Another Year Bites the Dust

It seems crazy, to be back here again – at the start of January, having welcomed the start of a new year at the beginning of the week. I’ve never really liked the atmosphere around January, something I discussed this time last year, with how we try so hard to cleanse ourselves of the year before that it makes us almost miserable. The constant dieting, the determined weeks of sticking to resolutions with the knowledge that it won’t last. I always felt a sense of defeat whenever I tried to set resolutions in the past, because I knew they wouldn’t come to fruition. I’ve thought of saying I’ll exercise more, that I’ll be healthier, that I won’t eat as much sugar, and every year I last a good month before binging in whatever way I had tried to restrict myself.

But what if I don’t want to cleanse myself of the year before? What if I don’t want a new start, and am happy that I’m in the middle of my journey? I don’t want to wash my hands of 2017, or the year before that, and the year before that, and so on. Each of those years has brought me to where I am now, and I can say with hand on heart that I couldn’t be happier with where I currently am.

Of course, it hasn’t always been like that, and I’m so incredibly lucky to be where I am now. Still, despite all of this talk of hating resolutions, I still like to set goals and markers – albeit, very vague ones that are more like a continuing goal that doesn’t really have an end goal.

Maybe I should stop this rambling, and get down to the nitty gritty of it.

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Last year I set myself three goals. They were to prioritise self care, to speak up and not sit quiet, and to ‘get out there’. The first was meant to be my take on the January Cleanse, but a more long-term effort. Like with all of these resolutions, I don’t have a plain ‘I succeeded’ or ‘I failed’ answer. I definitely improved on my self-care, that’s for certain, but there’s still a long way to go. I think I want to work even more on it, to set aside dedicated times of self-care instead of doing bits every now and then. I think it would be good to have one evening set aside to just pamper and relax, be that running a bath and luxuriating in bubbles or just climbing into bed and reading with a cup of tea and biscuits.

This leads to my first goal/resolution/whatever you want to call it, which is to be more self aware of my mental state. I’m so incredibly lucky and privileged not to suffer from a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean that I can mistreat my mental health like one would mistreat a body. I need to be more aware of when I’m in a low moment and feeling a lot of anxiety, and make an effort to combat that. Instead of feeling so low and depressed that it’s like I’m sinking, I need to get up and do something to help myself. The latter half of 2017 was filled with rejections for me, from jobs to love to plans that I had been looking forward to, and each rejection was like another blow to knock me down. I struggled a lot to stay positive and to pick myself up each time, but looking back I know that there were things I should have done. Instead of wallowing and wasting days to sadness, I should have tried some of that self care stuff I yammered on about. I should have gone out, tried to walk and breathe in fresh air, even go shopping for books or clothes or lush products (my current obsession). So that’s my first goal for this year: to look after my mental health.

For the second goal of to not sit quiet and speak up, I’m really not sure how to answer how I did. I definitely opened up more to my close friends about I felt, but I suppose a more accurate goal would be not to be so concerned with the thoughts of others. To just be, and not overthink how others see me – to not try to change myself to please someone else. I definitely learned how important that was in 2017; that it didn’t matter what other people thought, and really it’s down to me to decide how to act and live. Whether it’s on what other people think you should do with your career, or what they think about the people you surround yourself with – the important thing is to make sure that you’re happy, because the thoughts of strangers and of those you don’t care about really don’t matter.  So my second long goal of 2018 is to continue that – to work on what makes me happy.

The third goal was to ‘get out there’. I interpreted that vague cliche as pursuing my career-centred goals, from writing more to getting ahead in publishing. Well, I can say that this was successful. In terms of writing, I once more participated in NaNoWriMo and won, and in terms of publishing I not only made more contacts which led to some work experience in a large publishing house, but I also got a job in a large publishing house – and not just any job, but my dream job in my dream department. Yes, I’ve been successful, and the end of 2017 was like a dream come true for me.

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So my third goal for 2018 is less of a goal, and more of a mantra – and that is to keep going. Keep striving forwards, keep trying my best to be the best I can be, and don’t let that determination to move forwards settle. I want to maintain that drive and motivation to just keep going.

So that’s me for 2018. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be this time next year, but I definitely have some ideas and dreams of where I’d like to be next year. So, whether you’re the kind of person who loves those pesky resolutions or whether you’re more like me and prefer more open-ended goals (the vaguer the better), I wish you all the luck for 2018.

Let’s smash it.

