Seeking Sanctuary: A Monday Blog

Do you crave your own space and solitude?

For those who visit the Clouds regularly, you’ll know I moved house five months ago and you’ll also know that it’s one of the best things that has happened to me. It seemed to take a long time coming, it seemed to be the answer to so many problems, and it seemed it couldn’t come quick enough.

One of my main worries, going into the house, would be the lack of space. I’m a big believer in having space, having some time to yourself where you’re alone, where you can watch something rubbish on TV, snack on something guilty, just basically indulge a little without fear of judgement. My concern was that, with Kirsty and I living together, I’d never get any of this space; really the opposite occurred. Not only does she give me enough space to keep me sane, but I don’t actually need as much as before; I’m happy and I’m chilled even when were together. Pretty perfect, right?

One thing you may not know, regular reader or not, is that when we moved in one of my best friends came with us. He was my old housemate, and his housing plans had fallen through prior to the move. We couldn’t leave him stranded, or paying out for the old flat on his own, so we moved him in to us. We’ve lived together 8 years, and this would just be a short stopgap that enables him to get on with life, so where’s the harm? Well, five months later, I found myself having descent into pettiness and irritability, I found our friendship becoming tense and delicate. I’d become a Shaun I wouldn’t want to know.

As of Saturday he’s ‘Moved Out’, though a lot of his stuff still remains, and as such I’m not going to use this as a forum to promote negativity; I’m not going to bitch and moan. In the end, we were helping out a friend, and in his own way I’m sure he’s grateful, so I just want things to return to the way they were… not something that will happen if all I do is focus on the bad. So, instead, I’m just going to tell you what I’ve learnt.

Space as a Couple

I’ve learnt that space isn’t purely personal; it isn’t just a case of wanting to leave ‘me’ to ‘me’. As a couple, we desperately just wanted the house to be ourselves. Five months on from getting the keys, and I can count on one hand the amount of times we really felt the house was our own. Even now, with the scattered remains of his half-move, the house doesn’t fully feel like ours… but it’s almost there.

I’d always thought I’d need space away from Kirsty, time to be myself on my own, but it couldn’t be less true. I actually craved time to just be with Kirsty, for us to just watch a film together, to lounge around together, to be have no interruptions besides when Toby wants some fuss. It’s not the same when someone else is around, even if they’re upstairs, even if they’re out at the shops, you can’t just relax and fall into each other, you’re waiting for that interruption.

The Positive Lesson: I’ve learnt how much Kirsty and I need our time together. Where before I would have looked forward to nights to myself (and only to myself) I now look forward to nights when we can just enjoy each other’s company. I’ve learnt it makes our relationship stronger, hell it makes our love stronger, and it’s more important than I’d ever give it credit for before.

Space as an Environment

Space needs to be a positive environment, it needs to be somewhere you feel completely comfortable. I can’t tell you where your ‘space’ is, it’s something entirely subjective, but what I can tell you is that it needs to be free from anything that will serve as a reminder to your stress.

I’ve learnt that if the house is in a mess, Kirsty can’t relax, and if Kirsty can’t relax neither can I. I’ve learnt that when you look around, and there’s things to clean, to put away, reminders of a house that isn’t in order, then I can’t just be. If your stressors are work, you wouldn’t surround yourself in papers, overdue deadlines, or email notifications. Similarly, I’ve learnt that one of my stressors was the constant reminder of living with someone else. Scattered shoes under feet, open doors and windows, impromptu visits and plans without clarity… I couldn’t relax in that environment. I watched the clock more than I even do at work; calculating how long I had, when I’d need to cook dinner by, whether I’d have time to watch an hour long TV show uninterrupted. It made for a tense environment, it made for a situations where nobody felt comfy, and yet where there was nothing anyone could really do to help.

The Positive Lesson: I’ve learnt how much I want to promote a good environment in my home. I’ve started to learn to keep the place tidy, and I’ve learnt mess plays a bigger role in my life than I’d ever thought possible. This may be more a symptom of home-ownership than anything else, but I’ve realised I actively want to keep on top of my housework. I can’t relax when there’s dirty plates, scattered books, or messy tables… at least when they’re in eyesight. It’s important to identify the things that are affecting your environment, sometimes without your knowledge, and this has helped me to realise what I can do to ensure that those moments when we do have peace, that I can maximise their potential as moments of care.

