The Winner Takes it All

On the To Do list is to make some headers using imagery from the Italy trip, but that involves me getting around to uploading the pictures to Flickr. It’ll happen, probably some time next week when I plan everything a bit more precisely.

I have been very surprised since returning from holiday at how my perception of the world appears to have subtly altered. I’ve read a couple of really difficult articles in the last few days too: how the menopause destroyed a woman’s whole existence plus stories of the people who died in the Genoa bridge disaster (the same bridge we marvelled at just over two weeks ago when crossing it.) All of this has distilled together, and Ruth’s tweet this morning sparked a train of thought that now demands some attention: why can’t we just be happy with what we have?

It’s a classic tale: you’re healthy, can feed yourself and don’t have to worry about how normal life pans out, and yet everybody’s aspiring to be somewhere else. There’s no desperate rush to get anywhere and yet we all tear headlong into each new thing without thought for consequences. The diet that we thought was great for us at the time then turns out to be less than stellar, or the game we play is boring because we consumed all the content far too fast in the first place. Then, rather that look to ourselves as the reason for all this, it is simply easier to blame someone else.

None of this is news, or any surprise when viewed in the History of Human Behaviour. There is a fixation in us all of our point of current existence: the stuff at either side of this, or at points in future (or past) is very easy to forget. Focusing on now however has multiple consequences: for our kids, for instance, who have their whole lives ahead to live and are unlikely to remember a lot of what happened as kids, unless it is traumatic. The individual perceptions of benefit and pain are also so subjective that what some people might think of as the depths of depression are quite normal operating parameters for someone else.

Then, when asked on top of all of this to present answers to questions like ‘what do I aspire to’ it would be very easy to just say what everybody else does to feel part of the whole, or aspire to be in a position where you could simply buy your way out of trouble. That whole thing about money not affording happiness is a lie too, when you stand back from the truth. I read somewhere that GoFundMe in the US is paying more people’s medical bills in the US than some insurance companies. When that’s the only option for many when disaster strikes, aspiring to wealth makes perfect sense.

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My kids often berate me for being too worthy, that persisting in my attempts to make them recycle, turn off lights and consider the environment don’t need to be repeated ad nauseum. My husband gets annoyed when I pull the Political Correctness card… and there is the sense that worthiness is all well and good to a point. We all want to be lazy, and not worry about the stuff that is someone else’s problem. Except, as time goes on, these issues are everybody’s to solve, and inertia piles up as does rubbish around us. Sometimes, happiness isn’t enough: as this is the happiest I’ve been in 51 and a bit years, by some way, and just enjoying it has become an issue.

The lesson I finally learnt is a simple one: yes, you can arrive at your aspirations, and live a perfect existence, but what happens then? As there’s been so much effort exerted to get this far, I can’t just sit around in my perfect life and be happy, because there has to continue to be forward movement. Once I achieve something, there’s no point in just stopping and saying I’m done. My happiness depends on a continual, gradual process of self-improvement for as long as I still draw breath, and that needs to happen every day, without fail. To maintain the happiness, it has to be worked at.

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This .GIF remains a constant warning of my Past Self to Future Self: just because you did something good, doesn’t mean you can relax. This is not about points on a board or favours piled up. Life should be a constant case of reassessment and consideration: is this working, should I try something else, would that be sensible? Right now that means girding my loins and looking at swimming lessons, so I can finally do laps of a pool without fear. It is what pushes me to complete two contest deadlines with absolutely no guarantee of success, but the understanding that the more stuff is entered, the better my writing skills become.

Happiness isn’t enough to be satisfied, at least not for me.

Rise Up

So yeah, hi there, I’m back. I never really went away, when all is said and done, but there was some time spent not engaging brain cells. There have also been some quite important and significant changes to how everything is organised around these parts. You won’t see any of it, but the hope is that it will improve the flow of work long-term. You can also expect to see far more pictures than was previously the case, and a return to some old favourites.

Mostly, getting life organised better is the key.

It helps a great deal that the weather’s been brilliant and my chest issues have now virtually vanished. There are still restrictions on my arm, but they will improve as I’m able to exercise more and put the body back to proper use. There’s no point complaining, it just needs effort and application.

Time to get back to work.

Closing Time

A lot of unrelated stuff is percolating through my brain this weekend, except there’s a realisation that surprising amounts of my existence are more interconnected than at first grasped. It also helps that last night I got on the bike for the first time in about a fortnight with anything approaching determination. The results were a genuine surprise.

