Money money money

Back again, as promised!

Apologies for the slightly mopey post a couple of days back – I don’t regret taking a bit of time to myself, though, and am now back to quickly report on one of my ‘resolutions’ – the personal and professional targets you’ll see below.

All in all, they’re working really well – I felt truly motivated at times in the week leading up to their ‘deadline’, but from now I might say 4 targets minimum, rather than 6 (depending on their nature). This is because at times I did feel overly pressured, not so much to complete the task, but more to do it a specific time which really didn’t suit me. I appreciate that this is a part of fitting the things you love into adult life, but within reason; I couldn’t help but remember, as I lugged myself before bed to the laptop for some manuscript transcribing, that this is meant to make me feel good.  Anyway, look to the bottom of my post for the next four, again due to be finished a week from today (next Sunday).

I also want to write a little bit about a larger topic (in keeping with my ‘normal’ posts) – money. Specifically, the relationship between money and happiness in people of my age bracket (early-career ‘millennials’). Now, I make a decent wage for my age, I’ve always tried to be careful with money (albeit not perfectly!) and, ice cream excluded, I don’t really have expensive habits (drinking, smoking etc.) Yet I still find my money is disappearing.

Now this is normal, I suppose – in an age where house prices are soaring, for example, I don’t hesitate to squirrel quite a lot of my monthly salary away. I don’t mind not having tonnes of disposable cash – what bothers me is how that can restrict social interactions. In the past, I’ve always been almost unhealthily eager to snap up every opportunity to ‘go out’ with friends (out of an anxiety mentioned below, and certain to return!) What never really struck me was how much this ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO – see here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_of_missing_out) has cost me, materially speaking.

Perhaps, in a perverse way, being a bit strapped for cash could help me, and others, understand that a good time with friends doesn’t have to involve spending. What ever happened to going for a walk, or having a cup of tea in the living room? These are things which I think, in our increasingly fast-paced lives (being millennials in 2017), we unconsciously believe we don’t have time for – but we really need to. Just a thought.

Tasks: 

Personal Professional
Finish ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, by Anne Bronte. Read up on introductory works for publishing careers.
Complete one poem (at least 16 lines) Complete some recommended AND further reading for next semester (MA).

 

NB: Volunteering opportunities are still on my agenda, they just unfortunately don’t fit with my career objectives right now. I’m putting them on the back-burner just for a little while. Perhaps I’ll need to forget how it complements my C.V. for a bit…

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The Age of Innocence

Hi all, just a quick update to let you know how I got on with Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’ – I’ll give another general update tomorrow (hopefully!)

The novel was really, really enjoyable, in my opinion. It was first published in 1920, but set in 1870s New York amidst the ‘Gilded Age’, which was in short a period of great affluence for the middle and higher classes, in contrast to (as usual) greater deprivation for those at the bottom of the heap. Note to self: Finally get around to reading up some American history – that was a huge simplification!

I’ll keep these ‘reviews’ short – I just feel they should be, to keep up with the tone of this blog. So, put simply, when thinking about what my favourite aspect of the novel is, I’d say it’s the capacity it (or Wharton) has to, despite her social context, see humans as multi-layered and, ultimately, imperfect. An important lesson for us all, and one which crops up more than you might expect in classic literature.

If you’d like more detail go ahead and read it!

Mental Health: Loosening the reins

Yes, this post is two days late. No, I don’t have the energy to be the person I want to be.

[Edit]: I don’t have the energy tonight to be the person I want to be.

It was inevitable, I know – I knew from the moment I made my trite little resolutions for 2017. I suppose I wasn’t expecting to stumble so quickly, but never mind; it’s done.

That’s not to say anything has been done. Put simply, today, for no good reason. after a boring day of work, I’m badgered by insecurity, and I am tired. But instead of fencing it in my skull like a manic ping-pong ball, I’m writing.

I need to make clear that I believe this is part of the process, and that every day cannot be a day for fighting.

That’s all for now. I am happy to say that I plan on snuggling with a cup o’ tea and a book tonight, because true, personal growth isn’t linear – it isn’t smooth; tonight, I choose to believe that.

NB: I finished the Wharton novel, by the way. I loved it. I also finished my ‘tasks’ on time – will update before next week.

To read, or not to read? – dropping ‘The Golden Bowl’

As much as in pains me, I’ve had to drop one of my targets set earlier in the week. At over half-way through (after a number of weeks I’m too embarrassed to specify) I’m dropping Henry James’s classic. Why? Because, to be perfectly honest, it’s trash.

Like many other readers, the idea of abandoning a novel mid-way leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and since last night I’ve twice jumped back to pick this one up, hoping against hope I can just get on with it. But I’ve come to the realisation that I actually dislike it so much, it’s making me miserable.

