And, we’re back

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

So, yeah. I thought I was done but maybe I’m not. That was a good break, but I kept thinking ‘I should write a blog post about that’, and then remembering that I don’t do that any more. Then I had a three month stint of being paid for my writing via a ton of articles I wrote for a project that in the end didn’t happen but whatevs, I got all the money anyway and some stuff got published on a corporate blog somewheres on the interwebs.

In the midst of that, I got a new, full time job that doesn’t require a shitty commute or stupid hours and lo! I’m home before 6pm on week nights. Oh, and it’s a good job paying a proper salary and the company seems really nice. Huh.

And I had all my hair cut off, and did some decorating and read some books and listened to some audiobooks, and Charlie has so far left three dead rabbits under the bed. I’m going to start storing stuff there just to stop him using it as a larder.

I made a sourdough starter and my sourdough isn’t the greatest but it’s ok. Loaves are rising as I type, and will continue to rise overnight until I bake them before I go to a yoga workshop in the morning.

I’m still single. It’s still fucking awesome. John Wick 3 was ok, better than 2, not as good as 1. I need to see Avengers Endgame again and I meant to see Rocketman this evening but then I painted my fence with teak oil, rewarded myself with wine and ordered a takeaway instead.

I’m reading a book about otters, and listening to Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver and I simply cannot find the right pair of black shoes.

I think we’re up to date now. Did you miss me?

 

 

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Things I actually do now I live on my own

 

white coffee mug on brown surface
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Way back when I first put the offer in on this house, before life proper blew up around me, I wrote about what I’d do when I lived on my own. So I thought I’d go back and see if I realised any of that particular fantasy.

  1. Put the lights on in the morning when I wake up – No. But, when I wrote that originally, I expected still to be working and therefore getting up in the dark by now. At some point, I will set an alarm to make me get up before it’s light, but not quite yet.
  2. Get a really good reading lamp in the bedroom – No, but I curse my current lamp every evening. I haven’t bought a new one because I don’t have any money but it’s inching its way up the priority list.
  3. Go back to bed on weekend mornings with a novel and a pot of coffee – Yes! And not only weekends. For a while, it was most mornings, now I’ve managed to shift myself downstairs earlier. It is one of the small but great pleasures of my new life that because I’m not dashing off anywhere in the morning, I get to make a pot of coffee and sit around to drink two cups while reading, or listening to the radio. In fact, it is one of the incentives to make my own business work, so that I have the flexibility to continue to do that.
  4. Or, get all the cleaning done by 9am so I can sit down with coffee and a novel – this varies. I do tend to get the cleaning out of the way as early as possible. It helps that this house is small and easy to clean – 45 minutes tops.
  5. I will buy a beautiful, colourful rug – No, again because by the time I moved I didn’t have any money. But I will when I get some, the impetus hasn’t gone away.
  6. Music throughout the house – Yes! I bought a Sonos speaker months in advance, so that covers downstairs. I’d like another one for upstairs as well, so that whatever I’m listening to can follow me around the house.
  7. Buy more pictures and not have a TV – Yes! I bought pictures from a couple of artists  I visited as part of Oxford Art Weeks. Plus I have a ton of images that I got from my art nude shoot. But, lack of finance is getting in the way again, so nothing new has been framed. In fact, I still have to hang all my old pictures and there is less wall space than I remembered. Definitely no TV though. I did wonder if I would notice this, as during the summer I got quite used to Neflix on a big screen. But I’ve defaulted happily back to my old ways and watch Strictly on the laptop without noticing the difference.
  8. Scent things in the airing cupboard with lavender and rosemary – Not yet, but good idea, Earlier Me! I shall put that on my list. I have rosemary in the garden so I could dry some of that as a start.

But the main difference I’m seeing is not the living on my own, it’s the unexpected change of not working and therefore having so much more time. My dears, it is glorious. I can’t remember the last time I felt this relaxed and it may well be never, given that I’ve been working full time since 1994. It makes the fact that I’ll never be able to retire even more poignant, now that I’ve had a taste of what life could be like.