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My FTP should be up soon if these numbers are any indicator, plus the fact a Sprint Jersey was earnt without really breaking a sweat… this illness hasn’t put me back. The arm, I’ll grant you, is still a bit stiff, and takes a while to wake up in the morning, but as long as it continues to get exercised and there’s no let up on the push forward? It won’t matter. I’m already stronger as a result of all this, that much is abundantly obvious. More crucially, tired is a state that’s being reached for the first time in a while. There’s been no lying awake unable to sleep for a while, and long may this continue.

Sunday will be gardening, buying plants for the newly-created bed, learning how to mow a lawn (don’t know how to do this so it seems a good time to start) and quite possibly painting the fence I’d planned to do a month ago. At the heart of it all is thought about how everything has changed in the last couple of weeks because it has. A sliver of fear, which held apart vital components which needed to fuse, melted away last Sunday. Forced to be on my own, there was no choice but to embrace the inevitable. Having done so, the only way is forward.

The journey ahead looks particularly exciting.

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What a weekend.

I’m on five hours sleep right now, and maybe this isn’t the time to be starting something quite complex and potentially life-changing, but that’s how this works. Today begins a sixteen-week Cycling training course, which is how long before I go on holiday. An awful lot could and might happen between now and then, but this is how major change takes place.

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It’s meant for Ride London athletes, but the whole thing is organised around Zwift’s workout mode, and is linked to your FTP, so (ideally) it only pushes you as far as your body itself is capable. It is a change from just doing a weekly goal and has the potential to fundamentally alter me physically. I have no idea how long I can keep it going, and what the consequences of doing it might be, but this is my plan going forward. I have my starting weight as a guide, and I’ll be able to judge physical fitness by the end in terms not simply of my FTP, but endurance and stamina.

They say everything should have a goal, right?

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If all else fails, that’s four month’s worth of content taken care of.

Walk this Way

Yesterday, I rode 50k before lunchtime.

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That’s 31 miles for the metrically challenged in the room, and amazingly easy on reflection. I had so much left in the tank I went and crushed the step goal in the afternoon, and this has pushed me to try and keep 12k minimum for the rest of the week. I have a choice of walking to the Gym in the rain or going an hour early and doing it on a treadmill. I suspect the latter is going to win, just because getting wet is not that attractive when the temperature is just above freezing.

This week is two PT sessions too, and a focus on HEAVY LIFTING which should be easier as I’m having my left elbow worked on in tandem. My health issues are now down to a couple of minor niggles, and I’m determined to keep on top of body maintenance. However, not gonna lie, 50k was tough. I can feel it in my legs today (my arse hates me) and this week there’s gonna be a bit of hill work in my normal run of easy flat roads. At some point, those muscles need some heavy work. It may as well be sooner than later.

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Today’s all about sorting out everything else so I have more time to cycle, edit the novel and play video games. By lunchtime, all the scheduled content for the week should be ready to go regardless, which is a definite improvement on previous weeks.

Is this what grown-up feels like?

Games People Play

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Occasionally, there are days (like yesterday) when you have to accept loss. Like it or not, everybody screws up. Sitting crying in the Gym car park helps nobody: sure, it makes you feel better, but a logical mind can grasp that if you’re the one at least in part who started the fight, then you have a responsibility for the argument. As long as the days going backwards don’t exceed your forward momentum, everything is golden. That’s why I’m here to remind myself this morning, ahead of all the other stuff that has to happen, that how I conduct relationships is really important. This week, therefore, has been significant in terms of how that takes place online.

Everything I ever needed to know about life I learnt from James Bond.

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Okay, hang on a minute there Bald Eagle, how does the sexist, misogynist 007 start handing me life lessons, exactly? Well, quite apart from ensuring I don’t end up living my life in the manner of a Bond movie (with the inevitable big red reset button at the end) I find myself thinking about what James is good at, and how (amazingly) that provides lessons for me. He’s the best poker player in the British Secret Service, for starters, and that’s because he never plays his own hand, but always that of the person opposite. He’s also taught me how to deal with being poisoned and betrayed, but that’s not important right now. Let’s apply the Poker metaphor in a slightly different fashion, shall we?

When you move into new online relationships, the temptation is often to go overboard in explaining yourself: motivation, ideas, goals… all this in the first flush of ‘getting to know each other.’ I realised this week that this is not the most sensible approach, because it can often isolate people who are not easily comfortable with coming forward or opening up to strangers. It can make you look pushy and domineering. What I ought to be doing is letting the other person come forward first. In effect, I have to become them. Instead of playing my own ‘hand’, if I play the person’s I’m speaking to and effectively imagine what it must be like to be them, there’s a chance of better understanding and empathy from the word go.

