Run for Home

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Once upon a time, exercise scared me. I’d find reasons not to do it: my knees were bad, I took forever to recover, I couldn’t because I was bleeding. Looking back on the litany of excuses, there is now an understanding of the true root cause. I was afraid. I would get out of breath so easily, people would stare at me, there was no real self-confidence anywhere to allow movement past the issues. However, in the last 14 months, all that has changed. It began with a phenomenal amount of just walking, alone, without focus on anything except myself. Inside that bubble, a lot of disparate thoughts finally began to make sense.

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I understand now the set of circumstances that led to confidence evaporating. Some of it is my fault alone to shoulder, but others have their share of blame to take. Now all of that is settled, comes the process of understanding that if you work for long enough, pain can be managed and overcome. Exercise is its own reward, over time: without it, I’d not have been given the warning signs over my gallbladder until possibly it was too late. However, the overriding positive from making myself do something every day is now beginning to manifest. If you do intensive sessions in the gym or on the road, rest days are indeed vital. However, my body doesn’t work like that. I have one (reasonably) intense PT session for an hour a week, which is now supplemented by two more (of the same duration) where I focus on weight training. For all the other days, there is asthmatic cardio.

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I can’t run continuously (as yet) and the most I’ve ever managed is a kilometre on the treadmill, for timing purposes. What happens right now is HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which is bursts of exercise where I push myself to breathlessness, followed by periods of recovery whilst still moving. This builds stamina, strength and allows my body to learn how to breathe properly, which is almost as important as the effort itself. It also allows me to work out if the things I am eating are being effectively converted into fuel or not, which has been quite the adventure after gallbladder removal. Before where I would have relied on quick carbohydrates for an energy burst, more and more it is about packing in more complex carbs before I workout, and supplementing protein rich foods afterwards to ensure muscles build and strengthen.

The biggest change of all has been the sweet cravings: yeah, they still exist, but the frequency and urgency of them has diminished significantly. Whereas before I’d get a need to snack early afternoon, after surgery and with daily exercise, this has simply evaporated. More significantly, the urge to buy ‘rubbish’ has yet to materialise, though I will admit the desire for bread and butter pudding is quite strong right now. That means, this weekend, I’ll attempt to make a version with granary bread and not white, with ingredients I put in and aren’t supplemented by pointless additives and preservatives. At least that way I know exactly what is going into my body.

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Staying on the exercise wagon becomes easier with each day I do something: even if it is only 30 minutes of continuous exercise to get my heart rate up, the key is to make such effort habit-forming and then realise you don’t want to live without it. After that…? Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wednesday’s ‘Pull’ day of weights: after a month off, I’m almost at the same benchmarks I left behind in May. I feel stronger in arms and trunk than has ever been the case before. Most significant of all however is how I feel afterwards: confident, happy and relaxed. Exercise makes me happy, not simply from the release of endorphins. I am stronger. This alone is worth any amount of effort and discomfort.

My body is a lumpy mess right now: mosquito bites, bruises from cycling, rolls of loose skin and fat that remains stubbornly immoveable. Once upon a time I would have cared about this but now, simply, it doesn’t matter. I have to move through this stage of being uncomfortable in my skin to get to the real goal. Physical appearance is irrelevant, all that matters are the repetitions and the goal, still tantalisingly out of reach but far closer than was ever the case last year. Then I wasn’t thinking about the bigger picture, just a weight goal which would somehow make everything better. Now there’s an understanding that exercise doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to the finish line and BANG its all perfect, far from it. To truly understand the real value of fitness, it has to be lived and understood, one day at a time.

This is a journey I am only just beginning.

Knives Out

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Before I took the youngest on the School Run this morning I sat down at my Twitter settings page and removed every mute I’ve placed since the start of the year. I then went to Tweetdeck and took off every filter. Having pronounced last night that my feed was becoming too unwieldy (yet again) to act as a writing tool this might seem the wrong way to go, but as I got ready at 6.30 am an important truth finally registered in my brain. People should always be allowed to speak, regardless of my individual capacity to hear them.

