A year on (almost)

Well now. Almost a year has passed since my last post. I have again looked back over the blog and can see bursts of energy, like a car revving, getting into gear and then phut phut phutting into nothing.

I created a lot of journeys for myself this year – to Slovakia, Dublin, Lisbon, Paris, Augsburg, Croatia, Cornwall (twice), the Peak District, Ibiza, Slovakia again, Barcelona (accidently), a home visit to mum in Portugal and perhaps there will Madrid this month and Prague at the beginning of December. These travels were intended to inspire and to somehow kickstart the creative in me. That finally happened after a day in Epping Forest spent with Caroline and Claire. I managed to get a poem out for the National Poetry Competition.

By the end of the month I will have attended three very different weddings, spent a fortune in Clarins products and be in receipt of my provisional driving licence plus paid full price for two haircuts. I have experienced a change in lifestyle.

So, you stuck with the job and it paid off? you might be asking. Well. Yes and no.

I stuck with the job for all last year. In the positive moments I was glad that I had a job. It helped me towards greater financial stability. Then I stuck with it until the Spring, and then until the Summer. Managing to do that with the carrot of travel and by working 40 hours over four days rather than five. Gritting my teeth and getting all robotic on the four day mornings. Consoling myself with the thought that at least I was improving things.

Summer came and I was faced once more with the dirty underbelly of the TEFL world. And it made me sick and it made me angry. It was the low point, the best push factor.

So, I quit.

During my notice period I went to Portugal and had a good rest and a good think and found solutions. The crazy thing is that the solution was there all along. I didn’t need to hang on in there – or had I after all been hanging onto the job!

From the end of November I will be walking a different walk. And once again, I will be independent and free, but stronger and much more grounded, much more confident in my abilities. And much more able to close the door behind me and unlike Orpheus, never look back.

bridgetatkinson.com reclaimed

Finally I have got around to reclaiming my domain name.

I should have resubscribed to it in September, but for some reason – fatalism maybe – I didn’t and I have had to wait for the domain name to expire before I could re-purchase it.

Why did I let myself go? In the crazy hyper-speed of the current phase of my life, there has not been the moments of stillness to keep my personal affairs in order, neither to plan, or to take stock. It has been truly frightening and I have been fearful throughout the year that I would expire, be drowned by the whirlwinding demands of others. And virtually, for a time, I did expire.

I finally took my stuff out of the storage unit in North London last week. It’s been there since Dublin. 18 months.

Me and the stuff were driven home by a last minute arrangement, contacted on a number that the guy at the storage unit gave me. The man who removed me and the stuff was joy itself. He talked happily of his coming from Greece 20 odd years ago to make a new life in London, the work he did now, his wife and how much pleasure his self-employed lifestyle and family gave him.

We talked of my work. I told him I was very unhappy. He asked me why I did it to myself; stay in my job. I thought for a few moments and then I told him the truth at that moment. I told him that I felt sorry for my boss.

He started shouting at me. ‘Are you crazy? Do you think your boss ever feels sorry for you?’

I told him, probably not.

He continued shouting. ‘This is your life Bridget, and you must live it for yourself. No one else can live your life for you. You must put yourself first as Number One. If not, you are living your life all the time for other people. Find another bloody job!’

It shocked me. Not just the volume of the message. The strength and the passion behind the words. If someone else could feel so passionately about my life, why couldn’t I?

A week later I am with my friend Michael and I tell him about the journey with the Greek removal man. He looks at me bemused. He says that he has been saying the same thing. ‘You can’t live your life for other people. This is your life. We only get this one chance.’

I can’t have been listening. He didn’t shout loudly enough.

As he was speaking I was realising that I have been so busy being concerned about what other people will think, so busy trying to making other people happy or worrying about how I will feel if I don’t do what is best for them, that I had completely lost sight of what is best for me, of what will make me happy.

And that is not an honest life, that is about living your life feeling so indebted to other people that you lose yourself completely. The only debt you end up owing is to yourself.

For the first time in a long time I feel positive and energised. I feel alive. I know which road I am going to travel – and it’s not one that someone else has signposted for me.

change of heart

Today I enjoyed my job.

