Sunday, 30 December 2012

The key to a better 2013.

You choose the kind of year you're going to have.

Decisions can change the course of our lives.  And, sometimes, they’re difficult and we need courage, stamina and wisdom to go through with what we know to be right.

As I look back on 2012, I’m pleased I’ve made some good decisions.  In my life, it has been rare I could say that.

Financially, I chose to change jobs to one that pays more, even though it isn’t my desired career.  I knew I needed more money coming in, and now the future looks brighter as a result.  I won’t see the dividends of this choice for some time, while I pay off my overdraft etc., but it was the right choice.

The new job was also the right choice for my mental and emotional well-being.  Changing jobs is always difficult: it’s frightening and stressful.  But I knew, if I stayed in my previous role, I’d be on the road to stress-related Depression again.  So I made the tough choice: I took the new job, ignoring the voice telling me: ‘Better the devil you know.’

That voice is often wrong.

It’s tempting to take the easy route, especially when the better choice can take years to pay off.  We might stick in the job we don’t like because it’s safe and we know it inside-out.  Or we might spend on credit so we can have what we want, rather than look to save for the life we hope to have in ten years.

It's up to you if you want to be
in the 'driving seat' of
your next year.
As 2013 begins, I’m looking to keep making good decisions.  For example, first off, I’m selling my car: I don’t use it much and it’s an expensive luxury to have ‘just in case’.

For this coming year, think about where you want to be and what you want to be doing by 2014.  Then start making the choices now that will move you closer to those goals.

And, when faced with difficult decisions, don’t be put off making the right choice.  It’s the way to a better life in the long run.

A very happy new year to you all and all the best for 2013.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The infinity of writing a book. (Or, ‘How to complete great tasks.’)

Sometimes the end of the writing process
can feel very far away.
Since finishing my album, I've turned my attention to my writing.

I'm pretty proud of myself for this, because it's what I said I would do, and also because I find it harder to stay focused on: writing a book is a long process, it's difficult to see the end and I’m easily distracted along the way.  Recording an album feels very finite in comparison – the end is almost tangible, so I strive all the more for it.

Some of this 'finiteness' comes from experience: I've recorded albums, I know how much work they are, and how long they take, so I give myself appropriate time scales to complete them.

For example, I know it would be foolish for me to advertise that my next album will be out next year when I haven't even started writing any new material.

To overcome the 'infinity' of writing a book, I have started to set myself achievable goals.  I think this is how to approach any large, or scary, task: break it down into smaller tasks you know you can achieve. 

Moving house?  Don't think about that, think about packing a box – you know you can do that, you've no doubt done it before – then pack another one.  Slowly, your whole house will be packed away and you'll be ready to move.

Writing a book?  Don't think about that, think about writing 1,000 words (or if that's too many, 100) – you know you can do that, you've done it before.  Then start thinking about the next 1,000 (or 100).

Don't be hard on yourself, expecting to finish your great novel in 6 months.  Give yourself time – it doesn't matter how long it takes, really – perhaps it will take longer than you realised (I know my album did!).

But eventually, through completing your achievable, non-scary, finite goals, the book will take shape, almost of its own accord.  

At least, that's what I'm hoping.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Love: an introduction

Love: it’s all around; it’s all you need; it will tear us apart.

In life there are many things we love: families, girlfriends/boyfriends, events, pets, pastimes...
‘I love it!’ we cry. 

And often we do – cry – because of love.

Love can sneak up on us, lift us higher than we’ve ever been before – or maybe ever will again – and bring us joy unimaginable.  And sometimes we can fall from those heights to equal – or perhaps even greater – depths, just as quickly as we fell ‘in love’.

But what is life without love?  This time of ours, marked out by birthday milestones – 30 years can pass by in a flash, and we bear the scars of loves found, lost...papered over.

Love can be unrequited (is there anything more painful?) or rejected; it can be risky and reckless, or perhaps real and rooted.

Love can lead us to so much: a new relationship, a new passion, a life of companionship, or a cherished memory.  A ‘labour of love’ could lead to a PhD, a novel, or even a new album.

You never know what the future might bring if we just ‘love’.

(My new album: 'Love?' is out this Saturday, 15th December 2012.  Check it out @  But don't worry, I'll post about it again next week to remind you!)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

When you get to 80 years old, what do you want to have done in your life?

I don’t equate my life with my work. 

I recently had the (mis)fortune to overhear a conversation in which a girl was complaining about her colleague.  The colleague had said: ‘Work is not my life,’ having booked time off at Christmas.  The girl had responded incredulously, not understanding how he could think that when work enables the payment of rent, food and other necessities. 

Whilst the girl had a point, she misunderstood the point.   Her colleague wanted time off to see his family, and enjoy Christmas; that is where his ‘life’ is.  I feel very sorry, really, for people who don’t have a life outside of work.  If all we’re living for is to go to work and pay the bills, that seems soulless to me.  (I think, ultimately, the girl was simply bitter because she hadn’t been able to get time off, but that’s not really relevant.)

I think we all need something to live for – some purpose that keeps us going.  In my lowest times, one of the things I focus on is my desire to write at least one novel in my life.  It helps me to ‘keep on keeping on’, as they say.

I gave up a job about a month ago, even though I had a lot of fun there and it was (sort of) related to the career in Communications I think I’d like.  But it was too stressful: I didn’t have the energy to work on things I consider to be my ‘life’.  

Since starting my new, purely administrative role, my days are less fun, admittedly, but I am not coming home stressed and depressed, too tired to work on my dreams.  The reason my blog has been quiet, for example, is because I’m finishing off my album and I’ve been making progress on my non-fiction book.

