2022 – Career Failure and What I am Really Here to Do

The first half of 2022, for me, was characterised by a disappointing departure from a career in the environmental sector. This was because I couldn’t meet the demands of higher than trainee level jobs due to a lack of people and project management skills and struggles with irregular routine, travel, night work, multi tasking and working under high pressure due to my autism.

This left me burnt out and not so much depressed but facing a depressing reality. In spite of being academically intelligent I will always be restricted to menial day jobs. When I first got my autism diagnosis I was told it would mean I could ask for ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace. However, this did not mean I would be able to stay in jobs where I did not meet all the criteria.

Our primroses, after the Arctic Blast, looking like how I felt when I was burnt out.

On the upside, my career failures led me back to my spiritual vocation as an awenydd dedicated to Gwyn ap Nudd and what I am really here to do. To where my true passion and abilities lie in my creativity as a writer and poet and journeyer of the deeper realities of thisworld and the otherworld of Annwn.

Whilst I was struggling in my ecology job I was led back by Gwyn to a writing project I began in the first lockdown in which I drafted a book called The Dragon’s Tongue, a Brythonic origins myth, drawing on other Indo-European parallels.

I’d given it up partly because the plot was incoherent and partly because a part of me didn’t want to retell our dragon and giant slaying myths, how the culture Gods have come to dominate the Gods of nature and of Annwn, even though my work was exposing the violence and hegemony by writing the otherside.

What good could come of picking at and opening old wounds when, instead, I could be out on the land, healing the earth by re-wetting and growing and planting?

These questions have remained in my mind as I have been recalled to my mythic project which is manifesting as a three part series of novel length called The Forgotten Gods. The first book, which I am currently focusing on, is called In the Deep. It is a dark and violent book. It begins in Annwn with the slaying of the Dragon Mother, Anrhuna, and the tearing of her children, Vindos and Kraideti*, from the womb by Lugus, one of the Children of Don. Kraideti is taken to the stars and Vindos is flung into the Abyss. The book focuses on His crawling out to win the kingship of Annwn, to find His lost sister and to defend His realm against and to take vengeance on his enemies.

There’s a lot of violence, there’s a lot of descent, but there is also transformation and healing for Vindos succeeds in building from the bones of dead dragons the beautiful kingdom of Annwn we know in our myths today and transforming the sorrows of the dead, who He rules over, into joy at His feast.

Kraideti has a role, with Anrhuna’s dragon children, in the creation of the world and bringing of life and discovers Her power as a Goddess of seasonal sovereignty.

Our winter hellebores, flowering ‘late’ this year due to the cold snap, Creiddylad knows best…

I don’t know why I’ve been given these stories to work with only that I have to. Perhaps there is a process of mythic and/or psychic healing taking place or perhaps the Gods have got me writing them for their own undecipherable reasons.

I have learnt to accept that inspiration does not come with an explanation.

Philosophical ponderings aside, on a practical level, I completed my first full draft of In the Deep before my winter solstice deadline at 127,000 words and 317 pages. It is mainly prose, with interspersed poetry, and of novel length. The core plot works. It has found its form. I am now working on the second draft, expanding and developing sub plots, characters and depictions of the worlds.

Another way in which I have been fulfilling my spiritual vocation is ‘building the Monastery of Annwn’ as ‘a virtual space and place of the sanctuary for those who worship and serve the Gods and Goddesses of Annwn’. This task was assigned to me by Gwyn in April and, since then, I have set up a website and opened the monastery to members. We have formulated ‘the Rule of the Heart’ and ‘Our Nine Vows’. Four of us took the vows in October and are living as monastic devotees of Annwn. We have also started running a monthly meditation group focusing on reading Brythonic texts in a lectio divina style. Beginning with ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’ we have had an excellent introductory talk by translator, Greg Hill, and participants have experienced powerful and insightful meditations.

In terms of outdoor work my departure from an environmental career and commitment to monasticism has led me back to taking better care of our garden and of my local greenspace, Greencroft Valley, where I’m hoping to team up with a newly formed group called ‘Guardians of Nature’ based on the Alderfield allotment to further develop the wildflower meadow and run some local history and plant and tree identification and folklore walks.

Hazel catkins in Greencroft Valley – a sign of new life as an old year dies and a new one begins.

In my spiritual practices and writing and work for the monastery I am fulfilled.  I am doing what I am really here to do. And I am able to do it because I’m living off savings from my environmental work, live with my parents and receive board and food in exchange for housework and gardening, and receive a very small income from patreon supporters and from book sales.

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*These are ancient British names for Gwyn ap Nudd and Creiddylad. Whilst Vindos is partially attested Kraideti is partly reconstructed, partly made up.

