Catharsis

I’ve just finished reading a book about parenting that my mum gave me, parenting forward by Cindy Wang Brandt.

She warned me in passing it to me that it was written by a Christian but said she didn’t think it would be too heavily about Jesus or God that I, a ‘spiritual being’ who doesn’t believe in a God of any religion, would find offence with it.

Far from that, it’s been an eye-opening read.

It’s affirming in how I’m choosing to parent my son – allowing him to have a voice and opinion even at such an early age – and has also served as catharsis for the unspoken feelings and thoughts about my upbringing in fundamentalist religion.

The fundamental Christianity of my youth – by no means ‘fundamental’ compared to other types of churches – left its mark on me.

But I didn’t have a way to voice this until I heard my story told in that of Cindy’s.

Fundamentalism taught me to accept what was taught to me – believing was about unconditional acceptance of what I was told instead of a grappling of what was spoken about. A tidy faith, a believing faith with limited room for disagreement and only belonging, support and community if I could agree with what was taught.

Fundamentalism showed me a white, middle class faith that didn’t challenge the racial prejudices in the system. Jesus was white, he looked like me and our congregation was mostly white. We didn’t use our privilege to challenge the dominant culture, we kept safe in it. Race wasn’t discussed.

Fundamentalism taught me that women weren’t equal to men and that the feelings that so keenly came up inside me – anger, frustration, rage – were not acceptable to God or to the community I belonged to.

Fundamentalism taught me that my purity was the most important thing about me and I didn’t feel I fit once that purity was no longer ‘in tact’. As Cindy says ‘Fundamentalism failed my relationship in that I was taught to hold back even when it was good and appropriate expression of emotional connection‘.

Fundamentalism gave me no option other than a heteronormative view of sexuality and a narrow parameter with which that could be explored. And while happily married with a beautiful son, there is a ‘what if’ that I’ll always carry for the non-binary, more nuanced parts of my sexuality that never had a chance to come out of the closet.

And yet I came off pretty well all things considered – my privilege protected me as a cis-gendered, predominantly straight, white woman.

I didn’t have to suffer racial micro-aggressions or white washing of my culture. I didn’t have to hide all of me to fit in. I was resilient enough to temper myself. I came from an economically well-off family so always had more than enough to eat.

And I recognise that people in the church served me as best they could with what they had. All the above would have been (mostly) true if I hadn’t been brought up in the church – the times in which I was raised were when the inkling of sexual freedom, feminism, awareness of systemic racism and self-awareness were starting to bubble to the surface of our consciousness after being buried for several decades.

But it’s just nice to be able to read something and think ‘so it wasn’t all just me‘ – to have a story told in which I can see myself reflected.

So thank you, mum, for the book. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who was brought up in the church and wants to be deliberate in the choices they now make, as a parent or just as an adult.

And I want to leave you with a sentence that hit home with me from the last chapter of Cindy’s book:

Children propel us into fighting for a better future because we belong to one another. We can see ourselves in the reflections of each other – our childhood in them, their future in us. 

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Write your own essay question

I was speaking to my coach yesterday about the work that I do, planning out what the next period of time looks for me in my role developing people in Local Government.

As I was speaking to her, I could see how I have developed incredibly over the last two years of working with her – growing more in my ability to use my intuition and emotions to guide me and reading what my body is telling me to inform my actions.

An example of this is when I feel a knot in my throat when I’m talking to someone. This often happens when I am disagreeing with them. Knowing that this knot means something, I have increasingly started to use this information to explore what actions I need to take.

Is it that I need to surface my thinking more?

Is it a sign that I know the person isn’t going to be receptive to my thoughts and I need to take a different approach?

Is there something else my body is telling me about how I need to go about my work?

But when we met yesterday we spoke about my brain and how I can better use my intellect to make progress in my role. We spent 90 minutes looking at what data and information I need to look at, what research I need to do, what facts I need to have clarity on in order to decide my best course of action.

It was hard work – after the time, I felt like I’d had a massive brain workout. It was hard to do, not because I’m lacking in this area but because I haven’t done a lot of this of late.

I’ve got such a lot of emotional and physical awareness but I have less experience looking at what my intellect is telling me. I’ve been less diligent in analysing the facts and gaining expertise doing that.

