Lady in waiting

Waiting

As I write this, it is eight o’clock on a Sunday evening and I am waiting for a delivery from a famous online retailer. I am pretty sure this delivery is not going to arrive and, if it does, I am not going to be able to do anything productive with it because the weekend is over. I already have an incredibly low opinion of this retailer as they have on many occasions proved themselves to be useless as a purveryors of goods. I always have bad experiences when I shop with them and I try fairly hard to avoid using them. Yet every so often I cave in, always on occasions like this when the product I need is too unwieldy to carry home from the town and the firms I actually trust cannot deliver it in the timeframe I desire. This particular online store convinces me that they offer next-day delivery seven days a week. The crazy thing is, this company’s next-day delivery turns out in real life to be exactly the same as everyone else’s after-the-weekend delivery.

To be fair to them, I knew what to expect; I knew even as I was placing the order that it wasn’t going to be delivered when they promised it. Yet I fooled myself into believing this would be the one time they actually come through and deliver. I am exactly that kind of a fool.

I understand that huge numbers of people use this firm and have really good experiences with them, but that doesn’t help much when I’ve stayed in all day waiting for something that hasn’t arrived. In fact, the only way I can see it could possibly be delivered today would be if I gave up now and went and sat in a lovely warm bath, because I believe they have some sophisticated tracker that knows when you are stark naked and covered in bubbles.

Well, all I can say is this is absolutely the last time. It is even more the last time than the last time I went through this. I would not order from them again, even if they were the last retailers on the planet, which I believe is their corporate goal.

Right, I am going to do some washing up as it involves bubbles and might fool them into thinking I’m in the bath.

 

 

 

Looking out

Dark berries
Keeping my eyes open

In my youth I was rubbish at taking photos and I do like the fact that the digital age has revolutionised photography. I think the most important thing I’ve learned about taking photos is the importance of keeping my eyes open, seeing the details. Although we can capture a wide vista in a photo, often it will include elements that would preferably not be there; the lens tends to record a lot of things that our eyes simply edit out. I like a nice close-up shot like the berries in this photo, but this is not a good photo because for some reason the soft-focus areas have pixellated. I could crop them out, to be sure, but then I would end up with an oddly-shaped photo. Either way, it would not be perfect, and that’s the point – does it need to be?

I think keeping your eyes open, getting a clear view of both the vistas and the details, is an important life skill. I think the more we get used to how things look in real life, the better we will become at judging our own efforts fairly.  Let’s not edit out the less than perfect things in our photos and let’s not edit out the less than perfect things in our lives. Let’s live it as it comes.

Here are two examples of today’s efforts:

Chutney labels
Those labels
Treacle tarts
These tarts

The chutney labels aren’t perfectly applied; the filling escaped from the tarts and the pastry crumbled on a couple of them. Instagram would not approve. My tummy, on the other hand, has absolutely no issues with either of these efforts, and my tummy is far more important than Instagram. It has also been around longer, so I guess it knows more about real life than Instagram does.

Considering those tarts I have to conclude that they will look a whole lot better when I cover them with custard at luncthime. Maybe many things that don’t look so good on their own would look better with custard? It’s just a thought.

Evaluation

Last sprinkles
The last sprinkles in this home

Continuing with the theme of moving home, I find myself evaluating many of the things I use, deciding if they are things that I want to pay to move across the town I live in. Some things are so ingrained in my life that there is no need to query at all, which is the case with most of my furniture, although there are a couple of pieces I don’t love and I may use the move as an excuse to unburden myself of them.

It is the little pieces that I think about, the books and magazines and, most keenly, bits and pieces in my kitchen. I have more tea caddies than I need, for example, and once I’ve made this year’s chutney I will be able to thin out the empty jam jars.

I can tell you one thing I shall be glad to leave behind when I move out of this flat and that is the bath. I have disliked the bath here since the first time I got in it. I haven’t disliked it enough to take up showering instead, but it is a terrifically uncomfortable bath to lie in. I have started viewing possible flats to move to and I am eyeing up the baths and dreaming of lying there in comfort.

