Monday, 31 December 2012

Awesome 2012

Just yesterday I was flicking through my 2012 diary, looking back over the year. The retrospective view of some of these entries is so incredible it can warp whole moments; how life was and how it then comes to be, subtly reflected in the quick scrawls of appointments and deadlines in a slim pocket Moleskine.

Saturday 28th January, 10:30am - mortgage appointment became the possibility of returning to York
Saturday 4th February 12:00 - Butcher Terrace, 13:15 H Street brought us here, sitting on our sofa in this wonderful corner of the city we call home
Sunday 11th March - PECO @ Otley Chevin was the race I never attended. Daniel proposed to me that afternoon

And so it goes. The diary shows the admin, the arrangements and appointments (both attended and otherwise) that brought us on that fantastic journey that was 2012. I decided this time last year that 2012 would be the Year of Awesome. Somehow, whether it was divine assistance, coincidence or sheer determination, it totally was awesome.

My 2012 began on a mountainside, drinking champagne while we watched the Lakeland skies light up with celebration. There were a few bleak weeks of crying into my breakfast cereals, writing frantically without any real hope of success. I submitted a paper to a journal, sent desperate emails to academics all over the country and the world, and wrote my cause in as many different ways as I could muster. I got signed off sick from doing a job that I hated, but I carried on turning up every day regardless, taking long walks in my lunch breaks to obsessively plan my way out. I ran away from it with serious training, getting up at 5am to do frosty 11-milers or hill sprints before work. We visited York in the snow and fell in love with the perfect house on the perfect street, waiting outside for the estate agent in the freezing cold, planning a future that felt within our grasp after months of dreaming. I was checking my emails illicitly and obsessively, waiting for the news that I needed while remaining cheerfully pessimistic about the fact that it wasn't going to happen. I had Plans B, C, D and E at the ready, but secretly my world depended on Plan A. On 9th March at 14:40 I unexpectedly received that email. I opened it flippantly, without hope or even urgency, to find that I'd succeeded, PhD funding was mine. Two days later, Daniel proposed to me on York city walls while two teenagers looked on eating a tube of Pringles. The daffodils were out, the skies were blue, we were slightly drunk and the world was my own to enjoy. I laughed and laughed and laughed before finally saying yes - and I would have always said yes - because the joy was just too big to fit into one moment.

The weeks that followed now look like a dream. We completed buying our house and left work early to collect the keys, taking the 2-hour journey to York. Opening the door with our own set of keys was one of the most special moments of my life; the house was cold and smelt of fennel, and we walked around every empty room excitedly planning what would go where, and what colour each should be. Wrapped in our coats, we sat on the carpet in the empty living room and ate a Marks and Spencers picnic, before deciding to take the long journey back to our flat in Saltaire. I handed in my notice at work, packed up my life for the twelfth time in seven years, and prepared to start again completely from scratch. I set about starting my own small business of teaching and editing, which is still going today, got a part time job in a running shop, and treated myself to a long bike ride through the Yorkshire Wolds every Monday morning. In May I ran my third Keswick half marathon with Daniel (his first half marathon), then two weeks later I completed my first marathon; I can still remember the crunch of my knee as I ran down a curb in Ambleside, and the soft rope matting underfoot as I completed the last 10 metres of the run, before collapsing in the grass just short of the finish line. My 25th birthday started with champagne at St Pancras and finished with pizza on the Champs Elysees, followed a couple of weeks later by a weekend in Keswick with my family, where I ran knee-deep through marshes and climbed 4 mountains in the sunshine. Then, October 7th came and I was a student again, and it was scary to find how much I'd changed during my few years in the workplace. I was nervous, unsure of myself, had no idea where to start. The first 5 weeks were strange and difficult, like swimming haphazardly through a sea of sleeping sharks. I ran my first ever sub-2 hours half marathon, do-si-doed at the wedding of a brilliant friend, and worked like mad to justify to myself what I was doing. Then I went to Stockholm, where I found something of myself, or maybe where I shone light on a part of myself that had always been. Somewhere in the white corridors of Stockholm University I discovered what it was that I was doing, and now I'm doing it, and it feels like my own thing, at last.


So there we have it, 2012. Some of the most exciting things that will ever happen took place this year, and I know that it will be a hard one to beat. But I needed it, having almost given up on things after a hard year in 2011. I realise now that we become more of ourselves in those times when we are weakest; it's a matter of survival, it has to be. 2012 had some dark days, that's for sure, and it has remained challenging throughout, but the challenge has, for the most part, been the essence of the awesomeness that was.

