My whole wardrobe is pointless because I have no red shoes.
I’m sure we all have red shoe days, even though each person may call them by a different name.
The red shoe day comes when you’ve had a spell of bad luck, when it seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong, when everything’s against you and every single moment seems like a struggle. It’s the day when you have to do something, anything, to lift your spirits. For me, it’s the day when I reach for red shoes.
Red shoes are magical. I don’t mean in the Wizard of Oz way – there’s nothing so magical that it can transport me home – but in smaller ways. Of course, red signals danger so they are quite literally a warning that you shouldn’t mess with me, but they are also an assertion: “Look at me – even with all the rubbish I’m still here and I’m rocking it!” Red shoes are undefeatable. With red shoes on, the same things happen, the same annoyances crowd around me but deep in some well-hidden corner of my heart I am silently saying “I’m wearing red shoes, so bollocks to it!”
I also find red shoes inexplicably beautiful and when you’re down in the dumps you need something to remind you of the beauty in the world. On a red shoe day, every time I catch sight of my feet they bring a little smile of happiness and gratitude to my face.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, I have failed to replace my red shoes and I don’t have a pair at the moment, so now my shopping list consists of a navy skirt and a pair of red shoes.
I’d love to know how you combat those you and me against the world days.
2020 will be my fifth year of choosing a Word of the Year and it’s a practice that I find more soothing than setting goals and resolutions (although these also play a part in my preparation).
But how do I choose my Word of the Year and when do I settle on it? The process is quite gradual and this year I haven’t really applied myself to the specifics until today. However, since I consider the time between New Year’s Day and my birthday in February to be the period where I really set my intentions for the year, I don’t consider I’ve been leaving it too late.
As we move into winter, I generally have an inkling of the sort of area that I want the word to encompass, the things I want it to remind me about. For example, I knew I wanted this coming year to be about renewing my committment to things, re-trenching, getting things back how I want them to be, settling in, but not getting too comfortable. When I am ready to actually decide on my word, I gather the most important things about me: a pen, some paper, a dictionary and thesaurus.
First, I write the general outline that I’ve been thinking of and when a particular single word pops into my mind I open the dictionary and the thesaurus and really get to work. Starting with that word, I read the description, consider the positive and negative connotations, and then I start skipping through the alternatives in the thesaurus. This is the intuitive part of the process: there will be certain words that seem better to me than others and the chain will lead me in directions that pure logic wouldn’t approach.
Today I was drawn to destiny as I liked the idea of things which I feel destined to include in my life, but as I explored the definition I wasn’t keen on the links with doom and fate. Next, I considered resume which covers the idea of re-committing to things and that led to me revive which I have marked as “promising”, before leaping on to rekindle which I felt was even better, although it didn’t quite light the spark of my imagination.
In my experience, following this process – the daisy-chain of words entwined around the central theme – will lead you to one word which feels just right; which says what you meant, even though what you meant was only vaguely clear to you when you set out. This certainly happened to me today and I settled on my Word of the Year 2020. But to find out what it is, dear reader, you will have to come back tomorrow.
Now December is progressing and 2020 is just off-stage, running through its warming-up exercises, I think the time has come to sum up my feelings about my chosen Word of the Year.
I have kept my word with me throughout the year, with the hand-written sheet shown in my January photo accompanying me across a variety of planners. I have thought a lot about whether this word has been useful, whether it has been a guide, whether I have lived up to it. Recently, I have also been considering the ways in which choosing a Word of the Year differs from setting goals and making resolutions.
All along I wanted this to be a year where I established myself in a firm lifestyle. At the beginning of the year I wanted it to be more of an ‘alternative’ lifestyle, getting an income from a variety of different endeavours, using my creativity, being independent. As the summer ramped up I became more and more aware of how uncomfortable that lifestyle made me feel. I discovered that, for me, independence is easier to achieve by returning to a more structured working life, employed by a company and earning a regular wage.
Although the shape of my aspirations for my working life changed dramatically during the course of the year, I have indeed established a way of working that suits me and I feel it resonates very well with my word of the year.
