The Banana Peel and Other Observations

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The Unfortunate Notions From An Almost-Monthly Commute

1 One Angry Man

It’s Monday, 9.50 AM. I stand in the white snow waiting for the bus that will take me to another city further up North.

I hear a yell. It’s an angry, loud yell that turns into a furious, on-going rant. The person ranting is a middle-aged man with a hanging belly, built slowly during the years of heavy drinking. He’s mad at everyone and everything he sees and hears and most of all, he is angry at the world and the way the world has decided to organize itself.

I turn away and try to let his voice blend into the monotonous sounds of the traffic.

2 One Banana Peel

Fifteen minutes later, at 10.05 AM, I have taken my seat on the bus and begun my five-hour journey along the coast to a town I used to live in. Twenty-or-so minutes in, I notice a banana peel squeezed between the window and the seat in front of me. I’m amused and appalled at the same time. I wonder if it’s my duty to do something about the sad yellow thing that is categorized as bio waste: should I pick it up and take it to the trash can a few seats away from me? Or should I let it be but mention the peel to driver when I leave the bus?

Then I get curious and wonder why the banana peel is there in the first place. In my mind, I can see the chain of actions that led to this particular moment right here. How the previous passenger got hungry, ate the banana and then wondered where to put the peel. And how it clearly wasn’t a very rational thought to put it there, in-between the window and the seat where the driver wouldn’t find it and instead, it would stay there until it would begin to decompose and stink. Simply because a trash can wasn’t at the previous passenger’s arms reach.

I sigh. I sigh because of the stupidity of people, the laziness, the thoughtlessness of a human mind. And I think that it isn’t up to me to pick up the banana peel and throw it in the trash. I’m done pleasing other people, tired of being the doormat or the wallflower who does the chores no one else wants to do.

I consider myself lucky that the banana peel still seems to be pretty fresh and was  left there earlier today or yesterday.

3 One Visit to the Toilet

One-and-a-half hours into the ride and I need to pee. I stand up from my seat, walk down the stairs to the tiny toilet and do my business. After I’m finished I look around me. There’s no disinfectant to apply on my hands and neither does the water run so that I could wash my hands.

A few seconds of quick thinking and then: what else can a girl do than suck it up and be okay with germs for the rest of the ride?

I walk back up and return to my seat. During the next twenty minutes, I notice two others using the bathroom as well. As I observe them returning to their seats, I can’t help but think that I know for a fact that they haven’t washed their hands or applied any disinfectant. And because I know and I know that they know about this issue with germs, it’s as if we’re all in on the same, uncomfortable secret. Riding this bus isn’t the same anymore.

I wonder how long I should wait before finding the apple I have in my bag. I’m starting to get hungry. But the germs in my hands will then transfer to that apple which I will take a bite of and then the germs will get inside me.

Well. Maybe that’ll help me build up a better immune system?

Let’s hope for that.

4 Two Thoughts on Food

With 193 kilometers or 2 hours and 23 minutes left of my journey, I finally eat my apple, already forgetting about the germs. Funny, how priorities reorganize my mind. The sun is shining, finally, and the whiteness of the snow reflects the light back in a way that makes the world seem fresh.

In my own ears, the crunchy but juicy bites I take from my apple sound loud. But I know this to be an illusion: it is only I who thinks it’s loud but to the outside, it’s just the normal sound of chewing. A few years back, the fear of loud unboxing of sandwiches and noisy chewing kept me from eating while commuting but today I know better and don’t care anymore. Not after I realized that everyone else eats just as loudly as I do and I never hear them. So that’s that, and I reach to grab my sandwich packed in a noisy plastic wrapper.

I notice the man sitting in front of me. He’s eating a banana. It would be funny if he would try the same hiding trick as the previous passenger did and hide the peel in the same spot. Slowly but surely, a banana peel pile would have been created.

(By the way, try saying banana peel pile many times in a row. It’s fun and not at all difficult and might make you smile.)

5 Some End Notes

Suddenly, there’s only less than an hour left of the journey. Fifty minutes, to be precise. As we’ve moved more up the North, the clouds have taken over the sky and a grey heavy upper atmosphere promises snow for the night.

The good thing with this oh-so-long journey is that I’ve progressed in my reading. I listened to a few chapters of The Fountainhead, which was a pleasure, and continued to read The Secret History for an hour, digging myself deep into the crime-solving scenes of the second half of the book. I even listened to an episode of a podcast, which was an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. Her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love never made a lasting impression on me, but after listening to that episode I was really impressed by her positive attitude to life and how she devotes herself to every book that she writes.

The journey is coming to its end. I still have 49 minutes for my thoughts, a few moments to look out from the window and let my mind wander. I notice the amount of snow: there’s more here than in the South which isn’t really surprising. I wonder if the people who live here actually like living here, the long dark winters and the short Summers with almost never-ending sunshine. I would like to know what these people do and what they believe in.

Because, although I lived in this city for a year I wouldn’t want to move back. The city is too isolated, the winter too dark and cold, and the place in all its hopefulness doesn’t offer enough alternatives for me.

In this city I feel caged in with only a limited amount of possibilities. And I don’t like that.

