Sunday Post – Hitting a Wall

A statue of a monk holding a lamp. Someone has put a mask on his face and a knitted NHS rainbow in his hands.
Statue in Cardiff Bay wearing a mask and an NHS rainbow

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling pretty tired recently. I seem to have hit a wall over the last couple of weeks. I was so fatigued last week that I couldn’t keep up my exercise, which is unusual for me. It felt like my body was made out of lead. I struggled to focus on anything and I was in a very bad mood. So I took some time off, prioritised rest and sleep, and I’m now feeling much better. It’s a bit of a wake up call though. I need to make sure I’m getting enough sleep and be more proactive about stress management

It’s not too surprising that it’s getting to me now. I’m hearing similar things from friends and colleagues. Over three months of lockdown. Horrible announcements about mass redundancies and threats of a deep recession. The possiblity of ongoing outbreaks and local lockdowns. So much uncertainty. It’s just a lot to deal with on top of trying to get on and do your job and live your life as best you can.

Personally, I do believe we’ll get a vaccine eventually, but it could be months (I don’t want to say years), before that’s a reality. In the meantime, I’m going to practice acceptance and create a plan for how my partner and I are going to sustain a life that will be quite restricted for some time to come.

Goals for the rest of the summer are to work on a medition practice, make a lot more time for creativity, and establish an exercise routine that works for me longer-term. There are some online courses I want to do in the autumn, so that should keep me occupied. One thing I will say for the situation is that it has encouraged me to develop more of a ‘growth mindset’. I’ve been trying new things, like dance classes. I did a class on ‘self massage and somatic movement’ the other week which was really good.

Reading

I’ve read five books on my #20BooksOfSummer list, so I know I need to pick up the pace and also write some posts! I’ve written about Blanch on the Lam and Notes of a Native Son. I’ve also read On the Red Hill by Mike Parker which is wonderful and The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF which is a lot of fun. I’m hoping to finish three more books in the next couple of days.

Podcasts

I’ve finally started to listen to more podcasts. This is another positive thing that’s come out of lockdown for me. I’ve been listening to a lot of epsides of Sounds True. A word of caution, some of the guests will be way too ‘new agey’ for some people, but I find a lot on there that’s helpful, especially around living through difficult times. I was going to list them here, but actually I’ll do a separate post about the episodes I’ve found especially useful.

Watching

We adored Staged with Michael Sheen and David Tennant. It’s so wonderful and perfectly captures the bizarreness of lockdown.

We’ve been enjoying What We Do in the Shadows, the TV series. We loved the movie and initially I didn’t think the TV version was going to be as good, but it’s a grower and we really love it now.

We watched the film Vita & Virgina and I hate to say this about a lesbian film, but it really is terrible. Bad script, lazy representions and no idea what it was trying to say about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West, both of whom were awesome and had a very interesting relationship, which the movie does not even get close to doing justice.

Listening

I’ve been listening to a fair bit of Laura Marling. I Speak Because I Can is lovely and the new album sounds just as good. My favourite track at the moment is ‘Blow by Blow’.

Sunday post: Time for a Break

Cardiff Bay basin looking out twards Penarth on a bright sunny morning
Cardiff Bay basin on a clear sunny morning

We’ve had some glorious weather during the last couple of weeks, although it’s cooling down now. Lockdown has been eased very slightly here in Wales. You are now able to meet up with another household, as long as it’s within a five mile radius of your home, outside in the open air, and you maintain social distancing. Personally, I’m going to carry on being extremely careful and wait to see where we are in about three weeks time. By then we should know whether infections are increasing again. It does feel a lot busier outside. I’ve pulled my morning walk back by an half-an-hour because there are so many people out and about by 7.00am.

This week has felt extremely intense with the Black Lives Matter protests across the world. Like many white people, I’ve been wondering how to help. What’s the most useful thing that I can do? For me, right now, I think it’s listen, learn, promote the voices and work of people of colour, lobby those in power and actively support the organisations that know what they’re doing. It does seem like a tipping point has been reached and I hope it will lead to longer-term, sustainable change.

We are both feeling really tired. This is partly the ongoing effect of lockdown stress and partly down to just not having had a break since Christmas. We’ve taken next week off work, so that should help.

Reading

Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo was definitely the best thing I read in May. This story about the coming out of an elderly, gay Caribbean man is full of brilliantly drawn characters. It’s just a joy to read.

I also finished The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths, book seven in the Ruth Galloway series. I think I’m done with this series. It started well, but the books feel increasingly padded and the focus on forensic archeology has given way to very silly relationships between the characters. Time for a new cosy mystery series.

But for now #20BooksOfSummer will be taking up all of my reading time. I’ve started three of the books on my list: Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (seemed appropriate), The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson and The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF (really enjoying this).