Space as a Sanctuary

Most of all, I’ve learnt that when we require our ‘Space’ it’s often that we require some Sanctuary. I’ve always believed a home needs to be your Sanctuary and now seems as clear as day for me. It needs to be a place where you feel safe, where you don’t have to ‘do’ anything or ‘be’ anyone. It has to be a place of utter comfort. When your home isn’t that place, when you’re walking on egg shells, when you’re scheduling your life around others, and when you can’t just cry and break down if you need to… it becomes a weight. Most of all, it becomes a place you don’t look forward to being, or a place you even avoid going.

Six months ago, before the keys came to my hands, I imagined that getting home would be like having a weight lifted off my shoulders, I imagined bad days fading away into the backdrop of the outside world, and I imagined just being in this perfect bubble, unaffected by anything or anyone. It hasn’t been that way. I’d get home more concerned with the plans of others than with simple, stress-free relaxation. The environment put me on edge, and the lack of couple time, between Kirsty and I, made us irritable. Our house wasn’t a place where we were free from the pressures of everyday life, it wasn’t a place where we could simple be.

The Positive Lesson: Home needs to be our sanctuary. I’ve learnt just how important it is to be able to get home and free yourself from the shackles of everyday life, lest your home become its own chain with its own anchor. It means I’ve learnt to take on board the potential issues that can jeopardise this sanctuary, the ones in control at least, and it means that in my spare moments I look to actively keep on top of things I might have otherwise ignored or put out of mind. I’ve learnt the importance of letting go of stress, of just being relaxed at home.

And there we have it, three positive lessons I’ve learnt in the first five months of living in my house. Part of me wanted to do five lessons for five months, but one of my other lessons was almost as long as this post all together, and it’s already planned for its own entire blog post of its own. Instead, it’s over to you…

Where is your Sanctuary? Where do you find your space? What do you do to maximise your down time? Let me know in the comments below!

Why I Don’t Hate Valentine’s Day

What is Valentine’s Day? Waste of Time? Sign of Corporate Greed? Pagan Festival rebranded by the Romans?

Valentines is one of those days people either seem to love or hate. People either buy into the overly romantic nature of the holiday, or dismiss it as nothing more than an excuse to claw money away from society. In truth, many holidays follow a similar suite.

Christmas, is often advertised well in advance, making sure nobody misses the memo that we have to spend money to enjoy the season, that we have to buy our loved ones the best gifts to show them we love them the most. Even Easter, which will soon be upon us, joins its festive brethren in advertising and cost; you must buy Chocolate Eggs, you must cook a big dinner.

Valentine’s gets a big brunt of this though, with statements like “I don’t need one day a year to show someone I love them”, “I don’t need a gift or present just to show love”, and “it’s just another meaningless day”. The thing is… I get that. The thing is… I agree.

But why so cynical?

When I was younger, when I was at the height of my ‘down with the system’ beliefs, I couldn’t have agreed more. Then I realised something, I realised that these things are what you make of them, and only what you make of them.

In the true vein of Capitalism, Corporations are going to do everything they can to push things onto us; they’re going to offer sales, deals for couples, breaks away. That’s what they’ll do, like with every other day and every other reason they can find to make you spend money. It’s up to you, though, if you buy into it… and hell, maybe you’ll get a cheap deal for something?

My biggest argument is when people say “I show someone I love them all year round, why should we have a day to it?” and my argument is simple… “Why not?”. If you show someone just how much you love them as often as is possible, every moment of every day, that’s absolutely great. In our busy, hectic lives it’s sometimes easy to forget things though, it’s sometimes easy to take people for granted. Why not utilise one day a year that really does say “I love you. Nobody is saying you only show love on Valentine’s Day; that’s a terrible argument. See the day as a reminder, just a little memo, that maybe you should tell/show someone just how much you love them.

More to the point, use the day to just say “I love you” to more than just your partner. Love is such a strong emotion, yet it’s one we don’t show as often as we should. Tell your partner you love them, tell your parents, your siblings, your friends and your colleagues.

I suppose a summary to this, and to my thoughts on all the holidays, is to use them as reasons and excuses to show someone your love. Don’t want to buy cards and gifts? Don’t! Why not make something or do something instead? Don’t want to go out for an expensive and busy meal? Don’t! Cook something nice or have a cheeky takeaway together. Kirsty will often say one of the best things I can do is tidy up, do chores that she’d normally do, and just show I’ve thought about her in some way. That stuff is free!

