Category Archives: Uncategorized

What would happen if….

This is an afterthought to the previous post.

I pressed publish and then I went back to worrying about something or other, and it suddenly struck me that one way of changing things might be to explore other options. To wait, for a second, before doing what I would usually do and ask myself “what would happen if I did x instead”.

I think this kind of exploration might be the way forward. It gives you room to try out different things and to collect a bit of feedback.

For a relatively intelligent and sometimes rational human, it has taken me rather a long time to realise that b will always result in c but d might result in something different. The courage bit comes in when it comes down to doing d instead of the more familiar b. I reckon I can manage that.

Things I’ve been thinking about

There are two things that I’ve read this week which have really stuck with me. I thought that they were unrelated but I think that I might have been wrong. They are both, in their own way, about empowerment and finding your own way.

The first was a blog post by a wonderful man who, from the first time I met him nearly 15 years ago, has made a massive difference to my life. It is about how important it is to keep going, even when things are tough. About the fact that movement, any movement, is critical, even if you don’t see the destination when you start out.

The second was from the wonderful Brainpicker. It is about trusting yourself and not prioritizing other’s opinions over your own. It is about growing that self-belief that I have written about so many times but still seems to elude me, and finding your own way, regardless of what others may think or you may think they think.

Neither piece of advice is rocket science. Both require, I think, a sense of energy and courage that are hard, sometimes, to find.

I have been frustrated with myself for a while now at what seems my lack of movement. Have felt that I talk all the time but the actions don’t seem to materialise, that I am constantly asking what others think because my own opinions are limited by the fact that they are just mine, because I care what other people think.

And yet.

I wanted to write this to remind myself that, in the past, it has been the periods of frustration and stagnation that have led to the biggest changes. That you are sometimes spurred to keep going because standing still when you’re standing in the wrong place is incredibly uncomfortable. And that I have learnt that through feeling it myself.

And, I wanted to write this so that I can hold these two notions, which I think really matter, at the front of my mind. To focus on putting one foot in front of the other and only worry what I think about where I’m putting my feet, because that is the key to the rest of it falling into place. Or so I hope. And it is so easy to forget these things, when you’re caught up in it all. It’s so easy to get hung up on what you’re not doing or what other people think about what you’re doing, and that’s a red herring. That doesn’t help.

I don’t have a plan for doing this. I don’t think it comes through words although writing it down might help. I think it comes through hard work and through trying things out, through action. And I worry sometimes that all this introspection is harmful, that it’s an excuse for doing things or ends up becoming an end in its own right.

Maybe.

Or maybe you need to go through these periods of thinking things out, because when you’ve realised something important, it is impossible for things to stay the same.

The new 101 things in a 101 days challenge. Reduced.

After a weekend in sunny Madrid, I have come back to London with a bad case of the post-holiday blues. It is not really shifting and I have been waking up wondering why an earth I am choosing to remain in an overcast City that seems to have lost its magic and is a million miles away from the Mediterranean rays and two euro wine.

I know.

Madness.

Anyway, given that my Spanish extends to hola and vino and my recent move has swallowed up any small pockets of remaining cash, I guess I’m stuck here for the moment and feeling a little like I need to shake things up a bit. As a good friend said to me at the weekend, if you don’t change anything, things don’t change…

A few years ago I challenged myself to do 101 things in a 101 days. It was a challenge that I ultimately failed – but which I loved every minute of. I think I’m going to have to do something similar again cos there’s still a big world out there that I have only scratched the surface of. So, in the interests of travelling without going anywhere, I’m going to set myself a list of things to do in the next few months and see if that makes my world a bit bigger again. Here goes…..

1. Find a Spanish school and get beyond my current two words
2. Bikram yoga. Heat is good, right?
3. That book I was going to write? Start with a plan
4. Borrow a doggie (.com)
5. Learn to programme. GA has promised that it can be done in two days. I’m willing to be proved wrong
6. Visit all the castles within a 20 mile radius of my house. It’s Kent. There are lots
7. Learn to lindyhop
8. Plant something. Anything. And don’t let it die within two weeks
9. Stop smoking. Sometimes your world gets better by not doing things rather than doing things
10. A week off social media. As above. Not quite sure how I’ll get round the fact that I work in social media but hey…
11. Beaches. Beaches. Beaches. Visit at least 4 in Kent. Although I’m not by the sea (apparently Kent is a big place!), I’m a lot nearer than I’ve been before
12. Cook a BBQ rather than be cooked at BBQ
13. A Texan adventure. This is a bit of a pre-planned treat but I reckon it can still count
14. Something for someone else
15. Make a cup cake. Or several
16. Learn to play the whole of the Moonlight Sonata. Not just the first few pages. And not just with one hand
17. Write a life list. Again.
18. That how to draw cartoon book I brought 5 years ago. Do it.
19. Meet new people. There are few things that are more exciting. There are also, in London, few things that are harder
20. Get a MAC make-over

I know I’ve already done a few of these things and I know some of them are things that I really should have done before (the cup cake being a case in point) but, hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere.