I also catch myself thinking along the lines of “the last time” I will do something in this home. Whilst I am a fair way off actually doing things for the last time, I am aware that time is approaching and thinking how strange it will be. Of course, when the time comes to, for example, make the last cup of tea in this home I will be so busy that I won’t really mark it until later.

Speaking of the last cup of tea, am I the only one who occasionally broods on the fact that one day I will drink my last cup of tea? I probably won’t know it is my last one, but it is sitting there, at some point in my future, like the bullet with my name engraved upon it. It’s a concept that fascinates me.

I don’t think the buns in my photo will be the last buns I bake in this home, but those are definitely the last sprinkles I will apply here. That’s hundreds, or even thousands, of things I will not have to take with me when I move!

Inevitable

2005 Moving in
2005 Moving in

If you watch the modern iteration of Dr Who you may be familiar with the departure of David Tennant’s Doctor and his final, despairing phrase: “I don’t want to go.” Knowing that in the next two months I have to leave the flat I’ve been lucky enough to live in for the past fourteen years, that same feeling is constantly with me.

I have been looking back at the photos I took before and just after I moved into the flat, and so much has changed, although core elements have stayed the same. There was always a bag of knitting beside my favourite seat, and books, and cups of tea. Even in the very first photos I took, there is a teacup on the window-sill.

Looking at the photos, though, has led me to ask one vital question – what did I do with that green needlework cushion? It’s there, sitting on the green chair in this photo in February 2005, but by the time I took my Christmas photos it had disappeared from view. I simply don’t remember what I did with it. I remember making it and I really liked it, so I’m surprised that all memory of it has been so successfully erased.

The green chair is one of my favourite possessions, and still has a proud place in my living room. I inherited it from my parents who inherited it from my grandparents. I would dearly love to have it re-covered in a Laura Ashley fabric, but that plan is definitely on my “if I won the Lottery” list.

When I moved into this flat, I was downsizing from the house I had lived in with my parents, and I had no idea what furniture I would use in my new, solo, flat-dwelling life. I have to keep reminding myself as I think of the new move to take place, that I am in a much better position now. I know that the items I have are, on the whole, the items I will be moving with. This time I have no illusions of shaping myself to suit the space, I know that whatever I move into will in time become my home, filled with my things, and reflecting my personality. That is my definition of a home.

Complexity

Life should be
Life should be as peaceful as this…

Starting a new job in a field I have little knowledge of is really testing my ability to adapt, which is making me think about life as an older person.

I think it’s a pretty common perception among younger people that as we get older we struggle more to learn new things. We might call it getting set in our ways or, less kindly, believe that older people no longer have the capability to change with the times. At the same time, we stress how important it is to keep challenging our aging brains so as to keep them active.

I wonder, though, if the fact that we take longer to assimilate new information as we get older, is due to us having a greater experience of just how complex most things are. At thirty we see the world as black and white, right and wrong. We look at the most up to date piece of data and we build our rules upon that, constantly adjusting as new pieces of data hit our consciousness. In some ways, we emulate robots by doing numerous incredibly fast revisions, reshaping the world every second. At sixty, we take a longer view and say, wow, over the course of each minute we need to make 60 revisions to the way the world is and that’s really complicated and I’m rather daunted by it. We can also tend to think that it is better to get to the end of the minute and act on the collected data rather than make all those micro-adjustments. It doesn’t mean that either of us, young or old, is less capable of getting to the same point, but it can look like older people are slow, or reluctant to learn.

Experience is something you only really come to value as you get older. Young people are still full of wonder and life is an adventure. They don’t want to know that everyone has done it all before. They do not want to face the idea that they are no more unique than anyone else.

I think we can all learn from each other. When a younger person has more knowledge or experience of a particular thing than you do, take advantage of it. When an older person throws in a hint of caution or wants to apply the brakes a bit, consider whether they are acting on their own experience and could have a valid point of view.

