New Endings

Today I am tired: dog-tired. Lately I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and the outcome is not pretty – bad skin, concentration span of a gnat (not intimately knowing their cognitive capabilities, I acknowledge this may be unfair to gnats) and the general feeling that I am clinging to my raft on the fast-flowing river of life by the tips of my fingers, with only moments to spare before I fall off and am pulled beneath the murky depths (that last bit was the hungover melodrama speaking, best to ignore it).

But today four things happened that snapped me out of the downward-spiralling torrrent of my own selfish emotions:

  1. I read the news from Calais, where fire is ravaging through the Jungle camp as I type this, and, at the very same time, unaccompanied minors are being sent back there to wait until they can be processed.
  2. I heard a piece of  news from England, which nearly made my heart burst with happiness and joy.
  3. I received my fourth book through the Facebook book exchange I signed up to a couple of weeks ago, which has gone some way towards restoring my faith in humanity.
  4. I watched this video by Prince Ea, which made me realise that those of us who are lucky enough to live in relative freedom are the masters of our own destiny. We can make as many excuses as we like for why we don’t put ourselves out there, but in the end all that will come of our procrastination is regret.

Too often we let our minds wander, thinking of all the paths we could go down but failing to take even the first step along one of them. Fear is a paralysing force, and a toxic one. So many of us stay in the trap our fearful minds have set for us, instead of facing our fear head on and saying, you know what? I’m not falling for this. Not again.

Collectively, as Sapiens (I urge you to read that, by the way, it will change your perspective on everything), we’re not doing that great a job of things: segregating ourselves by our countries of origin and religious beliefs, killing our planet, killing one another. But individually we can still make a difference. For all our faults, we humans have such capacity for kindness, for love, for hope. Even in the Jungle, where those awful fires are burning and people’s future is so uncertain, people are dancing. I’m sure those very people could teach the rest of us a lot about what it means to be happy, and how little we really need to find happiness, and peace in our hearts.

As Prince Ea says in his video, you cannot go back and make a new beginning. But you can start now, and make a brand new ending. It’s not too late to change ourselves, or to change the world. All it takes is courage: to feel our fear and do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I plan to do exactly that.

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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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Blocking Time

Do you ever feel there isn’t enough time to do the things you want to do outside of your day job? Are you often just so tired at the end of the working day that all you want to do is lie on the sofa and watch crap TV just to relax your mind? But then the guilt sets in, because such activity feels like it actively diminishes your intelligence rather than bolstering it, and if you don’t use your time wisely how will you ever finish that novel/Open University course/improving tome etc.?

If you do feel that way, you’re not alone. I for one experience this cycle of worry and guilt on a daily basis. Even though I know that being a published writer is my goal, somehow it seems that writing at the end of a full day’s work (and, when I can be bothered, a post-work gym session) is always the last thing I want to do.

But then, yesterday, I struck on the most blindingly obvious and simple concept: Instead of telling myself that I had to spend the whole evening writing, with no time to do anything else (the usual mantra due to guilt at not having written enough in the preceding days/weeks), I told myself to spend just one hour working on my screenplay, at the end of which I could spend an hour watching any TV programme I liked. And at the end of that, I would go to bed and spend an hour reading my book (because, in my experience – and somewhat ironically given the benefits – when you’re feeling overtired and too busy the first thing to go is the luxury of reading before bed).

And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do a huge amount of my screenplay, but I did more than I had done in the past few days. And, more than anything, it felt like I had removed a big obstacle that had been standing in my way. I no longer felt scared of the enormity of the task I was facing, because I had broken it down into a manageable task. Moreover, I didn’t feel (as I so often do) that writing meant having to sacrifice all other enjoyment, or that I had to choose between writing and reading (a horrendous choice for a writer because without reading how can you improve your writing? Catch 22).

So often we tell ourselves that we are useless, that it’s impossible to realise our dreams. But what if we’re just framing things incorrectly? What if the problem is not our lack of talent, or even commitment, but rather the very simple and easily corrected issue of time management?

We all know that if we want to do something we must make time for it. But what makes so many people stumble at the first hurdle is the misguided view they must devote every spare moment to the pursuit of that goal. Wrong. Start small, with ten, twenty, thirty minutes a day – whatever feels achievable to you. And make sure that you stick to doing it – simple. It takes time to form a habit, and it isn’t always easy. But if you don’t start, the only person you’ll have to blame for not achieving your potential is yourself.