Pretty groundbreaking stuff for me who has been champing at the bit, hoofing the ground, etc. If I didn’t want to be a writer I would say that this was the job for me. 

What has brought about the change – hiring a new manager to look after the ELT department. I am pregnant with hope that I will no longer have to think for two people – that directions I give will be acted on and eventually pre-empted and not even have to be uttered. I can look ahead to the ime when my mind will have space to write. To think about PhDs.

Yes, today is definitely a new dawn.

And another thing

Looking back over the last few posts – the end of Pilgrims and Scallops and those here – the one thing that stands out clearly is the lack of connection – disconnection between ideas in this blog and disconnection between ideas and reality in both. I sort of lost the thread there a bit.

I can see that at Christmas I am not the same person as now. Then I was going on and on about commitment to the new job. Talking about doing the DELTA – the advanced teaching certificate. What naivety to think that I could walk away from the writing, turn my back on creativity – for whatever reason.

Most of the financial reasons for doing the job are still there – but I will have to find other ways to solve them. Post-euphoria it is clear that I do not want any of those all-consuming TEFL things.  I never did – I must have been momentarily touched by the commitment madness.

I have been in touch with the Open University to see about doing a PhD connected with pilgrimage – and it’s looking good. I have a potential supervisor there and one at Exeter. If I can get myself motivated, and make myself find the time to put together a proposal then this is something achievable. A start date of Autumn 2010 has been mooted. And it is the way forward. There will be the PhD and a possible studentship and then the connected publications… but I don’t know if I can wait that long.

Is it time to go to France now? I don’t think I can wait any longer.

My friend Marc who opened the door to Dublin, said to me the other day: Why don’t you go and teach in France – it will give you time to write.  And something fell into place. I really don’t think I can wait any longer.

Je suis perdu

I don’t usually write when I am full of just-lived experiences. It’s usually crap. But after a week discovering Pate Lorraine in its guises, walking mountains and getting intimate with the banks of the Moselle, getting drunk on some awful stuff from Majorca, revisiting the full horrors of co-dependency, falling in and out with Michael and meeting St Jacques on the way home from Strasbourg, and more more more. I simply have to.

I called this blog ‘Heading in a French Direction’ but since Christmas I seem to have been ‘On a Hamster Wheel in Queensway, W2′. Endlessly attending to endless same old same old problems.

And I have been panicking – Christ, I am never going to find time to write again! A couple of  pathetic ill-formed posts on a blog which is supposed to be detailing my move  to a more positive, more-me future.   All creativity, ability to pull together coherence – a story, has been squeezed from my soul and I am shaking. Shaking with feelings. I am a child in a writer’s body.

The bloody English language learning environment creates a need to say too much, to overexplain and it makes you lose your words. I’m struggling now to make myself clear as I have been all week in Lorraine.

And is that the crux – I’ve been frustrated. Things I have wanted to say all week and not been able to. Words I have been wanting to write all year and not been able to. Frustrated.

I am raw and emotional. And I don’t give a fuck if that lends itself to bad writing. I’ll rant and I’ll rant ’til I blow this house down. ‘Til I find my way out of the forest. ‘Til I find my way home.

Now you see it, now you don,t

We say we are done with attachment, that it takes us from our path – makes us needy, makes us dependent on things, other people, places. Who does attachment anymore?

Now we all talk a lot about ‘making connections’ – whether that is connecting to the universe, to another person, to something we want – someplace we want to be. And we see this connection as some kind of magical linking thread linking us to our desires, to our people. ‘We have a real connection’. That’s what we say when we meet someone we have a special feeling for.

What’s that if it’s not attachment by another name?

Then in the same breath we go on about going with the flow. Like you can really go places if you have a rope tied round your waist attached to the bank or a boat or another person. We are full of the paradoxes.

We are like fish in the river of life. Darting here, darting there. Moving like slivers of silver. Flashes of light. Sometimes you can see us and sometimes you can’t. And just because you can’t see us doesn’t mean we are not there.

It’s easy to understand that concept if we are talking about the physical. I don’t see my son for maybe two or three weeks at a time, but he is still there.