Always keep in mind that life is incredibly complex and it’s just not easy.

... but life is a lot more complicated
… but life is a lot more complicated

Bye-bye summer 2019

Berries & Lichen
The fruits of our labours

I can’t remember a year when the arrival of September has coincided so exactly with the arrival of autumnal days. Over the course of the weekend, the temperature here has suddenly dropped from highs of 30℃ to 20℃ and the sun that was scorching on the last day of August seems merely warm and pleasant now that September is here.

I am settling bit by bit into my new work role and letting my routines unfurl themselves in their own time to fit around the new schedule.

I unpicked the socks I was knitting and now I have nothing on the needles. Nothing has grabbed my attention and there are no pressing gaps in my wardrobe that need to be filled. The ice-cream pink jumper will still probably be my next garment, although I don’t know when I will start knitting it; when the mood takes me is my best estimate. I have an idea that I should knit a warm hat for my Helsinki trip next February, but I’m not sure.

It is definitely time to be getting back into a writing routine, not only for my blog posts, but also back to working on my novel. I had a very interesting conversation with a gentleman I met today who is also working on a novel, and it was inspiring in a quiet, comfortable way. It started when he brought out not only his 2019 diary, but also his 2020 diary which he was already carrying around with him – a very impressive action. In fact, if I had not been working at the time, I would have been very interested to delve into his “everyday carry” bag to see exactly what he was toting around; rather like a fully interactive, real-life YouTube video.

All in all, though tangible progress is rather hard to see, when I refer back to my Word of the Year (Establish), I think I am moving in the right direction.

 

Not that

New sock
Not that but this!

There is a computer service known as IFTTT which allows users to write simple little commands which their computer will action automatically under certain circumstances. The initials stand for If This Then That. An example would be If an e-mail arrives from Harry then move it to the Harry folder. It makes sense because this type of thinking is hard-wired into the human brain – If the sun is just above the horizon then it is early morning or late evening; If the rain comes then the crops will grow. Routines, which I wrote about at the beginning of the week, are often based on the IFTTT scenario.

So what does this concept have to do with the knitting in my photo? Well, the knitting leads me to propose a different concept – NTBT. Not That But This. My photo is clearly not a progress update on the sleeve of the Basilica cardigan which I had just started in my previous blog post. I didn’t get more than a few rows of that completed before realising that this is not the time to be embarking on a complicated pattern. This is the time for sock knitting (enter sock wool, stage left).

I grabbed a ball of Opal Sport Exclusiv out of my stash and made a start. I am enjoying the gentle greens and greys of this yarn’s colourway, so soothing on the soul (oh, wait, should that be the sole?), green being a calming colour. It isn’t quite as soft as the sock wools I normally use, being a blend of 60% wool/25% polypropylene/15% polyamide, but it’s what I had on hand and I’m keen to use up some old yarns. I have a further three lots of sock yarn which I’ll try to get knitted up over the next couple of months, all from West Yorkshire Spinners – a plain grey which may be too boring to knit, but we’ll see; a grey with cream and brown; and a grey with cream and red.

The big change that is coming up is my return to full-time work after a year without a formal job. Between that and knowing that I want to keep aside plenty of time to pursue my creative writing, I anticipate that my knitting production will slow down significantly for the next few months. My main plan for the autumn is to minimise my yarn stash and tidy up the storage in my knitting cabinet, which currently looks like this:

Knitting cabinet
Not exactly inspiring

I’m not sure if I have talked about this piece of furniture before, but it is a music cabinet which belonged to my maternal grandfather who gave music lessons after he retired. One of our favourite parts of our grandparents’ large Edwardian terraced house in York was his Music Room which was on the first floor (upstairs from the ground floor, this being an English house). The bottom part of the cabinet swings downwards to about 45º and I have some knitting patterns stored there, but that area isn’t being used as well as it could be. The real bugbear for me are the Rowan magazines. These are all issues that I love and don’t want to get rid of, but the size makes them difficult to store effectively.

