Thursday, December 28, 2006
The Girl got me New York In A Box. Hee.
As nice as it is when a doctor takes your situation seriously, occasionally they can take you a bit too seriously. The GP today who refused to give me my antidepressants because "we don't give those to people with bipolar disorder," despite my assurances that not only have I been taking them for years (on and off), my psychiatrist also recommended that I be given control of that medication and choose when I want to take it. She has insisted on ringing my previous GP so that she can get a copy of the letter from aforementioned psychiatrist. Which is amusing, given that a) I stopped seeing him over a year ago, b) he proclaimed me practically recovered from the bipolar thing, and c) if she tries to get hold of him, he probably won't even remember me. Heh. So, I have no antidepressants! The Girl thinks that this GP is one of those doctors who doesn't like to give medication out for mental health problems. Which is good in principle - but it does mean that I get lumped in with everyone else, when I am used to being in charge of my condition and its treatment (as regards the bipolar thing, I mean). It's been a long time since I was refused medication for anything. It was quite funny. It won't be when I run out, though, and the anxiety comes back with a vengeance, so she'd better ring the old GP pronto.
Anyway, this GP was quite nice. I was very glad that I'd brought The Girl into the doctor's office with me, as I got a classic case of the fibromyalgia 'brain fog' and forgot what I'd gone in for as soon as I sat down. The Girl reminded me that I was there because I am unable to go back to work on Wednesday, given that I often can't hold a cup of tea or get up stairs, and therefore need signing off. The doctor signed me off for a month. I mentioned the possibility of leaving work, and she did not seem to be against this idea, clearly thinking that I shouldn't be working at the moment. Which was reassuring. I keep thinking, in my usual way, that this is all in my head. I need a lot of reassurance that it isn't. I'm hugely relieved that I don't have to attempt to go back to work straight away. That would not have been pretty.
So then we went down to the Citizens Advice Bureau, who seemed confused and sent me to the jobcentre. So then we went to the jobcentre, where they were less confused, but told me not to give up work as "your union can help you." Not with my bloody job, they can't - but that's hard to explain unless you know about education, and about my sector in particular. Nonetheless, they say that if I do decide to give up work, I can apply for incapacity benefit in the short term. I wouldn't want it for longer than a couple of months, as I plan to be working part-time again as soon as possible. I am not keen on the idea of living on benefits for any longer than I have to. Plus, I'm already bored out of my tiny mind, and I miss teaching like crazy. I keep looking forlornly at the books I've been doing with my classes, and wishing I had the energy and concentration to prepare some lessons. Freaky.
And now I'm exhausted, as we did too much walking. Our new area is great, though. We've got a big high street quite nearby, with its very helpful jobcentres and doctors' surgeries and cafes for cooked breakfasts, and then a bit closer we've got a little suburb with train/tube links, and a major A-road just a few minutes' walk in the other direction with supermarkets and some interesting little shops. It's a shame I haven't really been up to exploring since we've moved here. I will have to do some when I start increasing my exercise.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Christmas Day was much fun. The dad and the lovely partner put on a marvellous spread, and The Girl enjoyed her first Christmas, especially the old tube maps I got her (one is from 1913 - I am very impressive), as well as the Bill Bailey DVD and linguistics book and other cool stuff. I slept through most of the day - kept having to go back to bed. My slightly weakened state prompted some long, tortuous conversations about work and the future, the conclusions to which I shall outline in a moment. I missed all the good TV, including Narnia and Doctor Who, getting up just in time for some more food. Then we went to bed properly and did some more sleeping.
Yesterday being Boxing Day, we left early to get to the sister and the brother-in-law's place. The mother and her silent-but-nice partner joined us there a bit later. More conversations about my slightly weakened state. More food. Everyone liked the presents we had got them. I was given the new Killers CD and some other impressive stuff. My mother intended to give us Habitat vouchers too, but they got lost somewhere. She thinks she may have thrown them out. This is typical mother and rather amusing. We said not to worry, but she is determined to replace them. We had a lot of conversations that started off being about me and changed to being about her within about five seconds. The Girl hasn't really seen this first hand before, and was apparently wondering why I didn't tell my mother that I was in the middle of saying something. I explained how I have learned that this takes more energy than it's worth. Then the brother-in-law's sister arrived with her utterly beautiful baby girl. I have never enjoyed holding a baby before. I wouldn't give her to anyone else for quite a while. She is completely amazing, and so good. I don't want one, though. No no. Nope. (The Girl was so pleased that she said "I may never see this again" and took pictures of me with baby. Hmm...)
So. It's been a long three days. I'm fairly sure that I'm quite rapidly deteriorating rather than improving. There is a lot of pain, not enough energy to get up stairs or do car journeys or finish dinners, I am barely sleeping at night, and the muscles in various bits of me (including, irritatingly, my hands) have almost given up altogether. This, put together with various short-but-pointed bits of advice from doctors and other good people, including family and The Girl, who can see what things are like for me at the moment, has led to the following conclusion: I think I'm giving up my job. It seems like an utterly ridiculous thing to do, being such a fantastic job, and given how much I love teaching, but it's fucking well killing me at the moment. When I got this job in the summer, and realised how great the conditions were, and what my classes would involve, and indeed when I saw my first payslip, I expressly told The Girl never to let me leave it. However, it's clear that I'm looking at a timescale of at least a year until I'm properly better, maybe more. If I go back to work, even doing the four days a week that they've suggested, there will be no energy left to do anything else, including to take care of myself. This will not only affect The Girl (who is already looking after me a lot more than she should be), but my quality of life. And if get worse, which is entirely likely given how hard I work when I'm teaching (usually 50 to 60 fairly intense hours a week), then I could set back my recovery and end up being sick for years. I don't like that idea. Not one bit. Being sick for months is quite long enough already.
I am extremely sad about this, and am feeling more than a bit guilty, despite being happy about the decision I've made (if that makes any sense at all). It is indeed an excellent job, and I'm letting them down by leaving now. But - and here's my other big reason for leaving - I am already letting them down as it is. My students are not being taught properly (some classes are not being taught at all), and I don't think they will be while I'm off sick. If I give proper notice and finish officially, the college will have to find someone to replace me, probably as quickly as possible. This is so much better for them, and for the students, than me phoning in every day and saying I'm having another day (or week, or month) off. There will be a lot more continuity and decent teaching for my classes. I will miss my students so much, which is the most painful thing about all this - but it really is the best thing for them, and for me.
The next question that arises is: what do I do with myself now? This is where I could do with any advice that anyone has. First of all, I have no idea if I can get statutory sick pay if I don't have an employer. Which, given that I'll be signed off for a while yet, would be a useful thing to know. I'm going to see the Citizens Advice Bureau people as soon as they're open again, but anyone who knows anything about this, do feel free to comment or e-mail me. When I'm feeling a bit better, though, I plan to look for part-time work - either tutoring from home, or sessional teaching (which isn't too badly paid), or something else for two or three days a week, or a combination of all three. That will depend on how a) much better I start feeling, b) how quickly that happens, c) how quickly I get physiotherapy etc, and d) what the M.E. specialist says. Money will be extremely tight for a while, but we have savings, and The Girl (who is the most amazing person in all the world yes she is) is completely behind me with this and willing to help wherever she can. My father is also happy to give me a bit of money for a while - which, again, I'd rather not accept, but needs must, and he is very sweet to offer. So I think we'll survive. I could also do with advice on what to do with myself while I'm signed off work, given that it could be for a while, and that I'm not allowed to do part-time work meanwhile. (I currently plan to learn a bit of Hebrew, carry on with sign language and read up on theology.)
Oh, and my final problem is how to persuade my manager - who really likes me and also won't really want to be inconvenienced by having to find a new teacher - that I really do want to leave.
I hope everyone had good Christmases/seasonal breaks.
Cross-posted, and all that, because advice is good.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I had a little burst of energy this afternoon, so I've wrapped all my presents very beautifully. Now I'm considering whether I can cope with cleaning the flat. I haven't cleaned in about two weeks. I don't think I've ever lived in this much of a mess before. :/
I went into work yesterday for a few hours (and that was exhausting enough) to talk to HR about going back part-time. They want me to go down to four days a week on a temporary basis, on full pay because of sickness. I'm really quite worried about this, as it feels a bit like I'm conning them. I would prefer to go part-time permanently, and be paid for only four days, as I don't think I'm going to be well enough to be full time again until at least the end of the academic year - I have no idea when I'll be better, but from what the doctors are suggesting, it doesn't seem like it will be anytime soon. No one else at work seems to be in favour of this, though, so I suppose I'll see how it goes. I'd rather not to have to worry about it, but there you go.
