a story called ‘Tank Top Tomboy’ in an anthology called 52 Pickup by Bonnie Morris and E. B. Casey. Honestly, I don’t know why I was still reading this, because most of the stories are dire. The last one had a romantic interest with ‘ebony pools’. And then suddenly I run up against this. Sheer poetry. Will I finish the book now? Probably. Will I be disappointed? Inevitably.

This coming week

Tour of Britain! Some in-person training. And I could really do with an early night or three.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: back on the round world

Stack of books topped with a model bus and two rubber stamps

The good

Two more days of Discworld. And a really useful meeting with my Cursillo secretariat this morning.

Some more rain: the water butt is now full again. Also, my legs are feeling an awful lot better. The left knee’s still a bit dodgy, but the pain in the calves is gone. Hurrah.

The mixed

I seem to have picked up some sort of con crud. But every lateral flow test so far says it isn’t Covid, so that’s something.

The difficult and perplexing

Tuesday and Wednesday were still Too Hot. I’m grateful for the coolth we have at the moment, but I don’t like wishing the year away.

What’s working

Plimsolls. Everything else leaves my feet feeling really weird.

Reading

I picked up Broken Ground (Val McDermid) in a charity shop on Tuesday, and then spent the afternoon reading it. It’s the one with the miners’ strike. I’ve read it before. I thought I might have done. Still worth a reread, and I’m hoping that it’s not going to end up being as prescient as it feels. Then I moved onto Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness (Dorothy L. Sayers). Also rereads, though I don’t turn to them nearly so often as I do some of the other Wimsey books. That’s because I’ve only just got hold of my own copy of Whose Body? (thank you, Nicky!) and Clouds of Witness isn’t really terribly good. I was rather pleased to have been able to read the whole of the French bit in Clouds of Witness without really thinking about it, and certainly without having to refer to the translation. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case last time.

Writing

More on this space opera thing. It’s not going to get done inside the word limit, but I’ll worry about that when I’ve got everything in there that needs to go in there. More on Households’ Rancour. And a rather overdue review of The God Painter.

Listening to

Really interesting talks on bees and why the BBC America The Watch didn’t work. And the ridiculously wide-ranging open mic night that is Toast and Jam. All at DiscworldCon.

Making

Slow progress on the mystery patchwork.

Eating

The last Friday of every month is Foodie Friday at Ely market. We managed to be there for the first time. I had spinach and cheese gozleme followed by a pumpkin dessert with tahini and walnut. This was my first time trying gozleme, and I’m a fan. Next time we might try to arrive earlier, though.

Moving

More hotel swimming. I am pretty sure this is what sorted out the calf pains.

Singing

I’ve had dreadful impostor syndrome around singing these last few months. Lockdown didn’t help, and then I overreached myself badly post-Covid and knocked my confidence. But I sang the Hippopotamus Song at Toast and Jam on Sunday night at the Discworld Convention, and it was fine.

Noticing

A hare lolloping across a stubble field in the morning mist.

In the garden

We came back to find greengages and tomatoes going great guns, and the first pears just about ready.

Appreciating

Two days off work after the con to get my breath back and to get things together for today’s meeting.

Acquisitions

Apart from the Val McDermid, I picked up Without My Cloak (Kate O’Brien) and Dust Tracks on the Road (Zora Neale Hurston) – there’s just something about a green Virago spine – One Pair of Feet (Monica Dickens), about which I keep hearing good things, Seven Ages of Paris (Alistair Horne) – doesn’t appear to say anything about open rear-platformed buses, clearly the most important age of Paris, but one can’t have everything – and Go Spy The Land: being the adventures of I. K. 8 of the British Secret Service (Capt. G. A. Hill), published 1932, with a lovely map of Russia on the endpapers, and which I will have to read with the part of my brain that reads John Buchan. I will be interested to see if Arthur Ransome makes an appearance. I also got two rubber stamps and a stripy vest. With grateful thanks to the charity shops of Ely.

Hankering

Somebody on the DWCon Facebook group is making Society of Chicken Polishers fabric patches. I want one. I’m going to get one when they restock.

Line of the week

And if the pool wishes, let it shiver to the blur of many wings, old swimmers from old places.

