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.

#Goals

So I’ve left school.

Graduated university.

Started and finished my first job.

Moved to a new city.

Visited most of the places (in Europe, at least) that I want to go.

What next? What now?

I often feel like I’m just strolling (or sometimes hobbling) onward down the path of my twenties, with my thirties looming large on the horizon, without much thought of where I’m going. I’m progressing in my career, but am not especially upwardly mobile at this point, enjoying life with friends and community which comes and goes, and reading a seemingly ever-growing wishlist of books; yet I often don’t seem to be very good at choosing and meeting new goals for myself.

It’s very easy when you’re a teenager. Your goals are to go to university, to get a good job, to go travelling or to just start out on your own. Once you reach thirty however, it seems like many of those goals have been achieved/don’t matter so much anymore. Sure, there are so many things that I want or wish for my future, but choosing specific things to work towards is hard when the options seem so broad.

For someone in my position, who is essentially still untethered, the question of what to do and where to go just seems impossibly open and the future hard to see. What is easier to see, easier to focus on, are those smaller, more achievable goals that I can set for myself.

Perhaps to get really good at making that one thing I love to make. I’ve got scones down, but what else can I learn to bake?

Or improving my photography skills; something that has brought me lots of joy recently.

Watching or reading that thing that everyone is talking about. The Handmaid’s Tale has proved particularly engaging and terrifying to me.

How about pro-actively making a new friend or working on that friendship that has proved difficult?

Even signing up for a 10k. This proved very motivational for me – and I even got a medal at the end of it. It’s rare as an adult that you are rewarded for your effort in such a concrete way, but the feeling of achievement and success certainly made the training worth while.

The feeling of achieving a goal, of getting slowly better at something or completing the task that you set yourself, is a positive and self-esteem growing feeling. Even as my future remains somewhat nebulous and uncertain, I know that I am better able to navigate the road when I set myself goals, big and small, to achieve along the way. Small successes remind me that I am growing, changing and still learning. I may not be in my twenties for much longer, but I pray that I will keep on learning and growing during all the years ahead.

All the light we can see

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

I love the light.

I love how it transforms things all around us.

How flowers bloom in the sunlight, brightening the grey streets and bare trees, reminding me that Spring is truly on the way.

How sunlight, even through closed windows, makes me feel warm in a way quite unlike anything else.

How it transforms everything it touches.

How it makes me feel like I just want to hit the beach (even when it’s March and I’m in a land-locked country.)

How fireworks turn darkness into a canvas for awe and wonder.

How light enables us to capture images of beauty, wherever we are, whether it’s people we love, things that make us laugh, or incredible natural wonders.

How the sunrise represents a brand new start, a new hope, a new opportunity to experience God’s goodness.

I was reminded of this viscerally while celebrating Christ’s resurrection at dawn this Easter Sunday. As the sun rose over Letná Park, the rays broke through the trees (and eventually the fog) to flood the city with myriad shades of light. Even though we were all shivering, the sheer wonder of the vistas opening before us were cause for great joy. Just as Jesus is victorious over darkness and death, darkness we are constantly reminded of in these times of fear, the dawn is victorious over the darkness every single morning.

Even if the view isn’t as spectacular as it was in the park, the dawn is inevitable.

Even when we lie awake full of anxiety and fear, the dawn is inevitable.

Even if the darkness feels so deep and so long, like a winter night, the dawn is inevitable.

Christ has risen. The darkness is defeated. The light I can see reminds me of this. It reminds me to love boldly and fiercely, it reminds me to laugh, it reminds me to cry with those in pain. It gives me hope. The dawn is coming and the darkness cannot overcome it.

The dawn is all the more amazing after the dark and cold nights of winter, just as the great dawn to come should seem sweeter in these dark times of fear and hurt. May I remember that when the sunlight isn’t shining. May we all.

As Spring truly takes hold and the days are more filled with beauty and wonder, as the trees blossom and the beach calls, I pray that I remember the wonder of dawn on that cold morning. How the darkness was defeated, how it gave me hope.

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.

 

The Wood Between Worlds

“He was standing by the edge of a small pool – not more than ten feet from side to side – in a wood. The trees  grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky.  All the light was green that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine.”

In a rush of warmth and familiarity it came back to me, the same words and sentences I had read as child evoking the most calm and contented feeling. Where was I, who was I, when I last turned these pages? One of my favourite things about books is how they can serve as miniature, paper-filled, time machines, reminding us of things that have changed, as well as things that never will.

Reading the chapter in C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ where Digory (the eponymous nephew) travels for the first time out of our world into the ‘wood between worlds’ served to take me back to several times I’ve read this book. The idea of a calm, silent wood serving as an in-between place in the spaces between myriad worlds fascinated me. When I’m stressed, I often long, as I’m sure many do, to escape to such a place, lying down on the grass and falling asleep beneath green-leaved trees. Of course, it’s a very English vision of a peaceful getaway, but I’m very English so it appeals!