Things can be pushed onto us all we like, and it’s true that everyone will try to make a quick buck, but see the occasion for your own reasons. I love Christmas, because it’s a reason to see all my family, it’s a reason to show them how much I love to spend time with them; but I try to do that as often as possible too. I treat Valentine’s the same. Kirsty and I show each other our love Every. Single. Day. but this time of year we also just make an extra effort to make a bit of time for each other, or maybe cook something a bit different, or to bake/make/craft something. The day doesn’t have to be a waste of time, it just depends on how you treat it.

How will you be spending Valentines Day? Do you hate it? Or do you celebrate it?

 

Fizz Free February: A Fight with Caffeine Addiction

Do you drink a lot of fizzy drinks? Consume a lot of Caffeine?

I do; I’m addicted. Here’s what’s happening as I cut down.

I had a brilliant weekend this weekend just gone. Kirsty and I went out for a Miller and Carter on Friday, to celebrate an achievement with her work, then Saturday we went out with two friends for Food and to “Escape the Room” at EscapeLive in Birmingham (Second time we’ve been; Highly recommended!), then Sunday we just relaxed together; she played games and I read. However, Monday morning I realised I felt… down. I was tired, for a start. My Fitbit said I’d been awake/restless 22 times during the night and now, during the day, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  Then, couple that with the kind of lethargy that hits when you realise the fun weekend you were looking forward to is over, and now you have a full day at work where you don’t feel fulfilled on a good day… It all adds up.

It was so bad, in fact, that I didn’t write. Normally Monday would be a #MondayBlog, but this week I just didn’t write one. Sure, I should have had one planned in advance anyway, scheduled to go, but in any event if I don’t I would always write one on the day; not so this time. Oh well, maybe Tuesday would be a better day?

Only Tuesday came, Today came, and I’m still tired. I’m unbelievably tired considering how long I’ve slept. I remember, vividly, how often I was awake last night, and I’ve spent all day rubbing my itchy, tired eyes, counting down until I can be in bed again. I’ve spent the day in a melancholy bubble, surrounded by a deep desire to, not only not be at work, but to not really be doing anything. I feel so apathetic. I feel my drive gone. I feel the need to just cuddle up into a ball and waste my day under a duvet, watching rubbish on TV and adding zero value to my life. That’s how Today feels. However, Today I also discovered the reason for it.

Caffeine Addiction.

Or more to the point; Caffeine Withdrawal.

Here on the Clouds, I’ve been doing Fizz Free February. I’m not sure it’s actually a thing, it’s something I’ve just invented for myself. Whilst I’m sure most of you know the negatives of drinking fizzy drinks, and you probably get preached to as often as I did, what they don’t often tell you is what you face when you stop.

You see, Fizzy drinks were my main source of Caffeine. My addiction to Pepsi Max saw it replacing all other drinks in my day. Morning drink? Pepsi Max. Drink with Dinner? Pepsi Max. Quick sip of something before heading to bed? Pepsi Max. About the only drink I didn’t replace was Beer, which is unhealthy in its own way. I never claimed what I was doing was right, but I’d never admit my problem was getting a little out of hand. So, as part of a healthier eating routine I’m doing, I thought I’d cut out my addiction; Lent’s around the corner anyway, I’m just a little early.

Let’s just say it’s left me feeling rough; far rougher than I thought.

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The cause of my Caffeine Addiction

It’s amazing how something I’d slowly been filling my body with has taken an invisible toll on me. Whilst I was consuming Pepsi Max, I never really noticed just how much caffeine I was putting into my body, and now that I’ve stopped my body is in a withdrawal I never expected. In fact, I didn’t even immediately blame my symptoms on withdrawal, I thought it was just me being me. I struggle with anxiety, I struggle with apathy, and maybe it was just another of my cycles… It wasn’t until I started looking up caffeine withdrawal, after a moment of thinking “Damn, I wish I could drink some Pepsi Max on this awful, tired day”, that I realised the thing I thought could cure me, was the thing that made me worse in the first place, and there we have addiction.

I found a site called the Caffeine Informer that listed the symptoms of withdrawal.

  1. Headaches
  2. Sleepiness
  3. Irritability
  4. Lethargy
  5. Constipation
  6. Depression
  7. Muscle Pain, Stiffness, Cramping
  8. Lack of Concentration
  9. Flu-like Symptoms
  10. Insomnia
  11. Nausea and Vomitting
  12. Anxiety
  13. Brain Fog
  14. Dizziness
  15. Heart Rhythm Abnormalities

Do these sound familiar to you? because they sure did to me. Headaches? Check. Brain Fog? Check. Irritability? Just ask Kirsty. In fact, the site went on to explain some of these in further detail.

