Back to the future

It occurred to me today that one of the difficulties of giving up old habits is how much they are your identity. Even if they’re not a part of it you like, the possibility of no longer ‘being you’ is frightening. It helps to be able to think of yourself as becoming a better version of yourself – you.2.


Mirror Mirror

I’m putting off reporting on the Easton Arts Trail (it went very well) or anything else I normally talk about again this week. Partly because of continued busy-ness, partly because the self-improvement-related rant below wanted out of my head first.

That Steve Jobs quote that everyone likes. Think about it for more than the kneejerk millisecond that it takes to click ‘like’ under a picture on Facebook.

‘[…] for the past 33 years I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today.”’

What do 99% of people* say when asked what they would want to do on the last day of their life? I’m thinking it’s along the lines of ‘Why, hang out with my family/friends/partner of course.’

So if you’re one of that 99% and you don’t happen to be on holiday when you carry out the mirror test, chances are you will fail it. Unless of course you and your loved ones are unemployed. In which case, well done, you’re apparently living the dream.

Think about why this is your last day too.

Is the world ending? Then chances are whatever you had planned for the day before you were informed of the impending apocalypse is now irrelevant anyway, even if you love your job/life. That patient you were going to save, that new smartphone app you’ve been working on, that research paper you’ve been writing, that dentist’s appointment, what’s the point now? Unless perhaps your research paper is about how to stop a meteor destroying the planet, or whatever is about to happen. Some selfless people might want to keep giving the needy the best final day they can have, but most of us would be doing our own thing. Or maybe, say, in Bristol UK, having a massive street party. With lots of bunting.

Is it your last day because you are terminally ill, and the doctors have given you no more than 24 hours to live? It’s unlikely you’ll have the energy to do much beyond trying to think of some appropriate last words.

Are you about to be executed? You can’t be having much choice how to spend your day, unless you’re in one of those super-plush prisons where the tabloids would have us believe inmates live a life of luxury. Actually, the traditional Dead Man Walking’s choice of indulgent food for their final meal is probably likely to feature on a lot of people’s final day list, which can be an ideal way to live your life on a day-to-day basis if you’re cool with all the ailments related to unhealthy/excessive eating, but that scarcely requires motivational gumf to help you along.

So, it seems living your life as if every day is your last day is only a good idea if you’re either a lettuce-loving workaholic or have extremely low expectations of yourself.

I recently watched a video shared by a friend that posits that a life where work is a necessary evil rather than a passion is ‘absurd’.  This may be the case (although you could just as easily argue that all life is absurd), but this kind of name-calling is plain rude, especially when very little by way of a viable alternative is proposed.

Now, there is much to be said for doing things you love, as the video advocates – however much of them you can fit in your day; if you end up making a living out of such things, great – however, that makes you Very Lucky. Not in an irrational, fatalistic sense of the word. In the sense that anyone who has the right combination of natural abilities, predilections, nurture and opportunities to achieve this kind of life should be grateful for that fact rather than look down on those who do not.

I would argue that eradicating the ‘absurdity’ of most people’s lives would require not only each and every person addressing whichever of the above factors are holding them back, which may or may not be possible for all, but also radical systemic changes (perhaps even a revolution, eh, Russell?). It requires a world where no mundane job needs to be done by a human, and no human needs to work, since not everyone’s passion is going to be something they can monetise.

Labelling ordinary people as losers who should really get off their worker-ant arses and do something wonderful is at best going to inspire a few to do great things and drive a few others to ruin. And/or get the video’s makers that super job in viral advertising they’d really like to spend their final days doing.

So I’m not going to just drop everything and go rock-climbing or swimming under waterfalls like the beautiful people in the video (which has a distinct airline commercial feel to it whenever it’s not clips from cult movies about sticking it to The Man).

I’m pretty sure some of the clips were from The Beach, which if I remember correctly did not end well. Also Fight Club? No day jobs were quit in the making of that story, in fact the main protagonist has several. The Matrix? A film about how humans are exploited by a powerful ruling class and how an intrepid band of rebels take up arms to bring the system down. Am I missing the point – do all these extracts just aim to encourage us to think outside the box? Or did the video’s makers seize upon the cathartic escapism of these movies at the expense of their deeper messages?

I know people who love their jobs but feel that, as a popular French comedian once put it, ‘De l’argent suffirait (money would do). There’s something to be said for working to live rather than living to work – not everyone is cut out for the latter and that’s OK.

Anyway. I’m off to make myself a lovely healthy dinner before doing a few other bits and bobs that would make absolutely no sense if this was my final day; because if I’m not dead tomorrow, I’ll be glad I did them.


*Source: The Top of my Head journal Issue 57.

Back in the saddle

It’s been nice to take a break from the daily accountability of 30 Days of Biking, but, not unpredictably, the removal of this straightforward, externally imposed structure also left a vacuum I now need to fill with my own routine (until the next 30-day challenge anyway).

It’s not as if the last ten days have been devoid of self-improvement.

photo of pannier next to tools

Poorly pannier awaiting stitching expert next to electrician/carpenter tools

If it’s broke…

On 3 May there was the Bristol Repairs Cafe, where I watched Hilary stitch my poorly pannier back to some semblance of togetherness. As she didn’t have strong thread to hand I may have to have a go myself in the near future, but at least now I know it can be done. I’m aiming to make a habit out of attending these monthly as I have a large box full of things that need mending at home and never the confidence or motivation to do anything with them on my own.

