An embarrassment and an addiction to self evaluation

Doodle - Life choices

The photo

Last Friday I had my photo taken. Considering that my body was insisting that I should crawl into bed – two hours before, I’d collapsed in the middle of the office corridor – the photo doesn’t look too bad. It’s professionally taken. The angles are good. Yes my eyes are typically asymmetrical, but that’s because I’m made that way and is no failing of the photographer.

Imperfection in my features isn’t a problem. What is, is that my picture looks like a school photo, minus the tie. I write about some serious grown-up topics at work. Often whilst sat at my desk with my legs tucked up beneath me (because I’m bad), typing with one hand whilst the other cradles my Hello Kitty mug. Last week I caught myself sucking my thumb – which just goes to show how tired I was.

It’s not a complaint that I look so young, just an observation.

I came across an article today, written about young woman who has better electronics skills than I do. It worries me how long it took me to accept the story. The picture didn’t match my understandng of a genius physicist, it was of a girl.

[The original article I read wasn’t this article, and only had a photo of Eesha Khare, but I’ve lost it to the internet.]

I’m five years older than the woman in question. I’ve earnt my physics degree. I even surpassed the expectations of both my electronics professor and myself by getting a high first in his module. Yet, despite this, on first impression of Eesha Khare my brain couldn’t process her identity as the inventor of a super capacitor.

Just like my brain rejects the idea that I can understand electronics. I state that I can do electronics like it’s a joke. It’s that same feeling as I have to my current photo, me, 23 looking 13, isn’t suitable for association with the serious grown-up work I’m doing.

Woman on bicycle doodle

Stressful thoughts

I’m guessing that my body’s moment of not working on Friday was stress related. I’m assuming, yes blindly, that my whole medical dilemma is stress triggered. You can call it a hypothesis.

Such moments happen when I’m internally exhausted. I’d slept for an average of 9 hours each night for the week preceding the embarrassment and on Saturday night I had just under 14 hours.

But what could be stressing me? There’s leaving the Hovel and moving house, but why would I worry about that? I’m moving in with the boyfriend, but I like him and he can do the washing-up. We’re going to have some issues, mostly regarding music and the radio (he abhors silence), but I’m sure he’ll learn to appreciate music all the more for having less of it.

Maybe it’s the inevitable point in my contract at work where suggestions of a new contract are implied and a discussion date is set, 4th June. I originally applied and took the job because I decided that I needed to get a job. Some thought went into it. The role isn’t physics, it allows me to learn to write better and it was in the right place. Why they chose me I’m not sure.

To my shock, I found I actually rather like the company. I like the people I work with. I like the work.

But, and there’s always a but, is staying settling? Is settling necessarily bad?

If I looked elsewhere where would I look?

Running between mountains doodle.

The actionable list

Lists are great things. I ask a question to myself. What would I do if I had no limitation of resource.

In no particular order…

1. I’d write stories. I’d start with my Ancient Egyptian novel and work on it until I was happy. People can say let go, but if I had no limitations I’d keep it until I wanted to let go. I’d tinker away and I’d play.

2. I’d study quantum mechanics. I know this sounds crazy, and probably most crazy of all to myself, but I love quantum mechanics. In my degree studying it always was rather rushed, but there’s something in the way it fits together that is truly magical.

3. I’d travel. I’d walk up small mountains and trek through forests. I’d sit and eat ice-cream with the elderly in the sunshine whilst watching children play across the square. I’d test myself. Go places my imagination is to tame to dream of.

4. I’d paint. For hours. In the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning and allow myself to be absorbed in what I was creating without worrying that I ought to be doing something more productive.

5. I’d have a moonshot*. A crazy idea to pursue with all likelihood of failure but the faintest glimmer of possibility.

6. I’d have amazing parties for all the people I love – cocktails and barbecues in the great British summer, sledge rides and northern light hunting in the depths of the Norwegian winter with a Christmas turkey and lots of cranberry sauce.

