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This journal has now closed. You can find me at KathleenJowitt.com.
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Currently reading

A Sudden Wild Magic (Diana Wynne Jones) - which my father-in-law lent me ages ago and which I've only just got round to reading. I do like Diana Wynne Jones - this, though it couldn't be taken for anything but a book for adults, has the same matter-of-fact clarity as her children's books. Lovely.

Things Can Only Get Better (John O'Farrell) - subtitled '[number I forget] miserable years in the life of a Labour supporter' - very funny, very well-observed. I have no doubt I shall be passing it round such of my colleagues as haven't already read it.

Recently finished

Thief of Time (Terry Pratchett) - one of my favourites; I particularly like Susan in this.

Nana (Émile Zola) - this is a bloody good novel once it gets going, though I am of course side-eyeing the sexual politics, or, rather, the assumptions behind them. I am not entirely convinced by Nana herself. All that said, I want to read more Zola.

Up next

Mr Loverman (I forget the name of the author) - work book club choice.

Hogwarts, Narnia, and Middle Earth: Places upon a time (Rob Smith) - sent to me by a mystery admirer (seriously, I have no idea who could have sent this, and am mildly creeped out).

Other media

The 2012 Les Misérables film, over two nights, and with much singing along. We came to the conclusion that Russell Crowe is actually no worse a singer than Hugh Jackman, judged on purely technical grounds, but that where he fails is the inclusion of any expression into his voice. I dislike the convention, prevalent in musicals, to render certain notes as a whisper or a yell, but Crowe takes things rather too far in the other direction.
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The trees outside my window are so very green,
leaves bright (the sun flows through their veins),
the buses very red, their white roofs
(did you know their roofs were white?)
zig-zag zig-zag until the lights,
their secret numbers only secret
from the ground. Up here they’re bold and black;
it’s changed, and I, I bounce, I bounce, I bounce,
I bounce back faster now, I bounce
back higher now; I go up
(whoomph) and everything’s
on fire; this world
is good to live in; this world
has people in who make it
worth living in this world
if only for the grace
of living in the same world
as they do, and besides
the trees are so very green.
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A summary of what I was trying to say yesterday (hat tip to The Fluent Self for the vocabulary):

My stuff is my responsibility

Their stuff is their responsibility

Depression = my stuff

My distress caused by my depression = my stuff

Their distress upon perceiving my distress = their stuff

Their desire that I not be in distress = their stuff

Their feeling that they should help me = their stuff

Their distress about not being able to help me = their stuff

Their distress that I don’t trust them to help me = hell of a lot of their stuff

And I resent having to deal with their stuff on top of my own stuff.

Don’t get me wrong: I know all about what that feels like. There is nothing like feeling that you’re not helping to make you feel like you’re a terrible person. But at the same time, dumping one’s own distress onto a person who already has plenty of distress is not a helpful thing to do.

That said,

My feeling guilty about their distress about not being able to help me = my stuff

It just seems like a pity that we have to get that far, you know?

Switching internet dialects for a moment, I’m not being depressed at people. I’m not asking for help. If I do need help, I will ask for it explicitly, and I will ask the person I deem most able and trustworthy to supply that particular help at that particular time. For example, earlier this week I was at a restaurant and I could not voice a preference as to what I wanted to eat. I asked my husband to order for me. This worked because a) he knows what I like and don’t like; and b) he didn’t pre-empt me.

Admittedly, it wouldn’t have worked a year ago, because I wouldn’t have had the gumption to admit that I was having trouble with the choice before me, wouldn’t have let myself have a preference (apart, perhaps, from ‘cheapest thing on the menu’), and, left to myself, would have gone hungry. But that’s my stuff, and I’ve been working on it.

‘How can I help?’ people ask, and there isn’t necessarily an answer they’ll like. However, there have been things that helped (me, specifically me, at specific times and places), and I find myself wanting to list them, with the extremely firmly stated caveat that they may not work for any given person, and they couldn’t possibly work for everybody. Some of them won’t even work for me any more, because I’m not the same person I was a year ago.

What helped? What helped me?

1. Knowing that I was not the only one. And I mean really knowing – not in the abstract sense. This is why, even if I didn’t know it was helpful for me, I would fight for the right to meltdown in public. It’s all very well knowing that one in three has some sort of mental health problem, but there’s nothing like seeing your bright, competent, cheerful friend in tears over a perfectly simple pizza menu* to make you realise that other people don't have it together, either.

