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.

Video, Writing

Burkini Bodies

The terror attack in Nice last year was devastating and horrifying. I love France and have nothing but fond memories of the Promenade des Anglais and the week we spent in Nice a few years ago.  Watching the aftermath on TV I was distraught at the fear which would now be endemic in such a beautiful and welcoming area. An area which over the centuries has seen migration (and occasional occupation) from across the Mediterranean resulting in an exciting diverse culture which takes bits of French, Italian, African, British, Spanish and many others.

Then in the weeks and months after another disaster unfolded, this time the victims weren’t strewn across a famous boulevard but instead, they were on a beach, beside their children, with police surrounding them. Women, doing nothing more than enjoying a day with their family, were harassed, insulted and demeaned into removing the clothing they were comfortable in wearing because people were scared that they looked different. Scared that they looked Muslim.

In my fury at the knee-jerk reaction of the French politicians and security forces, as well as the empathy I felt for the women affected – who are as much victims of Islamic terrorism as the western, Christian people targetted that night in Nice, I wrote the poem below, Burkini Bodies.

Music, News, Video, Writing

This week I have mostly been…

I’ve thrown myself down a few creative holes recently and had quite a busy week for putting work online in some form or another.

I recently began publishing articles on Medium to try out that platform and give myself another outlet for some writing which I think would be unsuitable to host here. I think I would like this site to become very informal and just be personal reflections rather than anything too serious or professional.

At the end of last week I posted an article there about how I try and maintain self-belief in the face of anxiety, depression and the mental issues which these conditions inflict on me

Then at the weekend I presented my parents with the gift I’d made for them to congratulate them on their ruby wedding anniversary. It’s a drawing of the family tree which they planted the seeds for forty years ago, along with a short poem I wrote for them
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I’m pretty proud of it as someone who is really, really bad at drawing!

After that it was back to music and a project I’m working on throughout 2017 – recording 50 tunes throughout the year in a mix of video and sound recordings. This is an effort to get me learning and writing new music as well as building confidence in myself as a musician again. On Tuesday I posted a video of two tunes played on mandolin – Road to Banff and The Spey In Spate.

Once I’d recorded the mandolin set I left the camera set up and decided to do an impromptu poetry reading. I entered some poems into a major competition towards the end of last year and received confirmation that they’d not made the shortlist this week. Which, while disappointing, does mean they are now free to be entered elsewhere and shared with the world again. One of those poems is Leaving The Woods, which I wrote around the idea of leaving your childhood behind and based on some memories I had of the woods we played in as children.

I also published it via Medium with a bit of background on the poem itself and the stories told within it

Writing

Twitter Poems

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been using twitter as a platform for producing some very short pieces of quickly written poetry. Usually inspired by current events, or whatever is distracting me at my desk at that particular moment in time. The quality is patchy but there are a couple that I’m very happy with.

I’ve included a few that I like the most here. Follow me on twitter if you’re interested in seeing more or if you want to share your own short poems.