If you want to do the things you really want to do in your life, but can’t seem to find the time or energy , maybe it’s time to consider changing something so you don’t get to 80 years old, filled with regret about the things you’ll wish you’d done.

Friday, 16 November 2012


I love Converse but, unless I can
get assurances on their ethics,
I may have to give them up.
I came across an article yesterday about a clothing brand and its ethics.

The article was of particular interest to me as, last weekend, I was challenged about the clothes I buy and how they are made.  I was made aware (again) of the terrible pay and conditions many workers endure in places like China, Indonesia and Cambodia in order to produce the clothes I get from the High Street.

As a result, I've decided to try and buy more ethical clothing.  The trouble is, I don’t have a lot of money to buy clothes with and most ‘Fair-Trade’ labels are out of my price range.  This leaves me with foraging in charity shops, which I don’t mind but, as I am an exceptionally tall man, I can rarely find my size.

So, I took to the internet.  Because that’s what we do these days when we have a problem.

Searching for ethical clothing brands, I did find some, although many didn’t cater to my size (particular in the footwear department) or, more often, taste.  But then I came across the article I mentioned.  It appeared in the Guardian in April, and you can read it here.

I realise the article is a few months old, but it was the first I’d heard about H&M’s plans to be more ethical.  The article points out H&M can’t really claim to be that ethical, but it also notes it’s a step in the right direction. 

And, reading H&M’s own website, it does seem as though they are trying.  Which brings me to my point:

If H&M are positioning themselves as an ethical choice, and they start to do well, won’t other retailers begin to follow suit?  (No pun intended.) 

If the ball starts rolling in this direction, and it’s what consumers want (displayed by them voting with their wallets), slowly we might see High Street fashion becoming more ethical, in the same way the coffee industry is so much better these days as a result of Fair-Trade products being a) readily available and b) chosen.

I know it’s not a perfect solution: In an ideal world, everyone would earn a fair wage, under fair conditions, immediately.  But, sadly, it’s not a perfect world and these things take time.

It’s a small step on a long road but, for someone like me who can’t afford to buy expensive Fair-Trade brands, it’s better than nothing.  So, for now, I’ll be visiting H&M more often*.

And, the more people who make a commitment to being ethical, who take the time even just to think about this as an issue, and be more deliberate about the stores they buy things from, the faster we might see big, positive changes in this industry.

You in?

*If anyone can direct me to articles on why I shouldn’t shop at H&M (perhaps their ethical practice codes are in fact a sham?), or any affordable ethical clothing stores, I’d be grateful.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Creating for the sake of creating.

I almost had a blog-post written tonight, but I decided it wasn't good enough.  (Ironic, really, considering it was about being creative for the sake of it, and not because others will like it...)

Instead, here's something I said to a writer-friend of mine the other day:

'Write because you have something you want to say, 
not because people might or might not read it.' 
- Martin Flett

Be creative, in whatever way you want to be; don't worry about what other people will think of your work. 

And anyway, if you create in order to please others, wouldn't that be selling out?  

I know I don't want to do that.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Who are we when we're online?

Is who we appear to be on the various social networks who we actually are?  Or do you, like me, try to appear to be cooler/deeper/funnier?

I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what I do and don’t say online. 

I always try to say things ‘on message’ – stuff about being the best we can be, about being creative, and being positive.  I feel as though I have my own ‘brand' and I don’t want to let it down by posting something too personal, or too negative. 

I even worry about how things might appear to a prospective publisher in the future: will my website put them off?  What about my music?  Does it show I’m too unfocused, dabbling in too many media?  And what of this blog?  Would they think I was putting too much of myself ‘out there’, displaying too many weaknesses, or talking about things a fiction-writer has no business commenting on?

Every Facebook status or Tweet is deliberated over, and I have deleted within minutes many posts that, in hindsight, I feel are not appropriate for the person I want to appear to be.

And that’s the point: I (and I suspect I am not alone) project a particular persona online and this even spills over into ‘real life’ as well

Some people say we should be authentic and not hide our ‘true selves’; people who matter will accept us as we are and those that don’t aren’t worth it. 

But I’m not in that school of thought.  I believe it’s okay to want to be different, to want to be ‘better’.  And I believe the best way to become what you want to be is to start acting like that until it becomes natural. 

Don't get me wrong, I don’t think anyone should be coerced into being different; if you’re happy with who you are then crack on and be it. 

Otherwise, be the person you want to be.  Twitter and Facebook might be a small start...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What’s getting in the way of your life’s goals?

Life is full of things we can do.  I often feel like I have too many things I want to do!  There just isn’t enough time.

Recently, I cancelled my TV licence.  People are often surprised to hear I don’t watch much television, but I don’t.  I honestly don’t know how people have time to keep up with soap operas, or The X Factor, or Strictly.  There are too many other things to do: I’ve got an album to record, this blog to write, Bambi and The Chopper to work on, my novel and a non-fiction project to do.  My Open Uni course will start again soon, too.

And that’s all without even mentioning recreation: games, reading, or cinema trips.  TV doesn’t really get a look-in so I’ll save myself £13 a month, thank you very much.

I’m not saying TV is bad, or other things we may enjoy, such as the X-Box/Playstation/baking/whatever – it’s good to have down-time sometimes and, if TV is your thing, fine.  But if it’s getting in the way of your life’s goals, then it’s time to re-think.

I’ve said before: All those things you want to do with your life?  They’ll never get done unless you actually do them.

