Quelle cliché : life’s a marathon.

VLM2015Today the annual London Marathon is held and thousands of runners are lining up as I type. The publicity, the PR set off in me a sense of excitement: only a year ago, I was prepping to run marathon in Edinburgh and the runners vibe brings back the adrenaline. Not that I would be able to run one now, mind: yesterday, I struggled through my first 5K in a long while. The first run, after six weeks if not two months, when I pushed myself to run a hilly 10K just under an hour… by 12 seconds. Haha, it doesn’t matter. Like writing, running is something I enjoy going back to. (Yet perhaps like running, I would get better or more practised at writing if I made time for it more often. Now there is a thought for Sunday morning.)

Source: Twitter - hard to track, sorry.
Source: Twitter – hard to track, sorry.

Despite the buzz and despite a very tempting offer to accompany the boy on his job photographing charity runners this morning at 8am, I have decided to join the crowds later for the very last bit and cheer them on to the finish line. That moment is magic. I have already considered going back on my ‘once and never again’ but the awful amounts of training, the Chris Hoy thighs (ok, perhaps not quite) and the unsexy moments half-dressed in an ice-cold bath eating a protein bar, do flash back and dissolve that nostalgia once more. For now. (What is wrong with 10Ks? Half marathons?)

The marathon was an amazing experience, a transcending one almost; I now tackle all life’s challenges as a metaphorical run. The discomfort, and there is discomfort when you are schlepping across 26.2 mile, proves to be only temporary and the euphoria of the finish line is worth every effort. I have felt the physical equivalent of  ‘this too shall pass’ and as I am wading once again through a foggy patch, at 3-0 I know it will all work out ok. Good luck to each runner: enjoy the ride, I’ll be cheering each and every one of you!

London Life

I’m writing this from a Starbucks, drinking tea of course, after having met up with a new-found friend whose show I am to see at the Soho theatre tonight. This morning I went to work by Tube, instead of bicycle because I had to go out after. Today was a half-day (to theoretically accommodate the writing-dream) but really is there such a thing as a half-day; by midday I had resigned myself to the workload and went for lunch (mistakenly getting an egg-noodle broth instead of rice noodles, the latter being superior, as we all know) before staying two more hours trying to get stuff done.

When I walked out of the office, I made my way to Soho. Walked past the squares with their stately homes and houses, the tea rooms, the theatres, the cinemas, the cocktail bars. I bought an ice cream, in my favourite place where they don’t use scoops but turn your flavour choices into ice cream roses. I sat outside and watched the world go by: lovers, colleagues, tourists making their way over the cobble stones. Friday afternoon, early evening giddiness in the air. Hotel terraces are packed with wine-drinking ladies in power-dresses, men with the top button of their collar undone: the relaxation and expectation of the weekend.

Called a friend to see if she was interested in joining me for the performance but she had plans but pointed me in the direction of someone else who might be interested before inviting me to a party later tonight. We agreed to stay in touch and play it by ear. One text message later and I got myself some company to see the show.

I made my way to our meeting place, an Italian coffee bar; checked Facebook on my phone and saw he was running late. Ordered an amazing coffee and sat down to write a postcard. Sipping my amazing coffee, I sat by the window by myself: once again looking at the people passing by. My new friend arrived and we moved because the music was too loud to talk.

When we sat down, we spoke about performing, about writing, about creativity and parental expectations. We talked about siblings, about travel, about feedback, about the importance of deadlines and moving on.

He has left to prepare for his show and the barrista tells me that they don’t close til 10pm. So I stay and wait, I stay and write, I stay and marvel at my London life.

The Universe Calling. (Well, Ryan Gosling. Sort of.)

In the never-ending undulation of life, riding the wave upwards has been amazing but suddenly I find myself slowly losing momentum: the wonderful workshops are coming to an end, a side blog project finishes soon and the paid-job shifts seem to be becoming suspiciously quiet at the moment. Thus I find myself in the seemingly contradictory position of bathing in glorious Spring sunshine while staring at A Big Black Hole that is thundering towards me with the speed of a Pamplona bull in July.

It’s that moment, when you’re making yourself some tea in the kitchen, you tilt your head to the Universe and shout in Jeremiah-ic despair: “What do you want from me?! Send me a sign!” For your housemate to walk in, grab some cereal and enlighten you: “Listen, this is what the Universe is saying…”

This is what I imagine the Universe looks like.
Note: Not my housemate. This is what I imagine the Universe looks like.

Phenomenal Women.

Last year, I had written a piece on International Women’s Day that was later read by a man I briefly went out with. The blog ended with:

“Live life my friends, especially if you are a woman. To honour those who have gone before us, to advance those who are to follow: be courageous, be woman, be proud.”

The guy started to laugh and asked me if I was being serious. This couldn’t be serious right? This must be a joke. “Live life especially if you are a woman”, what did that even mean? A few conversations on the matter later, he revealed he believed (!) that ‘considering equal rights, women who fall pregnant shouldn’t automatically be able to ask men for maintenance’. In his view, this money was an incentive for the woman to keep the baby. They want the baby, they should pay for it. Reflecting upon this a year later, our affair – though brief – still lasted surprisingly long…

Happy International Women’s Day: the fact that these well-educated and seemingly adjusted men walk around in fairly developed countries as the UK,  is exactly why today is still needed.

Today, living life as a woman means that I appreciate that I have the choice to sleep with beautiful yet misguided men but that I thankfully don’t have to marry them; that I am able to exercise in the gym or in the park because my body is my own; that I occasionally worry about money, because it is me who earns it; that I can waste hours on the internet because I can read and my brain is constantly hungry for information; it means that I can facilitate workshops and write pieces like these, because I have a voice that I want to use to connect with others; it means that I can review plays and bars, because I have the freedom to move around by myself; it means I can momentarily panic about parking the car, because I am the one behind the wheel; it means that at 29,  I am still looking forward to have biological or non-biological children one day, because I choose them in my life.

