Summer flu and an update on freewriting

I have what is apparently called a “summer flu”. I didn’t know this was a thing, and I would have been happy to live on unaware of its existence but alas, no such luck.

When you have the flu in winter you curl up on the sofa with blankets and tea and books and candles and it’s nice and cozy. Even though you’d rather not be sick, it’s ok to spend a couple of days like that. Now though, even the thought of a blanket makes me break out in sweats. I want to be outside, playing tennis, running, working in the garden, or reading a book in the sun. Feeling hazy and having a headache and a sore throat is very much at odds with the sun and the lovely weather outside. Not much I can do about it though.

To make the most of the situation, I’d like to give you an update on how I’m getting on with freewriting. This is the 21st day of writing. If you would go through the trouble of looking up the date of the first freewriting post, you’ll notice that it was posted more than 21 days ago. I don’t write every day. If I get home late, or if I have to choose between sports and writing, I sometimes skip the writing. Which is fine. My goal wasn’t to write every day. I started this because I was looking for my writing voice, and I hoped that the freewriting would help me find it.

I am enjoying freewriting. It’s a great outlet, and a way to help me order my thoughts. When something is going around in my mind I need to let it out. On some days, what I write turns into a blog post or a concept for one. On other days I’m happy no one will be reading what I scribbled in my notebook. Writing more has increased the number of useful ideas for blog posts that I’ve been able to come up with. Sometimes the idea sits in my notebook for several days, before I pick it up again and rewrite it into a blog post. I still find that a lot of what I write is not suitable for publication. Mainly because I don’t want to publish anything from which it is possible to identify any of my friends, family, colleagues, or my employer. If someday I will pluck up the courage and find the inspiration to write fiction, then some of these ideas can be used as inspiration. Until then it will stay in my notebook.

Freewriting has helped me to find my writing voice. Writing with pen and paper makes it easier to write down what I think. There are no typos and no red wriggly lines show up if I misspelled a word. I just continue to write, knowing that if I ever want to publish it, I’ll have to type it anyway and I can fix any mistakes at that point. It makes writing feel more natural. I’m less subconscious and I’m able to keep my perfectionism at bay.

Writing (and reading) more also means that I get more practice again writing and thinking in English. A couple of years ago I spoke English at home and at work, so most of my thinking was in English as well. That’s not the case anymore, which means that I sometimes get a bit rusty and more predictable in my choice of words.

All in all, the freewriting only has benefits so far. It makes me feel good, it improves my writing, it generates ideas and I’m enjoying it. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be writing some more!

Inspired by Minimalism

I’m not a minimalist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m very tidy, but the storage space in my house is “well-used”. I also recognize that I like the buzz of buying pretty things. It makes me feel good, at least temporarily.

Almost a year ago now, I read a book that had quotes from “The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo in it. Even just reading the quotes inspired me. Especially the concept of only buying and keeping things that you either need or that bring you joy and happiness, stuck with me. It sounds very much like common sense. Yet despite being reasonably smart and sensible, I wasn’t applying this rule in my own life.

I have since tried to live by this guidance and it’s worked out very well. I didn’t even consider that I might save money by applying these simple rules, but I was surprised by the difference that it has made, financially. Instead of buying relatively cheap things, like clothes regularly, I have invested in some more strategic purchases. I was able to buy new dining room chairs and insect screens and sunscreens. Especially the last two have proven to a be a worthwhile investment with the, for Dutch standards, uncharacteristically warm weather of this summer.

Besides buying less, I’ve also thrown out more. Every now and then, when I feel restless, instead of buying things, I will direct my restlessness towards cleaning up a specific part of my home. Things that I don’t need and that I don’t love will go to a charity that can put my abundance of things to good use. Or if it’s too scruffy for that it will end up at the tip.

Slowly I can see more space opening up in cabinets. An unknowing visitor wouldn’t be able to notice the difference, the changes are happening mostly behind closed doors. But it certainly makes me feel good.

I’m assuming that there will be a point where there’s no more unnecessary and unloved stuff to clean out. In the meantime, I will continue to direct my restlessness at combing through cabinets and drawers, getting rid of any excess baggage that I’ve acquired over time. A cheap form of therapy that leaves behind a positive vibe, even after the buzz wears off.

Seeing through time

I just finished reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I never read it before and I picked it because several people that I admire talk very highly of both the book and its author. It’s remarkably easy to read.

The most fascinating thing about the book though is the use of time in it. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, travels through time. He has no control over it, he just keeps jumping back and forth. As a reader, you only experience a moment once, but Billy himself can live through the same moment multiple times. He doesn’t change what happens, nor is there the suggestion that he would want to. He simply experiences it.