Since moving to Prague maybe I can understand the idea of a place between places better than before. My normal has changed, multiplied, since moving. Going home feels very normal, as does coming back to my new normal of work and friendships in Prague. I didn’t expect that. I thought going ‘home’ would be a relief, a welcome return, a restful experience. At times it was all of those things, but it was also, surprisingly and reassuringly, normal. I guess I have lived in England for twenty five years of my life; things are bound to have remained relatively unchanged in the course of four months.

Yet it wasn’t normal as it had been before because work, church, house and ‘stuff’ were here in the Czech Republic. It’s amazing how quickly I have started to feel comfortable here. I guess getting the bus to work each day, interacting with the same people, even dealing with the same dodgy customer-service, has made a routine like any other.

Between these two new normals I think I would like a wood. Somewhere to cosy up in and retreat to. The allure of an idealised countryside has a strong pull on me, as it seems to on the English consciousness as a whole. Rolling hills, a moss-covered forest floor, a National Trust tea shop… I think this desire to escape is also a symptom, for me at least, of busy working life and a desire to do lots and fill my time to the brim. If only I could simply slip on a magic ring (as Digory does) and flee the burdens of this busy life.

Yet C. S. Lewis makes this wood more than just a beautiful place, it is somewhere where you quickly lose all ties to the world you have left.

“The strangest thing was that, almost before he had looked about him, Digory had half-forgotten how he had got there. At any rate, he was certainly not thinking about Polly, or Uncle Andrew, or even his Mother. He was not in the least frightened, or excited, or curious. If anyone had asked him ‘Where did you come from?’ he would probably have said, ‘I’ve always been here.’ That was what it felt like – as if one had always been in that place and never been bored even though nothing had ever happened.”

Sometimes I long for this too, or so it seems. To just be free of fear, excitement, curiosity, burden, events even, would be so much easier. Just give me a nice book, cup of tea and wood between worlds. But what would there be to escape, to enjoy, to achieve there. I’m tempted much of the time to just jack it all in and run to my bed, comfy and warm and free from danger. Yet I know that I have been put here for a reason, for God to work his purposes in, for his glory and my good. The place between normals isn’t as good as the normal, the run-of-the-mill, the stressful and busy.

Give me normal, as long as I know the wood is there. It’s in the pages of the book I’m reading, the simple pleasure of sleep, a nice cup of tea, Netflix. It’s in snatched ten minutes and lazy Saturdays. It’s ultimately and completely in heaven, though the metaphor is decidedly flawed when stretched to that extent. May my desire for escape and rest not lead to me fleeing normal, but to my enjoyment of that peaceful wood when I glimpse it.

Autumn AKA Fall

I’d never given much thought to which season was my favourite. They all have their charms and irritations. I find myself newly entranced, however, by the delights of Autumn. Walking through the park and wading through a mountain of leaves, seeing them fall like golden snow from their branches, beautifully reflected in the water. Being able to wear shorts and sunglasses while opportunistically collecting conkers and snuggling into a blanket while eating outside a restaurant. Delightful.

Perhaps my eyes have been opened by a recent visit I made to the ‘Pumpkin patch’ with some new American friends. Picture the scene – more pumpkins, in more types, shapes, colours and sizes, than I had previously thought possible (though I’m told the event was small by American standards), arranged in a charming farmyard, complete with pumpkin soup, cake and a corn maze. There were even pony rides. What’s not to love? Needless to say, my class are carving pumpkins at school this week.

So thanks Autumn, you’ve opened my eyes. Please don’t leave too soon.

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Jak se máš?

First a confession. I’m being very informal in this post. I hope that is OK with you. Having just had my second Czech lesson I’m feeling very proud of the fact that I know the informal form of ‘How are you?’ In case you’re interested, my answer would be ‘dobře’ or ‘well.’ Sadly that is about the extent of my current Czech knowledge. My current homework is learning to roll my rs. In Czech, you actually need to ask if you can be informal in a conversation, so I’m being very rude assuming it here. Soz.

Apart from a limited but growing knowledge of Czech, recent life in Prague has actually seemed to make me more English. I guess when you’re dropped into another culture, and especially a North American dominated ex-pat culture, it just inevitably comes up regularly, that I am, well, very English. I probably didn’t help matters by buying a Union Jack bow tie. It’s all part of a rather fun cultural exchange. I’ve learned what ‘biscuits’ are to Americans and introduced them in turn to the delights of milk in tea and lemon and sugar on pancakes.

In short, it is a privilege to be part of a truly multi-cultural community and I look forward to learning lots more. At the same time, my poor class are occasionally confused by my dogged refusal to use American spellings. Oh well.

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Charles Bridge from the Vlatava River.

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Charles Bridge at night, with a little help from Instagram.

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The very exciting British section of my local Tesco.

 

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Yes, there’s even a chippy.

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Prague viewed from Letna Park.