I’ve always admired poets, admired with envy as I gaze upon their words, the way they flow, the imagery they conjure, the emotions captured and delivered with subtle grace and ingenuity. Hell even just getting a few paragraphs that follow some form of cadence is a miracle to me.
Oh yes, I’ve tried my hand but beyond a few rhyming couplets I start to stutter.
My Dad on the other hand was, it turns out, quite the prolific poet and songwriter. From his early days performing folk songs to writing odes for departing colleagues, he kept on writing and, taking no small inspiration from a well-kent Scottish bard, he wrote frequently for the numerous Burns suppers he attended and performed at, sonnets and speeches, toasts, and retorts, all were well within his grasp.
Latterly he took to writing about all sorts of daily gripes, family life, and anything that came across his view.
I’ve read a few of his creations over the years, shared a few here and there as well. When I sat down to write for my sister’s wedding it was Dad that I had in mind, Dad that I was really trying to impress.
Before he died, my father had started collating all of his poems and songs into a book. He’d done virtually all the work, even gotten as far as ordering 20 copies to test the process. Unfortunately, he passed away before more were required.
I’m currently revisiting this little project of his, and we are hoping to be able to publish some copies in time for the 1st anniversary of his death.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting this off as long as I can, but I find that re-reading his words is bring more solace than I expected. I can hear his voice, know where he would put emphasis, and where he’d pause for a laugh, and whilst it’s still torturously sad that he won’t write or perform again, the fact we have all these words of his at all makes me smile; a small part of him retained.
I wonder if that’s now the reason I’m writing more in my journal, and still publishing things here, as a way to capture things for my family when I’m gone. A way to give them this same feeling of sad comfort.
Happily Imperfect‽ Posts
I’ve always admired poets, admired with envy as I gaze upon their words, the way they flow, the imagery they conjure, the emotions captured and delivered with subtle grace and ingenuity. Hell even just getting a few paragraphs that follow some form of cadence is a miracle to me.
A few years ago I moved from permanent salaried jobs to contracting. Ostensibly it was a shot in the dark as I needed a job, any job, at the time, and I thought why not?! It was (and still is) a means to an end. Like you I have bills to pay and so, having not yet won the lottery nor been bestowed a modest (but generous) amount of free money by a mysterious benefactor, I found myself putting on my best (only) suit, digging a slightly creased tie out of the back of my wardrobe and presenting myself for a screening interview.
6 minutes later, I kid you not, I was done and an hour after that I got the call that they were happy to offer me the position. That was over 5 years ago and I’m still working in the same place.
My current contract was due to end in September as the project I’ve worked on that entire time is finally being wound up and only a handful of staff, myself included, remained to work through various close down activities. With the end of my contract in sight I decided to start the onerous project of finding a new job, and opened up my LinkedIn account again to see how the job market was and what ‘opportunities’ might be found there.
My oh my, I had forgotten what a mess LinkedIn can be and whilst you can filter out a lot of the noise, and I certainly do my utmost to do that, it’s still a place heavily dominated by American work ethics and ideals that I’ve always baulked against, things I find myself actively pushing back against more and more as I mature (ok, get older) as the more of it I see the more I realise that a lot of the thinking and approach that a lot of that is based on just seems inherently wrong to me.
I am not against hard work but the overwhelming view that seeps out from LinkedIn is one with an undertone of ‘no matter what you are doing you should be doing more, being more effective, levelling up constantly, aspiring for more and more and more’ and whilst there is a place for that I’m glad that I’m no longer of a mindset to take on board any of that nonsense.
I recall a co-worked from many moons ago who had the chance to interview with Microsoft. He was keen on the job itself but somewhat put off when, during the interview, they listed one of the benefits was that they would move him from Scotland to California (nice!) and put him up in an apartment (score!) which also had a large number of Microsoft employees (ehh ok), so just think you could brainstorm that tricky problem over a BBQ in the evening with your co-workers (ohh dear god no!).
It’s that always on, ‘work is life’ view that has never sat well with me, although I confess there was a time when I was probably a little closer to that being my reality than I care to admit…
Longer term readers of this blog will know I’ve got a bit of an eye for productivity and life-hacks but I’ve come to realise that my approach has always been to look at the latest greatest ‘system’, pick the low hanging fruit from it (gah, I cannot escape the corporate speak), give it a whirl in the day to day activity that I call life and then keep it or ditch it. I am no slave to theoretical time savings or productivity boons, and am more and more bemused by the idea that all of these tweaks are solely, in the eyes of most of their creators at least, seen as ways to minimise your time doing X so you can spend more time being busy doing Y. With both X and Y being solely in the world of your ‘work day’ and at the behest of being ‘productive’.
