Monthly Archives: July 2012

Let’s Face The Music And Dance

‘Mistakes, I’ve made a few…’ Hang on, that’s another song, but Frank sure knew how to sing about the scary stuff. In fact I have made more than a few mistakes and in making so many mistakes I think I have now come up with a formula to get through them which involves, you guessed it, facing the music.

Mistakes weigh heavy on the mind. Especially if we notice them before anyone else does. I have wasted days of worry time wondering what is going to happen when/if (when) someone finds out and how I am going to deny all knowledge/accept responsibility. I have to say though, that for someone who spends their whole life running (figuratively of course not literally) when it comes to the crunch I’m pretty good at heeding the Reverend Mother’s advice and not using the convent to hide from my problems – I face them, head on.

It took me several years, but nowadays I am the first to admit to making mistakes – in fact I foolishly often take responsibility for other people’s mistakes because I’d rather just deal with a problem and find a solution than spend hours bickering over who is to blame. But when it is my fault, when I have done something wrong or even if it is something which simply could be perceived to be wrong, I step up. I am not for a moment saying it is easy and sometimes it takes me a bit longer than I would like. I know the feeling of anticipation well…I have trouble breathing, trouble staying in my head, trouble thinking about what’s to come. I know from experience that a situation is rarely as bad as you anticipate. When I find myself in these situations my thoughts always drift to the image of Scarlett O’Hara in her scarlet dress entering the Wilkes house after she has humiliated herself and Airshley by throwing herself at him, she knows that they all know and everyone is looking at her, judging her, waiting for the situation to explode but then I remember Melly’s reaction to her and her kindness in forgiving Scarlett, treating her like a sister, understanding her. Good old Melly understood that everyone makes mistakes.

Making mistakes is very important, as is being forgiven for them or seeking forgiveness at least. I can’t be more specific on what has inspired this post but I can say, that in the long term I don’t regret any of my mistakes….they are all building blocks to who I am and I’m ok with that, because if you’re not ok with yourself then you won’t be ok with anything. Of course, at the time I make the mistake I harbour massive regrets and self loathing and angst just like everyone else but I try to make sure it doesn’t last and I am learning to let it go. After all, *cliché alert* life’s too short, we only get one chance, live and let live, all’s fair in love and war, nothing ventured nothing gained, time heals all wounds, a stitch in time saves nine (I never understood that last one – if someone could explain it I’d be very grateful!)

It would be a lot easier if we simply didn’t make mistakes in the first place and of course this is a state I aspire to, and am certain I’ll get there one day….nope, who am I fooling, I’m fully aware that I am an idiot and I will continue to make mistakes until the day I die, but what I can work on is the way I deal with them.

So chest out, head up, eyes front, ready to take responsibility, time to own up, and in doing so, own your mistake so you can own whatever redress is necessary and your recovery from it. Or if all else fails get drunk and do a dance, I’ve found it works equally well.

 

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Freak Out!

I sometimes have to pinch myself to remember how lucky I am to have been born into the time and place that I am. By an accident of birth I have been born into a life where I am afforded absolute freedom. I can make choices about every aspect of my own life and if I am not happy with any (or rather many) of the archaic laws which do still infest our society, such as the lack of equal marriage rights for every citizen or the lack of progress still being made in respect to equal pay for men and women, I can make my voice heard and protest until, hopefully, something changes.

It is easy to forget what a privilege this is and how we need to do justice to our forebears who bore arms to deliver us this simple human right. This is obvious stuff, but the shameful thing is, probably like most people, I have to admit it barely crosses my mind. In fact, more often than not I complain about the little things which bug me, the things which make my life a bit harder or which make me feel constrained and trapped rather than free. I forget that it is up to me to make the most of my freedom, it is nobody else’s responsibility.

I know I am not alone in this, but so often we allow ourselves to be hemmed in by what people think of us, how society reacts to our lifestyle or our attitudes, by the concept of fitting in, of being cool and in doing this we restrict our own freedom and disrespect the people who fought for it. This is why I say it’s time to stop conforming and freak out!

