Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The only thing we have to be is ourselves.

This was basically the essence of Rob Bell’s talk that I referred to in my last post about Greenbelt, but it’s been on my mind a lot.

Someone commented today that the talk sounded like the purpose of my blog – to inspire people to be ... whatever they can be. I’ve written before about using our own unique talents to create something, or to do some good in the world, and I just want to reiterate that really.

I wrote a piece of mildly creative writing today in an email, and the recipient asked me: ‘How do you write like that?!’ I responded that it’s just my talent, I guess. I equally cannot understand how this person creates the brilliant artwork she does, when I can barely manage to even draw a stickman!

But it doesn’t matter – we all have our own abilities: I can write, she can draw, someone else can make pottery, and another can tend gardens.

So often we try to be like someone else, or to emulate the achievements of one of our idols or role models. I say: ‘Stop!’ Don’t try and be like someone else, just be yourself. Do what you’re good at, and do it to the best of your ability. That will be far more impressive than copying someone else – and far more satisfying.

I think I’d rather someone said: ‘He’s a really good writer’ than: ‘He writes like Jon Mcgregor’ (not that I ever imagine I’ll be as good as him!). It says something about me, rather than someone else and, after all, it is all about me... ;)

Monday, 29 August 2011

Greenbelt (Well, some of it...)

For some reason, it always rains when
Martyn Joseph performs!
So, I went to Greenbelt, but came back early. There were a few reasons for this, but mostly it’s because I couldn’t deal with camping!

I got to see/hear a number of things though in the two days I was there, so thought I’d share a little about them.

Brian McLaren – On Friday evening I heard his talk about the importance of a fair tax system. Sounds incredibly dull, right? Well, it wasn’t. Through some illuminating stories, McLaren showed that, for a country to get out of poverty and remain so, a fair tax system must be in place so that a proper justice system can be maintained, so that necessary infrastructure can be created, so that education can be provided etc etc.

It made me think that, next time it comes to voting, I will take a good, long hard look at tax policy, and what the parties propose to do with the money, so that maybe my tax ‘dollar’ will be put to be better use in the world.

Martyn Joseph – This artist is my favourite of all. And his set on Friday night showed why. Playing with a small backing band, for the first time I’ve seen, he performed a series of songs from his latest album, and older ones, interspersed with insights into the things that really matter in this life.

It was, by his own admission, a mellower Martyn than perhaps seen in previous appearances – he made reference to the ‘trouble’ he got into last time he performed on Greenbelt’s main stage. But he had lost none of his fervour for fairness, justice and a better world, expressed through poignant and apt songs. Brilliant.

Rob Bell – I think most of this man’s work is excellent, and his talk on Saturday morning about how the only thing we have to be is ourselves, was no exception. We spend so much time trying to be like someone else, dismayed that we can’t do this, or we can’t do that, that we sometimes lose sight of the fact we were created to be no-one but who we are. So we should stop striving to be like someone else, and just focus on being more like ourselves. Something like that anyway.

Flight Brigade – I was really looking forward to seeing these guys live, and I’m glad I stuck around to hear them. Their song, ‘A girl who loves her smoke and wine’ is rapidly climbing my chart of ‘all time favourite songs’.

And that’s about it. I’m disappointed to have missed some other talks I really wanted to go to but, armed with my MP3 player, I will catch up when they’re available for download! And, in spite of the camping, I did have a good time, meeting some cool people – notably comedian Andy Kind – and just generally soaking up the atmosphere at this little festival that always feels a little bit like a homecoming for me.

With its theme this year of ‘Dreams of Home’, this seems an appropriate feeling to have, even for just my short stay.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A few days away...

This weekend I’m off to Greenbelt festival, so there’ll be no blogging for a few days.

Hopefully the festival will give me lots to think about and ideas for stuff I can write about! And, if not, well, maybe I’ll just review some of the stuff I went to...

If you wanna check out some of the acts/people who I’ll be checking out, then have a look around the Greenbelt website, or here are a few links for you:

Martyn Joseph (My absolute favourite music act!)
Flight Brigade
Duke Special
Jo Swinney
Mark Vernon
Rob Bell

... And hopefully many more besides!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The journey of life.

We don't know where this road is heading...

I’ve been thinking about this journey we call ‘life’ – and what a journey it is! Sometimes I think it's just wild and crazy, as yet another drama or surprise comes along.

I’ve talked a lot lately about experiences being worthwhile, whether good or bad. People ride roller-coasters for the thrill: the ascents provoke excitement and anticipation of the drop that will follow; the freefalls give a rush, a feeling of freedom and, of course, danger. It’s the combination of it all that makes it what it is.

