Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Boulevard of Broken Blogs.

Some of the things I write for this blog aren’t good enough and don’t get posted (just in case you thought there was no quality control).

But here are some of the best bits from the past year of those that didn’t make the cut:

On being creative:

Bambi and The Chopper is coming along nicely, as nonsensical as that particular project is!  I sometimes think that’ll be the one that ‘makes it’ – the one that I wrote on a whim.  Isn’t that how it goes?  (Jason Mraz – I’m Yours, for example!)


In fiction writing, I was taught to give characters seemingly conflicting traits, like being shy and an attention seeker, because that’s what people are like in real life.  And it’s obviously true; no one is one dimensional.


On life in the early days in Nottingham:

I don’t like Nottingham – city of sirens – and I don’t mean the hot mermaid type.  Seriously, I’ve never heard as many ambulances/police cars anywhere.  And I’m from Bradford.  And used to work in a hospital. 


Other bits and pieces:

Life never stays the same.  Deal with those things you can control, the rest will happen anyway.


No-one should have the responsibility of ‘making you happy’.


My first thoughts in a morning:

7am: No way am I getting up yet.
8am: Can I get away with not getting up?
8.15am: Ok. I really have to get up now.
8.20am: Crap! I’m gonna be late!


There are many things I have often taken for granted, like cool places I go to, happy memories, or being creative.  I never imagine living without them; I would hate to.

Now I want to spend more time/energy on those important things, and develop more, because, here’s the thing: they may not be around forever.  Arthritis, memory loss, or a good old fashioned bulldozer could wipe them out in an instant.   

And then I’d wish I’d appreciated them more.

Green Day - Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

That lovin' feelin'.

In British culture we don’t really go in for ‘touchy-feely’, which I think is a shame because I’m quite a tactile person.  It’s something (else) I miss about Leamington: the standard greeting was a kiss on the cheek with the ladies (or two, if you remembered they were from mainland Europe) and a proper manly hug with your guy friends.  (I’m sure this isn’t limited to Leamington and maybe time will bring it out in Nottingham.)  

The 5 Love Languages is quite a popular book/concept.  And it’s one I like: the idea that we each show and feel love better in particular ways.  You can read more about it here, but the list of so-called ‘languages’ is: 
  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch
For me, physical touch, quality time and words of affirmation are the most important.  I’m not so bothered about gifts (though they’re always nice...) or acts of service (the washing up can wait until tomorrow, let’s cuddle instead!).  In fact, physical touch is probably my top one.  After all, it usually covers ‘quality time’ as well – you can’t hug someone without being with them!

It’s not just in relationships though.  Research suggests that physical contact is very important generally in human beings: without it, we can become stunted socially, emotionally and mentally.  I certainly find spending too much time on my own erodes my self-esteem, as though my brain starts to wonder what’s wrong with me that is making people not want to be close. 

But maybe that’s not such a big deal for people with, say, receiving gifts in their top three instead. 

I’d recommend thinking about what your particular ‘languages’ are.  I found it helpful in understanding ‘me’, as well as being a practical tool for relating to others.  (Plus, it’s kinda fun if you like those quiz-questionnaire type things!)

And maybe overcome your ‘Britishness’ and give your friends a huge hug next time you see them.  You might both feel better for it.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Meeting people, and the value of a moment.

One shiny moment might be
all we have.
Sometimes we meet people, spend time with them, and bounce off them.  Our orbits may never take us close again; perhaps those hours/weeks/months with someone will be all we ever have with them.

I think many of us believe in an idea of ‘forever’ within our relationships/friendships.  We, on some level, expect we’ll always be friends with the people we know, those we meet.  It’s almost as if, in order to be ‘meaningful’, something must last forever.  And sometimes it will.  But most of the time it won’t.

As I get older I seem to be becoming more of an optimist (I know...).  I used to always get upset about losing touch with people, or not making a stronger ‘connection’ with someone.  I would focus on missing them, or on the ‘what might have been’.

But it doesn’t have to be like that; a friendship or relationship doesn’t have to be forever to be meaningful.  That person was there for a time, and it was good.  Don’t undervalue that.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t grieve for things we lose, but there comes a time to let it go or else we might lose the good in it too.

I think this ties in a little with my ‘Let’s talk about sex’ post about savouring the memories and smiling about them often.  Every friendship and relationship, whether it’s for a few minutes or many years, was worth something for that moment.   And isn’t that what life is: a collection of moments? 

If we had even just one that shone with someone, it’s worth celebrating.  Keep those moments for what they were and leave what they ‘could have been’ to the fantasists. 

