Am always very skeptical of gimmicks and advertising promises. And governments. And Melbourne weather. And Swedish enlargement pumps. But when I was searching for some thoroughly good sleep-in ear-plugs, at a non-refundable $300 – and they don’t even come with a free tv or anything – I took a chance. They’re quickly becoming one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.
Squeezing foam into your ears to get a cast is an odd but not unpleasant feeling. Like washing your hair before going to a hairdresser, you hope your ears are clean enough that the cast doesn’t pull out full-size candles. The silicone, erm, implants, come back a few weeks later, specifically moulded to your ears. Being an insomniac, quiet is important, and I’ve taken to wearing a sleeping mask now too. Proper princess level sleeping requirements!
In other news, I’m continuing to chip away at a book on leadership, gathering my notes on over a hundred books and distilling them right down into a single, easy-to-read 300,000 page manuscript! OK not quite that bad, but it’s coming along. I still have to keep approaching publishers for the last book, and pondering attempting one more editorial rampage, which is essentially akin to murdering your own children – things you creatively gave birth to (am sure words and children are exactly the same, right?). Am halfway through two books currently: the excellent dystopian, Orwellian, New York Times Best Seller They Both Die at the End tracing two young lives impacted by a phone call announcing their deaths, which will absolutely be a tv-series; and Kristine Stewart’s Out Turn empowering women in leadership roles. Oddly, there is a kinship with typically more feminine leadership traits: according to research, the new generation of leaders seek to inspire their team; have high emotional intelligence, social and interpersonal skills; form relationships; enjoy participatory decision making; and set realistic expectations and rewards. Male traits tend to be less agreeable and more confrontational, which I don’t really align to. I have no real despotic, megalomaniac desires. Well, no more than usual. I haven’t wanted to take over a country for hours, and my current crop of serfs don’t protest too loudly. Not since I got my new ear plugs, anyway.
I’d forgotten how much fun motorcycling is. Yeah ok, my ass-cheeks are hanging off me, and my nerves are shot to pieces but hey, that’s motorcycling in Australia for you – there’s nothing like hurtling along and thinking, ‘is that a wallaby? Don’t skip into the . . . fuck fuck fuck fuck!’ Then there’s the burnt trees now in full verdant flurry, a reminder of the horrific fires last year. But the down-sides are paltry in comparison to the benefits: a pretty coastline, long winding bends, feeling the cool morning air rushing through the jacket, dappled sunlight dancing through trees casting long shadows across the road. It’s blissful. As I was Miss-Daisy-ing up the Pacific Coast, within 48 hours of leaving Melbourne I felt like I’d been gone a week. I think it says something about me that when planning a weekend trip four-hours away down the coast, I still have that mentality to think, ‘well I’m going all that way, if I just continue for another . . . I don’t know, two days . . . ’
And thus, a motorcycle adventure was born!! Yup, not only leaving Melbourne (wow!). Not only heading out of the state of Victoria (omg!) but into the city of Sydney (shut that door/close that border!!). In the end, it was a lovely eight-day trip, working from Sydney for a few days, and catching up with dear friends in Canberra and the twin cities of Albury/Wodonga too, covering a neat little 2,000km loop. And now come the purchases! It was my first big trip on the motorcycle I bought last June and I have to immediately fix the lack of cruise control. I’ve never had this on a bike before, but my throttle wrist was buggered. I’m unsure yet what I can do about my broken arse . . . I already have a sizeable soft-gel seat. Wondering if I can get some kind of travelling blancmange I can rest my buttocks in. Perhaps just gently dip my arse into a bucket of Savlon as I ride.
Apart from the wildlife, including - and I shit you not – an eight-foot gargantuan snake crossing the road, the coast has received a battering in the last few weeks, with once-in-fifty-years type flooding. Fortunately, I was very well prepared for adversity (albeit extremely mild adversity), having just finished Extreme Ownership! The authors, gravel-voiced Navy Seals, use their confronting experience in Iraq and Afghanistan to relay life lessons. They are undoubtedly the real-deal, but being part of the US Forces it’s dripping with Hollywood; they didn’t use force, they used deadly, unfathomable force; they didn’t have a tank as back-up, they had a 120mm M256A1 smoothbore gun of the Abrams death machine at their disposal. You get the gist. To summarise, and very much in alignment with one of the key tenets from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuc&, make less excuses, take responsibility. Could I have taken that snake on with my bare hands? Probably. Would I have lived? Unlikely, unless it wasted all its energy biting my blancmange butt.