It’s not so easy to understand when we are talking about feelings. When the feeling for someone isn’t there for a day or two we can easily think that we no longer have any feelings for them at all. That the love has gone. But, it’s not usually the case. The absence of something just means that the possibility of moving in a different direction has appeared. Room for a diversion has been created. We can dart under the babbles in the brook for a while, hide behind a stone – investigate the sunlight on the weeds in the water. And when we reappear – when the feeling reappears we have moved on a little further down the stream, we have brought back new experiences into our lives. Our light is brighter.

And while we are swimming here and there, our special others are swimming here and there – all in the same river, just not at the same pace, in the same place.

Diversions are just as much part of the journey from A to B as the main route. We shouldn’t just see them as subsidiary extras, or moments of meaningless, without purpose. What we learn in the tangent brings richness, experience and greater understanding.

Rather than attachment, connections, perhaps we can talk about recognition of light – of love. When we meet someone that we are going to have shared experiences with in the future we usually see that flash in the first instant. And we don’t need to know what form it will take. Let it take what it will while we are busy with the business of swimming.

The importance of planning

I am living temporarily in my son’s new flat, in Watford. He has yet to move into it; a bit of a slow mover, it takes him  time to readjust to new surroundings, new routines. So, I have been living there on my own.

This weekend he wanted the flat for a quiet dinner a deux – it being Valentine’s weekend and all that. So, he asked me to make myself scarce.

I thought about staying on a little while longer in Stroud Green, where I have been flat sitting for the week, but it didn’t feel right. I wanted to get away. Wanted to breath. Wanted to take my rucksack for a little walk.

I had Saturday lunch with my friend Sarka, who as always when I mention ‘wanting time on my own’ starts to worry that I am going away again for months on end, leaving her on her own.  ‘Where are you going?’ she said sternly.

‘Oh, I don’t know. I fancy Brighton. Or maybe Epping Forest…’

In my mind I couldn’t decide between enjoying a stiff sea breeze or cosying up in a local pub in front of a log fire.

‘You haven’t planned. Have you?’ Accusingly.

‘Well, no…’

‘And it’s Valentine’s weekend. Where do you think you will find a place this evening… especially Brighton?’

‘Oh, with the recession, everyone will be eating at home.’

She made a noise.

Lunch over I went to the National Gallery. I had a yearning for some art… and Alfred Sisley later I set off for Victoria station, passing a demonstration in Whitewall in protest against the actions of the Tamil Tigers.

London Transport takes the edge off the excitement of going anywhere. It all becomes tedious and energy-draining. So, by the time I get to the station I am knackered. Brighton looks too expensive to get to by train as I start to do some mental calculations – food, place to stay, train tickets… Canterbury, ditto. Ah! What about the coach?

Victoria coach station isn’t the best place to fantasise wildly about old inns and log fires and by this time, it will be very late in the evening before I can enjoy hot toddies. ‘I’m going back to Watford to book into a hotel.’ I determine.

Heading back to Watford on the fast train I anticipate a good meal. A warm bed. ‘These are the important things.’ I tell myself. ‘Not where they are…’

Chelsea have been playing football against Watford that afternoon and there is no room at the inn. I head back to London.

I am tired and cold and pissed off. I shuffle from hotel to hotel. All booked. Finally, I find a small B&B off Russell Sq which has a single room. And it is very single. With shared shower room. I fall straight into bed.

Morning sees a good cooked breakfast, a hot shower and a better frame of mind. I send a text to Sarka to let her know that I did indeed spend the night under a roof and not in a park. ‘Well, ok,’ she replies, ‘But I don’t think that’s what you wanted.’

And it wasn’t. I realised that. I realised that what I wanted required planning. I should have Googled an old inn in the woods or a hotel by the sea – and booked a bed.

This wasn’t the first time I had been told this. A student in Dublin mentioned something similar. Her words of wisdom being the result of being the daughter of a man who never planned. She said that as children they would often sleep in the car on holiday because he said, ‘Of course there will be a bed…’

The things that we want are far too precious to be left to chance. It all needs groundwork and forethought. If you do things on a whim, you get something whimsical – and that means odd.

I’m done with the unpredictable.