new year, new unicorn

January 5, 2015

Again, 2014, not a great year. All round, a difficult year. A lot of crying in 2014. A lot of anxiety. But I have sworn to reduce my complaining in 2015 so we won’t go there…until my resolution is starting to look lacklustre in a few days.

Still, it was a year with some significant highlights, which I will now present for your reading pleasure.

January:
Was thrilled to get a new job. Had a little birthday party and 17 people showed up. Explored Inverness and hunted the lake for Nessie. Sat in a bookshop with a massive fireplace in it. 

February:
Had 3 separate visits from friends from home. Saw Sleepless in Seattle at the cinema. Heard a theological lecture on the evils of meat consumption and drastically reduced meat intake. Had a long weekend in Ireland between old job and new, by myself, catching up with close friends. 

March:
Went home for a baptism. Enjoyed a prosecco-fuelled 40th birthday party with karaoke.

April:
I probably shouldn’t write in the highlights section of this blog post the details of how bad a month this was. However in the midst of all the many awfulnesses, a wonderful friend came for the weekend. That was great. 

May:
We once more travelled home for a baptism: this time our goddaughter’s. Then we came back and had a fabulously camp EUROVISION PARTY with friends from home.

June:
We had 3 dear friends come to stay for a long weekend of summertime fun.

July:
We travelled to Edinburgh to see a Manchester City football match, with some good Aberdonian buddies.

August:
We went to our first Scottish wedding. I don’t know how authentic a ‘Scottish’ experience it was as the people who got married were Irish and English. We also had dinner one night with Scottish neighbours in our building. That felt like a big win, seeing as how cold and unfriendly people in Aberdeen can be.

September:
Went on amazing honeymoon trip to Thailand.

October:
Had a great friend visit for a weekend, and then another pair of lovely friends another weekend, and the husband-unit got to organise a conference and meet his theological hero.

November:
Had thanksgiving dinner with American friends, and I watched my oldest friend get married back in Ireland to a fantastic man. Got to watch the Late Late Toy Show with my nieces and nephews.

December:
Christmas parties. A weekend in Edinburgh at the Christmas markets. Christmas Day with dear friends in Aberdeen and New Year with family in Ireland. Watched an Irish friend marry a beautiful woman from Venezuela and got to participate in their wedding service. Got some kick ass presents.

Hrm. That rather makes it look like a good year, doesn’t it? Good thing I don’t have a Facebook account, or people would get the wrong idea altogether.

 

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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.  


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.


reflections on having a permanent job

May 24, 2014

For over six years in the midst of the Irish recession I struggled and strived when it came to work. Short, badly paid contracts, long bouts of unemployment, course after course, thousands of unanswered job applications. Occasional interviews where confused executives asked why such a well educated person was applying to be a secretary. Pleading with restaurant owners for a waitress position, only to be told I “would never stay”; dropping my CV into MacDonalds, Tesco and local cleaning companies. All to no avail. Crying, depression, despair, hopelessness. Anger.

Now, I have a secure job that almost certainly will, later, lead to another secure job, and instead of the job being the thing that I want it to be, it simply is the thing that it is.

Having a meaningful job, due to the not-having, became something that lost all proper perspective for me. It seemed so impossible and so out of reach. Others around me suffered the same fate but they floated to the back of my consciousness, while my employed and career-focused friends were right there at the fore, living lives of purpose and meaning and enjoying the fruits of their labours. It became the holy grail for me: the promised land. It became the answer to my sense of desperate unfulfilment.

And now, for the precise reason that I packed up and left the country of my birth, I have the elusive job, and suddenly it’s possible and within reach, and I am living the possibility and touching it, and it’s not the holy grail and nor is it fulfilling. It is a job, that is worthwhile, and I do it, and I feel tired after it, and I get the Sunday night dread, and we still count every penny each month to make the rent (while, admittedly, padding the fund for The Grand Summer Holiday – something not enjoyed in a few years).

Undoubtedly I am far less unhappy than before. But, you know, the job is being put back in its place. Where it should have remained all along, instead of becoming bloated with years of swollen anxieties about paying the bills and having worth as a human being.