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December Blues

It’s always this time of the year when I, and I’m sure most of the population, get reflective. The strand days of limbo in between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, where we cling onto the end of one year whilst anticipating the start of a new one. For me, 2017 has been pretty crazy, with ups and downs alike – but, dare I say it, maybe a few more ups. I’ve had my final year of university, I graduated, I turned 21, successfully got through university whilst having a part-time job on the side, and at the end of the year I started a new job, which just happened to be my dream job.

I set myself a lot of goals for 2017, from reading and writing to university and other life achievements. In January I tried to set myself more personal goals; goals that were more internally focussed, concentrating on mental wellbeing. More specifically, how I think of and how I view myself, which ties in with my ‘On Being Happy’ series. With starting a new job, and especially with the festive season of parties and social atmospheres, it is something that is at the forefront of my mind.

I’ve spoken in the past about my ‘eternal anxiety of being liked’, and I think that’s something that I’m still dealing with every day. Of course, it wasn’t going to disappear after I blogged about it, and a part of me tries to keep things fresh here and not rehash old topics, but it’s an important one for me – which of course means that I feel like I should talk about it more. I constantly worry about whether people like me, often changing parts of my outward personality to fit the scenario and appeal to that audience. There’s always been a voice in my head that tells me that at my core I’m not likeable, which as a statement for anyone isn’t true at all, but nevertheless it’s a voice that stays within me. It’s like I’m trying to convince people that they can like me, and I worry that they will then discover they don’t actually like me. It so means that with a large portion of my friends I’m never able to be completely vulnerable, probably due to the fear that if I showed every part of me, they would turn me away.

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Again, I’m well aware that they would never, but it’s still something that plagues my mind. And this fear always surges up at this time of the year. Instead of a festive, jolly post, I thought it important to voice the fears and anxieties that plague my mind, in the hope that if anyone else has the same concerns, it might be of some comfort.

And so as we approach 2018, I once more try to make that goal to improve how my mind works – if such a thing can be achieved. It’s far easier to turn to the negative than the positive, and whilst it isn’t something that will be achieved in a day, week, month or even year, it’s something that I want to continue to work on.

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NanoWriMo ‘Wrap Up’

So. I won.

Yes, you heard me, I actually ‘won’ NaNoWriMo and managed to write 50,000 words in a single month. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, please check out my previous posts including this one here.

I first participated in NaNo two years ago, in which I reached 30k words (something I was very proud about). I started off really strong and kept to the word count every day, but it tapered off halfway through the month. After stressing out last year with dissertation and various essays, I decided to skip out doing NaNo and instead just tried to write a little more in that month. Ever since I’ve been itching to do it again, needing that extra drive and excuse to write write write. So, this year, I started off NaNo in high spirits with twitching fingers reading to write like I was running out of time (which I was) Hamilton style.

Like two years ago, I started out very strong and stuck to my word count, even going above it on some days. Feeling pretty smug about it, I was rather chuffed with how it was all working out. Instead of reading on the tube, I’d be typing away on my phone. On my breaks at work, I’d jot down some ideas, and my time at home was spent writing away. It’s very freeing writing for NaNo, knowing that it doesn’t matter whether it’s perfect or not, you just write as much as you can every single day. I know the vast majority of what I wrote will need serious editing, but I equally know that there are a few gems there. It helped me work out the plot of a story I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a year, and it’s the first time I’ve found that I didn’t need to forcibly stretch my plot to reach 50k. Instead, I feel like I’m only two thirds of the way through the book, and think it could easily reach 70,000 or even 80,000 words if I put my mind to it.

I talk a little about the benefits of NaNo over on my reading blog (which you can read here), mainly about how I’d been in such a reading slump and the break from reading meant that I felt revitalised when I could finally go back to it. NaNo showed me that it’s not about finding time to do something you love, but making time – something which I now know I can do, and really there are no excuses.

About mid-November, I was thrown way off track with NaNo due to some exciting things going on in my work life, which has resulted in me getting a new job! All very exciting, but it meant that on my day off I wrote something crazy like 5000 words just to get back on track.

Towards the end of November, I managed to keep up and even keep ahead at times, until finally on the last day I reached that elusive 50k, and couldn’t have felt prouder of myself. It was a great goal that I didn’t for a second think I’d reach, which only made the win even sweeter.

So even though I know what I wrote is mostly tripe, and may never see the light of day outside of my computer, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

NaNoWriMo Midway Update

Up until a few days ago, I have been right on track with writing for NaNo (National Novel Writing Month, see here for more details). Unfortunately the last few days have been unbelievably hectic, so whilst I have been writing everyday I have fallen a bit behind with the goal of hitting 1167 words every day. Still, I think I’ve been doing pretty damn well (especially compared to the first time I took on the challenge a couple of years ago), and currently my word count is at 24,000 words. To be ‘on track’ I would have to be at 28,333 words, something which I don’t think will happen today.

