Sunday, 22 April 2018

The Fourth Option

Life is absolutely exhausting isn't it. When I get home from work every day I'm lucky if I can read a chapter of a book before the urge to examine the backs of my eye-lids kicks in. I've noticed I'm worse at keeping in touch with people, with having the motivations to do the things I care for and about - I haven't written a blog for months - that's definitely indicative. I've thought about writing a few times recently, as it's one of my favourite creative things to do, but just not felt the passion.

Things I care about are still continuing. There's still plenty in the news to get angry at, I just haven't worked out how to get that care back. I haven't worked out how to rage on paper again. I end up accusing myself of slacktivism, what does an angry blog achieve anyway? But that's the passivist's way out, I end up with no outlet, no creative piece, and a BA in cynicism to take my collection of useless BAs to two.
And cynicism is just the worst.
No-one likes a cynic, with good reason. Cynics aren't proactive, cynics bring down. Cynicism is the enemy of creative thinking. But yet it is such an easy trap. That empty smugness is to die for. It makes me feel like a soccer mom who's got her first prepubescent McDonald's employee sacked for forgetting darling Timothy's Happy Meal toy.
It's an addictive feeling.
But McDonald's workers across the globe, have no fear.
For I am writing again.
Look at me write.

The main gist of this blog is learning to run fast enough to do more than stand still. I've been playing a game of stuck in the mud, stood stationary as my job and my volunteering commitments play rock paper scissors for my energy. It's a convoluted metaphor, but the job has discovered the fourth option, dynamite, and is building an impressive win-streak.

One of my favourite cartoons as a kid was a Broons cartoon, featuring Granpaw at the pub with his drinking friends, telling them how the wind was so fierce on his way to the pub that every step forward he took, he was blown back two steps.
"But Granpaw", his friends cry, clearly more au fait with rudimentary physics than their bloodshot eyes would suggest, "how did you get here then?"
Granpaw sighs, probably tired of voting to leave the EU, and grins.
"I just turned around and headed for home, boys, and here I am!"

Now while my taste in classic comedy has somewhat evolved since then, it's an interesting point to illustrate my current dilemma. It is so so difficult to get to where you want in life (ie. the pub), because everything seems to conspire against you. And it's so easy, when you're battling to get somewhere, to settle. Halfway up the hill becomes really comfy, and before you know it, halfway up the hill was actually your goal all along, remember? I am a naturally sedentary individual, and it's easy to convince a tired body to not do more work at the end of a day. Cause I'm only 22, one day it'll magically happen, I'll just be where I want to be, with all the experience I want... only, as you know, discerning reader, that's not how life works.
If I just did my job for the next five years, in five year's time I'd have earned five year's wages. I'd have a bit more training, I'd be really good at minute-taking, but in terms of personal progression, in terms of long term goals, I'd be nowhere.
In fact, I'd be worse than nowhere.
My contacts in the charity sector, the skills in digital and communications that I've worked so hard to get would have faded. Now as it happens, I enjoy my new job a lot, so if I want to keep those skills and learn some new ones, it looks like I need to crack this problem sooner rather than later.

Now that sounded like a very 'me'-specific paragraph, so I'll summarise the main point in a impersonal way:
"An expert has failed many more times than the beginner has tried" - Stephen McCranie
It is so easy to settle. If you ever feel like you haven't achieved life goals, it may be because those huge goals are not specific enough, and that's why you haven't achieved them.
If you have ever set business goals, you quickly learn to be micro-ambitious in what you want to achieve, Try applying that to personal goals.
Yes, you might be a whisky taster or drive dumper trucks for a living, so this isn't for you, you've reached your dream. But it's no use setting Z as the goal if you're at D. Being micro-ambitious, working out how to get where you want to go. Big goals that are steps away from your current ability are unreachable, by their definition. Maybe when you've worked that out, I'll have realised how to get where I want to be, and we can laugh in our slippers and dressing gowns with big glasses of Gin and Tonic.
(That's my life goal, don't know about you).

This is a most unusual Joe blog, because it isn't going to end with a glib one-liner with just a hint of pretension, no. This blog shall finish as it started, by recognising the exhaustion of living, and by commending those who have the energy to keep changing the world in their little or big way, however that looks.
If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Blue Sky, Thinking

"Okay, that's one thing I know about life, One thing I know about life is a guarantee, right?
Change is inevitable!
And listen to me, as much as you like to be in your comfort zone, as much as you like to be stable, as much as you like to control your environment,
The reality is: Everything Changes" -
Eric Thomas
I write a journal. Every day(ish), I'll write a page or so of brain mumblings, good quotes, interesting people I've met, that sort of thing. These next two sentences have come from post-University journal entries, and I find them really interesting to examine with hindsight:

"You finish University, and you are the cock of the walk, and ever so quickly you're a feather duster - that change is rapid and inevitable. 
I'm in a stasis between full-time education and full-time employment."

They nicely sum up this feeling I haven't been able to shake, that something isn't starting yet, that life is currently tougher than it has been, and that if one thing changed, I'd be alright and I could start to 'live life'.

When you are born, you go through a range of physical changes that eventually deposit you at adulthood, right? And there's a range of mental changes you undergo too, the reason I don't find The Beano such a good read any more(Sorry Mr D. Menace, I loved you once), and the reason I've stopped bathing in Lynx Africa. I'd say I have gone through more mental changes over the past few months than I did during my entire University period, and if you'll excuse the rampant pretension, I'll attempt to explain why, in three reasons, I think that's the case. (You've got to excuse it, it's my blog, "whatever, I do what I want".)

      Unemployment = Forced Retirement
While difficult, I have really enjoyed unemployment (I think), for the reason that it forces you to evaluate what you deem to be important. "People retire to die", right, the famous saying. You potter, you watch the snooker, you spend time with family, and then you shuffle off the mortal coil and go to *insert personal Heaven fantasy here*. But I have no intention of shuffling off the mortal coil and going to LegoLand any time soon, rather, I need to keep myself in the best mental shape I can, so that when an application comes through, I can be my best self in an interview, and hopefully get someone paying me. I've noticed I value my time these days far more than I used to, which is interesting. Now I have more time, I'm more protective of it. Go figure. Without the routine of University, or sixth form, or secondary school, or primary school, I've had the time to pursue passions. I'm far less deferential than I was 6 months ago, I have begun to respect knowledge, not position. My Christian upbringing has faded, beautifully and mercifully. More on that later.
        Talent = Sustained interest
This was huge to realise. I've been good at things before (I know, check me), and I've put time into those things. I never quite made the correlation. Talent = sustained interest - I'll quote it again, I love it so much. For instance, I have always wanted to make my own text-based adventure game, skill checks, an inventory, sprawling story lines, a real monsters and clever protagonists immersive game. And I have wanted to make this game for years. I realised, one day, that I could want to do something all my life, and just not do it because I didn't know how to do the intermediate skills that it would require to do. Because I couldn't achieve intermediate instantly, I didn't bother.
Until I became unemployed.
I signed up to a free course, and I've been coding for just over a month now. I'm terrible. I know I'm terrible. But I am "terrible and learning", which in my book is better than "slightly better than terrible and not learning". I made my first game this week- Pong. It took me 4 hours and a tutorial that said I'd do it in just under 2. I was so pleased with that progress, cause I'd written the theme tune, played the theme tune, and sung the theme tune, I'd done everything to make one of the most well-known games of all time. Talent = sustained interest, so in a few months I'll be a whole lot closer to making my own text-based adventure game than I would have ever been if I hadn't have bothered learning in the first place.
       Who am I?

This is a less refined version of the "what's important to me?" question we all tackle till the day we die. For those who I confide in, they will know that a lot of things I put stock in have fallen by the way. The weirdness of my manically Christian upbringing has fallen where it needed to, and those I love have remained. And as a result, there's such a freedom in how I act now. I'm not constrained by what I 'should do', I'm certainly not constrained in what I can say.
I'm also realising that there's no such thing as "being in a stasis", and trust me, I've really been through the five stages of grief on that one. I'm realising that "I'm in a stasis" is a defensive mechanism, it's an excuse (which is fine, we're allowed defensive mechanisms, we're allowed excuses) which means I don't have to interact with the present in the present, I can look at it from the end of a barge pole. I caught myself time and time again, talking to people, saying "Oh I'm in such a stasis at the moment, when I have a job and a place, then I can really start life, then I can really start to make 'ME', the adult." And I had the horrible realisation that it doesn't exist. There is no stasis, there is only horrible all-consuming life. And that has been such an eye-opener for me. If I want to start climbing, why say I'll do it when I've got a house? How are those two statements even connected? If I want to write a book, saying I'll do it when I have more time means that without a doubt I won't do it when I have more time. It won't ever magically 'get better'. That's a scary thought, and it's a liberating one, because once you realise something doesn't exist, you can fill the gap it occupied with something more worthwhile. I don't have to wait till I've got my own house before I code. I can do that now. I don't have to wait till I can drive before I make sure I'm a presence in my nieces/nephews lives, I have a rail card and I'm not afraid to use it.
Try me.

All the most pretentious waffle ends with a quote, so Tim Minchin says it best:
"Life is meaningless...You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead. 
There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It...It's an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours." - Occasional Address