What the Z?
Here’s the thing. This view that life is about pushing harder and smarter to be able to work more, achieve more, to minimise wasted time, all so you can do more work and get further, and have more and… well it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me. When does it end? Even when, for a couple of years, I willing found myself swept along on this very path, I still never really felt like I was in control, more just paddling frantically to keep up although with who, or what, I never found out.
I’ve never really had a professional career path, never really known what job I really wanted (aside from being an astronaut but that rocket has long since flown) instead I headed in a vague direction and hoped for the best. Working in IT I have spent time with a lot of people with a very different mindset, people who are always playing the game to get ahead, always playing politics or mind games or blah blah blah. Sorry, I wish I could describe it better but having never given two hoots about such things I genuinely do not know how they work, although I am pretty good at getting myself out of such situations, mostly by feigning innocence. Well, I say feigning, perhaps it’s actual ignorance as I do tend to ignore such things in the work place as best I can. This is also why I am always the last to know the office gossip!
That professional drive to ‘achieve’ and garner all the trappings of success, status, wealth, are all part of the basic premise of being better at getting things done, to ultimately have more stuff/money. Gosh I feel like such a failure! Clearly I should adhere to those 5am morning rituals that the top CEOs follow to properly set me up for a productive day of doing more, so I can get that big promotion, earn the big bucks and drive a nice big flash BMW, get that 66″ OLED TV, to go in my 5 bedroom detached mansion, right?
Well I must be doing something wrong, as I have none of those things! Sure I’m happy and content but so what! Back to Linkedin for confirmation that lots of other people I’ve worked with now have big long fancy titles, and do lots of important work, and think about work even when they aren’t at work. Ugh.
It’s just not for me. I’ve bumbled my way through my professional life as best I can, never had a plan from the moment I left school other than going to University because ‘that’s what smart people do’, and the places of work I’ve ended up in have been varied in size, role, and seniority every time. In saying that, I don’t even have a degree and what self-respecting professional would’ve let that happen!
Truth be told, I always enjoyed pointing this latter fact out to the many high-flying graduates I’ve worked with, in fact I took an almost a perverse pleasure in watching them ummm and ahhhh their way back out of whatever conversational turn had them talking about how amazed they were that people without a first class degree could even get up in the morning (ahhh to be young and know the world so well, and yes, I was just as obnoxious at that age).
Note: I did start a degree course, attending Glasgow Polytechnic (latterly know as Caledonian University) for two years, and did enough to get the HND but I never picked up the certificate.
This failure of academia wasn’t because I wasn’t intelligent enough, rather that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Which I think is a pretty common thing when you are in that weird transitional period of being an adult by law but having no idea what the future may hold for you, nor all that clear an idea of what you hope lies out there as you start to explore the world.
So I took an Electrical and Electronic Engineering degree course; if I’d been even a year later no doubt I’d have taken a Computer Science course but I doubt the outcome would’ve been much different, I just wasn’t interested in ‘learning’. It’s not something I’ve dwelled on either – which is odd given my inherent fear of failure/disappointing people – and as it hasn’t stopped me having a reasonably successful career, presuming you judge such a thing by my employment record and salary earned, in other words, I’ve always worked and earned money for doing so.
Yet many people don’t view things that way and as careers can be judged on many factors, with a lauded job title high on the list of achievements to strive for! Clearly my career is failing and always have been. It’s something I’ve made my peace with now but I’ll admit my thinking wasn’t all that different a few years ago.
I’d been made redundant twice before, but the last company I worked seemed to fit me well. Good people, a strong HR department that invested in their staff, and as a more mature member of staff (hey they took on a lot of graduates, I’m not THAT old) I had experience that many others didn’t.
Things were going well. For a time my job title was Product Operations Manager, and with an acquisition there was scope for that to become GLOBAL Product Operations Manager, my oh my how fancy!! We will gloss over the fact that the title was made up by myself and my boss at the time as I was doing a mish-mash of a role of ‘stuff that needs done’ (which was fine by me). I was considered part of the senior management team (by experience as much as age) and whilst many around me had their eyes on loftier titles, I was happy because the work was interesting and I felt valued (note: this would appear to have been my definition of success at the time).
And then they made me redundant. Next thing I know I’ve had a 6 minute interview for a role I’ve only vaguely done in the past but I’m pretty sure I can handle and, I’m still there doing the same work, happily NOT on the corporate ladder and my imposter syndrome has faded enough to get me through a working day. Fake it until you make it, right?
Now what I’m about to say might solely be down to adjusting to life as a day rate contractor.
