Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Before 30 - Update

So, how's my before 30 bucket list progressing?

These are the things I've finished:

4. Do MindMapping for one month.

I'm glad I did this, and I really learned a lot from it. Some of it was really simple stuff, like realising that my energy and mood would drop if I hadn't had enough water to drink or food to eat. Or allegedly simple, as I'd often find myself feeling below par late afternoon and then realise I'd had one glass of water all day.

I definitely credit using one of Liz Miller's methods with my success at clearing out and organising my room after years of being unhappy with it. And I'd put up with being unhappy with it because I'd avoided thinking too carefully about how unhappy it made me, settling for postponing the much needed sort out indefinitely. But I couldn't avoid thinking about it when it was a category on a 'rate how happy you are with these life elements' exercise. That trigger, not more than a minute or so, was enough to get me started thinking about the reasons I didn't do anything about it. And now the cats are vexed that I've given away their favourite sun lounger, the piano stool.

(I would highly recommend Liz Miller's book, MoodMapping, as one of the two self help books I've read that don't completely suck, and trust me, I've read more than I want to admit to.)

5) Get a decent haircut.

Done! This might seem like a silly, everyday thing to put on a bucket list, but apart from having my hair cut twice in China (and how, how have I not posted about getting my hair cut in China?!), I hadn't had a proper haircut since I was 21. Even when the state of my hair was causing me daily vexation and I could afford a decent hair cut I didn't do anything about it. Even in China, where one haircut cost the equivalent of £1.50 (I'm avoiding converting that into dollars as it's too depressing at the moment) and one was a barter with some hairdressing students who were going to live in Australia, the only reason I got through the door was because my friends were going too.

So I got in done, and might even post a photo sometime (I keep meaning to take some photos of myself but never get round to it). It even brought up some issues about 'why do I feel I can't spend money on myself' and 'why do I have trouble tending to my physical appearance?'. And after all, I am all about the issues.

Goodness only knows what's going to happen when I finally get around to going ice skating. Although seeing as I'm rambling all over the place already, I might as well throw in that I tried to persuade an ex-boyfriend to go ice skating at the Tower of London or Somerset House and he refused because he was afraid he was going to fall over and get the tips of his fingers sliced off. (This sort of thing may well be why I'm not so devastated about being single.)

37. Organise clothes and shoes
38. Organise paperwork
39. Organise books
40. Sort out other possessions

I know I've blogged about this more than once, and written about it already this post (hey, I've got to make the most of my material), so I'll just say I cannot believe how much better I feel for having done this. Not only do I feel so much lighter, my bedroom seems to have grown by several feet and I have the toasty-happiness of having helped several charities.

I was going to give updates on the endeavours that I'd started but I've written way more than I thought I would about these. Not to mention that it's edging towards eight here, and I feel I deserve a New Year's Eve Eve glass of wine.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Looking Back...and Forwards...

I've spent most of the last week hibernating. It wasn't what I'd intended to do, but it was what I seemed to need, so I let myself run with it. During my hibernation, I wrote two long lists, one of everything I was happy about in the past year, and one that I was unhappy about. I am definitely doing this, or something like it, every year from now on.

The list of things that I was happy with, proud of doing, successes, things I'd learnt, went on for four A4 pages, whilst the negative list covered only one. And yet, predictably, I've probably spent more time dwelling on those. Just by writing this out I shifted my perspective, from 'argh I can't believe the failure' to 'Ok, there's been some fail, but there's been way more good stuff, and you've actually learnt stuff from the fail, so surely that's not entirely a fail then?' Which has been pretty sweet.

These are my most important lessons of 2009. Seeing as they're more 'woah, cosmos' type lessons, I'm going to be trying to live them in 2010.

Trust my intuition. Trust the feeling inside that tells me what is and isn't possible, the feeling that says 'this looks interesting' or 'get me out of here'. Learning to ask myself questions and not censor the answers.

Permission. Permission to trust myself and my intuition. Permission to invest in myself. Permission to feel things like anxiety and fear without beating myself up about feeling them. Permission to dream, and then to work out how to make these dreams real, and to risk doing it. Permission to risk failing.

Control. Believing that I control my own life. Not allowing other people to control how I feel about myself, by measuring myself as a success or failure against someone's else's yardstick, and then accepting that judgement.

