Life Goes On (Obviously)

Autumn Rain II by Flickr user Dyversions

It is a wet, wet day here in Birmingham, England. The rain is falling on the land with the enthusiasm of a lover too long removed from his beloved. The green of the grass is the garden is lush and vibrant, the flowers dip their heads to better show their new glistening adornment. The leaves of the trees are making their migration from deep green, through golden yellow to passionate reds and oranges.

Autumn is here with a vengeance. It should be; it always arrives with my birthday*.

I am back at my parents’ house, another swing of the pendulum that has taken me up and down the country four, five times already this summer. I am ‘working’ at the bureau desk of my grandfathers; the first time I have had a proper workspace here since my teenage years. I have a job application to fill in, for a job I don’t really want (but probably need).

This weekend should be my last one here for a while. On Monday I head back down to London where I will be house-sitting consecutively for two friends. This, I hope, will mark the start of my return to the Big Smoke.

I’m resigned to the change. Not exactly excited, but not disappointed either. London was my home for many years, and it is still home to a great many of my dearest friends. After plans of farms and farming have fallen through, it seemed best to be somewhere where I have real ties, and I have more ties there than anywhere.

I have been homeless for over two years now. It was August 2008 when I packed up my flat, quit my job and ventured into the unknown. That unknown took me to l’Abri and all the wonders of deep friendships that grew from there. But there was no home for me at l’Abri (in the stable sense), and there has been none in any of my subsequent journeys either. Birmingham last summer was a holding pattern, Chichester was a fun but failed experiment. America this summer was… many things, but a study in alienation in many ways. Beautiful places with beautiful friends, but ones that only served to emphasise my alien-ness.

And now? Now I am longing to unpack my suitcase, to open my boxes of books and find shelves to put them on. I am longing for a neighbourhood, for an address so I can get a library card. For friendships built around a regular pattern of life rather than occasional visitations.

London is no longer my favourite place in the world. But, for now, it is the closest thing I have to a home. I need to pull my heart away from a distant future and into material reality, and the best anchors I have for that task are the friendships I have in the East End. And the opportunities that come with them.

I don’t really know what life will look like. I don’t know how I will pay my way. The generosity of friends keeping a roof over my head is a start. A good temping agency and the odd application form will help. Most exciting of all is the possibility of helping a friend set up a consultancy firm, which actually looks like it will happen in the coming weeks. It won’t be a full-time job, but it will be something. A challenge. Something new. Something fun.

It feels strange, after the last few years, to be trying to return to where I’ve been before. But this isn’t reconvening after a hiatus. I’m not picking up where I left off. This is a new start, if one in an old place. I don’t know if this gets me any closer to a rural, entrepreneurial community or not. But it does ground me back in the reality of life. And that’s progress, is it not?

The rain is continuing to fall, heavily. I think I’m going to have to put the light on – the grey, leaden skies are letting too little of the sun filter through. Beside me my suitcase is still full of clothes, waiting to be repacked for me to hit the road once again. I wonder how long it will be before I can unpack it for the last time?

The rain falls so that the plants may grow. When it stops (eventually), the air will be fresh and the grass a deep green that only comes after rain. Life, in all of it’s fullness, goes on as it always has. Obviously.


* September 22nd: brilliant sunshine, above 20oC temperatures. September 23rd: heavy rain, temperatures in the mid-teens… Same every year…

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Stuff

I’m rationalising my life (again).

For the last year and a half most of my belongings have lived in boxes in a friend’s storage unit. Which is all fine and dandy (I am very grateful to said friend), but seeing as none of it has been used in the last 20 months, a little bit pointless. I mean, how much stuff does a guy need?

A trip to the lockup last week resulted in me throwing away half my stored clothes (ie, half the clothes that haven’t been worn for the last 20 months) and making a long list of things I no longer want/need.

All of which are going begging.

If you are friends with me on Facebook you may have already seen the list. 19 CDs, 4 DVDs, 47 books and a range of other miscellany (including a spacehopper and a cordless phone) are available for anyone who wants them. Free (bar postage, which I’d like you to pay). The books and CDs are mostly Christian, mainly because the vast majority of stuff was Christian. But hopefully there are some gems there to interest anyone.

If you are my friend on Facebook you can take a look at the list there. If you are not, and would like to see it, then drop me a note in the comments and I’ll email you a copy. In two weeks all this goes to a charity shop (who will probably not know what to do with it).

