There are times when I forget and take for granted the everyday conveniences of life, which many before me and living in the same space and time as me, have not had the luxury of owning.
For example, whenever I’m sick and just wishing to feel better, I’ll promise myself and the Universe around me, that I will never take being healthy and well for granted again. I’ll never again forget the relief of paracetamol in easing my symptoms or being able to visit a GP to cure aches and pains. Then I get well again, and I forget these things.
I know I’m not the only person in the world who uses modern life like I’ve somehow earned a perpetual right to it. I leave lights on just so spaces won’t be dark when I return to them; I fill the kettle with enough water for several cups instead of the single tea I’m making; I’ll stand in hot showers long after cleaning myself, just because I like to do so; and I sometimes suggest we drive to places within comfortable walking distance, just because I don’t feel like ambling over. I forget that doing these things has a greater impact and that being able to do them makes me exceptionally lucky.
A few weeks ago, as the autumn was finding its courage and unleashing its sudden chills and frosty mornings on the UK, my mother-in-law and I discovered that the central heating was broken. We did as most would do and called the repairman in the hopes of a speedy resolution, and in the meanwhile, we thought it no great matter to buckle down with blankets, hot-water bottles and dressing-gowns and await the promised thaw. Unfortunately, this being the time of year when most boilers decide to give-in, an engineer could not be sent for two weeks. Our priority was low because we are two able-bodied women between the ages of 18-60 with no depends, infants or elderly, living with us. Fair enough, but that is a long time to go without heat when you are very accustomed to being warm by pressing a button on your wall.
In fact, pressing a button on the wall is becoming dated in the modern world. Being able to adjust your house’s central heating and hot water, heck even lighting, from a mobile devise miles away is possible nowadays.
Needless to say, we weren’t thrilled at the idea of ice-ageing it for a fortnight, but needs-must and there was little to be done otherwise.
The problem was that I currently don’t have a job, so there were little options of escape during the day. The radiator in our room had never worked since my husband, Chris, and I moved in; without a warmer house around it, it was the first room to go full Arctic. Not only was I sleeping in fleece pyjamas, but also in slipper socks and a house-coat (it’s like a dressing gown with a zip) while hugging a water-bottle. During the day I was dressed in so many layers, I could barely move my arms, still in house-coat, slipper-socks, slippers and clutching a hot-water bottle like it might grant me wishes. I filled it up every couple of hours with a whole kettle of water and sat in the office to work beside a small electric heater.
And, of course, I found reasons to complain about the situation. Modern living had ill-adapted me for being without heat I didn’t need to think about. An automated system worried about keeping the house sufficiently warm, and if that wasn’t enough, as I said, there’s a little green button on the wall in the airing cupboard to boost the system whenever needed. I have never missed a little green button so much in my entire life. I found myself journeying to it on one occasion before I remembered it wouldn’t do anything. When did my adaptability become so fragile?
In the midst of this, however, I did, eventually and begrudgingly at times, adapt. I even found some fun in it. When having to undress to shower, I would race myself, and I would find more joy in the hot-water than I had previously. I would be aware when I was warm, rather than when I wasn’t. While writing in fingerless gloves with the electric heater on, I would pretend to be someone from the days of Dickens, huddled writing beside a fire in the bitter depths of winter. By doing so, I remembered that during the 1800s and well into the 1900s, central heating did not exist. My current state of frozen living was every day for almost everyone who had ever lived before me. Even my Mother-In-Law remembered a time without it.
I found beautiful moments in it too. One evening, when my husband had returned for the weekend, we spent date-night huddled beside the gas-fire, bathed in its glow and the flickering of candles. We didn’t turn the television on, or even music, we just sat together and talked, unwilling to move because it was cold everywhere else in the house. It was so simple and romantic and even cliche, but it is an experience of intimacy I will not forget, and it would not have happened if the boiler had been functional.
Finally, yesterday, our glorious bringer of fire arrived, and in just a few hours and a new part our central heating had returned. He even fixed the chronically cold radiator in our bedroom. Then he was gone, and the little green button flashed again, and the house was bathed in the wonder of heat, and we were able to de-layer and sit without the need of hot-water bottles for basic comfort. Modern convenience had been restored. As usual, grateful and aware, I promised myself and the Universe around me that I would never again take heating for granted. So far, so good.
I’m still very much aware of not being cold. When I got out of bed, I revelled in not needing to immediately don slippers and refill the luke-warm hot water bottle. Typing this now, I am very aware of not needing to wear fingerless gloves and scoot not further than three inches from the electric heater, which isn’t even on. I hope I’m able to maintain a constant sense of gratitude for something I once took so for granted, but I’m human, and chances are, over time, the sensation of joy will revert back to an echo whenever I go to press the little green button which makes the heat come back.
In this moment, however, I am going to be grateful and joyous because I have an internal heating system in my house. Even should that break, someone on the end of a phone will send a person with a toolkit to repair it, and while that might take weeks, it will take place. Meanwhile, there are members of my fellow humankind who do not share that luxury. There are impoverished people unable to afford running costs, and I have been one of them before now, and there are people who are huddled on the streets at night without any warmth. They have no magic, flashing green button to make their discomfort go away, and it might even be the least of their worries. Long before me, families just made do, maybe even unable to imagine such a thing as a wall mounted hot-water bottle that produces heat at the flick of a switch. They adapted. And central heating comes at a cost to our environment; populations and animal habitats suffer for us just hitting the green button because we’d rather not have to layer-up or huddle under a blanket.