Once the yarns and storage are sorted out, I think my next garment will be the big pink jumper of my dreams. I will have to order wool for that and I don’t want to start it until I am more comfortable about the amount of time my new job will leave for knitting.

So these are my meandering thoughts for a Friday morning. I have a busy weekend of Grandparenting to enjoy before I start work on Monday. Exciting times. I hope that you are all looking forward to the weekend.

Routines

Peace
Boer War Memorial, Norwich

Some people thrive on routines whilst other people loathe them, but we all rely on them to some extent. However much you might seek to escape, to live a life of sponteneity, you can’t deny the subtle tug of the turning seasons, the rising and setting sun, the moon as it waxes and wanes. If you live upon the planet Earth, you are programmed to obey its routines.

My photograph marks that autumn is approaching and, for me, a change of circumstances and unavoidable change of routine. I will be commuting past this statue twice a day in increasingly murky weather as the year recedes from my grasp. I won’t deny that circumstances need to change and that I welcome the murky weather and quite look forward to the brand new year that will chase the old one away. I could live without the change of routine, though; I hate to change my routines. There is always a period of discomfort when I’ve lost the old routine, but not quite set up the new one.

Knowing my routines are destined to change sends me into a flurry of preparation. I try to imagine what my new circumstances will require, how I will be able to fit the important things into new timescales, what, indeed, is important and what I can simply kiss goodbye to. Yet, if experience has taught me anything (debatable), it has taught me that there is a limit to how far you can go in planning a new routine; the specifics will only gradually fall into place during the early weeks after the change happens. No matter how much I want to have everything thrashed out today, it is not yet the right time to determine what I am going to need with me on a daily basis, what I am going to have time to do on my new commute, where and when I am going to shop. I will need to live the new life for a bit before I can fathom out what does and doesn’t work and adapt myself accordingly; only then will I be in a position to settle in to my new routines.

This leads me to conclude that routines are not things which we can consciously set up, maintain, dispose of, or lose – they are not really subject to our control. Routines are adaptable, although they give the appearance of being solid. They are a landscape and our life runs through them like a river, carving patiently through the bedrock, altering it a millimetre at a time. Sometimes life, like a river, is in flood; other times it idles peacefully along, occasionally it forms an oxbow lake where we sit becalmed for a while.

Changing my routines does not come easily to me and in the past I have been guilty of fighting change. Perhaps I can ease the process by allowing my routines to evolve to suit me as I move forward, rather than seeking to set the routines in stone first then fret when they don’t really work.

It isn’t easy to get a handle on all this stuff that existence brings with it. I can’t help but feel it would have been useful if someone had mentioned to me fifty years ago that life isn’t anywhere near as clearly constructed as you’d think and that you’ll never really get the hang of it. So, if you’re young, and you’re reading this, please feel free to take that as my lesson to you.

Tune in on Wednesday for some knitting content, because I have a finished object to share.

Fail is a four-letter word

A revolutionary failure
The Liberator from Blakes 7 – a series where the good guys failed to win

In the world of Blakes 7 fandom, there are many hotly debated issues, but the end of the series is particularly divisive. There are many fans who feel let down by the fact that everyone (debatably) died and that the evil Federation ‘won’. Personally, I have always been happy, although obviously also devastated, that it ended in such a strong way; I would have hated for the series to drag on too long and then just fizzle out. I have posed the question before – if it had had a happier ending, would I still be obsessed with it forty years later?

However, this isn’t an essay about Blakes 7; I’ve just used that for illustrative purposes. My real aim is to talk about the nature of failure and to determine whether I should feel more disturbed by my failures (they are many). It seems, even before the rise of social media, that we have been increasingly encouraged to sanitise our failings and the word “fail” itself has been demonised. The mantra nowadays seems to be “praise the successes, gloss over the failings”. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if this is really wise.