Tomorrow is both Christmas Eve and the Fourth Sunday in Advent, which very rarely happens, so it's all very exciting (for those of us who love the ritual and ceremony). I shall go to my own church in the morning, then I'm meeting The Girl at the airport and we're off to my dad's in Darkest Hampshire, and then we'll do Midnight Mass at a church near him. Should be fun. Then it's Christmas Day with him and his partner, and then Boxing Day in Reading with the sister, the brother-in-law and the mother (who has reached new heights of panic about my diagnoses - it's almost funny). Mostly, I will be getting bundled up into The Girl's car and driven places, which is fine by me. I am feeling frighteningly festive (ooh, alliteration) this year. This really isn't like me, especially considering current circumstances (there it is again - I'm just a Yuletide poet, me). I'd like to say it's because I've become a cheerier person in the last year, but it may also be the pain medication. :D
And since I may not get to post again before all the crazy travelling starts, Happy Christmas, all! Alternatively, Happy Belated Hanukkah, Merry Yule, Have A Pleasant Winter Festival, or Enjoy Getting-Pissed Day. Take your pick of greeting and have a good 'un.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us." - Matthew 1:22-23
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Was supposed to have coffee this afternoon with the priest from my new church. But when I got there, they were busy preparing the church for Christmas, so I stayed to help out. (Don't tell The Girl that I left the sofa and did cleaning... oh.) They let me dust the choir stalls! In Heaven I will always get to dust the choir stalls. All day long. Yes indeed.
Anyway, the church looked lovely, so pictures are above. They were taken on my phone, therefore not that clear, but you get the idea. Here's another:
That's the pulpit, where the Word of God is carrying a small present. It got worse - the priest then decorated the statue of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother with baubles. I said this was sacrilegious, but was ignored. Hmph. (I could not get pictures of the Blessed Lady with bauble earrings, alas.)
Had a nice chat to the priest while I was dusting and he was putting up lights. We established that I am from an evangelical background, gay and in a relationship with a non-Christian. His biggest concern out of these three was the evangelical thing. Why, he wanted to know, had I been attending an evangelical church? I said I'd need an awful lot longer if he wanted that question answered. It's an extremely accepting church with regards to the gay thing, and generally very liberal. I knew this before, but it was really nice to see it in practice. It's going to be a lovely relief to be able to talk openly about my life and family. :)
Priest asked me when I'm going to be ordained. I said, "Uh, what?" Apparently he asks everyone and then gauges their reaction. I said I had thought about being a lay reader, very occasionally. He seemed pleased (that the gay girl with evangelical leanings who has appeared in his church out of nowhere and started complaining about baubles on the Virgin Mary might want to learn how to preach in his church). Then we all got fits of giggles for the last hour, and I transmogrified into Old Churchy Lady and started moaning about how badly the brass had been polished and did it again myself, while everyone else sat around staring at the hypnotic lights (see above). It's a strange church. I'm going to fit right in.
In entirely unrelated news, I have an electric heating pad! This is hugely exciting. And good, as I have been unbelievably tired since coming back from church. An hour of very light cleaning has used up all my spoons*. I am concerned about going back to work, to say the least. I'm trying it out tomorrow morning. It's only a half day and then they close the college, plus no one will be around as it's the holidays for students, so it's a good time to try and sort out my big pile of admin. I also need to talk to Human Resources about my job, and whether they can make reasonable adjustments. Hmm...
*For an explanation of the 'spoon' reference, you might be interested to check out The Spoon Theory. It has been keeping me (relatively) sane over the past few months.
Monday, December 18, 2006
So, first there was Saturday, and it was the second night of Hanukkah, and we lit some candles. See pictures. Neither The Girl nor I are great at taking photos (although I'm sure you can guess which one I took, given that it's all blurry and you can't even see the menorah). The first one is clearer, through the joys of flash photography, but I like that you can see the lit-up Christmas tree in the other one. :)
Then yesterday was the Third Sunday in Advent. I really like my excitingly new, Anglo-Catholic church. The priest and I are going to have coffee sometime. The third candle on the Advent ring is for John the Baptist. He was a good guy. In response to which: May God bless all the prophets of - and on the edges of - today's Church, especially the ones who call us out of our comfort zones of easy belief or faith without actions.
But even after all that I still hadn't had enough religion, so I went to the annual LGCM carol service. It was nice, although lacking - something. Maybe I was too achy and tired to enjoy it properly. I am not exactly getting into the Christmas spirit at the moment. And really, why should I be? No, I am not happy about particular aspects of life at the moment (as much as I am aware of how blessed I am). I won't pretend differently just to make people feel better. I don't think there's anything wrong, anything 'sinful', about admitting that I'm stressed out, tired, in pain and generally sick of being sick. It's Advent, you see, a time of year that has always struck a chord with me, and it's about so much more than counting the days and putting up the decorations. It's about waiting, listening, wondering. Expecting hope - whether it arrives or not.
Although, with God, it always does.
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." - Luke 1:38
"Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me."
- Luke 1:46-49
Friday, December 15, 2006
Messages from work began causing me stress around Wednesday, so I started ignoring them completely. That's been helpful.
I have to see a new GP today, which should be interesting. I saw the nurse yesterday to register with the practice, and she clearly had no idea what ME is. All she would add to my records was 'symptom - fatigue', which gave me great amusement (and frustration, since I now have to correct that mistake with the GP before they start telling me it's all in my head). Oh, but she was happy to note that I have bipolar disorder. Of course. *bangs head on desk repeatedly. but softly* Fortunately, I have copies of the letters from my old GP and the rheumatologist that they gave me to help explain things at work. Ah, now the OCD comes into its own. My compulsive habit of making copies of everything that 'might come in useful one day' is suddenly a good thing. Yes! (Admittedly, that trait is less useful when it comes to hording five hundred plastic bags behind my bed. But it has its good points.)
The irony of the NHS continues. The best way to make an appointment with the doctor is to go to the surgery (fifteen minutes from my house, at my current walking 'speed'). The phone lines don't open until half an hour after the surgery, presumably to encourage people to come in person. By the time I can phone, I will have missed most of the appointments for the day. My problem with this system? This is no good for actual SICK PEOPLE. I can't get there, and back home, and back again for my appointment without ending up in bed for the rest of the day. Clever stuff, people.
Today I want to cook, vacuum, change the bed sheets, clean the bathrooms, go to the doctor and sleep. Now we'll see if I achieve any of that, or just end up watching rubbish on TV all day...
Friday, December 08, 2006
On Wednesday I finally got to see a GP who took me seriously. He was a little bit appalled that I hadn't been sent to specialists yet, and got me a very quick referral. Then yesterday I went to see the rheumatologist, who was really excellent. He thinks it's very likely that I have CFS/ME, although it could be fibromyalgia - apparently they are very similar. He took me very seriously. He also took The Girl seriously, and treated her like someone who knows my condition better than I do, which was actually very useful! I'm being referred on to some helpful people, hopefully including physiotherapy and other specialists. He was very matter-of-fact, in the way of one who knows intellectually what an illness is like but hasn't thought too much about what the experience is, but then that's doctors for you. He wasn't great on the subject of how to manage the condition, though. He gave me some advice that conflicts worryingly with every other bit of advice that I've had about this problem (he said I can't do any damage to myself so I can pretty much keep going as normal, whereas I've been told by other doctors that I could make myself very ill if I don't rest, and that's just what has happened to some friends of mine with ME, so I'm wary). So we're waiting to make any changes until I see the consultant he's referring me to, who apparently is an expert on CFS and similar things. He thinks I can get to see her quite quickly, so that's encouraging. I want to know exactly what I need to do to get better, and then I will do that. The best thing about it all is that he's referring me to himself under the NHS, so that I can immediately get NHS treatment for the long-term things that I'll need. I think he quite quickly realised that I couldn't pay for many private appointments, and that I'd rather not, too (for ethical reasons). He was very good about this. So, I've sort of 'skipped the queue' with regards to getting treatment, but if I hadn't then there could have been some painful and frustrating months of waiting. I can just about live with the way I've approached it.
The Girl has been utterly amazing over the past three weeks. There've been times this week when I couldn't hold a cup of tea, and she's been doing absolutely everything from cooking the dinner to going out to get me chocolate biscuits to moving the TV into the bedroom and back into the lounge again. And she doesn't seem to mind in the least. She is fantastic.