These are important things to remember, and I will try to remember them, even though, I know in many cases I will not be successful. It’s worth trying. For now, warmth, glorious warmth!
In which we get nostalgic for the Boy who Lived by talking about the way he changed my life.
I got married in April. That’s not the important part. Due to my husband’s job, we couldn’t get the time for a formal honeymoon. Instead, we only had a weekend. We spent that at the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studios London because we’re just amazing like that.
We did things like chilling in the great hall and riding the Hogwarts Express and flying on broomsticks, and heading into the forbidden forest, and bowing to Buckbeak, and drinking butterbeer and flying in a Ford Anglia and strutting down Diagon Ally and buying wands, and walking the Great Hall, and finding the sorting hat in Dumbledor’s office and a whole bunch of other ridiculously awesome stuff*.
On the way back, once we had taken as much magic as we could with our narrow time slot, we were discussing Harry Potter. It played such a significant part of both our childhood’s. We grew in a generation founded on the magic of Harry Potter – a book series which arguably redefined the reading world and made reading ‘cool’ again. Now it was even a significant part of our wedding by being our surrogate honeymoon.
Husband was like many avid fans who basically started the series when it arrived on the scene in 1997. Most of my avid HP fan friends are the same; they were reading the series from the publication of book one. I, sadly, was a little late to the show.
Actually, I was late to reading in general, because my brain-hole liked to confuse me. Anyone with dyslexia** can attest to how frustrating reading as an activity can be when words jump about and letters reorganise themselves. I remember years of Primary school feeling inadequate because I just couldn’t work around the way words danced and changed all the time. It wasn’t until Secondary School that it was even discovered I had an issue, and one kind teacher*** helped me to navigate the condition enough to at least be able to read accurately^.
In any case, one of the first books I managed to get through was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire^^. I had read a few much shorter books before hand, but nothing in the fantasy genre. Actually, the only reason I ventured into HP was that my sister had it on a plane ride back from Cyprus, and my Gameboy Colour died en route. So, we shared the book, each reading a chapter. When we landed, my siblings lost interest, and I spent the next three days locked away finishing it.
I devoured it. The moment I got back to school, I found Philosopher’s Stone in the school library and spent every spare moment in there reading it. They also had Prisoner of Azkaban so I read that next. I came down with mumps and swindled my parents into cheering me up with Chamber of Secrets.
It’s funny. I know where I was and how each book came into my life, I think because Harry Potter was such a revolutionary, eye-opening story for me. After HP, I hunted down anything remotely related to magic and fantasy, and it started me on a path of reading which has never diminished, only grown. It made me create my own stories, inspiring a love of writing which became the foundation of my degree and the means by which I made my living.
I have established life-long friendships because of Harry Potter fandom.
On my second date with (now) Husband, we spoke avidly about his dislike for the Harry Potter films in comparison to the books. We spoke about our respective houses^^^ and the fact he once wrote self-insert fanfiction around the wizarding world. I can’t help but feel a significant part of our initial bonding was based on a mutual love of the Harry Potter books. And I know many other couples out there with the same story. Heck, people have Harry Potter themed weddings nowadays.
How many friendships and marriages owe thanks even just in part to this phenomenon?How many ‘reluctant readers’*^, would never have developed a love of reading if this series had never come to light? How many creative pursuits would never have been realised? It’s incalculable.
Yet, even now the world continues, in new movies and plays and even theme parks. The story of one boy’s quest to rid the world of an evil dictator continues to inspire children 20-years since it’s first publication on this day in 1997.
And all because of one woman; a woman who, at the time, was struggling with the weight of everyday life, living in relative poverty, trying to support a young child. One brave woman who had an idea about a boy with a lightning scar. It must have been impossible to even imagine the incredible journey that single boy would take to become the household name he is today. It makes me so proud when I think of her, and so grateful for her giving the world a story so powerful it revolutionised reading and helped define a generation.
Who knew that one day, there wouldn’t be a child in our world who wouldn’t know his name.
Footnotes of Fun
*The feature image is me heading into Platform 9 and 3/4 with a bit of zingity pow in my step. Husband would not jump in his photo…. Husband is the lllaaammmmeeee.
**Shout out to my fellow awesome peeps who battled their own brains to be able to read – we may be slower than most, but studies prove slow readers actually take in and remember stories better than their speedy reading counterparts. *is dancing*.
***Dear Mrs Kramer, I shall forever hold your memory with unwavering gratitude for a) understanding my problem b) taking the extra time and energy to help me understand the problem c) for instilling in me the ability to enjoy reading. Wherever you are Mrs K, I love you (yes love, no shame) and you are the reason this blog exists today. Without you, books and writing would never have become such a core part of who I am. Best. Teacher. Ever.
^Ma spellding is still the suxxx.
^^Fun fact: the first time I read Harry Potter, I did so completely out of order, because I wasn’t aware series were a thing. I read 4,1,3,2 respectively. Before book 7 arrived on the scene I did read 1-6 again in order. I recommend that. Everything makes much more sense and book three isn’t super spoiled because you know Siris is a good guy because you’ve already read 4.
^^^Ravenclaw (*avid cheering*) and Griffindor. Our children will be wise and brave.
*^No shame. I was one for most of my young childhood.
In which we examine the re-designing of this blog by pondering philosophical ideas about its author, and how she is similar to an ancient, metaphorical, Greek sailing vessel.
There’s a thought experiment known as The Ship of Theseus, which poses the question as to whether an object which has had all of its original components replaced over time is still the same object.