Now, I'm off to hibernate some more....

Monday, 21 December 2009

Snow + Beach + Sunset

Yes, more snow/beach photos. I know I’m probably going a little overboard on this, but I have never seen the beach look so beautiful, and who wants to restrain themselves from sharing something beautiful? (Obviously this is where my inner cynic gets all fluffed up and starts muttering about people who consider faeces and other-bodily-substances-that-will-not-be-mentioned in art to be beautiful, where yes, I do wish they would restrain themselves. Anyways, back to the winter snow beach thing…)

I keep being greedy to look at these photos, and my homily for the week is that, whilst I would still rather live somewhere warmer, and I’m totally not enjoying nearly breaking my neck on the iced over pavement every time I leave the house, winter does have its good points, its beauty.

I’ve appreciated the clear blue skies and sunlight, the stunning sunsets and crisp air, too. I’ve appreciated having some moisture in the air, after last winter in Shijiazhuang where the air was so dry that walking down the street made me feel like it was assaulting me [the air, not the street].

But perhaps what I appreciated most was the moments of stillness, of tranquillity, that I experienced on the beach. Moments to keep safe, and bring out the next time I have to call a bank.
What other wintery worlds are out there?

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Snow + Beach

We've had the unusual occurance of snow that hasn't melted as soon as it lands this week.

So, for the first time in my life, I've seen a snowy beach.

I couldn't resist taking photos until my fingers were too cold to work the dials of my camera.

And there's more to come later in the week...

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Sky Saves The Day (Again)

Yes, I know we've only just had Skywatch, but I couldn't wait until next week to post these photos. I had yet another super frustrating day. You know the type, when you think, aha, this will take ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and you're still wrestling with it four hours later? Yep, one of those.

So again, it was 'take some deep breaths and look out the window time'.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

On applying for a Career Development Loan

The snug, smug feeling of 'all's right with the world' that I woke up with this morning was clearly hubris. Or perhaps I should have just realised by now that any dealings with those providing educational finance in this country is fated to induce a serious need for wine in the unfortunate person coming up against systems that must've been designed by someone who took as a model some of Kafka's more nightmarish writings. But, at least it's good to know that it's not just Chinese banks that reduce me to a froth mouthed frustration.

And how stupid I was to think that, just because I had account with a bank for thirteen years or half my entire life, that they would actually have my details correctly. After a short verbal battle with the Indian call centre, where the fact that I had to ask the person to repeat themselves when they were asking 'what's your address' made me wonder about the definition of 'fluent English speaker' that the bank was using, I was told me the information I'd given them was wrong. But they couldn't tell me which bit of information was wrong.

So I had to walk walk the mile and half or so into town, to go and sort it out with my branch, whilst trying to suppress a mini meltdown that someone of nefarious intent had somehow hacked into my account and my overdraft was probably buying them a new plasma screen TV. The only thing 'wrong' with my information was that my home telephone number wasn't there, but as the rather astonished young man who talked to me said, they shouldn't ask you security questions about data that doesn't exist. (Why on earth no-one has put this on the system in the last thirteen years is another matter entirely.)

But, the system is mightier than mere mortal common sense.

Walking back home it started to snow. My boots started to leak. Just a little bit, but that's just a little bit more freezing water than I like inside my boots. It was one of those moments when you just want to be, like, universe are you KIDDING me?, and then feel a bit guilty because, after all, this is hardly a major disaster.

So then I phoned them back, and everything went OK, but frankly, by the end of the call I was past caring whether or not I get approved for the loan, I just want to never have to call them up again.

So then I confirmed to national stereotypes and make myself a cup of tea, confirmed to gender stereotypes and ate some chocolate, and looked out of my window at the beautiful winter sky, took some deep breaths and attempted to relax. And it's sort of worked. A glass of wine when I'm watching Supernatural later might not go amiss though.

*CDL loans are how most people finance postgraduate study, and as only two banks offer them, they can pretty much treat you as shoddily as they like.

View more relaxing skies at Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Yes, I'm still on the throwing out theme. You may possibly have underestimated the scale of the clear out, like the people at the charity bookshop, who obviously didn't believe me when I said I had over a hundred books to bring in, and then were all like, 'Oh you do have a lot of books, don't you?', looking all surprised when I turned up with them. And I stifled an urge to retort, 'well, if I said I had over a hundred books, maybe that's because I have over a hundred books!' but I refrained and just smiled nicely instead.