Watching

We watched an excellent documentary about Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things. I didn’t know much about her and it’s an amazing, powerful story.

We finished Schitt’s Creek. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed. I felt like they were just hitting the narrative beats and kind of fudged the ending. It seemed flat to me. A great series overall though.

Podcasts

This is a lovely, warm and insightful conversation about life and literature The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed (with Jackie Key)

I also listened to this fascinating and alarming podcast about extinct food, Of Ghost Foods and Culinary Extinction.

Music

The album of the week is Unhalfbricking by Fairport Convention which includes one of my favourite songs of all time, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’

Sunday Post: Doing quite well, considering …

The sun glowing through thick grey cloud and mist over a calm sea
Misty morning walk

I’m feeling tired and my anxiety has been high over the last couple of weeks. Not surprising. I’m sure many people are experiencing similar things. Last weekend was particularly difficult though. The ninth anniversary of my father’s death hit me hard. I think I cried more on this year’s anniversary than I have on any of the others. My partner also had some painful emotional stuff to deal with. There have been various other stresses and strains, which just feel like too much on top of the pandemic anxiety. I’ve booked a week off work early in June. We can’t go anywhere, but I think it’s important to get a break.

On a happier note, we finally got our home office set up. The desk and chair arrived and the spare room is now comfortable for home working. Achievement unlocked! We have to take turns using it, but at least my partner doesn’t have to suffer through all my video calls anymore. Her job requires quiet and concentration, while mine involves several meetings a day, so it’s amazing that we haven’t had a falling out.

I also finished my blog refresh. This was one of my lockdown projects. It’s taken me a month, but I read every one of the 800-odd posts I had on here. There’s now around 600. And, as you can see I’ve given it a bit of a new look too.

I’m still doing well at the self-care. Yoga at least three times a week, daily walks, and a dance class twice a week, which I’m really enjoying despite it being waaaay out of my comfort zone. Dance is a bit of a sore spot for me since I failed grade one ballet (my fault, wouldn’t practice), so it’s fun to give it a go again.

Reading

I re-read All Systems Red by Martha Wells, the first book in the much loved Murderbot series. I finished The Heavens by Sandra Newman and, have to say, I didn’t like it all that much. Beautiful prose and very clever, but I found it distancing and couldn’t engage with it emotionally. Otherwise my reading has slumped. I’m chipping away at Mr Loverman, The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths and the complete stories of Hercule Poirot.

But I’ve decided to take part in #20BooksOfSummer again this year because I could do with a project, so that should motivate me.

Watching

We finished Good Omens which was an achievement because we’ve been struggling to get through new TV shows recently. Michael Sheen and David Tennant were delightful as Aziraphal and Crowley. We’re enjoying Season Six of Schitt’s Creek but I’m glad it’s the last one because they are clearly running out of ideas.

Listening

The album of the week has been Banga by Patti Smith. I just happened to put it on and it transported me back to happier times of seeing her play in Cardiff in 2012.

Thursday post – Life in Lockdown

We’re still doing pretty well overall. I usually get up early in the morning and go out for my allowed exercise. We set up our ‘workstations’ on the kitchen table and pack all the work stuff away when we’re done for the day. We do an online yoga class, make dinner and I’m falling asleep on the sofa by about 9 o’clock. Despite being at home, work and life feel very busy at the moment and, like a lot of people, I’m more tired than usual (Article: Here is why you might be feeling tired while on lockdown). The sense of monotony and sameness have been an issue, but I’m journalling every day and that helps.

Reading

I re- read The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, an old comfort book. I don’t think it’s a very strong collection really and ‘The Final Problem’ is so silly I can’t even. I think ‘The Naval Treaty’ and ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ are probably the best stories in there.

I’m still reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke. I need to finish that one.

Television

It’s been strictly comfort TV. Lots of Poirot and Death in Paradise. And season six of Brooklyn 99 has arrived on Netflix thank goodness!

We also downloaded The White Princess which is super trashy, but at least has Essie Davis as Elizabeth Woodlville. I kinda love how Philippa Gregory takes gaps in history and inserts the most salacious theories she can come up with.

The Miss Fisher movie is on Alibi on Friday so we’re looking forward to that.

Film

We arranged all of our comfort movies A-Z with the idea of working our way through them (we had some disagreements, A is insisting that Jaws is NOT a comfort movie), starting at the weekend with Back to the Future. I loved this film when I was a kid and it was quite fun to watch it again (Christopher Loyd is a comic genius), but I had forgotten how skeezy and rapey the storyline with Marty’s mum is! How was that considered appropriate for a kid’s movie?!?

