“Brave: What was the bravest thing you did in 2013?”
When I read this morning’s prompt I felt a wave of panic. I’m not brave. I haven’t done anything brave this year. All day I thought about what it means to be brave. To be fearless. Show great courage. Act with spirit. Triumph in the face of adversity.
Bravery to me is showing courage when things are hard, choosing the path less travelled, saying the things that other people would rather you didn’t, speaking truth to power, thinking for yourself about what matters to you and how you act in a way which is in line with your values.
I could have written about a range of things that I often associate with being brave. Often I think that brave things have to be big heroic things (buying a flat, leaving a relationship, travelling) or intrepid things that scare me (kayaking on open sea, climbing mountains, walking/sleeping in rainforests with snakes). I am quite good at doing stuff that scares me and lots of things do. In recent years I have pushed myself to do things that make my stomach churn and say yes to opportunities. I thought about whether appearing on Channel 5 as part of the WI was my brave moment of 2013 which was terrifying but brilliant because of the support and feedback I received from our members.
I also thought that actually there are lots of examples of being brave every day – it is the little things that you do and how you choose to do them which is where you can be truly brave. The way you handle yourself in a meeting, speak at an event to a room of strangers, stick up for the bus driver when a crazy person is swearing at them, the way you try to inspire your team to do a good job and remember the work we do touches people’s lives.
But I felt like I had already written about my flat, Channel 5 and I didn’t want to write about work yesterday. It didn’t feel compelling enough as a topic to summarise my year. I signed up to Project Reverb to really think about the year, dig deep and also to write honestly.
So this is my bravest moment. I went to my friend’s father funeral on my own.
My friend’s Dad died suddenly and I wasn’t sure what to do or say. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years mainly because we both had been crazy busy. I had sent her a few messages while her Dad wasn’t well but it all happened so fast we hadn’t had a chance to speak. On the day itself I was very anxious about it, worried about my friend and her family, worried about travel arrangements. I was incredibly nervous about intruding on a family occasion, getting something wrong or getting in the way.
I remember arriving at the crematorium far too early and sitting in the remembrance garden. It was such a beautiful day and the red roses were in full bloom. I didn’t know anyone gathered outside but just stood quietly and filed into the back of the hall. I was relieved when I caught my friend’s eye before it started so she knew I was there. The service was lovely but incredibly sad and I was glad that I went. All the anxiety beforehand was worth the fact that my friend knew that I was there to support and love her.
Sometimes when things are hard, people remain silent and try to ignore it happening or they respond in cliches. I have always been so grateful when friends have supported me through tough times – when my friends crossed London to give me a hug when my mum was really sick, helped me pack boxes and move house through a breakup or put me on a train to London when I needed to get to my family urgently. It is what friends do. I’m glad that I didn’t just send a card and go to work that day. I am glad I showed up. It reminded me that the years count, I might not see someone everyday but with friends that doesn’t matter. The love runs deep.
When I was writing this I thought about two additional things. Doing something brave opens you up to new possibilities and experiences both positive and negative. It can make you feel vulnerable because you are taking a risk but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. At the moment I feel like Brene Brown is stalking me, she is referenced everywhere but her amazing TedTalk basically confirms that letting yourself be seen, embracing vulnerability and loving with an open and whole heart will help the world become a better place. Living bravely means doing things that might make you uncomfortable, anxious and vulnerable but this in turn teaches us how to live with joy and gratitude. It also reminds me of one of my favourite Thich Nhat Hanh quotes:
“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
Although he is writing about being in the present moment, I think it is also applies to this context. Going to the funeral was my way of offering my presence and love to my friend at a moment of need. That feels brave to me.
Top Image: Brave
“Twenty years ago yesterday, we released our debut album and to celebrate we are going to play the next song”
Silence in the crowd falls as the quiet strumming guitar kicks in – so familiar but still a shock to the system to hear it live. I sharply breathe in and grip my friend’s hand a bit tighter. I hadn’t expected this to be played tonight and it is beautiful.
“Oh Angel, don’t take those sleeping pills…..It’s just time that they kill….”
The ice cold vocal hovers above the swirling guitars and for a moment I am transported back to being 15 listening to Suede in my bedroom. Tears slide down my face and I turn round to look at the crowd. Everyone seems to be equally frozen, spellbound for that moment in time while we are intently listening.
A moment of dreamy beauty; languid, sad, remote yet incredibly familiar at the same time.
“You’re a water sign, I’m an air sign…”
I love resolutions.
I tend to always make some at the beginning of the year and revise throughout the year. I don’t always do them whole-heartedly but I find thinking about them a good way to think about what is important to me at that point in time which serves as a reminder later on. I remember reading The Happiness Project a couple of years ago and thinking about how simple goal setting and reward structures are useful for helping add extra sparkle to everyday. This year I fancy taking stock before the new year and I think Project Reverb is a good way to process this year and think about what next year might hold for me.
