New Year’s Resolutions? No thanks. I’ll do ‘Sustainable Positive Habits’ Instead.

 

The years go by... photo by Marija Smits

The years go by… photo by Marija Smits

 

Oh dear, my title has given away all the exciting stuff I was going to explain. Never mind. So yeah… I haven’t really ‘done’ New Year’s Resolutions for a few years now, and that’s mainly because those huge, rather amorphous resolutions like: I’m going to lose weight! Get richer! Become famous! (<– the last being something I’m not very interested in but still you get the drift) are simply that: unquantifiable, vague desires. So instead I’m dismissing the vagaries and set-up-to-fail resolutions and instead keeping going with my (probably not that exciting) but overall, positive habits. These are:

 

  1. Listening to my body more. Part of this involves continuing to go swimming once a week and doing two HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions a week because my body needs and appreciates it. Since September (when I posted my ‘Publisher’s Bum’ post) pretty much without fail I’ve kept up with this routine. So I’m pleased about that. Another part of this listening habit involves me dealing with the RSI in my wrist. To that end I’ve ordered myself an ergonomic mouse and I’ll see how it goes. The final part involves questioning myself more at dinner times, and whether I really really need to eat the kids’ leftovers and finally, continuing to listen to my body when it’s telling me to sleep and rest (and actually acting on that) which I mostly do already.

 

  1. Listening to my family more. My youngest still needs me and though my oldest child, my soon-to-be ten-year-old daughter, doesn’t ‘need’ me in the same way as she used to, they (and my husband) want to share and spend time with me and I want to do the same with them. So this habit mainly involves being fierce about protecting family time and reminding myself to listen to their cues.

 

  1. Listening to the voice of the ‘stern but fair headmistress’ in my head more often (just one of the many voices of the Wild Woman). Thankfully my inner critic isn’t too shouty anymore but I really do need to be more respectful of the headmistress. She’s the one who tells me to stop being such a magpie about shiny new creative ideas and FINISH THE CURRENT WORK. She also tells me to get off Facebook and knuckle down to the to-do list. The stroppy (and yet creative) part of me thinks she’s a party-pooper, but deep down I have great respect for her. Because it is only by finishing things that I can truly grow as a writer and artist.

 

  1. Listening to the hands of time more often. Okay, so this seems like a pretty gloomy habit. But there is only so much time to go around. It’s one of the most precious resources any human has. So learning how to make best use of it is worthwhile.

 

  1. Listening to quiet more often. This simply sometimes involves exiting cyberspace and leaving behind the noise of the internet with all its attention-grabbing headlines, tricksy ads, outraged voices, and shouty ‘me, me, me’s that make my head spin, and then tuning into my own voice. (The whispers of the Wild Woman perhaps…?) What is it trying to say? What am I thinking? How am I feeling? Better still, going for a walk in a wood where the trees grow so thickly that you can hear the sound of silence… or along the side of a lake so mirror-like it is as though the Lady of the Lake may well emerge from the waters… ah well, for me, those are some of the best experiences in the world.

 

Swan on lake, photo by Marija Smits

Swan on lake, photo by Marija Smits

 

So on that rather quiet note I will leave you to your own listening. I wish you all the best for 2017. Thank you, loyal readers (all 11 of you + my wonderful husband!) for continuing to drop by to read my reflections.

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On Darkness and the Age of Enlightenment

Today, I am full of tears. I am hormonal, I am tired. A short story not being placed in a competition has made me feel low. Money worries are ever-present. My eldest daughter has been ill (though, thankfully she is on the mend). News of children suffering and dying in my Facebook feed has overwhelmed me. I feel useless and so very helpless. Today, I am full of tears.

Yet there is light all around me; achingly bright sunlight currently fills the room in which I am writing and ice-white fairy lights snake about the walls of our house. The tree in our lounge sports ribbons of multi-coloured LEDs. Candles sit around our nativity scene, keen to be lit. There is light within me (though darkness too). And I see light in others. And light calls to light.

