Brassicas, netted

I’m one of the many people who has been gradually giving home and garden a glow-up while COVID-19 does weird things to the shape and content of our lives. Those are my brassicas, being shielded from the attentions of Cabbage White butterflies (there’s a Sacrificial Broccoli elsewhere for them to feast upon, don’t worry).

It’s not a new journey for me, the growing of things and the honing of home, although it is, perhaps, one to which I haven’t typically given quite such frequent attention. It feels more like a coming home, though.

I was fortunate enough to grow up with parents who grew a good chunk of the fruit and veg we ate, and I dug out and created herb and veg patches in a previous house, too, so while this year has seen the energy go that way, these are plans I already had. I doubt I’ll take on an allotment – I’ve a feeling that that would be too much of a time and volume commitment for the vast majority of a normal year – but I do get a huge amount from growing things on even a small scale.

It’s not about eventually ending up with sprouts, broccoli, squash and courgette, though.

It’s about connecting with the earth and with the food that I eat more closely. There’s no berry sweeter than the one you grew yourself and picked a moment ago, and there’s no shorter food mileage, too. You can’t get closer to the land than when you’ve got a good chunk of it in your fingernails and you’re figuring out what grows well in your little corner of it.

It’s about nurturing something. Trying things and seeing what works. Being patient and putting in consistent effort rather than seeking quick results. In growing as in fitness, there’s no shortcut that’s worth the taking. You can force things a little bit, extend the growing season a touch, grow under glass if your climate isn’t quite right for things, maybe. But you can’t really shuffle nature’s timetable all that much, and you have to go to considerable effort to grow things that aren’t cool with your climate and soil. Plants have preferences of climate, soil, light, water levels and so on, and they grow in their own time. Keep an eye on them, tend them, and if something isn’t working, try a different thing.

It’s about going with the flow. So much of gardening is entirely down to something you can’t control: the weather. You have to let go of the specifics – you can’t decide in April that you want to harvest x amount of y produce in August and have that happen. You can look at what you enjoy eating and what grows well in your soil, light conditions, and area, and give it a reasonable go. But you can’t do much about an unexpected late frost, or a particularly dry May, or an especially wet June, and they’ll all affect your plants. So, growing things is a continual lesson in accepting what you can’t change, adjusting course if necessary, being philosophical if things don’t turn out quite as you hoped, and having the resilience to try again.

Sometimes, it just ain’t a good tomato year.

And then there’s the ‘what the heck is behind that?’ stuff. Sometimes, you try it by the book, by a different book, by a YouTube channel, and by feel and you still just can’t get a particular plant to grow. Ain’t happening. Your neighbour can, but you? That thing is noping out of wherever you put it. Never mind, there are thousands of others that you can try, and your neighbour is probably wondering how come your rosemary looks so enthusiastic when theirs doesn’t.

Let it go, and focus on what you can actually help to thrive – because that’s where you can thrive, too.


"Shadows of a Sunburnt Mind" by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0 1.0

Abruptly, the shadows appeared.

Yesterday, the ghost of a past relationship came to haunt me from an unexpected direction. It’s the only relationship I’ve had where I feel it ended badly – however unpleasant endings are, I’ve usually felt that either things were mutual or that everything possible was done on both sides before calling it quits. I’d certainly have no qualms about running into exes – they’re all lovely people. But this one instance…

It’s fascinating the way that past pain you thought you’d dealt with still has the power to side-swipe you. I think in this case, the association of something that has been so wonderfully and unequivocally positive with one of the most difficult experiences of my life was so dissonant that it knocked me for six. Sleep lost, floods of tears – those still haven’t stopped – wondering if I’ll even be able to continue with the positive thing – the whole woeparty shebang.

All those feelings of realising I clearly hadn’t been as important to someone I loved as I had thought came crashing back. All the pain that was repeatedly poked as they ghosted me but tried to carve a friendship with my partner, putting everyone in a difficult position. All the things I should have seen sooner, the questions I should have asked, the ways I was misled, the inability to talk things through with a ghost. I felt stupid for trusting where I should have questioned, for not seeing what was hidden from me, and I felt unchosen all over again.

