Skill up

The Summer of 2017 was a most excellent one. I enjoyed family holidays and lots of chill time with my daughter. I asked her at the beginning of the holidays if there was anything special that she would like to do, and she said yes, she would like to go to the circus. I had sort of been aware that I hadn’t sorted anything out, but as the last week of the summer break approached, I remembered a flyer that I had picked up earlier in the year. It was for a circus that was only a half hour drive away. Win!

The name of the circus that we saw was ‘Nicole and Martin’s White Tent’. It involved two performers (Nicole and Martin I presume) and a child that was possibly their son, who came on a couple of times throughout the performance. And it was magical. It was the kind of show that allows adults to see as the eyes of children do, with wonder and amazement. Everything that the performers pretended to see, I could see too, with sharp clarity. And it was beautiful. My daughter laughed so hard that she went bright red and tears streamed down her face. It was a high point of the summer.

After the show, I started to think about the skill sets that I had witnessed that were employed by Nicole and Martin and how truly incredible they were. I saw them play clarinet, trombone, tuba, flute, trumpet, piccolo, violin, double bass and a host of percussion instruments. The both sang beautifully too. This was accompanied by juggling, magic and acting along side the myriad use of a small selection of props. There was also the acrobatics, the displays of balance and strength that were utterly astounding (think you can plank? try that on one hand, whilst balanced on someone else’s head, whilst they walk around.. whole new level!). And if that was not impressive enough, they also perform this whole show in at least four languages. In short, I was awed.

I can’t speak any other languages (am attempting to rectify), I can play maybe two instruments and I have never been able to touch my toes. It is desperately easy to compare myself to others and to come up short. There are so many amazing people in the world with skills that I will never have. I could see this as inspiring and could attempt to learn all these amazing things or I could simply be grateful to have such beauty in my life and appreciate the skills that I do have. I am not less by seeing greatness in others.

Map Point. Have I learnt not to spread myself too thin?

New toy

I have not written for a few days. Some times life get busy, and even important things can take a back seat. My life has not been any busier than normal, but there has been a new advent in my life. I am now the proud owner of a bass guitar.

I started playing guitar when I was seven years old. This might infer more than it really means. I have never had any aspiration to play in a band or perform (although I have on the latter), I play for me. I started learning chords and remember being able to knock out a pretty decent ‘Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow’ quite quickly. When I was eight, I started to learn to play classical. I had guitar lessons throughout most of my schooling and did some grading exams. And then around fifteen, I stopped wanting to learn anymore. I still played and loved the songs that I already knew, but I no longer had the motivation to extend my knowledge in this area. I would still sit and cuddle my guitar for many hours allowing my fingers the familiarity. But newness was no longer in my repertoire.

I think that the same thing can apply to so many areas of my life. I learn something, feel that I have achieved all I want to, and then move onto the next thing. This is, on one hand, a truly awesome thing. It allows me to harness many different types of skills. But the expression ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ does readily spring to mind. I then thought about this in a wider context. I was talking to someone about the job market and recruitment recently. It was pointed out to me that the ‘job for life’ has long been extinguished and that now we all supposedly must have a ‘career portfolio’. In essence, this means that having one particular skill set is no longer enough, we all should have several. Apparently.

I have always had the most glorious aptitude of being able to do most things that my work has required of me and have worked in enough places that my skill sets are wide. But they are not focussed. I am good at several things, but am not a master of any of them. I think that this is sad in some ways. If we are encouraging everyone to be good at everything, then some level of specialism is lost. But then I read an interview with Elon Musk. He was suggesting (to massively summarise) that people with only a singular specialism lose the wider view, and thus limit the number of ideas available to them for advancing in their field, whatever that may be. So having lots of skills actually enables a massive amount of cross referencing, what works in one area might be transferable to another.

The most major difference between my six string guitar and my bass is that my bass only has four strings. However, those four strings are pretty much the same (albeit somewhat lower) as the bottom four strings on my other guitar. So now I have started playing bass, I am already equipped with a massive amount of transferable knowledge. Currently, I am playing several times a day, until my hand aches and my fingers feel numb, and it is such an incredible thing, so much love for my new bass guitar! Maybe it isn’t that I ever stopped wanting to learn more, I just needed a way to express it.