Feeling I needed even more grit, I started and then finished Grit, a book very much in the line of Malcom Gladwell, in which Dr Angela Duckworth investigating the power and passion of perseverance i.e. why some people have grit and some don’t, and what it takes to be an elite athlete, leader, expert etc. I’m now 109% grit. You can use me on roads for winter. My buoyancy will now be tested with the dystopian, uplifting New York Times Best Seller They Both Die at the End. Will carefully check the plot for motorcycles, wallabies and snakes.
Back when men were men and ‘feeling presence’ was something Darth Vader did at Christmas, I never gave much time to mindfulness. It feels contrived even now, a step away from renouncing alcohol and travelling the world like a hobo ( . . . oh right). Yet for 3 months I’ve meditated almost every day, finding it a peaceful way to wake up before the internet barges through my door. I actually feel a bit discombobulated if I don’t, a little out of kilter. This week, the Treasury of Mindfulness, on top of Jay Shetty’s Buddhist filled Think like a Monk, talks about ‘being present’.
The authors suggest to start with slow breathing, and then begin to test the senses: note five things that you see, even transient things like children playing football in the park or sunlight dappling through trees; note four things you can feel, such as wind’s caress or t-shirt on your body (if you’re into that wearing clothes stuff); note three things you can hear, such as chirping birds; two things you can smell such as a passing woman’s perfume (don’t get weird about) or someone’s cooking; and finally whatever you can taste. I’ve tried this even cleaning my teeth, and I immediately take a breath and slow down.
As for meditation, here’s my process: first I slaughter a calf. Ok not really. Positioning myself comfortably on the couch, I start with three or four deep, slow breaths, letting thoughts flutter in and out. After several minutes the brain calms a bit, and I gradually visualise a sunrise, full and bright, breaking through dark clouds to provide a spectacular warm white light. I think the brightness may be a remnant from Wim Hof (along with the cold showers), but I feel thoroughly refreshed afterwards, like I’ve just had a spring clean in my brain. As with anything, it takes practice. Sometimes I can focus on the blinding light and feel ethereal, and sometimes it never arrives. Either way, I then stretch a little, make some tea and gradually let the world in.
Sensing my oneness (pah!) and contemplating retiring to Nepal as the whitest yogi of them all, I then haphazardly picked up Extreme Ownership by a couple of US Navy Seals. I felt like I’d opened the front door after a peaceful moonlight walk to see a terrifying werewolf raiding the fridge. I slowly backed away, turned the audiobook off and will try again later. My delicate oneness needs more time; The Force just isn’t there yet.
It’s not what you know, they said, it’s who you know. Well . . . ! In Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent Talking to Strangers, he uncovers we are rubbish at truly knowing others. Gladwell starts with relating the numerous Cuban double-agents embedded in the CIA, of which there are tonnes. And we’re not just talking in the 60’s, we’re talking at the turn of the millennium. On their eventual uncovering, colleagues and even family are stunned. These artisans of lies duped them all. For sometimes decades. The problem, it seems, is with us. We’re deluded.
We have a view that we, personally, are complex. We, after all, are different. We’re elusive. We’re an enigma wrapped up in a Rubik’s cube encased in the same tricksy plastic that scissors are packaged in. Everyone else? Oh, they’re simple, far easier to work out. How many times have we run our eyes over a person’s shoes, shorts, trousers, skirt, t-shirt, jumper, jacket or hat and thought a) they look pretty warm in all that! b) ahh I see, they’re this type of person, not realising we’re wearing exactly the same thing. This is called the illusion of asymmetric insight. In other, smaller words, we think we know more about other people than they do about us.
This is the second book of Gladwell’s that I’m enjoying this week, his break-out Outliers, examining the factors that contribute to high levels of success, is fantastic. Unfortunately, this is running in parallel with the Mark Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu** which can be summarised through a) sweary book-titles sell millions b) we give a fu** about the wrong things c) we should question ourselves more - what we think is true today may not be true tomorrow. Ruminating on the famous Greek aphorism at Delphi, ‘know thyself’, this seems only applicable in its immediacy. It should be, ‘know thyself now . . . and now . . . and how about now?’
When combining both tomes of Gladwell and Manson, it leads to the conclusion that not only do we not know ourselves, we don’t know anyone else either! And you thought the biggest challenge today was purely it being a Monday, and now you don’t even know who you or anyone else is. If anyone would like to join me in writing my third book, ‘who the fu**ing fu** is that f**?’ you’ll be most welcome.
Well, that was odd. I received all the experience of losing a job – the surprise, the reasoning, the acceptance, the wishing everyone a slow and painful death etc – only then to retain it at the last as the company withdrew their redundancy offer. Need to help the company achieve targets etc. I was effectively made, as my friend and uncle chimed, dundant. And who the hell wants to be dundant?
