the ten series: seven wants

September 16, 2013

1. To not want so much. When I was a teenager and I first opened a copy of the New Testament for myself, I remember reading the letters of one of the authors – a guy called Paul of Tarsus – who was writing to a community of Christians in Phillipi; friends of his. He was in prison at the time and bound in chains, for the crime of heresy – teaching something different to the law, and bringing filthy Greeks into the Jewish temple. He didn’t strike me as fanatical or delusional, and yet despite his chains he communicated this intense joy and peace. Reading it almost stung me. I am petulant, dissatisfied and selfish and I live in freedom and luxury. Since then I have wanted to know that peace, regardless of circumstances. I have tasted it occasionally, but I’m after a permanent fix if anyone can help me out.

2. To work in a paid position as a prison chaplain or to be able to work full time in a prison on a voluntary basis and be funded by a rich husband. I suppose what I want is to be able to do this work that I enjoy and feel that I am good at and that I feel is crucial to society and still be able to pay rent and bills. Failing this I want good, meaningful work of any kind that stretches me a little. I would also love to have a period of time free from money worries and be in a position to be financially generous to others.

3. To put this endless saga of not being able to drive properly behind me. HALP.

4. To have full health and recovery from Eating Distress. This is a complex condition that has gripped me for many years and from which I am almost fully recovered, but not yet completely free. Recovery takes a lot of time, work and commitment and in difficult times it is often the first thing to slide.

5. To improve in my ability to self-care. This is linked with the previous want but not exclusive to it. I have become more aware of my values and emotional, spiritual and mental health needs, but this does not always lead to positive action. I’d like to develop healthier, happier routines that are fulfilling and don’t involve four consecutive hours sitting at a computer hitting refresh on Twitter. I’d also like to become better at playing the guitar (I would consider playing the guitar to be self-care) and take up yoga. In fact I have taken steps towards both of these things only this week.

6. To become one of those wise old ladies that everyone looks up to for home-spun advice and tea and sympathy. That I want to become this kind of excludes me from ever achieving it. Sigh.

7. To become a better student. Despite having a load of pointless letters after my name I have kicked and screamed my way unwillingly through rivers of assignments and exams and assessments. I am a lazy-ass shortcut student who would rather read the cliffnotes than the actual textbook. What I am really saying is that I would like to learn the virtue of self-discipline. I am not a natural academic but really, who is? It’s 5% talent, 95% hard work. Ah feck it, this is boring. Let’s just play Hungry Hungry Hippos.

it’s a rich man’s world

January 12, 2013

In a couple of weeks I will turn thirty. Since I turned eighteen, I have enjoyed a very wide and interesting and nourishing education. I have worked hard in a lot of ways and in a lot of varied jobs but I have never had a successful career. I have had bad luck with businesses closing, redundancies, etc. etc. I also had the problem of “not knowing what I wanted to do” which is quite the turd in the punchbowl of successful career-planning. I used to take the failure to establish a career quite personally but I don’t anymore, even though nothing has really changed in that area.

As you know, I’ve started a new job, albeit just for six months. It’s a managerial post and I get to work with people who’ve suffered and been to prison and had a lot of problems with addiction or bad relationships. It’s a privileged job. It’s a well paid job. And now for the first time, I am not the poorest paid member of staff on the premises. In fact I am paid less than only my boss and the CEO, and I am experiencing middle class guilt for the very first time. I am used to being the most junior member of staff: the person who earns less than everyone else.

Externally, I relate very well to colleagues who earn one third of what I earn. And my hours are twice as long as theirs and my workload is two to three times as high. But internally I am aware that many of them have needs that far outstrip my needs and yet still I bring home far more than they do. I also have colleagues with skills that I do not have, for example in accounting and payroll, who manage the payment of over 80 staff on a weekly basis, earning one third of what I earn. I find this hard to reconcile in my mind.

The other morning, one of the staff brought in a bag of fresh fruit and passed it around. I took an orange and was enjoying it until I realised that she had paid for this fruit out of her tiny income and here I was in my fur coat and Jimmy Choo shoes, chomping away on it without a thought (some details of this scene may be dramatized). I know that the solution is not to refuse small gifts, and I also know that I can’t be “paying back” small gestures, any more than I would usually do.

In my chaplaincy work at the prison, I struggle with this too. On Christmas eve I came home laden down with cards and gifts from the men. I am unable to buy gifts for them because I simply cannot buy thirty Christmas presents. And I know that it is important to them to find a way to thank me for the care that I do offer them during the year. But it is very hard to be so rich and to accept gifts from people who are relatively so poor.

I haven’t worked it out yet. I am adjusting to being in a position of power. I’ve often had the leader role in unpaid capacities, but something about taking a big pay-cheque home for being in that role is making me squirm.

Something that has not escaped me is that this role comes with responsibility to and for the other staff. In some ways this is cheering. There are a lot of ways in which I can support, encourage and bolster my colleagues towards their own success and flourishing, and I have started this good work already.  I suppose I ought to focus on that.

And then there’s tithing, giving away a tenth of earnings. We do that and have tried to always do it, but giving out of guilt, or using giving as a way to alleviate a prickly conscience about being well-off is a ticket to complacency and self-righteousness. Having said that, it is still right to give. CS Lewis said we should give until it hurts.

When it comes right down to it I don’t want to give until it hurts. I just want to receive and receive and receive and not to feel bad about it.