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)

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…

The Shelter

The Manor House

The Manor House – picture by Andrew Sherman

 

So, I have been away. Away from these pages, away from home, from work, from friends, from family. Life got too hard, too messy, too broken, and I shouted STOP! before I crashed. I quit my job, gave notice on my flat, and walked off into the unknown for a while…

What I found was a place of shelter; a manor house in the Hampshire countryside, the home of a community of broken, questioning people, looking to make sense of the world. l’Abri means ‘The Shelter’, and seeks to be just that. It is a Christian community, opening its doors three times a year to a variety of ‘students’, Christians, atheists, agnostics and none-of-the-above, who come looking for a safe place to find meaning in their lives.

For me, struggling to deal with the fallout of a failed relationship, a life that no longer made sense, and a gradual descent into alcoholism, that shelter was almost exactly what I needed. A one-week visit at the start of the autumn ‘term’ turned into a 7-month, two-term stay, as this fragile, thrown-together bunch of religious misfits became my family, and the draughty, almost-tumbledown manor house became home.

L’Abri is a place of contradictions. It has a free, open, almost structure-less programme, but a full, heavily structured week. It is very openly religious, with an American-Evangelical theology, yet refuses to push even the most basic of ‘Christian’ agendas on those that visit it. It seeks constantly to find answers to the questions of life and the issues of the day, and yet most people leave with more questions than when they arrived. It is a study-centre, but with no set (or even recommended) syllabus.

For me, the daily the structure of life at the manor was just what was needed. By August I was struggling to get out of bed in the mornings, and battling depression and a serious lack of motivation at work. At l’Abri, you get up in the morning, come downstairs and look at the notice board. The meal list tells you when and where you will be eating, and what other events there are in the day, and the work list tells you when you will be working, and what you will be doing. There was no choice, no need for deliberation. It was incredibly freeing.

Work, at the manor, means cooking, or cleaning, or gardening, or some form of maintenance. Simple, practical tasks, each with the minimal necessary supervision; you were shown what to do, and trusted with the responsibility of completing the task. Like I said, very liberating.

The rest of your time is spent ‘studying’, with a smattering of lectures, film discussions, tutorials and lunch discussions thrown in. This creates a heady atmosphere of debate, with many concepts and questions floating around. L’Abri specialises in questions of philosophy, theology and morality, but will freely discuss anything: science, aesthetics, art, ecology, food production, pop music. Whatever you can think of. It is an intense place, and I often found it difficult, but it was nice to be around Christians who were not afraid to think.

It’s a busy place. There were between 30 and 40 ‘students’ at the manor at any one time, many of them young Americans, but others from all over the world. For me, a quiet, introverted Englishman, it was an intense, difficult experience in many ways. But then, any form of community has to be. You live and work with people 24-7, people you like and easily get on with, and people who rub you up the wrong way. There is no escape.

I made some great friends there, some of which I hope to write about here in the coming weeks. L’Abri is a bubble, a world in itself away from the real world. The relationships are intense, but you can’t know how many friendships will endure, once the bubble bursts, and you are thrown back into reality. I really hope that many of the friends I have found there will stay so for the rest of my life, but none of us can know that for sure. We are all trying to build our lives again outside of the shelter, and we have to see where our individual paths will lead, and if they will ever cross again.

I’m realising now that I don’t know how to finish this post. There is so much that I could say about my time away, but for now, this will have to be enough. My time in the shelter was what I needed. I have no idea what comes next, but I know that I am better equipped to deal with it now than I was before. And I know that I have experienced a place, and a group of people, that are truly special, that have been home, that have been family, that have been healing.

I hope to see them all again.

Processing

So, how do you make sense of 7 months of life-changing experience? Or the two years of hardship before that? How do you reflect on life, in a way that allows you to move forward, without losing the value of all you’ve encountered?

This is my dilemma as I come to the end of my 7 month sabbatical. Somehow I need to make sense of all that I have experienced in that time, and work through the questions that I asked myself there, and try to finally come to some answers. Or, if not answers, then at least workable solutions.