Other things I appear to have gained is more face. Although in fairness, I don’t think it’s happened just this week. In my aging state, which is a good a place to be as any when confronted with the alternative, the moisturiser (modern man, you see) seems to spend more time outside the cupboard than the hair wax. More face, less hair. Which, when you have a face as pretty as mine, isn’t such a bad thing, right? I know I’ve mentioned before how much of a positive person I am, even I didn’t realise I was quite that positive. When does positivity and delusion collide, I wonder?
I’ve been churning through a few things this week, Dr Chatarjee’s Feel Better in 5 Minutes about gentle exercises to improve mind and body (great for those with little will-power) and more interestingly The Art of Resilience - Strategies for an Unbreakable Mind and Body by Ross Edgley. There’s a common saying within start-up companies that every overnight success is ten years in the making, and Ross is the embodiment of that. Ross travelled the world meeting far-flung tribes to understand stress and endurance, before setting himself the challenge of circumnavigating 1,780 miles of Great Britain by water without anything but his body, willpower and vast amounts of cake. Let’s say it all didn’t go swimmingly (arf!), but he writes engagingly and has one hell of a story to tell. An incredible read.
I’ve spent the weekend up in the bush again, enjoying the peaceful surrounds of country victory. This morning I thought I’d take in the quiet solitude with a cup of tea and a tranquil sunrise, for all the world believing I was the last human. But then that’s the problem with the wild, it’s packed full of wildlife. With the creeping light came the shrieking of the galahs and cockatoo’s, the swooping yet shy rosellas (twats), the squawking magpies, the crowing . . . ermm, crows, a sodding cacophony of birdsong. The gall!! F‘sake! I am trying to enjoy nature, here!
I sat in a café, drinking tea. No phone. No book. No newspaper. Just me, and tea. You know, like a psychopath. Everyone else was on their phone: the constantly moving waiter with incredible spatial awareness; the two friends sharing a bottle of pop; the lady sipping champagne; even the two walk-ins that strategically climbed into opposite corners of the café to obey COVID distance laws. A world of constant distraction. I chatted to some passing neighbours when Italian tennis player Fognini, apparently staying in the apartment block, whistled on by with his entourage. We wished him good luck, and clearly it worked as he trounced some witless Magoo three-zip. Should have kept my luck, wishing it away freely like that. Could have been a damned winning lottery ticket!
Those times without distraction seem so rare: when walking I generally listen to an audiobook or talk on the phone; when I go to the gym or go running, I’m listening to heavy music, grimacing and growling at myself to get a fu**ing move on, made much harder if a track skips from a raucous Alter Bridge number to James Blunt. More grimacing. Even when working I’ll often listen to music. Perhaps that’s why my quiet morning meditation is fast becoming one of my favourite things. Without television, radio, Netflix or video games (are they still called video games?), lockdowns are interesting affairs. I didn’t need another five-day lockdown leaping out of the blue, and nor, I imagine, did anyone else. Then again, how would I know? Maybe there’s an entire Netflix series on people hiding in houses, refusing to acknowledge reality, then voting in the Senate.
Before jumping into another job at the end of March, I’m enjoying the world of possibilities flitting through my little brain. I welcome suggestions! Rachael O’Meara book, Pause, mentioned a course on Emotional Intelligence for Transformational Leadership and Coaching. God know what it all means, but it sounds good. Another avenue may be writing a book on Leadership. I mean, Christ, I’ve worked in global corporations for twenty years, I’ve drank in over sixty books on philosophy, resilience and self-improvement, some of it must have sunk in. This thought, by the way, came on Friday, probably during that cup of tea. I don’t know what they put in that stuff, kerrist! This is why you should always distract yourself, no good ideas come from spending time thinking! Distractions, distractions, distractions, that’s the way to live!
Thank you for your love and kindness, happy valentine’s day to you. May your day be filled with cheese! xx
I did say I’d be losing a lot this year: my company just made me redundant. On the plus side, I’m a 31-inch waist size for the first time in . . . erm, let’s say forever. I celebrated by buying a new pair of jeans, and I liked them so much I became giddy, buying a second pair exactly the same. Am now locked in!* The weekend has started well though: Friday night at the gym; up early Saturday for an 18km hike around the Macedon Ranges with two friends, completing 28,000 steps (and two falls on my ass) in five hours. I am now a broken man, hobbling around the flat nursing a sizeable blister, trying to avoid the sultry glances of chocolates and sweets, calling me like sugary Sirens.