  1. Sleepiness: This just isn’t your normal tiredness, this is sitting up straight but still can’t keep your eyes open tiredness.
  1. Lethargy: Forget about productivity at this stage because you’ll be unmotivated to do anything from the feeling of the lack of energy.
  1. Lack of Concentration: Forget school, studying, brain surgery, or jet engine repair during this stage of withdrawal.

Reading this page I had a lightbulb moment, shining a golden glow into the shadows of the unknown. This was me, here on the page, and these were the things I was thinking/feeling.

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The Offending Chemical via Caffeine Informer

So what am I going to do going forward?

I’m going to keep #FizzFreeFebruary going; despite the symptoms. I hate the idea that something could take this much toll on me and draw me back with invisible strings; it was my choice to drink Pepsi Max and it’ll be my choice to cut down on it. Caffeine Informer goes on to say, “Even after the withdrawal period is over, many still never feel quite as good as they do when they’re drinking caffeine all of the time”, and whilst this has put a pretty big fear into me, I’m going to try not to let it be that way.

The thing is, I know the cause now and that makes me feel more confident. Knowledge is Power, after all, and it’s given me a power to keep going. Sure, I’m still at the start of my journey, I’ve seen that some symptoms get worse before they get better, but I know why they’re happening now and that gives me strength to disassociate with the negativity. I may not sleep well tonight, due to the withdrawal, but I’ll sleep better due to the knowledge.

3 Steps to Help Combat your Anxieties!

Problems are causes of anxiety, of unhappiness, of stress and we need to combat them effectively as soon as we can; most importantly we need to make sure we combat the source and not the symptom.

For me here on the Clouds, the running theme of January, and 2017 in general, has been about self-improvement. There are a few ways we can improve, we can find areas where we have room to grow, areas that aren’t necessarily problematic, or we can find the areas where our bigger issues lie. I’ve written before about expanding my horizons, about taking risks, and about stepping out of my comfort-zone, and whilst these are areas I want to improve, they’re ‘nice to have’; they’re not active problems in my lifestyle. If I don’t read more books, and if I don’t get out more, I’m not necessarily going to negatively impact my life so much as I’m just not going to excel. It’s a negative to an extent, but it isn’t a source of stress. Instead, today I want to talk about finding the root cause of your problems, the aspects of life that have a negative impact, that bring you down, that stack up over the course of a day, a week, a month, and gradually tug you down with them.

Step 1: Seeing the Smoke

To start, we need to make sure we notice the ‘Smoke’, the symptoms and the warning signs, that can lead us to the ‘Fire’, the cause. To do this, I make a mental note of all the things that bother me throughout my daily life. The same result could be achieved with a diary, or with a journal. Whilst I’d normally recommend keeping a Happiness Journal (or Jar!), that can serve as a reminder for all the good in your life, for the purpose of self-improvement it is useful to make note of areas, and times, that you feel anxiety or stress coming on.

Example 1: I feel stressed and anxious when I sit in traffic, well aware I’m about to be late. I do this almost every morning. The amount I feel fluctuates, depending on my mood, depending on how late I will be, and depending on what I have on that day.

Example 2: I feel stressed and anxious when Kirsty and I argue. The amount I feel fluctuates depending on the size of the argument, but it can leave me feeling shaken for the rest of the day or even impact a whole week.

In both my examples, I can see the ‘smoke’; I can see the building of anxiety. Whether it’s the stress of sitting in unmoving traffic, or the upset of a disappointed love one, these are two situations that really impact my life. Maybe, on a good day, I shake off the fact I’m late; I get into work, I laugh and joke, and I get on with my day. It’s fine really, I don’t notice it, I don’t think about it again… but it’s safe to say it does build up, it’s safe to say it does have an impact, albeit a small one. By combating the small impacts, we lessen the bigger ones by default.  

Step 2: Dousing the Flames.