He meets many colorful characters, of which the Trafalmadorians are the most remarkable ones. They kidnap Billy and explain that they can see six dimensions. This means that they can see all times simultaneously. They see time in the same way that we see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. Past, present and future just “are”. Because of this concept of time, they don’t see death as the end of something. It just means that the person who died will not be around in a particular part of time. But he or she will still around during other times.

Although I can’t see six dimensions, I like the idea of thinking about time like this. Someone might be here today, and they were around in the past. You spent time together. At a certain moment, the person might die. They won’t be around to experience new things together in the future. But the moments that you shared and the time that you spent together will always be there. We might not be able to experience all time simultaneously, but we can go back to those moments in the past and still enjoy them by remembering.

This is not only true for time spent with people who are no longer there, it’s also true for other moments in your life. Some of these moments might be crisp and beautiful, like the view of a mountain lake on a sunny day. Other moments might be more like a dark cave with spiders and bats flying around in them. Going back to those isn’t very appealing. You might as well avoid thinking about them too much, as you can’t change what already happened. It can be very soothing and inspiring to go back to enjoy the happy memories every now and then though. But don’t get stuck. Remember to experience today.

The impact of kindness

What a surreal time we live in at the moment. World leaders who lie more and are less eloquent than toddlers, large groups of people ignoring or even arguing against proven facts, because they don’t fit their narrative and so much hate and intolerance everywhere.
In today’s crazy world disagreements are understandable and perhaps even necessary. But there’s no need to be harsh, hateful and unkind to someone you don’t understand or don’t agree with. It doesn’t cost you anything to be kind. Even if you are having a discussion with someone. Being kind doesn’t take anything away from the point that you are making. In my opinion, it’s even the opposite. An argument that is made calmly and with respect for the other person comes across a lot stronger than one embedded in insults and name-calling.

Most people, when being attacked or insulted, will feel bad. Whether you are right or wrong, when someone rips you a new one it will affect your confidence. With the loss of confidence, you will have a harder time making a strong case for your point of view. You might feel like disappearing.
I try not to let unkind words get to me, especially in a professional situation, but sometimes they do. Unfortunately, I’m a lousy actor and I don’t have a poker face. If you pay attention it’s relatively easy to pick up on how I’m feeling.

That’s not the worst part though. As something like that will knock my confidence and requires a significant amount of energy to digest, there will be less energy left for everything else. I might lack patience when someone wants my help or attention. Maybe I’ll react blunter than I would like to, or perhaps I’d fail to listen to someone without judgment.
I might involuntarily pay someone else’s unkindness forward.

When you give someone a compliment, on the other hand, they’ll feel good. You will build them up. They will feel more confident and that in turn will make it easier for them to express themselves.
This means that bluntly criticizing and kindly complimenting someone are both self-fulfilling prophecies. The impact of your words will almost automatically confirm your opinion.
So I plead with you to try and be kind to people. Give someone a compliment if you feel positive about them. And if you don’t then just keep your mouth shut. You won’t achieve anything apart from tearing down someone you feel is already down. Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them.
Let’s bring some sympathy, tolerance, and kindness in this crazy world we live in.

Kindness is free, sprinkle that stuff everywhere

Free writing

I started free writing, using pen and paper. I’ve only done it twice so far, so you can hardly call it a habit, but it does feel good. Until now I’ve always rejected the idea of using pen and paper to write. The lovely weather drew me outside though and a pen and paper are a lot more convenient in the bright sun than a laptop screen is. It was the push that I needed to try it.
I thought I might be put off by my less than perfect handwriting, or by not being able to correct mistakes. It turns out that both don’t bother me at all.

The reason for trying something different is twofold. I’ve not been writing much lately, mostly because of a lack of topics that I feel I have something useful or interesting to say about that isn’t already being said in a better way by someone else.
The other reason is that I’ve been trying to find my “writing voice”. I liked the tone of voice in my last two posts. They were very different from the type of post that I normally write. Both were driven by the emotions that I was feeling while writing them. They were written quickly and posted without many revisions. They sound a lot more like me.

Most of my other posts are about concepts, while the ones that I like are stories. I’m hoping that the free writing will keep away the perfectionist in me and allow me to write some imperfect stories that have heart in them. The free writing makes it easier to be kind to myself while I’m writing. Nothing that I write while doing it needs to be posted. If it sparks an idea that’s great, if it doesn’t I enjoyed the process of writing for the sake of writing.

It’s an experiment and I think the amount of activity and my voice on here will be testament to the result. Or lack thereof of course!

A feeble attempt at describing a great experience

Let me start with the summary: last weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had.

