Living a simple life: F is for Friendship

F is for… Friendship

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

I had two choice for F: food, fandom or friendship. Truth is, the three are fairly tightly connected. However: today we are talking about friendship.

I am drafting this from a train, where I sit with my other half, P and my friend R. We are heading to Glasgow to see another friend (K), and go and watch Caro Emerald in concert. This came about because K moved to Glasgow a while back, and we wanted to visit.

As things fell out, K moved away from Glasgow before the time for the concert came about. By that point, however, we were committed.

So it became an adventure. Travelling to Glasgow is not quick — the train journey is five and a half hours, and that from Northampton, where we spent the night with my friend R.

It reminds me of the time I did an exchange with a university in the USA. I had a group of friends I had made from an online forum, and I criss-crossed the states in that six month period, couch-surfing from one place to another. It was a mad adventure, where I went from LA — rubbing shoulders with teenagers with perfectly sculpted hair and tanned skin who claimed to be professional skateboarders — to a tumbledown house deep in the Bible belt where we threw lightbulbs into a bonfire of junk. America is a strange and varied place.

Internet meme plus MLP. How could I resist.

I can be a solitary creature, and yet other people and my relationships with them have shaped my life far more drastically than any decision of my own.

Meeting P, for example. A chance meeting at best, when he happened to be in the same room as another of my friends and took my screen name from him. We talked, we became friends and then fell in love. Faced with the problems of a long-distance relationship, we got married — a whirlwind event, that we agreed to do before we had lived together. In fact, we had barely spent any real time together. Anybody would warn against such a choice; to tangle your life up with someone that you barely knew.

Yet that decision ended up being the best I have ever made.

I like to read Vonnegut books; it’s one of my guilty pleasures to re-read them. In Cat’s Cradle he talked of finding your ‘karass’, your cosmically significant group of people.

If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons that person may be a member of your karass. — Bokonon aka Kurt Vonnegut.

I am an atheist, but this speaks to me. It is less about cosmic significance, perhaps, than finding the people that make you feel comfortable, at home, safe to be yourself — and thus safe to be able to do the things that only you can do.

We constantly perform. At work I am one person, with some other friends, arms-length friends, I am another. But with the people who are my karass I can be exactly as goofy, forgetful, distractible, obsessed and silly as I like — and I can also be as passionate, as earnest, as determined as I feel.

Squad goals: living in a temple on a beach playing music.

What is this entry? It is a rambling, disjointed post. It hasn’t got across how important my friendships are, my relationships are. It hasn’t really explained how, when I am with them, I feel whole, put-together in some indefinable way.

As I get older, my friendships become more important. They also get harder. My friends have jobs that suck up their time and energy, some have children, everyone has responsibilities. Mortgages or student loans to repay. I cannot imagine being able to up-sticks and travel the USA couch-surfing for months on end now. Yet somehow the five hour train journey to Glasgow means more than that whole adventure, because it is harder — and more precious as a result.

Living a simple life: E is for Exercise

E is for… Exercise

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

As a kid, I hated PE. I was the daydreamer in the corner, constantly buried in a book. By the time I was in secondary school, I used to truant from PE to play Dungeons & Dragons.

As a small kid, of course, I used to play – running around participating in some made-up game with rules that made sense back then but wouldn’t now.

These days, exercise is something I do more for my mental health than my physical health (although it is fun to feel yourself getting stronger).

In both periods of depression, it was yoga that got me moving, and that then provided a stepping stone to more energetic form of exercise. That more energetic form of exercise helped boost me – a tiny bit each time – giving me enough energy to start thinking again and then to start living again.

The exercise I enjoy includes:

  • This came up when I searched for ‘yoga drawing’ and I have no idea what it has to do with yoga. But I LOVE IT.

    Yoga. The base of my routine, and something I try and do every day, if only for five minutes. I will write more about this later (spoiler alert: probably for the letter Y).