Everybody going round pretending that everything is peachy doesn’t help anyone. I can’t keep the mask up all the time and I don’t see why I should bloody well have to.

And the other thing about knowing that you’re not the only one is that you also know that there is someone who will get it, to whom you don’t have to explain in words of one syllable that yes, usually you can cope just fine with ordering pizza but at the moment the choice between anchovies and peppers has turned into a philosophical quandary and whatever you choose will be WRONG and you’re a terrible person and what if the peppers were air-freighted and are anchovies sustainable and who the hell do you think you are being in this restaurant in the first place did you know you could feed a family of four for a week on what you’re about to spend in here? And they will understand this because their brain wouldn’t let them brush their hair this morning, but they will also be capable of getting the pizza.

2. Relatedly, knowing that it is normal to not be OK all the time. And that it is OK to let yourself not be OK. This actually is one that I wish everybody knew. Sometimes, just admitting that things actually are horrible is enough to make them not horrible again. Sometimes they keep being horrible, but at least I don’t have to waste all that energy pretending they’re not.

3. Forming a contingency plan. If it should so happen that I should walk into a pizza restaurant and find myself in such a state that I cannot express a preference, then I will order a Hawaiian pizza, because it is more interesting than Margherita and it contains nothing I actively dislike. (For example. And low blood sugar really doesn’t help.)

4. [content note: discussion of suicide – in the abstract, which is rather the point] Read more... )

5. A code. Some shorthand that conveys to my nearest and dearest that I’m feeling awful, without my having to go into detail about how and why I am feeling awful. ‘Brain slug infestation’. ‘A bit down’. ‘Gone mad again’. And knowing they’ll accept that and leave it.

6. Having someone around who’ll tell the well-intentioned and infuriating to back the hell off.

7. Walking. Gets me out of my head and into my body.

8. The internet. I am much more articulate in writing than I am in speech, and I can work things through much better that way. (Sometimes I’ll write a post and direct my husband to go and read it, either as a precursor to our discussing the issue, or in place of it.) And since the internet is full of people who also seem to work that way, many of whom also get it, it is an excellent source of support. Even if most of the time we just talk about Doctor Who.

* it wasn’t actually pizza. And I am mixing up me and everyone else here. But I am not wanting to tell the real story at this point, so.

Don't Ask

Sep. 3rd, 2015 08:13 pm
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One of my colleagues has been talking about me.

'Kathleen's going through a bit of a rough patch. Let her alone.'

'But maybe I can do something -'

'No. Leave her alone.'

'But I don't want her thinking that she's upset me...'

'Doesn't matter. Leave her alone.'

And so on. It is the best thing that anyone has ever done to help with my depression.

‘But I was just going to ask her if she was OK!’

'Don't. No, seriously, don't ask.'

‘Are you OK?’ is a terrible question. At least, it is a terrible question to ask me, and people whose brains work like my brain does.

(There are probably people for whom it is not a terrible question. Depression works differently for different people. This is how it works for me, which is why I am writing this.)

'Are you OK?'

There are various possible answers.

‘Yes, I’m fine.’ This is usually the easiest option. It is a lie. Lying is tiring, particularly when you have to keep doing it.

What I really mean is, ‘No, I’m not OK, but I do not want to talk about it.’ Or, possibly, ‘No, I’m not OK, but I do not want to talk to you about it.’

It can backfire, particularly if it’s obvious that you’re not OK. ‘Yes, I’m fine, I just happen to be crying. Onions. That’s what it is. Onions. Don’t worry.’

Some people will see through that. They will say things like, ‘Oh, but you’re clearly not OK. Tell me what the matter is!’

I dislike dealing with these people. I do not want to tell them what the matter is. I probably do not even want to tell my closest friends what the matter is. I don’t even know myself what the matter is. These people are not my closest friends. They only want to help. But they can’t help, and I would just like them to accept that and go away.

Some people will see through both layers. They will see that I am not OK, and they will also see that I do not want to talk about it. They will then drop the subject. I like these people. The only way they could improve upon this would be to have not asked the question in the first place.

Alternatively, there is the Typical British Understatement, gently implying that things aren’t very good, but no, you don’t really want to talk about it. ‘Oh, you know, mustn’t grumble.’ ‘Could be worse.’ ‘Surviving.’ ‘Don’t ask.’