I’m not suggesting we all go parading down the street dressed as a gorilla (though if that’s what you want to do I don’t have a problem with it), neither am I advocating the fridge magnet philosophy of forced freakery i.e. ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!’ but I do think it’s time we stopped being so concerned about what other people think of us, whether we have the right clothes for an event or whether anyone is going to like us. Our true freedom lies in finding a way to be ourselves, and because the world is so wonderfully diverse, that self is always going to be a little bit freaky to someone else.

So, if you have to check 4 times if the gas is off before you leave the house, embrace it! If humming the theme tune to Dynasty helps you concentrate at work, hum it! If you fumble with your words in an important meeting, make a joke of it! Or, as one of my friends did recently, if you pretend to use a banana as a phone to impress a boy you like, so what? He’s an idiot if he doesn’t find that funny. Of course, everybody wants to be cool – literature and film have dictated to us for a century that being cool is the ultimate state to aspire to. But it’s an illusion. The world would be very dull if we were all David and Victoria Beckham, though I’ll concede it might be a little bit sexier. Some of the coolest people I know are cool simply because they are themselves. If you try to be cool, you simply never will be, and in trying to be cool you will never find true freedom, being yourself is what will make you free.

A couple of days ago I had a big work meeting with a few of my bosses at a big corporate office. The meeting went well, I think, I managed not to say anything embarrassing and as we said goodbye to the client in the reception I turned to leave. In front of me was a large revolving door. It was turning and turning. I will admit that I have a small, but not insignificant fear of revolving doors. I halted. I could feel my bosses queuing up behind me. After a pause I heard ‘Janey, are you alright?’ For some reason that prompted me to chuck my umbrella into the revolving doors as if to test them. They worked, but then my umbrella started turning and turning. I was frozen to the spot. Eventually one of my bosses jumped to my umbrella’s rescue, ‘I’ll get it!’ Beetroot coloured, I smiled in gratitude and humbly excused myself exiting via the push/pull doors.

On a 1-10 scale of freakery where I’m concerned this is definitely only a 1 but it was the most recent and it just shows that every day of my life is filled with such moments, and I no longer beat myself up about them. I am not for a minute saying that this makes me cool, but the more I accept that though it may not be cool it is simply who I am and what I do, the more freedom I allow myself. and being free feels great. So seek it out if you can, the freedom to be who you are, to laugh at yourself, to make mistakes and to be forgiven, is the ultimate freedom that we are all entitled to.

*This photo was taken after swimming in The Solent in October. It was very, very cold….

Sticks and Stones

My nemesis, when I was 9, was also called Janey. One day she whispered something in my ear as we were leaving the lunchroom, and for the first time I felt a stabbing pain of injustice. I can no longer remember what she said (it was probably something like ‘you smell of poo’) but I remember thinking it wasn’t true but it could be perceived to be true and I didn’t know what to do to stop her from telling everyone else and being laughed at. I saw red. I leapt out of my seat and jumped on her, we pulled each other’s hair for approximately 5 seconds until we were separated and promptly sent to the headmistress. I was disciplined, she wasn’t. The injustice continued. Luckily this behaviour didn’t escalate too badly and I managed to stay out of her way for the next two years – but I was shocked by my reaction and my world had changed forever.

At senior school it happened again but the second time I knew better than to snap and I kept my head down, shutting out the taunts and staying in my dormitory at all times except for lessons. I read a lot of books during that time and learnt to play the Twin Peaks theme tune on the piano. I was lonely but it wasn’t so bad. Then one day it came to a head when the girl in question stole my brand new cowboy boots from my locker and took them to the common room. She was making everyone laugh about how stupid I was for wanting to be like an American. As I tried to snatch them back the red mist rose again and I pounced. This time the scuffle was broken up by her squirting peppermint mouth spray into my eyes, temporarily blinding me and making me run to the nurse. Ok, I know that stuff isn’t lethal and I may have exaggerated my injuries slightly, but it ended the fight, and strangely, she left me alone from then on. I was very lucky that my bullying experience was restricted to a few incidents, I think I would have had to be a much stronger person to withstand it for longer. There is a place that you have to go to in your head, a cocoon that you build around yourself and I think even today I am still chipping away to get rid of it completely.