I’ve had some serious ups, and some even more serious downs. And now I’m here – and the ride isn’t over. Whether tomorrow will be the beginning of another high, or whether we might go headlong into the deepest pit ever, we’ve got this far. We can make it through.

Looking back at life, remember that we wouldn’t be who we are if it weren’t for the experiences we’ve had. Those things that have caused us pain have helped us to learn about ourselves, about the world, and to adapt accordingly, getting rid of undesirable or unhelpful character traits. Maybe we wouldn’t like the person we’d be without some of those difficult things...

Soon enough (too soon!), I’ll be made redundant from my job, but there are other things making me happy. Sometimes it seems that we just get one thing sorted, and something else goes wrong. But that’s ok – life is a journey, full of twists, turns – and occasional loop-the-loops – and each of them leads onto the next.

You truly never know what tomorrow might bring; I wouldn’t want life to be boring, after all...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Music to 'be' to.

This summer, for a variety of reasons, I’m doing a lot of travelling around the country and it’s got me thinking about the soundtracks to my life.

Music plays a big part in my life and, at certain times, there’ve been songs that have provided the backing track, and are then forever associated with the memory of that time/event.

So, having arrived back home from one of my travels just now, I thought I’d share some of the songs that are on the soundtrack to my, so far outstanding, summer. Hopefully they might serve to bring you some good memories too!

1) Mat Kearney.
I love pretty much everything on this guy’s debut album, 'Young Love' and have had it on repeat since I got it last week. This song in particular stands out for me at the moment though:

2) Keith Urban – Somebody Like You
This is a song I’ve liked for a long time, but the CD found its way back into my car stereo in recent months. Great driving music...

3) Noah and the Whale – L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N
This band’s latest album, ‘Last Night On Earth’ is a cracker. And no track is better than this one.

4) Bebo Norman – Perhaps She’ll Wait
I think this is just a beautiful song, and it really resonates with me:

5) Martyn Joseph – Seahorse
I didn’t like this at first, because I didn’t think that being a ‘seahorse’ was particularly poetic. But as I listened to the lyrics and thought about the meaning, I changed my mind. Love it now, and the album ‘Under Lemonade Skies’ it comes from.

6) Jason Mraz – Wordplay
No playlist is complete without a Jason Mraz song. Fact. And this just happens to be one of favourites!

7) MxPx – Move to Bremerton
Another band that made their way back onto my listening list, largely because I’d run out of anything else in my car I wanted to listen to! But I remembered how much I love some of their stuff!

8) Owl City – The Real World
Yes, I know he’s supposedly not cool, but I don’t really care about that; sometimes what you need is a bit of sugar-coated synthesiser pop. And this one has particularly good lyrics, I think!

9) Coldplay – Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall
Again, I know it’s not really fashionable to admit to liking Coldplay anymore, but I do. And I think their latest track is one of their finest ever.

10) Elbow – Dear Friends
When I first heard this song early in the summer, it really moved me. ‘Dear friends, you are angels and drunks, you are magi.’ Seemed to some up ‘my’ crowd pretty well! Love you all, folks. I dunno where I’d be without you. :)

Enjoy the rest of your summer! What's on your soundtrack?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

It's ok to rest.

Sometimes, with all the different things I have/want to do, I need to remind myself (or someone else to remind me!) that it’s ok to rest. And I’m probably going to get such a reminder (though it might not be so polite!) from someone later today, just for writing this!

Usually, I feel like there’s something I ought to be doing – be that uni work, writing, job applications, or even, shockingly, housework! Which means, if I stop and sit down to watch a movie, read a book, or some other leisure activity, it’s not long before I start to feel guilty about wasting time. But, once again, I refer to Don Miller, who wrote a blog-post about how guilt should rarely be a reason for doing something.

So, it’s ok to rest; we all need to. As the Kit-Kat advert said, ‘Remember, you are not a salmon’.

Of course, there’s a difference between ‘resting’ and ‘shirking’ (it’s interesting how that’s one of my favourite words!) and if we have things we need to do, we should do them. The trick is not to let them consume us so that we get over-tired and burn out. ‘Cause that won’t help anyone.

It’s about balance, and it’s something I’m still trying to find. If anyone has any tips for getting over the guilt of ‘wasting time’, I’d appreciate them. 

Or perhaps the reminder to just ... breathe from time to time is enough. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

Being who we want to be.

Who do you want to see
when you look in the mirror?
Who are the people you admire most? And why do you admire them? Can we become more like them, and therefore be people who we admire?

I’ve realised that many of the people I look up to are, shall we say, slightly more rebellious by nature. People who don’t really conform, and who look to challenge those ‘norms’ that shouldn’t necessarily be ‘normal’.