The story is thus*: Long ago in Greece, a king by the name of Theseus, sets out on a ship, and wins a great battle before returning safely home. In his honour, the Athenians erect the ship as a monument to his glory. Eventually, however, the ship’s boards start rotting. The devoted Athenians cut new boards, strip away the rotting wood, and affix new planks. A while later, of course, the sail becomes weathered and torn. Again, the Athenians trim a new sail from fresh cloth and fix it to the mast. Then the mast itself is ridden with termites and must be replaced. Then the rudder breaks and more boards fall apart and the oars are lost. Soon, every remnant of Theseus’ vessel has been removed and replaced with new parts, which poses one very important question: is it still fundamentally the original ship as sailed by Theseus?
If so then how, but if not, then at what point did the ship become a different ship?
I don’t bring this up to wax philosophical or write a detailed analysis of the arguments for and against the paradox. That’s not the post you’re going to get**. So, let us put a pin in the Ship of Theseus for a minute and turn our attention to what does need discussing, namely, the redesign of this blog***.
If you are brave and bored enough to venture into the archives^ you’ll notice throughout my years of owning this particular part of the internet, I have taken long (often very long) leaves of absence. In some cases, this is because I actually do still write, but choose not to share the posts because they are private. In others, this is because I find myself wondering what the point is. In almost every case, I have eventually shrugged these feelings off and returned.
The trouble is, for me, writing is a particularly personal endeavour. I never write anything without intent. Therefore, writing can be emotionally draining, enlightening, explorative, a means to let go of painful thoughts or understand difficult events and feelings, emotionally sustaining, stabilising, to record, to learn and etc and etc. To make matters more complicated, I always try to give this blog meaning as well. If you’ve been following me for the nearing seven years it has been in existance^^ you’ll know that the elements of the design have remained constant for almost as long.
In my latest disappearance, I haven’t actually lacked the want to write or to post, I just didn’t feel doing so had any meaning. I even analysed the idea of deleting the blog, because I wasn’t sure what I was doing with it anymore. It was meant for so much at the beginning when I was younger and super eager, and had a ridiculously organised and impossible plan for my life. I posted then because I wanted to get my writing out there and seen, and I wanted (somewhat egotistically, I now realise) to record everything about my life going exactly the way I had imagined it would. When, however, life started to ease away from that ideal, I desperately clung to this blog as a means of preserving it. I wanted to present to the world someone who knew what they doing; someone who had interesting thoughts and an interesting life. I tried to be something else. I tried to make the blog different each time, but without changing the core aspect of what it was meant for. I was unconsciously holding on to the life-plan I had set out at 21. This blog was like the ship of Theseus left to simply rot away.
The truth of the matter is I too am like the ship of Theseus. Who I am and what I want have developed steadily over time, piece by piece, thought by thought. I have become someone who resembles the person who started this blog, but I’m constructed by entirely different elements.
As my life veered my motivations changed, as circumstances altered so to did my understandings of the world. I met people who impacted on what I valued and how I see myself. I learned lessons the hard way. My social circle has changed, my geographic location has changed. Everything about the 21-year-old (somewhat deluded) girl who began this has been replaced, gradually, just like the legendary ship.
At the core of me am I the same person? I don’t know. I’ve spent many a wakeful night asking myself that, and never come to any solid conclusion. Whether I am or not isn’t really important. The significant part is, I’m not made of the same parts. My experiences have shaped my thoughts and feelings beyond what that person would even be able to understand back then.
This blog as it stood became meaningless the moment the person who started it vanished. I’m not sure at what point she vanished completely, but she did. I didn’t want to realise that. I was still holding onto her, this girl who had her young life ahead, who believed life would work out exactly as she wanted, who had potential and hope. I’ve come to understand recently that holding so tightly to her stops me from creating new plans and having new hopes. There was only going to be any meaning in writing and posting here again if I pulled the blog in line with who I am now.
So, I tentatively test blogged yesterday with something I had wanted to write about and share for a long time. The idea was to explore how I felt about having shared it, even without extensive editing^^^, but when I clicked to check the upload was displaying, I was underwhelmed by what I saw. A header image that was taken many years ago; back then I found it an inspiring photograph of a place I often walked to think and feel. Now I live some 300 miles away and even when I didn’t, I stopped frequently visiting years ago. That place will always hold meaning for me, but not the same meaning as it did. The style and colours I once thought as vibrant and clean, were just dull. The name^* had no resonance at all. I tried to recall the reasons I had for choosing it and couldn’t come up with anything. Obviously, something about it held me at the beginning, but it held me captured no longer. The title didn’t represent me anymore.
To delete or not to delete, that dear hypothetical audience, was the question.
I started asking other questions as I hovered over the idea. Is deleting the blog extreme? Is the blog meaningless? If I delete this one, would I eventually start another? Should I preserve that old part of me? Will the things I have written here one day be something I look back on? Do they still have value even though I’ve changed? Am I merely clogging up the internet with useless, unnecessary drivel?*^ Is this really what I want; for something that has been a significant part of my adult life to be gone?
As you plainly see, I decided not to remove it. At least right now, I didn’t want it gone. Besides, even if I did, I could always come back and delete it later maybe having preserved the parts I found value in. But I needed to address a few things if I was going to continue. For starters, what did I want the blog to be?
The answer was actually a relatively simple and liberating one. I just wanted it to be a place I could write and share stuff. I didn’t want restrictions anymore. I didn’t want to worry if something fits into the purpose anymore. I just wanted to write honestly about things I think are worth others hearing. I want to record my life as it happens without worry about sounding professional and ‘perfect’ all the time. I want to connect with the world and people who might benefit from seeing someone having the same life issues or misunderstandings as they do. I just want to write and share stuff.