Chrstingle, photo by Marija Smits

Chrstingle, photo by Marija Smits

2016 has been a year of darkness and much ugliness for so many. It is now more than ever that light is needed. It is interesting to me that light is so important to many (if not all) of the religions, and in pagan festivals too, light, in the form of the sun or moonlight or fire, is key. Storytellers, as well, know about the importance of light (think Lumos! in Harry Potter). It is a theme I explore often in my writing. Artists are the wielders of light. But in addition to creative and spiritual light (which I equate with love – and so something we no doubt need more of) there is also the light of reason. This is something the world desperately needs.

The Enlightenment… …was an intellectual movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century. The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and came to advance ideals such as liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state…

…The Enlightenment was marked by an emphasis on the scientific method and reductionism along with increased questioning of religious orthodoxy – an attitude captured by the phrase Sapere aude, “Dare to know”.

from Wikipedia

Daring to know the facts and statistics and hence outcomes about uncomfortable things like sexism, racism, climate change, government policy, neoliberalism, even something as (supposedly uncontroversial) as breastfeeding is difficult. If a journalist, celebrity or (lowly in the eyes of many) mother cites facts about breastfeeding: breastfeeding reduces the risk of vomiting and diarrhoea, SIDS, type 2 diabetes and obesity (to name a few) or to state it another way: formula feeding increases the risk of vomiting and diarrhoea, SIDS, type 2 diabetes and obesity (to name a few) just wait for the outrage.

Yet these are facts. They cannot hurt us. But for some of us they can and do by causing cognitive dissonance; they turn our worldview upside down, they turn our comfy, cushy lives and perception of ourselves as ‘good’ people into something else entirely. They damage the shiny image we have of our ‘self’. And for some these facts are simply dull and they feel browbeaten by those who wield them. School has turned them off facts. And anyway, who doesn’t want to think of themselves as a ‘good’ person? One of the most difficult and yet enlightening conversations I had was with my husband this year as we talked through some of the stuff that had happened to us as a family this year. I did some hard self-reflection and found my behaviour to have been selfish and driven by selfish desires. Ow! There is nothing quite as searing (or purging) as examining one’s own ‘self’ and coming face to face with darkness.

Yet, there was also something liberating about this discovery. I am freer of self-deceit than I was before and in many ways this new knowledge allows me to give more energy and thought to positive things. It is a hard-won gift.

But the gift of knowledge, of self-awareness, is one that not many will want in their lives. For how much more easy it is to listen to lies on the news that tell us what we want to hear than to search out some evidence-based research. How much easier it is to vote for someone who appeals to the fear that they and their cronies have nurtured in us and our societies. How much easier it is to say that climate change can’t be happening because it’s all a made-up conspiracy. How much easier it is to think of ourselves as without fault, all issues and problems in our lives caused by others. How much easier it is to distract ourselves from life’s true joys and worries with fact-free click-bait; junk food of the soul, surely. How much easier it is to act like the herd mammals we really are and to go along with what everyone else is doing and saying.

In this age of post-truth, this age of outrage when the individual’s feelings trump everything else – you offended me, how dare you! the rallying cry of so many – we need to fall back on reason and the scientific method.

Science books, photo by Marija Smits

Science books, photo by Marija Smits

The age of enlightenment brought us so much. The scientific revolution followed soon after and so many of our advances in technology and medicine etc. come as a direct result of these two movements. It is the reason for the Cancer Act of 1939, which basically stops conmen and conwomen from pushing “cures” which don’t cure on cancer patients. (This Act is something I had to make someone aware of recently.) The age of enlightenment is the reason behind so much of the advantages and good stuff us wealthy-enough westerners get to enjoy. But as Sophie rightly pointed out in this blog post, sometimes (with a view to ‘equal debate’) there comes about a false balance as journalists and those in the media have allowed those without any facts and extreme views a platform. And closer to home, we allow ourselves and our friends and loved ones their own lies and myths.* We have done a disservice to those who brought about this age of enlightenment and our society too by letting lies abound.