This has been on my mind over the weekend because I have been watching YouTube videos by someone who writes, self-publishes, and also has a business advising other writers about planning their work/lives. The channel is Heart Breathings, if you would like to check her out; I’d say she does about 50% good commonsense and advice and 50% hustle, and there are a lot of YouTube channels out there with much more hustle. I will come clean and admit I watch a lot of YouTube videos in search of inspiration about tackling my own lackadaisical approach to planning. You have my permission to question whether watching YouTube videos is a sensible way of dealing with a lack of enthusiasm and determination or whether it is yet more procrastination.

I watched one particular video in which this writer and her buddy had a writing retreat and I found myself wondering about the fact that she didn’t meet the targets she set herself. Now, she is heavily pregnant which would definitely affect her ability to work, and the word count goals she had set at the beginning of the break seemed incredibly high to me. Although the first day was mainly travel, she was already far behind her target at the end of it and I wondered why she didn’t revise her target based on that fact. It is fine and dandy to forgive yourself for not achieving your targets, but you need to be realistic when you decide whether you can catch up over a set amount of time, and if you can’t, you will need to lower your expectations.

One of the most interesting things my weekend’s viewing has me thinking is that I should care more when I fail. If failure doesn’t upset me, then what I was trying to do wasn’t important in the first place. I’ll be honest: I’m getting on, I don’t have time to be doing things that I don’t care about. Failure is a feeling, as are success, love, and hunger. Why would I waste my remaining days ignoring such feelings or, worse, not feeling them at all? To a certain extent, we judge which things we care deeply about not only by how happy we are when we succeed, but also by how we feel when we fail at them. When something is important to us, the stakes are automatically higher. We can shrug off a disparaging comment from a stranger far more easily than the same comment from someone we know and admire.

From the partial reading I have done of The Bullet Journal Method (see my previous One Book July musings), one strong idea I have taken away is that if you continually fail to do a particular thing on your list, you would be wise to examine whether it is actually important to you. I am guilty of carrying certain tasks forward from day to day, often tiny tasks that take no time at all to do, because I don’t feel any sense of guilt that I didn’t do them. I need to look at each of these things and ask if I actually care about it. If I do, then I should feel guilty that I am pushing it endlessly into the future; if I do not then I shouldn’t be trying to do it at all.

It reads as if I just spent the whole weekend watching videos, but that is not the case. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday sketching out a version of a planning page that would help me to set goals for the next quarter of the year and break them down into a list of tasks for each month and week. Doing this, I discovered that I don’t actually have a problem with the goal-setting side, and I can see the actions I need to achieve the goal, but I struggle with the concept of assigning particular things to set time periods. Perhaps it is because the projects I am currently working on really consist of doing the same thing repeatedly. Take, for example, searching for a job, which involves checking out particular sites for vacancies each day. I can’t control how many suitable jobs will be advertised in a week, so I can’t plan ahead to put in, say, two job applications every week. All I can do is repeat the process and ensure that when I see a vacancy that I think will suit me I send an application in a timely manner. That doesn’t count as ‘planning’;  it is, by its very nature, reactive. There is a more proactive method which is to send of a set number of ‘cold-call’ letters every week on the off-chance that someone might be thinking about hiring, but that doesn’t appear to be how the job market works nowadays. There is a similar conundrum with writing my novel: I am trying to write a minimum of 500 words a day and the aim of finishing first draft will be achieved when I’ve finished telling the story. In this instance, the proactive course would be to determine at the outset the number of words I want the novel to come in at and set goals of when I want to be at the 25,000 or 50,000 words mark. That is certainly something I want to consider. Funnily enough, knitting is the one thing where I find it very easy to set goals and break down a project into components – when I want to have the back or the sleeves finished by. In fact, if I could approach different types of projects with the same clarity that knitting has, life might be a little easier.

So, here we are, heading into a new week and it might seem negative to start off with the objective of feeling more disappointed and unhappy if I don’t do things well, but being disappointed by my failures is a key component in moving forward. After all, fail is a four-letter word, but if I own my failures and use them as rocks to form the foundation of the life I’m trying to build, it does not have to be a bad word.

