Navigating the holiday season

A friend of mine spoke recently about her overwhelm at everything she’s juggling just now: work, home, family, responsibility for elderly relatives. I’ve sometimes been in a similar place. At one time or another, most of us have: trying to make it all fit, keeping everyone happy and handling multifarious projects all at the same time.  My friend described it as a feeling of being pulled in different directions— a sort of emotional and psychological tug-of-war.  

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One of my chosen three words for 2020 is ‘waiting’.  

From here, a quarter of the way through the year, the time of its choosing feels like a different world.  ‘Waiting’ brought with it a promise of expectancy and fullness, of calm.  Waiting is not something I’ve practised much; it’s not something I’m good at (I wasn’t great at stillness, which was one of my words for 2019, either). My partner challenged me to begin a new practice, a ‘just waiting’ meditation, which involved simply that: waiting, in any one given moment.  

Photo: Sandro Figliozzi

Then we were tipped into the chaos of a global pandemic.

Waiting, now, takes on a whole new import for all of us. There’s a collective holding of breath. We wait in queues for the pharmacy and the supermarket.  Life is on pause while we wait for the lockdown to be over, for the peak of the disease to pass. And we wait to see what emerges in the wake of this new coronavirus: perhaps a different way of relating to each other, a greater sense of kindness, a renewed sense of community. But we will also come out of this — as individuals and as a society — with a bruised kind of vulnerability, with first-hand and painful experience of grief, loss and fear. 

Writing in this moment, I must acknowledge my own good fortune and privilege. I still (for the moment, at least) have an income; I have a safe, warm place to live and enough food. I am tearfully, immensely grateful for these things.  These past weeks have renewed my relationship with gratitude, again and again, for small things that —just a month ago —I might scarcely have noticed.  

I have seen that there can be a grace in this waiting; that ‘being good at it’ is inconsequential.  The slowing down has enabled me to turn inwards.  In this time of in-between, there is an extension backwards and forwards, into past and future.  This waiting dredges up memories of happy times; it forces me to sit uncomfortably with things I fear.  At the same time, I am wrenched into the present, where things are distilled into essence, where there is joy in a new experience of stillness, more time to read, to cook and simply to be.  And where there is also fear of losing those I love, the acute ache of longing to see them again.  To hold and be held.  

Photo: Victor M Gamero

My prayer is that I can embrace what this in-between can teach me.  I sense I will learn things I can’t yet imagine.  Then there are the things we will all need: acceptance and courage. Acceptance of loss – of those I know, love and live alongside; and a loss of the way things have been in my lifetime.  Courage to face uncertainty, to step into the future with determination and a renewed sense of the spirit of creativity that illuminates the dark times, and allow us to make sense of them. 

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In praise of darkness: an ode to the stillness of winter

January 6, 2019

For several years now, I’ve embraced the habit of choosing three words for the year, to help me shape and define how that year might unfold.  And this year? One of those words is stillness.  I have felt it gathering, that need to be still, for the past few months. This year is a time to make that […]

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Words for busy and creative people: clarity

January 16, 2017

My last post was about setting intentions for the new year, inspired by my recent reading, and the practice of choosing three words to help focus those intentions. Here, I reflect on the first word in the list of three: clarity. What role does it play in creativity, and how do we achieve it in […]

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Three little words: suggested reading for 2017

January 4, 2017

I love January, don’t you?  Crisp, sharp mornings and cosy nights by the fire.  I realise I’m in a minority as a fan of winter. But, at this time of year, I relish that feeling of emerging, mole-like, blinking in the dark.  It’s a time when we can reclaim and rediscover ourselves.  Everything can feel […]

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3 words for 2016

January 17, 2016

There’s something special for me about winter: the stillness; the turning inward and time for reflection.  At the turn of the year I always try to reflect on the twelve months just gone and the ones still to come. I’ve never really been big on goal-orientated new year’s resolutions.  But recently, inspired by Chris Brogan, […]

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Literary Sisters: interview with Deirdre Quiery

August 11, 2015

This week sees the publication of another exciting debut by an author with whom I’ve worked closely as mentor and structural editor.  It was a pleasure to work with Deirdre Quiery on Eden Burning.  Set in 1970s Belfast, it traces the story of two families riven by conflict and yet, in the end, brought to […]

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A comic, cross-cultural road trip: Tying Down the Lion by Joanna Campbell

June 9, 2015

Continental road trips – at least for a family like the Bishops, who live in a semi in Audette Gardens – are rare in 1967.  But Jacqueline’s mother, Birgit, is half-German and has long yearned to find her two lost sisters who live either side of the Berlin wall.  So her father, Roy, packs the […]

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Literary Sisters: interview with Joanna Campbell

April 30, 2015

Occasionally, as an editor, you come across a novel that really shines.  Joanna Campbell’s debut, Tying Down the Lion (published on 15 June by Brick Lane Publishing) is one such novel.  It came to me through Cornerstones (the consultancy for whom I freelance) and, from the very first page, the characters reeled me in.  I […]

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Literary Sisters: interview with Antonia Honeywell

February 17, 2015

I’ve interviewed several writers on this blog over the years, but today’s interview is particularly significant for me.  Antonia Honeywell and I met on the MA in Novel Writing course in Manchester over ten years ago.  We’ve remained friends and writing partners ever since.  We’ve kept each other going by being mutual cheerleaders, critique partners […]

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