We desperately need another age of enlightenment. I don’t know if or how or when it will come about. But I hope it does come about, and soon. But I am sure that we all have our role to play in helping it come about. Some of us can and will do more than others. But sometimes all it requires of us is the very act of questioning, ourselves and others. We need to ask these questions:

 

  • Why do you/I believe this?

 

  • What is the evidence?

 

  • How does this work?

 

  • And of course: What can I/you do to change this?

 

And especially, we need to nurture our children’s natural curiosity and encourage them to keep on asking: Why?

In 2017 I will be challenging myself to ask more of these questions.

 

* Communicating in an empathic fashion while making others aware of untruths is something I definitely want to explore in a future post.

Thank you again to Maddy for all her continued hard work throughout 2016 in making the What I’m Writing link-up so wonderful. 🙂

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Trump, and the post I didn’t want to write

The meaning of 'Trump'

 

This was the blog post that I didn’t want to write – but also the one that I thought that, eventually, I would have to. A few days ago, Maddy wrote very eloquently about her fears and anxiety about the US presidential election. Like so many (my husband included) Maddy was holding on to the hope that Hillary Clinton, an intelligent, liberal, hardworking individual of integrity, would become president. She would be the first female president of the United States. It was about time a woman entered the White House, not just as ‘the wife’ but the president. But after Brexit… well, I felt that it would be better not to hope. So when I rose this morning and my husband told me the news that Trump had got in, the faint glimmer of hope that my soul was secretly holding onto, died.

Intellectually, I can understand why this has happened. There is a majority of humans (a slight one, but still…) that either consciously or subconsciously believe that competition, not cooperation, is the name of the game. That the desires of the individual reign supreme and that the needs of others are irrelevant. For many in this slight majority, all that matters is that the individual succeeds, no matter the cost to other humans or the planet.

Cooperation seems subtly, morally tricksy, you see. Because what if you help someone out and they don’t help you in return? What if they’re cheating the system, and you’re working your butt off and they’re not but they’re still getting the benefits of your hard work…? It’s not fair, is it? No, it’s not fair, but a large, well-run and caring society can buffer the effects of the odd person who doesn’t pull their weight. I care more that the vulnerable are provided for than I care about the fact that some are possibly cheating the system and getting benefits that they don’t really need (although with all the benefit cuts happening in the UK at the moment it seems impossible that anyone could actually be ‘cheating’ the system).

So… those who strongly adhere to the idea that it is better that a few (read: many) vulnerable people suffer so that all the cheats are caught and stripped of their benefits buy into the principles of conservatism, of republicanism, of tradition (these political philosophies also happen to further the agenda of the monster, neoliberalism). And one of the oft-used tricks of these political philosophies is to blame others for the individual’s dissatisfaction or not-as-successful-as-they’d-like standing in society.

“The poor and the vulnerable – especially those who do not share the same language or customs or religion – have always been a politically convenient scapegoat for a society’s various ills. It’s the oldest trick in the book.”

Giles Fraser wrote in 2014.

And as someone who lives and breathes books, I also thought that what Alessandro Gallenzi, founder of Alma Books (an indie press) had to say about the election result particularly pertinent:

“What you sow is what you reap. Decades of lack of investment in education and the arts, decades of dumbing-down and anti-intellectualism can only lead to mental apathy and political passivity.”

He blamed the result on an “intellectual sheepishness”.

 

The Future

So what of Trump and the future?

Well, in this thought-provoking article, the author, Kate Aronoff writes:

“The upshot is already clear: in short order, the United States could slide from hawkish neoliberalism into authoritarianism.”

Authoritarianism and Trump appear to be very happy bedfellows. Yet, of course, authoritarianism, with its close ties to totalitarianism is something to be afraid of. (Although I’m willing to concede that a benevolent dictatorship is something that could maybe work well for a country.) Authoritarianism is up there with neoliberalism in terms of its potential for monstrousness. Though, interestingly, if you look back on history, totalitarianism can still arise under a variety of political regimes (and -isms): communism, capitalism, nationalism, fascism. (Feel free to play “guess the dictator” at this point if you want.)