The other day I was walking with a friend in Soho and a young, well dressed man and his girlfriend barged between us. The conversation went like this:

Me: (surprised) Ooooh

Him: (copying me, taunting) Oooh, Oooh, listen to her, Oooh Oooh Oooh Oooh.

Me: (unwisely) Ok, shut up you freak.

Him: (shouting) Yeah right, you wanna lose some weight love, look at you with your big fat belly wobbling under your dress it’s disgusting and look at your big fat ass you are so fucking fat, yuck put that belly away you’re disgusting. Hahaha…

Me: YOU F**KING C**T!

You’d think, being a writer, I might have come up with something a bit more inspired and articulate than that and I’m truly ashamed that I didn’t, but the red mist returned. His reaction to my stupid comment was so disproportionate, so hurtful, so personal, that I was shaking with anger yet powerless to do anything about it. I should mention that I had just spent 3 hours in the hair salon, was wearing a new dress which I thought was adorable and was on my way to a date. In a split second, that ‘man’ made me hate my body again, he had zoned in on my most sensitive insecurity and broadcast it to the whole street.

Anyway, I made it to the date that night and after a couple of glasses of wine I decided to tell him what had happened. He was sympathetic, ‘You’re not fat! What was he talking about?’ I didn’t believe him. Later that night he said, ‘You’ve got a gorgeous figure.’ I still didn’t believe him. What part of my brain’s twisted wiring has decided that I can believe what a complete stranger shouts at me aggressively in the street, but I can’t believe what this nice man who wants to keep dating me says?

Despite now being a strong, confident woman, I’m not sure I am that different from the 9 year old girl who first realised that people could be mean for no reason, and I was powerless to stop them. Contrary to the nursery rhyme, words can hurt, but this incident has made me realise that I only got hurt because I allowed myself to. That ‘man’ was probably filled with his own demons and self hatred and was projecting them back onto me. And he no doubt has a tiny willy too.

Therefore I have decided to interpret his words in this context, making them much less powerful and hurtful. So what if I’m a bit overweight? It’s just evidence of all the good times I’ve had and will continue to have. I’m sure I’m much healthier, both physically and spiritually, than he’ll ever be.

The truth is, sticks and stones probably won’t break your bones and words will only hurt you if you let them, it’s just a shame it’s not such a good rhyme.

Maybe Tomorrow I’ll Wanna Settle Down…

Ah, The Littlest Hobo. A scraggy little dog who couldn’t stay in one town for too long, had to keep on moving, the road just kept a-calling him and he couldn’t stop a-running. Is it weird that The Littlest Hobo is the children’s character I identify with the most?

I have lived much of my life according to theme tune philosophy so why stop now. Yep, sorry London, but it looks like I am on the move again. So what if New York isn’t ready for me yet, work is sending me somewhere potentially more thrilling and dangerous, somewhere steeped in oral history where everybody’s your friend and you’re all in it together. Unless you’re a Sassenach. Yep, Scotland is calling me home and with half of my blood being Scottish it is probably time to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, but I’m about to belong to Glasgow.*

I’m excited for many reasons, predominantly square sausage and Irn Bru, oh sorry – I mean spending more time with family and an exciting career opportunity. It also means I can put off deciding what to do when I grow up for another 6 months. This being one of my first thoughts does make me wonder… Is that all that people who continually travel are doing? Is this the ultimate exploration of my massive talent for procrastination? Why is the concept of ‘growing up’ or ‘settling down’ so alien and terrifying to me? And what does it even mean?