 

One book July drop-out!

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1432
Ah, One Book July, it wasn’t you, it was me.

It was always quite a stretch of the imagination to think I’d commit to following something like this for an entire month, and no surprise to me that I decided to drop it. Not that it was in any way a waste of time because it afforded me a pause in which to look at what exactly I feel is lacking in the planning/motivation/time management area of my life.

Ryder Carroll’s “The Bullet Journal Method”

At the beginning of July I was keen to take part in the community read-through of this book because I started it in June but got slightly bogged down. What has been interesting to me is that throughout July I have continued to get bogged down with it and have pretty much ground to a halt at Page 183. The book contains some interesting thoughts, and Ryder Carroll has a very compelling narrative to tell about his own struggles with finding the best way to record and appraise his activities, but I find it impossible to complete the parts where he asks me to work through an exercise to uncover things about myself. It isn’t that I am averse to self-analysis – I do it all the time, so perhaps the problem is that I don’t need to go through more ‘why’ processes; I need to nail down a firm ‘how’ process.

Using the “Method”

I was going to use my Filofax Notebook incorporating the Mark and Fold week-to-view diary because that has been serving me as well as anything does. Then I decided to go whole-heartedly into the Method: use a bound notebook and follow Ryder Carroll’s guidelines by approaching each day one at a time, listing everything you need to do, bringing forward things you haven’t done previously, and making notes on anything you do or think during the day. Ever since I first read about using bullet journals, this was the way it made sense to me, however after a couple of weeks it really wasn’t hitting my sweet spot.

First and foremost, I wasn’t actually achieving anything more than I do with any other method, and it certainly didn’t motivate me to get on with the highest priorities in my life. Then there was the fact that whilst Ryder Carroll advocates what he calls rapid logging with very brief bullet points capturing just the essence of each idea or action point, I found it impossible to set aside my story-teller instincts. In fact, in a free-format notebook I was actually less inclined to be brief than I am using a traditional printed planner with its associated space limitations. One very strong positive thing to come out of the two weeks I spent doing the bound bullet journal was finding that I enjoyed recording more information about my daily exercise and activity than I had previously done in my week-to-view diary.

At the end of the second week, I tried one or two different ideas in my bound notebook to personalise it to my tastes, then returned to the Filofax Notebook/Mark and Fold diary combination for the third week. However, I already know that this is a system which doesn’t push me to do my most important tasks. All of which leaves me pondering…

The way ahead

Now we are in the fourth week of July and I am doing something that I have previously found useful in paid employment – keeping a log of what I am doing as the day progresses so that I can try to identify why I don’t do the things I should be doing, and what I do instead. One thing I’ve taken from Ryder Carroll is that you need to understand why you are avoiding doing particular things. It may be that you’ve chosen totally the wrong path (he gives a very good example of his own experience in the book); it may be that there are certain items that appeal to you, but that in reality you are never going to follow. For me, bullet journaling appeals, but it’s not a system that is going to add anything to my life, at least at the current time.

I’m doing my logging electronically and have stepped away from the whole notebook and diary system until I’ve sorted out my thinking.

The things I do anyway

This is not to say that I have abandoned my notebooks and pens, even briefly. Whatever happens, my morning routine includes writing my journal in a notebook with a fountain pen. It’s where I record the things I’ve done, write about what I enjoyed and what I didn’t enjoy, and make my plans for the future. It is probably the reason why the analytical side of The Bullet Journal Method book failed to gel with me.

Another thing I do every morning is read my horoscope. I don’t believe in horoscopes, per se, but it is no more and no less useful than reading a motivational quote every morning, or reciting affirmations. I don’t need it to do anything more than remind me that no two days are alike and that life ebbs and flows according to principles that cannot be altered by mere mortals.


Disclaimer: after I wrote the title of this post I had to nip onto YouTube and watch “Beauty School Drop-out” from “Grease”. Feel free to follow suit.