On the second Friday in London after giving up my radio job, I am restless. We have an early dinner at home so my oldest son can go to cubs. At 6.10pm I walk around the kitchen and say,
“What now? What do we do?”
“Just sit down and relax.”
T says. But it’s hard, with a seventeen year muscle memory of loud music and raving raving raving. Pumping people up with fizzy Friday energy. I can’t just sit. So I charge around the house, picking things up and putting them in different places. I have learned it’s remarkable how much time I can spend doing this.
I interview the comedian Jimmy Carr for my podcast. He tells me that he was a practising Catholic all the way up to his mid twenties, until he took a holiday to Israel. Upon being confronted with the rich variety of other religions that exist in this world, he had to stop and think. Jimmy ended up rejecting his Catholicism. It was a big blow. When he came back to London, he signed himself up for a course in Neurolinguistic programming. The course helped him realise that he could train himself to be happy. He wasn’t depressed he realised, he was just sad. Sad is a word that you don’t hear people talk about much anymore, but sad, he stresses, is important to differentiate from ‘depressed’, because sad, you can do something about. He talks about wishing wells and how much he believes in them, because they force you to have to think about what you want. And the escape route from sadness for him, was figuring out what he wanted. He did some soul searching, took a comedy course, left his job as a junior marketing executive at Shell Oil and joined the comedy circus.
The other thing Jimmy talks to me about in the interview is the ‘flow state’. This idea of being fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus; better known as, being in the zone. I think of Kanye’s line on Watch The Throne;
Don’t let me get in my zone..
as if it’s a dangerous place for us if he gets in there, to his zone. As if it’s game over.
If you know what you want, then you can find a job that involves you being in your flow state, Jimmy says. Then you’re landed.
Knowing what you want involves casting aside all of your inhabited identities and laying yourself bare. What really excites you? What drives you? What makes you feel alive? Finding truthful answers to these questions is the most difficult part. After that, all you have to do is put the steps in place to get that thing that you want.
I nod along during the interview. I know that in my experience, Jimmy is right because this, now, this life, is a result of me doing what I will call, ‘a Jimmy’. Over the course of the last few years I figured out what I wanted. I knew I wanted time to reach my flow state with writing. I wanted total immersion. I knew I wanted to put more time into my podcast. I knew I wanted to eat dinner with my sons and to put them to bed at night. I wanted to be the parent who was plugged in to their learning, the parent who finally joins the class WhatsApp group. ( what was I thinking? ). Most of all, I knew that I didn’t want life to feel like a game of Tetris anymore. I was tired of unfulfilled obligations piling up and up. I was tired of trying to squeeze things in.
The endgame for me was more time to write and more time to parent. Every decision from there was easy. The yeses were swift. The no’s were rational. If it wasn’t work I needed to do to survive financially, then it needed to serve the end game. If it didn’t serve the end game then it was a nice, neat, no.
It’s been two months since I left the radio job that the younger me dreamed of, to try and do what the older me wants in the here and now. I have learned some things.
It turns out that my partner T and I hardly ever saw each other. He would leave at 8.30am and I would see him again at 9pm or 9.30pm when I hauled my bike in through the front door, knackered. We only ever seemed to pass the baton of housework and parenting. Things are different now.
I can’t believe you’re here,
he says, every evening in the kitchen. This isn’t said in a romantic way. It’s not some sort of re-awakening of our feelings for each other. Rather, it’s said with the relieved tone of someone who knows they don’t have to work as hard anymore. Now we share the load. I cook, he cleans up. I do the packed lunches, he hoovers.
I am spending so much more time in my house. I see all of the cracks and flaws. I rearrange the furniture, move the art from wall to wall. I do a massive toy and clothes clear out. I buy new pyjamas and beds and book shelves for the kids. I witness the pre-bedtime hysteria that T has told me about with the traumatised air of a war veteran. The yells of dismay when they are confronted with a dinner they don’t like. The bickering and the tears. I shout at them to sit at the table. I bribe them with suggestions of sugary sweet desserts. I learn that they need time to wrestle and chase each other around the kitchen after dinner. I learn that every night they change their minds about what toothpaste they like and what tooth brushes they use. I learn that my younger son wants to read the same book about the life cycle of a shark, every night. I learn that my older son needs to know exactly what rooms I will go to after I walk out of his bedroom, and how long I will be in each one for.
I have learnt that I have had a knot in my stomach for the last six years and I didn’t know it was there until it wasn’t. This knot expanded and contracted with every scroll of instagram, telling myself that I should be out there, at every gig and cultural event, in the middle of it all. It expanded and contracted with fear of not having enough time to prepare for the interviews for my radio show every evening. It expanded and contracted with the varying moods of my world-weary post-school children and their reactions to me leaving to go to work. It’s a strange and pleasant feeling, this lack of knot. This stillness.
I’m not squeezing things in anymore. I’m stretching them out. I sign up to donate platelets. A bigger job than blood donation. I have the time now. I arrange to volunteer at a homeless charity. I meet old friends for coffee. My DJ friend Lucy and I talk about club shows and how late they seem now. How to stay up until 2am to DJ! Can we get away with just playing festivals and day raves? I ask her questions about her football team ( she plays in a league ) and she encourages me to start playing. Now’s the time. She speaks of the the community of playing in a team. It’s a young woman’s game, I say, but when I do research into women’s football clubs around London I see that there are teams of all ages. I see photos of post-match women, arms around each other, sweat-streaked faces, grinning wildly. I send a message to Lucy a few days later to tell her that I have signed up for a football five a side down the road.
Here we bloooooooody go!
I did a Jimmy and it feels good for now, but nothing stays the same. I will keep asking myself, what do I want? Because the seasons change so fast and sometimes I forget to remember who I am.
On my second Friday at home, I watch the clock until it is time to collect my son and his friend from cubs. When it’s time, I’m out the door like a shot. On the walk home, they are giddy, I instruct them to hold my hands as we cross the road and they skip along beside me. We stop to look at the moon, which is huge and full. My son’s friend lifts his head back and howls like a werewolf into the air. My son laughs and howls too and then it is my turn. We laugh at each other howling at the moon all the way home.
Listen to the Jimmy Carr episode of my Changes podcast here