Fight Song/Amazing Grace

It’s a Sundayish sort of feeling, sitting on the couch in the lounge and watching the last rays of sun creeping over the edge of the cloud as the sun sets. Thinking about the weekend that has passed, and the week that lies ahead.

One of my favourite mash-ups of all time, by one of my favourite classical(ish) music groups, is the Amazing Grace/Fight Song mash-up by the Piano Guys. I like it for a variety of reasons, not least the epic strings, piano, bagpipes and drum line.

It’s got a lot to do with its empowering drive. I don’t actually know a lot of the lyrics of Fight Song, but I know “I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.” I have been thinking about how we keep going, how we deal with various things, and this song has quite an important integration of two important concepts for me – one, keeping going and maintaining focus; two, knowing that there is a bigger picture that I fit into somehow.

Every time I hear Amazing Grace I think of Alex’s granny, who apparently couldn’t stand it. And that makes it even more lovely, because she was an awesome lady who went on many adventures into her old age, complaining after her last one that she hadn’t quite managed the hike up the Namib sand dune. Here’s hoping I have the amazing grace and fight in me to be that sort of cool when I’m in my 90s.

***

The Piano Guys, who crossed Fight Song on cello and piano with a highland regiment, pipers and drummers – I cannot WAIT to go on a Scottish adventure! Until then, I’ll be having my adventures a little closer to home.

I did a thing that scared me a little – I spent (quite a lot of) money on a folding bike! Obviously it still has to arrive and I’m waiting for the payment to clear and stuff, so I’m not getting too excited until it is in my living room and I can touch it. I have had two failed attempts at getting a bike so far – it seems bikes are the new toilet paper, and everyone has rushed on them to make the most of the sun. Sun, which has subsequently mostly been behind a cloud.

So I will keep you posted on the bike situation, and when it comes, I will be able to do a local adventure further afield than my little leggies can take me on foot.

***

OOoooooOOOhh a key change! I love me some bagpipes, and I’m often confused why more people don’t like them. I mean, they shouldn’t be played indoors, except maybe in a church or cathedral, and maybe that’s the problem lots of people have with them – exposed too close, rather than on a moor somewhere, with mist rolling in.

Aaanyway… my Scottish adventure will happen eventually – I will bag a munroe with Ellie, look at a loch, and drink some whisky. Sounds delightful.

Day 4.

Writing song:

Fight Song/ Amazing Grace – The Piano Guys.
Totally worth it exploring the rest of their channel.

I just haven’t met you yet

This upbeat Michael Buble song is lots of fun, and full of hope. I love the fact that it goes through the great positives of finding your human, projecting into the future. I’ve had the great fortune to find mine. Alex is kind, determined, stubborn. Very caring. Will love you by serving you, especially in the form of grotty household jobs.

What I thought about through this song, was actually not my husband, but about the kid(s) we may one day have. “I promise you kid, that I’ll give so much more than I get, but I just haven’t met you yet.”

This comes after my cousin and his family recently welcomed a new little member. Now they have a bustling brood of four.

I’ve had patches of being broody before, and I do think that children are great. At the moment, I’m not quite ready for motherhood (mostly not being able to give the children back at the end of the day). Thinking about the future kids that may fill my home and fill out my family, I think I will likely end up with some pretty precocious lil rays of sunshine. I will certainly know where he or she got it from.

It is a bit of a diversion from the meaning of the song, but hey.

I am looking forward to one day being a mom – I think having a kid is going to be one of the most challenging and awesome things I will do. I promise, future kid, that I will love you, encourage you, go on adventures with you, and read you all of my favourite books 🙂

I just haven’t met you yet – and we won’t for a nother couple of years, but that’s fine. When the time is right, we’ll meet you, and we will go on the best adventure together, as a family.

Day 3. (A day late. Whoops).

Writing song:

Fun song 🙂

More than a Feeling

Blog two of the lightening blog round. Here goes nothing!

It’s been really weird to get used to life in the UK over the past few months. We arrived after an unseasonably cool spring in Cape Town, which we were pretty thankful for, because it meant that we weren’t going from hot summer to freezing winter, but it did mean that we went from cold to cold(er). Our first week was one of the colder weeks of winter too!

The song, ‘More than a Feeling’ has a line about the sun being gone – I have come to appreciate the instant improvement of feeling when there is some sun, and it feels like the band knows a thing or two about famously grey and rainy Manchester 🙂

I’m certainly not complaining – as much as everyone says the weather here is wet all the time (on average), and calls it mud island, we haven’t found it too terrible. May was the sunniest May on record, and the poor public patches of grass have never gone so long without a drizzle and are looking a bit parched. Ag, shame.

