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Fast forward a year...

Dear Kathleen,

Good work noticing you're ill and taking the day off work. 'Better than this time last week' doesn't necessarily mean 'better'. And don't worry about the butterfly attention span. Nobody is expecting you to focus on anything. You don't have to do everything today, and working on getting better is still work. Don't worry. You do get better at letting things sit and work on themselves.

Looking at you from here, I want to give you a map. I want to tell you, on the twenty-fifth of October, everything will suddenly become all right. Which is sort of true. You'll see. This is the least glamorous part of the whole journey. You don't know how far you're going because every day looks the same and you don't know yet how far you have to go. I promise you it's not as far as you think. And nothing needs quite so much work as you think it's going to.

Have a look back at how far you've come. Keep listening to Wenn ich mit Menschen- und mit Engleszungen redete. It is the most important letter in the world, and the music makes it more so.

Now. About being thirty. I've had a month to get used to the idea. It's pretty good. You want to know about the 'if not X, then Y' question, of course you do, and of course you know that I can't tell you which way that particular cat will jump. There are parts that I don't know myself, particularly about Y. What I can tell you is that, as with all your cat-on-a-fence situations, you will go forward bravely whichever side it jumps, always remembering that there was, and still is, the other side. You don't lose anyone you were, or might have been.

Keep loving. Keep trusting. It's worth getting your heart broken. You are going to meet the most fantastic people this year, and the ones you've already met are going to turn out to be even more fantastic than you thought. You are going to reclaim every part of your life, rewrite all the stories that scare you. The people and things who reappear from your past are not as scary as you thought them.

You are brave. You always have been. Remember that it is all right not to be brave sometimes, that you are allowed to say how difficult it is. Ask for help when you need it.

Much love, and see you here in a year,

Kathleen xx

P.S. No, I'm not completely grey. Try Thirty-five ;-)
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What if there was no need to wait until you’re “perfectly formed”?

It's almost exactly a month until my silversmithing course begins. This will be the first formal tuition I've ever received in any form of jewellery. And I've just finished the first piece of jewellery I ever made with intent to sell. Everything I know so far is self-taught: I know it from books and from copying existing work, and from working it out for myself. I'm doing it all backwards.

And there is a voice in the back of my mind asking me what the hell I think I'm doing, who am I to put myself there with all the skilled jewellers of the internet and have the audacity to charge money for this junk. There is a voice telling me that I'm treading on people's toes, that I'm being presumptuous, that I'll be laughed off the internet.

To which I reply patiently that it's not a zero-sum game; that if somebody wants to spend money on something I've made the chances are they'll spend money on something someone else has made, too; that my stuff is not at all bad, really; that I at least have a decent eye for colour.

I'm not ready to go yet. I have a whole host of practical things to put in place: stock to make, regulations to puzzle out, pictures to draw, photos to take, cards to print, all that sort of thing. And I still have a cold.

And I'm a little bit afraid that the moment I've got it all up and running I'll get fed up with the whole affair and chuck it. This is the thing. Once it's up and running I want to be spending about an hour a week keeping it ticking over, and more if and only if I feel like it. I want to be ready to go already. I also don't want to spend every spare minute between now and the go-live date, whenever that might be, frantically working through that list above and ending up hating it. I have no intention that this will ever become my full-time job. I have to trust it to not take over my life.

As for the other projects... well, I played the 'what if it's already good enough to go?' game a bit earlier in the year. I sent the mermaids out to break the surface at the end of June, and we're in the middle of the training montage - except it's a door-knocking montage here (the bit which in a movie would be the speeded-up shots of calendars flicking by and me knocking on all the doors in town until someone lets us in). I remind myself that the film The Way cut out pretty much all of the meseta, and that's a hundred kilometres that you have to walk through if you want to get to Santiago de Compostela. Piano lessons. That's going to be an interesting one. I have to give myself permission to not be very good, like I did with Pilates. And as for Parisienne en Ligne, it's done almost all of it itself. I just need to kick it into the right order and hand it over to the web host.
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How will you start the journey?

I've just got home from my grand tour of England. I went almost as far west as you can go without hitting Wales, I went south and stood in the English Channel, I went far into East Anglia. I caught up with school friends, work friends and family. I went back to 1996, 2013, 1994. I talked to my future self, and I saw my nine year old self on video. I spent all of one day, and most of two others, ill in bed.

And now I'm home, and I'm exhausted. I want to start everything, and I don't know where to start. Actually, that's not entirely true. I feel that I ought to be starting everything - and that is the oldest and most dangerous of all the monster phrases. It's not what I want at all. And there's no particular reason why starting should happen right now. So I shall give myself permission to begin exactly when I need to, and not before.

I want everything to happen, and I want everyone to leave me alone. I'm panicking a little bit, because I was too ill last week to do certain things I'd meant to (organise my thirtieth birthday party, for example) and it's nearly September.

I'm reminding myself that no reasonable person would expect me to come home from what has actually been quite a stressful, people-full, week and start working on the next thing. I'm reminding myself that I have left tomorrow (a bank holiday here in England) clear for a reason.

