What to Write When You Don’t Know

I enjoy writing. I really do. I like the way that we can weave these artificially constructed letters and words together to make something fun, moving, entertaining or beautiful.

That’s why I started this blog. I just wanted some incentive to write. I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about; I just thought I’d try it and see what happened.

On the whole, I have enjoyed writing about travelling and ‘growing up’ and just life. Yet recently, just having the page hasn’t been much of an incentive to write. The last post was almost six months ago.

Why haven’t I written anything in a while? Well, busyness and laziness both play their part. It’s hard to make time for something like this when life is so full that extra time feels like it has to be downtime. But I think I’ve been forgetting something I’ve written about here before – writing is restful.

Yes, being creative with words is restful for me. Creativity is vital for us all to rest, in whatever form that takes.

It’s all too easy to ‘switch-off’ and binge. Whether on food, TV or even sleep. Rest like this doesn’t reach all the way down into my centre. Doesn’t calm those stormy depths of my soul which can lead to me feeling so exhausted.

Choosing to spend an entire weekend in PJs with the TV remote is sometimes needed, but doesn’t help me to process or make-sense of all the things that are inevitably playing on my mind.

Big things like ‘where am I going?’ or ‘how can I be more fulfilled?’ and smaller things like ‘what do I need to say to them?’ or even ‘what am I going to cook this week?’

So here I am.  At my keyboard. Typing. Attempting to turn letters into something that makes sense. Trying to help my swirling thoughts attain some kind of coherence.

I need to keep reminding myself that I have a reason to write. I have thoughts that won’t leave me alone. Hurts big and small which need to be faced. Things that need to be addressed, even if it feels like chipping away at an Everest of uncertainty.

I know that writing about these things, whether publicly or privately, can help. So I’m reminding myself to try. To pick up the pen, to make time, to marshal my thoughts and my words into something that might just make sense. That might just help me to calm those stormy waters.

So if I haven’t posted anything in a while, ask me why. Remind me to try. Ask me what I’m thinking about. If I say ‘oh, I’m OK’ then press on, because I’m probably just putting off something. Aren’t we all?

Breakfast with Holly

“You call yourself a free spirit, a “wild thing,” and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

You know the situation, we’ve all been there.

You’ve just been let out of the police station on suspicion of passing messages from a convicted mobster in jail, but rather than staying safely put you decide to take a flight to Rio with the ticket your Brazilian not-quite-fiance gave you, even though your not-quite-fiance has just broken it off, owing to the aforementioned crime. Hmmm.

Not really the most universal of experiences is it?

This is one of the climactic scenes of the classic film version of Truman Copote’s ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ A film, that for me, has always been overshadowed by the undeniably iconic performance Audrey Hepburn gives as Holly Golightly. When I recently decided to watch the film for the first time, pretty much on a whim, I was expecting an experience of style over substance, really just interested in ticking the film off my list. I was pleasantly surprised therefore when I was struck by the timeliness of the film and the thoughtful questions it poses about how we view our lives and relationships.

If you don’t know the film, a brief summary of the plot is as follows. Holly Golightly is a good time girl living in New York, ‘a phony’ perhaps but a good one. She parties the week away in her sparsely furnished flat, with an adopted stray cat named ‘cat’ (because why should she name a cat that she doesn’t own?) The plot revolves around her pursuit of rich suitors, with the aim of being able to provide for her younger brother Fred who is about to get out the army. It is also about her life intersecting with her neighbour, writer, kept man and possible gigolo, Paul Varjak.

What struck me most when watching the film is just how modern the story seemed. When I say modern, I mean how relevant the questions it poses are. While we may not have the glamour and charm of Audrey Hepburn, we all face questions about the future. We all have to think about how we view ourselves and our relationships. Holly is confronted with her fear of being caged, changed against her will, by entering into a loving relationship. She is held back by her fear in a way that so many in my generation seem to be all the time, myself included.

We look to the future and see bright possibilities, if not rich suitors then new jobs and relationships we might gain. We feel that our lives have not really started, extending adolescence well into our thirties, always looking for that opportunity that will make us suddenly truly ‘grown up.’ We complain about the mundanities of ‘adulting,’ seeking to be wild and crazy to avoid responsibility, while also having a desire for stability and a longing for ‘normality’ in one form or another. We fear making the wrong decision, anticipating future regrets before we’ve even done anything.

