Friday, 6 February 2009

Back with a vengeance (and rambling for too long)

I’m blogging again, wow. How did that happen? Why did I ever stop? It’s been about 9 months – perhaps that’s significant in some psychoanalytic way, perhaps I’ve been gestating new writing! So this had better be good then, but don’t get your hopes up. Maybe I just needed a break; life changed quite a lot last year, what with putting my head above the work parapet again and suddenly being inundated (why is my life always so extreme?), along with personal loss (my beloved Grandmother) and other ‘stuff’. I have been hugely busy, but found myself unable to write (creatively) and, more disastrously, unable to read. I kept reading some things – can’t break the habit of a lifetime – but I couldn’t get absorbed in fiction. Newspapers, journals, biographies, business books (yeah I know) – all devoured in the small hours, but I seemed to lose all pleasure in plot and narrative. And the only writing I could do was for work; maybe it’s because to be good at what I do, you have to lose your own voice, and find one for your client. So strategy-speak became, rather scarily, my only means of communicating with the world. Yet in the silence of a cold climate, both literally and metaphorically, I feel, bizarrely, like something’s flowering again. K has been really poorly with a horrible cough, and as I sat up with her late one night and couldn't get back to sleep, I found myself re-reading Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight, and that broke the ice, so to speak. Since then the words have been back, as has my pleasure in reading and losing myself in other people’s stories again.

It’s been quite a winter, not without its beauty. We’ve had days where the sun has shone so brightly that you could imagine yourself in a glittering New England winter, all ice-storms and bright hardness. Days which made me think of Robert Frost’s Birches:

“Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away,
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen”

Other days have been typically English, weak with pale sun if we’re lucky, quiet, dripping and mired in freezing fog if we’re not. I love seeing starkly frozen shapes looming up, and recognising that muffled, muted world that deep winter brings. The stars have been stunning, too. I always find it strangely hard to imagine another season when I’m in the middle of the one I’m in – it seems almost unbelievable to picture the lazy abundance of summer; the hollyhocks and delphiniums out, dog roses shining in the hedges, particularly when survival seems such a struggle for most of nature right now. An old man died in the village last week, but his widow can’t get a slot for the funeral yet; too busy at this time of year, were the chilling words from the funeral parlour. That’s cheerful isn’t it.

Strangely I do feel imbued with a sharp sense of focus and energy at the moment. My hackles have been rising, not for the first time, about how women are pigeonholed and criticised, and basically still told how we should be managing our own lives. Surveys abound, and we’re still caught, as ever, between a rock and a hard place; the few households who ever could afford to live on one salary are decreasing in the recession, yet at the same time we’re bombarded with more information about the unhappiness of our children, our focus on material things, the breakdown of community, all with the implicit criticism of working mothers. It makes me so cross – I know how the media works, but the polarisation of such important issues helps no-one. I feel, stubbornly and perhaps naively, that I want to raise two fingers to the world. People are organic beings, and life should develop organically; what’s right for one family, right now, may not be right for another, and might – gasp – change, too. I was happy to stop work for a while, determined to focus on my children, and I don’t regret it for a moment, it was the best thing I’ve ever done, though I’ve written before about how I hated the invisibility of full time motherhood, the unspoken assumption that I’d left my brain, along with my career prospects, back in the office. Now the children are at school, I’m loving work again and feel a new sense of direction. I need the money, too. It’s impossibly hard, of course it is, to get the balance right, and no wonder so many give up. What are the role models after all – be a corporate slave, outsourcing your children, or else be a Martha Stewart wannabee, with no interest outside the domestic sphere? Why should we have to be either of those things? I happen to love baking, for example. I love being around my kids. At the moment I also love working. I’m damned if I’m going to be told I have to do one or the other, and I really feel the challenge of MAKING opportunities happen so I can try, at least, to fit both in. I know I have to sacrifice pay and status; I don’t want everything, but I’m not going to give up on things that are important to me, either. That’s my first New Year resolution, anyway. I’ve decided put a positive spin on it and recognise that I’m fortunate to have a life that includes so many different experiences.

And of course I AM fortunate; many of these dilemmas are peculiarly middle class. My Mum and Grandma had no such dilemmas; they had to work. And anyone with an ounce of financial sense would have said that my decision to be a full time mother when they were little has cost us dearly. But you know what, I don’t care. It was worth it. Just as right now, working until late at night is worth it, for now. (And long may it continue – having two self employed people in the family isn’t much fun right now).

