Home is like…

I had to write seven similes for my creative writing class. The idea of the task is to observe something really closely and practise your skills of description. I don’t feel particularly strong when it comes to describing anything, so instead I choose a more abstract notion and tried to find similes for that. The word I chose was home.

I have struggled with the meaning and definition of home for a while now, even before I moved out of my home country. I feel often feel “homeless” or “rootless”. I have never owned a place, so I don’t feel like there’s been a place that is mine alone, my home.

Obviously, there’s the home I grew up in. My parents still live there and I visit it as often as possible. (When I lived in Estonia, at least once a month, usually even more often.) For a brief period I moved back there only to realise that if you have moved out of home at the age of 15, it is difficult to move back again ten years later. I think a while ago I might have really hurt my mother’s feelings when I tried to talk to her about not having a home. She then in complete confusion tried to explain that I have a home there, with them. And I can’t argue with that. It is a home but It’s not my home, it’s our home.

For a brief period when I lived in Tallinn, I rented a small tiny bedsit in a slightly dodgy area (I always felt pretty safe there). This was the first time in my life that I didn’t live with anyone else. I had the whole flat to myself (the whole 16 square metres!), I didn’t have to share anything. I didn’t have to take someone else’s plans into consideration when making my own. I could have friends over whenever I wanted. I liked that freedom.

Although that tiny, tight space might have been just mine (even though I was renting it), Tallinn was never a place that I felt at home in. I have realised now that I am not a city person and as many perks as there were about living in Tallinn, I wasn’t a fan. The one place I had really felt like home had been in Cumbria and Lake District.

So I moved here. But I no longer have a space to call my own. For last two years I have inhabited a room in the loft (i.e I’m the madwoman in the attic!) where I needed to move out over weekends as the house gets taken over by groups. I then move into the spare bedroom of my employers. They have beautiful house but I can’t help but feel like a guest and out of place.

However, when it comes to my surroundings, I have never felt more at home. I love the life in a small village, where people are polite and if they don’t know you, they are likely to know of you. The skyline of fells in the distance has become so familiar and at the same time, awe-strucking and surprising every time I look at it. On the one hand, it has been difficult to fit into a small community and my almost non-existent social life is at its all the low. On the other hand, I have been welcomed so warmly by so many people around here. About 18 months ago, I was heading for a run when a woman stopped me just outside the village, “You live in the village, don’t you? Why don’t you join our running group on Thursday nights?” And that’s how I ended up meeting fun people who like to run together and who in a way helped me to enjoy my first half-marathon. A few weeks ago I was being lazy and went to the local cafe for my lunch and got greeted with a hug from the owner. These little things mean so much to me. So although I haven’t made any real close friends (my employers excluded) or met the love of my life, I still feel like I have been noticed and acknowledged in the community. (I still feel crippling loneliness and homesickness for friends and family often enough…)

Will I ever be able to join all the dots that would mean to have my home for real? I don’t know. I appreciate the fact that I will always have a home with my parents. I appreciate even more that once when I was talking to S, my employer about this feeling of homelessness he said that I would always have a home here as well.

What makes a home for me then? It’s not so much about what the actual physical space is like but about the whole deal. It’s having my own space, something that is really mine. It’s about having that space in an environment that feels like a community. And it’s about having my people, my friends within that community. Is it too much to ask? Perhaps. God knows I can’t afford to step on the property ladder anytime soon unless I win the lottery or dig up that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Maybe I’ll forever be homeless and rootless and having to compromise.

Estonia – a flying visit

We had another week at the guesthouse this August booked by a group for sole use and since I had been “on call” for the previous one, it was my time to go away. Since my last visit to homeland had been in January, it was time to show my face again and save the real travelling for after the season ends.

It must be a sign of getting older but travelling is no longer as exciting as it used to be. I used to love airports, how simple and straightforward they are. I now find them annoying. Especially if you are trying to be frugal and spend the night there for an early morning flight. Glasgow airport is especially annoying because their benches have armrests between every seat so you can’t even have a sneaky nap. It’s also getting quite exhausting that I can’t get a direct flight to Estonia from this end of the country. So when you land in Riga, it’s still a long way from home. Previously I have flown to Tallinn, but since the flights were super expensive, I decided not to this time. So by the time I landed, I was not only bursting for a wee (I’ve never used the toilet in an airplane and refused to do it when it was only half an hour before landing), I was also sleep deprived and exhausted before I even reached home.