My return to these pages is full of questions, as is everything else in my life. I no longer feel the compulsion to write about random tech lustings or who said what in the emerging/Christian field. I’m questioning my prior reticence towards writing about my own life and circumstances. I feel that, now, all I have are my own experiences, but even so I cannot guarantee that they will appear here. I have a million thoughts and impressions and feelings clouding through my mind, and I honestly don’t know how I will condense them, or if I will want post the results here. We shall see.

For now, I want to tell you this: I am tired. I am exhausted. I have worked hard and long in a beautiful, crazy, intense community called l’Abri, and have now said goodbye to the place that became home, to the people who became family. I have cried bucketloads, and have no energy left. Parting is such sorrow, and there is little that is sweet, but the memories.

I should be thinking about work; about the fact that I am homeless and nearly penniless. But all I can feel is weary and sad right now. And glad that I have been where I have been, with the people I have been with.

I want to put more thoughts on these pages; I want to grow in my writing, and to work through the many contradictory thoughts I have in my head. I hope this post will be the first in a new chapter, but there are no guarantees. Only that this time it will be different, because I am not the same person that I was on 6th February 2007. Too much has changed since then. I hope that the result will be of interest to you, but I don’t mind if it is not. I don’t think this is about you any more.

The weirdness of my wish list…

I’ve had a link to my Amazon Wish List on the side bar for a while now. The idea of the “be nice to me” category was originally something like the Pay Pal donate buttons you see on other peoples pages. It was going to have things like a link to Andrea’s Stewardship account, but Stewardship are about 2 years behind their original plans to move into online giving…

The intention wasn’t to beg for anything, but just to create avenues should anyone ever want them. And if no-one ever did, well, so what?

The inspiration for this post though, was a conversation I had with Andrea some time back, where she quizzed me as to the somewhat-eclectic nature of said wish list. I guess you’d hope that a look at someone’s wish list would give you an insight into how their head works; well, what on earth does mine say about me?

I’m not sure what the point of a wish list is, (probably something to pass onto your family at Christmas time) but for me it started as an overflow of my Amazon shopping basket. Books (and it is almost invariably books) that I wasn’t quite sure I wanted right that moment would often sit in my basket for weeks if not months. At some point I worked out that I could drop these items into the wish list so as not to be consumed with indecision when it came to making a purchase (“I want Irresistible Revolution, but I still have these two Old Testament overview books here; do I want them as well?”). Here they would quite happily sit, and the list would slowly grow in the same fashion.

The next category of item is the “people who shopped for… also bought”, which seems to be the main way Amazon makes money. There are quite a few items of this nature on the wish list. Things I spot inadvertently while browsing (which probably happens once a month or so). CDs like the REM fall into this category.

However the main content of the wish list, and the reason of its inherent weirdness, is that I started reading blogs. And on blogs people seem to review books a lot. And every time someone talks about a book that in some way intrigues me… it ends up on the wish list!

So I guess that if you look at the books on this wish list, you at least get an idea of the kinds of books read by the authors of the blogs I read. They are mainly related to religion, especially Christianity, and often about explorations and journeys within that, especially the whole ‘emerging’ thing. Looking at the list, I’m not at all sure how many of these I would actually buy. I always want to read more than I actually read, and knowing this I am selective as to which books I part cash for, however much the general subject interests me. I think we can safely say that (almost) all the books on the list I’d like to read if I had infinite capacity and infinite resources… just so I can be more roundly educated on the subjects concerned.

Some of the items on the list are really never going to get bought. No one is going to come along to this blog and decide “hey, I like this guy’s writing, I’ll buy him a MacBook!” (The Nikon D50 is similarly daft). But these larger items are things that I would probably buy myself, if only I could afford it.

So its an eclectic mix, and as often as not a running commentary on my forays into the blog jungle (blungle? jubgle?) searching for wisdom. The one that prompted the conversation with Andrea was the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but that is just along the same lines as the Book of Common Prayer; it is part of a growing desire in me to understand the richness and the diversity of the Church in all its forms. However random the list is, however far from a Christmas present list, I guess it is all part of that searching for truth and wisdom…

Make of it all what you will. 😉