Lights in the distance

2021: A new beginning

More so than any other year I can remember, 2021 feels like a new beginning. While 2020 was definitely hard, and it’s easy to dwell on the high death toll of COVID-19, the tragic and unnecessary sadness of leaving the EU and the awful widespread hardship, especially (from my perspective) among performing artists exacerbated by the shameful selfishness, greed and irresponsibility of our government – but there’s been much to be grateful for in the past year too, and with the closing weeks of 2020, it’s felt like there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Regardless of anyone’s feelings about Brexit and the shape it has assumed, it’s happened, so now we can stop worrying (so much) about the shape of it, pick up our lives and start working out how to make things better; in America, Joe Biden is about to become President, while Trump seems to be rapidly shedding supporters, giving hope for a return to more reasonable politics in America for some time to come; and for me personally, I’m starting the new year with a new computer, a new operating system and a renewed joy in my work now that said work is no longer attended by the perpetual worry that everything’s about to break.

So 2021’s feeling fresh and re-invigorated and there’s lots I’m excited about, but I’m also having some trouble really visualising it. I sort of know what I want it to look like – to end up in a sort of modified-normal position, where my friends who have to perform in person can do so, but also where online work is considered an innovative (and low-cost and environment-supporting) alternative rather than a half-assed stopgap – but in the face of all that’s happened in 2020, it feels insane to try to plan anything, really. Some of these things are basically a repeat of last year’s goals – some from the year before too – but the pandemic in particular means that I’m needing to reshape my thinking about them. The biggest benefit from last year’s goals was to consciously shed ‘for the moment’ thinking – that idea of “I’ll just get through this” – 2020 would have been waaaaay worse if I hadn’t made myself be more aware of how often I used that phrase and started to make more carefully considered decisions about what the repercussions would be, especially for my health.

So on to 2021:

  1. HEALTH: Weight. I’ve put on so much weight during the pandemic, in spite of best efforts and really working to increase my exercise levels and trying to eat healthily. There’s a lot of factors, but the bit that matters is that I am really uncomfortable. It’s not (only) a body image thing, it’s a bulk thing – I’m uncomfortable when I move, which limits my movement, which piles on more weight, my clothes are uncomfortable, some of them chafe, my muscle problems are worsening. Something HAS to be done. At this point, while obviously my goal for the past year or so has been to get to a point of not being obese any more, frankly I’d settle for just gently heading in a downwards direction. Losing the 5kg I’ve put on since the first lockdown (down to 83kg) would be a great start. Um. Not really, but thanks to working with an acupuncturist after I put my back out, the numbers have started to move in more of a downwards direction overall.
  2. SANITY: Leaving gaps. This one is very dependent on our joint finances – since the pandemic started, I’ve been the only earner in our household, and I’ve needed to take every bit of paying work I can find to keep money coming in – and even that isn’t enough. But two of my jobs are due to run out at the end of March at this point, and after then I don’t plan to replace them unless I really really have to (and if I have to, then I’ll be needing to pause the PhD) because until the Christmas ‘break’, I hadn’t really had any space in which to compose or really work on my PhD in months and often I haven’t even been able to take weekends like I was during the summer. It’s neither healthy nor helpful, and I need to find a way back to creating space for these important things that keep me happy and sane. This has been a serious problem all year. I’m still trying to clean up things that got in a mess while I was finishing up my AFHEA while trying to manage the aftermath of an eye injury, but I feel like I’m able to find moments of breathing space and be a bit more aware of when I really need to rest and then do something about it. So not quite a win, but not as horrific as it was in, say, around March 2021!
  3. WORK: Obtain my AFHEA status. This is underway, but the course is a metric smegtonne of work and so far I’ve not been keeping up with it particularly well. I need to make more of an effort for it, and ensure that I’m managing the minimum required to complete the course and gain the qualification. Preferably without exploding. DONE! Oh thank God for that. I feel I’m a better teacher for it, which I’m very grateful for because the course itself was HELL. I have never experienced a course that I genuinely regularly felt I would be better off abandoning, but I made it through and now I have that qualification. Yay!
  4. WORK: Regular writing time. I’ve just put in my 1-year plan that I want to have all the main sections of the thesis roughed out to at least first draft by the end of 2021. To do this, I’ll need to be writing regularly. I feel the minimum really should be two 2-hour writing sessions a week, with a better goal to be writing four or five times a week. If I aim to attend at least one of the weekly Online Writing Retreat sessions and/or the Bristol sessions, plus a weekend session, that should work well to structure this. *Hollow laughter*
  5. FINANCES: Stay afloat! This might not sound like much of a goal, but speaking from a point where our investments have dropped in value and no longer even cover most of the mortgage, J’s been unable to find work for the past four years because of Brexit uncertainty, the government apparently thinks we should fuck off and die because we don’t have 19th-century-style-‘proper’-jobs, and me and my four casual jobs are really all the income we have and only cover food, utilities & uni fees, staying afloat and not losing the house would be an amazing achievement. WE’RE STILL HERE!!! I managed to get pretty much my dream job – 2 days a week, flexible time, work from home, working in research in academia – so I now have a pretty stable income as a base at least. I still have additional jobs, but J’s been starting to get nibbles about jobs in the past couple of months, so that’s definitely an improvement over the practically zero jobs to be had that has characterised the past few years for him.
  6. HEALTH: More exercise. Over the course of the pandemic I’ve managed to take this from about 2,500 steps a day to nearly 4,500. My average when travelling is around 6,000 a day, and I’d like to be able to replicate this without actually going anywhere. This has fluctuated a bit – and went massively backwards over the awful summer. Winter has become challenging mostly because with my different commitments, getting out in the daytime is quite hard, but the good citizens of G seem to have forgotten how to drive and I’ve almost been run over a couple of times now trying to cross the road, which is limiting my paths and makes it a bit hard to do the longer circuits I want to do without doubling back. Working on it still.
  7. WORK: Continue creating work for online. This area REALLY interests me, especially finding ways to create live online performances that aren’t just standing in front of a camera on Zoom or other livestreaming platform. In 2020 there’s been precious little time for creating new pieces, and Haydn Space Opera has taken a lot of brain space. In 2021, I want to ensure that piece gets launched, I want to experiment with the Hydra idea I had recently and try incorporating projection, I want to play with the possibilities of Zoom more – try working with us each doing different things, or the same thing from different distances/angles, etc. There’s so much possibility in this field and I really want to take advantage of the opportunity to push some boundaries. Launched Haydn Space Opera at SparkFest, then it was also selected later in the year for Electric Medway and was also promoted during the Music and/as Process Networked Collaborative Processes conference which I presented at with Josh. I finally finished the first set of walks videos, and applied for an Electric Medway commission to work on the next two sets, which I got and did. Now working (slowly) on a fourth set. I’m still interested in working with live internet work (and taught a workshop and a lecture on this during the year, as well as launching a wiki about techniques for doing this) but time’s been so short… will get back to it one day!
  8. RELATIONSHIPS: Keep calling my parents once a week. This has been working well over lockdown, and when I plan for it, it also helps me to carve out a non-work day in the week, so it has multiple benefits. Yes, this has worked very well and is now a regular habit.
  9. SANITY: Tidiness. This one’s pretty much a straight transfer from last year. The book I mentioned then was useful for helping me change my thinking about housework from “if I’m going to do it, I need to do it all” to “better is enough”. The idea of doing 25 minutes’ tidying/cleaning every day was working really well for a while there and there was even an occasion when a friend came to stay and I didn’t need to run round like a mad chicken preparing and I also didn’t feel I needed to apologise for all the horror!!! It was an amazing feeling and I want to get back to that. The big problem with this is really that I still feel put-upon because while J agrees with the principle, he doesn’t follow through in practice, so I feel that I’m doing everything to keep the place nice and he’s just doing the bare minimum of what can’t be avoided. I honestly don’t know how to fix this. I’ve been trying to overcome it for literally years. But the 25 minutes a day does help to keep things nice and to keep me calm, so clearly that’s something I need to do for me and then maybe I’ll find a way to get him to get involved at least one day a week perhaps? Um… the house is a total disaster. The work situation and still being the only person who regularly looks about and says “that’s a bit of a mess, I’ll clean it up” means that pretty much no housework is being done beyond the absolute basics. Still WANT to do this though.
  10. SANITY: Clothes. While I said in my sewing plan that I don’t have any particularly ambitious plans for this year, I feel that in 2020 clothes have been a bit of a point of stress for me. In particular, my spiralling weight has made me feel very self-conscious of wearing anything fitted, and when I do wear older clothes (that previously rated as ‘nice tops’ or whatever) I’m physically uncomfortable where they are too snug and my self-esteem takes a bit of a hit. Which then has knock-on effects for mental health, eating patterns, sleep, energy levels and general quality of life. So while I don’t plan to sew a lot this year, I want to consider carefully the garments that I’m making – are they going to be comfortable and make me feel better about myself and be able to focus on what needs to be done? Are they going to be low-maintenance (not need ironing!) so I can wear them without faff? So I want to choose my projects carefully, and also try to keep projects ticking along with a little bit of work each week to avoid the back problems which come from sitting for long periods of time in the studio (at least until we get the floor fixed!). Literally the only thing I made in 2021 was a disastrous attempt at replicating a simple strappy top I own. The pattern worked out fine, but my walking foot had broken, which stretched out the back neckline, then the needle broke off in the machine and when we got it out, I couldn’t get a needle to stay in, had to get the sewing machine repair guy in to fix it and buy a new walking foot. Tried to use J’s mother’s machine to finish it but it seems it’s not good for jersey (it’s from the 60s) and everything stretched out all over the place, so it’s unwearable except as a pyjama underlayer. I cut out the pieces for a new Blair Adventure mashup top, and the outer layer pieces for the woolish jacket I was going to make are all ready to go. And I cut out almost all of a pair of Pietra pants (finally) but then discovered that there wasn’t quite enough fabric to also cut out the long pocket panel, and I don’t have anything appropriate to supplement it with in my stash. ARGH. So everything got scuppered by a lack of time and mechanical failures. Needless to say, there’ll be no sewing post summing up 2020…

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