Immortal

I sat down today completely prepared to write my next blog post about the next steps in my plans, or on books I’m currently reading, or what this week’s exercises in The Artist’s Way are. However, I’ve just been told the bad news that a friend’s father is in hospital and is critical enough that the family have been called home. So of course, everything else of substance has completely left my mind.

I’m thankful that, so far, while I’ve been old enough to remember neither of my parents have had any major health scares. My mother was ill for a time when I was younger – not old enough to really remember what it was like, but old enough that I have a deep-rooted sense of dread and fear whenever my mum gets a bad cough or cold. Clearly her illness when I was younger was bad enough that it hit my subconscious hard. But thankfully in recent decades (gosh, it’s weird that I can write decade(s) plural now) thankfully our family has been mostly in good health. I sometimes worry about the fact that my dad is forty years older than me, but we’re a close, tightly-knit unit of four and for the most part we’re immortal.

There have been illnesses and deaths in the wider family. Grandparents died before I was born or in my teens, with my great aunt dying just before I started writing this blog in 2014 (one of the catalysts behind it, in fact). Our wonderful next door neighbours, like family – now in their late 80s – have had more and more health problems in the past few years, with a scary touch-or-go situation earlier this year requiring an extended hospital stay.

But obviously my immediate family of four, we’re immortal.

When the same neighbour who had the extended hospital stay suffered a heart attack a few years ago, it was again touch-or-go but thankfully (obviously) one where she pulled through. It was late Autumn, and that Christmas on returning home, the neighbours stayed in their house for New Year’s Eve rather than joining us in my parents’ as usual. We all visited my newly-recovered neighbour of the course of the evening, one-by-one or in drifts and drabs, not wanting to provide too much stress or make her too tired.

As the fireworks hundreds of miles away over London were shown on the TV, she began to cry. It turns out that they were tears of relief – she hadn’t expected to live to see the New Year with us and thank anything that’s out there that she had. And has for every New Year’s since.

My close, wonderful, tightly-knit immediate family of four. Immortal.

Sometimes when I’m talking to mum I can feel that she’s aged. She’s no longer the 30-something who raised small-child me. We’ve had decades pass since then. We’ll be talking about plans, about books we want to read or places we want to visit, and we start to become aware of time. That there’s only so many more birthdays, or Christmases, or New Years. There’s a sense of needing to become realistic about what can be achieved. It’s a need to prioritise.

My dad is forty years older than me; sixty-six. I was alive when his parents were my age. While I think I would like children at some point, I’m currently enjoying being single and living a life free from responsibility. They’re not in the cards any time soon. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that I don’t want my future children to have a grandparent die while they’re really young. It’s a horrible, morbid thought, but we only have 20 years until my dad’s mid-to-late 80s.

We don’t have that many Christmases left.

But despite all of this, aren’t we immortal?

No matter how much I notice or think about time passing, or if things happen to extended family, it’s impossible to imagine anything hitting us until it happens. You can’t prepare. All you can do is hold onto the moments that you have tightly, to remember in moments of irritation how much you love each other, to not to take anything for granted. It’s me realising that I need to make an effort to get home more frequently. Thankfully no one can tell me I need to ring home more often, that I have done in abundance, but nothing that takes place over the phone can compare to the moments that you’re with your family in person.

There can always be an excuse why this isn’t a good weekend to travel home. I live too far away, I work out of town so I have more things to cram into my weekends, I want to travel somewhere else, why can’t they come visit me instead?

But they’re all excuses.

We’re not immortal. I should remember that.

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The only apparatus required for happiness is your pain and fucking going outside

Song of the day: Give yourself a try – The 1975

It’s all just the same pattern really isn’t it? I make big claims about starting writing in this blog again, make introduction posts and give long updates about what’s been going on in my life recently, and then there’s radio silence for months until I post yet another introduction post saying this time I really mean it.

I think there have been multiple problems with this previously. I don’t think I was always in the right frame of mind – while I wanted to write in abstract, I wasn’t mentally committed to it in practice. The second, and main, thing is that I have previously backed myself into a bit of a corner by trying to focus this blog too specifically at times when I probably wasn’t ready for it. As a result I felt too limited before I even began and I couldn’t bring myself to write anything. Case in point, initially I started this to document my journey towards health and happiness. However after posting a couple of food/recipe posts, I started to feel like I could only post health and fitness related items or recipes, and that anything else wouldn’t fit with the ‘theme’ of the blog. So there were no opportunities for some of the posts I’ve written on previous blogs that I’m still proud of, such as book reviews or musings on things I’d come across in the news recently.