This can work. In my family, for example, 'X is a bit down' is widely understood to mean 'X is finding it difficult to get out of bed without crying, and this is why they haven't phoned for weeks'. But it relies very much upon everybody knowing the code.

The trouble is, the people who only want to help interpret understatement as an invitation to delve deeper. ‘Don’t ask,’ you say, and you mean it, but they ask. ‘Surviving,’ you say. ‘Only surviving?’ And then you have to go into the whole bloody thing.

Or there’s the plain truth. ‘I am feeling absolutely rubbish. My mind is working at the speed that stalactites form, and I am convinced that everybody hates me.’

And people just don’t know what to say to that. Why should they? I don’t have anything particularly useful to say about it myself. They want to make things better. So do I. But they can’t. And it is a terrible truth to have to tell them.

I am an introvert. This does not necessarily mean that I’m shy (though sometimes I am) or that I’m anti-social (though sometimes I just can’t face it). All it means is that interactions cost me energy.

In the ordinary way, this isn't a problem. I can keep talking to someone for twenty minutes or so and feel no ill-effects, the same way that I can keep cycling for twenty minutes or so. Depression knocks that out. Depression kills the auto-pilot. This morning, cycling to the station, I found I was getting slower and slower. I had forgotten to pedal. I have to think about every pedal stroke.

Same with talking. The automatic processes that go into a conversation, which usually happen without thinking, reveal themselves in all their complexity, and have to be done manually. Where in the ordinary way I might say 'Good night - hope you enjoy your day off!' without thinking, today I had to a) remind myself that the appropriate thing to do when one leaves the office is to wish one's colleagues good night; b) remember that it is Thursday; c) deduce that tomorrow therefore must be Friday; d) guess that it's therefore probably someone's day off; e) remember who has Fridays off; f) say 'Good night - enjoy your day off!'.

Extrapolate the corresponding effort required to answer the question 'Are you OK?'

Talking is an effort. Talking about how broken my brain is can be impossible. And yet people will not stop asking.

This is why I hate well-intentioned mental health campaigns that encourage people to ask other people how they are. I have no desire to disclose the parlous state of my mind to a complete stranger or to someone else’s manager. Judging by the internet-wide reaction to the Samaritans Radar initiative, I don’t think I’m the only one.

Samaritans Radar wasn’t the only one, either. It was the most egregious, largely because of the way it tried to use the internet, but there are plenty of others. There are two posters pinned up in the staff kitchen at this very moment, encouraging people to ask colleagues how they are. I might vandalise them. The posters, not the colleagues. Probably.

And if colleagues are bad, then strangers are worse. I have a thing about loud or repetitive noises. On a good day they don’t bother me. On a bad day I want to kill people who use the hand dryers in public lavatories. I remember one day last year when things had got particularly bad, and the sound of footsteps on gravel was too much for me. I couldn’t deal with it at all. This was a problem, because you have to cross a lot of gravel to get to the bike racks at Cambridge station. And it was rush hour, so I wasn’t the only person going CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH across the gravel, there were lots of people doing it, and I had no control over it, and no control over the noise, and it made me cry. So there I was, hiding behind a tangled stack of other people’s bikes, howling into my scarf, and thinking, well, at least that godawful Time To Talk thing was yesterday, so nobody feels obliged to ask if I’m OK.

I dread it. It’s the worst thing about crying in public. I have given up caring what people think about me, but I really can’t deal with their talking to me. They want to hellllllp. Bully for them, but the thing is, it won’t actually help. It will actively make things worse for me, and I resent having to have things made worse for me just so some random can feel better about themselves. The story of the heroic intervention is widespread and, at least in my case, bullshit.

People want to be that one person whose action made a difference, and they don’t like accepting the fact that actually there isn't a difference to make, or that they're not the person to make it.

It is good to know that people care, yes. And it is true that a depressed brain will make up all sorts of ridiculous stories about how people don’t care. But people constantly going out of their way to show me that they care can be exhausting and guilt-inducing. Courtesy costs nothing, they say, but that's not true. Courtesy is a currency in which I am currently bankrupt, and every thank you I have to say, every response to a Facebook u ok hun, pushes me deeper into the red.