It is terribly wrong when a person cannot find labour to fund their living. It is morally wrong when a society has been so ordered that their search becomes pointless. It corrodes a bit of that person: it really rots your interior life. I had times where I almost gave up looking and resigned myself to staying on the dole forever. Shortly before landing this job, I suggested to my husband that I simply stop looking. I felt I was approaching a nervous breakdown due to the unflagging disappointments and perhaps needed to allow myself to become a housewife. Have some children and keep a house. He said that was okay by him – he’d watched me suffer and fail for a long time. But then I remembered that we have moved to another country so that he can do something that requires someone else to be working. And so I kept seeking. And lo I did find. But as for those who have stopped seeking? I understand why. I do, and deeply. Looking for a job in the midst of a recession is like spending every waking hour scouring the floor, walls and ceiling of a pitch black tunnel for treasure, all the while knowing that there’s only enough treasure hidden in this tunnel for one tenth of those who are looking for it. It’s tedious, lonely and exhausting beyond compare. And you begin to despise yourself. What is wrong with me? you ask, over and over, year after year. Nothing, say your family and friends. You’re great! I’d give you a job if I had one!

As usual I am not sure what my point is. I wish I could wind my reflections into neat little packages, but I never can. I think I have said what I came here to say. It is good to have a job. It is bad to not have a job. But having a job is just having a job. It isn’t changing the world and it doesn’t address your deepest self, whose worth comes from somewhere else. So, you know. Remember that.

 

 


growing or shrinking

March 11, 2014

A sincere thank you to all who replied to my last post. The responses came in floods – hundreds of views, new followers, texts, emails, phone calls and conversations in person. I was really surprised and touched. Thanks for being friends and well wishers (in that you mean me no particular harm).

One friend who does not identify as a Christian asked me if I was saying that my faith was growing or shrinking. I was really surprised by that question, too.

The answer is complex.

The Christian life is one that pursues sanctification. Sanctification is the process of the pursuit of holiness. Holiness is fucking hard, man, and apparently involves a lot of not using the word fuck. Holiness, and I have encountered it, is beautiful. It is virtue embodied, and it is usually very hard-won, but it is more than just that. It is bright and free and kind, and it delights to spend time worshipping God and in service of his people. It gets angry at the right things and forgives everything else. As I strive to live gently in a violent world (inside a violent body with a violent heart in it) I am striving for sanctification.

I am watching my husband be sanctified. He is better today than he was five and ten years ago. Smarter, kinder, gentler, brighter, gooder. He is unrecognisable from fifteen years ago, where all those virtues were little seeds in him, and now they are young trees that jut out his orifices.

So is my faith growing or shrinking? It’s hard to say. I remain as faithless as ever. I remain weak in virtue and bursting at the seams with self interest. I am regularly seduced by bullshit and the delusion that I can control my life.

What does seem to grow though is my view of God. My view is more generous than it used to be. God seems bigger and wider and that cannot be because he has changed. It’s a question of perspective.

Father Ted can explain it better than I can:

I suppose I am a little closer to him than before. It isn’t that my faith is bigger, it’s that I am allowing the object of my faith to take up more of my landscape. I hope that clears things up a little.


the best imitation of myself

February 18, 2014

I realised quickly after moving to Aberdeen that I have a severe problem with trusting God.

That might sound very twee or commonplace but it really isn’t supposed to. Christians are always bleating about trusting God: ‘dependence on God’, ‘having faith’ and many other generic terms of Evangelicalese. I’ve always felt that I could do with having a bit more trust in God, sure, who couldn’t? But that all things considered, I was probably quite good at trusting.

Not so.

It turns out I don’t trust him at all. I strive very hard and put as many things in place as I possibly can to create a sense of safety. I have Plan B in place for when Plan A fails, and Plan C for when Plan B fails, and lots of alcohol for when Plan C fails. Then I have a cry and a bit of a meltdown and lather, rinse, repeat. Not so much trust as survival and a fragile self-belief.