I read a fantastic blog-post today by Don Miller about ‘Being your own President’ and making a plan for your life, rather than letting someone else decide how it’s going to turn out.  It has re-motivated me to continue with the things I want to achieve.

I really encourage you to do the same.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s even time to cancel that TV licence...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

What makes you feel most like ‘yourself’?

'My' tools.

I think there are things we do that we feel are inherently ‘us’.   For me, it’s things like creating music, or writing stories.

Sometimes, I don’t do these things for a while; I might be busy or, more likely, become distracted by games/movies/whatever and so don’t do those things that make me feel like myself.

It can actually make me feel low, without me necessarily realising why I’m low.  Then, suddenly, one day I’ll switch on my PC, open up Cubase, and work on my album.  And I start to remember a part of myself; it’s like a reawakening of something inside me, and it spills over to the rest of my life – my relationships, my work.  I feel like I’ve remembered who I am, why I’m here, what I want to be/do in my life, and things sort of click back into place a little.  It’s almost like a reset button.

Without doing what I’m ‘built’ to do, I’m less than me.*  There’s a part of me that’s restless, dissatisfied, unfulfilled.

I don’t create music because it’s my job, or because it could make me money, or because I might get recognition and affirmation for it.  I make music because I enjoy the process and get a real kick out of having created something from scratch that would never have existed if it wasn’t for me.  Something from inside me is now out there, apart from me.  I’ve said before it must be, to a small extent, how a parent feels about their new born baby.

I firmly believe, as human beings, we’re all creative, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog.  I think a key to being ‘well’, or being the best we can be, is finding out what it is we can create, and doing it with everything we can give.

I think it’s the best way of being truly ‘ourselves’.

*Whether or not we believe we’re designed, I still feel we each have innate qualities and talents that make us who we are.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

How much does where we live affect our mood?

I love this place.
(It's not Nottingham, as you may gather!)

I don’t like the town I live in.  In fact, of all the places I've ever been, it’s in the top three of those I don’t like.

Firstly, I never feel either myself or my possessions are safe here.  Secondly, there are only two venues I’ve been to I genuinely like.  Thirdly, everywhere is far away: I deliberately chose to live on the tram route here, yet it still takes me at least 45 minutes to get anywhere worth going.  Therefore, I can rarely be bothered to go out.  (Okay, admittedly I may have been spoiled by the ‘Everywhere is ten minutes walk’ scenario in my previous town, but still.)

All this (aside from being a good excuse for me to have a rant) got me thinking: how much is our mood affected by where we live?  I think probably quite a lot.

Granted, some of it is down to whether we have  friends nearby or a job we enjoy, but I’m pretty sure I’d be happier in my current situation if only it was in a place I liked more (such as Leamington, just as a random example.  It’s not as though it’s my favourite place on Earth or anything, no, not at all.)

I find my mood is generally more ‘down’ in this town.  (Hey, that rhymes!  I might use that sometime...) I know there are times when my mood has been lower because of some life-trauma or significant change, but I mean my ‘status quo’ mood is lower here than in...let’s say Leamington again.  Which isn’t good.

For me, this might mean seriously looking at moving elsewhere eventually, and it might mean that for others out there too.  In any case, I thought it was worth mentioning because I don’t know if ‘place of residence’ ever figures much in our (or at least my) thinking around Depression or mood.

It’d be interesting to see some statistics on depressive illnesses and geographical locations to see if there are towns that are literally more depressing.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Knowing your limits.

Not everyone can do this...

We all have limitations, no matter how talented or skilled we are.  And, while it’s good to push those limits, to stretch ourselves beyond what we can already do and improve, sometimes it’s important to know there are things we can’t do and should probably leave alone for the good of our health.

I’m talking mainly about mental well-being.  I know that, for me, recently I’ve had to accept that there are certain things I just can’t do; my mind could not cope with the stress or responsibility of a manager’s job, for example. 

This might sound pretty negative but I personally think it’s a good thing – if we know we can’t do something then, rather than forcing ourselves and making ourselves poorly, it’s probably better to do something else and have a better quality of life.

Continuing with work as an example, accepting a job less challenging or more mundane might seem like a sacrifice – we’ll probably end up bored and possibly unmotivated as a result.  However, we (or certainly ‘I’) might have the mental capacity to ‘be’ better outside of work, to give more to our loved ones and our hobbies – in other words, the things that make us happy.

Of course, some people find happiness in their work, and I envy them but I’m just not one of them, not until I’m a published author anyway!  And, the most likely way of that (or any other dream we may have) happening is by having the health/capacity to work towards it.

 In the long run, that ‘sacrifice’ might be worthwhile.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Dating and who we really are.

I love this list. I know it's a bit small,
but hopefully you can click it and zoom in?!

Every so often I get to iron my best shirt, have a second shower of the day, put on some cologne, do my hair (or what’s left of it), and take some poor, unsuspecting lucky girl out for dinner.

I reckon I’m pretty good at the whole ‘first date’ thing.  The logistics are simple enough: book a nice (non-chain, naturally) restaurant, make sure you have enough cash to pay the bill, show up on time, etc. 

And then comes the date itself: assuming we’re not hermits, by the time we reach adulthood we have plenty of life-history to talk through – how could we possibly struggle to find things to say?  There are family holidays, or maybe time spent studying, or career choices, or future hopes and dreams – plenty of questions to ask and topics to bring up.  I’m not saying sit there like some quiz show host, firing off questions, but pick some that will start a conversation.  Generally, I believe people will like someone who lets them talk about themselves.

But, alas, in spite of all my confidence at the first date stage, my relationships have, thus far, not lasted.  And that’s because life is not one continual first date.

