Living deliberately

I wrote about my ‘age theory‘ a year or so back. It comes up in conversation a lot, and people seem to like it.

I’ve been giving it some more thought today. A bunch of stuff has popped up on my Facebook timeline this morning about following your dreams. Inspirational quotes. In particular, a short video about what you would do with your life if money was no object. That sort of stuff.

And while that’s an opportunity for the cynic in me to roll his eyes, I was able to suppress that long enough to give the matter a little thought.

I had a conversation recently about how we can think about our lives as narrative. Your life is a story and you’re the main character in that story. Other people’s lives are stories too, and you may be an incidental character in those ones.

But all the things that you do and that happen to you – all the encounters with the other characters you have along the way – are part of your character development and story arc.

Some of the plot elements are things that happen to you, and some of them are the things you make happen in response to what’s going on. The sort of person you become is largely to do with the character development that comes as a result of that response.

Regardless of how random and disconnected those events might seem, all the bits make a lot of sense in retrospect. What you have done along the way so far (and why you did those things) is how your character got to this point in the story.

And if that’s true, then planning for where you want the story to go, rather than just letting life happen to you, makes a lot of sense.

So this morning, as I was doing my writing, I started to experiment with piecing together what I might consider to be an ideal life. What the ingredients would be – even what the schedule would be (more or less) – for each day, each evening, each weekend, each month and year. The routines and rituals I’d like to keep. The things I’d like to do and make. The context for that. What it looks and feels like. All that stuff.

It was an interesting exercise. A lot of the ingredients are already there. I have a long way to go. But I have something concrete to work towards now, and I feel like I’m going in the right direction. But importantly – this story has always been leading to this. I’ve always been going in this direction without knowing it. All the stuff that has been part of my story – all the people, all the influences, all the events, whether positive or negative – these have all led me here.

All the things that I’ve been interested in, passionate about and introduced to along the way – they all play a role in this vision. None of it works without the other pieces. Which is interesting – and the extent to which it’s true took me a little by surprise today.

I’ll be 50 in a few years time. I’m kind of looking forward to it. It would be great to be closer to that vision by the time I get there. I think that spending some time thinking about it makes it far more likely than simply doing what’s right in front of me all the time. My morning writing is such a great space for this sort of reflection and stepping back from the day to day.

I’m not an idealist – I’m a pragmatist. I don’t think that just doing whatever I like is a practical response to the world. But I do think that figuring out what it is I want to do, have, achieve and contribute is a useful thing to do.

And so if I manage to work towards this ideal then I can spend my 50s and 60s doing the things that are ‘what my life is all about’. I can decide to a large extent what the whole story has been leading up to – which is the aim of the exercise, as far as I’m concerned.

Put simply: the purpose of your character development is to become the author of your story.

Put even more simply: live deliberately.

I recommend that whole ‘stepping back for half an hour’ thing. Figuring out where it is you’d like to be going and what you’d like to be doing – seeing where your story is taking you, and deciding where you’d like to take it.

Brain in overdrive

I write every morning for 25 minutes. Set the timer and just go. It’s been a ritual for years. Hardly ever miss it. Just a braindump – nothing I keep or use for anything. Certainly unpublishable. But it clears my head of all the crap and lets me start fresh each day.

It’s often nonsense. Just words. I’m often not even fully awake. But what I write about is usually a good barometer of what’s going in my head – sometimes it concerns things that I wasn’t even aware of or knew were important to me, but mostly it’s stuff I’m excited about, anxious about or trying to solve.

How much I write is also a good indicator of how my brain is operating. Today, I bashed out 1700 words. That’s a record for me. Brain in complete overdrive.

Hopefully I can keep this pace up across the day and over the days to come… Music Tech Fest London is in two weeks – and there’s a lot that needs to be done.

Incidentally – you should get your tickets here.

Time to move on

Moving house is not the most stressful thing you can do in life, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the top five. Even so, I’ve chosen to do it a lot over the years. I’ve lived in around 25 different houses, flats or apartments since I left my parents’ home in 1989. That’s an average of one a year.