When I come out the other side - and I will; I always have before - I will be thankful for my friends, and I will recognise the earnest enquiries for the acts of love that they represent. But at the moment the friends who are helping me the most are the ones who understand that actually what I need to do tonight is to stay in bed and reread Agatha Christie novels while they bring me a slice of cake home from the party I was too much of a state to go to, the ones who are gamely pretending that nothing is wrong, the ones who accept my laconic explanation 'brain slugs' without question, the ones who let me cry on them without trying to make it better.
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Currently reading

Girl Friday (Jane Green) - has the rudiments of an interesting plot, but is so awkwardly written (present tense, but with a flashback every other paragraph, so the tense shifts are dizzying) that I'm reduced to skimming.

Thief of Time (Terry Pratchett) - History Monks, yay.

Frog Music (Emma Donoghue) - though, having been away, I'm not sure I'm any further forward on it than I was last time. This is the disadvantage of having really nice copies of books: one can't take them anywhere, so only reads them in a quiet hour at home.

Three Times Table (Sara Maitland) - though I may give up on it; it turns out to be magical realism, which is not so much my thing.

Recently finished

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls) - an exception to my no miserylit rule. I got half way through on the strength of the writing, which is very good, and then remembered why I have a no miserylit rule.

Towards Zero and Sad Cypress (Agatha Christie) - I was in need of some comfort reading, and these served very well. As is often the case with my Christie rereads, I remembered whodunnit and whytheydunnit, and most of the twist, but the mechanics of the murder had escaped me in each case.

Up next

Not sure. Possibly Sculptor's Daughter (Tove Jansson).


Credentials - R. V. Bailey. Simply gorgeous.
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You have always been the brightest star in my sky, your calm
unfading glow steady against my erratic dance,
and only lost at last
in the quiet flood, the brighter tide of dawn.
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I love the power of music to lift the spirits. I head to the stereo and put on an entire Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Or I would, if the CD player on my stereo still worked. The radio is a crackly mess, and overall the thing is now reduced to a tape player, and I don't possess any tapes.

But that's by the by. Gilbert and Sullivan, now. Iolanthe, for preference. The trio in Act II that is all proverbs and little twiddly flourishes, and its reprise in the finale that's all puns. Even the introduction (dum-diddle-dee, dum-diddle-dee, dum pum pum dum pum pum) makes me smile.

In fact, it tends to be tiny little phrases that get me. That triumphant galumph down the scale in I feel fine ('she's tell-ing all the world'), or the sequence of two-steps-forward-one-step-back fourths in O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion ('lift up... thy voice... with strength...'). I will take a whole song to my heart for the sake of a couple of bars. And why not, when they hold such joy within them?
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Wednesday lunchtime, and a little group gathered to eat in the canteen. I made my excuses, deliberately vague. Going out. Didn't say where.

They probably knew, but they didn't know. I didn't, not really.

A rendez-vous. Meeting a new lover. Or, if you prefer, a meal with an old friend. Both. Neither. More.

I know a place. Secluded, set apart up a few broad stone steps. The door closed, and noise of the traffic melted away. A siren pierced the quiet, but it didn't disturb us.

Half an hour, that's all we had. And then I left. (Leaving, but not parting, not alone, you come with me, you are part of me, I am part of you). The traffic stopped for me. How could it do otherwise? Dashing back across the road, trailing sparks behind me. Sneaking in through the foyer, both relieved and disappointed that the receptionist failed to look up and see my shining face. For in that moment I felt luminous.
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I sat outside and told my secrets to the moon.

This was her reply:

My love, you think I didn't know? You have no secrets from me.

That's not fair, I said. What was the point of talking to you?

She looked up into the sky above her and grinned. Well, she said, at least you know them yourself now.
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I pull back the curtain and I see the ruled-out Venetian blind. Blurred white lines. The light gets in, but not much else. A sliver of damp drive, a laurel leaf or two. There's nothing much to see, really.

Never mind the curtains. What about the blinds? I love being the first one in the office. Last night the sun will have sunk low enough to shine directly into the eyes of my colleagues who linger until six or seven, and they will have shut the blinds.

When I raise the blinds the next morning the light washes in, and I, four floors up, have the trees at my feet. Resilient London planes, stolidly breathing in all the foul fumes of the Euston Road, spread a lush green carpet out before me. A church spire rises from the mass of leaves as if it were a freestanding pyramid.