My mum and dad volunteered to pick me up and we had a roadtrip back home with a compulsory sea break near Salacgriva and a booze shop just off the border (alcohol is much cheaper in Latvia). I only nodded off a few times on the back seat and kept the parents company most of the way.

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A little indulgence in Paisley before the uncomfortable night at Glasgow Airport

After a good night’s sleep and a slow morning, I was off to Viljandi to meet up with my adopted family. J, who now lives in California, and I overlapped in our visits to homeland and as we hadn’t seen each other for a good few years, a reunion was mandatory. Especially, since she had got engaged a few days before we met and I was in for a chance to meet the lucky man for the first time. Before I stepped on the train, J asked if I’d be willing to do a kind of engagement photoshoot for them. I reluctantly agreed, mainly because they (and I mean, she) wanted to do it in the wetlands and I was dying to go there.

I was reluctant because I am not a photographer. I have a DSLR that I can barely use (it’s not even mine) and my photo editing skills end with moving the scales for light and colour settings on Google Photos. Luckily it was a beautiful evening and the setting sun created a gorgeous light. J & C were naturals at posing, so I just needed to point and shoot. In the end, I’m really pleased with the photos that I took.

Dips in to the marsh pool and a sauna later made for a perfect finish to the night. After a leisurely breakfast I went to see my aunt who lives just outside the town. I never told her I was coming as she is always home, so it was nice to surprise her. It meant a lot for me to go and see her, as I am never sure when will be the last time I see her. So whenever I’m in Estonia, I make sure to visit her. It warmed my heart to see her in good form and spirits and it gave me hope that I’ll see her again Christmas time.

Friday night was booked for a meet up with the girls from uni. I met K and K at the airport as they landed from their trip to London as well as S who had come straight from the office in Tartu just to hang out with us. We had a quick meal and then took a bottle of wine to the roof of the now empty concert hall Linnahall to watch the sunset. We ended our night in Telliskivi and after copious amount of wine, I was in bed by 4am.

Saturday was Estonian Night Run and in the morning I was really regretting signing up for it. Not just because of the headache and tiredness but also because due to various injuries, I had only been for a run a couple of times in months leading up to it. In fact, I remember the day I signed up for it, I went for a first big(gish) walk after injurying my foot at a wedding in May. I came back limping quite badly again. My foot seemed to be properly heal by the run. It was just my general physical fitness that had gone down the drain in the summer months and the five extra kilos I am carrying don’t necessarily help.

However, the run went much better than I expected. It had been really stuffy and scorching throughout the day but as I was standing in start among thousands of people, I could see the massive storm clouds gathering. I thought it would start raining before we’d be able to even set off, but it was only 10 minutes before I finished that the heavens opened up and the biggest thunder storm of the last few years took over. I crossed the finish line with a very pleasing result of 1:02:40 absolutely soaked. Very ladylike, I just used my mum’s rain poncho to give some cover while I changed every item of clothing in the middle of a parking lot in town center. I had felt really good and strong throughout the run and even my dodgy knee kept it together. (It could be that my knee was just so pleased about running on flat ground that it forgot to give me grief!)

On Monday, I my dad insisted on going for a road trip and we headed out towards Lake Peipus on the roads less travelled. I had only one request for the trip: I really wanted some pelmeens (a kind of dumplings). We stopped in Äksi Motel, which according the the placard by the church, was opened in 1989 and I don’t think much of it’s interior has changed since them. However, they had pelmeens on their menu and that satisfied my cravings. It was almost nostalgic eating there, reminded me the simple lunch canteens of my hometown where we used to have occasional lunches when I was growing up.

The weather didn’t exactly feel like going for a swim, so our main attraction by Lake Peipus was cruising through the villages and buying some local onions (the region is famous for their onions!) and smoked walleye as well as some pickled cucumbers to go with the fish. It was a real feast that night for dinner at home!

On Tuesday, it was time to pack my bag and head to Tallinn, to spend the last night with my sister and her kids. I got us some chanterelles from the new market at the train station and after we’d put the kids to bed, we tasted some wonderful craft beers and stayed up on the couch till way past midnight. The bus that took me back to Riga left at 6 o’clock the next morning and I landed back in Shap about 15 hours later.

