S04E19: but soft, what light?

how far i’ve come

Here’s a picture towards Tower Bridge from London Bridge. It was the morning and the sun was moody and shrouded, and her long tongue lapped the water. You can see Tower Bridge silhouetted, but you can’t see me. You can’t see all the people streaming along behind me, gearing themselves up for another day of work. So many muted shades.

Later I took a picture of London Bridge from Tower Bridge in the afternoon. How far I’ve come! How different everything is! The river – that’s not the same river that was here this morning. And these people! I could barely see them this morning and now here they are, clonking me with cameras, smiling pure and brilliant smiles in the diminishing sun.

I’m struck in these two pictures by the sense of distance; the space between these images which is a stretch of the inconstant river and the time is the passage of the sun. Except the sun doesn’t move; or, rather, by our piddling measurements she doesn’t move – she is dancing a gentle pirouette around the centre of our galaxy, but we hardly notice. We’ve moved, but it appears that we are fixed and all else moves.

Is there an ever-fixèd mark, like the man says? I drank in the delight of those around me and enjoyed the simple pleasure of waving to tourists on boats down the Thames; unheard, but seen; that simple connection from human to human that is somehow easier from a distance. Pleasure is pleasure to pursue and pain is ever-loitering: death holds no fear save that pain will be its midwife.

Tomorrow I will be back amongst the muted shades. The sun shall hold her same position and the towers will still loom, but I will be different again, and more the next day, and so will you, and this thing will pass, these feelings will fade; you are an ever changing riot of colour and love and life and amazing, and I am pleased and proud and glad that you are here.

If we must change let us change together.

the difficult conversations

I am enjoying the stretching sensation of having difficult conversations at work.[mfn]Oh yes, this is a work-flavoured weeknote. Let me know when you’re back from your fainting couch[/mfn] I pushed myself into this space with force, and I’m doing my best not to back down. What’s helping me the most is that I keep reminding myself that empathy is a superpower, and even more that pulling rank is just a form of violence. Forcing myself to solve the problem in the slightly more difficult, more human-centric way, is a valuable lesson and one I could do with spending more time learning.

Right now, one of those difficult conversations is pushing someone out of their comfort zone so that they can have a difficult conversation they’ve been shying away from. I don’t blame them for shying away, and I feel slightly awkward about the pushing, but I’m also certain that it is a valuable skill to learn. I’m also hyper-aware that my organisation is a genuinely great place, where people are overwhelmingly kind to each other and everyone’s genuinely doing their best. It creates a reasonably safe space to have these conversations with empathy and honesty.

I’ve found that reflected in my feedback – it’s feedback season again – and I’m catching myself enjoying taking the time to reflect on my colleagues and working out what’s great about them but also what I think they could do differently. It’s weirdly intimate, I think, to get feedback about yourself that you instantly understand but had never considered, and I’m really hopeful that I can offer a little bit of that.

the joy of making

I dropped in to see a friend the other day and saw they were getting one of those pre-prepped meal kits. I was intrigued[mfn]influenced[/mfn] to try it out for myself, and I’m really enjoying it. I pick recipes from a limited choice and they just send me stuff, and it seems to spark something in my brain that says “well, now you gotta make it”. And I do. And it means I’ve got lunch the next day too, because the smallest kit they do is for two people.

But more than the practical “I’ve got food to eat now” is the new-remembered joy of creativity. I’ve been struggling to cook for myself for a little while now, and this gentle nudge has been fantastic for reminding me how much I love the sensation of doing things that aren’t tapping away at a keyboard. The joy of smelling that point where meat starts to brown. The strange stickiness of garlic and the satisfying solidity of a potato.

I found this again when I tended bar for an old school friend. I was once a very good bartender, and finding that flow again is amazing. The numerous different tactile sensations you run through: the hard neck of a bottle; the feeling of it leaving your hand; the barely-noticed calculation that tells you where it’ll land; the burning cold of a well-iced shaker as you race against pain to mix a drink.

I noticed it again when I sat down with two lovely people and drank hot tea at a wooden table. I put my fingertips to smooth china and then to rough wood and we imagined worlds where, among the dark decaying ruins of what we called our civilisation, the crabs seized their chance and made the Great Leap forward[mfn]sideways, surely? Ed.[/mfn]

My point in all this is that I am starting to find joy in the little things again, and I think that’s a sign. It’s the first blackbird you hear at 3am as you hug yourself on the sofa with a cup of coffee.[mfn]because your bastard cat woke you up at 2.45[/mfn] It means the sun is coming soon, and there shall be light and warmth again, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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