Now, I’m not really a rebellious person. At least, not outwardly. I love to think I am, and I have grand ideas about being an activist and protester, but mostly I don’t do it because I’m actually quite reserved, contrary to appearances at times!

Instead, I try to use my writing to inspire or challenge others to think or act differently. I end up being a hypocrite sometimes, but we’re all on a journey, right?

(Just as an aside, one of the things I learned in my creative writing course was that, to make characters more ‘real’, you should give them apparently contradictory traits. In my case, that means being both shy, and a bit of an attention-seeker!)

It might be that you look up to someone who has talents or abilities that you don’t have, much like my lack of a real rebellious streak. But maybe you can use the talents you do have to achieve similar goals. How that works out will be different for each of us.

I suppose another way of putting this is: what sort of person do you wish you were? There’s a line from a song I’ve been listening to recently that says: ‘When I look at myself, I don’t see the man I wanted to be.’ (One Step UpMartyn Joseph © Piper Records 2010 – a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song)

I don’t want that to be me; I want to be the person I want to be.

The only thing stopping us is ourselves.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Finding spaces to re-energise.

This was one of my favourite spots in Yorkshire.

Life is busy for many of us, especially in these fast-moving days, and this week I’ve been trying to find space – time just to be ‘me’.

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of favourite spots: places where I can retreat to and be by myself, collect my thoughts and consider the things that are going on with me. When I lived at home, I had a couple of places I loved to go and, since moving away, I’ve looked for similar spots.

After a stressful day, or during a time when there’s a lot on the mind, I think it’s important to take time out, to stop and rest and re-calibrate. The other night I was feeling a little fragile after a hard day, so I went for a walk along the river, music on my headphones, a little rain in the air; it was bliss.

After just half an hour or so, I felt re-charged, relaxed and ready to carry on with life again.

This might seem a little woolly or nebulous but I hope you can understand what I mean! If not, give it a try.

I recommend finding places – they might be in your own home, or somewhere in your neighbourhood, or even just a time-slot – somewhere you can find to become ‘yourself’ again. And then retreat there whenever you need to, whenever life just gets a little bit too much. I think it’s a practice that helps to remain in a good frame of mind, more often, and for longer.

Whatever we have to do will still be there when we get back; the world will not end because we take a half hour break, I guarantee it. And, when we do return, we’ll probably be better equipped to carry on.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Too busy?

This week I’ve been busy – too busy – and so have had to consider which of the many things I do are most important.

In life, knowing what you want to do is at least half the battle. That can be a pretty difficult thing to decide and many an office is staffed by people who never quite worked it out. (Seriously, who grows up saying, ‘I want to be an administrator!’?)

But once you do know, then everything can kind of flow from that. Decisions are made easy: should you do this, or that? Which one helps you make most progress towards your overall ambition? Say yes to things that help, and no to things that won’t.

To that end, this week I’ve shelved plans for a podcast series after just one episode (sorry to those who enjoyed the first! It may return eventually...), and I’ve had to tell a friend I can’t do a music-jam we’d sort of decided on, because I'd need to practice. (Felt bad about that one...)

Overall, though, I feel better for it: it’s freed up time for uni work and my numerous writing projects (Bambi and The Chopper 2 is coming along nicely, as is a brand new non-fiction project!). If I’d allowed myself to be distracted by other things – good though they are as well – I’d have ended up further from being the writer I want to be.

So, find yourself too busy? Then think about what it is you want to be.

Maybe it’s time for an activity-cull...

Monday, 8 August 2011


Beer-mat wisdom...courtesy of Timothy Taylor's!
I’ve blogged quite a bit about singleness, and now I want to say something about relationships!

First of all, I’m not in a relationship at the moment, so may not be best placed to talk about them. But I’ve had some in my life, and so feel my insights are valid! And it is definitely something I want: after all my talk of ‘staying single’ and stuff, I said to my mate the other week, ‘You know what, I don’t actually want to be single anymore!’ So here goes...

One of the main causes of misery in my life – and I am sure I am not alone in this – has been romantic relationships, or the lack thereof. I seem to have spent much of my adult life feeling down about not having a girlfriend, or down because the one I had didn’t want me anymore! A friend of mine remarked: ‘The fact is that this thing we desire the most, is the thing that can cause us the most pain.’ Or words to that effect anyway.

It is something we all desire: to connect with another human being, to have that intimacy, closeness and sharing. No man is an island, so I’m told. I’m also told it’s worth the risk: ‘It’s better to have loved and lost...’ and all that crap.

One thing I used to look for was a girl who shared my taste in music, or movies, or maybe liked the same food or some other interest. But I’m beginning to think that’s not really important. Those aren’t the things a relationship is built on. 

