For The New Year, Full of Potential

I wanted a month to see the shape of the year before I did this post. That’s what I did last year and I’m not stopping any time soon. Fight me.

I might be a little naïve in thinking a new year is more significant than literally any point of the year but I am determined to shed my skin and a new year is a symbolic time to do so. A giant reset button in our understanding of time and selves. Today we’re talking about everybody’s favourite part of a new year: goals!

When setting goals I think it’s important to take stock of the why as much as the how. The how is the method and execution but the why is its significance and can lead to insights into your character. I don’t want this post to be daunting to you, like you’re not doing enough. People measure their worth and the very abstract notion of “success” in perfomative and often inflated ways (x amounts of likes, y amounts of money). Tread your path, improve yourself because you want to improve not because you want to appear as though you’re improving. You’ll find the scope of the goals decreases but we’ll get to that in a sec.

I think my goals are fairly demanding but I have a lot of time on my hands so I might as well spend it doing what I’d normally do anyway. I think of them in a progressive way—not a time-constrained thing, but something to continue to work towards even after 2018 expires. Time is something that feels like is disappearing these days so small goals are relevant also. It’s not the size that’s the concern: it’s how achievable it is. You can set big goals but if you don’t meet them then what’s the point? Increase the size over time but start where you need to. Change doesn’t come over night: it takes concerted effort often over long periods of time.

It’s hard but using that knowledge will help you when times are tough. Life gets in the way: you’re sick, going through something deeply disruptive emotionally. We are human. We are powerful if we acknowledge how we cannot be 100% all of the time.

That said, you should make yourself accountable—actually doing what you set out to do. You say you want to read more but are you actively looking at the structure of your days to see where you can sneak 10 mins of reading? (I do it by page number but that is the privilege of time speaking once again.)

Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan, though. Things can change: you set goals that you didn’t achieve or find yourself doing stuff you never would have thought you’d be doing. Mine is poetry. You can expand from there or reduce according to your realistic outputs. Don’t overburden yourself in order to achieve if it’s not working for you: work in your bounds. Or don’t! It’s not a requirement of you. But if you do, be responsible.

In pursuing goals we often don’t stop to reflect on the qualities we possess in the first place. A future self comes about by actions we actively take in the present. It’s the reflection that reveals the significance of the goals in the first place. Learn to appreciate what you have done, not what you could be doing. Sometimes it takes our loved ones to show us what we’ve done—all that we’re capable of. This preamble is important and stuff I lose sight off in my search for more: I’m indebted to my friends and family for keeping me rooted when I’ve drifted off.

On top of the goals I set myself from last year, these are my new things to keep track of:

Poetry: On top what I do monthly, I have a poetry project I’ve begun in earnest that may or may not be a waste of time. I’m in the midst of research and that’s been interesting and exhausting in equal parts. When I’ve synthesised enough of it into usable art I think I’ll be able to showcase it here. Earliest will be March but I make no promises as I imagine there will be new and previously unforeseen avenues to explore. Quite excited though.

Essays: I’ve not written one for quite some time which is hilarious considering that that is why I started this blog: partly to sate my ego but also to inform people of ways they can help themselves improve in various aspects of their lives. I fell off after the last Diamond Age piece in the summer and have been wrestling with that for a while

Anyway, there’s an ever-expanding document with essay topics I want to cover in the coming months and while it says “2018”, it’ll carry on for years, at least. The breadth of topics is expanding—from the advice stuff of early blog, to the more informational stuff that populated the more recent stuff—and will require more technical research … and words. So look out for the huge pieces in the future. They’re fairly labour-intensive so I’m going to stockpile a few smaller ones and hopefully stay ahead that way. There’s one I’m making good progress on and will be ready soon. It’s a little less cerebral than before so my aim is it enjoyable and insightful. In my head there will be three distinct categories of essay: small (500-1500 words), medium (1500-3500), and large (3500+). The road will be long and maybe a bit weird but I hope you’ll join me. I love making these pieces and wish that you find them useful. I’ve enjoyed seeing the developing shape of the blog and the new life it’s had.

