Wandering, Wondering, Pondering

january-weather

A damp squib of a day is perhaps as good as any to wrap up January, given how off script the weather has been. It used to be that loads of snow and travel disruptions were par for the course for this time of the year; neither happened. Even the threat of thunder snow  – cold air from Canada invading our own Northern skies – failed to materialise, a few inches of snow and gale force winds being the worst of the lot.

Work, like the weather, has been out of character too. Far from easing into work following an extended break for year end, it has felt like a schedule from hell; meetings, reviews and more meetings being the bane of my life. As week after week has hurtled past, I find myself hoping for 4.30pm on a Friday, leaving and then bingeing on Elementary over the weekend, before suddenly realising it is Sunday night, with a return to work looming.

At the beginning of the year, I was sure that developing a daily consistent practice of writing would be one of the focus areas for the year. So pumped at the prospect of that was I that I bought a URL, set up a publication on medium, and updated my social media profiles to reflect this. As the days have dragged on, what has become obvious is that more thought and planning was required than I had applied. My cringe-worthy musings on there very quickly became more the fevered thrashings of a wondering wanderer than the coherent, collected thoughts of the thinker I persist on believing I am.

The point of all of this- if there is a point – is tactfully beating a retreat from those grandiose plans, back to this place of certainty and reality to begin yet again. To aid my recovery, I have decided to use WordPress Blogging University’s Finding Everyday Inspiration course as a prompt which brings me to the question for today, Why I write.

When I have considered this question in the past, most recently here, I have honed in on the cathartic reasons for writing – the memories and the clarity of thought that comes from relentless massaging whatever is on my mind. Reading through George Orwell’s thoughts on the subject – recommended reading for this prompt – brought a new one to the fore in my mind; sheer egoism. 

I suppose everyone who writes publicly  as opposed to in a private journal is motivated to some extent by this; which would explain why we crave comments and feedback. For the one or two who still pass through these parts, indulge my curiosity… Why do you write?

22. (Not) Crying Wolf

Source

There is a lot I enjoy about my work, not least being a purveyor of the somewhat esoteric knowledge of materials and how they perform in a variety of service environments.

Most of the time I am advising, providing insights into what types of degradation can occur, how likely it is to progress and what actions we should be taking to assure ourselves of the future integrity of the kit we look after.

Once in a while bad news strikes, a failure or an inspection finding that requires significant (and often expensive) action surfaces. My job in those circumstances then morphs into one in which I become the bearer of bad news.

I suppose it is the same way — in a manner of speaking — that a doctor who has to break the news of the diagnosis of a terminal illness feels; the need to get a job done been tempered by the tension between providing clarity around the seriousness of a situation and softening the blow. Different consequences of course….

21. Routine


Two mornings during a typical work week, I make a pit stop at the Starbucks in Union Square.

Over the course of the last year, it has become apparent that quite a few people have a similar routine. I now recognise — and share the odd nod with — an older gentleman who usually arrives at the same time I do and unfailingly buys an espresso machiato which he proceeds to nurse for all of thirty minutes before shooting off to what I assume must be work.

On most days, three young gents also make an appearance, often laughing as they arrive then ordering a mix of venti lattes and then having a natter. I imagine they work around the corner from Union Square; they fit the profile of young, upwardly mobile Engineering-affiliated folk.

A mix of characters makes an appearance now and again, folk nursing drinks whilst waiting to catch a train from the station next door or others killing time before meetings I assume. On my part, I am usually nursing a large black americano in a to-go cup, the to-go cup allowing me the flexibility to leave when I feel like I have arrived at my optimum state.

I’d like to think that these morning pitstops are my little rage against the machine of work, a small ritual of cleansing that allows me get some me time for catching my breath and clearing my head before popping into the hurly-burly of work.

A routine, or a ritual? Is there even a distinction between both? I suspect I couldn’t care less, all that matters to me is that I arrive at work clear headed, ready to face whatever it is gets thrown in my direction on the day.

19. Waiting


… For the flight to Manchester that will leads to a train to Sheffield and then a weekend of meeting S.’s folk….

Then the Wait, actively I suppose, for time and life to work its magic and meld these two journeys — separate, distinct but converging — into a coherent whole…

#Hopeful

18. Bubbles

Source: Wallpaper.com

I come upon them suddenly as I emerge from the arch on Peacock’s Close onto the parking lot. I have my headphones in as always, humming under my breath as I drag myself home, the combination of the low light , my tiredness and that they have their backs to the road being the reasons why we startle each other.

What becomes obvious when I eventually take in the scene is that they — a woman and a girl I can only assume are mother and child — have been taking turns at blowing bubbles and squealing in delight as the light wind drives them away towards the road.

I get the sense they are enjoying themselves — at least the smile that plays around the woman’s lip when I draw level with them suggests she is.

17. Anticlimax


The promised snowcaplyse never quite materialised. At its worst in my corner of the world, it deposited a layer of snow all around, the result of the intermittent dribbles of snow and gale force winds. The effect of that, and the small rise in temperatures followed by a freeze which thawed the snow for a bit, was to leave slippery layers of black ice on the pavements; treacherous for us runners and brisk walkers. A friend did fare slightly worse, the small matter of a fortuitous gap between her car and the one in front of her being the difference between safety and a minor crash when she skidded on a patch of black ice.