This year will see a number of ‘alternative future’ literary works get a viewing as cinema and TV, with especial relevance to the current state of the world we live in. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t hugely excited to see a TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale with Elizabeth Moss as the titular ‘heroine’ and this morning I saw this trailer for ‘The Circle’, based on what is a fairly generic novel by Dave Eggers, but which has parallels that call to mind both Brave New World and 1984. Both of these pieces, with strong women at their helms, consider what might happen if society diverges from its current path, showing vastly differing versions of the same concept: control.  One shows how the collapse of society brings about the subjugation of fertile women as reproductive slaves, the other considers the consequences of letting everybody know everything you are, all the time. They might seem poles apart in terms of subject matter but in truth, both are mirrors of each other.

It is not surprising, considering the turmoil of modern society, that humanity constantly questions what is right and wrong, and how we might stray from a path of common sense. Pretty much every holy scripture from the vast range of religions available as ‘salvation’ pushes the aspiration of living a ‘good’ life: treat others well, be thoughtful, show the means to be penitent. Except somewhere along the way, individualising every experience is somehow removing people from their own morality, is creating minds that cannot grasp the significance of being part of a whole that works effectively. Judging someone because you find them ‘annoying’ or ‘stupid’ is not far away from proclaiming them as wrong or dysfunctional. Judging full stop should never be a norm, and yet this is now standard for so many people in all manner of places. It doesn’t matter if you know everything or nothing about a person, what is more significant in the end is how you deal with that data on a personal level.

The irony of this Tweet turning up in my timeline as a result of all of this pontification is therefore almost prophetic. The most damning form of control, ultimately, is your own inability to think. Accepting your world for what it is remains the most difficult part of any existence. Trying to rationalise anybody else’s motivation, frankly, will put you on a hiding to nothing and blindly following those who somehow claim to have all the answers? Expect disaster and chaos the moment they lose their way and it all goes Pete Tong. In this age of Hashtag Evangelism (not my phrase but my mate @MethodDarrie’s) I understand now that the answer isn’t to shut out all the noise, but simply choose who to listen to. Pretending the stuff you don’t like doesn’t exist might make it feel like it goes away, but that’s never the case. You are not obliged to explain your reasoning either, it’s okay. This is also your scheduled reminder that there also doesn’t need to be a massive session of internet therapy every time someone walks away.

The reason all my mutes are off is simple. People can speak as they wish, and as long as they don’t cause conflict or harm in my timeline? That’s utterly fine. If I find myself looking at someone and deciding that they do not seem to have an interest in what I am doing, or that when they do communicate I can no longer identify with their point of view or what they are saying? I will just unfollow.

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This is my 500th post, and I think I’d like the next 500 to cover subjects that really matter, which challenge both you and I in both writing and reading. I really don’t care if people like me or not any more, this was never a popularity contest, because if it were I’d have driven off a bridge a long time ago. To exist in the Modern World is hard work, and often painful. Yes, it hurts to be alive as a reminder that you are. Kindness, I am beginning to realise, is not simply the process of being understanding. Often it means the exact opposite.

To live life well means not being afraid of being alone.

Look out Any Window

Life is measured in great moments, seismic shifts in political and social structure that are only often ever truly understood decades after the event. Next week, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will literally send a letter to the European Union to inform them that in two years time, my home intends to remove itself from a political framework that has been part of my existence since childhood. When I voted in June of last year, it was to remain within this framework, but 52% of the people who did the same decided they didn’t like being homogeneous, and wanted again to stand sovereign.

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Integrity is a difficult word to grasp in the current climate: on one hand I need to be honest and principled for the sake of two children’s futures. However, I’m living in a country which, like it or not, has been divided almost exactly in half. Left/right, red/blue extreme/tolerant… the list goes on. On the basic day to day level of things however, you’d be hard pressed to see that anything has altered at all. I’m supremely lucky to own a home, have a job and not want for either food or comfort. For all the other people who aren’t those things, life is undeniably the toughest and most brutal it has been for many years. If I am to maintain integrity as my country finally acknowledges it’s post-Brexit status to the World, do I also need to accept that unity is the only way forward?

What concerns most of all right now is the way that truth and facts are being ignored by people who seem to believe that the audience they’re talking to isn’t capable or willing to think for themselves. Integrity has been sacrificed by individuals, organisations who should know better than to try and pretend that our climate isn’t altering for the sake of their profits. They try and assuage the fears that people will be worse off by straight out lying, because the truth has somehow become bad and wrong. Sending people who legitimately work hard and contribute to a multicultural society away because they don’t look or sound like you is not the right answer. Telling me you are a Christian when you refuse to allow women the most basic of bodily rights is never, at any point anywhere, going to be either acceptable when your own basic perceptions can be so outraged by honour and dedication.

