Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bless This Mess

No Homeland in this post - Emma, you can read!

One of my best friends and I had a drink yesterday. He is unexpectedly going away for two and a half months (lucky bastard) in Europe (I kind of hate him right now) and so we hastily decided to plan a catch up. T. has attempted to break into the academic world in a related field, and he did everything right. But still – no guarantees in this game. He’s just finished a publishing degree, which is kind of funny given that it’s as much of a gamble as academia, I think, but he’s seriously talented and he has a really good chance of making it work. He gently tried to prepare me for this life I have chosen, not in any negative sort of way but because he doesn’t want me to get hurt, especially given he has only known me in the time I have been very sick and then while I was getting better (we were just becoming friends as my life was falling apart in earnest in the second half of 2005). In some ways he knows more than most about just how bad it got.

‘I know it will probably take me about twenty years to get even close to the sort of job I want, an associate lecturer position or something similar,’ I said.

‘Twenty years?’, he almost gasped. ‘I’ve waited two and a half years and it seems like forever. I can’t imagine waiting much longer.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I can do this. It might take that long to get really, really good at it. I know I have to get better at a lot of stuff, and most of it scares the hell out of me. But I can do this.’ And I smiled into my glass of wine, and then at him.

I need to hang onto that knowledge. I somehow know that I can do this, what I’ve chosen, and I know there’ll be a lot of times when it doesn’t feel like that and I will doubt myself into a well of complete despair. However there’s also a part of me that knows I am very well suited for this lifestyle and what it entails. I haven’t had the guts to ask my mentor yet about teaching specifically, but I can learn. (I can I can! [Keep telling yourself that!]) I’ve also met a lot of postgrad students who aren’t anywhere near as thirsty for this as I am, and without my skill set or natural ability. (Half of you must be wondering if you’re actually reading my blog right about now. Such positivity and slight arrogance!) And I want this. I can wait it out. I can practice and get better and hang on until it happens.

My illness has taught me patience, it seems. I took a very long time to pick what I wanted to do with my life, and as I don’t envisage myself ever getting a lot of the big stuff right, it has been especially important to me to pick the right career. It’s not like I have a family to support in the immediate future, and I know that I can make ends meet no matter what. I was paying rent to my parents, for almost all of my own living expenses, for my music lessons and for school stuff when I was earning $6.89 an hour and going to school five days a week at 16 and 17. I can survive. I’m not saying it won’t be hard, but I can cope. (I might need you all to tell me that sometimes!) I can bite down and not let go. (Like a dog, I say!) While ever it is just me I am OK just getting by until I make it happen, even though I know there is a modicum of luck involved here too.*

This has been the most mad, complicated, joyous, impossible, ridiculous year. It hasn’t gone the way I hoped – Frankie remains unwritten and no tangible things to show for it, and when friends were posting Honours results all over facebook I felt crappy as hell. Not finishing on time feels like a failure and I have so much to make up for, so much left to do. But I’ve started. I am part way there, and this doesn’t happen overnight, or even within a year, it seems.  I can do this, all of it. (Eventually!)

At the beginning of the year I said I wanted to work harder and be more adventurous. This year I saw my name on a conference programme for the first time. I essentially ran a seminar on my own and I did it well. I met up with friends with some regularity and so often felt like we were closer at the end of the meal. I made new friends and tried new experiences. I didn’t do as well as I wanted, but I did better, and I think that’s enough. I will do better next year, next time, next everything. Maybe I’m not such a pessimist about myself after all. (Or maybe at 29 I finally know the crap I have to tell myself to keep going.)

This time of year there is a lot of stuff written about how we’re too consumerist, which is true a lot of the time, and that buying presents for one another is subsequently unethical, wasteful and really irresponsible, which can be true but doesn’t have to be. I think that it’s possible to buy things for one another, or make things for one another, that are meaningful and which honour how we feel about one another, without filling our lives with plastic crap and ‘stuff’ that has no purpose or sentimental value. I love making the mix CDs for people I care about, and I love choosing gifts for people that I know will be used and loved. I searched for ages for the perfect Christmas ornaments for my mother and for my mentor. One of those I chose for the latter was a small, white owl that was the best on offer at a small shop I love near my uni, and it was perfect. Owls symbolise wisdom and protection; I held it in my hands, its cold clay comforting in the summer heat and couldn’t think of a better sign that this was for N. His gift also includes some very good quality coffee, but I like to think he can hang this and the other ornaments I gave him on his tree every year and remember that they came from me and smile. The gift also included a card with lots of nice things written on it that might be over the top, but life is fragile – we should tell the people we love how we feel and why. These things matter. This card, and this gift, matter.

So at the end of this crazy year of bad decisions and modest good fortune, I think about what really matters and I say the words that lead this post: bless this mess. I am grateful that it is hard, that it is messy. I don’t pretend that there is method in the madness and that there is a meaning for all the craziness, both that without and that within. But my life is meaningful. I trust that I am going somewhere and that I can do this, and I am grateful for the people who love me and encourage me, as well as those who don’t. Slowly, too slowly sometimes, I am making my life into what I want it to be.

Bless this mess. Happy Christmas, friends xx

*Anyone who says otherwise is either naïve or a liar.