Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Communing with, well, anyone I can find who’ll join in

A couple of weeks ago I went away for a weekend with my Quaker meeting.  It was astonishingly lovely.  Not that I had low expectations, but I was a bit scared of spending a weekend with people who I don’t really know that well, and anxious about how Big Girl and Small Girl’s table manners would go down.  Fortunately I didn’t need to worry.  Big Girl and Small Girl spent the weekend running riot with all the other children and young people there.  One of the loveliest things was seeing teenagers caring for my two girls – all the children looked after each other.  I really saw the Quaker commitment to equality play out over the weekend.  The teenagers were treated – and behaved – like ‘people’ rather than ‘young people’: they came into the adult sessions when they wanted to, and for the ones they would be less likely to enjoy, there was an alternative.  I never spend time with teenagers and, quite honestly, am usually a bit scared of them – I didn’t have a great experience of teenagers when I was one – and it was such a pleasure to spend time with these teenagers over the weekend.

One of the sessions was entitled ‘What we are rich in’ and was based around a sermon which you can read here (and I’d really recommend it).  We discussed the things we are rich in, and the things we are poor in.  I feel incredibly rich – financially I have everything I need and money for luxuries, and I have two fabulous children, and a lovely house, and we’re all healthy, and I have lots of friends and a supportive family, and all seven seasons of West Wing to watch whenever I want.  So I feel pretty lucky.  But one of the things I feel poor in is a lack of community.  I felt this sense of community on my Quaker weekend, and I felt the loss of it when I got home to a house with just me and no other adults in it.

This sense of something missing was reinforced after spending a few days with one of my university housemates.  She lives in a house with two other women and they practice intentional community – sharing food, sharing resources and sharing their lives.  I loved seeing how they live together, and have interesting conversations, and love one another, and encourage each other to live with their shared values.  And I loved feeling part of it – feeling welcomed and cared for, talking about things which matter to me and my life, feeling accepted, and having fun and laughing.

Community, what I feel I’m missing, is a network of relationships and shared values and intentionality.  I have lots of friends, but my friendships largely work on an individual basis rather than inter-relating.  I want to feel part of something bigger, a group, people who know each other and work together and encourage each other and can be honest with each other.  My hope is that I can find that at my Quaker meeting, as I get to know people and get more involved.  It’s hard because of logistics – I can’t get out so much because of my children – and my fears – I have some issues around trusting relationships after my marriage ended.  But every time I experience community, I know it’s something I want and need.  It’s good to be reminded, every so often, of my poverty so I remember to keep looking for the riches.

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This post mainly explains how my whole life is a self-inflicted disaster. I’m mostly ok with that.

I’ve seen a few posts on Facebook recently linking to articles about how smartphones are, to varying degrees, destroying modern civilisation.  Particularly parents with smartphones.  Apparently, if your child sees you using your iPhone at any point, they will know you no longer love them.  They will be more damaged by you not listening to them while checking emails on your phone than you not listening to them while cooking, looking at the newspaper, listening to the radio or their sister or just because it is not possible to listen to anyone under five years old every single time they talk to you without your brain melting.

Actually, I have no idea what the articles say because I don’t read them.  I have enough guilt going on.  I just read the headlines, and the comments my friends make when they post them.  But, despite not really understanding people who are regularly parted from their phones – you know, the people who don’t text back immediately because they haven’t read your text because their phone is in a different room? Who are these people and how do they live? – I’ve decided to become one of them.  For a while.  Between coming home from nursery and putting the girls to bed, I will leave my phone in my bedroom (yes, where the girls can find it while they’re playing upstairs and ring people in Australia.  Friends in Australia, if I ring you, DON’T ANSWER. It isn’t me and I can’t afford it).  Instead of checking Facebook and emails constantly, I will be paying attention to my children, occasionally listening to them, and cooking dinner.

It’s not just about Big Girl and Small Girl though.  It’s about me.  I don’t judge my value as a person by how many friends I have on Facebook (420, if you’re interested.  That’s a lot, right? Look at all those people who like me! Though I wonder how many of them started hiding my posts when I posted about Small Girl pooing in the bath).  But occasionally I find myself checking my phone, hoping for some kind of communication from the outside world, some sense that people are liking what I’ve put, that feeling that people want to know me.  And sometimes, if things are a bit quiet, I find myself checking more and more frequently.  I’m not neurotic, but when you live with a two-year-old who behaves as if she hates you (it’s not personal, she hates the whole world) and a four-year-old who cries and says she is no longer your friend because you put milk on her cereal when she wanted to do it herself, there’s a desire to engage with people who can carry out social interactions in a sane and reasonable manner; to feel liked for myself rather than my ability to meet the stringent, irrational and unstable demands of two mini-tyrants.

I’m reading a book I borrowed from the Quaker Meeting library about simplicity: one of the five values Quakers try to live out.  The other four are peace, truth,equality and environmental sustainability.  I know where I am with the others: I have some issues with a complete commitment to peace which I still need to iron out; I agree in principle with being truthful but it’s a bit tricky sometimes; I’m passionate about equality, particularly feminism; and I absolutely think we need to live more sustainably, but it’s hard.  Simplicity, on the other hand, fascinates me.  It’s about getting rid of all the things which distract us from the important things in life, whatever they are, and I crave it almost as strongly as I hold on to the massive amounts of clutter in my life.