Map Point. What do I want to learn next?

 

 

Fix

I used to work with people who had significant issues. My job was to help them to achieve some life skills and independence. I would metaphorically parachute in once a week and offer support, comedic entertainment and optimistically they would gain a new perspective or skill. Then I would go, and their lives would continue muchly as they had before my arrival. Interlude over. I am not trying to be cynical or undervalue the assistance that I offered, but sometimes I feel that way with friendships too. I want to be able to offer so much more. If I see pain, I try to help, but I can never really know the impact I have on others. I can guess, presume, assume (there is a difference..) and hope that whatever I am doing has value.

I have a particular friend, Cassie, whose life resembles the contents of my wire bag. This bag is a huge tangly mess and has what feels like every wire I have ever owned in it. And quite possibly it does, given my magpie-like nature.  She has many issues, and if I were to approach her like someone who I was working with, I still would find it tricky to know where to start. But I go to see her, she makes drinks and helps me with things that I find tricky. Then I listen to her and we try to bring a little order to some of her chaos.

It humbles me. Cassie is someone whose life, by my appraisal, is hard. But irrespective of how bad her day is, we have an utterly reciprocal friendship. I always feel glad to see her, she is funny, usually in a self-deprecating way, and she has such amazing strength, which she doesn’t always credit herself with. I think that she is the kind of woman that one day will see just how amazing she is and at that point, she will bloom. It is a day that I feel genuinely excited about.

I don’t think that I can ever know precisely how valuable I am to someone else. But I completely understand how valuable the people that I love are to me. They are all shiny.xx

Map Point. Who helps to fix me?

First

My friends Robert has just purchased his first car, it is blue and has two seats. My first car was a racing green Triumph Dolomite and she was beautiful. Until she rusted, when another whole Dolomite was bought to replace the bits on her that were turning that glorious shade of orange. I then gave up both cars as a bad job and bought another Dolomite with slightly less ‘flake’ about it. This one also went to the great garage in the sky and I then got a more modern car which I didn’t fear for when the air outside became damp. But my first car, she was beautiful in a way that no other car since has been. Firsts are important.

I remember my first pair of trainers (bought from a catalogue) and they were Reeboks, my first jeans (Levi), my first ‘designer’ t-shirt (poco loco) and the first time I tried sun dried tomatoes (mana from heaven!). I then pondered if things that aren’t firsts ever have the same sort of impact?

I then remembered a particularly spirited discussion I had with someone. I have been something of a Nirvana fan since my teens (when Kurt Cobain was still breathing) although I never saw them live, which retrospectively was a disappointment. I made the statement that seeing a band live was the most authentic experience that you could have of them. The other person contended that a fan is a fan, irrespective of anything else.

Being a fan in that ‘first wave’ is more authentic experience than what future generations could have. This isn’t to say that supporting any band that is no longer in existence makes you less of a fan (most of what I listen to isn’t exactly ‘current’) but being around at the same time as a particular band does give you a different appreciation. You are living through the rest of what is being offered in the current music scene, along side the current political and social scenes as well. Retrospectively we can all have an appreciation, but it will never be the same experience as living through something. It is a different sort of ‘first’.

Then I think back to my car, and realise how different material things are to experiences that we have. I wasn’t the first person to own the car, didn’t own the car when they were first released and were a common sight, so I guess that I lost out on the camaraderie of that. Which would make my friend right, as I likely loved my car as much as everyone else who owned it. But the experiences that I have had, the bands I have seen live, this will always be a more authentic experience to me than anything second hand can create.

The older I get, the more I value authentic experiences. Maybe this is a mirror. The closer I get to my authentic self, the more I crave this same immediacy elsewhere.

Map Point. What is my definition of authenticity?

 

 

 

Mad five minutes

Boredom is a truly dangerous commodity. Yesterday afternoon I had a sudden hankering to cut my hair. I have quite long hair, so googled a couple of things and had a go. I then discovered that I had taken absolutely nothing off the length (intended outcome) and have in fact given myself a slightly above jaw-line length fringe. Which was in truth, muchly surprising. The last time I remember having a fringe was aged around seventeen and I was growing it out.

