Some mid-life befuddlement

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A plain wooden cross is placed before the stained glass window of the prayer room in the retreatants’ quarters at the Mt Carmel Retreat Centre, Varroville NSW

Woah, it’s been six weeks since I’ve posted here. I’m so out of practice that it’s been tempting just to forget about blogging altogether. Except that I need to get back in the writing saddle or else I will need to get serious about knitting or ceramics or cake making or other such thing that I’m tempted to turn to instead of words sometimes.

So here I am to warm up my writer’s brain and if you’re interested in coming along for a 1000-word sprint through my current stream of consciousness you are most welcome!

So, what have I been up to. The FRANKLY (Catholic lifestyle) magazine for 2018 is out. More on that in another post I guess, as it deserves its own one.

The little internship program that I supervised at The Catholic Weekly has ended as their uni exams began, and the whole experience was as much fun as I had hoped. I think they liked it too, and I know they learnt a lot. The four interns were great; committed, smart, interesting and just really nice people. I’m not used to spending time with people at that age, who are just starting out in their adult life. I kept assuming I was just a little ahead of them, and then something would remind me that I was more than 20 years older!

“I grow old…I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” What a depressing poem the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is! But who over the age of 40 hasn’t begun to feel a bit of that nostalgia and wistfulness for what might have been?

Speaking of which, the weekend of November 10-12 I spent on retreat at one of my favourite places, the Mt Carmel Retreat Centre at Varroville.

Led by Bishop Greg Homeming OCD, of the Lismore diocese, and grief counsellor Geoff Stumbles, the theme was the second half of life and St John of the Cross’ ‘dark nights’. Heavy stuff you would think, but it was both insightful and overwhelmingly positive. I found one comment quite hilarious when Geoff talked about differences he has observed among men and women in their experiences of life’s crises. Men often have the bigger, more dramatic crises, he said, often in mid-life after having built up careers and such and found these ultimately unfulfilling.

Women increasingly have similar experiences as more and more manage to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ or at least get near it, but more often he thinks they seem to have an ongoing succession of ‘crises’ or having to painfully adapt to many smaller and bigger changes as life goes along. To me that sounded like he thought we don’t get a break, basically, even in the psycho-spiritual realm. But I do have a strange sense of humour.

That wasn’t the highlight of the weekend for me of course. Mostly I just needed the rest, and in the fullness of spring it was so beautiful out there. I had time to thoroughly enjoy the dams and hills and grasses and towering eucalypts out the back, the flowering jacaranda and bougainvillaea out the front, and Mass in the quiet, natural, beauty of the chapel with all its memories and mine.

Much of what Bishop Greg said about the spiritual journey through the first two of what St John described poetically as four ‘dark nights’ I had heard or read before, but not all. He spoke of a kind of prayer which is “simply sitting in dust and ashes” as Job in the Old Testament story did and as people used to actually do. That was nice (also, paradoxically, not nice I guess). He described imaginatively the joy at the end of one’s journey as being linked to the knowledge that being able to stand before the face of God is the fulfillment of co-operation between oneself and God. A sense of “We have done this together”. Both of these images are enough for me to go on for a while. One on the realistic side, one for the hopeful side.

The timing of the weekend was perfect for me. I’m in a period of minor discernment in one way I suppose, and major confirmation in another. On the minor discernment side: Other than some bits and pieces nothing is particularly calling to me work-wise. For the last 14 years I’ve been reactive, happily taking writing or editing gigs that come my way, but the time is here to become more proactive I think; to decide if I want to start something new or branch out in some way before I’m too old to bother.

I’ve got plenty of household and family work-y things on of course, enough to keep me busy 10 hours a day if I wanted, and I do enjoy pottering around home and ticking chores off the to-do list each day and spending time with people during the week who I never get to see when I’m working.

But with our youngest beginning kindy in February  I’m thinking about what to do for the next 10-15 years that will help with costs but also allow me to remain primarily at (or near) home.

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A pair of swans on the big dam at Carmel

I’ve toyed with different ideas – complete postgraduate studies in either psychology or journalism. Or begin to write and sell my own books. Or something completely different like master a craft and open an etsy shop or something. Or take up photography, which I think I could be good at with training and practice. I know lots of mothers who teach, and I imagine it shouldn’t be impossible to get the necessary qualifications, but I have never felt I was a teacher.

I know that even having the space to ask these questions is a privilege. If our family was in a financial crisis they’d be no ‘discernment process’ or time for my own navel-gazing about a career-related vocation off-shoot – it would be off quick-smart to find a job at the Woolies down the road stacking shelves. But that option has crossed my mind too, would you believe? To do something relatively mindless a few evenings a week, with almost zero commute, that would bring in extra income while still allowing me time and mental energy for my still-young family and for reading and prayer, and maybe even keeping the blog ticking? That sounds not bad!

So I suppose I’m a bit ‘up in the air’ at the moment with regards to what to do with myself income-producing-wise when we have all our kids at school every weekday. It’s bewildering, but not distressing and there’s no need to settle on anything for a while. I’ve had a lovely week and a half at home since my retreat, kickstarting (again!) some kind of a prayer life by getting to Mass at my daughters’ school chapel some days, reading bits from the Divine Office, and sitting in my dust and ashes a bit more regularly.

What have you been up to in this last bit of the year? No need to run to 1000 words 🙂



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