And thus, I started ripping up the rotting boards. I pulled down the tattered sail and recalibrated the rudder**^. I gave the site a name more in tune to the tone and style of the posts, and a tagline which better explains what the blog is actually about. I removed some of the widgets. I refreshed the colours^^*. I kept the core of what the blog had always been about (me, and writing, and living), but I attuned it to my new understanding of what that is. I gave everything a fresh coat of digital paint to represent it’s new place and meaning in my life.
This is a new ship. I stand upon the bow, clean wood beneath my feet and the wind in a billowing white sail. Will I write here more consistently? What will I write about exactly? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll return in a few days having found the whole thing fruitless. Maybe you’ll come back in a week and everything will be gone. Error 404. This site no longer exists. There is a freedom in thinking that though. Whatever happens, I’ve let go of what this blog was when it started.
I’m ready to just write and see.
~The title sucks, but really I couldn’t think of anything else. Also, cover image can be found here.
*Shortened somewhat, and as I understand it based on my personal research. In some cases, the ship itself was altered by Theseus and his crew. In these instances, the ship is gradually altered en route and is therefore questioned upon its return home. The prevailing story, however, is the one given here. I have added a touch of personal flourish for dramatic effect, as I am want to do. You can believe everything you read on the internet, right? Right!? No, no you can’t. Be sure to do your own research. It’s a fascinating idea, anyway. I encourage you to explore it further.
**I wrote that having started and deleted a very stark segway into exactly that. I added this footnote because I’m proud I managed to redirect back before things got out of hand. Yay me.
***Don’t worry, it’ll all come together.
^Now located at the bottom of the page. You’ll need a torch, a dust buster, and if you don’t enjoy arachnids, some form of non-lethal insect repellent. Also, maybe a hat. You might look good in a hat.
^^ If you exist, here’s a huge shout-out to the hypothetical audience who have put up with almost seven years of my nonsense. I hope it at least has given something back to you even if it’s just a little laugh now and then.
^^^Because you don’t know how many posts you haven’t seen because my perfectionist mindset has prevented me from sharing anything I deem ‘not good enough’, which isn’t always a terrible thing but can be crippling to the joy of writing and sharing. Another problem in the consistently blogging corner.
^* Which was, for anyone including myself who might be reading in the distant future, Life Unwritten. As stated above, I don’t remember exactly why I picked this title, but it the word ‘Unwritten’ itself is taken from a popular-in-my-day Natalie Bedingfield song of the same name.
*^Yeah maybe. But that’s what the internet kind of is. At least 90% is unnecessary if enjoyable, and a good portion of that is drivel.
**^I am making that up; I don’t know if you can recalibrate a rudder. It sounds like a thing, which is why it works in the sentence, but I can’t be bothered to research it. Anyone out there know? Can you calibrate a rudder on ancient Greek ships? Seriously, no idea.
^^*Sorry about the grey writing. The format doesn’t allow me to change the colour, unlike that last one. If I find a way to brighten it up, I will, though that may take some exploring of the formats available.
Souls are places; I’ve always thought about this. A soul can be explored like a place and felt like a place. A soul can be retreated to like a place and intruded upon like a place. A soul can be fragile or strong depending what it is weathering and what it is built upon, just as a place.
I’ve always found my soul to be a castle, the interior of which is an endless library. The castle is high on a rock overlooking a vast sea. Outside it is always night. Too much light would ruin the volumes and volumes packing every available space inside. Books which contain my memories, my knowledge, my ideas. They stretch out into every room of the labyrinthine castle, up into towers and deep into basements. The castle is sturdy. It has to be. The sea brings many storms.
Here in this forever night, it is quiet and still. Here I can be reflective and private, contemplative and questing without noise and distracting light^.
My light is that of bright, but flickering candles and shimmering silver stars.
The library inside the castle is curated by tiny creatures who store away my knowledge and thoughts in volumes of clothbound* books. Everything is lit with a glowing candlelight, warm and comforting.
The highest tower has a glass ceiling where the galaxy of stars can be seen in all their majesty. I keep the door locked. Only I am privy to this place. This is where I seek inner peace and solitude. This is where I recharge. There is a hearth here, and comfortable seats of all kinds. Upon the hearth are the moving images** of those few beings who have touched my soul. The fire is not a fire. Instead, there is a resonating glow, a pure unearthly and unbound light, warming and healing. This is where my soul touches something bigger, something I do not fully understand, but have always felt connected to. The light in the hearth is where my soul touches the Universe***.
The books in this space pertain to my morals, fears, hopes, and truths. They are always expanding. There is also a chest where my deepest secrets are kept. The key is around my neck. It cannot be removed even by me. I have opened the chest for only a few. I have emptied it for none. There will always be a secret in the chest.
There’s a children’s wing filled with toys I loved, imaginary friends who once danced through my life. There is a tree with gold leaves. The books kept here are those that ignited my imagination as a child. Characters come and play here reciting old poems and favourite passages from long lost memories. A shabby treehouse sits between the branches. I know there was a light in there at one point, but it sits dark now. I’m too big to get up the ladder. The child that plays here doesn’t ever go there. Someone sits up there though; sometimes dripping can be heard.