Living life means appreciating your opportunities: being able to create your chances by using the freedom of choice and personal will, to live a life true to you and your potential. No one should be denied this – just because they’re women.

Ode to a Teacher

There is a memory that has been playing on my mind lately: I was six I think and my Year One teacher (if that’s what the English equivalent is, it was the year where you learn to read and write) asked me to stay after school because he wanted to discuss something with me.

Blackboard (Photo credit: rickerbh)

I was, quelle surprise, a precocious child and he had recently discovered that, while everyone else was mastering words, I could actually already read full sentences. He was a very popular  teacher; our school quite hippy-ish in its approach anyway (No, not quite Steiner 😉 ) and had the policy to address teachers by their first name, except for the preschool years in which we could address them as “Miss” (or “Mum”, if you forgot where you were).

This teacher would actually effectively kill off “Sir” and “Mr” by theatrically shouting “NO! “SIR” IS DEAD!” when a new student slipped up. He might have done a death-scene, but I might have made that up. Sometimes he would tell one group of pupils to clear their desks and he would make his way, stepping on and over desks towards the door. The class-clown was our teacher and he noticed I could read.

Obviously, people were aware before: my mother was. Though she was not the Tiger-mum at all, she didn’t discourage it either, using the motto: “She’ll use it one day.” My well-meaning preschool teachers thought I should play a bit longer (yeah, hippy can backfire) and insisted I kept calling the capital T in my exercise book a “parrot-stick”. (It got playfully introduced to the children with a parrot on top.)

Book Chaos
Book Chaos (Photo credit: Sharon Drummond)

Now, this happened a long time ago and I am not sure what happened first. Possibly my Year One teacher started by getting me books for a higher level to read and then made time to teach me writing exercises for the year above to get me up to speed. One day, he asked whether I was right-handed or left-handed and came back with my very first fountain pen! He showed me how to use it, the cartridges – one to click in the top, one upside-down in the lower bit of the pen and how to clean it. The rest of the class was still working with pencil, so this was a big deal.

Again, I can’t remember the order of things, extra spelling, extra maths (suddenly I had to learn times tables, where previously only adding and subtracting numbers up to 10.) Looking back on it as an adult, it seems so amazing that one person made such an effort for one child.

The biggest and best thing my teacher did however, was on that day he asked me to stay behind. When school finished that day, my friend (I still know exactly who it was) tried to pull me out of the door but I said I was asked to stay. So she left and the teacher and I sat at my desk, he sat on a pupil’s chair, which made him look silly but put us on equal level. Kind of.

Then he asked me whether my mum had already told me about his proposal, I can’t remember what I answered but I do remember what he said next: “We know you can read and write, and I think you could move up a year but the question is: Do you want to? ” There it was: I was six and I was given the power of decision-making. I could choose to move or stay, both presented as perfectly acceptable choices but being the one who made the final decision influenced my life and how I perceive myself greatly.

It truly is a wonderful thing to have someone championing your corner, to support you and to guide you, but a teacher really surpasses himself when he gives the gift of trust, responsibility and power so his student can confidently walk her path alone.

Standing still

“Not all those who wander are lost.” Perhaps not, but maybe there are a few who during their walkabouts are not 100% sure they are heading in the right way…

On the superficial level, the above describes my life: blame my dire sense of direction. Only last night, I managed to roam the same block looking for a pub, 100m from the station and this is while being the blue dot on my phone: my map-reading skills also need some work.

In the less literal sense, i have been trying to make mind up on which way to go. Last weekend, someone shared his philosophy “Life is just wasting time”, it is just us who want to give it meaning. I don’t know if there is such thing as meaning but at the very least if we are going to spend a day or two here, I would like my time to be pleasurable/happy. I don’t mean 24/7 debauchery and entertainment (well….) but something more Aristotlesque.

Virtue (film)
WordPress helpfully came up with this as a picture suggestion… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(For those who need a refresher: “[Aristotle] says, not that happiness is virtue, but that it is virtuous activity. Living well consists in doing something, not just being in a certain state or condition. It consists in those lifelong activities that actualize the virtues of the rational part of the soul.” Quote-unquote from the Stanford Encyclopedia)

At the moment, I am just not quite sure what makes me happy as defined above, priorities seem to be shifting and as some new elements come into focus, which I hadn’t previously considered important: I wonder whether the things I now seemingly aspire to, are actually my own wishes or projections of others.

Against my nature, I have decided to forgo the wandering and stand still: to listen, to observe what is going on, in the hope that from the ashes a fire shall be woken and that a light from the shadows shall spring.

Transitions (part 1)

One day I woke up and found myself yet again in the eye of the storm. Despite having become quite the expert in weathering these transitional moments, I still have to grit my teeth. Through the years I have noticed different responses that are triggered in dealing with change:

The initial emotional reaction: I have learned to sleep on this reaction. If I kept acting upon this first instinctive jolt, I would a) keep crying b) keep leaving the country.

The organisation mode: jotting down problems, listing solutions. Actioning the latter in fits and starts of productivity.

The Laissez- Faire attitude:  indulging in minor hedonism to balance the tension. This part can get messy and expensive but as long as no one gets hurt in the process, I have learned to just give into it. It beats breaking down and the time it takes to get up again.

Throughout your heart beats in hope, fear, frustration, elation and survival: thinly veiled underneath the harness of experience. Of course, solutions will come and new situations will become the new normal, but before that, in between the old and new normal, there is a great vulnerability.

I might be tired but this too shall pass.