Half of the world has lost basic integrity. Many of them, I think, don’t even realise this has happened.

My biggest concern is climate change, a concept the President of the United States seems to believe is some kind of fantasy invented by organisations intent on stifling his family’s long term profits. Half my home town could be under six feet of water just like Evangeline was in 1927 if the polar ice caps keep diminishing: even if we can halt the damage done, there’s some very real and pressing issues with feeding a growing population, millions of whom are now starving or without clean water. These issues are what should really matter, but instead extremism and punishment are the current mantras, as if either of these things are really significant concerns when placed beside the planet we live on. After all, if there’s nowhere on Earth that can sustain life long-term, all those other issues become largely irrelevant anyway. Integrity dictates we should stand united on important issues, yet nobody seems to be able to grasp what really matters any more.

It is therefore really easy to see why cat pictures, memes, stupidity and tackyness are as popular currently as they undoubtedly are: it’s the antidote to serious thinking that everybody needs but no-one will admit they indulge in. It also explains the current obsession with self many people have, that you can at least change what you have direct control over. For me, at least, that focus is as much about having the mental and physical strength to survive whatever the next ten years may now throw at me. Being a minority is going to be a tough gig going forwards: everybody’s going to be fighting each other for the chance to establish a benchmark for integrity using a great many new and interesting definitions. Moral principles, after all can come in a great many different flavours, colours and sizes.

I’m looking forward to next Wednesday because then, finally, everybody gets to move on. We have to hope our Government is capable of doing the job they’ve been told to complete. There’s still hope for the future, right up until the point where everybody else decides you’ve failed. As long as integrity can be maintained? Anything is possible.

Now, all we can do is wait.

Moving On Up

People like to tell me stuff.

I don’t belong in a particular group online, and have pretty much ploughed my own furrow ever since arriving in Internetland. This means that my feet straddle a lot of overlapping groups… and inevitably I’m nearly always standing at the fringes, looking in. This is absolutely not a problem, because what it gives is a brilliant level of objectivity. However, inevitably, there are days when this is not the case.

Occasionally however, I can’t avoid being the object of somebody’s ire, and when that happens there is only one meme that works.

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This was the first graphic I ever made for myself when LiveJournal was my home. Ironically I left that place after a Warcraft-related spat which made me realise that some people take that game far more seriously than others. Then came the swift reminder that the only way never to get involved in an argument is to have no friends. However attractive that might seem to be on certain days, it’s realistically impossible to live your life like that online. I have therefore tried my best not to contribute to any more virtual drama than necessary, but yesterday I broke my own rule and told someone something I was cautious about revealing to them when it initially took place, but on reflection I now have no problem now revealing.

It takes time to really get to know people. Social media expects a lot from its users on any given day, that the person you became fast friends with is different to the one who takes time to show themselves. Like life itself, judging everybody with the same set of criteria can often put you on a hiding to nothing. The problem is, of course,  judging anything is bad. Everybody should be equal. You and I know the truth behind that is a long way from reality on most days to begin with, so you accept what there is and deal with it. That means, at least for me that there’s a list of people who I don’t communicate with or consider as important who are very much the opposite for a large number of people in my sphere. Many of these people are muted in Tweetdeck for reasons that I’m not reticent over either. The key is that I don’t spend all day and night reminding people of the fact it is done.

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In the end, it is all largely irrelevant anyway, unless the person you got to know and then subsequently remove/spurn/ignore decides they don’t like this turn of events and decides to retaliate. As a rule, this for me goes one of two ways: brief flare of indignation and then silence, or else it is months and months of petty, vindictive spitefulness in the hope that I’ll change my mind or get deflected from the path forward. This blog is full of observations from both sides of that fence too: I use all my relationship failures as fuel for posts, so as long as you know that’s how I work, I think we’ll get along just fine. For the record, everybody gets treated the same. That’s a problem for some people, that much is obvious, especially when being kind and polite is mistaken for more than it really is. That’s my issue however, and not yours.

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Of course, the reality of virtual spaces is simple. I respect those who return the favour. I can hold a secret for a lifetime, and you’ll never know the real truth. The people who are my friends know this without needing to be told, but love to be reminded, and so I do. Caring and compassion are very simple when the World is not watching, and I’m doing my best work away from your prying eyes, and not using it as blog posts. This is a world of superficial distractions, like it or not, and the good stuff never gets seen unless both parties decide to make that happen. If you want relationships to really succeed on social media, cultivate them away from the screen. Your pocket friends may be brilliant and inspiring, but only if you give back to them as they do to you.

