Life A review of the year would be easy, of course. I’ve had a really full year. It started with health worries (physical and mental, and the physical health worries have seen me have LOTS of blood tests, plus an x-ray and not one but two MRI scans), joblessness, plus really struggling on the musical circuit after a busy Christmas (I’m in a musical duo). It’s ended with a diagnosis which isn’t nearly as scary as I’d feared, passing a course which has landed me a wonderful job (still waiting for the paperwork, but it should start soon), and taken in getting married (that musical duo? The other half of it is my husband) along the way. So yes, a simple old review of my year would be easy to write; it would have sorrow and joy and a happy ending.
However, Stuart doesn’t want a plain old review of the year, of course not. What’s the one thing, he asks, that I think everyone should know? Well, I’m a pretty opinionated person, so there’s an awful lot I think people should know, although this year I think I’ve finally learned that not everyone needs my opinions as much as I sometimes think they do.
In fact, I’ve learned such a lot this year.
Musically, we started the year a bit miserably. We’d had several amazing gigs at some well-known Liverpool venues at Christmas, which we thought had gone very well. At one, people even danced around in the freezing air, glasses of mulled cider in hand. At another, people clapped along to a mediaeval carol I was singing, getting faster and faster until I could barely keep up with them… but somehow I did. But then came January and neither of those venues replied to our requests to play again. Another venue asked us to play. We said yes, but they never replied to our “when?” Then a month later said they’d discussed it with their regulars and actually, they didn’t want “alternative” music there. Another venue said we weren’t a style they were looking for. Yet another venue booked act after act at their live music showcase once a week but when we asked for a gig we were told “we’ll bear you in mind” (as far as I know, we’re still being borne in mind). I felt miserable. In terms of people listening to our music (at that time, we had a handful of home-recorded demos online) we didn’t seem to be doing that much better either. We’d promote our music on twitter but our followers (which at that point seemed to be made up largely of other bands) didn’t retweet, or reply that they’d listened, despite the fact we’d listened to their music. We’d tweet and tweet and tweet about our music but when even long-term friends didn’t listen or comment, it started to feel a bit hurtful.
I wanted to give up music. Maybe I wasn’t musical at all. Maybe I should go back to poetry.
But then after talking with Marc (my musical and now marital other half) we decided to take it back to what we really liked and how we’d started out; just performing, at open mics, for the love of it. Not trying to make people love us, just writing and performing songs because we wanted to. In fact, we only contacted one place that spring to ask for a gig, and that was because it was a place I’d loved since I was much younger (the Bombed Out Church in Liverpool) and the thought of performing there made me excited and nervous. After every open mic event we wrote a little piece on our blog about what we’d loved, and what we’d learned. As for twitter, I stopped being so arrogant as to expect quid pro quo. I just followed more of the bands who made the kind of music I loved, and listened to it, and tweeted about it, without ever expecting them to listen to our music. Occasionally, if I knew someone had downloaded our music before, I’d ask them for their opinion on new stuff, but I stopped expecting people to listen just because they were friends.
And gigs did happen. We played the Bombed Out Church three times this year (four if you count our wedding), in fact, as they kept inviting us back! Word seemed to get out, and we got asked to play at several festivals, and even accompany a lantern parade and fire jugglers! My favourite musical thing of this year though was when Brighton indie/folk-pop band The Beautiful Word – gorgeous harmonies, imaginative arrangements, thoughtful lyrics – asked us if we’d play a set to open their gig with Wrexham’s finest noise-pop enthusiasts, Baby Brave, at Liverpool’s Sound Food and Drink! But here’s the thing; we were going to go to the gig anyway, as The Beautiful Word are one of my favourite ever bands (first saw them at a festival in 2012 and was blown away). We weren’t being cynical … in fact we didn’t even ask, we wouldn’t have dreamt of it… we just loved their music, and were honoured when they asked if we’d open with a set.
This year, of course, also saw Marc proposing to me. I am divorced from my first husband, and I was awfully cynical about the idea of getting married. I’d told Marc this, in fact, not long before we moved in together. The idea of marriage felt confining; the tradition was age-old and came with a solid, straight set of expectations. But, still being cynical, if anything happened to me, marriage would be more likely to mean my son could still see his stepdad, plus at that point, I was jobless, with some kind of undiagnosed, potentially long-term health condition and marriage was a big rubber stamp that said “security” on it.
I didn’t know what I would do if Marc proposed, and then he did. And it wasn’t cynicism or security that went through my mind at that point, but the realisation that I loved him completely, and woolly though that sounds now, at the time it was enough to make me say “yes” (and then ask a lot of questions about how it would work).
