2017 – Pursue

We are just two days into the new year, and already it is shaping up to be a great one.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the car over the Christmas break so I’ve had a lot of thinking time, and I’ve also been listening to some brilliant inspirational podcasts.

This post had been intended to be about yesterday’s New Year’s Day run, but it seems to want to go in another direction so I think I’ll just let it.

2016 proved to be a pretty transformational year. At the time it felt like there were so many bad things, but the end of the year was pretty special and it reminded me just how far I’ve come since this time last year.

And so I start 2017 with an incredible sense of optimism, and a lightness of spirit I haven’t felt consistently for a very very long time.

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feeling a bit giddy because I’ve found a great space for my next solo harp gig

There are a few reasons for this, but one of the most significant was realising just how long it is since I first separated from my ex husband, and how much of that I had still been carrying around with me. The weight of the guilt I felt from ending the marriage has dictated so much more than I had ever realised, but I think ten years is enough beating myself up.

2016 also involved dealing with a lot of feelings to do with another couple of subsequent relationships. There was a huge storyline in The Archers of all things, and it brought some pretty big stuff to the surface. While I’ve never suffered domestic violence in the physical sense, as the storyline built, I realised there had been some pretty intense emotional/psychological abuse going on.

I happened to meet a good friend for a drink right in the midst of it all, and for the very first time I found the whole messy thing coming out into my hipster dinner of leek-flowers-and-something-else. I only remember the leek flowers because the waiter had been so keen to tell us how tenderly they had been foraged, and because I didn’t know leeks even had flowers. They were very good but the rest of my dinner was pretty average I seem to remember.

My friend L listened patiently as everything tumbled forth.

Soon after this, I think I was on the bus or the train one day and I realised how little the events of 2010 (a horrific break up and the short notice cancellation of a much longed for wedding) now affected my day to day life. It was now just something that had happened, and these days it almost feels as though it happened to someone else. At the time I never, ever thought I would get over it. But it seems I have. Now when I think of him, I hope he isn’t in pain and that’s about the end of it.

2016 saw a whole new set of running challenges. Needing a break from the close-knit Scottish ultra scene, I entered an event in the Lake District back in April. This was, once again, unexpectedly a truly life-changing experience. I camped in the shadow of Skiddaw, alone in sub zero temperatures, crossed the Helvellyn summit plateau with a stranger and a slightly temperamental husky in winter conditions and realised there was a whole new playground here just waiting to be explored. I’m heading back this year at least twice and I absolutely can’t wait.

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The new year brings ever bigger running challenges, and now I know that I am taking them on for the right reasons.

Not because I feel inadequate and need badges of honour to show the world I can do stuff, but because I have this incredible body (not in that way!!) that I have trained and built up from nothing but blubber and a bolted together ankle, and it seems it is capable of magnificent things when I look after it properly. I enjoy pushing myself physically, I love working hard towards a big crazy goal, and I love the new things I am learning about myself all the time.

In motorbike racing (something else I can’t believe I did, and which saved me while I went through the separation from my ex), the skill was to manage the bike, the engine, tyres, fuel, suspension and yourself as the rider, firstly to get to the track and to the start line, then through the race, as quickly as possible, without crashing or breaking yourself or anyone or anything else.

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In running, you are all of those things – the bike, the engine, the rider – and while the approach is similar, it’s much less to worry about in many ways. At its simplest, all you need to go running is a pair of running shoes.

Yesterday on my run, I spoke aloud the next BIG thing I want to have a go at. I was in a safe and supportive environment, in great company,  where it felt OK to share big crazy dreams without being laughed at. My dear friend said “your pace will be perfect for that” and my heart nearly leapt out of my chest.

Giving voice to it made it real, and it felt really, really good. It’s a long way away, but these days I really enjoy things I need to spend time working towards, and it turns out I am pretty good at getting myself through them. Slowly, yes, but generally with a smile on my face and an incredible story to tell at the end. This undertaking will be massive, with a very high percentage of failure and so I think the biggest challenge may be accepting it might not work out the first time and not being dissuaded by this. It will also mean asking for and accepting help from others, something else I find incredible difficult.