Since then any notion of ‘career’ has entirely vanished. I could care less what my job title is, I no longer worry that there is no career path in front of me, and now that my responsibilities are largely ‘turn up and do the work’ I find my entire work/life balance has shifted. Perhaps it’s down to my age, and the hand that life has dealt me (a very good one!), but the more I shy away from the idea that work is the centre of life and how coupled that idea is with the desire to always chase for more status, more money, more material things, the happier I become.
In fact, the further I get into this mindset, the more bemusing I find the constant barrage of posts on places like LinkedIn that all push you to be more productive, to do more, work harder, c’mon on do more more MORE; there is a definitely a belief that if you aren’t striving for the ever elusive MORE then you are failing.
Now I know in reality that how you apply measures to something as amorphous as success can be easily skewed to whatever worldview you want but, having removed myself from that particular ‘MORE’ focused world, it’s even more startling to be on the outside looking in at the relentless stream of advice all delivered with a little too much self-knowledge and with little to any self-awareness. A lot of it is by ‘successful’ white men, but not all. Want to be a millionaire? Want to retire when you are 40? Want to find more hours in the day by learning to wake up at 5am? It’s all there and all couched in words that make you feel that if you aren’t striving for all of these things you are somehow falling short of some measure by which you are being judged.
I just can’t. Not anymore.
Instead I’m slowly building up my own world view on how to have an anti-career, how to be happy without knowing what your next career move is, how to not freak out when you get made redundant, how to be a hard working professional that ends their work day at an appropriate time and knows how to switch off properly. I’m still figuring it all out but there is definitely the need for something, I think.
I just need a catchy title for my new system, or perhaps I should refer to it as a movement? I’ll need to work on it a little more for sure, although first I’ll need to check I’ll have time to do it justice, ideally it’ll be a good period for active brain time and a newly downloaded app I found on a productivity website tells me that time falls just after completing my morning wake up routine and whenever I make my cold brew mix for the day, so hopefully I can block out that period, do some positive strategising and visualise the manifestation of my new journey towards a whole new …. hey, wait a minute, THEY’VE SUCKED ME BACK IN AGAIN!!
I do believe that an anti-career is achievable though, and I definitely feel that there is something to be said for a middle ground (ain’t it always so) that isn’t ‘unplug from the grid/stop serving The Man’ and yet isn’t ‘better faster more productive’, and it’s here in this ‘working professional that doesn’t find themselves beholden to their job’ that I find myself these days.
I’ll admit all this was made a lot easier by the pandemic, giving me a lot more control over my time, but it was heading this way regardless, heading to a place where I log in around 8.30am-ish, and back out around 5-ish, with sometimes a long lunch, or a walk, with a break to meditate for 10 mins, with no nagging feeling that I’m under-performing. My work is being done, I am meeting expectations, I am not streamlining my day to grab back lost minutes, I am not striving for anything other than my own satisfaction of having done a good job.
Welcome to the anti-career, a place that has no worthwhile measures of success, no goals to be attained, just a warm friendly hug and the promise that it’s ok if that thing you meant to do today doesn’t get done until tomorrow, as long as it gets done. A place that suggests you stop thinking about work, and step away from the computer more often. A place that accepts that ultimately, strive as you might, you have no real control over what happens to you and in even the best workplaces, you are still a resource that one day will no longer be needed.
Starting to get my exercise mojo back after a couple of months fighting an injury and a wee chest infection; the change in the weather helps too!
This blog is.
That’s quite a long time.
Even though posting is more sporadic than ever, it’s still going.
Happy Birthday little blog.
That is all.
