Uncertainty and uncertainty

Well, here we are – another month has come and gone. It feels at the moment as though i’m in limbo, waiting to see whether i’ll be one of those who loses their job in the Great Purge of 2010/11 and, even if i’m not, waiting to see what other nastiness may come knocking at my door. And yet in other ways i’m having the time of my life: i seem to be doing more and going to more places than in any year i can remember. Uncertainty can be motivating as well as paralysing – in different areas of the same person’s life.

After a summer spent touring art museums and the like my spirit appears to have turned to music – live music that is, something i love, ironically enough, because of the uncertainty inherent in a live performance. Even with the greatest of musicians something can go wrong or just go right without going anywhere special. But when things do go somewhere special… what a feeling to be there and hear it happen!

In the past couple of months i’ve heard Central Asian devotional music, attended a day devoted to contemporary Classical composer Helmut Lachenmann and danced in the aisles at a Ruby Turner gig. And much much more. Probably the highlights, apart from the events i’ve already mentioned, were a recital by Classical trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger at the Wigmore Hall and a performance of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass by the London Symphony Orchestra. Hardenberger is the ultimate trumpet virtuoso and, although that doesn’t mean he’s the ultimate trumpet player, in recital he is thrilling – almost luminescent in his skill. As for the LSO’s performance of the Glagolitic Mass, i was sat behind more double bass players than i could count (need i say more?) and the choir were fantastic. The mass itself felt more like a Slavic pagan orgy than anything Christian. As many commentators have pointed out it’s a mad, throwling blur of anguish and passion.

Now Christmas is approaching (courtesy of the retail sector, it seems to advance on us earlier each year). Although i can feel a wariness about the future dampening down my normal joy at the thought of carols and Christmas trees, it can’t put the fire out altogether. There’s a part of me that is eternally about seven or eight years old, that jumps with joy at the sight of crepe paper decorations, a steel tray of satsumas and brazil nuts, a wrapped present.

Yet of course i’m most certainly not seven or eight years old any more.  Nothing brings that home to me more than the fact that my brother – my little brother – will be forty next week. He of the angelic voice (which i heard once again just recently on a tape of us my dad made of as children), sticky out ears and solemn smile.

Time moves on – i’m reminded of a poem by Shelley, The Daemon of the World, with its recurring line:

The magic car moved on

I remember reading the poem for the first time aged about sixteen and being amused at the image of the ‘car’ which i couldn’t help picturing as a ghostly Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, even though i knew Shelley was using the word to mean ‘chariot’. I thought the poem was beautiful and it certainly spoke to my inner goth – and most teenagers have an inner goth, whatever subgroup they may belong to – but the heart of the poem, its message about the transience of life, passed me by. That car has well and truly ‘moved on’ for me.

My dad’s eldest brother, Uncle P, who has always been the ‘alpha male’ of the family and who terrified me when i was small, is seriously ill with Pancreatic Cancer. My mum says he has lost so much weight he’s shrunk to almost nothing. After much procrastination i finally phoned him last month – but then couldn’t think of anything to say. What do you talk about to someone staring death in the face? How can you talk about future plans to someone who may not have a future? And how can you ask someone what they’ve been up to when you know what they’ve been up to is coping with chemo and  lying exhausted on the sofa?

The cliché at times like these is to reflect on how we should all be grateful for our health and not get sidetracked by the little things – like money for example. Which is true on one level but it’s also true that as long as we have our health we’ve got no alternative than to concern ourselves with money. The living must eat and they also need somewhere to eat – not to mention sleep.

Beyond that there are also bigger issues of money. The changes on the far horizon to the Higher Education system augur fewer places and higher fees which in turn raises the spectre that my son may never be able to go to university despite his passion for learning and hard work in self-studying. I’m determined that he give getting a place his best shot because i know he’ll do brilliantly if he can just get in somewhere decent but i really don’t know what his chances are – any more than i know what my chances are of still having a job this time next year. And yet at the same time i’m excited at seeing him at the beginning of adulthood, full of wonder at how clued up and capable he is.

So it goes on. Uncertainty and uncertainty. Worry and anticipation. Thrills and foreboding.

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Another freedom

It’s really only been two months since i started to blog and for most of that time i feel i’ve been struggling to find my feet. At the beginning i was crippled by self-consciousness and the realisation of how rusty i’d become as a writer: it had been such a long time. Now i’m starting to relax. I’ve accepted that i’m never going to win any prizes for style or content and am just enjoying the freedom and – paradoxically – the discipline of composing a post: the spark of the initial thought, the battle to shape it into coherence and the endless re-reading and editing as i try to make it express what i want to say.

Today i felt the urge to look back at my “blue book”, a journal i kept intermittently between 2001 and 2003. I suppose i wanted to see how i’d written then – i was curious for example as to whether typing your thoughts out would tend to produce a different kind of flow than writing them out longhand. There were also a couple of entries that i remembered and wanted to re-read again, because they cover moments in my life that matter to me.

One of them in particular almost makes me cry when i read it: it’s about the birth of my son. He wasn’t born during that period, some ten or twelve years before in fact, but it was a day in 2001 when i sat down and wrote really openly and honestly about his birth and what it had meant to me.

As i read the entry through i realised that i could never write anything like that in my blog. It’s not a question of self-consciousness so much as of the privacy of the other people involved. Even with the posts i do write i occasionally find i need to mention other people and i struggle to do it in a way which protects their identities. That is the difference with a journal: it’s a private space. I always think of those schoolgirl diaries with the little lock and key. A blog by contrast is inherently public – i know you can lock down specific posts but somehow that seems to defeat the object of blogging.

You gain something through the act of putting your words up here on the Web: the magic of seeing them separate from you – for many of us the closest we’ll ever come to being a published writer – and the excitement of the idea that someone else will read them. We all hope and fear that. But you lose something too of course, another freedom.