Where Do We Go From Here?

As the days turn to weeks and months, just tumbling from the calendar, I begin to wonder again what it is I want from life.

I am happy with my partner. It has brought a new dimension of contentment to life. But it has brought itself other worries. Money is never far from the equation; there just isn’t enough of it. A year ago I was earning about £3.5k net per month, if not better some months. These days it’s more like a few hundred pounds, and most of that is going to my partner. Not that he needs lots of money, but it’s just a more efficient way of dividing income. The tax advantages of partnership.

But as someone who was used to seeing regular steps forward, I now have a different perspective on life. It is now more like a single block of shitness, one month to the next, and then moving forward in one great leap. The trouble with this new model is I find it hard to keep myself motivated day by day…

I still worry that am going to change my mind one day, or decide that what I really need is my independence back, or, more probably, find myself completely bored of everything once again and find some desperate way to institute a change.

Right now I catch a fleeting few minutes of time on my own in the office. I am never without my partner. He is here in work with me. He is at home with me. We go out together everywhere. We just never leave each other’s side. I actually love it. It’s like us being a tag team for everything. I never thought I’d find constant contact so enjoyable.

But it probably isn’t healthy long-term. I leave the room for too long and my partner gets stressed. Vice versa is mostly true too, though I think I have a more balanced view on things. Mostly, the trouble is because my partner is a bit insecure about himself, his looks, etc. He feels the need for affirmation on a daily basis, and on bad days, more often…

I don’t know whether this will end badly. I am not at all unhappy with it right now. A tiny bit of me is sad that I never did achieve the sexual freedom that I longed to do so whilst I was “on the market” – but, then again, all I need to do is remind myself of the tragically dumb ways in which I handled my emotions back then, and suddenly I decide the grass is definitely greener on my side of the fence.

This is what my life is right now. It feels like I’ve reached a point where I could stay for a little while, but there are so many things that are actually just a little bit disappointing. Work. Life. Sex. Rest. Holidays. Partner. Money. Family. Truth. They are all things that are letting me down in some way…

I can ignore them all for now. But some of them will need to improve.

The Easter Working Weekend

It’s Easter Saturday. It’s currently 5:41am. I have been awake since 5am.

What is my life?

It’s a question that, when enunciated with an American accent, can sound incredibly irritating. Indeed, it’s not even a question I would dare to use in public, for fear of rather odd looks in return. But, at the same time, it is actually quite accurate.

My life, as I have known for the last few years, is basically split into the work and non-work sliver. In the non-work sliver I read political websites, playing increasingly less and less guitar, listen to Radio 1, and watch programmes I missed on catch up TV.

The Easter Weekend gives a brief window to change that. And, this year, I decided to give myself an extra reward. I told myself for several weeks in advance that I’d be having the Thursday before Good Friday off too. This would give me five consecutive days off. Wow, wow, wow. My brain said. I don’t get many of those with no consequences. OK, Christmas can be up to two weeks off, but Easter is at a nicer time of year. And the weather certainly has been good so far.

After two days of my five day weekend, how is that shaping up?

Well, on the Thursday I ensured I was “working from home”. The main reason was to sit around all day and await delivery of my new Virgin Media super hub (cost £6.99). In return, I really did sit around all day. Little did I know that the courier’s rule of “between 8 and 6pm” was almost literal. The delivery finally arrived at 4:30pm. This stressed me out incredibly.

Why? Because, after all that waiting, I had to go and do some work anyway. 4:30pm arrived, and I immediately rushed into the office to do a mail merge for my business. This involved a hefty queue in the post office, a ludicrously priced purchase of stamps, a run back to the office, printing, folding, sticking.

Then at 5:15pm my carriage awaited. To go off to my next job, which had been sitting, waiting, all day.

Back home at 8:30pm, I then proceeded, for the next two hours, to do some remote technical support for a new client I have won, which I had promised to do after 6pm (best time when the computers are not in use…). Along with the bits and bobs of work done during the day, I think I managed to still do a full day of work, even when I said I wouldn’t.

