When in doubt, live in the past

I’m having an incredibly ‘low mental bandwidth’ evening after quite a demanding few days at an academic conference. I’ve watered the plants, checked my RSS feeds, made a simple meal, and was just sitting around listening to music and distractedly scrolling through my email archive. Don’t ask why. I don’t really know. Boredom, I guess?

Anyway, I accidentally hit the button that sorts my saved mail by ascending chronological order – and all of a sudden, I’m looking at email from five years ago.

Because I’m so easily distracted – now more than usual – I thought I’d have a look and see what sorts of conversations I was having on April 14, 2008 and so I scroll to that particular day.

A few interesting things in there.

I was arranging to go in and do some research at the BBC in London as part of an AHRC-funded project I was involved in (that was a great project, actually). A Birmingham-based technical writer had approached me to adapt my 20 Things e-book into a book more aimed at writers and other creatives (not sure whatever became of that idea, but it didn’t happen). There was discussion about some research my students were doing into a digital DJ device called the Pacemaker, which is now, it turns out, a Blackberry app, rather than a separate piece of equipment.

I also had an email from my friend Nick, back in New Zealand. He was a musician I’d worked with on a number of projects and he was my son Jake’s first drum teacher (what was that – 13 years ago?). Nick was telling me about his work teaching drumming at the jazz school, and this new band he’d started called Cairo Knife Fight, about which he was quite hopeful (though characteristically self-effacing).

If you’re not familiar with that particular two-piece combo, here’s a suitable introduction:

A few years on from that email, they’re selling out shows, supporting Foo Fighters in front of 50,000 people and releasing very good records. Right now, they’re writing new material for their next release. So, not bad going. Good to see that things start somewhere and progress.

Other emails from that day remind me that it was a particularly interesting time for consultancy work (and that maybe I should start doing that sort of thing a bit more again).

I was working with Proper Distribution (the largest independent music distributor in the UK, doncha know); a woman in Switzerland named Kate Michaels who specialises in swing and show tunes; and, by way of contrast, Gilles Peterson’s label Brownswood Recordings.

As it happens, I also started my own online record store that day as an experiment, which I think lasted a year or so before I tired of the concept after selling exactly one product – and that was to me. The service I was using to do that no longer exists as far as I can tell. These things come and go. And sometimes rightly so.

Bruce Warila and I were in the midst of conversations about where we should take this Music Think Tank thing we started. We had a few interesting ideas, none of which really seemed quite right. We ended up walking away from it and leaving it in the hands of the Hypebot people, who are doing a very professional job of stewardship. That was an extremely good decision, in retrospect. Managing what that site ended up becoming is not really how I want to be spending my time. You might spot one or two ads if you visit…

I had a personal assistant back then, because I was taking on far more than I knew what to do with, and so there were emails back and forth about personal assistanty stuff, mostly regarding my own incompetence when it came to matters of record keeping and accounts. My superior organisational skills (or ‘obsessive behaviours’ as some of my colleagues refer to them) are a reasonably recent development. These days, of course, Shelley’s doing far more interesting things. She ran her own arts organisation and manages Alternative Dubstep Orchestra among other things.

It’s fascinating to take a slice like that and just look at what I was doing and the conversations I was having then, because it sort of confirms to me that my overarching method kind of works for me: I start lots of things.

Some of those things stick and become part of my life, some are quietly finished without much fuss, others get handed off to more competent and interested parties, and others lie abandoned on the roadside.

But occasionally a project gets set down for a while, and then later events conspire to remind you of them so that you go back and pick them up, dust them off and re-examine them for potential.

I had one of those happen yesterday. An exciting one at that. If it starts to look promising, then I’ll definitely be blogging about it here. But in five years time, if I go back and look at the conversations I was having today, that will be one that’ll stand out as one of the more interesting threads.

Generally speaking, I think I’m doing better now. Making better decisions, taking on fewer wildly speculative projects and I have a much clearer set of objectives. My filing is certainly in a much better state too. But all of these things have, I think, contributed to where I am and what I’m doing now, so it’s good to be able to go back and trace their origins.

It certainly beats watching re-runs of Mock The Week on iPlayer, which was really the only other thing I had the intellectual capacity for this evening…

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