2017: The Year of Cautious Optimism

Despite the many terrible world events that happened in it (Brussels, Paris, Nice, Orlando, Syria, Turkey, Brexit, Trump, Berlin to name but a few), 2016 was a great year for me personally. I married the love of my life after five years together, had the most joy-and-love-filled celebration with friends and family followed by a two week trip around my favourite places in northern Italy. I also had not one, not two, but THREE fantastic hen celebrations in London and Las Vegas (!), a relaxing break with friends in the beautiful Belgian Ardennes and an amazing holiday to Vietnam (thanks to Tom and Lily for having their wedding there!), plus numerous other special moments shared with special people. And for all of this I feel incredibly thankful.

The instability in the world has proved our future is far from certain, and that every day is a blessing and not a guarantee. I am therefore approaching 2017 with an attitude of cautious optimism. From a personal perspective there is much to look forward to, and potentially big changes afoot, not least my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology starting in February.

From a wider world perspective, I do believe that we can, to some extent at least, be the change we want to see in the world. Even if it’s only on a micro rather than a macro level, when individuals come together to realise a common goal – whether it be helping other humans, animals and/or the environment – something magical happens. If we never look outside of ourselves and our own immediate concerns we not only lose perspective but we also fail to make a positive impact on the world around us. Whenever my time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil I hope it can at least be said I made some progress on that front.

So here we stand on the threshold of a new year. The future may be uncertain, but it is also what we make it. I don’t know about you, but I plan to make 2017 the best year yet. Happy New Year.

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The Motions

And so, here we are again. Mere weeks after the first ‘Brussels Lockdown,’ we are in the midst of another one. Only this time it’s different. This time our fears have been realised. This time the carnage that was originally predicted has happened. This time there have been deaths (over 30 at the time of writing, but with many more critically ill in hospital); at the airport, on the metro. Two places where we most want to feel safe, but no longer can.

One of the three terrorists from the airport is still at large. Sirens blare on every street corner. Stony faced soldiers stand watch over frightened pedestrians. No matter how much we don’t want to be, we are afraid. And we are angry. But alongside our fear and anger is something else, something far more unsettling: the total absence of shock. I can only speak for myself, of course, but when I woke up yesterday morning to see my phone going crazy with messages from concerned loved ones, I instinctively knew what had happened. And I wasn’t surprised. Not in the least.

Thankfully I had stayed at home ill (the only time in my life that I will ever be grateful for a tummy bug), which meant I hadn’t taken my usual route to work via the metro. Instead of being physically caught up in the chain of sickening events I therefore watched the horror unfold on the news and social media, where the vile reactions of people like Trump and Hopkins turned my stomach.

Today, as a new day dawned, I still felt numb. And I still do. The outpouring of sentiment from around the world is fitting for the victims, but no amount of brightly coloured monuments will bring them back. And sentiment alone will not address the threat that we are facing – which, let’s be clear, is far more than a group of radicalised people on the rampage in the name of their twisted and hate-fuelled ideology.

We are as threatened by the ignorant, yet terrifyingly prevalent, attitudes of the Trumps’ and Hopkins’ of this world as we are by the terrorists themselves. In the battle between love and hate, hate is gaining ground. But it will never win, because for every ignorant, hate-filled person there are a thousand more who can not only see the truth but whose hearts are fit to burst with love. Yes, LOVE; the one emotion that the people who are trying to threaten our freedom are incapable of feeling, and the only thing that can unite us in the face of such unspeakable terror.

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Busy? Me? Hahahaaaaaaa. No. (YES!)

I can confidently say that until this point in my life I have never even known busy. In the past week, whilst attempting to juggle several major projects for various important clients, I have averaged twelve hour working days. There have been moments when I have entertained, in my exhausted fugue-like state, the idea of physically splitting myself in two, so that I might actually have some hope of completing all the tasks on my ‘to do’ list. Who am I kidding? I don’t even have a ‘to do’ list anymore. I realise now that is a luxury only afforded to people who are familiar with the concept of having free time in their waking day. At the moment that concept is as alien to me as, well, aliens. As for my email inbox, it doesn’t take an I.T. expert to know that when it hits 250 and at least 50 of those are still unopened, that’s not good.