Good Friday. In the office at 8am. Having an informal discussion with someone we want to take on but don’t know if we can afford it. Then doing more work, general discussions, tidying, a small amount of fixing and minor catching up.

Home for 3:30pm. Back out again immediately because I had to do shopping. Back home to do more remote fixing for new client, who seemed to be working on Good Friday properly. This is not good.

Easter Saturday. The plan is to digest my company’s “Quality Management System” today, and do all the things I should have been doing over the last several months.

This is not a non-working weekend by any stretch of the imagination.

The problem is simple: work is my life. Work is my identity. Work is where I will – hopefully – continue to make a decent return on the time I am investing. Not that I have any time to spend what I’m earning…

In the meantime, some of my customers, both home and work, continue to send me e-mails. I do not reply to them. I cannot show to them that I do not use my holiday weekends as holidays. I cannot open the door. The problem, though, is that some of these e-mails are urgent, and leaving them till Tuesday will probably cost me business. That’s not fair on me at all, but it does seem comical that I try to maintain a strict outward show of protecting my holiday time jealously, while secretly working all the bloody time.

There is something wrong with modern life. We are entirely responsible for remoulding our work culture into an ethos of “(s)he who works longest, looks best”. We have had our evenings and our weekends invaded with e-mails and text messages and now WhatsApp and other conversations. We are all guilty of replying to them, let alone just reading them, and allowing our work to also take over our alleged free time.

Part of this influence is just the nature of capitalism – and how it slowly is engulfing our very identities – for the pursuit of more and more. It’s starting to twist to the point that now the people who say bold statements as “I do not answer the phone after 5pm” or “I do not read my e-mails at weekends” are looked at as a bit weird. We invest bizarre justifications such as “But why not deal with it, because if you don’t it will only make the morning 100 times more difficult!”

I also know people who set an out of office autoreply just for the weekend. Imagine that… we have degenerated so much as a work culture now that we have to have an actual system that reminds senders that their e-mail sent at 9pm on Friday might not get a response until Monday…

Maybe – just maybe – Easter Sunday will actually be a day off.

The Early Mornings

I have always been one of those individuals who doesn’t like sleep. OK, it does make me feel better, and generally is a good way to put distance between yourself and a shitty day, but my appreciation of it lies purely on a functional level.

As such, I don’t ever “lie in”. I don’t know what such a thing is. For me, there is an optimal amount of sleep, and it lies somewhere between 7 and 8 hours, and that’s it. When I’ve reached it, I’m awake, and can’t go back to sleep. My brain gets restless and agitated, and starts stressing that any longer does nothing for me, and I could be getting on with a, no doubt, busy day.

I used to get by on a lot less sleep when I was in college, regularly surviving on 6 to 7 hours, and it made no difference to me. My theory of sleep is that your body adjusts to whatever you throw at it; as long as it’s not regularly under 6 hours, you’ll live, and not suffer too much.

This attitude to sleep is what I call “pragmatic minimalisation”. Sleep, once its brain optimisation functions are completed, is a barrier to life. Taken to its extreme, I would sleep as absolutely little as possible. But I recognise that would cause me harm over the medium and long term. Hence “pragmatic”. See, I don’t just make shit up.

This approach is now ruling my modern life, but in a brand new way for me.

The new life pattern has become starting every day at 5am. Yes, 5 o’clock. I have always loved the early mornings, but this is quite something. Since about November, I have decided to get up at this crazy hour… and not really for any apparent reason. I live 15 minutes from my place of work. I have no reason to do this. I could realistically get up at 8am, and still get into work for 9am.

But that needs to be put in context. I work for myself. I also work for another business, which I’m a director of. Both of these jobs require immense amounts of my time and concentration. And they are exhausting, frequently involving work beyond the “traditional” 5pm finish of most other businesses. And, my IT business generates hassle at all hours of the day. Even when I don’t answer the phone, I still get angry when someone calls me at 7:30, 8, 8:30pm… it still makes me think of work, and wonder what it could possibly be. This is painful, and can go on and on, even after I’ve gone to bed (between 9 and 10pm) on some unusual evenings.