THE GIRL = BEST GIRLFRIEND EVER. PARTICULARLY GOOD WITH LIFTING TVs AND GOING OUT FOR CHOCOLATE BISCUITS.
As for news that falls into the category of 'the world is a crazy place', The Girl's father has invited me to join them for their New Year celebrations. In France. With their entire family. And various family friends. You should have seen The Girl's face. She gave up frying the dinner altogether, and just stood in the middle of the kitchen looking utterly terrified. I think she thought her father had completely lost his mind. Which it's quite possible he has. I am bemused. But pleased.
Monday, December 04, 2006
...OK, so there's not been that much except food to keep my attention today. I was off sick again (they are being really nice about it in my team, although the HR people want to see me - gulp) so I didn't have much to entertain me. The Girl drove me around on various errands that she was doing and I sat in the car and did Sudoku. I'm at the too-tired-to-read stage. Maybe this time I'll get past the 'medium' Sudokus and into the 'difficult' ones. That would be an achievement, yes it would.
Yesterday I was too tired to go to church, which was a slight irritation in an otherwise very nice day. (We watched a film, and The Girl's brother came over for tea and chocolate biscuits. Yep, I'm still food-obsessed.) I really want to find a church. I went to a lovely, tiny little local one last week, but I'm not sure it was quite right for me. I need to try a couple more. There's a scary 'church plant' (you can think Day Of The Triffids if you like) of Holy Trinity Brompton just up the road from us. I couldn't go there too often, as they might try to ensare me (and probably make an attempt at curing me of homosexuality, haha), but it would be nice for the occasions when I was in need of a good dose of evangelicalism. Which happens more than you'd imagine. Mostly, though, I think I want to be an Anglo-Catholic. Yay for the moderate-to-liberal middle ground, as well as all that lovely tradition. I wanted to see the first candle of the Advent ring being lit yesterday. The first one is for the Patriarchs - or the people of God, depending on your church/tradition. So: May God bless wise leaders, and make them wiser.
In other interesting stuff, The Girl has been reading back over my livejournal (my friends-only blog) to see exactly when I first got ill, and exactly what my symptoms were at the beginning. It turns out that this did indeed begin with one virus, a year ago, and that I've had most of my symptoms from the very start of things. At the time, I thought some of them were withdrawal, since I was coming off some medication. It turns out I was wrong. This could be good ammunition if I ever get referrals (roll on Wednesday when I get test results), so we'll see.
I now make tea and finish laundry, then get lots of sleep. I need to be at least at work for the rest of the week, even if I don't actually do a great deal when I'm there. Hmm.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
This rant brought to you by English Teacher, Too Tired To Paragraph.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Well, we've moved. It took us the entire weekend, as we had a lot of boxes, and we're still living in complete chaos, but we're in the lovely new flat. Well, I say lovely, but it currently has all sorts of oddness and craziness and kitschness going on. But I'm sure it will be very lovely very soon. I'm almost sure...
I arrived first, having collected the keys so that The Girl could move her stuff as soon as she arrived. And, well, you know how you can wander around a new place thinking non-essential things like "Ooh, I could put my bookcase there," but not register something more important like "Hang on, there's no furniture in this flat" for about twenty minutes? The flat came with some very ugly furniture, and we had negotiated for most of it to be taken away, but we asked them to leave two sofas and one bed, these being important items that we do not have. These had been removed. We are currently living and sleeping on The Girl's sofabed in the lounge. This has been mildly amusing so far, but we've been promised a bed and something to sit on, and if we don't get them soon then we're going to get really very pissed off.
The next amusement, having spent hours moving all The Girl's boxes with the 'help' of removal men who were going as slowly as possible as they were being paid by the hour, was to discover that the TV doesn't work here because aerial reception is so bad. We can't even get digital. Never mind, we say, there will be Telewest, since it's already all installed here. Except that The Girl needs a BT line to connect to the company who provide her with cheap international calls, and you can't get Telewest TV without getting their phone line. Never mind, we say, we'll find another way to sort out the international calls. I am about to ring Telewest. At least then I'll be able to watch Torchwood. It's amazing how much you can miss TV when you've been without it for a weekend.
We spent all of Saturday afternoon putting up The Girl's bookshelves, which occasionally collapsed, and throwing away entire mountains of bubble wrap. Then on Sunday we made two trips over to the Lovely Flat, where I was very kindly helped with moving all my boxes by R's T and Former Flatmate. Then we unpacked all Sunday afternoon. We had grand plans to find a local and get a drink when we'd finished, until we realised that we will probably be finished around January. So we gave up and went to bed. I shall come home at a reasonable hour and try to keep going. The Girl has a show for the next three weeks, therefore she can't be home until really late for the next couple of nights, so it's me and my boxes for a bit. I am compelled to straighten out all her haphazard rows of books, which will take me a while, so I'll keep busy.The flat is lovely, and a very decent size and in a fantastic location, but it's decorated (how do I put this?) to very individual tastes. Which are not my tastes. Everything is brass, including an enormous mirror over the mantlepiece that I am just going to smash up one of these days (they left this but not the sofa??) and the light fittings are little fake candles decorated with fake drips. We're getting the interior designer (aka Former Flatmate) over to tell us how we can make it all slightly less appalling. Till then, I am mostly trying not to look. Oh, and we also have our very own Phantom Dennis. He has been switching off the lights in the bathroom and hiding things that we need. I will have to leave him some sort of peace offering in the hope that he will start to like us and do more useful things instead.
I am very happy. :)
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Those who know me are very aware of how I feel about our 21st-Century version of Christmas, complete with its crass commercialism, incessant advertising, screaming children, completely-lacking-in-imagination media saturation, tinny-music-blaring-out-of-speakers-in-every-freaking-shop 'carols', and general mad rush to buy stuff that causes shopping centres to become a complete nightmare for at least two months of every year. In short, I believe that it is sent to us directly from the devil himself, yes indeed. So it may come as a surprise to these people to hear that this afternoon I did most of my Christmas shopping.
This is entirely the fault of The Girl, who is getting quite excited about her first proper Christmas (what with being Jewish, and all). She decided that we would make a list, order a huge number of books-and-things from Amazon, and then have a leisurely wander down the high street to see if we could find a few more goodies. And so, I am now the proud owner of many gifts. In November. It's a bit odd.
The weather was utterly beautiful today. I love cold, bright, autumnal days. More of those, please.
It could all almost make me happy that it's nearly December 25th.
But not quite.
Friday, November 03, 2006
We're setting off on a journey, The Girl and I.
We don't quite know where we're going. We know it will be somewhere good, though.
It's not long since we pulled out of the driveway. We've been in familiar territory so far, but we're still insisting on looking at the map. The Girl likes to follow maps, but she doesn't like how much I panic over attempting to read them. (I'm dyspraxic, which can lead to a range of interesting moments, from "I can't find the North Circular on this. I don't believe it exists," right through to "I'm going to throw the bloody map out of the bloody window if you don't tell me what bloody page we're bloody well on and stop quoting bloody road numbers that mean bloody nothing to me, OK?") And if I'm honest, I like the map, too. It can be a lot safer following someone else's route plan than just looking out of the window and enjoying the view, without any structure to what we're doing.
But there's no route plan for this journey. No one has driven exactly these roads, in exactly this order, before. We've never been anywhere close to the place we're headed for. The Girl has spent some time somewhere in the vicinity of where we're driving now, but she can't really remember the route she took - and anyway, she wouldn't want to drive the same way twice, especially since she didn't end up where she wanted to be. We want to go somewhere new, somewhere that's ours. And that's the problem with following the map too closely. Too many other voices, other expectations, are getting in the way of what we want to do, where we want to go.
As we begin to move beyond familiar streets and onto the motorway, there's an incredible sunrise across the horizon ahead of us. The Girl and I are sharing a bag of chocolates, listening to the morning news on the radio and beginning to notice the scenery.
And I want to throw the map out of the window, stop for coffee and start enjoying the ride.
So we're going do just that.
In actual news: I'm still sick, but I'm getting better. It's got very cold recently. The Girl's central heating really doesn't work properly, so I'm at home enjoying my own.
