Bat Fit Update: Review and Renew

Apologies for the temporary hiatus in accessing my blog. For personal reasons I hid from the world for a little time, and did actually contemplate closing this site down completely. After some time out rearranging my head from its state of emotional basketcasery, I’ve decided to stay put and just make some of my more personal posts private.

I’ve decided to reboot both the blog and myself by taking part in The Curious Professor Z’s Batfit update for November (posting a little early as I’m away during Halloween). Sorry, this a wordy post but it’s also been rather cathartic writing it all out.

Bat Fit

Bat Fit

Achievements

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve accomplished this year, and initially the answer was nothing. Nada. But of course, that’s not true. There have been chinks of light in the torpid grey of 2014:

  • My short story The Bone Queen was highly commended in a nation competition with Red Squirrel Press, and published in April this year. I achieved one of my writing dreams to then do a reading at Newcastle’s Lit & Phil with my closest family and friends cheering me on. I was terrified and elated, and I loved it.
  • I’ve taken some of the hardest decisions of my life this year, and don’t regret them though I do often think about the reasons I took them and whether I should feel any remorse or regret. Ultimately, the answer is no. It’s taken me 8  months to reach the point where I accept that really, I had no choice.
  • One of these decisions was to take a risk and jump into the unknown by resigning from paid, safe employment. When I reflect on this again in October 2015 I may have a different view, but given events that have taken place over the past 8 months it was the wisest decision I could have taken. If I’d stayed I would have ended up breaking down and leaving under a cloud. As it was I had a chance to say goodbye to many wonderful people, and preserve the friendships that I’d built up over 7 years. I miss some of the people, I miss the intellectual challenge of much of the work, but I really do not miss the stress of my hellish deadlines and volumes of work.
  • I threw myself out of my comfort zone and spent a week on a residential writing course. It was revelatory. Every moment was pleasure. I realised what type of writer I really want to be. I created a blueprint with a curious, quirky and demanding tutor for how I would write the book that I am supposed to be writing – and so far I am following it. I have the odd wobble, and the self doubt creeps in, but ultimately I have a golden opportunity to create something I think I’ve waited my whole life to undertake.
  • Seeing the emotional effect that my words could have on people  was utterly priceless when I made my fellow course members and tutors cry reading my short story Private 48158 as the sun set in the Scottish Highlands.
  • My husband. Him Underfoot. I couldn’t have gotten through this year without his steady, warm, loving presence by my side. He really is the star by which my compass is set.

What I’ve learned.

You may be wondering what this has to do with being Bat Fit. Well, this is housekeeping month. Clearing out my mental decks. I could reiterate everything that’s caused grief and stress this year, but some of it is not my story to tell. So let’s just look at what I’ve learned.

I’ve realised that grief can be sympathised with, and to a degree anticipated, but until it actually happens to you, the loss of a parent cannot be fully understood. There is no timescale for recovery, no set pattern for how you are going to feel from day to day. You can be sat, 8 months later, travelling with thoughts meandering, wool gathering, and then you find yourself welling up in public, the sound of his voice in your head, a snippet of a song he would have loved, the news events he’ll never be able to comment on, the stories of your past that have now been lost.

I’ve realised that it is pointless to regret choice. I rarely make important choices without a great deal of agony and procrastination. Yet when I make it, the decision is final (actually, as a grant assessor I work on basically the same principle). As long as I know I’ve looked at all options, pros and cons, then I am confident in my decisions. I think it’s important to acknowledge this to myself, as my mother is very good at undermining me, particularly in my decision to give up work and is constantly asking me if I’ve applied for a new job yet. I have patiently (and sometimes not quite so politely!) explained that my decision to leave employed work has a deadline – and it’s November 2015. Regardless of appearances, I AM working. I writing stories, developing plots, family trees. It may ultimately come to nothing – but my biggest regret would have been if I’d never taken this risk.

I’ve realised I have to force myself to be a social animal. I’m chronically shy. I never feel interesting enough, skinny enough, pretty enough, posh enough….the list is endless. Not having a formal workplace provides excellent cover for the introvert…and I’m having to challenge my social anxiety every time I make an arrangement o meet with a friend for coffee, or to go for drinks. I think they’d be astounded to read this – once I’m out I’m generally fine and have a great time. It’s the actual crossing of the door thresh I find difficult. I’d happily not speak to anyone other than my immediate family for days on end.

So, What’s A Girl to Do? Goals..