NaNo is such an interesting challenge to be taking part in, because part of me is itching to go back over everything – checking names, small information, edit sentences, craft a few beautiful similes I’ve thought of – but that’s not in the spirit of NaNo. It’s difficult to remind yourself that this isn’t about being perfect, because at least for me I want to just go over it again and again to fix things I think read badly or don’t work. Then I remind myself that you’re not meant to stress over these things, and really it’s far better to save your stress for your word count.

It’s amazing really, how much you can do when you change your priorities, as usually in my spare time I’m dedicated fully to reading. As I’m participating in NaNo this month, my reading for this month has been so terrible I can’t even think about it without feeling guilty and slightly sad. Every spare moment has been filled with writing, and whereas I spent a lot of my time on the tube or waiting around or on my lunch breaks reading, now I’ve had my phone out typing away. Whilst in a normal scenario I’d rather read on the tube and save writing for sitting at home with my computer and a cup of tea, it’s been fun to try it out this month.

And that’s my mid-way update for NaNo 2017. A little bit behind, but still enjoying it and having fun with the story.

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Is this the real life?

There are sometimes moments where I think to myself ‘this only ever happens in movies’. Of course there are great moments in life – incredible holidays, brilliant friendships, fun romances – but the big moments? No. They’re few and far between, but they do come around every now and then – and when they do, they always throw me off-guard and leave me questioning whether or not this is the real life (or if it’s just fantasy).

Queen really knew what they were talking about.

In my life, I can think of four big moments where I’ve thought ‘is this really happening’, where it seems like my perspective shifts to above and I’m looking down at myself, blinking as if I’m staring at what’s occurring on a television screen rather than experiencing it myself. One of these moments happened today.

Of each of my four mad experiences, two are about my dog (go figure) – the first of which, if we’re going chronologically, is when I first got Pete, our older dog (who now has a companion in the rescue dog Minnie). My parents had kept Pete as a secret, and when we drove to pick him up I was under the assumption that we were picking up a leather jacket, which was to be my big Christmas present. Then we pulled up outside a kennels, I was led in and a puppy was dumped into my arms. I was in shock for a good few days after that.

The second moment, again with Pete, was when I was recovering from having my gallbladder removed at home. My Mum was upstairs and I downstairs resting on the sofa, when I needed to go to the bathroom. I managed to make my way there, but feeling woozy and disorientated I collapsed to the floor and cried out. Luckily my Dad was downstairs, so he heard me calling out after a few minutes. Yet Pete went upstairs and stood in the doorway to my parent’s room, and after refusing to come to my Mum’s beckoning, she went toward him to investigate. He headed straight downstairs, to which she followed to find me – just as my Dad had got me off the ground. Whilst you could easily argue that Pete had no idea what was going on, it definitely felt like a movie moment with him literally fetching my Mum when I needed her.

The next moment, which was to be expected, was when I graduated. The surreal 8 seconds I spent walking across the stage and shaking the hand of the Dean of the university felt stretched out, and I remember every moment of it very clearly.

Which brings us to today. I had sat down to write a blog post (this one, actually) about my Grandma. She passed away July last year, and in a few days time we are spreading her ashes. I had wanted to write about her, as she had been on my mind a lot recently, about her positivity and spirit and overall personality, how close we had been, when I remembered something I’d written on my old computer – one I hadn’t removed from its case since before she passed away. I went to get it, only to hear something clink, and turning the case upside down the ring she gave me fell out.

You see, she’d left me one of her rings after she died, which I of course cherished and adored. I had never wanted to speak about it online because I didn’t want certain members of my family to discover and be upset or disappointed or angry, but in February of this year it went missing. I had left the flat in the cold weather, but as I went to answer my phone I took off my glove. I had been certain the ring had been on my finger when I left, but after the phone call I realised it was gone. Rushing back, I ran up and down the pavement searching to no avail. My best friend came to look with me and we teared apart my room, still to no luck – this was a ring I had worn every single day since my Grandma had died, and the only time I took it off was to shower.

Yet if I had taken it off I would have left it on my desk – but between then and now, it had somehow made it’s way into the closed drawer of my wardrobe and into the sealed laptop case.

Many people will scoff with disbelief, but for me today it felt like an incredible movie moment – so much so that I called my Mum and cried on the phone whilst laughing. It felt like my Grandma was there, wanting me to have her ring for when we spread her ashes in a few days time. It’s crazy, it’s unbelievable, but that’s what happened.

