Banishing Self-Indulgence

Earlier today I wrote one of those typical woe is me blog posts, alluding to how hard everything felt, how lacking I was in inspiration etc. But before I posted it I stopped, my finger hovering over the mouse key, and asked myself: What good will it do to share this with the world? It may well be cathartic to get things off your chest, but haven’t you done that just by writing it? Don’t you feel a little lighter as it is? And you know what? I did feel lighter just for having written it. Much like a letter to an ex that never actually gets sent, I had expunged the negative emotions without the need to inflict them upon the world. So that was one thing that happened today.

Another thing that happened was my reading of this article, which can, I believe, be best surmised by the following excerpt:

“The 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

“We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”

I don’t know about you, but reading those two paragraphs struck a chord so deep within me that the hairs on my arms stood up of their own volition. Why? Because that person with no time to be ambitious outside work, who feels constantly dissatisfied in a way they struggle to articulate and who spends money they don’t have on ways to make themselves feel better: That person is me. And most likely also many of you. Of course (trust fund children aside) we have to work for a living (and in this respect with a four day week I can complain less than many about my lot), but it’s so true that outside work it takes (what often feels like) a superhuman effort to cultivate the kind of extracurricular activities that leave you feeling wholly satisfied and fulfilled.

But, that aside, the fact is that those with true talent and passion DO manage to make the most of the time they have, no matter how little it is. They don’t sit around complaining about being oppressed and enslaved by the organisations they work for, but rather work out ways to escape their clutches and create opportunities for work – and living – on their terms. Whether incarcerated by consumerism or not, we all have choices. And our choices are the difference between a life of success and a life of failure. Which is a pretty sobering thought.

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Nurturing the garden of the soul

Discipline with writing (amongst other things) is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life, which is the very reason for my setting up this daily blog nine months ago. I’ll admit the quality of the posts has varied wildly depending on my state of mind and situation but, irrespective of that and in spite of some close calls, I’m proud to be more than two thirds of the way through the year and to have, thus far at least, fulfilled my challenge of posting something every day.

Whilst I can’t say I feel all that different, per se, as a result of my writing challenge to date, I am starting to notice a quiet confidence building inside me, a sense of inevitability as, dare I say it, I inch closer to fulfilling my writing ambition. I’m not sure I can even now surmise what the depths of that ‘ambition’ might be. All I know is that the need to write is as much a part of me as my limbs, my synapses and my brain cells, and even if I never reach the heady heights of success as a published author I will at least have always stayed true to what I am.

I still have moments of gross and almost paralysing self-doubt, and I still kick myself daily for not trying harder, writing smarter, being better. But the fact is this: I DO write every day, and that’s more than many self-proclaimed writers can claim. And, slowly but surely, I’m beginning to understand the importance of nurturing the seed of potential with self-belief, rather than letting it wither and die among the weeds of doubt and disappointment.

Back to work

No matter how much you love your job, you always have a degree of back to work dread when the alarm goes off on your first morning back in the office post-holiday. And so it was at 7am this morning, when I groggily opened my eyes and pulled back the curtains to see yet another delightful day in the making. After a twenty minute armpit-in-face commute I was even less enamoured with the idea of a day spent in an airless office (the window open is sealed shut – far from ideal in these sweltering conditions). And by 11am – by which time I was less than a third of the way through my emails – I was about ready to face plant onto my desk.

Fortunately the afternoon part of the day proved far more fruitful than its morning predecessor. After a brief stint in the sunshine I returned, fortified, to tackle the To Do list head on. But, though a welcome development it wasn’t my increased productivity that proved to be the ultimate redeemer. What rescued the day from the jaws of defeat was the time I spent with one of our young people helping her to prepare for this evening’s exciting Backing Youth event, hosted by HRH The Duke of York at Buckingham Palace. Hearing the passion in her voice when she spoke about how much the charity has helped her was inspiring, and reminded me of why I do what I do.

Here’s a sneak preview of some professional shots we had taken recently on one of our projects. Definitely a good reminder of how important my role is as PR Manager for the charity.

A Chocolatey Affair

Today, rather than write a fictional story or bore you with the woes of job hunting, I want to talk about chocolate; how it makes me feel, how it tastes in my mouth and generally the myriad ways in which I believe it improves my existence – because I really do.

Take this afternoon for instance. I returned from a gruelling TEN MILE (impressed? Please be impressed) run and dragged my weary limbs into the shower, before dressing and resuming work at my desk. But something was missing. Ah, I thought, a cup of tea! For truly no afternoon of work can be complete without one (doesn’t it say that in the Bible or something? “And on the seventh day, God kicked back with a cup of PG Tips and observed all he had done.” No? Well it should do).  

No sooner had I made my tea than the feeling of something being amiss returned. Then it occurred to me how nice it would be to have a little post-workout treat as an accompaniment. I duly delved into my bag of Christmas treats and was distressed to find the box of Lindor chocolates which I had been systematically working my way through was – shock horror– empty. Fearing the worst I ran my hand around the inside of the bag. My hand settled on a small square box. As I pulled it out a wave of happiness washed over me, for it was not just any chocolatey treat, it was the Holy Grail of chocolatey treats: A Chocolate Orange.

I know from an unpleasant previous experience that the Chocolate Orange should be savoured and not gorged upon. If you ate it whole in one sitting you would have consumed most of your day’s calories, and would most likely feel rather nauseous to boot. But dipping a few segments into a mug of steaming tea and letting them melt onto your tongue is an experience I defy anyone – other than those who are allergic to chocolate, don’t like chocolate, or who are allergic to or don’t like orange – not to enjoy.

