There are moments when I am wiping away dust that has accumulated on my bookshelf or underlining a very beautiful sentence like: “in this way their lives were caught up in this moment of rightness. And any chaos or discontent was brought to a point of stillness and calm” from Diana Evans. Or when I am filling my wooden tea box with bags of Mint, Fennel, Camomile, and Darjeeling tea that I wonder how they are so complementary and fitting, how the bags of herbal tea will all occupy different mugs and keep me company on different evenings and mornings and be a future moment of ‘stillness’. I look around and think about how, there are, so many, dream-like moments of ‘rightness’.
I have been, for as long as I can remember, the kind of person who worries about how long these moments will last, the kind of person who paradoxically, dreams about these moments and lives them with a mental timer attached – I have been known to talk myself out of existing in moments like this for too long out of the fear that they will disappear.
I think about what Diana Evans wrote, in describing a photograph of a moment and wonder about my own moments of rightness that exist amidst the chaos. More recently, I’ve started to realise that the moments exist beyond short, fleeting moments. There are now, moments of my life that are in some ways, a separate world.
There is a significant body of research about the emotional impact of code-switching that people from immigrant families or ethnic minorities and ‘working-class kids in the city’ face. It’s a reality many of us know far too well. It’s the thing that has made me more resilient, given me so much drive and I am eternally grateful. But I’ve begun thinking about how the ‘code’ is sometimes a separate world of its own and the emotional impact of all of this. I’ve been thinking about how, when I am coming back home after a trip away or answering a phone call from the council in the middle of the work day or logging off from the day of work – I am leaving one world and entering another. Often, there is no time in between and we move seamlessly (or so it seems) from one world to another.
WFH has intensified this for me in an interesting way. How do I translate my world of work to my parents when we have lunch together in the middle of the workday?
In May I had a dream like moment of rightness. I went to the soft launch for my short story which is being published. (You can purchase a copy here). One of my best friends accompanied me and we met up with a friend in Bradford afterwards and had tea. I signed copies and did a live reading of my story. I met people who have read my story and have been some of the first readers of this work, they told me they wept, they told me that what I had written, touched them in some way. And everything about this evening, and the morning after in the very beautiful Yorkshire, felt like a retreat from my life and the life I know. It was like stepping into a world I had written except I was no longer an observer or dreamer of this part. Amongst the multiple hues of existence I had dreamt for myself, one of them had just been created in front of me. And the words I’ve written have a permanence I am still processing.
In celebrating my writing achievements one core memory stood out to me. In secondary school, my English teacher lent me a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of the Maladies and said something along the lines of: ‘I think one day you will write like this’. I was too young to appreciate the beauty of Lahiri’s work and don’t remember reading much of her short stories then. I was also too young to fully appreciate her comment then in what seemed like all the chaos I’d know in my school. I came across a second-hand copy of Lahiri’s stories at a book stall years later and bought a copy. I ended up writing about Lahiri a few times at university and fell completely in love with her work. My English teacher has now ordered a copy of my short story to read, she still teaches English (I am envious of her students) and is now on the other side of the world, but she will be reading her former students work. And one comment that she had made, has transformed into a dream-like part of my life. I know that life is full of circles, I am so grateful to be able to witness one of mine. I look back at formative memories like these and feel lucky to have had and to remember transformative moments. It also makes me miss teaching and the experience working in a sixth form.
It makes me think about how many moments of rightness will appear. How there are moments of rightness that are a sentence, or an encouraging smile that will take shape in years to come. About a month or so prior to this moment in May – I worried about security and stability in my first bout of unemployment, I felt burdensome to my parents who couldn’t understand this hopping between jobs seeking so called fulfilment, the defining pursuit of our generation. I realise now that security and stability looks different in this part of life. These very experiences, of being in between stability and instability, academic accolades, and networks I am now a part of, are a form of security and stability. It remains difficult to see that for yourself and accept that things have changed. In that time of unemployment (which was undoubtedly, one of the best decisions I had made) I realised how much of me still lives with parts fears and how much of my self and the worlds I exist in, I compartmentalise.
We all have or play different roles, we perform, we present, and we just are. We compartmentalise parts of ourselves and bring them to the forefront when it is time. I wonder if that sometimes makes us feel disbelief in some of our parts and roles. Will the roles – or the worlds, ever become one? I often feel like I am glimpsing at different hues of my existence and dreams depending on my company.
In part, these thoughts have come together because I am researching and writing about social mobility this week at work – I will be for the next few weeks. I am pleased that we are talking about this as an industry and in the workplace. At the same time, I am, as I often am, struggling with the duality of researching and writing about something that is so important to me and a part of me. How do I write about the emotional impact and weight of all of this that no well intentioned bursary or career progression will change? How do I explain the chaos that surrounds me sometimes that I’ve learnt to laugh at and deal with simultaneously? How do I express that we live in such different worlds I can only talk to you about this in numbers? And then there is my position. Am I writing as one of the stats in these pieces, am I writing anthropologically or academically? I’m not sure how helpful these questions are either and it proves difficult to articulate this all at work even though it feels most important to me.
For now, I have decided that one way I will process these feelings and combat that sense of the two worlds I feel like I am straddling or existing in, is to write – to continue to write, it has always had a grounding effect for me.