Wednesday 31 January 2018

#430 Twenty-two bodies

Besides writing about stuff, another area of work that took my fancy was psychotherapy. I reckoned I could do a fair job of listening to people talk about their problems. It seemed to be mostly what I did in social situations anyway.

Of course, I'd produce vast quantities of notes while I listened to people too. Any job that I took would have to involve writing. What interested me in particular about psychotherapy though was the depth and tone of the one-to-one discussions. It was a very measured and thoughtful way of interacting. How many people could boast that about their work life?

I'd spent the past couple of days researching the UK's 22 professional bodies, membership of which qualified a counselor or therapist to list themselves on a prominent counselling directory. Most of them were too specific to consider. The Association for Christian Counselors or the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy. The most recognised body for therapists looked to be the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Completing a BACP-accredited course was no doddle. It involved a minimum of one year full-time or two years part-time study. Ok, so I had no idea how easy or difficult the courses were but they still took a year or two. That's before a student had any idea whether they'd actually enjoy or be any good as a therapist or whether they'd be able to make a living from it. Those were my main concerns. To address them, I'd need to do more than sit around Googling things.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

#429 Learning how to think

I'd been wondering about making some YouTube videos for a while. Everyone knows that if you write a blog, you should set up a YouTube channel as well because then you have a wider reach.

There was a problem with this though. I had a hard enough time kidding myself that the blog was interesting, let alone believing that a channel about my idle thoughts would be watched by anyone other than the occasional friend. What could I do about that?

The question was answerable, it just required some extra thought. I felt like I'd got better at applying extra thought to things lately. I suspected that as people aged, they usually got better at thinking more creatively or persistently to solve problems. I'd also started keeping a list of ideas and ranking them by how appealing they were.

I was walking to the station shortly after thinking about the blog when it occurred to me that people might watch a YouTube channel if it was informative or creative. My next thought was that maybe it could be about other blogs.

I could review blogs and then talk about them on camera. You wouldn't be able to see the blog itself but I could flash links up and then create a rankings page on my own blog. I think people would look at it. If the blogs were ranked carefully, with useful findings and if I ranked a lot of them, then maybe people would want to go look at it.

It was a tall order. There were thousands of blogs. Maybe even millions but I could start local, with one or two categories. Even so, it would take a lot of time and I'd only be doing it for fun. It didn't seem like something I should strive to make time for but I'd keep it on my list of ideas. Somewhere in the middle.

Monday 29 January 2018

#428 Arguments with Google

Something weird has happened lately and it's not a direct result of any of the several types of personal development activity in which I immerse myself but never actually put into practice. It's just a habit I've developed on my own. I've started writing stuff down more.

I always kept a journal, as pretty much anyone who knows me knows. This is different though. Every single time I have a thought that could be useful to me in some way, I make a note of it. At the end of the week, I have all these pieces of paper, entries on my laptop and notes on my phone and I have to type them all up into a spreadsheet and then rank them and there are like a hundred of these lines representing ideas I've had.

Occasionally I'll actually do one of the things I had an idea about and it tends to be really small like Googling something or sending an email to someone. It's insane how quickly they build up though. It's like I've expanded how my brain works. I've always used paper a bit like that when it comes to memory and you know what? It's really inefficient. I've got pages and pages and pages full of memories I wouldn't even know how to index or sort through and for the most past, they're absolutely useless.

It's bound to happen one day. Seamless expansion of memory and retrieval using technology. Computers do a pretty good job and they're getting better all the time at predicting what we're getting at and returning relevant information based on how well they know us.

I think we'll be arguing with Google soon. It'll know what we need better than we do and there'll be stats to back it up and it'll learn how to negotiate too. Then we'll get really frustrated because whatever's best for you is always frustrating. Until then, I'll just keep writing everything down.

Sunday 28 January 2018

#427 Two books

The last time I saw Hetal, just before Christmas, she handed me a couple of books to read. The first one had a neuroscience theme to it, describing parts of the brain that did different things. I'd been wanting something like that for a while.

Imagine being alive for thirty three years and not even knowing which parts of your brain were responsible for your experiences. You'd think kids would be taught that before addition and subtraction. After all, if a person doesn't know the machinery that processes the things that are happening to them, they're bound to overreact and underreact in certain ways. That's not to say I'm now an expert or even an amateur student of neuroscience. I can never remember much about what I've read.

The second book was about happiness. Each chapter gave a different perspective or significant statement about happiness. The whole thing was put together after carrying out extensive research covering cultures spanning thousands of years.

It's called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. Essentially, it puts carefully selected historic teachings to the test of today's science and then draws conclusions about which teachings are the wisest. It's proving a thoroughly engaging read. I get through a good few pages every night before going to sleep although my fascination with the text seems to have little bearing on my recollection of the damn thing. Despite eagerly picking it up daily, I can hardly remember any of it.

Saturday 27 January 2018

#426 Human resources

When I'd met up with friends over Christmas, a good proportion of them were unhappy at work in some way. While many of them were temporarily busy, one was particularly fed up. I met with that person this evening.

For a couple of hours, I listened and made notes on the individual's predicament, skills and areas of interest. I don't recall offering any real insights. Similarly, there didn't seem to be any surprising realisations from the other side of the table but that was fine. Surprises weren't what we were there for.

When people start to consider a change of direction, there can sometimes be an expectation of fantasy or romanticism about the process. Maybe that does happen to some people. The type who catapult themselves from one adventure to another. Those who're almost always excited about something. Or distraught about something else. For others, daily life is about as adventurous as drinking soup and changing jobs is about as thrilling as fixing a broken vacuum cleaner.

Significant career changes fueled by discontent were another matter though and were always interesting. At least I thought so. In any case enjoyed the evening, mostly because I got to listen and write, which were two of my favourite activities. My friend seemed to find it useful too. Maybe.