When I think about settling down, I think about a house with wellies by the front door. I think about Cath Kidston, I think about a faceless man who’s always grumpy, weekly shops in Sainsbury’s, gossiping about Marge’s new toyboy, moaning about the caravan site spoiling our view, driving everywhere, getting hooked on Saturday night ‘entertainment’ shows, mountains of ironing…and by that point I am having trouble breathing and need to lie down. I’ll think about it tomorrow.

I know for a fact that these notions are antiquated, I don’t think any of my settled friends actually live the lifestyle I describe but I simply can’t rid myself of this stereotype. I guess settling down just makes me think of standing still and there is so much to see and do in our short lives that I can’t bear the thought of not chasing after time before it disappears. I never want to stop learning. Yet another article on theconversation.tv which I wish I’d written, called On Being a Responsible Hedonist, recently got me thinking about this again. The idea is we should embrace pleasure and not think we need to give it up to settle down, the only way we can pass on who we are is by knowing ourselves, and the best way to do that is to indulge ourselves. Sounds like a plan to me.

So I have decided I am just going to look forward to regular travel again – even if it’s only up and down one country… airports really make me feel alive, even though they are killing the planet (a glaring contradiction that I’m aware I need to work through) anyway, the train to Glasgow is also a joy. Travelling means listening to, indeed even talking to, strangers, being surprised, seeing new sights, learning new things, drinking in the day, napping in the day (possibly related to the previous point) and making new friends. And, insert fingers down throat now, finding yourself.

So, here’s to being selfish for a little bit longer and continuing to explore the world around me, with a view to passing on my knowledge one day. But basically having fun. I guess that’s the point, and deep down the responsible hedonist in me knows that I would still have fun wherever I was – even if I had Cath Kidston curtains I certainly wouldn’t be hiding behind them so maybe it’s time stop being scared of settling down. Maybe.

* for two weeks a month till the end of the year anyway.

 

Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition

The 1998 film Sliding Doors deals with the concept of what happens when you make a decision so small it is imperceptible to you, but it changes your life forever. In Gwynie’s case it was whether to run for the tube or not, and we were able to see the consequences of both decisions, but in the real world we’re not lucky enough to find out what might have been, in real life we just have to suck it up – shit happens.

I am fascinated by this notion, along with that of knowing what the world would be like without me (thanks to ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ – but don’t worry, I have no delusions that I would be as missed as George Bailey), and, finally, the morbid desire to witness my own funeral. There’s something about these impossible scenarios which draw us in – probably because of our lack of control over them.

On the radio the other day I heard a guy called Matthew Childs who was a few seats away from the bomber on the Edgware Road train on 7th July 2005. He wasn’t supposed to be on that train. He had missed his stop, got off at Edgware Road to travel back one stop and ran to catch that fateful train, just making it. Unusually he sat down for one stop, and was therefore protected from the blast by the glass panel. A seemingly innocuous sequence of events which changed the course of that man’s life forever. His world turned on a knife edge. I’m sure many people have an ‘I was almost there’ story, but here’s mine. I was working in Baker Street at the time and as usual was running late for work. By the time I tried to get on the tube it was closed and no-one was saying anything. I finally got on a bus which was then stopped and evacuated, still with no-one knowing what was going on – all mobile phone reception had been suspended due to fear of another attack.  I finally got to work and was shattered by what had happened. I soon realised that, had I not been late I would have been travelling on that train, or one near it at 8.50am, when the bomb exploded. Good job I’m a lazy bitch. At the time I didn’t really think about it, but the older I get the more random and unpredictable the world seems and the more frightened I become of what can happen when you are least expecting it. Not long after 7/7 I was in the office when a colleague, and friend, received a phone call with the news of her father’s sudden death. In seconds she went from laughing about who was making the tea to screaming, crumpled on the floor crying. Not long afterwards she moved home to be closer to her remaining family. After Matthew Childs’s recovery, he was inspired to leave a career in advertising and become a gardener, something he had always dreamed of doing, but never had the balls…and now he has a garden on display at Hampton Court. What is inspiring about life is how people consistently make good things out of shit things, hope and a desire to live fully outweighing any setbacks.

