News, Thoughts, Writing

I Submit


I know and I understand that to be a published writer I need to do two things – I need to write and I need to send work to publishers. I’ve not been great at the former, but I’ve always been terrible at the latter.

Despite this I still spend a lot of time feeling hard done by, that what little I do submit, rarely gets selected. Which is stupid. I know it’s stupid, but I can’t help it. The feeling of injustice when I see a competition winner announced or a magazine published without seeing a congratulations email appear in my inbox is large.

This isn’t because I think I deserve to win competitions, or that my work is so good it just has to be included in the must have literary journals, it’s just that from the moment I send the submission I start to hope; and as we all know it’s the hope that kills you.

All that negativity adds up and the result is I feel pretty down about the submission process and I submit less. Which, when I was starting from a pretty low submission rate, means I basically stopped submitting work altogether. Whoops.

Two things happened recently to change my attitude. First, I had some success (hooray!). A poem I submitted at the start of the summer, to a new local magazine by a spoken word collective, got accepted for publication (due out in November). For the second time in a row it was one I felt was the weakest in the submission package, but I’m not complaining! It just shows that you can never know what will click with someone.

The second thing was seeing this tweet about Sylvia Plath. That’s nine months of submissions.  Just seeing how hard she was working to get work published, even after her first collection had been released, made me realise that it doesn’t really matter who you are or how good the work is. The sheer volume of submissions editors get means that most people, even Sylvia Plath, will end up with more rejections than submissions. So to get work accepted I have to make the odds work more in my favour and that means I have to submit more and worry about rejection less.

This week I submitted work to three magazines and revamped my submissions spreadsheet to better track what I’ve submitted, to where, and if it was successful. With that and a more positive, but realistic, attitude to the process hopefully I can get some more success with my work. Or is it just more dreadful hope?

Advertisements
Health and fitness, Tech, Thoughts

Enjoying a Twitter break.


I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Twitter for a while now. Long gone are the days when it was a place of curiosity where we would marvel at celebrities tweeting while stuck in a lift or when the most serious tweets revolved around what to have for tea.

Now the site feels like a hotbed of trolls, racists, and racist trolls (or the US President as he’s commonly known).

I have a tendency to over-think things and get fixated on topics. Which makes it really easy for me to get sucked down rabbit-holes of Twitter hashtags full of abuse, conspiracy theories, and total fuckwits. I also developed a habit of just sitting on Twitter as my default position, either on my phone on the train or sat on the sofa at work. All that exposure to the extremes of human opinion is not good for my mental health.

Two weeks ago I deleted the app from my phone and got rid of any Twitter and Tweetdeck bookmarks in my browsers. I could still go to the site, but it means I have to type the address in manually. A small, but critical step in preventing me just auto-piloting on to Twitter when my brain goes into neutral. So far it’s worked. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve dipped my toe back in and that was just for a few minutes or to read a specific tweet.

Has it helped? Has going cold turkey from Twitter improved my mood? Absolutely.

Aside from the obvious benefit, not being exposed to a whole lot of idiots and their opinions which make me feel angry, I’ve found myself making much more constructive use of my spare time at home. Picking up projects and hobbies I didn’t have time for recently and being a lot more available for interactions with the kids and my wife. In fact it’s not until doing an exercise like this that I realised just how bad I was for shutting everyone out while I sat idly scrolling through Twitter.

That’s not to say that quitting Twitter has cured me of any of my mental ailments, it hasn’t, but it does stop me from actively seeking out content online which is only going to make me sad, depressed, and angry. Which can only be self-destructive in the long-term.

Am I finished with Twitter completely? Well probably not. There are good people on Twitter and some genuinely good content to be found. At it’s very best it can be used to spread positive messages and wonderful frivolous fun moments. Lately though those pearls are much harder to find.

For now I’m staying clear but when I do return I’m going to have to do some heavy pruning of my followers list to change the kind of content I see on my feed. Until then I’m going to enjoy spending my time away from the gathering of the internet’s worst people and spend more time being creative, engaging with real people, and doing the things that actually make me happy.

