Back to Basics

I have somehow managed to put my back out. Again. The frustration is almost too much to bear, though I know I need to put it into perspective. It is not (yet) as bad as the last two times, which means that if I’m careful there is a chance it could recover without going into full blown paralysis mode. And although in the current (acute) phase, it is somewhat debilitating, it is far from a life threatening condition. I must, I know, stay positive, although when you’re not yet 35 and it takes a full three seconds to straighten up each time you stand, plus you have shooting pains down both your legs when you walk, it’s kind of hard to keep that top of mind. Still, I must try, because nobody likes a whinger – least of all me.

I’m realising now more than ever the correlation between physical and mental well-being. When I’m feeling stressed with work or life it doesn’t take long to manifest itself in my body. This time has been textbook. Two boozy weekends, a patch of work stress and a ridiculous ongoing drama with our cleaner (of all things) have taken their toll on me mentally, and bang! There goes the back. I have also, I admit, become complacent with my core strengthening exercises of late, doing increasingly watered down versions each morning to afford myself additional, precious moments in my bed. This, combined with increasingly prolonged periods of desk sitting, has once again proved to be a recipe for disaster.

I know this is my body’s way of telling me to sit up and take notice, to find a way to redress the imbalance that has been created. My recently ended counselling has helped me to clarify the things that are important to me. Now I need to start taking active steps towards achieving them. Because if I don’t, I fear back pain will be but the tip of a very big iceberg.

So it’s time to make some changes – physical and mental. Firstly, I must get the stand-up desk my boss sanctioned weeks ago that I haven’t got around to sorting yet. Secondly, I will sign up for the eight week mindfulness course I have found, to try and get my mind back into alignment with my body. Hopefully with a bit more commitment and a bit less complacency I can get back to full health more quickly this time around.

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Restoration Time

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a pretty exhausting two days, so I’ve more than welcomed the opportunity to vegetate all day today, watching back to back films (Pacific Rim, Stoner and The Hangover 3, should you be wondering-an eclectic selection to say the least) and eating Dominos pizza with my boyfriend and his brothers on his birthday. Tomorrow when the clan departs it will be nose back to the grind stone time, starting with a ninety minute run to kick start the metabolism after a weekend of booze and carbs and followed by a long writing session to begin to make up the eight thousand words I’m now behind in my NaNowrimo challenge. But that’s fine with me, because life is all about the yin and the yang, and after tipping the scales heavily in one direction with this weekend’s birthday celebrations it’s high time to reverse the trend and get back to sensible pursuits and healthy living. Move aside Dominos and partying, vegetables and sleep are back on the menu for the foreseeable future…

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The Wall

After an exhausting two weeks of trying – and mostly failing – to juggle the craziness of work royal visits/VIP events, NaNoWriMo and the fledgling weeks of the marathon training plan, this afternoon I’ve hit a wall. And not just any wall; a great big Berlin Wall sized wall, that’s virtually impossible to circumnavigate. I say virtually, because with the imminent arrival of my boyfriend’s entire sibling clan (currently en route from Devon on the Mega Bus in order to celebrate his birthday weekend – the first night of which starts tonight at the Booka Shade album launch party), I really have no choice but to suck up the tiredness and crack on with the fun. Needless to say for the next three days at least my word count for NaNowrimo is going to be looking pretty shoddy-not ideal after yesterday’s lack of writing due to the evening event with work, but what can you do? There are only so many hours in a day, and this week it’s been Work-1, Writing/training/sleep-0. Nevermind, once the fun has had its wicked way with me I’m sure the pendulum will swing back the other way and restore some much needed equilibrium-and hopefully also sleep..Zzz.

The balance and the bliss

This afternoon, whilst working from home on a PR strategy document so complicated it made me want to repeatedly bang my head against a concrete wall, I began to ruminate on the importance of sometimes doing things we don’t want to do. When I became so frustrated with the document that a break was imperative I decided (somewhat irrationally, with hindsight) to do something else I didn’t want to do: Go for a run. And I’m not going to lie to you, every single step was horrendous. Beyond horrendous, actually, it being so humid the sweat was running in rivulets down my back before I’d even turned the corner of my own road.

But despite the discomfort of these activities, the important thing is that I did them – not with good grace and humour, admittedly (what do you want from me – blood?), but with something more resembling grim determination. And in doing them I managed to assuage the guilt I had been feeling about putting both activities off for the past few weeks.

It’s not just about assuaging guilt, however. One of my favourite singer-songwriters, Megan Henwood, wrote a beautiful song in which she explains why it’s important to endure harder times in our lives in order to appreciate the good ones: “Without the down and dark there would be no contrast between the high and light, the happy times, the balance and the bliss.” Now I’m not saying writing a PR strategy or going for a run when it’s humid are on a par with, say, a family bereavement or relationship break up, but no one could deny they place significantly lower on the scale of good times than winning the lottery or getting engaged.