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This has worked at least once in practice since the revelation hit, and going forward seems like a really logical means of finding a middle ground with relative strangers. When someone asks you how you are, don’t spend 15 minutes explaining the details. Summarise quickly, effectively and then ask about them. This is probably common sense to large proportions of the rest of the world, I realise, but I’m coming to the world of interpersonal relationships with strangers quite late in the game. If nobody bothers to take the time to explain this shit to you and you have to work it out on your own… well, here’s how it pans out.

Start new relationships by looking at other people first and not yourself.

It is a fine line we all tread in the modern World when it comes to interactions, especially when kids are being taught social niceties via YouTube. I realise now that it is all well and good to believe you have all the tools required to be a decent human being, but that is never always the truth. Every part of your personality needs constant reassessment and balance: you don’t have to do it daily, not even weekly, but every so often sitting down and asking yourself ‘am I doing enough?’ should be a prerequisite for every human being. My son might laugh at my attempts to reduce food waste in the house and increase recycling, because he can see no discernable change in the issues via a wider stage. However, if everybody does these things, the World can and will change. Believing you have no direct influence on the environment around you is a lie.

If you desire change enough, you can and will make it happen.

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My daughter will tell me that she hates my inspirational speeches, but I won’t stop giving them, because if even a scintilla of that belief gets through to her, it is progress. Nobody bothered with me, arrogance assuming that I’d just work it out for myself. Well, I didn’t, and after decades of nobody pointing this out finally, blissfully, people did. Only when other people cared enough to break the shell of my own ignorance, unwillingness and despair was I able to move forward. I entirely understand how horrendous and soul destroying depression remains, but in my case at least, it is my task to deal with and nobody else’s problem but mine. Learning to ask for help was the hardest thing of all, and it still is. However, now I get the formula that works. There’s understanding of what needs to be done. I stopped playing my own hand, and looked outside myself to move forward.

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Plus, any excuse for a bunch of Bond .GIFs is never a bad thing. Next time you start a conversation with a stranger? Ask them how they are, and be prepared to listen.

Learn about yourself by listening to others.

Magic Bus

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For the second day in a row, I’ve hit my step goal before lunchtime. There wasn’t a plan to do this per se, just the way by which life has worked out since the end of the Weekend. There’s a lot of real life going on right now too, because I’ve gotten to the point where self care needs to be more important than putting stuff off. That means hand cream, and teeth X Rays and eye tests in the next two weeks. It also means pushing myself in ways I’d not thought about for a while: an hour on the treadmill this morning was incredibly hard post Monday’s absolutely knackering PT, but I won. It all happened.

Inside, it is as if I have become someone new.

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I’ve been deeply affected by reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy… well, I’ve only just finished Book Two but honestly, mind is unbelievably blown. I love it when I end up with more questions than answers in fiction, and need to read the first two books again to make sure I know what really went on. As a result of this mental stimulation there have been some amazing dreams over the last few days, which have had some unexpected physical hangovers to reality. Considering I’m working on six hours sleep today brain should be dead, and yet I feel incredibly alive.

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Yesterday was hugely productive too: if I can knock off the four things on the To Do List today in good time I’ll be beyond pleased. I also treated myself to something at lunch I would not have dared eaten previously pre-gallbladder removal. If it sits happily in my digestive system, I’m taking this as a sign that I can eat a bit more than was previously the case (and off limits.)

Right then, lets go get all this other stuff knocked off so I can spend the evening dicking about online.

Underneath it All

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You cannot choose the people you inspire, or that will like you and most crucially of all, however hard you try, some people will never be your friends. I’ve learnt this lesson the hard way over the years: there’ll always be someone who you think you’d like to get to know better and then something will happen to ensure that never comes to pass. The last situation in which this transpired came back to haunt me at the weekend, a mutual tweeting someone who I reached out to but… on reflection, it wouldn’t have worked. They wouldn’t have been the problem, either. I would have ruined it.

The people that have helped chart the course over the last few years have been getting thank you’s this month (as I mentioned back at the start of November) and with the last four this week comes to pass an event that has made a lot of sense in the wider scope of what I’d like to happen going forward. You can give blanket thanks to people on Social media all day and night, knowing that many users simply read what they need or want into situations regardless of your desirers. Naming names is the way people understand how much they matter to you, pure and simple.