Oh, and The Girl and I move into our new flat in about three weeks time.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
After a fairly hellish half term week, I am back at work, and have immediately been sent home due to pain, exhaustion and that oh look, the world is spinning, and now everything's going dark, and I'd really better sit down experience that is so much fun. It all ended up with me in floods of tears in the staff room, unable to teach any of my classes. All the lovely members of the English department rallied round to cover my lessons. The Girl, wonderful (and long-suffering) person that she is, came to pick me up in her car and drive me home. So it could have been worse. I currently feel that have no choice but to go in tomorrow, given that I've already missed a Wednesday this term, which means that some classes who only see me on that day are seriously falling behind. If I feel really terrible, of course, I may have to rethink this.
This bloody post-viral thing is getting really dull. When I was told it would last over a year, I didn't actually believe it. Hmph. I miss having energy and feeling like a
normal person useful member of society non-freak teacher.
Over half term itself, the stuff I thought would be stressful was actually relatively (and surprisingly) not too bad. The Girl meeting my grandmother turned out to be quite pleasant - indeed, we all actually enjoyed it. Meeting The Girl's parents was less of a positive experience, but we survived. Things then took a turn for the very weird around Tuesday, followed by a frantic few days of flat-hunting, and now it seems that we're moving house a lot earlier than we first thought. This is the result of The Girl's parents' demands, and the situation has its pros and cons. On the good side, I'll be able to live with my girlfriend from the end of November, or thereabouts. As a result of the various bad sides, I am now unbelievably tired. Hence another afternoon in front of The Sims, feeling appallingly guilty for being unable, once again, to cope with my perfectly simple job. Which really must be perfectly simple, because yesterday we were taught how to mark students' work through an exercise involving the building of towers made out of newspaper. (Yes, people, that really is what your tax money is spent on.) So it's a great shame that I couldn't share the benefits of my newly-enriched-by-tower-building experience with the students today. Ah well. Perhaps tomorrow.
Friday, October 20, 2006
We half-met in Edinburgh, where they avoided me from a distance. Then they suddenly decided, having refused to acknowledge my existence for a year, that they wanted to have lunch with me. Fine. I was a bit worried that I'd be terrified beyond the telling of it, but mostly I was pleased.
Then my family joined in the fun, and things got weirder.
My mother let slip to my grandmother that I'm going out with The Girl. She got tired with the constant but why hasn't she got a boyfriend? type questions. I didn't particularly mind, since it helps me avoid the same irritation. Until, that is, the very next weekend, when I got a text message from The Sister. "Beware! Nanny is planning to invite all four of us to dinner." My grandmother had decided that she wanted to meet The Girl, and was thinking that the best way was a big Sunday lunch with The Sister, The Brother-in-Law, The Girl and me. We were supposed to be meeting The Girl's parents for lunch on Saturday, but (once we got over the general shock of it all) we decided we could fit in a Sunday dinner with my grandmother on the same weekend. Just about.
As if that wasn't going to be a stressful enough weekend, things continued to get worse.
Minutes after I got off the phone with my grandmother to say that we would be coming for the massive roast dinner (she's Irish - she likes to see me eat) on Sunday lunch time, The Girl texts to say that she's just heard from her parents. They have to arrive in the country a day later than expected, so instead of Saturday lunch, can they meet us for dinner on Sunday night?
I spent a full hour shrieking and tearing my hair out. Mostly about how much I'll have to eat on Sunday...
On the good side, I'll be too busy with the sheer terror about meeting The Girl's parents to worry too much about how it's going with my grandmother. So that's something.
Thank God it's half term. I'll need the four days off to recover from Sunday.
Monday, October 16, 2006
I blame the new medication for the fact that I've had a sudden spurt of energy and taken on two - count them - new responsibilities at work.
In the first, I finally gave in to management's desperate pleas and took on the co-ordinator role. I am now running a subject area that anyone working in FE will know and hate all too well, a course that doesn't actually have any content. Or, for that matter, any real syllabus. Or, for that matter, any kind of purpose.
I am actually quite excited about this thankless, pointless and ultimately doomed task, in the manner of somebody has to do it, and I'd rather it was me than someone incompetent and unbearable. At least I have some ideas for making life slightly easier for us poor sods who have to teach this course, and I do think I can improve results. Which, given that there was not a single pass last year, will not actually be difficult. (Seriously. There is no other subject area taught anywhere in the world where the government would put up with this, but because this is a government initiative, they do. Ah, the ubiquitous joined-up thinking of New Labour.)
Oh yes, and the second job. I'm now milk monitor for the English team. I take people's money and buy the milk for their tea.
Now there's a job I can do.
In other news, my weekend was very good. There was a lot of sitting around The Girl's flat watching the telly, including the two new season three episodes of Lost and the old, original Superman film (I recently realised I had never seen it all the way through, as a result of seeing the new one). Then, yesterday evening, we went to see The Queen with The Girl's Youngest Brother. Now that was a decent film. I've been thinking about it all day. And not even just because my GCSE classes are all writing coursework and so I'm a bit bored, either. Ah, my GCSE classes. They're so fantastic. The excitement shown by one student today when I told him he was working close to the 'A' grade standard was just superb. He's a very 'cool' lad who saunters into class, argues with me for five minutes, pretends he doesn't want to be there - and then works incredibly hard for two hours at a time. He walked out of class today going "Yeah, man. An 'A'. I'm gonna be a boffin, innit?" I practically skipped down the corridor back to my office, I was so pleased. It's good to remember why I do this job.
Monday, October 09, 2006
The Girl and I had planned to do very little this weekend, except for a bit of hypothetical house-hunting, because I'm still not feeling up to running around or being too busy. So we're driving back from the area of London that we're considering moving to in April, and The Girl is stressed out from all the sitting in non-stop traffic that she's been doing recently, and I'm stressed out because that's what I'm like, and she says "Let's go to Cambridge."
This was at about 2pm. By 4pm, we'd booked a B&B, taken a train and were wandering around the city. It's very nice. It's somewhere I've always wanted to live, once I get sick of London (which I know will happen at some point in the next few years). We didn't do anything particularly exciting there - looked around, did some work in a cafe, had dinner out, nearly went to the cinema but didn't quite make it, visited King's College because it was there... It was just really good to get out of London for a day-and-a-half and do something different. So that's that.
We learnt on the train back that we talk far too loudly when we're very involved with something. The Girl is taking a unit on directing Shakespeare, so we're discussing Macbeth, the Elizabethan historical context and related issues a lot. While we were debating a point relating to Taming of the Shrew, the woman in the seat in front of us turned around and contributed to our discussion. She turned out to be a history postgrad from Cambridge with a particular interest in literary history. She was very interesting. We are going to talk more quietly in future. Although, as The Girl pointed out, at least we're usually discussing something quite impressive-sounding when we start getting vocal.
I am in no way inclined to do any work today. I might see if my fourth cup of tea helps with that.
Monday, October 02, 2006
I am sitting at home, surrounded by chocolate and cups of tea, entertaining myself with The Sims II the little people are alive! ALIVE! Ahem. Sorry.
I did not go to work today.
For the past two weeks I've been experiencing so much anxiety and obsessive thinking that I rather feel like a complete loony mental freak stuck in a very tiny airtight box. I'm seriously bringing myself down.
Then this weekend I had a cold - nothing serious, but it knocked me out in a way fairly reminiscent of my post-viral fatigue thing (of 'ruined January and February' fame). As a result, when I woke up this morning feeling not only completely exhausted but also terrified of going near work, I made the sensible decision not to.
The fact that all of this co-incides with a change of job does not necessarily mean that the new job is to blame. On the contrary, when I'm enjoying this job, I really love it. I think what may be going on is that I've had too many stresses and shifts recently, including a very busy summer and a complete change of work situation, and all this stress has become the catalyst for a whole load of symptoms that I really don't need at this very busy time. Ah, the marvellously irritating paradox of stress-induced bipolar crap.
I'm hoping that a day off to get my head sorted out will help. If I'm more honest, though, it's been such an extreme and sudden reaction that I probably need the infernal drugs to pull me out of it. Lovely psychiatrist, who I was seeing earlier in the year, said that I could control my own medication for a few weeks if I found this happening again, so that's what I think I'm going to do. I have three weeks' supply of the usual stuff in my house, so I can start that and see if it makes any difference before I start having to see doctors and deal with all that awful rubbish again.
I'm irritated beyond the telling of it, because I was so very happy about how well I was doing, for months and months, without any medication at all. Still, I think I should be able to sort things out with a quick burst of the lighter medication, without having to go back on the evil 'you stay on this until the day you die of a toxic reaction' uber-drug. So that's something.
Meanwhile, I have only one thing left to say on this topic.