Tennis TV /// A quiet revolution: the movement to preserve lockdown’s hush /// Cycling is ten times more important than electric cars for reaching net-zero cities /// Reiki Can’t Possibly Work. So Why Does It? /// The Hot-Person Vaccine /// Another brain-frying optical illusion: What color are these spheres? /// The Dark Side of the Houseplant Boom /// The Hardest Ending I Ever Wrote, As Told by Six Screenwriters /// The Case Against the Eagles /// There’s something in my eye: why we happy-cry and what it does for us /// Miscellany № 90: 🌀🪐☆✻, or, the grawlix /// Two Assholes Lost in the Woods: An Oral History of ‘Pine Barrens’ /// How Pixar Uses Hyper-Colors to Hack Your Brain /// Watch a New Director’s Cut of Prince’s Blistering “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” Guitar Solo (2004) /// A Better Way to Think About Climate Change and the Kids Conundrum /// Wheel Spiels: High-heeled Shoes on the Trans-Pennine Trail /// Knowing How To Be Solitary /// Cryptocurrency is an abject disaster /// How to experience more wow /// I Mailed an AirTag and Tracked Its Progress; Here’s What Happened : The Mac Security Blog /// Pay No Attention to That Cat Inside a Box /// How the Personal Computer Broke the Human Body /// Neural implant lets paralyzed person type by imagining writing /// Charles Crocker’s Spite Fence /// ‘I hate everybody including you’ /// The Memex Method /// How to Delete All Facebook Posts /// The Filing Cabinet /// Trashed: how the UK is still dumping plastic waste on the rest of the world /// A People Map of the UK /// 100 Visions of Motherhood /// Rewilding from beyond the grave: the burial plots that heal broken landscapes /// The Dangers of Elite Projection /// The Secret Psychology of Sneaker Colors /// We Know What You Did During Lockdown /// How to stop overthinking /// Close Friendships /// How Can We Encourage Bodily Autonomy in Our Children? /// One Man’s Amazing Journey to the Center of the Bowling Ball /// A few thoughts on depression /// Facebook Still ‘Secretly’ Tracks Your iPhone—This Is How To Stop It /// Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids
We are having a baby. It’s not the ONLY thing we talk about but it’s a constant, an ever-growing reminder that our lives are about to change in a wonderful, scary, exciting way. There are maternity clothes being bought, nursery furniture to build, baby clothes are being provided (all the neutral stuff we can get from my sister at present), and the level of excitement is starting to build at about the same rate as Becca’s stomach is expanding.
As well as that, life in lockdown continues in Glasgow so the same daily patterns are being followed. I’m still working at home but thankfully on a new project that is keeping me busy and making the days fly by. The slow, if slight easing of the lockdown rules are welcomed though, the chance to hang out with a friend and watch F1, with the same easy chat and banter as always was most welcomed this past weekend.
In other news I’m off for an x-ray on Friday to try and see if the pain in my left hip/groin is a hernia or not (Doc thinks not but it’s not just a strain) so my running and cycling plans have been curtailed. C’est la vie and all that but, adding a cold (yes, JUST a cold) on top has me feeling more than a little frustrated, but I’m switching my mindset on it and viewing it as a challenge and, given I have a planned 50 mile cycle in September to do some training for, a chance to reset my plans and go again.
I know I work best when I have goals, something to work towards. At the start of the year it was to get back to 5KM running, and I noticed that after doing that, it all got a bit vague and unfocussed in my head. Too easy to fall back into bad eating, lazy days, not enough exercise but, as I say, it just means the coming few weeks (presuming a positive diagnosis and way to heal is afforded) will be better for my mental health if nothing else. That plus the warmer and lighter evenings, are far more conducive to actually getting out and about (dog walks not withstanding).
Family wise my newest niece continues to be the star of the family (until late October at least!) and seems to be most content sitting in her chair babbling away. It’s already fascinating to see the differences between her and Lucy at that age, and everyone couldn’t be happier. Lucy is proving to be a great big sister too just as we all thought.
And so, life goes on. Hopefully in the coming weeks with lockdown easing a new normal will finally be upon us, you know, brunching with friends and all that. Yet it seems to be more the case that my new normal is already here, hill walks, occasional catchups with friends and family, and mostly doing whatever I can to look after my pregnant fiancee and our two dogs.
In short, as ever, life is good, life continues.
How are you?
A few articles I read over the past month, in no chronological order (oldest first).
Gentle Cinema /// retrofy your iPhone with ben vessey’s pixel perfect mac OS ’84 inspired icons /// Scotland to get new nature reserve as community ‘achieves the impossible’ /// A Black Army Rises to Fight the Racist Right /// Australia: Geologist beaten up by ‘angriest octopus’ on beach /// This Hubble image is so incredible you’ll swear it’s fake /// On Competitive Advantage /// My Generation Isn’t Suffering Enough /// Why Making Our Brains Noisier Feels Good /// The Kitchen Dad /// How Did Frasier Afford His Apartment? /// Why Silicon Valley’s most astute critics are all women /// Kindness /// How The Wrecking Crew Secretly Recorded Some of the Biggest Hits of the 1960s & 70s /// Unwanted Corkpull — Real Life /// “You Can Be a Different Person After the Pandemic” /// Earthrise /// Making sense of conspiracy theorists as the world gets more bizarre /// Seeing in the Dark, Breai Mason-Campbell /// Exploring the unreleased music in Prince’s vault /// diamond geezer /// How Fit Can You Get From Just Walking? /// In Conversation: Mads Mikkelsen /// Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra: The toughest, weirdest race you’ve never heard of /// Kindle Store /// Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ Sheet Music ‘Horribly Wrong’ for Years /// There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing /// Apr 19 Coffee Ritual: How I will use it to Hold Space /// Still Life /// Ian Knot – Ian’s Fast Shoelace Knot /// The Tyranny of the Female-Orgasm Industrial Complex /// Against meatposting /// The Secrets of the World’s Greatest Jailbreak Artist /// Just Leave Michael Collins Alone /// Strava: making a difference
We aren’t the kind of couple who do grandiose events for such things, my recent proposal would’ve been much the same as it was despite COVID restrictions (in fact it would’ve been exactly the same except we’d have been in a different place and likely had the dogs with us).