Recently, I read some things written by a couple of people I really admire, about how they had chosen a word to carry them through each new year and how well it had worked for them.

My 2017 word is going to be

Pursue

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(the image at the top of the post is my dad helpfully pointing the way as we set off on our 2014 adventure up Mont Ventoux. He looks SO happy and excited to be setting off to chase one of his childhood dreams and it’s one of my favourite pictures of him)

100 Imperfect Things to Celebrate

This was a Thing I was asked to complete as part of the harp mentorship project I’m currently working on.

The aim was to do it quickly and not worry about it too much.

  1. I paid all my bills on time
  2. I ended a relationship when it wasn’t working for me (took three goes but still did it)
  3. I played at 13 weddings and a funeral
  4. All my clients were happy
  5. I had at least 5 thank you emails from these clients
  6. I refused at least 3 terribly paid orchestral gigs
  7. I ran the Great Glen Way!! (72 miles in 20.5 hours!)
  8. I survived Day 1 of the Great Lakeland 3 Day event in full on winter conditions in MAY
  9. I bailed out of Day 2 because the conditions were just crazy and I wasn’t enjoying myself any more
  10. My elderly pets are still going strong
  11. My elderly granny is still going strong
  12. I broke the budget a bit and bought a beautiful new computer that I’m typing this on
  13. I did a solo open mic gig
  14. I sang in public at the above open mic gig
  15. I played my lever harp at the above open mic gig
  16. People applauded and enjoyed the above open mic gig
  17. I decided I really needed to get to grips with the harp thing and signed up for HYMM (Harness Your Muse Mastermind working with Deborah Henson-Conan)
  18. I enjoyed writing my non-harp related blog
  19. Someone I really admire wrote something nice about me on instagram the other night
  20. My aunty and uncle are still here despite the cancer situation
  21. My mum and dad have bought a beautiful new house that feels like it could be my forever home one day
  22. In just a few more days, both my parents will be retired
  23. Someone very dear to me called me when they were feeling sad and as a result they didn’t commit suicide
  24. Someone called me when they thought they might have cancer and they couldn’t tell anyone else
  25. One of my friends asked me to help organise her 40th birthday party
  26. I am still here, healthy and mostly happy
  27. I am in a better place with all things harp and I feel like I am finding the answers I needed to find
  28. I got to listen to someone else playing my big harp last Sunday and it sounded amazing
  29. I tried out a looper pedal and effects box for the first time
  30. I shouted back at someone who had shouted at someone else in the middle of rush hour traffic for no reason
  31. When I didn’t want to do something i said I’d do/pay for, I cancelled where previously I would have just sucked it up and been miserable about it
  32. I played a harp gig in my house in my pyjamas
  33. Someone I really respect but am a bit scared of said REALLY nice things about something i played at the above gig
  34. Someone else I really respect asked me what I had played and said it was really beautiful and could I please tell them what it was
  35. I had afternoon tea at a beautiful posh house in Edinburgh with a guy I REALLY liked and it was wonderful despite nothing ever happening with the guy
  36. I unfollowed/blocked said guy on social media when I realised he was seeing someone else so I cannot contact him/feel sad/wonder what if
  37. I was a good friend when people needed me
  38. I have been a good daughter and sister and niece and aunty and granddaughter
  39. I managed to get out on my motorbike just once for the first time in ages and I survived!
  40. Someone whose writing I really admire commented on my blog
  41. I skipped through bits of a book I had to read and that I wasn’t enjoying, rather than trying to read the whole lot
  42. I managed some really big/long runs
  43. I cleared a lot of debt
  44. I still managed to do fun stuff despite clearing a lot of debt
  45. I camped on my own for the first time
  46. I put a tent up on my own for the first time
  47. I lit a camping stove on my own for the first time
  48. I went to Barra (Scottish island) in a really small plane
  49. I landed on a beach – the only scheduled flight IN THE WORLD to do so
  50. I nearly missed my flight home because I was playing on the other beach
  51. The airport cafe had the most amazing cake ever
  52. I realised I could afford to buy coffee each morning if I wanted it
  53. I really enjoy having coffee in the mornings
  54. I’m back in touch with some old school friends who I really liked
  55. I finally climbed Ben A’an and had a great day with friends while doing so
  56. I climbed a hill with my dad – our first ever that didn’t involve cycling. he had a really good day which made me really happy
  57. I rang a couple of friends at times I needed them and they were there
  58. The Fringe debacle really hurt but I made the best of it and moved on