Moving home was unexpected and unwelcome. On top of the new job it was just too much change, and I spent the autumn feeling like my life was a shipwreck. Yet, here I am, happy in my new home, looking forward to the future, re-linking with the things I love – the writing, the knitting, baking, dreaming. I have found that firm foothold in life that I so longed for.
On the whole I feel Establish was a great Word of the Year for 2019. Although I would not have anticipated how the year would go, I do feel I have spent it establishing new ways of working, settling and fixing things, pursuing opportunities, and definitely getting a firm foothold in my life. If I had sat at the end of last year and set specific goals for the next twelve months, I would not have met them because specific goals don’t have the flexibility I need to keep my soul unencumbered, allowing me to pursue the paths that open up ahead of me.
I am still mulling over what I should choose as my Word of the Year 2020, but I will share it when I have decided.
Did you choose a Word of the Year? How has it guided you?
I love the fact that each and every human being is made up of a glorious mix of traits – no-one is wholly one thing or another, however much we might like to label ourselves. We are not wholly confident, nor utterly unconfident; no-one is flawlessly beautiful and neither is anyone so ugly that they cannot be allowed out in public. The most that we can say about anyone is that they exhibit more or less of a particular trait than a handy comparable person. A person may be more shy than a sibling, or prettier than a friend; less successful than a boss but more successful than a neighbour.
I would generally consider myself to be less self-confident, for example, than I would wish to be, although this is improving with age, and there are scenarios in which I am as self-confident as anyone. I think of myself as socially rather awkward and I used to rue the fact that I didn’t have a huge circle of friends. Again, as I’ve got older that has mattered less and less and now I look back and wonder whether I didn’t have that type of circle because I neither needed nor particularly wanted it. Perhaps I am not shy so much as insular.
When I read advice about self-confidence (which I do, because I love a bit of self-help advice which I can then totally ignore), one thing that leaps out at me is the concept of self-consciousness. In particular, the idea that we often fall into the trap of believing ourselves to be the centre of attention and all our faults glaringly obvious, when most of the time no-one is watching us and no-one cares what we are doing.
I can only assume that the people giving this advice are in that rare minority who take no pleasure in watching other people. Me? I am always watching. I love seeing what everyone else is wearing and carrying and doing and thinking. Quite often, I am studying with a critical eye, although I try to keep my observations largely to myself. It would, therefore, be disingenuous to assume that people are not, in their turn, studying me and making sometimes harsh observations. I don’t think any of us have it in our power to prevent this and I don’t think we should wish to because it is through observing others that we come to an understanding about what people are and how we can all coexist in this world. Pretty much all creativity includes some form of watching other people and if no-one was watching, then there would be no stories, no films, no TV, no music. This mutual studying of each other helps us to understand both our similarities and our differences.
We all have times when we think we have done something stupid and we want, more than anything, to curl up in a ball and avoid human contact so we don’t have to be reminded of our mistakes. Perhaps next time we feel like that, it might be useful to remember that someone might have been watching, someone might have seen it, someone might think less of us, but it doesn’t matter. There will have been times when they have felt exactly that way too. They might be so busy watching us and making judgements that they walk slap bang into a foolish situation of their own.
What I have learned from observing people who seem more self-confident than me is that sometimes they are just better at masking their insecurities. They are, in their way, actors who step into the part of “life and soul of the party” when they encounter others. It doesn’t mean they are better than, or any worse than, the next person, than you, than me. If we choose to we can all emulate them: put on a mask and play to the gallery before we retire to the peace and comfort of our own skins.
In my youth I was rubbish at taking photos and I do like the fact that the digital age has revolutionised photography. I think the most important thing I’ve learned about taking photos is the importance of keeping my eyes open, seeing the details. Although we can capture a wide vista in a photo, often it will include elements that would preferably not be there; the lens tends to record a lot of things that our eyes simply edit out. I like a nice close-up shot like the berries in this photo, but this is not a good photo because for some reason the soft-focus areas have pixellated. I could crop them out, to be sure, but then I would end up with an oddly-shaped photo. Either way, it would not be perfect, and that’s the point – does it need to be?