Yesterday, was tip and book charity shop day. Today was give furniture away day. I found a great local charity that comes to pick up furniture and divested myself of:

  • A bureau that is incredibly uncomfortable to work at. I've hardly ever used it, except to do a few holiday university assignments, and I remember more about how pissed off I was about how uncomfortable I was, than anything about the essays themselves.

  • A wardrobe that I can't actually hang my clothes up in. It's a man's wardrobe, and, the last time I checked, I was definitely not a man. (I hung dresses and stuff on my bookshelves. Obviously.)

  • A double piano stool. This provenance of this piece puzzles me, as I've never lived in a house with a piano. I doubt if anyone in my family can even play the piano. Yet I had a piano stool in my bedroom. Strangely enough, it didn't get much use.

So I've established that these furniture items were neither well used, nor particularly well-loved. And yet, whilst I was waiting for the removal guys to pick them up and take them away I had a strange clenching feeling of 'omg I can't believe I'm getting rid of these', and it was only at that point I realised how strong the security bond of familiar things is.

But they were carried off to be renovated and resold. And instead of having any pangs of remorse, I felt fantastic. Like ripping off a scab (this is meant to be a good thing). Like the glee in throwing the monstrously hideous dressing table mirror (the dressing table that went with it was coated in white, pink and brown patterned padded vinyl, which mercifully vanished years ago), that I'd tried to improve my painting the white and gold frame deep purple and sticking virgin Mary medals to, into the rubbish pile at the tip and hearing the glass smash.

I almost can't believe the amount of stuff I've got rid of over the last five days, probably half or more of everything I own. The trouble is I think it might be addictive. I'm now finding myself looking around at my life (not to mention the three items in my room that haven't been dejunked yet) and wondering what else, that I live with, that I might even be attached to through familiarity, I would be glad to get rid of...

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Sunday, 13 December 2009


So far I have thrown out:
  • Two fake leather miniskirts
  • A purple and white tiedye top with a white sparkly eye of horus design on the front
  • A suitcase with a broken pulling handle (Rome, 1998) and a broken lock (Cornwall, 2000)
  • Two of my three copies of Wuthering Heights
  • Two cheap copies of Northanger Abbey
  • General accoutrements of dead dog including basket, water bowl and squeaky toys
  • All my school reports, which have reminded me not to take to seriously other people's judgement on how you can do, after the read my high school reports where I was given Bs, Cs and even Ds in subjects that I eventually got As or A*s in
  • My merit certificates from middle school
  • Notes for a presentation my (perhaps unsurprisingly) ex boyfriend was doing on methods of torture in the European and Near Eastern ancient world
  • Several of the same ex boyfriends socks
  • A solitary stiletto heeled black ankle boot
  • High school textile projects that are now falling apart
  • Manuals for every mobile phone I've ever owned
  • A selection of random loose change from various countries
  • The brochure of a company I went on two excursions with during my holiday to Iceland in 2006
  • Two German dictionaries and a book of German verbs
  • The booking print out from my 2008 flight to Beijing
  • The prospectus Lampeter sent me when I was first thinking of applying, and assorted accommodation bumpf
  • An assortment of mini skirts in sizes that mean I will only fit into them again if I develop a serious illness
  • Various sketch/scrap books where there was a first page and nothing else
  • Two sets of hair curlers, both used once and then discarded in disgust
  • An eclectic array of expired medications
  • A packet of expired condoms
  • Fossilised nail polish
  • Eyeliner that I'm allergic to but was saving for something (nights when I want to go out looking like I've got a contagious eye disease?)
  • Handbags that were cute when I was 16 but would now make me look like I need my medications readjusting
  • A pair of jeans whose zip has been broken for at seven years

...and I still have a little bit more to go!

This has been my world this week, go check out some others.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Not Being A Bag Lady No More

This post doesn't have a photo, because I'm sick of the sight of it's subject. (I'm also hoping that that sentence vaguely makes sense.)

Earlier in the week I moaned about not having the will to do things that I wanted to do. One of them was writing more, another was tidying what I could euphemistically describe as my living space but is actually my bedroom, because, yes, I might be limping towards thirty, but I still live with my mother.

