Reverb day 21: my take on a manifesto for 2016

Your last challenge for Reverb15 is to write your manifesto for 2016.

I find myself thinking back to previous years.

I remember my 2014 dammit list.

I remember my 2013 list of non-negotiable conditions for 2014: alive; sane; married; employed

I remember the dreamboard I made in 2012, looking forward to 2013:

Dreams for 2013
Dreams for 2013

2016, then…

I take responsibility for my own work and my own words.

I take decisive steps towards the goals that I deem to be important.

I take my needs and desires seriously.

I take care of myself.

I take a proper holiday.

I take every other weekend to recover from activity or company.

I take time.

I take notice.

Reverb day 20: 42 (not actually ready)

Today, I invite you to think about the great unknowns in your life right now. Say to yourself this morning: “I am open to the answers finding me”. Then stay alert with as many senses as you can.

In what form did the answers find you?

I was thinking about The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this morning. It has some things to say about answers. After that, it has some things to say about questions.

That might be the answer. I don’t know. I’m not really sure what the question is. So I shall just note down:

Some things I noticed today:

  • the charge for home delivery for items from one particular shop: £3.95
  • a delivery bike coming over the bridge
  • that carrying a large, heavy box home is very hard on the shoulders and the fingers

Or what about this?

  • Yesterday I used the last lavender Earl Grey teabag.
  • Today I opened the box of Christmas tea that my mother didn’t want.

Since we’re talking about Christmas, in this morning’s veg box there were:

  • potatoes
  • brussels sprouts
  • carrots
  • parsnips
  • satsumas (!)
  • apples
  • red cabbage

Tomorrow I need to buy:

  • brandy
  • icing sugar
  • turkey escalopes
  • bacon
  • sausagemeat
  • wine
  • onions
  • plain flour
  • butter

and that will easily fit into two pannier bags.

In fact,

  • I am pretty much ready for Christmas


  • I slept until a quarter to nine, and
  • I could very well have had a nap after lunch, and
  • I’m really quite sleepy now.

Do you know, I’m not sure that I am open to the answers finding me today. I think they’re waiting until I’m actually ready to do something with them. And what’s particularly interesting is that I’m fine with this. I don’t want massive progress right this minute. I’m still catching up with myself. I need some more space. So, I suspect, do the answers.

Reverb day 19: what would it be like?

Today I am wondering what would happen if I allowed a little more out-of-control-ness in my life.

So I invite you to consider: where could you (like me) consider turning it up a few notches in the new year?

What would it be like if I turned off my morning alarm and slept as long as I needed to?

What would it be like if I just didn’t bother talking to people I didn’t feel like talking to?

What would it be like if I wasn’t scared of top Fs?

What would it be like if I stopped agreeing to do things that I didn’t want to do?

What would it be like if I started admitting to wanting what I actually wanted?

What would it be like if I remembered to make my choices based on what I actually wanted?

What would it be like if I got rid of everything that people had given me that I didn’t like?

What would it be like if I tried one or more of the above?


Reverb day 18: trajectory

Haven’t you ever been caught in a moment, a magnetic swirl of a moment, when you knew – just knew – that something magical was taking place?

You might feel as if a portal into Something has opened at your heart to release a sort of energy into your own private universe, telling you, “Remember your magic…” 

Think of three important portal points – one in the past, the present, and one you hope to have in the future – and join them together into one powerful and personal gateway into 2016.

Where will walking through this gateway lead you in this upcoming new year?

I remember the day of my interview for my current job. It was a brilliant day, it felt, if I may be allowed a Harry Potter reference, as if I’d taken Felix Felicis: everything seemed to go right. Oh, apart from the bit where the administrator forgot to reset the MS Word test and I had to undo all the previous candidate’s work before I could do my own; I nearly walked out at that point. But I kept my head and worked out how to untangle it, and everything else was great.

It was a Tuesday. I like Tuesdays. I had a fortuitous day of time off in lieu, so I took the Monday off. For some reason I can’t now remember, we were staying with the in-laws, who live on the easier side of London for the office. On the train, I passed the pub that says TAKE COURAGE in huge letters on the side. While I was drinking a cup of tea in a café, waiting for it to be an appropriate time to go in, a family friend emailed some pictures of my beloved, much-missed godmother, whose birthday it would have been. My visitor’s pass was number 26: my birthday, and part of the fleet numbers of two of my favourite buses. After I’d dragged myself through the Word test, the interview went enjoyably smoothly. Two university friends whom I hadn’t seen for ages happened to be in London, so we met up for lunch before I headed south to go back to work. All the way through, it felt as if the universe was on my side.

