2018: The Year of London

It’s that odd time of year, the bit between Christmas and New Year where time doesn’t really flow like you expect it to. No one knows what day of the week it is and everything seems to be simultaneously coming to an end and sizing up the starting blocks again. For a lot of people, it’s a time without clear purpose that’s bookended by very distinctive cultural markers themed on rebirth, which makes it pretty ideal for reflection.

It’s also the time of year when no one really wants to be working, and end of year lists/reviews/summations become ideal brainless exercises requiring little creative input and almost no resources!

So here we are, on the edge of a new dawn and taking a moment to pause and reflect on the year that was. A lot of people are regarding 2018 as the calendar equivalent of a dumpster fire, but personally it’s been a pretty big and progressive twelve months… albeit ones where a lot of good habits (*cough* blogging *cough*) fell by the wayside.

Which isn’t to say that writing has been completely absent; the first half of the year had a decent number of posts (8 total) spanning a range of topics. In a way, they quite neatly sum up my own interests, covering technology, superheroes, palaeontology, design/futurism, world building/sci-fi, photography, problem solving, and the beauty of nature. It may not be much, but it’s a fine spread, plus there’s probably something I could be arguing about quality over quantity (maybe).

As ever, there are also plenty of drafts that never quite saw the light of day. I’ve put together some musings on the problems that RSS feeds have when their owners don’t let you know they’re moving URLs; some of the influential voices I turn to, both online and off; a few scattered notes on Excel, VBA and the Grav CMS; and about half a dozen MiMs (remember those!).

On which note, it’s worth mentioning that whilst my published presence has been mediocre-to-none-existent over the course of 2018, I have been at least vaguely tracking my thoughts, reviews and ideas via more private channels. Workflowy continues to be a cornerstone of my productivity, as is Lightroom where I’m pleased to report my photo editing has continued relatively consistently. I’ve also been getting increasingly drawn in to Trello as a way to track to-do lists and ideas in general, in no small part to our complete reliance on the app at work.

Work. That’s been a pretty big, overarching theme of 2018 for me. I handed in my notice at Synertec not long into the year and left fully in March; by April we had settled in Fulham, and in early May I started my new role as Copywriter (now Content Manager – how time flies!) with Talent Point, which was a pretty big shift from working as a developer. In that sense my actual published work has accelerated, with a full 20 posts appearing on the company website since I started. I didn’t write all of them, but (with one exception) I was heavily involved each week from the start of June – so my actual writing output this year hasn’t been too shabby at all!

Writing for a living has definitely been a major part of why this blog has gone almost entirely unloved since July, as I struggle to find time or motivation. Back in Taunton, during the New 52 era, I’d spend most lunch breaks at work writing or editing drafts, but now that’s my job lunchtimes have become a lot less personally productive! On top of which, living in London means much longer commutes and longer hours, so by the time I’m home my focus is on finding food and being brain dead, not personal projects. It’s something both Alison and I need to start getting better at, so hopefully it won’t be quite as quiet in the months to come (though where have we heard that before, before, before…).

London also means an active social life, which is another drain on project/blog time, but not one I’m complaining about! We’ve become members of the V&A, Kew Gardens and (most recently and excitedly) ZSL! Plus, we now actually live somewhere with culture, which for me has meant getting to see/attend (in no particular order and probably incomplete):

  • The Book of Mormon (musical)
  • Goldfish (gig)
  • Harry Potter Experience inc. Behind the Seams (talk/experience/museum)
  • Todd Terje (gig/street party)
  • Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne (ballet)
  • Emancipator Ensemble (gig)
  • An Evening with Dougal Dixon & Darren Naish for the relaunch of After Man (talk)
  • Goldfish (gig – yes twice, yes worth it!)
  • Dinosaurs in the Wild (experience… hard to explain but awesome!)
  • Parcels (gig)
  • Biopsy of an App (UX/UI) with RED Academy (talk)

Without mentioning the countless museum exhibitions, listed buildings, parks, or general history. We’ve watched the sun set from the Walkie Talkie Sky Garden, eaten at Lima, gone on a 12 Pubs of Xmas crawl, taken a boat trip around the Thames, learnt how to drum and then performed at Walthamstow Garden Party and as part of a demonstration with over 700,000 people, walked most of Regent’s Canal and a good stretch of the Thames, discovered countless amazing pubs, restaurants or just interesting places, and now live somewhere with both parakeets and close friends in easy walking distance. One of those is very new; the other had been over half a decade!

