The Resistance

Today things feel a little bleak. On a global level, in five days of office Trump the Tyrant has ridden roughshod over the environment, women’s rights, freedom of speech and now refugees, ushering in a new era of legitimised fascism along the way. On a personal level, my spirit is feeling dampened not only by the events in the US, but also by the plummeting temperatures across Europe which signal further devastation for homeless refugees, the crazy levels of air pollution in my old home town of London where many of my friends still live, and the fact I am under too much pressure at work and don’t know how I’m going to juggle it with the masters degree I’m starting next week (next week!!). In short, I feel helpless, and also a little hopeless.

But – as life sometimes has a way of doing to drag us out of our despair – a chance encounter with my local florist this afternoon when I stopped by for tulips for our cleaning lady (whose brother recently passed away) reminded me why it’s so important to have hope. We got chatting about how beautiful the flowers were, and she told me she had quit her office job some years ago for a simpler life. Despite earning less money now, she told me she is far happier. She then asked about me, and, when I told her I was soon to start an MSc in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and had aspirations to be a freelance wellbeing coach she said “the world needs people like that more than ever now.” I felt a surge of optimism at that, and a renewed sense of purpose. And to remind myself of that I bought this beautiful pink orchid.

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Hope springs eternal

When I got home I was delighted to see that Greenpeace had unfurled a ‘Resist’ banner right outside the White House, and to read that a group of scientists are coming together to march on Washington in protest against Trump’s gagging order against employees of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also heartening was the Badlands National Park Twitter account which sent out three messages on Tuesday promoting climate science despite the Trump administration crackdown on agencies communicating on social media. Since then they have been forced to delete the tweets, but an alternative Twitter account has sprung up which already has 575,000 followers.

This growing groundswell of angry defiance in response to people like Trump must spur us all into immediate action, because action is all there is now if we are to stand up to what is so patently wrong – to save ourselves and our planet.

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Eating Frogs

My old boss used to say ‘time to eat the frog’ when talking about the thing on his to do list that most troubled him – you know, the one that lurks at the bottom, perpetually torturing you with its very existence, until it grows to toad-like proportions, usurping all other tasks. And he was right to eat the frog from time to time, because it’s funny how spending even the smallest amount of time on the things you ritually avoid can instill a sense of calm. Or maybe not so funny, given that procrastination is surely one of the greatest stressors of the modern world.

As a struggling writer (with the emphasis firmly on the ‘struggling’ and often barely on the ‘writer’) it baffles me no end that the things I routinely attempt to hide from are usually related to the one thing I claim to want to do the most. We humans are complex – read ‘stupid’ – creatures. Or maybe it’s just me. Plenty of writers do, after all, write. Many do so for a living. I just dabble part time (or, if I’m really honest, spend 90% of my time worrying about it and 10% actually doing it), and even that is enough to raise my anxiety levels to red. And, while we’re on the topic of anxiety, there’s another by-product of today’s western society, where we have the luxury of almost infinite choice, and yet are simultaneously paralysed by it. In short, we are ruined by our own hands. But then, of course, it’s not all bad. Things rarely are.

The key to not just surviving but thriving in this crazy life is, I’ve begun to realise, taking our feet off the gas pedals once in a while; flicking on the cruise control and acknowledging we can only do what we can do. I’m not advocating laziness, or complacency. But what personal experience over the last thirty three years has shown me is that when I put the most pressure on myself I usually perform the worst. Setting goals is great, but when those goals are metaphorically akin to climbing Everest, it’s unsurprising that it’s often hard to take even the very first step. In scaling back ambition – reigning it in just enough to make it achievable – it dissipates the feelings of anxiety and fear of failure that often stop us from beginning our journey in the first place.

By all means eat the frog – it will invariably make you feel much better. But don’t put so many frogs in your way you have to eat them all. Aside from anything else, it will give you terrible indigestion.

Disclaimer: No frogs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

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Perfect Moments

In this recent post by Shakeclouds it was posited that the very notion of perfection can be damaging, especially when relating to the achievement of goals, because perfection itself it is such an elusive creature. And whilst I agree with that sentiment entirely, today I discovered that, every now and then in life, there ARE moments of pure and unadulterated perfection, it’s just that often we are so caught up in the whirlwind of our own existence and myriad pressures to perform at the optimum level that we fail to spot them.

What was this moment of pure joy and perfection? In actual fact it was the simplest moment of all. After taking the afternoon off work to pick up my Belgian ID card from the town hall, I came home early, set myself up at the breakfast bar with my laptop and selected the coffee house playlist on Spotify. Then, all of a sudden, the clouds outside parted and the whole apartment was flooded with sunlight.

It was, in that moment, so arrestingly beautiful that I just sat, focusing only on the lovely music and the beams of light coming into my living room, and I felt overwhelmingly grateful-not only for the music, the apartment or the sunshine, but for everyone and everything in my life. Having recently got engaged it isn’t hard for me to appreciate the positives at this point in time, but this was such a wonderful instance of stillness and appreciation that I felt moved to share in this blog; a rare moment of genuine mindfulness, a true oasis of calm. Such moments are not only perfect, they are as precious as the diamond I am lucky enough to now have on my finger. And I have a sneaking suspicion they don’t just hold the key to this crazy thing called life; they are its very essence.

