Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Jolly good writing week

As you may gather from the title of this post this week has been a jolly good writing week. There are not one but two (yes TWO) exciting developments, allow me to enlighten you...

1. Novel progress.

Novel as in 'a fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters' rather than novel, 'strikingly new, unusual, or different'. Though I do hope the Novel is novel.

Anyway, yes I have progressed the Novel! Some three months after I packed in the day job I have found myself with a completely free day with no imminent deadlines for non fiction pieces or church work to do that I couldn't shirk and so, hurrah, I got to spend the day making up stories! Hip, hip, horray!

The first exciting development was that re reading what I have already written of the novel revealed that it is not totally hideous! I can't tell you what a surprise this is. I was convinced it was writing of the very worst order destined to die along with my literary ambitions but alas I even laughed in parts! Yes! And was moved! I also cringed a fair bit and noticed the steady decline in my ability to care about it as it went along (that's 7am writing slots for you!) but there is certainly something to work with. Hurrah indeed!

This has really given me the push to get it finished, mostly because I want to graduate from the masses of people who have half written a novel to the slightly more elite 'have finished a novel but can't get in published and I am very bitter about it' gang. Can't wait!

2. Super magazine opportunity

For about six years now I've had my beady little eye on a certain publication that I have wanted to write for. I have been writing for their B to D list publications for the last six years or so and have been pummelling at the door or the flagship magazine for ages until this week when I will be penning my first commissioned article for them! A List baby!

Now I just have to face the crippling fear that over night I have forgotten how to write. I don't know why writing becomes such a superstitious business. It's not like I wake up in a cold sweat wondering if I'm going to get to work and forget how to unlock the door or the alphabet will magically slip from my head and I'll no longer be able to shelve books. Yet there is always the lingering fear that I actually can't string together a coherent idea or even words that make sense, let along affect people in a meaningful way. Either way I have two days to get this article together so no time to be a winger.

And so concludes my jolly good writing week!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Inspirational people

One of the best things that my new job(s) has brought me is more people contact. That was a big motivator for me in leaving a desk based job and despite the number of new challenges this has brought (people can be awfully hard work!) I have met loads of really inspiring people, especially as I work with a lot of volunteers now at the church, at the bookshop and through my own volunteering with Tearfund. What has surprised me is the kind of people I have found inspiring, it hasn't been quite as I expected.

Oxford is one of those places that is wall to wall with people that you might automatically think of when you think about inspiring people. People who have got into one of the best Universities in the country and those at the top of their profession, experts in their field. This is where we teach the people who end up running the country. But actually these aren't the people I've found inspiring at all.

Oxford is also a city of contrasts, as I've mentioned before, people at the top and people at the bottom. What I have realised is quite how much the people at the top (and I) have started off with. Is it any great surprise that we have succeeded? Raised in good homes by people that love us, with the social skills that allow us to get on with others and the intellect to learn whatever we put our minds to? What I've been really blown away by is what people achieve who don't start off on such a good platform and the positive outlook they maintain.

I've always assumed that if you want to get a job in this country then you can. Mostly because when I have wanted a job I've always got one, perhaps not always the one I wanted but I have always worked. What I hadn't factored in is my ability to relate to other people which makes me employable in the first place. What if you don't have that basic ability, what if you can't interpret other people's feelings? If when you say something people react strangely and you don't know why? When you're competing with dozens of others for a job, who will pick you if they can't connect with you on this basic level?

And what if you've stuffed up in a major way and ended up in prison. How do you begin to rebuild your life, apply for jobs and get them to pick you above all those others CVs? Does it matter how good you are? How hard you work? Or are you the sum of your mistakes and nothing more? And what if you're recovering from major illness? Wouldn't it be easier to stay at home on on the sofa? What motivation do you have to have to build your strength up, to struggle at a volunteer job when it might cause you pain or embarrassment at what you can no longer do.

Yet I've met people in all this circumstances working hard, applying for job after job and giving their time for free in the meantime as they wait for their break. There is no applause for doing that. These are the people that have inspired me, and shamed me for all my moaning and worrying about my own employment situation in the past and for the assumptions I have made about the unemployed. It's made me think again about what I should be thankful for and what not to take for granted. And most of all it has taught me the beauty of saying 'You were Regents Professor? That's cool. But I tell you who I look up to – the guy that cleans the toilet till the bowl shines.'

Saturday, 14 May 2011

My right hand man

My husband never reads my blogs until weeks after I write them if at all so I'm fairly sure I'm safe in writing this and won't cause some incredible inflation of his ego that will make him unbearable over the weekend. I don't know whether its the romance of the royal wedding, the arrival of summer, or what feels like emerging butterfly-like from a period of difficulty but I am extra specially grateful for my husband at the moment.

