Hands off my hobby!

Audio recording of blog (please excuse the word fudging towards the end!)

It’s a weird time right now, isn’t it? Globally, it feels like the winds are changing, so we’d best remember not to pull a face, lest it get stuck that way.

With the vaccine rollout steaming ahead, society is waking from its government-enforced hibernation and venturing back out into the shops and pubs world with equal parts hope and trepidation. I’m in simultaneous fight and flight mode, and I very much doubt I’m special in that respect.

Like lots of others, I’ve used the locked-in freakiness of the last 12 plus months to revisit a hobby. I love to write (gasp!) but imagined time constraints and my inner dictator/perfectionist/cranky old lady (I call her Betty) likes to snuff out any little sparks of motivation with her orthopaedic shoes.

Fortunately, the dress code for lockdown is slippers and loungewear – pet hair encouraged but not compulsory. All must leave their metaphorical creativity squashing shoes at the door.

From March 2020, I saw an opportunity to throw myself into no-pressure writing as my weekend plans dissolved, along with my commute. I started by joining the lovely, judgement-free Writing for Fun and Sanity community (Eventbrite link here if you’re curious). We scribbly sous meet most Saturdays online to be led through a handful of thought-provoking exercises by author and beacon of positivity Marianne Power.

I also took it upon myself to follow the 12-week programme in creativity bible The Artists Way and thoroughly enjoyed its hippy-dippy approach to pen wielding (the book covers all kinds of creative expression, not just writing). I also read and reread a tonne of ‘writers on writing’- type books. My favourites so far are:

  • Bird by bird – Anne Lamott
  • Writing down the bones – Natalie Goldberg
  • Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
  • On Writing – Stephen King
  • Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury
  • And, of course, The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

As devastating as this crappy pandemic has been, one twinkle of silver lining for me was this being able to reconnect with an activity that gives me joy for its own sake, and if Facebook is to be believed, there’s a small army of bakers, gardeners, painters, sketchers, linguists, and guitarists, you name it, who have felt the same way.

So, I wonder, has the recent change of course back towards ‘normality’ (I’m starting to hate that word) awoken the kraken named ‘Should’ for you too? My sense of play over the last year has produced a gothic horror novella and a clutch of odd-but-endearing short stories. But now, Betty is stressed again. My dictator brain is telling me that now these things exist, I should send them off to some agency/magazine/publisher or another in a bid to make money, because why ‘waste’ all that time if cash and recognition aren’t the result?

While I won’t deny that money is useful, and recognition feels great, it does frustrate me that these things seem to be the ultimate end goal for all human endeavour. I’ve been guilty in the past of telling others who are bossing their pastimes that they should start a cake making business, sell their art to others, make a side hustle of their hobby!

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing so, it should be a personal choice, entered into because it’s what you genuinely want. The popular idea that to be worthy, your efforts must bear financial fruit makes me want to hide in a cupboard. Bloody capitalism. Grumble, grumble.

As I write this, I’m unsure what, if anything, I’ll do with the modest mound of fiction I’ve collected. I do enjoy sharing what I’ve done – it feels like a natural part of the process. I’m the same obnoxious child who got her kicks from having her doodles displayed on the fridge – I’m just fractionally taller and slightly more obliged to pretend I know what I’m doing.

Maybe I’ll stick the stories up for a few pence on Kindle or figure out how to host them for free for download on this site. Maybe I’ll print them off and demand that Mum digs the magnets out and sticks into her kitchen appliances. Or I could just keep them in the Word documents they live in and enjoy looking at the files from time to time to remind myself that “Look! I did that!”

I don’t know.

I think my point here is that just because the beast we call society, with its love of productivity and tangible, sellable results is reawakening, we don’t have to offer up all our wonderful messy, artsy stuff to appease it, to prove that we’ve been productive while it was sleeping, honest. The fruits of our play are ours alone to do what the hell we want to with. Or even nothing at all.   

Getting in the Habit

Disclaimer: not a fun, punny post involving nuns. Telling you up front to save you time if you came for nun content. Apologies.