I noticed a few things during my visit this time. Firstly, the first day or so, I slightly struggled with speaking Estonian. More than once, I found myself automatically saying yes or no in English in answer to the question. Secondly, I’ve really got used to the code of politeness here according to which you say generally greet the people you meet, say thank you if someone holds a door open or let you cross the road. Out of habit, I said hello to few people I didn’t know in my hometown and got a very stunned reaction from them. I’m no longer comfortable with not saying hello to people although I know it’s not about being rude. Finally, as I was on the train back from Glasgow towards Cumbria, I found comfort in the hills that defined the landscape. The vast and empty flatness of Estonia had felt a bit alien for me; I couldn’t grasp it. I am forever bragging to guests about how beautiful the wilderness of Estonia is and I truly believe it. But it seems that I need hills and fells and mountains to make me feel comfortable.

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It was an emotional trip being back, I found myself fighting with tears more than once. A tiny part of me had hoped that maybe it would bring me clarity about what to do next, but the truth is, I’m even more confused. I’m unsure where is home: is it here or is it in Estonia? Maybe it’s somewhere else all together?

Life with Instagram filter

It is a popular talking point that social media isn’t an honest reflection of reality (no shit, Sherlock!). Our Instagram photos are edited and show triumphs and things we are proud of, our Facebook post aim to reflect how interesting our lives are and so on. I agree and I am guilty of the same crimes. However, I don’t think this is only true online. Many people put up a false front in offline as well.

I know I do. And I am pretty sure I am not the only one.

I’m one of those people who tend to walk through the days seemingly without a care in the world. I joke with customers and colleagues, I get on with work and find little extra bits to do. Every now and again I do some exercise and go on hikes. I talk about plans for future and seem excited about them. I can take and make jokes on my behalf. I talk about how lucky I am to live on the edge of the Lake District  and how much I love the hills. Every now and again, I attend social events and gatherings and chill out.

If you look at my Instagram account, it will probably tell you a similar story about me.

Someone meeting me for the first time might think I’m the most easy-going and carefree person in the world. And most of my friends, family and colleagues probably think something similar.

That’s my real life Instagram filter, a carefully constructed image. Just like no one would be impressed with mundane updates on social media, no one would find the reality of what I am particularly interesting or easy-going. Anxiety and depressive thoughts aren’t exactly the ice breakers that get the party started.

It’s as much about impressing other people as it is about self-preservation. I’m not sure if I could cope with day-to-day life without constructing this other (better) version of myself. It’s what keeps me going, it gets me out of bed in the morning. At the same time, it’s incredibly tiring and it makes it almost impossible to ask for help because my life appears to be so perfect, what reasons could I possibly have to be tired of it.

Just like we can’t see what’s been cropped out of Instagram photos, we don’t know what really goes on inside a person in real life. There are plenty of people who seem to be happy and genuinely are. But I bet there are just as many people who are using the happiness filter to hide the fact that this false front is the only thing that keeps them from falling apart.

The language issue

I am Estonian but I write in English instead of my mother tongue. It might seem like I’m just trying to shake off my national identity and score points in being cool and international but it isn’t quite that simple.

I have a degree in the English language and literature and I was trained to write coherently and clearly in this language. I live and work in the UK and I am the one who tells my employers, both native English speakers, how to spell words. Honestly, their spelling is quite questionable. For two weeks we offered deserts (sic!) as part of our menu. However much I’d like to take the mickey, I would be in the same position in Estonian. I haven’t really written much in Estonian after finishing school and I keep questioning the grammar and spelling. Bizarrely I feel much more comfortable and confident writing in English and this is one of the main reasons I choose to write this blog in English.

Obviously, by writing in English, I could potentially reach a wider audience. There are hell of a lot more people who can read English than there are people who can speak my tiny little language. Also, I know people around the globe who might be interested in reading what I write and not every one of them speaks Estonian, but they do all speak English. Whether we like it or not, English is the lingua franca of the world.