Like Holly, we are presented with a dizzying array of entertainments and distractions, an endless stream of possibilities for our future. Like moths fluttering between flames, we are drawn hither and thither by the different future lives and future selves we might have or become.

In my case, I know that I am torn between desires for my future. Desires for relationships, for home, for dreamed of careers and wealth, and for stability. I often find myself thinking thoughts along the line of ‘when will my life begin?’ The decision about where to live has taken up a lot of my thinking, as I know that my instinct is often to move on, looking for new places and experiences. This desire is tempered by another thought along the lines of ‘staying is good.’ I worry about making the wrong decision and fear the consequences in a way that is honestly irrational.

Holly Golightly seems to have a similar struggle at the heart of her character; stay or keep running. Commit or flit away. In her case, it takes a decisive intervention for her to see that staying put might be the best decision, for her to see that she can stay and still be the joyful, fun-loving person she has been for the whole film. In her case, she also sees that a loving relationship doesn’t have to be a cage. That she can be free and honest with another in a way she never could be with her rich suitors. A danger of always moving on to the next thing is that our relationships become increasingly shallow.

All these swirling ideas, dreams and goals that we experience all the time can become, like they did for Holly, a cage we build for ourselves. We can end up tripping up as we stumble from one thing to the next. We nave no roots or even fear becoming too attached to where we are. While holding out bright hopes for our futures we are actually overcome with fear of failing. Of making the wrong choice.

Like Holly, I am glad to have people around me (though not currently any writer/gigolos) who tell it like it is. Who see me and my dreams, encouraging and cautioning me. Pushing me to stay, pushing me to go, reminding me of the bigger picture. That is what Holly needed and it’s what we all need.

We are a generation brought up to believe we can do anything, be anybody, see everything. Yet we are also a generation with unprecedented levels of anxiety for ourselves and for the future. We need people in our lives who can put this self-belief and this fear into perspective, helping us to live lives free from fear.

We need to remember that making ‘sensible decisions’ can be joyful and freeing, just as making crazy choices can be liberating and exhilarating. We should make sure that we have people around us who can wisely push in either direction.

Time to be

  • Mark those maths books
  • Check those emails
  • Grab a cuppa
  • Research flights
  • Make some slides for a science lesson
  • Cook something healthy
  • Arrange a catch up or 3
  • Write a blog post
  • Do the ironing
  • Etc

Who doesn’t love a good list?

They are undeniably satisfying to cross things off from. Sadly, there’s always something new to add. Sometimes I wonder whether all of these self-organisation apps, these good ideas for being more organised, serve to make me more organised at all, or whether they just draw attention to my lack of organisation. Surely they shouldn’t serve to increase my stress? I’m beginning to think something needs to be done.

I’m thinking of, in a crazy and reckless manner, abandoning my list making ways  and risking that (shock!) I may forget something once in a while. I may forget the odd bit or bob, but I will be able to make more time for that person who needs to chat. I may forget to buy more pasta or loo roll, but I will be able to take time to read one of the many books I am looking forward to. I might not reply to that text as quickly, but I will hopefully be freed from being anxious about needing to reply quickly.

Maybe I will be able to think of time less as space to fit all my tasks into, but as space to be. To be who I am. To be me enjoying God and his goodness. Sure, to be me doing the stuff I need to do as well. But also feeling free to change it up. Free from the to-do list.

It seems lots of people struggle with feeling guilty about taking time to just ‘be.’ It would be easy to think; ‘How could I waste all that time?!’ ‘Think of all the things I could be doing!’ I feel that way sometimes. But I have also come to feel freed and able to spend time doing something I enjoy, even if that doesn’t look very productive. Truth be told, it’s probably not going to be productive at all. But that’s good! We aren’t supposed to be productive all the time, and I know I’m more diligent and productive in my job when I’ve had real downtime.

So when was the last time you had time to be? Just be. I encourage you to give it a go. Switch your phone off first.