So now my daily quota of ‘Things I Don’t Want To Do But Regrettably Have To’ has been filled, I’m off to view my new flat and spend the evening eating fine food in fine company. I might even treat myself to a glass of wine – it’s all about striking a balance, after all…

You are what you eat

Whilst waiting for the special ‘feminist edition’ of Bookslam, featuring Hadley Freeman and Caitlin Moran, I read this article in the Standard about Mimi Spencer, author of the 5:2 fasting diet – and also, it’s worth noting, the Standard’s fashion editor – about how her diet’s revolutionised her life. Not only has she dropped two dress sizes from a perfectly healthy size 12 to a skinny size 8 as a result of radically cutting down her eating two days out of seven, she’s also clearly rolling in cash, as her recent holiday to Madagascar is held up to prove.

The timing of my reading the article was ironic, given that both Hadley and Caitlin would soon after read passages from their new books that were chosen specifically to demonstrate that women shouldn’t feel they have to look, feel or act a certain way in order to be a success. Both women would talk about the objectification and suppression of women not only by men but also by the ever-burgeoning women’s magazine market and even their own bodies (Caitlin sharing some particularly graphic details of her first menstruation, and commenting that it was no wonder women struggled to wave the feminist flag before the advent of sanitary products when they were forced to spend vast swathes of their time washing blood-soaked knickers – a fair point).

Whilst many converts of the 5:2 diet will no doubt jump to Mimi Spencer’s defence, it’s hard (for me at least, and I speak as a woman whose love of food cannot be overstated) to imagine really being bothered enough to change your entire lifestyle for the sake of dropping a couple of dress sizes. Take going out for dinner as an example. Does being on the 5:2 diet make it necessary to rearrange every social occasion to fit in with which days you’re starving yourself and which you’re not? Or do you just sip water as your friends devour delicious morsels of tapas washed down with red wine?

But it’s not the 5:2 diet specifically I wish to criticise in this post, it’s more the point that Hadley and Caitlin were getting at; that women should be able to be who they are, without feeling the constant pressure to be thinner, prettier, better in every way. Why shouldn’t we eat what we want, when we want, as long as we appreciate the fundamentals of a balanced diet and a balanced life? Why should we starve ourselves two days each week because the women’s magazines tell us it will make us happier? How can cake deprivation make anyone happier, EVER?

My opinion, for what little it’s worth, is that life’s too short for fad diets. Of course we should eat healthily, but there are limits, and starving for two days a week must surely be one of them? I know proponents of the 5:2 will wax lyrical at this stage about the many health benefits of the diet (concentration allegedly being one of them – now I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’d be able to concentrate all that well after eating half a carrot and a dry Ryvita for my lunch), but in case they hadn’t noticed there are also rather a lot of health benefits to the ‘everything in moderation’ approach – not least to our mental wellbeing.

I’ll close with an apt quote from G.K Chesterton, who had some sage words on health:

“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.”

Quite – now pass the Dairy Milk.

Slightly hypocritical of me to post an article slagging off fad diets whilst commencing a wheat and gluten free period, but my dear friend Sian (who attended Bookslam with me last night) assures me it will revolutionise my life. And, er, make me look better…Oh.

The write read

It’s a well-known fact that, for the most part, writing doesn’t pay. Or at least it doesn’t pay until you make it big, though you might be surprised by how few authors ever reach the heady heights of JK Rowling’s wealth, despite being on the best seller lists for weeks on end.

So what do aspiring writers do to make ends meet? Some sacrifice luxury and get a part time job in a cafe, devoting the rest of their time to writing in the hope they’ll have that much needed break and be catapulted out of their Hackney bedsit into a Hollywood condo.

Others, like myself, who have fallen into a relatively comfortable way of living and aren’t keen to suffer for their art to quite the extent of living below the poverty line, get a full time job. Days, therefore, are spent in an office, doing someone else’s bidding for eight hours or more at a time, and nights are spent trying to fit writing in amongst the other many competing priorities.

But I’m not complaining, and nor should anyone who is serious about making it as a writer, because if writing is your passion it shouldn’t be difficult to make time for it. What can be a problem for the aspiring writer, however, is what they choose to sacrifice to make time for their writing. In my case, I’ve realised that what’s all too often being sacrificed is reading.

I take my Kindle to work every day, but on the journey there often struggle not to be distracted by the free newspapers. I therefore spend the duration engrossed in the latest drama in Rihanna’s love life instead of making a start on the latest Booker Prize-nominated tome I’ve downloaded.

Before conceiving my 365 day writing challenge I would at least spend the return journey reading a good book, but in recent weeks even those few precious snatched minutes have been compromised, as I’ve spent them drafting that day’s blog post. What this means is that although I am now (at long last) writing regularly, when it comes to reading I’m not getting much further than the odd sensationalist tabloid press story – hardly inspirational stuff.

What’s troubling me is this: How can I even hope to be a good writer if I’m not seeing how it’s done by learning from the best? To use an analogy, imagine trying to ride a bike without seeing someone else do it first. It’s not that you couldn’t do it – if you had instructions you’d get there in the end – but the whole experience would be harder, and you might not end up cycling to the best of your ability.

The realisation that I’m not reading enough has made me see I need to reassess my priorities again; rather than substituting reading for writing I must make time for both, or risk my writing being so badly compromised that the heady heights of JK Rowling will always remain out of reach.

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This little badge represents me having completed my fourth National Novel Writing Month. It serves as a reminder of how important writing is to me – perhaps in light of today’s post I need a similar talisman for reading?