Its about the cake

It’s my birthday in a shade over two hours. This feels significant. I will have reached the amazing age of forty-two. So by The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy this now means I almost hold the answer to everything, but sadly not the questions. I tried to pin down the best bit of a birthday because a birthday has many great qualities and pondered the following.

The cards. There have been times in my life that the sheer volume of cards has impressed me. I have felt the mass love and felt thoroughly endorsed. I still like the pretty foldy cardboard a lot, but I have a much greater appreciation for the cards that I receive now; it feels special to be remembered. I know that environmentally they are less good, but they still make me feel smiley.

The cake. In the past, I have had some truly amazing cakes. But the absolute, most standy outy was the cake of my childhood. My Mum made me a Dougal cake. For those unfamiliar with Dougal, he is the central character from the tv program ‘The Magic Roundabout’. Dougal is a dog that has hair all the way to the ground. I don’t believe that his feet were ever visible, he just slid everywhere. I read some years ago that the show’s somewhat trippy nature stemmed from the person who tried to translate it from French to English (it was originally a French show), decided that this was too much effort, and created a whole new story. It makes me wonder how different the French people’s memories of this show are. Because here, it was trippy. But back to the cake. She made the ‘cake of legend’ out of a Swiss roll that she iced with butter cream, using a variety of chocolate and liquorice to make the face. But the thing that really stays with me is that the whole class came to my party and my mum made everyone a take home Dougal, made out of mini Swiss rolls, all individually iced and decorated. My Mum is made of awesome stuff. I have requested this cake a few times through my adult life and sometimes my Mum recreates the masterpiece. This year I have not planned a cake, but I have purchased two Belgian buns for me and my young one to put candles in at breakfast time. Blowing out the candles and making a wish always feels special.

Presents are always good, but again like the cards, it is the kindness of someone remembering. I also have friends who never remember my birthday and I never remember their’s, and that has become the tradition. We do Christmas instead, which is much easier to remember. The shops seem to start thinking about it in September so I have lots visual reminders. (Am now thinking about seeing Caburys Cream Eggs at Christmas. So much wrong).

The people who I see over my birthday make it even more amazing too. I could never discount their impact on my life, esepcially at birthday time. But the truly most awesome thing about my birthday? That it is my birthday! I have lived another glorious year and that feels just so incredibly exciting. I have had many new and curious and soul enlightening things happen to me. So mostly on my birthday, I feel blessed.

Map Point. What is my most favourite celebration?

 

 

I think I can hear milkfloats

How is it that when I have nothing to get up for I am in bed by half eleven, and when I have to be up at the crack of dawn, I seem to think that 3am is a good idea? Or when I have been up chatting with a friend all night and suddenly we are both aware that we can hear the milk floats driving past, without ever being aware of how quickly the time has passed. Relationships with time are peculiar, exciting days go fast, boring days don’t. I have friends who are up at daybreak and others that rise in the afternoon, some of whom survive on four hours sleep a night. I think having this little sleep would hurt. We think of time as steadfast, regular and linear, but in actual terms, it is generally anything but.

Sometimes I seem to work best with a deadline. I love the fact that I write every day, it provides a structure within my day. We all have things that are regularly timed. Times when we eat various meals in a day, times when we do specific things within a week, a month, a year. We all find our own rhythms and most people with instinctively know whether they are a ‘day’ or a ‘night’ person and we fill our schedules accordingly.

The idea of circadian rhythms is one that appeals. Sleeping when it is dark, waking when the sun comes up seems like a much easier way to operate, more in tune with what our bodies need. So often in my life, I can see really simple solutions to challenges that I face, but for some reason, making things more complicated seems to be much easier.

I think having insomnia really challenged my relationship with time. Before insomnia, I think I was fairly fixed on when I thought things should happen. The hours between one and six were definitely those meant for sleeping. But as I couldn’t do what I expected to do at the time I expected to do it, I felt cross, really frustrated with myself. And then I started to change. I accepted that I would quite possibly be awake at some point and started to use the time more productively. Washing up at 3am with a cup of tea and the prospect of an hour or so of inane fb gaming became something to look forward to! And then I stopped viewing insomnia as something bad, and things became easier. My sleep didn’t get any easier through this acceptance, but I stopped letting it control my sense of wellbeing. This felt important. I stopped resenting the time spent awake in the night.

I am still not very good at organising a regular schedule in my life, but I am great at appreciating what I am doing at the time that I have chosen to do it. Perceptions of time continually alter, but if I can let go of my fixed ideas of what it should be, I can maybe enjoy it more.

Map Point. Where in my life are fixed points preventing my happiness?

 

 

Timetables

Time, it trips and slips and moves at variable paces. Some days it moves in aeons and other times in a blink three hours have gone by and suddenly am facing the prospect of three and a half hours sleep before the alarm goes off.

I remember reading about how each village used to have its own time. Midday in each place would arrive just as the sun hit its apex, which essentially meant that every place was a few minutes different. I like this idea, it feels very autonomous. But then, in this glorious age of technology, trains arrived and in order to generate accurate timetables, time had to standardise. Although based on a recent train journey that took an hour and a half longer than expected, maybe this was optimism.

When I go out and park my car somewhere, in the variety of parking that both costs money and also requires me to preplan my existence (and stipulate precisely how long I would like to park for), I have continual clock watching stress. Never am I so aware of precisely how long a minute is. And it is almost always shorter than I have previously imagined.

Other times I have planned evenings out with friends. I have overnight sittage for my daughter arranged, I can stay out as late as I desire, and as often as not, am home tucked up in bed with a mug of tea by eleven thirty. And other times, when I know I have mass activity the following day, I am matching socks at quarter to one in the morning. Maybe in a place of high energy, I simply need less sleep, enabling me to get more done. And maybe when I know I have all the time in the world, I see that time as more precious than usual.

