That was an extremely tiring, rewarding and yet productive week. Well, productive if you pay my wages. All my personal goals suffered tremendously!
After last week’s post, I took into work a wealth of positivity. Starting my working day an hour earlier at 7 am felt a lot better, my mind quickly adjusting to lumber from its slumber at around six. I wasn’t quite prepared for the comment from a colleague ‘no one will notice you putting in the extra hour that early’, which tells you everything of the kind of environment I now find myself in. Quality of work? Not so much. Are you seen? Part of my soul died, then. If I had one, naturally.
The advantage of starting so early, for me at least, was getting a jump on the day, feeling invested and invigorated: I felt switched-on and organised; I stretched my brain cells holistically across the program rather than just my pieces of work; my tasks were completed effectively and I got through a good deal (I make one-line notes as a to-do every day and built up a sizeable ‘DONE’ list). I felt like my old self basically, which was excellent, and even found time to organise a Morning-Tea for White Ribbon.
The disadvantage is that those starting later completely cock your day up as their disorganisation leaves you foundering at six or seven pm. That, admittedly, blows goats. Thankfully that wasn’t every day, only three out of the five, but by the time Friday afternoon came around I yawned so hard I almost dislocated my jaw. If my colleague hadn’t ducked and weaved, I could have taken his arm clean off.
Additionally my own personal interests took an absolute shellacking – I took a grand total of zero photos and edited a commensurate amount; I wrote only a few sentences of my next book; I read no blogs to expand my mind; I read less than fifty pages of a novel I picked up last week, and nothing of Tim’s Tools for Titans; I had no Spanish lessons; my 15,000 daily-step total was met only twice. I was so tired after work on Friday I went straight to bed for a nap, waking myself up with a little snore. Sexy! Stand fast ladies, this little man is already taken!
So, my next trick: find the balance.
As a slight addendum, late on Friday as to make amends, I struck into the excellent brainpickings.org, referred to by Tim Ferris’ podcast interview with the owner herself, Maria Popova. I am very excited to see she’s publishing a book eight years in the making: “A Velocity of Being: Illustrated Letters to Children about Why We Read by 121 of the Most Inspiring Humans in Our World”. How amazing does that sound? Not only that, all donations go to supporting New York Public Libraries. Go order a copy!
Also, Sunday reading will be digesting James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh in between, as ever, tea and biscuits and some walking in the glorious sunshine.
Well, that was weird. Since when did ‘so how are you doing?’ turn into a bit of a cry and a hug? I hope that doesn’t happen all the time, as everyone in Australia is exceptionally friendly and will ask how are ya! as soon as look at you. Although perhaps I could use it to my advantage – turns on the waterworks, lean in for a hug, steal their wallet.
The thing was, I was as surprised as the huggee. You see, nothing untoward actually happened. We were talking about work and I had my doubts about a task that had been set for me – my emotions ran at about one hundred miles an hour but eventually they settled, I understood the basics and then got down to it. I then had a chat about the approach with my manager and friend. In relaying that I needed to watch just how much work I became engrossed in and prefacing the importance of my mental health, the bastard then asked me if I was all right. I mean, who does that?! Asking about my welfare like that!
As ever, it’s all about the positives. I realised that whilst making great progress in self-belief, making time for myself and reading more than I had in years in the last few months, I hadn’t tested myself yet for fear of breaking – well, at least work wise. In my mind, this is the equivalent of giving up alcohol and claiming everything is fine to your friends whilst handcuffing yourself to the radiator so you never leave the house. Whilst the fear of breaking is strong, I have to build on my achievements, embrace a little danger now and then. Risk a little, essentially. Being entirely open with my friend in talking about my fears will help immensely – no one can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong, or at least where you’re coming from. Sometimes, like today, nothing was wrong at all . . . and then someone asks at the wrong time and boom! Waterworks, hugging . . . shopping!
Monopoly Pic from my own set - I don't own the company and am not affiliated with them at all, and they've sent me to jail a few times it has to be said.
It’s with some self-determination that I wrestled through Emerson’s Self-Reliance. I usually give books a fifty to a hundred-page snuff test to decipher whether the punishment is worthy. The problem is Emerson’s essay measures only twenty-one pages, but Keerrriiiist he can belabour a point.
In a nutshell, don’t go searching all over the world for answers when you’re right there in front of you. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself: you have the power to make your own answers. Do not lean (too much) on others: exercise self-trust, toss the laws, books, idolatries and customs out of the window. Insist on yourself; never imitate.