But intellectual analysis aside, emotionally, I once again feel like the world has turned upside down. Overnight a backward step, in terms of the rights of the vulnerable, women’s rights, the obliteration of racism, and the halting of climate change, has been taken. And I am soul-sick and weary.

So what can we do? Well, first, we must feel. We must allow ourselves the time to come to terms with our emotions. We must think, and continue to think about what we can do. Very many of us, who are just about coping with our day-to-day lives, and all the challenges that life brings, will have to concede that there is very little we can do. But for the many, many of us who believe in cooperation and not competition, and who want there to be a caring society and a planet that hasn’t been fried to a crisp in the future, we have to fight, and do what we can with the skills and time we have available to us. We also have to remember that the every day small kindnesses that we perform towards each other and the planet matter. But taking a step back, away from history, taking the omniscient position, I have to remind myself that over the centuries, our societies are becoming more liberal and more caring. It is just that there will most likely always be these semi-regular blips, spikes of selfishness and aggression if you will, that will cause us to despair.

Finally, I am reminded that simply continuing – and holding the principles of empathy, love and cooperation close to our hearts – is a way of ‘winning’. Simply enduring. And surviving. For now, it’ll have to do.

 

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Why I blog, why I read (and don’t read) others’ blogs, and a giveaway.

 

'Patience' zentangle art by Marija Smits

‘Patience’, zentangle art by Marija Smits

 

I’ve been blogging for 4 years now and I think it’s safe to say that my blog has made very little impact (if any) on the blogging world. The voice of my ego (which happens to sound a lot like the voice of Ichabod Muffin) is incredulous and says: What! How can the world NOT realize how AMAZING your blog is?!! (Shush, Ego/Ichabod. You’re too loud.) And then the HSP (huge) part of me says: Phew! I’ve got away with another year of quiet, unchanging, anonymity. However, little impact or not, this is still a good chance for me to reflect on why I blog and why I read others’ blogs.

 

Reasons to Blog

So why do I blog? Well, first, there are the ‘selfish’ reasons, i.e. reasons to do with the ‘self’. The creative part of my ‘self’ simply takes great pleasure in producing a blog that is, in my eyes, appealing to look at and read. The egotistical part of my ‘self’ desires (and enjoys) the validation/praise that readers and commenters provide. Then there is the ‘altruistic’ reason (although I know too, that there is an argument that altruism is a selfish act too). Anyway… I read a fair few blogs and there have been times when, coming to the computer, I’ve been sad, downhearted, or somewhat soul-weary, and a ‘something’ that a blogger has written, or an image they’ve shared, has made me feel better, lighter, and somehow, understood. In my own way, I’d like to ‘give back’. So if any of my words or images I’ve shared here have made someone else felt understood, then that really does make me happy. (Okay, so maybe this is a ‘selfish’ reason after all!) And lastly, there is the bullishly practical/selfish reason of building a platform – my blog being a teensy area in the vastness of the internet where people interested in my art or writing can have a look around and get a sense of who I am and my creative output (hence the list of publications, gallery, About me etc.). Lastly, there has been the beautiful bonus of finding community with other like-minded individuals. And I’m ever so grateful to wonderful Maddy for creating such a warm writing community in the #WhatI’mWriting crew. 🙂

 

Reasons to Read Others’ Blogs

Okay, the ‘selfish’ bit first. There are some blogs/websites that I visit because they are so full of useful information about writing or art. Kirsten Lamb, Emma Darwin, Cathy Bryant’s Comps and Calls. I am ever so thankful that I can greedily take priceless info. from these wonderful people who choose to share their knowledge with the world. (Though I do aim to try to give back to them in some form i.e. buying their books/leaving comments/spreading the word about their sites etc.)

Then there are the blogs where I feel refreshed and comforted by the beautiful images and for getting a glimpse into a gentle person’s life. I feel a kinship with these bloggers, partly, I’m sure because the sensitive part of me recognises in them another sensitive soul. Jane. Maddy. Alice. Rachael. Sophie. Helen.