Writing: I have a book I want to finish, maybe write some short stories and before year’s end start a new book. Lofty goals all things considered, but I want to work on my book with more regularity than in the focused bursts of July and November in particular. Hopefully I can finish more quickly that way and free up some brain space for the other projects itching for some daylight. On the short story front: I’ve already submitted a 4,000 word one last month. I doubt they’ll accept me but I did it, so more of that. I have a couple of ideas I’m toying with so I’ll say one more is a success while two is an immense one. These are short stories written not necessarily submitted/accepted. I’ll also try to keep abreast of the weekly Writing Challenge, which reminds me that I need to make a page so that you can follow from the beginning. That’s on my agenda.

Music: Guitar playing (what guitar playing?). Regularity is the key here. Gotta practise often, even if it’s 10 mins. I think keeping the calluses on my fingers nice and hard is a good metric—they disappear over lack of use and repeated showers, see—so I’ll keep that as a mental touchstone. I’m also more competent than I gave myself credit for: I got to grasp 2 new chords on the back end of last year. Last month I’ve got a 3-chord song to refine. My goal last year was to have one original written at least and that feels super achievable now. Just have to keep the skills sharp in my mind. Like the short stories, if it’s a case of only one, then it’s a success.

Drawing: More of that. I have long-term illustration goals—we’re talking ten years so it’s not soon but again regularity is key.

Keep in contact with friends: I can’t believe my selfishness in forgetting something like this: only focusing on myself and what I want/need. As you know, I am not in employment. A lot of my friends live in my university city and the ones that live in my home city here are studying or in work themselves. I try to see them as much as my wallet allows but that’s still less often than I’d like. Even when I can’t see them, which is often, I’m going to try to keep on track of my friends. We have the magic of the internet and I use it to idle. Disgraceful.

Okay, that’ll keep me busy. We’ll end there. Tomorrow is the writing challenge so look out for that.

What about yourselves: what do you want out of this year?

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A Year in Review

So technically this blog turned 1 in November; I made it ahead of my first post. But that first post is in January so your relationship with the blog is coming up to a year.

2017 has been a mixed bag. Looking back, I’ve seen my optimism fall: to quote a friend’s Twitter bio “closet optimist” (same). But there have been good things as well.

Enough preamble, though, because there’s a lot of analysis to get through. Let’s look at the goals I set, assess them, and adjust as appropriate.

  1. I want to create more. Okay, I was hit with an unexpected turn creatively but we’ll come back to that. So I don’t actually know what short story competitions I’m talking about in the original posts with the deadline the Sunday following when that was posted, but I did get into the Top 20 entries of my uni’s alumni short story comp that I entered in February. I didn’t hear back until October, so I thought I didn’t get anywhere. I made my peace with that but was pleasantly surprised when I found out. While I didn’t win it’s all very exciting. Check it out here!As for other stuff, I’ll confess to not working as actively on my guitar and drawing as I had wanted. I want to but I’ve been dealing with a lot of annoying things that something as literally hands-on as learning an instrument does not help since my mind is not clear to focus appropriately. But I’ll work on it in the new year, hoping to at least play twice a week for minimum 10mins a session. That can dovetail into a stretch goal of writing a song of my own but learning a few simple songs will be an accomplishment for me.On the drawing side, similar story: several times a week. I’ll have to take it slow because I’m actually not sure I’m over my hang-ups on that. More on that another time. Maybe.Again, I actually don’t know what short stories I was referring to in my previous post but safe to say they didn’t get done. I have some ideas, one I’m writing now, and I want to submit one to a journal and another for entry in competition I’ve entered before (no I didn’t win else I would’ve said, but even if not, it’s a good impetus to write and hone the craft) with deadlines early 2018.On the 150,000 words thing, I would say that’s a failure as well. I did get at least 100,000 words written this year which is certainly nothing to sniff at but I set this goal partly due to the various WriMo events in the year, so that’s actually only 3 months of concentrated writing for me. Also, if I have the capacity, I should push for it otherwise I am underachieving. But this goal has taught me word-count goals might not be my flavour.