Besides those obvious reasons, there is a more personal and psychological reason for choosing English. As a member of a very small language community (approximately only 1 million people speaking the language), my mother tongue is a little bit sacred for me. It’s a language of secrets and personal stories. I feel that I am much more vulnerable and much more naked if I use my mother tongue. By using English language, I am as if building a barrier between myself and what I put out there. It’s me, but censored through translating it into English. I feel more removed from my feelings and thoughts if they are not written in Estonian. It’s still me writing here as honestly as possible, but English allows me to feel more comfortable about opening my soul because I am not using a secret code. It might also be the thought that my parents cannot read English and therefore I feel more comfortable using the language that would “protect” them from my thoughts.

I live and work in the English language environment, I think in English a lot of the time just to save energy. I read and write in English. The songs and the films around me are all in English. Estonian is my secret language, something that’s only mine in this place far away from home.
So by choosing to write in English, I am not trying to be pretentious and rootless. Instead, I am trying to protect my identity outside the world wide web.

Time off

I am having a week off from work in the middle of the season and I am struggling to figure out what to do with myself. I have a houseful of guests who don’t really need looking after, I have a phone that occasionally rings and a few emails popping into the inbox, but other than that, I am free to do what I want.

I am not very good at switching off at the best of times but after intense couple of weeks, this newly found freedom is almost unsettling. I feel like I should do it all but I am also lacking in energy to do anything. Today is the third day off and I feel the most tired and just want to curl up on a sofa and watch TV all day long. But I also feel like I shouldn’t do that because that would be such a waste of my time off that is a rare thing this time of year.

I live in a beautiful part of the world; one of the most beautiful, if you asked me, but I might also be slightly biased. I should be out there, exploring it, capturing it with my camera. Instead, my boots are looking the cleanest they have since I got them and still waiting for me to take them for a walk. I had great plans of escaping to the hills and go wild camping for a night, or two, but I’m struggling to get my head around doing that. I am also supposed to be running 10K in a couple of weeks but I need to trick myself into going for a runs to prepare by buying new running gear. In my head, I know I should be doing this as I haven’t ran at all since spring due to various injuries but I’m just finding it difficult to feel any joy or enthusiasm about all these things.

I also feel that because I have time, I should be working on a few things that I normally don’t have time for like the webpage and blog for work as well as our new booking system that still needs a lot of attention. However, I just barely answer the emails and check on bookings that are coming in. I should be working on this blog and putting the ideas I have into words but I am verging away from that as well. (This was not the blog post that I’ve been wanting to write!) There’s raspberries and gooseberries to be picked in the garden, jam and cakes to be made and baked but so far I only gathered a handful to go with my porridge this morning. I should be doing yoga for my back ache and so some intervals but so far I’ve only considered taking ibuprofen for the pain.

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I’ve been offered a free ticket to a big-ish music festival just a couple of miles from the door and it’s hard work convincing myself to actually go. Even if the offer comes with possible free drinks from the bar on site (perks of accommodating the bar staff at the guesthouse). I will probably go at least for one or two days, because I would regret missing it but I don’t feel as excited about it as I should.

Although I argued in the last post that I want to be more than what I do, I must admit that I am feeling slightly lost without work and it’s inevitable routine. I do enjoy being able not wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning and head straight to the kitchen for work and going to bed before 10 o’clock at night. But it’s the time in between that I am struggling to fill. I’ve been left to my own devices, house- and cat sitting for my employers in their beautiful home. But I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I’m letting myself down by not doing all these things that I’ve listed above.

I have been struggling lately with all sorts of demons and it’s probably them who are holding me back and sucking on my energy at the moment as well. But I am too tired to fight them and just try to keep them at bay.
Being a bit of a hermit, I hate to admit it, but I feel lonely and find myself missing company. I thought that after weeks of dealing with guests, I’d welcome the chance to see no one but this seems not to be the case.

It is Tuesday and I don’t have to be back at work till this time next week, so I have time to get over myself and go out to play. I have managed to cross off a few things on my list: I have spoken to the guy in Scotland who has my passport and who can meet me in Paisley before I’m flying to Estonia in a couple of weeks. I have booked my fights for Christmas and New Year which I am spending at home this year. I have sorted out my train tickets to go to Glasgow. I have got my hair cut and I love it. I have been for a short run. I’ve ordered a tent and a camping stove online. I have written this post. I have been keeping away from chocolate and alcohol… okay, that’s a lie. But I have limited the intake of both of them.