When I moved here I gradually sank into a depression. I struggled to get out of bed. Once up I struggled to shower and get dressed. Once dressed I struggled to prepare meals or take a walk. I applied for job after job in my pyjamas on the couch. I went to volunteering, only just about managing to get myself washed and dressed for that weekly appointment, staying glued to the computer until the very last possible minute. Despite all this time on the computer, I would procrastinate replying to emails and text messages – duties that sat like lumps of raw dough in the pit of my stomach – because I could not bear to verbalise the staleness of my days to my friends at home.

To be honest, that has pretty much been the on-off pattern of the last six years, since I first lost my job at the start of the Irish recession. So nothing particularly new.

What was new however was being stripped of a support system. No friends, no church, no family, no nothing. The cultural wasteland that is this oil-drenched city couldn’t even offer me the consolation of coffee shops, museums to be explored, artisan markets etc. Being stripped of everything that usually acted as consolation to me for the pain of having no clear purpose and no good ‘job of work’ to do, became excruciating, and I began to feel desperate.

One day I spoke to one of my friends on the phone about this for a long time. Well, really, she did all the talking. She called. For me it was like therapy: I would gladly have paid a hundred pounds for it. For about an hour she just exhorted me to cry out to God for a ‘lifeline’. I said very little, tears and snot rolling down my face and splashing onto my dirty hooded sweatshirt as I sat curled on the sofa listening to her. She pleaded with me to do business with God: to ask him for what I wanted, to trust that he would provide. When our conversation finally ended, it was like the last drop of a hot toddy sliding down my throat and then I felt a terrible emptiness. She sent me a message within minutes with a scripted prayer that she had written for me: talk about interceding. She told me to read aloud the words if I just could not pray for myself. She sensed my stuckness and that I needed a bit of mothering. She understood my inability to ask God for what I needed when I knew all along that while he could give it, he might not. That’s so much worse than not being able to give. I realised in this inability to approach God once and for all that it was because I do not trust him at all.

So where is this going? Do you think I began to trust him? No, that would have been too simple. Instead of beginning to trust, I began to feel really, really angry with him instead. Good.

In my life, as in the life of so many people, amongst the flowers, lots of bad and painful things have happened to me and around me. Some unbearable things have happened. There have been dreadful losses and unsolvable problems. In all of my struggles I have never felt genuinely angry with God. 

Until now.

And wow the rage was strong. I had a good long, protracted rant and rave at him. To use an Irish expression, I fucked God out of it from a height.  One night in the middle of my burning rage a person I barely knew came over for dinner and I burst into tears at the table and interrupted her to demand why God revealed himself over and over in her life, miraculously answering prayers and for me he can’t be bothered. It was the most embarrassing dinner ever.

And then for some reason, to my outraged and utter surprise, he started to respond to me, in multiple and layered ways.

Not to disappoint but that is definitely a tale for another day.

And it occurred to me, in seeing these responses from God, responses I had asked for and longed for and hoped for and almost always failed to ask for, it occurred to she who can not and does not trust the God she has purported to follow for the last fifteen years, a God that she has torn her life apart for in the quest of the following – it occurred to her, to me, that all he is asking for is the actual, real me to be stripped bare before him instead of half-heartedly offering him the version of myself that I can tolerate.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I am being rewarded for fucking God out of it from a height. I’m just telling you a story.

Sometimes I feel that the city I am living in has to be one of the worst in Europe. So much money and so much poverty. So much ugliness and darkness. Such a booming sex industry while little cottage industries fail. So much vomit on the streets at night. So many alcoholics and heroin addicts and crying mothers because their children are not with them. It could swallow you up. And here I am in it hearing from God and feeling new things: things like excitement mingled with fear, and determination mingled with hope. I’ll be honest: I don’t really know what I am talking about at all. All I know is that I got really real with God and suddenly he is getting really real with me. Maybe it will all tumble down tomorrow, maybe not. But here it is. And here I am. And here’s I Am.


i had to put this somewhere

February 9, 2014

where my bruised reeds at? he says, looking for the walking wounded, the bent-over men and women, the smoldering wicks. where are my people who don’t even know up from down anymore, who can no more suss out what is sustainable than they can solve the problems of the world? where are my people at, he says, the ones who are beating back addictions, dysfunctions, lies that slink in and out around our ears? those are my people, he says, the ones i will not break. they are the ones i will not snuff out.

~ D.L Mayfield: mercy > sacrifice