bookmark_borderAutumn arrives

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” — Henry David Thoreau

After a wonderful weekend in Gothenburg – which I highly recommend you visit if you are searching for a long weekend of relaxed wanderings – we returned to a Glasgow where it’s safe to say that the nights are fair drawing in1 and with the ever darkening evenings marking the change of the season I find myself looking ahead at the coming months; trees are turning and with them the joy of autumn flourishes.

I’ve always preferred Autumn to Winter as the slow folding of time takes us through profound change, skies darken earlier, plants return to the earth, the light changes day by day. Equally Spring is preferable to Summer as it brings with it new energies fuelled by the world around us re-emerging, days brightening, and the promise of new peeks over the horizon.

I’ve always been drawn to change, always find the turn of a season motivates me anew. I am not one for resolutions made at the chime of the New Year for during those long days of Winter there can be little to distinguish a dark and cold early December morning from a mid-January evening, neither light nor temperature vary. Give me substantive change, something I can see and sense, and my brain suddenly sparks into life with a rejuvenated sense of purpose.

A few weeks ago I sensed this change was coming, Autumn was upon us and new motivations were found and plans made to get back to the gym, and to finally book that wonderful weekend away. And how wonderful it was; a beautiful city, small enough to walk around, big enough to hold more secrets to return to in the future, filled with friendly smiling faces, I have rarely felt so relaxed.

Once home, I felt re-invigorated and with the hint of Autumn on the nostrils I look to other pursuits and ponder the novel that has been creeping back into my mind these past few weeks, plot points are crystallising, character emotions emerging, and even now as I write this post it appears that my previous lost prose is returning.

It were ever thus.

Be it Spring or Autumn I always find myself itching to dive into something new, a yearning to immerse myself completely. In Spring it’s easy to find renewed vigour for something new with the premise of taking it forward into the rest of the year. Autumn offers a different motivation in the desire to blanket myself from the increasingly grey world as a means of escape.

With a successful, if already belatedly painful, gym session behind me (and another looming this very evening!), my mind is turning once more, cogs whirring like an antique time piece, and the novel I’ve long hoped to finish is being reshaped in the hope that I can capture its new shape in the coming months.

I am mindful to guard against my own habits, where an interest is piqued and followed to a place beyond immersion to an entirely unhealthy location that occupies my mind over all else. Yet that was then and this is now, and with my life and self irrevocably changed for the better in the past couple of years, I welcome this new Autumn heartily, safe in the knowledge that my occupations will be split appropriately across more important matters, with the heart overruling the head more often than not.

And, if nothing else, I have two dogs to walk.

  1. A Scottish colloquialism to represent the darker evenings that impact our northerly latitude as we head towards Winter. []

bookmark_borderIn conflict with new

I recycle, I have for many years. My partner is a lot better read on it though and I’ve learned a lot from her since we moved in together; I’m much more conscious of single use plastics et al these days and have started to question my entire habits of consumption. Quite simply, I buy too much stuff.

I’ve known this for a while and even though I’ve been a lot better at being mindful of new purchases it’s still a habit that I relax on too often. I have a drawer full of t-shirts – I could wear one a day for a month I reckon – yet have added a couple of new ones recently with the premise that ‘it’s ok because I’ll pass some of the older ones on to charity stores’. Which is good but missing the point entirely. I don’t NEED new t-shirts.

Just as I don’t NEED a new iPhone, my current one is just fine for what I use it for, yet…

I’m in the Apple upgrade programme and have the option to upgrade to the latest shiny new iPhone each year and so far I’ve done just that and justified it by, somewhat rightly, positioning an iPhone as more than just a smartphone as it’s the only camera I now have and with most year on year upgrades including improvements in photography (this year is no exception) it is entirely possible to reason my way into yet another upgrade.

Editors note: He has already upgraded, this post is really just a way of working through his angst.

I don’t NEED a new iPhone, I know this, I can rationalise that side of the argument very easily. The upgrade programme is essentially a finance option so if I choose NOT to upgrade and finishing the payments the handset is mine to keep for as long as I want.

I could also argue that in a couple of years the battery life will start to diminish on an exponential scale and will render my smartphone annoyingly dependent on having a 3rd party battery charger to hand as the battery gets worse and worse. I reckon 4 years is the longest it would remain ‘workable’ and that’s only because I work in an office and can keep my phone charging all day if I want, however the weekends would be fraught.

Perhaps THIS iPhone is the last one I get for a few years. Battery technology has come a long way in the last couple of years, with this model (iPhone 11 Pro) touted as having 4 hrs more than it’s predecessor and I’m presuming that means the slow decay of capacity is also slower (I’m not expert though, I should’ve probably have checked this out..). Improvements to the camera also are notable, so notable they spent most of the keynote presentation talking about them, and if the low light/dark mode is anything near as good as is suggested then it’ll be worth it for that alone.