On an entirely different topic, I went to hear something called Kol Nidre at a synagogue last night. The Girl was introducing me to some of her Jewish culture - we decided Yom Kippur was as good a festival as any for this. Unfortunately, not only did the service last two hours, but we missed the first ten minutes and didn't get to hear Kol Nidre (which is apparently fantastic) at all. Instead we heard many prayers about sin. These were read in two languages and then sung. It was long. It was still interesting, but The Girl was a bit irritated by it all. For a Jewish person, she really doesn't like religion (except church, apparently, which she's all in favour of, in a very non-Christian way). Me, I'd quite like to see more of this synagogue thing. 'Twas interesting. It made up for Stoppard, which was also very long, and not nearly interesting enough. It was the weekend of long events.
Don't forget that I'm living inside the space where walls and floor meet...
- Kristin Hersh
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Ah, the back-to-college cold. Two thousand students congregate from across north-west London, a large proportion of them in my classroom, and I'm surprised when I get ill. It's particularly irritating when it hits the day before the weekend. I wasn't sick enough to be off work yesterday, and now Saturday is ruined. Blah. It's not even a bad cold. It's just annoying. Still, there's a Stoppard play to be seen tonight. Did I mention that he's my hero?
Work is stressful. Stress is synonymous with the Autumn term. This has been doing my head in just a little bit. It gets a bit dull, having one single thought that you are incapable of getting out of your brain for twenty-four hours, whether you're awake, asleep, working or resting. This is one of the more interesting ways in which my brain reminds me that it's still bipolar, just when I was getting used to a greatly reduced range of symptoms. Talking of the joys of bipolar disorder, I have thoughts on the subject after watching the Stephen Fry documentary (the second part of which I didn't get to see - must find a copy somewhere). I feel a Phrenetic article coming on... Now I just need to wait until May, when I'll have time to write it. Blah.
"Sometimes I think you live outside your body."
- The Girl, in response to one of my many where am I? who am I? moments yesterday
Friday, September 22, 2006
Today I learnt why my lovely, open-plan, spead-across-several-buildings- with-lots-of-green-space-in-between workplace is not ideally designed for all weather conditions. That would be when trying to get from my office, at one end of the campus, to my classroom, at the other. During the hurricane. With the freezing torrential rain and the extreme winds of death. Hmm.
So, I've got through two weeks at the new place. In another wonderful case of I'm sure I said I'd stop volunteering so much, I've already agreed to run a subject area that is in so much trouble that there is absolutely no hope in hell for it. No one can say I don't like a challenge. The teaching is going fairly well - I've managed to engage one class completely with Angela Carter, begin to interest another in Much Ado, and get four GCSE groups to sit still and do something for three hours a week (with varying levels of relative success). Still, Key Skills starts next week, so it could all go horribly wrong yet. Hmm.
The Girl's gone jollying off around the world to see family again. Some sort of Jewish event involving something called honey cake, which is very nice - but I only know this because a colleague gave me some at work. The Girl definitely needs to include me in more of her delicious semi-religious festivals (and, on that topic, I want to know why, when Christians are supposed to be pious and read the Bible on our holy days, Jewish people are basically expected to eat and get drunk a lot on theirs). We've been working out where we're going to live, when that moving in together meep thing eventually happens. It almost feels like it already has, what with the whole thing where I spend four days a week at hers because but it's just so much easier for getting to work, although her small flat can't really accommodate us both. Not without causing minor but persistent disagreements about whether she's too messy (true) or I'm too obsessively tidy (just organised) or who left the heating on when it's 30 degress outside (not me). Meanwhile, we're learning British Sign Language. This is a very good thing, as well as being much fun. We can now have an actual, if very limited by only knowing about twenty signs, two-way conversation. It's a start. Unimpeded communication with my dad is my next goal. Hmm.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
What do you do when your faith is in a stage of such flux (not crisis, mind you, but intense change) that you are questioning everything you have ever believed or been taught?
"You read more theology," says a thoughtful, scholarly friend. Most of it is so complex that it does my head in. None of it draws any actual conclusions, but it teaches me to ask questions. I learn new, more interesting ways of approaching the God-stuff with my brain as well as my emotions. This is a revolution and I get addicted. Sadly, I can't discuss any of these new concepts at Bible studies or prayer meetings, since the ideas are not evangeical enough. I go to Greenbelt instead, where at least I see that there are other people asking these questions too. Also, it gives me something new to talk to The Girl about. She likes theology, the freak.
"You stop being so busy with the Church out of a sense of duty, and start worshipping in the ways you choose to," says a wise fellow-member of my church. That sounds great. I no longer try to fit music group rehearsals and PCC meetings and endless Bible studies (of questionable theological stance) into my schedule. I have more time to spend with God, not to mention with the people who are important in my life. I also have time to think up more questions.
"You just keep going to church," says my vicar. I take him at his word, and start going to a different church every week. Just as long as I avoid the one I've been going to for a generally contented, very committed three years - and where now, every week, I feel like I want to stand up and scream in response to every sermon, comment or badly-written modern hymn.
"You take a sabbatical from religion," says a friend who has been in my situation. Apparently, this sabbatical thing has Biblical precedent. I like the idea. I get a lie-in on the occasional Sunday morning. Which would be great, if my girlfriend didn't get up at 7am anyway, and then she helpfully brings me a cup of tea, and then I'm up, and then I might as well go to church, because I miss it if I don't.
"You accept your new place in a post-evangelical, post-modern, post-Anglican, post-Church Christianity," say the books and the more radical Greenbelt lectures. Yet I can't help thinking there's more to life than being post-everything - especially since these wacky, new-fangled ideas are actually quite ancient concepts that have probably been buzzing around since the very first Christians started arguing about shellfish.
"You connect with your developing spirituality, which cannot be explained in words or concepts," says a neighbour who believes in reincarnation, yoga, extreme veganism, crystals and the power of mental thinking, but not religion. I don't quite understand. For now we see in a mirror dimly...
"You blog it," says The Girl. Funny how the best advice I get about my Christian beliefs comes from an atheist.
This morning I went to the latest church on my round of the local Anglican parishes. It was actually the second time I've been to this one. For me, at the moment, that's almost a commitment. Someone shout at me, won't you, if I start joining the choir or volunteering to run the Fairtrade stall? So there I was, quietly sitting there in the midst of the chaos (four children were getting dunked in the font), playing the 'how evangelical is this church?' game (solution to this week's puzzle: really not at all), trying to remember whether one crosses oneself from left to right or from right to left in an Anglo-Catholic church, wondering whether that's any different from the actual Catholics, and boggling at hymns that I used to sing at school... So light up the fire, and let the flames burn... When, somewhat unexpectedly (I wasn't exactly concentrating), God said something to me.
Helpfully, God's comment had absolutely nothing to do with my faith non-crisis. It was, however, quite reassuring.
Sometimes I feel like the narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meaney, with all his worrying about the resurrection as Easter approaches: "I am terrified that, this year, it won't happen; that, that year, it didn't." So busy worrying about losing his faith, in fact, that he neglects to notice the faith that he has. God, I think, has bigger concerns than my knowledge of theology, or how busy I am with church stuff, or whether I attend the same church every week, or whether I need a few weeks off church altogether, or whether I'm post-evangelical or not, or whether I'm 'connected' enough to my spirituality. (God is fascinated by my blog, of course.) It was nice to be reminded, today, that God cares about other stuff in my life, as well as about some ethereal concept of what 'state' my faith is in.
Of course, this does not help me solve the problem of whether or not to go back to my church. That would be too easy. If there's one thing my God is not, it's practical.
I hear there's Biblical precedent for that, too.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
It's rather good, so far. Of course, this is the time of the academic year with the absolute least stress - very soon all of fiery burning hell will break loose, and go on and on and on until about mid-May. Nonetheless, I am feeling very positive about this one. It's a big college, but with a small, friendly and ridiculously hard-working English department. They're in the middle of some major long-term changes, which makes it a very interesting time to be there. For some reason, they think I'm quite experienced (I'm not complaining) and there could be further opportunities if I feel like trying to take on the incredible mess of Key Skills that makes up most of the staple teaching diet of the department (although I'm not keen to rush into that just yet). In the meantime, it even pays quite well. So that's nice.