How will I start the journey? I don't know, yet. I'll go to bed tonight and sleep, trusting and believing that tomorrow morning the fog will have lifted and the path will be clear. Maybe I'll want to start everything tomorrow. Maybe I'll have the courage to phone my new doctor and get the sickness certificate I would need to reclaim the days of leave I lost to illness. Maybe some completely new and surprising solution will have emerged.

I'll start the journey rested, happy and confident. I'll start the journey when I'm ready, and I will trust that this will coincide with the journey being ready to start itself.
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What are the stories that limit you?

Stories? I could fill a book with them:

- Doing What You Love is all very well, but one can't expect to make a living that way.
- Doing anything other than What You Love is a betrayal of your artistic integrity
- expecting to make a living from any form of art is irresponsible and your family will starve
- of course it's impossible to write without drinking/smoking/coffee
- we are the weird ones and nobody understands us
- it doesn't matter how brilliant I am, nobody actually likes me
- if it doesn't get eaten, it's wasted
- it's my responsibility to compensate for other people's shortcomings and omissions

Some of these aren't even mine. I've never smoked, for example. In fact, most of these are now neutralised. Naming them allows me to analyse them, take them to pieces, see how far they are true and where they are not. I've got into the habit now of picking up any such sweeping statements I hear myself making, stopping myself, and thinking: what? why?

So much for the verbalised stories. What stories are lurking in my head that I don't even know are stories, that's another question. What convictions do I have that I haven't even thought to question? What could I do without those stories I don't even know about? Now, that could be fun.
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What do people thank you for? How do you surprise and delight other people? (Because you know the truth is that you do.)

Thank-yous. The expected sort (“I did this thing you asked me to!/Happy birthday!” “Thank you!”) and the surprising sort.

There is the sort of thanks that is surprising because the thing I am being thanked for is so ordinary, hasn't required any sort of special effort. “Thank you for sending that email.” I once worked with someone who had the habit of thanking and congratulating people effusively for doing the most trivial tasks, which, I found, rather lowered my respect for them – and myself. You are impressed that I sent a very simple and obvious email? You are clearly very easily impressed – or your expectations of me are insultingly low. Thanking me for doing the minimum I would expect of myself anyway. I fear I'm rather ungracious at accepting that sort of thanks, at least when it jars with my own estimation of the worth of or effort put into a particular task.

Then there's the sort of thanks that's acknowledging something that I didn't even know I'd done. While I've a pretty good idea of the worth of my own work, I'm constantly underestimating my own self: I'm always surprised to find that people like me, miss me, enjoy my company. For example, I don't think of myself as someone who smiles much, but a week after I'd left my old job I got an email from someone there with the subject 'Missing your smiling face!' That one made me smile – consciously – all day. My oldest friend – the friend I've known the longest, I mean – got married last week, and was tremendously grateful to me for coming. And, even though it felt absolutely right to have borrowed the in-laws' car and driven half-way across the country for this, and I'd have got my own driving license and driven further if it had come to it (and it was in a tipi, and was huge fun!), I did appreciate her gratitude.

I think there's something there about the difference between being grateful for who I am, and being grateful for what I do, and the different levels within 'what I do'.

I very much like it when I do something that I think is good, and so do other people. There's a story of mine out there on the internet (not under this name, so I'm not linking) which someone has tagged with the comment 'Empowering as fuck'. That pleases me, a lot. And, on the occasions where I have put a lot of work and somebody notices, I'm really happy. That doesn't have to be serious, either. Still on the topic of emails (I do do other things at work, I swear), I remember with great fondness a comment something like “I like your emails, Kathleen, they make me laugh”. I appreciated that; I can't remember what the original was about, but I think I had gone to some effort to make it amusing as well as informative. The sort of thing that I was secretly hoping for a thank-you for, but I wouldn't have admitted that to anybody, particularly myself. The secret little glow that comes along with, I was hoping that this person would like this thing, and they do. Much like the birthday present that is absolutely perfect for that particular person, and that they like just as much as you hoped they were going to.

And then the things that fall outside my job description (any of my job descriptions), that are none the less appreciated. I used to be – and am beginning to be again, now my new colleagues have caught on – the woman that people would look to if they had something that needed a thorough going over for spelling mistakes. Also, they liked it when I brought in home-made fudge. Fudge and proofreading. Sweetness and accuracy. Yes. That's what I want people to look to me for.
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What is the perfect space for you? How can you start creating a place like this in the spaces you already have at your disposal?

Where am I now? I am sitting with my legs stretched along the length of a sofa, my netbook balanced on my knees and bouncing as I type. I've retreated from the dining room (which is being tidied, loudly) and kitchen to the conservatory, which is below the reach of the wi-fi.

I have a pretty good view. Beyond some household debris (a broken office chair, a mountain bike, a Lloyd Loom armchair) is an open French window; beyond that, a trapezium of decking and a buddleia bush, and beyond that, the sea. I can hear grasshoppers, the waves swishing gently on the rocks, a seagull or two, someone shouting down in the carpark.

I'm reading Fame is the Spur at the moment, and the central character is being provided with a study – a rare luxury in the working class nineteenth century world he inhabits. His parents find him a desk, give him a chair with a cushion and let him light a fire in the grate; his friend puts in some bookshelves, and they make regular expeditions to a second-hand bookshop to fill them. There are red curtains and an armchair. Even in 2014 it sounds pretty good.