So yes, I have ordered the upgrade and promised myself to double down elsewhere. The iPhone is a luxury item for sure but it is the one thing I use day in day out – there is a whole other post about those habits – and in a way it feels a little more acceptable to treat this differently to other purchases, a little different on the WANT vs NEED scale, somehow.

And perhaps this really will be the last time I do this.

Looking at the news I have to wonder if my mind might be focused on far more important things over the next year; Brexit and the current farce that is British Politics, the utter inhumanity and horror that Trump is unfolding around him on a global scale, and no doubt further global climate change implications will come to the fore. These will all come to bear on day to day decisions more and more and, I fear, such frivolities as ‘ohhh a new shiny iPhone’ will start to become more and more a thing of the past, a dinosaur relic, a tribute to my destructive consumption tendencies and some might say bring a level of karma to my hideous over-consumption of the past.

It’s a sad thought for sad and scary times but hey, at least I have a shiny new iPhone.


bookmark_borderWhy am I STILL blogging?

Is it just me or are the number of blogs on the rise again?

Despite all the other methods of social media available, blogging remains a unique option, better suited to those wishing to publish thoughts, ideas, commentary and the like, than the more recent incumbents of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Honourable mention for Tumblr but it just never had the richness to provide great content, and I think remains a little too focused on its own model of interactions rather than the content it holds.

As a long-term blogger (aka old git) it’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of popularity that blogging goes through. I think this is the third or maybe fourth wave of ‘the rise of blogging’ that I can recall and each time things change a little bit further without ever straying too far from the basic roots of blogging.

Yup, when I started round ‘ere it were all but fields…

Blogging is about mostly about words and links (I’m putting photo only blogs aside for now). Some blogs are heavier on one than the other, the best have a mix of both, and they all tend to be well written with a distinct voice. Admittedly, those are pretty wide parameters, which have been continually tweaked and stretched over the past 20 years and my blog is a reasonable example of this evolution. It weren’t always such and if you head back through my archives you’ll see I started writing short pieces every few days, then through the next couple of years (as soon as Blogger came along) I began publishing new posts multiple times a day, often linking to something interesting I’d just found and over time, as I wrote more often I found more and more of my ‘voice’, despite not ever having much of an audience (or much in the way of quality).

Today a successful blog is just one part of an online presence, sitting alongside Instagram perfect photos, sound-bite worthy Tweets, a stream of Snapchats, and lots of promotion; Read my new post! Yeah it’s not actually new but I need to keep my presence refreshed so I’m posting it again for the umpteenth time this week but hey, my stats say these are the best times for interaction/hits so I gotta do it to stay relevant!!

I see talk of things like discovering your brand, of finding the perfect grid, of honing your voice. It were ever thus of course, just that the terminology has changed a little as blogging is, for many, a business not a hobby and understandably that leads to a focus on views, hits, and stats, and as they start to grow their brand, so the focus turns to monetization (if that’s even a word) and the key to social media hierarchy, influence.

I know several bloggers who have successful blogs, that are well written, personable, gorgeously designed and well presented, and they deserve all their success for their hard work. Yes, it is hard work to maintain a blog over a long period of time, to find your voice, hone your craft and produce content regularly. Any old fool can churn out a 500 word diatribe and throw it into a templated design, but to build an engaged audience takes a level of honesty and integrity that not everyone can maintain.

To which I should admit that I look on at the latest crop of successful bloggers who appear (although we know how looks can be deceiving) to be having that ‘better life’ and I wonder. When I started my blog, if I’d really gone for it with a passion, could I have been as successful? (hint: no, or I’d have done it already).

This isn’t a grumpy old man rant though, I’m not bitter about those people as they all work hard to get to where they are, it just isn’t for me.

Which begs the question, as blogging has changed so much, why the hell am I still doing it? If it ain’t for the money and the rewards then why keep doing this, I mean, it’s been twenty years!

Let’s cut to the chase. The reason I still write and publish posts on this blog is down to pure and utter vanity. I can parcel it up any way you like, put a big bow on it and say that this is a way to process a whirl of random thoughts (which it is), or that I continue to post in the (vain!) hope that someone else might find something I’ve written useful, or perhaps I would even go so far as to suggest that my voice is actually important, my opinions should be heard, and I’m actually utterly dismayed that my blog is not more widely read but hey, I’m not that (white) guy and, frankly, I’m amazed that anyone person reads this at all. Aside from my parents of course, they remain my most loyal of readers but that’s largely because I’m a terrible son who doesn’t see his family often enough!

Essentially though, and I think whilst the means may differ, all bloggers have the same end goal in mind when they hit Publish. They want to be validated, they want to be heard and noticed. Even if it’s only a little as sometimes that’s all we need.