And every morning I wake up amidst piles and boxes of detritus I've accumulated over the last twelve years and inwardly shudder and never do anything about it. Somehow it all just seemed too much.

In the normal course of events, this is followed by some internal recriminations about slovenliness and laziness, and a passing shadow of fear that I'm clearly going to become the crazy old woman who gets crushed to death by the piles of newspapers she's been hoarding for twenty years. But as part of my general scheme of navel gazing, I decided to consider why I was doing a junior bag lady at home when in China I had less possessions that any of my friends.

If perfectionism is my writing kryptonite, then guilt is why I'm living in a lumber room, because I genuinely felt guilty for throwing stuff out: if I loved something when I was six then obviously I can't throw it out now, I might not have worn something for five years but there's nothing wrong with it. (Well, unless you count the fact that I'd look like trussed mutton in a lot of my 'perfectly fine' teenage/early twentysomething outfits.) Getting rid of it would be wasteful, and being wasteful is wrong.

Once I realised that the reason why I've been living with two (yes, TWO) broken suitcases, my dead dog's bed (died ten years ago) and every calender I've had since 1997 amongst other miscellanea I've been on a bit of a mission. Throwing stuff out (or being cheap, putting it aside for a car boot) feels good! I've only dealt with a quarter of the rubbish that's been festering away for years and already I feel strangely light and relieved.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


After enduring what feels like endless weeks of whipping winds and dreary rain soaked days, today I woke to sun streaming through the curtains and a blue blue sky. Days like this, the beach calls me, and I was rewarded by one of my favourite seas – an incoming tide with ruffle waves stacked upon each other.

It was so unexpectedly clement that I took my hoodie off, and felt the gentle, winter crisp wind on my bare arms for the first time in months. And just to clarify: I was wearing a T-Shirt, it’s not like I was wandering around half undressed, as I just realised that sentence could imply.

My inner misanthrope is going to be outed: these clear winter beach days are the ones I love the most, because I get the place all to myself. Or almost, as a man walking his wilful Jack Russell Terrier crossed my path twice.

Apart from that, I was alone to try out photography angles and subjects, accidentally trailing the sleeves of my hoodie in the muddy sand in the process, contemplate the sea (reminding myself that the tide was coming in, so standing still for too long doing this was going to result in wet feet) and taking time just to feel the wind, listen to the waves and to appreciate being alive.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Endless Introspection #1

I keep meaning to do things. I want to do them. I really do. But I'm not doing them.

I'd put it down to being tired, or feeling low, but I've been recording my moods on Mood Maps, and I'm feeling good, full of positive energy.

Why aren't I doing them? Often when I find myself not doing something it's a sign of a 'should' masquerading as 'want'. But these are things I genuinely want: I want to start writing some articles before my course starts in January, I want to make a start on my own self designed blog, I want to declutter my room to make space for my own work area and to lesson the chance of being eaten by a monster that's formed itself from the soup of junk that spills out of crates and off shelves and from floor piles.

I know I'm not a lazy person – I hate feeling idle and unproductive, so this not doing is abrasive, irritant.

So why do I find myself, stuck, staring out the window at the rain instead of doing what I really want to do. It's actually taken me about a day of irritated, dissatisfied reflection to realise why.

I want it to be perfect, I want myself to be perfect.

I want to write flawless articles. I don't feel I'm at that point yet. I might have a first class degree in English, I might have successfully taught English – but somehow I still feel inadequate.

A little voice says: wait till the course starts, what you do now won't be anything like what you'll do in a year. That sounds like a good argument to part of my brain – the part that can use it as an excuse to shuffle inside it's comfort zone and think – best be safe, don't make a mess, don't make a fool of yourself. Wait till you're really ready.

Unfortunately this philosophy would ultimately mean that I'd spend the rest of my life in suspended animation, constantly waiting to be good enough to start practising. I know that as soon as I'd ticked off one thing I'm waiting for that would be make me good enough, I'd find another.

So my mantra at the moment is: perfection is unobtainable, just do it; perfection is unobtainable just do it; perfection is unobtainable just do it.
Why is that so much easier to say than to act on?

Monday, 7 December 2009


OED: PALIMPSEST: noun: a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
figurative: something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

Palimpsest is one of my favourite words, and one that I don't use often enough. I was reminded of it when I was photographing these irresitable subjects: the fading and moss crept sign and coppiced plant supports.