But of course our life hasn’t been completely lived within the capital (or the moving van before that). We’ve had some excellent outings this year, some just for fun and others to celebrate huge milestones with our friends and family. The annual trip to Polzeath was shifted to coincide with a family commitment ceremony, taking place on the beach in stunning conditions and creating a thoroughly joyous occasion. We’ve also been back up to my home grounds of Cumbria to see one of my oldest friends tie the knot at our secondary school (a real trip down memory lane!) and to Sheffield for the first of the Uni group to exchange rings.

Individual outings, such as to the blogged about Vyne estate, have been a little less common, largely because we’ve tended to focus on London rather than travelling out, but we’ve still managed a good variety. Particularly memorable outings include a day spent at the Hawk Conservancy Trust with Al’s family and a trip to Oxford for the excellent (and now touring) Making of Middle Earth exhibition, both of which deserve their own full posts (much like most of what’s being covered in this one!).

Oh, and of course, we had a brief outing to South Africa for my Gran’s 90th birthday. It was great to see most of the extended family, and the celebration went down well, but it also provided opportunities to explore some new areas. We spent the first few days actually staying in Cape Town, something I’ve never done before, which meant seeing a whole new side to the city. Then, for our second week, we went on a short but incredibly varied road trip with my parents up through the Cederberg, visiting the stunning wildflower meadows (we got the timing pretty perfect for the first superbloom in years!) and kokerboom trees, before looping back to the Cape down the West Coast. It was a beautiful, relaxing and incredibly fun trip, even if our wallets are still recovering!

All of which is to say that London has been a very good move, our flat has become a real home and our jobs have settled in extremely nicely. For us, at least, 2018 has been a year of big and positive change, and a chance to really begin defining our lives moving forward. It’s been a stressful year at times, but that’s all happily behind us, paving the way for a very exciting 2019 and beyond!

 

The Weight of Opportunity [#35]

I’ve started this article three times. The first time it was going to be about how my creativity in writing is declining in large part because my creativity in photography and videography is rising. The problem is, I already wrote that article in July. The second time it was going to be about how finding a comfort zone in creative output is perfectly okay, but does slowly erode that output over time, as desire and drive give way to repetition and complacency. That article was decent and had some valid points but it slowly morphed into a third article about time management and a feeling I get which I’ve dubbed “the weight of opportunity”.

The thing is, right now I’m laser focused on other creative outlets which aren’t this blog, so writing is slipping further down my priorities list. And that issue isn’t getting much better. My mind is full of ideas on stuff to build around the flat (which will never happen), videos to record, ways to streamline my data storage (riveting to no one except me), photos to edit and a myriad other ideas and brain-worms. But none of them really make me want to write.

Which is a real shame, because I do want to write, but the stuff I want to write about feels so heavy. There are a heap of things which I want to record and discuss so much that I simply can’t – the words don’t come out right. Articles I care so much about they have to be too perfect to exist. I never did write up my top 5 lists for 2016 which I had so meticulously planned. Nor did I ever write an article on our incredible trip to the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Highlands. I even have maps planned out for that one! Even this week I’ve been working every day on an article about our trip last week (cause of no blog post, sorry) to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m forcing myself to put words down but it’s still a cop-out as it’s only part of the article I actually want to make. Plus, it’s taken me a week and I’m still holding on to it rather than publishing. It just isn’t ready yet… perhaps, as with so many others, it never will be.

