What do I want to change?
Last summer, when I was still taking stock and figuring things out, my answer to the question 'what do I want to change' went like this:
I want to change the haphazardness of my days. For all I relish this freedom to do or not do, to live on a whim, to drift on the breeze, it concerns me that in drifting through the days, I will drift through my life and waste it away. It will all be over all too soon, and I don’t want to be looking back down the years wishing I’d ‘done’ something more. I think that adding back structure to my days and weeks, will enable me to do as much as I might want to do. Now that most of the works are complete and I can look to be moving, I am back in control. I can now set the agenda and the structure.
Since then I have vacillated. See-sawed. Switch-backed. Some days I long for structure and routine and I make plans and write schedules and promise myself I will keep to them.
Then come the other days, when I think "who says?" and "I don't must" and I ignore what I said I was going to do, what I said I wanted to do.
I still haven't figured out the balance here. So that's the first thing to change: the not knowing whether I long for routine or want to rebel against it. My problem is that I do both.
Maybe that’s the point…maybe I need the structure to have something to ignore. How can I be free, if there isn’t a cage to walk outside of; how can I be wild if there isn’t a rule to be broken?
It reminds me of my teenage years, those years when I really wanted to pass my exams so I did my school-work like a good girl, I learned the quotations, conjugated the foreign verbs, sat up late at night doing the study…except on the weekends. Fridays and Saturdays were party nights, the kind of parties you didn’t tell your parents about (like they hadn’t done something very similar), the kind of parties that would sustain the gossip right through the week until the next one. But also, I was a good girl. I worked Saturdays and Sunday mornings, shop work. If I turned up hungover and dreading the sickly sweet smell of patchouli that Wendy bathed in, then cold milk and potato crisps would settle my stomach and the work itself would take my mind off everything else. In those days, Sunday afternoons were for catching up on sleep. But I’m not designed to sleep in the daytime. My monkey mind would rattle on. I found that putting on the TV (a tiny black & white set in my bedroom) gave me something to ignore. Then I could sleep.
Last June I wrote, I have just deleted my project plan for the year. I have no intention of creating a new one. I don’t want to timeline any of the things I want to do, but I do want to give myself the best possible chance of actually doing them. I think that means setting aside specific blocks of time: to market, to study, to travel, to meditate, to play, to create.
I remember sitting in an elderly neighbour’s house and listening to her say that she was just trying to figure out what to do with the day. There was something intensely sad in that: a whole beautiful day ahead of her and she had no idea what to do with it. Her house was spotless, so clearly she spent a great many of her days in housework. Who knows, perhaps that gave her pleasure as well as filling her time? But this particular day was stretching ahead of her: empty. I fear the empty days.
I never want to wake up without having some notion of what I will do with the day…even if what I will do is to completely abandon the plan and go to the beach instead.
Let’s be clear that an empty day is not necessarily one in which I do nothing, just as a day in which I do nothing is not necessarily empty. There will be time for idle days, wool-gathering days, cloud-watching days. There will be time for days of sky and sea and sand and the sifting of the soul.
Days spent in activity rather than action, by contrast, may be empty when looked back upon. Days displaced by killing time. Time is not to be killed, time is to be cherished, nurtured, spent wisely in the doing of good or the creation of memories or both.
I came to my senses and wrote another plan.
So what am I planning to change? Planning, because wanting won’t be enough.
I am planning to change the way I look, and the way that I feel. I want to smile when I look in the mirror because I love what it shows me. I want all of those clothes currently boxed as unfitting to be resurrected and enjoyed again. This means changing the way I eat and drink.
I wrote about wanting to change the way I shop. That proved easier than I imagined. I haven’t got it quite right yet, but it’s moving in the right direction.
I live in a city with a fabulous market. Back in my student days, I used to shop there. I remember a tea stall. I don’t remember when I last drank black cherry tea.
When I had even less money, so that it wasn’t even worth the trip into the city, I remember shopping in Adelaide Street, a back-street shop. I remember tinned meatballs and cauliflower: the cheapest Sunday lunch. Or chicken pie and peas and pasta. Pasta cooked quicker than potatoes and kept longer. Gravy.
When I came back and started to work, I was time-poor as well as cash-strapped. Sainsbury’s was on my way home. And they’d take credit cards. For years I still shopped once a week, and eked out whatever I’d bought.
I can’t remember when that changed. Somewhere along the line, I stayed time-poor, became even more so, but cash and cost were less of an issue. My supermarket habit had taken hold though. When I moved house, I slightly redeemed myself by using the local Co-op, when I couldn’t be bothered to walk to Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s…but then Asda filled the space between them. Aldi moved in next door.
I’d become a lazy shopper, in every sense.
Now I have moved house again. I’m no closer to the market – but I am further away from the supermarkets. That’s a good thing, I wrote back in June, I will actually have to walk past or through the market to get to Sainsbury’s and so why would I? I want to shop among those stalls, under the striped awnings. Who knows maybe I will become a regular, maybe people will start to talk to me, maybe this will become one of the places I belong?
It hasn’t worked out quite like that…because I have a corner shop. Literally on the corner of my road, there is a small shop, selling a hot-potch of food things from around the world, reflecting their heritage and the shifting community, but most importantly it has a fabulous array of fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s two minutes from my door. And their prices are good. And it’s their shop, so if they have priced, say, cauliflowers at £1.20 a time and you hand them one, they might say hold on, that’s a small one, let me see if ‘by the kilo might be cheaper’ and it comes out at 86p. If they can’t find whatever it is I’ve picked up on their computer system, they’ll simply offer me a price. It’s a truly quirky mix of the modern hi-tech pricing & ordering and old-fashioned market haggle. I like that. What I love most though is that very little of their fresh produce is packaged. I can buy two carrots and three potatoes. I can buy one plum.
And they sell things I don't know. I want to buy things, just to taste them, figure out how to cook them, or if you can eat them raw. Corner shop as a voyage of discovery. Then maybe I should explore inside...seek out packages of things I don't recognise. I'm not sure this will do my diet aspirations any good at all.
I won’t claim to have abandoned the supermarkets. I’ll even admit to on-line ordering & delivery. My aim is to reduce how often I do that. It’s store-cupboard stuff, heavy stuff. It feels modern and strange to have the supermarkets deliver, but when I was growing up, I remember going to Broughs with my Mam. We’d do the shop and pay at the till and it would all be put in a box at the check-out. “Yellow” Mam would say – the colour of the label which indicated which area of the town we lived in. The address would be written on a yellow label and stuck on the box, and it would be delivered. Sometimes even before we’d walked home.
And finally I am planning to change how I see myself…not just what the mirror reflects, but my whole notion of who I am and what I’m doing here. This isn’t a change of who I am and what I’m doing…it’s acceptance of it, but it does mean changing my ability to claim it, to own it, to be proud of it.
Like so much of life, that is still a work in progress.
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