The transition between my Mum having control over my hair and me was quite big. When I was fifteen, my Mum had my hair ‘layered’. I don’t think that I had any idea what she was talking about, but she seemed excited and I didn’t really have too much interest in what it looked like. The only time that I did was when I had it short and the hairdresser made it uneven.. which caused huge contention, but layering, I was utterly down for. My hair is naturally curly. If I go to sleep with damp hair I wake up with an eighties perm. Post layering, It was much curly. I am not sure I quite realised how curly until the day of my class photo. Mum had given me instructions to remove my hairband and ‘shake it out’ prior to photograph time. I did, with the due diligence of an obedient daughter. Sweet and Holy Moses. On first glance of this photo, my hair is all you see, you would be forgiven for thinking that ‘Cousin IT’ had just landed on my head. My hair was huge. Almost as wide on each side as my face was. I think it was this photo that inspired more of a love for my hair. Growing out all layers and fringe with immediate effect became a priority.

This morning I went to see my most talented friend who made my hair happy again. And now I am going to find a good selection of clips to contend with my five minutes of boredom.

Map Point. How does boredom affect me?

 

My brain

I suppose that everyone thinks differently. Not as in their ideas, beliefs and whatnot, but in how they actually process information. Until recently I just presumed everyone processed in much the same way, unless a specific issue had been identified. I thought it was quite typical to ponder multiple things at once, but apparently, most people don’t think like this. I had a chat with a friend about this and he seemed to think that it would make my life harder, he almost had a look of pity. The thing was, to only think one thing at a time? I felt that same pity right back. I am very much attached to way that I think, and I guess everyone else is too!

There is a line, from a song in the show Matilda, which I utterly love

‘Have you ever wondered, well I have, about how when I say red, for example, there’s no way of knowing if red, means the same thing in your head, as red means in my head when someone says red?’

Interpretations, even of common, standard things can have such wide variance, that in truth, I just have to take for granted that other people interpret things, at least vaguely the same way as me. Otherwise, that would be far too many variables. In order to communicate, I think this has to be a generalised common acceptance. But at the same time, everyone does have different perspectives.

I have found this most recently with my blog. I know that people have different opinions on almost every subject on earth. But it still feels strange that people who know me can have such wide variances in how they have read my words. I find it completely amazing and sort of exciting too. Pieces that I have written that have been heart-wrenching to write have been perceived as laugh out loud funny. Similarly, things that I have written that have made me giggle, others have read as bleak and depressing. I guess we all use the mirror of our own lives to relate to new ideas. What someone else meant, what someone else understood as absolute, is utterly ready for adaptation in a new person’s mind. I think this is an exceptional thing.

Map Point. Can I ever really know what anyone else is thinking?

 

Little boxes

Today I was reminded of something really important. Even during the worst of times, there are still good days. This is easy to forget when I have had tougher times, as that can make memories cloudier. But there are still good days, and it can be a better way to weave my personal narrative. Looking for the stepping stones and ignoring the river flowing through.

Quite a few of my friends at the moment are going through some massively hard things, stemming from the professional to the personal. I listen to these amazing people, trying to put into words feelings that are difficult to express to another, and likely also to themselves. It has made me ponder when I have not had words, and when I finally found them, I really didn’t want to. But acknowledgement of just how foul things are and then the responsibility of that offer the catharsis to heal.

For a long time, I have been able to categorise my sad things, but this is easy. I could distance myself from my words and could recite them with the emotional depth of reading from a catalogue. Although I knew what had happened, distancing myself from the events meant that I didn’t have to acknowledge my part in them. Understanding why I have allowed things to happen, or not happen was important, as it gave me a much deeper understanding of myself.

