Dropping the Rules

We were late this morning.  My daughter did not want to go to school.  Can’t say I blame her.  We all need a day off now and again from our routines, what’s tricky is making the judgement call about whether its time to push through the blocks, or drop the habitual.

I dropped the habitual.  In a way.  I didn’t scream or shout, or lose my rag.  I used gentle persuasion mixed with empathy, some firmness and a relaxing of the normal rules of getting ready in the morning on a school day.  We can always return to the rules, they’re not going anywhere.  Returning is part of what makes things work and move sometimes, as Julie Tallard reminded me in her ‘Musings for Writers and Poets’ newsletter this week.  It is a dogmatic clinging to the rules that can kill off their relevance.  We have rules for the sake of creating rhythm and knowing where we stand, not for the sake of having rules in and of themselves.

Now eager to go to school, she raced ahead down the stairs to open the front door.  And promptly locked herself outside.  It was horrible for her, she was terrified.  Being four years old and locked out of the house is a huge experience.  She got lots of hugs and reassurance once I got to her.  My listening ears, as opposed to my rushing head.  Because  now we were late for school and I had to make the choice to drop the front and obey the rule that we must be on time at all costs because otherwise we will lose face with the school.  I got real; lucid if you will.  We practice punctuality to create an orderly and centred life, not to impress upon others our good behaviour.  And when things happen, we are required to respond to them one way or another.  Because stuff comes up; deviations do occur.

In my initiation practice right now (read the ‘About’ section for more on this), I am being asked to question what rules I am following when I do things, and whether those rules actually serve what is required at that moment.  I’ve been feeling down about the whole initiation thing recently, a bit lost in the woods (funny that!), even woke up this morning with a hollow feeling in my stomach, like what and where am I going with all this?  But the practice gave me the tools this morning to drop the rules that needed to be dropped.  To create a different kind of outcome  for myself and the people I am looking after right now.

We walked to school gently, we did not rush.  We talked about how being late is sometimes really OK, because things can happen.  And when I explained, the school were fine.  No big deal.  I took her to her class myself.    Afterwards I went to a cafe and had mushrooms on toast and a cup of tea while the baby had a sleep in his buggy.  In the commotion of the morning I had forgotten my phone, so I wrote this post in my notebook.  I was myself made to slow down; not multi-task in the way I can when I have my smart phone to hand.  I observed the resistance I felt; how being busy can be a shield from being present with yourself as you are right now.

Anyway, happy February 29th.  It really is a day to do things differently.



Sitting under a big old tree in some unusually warm February sun. It’s the second day of this winter heat wave, and tiny, beautiful yellow and purple crocuses are pushing their way out the ground in response, as they do every year in London. I guess we are always surrounded by metaphors for the tension and relationship between the old and new; the emergent and already-existing. Dotted around St George’s churchyard, the home of the big old tree, are these rockerys, spilling over with succulent shrubs, stones and bushes. They are sturdy and gruff rather than beautiful. These are plants that are good at surviving. I love them for their delicate toughness. On closer inspection, I see that the rockerys are constructed out of the old gravestones that would’ve covered this churchyard back in the day. There are the inscriptions… “dedicated to the memory of….”. Some are jagged and broken, some whole, all several hundred years old. I know that beneath my feet are the remains of centuries old London bodies. It is a gentle overlap of life and death, and perhaps also a gentle reminder of how at some point we must relinquish our attachments to life, to the rigidity of tradition, the solidity of headstones and graveyards, and that this process is ongoing.  Whatever new worlds are fashioned now in response to the changes happening all around us will also in their time have to address the calcification into dogma and subsequent erosion.  The brightest and best social systems are those which have at their heart the flexibility and responsiveness that is at the heart of evolution. “Hold your beliefs lightly” says Grayson Perry.

This can be hard.  Whether it comes easily or not, I think it may be a necessity. Regardless of all that, I’d best get off my high horse and get going. The sun is behind a cloud, my hands are getting cold and the school run is calling.

The work-life balance myth


Oftentimes it is tricky and maybe even impossible to separate work and life. What does that thing ‘work life balance‘ mean anyway? It implies that work and life are somehow intrinsically separate things. This is a western hang over inherited partly from the booze up of the Enlightenment when that Cartesian division of mind and body got honed and perfected. Dividing work and life is an extension of that. When I try to balance work as a writer with life as a mother of two little people, things get ill. It is hard, draining, difficult to strike a balance between such demanding, consuming passions. I am lost somewhere in the mix, chasing an ideal of perfection in two spheres that can’t be achieved. The result as I’ve observed time and time again is stagnation combined with guilt in my work and irritability combined with guilt in my parenting.

So change the script. Recognise this work-life division is an illusion. When you can. Because it saves your skin. It’s saving mine right now. I’m typing this one handed on my phone. My 8 month old son is on my lap chewing up a piece of bread. I dropped my daughter at school about an hour ago and her pink scooter is under the table in the cafe where I’m getting a bit of breakfast and a cup of tea for 20 pence.  Destabilising the tyranny of the work-life balancing act requires sustenance. The working conditions aren’t ideal, but hell, when are they? I can always find a million excuses not to write. Why not just write anyway, as part of the flow of life more generally? Perfection is the enemy of the good. That’s how  the Buddha puts it. Sitting here, my son warm and cosy on my lap, another cup of tea on the way, things are good. And that’s good enough for me.




I have this amazing friend who is TONS better at writing than me. Luckily, she agrees to meet on Skype once a week to have a writing group. It’s been pretty cool having this group. In the last few months it’s been massively grounding and inspiring. Something about that commitment, and the fact of getting something out to someone else, has made me actually… well… do some work. Which is cool, and maybe a teensy tiny bit overdue. No “Judgement”, but…. you know…. there’s a lot of reasons hanging around to put off your work.  Especially when it’s work you actually want to do.  Which is weird but true.

That’s one of the rules of the group by the way. it’s a ‘no-judgement’ space. Which can sound…. lame. But in practice it makes it easier to do the work… because that inner-critic voice (cheeky, insidous little bugger that it is) can get fobbed off.  When you disregard getting judged there’s no problem trying.


Even within  a no judegment space, beginning is the hard part.  Every piece of work, even four line poems for non-judegmental weekly writing groups held on Skype requires a beginning. And it’s beginnings that are the bitch.

Steven Pressfield puts it like this,

“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write”

One week our theme was ‘Beginnings’ (we have themes every week.  It helps focus the mind).  We use this feedback method in the group that we got from Louise Dunlap’s amazing book ‘Undoing the Silence’.  Basically, it helps you get to the heart of whatever you are reading and commenting on.  Using it on my super-talented friend’s work, this is what I worked out about Beginning:

1. We are always being brought back to the beginning.

2. Beginning is hard because having begun before, we realise the traps that lie ahead. This makes it difficult to have faith and trust the process. It makes us tired. (Steven Pressfield would call this Resistance. Whatever you call it, It likes to make you tired. Tired is a good reason to put stuff off.)

3. Beginning something new often takes you on a road that winds back to old destinations when you least expect it.

4. Beginning something new can offer a chance to finish something old.

5. Beginning is something we choose to do every day.

So this is the beginning of My Year of Initiation.  Take a breath.  Take a risk.  Dive in.