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Saturday night wasn’t for limiting my alcohol intake with a beer festival happening in the village and the Monk being my company

These are all tiny victories. Although they don’t exactly make me feel great about myself, they definitely mean something. Even if only that I am not a complete waste of space. I might even take my boots and my camera for a sunset walk to my magic place, Swindale (if it’s not exactly chucking it down by then).

What do you do = who you are?

How much does what we do affect who we are? Do we tend to identify ourselves and others through work they/we do?

It’s a difficult question for me to get my head around. We spend a lot of our adult life at work so it’s almost inevitable that what we do is a part of who we are. Sometimes, this can be a great thing. If you truly love what you do or if you are one of those lucky people who has managed to combine their hobby with their job. Sometimes, however, I feel that in our society too much emphasis is put on what a person does for a living and people tend to get judged by that. This judgment can put a lot of pressure on anyone to find the right thing to do.

I have felt that pressure as well. I was a late starter in the whole working life. Unlike many teens and students, I never had a summer or part-time job when I was at school or university. I was always told that my “job” is concentrating on my studies. Although I spent many days helping my father organise different sporting events since I was about 10 years old, my first ever proper job was during my last year of graduate programme. I was offered a teaching position in my old hometown school and I decided to take it. It was daunting that my first experience on the job market was standing in front of teenagers 24 hours a week but somehow I managed through it until the end of the school year. I then had to admit defeat – I was not a teacher.

After a frustrating summer of searching, I finally got a job as a management assistant in a decent size and well-known retail company in Tallinn. It was not exactly a prestigious position but if you happen to be an English major with no real previous experience, your options are limited and finding a job can be a real struggle.

Although nine-to-five of assisting sounded like a dream after twenty-four-seven of teaching, it soon became clear that this wasn’t the job for me. What made matters worse, it seemed that everyone around me was getting involved with all the “cool” jobs in new start-up businesses and I felt stuck behind my corporate desk.

I wanted something different, something that would be new and exciting. The world of start ups was something that was supposed to be desirable: the promises of “no corporate bullshit” and open space offices with bean bags and games rooms were the things to aim for. I felt like I needed to pursue those things as well in order to be seen successful.

I managed to land an interview with a start up accelerator in Tallinn. They had a cool and spacious office in the middle of the old town. The interview with two of the senior members of staff was completely relaxed; we kept joking and chatting about things outside the work. They were relaxed about when and where work was done, what you wore to office and emphasised that it was all about the team work and not about the chain of authority. It was everything I had imagined from a hip and fresh work environment. I thought I really wanted it. When they told me they hired someone with more experience in the world of start ups, I was really gutted. Looking back now, I think I was more disappointed about not being able to quit my previous job and not about being rejected for that position.

After another six months of being stuck behind that corporate desk, I had had truly enough of the bullshit and quit my job and decided to move to Cumbria. On my last day in the office, I still had no idea what I was going to do next, but after the excitement of freedom calmed down after a few days, I needed to start thinking about it. I figured that I could try and kill two birds at the same time – applying for a job in the hospitality business was likely to solve the problem of where I was going to live as well. The problem was that I had no experience because like I said, I never had had a job as a student in a bar or restaurant. However, after sending out about dozen carefully crafted emails with my emptyish CV attached to it, I got a reply from a guesthouse New Ing Lodge offering all that I was after: a job, a bed and food. The job was what I had been expecting: housekeeping and waiting but it didn’t matter. I was more concerned about where I was going to live to worry about what I was doing for living.

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I was moving away from pursuing a cool and exciting career and going back to the basics. Instead of feeling like I was moving backwards, I felt liberated: I was walking away from the rat race. They job was exactly what it sounded like: setting for and serving breakfast, cleaning the rooms, doing the laundry, greeting the guests, serving dinner and manning the bar. No rocket science but that was the beauty of it – after the first few months, I suddenly realised that for the first time in a long while, I didn’t feel stressed. The stress was only temporary: getting the breakfasts out in time, being ready with the dinners on time but as soon as the tension was over, so was the stress.

Almost two years later, my responsibilities here have changed and getting to clean the bathrooms feels like a privilege. Inevitably, the stress levels have increased as well but I’m still below my previous average. The most important thing is that without planning to, I have actually moved away from a corporate job. This isn’t a cool start up, but it is a small family business run by people who are all under 35 and we all work hard and get our hands dirty. However, this doesn’t seem to have the same prestige.