What for 2013, then? More challenge, that's for sure, starting Wednesday when I brave my work for the first time in over a week. It's sure to be a busy year, with too many travel plans, assignments and papers and a conference for which I am co-chairing the committee. Then, of course, there's my wedding, and the millions of things that seem to demand attention in order to pull it off. We'll see. With all this in mind, I'm being careful not to resolve too passionately to better myself this year - too much unnecessary pressure for such a busy time. Instead, I'm intending to work hard and be kinder to myself and to others: two intentions which I hope will complement each other nicely.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Our Christmas, 2012

A quiet end to a busy and fulfilling year. Just the time I needed to pull back from myself and the whirlwind that my life appears to have become. Much-needed, evident from the amount of sleeping I have been doing.

I originally planned to take only a couple of days away from my work, with intentions of writing like a madwoman for days on end, of course. But as it happens I've read one paper in a little over a week, and it's been a joyfully guilt-free retreat from my to-do list. Finally I feel impatient to get back to it; Christmas has rejuvenated my enthusiasm and my energy.

Christmas this year was right out of a carol. Peaceful, quiet, light-hearted, surrounded by those who I care about the most. We danced and sung ourselves silly on Christmas Eve; Daniel and I duetted The Smiths and Nirvana, and he impressed us all with a voice I never knew he had (I'm now trying to convince him to join a choir!). I even said no to that final glass of wine, making it the first year in a long time that Christmas Day didn't begin with a hangover.

We had porridge and fresh figs with honey for Christmas Day breakfast, and then my Dad and I went out for a hilly road run. We chatted as we went, running pretty fast as we were keen to get back to our presents, talking all the while about our running year - each of us having completed our first marathon, while he raised over £3,000 running 86 miles for charity. We returned to that familiar Christmas dinner smell infusing itself through the garden, and drank prosecco while opening gifts. I seem to get more and more every year; alongside the usual undies and smellies, I got the complete set of Wainwright's Lakeland walking books and new bedding and cushion covers handmade by my mum - I must have been good this year!

The rest of the day passed in a haze of food and drink. Champagne was consumed in frivolous quantities, the sprouts were perfect, and the Christmas pudding that we provided for the feast was declared 'best ever' by my Dad (the harshest pudding critic in town). The day was washed down with the Christmas special of Call The Midwife (I had never seen this before (nor have I ever watched Downton Abbey) (we don't have TV at home) but I cried through the second half like a Christmas wreck) and chunks of cheese with apple and oatcakes. And a slice of cake.

So it was a good one, for a good year. It felt quiet, and it passed by without anyone realising where it was going. We sat and chatted and I knitted and read contentedly. We walked and I got in some good running (a windy 15-miler on Friday just about finished me off). We feasted and drank in abundance, stayed up late and padded around in pyjamas all day. It was Christmas like I wanted it. And now we're home, the year is almost over, and I am preparing myself as best I can for 12 months of busyness ahead.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Stopping to Smell the Cinnamon

Christmas has arrived and my heart is full of sparkle and Christmas spice. There is so much to celebrate, so much to be thankful for, such an exciting and magical 12 months to reflect upon this Christmas. I thought I'd be impatient to dance it away with a good few toasts to the year behind us, but actually it has come as a welcome pause for stillness, and a chance to catch my breath before 2013 takes hold.

Setting up Christmas in our first home has been an absolute delight. When I saw the lights on our tree twinkling for the first time I felt really, truly at home with myself and in the world. Every moment has been cherished, not so much in photos or blog posts (not at all) or anything concrete, but I have taken the time to stop and smell the cinnamon every step of the way, and that in itself has been a real Christmas treat. Over the last few weekends I've baked stollen and mince pies from scratch, stayed up late to put together our own Christmas cards, and knitted gifts for hampers of Christmas love and thanks for my family-to-be. Every part of it counts this year more than most; this is our first Christmas as us, here where we have planted our roots, and I want to grasp every fleeting joy that dances over my chest. The past few months have been busier and more exciting than I could have imagined, and now is the time to bring it all home with a bang.

Now I'm back at my parents house, and it is Christmas as I have always known it. Daniel is here to spend this extra-special Christmas with my family, and I can't wait to drink champagne with him on Tuesday and toast to the journey we've been on since this time last year. For now I'm taking time out; long blustering walks in the muddy country around here, afternoon naps in front of the fire, and plenty of sitting and reflecting. I'm hoping to take some time over the next week to put down in writing some of the massive things that are charging through me at the moment: mainly a sense of awesome gratitude and an ever-growing awareness of the fragile here-and-now. Whereas last year my mind was raging with the things I wanted to do and the goals I had for myself, this year I'll mainly be spending Christmas in the present moment, holding onto it as tightly as I'm able before the year ahead takes hold. Things couldn't be more different, and I couldn't be more in the mood for a few days of rest, food, laughter, and celebration.