But for all my whingeing and moaning, it’s also true to say I have felt more fulfilled in my job in the past week than I have for a long time. Yes, I’m busy, yes I’m tired (beyond tired, David Blaine in his sleep deprivation experiment had nothing on me), and yes it’s a shame that our June wedding will at this rate be a rather sparse affair thanks to the fact I have literally no brain space left for planning it. But there’s something to be said for a bit of hard graft, and the feeling of satisfaction you get when you’ve worked your arse off and are recognised for it. It hasn’t all been plain sailing (what is?), but I finally seem to have found a company that appreciates its employees and isn’t afraid to say so when they go the extra mile – which makes me more amenable to running that extra mile, at least from time to time (and ideally in very short bursts).

That said I’m hoping normal service will resume soon. For all the excitement that manic twelve hour working days afford, there is only so long one can neglect the important elements of a healthy life, like sleep, food that isn’t fast, physical movement that comprises more than three steps to the toilet and another three back to your desk, and actual, meaningful, non-work related social engagement. It would also be rather pleasant to focus my eyes on something more than twelve inches from my face again. But for now I’ll have to make do with another two hours of staring at a screen and some nasty supermarket filled pasta before my midnight bedtime. And then the cycle will begin again. Oh well, such is life…

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The Lurking Menace

The boy sits on his haunches, watching the world as it passes him by. His heavy coat is as black as his heart. His eyes are narrowed like a cat’s. He drags on a cigarette, long and hard, sucking the smoke into the furthest reaches of his lungs. With a flick of his wrist the butt is on the pavement, ground out beneath the heel of his steel-toed boot. He waits.

The girl leaves her apartment. The door slams shut behind her. Outside the air is cold, her breath manifested in a cloud above her head. She fiddles with her earphones, tucks her phone into her armband. She pulls her hat down low and starts to jog.

He sees her approach before she is aware of his presence. Seizing his advantage he springs into her path, grips her firmly by the shoulders.

She screams as his hands are upon her, shakes him off with surprising ease, runs faster, and is gone. Safe from his grasping reach.

He slinks back into the shadows, this wolf in men’s clothing, his face twisted into a grotesque smile. Because he knows something she doesn’t: His capacity to wait far exceeds her capacity to run.

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NaNoWriMo Day 26: The Impossible Dream?

Given the recent terror threats in Brussels, and the ridiculous amount I’ve had on at work, I could perhaps be forgiven for falling behind with my NaNo novel. Nonetheless it’s frustrating to be four days away from the end of the challenge feeling uncertain as to whether I will manage to complete it. I’ve had a good bash at translating my idea into a story, but along the way, as so often happens when you lack a solid plan, I’ve wandered off, allowing my characters to do exactly as they please, often with most unpleasing results. Still, in its current form my ‘novel’ (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) stands at a not unimpressive 37,397 words – which is precisely 37,397 words more than I would have written had I note decided to partake in the challenge again. So I suppose whatever happens from here on in I should at least be proud of that. But now I’m so tantalisingly close to crossing the virtual finish line I’m not sure I can let it drop. Maybe four days is enough to cram in almost 13,000 words. Maybe this dream is not impossible. Maybe…Just maybe…

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Thoughts from Brussels

Exactly one week ago we woke to the news that 129 people had been murdered in cold blood by terrorists in Paris. These were ordinary people like you or I, who were letting their hair down after a busy week, enjoying a few drinks, dinner or a concert on Friday night. But the terrorists had other ideas.