Enjoy the reality; there’ll be other shiny-moments ahead you don’t want to miss.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Luxury of Dissatisfaction.

An interpretation of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
I had a long conversation with a good friend last night about how we often feel our jobs are not what we want to do.  

He wondered if it was something in a creative person’s nature: because we know the joy of ‘working’ in our creative fields, we expect to have that same feeling in our paid employment.  ‘Perhaps we expect too much as a result,’ he said.

Being able to think and talk like this is a huge privilege.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that Self-Actualisation is at the very pinnacle of the Motivation Pyramid.  If this is what we’re striving for, it probably means the things below it are already taken care of.  Many people don’t have that luxury.

Someone might be turning out every day to a tedious factory job just to put food on the table for their family.  They do their job, otherwise their loved ones would suffer.  That’s their motivation, their focus.

I’m a single, young(ish), fit and healthy man, living on my own.  I don’t need to worry where my next meal is coming from, and I don’t have responsibility for anybody other than myself.  Which allows me to, basically, do what I want.  If I’m not happy in my career, I can study to be something else; I can dream of what I want to do, and go after my perfect life. 

I’m not saying our factory worker friend doesn’t feel dissatisfied, or dream of a ‘better day’, but they probably don’t have as much time or energy to sit around and talk it through, mull it over, and work towards it.  There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, DIY jobs to do.  They have ‘more important’ things to think about; more important to them and their needs.

Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy (and it’s probably out of date these days anyway), there are certainly aspects of the lower stages I still don’t have, and yearn for.  But on the whole I’m in that top group.

If we are able to long for creativity and fulfilment in our work, rather than just to provide for ‘more basic’ needs, we are in an elite group.  Dissatisfaction of this kind is an enormous luxury. 

I’ll try and remember that next time I’m moaning...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

If you could write the movie of your life...

Life as a story is not a new idea.  One of my best friends often says: ‘When they come to make the movie of my life, this will be what happens,’ followed by some ideal way things turn out. 

Don Miller is a favourite writer of mine and he talks about the idea of ‘living a better story’.  He says characters in stories always want something and have to overcome some obstacle to get it.  Those are the exciting stories, the page-turners that capture the attention: will our hero make it?  Will s/he overcome?

No –one wants to read a story about someone in a dead-end job who sat at home, watched TV, played X-Box games and ate take-out meals all their days.

Not unless that ‘someone’ suddenly decided to get up and do something, to go after some ambition, some prize.  Then we might start to take notice.

I miss 'my' Leamington, but I'm living an adventure (sort of)...

My struggles with living in Nottingham are well documented.  But do I regret the move?  Not really.  Sure, I wish I was still in Leamington, but it’s a more exciting story to up and leave, to get out of that ‘Comfort Zone’.  I’m chasing multiple dreams here.

All good stories have ups and downs; sometimes the characters struggle.  Things don’t happen immediately or else there’d be no story.  As long as we’re alive, the story isn’t over; we’re only part way through the adventure.

In the movie of my life, I’ll make the move from Leamington and amazing things will happen as a result.  I’m glad I’m living that movie, taking part in the adventure, even though I’m still waiting to be amazed.

So start that novel, apply for that job, do that course, pick up that paintbrush.  Whatever it might be for you, isn’t it better to go for it in reality, rather than it just be some Hollywood dream? 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Conformity. Thoughts on being like everyone else ... or not.

'Fezzes are cool.'
I read something interesting about conformity: ‘People who think conformity is important adapt what they do so they don't break the rules or offend others. They watch themselves carefully on a day-to-day basis, often hiding or shifting what they really want in order to get on well with others.’

If someone had asked if I was a conformist, I’d have categorically said: ‘No’.  But based on the definition above – or at least the ‘hiding or shifting what they really want to get on well with others’ part – I definitely am.  It depends what you mean by it, I guess.

I always thought ‘conforming’ meant adhering to a given set of rules, fitting in with the ‘norm’.  I don’t believe people should have to do that.  One of the things I liked most about the Liberal Democrats was in the preamble to their constitution: ‘No-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.’ 

I’m not interested here in whether or not they’ve stuck by this in government, I just loved the phrase.  Not to be enslaved by conformity: you can conform if you wish, but you don’t have to.  It spoke to me of freedom.

I wholeheartedly believe people should be able to wear what they want, take part in activities they want, think the things they want; basically, as long as it doesn’t hurt another person, be whoever they are comfortable being.  If that means walking around in a chicken suit, even though no one else does, so be it. 

It’s one of the reasons I love Matt Smith’s representation of The Doctor, with his bowties, Tweed and love for fezzes.  He thinks they’re cool, and that’s all that matters.  And, you know what?  That makes them cool.

