Renewing My Working Vows

Two whole months since the last post. Have you missed me as much as I’ve missed me? No need to answer that.

There has been plenty to say, but I suppose I have been stealing bouillon (taking stock…keep up!). Many issues from the material world have needed addressing, most of which can be packaged up into the news that I have returned to full-time employment. Three weeks ago I began an as-permanent-as-anything-is-these-days contract with a charity that works in the field of adult mental health. I am managing a 4-bed house for short-term crisis work with women and men at varying stages of psychological and emotional turmoil.

And it is deeply fulfilling to be able to say that the strength of positivity I feel about the job has taken me by surprise. Some of my thinking was originally driven by a sense of ‘needs must’……but I had lost touch with the simple beauty of that ‘needs must’ concept. We tend to use the phrase for the imposed and unwilled stuff of life. However, shine a light on it and you see what a gift it is to be able to identify what you really need, what’s uncompromisingly necessary.

This appreciation of true need applies to all aspects of becoming an alive human…from the ‘spiritual’ and psychological through to the necessity to eat and drink. And breathe.

Perhaps this is why simple breathing exercises are the basis for helpful reflection and meditation. Breath is need made physical and practical.

To quote a sufi: “Breath is the current which is established between all planes of one’s existence. Its currents run from the life unseen to the life on the surface, thus uniting spirit and matter both……the breath may be considered as a lift which may take you to any floor of the house you desire. The planes of one’s existence are like these floors; through the tower of breath, one can reach any floor”.

It would be a mistake to see all this as somehow divorced from the reasons why I am embracing my job with passion, energy and desire.

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So, apart from the above (“doin’ a what comes necessarily”) what are the good things about renewing my vows to the full-on, full-time working life?

  • giving something that is of service to other humans (a port in a storm, food, verbal and non-verbal communication).
  • getting paid and therefore being able to pay my own bills and enjoy some modest engagement with things I enjoy doing or consuming.
  • the chance to build a team of fellow workers on a base of values and ways of working that will be safe, effective and fun.
  • the learning that comes from interacting with people who have the intelligence, creative grace and humane vulnerability to act out the fact that they have lost balance in their lives.
  • the daily opportunity to absorb the splendour of the colossal, beautiful 400 year old oak that adorns the garden of the house.
  • working in an environment that is free from the savagery and mendacity of the upper reaches of corporate Babylon.

I’m realistic enough to know that something could go wrong, or that the current ideologically driven spending cuts could sneak a blade to the jugular, but right now I feel just plain inspired! From the Latin ‘inspirare’ – to breathe in.

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I last worked full-time in 2006.  Since then external life has been a round of temporary, part-time contracts plus travel in western Canada plus writing my book. In one sense I tried an always unlikely gamble: get Pick Up The Pieces published and revolutionise life by earning something from writing whilst cherry-picking professional work. It doesn’t even feel as if that gamble has been lost…I have emerged from that period with a book that’s significant to me and to some others, and that one day will be ‘out there’.

By the bye, I am still feeling like slapping myself for not pushing the book more…and am relishing tales of famously rejected authors. There’s a recent book on the subject full of crass quotations from editors and publishers turning down manuscripts that went on to become well accepted classics. The ultimate consolation for a literary fantasist like me is John Kennedy Toole, whose fine works (The Neon Bible and A Confederacy of Dunces etc) were roundly rejected during his lifetime. They were only published in the end after his mother went on a determined crusade to see her dead son’s work in print before she herself went to that great slush pile in the sky.

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Another consolation for the Maintenant Fantasist lies in the increasing sense that the world is already full to bursting with noise and words. I imagine that intelligent beings on distant planets see the earth as some kind of case study in Tourette’s Syndrome: phone signals, radio waves, texts, facebooks, twitters, emails, televisual beams (and blogs)…a Babel overload surrounding our world in the same way that clouds of gases envelop other planets.

A character in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse remarks that “the very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare”. In an earlier draft she had apparently used Plato instead of Shakespeare. The time-distance from Plato to Shakespeare is itself less than a nano-second to the stone. It’s neither a bad thing nor a good thing that our most heartfelt actions and thoughts and productions will all disappear into unimaginable infinity…it’s just something that will happen (to the stone too eventually).

Which brings me to the question: how does the Ted who gets up at 6.30 a.m. to negotiate traffic queues on dark wintry mornings in order to get to work square with the Ted who bivouacs at night in dense boreal forests or on remote mountain ranges…or who combs Alaskan beaches or sits in Canadian coffee bars for that matter? Or who washes dishes and dances like a hillbilly dervish in Ashcroft Opera House?

No problem. That was now, and this is…now. That stuff lives on, alongside all other formative experiences, both good and not wholly good. It will happen again too.  And eventually I’ll have travelled far enough to engage the future in this gradual instant, perhaps even leave it behind!

Meanwhile, expect some pictures of the gorgeous, voluptuously austere oak on flickr very soon. No grizzly bear sharpening its claws on the trunk, but the bark is so intricately riven and wrinkled that you can read many images into its splits and channels and crevasses. What a comely, healthy presence for the needy houseguests.

Ted xox



  1. Hi Ted
    Congratulations on becoming gainfully employed again! ‘Needs must’ applies to us all, but your evident enthusiasm for the task reveals a heart-warming validation, and reminder to readers of the reciprocity and value of service to others, paid or unpaid. Your breadth of professional and life experience; creativity, and reassuring presence will be a valuable asset. The marketisation of the NHS and current financial crisis will surely mean an increase of vulnerable adults with complex psychiatric/social problems coming into the unit. These are trying times so its good to know that supportive help; social connection; kindness and hope will be available to your residents. Long may the ‘corporate Babylon’ leave the unit free to pursue this essential work!

    Your reference to Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse made me think of Blake’s ‘grain of sand’ and does put things into perspective! The Oak tree is a powerful life affirming metaphor for the house – Celtic druids believed that the Oak had not only strength and courage but also that its leaves had the power to heal and renew strength – lets hope this augurs well for residents and staff alike!

    Love from
    Myra x

    the power to heal


  2. From ‘The Black Book’by Orhan Pamuk. (By coincidence the night I found your Blog I was reading a long chapter,’The Mystery of Letters and The Loss Of Mystery’ p301,’A poet could say TREE and everyone who heard him would conjure up the same perfect tree..could see the word and the tree it signified,and the garden the tree signified,and the life the garden signified,without wasting any time on counting the leaves and branches. For words were so close to the things they described..that poetry mixed with life and words with the objects they signified. Perhaps you’ll find time to write a Poem as well as the Photo,for all who have ‘lost balance in their lives’.


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