Friday, September 30, 2016

Black Dog Dead - September

I’ve spent more of this year broken than I would have liked. Much more.

Especially a large, long part of August that seemed to drag on forever. Now, the fact is, in the scheme of a 365-day year, maybe it doesn’t add up to all that much. But once again the extent to which I was broken skews my ability to measure such things. It takes a conscious effort to adjust the scale.

Generally when it comes to beating ourselves up, we’re straight in there with the boot. But it takes an effort to be kind to ourselves. To stop and judge ourselves more favourably.

Here we are now at the end of September and I am recovering from my broken August, day by day, but part of this month’s recovery process involved constant reminders of how far behind I’d fallen with my planned work. Tough to escape that when you’re getting yourself back on track and you’re coming face to face with how much you have to do daily if you want to meet that deadline you’d set yourself.

As discussed last month, some of that can be countered and remedied by paring back on your ambitions. In my case, that has amounted to narrowing my focus down to the single main project. Postponing other aims is hard and feels like failure, but we just have to remember that we can protect ourselves to some degree by separating what happens from how we react.

As always it’s a matter of control and while we can’t always control how we respond to anything, we stand a much better chance of controlling that than we do of controlling the things people do or say to us, or to just random shit chucked our way as part of life’s rich tapestry.

It’s up to me to be satisfied with achieving what I achieve, instead of feeling disappointed with what I’ve not managed. I’m not there yet, by any means, but I’m conscious of it and I’m trying to catch the self-critical thoughts before they sink their teeth in too deep. The best argument I can offer them will be what I do achieve when I meet that self-imposed deadline for the much narrower scope of ambition. If I can point to that by early November, then all that I didn’t achieve in August will no longer matter in the slightest.

That’s my theory anyway.

It amounts to mental filing, really. With that (sort of) dealt with my principal challenge for September was just handling the day to day. And I’m not sure where the idea came from exactly, but I recall thinking about how much better I’d been doing in January, despite the year starting so miserably for so many, with a number of celebrity heroes dying on us, and I guess it occurred to me that I’d quite like to celebrate those of my heroes who are still, thank goodness, in the realm of the living.

We’ve seen too many photos in 2016 with the letters R.I.P. attached, after all.
So I made it a daily practice to post a pic per day on Facebook of a personal hero of mine. It’s a small, trivial exercise but it helped. Just reflecting on these figures – in music, movies, TV, writing, whatever – and how they inspired me supplied a spot of daily inspiration. Like a snack for fuel for the soul.

There’s a risk, of course, in sharing your heroes – or anything you like – online. Some danger of trolls, people too quick to attack those things you treasure. And I say that as a caution to more sensitive souls than me. I’m lucky, I have a great collection of online friends and acquaintances, respecters of different tastes and opinions.

A sum total of one idiot trolled in with an abusive remark about one of my heroes. But he’d been on thin ice anyway, so that was his ticket to Blockland. If you’re plagued by the Black Dog and you feel like trying something similar, just be aware that these are your heroes, they’re for you and your own inspiration. They’re like flags on your Facebook page or wherever, to wave you on for that day.

And if even with that in mind you’re a little wary of sharing, then just make a note of them, or have a picture of them for your background on your PC for that day. If they’re musicians/singers, play one of their albums or a video they’ve done. Actors, watch a movie or TV episode or scene from such. Youtube is your friend.

Might not do anything for you. But it was a useful exercise for me throughout September. And it was fun, thinking of 30 muses.

What was not fun was the old insomnia pattern. Which was just getting worse, to be honest.

Short of knocking myself out every night, I have tried everything.

Or thought I had.

Often, I’d have such a crappy night I would get to about 3pm and feel a nap dragging at me like quicksand. And I would generally try to resist because, for one, I would usually wake from an afternoon nap feeling worse than when I’d zonked out, and for two, it would only make the subsequent night worse.

But one day I thought sod it and gave in to the nap urge. And on that occasion I woke feeling a bit better, a bit more alive anyway. And it occurred to me, why don’t I split my days into two mini days.

If I’m only going to sleep half a night, I may as well have a shorter night and shorter days.

It’s still relatively new, so I’m adjusting to this new cycle, but it has been showing some benefits thus far. Packing myself off to bed around 1am, reading for a short while, sleep – or time set aside for sleep anyway – until 6am, early breakfast (aka first breakfast), so begins the first day of that day. Then a scheduled sleeptime between 2pm-4pmish is followed by a second breakfast and the beginning of a second mini-day.

It’s a bit of psychological trickery, I guess, but I have found I do get a few hours sleep at night and 1-2 hours during that daytime kip. So while you’re out there having your Mondays and Tuesdays and so on, I’m just having my Monday As and Monday Bs, Tuesday As and Tuesday Bs etc. It also enables me to break down the day’s goals into smaller bite-size portions. And – so far – because I have embraced the idea of those afternoon sleeps I’ve found I don’t wake so groggy and worse for wear as when I fought it.

The days aren’t equal halves, but I seem to be getting about 6 hours of sleep – or rest anyway – per 24 hours, as opposed to my previous 4 if I was lucky.

So a combination of tricks has assisted me through the month of September and, assuming I make the adjustment, I’ll keep going with the new sleep schedule onwards into October.

Which reminds me, it’s coming up to 2pm now.

My second bedtime.

Goodnight. See you tomorrow morning later today.

SAF 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Stranger Things...

It’s rare you’ll find me in church, let alone on a Monday. But Stranger Things Have Happened.

That’s how I kicked off my week, at a concert in St-Giles-in-the-Fields, London. There to see – and hear – Clare Maguire.

Back in the days when my parents used to force me and my sisters to go to church, if they’d told us there was going to be a show like that on instead of some dry priestly sermon we wouldn’t have kicked up such a stink. I’m still an irreligious soul at heart, but concerts of this calibre would confirm me as a regular churchgoer.

The support act, identifying herself as Klara from Sweden (check her out on Facebook) warmed us up with some hauntingly beautiful numbers, one or two that would not have been out of place as themes for some of the Nordic Noir crime dramas I’ve been watching lately, and then the main act was something else.

Solely on the strength of her Light After Dark album, I knew Clare was an incredible singer – it’s why I travelled up to London to hear her. But performing live, pared of production, turns out she’s even better than I knew. There’s an almost gospel quality to her voice that sells every song with power and emotion. Right at home, while bringing the roof down.

This was the start of her tour to promote Stranger Things Have Happened and due to circumstances beyond my control I hadn’t heard anything of the new album. At other concerts where I’ve heard artists’ tracks for the first time, the lack of familiarity has been known to create a degree of distance or detachment, but something definitely resonated on this occasion because every one of the new songs connected. Hit home – like bullets through my bones, you might say.

Put it down to that rare conjunction of talent, performance and a beautiful setting. This was my first visit to St Giles and it made for an amazing venue, accommodating a modest but enthusiastic crowd. Especially when Clare sent out for beer for the audience. Which maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned, because people might expect that at every show. But it’s a good illustration of the great sense of humour that seasoned the gig between songs and added to the all round entertainment.

Me, I didn’t avail myself of the beer – I had another train to catch after the show and who needs an alcohol buzz when the music buzz is that good – but I did stick around to say hello. And Clare took the time out for a chat and sign a CD which were pretty much the icing on the cake of a very worthwhile trip up from the remote reaches of Cornwall.

All in all, a brilliant night and as I headed back home, Clare was on her way to tour dates elsewhere, so if you happen to spot a poster saying she’s appearing at a venue anywhere near you, I seriously recommend you go treat yourself.

Might not be in a church. But it will be special.