A date takes considerable effort and energy, and I tend to fall in to the trap of trying to keep up that level of intensity for weeks...months...even years.  Inevitably, it’s going to fail.  I’m going to get tired and the ‘perfection’ will crash and burn. 

I think this links with being uncomfortable about showing someone our real selves.  On a first date, we want to make a good/perfect impression; we want them to think we’re amazing.  And that’s achievable – for one night.  However, we can’t be ‘perfect’ forever; the real ‘us’ needs to be good enough too.

And in order for it to be good enough for someone else, it has to be good enough for ourselves.  Otherwise we’ll never be willing to show it, and never get out of the cycle of trying to be perfect. 

Someone suggested once I may even sabotage my relationships myself from the inside.  I don’t know whether it’s true but, if it is, it could be because I can’t deal with the prospect of not being ‘perfect’.  As I say, I don’t know.

Accepting who we are and that we do have some very good traits, worth putting up with the not-so-great ones for, is a really healthy state of mind, I think.  Let’s try and work towards it. 

Then I/we might be able to stop continually trying so hard with everyone I/we meet.

Monday, 3 September 2012

'Something's bound to change.'

There’s a song I like at the moment: Clouds by Newton Faulkner.

The line: ‘Something’s bound to change’ struck me in a new way the other day.  I considered the meaning of the word ‘bound’ and wondered if it could mean ‘bound’ in the way something is bound by a rope: tied up, unable to escape. 

It occurred to me that’s what life is like: ‘bound’ to change.  We live in a constant state of flux; nothing stays the same for long, we’re tied to things changing.

'Stop looking down at the ground,
 just pick it out of the clouds.'
– Newton Faulkner
It’s no secret I’ve been having a tough time in recent months and perhaps that’s why these words resonated.  A few weeks ago I couldn’t imagine things might change for the better – ever – but, of course, they have.  As I said: nothing stays the same for long.  I’m back at work, my mood’s improved, and I’m picking up my projects/social life again.

As a good friend always reminds me when I’m struggling: ‘This too shall pass’.

It’s a good thing to remember: things do change.  Even though, sometimes, we can’t see or conceive what might change, we can be pretty sure that something will.  It’s bound to. 

Next time life feels like it’s at rock bottom, knowing it’s felt that way before and things did improve might just help in the struggle to keep going until that ‘change’ happens.

It might even be as soon as a couple of weeks away.  You never know.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Living alone and remembering small achievements.

I’ve been slowly trying to think more positively* over the last week or so, and something struck me about being someone who lives alone.

A few years ago I realised the obvious: all the jobs in my house – washing up, laundry, vacuuming etc – if I don’t do them, they don’t get done.  On one hand, that’s clearly self-evident but, on the other hand, it’s not true for people who live with others.  For them, at some point, someone else will probably do at least one of the jobs, at least once.  In my house, that will never happen.

When I first thought like that, it was quite a depressing and tiresome thought.

But I realised the other day that, because I have to take care of everything in my house/life, I am able to take care of everything in my house/life.  Take yesterday: I had a flat tyre, which I had to change and get repaired.  I then had to cook a meal, and do some laundry and ironing.  Later on, I had a problem with my electrics: something blew and tripped the fuse-box.  So I figured out which appliance was faulty, and of course located the fuse-box to trip it back.  I also found time to pick up my guitar and play some tunes.

I’m not trying to make any of this sound more than it is; I realise none of these things are rocket science.  But, the point is, I suddenly became quite pleased to be someone who can do all those things.  Without meaning to be sexist or anything, I don’t think every man knows how to use a car-jack, play a musical instrument, and how to make a decent meal.  (I can even cook quite well when I put my mind to it or there’s someone to impress!)

One of the things I learned in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) a couple of years ago is not to downplay the positives in life.  Suffering with Depression usually means it’s easy to believe the victories in our own lives are in some way less than those of everyone else.  I have made progress over the last few weeks – I’m no longer sat in my GP’s office in tears for starters; I can do quite a lot of things, some of them even pretty well.  Sure, I’m not yet ‘happy’, or even ‘okay’, but it’s a start, and that’s worth recognising.

Stopping to remember the achievements or progress we have made – though they/it may be small – can be an important step on the long road to recovery.  It even starts to breed hope of further improvement/achievement in the future, and that really is something to feel better about.

*The small print for this post is that all this has coincided with the sort of time we’d expect my increased medication to have started having an effect ... It seems The Verve were wrong...

Monday, 6 August 2012

Hitting 'rock bottom'...

I haven’t posted for a while, because I haven’t known what to write.  I’ve written a couple of posts, but not uploaded them, mainly because I haven’t known how I would feel the following day and didn’t want to say anything I might not agree with later.

Life has been very hard lately, and I’ve been more ‘down’ than perhaps ever before.  One thing after another, after another hit me; just when I thought I’d hit the bottom it was as though another, unseen trapdoor opened up and I plummeted further down still. 

As Rachel said in Friends: ‘I really thought I just hit rock bottom.  But today, it's like there's rock bottom, then 50 feet of crap, then me.’ (Friends, Series 2, Warner Bros, 1995)

Suffering from Depression makes life’s difficulties that much harder.  Such a mind is weak to begin with so, when a trauma strikes – whether that’s something like my redundancy last year, or work-related stress, or the loss of a relationship – it hits all the harder.  And when more than one big event comes along at once, the mind cannot cope.

Which is how I find myself here.

