Reverb, Day 21

Day 21: On our last day

The shortest day is over, and the year turns. I am already three weeks into my new year. I like this way of counting it. No fireworks, no countdown, no midnight stroke; just easing into the long nights, letting time pass, thinking, and watching, and listening. This works.

2014 is going to be MY YEAR because… I’m going to go bravely on, to walk with an open mind and an open heart into the new life that is stretching before me, and reach out and claim everything that is waiting for me.

In 2014, I am going to do… my very best to find an agent and a publisher for the novel that is so very nearly finished. I am going to proceed in my new job with enthusiasm and integrity, and with the joyful intention of moving on sooner or later.

In 2014, I am going to feel… scared, and exhilarated, and eventually, I hope, settled.

In 2014, I am not going to… forget everything that I have learned in 2013 about who I am and how I work. I am not going to pretend that I don’t feel what I am feeling. I am not going to be cruel to myself.

In December 2014, I am going to look back and say… thank you.

Looking back at last year, I am impressed by how right I got it. I do know where I’m going next; I’m already half-way there. The novel is all but done (at least in terms of words on paper; it still needs at least two savage edits). I have been scared, and I haven’t shut myself off.

And yes: that was a good year; it all makes sense now.

Reverb, Day 20

#reverb13Day 20: The way forward

Forward is the only direction.

The mirror never lies, but everything in it is backwards.

Look at what you see in the mirror. How does it change if you view yourself with eyes that can only look forward?

Here it is again: go bravely on.

Once this year I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise myself, not really because the face was puffy and red-eyed with crying, streaked with unfamiliar make-up, but because I was tired, and heart-sick, and had forgotten who I was.

Today, I see: ruffled hair, undeniably greying but doing it as if it meant it; a half-smile (has my expression of repose become a smile? wonderful, if so); square-framed spectacles, worn enough of the time now that they’ve become part of the way I look; blue eyes, rather cat-like in this particular mirror, because of the way they reflect the double lines of LEDs down the sides of it; much nose, little chin. No make-up today – it’s Saturday – but I’m enjoying playing with it. Can I see that I was crying last night? No.

This is a hard question, because so much of the work that I have done this year has been visiting the past, talking to the people I used to be, talking to the people I might have been. My future self showed up once and told me I needed some new jeans, which I got, and am, as it happens, wearing today.

Looking forward. Looking forward. Days that get longer. This face. Laughing more, listening more, looking other people in the eye. Looking myself in the eye.

Reverb, Day 19

Day 19: Self-compassion

The Buddha said, “You, yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

In the past year, I have been on a mission to understand and practice self-compassion, which is sometimes defined as “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering,” and what I have learned has made me realize that this practice is at the heart of everything.

How will you practice self-compassion?

Thank goodness: an easy question.

This is not remotely original, but I only learned it this year, and it is remarkably helpful.

The golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you.

The silver rule: treat yourself as you would like others to treat you.

One can never really know anyone else, but one never knows oneself, either. One doesn’t know the full story, and so it is worth stopping, and listening, and finding out what is really going on.

Reverb, Day 18

#reverb13Day 18: Peace

I am often surprised where I find peace, it is usually in the midst of chaos.

In the midst of living, did you find moments to breathe? Were there moments that held you in the embrace of peace and quiet and pure contentment?

Did these moments catch you by surprise or did you create the space for peace to find you?

How will you make space for greater peace in 2014?

This was a good year for peace. Long strolls at lunchtime; the ten minutes between arriving at choir practice and beginning to sing, while the boys are rehearsing; walking to the station before sunrise; long evenings mid-move, sitting among the ever-dwindling furniture and boxes, with a few good books; wandering around Wells and doing as I pleased, so long as I was on time for choir practice.

Some of that was deliberate; some was inadvertent. Some was experimental; some was taking advantage of situations over which I didn’t have much control.

Some things that have worked: Hanging around on The Fluent Self. Making and using a Wreath of Christ. Reading The Cloister Walk.

