We never stop learning. A cliché, but only because it’s true, or at least should be. So I thought it might be instructive to reflect on a few personal highlights of the past year by asking myself what I have learnt from them. 2015 was the year when:
First, we sold my mother’s flat after nine nerve-shredding months of wrangling with two successive potential buyers and a small army of estate agents, lawyers and other intermediaries of no very clear job description, all of whom seemed intent on placing as many obstacles in our and each other’s paths as they possibly could.
I learned that some people who call themselves professionals, have the letters after their names to prove it and charge accordingly, also have non-existent standards of civility, client service and basic knowledge of, let alone expertise in, their jobs.
Second, in the midst of the wrangling a microscopic piece of grit, not much bigger than a pinhead, caused me two months of constant discomfort, punctuated by half a dozen episodes of excruciating pain, as it made its way out of my kidneys and into the plumbing.
I learned that the people who staff the various diagnostic services at our local hospital are everything that the lawyers, estate agents and other camp followers weren’t: that is to say polite, respectful, kind and skilled at what they do.
And so to Dr Jauncey’s Natural Remedies: I learned that if you can stomach it, equal quantities of neat lemon juice and olive oil ease the passage of kidney stones, while a glass of lemon juice, hot water and honey every morning seems (so far) to be keeping away the seasonal colds that have always plagued me in the past, while also, I’m told, reducing the likelihood of further stones developing.
Third, I finished writing Jaguar, the book that had been nagging at me for nearly seven years. The third in the series of Young Adult novels that began with The Witness, it tells the story of an eight year-old-boy whose theft of a tribal artefact, while on a scientific expedition to Amazonia with his parents, dramatically shapes his journey into adolescence and adulthood. The book is now doing the rounds in search of a publisher.
I learned that ignoring unfinished business causes nothing but disquiet, though I was reminded too that finishing the business and putting it out there can cause disquiet of a different kind. I was also reminded that the world is full of stories and that what each one of them is looking for is a place in someone’s heart. That is the connection we want to make when we tell them, whether with ourselves, our would-be publishers or our eventual readers.
Fourth, three Dark Angels became 12. Our nine new associates joined us for the summer solstice weekend at Moniack Mhor, the Scottish writer’s centre in Inverness-shire. There we planned how to take the Dark Angels message to a wider audience in the UK and a new one in other parts of the world, including Australia, the United States and Ireland.
I learned that one never stops learning (that cliché again) from others whom one respects and admires; that it’s possible to do almost anything if it’s approached with kindness and integrity; and that working collaboratively is much more fun than paddling one’s own canoe.
I was also reminded, in fresh ways, of how the layers of meaning present in language and stories are like the peelings of skin from an infinitely large onion; and how as each layer comes away we are brought closer to important truths about being human.
And fifth, in our third year of running The Stories We Tell, Sarah and I held seven weekend workshops and our first residential course, in Sardinia. We have grown in confidence and the conviction that what we are doing helps people towards an expanded sense of the world and their place in it.
I learned that not only is it all right to live as fully and intensely as possible, but that really there is no other way; and that the biggest obstacle to doing so is fear of our own potential. As I have listened to people talking about their lives I have continued to learn from and be amazed by the connecting and healing power of stories. We all long to be heard and we are all so readily touched by one another. I’ll be remembering it as we head into the holidays.
I’m taking a break now till January. Happy Christmas and New Year to you all!