Recently a new wing opened to me. It’s been opened a couple of times before and closed again. I like it here now. Everything is different than what I ever remember it being here before. This place is warm and smells faintly of the sea. There is passion here for many things, for life and love and work and happiness. A man sits here, smiling. He is surrounded by books about sports and sailing, about battles won and lost, and odd snippets of information pertaining to many subjects. This room radiates love. Honest love. Devoted love. Intelligent and respectful love. Though the outer world is always night, here there window which lets sunlight in. Here I can say anything. Even the ugliest shameful parts of me are accepted. Here who I am is always enough.
There are many monsters which roam the library of my soul. They vary in shape and size. One is a pushing, violent thing, with teeth which bite and claws that cut. One is sweet and small and gentle to encourage trust, but it always lies. One is always moving and carries a clock with a dial which spins too fast. It likes to jump out onto the shoulder and whisper maddening prophecies in the ear. The worst is nothing but a blackness which feeds on me when I am not looking. It likes to lurk in places it shouldn’t and is often trying to break into the highest tower.
There are many weapons available to combat the monsters. The weapons are easy to find but hard to wield. Courage is a shining silver sword. There is a humble long-bow which can be armed with arrows made of truth. Acceptance is a shield. Trust is a dagger that must be given away.
Other artefacts reside in the library of my soul. I have a spyglass which allows me to see benefits which may still be far away but are worth waiting or fighting for. This spyglass is patience. It doesn’t have a fixed place and can be hard to locate. There’s a compass for the lost which always points to the heart. There’s a little candle which pops up whenever needed. It’s flame changes; it can be tall and unyielding, or dim and in need of cultivating, but the candle is always lit even if just as an ember. The candle flame is actually a little living thing, made from the hearth fire. It is hope.
A dragon stalks the halls sometimes, which of course breathes fire from time to time. I’ve tamed him somewhat. Right now he is raging beyond my want to control him. I spend energy putting out the blazes, but by the time I get there he has already taken off to some hiding spot to regain his strength. I’ll get around to catching him again soon. At the moment I need the fire a little bit. It’s helping to keep the dark monster at bay.
I’m not sure where the castle ends, there are new places being revealed all the time. There are towers that are shut away and stairways up and down. I may never discover every element of it. I haven’t divulged everything here now even, just that which I needed to remember. Just that which needed to be rediscovered to aid me through recent events.
Perhaps your soul is a carnival or a garden or a humble cottage at the edge of the world. This is only what my soul has always been, a castle library on an unpredictable sea beneath a vast universe.
~The featured image can be found here (I don’t own it, yadda-yadda-yadda) and is the Ravenclaw Common Room (which is ma house. Big up my fellow kind of wit and learning). Honestly, one does not affect the other. It’s just coincidental that this is the nearest comparison to what I’m describing. But that in itself is pretty amazing, I won’t lie.
*Not leatherbound. No animals were harmed in the formation of my soul.
**Much like the paintings in the Wizarding World, although in my renditions, the figures are unable to move between portraits. I’m not sure what this means.
***It occurs to me, I say this a lot but have never really explained it. There could be a post about this in its own right, but for now, I will say the following. The Universe is not a god. I don’t believe in a divine being who wrote a book of rules or came down to greet us in human form. I believe in what I see, a great vast expanse permeating everything, connecting everything. And yes, I hear when it speaks to me, and yes I speak to it. It’s hard to explain, but I do not have to explain. I’m not asking you to understand or to believe. The burden of proof is on me, but I have no proof for what I experience subjectively….. It’s just what I feel. You’ll have to roll with it.
There’s a poetic resonance that six-years-ago a journey began, a chapter of my life started with my chronicling my packing to leave a flat, and here, a gauntlet of twists and turns later, a similar act appears to be concluding it. Here, far in time if not in distance, I find myself surrounded by my worldly possessions, the material worth of my life, packed neatly into boxes, sealed, and waiting departure*.
Peering round at these boxes, I find it strange my life fits so easily into such compact spaces. My mind has been less easily arranged; how much simpler this endeavour would be if I could pack my emotions away, secure them with binds tight enough to hold them, at least for a time. Honestly, coming to terms with the transition I will have to make has been one of the most tumultuous things I have ever had to do. A storm in a cup. An endless wave of to-ing and fro-ing. But then, I never have been great with true uncertainty. Too many possibilities weaving through my head, I suppose.
The reality is reaching me, like ice running down my back. Seeing all my life packed away makes the truth of the matter unavoidable. There’s little I’m actually sure of in this new venture, little to hold unto as the earth becomes unsteady beneath my feet. So much is unknown**. It’s a bit like standing on a tall cliff, peering down into a dark well, unable to see how far the ground is from your face, or if there is a ground at all. Bleak and unwelcome as the cliff face may be, it’s certainly feels better to linger than to leap into the possible abyss***. Yet, I know in just a matter of days, I have to jump, straight into the unpredictable mouth of reality.
And thank Goodness for Chris, who has, in this time of storms and trepidation, been a constant reassurance; who has paced forward with all the mastery of the officer he is, and hired vans, and hauled boxes, and uttered a string of reassurance. His patience has been extraordinary.
“Tell me again, please, that it will be alright. That this is the right thing to do. That I will be okay,” I’ll say.
“It’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. This is the right thing. You’re strong.” Again and again he will answer.
“I don’t feel strong,” I’ll admit when the fear is bubbling, a kettle raising to boiling.
“You are. You could have stopped, but you’re soldiering on. Your head is at war with your heart.” He will say.
I’ve spoken about his ability to methodically assess these large undertakings without batting an eye. He compartmentalizes, evaluating what needs to be done, when and how, and who is best to do it^. All I’ve really had to worry too much about is packing; I’ve been trying to avoid contemplating life beyond the actual move, because my head racks up too many ideas about what will happen. But Chris has been thinking analytically on my behalf. Somewhere in his planning he came across the issue of my getting around, and, without prompting, purchased a bike for me^^.