As for me, I do try and fit in.  I like to get on with everyone so, if there’s some opinion I hold that I think will cause someone to dislike me or upset them, I’ll probably hide it, if not modify it.  In that sense, I’m a ‘conformist’.

In other ways, I’m not: I don’t like ‘Superdry’ (or other ‘labels’, except Converse for some reason), ‘The X-Factor’ (or a lot of popular music in general), or the Conservative party.  But then, most of my friends don’t like these things either.

Perhaps we all conform to those we want to fit in with?  As a t-shirt says: ‘You non-conformists are all the same.’

As for me, I say don’t be ‘enslaved’ by any label, whether its 'conformist', 'non-conformist' or other.

As the title of this blog says, ‘Just “be”’.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Comfort Zones.

I’m thinking of setting up a Comfort Zone in my house: cushions, bean bags, maybe a hammock and a massage chair.  Probably the best quote I heard about this was: ‘A Comfort Zone sounds like such a nice place to be, but the only time we ever hear of it is when we’re being told to get out of it.’

In the real world, I find I operate well in my Comfort Zone: give me a bar I like, with friends I know and love, maybe some live music to participate in, and I can be the King of the World.  Albeit a particularly small world.

If you’ll forgive a Formula One analogy, I’m a bit like Jenson Button: when everything’s in place, the temperature’s right, the set-up perfect on a track I enjoy, then I’m unbeatable.  Unfortunately, it’s not every day everything falls that way.

At the moment, my whole life is outside my Comfort Zone.  Whenever I leave the house it’s to new territory, with new people, in new situations; even work is far from soft and fluffy.  And enough time hasn’t passed for me to forget the life of Riley I had in Leamington Spa.  As someone said: ‘Time is not the great healer, it’s memory loss’ and I still grieve often the loss of my life there.

All this presents a glaring problem: if I’m only able to be my best-self – the outgoing, funny, generous and carefree Martin – when I’m ‘comfortable’, then making new friends and a new life is going to be mighty difficult.

Nobody wants to leave a Comfort Zone, because it’s, well, comfortable.  But even our Comfort Zones were new to us once.  I went out last night and had one of my most uncomfortable evenings in a long time.  Today, I mostly want to retreat and hide away forever in my little house where I am comfortable (though it is lamentably lacking a hammock and massage chair).

But I know the right thing to do is pick myself up, dust myself down, and try again. 

I’m just gonna have a little nap first...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Bitterness, disappointment, and remaining hopeful.

Don't let a 'bitter chill' steal the chance of springtime...
(Too cheesy..?)

I’m glad I’m not bitter (who laughed??). I know some people who have let life’s disappointments turn them cold and hard; they seem to lack hope for the things they dreamed of one day having. It makes me sad.

I once read an interview with Virginia Ironside, an ‘Agony Aunt’ who writes for The Independent newspaper.  She said: ‘Once you feel hope, you’re always going to be straining for tomorrow ... Longing and hope keep one in a state of unhappiness’ (Third Way magazine, volume 33, number 6, 2010). 

What I think she meant was, if we hope for something, we’re not satisfied with what we have; she went on to say she believes acceptance is best of all.  At the time, I agreed, but now I’m not so sure.  (Never let it be said I can’t admit when I’m wrong.)

If we give up on the things we hope for, whether it’s love, a family, new social opportunities, or that career using our talents – and yes, these are all things I’ve recently considered giving up on – then what is life for?

Sure, life can hurt sometimes: we can get let down, things can turn out in a way we didn’t want.  But there’s always tomorrow to try again, and who knows?  Maybe next time we’ll get exactly what we’ve been dreaming of.

Never let disappointment and bitterness rob you of that.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Let's talk about sex...

I’m not one of those guys who walks into a bar and girls go: ‘Oh my God, he’s so hot ... I need to change my knickers.’ 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m a bad looking guy, I’m just sort of ... ordinary.  And I’m not only looking for sex either, definitely don’t get me wrong about that.  Perhaps my post is mis-titled and this is really about loneliness. 

But sometimes sex can feel like the answer to loneliness.  And, even if it’s not, it can feel like a good substitute.

I suppose I’ve been lucky in love more times than some; I have happy memories of times spent in the arms of a girl, be that on a coach trip, on the sofa, or elsewhere.  But I’m getting older, and I would like to have times like that – and, yes, sex too – again at some point in my life.

Generally it’s not safe to assume that everyone in a bar/club/coffee shop/sitting on a train/walking down the street is as ... keen to meet someone.  (I deleted a whole range of adjectives before settling on ‘keen’ including: ‘lonely’, ‘desperate’, and ‘horny’!)   So you put out feelers, test the water, and it’s usually cold.  Tepid at best.  So what's a guy to do?

People tell me: ‘You’ll meet someone when you’re not looking!’  Those people annoy me, really.  More than ants in my kitchen (but less than spiders in my bedroom).  How is someone supposed to stop looking for something they earnestly want?

If those people lost their keys, how would they feel if I said they’d turn up if they'd only stop looking for them?

As a solution to all this, I’m trying to accept that maybe my time for this has been and gone.  Perhaps those ‘loves’ I’ve had are all I am to have.  So, I’m savouring the memories, smiling about them often, and concentrating on what life has left for me now, such as writing, music and getting rid of ants, apparently.  (Fortunately I don't have a spider problem in this flat, but if they should ever rear their ugly heads again, I'll be ready.)

If you are in a relationship, or even just having sex with any sort of regularity, enjoy it, and keep hold of it for as long as you can.  Because, as JD says: 'No one understands how important sex is better than someone who isn’t having it.'

(Sorry for the long clip again, it’s really only from 4 mins 40 secs I wanted!)

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Activism and doing what you want.

My last post could have gone two ways.  I’d planned to say: rather than my current job being a destination, it could merely be another link in a chain.  Like this:

Discovering what you want to do in life is a huge thing.  It gives you something to strive for.  As I wrote my last post, I realised: no matter what 9-5 role I happen to find, I’ll always be striving towards the goal of being a fiction writer, even if I find a creative job.  I mentioned my last job was creative and tailored to me, but I was still working on my novel and stories.  The job wasn’t enough.

Then there’s the part about being an activist, about wanting to ‘change the world’.  A friend of mine asked: have I really become the activist I wanted to be?  The answer is: ‘yes and no’. 

I've never been one for camping in fields...
Yes, because I do a job for a charity doing good in this world.  I’m not one to stand on the front line, march on Westminster, camp in fields or town centres and all the rest of it; I'm as close as I wanted to get.

And no, because it's not what I wanted to do after all.  To do it ‘properly’, you have to be committed, you have to be willing to put in the extra hours.  The people I work alongside are committed, whereas often I’d rather be at home, writing.  I liked the idea of a role like the one I have, but the reality is too much of a sacrifice for me.  Maybe that’s selfish, and that’s what my last post became about.

The thing about dreams is they’re not always what they seem.  My ‘activism’ dream turned out to not be ideal after all.  But that’s okay, I can dream again.

Here’s a song I love that came to mind while I wrote this:

 ‘I always thought a man should have a dream, to pick himself up when he hits the floor.’

It may be your dream to fight the injustices in this world and that’s great, we need people like that and I will continue to be one of them.  It’s just not my life’s ambition.  (For me, I wonder if ‘activism’ is more something to aspire to in my daily life, rather than being the reason for that life...)

My advice is, if something is not your dream, don’t do it just for the sake of it.  Don’t give up chasing your dream because you think you ‘ought to’ do something else.  Keep chasing, keep searching.  Be whatever it is you, and only you, can be.

And again, I'm gonna plug Don Miller's post: 'Two words that kill passion.'

Thursday, 5 April 2012

How to change the world...

I've never been an artist...
It feels like there’s a choice: doing something less personally satisfying for the ‘greater good’, or finding a more enjoyable career path.  I’m beginning to think the latter is better, and it’s not necessarily for selfish reasons.

The little blurb about me at the top right of this page (it’s up there, go on, have a look!), says I’m a ‘wannabe-activist’.  For a long time I dreamed of working for a charity, then of working for a charity I believed in.

Now, I do that very thing; I have pretty much become the ‘activist’ I wanted to be.

The reality, however, is difficult: the workload is stressful, vast and, at times, monotonous.  It’s tough to keep one’s eyes fixed on the reason for turning up each day (beyond paying the bills, of course).  I miss the far more creative work of my previous role, tailored specifically to me and my abilities, even though I wasn’t passionate about the raison d’etre of the charity itself.  And I feel guilty, as though I should nevertheless be satisfied I’m doing something I perceive to be ‘worthwhile’.

A friend of mine ( once said she was giving up on trying to ‘change the world’ and instead was focusing on ‘being happy’.  And now I wonder...

If more people spent their time pursuing the thing they personally find fulfilling, that uses their unique talents, that they find stimulating and rewarding, and that makes them ‘happy’, then wouldn’t the world simply be a better place?

Imagine all the undiscovered painters, unpublished writers, would-be new-scientists, struggling musicians, frustrated architects, potential great leaders ... whatever ... able to do the thing they love, without having to sell-out a part of themselves to the daily grind just to make ends-meet.  What kind of a world would that be?

So go, find the thing you love, chase it, do it, and never give it up.  Because that’s how we can change the world.

(For more on this read ‘Two words that kill passion’– it’s a blog-post from Don Miller. He very eloquently says some stuff I wanted to about how doing what we want doesn't necessarily only lead to sex, drugs, rock n roll, etc...)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A brief thought about vocabulary...

Words: they’re everywhere.  And sometimes unexpectedly.

It seems to me as though the brain has a secret store of words. It's full of ones we hardly use, and even forget completely they exist until, just at the right moment, the mind says: ‘Here you go, something I had out the back.  Try it!’ 

This happened to me twice this week already: ‘industrious’ was the first and ‘pervade’ the second.  (Not particularly exotic words, I know, but also not ones I use with any sort of regularity!)

I find the more I exercise the part of my brain that is ‘wordy’ (obviously didn’t have an adjective in stock for that one), the better, and easier to use, my vocabulary becomes.  I can honestly say I’ve noticed this since starting reading more again (all hail the Kindle!), and spending more time writing.

So read, damn it, read! The world needs more lexicologists! (And there's another..! Though I have to admit I'm not sure if it's the right one in this sense...)

Monday, 2 April 2012

Memory and who we are.

Certain character traits define ‘me’.  I know them of myself and they've always been present.

I was thinking about this before, during and after my trip last week – I mentioned my earliest memory being of Findochty.  Here it is:

I was sat at a long table in a kitchen/dining room with my family.  I think my mother was to my left. The entrance to the house was at the far end of the room, and I believe the external door was blue, with a pane of glass, but I could be wrong about that.

On the table was a bowl of fruit and I vividly remember looking at it, wanting an apple, but not being sure whether it was real or plastic.  I remember being too shy and nervous to ask, or to take it and find out for myself, so I just sat there, looking at it, trying to figure it out.

The interesting thing to me is, even though I was only two-and-a-bit years old, it is so very like me, even now.  

My whole life I’ve been plagued by a lack of confidence, afraid of approaching shop assistants (as a teenager I’d get clothes ordered from catalogues so I didn’t have to go into shops!), or of going places people might notice me, or of making phone calls ... anything really, through fear of being laughed at, making a fool of myself, or just not fitting in.  (When I think about it, it’s pretty amazing I can walk into a bar and play music to a bunch of people watching me!  But that’s probably another blog post...)

I think the reason I remember this episode – and with such clarity – rather than, for example, the trip to Ibiza only three months earlier, is because of the strength and depth of my fear of embarrassment.  To my two year old self, it was obviously a very big deal.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve naturally learned to deal with these feelings, to hide them and compensate to some extent.  But they’re still there, and I find it really fascinating that they have been from as early as I can remember, as though this insecurity is at the very core of my being.  It’s a central part of who I am*. 

And that’s okay, it’s good to know.   

*It’s probably the central cause of many of the Depression-issues I’ve had but, again, that’s probably another post!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The problem of needing a day-job.

It’s Sunday evening, that traditional time for feeling depressed about the impending Monday morning.  When such feelings roll around (and they’re sadly not confined to Sunday evenings...), I wish all the more I could make my living from writing. 

It’s hard pursuing such a career in my spare time because I want some ‘down’ time too.  I want to socialise, I want to watch movies, play music, have fun, but, if I do, certain feelings nag away at me: my writing isn’t getting done; I’m not even half way through my novel; I haven’t submitted anything anywhere in a long while.  Not to mention the ‘feeling tired’ after a day’s paid-work

So I end up feeling guilty and miserable about the lack of progress.

Then there’s the knowledge I’ll never meet anyone – be they friends or otherwise – if I don’t get out and do something, but socialising on a Friday night leaves me yet more tired, inducing yet more guilt – not only did I lose Friday as writing-time, I lost Saturday too. 

It all leaves me feeling very frustrated that I can’t get up tomorrow, do a good 7-8 hours writing work, and then have time to meet people/play my guitar/crash in front of a DVD/whatever.

The privileged few who are paid fiction writers are my chief source of envy at the moment.  And knowing that they’re a ‘privileged few’ doesn’t exactly help either: even if I sacrifice my social life etc for a year to complete my novel, the chances are it still won’t get me what I want.

I guess all there is to do is keep plugging away, keep tapping away at this keyboard as best I can, whenever I can.  Like a marathon runner: focus too much on the twenty-odd miles left, and you’ll not have the strength for the next yard.  The only way to finish is one step – one word, one sentence – at a time. 

So here I go...plodding on.