River Roads, Carl Sandburg

Saturday snippet

This is from the space opera thing:

I shaved myself and went in for decontamination, stood under the cold pink lights and scrubbed my body under the fierce pulse of the liquid until I wanted to scream. The fingers that had touched the contamination had to be held in a current that burned and licked at my skin like flames. It’s never what you might call a pleasant experience, but it’s usually satisfying, in its own strange way. This time it felt as if I was trying to tear my mind from my body.

This coming week

A short working week, with the bank holiday on Monday and a day off on Friday. Saturday is Ultreya GB (a national Cursillo gathering) hosted by London and Southwark dioceses, and I’m really looking forward to crossing the Millennium Bridge with other rainbow people. I also want to catch up with the Vuelta a España and get that patchwork project closer to done.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

A story from two blue notebooks

Hardback notebook with a cover pattern of blue and white waves

I was in Paperchase at St Pancras station.

Well, you see, I’d been writing everything, all of this, down in a little book, and I’d nearly finished it, so I went to Paperchase for a new one.

I always end up writing the story that I need to hear. And I don’t know whether I’ll ever be good enough to tell this one in fiction, or even if it’s a story that can work in fiction at all, ever, and it seems possible that someone else needs to hear it sooner than that. After all, I’ve found over and over again that, whatever’s happening, I’m not the only one to whom it’s happening. So I’m telling it now.

And I was looking at the shelves of notebooks, thinking about which one to choose, and I had a sudden, very strong sense that I wouldn’t need another one.

I bought one with a pattern of waves in blue and white. That was the Tuesday.

I’ve told the notebook story five or six times now. It’s a good story, a convincing one. It always surprises me how effective it is. I go in expecting pushback, argument, a compassionate suggestion that perhaps I’m mistaken in what’s going on in my own heart, and every time the other person accepts it.

Well, you’d hope they would. It’s true, after all.

On the Wednesday, I went to church. Lunchtime communion at St Pancras. St Pancras new church. And I was about half way there, walking along the pavement on the north side of the Euston Road, the wind blowing a few dead leaves around my ankles, when I understood.

It wasn’t there any more.

The leaving makes a better story than the arrival did. The arrival was cumulative, a succession of comments, questions, observations, from others.

2017. I’d been leading the twenties-and-thirties Bible study group. The ordinand we had on loan from Westcott said to the youth worker, afterwards, ‘Kathleen’s very good at this. Has she thought about ordained ministry?’

The youth worker reported this conversation to me. ‘And so I said to him, I don’t know, you should ask her!’

I thought it was just that I’d picked up some adult education skills from my day job. And forgot about it.

2018. The curate invited me to a Cursillo weekend. I thought it sounded fantastic. It wasn’t until I was signed up and paid up that she said, ‘Yes, that was where it all started for me.’

Oh, I thought. And then, Oh, well. And forgot about it.

I told a friend about the plot of the novel I was working on, how it all hinged on the fact that you can’t be ordained in the Church of England and be in a same-sex marriage. He asked me if my own vocation was going anywhere.

I’d forgotten that I’d ever told him about that.

I said no, though the curate had said what she’d said about Cursillo. And then I forgot about it.

I undertook tutor training. My first thought was how can I use this for church? It occurred to me that thirty-three was quite an appropriate age for all this to kick off again, really. I forgot about it.

I went on the Cursillo weekend and had my mind and my faith expanded in all sorts of other ways, and forgot about it.

I saw young women in dog collars – one in a bookshop, one on a train – and decided that it was confirmation bias.

I remembered Mary Poppins. The wind changes. I could smell the excitement in the air, and I knew what it was, and I didn’t want to admit it.

Returning to my novel, I asked the youth worker about the selection process. Most of my mind was focused on what I’d got wrong, what was going to screw up the timeline, what was going to rescue the arc. A little part of it was watching myself all the time to see if any of it pinged me as something that I was meant to be doing. It didn’t.

2019. I could feel it, smell it, sense it lurking in the undergrowth, waiting.

I demanded a neon sign. The next neon sign I saw said:

Started at the bottom

Now you’re here

It didn’t really help.

I decided that anything that felt that much like horrible and inevitable doom couldn’t be of divine origin. Possibly it was just that I needed a holiday.

(I did need a holiday.)

I prayed to feel better about it, if it was real.