As soon as I got home, I typed up the notes I'd made and emailed them to my friend. I used to love doing that at work. I'd have a meeting and the attendees would usually receive a comprehensive account of it, complete with any actions within a couple of hours. Maybe that's why I got so excited. I hadn't been to a real business meeting in over a year. Except that one time at Freshfields.

My friend had attended one of the best schools in the country and had made it to the top of the department in a highly technical area at a global company through years of hard work. Now, through what can only be described as professional neglect, my friend was miserable. Alienated and demotivated. A victim of a bottom-line culture that saw some individuals as little more than a figure on a report. One that might not be on the report much longer.

Friday 26 January 2018

#425 The handwriting assessment

It was 11:58am. I'd been keen to get a good night's sleep the night before and as such had gone to bed ridiculously early... which had the opposite effect of rendering me unable to sleep because I just lay there thinking about sleeping. Still, I had my pen and notepad ready. I'd dialed into the conference call and I sat waiting for the assessment to begin.

While I was waiting for the assessment to start, I listened to then news that was being piped down the phone line instead of holding music. I checked my phone and my email. Then I looked back at the clock. It was 12:02. The assessment should've started two minutes ago. Maybe they were running late. I held on for a while longer.

At 12:04, I had a huge sinking feeling that maybe the news being read over the phone was actually the assessment itself. I hurriedly started writing it down. I'd be starting four minutes late but I was sure that if I explained what had happened, they'd understand.

The newsreader was speaking like a runaway train. I had no hope of capturing all of what was being said. For some stories, I only just managed to write out the headline and a brief summary. I did my best though and ended up filling three sheets of paper, until eventually, after twenty five minutes, the call cut out. Still feeling slightly puzzled, I gathered up the pages and emailed them through to the address provided. Then I went out and got some lunch.

In the afternoon, I decided to give the agency a call as I hadn't heard anything. I also wanted to explain what had happened. It turned out that the assessment time had been wrong. It had actually been held at 10:30am. I'd written down three pages of piped news instead of the mock lecture, which had long since finished.

Fortunately, the agency was impressed with my handwriting and my ability to record essential information at speed. They agreed to send me through an email detailing what to do next. Relieved, I screwed up the three pages of notes and binned them. I then headed straight to my inbox, found the latest email, clicked the link and got started on the next stage of the process.

Thursday 25 January 2018

#424 Applying to go back to uni

In the weeks running up to Christmas, it occurred to me that it might be possible to find work in a communications slash marketing team and that I might well enjoy such a role if it involved lots of writing. I spent the next few weeks surveying the recruitment landscape with these sorts of jobs in mind and got a fairly good feel for where they might come from.

Having established a relatively workable list of sources, I could now turn my mind to other things, providing I continued to keep an eye out for entry-level comm.s jobs that involved lots of writing and didn't require years of experience in just such a team. Even if I did manage to find one, it was by no means guaranteed that I'd get it. This week, therefore, I had a browse to suss out what other types of temp work I could find that involved writing.

One advert caught my eye almost straight away. It was for an academic note taker. This would involve going to various lectures and making comprehensible notes for a student who was unable to do so. I was immediately drawn to this because I'd known for a long time that one of my favourite parts to any job was to go to talks and then write about them and here was a role that would let me do that all the time. I got quite excited.

I sent an application through and received an email response later in the afternoon listing a choice of assessment times. They'd give a mock lecture over the phone and I'd have to capture it by hand as a way of testing my note-taking abilities. This also sounded fun and I selected one of the available slots. I then found myself clicking my inbox several times throughout the day to check for confirmation. Hopefully the speaker wouldn't speak too speedily.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

#423 Why I replied sternly to Karen

It was Christmas Day. That alone should serve as a completely adequate answer to the matter in question, however I will elaborate.

I was under pressure. I tend to remain outwardly calm in such situations, at least in the short term. At the exact moment that I locked myself out, I doubt whether my father or my landlord could have detected much concern in my voice although they may have. I was focused on what to do about it. However I was still under pressure. My fight or flight mechanisms had been prepped. I just wasn't using them.

I was trying to make a very difficult decision. The question of whether or not to stay in East Dulwich had many variables to it. It wasn't in my landlord's interest for me to stay, since she'd have to come back to let me in. It wasn't in my father's interest to spend too much time thinking about it because he had his own reasons to get going. These two people, both senior to me in more than one way, had motives. Yet I had to look after my own interests. I'd just spent two days in the company of my family and had been expecting that to end and it hadn't. That distressed me.

Karen was being judgmental. The first time she blurted "SHE SHOULDN'T HAVE LOCKED YOU OUT!" I just ignored it. For a start, it seemed completely unhelpful. The landlord was miles away and there wasn't much we could do about the house being locked. Also, I didn't agree with Karen's view at all. The landlord had explained to me more than once that she'd be locking up while I was away and I'd agreed it was a good idea. She'd done nothing wrong as far as I was concerned. In fact, getting locked out could have been my fault. Maybe I'd said I'd be back on Boxing Day.

"SHE SHOULDN'T HAVE LOCKED YOU OUT!" moaned Karen again and that was when I replied. I didn't shout. I didn't swear. I didn't insult Karen but my tone... somehow I occasionally find myself able to deliver an ordinary message as though it's a smack to the face. Karen fell silent. She'd made what she thought was a perfectly reasonable observation and had been unexpectedly shot down for it.

I might not have completely mastered my emotions. As adults, the better we are able to control our reactions to what we feel, the more mature we are. If I was asked how consciously, how deliberately I'd decided to use that tone with Karen, I'd have to say I don't know. I can't remember. However it's possible that my anger was misplaced. That I let too much of how I was feeling come through in my voice. It's possible and if that's what happened, I'm sorry for it.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

#422 My Cookie Dough, a review

The writing was purple. The staff were dressed in purple and the boxes were purple but I was not at Ribena World because as far as I knew, there wasn’t a place called Ribena World. I was at My Cookie Dough, Stratford, waiting to try one of their cookie dough… things.