Usually, I try to play tennis on a Sunday but may have to give it a rest, along with walking, unless I can fashion up the ability to levitate in the coming hours. I gingerly made it to the gym though and enjoyed/endured a long morning swim, which felt like my arms were towing a dead body i.e. the legs don’t work yet. I had hoped that I could just summon someone to carry me to the pool, reminiscent of a Roman Emperor/Empress. I’m imagining my courtier, Tarquin, suggesting the odd strategically placed fig leaf to hide my blushes, where I would eventually appear as a waddling hedgerow.
Not too sure what to make of the redundancy. It came as a bit of a surprise. I have survived many rounds up until now, yet this one stung a bit. There’s a little Through the Looking Glass about it: here, we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere, you must run twice as fast as that. I have just started a timely audiobook, Pause, by Rachael O’Meara, espousing making time for introspection. Commonly authors are pulling from the same philosophical threads of Socrates, Epictetus, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius, Steve Jobs, Jeremy Bentham, Viktor Frankl, Seneca etc to provide simple advice: sleep well; meditate; exercise; eat well; never stop doing; never stop learning; support others; and give yourself a fuc*ing break on occasion. With my countless worldwide adventures, I’ve had more breaks than a prison made of KitKats. Either way, am giving myself some days to mull over my options. Whether I take the redundancy or seek employment somewhere else within the company, I know I’ll be fine. I am an eternal optimist, and things will work out for the best either way. To quote Frankl, as I think it’s officially illegal not to, what is to give light must endure burning. Oh good, a rejection for the book just popped in my gmail. Avanti!
* No seriously, can’t get them off, send help
For weeks I’ve been entering, and losing, photography competitions and getting rejected by literary agents (for the book), which is always fun. If I need to submit a thousand, then I’ll submit a thousand. I’m reminded of something from 12 Rules for Life by very funny psychologist Jordan B Peterson: “if you are disciplined, forming strong habits, and privilege the future over the present, you can change the structure of your reality in your favour”. This echoes American-philosopher Will Durant, ‘we are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit’, aligning to 7 Habits . . . by Steve Covey, Marcus Aurelius Meditations, actually everyone ever. So basically, I’m in the habit of losing this year. Yay! Will keep you updated on my failure. The literary agents are going to be like a hydra: for every rejection, I shall write to two more. Talking of rejection, I’m going to sign up to online dating. Fu**’s sake. Might stick to taking photos of snails for Instagram.
I’ve just finished Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles which I covered last time (LINK); and James Smith’s Not a Diet Book, about exercise and, well, dieting, with some self-improvement thrown in. The excellent 12 Rules for Life would be my pick of the bunch, like receiving cathartic well-intentioned advice from an old man about bringing up children, handling relationships and prioritising life’s important aspects (summary link below). Talking of which, I gently picked up the Empty Out the Negative audiobook by Joel Olsteen, which may well be two hours of an American (eeshh!) yelling about God (gahh!) being our saviour. I am an atheist but at least I’m trying to broaden my church. In my head though, every other sentence is a mix between James Bond’s Sargent J.W. Pepper, What are you? Some kinda doomsday mowwsheen, boy? and Arsenio Hall’s Coming to America character Rev Brown, There’s a God, sumaa-where! There’s a God, sumaa-where!
My favourite libation of the last fortnight is rediscovering the excellence of Socrates, the oracle of Delphi attesting that there was no other wiser: Socrates knew that he knew nothing. Towards the end of his trial, he proclaimed that “an unexamined life is not worth living”. He believed the purpose of life was to grow spiritually, and philosophically; arguing that it was important to question and “examine” your values and beliefs in order to determine if they were the correct ones. So, I believe I’m going to fail, and I’m fine with that. Coming back to Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk from a few weeks ago, instead of asking around the dinner table ‘how was your day?’ ask, ‘what did you fail at today?’ It means you’re taking risks, pushing boundaries. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some women, photos and literary agents to be rejected by. There’s a God, sumaa-where!
An excellent 12 Rules for Life summary can be found here:
Apart from HIV and COVID, it’s great to be positive. In fact, it’ll probably change your life; you may even live longer. There are commonalities with the books I read, linking global threads through time. From the Japanese island of Okinawa boasting the world’s highest life-expectancy, to American Indian Tribes and monks in Asia, from Roman Emperors to United Nation’s global statistics and research in the UK and US. Lifetimes of knowledge. I’ll be knocking on the door of 120 years old for sure! Maybe.
