Happy February!

I love February. I might be slightly biased because it is my birthday month, but I think it’s a pretty great one. Sure, there is still snow on the ground (not if you live in Oman, though!), but the really dark days of winter start to evaporate, the sun comes out more and, depending on where you live, you might even start to see some signs of life returning to the garden. I hope that wherever you are, the veil of winter is lifting and you can see warm days ahead!

As one month is officially over, I thought it might be a good time to round up all the things I have done so far this year. I mentioned at the beginning of January that I didn’t make any resolutions for 2016 and, instead, I am working on doing what seems really relevant and valuable to my life at the moment. I’d like to share with you what I was able to accomplish with that approach because I am really pleased with myself and, I’ll admit, even a little bit proud.

Here we go. In January, I:
  • Got new eyeballs – It was scary, it was gross and it was the best thing I have done for myself in years. I can’t believe how instantly different my life was after the big surgery. If you are thinking about doing it, stop thinking and do it. It’s incredible.
  • Read three books – I used my new eyeballs to do some reading. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and two books by Haruki Murakami (Wild Sheep Chase and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World). I enjoyed them all too, particularly Big Magic, which helped liberate my creativity in a wonderful way.
  •  Travelled – We spent a night camping on a cliff side (spectacular) and a weekend in Dubai (not quite as spectacular, but necessary). We’ve also booked our next holiday (Sri Lanka!) and are soon to book our summer excursion to Indonesia for a diving extravaganza!
  • Wrote – For years I have said I wanted to write one post a week on my blog and every week when I’ve sat down to write I’ve felt burdened and heavy. Without that one-a-week demand hanging over me, that “have to do” pressure of sitting down to write something every week, I have written 9 posts! That is crazy to me! I wasn’t stressed and frustrated. I didn’t feel I needed to do it. I just wrote because I had things I wanted to say. It’s been lovely.
  • Met new friends – Part of the reason I have written so much is because I have thrown myself into the blog community in a truer way than in the past. I’ve found people I love to follow –Happy Fish TarotSabiscut’s Catalog, Two Brown Feet, Violet’s Veg*n e-comics, Travel-Stained – and I love catching up with them online. It’s great to meet real people who have valuable things to add to the online world and to see life through their eyes. It is because of reading about their lives and their experiences that I have been to write so much more than I ever could before. Thanks, guys!
  • Created a Morning Routine That I Love – I started to write about all the things this means to me and how I went about it but it is starting to become a post all of it’s own. It looks like I will be writing about this shortly, but in the meantime, know that this is by far the thing I am most proud of accomplishing this month and the thing that has made the biggest impact on my life, although it is probably the most mundane. Weird how that works, isn’t it?

That’s about it for January!

What about you? How did your January go? What were you able to accomplish that you are proud of? Even the smallest things are fabulous to stop and appreciate. I hope it was a good month for you!

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Just Because

I am currently working on a project that has been stirring in my periphery for years. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do it, I’ve just kept coming back to it over and over for so long, and now feels like the right time to take it on.

It’s a project that will probably bring delight only to myself and a very small handful of other very specific nerds. It is taking up hours of time every week. I am not getting paid for it. It is something that other people have done versions of already, but none the way I want to do it. No one told me I have to do it. No one is waiting for the finished product.

So why am I doing it? Just because I really want to do it.

This isn’t my first time to the Just Because rodeo. When I was making my way through the Congestion Zone project, I was constantly asked, “Why?”

There were two camps of people who wanted to know.

Some dove in with questions: why do you find it interesting, what made you want to do it,  how are you going about it, where do you walk, how do you record it, what do you see, who do you talk to, what is it like??? Tell me all the things!!

Those were the people who, although they wouldn’t necessarily want to do the same thing themselves, enjoyed experiencing it through my eyes and wanted to feel like they were there doing it with me. They were the ones who got it. They were the ones who lit up as much as I did when we talked about the process of it all, the pleasure of doing it just because it sounded fun. They were my people.

The other side of the coin were the people who just couldn’t get their head around doing something Just Because. These people jumped straight to the end result. What happens when you’re done? What will you sell? What will you make? How will you validate this project when it’s done? How will you show that it was worth your time and energy? How can you monetize this?

These people were very confused and frustrated when I couldn’t give any other reason than, “Just because. I’ve really want to for a long time.”

Had I read Big Magic before this adventure, I would have had a nice little canned response for them. A real zinger that would make me feel good about myself, that would make me feel okay about there not being a “good” reason to give them. It would have been this:

If you can’t see what I am already getting out of this, then I’ll never be able to explain it to you.

How succinct! How lovely! How liberating!

That is not at all how I replied, however.

Sadly, I totally bought into their money-driven view. I completely capitulated and let them run wild with their ideas about what I should make or should build or should sell at the end (I have developed an allergy to the word should in my life now. Be wary of it, my friends!).

Their adamance about what I should be doing with my project, their very strong opinions that I was missing the plot, that I was going to have nothing to show for myself, made me question my approach. Maybe I did need to consider the end result. Maybe I should write a book, or make a map, or make an app. Which meant I should be taking more notes along the way. And doing things differently on my walks to gather all the information I would need.