I might even manage to start writing again.

Thoughts

Positivity In A Sickening Online World


It’s pretty bleak out there just now. The news is depressing and scary, between Brexit, Trump, Russia and the everlasting effects of austerity. Often it feels like using social media or browsing the internet is an exercise in endurance as you read one argument after another involving people with unrelentingly aggressive, entrenched viewpoints.

To be honest it’s really starting to wear me down. To the point where part of me just wants to switch off the internet and go back to the 90s, before I was permanently connected to news (especially this last week with the horrible images of young children being taken from their parents at the US border) and other people’s horrible opinions.

Sadly I work in IT, so that’s not really an option. Where does that leave me? Crippled by my impotence as I’m unable to do anything to change the depressing reality of today’s world? That’s not going to do me any good in the long run is it?

If I can’t do anything to stop Brexit, prevent a new cold war, or impeach Trump what can I do to make myself and the world a better place?

In day-to-day life I try not to let things get to me. Often urging others not to worry about things they can’t change or control. So maybe I should start doing the same for the big scary things as well. The first problem though is how to stop worrying about them in the first place?

Use Social Media for Good instead of Evil

I’ve started purging my Twitter of negativity. It’s become a broken tap, leaking a never-ending drip feed of bad shit on my phone, laptop and PC screen. I look at my phone to get a light distraction for a moment and end up being angry and sad for the rest of the day instead. No more. The bad shit must be controlled.

Unfollow media accounts or users who only ever post bad news or retweet conspiracy theories (even if you believe them). Once the drip has slowed down then start filling your feed instead with the things you want to read about and that make you happy. I’ve filled my twitter with tweets from comedians, musicians, artists, DIY makers and other creative and entertainment content creators.

Use social media to find things that inspire you, amuse you and refill your joy tank.

Also follow real people who you actually know. People you’d have a conversation with. Use Twitter for two-way communication.

Now when I go on Twitter it’s a much more enjoyable experience. Some of the bad shit still leaks through (yuck) but it’s much, much more manageable.

Don’t accept every invite to an argument

The other big rule I have now is not to get involved in arguments. There’s absolutely no point to it. Everyone’s opinions on social media are so entrenched that there’s no room for grey areas or rational thought. It’s a terrible platform for reasonable discourse. Abandon the concept and throw it to the wolves. Block and move on instead.

Make Time For Your Own Wellbeing

Clear some time out of your day and do something to improve your health or make you happy. Spend your lunch hour fuming over a sandwich while browsing BBC news? Go for a jog instead, or take a walk to nearby river and sit outside to eat your sandwich. Even just move away from your desk with a good book for the hour.

Make time when you can. Swap sitting on the sofa with your laptop for digging out that guitar you’ve not played for weeks/months/years.

My downtime is important and though it’s difficult to carve out all the time I want with two young kids and a full-time job, I try to make sure I get out for a run or bike ride a few times a week to keep everything on an even keel.

Embrace What You Love

If you like doing something – painting, drawing, writing, making music, board games, video games, bird watching, stamp collecting, crochet, ballroom dancing, making voodoo dolls from the stray hairs of your enemies – then do it (except maybe that last one). Don’t let anyone say you can’t, slag you off, or tell you it’s wrong to enjoy something that’s not harming anyone else. Double down on it if you can. Love what you like.

For a long time in my late twenties and thirties I shied away from some of my geekier hobbies and interests. Now I’ve recently started playing board games and roleplaying again, fiddling with electronics and hobby computing, as well as wearing shamelessly geeky t-shirts in the office. I’m a nerd. These things make me happy. Why should I be bothered if someone else doesn’t like those things?

Take The Pressure Off You

Give yourself permission to make mistakes, not get involved, and to leave it to someone else. The news is horrific just now. It often feels like there’s a lot of pressure to DO SOMETHING. To enlist in the forces of good against evil. It’s overwhelming but fear not! It’s OK. You don’t have to join every fight. Look after yourself first, make sure you’re safe and healthy, then, if you’ve got energy to spare, feel around for what you can do to help others.