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Sometimes, people get disappointed. They put a lot more emphasis on you than is the case the other way. When I do a cursory account check of new people to follow, it is always with half an eye on who else they consider interesting. It means if you’re reading this and your Twitter friends list is full of female ‘online personalities’ and porn robots, I’m fairly confident we won’t have a lot in common. I’m pushing more and more for those people who understand that participation isn’t just complaining online about how unfair life is, those willing and prepared to give back more than they take out. Thinking needs to be the default these days, however tough that might be on a daily basis. That means not only considering what you say, but more crucially what you don’t.

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Having survived the early stage of Patreon, it is time to start raising the bar. Persuading people to give you money (especially in this day and age) is a tough ask. I have big plans starting this week, and need to get more people on board, who are prepared to take a chance on me and what I believe in. We don’t need to be friends for this to happen, either. However, that might happen, or it might not… a lot of it isn’t up to me to begin with. Life isn’t a predictable set of occurrences. If we get lucky, then so be it.

Sometimes, just inspiring people to be better is enough.

Bad Day

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There’s a trend of late, that disturbs me greatly. Someone who clearly has an axe to grind at the actions of someone else will post something via Social media to the effect of ‘oh my God this is terrible and WRONG and as a result I won’t buy/watch/take part in this thing any more.’ Let me give you an example that Duncan Jones tweeted into my timeline late yesterday evening:

Of course, all of this indignation hinges on your definition of wrong. As men have been kissing each other since Roman times, I see no problem with television showing the action. I also see no problem with people calling someone out who mistakenly has decided that allowing this in a sci-fi show is somehow appealing to a demographic, when that show has historically broken cultural barriers since debuting in the 1960’s. Some people have short memories, and many others need to understand that the wrong they’re seeing is not somebody else’s problem, but their own perception at fault.

More people need to admit they’re wrong in public.

The last month has seen a palpable sea change in the US over what counts as decent behaviour. There’s a realisation emerging that shallow, indistinct indignation is no longer enough to make the changes people want, and more and more individuals are taking matters into their own hands. Slowly, but surely, the swamp might yet begin to drain, but not perhaps in the way many Republicans expected. The acid test is whether telling other people someone is wrong works in the same way as that person admitting the fault themselves. In this case, silence seems only to confirm culpability, as has been the case for Weinstein and an increasing number of high profile celebrities.

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However, sometimes sorry is not enough. Sure, its great to be vindicated, and refreshing to be proven correct, but when apologies come from people you cannot believe understand the value of either contrition or remorse… it is a very human emotion to want justice, and to demand acceptance. However, nobody learns anything until the fundamentals are grasped with considerably more willingness. Teaching people it is weak to admit failure is bollocks. Knowing how to fail is a skill far more people need to learn and accept as part of life. The trick, as is the case with most things, is finding the balance. I can build myself up and knock myself down without anyone else involved. Sometimes, that’s essential to get the day done.

Mostly, if you could stop thinking that what two blokes do on screen is corrupting your society that seems happy to attack women, ostracise anyone who’s not white and condemn other religions that aren’t Christianity? That might be a start. However, please don’t go too far the other way. Listening to people on my Social media feed publicly blaming other people for their own inability to self-help, self-care or make the best of what are incredibly privileged situations to begin with seems to be flavour of the month. Maybe the answer isn’t to sit there feeling sorry for yourself but start effecting long term change. I began with 30 minutes around the block every day. The first step is the hardest, but the benefits (trust me) are enormous.

After that, if you’re happier pretending everybody else is wrong but you, you’re probably on your own.

Today

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Look, I don’t want to jinx this, but this week’s going remarkably well. The whole ‘upping the step count’ thing’s moving amazingly to plan, there’s gonna be two sessions of PT instead of one, and it’s only taken me until Wednesday to sort about 80% of the To Do list. I keep looking over my shoulder, expecting summat rubbish to transpire, but it has as yet failed to materialise. I know what is driving the push to get stuff done, however, the reminder from various quarters this week that we are only visitors to this existence. Each day needs to be lived well, and with a passion.

That is certainly how things are coming to pass this week.

Also, this week I have given my daughter something that, a decade ago, probably wouldn’t have existed. I’ll be chaperoning her and a friend to see Dan and Phil, Internet superstars, on their 2018 World Tour. If the levels of squee in this house yesterday were any indicator, I’m going to need to invest in earplugs for the night. Fortunately, this is taking place at my favourite London venue, the Eventim Apollo, where I’ve seen both Elbow and Kate Bush… at least it’ll be familiar surroundings. Maybe I can watch some videos before I go, so I don’t look like an utter n00b when I get there…

Right, just enough time to get another load of laundry on before I have to walk to the Gym :D