Then there are the blogs that I visit because I simply greatly admire these writers; they also offer up fascinating insights into various aspects of the writing world, creativity and humanity: Ana Salote, Rebecca Ann Smith, Angela Topping, Sarah James, Becky Cherriman, Adam Roberts, Matt Haig.

There are also writer friends that are going down the self-publishing route: Emily Organ, Suzie W and Nicola Young, and I enjoy visiting their blogs to see how they are doing (and knowing what is involved in publishing I am constantly inspired by their conviction to go down this route because rather like single-handedly running a business, self-publishing requires a lot of focus, energy and determination).

Then there is the altruistic reason: I enjoy reading the blogs of up-and-coming writers (you probably know who you are!) and seeing how they are doing. If I can give them a snippet of information or a publishing tip that could be useful to them, that makes me happy. (Okay, yes, probably another selfish reason!)

Lastly, there are the blogs that I simply like to visit because they’re beautifully arty, Amy Hood Arts, Georgie St. Clair, Emma Howitt or funny and quirky, like Muddled Manuscript and Turning Up in Devon.

 

Blogs I Don’t Like

This probably breaches all kinds of blogging etiquette but still… I thought it would be honest to also talk about the blogs that I don’t visit. So, what don’t I like? Well, having to read a fair few manuscripts for the day job I don’t tend to visit blogs where writers share a lot of their prose or poetry. Because, you know, my editor’s hat suddenly pings on, and I go into editing mode (not really fair to the blogger or all the other day job manuscripts or freelance editing work that I need to be spending time on!).

Then there are the blogs where after a second or two of clicking on their URL I get bombarded with ‘sign up to my newsletter’ or ‘buy this’ or ‘buy that’. Often, their blog posts are more advertorial than article. Or perhaps more personal than it is necessary to be. (Being able to grab people’s attention and some of their time in this world of information-overload is a monetizable skill, and sometimes oversharing gets this attention. Look at some ‘celebrities’, for example, Kim Kardashian. I’m not exactly sure what she’s famous for. But she can sure as hell get a lot of people taking time out of their busy lives to focus on her. And that skill, it seems, can be turned into dollars.)

Now, I understand that people need to make money and that blogging can be a great way to do this, but as an HSP if I feel pressured or overwhelmed by the marketing (or simply not in tune with the blogger) then I do the thing that I do when cold callers come a-knocking or phoning. I harrumph. Then I get cross with myself and think: Hey! They’re just trying to make a living like the rest of us. So I try to empathise, but obviously, I’m also thinking that my time is precious… And then I get myself into a right old HSP muddle, and that’s when I have to step away. And so no, I won’t be signing up, or buying this or that. And it is then that I return to all the other wonderful blogs that I mentioned above that don’t overwhelm me.

 

The (kind of) Ironic Giveaway

So on that note (and yes, I realize there’s a certain amount of irony to offering this after I’ve just expressed all the above) but still… I’m doing a giveaway to celebrate my 4th blogiversary.

Zentangle 'Patience' + copies of The Forgotten and the Fantastical

Zentangle ‘Patience’ + copies of The Forgotten and the Fantastical

 

So here’s the deal. Simply comment on this blog post and I’ll put your name in a hat for the giveaway draw. The first name I pull out of the hat will get the above original Zentangle artwork I created over the past few weeks and a copy of The Forgotten and the Fantastical (in which I have two stories). Two runners-up will each get a copy of The Forgotten and the Fantastical. If you would like to spread the word, i.e. share this post, ‘like’ my Facebook page (those 99 likes are crying out to become 100, right?!), or follow me on Twitter or…

EGO (in voice of Ichabod Muffin): SIGN UP TO GET EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS OF BLOGPOSTS

The HSP part of me: Oh do shut up. You’re making my arse twitch.*

…then feel free to do so. Or not. I am absolutely okay with that. The last thing I want is for someone to sign up to my blog and then regret doing so days or weeks or months down the line.

So that’s basically it.