***

Incidentally, I thought I’d make a couple of comemnts on the whole debacle.

1) This isn’t all my Christian stuff. I have actually kept some books and CDs from my old life. But I have always had this ability to accumulate more than I can consume, especially when it comes to books. Over the last 10 years or so I built up a collection of books that have been at best half-read, and at worst gathered dust due to the abandonment of any attempt to ever read them. This is not to say that they are not worthwhile books, just a comment on my own hoarding nature and the fact that the Western Christian culture is built around the promotion and consumption of media.

2) I have probably not thrown away anywhere near enough. I threw out only half the clothes I had in storage. ie, only half of the clothes that have not been worn in 20 months! Similarly with books (Christian and non-), keepsakes and other paraphernalia: I found it too hard to dispose of many things, simply because of an emotional attachment – even though said things have lain unused for far longer than the 20 months they have been in storage.

C’est la vie

Strange days

I have not been sleeping well. Not for a while. The world is becoming a strange place, from which I am slightly removed.

I have my second driving test tomorrow. Only 10½ years after the last one.

I am contemplating impending homelessness and likely joblessness, once again.

If I ran a personals ad, it would run something like this: “Fractured romantic with fragile grip on reality seeks lifelong partner with whom to journey through Time and Space

I seem to be addicted to buying DVD’s. At least 25 titles in the last 4 months.

I have discovered Spotify, and am very grateful for its invention.

I am going away for a long weekend, with a reading list that includes Spike Milligan and “How to set up a workers co-operative

I’m hoping to buy a car, which will ruin all my environmental credibility.

I am contemplating living and working on a farm for a while.

I wish the friends I Skype and Chat with were in the room with me (don’t we all).

I will have my day in court (on March 10th)

The saga of the camera

So, the other day I bought myself a birthday present. Well, technically a pre-birthday present. I went onto ebay, and purchased a camera.

I used to enjoy photography, as a kid. Throughout my preteens and teens, I regularly had a camera nearby, and enjoyed the process of photography: framing the scene, judging the composition, taking the subject unawares. As I got older, it fell away as an activity. Cost was an issue, but so was interest in other things.

If I’m honest, I don’t really know why I stopped. I know there was some dissatisfaction with the process, some product envy. Compact cameras were in; digital was beginning to be a real possibility; autofocus SLRs were the big thing. I had an old, early Minolta autofocus which didn’t do what I wanted. Plus it held my hands too much, and I began to be lazy…

I dunno. Maybe I just wanted to have the shiny new toy. I’ve always been too much of a sucker for advertising. I wanted a shiny Cannon or Nikon SLR, with the zoom lenses that now seem so common, but were then so new. My camera didn’t have spot metering, or five-point autofocus, or a zoom lens. My camera wasn’t good enough; a compact wasn’t (and still isn’t) good enough. I was suckered – sold on the feel and the lifestyle and the act of seeing through the lens. When I went to University, I didn’t take my Minolta with me.

During my time in London, it only got worse. Digital SLRs came onto the scene. But instead of being £100 out of my price range, these were £500, or £1000 more than I could afford. So, as usual, I lusted from the sidelines and stopped thinking about it. On occasion I would borrow a friends SLR or compact, for a party or a trip or just to play, but most of the time I lived vicariously through the photos of other people, and became one of those people who don’t take pictures.

But there has always been a part of me that remembers, thinks back. That wants to be Amelie with the Polaroid, or Ansel Adams on the mountain top. That wants to be capturing and creating something beautiful with the turn of a bezel and the press of a button.

While I was at l’Abri I met many wonderful people, including several photographers. Mary Frances and Kari with their amazing candid shots of people, capturing the characters so well. Marcie with her resurrected old cameras, lovingly crafting every single shot, not knowing if any would work. Julia with her Polaroids, little off-colour frames of wonder. Phil, with the old manual SLR, creating incredibly evocative black & whites…

They were all so inspiring. As we left and went on our separate ways, that inspiration stirred a hunger in me. A desire to get out there and try again, to see if I could create something as beautiful as those images I’d seen…

Then my good, wonderful friend Anna picked up her dad’s old camera and had a go. With the same inspiration as me, with the beautiful and quirky town of Portland to explore, she stepped out and went to see what would happen. Well, some really great black and white shots happened, that became gifts and surprises, sent in the post to friends around the world.

