Oh January, I hate to sound clichéd, but I am relieved to see the back of you.
You’re a much-maligned month and I have been your staunch defender. Your arrival is like plunging into a cold, clear pool. Your lengthening days are free of the chaos of purchasing and planning that lays siege to December. You are such a beautifully bare month. My son’s birthday is also approaching. He was born on February 2nd, and announced his impending arrival on the 1st, the pagan festival of Imbolc that welcomes the return of the light. What auspicious timing, along with tentative signs of spring – although I am indulging in a fat slab of poetic licence here. The day of his birth was savagely cold, and spring’s heartbeat was sluggish beneath a skin of ice. Snow fell as I lay with my labour pains, and the weeks that followed, if I had to draw them in crayon, would be scribbles of black, grey, and red. For me, new motherhood was the most astonishing and terrible of things all at once. The wintriest of springs.
This January rattled me like a rock in a bucket. A clunky simile perhaps, but that is how it feels. My mood has been volatile, veering from crying in bed over heartache that refuses to heal, to a simpler melancholy that is soothing, in its way. Of course, for much of each day, I’ve just been getting on with it, sufficiently occupied to quell any underlying anxiety. On occasion, I have also been visited by an almost otherworldly sense of peace and ease – a delightful surprise, like snowdrops breaking through the frost.
Given that I am in menopause, within certain angles the mood swings don’t alarm me, as I know they will pass – if I just breathe properly, or curl my toes to feel the floor, or watch the wood pigeon plucking at bits of moss on the roof outside my kitchen window. In stillness dwells okayness. Capricious hormones, however, have not been the only reason for a challenging month.
I am a freelance translator, and my biggest client, a Swiss agency, has had to negotiate a brutal rate cut in order to retain a major contract. Overnight, my ‘market value’ has been slashed by a third. After a morning of overwrought tears, however, it occurred to me that this may be the push I need to acquire additional, paying skills. Translation as a career is likely to disappear within the next decade or two, as Google Translate et al become ever-more sophisticated. My role will dwindle to that of revising a robot’s output, on even less pay. No thanks.
Normally, I would talk to my Mum about my money worries, but she has Alzheimer’s and conversations with her are now confined to the dates of birthdays (she can no longer remember mine), Sean is getting tall, isn’t he, oh, it’s lovely to see you! … on a loop. Anyway. It’s sad. Let’s leave it at that.
Another source of frustration has been my worsening ankle pain. The joint is worn out, and the only fix is fusion surgery. My running days are over (OK, more poetic licence – it was slow jogging, and I hated the actual jogging bit but loved how I felt in the endorphin-saturated afterglow). Walking is painful. Occasionally, the pain becomes so acute that, briefly, I cannot put any weight through the foot. There are far worse ailments than a bad ankle, but the physical restrictions do get me down and, as a single parent, I’m very anxious about the prospect of surgery that will be followed by up to eight weeks of no walking and twelve weeks unable to drive my car. Looking on the brighter side of ‘grankle’, as my grumpy ankle is now affectionately known: I have a consultant appointment far sooner than I expected, just two weeks away now, and I am fortunate to live in a country with a free national health service. Post-surgery, I should be largely pain-free. Those are genuine positives, and I am genuinely grateful for them. As I am for the ready availability of over-the-counter painkillers in the meantime.
Then there’s this blog, and how fretful about it I have become. Writer’s block has persisted throughout January. I should be used to it; I suffered from it for thirty-four years. A single critical comment by my English teacher when I was sixteen annihilated my confidence in my ability to express myself. Once I lost that, I see in hindsight, life became quite a bit more difficult for me. My natural inclination is to make sense of my world by writing about it. Put simply, I believe that, had I pursued my writing in spite of that teacher, I would have handled life somewhat better in the intervening years.
I have always said that I regret nothing in my life – but my abandonment of writing I do regret, and bitterly. I’m ashamed to admit that I still grapple with resentment towards that teacher, an anger that inhabits a nasty, sour little place within me. She was a timid woman with no liking for teenagers, an intellectual who was exasperated by our general failure to grasp Chaucer. She was, in short, spectacularly ill-suited to teaching a class of boisterous and bored comprehensive school pupils. They lacerated her. She once burst into tears in the classroom, so playground legend had it. The dispassion with which I reflect on that is a measure of how much her careless words cost me. Of course, the treatment meted out to her by her students must have cost her very dearly too…
My relationship with this blog unsettles me. Its readership is very small – and, let me just add, treasured. Yet I am now at risk of letting it define my sense of self. I have to write, I need to write, I love to write, I hate to write, I am compelled to write, I lack time to write, I am overly desperate to write, I have spent over three decades knocking about in a wordless vacuum and I… OK, I’ll stop, sorry Miss Englishteacher, I nearly spewed out another purple passage there…
But: I am scared. After feeling so relieved and thrilled to finally bring this little blog into life, and so uplifted by the conversations it has triggered and the support I have received – I am now just really, really frightened that I am not good enough. I feel like a fraud. I wonder if what I have written so far even came from me at all? Awen is a Welsh word describing the universal creative flow, one of the core tenets of Druidry. It is available to, and flows through us all. Yet it seems always to elude me these days. The bare bones of most the pieces that have made it onto this blog were clattering about in my mind, until that awen breathed flesh onto them. These last few weeks, I’ve been unable to grasp those moments of inspiration, to solidify them for long enough to put them into words. They turn to dust in my fingers, and I’ve felt disdain for everything I’ve written – this piece included.
My blog has ceased to feel like a safe space for me. Its walls have eyes. I am terrified of failing at the one endeavour that means more to me than anything else I have ever undertaken. My sixteen-year-old self is sucking at my feet like sodden clay. But I must push on, I must keep trying. Worse, far worse, than any fear of inadequacy is the abandonment of hope. I’ve given up on myself too many times in my life. A fear of rejection has always been my gaoler, my need to deliver perfection has always shackled me.
I don’t know if I can successfully force myself to write. Perhaps if I could take a week off work (less feasible now that my income has shrunk) and immerse myself in the task, just churn out words by the thousand and see what happens, like panning for gold, I would dispel this suffocating doubt.
This blog now feels like the wintriest of springs. All I know for sure is that merely waiting for inspiration to visit me isn’t enough. It even feels a little lazy, if I am honest – as if I am not shouldering the responsibility for my writing. It matters enough to me to risk failure, to put imperfect things into the world, to ride out the alternating love and disgust I feel towards my words. Because, no matter what, they ARE mine – and if I don’t share them with you, I will never feel complete.