life

We do have the time

We need to stop lying to ourselves. Last time I checked, there are 24 hours in a day. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. How are you spending yours? Let’s do the maths. We’re all sleeping through a whole bunch of them. If you’re one of those people who manages to exercise before breakfast or endures a soul-destroying commute, you might be sleeping for a meagre 6 hours. You have my respect. If you’re one of my sloth-like housemates, or, in other words, a student, you could be kipping away upwards of 12 hours. For most people—the grey majority, the unremarkable average—let’s call it 8 hours in the land of nod.

For the sake of making a point, let’s say you have 16 hours left in which you are, at least relatively, awake. Most people have, have had, or will regrettably end up, in a 9 to 5 job. The ‘working week’ might be five sevenths of your regular week, but it’s important to remember that your ‘working day’ is probably about half of your actual day. You have about 8 hours left then. A couple in the morning and half a dozen in the evening. Let’s take away 2 for commuting (though if you’re lucky it will be a lot less) and another 2 for meal times and chores.

You have 4 hours left. That’s a really long time.

How are you spending those leftover hours? The chances are you’re sat in front of the television, binge-watching Netflix, a football match in which your team isn’t even playing, or the first film you found channel-flicking, having already missed the first half. If I asked you why, you’d say it’s because you’re tired and just want to just switch off after work. And that’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong that. It’s your leisure time—do whatever you want. But don’t say you don’t have any time. You haven’t seen your friends in weeks. You’re on your third consecutive takeaway meal. You haven’t exercised properly since school. Don’t say you haven’t had time.

If you don’t like your job, that’s to say, if you don’t live to work, and this unfortunately seems the case for the majority of people today, then your life is what goes on around the office. It happens in those 4 hours in the evening, on your weekends and your 28 days of annual holiday. It isn’t easy to lead this productive double life. Some people can juggle two jobs, or do volunteer work in their spare time, but most of us can’t—or at least don’t. I’m yet to even start my 40 to 50 year working life so I’m not lecturing anybody. Soon enough, I’ll be in the 9 to 5 machine and then we’ll see how easy it is to write something like this when I’m falling asleep on the sofa at 9pm. That’s why I’m writing it now, as a reminder to myself that I will have a life outside of my job.

‘I do have time’ is a mindset. Getting more value out of those 4 hours is a life project. Something to think about and work on every day. Maybe you’ll play badminton for an hour with friends tonight after work, and then progress to watch three back-to-back episodes of House of Cards.

That’s progress.

 

The future freaks me out

I started this blog on 6th August 2013. I’d just finished Sixth Form and was nervously awaiting my A-levels results, desperate to find out whether or not I had made it into university. QFL was a project that was about keeping busy. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and far too much to worry about. I needed a distraction. It was therapy.

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This time last week, I handed in my final year dissertation at university. I have one exam left before my sixteen years of education are over. In honesty, I’m not taking this particularly well. I do have some friends that want to leave. Everyone is a bit fed up of the work at this point, myself included, which I wasn’t really expecting, having loved studying up until now. The freedom that comes with earning money will be a huge change, of course, for the better. But I don’t want to leave. I’d redo fifty assignments for another three years. I don’t want to leave people behind. Or maybe I don’t want to get left behind.

I celebrated finishing my dissertation pretty hard. Three big nights out. I woke up at 7am Saturday morning, having gotten in three hours earlier. This wasn’t a normal hangover. I felt sick. But I also had cold sweats and my heart was racing. It was like waking up from a bad dream although I couldn’t calm myself down. In short, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. In hindsight, it was likely caffeine-induced. My fault. I’d had coffees and jägerbombs and all sorts the night before, to try and perk myself up. So I crashed. Weeks of stress, followed by days of overdoing it, caught up with me. I sat wide awake for an hour and just wallowed, thinking, reflecting, worrying about everything. Talking to a friend about it later, he said something we all need to hear sometimes: It’s okay to worry about the future you know”.

I needed to get where I was Saturday morning because now I can get out. No alcohol for at least a week. A healthier diet. From tomorrow, I get up at a respectable hour. I’m writing a bucket-list of things to do before I leave. Revision starts for that final exam: my last hurdle. I’m going to buy a bunch of books I’ve wanted to read. Start watching films again. I have a few weeks left yet and I’m going to make the most of them, spending time with the people who make leaving so hard.

And, quite frankly, I think I need to start blogging again.

A wheel within a cage

As a child I had this hamster who would fidget all of the time. Even in his sleep. I had to call him Fidget. He’d have been offended otherwise.