The ‘Flames’ here are the causes for my anxiety; in example 1 it was because I was late. This daily stressor, which impacted me almost every day, was causing a knock on effect to the overall anxiety in my life. So, how do we combat this? How do we douse the flames? Well clearly it’s simple! I just stop being late. There, done. Bish, bash, and boom. Now watch as my anxiety and stress fade away…

Ok, my sarcasm aside, maybe Example 1, being late, is an easier fix than most. Where do we stand on Example 2 then? Example 2 was that I argue with Kirsty, my girlfriend, so the solution by this logic is just to stop arguing. As much as I’d like it to be that easy, it’s not. Suddenly we realise the flaw in this plan, we realise how ineffective it is to say “just fix things”.

I left Step 2 in to make a point; it’s not easy to just keep firefighting. I could take steps to ensure I’m no longer tardy, or to minimise the arguments Kirsty and I might have, and it might be effective in the moment, but this really requires Step 3, the magic step.

Step 3: The Source of the Fire

Like a fire department, we want to combat the flames before they spread and do irreparable damage. Also much like a fire department, we can try to work out where a fire started and avoid it. I firmly believe that many people stop before Step 3, that they go through life ‘firefighting’, which in this case I’m using to mean sorting problems when they arise rather than working to avoid them all together.

This is where things get really interesting, and this is where it would benefit from having a list of all of your stressors as, and when, they come about. The thing is, when you spell out all the things that are bothering you in life, no matter how long the list might look, many of these factors may stem from a common source; a gas leak or a lit candle (I’m determined to keep this analogy).

Whilst I only gave you two examples from my longer list, I can tell you now that many of my daily stressors stem from the same place. In Example 1, and numerous others, it’s a lack of organisation. This means I don’t get my stuff ready the night before, this means I don’t have a routine to stick to every morning, this means I don’t make enough time to get to work in the morning. It also means I don’t have my finances in order, and I haven’t paid that bill I’ve been putting off, it means I haven’t written a blog in advance, and I have to panic and stress to get one ready for my self-set deadline. By realising that much of my anxiety stems from the same key factor, disorganisation, I can start to work on that as a whole and hopefully avoid the stressors in future, rather than just trying to fight them when they arrive. There’s also the potential there that I’m stopping a problem I haven’t even noticed I’m having, something that’s stressing me out but I simply haven’t realised yet.

I believe it’s far more important that we combat these sources, because it’s here we can make the biggest improvements to our lives; it’s here we can minimise future stress and save ourselves from bouts of anxiety. That said, everyone is different, different tactics work for different people, and my method is certainly not a (fire)blanket intended to coat absolutely everyone’s lives. I just hope it helps in some way!

How do you combat your anxieties? Do you have some helpful tactics to share? Or maybe even just a story to tell? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Small Steps Out of Your Comfort Zone!

Variety is the spice of life, they say. Yet, I find myself so secure in my comfort zone… Did I say secure? or did I mean stagnant?

The thing about comfort zones is they’re comfortable and, therefore, I’m never all that eager to leave mine. It’s something I’ve been focusing on a lot, recently and it’ll probably be a recurrent theme of my blog posts in the coming year. I mean, I’ve written before, not even long ago, about stepping out of comfort zones by taking risks. I want to talk about something a bit more fun; some ‘risks’ that aren’t even risks. I want to talk about how I’m planning to bring some more variety into my life for 2017.

2017’s Resolution was simply (see: broadly) to improve myself. One of the ways I want to do this, is by getting more variety in my life.

Films

Kirsty and I do love a good film; snuggled up all cozy in the couch, lights off, candles on, just us and the TV (and Toby, if he shows his furry, whiskered face). What we don’t tend to do, however, is branch out with what we watch. We watch a lot of films that are fairly “safe”, ones we know we’ll like or have seen before. What we’re starting to do this year, is compile a list of films from the last couples of years into a spreadsheet, and randomly pick an entry whenever we sit down to watch a film. What this does, is not only force us to watch films we might not have usually ‘been in the mood’ for that night, but also takes away the hours prior where we scroll down Netflix trying to work out what it actually is we’re in the mood for. This should help us see more films that didn’t necessarily jump out at us to begin with, that weren’t necessarily in genres we had favourite’d across our various streaming services.

If you find yourself stuck in a rut, watching the same old reruns on the TV, or scrolling down Netflix to no productive end, why not watch a film you wouldn’t normally go for? Take a look at a “Best of 2016” list and watch a film you completely missed.