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On Being Overwhelmed – and Finding Perspective

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing my typical headless chicken act, heaping unnecessary pressure onto myself with an extra -large spoon and wondering why I’ve been feeling totally overwhelmed and unable to write a damn thing in what little free time I’ve managed to carve out for myself. The culmination of this stress was evident when I got around to submitting the one piece of recent writing I was really proud of to a competition on Monday – only to realise that the deadline was midnight the night before. Fortunately my super-pragmatic boyfriend was on hand to prevent me falling too far into a slough of despond over the incident, but nevertheless it made a further dent in my already damaged armour.

The truth is, whilst I established long ago I want to be ‘a writer,’ I grapple every day with what sort of writer I want to be. One day I’ll write a magazine feature pitch, the next I’ll plan a novel or start editing a previous story. Then I’ll turn my attention to short story competitions and try to churn something out for them.  On top of that I’ve recently completed an eight week sitcom writing course at the City Academy, and have this week embarked on a seven week crime writing course at the City Lit and signed up for a conference next weekend on how to get published – all this as well as holding down a job four days a week. Oh, and did I mention I’m also working on a screenplay idea with my writing mentor?

Just reading that last paragraph back makes me feel anxious, it’s no wonder I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. But what I’ve realised today, after having given myself a couple of days’ downtime (by which I mean no pressure to write anything, having impromptu catch ups with friends, sitting in the sun at lunch time instead of being hunched over my computer fretting about what to write and yet still not writing), is that when it starts to feel too much that’s generally because it is too much. It won’t help to try and force yourself to do more, the only thing that will work is to allow yourself to do less. Only then can you regain perspective and control over your situation. And, in my case, only then can I remove the creative block that undue amounts of pressure create. This realisation has made me feel instantly calmer, and you know what? I can feel the ideas start trickling back into my brain just like a tap that was turned off has been turned on again. Perspective isn’t always easy to find when you’re mired in the mud, but when you do find it again it’s both a joy and a relief. Phew.

Changes

I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there’s something amiss in my world at the moment. Possible reasons are:

a)      The weather (if in doubt, blame that)

b)      My best friend moving to San Francisco next week (I’m excited for her but will miss her tremendously – just thinking about it makes me well up)

c)       Lack of exercise – after months of marathon training it’s now been over 6 weeks since I did any exercise due to my training-related back injury, so the endorphin supply is running low

d)      Lack of sleep – probably due to all the other reasons, but in recent days my quality of sleep has dropped dramatically, and I’ve noticed when my alarm goes off I’m often slap bang in the middle of a traumatic /stressful dream, which doesn’t get my day off to the best of starts

e)      My overdraft, which is once again getting so large it’s scaring me

f)       Pressure to succeed in writing (see point e, though this is about far more than just money, it’s about realising ambition – or not, as the case may be)

g)      The onset of wanderlust (which may or may not be related to point b)

h)      A combination of all of the above (most likely)

Whatever the reasons, I’m feeling out of sorts and stressed, and I need an action plan to ease me out of the doldrums. That plan is as follows:

a)      Hmm, not much I can do about the weather…

b)      Not much I can do about the friend moving to the US either…Oh dear…

c)       Aha! Here’s one I can work on! Lunchtime Pilates class booked. Let’s see how that goes…

d)      Earlier nights. Switch off technology, have a relaxing bath and go to bed with a good book. This approach I shall trial tonight.

e)      Stopping spending is the obvious one, or moving out of credit crisis London? Neither looking all that possible in the immediate future…Stop eating perhaps? Become a Breatharian?

f)       This one’s obvious: Write more. And believe in myself more. Also maybe give up sleeping and socialising as well as eating in order to find time to get my writing where it needs to be.

g)      I would say go travelling again, which would certainly address point a), but since it would do nothing to help point e), in the short term I’ll just have to settle for booking a (very) cheap weekend away in the UK to keep the wanderlust at bay.

I’m so glad I decided to write it all down. Just a few ‘small’ lifestyle changes and I’ll be back on an even keel before you can say ‘it’ll never work’….

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Pressure

Sometimes it gets a bit much, this world. And all the constant pressures on our time, energy leaking from our pores like sand through an egg timer; drip, drip, drip.

Of course we are the lucky ones, the ones who can afford to have hopes and dreams for the future. Or can we? What price must we pay for success? What price for failure?

We don’t so much follow our dreams as barter and fritter them away. As if tomorrow will never come. But of course it always does. Until, quite suddenly, it doesn’t.

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Eyes on the Prize

Aside

No writing has been achieved today, which isn’t ideal given that there are only three days left of NaNowrimo (two in which I will be able to write) and I’ve got a whopping 8,000 words to get down if I’m to chalk up another win. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I work best under pressure, so I’m just going to have to have faith in myself and hope that a couple of late night scribing sessions will be enough to see me through.

The truth is I’m shattered. Last night wasn’t the best night’s sleep as the wanderer had returned and was up to his usual nocturnal activities (not that i’m complaining as I love having him home – but, on that note, if anyone knows of any tips to help restless sleepers they’d be gratefully received). I can’t blame my tiredness entirely on my boyfriend’s return, however – I think it’s fair to say the relentless cycle of training and organising is finally beginning to take its toll.

Fortunately, however, I’ve only got thirteen more days of work before almost a month of holiday, so now it’s all about the countdown-I just have to keep spinning those plates for another few weeks and then I can relax. As far as a constantly on the move trip to a part of the world that’s recently been devastated by a natural disaster can be called ‘relaxing,’ that is…..