Luckily, I will be sitting in this bus again tomorrow, now riding it in the reversed direction. I’m already looking forward to getting home.

Searching for Balance

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Hello, reader! As of this Thursday, we are ten days into the new year. How are you doing? Are you working towards your goals energetically, feeling motivated and positive about what the new year will bring to you?

I hope you are.

I’ve had a slow start, myself. I do have my goals, yes, and my mini-goals to mark the path. I have a timetable, an estimated deadline for every mini-goal I’ve decided upon. But I have found it troublesome to get back to my routines again after the holidays.

Therefore, as thoughts about coming back to my routines and rediscovering that efficient, energetic work flow from Fall have been active in my mind, I thought it could be a good opportunity to shed some light upon my goals for this year. Or actually, my main goal: finding balance. Finding equanimity, to be precise.

Calming the Surface

How often do you pause to think about the meaning of life, of what it is we are supposed to do on this Earth with the years we are given by nature?

How do you find that question? Is it threatening, terrifying, even a little bit scary to think about why we people have evolved into the beings we are today?

Does the question feel irrelevant to you, a waste of your time? Or is it maybe one of the most important questions to ask in this life?

For me, thinking about the meaning behind our existence is something I get back to regularly. I believe it is essential to us humans to think about why we exist in the first place because, in the end, it will be our ’why’ for life. I’ve talked about a writer’s why before, but there’s even an individual’s ’why’ that plays a role throughout life.

So, as a human being, what is your ’why’? Why do you live, what is the purpose with your life?

***

I know, I know – we are getting into deep waters here. Let me pull us back to the surface.

Sometime in the Fall of 2018, the thought about my meaning of life came to me. For every person the meaning of life is different, and for me it’s about finding balance. It’s about finding the right ratio in everything, the right amount of this and that, the yin and the yang. It’s about finding balance to keep me in good health, keep me happy and satisfied and with a balanced mind.

For me, the meaning of life is about finding calm in the storm, evenness on the ever-changing surface. For me, the meaning of life is about finding balance, finding equanimity even in stressful situations.

The Fault in the Existing System

As a person, I tend to be an overachiever, someone who pushes herself to the limits to finish or accomplish something. My barrier for what I think is good enough is pretty high which means I tend to work more than many others do and still find myself ending up somewhere in the neighborhood of ’quite good’ instead of awesome.

As an effect, this over-achieving nature of mine tends to come in the way of my physical and mental well-being. And that is something I’d like to change.

I feel like I need to find a balance between the need for successfully accomplishing things and taking it easy. There is a fault in my system: I don’t relax as much as I’d like to, as much as I believe I need to. I don’t know if I’ve ever really learned how to do so after I started working during the Summers and studying during the rest of the year (long gone are the days of youth when the vacation began and one had three months of freedom in front of her).

Instead of relaxing, I tend to have a feeling that I should continuously be doing something, like working on a project or researching or writing, anything that gets me onward, helps me to develop.

However, we humans need to take it easy. I need to take it easy, find time for myself and my brain to relax. Sharpen the saw. Enjoy a good book just for fun and not because it will help me become a better writer. Do yoga for its meditative effect and not because it helps me build and develop my core muscles. Enjoy a cappuccino in a café because it gives me a cozy, warm feeling.

But I don’t do those things. Not enough. My mind doesn’t seem to want to give me a break and simply let me enjoy the doing-of-nothingness.

(Oh man, I keep hearing the overachiever here as well. How does one quiet that voice?)

To come back to my goal: as this thought about equanimity hit me, I knew it would be the key word for the year of 2019 and onward.

For me, from this year onward, finding balance is what I will be doing with my life.

But how to find equanimity? For me, it has to do with following things: 1) perspective, 2) trying different things, and 3) being selfish. I’ll provide an example for all three things.

Changing My Perspective

Coming back to regular writing and exercise routines last week was tough. After Christmas (which for us lasted for more than a week – in the end of that week, we were exhausted) and New Year, I was tired and far away from having recharged my creative batteries – or any batteries for that matter.

One day after New Year, we had decided upon going to the gym in the evening. It’s something me and my partner did regularly last year when we lived in another city, so it is a routine familiar from before. However, that same day I was asked to do a favour (a favor with only one right answer, something I’ve talked about before) which took a few hours of my day and left me tired in the late afternoon. When the time to start packing gym clothes came, I was in no way feeling motivated and energetic about going to the gym. Instead, going to the gym felt like something I had to do, like only another thing off my to-do list. It felt like an obligatory job, not like fun.

Instead, I thought about staying at home. I thought about enjoying a piece of chocolate, listening to a good book or a podcast, maybe doing a yoga sequence. I wanted to relax, take it easy. Balance out the work and exhaustion of the day with some deep breaths and calm. Not go to the gym where I had to push myself to accomplish something.

However, my partner said to me this: how about looking at the workout as a different way of relaxing? Why see it as an obligatory thing, something I have to do, when I could look at it as a way of sweating away the thoughts running in my head?

And like that, my perspective changed. With this thought in mind, I packed my things and went to the gym with my partner. And afterwards, having cycled for 30 minutes, I did feel relaxed. Now, my brain felt tired in a good way, and so did my body.