We got married in September this year, but it took some doing, and en route included: a visit to a village priest (my husband is a Catholic, and I an agnostic divorcee. To say the visit was unfruitful is a massive understatement), my dream wedding dress not arriving less than a week before the big day and me having to find a different dress at the last minute, and of course, the threat of our chosen venue (the Bombed Out Church, naturally) being closed down. Thankfully, that didn’t happen; people pulled together and donated to a crowdfunder to keep this much loved arts site, community space, live music venue and war memorial open. So many people love the Bombed Out Church that not only has it stayed open, but it also seems now to have on even more events than ever before. As for the dress, I wore a simple white robe rather than the full-on Snow Queen-esque gown that I’d planned to wear, and it didn’t matter, nor did it matter that we didn’t have the official blessing of the Catholic church; we entwined secular and pantheistic elements with Christian in our bespoke ceremony, and a prayer from a nun for good measure. Oh, and on the way to the wedding I bumped into my favourite ever band on Bold Street, and if that wasn’t a good omen, I don’t know what is.
And then there was my job. I lost my job in March 2013. I’d been in an administrative job I didn’t really enjoy but the hours fitted in perfectly with school drop off and pick up times; as a single parent, living on the dole was very hard. I did a bit of typing from home and in fact, disclosing this to the job centre resulted in nasty letters. Marc moved in with me, and we managed to get by on the one salary. I decided that it was time to do something I’d always wanted to do but never quite got around to; work with children. I started a course to train to be a teaching assistant, and volunteered in my son’s school. I loved it; I am impatient and easily stressed in many other areas of my life but I seem to have been blessed with a heap of patience with young children. Marc supported me while I studied; friends picked my son up from school one night a week so I could go to my course. In July this year, I learned I’d passed, but delayed looking for work while we organised the wedding (plus half a dozen gigs).
I saw a few jobs come up on the council’s website, but none were quite suitable; hours regularly longer than school hours in schools just that bit too far away from my son’s school (I can’t drive). However, I was starting to realise beggars couldn’t be choosers, especially as Christmas drew closer and money got tighter, and I would have to bite the bullet and arrange wraparound care every day for my son while I went out to work in a different school. However, a job came up in my son’s school, and I applied for it, and got it. I’m waiting on some paperwork, but should be able to start soon and I can’t wait. I actually worked as what was then called a Non-Teaching Assistant once before, during my year out, when I was just nineteen. However, after uni, I wanted to work in marketing and sales because that was “cool”; if I’d thought a little more, and used my heart a little more, I should have continued in the line of work I’d been in before uni.
But where do all these little vignettes into my year leave you, dear reader? All these things I’ve learned; what’s the one thing you should know?
I’ll let you into one last secret if I may, and this one is a little “out there”. I’m agnostic, though I was raised a Christian, then became a full-on atheist before starting to look at the world through neo-Pagan eyes, then coming to a more pantheistic understanding of it all. This year, I started to look at Christianity again, with the help of books like Living the Questions, and In Memory of Her. However, I simply cannot make myself believe in the supernatural elements of it all, such as an afterlife, or raising from the dead, or angels announcing an immaculate conception, but I have found a new appreciation of some of the parables and teachings in the gospel. And I think I’ve decided that I believe the “god is love” of the gospel of John in quite a pantheistic way. I believe love – which is both a verb and a noun – is something that threads through everything. That “god is love”, for me, doesn’t mean there is some kind of supernatural being who is loving, but that love itself is “god”. It’s one of those equations where the equals sign has three lines, where “is” means “the same as”. Maybe the universe runs on love, like a car runs on petrol, or I run on coffee and avocados. Maybe I’m wrong.
But it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe that. It’s a bit “woo” really, and that’s not to everyone’s taste. But I have noticed over this year that when I’ve done things out of love, without too much cynicism, things seem to have worked out quite well. And that’s what I think everyone should know. Of course, to do things out of love in the hope that they then work out is cynical in and of itself. But perhaps it’s worth trying just for the sake of it?
A little caveat. When I talk about love, I don’t mean those awful memes that tell how if you find a job you love you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s true for some people of course, but it’s easy to infer from those sorts of quotes that people who work in sweatshops are only there because they haven’t yet sat down and written that best-selling novel. Structural inequality isn’t something that can just be waved away with a bit of hippy faerydust; I’m aware of that, and it’s not what I’m trying to say. And of course, love is hard. Love is not shouting at the child who for the 100th night running has woken you up at two in the morning, unable to sleep, even though you’ve got work in the morning. Love is admitting that you were wrong and apologising for laying into someone on Facebook about their opinion, so utterly different from yours. Love is watching a football match with your child when you don’t support their team; you don’t even care about football. Love is picking up cat poo out of the garden and using what little savings you had to pay a vet’s bill because health insurance on an older cat has so many loopholes and clauses it’s basically pointless. Love is sometimes drudge work (and there’s a whole blogpost – no, a whole book – to be written on why this kind of “love” often tends to fall to women more than men, though that’s another subject for another time). But it is also doing the things you love.
Love is the one thing everyone should know.
Ruth can be followed on Twitter @mossandjones. Moss & Jones's Christmas single, A Song For Mary is available on Bandcamp.