    The 100,000 words I did write were what I projected was half of the novel I’m writing that I’ve been writing this year. My goal next year is to at least have the other half written by year’s end, hopefully leading into the beginning of another novel at the same time, but I would be pretty satisfied with just this book being done. Partial success for that.

    Okay, so this unexpected creative turn: well you know already because I’ve been posting but it’s the poetry! I wanted to have a slightly more interesting way to have a travel post in this blog since many of you are not people I personally know (and so might be a little less tolerant of my rambling prose) and so I ended up making a combo of photos from my trip to Edinburgh and poetry about the trip. I got the bug late in the year but it was technically after the Edinburgh post that it really hit me. I even started buying poetry as well as writing it, going through a week where I wouldn’t go a day without starting at least two poems. I’ve always eschewed poetry for years, leaving it in the capable hands for what I’d describe as the more romantic spirits in the world, but, beyond that deep mischaracterisation, there are interesting things to do with structure and metaphor that can’t quite be done so well in prose, something of near-endless fascination to me. I’ve got a big poetry project in the works that borrows from a musician but as a personal project might be creatively enriching. More in my new year’s post.

  2. I want to get a job. Hahahahahahaha. Okay, serious face now. *sputters*Weirdly this is one of the most ambitious of my goals. This is to do with the fact that most of this will rely on factors largely out of my control. Where it had once upset and frustrated me, it has eaten away at such strong emotions, leaving behind only a weary resignation. Basically, I have fallen into a pacified “eh” state now. I’m not going to put much hope on this one because that will distract me from my creative pursuits.Around the start of this year I had hoped that I would get something that would be secured by or begin around my birthday in the summer but that was overly optimistic, and I maintain that for next year as well. So I’ll just put a cautious deadline of 31st December 2018 for obtaining a job.The first half of the year I was very focused on the ~dream career~ but in order to make good headway in the dream career I realised that I needed to secure a decent financial backing (not much but definitely More than what Universal Credit provides) to fund my ventures—mostly unpaid, but the concern is more about the general cost of London, where the Opportunities lie, over notions of pay for short work experiences, mostly because I’m fairly frugal—but shift work is porous and very poorly organised and mostly depends on the good mood of the ones employing you as well as some good luck. In short: I’m in a sort of experience rut. Or something. I’m unsure what thing I’m missing if it’s actually experience or the quality of applications but I’ll try to be quicker to readapt my approaches. Contrary to popular writing (myself included), CV tailoring and applications is sort of a mad, disorganised scramble. Since demand for limited roles is skyrocketing, what precise qualities an application requires isn’t clear cut. There are general rules, true, but feedback on applications suffers, mostly due to a lack of it, so as a result of this high application-rate, mostly you’re trying random combos hoping for pay dirt. I have written more to-the-point cover letters with no response and my only successful one in 2017 was I would call among my worst.

    Speaking of which …It wasn’t all bad because in September I did an internship for six weeks in London (wooo!) and as a result got to meet up with cool people I had erstwhile a purely online relationship with, on top of learning some job-transferable skills, as well as getting paid with actual money. Insanity, right? But financial complexities meant I had to move back to my home city again and I’m moored now until the next PAID opportunity. I’m on a 11-12 month cycle at the moment, lmao.

    The dream is sickly: not quite dead but it’s not looking good. I’m almost twenty-four with no real weighty job experience under my belt. That’s a real Concern. If it gets to the end of next year and I’ve had nothing whatsoever I’d be very concerned. I doubt it’ll get that bad though. It’s mostly a waiting game now, anyway. But I’ve not much more to say on this because it’s turning to a rant and if there’s one thing this social climate doesn’t need more of it’s people ranting.