Except. Except there is one time of day when people don’t call me. Ever. Mainly because they are safely tucked up in bed.

And that’s the early morning.

I can safely say that I have never received a call from a customer between 5am and 8am. And even then, the number of calls between 8am and 9am is extremely low, relative to the rest of the day.

This creates an incredible respite. A time of the day during which I know I will not be distracted. A time of day I know names won’t appear on my phone, or the adrenaline rush of the office phone ringing will send my concentration out the window. I haven’t had this for some time. Other people can get home from work and switch off, knowing they are done for the day. But I can’t. The e-mails keep coming, the phone can keep ringing, the texts do flow.

Yet none of that happens in the morning. It means that from 5am until pretty much 9am, I can, and often do, do my own thing. I like to get up and make a cup of coffee, something I have never done in my life. I can feel relaxed, and not rushed in the morning. I can even put some washing on, do some cleaning, listen or watch a TV or radio show I’ve missed.

But more often, I can do a little bit of work, knowing that I will be able to knuckle down for 1 to 2 hours, without distraction, and get it done. This can give me an incredible sense of achievement. Which makes me feel like the day starts well, and hopefully carries on that way. OK, it invariably doesn’t go that way, as the ceaseless calls and e-mails during the day push me in dozens of different directions.

But at least I get a few hours of me time.

I like it. And now the mornings are getting lighter, it’s only going to get better towards the spring and summer.

We’ll see how long it lasts…

 

The Readjustment

Every year, post-Christmas, post-New Year, there has to be a re-adjustment. It is that tragic and depressing time when one realises Life Must Continue.

For days I live in denial. The interregnum between Christmas and New Year provides two bookends of protection. During this zone I can comfortably wave away concerns about time-wasting and self-indulgence.

Then you slip across the New Year precipice. New Year’s Day is always an odd affair, filled with tiredness and usually too much food. It allows you to ignore crossing the rubicon. But then the 2nd occurs.

For this year, like most years, the 2nd was a turning point. I had, this year, made a deliberate decision to actually leave my phone off. I have always set my voicemail message to say I’m on holiday, but often leaving my phone on, so people hear it ring and have to wait for the message. But this year, my phone was very firmly off – meaning I didn’t even see, hear or otherwise sense that a caller was waiting.

This made a big difference psychologically.

Until the 2nd, of course.

Because it’s not possible to leave your phone off forever. My phone (a smartphone) is also a leisure device. So switching it on to receive internet to do some Googling or to play some silly games, or download an app, or whatever… inevitably resulted in the receiving of the “you have 15 voicemails” and the deluge of e-mails arriving.

In reality, although my holiday only “officially” ended yesterday, it ended many days ago. I have been trying to deny it for days, but it is now here.

The readjustment usually takes several days. By the end of this week I will be back to 12/13 hour workdays, and no semblance of life or leisure beyond the fleeting glimpses I obtain of a Sunday.

Today I am travelling away from the parental home. I am leaving behind the place where I have spent the last two weeks relaxing and, in the most part, getting away from work. It has worked to some degree. I do feel better, but I also feel dread.

Everyone does. Everyone dreads the return of mundanity, and reality. Life is tedious at the best of times, and utterly, exasperatingly, frustrating due to the nature of the work I do. The nature of constantly dealing with people who are significantly at odds with the technology they use grinds me down. I felt it yesterday when I was on the phone with a customer. I felt the internal rage building, something I haven’t felt for weeks. It’s not good for me. I am an extraordnarily patient person with my customers, but some episodes, especially on your first proper day back at work, just kick you over the edge.

The Readjustment is a horrible time for me. I feel pretty depressed writing this, knowing in a few hours time I will be whisking my way back to the Southern house. That I won’t see my family or relatives for some time again.