My old hamster, Fidget, used to do the funniest thing. He’d climb up under the roof of his little cage and swing around upside down. Proper commando. Swinging bar to bar like a fluffy little ninja. Every now and then though, almost because he was too keen, he’d get a little clumsy. He would slip and fall; plummeting down to the straw below. Ninjas aren’t really supposed to bounce but Fidget did. Never discouraged, he’d shake himself off and run back up those bars. What he lacked in grace he made up for in ambition and persistence.

I used to find this whole act really quite funny. I used to hum the James Bond and the Mission Impossible theme-tunes to him, egging him on. I wish I hadn’t laughed now though. I wish I hadn’t taunted my old hamster, Fidget. Because all these years later I have realised that it was never a game. He was never really playing ninja. He was trying to escape.

I suppose we are all like my old hamster, Fidget. Stuck in a wheel that just keeps on spinning and spinning and spinning. We like to think of it as a game, as playtime, because then it’s just a bit of fun. A laugh and a sing-song. Nothing arbitrary or meaningless.

But we are also different from my old hamster, Fidget. 1. He was a hamster. 2. He could see the bars of his cage – we can’t. Once he finally realised his wheel wasn’t going anywhere, he stopped running. But we don’t get off of our wheel. We keep running, going nowhere.

We keep running because the realisation that we’re stuck in a cage would ruin us.

hamster-wheel

Text me some happy thoughts

I’ve invented a game to cheer people up because it’s cold outside and Christmas is over. It’s called, you guessed it: ‘Text me some happy thoughts!’

You will need:

  • Five friends (improvise according to popularity)
  • A mobile phone (not necessarily your own but preferably not stolen)

Now then, the rules are very simple. Ask five people to text you some happy thoughts. You don’t really need to explain why. And you might want to assure them that they can reply with anything, however trivial or profound. Put some thought into your choice of five people. I went for the un-judgemental, and most likely to comply interestingly type, if I wanted to pay them a compliment. Bear in mind, this isn’t exactly a standard text to receive, they’ll probably think you’re standing atop a rooftop somewhere, about to jump… (If you are, please don’t. Read on.)

If ever I could start a viral trend, this would be it. You are making someone stop whatever they are doing, and getting them to think about something nice. No harm in that. They could be having a rubbish day and it might just cheer them up. You also end up knowing some things that make your friends happy, which can only be a good thing. And if they were particularly materialistic in their responses, you now know what to get them for their birthdays too.

I can honestly say, hand on heart, that the results of this little social experiment almost made my day, and they undoubtedly would have, had I not had a particularly good pulled-pork sandwich earlier. So what did my chosen five come up with?

One friend had just finished a (open quote) “fabulous” (close quote) arrangement for a “fabulous” song, and was in (still is in I hope) a generally “fabulous” mood. That’s pretty cool.

Another friend recalled the time her boyfriend tickled her so much that she launched a glass of water at his face. She added “puppies” for good measure. Good shout.

The self-proclaimed pessimist of the bunch sure took his time about it, but replied thoughtfully in the end, so I’m glad he did. He told me that he feels privileged to be white, middle class, living in the best conditions of all time. He said he is happy that most of his family are alive, and that he has “surprisingly high quality friends”. On a slightly different note, he is also looking forward to the new series of ‘The Unbelievable Truth’ on Radio 4. Each to their own.

The fourth answer had the same charming balance of triviality and profoundness. A visit to the Harry Potter studios earlier that day had left him all fan-boyish and nostalgic. He said something awfully sentimental about the privilege of having a best friend… And then something awfully narcissistic about turning out as “an excellent human being with an excellent taste in just about everything”. The concluding thoughts were of his bright future and love of university. I can confirm all to be true.

And then I received the following:

“Matching underwear, matching luggage, Burberry trench coats, Friday afternoons, Saturday mornings, watching my dad do DIY, watching people run for the bus, watching other people while they watch something they love, reality television, the internet, internet shopping, regular shopping, taking the cellophane off a new DVD, finding a really f***ing amazing gift for someone really f***ing amazing, people who buy f***ing amazing gifts, swearing in a welsh accent, people who really watch you when you talk, people who keep hugging when you try and pull away, listening to people who are really damn smart, talking to people who have a lot of general knowledge, laughing with people who really don’t know how funny they are, trying to control your laughter when you’re not supposed to be laughing, people who aren’t afraid, those friends who you can’t look at in those situations because you will piss yourself, fake laughing so much that you end up really laughing, making that invisible and unspoken bond with people at work because none of you want to be there, getting your first ever payslip, getting home after a long shift, taxi drivers who only charge you “how much you usually pay” and believe you when you lie about it, having a sister, being a sister, dancing with my sister, accidentally talking with my sister in the kitchen until 2am on a school night, people who say “yes” when teachers ask: “do you talk to your mother like that?” and “would you put your feet on the chair at home?”, people who get up and walk out when teachers say “stop talking or leave”, my friends, my family, making lists…writing down all the things that make me happy…being featured in blog posts…you.”