To give an example. A relationship that I had a long time ago ended utterly horrifically. It was a cliche of badness. A girl who was new at work had felt low, so had taken her out with my friends. Then my boyfriend of eighteen months left me. Over the telephone. And went out with her. In my adult life, I have only truly lost my temper a handful of times; this was most assuredly one of them. I have no idea what I said into that telephone, but it was loud, angry and in the finish, a friend who was with me at the time took the phone out of my hands. I think that we then went to the cinema. And ate icecream. I was desperately sad after. Many tears, much anger. At the time it was because I thought I wanted him back, retrospectively I didn’t really want him to begin with. I had wanted to have a ‘boyfriend’ as I had not previously had one, thus had no idea of the requisites that having one of those required.

When I think back to that relationship now, I can see that I was prepared to settle for anyone, irrespective of how I was treated. I understand why I did this, and curiously, resolving the issues behind why I accepted such poor treatment led to a huge loss of anger over this relationship. I don’t need to be angry at him, he became a mirror through which I could see myself with clarity. If I can understand what has motivated me, I can work to resolve that.

I don’t think that many people want to reflect on situations that will ultimately provoke more suffering, especially if they are currently in a space of acute pain. I left lots of things unresolved for years and years. It served me because I was scared to reopen certain things, and it didn’t serve me as that was a weight that I had to carry. So, whilst my emotional bag was heavy, I looked for the good days. And there were many.xx

Map Point. How can I make myself feel good today?

 

 

Guardians of childhood

Recently I went to the cinema with my mum and daughter. We watched ‘A Streetcat Named Bob’. I read the book a long time ago, and all I really remembered was that a homeless person found a most marvellous cat and it gave him hope to get his life back on track. What I entirely forgot was that it also deals with the subject of heroin addiction and recovery. Post film, this prompted a really interesting conversation with my daughter who wanted to understand why he suddenly became very ill, and I explained the process of withdrawal to her. Afterwards, it occurred to me this was one of the hard conversations that happen during the process of growing up. Explaining to your child that the world is not straightforward and there are harsh things out there feels really bleak. It is also important not to overwhelm and to counter this with all the amazing things too. Of which there are many. And then I thought about the easier ‘hard’ conversations that I have engaged in with my daughter.

Father Christmas. The Easter Bunny. And most specifically, The Tooth Fairy. And whether or not these noble warriors of children’s existences, are actually real. For the most part, I have always taken the philosophical approach with my daughter, if we can talk about something, then it exists at some level. And then if further conversation was necessary, we would talk about if dreams or ideas were real.

This is where the conversation has become interesting for me. There seemed to be a clear separation in my daughter’s mind about reality. She understands that there is a physical manifestation and there is also the non-physical, which is somehow less real but seems to have a good deal of validity. I guess we have always had these sorts of conversations, even when she was smaller. Possibly my favourite ponder of my child was when she was around five. We had just entered the car park where we lived, there were lots of spaces. She said ‘If you go into a car park and there is only space, then that is not a choice. One choice isn’t a choice at all’. Clearly, as an adult, I can see the wider applications of her words, but I often wonder if she did as well.

We have now had the logistical chat about the existence of ideas, and other than Father Christmas (who is based on an actual person, which makes him somewhat more contentious than the other characters) we are all good. I generally think that when a child asks a question, they are ready for an answer. Maybe not the most complex one, but one that is without fabrication and definitely holds some element of truth.

Map Point. What questions do I still want to ask?

 

Love what you do

I had the most wonderful privilege of going on a supremely relaxing holiday with my Mum and daughter. There was glorious food, incredible surroundings and impeccable service. But this is not my focus, it was the contrast of coming home and visiting the supermarket that struck a chord.

I had completed my post holiday essentials shop in my local supermarket, cereal, milk, chocolate spread and some apples (these are key items in my existence) and went to the self-scan machine. I always inwardly berate myself whenever I use these machines, as more often than not there is a problem. My items don’t scan, discounts don’t come off, the weight of the items is deeply problematic, and sweet Moses you need to get your produce into the bag fast before the machine questions your commitment to bagging said item. However today I had a new problem, I had remembered to bring my reusable shopping bags and they were too heavy. The machine advised that my heavy bags necessitated the assistance of a member of staff. I called over said man of green, to which he barked at me that I could ‘Just click the ‘add bag’ button’ before he stalked off to contend with a product weight issue (I assume, based on the most likely contender). My lasting feelings about this encounter was this man really did not like his job.