With the twenties-and-thirties group, I was leading a course called SHAPE, designed to help people explore their gifts and their callings. In my day job, I was testing an online tool called Value My Skills. I was very aware of a parallel existence running alongside the life that I was leading, something that was more than a possibility and less than a probability.

I found myself thinking that if I got to the end of the SHAPE course without anything having come up, I was probably safe.

The week before Holy Week was peculiarly intense. Conversations and experiences piled on top of each other.

‘No, it’s not actually a thing, just a lurking sense of doom,’ I said to someone.

‘I’ve heard it often feels like that,’ they said to me.

I applied for a promotion at work in the knowledge that it was very possible that my future lay elsewhere.

I asked the Cursillo spiritual director about spiritual direction. She asked some questions about my church involvement. I answered: I was leading the twenties-and-thirties group, singing in the choir.

‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘I wonder what God’s got planned for you in, say, three years…’

I thought, oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.

I emailed people. I dragged people out to lunch. Nobody was surprised. Their lack of surprise was both infuriating and gratifying.

I didn’t get shortlisted for the promotion. It was rather a relief: I couldn’t have fitted anything else in my head that week.

I told the curate. She prayed for me, and I, who very rarely got visual images in prayer, saw a small square of fog clear, and a set of railway points switch from one track to another. And I knew then, that if this was going to turn out to be true, that was the moment I knew it. She got me onto the reading rota and the intercessions rota and the PCC; she told the vicar.

The vicar was kindly, thoroughly, interrogative, and made it clear that I was going to have to get used to talking about this. I remembered that this was the part I’d hated the last time round.

I wept through the service. I wept because it was gone.

That was the thing: it wasn’t the first time.

At the beginning I thought I’d be able to treat it as if it was the first time, but it wasn’t long before I found myself saying, ‘Well, the last time this happened…’ and having to explain what happened last time.

‘I suppose it came out in my last year of university. I applied for a few pastoral assistant jobs, but I didn’t get any of them.’

But I couldn’t remember what it was like before. I couldn’t remember why I wanted to do it. I couldn’t remember the wanting to do it, only the desolation afterwards.

‘And it just disappeared. I walked the Camino, and by the time I got to the end it had gone, and I hadn’t noticed.’ And then I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I went to Germany as an au pair, and then I still didn’t know what to do with myself, and the year after that was the worst year of my life.

All I had was bad poetry, and a handful of stories that didn’t quite say what I needed to say. What if the widow had her mite returned to her? What if the big fish had received new orders and spat Jonah out on some beach nowhere near Nineveh? There was Abraham and Isaac, reprieved at the last moment, but that seemed a bit melodramatic. Didn’t it?

It felt like a wonderful secret. It felt terrifying and inevitable. It felt like writing a novel used to, back when I didn’t tell anybody about writing a novel.

Returning to my novel, I was struck by how wrong I’d got it. The point of view character wasn’t the one who had a vocation to ordained ministry; that was her girlfriend. But I’d bestowed on both of them the sense of creeping doom, the malevolent attraction of a black hole, that I associated with a vocation when I didn’t have one. Now I could see that it didn’t feel like that at all. When I was in the middle of the thing, there was an excitement about it, a joyful anticipation, a feeling of rightness, of everything making sense.

I read The Night Manager and for once found myself identifying with the main character accepting the call to adventure, rather than inwardly yelling at him not to do it.

I dragged out boxes of old diaries, started sifting through years’ worth of online journals. How many times had I learned this and forgotten it again? I went to Paperchase and bought a notebook with a gold-dotted blue cover. I promised myself that this time I wouldn’t forget.

I realised that I’d been thinking about it for ages. It was just that the feelings had caught up with me.

I worried about turning into a Church of England pod person with naff coasters with Bible verses on.

I knew I needed to become a person who could talk about it, and I didn’t know how to become a person who could talk about it without ceasing to be myself.

I went to an enquiries evening and was too shy to talk to the Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Vocations. I learned that the next thing to do was to book myself onto the vocations course.

I was under no illusions – certainly not the ones that would have tripped me up had I gone straight into selection and formation and ministry after university. I follow a lot of Clergy Twitter, after all.

But it seemed plausible that a decade working for a member organisation with big ideals and petty politics, one which depended for its continued operation on the labour of a lot of ageing volunteers, might have been just what I needed to equip me to deal with the Church of England. Last time might have been the wrong time. This might be the right time.

