The quieter you become the more you can hear.Ram Dass
We do not need power to be compassionate, but we need compassion to be powerful.Adolfo Quezada
Our clutter isn’t relegated only to material things.Joshua Fields Millburn
We clutter our lives with destructive relationships, careers, obligations, rituals, busyness, minutiae, news, media, politics, gossip, drama, rumours.
We clutter our attention with glowing screens.
We clutter our creativity with distractions.
We clutter our free time with trivialities.
We clutter our desires with attachments.
Our lives are brimming with existential clutter, emotional clutter, mental clutter, spiritual clutter.
So much so that it’s hard to distinguish what is clutter—and what is not.
We are stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious because we’ve filled our lives with disorder, chaos.
Though there is a solution.
Look at an object, a commitment, a habit.
Does it bring tranquillity or increase your well-being?
If not, let it go!
Not an easy fix,
but a simple one.
I’ve been decluttering again.
In my never-ending battle to get rid of unneeded stuff, and find places for the things that are needed (half the battle sometimes), I’ve taken a different tack and started sorting through different parts of my life and questioning what is truly important to me.
It’s not been easy. The last few months, pandemic aside, have been very trying for me and my family yet, in a way, they’ve been hugely instructive as well, especially as I now have a little distance from which to view things.
Obviously, the sudden death of my father in August is the largest disruption, but since then my Mum has had issues with an abscess causing her to need a short stay in hospital and more recently she had not one but two falls, cracking vertebrae the first time, and her pelvis the second; My Mum is a stroke survivor of 9 years with limited use of her left side so that makes things a little trickier still. I spent a couple of weeks living with her to get her through the worst of it. And still, more recent news includes the death of a close friends mother, the list goes on…
This is all to say that, as always, life continues to throw curveballs because clearly a global pandemic that is killing people and destroying livelihoods – not to mention a Prime Minister that is killing people and destroying livelihoods (but none those of his chums obv) – is apparently not enough to deal with.
But enough with the woe is me.
I’m lucky, very very lucky in comparison to many.
I’ve been able to work through the pandemic and my boss has been supportive of my need for sudden time off and the resulting skewed working hours here and there, something that would’ve been impossible to manage if I was still office-based.
Throughout all of this my amazing partner has been an absolute rock, I don’t think I could have gotten through all of this the way I have without her and it’s helped me learn a lot about our relationship, and myself. My friends too have reached out and been there whenever I asked, and all in all, I feel very loved and supported. I hope I’ve been able to offer a shred of that back to them but, I fear as always, I’ve not quite been there enough.
I look at my acquaintances, more recent friends made in the past few years, and can see that I’ve fallen out of touch. It’s natural, I think, to shrink your world when things get hard so I’m looking forward to a time when it can start to grow again, to embrace those people once more, figuratively and literally.
In a way, this minimised life has forced me to look at how I live more than anything, the habits I have, the things I do and don’t do. As I’ve mentioned here I’m now someone who meditates almost every day, I stretch almost every morning, and even though we are heading to peak food consumption day, I’m still being (mostly) mindful of what I put in my body.
Christmas is another good time to focus on why we have so many things. I look at where I’m sitting now and can see things I don’t need and/or don’t use, and I’m glad that my family is adopting a no presents for adults rule (small mindings aside). We do the same, Becca and I, and it’s twice the fun to spot something small that I know she’ll love.
Next year will bring more challenges no doubt, Brexit will loom large through January and February as we adjust to whatever that brings (does anyone really know?), and as the vaccination and COVID variants continue to battle perhaps we need to look to the summer for more respite, and the chance to reconnect.
However I’m convinced there will be good news next year, one way or another, and as an aide to that part of my recent decluttering thoughts have been about the news I consume, both in terms of volume and source. I’m still reading and keeping up but find myself spending far less time getting lost in the discussions and what-if-ery that seems to be more and more prevalent.
Ultimately things will play out as they will so let’s focus on what is here and now, right in front of us. This is the now we can be a part of, and now, more than ever, I feel the need to push all of the other noise away, taking a broom to the clutter that feeds in via social media, news website, radio announcements and newspaper headlines.
It feels good to be clearing out a little, even if it’s only really a mental adjustment, a bit of stock-taking here and there to remind myself of the things I’m keeping in my life as much as the things I’m pushing away. Switching the focus away from all that clutter to only the things I’m keeping, the things I really need, make it all so much easier.
The nights are fair drawin’ in, eh!