My next resolution is to stop having unsuitable celebrity crushes (apart from my lifelong passion for Bob Marley, which doesn’t count!) The highlight of late January, for me, was watching the BBC2 series Million Dollar Traders (it was on iPlayer if you missed it, but it might have gone by now); as an ex-City girl myself, though sadly not able to retire with my millions, I found it fascinating. And I wasn’t only concentrating intently on the trades; I don’t think I’m the only one to notice, but Anton Kreil, the Manager, was so incredibly sexy. If all the world’s investment bankers and traders were like him, I’d indulgently forgive all their little foibles, like over selling complex financial instruments which half of them didn’t actually understand. (Sorry to be so flippant, I know it’s not funny at the moment). Though if they were all like him and the fantastically named Lex Van Dam, then I bet we wouldn’t be in this mess. Lex was quite sexy too, in a stern-but-fair kind of way, nice smile, (come on girls, we need all the cheer we can get at this time of year), but the gorgeous Anton triggered some rather impure thoughts. Like, seriously, as he kept saying. I found myself gloomily wondering why I’d never had the good fortune to run into him in the City – oh yeah, it must have been that while I was slowly making my way up the corporate ladder and worrying about my overdraft (and being lucky enough to marry my husband, of course, in case he suddenly decides to break the habit of a lifetime and read my blog), he was being a master of the universe, making huge amounts of money and no doubt going out with supermodels, so wouldn’t have looked at me twice. So the moral of the story is - don’t ever get a stupid crush on anyone (a) younger (b) richer and (c) more successful than you – you come down to earth with a bump.

It was a great show though (total novices having a go at trading, if you didn’t see it). Brilliant, if unforeseen, timing for the programme as well (filmed last summer). Some of them made you want to bang your head slowly and repeatedly against a wall. It highlighted for me how the whole business is as much of an art as a science, how the ones who do actually know what they’re doing use emotional intelligence and self control, and don’t just rely on TA and maths ability. Personally, I wouldn’t last 10 minutes, and I’d probably have plunged the world into an even deeper recession during those 10 minutes, but two things made me actually want to try (in a sitting on the sofa kind of a way). One was when someone said how stocks have no memory. I realised that it must be such a ‘clean’ feeling (when things are going well). There are no personalities involved, only your own demons, no-one else to cock it all up or to blame. Kind of how I feel when I’m running for miles! Also when one of the successful novices said it felt like he was playing chess against the rest of the world. That must be hugely exhilarating. But maybe not quite so exhilarating now.

I seem to have had loads of arguments with friends lately about the show – some people I know were genuinely horrified at what they saw as the aggression and testosterone and what they called ‘bullying tactics’ on display. I didn’t see any of that. Making money – and by extension the financial world – is neither good nor evil. It’s amoral – it is what it is and does what it does. Surely it’s what you do with money that counts? I’m not excusing greed, vastly disproportionate earnings or bad management – anything as single-minded and energetic as that world will turn into a monster without proper control and regulation, but that show wasn’t aiming to spark a debate about ethics – it was showing how you had to operate within that world. If you don’t want to, fine. Actually I had some of the best times of my life working in the City (admittedly before I moved to the country and discovered my inner hippie!) Even for someone like me, who wasn’t involved directly in generating money, there’s something seductive about the energy and ambition and talent that could be found . I know some people who can’t talk about anything other than money – they’re obsessed by it – but I’ve met them in all walks of life. I don’t think everyone who works there can be dismissed as having sold their souls and gone over to the dark side. (Only about half of them).

I did go out with a trader for while, ages ago. He was from a well known investment bank that is no more. The thing I remember most vividly about him is that he had this obsession with Barry White (his music, that is, not the man, which would have been even weirder). I used to get really nervous going to his flat in case he decided to play ‘Don’t Go Changing’ again; I had a sort of dread terror that he might start singing it to me. (Hopefully he’s too busy spending his billions to ever stumble across this blog; I expect we move in slightly different circles these days). Of course, if anyone played that for me now, caught as I am between the stresses of young children and a huge mortgage, I’d probably cry. But when you’re a heartless 22 year old, it was deeply embarrassing. Yet another of life’s little ironies.


toady said...

You haven't lost your touch. Great to have you back.

Tattie Weasle said...

It's good to assess where you are at from time to time - it's great to see you blog again!

ChrisH said...

Aw, it's good to see you writing again and to read that you are keeping all the balls in the air. What a very glam photo that is.

Pipany said...

No what you mean about periods of being unable to read fiction. I have to be fairly stress free to manage it these days.

It's good to have a break sometimes to enable creativity to flow once more. Hope you're back for good now though xx

KittyB said...

Good one - nice blog.
All the finance stuff is way over my head, I have problems managing my household budget so I stick my head in the sand about the bigger picture.

Very worrying when you can't read, though - I think it's when your head is so full of 'stuff'. But true what you say about writing for clients. You have to be 'them' in your head, not you. And it pushes 'you' out, which is very hard.

elizabethm said...

Welcome back. Great blog. I know just what you mean about the reading thing. I have long periods when I can't get into fiction at all. It seems to require a letting go which sometimes just doesn't work.
I identify very strongly with your take on the traders programme and the financial world. As someone who has spent a long time in that world, it is a fascinating and energetic place. I loved the fact that the best trader was the single mum!

lampworkbeader said...