Music

Still listening to Buffy Sainte Marie

Tuesday Post

Life

This should have been a Sunday post, but I didn’t have the mental energy at the weekend to compose even a lightweight weekly update.

I hope everyone is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. We are okay. We’ve established a routine pretty quickly and are doing quite well on the self-care front. There’s a lot to get used to: working from home, the restrictions on going out, and supporting an older relative who is in self-isolation. The main things I’m struggling with are fatigue and loss of mental focus. I also need to find a way to create a sense of distinction between the days. It feels like they are all merging into one.

Books

I finished The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz. Like all his books, it’s extremely readable and the mystery was decent enough, but it lost of a lot of points for being misogynist and a bit racist. I really enjoyed Magpie Murders but this one was a real turn off.

Also in crime fiction, I’m reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke, which is book five in her Ellie Hatcher series. I generally find Burke very reliable as a crime writer, although her earlier books have some graphic violence against women. I think she gets better and better.

Television

We’ve been enjoying the documentary series, England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey . Alice Roberts’s Digging for Britain is also fun.

Music

My musical discovery of the week has been the later work of Buffy Sainte-Marie which is just fantastic. Here she is with Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, performing the track ‘You got to run’.

Sunday post: Stressed out Sunday

Life

What can I say? Everyone is stressed and scared. I’m trying to be sensible and stay informed, while also taking steps to protect my mental health, because stress isn’t good for the immune system either and panicking helps no one! We’re just taking it one day at a time and trying to focus on what we can control. I’m mainly concerned about my mother, who is eighty, but I’m glad to say she is at least taking it seriously.

One good thing, I finally got to watch a kingfisher for several minutes. I’ve seen them briefly, but this was the first time I’ve got a really good look. Those binnoculars have already paid for themselves.

Reading

I finished My Real Children by Jo Walton. It’s very good and I’m still digesting it. I also finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice for about the millionth time.

Television

We’ve mainly been watching documentaties to take our minds off things. We loved Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents, a thrilling documentary about Elizabethan spy networks. We watched two episodes of The Stuarts, but got a little tired of the way it was directed. Probably will finish it though.

Today we watched Hilary Mantel: Return to Wolf Hall which was excellent. I’m looking forward to reading The Mirror & the Light.

My partner watched this documentary about the surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington, and says it’s good too.

Music

I haven’t listened to anything this week, but my partner recommends ‘Blackbirds & Thrushes’ by traditional folk singer, Niamh Parsons.

Sunday post: Library Cards & Lesbian Movies

Life

Mental health has not been great this week. Waking up at 3 or 4am on two nights with bad dreams, which then caused spirals of negative self-talk and upsetting thoughts during the day. I’ve been doing my best to take care of myself, keeping up my exercise, going to yoga and having almost daily walks on the local wetlands reserve.

My friend Magpie at Midnight had a baby, so that’s pretty amazing.

One good thing I did this week was go and get myself a new library card. After several years of neglect, I’m determined to start using my local library again.

Reading

I’m currently reading My Real Children by Jo Walton (from the library) and really enjoying it.

Television

I’ve started watching Silent Witness from the beginning. It seems like a show I could get into and I like to do things in order. The first season is taking itself extremely seriously but I’m enjoying it.

Film

We went to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire at Chapter Arts Centre this evening and it was excellent.

Music

I haven’t listened to much this week, so here is a song by Townes Van Zandt who would have been 76 on 7 March and is one of my all time favourite country singers.

Sunday Post: End of February

Life

My goal this week was to get through it without letting stress take over my life. I knew it was going to be busy at work, and when this happens, I tend to let self-care drop just when I most need to keep it up.

I delivered online training on Tuesday, went to Mid Wales for an all-day meeting on Wednesday, and gave a presentation to an important meeting on Thursday.

Overall, I managed the stress pretty well. I kept up other activities and didn’t have any anxiety attacks. I even had drinks with colleagues on Friday which was nice.

I went to a really good LGBTQ History Month event at The Senedd on Saturday. The speakers were all excellent and it was nice to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while. I learned about this project, Out in the Museum, which started at the V&A in London and is now being picked up by other museums across the UK. There was also a showing of a powerful short film, Invisible Women, about intersections between women’s and LGBT rights activism in the 1980s.

We were planning to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire but my partner has a cold so we’ll try and see it next weekend.

Reading

I finished Nalo Hopkinson’s short story collection, Falling in Love with Hominids. It’s a really good collection and well worth reading, although the stories were much closer to horror than I expected. Proper post to follow.

Pride and Prejudice is my current bedtime book.

Television

Mainly watching Schitt’s Creek at the moment.

Music

I’ve been listening to Nina Simone this week after twitter reminded me that 21 February was her birthday. So many incredible songs, but I think my favourite – right now anyway – is ‘Sinnerman’. The energy of this performance grabs me every time.