I didn’t handle it perfectly, I know that they also were hurting terribly, and I do have regrets, but I did think that I had learned from the experience and that it didn’t still have power over me. I guess the pit that I’ve been in since the conversation that brought it all back (which, incidentally, was a model of transparency and very much appreciated by me – I’d always rather know the difficult stuff than not – just tough territory) says I have more lessons to learn and more shadows to face.

I suppose there is always more to learn about ourselves, and plants grow back stronger when they’re cut. Time to get my emotional game face on and figure out which bits of my psyche are about to grow new shoots.

Diversity, inclusion, and ERGs

Does the place you work have an Employee Resource Group (ERG) that represents you?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, in light of Pride month and the rightly increased attention for the BLM movement. Even with lockdown, during which my org’s LGBTQ+ ERG ramped up the frequency of community calls to help address possible isolation in a community that can experience that more strongly.

As a baby queer, I remember discovering that my university had an LGB society (no T in the tail end of the 90s, I’m afraid) and having for the first time an extraordinary sense of belonging and of finding my identity – because growing up bi in rural England in the 90s meant you didn’t have a label, just a series of social pressures to ‘pick a side’.

And then, when I started work, that sense of belonging went away for a while, because I am queer and a woman who has largely worked in tech companies.

I’ve been the person taking a deep breath and correcting hetero normative assumptions in a cis male-centric workspace and copping overly sexualised flack for coming out.

I’ve been the woman who didn’t speak out about absolutely every instance of inappropriate workplace behaviour – from passing sexist comments to actual groping – because nobody has the energy to fight every battle, and when you’re at the start of your career and your management team don’t step in to challenge that behaviour, you can’t help but weigh the power dynamics and feel you’d be risking your job.

That’s not okay.

So now, in my 40s, harassment happens less – age and better companies! – but I have challenged and will step in when I see or experience unacceptable behaviour, because I know what it’s like to battle with it all.the.time and I will help my siblings where I can. And I hope to be supported in that.

I appreciate it, now, when I see a company brimming with opportunities for minority groups to connect – and to be taken seriously by the leadership team. It’s just not enough any more to have a bland statement about equal opportunities on your website – I want to see how you show your commitment to diversity and inclusion in your leadership team and your company values.

Every company, just like every person, is a work in progress – we could all always be doing better. But I never felt I could truly unfurl my professional wings when I was so curtailed by my gender or my sexuality, and I don’t want others to feel the same way, whatever their identity or ethnicity. It’s important for us and our work that we can bring our whole selves to work, and so when I consider career moves, I now look out for organisations that really seem to have wanting to do better, be better, and enable diversity and belonging for ALL staff as part of their DNA. Not just for my own benefit, but also because organisations that care about inclusion and surfacing all kinds of voices will be better, more innovative, places to work for everyone. And who doesn’t want that?

Lockdown and Flow

One of the things that the COVID-19 Lockdown is really highlighting for me is the way energy and mood – they’re connected, I think – ebb and flow.

After a super-productive and energised day yesterday, today I have been mostly feeling… flat. Not sad, but glum. There’s no particular trigger for it, but there is a general background of racial injustices being brought – once more, thanks to the persistence of Black Lives Matter activists – to the forefront of thinking, and of living a pandemic and all the associated worry, concern, and just extra thinking that that brings. Who else here is missing just… deciding to go wander around an art gallery and being able to do that, without worrying about what the safest way to get there would be, whether such a trip would be irresponsible, and when it might even be open?

And, of course, there’s a particular kind of loneliness that comes from going months without being able to so much as hug your partner and friends, or even, really, spend more than a couple of hours talking with them because no-one has the patience for Zoom calls longer than that. Even now we’re able to see people outdoors and can in theory use the bathroom if needed (Imagine a senior government minister having to clarify that a trip to your friend’s bathroom is acceptable, if it’s really necessary and if said bathroom is properly wiped down afterwards and then you go back to socially distancing in their garden. 2020 is wild.), we tend to keep visits short-ish because we all feel funny about it because other people’s houses remain otherwise off limits.