What I would like for 2014: to find a way to work more peace into my morning train ride. To put things away so that there is space for me between them (thinking here how remarkably peaceful it was at the end of each day during the move). To spend more time out of doors, to get some really good long walks in.

Reverb, Day 17

#reverb13Day 17: It’s your word

What word did you select to be your travelling companion in 2013? What gifts did this word bring?

What word will you choose to guide you through 2014? What do you hope it will bring into your life?

Last year’s word was love. I got everything I asked for. I learned how to treat myself with compassion, remembered how it felt to be eighteen, found friends, discovered friends I didn’t know I had… There is still work to do – mainly around my relationship with various family members – and of course next year will call for loving readjustments, but even so 2013 has been far more about love than I expected. It has mostly been wonderful and only occasionally painful. I would like to keep on with love.

This year’s word is freedom. I have been working, this year and last, on breaking free of the mind-forged manacles, of the shoulds and oughts, of other people’s expectations of me, and of what I think other people’s expectations of me might be. I want 2014 to be a year where I am free of vicious circles and limiting untruths, free from fear, free from shadows, free from the lies I tell myself about myself. I want to be free for endless exploration and going bravely on. I want to be free to live in the real world.

I want to live in freedom. I want to work towards freedom, for myself and everyone else.

Reverb, Day 16

#reverb13Day 16: Habits and addictions

Habits and addictions, some are silly, some serious; when we have issues without answers, they can hold us so tight that we stop moving forward with the life we intended.

Were you able to loosen those fetters this year, and if you were successful, how did you manage it? Did you accept outside help, or work alone?

If you still feel that grasp of addiction or hurtful habits, what will you do differently in the year to come?

Content note: discussion of habits in general; also eating habits and deliberate variation of same

I am not really a creature of habit. I am more, I suppose, a creature of enthusiasms. I fall into them fast and hard, and out of them just as easily, and then, after months or years, remember about them and fall just as hard as I did the first time. Since this appears to be just the way I work, I’ve decided to let that happen, ride the waves when they come in, and enjoy the beach when they don’t.

Conversely, I seem to be fortunate enough to be largely indifferent to commonly addictive things. I can drink every night for a month and not miss it when I stop, give up chocolate or coffee or whatever for Lent without a struggle. There are little irritating things that I do, on and off: nail-biting, finger-chewing, hair-pulling. Like a bored budgerigar pulling its feathers out, I suppose. Largely these seem to be related to how happy, or at least diverted, I am. The answer would therefore appear to be to keep myself occupied; but I’d rather be doing that because I enjoy whatever it is that’s keeping me occupied than because it’ll keep my eyebrows intact.

One thing that has been of significance this year, however, has been finding and turning off the thing in my head that says uneaten food is wasted food: it is your duty to eat this. I am not entirely sure how I did this, but here are two things that helped:

– ordering a weekly veg box delivery, which stopped me having to shop when I was tired, hungry and cross, and cut out most of the ‘wandering glumly around the supermarket wondering what on earth to cook’ aspect of it. A supermarket contains all sorts of things I don’t want but will buy anyway, and then have to eat; the veg box engages my brain, challenges me, makes me find out what one can do with chicory or chard or celeriac (all the tricky ones seem to begin with C) and then do it.

– getting myself a money box, and, every time I had a piece of cake or leftover sandwich from the staff room, putting a quid in it. Every time there was cake or sandwich there that I didn’t have, I put 20p in. It seemed to work largely by making me more aware of what I was doing or not doing, by assigning a more obvious consequence to my actions; also, it was quite handy to have a ready stash of pound coins to go into birthday card whip-rounds.

The remaining contents of the money box went into the kitty at my leaving drinks.

Reverb, Day 15

#reverb13Day 15: Sensory highlights

Give us a sensory tour of 2013. How would you describe the year that’s passing in terms of:


Stars and spots. Blues, yellows, creams and whites, scraps and flounces: a tablecloth, two petticoats, and eight mats.
The late spring, and everything coming out yellow at once: jasmine, dandelions, daffodils, celandine and crocus.
Cyclists, bright in lycra and with long spidery legs.
Cardboard boxes. Flat, folded, full, piled high, taped up, collapsing… Bright-printed fruit boxes, dull brown purpose-bought boxes…
Flowers in winter. Bold scarlet poinsettia, delicate pale-pink cyclamen.
The Pre-Raphaelites, who remembered that colour exists.
Saints and prophets and angels, all the way up the west front, and the sun setting, turning the whole world gold, and the moon rising silver.
Flags and banners and balloons.
The lighted windows of my old office.
Stars again, in frosty December skies.