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Making Peace

Yesterday, after two days of proofreading a document created by a colleague, I sent my comments back in an email. I was tired and feeling overworked, and didn’t stop to think how the email would make that person feel – I was just glad to have ticked another task off my long to do list. Today when they responded saying my comments had upset them my initial (tired and overworked) response was to roll my eyes and feel anger bubbling up inside me. But then I stopped, went for a walk outside, took several deep breaths and thought hard about the situation. My email wasn’t rude, per se, but with hindsight it was tactless. The document I’d been critiquing was this person’s baby, so inevitably my seemingly brusque comments were misconstrued as me thinking the entire document was rubbish, which is far from the case.

The incident made me appreciate just how easy it is for small issues in the workplace to turn into much larger ones, simply by virtue of people’s lack of empathy towards one another due to their own personal issues. And, on a much bigger scale than that, how it’s exactly this lack of empathy towards others that leads to hatred – and wars. This issue is particularly pertinent today as the US launches air strikes against IS militants in Iraq, who are currently attempting to murder the Yazidis and Christian minorities whom they have displaced from their homes, in what seems to be verging ever more closely on an act of genocide. What makes these militants – and, for that matter, the Israeli and Hamas fighters in Gaza – think they are better than those they seek to wipe out? Don’t they realise at our core we are all the same: Human beings who are trying to make our way in a conflict-ridden world?

I will never forget the stories I read as a child about the soldiers in the front line during the First World War, who downed their weapons on Christmas Day and came out of the trenches to play games with the opposition; English and German soldiers united in one moment of peace, when just twenty four hours later they would be tearing one another apart.

It makes me sad to think of all the hate in the world, and days like today remind me that I’m not immune to creating animosity myself, even when I don’t mean to. Our moods are not always easy to control, but if we all put a bit more effort into thinking how they affect other people, and appreciating that those people are working through issues of their own, I really think there would be more peace in the world.

Happy Friday everyone – be nice to each other.

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Crawling towards Christmas

I’d have liked to have found the time today to write a festive piece of fiction; a story about the spirit of Christmas or some such like, or a heartwarming tale of inspiration and frivolity. Instead, I’ve been chasing my tail with marathon training, present wrapping and holiday packing, topped off with a final pre-Christmas evening with friends at a beautiful mews flat (what I wouldn’t give to have the kind of money to afford one of those) in Paddington, where mulled wine and homemade festive turkey offerings were plentiful (and gratefully received after the aforementioned training).

Tomorrow morning a two hour run awaits, after which it will finally be the long-awaited time to pack up and leave London for the holidays – this year being even more exciting than usual given the two week trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines that has been tacked onto the end of them.

Despite being two days into my break already I’m finding it hard to switch off and relax. I guess it’s not surprising that it takes our over stimulated minds a while to adjust to the slower pace of life that holidays bring, especially given how rare such occasions are for the vast majority of us. And it’s not just our minds-all too often our bodies go into a state of collapse the second we give them the chance to as well, resulting in unwelcome holiday illnesses that prevent us from enjoying the time we have been looking forward to for weeks or months in advance.

But rather than tempt fate by talking about ill health I shall stop here and retire to bed, in order to give myself the best chance of a truly Merry Christmas. The festive season so far has been joyous, here’s to the lovely days that still lie ahead.

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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…..

Twisted optimism

Do you know that feeling of never having enough hours in the day, always chasing your tail to get things done and even then constantly feeling like you’re not doing anything properly? Work’s piling up, the walls are slowly but surely closing in until you struggle to breathe but there’s no let up? The working days becomes endless rounds of sweaty tube journeys, work, short evenings and insufficient sleep? You try to eat a balanced diet but after cramming in the evening running sessions you rarely have the energy to pull yourself up the stairs, let alone come over all Gordon Ramsey? You scarcely have a moment free to think about what you’d rather be doing than the activity you are doing at any given moment, and even weekend mini-breaks feel like a tease because they invariably leave you feeling even more exhausted than before you left?

Know that feeling? Yup, me too. It’s time to book a proper holiday, friend-you and me both. Or at least it would be if you could a) spare the time or b) spare the money. As it is you’re probably best off sucking it up and putting on that stuff upper lip we Londoners wear so well, confident in the knowledge this too shall pass, and the rainbow on the other side of the storm will be all the more beautiful for it.