If you can’t think of anything to comment on, simply let me know what blogs you enjoy reading (or you could, like me, breach blogging etiquette and tell me what you don’t like reading). Or you could let me know which one of my posts has connected with you in some way. Or you could offer me Viagra or an excellent way to optimise my SEO. Or hey, maybe you could dream up an offer of a Viagra-enhanced way to optimise my SEO. Yeah, that would be cool…

Okay, enough! The giveaway will run until midnight GMT on 30th October 2016 and I’ll announce the winners shortly afterwards. (This offer is open to anyone living in any country, but if someone outside the UK does win, the books would be emailed over as PDFs. I mean, have you seen the price of international postage?!)

* Paying homage to one of my favourite lines from a favourite film, French Kiss.

 

Lastly, thanks to Maddy. (Apologies for all the virtual smooching, I’m definitely signing off now!)

 

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An Intention and Meet Starry-You

 

To date I’ve not been one to declare an intention publicly (I’m more the quiet person in the background puttering on with their work – vague intentions in my head, but never ‘out there’) so it feels a bit strange to do this, but I can see one big positive of declaring an intention of mine: that it’ll (hopefully) keep me accountable and on track to actually doing the thing that I want to do.

So here goes. I have a little dream of putting together a book – a collection of short stories in the SFF genre – and (whisper it) getting it published and ‘out there’. At the moment the whole publishing thing is not something I’m thinking about too much – it’s the whole good quality short story stuff that’s keeping me occupied!

But you see, something absolutely wonderful happened to me a short while ago. First, my story ‘His Birth’ was shortlisted in a competition. (The Wellcome Trust sponsored ‘Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities’ Creative Writing Competition.) And then second, it got awarded 2nd place by the judge Adam Roberts, who is like some kind of god when it comes to science fiction writing. And believe me, it gave me such a boost (and actually, some much-needed validation) that I started to think, Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can allow myself to consider putting together a short story collection. Maybe.

So… it’s going to take me a good long while (my writing happens at around midnight once or twice a week, or on the weekend) but I’m in no rush. The main thing is to get around 12 good short stories written that I want to include. Now, I’ve got a couple already that I want to include, but there’s still a whole lot more to write. And, there’s also the fact that only about 1 in 5 of the short stories I write are actually good enough to put in a collection. This I know because I only consider a story ‘good enough’ if my husband (aka my editor extraordinaire) really likes the story (and that only ever happens in approximately that ratio!).

So I’m going to aim to increase my publication history when it comes to short stories (no doubt there will be plenty of rejections ahead – perhaps some acceptances too!) but the main thing is that I persevere.

Inspired by Maddy’s image of her ‘Self-Doubt Demon’ I decided to draw a character that represents the opposite: the ‘Supportive Star’ (aka Starry-You in reference to the Pokemon, Staryu). Or does Sammy Star work better? Who knows? Basically, this little guy (or is she a gal?) is there to say: Well done! and You can do it! You got this! Because sometimes we all need a little encouragement when things get tough and the self-doubt demon appears…

 

Yay! You can do it! Starry-You by Marija Smits

Yay! You can do it! Starry-You by Marija Smits

 

Anyway… wish me luck, and if you ever have a spare moment please do ask me about how things are going. It will be good incentive for me to keep going!

Lastly… my blog turned 4 last month (although sadly, I was too busy to do anything about it then) but I’m creating a little something for a giveaway I’m going to run, so please do pop back in the next week or two if you’re interested in seeing what I’ll be giving away in celebration of my 4th blogiversary.

 

Some zentangle-art-to-be, photo by Marija Smits

Some zentangle-art-to-be, photo by Marija Smits

 

So, ta ta for now, and I hope to see you soon!

 

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Publisher’s Bum and other Western World Woes

 

Publisher's Bum, by Marija Smits

Publisher’s Bum, by Marija Smits (painted with coffee and watercolours)

 

A Confession

First, let’s get this out of the way: I’ve been a bit dishonest. I could have titled this post ‘Publisher’s RSI’ or ‘Writer’s Wrist’ or ‘Why Exercise Is Good For You So You Should Do It’ but those titles weren’t as arresting (read: potentially titillating). Apologies to those who really don’t want to read about exercise…

Anyway, but yes, it’s true. I have ‘Publisher’s Bum’ as well as ‘Writer’s Wrist’ (i.e. RSI in my wrist) because I spend far too much time on the computer for my publishing work: writing emails, filling in Excel spreadsheets, typesetting, cover designing, writing blurbs, managing the website etc. etc. and I really must get myself a proper mouse thingy because this glide pad on the laptop is really knackering my wrist.

