Getting back to me

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything here. I was going to apologise but to whom and for what? I suspect the person who cares the most is me and I understand. I’ve had stuff going on, in more ways than one.

Term started again on 6th September, so we’re now eight weeks in and halfway to Christmas. My timetable this year is quite different from last year’s. My youngest learners now are in theory 10 years old, although in practice that isn’t quite the case. And whereas previously my highest level (in my core academy hours) was PET (B1), I now have four Advanced (C1) classes, including one teen intensive course with no course book. All of which means LOTS of prep.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to keep on with the writing. I actually submitted a piece to (and had it rejected by) a literary journal outside of the writing group, which feels like a step forward and only half a step back.

Over the summer, I also managed to finalise a handful of short stories. I’ve two more awaiting second crits – in other words, I’m really hoping not to have to make any further drastic changes to them, but that depends on the feedback I get – and one more that needs some further major work doing to it, but that’s gone on the back burner now as my attention has turned to rewriting my novella.

Another fairly major win for the summer was completing (or near as damn it) the first draft. This is a piece I started writing back in 2018 in the UK, then abandoned when I moved to Spain. But it kept nagging away at me, and eventually I decided to pull it out, dust it down and see what I found. And what I found was a good idea, some interesting characters, and some gaping holes. So I set about plugging them.

The problem with the resulting piece is not that it’s dreadful (I don’t think) nor that I don’t feel very comfortable writing from the point of view of the character I chose to be central to the story. Rewriting from a different character’s point of view simply wouldn’t be enough. No, the problem is that the story is about an Indian girl and her experiences of life in the UK and in India. And the thing is, I’m not Indian and I’ve never been to India. And despite friends encouraging me and saying that of course you can write about characters who are different from you (and I believe you can), the story I was trying to tell, and the way I was trying to tell it felt awfully akin to cultural appropriation. And I realised that if I ever wanted to have any hope, even any dream of publication, both the characters and the plot would have to change quite dramatically.

Fortunately, my inner writing circle helped me to see that the heart of the plot didn’t have to change, that I could rewrite the story from the point of view of an English girl who travels between the UK and Spain. After all, that’s exactly what I’ve done. And so, rewriting it in that way is exactly what I’ve set about doing.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

So far, I haven’t got much further than planning out the new, improved (and somewhat lengthened) plot. But this morning I wrote the first 288 words. Just 35,000 to go.

So, yes, both work and writing have been keeping me busy. And all this against the backdrop of increasing Brexit stress (fortunately no longer from a personal point of view, having secured my TIE) and rising anxiety about the COVID situation in the UK, and the seeming blindness of the authorities to what’s going on. I haven’t been back for over two years and the way things are going, I wonder when I’ll ever be able to get back again. (Fortunately, for the most part, the situation here seems to be relatively stable.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly (or perhaps completely unrelatedly, who knows?) I’ve been dealing with some health issues over the last couple of months, and this has led in turn to some rather challenging encounters with the health service. It’s not that they don’t want to help me, or that I’m not entitled to help, or that they’re actually doing things badly (as far as I know). It is that some of the systems are baffling, especially for someone from elsewhere, who’s used to things being done in a different way. It’s that they expect you to know how things work without having to ask a hundred questions. And it’s that they’re all so overworked that they don’t want to have to explain everything in detail – oh, and sometimes they forget to pass the paperwork on, so that the next person you speak to has no idea what you’re talking about.

I had to submit a whole load of samples for tests at the end of last week and should get the results next week, if and when the doctor phones me. (She’s not keen on office visits – another thing that makes the whole situation even less comfortable for me. I don’t like talking on the phone in English, for goodness sake, let alone Spanish!)

All of which has left me feeling rather stressed and rather drained. Thank goodness we have a bank holiday on Monday, although as both my Monday classes are repeated during the week, it won’t actually save me any prep.

I have to admit that all of this has started to take its toll on my mood, and as someone who has experienced anxiety and depression, I’m conscious of being at the top of a slippery slope. It’s so senseless – I live in a wonderful place with a wonderful person, doing a job that I love and writing (which I also love) in my free time. And yet I know that if I don’t take care of myself, I could end up losing my footing and starting to slide down again. And I really don’t want that.

The first time I went for counselling, more than ten years ago, the counsellor asked me to tell him about my childhood. I resisted. “Why do you want to know about that?” I asked. “It’s not about my childhood. It’s about what’s going on now.”

The second time I went for counselling, some three years ago, I told the counsellor flat out that I didn’t want to talk about my childhood. But this time, with a bit of probing and encouragement, he helped me to see that there were echoes of the past in my current situation and in my current behaviour and attitudes.

This week, various experiences I’ve had, from watching TV shows to conversations with friends to reading opening lines of short stories, have highlighted for me certain issues that still resonate through the years.

Anne Lamott famously said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Whether I agree with that or not, I’m not sure that here and now is the right time to delve into what those issues are, or how they came about. Perhaps one day I’ll be ready to explore them, whether head on or obliquely, through my fiction.

In the meantime, I’m aware that there is a need in me for fairness, for love, for affection and for order in my life. I have grown a lot over the last three years and I know now just how strong I am. But I know also that sometimes I need to lay down my load – mentally, emotionally – and give myself some space to get back to who I really am.

Now is one of those times. 

The challenge is in knowing what to let go of and what to hold on to, what is keeping me afloat and what is dragging me down. I’ve started by letting go of the need to stay at the top of the Duolingo leagues – it seems like such a silly thing but the relief at no longer having that particular mental burden has been immense. Perhaps next to go will be the Apple Watch rings. Maybe then I should stop reading the UK news, or doomscrolling on Twitter. And from there, who knows?

The mission to get back to where I need to be has begun. Wish me luck.

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