It is a significant relationship only when both real and virtual truly combine.

Your Game

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If all you care about are numbers, success can be easily devolved down to a 1/0 equation. I mean LOOK AT MY INFOGRAPHIC PEOPLE I have a 30% increase in mentions from last month! But that is frankly nothing compared with the WHOPPING 50% rise in engagements! What is my secret? I’ll tell you, it’s the fact that I’ve only picked up 11 followers in the last month. I don’t give a flying fuck about who wants to follow me, but if they meet a certain criteria I will pretty much automatically turn them away at the door. If you’re here to play the ‘only way to win at Twitter is with a six figure audience’ card and you’re NOT Stephen Fry?

Don’t waste my time, amateurs.

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The thing is, however, that some of these people clearly aren’t fucking about on Twitter and have worked quite hard to get the numbers to work for them. Once upon a time, they were simply robot accounts with minimal if not no actual human content attached. However, once Twitter got wind of the fact their game could be botted and people could rack up enormous high scores and never actually engage their users? These accounts are no longer simply regurgitated monthly links to blog posts. There’s a complex game involving monetising and SEO via websites that some people play with as much commitment and dedication as you follow your favourite team. It’s not exactly going to make you a hit with the ladies, but becoming a smart marketeer clearly makes ends meet. Except if you looked closely at the 596k followers attached to my sample account above, there’s likely to be a fair proportion of not real people in that total.

I however, strive to seek out real people as a matter of priority.

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While some might obsess over popularity, I crave reality wherever possible. That means that yes, I go look at people’s feeds and read their biographies long before I press ‘Follow’. I keep a pretty close eye on what is being said or referenced too, and that means when someone leaves I’ll pretty much always go back and check why. You can consider it the equivalent of running a busy entertainment complex and constantly doing customer feedback to ensure the people who come to talk, eat and enjoy themselves are getting the maximum experience for their time spent. Yes, this does mean I listen to criticism too: I’ve cut back on stuff that won’t make sense to you if there’s not appropriate context. When I get cross at something, when before I would have done a bit of leery subtweeting, I now instead throw pot plants. This has helped me cut the drama in my feed down to an absolute minimum.

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When success is now defined as a man in the White House who has billions of dollars earned but not one ounce of decency or compassion to his name, that concept holds no thrill for me. If being bigger and better than anybody else is your definition of achievement, I’m not interested. This, for me, is a slow and brilliant story that doesn’t rely on my ability to fool a robot and everything on my skill as a writer. As I refine the process of replying to Tweets in both concise and increasingly creative ways, I want less and less to do with anyone who seems to think they know what I want without asking. If your version of ‘interacting’ is simply throwing anything you believe I want on my feed in the vain hope I’ll be grateful, without taking the time to both talk and interact? This is not respect, it is simply lip service, and in the end you will never truly succeed at anything without being able to care beyond a basic set of variables. You might be happy with the size of your referrals, but I honestly don’t care. That’s not what I’m here for.

That’s a journey that I’m only just beginning.

Architecture and Morality

‘If something offends you, go do something else.’

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my husband about ‘Passengers’, a film which has caused a bit of a fuss over the moral dubiousness of its plotline. I was genuinely excited about this movie when the trailers first surfaced in June, but when it became apparent that what this movie isn’t either pleasant or comfortable in terms of how the two leads end up together? I pretty much lost interest. The biggest problem however for me, on considered thought, was the fact that this movie intentionally skirts those real issues in all of the promotional material, and it was only when the first indignant reviews emerged that it became apparent what you were really buying into. Once that becomes unavoidably apparent? Well, it is obvious that some people didn’t care about anything else except the bad things.

My husband has very rationally and logically pointed out that if you know about the moral duplicity of the plot? It could make things more interesting, and not less so, and this is a very fair point. The problem is however that with the year that’s just gone, I suspect many people went to see this movie in the hope it would be sunshine and rainbows, and not to be metaphorically kicked in the genitalia. As a result, this whole endeavour also suffered as a result of circumstance. However, if your interest is the moral complexity of how to deal with isolation and loneliness? I suspect this movie could be right up your street. In discussion over this, my husband pulled up ‘While you Were Sleeping’ as a perfect example of a movie that, like it or not, is really rather morally dubious, but won’t see people bemoaning Sandra Bullock pretending to be an unconscious man’s fiancee.