Birdsong. Road traffic. Late at night, the impatient trumpet of a train whistle.
The metallic, curse-punctuated twanging of rim tape.
Thunder, and wind, and rain.
Welcome aboard the oh-eight-fifteen service to – London Waterloo. Calling at – Worplesdon – Woking and – London Waterloo.
The thrumming, shouting, whistling, vuvuzeling, laughing din that is a march. Pride or protest. Protest and pride.
Scampering, pattering little kitten feet, all through the house, chasing, wrestling, starting all over again.
Seagulls pontificating on the chimney of the next house down.
The scream of impossibly huge, impossibly old, petrol engines, breaking the silence of a Gloucestershire hillside.

I said before: oil, dry grass, warm leatherette.
Damp. Mould. Then the wrong, clean smell, and then it wasn’t home any more.
Rubber. New bicycle tyres, wrestled into position, and the smell lingering on the hands.
Fresh paint. Then whatever it is they put windows in with.
The pear-drop solvent of suede protector spray.

Coffee. Strong and gritty, in the office cafetière. Thick and treacly and deadly, in my new little Moka Pot. Milky and bitter, after church.
Cherries, from the market in Wells. (I bought a pair of gloves, a bottle of beer, and a box of cherries. It might have been five hundred years ago.)
Cinnamon. Nutmeg.
Champagne, and other things with bubbles in. Plenty to celebrate, this year.
Red wine, for love.
Fish and chips, hot and salty and greasy – to watch the cycle races – and after the longest work day – and to move house with.
Apples, almost every day this autumn until we worked out how they microwaved best without exploding.

Sea-water, cold even in August, but salty and calming, swirling around me, holding me up.
The rush of air past me, the juddering of the road under me. Handlebars, responsive, going wherever I tell them, taking me wherever I want.
Needlecord. And velvet. Velvet coat and velvet boots and velvet gloves. Velvet cushion.
The unaccustomed weight of silver earrings.
Scratchy woollen army blanket, laid on the grass for a picnic.
Prayer beads, heavy glass and smooth wood and rough pumice, running through my fingers.
Sinking lower and lower in the air bed. Long and narrow like a mummy in the camp bed. The guest bed, like a cloud.

Reverb, Day 14

#reverb13Day 14: Decisions, decisions

What was the best decision you made in 2013? What were the results? How will you continue the good work in 2014?


The one that turned out to be the most significant was a very hurried one: I might as well put this application in, because I can just do it in these two hours, and because I need to keep my jobseeking tab open with the universe.

The one that I put the most thought into, the one that was the most difficult, turned out not to make any difference, and then not to affect me at all. The majority voted the other way, and then I was leaving. I am, however, still glad that I put proper consideration into it.

In actual fact, neither of those two decisions would have meant anything at all had it not been for a decision I made, several times over, earlier in the year: that, if it were possible, I was going to pursue a career with my current employer.

There were alternatives, some more practical than others. Quit my job. Start temping again. I was very tempted by a part-time job with WatCh, but the timing was all wrong. Write. Be very clever with the maternity policy. And the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to go, but I was equally concerned that there was no obvious career path for me. Of course it was all mixed up with Tony’s jobseeking progress, and the question of moving, and the lack of a transfer policy and the knowledge that something, somewhere, was going to have to give. And the decision really came down to what was going to give.

The decision was to stick with it; to keep prodding at things that might let me have my cake and eat it, to move and to stay simultaneously. And it worked. Everything seemed to be very finely balanced. I prodded twice, and it all fell into place. So far, it’s working well – but it’s all very new.

