Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Micro-improving… everything…

This year I am all about investing my resources in things which matter to me.  I used to do quite a lot of campaigning and political activism, but since pregnancy ate half my brain and sleep-deprivation turned what was left into curdled milkshake, it’s hard to have a nuanced and reasoned opinion.  And I rarely manage to listen to the news as every time I turn on the radio my children either shout ‘It’s too noisy. It’s hurting my ears!’ or start arguing about something which quickly escalates into violence.  Also most news stories make me cry.  I can just about manage to sign an online petition, but it can feel like cheap activism to me, and I can’t help wondering if it seems that way to decision-makers as well.

Instead, I’m trying to take small positive actions by the way I consume, or don’t.  I’ve been emptying my cellar, slowly, of things I no longer need, using the magic of Freegle.  It’s an email list where people advertise things they would like to give away, or would like to be given.  It’s simple and lovely.  Someone posted that they needed a hoover.  I had an old one in my cellar and offered it.  We arranged a time and she came to collect it.  She had a hoover, I had more space and we’d saved on landfill.  What I really like about it is that it doesn’t feel like poor people begging for the bounty of the rich.  It’s just lots of people who don’t really like waste.

I’m trying to spend money more locally and with independent shops: the money gets spent within the local economy rather than to pay Chief Executives multi-million pound salaries and to increase share prices and dividends.  I’m also trying to shop more ethically: when my phone dies I’m going to replace it with a Fairphone, a smartphone which tries to pay fair wages to the people who make it but, more importantly for me, is made using conflict-free minerals.  This will hopefully assuage my guilt about having a luxury item which is made from materials acquired through slave labour or which fund wars.  You know, small concerns…

And I’ve bought a new computer, because my much-loved Macbook is close to death,  and decided to try Ubuntu.  This is an open-source operating system, so an alternative to Windows or OSX, where the programming code is available to anyone to tweak as they fancy.  The laptop I’ve bought is fairly basic and had some mixed reviews, but I saw it as a fairly easy entry into an open source operating system, as well as a way of showing support for an open source project.  I also hope that using Ubuntu (keep repeating that – doesn’t it *sound* nice?) will give me extra geek credentials for if I ever want to start dating geeky blokes again.  In case my Dungeons and Dragons experience is not enough…

Finally, I’ve been working on becoming a micro-patron of the arts.  I’m putting small amounts of money into things which sound interesting: buying some artwork created by a friend, putting some money towards the start-up costs of a friend who is directing Pass a new play she has written (and which you can still go and see if you’re quick).  And I’ve put some money into a kickstarter appeal for an opera another friend is putting on.  Laura told me about an astonishing opera, Greek, which I went to see.  It was an incredible experience – ridiculous but brilliant, and very moving.  Somehow, the emotional intensity of the singing carried the sense of what was being expressed, possibly *because* it was harder to pick up all the words.  I still can’t explain what it was I loved so much about the experience, but I really did love it.

Now Laura is putting on a opera for and by young people.  It’s about science and identity and bioethics and sets the Greek myth of Pandora’s locker in a contemporary high school.  I love the idea of young people being introduced to contemporary opera in the way that I was.  If you would also like to be a Micro-Patron Of The Arts (and seriously, this is the sort of thing you can put on your CV) – the kickstarter is here.  An additional benefit of supporting Pandora’s Locker is that you will get thanked in Welsh, which is not something which happens every day unless, possibly you live in Cardiff.  If you would like to support fabulous art and be thanked in Welsh, you’ve got three days left to do it…

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My house is like an Irish Wolfhound

Being responsible for my house is a bit like looking after a huge dog.  You take an Irish Wolfhound out for a walk and, as long as you are paying attention, everything is fine and the dog is under control.  But as soon as you get even slightly distracted, the dog is away, pulling on the lead, galloping joyfully to chase that rabbit it’s just seen (yes, yes, it’s a carrier bag caught in some brambles.  The dog knows this really.  But it is *pretending* it’s a rabbit, anticipating the chase, oh yes, it’ll show that bunny who’s fastest), dragging you along behind it.

As long as I keep up with my housework, keep everything tidy, do my cleaning each weekend, I am just about ok.  But it takes one thing – a cold, some building work, a run of bad nights’ sleep, Ex-Husband breaking his leg and the children being here constantly for a few weeks – and the mess takes over: unopened letters; washing waiting to be sorted; detritus washing up around the edges of rooms like seaweed on a beach; the kitchen table buried; toys everywhere.

Yes, those toys.  Where *do* they come from? My children, of course.  My children love to play with their toys.  They like to empty baskets of soft toys onto the floor.  They like to empty out two boxes of games into one pile and then move on.  They like to take books off shelves (my books, their books, any books they can find) and pretend it is luggage.  They like to cut pieces of paper up into ‘tickets’.  They like to spread snap cards across the floor.  They do not like to tidy up.  They are like cats, winding round your legs: playful and affectionate, but not entirely helpful.