Sunday post: soup and stonechats

A round white bowl full of a red tomatoey soul with red peppers and chickpeas
Chickpea minnestrone

Life

I’ve been feeling the caffeine withdrawl this week. Despite sleeping well, I’ve been irritable and fatigued, especially in the mornings. I hope my body adjusts to lower levels soon.

But I did some useful stuff. Got my hair cut and went shopping for clothes for work. I had a couple of nice birdwatching walks on the nearby wetlands. I saw goldfinches, dunnocks, stonechats, greenfinches and some weird ducks which I don’t know how to identify.

We’ve been cooking from my beloved copy of Flavour by Ruby Tandoh. We made the tomato couscous, the quinoa with roast cabbage and the chickpea minnestrone.

Television

We finished up The Good Place. I wasn’t very impressed with the show’s ultimate take on the afterlife, but I did think the finale was a powerful episode about grief and loss. I cried through it and have been crying off and on today when I think about it.

Reading

I finished reading Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. A useful book and post to come. I’ve almost finished Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson and The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths.

Music

The album of the week is Dark Chords on a Big Guitar, (2003) an album of cover versions by Joan Baez. Top track, ‘Motherland’ by Natalie Merchant.

Sunday Post: Rainy Birthday thoughts

A round white bowl containing red lentil soup topped with green kale
Lemony lentil soup with crispy kale by Anna Jones

Life

I turned forty-three on Monday. February is not a great time to have a birthday. It’s dark, the weather is usually dreadful and no one has any money after Christmas. We made the best of it, despite wind and heavy rain. We had lunch with my mother and went out for a nice meal in the evening. My sister came over yesterday with my brother-in-law and nephew, which was really nice. She bought me a box of plants.

I usually get the blues around the time of my birthday. This isn’t an aging thing (it’s been happening since I was about twenty), it’s more of a feeling that, despite all my efforts, I’m failing to make a mark on the world. Some years it’s worse than others. I felt a bit depressed as the week went on, but not too bad.

My age does throw up some big things to think about, though: impending perimenopause, greying hair, losing the possibility of having children … It’s not that I ever wanted to have children, it’s just a little weird to feel that door finally swinging closed for good. Perhaps I should address it in some way.

I’ve also been reflecting on my mental health this week and thinking about the steps I need to take to achieve some real healing, as opposed to just developing yet more ‘coping skills’. I’m sure some of these topics will become blog posts over the next year.

This week we’ve mainly been cooking from Anna Jones’s book, a modern way to eat. We made the lemony lentil soup with crispy kale (pictured), the chickpea and preserved lemon stew and the ‘proper chilli’.

TV

We watched a couple of Poirot features, Taken at the Flood and After the Funeral. Both were very enjoyable, but I do miss Hastings, Inspector Jap and Miss Lemon from the earlier series.

Film

We went to see the new adaptation of Emma last night. I didn’t think it was particularly good, although it was entertaining to watch. It went for broad comedy which Emma isn’t, so I don’t think that worked! But it was pretty to look at and a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.

Reading

I haven’t read anything substantial this week. I’ve been picking at Pride and Prejudice and started the next Ruth Galloway novel. Everything else has been on hold.

Music

The album of the Week is Red Rescue by Jaimee Harris. It’s a really fun country rock album and she has a great voice.

Top track, ‘Damn Right’

Sunday Post: Beginning of February

A gloved hand holding a grey stone in which there are the remains of two ammonite fossils although they are almost worn away
Ghostly ammonites

Life

My last week of being forty-two. I took a day off work and went for a very long walk on a local beach which is covered in fossils. My favourite find was this stone with two ghostly ammonites that have been worn away by the sea.

Yesterday, we went for another long walk, this time beside the river that runs through the city where we live. It was a beautiful day and we saw a lot of birds, including grey wagtails, wrens, tree creepers, coal tits, goosanders and a very elegant heron.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, mostly from Anna Jones’s book, The Modern Cook’s Year. I made the chard, lentil and bay gratin, the golden miso potato salad and pomelo and peanut winter noodles with carrot and coconut dressing. All were very good.

Unfortunately, I did have a cooking-related mishap and dropped boiling water on my foot, so now I have a large blister. My partner says I should be in a health and safety video about what not to do.

TV

We’re on a bit of a costume drama kick at the moment. We watched the Andrew Davies Sense and Sensibility from 2008. I don’t think it’s very good. It rips off the Emma Thompson movie something shocking and both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby are horribly miscast, but Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan are excellent as Marianne and Elinor and that makes it watchable.