  • Bodyweight/dumbbell strength-training. I am not a strong person, I tend towards being skinny which is great from a weight point-of-view but makes it hard to build muscle. Still, I am trying to regularly do push-ups, squats, dumbbell rows and the like. It’s hard. My body aches right now from the workout I did yesterday.
  • Pilates. A recent addition, I started doing pilates after work with a colleague. My core strength is pretty terrible.
  • Running. I am not a runner, but I started to use Zombie Run and for a while I enjoyed it. Then my shins started to ache, I realised my shoes were very old and I quit. I keep meaning to buy new shoes, but… see my previous entry about not buying anything in April.
  • Dance workouts aka Zumba and similar. I do these to YouTube videos, and they usually make me happy.
  • Walking. I have a fitbit. I enjoy long hikes in the outside world. My walking buddy and I are training for a ‘someday’ dream of walking to Machu Pichu.

The thing with exercise is I rarely want to do it, but I am always glad to have done it. Pushing through my ‘lazy’ barrier each time is hard… but I am getting better at it. These days I am managing to exercise in the morning, which is a fairly major shift. I have never been a morning person.

They say that exercise is a ‘keystone habit’ – a habit that supports other good habits. When I exercise, I feel inspired to eat more healthily, I feel more energetic, I feel better able to tackle other challenges. I am far, far less likely to spend the day vegging out in front of the TV.

Living a simple life: D is for Dressing

D is for Dressing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

When I first planned out what I was going to write for each letter, D was originally for depression. I don’t really want to define myself by depression though. I’m moving forward into a calmer, happier future – not hanging on to the past.

Then I was going to write about dogs. I really love dogs. Dogs are AWESOME. Sadly, I have never had a dog. My partner has, and I get to play with an office dog three times a week. But, dogs have not been a significant part of my life thus far — though I hope they will be in the future.

So now I am going to talk about ‘dressing‘ or ‘dresses’ or ‘clothes’ (but clothes doesn’t start with a D).

My friend wrote a post about some of the perils of trying to dress yourself, which is interesting and relevant and says many things I agree with.

I have a lot of anxiety around clothes, as perhaps do many people. As a kid, I wore only second-hand clothes – cast-offs from other children a bit older than me. As such, I never really had a style, nor did I develop one.

When I got to university, I went clothes shopping with a student loan burning a hole in my back pocket. I bought my first ever ‘outfit’. I do not remember what it was. I did not really understand clothes, myself, or style.

It didn’t help that I viewed myself as, well, unattractive. Not in a particularly self-hating way, but I had bad acne and couldn’t really see any way that a particular style of dressing would make me NOT have bad acne.
So I wore baggy jumpers, jeans, walking boots. I opted for practical over pretty. That became my ‘style’, by default really.

But… every now and then I bought something. A short plaid skirt. A purple waistcoat. A tight, chinese-style dress. Clothes I bought and then… just never wore.

But I gradually realised that… I actually liked clothes.

I have a Pinterest board entirely filled with clothes.

There is clearly a style that I like. Unfortunately for me, it’s also clearly an expensive style. I like intricate patterns, colours (especially purple), high quality materials, iridescence. I have a thing about texture — I really kind of hate polyester. I like silk, satin, velvet, breezy cotton.

In short, I am secretly a clothes snob.

What does this have to do with living a simple life?

I guess it’s about paying attention to the details. I tend to just throw on whatever clothes I have. I usually take the easy option of jeans, t-shirt, jumper. But with a bit of thought, a bit of time (and maybe a bit of money) I could start dressing in a more meaningful way.

 

Living a simple life: C is for Consumer

C is for consumer (and credit cards)

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

Alright! We are three letters into the alphabet already, the sun is shining (it was when I drafted this post anyway), I have an enormous pot of pea soup simmering on the stove behind me… so what better time to talk about CONSUMPTION.

I have credit card debt. It’s not something I like. I have this whole plan to pay it off by the end of July. As such, I’m setting myself another April challenge (alongside blogging everyday). Namely a NO SPEND challenge.

Yes, I am buying groceries. But no take-away, no new books, no clothes, no random stuff for the house, no flowers, no over-priced cups of coffee. It means I need to plan more, think more, and oh… pay attention.

We live in a culture saturated with stuff. I do actually enjoy spending money – I love travel, I love eating out, I love new experiences. But, for April, I am going to focus on what’s free.

The #instagram life – in pursuit of perfection

I have a bit of an obsession with self-improvement, and with self-perfecting type books. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and I have an ad-blocker on my browser, so I don’t see many adverts. But I do go on instagram, I do look at the carefully curated perfect vignette, I do read ‘lifestyle’ blogs. Yeah, I am subscribed to Goop – and only partly ironically. I look at tours on Apartment Therapy. I crave the stylish, simple, super-expensive and self-described ‘minimalist’ chic.