Time management is definitely a large part of this issue. Right now we’re travelling a lot on the weekends and knackered during the week. There’s been a fair amount of potential, albeit unrealised, upheaval at home (in a good way) which has meant free time has been dominated predominantly by discussion. That isn’t a bad thing. It’s very healthy and absolutely necessary, but it does create a bit of a black hole for personal, creative time. The result is that most week days are spent sorting out big-life-adult stuff after work, eating dinner and. Just. Collapsing…
Weekends then become either a frenetic dash around seeing friends, family, culture or whatever (again, not complaining, just another time sync) or, and this is a big one, they become crushed under the weight of opportunity.

Which is to say that weekends such as this one, when I’m home alone with no plans whatsoever, are just incredibly stressful. I want to pack all of the things I possibly can in to whatever time I have, be it an hour or a day or a weekend. I spend weeks thinking up a huge list of tasks and projects I want to tackle. But then I wake up (late, because lie-ins are bliss) and hit a wall. I feel heavy with the anticipation of infinite possibilities and realise two things: I don’t actually have enough time to do everything on my list and I have absolutely no idea what to pick. Picking any one thing necessarily makes it more important, in my mind, to everything else I could be doing and that’s a decision I find incredibly hard. It’s a very real sensation of weight and it crushes my drive utterly. The result is that I end up watching some Youtube, pottering around and generally doing nothing. I don’t even procrastinate well: I don’t play video games or read books or watch films. I achieve nothing.

And then my free time is gone and I have nothing to show for it. I get a little depressed about that and swear that next time will be different. But it never is. Part of it is just poor time management. I definitely could set aside more time during even the busiest week to sort out stuff. The periods when I actually manage this are incredibly fruitful and make life so much more fun, but then I get ill or especially tired or fail at something and I fall off the wagon. I could also micro-manage my large blocks of free time and set absolute periods of work, creation, life goals etc. On paper that sounds great, in reality is turns the weight of opportunity into the wall of creative block. Every. Single. Time.

Seriously, whenever I do that, no matter how I come at it, I invariably wake up or get to that period of time and realise I have zero inspiration. It happened yesterday. I had set aside four hours, far more than I needed, to shoot a small segment of video for a project I’m working on. I woke up and conditions were perfect! It was a beautiful day, there wasn’t any wind or irritating building work to make sound an issue. It’s the day I’ve been waiting for to shoot this sequence for over a month. But the sequence never happened. Instead, I got up and realised I needed some dialogue for the video but I had no idea what to say. Two nights ago, struggling to get to sleep, I’d come up with the perfect phrasing but now, poof, it had completely gone. I ended up watching some Youtube videos to get some inspiration. Then I discovered a new game on my phone. Then I put a wash on. Then the clouds rolled in, the wind rose and the sequence has been impossible to shoot ever since.

I’m not really too sure how to get past the weight of opportunity or the creative block it creates. I’ll continue to try different techniques to overcome it and, certainly, some of the ones I’ve tried in the past have helped. Incrementally I feel like I’m beginning to win, but conversely the weight of past opportunities wasted is growing as well. A small part of me hopes that writing about it may help me rationalise and move past it, but a larger part of me knows this to be false hope. It’s just who I am; it both kills my creativity and also fuels it. For now, it feels good enough to be able to take that weight and transfer it into at least one goal achieved this weekend. Unlike last week, at least there will be a blog post.

 

Peaks & Troughs [#26]

I believe that inspiration comes in waves. I’ve believed this for quite a while, largely because I’ll have periods of time where I can draw really well, or feel like writing every day, or take a chain of photographs I’m very happy with. When these periods occur, it feels like I’ve been hit with a wave of inspiration that is just carrying me forward, creating ideas that bounce off each other and inspire yet more to form in their wake. That concept of cyclicity is appealing, not just because it explains these bursts of creation, but also because it somehow negates the less fruitful periods in between.