A space that is mine and mine alone is non-negotiable; it has been ever since I moved in with my partner. The current study is the best yet. I have a bookcase, and my desk and computer, and my pictures on the walls. There is a sofa bed to sit (or lie) on when I want to read, or think, or write long-hand.

What can I do in the short term to improve this space? I can buy a lampshade. I don't usually look at the lamp, and the light is gentle enough that I don't notice the absence of a shade, but it would be nice to have one. I can empty the three boxes that are blocking the space between the bookcase and the wardrobe. I can rearrange the books, so that the poetry goes into the study. I can put a tiny little plate next my keyboard, to hold the daily chocolate ration. I can remember to shut the door to minimise the likelihood of my being disturbed.

Improvements that require quite a lot of money, and possibly a whole new house: I'd make it a little bit cooler in the summer. (I've not been there in the winter, yet.) I'd swap my desk (which is really a dressing table) for one that's less likely to do injury to my shoulder and upper back. I'd arrange for more horizontal space, so that I have a surface on which to write as well as to type and I'd have a pinboard. A chaise longue, or a day-bed – either way, big enough to curl up in or to sleep on. And yes, I'd have an open fire, or perhaps a wood-burning stove. A gas ring and a coffee pot. Heavy, red, curtains and a thick, comforting carpet. A window – a big one – that opens to the outside.

In the dream house my study won't even be given over to guests. We could have people to stay every night of the year and I'd be able to carry on as if they weren't there. I'd have magic mind-reading wi-fi that would only give me access to the sites I needed for research. There would be far more bookshelves.

I'd have a separate room for the more practical things, very light, with big windows and white-painted walls. A big press to keep fabric in, and one of those merchant's chests for beads, every drawer labelled. A huge table that I don't have to clear mid-piece. An Anglepoise lamp (I've always wanted one, anyway).

I'd keep this view, though. Who wouldn't?
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It's a beautiful moon. We are staying with my mother at the moment, and she has put us in the bedroom with a balcony looking south out over the English Channel. There's very little sky-glow and the moon is a sharp silver sickle. Vega is very bright and the Milky Way stretches east-west. We're very lucky.

I have come down with some vile bug and have spent most of today either in bed or sitting up in a chair feeling sorry for myself. I suspect it's a case of not having had enough holidays, and having been doing too much gallivanting on the ones I have had.

This weekend - a long drive and a wedding and a family get-together - has been the hinge between a week of work and a week of (it seems) enforced idleness. (Although I am still holding on to the hope that I'll be well enough tomorrow or Thursday to go to Amazon World and look at the poison arrow frogs.) In some ways it's easier to get August Moon posts done during a work day; I have the prompts buzzing in the back of my mind all day and the words pour out pretty quickly. On holiday - particularly one like this, where there are friends and family all over the place, and the laptop's at the bottom of the suitcase, and my brain's running on only two cylinders - it's more difficult. But I'm managing to carve out half-hours here and there to get on with it.

I've just finished reading White Feathers, Susan Lanigan's first novel, and am feeling mighty privileged because I don't think it's officially released yet, and also I saw the thing come together before my eyes. (In the acknowledgements, Susan credits the Pico group. I don't wish to blow our cover, but I'm part of it too and it's a fantastic, supportive, encouraging group, the best incentive to write that I've ever come across.) I will do a proper review tomorrow as part of the Wednesday What Are You Reading thing, and will content myself for the moment by saying, see? It can be done and I can do it too
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How will you make time work for you?

I think I accidentally answered this one yesterday - which is helpful, because I'm not sure I'm up to a very detailed post today. How to reconcile making a decent fist of the day job and doing all the other things I want to do. How to not end up, the first day of holiday when I don't actually have to do anything, spending most of the day in bed with an epic sore throat and no energy.

I talked about the nine-day fortnight yesterday: one day off every two weeks, with the house to myself. The downside to that arrangement is of course that each work day is forty-five minutes longer.

I've also mentioned the advantages of a long commute: reading time and writing time. I do at least reclaim a little bit of my day that way.

I would like my day to start a tiny bit later. Say half an hour. Say I were to aim for the 0745 rather than the 0715. That would mean getting up at 0615, which would probably leave me feeling a little bit more human. Start work at 0855. Half an hour for lunch (except on Pilates days, when it's an hour) would mean finishing at 1625 and the 1645 train home. If I were to add forty-five minutes onto the end of the day I'd finish at 1710 and get the 1745 train home. That would get me home at about seven o'clock. That's later than I want to be. Hmm. Need to think about that. There isn't enough work at the moment anyway.

Oh yes, and the other thing I was going to do when Pilates stopped being on a Wednesday was to go to the lunchtime communion service at the church over the road. That's going to kick in mid-September. It will help with the thing where I reclaim lunchtimes for myself, too. I wouldn't mind cutting lunchtimes the rest of the week down to 'twenty minutes with a book and a sandwich'.

I wonder if what I really want to do is go part-time. It would be a heck of a financial hit, particularly in terms of travel cost, since I'd still need an annual season ticket, and I feel that it's probably not an option at the moment. Would I want to, if it were and I could afford it? Probably. Well, that's a thing to think about.
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What about your multiple selves?