His kindness continues to astound me. It makes me sure about him, if I am sure of nothing else; it makes me trust his words, his intentions and his being enough to keep venturing on. Even when it feels like teeth sinking into my heart, and the idea of leaving is just too much. Even when I can’t trust myself, I at least can trust him. There’s a lot riding on that right now. Where my feet are unsteady, his are firm, and he allows me to lean against him when I stumble. A situation becoming more frequent by the hour.
There were times when I was stowing away clothes and ornaments that I genuinely worried where I would be taking them out again. The hardest part was the books. The hardest part is always the books; the items in my life which hold the most importance, the most memories, the most value. I don’t like them shut away. I don’t like them to be far from me. That must sound strange to those who are not bibliophiles, those who have no love for words and stories. Perhaps, though, those of you who can understand, sympathize with me when I say books have souls, paper ghosts which energize a space. It hurts to condemn them to darkness in boxes – to shut their spirits away, again. They were sad. I could feel it. Without my books I am most assuredly not at home. That’s why I cannot picture releasing them from their prison, because home is a concept mush adrift. Possibly it lies at the bottom of that abyss, but also, possibly it does not.
Home is an odd idea. A house is a place where we take our boxes, if we are lucky and have wealth enough for shelter (a luxury I am aware many suffer without), but a home is more. For everyone, a home is different. I’ve never much settled long enough in one particular abode to gain a true idea of what exactly ‘home’ is. Family? Perhaps, though mine has long since scattered^^^. Personal space? This seems a materialistic idea, but independence and creative expression have always been of value to me. Somewhere to put the books? Yes, but there’s more to it than that; more a place where the books can be free. Where I can too I suppose.
A home is a place where you gain something. Energy, love, safety, closeness, experiences, peace, a sense of self. A home comes with time and feeling; you can move house, but a true home is constructed with the mind. In all the places I have lived in Plymouth, I’ve gained something. Even the homes which broke around me, and the ones I knew would be temporary. I can pack away possessions; I can remove pictures from walls, and wrap glass figures carefully, but I cannot box my emotions, my self, things I may lose. I can’t box a home and take it with me – I must dismantle one to create another.
If I could box all those experiences, all that love and chaos and heart-break, all that closeness, the friends I’ve made and the wisdom gained, the late nights thinking, how many boxes would I have? If I could take them and box them, or pull them into a Pensieve, I wonder just how much there would be sitting before me, how much I may have forgotten^* swirling in pictures before me.
If I could stack every lesson learned the way one stacks plates, how high would the tower reach? If I could witness the pieces of my heart each time it was broken, laid out before me, how long would I be stepping on jagged pieces? If I could paint every kindness granted me, every instant of human love and compassion granted, how large would my gallery be*^?
Packing up my belonging hasn’t been fun. It’s never been an act I have enjoyed, for many reasons. I don’t know if being able to turn the abstracts real and pack them instead would be any more enjoyable, but I’m willing to bet it would be illuminating. I can recall a fair lot of it when the situation calls; a great sum must have lodged itself into my sub-conscious, retained as part of my instincts. Yet, I do ponder the idea of being able to see ten years of my existence physically before me, to see the shape and colour it all takes, to witness the sheer size of it all.
How much space would ten years take? How many boxes?
However, I am left with only the memories which are linked to the items and pictures I am packing away. Those in the books I have collected in my time here, and in the ornaments gifted me for birthdays and Christmases. In the smiling faces frozen in time.
And as I sit here among my belongings, knowing soon they will be somewhere else, contemplating, I’m really not sure how I feel about any of it, only that it all meant something, being here, only that the next place will come to mean something equally as vital.
*This time around at least, I have been much more organised. So prepared am I, this laptop is seated on a box as I write. Twenty-one year old me would be proud of the robust organisation skills I have managed to gain recently.
**As in the unknowable, not the second (third?) generation Pokemon. You know, the ones which looked like letters? …. It might have been third gen. Come to think of it, I think it was spelled without the ‘k’. These ones in any case.
***Gosh, sorry about that metaphor folks – kinds long and forced, but makes my point I feel. I promise, when my life is more settled I’ll think of better similes, like a writer who’s better at this…. Life a leaf on the wind of knowledge…. Oh nevermind.
^He’s a warfare officer, so this stuff is somewhere in his blood now – but I’m told this is Logistics work, which encompasses a different department of the Navy. I think he would be good at it … but don’t tell him I said that. He’s pretty awesome at the navigation thing too.
^^Dubbed Peddle Pony. I’ll explain later.
^^^ The five of us now reside in four different locations, spanning three countries. I may someday calculate the hours and miles undertaken for us all to reach each other in a given year, though I think the number would be most daunting.
^*Though I’m not 100% sure if that’s how a pensieve works – can you record and take memories you don’t remember having??? … Probably not. For the sake of this post, let’s just say you can.
*^Enormous. Gargantuan and marvelous and going on forever.
The last few weeks have been busy. The nice kind of busy mostly; the travelling, catching friends for dinner, hiring wedding people kind of busy. In the space of a week, Chris and I ventured to highest Scotland for a wedding, visited Louth to house hunt and wedding plan, dine with friends and family, and then parted ways for respective Stag and Hen parties (same couple, due to marry next month) which would require me to car pool down to Derby for the weekend, and then finally take the train back home to Plymouth.