My dad calls me a Polymoth – I’m flighty and I have a lot of interests that I like to flit between, some may say too many. I find it hard to settle on one thing because the world is vast and wonderful and there are just so. many. things.Case in point, even just this week here are the things I’d like to work on/improve:

  • Learn to play the guitar
  • Get better at singing (particularly pop/rock singing rather than the classical/choral practice I’ve had for the past 15 years)
  • Resume playing piano
  • Daily yoga
  • Become a runner
  • Paint/draw/do art
  • Read more novels
  • Watch more films
  • Resume learning Italian
  • Learn how to make music using FL Studio 20
  • Redecorate my bedroom
  • Learn more about film/tv/radio production
  • Travel more
  • Go out and try new things more often
  • Eat consistently more healthy

So many things, not an awful lot of time. These are all items that have cropped up time and time again over the past 8 years. In true polymoth fashion, I flit back and forth between things and never give any of them a proper go. I think there’s part of me that feels like too much time spent on one will be to the detriment of the others. But I’m getting older and I’ll be the same age if I spend the time doing the things as I will be if I don’t do the things. Only, in one of these scenarios I’ve developed skills that I wouldn’t have in the other. Time is passing, I might as well use it.

Something needs to change.

The other thing that keeps cropping up is recognising that I need to let myself be bad at things in order to get good at things. Think an underlying issue is a fear of failure like many people who have previously sailed through things early on in life (e.g. GCSEs, A-levels etc.) – if I have to put in some effort, what if I try really hard and am still no good at it? At least if I don’t try it’s an available defense mechanism to blame something other than my own ability (i.e. my lack of effort/’Oh I didn’t really try’). But there’s that famous quote that I can’t quite bring myself to google right now about your taste being better than your abilities and how you need to produce a lot of bad work in order to get to the good work.

I want to use this blog to let myself explore things again, and I’ll combine this with working through The Artist’s Way. Because why not? I need to use the blog to just do, not just think about what I should do. Therefore it’s not a ‘lifestyle’ or ‘fitness’ blog, it’s whatever I need it to be at the time. I need to develop some discipline in just getting stuff done whether I’m motivated or not. I can’t create good things if I don’t put in the time.

This is day one. I can either spend the next 365 days being productive and working on things, or I can spend the next year wishing I was doing more. It may be uncomfortable, it may mean facing some harsh truths about my motivations or discipline or inability to commit, but I’d rather be able to look back in the future at all the things I’ve done rather than at all the things I didn’t do. Let’s see how this goes.

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Revamp 2017

It seems like I only ever start writing here when I’m in the need for a refresh, when something sparks the part inside of me that screams “I need to get this off my chest” and wants someone else to hear it. Unfortunately, as with the event that sparked this entire site in the first place, this one apppeared completely out of the blue.

It’s nothing so dire as a death in the family. Instead, my manager told me that he’s resigning.

Let me start from the beginning.

Over the past year or so I have started to actually like my job. For majority of the past four years, with the exception of a few brief periods, I have simply ‘not minded’ my job, content with having a steady income that can support my lifestyle outside of work.

But this year two things have happened. The first is that as I’ve grown to become more knowledgeable in my field I’ve started to feel more secure in my abilities and more interested in developing in my area. I’ve had a manager for the past few months whom I really respect and look up to. I think his abilities are incredible and I found myself thinking that I would like to be just like him in a few years (although preferably a little less busy and stressed). Finally, after 10 different managers in under four years, here’s one that I’d be quite happy following for my next few projects, something I’ve only really felt like I could say about one or two prior line managers.

The second thing that happened is that work has started taking over more and more of my life. Gone are the days of a not-too-busy 9-5. This last week was more akin to 8-8, not including time travelling to and from Birmingham where I work at the moment (I live in London) which added up to a staggering 17 hours over the last week.

But I haven’t really minded any of this. I like the people I work with, I have a good manager who makes me feel like there’s lots I can do to learn and improve but that I’m also doing a good job and can be trusted with responsibility. I’m ok with work being the main part of my life during the week, and I can focus on everything else at the weekend.

And then my manager resigned. And this entire mindset came crashing down.

As I said, a large part of the reason I’ve been so happy at work is that I like my manager and I like our working relationship. Knowing that this will no longer exist in a few weeks and that I’ll have to get used to something new yet again has made me look at my work/life balance in a completely new light. I like the people I work with, I like the other managers on the project. I would still prefer to have my manager above any of the others.

I’ve realised that I’m as satisfied and happy with my life as I thought I was. I had thought I had a good balance between work and non-work and was quite happy to continue as I was. But my balance is off. I’ve been too work-focused, and now that something’s made work a little less enjoyable, I’m able to see the bigger picture again.