I look across to the other office blocks (nobody there, yet), down on the roofs of the other buildings. Way down, below the trees, the buses line up in neat queues and swing around the corner each in turn. Buses aren't just red, seen from up here. I see their white roofs and their fleet numbers writ large across them. Pedestrians swim in and out of the green canopy, some swift and purposeful, some trailing unwieldy suitcases behind them.

I was one of them, only a little while ago. Now I've gone inside, and climbed four flights of stairs, and pulled up the blinds, and have found myself in a different city.
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There is something about twilight that makes me feel nostalgic.

Perhaps it's those old parlour songs. Just a song at twilight/When the lights are low/And the flickering shadows/softly come and go... Perversely, it reminds me of a childhood joke book. What's a clown's favourite song? Jester song at twilight... Or In the gloaming, oh, my darling, when the lights are dim and low... We sang that one in my very first church choir, when I was eight or nine, far too young to be singing will you think of me and love me/as you did once long ago? I enjoyed it, all the same. I've always liked melodrama, and a comfortable, melancholy nostalgia. There's no real regret to it; it's a musical convention that goes along with the apassionata and the con molto sentimento. Loves are always lost, the singer is always mourning the days gone by. Even the Lost Chord flooded the crimson twilight. The Victorians loved the twilight, and I have an unashamed fondness for the Victorians.

Perhaps it's Anne of Green Gables. Nobody wrote twilight like L. M. Montgomery, and that's part of my dreamy, romantic adolescence. Perhaps it's simply that twilight was my own time. School done, supper done, and just enough time before bed to go and hide in the garden and enjoy the cool. Perhaps twilight has been nostalgic ever since God went walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Perhaps twilight has always told us of what we've lost, and has always reassured us that we are, none the less, safe without it. Night is falling, but you see the stars, and the lights in the windows?

This is the right time of year to enjoy twilight. It's still warm enough to sit outside as darkness falls, and darkness falls early enough to want to sit out there in the deepening blue, looking for the first star and the delicate nail-clipping moon. A week from now, my in-laws will be lighting the candles on the balcony and we'll be sitting out and quietly catching up with the family news - and the news of the town, because they've lived in the same place for long enough that my husband will have been at school with the person who was on the tills at Tesco today, who said had we heard that...? (I always feel slightly envious of that. It's a long, long time since I saw any of my first choir.) And old stories will be told, and new ones. It is good to be together when night falls.

Twilight, and evening bell, and after that the dark...
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I could see a light in the distance but I wasn't sure if I could make it that far.

Or perhaps that's an overstatement. I knew that there was a light in the distance. Not even that. I trusted that there was a light. I thought that once, perhaps, I had seen the light, once, long ago, before the fog closed in around me. I kept stumbling on towards the place where I thought the light might be. It was, perhaps, slightly less dark in front of me than it was behind me. If I considered that for too long I became uncertain.

Anyway, I had to keep on in the direction of the light, and hope that I was indeed heading in that direction. The alternative was unthinkable: to sit down, and wait for the fog to lift, knowing very well that I didn't believe that it ever would.

The fog had been around me so long that I'd forgotten that it wasn't a permanent feature of the landscape. I hadn't just forgotten what the light looked like; I had forgotten about the trees and the grass and the sea. All I could see was the sodden ground under my feet. One step, and one step, and one step, and perhaps one day the fog would lift, or I'd reach the light.

I wasn't sure if I could make it that far. I had no idea how far I had to go.
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Currently reading

Hotel New Hampshire (John Irving) - which is rather disturbing and probably requires warnings for pretty much everything, but then I've seen the film; I knew it was going to be disturbing. It is also really quite funny.

Picked up Frog Music (Emma Donoghue) again - it's very good, but extremely depressing and shows no signs of becoming less so.

I keep forgetting to mention [personal profile] the_comfortable_courtesan, which is a reliable delight. I am particularly fond of Mr and Mrs F-.

Recently finished

Beware of the Feast (Peter Danckwerts) - history of Robert Jowitt & Sons, which I read more for family gossip than for insight into the wool trade. Some family stories seem to have been a little distorted - the Jowitts were, for example, rocking the Quaker boat a good couple of generations before they actually disembarked from it, and honest doctrinal difference seems to have had as much to do with their conversion to the Church of England as a desire to conform. I'm rather enjoying picturing them among Madame C's milieu (I think they would have known the F-s professionally at the very least) though no doubt they would be horrified at the thought... But perhaps not: notwithstanding the title, there were plenty of black sheep in the Jowitt wool family.