There are day-to-day niggles, things I’m waiting on or hoping for that haven’t happened yet, and things that are waiting on me that I haven’t got to yet (I’m sorry, seedlings – the weather has been awful and I’m a fair weather gardener. I promise I’ll take up that turf and give you a proper veg patch soon.). There are myriad reasons and no specific causes for this particular glum.

I’m actually content with the work I’ve done and the changes I’ve made during Lockdown, both internal and external. My home office is looking much better, and so is my garden. I’m feeling physically stronger and fitter than ever thanks to my amazing personal trainer. I’ve kept my professional skills sharp with some courses, and I’ve revisited and refreshed my career goals. I’ve felt some huge positive shifts in my personal growth and mindset. There’s plenty more to do on each of those things, but I’m seeing the things I’d still like to get to as iterative improvements rather than as additional pressures. I’ve put in both literal and figurative spadework and I’m genuinely feeling the journey.

Just, sometimes, you’re in ebb rather than flow.

And that’s normal. Not the New Normal we’re all talking about these last few months.

Just… normal. Human.

Sometimes we are concerned that glum feelings should be fixed, when really, they should simply be felt. Look for correlation and causation, sure, but they’re signposts rather than encyclopedia: don’t spend forever trying to read them.

Feel the feeling, take the lesson if there is one, and move on.

You’re 60% water; flow.

A list of UK resources for addressing racial injustice

Shared by a wonderful Facebook friend – I’ve had nothing to do with the creation of this, but I can share and use it.

This is a phenomenal curation of ideas and resources for folks in the UK who want to help and to educate themselves in addressing racism and its effects.

Please use it.

Writing Rhythms & Lockdown

I’ve been reflecting recently (who hasn’t?) about the various ways I’ve written out my world over the years. I know, this blog is sparse – more so, if truth be told, than was originally the case, as Past Cat quietly pruned away things that felt just a little too vulnerable and left only those things that felt the most important, for self and/or others. It’s also one of several I’ve had over the years since 2002, when I cobbled together a simple HTML site and did the daily blogging thing that was so common at the time – moving to Geeklog when that was what those of us in tech industries used when the rest of the world was MySpacing, before flirting briefly with Blogger and finally discovering WordPress.

The thing that all of them had in common was that I was trying to maintain an awkward balance between having a space for my thoughts and having all of my thoughts on the interwebs. So, they faded away as I moved through different phases of my life – different jobs, different relationships, different living situations. All of the differents made me reassess what I was putting out there, and every significant life shift had me going back to paper and journalling old-style rather than pouring it out here, where the rest of the world could see my thoughts before I’d finished processing them. I still journal now.

I’ve never had a job that was compatible with openly blogging about work-related themes, so those were out – a shame, because I have Thoughts, but professionalism comes first. And while I briefly attempted to review books, ultimately, it felt a little too much like revisiting my Lit degree. I prefer to read them and to have conversations about them, and Goodreads already does a sterling job of sating my tracking instincts.

When you think about it, removing all of those potential subjects results in a reduced pool, and for long periods my energy has instead gone into, well, talking. I’m more active on Instagram and Twitter, and, well, in person WhatsApp.

But I have missed this. Missed the longer form writing and the blog commenting and the place to express an opinion that can be engaged with and the engaging with others’ opinions.

So when I feel the urge to write online, what am I writing for?

The same thing everyone writes for: connection, conversation, and community.

Those things are more readily accessible via social media now than they were in 2002, so it follows that the old style of blogging daily thoughts and habits doesn’t really exist in the same way now – the blogs that I followed then are often still going, but have shifted in tone and content. But there’s still a need for connection and for community and conversation, and now, as we navigate a two-month-and-counting lockdown courtesy of COVID-19, more than ever.

That we are social creatures is proven more clearly than ever when our ability to be social in the usual ways is removed from us. After an absence borne of the depression mentioned in my last post – which was two years ago, incidentally, things are fine now, and I’m feeling healthier than ever – I’ve wandered back onto Twitter and started participating more. And been welcomed back, because people are wonderful. Instagram had to some extent filled the gap, and I remain active there because pictures aren’t just pictures – they’re conversation sparks.