7. I’d do stuff to help people. I’d give my time, I’d find people I could help by applying my brain to their problems. I’d go out of my way to make people’s faces light up with wonder.

 

It’s irresponsible to cause alarm from the floor in the middle of the office corridor. It’s not dignified. My life needs a better routine. I need a more normal sleep pattern that leaves me with time in the day where I have energy, but I’m not at work.

I’m not sure how to go about this.

Is the underlying stress just this introspective wondering about my future and my self-worth?

What am I truly chasing? Am I open to a future filled with possibilities, or is it that I’m too scared to close some down in order to move forward? I can’t ghost write my life. That girl staring back at me in the photograph might look young and naïve, but she is me. The authentic, real me who is clever. She can write about complex serious topics, she does understand enough physics that she earnt a degree in the subject and she’s more than adequately skilled with a soldering iron.

Why is that so damn difficult to accept?

 

 

 

*Moonshots are what Google calls its really crazy long-term, high-impact projects.

The selfish Kate and the concientious Midget

People are selfish. The Midget takes issue with this. In her mind, there’s something evil about being selfish.

I thrive on selfishness.

Ok, so maybe the Midget is one of the most conscientious people around, and yes, maybe on one or more occasion I have been called manipulative. Mind you, that’s mostly by the Midget, and only really when her ideals don’t align with mine.

But selfishness helps me stay happy. And whilst my happiness is a very selfish need, it affects those condemned to work beside me, or those whose genes I share. Plus there’s the dear darling Boyfriend who suffers greatly if I’m a moping mess.

Selfishness allows me to say no. Since I am first, my time is organised to my priorities.

Flying carpet doodle
Meditation – another selfish habit.

Selfish but kind

But just because I’m selfish doesn’t mean I’m unkind. The only person I’ve ever intentionally hurt was the Midget, and that was 15 years ago and so doesn’t really count. No. On the contrary to being selfishly unkind, I go out of my way to be selfishly kind. I’m happy to invest the hours in obtaining good company. For the most part the hours pay off.

I’m safe because I know that I have a multitude of friends that I can fall back on.

If I was truly altruistic wouldn’t I be hunting down the person in the world most in need of a friend, and giving them someone to talk to? Instead I invest my time in people I like and who have lots to give me in return.

The Noph is my sound box, a conscience that sits on the sofa beside me letting my introspective meanderings flourish whilst always pulling me, ever so gently, back to reality. Rapunzel is an inspiration. A flash of colour always reminding me that doing what I want to do is the key to happiness. Singing stood on a chair whilst perfectly sober and perfectly out of tune isn’t just a dreadful racket, but also a wonder of humanity. And yet, Rapunzel and the Noph also remind me that hard work, the washing-up and work is all very, very necessary. Sometimes I need reminding.

All my relationships are selfish. But just because my primary goal is my happiness, doesn’t mean I don’t have secondary goals. I believe that we’re foremost responsible for our own happiness. Whilst I can’t make any of my loved ones happy by myself, I can support them in being happy. It’s in my best interest that my friends are happy.

Selfish but generous

All this selfishness leads me to question why I volunteer. If you volunteer yourself, you probably find the question rhetorical. For me, life is a search for meaning. When I volunteer I have an effect. I mean something to someone. It’s particularly evident when I work with kids – it’s painted in their faces that I mean something. I have the power to help and volunteering takes this power and translates it into action. Actions that build my confidence. It’s a repeated idea that the giver often gains more happiness than the receiver.

Doodle a day 27 March
Work sometimes feels like this.

Selfish but hard-working

Then there is work. I guess I have always had a lot of hostility towards this idea of work. Engaging my brain throughout the best part of five days a week, every week for a company… It sounds like a lot of effort just for some pennies. I get it being necessary. I do. But even so. 40 hours?

Yet work can be rewarding. I love learning and in my job I’m always learning. I’m building a skill set which makes me more employable and better equipped to help those I want to help. I love writing, and my writing is flourishing. I’m also making a difference. Ok, yes it’s within a company, but the company’s values are aligned with my own.