My adoration of chocolate doesn’t stop at Lindor and Chocolate Orange; far from it. I’m currently having a love affair with salted caramel in all its scrumptious chocolatey forms, and dark Lindt chocolate with sea salt is so divine it’s almost worth killing for (not that I endorse killing in any form, you understand). Dark chocolate with chilli is definitely worth a punt for the more adventurous aficionados. And don’t even get me started on Reese’s Cups – chocolate and peanut butter together? Dribble.

I suppose in light of this obsession it’s easy to see why I was a chubby child. My grandmother used to cut up Mars bars in a bowl for me to eat, and mum would often bring chocolate éclairs (the fresh cream variety – NOM) when she came to collect me from school. Being the product of a broken home, I think she used such treats to assuage her guilt at my sibling-less, father-less, state, though in reality I was as happy as a sand boy stuffing my face and playing with my Polly Pockets.

Fortunately after shedding the puppy fat and discovering exercise I managed to regulate my weight, whilst still occasionally indulging in my favourite treat. Over the years my habit has waxed and waned depending on my mood and situation. I wouldn’t say I use chocolate as a crutch, exactly, but I do find it comforting to eat every now and again – particularly after a bad day or a vigorous exercise session, when I can eat it guilt-free knowing I deserve it.

“Everything in moderation” is a phrase I’ve used many a time, and never has it been more appropriate than when it comes to chocolate. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a disgustingly chocolatey dessert after a meal in a nice restaurant, but if I ate it morning, noon and night the pleasure would evaporate and it would no longer be a treat but rather something commonplace.

We have a great relationship, Chocolate and I. But it’s a good job I’ve a half marathon to train for whilst I’m facing unemployment because, between you, me and the Mars bar, I think my consumption may just be on the rise.

Now, where did I put that Chocolate Orange again?

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The bag like any other

Before Christmas I went shopping for a new handbag. Not being a materialistic person I had waited until my previous handbag was, in wardrobe years, the equivalent of an incontinent 90 year human before accepting it was time to move on, so the task at hand was pressing to say the least.

So there I was in the handbag department of Debenhams, surrounded by row upon row of leather, pleather, patent, snakeskin, dogtooth – the list goes on – searching for the one bag that would accompany me home.

I said I wasn’t materialistic and that is true, but it’s not to say that on the rare occasions I do treat myself to a pair of shoes or handbag I don’t want them/it to be special. Not expensive, but a bit different – original.

But on this day, try as I might I just couldn’t find what I was looking for. This put me in a considerable dilemma, for my current bag was on the verge of popping off to handbag heaven, and waiting for a future shopping excursion may well mean risking an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction (which, let’s face it, would almost certainly happen on a packed commuter train to or from work).

After quite some time deliberating, and with extreme reluctance, I chose a small black tote bag made of shiny rain mac material, with light brown leather handles and bottom, and a silver buckle clasp. It was, I knew with depressing certainty, a bag like any other bag – the kind you see ten a penny of every single day on the underground. Worse, it was the style of bag often touted by posh girls from Chelsea with names like Tallulah and Cheska (only without the designer label and obscene price tag theirs would obviously have).

Feeling glum, I trudged towards the counter with my selection. I stopped half way to take one last glance around the room, hoping by some miracle the perfect bag which had up to this point evaded me would somehow make itself known, before it was too late. And there it was. On a low hanging branch of a display unit, the last of its kind – tasteful dark brown leopard print material with a dark two tone leather flap and silver buckle. In that moment – and many moments since – I truly thought it was the most beautiful bag I had ever seen.

I stooped to pluck it from its perch, checked the price tag and, delighted to find it more than affordable, beat a hasty path to the counter to complete the purchase. Needless to say, the bag like any other was returned to its original location for some unsuspecting soul with lower aspirations than me to pick up and buy.

You will probably be wondering by now why on earth I’ve written five hundred words about buying a handbag. Well, it’s because last night, as I waited for my tube train to arrive, it occurred to me the bag like any other wasn’t just a story, it was an analogy for life. So many people pick a job like any other, a partner like any other – they take the path of least resistance, the one that will provide a decent return but won’t excite or challenge them.

We only get one shot at life, so why do so many of us settle for less than the best for ourselves? Why don’t we take risks, pick partners that excite us, occupations that challenge us? Why do we let ourselves drift and then feel surprise when we wake up one day wondering where our lives went?

I’m so glad I didn’t settle for less than I wanted that day, and I’m determined never to settle for less than I want – and deserve – in life.

After all, who wants a bag – or a life – like any other when, if you search a bit harder, you can find one that’s unique?

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This bag signifies so much more than just a handbag – it signifies the importance of waiting for the right opportunities in life to present themselves, rather than reacting to the most obvious ones. It’s also very pretty, right?

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?

Description

How can I describe you?

Your beauty and your ugliness go hand in hand, they cannot be separated. You have many faces. Like a kaleidoscope you dazzle all who look upon you. Some see truth, some see excitement, others see only sadness and despair-but all have strong reactions.

You are the opposite of bland.

You are a mirage, ever-shifting and changing. You offer life, yet you bring death. You are never quiet, never still. You suffocate, intoxicate, annihilate. You provoke debate.

Like a boa constrictor you wrap yourself around your prey while they are unaware and squeeze the life from them, bit by bit. Like a Venus Fly Trap you lure your victims in with sweet nectar before drowning them in toxic secretions.

You twist and turn, you ebb and flow. You smoke and burn, you shrink and grow.

You breathe the collective sighs of thousands.

You build up and you break down. You belong to everyone and no one.

You are the sweetest of scents and the foulest of odours. You are music, you are movement. You are passion.

Your light may, at times, diminish. But it will never be extinguished.

You are a multitude of things.

London: How I love you.

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This is my favourite view of London, it signifies everything that’s great about this crazy City in which I live.