I’ll always keep my most raw thoughts for my eyes only, and maybe this will continue to be a place for occasional opinion pieces and explorations rather than a regular window on the world. But… I’m planning to shift the rhythm, to make those occasions more frequent.

Stand by.

No shortcuts.

It’s strange to know that you’re doing all the right things and still just aren’t _right_ yet. Whenever something goes wrong in your world, you want it to be a case of figuring out which bolt’s come loose, tightening it up a bit, and going on your merry way. But it doesn’t work that way. Fixes happen, but not immediately. Conversations take a while to work through, counselling referrals don’t rock up immediately, even meds take four to six weeks to begin to take effect, and I’m only on week three.

And so at the moment, my prevailing emotion – if you can call it that – is ‘meh’. I dip into sadness sometimes – today, the second of two days with little human contact after a Thursday/Friday/Saturday flurry with people I love, has been a hard one – and when I’m with people I care about I can reach happy, too. But mostly, it’s a shoulder-slumping, everything-takes-longer, visible-on-my-face meh. With some bonus guilt for making other people worry when they see that.

And it’s hard work pasting a cheery or even neutral public face on top of that. It’s hard work balancing the need to avoid totally isolating myself with the need to step back a little from environments in which I feel I need to be ‘on’. Heck, at the moment it’s hard work getting out of bed and it’s hard work eating a reasonable amount of food. Those are things that I talk myself into, not because I’m flailing around sadly but because I just… don’t have the impetus. I’m like a car whose engine turns over a few times before the ignition sparks into life.

But I’ve been mired here in Depressionville before, some years ago, and I’ve learned some lessons and some self-management strategies. I know that I need to be gentle with myself but not drift too far from my usual routines, I know what helps me to sleep, and I know that if my appetite and inclination aren’t prompting me and I can’t summon the energy to cook, I can still use the clock as a guide to eating regularly and fill my fridge with reasonably healthy easy options so that I don’t lose any more weight than has already inadvertently fallen off me.

I know that although they take time to work, the meds will help. I’ve taken the initial steps for counselling referral, and I’ve told my wonderfully supportive boss. I’ve looked up some classes that, when I feel a little stronger, will hopefully help me build on that strength both physically and emotionally. I know that this time around, I can be open with the people in my life.

I know that although there are no shortcuts, this will pass.

Depressed Doings

It’s a weird thing, navigating the land of Do when you’re in the midst of a depressive episode. Energy levels low enough that a self-avowed early bird stays in bed until 11am  don’t help. But it’s more than that. I feel slower and sleepier at everything, as if someone’s rubbed all my quick away. Each thing is just that bit harder and the interludes of Do are that bit shorter and require more recuperation time.

Social stuff is a particular challenge. It’s very much needed and enjoyed, but things that need participation need more energy and that’s a candle with a shorter wick than usual. It’s like being at a gig and not being able to see the band unless you stand on tip-toes: you can do that, for a while, but your feet aren’t made to work that way so at some point you have to stand normally again and then you miss the full experience and feel weirdly detached and tired. So you duck out of rooms involving lively conversation and games and into ones where you can just sit and slump, maybe exchange desultory comments rather than maintain a conversation. Where you don’t feel like you need to be quite so switched on, and can take a rest from standing up or the quick brain movements that aren’t a problem when you’re well. After a while, you can try standing on tip-toes again and see how long you last that time.

I have meds, but it’s early days for them yet. I’m managing to talk myself into the essentials of self-care, and I’ve been here before so I know there’s an other side. It’s just that right now, access to all kinds of Do is limited.

The Ghosts of Future Nevers

The ghosts in my head at Halloween are the ones that never came to be. The direction I didn’t take. The place I could be now if I’d chosen differently.

The shadows I contemplate at this shadow-contemplation time of year are sadness for the me I was then and the support she didn’t have and the extended rippling of that further out into my university experience – which never recovered – and my life in general than I could have predicted.

I’m happy with the decision itself. It was always the right one, and never have I had even a second’s regret in twenty years.

But the shadows it cast are long, all the same.

not one of us

I went out for dinner and drinks with colleagues last week, and found myself on the receiving end of an interview about non-monogamy from one of them. And it was not fun.

