It’s all about family

Perhaps today’s post has been unduly influenced by the fact that I caught some of Eastenders earlier, as whenever I see the programme I just want to breakout into a series of bad impressions of the Mitchell family, going “It’s all about fam-leee” over and over again, but today I am overwhelming grateful to and for…

1) My family

2) My family

3) My family

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The Gratitude List Parts I & II

I am busy at the minute.  Not horrendously so, but seeing as I haven’t been working for a few months & now I have a new job, life has inevitably changed pace and become a bit more hectic than I have been used to.  This has two implications that relate to this blog:

1) I wanted to think of a theme that is simple & easy to keep up until I settle into my new routine a bit more – another mini-project to keep me going for a while.

2) I also wanted to have a focus for my posts that will provide an antidote to any stress that may (probably!) emerge while I adjust to feeling busier – a sort of anchor to steady me and keep me grounded in the joys of life. 

My decision?  It’s time to wheel out the good old ‘Gratitude List’ concept for a couple of weeks.  Unless something stupendous happens that I want to particularly write about, between now and the end of January, my posts will be structured around a ‘gratitude list’.  I’ve mentioned this idea in the past & it’s one that’s very popular in pop-psychology circles (Oprah Winfrey’s an advocate, as are numerous self-help books).  I don’t know how scientifically valid it is, but it always seems to work for me.  Put simply, each night you write down three things that you are grateful for that day (be they large or small, trivial or profound).  You then re-read the list in the morning.  The writing part is essential; it provides a clear record for yourself of what you were grateful for – handy in times of woe, when it’s difficult to think of anything good in your life.  The more you do it, the more accustomed you become to noticing things to be grateful for – to the extent that I had to abandon my regular gratitude-listing as it took too long, running up sixty plus entries in a single day at times (I am a bit of an all-or-nothing person).  In this case, I vow to stick to the prescribed three things limit, else it’ll defeat one of the aims of being short & simple to write.

So here goes, another mini-quest – who know where January’s journey will lead…

The Gratitude List Part I: Sunday 9th January 2011

Three periods of spiritual nourishment – a really strong sense of being restored and rejuvenated from within, while also sharing that moment with others.

Two sets of visitors – my original vision of a quiet, relaxing day was totally thrown out of the window, but I didn’t care as it was so lovely to see different family members and spend (cliche alert! cliche alert!) quality time with them.  These visits are also the reason that I am writing Sunday’s list on Monday night; too much talking meant that the last vistor didn’t leave until gone midnight and by then, I was far too tired to write – not that I minded at all – in fact, that spontaneous ‘let’s stay up far too late talking’ moment convinced me that this quest was the right way to go, giving me a space in which to record such happenings.

One pair of new pants – oh the joys of new underwear!  I opened my drawer on Sunday morning to be greeted by a pile of pants that were all new.  Joy of joys!  There are few consumer delights that thrill me more than new pants – and lots of them.

The Gratitude List Part II: Monday 10th January

Unfortunately, today’s items don’t fit as conveniently into their own ‘three, two, one’ order, but I am no less grateful to them because of that.  In no particular order:

Getting water out of the tap.  Guzzling down a glass of cold water this morning, I was suddenly confronted by the thought of how fortunate I am to be able to get water – as much as I could ever want or need, and clean water to boot – simply by turning a tap.  It’s amazing, especially when you start to think about all the infrastructure and technology involved, yet we generally just take it for granted. 

Making good progress on a work task that I was nervous about starting – the classic case of feeling apprehensive before beginning and worrying that you won’t be able to do it, then actually starting & finding that you’ve loads of ideas and it develops really well.

Knitting.  I suspect this will feature regularly.  Click, click, click, the sound of needles clacking together never fails to make me happy.  I know I will still feel grateful for this in the morning.  And the morning after.  And the morning after.  And I will feel even more grateful when this cardigan that I’m making is actually finished, but that’s another post altogther.

The lipbalm chronicles part XVII: the final episode

As I sit here writing on Saturday night, it seems hard to believe that New Year’s Day was only a week ago and Christmas Day just two weeks ago.  Both days – the whole of the festive period, in fact – were blissful, but seem like a fond and distant memory now.  Although we may only be eight days into the new year, I feel well settled in 2011 and looking forward to the months that lie ahead.  It is still officially winter for a while yet, but internally I feel the fresh shoots and new beginnings of spring.  Maybe this feeling is because there was sunshine this afternoon & the day seemed so bright and glorious after what seems like months of grey skies and cloud; it’s as if a carpet of snow has finally disappeared to reveal new life – lots of green – underneath.  Maybe this feeling is because my new diary looks crisp & fresh, wonderfully white and blank – waiting for lots of new plans & adventures (& undoubtedly the more mundane ‘check bank statement; mend socks’ kind of lists too).  Maybe this feeling is because I am experiencing a new start: a new job, living away from home for a few days a week, all the new experiences that these two changes bring – experiences that will fill the crisp, white diary. 

Maybe this feeling is because various long-term goals and projects have drawn to a close recently and I feel released from them.  However pleasant or satisfying a task maybe, if it goes on for long enough then it’s inevitable that we long for completion, an end, a sense of achievement and finality.  Today my mission to use up every lipbalm that I own finally came to an end.  This has been a mammoth undertaking, three years and two months in duration.  One day, I realised that I owned a ridiculous number of lipbalms.  The lipbalms came to symbolise so much else: a waste of money, a waste of natural resources, the accumulation of more stuff, buying, buying, buying, trying to fill a whole but always feeling empty.  So I decided to break the cycle and vowed to not buy another until everyone that I owned had gone.  Little did I imagine that it would take 38 months to achieve this aim (although the fact that I only use lipbalm at night and in the morning should have been a clear indication that it would take some time to chip away at the mountain of pots, tubs and sticks).  But here I am – released from the bondage of excessive petroleum-based product ownership.  In many ways, I feel the whole lipbalm saga (of which there haven’t been seventeen previous posts, although I have mentioned it in the past – I just chose seventeen for the post’s title as it seemed to capture how long I feel it’s been going on for) is emblematic of the whole ‘life of one’s own project’: it’s been about mindfulness, listening to myself and not to marketing pressures, patience, determination and a bizarre obsession with little tiny things that seem to represent much bigger issues. 

