31 Dec A year of fallow.
In many ways 2014 was my year. I was healthier than I had been in a long time and I took on two jobs, working on plays in the largest theatres in our city, which book-ended the year. I loved it. Loved being part of a team, and making my contribution.
I thought this year would be more of the same. Maybe some more work at the theatres, maybe other projects would appear, more proactive go-getting fun to be had. But 2015 has been quite different.
Sometimes you get to be the protagonist in the story of your life and sometimes, if you are part of a family, a team or a very close knit community, you don’t. This last year I wasn’t the protagonist. The main action in my world was not happening to me. This past year I have been a character actor in the drama, but not the lead.
And the action that has been unfolding is not mine to discuss or to write about, maybe one day, but not yet, not now.
There have been occasions over the past few years when I have been assisting on a play and between the Deputy Stage Manager and I, we have spent some time making contingency plans. What to do if an actor was ill, or forgot their lines. What our response would be if two actors in a close company or in the creative team, fell out. What we would do if (when?) that tricky stunt went wrong, or the quick change took too long. We have often seen it as our role to keep the train on the tracks. To make sure, to the best of our ability, that the play is performed (or rehearsed) in the best possible situation, with as much harmony, and as few punch ups (only just a joke!) as possible.
It is a fairly unseen role. We talk through possible outcomes to a fairly dangerous bit of choreography that is being left until tech week to be finalised. We quietly discuss the emotional temperature in the rehearsal room and try and find ways to encourage a positive working environment.
In many ways, that is what I have done this year. But I have been performing this role for us as a family.
While the important discussions have been happening centre stage, I have been trying to keep everyone fed and well. I have been managing the emotions of the younger members of our family, listening to their concerns, staying on top of their social lives, driving them around and organising their parties.
At times I have found this frustrating and wanted to plough my own furrow. To venture out on my own and do something that I wanted to do. I have got as far as making plans and setting dates for various projects, and have had meetings about various possibilities. Then a week or a month later, realised that it was impossible, that I needed to undo what I had planned.
I find going slowly difficult. And it has been a year of going slowly.
Just before Christmas, at about 8pm, I went for a walk down by the river. It was dark and wet and I walked fast to stay warm. And as I walked I thought about the past year. How I would describe it. What it had been like.
And my mind wandered to a storyline in the Archers, a nightly radio soap on Radio 4.
(Yes, I am hooked on the Archers. I remember my Mum listening to it in the kitchen as I was growing up and now it is me telling the kids to be quiet so I can enjoy it).
Adam (one of the many farmers in this drama) has decided in this past year to invest serious time and energy in trying to improve the structure of the soil in his fields. After a devastating flood early in the year he has been pioneering new methods (very old methods actually) and had many conversations about the ‘herbal lay’ he is trialling in a number of hectares. There has been talk of how going back to the traditional methods of farming will in the long term improve the earth, and eventually give greater yields at harvest – crops that are healthier, more disease resistant, stronger and less reliant on pesticides.
And I have read recently how our expectation on the soil of continual production, has left us vulnerable to flash flooding, and has caused some of the devastation we have seen in the this country in the last few weeks.
And as I walked I remembered, at school, learning about crop rotation. How different crops would be grown in sequence on the land, increasing soil fertility and reducing soil erosion. If I remember correctly, sometimes the process of crop rotation would include allowing a field to be left fallow. It would not be used to produce any crops, but would be allowed to rest. This idea dates back thousands of years. Even in Biblical times, as outlined in the book of Leviticus the soil was meant to be left fallow – or to observe the sabbath – every seven years, with no crops grown, no productivity expected.
As I walked home I was struck with the overwhelming impression that for us 2015 had been a fallow year.
Fallow but not unimportant.
The work that has been happening has been hidden, and certainly has not been quantifiably productive. But I believe it has improved our resilience and given us the ability to move forward stronger, more aware of who we are, and how to live well.
If I am not stretching the soil analogy too far I would say that this year of fallow, of rest, has given us a greater clarity about what we want to plant, where we want to invest our time and our energies. The structure of our soil has been being repaired and becoming healthier.
It is so tempting to want to constantly be productive, and to be seen, and often this year I have wanted recognition, I have sought affirmation. But a year of quiet, of being at home, of supporting the main thing, not being the main thing, has enabled me to step one step further away from the hamster wheel of achievement and spend some time realising that the most important things are to be found on the inside, to be found in the depths. The most important things are never the things that can be seen. They are the hard and good things that happen deep down in the depths of the ground.