Reverb day 11: trellis

#reverbWhat tiny rituals: signal that your day is starting; help you ease into a creative project; give you closure from an intensive task; or mark other significant milestones in your day? What new rituals would you like to create in the new year?

I love rituals. When I think about going over to the Society of Friends, the lack of ritual (and, more to the point, the insistence on not having them) is one of the things that makes me think that I am not a natural Quaker. I find ritual works well for me as a sort of trellis; when I’m droopy and wilting the sheer structure of the thing holds me up, and when I’m healthy and blooming it’s still there in the background.

Big ritual. The whole liturgical year is one huge ritual; it spirals around from purple to white to green to purple to white to green with some red bits here and there, and it is reliable and predictable when I’m being nothing of the sort.

I’ve been experimenting this year with building more ritual into my life. I go to lunchtime communion on Wednesdays and lunchtime Pilates on Fridays. I have a prayerbook app on my phone and I read morning and evening prayer on the train to and from work. I use the ‘Angels of the Hours’ widget on I post something daily for the #100happydays meme on Twitter. A recent development is the ‘lie-on-the-floor-under-the-daylight-lamp-and-listen-to-an-album-om-the-iPod’ ritual.

And of course I don’t manage to do all of these in any given week. This is the point. I can drop out of them, but they are still there when I drop back in again. For me, it’s not about getting into such a rhythm of a thing that I can’t not do it; it’s about doing it as often as I can. Each one is good in itself, but the doing of it shores it up, so that even if I come back to it when I am down, there is enough left in it to reconnect me.

I need to be reminded, though. I mentioned a couple of days ago about wanting a chiming clock. This is why.

Kat talks in the prompt post about the coffee ritual. Mine is tea. I like, and drink, coffee, and it does form part of an occasional writing ritual (I sit down with a blank screen and a cup of coffee and an expensive chocolate, and see what’s on the screen when I get to the end of the coffee) but it isn’t the first thing I reach for in the morning. That would be tea.

Reverb day 10: everything I need

#reverbLook back at the last year and consider: how did generosity open your heart? How can you cultivate generosity in the coming year?

I remember a couple of years ago I decided that my word for the year was going to be love. I decided that I was going to love, no matter what happened, no matter how much it hurt.

As it turned out, I was swimming in the stuff, and I hadn’t even noticed until I started doing it myself. My conscious decision to love showed me all the love that was already in my life. It was brilliant. Literally. It shone. Metaphorically.

If I apply the same principle to generosity, it looks something like this: let me be generous, and I will find what is already there.

Another principle that I have been trying to live by is this: I have everything I need.

There is a scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers at Houston have to work out a way to convert a square filter to fit a round hole, restricted of course to the objects and materials that the astronauts have at their disposal, stranded in their little box like a teatray in the sky. I can trust that all the resources that I need to deal with any particular situation are already available to me; I only have to find them. It would be nice if I always had a round filter going spare, but, if it comes to it, I can improvise. I have everything I need.

What about when I’m tired? What about when I am out of energy, or time, or will? What about when I feel as if I have nothing to give? No gold, frankincense or myrrh; no lamb; no heart.

How can I let it flow back to me?

Thoughtless giving is not helpful. Thoughtless help isn’t help. Giving to someone without first finding out what they need has only a tiny chance of actually being what they need; it overrides their autonomy, and that’s almost certainly not helpful. I need the sort of generosity that diminishes neither me nor the one who receives.

Can I at least meet everything generously? The thought that is glowing the most is generosity of spirit, and that’s not really about giving anything – at least, it’s not about giving anything that I can lose. I think this comes back to what I was saying the other day, about meeting people where they are. To give people back their selves.

That’s a start. And I have what I need. It’s already there.

Reverb day 9: the bells

#reverbAs you enter into the new year, what would you like to do/make/have/be more often? How will you bear witness and celebrate the tiny milestones? How will you respond on the occasions when your intentions do not come to pass?

Milestones. This year past has been full of them, and big ones at that. Tony’s graduation; my new job; my novel; moving house. If I’m honest, it’s all been pretty exhausting. It is, however, over. For the first time in years we both have a decent job, and neither of us is having to worry about money.

It’s so easy to pick a goal and, as one approaches it, as it suddenly looks like it’s going to happen, to persuade oneself that this wasn’t really what one meant, that actually one was going for that next mountain, never mind how high this one is. I want to begin this year with the assumption that I’m already where I need to be.