Walking a black dog at night can be a little tricky, and while he doesn’t get off the lead we do have a light-up collar for him, just in case he makes a bid for freedom (to chase a cat, or a bird, or a leaf …). And so, safely adorned, Dave and I take our evening pre-prandial wander around the locality and given the time of year we are delighted to see an ever-growing number of emblazoned homes, festooned in their Christmas finery. It’s such a joy to see them popping up, a tree here, a glowing star there, especially after such a turgid year.
But wait! Something is amiss! It’s something that seems to have changed over the past few years, like the subtle change of a tide, and if anything it seems to be getting worse!
Where are all the colours?! Where are the tawdry baubles, the glowing bulbs, the dazzling tinsels?
Walking through our neighbourhood is a sad affair these days, as more and more houses light up for Christmas it seems that more and more of them are opting for Instagram friendly, exquisitely decorated trees that all have one thing in common; THEY LOOK BORING!
Looking across a few windows the other night and the only difference between the lights on the trees, proudly displayed in grand bay windows, is which type of white/yellowy light has been used. One house has a vibrant white twinkle, the other a gentle golden glow, and not one had any other colour on display.
These are not the Christmases of my youth. Now I know that trends come and go, but I’ll be so happy when the current trend of these seeming magazine perfect Christmas trees, in all their matching decorative glory, is gone and we can again return to the fun and frivolity of a nonsense Christmas tree. One decorated with all manner of weird and wonderful ornaments, gathered together over the years, festooned with coloured tinsel and ablaze with multi-coloured lights of every colour imaginable!
It feels churlish though, this year of all years, to let this pet hate bubble up. In reality, I’m just glad to see the lights, the feeling of some normality, the season of goodwill and all that but it still gnaws away at me. Whilst I no longer buy into the rampant commercialisation that Christmas has become, at least it was always colourful and upbeat. To look at some of these trees I have to wonder why, when you have the PERFECT excuse to brighten things up on these dull winter nights, why you would opt for ‘warm gold’ as the colour scheme of choice.
Last year I was wandering around our local DIY superstore and was boggled to see perfectly laid out displays with matching tinsels and baubles and ribboned bows in perfectly dull and boring colours, a deep teal there, a bronze shimmer here, boring boring boring!
Is it just me?
Or is it just where I live? Is it only the homes that can afford to follow fashion that indulges in new lights, new decorations, matching this, coordinating that, because they have the money to be able to? Is this some form of class divide? Glasgow is small enough that by simply changing my walk a little, taking in slightly less affluent streets, brought a noticeable change in the colour of the lights blinking at me from their windows.
Regardless, the thing I enjoy most about Christmas is the lights that seem to glow all the brighter on these dark nights. And if I’m being truly honest I don’t mind the boring lights all that much, it’s just nice to see them cropping up more and more, bring some joy to a year that desperately needs it.
I’m staying positive.
I’m fighting the fear.
I’ve been telling myself this for a while now, repeating it like a mantra. It’s not a command (stay positive!) but a statement of how I’m feeling, even when I’m not feeling it; I’m staying positive. I’m very much of the belief that you can fake it until you make it, so I’m staying positive.
It’s getting harder though, finding that balance between caring for myself, caring for my loved ones, and caring about others. As the news gets darker day by day, so too do the nights. The weather has turned towards winter, and with gloomy days ahead I find it harder and harder to keep others in mind. I can feel my world shrinking to the immediate, to my kin, and it’s more and more of an effort to retain anyone outside of my bubble.
I guess this is natural at this time of year, it’s when bears hibernate after all, when blankets and warm fires become appealing, closed curtains and lush candles to increase the hygge. I do love Autumn, but as it bleeds away and the colours dull I can feel my attitude changing. Perhaps that is why Christmas, and the all the colourful decorations and lights that go with it, remains such a joy, a simple way to bring a dash of playful hues into our homes, to lighten our moods and help us pause, and then breathe out.
Is this year any different? It feels that way and listing the reasons seem to make it obvious; on top of the looming unknowns of Brexit, we are back in lockdown again with a global pandemic worse than ever, I am only months removed from the death of my father, and worries of how my Mum will cope in the coming weeks as she will soon be released from hospital again after her second bone breaking fall in as many months.
But despite all of this I’m staying positive, because I know myself well enough and understand what might happen if I don’t.
It would be easier to huddle tighter, to drop my view more and more until all I can see are my immediate surroundings, all the better to protect myself for the continuing onslaught the world seems so willing to inflict. I know it’s not just me in these situations, I know how lucky I am to be where I am in my life right now despite all of the negativity that swirls around.
