Reverb day 21: from here on

#reverbWhat can you say today with certainty?
From here, the days get lighter.

I have a friend who asks me exactly the right questions (even if I never answer them).

I know what is the next step on Speak Its Name.

Things are grim, but they do not stay grim.

In 2015, I am open to… huge, exciting, things happening

In 2015, I want to feel… light-hearted and full of grace

In 2015, I will say no to… over-commitment

In 2015, I will know I am on the right track when… I see the secret holiness of everything. But when I find myself veering off course, I will gently but firmly… rewrite my timetable so that I have a day or a week free to reset what needs resetting

In December 2015, I want to look back and say… that, my love, was the best year ever.

Reverb day 20: laughing to the point of disaster

#reverbOne thing I learned in 2014 was how to make space for joy and levity, even in the midst of challenging circumstances or sad times.

How could you make space for joy in the year to come? How could you protect it?

I have noted repeatedly that this is going to be the year for fun. I am going to seek fun out deliberately. I am hoping that there will be joy coming along with the fun.

One thing that I found immensely useful in 2014 was the #100happydays meme. I am a little cynical about forced gratitude, particularly of the sort imposed on one from outside (‘cheer up, there are children starving in Africa’, or, ‘cheer up, it might never happen’) but this practice, taken on because I wished to do it, proved to be surprisingly joyful in itself, so much so that I have embarked upon it again. Even on the darkest days (today is 21st December, we note) it had me looking for one single good thing to talk about, and, once I’d found that, I often found more.

It’s always there. I just have to find it.

And what of levity? I gave up drinking alcohol this year but find, at least on the evidence of Friday’s office Christmas party, that my sense of levity has declined not one whit. It had been a very long time since I laughed so hard that I was nearly sick. It’s very good to know that this is still within me.

Reverb day 19: ill rainbow mermaids eating chocolates and carrying purple bells

#reverbToday, I invite you to consider: what sorts of signs and symbols have recurred for you in 2014? Think: repeating colours, shapes, people, sayings, music, images, ideas. Where could they possibly be leading you?

Mermaids – cheating, rather, because I went looking for mermaids once I discovered what an apt metaphor they were. Mermaids for me are a useful way of thinking about fiction, these creatures that look almost the same as us, but who, moving from one element to another, need things provided or explained that feel obvious in this world.

Rainbows – Lots of them, this year. There were a couple of weeks in the autumn where it seemed as if every day I saw a rainbow from the window of my train home. One of these felt particularly apt, coming on the day that Vicky Beeching came out. And there’s one that falls on the wall at work, when the sun comes a certain way through the windows. I think the obvious message is obvious here. I have been managing to be more out this year, if (it feels) less active.

Bells – the quarter-hour chimes from the church opposite my office, bringing me back to the moment.

Purple – I know it’s my favourite colour, but even my study wall was purple when we moved in. Still preparing, still waiting. But also luxury and sovereignty.

Inventive ways of transporting things – well, I have moved to Cambridge, and you would not believe what weird things I’ve seen carried dangled from a bicycle’s handlebars. I managed to bring a planter of herbs home in my own bike basket (only spilt a few bark chippings); but the best one I saw was a chap on a skateboard, moving at a good speed through the railway station car park, with a wide, flat cardboard package balanced on his head. I am not sure if this has a moral, but I note it.

Chocolate – it’s good stuff, an inexpensive indulgence.

Illness – mental or physical, one way or another I’ve been ill on and off since August. I think it’s trying to say that I need some rest.

Reverb day 18: stop, look and listen

#reverbIn the busyness of the everyday, taking time to nourish the soul doesn’t reach the top of the ‘to do’ list as often as it should.

What nourishes your soul? How would you like to incorporate more of this into your life in 2015?

I could quote the whole of The Elixir, which is all about making the mundane suffused with the divine, so that the busyness of the everyday itself contains that which nourishes the soul. This is part of it; this is why I am so captivated at the moment with the bells and the hours, the moments that make me stop, and listen, and find the deep well of peace that is within myself and everywhere.

There is more to it, for it cannot be denied that it is an awful lot easier to stop and listen when I remember that this is something that I am supposed (ha!) to be doing, and so, when I make space for myself to do it, I find that there are many more of those prompts to stop and listen.