  3. I want to read more non-fiction. A bona fide success, I’d wager. It helped that it was kinda vague, but I’ve gone through some interesting avenues this year, from economics, through microbiology, and more! I did say before that a good way to round this off would be to deepen my knowledge of the subjects in the months I was introduced to them (so this month I’m learning about black Britons in history and I could learn more about them in November/December next year as a neat/nerdy callback). I’ve found a couple of favourites by pushing beyond my knowledge base so that active knowledge-seeking is definitely continuing in the new year. Pleased with that very much.
  4. I want to finish Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I failed. I’ve made progress but not enough. I’m nearly there though. The structure and the prose is much more digestible the deeper you go, almost acting as a reward for enduring. It’s equal parts entertaining and frustrating which I understand is at least part of Wallace’s intentions. Oh well, the take away from this is that I will finish; I won’t be beaten! Hopefully early next year.

Note on the Big Thing: It feels very disingenuous to capitalise on my “prediction” which is really a hand-wavey feeling of a Big Thing occurring in the year for two core reasons: 1.) the severity of the thing, and 2.) it was vague enough that something almost certainly was going to satisfy that criteria.

If you’re not certain of what I’m talking about, in October the world got more switched on about the realities (of which the pervasiveness is a part) of  rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the world, which culminated in the TIME people of the year being the silence breakers—people who helped erstwhile stories that lay in the shadows come into the light, typically from the people (most of whom women) who had experienced these things. The stories are heartbreaking and upsetting but important ones and ones we as a culture will reflect on for many years to come.

Now it’s irritating that truly awful things (it’s the article from Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about Weinstein with his complex web of serial abuse, wide-reaching power, and overall complicity in the industry that gave this movement momentum)  are catalysts for people at large taking these things seriously. Be that as it may, the fact that we’re just that bit more willing to realise that this is real and that we ought to address it is a step towards betterment, however small. I have every faith that this means things overall will get better, but with the way things are going, how deep and wide-reaching this goes isn’t even fully out in the open and some unaware people are in for some huge shocks in the months to come.

So, to summarise: Good achievements with a few interesting and enriching curveballs, but I could be working more actively on my creativity. The job stuff I can be proactive on, but only to a point: as I said, me getting hired is at least partially out of my control. The best I can do is to keep pushing and refining my approach. I’m not worried, just irritated. Creatively, however, I have more direct control over and in my younger years cultivating good habits will be useful for when I try to pursue my creative outlets in a professional sense. I can’t frustrate culture without actively participating in it!*

Also, I hope that goal-setting and missed goals don’t upset you too much. I’ve been introspecting a lot these past few months, and I wrote this on the Winter Solstice so a lot of my recent introspection has happened today (21/12/2017). Modest goals are meaningful goals but I feel I have a lot in me to give and it’d be a dishonour to myself to not at least some of those things.

Okay, I hope you spend time with people you love and have a wonderful farewell to this turbulent year. Here’s hoping we can all effect good change in 2018!

*For the most part, this is a joke.

 

 

23 Years and Counting

I have an uneasy relationship with self-improvement. One day I want to give it the kind of cathartic treatment it deserves but I’m busy and it’s too early into this to get too vulnerable, I think. We’ll get there.

Today is my 23rd birthday.

Birthdays after 18 are sort of lacklustre so as the years stretch on I become less enthused when my birthday comes around. With the end of puberty I’ve become a lot more diffusive with my ego so I see my birthday as a bigger fuss than everyone else I know does; my friends have repeatedly made a bigger deal of my birthday than I have. I suppose I need it if this is my reaction. I’d much rather they did than didn’t—I’m thankful for that much, at the very least. If they’re enjoying themselves, I guess I am too.

This year especially, I think because I’m still quite behind in my larger ambitions, I’m not feeling up to celebrating or doing anything fun, feeling like I’m “slacking off”.

