Friday, 24 October 2014

In Which I Admit I Talk To Myself

It's all about spinning plates.

It is also, confusingly enough, about knowing when to stop spinning plates.

I'm a quitter by nature. It's a part of my character I've grown to dislike, which in turn has given me a dislike of quitting – which sounds great and all, but I know from experience that it's very easy to become overwhelmed. Our circumstances and responsibilities are constantly changing, and unless you're able to make that call and drop the less important or relevant responsibilities, you'll soon end up with more plates in the air than you can handle.

How do you make that call, though? I mean, sometimes activities and hobbies are important precisely because they're not important – that is, we have to have our down-time. We have to have a little time in the day when we can put it all aside, and just do something for the pleasure of it.

    Otherwise you pay out the nose for a bathroom re-fit and someone
ends up frozen to death in a hugely-elaborate hedge maze. 

Other times you will have to be callous and calculating, put sentiment to one side, and really weigh the value of the things you spend your time on. Habits are, by their nature, things we do without thinking, but it is important to take stock occasionally - to ask yourself if you're still getting from your routine whatever it is you used to get that made it habit-forming in the first place, to ask if the money spent and time invested could be put to better use in the future.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I'll be restructuring The Grown-Up Game once again. I've been in two minds over this, as it's not so long ago that I tried shaking things up the first time. Am I giving up too early? I thought; perhaps I need to stick it out.

But if it's not working, it's not working, I'd respond, and I don't think it is. It shouldn't make too much of a difference on your end – it's really more internal stuff: developing a clearer structure; greater breadth of content; articulating my aims; that sort of jazz. Regardless, consider yourselves warned.

Until next week! 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Workin' Nine To Fiii-iiiiive...

There's satisfaction in a job well done.

I've had fantastic jobs – I once worked in Waterstones, and spent almost half of my first pay cheque on the books I'd spent all day shelving – I've had truly shitty jobs, and I've had mediocre jobs; I've worked shifts of all hours, in teams and departments of various sizes; I've done part-time, seasonal, and full-time work.

Throughout it all, I've found it to be true, that there's satisfaction in a job well done.

It's easy to forget that when you've been out of work for a while. It's easy to wonder why you're going to such lengths to find a job at all. So, this week's update is just a quick one, a little reminder:

It's gratifying to be good at something. A job can mean more than money in the bank. Job-hunting is banal and dispiriting, but there is a point to it, and it is worth it. Hard as it can be, don't forget that.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Stop Me If You've Heard This One...

Every day a man returns home from work. He steps through the door, shrugs out of his jacket, and hangs it by the phone. Next he removes first one shoe, drops it to the floor, removes the second, drops it also, and collapses on the sofa. This goes on – day in, day out – until, one day, there's a hammering on his door. He opens it to find his downstairs neighbour standing there, irate.

“Christ, mate!” cries the neighbour, “every day! You want to stop dropping your bleeding shoes on my ceiling?”

I'm sorry!” apologises the man. He agrees to be more careful in the future and, somewhat mollified, the neighbour departs.

Over the next couple of days the man makes an effort to be more considerate, but one Friday he returns home exhausted and, unthinking, drops one shoe to the floor. Cursing, he places the second shoe down and settles down to watch an evening's TV... until, an hour later, “I can't take it any more!” an anguished voice cries, “just drop the other one already!”

My new job has been going so well, that's kind of how I'm feeling: just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm torn; on the one hand, the longer things continue to go smoothly, the more convinced the cynic in me is that karma is gearing up for one massive boot to the nuts...

There's a Molly Ringwald gif for every emotion

… But on the other, there is an increasingly persistent little voice that insists I just don't know a good thing when I've got it. On reflection, that's probably true.

The obvious example would be all those extra-curriculars I never bothered with. Ok, so no one would really expect a kid to spend much longer at school than they had to, but a Uni student? I've given myself a right mental drubbing for all those excellent opportunities I utterly failed to take advantage of. I can't explain it, except to say that I always sort of thought I'd get around to them eventually – and in the mean time, focused my energies on bitching about morning lectures and encroaching deadlines.

You see it in people's relationships sometimes, too. TV and films teach us that a truly historic relationship is a fraught, star-crossed affair, which makes for great watching, sure – but you've got to wonder just how much of the drama in a couple's life is genuine, and how much put on, because we're taught good things don't come easily.

My life has been fairly average – some people have had it harder, some easier – but even so, I wonder: have I learned to expect problems so frequently that now, when I finally catch a break, I go about creating my own? Just how much time and energy could be better spent if I could see a good thing for what it was, instead of the prelude to a karmic gut-punch?

