how much is enough

November 15, 2014

So my plan to have a productive blogging month went right down the swanny when my work suddenly exploded with dozens of referrals in the last two weeks. But I don’t want to talk about that: I was working all day today and that’s quite enough of that for a Saturday. On the upside, I have a day off in reserve now, which will be enjoyed with indecent frivolity during next weekend’s three day off extravaganza of feasting and celebrating with American friends who are having a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving. This year I have turkey responsibility. I feel honoured. My gravy is gonna be good. Real good. I plan to prepare a vat of the stuff, to try to keep up with the most current advice of medical doctors to drink eight glasses a day for optimum health.

But enough about my vittles.

In September I went to Thailand. We were ten years’ married so we planned a big trip to celebrate it. Our original honeymoon was three miserable days in Paris in a terrible hotel with a broken bed. We were overwrought and tired as toddlers at the witching hour and argued the whole time. This was the do-over. We went to the travel agent, named our (relatively small) budget and enquired about a honeymooner’s resort in Corfu or something. The travel agent asked if we’d be willing to go far, far away to get more bang for our buck. The answer, clearly, was yes.

The flights were very long and terrible.

But then we arrived. And the hotel was very not terrible. ‘Hotel’ as a word can’t really do it justice, but ‘resort’ doesn’t do the job a whole lot better either – rather it was a beautiful cluster of private residences surrounding lush landscaped gardens, replete with water features and a spectacular outdoor pool, perched on the edge of a tropical beach. Yeah. It was something else, with coconut trees everywhere, alive with chipmunks and lizards below a blazing red sky; the songs of crickets ringing in our ears. It was late and humid and we were tired and smelly. We were greeted with lavender scented ice cold towels. Our bags were taken to our suite while the facilities of the resort were explained to us over cool drinks – library, gym, beach bar, restaurants. I was presented with a banana leaf bouquet. The room was an air-conditioned haven with an enormous, not-broken bed and several ways to shower and bathe. Everything was covered in flower petals. Everything smelled real good. Then there was the private outdoor pool and garden, just for us, and the 24 hour room service, and the sparkling wine with the complimentary all-day gourmet breakfast, and the beach, and the Thai massages, and the library full of books and movies for us to enjoy.

And we were not tired or angry and we did not argue or cry like the first time. It was bliss.

And still, unbelievably, I was not happy.

I felt like a Brontë character – an aristocratic tosser with literally every luxury and pleasure at my disposal, and still – I was not happy.

And I had a revelation. Not that I am a completely miserable and soulless fool who can’t be pleased no matter what – not that I am a pampered princess with standards that simply cannot be met – but that external circumstances don’t and can’t soothe my soul. My problems of disquiet and anxiety are not because of circumstances – they are something more fundamental. Arguably, something spiritual.

And I found this oddly comforting.

When you’ve had it all, however briefly, and you still haven’t garnered any satisfaction, the need to hunt out it all in an endless frenzied pursuit lessens – or at least is revealed for the fruitless search that it is. I’ve often thought that if I wasn’t a Christian I’d be a Nietzschian – a fatalistic hedonist hell-bent on pleasure and commitment to the self (true nature leaking out somewhat there). But now I’m not so sure. We had a lovely time – best holiday ever in fact – and it was a fitting way to mark ten years of something privileged and special – but you know, it just wasn’t all that.  

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a good shake

November 2, 2014

Part of my job is visiting churches around the city, taking a little slot in the Sunday service to talk about my work. I like it and I don’t like it. Sometimes I am offered five minutes, squeezed in between the children’s address and the announcements. Sometimes, like today, I am virtually handed the whole service and asked to preach, pray and bless. The good bit is the curiosity of visiting different traditions and seeing how they do things, and (honestly, very rarely) being touched by the teaching or worship. It’s nice to make links and attract new volunteers for my charity. It also helps me to understand this place better, and I recognise how joined-up my life is becoming here when I meet people who ask me if I know so-and-so from x school or y church or z charity and it turns out that the answer is yes.

Then there are the parts I dislike. The husband unit is usually kind enough to accompany me to these services (repayment for all of those years of my tagging along with him) and, from time to time, the church I visit is so overcome to have a theology PhD student/ministry candidate  in their midst that they forget that I am the guest, and they spend my entire visit fawning over him, and I wonder why I am there. These are usually the churches that are unknowingly anti-women. Then there are the ones that are clearly and distinctively anti-women and they make a big song and dance about how whatever message I bring is not a sermon, but a ‘word’ or ‘announcement’, and I watch from the pulpit as they sweat with vague regret about having invited me in the first place. Then there are the bitter old dears who’ve been singing the same hymns for 60 years and don’t like the cut of my jib. It is essential that they say something to let me know that my work (with young offenders) is not their cup of tea. “Oh, I’d just like to give those thugs a good shake!” <insert tinkling wealthy old-lady laugh as she adjusts her poppy brooch> “Oh yes,” I reply, “A good shake is exactly what they need. Forget love, compassion and good humour. Roughing them up will solve their problems!”

They have absolutely no idea how violent they are.

But then there are days like today, you know, where post middle-aged people come with tears in their eyes and say how someone gave them a chance once and it changed everything, or the people who grip your arm and say they’re inspired. Whether the inspiration can last beyond the church doors I don’t know, but hey, time will tell.


a little hello

November 1, 2014

Autumn has breezed by. For the past three weekends the husband unit and I have been hosting friends from home. It’s been bliss.

This weekend we are hosting nobody.

It’s bliss.

One of my friends says that guests bless you twice: once when they arrive, and again when they leave. We planned some ‘us time’ (vom) to the tune of some early morning cinema and a gander about town. We saw Effie Gray, a fantastic period drama about a feisty, intelligent Perth-born woman (Perth Scotland, not Perth Australia) trapped in a sham marriage. I related strongly to her character. This is a cry for help.

Then we wandered down to the International Market by Union Terrace Gardens for some street food (here for one weekend only, so you gotta catch it while you can). As we approached, there were lots of people dotted about on the street, eating their lunches of bratwurst and paella. In silence. As we moved past these eerily quiet figures and further on in, people jostled about grumpily in the hubbub and we joined some long queues for a delicious bite, where people elbowed one another and harrumphed.

This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy about this place. It’s like they don’t know how to have a good time. In any other city there would be buzz, and music, and people laughing and enjoying themselves, pink-cheeked and jolly. There’s a kind of magic that lingers over winter street markets serving piping hot food in paper trays with plastic forks: here though, it just seemed a bit sad, as we ducked and dived between the smokers and the people with massive bags from Argos.

And that is my way of saying that this place is no better now than a year ago. But I am feeling better, because I am feeling more secure in my friendships here, and that really does make a place home.

We drove home via the beach and have nested up for the afternoon, with plans involving a bowl of home made guacamole and a bottle of Cava. I am feeling grateful today, which is the enemy of my usual companion, discontent.

I’ve thought a little about NaNoWriMo and for the first time truly considered giving it a go. I won’t though – not this year. I think a project like that takes preparation, and I am grossly unprepared. I may however, in the spirit of the thing, blog a little. Perhaps daily. I make no promises though. Watch this space.