Anyway, instead of a treatise of my relationship to birthdays, I’m going to do my second follow up to the goals I set on New Year’s, see how the goal-setting thing is going. The good thing about birthdays is that they can sometimes be a good catalyst for change for self-improvement, starting from reflection of lessons learned. I’m not going to do a “23 things I’ve learnt in 23 years” because I don’t want to. Instead I’ll pick three key ones.

First, being unemployed has given me a lot of space to think about who I am and my relationship to the world. Old relationships have fallen away and have not been replaced with newer ones. I don’t think I should think in terms of replacement, but beyond my general malaise, there’s a certain tenacity that I’ve been trying to mitigate by rapidly producing. I’m not certain if it’s healthy. Again, post later down the line. Preemptively thankful for your continued interest.

I haven’t learnt this one so much as I’ve had to keep reminding myself of this: failure happens constantly, and that’s okay, necessary sometimes. It’s what you do next after failure that defines you as a person. Repeated failures take steadily more decisive blows to one’s self-esteem so that message of positivity gets eroded. It’s good to be cognisant of that when the road gets tough, though.

Lastly, the inspiration for creativity will almost never come. I have to Make Good Art, rain or shine, especially rain which is most of the way.

Okay, let’s look at the road travelled, shall we?

This will be the penultimate one of these before December to see how I’ve done re: my goals.

  1. I want to create more. I have been playing guitar a bit more, drawing a little bit too. Still not to an adequate standard that fit my specific goals for these skills but I’m working on restructuring my days and life. A bit more structure is up ahead and so appropriate planning of my days will need to occur*.We’re in the midst of Camp NaNo. I’ll confess to slacking off and forgetting a tonne so I’m very behind. If I’m to reach my goal of 150k, I’m gonna have to step it up in the ensuing months. Ambition is only as good as your ability to follow through on it. Back up tough talk with action. I might need something similar for my other mediums.
  2. I want a job. In progress still, one year on. Hopefully come year’s end I can scratch this one firmly off the list. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t bothering me but life’s unfair and there’s not much else I can do; no use moping, I just gotta keep plowing ahead. To quote Pops from Luke Cage: “Forward always, never backward.”
  3. I want to read more non-fiction. I think I need a quantifiable goal to support this. Let’s say at least five more before year’s end. Perfectly doable. Either that or more curated content. What sort of non-fiction do I want to be reading? Should I read more difficult stuff? A goal I’m considering for next year is to assess the books I’ve read in 2017 and look about deepening my understanding. Bonus brownie points for the same topic in the corresponding month of 2018 that I first read in 2017. [Example: I read I Contain Multitudes last month so I’ll give myself a firm pat on the back if I deepen my knowledge of microbiology in June 2018**.]
  4. I want to finish Infinite Jest. In progress. Gonna get back to it in earnest come August.

No update on that mystery Big Thing. I’m doubting its existence a bit but it’s coming. I’m starting to think it’s wishful thinking at this point.

This’ll do for now. New content on its way. Look at for it.

Have a lovely day!

Currently reading: Self by Barry Dainton (full thoughts on this hopefully early next month!)

Currently listening to: Are We There by Sharon Van Etten. Recommending in the wake of something serious and difficult to describe. One of those perfect sound for the perfect time albums. Not for the faint-hearted.

*Again, a nuanced approach of ambition/improvement/goals is definitely needed soon but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword: on the one side, it leads to more exciting experiences, but on the other there’s an almost consistent restlessness.

**the idea of curating my future self’s reading is interesting. I’m excited to see what I am like in the future, where I’ll be. Spoiler alert: I suspect I’ll be living in a new city with *gasp* a job.

 

New Year’s Reflections

So we’re five weeks into this thing. I started this blog with 10 weeks of content planned ahead of time so I’m going for a little bit of an interlude post. Also, I realised I didn’t do the obligatory New Year’s Day post and it’s the end of the month so here it is.