My selfish heart wishes that the 40 hours were a little less rigid. Some days I just want to go to a beach. But most days I roll back into the hovel feeling that I’ve done something productive, and that makes me feel good.

Selfish but unashamed

So yes, I lead a selfish life. One which at its core is kindness, because I need kindness for my happiness, and the sharing of my time and skills, because I need to be valued. Thinking about it, it’s not evil at all.

Nothing at all to be ashamed of.

Would you, like the Midget, disagree?

 

A small rant about the label on the back of my shampoo

Naturally

Naturally healthy, gorgeous hair enhances a woman’s natural beauty. [Blah blah blah.] Magical paraben free formulas that gently transform your hair… naturally.

Yes, this example is from the label on a bottle of shampoo. Yes, I should avoid the shampoo for plain and simple animal testing reasons. There’s no bunny on the packaging. But why have ‘naturally’ as the heading, first word and last word of the paragraph. It’s like keyword cramming on a webpage. It’s completely unnecessary.

I’m busy washing my hair, and whilst normally I’d take this time to ponder life, I’m stuck thinking about this unnatural use of ‘naturally’. This marketing lark is seeping into my brain.

When I read the back of a shampoo bottle I expect some sort of ‘flowers and fruit make your hair beautiful’. But I think shampoo copy-writers could get a bit more creative. Every bottle is the same. They float between flowers, fruit and scientific nonsense.

It’s the science that annoys me the most. If there was some interesting factual information on the back I’d be intrigued. I am at heart a scientist. However, “has a unique microcirculation action” doesn’t count as interesting science. It’s not science. It’s not interesting. I actually find it frustrating because I’m not stupid, but I don’t understand how orange flower extract can have unique microcirculation action, and I don’t understand how momentarily improving the blood flow in some tiny vessels is going to make my hair more beautiful. Even if it’s true, is it really going to have an effect at a level that’s noticeable. I imagine the temperature of the water coming out of the shower will have more of an effect on my capillaries.

Rant over. Time to breathe.

Doodle a day - 17 April
An unnatural landscape.

Dreaming dreams and catching them: life after The Hovel

lark rise Either the boyfriend has prospects, or I’m crazy. Not just because I spend my time loving him, but because we’re going to be living in the same building, again. This time, there won’t be six of us, there’ll be two. Me and him.

The Mother is referring to these living arrangements as ‘living in sin’, but she seems more excited at the prospect of a new house to visit than concerned that I’m being corrupted.

There are pros and cons to this new arrangement. Of course if you know me well the first wonderful thing you’ll think of will be that there will be someone else to do my washing-up, every night. Sure he’ll be tired from playing with boats, but if he has the energy for all those press-ups, he’s got enough energy for the crockery. Since the Boyfriends stinky clothes are currently rotating around my washing machine I’m sure everything will end up fair (ish). Less fortunate is that it’s a longer journey to work. Either Bertie (my car) and I will be causing further damage the planet, or I’m going to be incredibly fit.

I do love the planet. I also love sleep.

It will be sad saying goodbye to The Hovel. It filled its purpose in life quite amicably and I shall remember it fondly. The deer I’m going to miss terribly, but the new home is also hidden away in the middle of nowhere, even more so than The Hovel, and I’m sure there will still be wild wonders.

I’m going to have a garden. This means I need to learn to grow a plant. This is exciting. There’s also going to be a separate bedroom (there’s multiple floors) and so less breakfast in bed. But it’s slightly more suitable for guests as long as you don’t mind the Boyfriend creeping past in the early hours to go row.

A year ago, I knew where it was I wanted to go. I knew the plan was to eventually move south, as I did, get a job, which I’ve got, and live with the Boyfriend, which is imminent. I wasn’t sure how everything was going to tie together. Sometimes when we weren’t seeing each other for 7 or 8 weeks at a time (and longer when I was in Italy) it seemed like life was a tangle of frayed ends. Now it feels organised. Structured even.

It didn’t take that long really for the dream to seem everyday and normal.