In my current mood of introspection, inevitably I ended up thinking how most of us are our own palimpsests, layers of experiences, memories and emotions, and how often we can cede control of the writing of our lives to other people. What's exciting me most at the moment is taking back that control, choosing which parts of my life to write in bold and which ones to scrub out and replace.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Chinglish Signs: Entrance to the Shanghai Pearl Tower

I had completely forgotten I'd photographed this sign, but once rediscovered I had to share it. Personally I never leave home without my baleful biology, sword and smell of effluvium. Thank goodness we decided not to go in.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Carpe Diem

Today my leisurely email and coffee wake up was disrupted by finding out about the sudden, and unexpected, death of a fellow Samaritans volunteer, who I’d been working with since I joined earlier this year. We’d only met ten or so times – enough time for me to appreciate his kindness, desire to help others and interest in the world.

The effect has been the emotional equivalent of a sudden cold drenching and stupid surprise you can have a perfectly normal phone conversation with someone one day, and within a week they can be dead.

And I have to confess to a selfish appreciation of how lucky I am to be alive right now. I’ve been taking the second looks at the sky, the cats, the world in general and appreciating the fragile beauty of the ordinary.

Instead of getting crabby in the Post Office queue, I reminded myself that it didn’t really matter, it wasn’t worth wasting the amount of time I have getting angry, and that plenty of people would be happy to swop grievances. I felt appreciation for the human bonds that make us send Christmas cards, rather than being impatient and wondering why what seemed like everyone else had decided to post their mail at the same time I did.
My mantra for today has been carpe diem, and I’ve been thinking of all the little things that I’ve been putting off doing, waiting until a ‘perfect time’ to do them. I suddenly realised that if I do this too long I’ll waste all my tomorrows waiting for something that doesn’t exist.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Doorways: My Yard

When I was living in Shijiazhuang this door became one of the silent background elements of my life. Like every other apartment block in our area, the yard surrounding the building was edged with a rows of brick built sheds, which tended to exhibit various degrees of ‘looking like they might fall down right now’. (These are pretty much Chinese Shed Premium Edition.)

Waiting for coffee or pasta water to boil in my kitchen I would half watch fellow residents wrestling their bikes in and out of the sheds, reassured that the compulsion to keep stuff that is broken or no longer needed but might come in handy one day is cross cultural.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Mood Mapping #1

What are these mysterious maps? Charts of hidden treasure, or random doodles that I’m inflicting upon you owing to some whim? Perhaps both. They are copies of my Mood Maps for the past week.

Mood Mapping is one of those so-obvious-why-did-no-one-think-of-it-before ideas: tracking your daily moods on a simple chart, and ideas to help you control your mood. There’s so much I want to experience in life and having moods that can tend to ping between despair and elation is, well, not that helpful.

I forgot to do it on Thursday and Friday, mainly because I was so exhausted last week. If I had had any ‘should-ish’ qualms about leaving my job, following the Mood Maps and seeing my anxiety and stress levels down in black (or pink, or orange) and white, would squash them like the vermin they are.

The main thing I’ve gleaned (or rather remembered) this week is the striking obvious yet often forgotten fact that if I don’t sleep well I’m good for nothing. There are two reasons that I haven’t been sleeping well: stress and anxiety, and allergies.

The stress and anxiety came from doing a job where I had little control over what I was doing and little or no time for planning: often I’d be telling students what work they were doing at as I was reading through the sheet for the first time myself. When I went into work in the morning I had no idea what I would be doing that day, and wouldn’t know until 10 minutes before I had to be at my first class.

Compare that to the Mood Maps from the weekend! Even on Sunday, when I was lacking in energy owing to sniffles and allergy related sleep disturbance, I still felt positive and was still able to do, even if I wasn’t as productive as on Saturday.

Now I just need to work on controlling my allergies more. Seeing the impact a night of broken sleep has on my mood the next day has really motivated me to remember to take an antihistamine before bed and consider what changes I might need to make my environment.

This is a fascinating way of tracking and controlling your moods, and I’d highly recommend checking out the book or the website for more information. I’m continuing to track my moods this week, and will be for the rest of December. The insight into how my moods is going to be very useful when I’m juggling work and study and life in 2010.