 

Reflections in Murky Water

I was looking forward to time away over the summer for many reasons; the reliable sunshine, the travelling, the chance to see friends and family, the barbecues, and not least, the chance to reflect on life here in Prague. It’s a teacher perk, the long summer, providing the perfect opportunity to get some distance from the day-to-day and to consider the past and the future. I was so fortunate to have a full six weeks away, travelling around in the USA, Israel and the UK, and I was eager to seek God’s will for my future in that time.

I often find it really hard to spend time with God on holiday, when routine is interrupted and breakfasts move closer to the afternoon than in term time, and this was certainly the case this summer. As has been the case for the past year, I have found my relationship with God far too one sided; God being good to me and I only belatedly realising just what he has given me and done in and around me, if I notice at all. My half-hearted attempts at connecting with God amounted to reading the Bible in a hap-hazard manner and attending church wherever I ended up. Yet as I look back I am yet again amazed how God has been gently changing my thoughts, actions and viewpoint over the summer.

On my travels I was lucky enough to visit San Francisco, somewhere I had long wanted to visit, perhaps due to my love for the rather naff Bond movie A View to a Kill, featuring, among other things, a blimp battle atop the Golden Gate Bridge. I was struck while there just how far I was away from ‘home.’ By the time I made it there I hadn’t been back to the UK in over eight months, not that long in the grand scheme, but still the longest I’d actually been out of the country. My homesickness wasn’t painful, more wistful and bittersweet perhaps. When I arrived back in the UK for a visit a few weeks ago, I was again surprised at my depth of feeling for the land of my birth, and by just how nice it felt to be home (it may have helped that I went straight from the airport to a National Trust property, proceeded to have a walk in the rain, followed by a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Some stereotypes are true.)

This came as a surprise mostly because this last year has been a whirlwind of new and wonderful experiences, as I have settled into Prague and my new job. My thoughts went along the lines of ‘This is so great, why would I ever go home?!’ Yet it’s clear that home has a strong pull on me and the week or so I spent in the UK was perhaps the sweetest of my summer. God exposed my heart and I was surprised at the attractiveness of moving home and being in this place where everything is just more familiar and where I fit just a little bit more nicely.

I don’t know if I will stay or go, both hold real attractions and benefits. God has been so good in blessing me with opportunities both here in Prague and at home, and he was so faithful in helping me to reflect over the summer, pretty much despite my feeble efforts. I think I have a tendency to look inside myself when I seek to reflect. What do I want? What thing would be best for me? I have been challenged to look to God, in his word and in his person, as I seek to understand myself and my place in the world (both literally and figuratively.)

After the summer I feel less sure than ever about where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do. But maybe that’s a good thing. My prayer is that in the uncertainty and indecision I would seek God and allow his will to lead my actions, and that through the process, my love for and trust in him would grow as well.

 

Bruxelles

It’s interesting and harrowing walking through the streets of a place like Brussels.

How does one quantify that feeling of unease? Is it an underlying racism? Am I more uncomfortable in ethnically diverse places? Do I have a crippling fear of concrete?

I hope not, yet something made me feel very uneasy as I arrived there compared to home, compared to Prague. Is it simply unfamiliarity? Is it the woman begging at the tram stop? It was certainly the possibly prostitutes who cheerfully said ‘Ca va?’ to me not far from my hotel (and outside designer shops no less).

I hope and pray I met some friendly Belgians and that I am being judgmental but I’m not sure.

Brussels is a real breathing, begging, sinning place, not simply the heart of a utopian new Europe/the demon beloved of UKIP (delete as appropriate). There are people there who have never, and will never, leave. People who call it home. People who wish they didn’t.

It is a challenge for me to remember that so often the places we visit as tourists have a life that we don’t see, sufferings and heartaches that are hidden out of the sight of fleeting visitors. This is something I have begun to realise about Prague as I have spent more time here. This rawness seemed much closer than I expected in Brussels. May my eyes stay open, may I pray and do what I can for this city, may I not put on my tourist blinkers once more.

On a lighter note, Brussels also has a most frustrating metro with many tram stops seemingly fiendishly hidden. But maybe that’s just me. The fact that I accidentally stroked a guy’s head on the metro probably didn’t help.

Admittedly, not Belgium’s fault.

Ahem.

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Nice towers.

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Fantastic waffles (yes, it’s under there somewhere).