Dreams are simply long-term plans. Nothing set in stone. Flexible, adaptable, but maybe achievable. Whether the Boyfriend does or doesn’t have prospects is truly a question belonging to one of my long-dead great-grandmothers. And she’s not here to asses him and let me know. What I do know is that for right now, he’s enough for me. The future is simply a dream.

The ongoing road

Hunting spiders, wearing glasses and feeling scared

As I write this I am wearing glasses. I haven’t worn glasses since I was fourteen, so they’re taking a little bit of getting used to.

As glasses go, they have the weakest lenses they possibly could without actually having no lenses. This means I can see everything just fine, except during that moment of adjustment when my brain has to catch up with my eyes. It leaves a conundrum. I’m sat in the living room talking to my family, but they’re watching TV and I am not watching TV. To avoid watching TV I’m staring at a much smaller closer screen, so I’m wearing my glasses.

It’s not that I’m rude. It’s that they’re watching one of these TV programmes where someone dies in the first few moments and then the rest of the programme is spent working out what happened. Sometimes, actually in my experience quite often, the clues come in the form of further dead bodies.

I don’t like being scared.

I really don’t like being scared.

I’ve never had a love of any TV programme that might give me nightmares.

In the middle of the scary TV programme there was a loud thud about our heads. My cousin, the Little Mermaid, ran downstairs in sobs, shaking, unable to articulate what it was that had terrified her. She leapt into her daddy’s lap and stayed there for some time.

The Short Aunty and I investigated. There was nothing unusual on first sight. Once the sobs and the shaking had calmed a little we learnt that we were hunting a terrifying monster in the form of a spider.

I have complete sympathy as I myself have an irrational fear of dead mice.

Finding a spider in a room of children’s toys is not the easy. I took my glasses off for the search. I only ought to wear them for looking at close screens. This leads to a certain conundrum. When you’re going between hunting spiders, reading on your tablet and talking with your family – during the adverts – how are you meant to manage whether your glasses are on or off.

We failed, but luckily my Uncle located the spider. Tired and with no end in sight of the murder investigation, just more adverts, I went to bed.

In the morning the Little Mermaid filled me in on who had, or hadn’t, been pushed out of a window and exactly who the culprits were.

How to be blissfully happy – notes to myself

On the beach
Horizontal horizons are over rated.

I woke up this morning, and then waited in bed for a couple of hours until I wanted to get up. I made myself a cup of tea, shook the last of my cereal into a bowl, dropped the cereal packet into the recycling box (just a large cardboard box since the real recycling boxes have mysteriously disappeared) and poured on the last of the milk.

My food situation is a cross between a surplus and a famine. I have plenty of biscuits, tinned fruit and custard, having inherited the Nonna’s tin supply, but in terms of fresh food I’m down to an apple, a reduced-price mini-courgette and a lemon.

None-the-less this isn’t at all bad. There was enough milk for one bowl of cereal and since there’s only me one bowl of cereal was enough. With my cereal I returned to bed, opened the curtain to let in the stunning sunshine, and set about practising Italian.

I am very much monolingual, but I have a bilingual dictionary and a wonderful curiosity.

An hour later it was 11:00 am. I got up, switched on my old computer, Alexandra, because the new shiny fast computer is having a hiccup. Whilst Alexandra was loading up I floated around the kitchen, relocated all the washing-up to a single surface and made coffee in the magic pot on the hob. Black of course because of the milk crisis.

I meandered around the internet for a while, finding pictures that make me smile and stories that fill my imagination with wonder. I never sit still for too long. Today I drifted between the computer and the kitchen to the sound of Italian pop classics and the gurgle of the washing machine.

I am trying to learn Italian. Casually, on the basis that if it works out like my obsession over Ancient Egypt I’ll be fluent in no time. If it doesn’t then I’ve better things to do. My efforts to speak Italian are somewhat hindered by my lack of attentiveness to sounds and my beautiful Yorkshire accent. When we were travelling Betty and I split the language learning. I remembered what words we needed, she said them. I can read the road signs, she can order salami. Her ears are trained in the study of phonetics and so she at least knows what sounds she’s saying.