Ok, so I wasn’t planning on writing anything this evening, let alone blogging, but following my first (socially distanced) spin class in what feels like 300 years, I feel like this:

No, it wasn’t raining. It was indoors and I’m just that sweaty. Hot in every sense of the word, I know.

Clearly, the exertion has knocked some reserve of manic energy loose that I didn’t know I had and now I need to do something with it. Also, you’d look like this too if you’d been pedaling like a demon to bangers like Proud Mary for the last 45 minutes. Don’t judge.

To give you some sort of context, I didn’t plan on doing much after the class because I’ve been a bit knackered. Combo of:

  • Starting a new jobbo! This week, I’ve been constantly bowled over by how much genuine passion everyone I’m meeting has for their work and how lovely they all are. Remotely taking in lots of new information, names and faces over Skype all day has left me behaving like a cranky toddler come the evenings. All I’ve wanted has dinner and a snooze. Also sweets.
  • The weather. Always a trending topic in Britain, but more so this week, as the UK appears to have floated up into space and relocated to the surface of the sun while we weren’t looking. I don’t think I’ve slept for more than an hour at a time between waking up, cursing the useless open window and trying to smother myself back to unconsciousness with my pillow. It’s made for some pretty impressive storms, though; The weather, not my cursing. I’m not that powerful.
  • Stupid book. Last week, I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. I had a little breather in between leaving my last job and starting in my new role and decided to fill the time with as much fun stuff as I could.

    Anyone who knows me knows that “fun stuff” for me involves learning about human psychology and then trying to psycholog…erise (?) myself as a result. The book is great, and I’d highly recommend it. It teaches you the main ways that habits are formed and how you can make or break habits of your choosing.

    What it doesn’t advise you to do is attempt to implement ALL of the habits at once. Here is a list of some of the things I’ve decided I’m going to be doing every day since reading it:
    • Learn Portuguese via Duolingo.
    • Write every day. I’m writing the first draft of this post on a site called 750words.com, which incentivises writing 750 words daily by giving you stats and emailing you reminders to log in.
    • Working out and hitting my step goal. Generally do this anyway, seeing as all my nervous energy has to go somewhere lest I implode, but my inner narcissist fancied a humblebrag.
    • Answering at least one section of of whatever college assignment I’m in the middle of at the time.

Add this lot to the usual stuff like walk the dog, do the dishes, remember to interact with the bloke in the kitchen (I think he said his name was Andy. Seems like a nice chap – he’s been feeding me for 9 years) and sleep, I’m starting to see this might have been a slightly insane undertaking.

…Is this how people who have kids feel all the time? I don’t understand how it’s done and am both impressed with and mildly frightened of you and your time management powers.

I’m not too sure where I’m going with this post. The endorphin-fueled mania is quickly giving way to a mild stupor, so I’d better wrap this up while I can still sort-of spell.

Right. So. My grand point will be…that I am going to create a new habit to add to my list of habits!

My new habit will be to get in the habit of not doing all of the aforementioned habits every single day. Honestly, who was that helping and/or impressing? It leaves zero room for spontaneity, rest, Netflix or additional snacks, and the latter is borderline criminal. I chose to do all of those things to feel good and cater to my mental health and interests. Trust me to opt into the least healthy way of putting them into practice.

As Atomic Habits suggests, the best way to start my new habit of breaking habits is to start small. I’ll pick one thing per day that I absolutely cannot do and build from there. I think, given time, dedication and supreme effort, I will eventually win at not doing stuff. I may even be able to compete at an elite level.

I’m sure there’s a more serious message to be found here about looking after your well-being and not turning self care into self torture, but I’ll let you work that one out for yourself. I appear to be knackered again.

Off to lie in the dark and curse at the temperature some more. I hope you found this enlightening. Go forth and do nothing! Or something. But not too much, okay?

I’ve Stopped Should-ing My Pants!

Help, I’m possessed….with the urge to write a blog post!

Apologies – bit anticlimactic, but I’m excited.