Whispers Underground (Ben Aaronovitch) - I read these not so much for the plots (not that they're bad plots!) as for Peter Grant's infodumps. I don't usually enjoy infodumps, but these are the exception to the rule.

Seeking Sabbath (David Shepherd) - an account of the author's attempt to refrain from work every Sunday for six months, with light spiritual reflections attached. Worth reading, though rather superficial.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (Winifred Watson) - rather charming, apart from the casual racism and anti-Semitism in the middle. I did enjoy the sense of female solidarity. Also very good on the lack of self-confidence induced by casual horrible employment.

Up next

Not sure. I have been gazing idly at the bookcases and not finding anything much take my fancy.

Other media

BBC quiz shows, mostly. I have just watched a programme about orphaned jaguars on BBC4.
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So I had a conversation with my shadow. Couldn't put it off any longer. I turned to face her, felt the sun on the back of my neck, said, 'So how come you're following me?'

'Oh, my dear,' she said, 'it's all down to you. I live for you; you must know that.'

I looked at her, lolling against the wall like some insolent chit, and I said, 'We're only joined at the feet, you know.'

'Not always,' she said, and I swear she'd have winked, if only I could have seen her eyes.

But I won't be made to blush like some Victorian miss by my own shadow, and so I agreed. 'Not always.' And sat down, to prove my point. It did very odd things to her legs, and her neck bent at right angles when she got to the wall, but she didn't seem to mind. 'Talk to me,' I said.

'I belong to you,' she said. 'Where you go, I follow.'

'You stretch,' I said, 'and you shrink. You're one,' I said, 'or you're many. You're sharp or you're fuzzy.'

'Ah, my dear,' she said, 'that all depends on you. If you go out in the morning I'm tall, and if you stand between two lamps then I'm twins.'

'You come out in the sun,' I said, 'and in the darkness you're not there at all. How can I trust you?'

'The darkness,' she said, 'belongs to me and all the shadows, and all the shadows are one. In the darkness,' she said, 'I'm no longer fixed to you, and I wrap around you like a blanket. In the darkness,' she said, 'you're quite safe.'

Sometimes I think that she's cleverer than I am. I don't quite see how that would work, but perhaps she knows.
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It was a gloomy day, or perhaps it just felt that way because I did.

In fact, I'm not sure that I could tell you what the weather was doing. It wasn't raining; I'd have heard that. But I didn't go outside. The curtains stayed shut. I moved from bed to computer to bed to television. Only very late in the evening I looked out of the window and saw the last rags of sunlight just brushing the tops of the leylandii.

I was refusing to feel guilty about it. I was ill. Not seriously ill; just the irritating sort of sore throat that made it hurt to talk much, and the lethargy that made venturing outside the house an exhausting prospect. I could have pushed myself, I knew, but I would have suffered for it later. I'd done that through the working week, taken one sick day and ignored two others I knew I needed. Better a day of utter boredom than months of never quite being well, of always being tired.

This had happened the year before, you see. I'd gone away for a few days and been ill when I came back. And somehow I'd never got better, and before I knew it summer had disappeared and autumn was hurrying after it, and Christmas was a burden I couldn't shoulder. A year before, and here it came all over again. I couldn't face it. I went to bed and shut the curtains.

You'd like to know, wouldn't you, what was the end of the story. You'd like to know what would have happened if I'd dragged my shoes on, gone out to buy a loaf of bread. You'd like to know if I recovered faster because I let myself rest, or if I would have just got over it if I'd only pushed myself.

So would I. I don't know. It was only yesterday.
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Let me tell you what I am afraid of.

I am afraid of getting shut in. I am afraid of shutting myself in. I am afraid of closing any door, for fear that it, and only it, will turn out to have been the right door to go through.

I am afraid of shutting the door and being left in the dark. It's possible, of course, that when the door shuts I will see the cracks of light around all the other doors, the ones I didn't even know existed. But what if I don't?

I am afraid of making the wrong choice, of knowing that it is my fault that things have gone wrong, because I made that choice.

For a long time I have known, in the part of my mind that knows facts, that staying in that cramped little room is as much a choice as walking through any of the doors, that if I stay there long enough the doors will open or close without my hand touching the handle, that I will have chosen without the privilege of choosing.