Great to have you back. Another 'Frost at Midnight' fan. There are certain times of year when that poem just calls out to be read.
I've never lived at all in anything that could remotely be called the financial world, but I do know that, at the first sign of a down turn in the economy, women get slagged off for working.
Unlike in the 1930s and after WW2, no one would dare say we are taking men's jobs, so they produce 'reports' on what our being out of the home is doing to our children, to make us feel bad instead.

muddyboots said...

great to see you back and blogging, know what you mean about the reading / writing, l got through periods of reading absolutely everything like a pig in muck, then, for some unknown reason can't bring myself to even pick up a book.

Sally's Chateau said...

So good to see you again, you sound very 'switched on' and full of beans, don't leave it so long will you ?

Milkmaid said...

Nice to see you back, I've had a hard winter too and also aqm back after a long absence but not blogging yet. I have phases when I cannot read fiction and only read the newspaper or magazines, but happily I am reading everything at the mo

Frances said...

It is grand to have you return with this wonderful post.

As I clicked over via your profile, my eyes locked on Local Hero as a fave film of yours, and I thought ... yes! I do love that film so much.

And then, I got here and read all that you have written, and although you and I are quite different in age, our varying work sites are similar.

I think that you are making wise decisions, and toast your courage to make those decisions. Lots of folks in your family and in your community will also want to raise a glass or ten to you over the years to come.

I so look forward to reading your next posts.


bodran... said...

Hello great to see you back and great blog xx

Cait O'Connor said...

(I love Local Hero too).

Welcome back SM, it is really good to have you blogging again.

I also find it hard sometimes to read fiction, unless it is really really good and there have been a few of those lately.

I think your 'uneasiness' was your creativity trying to get out!

Pondside said...

Great to see you back again. It was worth the wait to get that nice long update. I know what you mean about not being able to read - it happens, and then it passes...thank heavens.

LittleBrownDog said...

Let me just savour that image of the gorgeous Suffolkmum entwined with The Walrus Of Luuuuurve....

* * *

Aaahhh, that's better. Absolutely fabulous to have you back SM. Wonderful reading - you express yourself so perfectly. Fascinating to read about your experiences of the City - a world that has always scared me stiff and left me with a sort of grim fascination. Interesting about the 'clients' voice' thing - had never really thought of PR that way, but I think you've absolutely hit the nail on the head. You're so right, too, about the blame for all the world's ills being all too often laid at the door of the working mum - many's the morning I've had to restrain myself from ringing in to Woman's Hour and say, "wait a minute - we don't just make these decisions about working and child-rearing on our own, you know." Thankfully I do just about manage it, as not sure I have much sufficiently coherent to say afterwards.

Another Bob fan here, too. Bobs of all musical persuasions, in fact...

So good to have you back again. (Or did I already say that?)



Hi SM - great to have you back and kinda spooky that I think it was Friday that I flicked over to your blog to see if you WERE back (as I've been rather intermittent too). I must have got there just ahead of you hitting the 'publish' button! Found you instead via ExmoorJane who has also not been blogging for a while and I went to have a check on her just now and saw from her site that you were back...

So sorry to hear about your Grandmother - I know how hard it is to get over these close family losses. A few other things resonated, as usual, too as I read: the PR/copywriting 'voice' (as this used to be my trade too); the husband who never reads your blog (they don't know what they're missing, do they??); when you are in the depths of one season how hard it is to imagine another (I had this thought just this morning as I looked out on the whiteness and could barely imagine the same view in May); the strong attraction to a stranger (in my case it's the latest plumber!); and the battle between working mum/stay at home mum and the world's foolish need to categorize people. Money, though, is one of the great ironies in my life: I have never had any interest in it (ok, it's nice to have it, of course, but it has never been my raison d'etre) and here I am married to an accountant! I have tried and tried to make him change tack, but I have finally given up. My view has always been that you need a certain amount to live happily and without too much strain, but any more can often just lead to unnecessary complications and unhappiness. 'Radix malorum est cupiditas' from Chaucer's 'The Pardoner's Tale' has always been my mantra.

CAMILLA said...

It is great to see you back SM, so pleased you are feeling on top of things again. My reading had been neglected for ages SM, just could not seem to get into the flow of it, happy to say something must have triggered my brain and now reading again.

Lovely photo of you SM.!


Livvy U. said...

I haven't been keeping up much with blogging of recent times either - either my own, or reading other people's. I was reading an old post to remind myself of something, saw your comment and thought Oh yes! Suffolk Mum! I must see if she has written recently - and here you are back again. Brilliant. I will return much sooner next time.

Exmoorjane said...

Don't think I have ever had a time when I couldn't read fiction - that would freak me out big time. Couldn't agree more with your comments about women and the press. Just impossible.
So so pleased to see you back blogging - you are a superb writer.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

phew, you're back and with so much to say!!

There is too much to comment on, but i felt sadness for your grandmother, I remember reading what you wrote about her.

And an updated photo! woohoo!

and just as you start, i've just given up, but now i have lots of free time to read other people's blogs!

Anonymous said...