When I visit my father, I always love to walk around Swansea and get an early morning coffee. We used to come as a family on Saturday mornings when I was growing up, so with my existing coffee and writing habit it’s a double comfort. It also gets me out of the house, which is frozen in amber and not somewhere I want to hang around while my dad gets up. This time I walked past the Kardomah, a Swansea landmark famous for its links with Dylan Thomas and his ’Kardomah Gang’, a group of intellectuals who met there in the 1930s. I wish the neon in the photograph was lit. It’s a lovely list.
The summer seems to be accelerating beneath my feet. Being in Port Talbot always puts me in a reflective mood. I brought with me James Hollis’s amazing book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, as well as the rather more prosaic Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. I’ve read both before, but they jumped into my hands from the bookshelf as I was packing. Hollis’s masterwork is a Jungian take on how to engage with yourself to live a meaningful life. That ‘yourself’ is the key to the book—the psyche, the soul, the unconscious, however you label it, it’s the part of us that knows what we need to heal,flourish and grow, but as adults we’re often conditioned to ignore.
Right now, I’m questioning my excitement over my new job in September, and my guilt at not wanting to write. It should be the other way around. I’ve always put writing first and felt guilty at not being as into my day job. There is some sort of correction going on, which is interesting and a bit scary. Anyway, the book is a reminder of what’s at play under the surface, and perhaps I can use what I learn in my writing.
Essentialism is much lighter fayre, a reminder to say no to most things and yes to very few. Where Hollis advocates conversations with the psyche, in whatever way we can, to find the things we truly want to do, McKeown is saying to go all in on one thing instead of diffusing energy into many things. That’s the same advice, but without the depth. I can see now why I brought them.
I’m sick of beating myself up over not writing. It’s exhausting and ridiculous. What is meaningful and essential to me this summer is to be healthier, be fully present with my family, do a good job of moving jobs, enjoy our first family holiday abroad, and keep my literary life ticking over. These are my current priorities. Perhaps I need to switch some of them around, and perhaps I don’t, but this is where I am.