Back on the wagon

Why is it that when we need time to recuperate and be a little less productive for a while, some of us beat ourselves up for not reaching our “usual” standards? And why is it that “usual” standards are often the level we manage when we are at our peak? Shouldn’t it be some kind of middle ground instead?

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Sometimes we need to do nothing. To know that yes, in a few days we’ll have to do well at something or other, but that’s way over there in the future. For now, we can rest.

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Bujoing has helped me see the things I actually do instead of the things I don’t do. Maybe it can do this for others as well. Instead of constantly focusing on the future and what we haven’t done, we can go back over the pages and see the things we dreaded last week, the giant hurdle we braved last month, and feel satisfied that we pushed through.

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And while on the subject of bullet journalling, why beat yourself up over the gaping holes in your habit tracker? So you needed a few days off. Who doesn’t? Be sensible: you’re not going to clean the house every day for the rest of your life, no matter how much you believe it while you’re drawing up your habit tracker.

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By all means reach for the stars and reach the treetops, but don’t reach so hard that you dislocate your shoulder. It’s fine to fall off the wagon. The wagon will be there when you want back on, and guess what? You have the perfect getting-back-on list in your habit tracker. A few tasks in and you’ll feel like you were never off track!

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Be kind to yourself. You never know when you’ll pay it back. 😉

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Why get up at 5.30am even though you’re working from home and can sleep until 7am?

Because you can freeze to death at a brightening twilight beach.

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Because you gradually realize that the dots out there aren’t clumps of grass, but geese.

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Because of honking swans in the thin veils of mist.

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Because the sky turns pink.

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How to experience life (abridged)

This blog post and the links in it contain advertisements for my books

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As an INTP, I’m wired to question received wisdom, and there’s one thing in particular that’s been preying on my mind lately – something that’s specific to one of my functions. It’s about Introverted Sensing (Si).

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You often hear that you should ‘experience the moment’ instead of photographing it and experiencing it later, through your photo. That you cheat yourself of, say, a holiday if you live it through your camera.

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But there’s another truth as well, one that I’ve been made aware of during this past year when I’ve truly lived life through my camera: that I live more intensely when I take photos. That I see the world differently – actually, that I see the world full stop. Things I would ignore if I didn’t take photos of them. Things I would miss if I didn’t search a scene for a subject. Wonderful places I would leave early because I would be bored with them if I didn’t try to create something of my own out of the atmosphere in them.

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I’m a restless person, and I’m not much for sitting in the sun and just feeling the warmth on my face, or just looking at pretty views without doing anything. But with a camera in my hand, I’ve got a project. I document and transform, I convey an impression. I engage with my surroundings, I melt into them rather than distance myself.

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I think this is because of Si. A Se user (Extroverted Sensing) can experience the world more directly. They can take in what’s around them without trouble. But at least for me, Si needs time to digest. I don’t realise that a ball is whizzing towards me until a split second too late. Likewise, I can’t fully be in the moment when something wonderful happens. There’s always a kind of delay, so that the memory of it is almost more palpable than the experience itself.

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The camera changes that. It gives me the key to Nirvana, and I think it’s because I’m engaging Extraverted Intuition (Ne) as well as Si. Ne helps me ‘get at’ reality by exploring it and trying to create something new out of the familiar. It brings me out of my thinking shell and lets my hand pass through the veil and touch the Now. By making something, I exist in the moment.

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I always need to create in order to live. If I can’t see the creative use of a thing, I’m not interested. I loved Shakespeare for years without caring about the particulars of his life, but then I suddenly decided to write a book about him, and then there was no end to the ‘facts’ I devoured in order to be able to pull it off. So now I know that his neighbours Hamnet and Judith Butler lost a string of children, that Shakespeare’s parents had a legal dispute over a piece of property with his aunt and her husband, and that his childhood ‘friend’ Dick Field signed a petition to stop him and his company from converting a building in Blackfriars into a theatre.

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Talk about trivia. And the only reason I learned those things and not, say, the capital of Albania, is that I had an immediate use for it. The day I write a novel set in Albania, I will learn the name of the tiniest village if the story needs it.

And, um… well, true to my explorative auxiliary function, I’ve now strayed from my original statement about Si to the nebulosity of Ne, and I’m struggling to tie this text together with a catchy summary. But maybe I should just let it stand like this: unfinished, left hanging, with possibilities sticking out of it like stray hairs. It’s not wrong or sloppy or pointless. It’s just another way of being.

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Shower the world…

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There’s a Tori Amos song that tells us to shower the world in pink and glitter, and that’s exactly what the weather gods are doing here. Every day is like a study in pink. The sun just barely makes it over the horizon for a short time between ten and two, but the reward is that every hour is golden.

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Frozen beard lichen hangs from every pine tree bough. The rising sun filters through the needles.

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It’s just cold enough to freeze the droplets but not enough to melt them. Absolutely wonderful. Some of them look like Christmas tree decorations where they hang in the fir branches. I went a little crazy with the camera when I saw it, so bear with me… 🙂

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But I must admit I was glad that there was a kettle to switch on when I got home, because the cold tends to creep into your very marrow. It’s beautiful but not harmless, you know? And maybe that’s part of the charm: a terrible beauty that you must watch from a distance in order not to get hurt. Look but don’t touch. 🙂

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The light returns

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The darkest, longest night of the year is past. Now we change course and move towards the sun again. Every day, the world will become a little brighter.

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It couldn’t come at a more fitting time for me. Last Friday, it was the day of my defense. In hindsight, I realize that I’ve been under more pressure about this than I thought – and I was aware of quite a lot of pressure! It feels as if for five years, I’ve slowly, excruciatingly rolled up in a tight ball, like a cramp or a Big Bang, and now that knot has loosened, the world has exploded into being, and I’m free. And at the same time, the sun returns. It’s almost too symbolic.