My commitment for 2015, therefore, is to book myself a retreat, and then, before I go on it, to book myself another one. To join the new work choir. To attend Wednesday communion when I possibly can. And to find a way of talking about this that doesn’t sound like I’m teaching a toddler how to cross the road, though perhaps it’s not such a bad analogy.

Reverb day 17: here, we spell it ‘arsehole’

#reverbHow can you stop being an a**hole, get out of your own way and make room for more of your magic to happen in 2015?

Today I would like to be a tortoise. I would like to pull my head and arms and legs into a shell, and go to sleep in a box full of straw, and spend the winter in a shed. And nobody would find this at all odd because, you know, that’s what tortoises do. Nobody would feel at all hurt or insulted, nobody would expect me to send them Christmas cards, nobody would expect me to be anywhere but in my box. Because I am a tortoise.

Which is a long way of saying that I am knackered, and have been driving myself far too hard and expecting far too much of myself. I have been doing too much travelling, too much socialising, too much messing around on the internet… Not that I don’t love all those things, but there are ways of doing them that drain me, and ways of doing them that fill me up, and at the moment they all seem to be wearing me out. Hence my desire to hibernate.

How can I sort this out for next year? I have a couple of ideas, and they are mostly about being more clever with my diary. Firstly, I’m thinking about working from home occasionally. On an ordinary work day I travel one hundred and sixteen miles. If I don’t have to do that five days running, I think I’ll wind up much less tired. Also, I’ve seen a small ad from a piano teacher who does daytime lessons. One of those hours that I’m not spending on the train, I can use for piano.

Then I can be clever with my annual leave. This year, now I don’t have to use it on moving house and boring stuff like that, I’m going to book at least two separate weeks of absolutely nothing at all, as well as using some of it on actual honest to God holidays. And by ‘holidays’ I do not mean ‘visiting my parents on the Isle of Wight again’: dearly as I love my parents, visits to them are never as relaxing as I think they’re going to be. Also, it’s high time I went abroad again.

Next year, I’m going to let myself have fun, damn it.

Reverb day 16: refusing to try harder

#reverbIn 2015, is there something you’d like to try harder at because you believe it would make all the difference?

Conversely, what is something you could stop trying so hard at that might actually help you manifest what you’d like?

I have been promising myself piano lessons all year. At first they were waiting until the piano was tuned. Then they were waiting until there was some spare cash. Then they were waiting for the silversmithing class to be finished, because I can’t cope with more than one extracurricular activity at the moment.

Now they’re waiting for me to get my act together and find a teacher. I am avoiding this noticeably – even apart from being knackered and not getting much done anyway – I think because of needing to be good at it straight away, which of course I won’t be.

I don’t think trying harder is the answer, though. In fact, the thought of trying harder makes me want to cry, and that’s hardly productive. I need to stop being knackered (Christmas holidays should help with that, although I am dashing around more than I’d meant to) and then unravel, gently, the stuff around needing to be good at it.

Reverb day 15: negotiations with gremlins

#reverbWhat are you really proud that you made happen in 2014, despite the gremlins? And what will you do anyway in 2015?

In 2014 I finished (for certain values of ‘finished’; read on) my first novel, Speak Its Name. I also resumed writing my first novel, The Slowest Elopement. The latter has been going, on and off, since I was twelve, maybe younger. The former is a relative newcomer; I started writing it in 2007. You will understand why finishing either of them feels like an achievement.

I sent Speak Its Name off to about five agents (consecutively, not all at once); none of them were interested, but doing this at all was bloody scary, and having done it has deprived the gremlins of at least one of their arguments, namely, that I’m too chicken.

Of course, having done very little with Speak Its Name for a few months now, I am haunted by a conviction that, even after two thorough edits, it needs to be about 15,000 words shorter (which I can do something about), written entirely from one particular character’s point of view (tricky, but doable) and that it will never get taken up unless I remove the religion and the politics (impossible).

This, therefore, is a thing that I will do anyway in 2015. At least, I’ll attempt the first two. I will then think about self-publishing.

