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I need to start walking more. True, the weather and dark nights haven’t exactly enticed me out of late but that’s no excuse. There’s a real pleasure to be derived from walking regardless of the weather, and it’s not as though I live in a dangerous part of the city. Walking helps to calm the mind and relax the body. I sleep better. I feel more connected to things, more a part of things. Sometimes I’ll listen to music. Sometimes I won’t. But I always return home feeling refreshed; renewed even.
Yes, I think I need to start walking more.
Painting in the middle room, an adaptation of a Chagall. Although quietly confident about how it’s progressing I have some reservations about my choice of colours. I may need to change them. While painting, an idea for another, looser image comes to mind. Do I start it now or wait until I’ve finished this one? I choose to persevere with this one. It’s working more than it’s not. If I stick at it I can probably finish it before the weekend is through. The idea of closure is appealing. It’s all to easy to begin something and not finish it.
Sunday morning in Caffť Nero, sitting by the window at a corner table. Directly before me sits an elegant young woman with three bottles of orange juice, two glasses of ice and a cafť latte. On the table in front of her sits a young man reading a German paperback. To my right a young boy scrapes his shoes on the floor and sings absently to himself as he waits for someone to bring his chocolate milk and cookies. Others people are scattered throughout as a cool, pale sun illuminates my table as I bathe in the morning’s dreamy ambience.
I think I need to revisit my primary resolution for the New Year, which was to follow through on things. While it’s been a good and productive year so far I’m still not following through on things that I promised myself I would. The exact details don’t really matter. I know what they are and I know what I need to be doing. But these last couple of days have seen me seeking solace in procrastination and escapism while avoiding the things I know I want to be getting on with. It amazes me how self-defeating I can be sometimes.
So how is one supposed to fit it all in? Work seems to gobble up so much time, yet when I’m not working, time can become fluid, less structured and less productive. So working is the preferred norm. And I enjoy my job. But how do I fit everything else in - the writing, the painting, the reading? Time for relationships, time for exercise, time for reflecting inwards, time for letting my hair down (what little I have) and simply enjoying myself: seeing and doing and being and living. What’s the secret? And where is the balance? I wish I knew.
I need to re-evaluate what it is about coffee that I enjoy so much, especially now that I’m spending so much more time in coffee houses gazing out at the world. When I consider how much coffee I drink in a week and then add up the sugar content that goes with it I realise all too well that it can’t be a good thing. I don’t have many vices left these days but coffee is one of the few I retain and I’m not prepared to dispense with it. But I think I need to let the sugar go.
When I find myself feeling tired and listless I begin to worry. Is it age catching up with me? Is it my lifestyle maybe? I work long hours, though not as many as some. I’m out of the house for between 11 and 12 hours a day, although a chunk of that time is spent in transit. I sleep around six hours a night, sometimes less, sometimes more. I write, I paint and do various other things that fill my evenings and weekends.
I don’t exercise enough, I know. Maybe that’s the issue.
Or maybe I’m just tired and listless.
My travel subsidy has run out and I’m not prepared to pay £150 a month just to get to work and back. So I’m taking advantage of my free bus and Underground travel pass (courtesy of TFL) and taking a different route to work. I take the tube to the Dome at North Greenwich and then take a couple of connecting buses from there. It takes a little longer but I’m enjoying the novelty of a different routine and to my surprise it’s a more conducive route for reading. And reading is something I’m happy to make more time for.
The novelty of having the place to myself is wearing off. I like it for the first few days. I get to leave the dishes in the sink overnight, or arrive back from work late without having to let anyone know. I get to play my music loud and enjoy a few more glasses of wine than I might otherwise do. But after a while I get bored. I can’t be bothered cooking for one so I buy takeaway, I stay up too late and I start to fritter time away with mindless pursuits.
And the bed seems too big.
There’s no one like her. When we get together it’s as though we plug into the same energy field, a place where things are understood and words are merely a way of confirming that understanding. We derive such simple pleasure just being in each other’s company. I cannot look at her without smiling. She is someone I can trust completely; someone I can respect unreservedly and someone I love without question. She’s someone I’ll always know; someone I will always want to know. And just knowing she’s on the planet, well, that for me makes the world a better place.