And what did I do when I finally chucked the last tube this morning?  Why, I went out and bought another pot (two in fact – one for home, one for my travel bag for work).  I went for the classic choice of Vaseline in the end, as I felt so overwhelmed by the amount of choice on the lipbalm shelves – it all just seemed too confusing.  At the same time, buying these two tins of Vaseline was perhaps one of the most satisfying consumer choices I have ever made.  It felt great to be buying something when you can hand on heart say that you really don’t have anything left that you can use instead – a clean start, a fresh slate, a new lipbalm beginning to accompany all the other changes and fresh starts that are happening.  And what colour are the Vaseline pots?  Green and white, of course – like the blank pages of my new diary and the new shoots in the fields outside the window.

Fear of Flying

A friend of mine has decided his new year’s resolution is to read more and, more specifically, to read more widely.  To accomplish his aim, he has asked various people – myself included – to recommend a book for him to read.  The one that immediately sprang to my mind was Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying.  I’m going to give it some more thought, but I suspect that this is the one that I will suggest.  It is a long-time favourite of mine and a book that I seem to tell everyone I know to read.  Those who have take up my suggestion have returned mixed reviews, but it will always occupy a fond place in my heart.  I first read it an impressionable age, about fourteen or so.  I had come across two references to the novel within a week of each other and took that as a sign that I should read it.  I did, and have read and re-read and re-read it countless time over the years since.  

Many commentators discuss Fear of Flying’s rather raunchy nature and while I would not deny that it contains a lot of sexual content, I feel that this focus obscures Jong’s much bigger exploration of identity, freedom and independence.  The book follows the protagonist, Isadora, on a voyage of self-discovery and her wrestling with her metaphorical – and literal – fear of flying.  At fourteen, Isadora’s journey spoke deeply to me and it continues to do so right through to today.  At this very moment, I am sitting in bed facing my own fear of flying – in this case, flying into my new job.  I start tomorrow and I am terrified.  I don’t know why I am so horrendously nervous.  I am sure I am more than capable of doing the job.  I think I will get on well with my boss.  I’m actually looking forward to getting stuck into the tasks themselves.  If I’m honest, I think my nerves are simply down to fear of the unknown.  It’s all new: a new role; a new employer; a new place.  The safety net of having done the job before or even knowing other people around me isn’t there.  I’m scared of being in free fall.  For the first time in years, I’m not working alongside doing my PhD, and even that feels unnerving – it makes the job seem so big, so all-consuming.  It’s like coming to write something new – an ominous blank sheet of paper in front of me.  The knotted feeling in my stomach is the same as when I get writer’s block.  Having said that, I know full well that when I get writer’s block, the best thing I can do is simply sit at my desk and write.  And I will apply that lesson to tomorrow.  I will sit at my desk and work.  As they say with regards to aviation, take off and landing are the trickiest and most dangerous parts.  Once you get past the first bit, you can soar – right up into the air, the magical place of freedom.

My year in three objects

Before moving too far into 2011, I thought I’d do one final post looking back at 2010.  Inspired by the BBC/British Museum project with a similar name but a much more ambitious remit, I decided to come up with the three objects that capture my year.  The results of my musings surprised me; my mind turned not to objects that represent the ‘big’ things such as finishing my thesis but to objects that speak of smaller but no less profound changes and developments.  And in no particular order, the results are:

1) My stitch counter

This is a small plastic tube with two revolving number counters.  You slip it onto a knitting needle and use it to keep a tally of the rows knitted, turning it up one with each row.  It is no exaggeration to say this little item has transformed my crafting life, making all the scraps of paper & little pencils behind my ear redundant.  It has speeded up my knitting by a rate of knots too.  A simple yet ingenious invention.  The fact that it belonged to my grandma adds a further layer of poignancy to the item.

2) My jazz shoes

My jazz shoes were a birthday present from an aunt & uncle.  Bound up in these two small bits of leather are various layers of meaning: a lovely gift in themselves; a new hobby; one of my favourite hours of the week; a commitment to sport and fitness that is relatively new to me – and was one of my big resolutions of 2010; a changing attitude towards my body – a new type of relationship with everything from the neck downwards and a new perspective on my own physicality, which seemed particularly significant in a year that followed a major illness.  I have never really danced before & one year ago, I could not have even begun to imagine how much I enjoy it.  I may be in danger of sounding like a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, but dancing has changed my life.

3) Souter Lighthouse, pictured

As with the jazz shoes, there are many layers of meaning to Souter Lighthouse.  At the most basic level, it is a reminder of my lovely and somewhat impromptu summer holiday.  At the same time, it reminds me of freedom and independence – the sense of bravery that I felt when deciding to holiday alone.  It is also symbolic of desires and aims achieved during the last twelve months.  I had long wanted to visit the lighthouse, and 2010 was the year that I did.  So Souter features as an icon of all the things I did that I had dreamt of doing before: becoming a Quaker; getting better at knitting; doing regular exercise; making a simnel cake; finishing my thesis; buying a car; improving at crochet…And I hope that this list will roll on into 2011 too.