I would love to say that I stood my ground and that I was able to see through these people straight away, but I would often leave these discussions feeling really stressed out. Depending on the strength of the person’s opinion, it would knock the whole project off kilter for days, sometimes weeks. I would work myself up into a frenzy of Things I Should Be Doing and as, a result, nothing got done.

Why? Because I would start to feel trapped by all the things I should be doing. I didn’t want the project to be about the end result. It was something I was doing just for my own pleasure. I would stop walking just to avoid this inner conflict and began to mourn the loss of this project that brought me so much joy. But, thank god, when I caught myself grieving, I snapped out of it and remembered that it was, in fact, MY project and they could all fuck off.

I would strap on my shoes and walk out the door to explore the streets of London. Just because.

What I want to say to you – you friends out there who are working on projects that you are doing just because you really want to – is not to be like me and buy into this crap about projects needing to have a “purpose.”

Find a big can of fuck off and throw it in the face of anyone who tells you your project isn’t valuable because they don’t understand why you are doing it.

The people who get it, the people who get excited about it with you, who cheer for you even though they don’t really understand it, they are your people. If you don’t think you have those people (though, I can almost guarantee you do) you are still doing for you, just because you want to. And that is enough.

What will it be?

There is something I feel compelled to make. It’s been simmering in my subconscious for almost a year now.

The catch?

I’m not really sure what it is or how to go about it.

I know this: it’s a story. I woke up one day and watched the whole thing unfold in front of my eyes. It was a weird experience. But I saw it. Fully formed. There in front of me. Made. Done. Dusted. Out in the world. And I somehow knew that I was the one who made that happen.

Here’s the thing though. That’s all I know. It could be a book. It could be a short film. It could be lots of things – all of which I have absolutely no idea how to make.

The second catch?

It has no words.

Everything I see about it is illustrated. It’s all in images, no dialogue. But I am NOT an illustrator. Okay, I spent a lot of time last year practicing illustration because of this idea. I took drawing classes. I sat every day and doodled. I practiced drawing my breakfast, the view from my window, anything I saw. Still, I don’t know that my skills are up to this task.

That means I have three choices: get my skills up to the task (that could take a really long time), do it anyway even though I don’t think I have the talent, or find a collaborator, someone who does know how to illustrate and who could capture the idea in the way I saw it.

All of these things are freaky for me.

I really have no idea the best way to go about any of those. I don’t know that I will ever have the illustration style I envision for this project. I don’t know if I would be happy with it if my attempt doesn’t capture what I see in my head. And I don’t know if I trust someone else to feel the essence of the story clearly enough to draw it out.

It’s a conundrum. But I do feel really drawn to this project (pun accidental, but I’ll leave it). So I guess I don’t have much of a choice. It’s either do it or don’t do it, and the doing it will happen as it happens. I’ll just have to see where it goes and how it unfolds.

Watch this space.

Have Your Own Agenda

Ira Glass wrote something that stuck out to me. Have your own agenda.

We all want to work for ourselves. That’s the dream. But even when we are working for other people, we can still have our own agenda.

I used to do this all the time. I saw my jobs as tools that I leveraged to get the things I wanted. I got a nearly-free Bachelor’s degree from one, cheap hotels from another and all the chocolate I could eat from yet another. I always took jobs that  gave me more than a paycheck. Even my application decisions were calculated. I didn’t see any other way of doing it. If I was going to give them my time and my energy, I wanted to get things back that added to my life as a whole. Free books. Free public transport. Whatever it was, I always had an agenda. There was always an angle I was working. And why not?

Now that I am not working in a traditional way, however, I find that I am all over the map. I throw out energy hither and thither with no real reason or purpose. I have things I want to achieve, yes, but I seem to latch on to anything that promises a little bit of money in the short term and I no longer weigh big picture factors as heavily.

I haven’t had as much choice in my jobs lately, so much of it has been a matter of survival. I get that. But I realised today that even in the midst of this situation, even when I really need a job just to pay the bills and save up for the future, I still have a choice. I can still find ways to get more than a paycheck out of the jobs I am doing. And if a potential job doesn’t match my agenda, I can say no to it and use my energy more effectively, putting it into things that serve the bigger picture, not just the next paycheck.

Many Topics, One Blog

My blog often feels all over the map. I’m a traveller, an expat, half of a diving duo (hoping to open a place of our own), a doodler, a curiosity seeker and many others. Trying to fit that into a blog that makes sense, that has a sense of cohesion has been tricky for me and often the result is that I don’t write as much as I want to because it feels like there is no focus. I am reblogging this post because a) it is incredibly helpful, giving ideas for how to organise a blog like mine b) is a great reminder that it’s okay for your personality to be the focus, not a topic and c) because I don’t want to lose track of it in the future when I need reminding again. It’s a great help if you are like me and think that pretty much everything in the world is wonderfully fascinating and worth writing about!

The Daily Post

We all deal with blogger’s block sometimes. But what about the opposite, when you have dozens of things you want to blog about? Are you going to turn your audience off by blogging on a range of topics? How can you have a focused brand if your posts are all over the map?