I realized that if I wish to find balance, I need to learn to change my perspective about some things. I don’t have to see a workout as work, per se, but as a way to relax: to sweat out the day, reward my body with endorphins and a great feeling.

Re-Routing the Routines

I believe in having routines. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know I do.

For the past six months, I’ve had a morning routine of the following: I get up, brush my teeth and then do a 10-minute yoga routine and a short muscle workout. After that, I shower, journal for two pages or so and eat breakfast. Then I drink coffee, scroll through Instagram and get to work.

This is how my mornings have been since last Summer, almost every morning from Monday to Friday.

However, for the past month or so, I’ve been feeling a bit stressed about my morning routine. It’s probably because my sleeping has been off and instead of waking up at 6 or 7 AM, like I usually do, I wake up at 9 AM. And as my best writing time is in the morning, this late sleeping routine of mine is affecting my writing and therefore, making me feel stressed.

The routine described above worked for me as long as my sleeping routines were the same. But now, as they’ve changed and I know getting them back to the regular routine will take some time, I’ve realized that my morning routine isn’t working for me anymore. It’s almost working against me by making me feel stressed.

Therefore, I’ve been playing with the idea of changing things around for a while. Maybe postponing the yoga routine to the late morning or writing the journal while I drink my morning coffee. I like all the routines I do in the morning – but maybe I could re-route them, change the order of things in order to make them work for me?

Because, as much as I talk about the importance of having routines, it doesn’t mean one has to stick to those same routines for the rest of ones life. A different every-day life needs a different set of routines which means that re-routing your routines may be in your favor, the best thing you will do to keep yourself free from stress and in that way, balanced.

Listening to Oneself

This third aspect of finding balance is a very personal one. By now, you probably know about my challenges with people-pleasing behavior and that I prefer living a conflict-free life – but it seems to come with the price of my own well-being.

Therefore, if I wish to find a way to balance this year, it means I need to be a bit more selfish than I usually am. It might sound wrong because selfishness comes with a negative emotional tag and tends to be viewed as a disadvantageous trait. But for me, being selfish means that I listen to myself more than I do to others. If someone wants my time and my energy, I ask myself if I want to give my time and energy to this person for this cause, instead of agreeing to what the other person ask without hesitating in order to avoid the conflict.

But being selfish doesn’t only include other people. The same goes for the different projects I do and the goals that I have. For instance, I need to ask myself how much time I’m willing to put into writing my thesis (do I need the best possible grade or can I settle for something more average?) or to my novels (how quickly do I want to have a publishing-ready novel?). I also need to ask myself how much time I want to have for myself, to relax and recharge.

Of course, this kind of egoistic thinking inevitably leads to conflicts, both inside and outside of my mind. But I believe it’s simply something I have to learn how to live with: if I wish to live a life that feels fulfilling to me, I need to be selfish and therefore, I need to deal with the conflicts my selfishness might lead to. I see it as a great practice to learn away from my people-pleasing behavior.

In Conclusion

Okay, so, I want to find balance in life. Most of all balance between things I have to do for others and things I have to do for myself.

But as long as I choose to live in a society instead of complete solitude, finding balance in life comes with oh-so-many choices and conflicts because of the environment and people around me. Therefore, finding balance is tough and requires a good deal of perseverance.

Balance is nothing I will find in only a year. It takes a lifetime to find evenness, calm even in the most stressful or unfamiliar situations.

But the fact that I’ve figured out what my meaning in life is (at the moment, at least), gives me an advantage already. I have the greatest end-goal not in sight but in mind, and that will help me make choices along the way.

***

How do you find balance in your every-day life? How do you choose between what you need to do for others and what you need to do for yourself?

 

 

Choosing a Direction For 2019

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Happy New Year, reader! May your 2019 be energetic, motivated and filled with fulfilling things!

But here’s the thing: I wish you all that but we both know it’s not up to me if your year turns out that way. It’s up to you, my friend.

Now, you might think: ”Alright then, I shall make some New Year Resolutions!

I, however, advice you to do something different.

False Hopes and Aspirations

This Tuesday, when the new year began, I wondered what I thought about one year ago. The human memory isn’t that powerful that I’d remember what I did and thought about that day, and unfortunately I have no journal entries from that day.

(Oddly enough, I didn’t write anything personal at that time and had no idea I would be writing more than 140,000 words that year. Life is a funny thing.)

So, there is no way of knowing how I felt one year ago, on the 1st of January 2018. However, I would like to believe I felt all those typical New Year Feelings: happiness, energy, motivation. Because, that’s the way we are supposed to feel, right? Isn’t that the way we usually feel at the brink of something new?

When a new year begins, we feel motivated. We have all these hopes and aspirations about the new beginning that is starting right now, in the beginning of January. I guess we’ve all been there: we have these great plans about new challenges, the improvements we will make in our lives. The bad habits we will get rid of, the new good habits we will adopt. But there lies a challenge: despite how lovely and wonderful this feeling is, despite how much we believe in the changes we plan to make, it can all be false if these feelings and thoughts are grounded on something outside our own control.

Because of the society, because of the social norms of the world we live in, because of our environment, the people around us, we are programmed into feeling great in the beginning of the new year – because every one else is feeling that as well. It’s contagious! And that makes it oh-so-powerful.