It was coming up to closing time, which to someone who’d never been to Westfield Stratford before, might have seemed like the reason it was busy. The reality being that Westfield was always busy.

After a five minute queue, I was handed my purple cardboard box, containing a scoop of ice cream and a portion of cookie dough. The presentation was on point. A free-standing stack of whipped ice-cream and a square-ish shape of dough, topped with sauce and some sprinkles.

I’d gone with the Oreo version, so my sauce was actually an imitation of the cream inside an Oreo. It wasn’t much like it though. I’d say that was the worst part of the whole experience. Oreo cream is white and sweet to balance out the richness of the dark biscuit, whereas this… whatever it was… was yellowish and tasted more like a custard cream filling.

The ice cream scoop was very similar to Mr. Whippy. Possibly even nicer, I’d say. It was slightly thicker, which made it more substantial. The whole thing was served at an ideal temperature. No undue melting or crystallisation.

The cookie dough itself was like a marginally underdone Ben’s Cookie. It wasn’t exactly dough. I mean, you could probably classify it as such but it was borderline actual cookie, which could be disappointing if someone was expecting the kind you get left in a mixing bowl. For what it was, the flavour and texture did their job though so I was satisfied with the experience.

Overall, I’d give My Cookie Dough a 7.5 out of 10, rising to 8 if they can reduce the queue time.

Monday 22 January 2018

#421 Reading the news

This afternoon, I sat in the lounge looking through a couple of magazines my landlord had passed me. I won't go into why I found it almost unbearable to do so, except to say that it wasn't the landlord's fault by any means, I mean how could it be? All she'd done was pass me some magazines.

I genuinely mean that it was almost unbearable. There was a period of what seemed like ten minutes, in reality it was probably two minutes, where I felt a strong urge not to do it. I went ahead and read them though. I had nothing better to do and besides, it could be helpful.

It's hard to say whether or not I made the right call. I applied some analytical thinking to the situation though. I was trying to work out if and how it might be possible to get an article into one of them so I had a flick through, noting down what the articles were about and who the authors seemed to be because they weren't always credited.

It might've been easier if I'd written the damn thing already because then all I'd have to do would be to pitch it. That might actually have been the best way to go about it but I hadn't written anything that long in a while and certainly nothing locally relevant.

To be fair, local magazines didn't seem to want more than about five hundred words and I wrote that every day anyway if you added together my blog posts and journals.

Having read the magazines, I was no closer to knowing how and if they ever accepted articles from unfamiliar writers. I ended up emailing the editors asking the question directly. Even if they said it was possible, I'd probably have to get acquainted with an entrepreneur as stories about local business owners made up the bulk of the publications' content.

I guessed my odds of ever getting anywhere with this endeavor were on the low side. It would be something if it happened though. I mean quite literally, I would have done... something. For a change.

Sunday 21 January 2018

#420 Room four

I started laughing aloud as I walked to my appointment. The laughter was a habit I'd picked up over the last couple of years. I'd been trying to keep it in check more lately because if someone starts laughing for no reason other than their own thought process, they can seem a bit crazy but at this particular part of my journey, there didn't appear to be anyone else around, so I chuckled and chortled my way along the pavement.

It was two o'clock and I was headed for the hygienist. The thought that I was voluntarily and somewhat briskly walking towards a place that was known to cause me real physical pain had me in stitches.

The giggles subsided upon reaching reception. That was where I usually felt most nervous. Those few minutes on the waiting room seats, where there was nothing else to do but anticipate the next part. Fortunately I'd taken Hetal's advice and turned up pretty much dead on the appointment time, so I was only waiting thirty seconds.

In the dentist's chair, I started laughing again. Not so much that the hygienist couldn't do her work but now and then in between being stabbed in the gum, I'd have a cackle. It was like she was playing a game with me. She'd press the scaler to the gumline and then push it further and further up. I'd tense. Then I'd tense some more. Then just when she detected a sufficient amount of pain, which I was convinced was the true purpose of the whole process, she'd stop. I'd laugh and she'd move on to the next tooth. It went on like that for several minutes.

I was grateful for the ultrasonic scaler. Last time I saw a hygienist, reception hadn't booked in enough time so the dentist decided to do a deep clean the old fashioned way, with nothing but muscle power and a steel pick. A process not nearly as funny.

This afternoon's appointment ran smoothly though. The only unusual part was at the end when she handed me a mirror and for a moment, I got to act out the scene from Fight Club where the narrator opens his mouth at the office. I wasn't quite sure what to say about my reflection. I could've made fun and said "What do you think this is, a barber shop?" Instead I simply complimented her handiwork. She was probably done bullying my mouth for the day but I was still in the chair and she still had her gloves on. I decided to keep the jokes to myself.

Saturday 20 January 2018

#419 Let them paint pictures

Things were going well at CoolTan Arts. Having settled into new building they'd successfully negotiated the use of last year, the small mental health charity was expanding its range of workshops and reaching out to local medical practices for referrals.

I'd come in ninety minutes early for volunteering to edit a letter that was going to the GPs, introducing CoolTan's well-being assessments and other services. After fretting over the formatting for a while, I set about clarifying the importance of social prescribing, a term that appeared throughout the letter. To do that, I was going to have to find out what it meant.

Elizabeth, the Communications Officer, had left me a copy of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Well-being's inquiry report from July 2017, which hurled all manner of recommendations at the NHS, the government and the country's arts institutions for getting doses of culture to those that needed it. I waded through the first few pages looking for usage of the term and in the end gave up and Google'd it. It was another way of saying "community referrals". Prescribing various forms of social engagement to improve well-being.