And she said to me something which resonated so strongly and is continuing to resound in my brain and this is it –

The next years ahead of you are less about responding to what other people tell you to do, being brilliant at answering their questions. This is about setting your own exam question and answering that.

And as she told me that, I got it.

I can see that for so long I have been brilliant at responding to the question other people set me – you tell me to do something, and I will do it well.

But I haven’t gone further than that very often.

But I know how to do this as I’ve set my own exam question with my emotions and my reading of how I am through physical wisdom.

I’ve not being willing to confine myself to what I’m told a woman is meant to be, what a mother is meant to be, what a daughter is meant to be.

Instead of that I have set my own exam question.

II’ve challenged and gone beyond the structures to create my own sense of self.

I am me.

I am angry and wild and gentle and loving and impatient and expansive.

I don’t confine myself to what other people say I should be, because I have set my own exam question.

But I have not done this intellectually yet – looking at data in depth to set out my own course of action, and so I felt scared.

Until I saw the possibility of setting my own exam question. Holding the reigns. Being my own creator.

And so I challenge you, dear friend, to think about what this might mean for you.

Is it a challenge for you to set your own exam question of what a family should be? What a woman or man should be? What a mother or father should be? What a relationship should be?

Is it listening more to what shows up for you in your body and using that to inform your next steps?

Or is it learning – like me – to consider things differently on an intellectual level? Taking data, facts, information – to decide your next course of action?

Because as I think about writing my own exam question for looking at my next steps at work, I see that the possibilities are endless and I feel excited at the level of mastery I will be stepping into!

I can’t deny though, this intimidates me as it’s a new way of being.

And I can’t say that I’m relishing the thought of looking at data and facts and information. Leaning less on my gut and on direction from others all the time and instead gathering and distilling information to firm up a logical next step forward.

But I know it’s for a purpose.

I know this work is to define my own exam question.

And that makes all worthwhile.

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To thine own self

For years and years I pushed my own needs and desires to the background in order to survive in this world.

If others think I’m ok, I’m ok was the unspoken mantra of my life and so I’d peddle, push, placate by following what I thought others needed me to be for them.

Often pushing myself over the edge and having bi-annual breakdowns where I’d cry for hours, releasing the tension and pressure of putting my needs to the back of the line.

And then I’d stick a smile back on my face and revert back to this pattern.

There’d be times where I’d get some counselling and feel a freedom as I allowed myself to surface my needs and desires.

And slowly I started to change my way of living, acknowledging my own needs and allowing myself to be a priority in my life.

I stretched, through relationships, into new territory.

Learning I didn’t need to be thin, pretty, demure to be loved. Learning I could voice my needs to my partner and I deserved to have a say in what was going on.

But I feel stuck at the moment.

I really don’t have a clue about how I can be true to myself – my needs, my desires, my introverted nature – where I am.

The nature of life at the moment is stretched and it doesn’t show signs of letting up.

I feel like something has to give.

Work is great, but full on.

Motherhood is a journey that I’m privileged to experience, but comes at a great price and requires constant patience, a tempered nature that isn’t naturally easy.

I am growing, expanding and stretching developmentally and spiritually, but it takes energy and focus. 

My partner has different needs to me, with each of us on opposite sides of intra-extroversion and it feels like we’re running in a different direction to each other at the moment. Needing different things from each other.

It feels like my life is a jigsaw puzzle, one which isn’t fitting together at the moment.

And I asked myself this morning whether it is possible to be true to myself in all this – to prioritise myself while still keeping the world spinning.

And the phrase ‘to thine own self be true’ came to mind.

So I turned to Shakespeare to see what ‘to thine own self be true’ actually means. What was he talking about?

I learnt there are several interpretations – firstly, it could be a call to do ‘the right thing’ (whatever this means). It could also mean that you should be honest in your actions. Finally, it could be advice to put yourself first.

So the literary father isn’t as clear in his directions as I first thought…and I’m just as lost as I was before about what I should do.

One thing is sure though, my puzzle pieces of life aren’t fitting together and I need to do something about it.

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Hands in the earth

I’m someone who always used to think of gardening as boring and for the middle-aged.

I’d wonder why people would spend so much time working on something that I felt so little for. I didn’t see the point of pretty flowers or growing things you could get so easily in a supermarket.

It pretty much reflected my relationship with nature. I didn’t have one.