I don’t believe in God or Karma, I don’t believe that if you are a good person good things will happen to you as quite obviously this isn’t true, some of the kindest people I know have had the shittiest luck imaginable but I am fascinated by what you might call chance or fate or destiny. I do think if something is going to happen there is nothing you can do to change it, and this implies, at least in part, that I believe in fate. The moment I put my mobile phone in my back pocket that one time (here we go again) the phone was going to be taken, there was nothing I could do to prevent that. Deciding not to go away this weekend, allowed me to be in a certain place at a certain time where I was verbally abused in the middle of the street (more of that another time). But I was meant to be at both these events, I couldn’t have been anywhere else so what is the point in saying what if?

Sure, I am a big believer in making things happen, making your own luck, striving towards your future, but you only have control over the smallest of life’s problems. When it comes to the bigger things we just have to take the hand we’re dealt and make the most of it. Whatever happens, we only get one chance.

Although no good deed goes unpunished, it is much nicer to be nice than to be mean. So I will always look on the bright side of life because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition but equally, and more importantly – if I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again;

“No man is a failure, who has friends.”
–  Clarence – Angel, Second Class.

 

Broken Home, Not Broken Family

The best thing my parents ever did (apart from have me, of course) was split up. I don’t remember much about the 7 years before my dad had an affair with a family friend, but I remember how our house felt – despite being a safe, comfortable family home, there was an underlying sense of unease that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

It was my mother’s second marriage and she had sworn never to marry again. She had married far too young the first time round and had two kids, my sisters, by the time she was 21. That marriage was mostly unhappy and marred by affairs, so when she finally found a way out and started to have the career she always dreamed of, the last thing she wanted to do was marry again and have another kid at 40. But she fell in love with my father and had me, so you can imagine her despair when she realised she’d been betrayed again. We had a tough few years – there were attempts at reconciliation and I do remember screaming rows and long nights of crying, but by the time I hit puberty, their separation was the status quo. I would see my father maybe once a month as he moved to a different town, but I had much more important things to think about, like schoolwork and boys.

I’m aware that this is a fairly typical tale of a kid from a broken home, but it really is only half the story. The remarkable part is that I never once felt unloved, or like it was my fault. My mother was never cruel about my father in front of me (God knows how she managed that) and I actually felt more at ease in my home now that the strange feeling of unease, which I believe was a symptom of their incompatibility, had lifted. I also had a beacon of support in my sister – or rather half-sister, if we’re being fussy. She invested an unbelievable amount of time and energy making sure I was okay and not adversely affected by what was happening. It was only years later that I realised she was giving me all of this love and attention at a time when her own relationship with the father of her first child was breaking down and she was struggling to get by as a single parent herself.

Now, 28 years later, I am surrounded by the most incredible, inspiring and mixed up family. I am close to my father who, after many years of it being ‘on and off’, is still with the woman he left my mother for, who I now call a friend. My sister is in a good relationship following two bad ones, which were not all bad since they produced two very brilliant daughters, to whom I hope I can repay a fraction of the support and love that their mother gave to me. My eldest sister has three gorgeous daughters, just got a PhD and is working hard at her marriage – and my mother is a towering matriarch of inspiration, even at 5 foot 3 and a half. She unsurprisingly never married again, but she lives for her three daughters and five granddaughters (yes, we are essentially a family of women) while still tearing around to social engagements aged 75 at a pace I can hardly keep up with.

I look at my parents now and can only see them as individuals. I can’t imagine them together as they are such different types of people. I am so thankful then that, whatever the catalyst, they realised this early on and didn’t waste time trying to hold onto something which was no longer there.

Families are complicated, but I know that most people’s lives don’t turn out the way they expected them to. Nobody I know sets out to make mistakes or bad decisions or to hurt other people. In order to live free of bitterness and resentment, we must learn to progress to understanding and forgiveness, to accept what has happened, learn from it and move on.