I digress. The point is that I do a lot of sitting around and not enough exercise. In September 2015 my youngest started school, so back then I thought to myself: ‘Aha! I will now be like one of those “proper” freelancers/portfolio living folks and do what I want in my free time. I will schedule some exercise time into my week.’

Of course it didn’t happen because I had a lot of publishing work to do, and you know, there’s less of an activation barrier to continuing to sit at the computer doing work than there is to actually getting off my bum and doing some exercise.

 

Mothering As Exercise

Now, at the start of September 2015 this wasn’t an issue, but gradually, it became an issue. Because there is a shift from the early days/years of motherhood where calories are being burnt up simply by breastfeeding and babywearing and running around after a young child to, let’s say, a more sedentary phase of motherhood when the children are older. In the early years there’s no time for “formal” exercise because baby and toddler and pre-schooler care IS exercise. But then they get older and those calories aren’t being used up to make vast quantities of breastmilk or child weightlifting or running down the road after a toddler/pre-schooler who has discovered that actually, they can go pretty fast on a balance bike. Hmm.

But still… I’m EATING like I’m that younger-than-now mother. I’m hoovering up the kids’ leftovers like I’m going to single-handedly rid the world of all the problems associated with the imbalance in global food supply. (Actually, I know in part why I’m doing this, it’s a) because I’m greedy and b) it’s because of history i.e. my parents indoctrinating me with the idea that as others don’t have enough I must finish what is on my plate. Also, it’s rude to your hosts to not finish off food.)

So, yeah the wobbly bits of me bother me somewhat (actually, I have affection for the wobbly bits, they are actually quite endearing and very humanizing. If I ever find that I’m taking myself too seriously I simply have to look down at my belly and squoosh it into a funny shape). BUT, the wobbly bits are stopping me from fitting into some of my favourite clothes AND, most importantly, they are indicative of the fact that I’m not as fit and healthy as I used to be.

 

The Psychology Bit

So, after almost a year of having exercise at the bottom of my list of priorities, I am finally making the psychological progress necessary to make it rise up the list of priorities.

First, I reminded myself that my good health is as important to my family as is the good health of my children, my husband and other family members. So it’s okay for me to spend time on keeping myself fit and healthy. Also, exercise actually makes me work more efficiently (as well as helping me to have a healthier mind – freer of anxiety, OCD etc.) so it’s important to build some formal exercise into my week. Also, reflecting on our eating habits as a family has been useful – I know that we lapse too easily into processed food because it’s quick to prepare.

Second, I have had a good think about what kind of exercise suits me best. I am hypermobile and have to be aware of tendons that can get overstretched and damaged (just because they can easily bend in all sorts of random directions!) so something like running, which impacts on my right knee badly isn’t going to happen (although years ago, pre-children, I enjoyed running). And by the way, I’ve probably got a post brewing about hypermobility, hormones and motherhood, but that’ll have to wait for a bit.

Third, I am now wise enough (or is that mature/experienced enough?) to know that I cannot radically change the natural build of my body. I can tone my muscles but I sure as hell can’t do anything about my bone structure. I am what I am, and that’s okay. (Although, of course, the fashion and beauty industry would like to tell us otherwise. But hey, that’s neoliberalism for you. There’s always a product that you can buy to change yourself, right?!)