Where am I now? Still in that same job, but living sixty miles to the north-east of London rather than twenty-five miles to the south (weirdly, the commute is actually easier, not that it feels like that in the dead of winter). It feels as if I’m in something of a lull. There isn’t much going on at the moment; it’s that still point when the year is at the turn. There’s space here, and I need it.

There are at least four huge, important developments that are about to happen or will happen within the next year or two years, or could very well happen, and I want all of them to happen. For the sake of symmetry, I’m not going to specify what any of them is, though one at least is no secret.

I’m reluctant to pick just one of them for my future point. I am laying them out in a line: first this, then this, then this, and that can be slotted in at any point, but I’d rather it were sooner than later.

Here’s a trajectory with five points on it, then. What will I find if I follow it?

Safety. Adventure. Roots. Puzzles. Love. Claiming my ground. Growth. Learning. Trust.

Reverb day 17: life in purple

One of my daughter’s favourite books is the American classic Harold and the Purple Crayon. If you haven’t had the good fortune to come across it, it’s about a little lad called Harold, whose magical purple crayon enables him to create the world around him.

Whenever I read it to her as a bedtime story, I spend the rest of the evening pondering what I would create if I had a magical purple crayon of my own.

Imagine one such crayon would be bestowed upon you on New Year’s Eve 2015: what would you draw to ensure 2016 had everything you need?

Purple crayons were always my favourite, and they weren’t even magic. I still love purple.

Purple: the colour of waiting. The present moment is important, even if nothing particular seems to be happening.

Purple: the colour of mourning. There is a place to ackn0wledge the fact that things are occasionally, or quite often, painful and distressing, that grief and loss are real.

Purple: the colour of majesty. My life is my own.

Purple: the colour of chocolate wrappers. There is a place for pleasure.

I’d draw a purple tent, for shelter and sanctuary and rest. I’d draw a purple train, for transport and connection and adventure. I’d draw a purple crown, to keep me possessed of my own presence. I’d draw a purple sofa, for luxury.

Reverb day 16: including white space

Ancient alchemical texts are things of beauty – filled with allegory and symbolic language; things hidden in plain sight; and plain things promising transformation.  

If we were to peek into the book of your year, what might we find?  

What magic do you carry that people need to look a bit deeply to see?

This year was meant to be something of an interlude, a space where nothing major was going on, a chapter of pure indulgence where one could revel in the lush surroundings and not worry about the plot.

It didn’t quite work, of course; there was always a part of me that was desperate to know what happens next, and to read ahead and make it happen. Never mind. This was the Year of Fun, and I had fun.

This year I tried to include more white space. I blocked out a week at a time in which to do nothing, to recover, to replenish my resources. The interesting thing is how much more white space I need than that, or perhaps how I need to distribute it differently. I’ll keep experimenting.

As for allegories, well, the mermaids are still around, finding out how to get from the sea to the dry land in safety. I am becoming an ostrich, or maybe a dragon: something that eats iron, anyway. I’d like to be a tortoise, but can’t quite work out how.

Magic? I have been a fairy godmother since I was nineteen, but of late I have discovered that all the fairy godmothering that I need to do is sit and listen while my charges work out for themselves what they need to do.

Reverb day 15: gems

“Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars, never buy a coffee table you can’t put your feet on, never pass up a chance to jump on a trampoline, don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.”

What small pleasures gave you moments of intense joy in 2015? 

What more could you cultivate in 2016?

Being at tree-top level

My desk is on the fourth floor of a London office: just at the right height to look out into the intense green canopy of the plane trees.

Baths after long walks

Nothing so delicious.

Cygnets riding on their parents’ backs

I shall walk beside the Cam in the spring.


Brighton is not my favourite beach – too stony – but one takes one’s seaside where one can find it, and divesting myself of my tights to go paddling before a conference in October was, oddly enough, exactly the right thing to do.

Tiny square of ginger cheesecake

Whoever thought of serving it in pieces one inch square is a genius; it’s perfect.

Making the Christmas cake

Dark brown soft sugar. Black treacle. Nutmeg.

Opening a treasure box of beads

Sapphires! (Real sapphires!) Garnets! Bloodstone! Deep red glass stars! So many beautiful things.

Swinging at King’s Cross (no, not like that…)

If you go out of the rear entrance of King’s Cross station, there’s a huge thing like a birdcage. It has a swing, and it’s a proper adult-sized swing, and you can swing on it without worrying what the passers-by are thinking, because it’s London and they’re either not looking or pretending they’re not.

Drink to me only with thine eyes

I’ve been teaching myself to play the piano, and I’m just getting to tunes that I know and want to play. I am fortunate enough to have such a lovely piano that it sounds absolutely fantastic.

Shooting star on Christmas Eve

After midnight mass, so I suppose it was Christmas morning, really.