So I stay positive because if I don’t I know my fears will rise up, confident in their place in the dark, and start to consume me.
All of these thoughts (and ohhh so many more) had been gathering pace over the past week or so, making me weary as my brain zipped around all the dusty corners it could, consolidating all of my smallest fears into a maelstrom of how I was destined to fail at ‘my future’ (no, I don’t know what that really means either but it’s the only way I can think to describe it).
There I was, close to a place I recognised from previous visits, doing my very best what if-ing about things I have no control over whatsoever, ignoring and nullifying any accomplishments, and trying to (over) plan my way ahead so I wouldn’t fail.
It was an odd moment to step back from all of that and see it for what it was. At the end of a recent group meditation (on Zoom obvs) I realised what was happening and where I was headed and thought, with complete clarity, fuck that! Been there, done that, do not want the t-shirt.
Instead I decided to take control and confront that list of fears my brain had cobbled together and, lo and behold, things aren’t as bad as they seem.
There is one thing in particular that became apparent, that the one thing I really need to let go of is the vision I have for my future, the future where I am again a house-owner, with a nice big garden for the dogs, a (double) garage for the bikes, a place for Becca to park her van (and when that goes a camper-van), a place that will be too big for us just now but that’s ok too. There are practical fears writ large over all of that, money being the most obvious, and not being able to see clearly how we get there was starting to gnaw away at me.
Of course we may not end up there (in a place that looks suspiciously like my childhood home only bigger), but that doesn’t matter and it most certainly isn’t something I should fear. Which, whilst it all sounds very obvious now, was something I hadn’t even realised was nagging away at me.
Naturally there are other fears still rattling around but they too are diminished not only by being identified but by being discussed with my partner. We are on this journey together after all and whilst we are both a little impatient to get on with it, we know we are in a good (privileged) place right now and that makes us both happy, which is all that really matters.
That last phrase sounds glib, almost a throwaway line yet it holds the crux of all of this. As long as we are both happy, what more do I really need?
So instead of worrying about all of those fears I have pushed them away as the nonsense they are and now I am looking at my life as it is today and making small changes to improve things. I’m reminding myself of why I am doing the things I am doing and retaining, as best I can, my optimism for the future and my sense of positivity.
Things I know
I can’t impact what has happened in my past, and I’m glad it got me to where I am today.
I can’t impact the future other than to be mindful of it and considerate of the fact that it will happen one way or another.
Today I can be happy, I can be positive, I can smile, laugh, and seek out the small moments of joy that hide away in the gaps of our lives.
That’s the headline.
Biden will be President.
That’s the REAL headline, the one to focus on.
Yet I find myself less than elated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that America will no longer have a fascist as a President, and I’m clinging desperately to the notion that the hope that triumphed over hate in America (if only just) will continue to flow to other countries around the world.
At the start of the Trump presidency I looked on, bewildered; How could a man so obviously out of his depth have managed to secure such a powerful position. Of course, he’s a white man, so he already had a fairly good shout without having to do anything except turn up, but even then it was astounding to me that this narcissistic loon had pulled it off.
As his odd mannerisms and baffling press conferences started to emerge, so did the take that he was something to be laughed at. Look at the silly orange faced man with the tiny hands, listen to his weird voice, what a moron. Yet I found it hard to laugh because that’s all the liberal media seemed to be aiming for, a simple lampooning of Trump for cheap laughs. Where was the true satire? Where was the notion that this man was horrific, dangerous, and would endanger so many people in so many different ways.
Here was a dangerous and now powerful man, who was President of the United States, and the best we could do was point and giggle? Clearly Trump was a pawn, manipulated and cajoled by many, and while I’m sure he thinks he came up with all his ‘good ideas’, I doubt that Bannon, Putin et al would agree. Try as I might I just could not shake the notion that all of it, the man, the things he stands for, all of it was not something to laugh at and I never really understood why he was being so trivialised, so easily, by so many.
Don’t get me wrong, I read articles highlighting all of these things, but they weren’t the ones being published by mainstream media, the masses either agreed with Trump, or thought him a harmless buffoon. It’s no wonder we have our own ‘harmless buffoon’ in charge of the UK Government.
Sidebar: Neither Trump nor Boris are buffoons, they know what they are doing, they know why they are doing it and they are dangerous, predatory, self-serving, elitists. The only thing stopping Boris being compared to, and acting like, a Nazi is the proximity of Europe.