Three free workshops

  1. Local food – Pollyanna or Panacea?“, an event organised by the University of Bristol as part of the Food Connections Festival. I’m not entirely sure whether I learned anything there other than the phrase “you can’t cross an abyss in two steps” (from one of my fellow participants), an interesting image though as with all metaphors, its application to other situations is debatable.
  2. Appreciation of Beauty” run by Light Box – the Happiness Project“). I’m pretty good at finding beauty around me already, as I think my obsession with taking close-up photos of rust demonstrate. Mostly I had been intrigued by the prospect of “making camera lenses from vibrant acetate” (by which they of course meant filters; mine unfortunately fell apart in my bag before I got round to taking a photo through it). We were told that beauty has measurable physical benefits (patients heal faster when they have a room with a view – I’m sorry, I don’t have a link to the peer-reviewed medical research this no doubt comes from).
  3. Smartphone journalism“, run by the Bristol Cable. This, unlike what I had vaguely expected (opportunistic use of phone camera for snap-and-tell), turned out to be a largely technical course on recording video interviews and vox pops. Out of my comfort zone in a number of ways, even though I had done similar things in a work context, but was not un-fun and I’ve been idly thinking about some real-life applications (watch this space). Even though the first thing we were told was that we’d have to invest in some kit because camera shake and bad inbuilt microphones.
photo of sign outside St Philip's recycling centre prohibiting walking in

Mixed messages? Be green, recycle – but always do it in a car. Mind you, says nothing about cycling in.

Feel the FOMO and don’t do it anyway.

The main area of self-improvement of this period, however, has been in all the things I have NOT partaken in – Bristol is teeming with free activities of all kinds this time of year, and will be so for months, to the point where I was getting a bit stressed from all the rushing around and also not getting anything done, be it writing, photo-editing, job-hunting or even just loading the dishwasher. So I’ve had to develop a similar attitude to these things as my budgetary “if it’s not essential, don’t spend money on it“. This means I have yet to attend anything to do with the Bristol Festival of Photography, but I did among other things

  • pull out the Virginia creeper from my back wall before it was all leafy again (not only was I told it was bad for the house, but last summer it attracted so many wasps I thought there was a nest in it), and took the cuts to the tip on the same day (knowing from past experience that disposing of garden waste becomes even more of a chore once it’s been rained on).
  • register to vote – cut it a bit fine and had to hand-deliver my form on the day of the deadline. I learned that the reason I found no letter boxes on City Hall to drop it into over the week-end was that they had all been removed in the 80s after poll tax protesters got into the habit of slipping excrement through them.
  • got the ball rolling for my Easton Arts Trail stall and inventoried my photo archive, making sure everything exists in at least two functioning and ordered locations. The next step will be to make sure all the ones that are important to me are in at least one cloud location, which can hopefully be both a backup and an online portfolio. Much as I dislike Flickr for various reasons, it’s probably the pragmatic choice.


  • Took squeaky bike to Women’s Night, it was quickly diagnosed as needing a good oiling in the chain. One more basic bike thing under my belt.
  • Got round to downloading Endomondo last week. It does the job. Signing up/signing in seemed slightly more complicated than with the other apps, but once past that hurdle, I found the app easy to use and reliable. I’m not sure about the voice that says “Go” once you press play. On the plus side, she sounds vaguely like Helena Bonham Carter telling Ed Norton to slide in one of my (many) favourite Fight Club scenes.  But it’s also annoying, as pressing play is not necessarily the last thing I do before actually starting. It would probably go away if I turned the Audio Coach setting off, but I quite like the little updates every ten minutes when I’m running, telling me how far I’ve gone and what speed I’m clocking – a definite bonus compared to Sports Tracker. Even though I’ve also been using ‘Round and Workout Timer‘ to tell me whenever I’ve done five minutes. With the latter, by the way, I really didn’t like the built-in sound, so used the facility to record my own; I found I had to shout at a high pitch for the sample to be heard over the music that keeps me going, so it’s a pretty silly sample, but I still like hearing it, telling me I’m that much closer to the end.
Animated gif of Marla Singer in Fight Club saying "Slide"

Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of quoting Fight club in relation to self-improvement.

30 days of biking #22 – Hairwin

Not exactly vitamin D weather yesterday, but I was out of raw sauerkraut (my tummy’s best friend along with fizzy water), and a trip to the better Food Company in St Werburgh meant some practice with those devilish downhill hairpins. Nailed both of them, even the one on my “bad” side with panniers full of shopping 🙂 Priming myself by mentally repeating “I can do it”, bringing up images of all the people I see do this apparently effortlessly and, at the time of turning, listing the essential steps (easy gears, slow, wide, look, pedal) may have helped.

April is fulfilling its objectives as cycling + grit month by changing my thinking from avoiding things I find difficult to seeing them as opportunities to progress and feel good about it. Even running has got easier, which at week 8 of the Couch to 5k plan I thought would never happen. This is good.


So I have declared April Grit Month. I watched this TED talk and it confirmed things I already knew. This is not an April Fools, I mean it: this month, I will feel the urge to quit, ride the shitty wave of discouragement and then keep going like I’m back in my twenties hitting a punchbag with my Muay Thai instructor shouting encouragement. Well I’ll try anyway.