The deadline is September 1st. I’m starting today.

No such thing as never?

When I started writing this blog I believed that there was no such thing as never. I had just come through a recovery that no one believed would ever happened and, as the world seemed shiny and new – and I felt shiny and new – it felt like anything was possible.

One of the reasons that I have found it hard to write on this blog is the fact that I no longer believe that there is no such thing as never. I can see that it’s a good thing to believe in – I just know it’s not true.

I may never stand on the edge of the Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon. May never see China stretching out in front of me. May never see the Cherry Blossom blooming in Japan. May never write a book. May never stand at an altar in bridal white. May never have children.

May never have children.

That is as hard to write down as it is to consider.

It is a shock to realize that you don’t get everything you want in life, however much you may want it.

I have been thinking about it a lot recently – this idea that, however hard you try to shape your life and however much you seize it by the horns and vow not to be beaten, some things are out of your hands. Some things just aren’t meant to be. Some things are incompatible with other things and you have to choose which thing matters the most and, in the process of choosing, something else might become a ‘never’. Admittedly, the fact that you have made that choice in the first place means that everything is a possibility when you start out but

It is not as simple as that.

I wonder why it has taken me so long to fully comprehend this?

Maybe it is a sign of a privileged life, this assuming that it’s all for the taking and nothing is out of reach. There’s some truth in this and maybe I have overlooked the wonderful things that are as I focus on the things that aren’t. Maybe the fact that there is such a thing as never is what drives us forward and forces us to make difficult decisions and choose what really matters to us and fight for those things. Maybe never is an inevitably in a world that is so incredibly massive and has such an amazing amount to offer –

I don’t know.

I’ve just been feeling, lately, that I don’t believe in no such thing as never anymore and that is sometimes really hard.

Inner strength

When I was 16, the guy I loved said that whatever happened to him or to us, he would be okay because there was a little part, right at the centre of his heart, that was his and would always remain happy. I remember the conversation well. We were walking across a motorway bridge that went from my house to his. There was a low roar of traffic. I didn’t really understand what he was saying. The words made sense but the meaning – the felt meaning – was absent.

Nearly twenty years on and I finally understand what he was getting at. You only really have you, in this world, and you have to start and end with that. It’s not romantic or easy, can be interpreted as either a terrible or a wonderful thing, but –

There we go.

I have been reading a book about growing your inner strength. It seems to be a theme in my life at the moment. Sometimes I think this is ironic – after beating an eating disorder that no one thought I could beat, I must have inner strength by the bucket-load; sometimes I think this inner strength is an elusive quality that I will spend much of my life searching for. I care a lot about what people think and even more so about how I relate to the people who make up my world. I am acutely aware that they are at the centre of it and I do not wish to change that but –

According to this book (which to be fair I’m only about a tenth of the way through), inner strength is a combination of innate qualities and those which you can grow in yourself. It is made up of things like self-compassion, self-regulation, tolerance levels, security, optimism – things I have historically been poor at developing.

Apparently this is not a life sentence.

This is a relief although I am unsure as to how long it will actually take me to get there. I have known for a while that the brain moulds itself to the experiences that you are used to and therefore focus more on. That it contains tracks (once described to me as being like the course of skis down a mountain) that are shaped by these experiences and expectations, and it is obviously far easier to follow trodden paths than forge out on new ones –

But not impossible.

I am beginning to think that this inner strength and this core that was spoken of are one and the same. I guess that some people realise, at 16, that the relationship that they have with themselves is the starting place for everything else. I guess some people only realise that later on and have to work just that little bit harder to find it.

Country Life

A cockerel cut through the silence and woke me up this morning –

And so this is Kent. I hadn’t noticed that London was so noisy until I left it. Now the silence is more audible than the noise was. When I sit by the window, I can hear birds chirping to each other and every slight rustle seems to be amplified. Even the roaring trains that zoom along the side of our house don’t compare to the steady hum of London noise. Before we moved, I wondered it they would keep me awake: the noise has been strangely comforting so far.

I am not sure what to make of country life yet. Every time I walk up our drive, I can feel my face breaking into a smile and when I shut the door, I get the Englishman’s house is his castle thing – but it is also incredibly alien. A bit like being on holiday with no end date. A bit like stepping into a parallel world – yours and yet not yours.

