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 Baby Monkey Metaphor

This is an honest post about an emotion that clings to my back like an orphaned baby monkey every day of my life. That emotion is guilt.

To give examples, here are some of the myriad things I feel guilty about on a daily basis: Not working hard enough; Not being ambitious enough; Not being a good enough fiancé; Not being a good enough daughter; Not being a good enough friend; Not writing; Not pursuing my life goals; Watching too much crap instead of writing/pursuing life goals; Caring too much what people think about me; Being so privileged when so many are not; Not appreciating being so privileged when so many are not; Never being satisfied/always wanting more; Eating badly; Not going to the gym; Not being mindful; Worrying about everything/sweating the small stuff; Being too apologetic; Wasting too much time on social media. I could go on. In fact, I daresay I could fill ten pages with all the things that I feel guilty about from one moment to the next. But I won’t (because I’d only feel guilty about the time I wasted writing it). It’s a depressing (if somewhat exaggerated, for the purpose of this post) truth that the only time I don’t feel guilty is when I’m sleeping, although if I remembered more of my dreams I wouldn’t be surprised if I felt guilt in most of those as well.

It never fails to amaze me how humans can be so intelligent and yet so utterly stupid at the same time. Unless felt in a justified context, for example when we have genuinely done something to upset another person, guilt – like worry and anxiety (which I could also fill a small tome about, let’s not go down that road here) – is a useless emotion. After thirty four years of living with it I can vouch for the fact it does not increase productivity – far from it, it is productivity’s antithesis. It also doesn’t improve personal relationships, or indeed help other people in the slightest. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it a selfish emotion, because it is usually underpinned by a sense of duty towards others or towards our true (non-egotistical) selves, but it sure is good at making a person introspective to the point of being boring.

So in the spirit of the age old ‘new year, new me’ mentality, it’s time to face the truth: the baby monkey on my back, whilst cute, has never led me anywhere positive; in fact, it has only led me into procrastination, anxiety and paralysing self-doubt. In short, cute or not, it’s time to ditch the monkey. Life is too short to be paralysed by useless emotions. It’s time to start fostering the useful ones.

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Reflections on 2015

Another year has passed, and for me it’s been a year of firsts: the first year of living abroad, the first working for a PR agency, and also the first as an engaged lady. As I sit here reflecting on the last twelve months I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Many people do not have the wonderful things I have: loving and unswervingly supportive family, fiance and friends, a good job, a great apartment in a city that I have come to love, and the means (well, almost – thanks to the expense of our 2016 wedding this point is a work in progress) to pursue the lifetime of adventure that I crave.

Many of this year’s events have highlighted the shocking disparity between those of us who have, essentially, ‘lucked out’ in life’s lottery, and those who have never even had the opportunity to buy a ticket. I have been particularly affected by the refugee crisis, which, as residents of Brussels, has been literally on our doorstep – both in Brussels and in the ‘jungle’ of Calais that we pass by so regularly on our Eurostar trips home to visit friends and family. How easily we Europeans take for granted our freedom of movement, when our brothers and sisters from Syria and Sudan have nothing but doors slammed in their faces when they try to pass through borders and seek escape from persecution and a better life for themselves and for their families. Their plight is heartbreaking, and the ability of so many to turn the other cheek nothing less than horrifying.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sometimes, just as I am about to despair of humanity altogether, something will come along to restore my faith. And the many ordinary people who have been galvanized by the refugee crisis into coming together to help have done just that. I have been following in particular the activities of The Worldwide Tribe, a fantastic group of young people from the UK who have been documenting the experiences of those in the Calais jungle, and in the process raising money to help improve their situation. Such dedication and commitment to this important cause is awe-inspiring, and goes to show that anyone can make a positive difference in the world, if only they have the drive and determination to do so.

I hope that those for whom 2015 was challenging will find fresh perspective, hope and happiness in 2016. And for everyone else, keep doing what you’re doing! May your year be filled with peace and love.

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New Year Musings

It’s with a surprising degree of trepidation that I return to Brussels today after the Christmas break. With hindsight I think the first eight weeks of our life abroad were made easier by the fact of our imminent return, whereas now I have no such trip back to the UK planned to anchor me here it feels somehow more final. Which is of course so very silly when you consider that it only takes a little over two hours to get from Brussels to London-the same time as a trip to Manchester, no less. I guess it’s especially hard to return anywhere after spending the festive break catching up with friends and family and having such a wonderful time. The past two weeks have been ridiculously busy but enormous fun and I’ve loved every minute. But life can’t be all about the parties and family time. If it was we wouldn’t appreciate it half as much when we do get a chance to enjoy it. So enough of the sentimentality. I know once I’m back in our gorgeous flat I’ll settle back into the routine in no time.

I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions as I think people all too often set unrealistic goals and in doing so set themselves up for a fall. But having said that I do feel a sense of optimism about 2015. My goals are simple and, I believe, achievable:

1. Make writing a daily practice again, even if only for 15 minutes each day. Discipline is everything where writing is concerned, so this is non-negotiable if I really want to achieve my writing ambitions for 2015 (finish screenplay, get back into short story writing, start new novel).

2. Make meditation a daily practice again, even if only for 5 minutes each day. Mindfulness is such a valuable way to still the mind, reduce anxiety and help focus on the ‘bigger picture’. When I practised meditation daily in India I reaped the benefits, and I want to get back to that calm state of being.