However, the contagious energy of the new beginning fades as quickly as it comes – if we don’t embrace that feeling when it’s on our doorstep and make it our own.

And this is what I’d like to write about today: how to embrace that energy and gain as much control as possible over your upcoming year.

Resolution vs. Direction

As I wrote, I have no memory of 01/01/2018. We had just come back from our two-week escape to Spain and Portugal over the winter holidays, and I had a week or so before my classes would start again. I probably had some thoughts about the new year, what was on its way. I would finish my journalism studies, work for some newspaper or radio station that Summer and in the Fall, begin writing my thesis.

But all these things were already prescribed, planned by someone else than me. They were a part of my Master’s Degree curriculum – and therefore, not entirely my own plans. And as I reflect back to the beginning of 2018, I wonder: did I have any other plans? Any of my own that I had control over?

I honestly don’t think I did.

In January 2018, I didn’t write anything else except Instagram captions, chat messages and school assignments. I was in the beginning of my weight-loss project and troubled about what my future would bring. I had no goals for the year, no idea of what I wanted to accomplish (except for weight loss). Last year ended up being awesome thanks to my self-discipline and an amount of habits I adopted, all without any specific plans. But as in everything, the beginning is always easy.

For instance, the first hours of learning a new language are usually easy: learning to present yourself, numbers from 1 to 10 and how to order a coffee in a café. But the more pro you want to become the tougher the lessons get. Suddenly, you need to put in hours of dedicated, focused work to actually learn the more difficult words to be able to make proper conversation or learn the small details of grammatical rules.

To be able to go pro, one needs a plan.

Last year, I managed to write my first draft. It was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, nothing all too planned and something I managed to do by setting myself a rule to write 30 minutes every day from Monday to Friday (which turned into 1,000 words per day later on). But this year, I’m more dedicated to go pro and that requires more than one thirty-minutes-per-day rule.

However, instead of making a bunch of resolutions I’ve done something differently this year.

As you probably know, a resolution seldom sticks. It’s because they tend to be too abstract or too high-hopes. The resolutions tend to be set in the dream land, the utopia of your own making, instead of finding a place for those promises in the realistic environment called life (if you want to read a post about intentional goal-setting, check out this post by Ashwini CN).

I realized this a few years ago and decided to start my New Year without any resolutions.

However, I’ve noticed that a resolution-less life seems to resemble a life without direction.

A life without direction can be wonderful for a while – the freedom of moment, of choice, of life. But that also means that your direction-less life can be steered by the environment, the people around you, by the society and social norms. And suddenly, you might realize that you are no longer in control of your own life. Suddenly, you are heading for a career you didn’t really choose or invest your time and energy in a project you never had an interest in.

To me, it sounds like some sort of nightmare.

So – to avoid this kind of uncontrolled direction of life, I did the following:

On Monday, the last day of 2018, I walked to a café, ordered a cappuccino and sat down for an hour or so to write down a plan for 2019. I chose on a direction.

A Tangible Plan

What I did that afternoon was that I categorized my life according to these different goals I want and think I can reach as this year goes by.

One was for education (goal: finish my thesis and graduate),

one for writing projects, divided into two (goal: 1. Edit Yellow Tails and get it published, 2. Write the second novel and get it as publishing-ready as possible),

one for this blog (goal: post twice a week + be active on Instagram 3–3 times a week),

one for self-care (goal: learn more about HSP, take care of your physical fitness, keep on journaling) and,

one for self-development (goals: reading books, both fictional and fact-based, listening to podcasts about self-care, writing and creativity).

But in addition to this, I also added micro-goals and attached a specific deadline to them. For instance, I now have an editing – beta reading – editing – final edits and off-sending timetable for Yellow Tails. I have micro-goals for developing my physical fitness (gym 2–3 and yoga 1–2 times a week) and for finishing my thesis.

What I’m trying to do is make my goal as approachable and tangible as possible. If sometime during this year, for instance, I feel like I’m slipping from my goals to have an honestly finished version of Yellow Tails ready to be sent to publishers, I can take a look back on my micro-goals and the deadlines attached to them and get back on track.

In this way, my goals and the attached micro-goals are giving me my direction. They mark the path I have decided to walk upon this year, and as I’ve invested a good deal of energy into planning them, I hope they also help me stay on the path.

(Throughout January I will probably make the micro-goals even more detailed to make them even more tangible than they are now: write down ideas for this blog, put in Youtube-links for yoga videos for me to do, find resources that help me get on with the research for my second novel and so on. I don’t think the goals can ever be too approachable.)

I’d say the clue here is to 1) decide on a goal for the year (for instance: in the end of 2019 I will be an author with two ready-to-be-read novels), 2) attach micro-goals with deadlines to them, 3) break down the micro-goals into detailed resources, ideas and thoughts so that you won’t have trouble finishing them.

So, hear this: instead of resolutions, choose your direction and follow the road – but instead of opting to walk the whole road in one try, try walking from one rest stop to the other, from one park bench to the other. When the next park bench is in your view, aim for that and maybe, by the end of the year, you’ve reached your goal.