Multiple selves: that would be nice. If there were three of me, there'd be seventy-two hours in each day, probably. Eight hours of it would go on earning a living, twenty-four hours of it would go on sleep, and the rest would go on making things and reading.

The question was about earning a living. I think Kat's point is spot on, so I quote it:

Regardless of whether we’re talking about an overtly “creative” pursuit, it seems to me that putting pressure on your dream life to earn you money can somehow rob it of all its joy. This can become crippling and get in the way of the actual doing i.e. the refining of your craft, the prioritising of your actual goal.

I am incredibly lucky to be in the job I'm in at the moment, working for a not-for-profit organisation whose aims and ideals are broadly in line with my own - and, moreover, comparatively well-paid when you look at the job description. (Which, we note, is not the norm in the not-for-profit sector.) I have a lot of freedom to direct my own work and I have a good sense of its being generally worthwhile.

And yet sometimes I find myself resenting my day job for the proportion of my mind it occupies, for the way it takes up the morning, when my brain is at its best. I miss being a mile away from my office, rather than fifty-five. And knowing I need it in order to be able to pay my half of the rent, the sense of dependency, is frustrating.

I remind myself that this would happen wherever I worked, whatever I did. Even if I worked for myself. Particularly if I worked for myself.

I don't want to make my bead stuff into a job. The pressure of knowing I have to make so many by this particular time... No, thank you. I don't really want to make it into a business. Too much hassle. I do want it to pay for itself. Annoyingly, this will mean going through the motions of some form of business, but I'm not quite at the stage of thinking this through yet.

I am getting used to the idea that people might pay me for writing. Art is worth paying for, mine included. Yes. But I really don't want to become dependent on any money I might make from it. I don't want to be forced into writing to order.

So. I like my job. And it brings in enough to live on, and it doesn't drain my brain completely. What I would like to do, when the workload picks up again after the summer, is to look into working a compressed arrangement, where I do ten days' worth of hours in nine, and have a day off every two weeks. And by 'day off' I mean 'a day to do everything else'.

Does this give me time to be everyone I want to be? Probably not. But I don't want to be all of them at once. The day's too short, and life is long enough.
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Put out the call!

Dear friend,

You know your job title. But who are you?

You are a worthy addition to my circle of godparents, odd-parents and not-parents. You are absolutely convinced that I can do anything I want to. Even when I'm not. Even when I'm trying very hard to persuade you otherwise.

You encourage me. When I've been told 'no' - when I've told myself 'no' - too many times, you're the person who says 'yes'. You're the one who gets me to sit down and try again, because I never know. You do. You know, and you're just waiting for me at the other end, for me to make my way through the uncertainty and the self-doubt. You fight my corner.

You're a good fifteen years older than me, maybe twenty. You're confident about your place in this world, and mine. I don't think you have children. Either way, I'm one of your honorary children. And you understand my ambivalence about having children myself; you know that, whatever else I might do with my life, getting this damn thing out into the world is incredibly important.

You know what you're talking about. You've been in this game for a long time, and the reason for your having been there this long is that you love it. I can ask you any stupid question I need to and you won't laugh at me.

I am looking forward to meeting you.

Much love,

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What tends to trip you up?

My stumbling blocks tend to come in two sorts:


I always have at least three projects (I dislike the word, but it is widely understood, so let us go with it) on the go. One to work with my hands, one to work with my brain, one because it caught my eye, and so on. I said at the beginning of this week that I wanted to go forward, in all directions. The danger is (indeed, I've been having trouble with it this week) that I will try to throw myself whole-heartedly into everything at once and burn out within a couple of days. I want to make three necklaces and write a short story, maybe two, and oh yes, a couple of poems, and get the website online, and I want to do it all tonight. I manage perhaps half of one of those tasks, and then I'm knackered.

Then, of course, I get fed up with everything I'm trying to do and abandon it. Then I feel guilty about abandoning it and avoid thinking about it, sometimes for years at a time.

I'm trying to use this as a prompt to think more about providing myself with rest and sustenance. Not trying to fill the unforgiving minute - or, rather, learning to think of rest and relaxation as equally valid forms of distance to run. I'm setting myself realistic goals at the beginning of each day - for example, 'on the train I will polish up that poem about the table for one, and when I get home I'll get supper going, and in the forty minutes that it's in the oven I'll make a pair of earrings, and then after supper I'll stop trying to do things, and will watch an episode of The West Wing and then go to bed'. Written down like that, it sounds exhausting, but it's a lot better than kidding myself I'll do EVERYTHING and failing miserably.


Monsters are the things inside your head that tell you things about yourself that are not true. Eve Jacques has a comprehensive and joyfully wacky take on them; so does Havi Brooks.

Mine are usually trying to tell me all the awful things that other people might conceivably say, in order to stop me bringing the glorious project of the day to joyful fruition. If other people don't know about the thing I'm doing, they can't say horrible things about it. This seems to happen to lots of people.