Then we watched the 1996 adaptation of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with Tara Fitzgerald and very young Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens. Overall, I think this is excellent, but it’s so relentlessly serious and grim, it’s not an easy watch. I do think the adaptation lacks a warmth that Bronte brings to the novel.

Reading

I finished Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I had issues with a couple of things, but it was a very enjoyable read. Proper post to follow.

The poem of the week is ‘Cellular’ by Lizzie Harris

Life, in even the simplest form, has always
been a matter of finding the energy.

Music

I love ‘Melyn’ (2018) by the Welsh feminist band, Adwaith. It’s gorgeous, atmospheric indie rock and I’m really excited to see what they’re going to do next.

I’ve also been listening to Cassandra Wilson’s album of Billie Holiday covers Coming Forth by Day (2015). It’s a fantastic album and my song of the week is her version of ‘Good Morning Heartache’.

Sunday Post: So, we made it to the end of January

Life

Busy week at work. I had to deliver a workshop and travel to Mid Wales to give a presentation at an event. Everything feels stressful at the moment. Lots of bad news generally and on Friday the UK officially began the process of leaving the EU. The country feels horrendously divided over Brexit and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

On a happier note, I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while, so that was good. They had a baby last year and I think they were pleased to have some grown-up time. One of my other friends had a new baby arrive yesterday, which is nice.

I made it to the end of #DryJanuary without any difficulty. Cutting back on caffeine has been far far harder and I’m struggling to get below two cups a day.

I gave the flat a really good clean for Imbolc this weekend. I love the Imbolc clean. It feels very satisfying.

TV

We’ve been enjoying Neil Brand’s documentary series, Sound of Musicals. It’s a fascinating history of the genre and just a beautifully made series. The only downside of watching it is having songs from musicals constantly stuck in our heads.

We’re working our way to the end of The Good Place. I don’t think this season is very good – although its better than the last one – but I do like the characters and want to see how it finishes, so I’m sticking with it.

Books

The book of the week is Barbara Hambly’s fantasy novel Dragonsbane. I downloaded it on my e-reader because I was looking for a fun read and boy has it delivered. Hambly is very reliable and I should read more of her work.

Music

I haven’t listened to much this week. My partner put some Israel Nash on the other night which was good – lovely cosmic Americana – so I’ll pick ‘Rain Plans’ as my song of the week.


Sunday Post: January Bites!

Life

Difficult week. My partner continued to be quite unwell. I had a weird rash on my skin and an emotional meltdown. I felt awful during the second half of the week and spent most of Wednesday and Friday evenings crying. When I get like this, I feel like I’ve got a desperately unhappy child inside me who is completely inconsolable. There’s nothing I can do to comfort her.

I think its emotional stress about some things catching up with me. I also failed to protect myself from the internet over the holidays, despite knowing full well that I would be feeling sensitive and there would be a lot of upsetting stuff out there. I had planned to take a complete social media break for a few weeks, and I did step back a bit, but the proper break never really happened.  My desire for connection apparently trumped my boundaries.

But otherwise, I’ve been doing quite well. I exercised and went to yoga and have reduced my caffeine intake significantly. I upgraded my phone, something I’ve been avoiding for ages because it stresses me out. I also bought myself a pair of binoculars to improve the quality of my birdwatching.

Today is the 9th anniversary of our civil partnership. We’re not really the kind of people who bother with anniversaries, but we try and do a little something for this one. We went out for lunch at one of our favourite cafes anyway.

TV

It’s definitely been a week for comfort TV. We watched some old episodes of Poirot, Murder in Mesopotamia, Sad Cypress and The Hollow, all of which were very good.

Then we watched our favourite adaptation of Jane Eyre, the 2006 one with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It’s the only adaptation that really gets me to buy into the romance between Jane and Rochester.

Reading

I finished Semiosis by Sue Burke, a science fiction novel about a human colony and first contact with alien species. I really liked it and will hopefully write a post about it at some point. I also finished my re-read of The Hobbit, which was fun, but I felt I should be reading it out loud to a child. Now those are done, I’ll carry on with Melmoth by Sarah Perry.

I’m also working on Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski which I’m finding very helpful. Recommended if you’re looking for a feminist and intersectional book about burnout.

Photograph of the book 'Burnout'. It has a plain light blue cover with the title and author's names.

I’m going to make a vat of dahl to keep us fed for next couple of days and I hope next week will be a little kinder.

New Year Reflections & Intentions for 2020

Every year at the winter solstice I write down some intentions for the year ahead. I put them in an envelope and store them in the back pocket of my journal.

Last year, I set the following intentions:

  • Meaning
  • Body
  • Boundaries

Areas of my life to work on were ‘acceptance‘ and putting myself first.

Our main shared goal was to find a better place to live.