I bought a magazine about simple living the other day, to read in a coffee shop. It was stuffed with adverts. Adverts for cute, eco-friendly, fair-trade stuff that was probably woven out of toxin-free hemp.

I want the vitamix blender, the white linens, the single vase of flowers.

I want the goddamn bullet-journal.

I want to be a different person. You know. The person who has it sorted. The person who is effortless, light, breezy and flowing. The person who only bought one thing, but that one thing was perfect.

I have yet to buy a perfect thing. I try for an organised, clean, #nofilter life, but the truth is, my whites keep going grey after I wash them a couple of times, I spilled marmalade on my floor the other day, and I killed the potted herbs I bought within about a week of buying them.

That went a bit off-piste. However, the core holds. A month without consuming extra in an effort to seek perfection that doesn’t exist. A month of enjoying what I already have. And, hopefully, a chunk of change to apply to the credit card debt.

Living a simple life: B is for Breathing

B is for… Breathing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

Yesterday I posted about why I am rebooting my blog, and focusing on living a simple/happier life.

One of the ways I clawed my way out of the dark hole that is depression was with a mix of gentle yoga and meditation.

With the meditation, I started with guided meditations. With the yoga, I started with youtube videos – specifically the restful/relaxing/stretching/sleeping ones.

In both cases, there were a lot of times when they asked me to stop and focus on my breathing. To take longer, deeper breaths. To breathe into my belly.

Here’s the kicker: it worked. However agitated, miserable, angry, anxious and exhausted I felt — and trust me, I got pretty miserable — whenever I took the time to breath slowly and focus on my breath I got a tiny little mood boost. At the start that maybe only took me from ‘deeply miserable and angry’ to ‘sad and irritated’ but it was still a boost.

Breathing is a reminder that you are alive. It’s also, to me, a reminder that everything changes. Nothing is static. Even when you try and hold yourself completely still, your lungs and heart and thus your body is in motion.

A few breathing techniques

On a very basic level, slow your breathing down.

Lying on the floor feels nice. Try placing a hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with your inhale and exhale.

Try inhaling through your nostrils for 3 seconds (count slowly), hold your breath for 2 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.

Alternatively, try some yoga breathing exercises, there’s a great set of Pranayama videos to watch at Yoga with Adriene.

Relax.

Breathe.

You got this.

Living a simple life: A is for Attention

A is for Attention

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog, and about my life in general. Last year was a difficult one for me: I almost certainly slipped into depression, although I did not get formally diagnosed. Still, I spent a lot of time staring at the wall with my thoughts circling the drain.

Thankfully, a mix of counselling, exercise, self-reflection, omega-3 supplements, yoga and meditation has pulled me out of it.

So what is this about, and what does it have to do with the A-Z challenge?

When I first started this blog, I did so with an A-Z challenge. The posts were short and perhaps perfunctionary, and I didn’t gain any long-term readers from it (I don’t have any long-term readers!)

I’ve been blogging in one form or another for over fifteen years. But in recent years I’ve moved away from creating, writing, exploring, and toward consuming. I lost the art of long-form journal writing in favour of short Facebook updates. Facebook updates that were, at best, a highly edited, extremely bland version of me that was both Safe for Work and Safe for Extended Family.

XKCD: Fuck. That. Shit.

So – I want a reboot. Blogging is important to me. Owning my own platform, however few readers, however little attention it gets, is important to me. I’m not going to pigeon-hole myself into a particular blogging niche. This isn’t about brand, or selling myself, or monetising. It’s not about readers (though anyone who does read this, hello, good to see you around!)

A is for… Attention

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are. –Jose Ortega y Gasset

Look: I’m easily distracted. It’s modern life. I carry a tiny-but-powerful computer around with me in my pocket. It gives me instant access to most of human knowledge, a bewildering kaleidoscope of opinions, an endless array of cute gifs, and it’s so easy to use.

So when I emerged from my depression, I found myself blinking at the endless amount of time I had wasted — apparently trying to read the entire internet.

There’s a South Park episode about weed. Somewhere during that episode, Randy says: “pot makes you feel fine with being bored, and it’s when you’re bored that you should be learning some new skill or discovering some new science or being creative. If you smoke pot you may grow up to find out that you aren’t good at anything.

