What comes first: an ending or a beginning?
When Nick Wibberley, the Managing Director of N.S.Wibberley Funeral Directors & Memorial Consultants, first asked me if I could imagine blogging for their funeral services website, I’d blanched.
I know. You must be thinking, “Great way to make an impression on a potential client – not!”
You see, I’d spent the better part of two decades writing for a living. I’d worked as a journalist for Malaysia’s largest English daily in the late 90s and early noughties, until I upped and left upon marriage to someone whose job in turn required us to up and leave ever so often.
Thus, began a 16-year nomadic cycle of beginnings and endings, hellos and goodbyes that affected both my lifestyle and work style. Writing proved to be the antidote to all the stresses and upheavals I’d experienced moving in and out of countries as diverse as South Africa, Vietnam, the USA, and Germany. I’d conceptualised a fortnightly column I’d written for my newspaper, which culminated in a book a decade later. A book that also made it to the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2016 – something that I’m immensely proud of.
Shortly after that though, I’d often found myself staring at a blinking cursor with nary an idea of how or where to start. It marked the beginning of the end of a routine I’d once enjoyed but from which I eventually failed to derive pleasure.
I found myself descending into a rabbit hole sign-posted with contradictory thoughts: “Aren’t writers supposed to write?”, “Snap out of this already!”, “Maybe I should just become a pet groomer?”, “But you published a book!”, “What if people were only being nice about my writing?” I could go on as this rabbit hole stretched three years, but I’ll save you the agony.
Nick’s request meant two things: climbing out of my rabbit hole and facing a new looking glass.
Yes, the cursor blinked for a while, the headline was typed, deleted, and retyped several times BUT then came the headline you now see and I’ve had you reading up to here (or at least that’s the hope!).
The thing is, everything in life – homes, diets, loves, jobs, deaths, births – come with their own endings and beginnings. A home might mean fitting old furniture to new dimensions. A birth might mean the end of fitful sleep. A diet might mean relearning cooking skills. A death might mean a clean slate.
The crux though is to remain mindful of what we learn and feel between those two points – regardless of which comes first. For it is within THIS stretch where several little starts and stops happen (sometimes without you even realising it), which then alter not just your journey but how you navigate it.
For instance, my desk is filled with Post-its on which I’d scribbled either website links or recipes or Spotify playlists that I’d discovered during the many hours spent randomly Googling content. Back then, I’d chided myself for what I’d seen as mindless idling. Yet, without my realising it, I widened my knowledge or gained awareness or cemented an opinion of diverse matters.
And without even realising it, I’d apparently also practised oft-mentioned methods that help us embrace or bid farewell to either the old or new:
· Let go. I know it’s easier said than done. But at some point, you will get a prompting to either let go of the past or to micromanage the as-yet-unknown future. People often sigh, “Yeah, the best laid plans…” I mean, look at the massive curveball that 2020 has thrown us! Thus, the simple act of letting go is simply being kind to yourself.
· The middle matters too. Remember all that Googling I did while bemoaning my stagnant writing career? Well, it also held a mirror up to me about the areas that I’d rather be writing about. While previously I’d worked on graver matters – sexual harassment at the workplace, rape legislation, improving prison conditions – now I find purpose in writing about the benefits of walks in nature or about creating moon gardens. My focus may have shifted but my core calling remains.
· It’s OK if you don’t know everything. I worked for a real, hold-in-your-hand, hot-off-the-press newspaper. Since then the media landscape has morphed into a leviathan I barely recognise. Artificial intelligence produced some of the coverage of the last British elections! So how does a formerly analog person stay relevant in a digital world? Experiment, and I guess the privilege of age has also left me with minimal qualms in asking questions.
· Free that stiff upper lip. Laugh, cry, rant, rage. Suppressing your emotions won’t do you – or anyone around you – any good. I found myself sometimes dissolving in tears and used to fear it. But I’ve been blessed with a supportive circle of spouse, family, and friends who through their words and actions remind me that this is part of my makeup and my endings and beginnings are MY story. So, own your emotions.
· Go down a rabbit hole. Take it from one who’s traversed that path. Sometimes you need to be in a rut. But don’t beat yourself up about it. Putting life on pause as you try and make sense of an end or a beginning could be pivotal for your emotional and physical well-being. Why do you think wise men and women of the past took time out in the wilderness?
And so, with this maiden effort, I’m declaring the start of a new chapter in writing. And I’ll end this with a fantastic quote I found while Googling: “New reefs and the secret gardens of octopuses are often born in shipwrecks.”
How’s that for a thought-altering end? I’d say it’s a good start.