Remembering the Syracuse slump

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It was initially exciting to be back from America and reconnecting with people and catching up with friends. My return felt alive with possibility and it was so good to spend time with people I missed. The past few days have been more challenging as I’ve adjusted to being home, where the shadows of Mark are more present. Yesterday I was feeling very bleak about life without Mark – coming home from a day’s travelling I longed for those times when I would return home to a dinner he had cooked and to time with him. I’m finding it hard in wintry London to hang on to the sense of hope and wonder that flooded me when I was on top of the Empire State Building when it felt that the future was welcoming me. But I’m also working on the basis that just because I don’t feel it, it’s not the case that my future is any less hopeful than when I could smile at the future.

I’m reading a book called Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to Work that Reconnects that touches on the subject of despair, activism and burn out and I’m thinking about this complete lack of energy that I feel at times in the wider context of building something new out of capitalism. The book refers to the Great Unraveling, adding that for the past 500 years the industrial complex has run amok on the planet. I realised while I was walking to a cafe to work in that for years, since I started writing my novel, I have been preoccupied with the idea, in one way or another, that this life we are living is not sustainable. What began then as a work of fiction seemed to be rendered pointless by the financial crash of 2008 – all of a sudden it didn’t seem so crazy to think about the end of capitalism. But as Yanis Varoufakis and Paul Mason, along with others have both written, somehow those systems have been shored up. Having spent time in Greece, Spain and the US, it seems entirely possible that capitalism has, as Mason argues, come to the end of itself. But I’ve also seen glimpses of the suffering that people endure, and there are daily fresh outpourings of it. I think often of what the cab driver in Detroit said to me, that you have to be humble when you’ve been through something like this, and you have to be adult.

It’s something that intrigues me, what is required of us when life falls apart. I’ve written about cafes and cafe culture as being both important but also the fact that they are not it, they are just havens on the journey. And that echoes what I am feeling now. It’s hard to acknowledge that you have lost everything that you treasured, so much that you valued in life and keep on going with hope. Sometimes the pain and anguish is overwhelming, like it was last night as I walked across the park with my bag of shopping to an empty flat thinking to myself how terrible it is that he will never be there to welcome me home, to put the coffee pot on, to hug me and warm me. This morning I had plans to start the day early, to do some writing. I have lots of ideas about things I want to do, stories I want to follow up. But I didn’t get up early at all. I just didn’t have the energy to face the day.

I rarely felt this in the US – in unfamiliar places it was like each day compelled me to join it, to get up and explore all there was to discover and learn, to walk and to find cafes to write, stare into space or people watch. It was of course different because there weren’t the strong reminders of Mark. But I know too that I can’t run away from that forever. Perhaps it would be easier to live somewhere else, but the fact remains that wherever I go, Mark won’t be there. That time, that life has gone. While I have felt hopeful at times about the future, on days like this I don’t have the energy to work towards it. In fact, there seems to be a resistance in me towards taking action, doing the things that would make a difference, as if those actions in themselves are an affront to the ache of loneliness.

Strange to be on this side of the equation again, when only a few days ago I was writing about the fact that I didn’t want my optimism and hopefulness to detract from the dreadfulness of what had happened. Nothing, however good it is, will ever be the “silver lining”. While I didn’t experience this enervation in the US, there was a time in Syracuse that I slumped. It was while I was thinking about work, what I wanted to do with my life, when I felt absolutely powerless and ineffective, unsure about what I could do. I’m beginning to think that I shouldn’t fear these times, because the fact is, I do have to acknowledge that life as I knew it has disintegrated, and that rebuilding requires more than just a few superficial changes.

I’m realising the extent to which the past year I haven’t allowed myself to let go too much, not that I haven’t been undone, but I’ve tried to keep myself on track. I feel exhausted and wonder what I can do to regain any energy to do anything that will make a difference. How do you motivate yourself when you have lost everything? Going through the motions is one option, of course, but I’m feeling drawn to deeper questions about why I do what I do, anyway. When I have so little energy, I need to think about what I am motivated to do, where I put my energies and what the purpose of my time and being is… Those aren’t easy questions – it wasn’t that they didn’t exist when Mark was around, but I was cushioned by the knowledge that I loved and was loved. My relationship with Mark was the place I went home to. I don’t like this loneliness, I don’t like living alone, don’t like having so little vision or energy to make it happen. When I look around me, though, I don’t see that other people have it sussed. These things we do and call them life, are they really?

I think about work and the way I used to do it fuelled by anxiety and fear of failure and I don’t want to turn that machine back on. I think of all my hang ups about my capacity to build my ‘career’ to be successful and it seems ludicrous that I put that much energy into worrying. But now? If those things are proved to be meaningless, if success in that realm counts for so little in terms of answering the big questions about life, what do I want to achieve? What do I value, what do I want to build, what do I want to create?

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