At just about half-six in the morning on 1st September 2012, 4 of us landed at Heathrow. Back then, half-six would’ve required calculation on my part (to be honest, the coins are still sometimes slow to account). For one, it was a homecoming, for three an emigration. There are 5 of us now, but only one who really remains a foreigner.
The last ten years have been amazing and they have been awful. Dickens comes from just up the road, so the whole best of times times worst of times malarkey should come as no surprise. What is a bit surprising is to watch as a nation chooses to slide itself back into the grim, hopeless abyss that Dickens captured in all its Victorian splendour, apparently having misunderstood the aim of the tales. This isn’t a political essay, though, despite the personal being political.
Mostly, I’m grateful. For the experience of living in another country and culture. For having a wonderful wife and children. For having lived these ten years. There is a lot that I have learned and also much that I have lost. Grief is boring, and like boredom it floats around in the background waiting to fill unexpected gaps in the daily itineraries of life.
When we arrived, I was a composer who was hoping to find a teaching job in higher education. Now, I’m a charity bid writer who moonlights as a singer-songwriter. Emma was a school director looking for a break from education. Now, she’s a church parish administrator delivering sermons. The children were unschooled, non-verbal, or non-existent then. Now, they’re all thriving and unique individuals, full of life and creativity and hope.
Long-time readers may recall that we originally moved here because Emma’s mum had been living with cancer. Well, she developed another form of cancer not long after my mom died, and she kicked that one’s ass, too. Emma’s dad has retired and taken to occupying his time with lovely walks and interesting projects around the home and garden.
We’ve welcomed dear friends from Texas and enjoyed sharing our new home with them on their travels. Friendships otherwise have ebbed and flowed, which is the natural state of things, I guess. Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy to accept or adjust to.
It’s only the digital tendrils of social media that make us feel like we’re connected to people from the past iterations of ourselves. There was a time not long ago when birthday or Christmas cards or blue moon telephone calls were the extent of distance friend maintenance, but now there’s an unfortunate helping of “oh, I never knew Craig was an unhinged conspiracy theorist!” Truth be told, the accumulation of people is problematic for someone as feelings-led and empathetic as I consider myself to be, and I can’t bear the constant hostility. Being nasty to people to bolster your online presence is a bleak way to spend your time.
What’s worse is that the algorithmic systems have created a trap wherein we can mistake engagement for care or the absence of engagement as a lack thereof. Intellectually, I know that it’s nonsense, and among the 10-year sampling of life in the UK I’ve witnessed the randomness in action as a YouTube video was selected briefly by the machine, producing 12,000 views in two days as opposed to the standard 5–30. The numbers are meaningless.
Yet, when people in your life who were supposed to care for you deeply have failed to do so, you can feel like the numbers just reinforce that you’re not worthy of time, energy, and love. Alongside a number of other factors, this has helped to create an environment in which I’m generally unhappy and don’t like myself very much. Ten years ago, I felt like I could do anything. Now, not quite so much.
There are a small number of people about whom I care a great deal, and there are a small number of things that I greatly love doing. I’m hoping to reconcile myself with these to regain a sense of joy and wonder commensurate with the miracle that it is to be here, alive, and so blessed with love.
Ten years have taught me that I’m the luckiest man in the world. They’ve also taught me that I need to go and find myself out in the wilds, because I’m not who I once was, nor am I who I thought I would become.
I have ten years to thank for music and musical friends, ten years to thank for laughter (sometimes inappropriate), ten years to thank for learning the meaning of holiday, and ten years of experiencing the joy and sorrow that make each other meaningful.
I want my life again to be a celebration. To bring light to those around me. To love myself enough to feel worth the effort to break through the clouds. Nothing will change unless I change it, so as part of the changes I intend to make, I’m saying goodbye to personal social media for the foreseeable future.
We’re all so grateful for the love and welcome that the people of this island have shown us over the last ten years. Thank you for being a part of this grand adventure. We hope that in being here we have given you a fraction of the warmth that we have felt.