It has since transpired that one of the masterminds behind the Paris attack came from the Molenbeek district in Brussels, one of the most deprived areas in Belgium, which is purported to be an easy target for Islamic State (ISIS) militants trying to recruit young Muslims. It is also, incidentally, where my office is located.

Belgium is coming under fire for its lax security measures where tracking terrorists is concerned. For a small country a disproportionate number of people have been recruited to ISIS and left to fight for them abroad – indeed some reports claim Belgium has supplied the highest per capita number of fighters to Syria of any European nation –between 350 and 550, out of a total population of 11 million that includes fewer than half a million Muslims.

These are worrying times, made more worrying still for those of us residing in Brussels by the news this morning, exactly one week on from the news from Paris, that the threat level in Brussels has been raised to very serious, with metro services suspended all weekend, concerts cancelled and a warning not to go to public places.

I feel conflicted by this latest threat. A part of me is defiant and wants to continue exactly as I always would, because to do otherwise, to change our way of life, is to show them they are affecting us, to let them win. But obviously there is also a part of me that is concerned for my welfare, for my partner’s and friends’ welfare. A portion of my daily commute involves taking the metro. Should I now avoid it, in case of an attack? Or carry on taking it and trust in the security forces (and statistics that would probably say my likelihood of being caught up in an attack is small) to protect me from harm?

At any rate, I can’t help but feel the terrorists would be stupid to do anything now the threat has been raised. Far better to wait until it has subsided, until people are less scared and come out of their shells to resume normal life, and do it then. We must remain vigilant. But, beyond that, what can we do?

The bigger issue does of course tug at my heartstrings every day. The ignorance, bigotry and racism shown by so many in the face of the refugee crisis is not only dividing communities but playing directly into the hands of the terrorists. I am not so naive to believe this situation can be resolved purely with love. Sadly now we have let it develop this far the only way it can be addressed is with more violence and bloodshed. But I do believe it is essential that people are tolerant, and that they seek to be informed about the situation instead of believing the hateful bile reported in the tabloids.

In the West, until now, we have been largely protected from the terrible things that have been happening across the world for decades – many of which were, ironically, brought about by the actions of our own governments. Our hands are not clean, and it’s time we stopped pretending that they are, that what is happening now in Europe is nothing to do with us. We funded terrorism for our own economic gain, and it backfired. Now those terrorists have become strong, and they are striking at the heart of the freedom we hold dear. They are also, let’s not forget, driving terrified people from their countries, terrified people who now reside at refugee camps across Europe. These people are like you or me. They are not, as the idiotic Republican hatemongers in the US would have us believe, ‘rabid dogs’ seeking to kill us all.

We started this, it is our responsibility to finish it. And beyond the guns and rhetoric, it is all of our responsibility to bring about a society that is centred around tolerance, hope and love. If we can succeed in this the world, and humanity as a whole, may yet be saved.

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NaNoWriMo Day 18: Blind Panic

The image below perfectly sums up my current attitude towards my NaNo novel. It is day 18, and for reasons I won’t bore you with, I didn’t manage to write a single word last night to shore up the rapidly breaking dam between achievement and failure in this challenge. I went to bed with a heavy heart, knowing I was 6,000 words behind target. Tonight I didn’t manage to leave the office until 7pm, and when I got home was so disgusted by my lack of physical activity this week I forced myself to go to the gym for a twenty minute run. And you know what? It was the run that turned it all around. I came back with fresh zest and zeal, refusing to be beaten, and I sat and noveled furiously for an hour and twenty minutes and managed to write 1,700 words. Granted, that means I am still 6,000 words behind, which doesn’t exactly sound like an achievement. But the point is I’m no further behind than I was yesterday. I have shored up the dam just enough to keep happy waters of achievement in their rightful place. I don’t know what tomorrow holds – if it’s anything like the rest of this week has been I’m dreading it already – but I’m not giving up yet. There are still ten days to go and that means there is still HOPE, the NaNo novelist’s best friend and salvation. All is not lost. Let the rollercoaster resume…

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