If Anna could do it, why couldn’t I? So I picked up my dad’s old camera and…

Found that it had no batteries.

A quick trip to a camera shop revealed that the battery compartment was corroded, and that new batteries would not help. In this old camera, no battery meant no meter, and more importantly, no shutter. It was dead. My first attempt to get back in the game had been a failure.

That was back in May. For most of my summer in Birmingham, I was living with the intention, the hope, that very soon – maybe the next week – I would get a job and be moving. I wasn’t planning to stay around. Maybe next week I’ll move to London. In London there are second-hand camera shops and market stalls; I can find something there… So I waited, and put off the idea for a while.

But a germ of a thought had been planted, which was to find a body that could take the lenses from my dad’s camera. Over time, with a bit of occasional internet searching, I settled on the Pentax ME Super. It was a great little camera in its day, fondly remembered. They were popular, and well made. There are lots of them out there…

Come September, and I’ve decided I’ll go for it. It’s my birthday – I can treat myself. I bid on ebay for a couple of items and, as always, pay a little too much for a camera of un-guaranteed quality. It arrives the day before I pack to go to Chichester to start my new life.

Open the package. Hold it. Feel the weight. Press the buttons, turn the knobs. Open the door, examine the mechanisms, the seals, all the details. That nervous anticipation – the delight of having a new toy, mixed with the fear of whether or not it is a good buy. Will I be happy or will I regret?

There was no cap covering the mirror box, and the insides are very dirty. I try and clean inside with the cleaning cloth for my Mac, but the foam seal at the front edge disintegrates and some of the residue ends up on the focus screen. Or was it already there? I don’t know…

I find a small airbrush and a lens cloth in my dad’s camera bag. I remove the dust and dirt from the film chamber, and the remaining dust from the mirror box. I try and clean the focus screen with the lens cloth, but all that happens is it spreads the residue around.

Putting on one of my dad’s lenses and looking through, it’s all a little blurry, but it basically works. I’m not happy though. The camera wasn’t expensive, but it’s still the most expensive ‘new’ thing I’d bought in a while. And I’m not sure if it will do what I want it to do…

I pack the camera, the lenses, the yet-unused film into my bag, along with everything else, ready for the trip south. It waits there until I am in my current abode, when I put it into a draw. Safe. Out of sight.

I don’t know what to do. The light is beautiful; Chichester is gorgeous. I want to get out and explore, to take pictures, but there is much trepidation. I haven’t taken pictures in a long time. I’m not sure I remember all the rules about aperture and shutter speed and focal lengths… And I want to get it right. I don’t want to waste precious film.

I take the camera out of the draw a few times. Put a lens on, look through, play at changing the controls. Get confused by the manual film advance. Man! I haven’t used one of these in years! There’s no film in yet, and as I look through the viewfinder, I’m bothered by that smudged screen. Very bothered. The camera goes back in the draw.

As I explore the town, I find a couple of camera shops. The first one I go into (without the camera) is very helpful. He identifies the problem right away (the disintegrating foam), and says that it might be permanent damage. “The only thing you could try, is to clean it with a fluid that will dissolve the glue. You could try isopropyl alcohol. You can get it from a chemists…”

I thank the man, go to the chemists. They have it, but the bottle is huge. I only need a few drops. I leave it.

The next week I go to the other camera shop and ask them about it. I take the camera with me. They look at it, examine it, look through it. Consult among themselves. Say that there is nothing that can be done. “It’s permanent damage. But you can still see through it; you can still use it.”

I’m annoyed. I want my camera to work. I’ve been thinking of doing this, of following Anna’s example, for months.

So I do something foolish. I believe the guy in the first shop. I go back to the chemists and buy the big bottle of isopropyl alcohol. And a pipette, and cotton buds. A 500ml bottle for maybe 5ml worth of work. Seems ridiculous, but I want my camera to work!

I go home and try. The first couple of applications I brush against the seal and make the situation worse. So I try again, apply more.

Every application seems to be making things worse. But I keep going. Fool.