I did not book myself onto the vocations course.

I failed to do anything practical about it at all, just kept writing in my blue notebook with the gold spots.

It felt more and more like where I was going.

The Sunday before Advent, the Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Vocations was the guest preacher. I talked to her, mentioning a little petulantly that the rest of my life seemed to be trying to happen at the same time (my husband and I had finally scraped together the deposit for a mortgage). She got me booked onto the next term’s vocations course.

On the Friday, the House of Bishops put out an even more tin-eared statement than usual, and I couldn’t help seeing the funny side. I wore a rainbow skirt to church that Sunday.

I went to the first session of the course.

That was the Wednesday before I went to Paperchase.

I saw the course through, as best I could given the challenges posed by Great Northern Rail (sometimes I got from London to Ely on time, and sometimes I didn’t) and (later) having to join in by Zoom over the phone, because the course had gone online and we didn’t have broadband at the new house. It was interesting, and enjoyable, and, for me, irrelevant.

I stuck around, waiting to see if the vocation was going to come back, whether it had been scared off by my moving house, or lockdown, or something. It didn’t.

I finished the novel. I started telling people that it had gone.

It’s ten months now since it went away; it already feels like another life. After the desolation came the relief. I don’t want to do this. I would have done it if I’d had to, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.

The other day I found a mind map that I made when it was there and new and I was trying to make sense of it. There it all was, in my own handwriting, and it was nothing to do with me.

And I still don’t know why it happened: why it came, and why it went away.

Was it a piece of research that got a bit too immersive?

Did I need to know what a vocation felt like in order to know when I didn’t have one?

Am I off on another circuit of the labyrinth, bound to follow a long and winding path to get back to the same place?

The more time elapses, the less I think about those questions. The answer’s always the same, anyway: I don’t know.

And I suspect I won’t, not for a long time.

December Reflections 4: best decision in 2018

DSC_0199

I spent much of the summer and autumn of 2018 wondering, Now what? I’d been on my epic adventure. I’d launched my new book. Now what? I was ready for the next big thing, but the big things were just too big, and they hovered infuriatingly just out of reach. (They still are, though I’m gathering boxes to stand on.)

At a church ‘praying with art’ event, I happened to mention that I was in the middle of a transition, and that I didn’t really know what it was. I’d been looking at The Visitation by Sebastiano del Piombo, and been very struck by the way that the two women’s faces and Mary’s right arm make a heart shape, and by all the bustling going on in the background. It’s a painting about transitions. Now what?

A couple of months later, the curate suggested that I might be interested in Cursillo. I heard ‘Casio’, like the calculators; when she spelt it out to me and explained that it was Spanish, it immediately felt like a good thing. Three days of talks and discussion groups, with the Eucharist every day. As I looked into it more, and discovered that much of the imagery came from pilgrimage, it felt like a good thing that might fit into the same place as the Camino de Santiago. I got my form filled in and returned with, for me, unprecedented speed.

The weekend is difficult to describe. (There’s a perception that one isn’t meant to describe it, which I think could be a little off-putting; certainly I appreciated having been given an outline of the way it works, and told ‘not to expect a retreat’.) It was what I was expecting, but it was more than what I was expecting. I knew that there would be talks and discussion groups; I knew that I would have to work quite hard to find myself spaces of time where I could be alone and quiet; I did not know that there would be rainbows and butterflies and a pervasive sense of joy.

I think that what it did for me was to bring out all my awkward bits, and bless them. I have a lot of awkward bits. (Probably most people do.) Most of them came up in discussion. My queerness, and my brain (both my insistence on using it, and when it refuses to work), and my extensive experience of burnout, and my unfashionable opinions on marriage. It has often been lonely being me, being Christian. I’ve had to work a lot of things out on my own. So I spent Friday and Saturday thinking that I’d heard it all before, and Sunday crying, because I’d been heard. On Saturday night I really wanted a hug, and on Sunday I got dozens. I felt as if I’d been taken apart and cleaned and put back together again.

It was only a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still working through everything that came up. (And quite often that’s meant “ignoring everything that came up, while I catch up on sleep”.) But it’s been good for me, and I think it will go on being so.