Out and about today for my usual lunch time walk, it felt sunny and warm enough to leave my winter coat unbuttoned. So much for the weekend from hell then I guess. Not that I am complaining though — long may the possibility of sauntering about in January without the weight of a coat continue…

15. Finding My Rhythm

Beach Boulevard, Aberdeen, 2016

One of the things I’m looking to achieve this year is to run a 10k race, which is why three to four times a week I grab my gear and hit the road. I use the MapMyRun app which paces me during the week from a leisurely 2k easy run on a Tuesday to a longer (now 5k+) run on the following Sunday.

As my run times improve and the distances lengthen, what I realise is that my natural predilection for just hitting go and running works fine for speed but works against my distance, as I am often far too winded to post a useful time once that initial burst of energy has fizzled out.

Being paced by the app has allowed me to find my own rhythm, a pace that allows me optimise both overall time and distance. None of my split times come close to challenge my top speed, but by running at that speed for longer, I find I make better progress overall. Therein lies the lesson for me… Find my rhythm.

03. On Writing and Life



The final days of the holidays- I am back at work on Friday — seem like a good time to put a dent in my reading plans for the year, which is how I finally get round to reading Ghana Must Go, an airport impulse buy whilst waiting to board a flight last summer.

A few pages in, I find myself wondering what the fuss about the book many years ago was about, steeling myself for a long, hard slog. By the time I am midway, I find myself pleasantly surprised by the pace and the sense of recognition its themes engender in me — grief, loss, growing up in an African home and the immigrant experience, being the chief ones.

This is perhaps what good writing is — one that mimics life to such an extent that the reader is drawn in and finds it relatable. Art imitating life?

The Burden of Grief

One of the lingering effects of H’s passing is that four times a year, I go through a phase where I especially struggle for words to share with my father. Although triggered by four specific days – her birthday (the 8th of July), their wedding anniversary (the 11th of November), the day she passed (the 19th of July) and the day she was buried (the 8th of August) – these tend to be long drawn out affairs affecting the days leading up to and the days after these days. The struggle takes various forms primarily centred on whether to call my father or not, and on the days when I manage to call him, what to talk about – to keep things as normal as possible or broach the difficult subject of H. He and I have never been the best of conversationalists – we’re much too similar for that – but these days make that tenuous relationship an even more difficult one, so much so that on most of these days, I have opted for not calling him in the end.

H’s passing does still feel especially raw, even though her’s was not the first of which clear memories still remain. For that I have to go all the way back to 1988 and G, the ones the genes took. I distinctly remember the events which led to it; the battle with a crisis and the ensuing hospital admission, and then the knowing once I was called out of my class to Mrs A’s office where the neighbour’s orange Volkswagen beetle was waiting to whilst myself and T home. The others in between though covering a range of family members – paternal grandparents, my maternal grandmother and a couple of uncles – are comparative blurs in the landscape of my memory. Distinct memories of G’s passing notwithstanding, I do not remember the same sense of grieving with her that still lingers with H. It is difficult to define completely the interactions of time, space and connection which make both experiences of grief so markedly different, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would offer up the fact that I was much younger then and that there had been a sense of inevitability to it, given the situation with the genes. I imagine others across a broad spectrum of locations and contexts still feel the weight of the grief with H as keenly as I do, given she interacted with a lot of people across the various interests and causes she supported.

This, the intersection of ‘griefs’, complicates grieving in the context of ongoing relationships. With my father, these key dates trigger a remembrance – and a reinforcement even – of loss, driving the conundrum that I wrestle with around these dates. Outside these dates, I feel like we have reached a new normal of sorts, one that accepts the reality of loss but focuses on getting on with life as much as possible. These dates disrupt that new normal for me, and drives the sense of there being a disjunction between living normally and remembering. In my head, by refusing to speak to my father on the day – and hence removing the need to speak about H – I am removing an additional trigger of remembrance from him. That at first glance sounds like a good thing but somewhere in my head, I wonder if it is truly as altruistic as it sounds. Not having the difficult conversation is a good thing for me, whether it is for him, and if this stance adequately honours the memory is a different matter altogether. It is this, the balance between living in the new normal and respectfully remembering and honouring the one who has been lost, that is the primary burden of grief, at least in my opinion.

There are also other non-time based triggers which set off the same sort of feelings. The most recent example was in the middle of a conversation with S’s parents a few weeks ago. Being the incredibly perceptive people they are, they picked up on how I had studiously managed to bring up the subject of H in the over three hours we had spent catching up at the time, which prompted the question. The uneasy silence which followed my explanation suggested it was a topic they would not have brought up if they had known the context. Perhaps – in typical J fashion – I am overthinking the exchange, but this unease exhibited by others when the subject of H comes up is another one of the burdens of grief. Not only does one have to deal with loss, one also has to deal with the reaction of others to loss.

There are no right or wrong ways to carry these burdens. I suspect that time will continue to chip away at the intensity of the grieving of loss which in turn might lessen the burden it places on relationships. If the last few years are an indication of how the next few might pan out in this regards, it is fair to assume that it will not be as simple as that.

Currently listening to: Mandisa – Lifeline