You had your focus all along!

Some blogs take a narrow look at a particular subject, because of the blogger’s interests and goals. Others are wide-ranging reflections of their authors’ interests. If that’s you, it doesn’t mean your blog has no focus — it means the focus is, essentially, your point of view.

(Does that sound self-centered? I think about it like this: I blog not because I think the world needs Michelle’s Precious Opinions*, but because telling my stories connects me to other people in a way that makes both our lives richer.)

*They are pretty great opinions, though.

We’re drawn to blogs…

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Just Like That

Ok. This is going to sound crazy. It feels crazy. But it also feels like exactly what needs to happen.

I’m going to write a novel.

With no words.

For someone who has always relied on her words, this is kind of a strange situation. I woke up last week and watched an entire story play out in front of me. I saw every scene. I felt the whole story. But it’s all images. All snapshots. No dialogue. No description.

It’s all coming from my chest – from a feeling deep inside that I can’t describe.

I sat down this morning to doodle and my pencil carried me deep into the story, laying out the sequences, showing the emotions in each scene. I have threads. I have arcs. I have characters. I have relationships.

I have a story.

But I have no history in illustration, no background, no experience, no skills.

It’s all a bit overwhelming!

I need to make this book. I have to make this book. It’s dying to get out, to be a part of the world. And yet I am not entirely sure how to go about it. I have my sketches. I have my feelings. I can see it all. I just need to get it on paper, to refine it, to tell it like it is, with images and colors and expressions.

This is going to be an interesting journey…

An Autumn Walk

Views of the Ver Valley

On a road trip with my parents once, we stopped in Vegas for a rest. At one point, I turned to look at my dad and he was sniffing around like a hound on the hunt. When I asked what he was onto, he said, “Nothing. I’m just trying to use my sense of smell more.” I laughed at how ridiculous he looked, but I understood exactly what he meant: there’s so much going on in the world (particularly in a place like Vegas) that we tend to tune out more than we take in.

The world is probably too intense for us to be aware of everything around us at every minute, but it is nice to take a moment sometimes to purposefully experience one sensation and see just how much there is going on in that tiny world. I think of that chat with my dad frequently, and often when I am on a walk or just sitting back and watching things happen I’ll pick one sense and check out what it is experiencing at that moment. It’s a fun game to play with other people too. Chris and I have done it a couple of times when we’ve been at places we want to remember, and I can recall those scenes so well because we took some time to really experience the full picture.

This past Sunday we went for a nice walk through the countryside in Redbourn, and I played with this idea along the way. I paid attention to the sun warming my face and shoulders while autumn breezes chilled the parts of me in shadow. The soft clumps of freshly tilled earth rolling away underfoot as we cut through open fields. The sound of water slowly dripping from the edges of a mill-wheel. The smell of horses. The sound of their hooves padding down the grass. The scratchy, coarse hair I felt when I scratched one behind his ear, and the warm, soft skin of his snout when he pushed his mouth into my hand, hoping for food.

With autumn fully under way, the visual sensations alone would have been plenty to keep me occupied. I found myself zooming out to take in the whole scene (bright blue skies filled with perfectly fluffy clouds over dark brown fields dotted with the fresh growth of opportunistic grass) and zooming in to see the smallest details (bright green bugs being betrayed by their normally perfect camouflage as the leaves change colour beneath them).

It was a great day out that ended the way every countryside walk should: in a pub with a decadent roast, a fat pint of cider and a postcard to write. Continue reading

A Sense of Direction

In my last post (aka my first post), I said I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about on this blog.

That is total bollocks.

I totally know what I want to write about.

I got nervous that you as readers might not be into it, so I thought I had to change it up and to make it sound appealing somehow. Blogging lesson #1 learned: this is a place for me to talk about my passions with my voice. It might be scary to put myself out there and it might be appealing to try and emulate the voices of all the incredible bloggers who are writing already, but, terrifying as it is, this is the place where I get to share my words.

So here’s what I want to talk about:

– When I was walking around London for my most recent project, I saw a lot of parallels between the way I approached my walks and the way I *wish* I approached my life. I learned some great lessons from it that I am challenging myself to apply, and I thought perhaps those things might be helpful to share with other people. I can guarantee I will suck at accomplishing these things most of the time, but it’s all in the trying and laughing about it, right?

– I love to travel and I love to read travel blogs, but I think one essential aspect of travel gets overlooked a lot: walking. I love walking. It is the best way to get to know a place. It is the only way you can get into some areas (often the best places), and it is the best way to get a feel for the pace of wherever you are exploring. So I will definitely be talking about walking and sharing stories from the walks I go on.

– Slowness. It’s hugely important and yet it is insanely hard to find in our culture. I learned this many times over on my walks. Taking time to stop, to appreciate, to be aware, to just be, makes a remarkable difference to my outlook and resilience. Life is hard. Travel is hard. Being an expat is hard. But when I stop to look around and see that I am actually on an amazing adventure, it changes my perspective and highlights what really matters: enjoying it along the way.

And there you have it. That’s what this blog is all about for me.

Phew. That feels more like it!