I’ve investigated suicide sites; I’ve cried until I had no more tears, or gave myself a headache; I’ve slept (or tried to) for more time than is probably healthy.  But, somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to finish my novel.  I’m taking little pleasure in it, and finishing it probably won’t make me happy either, but I do want to finish it.  So, word by word, sentence by sentence, I’m writing it.

The other thing I can say is that time does help.  I saw my GP today and we agreed that I am better than two weeks ago when I sat crying in her office, even though it might not feel like I’m better right now.  And I'm getting the help I need with increased medication and referrals for pretty much every talking-therapy there is.

Going right back to basics is the only way to survive, I think.  Basics such as: ‘What am I living for?’  Finding things to live for is easy: my writing, my music, things in the future I don’t yet know about.  Finding things I want to live for is harder.  But I’m trying to work on that part...and we’ll see what happens.

Thanks for reading.  It’s not my usual, positive, optimistic style, I know.  But then life doesn’t always have things to be positive and optimistic about...

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Real miracles and doing something worthwhile...

One of my favourite movies is Bruce Almighty (Morgan Freeman as God – what’s not to like??). 

In it, there's a scene where ‘God’ (Morgan Freeman) is talking to Bruce (Jim Carrey).  He says: ‘Parting your soup is not a miracle Bruce, it’s a magic trick.  A single mum, who’s working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice, that’s a miracle.’ (Bruce Almighty, 2003, Universal)

I used to want to change the world.  I thought doing something ‘worthwhile’ was the greatest ambition to have.

When I classified myself as ‘Christian’, that meant ‘saving’ the world: helping as many people as possible to become Christians (and since that can mean a million different things to a million different people, I’m still not sure what I was trying to achieve).

After that, it became my ambition to make the world a better place, to improve the lives of as many human beings as possible.  Perhaps classifying me as ‘Humanist’.*

Now, I'm starting to wonder if the best thing we can do with our lives is to do our best at the things we have to do.

I realise that’s one of those trite statements that probably doesn’t really mean anything, but hear me out...

The word ‘have’ in that statement isn’t meant to refer to things we must do, like chores.  I mean it as the things we have to do, in an ‘owning’ sense.  (Although that can mean chores sometimes...)

For example, some people are extremely talented musicians.  They can sing, or play an instrument, or write a musical in a way that other people never could.  They have abilities different to those around them.  The thing they ‘have’ to do is create music.

Other people can only dream of pursuing such ambitions.  Their lives are too busy, too hectic, too stressful and they just don’t have the time.  I know some people like this and I am humbled by their motivation, their tenacity, their selflessness.  In their lives, they ‘have’ things to do, and they are devoting themselves wholly to doing them, in spite of, often considerable, personal cost.

Someone like me trying to be a writer, often complaining about what ‘hard work’ it is and struggling for the motivation to even open the necessary file could learn a lot from them.

If you’re like me, and lucky enough to have the time to pursue...whatever goal it is you want, then do it.  Chase it.  And may we remember what a privilege that is.

If you’re like those people I know, living a life filled with things you so often feel you have to do, perhaps like the single mother Morgan Freeman’s character mentions, then remember what a miracle you are.  The lives of the people you touch will be all the better for your sacrificial efforts.  And surely that is truly something ‘worthwhile'.

*I’m not big on classifying people; I believe we’re all too individual to fit into tidy boxes. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Taking advice and being who we really are.

Normally in life, when I have a problem, I talk to all my friends and family about it and end up with lots of voices in my head (theirs, rather than ones relating to any sort of insanity – I learned to tune those out years ago, after that second murder...) each giving me advice on what I should do.

I don’t mind that; I like knowing what other people think I ought to do (if only because it provides food for my innate desire to do the opposite of what people say).  The downside is that sometimes it’s hard to know what to do because there are so many pieces of advice floating around.  It can get a bit confusing.

Recently I’ve had a bit of space from my usual confidants for one reason and another and it’s been interesting.  I’ve found my own ‘voice’ in my mind is clearer and I can better understand what I want, how I feel, what I think I should do.  It’s been affirming to realise the course of action I’ve taken/am taking is the one I think is right.

I’m not about to change my usual way of dealing with things, and will no doubt be chewing my friends’ ears off again in the near future.  But sometimes we can get so caught up in what everyone else thinks, in the way other people believe we should live our lives, that we forget what it means to be ‘us’.  It’s easy to think other people know better how to live – a symptom of low self-esteem if ever there was one – and to try and emulate, or even please, them.  But who says they’re right?

Someone I know on Facebook posted the picture I’ve included on this post yesterday and it really struck me.  More than anyone else in my life, I am the one who makes me feel inferior, or ‘worthless’.  And I suspect I’m not the only one.

But we’re not worthless.  No one else is ‘better’ than us at living this life; we’re all just making it up as we go along.  And whilst it’s good to take advice and listen to trusted people, it’s just that – advice.  Our own choices/feelings/beliefs are equally valid.

And sometimes it’s those we need to trust.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Facing the demons...again...

Doing the right thing...

It’s been a difficult time for me recently, which has today ended with me off work with stress/depression.  Yep, the positive, optimistic author of this blog has succumbed once again to those demons that will seemingly just not lie down and die.

The one difference this time is it's definitely stress-induced.  Which is new.

Some may ask why I am writing about this in such a public forum.  It’s a fair question, and the answer is that I’ve always tried to be honest on these pages – I said at the start I would write about the struggles as well as the victories.

And, also, there is one positive insight to offer. 

At about 2am this morning, having awoken from another fitful sleep, I realised that, no matter how hard it was for me to ring my GP and to take time away from my employment, it was the right thing to do.  I didn’t want to do it, because it ‘lets people down’ at work, because it perhaps means I’m not as reliable an employee as I’d like to be, and it means I’m officially ‘not well’ and so have to try and figure out what in hell is going to make me better this time.