Exercise:  I need to exercise more. I’d made a great start in September, swimming twice a week and then walking the 2.3miles home from the pool home. This isn’t a chore, there’s a great coffee shop mid point on the route! I’d gone from an arthritic 20 lengths of the pool to 40 in 6 weeks and was beginning to both mentally and physically notice the benefits. Then personal armageddon hit, coupled with a really severe reaction to my annual flu jab (the first time ever) – one of my arms was basically unusable for 2 weeks (and a lovely shade of yellow and purple – they’d have chucked me out of the pool!). I haven’t been swimming or walking for 4 weeks, and physically I feel like hell.

GOAL: to get my ass back in that pool after my Halloween holiday next week and crank up the lengths again at least twice a week. There’s a ‘congratualations’ bagel & tea en route home, after all.

Alcohol: I use alcohol as a crutch. There’s been way too much of it in my life this year and I’m not enjoying it anymore, whilst occasionally craving it (more of a mental craving than physical one). I don’t drink  more than twice a week, but when I do I have no ‘off-switch’. It also makes me very emotional. At the start of the year, I took the Dry January challenge and stopped for a month. I’d been intending to carry it on, but my Dad died mid-Feb and I fell into the barrel all too readily. I’m on holiday next week, which includes a music festival and an annual meeting with friends, usually in pubs. I’m going to go, have fun, and then from the 5th November, I’m taking a month out of drinking again. My body complains now when I drink – 2 glasses of wine and I feel like a zombie the next day. I’m beginning to realise it just isn’t worth it.

GOAL: a (mostly) Dry November, followed by a Dry January pledge. And less red wine in general.

On the coffee express, Whitby

On the coffee express, Whitby

Weight: I’ve gained 7 pounds this year. That may not sound like much, but for a shrimp like me it’s very noticeable, and frankly it makes me unhappy. My clothes are a tad on the tight side, I feel frumpy and I’m off to Whitby Goth Weekend next week, and feeling that everything is just a bit uncomfortable. Him Underfoot keeps telling me not to worry (he can’t see past the cleavage, bless him), but I’m female. I worry. I go out socially. Then I drink to cope with the social anxiety. And eat cheese. And the circle starts…!

Not this year. We’re self catering and we are poorer than previous years. So less eating out at American Diners (yummiest breakfasts in the world) and more omelettes in our own abode. Fewer cheesy chips wile watching the bands (a bit of a tradition) and a baked spud instead. We’re still going to drink too much, but I’ve also arrange afternoon tea as an alternative with one friend. And it’s Whitby. The one week of the year I can do whatever the hell I like.

GOAL: I’d like to be between 7-10 pounds lighter by this stage next year. Sounds simple….!

Personal achievements: I’ve mentioned that my Sabbatical will last until at least November 2015. Him Underfoot & I have a goal in mind for that stage – a full first draft of the novel that is currently in the incubation period. I’ve just completed 3 months of research, and the plot threads are beginning to knit themselves together. I also have a potential writing mentor from January through my local library. They give you deadlines! I need deadlines! This is my overarching aim for the year ahead.

I also want to get more financially astute. I need to keep a stronger track of where money is going over the next 12 months. I’ve already cut back greatly, but there needs to be a second cut from January 2015. HU and I have agreed that over the Christmas Holidays we are going to have a full financial audit together, as next year will be rather lean.

And I promise not to become a hermit!  I WILL have a social life…

Freedom

Freedom is a rather daunting prospect. Time – all of my own – to waste, to dream, to create, to work, to – well, I genuinely have no idea what.  I’ve been given a gift. A priceless opportunity. Time.

When I lost my dad I moved into the auto-pilot phase at work. I did what I needed to do, what I was told to do even though I was finding it overwhelming on a subconscious level. I hit my deadlines, wrote my reports, delivered my grant programmes. I asked for one item of work to be reallocated, either to another person or another time, because I knew I couldn’t achieve it. That request fell on deaf ears (long history of passive aggressive conflict here that we don’t need to go into).

Month later, more personal bad news. Cue many alcoholic beverages, tears and soul searching. What are my priorities? Who are they? Where the hell do I fit in the midst of all this.

Image

I have (had) a job that is wonderful in so many ways. I work with a lovely group of people, all looking towards bettering the lives of other people. I enjoy much of what I do. But I just can’t do it any more. I broke. I realised I need my family and I need to look after myself more than I need the constant harassment of deadlines and the inability to sleep at night wondering when it was all going to fall through the cracks and shattered into tiny pieces. Him Underfoot suggested it even before I’d realised it myself – time out. Step back. Look at your options. And my options give me enough in savings to take two years out.

Decision made, I thought I’d be ok when I handed over the letter. After I’d sobbed all over our HR director’s desk I realised this wasn’t the case.  I’m terrified. Terrified of unemployment.  I’ve worked solidly for over 20 years, putting myself through 10 years of night school to achieve an HNC, a degree, and two masters. To then voluntarily make myself unemployed is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done.

