Sunday, 29 December 2013

2013 How It Was for One Spinster Teacher

I won't be sorry to see the back of 2013. Not that it's been a bad year; on balance it's been okay. In some respects it has been a vintage year but the last few months have been spent under a threatening cloud. I can't write too much about it here but the cloud is partly responsible for how quiet I've been here.

This is a personal look back at the year. I don't know enough about politics or economics or geography to discuss what's been going on nationally or globally with any confidence. Around me there seems to be confidence but I worry, in so far as worry does any good. I know in education that the more "teaching and learning" are hyped up with events like Féilte, the more ground is being lost in terms of teacher moral and student enthusiasm. Ideology-driven and poorly designed curricular reform looms. Students are seen increasingly as learner/lab-rats to be measured and tested, subjected to experimental treatment in the name of radicalism and change, weighed and re-tested. All are seen as fragile and while a life-raft may be offered to the most capable in the form of recognition of their Gifts and Talents, those who fail to make the cut will be cast adrift to land on an intellectual desert island where they'll spend their days making tasty and nutritious snacks for pets.

In my own life,  I faced 2013 with pessimism. Time was running out. I'd be thirty-eight in May. Where was I going? How was I ever going to get there? Did the place exist? Did I just suck at being alive and should I quit? This day's diary entry from last year is weak and tired, mentioning the sun in the garden, saying I might go into town later and I might go out that night. I wrote how I wanted to be stronger, saying "If I were strong I'd be capable". I must have felt incapable of doing what I felt needed to be done.  I also wrote that "God gives me strength" and that I believed that. I still believe that, even though I've lived in this house for fifteen months and have yet to see the inside of the parish church.

I made resolutions for the New Year. In the course of renovating the house I'd read a lot of feng shui and the nine-box bagua reminded me of Susan Jeffers' nine-box life planner. That's probably where Jeffers got the idea. I decided to resolve to do nine different things, based on nine different areas I wanted to improve. I was mad to improve, and still am. I'd read the books, consult the websites, looking for the tips and the how-to. I picked up many tips but the most important thing I learned is that there is no ten steps to perfection. That no-one has written the "How to Be Ellen Metcalf" book. Life is hard.

I'm looking at the nine things now with bemusement. Meditation? Night courses? Carpooling? Well I did that and continue to do it and it's a great success. I didn't take any night courses and meditation was sporadic. I also solemnly undertook to paint the coal-shed. Of course I would, I had a year. And of course it's still the same grimy concrete grey it was when I moved in. I had a year, a whole year, but you should never give yourself a year to do a job that'll take you a day.

I did some of the things on the list. I took up running and that was a success for a good eight months until I lapsed. So it's a resolution again for 2014. I love making resolutions so much that this year I'm making twenty-eight of them. And I've already started on some of them. There'll be no Mardi Gras carnival before this early Lent.

And so the year went on, and on. It got harder. I kept going. The summer was hot. I kept going. School restarted and I got on with things. Thankfully the issues with my hours were sorted and that has been an indescribably relief. I can plan. Things got harder again towards the end of the year. I felt alone despite the support of many friends, because that support is not the same as some-one who will join you under the yoke and help you pull life's burdens and steer a clearer furrow. It does follow logically that  doubling the power could mean doubling the weight and the problems.

I remember standing on a footpath waiting for the lights to change. It would have been October. It must have been a Saturday. My longest and most serious adult relationship had just ended, the first that could be measured in months rather than days. I can remember the lightness I felt, the feeling for the first time that being single meant I was free. That's how I feel now; I feel free. That I can do what I want, in so far as funds and the laws of physics allow. I'm not chained down by the awful memories and marked with the stigma of the mentaller.

That relationship was the good thing. And there were good times as well, and laughter, and no tragedies personal to me. There was stress, the clouds I mentioned have parted but not disappeared. I'm still single and I feel each passing month brings me nearer to a reckoning I never want to make. That I yet might not have to make, that I should put from my mind and concentrate on where I am. Here is here and now is now and pessimism may be as delusional as its opposite. I feel better now, older and tireder, but better.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Ellen's Top Ten Books that she read in 2013

It's that most blessed of weeks again; the lull between Christmas and New Year. I spent just under forty-eight hours at my parent's house between Christmas Eve and yesterday and it was fine. Really, really fine. I didn't go out either Christmas Eve of St. Stephen's Night and I didn't want to either. Everything was okay and thankfully there were no stresses. I wasn't alone and I wasn't an appendix to a large, child-filled gathering either.