But I knew I couldn’t go on like I was.

So, at 8am this morning, I picked up my phone, almost against my will, and rang to make an appointment. 

Naturally, this being the British NHS, I couldn’t get an appointment until Monday.  (‘Is it an emergency?’ I was asked.  I would like to know what the definition of an emergency is.  If it were an ‘emergency’, would I not be attending my local A&E?)

This meant I then had to do another ‘right’ thing: go to work, and speak to my boss.  I really didn’t want to do this.  But it had to be done, again, if I was ever going to make any progress from this place I’m in.  She was understanding and supportive; I guess that’s one of the perks of working for an organisation with extensive experience of helping vulnerable people, including many with mental health issues.  And together we came up with a way forward in the medium term, and an agreement that, in the short term, I needed to be at home.

So here I am.

Doing the right thing is not always easy.  Sometimes we might want to bury our head in the sand, keep on running, hide away from the problems we are facing, perhaps even distract ourselves with other skirmishes, rather than fight the true problem.  And maybe I’ve done that for a while.  But, in the long run, it’s not going to benefit anyone – least of all ourselves – to keep doing that.

Far better to stop, turn around if necessary, and face the real battle.  In this case, for me, it’s the battle within...

Which is possibly the hardest one of all.

Yes, it's Switchfoot again...'The War Inside'

Sunday, 24 June 2012

What to do when things don't go to plan...

One foot in front of the other
(And a good excuse to show off my
awesome shoes again... ;) )

Things don’t always go to plan in life, that much we all probably know.  Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don’t work out how we hoped or expected. 

In other words, ‘Shit happens.’

I’m a big fan of something I heard Tim Minchin, the comedian, say once.  He was talking about the times things go wrong in life, when stuff happens we don’t want.  He said the temptation is to always ask why: ‘Why me?  What have I done to deserve this?  Why has this happened?’

But he said: ‘When bad stuff happens, the right question is never “why?”.  The right question is almost always, “What now?”’

It’s a phrase that stuck with me and I find myself asking the question often: what now?  What am I going to do now this has happened? 

Sometimes I don’t have any answers, at least not immediately, and I scrabble around feeling a little lost, to say the least.  But as I think about it, I usually come up with some possibilities, some way of moving forward.  They might not be complete ideas, they might not solve the problem immediately, but it’s about beginning to plot a new course, a new way through the quagmire this life can sometimes feel like.

It’s about finding a way to take the next step.  You can’t finish a race, a marathon, without putting one foot in front of the other.

I’ve not quoted this song for a while, but it struck me again yesterday.  Unfortunately the band has removed their video from YouTube (Why?!!  Or should I say: ‘Okay, what now??’) but Flight Brigade’s song A Girl Who Loves Her Smoke and Wine has the lyric: ‘Even though it’s a long, long way from Hollywood, at least it’s a start, it’s a start.  And you can end up places you never thought you could, if you make a start, so just make a start.’

(Found it here. If you’ve not heard it, it’s well worth at least one listen...)

When life gets you down and things don’t go to plan, and you can’t see a way to get to where you want to be, maybe the answer lies in just making a start.  Plan one step, take that step, and then you can think about the next one. 

In doing so, you may yet end up places you never thought you could.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Love Does.

I’ve raved about this book for a while now, and I finished it this week.  Love Does, by Bob Goff (2012, Thomas Nelson), is incredible.  It’s filled with stories of how Bob has spent his life loving people – and I mean really loving them. 

There are few tales of hearts, flowers, or poetry, but many of him taking off on flights to Uganda to help free imprisoned children.  Or of him letting people into his life in whatever way they need.  Or of refusing to give up on a dream because he knows it’s what he would love to do.

Even the one chapter on the pursuit of his now-wife is a tale of unrelenting hope, of choosing to keep on loving ‘Sweet Maria’, in spite of her apparent disinterest.  He tells the story of being ‘trigger-locked (on her) while she treated me with a polite distance’. 

In the end though, he says: ‘Fortunately, Maria understood that for some of us – most of us – the language of love is laced with whimsy.  It sometimes borders on the irrational.  Like I’ve been saying, though, love is a do thing.  It’s an energy that has to be dissipated.’  ((I would say love almost always borders on the irrational, but there you go.)

Bob is a Christian and writes as such, including many references to how he believes his faith impacts on his chosen path.  But it’s not a cringe-inducing faith, or even a faith particularly recognisable as being the same as is often seen in ‘the Church’.  So please don’t be put off by it!

Why am I telling you about this book?  Because as I’ve read it, it kept resonating with me, with who I am trying to be.  I, too, believe that ‘love does’ – love is above all else a verb, and the only way to show it is to do something with it. 

That can mean being there at 3am for someone when everyone’s had enough.  Or it can mean taking the hit when they need to rant at ... someone.  Or it can mean ignoring how much something is hurting, because the person needs you to be strong for them.

It can even mean turning up and doing a job we really don’t feel like doing today, because it will benefit someone else in need.

Most of this is pretty contrary to popular opinion.  Many people counsel to ‘look after yourself’, to make sure we’re not going to get hurt.  And whilst that might seem like wisdom, it isn’t the way of love as I understand it.

Love puts the other person first, regardless of cost.  And sometimes the cost is high but, even so, I believe love goes right ahead and does it anyway.

Love Does is available from Amazon here.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Life is not something that happens in the future, life is what we’re doing right now.