Watering my feet

Hot summer days, achey feet: in the bath with the shower head, or outside with a watering can.

Next year?

Notice things. That’s all there is to it.

Reverb day 14: growing up

You wake up and the light through the window seems different, the air carries a chill or maybe a hint of warmer days.

What has changed? You? The world?

It can be a change that happened this past year or one you’re looking toward in the time ahead. It can be a broad sweep obvious to all or a more subtle shift that only you know about.

Tell us about transformation. 

This year my birthday present to myself was two handbags. Now I’m thirty, you see, I thought I ought to have a grown-up handbag, and carrying a black handbag while wearing brown shoes, or vice versa, is a thing that I don’t do without very good cause.

Grown up. That’s what I’ve done this year.

I’m not sure that you could tell by looking at me. My physical appearance hasn’t changed much this year; I’m still wearing my short skirts and long earrings; my hair has a few more white strands, perhaps, but it’s still short and sharp.

Could you tell by talking to me? Perhaps. Perhaps I seem more confident, or more opinionated. Perhaps I seem quieter. Perhaps you would notice that I wasn’t talking to you so much as I used to. I’ve become better at respecting my own need for solitude. I’m learning the rituals of small talk, but at the same time I’m learning how to escape it.

And perhaps I haven’t really changed at all; I’ve just become more myself. I find myself having a much clearer idea of what I want from life these days; I find myself beginning to make choices based on my own inclinations rather than by picking some externally decided virtue (‘the cheapest’… ‘the most ethical’… ‘the one I haven’t tried, because I am Meant to be trying new things’… of course, sometimes I remember that I am Meant to be Doing What I Feel Like and then come unstuck, but it’s all practice). I’ve been enjoying myself. I designated this year a year of fun, and I have had fun. I find myself making my own plans and acting on them. I find myself recognising my low days as atypical and remembering that my depression does not define me.

I feel less awkward. I feel less apologetic. I feel braver.

I’ve grown up. I like it.

Reverb day 13: dogs and ducks

What are you going to shake off with fierceness before you enter the new year?

I’m thinking about dogs clambering out of the water onto the river bank, and then shaking themselves so vigourously as to soak the surrounding metre or so of ground. That isn’t quite what I need: the dog remains fairly wet. I’m thinking about ducks and swans, clambering out of the river with the water running off their feathers.

I am divesting myself of other people’s expectations. I am ceasing to conform to other people’s pictures of me. Whether it’s the friend who wants the best for me and is convinced that I could get it right now if I only put a little more effort in, or the casual acquaintance who adds up ‘goes to church’ and ‘doesn’t talk much’ and gets ‘disapproves of everything’, I return all those assumptions to their rightful owners, in the same way that I’m giving up feeling guilty about sending presents that I didn’t ask for and don’t like to the charity shop. I’m giving up contorting myself and apologising for myself and trying to please people.

I am shaking off ought to and really should. I’m doing things as I notice them or feel like doing them. I’m giving up pushing myself. It’s a useful skill, but I know how to do it when I really need to, and, oddly enough, things seem to get done one way or another without my reducing myself to a wibbling wreck over the question.

I’m shaking off the things that aren’t mine, and perhaps next year I’ll find that I don’t need to shake; they’ll just be running off my feathers.

Reverb day 12: desired and feared

Can you think of an instance in the past year where you have been successful at making fear useful? 

What fears do you hold about the year ahead? And how could you use the energy of those fears in a different way?

This year has been remarkably free of fear. This has been the first full year where my partner and I have both lived under the same roof and had full-time, permanent jobs. I’ve been coming to understand that life doesn’t necessarily have to be lived in a state of fearful uncertainty.

Which is not to say that it has been entirely free of fear. Most of my fears have been niggly and silly. “Yes, but did I lock the front door? Did I turn the gas off? What will I come home to tomorrow?” I suppose that, the more this happens, the more likely I will be to pay attention when I’m turning off the cooker and locking the front door, and not need to turn back half way down the road.

Next year? I can think of at least three big, potentially terrifying things that might happen, ranging from ‘hmm, maybe’ to ‘almost certain’. These are three things that I want to happen, things that I am putting deliberate effort into effecting. None the less, they are scary: they’re big life changes; they’ll have significant effects on the way I think of myself; they could all go horribly wrong.

How to use the fear that comes with them? I think that in each of these cases the fear is a sort of background acknowledgement of how big they really are. The fear is a signifier of their importance. I think that if I acknowledge how huge they are, and acknowledge the fact that actually I really am quite scared of [X], [Y] and [Z], even though I want them to happen to much, because I want them to happen so much, I won’t need to do anything to the fear; it will transform itself into something delicious and exciting.