Of Worldly Career and Spiritual Vocation

So it reaches an end. The trajectory that began with volunteering on local nature reserves, took me into paid work restoring the Manchester Mosslands, and eventually led to me working for a local ecological consultancy on developments across the North West. 

Whereas my choice to work in conservation was guided my Gods, when my traineeship reached its end, and no conservation positions came up, I chose my ecology job because it was local, permanent, well paid, and offered financial security, and because I had a good interview and liked the people.

I knew next to nothing about ecology, the high pressure environment, how distant some of the sites would be, or how badly working nights would affect my mental health. I hadn’t thought through how I’d feel about working for developers, some just people who needed a bat survey for an extension on their home, but others who wanted to build on green spaces and nature reserves.

Working just one night a week, the dread beforehand and the tiredness afterwards, had a massive impact on my mental health due to my need for a regular routine and sleep pattern as an autistic person who suffers from anxiety. 

This, combined with travelling to sites over an hour’s drive away, and learning to write technical reports and mastering an unneccessarily complex and counterintuitive mapping system called QGIS whilst, at the same time, organising surveys, preparing quotes, and replying to clients, swiftly led to stress and burnt out.

Within a matter of weeks I went from being a happy, fit, and confident person with hopes of excelling in botany, pursuing an MSc in ecology, and running an official half marathon to being unable to read academic articles or comprehend the logistics of getting to a run or navigating the crowds.

I started waking early in the morning in tears and crying until I went to the gym or on a run and somehow cried all the way through a run on a very bad day.

I turned up in tears, managed to get on with my work, in spite of the crushing feeling in head, which increased as the day went on and throughout the week. I drove the wrong way up to M62 and through a red traffic light. I got hopelesssly muddled on a survey and drew the map the wrong way up. One day my brain melted to the point I couldn’t recall what a PDF was.

My manager took me off nights and I stayed because I liked the team, who were kind and supportive, because I didn’t want to let them down, because it was my mistake for rushing into what was the wrong job but right location and people.

I didn’t speak much to my Gods at first. But when drinking ceased to cure my troubles and I realised it was doing me more harm than good, both in my work life, and strength training and running performance, I began to pray. 

I began to seek a place of retreat and healing as respite from an overwhelming world. “Remember who you are,” said Gwyn, recalling me to my vocation as an awenydd, as Sister Patience, as a nun of Annwn.

Somewhat laughably, as is often the case of Gwyn, at a time when I was craving financial security due to fear of losing my job, He told me do the thing least likely to make money in the world – “build the Monastery of Annwn”.

Yet His imperative, my vocation, could not be ignored. I have set up the Monastery of Annwn as a virtual space; started laying the foundations in terms of daily devotions, a ritual year, and practices such as journeying to Annwn and tending Creiddylad’s Garden; and begun dialogue with others.

Desiring to partake in lectio divina and lacking an Annuvian creation myth I have been inspired to return to writing one – a pursuit I began a couple of years back with a book called The Dragon’s Tongue, which didn’t work out. 

This attempt to weave a new creation story, from the perspective of the Annuvian Gods, from the existing Welsh and Irish myths and also drawing on the Mesopotamian epic ‘Enuma Elish’ and the Bible has been renewed as ‘In the Deep’ (the antithesis of ‘When On High’ – the translation of ‘Enuma Elish’). 

In returning to devotional writing I have found deep joy, which has dissipated as soon as the stresses of work and worldly career have got in the way. 

This positive discovery/recovery combined with the knowledge that, as an autistic person, I am not suited to full time high pressure work, has led to the decision to hand in my notice at my ecology job and seek less stressful, part time work in conservation or horticulture that will allow me to fulfil my vocation.

It has been a relief and a release. Although I have two months’ notice to work I have a myth to tend, a monastery to build, and can find solace at my altar and in Creiddylad’s garden, where the bees are loving the blue geraniums and the foxgloves I grew from seed last year are looking magnificent.

Being in One’s Element

Over the years I have done lots of different jobs. Some I have enjoyed – poetry, writing, editing, working with horses, and others less so – packing, cleaning, admin, working in a supermarket.

Last year I gave up my supermarket job to begin volunteering with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust as a way into a career in conservation. Since then I have worked on a variety of habitats from meadows to woodlands to wetlands to peatlands. I’ve enjoyed tree planting, coppicing, dead hedging, removing tree stumps, building outdoor classrooms, and learnt how to use an axe and lay a hedge.