When you do jump in, you don’t have to go big. Do what you can, where you can. Donate to charity, local or global. Pick something you care about. It doesn’t matter if it’s the big topic of the day. Make the world better one monthly direct debit at a time. Volunteer to help with a local event you like. Give something back on your terms when you’re able to.

Be Kind, Be Helpful, Understand Others

I’m often amazed by the lack of simple empathy shown on social media. Much of this will stem from the top down, from politicians and the media, who fill us with negative stereotypes and othering of large sections of society. That stuff rubs off, contempt is contagious and it’s no wonder social media is so toxic when minority groups, the sick, disabled, foreign, and the poor become scapegoats for every problem in the country.

Here’s something we can change. I can’t fix the predominantly right-wing media or our populist politicians, but I can make sure that I show the values I want to see represented online. Interact with kindness, don’t post knee-jerk assumptions about people, think the best of others and forgive their mistakes.

Boost the signal when others are being positive. Retweet the voices who are constructive and helpful of others. Ignore the people who are being dicks, make sure good people get heard.

Engage On Your Terms

Look I can write a thousand words telling people what they should do. In reality everyone has to find a way to manage this stuff themselves. Hopefully some of these ideas are useful, they sound obvious when you write it down but the pressure to stay engaged with all the bullshit that’s happening can blind you to the fact that you don’t really have to. Find your own route through the forest fire that is world news and toxic social media, just make sure it works for you and if it doesn’t you can always walk away. I know lots of people that, shocking as it is, aren’t on Facebook or Twitter and they are perfectly functional human beings. It’s always an option.

Health and fitness, News

That happened – Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018


Like many people I won’t be sad to see the back of 2017.  As well as the misery of the daily news headlines, I’ve personally had to cope with more than my fair share of problems this year. Poor  health and injuries have taken their toll on almost all aspects of my life and decimated my attempts at achieving the modest goals I set myself at the start of the year.

It’s not all been bad. My daughter Chloe has been a thing of wonder and joy as she grows into a bossy wee toddler. All being well I hope she’ll also grow into a caring and patient sister next year.

We had some fantastic times as a family, from holidays in the Lake District and  weddings in Fife, to just spending time at home in our own company.

I changed job, moving back to a role I’m familiar with in an effort to regain some lost confidence. A move which seems to be paying off as I feel happy going to work for the first time in years.

Creatively, I had some really productive spells which saw me get two poems published and I also had some real barren spells when I barely wrote a word or played a note of music. It was simply consistent with the stop/start nature of the year really.

2017 was a year that happened. I think it’s best we just move on and start fresh in 2018. In that spirit I’m going to try something different this year for my 2018 goals/resolutions. Normally I set a short list of goals for myself like getting poems published (only one I achieved last year) or running a race to a certain time. I usually hit a few and miss a few and the whole year of goals feels a bit of a non-event.

This year I’m not going to set goals. I’m going to set values. These are the values I’m going to try and stick to for 2018. They will guide my year and how I choose to live. Hopefully they will guide me to be productive and happy at the end of the year, but that remains to be seen.  I wanted to keep the list short and in return each one would need to cover a broad range. I think what I’ve settled on covers most of the big things I want to concentrate on over the year and by setting them as values, rather than specific goals, I don’t feel like I’m tying myself down to something that could blow up in the first month due to some unforeseen problem like I had in 2017.

Here goes then, my values for 2018:

Be Healthy – Prioritise good health in body and mind
Be Kind – To myself and to others
Create – Write, play, make
Learn –
Try new things, read, listen
Finish –
See things through to completion

These five basic values remind myself how I want to change my behaviours and how I want to push myself in the year ahead. I need to put my health first and also remember to give myself a break if I can’t do everything I want to. In this era of twitter insta-rage and the horrible daily news headlines I want to also remember to be kind to others and show empathy first before jumping to judgement. The first two are also a reminder to make sure I’m happy and healthy, not preoccupied with things I have no control over and can’t change myself.

