Though this year has been challenging and painful for many reasons, there are also things that have been unexpectedly beautiful, interesting, and joyful. The first part of the year, even through the grief and the depression, had moments of clarity and lessons to teach me – not just about myself, but about the world around me, family, and friendship. The spring and summer were a little better – I started a new novel, started seeing friends again, and generally felt more hopeful about the future.
Another death in the family, and the loss of Marmalade, knocked us all again, but the past month has changed my outlook in small ways, and has once again given me hope for a good year next year. Mostly, just small things – spending my birthday with family, reading good books, going to the theatre and cinema, spending time with friends, feeling grateful and lucky for many reasons (on a side-note, I saw The Force Awakens with subtitles and loved it – I may review it in the new year). I miss Marmalade every day, but Chocolat has grown into herself and has love for everyone. She is still the chattiest tortoiseshell cat I’ve ever met.
It’s the smaller things that have felt like achievements for me this year. For example, gaining new readers on this blog, writing 20,000 words of my novel (not so much by my usual standards, but still, it was hard to even start), and writing some of the best blog posts I’ve written so far. Even smaller achievements, familiar to those who might have been through depression or grief, are things that you would usually take for granted, like making the effort to take care of yourself each day (eg. having a shower, getting dressed) or finishing a novel you’re reading. The biggest thing for me has been re-learning to live with anxiety and fear, how to let go and not allow them to stop me from doing things. Letting go – of the past, of anything I’m holding onto that needs to change – has been another of those hard lessons.
And more than anything, I’ve reminded myself over and over again of the love I have for life itself, because even if you’re having a difficult day, the bigger picture is that life is always hopeful. I’m still an adult version of the girl who loves books and making things. I still adore cats and good food, being both silly and serious with friends and family, watching amazing films, finding inspiration in the most mundane of things. I can watch Star Wars and Harry Potter over and over and never get bored, still think the Goonies are cool, and every now and then, will re-read Pride and Prejudice just because I love Elizabeth Bennet so much. I remind myself just how much I fiercely love the things that I love, and everything becomes brighter again.
Some of the things I’ve seen and done this year have been:
- Alexander McQueen’s retrospective exhibition at the V&A – this was breaktaking, absolutely amazing. I hope they do another McQueen exhibition again, because everyone needs to see how weird and wonderful his work is.
- A full moon over the sea in Southwold.
- Ate a lot of cake (according to my camera roll) and drank many cups of tea and coffee.
- A brilliant production of The Comedy of Errors at Chickenshed in May (review by a friend, Richard, here).
- A few trips to Newton, Cambridge, whilst we arranged for my Gran’s bungalow to be sold. I saw countless stunning Cambridgeshire sunsets – they really are some of the best in the world.
- The author Louise Stern on a trip to Cambridge Literary Festival where she discussed her book Ismael and His Sisters. We bought copies of her book and she very kindly signed them for us!
- A visit to Granny’s cousin (and best friend) Marjorie in Lancashire whilst she was in hospital this spring/summer. My Mum and I surprised her by not telling her we were coming and it was lovely to see her surprised smile and have a long chat with her. She died a couple of months later, and I miss her – she loved cats and books just as much, if not more, than I do.
- Staying up all night to catch the red moon eclipse and take photos of it. The photography experiment didn’t go as planned but it was still amazing! I felt completely batty standing outside the front of the house in the middle of the night on my own, but it was worth it.
- Madrid for my Mum’s retirement/birthday celebrations and ate a lot of tapas and churros.
- Seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I absolutely loved it (it has its flaws, but honestly – I’m willing to overlook them because – Rey! And Finn! Amazing).
Through a wider lens, I’ve also noticed how hard this year has been for many people, and for the world at large. I’ve mostly shied away from discussing politics this year, even though I have my convictions about things, and will always be about being humanitarian and empathetic. I’ve tried not to just be someone who gives lip-service to these sentiments, but actually goes beyond just talking about these things, by supporting causes I believe in, in small, quiet ways. I’ve had little emotional energy to give this year but I’m slowly starting to think more about how I can be a better human and make a difference in my own small ways. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is listen, and learn, whilst other people tell their stories.
I’ve also had a handful of trips this year – the first one being a few days in Southwold, in early May, and the latest one being Madrid, in late October. Dan, my husband, wrote a series of posts about Madrid over on his blog Stray Dog Strut – there was a highlight on every day, in my opinion, but I loved the food, architecture, Spanish ambience, and the hotel, which was lovely. It was mostly a celebratory trip for my Mum’s birthday and retirement, and since we didn’t do everything we wanted, we will go back some day.
Food has played a big part in the healing process this year, actually – in Southwold we had some lovely food. If you’re there, definitely go to the Magpie Cafe for their Saturday pizza night. Some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted! Their hot chocolate is also amazing. In Madrid it was churros (we made an after-midnight visit to Chocolateria San Gines), but we also stumbled upon a fantastic tapas bar, Taste Gallery, just across the street from the Mercado de San Miguel – I’ve never had anything quite like it. On the last morning we went to Cafe des Fleurs, a wonderful cafe in a flower shop (it’s not central, but still an amazing find), which I found on the website Naked Madrid.
I’m ending this year on a high and reflective note, after having a quiet holiday with Dan and my family, and I’ll probably ring in the new year with Dan. the cat, and a couple of films (and plenty of popcorn). The next few days are all about the planning, making deadlines for my writing, and getting back into the writing habit. I’m finally looking forward to the year ahead and hope everyone reading this has a wonderful new year.
‘When our stoicism interferes with our humanity, we risk developing a wooden emotional life and an equally wooden personality. In contrast, the realization that our ability to work through pain makes us stronger than all of our efforts to exorcise it may in the long run alleviate its burden. It may enable us to take up our destiny as creatures whose very vulnerability renders us capable of inspired and truly awe-inspiring love.’ – Mari Ruti.