This year coming has one big milestone, which is my 30th birthday, and I’m resolved to devote the rest of the year to – well, to the rest of the year. I want to be in this year, not some ghost of the past that wants me to worry about something that’s long over and gone. I want to make the most of it. I want to start living as if I’ve nothing to wait for. I want to have a huge amount of fun, and I want to pay attention to everything that comes through.

I am planning plenty of rest into 2015. We are going to have our first foreign holiday since our honeymoon, yes, but I also want to make sure that I have at least two separate weeks where I book nothing in at all. I’d also like to get a retreat in there somewhere.

I want to be very present in 2015.

How do I do this? A chiming clock.

My office is opposite a church, and this church has a clock that strikes the quarters. I have made it a practice, every time I hear the chime, to stop. Just for a second, but it’s enough, to reconnect to the stillness within.

I’d like that at home, too. So that will be my Christmas present to myself, if nobody else gets me one. A clock that chimes.

Copy/pasted from elseweb, here are my less tangible wishes for 2015:

It is Advent, and so new year for me. I have wishes for the whole year to come…

Spaciously (this was a typo but I liked it. I will do everything spaciously!)

Retreat. Holiday, actual foreign abroad holiday. Weeks of nothing. Another New Opportunity. Further adventures in mermaid twinning. One whopper of a birthday party. If I make a mistake, I make it a good one. I greet everything joyfully and with curiosity.

Reverb day 8: keeping connecting

#reverbHow have you created and/or sustained connections in your life this year?

As so often with Reverb prompts, this makes me flinch, and then realise that I didn’t need to. Sometimes I feel that I am a complete disaster when it comes to connections. Every autumn I drop off the radar.

I have to expend so much energy keeping myself together that I can’t keep a conversation going with anyone else, particularly when it’s something that the rest of the world seems to consider easy. A phone call. A birthday card. I just can’t, and I feel so pathetic for not being able to. Even now, with my head almost back in the right place, the thought of having to buy, write and send Christmas cards is filling me with a vague sensation of dread.

But –

– this year I have reconnected with two people from secondary school, fifteen years after I last saw them. Now we follow each other on Twitter.

– the internet is, in fact, excellent for keeping up with people. Generally speaking I’m better with the written word than the spoken word, and the ability to build in a delay is incredibly helpful.

– finally getting around to setting up a blog reader has helped, too – I follow an eclectic mix of people, on an equally eclectic mix of blogging platforms, and remembering to look at them all was becoming an arduous task.

– I am still in touch with my colleagues from Guildford, the ones I was so worried about losing, this time last year.

– the London Waterloo-Portsmouth line has been, and will be, seeing a lot of me through December, as I catch up with family and friends.

– this year we re-instituted the tradition of meeting at Warblington to remember Héloïse.

– I don’t lose people. Not permanently. They come back to me, and I go back to them. I’m not perfect, and they understand that.

How to keep this going, next year? And how to keep it going when all my social systems shut themselves down? Last year I was concentrating so hard on getting through the great move, on making the most of my last months in Surrey, that I did it all in a state of accidental mindfulness and it was fine. I worked very hard on my connections then, because I thought I was about to lose them all. I’d like to recapture that, but without the stress that induced it all.

I remember something I saw written across a wall in a hostel in Spain: SER SINCERO Y COHERENTE ME HACE UNA PERSONA AUTENTICA. That, I think, comes very close to being the answer.

Reverb day 7: like Alice and the Hatter

#reverbPlease post your favourite picture of yourself from 2014, self-portrait or otherwise!

One night in late June I drank an espresso martini and stayed the night with a friend who has very pale curtains in her spare room. I’d been waking up with the dawn all spring. I managed about two hours of sleep that night, but before I finally dropped off I worked out exactly what to do with my green and black dress that I’d made in 2006 or 2007, which I loved but which no longer fitted.

There had been a conversation, earlier in the evening, which included the oft-heard line, ‘Do I need to buy a hat?’ The answer, it turns out, was ‘No’ – but only on the metaphorical level. It served to remind me of a hat that I’d been hankering after for a long time – because it would go so beautifully with the dress, if only I could rescue it. And because it was completely outrageous. And because it was made by my dear friend Arnie, whom I have known since the first day of secondary school, when we met in a very cold and windy lunch break and decided that we would be each other’s friends.

