I wake up later than I would like, because I had mild insomnia last night. (Menopause insomnia. It’s a thing.) The dogs are gazing at me with understanding. They are very understanding. The sun is blasting in through the window and for a moment I think it is Saturday and I have missed the Derby. Then my logical brain informs me that it is, in fact, Thursday, and the Derby was run three weeks ago. This is a relief.
I have a quick check round social media. I like to do this in the morning to anchor me in my day. I live alone, and this survey connects me to the world. I can see what my friends are doing and I can check that the planet is still turning and I’ll quite often find something that makes me smile.
That’s when I discover that my friend Jane, who lives eleven thousand miles away, is doing an experiment of cataloguing her entire week. Because she is about twelve time zones ahead of me, her Thursday has already finished. She has recorded every inch of it and I read it with my mouth open.
She’s packed about a month’s worth of activity into one day.
I look ruefully at the dogs, who gaze ruefully back.
I think: how does she do it? There are all her clients to see to, her demanding professional work to do, her two adorable children to home school, her four ravishing horses to care for and exercise and train. Her work involves a deep dive into physiology and so she’s always researching and trying things out on herself before she gives them to her clients, so she does all that, on this Thursday. She ends the day answering emails, a part of her job which sounds a bit like painting the Forth Bridge.
I want to ring her up and tell her she is the most extraordinary human I know, but she’ll be asleep by now, so I resolve to send her a message of awe and congratulation.
I think of everything Jane has done, and my morning is already half gone, because of the insomnia. For a moment, I feel like a desperate underachiever.
I realise this is an entirely fruitless thought. My dander rises. I will see if I can salvage this day. It might have started late, but I still have time. I’ll write my day down, just as Jane did, and see how much I can pack in.
The first thing I do, once I have made this resolve, is to check in on one of my Place of Peace groups. I invented this thing with my red mare which is a kind of meditation. I can’t meditate to save my life, but I can stand in the field with her and root myself in the Scottish earth and bring myself to the present and give my monkey mind a rest. It soothes me and resets my nervous system, and it brings her into a dream of Zen, which is good for her nervous system. Essentially, I changed myself for my horse, and this has had so many marvellous consequences that I now teach it, online, in groups. I adore my Place of Peace groups. The people who come to me are incredible and brave and honest. I give them all my experience, but I learn from them too.
One of them is having a rotten day, so I send her a long reply, and start thinking about a post which will address some of her anguish.
This simple act - of thinking about someone else instead of me - utterly banishes the underachiever angst. I am up and running. I may not be dressed yet, but I’ve done something meaningful. The dogs look slightly encouraged.
As I get up, I use the time to give an imaginary TED talk. I have absolutely no idea why this is, but I’ve taught myself to run on instinct. The talk is called, snappily, Forty-Seven Things I Know About Life. I set my timer for seventeen minutes, and by the time the bing beeps, I am up and dressed and in the kitchen and I’ve only got to the nineteenth thing I know about life.
I think that perhaps I should write a book about this. Forty-seven feels like a good number. I’ve learnt so many things from people much wiser than I, and I like to pass those on. I make a mental note about the new book.
While I do a bit of washing up and general tidying, I listen to an actual TED talk. It’s not very good, but it has an interesting thought in it. The idea is to stop and ask yourself what emotion you are feeling in one word. My word, rather to my surprise, is happy. Then you find one word for what you are feeling in your body. My word is stillness. I also feel whole. This surprises me too. Perhaps the day is not such a write-off after all.
I walk the dogs and look at the blue, blue sky. I give them their breakfast and they eat it and fall asleep.
There is high excitement as a parcel arrives. I take delivery of three gorgeous pots of Kevin Bacon hoof ointment for my mares’ dry hooves. (We haven’t had rain for days.) The ointment was on special offer which is why I got three pots. I am so enchanted by them that I take a picture.
I wonder, as I always do, whether the hoof guru Kevin Bacon is secretly the Footloose Kevin Bacon. I like to think of him taking a break from acting and inventing the best hoof dressing ever.
Down to the horses I go, armed with the glorious, healing ointment. I take it into the field and do all their feet. They are grazing and dreaming and the sun is as hot as the South of France.
I brush Clova, our little Connemara, and give her ears a good scratch, which she likes. I do some connection work with Florence, my tiny thoroughbred, and walk round the field with her, matching steps, joining my energy to hers. Then I give her a good brush too, paying attention to her itchy places. The red mare is delighted to see me and I rub and scratch her all over, which is an imperative in this summer weather, and I anoint her hooves, and I stroke the soft skin over her eyes and tell her of the great love I have for her. She seems to find this acceptable.
Last of all, I do a bit more connection work with Freya, our Irish draft cross. Her human is away, so I’m responsible for looking after the bonny bay mare. We have a beautiful moment when I stand with her with my hand on her heart meridian. She softens into me and I can feel a little pulse, beating into my hand. It is the butterfly beat of life.
All is happy. I cast a beady eye over the dung and decided I’ll come back and do that later.
