Saturday, 27 June 2009

Home sweet home

We have signed the necessary bits of dead tree, and each been granted a set of keys.

Future Housemate shall henceforth be known as Intrepid Anthropologist. "Home" is now our lovely rented house in Upper Suburbia. There is much work to do and not nearly enough time, but it is ours to shape, for as long as the tenancy allows us to do so.

We celebrated with tea and cake and our first guest, Sweetie's father, who has kindly offered to donate some cutlery to the household. Not just any cutlery, mind you--cutlery he made himself, in 1954. It is a very special and very appropriate housewarming gift.

There are (at least) two fruiting plum trees in our road, and a handy stepladder in the kitchen. This pleases me greatly.

I got soaked through on my way back to the station. I don't mind.


In a spirit of preparation I am packing a suitcase. Sweetie, Future Housemate and I are meeting with the letting agent today at 1.30pm to, hopefully, sign contracts and get keys for our new home. I won't take the case with me then but I will want to have it ready to go.

It's interesting to do this, to figure out what I need in a new place to make it start to feel like home. In a spirit of more procrastination than preparation, here's a list of what I think I'll take:

My kettle. I love this little kettle! I pulled it out of a skip in Islington in the summer of 2004 when I didn't have a kettle and had been using an ordinary pan to boil water for tea (and washing-up, since the electric immersion heater I had in that bedsit was a much more expensive way to heat water than the gas hob). Took it home, cleaned it up a bit... and found that it works, it doesn't leak, and best of all it has a wonderful two-tone wail to let me know it is boiling, not piercing as some of the whistle kettles are but reminiscent of a distant train. I don't know what Sweetie and Future Housemate will make of it, and they may prefer to use a more modern electric kettle instead, but for that very first cup of tea in a new home it wouldn't feel right not to be using my much-beloved kettle.

Tea things, of course. Some mugs (enough for all three of us and at least one for a guest), and tea, and sugar, and spoons and a teatowel or two and I guess we'll have to buy some milk. A saucepan and a few bowls won't go amiss either, but that's more a practical concern than anything else.

Clean sheets for the bed; a pillow, and my duvet if it will fit. The flat I'm living in at the moment has become harder and harder to deal with, in housemate terms, and so I don't want to sleep there any more nights than I have to. My little rabbit, who I've had since I was small. And all the other sleeping things, and getting up things: towel (yes, I am a frood who knows where her towel is), toothbrush & paste, and so on.

A bit of piano music. I'm very much looking forward to having a piano in my home again after many years without. I can play some by memory but I want to set to work immediately on some of what I've been learning. And the other instruments I play need to come along, too, of course, though I can't fit them in the suitcase so I might need to make a few trips.

I'll bring my phone and charger, partly because it would be madly impractical not to, but mostly because staying in touch with my people is important. Too much isolation makes a home stop being a home, for me. The computer fits into this category too, but as there will initially be No Internet in the new house, it may just as well stay behind for a few days.

A rag and some soap for cleaning anything that needs it. I'm told the place has been cleaned before our arrival and certainly when we viewed it, it wasn't in bad shape. But there is something satisfying about finding the bit of dust that has been missed, about wiping an unnoticed corner of the countertop and saying, "There, there, house, I live here now and I will take care of you." (Those of you who know me well are laughing at this point and probably opening a book on how long it will take to become unbearably messy. That's not the point!)

Books. It might not seem like much but there are books that seem to make a place home or not. One has my grandmother's poetry in it, it is really like taking a piece of my prairie birthplace with me. I'll put a few others in too: short stories by Ursula LeGuin, perhaps a beloved cookbook or two. The number and type of books doesn't matter quite as much as their presence.

I've been praying Morning Prayer from the C of E website, and I can keep doing that through my phone if need be, but I want to start engaging with the books more: being spoon-fed liturgy by the internet is all well and good (especially when I am running late and the only time for me to fit the Office in is when I am on the bus or train...) but so is looking at various elements, especially the readings, in a wider context. So I'll be taking my copy of Daily Prayer, which I've scarcely touched since I bought it, and a NRSV Bible (I also have a Jerusalem Bible and a King James; I don't know yet which I prefer, and suspect it depends on the situation). I want to go to Morning Prayer at a local church sometimes but I doubt I'll be able to do it every day, and I want to establish the habit at home too. When we viewed the house there was a little table in the room that's going to be mine, and I'll put the religious books there. Also there will go my little oil diffuser/burner/whatever it is, the sort with a candle in the bottom and a cup for smellies in the top. I'll take that today too: there's much to be said for having matches and candles anyway, in case we have any trouble getting the utilities started (though this is arguably the very best time of year to have such difficulties).