I think keeping your eyes open, getting a clear view of both the vistas and the details, is an important life skill. I think the more we get used to how things look in real life, the better we will become at judging our own efforts fairly. Let’s not edit out the less than perfect things in our photos and let’s not edit out the less than perfect things in our lives. Let’s live it as it comes.
Here are two examples of today’s efforts:
The chutney labels aren’t perfectly applied; the filling escaped from the tarts and the pastry crumbled on a couple of them. Instagram would not approve. My tummy, on the other hand, has absolutely no issues with either of these efforts, and my tummy is far more important than Instagram. It has also been around longer, so I guess it knows more about real life than Instagram does.
Considering those tarts I have to conclude that they will look a whole lot better when I cover them with custard at luncthime. Maybe many things that don’t look so good on their own would look better with custard? It’s just a thought.
Continuing with the theme of moving home, I find myself evaluating many of the things I use, deciding if they are things that I want to pay to move across the town I live in. Some things are so ingrained in my life that there is no need to query at all, which is the case with most of my furniture, although there are a couple of pieces I don’t love and I may use the move as an excuse to unburden myself of them.
It is the little pieces that I think about, the books and magazines and, most keenly, bits and pieces in my kitchen. I have more tea caddies than I need, for example, and once I’ve made this year’s chutney I will be able to thin out the empty jam jars.
I can tell you one thing I shall be glad to leave behind when I move out of this flat and that is the bath. I have disliked the bath here since the first time I got in it. I haven’t disliked it enough to take up showering instead, but it is a terrifically uncomfortable bath to lie in. I have started viewing possible flats to move to and I am eyeing up the baths and dreaming of lying there in comfort.
I also catch myself thinking along the lines of “the last time” I will do something in this home. Whilst I am a fair way off actually doing things for the last time, I am aware that time is approaching and thinking how strange it will be. Of course, when the time comes to, for example, make the last cup of tea in this home I will be so busy that I won’t really mark it until later.
Speaking of the last cup of tea, am I the only one who occasionally broods on the fact that one day I will drink my last cup of tea? I probably won’t know it is my last one, but it is sitting there, at some point in my future, like the bullet with my name engraved upon it. It’s a concept that fascinates me.
I don’t think the buns in my photo will be the last buns I bake in this home, but those are definitely the last sprinkles I will apply here. That’s hundreds, or even thousands, of things I will not have to take with me when I move!
Hereabouts, this Bank Holiday weekend has seen the return of the crazy temperatures we had early in the summer. We should be getting back to normal by next weekend, thankfully.
I have been thinking about the ebb and flow of long-term goals and whether it is possible to minimise the impact that a short-term imperative will have upon them. In the short term I know that I need to settle into my new job and reset my routines and that doesn’t leave me a huge amount of time for my long-term goals of creative writing and knitting. In an ideal world we would be able to split our attention perfectly and achieve all of our desires; in this slightly less perfect version, it is important to deal with the most important things first and perhaps accept that sometimes the things we value most highly may not be the most important things.
For me, the past year has been dominated by an urge to come to a conclusion about what shape I want my life to be. Yet, as the sun is pouring down its last hurrah on us before retiring into its mellow autumn days, I am facing the fact that I will probably never really know what shape I want my life to be. In fact, I need it to be a mutable thing, with no fixed lines; something that can change with the seasons and adapt to changes in the world around me. In this, I am fighting a battle with myself because my natural inclination is to be totally inflexible about absolutely everything – the more rules the better. I put that down to my Aquarian roots – we are always marked as one of the “fixed” signs of the zodiac and, whilst I respect everyone’s right to their own opinion about such things as horoscopes, I do display the vast majority of typical Aquarian traits.
