Sunday, 14 October 2007

Birthdays and backgrounds


"A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age - regardless of how they look on the outside - pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives. They don't want to be who they are any more. They want out. This list includes Thurston Howell the Third, Ann-Margaret, the cast members of Rent, Vaclav Havel, space shuttle astronauts and Snuffleupagus. It's universal"
Douglas Coupland

So another year of my life has dawned and the world begins again. I'd like to say that turning 28 has given me many deep insights into my life, but the truth is I've reached the age where birthdays mean very little to me anymore. It's just another day, plucked out of the ether to mark the time between two arbitrary points in space.

In fact if anything the effort of working out what presents I want and making sure I see/speak to/respond to all the relevant people is more of a hassle than anything else. It's a fun hassle, but a hassle nonetheless.

However in an effort to get my creative juices flowing I've been returning to old ideas for plots and stories to see if any of them are worth dusting off. What I've noticed is that they have a couple of themes to them that are worth examining.

The first, and the main one, is that they all revolve around the notion of time. If they're not condensing a story into a short period of time they're expanding it into millenia.

They are all obsessed with repetition and return. In my stories History always repeats and it's in how the characters deal with these repetitions, how they grow and change because of them, that I write.

So, do I see my life as a series of loops? Am I myself stuck in some kind of never-ending limbo? I think that's how I see it. I'm as welcome to endings as beginnings. I recognise that very little of my life is long term and since I believe that I never hold on to anything to make it long term.

Yet equally I concentrate on the ageless saga. How the actions of yesterday expound the moments of tomorrow, and how the conditions of both squeeze the boundaries of today. This concentration on the ages is much easier for me to understand because I know where it comes from.

My maternal Grandfather died a few months after my Mother was born. She doesn't remember him, so she has few memories to pass on to me. But his absence shaped a large part of her life. I think, reading between what she says, that it lead to her falling in love with my Dad.

My Grandmother still gets upset thinking about losing him. She loved him dearly and by the time I thought to ask her about him... Well, lets just say it's not a good idea to upset her these days.

This man has had a huge impact on my life and yet I know very little about him. What I do know is that traditionally I should have been named Alexander after him, and every year I find myself wondering about the rest.

So maybe a birthday is much more than just a hassle to me after all.

Oh dear


I seem to have hit a slight problem: namely the work/life balance. Or at this stage the work/work imbalance. Less than four days back from a weeks holiday and I already feel exhausted. I've also done 50 1/2 hours work and I've still got a day of work this week. I dread to think about the two weeks before my holiday.

Overtime this month will hurt to work out, but the biggest problem is planning. Too many jobs, not enough time. Not enough hours in the day. That's why I have minions now. This is both good and bad. It means I can shift responsibility somewhat, unload the things I have to do, but it also means I have to plan it more.

Basically I need to get a handle on my life at the moment. Unfortunately that's another job on the pile to fit around what I need to do. I need my life to stop for long enough that I can catch up. I'm hoping that will be tomorrow. Or by the end of next week at least.

Let me explain.


After every major seismic activity the shape of the Earth changes. In itself that doesn't mean much, but it does have the interesting effect that it changes the speed of the Earth's spin. That in turn changes the length of a day.

It's not by much: a few milliseconds at most. I believe the Boxing Day Eathquake the year before last added three milliseconds to the length of the day. Just three milliseconds.

It's the type of thing that comes out in the wash. After all the length of a day is constantly changing. Daylight comes and goes, sleep steals hours. Three milliseconds will be lost after the next eathquake, or the one after.

Now imagine it wasn't the length of a day, but something more fixed. The mass of the Earth is pretty much fixed. I mean sure it has small changes: meteors come, satellites go. But overall it is fixed and so gravity is fixed.

Imagine it changed one day. It shifted by a Newton, or two. Would you notice? Would you shrug off the feeling as a bad night's sleep or a particularly good night the day before?

Or would it niggle at you? This weird feeling that something, somehow, was off. Not something you could necessarily put your finger on, just a feeling of wrongness.

This is the best explanation I can find for how I feel. A weird sensation that something inside is off somehow. I don't know what it is, I don't know how it came about, it's just not quite right.

When I started writing this I decided on rules, most of which I've adapted already:
1) All entries must be handwritten in this book.
2) At least one entry per week.
3) Copy them out into a blog.
4) Write them in London or outside of Southampton.
5) The full jist of the book and the blog must be the same.
6) No set routine.
7) Challenge myself once a week.
8) An entry a month should be about the year in total.

You can forget 4 & 6. They're conclusively gone, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that anymore. Hell, I think it's a good thing.

But I also think I shouldn't remove a rele unless I've got something to replace it with. So:
4) Plan more. Take the time to actually think things through as much as possible in advance. It might help matters.
6) Do something.

Now I know 6 is pretty obvious, but it's probably the most important. As you may have guessed this is this month's year in total entry, mainly because after a month and a half I haven't really got anywhere.

Basically I don't feel any different, but then why should I? A month and a half is not enough time to overhaul your personality. It's barely enough time to start and I'm not sure if I've even done that.

Except I guess I have. Twice in the last week I've had two conversations that, frankly, terrified me. One was about learning to drive and one was about getting therapy. Both were about fundamental changes to my life and if I'm not ready to face that then what is the point of this?

All the changes have been small so far. I guess the most profound has been getting together with old friends. That's as much circumstance as anything. Being in London I don't get to see my current friendship circle as much as I'd like, but I do get the chance to see people I haven't seen in years.

Yet it also gives me an opportunity to visit old periods of my life and see what I got from them. Some old friends are just that: friendships that are old. Gone and lost for a reason. Some are just twists of fate, lost for a reason but not a good one.

I've said before I've never felt like I've really belonged anywhere. What I have done is leave behind me a string of friends I care about, but don't necessarily see.

Our decisions and actions define who we are. They make us. So we decide and we act and we leave an indelible mark on the world.

Who we are, who we choose to be, is the sum of these actions. It's automatic, ingrained. Something we control and something that controls us.

So maybe I've been going about this the wrong way. Maybe I need to decide where I want to be at the end of the year and decide howe to get there rather than take the time to look at who I am.

Because although knowing who I am is important, it's so natural to me that I don't really know how it works. I'm so used to it that I don't even realise it's there most of the time.

Like Gravity.