And then there’s me.  I contribute more to the problem more than I resolve.  I am wildly untidy.  Those unopened letters are sitting around because I haven’t put them away.  I would rather read facebook than tidy.  I think I’ll do things tomorrow.  I get distracted half-way through doing a job.  I stay up until midnight and then complain that I’m too tired.  I don’t teach Big Girl and Small Girl to put things away when they’ve used them.

So: I’m trying to walk an Irish Wolfhound with two little black cats twining round my legs, checking Facebook rather than watching where I’m going.  It’s true that it’s hard to look after two small children, work, run a home and have an interesting life.  But this feels like a problem largely of my own making.  Just for now, I don’t have any solutions, although I do, finally, have a dishwasher.  There is a machine in my kitchen which makes dirty things clean so that I don’t have to.  That’s progress enough for this week.  Next week I’ll think about training the cats.

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It’s taken a while to feel I can say this without betraying everything I have ever thought

After Ex-Husband left me, and for a long time after, we argued about contact arrangements – when the girls would see him, and for how long. I *think* he had believed the girls would live with him, and that we would all be happier with that. I *think* he thought that I struggled to be at home with two children under two because I didn’t like it, rather than because it is hard to look after a toddler and a tiny baby, surviving on almost no sleep.  He did not expect me to challenge his plans, to fight the idyll he assumed he would walk into.

So for a long time we argued about what arrangements would be best for the girls, exacerbating and complicated by my grief at being separated from my children, at not being a constant in their lives, and the terrible sense that something which could never have happened, had.

And so, for a long time it was unthinkable that I could want anything other than to have my children with me. Slowly I came to appreciate the opportunities my free time afforded me: to sleep, to go out, to do grown-up things. But still, I would have preferred to have my children with me. To feel anything else would have been a betrayal of them, and of the months of fighting. And to have admitted feeling it would have undermined the credibility of all my claims that they needed to be with me.

But slowly I have begun to look forward to my free time. I miss my children, especially when I am around other people’s children. A girl comes to Quaker meeting who is two weeks younger than Small Girl: her toddle and her developmental stage are so reminiscent of Small Girl that I feel hot sharp tears when I see her and my children are gone. But there is a joy to the pure pleasure of missing them, experiencing love for them apart from the wearying challenge of managing them, feeding them, caring for them, keeping them happy and loved.

And today felt like a gift, a tightly-wrapped pass-the-parcel of treasures. After the girls were collected at 9, I headed to Quaker meeting with no real plans. There’s something about this freedom from obligations: nowhere I have to be and no-one to please, or even think of, but myself, and I can feel tension ebbing until I want to cry.

An almost-silent Meeting was followed by coffee and conversations with people I don’t know but hope might become friends. And then an unexpected invitation to lunch with Friends* resulted in a further lovely couple of hours chatting and sharing and eating chocolate brownies. And then I went to the cinema to watch Begin Again, a ‘musical comedy’ about relationships ending and being redeemed, and finding happiness in life after a broken heart. I’m not sure it will receive critical acclaim, but it spoke of where I am and where I’ve been. And I stepped out of the cinema into a warm, sunny, breezy afternoon, feeling that I have been given a fabulous present.

And then I realise I have wildly misjudged timings and I’m likely to be late for the girls coming home. I’ve had no tea, and we have no bread – and barely any food – in the house. And some little shits are blowing chewed up paper through straws at passengers on the tram. The present is opened, the party is over and it’s time to take off the paper hats, tidy up and go home. But I’m left with the sense that perhaps the universe loves me, just a little bit.

* I am probably the only person who recognises this as a joke, let alone thinks it funny. Quakers consider this a normal way to refer to others involved in the Religious Society of Friends, and non-Quakers will just assume it’s mis-capitalisation. But still, I amuse myself…

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Broken plans

I texted Ex-Husband earlier to check arrangements for him picking Big Girl and Small Girl up tomorrow morning, as they were due to be with him from then until Tuesday evening.  Despite living in Lancashire, various roads are being closed tomorrow to allow the Tour de France to pass through (Are we in France? Are we?) and I wondered if this would affect him.

Not as much as his broken ankle, apparently.  It’s in a backslab (this is a half-plaster cast which is put on when you first break something, for those of you who have suffered fewer fractures than me) and he’s got a fracture clinic appointment on Monday, when he will know more.  But he doesn’t expect to be able to have the girls overnight or during the day by himself at the moment.

I do wonder when he was planning to tell me that his plans had changed? Had he just got back from hospital, and it was a coincidence that I had contacted him just before he could tell me?  Or did it not cross his mind that I might need to know that I would be looking after the girls?  He is having them during the day tomorrow, and then bringing them back for tea. Tomorrow night I was supposed to be meeting up with friends for a games night.  On Monday afternoon I was being visited by Quakers to talk about my application for membership, which can’t be done with children around.  I’m having a dishwasher delivered on Monday and paid extra to have it delivered in the only slot between my lie-in (also cancelled) and my Quaker visit.  I am now paying extra to have it delivered at the least convenient time to be stuck in the house with two children.  And then I was planning to go out for dinner and shopping with my sister.  I have now cancelled all these things, along with my opportunity to cook interesting food and eat it without anyone complaining, and to travel to places without a child sitting on my shoulders, a child crying that they are tired and can’t walk, and a bag full of nappies and shit (only occasionally literally, mainly during potty-training).