There, seems quite reasonable, doesn’t it? Some lines did pique my interest more than others ‘travel for art, study and benevolence . . . he who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry (i.e. searches for something he doesn’t already possess), travels away from himself. He carries ruins to ruins.’ This reminds me of the maxim that travellers are always searching for something or running away from something, and both appear equally valid and I’m undoubtedly culpable too.
When I think of travel I always think of landscapes, and perhaps this comes from my roots in the Welsh countryside. Mountains and lakes are art created over millennia, shaped and conjured by the weather, touching my very soul. I imagine someone would feel the same gazing at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Van Gough’s wheat fields, which although compelling are bound to look no different in the seasons or passage of day. On the other hand, landscapes continually transform in the light and over time. Undoubtedly, I’ll end up an oil painter like my Grandad on a verdant outcrop in my older days, marvelling at the gigantic bloody maelstrom barrelling towards me and reckoning my metal easel and umbrella weren’t the best of ideas.
To give context to Self-Reliance, I think a fair amount of Ralf Waldo Emerson’s tome was also dedicated to throwing off the shackles of imperialism, of letting of go of the past to create a new future. In this case, one of a proud America that can stand on its own two feet. For Emerson, with god shining a light, albeit shining a light from within to fire your soul and self-belief. To leave on a quote from the great man as I head out for a walk, I think there is rarely better advice given than ‘live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air’. And paint no matter what, regardless of the thunderstorms you’re enduring.
As an addendum, this week is particularly poignant: an attack by a lunatic in Melbourne killing the owner of a restaurant (Pellegrini's) I’ve enjoyed for years, a lovely old Italian always quick to greet his loyal customers; a friend of the family passed away, a long term mate of my fathers from the Army and the first to ever encourage me to write based on some wholly unflattering and uncomplimentary letters about the French (I was a teenager on an a torrid exchange trip, to be fair!); and lastly as Remembrance Day approaches, to my dear Grandad, a war-hero, and my Grandmother, part of the incredible Women’s Land Army, as well as wonderful parents and grandparents. You are missed.
A few months ago, I wrote about speed-reading after picking up (and reading too, look at me!) Anthony Robbins’ book. The central tenet being that the quicker you can read, the more you can consume. And more is better! I am not a fast or even avid reader, for years treating books as taking me away from doing things. But I was thirsty for knowledge! I figured quicker reading would help, and so off I set. As instructed by Anthony I timed my reading of a page. It was about 250-260 words per minute. Adopting different techniques this increased to 300 quite quickly. Well, I’m happy to say that many months on, this has changed significantly to . . . 240 words per minute. Gah! What the hell happened? I’ve literally retarded!
Well, I changed my view of reading. Instead of being something I consume guiltily as I hasten on to something else, I realised that since I love writing, reading is effectively study. Additionally, it’s extremely relaxing. As per my last post, snuggling up on the couch with a book in the sunshine with a cup of tea and a biscuit will be my first request before facing the firing squad. Well, second request. First request will be ‘can I have the guns please?’
The method that we use to consume knowledge now seems as important as the skill itself, and how quickly we can attain it. And why not? This enables you to move onto the next life-changing kernel of understanding, after all. Whilst acquiring knowledge certainly isn’t to be poo-pooed, for me re-discovering that I thoroughly enjoyed reading a good book and not labouring through one for speed’s sake meant a great deal. I plod through at a comfortable pace, a little above the average of 200 words per minute, but well below the 700 or even 1000 words per minute of the top 0.5% of society. And you know what? I’m fine with that.
On the other side of the fence to constant and quicker achievement is mindfulness, of being present in the moment and enjoying it for what it is. If the subject is of particular interest or there is some beautiful wordplay which has captured my eye, I’ll slow down, re-read it once or twice, and perhaps deliberate on the finer points. I may stare out of the window and let it swirl in my mind like rustling autumnal leaves caught in the wind, then ease my way back to the book to continue. Probably putting the kettle on in the process (not literally, obviously). It may not be speedy reading, but it’s immensely pleasurable.
Speed Reading Test
If you’re interested though, you can take a free speed-reading test at Readingsoft where it not only measures your speed (I hit 324 per minute when going as quick as I could) but also your comprehension – mine was 72%, giving myself the grace of selecting one wrong button like a real doofus! But the point for me is that speed-reading wasn’t in any way enjoyable. Like going for a walk on a cool summer’s night or quaffing a delectable cup of tea, the enjoyment is entirely removed if I speed walk right through nature, face-palming grannies out of the path, or try to gulp down some steaming hot tea, inevitably boiling my tonsils and then nose hairs as it sputters straight out again. And perhaps that’s entirely the point: ratchet up the speed if needs must, take your time when you can.
Note: I have no affiliation to Readingsoft
Writing and writing...