Had the report come from the Tories, it might have looked like government's way of skimping on proper treatment options and handing vulnerable people paintbrushes because they were cheaper than therapy but this was an All-Party group. Besides, from where I sat, it seemed likely enough that getting creative and sociable was good for the attendees' health. I'd met some of them and they'd attested to it. Plus the group leaders tended to be well-qualified and used established assessments to evaluate the candidates, in conjunction with the GP's recommendations.

I looked up a couple of articles on the subject, read through some of the stats from the report and then hastily cracked on with the letter. I knew I'd spent a few minutes too long on the formatting at the beginning. Now I had several paragraphs to squeeze in before Elizabeth came back at 1:30. She wouldn't mind of course if I wasn't quite finished but I had aimed to be and sticking to my plans was something I was trying to get better at this year. For the sake of my own well-being.

Friday 19 January 2018

#418 Seeing the music

One of the many perks of using the Barbican as my office while I looked for work was that my friend John worked there as an audio & visual expert. Occasionally, we went for a beer afterwards.

This time we drank up towards Old Street, at a watering hole frequented by musicians and theatre staff. The conversation turned to sound.

I asked John if sound waves were large enough to be seen by the naked eye. He said that they were, adding that there were apps that could detect them.

I thought how cool it would be to project images of what the waves looked like onto the real world, allowing us to effectively see the music. Humanity hasn't completely mastered 3D projection yet though. At least not affordably.

Virtual reality would be needed to recreate the real world (e.g. a concert hall) with the sound waves being visible in it. They'd probably just look like a big blur.

But that big blur would be music. We'd be seeing it, exactly as it traveled through the air, a split second before it reached our ears. I thought that was pretty cool.

Thursday 18 January 2018

#417 Infectious insanity

I'd kept seeing articles on mental health lately. A week or so ago, there was a piece in the Guardian saying depression might sometimes originate in circumstances rather than in the brain itself. Then today Hetal shared a vid of that Linkin Park guy before he died looking all happy to show that mental illness wasn't always detectable. Then a friend studying a psychology doctorate disputed the facts in the Guardian article. I kept my tweet sharing it anyway because the overall message seemed valuable even if some of the supporting data was bogus.

Earlier in the week, I'd watched a clip of part of a lecture given by a clinical psychologist, who explained that a much of the time, if someone was depressed, it was because circumstances had conspired against them. For example, a loved one had cheated on them, then a year later they'd been made redundant, at which point the subject might still consider him/herself mentally stable and then a week later their cat dies and they just completely fall apart because they'd been holding it together in ways they didn't even realise and then one more thing pushed them over the edge.

In other words, if you have depression it's not necessarily because there's something wrong with your brain, it might just be because there're a few different things wrong with your life. Possibly these are things that haven't even occurred to you, as can be the case in relationships, where we develop our own view of normality as a child and then measure things against that in adult life even though we were actually way out on the bell curve as a kid and we never realised.

I think, not always, but sometimes, the mental illnesses that some people suffer are the "fault" of, by which I really mean they're in some way causally linked to, people they've had close relationships with in the past, who've themselves had above average anxiety, depresion, narcissism, or some other kind of problem that hasn't been dealt with. I think what I'm saying here is I believe it might be possible that mental illnesses can in some sense be contagious. Now there's a statement that will never catch on. And rightly so. It's just crying out to be misinterpreted.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

#416 A checkup

It had been a while since I'd last visited the dentist. It wasn't exactly my favourite place in the world. I usually came out feeling like I'd just lost a fight with someone, who had the unfair advantage of wielding a scalpel.

I'd envision not just needing painful and excruciatingly uncomfortable work done but having uncontrollable reflex actions while it was being carried out, causing a drill to go into my gum or an instrument to end up slicing my cheek open.

The whole process was completely bloody awful and terrifying and there never seemed to be any end to it. Every six months it was a case of either subjecting oneself to what could only be described as torture, or leave it even longer so that the necessity for painful repair work accumulated. 

Given the choice between some kind of hell now or even more kinds of hell later, it didn't seem logical or sane to choose the first one. Why not? Well because if you've ever been to any kind of hell, the first thing you learn very quickly is that the only thing that matters is not being in hell and the longer we can all hold out before having to go there, the better.

Granted there were people in the world with worse problems than going to the dentist. When my time eventually came to face something worse I might just decide to stop writing entirely. For now though, the fact that I had to return and try to tolerate the hygienist on Friday was pretty much all I could think about. I hoped to God I could just get through it without any serious problems.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

#415 Birds on the run

On occasion, I'll wake to observe, perched on the tree outside my window, a large green bird.

Brightly coloured and sometimes mistaken for parrots, these particular birds are an Indian subspecies known as the ring-necked parakeet. First sighted in the mid-nineties, their population has since spread throughout London and the RSPB estimates there to be around 20,000.

Visitors to the capital are often surprised to encounter such exotic birds and upon moving here, I was no exception. Their squawk is as unusual as their appearance and how they came to be in London remains a mystery.

There are two leading theories. The first is that the parakeets escaped from the set of a film called The African Queen, which was being shot at Isleworth Studios in 1951. This seems unlikely, as it would mean that the population remained minimal for decades before exploding in the '90s, for no apparent reason.

The second theory is that the birds were being kept in one of the aviaries that were located on the border of Surrey. Several aviaries were destroyed in The Great Storm of 1987 and it's suspected the parakeets may have been among the escapees.

Monday 15 January 2018

#414 Meetings and discussions

I had a pretty good meeting with a recruiter this morning. It wasn't the first I'd met lately but there was still a part of me that would envision them raising their eyebrows or telling me they couldn't help or something. I knew that a lot of career changers probably shared that fear but the recruiter was really optimistic.