I make three videos for my writing group. Three short, discrete thoughts, with a view over the dazzling field and distant trees, aimed at encouraging and galvanising and perhaps even inspiring my writers.
Then I snap into practical mode. I’ve got a whole load of rubbish in the car. I accumulate an amazing amount of rubbish, because I get all my horse and household essentials delivered, so there are acres of packing stuff and those funny little green polystyrene beans and all kinds of things which can’t be recycled. I live next door to a builder’s yard and they have an incinerator, so I drive down the rutted track and empty all the trash. It’s been weighing on me, and I feel a profound sense of satisfaction to get rid of it.
I find a small clump of borage drooping rather sadly by the side of the track, so I pick it and take it home and put the sweet blue flowers in water.
I write a seven hundred word blog for HorseBack UK, the charity I work for. It’s about the power of small steps. I love the small. I am pleased with it and it feels meaningful.
I have a 3pm hour-long Zoom session with one of my writers. When I set up this part of my business, I thought I was going to teach writing. I soon saw that was not what my writers needed at all. I don’t have a good word for what I am - not quite a coach, not quite a mentor. The best way I can describe it is that I create a space for them to find themselves. I help them set themselves free from old, unhelpful, often not true stories, and discover their true voice, and let that fly. That’s my job, and it’s a job I love.
This writer says many wonderful things as we work and talk. I write one of her lines down, because I want to remember it. She says, ‘I can be in the middle of the storm, but I know who I am.’
She says such lovely words to me at the end of our session that I wave goodbye with tears in my eyes.
I make a cup of coffee and think of my next bit of HorseBack work. I write four hundred words for our Facebook page and find a photograph to go with it and post it.
I stop, and remember to breathe. I think I have spent half my life holding my breath. I’m learning to come back to my breath, as often as I can.
I send five work-related WhatsApp messages. This sounds quite grand and grown-up when I write it down. How it usually feels, when I am doing it, is a rat-scrabble of: must send X this, and let Y know about that, and not forget to communicate the other. Writing it down has made me realise that I don’t always have to be doing the scrabble. I can just send the messages.
I check my calendar. One more client today, and then I need to remember all the other things still to do. I belatedly fill in my To Do List.
Another hour with another of my wonderful writers. We go deep, as we always do, and range far and wide. (We end up in a dinghy on the sea off the Canadian coast, with James Joyce for company. Don’t ask. All I can say is that was not a metaphor. It made me laugh a lot.)
A message comes in from one of the oldest and dearest friends, who lives in Maine. Another one who is an ocean away. She is coming to Blighty and we are trying to make a plan. I am at the stage now where I can’t speak. This is the introvert’s condition. If I have intense sessions with clients, back to back, I’ve got nothing left. I suggest that we might talk tomorrow.
The sun is still shining and the trees are green outside my window. I’ve got more writing to do, so I am going to do that.
I’ve done that. It’s 6.20pm, and I have nine hundred words on gentle things which can help in times of darkness. An hour ago, there were no words on that subject. Now there are. When I write it down like that, it sounds like a kind of miracle.
I make a video for the second of my Place of Peace horsemanship groups and post it.
I check my To Do list. It’s not finished. Of course it isn’t. I ruthlessly strike off two things which I can do tomorrow.
I have a sudden panic that I haven’t posted today’s video for my writing group. (I have so many groups.) I check. I haven’t. I rummage around in the telephone to find it. It’s quite surprisingly good. Darwin the Dog plays a starring role.
It is coming up to 7pm now. Some merry boys are racing around outside my house on quad bikes. I’ve just finished the last of my work, and I am going to let you Dear Readers off the hook. We’re at two thousand and forty-four words now, and my day is not done. I’m not going to make you read any more. If you are still with me, you deserve a prize.
This was an entirely whimsical experiment. If I had not done it, I would have told you that my day was going to be a howling wasteland compared to that of the brilliant Jane, who started this hare running. I’d have gone about with a faint sense of dissatisfaction and catch-up, because of the late start.
But I’m in the early evening and I’m two thousand words in and I haven’t even recorded half of what happened. I haven’t told you about the dancing, hopping rabbit in the horses’ field, or the sudden lines from Auden that flashed through my head, or the incredible conversations with my two writers, or the chicken soup I’m going to make for supper.
This is, I think, the most potent reminder of the stories we humans tell ourself and of the reality of what is, and of the gap between the two. It’s about the damaging tendency so many of us have to compare ourselves unfavourably to other people. (I shall never catch up with the dazzling Jane!) It’s about stopping sometimes, and giving ourselves credit. It’s about acknowledgement, one of the words I spoke about with one of my writers. Such an ordinary, unromantic word; so necessary for happiness and ease.
You might live an ordinary, quiet life, like I do, but you still think marvellous thoughts and see beautiful sights and speak compassionate words. Imagine how it would be if you wrote all those down and looked at them. You might get the same starting sense of surprise and gratitude that I am experiencing.
I’m going down to the field now. I’m going to clear up the dung. I might hop on the red mare and potter round the block and look at the hills.
It’s not an epic story. But it’s my story, and it means something. And I am so, so glad that I wrote it down.