Lastly, I know that at heart I’m lazy. Give me a book and a full fridge and a day off and I’ll happily lay in bed all day simply reading and eating, reading and eating. Okay, so what with having kids the whole “day off” thing isn’t going to happen, but still… my point is that inertia to exercise is very real. The way that I eliminate/reduce inertia is by making the exercise another habit. For example: I write most days. It’s not that difficult to find a 15 or 30 minute slot per day, if (health-permitting, of course) you really want to. Once writing every day (or every other day) becomes a habit, it’s a difficult habit to break. Same with handwashing after going to the toilet. It’s done automatically. So three times a week I do some kind of formal exercise (I tend to favour a bit of weightlifting and high intensity interval workout, a la Joe Wicks), a little bit of skipping, wild dancing, as well as swimming. And most days I walk somewhere. Something else that can help with motivation is having a friend, or partner, giving a gentle nudge or some words of encouragement so that you just get on and do it. Oh, and the Paralympics ALWAYS motivates me. If those brilliant individuals can overcome the challenges in their lives to excel in various sports, then really, who am I to moan?

My local swimming pool, image by Marija Smits

My local swimming pool, image by Marija Smits

 

Exercise as Creative Endeavour

So that’s it, I guess. An exercise routine is for life, not just for Christmas. And like most creative activities, e.g. drawing and writing, it doesn’t require a lot of money to get started. (A massive bonus for me as I really can’t afford gym fees or anything like that.) Rather like any other endeavour (such as writing) that is important to our lives, exercise has to become a habit and something that we can fairly easily commit to, BUT without giving ourselves hugely unrealistic expectations (such as I WILL get published by one of the Big Five and get a six figure advance; I WILL have a body like a supermodel) because when/if we don’t attain those goals it is very easy to beat ourselves up about this so-called failure and not re-start the process. Physical activity is, in a way, analogous to the creative process. As long as one finds some form of activity that is enjoyable then it feels good to do it and the “habit” more easily becomes ingrained. Exercise, like creativity, is mainly about the process; regular physical exertion is the crafting of our own bodies through the growth of muscle tissue, blood capillaries, lung capacity and the reduction of other tissues e.g. fat tissue. And it’s also a brilliant excuse for listening to plenty of up-tempo music. Ricky Martin anyone?!

 

 

Lastly, if you’d like to recommend/share your own exercise tips (or what exercise works best for you) or healthy food recipes, or just some groovy music, I’m all ears… 🙂

And thanks again to Maddy at Writing Bubble for providing the necessary spur to write this post!

 

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Ice cream, and other good things that come to an end

 

Mint choc chip ice cream, by Marija Smits

Mint choc chip ice cream, by Marija Smits

 

Tomorrow my children will be going back to school. I will, no doubt, be experiencing a mix of emotions as I do the school run: sadness (I want to have more fun with them!), worry (will they get on okay in their new year?) and a touch of relief (I desperately need some quiet hours to myself to catch up with my publishing work) as well as the usual overwhelm that the school run social niceties and small talk cause me as an HSP.

 

Strawberry ice cream by Marija Smits

Strawberry ice cream by Marija Smits

 

Anyway, I will get through it. And my children will, no doubt, manage. But, again, it is an obvious end to the summer and the freedom (and fun) that it brings all of us. And when good things come to an end there is a certain amount of sadness. So, I will feel the sadness, say hello to it, and then get on with things. I will say goodbye to it when I am ready.

So on that note, I will leave you with one of my (somewhat bittersweet) poems. It was recently published in this lovely pamphlet: Food & Drink – Bramley Apple Festival Poems, 2015.

 

Food and Drink, Bramley Apple Festival Poems

'Mint choc chip' poem, by Marija Smits

‘Mint choc chip’ poem, by Marija Smits

 

If you write poetry I would definitely encourage you to enter the annual Bramley Apple Festival poetry competition – it is free to enter and the organizers are friendly and helpful. There really is nothing to lose! Here is a PDF with all the info:

2016 ‘Green’ Bramley Apple Festival Poetry Competition leaflets

Whatever you are doing tomorrow, I hope it brings you a little sweet ‘something’. Amidst the sadness I will enjoy having a creamy coffee and listening the stillness of the house. And after school, who knows, maybe we will go for an ice cream. But what flavour to choose…?

 

Cherry ice cream by Marija Smits

Cherry ice cream by Marija Smits

 

p.s. A huge welcome back to Maddy (and all) at ‘What I’m Writing’. 🙂

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