Of course, I am putting in a good few hours on my own business, but that is currently very flexible. At the moment, I prefer to start later, as a counterpoint to all those early mornings of the last few years. But I spend my time reading or baking or getting other chores done. I also find that I don’t mind working in the evening. I take a break from about 4pm – 7pm, so that I can go for a run, cook dinner, feed the cats and watch Strictly It Takes Two (yes, I am organising my life around Strictly. Because I can.) But then I don’t mind fitting in another couple of hours, particularly if it’s writing work.

Unfortunately, with all that extra time comes less money. But even that has an upside: necessity means that I’m cooking so much more and fortunately, I love a veggie casserole at this time of year. I’m baking my own bread or cakes too, so my grocery bill has plummeted. Over all, I’d say I’m eating less (the workday boredom doesn’t kick in and drive me to snack), but more healthily and for cheaper. I am driven not to waste the fresh ingredients I do have, and that pushes me to be more creative in what I’m cooking. It’s a matter of ‘What can I do with what I’ve got that needs using?’, but I enjoy that, and the knowledge that I’m being less wasteful.

And finally, it’s an absolute joy to spend so much time with the cats. In the seven years I’ve had them, I’ve always been away most of the time. They are older and calmer these days, and spend most of their days sleeping. But they come and find me several times a day, and Belle in particular likes to be nearby. Previously, it seemed that just when they wanted attention, I had to head out the door. Now, I can always stop and make time for them, so I do.

These halcyon days can’t last, because I must earn some money. I am gathering all the rosebuds I can right now.

5 things I learned this summer

lessons-learned-SYLVIE

It is safe to say that 2018 is not going down as one of my favourite years. But, I am mostly through all the stressful stuff and safely on the other side, and it’s a very different place to where I was in the first six months of the year. So I’m in retrospective mode, because you might as well learn when you get the chance.

The sit rep is that I finally moved into my own house nearly three weeks ago. I’ve got the cats back and they have settled in here more easily than I’ve known them settle anywhere. If anything, they’ve been more affectionate since I got them back, and Charlie is already back to his one mouse a day diet.

Today, I’m going to a business networking event to introduce myself as a ‘business coach and accountability partner’ (the LinkedIn version), which basically means ‘helping people get the right shit properly done’. I’ve done a couple of planning and prioritisation sessions with a business owner who is prepared to pay me for my time, mostly because the first session contributed directly to a big uptick in revenue for her business. I spy a case study! A few more of those and I’ve got an income…

I turned 47 last week, which seems a weird number to apply to myself but, ok. I still think, overall, this is a good time in my life.

So, what have I learned?

  1. A lot about my own resilience. That it’s not about how you are on the way down, it’s the bouncing back that counts. I had a long, slow fall for the first time in my life but the come back has been quick. I’m tougher than I thought I was, and that gives me confidence for the next time round.
  2.  This year saw several of my big fears realised and when that happened, it was manageable. Not enjoyable, but manageable. I believe that in critical thinking, nothing is off the table for discussion and re-evaluation. And yet, I have shied away from objectively assessing my relationship with my job, and my huge fear about not having somewhere to live, and let those concerns dictate my actions. Now I know that all the worst things have to be faced head on, so that they can’t come and lurk around your bed in the early hours.
  3. What comfort zone? Someone blew up the boundaries to mine and it’s been liberating. From the art nude shoot, to sending in writing samples to a magazine, to attending the networking event today, I am stepping forward in ways that I would not have done six months ago. The thing about giving fewer fucks is that it’s positively re-affirming. It’s getting to the point where I don’t even think ‘Fuck it’, I just get on with it.
  4. Rolling with the punches. Oh, this is a hard, hard lesson for me, but I realised that my control freakery is increased in times of stress. Turns out, ‘time of stress’ has been my single mode of living for I don’t even know how long, until the situation finally hit critical and was so out of my control that I had no choice but acceptance. I’m going to spend my life learning acceptance, but at least I now have a huge, flashing neon example to remind me of the benefits.
  5. Get help sooner. I lived with clinically high levels of anxiety for a long time before getting a counsellor and I don’t ever want to feel like that again. My anxiety was situational, which I knew, but I should not have relied solely upon the certainty of future change to fix things.