I have been asked more than once, how long I am going to stay here and when I am going to get a proper job. Apparently, because I have a graduate degree and my GPA was well over 4.5, I should be out there doing a more important job. This seems to be the opinion of those who know me. And those who only know me working here and seeing me pouring pints and cleaning rooms probably see me as not quite able to do much else or lacking in ambition to go for a bigger job. And that bothers me.

It might have started out as a random job but it has grown into so much more. Although it’s not my business (and I have to keep reminding that), I care for its well-being and it’s success. I don’t mind being called a housekeeper but I know my job entails so much more. I have wonderful employers who include me in decision making and allow me to argue against ideas that I don’t think will work. And we do argue. Despite working hard, sometimes up to 60 hours a week, it is quite a relaxed place to work. The beers and wine in the bar are sometimes too easily accessible… I am being trusted to run things on my own. This job has allowed me to gain so much more confidence in what I do. It has pushed me outside my comfort zone and made me realise that I can do more than I think. Never in my life I imagined being able to cook 25 full breakfasts to a stag party but actually it was a piece of cake. (I also learnt that I am incredibly bad at insulating a house – it’s a job that looks much easier than it actually is!) For the first time in my life, it think I’ve found something that I might be quite good at and although at this time of the year I am constantly tired, I do love my job.

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Is what I do who I am, though? I’d like to think not. Even though I enjoy what I am doing, I am much more than that. I’m not just a cleaner or a host, there are other parts in that equation. I know that if I am to leave and have to apply for another job, it doesn’t look particularly exciting on my CV because I cannot put everything that I do into a simple timeline. It might not be comfortable for my mum to answer questions on what I am doing in England if those people know my academic background. But at the end of the day, this shouldn’t be the reason for me to change jobs. I still have the same academic abilities but that doesn’t mean I cannot work in a more real and hands on position.

I am proud that my escape from the corporate world wasn’t into “cool” job. I’m proud to do something different. I don’t want to chase after a career just for the sake of it, I already have a proper job.

The story this far…

I am great at starting things. Finishing them… not so much. I’ve started over and afresh so many times, but at the end of the day, week, month or even a year, I am back to my old habits, back to my old self.

When I was 15, I moved out of home in Estonian small town to go to school in a different, a slightly bigger town. At 18, I moved to Tartu to go to university but after four years of staying put there, I needed to go somewhere new again and ended up doing an exchange programme in Spain.

I returned to Estonia and before I could finish university, I moved back to my home town to teach English. After a year of failing to tame teenagers, I got a job in an office in Tallinn – I moved to a city (city in the grand scheme of Estonia).

With all the opportunities that Tallinn could offer me, I soon found the initial excitement of big city life fading away and I realised that living in a crowded and noisy place didn’t really suit me and kept bringing me down. I started to look for something else, something that would be more real.

After conquering many fears, letting many tears stream and fighting copious amounts of (self-)doubt, I made the decision to start again (once more) outside Estonia. In September 2015 I moved to the beautiful county of Cumbria in Northern England, where I currently reside just at the edge of the Lake District. Living in quiet countryside definitely fits me better than city life, but it isn’t without it’s own problems.

People I’ve talked to have told me how brave I must be to move to a different town/city/country just on my own and starting from a blank page. I see no bravery in that. The truth is, this is an easy way out for me. Instead of facing my problems and dealing with my demons, I run away hoping that they don’t catch up. However, they always do. IMG_20150707_125621 (1)

I am currently feeling the urge to move on again, to start all over somewhere new. My toes are tingling and my eyes are searching for the exit sign, but my heart resists. All my previous changes of location were somewhat random and not really thought through. However, I chose to move to Cumbria for a reason: this was a place where years ago my heart decided to find peace and convince me that this is home. (I am currently writing the saga of how that happened exactly, to be published some later date.)

This is anxiety I feel at the moment about moving on hasn’t got anything to do with my job satisfaction or where I live, but everything to do with the fact that the demons I was escaping from have caught up with me. I have realised that no matter how far I go, I can never run away from myself.

So this time, instead of making rash decisions and packing my bags, I am starting this: a new project, a new virtual home. Maybe this will distract me from the desperate need to move and help me focus on actually finishing something that I’ve started.