  59. While playing the harp one day, I wondered what would happen if I just didn’t worry about it so much any more, and at that point my left shoulder literally dropped about 6 inches
  60. I spoke to my mum about some stuff that came out from The Big Leap book and she gave me some answers about why they (my parents) would talk down my achievements when I was a kid
  61. I found a way to test drive this beautiful car I’ve been thinking of buying
  62. I met a really lovely chap out in the hills who helped me talk about what was going on with my pets and how worried I was about them at that moment
  63. I got a place for the BIG race in Switzerland next year
  64. I read some amazing books
  65. I met a guy I’ve had a bit of a crush on for AGES while I was out running and while I know nothing will happen it was still really nice
  66. I started to make some plans for my long term future
  67. I realised I am happy doing my day job at the moment and that the trade off of time is worth it for me for where I am right now
  68.  I was offered another 12 month contract at my day job working for someone who is notoriously choosy about who she has in her team
  69. My employer has been really supportive while I’ve been ill
  70. My blisters have healed from the Great Glen Way although it has taken months
  71. My toenails have mostly grown back
  72. An old friend asked me for advice when she had a big scary decision to make
  73. Another friend asked me for help when she was struggling in her relationship and she is in a much better place now
  74. I put on a bit of weight which made me feel sad but I think it’s coming off again now and I feel better
  75. My October gauntlet really shook everything up in some really good ways
  76. I learned to be comfortable on video and had some great feedback on my project as a result of what i have been sharing
  77. I am excited about the next stages of my project including building my show and starting to write down some of what has gone on in my harp career
  78. I lost a friend but didn’t feel bad as I realised it was about her not me
  79. I played at a repeat gig for some old people and got some unexpected relationship advice
  80. At the above gig I got to stand back and watch as the sun shone and the old people enjoyed feeding the horses in the sun on the shore of the loch. There was all the time in the world despite all their mobility issues and they could just be.
  81. I have been asked back to the above gig again next year
  82. I played at a wedding just around the shore of the above loch and if ever I got married again I’d love it to be there
  83. The resident harpist sent me a REALLY nice compliment from my covering his shift and playing background music at the smart Edinburgh hotel – someone had noticed my playing. Really noticed it. As in, had been listening to harpists for 25 years in that hotel and noticed my playing.
  84. I got my Christmas tree up really early this year
  85. I bought myself a stupidly expensive advent calendar and I am LOVING getting the treats each day. I feel (to quote that advert….) …. worth it.
  86. I finally got another tattoo done on my back. It looks amazing and I’m delighted with it.
  87. I admitted to myself that I was probably done with the harp again, at least for a while
  88. I decided I might like to explore working in another country doing my day job but not until my pets/granny are gone
  89. I stayed mostly in control of my money
  90. I got my hair cut at last, but then realised I loved having it really long and am now growing it out again
  91. I played for a funeral for a wonderful man, his family appreciated my efforts and someone asked what one of the pieces I’d played was – the one I had literally poured my heart and soul into playing
  92. I shuffled some things around in my spare room and I now have a beautiful hideaway where I think I might be able to set my electric harp up permanently so its always out and ready for me to play
  93. I have given this hideaway space a posh and pretentious French name but I have not told anyone what that is
  94. I realised that I have a growing social life. 5 years ago, I didn’t have this and I am really grateful for what I have now, and mostly I am grateful for being brave enough to make the move to make this all happen
  95. I watched a really inspiring film about running recently and it helped me to realise where the harp fits in (or does not fit in) to my life
  96. I realised if I could only ever run 20 mile mountain routes in Scotland I’d be more than happy, although i enjoy challenging myself over longer bigger events
  97. I confirmed to myself that I love performing for my own reasons
  98. I realised that people respond really well to deep/meaningful/emotionally significant things I share whether at a gig/online etc
  99. I realised that as I am getting older I am becoming more confident, less afraid and less tolerant of injustices to other people
  100. Mostly I am just glad I’ve survived the year so far!

a bit of a pause

The last few weeks have been a bit more full on than I’d expected, and non-harp stuff has been extremely unpleasant. All the symptoms of fairly major stress are there, and work things are starting to affect my non-work life in a way that I am not comfortable with. It’s time to move on again.

