Tiny hygge jam jar

I used to find minimalism boring and pretentious-white walls, empty rooms, perfect lines, abstract art. But that is the concept taken to its extreme. I’ve been gradually decluttering our lives over the past couple of years. This new year my mission has been to perma-declutter the kitchen food and cookware cupboards, to reduce the time I spend meal planning, ordering food, and cooking, to reduce food waste, to more easily stick to an exact budget, and to eat more healthily through the ultimate weekly meal plan.

Decluttering every space in the house is a continuous process of shedding, of wittling down to those things I’m not prepared to live without. The kids’ toys are hardest. The idea is that when you live with less, you want less, and so spend less money. Cleaning and tidying is easier, so you can spend more time on the things you love. Minimalism also has the benefit of making moving and relocating easier. We’d be able to choose a smaller house despite intending on a fourth kid. And if we ever reduced as far as a camper van’s worth of stuff, we could travel as a family without even leaving a storage unit behind.

So I’m going to look into building a tiny house. It’s a thing. But I don’t know where people put their homes. On land they own? Or not?

Yea it doesn’t sound very appealing with two adults and four kids. But there might be something in it. A self-build might be easier on us than another renovation. It will certainly be cheaper initially and to run. It would force us to sustain a minimalist low impact lifestyle. Better for the planet. Not spending money on things for the house. We’d have options. We’d be free, free even to roam, but we’d have a base, we could still be rooted.

Everything in pursuit of the dream. And if the dream is freedom…

I’ll never paint my walls white, or stop making a soft cosy candlelit nest, but I’m willing to let go of almost all of my possessions, to get closer to nature, the people around me, and maybe we’d find an inner peace in the tiny. Less is more.

~J

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From France to an MA

What’s an MA in Philosophy and the Arts got to do with the dream?

B | I wanted so badly to escape to France. But it’s clear now that my real ambition, the force that’s really driving me is not to insulate myself from the world but to engage in it. For what I want to do, this demands a platform – and while successful writers are often given platforms from which to make an impact I can’t afford to simply hope that success finds me. Doing an MA is the first step in taking control of reaching the platform I want.

Irish President Higgins on World Philosophy Day 2016 said ‘Teach philosophy to heal our ‘post-truth’ society, because philosophers are more important now than they have ever been’. I’m taking that to heart by becoming a philosopher myself and aiming to inspire more critically thinking philosophers from my own children to outreach in schools to the students I hope to tutor.

J~ We had to move to France for a lifestyle that allowed Ben to write to explore and express his fascinations, his obsessions, his theories, his emotions. And not have to write for money. Because what Ben has to say is too important to be encumbered by that concern. Words are powerful. Stories inspire and move and motivate. Poetry is art. Writing is political. The more personally raw the more universally human. Ben has a truth only he can share, and so we are committing again to lives that allow for the fulfilment of what will amount to the only life worth living. The best life we can make for ourselves. The absolute dream life.

The exciting thing about this MA, the PhD and being at Warwick is becoming part of an intellectual community where the issues I think are important are discussed as a matter of course, not now and then or as a response to news, but actively explored.

B | Fulling my purpose. Following my calling. These were the goals we had all that time ago and in the end France was simply the machinery that made reaching them possible. Now that machinery looks very different, but the ambition remains the same and although the trajectory we’re going to take is far more conventional (conventional for us, at least) there’s no room for compromise on what we’re working to achieve, the lives we’re striving to make for each of us.

My goal is that the MA will give me the grounding in philosophy I need to hone my thesis at PhD level, and then move into an interdisciplinary academic philosophy role which I can use to pursue and raise the profile of my thesis and as a platform to raise interest in philosophy.

J~ This is an easier path for me than France. As much work, but more of the mind than body. Less work apart from each other, more together. That’s part of the dream too, being a team, and the only way we come up with every idea and plan that gets us closer to it. 48 hour intense planning, brainstorming, writing, editing sessions. The neverending TALKING. It’s always exciting, always nerve wracking, always tiring, always totally the right thing to do.

At the moment philosophy has an image of being literally academic, not relevant, and not part of the real world. I want to revitalise the understanding that philosopher means lover of knowledge, not holder of knowledge. I want to inspire the love of knowledge in people because that way we solve or pre-empt so many problems which are right there right now.