At my Damson Poets committee meeting last November I described my experiences of planting cross-leafed heath and hare’s tail cotton grass for the large heath butterfly on Highfield Moss. It was a tough but fulfilling day, carrying trays of plants over boggy terrain, welly deep in water, to create finger-holes in the sphagnum for the cross-leafed heath and dig larger holes with pokey sticks in drier areas for the hare’s tail cottongrass. Afterwards Terry Quinn commented, “you were in your element.”

Yes! I thought, he’s onto something there. Far more in my element in the mud and water than when I was stacking the shelves beneath the relentless lights or in a room of a million voices at a million screens. And at the same time, I must be one of a very small proportion of people who would rather spend a cold winter day welly deep in a peat bog rather than sitting in what they see to be a cosy office.

We, as human animals, have collectively been taken out of our element. Abducted by the mad rush of commercialism by which we feed and house and clothe ourselves. Taken away from what we saw as slow hard jobs out in nature – scything the meadows, digging vegetables, chopping wood.

At a great cost both to ourselves and the land for the gain of centrally heated houses, warm baths, running water, ready food, clean clothes, instant connections through phone, email, the internet. Comforts I acknowledge as elements of my life as I sit here in my warm room writing this blog post at my laptop, along with the fact that day in a peat bog would look far less appealing if they didn’t exist.

Still, like on the occasions I’ve worked with horses, I’ve found myself pulled away from the glowing screen. Whether I’m raking up meadow grass, planting trees on the muddy banks of a new stream, or chopping stakes for a new fence to the steady drum of rain on my hood I am in my element.

Take me out of solitude in my room or quiet company out in nature and put me in a brightly lit building filled with people rushing about, talking loudly, playing loud music, arguing, I quickly go insane. And I’m probably the odd one in my love of quietude in a society so addicted to noise I knew a girl who couldn’t sleep without the television on and a woman who left a radio on for her horse…

I’m coming to realise that being in my element is essential for both my physical and mental health. The benefits of being out in nature are becoming much more widely recognised in society as a whole with doctors prescribing time outside as an alternative to counselling and medication and eco-therapy and mindfulness and well being walks proliferating. However, it’s troubling to see that these are viewed as therapies and breaks from ‘normal’ life rather than as something essential to our being.

The need to be in my element is a determining factor not only in my choice to pursue a career in conservation but also in the type of job. There are many positions within the Wildlife Trust with different balances between indoors and outdoors and practical work in nature and engaging with the community.

Over the past few months I’ve worked out that, although I’m a writer, I find offices claustrophobic so a communications role wouldn’t suit me. Whilst I’m a poet and run the occasional workshop, as an introvert I find this work incredibly draining, so a community engagement role wouldn’t work either.

What excites me and calls to me and makes me happy is spending time immersed in nature, restoring and maintaining valuable habitats, giving back to the land, in the quiet company of others. Having done a combination of work on reserves and project work I’m beginning to realise that I would prefer to be grounded in a particular place, leading volunteer work parties throughout the year, than restoring somewhere as part of a particular project and then moving on to the next. This has helped me discern that I would be a better ranger, warden, or reserve officer than a project officer.

Another question that has been raised is what kind of habitat I’d like to work on. Where am I in my element? Whilst I enjoyed my day on Highfield Moss, in the Salford area, I recognised it is not ‘my place’. There is an incongruity in driving to a project 30 miles away which aims to help with carbon capture whilst leaving my own carbon footprint.

Unfortunately the mosslands that covered Penwortham, Hutton, Longton, and Farington, along with the intertidal marshlands that lay along the banks of the Ribble, have long been drained away. What we have left, in the wake of industry, is a ‘mosaic’ of habitats which are slowly being restored by the Wildlife Trust and other organisations.

Birch and mixed woodlands on the banks of old rail and tram ways or newly planted on landfill sites. Alder carr and willow scrub on the banks of streams too steep to build on and beside old ponds. Wet meadows sandwiched between roads and houses on boggy ground. New lakes in the pits of quarries planted with reed beds and re-wetted marshlands calling to them moorhens, coots, mute swans, widgeon, tufted ducks, reclusive bitterns, beginning to recall the ancient wetlands that once were.

These messy suburban places, too often seen as inferior to urban but not quite rural, as in between but not liminal, where bags of dog shit hang on trees and one can find the weirdest bottle bongs, but also, occasionally, might see the flash of the kingfisher come to feed on the lake or hear a willow tit, are my element. Not glamorous, I know, not unique, like the Manchester mosslands. Yet they are my place.

So it is toward being a ranger or a warden or a reserve officer as locally as possible where nature and industry and people meet in all their messiness and unexpected scraps of grandeur I will strive towards.

In being in my element, striving to be at one with the elements, even as they are seen to turn against us. To reclaiming an old way of being-with humans and non-humans, listening, sharing, before it is too late.