Let me preface this by saying that the chap in question is a perfectly nice person and that none of this was aggressive or confrontational in the least, it’s just that we are people who seem to be approaching the world from opposite directions.

The interview – and it was an interview rather than a conversation – was littered with so many misconceptions and assumptions that I honestly didn’t know how far back in the association chain to go with my responses. What, he wanted to know, would I do if my ‘permanent partner’ wanted to become monogamous? The fuck is a permanent partner?! Well, the one that you live with. I don’t live with a partner (Although I have in the past, which does rather illustrate that a shared mortgage is not an indicator of eternity. And hang on, do you think that anyone you don’t live with is, what, some sort of temporary passing fancy? A little harsh, these people are in my life because I *want* them to be and they seem to want to stick around – there’s no built-in expiry date that I’m aware of!). Oh, so you don’t want to live with anyone? When did I say that?!

Look, let’s go back to basics. That is not how I approach relationships, and it wasn’t when my relationships were monogamous. I have never seen marriage and/or shared space as a goal. They are, rather, something to which I am open if a connection with someone develops in that direction. I do not *aim* for them, but I don’t *not* want them either. They are a possible aspect of the important thing, which is the development of fulfilling connections.

In the absence of being able to escape, I had a stab at explaining further, which probably didn’t work because he wasn’t really receptive and I was weirded out and wondering how the hell long we were going to be in the restaurant (and then hit the cocktails rather too hard in over-compensation once we did escape – oops), but broadly speaking I tried to get across that…

For me, every relationship – whether between friends or between lovers – flourishes to whatever extent the connection between those involved, in conjunction with the space, time and attention given to it, allows (and yes, of course, sometimes there’s enough going on in your life already that you simply don’t have as much time or emotional resource as you would like). There has to be something there initially, of course, but my heart is generally in it for the long haul and it takes time and trust for connections to deepen and strengthen. My closest friends are those from school, and we’ve weathered all sorts of storms and had all sorts of wonderful times, will have been doing that for 27 years this September, and I would trust them with my life, heart, and yarn collection (as long as Cate and Laura promise to learn how to do something with the latter before our 40ths).

I have never met anyone and immediately imagined them as a nesting partner, and yet I was happily in just such a partnership for a decade. Most folks don’t make the moving-in call within a couple of months of the first date, after all, do they? When I meet people who make my heart flutter or in whom I can see a potential buddy, that is exactly what I sense: the excitement of a new connection, the potential, the opening up of a field of possibilities. Why constrain future growth by espaliering the sapling before it’s even started to grow? Let’s explore!

He didn’t get it, of course.

And I got quieter and quieter and more and more unresponsive, until the conversation thankfully turned to meat and barbecues and I could allow my brain to quietly ooze out onto my shoulders during the benign dullness of a conversation in which I couldn’t take part (brief diversion on the glories of halloumi aside), hot on the heels of one in which I actively didn’t *want* to take part.

I do, genuinely, understand that people who say they are Just Interested frequently are indeed just stumbling across something new to them and want to know a little more about it. But it’s a question of tone and of degree. The odd question, from someone who genuinely listens to the answer, is normal enough as part of an actual *conversation*. But an impromptu interview, wherein you pelt your dinner companion with a series of questions and fail to either properly take in their responses or note their attempts to end the conversation? Not fine. I am happy to chat a little, assuming it is a genuinely back-and-forth chat, but it is *your* job to educate you, not mine.

And I have had variations on the theme of this interview – whether prompted by ordering the vegetarian option, the fact that I do not have children, the information that I have never been married, that I am bisexual, by my relationship structures, or various other things – for twenty plus years. It is difficult at this point to experience it as anything other than yet another incredibly tediously executed reminder that I am not One Of Us in whatever company I happen to be in at the time, because let’s face it, they wouldn’t be poking the different if there was no different to poke.

Thing is, all of those things might be of passing interest to you, but they are intrinsic and deeply personal parts of me. Finding myself delivering a catechism in response to your Just Interested at best and defending myself against misconception and insult at worst is tiresome, boring and fundamentally alienating.