With specific reference to the mermaid project, known in real life as Operation finish and publish Speak Its Name, damn it, here is a selection of monster stories, some current, some defunct, some mutually contradictory:

- there's no point, because nobody is interested in what is essentially a sweary Victorian social problem novel about the crossover between faith and sexuality
- there's no point, because Vicky Beeching has come out and it isn't needed any more
- [Evangelical Christian friend] will be upset
- the remainder of the friend group will conclude that anyone who upsets [Evangelical Christian friend] must be a truly awful person, and I will lose them all
- somebody will try to sue me and we'll be bankrupted and end up living in a cardboard box
- it's actually terrible and I haven't noticed
- I have made some awful embarrassing mistake and everyone will laugh at me
- and so on

And the solution is, when I've finished howling into a cushion, to have a calm and rational conversation about it. For example:

Yes, Vicky Beeching has come out and this is wonderful news. What this means is that there are thousands of young people in the world who have just heard that there is a way to be LGBT and Christian. And yes, this is partly what I was trying to do with Speak Its Name. And yes, hers is perhaps a more interesting story.

But it wasn't the only thing I was trying to do. In the beginning, it wasn't even the main thing I was trying to do. In the beginning I was trying to explain the early 21st century academic equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question (and I, like Lord Palmerston, have now forgotten all about it). It's gone a very long way from what really happened since then. What if there's something else in my book, something that I've forgotten about, or don't even realise is there, that is what it's really about?

And if you think about the billions of people in the world, the millions of Christians, the thousands of LGBT Christians, is it beyond the bounds of possibility that there's one person who hasn't heard about Vicky Beeching, who, two or three years from now, when it's old news and the conservative evangelical churches don't play her music any more, will pick up a copy of my book in a school library or a charity shop and discover that it is OK to be who they are? Isn't it worth going on with just for that one? I've written the book I wanted to exist. Is it too much to believe that someone else wants it, too?

And no, there still aren't enough books about being LGBT and Christian.

(At this point the 'that's because nobody wants to publish stuff about being LGBT and Christian' monster wakes up. Rinse and repeat. Eventually the whole crew will shut up and let you get on with it.)
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What are the signs that you're on fire? (not literally!)

(I think this one needs a tiny little bit more context! "What I mean to say is: I mean to say, how does it feel in your body when something really gets you going?")

Time disappears. I can turn an intense beam of attention onto the task in hand and make huge progress without (I would claim at the time) having to think about it. (And then it’s two hours later and I’ve got fifteen hundred words down and suddenly I’m really quite tired.) I don’t get distracted by Facebook or ice cream or yet another cup of coffee.

I’m more alert. Colours are brighter. Everything is sharper, the edges more defined, the way they are when you’ve just got new glasses and not yet adjusted to the new prescription. The beauty of quite ordinary things, like sweet wrappers or dandelions, makes me cry. I look and look. I am open to everything.

I’m confident. Insecurities about what other people think about me evaporate. I know them and I trust them. There’s a joyful sense of sharing, of rejoicing in other people’s work and successes, and the way they respond to mine. It’s at times like these that I tell people what they mean to me. I glow. I trust myself: my sense of direction, my judgement, my conscience. I don’t get lost. I see things all at once with an intense sense of rightness.

Words aggregate inside my head, sitting there patiently like pearls until I’m ready to write them. I go for a walk and collect more. There’s a sense of abundance, of being on the crest of a wave that’s carrying me gleefully forwards. I could sing. Sometimes I do. I breathe more deeply There’s an impulse to physical activity. I want to run, to swim. However far or fast I go, I’m aware of there being more that I can throw into it.

Kat asks two further questions: What is the catalyst for this feeling?

Noticing. Sometimes I can induce it by deliberate noticing, conscious wonder. Sometimes it happens day after day, and each morning I wake up and see how full of wonders the things are around me. Sometimes it’s gone for weeks, months, at a time, and then suddenly it’s back again, and something catches me, and I stop, and see. Oh.

What is it that you love about feeling this way?

This: that I feel absolutely, totally, miraculously alive.
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What would your perfect work day be like?

I think I have two ideal work days, which are only ideal if I can alternate them.

The first looks similar, though God knows not identical, to my current schedule. I get up at half past six and do my morning pages. I’ll have been organised the night before and set both the bread machine and the coffee maker to provide delicious sustenance and gorgeous smells for when I wake. I won’t spill jam on anything. My cycle ride will be a bit longer than it usually is – say six or seven miles – and there’ll be a shower at the railway station reserved for my personal use. I’ll shower, change, and step onto the train clean and fresh.

The train ride will expand or contract magically depending on my mood. It might be long enough for me to get through an entire book, or it might be so short that I just sit and look out of the window at beautiful wheat fields and chestnut trees.

Work is interesting and absorbing. There's plenty of it, enough for me to get my teeth into and not be bored. I work with perhaps ten or fifteen other people. I never have to answer a telephone. Meetings are fun, quick and friendly.

At lunch time, I sit with other people, but I have a book open. I’m generally disengaged from the conversation, and people don’t expect answers from me, but occasionally I make a comment or ask a question. Lunch is delicious, exactly the right quantity, and made by somebody else.

In the afternoon, the mood lightens. There is chatter and banter, and occasional hysterical laughter. I go home early, before the start of the rush hour, and in time to get two or three hours of daylight at home. I don’t even try to work in the evenings. I read, or watch TV, or lie on the sofa and listen to music. It’s not my night to cook if I’ve travelled to work.