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I can’t believe it’s done – that it’s finally over. The longest project so far in my life, and it’s now finished. My road has been very stony, dark, and misty. I haven’t had a clue where I was going. It’s all been very confusing.

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But the defense went really well, I had a wonderful discussion with my examiner, my whole family was there to watch, my colleagues and friends and of course my husband. Instead of terror, I felt a cautious kind of joy. My work was accepted by the person I respect most – and whose model I used in my studies! Talk about coming full circle.

The party afterwards was wonderful, and I’m not as tired as I should be. I feel like a load of stones have fallen from my shoulders, and I can begin to straighten up again. And above all: I can now be an ordinary person again. I’m not a PhD student anymore. I’m a doctor. I’m done. There’s nothing more to prove. I can go about my business like everyone else and not have to reach for the stars. I can relax. I don’t have to know everything. I can let things be as vague as they are in the real world and not pretend to have an answer.

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Well, at least as long as I’m not talking to the media, but you know… :-/ I can move on! Maybe on one of these. 😉

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Frozen

Oh my, what a morning. I had a gut feeling yesterday that today would be beautiful. The aurora was a sign that the night temperatures would dip below freezing and that the sky would be clear at dawn – perfect conditions for backlit frost pictures.

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But first things first. There was some mist going on, so I hurried up a hill to capture some hazy light and veiled woods.

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I don’t know if it was the cold or the bright light, but the camera seemed to have some trouble focusing. I don’t mind that much, since the pictures still convey the mood, but if cold is an issue, I’ll be learning to focus manually this winter!

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The edges of frost are so pretty, both from a distance and close up. It defines each and every leaf, where just now there was only a blur.

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So, yeah. Autumn was kind of early this year (after a fabulous summer, so I’m not complaining), and so is winter, it seems. Or is frost this early normal? I forget. I don’t usually pay that much attention to the weather. That obsession is completely tied to the camera and my new way of seeing things.

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On the way down from the hill, my path was a burst of glitter and grass. Everything gleamed, wherever I looked. Everything was white or pale yellow. Like a hundred year old photograph that someone had spilled a box of spangles on.

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Sometimes I ‘correct’ pictures like this that are completely blown out, but sometimes that’s exactly the effect I’m going for. Just like my eyes are blinded by the morning sun, the camera is too.

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This was funny: frozen pearls of dew on a clover leaf. As if winter made a surprise attack on it.

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You know what? I actually quite like the movie Frozen – not the silly snowman, but the depiction of mental health issues, creativity and SNOW. The scene where Elsa leaves the town and discovers the full extent of her powers – that imagery is simply irresistible to someone who spent her angsty teenage years writing countless poems about snow, stars and blood. Okay, so blood plays no major part in Frozen, but hey, there’s ice crystals enough to make up for that. And that whole I-thought-I-was-a-wreck-when-really-I-just-needed-to-get-away-from-all-the-bullshit… Yep. Ask me to rule and be a ‘good girl’, and I’ll wither. Leave me alone and I’ll create beauty.

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Look at that! Is it any wonder Christmas decorations are what they are? This looks exactly like tinsel.

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And this. Two hearts on a stem, taking comfort in each other.

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I’m a total magpie for everything that’s bright and shiny. Fairy lights, gold and silver, spangles, snow, stars and frost. And when coupled with strong colours? Count me in. Like these maple leaves on our garden furniture. I mean, there’s just too much awesomeness going on here: first of all, a maple leaf – symbol of Canada, home of Rush. Then, the complementary colours of blue and orange. And finally the cherry on the autumn cake, frost.

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Have a nice day everyone, and don’t forget to look!

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Morning fog

I got up early again, because I missed yesterday’s spectacular dawn with gravlax pink and gold shining through the bus window. But when I reached the hill where I’d planned to snap my pictures, I was just too foggy. Made for some atmospheric shots of the woods, though.

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These are some interesting geese. They’ve been following the swans around the pond for weeks now. As soon as the swans move, so do the geese!

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The sun finally rose over the misty hills. Here seen peeking at a sleeping lorry.

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The Ace of Wands

That feeling… I think all authors must know about it. You empty your glass and you’re convinced that you’ll never write another word, because what is there to write about? You’ve said everything you want to say already.

And then there’s this thing – a movie, a smell, a view, something someone says – and it gets stuck on your mind like an autumn leaf clinging to a wet fence. And as it sits there, just shining brightly against the dull grey of the wood, another kind of light begins to creep up on you.

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It inches closer, slowly, whistling innocently… and then BAM! You’re bathed in the light of an inner dawn.

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You have to write. You have to write this new character, this laugh, this landscape, this perspective. You’ve described a hundred different smiles in your other books, but this one is different, and it needs to be set on paper. Come hell or high water. Otherwise that light will burn you up from inside.

You’re in love, and you want to shout it out to the world.

And then it ebbs. Sooner or later, it ebbs and peters out, and you look at the smile or the view or the funny dialogue, and you just go “Meh”. Because it’s done now. You’ve spent your ink again, and poured that light onto your keyboard, and there’s nothing left. Not even a couple of mixed metaphors.

You have a result: a few twinkling phrases, or a whole fragile structure with a series of flimsy, glittering strands of story clinging to it… and now comes the work. The editing, the fleshing out, the careful crafting. In Tarot terms, the spark of inspiration from the Ace of Wands have chosen a direction, gathered the input it needs and celebrated the first stage of the journey. And now the battle begins, where things will not always be so bright.

But you’ve got your flimsy strands, and look at them: they might only be lichen, but they’re beautiful.

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