My ex-housemate Naino had been suggesting the freelancing route for a while, which definitely had some merit to it. Technically I'd already completed some short pieces of work for various clients last year although I imagined the gap between those isolated examples and being able to create a sustainable living was quite large. Plus I'd definitely prefer the social and cooperative advantages of joining an organisation.

Someone else I knew had weighed in with their advice recently although I wasn't entirely happy about how it felt. It got me thinking about whether and how much I should even care what other people thought. A question often dealt with by various memes although I'd never been convinced the answer was quite as simple as what any of them conveyed.

Sarah had been emphasising the importance of networking, which was all very well although hardly a strategy on its own. That would be like attending cocktail parties to ask if anyone had a particular variety of cabbages for sale at a certain price instead of trying to find an online retailer who offered them. It seemed more like something one might drop into existing conversations than a reason to try to have them in the first place. That was just my opinion.

Sunday 14 January 2018

#413 Acceptance

Warning: contains freewheeling thought processes, which may be ill-considered

Why is acceptance so important and how do you practice it?

I want to suggest that this seems like a perfectly reasonable question to be sitting contemplating on a Friday night but I suspect that isn't the case. I could just as well ask why the hell I'm even considering such an apparently arbitrary question surrounding a concept or word and the answer isn't any better than the fact that a couple of people I know recently used the word in conversation and I feel like reflecting upon it.

So why is it so important? Because it's the only non-harmful way of dealing with anything. Why is that the case? Well, why wouldn't you accept something? Because you think it's evil. Except evil is subjective, obviously because otherwise the food chain and every other hierarchy in the world would organise itself perfectly without anyone ever having to fight or work hard or evolve to get to the top of it. So then why else wouldn't you accept something? Because it's a threat. Ok so what's the only way of dealing with that threat? By accepting it.

It doesn't mean you have to accept the danger itself, unless it's absolutely and completely inevitable, in which case you might as well. So then how do we go about accepting?

It requires some knowledge because if you don't understand something, how can you tell whether or not it's inevitable? Then it also requires some strength. Babies don't accept anything, which is why they cry all the time. You can't accept a challenge if you feel like it's bigger than you are and the baby finds even the challenge of feeding itself too big to handle. So if you feel like your problems are bigger than you are, that's them accepting you, not the other way around.

Also, you can't properly accept something bad while there's any part of you that feels like there's something you should do about it because that wouldn't be logical or honest or consistent.

Also you can't accept danger while focusing directly on it and it alone because if all you're doing is focusing on that one thing, which is practically impossible for anyone but very well trained meditators over short periods of time but theoretically speaking, if all you're doing is focusing on it, you're effectively becoming that thing, which means there's no part of you that's bigger than it and therefore you can't accept it.

So that's how you accept something. You shed your misconceptions about evil. You get to know it. You make sure you're bigger than it and you never focus directly on it and it alone.

I'm not speaking from experience here. These are just my wandering thoughts.

Saturday 13 January 2018

#412 Dammit!

One of the perhaps not very surprising outcomes of trying to improve my focus during the coming year was that I really didn't have much time for anyone. I think this did surprise people though. A person or two had started to wonder why I wasn't meeting up with them, when I probably would have in the past. What could I possibly be doing? Surely I had all the time in the world.

Well for starters I was making sure I slept better so that took up eight hours a day. I could never get to sleep right away, so that was another hour, after I'd put down my book, which I'd been reading for thirty minutes. I wrote a daily blog so that was another hour. Purchasing, preparing and consuming food took about another two and a half. Commuting to and from wherever I was going was another two and a half. What were we up to? 15.5 hours.

Ok so there were about seven hours of career-focused activity, including breaks, which brought it to 22.5 hours. Checking and responding to emails was probably another half hour, which left one remaining hour for things like watching Netflix, tidying up, writing journal entries or making notes of what needed doing the following day. That was it. Twenty four hours.

At the high risk of repeating an ending to a previous blog post, Jack Bauer eat your heart out.

Friday 12 January 2018

#411 Hump day

My day had been frustrating. I thought about this and it occurred to me that it might not be a very mindful way of putting it. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say that I had allowed myself to become frustrated by my day? I thought about it some more.

Then I realised that was absolutely bloody ridiculous. The notion that anyone would allow themselves to become frustrated was particularly stupid. No-one in their right mind would ever - or could ever - allow frustration since it was by definition an unwanted experience.

Still, it didn't seem correct to write that the day itself had been frustrating, since it really was the person who was frustrated, not the day. Was it even that? My feet weren't frustrated. My hair wasn't frustrated. I decided that I had experienced some frustration today was more accurate.

So there it was. I'd had a frustrating experience. Specifically, I'd gone all the way to the Barbican and then realised I'd forgotten my laptop charger. By the time I got back it was almost lunchtime and then after lunch I felt tired and the afternoon just kind of unraveled into an indecisive panic about what needed doing most. 

In the end I just got a few small things done, made a phone call, had a tidy-up and made a new list of what needed doing over the forthcoming few days. I'd never really liked the term 'hump day' but it so happened that this Wednesday felt like one. At least it was almost over.

Thursday 11 January 2018

#410 Before Genesis Part 2

One of the upsides of being a deity was that God had very vivid dreams indeed. They were almost so vivid that he could not tell them apart from reality. You or I certainly would not be able to but then you and I are not God.

God was well aware that he was dreaming. That's what made his dreams so vivid. He was literally able to control every aspect of them. Every eventuality. It was part of the reason he spent so much time snoozing. That and the fact that there really wasn't much else to do. Plus, he never had to brush his teeth, wash his face or put any pyjamas on, since he had none of those things. Having a snooze was as simple as thinking of having one.