I’m still struggling with meaning, but I think that what I’ve learned from last year is to focus, at least for the time being, on finding a sense of meaning in small daily activities. Going for walks, bird watching, doing something nice for someone and so on.

I have improved my relationship with my body and did a better job of looking after myself. I took up yoga and had a more healthy approach to exercise.

As for boundaries, that’s still a challenge, but I am getting incrementally better at establishing and maintaining boundaries with people. At least I do now feel that I have a right to establish boundaries, which is progress.

‘Acceptance’ referred to the state of my mental health. I feel that I have got to the stage of being able to accept where I am, rather than constantly wishing I could go back to being the way I was before the downturn in 2017. As the Buddhists teach, a lot of suffering is our reaction to the pain, rather than the pain itself.

My intentions for 2020 are:

  • Creativity
  • Friendship
  • Autonomy

By ‘creativity‘, I don’t mean anything ambitious! I just mean trying to make sure that I get to make something everyday, whether that’s a journal entry, taking some photographs, cooking a nice meal etc. It just makes my life feel more meaningful.

I have always struggled with friendship and as an adult, I feel like I lack the skills to make and keep friends. So, this year I’ve decided to stop worrying about making new friends and just focus on improving the quality of the handful of friendships that I have managed to maintain.

Autonomy is an intention that my partner and I have agreed to share. We are both people who have a tendency to shape our lives around the demands of other people and we would like to challenge that. What would our lives look like if we weren’t worrying about the demands/needs/wants of other people? An interesting question to explore.

I do have a few more things to work on this year:

  • Being clear with people
  • Planning for the future
  • Shame

A lot of the problems I have in my life seem to stem from my difficulty in being clear with people. This year I will strive for clarity in my interactions, even using scripts where necessary, “Just to clarify, what you are saying is …”, “I feel I need to clear with you about this …”

Future-planning scres me, especially financial planning. I grew up in a family that didn’t plan long-term because we were busy lurching from crisis-to-crisis and just reacted to whatever was happening. But I want to try and be more proactive and work towards the life that we want and that means planning.

Finally, but probably most importantly, I want to work on the role that shame plays in my life. I think that shame is an immensely powerful force in the lives of most people and is something that’s used against us relentlessly, to shut us up, to keep us small and scared and consuming stuff. This has really struck me reading Ask Polly columns recently where she talks a lot about shame. I know I have tremendous shame about the lack of markers of middle-class ‘adulthood’ in my life (I don’t own my own home, I can’t drive etc ). I’m also profoundly ashamed of my own distress. I feel I should be “better” than this, stronger than this; I shouldn’t be collapsed in a heap over something so “stupid”.

So, those are my intentions for 2020. We’ll see how I get on.

End of Year Life Round-Up

Life in General

It’s been an extremely busy year. I’ve taken on additional projects at work and my job has had me travelling around to London, Liverpool and all over Wales. We moved house in the summer, which was worthwhile, but stressful. We didn’t get time for a proper holiday and that’s left us both feeling rather burned out at the end of the year.

Highlights were moving to a nicer flat in a more convenient area, and spending time developing new hobbies like fossil-hunting and bird-watching. I saw kingfishers and green woodpeckers for the first time, which was magical.

Lowlights were the mouse infestation at our old flat (horrific!), and my tooth breaking. That was very painful and cost me a small fortune in dentistry.

I’ve been doing quite well in relation to mental and physical health. I’ve taken up yoga and have worked regular, moderate exercise into my routine. I find this very helpful, especially for my mental health. The bouts of difficult emotions and negative thoughts, that have plagued me since 2017, have also visited less often this year, although I’m still struggling with some things.

Books & Music

I read 48 books in 2019. I suppose I could push myself to finish a couple more before New Year and make it a nice round 50, but I don’t think I can be bothered. I read a lot more poetry, which was one of my main reading goals for this year, but I’m embarrassed by the lack of diversity in the authors I read and want to do better on that in 2020.

I didn’t listen to as much music as usual, mainly due to moving and everything being in boxes. My top albums were By the Way I Forgive You, by Brandi Carlisle, Possible Dust Clouds by Kristin Hersh, Negative Capability by Marianne Faithful and Small World Turning by Thea Gilmore.

We went to a few good gigs. A local folk festival turned out better than we expected and introduced us to some great bands. We saw Kristin Hersh (electric trio) in March – we take every opportunity to catch her live – and Thea Gilmore, which was fantastic because I’ve been wanting to see her live for years.

Stage

The cultural highlight of the year has to be seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre. It was just a wonderful, innovative, joyous production and I’m so glad we made the effort to go. I also saw a production of Romeo and Juliet which was okay, but didn’t quite take off.

I went to a couple of musicals, Avenue Q which is fun and Les Miserables, which I’d never seen before and wanted to experience.