I’ve never much liked weed. But I do like my smartphone, and I use it a lot. I use it multiple times a day. It’s like a tic, during any moment of quiet, any pause, any brief lull in the rhythm of the day – out comes the phone.

Endless gratification. I can post a picture to instagram and tag it with a hashtag and almost immediately get a couple of likes.

Endless entertainment. I can open a dozen websites that feed me news, opinion, how-to articles. I can graze wide and far on information, none of which I’ll retain (and much of which isn’t relevant).

Meanwhile, the seconds of my life tick away.

Calvin & Hobbes: Never not relevant

So this post is my declaration of a reboot. I am going to use this A-Z challenge to force myself to blog daily. To help me explore and figure out what’s important to me. To help me balance my consumption of content with the more creatively satisfying creation of content.

I am going to use this A-Z challenge to remind myself to pay attention.

Pea soup and kilner jars

I went to Ikea last week. I have only been to Ikea twice. I get excited about it, then I get there and I get overwhelmed.

I like to think about my house, how I want to live. I browse through Pinterest and Apartment Therapy and imagine – I want a four-poster bed, a reading nook, a grown-up tree house, colourful rugs, dozens of vibrant pot plants spilling out of the corners.

I also want the minimalist look, blank walls, scrubbed wood, a single beautiful bloom in a simple vase. It’s hard to unite these two desires. It’s hard to unite myself into a single person. I spill out over my edges, sometimes. I want everything.

It’s been a hard year, and now I’ve found this domestic happiness. I get excited about organising the kitchen cupboards. I bought kilner jars at Ikea, and then I stuck labels to them all and now my kitchen looks like an instagram post.

Except now I’m trying to make pea soup, to use up the dried split peas I had, and what do you know – they are so old that they are refusing to go smushy, but instead stay hard and slightly crunchy. It’s been cooking for hours. I gave up on it as a dinner option, and instead cooked something beige out of the freezer. I’m almost giving up hope. They feel like they are getting crunchier instead of softer.

I worry, sometimes, that my dreams have become so tiny. I used to dream about travelling the world, visiting Japan, writing a best-seller. Now I would settle for a label on a kilner jar, and some decent pea soup.

Maybe it’s not so bad though. Tiny dreams are achievable.

Productive Days

I didn’t spend the day staring at my smartphone.

Instead I:

  • Did an hour of exercise (Pilates and Yoga)
  • Cleaned out my car, vacuumed it, washed the inside
  • Went to the supermarket and got the car waxed and polished whilst I ate a cream tea and read a magazine about living a simple life
  • Bought myself flowers
  • Cleaned the bedroom, organised my wardrobe, sorted out the bookcase
  • Went to the tip and dumped some old stuff I didn’t want anymore
  • Beat a mission in Starcraft II on hard and got the achievement
  • Made stir-fry
  • Watched a movie with P

So far, so good.

Living in the present moment

I am easily distractible, and I carry a smartphone. P says I am addicted to my smartphone, he is probably right. I use it to fill up empty spaces, in-between moments. I have no quiet moments except the ones I force for myself (yoga, meditating, baths).

I can feel it making me a less coherent person. For example, today I went to look something up, but noticed someone had sent me a message. I went to reply, then – distracted – opened up emails, glanced at the news, followed links.

I am no longer sure I like the form my conversations take when using it. They are broken up, interwoven through everything else I am doing, I am constantly splitting my attention between multiple things, and I don’t work well that way.

The problem will be that I have many relationships that I nurture through my phone. But maybe I can go back to email, and carry my laptop. Laptops are more intentional. You have to open them, turn them on. You can’t slip them out when you are standing in a bus queue or glance at them off-handedly when you’re watching a movie.

I am trying to be more intentional, more thoughtful, more controlled, and my smartphone is not helpful for any of those things.

Rebirth

I did not write any blog posts in the entirety of 2016.

2016 was a strange year. I spent it deep in a depressive episode that stopped me from thinking, from doing, and almost from being.

There are many reasons why, but I have done the work and I am tired of looking back. I want to look forward.

I am applying to do an MA in English Literature. I am maintaining a daily yoga practice. I’m working in a job that is challenging me – sometimes beyond what I am comfortable with.

I’m reading more, after a long break. I’m making friends and staying connected to old friends. At some point I will start writing again.

Life is actually okay.