I am fall-asleep-on-my-feet tired, having given myself exactly one day between running home from Edinburgh and starting at the new place. The longer journey to work is a slight drawback, but it's not impossible. I'm getting a lot of reading done. Currently working through Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meaney. As with Garp, I find the writing completely gripping, yet I have no idea why. If only he'd write a slightly shorter novel, I could attempt to teach it and see if any students can work out the mystery. Meanwhile, recommendations for my next read are very welcome, although If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things has been looking accusingly at me from my bookshelf for a while now. After a couple of years of this, I could even be fairly well-read. Unless I give in and buy a Gameboy.
Monday, August 21, 2006
In order to get free internet access, I'm currently eating eggs with smoked salmon. It is not a combination that I recommend.
Well. Here I am in Edinburgh. We happy cast and crew of Educated Guess are two weeks into the random insanity that is the Edinburgh Fringe. Between flyering in the mornings, the show in the afternoon and seeing a whole lot of stuff in the evenings, I haven't had much time for anything. Now I'm in the internet cafe preparing for yet another interview, for which I have to fly home tonight, get to the other side of London early tomorrow and be back in Edinburgh again tomorrow night. Somewhere in the middle, I hope to give myself a half-decent chance at getting a job.
The play is going superbly. Act Without Words is a stunning play - brilliant concept, design and performances. I've now been in the audience several times (since I'm currently sharing my technical role with another person, until he goes home in a few days) and I'm still fascinated by Beckett's bleak but gripping take on life every time I watch it. We had an excellent 'must-see' review in The Stage last week, and today we got five stars in The Independent. (One piddling little publication that only runs for a few weeks over the festival and is mainly written by students didn't like us, but we're not bitter about that.) Audience numbers haven't been bad, either. Flyering is completely exhausting, but we're very popular in our suits and bowler hats as we give out our business card-style flyers in comedy ways. Indeed.
In the meantime, I've seen more comedy and theatre than I've had the time or inclination for in quite a while. Bill Bailey last night was utterly superb - surreal yet ridiculously intelligent comedy that actually had me crying with laughter for most of the ninety minutes he was on stage. Saw Simon Amstell of former Popworld fame the other day, who I liked a lot (sarcastic cynicism is his weapon of choice, and he wields it with power). There has been Dan Clark, who isn't at all bad, in a cool indie kid kind of way. We also went to see some Funny Women winners and finalists, although they weren't really all that funny - some were good. Plays have included a fantastic production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard is my hero), after which I want to re-read the play in conjunction with Hamlet and think intellectually about parallel-worlds theory in the theatre, and a funny but thoughtful project called We Don't Know Shi'ite which was an exploration of Islam by four white, middle-class student types. Have also seen Shakespeare done panto-style (so much funnier than it sounds), a comedy interaction between two Americans called The Black Jew Dialogues, and a slightly odd but interesting set of monologues based on the idea of sperm donors leaving messages for their future unknown children. Still have many more plays I want to see, including a Caryl Churchill and some new writing. I've also been seeing Edinburgh - I love it and want to live here, indeed I do. There has, of course, been a lot of drinking in the meantime. Sleep? What's that? I scoff at such weak-minded nonsense. Or something.
But work is calling, as I have to go to a different internet cafe to print some of this rubbish that I'm churning out for tomorrow, and then we start flyering. Again. Off I go, then.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
In the past few weeks, my life has become increasingly bizzare.
First I willingly give up my job, leaving with excellent references and a final staff review that proves how much my employers completely loved me, only to find that I am incapable of getting another one. That's right: I'm still unemployed after five interviews, after each of which I was told something along the lines of "We really, really liked you, and thought you interviewed well, but in the end you were our second choice because you didn't have exactly the experience we were looking for/you were nervous during your teaching demonstration/you asked a question that made us wonder if you were really committed to the job/you were a little bit vague in one of your answers/you needed to give a few more examples/you weren't dressed as a large orange parrot and you didn't come into the interview room singing the first three verses of Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer while standing on your head and saluting" [delete as appropriate]. I am now so good at bloody application forms that I think I could get myself an interview at any school in the country, including those weird hippy private ones where the kids do nothing but play in sandboxes and talk about their feelings in circle time because it's good for their emotional development, but I can't get through an interview. Nonetheless, this situation has its good side, which I'm sure I'll get to in more detail another time, but which basically involves doing some part time supply teaching for a bit and getting some actual rest, which might just sort out the last of the post-viral thing that's still hanging around, and would generally be very good for me. So, there is hope.
Next, I manage to get myself involved with The Girl's Edinburgh show, not least because it's brilliant, but mostly because I couldn't stand the thought of a long, insufferably hot summer full of nothing. The Girl is interesting to work with, being a control freak and more than a little bit stressed, while I'm having fun in a small box where I keep forgetting which ropes to pull and when. It's going to be fantastic, but it does all seem a bit surreal at the moment (I'm a teacher, Jim, not a theatrical type). I'm also completely exhausted, having given myself no time to stop and catch my breath. Between the last week of term, characterised by an insane rush of goodbye parties and end-of-year drinks and rushed clearing out of desks full of three years' teaching resources, and the technical rehearsals that are going on for hours and hours every day of this week, I'm a bit wiped out really.
And in the midst of all this chaos sits little me, oblivious and fairly serene. I'm reading John Irving's The World According to Garp, which is truly inspired as well really quite fucked up, and I'm writing yet another bloody application form. I am still, miraculously, both unmedicated and happy. Even in the face of unemployment leading to poverty leading to possible eviction and having to live in a box underneath Waterloo Bridge (always my contingency plan for those 'when everything goes tits up' situations), life is a good laugh at the moment. I just need to find some time to be home for long enough to do my washing and tidy my room. That'll be sometime in September, I think.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
I'm having one of those weeks where everything's slow, painful and exhausting. It's irritating, since I so rarely have them anymore, that they're so recognisable when they arrive. They are not good for me.
I went to some unbelievably bad training yesterday. What is it, exactly, that happens to teachers who become teacher trainers that makes them forget everything they know perfectly well, in theory, when it comes to practice? These people could not teach me. Their methods were undifferentiated to say the least. I'm a quick, fairly experienced and very kinaesthetic learner when it comes to IT - if I can't practice a lot, with regular guidance, on my own, then I won't be able to learn or do anything on one of those dread machines. It was helpful, then, that these teachers made me work in a group of five (five! to one computer!) because "you can help them because you're quite good." How lovely for them. At least I learnt first-hand how useful differentiation can be for students. After lunch I refused to work with anyone, turned into one of those really stroppy silent students who get on my nerves so much, sat at my own computer and charged ahead. Other people: great for concepts, sharing ideas and discussions. Not so great when you want to get stuff done. Anyway, I did learn one or two things about using computers in English teaching, which was the point of the course. I just learnt most of that in the post-activity discussions and by experimenting with the IT systems on my own. (Electronic whiteboards... I want one so much... Funding, funding, funding. Blah.)
I was seriously stressed out on my journey home, worrying about interviews - oh yes, I've got another one on Monday - and other things I must get done this weekend despite how tired I am, so I went into Southwark Cathedral. Well, I was nearby, and it's my cathedral and I love it. Very peaceful. I prayed about the things in the world, in the news, that are scaring me. I miss the days when I had the time to drop everything and go and find a campaign when something made me angry. At least I was doing something.
So, it's back to the weekend of interview prep (microteaching - WHY? *terrified sob*) and dull, dull admin. I'm going to watch an episode of Doctor Who first, though. Something's got to give.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13: 4-8 & 13
Friday, June 23, 2006
It's been a busy month.
First there was New York. My favourite place on earth, but I'll wait to get all eloquent about it until later when there's photos.
Then there were job applications. Hundreds of them. I now have the perfect letter of application, full of wordy little phrases that make me look far better than I actually am, which I edit to suit each job. It's got so good that I don't think the three colleges I'm currently applying to will be able not to give me an interview. Shame I still have to do one of those, really.
Now there's exam marking, which is really quite fun at the moment (really - kids are entertaining, even just on paper). I'm only doing 200 this year, after the fiasco that was last year's 500, which feels a lot more manageable. All the same, I'd better get back to it in a minute.