But things have shifted this year and I’m having to swallow my pride (or acknowledge that I’m entering an early middle age!) as I start to spend time gardening.

That’s what I did last weekend and I want to share with you here the things I noticed from my experience:

Noticing

I have never been one for paying attention to detail.

It’s just not that important to me.

A friends birthday party? Great, yes I’ll accept but only have a cursory think about how I’ll get there the moment I have to leave the house, which often leads to me being late!

But I found a real beauty in slowing down and noticing what was going on around me. The garden bed which I considered to be mostly empty was actually full of clever bind weeds that had tentacles spanning over the whole of the bed.

I suddenly saw how prolific they were – a lesson from Mother Nature that things are not always as they seem and how slowing down and paying attention can be worth it.

The web

Oh my gosh, the amount of roots I discovered as I dug around the patch of earth!

It was like the earth was webbed together with roots. The flowers woven with the honeysuckle, the weeds and the vine we have growing in there.

Little thread veins were EVERYWHERE and I loved the living metaphor for how much we too are connected. With each other, with nature and with something beyond us.

It was beautiful. And so comforting to think about the world beneath our feet. The wildness under our pavement and roads of tree roots and plant roots which network and co-exist together.

As I stare at the Level Park nearby where I’m writing this, I imagine the trees that have been here for hundreds of years and must have a web of interconnected life beneath us. A source of power and strength that we can’t see with our bare eyes but very much is there.

Shifting problems

As I attempted to clear the weeds from the bed, I soon realised why a gardening fork is needed for this work. Because attacking a weed front on – attempting to pull it straight up from the earth – doesn’t work.

The leaves snap off and the weed will soon grow back.

So instead you need to first loosen the weed’s hold on the earth. Wiggling and jiggling the earth around it until it is loose enough to pull out.

There again, another cup full of wisdom from the earth!

How often do we try to solve our problems face on and fail? Try to get healthier by dieting until we fall off the wagon as we haven’t addressed all the things around it –

  • The comfort we get from food
  • How we associate it with a past we haven’t been able to let go of
  • Our disassociation from the raw ingredients that make up our food in this fast-consumption society.
  • Our life that is too busy to take time for real self-care
  • The numbing that foods high in sugar, fat and salt gives us

But start to wiggle and jiggle these things and we might be able to let go of what binds us.

Being physical

My back ached at the end of my weeding session but I adored the focus on being physical. It’s not something I often get in my office job.

In the garden, I used the power in my arms to chop back the blackberry plant. I felt the wind against my skin as it whipped around me. My senses were heightened as I heard the birds calling in the skies.

It was a pleasure to get into my skin and just be there instead of living inside my head – being hijacked by the galloping pace of my thoughts and my emotions.

Being physical brought me peace.


So there you are – a few reflections from my time in the wonderful world of plants.

I’m sure there’ll be many more musings to come.

The new year ahead

The end of this year is slowly drawing near and, as I sit here, waiting to return to the UK, I find myself thinking of the year to come.

It’s bittersweet to let go of 2019 as it means letting go of my time here in Australia and facing the rhythm of life back in Brighton which I enjoyed getting away from.

I enjoyed time with my family.

I enjoying visiting new places.

I enjoyed getting into a new rhythm which was of a slower beat.

So part of my reflections are about how I can incorporate a slower pace back home when I often feel like I’m functioning at a sprint-like pace.

I’m not sure how that will be possible without changing something.

I find myself dreaming about the return to full-time with compressed hours to have a day a fortnight just to myself. And in equal measure feel delight at the thought of some space and time to myself and apprehension about abandoning my Friday with Jenson.

I know the stride that Gregg and myself got into at the end of the year – eating dinner as a family – broke our rhythm of eating in front of the TV in a zombie-like state when Jenson was asleep and feel like that commitment will continue to be important so we connect as a couple and make more conscious choices about how we spend our evenings. Reading or talking more than consuming mindless media.

Being intentional with my phone will also be important. Getting offline more often than I’m online to quieten my mind.

Continuing to listen to myself and the signs I feel internally – the amped-up stress hormones, the jingly nerves, the unfurling feelings of overwhelm – to stop when things start to get out of control.

And as my sister pointed out as she drove us to the airport, not filling every day full to the brim will also be an important factor. Allowing and embracing time to just be instead of the snowball roll of activity needs to feature more in 2020.