We were quite inebriated by the time I told him about one of my most enduring memories of him as a young child, about how I used to pick him up and whiz him around the lounge, singing along to the music while he squealed and giggled with his big, cheeky grin and his eyes full of trust and laughter. And it blew me away when he told me that he too could remember it. Given that we’ve had so little to do with each other over the years, there’s something quite precious about sharing such a fond, distant memory.
I can’t do it. I
do it! I’m on strike. That’s how I’m feeling right now. They’ll be pissed off with me I know but that’s just too bad. I’m not Superman. There are limits to what I can do - what I’m willing to do. I go beyond the call of duty often enough. It’s not as though I have anything to prove. I’m simply dog tired, that’s all, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to fill my evenings with a whole load of additional tasks simply because there isn’t the necessary time provision in place at work.
Sleep. I must remember to sleep. No, remember is not the right word. I need to choose the sleep option more readily, more often. It’s the one thing I’ll short change myself in without so much as a backwards glance. The thing is, I tend to value sleep downwards and I end up paying for it big time. I become listless, melancholy, depressed even. And for what? For the sake of a few extra hours of wakefulness? The gain isn’t worth the cost. But more than that, I need to remember how good sleep feels and how necessary it is.
I was running horribly late for work after sleeping in and having a bizarre dream that I won’t go into here, conscious of the fact that it was Valentine’s Day and mindful that it was 13 years ago today that we flew out of Manila into an unknown future, while mentally composing the Valentine’s greeting I was going to text you as soon as I was on the bus, when there you were at the front door, three days early but more welcome than you could ever imagine! As Valentine’s Day surprises go I couldn’t have wished for anything better.
We were sitting in the pub after work when someone asked me what I would wish for if I could be granted just one wish. After thinking about it for a while, I concluded that I’d like to be ten years younger. Not 20 or 30, just ten. That would do. That’s not to say I haven’t achieved a lot over the past ten years, but rather an acknowledgement of the fact that time, however slowly, is running down and running out. With each passing year it’s a fact that becomes a little less theoretical and a little more absolute.
Today is Mum’s birthday. She’s now 94 years old. I phoned her last night. We spoke briefly, though not for long. She’s unable to talk for long these days. She all too soon drifts off into her own thoughts, whatever they may be, and loses the thread of any conversation we might be trying to share. Nonetheless, she knew it was me. The flowers had arrived. She was aware of them. It was morning there in South Australia. She said it was chilly. Still, it’s nice to think our brief chat warmed her heart a little. That, and the flowers.
Sitting here in Caffť Nero, pen suspended above the page with conversation all around me on a busy, sunny afternoon, I’ve really nothing much of significance to write about. Ah well, no point in trying to force the matter. Some days are just like that. Nothing much happens nor seems to be happening; nothing worth writing about at least. Best not to fight it; just let the words tumble out as they may. Life’s like that sometimes: long stretches of nothing in particular punctuated every now and then by something worthy of mention. But today’s not one of those days.
It sneaks up from behind me sometimes and catches me unaware, this bleak, depressing sense of life being empty and meaningless. As soon as I write that, I recall how when I did the Forum years ago, that particular realisation was held up as one to be upwardly valued. Well, thatís not the way it feels just at the moment. When it sneaks up behind me like this it usually serves as a reminder to me that all human endeavour is ultimately a doomed enterprise as we strut across the proverbial stage, scratching at meanings that ultimately come to naught.
There was something innately very liberating about starting a new painting with so little pre-planning. One minute an idea occurred to me and the next minute I was sketching it out onto the canvas. And canvas! Iíd forgotten how wonderful it is to paint onto canvas! Itís not merely a matter of putting a brush to a surface, itís an aesthetic pleasure all of its own. Why has it taken me so long to rediscover it? And within a few short hours I had the makings of what promises to be a half decent painting.
And Iím having such fun!