Into 2014: to do the best job I can, to get my head around how things work at HQ, but to do all this knowing that I do not expect, nor am I expected to, do this job forever. To keep my eyes open, my ears open, for the next step. Because I have decided, I have committed, to go bravely on.

Reverb, Day 13

#reverb13Day 13: Alchemy

The phrase “It takes a village” is often bandied about, in reference to child-rearing, running a business, just about everything. But if you’re anything like me, you may not be a natural born collaborator.

In 2014, how could you explore what community means to you?

It might be a question of sharing the load, asking for help or signing on someone with a complementary skill set. Or it could be about a creative collaboration that pushes you to explore new ideas and media.

Where might the alchemy be?

‘Not a natural born collaborator’. Indeed. One of my aunts, having her hair done for a children’s party in 1961 or thereabouts, said, ‘I’ll do it myself, and go with it wrong’; which is fairly well representative of the whole family’s attitude to life. We are a large family, but we are a bunch of loners. We do things ourselves and, often, by ourselves. I can’t speak for any of the rest of them, but for my own part it’s down to a combination of fear of other people laughing at my thing, and the conviction that nobody else could possibly know how to do it anyway.

At the moment, community means a hangover: the inevitable result of going straight from my new team’s Christmas party to my old team’s Christmas party. I very much enjoy the social side of work – by which I don’t just mean the post-rally pub sessions. Even in the alternate universe where I am a best-selling author or have won the lottery I can’t see myself not having an office job of some sort, so that I can go to and talk about Star Wars or Kerbal Space Program or the zombie apocalypse. I like other people more than I think I do, and being unemployed would drive me bonkers in a very short space of time.

But. I still like being the only one who does X, because everybody else will Do X Wrong. My new manager is aiding and abetting me in this approach. The responsibilities of the two administrators on the team, previously one glorious stew, have been divided neatly into two parts, to be crossed over only when one of us is away. My own feeling is that this is going to work nicely, and everybody will know what everybody else is meant to be doing, and that’s how I like it. Time will tell.

Having said that, there is one part of my life where I have always been a willing collaborator, and that is in music. My estimation of my own abilities is skewed the other way when it comes to music – cello, particularly, which I never practised enough to be really good at, but I’ve also always had singers in my life who are ‘better’ than me – my mother, my husband, my best friend. This has never mattered, because for me music has always been about being a very small part of a very large whole.

I realised a while ago that I never enjoyed playing cello solo anyway. It bores me. I’d much rather be part of an orchestra. Similarly with singing: while I’m now a considerably better singer than I ever was a cellist, while I do have the odd solo at church, while I’m happy to lead raucous parties in Goodnight Irene, Clementine, The Last Thing On My Mind and similar, while I’m confident enough now to know when I’m right and the person next to me is wrong (even when it’s Tony), and to ignore them, I still prefer being in a choir to singing on my own.

And music is instant social life. Even for shy retiring types such as myself, music gets you talking to people, and learning who’s who, and discussing over coffee or wine how horrible that entry before letter C is, and why don’t the basses ever watch. I shall miss my current choir horribly, because they are so very good and so much fun, and also I wanted to sing at Norwich Cathedral and now I won’t get to. There will be choirs in Cambridge (ha, that’s an understatement!) and I will find one to join. Maybe there will be some kind of amateur orchestra that plays stuff just for the hell of it. (Here is the advantage of playing cello: you can be completely rubbish, and people will still take you, because there are never enough cellos.)

So that’s one alchemical set-up, and there’s nothing really surprising there; this is really reprising tactics from all my other progressions. My other major creative activity is writing, and this is where community and collaboration are harder to find, and, indeed, possibly counter-productive. After all, every evening I’m discussing the brilliance of Firefly in a pub somewhere is an evening I’m not writing. I’m not Jane Austen, writing in the morning room between callers. I write by turning on the computer and shutting the door. And God forbid anybody ever sees what I’ve written.

Except that’s not true at all. The quantity and quality of my work has increased dramatically since I started taking part in Picowrimo, where one not only talks about writing but shares snippets of one’s writing. Three months of Pico and I have the best part of a novel, as opposed to six years simmering resentment and the constituent parts of a novel sprayed haphazardly across at least twenty different ODT documents.