I think it’s fair to say I’m in one of those less fruitful periods right now. That isn’t to say I’m not being creative though, far from it, but that creativity isn’t as immediately obvious. So perhaps I’m wrong about the whole wave-inspiration model. It’s something I’ve blamed in the past for failing similar challenges to the New 52 concept I’ve got going on at the moment. Challenges work great until you hit a trough between creative peaks, at which point they falter. But perhaps that idea is just a get-out-of-jail free card. A lie to make the failure seem, somehow, less.

Which is a fairly harsh way of looking at it. I’m not saying that taking a break, putting energy into something different or even just stepping back for a bit are a bad thing. They aren’t. That’s just how I look at it, the whole failure vs creation dichotomy. It isn’t a good way of looking at it, but it’s my way.

Still, as I said, maybe I’m wrong about the whole premise. Right now I am writing. I’ve written something every day this week, but none of those things are finished enough to publish. That isn’t a failure unless viewed through a very specific lens, which probably isn’t helpful in the first place. It’s just a different kind of progress. And that’s okay.

Sometimes, it’s okay to make incremental but unrealised progress. Right now, I’m learning how to edit in Adobe Premiere Pro. It’s absorbed quite a bit of my free time, time I would normally use to write. Once I’ve gotten to a stage I feel comfortable using the program I will have developed a very useful skill, on top of which the time required to utilise that skill will decrease massively. My creative output will increase. But in the mean time, from a birds-eye view, it will appear to wane and falter. That’s okay, but it isn’t great for time sensitive challenges.

What I’m really trying to say is this: I think my belief is wrong. I don’t think creativity comes in waves. I think certain types of creativity appeal more, or less, at certain times. And once a certain type of creativity has risen to the surface, it takes over for a while, making switching back and forth difficult. Right now, I don’t want to be writing; I want to editing photos or videos. That’s where my head space is at, that’s the creative itch I want to scratch.

Which is, truthfully, just a very long winded way of saying that I don’t have anything to write about this week. But, also, that sometimes that’s okay.

Finding the Time [#17]

Life is busy right now. My partner’s birthday is this weekend, which also happens to be a bank holiday, so I’ve spent a lot of the last week organising, planning and generally prepping for a short break we’re taking to celebrate.

At the same time, my car has decided the oil dipstick is too long. We’ve also come to the end of a month long process failure with BT, trying to upgrade our internet. Oh, and then there’s the other two trips we’re taking later this year, an on-going dispute with Hermes over where a parcel is, the slowly dying iPad, broken spotlight and, of course, all the usual bills, chores and ‘adult’ stuff.

I feel like my time is entirely spent sleeping, working or trying to keep various balls aloft. I’m tired, frustrated and a little bit stressed. All I want to do is spend some time writing, working on some photographs or, better still, reading! Honestly, society seems to be designed around a never-ending treadmill of requirements, research and time sinks.

And yet…

And yet, last night I spent an hour just chatting with my partner. It was both relaxing and helped remove a bunch of juggling balls.

And yet, I’ve managed to put 8 hours into the story mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl since picking it up two weeks ago. It’s surprisingly fun.

And yet, my RSS feed is all-but-empty for the first time in nearly two years.

And yet, I’ve just finished a book that’s been sat on my night stand for months.

And yet, last weekend I had the car finally taken in to have the recalled airbag replaced.

And yet, that’s the thing. And. Yet.

Despite feeling like everything is crashing down around my shoulders, I’m still able to achieve an awful lot. Sure, I have a huge (literal) stack of books that I need to read before I can even start on the ones on the book shelf, but I am getting through them. It may have been a lot of time and work, but we now have a whole year of incredibly exciting adventures ahead, not least of all a trip we’re going on tomorrow! And when we do go on them, the car will be a lot safer then it was before.

Sometimes it’s nice to just take a step back, cover up the To-Do list and review your Done one. I live a life of immense privilege and luck. Sometimes, that gets forgotten, and yet when you remember it all the little things somehow become just that: little. It’s not so much finding the time as realising how much you already have.