Nurturing friendships and family, eating light, getting enough rest (ear plugs and an eye-mask help immensely) and doing regular, moderate exercise are all part of the good health equation. Eating vegetables and fruits, cutting down meat consumption, avoiding smoking and watching your weight (watching it increase counts, right?) are widely known. Not drinking too much is the common addendum, knowing that ‘don’t drink’ would incite riots. But there are two other points which I love: stress and reason.
To quote the calming Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to long-life and happiness, ‘people that live the longest . . . face challenges with a positive outlook and are able to manage their emotions . . .a stoic attitude – serenity in the face of a setback – can also help keep you young, as it lowers anxiety and stress levels’. I try meditating every morning, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, but it does make me feel peaceful, before then stretching to gently waking up the body. The phone isn’t looked at for the first 45 minutes or so of the day. In fact, am trying to cut down ‘phone-time’ to about two hours a day. Not accessing social media platforms and starting sentences with, ‘and another fu**ing thing whilst I’m here . . .’ also helps.
Nietzsche said, ‘he who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how’. Sorry ladies and non-binaries, it’s all about he! But it’s the reason for being; the reason for your being. Viktor Frankl claimed the meaning for life was searching for your meaning for your life, with the kicker being that it doesn’t have to cover your entire life. Your meaning can change. Jay Shetty’s marvellous Think like a Monk had me constantly writing notes. They key points: meditate to calm, release the negativity and stress from your life; be grateful; treat everyone with honour, kindness and respect; serve. Regardless of outlook, these seem pretty good mantras to live by. Jay outlines finding your dharma, a concept across Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism: it is your reason for being, and a reason to serve. This can be found by answering three questions a) are you passionate about it? b) are you an expert in it? c) is it useful to others? Providing service is the direct path to a meaningful life. I’m in Frankl’s team here, still searching. Writing, travelling, reading, photography, technology and helping others seem part of it. Clearly my dharma being the ‘writing-travelling-photography-technology-helping’ niche business. WTPTH, a mantra to live by.
And in talking of honour, kindness, respect and service, this week crowns the last few days of Trump’s presidency, with vans collecting his shit as I type. It’s the only time where moving vans have moved everybody. Very emotional. Arf.
2021 will be great! Know why? Hot-cross buns in January. Sure, the COVID numbers are humungous, a rampant second strain because we needed an encore, storming of the Capitol by ANTIFA cleverly disguised as slack-jawed buck-toothed white rioters, Presidents banned from social media for being an arse-hat (four years that took, four years!) . . . but we’re one step closer to seeing hot-cross bad boys being released all year around to help my ever-more rotund belly. Swings and roundabouts, ladies and gentlemen, swings and roundabouts. Albeit reinforced swings.
With every bite of hot-cross goodness, happiness has been on my mind (you can thank Richard Layard’s Happiness). I write this brewing a pot of tea, following a run and imbibing a plant-based protein shake. I’ve earnt that hot-cross bun, goddamit! Viktor Frankl described happiness as having purpose, and that life was about finding your purpose. Bertrand Russell thought focus on self (problems, fears and failures) causes unhappiness, and that a generous outward spirit is what counted. Jeremy Bentham lectured of the predominance of pleasure over pain, and the greater good to make society happier. Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic, wrote it came from a calmness within, a mastery of self. Epicurus focused less on the external world, but trying to be happier than not: after all, only an idiot is happy all the time. More recently, William H. McRaven, the four-start US Navy Admiral believes it’s impacting your community for the better, however large that community stands. Disappointingly, bakeries and an intravenous drip to a bag of lollies seem to somewhat remiss in all these aspects. Incidentally, sugar and crack-cocaine trigger the same parts of the brain, fascinating, huh? Thanks Norman Doidge.
Happiness is tough. It’s an intangible, non-measurable, varying from person to person, as unquenchable as love. Giving yourself to something larger than yourself is probably the reason we have children, making other lives better, unless it’s a public place or a plane. But if you are surrounded by people improving other’s lives, you’ll form relationships focused on making everyone better. Quoting the Spirit Level, a rising tide lifts all boats. Or drowns Fiji, one of them.
I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions - if you feel that strongly on something, you’ll do it already. For me, it’s a continuation: drinking in literature, paradoxically knowing less the more I learn; treating my body with the respect it deserves <glumly puts down hot-cross bun, farrrkin hell!>; reducing meat intake to improve the environment; take more photos, especially of spiders as they scare me; help others if I am able; be less critical of myself and others, regardless of beliefs. Yup, Trumpians and Brexiteers, that means you too. Tottenham supporters can still fu** off though. Strong winds have bought us to this point, it’ll take courage to turn this boat around. Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul. Be compassionate, be tolerant, show love. Eat hot-cross buns, in moderation, apparently.
Writing and writing...