It is funny how the places that we live in seem to have an impact on the relationship that we have with ourselves. In London, there are constant distractions. Feeling a bit fidgety? You have the whole City on your doorstep…. You don’t have to think about things – like supper or meeting people or trains home – until they happen. Life is fast and furious and you just get on with it.

The biggest thing that I am noticing about country life – in the two and a bit days that I have experienced it for – is that you have to be with yourself in a very different way. If that makes sense. That you can’t get lost in a whirlwind of activity or, indeed, define yourself by it. That you don’t have a glittering ocean of bars or restaurants or markets or clubs or theatres to choose from each day so that, pretty much whatever you’re doing will be fun. In a bizarre way, you have to make it happen for yourself more. You have to get used to being with yourself more.

London is a harder place to live in some ways; easier in many others.

And so this is a new adventure that is as much an exploration of me as it is of a whole new country and a whole different lifestyle. It’s probably overdue, if I’m honest, but I’m not sure which one is scarier – or more exciting.

Turnpike Lane

Tonight we are going for a Chinese. And so starts my week of last Turnpike Lane things. Fortunately, considering we’re soon to be leaving, Turnpike Lane doesn’t have quite as much to offer as some of the more salubrious parts of London, but it is still the end of an era, albeit a short one.

Other highlights include a rather spectacular Indian takeaway and a restaurant in an old chocolate factory with more melted candles in one room than you can possibly imagine and surprisingly tasty food. Nothing beats a hidden gem – discovered. There’s also a great roast at the nearby Salisbury, but I ticked that one off a few weeks ago, along with all the other Turnpike-Laners who were seeking a good old-fashioned Sunday lunch instead of a plate of mezze. Mezze. Nom. Maybe I should add that to the list too? I appreciate that it is a little food-heavy…

Alexandra Palace is pretty awesome, particularly on Summer evenings when you can watch the sun go down over the whole of London, and there are a couple of squirrel-filled parks that I might go and bid farewell to. There’s also a recreation ground that would have made the list if it wasn’t for the stagnant pond that means you have to hold your breath every time you lap round it –

Turnpike Lane has been a strange place to live, for me. Admittedly, the fact that some kids decided to seriously assault each other at 4am one morning, or that the road leading up to our road is perhaps the most vomited-upon street in North London has not massively enamoured me to the area –

And yet it has become home and I will miss it.

I will miss the purple carpets that we played poker for and I lost – by a hair. I will even miss the purple walls that have always made my partner smile and, more recently, have made me smile too. I will miss the living room that looks far more like a library than a living room should, and is now spilling over with books; the surprisingly tasteful terracotta kitchen walls and the disturbingly tasteless hanging man that you have to tug to turn on the bathroom light; the fireplace that I occasionally toast marshmallows on –

And I know that the new house will have these things in too, that we will again imprint memories into the walls and that the many books and photos and the wine-stained sofa will all come with us –

But it feels important to say goodbye too. To be a little bit sad about leaving and to make sure I capture the good bits before I go.

Some of the things I like….

I have been trying to find myself. Again. I wonder when the process of losing and having to find oneself again stops. Or if it does.

I had thought about dance classes or creative writing or just doing anything different and seeing if I could find myself there but a wise person pointed out that you are always taking you into any new situation. You have to start there.

The same wise person suggested that one of the ways of starting there might be to explore the things that I like. To notice what I am drawn too and what makes me feel good.

I have been trying to pay attention. These are some of the things that I know I like…

The feeling of the sun on my back.

Talking to people. Not small-talking but those conversations where you share things and ask questions and explore the world together.

Music and, particularly, music that is felt as much as it is heard.

Hugs. Giving and receiving.

Royal blue.

The blossom on the trees and the moment that you spot the first blossom. Crocuses and daffodils and purple tulips.

Books where the story is held in the words and the way that the words are strung together makes you shiver. Characters that come to life. Stories that live in your head as much as on the page.

London. The speed of the tubes. The Houses of Parliament at night. The background murmur of life. The pride of knowing all the bus routes. The roads and parks that have been trodden for decades. The permanency of the Thames, its strength.

Swimming. Particularly when no one else is there and that first moment when you push off from the side.

Homemade bread. Still warm. And with marmite dripping into it.

Roses and lychee martinis.

Laughing so hard that it hurts and you feel like you’re a giggling teenager again.

England and the English. The quirks (“I’m sorry” when someone bumps into you) that you only find over here. The rolling fields and the history that is written into the cities and into the countryside. Roast dinners and winter fires.

It feels like I could go on.

It is disturbingly easy to forget these things when you’re feeling lost. To overlook the things that make you feel good and are there, waiting, should you need something to pick-you up. Or something to ground you.