And so it was when Becca wandered into our “home office” (aka spare room) one morning, asked how I was, waited for me to babble about nothing of importance, and then, when I asked how she was, paused and simply said, “I’m pregnant”.
We’d been trying for a while so the tears that instantly formed in my eyes were ones of joy and relief.
Since then, the realisation has set in and I’ll admit there is no small amount of terror as well, I mean I’ve barely figured out how to be an adult and now I have to be responsible for a child! Don’t get me wrong, the dogs take some looking after but for most of the day their main concern is how to find the perfect sleeping spot – for those interested, Dave favours lying on the sofa with his head and neck hanging off the edge whereas Sasha is happiest following the sun through the day and then disappearing under a blanket at night.
I digress. We are pregnant. We’ve known for a few weeks now, as have our families, but we are now at the point that we can tell the world.
And I’m so excited and so happy, and while this will come as no surprise to the parents among you, I’m already starting to see the world through different eyes. There is so much to do!
When Becca and I first got together we talked about long-term plans and hers definitely included a baby or two (one at a time!); she’s a few years younger than me but didn’t want to wait too much longer. She was very clear on this and so I had some serious thinking and soul searching to do.
When I was married before, my ex-wife Louise and I discussed having kids but both decided it wasn’t for us (perhaps because even subconsciously at that point we knew things weren’t quite right?) and had told both our families as much. It was the right decision for us and neither of us had any regrets. We reasoned that as neither of us had pushed to have kids despite having been married for several years, and with our lives nicely comfortable, why would we change that? It didn’t feel like we were missing out, it wasn’t something I secretly went along with, I was genuinely quite happy and content with that decision for many years.
So when Becca asserted her desire, a desire I already knew to be fair, it forced me to think about the decision I’d made some 13 odd years ago, did I really want to have kids? Clearly, the answer was yes, and in a way that conversation has been a silent driving force behind a lot of my other decisions over the last couple of years, during which I’ve felt more and more like I’ve found my place in the world, discovered the man I truly am, a man who every day feels lucky, feels loved and supported and who (finally) feels ready to build a family.
I guess all it took was finding the right person to have a baby with to make that decision an easy one. I went for a walk one sunny afternoon and by the time I got home, it was clear in my mind. This is the person I want to be with, the person I want to build a family with. Better late than never!
I’m 47 as I write this and will likely just have turned 48 by the time the baby emerges into the world (they are due to appear at the end of October). I don’t feel my age, just like Becca and I don’t feel the age gap between us, and all my initial worries and fears of being ‘old’ have withered and faded away as I watch this amazing woman grow a new life, watch her deal with the day to day struggles of being pregnant (she’s spent the first trimester constantly nauseous and exhausted) all whilst she runs her own business, is in the midst of creating a new one, and is already clear on a whole raft of things concerning how we will bring up our child.
She is more than ready and capable of being a wonderful, loving, nurturing mother – to paraphrase a certain TV show, Becca was already a mother without a baby to love – and her quiet confidence makes me feel ready and capable of being the best Dad I can.
I think I’ll be alright at it, and whilst there is always the sadness that my own Dad won’t see his latest grandchild, I know he will never be all that far from my thoughts as I already know a lot of the Dad that I will become was borne from the Dad he was to me.
And if nothing else, it’s a whole new subject around which I can get my geek on! What’s the best cot to buy? Do we need a baby monitor with a camera? How do we bring up a baby as ethically as possible? How many nappies do we really need? It is ok to play Queen, and Foo Fighters, and The Chemical Brothers to them from day one? What if they pick up a dog toy and chew on it? (I’m ok with this one, given there are pictures of me chewing my dog’s bone and hey, I turned out ok, right?)
OH MY GOD!! What happens if they take after their mother and DON’T LIKE ICE CREAM!
These and a bazillion other questions rattle around my head on a daily basis, alongside more practical matters like when do we need to start thinking about booking them into a local nursery, which local school is the best option and, if we buy rusks how many am I allowed eat?
We are having a baby.
I can’t wait.