Did I mention we’re moving? We’re moving. It’s part of the previous blog about big changes. I meant to write a post. When I tried the words tripped over themselves. The emotions are hard, and turned chaotic on the page. I’m sorry.
Now, however, is the period that always precedes a move, particularly a big one, when life becomes the stressy, bittersweet kind of busy, and requires advanced planning, and phone-calls, and ‘goodbye – keep in touch’ conversations, all of which I’m bad at, particularly the last one.
Chris has a processing time much faster than mine; his ability to simply take information and transform it into practical plans and reasonable motives is astonishing. I’m less geared. I need a scheduled slot to allow for emotional unwinding. Before I move I start to see the ghostly visions of all the important aspects of my life which have happened on a particular chair, in a room, in a cafe, in the city. And I’ve lived in Plymouth for nearly ten years.
Did I mention we’re moving out of Plymouth? We’re moving out of Plymouth.
During my childhood, I became accustomed to picking up and moving on. Being a RAF brat will do that to you; we never set roots for very long. Even as a young child I needed emotional end space. ‘This is where I played with Barbie, goodbye place I played with Barbie’ ‘This is where the Christmas Tree was. Goodbye where the Christmas Tree was’. Somewhere in the back of my head, I have a briefcase filled with snapshots of places. I suppose it was to ensure that I would always be connected to them when they ‘belonged’ to me. Memories are fragile. I’ve lost some. I’ve kept a great deal. I’ve done this for places I have lived for years, and places I have lived for months. I thanked friend’s sofas when I was couch hopping during the bad break up phase. It makes it easier to leave.
Honestly, I’m uncertain as to why. I have always done it, and perhaps I always will.
Now I find myself having to collect these mental Polaroids for an entire city. A city I have shifted through for ten years, longer than I have anywhere, at any other time in my life. The prospect of beginning, and thus seeing through, the negotiations of leaving is daunting and unwanted. I wish for a magic button with which to bypass to the difficulty, and be, through no effort, at the next stage. In a house at our new destination, settled and accepting, building.
Life doesn’t come with magic buttons. They would do us no good in any case. Nothing would be learned or gained from such an easy experience. But the childish, afraid part of me wishes it could all be so simple, practically and emotionally.
The key to the above is that I am afraid.
I. Am. Afraid.
Of moving, of failing to know what to do and when, of not doing enough, of losing who I am in this city, this space, and failing to grow into anything in the new one. I’m afraid of being alone in a small town, just south of nowhere, and becoming lost.
Yes, of course, it’s exciting and an adventure, but adventures are often adventures because they’re unpredictable. And unpredictable is also terrifying. I’m sure Frodo had his reservations about taking the ring to Mt Doom. He wasn’t exactly skipping the whole way there. I am willing to bet, Frodo was wishing for a magic button. And he had Gandalf.
Fortunately, I have Chris who is a wizard in many ways with methodologies and keeping things moving. I even have a ring. Let’s hope orcs aren’t on the way.
‘You can never go home again’
It’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times before, but not something I ever took the time to truly consider. Growing up, I didn’t have a fixed home, so I didn’t really understand. I’m not sure when Plymouth became ‘home’. I’ve lived in many places throughout the city – seven in total – and so no individual spot has been the bases of my life, but the city itself has been the constant. I have come to know it intimately. But even in the decade I have been part of it, the city has been in a state of constant change.
Shops have closed, people have moved to other towns in other counties, and the building which used to house my little studio flat, the place where this very blog began, was demolished to make room for a more modern, taller establishment. My friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about having out-grown one of our old haunts, a shabby, quirky student favorite on the outskirts of the city centre where we once enjoyed pints of tea, greasy cheese based meals and monster size milkshakes. This was before we enjoyed a meal at another of our old favourites, which was redesigned some years ago when new ownership took over. There’s a blog post somewhere in the records where we are drinking tea there.
Everything is in a constant flux, shifting and altering with the stream of time. Nothing can ever be the same for very long. I’ve been present for all these changes, and in a sense I’ve been part of them. The girl who started this blog is not the same girl who writes it now. I got somewhat older, arguably wiser, I moved onward with the city. And now I am tasked with the step of moving away from it, knowing it will continue to bustle on.
The memories I have gathered here will join the box in my mind, they will be as they are, unchangeable, but the places they occurred will continue to be sold, occupied by others, closed, demolished, come under new management or become something else. It is the inevitability of all things, all places at all times. But the saying is right. I can never go home again. It won’t be be there anymore.
So, for a little while, I will be without a home, save my own skin. Then will begin the task of creating a new home. Before all that comes leaving, and endings, and changing of chapters. That’s another popular phrase – it’s not the end of the book, simply the beginning of a new chapter. But the pages have yet to be turned, the content unfolded, as yet unwritten. And soon, Plymouth will be a once upon a time – something I tell my children, show them perhaps on a holiday south to see the sea. ‘This is where I did this,’ I will say, ‘And that happened to me there. This was once a that.’ I’ll draw the Polaroids from the box and share them briefly, looking back on today now, when everything was so uncertain.
So, now commences the ending before the beginning; the final visits to favourite places, fond farewells to companions. Peering back in the rear-view mirror of a life passing out of time into memory.
For now I am simply afraid and excited about the adventure to come.
The world has been hinting at the beginnings of change recently.
I suppose it all began when I became engaged* a few weeks ago now. For the first few weeks after Chris asked me to marry him, I was on the ceiling with joy. In the celebratory period post receiving the big diamond there’s a lot of joy inducing events. Telling your parents**, getting messages and cards, eating self-declared ‘hey-we’re-enegaged-red-velvet-because-red-is-for-love’ cake***. Seriously, it’s an amazing feeling. Then reality decided it was time to halt the fun.