Spring

Spring is coming and the fog that was noticeably absent over winter has made an unexpected appearance. The world disappears overnight and it takes a while for it to come back again. When it breaks, the sun is warm, but it has been lingering. It could still snow yet but I hope it doesn’t. The crocuses have come out and the purple and yellow patches are cheering. It would be sad to see them crushed.

I had always associated spring with new beginnings. It takes less energy to wake up and the world looks different in the sunshine. It feels like a weight is lifted. I’m not sure I believe in new beginnings anymore. The past seems to stack up and becomes harder to break from. I know that sounds a little bleak. I do not mean it to sound so.

It is ironic that I am writing this at a time when I’m actually facing a new beginning. We’re moving to Kent in the next few weeks. I am leaving the shiny lights of London and a City that I have fallen in love with, after a few hiccups…

A new house, a new city (or, more accurately, spot in the middle of nowhere). It doesn’t get more beginning-like than that, really.

Maybe when the removal van draws up and I find myself unlocking a different front door and, then, stepping into a new hallway, I will feel differently – but at the moment it doesn’t feel like a new beginning. It is a new space but it is still me. Me, somewhere else. Me, wondering what I’ll find there.

Maybe I have reached a point where I no longer need wipe-the-slate clean fresh starts.

I’m not sure that I believe in new beginning anymore, but I do believe in something a bit slower and a bit more continuous. A kind of gradual growth that is not clearly delineated but ebbs and flows. That is initiated by new experiences and new realisations which do not make up beginnings, as such, but next steps that are built on the things that have come before them and make up a journey, the route of which remains a mystery until you’re treading it.

And maybe Spring is not so much about new beginnings as it is about hope and movement. Or maybe that can start at any time and it has been unhelpful for me to attempt to link it to Spring. Maybe Spring is more akin to the moments when you notice how much you have grown – or are reminded that you can.

The Shock of the Fall

I have just finished reading The Shock of the Fall. It did not take long and I did not want to put it down. It is one of those rare books where the story is carried in the words themselves – where it is not just what is being said that hits you but how it is being said. And it does hit you.

I seem to have read a spate of books about children dealing with disabilities or tragedies recently. Think Wonder or The Universe versus Alex Woods, to name a few. I don’t know whether the child perspective (and possibly the elderly perspective, if you look at the likes of The Hundred Year Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared) is a current literary trend, but there is something fascinating in the innocent (or the experienced) voice that they contain. I thought I would find such narrators patronizing or naïve. I haven’t.

The Shock of the Fall starts with a young narrator, a boy’s-eye take on the world, but it flits between the child’s experience and the teenager’s, so that the one becomes embedded in the other. Just more literally than it happens for most people. It is the story (spoilers) of a boy’s descent into madness, of tragic lives cut short – both literally and emotionally – and yet it is not a tragedy nor the glamourisation of one. It is impossible not to empathise with the narrator, and the precision of the language and the depiction of the story seem to take it beyond being merely a sad – or indeed happy – book.

Matt’s (the name the protagonist fictionally gives himself) madness is predictable and yet the description of it is not clichéd or empty or over-hyped or even over-simplified. Or not in my opinion and, having fought my own battles, I guess I’m in a relatively good position to say that. And while I have tended to avoid novels explicitly about mental health and whether the cause of Matt’s illness is entirely credible, The Shock of the Fall made me stop and think –

And there are several passages that I highlighted which said what I was thinking far better than I could:

“Mental illness turns people inwards. That’s what I reckon. It keeps us forever trapped by the pain of our own minds, in the same way that the pain of a broken leg or a cut thumb will grab your attention, holding it so tightly that your good leg or your good thumb seem to cease to exist”

And -

“We are selfish, my illness and I. We think only of ourselves. We shape the world around us into messages, into secret whispers spoken only for us.”

I have been wondering why it feels so important to share these passages. Empathy is a powerful motivator. I wanted to write these down, partly, because they resonated so sharply with me and I wanted to remember them. Because they seemed acutely and insightfully true. Because when I was ill, none of the things that I truly value now – relationships and friends and lovers and days in the sunshine – even featured and I didn’t notice, at the time, but I saw it in Matt’s world and it seemed to reflect my own old one. Are they relevant to any one else? I don’t know. Awareness is important but seems, to me, to have its limitation. Maybe it just feels important to appreciate those random lines that capture a human experience so well. Maybe if you’re fortunate never to experience madness, it’s worth knowing how lucky you are.

He also writes – “reading is a bit like hallucinating”- and I wanted to remember that too, because I hadn’t thought of reading in that way before but it seems so obvious now.