Though I am not Jewish and I'm not even really very Jew-ish any more (I'll talk more about the difference some other time), I do sort of want a mezuzah. The Shema is still important to me, in a way that stops everything else even when I think of it. But I also want our home to be welcoming and comfortable for any and all who might visit, and I don't think overt religious symbols in communal areas will help much with that. I'm not sure what I'll do about this. I think maybe something to hang on the inside of the door to my bedroom would be appropriate. I'm waffling over whether I want the Shema or the Summary of Law. Some sort of illuminated text of either of them would be good. But I digress: this isn't something I'm putting in my suitcase today, it's something written on my heart.

The other ingredients that will make this place home definitely won't go into my suitcase, because they are Sweetie, and Future Housemate (I'll have to start calling her something else soon!). Their hopes and dreams for this place, along with mine, will do more to make it home than any of the objects I'm putting in a suitcase today. But the objects can be an expression of some of those hopes and dreams.

What makes a home for you? If you were going somewhere new and relatively unknown and had to take just the bare essentials to make a place feel like home rather than hostel, to make it feel like a place you could invite a friend or stranger rather than a place where you are the unfamiliar guest, what would you pack? Who would you take with you? Why?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The last couple of days have been truly wonderful. I got safely to my destination and was fed and watered and really, what sort of hostess but a fabulous one leaves a bar of FairTrade chocolate where I am sure to find it? (I've been saving it for the journey back to London.) The dogs are lovely in their enthusiastic doggy way, the cats are more circumspect but an absolute delight, and the humans here, the humans here are fantastic! I have been made to feel so very welcome and I am grateful to have been given this wonderful gift. The time away from London but still among friends, the mental and physical space to work with the companionship of knowing others are at work in the same house, has been a retreat of sorts, right when I needed it most.

I've not been online much, my computer doesn't want to play nice with the wireless here. That's just as well, really.

I've been thinking about sacrament and ritual and blessings and our human perceptions of same a fair bit, but the thoughts aren't really getting as far as words yet. I love that sometimes in said liturgy (and rather more often in sung worship), it feels to me as if something significant actually happens. I don't know whether that perception has any link at all to objective reality, but I know that looking for a church in Upper Suburbia, one of the things I will look for is whether that sense of awe is possible.

Sekr1t Pr0ject continues apace. I have a draft of something I can use, now, and so in some sense one of my goals for being here has been met. I'll do a different draft too, I think, and then let them sit a few days and see which one I like best before doing any serious editing. Many thanks to those of you who have helped with the project in one way or another--yes, you will get to see the results if you ask. And if you come across something that strikes you as perfect, don't hesitate to send it my way, as I am still open to ideas. Sorry if that's too cryptic for those of you not in on the sekr1t. It's a surprise, you see.

Housing continues to be source of mild stress, in that the letting agents are asking for documentation that I can't get to them when I'm not in London and didn't realise they needed before I left. But I still have hope that it will work out in the end.

The dogs took us for a long walk in the wood this afternoon (there were trees! and sticks! and other dogs! and grass! and dirt! and wind! and mud! and roots! and flowers! and butterflies! and birds! and sun! and shade!) and are now having some serious naps in various locations. I am starting to think the dogs have got the right idea... but I think I'll pick at a bit more work before I try to do too much else.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Singing a happy song

The Big Final Exam Recital went well, I think. I had fun, and my teacher seems happy. Many thanks for all the good wishes, here and elsewhere.

I'm on my way to sunny Gloucestershire, to visit Kathryn. The idea is to recover from my exam and do some concentrated work on the Sekr1t Pr0ject while I've escaped the rush and noise of London. I'm very grateful for her hospitality: it takes some bravery to invite a stranger from the internet into one's home, and it's very generous and kind to do so when that stranger is likely to be tired and preoccupied.

I did spend an hour in Swindon, having missed my connecting train by going to the wrong platform, but I suppose I can't have everything.

Here we go, here we go, here we go...

A little over two and a half hours to go until Big Final Exam Recital. I am mostly looking forward to it: I love the music and most of the time I can play it well. I get to show some other people why it is shiny, today. This is fun! But it is also still an exam, perhaps the most significant of academic performance exams I have ever attempted.

If you're so inclined, a brief word with St Cecilia or whoever you talk to about these things might not go amiss.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

What would you take with you?

I wrote a little about changes in the church, here, a while ago.

There's a wonderful conversation going on over at Leave It Lay, all about what the church is and should be and where it is going. Great stuff! And in the comments there, people have started talking about a journey, and what trappings of 'church' as it is now they would take with them on that journey.

I don't consider myself part of the small-c church, the church as humans see it, because I don't say the Apostles' Creed and I don't take communion. I don't know whether I'm part of the Church as God sees it; I leave that judgement to the only One who can judge these things.

