Happy new year! It’s still appropriate to say that, right?
January is grey and bleak. You’re broke, fat, depressed, and severely conscious of how far away you are from whatever goals you set 365 days ago, and the 365 before that. You can’t fathom where the entire previous year went; it all feels like a blur that passed you by far too quickly, and you’re desperate to go back in time to savour each and every minute you let waste away. But you can’t.
Cue the blues.
This is a feeling that, sadly, escapes almost none of us. No matter how fully you have lived, no matter how happy you are with how you spent the year, you’re always left with that gut-punching feeling of time is slipping from me. It’s painfully obvious that there’s only one solution to this, because unfortunately nobody has come into possession of Bernard’s watch:
Make the decision to live slowly and more consciously.
You can’t go back and relive those precious days, but you can do something with your newfound self-awareness. I like to think I do this already, but, in my desperate attempt, I actually end up doing the opposite.
My mind is always going at a thousand miles an hour and I wring my days dry until I’ve squeezed out every minute. The result is that I don’t feel like I’ve truly been living; I’ve simply ticked a lot of boxes off my to-do lists. In trying to be productive every day, I’ve ultimately made a full time job out of living in which I must fill a quota in order to be satisfied with how my day went. Wake up. Go to the gym. Go to work. Read this many pages. Go to the park on that day. These days don’t add up to a successful period of living: they are confined to what they are, which is a day of robotically doing things I pencilled in just to feel like I am making use of my time. I need to stop clocking in and out of my life and just live.
I am obsessed with poring over my calendar to make sure every waking minute is filled with useful things — but I don’t want to just have useful days. Those aren’t memorable. Reading and writing and a hundred walks through Richmond Park are not memorable; it is not the act itself that we remember, but the memories we attach to them. It’s the lessons in strength and perseverance that hundreds of characters have displayed in varying ways, it’s learning how to get our thoughts down on paper in creative ways, it’s when we stepped ankle deep in mud to get close to the deer and had to put our shoes into plastic bags before getting into my car. My point is, you should be living life and relishing both the ups and downs rather than letting it pass you by.
The way you do this will be personal to you. You should know how to ground yourself, you will know what makes you feel present and alive. It doesn’t have to be something monumental; it could be as small as sitting outside for ten minutes a day or as big as spending a weekend swimming in the ocean every month.
For me, it is the following:
1. Journal every day
I’ve had a journal for a long time (although, where I have stashed my tattered and torn notebooks from years gone by, I cannot say. I can only hope they ended up in the bin instead of hidden in a corner, waiting to be found).
When my life got busier, I lost the time that I had dedicated to journalling. I somehow shaped my life so that I no longer had time to sit down with my thoughts for just ten minutes, and that was a mistake.
The purpose of a journal isn’t just for you write about how you went to get milk from the shop. It’s for you to write about how you were angry that you had to go and get milk from the shop because somebody left a drop in the bottle and put it back in the fridge because they couldn’t be bothered to throw it in the recycling bin and therefore left it for the next person. All the little, seemingly meaningless, events that happen in your life all amount to something and there is no such thing as wasted time.
Everything that happens to you influences who you are, even if it seems almost negligible. It is these little things that allow you to understand who you are as a person, and it is important to know that a simple day of going to a shopping centre on Saturday isn’t just that. Actually, the girl at the shop handed me an ice cream ‘just because’ and that made me happy on a random Saturday morning in January. For that small moment, I was no longer cynical and actually had a heart bursting with love for humans. It’ll be nice to look back and read about that one day.
2. Reading is not homework. Slow down.
I am obsessed with reaching my reading goal. I always fail, of course, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t add six more books to my challenge in a haughty attempt to prove that this is the year I become my best self.
Books are there for information and for education, but mostly for enjoyment. Anything you learn from it is secondary. So, whilst I enjoy reading books and think they are vital to broadening the mind through improving our critical thinking skills and ability to empathise, there is something to be said about the way books can transport you to a different world. This has forever been a positive effect of reading books and always will be. You familiarise yourself with a thousand different scenarios with a hundred different characters, and it’s so easy to just become lost in and addicted to fictional worlds.