I will also complete The Slowest Elopement, which contains no religion, and no politics, but might get me disowned.

Piece of cake. Gremlins like cake.

Reverb day 14: dropping anchor

#reverbThe idea of rooting down into your own personal beliefs and center of truth is an ongoing process, and many things can serve as anchors or roots as you move through life.

What rooted or anchored you in 2014?

And where do you want to put down roots in 2015?
On the physical level, this year was very much a year of transplanting, of sailing between havens, of transitioning. A year of pulling up roots and lifting anchors – and putting them down again, elsewhere.

It isn’t a what that kept me watered or afloat in all this, it’s a who. It is my dear partner Tony, who at the beginning of the year was exploring Cambridge and sounding out these potential harbours; who for most of the autumn has been propping me up and provisioning me.

Going down inside myself, looking for the anchors and roots that are my own values, I find:

The thing that the Incarnation means for me, that this world is good, that the Divine can be found in everything.

The value of art, that art is worth making, and worth buying, and worth celebrating, and worth selling, and worth paying for.

And there’s something there about trust in work, in the value of what one’s doing, no matter how infuriating or mundane it seems.

2015: I want to build on the rootedness and stability that I’ve achieved thus far. I want to realise how grounded I really am, how much I already have. I want to appreciate that.

I am in Cambridge now. I am beginning to put down roots here: have found a church, with a choir; am beginning to learn my way around.

Here I am. I just need to remember that.

Reverb day 13: go bravely on, again

#reverbStep one: set the timer for 5 minutes and write down as many answers as you can think of to the question: ‘When and how was I brave in 2014?’ Note: remember the private, intimate and small ways in which you were brave as well as the big public ways.

– came out to a group of evangelical Christians
– submitted a novel to an agent (several agents, in fact)
– moved back in with my partner after six months enforced separation
– went for and moved into the flat we fell in love with
– gave up alcohol
– told people about my mental health, or lack of it
– submitted other writing for consideration elsewhere
– applied for a job above my current level, and was interviewed for it
– spent a weekend with people from a long way back, whom I feared I’d no longer have anything in common with
– went to the post office
– decided that I’d got to where I needed to be

Step two: Choose one of more of those moments of bravery and write a letter yourself back at the beginning of 2014, letting you know how brave you are going to be that year.

Dear Kathleen,

You know that this is going to be a big year, even if all that happens is the move, because that’s big enough to occupy all your attention for at least the first half of it. As it happens, there is a lot more.

You will put some roots down, and begin to grow. You will knock at all sorts of doors and, although none of them have opened, yet, you will have the courage to keep knocking, or, at least, to know that you will knock again.

You will behave for one glorious, awful, terrifying, moment, with almost complete integrity, and you will, for once, make no apology for who you are.

You will smile at them all afterwards, knowing that they know.

You know it’s going to be big. You don’t realise how big it’s going to be, or, once you’ve gone through it, how inevitable it will have seemed.

Much love,

Kathleen

Step three: Write yourself a short reminder to tuck into your wallet or post above your desk of just how brave you can and will be in 2015.

2015 is an excellent fun year; it is the first year of being grown up. And by ‘grown up’ I mean ‘isn’t waiting for anything else to happen’ and ‘doesn’t give a damn what anybody else thinks anyway’. Go bravely on.

Reverb day 12: from the real world with love

#reverbWrite a letter from you to you… filled with forgiveness, love, and a big bear hug.

Dear Kathleen,

You are in the middle of all sorts of things that don’t belong in now. You have guilt and shame from fifteen years ago; you have bittersweet hopeless wistfulness from last year; you have worry and false selflessness from next February. They have all chosen this week to float up to the surface. You are allowed to have all of them, and, frustrating as it is to have them in your head, it makes sense that they are here now. You are allowed to find it frustrating. You are allowed to want to cry.

Everyone you think you have hurt seems to have forgiven you; forgiven you long before you worked out how badly you’d hurt them, too. I forgive you; I am the last one. You may let go of it all.

You are getting better all the time.

You are very tired. You can go to bed now, and tomorrow is yours, with all the things to do or not.

This is as long as I can bear to make this note, and that’s allowed, too.

Much love,

Kathleen