I’m trying to learn, I think, what is possibly the greatest skill of middle adulthood: the mental management of the relentless flow of time. Sorry if that gave you chills. The great anxiety of leaving your twenties is that subtle shifting towards the bleakness of your own fragility, like some deity has reached down, gently grasped your shoulder and turned you about and said no more messing about. On you go.
Of course, the landscape ahead can still be strewn with the fabulous and the wonderful, and it can still seem to stretch on and endlessly on, but the difference is that you are now looking right at it, trying to seek an actual path, while always naggingly aware of the plummet at the far end. This time last year, the end of my 30th year, I felt quite a sharp sense of all this. It hadn’t helped, of course, that 2016 had been such a notoriously rough year - at least from the Western ideological bubble - even though it had been rather a top year for me personally, containing both my marriage and the start of my PhD. Nevertheless, such dizzying highs, while precious, couldn’t entirely shake this feeling of getting, if not old per se, then certainly older.
Rushing in came the usual various worries. Am I doing enough writing? Are my intellectual pursuits up to scratch? When can I find time for all this culture I’m supposed to engage in? Am I relaxed? Happy? Fulfilled? This rot of worries, while not exclusive to the modern age, certainly feels exacerbated by it, as our medias stack high with a wild proliferation of stuff; of tragedy, success, horror, wit, each adding its strand of straw to our overburdened backs.
Last year, I began to try and reclaim a hold on my own time through quiet little regular practices and, one year on, I do feel better for it. Over on Instagram, I took a picture every day throughout 2017 (although, annoyingly, I missed the 15th June for some banal reason). A simple thing to do, but it allowed me a tiny moment to lower my anchor for a minute or two each day while I snapped, filtered, tagged and pontificated, and then shared on. Looking back, I now have a clear pictorial chart of the year as it passed. It’s helped me to fix down memories a little more sharply, and take a deeper appreciation of the various achievements of the year and not worry so much about what I may or may not have missed. Turns out 2017 was a solid year. I conducted a workshop for schoolkids. I visited Berlin. I welcomed new animals into our life. I quit work and went full-time on the PhD. I saw a lot of live music. I started teaching. I started a podcast. I exercised my imagination with regular RPG. And much more besides. The Instagram pics mirrored back a life of richness and colour which I should better learn to be more fully happy with.
There were other disciplines. I also charted the year musically with 12 monthly Spotify playlists consisting of ten tracks each, populated with songs I listened to that month, with as little overlap as possible. Each month I had this gentle nagging voice in my mind telling me to seek out more music to listen to, and to broaden out my tastes a little further. The playlists are public, in case you’re interested in a bit of ear candy, and I've made a final playlist of the my very faves from each month as a kind of sampler:
Jan – Feb – Mar – Apr – May – June – July – Aug – Sept – Oct – Nov – Dec
I also spent the last three months of the year hammering away at the #100DaysofWriting challenge as prompted by fellow Prestonian and lovely writer person, Jenn Ashworth. From early Sept to mid- December, I wrote at least something on the PhD novel every single day. Some days it was brutally hard; a tiny, barely decipherable sentence or two etched on a scrap of paper, just on the cusp of bedtime. Some days it was bliss; a gushing of glittering words pooling into reams of pages, chock full of delights and surprises. It worked wonders for the work in progress, rocketing me on from an uneasy mid-point, through a rollicking section of adventure and action, to an uneasy ending. I also seemed to finally grasp a proper sense of the wholeness of the thing, which I had been sorely lacking. It’s far from ready yet, as ever, but one hundred days of writing solitude have certainly helped. Unlike writer pal Simon Sylvester who is ploughing on towards 200, I was glad to stop at the end of the challenge and let the novel rest for the festivities of Xmas. I’m letting it marinade for a month or so, then I’ll be back at it for a final push towards a full draft. Exciting times.
Beyond the novel, it was a bit of a fallow year for my other bits of writing. Fewer live performances and a struggle on the short story front. The few I did manage to finish racked up a heck load of rejections between them and are now languishing in the desert of uncertainty. In the last couple of months, I enjoyed a minor trio of successes – a short piece in the lovely Ghostland Zine, inclusion in the fantastic first volume of The Shadow Booth, and a story performed as part of the Arachne Press Dusk Solstice festival (check out the video of it here). So the year wasn’t entirely barren for short fiction, although the crops are sparse. The payoff is progress on the novel, the big old hoary oak in the corner, but I feel I need to up my game for short stories in 2018, if it can be managed.
And so, to this year. 2017 taught me that I could quietly get on with my own personal disciplines and, as long as they gave me some sort of pleasure and gratification, I could stick to them pretty rigorously. So, I’ve taken that approach to the first week of ’18. I’ve demoted Facebook off the front page of my phone and replaced it with a Daily Word app (today’s is Chelonian – of or relating to being a turtle or tortoise), a Daily Art app (today’s is The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting a Portrait by Jeanna Bauck) and, most crucially, a proper writer’s note-taking app for quick story ideas on the go. I’ve long told myself I should always walk around with a pen and notebook, but that’s a habit I’ve never quite been able to crack into - but I always have my phone. I’ve picked it up every day so far and noted something down and new little fictions are already starting to form.
I’ve also got myself a Legend of Zelda wall calendar on which I will be recording every book I finish, every film I watch, every game I complete throughout the year. Not in an effort to chase some arbitrary total, more just to maintain a record. I’m intrigued to know how much culture I consume in these areas in the span of one year, but I’ll not let myself worry if its too little or too much. It will just be.
Time catches up, catches us out, but that's its pleasure, that's its trick. All we have to do is learn to indulge it and let it have its fun, and when it hits a significant date we can either freak out or let it in for a quick drink, before sending it on its way. I’ve never been much of a one for New Year’s resolutions because they always come with an air of failure around them – admitting failure of the previous year, or anticipating it in the near future. Instead, I try to treat the turn of the year as a moment to reflect and refresh, a time to confront, admire and dismiss the raging torrent of time and everything it washes along in its rapids. Knowing, perhaps, that for every quick current there is always a calm, still pool not too far away.