I have a friend who has a cat, Morris. She has had that cat for twenty two years. You’d think he’d be some sort of world record holder but in fact that belongs to Crème Puff who died in Austin, Texas, aged thirty eight! When I went to see her last week I was stuck by Morris and his longevity. With the average cat life expectancy around fifteen years he’s doing pretty well.
I asked her why she thought Morris was still with us and there were a few reasons. He keeps an even temperature. Most of his day is spent lying near a heater if it’s cold, or near an air conditioner if it’s hot. He eats well. Yes, no expense is spared, he dines on cat food garnished in parsley and unidentifiable greens. And lastly he keeps his stress levels down. No frenzied mice hunting for Morris, he’s locked inside at night and his cat flap secured so no strays or uninvited felines can bother him.
This seems like a longevity recipe for all of us.
And keep your home environment perfect for you.
Thank you Morris and I hope one day you can snatch that world record from Crème Puff.
It was funny, I hadn’t realised I wasn’t coping until I went to my weekly yoga class and just burst into tears. Nothing awful had happened, nothing tragic or life threatening had occurred only that my mind and body were allowed to stop. All the pent up frustration and stress I’d been hanging onto just flooded out. I was embarrassed and almost ran out but I was glad I stayed. My yoga teacher had seen my distress and as we were lying in relaxation she came over and wordlessly placed her hands on me, relaxing and easing the tension in my head, neck and spirit. It was such a simple yet powerful gesture that acknowledged it’s actually okay not to have it all together and that we are part of something bigger.
I was so grateful for her touch which allowed me to put the brakes on but it did get me wondering how I’d got myself into such a state in the first place. If I can put it in one word I was overwhelmed, like a king tide all the individual stressors had surged together and swamped me.
The family or community we live in is part of our identity but can also be a source of stress. If bad feelings and unresolved emotions go unchecked they can balloon into something too big for us to handle. So if you feel yourself coiled like a spring its time to stop and take a step back because a massive meltdown is not good for home or relationship harmony. Try and deal with one thing at a time. I’m not even looking at the big picture.
No matter what work you do if you don’t apply boundaries bit by bit it will take more of you. If you’re fine with that no matter but if you find yourself thinking about work, playing the what if scenarios, worrying, then like me you may need to clarify your role and expectations. After all work is only a part of us and we don’t want it consuming our down time.
But sometimes it isn’t family or work which overwhelms us it is our own selves. Our own dreams and desires are not being met, our expectations of ourselves are not being realised. I like this quote from Antonio Banderas, “Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” By pulling back on unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others we can actually say no; at work, at home and to our inner voice and so ease our tension.
I’ve realised I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed. It is something we all experience at different times and in different places. So if you know somebody teetering on the edge perhaps we could all be like my yoga teacher; acknowledge their discomfort, be kind and give them the chance to stop.
I woke up to this message today and it totally changed my head space. I’d been feeling the post New Year blues but somehow these five words stopped that down feeling straight in its tracks. I felt special, cared about and valued. But mostly I thought, I’m very lucky to have such a friend. And nothing chases off a bad mood like gratitude.
It got me thinking about friendships. They really are one of life’s true treasures. What an amazing list of words there are to describe friends and that’s for good reason. They add to our lives in so many ways. And friends don’t have to be around like family and we’re not obliged to spend time with them like our work. No, we have friends to enhance our lives and to give us the chance to enhance theirs.
Friends reflect a bit of what we are or want to be, which is why we’ve connected. Like me you probably have lots of different friends, some you’ve known for years and others who have more recently arrived in your life. You may share values, experiences, humour, the list of what makes us connect is endless. What is constant though is the fact you both care enough to commit and to make the effort for each other.
So let your friends be your inspiration. If they’re changing it up; going on a trip, losing weight, learning something new, there’s no reason why you can’t shake up your life as well. You don’t have to do the same things but invigorating any situation is infectious. You can share your progress, doubts or crazy disasters in a safe space.
And let your friends support you. We often read about how important it is to be kind to ourselves which is a lot easier said than done. But a good friend is kind to you when you can’t give to yourself. And we are kind to them in return. This reciprocal relationship is the basis of true friendship.
Friendship is an invisible bond, there are no time, obligation or distance constraints to define it. When I was ten my best friend gave me a small plate for a birthday present. On it was written, “A true friend is the best possession.” There’s nothing more to say…
There’s no denying I get easily side-tracked. I start doing one thing then something brighter will catch my eye and like a magpie I chase it. Now while I may have discovered something new and shiny it also means I haven’t finished what I started.
I was inspired to write this by the amazingly persistent Corpse Flower. It’s an extremely rare plant from way out in the Sumatran jungle. It gets its name from its terrible smell but what’s most admirable about this plant is the effort it puts into growing, its commitment to purpose. It takes seven to ten years before it even flowers and then years before blooming again.
We live in such a fast paced world, constantly rushing for results, that we can forget it actually takes time to do a good job. If I’m honest there’s no quick fix to my projects and I have to commit the time it will take to complete them properly. This is hard because we’re programmed for reward, to get rich quick, but life isn’t like that. To do things well takes time.
The Corpse Flower completes its purpose against a lot of environmental adversity. It works hard to survive. Our work and hobbies need that same commitment. This ability to persist when bombarded by other things seems key to finishing anything.
And after the magnificent flower wilts away it dies back, leaving nothing but a single leaf. What a beautiful image, it has done what needed to be done but the seed is sown for new growth to begin. So if you’re a great starter but poor finisher take some inspiration from the Corpse Flower. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
When I was little I often visited ornamental gardens with my family. On one such day trip I discovered a summer house. It was decorated in the richest, most glorious wallpapers and fabrics, which just sung out at you. They were the creations of William Morris, the celebrated C19th British textile designer. But what was wonderful about that summer house was the composition of the rooms. No clutter, everything was in its place.