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The Oscar for “Most Variety in Film Choices” goes to…

Cinema

In a similar vein, Kirsty and I have also signed up for Cineworld cards, meaning we pay our monthly subscription of £18, and can see as many films as we like. This takes away the question of whether a film is worth the money or not, and opens us to seeing more films than we usually would. Hopefully it’s not just a novelty, because right now we’ve had at least one film booked a week, sometimes two. It also gives us a large discount on seeing live performances that are streamed to the various Cinemas, meaning we can start to see plays or musicals at a cheaper cost. It’s also a great excuse to get out the house at least once a week.

Whilst I wouldn’t advise everyone goes out and immediately subscribes to a Cinema, maybe check what’s on in your local and pick a film/production you wouldn’t normally have gone out to watch!

Books

2016 saw me reading a lot more; something I’m very proud of. As a self-proclaimed writer I was always a bit ashamed of how little I actually read. Now, armed with my brand new Kindle Paperwhite from Christmas (Thanks, Kirsty!) I plan to top my achievements once more. It’s not quite the 52 books other people are aiming for, but I’ll be reading more than I ever used to. That said, the books I chose always come as recommendations from friends, and they’re almost always Fantasy/Sci Fi. We like what we like, once again. To combat this, I’m setting up a Monthly Book Group with my friends. Once a month we’ll have a book assigned that we all have a month to read. This takes the decision of what to read out of my hands and means that at least 12 of the books I read this year might be ones I never thought of choosing to begin with.

Why not join or start a book club, either in person or online? Or, if you don’t fancy that, why not take part in one of the challenges online that actively encourage you to think about your book choice before making it? 

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Games

This is something I don’t actually struggle with so much. Years ago I played all the AAA titles, I lapped up all the hype, these days I’m far more skeptical; I’ve realised just how much value you can find in the smaller indie titles. Some of my favourite games of recent years have been these kinds of titles; Life is Strange, Stardew Valley, Bastion, to name a few. For this goal, I just continue doing what I’m doing; pick up these indie titles that appeal to me and supporting the smaller developers. I don’t really need targets with this section, I’m covered!

In the physical world, I’m also hoping to play more variety of Board Games. To do this, I’ve simply bought extra games I found interesting, or that were met with good reviews, and I’m arranging nights to play them with friends. I want to write a more indepth piece later on about board games, as I think they of all things can appeal across generations and families, but I think people are stuck in the ways of Monopoly, Scrabble, Etc.

Now, I understand that not all my readers are ‘gamers’; I’m not about to tell you to tell you to invest in the latest Xbox. If I was to set you a goal to increase variety here, it could easily just be ‘try playing a game with friends/family’. However, I’m going to go a step further. Why not avoid the traps of Monopolgy, Risk, or Scrabble, and play a board game that you haven’t heard of? I highly recommend Catan, Codenames, or Dixit to start.

Saying Yes More.

Last but not least, I’m planning to say Yes more. Too many times I get invited to something and my instant, gut reaction is to say “No“. Sometimes it’s well founded, but often it’s that I can’t be bothered, doubt I’ll enjoy something, or imagine I’d prefer that evening to do nothing but relax. Don’t get me wrong, relaxation is great, and I certainly wont be doing this to the crazy length of saying “Yes” to simply everything. I will, however, just be generally more open to suggestions. I might go on a night out I wouldn’t usually, or go see a band I don’t really know. I’m also going to put myself into a position to say “Yes” to myself; I’m going to book more things for Kirsty and I to do, I’m going to book events we wouldn’t usually have ever done.

Next time you’re invited to something, either by a family or friend, and your initial reaction is to just say ‘No’… Stop. Consider why you’re actually saying “No”. I find I say “No” because I think I’d prefer staying in, doing nothing, and wasting my evening and not because I think I wont actually enjoy the event.

Yes Man poster art.
There are some extremes I won’t go to…

These are small, tiny steps to getting out of a comfort zone. They’re not exactly moving abroad, they’re not exactly jumping out of a plane, but they’re hopefully small productive steps in the right direction; they hopefully promote an openness to new experiences, whilst making sure not to miss out on things going by. Hopefully with all this in place, I should have some variety! Hopefully with these suggestions you’ll have some variety too!

And I mean it, I hope you found this helpful in some way! If you have any extra tips, any goals I could set myself, why not share them in the comments below? I’d love to hear more ways I could tackle this!

Learning Themes from the Wonders of Disney

Disney films are wonderful. Honestly. 

I’m writing this after getting back from seeing Moana earlier today (with our brand new Cineworld cards, no less) and it was a truly beautiful film; I mean that aesthetically and thematically. If you haven’t seen it, I’d go see it now; it’s not out in cinemas for much longer.

