I have been feeling a little bit of a mess this week, and it started with a freckle.
No, it started because I am waiting for work to appear (hey, anyone want to pay me to write?) and without it end up feeling like I’m on enforced vacation: dithery, and lazy, and undirected. Then I got a new freckle on my nose that was large and dark enough to look like I’d spilled dinner on myself, and one thing led to another until I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking everything I’d ever written had been a hack-job.
I seem to be in a running-errands-buying-crib-sheets-trying-to-bend-over phase this month. The sort of phase where I’m sat in the evening eating a bagful, a giant BAGFUL of crushed ice because it’s all I want, and eating it till I feel sick. Did you even know you can eat crushed ice till it makes you sick? Was that something I needed to discover for the rest of us?
At slow times like this, I realise that there are ideas about myself that I hold on to, that are precious to me, and that it hurts to be without them. Like, for example, I Am A Person Who Thinks and Writes. It is embarrassing to say it, but I feel vulnerable without it. I feel less of a person.
Then I realise that perhaps there are times when I’m stripped of those things so that I can work out how to be myself without them. They don’t have to define me, after all; or not all the time. I am about to go back to a point where the definition of a productive day is getting dressed and making sure everyone is fed. And sometimes not even getting dressed. It was hard, last time, accepting that simplicity. It was difficult to feel valuable when my own markers of value were all beyond me. I had to find other ways of being complete. I think it’s time to practice it again.
Yesterday I folded laundry and watched a documentary about William Tyndale. Now, there was a man in the grip of an idea that wrung his life out, but burned on far beyond him. He was the first man to translate the Bible in English, and he spent most of his life in exile before being betrayed and executed. He is one of my heroes, and the other players in that grand saga of the English Reformation are endlessly fascinating to me: More, Cromwell and Wolsey, and that great hulking King bearing down over all of them.
‘Henry’, I kept saying, ‘Henry, this is wonderful‘. It was wonderful. I was elbow-deep in knickers, getting excited about the Reformation, and it felt like being myself.
Today we skipped out to Oxford for the afternoon – we last ate Chinese food and took stupid photos in the Ashmolean Museum when I was expecting Henry, and we promised ourselves we’d pass on the tradition once he was old enough. We made faces at the Greek and Roman statues, then went upstairs to see the paintings. There was a single, luminous portrait by Edward Burne-Jones that made me catch my breath. ‘Oh, look’, I said, ‘it’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s just beautiful’.
‘BOAT!’ said Henry. I think he was looking at the painting next door. But that one was beautiful too. I was hand-in-hand with my sticky toddler, getting ready to head off the squealy protest that was coming when he had to go back into the pushchair and feeling too huge to be allowed out, frankly; yet there were Pre-Raphaelites on the walls, and I could see that they were lovely.
I am still me, regardless. There are all sorts of ways of feeling complete.
Mary Burne-Jones. Isn’t she a beauty?
Photo courtesy Martin Beek, here.
What I would like to know is: what ideas about yourself are most important to you? Do they do you good? And what do you do when you don’t have them for a while?