You may be thinking that I sound quite selfish.  Ex-Husband has a broken ankle and I am complaining about the inconvenience *I* am suffering.  This is true.  Mostly, I am very sympathetic to other people’s problems. But when Ex-Husband left me, I had to learn to separate myself from him, that we were no longer on the same side and that he no longer cared about my interests, and I could not prioritise his.  After ten years of trying to put him and his needs first, it took conscious effort to make his life none of my business – ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’ as one of my friends likes to say.  It was almost an amputation – learning to live without something that had been a central part of my life.  I killed, very deliberately, my concern for him, so that I could carry on with my life.

At some point, will I be able to treat him like I would any other person: to try to help him if he needs it, to wish him well and hope for good things for him?   The wounds are perhaps too deep for that – some things may be beyond redemption and resurrection.

For now, I’m fighting my frustration at my plans being upended by trying to find the positives: more time with my children, of course.  And I’m fortunate that nothing was arranged which couldn’t be cancelled.  More time at home to (a) tidy my kitchen ready for my dishwasher (a dishwasher!) to be installed and (b) read the library books I borrowed today.  And the frustration seems like a good excuse to open the bottle of Blackberry and Elderflower Pimms I was saving to drink with my sister on Monday.  That’ll do for now.

 

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If you see me wearing a funny black hat, you’ll know I’ve gone too far

My friend Rachel introduced the idea of Project 333 while posting about positive things on Facebook.  As I love slightly ridiculous ways of complicating my life in the name of making things easier, this appealed to me. For three months, your entire wardrobe – coats, shoes, accessories, jewellery, jeans, tops, dresses, everything – consists of 33 items.  Underwear, pyjamas, things you would never willingly leave the house in: these are not included.  This 33-item capsule wardrobe should see you through a whole season, and then you can change it to another 33-item wardrobe.  Rachel is blogging about her experience and the challenges she’s facing here.

Apparently you wear 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time (not your actual, literal, made-of-wood wardrobe.  That would be silly.) so Project 333 aims to simplify your life by removing from consideration all the things you don’t wear anyway.  All the things which don’t fit, or don’t really suit you, or the things you are going to wear when you just lose a little bit of weight.  All those things go away, either into storage or a charity shop or somewhere else where they do not fill up your brain with choices first thing in the morning.

I like this idea.  It appeals to me because it’s quirky and a bit extreme.  I went through my wardrobe and took out the things I don’t wear.  Bye-bye skirt that I’ve never found a top to match, and which was a present from my ex-sister-in-law.  And the skirt I love but which is too big.  And the work top which is actually a maternity top and therefore doesn’t fit me because I’m not pregnant.  Some things went in a bag to get rid of immediately (or, more realistically, to put in the cellar, where they are likely to remain until I die).  Others went in a bag of things I’m not quite sure I want to get rid of, which I will keep for a while until I make my mind up (let’s face it, they’ll be found next to the other bag upon the event of my death).  I’m left with 24 items of clothes to wear: one coat, three pairs of shoes, two pairs of jeans, a skirt, a dress, work trousers and some tops, and a few jumpers and a cardigan.

One thing I’ve realised is quite how strict my demarcation between ‘work clothes’ and ‘home clothes’ has been.  I do have clothes I wear outside work which I *could* wear to work, but I’ve liked to maintain the distinction.  I’ve been resistant to the idea that I might *like* clothes which are suitable for wearing at work, thus being a real grown-up with grown-up tastes, rather than still being a student in jeans and a t-shirt.  I’m not sure I can justify having four tops I don’t really like in my minimalist wardrobe, and, well, it wouldn’t be a complete betrayal of myself to wear clothes I actually like when I’m at work.  So it’s time to do some shopping.

I’ve been thinking about living more simply, particularly since going to Quaker meetings.  And dressing simply has always been a part of Quakerism – probably one of the images most associated with Quakers is those funny hats and very plain clothes. And I have wondered how this kind of project fits with Quaker ideas about simplicity – does it focus too much on what you wear and how you look?

I think it’s possible for that to happen. Obviously there’s nothing to stop you going out and buying 33 new items of clothing four times a year.  But I hope that having a collection of clothes which is put together with more thought will mean I don’t have to think about it so much on a day-to-day basis.  And that the clothes I do buy will be better quality and, ideally, more ethically-sourced, so they will last rather than needing to be replaced.  And the clothes I don’t wear can go to someone who will use them.

So far, I haven’t felt any huge effects from my reduced wardrobe – just a vague sense that I should probably keep on top of the laundry.  But I think I’m enjoying the experiment so far.

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