It’s because of this that I realise I need to stop sacrificing my reality for that of the Karamazovs or the Bennets. I love what reading does for me, but I would rather read about Russian nihilists on the train to a place in this world that I’ve never been to before. I read for enjoyment and inspiration, and, more than anything, I would like to draw inspiration from what exists around me right now, just as the writers I revere have done.
Hopefully, next time I won’t decline plans for a night in with my Kindle.
3. Bake or cook something new once a month
I have mentioned this previously as a winter goal of mine, but I don’t want that to stop just because the sun comes out and I’d rather eat a million Mr Whippys than cook up a curry.
I love food. I don’t mean I love eating (although I do), I mean I love food. I like making flavours work together and finding new combinations when I cook. I eat slowly and in tiny bites so I can really taste everything. I try and seek out every individual spice that has been added in the cooking process. A tasting menu sounds perfect and tiny portions don’t bother me as long as it tastes fabulous. Ironically, buffets, although mostly full of horrible food that is cheaply made and terrible for you, are a dream, simply because I can have a little of everything. When I eat, it is not for my stomach. It’s for my tastebuds. And my eyes.
It is because of this that I enjoy the process of creating food. As a perfectionist, however, I fall into the habit of cooking and baking the same thing over and over again, trying to improve it each time. I don’t want to do that anymore. Not just because it’s ridiculous to keep trying to improve something to no end, but because I am wasting precious time that could instead be used to make something new. Cooking something new is exciting. Cooking something new and receiving positive feedback is what I live for (and we don’t talk about the moussaka).
4. Visit somewhere new semi-regularly
I have another habit of going to tried-and-tested places all the time.
When I lived in London, I would mostly spend any of my ‘going out’ time inside the M25; I rarely ventured far from where I lived because I was comfortable going to the places I knew. I know how to get there, I know where to park, I know where to eat around there. My problem is my desire to be comfortable all the time. Finding new places might end up being a ballache, but it will always satisfy my curiosity. If only to say ‘I’ve been there. Don’t need to go again.’
So, for this one, I want to pencil in some time to go to places I haven’t been before. This could be a new park, new restaurant, a new cafe, or a new thing to do. Maybe I’ll drive to Canterbury for a pottery painting class and then stop for Sri Lankan food. It would be nice to say I’ve done that, so my motto for this year, much to the dismay of my anxiety, is: fuck it, I’ll go anywhere. As long as I know what the parking situation is.
5. Get outside more
Before I got my license, a forty minute walk was easy as pie. A half an hour walk in heels? Easy!
Then I got my license and became lazy, because why should I walk to the supermarket in twenty minutes when I could get there in five? Public transport, however, and the curious frolicking about of an early 20s gal fresh out of uni meant I was still getting my steps in via climbing over gates or dancing until my makeup melted off.
Then I grew up, moved a hundred miles away from London and simply stopped walking anywhere because I couldn’t just tap my oyster to get out of town. As every square metre of land here isn’t crammed with things to do and places to see and people to bump into, I have to travel at least ten miles if I want to do anything fun. That’s definitely not a bus ride away and the overground just feels too formal and not spontaneous enough. What do you mean I have to book a train ticket to play mini golf?
The hilarious and sad thing is, I am surrounded by so much beautiful space just a short drive or train away; I just miss being able to be active immediately and without prior planning. To make up for my lack of movement, I’ve been getting my steps in via treadmill. Not ideal, but it is the reason I’m able to get through my reading list so quickly. I still drive myself to the gym because a twenty minute walk is unfathomable when I’m already going there to exercise, so why the hell would I subject myself to more activity?
As it’s colder than a witch’s tit face down in the snow right now, I shall be continuing my three minute drive to the gym, especially while it’s pitch black outside in the morning. Until the sun starts to rise earlier, my compromise is to walk anywhere that is under 20 minutes away in the morning/daytime. Which is only the gym, unfortunately, but it’ll have to do. When the weather calms down, perhaps I’ll accidentally walk through a field. Nothing will get the heart pumping like running away from a cow or a farmer trying to shoot me.
As soon as the sun starts shying away a little later, rebel k will come out to play. My 8pm curfew is being extended.
Now playing: (Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding