My Ever Shrinking World

Say yes more than no (it can lead to amazing things).

Whilst not quite a mantra, this is definitely something I’ve been trying to be better at in an effort to be more spontaneous and social. Sometimes it can be a battle to get out of the door at all, but I find if I have plans with other people I’m more likely to make the effort to get my lazy arse up off the sofa as I don’t like letting people down (which I realise is heading into the ‘I JUST WANT TO BE LOVED, LOVE ME!!!!’ territory but that, as ever, is for an entirely other post or, you know, the entire subtext of this blog. Whatever.)

Here’s the thing. I’m a middle-aged man, fighting off looming old age as best I can using a variety of methods; I try and be good to my body by feeding it well and moving it often, I try and be good (better at least) to my brain by letting it pause now and then, I try and keep my soul active and connected to the wider world by reading and listening and learning from people who are smarter than me but still speak my language in terms of sensibilities and world views, and I take note of opposing views and artefacts as best I can.

And lastly, as some of you may have noticed, I can be quite the little social butterfly(*). That said, sometimes I say yes a little too readily (PLEASE LIKE ME AND LET ME BE YOUR FRIEND!) and sometimes I’ve said yes then changed my mind later to make sure I’m not overdoing things… what a funny thing our minds can be; BE BUSY! OK I will! WHOA, not THAT busy, now go lie down in a dark room!!

I recently had occasion to say yes, I swithered but that little voice in my head perked up and delivered it’s usual reasoned thinking; Say yes but have a plan to cut things short if you need to. This is not a new thing, and it’s part and parcel of being me, sometimes I just timeout and have to leave. I’m never sure why or when it’ll hit but I tend to plan for it.

I digress. I said yes when a friend invited me out for drinks. Big whoop, right?

It was a Sunday (before the last bank holiday) and I swithered a bit but ultimately decided to push myself to get up off of the sofa and I’m so glad I did! If I hadn’t have said yes to the offer of going for a few beers with a couple of people from the gym, then I wouldn’t have ended up goinging for a curry with them that evening, during which we agreed to go walking up a hill the following day in the same company, plus two adorable staffies.

All in all it was a lovely, random, unplanned couple of days and in one of those little quirks of life, it turns out that one of said lovely couple grew up in my hometown of Dumbarton. I only found this fact out the following weekend as they invited me for a barbeque just because it was sunny (did I mention that they are lovely?). Anyway, it was fun to have someone from my old school to chat to about things from back in the day, even though there is a few years between us (I’d left secondary school a couple of years before she entered). Given I have virtually no contact of note (Facebook doesn’t count) with people I went to school with and haven’t ever really had the need or desire to think back to my school days, it was a bit surreal to actually be chatting about some of the teachers and classrooms of my youth.

From saying a simple ‘yes’ to meeting some (new) friends I met at the gym, to chatting about my old school with someone who happens to come from Dumbarton as well just proves that the world really isn’t all that big.

Mind you, given some of the coincidences that have occurred to me over the past few years I’m starting to wonder whether it’s the world that’s shrinking or somehow I’m just starting to occupy more connected space in it? Is this really just that whole six degrees of separation thing at play? Perhaps it is, and I only really need to dig in to some of the connections I’ve made in the wonderful Venn diagram that is my life.

It all starts with a small knitting cafe/shop in the West End of Glasgow called the Yarn Cake (go for the knitting, stay for the cakes!)…

I was in Reading, I think, speaking at a conference and I attended a talk by a woman by the name of Chris Atherton. Her talk was fascinating and I was lucky enough to chat to her later on (my ability to converse semi-coherently whilst fairly drunk is my key networking skill!). She mentioned she was visiting Glasgow in a few weeks to help paint a friends new shop, a fact which fell out of my brain until she mentioned it on Twitter a few weeks later, stating ‘anyone I know in Glasgow’ that she’d be around for a drink. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it along to meet her and replied, via public Twitter, as such.

My reply tweet prompted another friend of mine, Ann (of the wonderful daily quote emails that you really should subscribe to), to message me to ask how I knew about the Yarn Cake? Ann knew of the Yarn Cake as she is a knitter and hails from north of the border (like all good people), and when I said I’d only heard about it via Chris, well it turned out Ann knows Chris too. Not a massive coincidence perhaps, as our professional careers have a bit of an overlap but still… given I only know Ann via blogging, it’s a lucky connection if nothing else, right?

Venn circles : Work, Blogging.

Ohhh and the owner of the Yarn Cake, the wonderful Antse, I later I got to meet at an event (more on these in a bit). I chatted to her for a while before I asked what she did, and lo and behold… the circle was complete. Well, one of them.

Now let’s fast forward a few months, my (now ex)girlriend was getting into knitting and I mentioned the Yarn Cake to her. The shop ran social evenings for knitters to get together and hang out (and chat and knit and eat cake). She went along and met someone named Sara who I also got to know when the three of us went to the Scottish Tattoo Convention later that year. Sara also invited us along to watch Roller Derby as she was involved with the local Glasgow team (which we was loads of fun).

Venn circle : Roller Derby.

The next circle of this little Venn diagram was first formed when I moved into Glasgow. Recently divorced, I started looking around for some other ways to expand my social circle and stumbled across the Yelp community. I had been using the app to find places to eat and drink, and things to do as I ‘rediscovered’ Glasgow for myself and saw that there was a “Pakora night” happening and, after a sip or three of Dutch courage, I ventured along to one of Glasgow’s beloved curry houses and, there in the basement of Mother India, was another suggestion that my world was shrinking.

Before turning up at the Yelp event I had messaged the community manager and she had warmly invited me to come along. So as I opened the door and ventured inside I was hoping to bump into her first so there would be at least one person I ‘knew’. Lo and behold the first person I spotted was a guy I worked with! Excellent, I thought, I know someone here. What I didn’t know at that point was that the guy I knew, was the husband of the community manager.

That was the first of many wonderful Yelp events through which I was lucky enough to get to know a lot of amazing, vibrant, lovely people, many of which I consider to be good friends. And through those early events, as I started to get to know more people I realised that quite a few of the women were also involved in the local Roller derby team and knew Sara .. and the world shrunk a little more.

Venn circle : Yelp.

Zip forward a few years, the Yelp community is no more (booooo!) and I’m now a regular at a gym that I originally found via Yelp. It’s a progressive type of place that is very protective of its inclusive atmosphere, it’s no real surprise that the majority of attendees are people who don’t identify as male. Equally, given the crossover of Yelp and Roller Derby it’s not really a surprise that quite a few of the attendees all play/played roller derby together… so I already knew a fair portion of the people at the gym before I started going.

Venn circle : Gym.

Now let’s go back to the start. When I wandered down to Byres Road that day, the day I said yes, and met my friends from the gym? Well that lovely couple also occupy a couple of Venn circles as they too were involved in Roller Derby. This is all getting a bit ridiculous now. But wait! As I arrived they were sitting with a guy that they knew, and that I knew from a completely OTHER group of friends! And at this point I’m about ready to concede defeat and just presume that everyone in Glasgow knows everyone else.

But was it always this way? The Yelp/Roller Derby/Gym links wouldn’t have been available to me without the internet and social media, which makes me wonder if I would know even half of the amazing people I do today without it?

Many (many) years ago when I started this blog, there was only a handful of other people in the UK who were also partaking of this new online publishing nonsense. They were all, without exception, far more accomplished writers, thinkers, and all round human beings than I, but because they were so few us around they couldn’t get rid of me. I commented, linked, and emailed back and forth and started to build some friendships*. I was lucky enough to get to meet several of them in real life, coaxing them out to the pub on a couple of my visits to London. Yup, we were doing ‘meet ups’ before MeetUp existed, that’s how old skool we are!

I’m still lucky to be able to call many of those same people my friends, I’ve met them a few more times, been invited to their weddings, even spoke did a reading at one of them (which was a surprise for me as she hadn’t actually told me about it so I only found out when they announced “and next, Gordon will read an excerpt from My Love is like a red red rose”).

I’ve probably fallen out of touch with more than my fair share of these people as well much to my shame, I really must do something about that…

This, for me, is the HUGE upside of social media; the ability to make connections with like-minded people regardless of where they are. Some of the people from the early blogging days now live outside of the UK but I still have a tiny portal through which to watch their lives unfold and expand, and it makes me so happy to see so many of them prosper (did I mention how talented and downright amazing they all are?!).

Closer to home the effects are even greater. It’s safe to say that I’m pretty busy most weeks and that’s entirely because I’m reaping the fruit borne of all these connections (as those with access to my Facebook Events page can testify). From gigs, to theatre visits, to gin festivals, to hill walking, to barbeques, to fancy dress parties, to weddings, there is so much love and laughter in my life I feel very blessed.

Saying yes more than no is a nice phrase but can be hard to achieve at times. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to go along to an event where you don’t know anyone is scary, and can be emotionally tiring and I know I’m very lucky, not everyone is able to do what I do. Equally there is a lot to be said for saying no, for taking time for and by yourself.

Regular readers of this blog (both of you) will not be surprised that this is something that, despite my calendar showing otherwise, I’m quite careful to keep in balance. Sure I may be out every night of a given week but I protect my gym nights, it’s all I do that night and sometimes even that can be a struggle. No, not the gym part but the being around other people part.

There is a flip side to this as well. If you are the person inviting others, and they say no, it’s worth keeping in mind that maybe they wanted to say yes but couldn’t. Don’t stop inviting them no matter what it feels like to you, they aren’t saying no because they don’t want to spend time with you, but because they want to spend time with themselves. Invite them again, and maybe ask if it’s ok to keep inviting them in the future. You’d be surprised how many people get stressed when an invite arrives, even for something minor.

Looking back over the past few years it’s easy for me to see that the larger my little weird Venn diagram gets the better I feel about my life, the more connected I am to people the more grounded I feel. These connections are a subtle form of self-care at times, a massively overwhelming one at others, but it is something I know I need. I’m a sociable person, an extroverted introvert, and I’ll continue to say yes as often as I can. After all, who knows what might happen tomorrow?

  • Somewhere in my brain I gently categorising people I have relationships with; my family, my closest dearest loved ones, my friends, and general acquaintances. I’m very lucky.
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