On this particular occasion, God decided to dream himself up an ice cream van. God loved ice cream and few things pleased him more than to shovel great mountainfuls of it into what I suppose you could call his throat and then run at a million miles an hour in order to burn it off almost instantaneously, thereby absolving himself from any accusations of gluttony. He really was having a marvelous time.

The reason that God dreamed of an ice cream van, rather than simply dreaming of the ice cream itself, was that it allowed him to play the roles of both vendor and customer. That way, he'd be certain that he could have whatever he wanted. Fifty thousand quadruple-scoop fudge sundaes with chocolate sauce and nuts and seven flakes. Everything an omnipotent supreme being needed.

After he'd got bored of eating more ice cream than had ever before existed, let alone been consumed by one being, God felt it was time for another snooze. As he prepared himself for another long rest, he was reminded of the thought he'd had before his last one. That there was a very big task he'd been meaning to start but had not yet commenced. What a peculiar thought, he thought to himself and decided not to pay it any more attention. After all, God knows what time it was and he had a massive brain freeze to try to sleep off. Whatever it was would have to wait.

Wednesday 10 January 2018

#409 Paying attention

Someone I knew was currently attending a course on meditation and mindfulness. The mere knowledge that they were there on the course had got me thinking about my own thought patterns more often.

At points throughout the day, I'd notice when I got lost in my thoughts. I'd then bring some of my attention back to where I was. I'd think to myself "I'm on the train back to East Dulwich".

Proponents of mindfulness might claim that most people don't realise the extent to which they don't realise where they are. Did I realise the extent to which I didn't realise where I was? Well, no. I didn't. I had no idea, at least not to the nearest number of minutes or even the nearest half hour, exactly how much time I spent daydreaming or fantasising or catastrophising. It was probably most of it though. Probably almost all of it.

I was definitely on the train back to East Dulwich. I'd gone all the way to the Barbican and then realised I'd forgotten my power cable. I'd lost most of a morning's job searching. Then tomorrow I was volunteering, so that was at least a day up in smoke. Should I make up for it on Saturday? Or would I rather have a day's rest? I'd been getting up pretty early lately and...

I'm on the train back to East Dulwich. I'm on the train back to East Dulwich.

It didn't mean that I couldn't think about other things. It was just about maintaining some awareness of where I was and what I was doing. I'm on the train back to East Dulwich, thinking about whether to do job search-related things on Saturday or to have the day off.

I'd see how I felt on Saturday. Right now, the main priority was to get home and plug in the laptop.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

#408 Another long walk

No part of me wanted to get up this morning. It was a Sunday. I had nothing pressing to be getting on with and besides, outside was colder than an Eskimo's ice tray.

I started chatting to Alex. Alex was a woman I must've met online sometime in the last year or so. We'd never met in person but messaged now and again. She'd beaten me when it came to getting up and had decided to go for a walk. Dammit. I knew when she said it that was exactly what I should be doing. I swore a couple of times and then forced myself to get out from under the covers.

It'd been a full week since I'd stopped taking my devices to bed. I was adhering to the list of the eleven tasks to do each evening that I'd made so there was no risk of feeling like there was anything left to do come nighttime. For each of the last four days in a row, I'd spent at least three hours outside walking to try and wear myself out but none of it was having any impact. I still wasn't getting to sleep before two in the morning.

Pissed off and now more exhausted than ever, I made myself shower and get dressed before heading out into the cold. My phone showed a solid five degrees. Fridge temperature. My eyes streamed in the wind as I walked over to the Coop to get a sandwich and a bottle of water. I was going for a walk.

Crystal Palace Park really is a beautiful place. From the lakeside staging platform to the dinosaurs at the bottom and the ruins at the top. It'd been at least a year since I'd toured it. Probably more. I'd made my way there via Sydenham Woods along the Green Chain Walk. Part of network of semi-scenic routes that weaved for miles around the city. I'd followed it before but never as far as I would today.

After the park, I followed the signs into Penge and out the other side again. By that point I was flagging. I'd walk twenty metres or so and just stop, longing to turn around and go home. Then another twenty metres or so. Then stop. It was psychological, it had to be. I could carry on if I wanted to. I made one last burst for it and strode onward for another fifteen minutes.

Sometimes I have to push myself until I get this kind of feeling like I just know I've taken something as far as I need to. I don't know why. I say sometimes because I'm not trying to make up some stupid rule or some point about how much effort I made because I have no idea what any of that kind of stuff means and never have had any idea about it. I'm simply trying to explain that I exerted myself.

There eventually came a point where I'd walked so far that I found a huge sign with many exotic and faraway Green Chain Walk destinations marked upon it. I'd pushed past my first and second notable inclinations to stop. The sun hung low in the sky and one of my hands was freezing from carrying the water bottle I'd brought from Coop over an hour and a half ago. I knew it was time to head back.

Relieved at having finally experienced the feeling that I could now ease up on myself a bit, I drank the last of the water, turned around and began the five mile walk home.

Monday 8 January 2018

#407 A complete waste of time

Saturday morning. My butt was sat on an old wooden bench in Camberwell Green, where I was watching a group of people playing cricket. In fact I wasn't really watching, it was just there. I'd always hated cricket. As far as I could work out they were all completely insane.

For one thing, they were playing with a tennis ball, so it wasn't even real cricket. Then, there was the weather. It was five degrees outside. Far too cold to be standing around. Me? I'd only be there for ten minutes. Enough time to finish my chicken shwarma wrap, which was the only reason I'd stopped in Camberwell in the first place.

If they'd been playing a real sport, their bodies would be moving around enough to stay warm but their feet were practically rooted to where each of them stood. They wore normal clothes. I decided to look up the Wikipedia entry for cricket. The definition's opening line described it as a game, rather than as a sport, which was how it described football, basketball and hockey. Interesting.