Then rather than committing myself to doing specific goals for the year I just want to remind myself to be creative in my spare time, to increase my knowledge and finish projects that I start. I have so many half written pieces, scraps of music and bits of projects I’ve started then never gone back to. I need to get things over the finish line occasionally.

So that’s my values for 2018. It’s set to be a busy year personally and it’s difficult to know how much traditional goals I would have a hope of achieving at the moment. Hopefully approaching things in this way still gives me that push to go in the direction I want to without adding the specific pressures that goals provide.

Happy New Year!

Writing

NaNoWriMo Go!


Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

As with most stupid ideas, this one seemed like a good idea at the time. From tomorrow, November 1st, I’ll be taking part in my first NaNoWriMo event. What started as an American event is now a worldwide community of writers who get together and try to blitz 50,000 words in the month of November – National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for short.

I feel like I have a solid idea for a story and I can usually write pretty fast once I sit down and get typing. Theoretically, I reckon I can bash out the required 1667 words per day in half an hour to an hour per day. Which isn’t a huge time commitment and doesn’t need to be tackled in a single sitting.  Theoretically.

My biggest issue with any of my hobbies, but especially writing, is that I get very, very easily distracted. Even now, while doing some last minute prep by going over some outline plans, I’ve spent more time looking up specifications and parts for a Raspberry Pi project than I have tweaking characters and story setting.

So while I’m looking forward to the challenge and really looking forward to seeing the story in my head take shape on my laptop screen, there’s a little voice which is telling me I’ve failed before I’ve even started. There’s no commitment other than saying “I’m doing this” so failure doesn’t mean anything except I’ve not hit my word count.  Fingers crossed I can keep that little voice subdued enough to get some momentum started tomorrow to get me rolling into the first week of the challenge and beyond.

Anyone else taking part this year? Add me as a buddy at https://nanowrimo.org/participants/chrisoff/ and let me know how you get on.

Health and fitness

Goals change, that’s OK


At the start of the year I set some goals. I liked those goals. They were sensible, achievable and meant I could throw myself at 2017 with some enthusiasm. Sadly my body had other plans for the year ahead.

Shortly after setting these humble targets – run a half marathon, record some of my music, publish a poem, and lose some weight – I had an episode. I got home from work and felt short of breath and a bit dizzy. My heart was having palpitations and was beating ridiculously fast. It got worse and lasted a few hours. Typically though, it had stopped by the time I was worried enough to contact NHS 24 and arrange to speak to a doctor at the local community hospital.

I’d experienced my first episode of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation. A heart rhythm disorder which manifests as attacks of up to a few hours in length (for some people it can be days), where the heart suddenly starts beating with a very fast, irregular rhythm. It’s not life threatening, but during an episode I could barely go for a walk without feeling extreme fatigue and afterwards I was left feeling very tired.

Eventually after months of experiencing up to four episodes a day, I was able to get everything under control with medication by the middle of the summer. Now I feel pretty much back to normal.

Sadly by that point I was now also dealing with a recurring back injury, which at the time of writing (early September) I’m still having issues with.

My two main forms of exercise are running and cycling. I’ve hardly been able to do either for most of the year. Now when I do get out I usually pay for it the next day with back pain and restricted movement. Lots of fun this injury business.

Having lost my ability to exercise that meant my half marathon goal was toast. Even more annoying, without regular exercise I started putting on weight. Instead of losing a stone I gained one. Whoops. Another goal down.

Over the course of summer I changed job, went on holiday, had some other personal stuff going on and then I looked back and I hadn’t played or recorded any music for months and it looks like the EP goal is going to be missed as well.

You know what though? It’s OK. I’m not too down about missing these goals. Stuff happens. I’ve been pretty lucky and avoided any serious health issues or injuries over the years so to lose one year to some problems isn’t a big deal. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to take part in the first Great Run to happen in Aberdeen and obviously I’m annoyed at putting on weight but the layoff has given me opportunities as well.