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The Atomium.

A Nottingham Epilogue

I was encouraged recently to realise that, if we’re leaving a place for the right reasons, then we’re leaving because of the friends we leave behind, the experiences we’ve had. They’ve been preparing us, shaping us, helping us, to be ready for the new challenges we face. We’re not running away, but pushing doors, not fleeing difficulty, but seeking challenge. Our friends don’t stop being friends, in fact seeing them just becomes more special in the new context we find ourselves. Moments more treasured.

As I reflect on my eight years here I am amazed how much God has been changing me and opening my eyes to the diversity, complexity and joy of this world. Through hard times and good I have been blessed with great friends, reminding me of God’s love, my sinfulness and the joy to be found in all of life’s quirks and randomness. For day trips, meals out, random encounters, film nights, pizza nights, holidays, bad days, good days, I thank you all. As a reward, please accept free accommodation in Prague…

I read a really interesting article about how our 20s are the most formative years of our lives and it has been a delight discovering who God made me with you all (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/20-things-every-twentysomething-should-have). These eight years have enabled me to grow in confidence, explore creativity, go on a lot of trips to the pick and mix shop, expand my horizons in many a way, not to mention getting half decent at teaching (a more nomadic friend of mine recently commented ‘You have a profession!” Yikes! Am I supposed to be professional then?). Wonderful experiences all, on reflection.

This is not an end, but a beginning, not a full stop, but a comma. A new opportunity to enjoy God’s bountiful goodness, a new perspective to appreciate the truth of the gospel, and an opportunity to meet, and be met by, fellow travellers. I’m not looking to reinvent myself or leave behind my boring life, but just to step out on faith, as I am.

It has been a delight saying goodbye this week – I have spent wonderful times with wonderful people who are so dear to me. I am sad to leave, of course, but I am expectant of God’s goodness because I can see how he has used each person and situation here in Nottingham to enable me to reach this point. So it’s your fault I’m brave enough to leave really…

And I’ll be back. Count on it.

Czech Please….

Do you ever feel like you want to check out of your life?

Now don’t get scared, I mean more in the checking out of a hotel sense. Sometimes, don’t you just wish for something more, something different? The hum drum just gets very, well, hum drummy. It’s all too easy to get a bit jaded with the things around us, even the people around us, even our friends and family.

I have been feeling like I wanted to take a step away from ‘normality’ ever since I seemed to experience a ‘mid-twenties crisis’ back in the fall (I know, how self-indulgent of me). I really felt a deep frustration with where I was, even as I was aware of the great people and opportunities God has given me where I am. I described my feeling to a friend as ‘I just want to go and run in a field’ (amusingly, I literally did that soon after with my accomplice), expressing a desire, I guess, to run away.

Strange how one minute I was feeling rather smug with my permanent job, supportive friends and church, considering buying a house even, then suddenly wanted to run and hide. I’m not sure if it was a case of frustration with the hum drum but I have come to enjoy a feeling that my future is in God’s hands completely – whether here or far away.

The long and short of the situation is that I have ended up ‘Czeching’ out rather literally and moving to Prague to work in an international school there. Well, I will be moving there come the summer. Have I given in to my self-indulgentness? I hope not. I trust that God was giving me a wake-up call and reminding me that the plans I make are subject to his will.

Do I still want to check out of my life? No. I hope and pray that God would keep adjusting my view on ‘my life’ and keep surprising me with the direction it could take. How glancing at an online ad became a 4 day trip to Prague (best interview ever). How that became a job offer. How I’m coming to terms with saying goodbyes.

It’s so easy to wish for something different and I hope this whole post isn’t too hypocritical. I am going somewhere different. But I’m not checking out. Not of my friendships, family, especially not of relying on God. I hope, pray, plead that this is right, God’s plan. I am optimistic.

I think I have come to see that it’s OK to explore new opportunities, that we should push doors. But that we shouldn’t leave the hotel. I don’t need a new life, new friends, new, new, new. I need to go forward with them and that’s what I pray I will do. And maybe there are things I do need to leave behind – materialism, jaded-ness with situations, frustrations. Maybe that’s a bonus.

And I think I will go and run in a field occasionally. They have them in Prague right?

Green field