The first prompt is ‘Where did you start 2013? Give us some background on this year.’
2013 started watching fireworks over the rooftops of London with my mum in my cosy flat. We had been out and about in London, then I made an ottolenghi dinner and we drank fizz listening to music on my Hi-Fi. It was the first New Year’s I had hosted in my own home and I loved it. When the fireworks started we hung out of windows looking at Canary Wharf and then Crystal Palace tower. I was bit drunk and full of love for London.
I was uncertain (and a bit scared) about what 2013 would hold for me – I hoped I would buy a flat and I knew I would re-applying for my job which filled me with a certain amount of dread. In the face of these rather BIG changes I knew that I wanted more time doing my thing and doing normal everyday domestic things.
I had been house-hunting for a couple of months and I was going to see a flat the next day. On New Year’s Day in the rain we pounded the streets of South East London looking at road after road, assessing what it was like, wondering if I’d like living there. It was quite relentless and very wet. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure I’d find my home in London. Two weeks later, I went to view a flat. The minute I walked it, I just knew it was the right place for me.
The day I got my keys was a strange day. After a stressful week with the flat looking like it was going to fall through until the last possible minute, I picked up the keys in a daze and stumbled into this empty flat on my own and had a small squeak. That evening, one of my best friends crossed London to give me a hug, look at my empty flat with me some more and drink fizz in the pub with me. I remember showing her proudly the view of quite industrial South East London but to me it had (and still does) a certain romance and magic to it.
Not everything this year has been easy but I have learnt so much about myself – I have surprised myself about what I can achieve when I put my mind to it. I’m no longer afraid of silence, space and of being alone. In fact, I really like it and love spending time pottering in my flat. I was so worried I was going to find moving scary and freak me out but actually it has all been fine. I’m ending the year still with plumbing issues, mice and a hundred and one things to do but I have time to fix them. This is my place in London and I’m so grateful for it.
I often don’t think I’m good at decisions, I procrastinate and worry. I think about things from every possible angle and talk it through. I’m not a natural starter-finisher but sometimes though it is the best possible thing to commit to one place and see it through. The same words have come back to me all year – faith, hope, thankful, family, community, space, home, and sanctuary.
Last night at Borough Belles we had a book themed meeting with 3 fantastic speakers coming to talk about different aspects of book publishing. One of the speakers was Gemma who is curating female travel stories for a upcoming book that she is self-publishing. A Girls’ Guide to Traveling Alone will feature short, non-fiction stories about the pleasures and stresses of travelling alone as a women.
Gemma was inspired by the fact that when she was travelling she couldn’t find the type of travel book she wanted to read by other solo female travellers. This approach really appeals to my DIY ethos and I love the idea of making the book that you couldn’t find when you were on the road. It also combines my two loves of mine – travelling and storytelling.
Part of the reason people travel is for that sense of adventure or having a good story to tell at the end. In fact sometimes I have felt that some people are doing it much more for the story than actually having the experience. Travel writing is a great way to share the joy that you experience but also to acknowledge the aspects that make travelling really hard work sometimes.
Travelling is wonderful and one of my favourite things. I love discovering new parts of countries whether that is here or abroad but there are also elements that are tricky, hard and sometimes down right unpleasant. There are definitely days when I have felt tired, not wanted to repack my backpack for the twentieth time, felt sick or had weird paranoia that the boat/plane/bus you are on should potentially not carry people anymore. There are times when you push yourself to do things you would never do a million years otherwise and I love that it can take you slightly out of yourself.
Experiencing the highs and lows on a trip definitely makes you feel more confident and self-reliant. Some of the issues that came up in the talk last night about emotional resilience, overcoming fear and anxiety about having experiences on your own; how to negotiate tricky or sometimes dangerous situations; kindness of strangers which all felt really familiar. For me when I set off for a trip a couple of years I was really worried about how much I would enjoy it “on my own” but the truth is you always meet amazing people along the way. People who can change your experience on the world.
The challenge for Gemma’s book is selecting the experience you want to talk about and making the story compelling enough. Gemma is aiming for the book to empower by sharing experiences so people might recognise situations or learn ways of handling them in the future. I hope that lots of people share fantastic adventures and also experiment with the way they tell their stories. One of the fantastic thing about the Night of Adventure is how people tell their stories in unique and amazing ways.
If you would like to enter a story, Gemma is looking for entries from social media submissions on Twitter and Facebook. I’d also love to hear if there are women travel writers you really admire. After Gemma’s talk I have been wracking my brain to think of some and have have realised that most of the books I love about travelling are written by men. Female travel writers that I have loved reading include Dervla Murphy, Isabella Bird and Elizabeth Gilbert.
I leave you with a lovely quote from Date A Girl who Travels:
“You’ll also recognize a girl who travels by the fact that she’s always amazed at the world around her, no matter if she’s in her home town or in a place that is totally new. She sees beauty all around her, not just the ones featured in travel guides or shown in postcards.”