I decided to look up the definition of a sport. "An activity involving physical exertion". Ahha! Cricket involved almost no physical exertion. It definitely wasn't a real sport. I wondered if they knew that. I could go tell them. Then I wouldn't have to watch their insanity while I ate lunch. I was about done with the wrap by then though.

The ball had bounced off the bin next to the bench once and had flown past me a couple of times since I'd been sat there. Had the batsman been any good, he would've probably hit me as I'd gone and sat pretty much exactly where he was aiming. I kinda wanted that to happen so they might feel bad and their stupid game would be disrupted but it never did.

I finished my wrap, stepped over the tennis ball that had just rolled past my feet without even looking at it and made my way out of the park. It was time to finish my walk into the city and to watch something more interesting for a while. Like the pavement.

Sunday 7 January 2018

#406 Goddards

It was with great glee that I came upon the realisation today that even though I'd moved to East Dulwich, I could still walk to Greenwich for a pie.

Visiting Goddards for a modestly priced meal, covered in thick brown gravy had been one of the few simple pleasures I'd enjoyed while living on the island. The fact that there was so little else to miss about it seemed to heighten the significance of visiting Greenwich. So I decided to walk there and back. It was still perfectly possible. It would just take three hours.

It was when I originally lived in Dulwich that I'd first journeyed east to Greenwich by train and discovered the old pie shop, complete with liquor, eels and staff who called their customers nothing but 'luv' or 'darlin' in their thick London accents. Any restaurant that wasn't a chain, a Chinese, a chicken shop or a chippie was worth a visit.

Then there was its history. Goddard's had been serving pies since 1890, ten years before the founder of McDonald's was even born. Back then there'd been about a hundred pie shops dotted around the city. A few others of them still survive today. Relics of an all but forgotten period before fast food grew into a global menace.

The menu hadn't changed unforgivably during the last hundred years but several modern options, along with the odd beer had found their way onto the old wooden shelves behind the counter. As well as the pies themselves, the restaurant served a small selection of desserts, which I'd yet to try. 

I ordered a steak and ale pie with mash and beans, which I found to be quite filling. I'd been meaning to try the bread and butter pudding. It was going to have to wait for another day. But not too long though. I'd be back there soon enough.

Saturday 6 January 2018

#405 A thousand words

Over the Christmas period, I'd successfully completed a detailed theoretical model that I'd been putting together of the perfect job. Not just for anyone either, the perfect job for me, based on over sixty attributes that I'd semi-consciously selected for the purpose. That part might take some explaining.

Had I been consciously focused on coming up with criteria for the perfect job, my mind would be too restricted by the question. I'd start thinking about work, which would activate certain neural associations, potentially influencing or restricting the outcome. Instead, over a period of months, I'd been creating a giant collage of images, many of which had nothing to do with work, each representing something that I liked in general, no matter how far-fetched or inappropriate.

Naturally I had some idea that the end purpose did relate to work but I hadn't yet thought about how that would be the case, which left me free to explore the depths of my imagination, including anything and everything that took my fancy. The next part took me by surprise.

Putting together the model hadn't been a career coaching exercise. Collecting ideas had but we hadn't yet discussed what I was going to do with them. I'd been sitting at home, inserting some of the final pictures when I had suddenly felt compelled to add narratives to each one, explaining how they could form a part of my working day. I got to it right away and it took most of the afternoon. It was as though all those pictures had suddenly woken up and started talking.

Once the narratives were complete, I rearranged them all into categories: The work itself, the environment, the people and last of all, my own requirements. What I was left with was the ultimate template. It was still only theoretical of course but it served as an ideal guide against which any job I saw could be compared. 

If something excited or worried me about a position, I could pinpoint exactly which parts of the model it agreed or disagreed with. No job was going to fit exactly. That would be almost impossible but I now had an excellent way of measuring how well each job fitted me personally. Now all I had to do was find one.

Friday 5 January 2018

#404 Burning leather

My hips hurt. I'd been walking for well over an hour, plus the ninety minutes I'd walked earlier and was about ready for my evening meal. Except it was pasta. Again.

In an effort to start using the kitchen more, I'd purchased a bag of the stuff at the beginning of the week to have with vegetables. The only problem was that the supermarket hadn't had anything smaller than 500g. It'd be another day before I got through it.

The walking thing was new too. 2018 was going to be the year I slept like a baby. The best way to do that? Knacker myself out by walking for three hours. Well, three and a half. I had a tendency to overestimate my sense of direction.

Back in my twenties, I'd spent a couple of months playing World of Warcraft. As anyone who's played the game will know, that means two months of actual game play, not the period of time during which I played it. Fifteen hundred hours. I didn't play it anymore but my ears had pricked up at some recent news.

Six expansions and thirteen years after the game's launch, a seventh expansion had been announced but there was also an even more intriguing development. Classic servers. Over its immense lifespan, the game had been adapted and modified so much that it had lost some of its character. Progress had become too fast and too easy. The solution? Relaunching an unmodified version of the game. They were going to take players right back to 2004.

One of the key ways in which the classic game had been different was that mounts (horses and dragons) had been much harder to acquire, which meant many hours were spent walking from place to place. As boring as it may sound, it made the game much more immersive, which was one of the reasons they were bringing it back. I couldn't agree more.

Before I'd started running, I had very little knowledge of the streets of South London. Even now, I was discovering new areas regularly. To really get a feel for a place, it was necessary to abandon public transport. Sure, I got lost now and then but that was all part of the journey.

This afternoon, I came across a building that had been built as though it was some kind of spike springing up out of the ground. Like The Shard but at an angle. I walked around to where its roof met the ground and to my delight, discovered that the whole top surfacae was covered in grass. You could run up it and then peer down several stories to the road below.