Another reflection I have is how I hope that 2020 will be a year of radical self-love.

I was doing a visual meditation the other day and, in it, found myself in front of a horse. With great love and respect, I stroked its velvet nose and neck. And felt the call through this meditation for me to treasure myself in the same way I did the horse.

I long for that – to be firmly rooted in self-love and honour myself as a default in all I do. To carry with me a self-love that allows me to put up fierce boundaries and to be someone who loves themselves exactly as they are.

I find those sorts of people enchanting, attractive, enticing. People who are firm in their self-worth in a world that tells us we’re lacking feel almost dangerous, definitely rebellious and that’s what I feel is around the corner for me.

And I dare to believe that 2020 might be the year that I step into that.

I also sense that 2020 will be a year of growth.

A year of learning how to value different opinions and lean into disagreement with others.

A year where I let go of my notion of self a little bit to explore who I could be.

A year where I stretch myself intellectually, emotionally, physically in different ways yet to be explored.

Where I lean into what it means to be a person as a connected part of the planet.

Where I explore who I am and where I want to be.

And I’m starting to feel excited the prospect of it as I start to loosen my grip on 2019 and let go of what was to make space for what is to come in the year ahead.

I’m learning

I’m sat here in a café in Australia, whilst my beautiful sister takes care of my son, Jenson, for the day.

Ahead of me is a wonderful day of celebration as one of my closest friends gets married and I celebrate the solstice where in Australia we have the longest day and in the UK we have the shortest day. A moment from which we will fall into greater darkness as the nights draw in or greater lightness as the days get longer.

It’s a day that is so special to me, pairing up both a celebration of love with the wedding and the celebration of the changing seasons of Mother Earth.

All the while being in Australia on holiday, how fantastic!

But over the past few days I recognised that I’ve not been my best self on holiday.

Because I haven’t put in place the measures needed for me to take full care of myself.

The first two weeks were spent in action. Working up to the wire, taking the plane over to Australia, dealing with jetlag, visiting Brisbane and having days full of fun based around my son and his needs. I’m so lucky that my family were happy to go with his flow, but it meant that we didn’t go with the flow of anyone else.

And my flow very much requires time alone to slow down, listen to myself, decompress and reenergise.

But instead of doing that I just kept on pushing, kept on going, kept on surrounding myself with people.

This was to the detriment of myself, other people and the detriment of my experience here on holiday.

I attended a solstice yoga session yesterday and it felt so good to be doing a practice that was so physical, releasing the anger and frustration I feel at myself for not having listened to my needs, for still being on this journey where I find myself again and again pushed beyond my means.

But as I said here, I realise this is a learning process.

Finding myself after the fact not having done what I needed.

And one day this will shift and I will find myself in the moment thinking “hang on a second Amy, you need time by yourself.”.

And then it will become natural, and I won’t even think twice about taking time for myself and finding moments of quiet to re-centre and the balance myself.

So with kindness I remind myself that I have not waited until after the fact, after the holiday when I feel battered and bruised, metaphorically lying on the floor a broken person, to take action. I started my journey earlier than before. I reached out and asked my sister for help and support.

I’m learning.

How I treat myself

I’ve been on holiday for ten days now – it feels like more and like less in equal measure – and over the past day have read Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye. I’ve enjoyed the show over the past few years and was looking for a bit of light relief between the slightly more involved books I’ve brought with me.

But his book brought me more than I was expecting. So I wanted to spend a few moments writing thoughts about some of the things that I’ve been thinking while following his story.

The main being a line right towards the end of the book which says:

I’m literally just as lost as you. I’m just as grateful. And I’m just as much of a perfectly imperfect mess. People are all layered – good and bad, filled with joy and sorrow. The key is being grounded in the relationship you have with yourself. Basing my worth in how I treat myself despite how others treat me has been the key to my success.

And I’m struck, despite how hard it is for me to type these words and declare unapologetically to the world, by how much I like myself.

There, I’ve said it.

I like who I am.

I like how I look.

I like the grey in my hair.

I like how I’m more in tune with myself physically and emotionally than I have ever been before.

I like my bravery and my tenacity.

I like my gentleness and reflectiveness.

I like how I can be dead serious and then dance myself silly in the next moment.