As big budget animations, heavily marketed and pushed, Disney films are always going to make some kind of impact; for better or worse. Kids are always going to want to go see the colourful characters, and Disney are always going to hope they latch on just as they did back during the Frozen-phase. This makes these films powerful vehicles.

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A beautiful film!

Now, you can go back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and analyse upwards, there’s probably quite the number of questionable themes within the earlier entries, but if we consider the more recent examples we can clearly see Disney (or, at least their writers) using the weight to tackle some more important issues. Zootopia, which is fantastic again, clearly tackles racism, segregation, phobia, and prejudice. The previously mentioned Frozen, clearly mocks the age old love-at-first-sight cliche of the original Disney titles. Then there’s Moana, featuring a majority Polynesian cast, something I think deserves a mention to begin with, and about owning, not just mistakes, but identity. It’s a beautiful film about self worth in the face of social expectations; it’s about remaining true to yourself. I’m no parent, and hopefully wont be for at least another couple of years or so, but these are the kinds of films I want my children to see; I want to promote these kinds of values.

This makes me ask, as a writer, what is my work conveying? What do my characters represent? Of course, not all stories need a moral message, not all characters represent a theme, but it’s at the very least important to know that you’ve made that distinction on purpose; it’s good to have considered all the bases. By considering the themes of your book, by considering what people could learn from it, you consider whether you’re actually promoting something unintended that maybe you don’t want to show. You also create a far more coherent story! If you feel your book is missing something, that something is a little off or it feels a little shallow, perhaps it’s the lack of a coherent message.

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Zootopia; clear themes, clear messages, great film.

Regardless of what you think about Disney as a company, their story work is clearly well conceived, with strong female (and male!) rolemodels, upholding genuine and important values. What better for the young, and old, to learn from?

Have you seen the recent Disney films? What do you think of their messages?

New Year New…

…Me? You? Us?

It’s a cliché phrase you hear thrown around from person to person. We’re celebrating the start of a New Year, a new calendar, so why not take the time to be a new you as well?

I don’t know if it’s just my Facebook, my social network, but I’ve seen the phrase dashed into the ground this year. I’ve seen posts about how resolutions don’t work; how nothing changes between the end of one year and the start of another. I’ve seen posts about how calendars don’t truly mean anything, they’re a man-made form of time-tracking, and thus neither does “New Year; New Me”. I didn’t realise just how cynical people were on this subject. The thing is, these are exactly the kind of people who are quick enough to say “well, if you wanted to change, why not just do it?”… but on any day apart from New Year’s day, apparently.

The start of a new year, the start of a new month, hell the start of a new week, are all just arbitrary man-made time-frames, that much is true, but they’re great for keeping track, they’re great for staying motivated and determined. As human beings we love statistics, categories, organisation. I love being able to round off 2016 with a list of achievements and go into 2017 with goals.

That said, the cynics are right. Between December 31st and January 1st, nothing really does happen; there’s no real change, you aren’t really a ‘new you’. All that means, though, is that you have to put your back into it; you have to be determined and disciplined. There’s absolutely no shame in making a New Year’s Resolution, and there’s no shame in setting goals for the months or years ahead, but you do have to try and you do have to push yourself to keep going.

I’d recommend making goals that are achievable, resolutions you can and will stick too. Better yet, make resolutions you want to see through. It sounds like such an obvious thing, but I am certain many people make resolutions based on the things they just don’t want to do in the first place: go to the gym, be nice to the annoying people, give more money to charity. Valuable and worthwhile goals, but probably based more on peer pressure than real, self-sourced desire.

My goal is nice and general; it can be summarised as follows:  Improve Myself.

It’s broad, it’s vague, it has many other, more specific, little factors contained within. This also means it’s more achievable. I could say I want to go to the gym more, and I do, but right now I’d just settle for being a little healthier; no matter how I get there. I could say I want to write more, and I do, but I’d also be happy if my creativity took me down different avenues as the year goes on. My seemingly vague goal of Improving Myself is everything I want to do, both now and in the future, boiled down into something manageable. I have a baseline – who I was yesterday – and I know all the different aspects of me I could improve on by tomorrow – eat a bit healthier, write a bit more, contact an old friend, etc. Some days will be better than others, some months will be better than others, but I know that I can always just keep improving.

Do you believe in resolutions? What are yours going forward? Are yours as vague as mine or do you strive for something a bit more specific?