And in the end, I think the goal will come to you suddenly, unexpected, and might not even feel like one big victory because you’ve had so many micro-victories along the way. That’s what happened with Yellow Tails, at least. It was one long row of micro-goals reached so that when I wrote the last sentence, it didn’t feel like I had finished a novel. It was as if I had reached the end of the road and started looking for the next one to walk on.

***

I would love to hear your thoughts on resolutions vs. deciding on a direction! Share in the comments one goal, one direction of yours, and some micro-goals that will help you reach your goal. Let’s make this year into a year with a direction, friends.

Thank you for reading!

What Comes After ’The End’?

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Here you have the face of a very happy person – me. You see, I wrote a book. Or, rather, I finished writing the first draft of my first book and that, my friends, leads to a smile like the one on the photo.

On Monday 17th of December, 247 pages and 90,742 words later, I finished the epilogue of Yellow Tails. I wrote the words ’The End’ on the document, looked at them for a while and then erased them as they feel somewhat cheesy to me. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t finished the manuscript – because I have. In this photo, I have in front of me the finished first draft of my first book and I feel serene.

The First Feelings

On Monday, I knew I would finish the story that day so when it actually happened I wasn’t surprised, not in any way confused that I actually managed to come to the end of the story. Finishing felt like something very natural, like this was the way it’s supposed to feel. I walked to the bedroom to whisper to my partner (who was still quite asleep) ’I finished the story’ and felt the calmness wash over me.

But after those first feelings of calm, the emotion rollercoaster started moving. Encouraged by my partner, I decided to print out the book that same day so we walked to the university to print out all the 247 pages (I even made a time-lapse out of it). However, I didn’t only get my words printed out on paper: what I didn’t know was that my partner had actually made a cover for Yellow Tails! He creates digital art and had used his skills to make a book cover with the three main characters of Yellow Tails, balancing on a scale.

So, after printing out all the pages, he presented the cover to me and placed it on top the pile of papers that now was my book. Seeing that book cover on my first draft, my first book, made me burst into tears. The calmness I had felt up until that moment disappeared and instead I felt elated but also somehow relieved. I realized that I had actually come to an end of this phase of the project. Perhaps it was that book cover that actually made me realise what I’ve created and accomplished during the past ten months. Suddenly, Yellow Tails became real to me. Because it is one thing to have the title page written in Times New Roman – but to have a proper book cover to one’s draft makes it feel like an actual book.

How do I feel now, a few days later? Three things: 1) I’m happy for finishing the story without trying to rush to get to the end, 2) I’m proud for my perseverance, of what I’ve accomplished, and 3) most of all, I’m so glad for taking the time during these ten months to write my novel, pushing it forward 1,000 to 2,000 words at a time, and ending up with a first draft with a proper beginning and an ending.

So! I reached the end of my novel – what happens next?

The First Four Weeks

The book has been printed and it even has a cover. But for the next four weeks, I won’t be touching it. Or I will try not to touch it, at least. I haven’t really been able to keep myself from turning a random page and read a few sentences, enjoying my own writing and feeling amazed by what I’ve accomplished.

(However, as the story has been written over a period of ten months, I also notice some changes in my writing style when I compare the first fifty pages with the last fifty. But that isn’t anything to think of at the moment, that I will leave to the part about editing.)

I’ll pick up Yellow Tails in four weeks or so when I start editing it. But until then, I will let it rest, get some air, take it easy for a moment. And that is precisely what I’ve been planning to do myself as well.

These past four months have been tough on me as I’ve been juggling with several different projects at the same time. As my the first part of my thesis is finished and even Yellow Tails has reached its end, I finally feel like I can take a break from more or less everything that entails a deadline. Except Christmas, of course, which has a deadline of its own.

Instead of focusing on things that need to be done, I’ll focus on things I want to do. I’ll be ’sharpening the saw’, so to speak. Those things include dedicating time for some self-care: doing yoga, reading, writing my journal, listening to podcasts I’ve been postponing all Fall, even listen to music (I prefer to write, walk and work out in silence so I don’t listen to that much music). And of course, spend time with my partner and friends.

A Writer’s Buzz

But as a writer, I’m pretty sure I can’t keep my hands off writing or at least planning  something. Therefore, during these upcoming weeks I’ll probably spend a good deal of time preparing for what’s next on the Yellow Tails agenda: learning new things about writing and especially self-editing. What to focus on, how to get the most out of the first round of edits (do share your tips in the comments if you have some)? I’m already making a mental list of how to improve the characters of my story and try to figure out what a good editing pace is. I even wrote down a few thoughts on beta-reading and to whom I could give my story to read, although it will take a couple of months before entering that phase.

(So… I’m already planning and the four-week break has only begun.)

In addition to this, I’ll probably even start planning some new stories I wish to write and tell. During these past ten months, and especially this Fall, as I’ve been working on Yellow Tails, new ideas have come to my mind. Altogether four different stories, three of them traditional novels and the fourth a collection of short-stories with a specific theme. But which one will I choose? I guess I’ll find out sooner or later.

However, for now, I’ll be taking a Christmas break. Let the mind rest for a few days, focus on taking care of my body and mind, enjoy the fresh snow on the ground and make Christmas cards and presents instead of pushing myself to produce a good amount of daily words. Sharpening the saw can take one far – and we will see how far it’ll take me.