Friday, 3 October 2014

I Preferred Her First Album, But You've Probably Never Heard Of It

I think Taylor Swift might be my power animal.

I've been putting off checking the comments on my final university project for almost four months now. Earlier this week I decided it was finally time to bite the bullet but, even then, I had to listen to “Shake It Off” on repeat several times before I worked up the nerve.

Like, what if they'd said something mean?

Turns out, I was worrying about nothing. The comments were largely positive, and I came away from the computer feeling I had an achievable tick-list of things to work on, rather than the obituary of any authorial aspirations I may once have cherished.

And – as is so often the case in the life of a serial procrastinator – that got me to thinking.

It was no great shock to realise I've chickened out of taking potentially-beneficial chances in the past – but just how often? And was staying in my cowardy-custard comfort zone ever worth it?

Terry Crews has an interesting take on fear. The way he has it, fear is good – fear lets you know you're doing something new, something unfamiliar, and only by embracing the exotic do we grow and develop as individuals. I never thought I'd say this, but I agree with Cheeseburger Eddie.

Job interviews scare me. Approaching girls scares me. The risk of failing, or of making a tit of myself, scares me. Clowns scare me, too, but that's terra I'm happy to leave incognita. Anyway, the point is that all these things that scare me, these are things that simply have to be faced if I don't want to end up a bit of a Norman Bates, frontiers I have to explore if I want to move out of the ol' homestead.

And, much like Jack Sparrow, fear can be our magic compass, pointing towards our heart's desires (also like Jack Sparrow, my internal compass often points towards the rum, because is there anything less intimidating and more reassuring than fine, fine rum?). Generally speaking – and apply some common sense here, folks – I'm finding that the more scared I am to take a chance, the more beneficial it's likely to be.

If you still need a little push to actually go for it, imagine trying to explain why you chickened out to Ernest Hemingway – and if that doesn't do it, it's gonna take more than my inane wittering to sort you out.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure those risks and gambles would ever have paid off and, even had they, where I might be now. At least I would know, though. No more 'what-ifs' or 'where-coulds'. Wouldn't that be nice? There'd be no more wondering anymore and, wondering being my bread and butter – self-confessed serial procrastinator, remember – maybe I'd actually get shit done that way. Plus, I'd have a hell of a lot more funny stories to tell on nights out.

It'd be nice to tell funny stories on a night out, instead of becoming one.  


Starting next week (last week, technically, but I dropped the ball today) The Grown-Up Game will be updating bright and early Friday mornings, and don't forget that The Charity Shop Book Review will be updating on the second Tuesday of the month - the 14th - as it always does. This month I'll spend a great deal of time discussing zombies, despite the reviewed book not containing a single example of the ambulatory deceased. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Seriously, They Smell Like Vanilla

I've always had tastes that exceed my means.

I spent more time than I care to admit researching tailored shirts this week. Y'see, I have quite a thick neck, which necessitates buying larger shirts, but then the buggers don't fit somewhere else. Be it the arms, body, or neck, there's always something not quite good enough.

So, I was looking for local tailors, and I noticed that an awful lot of shirts were made from two-fold cotton. Obviously, I had to look that up, too, and before I knew it I was reading up on herringbone and Oxford cottons, wefts and warps, which fabrics suit which seasons...

Books are another one. I love a book. Love. One of my favourite past-times is wandering around charity shops with a couple of quid and seeing what I can find. Then – woe betide my wallet – I discovered there is an antique bookshop less than half an hour from me. Have you smelt an old book?

It stirs something deep within me.

It's kind of a pain in the ass; I've only just started a new job, and I'm already mentally spending the wages, and somewhat frivolously, to boot. I want to move into a new place sooner rather than later (before I'm thirty would be nice), so it's something I really need to curb – otherwise I'm going to end up with a fantastically-stocked library and barren cupboards.

Which sounds just fine, when I think about it, until I remember I'm a bookworm in only a figurative sense.

I wonder, though: is it really such a bad thing, to have aspirations, to be always reaching, always pushing for more? After all, isn't that what people call ambition? Certainly there are times I wish I could simply be happy with what I have – I can't deny that – and there are times I worry that I'll never have enough. But then, a little voice chimes, if you're a person disinclined to be satisfied, is it not better to be driven by that desire, rather than embittered by it?

“Dreaming big, thinking little”. That's the key though, isn't it? Life won't give you diddly just because you really, really want it. Despite what a great deal and variety of media have taught me, pluck and courage are not enough; if you're going to dream big, you need to think big, too, because castles built of clouds don't last long against the slings and arrows of reality.