Bless him, he rarely gets notable mention. The things that we have around the most are the easiest to take for granted, I find. Friends, families, partners can all go under our radar so easily for the very reason that they are quiet and persistent goodness in our lives – the things we should value the most. I read in Elizabeth Gilbert's (author of Eat, Pray, Love) Committed a wonderful quote that your spouse is like air, always there, so easy to ignore yet you can't get by without them.

Sometimes people get a little surprised by husband and I. I'm hardly a shy retiring presence and he is so chilled out he's almost horizontal. We don't really fit into the typical gender roles. In church I'm the worker, he's my right hand man. It comes naturally for us to be that way. I'm the one who drives things forwards. If I try and get him to make decisions he has and episode closely resembling a breakdown until I suggest what the best decision might be and the relief on his face is beyond comical. But when the poop hits the fan he knows what he's about and, essentially for me, what I'm about. He doesn't let me compromise or let go of the things that are important to me. The very reason I have spent today working at home writing for Tearfund and even writing this blog is because of his encouragement and support.

This week I had a manic job juggling moment where I had to shut the shop and simultaneously meet with a Vicar to have some marriage certificates signed, which I had left at home at least half an hour from the shop. It was my husband who ran up the road with the certificates to meet me. Last night when I suggested that we each pull a country out of a hat for Eurovision and then watch it together in national dress, eating a national dish and drinking a national drink he didn't even flinch! Even that level of mania was accepted, even welcomed! I tell you, I've found a good one there, God bless that man!!

So may I propose to you dear blog readers that this weekend be about appreciating the air that you breathe, those people that hold us up through it all. What stars!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Opportunity knocks

Today I've been thinking about opportunity. It seems to me that there are times in life when opportunity is easy to see. You are at the top of the mountain, enjoying the panoramic view. Then there are the moments where you are sledging down said mountain and the world seems to be going very fast indeed. It can be much harder to see the wood from the trees as everything is whizzing past much faster than you'd like. And worst of all you worry that if you come off your sledge you're not quite sure where you will end up, but you fear it is in a pile at the bottom of the mountain, ending up as a lookalike of the abominable snowman. Have I done the snowy mountainside metaphor to death now? Jolly good!

I'm not quite sure where I am right now on the mountain journey but I have felt like I'm on a one way track to abominable snowman-ville at times over the last few weeks so today was a most welcome break. I went up to Tearfund HQ to have a meeting about the project I'm working on in the Mekong Sub Region and, as always, it was a pleasure. It focused me again on what I can do right now, what opportunities I have available to me. Though I may not have the answers to everything on this journey, I do have the answers to some.

Sometimes it pays to put the breaks on and to realise that you can steer the sledge (really, am I ever going to give up this metaphor?!!!) if even for a little while. For me that means making sure that I am writing and making the best of the opportunities in that arena, because that will always be a part of me and an important part. And perhaps it's the small opportunities that it pay to keep in view, after all it is these that make up a life not what we think might be around the next bend. The opportunity to make a fuss of someone you love or my personal summer favourite eating freshly picked salad that you grew with your own fair hands. It might not be a mountain vista but the view from here is pretty nice too.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Do it like YOU do!

Like most of you in the UK I have recently been enjoying the blissful extended holiday thanks to our lovely future King and Queen. And my goodness, wasn't it just what I needed! Before I left I was seriously considering the life of a hermit as a viable option to escape the mayhem I have created around myself with all these bloomin' jobs!!

The thing is, I love all of the things I have taken on – in THEORY. But it has brought a lot of challenges. People, I have decided, are little walking challenges! I also have much bigger responsibilities and the weight on my shoulders of the future and quite where all this is going to end up. That combined with a lot of pressures and the resurgence of some past angsts to do with working in church had left me a jibbering wreck.

While I was at home I had the immense pleasure of meeting up with my new mentor. She is the vicar who married me and my hubby three years ago and she is a bit of a legend. The fact that she rolls up in a sports car wearing floral heels makes me absolutely certain we are on the same page. So she is helping me navigate the minefield of the working for the Church of England, which she described as walking through a dark room full of rakes on the floor, you think you're doing fine and then BANG. Smacked right in the face by a rake!

I arrived in a state of simmering anxiety and left feeling ready to at least come back to work. Good work mentor! She told me to go away and think about why I am in the role I'm in. Not me as I think I should be, or what someone else wants me to be, but why me, twenty something Nicola, is where I am working for this big ol' dusty church and what I have to bring to the table. Because lets be honest, I don't think my face always fits. There aren't many people at my local parish congregation who can be spotted giving it some dancing along to Glee in their living room. It's not what people expect to find when they pop into the church office.

What she made me realise is that what makes it hard to fit in is perhaps the exact reason I'm here. That I'm here because of these things rather that in spite of them. That, dare I say it, I might be what this place needs. Meanwhile I'm learning to be true to who I am and to do it like I do. That means sparkly cupcakes are quite at home at the vicarage, pub outings for community building are on the up and I will be singing along to Glee in work hours. Can't be helped, I'm afraid!