Part of me is filled with this woe because, on the whole, Christmas was good. It is depressing that it is all over so soon. That life is now resuming with 50 weeks of incessant drudgery before I can genuinely switch off with no feeling of guilt.

Then the other part of me is telling me this is getting more and more concerning by the year. That we are all now one year older. One year less secure in this world. One year closer to seeing family, friends and relatives no longer with us. One year less biologically able. This was only brought home to me when visiting the home of my grandmother yesterday… a house I’ve not stepped into since my grandfather died.

Time to stop. Before I get so depressed I give up.

And before the phone no doubt rings.

2013

New Year this year was slightly better than last year, but only just. We did manage to have a small family gathering, which was very nice, especially as my grandparents were able to make it, but the depression it fills you with for future years is not good.

On the first of the year, I like to set down some benchmarks as to the year ahead. Last year, I was spectacularly wrong. This year, I am going to be a bit more optimistic.

There is something in me that feels this will be a good year. I am not one for mysticism or other spiritual hocus-pocus, but my business head is telling me that, for a change, I should look upon what’s coming this year with a great deal of encouragement.

First of all, in the next couple of weeks, my household circumstances will change dramatically. My housemate is moving out soon, and when that happens I will finally feel like I have, at last, made it to my “own place”. Everyone wants a little bit of somewhere to call home. In my case, however, I am renting a portion of someone else’s property and calling it mine.

Semantics, maybe, but it doesn’t feel like mine, even though I’ve been there for 3.25 years. 3.25 years that have flown by, and yet it looks like I’ve only just moved in. The living room is full of boxes, and has no homely feel. The kitchen is full of work-related equipment. So is my bedroom. It’s like living in your office all day, every day.

Some of this has been because I have felt like it’s not good to spend money on someone else’s house. And also the fact that, while my housemate was there, it just didn’t feel like mine. The house is full of stuff that isn’t mine and constantly reminds me of that fact, or isn’t in the way I would like it. For instance, behind the front door is about eight pairs of shoes. None of them are mine. They all belong to my housemate. But I can’t be bothered any more arguing over things.

In a couple of weeks time, they will all be gone.

The house situation will ease a huge burden off me. But in the back of my mind I continue to worry that I should spend some time working out when, if ever, I will make an attempt to buy a place of my own. I really ought to. To some degree I think that this should be the year.

But business-wise, there are other considerations. On the 11th January I have a critically important business meeting. If it goes well, it will shape the rest of this year very strongly. It still may take some time to kick in, and in my head I am not really expecting much progress, even if the meeting goes well, but I am keen to feel that there is just a little bit of momentum building at the moment. Momentum that might, finally, make me feel like I have built something that will last.

So I am expecting a positive year from my business. A few decent deals in the bag will secure that. Sounds so simple, but it isn’t, and the work required will be immense. But I must remember not to neglect the customers that put me in this position. I do not want to throw away all the progress that I have made.

In my personal life, I have given up hoping on something good to happen. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but we’ll see. At the back end of the year I had a good conversation with someone, but it will probably go nowhere due to time.

And as far as the family is concerned, it’s yet another big year. Hopefully everyone will continue to progress well, with my brothers getting settled in work and university, and my sisters carrying on with their new family and college respectively. Hopefully my mum and dad will find great comfort from 2013, the year their mortgage ends. And my nephews all do well in their important growing-up phases. My biggest worry remains for my 13 year old nephew. I worry about what this society he’s growing up in is teaching him.

Last night I thought deeply about it. It is now 13 years since the celebrations for year 2000. That has flown by so quickly I can barely believe it.

But believe it I must. Life is so fast, and incredibly fleeting. I really must resolve to enjoy this year much more than I did the last.

Let’s see what happens…

Seven Years

I still find it hard to believe that here I am seven years later, still writing. Still moaning. Still whinging. But probably slightly less depressed than I was back then.

In 2004 – exactly seven years ago at this moment – I finally caved in to a temptation I’d had for years to start a journal of some sort. Back then, blogs were still new and not everyone had one. These days, apparently everyone has one, and so too do dogs, cats and other assorted creatures.