Now that the dust has settled, the residue evaporated, the “tools” put away, I can see the results. I have cleaned up the glue residue. But I have also stripped away the top layer of the focus screen. The two segments in the middle of the screen that actually let you focus are broken. You can’t see them move properly. And the rest of the screen is… well, it’s less blurred, but not by much…

I’m now left with a camera which may be impossible to focus accurately. It will take pictures, but in all likelihood it will take pictures that are slightly out of focus, unless I am very lucky. Not exactly my dream of crisp, clear, artistic shots.

I go back to the (second) camera shop. The focus screen could be replaced, but it will cost me nearly twice what I paid for the camera. Best bet? Go back to ebay and see if I can get another, in better condition this time.

I still haven’t put film in the camera yet. I haven’t fired a shot. I don’t know if I should. Do I risk it and see what happens – join in with Marcie’s spirit of photographic adventure? Or do I trawl the marketplaces and second-hand shops for an alternative body? Or do I wait until I have a little more saved up and buy the DSLR I’ve always wanted?

Will the saga continue? I just don’t know right now…

12 Months

I have been out of work for over a year now. True, I’ve not been looking or wanting to work for a good period of that time, but my last pay check was mid-August 2008, and my last day at work was at the end of that month.

Twelve months is a long time away from work, and after a while that length of time really distorts your thinking towards the whole subject. A friend was reminding me last night of how on returning from l’Abri at the beginning of May I was talking mostly about lifestyle as the number one priority. The type of daily life  – the pace, the ecology and morality, the community  – was far more important than what work I did. On these pages I blogged about living in the country, about getting a dog…

Yet, in time, your focus shifts. You get consumed by the process of applying for work; of judging between jobs, and being judged re your abilities. For me, that meant very quickly being consumed by questions of hours, remuneration, time, location… Each job is judged by internal questions: is it better or worse than my last post? Does it pay more? Greater or lesser responsibility? A move up the career ladder, or a sideways step?

Last week, I had my first interview, for the 30th position I’d applied for. In many ways it ticked all the boxes. It was a job at my old workplace, so I knew the team and the environment. It was a definite career move; more responsibility, great experience for the CV. It paid (a lot) more than anything I’d done before. All good.

Only I didn’t get it.

For the last month or so, I’ve been in conversation with a small company in Chichester about a possible role. A semi-rural market town. A small team doing varied work. Easy access to the country.  There hasn’t been a clear job description, or an obvious application process to go through. Talk of pay has been hazy, right up to the last minute.

The contrast has been pretty clear, really. A career choice, and a lifestyle choice. One plugs me rapidly back into the high-pressure, fast-paced life of London. The other takes a step outside of that, and explores a new beginning in a new location; close to the country and close to the sea. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the one possibility has largely prejudiced me against the other. The prospect of moving outside of London, away from existing friends, to a completely new place, to do a job which pays a good £10k less than the one I was interviewed for last week… Lets just say that I haven’t been exactly enthusiastic.

On reflection though, over the last couple of days, I have begun to rethink my perspective. Since when has money been a motivator for me? Yes, I want to be rewarded for the work that I do, but this isn’t exactly a return to the poverty of working for CGC. And there is a reason for the London Weighting. The South East isn’t as cheap as Birmingham, but it isn’t as costly as the East End, either.

Plus, there is the issue of quality of life. There is a reason why that phrase was on my lips so much after returning from l’Abri. Slowing down, taking stock, building a rhythm of life that included time to breathe… Life at the Manor House was a revelation, especially in contrast to the metropolitan rat race. And a good quality of life, with good people and a slower pace… That is more important to me than money.

I’m not really career focused either. Faced with countless job adverts, you have to find a way of choosing between them, but I didn’t come back from my sabbatical with a burning desire to progress my career in the charity sector. Yes, long term I want to do something different. But as yet, I don’t know what (currently I’m stuck on trying to work out if writing and directing films is a remotely feasible possibility – and as I am only halfway through my first script, I think that question is going to be unanswered for a while). So a job is, as has been suggested before, primarily an income and a set of possibilities and opportunities. It is a better step forward than living at home with my parents, moping and fantasising about unachievable ideals.

All this is to say that my perspective has shifted over the last few days. I have decided to try and stop examining the dental work of the equine gift in front of me. The company is small, ambitious, worthy. Ethical. Enthusiastic. They’ve worked hard to change their perspective on this role in order to accommodate me; they have pursued me, to a degree, and I am honoured and grateful for that.