I’ve hunted for advice on how I can fix my back problems which are apparently muscular issues, so I’ve looked at how I can increase my range of movement and the strength in my core. Both are issues I’ve meant to address for a long time but while I’ve concentrated on running and cycling it never seemed too urgent.

For the last couple of months I’ve used a two prong approach of body weight strength exercises and yoga. Both give a flexible program of movements which can be done with very little equipment and can easily fit into a life at home with a two year old toddler. I’ve even tried to get her involved a couple of times but she’s not quite got the hang of handstands or pull-ups yet (who am I kidding, I haven’t got the hang of them either!).

The body weight exercises I’ve grabbed from the amazingly helpful and supportive community at r/bodyweightfitness who, as well as publishing a recommended routine complete with detailed progressions and prerequisites, also publish regular technique features, videos and maintain an app for the exercises all for the princely sum of nothing at all.

Another superb resource of inspiration and tips has been the excellent folk at Gold Medal Bodies who offer premium paid for content of training programs, but also publish some fantastic blogs and video content for free on their website and Facebook page.

Then there’s the yoga. There’s a lot of nonsense which surrounds yoga. To be honest a lot of it I can do without, especially after buying a reference book for the movements and flicking through a load of pseudo-scientific rubbish in the surrounding chapters. However, the physical and mental benefits of spending a bit of time going through a yoga flow and then the reward of the Savasana meditative pose at the end are immense.

I wanted yoga to be something I can do at home in a quiet corner of the living room to unwind. Not a communal class I had to drive to and commit to an hour or so of discomfort in the presence of others every time I wanted to do some movements. To that end I installed the Down Dog app. It’s available for free with a premium version which offers extra ways to customise your practice, but to be honest the cheaper one gives you plenty to get going with.

Neither the bodyweight routine or the yoga practice are easy, even for someone who is relatively fit and flexible. The variety of movements and the range of progression means I’m always being pushed but even after the few short weeks I’ve been doing them I can see a big improvement in strength and most importantly my back!

Just the act of maintaining some kind of exercise routine (even if it’s not the exercise I want to be doing) has improved my mood considerably. It’s also made it a lot easier to motivate myself to get my diet back in shape using some calorie tracking to pinpoint exactly where I’m doing the damage to my waistline and tweak it as necessary.

So while I may have failed some of my initial goals for the year, I’m not down about it. I’ve embraced the opportunity to be flexible and try some new challenges. If I can strengthen my back and get back to running then this years goals will still be there, waiting for me, in 2018. In the meantime just getting back to health is a big enough goal by itself.

Oh, I didn’t mention the goal I set about publishing some poetry. Issue #5 of The Poet’s Republic, released in September 2017, features one of my poems. As does The Federation of Writers (Scotland) New Writers Scotland anthology to be released in Autumn 2017. Hooray! One goal complete!

Video, Writing

A Sense Of Place


The National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh are holding an exhibition at the moment called A Sense Of Place. It focuses on Joan Eardley’s work from two particular locations – Glasgow and the village of Catterline.

It’s an astounding exhibition, featuring items loaned from public and private collections far and wide. The Glasgow pieces, possibly her most famous work, are amazing. Capturing the children of the tenements and the world they inhabit. But it’s the Catterline rooms which stopped me in my tracks.

I lived in Catterline from the age of 8 until I was 18. Those are some important years I spent there. Our house was built in a new street behind the path on the cliffs to the old coastguard watchhouse which used to act as Eardley’s studio (one of three houses in the village she used). I am very, very familiar with the locations, subjects, and weather which Joan painted and the places she captured them from.

To see images of the pier which we used to jump off, the sea stack we used to climb and the cliffs we spent years roaming on large scale canvas taking up entire rooms of the National Gallery is breathtaking. It provoked a lot of powerful emotion and memories for me.

When I got home I tried to parse some of those thoughts and emotions into a poem called – A Sense Of Place, which you can hear in the reading below.

The tagline on the National Galleries website is “Art that inspires”. In this exhibition they certainly achieved that.