The Benefits of Writing a Journal

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I’ve adopted a new habit: writing an almost daily journal. Almost, because I try to write it every day but Sundays tend to become the exception to the rule. However, I still call it a habit because it’s ingrained in my system: from Monday to Friday I wake up at 6 AM and after showering but before breakfast, I write my journal.

I keep my thoughts to two pages per day – I’m afraid that in the modern world the hand muscles aren’t what they used to be. But it’s a 30-minute exercise in concentration and a great way to start one’s day. Let me tell you why.

(But first, I’ll shed some light on my history as a journal writer)

An On/Off Habit

Ever since I was little, writing a journal has been some kind of on/off habit for me. I can’t remember why I began writing in the first place – I was probably inspired by some character in a book that kept a diary and I wanted to be like him/her. The first journals I’ve kept are from elementary school when I was in second grade. The cute, pastel yellow Winnie the Pooh notebook has lost many of its pages and is barely holding together. But the important things, the diary entries about my dance practices and who of my class mates I liked the most, are still there.

After that, I’ve written a journal of some sort through the years up until this day. I’d like to declare I have something from every year from my life written down, with a date and a few thoughts about life, but I’m not quite sure. Some years might be missing. But in that case, it’ll only be a few.

For this post, I perused my old journals. There are three different time periods when I’ve written actively, i.e. on a daily basis:

  • In 2010: I wrote three pages every day for six months or so. I have no idea where the idea came from – maybe I wanted to prove something to myself or be able to tell everyone I wrote every day. But I did, and held on to the habit for an impressive amount of time, considering I was a teenager filled with angst and confusion.
  • In the Fall of 2016: one to eight pages daily. This was the time I spent in Ireland. Writing about my exchange period kept me sane and also had the function of making the time there more memorable.
  • Now, in Fall 2018 (which I guess we can start calling Winter as we just got our first snow in Southern Finland and it’s less than four weeks until Christmas): two pages on a daily basis. It is an effort to try to document my thoughts and feelings, trying to dig deeper into what I know and feel, what I want and how I want it.

Analyzing my more sporadic journal entries from previous years, I seem to have picked up my pen and put black on white when I’ve been 1) overwhelmed by feelings, may that be love, hate, sadness or confusion; 2) feeling guilty about not exercising enough and only eating candy and chocolate, or 3) when I felt like I needed to get out all those thoughts about people, school work and life in general, and didn’t feel like telling about them to anyone else (or writing about them on my LiveJournal blog that has been gone for a long time).

Focus on Depth

Today, however, I have a different approach on writing a journal. Actually, I only recently realized that I haven’t actually been writing a journal all these years. I’ve been writing a diary – a book where I’ve recorded events as they happen and that have included feelings and moods. That I have done, for sure – all that foul language, teenage hate towards others and myself, crushes on cute guys… And a play-by-play descriptions about my plans and what I intend to do later that day or the next.

But now it feels like I have become a grown up – I’m writing a journal. A book where I record, not events or what other people say and do, but ideas and thoughts. I try to focus on depth instead of just telling what I did that day or how I felt. I’m actually digging deeper into those emotions, trying to concentrate on what’s on my mind and find out why it’s on my mind.

Writing for me has always been something I’ve had to force myself to do. It’s not a natural daily yearning for me to write down my thoughts and pick on them with a stick to find out what these thoughts really are about. Sometimes, I also find the process somewhat frustrating: it takes time to write by hand compared with writing on a computer which means the process is slow, while at the same time my thoughts are running around like the crazy dodos in Ice Age. It feels like I lose the track of thought before I’ve managed to write everything down.

(And let’s not forget about the hand – it does get tired which means the writing won’t be as pretty. A thing that tends to matter to me.)

But never have I regretted sitting down to write my daily two pages. Some days, I know exactly what I want to write about. Last week such clear thoughts were about self-care, thoughts on why I’m writing my thesis, and how I deal with anxiety that comes from school work. And on those days when I have no clue what I’m thinking about – I write about that and try to figure out why I don’t have anything to say.

During this new in-depth writing habit of mine, I’ve experienced some of the benefits of daily journal writing:

  • I realize new things about myself and my though processes that I might not have realized if I hadn’t written them down.
  • I take a moment to focus on what feels important in my mind at the moment: what thoughts are constantly there?
  • I listen to myself: how do I feel today? Am I anxious, motivated, tired, stressed or energized?
  • I improve my concentration by focusing on a single, manual task for thirty minutes or so. It helps me focus on projects at hand during the rest on the day.

Retrospective Reading

And one of the huge benefits of writing a diary or a journal, when regarded in the long run, is the retrospect one gets when reading old diaries and journals. As I’ve been reading those old entries, especially from 2009 onward, I’ve understood myself in a different way than I did before.

Of course, I remember many of the big things I wrote about (and forgotten many of those that felt so big at the time but that lost their meaning in a few weeks or months). But the events and the people aren’t that important – it’s more about how I wrote about them. I’ve realized how much built-in anger I had when I was a teenager, and how I had no way of letting it out. So I wrote these awful things in my diary, and yelled at everything and everyone on paper – instead of confronting them in person.