It’s a decision that has caused much comment in those about me. I just watched a recent episode of the Big Bang Theory where Penny resigns from the Cheese Cake Factory to pursue her dream of being an actress. Leonard on the surface appears supportive, but then can’t help but shoot his mouth off with his real reservations at the first opportunity.  Now Him Underfoot is fully supportive – but the rest of them?  Not so sure.  Telling people you are taking a full 6 months out of work with no intention of looking for another job is just not what we are conditioned to expect. My mother has taken to telling people that I’ve ‘retired’, whilst also telling them I’ve had a complete breakdown and ‘must be bad with her nerves’.  Actually, what I’m doing is taking steps to stop myself having a breakdown, strange as it may seem.  I just can’t marry the two sides of my life up successfully any more, and I’d rather leave work on good terms than end up a sobbing, emotional wreck on the sick for months and ultimately unemployable.

Of course, I intend to write. When you come from my working class, comprehensive school / social housing background, to resign from a permanent and decent job to flounce off and write stories appears to be a crazy decision. A presumption on my part that I have ability and something worth communicating. Well, actually, maybe  I do. And I want to give it as good a go as I can, because if I never give this – my one true passion – a proper shot at success (and I don’t define success by publication, merely completion to my satisfaction), then I may as well resign myself to a life of corp-drudgery where my family will always come second to my deadlines and work imposed insomnia.

The one person whose opinion matters (because I’m financially reducing our partnership and placing more of a burden on him) is my husband. He’s behind me all the way. If he has faith in me, then I take faith in myself. I’m not a fool, I have options in the future and alternative income streams that I am investigating if this doesn’t work out.

I don’t know where the next two years will take me. That’s ok, because it’s my choice and I am in control. I’m excited. I’m sad, to leave many wonderful people behind. I may nose dive terribly, and again that’s ok – failure in this case is an option.

Finally I can be where I need to be, and do what I need to do. And that is priceless.

 

Reflection

December is an odd month. There’s the hustle of Christmas approaching (and believe me, this year’s it’s been hustling for England, given this is my first family Christmas in 17 years.  I have remembered exactly why I opted out of Christmas, let me put it that way).  Still, the shopping is done and the dining room is halfway to presentable.

Then there’s the lingering sense of ‘could have, should have, would have…‘.  The things I haven’t done. The things I should have done. Achievements left unmade. I’ve been feeling this particularly badly recently, the overwhelming sense of lassitude that’s been holding me back. You could call it procrastination but it’s been deeper than that. More melancholy. More a sense of a world outside of my control where the plates are all spinning crazily and at least one has shattered into cremation.

I think it’s worth reflecting on the things that have gone right. I published my first paid story in March, complete with my first (terrifying) public reading.  Words cannot describe how wonderful it felt.  I wonder if all first time authors feel so … blessed … for want of a better word.  I used that first payment to complete something special – the repair and expansion of my mother’s silver charm bracelet.  This broke about 30 years ago, and only 5 charms remained. She gave it to me and I finally had it repaired and expanded, with charms that meant something to me (and discovered I have a slight obsession with articulated charms). So it has a miner’s lamp to represent my grandfathers, a beer barrel with a drunk man inside (my father!), an old fashioned beach bathing hut and for some reason, the old lady who lives in a shoe (is that my mum?!).  The prettiest ones were my mum’s – a horse’s head, a gorgeous little elephant with a love knot in it’s trunk and a spindle. My attempts to photograph this bracelet were an epic fail!

Miner's Lamp Charm

Miner’s Lamp Charm

I also learned in November that I had been highly commended in the inaugural Sara Park Memorial Prize for my short story The Bone Queen.  Thank you Red Squirrel Press, its given me faith to continue writing when I’ve been flagging (and slacking) a lot.

So, 2014 is looming and I need some realisable goals. I’ve not written anything worth submitting recently; everything has been stuttering and disjointed. I suspect this reflects where I’ve found myself.  I’m finding myself wishing to try writing poetry again – my first attempts were fairly laughable (or tragic, take your pick!). I’ve signed up for Wattpad and have started to read some interesting unpublished works by other writers in a similar genre. I’ve posted the first 3,000 words from my novel Breaking The Angel . It’s almost finished and I’m hoping this will give me a push to completion, scheduling chapters for publication throughout 2014.

I’d absolutely love to go on an Arvon residential; however time and cost may be against me. I do have some irons in the fire for this one though….!

All a little bit stream of consciousness but it feels much better to have articulated how I feel. Back in January I didn’t know how I was going to survive the year at work, given everything that happened in 2012. I made it, and in better shape than expected. For that I am eternally grateful. It isn’t perfect, but it isn’t desperate.