I like how I’m musical, creative and intuitive but how I can be just as logical and intellectual.

I like how I’m driven.

And I love the simplicity in JVN’s words – the possibility of a guiding principle of my life being that my worth isn’t on how much I achieve, how good a mum I am, what I do with my life, how I am viewed by others, how thin I am, how I treat others.

My worth can be on how I treat myself.

How much kindness, compassion, understanding, generosity I show myself.

And from there, who knows. I may accomplish many of the things I’ve listed above. I’m more likely to achieve better results, parent better, have a rewarding life. And I’m likely to not give a flying fuck about how thin I am, what others think of me, whether I’ve pleased others.

It feels defyingly daring to live a life like this.

To embrace myself and live from the foundation of knowing that I am the bees knees.

It doesn’t feel safe to do this and I hear my inner critic telling me to not get too big for my boots, because doing this risks being knocked down.

But it also has the potential to see me standing bigger, taller, prouder, freer, more grounded.

But what a beautiful thought.

And it makes me think about Adam, my cousin, who died a few years ago and who Jenson is named for (he’s Jenson Adam). He’s someone who I know lived like this and I admired him for that. Living unapologetically as himself, knowing he was fucking fantastic.

I want that for myself.

So in advance of new year, I’m going to commit to channeling my inner JVN, my inner Adam and know that it’s how I treat myself which is my true measure of my worth.

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The cards I was dealt

It’s my birthday!!!!

And as per every year I wanted to spend a bit of time reflecting this past year and thoughts I have about getting older, where I’ve been and where I’m yet to go.

This year has been a BIG year!

But then again every year is a big year for me!

With lessons learnt and adventures had and lots of paths travelled.

As I cycled into work this morning I was messaging my friend and thinking about what I’ve learnt about myself through my experience of birthing my son, Jenson.

I reflected to her on the conversation I had with a friend yesterday about our sons and how their personalities were set before they came into the world. Hers so confident and independent. Mine in need of company, screaming if he wasn’t being held in someone’s arms for the first five months and, even now, constantly asking for cuddles, tugging us towards him to play and wanting to be side-by-side with us at most moments of the day.

And so I think about what I must’ve had in me the moment that I entered this world. Curiosity, kindness, gentleness, tenacity, enjoyment being in my own company, only needing a few friends to be fully replete, a deep thinker.

As with him, my cards were dealt before I was born – and I had a good hand – but I feel like this is the year that I’ve started to really play my hand.

I’ve started to see what I’ve got and how I can use my skills, my gifts, my self to my full advantage and in service of what I feel I’m here to do on this world – challenging and rebuilding the structures of our society. Whether that’s the role of woman, our treatment of the planet, our political or educational system, the healthcare system. This is what I’m here to do – I feel it deep in my heart and in my gut.

This is the year that I stepped into the possibility of my future.

This is the year where I started to think about how I show up and how this influences outcomes.

I have started to settle deep into my body and listen to what’s going on for me on many levels – not just intellectually, but in my heart and in my body physically.

This is the year that I’ve realised I don’t only have the ‘enthusiastic’ card to play. I don’t have to show up as the sparky, bright, pretty thing to have influence in this world.

I can show up with the presence of a mature, powerful woman.

I can show up as the renegade.

And I have started to see, just this month, how I might be able to be effective in spaces where people have conflicting views (myself included), helping to find a way forward when no way has been found for years.

I’m taking huge strides, jumping forward in my development whilst being kind as I stumble and fall whilst doing new things.

And as I play my cards to their full effect I’m also grateful for those people around me who play their cards in support of mine.

To my husband who supports and champions me, cheering me on as I seek to experience new things and go to different places.

And my friends, who, showing up fully themselves, make space for me to do the same.

To those people at work who have not needed me to be ‘sparky’ or ‘bright’ to be accepted but have called me into showing my full self at work.

To my family who are my safe place to retreat when times get hard.

So here’s to another year of adventure, learning, leaping and stumbling forward.

Here’s to another year stepping more fully into courage, truth and love.

Head, heart and gut

I’ve had a decision hanging over me over the past few weeks.

A decision about a course that I could be part of over an extended period of time.

Usually I would know what to do. I’d have a feeling or would know logically that it was the right or wrong thing to do for my life.