This may sound like therapy speak and sure, I’ve had some therapy and my life hasn’t all been plain-sailing, but the same goes for a lot of people I know who come from ‘stable’ homes, and I would argue that the love and affection in my family would rival anyone else’s. Therefore I’m grateful for my wonderfully complicated, not ‘broken’, family and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

 

The Drugs Don’t Work

I wish I could remember my twenties. It was only five years ago but there is a haze over that decade which I don’t think will ever come into focus. I remember my university years vividly, those first years away from home, the surge of independence, finally getting to know yourself as a woman not a girl and making grand plans for what to do with your life. However, as soon as I left those safe confines and entered the real world, everything I thought I knew was turned upside down.

I wanted to be a writer, but when I got to London the competition and a lack of confidence in my own ability meant I took the first job I was offered, a Production Secretary role on a popular daytime TV show. I’m a grafter so I quickly moved up and became a Production Manager. As a PM you are in charge of the budget, schedule and therefore, the happiness of the crew and no matter how well you manage these things there is always the old stereotype that you are the one who limits the artistic vision of the director, or ‘the bitch’.

A nagging voice in my head kept telling me that this wasn’t the career I wanted, but I kept telling that voice to shut up – after all, so many people would kill to work in television that I should count myself lucky. To balance my unhappiness at work I made sure I had an outstanding social life. This might be the reason for the haze surrounding my twenties – I drank heavily and started taking cocaine socially too. I liked to get high. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of – such as flashing a boob in exchange for a line of coke and many other (worse) things I can hardly remember. These shenanigans make for amusing stories nowadays but at the time they made me feel not just cheap and ashamed, but completely lost – who the hell was I? I’d lost myself and I didn’t write a word in 12 years.

Towards the end of my twenties I started to behave. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure so needed to be careful, plus it just wasn’t fun any more. But by then, after years of numbing them, I had given up on my writing dreams and accepted that I would be a Production Manager forever. I was working on a good series, but suddenly it relocated and I had to make a decision; move with it, find another job or do something radical.

Doing something radical was the best decision I’ve ever made. I booked myself on a screenwriting course in New York and planned to go travelling afterwards. In the weeks before I left, I have never been more filled with fear and self-doubt. I hammered the booze and had a few coke-fuelled nights to avoid the questions ringing in my head. How was I going to write anything after 12 years of nothing? Was I going to have any ideas? I had no imagination! I desperately wanted to run away from the decision I’d made and return to my safe (but frustrating) existence. When I boarded the plane at Heathrow, these fears finally started to drop away and by the time I landed at JFK, I was already evolving and finally pursuing my dream. The best thing was I hadn’t forgotten how to write and even had some good ideas – my amazing tutor and classmates taught me so much in those two months.

The travelling part of my sabbatical was equally insightful. Driving across the States with my (26 year old) niece, we had no guidebook and no route mapped out. We would drive somewhere we liked the sound of, set up our tent, meet local people and ask them where we should go the next day. All we knew was that we had to end up in California.

Landing back in London, after 7 months on the road, was tough. I was in debt and moved in with my Dad. I get migraines so sometimes use an over the counter painkiller called Solpadeine which is essentially a (very) poor man’s Vicodin. It has just enough codeine in to de-sensitise you from the world, to get you high then make you numb. I started taking it every day. I stopped writing again, my old life started to re-appear.

In those seven months away I had finally started to know who I was, I had found confidence in me, just like Fraulein Maria and I wasn’t going to let it go to waste. I forced myself to stop relying on the Solpadeine and accepted that if I had to continue working as a Production Manager to pay the bills, I wouldn’t let it define me and I would keep writing. By changing my perspective I am now able to manage a day job and am writing three spec scripts – if I don’t write for a day I feel lost. I’m lucky that I don’t have an addictive personality, but using anything to escape from yourself too often can’t be good – drugs kill ambition – simple as that.