I’m a firm believer that if you’re learning from a book, you should give it its due attention regardless of your personal feelings; I don’t think I’ve learned anything more significant than that I hate this book! However, in the spirit of learning, I’ve done a little bit of research into James, how he was when writing this ugly mammoth, and what other readers have thought of him over time.

‘The Golden Bowl’ was published in 1904, and is essentially a late Victorian-style novel about adultery. Sounds interesting, right? Initially it almost was – to see its four principal characters juggle with the ever encroaching, never explicit nature of ‘cheating’ and resolve (badly) to accommodate it with the oh-so-British way of ignoring something until it becomes impossible to bear, was almost interesting from an historical point of view. Stress almost. 

This novel, as Jorge Borges once said of James’s works, is filled with “the absence of life”. The characters are utterly without character, save for a few minuscule moments, and the plot! – well – a cursory search has found an apt quote from Virginia Woolf: “Please tell me what you find in Henry James. … we have his works here, and I read, and I can’t find anything but faintly tinged rose water, urbane and sleek, but vulgar and pale as Walter Lamb. Is there really any sense in it?

But the clincher for me, connected with this lack of “sense”, is the verbosity of the book, combined with its lack of interesting thoughts. It’s a sizable  novel, at around 800 pages, but at least 50% of the sentences I read might have been finished beautifully in half the words (and much fewer parentheses!). It’s a rambling mess, in my opinion – conflated and impenetrable. But even this wouldn’t be terrible – many great works are similar – if it weren’t for its total lack of meaning, lack of engaging ideas. It feels like four Victorian aristocrats with far too much time on their hands, stitching some great ugly dress made of nothing but hot air.

His ‘Portrait of a Lady’ was, in my opinion, far superior, because it made some sense. Clearly he was a great writer. So why is this book so damn awful? I’ve read from unverifiable sources that James was, toward the end of his life (and when writing this novel) suffering with “delirium”. Without rifling through a full biography, I can’t seem to fact-check this. But whether was truly ill or not, ‘The Golden Bowl’ certainly feels like a self-indulgent, well-educated but ultimately boring madman’s work. I have a (definitely unfair) mental image of him dictating his foolish speeches, like old Mr Dorrit.

I adore classics – they’re pretty much all I read. I have a first-class English degree. I understand that patience is at times required with these books. But that patience is always, at some points, rewarded with something inspiring. ‘The Golden Bowl’ utterly lacks inspiration for me, and that is why it’s doomed to the bottom of the bookshelf.

NB: Going forward, I plan to review books as I finish them; I’m going to try and finish my next one – ‘The Age of Innocence’ by Edith Wharton – by Wednesday coming, along with my other targets.

*Insert generic relationship advice title here*

Over the past few days, my partner’s made a few complaints about stomach pains. This morning, he told me he wasn’t feeling well, but that he’d crack on with the working day.

Now, I’ve always prided myself on being sensitive. The first few times he told me I made the expected sympathetic noises, and when he came home earlier this week looking really rough, I tried to make him comfortable. But at 7am this morning, groggy from an evening workout and getting ready to catch my train, I just didn’t have the capacity to be that caring boyfriend. I was pretty heartless about it, truth be told; the phrase ‘man up’ comes to mind (although I luckily didn’t step on that landmine).

I don’t know why – perhaps because he was moving about, wasn’t bed-ridden, looked ‘okay’ – I just wasn’t bothered. But it hurt him; I knew that immediately.

Now, all day I’ve been trying to puzzle out why I didn’t give him a hug, rub his belly and all that jazz. I would if he were, in my *imperfect* eyes, really ‘sick’. I don’t really get bugs. Vomiting, fevers and runny noses aren’t, thank God, much of a problem for me in life. On top of that, my own mother was pretty ruthless when it came to being unwell. Maybe this, combined with my own relatively inexperienced understanding, explains it? It would make sense, especially as my partner’s since explained that his mother took a comparatively coddling attitude to illness. I don’t know, but the point is, I was wrong. 

Maybe I’m alone here (although I highly doubt it), but it seems that when dealing with friends, even strangers on the street, I smile more, gesticulate – polish the social silverware, so to speak. It’s probably natural, and I imagine somewhere in our psyches we want to ‘behave’ better around these people because they’re less likely to stick around; they’re exceptions to our daily routines.

But then there are the loved ones – the family and friends who are actually embedded in these routines. Of a morning, we might treat our lovers or mothers with as much meaningful interaction as the bathroom mirror. They’re taken for granted. They’re ‘easy’.

But, once again, this is a mistake I’m guilty of making, and it’s a pretty big one. The most important people in our lives deserve to be treated as more than furniture, but somehow we miss this fundamental rule. A person doesn’t have less heart or fewer sensitivities, just because we spend six hours a day with them. We need to make them feel loved as much as we would a new friend, or a child in the family. Otherwise… well, what are they doing? Tolerating us? Putting up with us? That’s no way to live.