If you missed the last post and don’t feel like going back to it, I booked a ticket for the Old Vic Theatre’s 200th birthday party at the last minute, after finding out via Twitter that Tim Minchin was going to be part of the show.

For this special occasion The Old Vic replaced the chairs in the stalls with tables and chairs around them. I shared a table with four people who go to the Old Vic regularly. The lady on my right was a bad-ass lawyer who used to date a Dutch man, so we had plenty to talk about. The lady left of me also booked her ticket after she found out Tim would be performing. We were very close to the stage, they were great seats.

The evening started with chicken pie and a piece of the very fancy Old Vic cake, and it got even better after that. Literally every act was brilliant, the Old Vic celebrated this special birthday in style.

The Old Vice Bicentenary Variety Night program      The Old Vic birthday cake

Despite the energy and brilliance of the other acts there was a buzz when Tim came on. Or maybe that was just me. He played four songs. Two new ones that can already be found on Youtube (illegally, sorry), one old one (F# for the Tim fans reading this) and one that he just finished that day. It was special to see the songs being performed live and to hear a completely new song. I tried to take a sneaky photo of Tim performing, so that I wouldn’t forget what it was like, but I’m not good at being sneaky and the photo I took is further evidence of that.

Tim on stage

After the show I started to leave the theatre when I changed my mind. I decided I might as well try to get as much out of the weekend as possible and waited to see if I would be able to get a photo with Tim. He did eventually come out and as soon as I saw him there was already a line of other people waiting for their chance of a picture with him. I have no idea where they had been up until that point, it seemed like they appeared at the same time he did. He was very patient. I’d assume he would also have wanted to get to his friends and talk to them, but he took the time for everyone that wanted to talk to him. He didn’t rush at all.
I didn’t take a lot of his time, because that’s the type of person I am. On some level I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t talk to him for a bit longer. I’m sure he would have allowed it. But I’m also glad that I was (relatively) respectful of his time. I can’t imagine having to talk to a long line of strangers after a work day. I don’t think they would like me much..
I also got my picture. Some of my friends commented that it looks like we could be brother and sister and I like that idea.

Tim and me

To be honest, I’m only writing this because I promised in my previous post that I would. But I can’t write well enough to do it justice. It sounds too clinical or over the top.
I have a relatively quiet and drama-free life, I’m not used to the four-day adrenaline rush from last weekend. Nor am I used to admiring someone in the way that I admire Tim. And I can’t explain it. The music of Groundhog Day and Matilda is beautiful and funny and smart. The comedy is thought provoking and hilarious. The podcasts are the best company in rush hour traffic and are motivating in many different ways.
But the fact that I haven’t been able to convince any of my friends of the brilliance of Tim is a clear sign of my failure to communicate.

My inability to put my feelings into words can be frustrating. I want to be a good writer and I have a need to talk about what’s going on inside me. At times, when emotions are running high and I can’t create a coherent sentence quick enough, the feelings come out in tears, like steam from a kettle. Not a very practical format for sharing with a wider audience.

Anyway, I enjoyed being a bit audacious last week. It made me feel childish and grownup at the same time. And as my boldish moves were rewarded with great experiences I will try to take a bit more risk more often.

Out of character

It’s 6:30AM on a Saturday and I’ve just boarded a plane to London as I’m writing this. I was just in London for a long weekend a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t miss out on anything then that I’m rushing back for now. Instead I booked this trip at the very last minute on Wednesday after it was announced on Twitter that Tim Minchin will be playing at the celebration of the 200th birthday of The Old Vic theatre.

Those who know me, know that I’m normally not very impulsive and that I will generally choose whatever is most sensible. Also, I’m really not a morning person. It’s safe to say that this is all rather out of character for me.

Those who know me a bit better though, also know that I’m a huge Tim Minchin fan. Since I first learned about Tim through his Nine Life Lessons I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen and heart everything that you can buy or find online.

I’ve never seen him live though and so here I am, about to hopefully change that.

I’m still not quite sure what made me decide to book a 36 hour trip for maybe 30 minutes of performance, but so far I still think it was the right decision. Even when my alarm went off at 4:30AM this morning I didn’t change my mind. I even feel very calm and relaxed now, but that might be due to the lack of sleep, as for the last few days I’ve alternated between being very excited and incredibly nervous for no good reason.

Since I started writing BA got me to London, I checked into the hotel and I’m now having a tea right across the theatre. I’ll spend the rest of the day at an exhibition about science and art, checking out the theatre’s street party and perhaps I’ll even go for a run.

Who knows, if it all works out and I enjoy being a tourist on my own I might even do it more often…