These are ten of the books that I read in 2013. I'm not going to say they're the best books - at least one of them is appallingly written (you'll guess which) - more the ones that had the biggest impact on me. Sometimes that's because of quality, sometimes because the book says something at the right time for it to sink it. Please don't be annoyed that these are not "Books of 2013" but rather "Books I Got Around to Reading in 2013". I don't keep up with the times and usually read things twelve or more months after they hit the shelves. These are my reasons; I like to patronise my excellent local second-hand bookshop, hardbacks are expensive and I loathe the current fashion for publishers' paperbacks. I like my paperbacks small and portable so I wait until the littlest edition before I buy, which can take ages.

Here we go:
1. "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brené Brown.
Not a new book but one that spoke to me like it has spoken to millions of others. The tagline says it all "Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are". Simply and clearly written the book is based on research and her life before Oprah got hold of her, this book is full of wisdom and surprisingly full of "how to" tips although the author says she doesn't like them.

2. "Daring Greatly" by Brené Brown
Another entry by Brené. I just love her and have reviewed this book here already. If you're going to buy only one of her books, buy "The Gifts of Imperfection" though. I'll stop after typing "I prefer her earlier work" but you get the picture.

Richard Ford

3. "Canada" by Richard Ford.
There's not much I can write about this that hasn't been said by Eileen Battersby, on whose recommendations I bought and enjoyed this book. It's a proper novel, that takes you to a different world and shows you things there. Disturbing, heart-breaking things told with just the right level of detachment and emotion.

4. "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann
A book first published in 2009 that I only got around to reading this year. It's a treat-filled box of believable, varied characters and period detail of early 1970's New York that rings true, not that I'd know, having been born in Cobh in 1975.

5. "Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel.
Not one of the fiction entries on this list was published in 2013. I'm off now to buy "The Luminaries" before I the mortification gets me. Okay, okay, so the follow-up to "Wolf Hall" doesn't continue its arc of literary triumph but rather plateaus and even dips but this is still a very, very good book.

6. "Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good" by James Davies.
Accessible book that lays out how much of psychiatry is delusional and based on faulty research or in the case of the DSM no research at all. This is frightening stuff and terribly, terribly sad when you think of how many lives have been affected by psychiatrists' need to feel that they're scientists too.

7."The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin.
A delightful book that manages to be frothy yet erudite.  I found the idea of keeping an adult-sized star-chart so practical and motivating that I have actually developed new and useful habits. Yes, I know there's more to life than the pursuits of happiness, as Penelope Trunk explains here  but this is a book I'd recommend to anyone.

8. "How to Attract Mr Right in 90 Days of Less" by Salli Glover.
I thought eight would be a good place in the list to sneak this in. Cardboard boxes full of these kinds of books lurk in the dark corners of my home. Do they work? No. Can I stop buying them? No? Alarm bells should be ringing at the title alone because we all know it should be 90 days or fewer (we do, don't we?) and the first couple of chapters are full of Law of Attraction gobblydegook but I have to say I found this slim volume the most practical and applicable yet of its genre. The ninety days since I bought it have, of course, long since expired but I did manage to attract Mr Not Quite Right in the specified time-frame. So it works, kind of.

9." Le Confident" by Hélène Grémillon.

Hélène Grémillon

I bought this in Aéroport Charles de Gaulle and had most of it read by the time I got home and all of it read in the following two days. A page-turner.

10. "Mental Training for Runners" by Jeff Galloway.
I was bitten by the running bug early in 2013 but unfortunately soon developed effective anti-bodies. This is my go-to book when I need motivation. Starting small and starting easy has helped me re-start many times. I've been using his giant invisible rubber-band technique on unsuspecting "real" runners as well.

Based on this list, I think one of my first resolutions of 2014 will be to read more fiction. Any fiction I do read tends to be good quality but I get lazy. I'm getting excited already about my New Year's Resolutions and will post soon about them. So excited that I've started some of them early.

If you have recommendations, or books that you loved in 2013, please leave a comment.