Awww, don’t be sad, people… I’m not sad! It’s been an amazing year, and I wouldn’t have traded a minute of it, but like I said earlier, a year has been exactly the right length of time. And now that we’re getting ready to head back, my thoughts are turning daily to the things I’ll love about being home. Seeing many of you lovely people for a start!
Of course next year represents a lot of unknowns, and almost certainly more stress, but the fact that the MCW course will carve out some ‘real’ writing time makes me feel far more chipper about it than I might otherwise. The question will be, of course, whether we can apply the learnings of this year, the recalibration of priorities, to our life in the city. Whether I can retain this extra capacity I have found in my lungs, which means I now breathe a little deeper.
With my special gift for stress, of course, I’ve managed to manufacture my own tension this year: a series of self-imposed competition and portfolio deadlines; days when I realise with piercing clarity that everything I’ve written so far is total nonsense; the persistent low-level anxiety that even if I produced miracles yesterday, come tomorrow, I may never be able to do it again.
Still, I wouldn’t have been without any of that; it’s the thing that has enabled me to be, looking back, satisfyingly productive, to keep going and revisiting and raising the bar for myself. I’ll take back with me a body of work – a short story collection, two and a half novel outlines – that certainly doesn’t add up to any kind of end product, but is definitely a bloody good start.
Despite the overall reduction in day-to-day stress, however, I do have a sense of having aged significantly this year. It’s difficult to tell whether this is just the impositions of austerity and isolation – too much unmaintained hair scraped back in a granny bun, the unvaried wearing of dull, practical clothes, no skincare but Cetaphil and flake-inducing Cancer Society sunblock, no makeup for weeks on end – or whether I’ve just reached that tipping point when the middle age in the mirror can no longer be denied.
This year marked the advent of my first-ever white pube, followed by the second (which may just have been the regeneration of the first, hastily plucked). Also the discovery of a meaningful cluster of wiry silver hairs at each temple, all just a couple of inches in length, marking them out as new arrivals. While the number remains manageable, a mirror, good light and a pair of tweezers afford the same excavatory pleasure as the adolescent squeezing of blackheads; we must, after all, take our ageing pleasures where we find them.
More alarmingly, I have begun to experience a new underarm chafing when I run – same singlets, same arm swing, so maybe just a new flaccidity in my baby bingo wings? I’m also finding it noticeably harder to read the fine print on food labels, and stifle the small involuntary grunt when I straighten after bending. And justify wearing short shorts in public.
Ah, tempus does bloody fugit, all right. But I’m determined to give in gracefully; and being in a good mental place has to be the first step for that. In the meantime, now that I’m officially a woman of a certain age, I’ll look forward to wearing proper lipstick again – as soon as I get back to civilisation.