On the other days, I’ll wake an hour or so later, and get on with morning pages and breakfast as before. I’ll go for a walk – probably a couple of miles – and let ideas percolate. Or maybe I’ll go swimming – with a lane to myself. Then I come home, put something in the slow cooker to look after itself, and do two to three hours of writing. I have a magic search engine that only works to find things I need to know for research. Lunch is an absolutely fantastic cheese sandwich, eaten in the garden – or I meet up with friends for a pub lunch.

After lunch I have an hour’s nap – no more – and then spend a couple of hours doing something with my hands. I have a huge table that I don’t have to clear to eat meals off, and a couple of big chests for supplies. Beads, arranged in separate drawers by colour. Fabric, in layers. It's a big room, well-lit, and not too hot and not too cold. I don't get interrupted.

At six or half past I stop for the day, prepare something tasty and easy to go with the gorgeous stew in the slow cooker, and proceed as above.

I sleep soundly on fresh sheets, under a duvet that's so big the two of us never have to fight over it.
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What's hiding in your closet?

I realised a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been wearing a lot of grey this summer. I know why I’ve been wearing those particular clothes – quite by chance, these seem to be the ones that don’t get tangled in my bicycle wheels, which is an important consideration these days – but how I came to possess quite so many is a mystery. Perhaps it’s a hangover from my black-and-white university days, during which I tried to look as much as possible as if I’d been designed by Sir Cecil Beaton. That was the time that I realised that I really could get away with huge, fabulous hats. Not only could I get away with them, I could leave the police baffled and live the life of Riley on the proceeds. Gloves, too. I only really wear them for weddings these days, but I used to wear them to chapel every Sunday. Occasionally I went all black, down to the nail varnish. And the leather trousers. I still wear a lot of black in the winter, usually with red or magenta.

Anyway, leaving the monochrome aside, I like really strong, intense, colours. Mostly I gravitate towards the extreme ends of the colour spectrum - bright scarlet, deep fuchsia, royal or Roman purple – but I have a teal blouse (I don’t wear it much because it’s a pain to iron, but it’s very cheering when I do), a turquoise dress, a couple of orange tops. I add red or green into the black and grey, when I can. If I can’t, I throw silver at it. I love silver earrings. Beads, too, of all colours. I have the most gorgeous shiny black belt with a chrome buckle, which improves everything.

At the moment I am making substantial alterations to a dress I made seven or eight years ago, black circles on a jade green ground, so that I can wear it again. I have a hat to match. It’s fantastic. What about my other party dresses? There is the chequerboard dress, the little black one (short, with long lacy sleeves), the going-away dress (soft folds of navy blue), the black-and-white-striped dress (very sixties), my bridesmaid’s dress from Freya’s wedding, when I was 14 (raspberry silk, and very grown up), the long bronze one that I’ve never really known what to do with. Under the bed is my wedding dress, in a box.

The leather trousers and the hats were perhaps the first manifestation of the I will wear whatever the hell I want and not give a damn about what anyone else thinks about it attitude that I so enjoy today. Recently I’ve added bright red lipstick to that. You know what they say about girls who wear bright red lipstick? I don’t give a damn about that, either. Likewise, red hats, black knickers, short skirts. Last summer, when we were stony broke, my big indulgence was frivolous knickers. I write ever so much better when I’m wearing fancy knickers. True facts. I think it’s something to do with being impossibly glamorous.

What do I have lots of? Waistcoats. I wear waistcoats when I am being a pirate, an Elizabethan playwright (usually on a Saturday), or a Victorian governess with a secret life (at work, when I wish to convey a general impression of don’t-you-dare-mess-with-me). I have lots of long-sleeved cotton T-shirts, mostly with wide, shallow necklines. They are bright and comfortable and don’t need ironing, but go smart enough to wear to work. Dresses: V-necked, full-skirted, knee-length or above. I like skirts that swish. Bright summer skirts; a couple of pink cotton tops that work with them. Walking trousers in all sizes from 12 to 18. I’m not sure which ones fit at the moment. And a drawer full of boring T-shirts, also for walking.

There isn’t really much difference between what I wear at work and what I wear when I’m not. The work culture is pretty casual, and I’m fairly smart. Or perhaps not smart. I don’t know what the word is. Not soignée. Not serious. Occasionally, but not always, glamorous. I think what I mean is, the only difference is that I don’t wear jeans at work. Other than jeans at the weekend, I don’t wear trousers much, having discovered that I have relatively short legs for my height, and find skirts more comfortable anyway. That’s a thought: I must get another pair of black jeans. And there’s very little that has writing on. Generally speaking, I don’t wear writing unless someone’s paying me to do it. Minimal synthetics, too; I find them sweaty and irritating. Really, I’m happiest in cotton.

I got rid of lots of clothes recently, when we moved into the new flat and things had to be put in places. Everything that wasn’t quite right, that didn’t fit (unless I really, really loved it, and didn’t think I’d find another in a different size), that was just not very interesting. I’ve dumped all my print wraparound skirts – they dated from my late teenage hippy phase, when I was desperately insecure about my body. I think the green crochet one needs to go, too, or at least be shortened substantially; I’ve never worn it much, because I’m always getting it caught in things when I do. The one surviving one, which I will wear until it falls to pieces, is horizontal strips of yellow satin and yellow-and-brown plaid. I wear it in the winter with a black top and waistcoat, and a red hat. That’s a kind of gypsy musician outfit, I think. Once I played the cello in the band at a barn dance in an actual barn. In Britain, in October. I wore that, and thick black tights, and fingerless gloves. My fingers didn’t quite freeze.