Watching Paul McCartney perform
on the Brit Awards tonight after receiving his long overdue Outstanding Contribution to Music Award, I was reminded of the first time I heard him sing it back in 1968 when he and Beatles performed the song live for the first time on British TV. I didnít realise it then but it was apparently the first ever live telecast to Australia. What I do recall is the excitement of hearing a new Beatles song for the very first time. I was only a kid at the time but the memory has never left me.
When you stop to consider it, paint is amazing stuff. Slap it onto a wall and, depending on the colour, the whole character of a room changes. It can turn a dilapidated building into one thatís fresh and new. It can turn an old, neglected piece of furniture into something interesting and relevant again. And when it comes to painting pictures, the possibilities are endless. Not only that but itís a highly pleasurable and satisfying medium to work with. Thereís something satisfying about applying paint to a surface and watching something emerge from nothing. Indeed, paint is pretty amazing stuff.
I dreamt about a painting last night. In the dream I was walking around an art gallery and found myself drawn to a particularly beautiful work. It was large, dark, aquatic even, with elegant fronds of black emerging from a large, dark central shape that had embedded within it luminous flecks of green and blue. If I was to put my mind to it I could probably reproduce it. Never before have I conjured up such a complete work of art. It reminds me of those musicians whose music is allegedly simply heard in the ether and then written down.
Weíre only half way through it, but when Teddy handed me the print-out of the manuscript Corinne and I are working on, all 150 page of it, I couldnít help but feel impressed. And reading it through properly for the first time I also canít help feeling excited by what it is weíre doing. Itís been a long-standing dream for both of us and despite the numerous errors and inconsistencies running through it, it nonetheless reads well. Who knows what will become of it but thatís not important right now. What is important is that weíre really enjoying the process.
I go back to school tomorrow. Iíve only had a week off and I wasnít feeling well at the start but as it draws to a close Iím pleased with what I have achieved. Iíve all but finished one painting and Iíve made good progress on another. Iíve had time to listen to lots of good music and Iíve taken up yoga again in an attempt to remedy a persistent back pain. Iím not relishing the thought of all the mind space Iíll have to surrender but at least thereís a week in France to look forward to in April.
Work gobbles up lots of mind space. For the past week I’ve been able to focus squarely on my own affairs. Now that I’m back at work much of my days are filled with issues and concerns that are essentially outside of myself. Yes, I’m a professional. I rise to the challenges. And it’s not that I resent having to take all that other stuff on board. Indeed, when I’m firing on all cylinders I positively thrive on it. It’s just that I have so enjoyed the selfish preoccupation with my own thoughts and concerns during the week just passed.
More and more I’m starting to think of myself as a writer. Between maintaining 100 words a day, working on the book with Corinne and continuing to transcribe my old diaries and journals, not to mention the ever increasing volume of submissions I need to write for work, I spend a lot of my time in writing mode. As a result I find myself making time to write, and not just the mechanics of writing. I spend a lot more time thinking about things in a way I never used to. And life seems to be richer because of it.
It’s been a day in which I found myself feeling ill at ease, like a fish out of water. I was in a school I only visit infrequently, and while no one on the outside looking in would have detected anything amiss, I found myself feeling oddly vulnerable and exposed. Why this was so, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the less than welcome reception I got from the kids I was there to support. Perhaps I took things personally that had nothing to do with me. In my line of work distinguishing between the two can sometimes be difficult.
Kids get themselves into all sorts of strife when it comes to learning how to get on with each other. I spend a lot of my time defusing conflicts that arise out of seemingly nowhere, usually as a consequence of teasing and practical joking that gets out of hand. I’ve become something of an expert at being able to intervene and de-escalate often highly volatile situations, which is interesting given how much I used to shy away from confrontation when I was younger. I guess I understand more clearly now how pride and ego can generate conflict, especially amongst kids.
If I am going to avoid a great deal of stress and anxiety over the coming weeks I need to dispense with the notion of work versus creative pursuits. The fact is I have an enormous amount of school-related work to get through over the next few weeks while at the same time endeavouring to maintain my own creative output which is really gathering pace of late. And I really need to approach both with equal enthusiasm and commitment. The challenge is to dispense with the notion of work versus creative pursuits. It’s a dichotomy that serves no useful purpose.
The Tip Jar