All the same, here's what I would take with me:

I would take the best of the church-run homeless shelters, the ones that don't try to dish up doctrine with dinner but just focus on making sure those who need it have a place to sleep and a meal. I would take the interest-free community loans that can sometimes stop people becoming homeless in the first place. I would take the coffee mornings, the visiting schemes, the support groups. I would take all of these examples of the church unconditionally loving and endlessly serving the wider world.

If I had lots of space I would take the Daily Office, which seems to be necessary for some people... it's certainly a part of my life in ways I hadn't imagined. I'd take Choral Evensong, I'd take every sort of sung psalmody I can find. I'd pack some Eucharistic services, because although I myself don't partake (more out of respect for a human institution than anything else, at this point) I recognise that that is, for most of you, important, far more important than the words and music are.

But I think that the Church exists to spread the Gospel, I think the Church and people in the Church spread the Gospel by living it, and I think all the trappings of liturgy and ritual and prayer and what we call sacrament--the candles and canticles, the incense and the oil, the bread and the wine--exist to enable us to live it better, and to respond to it with praise. And if the Gospel, if the news we have to spread, is that God loves us, the only way to live that is to rejoice in loving one another. I'd pack anything that helps us do that, and I'd jettison anything that acts as a barrier.

Maybe that's simplistic, but it's absolutely fundamental to my approach to this faith or any other. Why yes, I am a big old hippie.

If I didn't have room for much, I'd take the Summary of Law (to remind me what to do) and the Lord's Prayer (to help me be able to do it) and start again from those.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Too many words

For reasons too complicated to explain, I'm trying to write poetry again. It's been over fifteen years since I did this with any regularity or fluency, other than the odd haiku (which doesn't really count).

The purpose of this means the poetry needs to be good. Better than good, really. IO hadn't planned to write anything myself. I've just not been able to find a piece of poetry that says quite what I'm trying to say, so I'm trying to cobble something together.

This evening, this is what I ended up with. I don't think it will work. I don't think it's amazing, and it's more prose than poetry. But it hints at what I'm trying to say, so I'm posting it in the hope that someone else can do better, or tell me how to make it better, or point me in the direction of the poem that already says this.


All creation is joined, connected. Quiet raindrops fall into turbulent seas, rippled mud puddles are secretly thundering waterfalls. Hot salt tears and delicate snowflakes are formed of one substance.

All creation is joined, communicating. The frantic pulse of photons through fibre-optic cables, the steady signal flash of a distant lighthouse, the lowly candle on a rough windowsill and the ancient constellations strung through the sky all glow with one light.

All creation is joined, growing. Seeds fall to earth and send forth new grain. Tangled, knotted vines bear fruit each season, again.

Flood our hearts with water from Your springs, bathe our wounds, heal our hurts, that we may pour Your generosity on one another.

Turn Your face upon us, that we may shine as stars with the knowledge of your goodness, and illuminate with wisdom the paths of all we meet.

Sustain us with bread from the grain of the earth, wine from the climbing vines, transform us with Your body and blood. Mould our lives to your service and help us to convey to all creation--joined, connected, communicating, growing creation--your ultimate, contagious compassion.


(Be gentle please, but truthful.)

Monday, 15 June 2009

Finding home.

They say home is where your heart is. Mine is in my throat.

The house I wrote of two weeks ago, that we thought would suit our needs so well? We almost got it. The landlady, after an entire two weeks of dithering, said she wouldn't get a gas cooker but she would replace the shower. And we hadn't found anything else, and we needed to get it sorted out quickly. But we didn't want to take it without at least looking at other places. I know that area fairly well and have done lots of London househunting in 9 years here, but I was fairly sure we wouldn't get anything better. Future Housemate was less certain. I didn't want her to make a decision she'd regret, and one of the estate agents we visited said he had a property that might be suitable--just listed that afternoon. So I went off to an appointment to get my muscles squished (just sometimes, routine maintenance of this body of mine is actually pleasurable) and left Sweetie and Future Housemate in the wilds of Upper Suburbia to view the house.

Thank God we'd not committed anything but our fickle hearts to the other one! This house is much better. There is more garden, and the garden is more cultivable. The furniture is not quite to our taste but the landlord is willing to take away anything we don't need. The shower is suitable as-is and the kitchen is much better; there is a very sexy brand new 5-ring gas hob. There is space for Future Housemate to have a study, separate to my studio. The location is not quite as spectacular in some ways; it's 15 minutes to my very dear friend, rather than 2, and a good 5-10 minutes to either shops or parkland. But the price is good, it is spacious, and the landlord seems decisive and accomodating, which is good news.

And it comes with a piano, which solves another problem of mine. It's a piano that needs quite a lot of work, and I don't know if it will be ultimately suitable for my needs even after considerable refurbishment. It hasn't even been tuned in about 8 years (every 6 months is best). But it will do for now, and means I don't need to make the really annoying decisions for a while.

So on Saturday we signed paperwork and paid an initial deposit and if the landlord accepts our offer we will have a home.