There are friendships that I have that are incredibly dear to me. People I love, yet six months, or even a year can go by, and suddenly it occurs to me that I haven’t seen them. Luckily for me, a lot of my friends work on the same premise, and I am incredibly lucky to have these people in my life!

I think that I use my time well, I get to places when I need to be somewhere, I try and schedule as much as I can. For me, it’s more about remembering that my time is valuable and choosing to spend it doing what I love is my utmost priority.

Map Point. What do I want to achieve tomorrow?

 

 

Refocussing of energy

I am an expert procrastinator. I can put all manner of things off for inextricably long periods of time. Sometimes this serves me really well, as it gives me time to reflect on making a more informed decision. Other times the amount of stress that something so tiny can brings feels insurmountable. Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on this and trying to see if there are any particular patterns to the sorts of things I sometimes put off.

Phone calls, texts, emails. These I can generally put off until they are beyond panic station. It isn’t that I particularly hate any of these tasks, but I feel them as weight, something more that I have to contend with. The strange part of it is, I know that the relief I will feel afterwards is epic, but that isn’t always enough to provide me with motivation.

Similarly, I dislike dealing with things too fast. Like with my tax. I will complete everything really early, but not submit it until the month it is due. Just in case there are any changes. I have no idea what these changes are to be, but because I know I have more time to complete it, I like to have that time available to me.

The same was with essays at university. Didn’t matter how long the deadline was, I would be working up to usually the last half hour before submission. It is crazy, it is stressful, but I sort of enjoyed the last minute rush of activity.

Maybe my life simply doesn’t provide me with enough urgency. There is very little that absolutely has to be done in the ‘right now’. Most things can wait. Possibly having a good level of patience and reflection would be calm way to approach life. And this is a good thing, but sometimes feeling that compulsion, that drive to achieve something, using all the resources that you have, feels good too.

Map Point. Where in my life can I find excitement?

 

 

Who needs sleep?

The first time that I can remember not being able to sleep was over my degree exams, I was in my twenties. I suppose for some people it is entirely normal to react to a stressful situation in this way. This period was short lived, and I thought no more of it. It was after my friend  Michael died some years later that insomnia visited my life with an increased intensity, that never really entirely left.

There seem to be two main parts to insomnia, falling asleep and staying asleep. The falling asleep was an issue. I recall my Mum telling me that as a baby I never slept for more than a few hours and then was awake for the next six. She used to use a detuned radio to help me dose off, and this for me is something that mostly still works. Only now I have upgraded a detuned radio to YouTube meditations. I know that within a couple of minutes I will be in the marvellous land of shut eye. But then there’s part two.

The hour of 3am is an hour that I see too much of. Almost doesn’t matter what time I get to sleep, 3am is my sleep time homing beacon. I will wake up, and generally, I will recall all the things that I have been thinking about when I was asleep and then I will start to actively think about them in my more wakey up status. This aspect of insomnia is one that I have found to be especially harsh. During the small hours, I sometimes clean my house, play inane facebook games or a variety of other tasks, including online discussions with all my fellow insomniacs. By around five thirty, exhaustion kicks in and I can sleep. Sometimes.

Sometimes I think that my insomnia is a sort of tribute to Michael. I know that when he was diagnosed with cancer he almost stopped sleeping, eager to enjoy every moment that he had to its absolute fullest. And maybe that is something that I have latched onto too. So much of life is taken up with practicality, that it’s utterly essential for me to make use of all the time that I have. It is too easy to allow time to be sucked away.

So with this thought in my mind, whether I get a whole night’s sleep tonight or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is an enjoyment of my time. Whether I have a sleepy day and do very little, or ten blissful hours and wake up feeling like sunshine, embracing each day with as much or as little energy as I have is what is important. Today has been a sleepy one!

Map Point. What do I love to do?

 

Right here, right now

This evening it occurred to me that I was enjoying doing the washing up. Not enough enjoyment to warrant me doing everyone else’s washing up, but for my own, there was a contentment. I am quite sure that I have felt this before, but I have never particularly contemplated it.

The washing up was as plentiful and partially grim as it usually is. The evening sunset wasn’t blissfully streaming through my kitchen window. I had just eaten a delightfully ripe avocado bagel, but this is a usual occurrence (all food should be delighting!). Essentially, my environment was exactly the same as it usually was, so this required further ponder. Was this a change in myself, that I am learning to love mundane tasks as much as those I am deeply passionate about? Quite possibly yes, but then I considered another factor. Timing.

When I run furthest and with the most energy, it is first thing in the morning, usually before I eat breakfast. I love starting my day being outside, experiencing whatever the weather throws at me (the wind is pretty much the only weather that renders me indoors, staring forlornly at my running shoes). If I am going to do any serious cooking for the day after lunch is my preferred time, when I am full from lunch and can consider possibility without hunger becoming a motivation. Changing beds happens with speed and simplicity when carried out in the evening, and I find that I have the best focus for meditation at night. It isn’t that I can’t do these things at other times, I just very much prefer not to.

I remember reading about how camping regulated your circadian rhythms, natural light enabling better sleep. And in the mornings, you have lots of high energy tasks to do. In my case, these seem to involve crawling around on the floor looking for pots to eat out of, and then things to put in said pots, and rearranging the outside furniture for the day. Then it is more relaxed until after lunch when preparation for the evening meal begins. Then after tea, it is ablution and bed shaking (grass breeds in sleeping bags. This I know to be a truth), and then contemplation of the fire, obligatory marshmallows and sleep.

So back to the washing up. Maybe for me, evenings are my most natural time of day to clear up, without it feeling like a resentment. I like the idea of encompassing happiness into the ordinary.

Map Point. What time of the day am I most productive?