Of course, it’s important to have some common ground (otherwise what will you do together?!) but it’s far more important to be able to talk, share ideas, dreams and passions, and then we can work together to help each other fulfil whatever potential we can. Beyond that, just being comfortable in each other’s company, without even necessarily the need to talk, is enough, at least for me. 

Whether or not you like Dr Who or Jon McGregor books is really pretty irrelevant. Any relationship I have is hopefully going to outlast such fads anyway.

As I’ve said before, I think this whole thing is about being ok whatever state I’m/we’re in, which includes whether single, or part of a couple. So yes, life’s good being single – I have my interests and ambitions, and I’m happy to work on them. I don’t need someone to fix my life or anything like that. 

It would just be nice to share it.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Being privileged, and being better...

'There's a world outside your window...'  -
Band Aid
We are so privileged in this country, and we scarcely remember the fact.

We spend so much time complaining about the things we don’t have, and chasing after more and more things we want, that I think sometimes we forget how much we do have. I’ve said before how I think there is great joy to be found in being content with where we are and what we have.

I look at the news and see people across the world who don’t have things we take for granted – children starving without food, families without clean water. And it breaks my heart.

But then, only hours later, I find myself browsing DVD racks in HMV, or considering spending hundreds of pounds on a games console. And I wonder at my lack of consistency, my own hypocrisy.

I think if we dwelt a little more on what we have, on our privileged position on this planet, we’d be far more ready to help others. I don’t need an Xbox, I’ve lived perfectly well without one for years, but there’s a guy on the street somewhere who could use a sleeping bag. I might not be having a holiday this year, but there are people right now in the world who might not even have a proper meal this year.

My PC broke last week and if I’d wanted to replace it, I would have found the money from somewhere. As it is, I also have a laptop and decided to ‘make do’ with that. But the challenge is this: why haven’t I taken the money I’d have ‘found’ and donated it to charity?

I’ve always intended this blog to be about being ‘better’ – being the best we can be. So this post is about that. Let’s be more than we are, let’s stop thinking so much about how we can please ourselves, only one person, because I reckon we can do so much more: we can please a whole world of people if we try.

I’ve talked before about life being about experiences. Well, it’d be a hell of an experience to go on ‘holiday’ to help those in need, for sure. I’m not saying I’m going to do that, or that you should either. But I do reckon we should all look to find ways we can use our own unique talents, creativity and circumstances for good. It doesn’t have to be major – I consider writing a song for others to enjoy as a 'good' thing! And we can make life better even just for those around us: a friend in need; a sick family member; a colleague having a rough day.

And I’d bet that, in the process of looking to ‘please’ others, we’ll find that we have a ball as well.

You in?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Focusing on the good things.

I do love my hats!
I’ve been reflecting on just how much progress I’ve made in the last 6 months. From a place where I couldn’t imagine being ‘ok’ again, never mind happy or excited, I now find myself feeling both of those emotions.

I think that’s twice as impressive in the light of my redundancy.

One of the things I’ve learned is not to trivialise the good things in life. In the past, I might have said something like, ‘That was a dreadful day,’ which would naturally make anyone feel pretty down if it was true. But that statement would ignore a good conversation with a friend at lunch time, or even the very fact that I’d ‘survived’ the day; I’d managed. Some days, that in itself is no mean feat! And so, it wasn’t an entirely dreadful day – it had some good points.  

And that might be enough to make anyone feel a little better. (For the record, today hasn’t been a dreadful day at all!) Applying this practice to any situation can really improve … everything, I think. 

I’m someone who used to always focus on the negative – ‘I’m not a good guitarist,’ or, ‘My hair is falling out’. Both of those things may well be true and, if I dwell on them, they might make me feel low, or lack confidence. 

Instead, how about thinking, ‘I can play guitar,’ and, ‘I like my new, shorter hairstyle,’ or even, ‘I look good in a hat’! The statements are just as true, and make me feel better about myself, so why not dwell on those instead?

I’m lucky to have a good GP, and I’m sure my anti-depressant medication helps me by redressing an undoubted underlying chemical problem, but there’s still the work to do to develop better thought patterns. 

So I guess my point is: don’t forget the good things, however small. And remember where you’ve come from. If you suffer with Depression, you may have come through a difficult time in the past – celebrate and remember that you made it. And remember how you made it as well, just in case it happens again!

And if you’re in a difficult period now, then I feel for you. I hope it hasn’t always been that way and, if there were indeed good times in the past, who knows? There could be good times again in the future, even if we can’t imagine them. You never know.

I know I couldn’t imagine it 6 months ago, yet here I am.