Well the New Year has landed and I’m sure I’m not the only person mulling over the events of the last year and looking optimistically to the one ahead.
Indeed, it’s definitely been a year of contrast and one which has had three very distinct stages. It started off badly with bereavement in my immediate family. The months of grieving were temporarily eased by a pregnancy, a fleeting though exhilarating period which ended suddenly in the devastation of a miscarriage. But as the year ended, I founded myself in a third and somewhat interesting phase, that of remembering who I was again and my renewed commitment to writing. As I reflect upon this time, I’ve come to realise that my life has very much been in three acts and while the New Year is a relatively arbitrary milestone, it is timely one. For 2014 sees the dawning of a new age, or rather the resurgence of a very old one. I hope this third act is the final one.
The first act of my life lasts about 18 years, spanning my first memories (from about the age of 7 – I honestly remember very little prior to this) through to my arrival at university. It’s strange that given I remember very little of my very early years, I clearly remember being very self-aware from the moment I went to school. I always felt very different from my peers, not unlike an adult trapped in a child’s body. One of my earliest, most vivid memories is being sat in my primary school class, around nine years old. The teacher, who I adored incidentally, was going around the class asking each child what they wanted to be when they grew up…teacher, nurse, doctor, fireman, policeman, mummy.. the usual selection of jobs. Then it came to my turn. I earnestly looked at the teacher and soberly said “I’d like to be an author.”Aah, such optimism, such hope. When you are child the world hasn’t got to you yet, you quietly and confidently sit, steadfast in the belief that you can be who you want to be and make your world whatever you choose it to be.
This optimism evolved through my teens and was somewhat tempered by anger at injustice and a growing realisation that the world isn’t all the great, primarily due the people in it. However, rather than being swallowed up in nihilism, I was fired with a desire to understand the world and make a difference. My dream of becoming a traditional writer had fallen by the way side, but there was still hope. I read Annie Oakley, Germaine Greer and Margaret Meade. I chose Sociology for an A Level and decided I would go to university, study further, and lecture, write works which would change and inspire the world. I watched the miners’ strikes on TV and felt frustration over a hundred other issues.
The I went to university, the second stage of my life, and everything changed.
Coming from a primarily working class background (I say primarily as it’s a little more complicated than just staying I’m working class… but that’s whole other issue), I had very little appreciation of what university would be like. My knowledge had primarily been gleaned from “Brideshead Revisited”, “A Very Peculiar Practice” (two great shows incidentally) and “Maurice”, an EM Forster novel published posthumously.
I was brought unceremoniously down to earth when I realised that in 1992 students didn’t want to change the world and nor did they sit around debating great literature. Mostly, they tried to pull whoever they could and get blind drunk most of the time. Needless to say I spent most of my twenties throwing myself into both of these activities with great gusto. This was the dawning of the second age when all measure of social consciousness disappeared and it became all about beer, validation and money.
My twenties were therefore spent on ME! I left university, got a job and earned a very good living. Suddenly, all my goals were about validation – doing well enough to have someone reward me with money, with bonuses, with commission. Everything was about a number – targets, investments, mortgages, and numbers of bedrooms. I should have been happy and there were certainly moments that I was … there were some amazing holidays during that time. But I was also empty… conscious of everything (is this a good relationship? How long have we been together? Is this house good enough? ) and yet completely unaware of my values and what made me tick. It culminated in a disastrous relationship with another successful person (unless you count him being divorced and a volume of emotional baggage which should have warranted a tow truck to follow him), which made both of us miserable… still for those five years we were in a relationship and had a lovely house.
My moment of clarity came after we had broken up and I was sat in a wine bar with a very well turned out Italian chap (neither the wine of the high heels were something I particularly enjoyed) wondering… “God you’re boring, why am I here?” It was not long after that… and the decision that I was actually happier being single, probably living somewhere else and that I hated my job… that I met my best friend, my husband. After I let all the other stuff go, everything else fell into place.
So now, although halfway through my life, I’m in my third stage… and I hope my final one. It is the one in which I have remembered who I really am, completing the circle of my, just in time to greet my forties.
I recently read a book “Unlimited” by one of my heroes, Jillian Micheals. One the of the questions she asks of the reader is to ask what you wanted to do when you were a kid, what dream you aspired to fulfil, the one before you had to worry about bills or what people think, the one before the grownups (including yourself) told you that you couldn’t achieve it, that you had limitations. If you can identify what that is, you’ve essentially identified what you should be doing with your life. It may not be exactly that dream, but getting close to it is the key. If you wanted to be a singer, but you’re tone deaf… maybe it’s your destiny to play an instrument, write songs or be a sound engineer at a recording studio, hell even an administrator at a musical theatre company or radio station.
When I read this book, almost a year ago now, it changed my life. I realised that I could do anything. I was already in my “Third Stage” but for some reason I had completely excluded the thought that I could love my job that I could make a living from something that I enjoy. Now, it may be that writing for a living is going to elude me, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m already in the editing phase of my first novel, the first in a whole series which I have sketched out in my mind. I’ve also had a degree of success with short stories and have sold a few copies of my collection on Amazon (Off the Bench). I also draft for a government agency for a living – speeches, correspondence, so I get to indulge my passion there – albeit the subject matter is hardly what I would call soul food. I’ve also rediscovered my will to change the world and in the last year I’ve undertaken a range of charitable works… from fundraising, to sponsored walks, to rescuing and fostering animals. Thanks to writers like Caitlan Moran I’ve learned that I wasn’t, in fact, crazy in my teens and twenties… there are probably hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of young women who have had very similar experiences to my own.
So now I look to the future with hope. Whatever 2014 brings me, whatever trials and tribulations unfold, I know that I will stand there in my truth. Bring in the final act, herald the final chapter, show me the third face of Eve because I like her…. and it’s all looking good.