And, here we go. Into the last quarter of the year with a whole lot working in my favour. Maybe 2018 will redeem itself yet.

Tough times, strong women

Time is a little bit blurry for me at the moment, but the fact that we’re now in July means that I’ve been at S’s house for about 10 days. Wow. Which at least is enough time for some dust to settle. Life persists in feeling surreal, though, so I think I might still be in some kind of shock. I’m aware of waiting for life to get back to normal, so I have to keep reminding myself that this is the new normal.

What I’ve learned, or rather, been reminded of, is that when the going gets tough, it is the strong women in your life who you fall back on. For the practical stuff, for the pep talks, for the wine, the doughnuts and the kick up the arse to get out of the house or do some yoga. So it’s my sister who says ‘Don’t be stupid, of course you’ll get another job and in the meantime you could do this, and this, and this…’ It’s my friend S who cleared out her spare room, set up the air mattress, made space in the closet and the fridge and the freezer, and made dinner –  and all that on the day she got back from the US after an overnight flight and a painful journey home. It’s the friend who, amid her own crazy work and family life, makes time to call and check in on me; and the friend who said ‘If you need me, I will get on a ‘plane.’

These are the women who are keeping my head above the water, and I know damn well that I’m lucky.

Meanwhile, in the latest dramatic switchback on the hurtling coastal road of life, the house is back on. Well, maybe. I had a couple of conversations with my vendors, who have found a new house to buy and are pretty sure it can all happen by the end of July. That is the cut off point I’ve set, and if all goes tits up again, I will walk away and back to the grim world of renting. For now, it’s a holding pattern.

Which means, the cats are now in their second cattery. This is far and away the worst part of this whole life collapse business. I don’t care how luxurious a cattery is and how much people claim their cats settle down, it’s jail for kittens. I saw Belle and Charlie in their last, lovely, spacious place, where I know they were being well looked after by great people. Charlie would barely come out of his box, both of them were jumpy and wide eyed at every sudden noise. It breaks me to see them and it breaks me not to see them and I will never get over the guilt.

There are jobs to be applied for and some recruiters are calling. There is a certain kind of freedom and luxury in stepping away from the position of ‘Well, I earn x so I don’t see how I could work for less than y’ to ‘If I earn z then I’m covered.’ I’m lucky here, too, in that as my identity isn’t bound up in holding a certain professional position or earning a certain amount, any which way I can cover my costs will be fine by me. I’ve stacked shelves in a store before, and I’ve also been in meetings that are way more boring than that. Thank goodness for savings, though. I can hold the wolf from the door until the end of the year, and if I have to I will fucking kill and skin the wolf, the cats can eat him and we’ll all huddle together in a wolfskin.

So that’s a plan, right?

In which I do not have a home

Last week, when I started packing boxes for the move, it was tiring but it was also exciting. Because the boxes needed labelling as to which room they were destined for in my house, and so I had that image in my head of the unpacking and the sorting and the arranging. After months of waiting, my own place was finally in reach.

Now, I’m finishing the packing and I don’t know where the boxes will go. On Monday, the chain collapsed. One of the vendors further down the line doesn’t even have their mortgage approved; my vendors decided not to go ahead with the sale. While this saved me a decision, it also crash landed my hopes and wrecked the day dreams that have basically gotten me through the last few months. I had a lot riding on that house, and I am bereft of that vision of my future, of my own home.

On Tuesday, I had a conversation with my manager in which I negotiated my exit from my job. (I’ve just realised that was yesterday, but time seems particularly fluid at the moment.) I’ll take a few days to wrap things up, some paid vacation time and then three months’ paid gardening leave. It will see me through to October, and in the moments when I’m not panicking I think it must be perfectly possible to find a job, any job within that timescale.