‘More than a Feeling’ is one of those songs that I remember people yodeling along to in a bar or club at 1am, between tequilas. It has a weird push-pull of happy/sad: “I see my Maryanne walking away”, “I closed my eyes and she slipped away”. It also uses the power of music to invoke and cope with memories: “I hide in my music and forget the day”. So, it’s a song about loss, over time.

Loss, over time.

I think there is going to be a weird period of global collective mourning for this weird year that has been so far. We will all need to deal with the crazy year and the things it has made us miss out on, and the changes it has made to our lives, and how we ‘people’.

It still seems that every time we think that 2020 is done, it says ‘hold my beer’, and goes for another, crazier loop. Hopefully soon, it will take a breather, and yodel ‘More than a Feeling’, thinking about the things we have loved and lost, and how they have shaped us.

Day 2.

Writing song:

More than a Feeling by Boston

Editing song:

Open Arms (Journey)
Amusingly I’ve done a dance showcase to this one 🙂

Eye of the Tiger

Dun… dun dun dun… dun dun dun… dun dun daaaaaa!

I thought of a cool way of getting more in the practice of blogging more often, without making it a big and scary thing, while keeping it short and incredibly snappy. I can definitely find three minutes to write and three minutes to edit every day. Consequently, this is the first of a series of lighting blogs written while listening to a particular song from Spotify on shuffle.

The aim is to keep writing solidly for the length of one song, without getting suckered into editing while writing, which slows the fingers down just so much – writing without faffing, and stressing that the outcome is not polished. Sometimes, quantity needs to happen so you can practice the volume required to work towards quality.

Get content, and get it out fast.

I was just really lucky that my first song I landed on from this playlist ended up being such an epic battle song. First song was Eye of the Tiger by Survivor – well-known for inspiring bad-assery everywhere. On my journey to be an epic bad-ass: check! Butt-kicking soundtrack: Check!

Some of the lines of the song might turn into inspiration or a moment of reflection: “You change your passion for glory” – the whole point of this blog is to get back to a passion for words, to make it about the joy of writing and (sometimes) the joy of editing, reflecting the cultural practices I observe around me and figuring out how to incorporate them in my ‘get better at life’ plan. Remember, Laura, it’s not about glory, it’s about passion.

More lines from the song: “Don’t loose your grip on the dreams of the past”. This blog is a time-transcendent commitment to my 12-year-old self and an effort to be a person she would find cool. Also worth noting, that while sometimes I might aim for fancy-shmancy ways of writing, in this series, I will embrace cliches, because they allow for swiftness of expression. This is not the time or place to make the stone stony again. We will get there.

I aim to keep a laser focus for this kind of blog; “Rising up, straight to the top// got the guts and the glory” (maybe that one is misheard, but hey). I have the guts to publish definitely less than perfect writing to get going. And I refuse to stop because I am bored and frustrated. This blog genre that I am sure I did not invent, but will call for the sake of the challenge is a “Lighting Blog” – kind of like flash fiction, but without the agonising polish. This is a no kill-your-darlings zone. Just a get the words out zone. A grow as many darlings as possible zone.

So, I have challenged myself to write for the duration of one song, spend one (maybe two) song(s) tidying it up and then publish.

Every day. For a month.

Day 1.

Today’s writing song.
Today’s editing song. Admittedly cheated by editing for another about 5 mins.

Picnicking in the park

Today, we did something I’ve been longing to do since I found the park just down the road from us. Go for a picnic in the park. Initially, we didn’t because it was, well, January in Manchester, which featured some sleet, some frost, some rain and some other inclement weather. Then, we didn’t do it because we were being good and staying inside as much as possible due to the [redacted] [redacted].

Going outside has been a bit of a big deal for me, even for the tasks that we are legally permitted to do. Alex and I have been avoiding going outside on the weekends, because people descend on ‘our’ walk space with their whole households/plus other households (because it’s been kind of obvious that they weren’t just a household). Going to the shops to stand in a queue for 20 mins to carry heavy groceries home – not awesome. Going for a walk and seeing bunches of terrifying teenagers at the quay basins like it’s a big summer holiday? Meh.

But on Saturday, we had a bit of a mutual household funk. Feeling meh. Feeling cooped. And we are pretty happy homebodies for the most part. We needed an adventure. So, we planned a Sunday breakfast picnic in the park, with books, our picnic blanket (which I’m glad we packed), and cups of coffee/tea in our recently-less-well-travelled travel mugs.

To make sure it was extra delightful, I also spent some time on Saturday baking croissants for us, and while they certainly weren’t pretty, they were very buttery and very delicious. Baking misadventures included: letting them cold-prove without covering in the fridge so they kinda dried out a bit, then putting them on the kitchen counter for a while, which made them go a bit flabby and melty. Next time I will use more care, but hey, I’m not complaining about the taste.

So on Sunday, I packed us a picnic, featuring grapes, nutella, butter, croissants and real plates to eat them off, coffee for Alex and tea for me in our awesome travel mugs, picnic blankets and peak caps to keep off the sun, and we toddled down the road to sit and people watch.