I realise it’s all well and good saying all of this after the fact, but there you have it.
For the past week I’ve had an unsettling sense of fear; fear of violent retributions from both sides, fear of a descent into exactly the kind of hate filled, goaded, rhetoric that Trump was becoming more and more overt with in his final days. I’m gladly surprised that it doesn’t seem to have gone that way and, oddly, I think the descent into legal battles will stop more bloodshed. For now.
That sense hasn’t really gone. The right-wing in America are emboldened, they are out in the light and they don’t care to hide. Why should they? Go skim read some Trump supporters twitter feeds. Get out of your own bubble and be amazed, then shocked, then genuinely fearful that people like that exist. Well, that’s presuming you are a like-minded person to myself of course.
Whilst Biden had over 75 million popular votes, Trump and everything he stands for managed over 70 million. Many of the latter would have remained Trump supports purely from their Republican base, and many will be from the same pool of disenfranchised voters who are simply fed up of ‘big government’ and thought that Trump was going to sort all that out and still believe that’s what America needs.
Further still a large portion of that, a LARGER portion than before, will remain. Trump may be gone (or at least going) but the ideas he stood for, the approaches he took, the lies and hatred remain, and the groups that have expanded and stand emboldened remain. That’s what scares me the most.
Biden stands for a return to caring about the environment, a focus on racial injustice, a bringing together of a country that only seems to be growing further and further apart.
So I hold onto my hope, hope that if Trump can turn the world on its head in 4 years, that maybe Biden can turn it back. Hope that other fascists, those would be dictators, will be toppled soon. Hope that love and peace will be the defining factors of the world in the coming decade.
I have the hope, I just need to find some optimism.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Ain’t that the truth.
It seems like no time at all since the start of August, and in the wake of my Dad’s passing – actually can I pause here, my Dad died, he is dead, I need to get used to saying those words and not have them feel like a bad thing, he didn’t ‘pass’ (and I know he would agree with me here) he died, he got cremated, his body is ash, he doesn’t live on anywhere. He is dead.
Whooo sorry that got a bit heavy there! Realised I’ve been trying to soften the blow a little when other people find out (which is still happening) but why? People die. It’s sad, and I miss him every single day, but it’s happened, I can’t change that.
Anyway, enough about Dad. He hated a fuss. Where was I?
Oh yes, life moves fast…
So, in no particular order over the last couple of months, post my father’s death, I’ve started back at the gym, bought a new bike, my Mum fell and cracked a vertebrae (T11) and so I stayed with her for a couple of weeks, then it was my birthday, I got back (again) to the gym, and then last weekend my Mum had another fall and has cracked her pelvis. She’s still in hospital where I can’t visit her because some people can’t give up going to the pub or aren’t willing to wear a mask…
This is all alongside the usual working days, side projects, dogs to walk, of course.
In better news, tomorrow marks day 400 of my partner’s sobriety. I am so immensely proud of her and feel so lucky to be part of her life. I won’t say more, it’s not my story to tell.
And so there you have it. Life continues, at pace.
Overall I’m doing ok, the outcome of the US election will be what it will be, we are taking the right COVID protections within our own ‘bubble’ and I already know 2021 will look very different to 2019 and talk of a ‘return to normal’ is just nonsense. Given I can’t change any of this, I’m doing my best to let it slide.
However, fundamentally, despite all of the crap stuff, I feel happy. I am finding more ways to love myself, to accept myself, and the last few months have (weirdly) been absolutely key to this. It would’ve been easy to dwell, to fall deep into mourning my father, to rail against the injustices of the world that leaves my Mum lying in a hospital bed again. Instead I’m letting go of the things I can’t control, not something I’ve been particularly good at, before now, but I guess necessity is the mother of invention and all that, and there is no time like the present (the latter a phrase that takes on quite the double meaning these days!).
Yes, life moves fast, life is too short, so if I may borrow another movie quote, you either gotta get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.
OK, that one is a little on the nose.
My point is that I’m still here, I don’t fear the future and I know there is still a long way to go on my journey, many highs and lows still to encounter, and I feel more ready than ever to experience them.
I hope you are coping with all of this too, dear reader, hope you are finding ways to let yourself rest easy, ways to be happy, ways to counter the unrelenting shit show that 2020 has been so far, finding ways to realise that amongst all of the anger, pain, and loss there are still moments of beauty worth noticing.
Be kind to you and yours.
You’re still here? It’s over. Go home.