So the only way to truly be ‘you’ is to follow your dreams. Friends who have made similar decisions agree. One has gone from TV to mid-wifery, one from dancer to comedian, others have left high flying jobs to pursue social enterprise, but none of them have ever looked back.

I left for New York 15 months ago and I don’t recognise the old me – cowardly self-medicating to hide from myself. Following my dream has changed my life. There are still many bricks in the wall before I break all the way through to me, but that’s how it should be. After all, life’s about the journey, not the destination and I am certainly enjoying the trip so far – on a natural high from now on, of course.

Coping With The Daily Grind

My alarm goes off at 7.30am, I press the snooze button for half an hour, sometimes more. I drag myself into the shower, often leaning my head against the tiles. I get dressed, I walk to work. I sit at a desk for 8 hours, sometimes more, staring at a screen. I get the bus home. I eat, I watch a movie or write, I go to bed. This is my routine (and countless others’) 5 days a week. I don’t hate my job, most of the time I enjoy it, but I am not passionate about it, and committing the biggest part of your life to something you are not passionate about can be horribly depressing.

Carpe Diem! Is what Robin Williams liked to say in Dead Poet’s Society but that’s not always easy when you have a mortgage and bills to pay. I would love to wake up one morning and declare that I am off to seize the day and everything else be damned, but I have responsibilities and am maybe not as free spirited as I like to think I am.  However, there are other ways to seize the day and, as I have recently re-learnt, it is all about perspective. I had a teacher at school who actually made us stand on our desks one day to get a different viewpoint, to remind us to look at things differently, just like Robin Williams had. We all thought it was ridiculous until we did it, and strangely everything did look different from that perspective. The familiar walls of the classroom didn’t look so familiar, the view from the window was completely different, and, in turn, we felt different.

I forgot this technique for many years and before I went on sabbatical last year, I was working on average 10 hours a day, 5 days a week and regularly lamenting the fact that I didn’t have time to do ANYTHING! No time to go to a yoga class, no time to catch up with friends and family, no time to write, or go to the cinema, just simply no time. And what was worse – a lot of the time I spent at work, there wasn’t actually a lot for me to do, I just had to be there in case anything happened so I could sort it out. When I look back at myself now, I am flabbergasted by my attitude. The truth is I had so much time but I just didn’t know what to do with it. In my downtime at work I would spend hours learning about the world via the ‘random article’ link on Wikipedia (of course I don’t remember a thing), or on Facebook. In the evening I would go home and watch TV. I watched hours and hours of soap operas and told myself I had no time. When I returned from my sabbatical I promised myself I wouldn’t get stuck in the same trap, but of course I did…then I remembered I had something special, my sabbatical had taught me a way of looking at life from a different angle, I had even remembered my teacher’s advice and had taking to doing headstands when the mood took me. I reassessed my daily grind and realised it wasn’t so bad. In my usual geeky way, I did some sums. There are 168 hours in a week. Most people work for between 40-60 hours of them, and sleep for an average of 6-8 hours a night so if we take the average of 50 hr work and 49 hrs sleep, that leaves 69 hours in the week to play with which sounds like a lot of time, and fun, to me!

I have now almost stopped watching TV, except for The Conversation, of course, and I avoid surfing the net aimlessly. I have achieved so much. I now write every night so I actually have something to show for my free time and meeting up with friends is much more of a pleasure because I feel as though I have earned it. I can’t believe I’m about to admit this but I also have a technique for dealing with boredom at work. I look to my working role model, CJ Cregg from the West Wing, and simply ask ‘what would CJ do?’ And then pretend I am CJ, I’m certain she would always find something productive to do.

For the first time in my life I feel as though I am living deliberately, making use of the precious time available to me and striving to achieve a goal. I am also making more time for family and that is making me feel more alive and grounded than ever. All these things and making the most of every opportunity afforded to me, speaking to people I don’t know at a party instead of shyly cowering at the back, accepting invitations, even doing some exercise has given me a new perspective and joie de vivre. So, oh captain, my captain – myself, I salute you.