3. Exercise regularly. This one sounds so simple, but as someone who one year ago was training for a marathon and who now can only comfortably run about ten metres for a bus, I’m acutely aware of how easy it is to lose fitness and get stuck in a rut of no exercise and low self-esteem as a result. My own inactivity has in large part been due to the prolapsed disc I unfortunately gave myself through overtraining for the Rome marathon (which I was subsequently forced to pull out of), but it’s been months now and I’m physically quite ready to get back on the horse. The only thing stopping me is my own fear and laziness, so a new year is the perfect time to kick those inhibitors into touch.

4. Make time for reading. As a writer this one seems obvious, but all too often reading is something that gets relegated behind a million and one other things each day, whether it be cooking, washing, ironing, watching TV, writing-the list goes on. The only way I will get better as a writer (which I certainly need to do) is to improve the breadth and scope of the materials I read. Not only that, reading others’ work is refreshing and inspiring, not to mention relaxing (there are few nicer feelings than being swept up in a story you never want to end). So this is my final goal for 2015. I don’t have to read every classic ever written, but I do have to make a concerted effort to read something every day. I know my mind will feel all the better for it.

Having set those goals out en route to  St.Pancras station it seems fitting that I’m now waiting to board the Eurostar and continue the adventure that began some ten weeks ago. Who knows what this year will bring, all I hope is that my loved ones stay well and happy and that I do myself, and them, proud in whatever ways I can.

Happy New Year to you all from this wandering muser. May 2015 bring you one step closer to your dreams. Xx

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Three Hundred and Sixty Fifth Post

So here we are on the last day of the year, which also happens to be the final day of my 365 day writing challenge. As with all challenges (and indeed years) there have been highs and there have been lows. There have been moments when the words have flowed like molten gold, many more when they’ve stuttered like a dying car engine. But what matters is I stuck with it through thick and thin, and I feel proud of my achievement. It’s kept the motor of my writing inspiration running throughout 2013 and got me to a positive position from which to start 2014: The Year of the Edit.

I will still write regularly in this blog over the coming year, but the posts will be fewer and farther between. Before signing off for 2013 I would just like to say thanks to all those who have been reading and encouraging me along the way. It’s meant an enormous amount to hear your feedback and read your comments, and I hope you’ll all stick with me in 2014 and beyond.

This is Belle365 signing off from Hong Kong. Happy New Year 🙂

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See you on the Other Side….

After months of waiting I can hardly believe today is finally here. In ten minutes we will be setting off for the airport to catch our flight to Hong Kong where we will be seeing in the New Year. Then, on January 1st we will be flying to Manila to begin a twelve day adventure that will take in the mountainous regions of Northern Luzon, the famous world heritage Cordillera rice terraces and Cebu in the Visayan islands, where we will be diving with whale sharks and thresher sharks as well as doing our bit to help with the typhoon relief effort on Malapascua island.

It’s been a long time coming and has taken a huge amount of planning, so it’s an amazing feeling to finally be ready to embark on the journey. Though this will no doubt surprise many people who know me to be a social media addict, I’m actually looking forward to two weeks ‘off the grid’ (which will stand me in excellent stead for my 26.2 day sponsored social media silence in February, in aid of my Rome marathon effort in March – training for which will be firmly on the back burner for the next two weeks, but will be resumed in earnest upon my return).

I will, of course, fulfil my final two posts of this year’s Belle 365 daily blogging challenge before heading off into the wilderness, so will have a chance to wish you all a Happy New Year once we have touched down in Hong Kong. Which means all there is to say for now is ‘see you on the other side’!

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And so it begins….

Hello, and welcome to my brand new (not quite all-singing and all-dancing – YET) website. I had hoped to have all the bells and whistles sorted out by the launch date, but had vastly underestimated my technological capabilities, so the design will be a work in progress – the most important thing is the writing itself.

Why set up a website? Over the past ten years I have kept a number of online blogs to document the various trials and tribulations of my sometimes turbulent, sometimes serene, always entertaining life. I have also written a lot of fiction, several articles and some guest blogs on other sites. But never have I had one place where I could showcase my whole writing portfolio for a more professional purpose – until now.

Why belle365? My favourite writing challenge is National Novel Writing Month when, for the month of November every year, thousands of aspiring writers from across the globe commit to writing a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days. Having taken part in this challenge four times to date, I can honestly say for those thirty days I am more creative than the rest of the year put together. It’s not easy writing an average of 1,700 words a day whilst holding down a full time job, but it’s amazing how much you can achieve if you put your mind to it. It is because of this I have decided to bite the bullet and make my new year’s resolution for 2013 to create this website and post something EVERY SINGLE DAY. I have come up with some rules (see ‘The Rules’ section) which cover length and type of post etc. but the basic premise is that I plan to post a mixture of new and old fiction, non-fiction and blog posts. Because I love photography and want this website to be colourful and interesting I will also post a picture every day, which can be taken on the day itself or chosen from my photo archives.

This was post one of three hundred and sixty five. I hope you will enjoy this website, and I wish you all a Happy New Year!

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I took this picture last year whilst travelling in India, and thought it would be a fitting first image for my website, as the sunrise signifies a new beginning.