It’s hard, true, but we need to keep that slightly worn sofa well-dusted. It’ll make us all happier, in the end.

NB:

I’m well aware of my targets from yesterday – I’m going to give myself a minimum of a week for each, meaning I have until next Wednesday!

Being ‘good’ with time

Last night at work, tired and harbouring a pestering headache, I came across the transcript of a TED talk on time management. Now, I have a healthy (I think) skepticism of TED’s glossy demonstrations of positivity (not to disparage the good work they ultimately do.) This one, though, had me smiling (on the inside, of course).

The marrow of the thing was simple, really. If we’d like to spend more time doing the things we love, we need to treat them as priorities on the same level as, say, repairing the fridge.

Now, I’m sure many reading or hearing this would smile a little emptily and think, ‘Sure, sounds about right.’ Leading a happy life always sounds as easy as a five year old’s spelling test, when the experts talk about it; just go through the motions and it’ll happen. But of course, we’re making a real oversight when we think this – an oversight which inevitably leads to disappointment, failure, frustration and then complacency, until the next TED speaker skips into our lives and sends the wheel spinning all over again.

I think I’ve said this before below, but perhaps it can’t be emphasised enough: we need to be assertive with our time, because it might just be that we’ve all been deceived – weekends and evenings spent doing the things we love, or Friday afternoons filled with those satisfied, ‘I’m happy with my life’ sighs don’t just happen. We make them. We prioritise them.

I often feel that, when considering what I want to do with my time, I am automatically plunged into a grey, formless but somehow potent sea of ‘buts’ and ‘maybe laters’. Writing can help unravel this stubborn knot – it documents thoughts and clears the head. Therefore, in the optimistic spirit of that unexpected TED talk, my future posts will finish with three activities or objectives I am determined to meet, before the following post (where practical). It’s strange – even the simplest task can become imperative, once it’s written in front of you. At least, that’s the hope…

Personal

Professional

Complete some transcribing on Smithsonian Complete copyright readings (for MA)
Finish ‘The Golden Bowl’ by Sunday Complete Cambridge job application
Write two pages of prose OR two poems Make a career map

 Idea for next time:

– Research volunteering opportunities (Professional)

 

 

Being happy – a healthy reminder

Hi all, just a quick one today (he says, before beginning the next, blathering installment!)

I want to follow up on my last post; the world seems a brighter place than it did around a month ago, as a direct result of the ‘moral’ lesson I explained to some extent above – essentially, taking control of happiness. This can be even in the smallest things, I’ve noticed: keeping fit, avoiding procrastination in all forms and exploring new horizons (Belfast next month!) are all effective techniques. Deeper than this, though, I’ve found that the most crucial ingredient in this positivity cocktail is simply understanding, and restating, the determination to be happy. It’s incredible how flexible the mind can be in perceiving good, once it’s forced out of its slumber.

Of course, we need to give ourselves breaks – living as if you’ll die tomorrow, whilst a brilliant mantra which I myself am trying to exemplify in the coming months, is not completely sustainable. Life is a marathon, and we need to choose our battles. But again, we can choose to see even the bloodiest skirmish as an opportunity to practise our combat skills – next time, we can always say, we might win. With this in mind, is it not true that we – provided we are well and healthy – have no excuse for ‘slumping’, at least not for long?

So that’s where I’m at. It’s quite nice, but it’s a real challenge bending this nascent philosophy to fit painful situations (of which we all have plenty). I’ll give updates as these come about.

I want to end with a target, and a slightly sombre mention of an encounter I had at work today. Firstly, one of my goals (in direct response to my abovementioned mind ‘shift’) is to volunteer myself more for charities. I have always done volunteering, but fitfully and rather out of restlessness than drive. I need to find a way of fitting this into my working/studying week, so again, will update as and when.

An extension of this, I believe I want to do even the smallest piece of work to alleviate the current mental health crises across this country. As any who have read much of this blog will know, I’ve had experiences with mental health, including long-term anxiety, self-harm and short bouts of depression. Most have it much, much worse than I, and today I was confronted with one of the underlying irritants of this problem. To cut a tedious story short, a group of colleagues on a First Aid course with me were discussing depression in teenagers, and dismissed it (and my own tentative defences) as the silly words of young people – not a “real” problem. I managed to keep quiet.

The people I was with were not malicious; they were very kind, in fact. But they were emotionally and technically ignorant – what’s worse, despite the fact that the most voracious of the crabby group is employed in a 16-19 college,  they were comfortable announcing very deliberately their closed, potentially harmful views. The damage such words can do is often underestimated – I firmly believe that even passive dismissal of these real health difficulties can turn unhappy children into even more unhappy adults, and the consequences can reach far further than any one person with a pen and pad can probably plot.

I want to help – ’nuff said.