When I started out, part of my reason for blogging was purely the fact that I, little ole me, could write some nonsense and with a few HTML tags, and a quick FTP upload, it would appear on the internet right there next to Yahoo News! You’d search AltaVista and find my website, or perhaps you’d spot it in the list of 30 or so in the UK / Weblogs category in the Yahoo directory. Regardless, there was a strange ego boost to seeing something I’d created ‘up there’ with all the others, all of which I presumed knew exactly what they were doing and why whereas I was making it all up as I went along. Ain’t hindsight wonderful.

However, it soon became a vanity project and with valid reason for a while when I separated out my professional thoughts to a separate blog. That got me a couple of speaking slots at some industry conferences and made me very aware of being fairly high profile, admittedly if only in a small professional circle. Yet it was never something I took over into my personal blog, other than one presentation I did on blogging many moons ago, it remained a hobby.

All of that ‘fame’ happened just before the latest wave of social media, Instagram wasn’t long launched, Snapchat was a few years away, and Twitter was king with all the cool kids. I was still blogging, but it was starting to feel very much like shouting into the void.

And to be honest, it still does. But then, isn’t that the point of a vanity project? You shout and shout simply because you want to, simply because you can.

I’ve been lucky. I am still in contact, even if it’s just social media contact, with some of the bloggers that started around the same time as me, some of which are still blogging as well (we are a stubborn bunch!) but the longer this blog goes on, the more I wonder why I keep doing it, it’s a habit, sure, but is it a bad one?

When the 20th anniversary of this blog rolled around I contemplated closing it down and as each post becomes more and more of a challenge that may still happen and I can’t imagine many people will mind. What’s more important is whether I’ll mind or not, and therein lies the root of this to-blog-or-not-to-blog angst.

For a long time I wrote fairly intimately about various aspects of my life and whilst I stopped shy of discussing my sex life, other aspects of my personality, my sexuality, my political leanings, and my feminism have all been fair game. Yet over the past couple of years I’ve gotten away from that. It probably, unconsciously, started when I went back for some counselling a few years ago and while that prompted some deeper introspective posts, I’ve not really been quite as forthcoming as I have been in the past.

Perhaps it’s the growing sense of my place in the world, something I’ve touched on many times, and my growing belief that the only thing I should really be doing with my voice is to amplify the voices of others (and ohhh how I wish more men would take this stance) although I recognise the irony of that statement amongst this gushingly ponderous post. As time goes by I struggle with what to write, and yet, and yet… I still find something, so the hobby continues, even as it veers away from certain areas of my life it embraces new ones.

Even now, as I write this post, I’m trying to find an answer and half wondering if I’ll even post this – because frankly this is getting embarrassingly self-serving – yet it strikes me that I enjoy this habit, this hobby of mine that doesn’t really offer any value to anyone bar me, as it was and as it should be.

So yeah, I’ve wondered if I’m done with blogging, but it appears that I’m not. Not yet.

Apparently I’m not alone.

bookmark_borderHappily failing

It’s late afternoon as I move through the room and throw back the cover. The dust shimmers in the sunlight streaming through the window. I cough, run a hand over the stool before I sit down. Once seated I reach forward and ruffle through a stack sheet music and make my choice. I glance down and place my hands on the keyboard. After a few moments I realise my fingers are finding the keys on their own, the melody is mostly maintained, and the familiar strains of Bach fill my headphones.

I do not play piano often enough.

It’s one of many things that seem to slip from my thoughts as day follows day follows day.

I don’t play piano often enough, I don’t meditate often enough, nor have I found the time to write, or the inclination to get back to the gym.

My days slip from work, to home, to work again. My leisure time has moved to shared time on the sofa, walking the dogs, and the minutae of everyday life. I put more value on these things than my hobbies (rightly so?).

I am failing at many things.

Yet I am happier than ever.

It’s taken me some time to realise, time to reassess the balance that my life has found and how the subtle shifting of weight that some things previously held (or perhaps I gave them) has brought me to where I am now. I’ve let go of some things, and embraced others.

It’s a shift in my thought processes prompted by many little reminders here and there, themselves made possible by a shift in my approach to social media (goodbye negative voices, hello positivity) that’s made me realise that none of these things are failures.

Every time I sit down at the piano is a success. It doesn’t matter if it’s only once a month.

Every time I take time to stop and meditate for 10 minutes is a success. Every time I think about one of the two novels I have half-written is a success. And once I am past my (current) batch of physio I will get back to the gym a couple of times a week; success.

Recently there was an article doing the rounds about how people need to stop treating hobbies as things to get good at, instead we should enjoy them for what they are, a way to relax with no expectation. As I continue to step away from my old habits and learn to stop setting expectations, stop making plans, so I find myself failing more and more often. And it’s wonderful.