B | I think it’s a harder path for me. It demands more of me. It’s the truer option. But that’s why I’ll live without the sun, without the Pyrenees, even though the idea of the idyllic French life was so wonderful. In the end it’s a path we are choosing to take us closer to our own identity and integrity. It’s the path that will make the most of what we can do together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Tidying

Days at home without Ben used to feel so long. I’ve spent the morning cuddling and kissing Libby and now I’m watching Cali play with her baby dolls and listening to her sing. There is so much we want to accomplish as a family that we have to focus, be decisive and commit to the things we know make us happy, to spend our time wisely. That’s how we get our dream life and why it’s in our hands. This new year we are taking every opportunity to declutter our options, our heads, and our schedule. And it feels just as liberating and uplifting as organising the house, room by room, drawer by drawer.

It’s only a tiny bit scary to ruthlessly cleave away anything that can’t fight for its survival. Because by focusing down we are removing what could be opportunities, things that once gone may never return. But what if they’re not real options but just chaff weighing us down, limiting our potential, productivity and progress.

Case in point – Ben redefining himself as a ‘poet’ no longer as a ‘writer’

What a relief to us both to keep only the most exciting aspect of the notebooks full of scribbled ideas – the ideas themselves – that can all find life in poetry…and jettison the slog of novel writing

Case in point – Ben trusting an instinct that Philosophy is the academic discipline he belongs in

The hours of researching departmental research interests and vetting potential supervisors saved, the shortlist of universities instantly so much shorter

We’ve never had three children before, we’ve never both been self-employed working from home before, and we’ve never had a housework rota or a routine for the kids before. But now, to maintain order and to appreciate and support the efforts in cleaving, we will all really benefit from a structure to our days. Everything, even this blogging session has a place in the schedule, so that we both feel what we want to acheive in our days and weeks is possible, and in turn so that we do acheive what we want to acheive this year. It’s the first Monday on the schedule, and we’re loving it. Everyone’s cup can be filled. No one has to feel chained to the baby, or the kitchen sink, or beholden to the needs of others. We can be a 2017 dream team, now with added baby. And we’re already making so much progress and feeling so productive, for a couple of messy, chaotic, idle, last-minute, non-finishers.

~J

 

 

About 12 months ago I walked out to a sky like this…

Clear, bright, so much to see. Orion laid out as if it’s meant to be that way and not just some coincidental arrangement of stars. That night the universe was opened up right in front of me and I searched it for a suggestion that things would work out, that our plans for 2016 were going to come through. When I did hear something back it was my voice, me saying we were going to do it, we were going to make it happen. That was my mantra all through the early part of the year. On this night there was no echo of that epiphany, but only because I have no doubts. That version didn’t happen but there are so many things we have now because we committed to trying – leaving behind a job that I was terrible at, that was hurting me, freeing myself for a path that offers so many opportunities to find out what I want to commit to. We haven’t ended up where we wanted to but we are closer, we are closer to making something special happen and when you have a night sky as bright and as clear as this and you’re surrounded by so many stars and so much possibility it’s not hard to believe that anything is possible; and that we can do anything we commit to so long as we have that direction, keep going after that dream. Even if that dream takes longer, looks different than it did under that night sky 12 months ago. Because the reason that I turned to the stars, the reason I went searching for something to believe in, some sign or foundation to put my faith in, was that doing this is a daily, hourly challenge. Pushing for something special, something different, something that you can’t simply wait to be served up for you, it takes a level of arrogance and confidence and self-belief that I didn’t really have back then. I went looking for a galactic billboard telling me I was doing the right thing. And of course it was there, in the constellations, in the moon, in the deep and unreachable blackness of space – all real things, all realities that make the regular and the commonplace utterly irrelevant. Insignificant. And of course it was there in my own voice as the only reply from the cosmic vastness – my resolve. Tonight I looked up and was reminded as ever of the miracle of our hurtling through the solar system tethered to the back of a lump of rock, twinned neatly with another lump whose smaller size only emphasises our own minuscule existence. We shouldn’t be here, but we are. Perhaps things shouldn’t be as good for us as they are right now, but they are. I wish things had turned out the way we’d hoped, but they didn’t. But I don’t need evidence from the universe that I’m doing the right thing, that we are doing the right thing to be keeping on trying to make something happen, to not sigh and accept that things didn’t work out so let’s just go back to how things were. We couldn’t go back and we wouldn’t. I don’t need the night sky. No matter how beautiful. The only thing I need in order to believe that committing to what we’re trying to do is right is the fact of what we’ve managed so far.

| B

Interplanetary travellers inc.