Simplicity does not come naturally to me.  I am a hoarder.  I believe that it’s safer not to throw anything away, because you’ll only want it.  I secretly hope that one day I will do something of enough significance that someone will archive all my papers, so I keep them for that day.  I’m a procrastinator. I love Facebook, and wandering round the internet reading debates on Mumsnet about parent and child parking spaces rather than going to bed.  I think life is honestly better if you can see everything you own on your kitchen table rather than tidied away.  I’m mildly interested in everything. I would always rather watch West Wing than do something useful.  I start new loaves of bread before finishing the old ones, and leave the last few slices in the bag going mouldy.  Along with the last inch of ketchup and the remaining crumby scrapings of butter in the fridge, and half a tin of baked beans I didn’t use and now can’t move because it’s growing a new species of mould.  I’d rather start something new than tidy away the last thing I was doing.  And I live with two small children who haven’t learnt anything positive about housework from living with me.   (Fortunately for them, they have two parents, and their other parent is much better at this sort of thing than I am).

But I see the idea of a simple life, and it attracts me.  My house is sliding into chaos.  It is entropic. I can imagine that if I stopped wasting so much of my precious time on meaningless things which are not really satisfying (deleting emails from companies I was never that interested in; desperately trying to find my railcard which is buried under a ton of paper on the table; checking facebook again for the tenth time before bed despite the fact that there is nothing new) I could spend the time doing other things I like to do: writing, sewing, sleeping, having proper friendships with people I talk to, doing things which feel significant.

So stepping back from checking my phone a million million times is a small part of learning this discipline.  It’s tiny steps forward, and altering little habits, and looking for the things which resonate with me and doing them first, clearing away the things which matter too little and the things which matter too much.  I’m not expecting to become a monk, or a minimalist, or even to have a tidy kitchen.  But I’m hoping to spend more time being the sort of me I like best.

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I’m not saying I’m all that, but…

My transformation into The Woman Who Dates is now complete: I have joined Plenty of Fish, an internet dating behemoth which I have until now scrupulously avoided.  Or, more honestly, been too scared to go on, after hearing horror stories about people being sent pictures of willies.  But finally, after a little encouragement, I joined last Saturday.

The first challenge is to come up with a user name which somehow says something about you without inadvertently sounding stupid, rude or racist.  My friend Simon helped me.

“What do you like? What about your favourite book?”

“I really like the Time Traveller’s Wife”

“What’s the main character called?”

“Clare Abshire.  But I can’t use that – people would think I was called Clare.  What about Niffenegger? It’s the author’s surname and it sounds quite cool.”

“No.  It just sounds a bit… No”

Eventually I settled on something Tolkienesque, which hinted at my geekiness but also suggested I wasn’t looking for a knight in shining armour.  Within about five minutes I’d had emails saying six different people wanted to meet me.  This was exciting!

So, it turns out there’s a function on the site called ‘Meet Me’.  It shows you pictures of various users and you say whether you would like to meet them or not.  Those six people had not sought me out and thought I was so great that they had to message me and tell me.  Just, when shown my picture, on the balance of probabilities they would rather meet me than not.  Still, I’ll take it.

Then I filled in some questions about what I’m like and who I wanted to meet.  And then I liked someone’s profile because, well, he looked ok.  We started chatting.  He lives about 60 miles away.  Oops.  Still…

It’s been an interesting week.  I’ve had quite a few messages from Tolkien fans which start with “Hail, shieldmaiden”.  I am confused by this.  I’m not sure how to respond. I can riff about killing orcs for a while, but how long do they expect me to pretend we’re all living in Middle Earth? I really have no idea.  And it’s difficult to transition from that into single-mum-of-two.  (A word of advice: when starting internet dating, do it on a weekend when you’re doing things which you can make sound interesting.  Not “I have tidied my attic room out and that took all weekend”).

I’ve had some interesting conversations.  I’m currently discussing building a lighthouse and have chatted about the state of my bathroom fan.  Also apparently women with horses are massively over-represented on the site.  I’ve discovered it’s completely socially acceptable to do the online equivalent of standing at the bar and completely ignoring people who say hi.

And I’ve been on a date.  Possibly the world’s shortest date – half an hour during his break from work.  We got chatting; he seemed nice; I suggested meeting up; we did, and had a nice time; we texted for a bit; for various reasons it’s not what I’m looking for at the moment; we’ve stopped texting.  In the space of a week.  I don’t hang around, apparently.

But here’s the thing: it’s been really good for my confidence.  Growing up in conservative evangelical churches, where there were ten girls to every boy, and nine of them were more attractive than me, it’s quite a revelation to find that on dating sites it’s generally women who are in demand.  And, being a geeky girl, there are quite a lot of men out there who seem delighted to find a woman who understands the rules to dungeons and dragons.  Some of them are even attractive.  I’m not saying I’m all that, and far more men have ignored me than have been interested, but for the first time in my life I feel properly eligible.

And I think, if now isn’t the right time because of my children, because my life is too busy, because, secretly, I still can’t believe there’s anyone who will suit me as well as Ex-Husband did, well, I think I’ll probably still be eligible in five years time.

It’s definitely progress.

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