In between, there has been visiting churches. I decided to give mine a break while I try some others. There's lots that's good about it as a community, but other things that (I think) aren't right about it as an evangelical church. Whether I can get over those issues or will need to go elsewhere, I wait to see. I'm beginning to feel like God has something new for me - but of course, that could just be me being, well, me about it (oh, I'm so deep, my need for of a change of scene every two years isn't a sign of how stuck in the quagmire of consumerist culture I am, no no, it's much more deep and spiritual that that). So, I'm trying every vaguely alternative-sounding church in south (where I live) and north (where The Girl lives) London. This could take a while. Last week I went to a truly original Anglo-Catholic-yet-post-evangelical place where the congregation led the service, the chairs were set out in a big circle with the altar in the middle, there was one violin to accompany the hymns, the readers and pray-ers stood sideways to the people facing the many candles on the altar, children were involved in all aspects of the service and there was some Indian dance in honour of the Trinity. They were amazingly welcoming to me - I stayed for coffee, then for lunch (everyone in the congregation has a go at cooking on different weeks), and met some really interesting people. It was very inclusive, with lots of Indian members as well as many other types of people, and has a fascinating history. I may go back. The week before that I went to a church on the common that had progressive, open-minded teaching but a terrible organ. (It's interesting to find out what I'm actually looking for in a church, which appears not to be what I think I'm looking for.) Next weekend I might even go to a Quaker meeting. The world is my parish, to quote the marvellous Dave Tomlinson. Whose church I must also go to, now that I think of it.
Today, life is good. I wrote (well, edited) a letter of application for a very decent college in just one hour this morning. I haven't done much other work all day, but then it's that time of year. This morning I walked up the road to the station, on my way to the gym, having bought a cuppa from the cafe where they have it ready for me as soon as they see me walking in the door, and the sun was shining, and I thought "I love this city, and I love what I do, and I'm a very happy bunny."
*The Poem That Was Really A List, Francesca Beard
Friday, May 26, 2006
The Girl, who has just brought me tea because it's a ridiculously early hour of the morning (and no, I don't know why I'm awake) points out that it's been a long time since my last post. In my (rather pathetic) defence, I've been busy, between preparation for the two doomed interviews and the last big anxious push towards abject failure with my A-level classes. However, it's suddenly reached that very odd time of year where teachers, in Further Education at least, do close to nothing at all, having spent the previous nine months trying to pack sixty or seventy very crowded working hours into every week. This sudden, terrifying change of pace occasionally makes me a bit jumpy. Yesterday was my first day since September with not enough to do. After two hours of exam invigilation this morning (which is easily the most boring way anyone can spend a morning, and I say this with much experience of Sunday church services), I spent the rest of the day wandering around the department looking for the crisps, Coke and chocolate that inevitably crawl their way out of the final class parties. Which, by the way, are generally quite depressing situations that get rather awkward. I liven them up by asking students to write little notes to each other, and me, with goodbye messages on them. This leads to some fantastic comments - everything from the amusing ("When I heard we were getting a new teacher I was worried, but then I found out how young you are") to the banal ("Have a lovely summer") to the surreal ("This quote reminds me of you: 'The world knows my fame - I am Oedipus'") to the sweet and very memorable ("You're a great teacher - you never let me quit"). Four envelopes full of little messages, then, has been the only useful thing to result from the last week. Since the interview was a waste of time, anyway. I'd go so far as to say that it's not like the revision lessons have done anyone any good, except that I won't know about that until August. Still, it seems that the students appreciate me. Even if only for my youth.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Giles Fraser in Comment is Free, on English Christianity - from the Puritanical to the laughable and back again
Easter marks a kind of new spiritual year for Christians - not officially (the Church calendar starts at Advent) but in terms of expectations. From the beginning of Lent onwards, everything is focused on watching, waiting, meditating and expecting.
And that's good, and I find it helpful. In an age of instant gratification, in my restricted little world of non-stop commentary from television and music and pointless chatter, what better than waiting for something much deeper?
So I try. I really do. It's just that, well - I'm not good at waiting. "You want everything yesterday," my mother has been saying since I was four. A small illustration of this: I tried to give up chocolate and alcohol for Lent this year. I got drunk after a week, while the chocolate fast lasted until the week before Palm Sunday when I gave up entirely, on the grounds that it was very nearly Easter anyway wasn't it. Is holding out for delayed gratification worth the trouble? On a larger scale, this lack of patience occasionally seems like a good thing, when I throw myself into things with huge commitment and determination (which lasts about two days before I move on to something else). Still, it gets in the way. I can't watch and wait when I'm running around being busy, constructive and highly effective. See the story of Mary and Martha for more details...
But wait, I object, like the social constructivist that I pretentiously think I am. Surely I'm just a product of my society. Let's face it: we live in a world where such concepts as waiting patiently and seeking something deeper are less than popular. And yet, too many experiences with not-quite-mainstream churches, including everything from the slightly weird to the very disturbing, made me wonder if society's constant search for instant gratification is reflected in today's Church as well. A 'God-lite' approach, what Giles Fraser calls the "entrepreneurial model", the church of a free market society, where congregants want quick answers, quick fixes, quick experiences - all of which can end up feeling just a bit shallow. If God is so easy to to find, is S/He really worth looking for?
Which is why I think that Giles Fraser both has a point and misses the point. People are still seeking, despite the decline of the 'traditional' English church. That's why ultra-modern churches are suddenly doing so well. Yet these black-and-white approaches to spirituality may not go as deep or last as long as they promise. God, however (indeed, if) you imagine or encounter Her, is not a God of quick fixes.
That's why I worked on going a bit deeper this Easter. Well, as deep as a manic depressive with a short attention span and a low boredom threshold can go. And between the brief points where I actually managed that, I even got over a few 'God-lite' moments at my own, fairly evangelical church by remembering that I do not know everything yet. (I'm a post-evangelical Christian. We really, really like to think we've reached enlightenment.)
You see, I think that people are clever enough to realise that, if they're seeking Something, then what they're looking for is not just a quick fix. Even if they don't find what it in the traditional, they'll soon know if they're not finding it in the corporate. Of course, if they are finding it there, great. But I don't share Fraser's sense of doom. After all, God is bigger than us.
Just as well, really.
Here is a related reflection that made me think.
And because I never think of anything first, I've just seen that Maggie Dawn has much more eloquent thoughts than mine on watching, waiting and fulfillment at Easter.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
The last week was a complete killer, but I have made it to the holidays. Woo! Is what I would be saying if I had the energy. Mostly I am just working up to having breakfast and thinking about leaving the house...
...Which brings me to Rent (it actually does). This is the musical, 'rock opera' if you like to sound ostentatious, that I have been obsessed with since I saw the original Broadway cast in 1997. By co-incidence, The Girl is also a fan of the show - but it's not a big co-incidence, because it's a musical and she does love those. Anyway. The film based on the show came out in the States a few months ago. It was delayed in coming over here, and now it's only around on very limited release. This has angered some fans of the show. But, honestly? I don't mind. I think I'd be somewhat annoyed if 'Rent' got too popular over here. Not only is it quite fun being one of only a small group of people who knows how great it is - but it's also so closely associated with my year in New York, and other times in my life, that it has come to represent important things for me. I don't much want to be sharing it with everyone else in the country.
Having done well in America, the film has had a couple of poor reviews here recently. I know exactly why that is. 'Rent' is a New York show - set in New York, about New York, capturing life and a local sub-culture at a particular moment of New York's history (the late 1990s, regardless of when the film is ostensibly set). That's why the stage show didn't do too well over here, even though it's still sold out on Broadway nearly ten years later - it doesn't transfer out of New York particularly well. By the same token, then, I wasn't sure it would work as a movie. It was also a bit of a worry that Chris Columbus, famous for ruining the first couple of Harry Potter films, was directing it. My concerns were unfounded, though.
'Rent' is an incredible story. It's about people who make the decision, every moment, to live rather than die. When I first saw the stage musical, I got that - from a different perspective from the one in the story, of course, but I got it. The film doesn't lose any of that concept's power. Some plot elements are re-ordered or taken out; some ideas are emphasised more than others; some characters and relationships are developed in slightly different directions from the way they are handled in the stage show. That's no bad thing. This isn't the show; it's an adaptation, and it succeeds as a movie. The actors, most of whom were in the original stage show cast, do an amazing job not only of transferring to different sets and a different kind of acting, but also to telling a subtly different story. Mimi's balcony dance becomes a performance about the character's entire, tragic yet triumphant life, as she dances off the strip club stage, down the city street and in through Roger's window - where he shows her a much less accepting perspective on living one day at a time. Mark looks very alone among all the happy couples at the Life Cafe, although he never seems to notice. Maureen is a shameless flirt who gives Joanne real reasons to doubt her fidelity, turing their relationship from one of comedy into something more thought-provoking that questions whether anyone really appreciates what they've got. 'Without You' becomes a sad contrast between the desperation of Collins, as he nurses Angel, and the stupidity of Mimi and Roger. Perhaps we even see a glimpse of Benny's other, more conflicted side, rather than leaving him just as the stereotypical sell-out villain of the piece. Most memorably for me, when Roger finally makes it out of the apartment, he joins the Life Support meeting in a poignant moment that is suddenly as much about accepting death as it is about living life - pointing out, even more than the show managed to, that the two are closely linked in this world where there's no day but today.
