A green tree with sunlight shining through the leaves

Today is an absolutely beautiful day. It pelted down with rain first thing; now the sky is clear blue and the sun is shining from behind me and illuminating the leaves of the plane trees.

And I am feeling very calm and present and thankful. I have been able to apply intense focus to my work this morning. It feels very easy to step inside into the walled garden of the heart/mind and to remain there without hurry or guilt.

Today I am very conscious that this is a gift. This is a miracle for today; there might or might not be another miracle tomorrow. It feels as if it has sprung directly from what we were talking about on Saturday morning; and on Saturday morning we were talking about how the miracles aren’t the point. You saw five thousand people fed on five loaves and two fishes yesterday? Don’t ask to be astounded again by the feeding of another five thousand; turn up and eat the bread that’s in front of you. You can’t live on chocolate mousse, and you can’t stay on the mountain top.

I don’t know how long it will last. I don’t know whether this is a sign that the equinoctial gales are done with for the moment or whether it’s just a brief summery respite in the long grind of autumn. I don’t know whether I’ll find the same sense of flow when I get home tonight, whether I’ll be able to apply the same focus to all the lists that aren’t work-related, or whether I’ll just want to cry and go to sleep.

I used to think that not being able to sustain (or, indeed, attain in the first place) this kind of presence was a huge personal failing. Now I begin to understand what an impossible expectation that was to have of myself. It wasn’t ever anything that I could create for myself, because it wasn’t ever mine to give. All I could ever do was to turn up.

Reverb day 1: the lists of false prerequisites

I’m starting Advent in a terribly contrary mood. At first I was irritated because all the Advent calendars and all the Advent candles in the shops, and all the Advent books that I have in the house, start on 1 December, and Advent started yesterday, and that left two days unobserved at the beginning. Yesterday wasn’t a problem – I saw Advent in with a cup of mulled wine and the Palestrina Matin Responsory, as is entirely proper – but today I was going to have to scratch around to fill in the gaps.

But I’d forgotten about the time difference, and the first prompt of Reverb popped up in my inbox a couple of hours ago. And now here I am with a perfectly good observance – because why shouldn’t day 1 of Reverb be 30 November? – and I’m finding that I’m not ready for Advent; I’ve got far too much to do.

It’s a good thing that this prompt is about lists, that’s all I can say.

In her seventh ever blog post, all the way back in March 2003(!), the inimitable Andrea Scher wrote: “Maybe lists are like prayers.”

What sorts of lists do you have on the go at the moment? What do they suggest you are praying for?

Let’s start with my mental to-do list for this evening.

Done: email my aunt to thank her for my birthday present; eat supper; wrap up my brother’s birthday present; wrap up a gift for an internet acquaintance; get the box of Christmas decorations down; get the crib out; piano practice.

Not done: take a bath; read a poem; catch up on comments on my writing community; type up the bits of story I’ve been writing in longhand over the last week or so; sort out and upload a week’s worth of daily photos.

This evening, at least, I’m praying for a bit of time to myself, for some reprieve from the tasks that pile up and shriek that they have to be done before I can move on to the part where I can take care of myself. I like to think that I’m getting better at declining to carry the burdens of the world outside, at carving out time where I can stop, and rest, and reflect, but tonight that isn’t the case.

But it’s tough. Here we are. It’s Advent. I’m going to stop.

In my head I have a list of editors who are polishing various aspects of my novel for me, of the steps that need to be taken (proofread, format) before I can move on to other, more exciting steps (cover), before I can put the thing out into the world and call it done. And yes, I am praying for it to be done, and done well.

I have a rather daunting list of the activities that are occupying every weekend until Christmas. Individually, they are fun things that I want to do. Collectively, I’m dreading them.

I am having to remind myself that Advent is a time of preparation, and that nobody is expecting me to have everything right this early in the season. I am reminding myself that not every item has to be crossed off the list, that maybe it doesn’t matter if I don’t do the washing up tonight. If my lists are prayers, I think they’re rather crude, pathetic ones: if I do all these things, will you leave me alone? Please, I want some freedom. And that’s not how prayer works, not really.

What’s on my lists? I mean, what is really on my lists? What am I praying for? I’m praying for: balance; creativity; flow; rest; recuperation; connection; boundaries; and celebration.