OUT OF OFFICE: In Search of Wonder
They say that however you see in a new year sets the tone for the next 12 months. By 8.30 am on New Year’s Day 2022 I’d already experienced a relationship break-up, so that should give you some flavour of how this year has been for me – or had been, until recently.
Even though I was the one to end the relationship it was by no means easy. He was, and is, a great guy, and we had a great friendship, but we wanted different things from life and I knew that if I was to stay in the relationship I’d have to shrink myself to fit, and there’d already been so much shrinking in my life due to the pandemic. Perhaps you can relate?
But rather than freeing me up to expand into our new post-pandemic world, I was plunged straight from my break-up into what can only be described as an insanely punishing workload. At the end of 2021 I’d been offered a 12 month contract to be the maternity cover for a senior editorial role at a publishers. Even though I’d already been contracted to write four books in 2022 the former council estate kid in me jumped at the opportunity. Ever since becoming a published author 20+ years ago as working class, single mum, I’ve felt passionately about breaking down the barriers into the mainly white, mainly middle class world of publishing. Being offered a senior editorial position for a year felt like a huge personal victory so I snapped it up, to hell with the consequences.
The consequences were hell. By February this year I was working 6 or 7 day weeks and something had to give – that thing was my social life. And so the Great Shrinking started by the pandemic continued until things, literally, came crashing to a head in late spring. Rushing to catch a train to London because I was late because I was so busy, I tripped on a kerb and crashed head-first to the ground, giving myself a massive egg on my forehead and a nasty concussion. A couple of days later I caught covid. Panicking that I’d miss my book deadlines I attempted to work through both. After two weeks of feeling vaguely better, my covid returned with a vengeance.
Bedridden, I finally had the chance to pause and take stock and one thing I knew for sure, although I didn’t know how at that point, was that things needed to change and they needed to change urgently. A line from the Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime, started playing on a loop in my brain: ‘You may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here?’ How indeed? My life felt unrecognisable from what it had been before the pandemic. I felt unrecognisable to myself.
One positive thing that happened early in 2022 was when I was invited to co-host a writing retreat in Jamaica in October and that became a beacon in my calendar, something positive and fun to aim for. But it turned out 2022 had a couple more twists in store. At the start of summer someone very close to me was diagnosed with cancer – for the second time – and needed major life-saving surgery. I hot-footed it up to Liverpool to support him through his treatment, working from hotel rooms and cafes in between hospital visits.
And then I found out that the Jamaican retreat had been cancelled, and I wouldn’t be able to get my flight refunded. In the context of my loved one’s life or death battle, I was resigned rather than devastated by this development, but my friend Tina, who’d booked to come on the retreat, suggested we go on holiday to Jamaica instead. Anxiously waiting to see if my loved one would make it through surgery, I numbly agreed, but I can honestly say that at that point I’d never felt less excited at the prospect of a holiday and handed all of the organising over to Tina.
One thing I’ve realised over the years is that the most magical of life’s experiences so often happen when you’ve had zero expectations beforehand, and never has this been more true for me than when it came to our Jamaican adventure.
September arrived and the tide of my year finally turned. My loved one made it through his surgery and made a miraculous recovery. One by one, my books were written and the end of my punishing workload loomed bright on the horizon. And I had an unexpected holiday with my best friend of 44 years to look forward to.
It was only when the plane touched down in Montego Bay and we walked out into the tropical heat and wild energy of Jamaica that I got the first inkling that while I’d been so pre-occupied with work and my loved one’s health the Universe had been conspiring to change my life forever and the Great Shrinking was finally over…
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