I’ve only been to Chichester once. I don’t know anyone there. I have no idea where I will live, who I will meet. It is a scary, nay terrifying, prospect. But it is also pregnant with possibility.

After a year out of work, after four long months of looking for employment, I am eager to get going. I want to work, as much as anyone does. I don’t know what this will pan out like, but for the next three months at least I’m heading south.

Wish me luck…

Tired

Life has fallen into a bit of a rut recently, and I’m tired.

I’m in Birmingham still, still at home with my parents, still unemployed and looking for work. Still broke.

Each day I drift into conciousness, drag myself out of bed, drink tons of coffee and try to motivate myself to apply for work. Look at the RSS feeds, see what’s advertised. Try and select what looks possible from the impossible and the improbable. Fire off CV’s (that’s Résumé’s for you in the states), fill out applications forms. Send them off, hear nothing back.

Three of the beautiful people I had the privilege of visiting at the Manor House

Three of the beautiful people I had the privilege of visiting at the Manor House (Photo credit: Kari Rosenfeld)

That’s the pattern, with very few interruptions. I’ve become a tortoise, retreated into my shell, only coming out to do what I need to do, then escaping away again, into bad TV, trashy movies and Wimbledon. I know few people here, and I’ve made no effort to see them. All my limited energy is focused on what I need to do to get onto the next step. A step that never comes.

Still, there are some things to take delight in. The sunshine. My parents garden, a genuine oasis in the city. Letters, CD’s, emails and skype calls from dear friends across the water. A trip down to the manor a couple of weeks ago; a friends wedding in Norfolk this last weekend. Phone calls to good friends. All these things are good, refreshing; but the day-by-day remains the same, monotonous, insular slog – and thus far there seems to be little to show movement on the horizon; little hope of change.

Change will come. There will be a job, and income, and a roof over my head of my own choosing. Eventually. But in the meantime, I’m tired.

One day at a time, huh?

Decisions, Decisions…

How do you make the big decisions in your life? When you are trying to decide where to live, what job to do, which relationships to pursue, what basis do you use for making those decisions?

If I’m honest, I have never found decision making easy. I have an ability to see all the possibilities and consequences of a course of action, which often leaves me somewhat paralysed, not easily able to weigh the different options. But in times past I would have tried to base all my decisions on what seems ‘right’, on what ‘God’ wanted/was saying/was not saying, and on what I believed to be important from previous decisions.

Being in London, being involved with my church there and among the community of friends I had around me, was one of the important markers. I made a lot of decisions, about jobs, about where to live, based on that. I also made a lot of decisions based on my ‘theology’ (for want of a better word), my ideas of what Christian life was meant to look like. All of my career choices since graduating have been about enabling me to continue to live in London, to be involved with my church community there, and work in a ‘Christian’ context, for organisations that I felt were doing important work.

So what’s changed? Well, a lot, honestly. The chaos of the last couple of years of my life has left me questioning pretty much everything, including all the signposts by which I used to make decisions. I am tired of London, frustrated by and somewhat alienated from most of my church, and unsure what, if anything I believe about ‘God’. I am in the process of trying to start afresh; am currently looking for both work and a place to live, and could go and be anywhere… but there are an awful lot of where’s and even more what’s.

I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the possibilities. I don’t know what basis I have for making decisions other than what I want, and I’ve never been that great at working that out. What do I want? I want to live I the country. I want to have space for myself but be involved in community. I want to be near, and involved in the lives of, friends. I want a job where I actually want to go into work in the morning. I want space to see if this writing thing can actually go somewhere. I’d really like a dog…

So that’s something, right? Except, to my structured brain a lot of those things seem almost contradictory. Most of my good friends are in London. In reality, most work probably is too. My experiences of community thus far have been with churches, or with folks from l’Abri, most of whom are now scattered across the globe. If I managed to find a job in a more rural location, I’d most likely be trying to set myself up somewhere where I knew no one, which is not exactly helping with either the friends thing or the community one…

So, what do you do? At the moment, hampered by a lack of cash, crashing with my parents, in all likelihood it will be a matter of the utmost practicality, going for whatever compromise ticks the most boxes. Maybe getting another London job and trying to live near current friends. But that doesn’t satisfy; none of the options I can see in front of me at the moment satisfies. So there is always the possibility that I do something all the more unconventional…

Or just sit here in indecision a while longer…