I swept the kitchen floor – it was foul – using a dustpan and brush. The hoover refuses to turn on after it’s last encounter with the hovel’s floors. That burning smell…

And then, because it’s sunny and I am happy, and when I’m happy I don’t really mind chores, I mopped the floor too.

Living to the theme of ‘A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink’

books and reading

I’m attracted to books that say that the thing I like doing will be important in the future. I love being told that I should embrace the wonder that is creativity, take time out to laugh, and that stories are everything. If a book suggests meditation and yoga, drawing and creative writing, reading fiction and telling stories, then as long as I don’t trip over the words, I’m sold.

When I read a book from The Mother’s bookshelf I expect something about leadership, or getting yourself organised, or maybe something on wonderful CV, presentation or interview creation. ‘How to be’s on topics like confidence, persuasion and courage. I go to The Mother’s bookshelf looking for books that are going to tell me how to grasp that elusive sense of life structure. I don’t borrow her books expecting they will tell me – draw, meditate, play, tell stories, dance when you want to and most importantly laugh.

I zoomed through A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, reading it in about three evenings. I was easily sold. It’s just affirmation of my own beliefs. The book wants me to step aside from the job lists and play.

Bookcover - a whole new mind by Daniel Pink
There’s something rather cheerful about orange book covers.

Maybe I ought to diversify my reading.

The book did tell me a lot that I already know. Life is better when we make things, when we move and when we open our hearts. It can’t be a bad thing that I already knew many of the answers to the questions it posed. I do draw. I do dance around the hovel with the curtains shut, the music loud and laugh at myself. Expressing my emotions effectively is sometimes a bit of a challenge. It’s either all or nothing. But I like to think that I’m wise enough to once in a while stop and listen.

By the looks of the smooth pages, The Mother hasn’t yet begun ‘whole new mind’ development. However, its being on her bookshelf shows that she’s either actively chosen a book with chapters like Story, Symphony and Play, or she’s buying books without reading the description.

I’m going with the first option as in your own study, unlike in a supermarket, it’s not an embarrassment to wear your glasses. Just to clarify, I don’t believe people should be embarrassed about wearing glasses at all. Certainly not so embarrassed they lose them more times than they wear them.

Does The Mother therefore aspire to learn from a book that recommends humour? If so, this is a twist to a fundamental building block of my existence.

(Ok, yes, when Daniel Pink recommended comedy as a valuable part of life I did shudder and quickly read on.)

dancing when nobody is watching
By no means do I actually have legs that bend like that.

I caricature The Mother as a very serious woman. This should be taken with a cellar of salt. Yes, The Mother is process driven, tick box addicted and overwhelmingly focused on check lists and the watch on her wrist. That said, she’s also an international adventurer. She’s ridden camels and elephants. The Mother tells stories. She incorporates different voices as her different characters. She brings them to life, and makes the Midget and I laugh. She draws. Not regularly, and rarely anything more than a house with a tree, but when she’s sat in the lounge with a glass of wine and I’m drawing on my tablet she likes to have a go. The Mother sometimes needs instructing that it is ‘time for a hug’, but if tragedy happens – like I come across a dead mouse – then she steps in to comfort me.

The prediction that the things I like doing matter to the future is reassuring to read. It’s nice to think that I’ll never have to live at 200 mph like The Mother does. I can guarantee I’d fail. I don’t think I’ll ever have her strength of attack, even after reading all the books on her bookshelf.

But it’s also a reminder to value these simple things today, even if the time available to do them is rarer than I’d like.

If I draw every day, am I an artist?

a watercolour mess

Have you ever just paused and done a quick and instant list of all the things that make you happy? Apparently I did, one evening before bed. I know this not because I remember writing such a list, but because I found it in my diary.