Having just experienced the glorious highs epic customer service compared to this equally epic low several thoughts occurred to me.

  1. If you don’t enjoy something, find something else.
  2. The people in my local farm shop are always chirpy.
  3. The self-scanning machines are taking jobs. And customer sanity.
  4. Maybe supermarkets breed unhappy people.
  5. Maintaining happiness and motivation must be really hard for big organisations.
  6. People who represent a company are in the precarious position of being human.
  7. If people’s only motivation to work is money, can that ever be enough?

When I have been in jobs that I haven’t enjoyed, I have rarely stayed long. A job that doesn’t sustain you in some way is not something that should be a long term commitment. My most favourite jobs (other than what I do now) were highly physical jobs. They came with the perk of diabolical pay, but I came home covered in mud and physically tired and that felt good. And working in an office, looking after a filing system. This was good money for a job where my primary focus was to track down missing files. I have never particularly linked how much I am paid for a job to my happiness. If I enjoy something, then to a large degree, the money feels immaterial. This is likely because for a long time I wasn’t happy, so if something provides happy, it is precisely where I want to be!

And then there’s the subject of worth. Maybe my lack of connection to finances is down to ascribing a monetary value to my time, to me. It feels uncomfortable at some level having to decide my worth. That I have worth. But it is curiously empowering when I do. Recently for a job that I have been doing for around three years, the company suddenly decided that they only wanted to pay half of what I had been charging. I said no. I didn’t get excited or cry (shock or anger generally provokes tears.. then people think I am sad, and feel sorry for me. I am not sad, I am a ball of magmas rage, in liquid format!), I simply explained my worth. If someone wants my time, wants the skills and experience that I have, then that comes at a price. Knowing what I will and won’t accept in employment feels like a huge thing for my self-esteem. I have inherent worth and getting paid well to do something I love is a muchly beautiful thing.

Map Point. What is my inherent worth?

 

Binge

I have written quite a bit about my relationship with food. The emotional weight sticks heavy. The one aspect that I have only vaguely touched on is binge eating. And until very recently, I have not really acknowledged it as a problem.

I know there have been many days where I have absorbed packets of biscuits, but they were treats, or because I didn’t have time to cook and needed to eat quickly. I was hungry and needed the energy, the sugar rush, I know that once I start eating a packet, it would be hard to stop eating, but this was just something that I sometimes too. A quirk, and certainly not a problem for me.

Last week, after having not really eaten any biscuits for a while, I bought a packet of coconut macaroon type things. I think that there were six in a packet. I ate one with a cup of tea, and although I didn’t really want anymore, they were suddenly all gone. I felt sort of horrified at my lack of control and that has been the first time I have fully acknowledged that this might be an issue. Rather than just one of my many amusing foibles.

So in the spirit of research (am dedicated to my craft!) this morning I purchased a packet of biscuits to actually try and analyse what the kick actually is for me. I think it starts even before the purchase. As soon as I have intended to eat something sugary in quantity, I do start to feel a little bit excited. Then there is the buying bit. This feels like some massive stab of independence, I can buy whatever I like (hear me roar!). Now I am actually eating the biscuits I am not feeling very much at all. The packet is almost empty (they are pink wafer biscuits, they disappear fast!). Slightly sick would be the closest thing I have going on to an emotion right now. It’s simply a process to get to the end.

Two things occur to me. Firstly this feels very similar to my smoking experience. I love the creation of a cigarette, the collection of filters, paper and tobacco. Then I ensure that the tobacco is laid out right before committing to the roll. The for me is definitely the best part, I enjoy the dextrous skill involved. The second thing that occurs to me is that a food binge for me is nothing to do with food. It is about allowing myself permission to do what I want. I don’t feel in a place of particular stress right now, but as with most things, although I know I feel good, I still have my old habits which did not come from being in a place of happy. Food binges are an old coping mechanism. Eating every last biscuit completes the task, and then the anxiety is over. Now I just feel sort of urg. It also occurs to me that the time process involved in this has been quite substantive too.

Am not really sure where to end with this one. Anxiety is harsh.

Map Point. Where am I placing my power?