Six weeks away makes for a lot of news, but I have to say that most of it occurred within the last fortnight. For most of my health scare absolutely nothing distracted me from worry, which I was relieved about in some ways as I had very little of myself to give to other thorny problems, but it did rather leave me eyeballing anxiety without respite. As I came closer to a conclusion so life began to pick up her skirts and run, with the result that last week felt quite chaotic.
The first thing you should know is that I have now officially changed my job. I am, alas, no longer lecturer in French and I was sorry to say goodbye to the good times with Camus and Proust and Colette and all. We’ve had a blast for the past decade. But it was time for a change and I couldn’t have gone back to the relentless pace of my old job. I put down my recovery from chronic fatigue to the fact that I now rarely do more than a quarter of what I used to do daily as a university teacher. Instead I have moved into the brand new area of learning support, so new in fact to my college that no one knows yet what to call me. I was delighted to do this because I love taking on things that haven’t been done before, and I particularly like helping the students who are having a bit of a struggle, for whatever reason it may be. Only once I had happily agreed to it did I begin to realise the strength of opposition to learning support within the fellowship. Fortunately, one of my friends and colleagues in law wrote me a detailed email outlining all his concerns and dislikes which, because he is my friend and a polite person, had the beauty of clarity and concision without the need for personal attack. This was immensely helpful as I could then start to consider tactics for neutralising the various insecurities festering in the fellowship; what looks like support to the students can seem (in the wrong light) like a reproach to their teachers. As I have to arrange brand new study skills days for the incoming freshers, I’ve had a good opportunity to start on some major diplomacy; I need to work closely with my colleagues at all times if any of this is going to be actually useful. I’m very excited about next year, which will be experimental for all concerned and should be quite an adventure. The only problem is that I moved out of my old college rooms and now that I find I can keep them, I can’t face carting all the books back…..
My son is certainly moving deeper into adolescent territory. I’ve had it relatively easy so far, I think, but he had a big meltdown this week about being bored. I struggle to help him with this as I never had a day’s boredom on holiday in my life. In fact, my life has been one long progression towards winning back as much time as possible in which to read and thus recreate the holiday atmosphere. He resolutely refuses to do sport (although we have dug out the exercise bike and promised to set ourselves a goal of 100 miles to reach – alas I am failing him in this challenge), has never particularly liked doing art, will only read at bedtime and has zero interest in constructing anything. He likes having friends around and playing computer games and at the moment he’s a bit bored with both. Or it may simply be existential despair. ‘It’s just that I can see how everything is going to turn out!’ he wailed to me. ‘I know how it’s going to be, I’ve done everything I ever want to do!’ The irrationality of these sentences should have given me a clue, but no, I moved into the wrong gear and attempted to fix the problem. Not one of my finer maternal interventions. I should just have listened to him and let him get all his feelings out and then tried for a solution another day. It certainly seems to me that the older children become, the more you have to listen and the less you must try to fix. But the old habits do die hard. And if anyone has a bright idea for occupying a 13-year-old, I’d love to hear it.
I also heard back from my agent last week who was extremely good about balancing encouragement and critique but who had the kind of criticisms to give that require a major overhaul of the chapters I’d written and my concept of the book. What was most galling was that she was absolutely right. She pointed out that I didn’t have a strong enough spine to my material, the kind of coherent concept that will underlie everything I write and orient the trajectory of the book. And she’s perfectly correct, any book falls to pieces without one. When I wrote my chapters I was having a lot of fun with the material, but fun alone doth not a book make. So once I had stopped sighing and mentally kicking the cat, I settled down to think about this in an orderly fashion. I need to figure out what it is that I most want to write about, what, amongst all the possible aspects and perspectives on motherhood, is the one that really fascinates and motivates me, not what fits in with the material I’ve got, not what I think might sell, but where the heart of the matter is for me. Of course this is much easier said than done. The other thing I need to do (not for the spine of the book, but as a consequence of it) is to speak more from personal experience but I have some difficulties with this, not least because academics are strictly forbidden from doing so in their writing. I’ve written about my life occasionally on this blog (most notably of late) and I’m always surprised and hugely gratified that people are interested and even appreciative, but when I go to translate this into a broader context and a longer work, I find it hard to do. A little while back I got excited about writing a piece for LiteraryMama, in which I discussed my experience of motherhood and creativity, but when I came to do it I wrote a few pages and wasn’t thrilled with the result. And then the medical drama intervened so I let it drop. I need to figure out why something that’s so easy to do in this context becomes so very difficult in a different one. These are tricky questions to which I require good answers, as I do not think it wise to test my agent’s patience. She has been very astute and now the ball is firmly in my court.
So, whilst I am still convalescing from the undeniable toll big life events extract from one’s wellbeing, I’m carefully planning diplomatic sorties into the sparsely populated academic jungle (everyone’s in hiding from admin over the summer months and I don’t blame them), trying to figure out what best to do with this new breed of child, the adolescent, and struggling to solve structural difficulties in my writing with the intriguing pressure of not wanting to miss a career opportunity. But however complex the next few weeks look, they are infinitely better than the ones I’ve just had. Thank goodness these problems are not life threatening, lie (theoretically, at any rate) within my zone of competence, and allow you to get it wrong a few times before you get it right. I’ll take that over medical testing any day.