It looks like autumn is here, teetering on the edge of summer like a surfer poised to take a wave. It brings with it a gust of feelings, memories and images – but many of them, strangely, are to do with summers past. And even though I am now the veteran of six winters in England, I feel the same terror of the sudden stripping away of warmth as the sun deserts us.

Its visit is so fleeting compared to the seemingly endless summers of my South African childhood and early twenties : I have memories of churning up mud with ecstatic feet beside sprinklers on the lawn, of eating peaches in the pool, dripping juice onto the sizzling tiles, and melting Smarties while paging through Archie comics – all under a mind-blanking curve of lucid blue sky.

Back then, it seemed easier to relax into the natural gaps in life. I think my addiction to ‘busy-ness’ began at university – the sheer workload of a Psychology degree combined with trying to have a social life. Yesterday morning I sat on the seafront while Jude was at creche, and what seemed like a million to-do lists were cascading through my head. Aware that this was probably one of the last days of good weather, I wished I could just listen to the waves and let myself float with them.

But I’ve been facing a big decision, which was churning around in my mind: whether to continue working an 81-hour week looking after Jude (i.e. unpaid childcare) and studies, or to take the plunge and convert sixteen of those hours into ‘official’ work – i.e. what the government recognises as taxable income.

Even though I would be doing things I love for money – teaching yoga and writing freelance – because I don’t want Jude to be in significant amounts of non-parental childcare, it would mean giving up some of my already very limited fiction-writing time and ‘dreaming time’ and cramming work into every single gap in my life. Like so many decisions, it’s hard because both options involve gains and sacrifices – so it’s a real process of sifting through my values and defining which ones are non-compromisable.

If I choose the working route, I’ll have more money, of course, and the freedom that brings. And the satisfaction of sharing my gifts with the world. But I’ll also lose the freedom to rest when I need to during my child-free time – and to be available for spontaneous things like contemplating waves, or going for an Artist’s Date.

These may seem like indulgences, but it is the very space to breathe that allows the rest of our life to exist, whole: the same way that music could not exist without spaces between notes.

In my last post I wrote about the stress that creeps in – as it would if you were working an 80 hour week at anything – simply because of the lack of space and, crucially, silence. In ‘Finding Sanctuary’, Abbot Christopher Jamison says some compelling things about the downside of being too busy – how it denies the soul’s yearning for silence and is a sickness our society perpetuates to keep us consuming more and more.

Even I, who consider myself a very un-materialistic person, fall into this trap because of the powerful messages that equate working (as defined by the government) with self esteem and money with security, happiness and freedom. Let’s be honest: ‘single mother on benefits’ isn’t a label that inspires pride.

But I’ve been encouraged of late to see that some of the gaps I’ve written about here are starting to be filled in a very satisfying way – and not through me ‘trying’ to do anything. Community, for instance. I’ve been bumping into my neighbours in the park and having good conversations, and in fact there’s an event called ‘Hanover Zocalo’ happening in my neighbourhood this weekend where people put their chairs outside and hang out with the neighbours.

Then there’s nature – another of my core values: I’ve been spending more time in locations like Stanmer Park, picking blackberries with Jude – which he loves – and even in ‘ordinary’ Queenspark up the road, Jude has been enjoying playing ‘Pooh sticks’ in the (admittedly smelly) stream and ‘fishing’ with a stick. It’s been so heartening to see him enjoying nature, trying to climb trees, wanting to explore, when I was starting to fear he’d always prefer urban concrete playground environments.

So…I guess real life is in the gaps, sometimes. The unscheduled connections and synchronistic meetings, the times you let go of what’s been planned to follow an instinct – to walk into a gallery to have a closer look at a bewitching painting. It’s often only when I allow gaps to exist without compulsively filling them, that a solution to a problem will appear. Those gaps, I think, cannot have a price put on them.

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