J~ It’s been the best year, full of excitement and contentment, yet the year of the biggest disappointments, the most extreme near-misses, of the unexpected, but above all else a year of total commitment

B| For me the year began with a plan to take us away from all the things that didn’t fit with our lives – production-line education, small-mindedness, skewed values – for the opportunity to embrace so many things that did

J~ On the eve of a new year my emotions are confused and conflicted. I feel sad, I feel like I have lost something. But we have gained so much self-understanding, and never stopped progressing our ideas, and digging deeper into our hearts’ ambitions.

B| What I didn’t expect was that in the process of everything we’d hoped for coming up nought I would actually feel as though I had still gained something special. This year has been a kick in the teeth and I find myself grieving regularly for how our lives might have been, but the feeling I’m left with at the end of the year is hope not sadness.

J~ I wouldn’t want to change the way events played out this year. I’m grateful for the twists and turns and the silver linings we are left with. I’m grateful for the lessons. I feel humbled by the inability to force things to go our way. We have so much. Even more than we asked for.

B| Our lives are definitively better now than they were 12 months ago, and that’s not a coincidence, it’s not just the way things turned out. It’s a direct result of us commiting wholeheartedly to pursuing a dream, and the life I’m living now is as much a dream life as the French version would have been. Only admittedly with fewer mountains and less sun.

J~ I don’t feel embarrassed of our loss. We’re onto the new plan for 2017. I should feel excited by the new challenges ahead. I should feel confident that at the end of next year, I’ll feel we have yet more than even now. That we’ll be even happier. Because we’ll have lived a year steering our destiny, carving our lives into the shapes we want them to be. I have the energy, but I suspect I haven’t fully let go of this year’s dream.

B| Regardless of what we do next or where we go and irrespective of the challenges and tragedies of this year I’m still proud of the last 12 months. I’m proud of the things we did and the things we tried to make happen and the discoveries we’ve made along the way. Because it isn’t now a matter of returning to some kind of normal existence, that’s no longer an option for us and nor would we want it to be. 2016 may have hurt but that’s what shedding an old used up and redundant skin should feel like. We’ll never be the same again and that’s something to be very happy about.

 

Dear Liberty

Dear Liberty,

Here I am finally writing to you after 9 months of preparation and excitement and questions and waiting. Preparing for you has been an entirely different experience to Seb and Cali. We now have two little people who have been running around as we built the house we live in – Seb learnt to crawl on makeshift carpet and concrete, while Cal and him only got their own room just before you were conceived – and as you started rolling and kicking around inside your mummy, and so everything has been different as we’ve anticipated you joining our moon unit, our crazy Catley-Richardson team. And your birth is going to be entirely different too, we hope, because mummy will have the chance to bring you into the world at home, which I think is one of her greatest dreams.
Dreams are so important to us. I am the worst of us for making our dreams wobble, for saying that things aren’t possible, for bursting your mummy’s bubble when she’s trying to build something new and exciting in our lives – but fortunately when we all work as a team my negativity is always beaten by our hope and our power to make things happen. This year we dreamed the biggest dream of all, a move to France that would have changed every part of our lives and given you and your siblings (how awesome is it to say siblings!) an entirely different future – and while you grew bigger and bigger we built our dream bigger and bigger. We put our heart and soul into making it happen. Your name is even part of our celebrating the dream, making it part of all of our lives.
Our France dream faded away, in the end. But it doesn’t matter, because in you we always had a special dream of the next brilliant person to join our family. There have been many hard parts to this year but you have always been a wonderful centre to our world, the wonder of your growing and becoming a tiny human being, the wonder of what we’ll see in you of us and how your own personality will flourish – as it already has done even while you’ve been in the womb. You’ve had your bit to say in our important decisions, our big conversations, and always made yourself a part of whatever was going on.
And now we have more excitement, with a new dream on the horizon. But none of the novelty of our changing lives will ever overshadow how miraculous you are and how important your own self is to the family that we’ve asked for you to be a part of. Your name might have come from a dream that’s no longer with us, but the deeper and more poignant meaning of Liberty will be, like you, a light that will burn brightly in our lives forever, always reminding us of the special things we believe in and hold to our hearts to be true. I hope that’s not too much pressure to put on your little shoulders, but I’m sure that rather than make you feel burdened the power of your name will make you feel special, reminding you of our love and the love you bring. We’ve always wanted your names to be your superpowers.
Our questions have been part of our discovery of you – would you be a boy? No! Would mummy be able to have the home birth she’d dreamed of? It looks like it! Are you going to be like Seb, or like Cal? We hope you’ll be entirely your own person; in fact we already know it to be true because during your first scan you made a body-popping sort of move that made an impact even on the nurse helping us! Would you be breech? Perhaps you liked being as close to mummy as you could be, but thank you so much for turning around at just the right time! And now, finally, when are you going to be here? Because we can’t wait any longer!
Writing to you I end up writing about me, about your brother and sister (squee!) and about your mummy. Perhaps with you I’ve not managed to get to know you as much as I should have done before you were born or as much as I maybe did with Cal or Seb, although my letter to Cal was written at about the same time as yours is now! Mummy gets very disappointed in me when I’m not engaged as she is or as I should be, which is hard to hear but good for me because I can always get closer. Just because you’re not born isn’t the reason, either, as sometimes I let Seb and Cal down too even though they are right here in front of me.
What I do know about you, though, already makes me proud to be your father. You are already so very special, so different and distinctive, we already have our unique memories that are only about you and you’ve already made yourself a real part of our dreams and our lives. I can’t imagine how you’ll look or what you’ll do when you get here. I only know that I can’t wait, that we’re all so excited to meet you (especially Cal and Seb who will love having a baby!) and I know that you’re going to make our lives so much bigger, so much better and so much more fun.
All my love, all my heart is yours. Come on and join the party!
Daddy