Film

I didn’t see many films this year and feel pretty out of loop. I disliked The Favourite. Everyone else seemed to love it, but I found it a horrible film on almost every level, though I concede that the performances were amazing and it’s worth seeing just for that.

I enjoyed Captain Marvel, despite not being much of a Marvel fan.  I also loved seeing Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor again in Terminator: Dark Fate. It really was so empowering to see a woman in her sixties who actually looks her age being a total baddass. However, I didn’t think the film overall was up to the standard of Terminators 1 and 2, which was a shame.

Television

The most memorable thing was binge-watching the entirety of the BBC Great British Bake Off on Netflix, which tells you a lot about what this year has been like. As an added bonus, I can now engage with my colleagues in debates about ‘bin gate’.

Next Year

I definitely need to improve the old work/life balance. I enjoy my job but I really need to make more space for creativity outside of work.

Mental health will be an ongoing focus. The last two years have given me quite a scare honestly; I had no idea how fragile my mental health was until it really came under fire in 2017, but if there’s anything positive to be taken from this, I feel that I have a far more realistic assessment of my situation and therefore a place to at least work from.

I also want to do some longer-term planning in terms of my career, housing and financial situation. We’ve spent so long veering from crisis- to crisis that we haven’t had much of a chance to focus on the longer-term. Now that things are reasonably stable (fingers crossed), we may be able to think longer-term.

I’m going to re-vamp my blog and social media presence in January to see if I can get it all working better for me – and more reflective of where I’m at now – so there will be some changes.

Summer Retrospective

Summer was pretty stressful. I had dental problems and we moved house in August. The mouse infestation at our previous flat was just awful and has made me quite jumpy and hypervigilant in my living space.

We’re much happier with our new place, but we took it unfurnished and that’s turned out to be more work than I anticipated. At least it’s nicer than our old flat and located in an area of the city with better air quality and closer to nature. I still can’t quite believe that I can walk to the sea in half-an-hour and watch cormorants roosting, not to mention the nearby wetlands, where we saw a kingfisher and a water vole just the other day. So, overall, good outcomes, but I do feel like I’ve had very little time to myself and, perhaps unsurprisingly, my anxiety has been back.

The cultural highlight of the summer was a trip to London to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Gwendolyn Christie at The Bridge Theatre. I thought it was a wonderful production, probably the best Shakespeare I’ve seen. It was just so gorgeous and inventive. We had tickets for the pit, so we got the full immersive experience. I won’t attempt to describe it, but you can watch the trailer for the cinema release if you’re interested.

We took a trip to St Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life which we do periodically because we like pottering round the exhibits. I saw Avenue Q with a friend for her birthday. I’ve seen it before but it’s always fun.

I had a go at #20BooksOfSummer and managed to read fourteen books. I thought that was pretty good, considering I don’t like reading challenges. I did it to make a dent in my TBR pile, which it did. I didn’t keep up with posting about the books, but I’m hoping to write about a few more of them over the autumn.

So, that was my summer. I’m hoping life will calm down over the autumn and winter.

April/May life round-up

The top of a tree covered in pink cherry blossom against a bright blue sky

Obligatory spring blossom photograph

Life has continued to be hectic and stressful. I have a lot going on at work. The mice returned and we had to get pest control in to deal with them. I felt bad about it, but nothing else worked. Then a couple of weeks ago, I had a terrible toothache. Apparently, the tooth is fractured and will need a crown. That’s gonna be expensive.  

It wasn’t all bad though. There has been some nice weather. We visited the Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing Exhibition and it was pretty amazing to see the drawings close up. Then we saw Thea Gilmore live and that was excellent. 

Film 

We saw Captain Marvel and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I’m not really into the Marvel universe, but this was a good time. 

Reading 

I read a few crime thrillers. The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson is a proper literary thriller (post coming). I enjoyed The Dry by Jane Harper, but didn’t think it quite lived up to all the hype. The Old You by Louise Voss is a twisty thriller that’s probably best read on a plane, or the beach. 

The Ark by Patrick Tomlinson is quite a fun SF thriller and I really liked Una McCormack’s novella, The Undefeated. I’ve got a big pile of science fiction novels on the go at the moment. 

I’m chipping away at The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin. He’s a brilliant poet, but I am finding all the self-loathing and mid-century sexism a bit hard work. Still, he did write my absolute favourite poem set in the month of May, ‘The Trees.’

Television 

Of course we’re watching the superb Gentleman Jack. 

We started on The Orville, the premise of which is basically Star Trek: The Next Generation if the crew were ordinary people. I am a little surprised by the high quality of the storytelling on what appears (on the surface at least) to be quite a silly show.  It has me hooked. 

