I’m sitting in a bit of my home that didn’t exist this time last year, watching a sunset of winter colours. This building has spent the year in transition from a functional shelter to the family home I’ve never quite dared to dream about. Two teenagers’ bedrooms huddle upstairs, empty at this moment. My partner puts his Mum on speakerphone, telling us about her latest visit to his Dad in hospital. This house crackles with life, love, K-Pop and heated conversations.
Over the last two weeks of December I found it useful to acknowledge that I’ve found this year difficult. It’s hard for me to really sit and look that in the face. I feel burned-out. Some days I’ve felt hollow and sure only that I will drag myself through the day, without the certainty of why it’s important I do so.
At the same time when I stop and flip through my cherished memories of the year I’m amazed at the treasure trove I’ve amassed. I make a conscious effort to do so, to avoid losing the moments I’ve worked hard for and the gifts of connection with beloved people. That doesn’t stop me feeling more than a little bruised by my course through the year.
Home, hearth, kin
Transition, I realise, has been a big theme in my 2019. It was year 2 of living with a long term partner, only the second time in my life I’ve been in that situation. 2019 has seen me redefine my shape and boundaries. I’ve chosen family life as an integral part of not only who I am, but also my safest living spaces.
With some mental gymnastics, I now think of myself as a parent. Parenting teenagers is sometimes everything, sometimes contracts to a small, folded bundle. Which then edges unnoticed into unexpected areas of my life. I’ve also learned both to offer more empathy for my partner’s coping strategies and to hold more tightly to my boundaries. It turns out the two are not mutually exclusive, in fact they operate well together.
It’s been a year of unscheduled uncertainty too and I’ve found that taxing. My partner has been unemployed for the last six months and ultimately decided to pursue retraining and a career change. In terms of his well-being and personal development this is great. In terms of being able to say “I’m shattered, let’s go out for dinner”, or even “let’s finish the flooring throughout the house” or, for me, “I want to feel financially secure” it’s less great.
But this isn’t only about me as part of a family unit. This place is an extension of the line of bricks I set down some time ago, ready to house my identity, my core sense of who I am. My home is about what nourishes and inspires me. I love watching the birds fossicking in the garden, from the sofa. This evening lilacs, greys and silhouetted trees mark the boundary, not only of my own cosy home, but the edge of town. I love the feeling of freedom I get when I look out from the back of the house over the river valley.
A grand and foolhardy project (or two)
I’ve managed to capitalise on my growing sense of freedom in my work life, too. This year I took on managing and running a 1 week summer school for 100 PhD students, along with an academic colleague. It involved working a LOT more hours than I expected AND it was hands down the best event I’ve ever been involved in organising. I met some wonderful and inspiring scientists and was treated to a hilarious thank you speech from my boss.
I’ve also given myself more freedom to make decisions in my freelance work, resulting in delivering the best marketing campaign of my career to date. This was thanks to the lovely, talented team I worked with and my own determination to do it properly, despite methodological resistance from the client.
Reading my poetry on stage
By the time I got to October I’d delivered both huge projects, was exhausted and found myself ill with a cold every weekend. I’d just pick up enough on Monday to struggle back to work, only to start feeling crap again on Thursday / Friday. In this month, I found out I’d won a prize for my poetry and I finally started thinking of myself as an actual poet.
A web of chance encounters encouraged me to start writing poetry in earnest in 2019. A gift of a new translation of Gilgamesh last Christmas plus chats and unrelenting energy from Maf’j (a colleague at Brighon’s Fusebox) led to ideas for a VR experience around poetry and naming spells. An introduction to CommonPlace, a project led by Evelyn Wilson, and unerring encouragement from dear friend Neil Hopkins got me to dust off an old WIP and start writing new poetry. I entered a poetry competition run by BHAC, won 3rd prize and got to perform my poem.
Performing my poetry on stage for the first time, to 300 people is a thing I’ll never forget. Honestly, I was still shattered and ill but it cheered me up for a bit. I now give myself permission to think of myself as a creative and a poet. I take myself seriously with it.
Being a daughter as an adult
I had an amazing start to the year in Thailand, a trip motivated by a family wedding. I made some fantastic memories, especially of being with my Dad. My most cherished memory is the wedding procession in a village just outside Uttaradit where he and I marched in the grooms’s procession, hefting small banana trees in 35oC heat and full sun. You kinda had to be there for that one and most of my Dad’s side of the family were 🙂
I shifted my relationship with my Dad for the better during that trip and over the last year. I’m proud to say that in November he came to visit with my step-nieces and we all had a really lovely day. That’s only the 2nd time in 10 years he’s travelled south to visit me and it’s taken 2 years of patience and nudging to make it happen.
Over the last year I’ve learned to ask for and accept help from my partner (moral support is useful!) and to be kinder to myself about my frustrations with my relationship with each of my parents.
I started this blog post nearly three weeks ago, just as the year turned. As I reflected and wrote about the conflict of feeling anxious, exhausted and burned out while also knowing I’ve created so many brilliant experiences and connections in 2019, I’ve realised that it’s ok to hold both sides.
I can feel my own need to come up with a grand reveal and to present, with a flourish, my unified, beautiful and flawless ‘achievement’ or discovery for the year. I’m resisting it. My practice of the moment is be (more) okay with conflict, with disagreement and without having a unifying narrative.
Time out over Christmas gave me a chance to re-centre and rebalance.