The solstice has been and gone and, as the year turns, we have now come to Imbolc, which coincides with Candlemas, St Brigid's day, and Groundhog Day. I'm not sure how much these various festivals have in common, but the first of the three spring festivals (the other two being the spring equinox - Easter - and Beltane, or May Day) seems to me like a good time to mark the new year, so this is when you get my new year ramblings.
As I have mentioned previously, I had depression towards the end of last year. I'm glad to say that with the lengthening days in January it started to lift, but it took me out for a good three months. From the equinox to the solstice, there were many days when getting up and dressed, feeding myself and my husband were as much as I could do. That said, I was able to do that much every day, so it could have been a lot worse. A year ago I hit on the theory that autumn depression is in fact a shift in motivation towards food gathering and storage. I'm not sure that entirely holds - there were harvesting tasks, notably cleaning sugar beet, that I couldn't face, but on the other hand, I found some enthusiasm for foraging, at least in fits and starts.
I adopted an attitude of acceptance: It doesn't matter if I don't achieve anything, this is depression, I get it every year, there are reasons why it's particularly bad this year, it will pass. And so it has.
From my perspective of now, this has coloured my view of the past year, so I have to make an effort to look back past the autumn equinox, and appreciate the rest of the year for what it was. Reading back to earlier blog posts, I see that the year didn't start too well either, with last year's depression not quite lifting in the spring, possibly due to poor diet. On the other hand, we did have a glorious summer, and I can't help being cheered by that much sunshine.
I can't avoid the fact that this past year has been dominated by a lack of money. Ian earns his living by writing about classic cars (and yes, we are fully aware of the ironic juxtaposition between our
green lifestyle and this source of income, but cars are his passion). He gave up a staff position on a magazine to work freelance so we could move to Wales. When times are hard, freelance commissions will go before staff jobs, and times have been hard. Visits to friends and family were cut back, foods such as avocados and honey were reclassified as expensive luxuries, for occasional treats only, and our underwear is in tatters.
There was the prospect of something that had us hoping for most of the year, but it came to nothing in the end.
In the meantime, the obvious question was asked, mostly by well-meaning family and friends,
Why don't I get a job? I didn't, though. I even cut back on what little paid work I had been doing. In hindsight, perhaps not so sensible, but on the other hand, it did have the desired effect. I'd been struggling to focus on a challenging project, so I cut back on other things and succeeded in paying attention to the solar panels. And that's the point. I have struggled with this. Although in theory I could get a job for a short period of time, just until things are looking better, I fear it would take me away from what I want to do with my life and I'm not sure I'd be able to turn back. We have friends here who tried self sufficiency and have more or less given up. I can see that happening to me.
Learning self sufficiency skills is not easy, but it's more than that. It's not just that I need space to give my attention to difficult projects, there's also a shift in mindset. The longer I'm out of the mainstream world of paid work and consumerism, the more alien it is to me. Of course I haven't left it completely - we're not hermits - but I mostly don't engage with a world in which trade is central. I don't sell my time and skills, and as far as possible, I produce rather than purchase. Given the all pervading presence of commerce, it takes a certain amount of isolation to maintain an anti-commercial mindset. Alternatively, if I manage to sustain my current frame of mind whilst re-engaging with the world, the constant contradictions would be quite distressing.
This all sounds rather melodramatic, and of course it's not as all-or-nothing as I've made out, but I'm struggling to express why I'm reluctant to return to the world of paid work. I fear losing what I've gained in the last four years; I fear turning away from the road I'm on in case I can't find it again.
That said, we do need some money. A few months ago I was moaning to a friend about our lack of funds and she said,
But isn't this what you want? To live without money? Well... yes and no. Yes, I would love to be completely self sufficient*, but that's not realistic right now. I'm working on developing my skills - this last year I've learnt plumbing, for example, which is a case in point to illustrate why some money is necessary. I may not have to pay someone to do the work, but I still need to pay for the materials. In the more everyday area of food, I bake my own bread, but I don't grind the flour (though that might be something I could do in the future) and I don't grow my own wheat. The latter is something I'm unlikely to try, as the climate here is not well suited to it. There are limits to our self sufficiency. I will continue to push those limits back, but I can't realistically see the prospect of us living without money entirely.