I’m not sure if this happens to all brides-to-be post engagement, as I don’t have a frame of reference, but if it does no body warned me about it. It happened to me though. I caught sight of myself in the mirror while pondering my future wedding, and quite suddenly, I was hit by the realisation that I was going to be someone’s wife. I have named this phenomenon ‘the post proposal kick in the adult’.
For the first time, getting married wasn’t a abstract idea I had dreamed up for future, grown-up Alice. I was/am grown-up Alice. Realising that, made me feel as though I should be a big strong adult. Which I am not^. In many, many ways, I’m not even close. I have small successes; I fill in my tax return and pay those taxes on time, I manage to hoover once a week, and I don’t eat ice-cream for every meal, every day, which believe it or not was something I actually thought I would do when I was four. But, I’m not an adult in the sense I hoped I would be by now.
Adults are supposed to know what they’re doing. Adults are supposed to have a clue about what they really want to do with their lives. Adults are supposed to have made significant life achievements based on clear, concise goals. If you’re keeping score, I am none for three.
It was only after all those adult successes that I was meant to bump into the love of my life and have him ask to marry me. I was supposed to beguile him with stories about how my clear, concise goals, led me to my true purpose in life. Instead, I managed to somehow beguile him with TV show and video game references, and endless rants about books. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful he did bump into me when he did, but part of me feels like I cheated. I skipped a few stages of being an adult.
Now, I find myself wondering what I do want from life. My clear, concise goals are muddy and haphazard at best.
Then life really started to kick some hints into me. Soon after my engagement, I was hurt by a friend – and I have no idea how to deal with it. Yep. I, a grown ass woman of nearly 28^^, is unsure how to tell a friend she really hurt me with something she did. That’s another loss in the adult. For those keeping score, I’m none for four. But I’m getting off-topic. I’ll keep you posted on the friend-hurt-me scenario. Let’s continue.
My job is winding down to probable closure in the next few months. Normally, that would be terrifying, especially for me, an anxiety-ridden, over-analyzing, crazy woman. I can get myself half-crazed about the consequences of not paying a bill on time, usually the idea of not having a job^^^ freaks me out. I’ve lived on bread-lines even with employment, in tiny rooms with nothing but cheap cans of soup and loving donations for food. This should, by the laws of nature, scare me. Except it doesn’t. Not at all.
So much has changed in my life over the past few years; I moved twice, I met Chris, I somehow duped him into falling in love with me, I left jobs, I had no job, I got another job, I’ve been on many miles of trips. I blinked and being an adult just happened without much input from me.
And I have had some incredible experiences; stories I’m glad I’ll be able to tell for years to come^*. Now, though, I feel like I should be taking life by the reigns a little more, actively discovering what I want, aiming for dreams, making big decisions, maybe even, big changes. Because, being an adult is nearly as terrifying as it used to be. I’ve been adulting for many years without much effort, and even when I’ve screwed up spectacularly, I’ve always landed on my feet. Albeit my landing is often wobbly, but I’ve conquered a lot of difficulties and lived to tell the tale.
I’m beginning to think being an adult is more about bravery and faith. Bravery enough to make important choices even though life is fraught with unpredictability, and faith enough to know that even if the walls cave in around you, somehow you’ll come through alright in the end. Maybe it’s just time for me to start making brave choices rather than just letting choices find me.
Even is that means starting again somewhere. Even if that means no job security and little pay. Even if that means giving up what you’ve become accustomed to in the pursuit of something desired but unlikely. It’s about deciding to take the next step in life before you have to, before you need to, just because you want to, even though it might change everything, even though it might unwind through your fingers like a pulled thread.
I think it’s time I got brave enough to make some big decisions for myself and for our future together. Brave enough to suggest moving onward into uncertainty. Maybe then I’ll feel adult enough to be a married lady, to be a wife.
Or maybe I won’t. There are no guarantees*^.
*Am I using this as an excuse to casually slip in that I’m engaged? Yes, but it does fit in with the story. I’m not proud… but I am engaged. Hey, look, just did it again. This might continue for the next few posts. Just think about how bad it will be when I actually get married.
**Who, incidentally, already knew what was coming, because Chris followed the rules of asking for my hand by requesting my father’s permission before-hand. At Easter apparently. Okay… apparently a lot of these notes are going to be I’m engaged related, but I promise the point of the post is not that I am engaged. Which I am. Engaged. …. I’ll try to stop.
***Patent pending. Believe it or not, when we were picking the cake, Chris actually said “red velvet is red, and red is for love”. Thus the name was coined.
^But I am engaged. Sorry, last one.
^^^Sidenote: The prospect of not having a job has happened three times in my life, including this one. The first time I had already picked the box I was going to live in on Plymouth’s cold, rain-soaked streets. I was going to befriend a raccoon and go on happy-go-lucky adventures as a love-able street urchin, only older. …. Maybe I should count that as a missed opportunity.Sometimes I wonder where Target-Tail the raccoon is without me. I hope he’s happy.
^*Many of which I still haven’t told my hypothetical audience. Hey! There’s an idea. I could regale you guys with stories from my not-blogging stuff I should blog days. Wouldn’t that be fun? … Guys? Or I’ll just save it for the future kids. Whatever.
*^ Right Rinoa? Do all my FF peeps remember that one? Obscure video game references make me seem so much more adult, no?