December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
For 2010, I think it's got to be change.
2010 has been the first full year that addedentry and I have spent in our house, and we've been almost constantly moving things around, removing some things and adding others, demolishing things and fixing things, slowly trying to get the house into the shape we want it. That's not a huge change, but it's felt as though a lot of the little things that surround me -- the arrangement of things -- has been provisional, always waiting for something else to slot into place. It's like being in a live-action game of Tetris, where the pieces never stop falling and the lines never clear quite enough space.
In May the shape of the country changed; we had the effort of campaigning, the emotional drama of the election, the uncertainty that followed, the brief bright hope of the new coalition, followed by the creeping certainty that actually things weren't going to be bright and beautiful, things were going to be bad and get worse.
Then in July I found out I was pregnant, and in a way that didn't change anything, and in a way it changed everything, inside and out. My body's been changing all over the place (mostly in unwelcome ways for the first few months) and my outlook on things has changed -- not a flash-of-light kind of change, more like the way the light in a room can change subtly and suddenly everything looks slightly different. In some ways I feel as though I'm looking inward more (and thinking quite literally inward, as kicks from the inside keep moving my mind in a different direction), looking to our home, focusing on my body (because it has demanded it so insistently -- sickness narrows the vision and forces you into an endless 'now' where all you're doing is trying to get to the next bit of 'now' in one piece); but at the same time I've felt as though I'm being forced to look outward more, as everything I do has become controversial, politicised; there are no morally neutral decisions about childbearing and child-rearing. True, there are lots of other things about which there are no morally neutral decisions, but motherhood is somehow considered public property -- I don't think that's entirely unreasonable (because children are the next generation of society, and everybody has an interest in that); I don't have a strong sense of privacy (or rather I do have a strong sense of openness and transparency) and I don't mind people asking things; but I don't like the assumption that input will be welcomed and acted on.
Our family and friends have changed: deaths in the family, marriages and births among friends, all things that I've not been able to write about because I've felt as though I'm clinging to a log in the middle of a flood with other people's lives floating past, their lifeboats and their houses, and I don't have any spare hands to grasp the bigger picture.
At work it's been my first full year in a new team; I've moved into a new office, with new colleagues, and now new management as well. We've all been finding our feet, shaping our roles, rubbing off each other's corners a bit. I started out incredibly hopeful and full of optimism for a new way of working, and then went through a lot of worry about the job being wrong for me (or me for it), but now it's starting to settle into a pattern (not unlike the old pattern, but with lots of improvements) and I think I can see the way forward more clearly. However, there are big changes coming up for the department and (in the current climate of cuts) for the University as a whole, and I don't know yet where I'm going to fit in there. There are potentially lots of interesting opportunities, but it remains to be seen whether I'll be able to take any of them (or whether, by the time they come round, I'll even want to).
And the world carries on changing, and my body keeps on changing, and most of these changes are things I can't control. Pregnancy carries on progressing whether I act or not; and the world keeps on falling apart, and most of these things will happen whether I rage and retweet and petition and protest, or bury my head under the duvet and hope that everything will go away. It's not in my nature to sit back and wait for things to change around me, but at the moment it feels as though there aren't many things I can get hold of. Some days all I want is to lie in the dark and sleep, and I feel as though everything's shutting down, dying back for the winter, drawing its greenness in against the cold. But cycling home in the snow tonight after choir, breathless on the bike with the baby leaping inside me, I felt as though everything was moving and everything was alive, from stars shining in the darkness to patterns growing in the frost.
Years ago I used to stand alone in the dark at Parson's Pleasure, where the river meets the man-made bank in a razor-sharp line and the water is so still and clear that it looks as though the whole of the sky and the stars are stretched out at your feet. It's dizzying, it's like standing on the edge of everything. At the time it felt as though I was on the brink of falling, but looking back, I wonder if I was waiting to learn to fly.
So what word do I want to sum up 2011? I thought of lots of facetious answers ("lottery-winning" etc) before deciding on growth. If all goes well, I'll be spending most of the year watching my child growing -- or no, that sounds too passive; perhaps helping my child grow. Or perhaps I should think of it as growing with my child, growing into the role of parent as she grows into a small human being. I think it'll make me grow in a different direction -- rounder, probably in more than one way! -- and if I seem to be selfishly only thinking about my own growth rather than what the baby will grow into, it's only because I don't want to pre-empt her by making too many assumptions about what she does grow into!
I'm hoping there will still be room for my relationship with Owen to grow -- again, in a different way, but hopefully still growing together, as we figure out how to be parents together, jointly and severally. (I've seen so much nonsense about how to be "a dad" or "a mum", but, well, I don't think there's any need to consciously pick different parenting roles from one another like some kind of "good cop, bad cop" routine: I do think it's useful to have a variety of different models of adulthood, but we're already going to be two different models of adulthood, because we're two different adults. However, that's all a digression...)
On a more (literally) down-to-earth note, I'm hoping that some of the things we planted in the garden will come back again in the spring; that the tiny trees and bushes (apple, damson, hazel, hawthorn) will survive their first winter and we won't have to start again from the blasted wasteland that was here when we moved in. But even if it doesn't, we'll still be able to see the towpath and the Kidneys and Aston's Eyot all coming back to life -- the chicory and dandelions blooming, the chicken-of-the-woods ripe for picking again, the elderberries and blackberries and hawthorn berries that maybe I will get round to making into jam next year.
This year was about sowing the seeds; currently we're all dormant for the winter. But I'm looking forward to seeing the green shoots coming up in the spring.
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.
-- Philip Larkin