In the process of effectively developing these themes that fly by too briefly on the stage, though, some important plot elements have been lost. Angel's deep effect on all of the friends doesn't seem to resonate through the ending quite as much as it does in the show - which is a shame, because his influence should be at the centre of what happens next. April's choice of death over life isn't clearly shown - which is a problem for Roger's character development, and leaves out some important context for everything else, since it stands out against the affirming decisions made later by the other characters. Maureen's dramatic arrival has a fascinating lead-up in the stage show that is missing here. Setting it in 1989/1990 wasn't a particularly clever move. And there were a few moments where I thought what? and wondered whether the director was pushing his luck a bit.
But overall, it's fantastic. Columbus has brought out the universal relevance of a story that can too easily be dismissed as just being about people with AIDS in the '90s. The choice between living and dying is one that many of us make, maybe more often than even we realise. It could be that this story is not quite as culturally specific and bound to New York City as it first seems. Personally, I think it's about all of us. Just don't tell everyone that.
To people living with, living with, living with, not dying from disease...
No Day But Today
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Good stuff and less good stuff has happened in my absence from the internet. On the more worrying side of things, the draft mental health bill has died a very overdue death, with its worst totalitarian excesses immediately resurrected. (You can't say the government never responds to campaigners. They might have responded by making things twice as bad, but at least they've done something. Um.)
In better news, last weekend I made my quarterly return to Darkest Hampshire and took The Girl with me. There was a dinner with family and everything. On the way back, we stopped at Winchester in the hope of finding a cream tea, what with being Down South. Four Costa Coffees, two Starbucks and a Whittard's later, we concluded that every town centre in Britain is now exactly the same (and with nothing at all for us poor tea-drinking people). We got back on the road and eventually found the perfect cream tea at a garden centre just outside a small village called Kings Worthy, complete with home-made scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam and a round of what has come to be affectionately known as The Suicide Game because of how I feel when I lose. Which is every single time.
Back we go, then, to videos, quizzes and vague essay plans on big green sheets of sugar paper.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
So, I'm busy applying to, well, everywhere. One interesting aspect of applications, and one that I'm very aware of, is the comparison I can draw between different educational institutions in terms of their equal opportunities policies. I have two application forms that I'm currently working on. One asks you state everything that may in some way prejudice you in shortlisting - gender, ethnicity, disability, even name - on the first page, which will then be detached from the rest of the application; they will judge you on nothing but your qualifications, career history and personal statement. The other, in frightening contrast, includes a long, detailed questionnaire in which they ask you to detail every illness and visit to the doctor you have had in the last five years, and for many conditions they expect you to say whether you have ever experienced it (and of course, mental health conditions come under this category).
Now, I don't know the Disability Discrimination Act in enough detail to be sure, but I can't believe that the second college is allowed to collect quite this much information on my health and disability status before they've even met me. Their claims that the information will not be used during the shortlisting process sound rather hollow when it's being collected at application stage. At my current place of work, I was asked (some of) these questions after I was appointed; all they asked beforehand was whether I was disabled and whether I would require reasonable adjustments for the interview process.
My other concern is how legal any of this is, at all. Do I not have a right not to disclose my disability? Although I always would, for my own protection, I'm sure that I can legally choose not to. Who decides which organisations can ignore this right? And are some educational establishments really allowed to sack people (they threaten this on the questionnaire) for non-disclosure? It all seems extremely un-inclusive to me.
So I shall apply to both these educational institutions, although I may find myself deciding that the second college doesn't really have the equal opps environment that I look for in a place of employment - because, frankly, if this is how they treat disabled applicants then I wonder how they respond to disabled staff members and, more importantly, students. I have this feeling, though, that one of these places is going to go out of their way to accommodate me and the other isn't. And I think that's fine with me.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
The day started badly when I left the house at 8am and didn't get to work until 10, as we were rerouted past my station and through several others on account of a 'defective train'.
Then, because asking to use my lunch hour for lunch would have been just plain rude, I had to sit through a 1pm meeting about an intensely stressful week that's coming up at work. And it only served to increase the stress. Suffice it to say that everyone in my staffroom wants to kill either each other or themselves; both, in many cases. I, due to recent illness, do not have to take part in the activities that are causing such episodes of insanity for everyone else. I am still losing my mind.
After some teaching (sometimes I remember that's my actual job), there was another meeting at which my students' coursework results were disparaged by someone more important than me. The results are not finalised yet, but they look extremely good - and last year mine were the best of seven classes. I still managed to feel belittled. Interesting.
Because I haven't stopped working since Monday morning, except to eat and sleep (and not much of that), I decided that I would have an evening off. The volume of work I have to do in the next two weeks is still scaring me, but I have managed to switch off. A bit. You can probably tell.
On the good side of things, the highlight of my day was a particularly delicious pudding. Glass? Half empty? Of course not...
Did you get our calls?
Are you still punching walls?
I don't see you around no more
By and by it's gone - but not if you rewind it...
Currently on repeat: Morning Runner
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Quite brief thoughts follow, largely due to complete exhaustion after all of three hours of very disturbed sleep last night.
Last night involved a truly fantastic Morning Runner/New Rhodes gig, although enjoyment of it was a bit marred on account of how I wasn't quite 'all there' and kept having to disappear off into corners. My current theory is a mild case of hypomania that, now that I think about it, has probably been affecting me all week. I was certainly crashing from something when I had a completely irrational panic attack at the end of the evening.
Anyway, I'm currently focusing on the amusing side of this incident, which is how surreal it feels to be teaching Robert Frost and aspects of language change when you're absolutely convinced you're about to fall asleep on your feet. I don't think I sat down once, for fear of passing out. I even stayed vaguely coherent. Such a professional.
Tomorrow I have a meeting with important work-type people in which I shall raise the slight possibility that I might just be a teeny little bit stressed.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
There are days - just occasionally, mind - when I quite enjoy the bumpy fairground ride that is bipolar disorder. Today, for instance, I'm buzzing around the department like a very buzzy little thing (this regardless of the fact that I'm still sick of being overworked, bored with marking and tired out from unenthusiastic classes), feeling chirpier and more energetic than I have since December, when I got ill. It's pleasant. Hurrah for brain chemicals, at least when their effects are mild and useful.
Of course, this sudden cheeriness isn't actually encouraging me to work. I have spent the past hour perusing blogs and considering freedom of speech, particularly in terms of things like these thoughts on employers who limit their workers' opportunities to speak out. While it can perhaps be argued that there are jobs and situations where issues of security outweigh individuals' rights to write - not keen on the idea of an MI5 employee referring to classified operations, for example - it nonetheless seems that this excuse could be used to clamp down on important social criticism.
In not-unrelated thoughts, the flatmate and I watched this last night (on my tiny portable TV with the bad reception, since our incompetent cable company have ruined our viewing enjoyment). Now, it's possible that there was bias in the programme's aims, and I'd like to hear more of 'the other side' from those who work at the schools. Still, as someone who used to be an evangelical fundamentalist (and it feels a lot like I had a lucky escape from a cult there), the claims made in the programme rang some quite terrifying bells for me. What worried me most was seeing that the government is allowing groups who preach bigotry, hatred and some fairly blatant lies to run secular schools. I'm not opposed to faith - I'm still a committed Christian, after all. It's the literalistic, right-wing control of thought and belief that I see in fundamentalism, and its creeping influence in secular society, that I object to. I also have no problem with people taking the Bible literally, as long as they don't impose those ideas on others. I don't even object to faith schools, if parents have chosen to send their children there. But when such extreme ideas are mixed in with the National Curriculum and taught to children as fact, in local comprehensive schools where parents are sending their children to receive a state education, then as both an educator and a proponent of equal rights, I can't keep quiet about it. Especially since I know first-hand what kind of effect these ideas can have on young people. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to rework my thought processes on some very damaging ideas, relating to everything from homosexuality to heaven and hell. Not everyone who's exposed to these ideas will get the chance to challenge them for themselves.
Any opposing views on this one? I'd love to debate it.