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I’ve been meaning to write a post for ages about how fucking terrifying turning 37 is and how the magnitude of it has been hard to comprehend and left me with a slightly sicky feeling…and then life happened and I had a really busy and super fun few weeks and by the time my Birthday actually arrived, my blood-alcohol ratio was so off kilter and I was so excited about seeing lots of the people I love that the moment passed.

Anyway. I am now 37 and one day and very hungover and, to my great surprise, I’m actually ok with it. At the moment. I feel a million miles away from where I was this time last year when I couldn’t really sense a future and it felt like I was sort of watching life pass me by; and, if there’s one thing that my last few months of being 36 taught me, it is that life can change really fast and you never know what’s coming round the corner. Which can sometimes be wonderful.

So, I’d like to take this into my 37th year, even though – and because I still haven’t quite grown out of my various neuroticisms – I am a little unsettled by how positive and hopeful I’m currently feeling. I hope that I keep putting myself into new situations and doing things that surprise me. I hope that I remember that change can be absolutely amazing – once you’ve got over the initial hurdle. And I hope that I remember that this is all independent of age – cos you can change your life whenever you decide that you’re ready to.

Issa 1


The importance of kindness

“I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else.”

Roald Dahl

This quote came up on my timeline the other day. I noticed it because it echoed a sentiment that I have heard a lot recently. I think I might have overlooked the importance of kindness previously. Seen it as less important than intelligence or humour or tenacity, for example. Less interesting.

I think I was totally wrong.

As I get older and, unexpectedly, the world seems bigger and, at times, scarier than it did previously, and I’m increasingly reminded of our fragility at the same time as I appreciate how amazing it is that we’re actually here, kindness seems to take on a new significance to me.

Life is hard. It’s unfair sometimes. It can be cruel. Lonely, even, when you realise that, ultimately, we’re here on our own. And, even though it’s wonderful and we’re really pretty fucking lucky to experience it here and now, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming and slightly like we’re freewheeling our way through the universe.

And kindness makes such an unbelievable difference. It is like a hand reaching out through space to grab you. It’s warm, like sunshine. It’s a beacon when things around it feel dark.

I’ve had a mixed year. I’ve felt, sometimes, like I’m veering in the wrong direction. I’ve been disconnected, as though I’m standing on the edge of a crowd and watching everyone else rush past and it would be so scarily easy for me to be lost, forgotten, crushed.

And, the thing that has made the most difference during those times is kindness. The friend that brings me a bunch of flowers after a shit day; the colleague who pops out to get me some chocolate mini rolls when I’m hard against it; the text message asking how my day has been; the guy who offers to carry my suitcase when I’m struggling to yank it up the stairs at the station –

It is amazing how transformative such small acts can be.

And as I’ve been thinking about kindness, I’ve realised that it takes lots of things to be kind. It takes an awareness of – and empathy with – other people. It takes, sometimes, a risk when you put yourself out for someone and are not quite sure how they’ll respond. It takes a step out of your own shit, a putting someone else first. It takes a particular kind of attitude – one that is governed by love for someone rather than judgement or expectation or even your own beliefs. It takes patience.

I’m not great at kindness. I’m shit at doing the coffee rounds at work. I often get so caught up in my own crap that I don’t look beyond my world. I’m hesitant about offering a stranger a hand. I am not always forgiving, to either myself or other people –

And I think I would like to be. I think it really matters. And I think I absolutely agree with Roald Dahl.








I have not written anything for a while. It has not been good for me. All the thoughts that I might have worked through with words have been chasing each other around my head in ever-decreasing circles until I have found myself tangled up in them. When you are writing, you can pull out each thread in turn and give it some sort of meaning.

I have just finished Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. It is, amongst many other things, a good reminder of why it’s important to write. Of how the act of writing can unravel things and of how words, once they’re shared and released from the confines of your own head, can act as a bridge to the world, a way of re-connecting.

One of the costs, for me, of not writing, has been to lose that connection. To feel myself retreat further into a lonely space inhabited by only me and my thoughts. The world becomes greyer as this happens. It is hard to tune in fully when your thoughts are shouting at you. Or, it has been for me. Once they’re out you can turn your attention to other things. The world sharpens, again.

The problem with not writing for a long time is it’s hard to work out, when you start again, where to begin. This not knowing where to begin, what to write, has been part of my retreat but I am reminded, time and time again, that with writing, you just need to start. What then comes out leads you to the next thing and, hopefully, to some sort of reconciliation.

A while ago, I wrote a post about how I no longer believed that there was no such thing as never. It was driven by a growing awareness that we don’t always get what we want in this world. That sometimes, the people that we love and the aspirations that we hold and the hopes that we invest in are just out of our grasp. And that’s just how life is. It was also driven by an acute awareness of my own mortality. A dark, formidable cloud that I couldn’t seem to escape from and that I am acutely aware it is never quite  possible to escape from. For some people. this makes life all the more precious. For me, it made me incredibly scared. How could I make the time I had count? How could I live in the midst of such uncertainty.

Words, I think, might help this. As well as reaching out, they allow us to etch our thoughts and feelings onto the world. They give permanence to things that are fleeting – and they also make fleeting things that, at the time, seem permanent. They are a way out of and beyond ourselves. For some, something that lasts after their years. For others, a way of writing a world that may not, at that time, be within their immediate grasp.

So I am not sure what I will end up writing next but I do know that it’s important for me to keep putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboards thoughts to words. I might not do it here and I might not do it publicly but writing has given me oh so much in the past, and I hope that it can become my route back to the world again.

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 –


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.


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.


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.


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.