I spent more on this hat than I’ve ever spent on a hat in my life. It may have been more than I’ve spent on any garment. I was angsting a little bit about this. ‘I’m spending all my money on hats. Not even hats. A hat.’

‘The singular is important,’ Tony said. ‘It proves that this is a significant hat.’

And this is true. It is not just a hat. It is art. I have been thinking a lot this year about art, and about how it deserves to be paid for. I need to value other people’s art, and my own.

I bought the hat. I bought some black velvet and replaced the bodice on the dress. I made a set of jewellery to go with them. I got new glasses this year, too; it took me a while to get used to the (comparatively) huge frames, which made me feel like Woody Allen for the first few weeks, but I love them now.

This is how it turned out:

Kathleen Jowitt

This photo was taken at Nicky’s wedding, which was an excellent day. I did wear the same ensemble to Arnie’s own wedding, but because I got changed behind a car door in between the toasts and putting up a tent (long story) I never got around to getting a good photo. Or to putting my nail varnish on, if it comes to that. Anyway, I love the September evening light in this particular shot. It was a very happy summer.

Reverb day 6: biting back

#reverbDespite our usually sunny dispositions and dedication to the practice of “assuming positive intent,” we all occasionally find ourselves having to deal with an incredibly unpleasant individual.

While I’m sure you always handle it with the tact and finesse for which you’ve become so well known, I’m going to ask you to step outside yourself for just a moment.

Think back to such a situation: if the gloves were off, how you really would have liked to have dealt with them?

Earlier this year I found myself in a situation where I had to remind myself very hard that not everything requires a response. This is the response that wasn’t needed:

You say that you should have gone with your first instincts and not have replied. I agree with you. I had given you every indication – I had, in fact, explicitly stated – that such a reply would not be welcome. I had said what I needed, and what I did not need. You presented me with what I did not need. I had my reasons, and I considered you very rude to think that you were entitled to override my wishes, in my own space.

Since we’re being honest here, I thought your follow-up, deleting your comment and then communicating by private message, was pathetic. It looked to me as if you were worried that other people might agree with me about your bad behaviour. I have done my best to interpret it as a sincere desire to keep that comments section harmonious, but I find I’m stretching my powers of belief. I didn’t reply to your private message.

You had a history of ignoring my boundaries. I can think of at least two other occasions when you ignored what I had asked for, to give me something that I had asked not to receive, that I knew would be of no use to me. I dare say that you can be forgiven for assuming that I wouldn’t enforce them this time, either, but things have changed, and I am no longer going to put up with that kind of response in my own arena.

I wish you well, but I feel that I am safer without you.

Reverb day 5: kindly cynical

#reverbWhat is the sound of your own voice?

I am not sure that people hear much of my voice. I am a quiet person; I sit at the edges of conversations and listen. Sometimes I have something to say, but not very often. I’m much more vocal online than I am in real life. Or – is that true? I’m a lurker, not a commenter; I read a lot and only occasionally respond. Sometimes that’s because I don’t want to get drawn into drama. Sometimes it’s because someone else has already said everything that I would have done.

When I do, how does it sound? Diffident, kind, amused, sometimes veering to cynical, wanting to believe the best of everything, not necessarily sure that it’s safe. Prone to long words, ellipsis, and sentences that run on and on, far away from the original point. Much like my real voice, really.

If we are going to take this literally, I have recorded my poem Manifest. I am always nervous about hearing my recorded voice, but I find, when I muster the courage to listen, I am not the awful person I thought I was.

Reverb day 4: less than and more than accepting

#reverbWe are all lightning rods, conduits for that which the Universe wants born into this world. What energies did you channel this year?
This year has been about acceptance – acceptance of who I am, acceptance of what other people are.

Everything that I have written this year has, somewhere along the line, been about that, saying, ‘You and I have a right to be in the world, the way we are just at this minute, imperfect, hesitant, apologetic as we are, none the less, there is a place for us.’ All the jewellery I have made has said, ‘Look at this thing! Isn’t it gorgeous?’ Even in my day job I have been thinking about better ways to work with what we already know.

And acceptance isn’t really the right word, either; it goes too far and not far enough. I don’t necessarily want to accept all situations, and I want to do more than just accept people. What I am trying to say is that I want to meet people where they are, without trying to change them – frustrating as that is when those people are not themselves accepting, and are trying to change me or other people. I want to let people be who they are, not who I think they ought to be. That’s what I’ve been writing about all year.