I think I probably write the same post every year at this point now though. It always go along the same lines – I can’t believe I have been disciplined enough to keep this going. There have been times when it’s been touch and go, but mostly I’ve been able to muster up enough inspiration to write something. I am really pleased I did because it is a wonderful history to refer back to.

I had always wanted to write a diary but never had the ability to. Not because I didn’t actually have a diary. I always did seem to have one for some reason. Probably because I was always one of life’s organisers. Not that I had anything to organise. I just used to like writing things in there. I have always been like that.

But then there was the other reason – because real life diaries are not secure! I could never have written in things that were about my life becuase I just couldn’t risk the problem that someone else could read it. I couldn’t be completely honest because who knows when my security could be compromised. And yet, I don’t seem bothered about writing it all in public instead! How weird…

So I didn’t bother. But I just wish I’d started earlier. I really wish I’d had a diary of my teenage years. Looking back, I find those years of my life the most fascinating. That was really when me as a person – or, as a personality – was formed. It’s when we really start to become ourselves, more than mere automatic reflexes to our genes and our environment. The actual point at which proper consciousness, proper ability to analyse and reason, makes us into who we are.

But I didn’t, so no point fretting now. One thing I would do though is encourage anyone who thinks they can to blog. It doesn’t matter that there might be people reading. Chances are no one is anyway. And even if they do, they won’t know who the hell you’re talking about. Plus, you can be pretty cryptic anyway. I am, all the time, if I’m referring to other people.

Meanwhile… back in life – Christmas is happening. I’m back at home, with my family, relaxing, work is switched off, and I’m having a good time. I feel a completely different person to the poor guy seven years ago. I am happier. I am a little bit more directionful. If that’s a real word. I’m still more lonely than ever. But that’s because I’m hopeless at communicating with Real People. Sigh.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas. And I’ve only had one glass of Baileys!

Not As Alright As I Thought

When I was younger, one of the things that used to always course through my brain was a rather trusting refrain, “it’ll be alright eventually”.

For some odd reason, I did trust in my own ability. I had total faith that no matter, in the end, my skills and talents would come through, and I would be able to succeed in life almost by default.

Maybe I misunderstood what was around me. For years in school, exam season after exam season came and went, with more and more success. High grades, rising class position, great GCSEs, great A-Levels… it just kept going again and again, and I thought I must have already been doing something right, and therefore all I needed to do was carry on.

When you reach Real Life though, you realise that the correlation of a successful life with good qualification is not very strong at all. Sure, it helps, but far more important are the connections you have, either already garnered, or through your family.

My connections have not been particularly helpful for me. The classic case of a working-class background, a family with no opportunities to get a leg-up from friends and relatives. And yet, the more I do business, the more I realise that connections are what make the world turn.

If I went through my client list, I’d probably be able to attribute at least half of the turnover to connections. But not in the sense that they came from connections in the first place, but more because I had the good fortune to get one customer through normal means (advertising) and then beyond that point it led to many recommendations into numerous different home and business customers. One such connection, starting with a £30 PC repair, gained from an advert in the paper, has since turned into many thousands of pounds of profit. All because that customer just so happened to be in the position to make a business decision to use me in the private school he runs.

Life is life that. A series of connections and co-incidences. They can go in your favour, and sometimes they won’t. When they happen, you have to smile and breathe a sigh of relief. It just went your way. But when they don’t, it’s extraordinarily frustrating. You then might even start to rail about the unfairness of the world, and how if only it was all about talent, experience and price, you would be winning every time, and that would be just perfect.

How naive. We may all want the world to be fair, but it never will be. We are humans. We like shortcuts. We are social, and value the recommendations and input of other people, especially if they’re people we trust implicitly.

I’m getting there. I’m earning lots of connections, many of which I’m starting to use for my own life. And who knows when they’ll be useful to a much greater than they currently are. Maybe when I own my own house, and I’m desperate for someone to help with dodgy guttering…