And it was glorious.

Success! I guess…?

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of success a lot, having just had another birthday – certainly a different one to what I was expecting as my first birthday in the UK. I have also been thinking about success because I have recently undertaken some personal agility coaching from the wonderful Jenna Hills. In Jenna’s words on her website, coaching “will help you articulate, out loud, who you are and what is meaningful to you”, and with that consideration of meaningfulness comes a drive to identify goals that matter to you and work towards them. They don’t have to be the same as the goals your friend, sister, colleague or partner is growing towards, and that’s a flipping relief. But it is also a bit of a shift, because we are pretty trained to live a life of comparison.

I have been coming out of a season of life that has been non-stop; and that has also been not so much a season, but most of life. During high school, the non-stop was extra murals and wanting to do it all, from debating to art to hockey to orchestra. In undergrad, I added a new addiction to my busy, ballroom and latin dancing, also featuring committee work that taught me lots about balancing politics and people and commitments. After varsity, I started work, but because I’m not good at slowing down, my (then-not-yet) husband and I started participating in competitive ballroom and latin, a step up from the social scene we had been part of… Jeez.

Running a very stupid trail relay that I was waaaay undertrained for because I had been too busy dancing, writing, freelancing and doing some other stuff too.
Competing in a national competition in Sun City, South Africa
The craziest, most focused few weeks of work I’ve ever done – and I loved it.

Then, last year, from mid-year, I experienced a shift in my life. I was in an unexpected lull between having submitted my MSc thesis, having resigned my job before starting the next one (delayed due to visa woes), I got married, and for a while, I could just… be.

Marrying my champion – best day ever! (Photo credit: Anton Kruger)

I am not good at just being. This was really hard!

I am such a human doing!

Rethinking what success looks like

So I’ve been thinking about the meaning of success, and what I’ve understood it to mean in my life so far, and how I’m understanding it now, in a somewhat more slow-paced job than I have had previously (to put it mildly), without additional university deadlines mounting panic every two weeks, and additionally in the context of the (redacted redacted) that is impacting us all.

There are the things that I have always understood as success, things that were markers that I was on the right path, that I was going to manage to be an amazing detective/genius world-famous author/genius by the time I was 30. Things like ticking the boxes on The Great Plan ™, getting fancy degrees, achieving certificates/accolades… doing the things I ought to be doing, all that shit. (Sorry, Mom, mild language).

Not all there is to success

Yes, it is totally obvious and rational that those sorts of box-ticky, ordered plan for life things are not the be-all and end-all of success, but sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in them, right? Especially when you are, by nature, a human doing.

So.

I’ve been taking note recently of what my life looks like when I’m doing well, and using that as markers of success. What don’t I do when I’m doing well? (I don’t overthink text messages when I’m doing well, and I’m less highly strung). What negative behaviours can I avoid being sucked into when I’m doing well? Honestly, I’m still figuring that one out, but I think at least one area I’m improving in is stepping away from endless scrolling. (Sidebar: how often do you stop checking facebook on your laptop to check the little version of facebook on your phone?)

Brene Brown uses the term ‘canaries’ (like in a coal mine) for those behaviours we can watch for that when we spot them, we know something’s going wrong. I’m flipping that a little, looking for the things I know reflect me in a healthy mindspace. Here are some things I have space/time/energy/bandwidth for when I’m less focused on an achievement-driven definition of success:

  • Learning! LEARNING SO DAMN MUCH! (Currently learning to code with EdX’s edition of Harvard’s famous CS50 Intro to Computer Science course. Learning C is kicking my butt, but mostly in a good way.)
  • Writing (and posting) more and more regularly. I will get to some sort of write-post rhythm, dammit! Getting more regular and disciplined about exercise (until the killer ear infection of 2020 struck). I’m planning to run a half marathon in September/October with my sister 🙂
  • Culinary experimentation! I got an Instant Pot from my parents for my birthday, and I am loving my new kitchen gadget. May occasionally post a recipe.
  • Lastly, some kind of spiritual practice. While this is not my place to write about that stuff, and while my spiritual practice looks quite different to my experience in my teens, I’ve enjoyed returning to some deeper thoughts, meditation and contemplating a somewhat more eternal timescale.

So, all of those things are good markers of success for me at the moment, and good indicators of my mental health. As daft as it is, cooking is a major canary for me. So, I’ll keep an eye on my canary, and practice just being rather than doing a bit more.

After all, there’s always tomorrow for doing things, and my oven just beeped to tell me to check on supper.

Writing for my audience

Hey Mom, thanks for reading my blog.