By the time I'd hiked to Clapham and back, I'd definitely achieved the knackered part but there was something satisfying about it too. The small challenge and monotony added an immersive quality to the activity, just like in the game. Maybe in years to come, we'd make simulations of what life was like many decades ago and people would flock to try them. Just for the experience of having to travel around everywhere on foot.

Thursday 4 January 2018

#403 Before Genesis

God was in a foul mood. For as long as he could remember, which was an infinitely long time, he'd had no bed, no blankets, no pillows and fundamentally, no eyelids. Consequently he felt like he hadn't slept in forever. It was a good job he didn't have anything important on. At least, he didn't think he did.

He lay there for a few minutes, trying to decide whether to get up. There didn't seem much point. He had no friends, no hobbies and very little family. Just a son who wouldn't be born for a good few years yet and the Holy Spirit, who wasn't really a proper family member and made for the most dreadfully one-sided conversations.

"Ah, sod it" he thought. Cursing his own name several times, he launched into action and successfully managed to drag himself up, which was no mean feat considering the difficulty in working out which way "up" was. In the end, he just randomly chose a direction.

Proud at having finally risen, The Good Lord set about deciding what to do next. He'd been thinking of learning a new language but was trying to choose between French and Italian. Nobody yet spoke either and he had always liked the sound of both accents. He decided to be bold and learned both of them. Once he got started, it became clear that he was already pretty well fluent. His study sessions flew by and he was done in no time at all.

In celebration of his recent achievements, God felt like taking some time off to rest. Something had been bothering him though. In fact he felt sure there was something really big that he'd been meaning to get started on. He thought deeply about this. "Oh well, whatever it is, it can't have been that important" he thought to himself and with that, he lay back down, said a prayer to himself and decided to have a little snooze.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

#402 Acclimatisement

Three weeks had passed since I'd moved in. I'd cooked. I'd washed. I now understood all the house rules, at least I thought I did. Things seemed to be going rather well.

I'd got my landlord a small candle and a card thanking her for the hospitality so far and wishing her a happy new year. I'd been struggling to work out what she liked. I hadn't seen her eating or drinking that much. She'd served both wine and Prosecco but that didn't necessarily mean she liked them herself so I'd picked an apple and elderflower scented candle as that was the flavour of one of the juices she'd offered at lunch last week.

I still felt nervous whenever I used an appliance, or even walking down the stairs in case I was told that I'd done or not done something incorrectly but in spite of this, I was still ever so grateful to be in the house. After all those months of suffering the racket and carelessness of my previous housemates, the peace and tidiness of the loft conversion was like some kind of paradise.

One thing the new place had in common with the Isle of Dogs was that I barely saw my co-inhabitants. Earlier today, the landlord's cousin from the room next to mine, had appeared while I was cooking. It was only the third time I'd met her. "Smells good" she said as she passed me. Out of shyness, I said nothing at all in response, which must have seemed very odd.

If I'd known her better, I might have said that the sauce came out of a tub from Co-op. I was too embarrassed to say it though so I simply carried on eating. Still, I was bound to have another chance to chat to her. Our paths would probably cross again. In about week or so.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

#401 Annual musings

I'd never spent New Year's Eve alone before. There were two hours to go until midnight and I was sat in the armchair of the converted loft in which I now lived. Watching Star Trek.

Twelve months ago, I was at the house of my friend Fionnuala's parents, drinking Fosters and half-watching something called "Hootenanny". I still don't really know what that is. I'd left my job two weeks prior and had been dating Hetal for almost a month, though she seemed to want to slow things down a bit, which was on my mind.

I'd been living on the Isle of Dogs for six months, during which I'd been thinking of leaving work for a while. Running occasionally. Blogging weekly. Working on my book. Figuring out how to make a mean risotto.

It had been an eventful year. I finished the book. The relationship ended. I spent some time looking at different types of jobs. Found a coach. Moved house. The main areas of my life remained distinctly unresolved though. I was single and hadn't yet returned to employment.

When I'd started 2017, I knew that it wouldn't be possible to predict exactly how the next twelve months would go. All I knew was that it was going to be a very different year to the one that preceded it. I'd hoped for more though. I never would have thought that the career break would last this long. That I'd end up moving or seeing a career coach before getting back to work.

Now a whole year had passed but I still felt similar to how I had at the start of 2017. I wanted more of a sense that I'd be fine. That the future would generally go well. The truth though was that I had no idea. Like the rest of humanity, I was about to welcome in an entirely new twelve months of existence, no wiser to how any of it was going to turn out.

Monday 1 January 2018

#400 Reemergences

I'd been looking for a new source of happiness. The novelty of having moved back to Worlingham Road had worn off. I was still very pleased to be there but I needed some new meaning to my days besides completing whatever tasks I set myself.

In my early twenties, I'd dabbled in music. Heck, I played the piano, guitar and drums as well as owning a professional grade synthesiser and holding jam sessions with my friends. It's not that I was good at playing instruments. That would have required dedication and hardship but I liked spending lots of time mucking around.

Now I was having the thought that I could recreate one or two tunes that I'd composed as a younger man. I could potentially even compile a collection. A kind of commemorative musical representation of some key experiences from the thirty-three years I'd spent alive on the planet.

I knew once I'd had this thought that it might never happen. I had my work cut out with the career change and evenings tended to be taken up with eating, blogging, reading and general unwinding, none of which I was willing to sacrifice.

The thought was there though. Oddly enough, I'd felt some longing to go skiing again recently too. It was as though some moments from my past were finding their way back into my present thoughts. I hadn't thought about skiing or making music in years. I wondered why they had come to mind. It seemed as though it might mean something.

Maybe now that I felt more settled, my mind was turning towards increasingly pleasant and optimistic possibilities. Perhaps I was getting my imagination back. I wouldn't necessarily plan a ski trip or make the collection of tunes but I was able to envisage doing so. I was having ideas about the future. For now, that was enough.