It is only this week that I have come to understand deep in my bones that the house is mine, and that I am free to choose walk through or to ignore any door I like. Even though I don't know what's on the other side...

I'm scared of what might be on the other side, yes. I think, though, that it might be slightly less terrifying than finding that all the doors have locked themselves while I was stuck in the middle of the room, thinking that I wasn't allowed to touch them.
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We begin our journey in the darkness. I am feeling... apprehensive.

There is so much out there that I don't know. Standing here with one foot on the threshold, about to step out into the unknown, I can't even begin to imagine what's coming. The person who will experience the adventures of a month, a year, a decade hence, knows more than I do, has dimensions of wisdom that are far beyond me.

It's a luminous, velvety, exciting darkness, full of unknown unknowns, and there's nothing you can do to stop it coming, so you might as well meet it with curiosity and the intention to enjoy it.

I only realised the other day that I have been stopping myself wanting things for most of my life, declining to express preferences out of politeness or fear or goodness knows what. Setting out on my fourth decade with permission to make choices based on what I actually want... now there's an adventure. I'm still in the dark as to what I want.

And then there's the actual, literal, darkness. It's out there already. I had to turn my bike lights on this morning. It's been a wet, grey, day, and it's a dark, dank evening. No moon, and no chance of seeing it even if there were one. Autumn is here already, I think.

I am one of those apparently rare people who prefers Greenwich Mean Time to British Summer Time. My mood is so tied to the sunlight that when the mornings become dark I find the arguments for getting out of bed less and less convincing. As the nights lengthen I look forward to that magical Sunday when the clocks go back and the morning is suddenly light again. It doesn't last long - a fortnight, perhaps, before the darkness crawls back in - but it's enough; it keeps me hanging on until the solstice, when I can tell myself that things are going to get better.

There's a petition going around Facebook at the moment asking for permanent British Summer Time. It's a genuinely terrifying prospect. I would lose the whole winter.

I am scared of the dark. I am scared of the dark that's coming. The dark that's already here is less intimidating, but more awesome.
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
Currently reading

Beware of the Feast: the history of Robt. Jowitt & Sons (Peter Danckwerts) - Robt. Jowitt & Sons being the family firm, which is now pretty much defunct (nothing to do with me, guv; my branch of the family gave up direct involvement round about my grandfather's generation, so far as I can make out). Aside from personal connections, it's interesting as a case study of the Yorkshire wool trade, and also for the insight into schisms in the Society of Friends in the early nineteenth century. (I keep meaning to obtain and read Portrait in Grey.)

Recently finished

Fat is a Feminist Issue (Susie Orbach) - doesn't quite speak to where I am, and made me feel vaguely uncomfortable for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Possibly it's just that the discourse around fat has moved on since it was published, or that the hybrid of theory and self-help just doesn't work.

Up next

Possibly something else worthy. Possibly Whispers Underground (Ben Aaronovitch).

Other media

I went to Cambridge Folk Festival, entirely to see Joan Baez. She was fantastic, as were Peggy Seeger, Rhiannon Giddens, and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
I've been out walking (hope to get a write-up on here before too long) and partying most of the last week, so reading hasn't been happening. Hence a rather sparse update:

Currently reading


Recently finished

The Paying Guests (Sarah Waters) - good, but felt longer than it needed to be. I'm not entirely sure where I'd have cut things, beyond the more tedious legal details in the third part, but, while it never exactly dragged, it always seemed to be taking longer to get to where it was clearly going than seemed strictly necessary. It got properly tense towards the end, though.

Didn't finish, but dipped into The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle), which happened to be on the bookshelf at the second B & B I stayed at, and which was exactly what I needed after a long, hot day on the road.

Slow Time (Waverly Fitzgerald) - like The Artist's Way, but exploring relationships with time. Read through without doing any of the exercises - I shall probably start them some time this week. A bit eye-rolly in places, but written in such a way as to give permission to eye-roll.

Up next

Whatever comes next in Discworld, I think.


Counting God at every gate: prayers for pilgrims (ed. Brendan O'Malley) in this, since much of it was poetry - a lovely book to dip into at the side of the road.

Other media

Enjoyed the first episode of Life in Squares on Monday. I know just enough about the Bloomsbury set to find it interesting, and not enough to be annoyed by any inaccuracies.


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Kathleen Jowitt

October 2015



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