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October 1st

It is the first of October and the sky is a pale grey wash. Outside, the umbrellas are up and, underneath them, eyes are cast down to avoid the spiky rain. Inside, the lights are harsh and artificial, the windows spattered with rain.

I do not like saying goodbye to summer.

In summer, the air is soft and everything glows. There is less, it feels, between you and the world. It is easier to look up, harder not to smile.

I have noticed the leaves turning on the trees around our house. The sight has made me pause –

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You can appreciate Autumn but it is an other. Summer feels part of me.

It is strange that this change which is so predictable, so familiar, still makes me stop and think. As the nights start to creep in and the mornings, stretch, I am acutely aware that things are changing. Soon, the short days and layers of jumpers will feel like commonplace and, while I look forward to the crispness – and cosiness – of winter, summer is a difficult season to wish goodbye.

A big adventure

If in six months time my world starts to feel small and claustrophobic again, I hope that I look back on this summer and remember that actually it’s incredibly big and amazing, and that there are always doors that you can open if you’re prepared to look for them.

It has not been an easy summer but I have come out of it a happier Issa than I went in to it.

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I started writing a long post about my Texas adventure and the things I’d been up to this summer, hoping that if I captured everything in words, the memories would somehow be pinned down and retain their sharpness. It doesn’t work like that, I don’t think, so here are the few things I don’t want to lose to time -

I have only seen a tiny fraction of a massive world that is filled with surprising and strange and beautiful and unimaginable things. It is always there to explore. The easiest way to change your world is by stepping into a bigger one.

Nothing beats the feeling of jumping into an icy spring after spending the day walking around in 40 degree heat. Nothing.

Texans sure know how to dance and it is super fun to be whisked around a Texan bar. I was not very good because I am far too self conscious – I’ve been saying it for years but that’s something I really need to change.

It is okay to be on your own. It is particularly okay if you’re on your own by a private swimming pool in the very hot sunshine.

Where you live doesn’t matter when you find your soulmates – and you never know where that might be.

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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.