This is Benjamin Britten centenary year so seems fitting to post this today. Britten wrote his War Requiem for the 1962 consecration of Coventry’s new cathedral; where I’m going in a few weeks time. I love this piece of music – it is haunting, beautiful and dramatic. Britten chose to weave Wilfred Owen poems through the work between the traditional Latin texts. I love Owen’s poetry and think it works brilliantly in this musical setting.
I also particularly like Owen’s letters to his mother and have discovered this tumblr site of them. They provide a really fascinating insight into what life was like at the front and I have always been impressed that he was so honest.
So have a read while listening to Britten’s beautiful music.
Bang-Bang! Oh, Hark,
The guns are shooting in the dark!
Little guns and big ones too,
What shall I do?
Mistress, Master, hear me yelp,
I’m out-of-doors, I want your help.
Let me in-oh, LET ME IN
Before those fireworks begin
To shoot again-I can’t bear that;
My tail is down, my ears are flat,
I’m trembling here outside the door,
Oh, don’t you love me anymore?
I think I’ll die with fright
Unless you let me in to-night.
(Shall we let him in, children?)
Ah, now the door is opened wide,
I’m rushing through, I’m safe inside,
The lights are on, it’s warm and grand-
Mistress, let me lick your hand
Before I slip behind the couch.
There I’ll hide myself and crouch
In safety till the BANGS are done-
Then to my kennel I will run
And guard you safely all the night
Because you understood my fright.
Firework Night, Enid Blyton, 1934
I think this is a gem of a poem which combines my love of fireworks with dogs. Kirsty has written a lovely post about fireworks here.
Happy bonfire night all!
This little monkey is two today and in some ways it feels like she has been with us for longer. I look at photos from when she was born and can hardly believe she was so little. She is so funny and makes us all laugh with her funny gestures and ways. She is often so busy and purposeful marching around holding various different things at once.
I’m often bossed about, she leads me to where the toys/books are and does the backwards bottom shuffle onto my lap to listen to a story. She loves singing – wind the bobbin up, row-row and heads, shoulders, knees and toes are big favourites. Or there is dancing especially to the bee gees. She is a disco babe at heart.
I am enjoying her way with words immensely – the NOISY sheep, RARA being bellowed to attract my attention and her saying AGAIN down the phone when mum and I were singing happy birthday to her. Even at 2 she can be so clear about what she wants and more importantly doesn’t want. When asked what animal she was looking forward to seeing at the zoo on Saturday she said “babbit” and then asked if there was anything bigger she’d like to see she remembered “PIG:. Thankfully there was a rabbit and a pig at London Zoo…She loves watching animals and birds in particular although cats and horses are clear favourites at the minute.
Two years ago my very wise friend Liz sent me a lovely message “Welcome to the aunts’ club – it’s the best club in town”.
She wasn’t wrong. It really is.
I was very sad to hear about the death of Lou Reed on Sunday and have been listening to various Velvet Underground and Lou Reed all week as I’ve been travelling around the city. Annabel’s post about going to the Halloween (Puppy) parade reminded me of the track I’ve included above.
New York was the first Lou Reed album I heard and it was played at home & on car journeys when I was growing up. We would always joke about listening to Mr Cool and I’d always ask for Romeo had Juliette without probably understanding half the lyrics. Lou Reed was a key part of my growing up soundtrack, like the Band, Laurie Anderson and Neil Young. I can’t imagine not growing up listening to exciting loud rock music. Listening back to New York this week I have been struck by how effortlessly cool it is and how brilliant the storytelling is in it. He portrays a seedy New York full of sex, drugs, love, drag queens, prostitution, violence, alienation and addiction.
James sums it up brilliantly in this article.
“The world Lou Reed conjured up still gives an illicit, vicarious thrill of life on the margins. It was dangerous and unknown, seedy and tender. Sick and dirty more dead than alive. Somehow that street corner holds a romantic pull even though you know, deep down, it really, really shouldn’t.”
This description is also how I feel about the world Suede create in their music. One of my favourite tweets this week has been from I Mat Osman from Suede “First songs I loved. First songs I learnt. First songs I ripped off in a band. All Lou Reed songs. RIP”.
I’m going to Suede tomorrow (again, yes yes) which seems like a fitting tribute.
So long Lou, thanks for all the music.
Sometimes you find the inspiration you need when you least expect it. I love it when in a moment of serendipity that the right thing finds its way to you. I have been thinking a lot this year about what makes me happy at work and what I would change if I could. This has been inspired in part by these lovely ladies and I have been wondering what I can start to cross off my maybe one day list…
Maybe one day I’ll retrain, write a book, work abroad, set up a social enterprise. You know, THAT list.
In my musings, I stumbled across a Byron Reese TED Talk. It is amazing. So inspiring. Definitely the thing to bring a smile on a grey autumnal day.
Watch it and realise that we can all choose to be great and do great things.