March Life Round-up

This month has been busy and a bit stressful. I’ve had a lot on at work, we both got lingering colds, and our flat was invaded by mice, thankfully now evicted. But it’s also been a very good month for cultural activities.

We kicked off with a local folk festival. The acts were really high quality and introduced us to new music from Welsh bands like DnA and VRi. The festival ended with a quite astounding set from Nick Harper, covering songs written by the famous musicians he grew up around.

I went to see the RSC tour of Romeo and Juliet with my Mum. It’s a dark and serious production, clearly aimed at an adolescent audience and raises questions about gang violence and gender. I don’t think my Mum liked it very much, but I thought it was innovative and interesting. Great set design too.

I had to go to London for a work conference, so we made a trip of it, hung out with an old friend, and visited Gay’s the Word.

Work also took me to Liverpool. I’ve never been there before, which is odd, when you think that it’s where my Dad’s paternal family is originally from. I didn’t have time for more than a wander round the docks, but would like to visit properly at some point.

Finally, we saw Kristin Hersh (electric trio) play live and it was fabulous, as always. Touring with two long-term collaborators, this was a loud, life-affirming gig from people who truly enjoy playing together.

Reading

I finished Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr. and have many thoughts about it, which I’ll try and post at some point. I read Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress, which was an enjoyable SF thriller, and Acceptance, the last novel in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.

I finished 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro, which was fascinating, if you’re interested in early modern history and literature.

And I loved Jane Hirshfield’s collection of poetry, After.

Television

We watched Season 5 of Stargate: SG1 which is good comfort TV and have started a Babylon 5 re-watch. We’re persevering with Star Trek: Discovery, even though it’s irritating the hell out of us on several fronts.

February Life Round-up

Another quiet month.

We had a little trip to Bath for my birthday where we did touristy stuff like visiting the Jane Austen Centre. We were watching a film about Jane Austen’s time in Bath when my partner blurted out, “This isn’t the Jane Austen Centre, it’s the ‘Jane Austen Liked Bath Really Centre!'” and I started having hysterics. It was a bit like that, but it’s fun as long as you don’t take it seriously. I was hoping to find a tea towel in the gift shop to replace the one my aforementioned partner SET FIRE to last year, but none took my fancy. Strangely enough, The Radical Tea Towel Company has a good one.

I think the only other activity worth mentioning was a visit to Lou Lou’s Vintage Fair. I’m not particularly into vintage stuff, but we always enjoy this fair and usually pick up a few bargains. Well, I’m set for silk shirts for the foreseeable future anyway!

Reading

I finished The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating by Anthony Warner. It was quite an enjoyable read, but felt overlong and padded. I read Revelation by C.J. Sansom. I generally like the Shardlake series, but Revelation is extremely gruesome and pushed my tolerance for that sort of thing almost over its limit. My bedtime book was Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worlsey which is a nice read. Finally, I read a book of poetry (yay!), Unravelling at the Name by Jenny Factor.

Television

The only thing we made an effort to watch was Season 2 of Star Trek Discovery. I think the second season is better than the first, but I have a feeling that I want to like Discovery more than I actually do like it. I do like the characters and that’s keeping me engaged, but I’m not so sure about the rest of it!

Otherwise, we watched Season 2 of Poirot which is one of our comfort things.

Forty Two

I turned forty two last weekend. I never feel like I really settle into the next decade of my life until I hit the second year, so I’m quite excited to see what will happen.

I had an incredibly rich intellectual and activist life during my twenties, but I was lonely,  completely bonkers, and on an emotional roller coaster the whole time. My thirties were a period of great personal development, including a proper relationship and a ton of therapy.  I’m hoping that my forties will be a time for self-actualisation.

But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never know what life is going to bring you, so I’m just going to try and be open to whatever comes my way.

January Life Round-Up

January has been pretty quiet.

The second week saw both the anniversary of our civil partnership in 2011 and our first proper date back in 2007, so we decided that was worth celebrating and went out for a nice dinner at a little French bistro near where we live.

We went to one gig. It was supposed to be folk legends John Kirkpatrick and Martin Carthy, but Martin had flu and had to pull out. John Kilpatrick  managed to get a set together at the last-minute and it was a really fun gig, with all the joy of watching a tuly consummate performer. Plus he sang one of my favourite songs by Fairport Convention, ‘Crazy Man Michael’.

Books

I finished and wrote a post about Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers.

I also read Star Nomad  the first in a series by Linda Buroker which was fun (CN for rape threat though).

Film

We went to see The Favourite and seem to be in disagreement with pretty much the rest of the universe because we didn’t like it!  I won’t get into the reasons here because it would take an entire post.

Television 

We watched Lucy Worsley’s series History of the Home which was fascinating. I love social history.