An old boss/current friend of mine once asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  I replied: ‘What do you mean?  This is it; this is my life.  I’m doing it, now.’

It seems to me we can often think of our lives as something we’ll do another day.  Maybe it’s about a career we’ll pursue or a relationship we yearn for.  We might be waiting till we can get married, or have kids, or move away from home, or get that dream job – whatever.  I know I’ve had times when I’ve been guilty of treading water, waiting for some day when I can ‘be what I want to be’.

But that’s a waste of where we are now.  There’s so much life out there for us, so much to see, so much to do, so many people to meet.  What if the thing you’re waiting for never happens?  Would you miss out on everything else while you wait for it, maybe forever?

I gave a friend some advice a long time ago – she was single and not happy about it.  We talked about it often and I came up with the idea we should live as though we’ll never get married – don’t put life on hold till we can do things with someone special, because that someone might never appear. 

Live your life, do the things you wish you could do.  Don’t be held back by things you don’t have.  And if there is someone in your life who you want to do them with, then be sure to invite them along for the ride.  Or if it’s that thing you know you’ve always wanted to do with your life, then grasp it with both hands, do it with all your heart and never give it up.

(More Switchfoot, I'm afraid!)

'This is your life.  Are you who you want to be?' - Switchfoot.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The memories we make are our greatest treasure.

I’ve been listening to one album pretty much exclusively the last few days.  (Those of you who know me will know there’s a lot of time for this: tram journeys, hours spent in my house, even odd hours marshalling charity events.) 

When I was thinking about this blogpost, one song in particular stood out:

‘I close my eyes and go back in time, I can see you smiling, you’re so alive.’ – Switchfoot.

I’ve written before about losing things, and missing them (The Value of a Moment and, Taking Risks.) – relationships, connections to places, the ‘good old days’.  This happens to me a lot, and it’s something I worry about: what if I lose the things I’m attached to now?  How will I cope? 

This kind of thinking could even stop me/us doing something, stepping out, starting ... anything.  What if it goes wrong?  What if s/he breaks up with me?  What if I end up hurt or disappointed?  We can start to think it’s not worth the risk.

But what kind of life would that be?  One where we don’t do anything, don’t try anything, don’t make any connections or ties because we might lose them?  A life spent entirely without ever having any of the things we ‘might lose’: how would that make us happy?

Recently, I’ve been making a lot of memories I know will stay with me forever.  Should things change and I lose things I’m really attached to then, sure, I’ll be devastated.  But I’ll always have the memories, the knowledge I was part of something amazing. 

I can keep those memories on a shelf in my mind, take them down, examine them, remember them, and smile, thinking: Wow! ... I was there!   I’ll certainly be extremely sad not to still ‘be there’ but a) it’s not certain I won’t be, and b) I’m glad I’m here now. 

Truthfully, I do get terrified about losing things/people I love because I’m not sure how I would cope.  But, just as there are no guarantees something will last, there are no guarantees it won’t.  ‘Every minute of the future isn’t written...’ as Jason Mraz puts it (Everything is Sound, 2012).  Don’t we want to find out?

The connections and memories we make are our greatest treasure.  Find some, make some, enjoy them.  May they last forever...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Want to be known for being 'awesome'...?

Sometimes the best 'superheroes'
are hiding...

A lot of the time we want credit for the things we do.  We want people to recognise the good we’ve done, and to reward us in some way.

In the book I keep referring to lately, Love Does (Thomas Nelson, 2012), Bob Goff  talks about being secretly incredible, or ‘being awesome.’  No song and dance, no ‘look at me and what I’ve done’ fanfare, just doing stuff for people or being there for them simply because you can, because you wanted to, because they needed you to.

I don’t believe in Karma as such, but my niece forwarded a text message to me earlier this week that said: ‘Karma saw your sadness and said: “hard times are over”.’  I thought it was a sweet sentiment and it actually made me feel better.  Not because I believed the Universe was about to redress some cosmic balance of fairness in my life, but because I believed I had been doing the right things and so, perhaps eventually, I’d see the benefit of that.

And, even if I don’t, at least I can be satisfied with what I’d done.

I want to be known for being an ‘awesome’ guy, of course I do.  But I’d much rather people just saw it in me as part of my nature, rather than because I showed off about it. 

In my experience, people do notice show-offs, and often give them rewards and affection.  But people who don’t show-off, who just get on with doing the good they can, get noticed too.  Maybe not as quickly, or as obviously, but when it happens it will probably be by people who are looking for something deeper, something closer, something more ... meaningful.  And I reckon that’s worth far more.

So keep being awesome, even if it seems no-one is watching.  I actually think that’s a pre-requisite of genuine ‘awesomeness’ anyway...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Taking risks.


I read this recently about a father and his 10 year old son on a trip to ride motorbikes across the desert:

When we got to the desert, we headed for the sand dunes.  These dunes were different from the ten-footers I rolled down at the beach as a kid.  These were seven hundred feet tall.  Once you start up these monsters in a motorcycle, you need to get to the top without stopping.  If you hesitate or try to pause halfway, the result is that you, with the motorcycle on top of you, cartwheel all the way down to the bottom.  It’s a pass/fail course because there’s no in between.
                After topping several huge sand dunes with Adam and then losing track of him for a moment, I heard his motor racing just over the next dune.  I made my way over to where the noise was coming from and it was apparent in an instant that Adam was planning to jump from the top of one sand dune to the top of another.  I was yelling ”No!” across a canyon of sand, and it felt like a movie-style slow motion sequence kicked in as Adam raced through the gears and hit the peak of the dune doing more than 60 miles per hour.  Almost immediately, Adam and his machine separated.  It was quite a sight, really.  He had the look of both Superman and a gut-shot pheasant at the same time.  Adam landed 120 feet later surrounded by the scrap metal remains of what he was riding.  His first words when I rushed over to him were “That was awesome.”  And you know what?  It was.  Even though things didn’t go as planned and Adam crashed and burned, there was a huge sense of accomplishment for him in that. (Bob Goff, ‘Love Does’, published by Thomas Nelson, 2012.)