Shoes. Black patent Mary Janes. I’ve always liked Mary Janes – I vaguely remember seeing them in some picture book or other when I was very small, and concluding that they were the only proper shoes. And bright colours again – the deep pink ballet slippers with the gold toes, the blue suede boots, the red ones with four straps each, the plum velvet high-heeled boots.

What, in my wardrobe, feels most like me? That’s a tough one. The last thing I bought because it was so undeniably me was one of the pink summer tops, a floppy thing like an inverted triangle, with a low V-neck and ivory cutwork embroidery. But really, I think the clothes I love the most are the ones that make me feel a little bit more than me.
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What do you love?

I love my new house. And, since Kat’s prompt for today asks me to think about collections and bookshelves and other things that one might find in a house, I am going to show it to you.

I will hustle you through the front door and the narrow corridor, through to the back of the house, to the kitchen, where it suddenly all opens out. I am enjoying this kitchen. I’ve got room to put things away and room to put things down, and the tap runs hot within a few seconds.

My piano. I love my piano. I swapped a car for it – I can’t drive and I can’t play the piano so it was really a neutral decision. Both were inherited from my godmother Heloise. I love it because it was hers and I love it because it is utterly beautiful, such warm brown wood, such gorgeous art nouveau gilt letters, such a pure clear tone. It stands at the entrance to the sitting room, and visitors come in, and see it, and ask, Can I play your piano? The answer is always yes.

I would show you my current pride and joy, my newly framed pictures. Seven of them: five up on the wall, one propped against a box, one on top of the piano. They’re symbolic, in a way, of everything that I’ve been meaning to do for years and am now doing. The watercolour of lovely watery Annecy and the Montmartre drawing of me and Tony from our honeymoon; the three of my own photographs that say actually, yes, I can take a damn good picture when I put my mind to it; the photograph of Heloise, very beautiful in the late 1970s, smoking on the back of a Paris bus (3380, I think); my mermaid poster, screen-print in mauve and grey, for an exhibition I didn’t go to by an artist I’d never heard of, which none the less was the thing I needed to buy at the time.

The other pictures, yes. Two montages, one of wedding photos and associated ephemera, the other, likewise, of the honeymoon. Photos in cardboard mounts and clip frames, friends and family. Collages, made to set intentions or to lay foundations for castles in the air. A nude by Andrew, the first real piece of art I bought. An odd little trio: the Maxwell equations, done by Anne in blackwork for Tony, a little crucifix, and my compostela. I walked five hundred miles to Santiago de Compostela and all I got was a certificate in Latin... Three yachts in the Old Gaffers race – a nod to the Isle of Wight, that. My year 9 Textiles project, marbled cotton with appliqué and beads: Atlantis with treasure chest and mermaid.

Yes, you would probably notice the mermaids. The mermaids and the ships and the shells. Ignore the photo in the bathroom; that was there when we got here. The shells are cockles, scallops, for pilgrimage. Many paths, leading to the same city. The mermaids are for transition, for breaking the surface. The ships are for trust, and for imperceptible progress.

Bookshelves: just about enough, now, at long last. The ones in the sitting room are ordered. Marching rows of series: Susan Howatch, Sadler’s Wells, Jasper Fforde, Narnia, Hilary McKay, John Buchan, Dorothy L. Sayers. Viragos. Poetry. Theology and LGBT and LGBT theology all skulking on the bottom shelf. Sheet music – mostly Tony’s, but, since we’re both altos, we share it. Tall, wide, hard-backed cookery and craft books, full of colour pictures of beautiful things that I might make, one day, and enjoy looking at in the mean time. In the study, the everything else shelf, to be reordered once I’ve cleared the two boxes that are blocking it.

Collections. Hats! If you look behind the door in my study you will find my greenhouse full of hats: winter hats and summer hats, formal hats and silly hats. Red felt and green, black straw, floppy magenta beret, wide-brimmed and brimless. I love them all. They are magnificent; they are my favourite way of saying, why, no, I don’t give a damn what you think about what I look like or what I’m wearing. In any case, they make me look fantastic. Dozens of packs of cards, each with a different, bright-coloured back: testimony to my huge, loose-knit family and its racing demon parties. Spices, jostling for space, some (cinnamon and ginger and paprika) always running out and needing renewing, but most of them nearly full, a pinch or a teaspoonful gone into some interesting new recipe. Things for making into things: beads, fabric, pens, rubber stamps. This idea about using up what you’ve got before accepting anything else is not helpful. Things have to fester for a bit so that you know what to do with them, and using all-new stuff is too slick and chilly. In the shed: the bikes. At the moment, n=2, a bike and a trike.

On my iTunes: opera grand and petty, the folk song army, rousing hymns, magnificently purple Victorian oratorio and sentimental songs. Things to sing along to. DVDs? Most of mine are Doctor Who: stories of infinite horizons, and basic human, or alien, decency.