A home.

(On our way to the station we ran into another friend who is moving to the area. Upper Suburbia is quite desirable among my set, it seems.)

Thursday, 11 June 2009

At least I have my health.

It's amazing the number of specialists it takes to keep me ticking over and functioning: psychiatrist, endocrinologist, various physiotherapists and rheumatologists (though I don't need to see them regularly now), among others. Thanks be to God for the NHS.

I had a little chat with the endocrinologist on Tuesday.

There were no surprises in my bloodwork. This is good.

The endocrinologist would deny me the drug I had originally asked for, because it might harm an unborn child. This despite my taking other measures and having no intention of trying to conceive anytime in the next two years, and seeking treatment for a condition which has 'reduced fertility' in its list of effects. I'm not sure what to make of this: exactly which hypothetical unborn child is going to be harmed? Why is that worth more than my health now, and indeed my future fertility? At what point is it his responsibility to advise me of the risks and at what point is it his responsibility to refuse to prescribe something? But I did not have the energy or the eloquence to debate with him. Perhaps at the next appointment, though that doesn't seem the time or place. Perhaps I can write a Politely Worded Letter.

As it happens, the drug I am being prescribed instead is actually far more appropriate given the results of the blood tests. It won't deal with the superficial symptoms so quickly but it will do much more to protect my long-term health from the rather serious side effects of the underlying problem. It's very good news to be treating this so early, but it's a bit scary, too. That's only really starting to sink in now. And the lifestyle modifications I've long been meaning to make are going to have to be taken more seriously, as the drugs will only do so much. Bother.

I'll have to go back to my GP for a prescription. I'll start the new medication after my exams, because it has some potential side effects that I simply cannot risk this close to a major performance.

In other news? I met with the chaplain at Academic Institution the other day, and it was useful, and I have an even longer list of things to read now. Sekr1t Pr0ject continues. The cherries are tasty and plentiful this year, and various other fruits are nearly ripe. I'm playing with Petite Violinist in her Big Final Exam Recital on Monday, and I'm really looking forward to it--she's making a really beautiful sound these days, and our rehearsal today was a joy. I had my first exam yesterday and I think it went okay; one down, two to go. Then housemoving and parental visits... it's going to be a while before I can start reading as many blogs as I'd like to.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Going Forward

A friend of mine in another community writes:


We have let the angry right dominate the news and comment agenda for too long. It is time for us to point out the small-mindedness of nationalism, to make the case that the French and Germans are our friends, that the EU may be flawed but is not some devious conspiracy trying to trick us out of our fish, that we owe it to the new member states to make it work, that we owe it to the rest of the world to make restitution for colonialism, that people are people, wherever they or their great-grandparents happened to be born, to state the vision of a world where immigration controls are not needed, because the entire world is rich.

I have to say I agree. And though this is prompted by a political event of sadness in the UK, I think much of it is applicable everywhere.

How do we go about doing this?

I think it means we must seriously treat others as human beings--yes, even when that's inconvenient or uncomfortable. I think it means we must seriously consider how our choices affect others--and not just our choices at the polling stations. I think it means we must create a culture of community and mutual appreciation and (dare I say it?) love, a world where people build one another up rather than tear one another down, a world where people help and care for one another, a world where we heal one another's hurts instead of inflicting more.

Yes, we must state this vision in words. But we must also state it in our actions.

What do your actions say?

Sunday, 7 June 2009

A quick request

If you're a praying person and so inclined, please pray for Rev J who had a heart attack Friday night/Saturday morning. She sought help quickly and the prognosis is good, but it's still scary stuff. Please pray also for her parishioners.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Thursday, 4 June 2009

still alive

Had an assignment due in today, got it in on time, but at cost of sleep and a rehearsal.

I've got exam tunnel-vision and will continue to have for a while. Please include in your prayers all those burdened by academic pressures, to borrow words from a friend who has done just that.

Yesterday in a break I was playing Brahms to an empty room, perfectly happily... not really practising as such, just playing. The conductor (also a player I respect very much but do not know well) walked in and my playing fell to pieces with self-conscious nerves. This time it was partly that it was unexpected, partly that I don't know the piece as well as I'd like. But it's something that can happen no matter how well I prepare, no matter how well I know I can play, no matter what steps I take beforehand to familiarize myself with the situation and remind myself why I am there. And that is what I fear most about these exams: trying my best and failing to connect. It's enough to make me want to slack off so at least I can blame not having worked hard enough for the sloppy performance, instead of having to face the fact that even when I do my best, my very human brain-body-spirit system is too complex to be consistent. But that same vulnerability is part of the flexibility that can make live performance something special.

No news yet on housing. Still playing stop-and-go with medical appointments but there's no cause for alarm there.

Sekr1t Pr0ject continues. I might share it with some of you when it's finished.