What fills the stomach

When I last wrote, I was striving to get back into the groove of writing, concerned that – for the moment anyway – that the knack had deserted me. I set myself to knuckle down. In the couple of days since then, I’ve done just that.

At first, it was hard. I had a piece of writing which was the basis of what I wanted, but it was flat reading. I feel as if I took a hammer to that and rather than smashing it into pieces and doing it again, I cracked it instead and through the cracks, I was able to inject some life and light. It took me a full day to do that. At the end of it, I wasn’t convinced, but I was a lot happier than before. I shared it with a friend who regularly reads for me. He’s supportive, but always honest in his appraisals. This time he came back to me and said it was great. I don’t recall feeling as relieved as I did then reading his feedback. It was a form of validation, and since then, the writing has been going strong. I feel as if I’ve got a clear idea where the story is going, and how to write it.

I’m happy with this development, but it’s thrown into a relief a sense, or feeling, that’s been creeping up on me for the last ten days or so. Like a lot of these things do, it started in the stomach. I was turning up each day and putting in my shift. I was busy and productive, and in-between times I did the other things I’ve come to enjoy so much – walking the dog, cooking, attending to small domestic duties. But while I was enjoying large parts of the WFH experience, I was starting to believe – or feel, really, it wasn’t intellectual – that while work may occasionally deceive, it couldn’t fulfil me.

This comes as no great surprise. It’s been an underlying theme for the last 18 months or so. What’s different this time is that it comes on the back of a hectic period when I was called upon to do my best. For a while, it was invigorating. It reminded me of old times, indeed, of old H. But then I found afterwards that I took only small satisfaction from it. I was being applauded and feted, and couldn’t care less. I got called a superstar. I did an interview for the company newsletter, and though it was a story I wanted to tell, I shrank from the attention. Not because I was shy or bashful, but because it seemed such an inconsequential thing.

I’m one of those old school characters who generally will shrug off attention like this as ‘just doing my job’. Sometimes you go beyond that and fair enough, and plenty of times in the past I’ve felt chuffed at what I’ve achieved and my ego inflates correspondingly. It feels a personal thing often, though – you didn’t do it for the attention or the claps on the back, you didn’t even do it for the opportunities it might afford you, you did it because it was there and either you beat it or it beat you. That’s not something you ever wanted to explain, but you would feel it and let it carry you along until the next challenge. Except, this time, it paled very quickly.

I accept now that I’m never going to have the same drive or passion as I did before. It’s just work. It’s pride that keeps me going, that and the prospect of a better job and more money. I’m not in it though, and never will be again.

I’m in other things. My writing, for one. And maybe a way of living and thinking. This lockdown has highlighted that for me, and others too, I think. I wonder how we’ll manage going back to work and reckon a lot of us will struggle.

I was in a Zoom party on Friday night and someone said they hope the lockdown goes on a bit longer because they don’t want to go back to work yet. Someone else agreed. I said nothing but thought the same. We all miss the social aspects lockdown has kept us from, but we’ve discovered other things in their place. We’ve found working from home is quite effective, and that in staying close to home and family we’ve re-discovered the small things that make life rich in its entirety.

This is a net positive if we can make it stick. At the same time, I wonder how many have re-appraised their relationship to the job. For me, it’s a re-alignment I think I must finally accept. I’ve been stubbornly believing if just this or that changed, then I’d be back to where I was before. I know that’s not the case, now. Perhaps I should just let it go, though my ego, pricked, struggles with that sometimes. But yes, I should let it go. At the same time, I must get closer to what does matter to me.

The funny thing is, when I get out of this, I want to live big. It seems counter to what I’ve just been saying, but I mean it in a basic sense. If I were to express it simply, I want to laugh more. I want to share quality time with my friends and, I want to travel again, but with this perspective. I want to go large on the things that bring joy. And I have to contrive a way to do more of what really makes me content – the small life I’ve been living: cooking, writing, reading, thinking.


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