Two scenes to write, about fifteen to finish, at least three very thorough reads-through which will undoubtedly see much changed, and then comes the terrifying part, where other people read it. At least, I suppose they have to. Not much sense in its sitting on my Dropbox forever.

It will be the better for it. I know that. It takes more eyes than mine to pull out the faults, the glitches, the inconsistencies; but this scares me. I have no idea of any strategy, only, finish the damn thing, finish it properly I mean, and then start prodding things, and trust that the right people will appear.

Reverb, Day 12

#reverb13Day 12: Turning Mud to Gold

I’m a big fan of muddy experiences. They become our greatest teachers when we’re wise enough to exfoliate with them; roll around in the deep until we finally feel ready to get clean.

Today, identify something muddy that kept recurring for you throughout 2013, and then ask yourself this: What’s the clear truth underneath this damn mud if I finally wash myself clean?

Not mud, I think. Dust. And some mould. But mostly dust. Cobwebs and fluff and hair and all sorts, all of it.

(I am reminded of the poet Bunthorne: O! to be wafted away/From this black Aceldama of sorrow,/ Where the dust of an earthy today/ Makes the earth of a dusty tomorrow! – not that this has anything to do with it.)

2013’s recurring muddy, or dusty, experience has been moving house. There has been an entirely ridiculous amount of moving. My father downsized in the grand fashion. I am told that this was just as bad as the last time we downsized – but it had the huge advantage of my not having to do a whole lot about it. Tony moved out of our flat into Tom*-and-Iona’s and then to Sawston. I moved out of our flat into Tom’s* parents’ house and then into Tom’s house.

That concludes the moving in which I played any active part, but there seems to have been a lot of it about – friends’ moves, colleagues’ moves, none of it straightforward.

Despite my gloomy allusions to dust, none of this year’s moves have actually been as bad as all that. In fact, I was pretty damn efficient, packed up loads of boxes on my own, coped remarkably well with having a stinking cold in the middle of it all, and did a decent job at everything that didn’t require a driving licence. (Tony did everything that did require a driving licence, and was fantastic.)

This mud, this dust, isn’t from 2013. It’s partly from 2007/8, as suggested yesterday, and mostly from 1999. 1999 is why I will tell you I hate moving house. 1999 was possibly the worst year of my life, though 2000 wasn’t much fun either. 1999 went on and on. 1999 was the year we had to move, because. 1999 was the year I didn’t get a say in it. 1999 was the year I was powerless. 1999 was the year I could have told you it was going to be awful and not do a blind bit of good anyway. 1999 was the year I had four different addresses, one of them twice. 1999 was the year I left the school I liked, joined a school I hated, left that one, went back to the first one, and found my best friend had moved away and I hated this school too, now.

1999 is why I hate moving. 1999 is why it’s a challenge, not an adventure. Washing the dust away, I find a scared, angry, fourteen year old self to whom nobody is listening, who is trying resentfully, self-sacrificially, to just shut up and live with it for the sake of holding the family together. (This does not work.)

I didn’t know she was still there. Not until I woke up three weeks ago in Sawston and heard the wind dashing up and down the estate did I realise that I was freaking out about the wrong move, that it was the wind off St Catherine’s Point that was chilling me, all the way back from half a lifetime ago.

This move is not that move. The occasional sense that I have now, that I have let the universe back me into a corner, is not the screaming lack of agency that was mine then. In this move (for it’s only one, really, no matter how many different ways I tot up our addresses) I have been setting my own terms all the way along. I have been able to go at my own pace, and ways for that to happen have turned up in a most obliging fashion. I have asked for things, and they have appeared.

This is not that move, but part of me is still in that move, and still scared and still hurting. I am trying to let her out. And so I have learned about being kind to myself. I have learned about choices. I have learned about compromise and progress and how to ask for what I actually want rather than what I think I ought to want.

Wash the dirt away, and you can see how deep the wound goes. Then you can make a start on patching it up.


*Two different Toms here, if you were wondering.