Tuesday, December 30, 2014

For the year ahead

I wrote this today in response to a Facebook post from a friend, whose mind is turning to the newly-coined (but not new) "frugal abundance" philosophy as 2015 starts. She asked what we hoped for in 2015. I was surprised to find my answer was spontaneous, immediate and felt true, straight away; with more reflection, it still does. I wrote:
I am striving this year for mindfulness - of myself, my body, the people around me, the world I live in, the earth that supports us. Part of this will be the frugal abundance you speak of - having made a conscious choice to prioritise my physical and mental health by moving to part time employment, this is both necessary and a wonderful opportunity.
Part of it is a renewed focus on that which matters, and a sustained practice in letting go of that which does not. My disability is my teacher in this - I could not keep living my life as I was, my body closed the door on that option some months ago.
I haven't officially announced it anywhere as such, but just to clarify - I am moving to 0.6 at my job in 2015, where I'll be working three short (school-hours) days and one "normal" office day, with Fridays off altogether.  The hope is that this will make managing my health flares (which my specialists tell me I must expect as a part of life now, for at least the next few years) a lot easier, as well as freeing me, when I am well, to spend more time with family, community and writing interests. Of course, it also means about 25% less after-tax income, but this is a trade that I am lucky to be in a position to be able to make.

I want to live 2015 wide awake to every moment - the good, the unremarkable, and the shitty alike. I feel a little bit like a deep-sea diver coming back to the surface; the last 18 months has been so immersively difficult that it will take time to re-learn how to breathe and to feel the sun on my face.

That doesn't mean that all of my time as a full-time worker / full-time parent / full-time hyper-vigilant / recent sick person has been crappy, because hello it has not. There have been many great days and many great experiences in this time. (Pooooort Dooooouuuuuglas!) It does mean, though, that the period from mid-2013 until now has been characterised by unbalance, and a lack of mindfulness, in ways that have not made me happier, or more creative, or more productive, or more of a contributor to the areas of life where I most want to contribute. (My community. My family. My world, especially in social justice areas).

So what I hope for from 2015 is just that - to be present, to be mindful, and to show up in the ways that feel the most meaningful to me. In cooking fresh foods, in volunteering, in speaking up, in poeticising, in writing, in reading, in being with my children and my partner, in being a friend, in paying attention to my own body and mind, in being gentler with myself and others.

These are humble goals in some ways - there are no KPIs attached, there is no target list of outputs to measure. In other ways, of course, they are the most transformationally significant I have ever attempted. I know that the game will be worth the candle, though, and I know this is what I need to do in 2015.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: A year in blog review

As the end of the year is upon us, I thought now would be a good time to have a look at the year as it played out on this blog.

I am faintly surprised to find myself writing another of these stats-wrap up posts, as I honestly thought that this blog would tail off to oblivion in 2014. It didn't, although it did have a name change and a gear shift in June, when Play, Eat, Learn, Live became Too Fond of Books. Turns out I need it, and as long as I do, I'll keep writing it, even if only for myself.

Following on from last year, this year saw fewer posts (114 to last year's 150) and significantly fewer PVs for most categories, with poetry being the honorable exception - the poems got a small but measurable uptick in views. Comments are almost a thing of the past here now, and I have settled into becoming a quiet little backwater of the Internet - a position that I'm very comfortable with, in truth.

The top five posts this year, in order, were:

1. Día de la Madre (Poem) - May
This poem that I wrote for Mother's Day in May was retweeted by several people, and drew a good number of PVs.

2. Taking a new approach to managing work / life stress - April
This determinedly positive "I have a plan!" post from April attracted a lot of eyeballs. In light of What Happened Next, aka The Great System Crash of August 2014, I read it now with a certain sadness and wistfulness for its optimism.

3. Friday - February
This little slice of life seemed to touch a chord with a few people. It's quite a gentle, amiable piece overall.

4. A Tale of Two Cakes and a Solar System Party - May
As is usual for my fancy-cake posts, this one got a solid readership and continues to draw new PVs as people arrive via Google searches.

5. Mirror, Mirror (Poem) - June
This is a bitter little scorpion of a self-flagellating poem, but I thought it was also quite good, and it did get read.

One thing that is worth noting is that none of these posts made it into my all-time top 10 (top honours there are still held by two restaurant reviews: of Black Ruby (2012) and Fox in the Box (2013) - and my how-to post on Dorothy the Dinosaur cake from 2012). Indeed, the highest-ranked post of this year, Dia de la Madre, sits out at 21 in my all-time list. I guess this does say that the Internet is losing interest, and also that I am not really good at self-promotion, but that is OK, I'll live.