It’s been nearly a whole year since I had the urge to write anything here and in September, I had a notification that my domain name was about to expire. Thinking I was blogging’s first ever Zen lady-monk, I decided it was time for www.spilledthink.com and I to part ways. I’d been struggling to think of something new to write once a month, let alone once a week as per my original intentions, so I put my precious jumble of letters back up for adoption to enable it to find a new and more deserving home.

Clearly it’s been in the domain name pound this entire time, because when I searched for it this morning, it was very much available. Maybe it has behavioral problems – bit its foster family or something. I didn’t train it very well.

Back to my original point. This morning, I opened my eyes, and since my brain is essentially a living to-do list, it booted up and immediately started thinking about what it should do today. It concluded that it wanted to blog, which isn’t an urge I’ve felt for a long time. Here’s why I decided to give up my loveable domain name that may or may not pee on the carpet last year:

Blogging had become a chore

The second I decide I’m going to do something regularly, it immediately becomes a should i.e unpaid work, and thinking about doing it stresses me out. Here are just a few great things I’ve managed to suck the fun out of at one time or another in this way:

  • Journaling
  • Writing fiction/anything else at all for fun (Brain: “You have to write for fun, or you aren’t a creative or worthy person. Now enjoy yourself or I will berate you about how awful, boring and uncreative you are for the next week!”)
  • The thought of meeting up with people I genuinely love in any way that remotely whiffs of obligation
  • Physical activity – I love moving about and picking up heavy things then putting them down again for enjoyment (I’m a simple creature), but the second I decide I have to do it for XYZ reason, I will stand in the entrance of the gym, pouting and giving the barbell a sulky side eye until I remember I don’t have to be able to lift Terry Crews to get enjoyment out of workouts.

I forgot what blogging is “for”

As a doddering elder millennial, I was around when blogging wasn’t a word yet and tonnes of angsty teens dabbled with an online diaries (Livejournal, anyone?). I was also around where some of these personal diaries exploded into book-deal grabbing personal narratives, TV shows and whatnot –Secret Diaries of a London Call Girl and The Unmumsy Mum spring to mind.

More recently, blogging has become a marketing tool for businesses to help with search engine optimisation and customer engagement – something I use for the day job – and it’s more about creating money and a following than self-expression. People don’t seem to want to sift through blogs as a means of entertainment anymore. Case in point, from Google Trends:

Part of my job involves watching and summarizing coronavirus-related press conferences right now and this graph showing the rise and decline of people googling “blog” since 2004 looks eerily like the graph the UK Government keep showing for the rate of infection. Clearly, we’ve “flattened the curve” of blogging. Haw haw.

When I was posting increasingly sporadically last year, milking the dusty teat of my grey matter (heh. Also ick, but it’s staying – I think that might have to be the title of my autobiography) for any idea, my drive to blog was at odds with what I thought blogging should be for, which made it mega hard to sit down and start typing. Want to know what I think its purpose is today?

What blogging’s actually for (for me):

  • The pure, button bashing (mind out the gutter, sicko) enjoyment of it
  • A space to create awful metaphors (see prev. brain milking comment) and dad-puns and not have to take them out, because no one’s paying me to do it
  • A way of fueling my rampant narcissism and talking about me, me, MEEEEEE, where the uninterested audience can simply click away to avoid it and not have to smother me with a scatter cushion to stop me from talking
  • A tool for getting my monkey mind to focus and stop chattering bollocks for half an hour.

Getting a bit snacky now and should really go do Friday. How about a hastily written summary before I go raid the kitchen?

What did we learn today, kids?

The quickest way to murder the joy in something is to should all over it. Because of this, I’m applying zero pressure to myself to post regularly. I might do another one tomorrow, next week or never, but if I do carry on, it’ll be because I want to, dammit!

When it comes to blogging, I am pledging to finally stop should-ing myself, which will save both my sanity and my pants. Hurrah! Talk to you soon, faceless void that is the internet – or maybe I won’t, who the hell knows! 😊