On New Year’s Day I was in my friend’s flat thinking about what the year held for me. One of my friends talked about people erroneously using the year as a means for a sudden, unlikely evolution in one’s character. Be that as it may, the symbolic value of it is very tempting. The old year has gone and a new one has taken its place. Sure, time as we understand it is constructed, but the chance for real evolution has a good space in the roots of a new year.

I don’t remember much of the first half of 2016. I remember being quite optimistic, though, as I often am. I was never a huge fan of Christmas, but I love New Year’s. It’s like a giant chance to hit the refresh button, and evaluate where I’ve come from, and where I’ll go in relation to them. And yes sudden evolution is unlikely (though it’s certainly not the goal) and yes, effecting change can happen anytime: a Sunday in the middle of June at 4:13 am, for example. But still, a new year brings about the possibility of a whole year’s worth of events, of development. The year started with me starting a novel, for example, one I’ve worked on in various forms since 2011. I finished it on Christmas Eve at the other end of the year, which is definitely a plus. There were quite a lot of dark moments too, both personal and global, but I want to focus on the good. Such as:

  • I graduated from university with a 2:1 which was one of my life goals, set many, many years ago.
  • I went on holiday for the first time in ten years to Belgium. Bruges specifically but on the last day spent some time briefly in Brussels. Beautiful cities/country.(Click to enlarge)

 

  • I met the guy who directed a game I’ve followed for ten years, from a series that literally changed my life.
  • I read a lot.
  • Thrice came back for their ninth album after a hiatus. Usually a band going on hiatus signals curtain call for good but they came back in full swing and delivered. I don’t think the record as a whole is my favourite, but there are some songs on there that are. And not just in Thrice’s library: my music in general.
  • I saw Brighton when it was warm. A beautiful city.

So, while there might have been a lot bad in 2016, there was a lot of good in it too. Milestones, for a lot of them.

So for the year ahead I want to be buoyed by this general optimism and hopefully inject it into the year ahead.

It’s the last week of the first month of 2017 and it’s been going pretty well. I started a blog and it’s been generally well-received: people I’ve never even met have been helped by stuff my crazy brain put to the page. That means a lot and hopefully the people already here and more will join me in what’s to come. As I said before I have the next few weeks clear but beyond that is pretty murky. I’m sure new ideas will come to me so I’ll react as and when they come. Expect the weekly stuff to teeter off at the end of this period as I figure things out.

I want to create more. The blog is a good first step but I want to push my limits a bit. I haven’t tried short story competitions but I think I will this year. On top of my typical novels and this blog, of course, writing short work will be good practice. I want to do more than that though. I should focus on two things: my new art in music, and my abandoned art in drawing (remember when I said I wanted to be a comic book artist before?). Regularity is going to be the key in making this a success.

I want a job! I think this should have come first but hopefully I have some kind of employment before year’s end. My lofty aim was before my birthday in midsummer, but I’ve been burnt before—I thought I could secure employment before Christmas when I graduated, more the fool me!—so I’ll hedge my bets. It’s really unlikely that it will take me 11 whole months to get a job. Again, though, we’ll see. I’ve been a bit coy about it but I’ve been a little worried about it, mostly because there is only so much control I have over this during the selection process. Having regular creation has helped in stopped the Blues so I think if nothing else the blog has helped a lot.

I want to read more non-fiction. I have no shortage of fiction, but I’d like to get on board with more non-fiction. This is not just to potentially mine for data for future posts, but for me more generally. There might be a post in this for why but we’ll shelve that for now (keep it mind!). The first 6 months of my grad-life was mostly spent reading article-upon-article. I might look at my list of topics to read about again.

I have others but if you’re of the eye-rolling type then your eyes will soar into orbit at them. Above are the main things. I can say though that I have a feeling that something Big is on the horizon. Good or bad, I don’t know. But Big. You can roll those eyes now.

I hope your year is treating you well. If not, I hope it will.