One of my friends has just moved to Vancouver. Another is moving to Toronto in two months. Another has moved a bit further out of London and I don’t see them as often. And I’m still here, not doing an awful lot other than working and not-doing-much at the weekends.

This upsetting the balance I’d found between work and non-work made me realise that if something doesn’t change, I could find myself seriously unhappy very quickly. If I stop liking work, how happy am I with what I’m doing outside of it? My friends are moving away, am I doing anything to replenish my social life? Am I satisfied with the things I’m doing and achieving outside of work? Will they make me feel fulfilled when work becomes just about the income again?

I didn’t really like my answers to these questions, so I’m going to do something about it.

….

The Plan

I’ve wanted to get this going again for some time now; I’ve opened and closed the webpage many times. How it’s been a year since I last even tried to start writing on a regular basis again, I just don’t know.

I’ve got a plan for what I want to talk about. I just keep having difficulty getting started.

Not only do I want to improve a number of different areas of my life, but I’d like to get better at expressing myself, at forming my opinions and being able to hold a conversation. So it is my current goal that this blog cover the following:

  • ‘Leveling up life’: Health/fitness updates, skill learning updates – I want to become more consistent in moving towards a healthier lifestyle, and share my journey to encourage others or at least show people a ‘what not to do’!
  • Book/film reviews/commentary – I need to read more and watch more and spend less time browsing social media. I’ve really enjoyed finding my old blogs and re-discovering what past me thought about various things, and I’d like to be able to do the same in the future.
  • Opinion pieces – I’m very bad at owning opinions or sharing them in a constructive way, for reasons I’ll discuss in the future. I’d like to get better at expressing myself and feel this could be a good way to do so.
  • Anything else I can think of – because why not?

I’m hoping that over the coming year I’ll be able to develop, critically and thoughtfully, and create a space for engagement, questioning and growth both for myself and for any readers. It sounds a bit pretentious, but hey, I’m writing a blog post here. I think a little pretension can be forgiven.

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On Time and Progress

I’ve fallen into that trap again of not writing anything because I’m concerned that I need to be perfect, having a consistent theme and something of great importance to say before opening my mouth. And I don’t think my writing is good enough, or that the things I want to talk about are worthwhile enough, and I was without a camera for a good majority of the last year so my photography progress has stalled. It’s a common occurrence, one I’ve actually had before during the life cycle of this blog. But as I said back then, and I think bears repeating now,

You don’t know who your audience are – you don’t know their inner thoughts or feelings, you don’t know what makes them tick, you don’t know what they’ll jump on out of interest or shun in distaste. Don’t have the arrogance to presume that you are uninteresting to them, because you can not speak for them.

I had a lovely day out yesterday with a friend who said she enjoyed hearing about my life and my journey to where I am now as she found it inspiring. I was, and still am, extremely flattered by this and she made me feel interesting for once, so I’m just going to get straight back into it.

Recently a theme that’s been cropping up a lot is the passing of time and the lack of consistency in various aspects of my life. For example, yesterday I started a knitting project that I originally thought of doing about two years ago. My parents bought me the yarn the Christmas before last, and I kept planning on doing it ‘soon’. I picked it up this week on a whim – having fortunately received some Amazon vouchers from work, I decided to buy the required knitting needles on next day delivery. Thank you prime trial membership that I forgot to cancel several years ago, you’ve more than paid for yourself by now. And then made a start because… well, just because!

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Liking Food and Being Obnoxious

Recently I’ve been referring to myself as an obnoxious human being quite a lot. The reasons for this assertion are as follows: I’ve started liking One Direction, I kind of want to try a 3-day juice cleanse despite not believing any of the claims of the “science” behind them, and the other week I actually said the phrase “I’m not a hipster, I liked kale before it was cool”. I was partly joking around, but also telling the truth – my parents introduced my sister and I to kale years ago as just another variation of cabbage/greens that cropped up in Sunday roast dinners. And just earlier today I had the following exchange:

Me: I had an obnoxious lunch today. The main was a salad of tuna, red kidney beans, chickpeas, sweetcorn, red onion and parsley…

Friend: That sound nice. What’s obnoxious about that?

Me: Drink was ‘charcoal nut milk’ – water, almonds, black sesame paste, dates, vanilla, activated charcoal, himalayan pink salt. Snack was ‘crispy baobab & onion kale chips’.

Friend: Never mind.

I then went on to defend the choice of kale chips by explaining that I thought they were bacon & onion flavoured rather than baobab, and stating that the nutmilk was basically just a date and vanilla milkshake. Which it was, and a very tasty one at that. I enjoyed all my lunch immensely, but it brings me nicely to what I wanted to focus on in this post.

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