Also on Tuesday, I took a lunch hour and spent it sitting in my car, phoning letting agents and trying to book appointments to see rentals at the weekend. The usual conversations ensued: ‘No, the landlord won’t accept pets’, ‘Oh, I’m really sorry we’ve just had references back on that one’, ‘Well, we’ve got four viewings on that today so I think it’ll be gone by the weekend’. And so the whole, tedious process began.

Then I came home to a half empty house because A had moved out. Odd how a half empty house can seem emptier than one that is fully vacant. I suppose because what is missing is emphasised.

Today I tricked the cats into their carriers and took them to the cattery. We all cried, until I realised that I would absolutely never forgive myself if I had an accident and they got hurt, and so pulled myself together. I don’t know when they’ll be coming home or where home will be.

If I could pack myself away in one of the boxes, I would. It would be dark, and cosy and safe. It would be time stolen from time, and I would just sleep, dreamlessly.

In which I’m not being performance managed

I now have a counsellor, as my anxiety achieved a sudden spike one day and I thought ‘I’m not sure I can do this any more’. She immediately made me feel better by listening to all the shit that is happening at the moment and saying ‘Well, of course you feel like it’s too much, it is too much.’ So, not just me being a whiny ass, then. We agreed that the anxiety was situational and that as soon as I moved house, I’d feel a lot better. Hurrah!

But, that was at the point when I still thought I’d be moving house next week and I would take a week off to move and get myself settled. Now there’s a problem with the chain, and someone is going on holiday and maybe I’ll be moving end of July. Maybe. This gives me pause for reflection, given that the removal company is coming on Thursday and the new owners are moving into my current house about four days later. Short term lets are crazy expensive and you can’t have pets. The cats are facing six weeks in a cattery. I was freaking out about one week. This is not good.

A day after all this landed, I had another one of those ‘Is this the right role for you?’ chats with my manager. Parsing this out of corporate speak, what it means is ‘I have decided that this is not the right role for you and I would really prefer it if you could hurry up and arrive at the same conclusion and hand in your notice. Please jump so I don’t have to push you.’

Well, he is right. I hate my job, I would never have applied for it, I would never have been recruited for it, and I have never claimed to have the requisite skills and experience. It’s just where I’ve ended up after unofficial departmental re-shufflings.  Since January I have been calling out that I don’t have the experience and could I have some help or training please, so I’m finding it a bit ironic to be informed of the gaps as though it’s a surprise to anyone. My manager did say ‘I think you’re good at thinking and strategy’, to which I managed not to reply ‘No shit, Sherlock, that’s what I was hired for.’ Unfortunately, that thinking role never existed as other than an outgoing hiring manager’s dream.

Of course, this isn’t an unusual situation in a large company, and the official line is coaching, training and finally, performance management, all of which is supposedly intended to upskill the relevant person so they can stay in role, or in the business. I’ve done that with someone who reported to me and it takes time and effort and determination on both sides.

But performance management is also a very easy process to exploit. It’s subjective and there’s no oversight and by the time you body slam an employee with what is seen as a threat, they’re scared. They don’t know the process, they don’t know their rights, there is little HR support. Consequently, performance management has a bad rap in the business because it’s usually done to make someone’s life so uncomfortable that they leave, and that is exactly what happens. I’ve been told just this week that managers should have 10% of their reports on performance management all the time, because that way you ensure that a proportion of people will always be leaving. So it’s a way of managing headcount and staying lean.

In my case, my manager can use all of this to circumvent going through the hassle of doing the right thing. He’s told me that he already knows what the outcome would be (very capable, but in the wrong role), so he wants to avoid going down that route. He’s also done some not-so-subtle cuing up by telling me that he thinks I’m stubborn and I don’t like to give in. Right again, but surely being pretty focused on trying to do a good job is a positive trait…? Yes, except when it isn’t.