I’m sure we could try and think of some kind of explanation, but for me it felt like my Grandma had been watching over me, and after a particularly awful week, this was something I needed desperately. So whether it’s something as universal as graduating, as classically cute as a getting a puppy, as touching as a dog looking after you, or as unbelievable as discovering a ring you’d thought you lost on the streets of Lambeth – these moments happen. I treasure each of them and will do for the rest of my life, and I can only hope that there are more to come.

NaNoWriMo 2017

Let’s do this.

I am officially participating in NaNoWriMo 2017 – which, for those of you who don’t know, is National Novel Writing Month where many attempt to write a novel in the month of November. The main goal is to hit 50k words, and whilst I have never ‘won’, my goal is always to write as much as I can and just have fun.

I have only participated once before, back in 2015, as last year I decided not to stress myself with hitting that word target every day and instead focus on my dissertation and final year of university. All month – heck, all year I have been so grumpy that I couldn’t join in last year, so I’ve been so excited for November 2017 to roll around.

I made a post about my experience in 2015 (click here to see), but I think there are several reasons why I’m so excited to participate again. Firstly, NaNo gets you into the routine of making time for writing every single day. I always say how much I want to be a writer one day, but I never manage to ‘find the time’ to knuckle down and write. NaNo teaches you to make that time, whether that’s only five minutes before you head to work or during your commute or just before you go to bed, you get into the habit of making that time.

Secondly, NaNo isn’t about creating a masterpiece. It’s simply about hitting that word target, hitting those 50k words, so of course it’s a very very rough first draft of a novel. It’s not about editing or musing over sentence structure, it’s about typing away at that keyboard and doing your upmost best to hit that goal. That in itself is so freeing – you don’t worry about whether your work is any good or that it doesn’t flow right. All you have to do is type type type, and worry about editing later.

There are several other things I’ve got going on next month (one of them may or may not be Sims 4 Cats and Dogs stop judging me), but I’m determined to throw myself into NaNo and have fun. So let me know if you’re participating, and definitely add me as a writing buddy – my name is Stammydodger, and no, don’t ask.

Interval

I’ve been struggling to find inspiration for blogs recently, mainly due to tiredness and, currently, an irritating cold. After work every day my main desire is to eat some food, read a little, then go straight to bed. I’m at a stage in my life where I feel like I’m doing nothing and everything, which makes no sense whatsoever. It feels like I’m in an interval of a play, where I’ve just had an incredible first act and am preparing for the second, which hasn’t started yet. I’m stuck in this interval, and don’t really know how to get out of it – or when the next part is going to start.

Being a bookseller is something that I love; being able to say that I recommend people books for a living, that I can spend my time creating beautiful displays of books and on my breaks I discuss what I’m reading with my colleagues. And my colleagues are all complete angels, and over the past couple of years they’ve truly become my second family. I get on with everyone, and always feel happy around them – what more can you really want? But at the same time, there are downfalls to the job because, at the end of the day, it is working in retail which means customers who are nasty as well as nice. A nice customer can make your day, but it’s the nasty ones that stick to you. Ask me for an example of a nice customer and I could give you several, but ask about the nasty ones? I could write books on those people and never run out of inspiration.

Whether it’s being angry about the 5p plastic bag charge or about the state of the world, people throw their anger around in retail. I’ve had customers scream at me, shout, wail and every time I feel it chip away at my positivity. Some of the time it’s because we’ve failed in some way – an order hasn’t arrived, a purchase has been muddled up – but a lot of the time it’s on things I cannot control. I struggle not to get upset when someone decides that it’s my fault specifically that we don’t stock a certain item, or because they’ve come to the wrong store. When you have someone shouting at you and, quite often, insulting you, it takes a lot to stand there with a patient smile and apologise regardless.

99% of the time, I adore my job. It’s a great company, fun work, and brilliant people – a lot of whom have become some of my closest friends. But that 1% can really deal a heavy blow, and on days when I’m tired, full of cold, and lacking a will to do anything at all, I can only think about that 1%. How could I have avoided that confrontational man who insinuated that I contributed nothing to the company by not having paper bags? Was it truly my fault when a woman demanded I make her bags lighter, only to then complain that I under packed them on purpose?

I know that the answer is to not focus on the bad, and my efforts to fill my spare moments with friends and fun has helped a great deal, but for today I just want to sit, sleep, read, and not have to think about the 1%. There are days where I hate having an interval and want to go forward to something exciting and non-stop, but for now I need this interval – I need a break, a moment, peace.

And then I read back what I have written, and lose track of what it is that I’m trying to say. My mind jumps from one thing to the next, going back and forth on ideas and changing what I had thought was solid and secure. I suppose this is what tiredness and illness does to me, but for today this is all I can offer.