But this time it was different.

My head was ruling all my ponderings and wonderings.

I had so many questions going around my head. 

Should I do this course? Would it be good for me? Is the length of it too long? How would I afford it? Was it the right decision? What if I said ‘yes’ and it turned out to be the wrong decision? Would I disappoint others if I said ‘no’? Would I disappoint myself if I said ‘yes’? How would this fit into my duties of motherhood and being a wife and a daughter and a friend? How would this fit alongside work? Did I have enough leave for the course? What if I did this course and no longer fit in with where I am now? What if I didn’t do it and stayed stuck where I am?

So many questions! 

I felt so anxious about the answer because I didn’t know what to do and I always know what to do.

This was a new feeling to me.

And so I meditated on it and I sought a different perspective about what I should do.

And the message I got back is this:

“It’s okay to use your head to think logically about whether this is the right course for you. But don’t forget the other parts of you that need to inform your decision.

Your heart and your gut.

Listen to them.”

My friend Sarah has been an angel this weekend.

She has listened to me talk over again and again what I should do and has helped me to return to my heart and my intuition to find a balance in taking this decision.

I realised, with her help, that when I think from my heart and consider what this course could do for me, I want to do it. With uncertainty about where it would take me. With knowledge that this is a course that won’t serve me in my ‘career’. But not all things need to be purposeful to be right. And although I feel trepidation, it is a good trepidation of stepping into what might be possible.

My heart says yes despite the uncertainty.

I have listened to my intuition this weekend too. And when I’ve heard the voice of intuition, I’ve been met with an openness to this course. A big ‘yes’ inside me when I think of the excitement of uncertainty. The possibility that springs from something new and different and exciting.

And so I’ve decided to go for it. To enrol onto this course and see what that will bring.

Knowing that there are still questions and uncertainties but that’s okay. This uncertainty is a new experience for me, one I’m enjoying.

Not knowing.

I’m sharing this with you in case you have big decisions to make, dear friend, in the hope that you’ll not only listen to your logic, but also your heart and your gut.

They all have their wisdom to bring and can serve us in different ways as we make our way along the path of life.

I dream

I dream of a life where I’m connected into community – supported and supporting those around me through daily, close interactions. We rub against each other and live alongside each other, imperfectly together.

I dream of a life where Jenson may be an only child, but he has a multitude of other children to call his kin. Where he may not have uncle and aunties physically close, but he has a band of adults stewarding him from the early steps of childhood, running wild in nature, to the first tentative movements into adulthood, nurtured and supported by his tribe.

I dream of life where we live in seasons – not taking part in the frenetic sprint that is the western hustle – but allowing for quieter time. Moments of calm. Accepting the softness of idle time in all aspects of life.

I dream of cities being re-wilded – surrounded once more by nature instead of being concrete and bricks. Tamed no more within our clinical setting, we’d allow for the snuffling hedgehog roaming through our shared gardens, see the wild fox slink around the neighbourhood, hear the call of the owl late in the night.

I dream of fashion being a celebration of who we are individually instead of something we use to prop up our inadequacies. Consuming to forget the pain we feel.

I dream of the world being flipped right. With those working in care being rewarded properly for their invaluble contribution to society. With generations respecting each other – the elders for their knowledge and temperance, the youth for their passion and hope.

I dream of everyone recognising that we’re only where we are thanks to the random lottery, the chance fusion of embryo and sperm which saw us born into more or less privilege than another. And in knowing that, openly share the riches we have with our fellow humans.

I dream of everyone knowing the sentience of all life forms – insects, animals, fish, nature – and moving to food and life systems that do no harm to other living beings.

I dream of unhealthy addictions to food, drink, drugs, gambling and pornography being no more as people are able to say ‘I’m hurting‘ and, supported with love, work through their pain to no longer need these crutches.

I dream of wholeness – of individuals, communities, nations, the world. Not wholeness through perfection but wholeness through accountability, love, forgiveness, acceptance.

As I write this, there are many counter-arguments in my mind – how could we forge a new economy? Is this practical or doable? How would I survive in community, needing my own space? Is this just idealistic, unreasonable bollocks?

But this is the dream which brings me hope.

And I need hope in this dark time.

So I continue to hope and I continue to dream.

And I will keep taking small steps to do my small part in bringing this dream to life.

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