Drawing jumps in at third place, yet I can go weeks without drawing anything. Sometimes I lose hours sat on the floor with a large sheet of white paper and a HB pencil. I’m really not fussy –  although a pillow or a cushion is crucial to cope with the Hovel‘s solid floors.

Dedicating an entire afternoon to drawing isn’t really feasible most days. Or even most weeks. I have a job, and I do have to eat and sleep. Often I am visiting, or have visitors, or have to deal with the invading cobwebs and filth. Art just doesn’t find itself as the top (or third) priority most of the time.

As a side note, try turning up at work on a Monday morning, asking your colleagues how their weekends were, settle into your chair with your first cup of tea, and when the inevitable question of what you did arises, pause thoughtfully, then state ‘I drew a camel’.

It beats:

“See you tomorrow.”

“I won’t be in tomorrow, I’ll see you Monday.”

“Oh, are you doing anything nice?”

“I’m going to a funeral.”

End of side note.

Back to art, and pretty things.

I have a new solution to drawing often and therefore maintaining my happiness levels. The barrier for doing any art or any writing is never the art or the writing itself, but manoeuvring my bum into the right place, picking up the pen and forming that first line.

chopped up coloured paper

Pieces of the coloured mess hide in my diary (a benefit of a Moleskine notebook is the pocket) and scattered on my bedside table. Once you start, art is addictive.

Meanwhile, whilst I’m busy drawing, here is some art that I do rather like.

[Worryingly physics made the list.]

The final days of life; the first days of life.

The Nonna died, with my pink teddy bear and the Midget’s crying mouse in her arms. Warm, peaceful, painless. Death.

I held a tiny baby in my arms. One week old, the son of a friend, lips twisting ready to smile. Warm, soft, sleepy. Life.

And my mind is twisted by this circle that I so regularly ignore, the inevitable, the potential.

If I knew how to cry, I know I’ve got a world of emotion struggling inside me, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what I feel. First shock. The phone call stating that there was nothing more that could be done, the life support the Nonna’s body depended on would be switched off. Her brain, damaged beyond repair. Her life ended. Her breathing, once the ventilator was removed, steady but raspy. The snoring predicted and normal sounded a familiar imitation of The Mother.

Yet, throughout, her hand in mine was warm. The night passed and the sun rose, the sleepless night exhausting. Her breathing became more laboured. Gentle nurses injected drugs, brushed her teeth, applied lip-salve, and kept her eyes the picture of peace.

The end came eventually, as it does for all of us.

And in another room, a life was only beginning.

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

The Grump bought me this book as my birthday present last year. If you’re head over heels in love with writing, it’s a source of great joy, but for anyone who thinks they would be a better person if they only just read a wider and actually grasped what it was they were reading, then I think this book is also a star.

It’s filled with examples and extracts that land a punch. I scribbled down names of books I’m hungry for more of, and it comes with a suggested reading list in the back.

But for a book with such a general balance of different sorts of story, there was one whole chapter which seemed out-of-place. It was about this guy called Chekhov. Some strange Russian chap whose name floated meaninglessly through my brain.

Francine Prose whittled on about reading Chekhov, teaching Chekhov and falling more and more in love with Chekhov. She talked about reading Chekhov on the bus – and I think if you can read a book on a bus it’s got to be pretty absorbing.

So, when passing through Oxfam, this slender 99p book, A Russian Love Affair by Anton Chekhov, jumped out at me, I thought – why not. After all, Francine Prose knows how to write a good book and she thinks reading this 119 pages is worth my time.

Turns out she was right. I love Chekhov. He uses beautiful sentences like: ‘On the table was a watermelon’, in the middle of a scene of adultery. He’s on my list to Father Christmas.

As a side note. The book is part of a series of books by Penguin called ‘Great Loves’. Oxfam had, past tense, a few. One of these other slim volumes was by a name I recognised but not due to his literary prowess, but the notoriety of his antics in the bedroom. Of Mistresses, Tigeresses and Other Conquests by Giacomo Casanova is sadly only a few extracts from the longer 14 volumes of memoirs.

Another Christmas wish.