There is obviously a conflict between my desire to avoid the commercial world and our need for money, albeit not a huge amount of it. I find this easier to live with if Ian's the one earning the money, which brings us back to the fact that he hasn't been earning as much as we need recently. Now, finally, there is the prospect of something a bit more stable. I can't quite believe it yet, but it's progressed far enough that I can tell you about it. As well as his freelance work, Ian volunteers for a local community transport group, providing bus services for routes that aren't commercially viable. In rural areas this can be a lifeline. There are a couple of paid roles in this organisation, and the holder of one these roles has just resigned. Ian will be filling in temporarily, and will apply when the job is advertised. Hopefully, we'll have a regular income before too long. He will also be able to continue writing about cars in his spare time.
Looking forward to the new year with a little less anxiety now, I'm starting to think about the garden, and various projects that I'll write about in other posts. I don't generally make resolutions, as I think that's setting yourself up for failure, but this year I felt the need for one or two. Firstly, I need to cut down on my computer use. I find it all too easy to get stuck on the computer, particularly when depressed, and this has become a habit. I've decided on the modest rule of not switching the computer on at breakfast time. Instead of
Just browsing facebook while I have breakfast, which so often ends up consuming the whole morning, I must get up and do something, even if only the washing up, before switching the machine on.
I did actually implement that rule in early January, and it's going well so far; I'm a lot more active than I was before Christmas, and the kitchen's generally tidier, too. This might be more to do with the lengthening days than rules about computer use, but I think it's a good rule anyway. I think I need a little more routine in my life (I'll come back to that another time), and this is a first step.
The other resolution I considered is not your typical new year's resolution: I'm resolving to take less responsibility. Let me explain where I'm coming from with this. Over the past year I have been observing myself, in the same way that I did before making the decision to quit my job and try self sufficiency. I've known for some time that I have a bad case of volunteeritis. I've always thought of myself as a strong, capable woman. All the women in my family are strong, and this is a source of pride for me. When faced with adversity, I do not crumble, oh no, I step up to the mark and deal with it. I can handle anything! The trouble is, I can't.
Whenever something needs doing, my natural tendency is to think,
I could do that, and mostly it's true, I could. When I moved schools at the age of 16, my new teachers expected far higher standards than I was used to. I discovered then that if more is expected of a person, then more is delivered. It was an important lesson: If I challenge myself to do more than I think I can, then I probably will be able to do it. This is often conveyed as
Step out of your comfort zone. I took that lesson on board wholeheartedly, never shying away from the difficult. In fact, I stepped out of my comfort zone so often that I really don't know what my comfort zone looks like. It's not a place I'm familiar with. I think maybe it's time to explore it, not with a view to retreating there for ever, but just to get acquainted.
The trouble with constantly accepting tasks that are beyond what you think you can do is that sometimes they actually are beyond you.
I volunteered as treasurer for a national club we're members of, with no knowledge of accounting. I'm pretty good with numbers - how hard can it be? Very hard, as it turns out, especially when taking over from someone with considerable expertise in moving numbers around to make them look right. Especially when you discover that a long-standing, popular member of the club has stolen a substantial sum of money. That was stressful.
I volunteered as a committee member for a local community group. The principle attribute required for this seemed to be local knowledge, in which I felt myself singularly lacking. I spent much of the time in committee meetings with no idea what was going on, feeling very much out of my depth.
I also volunteered to take over the running of live music events at our local hotel. This last was frankly ludicrous, as I know very little about music and lack the vocabulary to talk about it. I also take a dim view of the whole business of marketing. If there's a fun event happening, I am not the person to cajole everyone into joining in. My attitude is to let people know it's happening, then it's up to them if they want to come along. If they'd rather have a nice, quiet evening at home, that's entirely up to them. As a music promoter, I am the least suitable person in the world.
I have now extricated myself from these things, with varying degrees of grace, and currently have few responsibilities. I was chatting to someone in the pub the other day who asked about my resolutions, so I told him. A little later I mentioned an upcoming event...
You've got an event? As in, you're organising it? What about no responsibility? he said. Well, um, that's different. On reflection, it is different because the event in question is quite easy, relative to many of the things I take on. I suppose you could say that it's well within my comfort zone. Also, it's Ian's gig, really. I'll be honest - I know this is a resolution I'm not going to keep, but I will try to think carefully before taking on new challenges about whether I really am capable of doing them, and what impact they might have on the rest of my life.
Last year was tough, but I'm feeling positive going into the new year. Things are looking up and I'm confident it's going to be a better year. Look - even the eggs are smiling!
* That is, I'd love to be part of a self sufficient community. It may be possible to live entirely by one's own efforts, but the general consensus amongst those who've tried it is that a small community is a better option.