Same dream but different

Our dreams are rooted in who we are most fundamentally, but the plans we evolve and adapt to reach the essential dream life are always changing, always flowing. You’d have to get an update on our thinking every single day to ever be caught up, which I’m sure would be exhausting and infuriating. We probably come across as flakey chronic non-finishers; over-ambitious over-optimistic over-sharers. We can always be counted on to have news. To be making changes just when we seem the most settled.

Things are going well for us. We don’t need an escape route. But for us, with the privilege of freedom, of choice, comes a responsibility to live the best lives we can. Not just for ourselves, or our family, but as far as the wider world is concerned. With the niggling feeling you are meant for one vocation in life, a calling that you can never quiet or dampen that returns in ever clearer and louder epiphanies, comes the responsibility to fulfil that purpose. It’s no longer a dream, it’s a duty, a moral imperative. Especially when that calling has the potential to help others.

And that’s where this whole project started. How to free up Ben to be a full-time writer, not to make a living, but to share the talent he shared with me the day I met him, with generations to come. No matter what my own career path, I always thought I’d make a good vicar’s wife, a better politician’s wife than a politician. A benevolent Lady Macbeth. So my part in this dream has always been supporting. Mom too. We see Ben’s genius and we believe in him. He’s a sure thing to follow, anywhere in the world. Even though he’s full of paralysing self-doubt and so prone to self-sabotage.

I didn’t give my PhD up to become a Mum. Meeting Ben helped me to accept that academia wasn’t my true calling. From day one Ben was my dream guy because he was my equal in every way. After 6 years of intellectual growth and debate, of listening to him piece ideas together and identify patterns in everything from human behaviour to linguistics, of watching him become more politicised, more humanist, more confident in his opinions and being so proud of his unwavering passion, only now do we both realise, academia might not have been my path, but it could be his.

After longing to be a full-time writer for so many years, the recent reality of finding a way to earn money through writing while personal writing projects are still pushed into the margins has proven wide of the mark. That’s not the dream. The dream is not possible where writing is tied to money. The act of writing is not in itself enjoyable for Ben. It is the act of creation, of expression, of sharing through writing, and then talking about that writing that is the dream. And that’s not greed or ungratefulness, it’s just a fact.

There has been a common thread to all his half-written poems, screen-plays, non-fiction and novellas since I met him. One question he has been grappling with and wanting to discuss and express creatively through his writing most of his life. And that is Human identity. Over recet weeks we’ve easily been able to refine a research question for a doctoral thesis that would offer a way to delve into everything that Ben is fascinated by, and a way to focus his magnificent magpie mind. It’s an elegant solution to his predicament. He can never turn his calling into a hobby. And he can never settle for a job that happens to involve the act of writing.

And it’s a solution that could work for all of us. We could live anywhere in the world there is an English-speaking university philosophy department. We could move from country to country every four or five years if we wanted to, giving our children the education of the real world we so want for them. Instead of writers around the dinner table on retreat with us, we’d welcome in students and fellow academics, for our children to benefit from the intellectual community we have always yearned for. It would be an adventure but it would actually be a far more sensible option than B&B in France. Giving us much more financial security and probably a better quality of life, no matter where we lived.

Right now, the idea’s perfect.

But Ben has never thought of himself as intellectual. He’s not sure he’s good enough or that there’s even any point to pursuing his research question. He needs to commit to the plan. He needs to believe in himself.

~J