Reading old entries gave me a refreshed view of my younger self – what was I insecure about, what events and happenings did I consider being important enough to write about, and what did that mean, on a deeper level? My findings have been thought-provoking.

What I’ve thought about is this: what if I had never written a diary? What would I know about myself today, what kind of image would I have about my childhood and being a teenager? In his book Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari speaks about the experiencing self and the narrating self.

The experiencing self is the person experiencing the emotions, thoughts and feelings in the moment. The experiencing self is able to tell exactly how one feels, giving a realistic, although subjective, description of the current state of life.

The narrating self takes over when the experiencing self is taking a break – and builds up a narrative, a story, that tells how the situation was. The narrative self tends to bend the curves, put a filter on what the experiencing self just told and transform the memories into something else, something nice and less complex.

In one way or the other, the narrative self distorts the real experience and creates, in the long run, a not-so-truthful perception of oneself and the happenings that occurred.

This doesn’t help us understand why we have become the people we are today. What events formed us, who had a great effect on our thoughts and opinions? Here, the diaries and journals come to our help. They are the reality check we need every once in a while – how was the experience really, was it as good or as bad as I remembered? What did I think of this thing previously, has my thinking shifted?

Writing a daily journal helps to understand our own progress and who we are. This, however, requires patience and self-discipline: in order to have something to analyze, you need to take the time to write down those entries. But it pays off in the end, I’d say. What do you think? Is it worth your time?

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Why do you write a journal, if you do? Or what is keeping you from it? Can you relate to any of the benefits I mentioned in this blog post?

Still Life Sunday: An Instant Message on a Saturday Night

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17 An Instant Message on a Saturday Night

 Hey friend,

How does life in a new town feel? Do you already have a favorite café to pick your morning coffee from (where the barista is cute so that you have someone to wink at)? And have you learnt a route to the office from your apartment that you already walk like you’re on auto pilot? 

Somehow, today, my thoughts go to you. (And yes, I’m aware that it’s a cold and grey Saturday night. But don’t read anything into it, my friend. Don’t get too excited. It’s just a regular evening for me and on nights like these, my thoughts, well, they tend to wander.)

I think about that year in elementary school when I decided to write a play. I wanted the whole class to participate and I came up a role for everyone. But when I announced the different characters and who would be playing whom, it came apparent that no one wanted to be the other end of the dragon, the butt. Sarah was super happy to play the head of the dragon so that was fixed, but no one wanted to be the other end.

Not at least until the teacher told you to switch role from a villager to a dragon butt. I’m sorry you had to do that… but at the same time I’m not. So, sorry for not being sorry. 

Even after all these years, the memory makes me laugh. You were so angry at the teacher and frustrated with me – you kept asking me why I had to choose a dragon. Why couldn’t I just choose something that stands on two legs, like a Minotaur? You even tried to persuade me so that I would change the dragon to something else – how you knew I loved dried dates, I still haven’t found out to this day.

But in the end, you performed the role of the dragon tail. And today, on this Saturday evening, my thoughts go back to that and I realize that the whole play wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for you. Maybe the teacher could have appointed someone else to do the role but I don’t think anyone would have performed it as whole-heartedly as you did in the end.

So today, I just wanted to say hi, write a few words and tell you that I’ve been thinking about your Oscar-worthy performance as the dragon butt 15 years ago. 

And I also wanted to tell you this: I don’t think I would have become a theater enthusiast and ended up working for theaters if it hadn’t been for you. If the play had been a total catastrophe, I wouldn’t have thought that I could do it in the real world.

So, thank you for helping me out that day. Thank you for grinding your teeth, putting on the dragon tail and kneeling behind Sarah’s bum all those rehearsals and finally, the actual play.

Thank you for finishing the play.  

(I hope that barista winks back at you one day.)

Keeping Your Vision Clear

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After the move, life has been busy.

It’s been busy with writing, having long conversations with friends at school cafeterias and establishing old routines at the new place. Life has been busy with thinking, reading books and finding peace with many different issues.

Time has simply flown by.

Many (but especially self-employed creatives) say that October and November are the busiest months of the year. It’s the time of the year that’s filled with work projects, deadlines, keeping up with hobbies and being social. Maybe it’s the darkness, the cold and a way to pass the time while waiting for Christmas and a new year to begin. But it sure is true.

Even for me, October and November have been filled with so many things that require my time. Especially November. However, I can only blame myself for setting a deadline for my first draft at the same time I have a deadline for the theory part of my thesis and, in addition to that I decided to plan and execute a surprise advent calendar as a Christmas gift to my partner. Oh, and then I also had a deadline for a couple of articles I’ve written for a magazine I’m the chief editor for.

In other words, I’m swamped.

Two Personal Reminders

It feels like these last remaining months of the year tend to fly by and become months dedicated to completing the eon-long to-do lists. They are also the months where experiencing and trying new things (fun things especially) get less time than they’d deserve. We are putting off what seems to be everything to complete the list in time – before Christmas and the new year. That’s at least how it has felt like for me.