Death and illness have an unmistakeable way of punctuating our lives. In my case, they have shaped how I’ve lived my life. A much loved aunt died in a dreadful accident when I was quite young and just starting to work out what the world was about. As a result, I find it incredibly difficult to plan for the future. I’ve moved around a lot since I was a small child, and often feel a bit like I’m floating, whirling around not sure of where my roots are and where I can go back to when everything is wrong.

I moved schools a lot too. In many ways, this has shaped me for the better. I can settle in quickly pretty much anywhere. I’m not afraid to talk to new people. I’m quick to offer help if I sense someone is a bit lost or unsure, I know the signs. When I left secondary school to go to university, I only kept in touch with a couple of people.

School had been quite difficult in many ways. I went to a great school full of bright high achieving girls. All my closest friends were musical or into maths/science or in some cases, both. However many of my best friends had some fairly impressive (and mostly thankfully short-lived) issues with drugs. I loved all the music we were into but I stayed away from the chemicals that went with it all, too sensible, too frightened of being told off, too frightened of losing control.

Instead I looked out for the others when things got really bad. I tidied up after some disastrous house parties. I spoke to the police when they turned up. One night I spoke to someone’s dad who they hadn’t seen since they were a small child, and who had somehow found out where they were and decided to show up suddenly. I called ambulances, cleaned up, listened. Listened a lot.

There are good memories of those times as well.  A particular bench in a small touristy town in the West Midlands that was sufficiently far away from everything for people to hang out and chat without interruption or fear of being Moved On. Arguing about the merits of the Fast Show versus the Mary Whitehouse Experience. Sara Lee chocolate gateau for breakfast. Long chats into the night. My first ever all nighter. The first and only time I stayed somewhere when I’d told my mum I was somewhere else (entirely innocently – I was at a house party with my best friend and we sat in the garden most of the night together talking about the Doors and listening to Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror over and over again on the stereo).

My first ever all nighter was New Year’s Eve, I can’t remember what year. I was at my friend N’s house, about a mile from where I lived. Her parents were away with her younger sister and brother, but she was (rightly) trusted to be in the house on her own and have friends over. Her parties never involved the police or clearing up anything awful. Just good friends talking, mostly about music. Someone told me it was bad luck to let a fire go out on New Year’s Eve. So my friend S and I sat all night and tended it. S was a bit more of a firestarter than me so really she was doing the tending.

Recently, thanks to Facebook and a picture that another friend posted, I found myself back in touch with a few people who I really loved from school. I’d never consciously fallen out of touch, but our lives had moved on and away from each other and with no social media at the time, no way of staying in contact.

Everyone is married with kids. Three seems to be the number. It’s interesting looking in on people’s lives and remembering them as they were, and knowing who I was then and how I don’t really feel that different now.

N posted some terrible news on Friday morning, and it absolutely knocked me for six. I’ve not seen her in years, or known what she has been up to beyond heading off to uni in 1997, until a few pictures on Facebook.  I struggled through the day, with a job interview in the middle of it all.

I questioned myself a lot, whether I had the right to be upset, whether I was overreacting. It was such a shock. How could I possibly feel such sadness for someone I hardly knew any more, solely based on memories and shared experiences at a pivotal time in our lives, when we were growing up, forming who were were, developing our thoughts and our fears.

Often when we hear about something sad, on Facebook, in the news, from friends or acquaintances, it prompts a fleeting Life’s Too Short kind of feeling, we promise ourselves we will change all the things we’re unhappy with, be a better person, make the world a better place. Then something else happens and we move on.

But this has really hit me hard. Tired and emotional, well yes, but this goes a bit deeper and I’m not quite sure why.