People tell me I’m a bit of a risk-taker.  I don’t really do physical risks, like sky-diving or bungee-jumping (although I would quite like to!), but I suppose I have been known to take emotional risks pursuing love or a connection or ... something.  (Moi?  Really???  Never...!)

With my heart on my sleeve, I hit the top of a dune like a kid at 60 miles per hour launching into the unknown.

Inevitably, I occasionally end up face down in the sand with a wreckage around me.  And it hurts.

But, in the end, sometimes through the tears, I’ll look you in the eye and say with absolute conviction: ‘That was awesome.’  And you know what?  It was.  Hell, I got to fly!

Don’t be afraid of falling, you’ll miss out on the spectacular.

And when you do fall, get up, collect the bike, go back to the foot of that dune, and start revving the engine...

Let’s go again.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Being real and being a 'hero'.

Today, let’s start with a song:

I love that song; it’s filled with meaning and honesty.  The music betrays the lyrics, beautifully highlighting the lie of Regina’s words because, the truth is, we all need ‘saving’, I guess.  We spend our time faking it, pretending we have it all together, acting like we don’t need anyone or anything, but I don’t believe that’s true of anyone.

A friend of mine said recently: ‘That’s all any of us are doing really: trying to go as long as possible without getting “found out”.’  I.e. if people saw who we were really, even for just five minutes, they might never want to know us again.

I don’t really believe that’s true either, even though I allow myself to live by it all too often.

I think when we do allow someone in to see the real ‘us’, in those moments of connection I mentioned in my last post, rather than finding rejection or ridicule, we can discover we’re not the only ones.  

Everyone has their ‘demons’, their doubts, their self-deprecation: that internal dialogue unendingly telling us we’re not good enough, no-one will love us, we have nothing to offer.  (The other week I said it’d be really cool if we could get celebrity voices to ‘do’ our internal dialogues – sort of like those apps for Sat Nav systems.  I quite like the idea of John Cleese doing mine.)

It’s hard, really hard.  And in letting someone in, we make ourselves vulnerable, and that can hurt sometimes.  But the rewards can be greater; sometimes we can find a ‘hero’, or even be one for someone else.

And who doesn’t want that?

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Making a connection.

Connecting with people is what we’re all about.  I believe it’s an essential part of being alive.  Many people search for that ‘one’ connection, while others are happy to connect with many.  I think very few people are happy with solitude, at least not for very long.

I’ve heard it said recently that we’re in touch with people much more often than ever before – it’s ‘too much’, apparently.  And I often hear how tools such as Facebook and Twitter are generating false connections, or the appearance of relationship without the depth or benefits of ‘traditional’ methods of knowing people.

I disagree with most of that.  I think the more ways there are of connecting with people, the better, and, as someone who lives alone, I’m constantly pleased to have so many different ways of keeping in touch.  I love text messages, emails, Facebook-chats, and the odd phone call. 

If we all want to connect with other human beings, how can it be a bad thing to have so many ways of doing it?  I accept that many of the people I have as ‘friends’ on Facebook don’t really know me, and vice versa.  But they know me more than they would if we weren’t on there, especially those who live some distance away. 

Of course, the people I see in ‘real life’ probably know me better still, and I feel immensely privileged to have made at least one fantastic, deep connection recently that I hope will only grow stronger still and last throughout the years.  Such connections can affirm who we are; they can bring light into otherwise mundane days; they can foster joy in unlikely moments. 

Those ‘kindred spirits’ (as one of my friend’s terms them) are one of life’s true delights, and who’s to say where we might meet them?  Perhaps they’re on your Facebook right now, or maybe waiting for a text message, or, sure, they might be heading down the pub for the evening, ready to bump into you over the quiz machine.

However and wherever, reaching out to another person can rarely be a bad thing.  So why not make a connection right now?  You never know where it might lead...

Monday, 28 May 2012

You owe it to the world simply to be you.

There is beauty everywhere - especially in you.

No-one else in the world, or in history, can ever, nor will ever, be you.  The things you do, the things you create, could never be done by anyone else in the same way.

I was talking to my Dad about this, specifically to do with the music I create.  I play around with recording, mostly because I enjoy it rather than harbour any hope of being a paid artist some day.  But in the course of my ‘playing’, I create something.  I put out into the world something that would never have existed if it wasn’t for me.

I get an enormous kick out of that.

Often we find ourselves envious of other people and the talents they have.  We wish we could do things others can, or as well as they can.  There have been moments I’ve seen or heard a musician and wondered why I even bother trying when there are such people doing it so much better.  (Martyn Joseph had this affect on me a few years ago.)

But that’s not the point.  Sure, they may be doing it very well indeed, but they’re not doing it the same as I do.  My songs are not theirs.  

I believe we all have something to offer this world: something new, something unique.  We have been created/evolved/both (delete as appropriate to you) with abilities, perspectives, loves and passions that are ours, and ours alone. 

Don’t deprive the world of what you have to offer by trying to be like someone else, or because you don’t feel you’re good enough.  Never believe that lie. 

You are the only one who can be you.  And you are beautiful.

'You are the world and you're remarkable.' -
Jason Mraz.