As I said in my previous blog post, things do not disappear entirely when you take your eye off them. I am allowing my writing and, to a large extent, my knitting, to take a rear seat for a few weeks, but that doesn’t negate the hard work I’ve put into them, nor reduce my committment to them. The fact is that I value them so highly that I feel they deserve my attention and it is best not to slog at them in a half-hearted manner. It is important, though, to work hard on the short-term imperatives so that I can quickly get back to working on my long-term goals and make sure that I don’t simply fall into an inescapable cycle of fire-fighting.
All that being said, I do have a little knitting progress to show on Wednesday, and whilst I was walking home with my groceries this morning I thought of a little piece that I need to write down to include in my novel, so whilst I am looking out of Arthur Clough’s eastern window, the land to the west is brightening all the time.
“If I knew then what I know now” is a deceptive little phrase and one that has been burrowing around in my mind this week. It is so tempting to interpret those few words entirely negatively; to think of them as a regret; to assume that we would have done things differently if we had been blessed with the gift of foresight. It is as if the words are written on the outside of the door to our dreams, which now stands locked and barred against us.
I think we need to find a different way of looking at it; forget about timing and say “I now know what I need to know”, then go forward from that position of strength. Lessons hard learned are not be frowned upon, and experience gained should not be disregarded. Our dreams may change, of course, in the light of knowledge gained, but they do not have to; and if there is a door to our dreams, it is never shut so solidly that it cannot be re-opened.
In The Lord of The Rings, JRR Tolkein wrote about this concept in terms of paths that run within our lives:
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate, And though we pass them by today, Tomorrow we may come this way And take the hidden paths that run Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
The dreams, the paths, are not gone; they are just set aside momentarily until we are ready to resume our course, knowing what we now know.
Some people thrive on routines whilst other people loathe them, but we all rely on them to some extent. However much you might seek to escape, to live a life of sponteneity, you can’t deny the subtle tug of the turning seasons, the rising and setting sun, the moon as it waxes and wanes. If you live upon the planet Earth, you are programmed to obey its routines.
My photograph marks that autumn is approaching and, for me, a change of circumstances and unavoidable change of routine. I will be commuting past this statue twice a day in increasingly murky weather as the year recedes from my grasp. I won’t deny that circumstances need to change and that I welcome the murky weather and quite look forward to the brand new year that will chase the old one away. I could live without the change of routine, though; I hate to change my routines. There is always a period of discomfort when I’ve lost the old routine, but not quite set up the new one.
Knowing my routines are destined to change sends me into a flurry of preparation. I try to imagine what my new circumstances will require, how I will be able to fit the important things into new timescales, what, indeed, is important and what I can simply kiss goodbye to. Yet, if experience has taught me anything (debatable), it has taught me that there is a limit to how far you can go in planning a new routine; the specifics will only gradually fall into place during the early weeks after the change happens. No matter how much I want to have everything thrashed out today, it is not yet the right time to determine what I am going to need with me on a daily basis, what I am going to have time to do on my new commute, where and when I am going to shop. I will need to live the new life for a bit before I can fathom out what does and doesn’t work and adapt myself accordingly; only then will I be in a position to settle in to my new routines.
This leads me to conclude that routines are not things which we can consciously set up, maintain, dispose of, or lose – they are not really subject to our control. Routines are adaptable, although they give the appearance of being solid. They are a landscape and our life runs through them like a river, carving patiently through the bedrock, altering it a millimetre at a time. Sometimes life, like a river, is in flood; other times it idles peacefully along, occasionally it forms an oxbow lake where we sit becalmed for a while.
Changing my routines does not come easily to me and in the past I have been guilty of fighting change. Perhaps I can ease the process by allowing my routines to evolve to suit me as I move forward, rather than seeking to set the routines in stone first then fret when they don’t really work.
It isn’t easy to get a handle on all this stuff that existence brings with it. I can’t help but feel it would have been useful if someone had mentioned to me fifty years ago that life isn’t anywhere near as clearly constructed as you’d think and that you’ll never really get the hang of it. So, if you’re young, and you’re reading this, please feel free to take that as my lesson to you.
Tune in on Wednesday for some knitting content, because I have a finished object to share.