I want to see what is really there. I want clear-sighted love. I want to show that this is possible for everyone. That is, it turns out, what I have been striving for all this year.

Reverb day 3: in the now

#reverbIt’s all too easy to put off loving where we are until everything is perfect. What can you love about where you are now?

I’m in a good place, a safe place. I’m warm and I’m dry and I’m in my study, my nest in the heart of this house, with a lavender candle burning, and Tony’s cheesy music drifting in from the conservatory. I’ve got a very long weekend: tomorrow and Friday off, and then Monday and Tuesday, and a party and a show and all sorts to fill it with. Tomorrow I’ll go out and remind myself how much I like this city I live in now.

Eighteen months ago, in the middle of all the terrifying changes, I identified four conditions in which I planned to remain, and here I am: alive, sane, married and employed. The sanity is a bit wobbly sometimes, but the more I remain in the now, the more secure it is.

I came off my bike on the way home this evening, but nothing was damaged except a pair of tights that was on the way out anyway. My bike, my mother’s birthday present, and I, are all intact. Tony ran me a bath and lent me his huge fluffy dressing gown. I smell faintly of lemon bath stuff, and my belly is full of shepherd’s pie, and I’m pleasantly sleepy. My nose isn’t bleeding. That puts today ahead of most of the last week. I’m getting better, and in the mean time I am being looked after in the most delicious manner.

This morning was stunning. I left the house at quarter to seven, and the sky was clear enough for a couple of stars still to be straggling above me, while the dawn was brightening across the river. The red lights and the white lights of the city glowed. This evening it was all moonlight and moody clouds, and there were ginkgo leaves on the pavement.

I like my job. I have reasonable prospects of moving up the ladder. I’ve written a novel. That’s a hell of a thing. I can and will write another. I’ve learned to ride a bike. All the time, I am growing. And, much as I whinge about being ill, I am an awful lot better. I am not just better than I was five years ago, I am better squared. I have discovered whole new dimensions in which to be better. I’ve come an amazingly long way and barely noticed.

I am thinking of various friends who are in difficult places, and wishing (really wishing, you know the sort I mean) them well. I’m thinking of my eldest little brother, whose birthday it is. I am thinking of my ex-colleagues, with some of whom I had lunch today, and how much part of my life they still are, and after I was so worried about losing them all. Thinking, too, about friends from way back with whom I have reconnected this year. I have such wonderful people in my life.

I don’t know how to finish this entry. Every word brings in a new moment, a new now, and each now another good thing. Now is all there is, the only moment that time touches eternity.

Reverb day 2: release

#reverbWhat unfinished projects from 2014 am you willing to release now? (Regret not required.)

I have lengths of silver wire in various different gauges lying around the house, the relics of an autumn in which I didn’t achieve nearly as much as I’d intended. I had so many grand dreams for this autumn, but I had a cold, then stress, then seasonal depression, and then another cold. All that writing, all that smithing, all those things I simply did not have the energy to do… I have done some things. I’ve written about 20,000 words, in various places. I’ve made a ring, a bangle, another ring, a sort of torc thing. I have done some things. I have just not done as many things as I wanted to.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to let go of any of that, yet. Part of that is knowing that they will come back to me, one way or another. These things always do: I have lost count of how many times I abandoned Speak Its Name, before it was even called that. I’ve finished it and abandoned it again, for the moment, trusting that when the spiral brings it back to me I’ll know what to do with it. The same with The Slowest Elopement, which is a book I’ve been writing for even longer. I haven’t completed any projects, because I have been so damn tired; but I am releasing the need to have completed them. I have demoted the whole lot of them to ‘one day’, and that’s fine. They’ll come back to me when they’re ready.

That leaves this other project, this terrifying, overarching idea of ‘real life’, and ‘getting on with it’. 2014 has been huge. It’s a year today since I started my new job, and within that year there has been a graduation, a move, and all manner of subtle readjustment.

I unpacked and broke down two boxes at the weekend. There are still a few about the place, but it is time to acknowledge that this project is, to all intents and purposes, done, or as done as it’s ever going to be. The year (eighteen months/five years) of transition is over. We are back in the same house as each other, and we both have ‘real’ jobs, and we still like each other. Time to let go of Project Grow Up.