For me 2015 started with the itch of change: certain elements coming together at a certain time that made the status quo begin to seem unstable. It can be easy to brush this kind of itch off, I know, and get on with life as usual. But if you listen to it, if you try and understand what it’s telling you, if you face the fear and the risk that it implies, eventually you will reach a tipping point where change is inevitable.
Without going into the detail of what is behind all of this, suffice to say we reached that tipping point in the early summer. This was encouraging, because if you can seriously consider leaving a life in the south of France when the weather is perfect, the sky is blue and the first ripe delicious tomatoes are on the table, then you know your decision is made.
And so we started taking steps. One after another, at first slowly but taking us further and further from safety. From this life that to many people seems idyllic. From this house that has been home for 14 years, longer than any house I’ve ever lived in. The house our daughters were born to and grew up in. The mountain at our feet. The kitchen table a storybook we wrote.
The house is up for sale now. We’re leaving. It’s scary and exciting and happy and sad. The last days of 2015 mark not only a year coming to an end but a chapter closing.
The Last Times have already started: Seeing people for the last time that we will likely never see again. The last time at a favourite place. The last time we will cook a certain meal, or walk a certain path. Some are clear cut, with tears and goodbyes. Others are vague, we know it may be the last time and we sense it all a little more keenly, just in case it is.
As we unpick this life we have inhabited, a light is cast upon it. A reflection of how we have lived. What we want to keep and what we don’t, what we want to guard as precious and what we want to change.
Some of this is physical – in preparing for the move we are having to be selective about what we take with us. It’s expensive to move – they charge you by the cubic metre – and we have accumulated, shamefully, so many things, so much stuff. We have an enormous cellar and we filled it over more than a decade with books we had no shelves for, building materials we had bought too much of, baby clothes I couldn’t bear to part with, clothes that used to fit me and never will again, scuba equipment from a life before children, VHS cassettes and LPs from the 80’s. The clear-out has started. We are now forced to discard, recycle and donate. It’s difficult but the release feels good.
Some of what we don’t want to keep is not physical. We don’t want to accumulate things anymore. My husband and I didn’t exchange Christmas gifts this year. Likewise, much of what we do want to hold on to is a way of life – the family values we have created together, the time we have made for ourselves.
Perhaps this time of introspection and reflection is why I’m feeling hesitant about social media at the moment. There’s a lot of noise out there. Some days a lot of anger. Others a lot of spite. Sometimes just noise for noise’s sake. And so many people trying to give the public impression that everything is perfect for them. It often feels to me like the extremes of emotions are posted online but that the reality of life rarely shows through. Rather than take a break from it all, I’m trying to filter out the noise now, down to the genuine exchanges, to the authentic, to what social media can be at its best.
Meanwhile I’m drafting out my third novel, a book which which reaches into the dark places inside myself where I keep the questions that I have never found answers to. I’m excited about this book, it’s going to be a cracker, but I’m also intrigued by the way it has decided to be written just at the time when I am turning a new page .
Finally, I’m ending this year in anguish. How can I not be preoccupied by the people flooded from their homes (and why this has happened), by the people who have fled for their lives and have no homes (and why we are not helping them more), by the disenfranchised and the poor and – on the other end of the spectrum – the self-serving powerful who do not use their status and their wealth for good, but to further bolster their own positions? Instead of just being a spectator, what can I do about all this?
I’m looking forward now. 2016 is ripe with promise.
Work-wise I will continue to split my time between writing and what I refer to as my day job, but after 14 years working for myself, in 2016 I am tying myself to a company which is determined to make real and sustainable change for the better. Maybe together we can make a real difference. Maybe – I hope – I can use my powers for good.
If everything goes well with our move we will be in a new home in the UK before winter is out. My daughters will be starting new schools (in English not French – they can’t wait!). We will reconnect with old friends and make new ones. My second novel will be out in the summer, which is a nerve wracking thing in itself. 2016 is already being fêted as an amazing year for fiction. Will my book find its place in amongst all those great contemporaries, or will it drown in the flood? Not much to do but wait and see.
And so to ring out the old and ring in the new* we’ve decided to reinvent our New Year’s Eve. We’re not going to stay up until twelve, filling the hours until the clock ticks over. It doesn’t work for us, I’m not sure it ever has. It puts too much emphasis on that moment at midnight as though it’s that which changes everything (even though in the UK there’s still an hour to go before the kisses and the fizz). We will say goodbye to this year, and this chapter of our lives, in our own way, in our own time, the four of us together, and then we will climb into our safe, warm beds and be glad of them.
And when we wake up in 2016, everything will change.
* Tennyson of course:
- Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
- The flying cloud, the frosty light
- The year is dying in the night;
- Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
- Ring out the old, ring in the new,
- Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
- The year is going, let him go;
- Ring out the false, ring in the true.
- Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
- For those that here we see no more,
- Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
- Ring in redress to all mankind.
- Ring out a slowly dying cause,
- And ancient forms of party strife;
- Ring in the nobler modes of life,
- With sweeter manners, purer laws.
- Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
- The faithless coldness of the times;
- Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
- But ring the fuller minstrel in.
- Ring out false pride in place and blood,
- The civic slander and the spite;
- Ring in the love of truth and right,
- Ring in the common love of good.
- Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
- Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
- Ring out the thousand wars of old,
- Ring in the thousand years of peace.
- Ring in the valiant man and free,
- The larger heart the kindlier hand;
- Ring out the darkness of the land,
- Ring in the Christ that is to be.