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For my husband, the reaction to this whole debacle simply amplifies the depressing ‘echo chamber’ effect of the Internet. That revolves around a subset of people who decide to hate something based solely on exploitation or received moral indignation and doesn’t take at all into consideration the fact the focus of their ire in this case is a) entertainment and b) fiction. Because it is art there should be no need for such a reaction: if you don’t like it, then you can simply ignore the thing and move on. Those who somehow feel better about being part of the lynching party not simply over movies but in every aspect of modern life are genuinely scary, and it is becoming increasingly galling when these flash-points end up splitting up friendships and causing people to threaten others livelihoods or existence. Mostly, this particular episode has been a salutatory lesson for me, to remind him and myself that the only way all this works is when you listen to each other, and learn from contrary viewpoints.

I’m still not spending my cinema money on this however, that will be going on Rogue One.

What happens next for me in personal terms is becoming increasingly better defined as time goes on. Maintaining an open mind needs to be top of my list: engaging, not arguing, making people think and not imposing points of view on others. It isn’t about being right, and never will be, it is far more important to understand WHY and look to yourself as a potential source of change before expecting anybody else to do the same.

I want to talk with you in 2017 and very definitely not at you, and that will need some work.

Another Way to Die

This year may not been kind, but if I’m going to survive going forward then it is high time to be realistic. 2016, for me personally, has not been a bad year. It has, all told, been FUCKING AWESOME, and maybe I would be better served not pretending I’ve become a shadow of my former self, because that’s so utterly not true. So the meme above is actually as accurate as I think it is possible to be. I’ve gone from a fairly staid and uptight woman of the 1970’s to a pretty chill and sexually comfortable person of the early 21st Century. I look far better in the armour, I never liked the bright colours anyway, and now I can embrace all the shit that comes with my baggage?

2017 is looking pretty damn amazeballs.

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There will be a pre-Christmas meeting with my Trainer to establish what is required to shift the last of my extraneous fat, and so committed am I to this task that I am fully prepared to go the whole shakes and brutal exercise route to make it a reality. It’s not that I’m trying to become something I’m not any more. This is what I’ve always wanted to be deep down. I never had the confidence or belief in myself to make it a reality until now. It’s got an awful lot to do with the understanding that if you listen to your own internal voices that will convince you that failure’s just easier and less stressful, this is what happens. Inertia, inability and a lifetime of belief that you’ll never be good enough.

I am good enough. I’m better than that. I can produce an entire story from nothing, start to finish, that doesn’t only make sense but which is compelling and brilliant. I’m capable of lifting my own body weight with assistance. I’m becoming more and more adventurous with so many things that previously would have sent me away screaming in terror. Nobody made me better, I have no book to recommend or guru to thank. I did this. Little old me with the inhalers and the body confidence issues and the darkness that sometimes obscures everything around me. I found a voice, and a direction. I made things better for myself, and now I’m going to start doing it for other people too.

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This weekend I’m going to spend half a day on Social media using my powers for good and hoping I can get people to donate money to a mental health charity in a period where cash for many is tighter than at any other time of the year. There are so many more worthy causes at this time of year, I know, but MIND does so much sterling work for a group of people who often cannot find a voice. I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve cancelled all plans, am getting my husband to take the kids to see Grandma this year alone so I can be here and do this, and try and make more than just a passing donation to a good cause. I need to make this matter. With all the terror and chaos currently surrounding us, at home and abroad, it might seem selfish to think of myself, but that’s what happens whenever I realise just how important charities like MIND are to those who cannot cope with what life throws at them.

That was me, not so long ago. I was there and didn’t know how to help myself and now I do, I want to make sure that awareness is raised, that others don’t have to feel alone and helpless at a time of year when often family are the most difficult group of people to talk to. This is only the first step in giving back, there will be many others, and by the time I’ve done I hope I really can make a tangible difference to people’s lives. That’s what others have done for me and I’d like to thank them all, and so I will, but not here. That’s my task to complete and I’m getting there, slowly but surely. For now, I hope I’ll see you at Midday on Saturday for 12 hours of .GIF related awesome.

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