Physical disharmony and clutter can be very unconducive to creativity and action. Mess bombards us with distractions. We forget where things are and waste time looking for them. We get sidelined into dealing with the consequences of our disorganization, and that’s time consuming. By decluttering you significantly lessen the attention grabbers.
The clutter that evolves around us can be a visual sign of our own procrastination. It can be overwhelming to decide what to keep or where to move things to. So start small, if you cook declutter cupboards in the kitchen, if you garden try the shed, if you work from home, your desk. By tidying, donating, recycling, we create an energetic living space and can celebrate our active decision making.
Clear away to refill. If a jug is full you can’t keep pouring more water in it, there’s nowhere for it to go. It’s the same for our home environments. Hopefully, we’re alive for a long time; fashion, tastes and technology changes, we need to make room for the new phases of life. Which also means we have to deal with the old.
Now, I’m not advocating a frenzied attack on all possessions. The history, sentimental value, and relevance of belongings to our identity should always be preserved; but anything other than that really does have a shelf life. As William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
I hope you’ve been lucky enough to have a mentor. Someone who’s been able to help you transform your life or at least a part of it. Like an umbrella in the rain they offer security, wisdom and support to help us move forward with new projects, learning or ideas. In dictionary terms a mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. Words like confidant, counsellor and consultant keep popping up to describe them. So how do they help?
- Mentors are experts in their field. This may be professionally or within a creative community. They’re industry or artistic leaders and this gives them credibility. Learn as much as you can from them. It’s actually okay for this to be important because we all want to learn from the best.
- Mentors provide validation to an important area of our lives. I mean, isn’t it great that someone you respect wants to take the time to improve your practice. The belief they have in you shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, why would they bother if they didn’t feel you were worth it? So embrace this recognition and celebrate their faith in you.
- Mentors have good connections. Whatever you’re doing or want to achieve we don’t live in isolation. Now more than ever it can be really helpful to have someone support you to forge industry or community links. Build on opportunities which present themselves.
- Collaboration is a vital part of the mentor/mentored relationship. The opportunity to share ideas, discuss options, and review actions, develops a partnership for a purpose. Mentors ask the difficult questions while pushing you to do your best. Continue to earn their respect by trying and or acknowledging what they suggest as your work advances.
If someone you respect is offering you mentor-ship don’t ignore it, if you think you’d benefit from mentoring seek it out. I’m eternally grateful to the people who’ve taken the time to mentor me. At its core the mentor/mentored relationship is reciprocal, it may last only weeks or a lifetime, but it’s a relationship which changes you forever.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin
Making the big decisions is one of the hardest things we have to do, especially if they effect relationships, career or health. Maybe this springs from our desire to control, maybe we want the cake and to eat it too, maybe outside pressure is backing us into a corner. But whatever the reason, being in that state of flux isn’t good. You get swept up in the world of what if and as the poet Edward Young said, “Procrastination is the thief of time.”
- So give yourself a time frame or the situation may possibly have one. Of course there are some decisions you can’t rush. Circumstances need time to play out. But don’t fool yourself, there always comes a point when you need to decide. Putting it off any longer than that is just making excuses.
- Ask the advice of a friend. One who knows you really well, warts and all, and one who’ll be honest with you? It can be tricky asking for advice and then not acting upon it. But advice is like a present, we should give it freely and be able to receive it without obligation. A good friend has your best interests at heart and wants what’s best for you.
- Weigh up the pros and cons. Don’t be afraid to make a list. Writing alternatives down focuses thinking. This makes options more concrete rather than random swirls of thought which come and go.
- And follow that hunch. There’s a lot being written about the power of our inner voice. And sometimes if we allow ourselves to shut out all the other dialogue we can hear the answer we need.
When the decision is done you really do feel lighter. Take comfort in the fact there are no guarantees, because no matter what you decided you cannot control the outcome. The most interesting people I know have made some decisions they regretted but others which have transformed their lives.
Now this is a tricky one and as someone sitting on the proverbial fence I’m considering my options. This is probably a familiar place for heaps of writers. Your work’s been written, it may even have had good feedback from publishers or agents, but there are still no takers. The possibility of a traditional publishing opportunity is looking increasingly bleak and the enthusiasm of your personal cheer squad is waning, “What’s happening with your book?”
It’s a bit of a grim place to be.
So, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing? Go on take out that notebook and have a scribble. These are the positives I came up with…
- You can finally get the work out there. Yeah!
- You’re actually doing something with that beast which has taken up so much of your time, energy and love.
- The thought of putting the beast in a bottom drawer and forgetting about it is so depressing you’d rather take up wrestling…well actually…
- You have control. Remember you’ve controlled your characters or content from the beginning so why give that up now.
- It’s 2016 for goodness sake. The star of self and digital publishing has well and truly risen.
Now that all sounds fabulous so why am I still writing this and not out sourcing my book cover to a graphic artist? Because the legitimacy of getting a contract from a publisher is the big fat fish I want to catch and it bugs me it hasn’t happened. So, to the cons…
- There are zillions of self-published books fighting for readership in the ISBN ocean. How will yours stand out?
- Do you really have the skills, time and money to self-publish? Because you probably have a bill paying day job and are not a marketing entrepreneur?
- What do you really want to get out of self-publishing? Will being able to say you’ve sold maybe three hundred books be enough of a return on all your hard writing investment? And once your book is published it will be very hard to reel it back in.
- Finally, is this book part of your journey as a writer or your final destination…
There’s no denying these are the hard questions. But, like me, if you’ve finished that final draft you’ll probably have to face them.