The blog prompt from the long-overdue 14 days of creating your wordpress blog was to write a piece for your audience. Now, I know the point was supposed to be ‘write something that your audience wants to read’, but I’m kind of grabbing the prompt and going a slightly different way. This is a letter for my mom, as well as for Dad, Heather, Lara, Charlie and Alex. Of all the people I know who are always daftly behind my creative endeavours, you lot are always predictably there, supportive, and with valid and in-depth commentary when I need it. The best cheerleaders ever.

More than that, you are all creative rockstars too. One day I will be as cool as you lot, with your writing, teaching, caring, painting, cooking, singing, running, gardening, etc etc.

The challenge of creativity in a crisis

There’s been a lot of tension about being creative during this crazy time, and yeah, it’s hard.

Hell, creativity at the best of times is challenging.

You know why creativity is hard? It’s because it is certainly not quick and easy, and it’s pretty much impossible to turn out the thing you have in your head without practice. And sometimes, practice just sucks.

*Insert crappy Jackie Chan quote about practicing 1000 kicks or practicing one kick a thousand times.*

What about those times when you don’t even wanna practice a kick a hundred times?

Then, you drag your butt off the couch, and you practice the kick ten times. Or three.

Like, honestly, one of the most inspiring things I read was that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Rather do it poorly, but actually do it, rather than imagining that you have to do it perfectly, so forever putting it off.

Even though I have yet to make this blog public, I still put a lot of pressure on myself to do it perfectly. So, I did a lot of putting it off. I wrote a solitary blog post in February, and then avoided writing or even checking the blog for ten-ish weeks. I still wanted the damn blog to make me seem smart, and to make you be totally wowed by how erudite, well-read and insightful I am, and on such a regular basis too.

Heh.

But the good thing about your cheerleaders is that they already think you are smart, erudite and insightful. They think you are funny, and they like having you around. Even when you struggle to do The Thing™ because you built it up to being big and scary.

Much-needed Pep-talks

Talking to you reminds me that it is okay to be gentle with myself, now and more generally. It’s not every year the world gets struck by a global pandemic, colossal insecurity, heightened anxiety and a pressure to ‘make something of your time in lockdown’.

Stuff that.

I am making lots of my time in lockdown, with special projects including becoming a master of the Saturday-morning flapjack, running a sideline as the future host of Big Fat Quiz of the Year, (writing again,) learning new things, and becoming very creative with kitchen storage space after having bought 3kg of penne from a bulk supplier.

I like that some of those pursuits – strike that – most of them, are mundane and lifey. I am not trying to emerge with a side-hustle or having learned three languages (tho if I do learn C and Python and JavaScript, I will be a bit chuffed).

I like that I’m having chats with all of you as you do your work, and figure out your own projects, whether they are lifey and mundane like mine, and get you to tomorrow (e.g. making delicious bread), or creative and moving (like collaborating on intercontinental music). And I like that we all tell each other often to just give ourselves space, to vasbyt a while, because we will get there.

I’m going to try to do a weekly post called ‘the creative pursuits of lockdown’, in which I chronicle my various self-entertainment activities. This will likely end up being lots of food, due to an exciting birthday present that got unwrapped 10 days early, and a new season of inspiration from Masterchef AU 😊

I make no promises about regularity, just that I will get some words down.

*kick*

*kick*

*kick*

Okay, that’s a start.

On habits and being brave

So. I’ve done the thing and started a blog. There’s a lot to be said about blogging techniques, writing practices, crafting the perfect piece of copy for a readership you know a lot about… (I know at least a bit about that sort of thing; I did work in marketing for a little while).

This is not that kind of blog.

I’ve known more or less as long as I could read that I wanted to be a writer, but did I actually practice it? Hells no. That’s hard and takes dedication and stuff. So I kept saying I wanted to be a writer, but did it a lot of the time while looking at a blank word document while the TV was on in the background. Full disclosure – the TV is currently on in the background. This blog is part of an intentional step towards regular writing practice that hones my prose, gets me into a habit, and makes me feel brave.

I currently know very little about WordPress, so bear with me as I come to grips with making it as shiny and slick as I want it to be. This may well mean sub-par formatting and not a lot of customisation. Yet. I’ll get there.

As the title would suggest, this is going to be a place for me to write about everyday adventures. I totally dig getting excited about the so-called boring stuff of life, and can ramp up strong opinions about very mundane things for the sake of humour and conversation. As Alex and I have just (2.5 months ago) moved continent, there are lots of big and little adventures to be had, so I shouldn’t run out of material any time soon!

I’m looking forward to sharing my writing with you – as I said earlier, it’s making me feel brave, or at the very least, practice being brave. Sharing something as personal as writing is a challenge for me, because there is a weird idea in my head that somehow people’s judgement of my writing is more personal than their judgement of my sewing, cooking or other creative pursuits. And that may be true, but also, I sorta need to get over it if I ever want to be a Published Author ™.

So, here is to crappy first drafts, cups of tea, and being brave.