The impulse to keep moving is a strong one. After leaving New Zealand almost ten years ago, I’ve traveled a lot. Thirteen countries just in the last year. Over half of those more than once. I like being elsewhere. I enjoy forward momentum. ‘What comes next’ has always been my primary interest.

As a long-term renter, being able to find somewhere else to live – somewhere better – at short notice is important to me. I like having that option, even if I don’t make use of it.

After all, a house is just a place to keep your stuff. And if you find a nicer place to keep your stuff, why not pack up and move on?

Except at some point, where I live became “home”. I’ve been there for almost five years, which is something of a record for me. It’s in a part of town I love, it has all the elements I like about a house, and I’ve made the place my own. There have been a lot of changes in that time, but I’ve built a life there. I’d even thought about cutting down on the travel, maybe getting a dog and living a more settled life.

So the landlord’s sudden decision to sell comes as something of a shock. I guess that’s the downside of renting: flexibility also means uncertainty.

I wasn’t looking to be packing my life into boxes again, but here we are. I have about six weeks to ensure that this is a move up, not just a move out.

It’s been upsetting – but only for a little while. It’s also exciting. Perhaps this is what I needed. Maybe that feeling of comfort was complacency. It’s possible my love for that house was more a matter of inertia. It’s just a bungalow in Kings Heath. We’re not talking mansion on the lake here.

I don’t know what happens next. I’m stepping out into the unknown. Part of me likes that feeling. It’s a little stressful – and will become more so. But I’m going to look at it as an opportunity. Life is change, right?

Whatever happens, and wherever I go, my contact details will remain the same. I live on the internet.

I like writing

I write every day. I type a lot, of course – sometimes up to 5000 words a day, even not counting emails. But I write too. Longhand. In a journal. Three pages every day, first thing in the morning.

It usually takes me about 20 minutes. Writing whatever comes into my head in all its jumbled, nonsensical and disordered glory clears away all of the crap that’s accumulated in my brain overnight, gets it out of my system and lets me start fresh.

My friend Trevor used to call it my morning ‘mental poo’. Which is kind of horrible – but entirely accurate. I prefer that metaphor about the guy who cuts down trees for a living, figuring out that he needs to take a little time each day to sharpen his saw. That’s what my morning pages routine is all about.


I like reading

I read an awful lot. You’d expect that to be the case. I am a professor, and reading is part of the job description. I read a lot, and I read quickly. 500 words per minute is comfortable. I can manage 700 on a good day.

But here’s the thing – I’m not the sort of person who reads a lot of novels. I read some – and more than I have for the past decade (especially since I bought the Kindle) – but not as many as most of my friends.

I like novels, and I sort of half-wish that I would read more of them – but most of the time, there are other things I’d rather be reading. A novel has to really grab me for me to spend time with it – and that happens so rarely. Like – once or twice a year.

I’m a bit of a non-fiction junkie. But more than that, I’m an essay junkie. I like reading essays. For pleasure. To me, the art of writing and storytelling – that art of portraying something about the world and conveying it with skill, emotion and in a way that points to something larger about the universe – that’s at its concentrated best in the essay form.

And it just so happens that I’ve recently stumbled upon the best way to read essays. It involves, as you might expect, technology.


I like taking photographs

Today’s reflection on ‘stuff I like to do’ is about photography.

Like going record shopping, taking photos has sort of become my ‘thing’. Unlike going record shopping, this is a fairly recent development, and I had a pretty steep learning curve.

I took a beginners’ course a while back, which gave me a good start. It helped me with a core understanding of the mechanics of the camera, a basic sense of how light works, a bit of insight into concepts of composition, which way around to hold the thing and so on.

Since then, it’s become one of my favourite things to do. I’ve been on a couple of organised photo walks, but actually, I hardly go anywhere without a camera – and in fact, I’ve started going places because I have a camera.