The focus of the blog this year has been books, poems, stress, and struggling with being sick, which certainly narrows the audience by some considerable margin, but it's what I've wanted and needed to write about, so I am not concerned so much with that. Next year, I definitely hope that things pick up more for me, but I will be writing what feels authentic, regardless, because that is why I keep this blog at all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A small light (Christmas card in a poem)

in my hands a small light, stuttering.

it is a small light, a tiny warmth
flame an amber quotation mark on a blackened wick.

it is a small light, but it is not fragile;
it has survived cataclysms, and it is not afraid.

it is a small light, and it does not say
that it can take all the darkness of the world away.

it is a small light, but it makes promises
it whispers of bijoux joys, within its small and flickering queendom

it is a small light. I don't have a brighter one, or stronger;
but such as it is, this small light -

take it. take it in the spirit it's offered
the moment is all. this light

this small light
this hand-cupped star

a gift, to touch and hold and warm
to remember and to fire delight

this very small golden light
holding all my imperfect heart.

- Kathy,

Thursday, December 18, 2014

On ebbs and flows, and summer words

Being primarily, by nature, a reader and a writer, the last few months have been anomalous ones for me. My reading has been largely confined to re-reading of old favourites (chicken soup for the mind, if you like), while my writing, such as it has been, has been almost exclusively poems and fairly angsty rants about The Sick.

Of course, while I have been in literary stasis, neither my life nor the world has stood still. Plenty of books have come out that I want to read, and plenty of work of other kinds has been done. The work of creation and reflection, though - that's been constrained, but I am hopeful that the summer will see a Renaissance of sorts in this area.

Here are five books I plan to read this summer:

1. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (Naomi Klein)
It has been a goodly while since I've read a think piece. This is overdue.

2. Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God  (Will Durant) 
Will Durant was one of my historian-rock stars when I was studying for my Masters degree. I'm fascinated to see what this volume contains.

3. The Children Act (Ian McEwan) 
I don't expect this to be an easy read, but by all reports, it's a novel-of-the-year (and unlucky not to be Booker-listed).

4. The Child Eater (Rachel Pollack)
It wouldn't be summer without at least one curiously-imagined sci fi or fantasy. This one got quiet raves and is apparently a very clever Tarot-themed fantasy.

5. The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell)
Because I didn't get to it on the Booker list, and I feel I sort of should. (The insertion of the word "should" in that sentence has instantly tagged this as the Book Least Likely to Actually Get Read).

And here are three creative things I plan to do:

1. Provide at least two columns to Global Comment on books / literary stuff.

2. Do Month of Poetry in January.

3. Write up the short story that's been itching the back of my brain for months.

Summer is almost always a time a renewal for me and my family. I'm really hoping this year will be no exception to that trend.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

My Twelve Days of Christmas

It's been a year, a long year, a challenging year, a hell of a year in so many ways. Right now, I haven't much energy for writing here - whatever limited reserves I do have are being funnelled into seasonal prep and commitments, work, and parenting. I am learning to manage my health problems, and slowly, slowly, ohhowveryslowly, I am climbing out of the bottom of the killing jar. (There's still a long and slippery road to go, though).

As December slams into me, I am just taking every day as it comes and doing my best, but with every day behind me I am longing more intensely for Christmas Eve. Because I am working up til then, and we have parties and Christmas commitments that involve me doing stuff and preparing food and gift things, I don't feel I can really relax before that, not properly. No, that won't come til I eat the customary Christmas cookies with my colleagues at lunchtime on the 24th before we all decamp for the 12-day shutdown period, the best break of the year because you know nothing's piling up while you're gone (everyone's gone!)

But once I leave my office around noon on Christmas Eve, ahhhhh, then.

Christmas carols with the kids and Christmas morning delight.
Christmas Day at my parents, being spoiled like a little girl again.
Boxing Day movies with husband and friends.
Beach and BBQs and sun and afternoons at the park.
Taking the kids to the movies and the pool and the lake.
Reading, writing, sleeping, being.

I'll be back at work from 5 January, but this is going to be MY 12 days of Christmas, my peace-on-earth-goodwill-to-all-women, the gift that my true love(s) will give to me - 12 days with my family and no need to rush or run or do, just time to be.

I cannot wait.