It must be a handy trick to know (clearly I've not quite masted it yet). What could I – or you, or anyone – achieve, if we can learn to temper wild dreams with measured rationality? What couldn't a person do?

Maybe, one day, that person could look back, having achieved more than they'd ever imagined, and be glad they never learned to settle.  

Friday, 19 September 2014

Bloody Ninjas, Man

Fear: a hissing, slithering, word for a nasty, insidious, feeling.

It's almost onomatopoeic in the way it perfectly marries form and meaning. Much as I love lexical oddities in the abstract, though, the practicality is that fear is like a ninja: it's sneaky, it's dangerous, and you have to be on your feet to see it coming. Fear creeps in; fear creates false dichotomies; fear warps and twists and limits, and all without our realising.

The funny thing is that – once upon a time – fear was a good thing. You know the things that scare me? Spiders, clowns, and commitment. All told, they're pretty unlikely to kill me, but once upon a time people were scared of real threats – sabretooth tigers, virulent plagues, the tribe on the other side of the hill – the list goes on. Fear and caution kept you safe, and without them the human race probably wouldn't have gotten as far as it has.

Of course, the converse is true, too: we might well have gotten farther without fear. How many mistakes and poor choices have been made because we were scared? Where would we be – as individuals, as a people – if we could learn to trust a little more? Because once upon a time fear was valuable, and fear kept us alive, but nowadays pretty much all it does is hold us back.

Mouth first - perhaps the worst way to be held back.

The unknown used to contain things with claws, fangs, and poisonous stingers, but for the majority of people reading this the unknown is just as likely to contain pleasant opportunities and unexplored possibilities.

You want an example?

I have an example.

As anyone who's been following The Grown-Up Game knows, I'm big on plans, and my Plan at the moment is to be in London, working a literary career, within a year. I was so focussed on this plan – and this was a mistake in many ways, but that's a blog post for another day – so focussed, that I was blinded to the other paths I might take. I came to view anything and everything that wasn't directly and immediately relevant to that Plan as a wasted effort, and became so afraid of making a mis-step that I became afraid of making any steps at all.

It kinda goes without saying that you can't make any progress that way.

If it weren't for circumstances outside of my control, I wouldn't be working the job I'm working at the moment. That would suck because – although this job is only working towards my Plan in a tangential fashion – it's a great job, with great people, that I enjoy. Had I been left to my own devices, I think there's a real risk I would've allowed fear to prevent me striking out into unfamiliar and unplanned-for territory … without even realising that's what I was doing.

Because that's what fear does: it stops us making stupid decisions, but it also stops us taking potentially-rewarding gambles. Don't get me wrong: I love a horror film, and they just wouldn't be the same without fear – but there's a time and place for everything, and when you put the DVD case back on the shelf, you need to be putting fear away too.

Simple fact is, if you want to do more in life than tread water, you need to be taking those chances.

Don't you think?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Course Correction

I started this blog off by talking about plans, but it seems I can't take my own advice.

I'm not an adult. I mean, sure, technically, but not in any real, visceral sense – not in any way that makes me feel grown up. That's pretty distressing. I'm getting to the age now where my peers – my friends – are getting married, or even raising children, and it's no longer the stuff of jokes. People I went to school with are commuting to work in the big city, paying rent, discussing ISAs … and here I am, trying to find a reason to change out of my pajamas before the second episode of Criminal Minds comes on.

For all that my life is a non-event right now, I want to be doing that grown-up stuff. Though I wouldn't have said it three months ago, I want the commute and the rent and the savings account. I want to be able to discuss at least the basics of architecture; to know which of the local Italians makes the best impression on a first date; to pick out a shirt and tie for work, and know why it should be this tie with that shirt, and not the other.

I'm not at that point, though, and I'm not in a position to be giving anyone advice, either. What I am in a position to do, and what I'd always intended to do, is to record every step I take and every move I make* as I work towards that, and maybe give other people in similar circumstances something to think about. This was about discussing, not dictating; about learning, not lecturing.

I think that's something, that desire, that a lot of people, of a lot of different ages and circumstances, can relate to – but there's no handy guide out there, and it takes a degree of courage to learn by trial and error. Sooner or later though, you have to take that gamble, or risk getting left in the dust.

That was really the point of this blog: to document me, taking that gamble. I forgot that, but I didn't forget the most important part of a Plan: evaluation and adaptation. Sometimes we have to stop and re-evaluate because circumstances force our hand, and sometimes just to make sure we're still on the path we set out to walk. All pretentiousness aside, I was not, and this is me, implementing a little course correction.

What have you done lately?

* and every vow I break. Couldn't resist.