Oh I smiled.

What can I take from this little experiment/game?

One happy thought: I have five great friends. Actually, and I don’t mean to boast here, I have loads of great not-playing-the-game friends too.

Life’s good. Play the game. #textmesomehappythoughts

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You can find further persuasion to get involved in this lovely post here: http://amarkedimprovement.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/text-me-some-happy-thoughts-why/

Nothing

lie down think about Nothing float without worries cares questions empty yourself swim in the void open your eyes eyelids closed not blackness not darkness Nothing the universe before stars and litter and worriers forget where your body ends space is space Nothing you are held listen to what you believed silence noise everywhere blood pumping past your ears the humming of invisible stuff Nothing breathe in time in and out the same smelling tasting the void Nothing

Living is saying hello and goodbye

Everything is going so fast. A week today I leave familiarity behind (only for a few months, how melodramatic of me) and start the adventure one calls university. Intimidated is the word. My approach so far in coming to terms with this prospect consists of trying not to think about it… But leaving people, places and things behind is part of life. So let’s talk about it.

Goodbyes, however permanent, are unavoidable. Whether you bow out with a grand finale or gradually fade apart, friendships and relationships aren’t constants, they change, and end. Farewells are never easy and I wouldn’t change that for the world. How hard you find it to move on is often the best indicator for the value of what you had. Leaving is sad because it is only when you turn to go that you realise how happy you were not-leaving. For this reason leaving should be a celebration of the past. Tragically, it often seems a necessary step before truly appreciating someone or something. A step I am stumbling over at the moment.

While I will be sure to try and keep in contact with lots of people, this nevertheless is the close of a chapter in my life, and I suppose many characters will herein adopt different roles. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge their glorious involvement so far, and appreciate how they have shaped my own character-development. To abruptly swap metaphors: we are each a constantly changing canvas that every passerby leaves a mark upon (the closer you let them get the greater the imprint).

Thanks for making my life so colourful.

The road is life

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.

Yesterday I opened up my A-level results. After a tough two years filled with ups and downs, that piece of paper was worth it after all. Today I reflect upon everything. Tomorrow I start to look forward. In five weeks’ time I will be reading English and History at Southampton University. It is with my ‘life-contemplating hat’ on that I want to tell you about my favourite novel.

Bob Dylan himself had this to say about Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “it changed my life like it changed everyone else’s”. Now I am not someone who goes in for hyperboles, but when I started reading this book, one of a few I studied as a guest at Cambridge University last summer, I knew it was special. To date I have convinced two friends to pick up a copy and maybe this post – though hardly a review – will persuade you too. (Disclaimer: a third friend of mine actually refused to read past the first page, on the premise that she objected to the character name “Dean”. While I believe this to be a great tragedy, if you are of a similar partiality this book might not be for you.)

On the Road was published in 1957. It tells the story of “the sordid hipsters of America” – the Beat generation. Based on the real lives of Kerouac and his friends, it captures one sub-culture’s rejection of everything ‘American’ about America at the time. Nowadays the word “hipster” refers to the kid who listens to the bands no one has heard of, and fills their wardrobe at charity or thrift shops. But these guys were the true bohemian hedonists that the hippies of the ‘60s would only seek to emulate. In other words, they were basically cool before it was cool to be cool.

Reading this book is to relive one of the most exciting movements in modern culture: sex, drugs, hitching and all, delivered with a certain rhythm that mimics the era’s jazz soundtrack. Kerouac writes restlessly with erratic punctuation, slicing through sentences that try to run and run. He creates his own words like “yangling” and “dingledodies”. It is such freedom in expression that recreates his generation’s rejection of conformity. Even the manuscript of the novel was composed unconventionally, to say the least, typed out on a 120-foot scroll over the course of just three weeks.

Kerouac labelled his own style “spontaneous prose”. His explanation being: “it’s not the words that count but the rush of what is said”. I cannot pitch this book to you in a finer way. You must approach it as an experience instead of a story. You will be rewarded with an outlook that has you revalue life’s road in terms of the characters you meet along the way and the thrills you chase together.

“The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road