This creates a clever trap, in that even if I force the issue (stubborn!), the outcome is pre-determined. He’s also using the perception of performance management as a lever: ‘You’re well respected in the business, I’d hate to tarnish your reputation’ style messaging. That’s a threat neatly wrapped up as concern, all dressed up in the wide-eyed guise of ‘I’d much prefer to have an honest conversation.’ Really, you’ve got to admire the tactic, even if not endorsing the ethical standards it evidences. This is how managers get to say ‘I’ve never performance managed someone out of the business.’ The system is weighted so that they don’t have to.

So, next steps? Jump or be pushed. Or more likely, ‘reach mutual agreement that I will leave the business’. Either way, it’s a three month notice period so the only conversation is around whether I work those three months or not. I’m thinking not, as I can’t afford to be unemployed so I’ll need that time to get something else.

I have to think seriously about whether proceeding with buying a house at this point is the right thing to do, or whether it’s too risky. I could still get my deposit back and that would buy me a few more months’ survival without a job. I will need to move fast because if I have to rent again, it will be impossible without a job so I need to still be technically employed.

I don’t think 2018 is going down as one of my favourite years.

Another thing about anxiety

It’s boring. I mean, really boring. Mine bores me. It makes answering the question ‘How are you?’ really hard, so I’ve taken to saying ‘Pass.’ This isn’t because I want people to dig, it’s because my brain jams and somehow, the only answer anyone wants in response, ‘I’m fine’, won’t come out. I don’t want to talk about being anxious most of the time anymore, even to the people who I think I believe I know are genuinely willing to listen. And that’s invidious, because staying trapped inside your own head all the time only makes it worse.

Anxiety is also one greedy motherfucker. It will feed off anything. I am constantly balancing on the high wire of trying to calibrate my own reactions, and it doesn’t take much to tip them one way or the other. Am I being paranoid or should I legitimately interpret that comment as criticism? I can’t really tell, so I have to make a judgment call, but my judgment is shot to hell. Or is it? I don’t know. That’ll be a fiver for another spin on the merry-go-round, lady. ‘How are you?’ ‘Pass.’

My other answer to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Two glasses of white a night.’ This is a new thing, but it turns out, while white wine doesn’t disturb my sleep or give me hangovers, it does knock me out. It is, therefore, fucking brilliant. And I don’t have to worry about the calories, because I’m not eating so much, so that all balances out then! Ok, I know it doesn’t. I know it isn’t ok, and it isn’t sustainable, but I’m not expecting it to be. There is a magical future land where everything will be ok, and it is called ‘When I move’. Unfortunately ‘When I move’ is indeterminate.

Or rather, ‘When I move’ into the house I am allegedly buying is uncertain. I have lost any sense of time in that regard, so it could be next week or next year. Who knows? If I was previously struggling to find the excitement in buying my first house, now even the ashes are cold. But the removal company are rocking up on 18th June, and either the boxes and I and the cats will go to our new home, or the boxes will go to storage, I will go to my friend S’s house and the cats will go to a cattery.

I’ve always sworn that I will never put the cats in a cattery, and the thought of being forced to do so by circumstance now creates a fantastic mix of tear-inducing murderous rage. They will hate it. I will hate it. There isn’t really anyone I can blame for this, not even me, so I simply snarl and growl and snap at the binds of the situation, and pour another glass.

The logistics of this potential interim move become further sources of anxiety.  I know that all of the decisions involved are in fact, relatively minor. They are all manageable. There are solutions to all of the problems that only even seem like problems because anxiety has no truck with problem solving and prefers to skate over answers and loop endlessly back to questions.

And that’s another thing about anxiety. It’s tiring, because it’s relentless. Not even in some grand, dramatic way. Anxiety is pettifogging and small, mosquitoes of the mind that refuse to be swatted. They will die, one by one, because life is not a stagnant pool, it’s clear running water. I just need to get out of these shallows.