However, two things happened last Saturday that were great reminders of why it’s extremely important to lift one’s head up from the messy soup of to-dos, to take a break from what one is doing, or even to break free from it:

  1. I met the team behind an association’s member magazine that I’ve been the chief editor of for the past couple of years.
  2. Me and my partner got a plant, an Euphorbia leuconeura, that is, the Madagascar jewel, as a house-warming gift.

What’s so special about these two things, you ask? Let me tell you.

Being a chief editor for an association member magazine doesn’t require that much face-to-face contact with the editorial team. It can be done from the distance full-time, if necessary, like I did when I lived in Ireland. This, can be liberating, of course, but it comes with a dark side (as many other things in life): the job can become very lonely and, most of all, uninspiring. After all, sitting alone at your computer in the middle of winter with only Whatsapp or Facebook as your social contact to the team, you are almost bound to lose focus, your interest in and motivation for the job.

And this was how I had experienced the job for the last six months or so. I hadn’t been inspired to create a truly good and enjoyable magazine – I had only worked enough to get the magazine done and published. Quite clearly I had lost my interest, and finally decided that being the chief editor for the magazine wasn’t worth of my time anymore. So, I resigned.

However, after meeting the team again after a long pause and getting to know some new faces, I felt a change in my motivation. Suddenly, the negative feelings I had had about the paper and producing material for it, disappeared. Instead, I was energized and somewhat motivated to ’start anew’ and put some effort into the work again. I felt that the team is nice, the atmosphere at the brunch/meeting was good, and that I did enjoy writing those articles when I finally decided to write them. Suddenly I saw no reason to quit the magazine – I was happy to stay on board as a part of the editorial team.

And the plant then! I’ve mentioned before that me and my partner are frequent movers. That means I’ve given up on investing in plants or in an impressive collection of spices since they tend to become problematic when the next move is around the corner. But now we were given a Madagascar jewel. But instead of being stressed about the future of the plant, I was quite thrilled.

Later that day, I sat down to observe the plant at close. There’s something about these green organisms. They bring different kind of life to the household, they bring color to the grey and dark landscape that we see from the window. This plant needs to be talked to in order to get its dosage of carbon dioxide (that’s the instruction we got from the gift-giver: ”It needs to hear some conversations!”).

The Madagascar jewel shows that one can survive in this part of the world where the sun hasn’t made any appearance in oh-so-many-days.

Nurture the Conviction

These two things made me realize the importance of taking care of oneself instead of getting swamped with a massive to-do list without an ending, instead of just living one day after the other without something fun that interrupts the day-to-day life.

It’s important to take care of your mental and physical well-being. But it’s equally important to take care of your conviction and your creativity.

I know my conviction, my passion. But what I’ve realized is that it’s not enough to know what you want to do and do it. Habits only get you so far – they automate the process or the technical aspects of creating. But what’s your fuel, what’s the oil in your system that helps the creativity to reach a state of flow? Anyone can do anything if they have the habit of doing it – but is what you’re doing fun? Is it energizing, fulfilling, exhilarating?

So, maybe you know what you want to do and have down the habit of taking the time to do it. But in addition to this, you need to take care of your conviction. It’s like the windscreen of a car – you need to keep it clean in order to see clearly, even if you know where you’re going. Because if you can’t see where you’re going – you’re likely to end up in a ditch in the middle of somewhere.

So, instead of keeping the eyes on the goal only – may that be finishing your first draft or your edits, completing editing a new video or learning to master Adobe Illustrator – one needs to enjoy the process as well. It could be meeting up with people who share your passion for the craft who remind you that working on your conviction and doing the thing you love is fun. Or getting a plant just because they’re colorful and full of life and remind you of the curious process of growth (even if you might need to give it away or throw it away in six months or so).

To keep you convinced of your own conviction, you need to do things that might not get you closer to your goal technically (for instance, sitting in a cafe with friends doesn’t automatically create new words to your Word-document), but give you new energy, new thoughts and a refreshed belief in what you do instead.

We people have a tendency to get blinded by what we should be doing, our lengthy to-do lists and our stressful deadlines. We forget that feeding our passion often happens outside of the physical in-the-making process. People-watching or meeting with friends give you new thoughts and ideas for you novel, but in order to do that you need to leave your computer at home and get out to see the world. Taking the time to enjoy a nice piece of cake or going to the art galleries is a way of taking care of your energy and motivation – taking a break once in a while in order to bring back the motivation, the conviction in what you’re doing. Because if you’re not motivated, your habit cannot be utilized properly.

So, last Saturday worked as a friendly reminder for two things: 1) living a minimalist life doesn’t mean one cannot invest in something that will only last for a while. If it brings you joy, it’s worth the trouble it causes, and 2) I already do things that I enjoy but every once in a while I need to refresh my memory of why I enjoy doing them.

After realizing this, I’ve been wondering how I might implement this on my creative writing and my blogging. Lately, I’ve been feeling somewhat unmotivated although I keep on writing six days a week. Would it be a cup of coffee and a croissant in a café that would get me going, that would energize and motivate me? Or meeting other people who share my passion for writing (in real life as well in addition to the Internet)?

What’s that something that would feed my creativity and my motivation for writing?

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How do you do it? How do you feed you conviction, your passion?