What do I love? I love colour and flamboyance and adventure; journey and integrity; beauty and truth; love and joy.
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What is it that you do now?

What do I do now?

I have always felt the French expression metro-boulot-dodo sums up a lot, but not all, of my weekday life.

‘Metro’ in my case means a twenty-minute cycle and a fifty-minute train ride each way. Cycling is brilliant. It has to be a very horrible day indeed, knee-deep puddles and obnoxious drivers, for cycling not to cheer me up. I also enjoy the train: it’s very fast and, so long as I get a seat, it’s time to get on with stuff with very few distractions. Metaphorically speaking, I breathe in on the way out and breathe out on the way back. That is, I spend the journey to work reading, or listening to music, and the journey back writing.

My ‘boulot’ is administration for a major trade union. Nine months ago I moved from a regional office to the national office. These days I get to eat in the staff canteen. I also get time to think – largely about how much I like being busy at work. This morning I looked up some email addresses and continued rearranging the electronic filing system: more of a challenge than it sounds, particularly given that I will need to explain what I’ve done and why. I do wonder what on earth I’m going to do with myself when I’ve finished; hence the wish for Another New Opportunity to manifest itself.

I work from 8.20am to 4pm, meaning that I miss most of the crowding on the roads and the trains, and that I get home at about half past five, and so get a decent chunk of evening. If it’s my day to cook, I pick up sundries at the Tesco on the way home. How enthusiastically I go about cooking depends on my mood, my energy, and how much stuff we have to use up. It might take me two hours to make a stir fry. Or I might rustle up two courses and lunch for the next three days. Either way, the mental effort involved has to be deducted from a limited sum available.

Apart from that, my evenings tend to be occupied in writing up whatever I wrote on the train, writing a bit more, making beautiful things (usually with beads, but sometimes sewing) – those still count as boulot – and messing around on the internet (definitely dodo). About twenty minutes of internet time is catching up with friends and reading stuff I genuinely find interesting; the rest is distraction and procrastination.

I would like to reduce my internet time, and exclude mindless meandering around long-dead comments pages that I’m not actually interested in. I’d like to notice when the switch flicks from ‘awake and productive’ to ‘sleepy and unable to disconnect’. And I would like to replace that with actual rest. Lying on the sofa listening to music. Getting an early night. Reading.

Dodo – and so to bed. I feel that any more time I could devote to bed would not be wasted.
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Set an intention

Starting at the beginning, and in the middle, and at the end. Spiralling around and around, soothing the hurts and remembering the dreams of the me-that-was, looking ahead, asking advice of the me-who-will-be, who already knows how to do everything I want to. And, more than anything, being here, now.

As luck would have it, I've just got to the end of The Artist's Way and (is this a normal reaction?) been sorely tempted to go straight back to the beginning and work through all the exercises I missed the first time round. I'm going to lay off that for the duration of this fortnight, though, and concentrate on August Moon.

I walked out just now to look at the moon rising over across the river, huge and low and buttery-yellow. I had thought I might not be able to; we have had so much rain today, and great dark clouds to race against. But the rain had stopped and the clouds cleared, and, although the river was high, it was no longer lapping at the grass, and the wind had fallen to a breeze. And the moon was worth looking at.

Here are the four and a half things I am working on at the moment:

- my novel (!) Speak Its Name is, after seven years, as finished as I can get it, and currently out knocking at agents' doors. Admitting to its existence in so many words, in public, is a new adventure as of this very minute. This is the project I've been referring to for ages by oblique references to mermaids. I will probably continue to do this. My intention is to keep faith in this thing, in my work and in the world's need for it; to refine and direct it so that it breaks the surface and gets out there. Relatedly, poetry. To keep writing and posting it.

- something rather unexpected that's developed over the past couple of months is a renewed interest in beading and general jewellery making. I've signed up for a silversmithing course, beginning in late September, and am considering how I can get this hobby to become self-sustaining. I don't want this to become a career or an obligation, but I am making more things than I can wear, and spending more money than I can afford (so say the monsters), and I am fairly sure there are people out there who would wear beads depicting clusters of galaxies in polymer clay. This is Operation Silver Ship Strelsau, and my intention is to come up with an actual plan for launching it, however many sails it turns out to have.

- piano lessons! I've been promising myself piano lessons since before we moved house. The piano has now been tuned, and I have the contact details for a piano teacher. I need to send an email. My intention here is to remember that I don't have to be good at everything immediately - which I fear I'll need to.

- Operation Parisienne en ligne. Long story. My father has a bus - well, three buses. The buses need a website. I have no mechanical skill, but I can write, and my partner is happy to help me get this online. Intention: get this put together and public.

- Operation Another New Opportunity - which is a half-thing, really, as I've no control over whether the opportunity opens or not, only whether I jump into it if it does. This is my day job, and the feeling that I have now done absolutely everything that is open to me at my current grade. My intention is to jump, if it opens.

My intention with regard to all of these is perhaps best summed up in the phrase 'forward! in all directions!' I do not expect to get everything done in two weeks, particularly since I'll be on holiday for one of them. However, I do wish to get my head into the space where they seem like things that I will do. Wish me luck!


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Kathleen Jowitt

April 2015

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