Sneaking Back In

The great New Zealand south island family road trip – July 2019

What do you do after all this time — just sneak back in like nothing ever happened? Like a teenager returning home late only to have the back door hinge squeak really loudly when you try and silently close it? I guess that’s it. Like nothing ever happened. Nothing to see here — with the exception of a random new post.

In the context of having your own blog with zero deadlines and a misguided perception of being “busy” doing other things — I see the last post here was 25 March 2019, about some colourful pen refills. That’s a year ago. Not a bad break of sorts. When you feel like writing, I guess you do just pick up pen and/or keyboard and go — like you never left.

I could offer various reasons for why now, however would be lying not to admit the usual introspection which typically occurs around the earlier part of the year (this post originated late January in its early draft).

Although clouded by recency bias, if I think back over the past year or so and the topics usually covered on these pages — there is nothing overly new to report. Pen news saw the acquisition of a Lamy 2000 ballpoint and a bottle of ink (a gift of Iroshizuku Momiji). Apart from being a somewhat lazy roaster in the latter part of the year, the coffee supply and consumption maintained a metronomic rhythm. We all have our dependencies I guess.

That journal streak

I did learn that when I’m not writing here, perhaps I’m writing there. In this case, “there” being a morning journal habit which Streaks app tells me I have now completed 263 times. Once I got into it, my first decent streak was broken at 126 when away for the day one weekend (somewhat proud of myself for not fudging the numbers on that one). Managing to get back on the wagon, I’m currently back up to 133. My hot tip on getting started? A one page limit in an A6 journal – done and ticked off in a flash.

Due to a very generous Christmas gift I was also able to learn the AirPods Pro are transformative to both my listening (that active noise cancelling…), and daily carry habits (daily backpack now sans over-ear headphones). They are seriously good.

Every year my consumption habits change and I’ve been in and out of podcasts, blogs and the usual splattering of social media. There is no quick summary of all this so perhaps more detail is for another day. I would add I’ve recently been enjoying viewing my RSS feeds (yes, still…) through cached full text in Lire.

Is there more to report on? Well, quite a bit most likely. Do I have any idea where to start with all of that? Absolutely not. First a word, then a post, and from there we’ll see.

Perhaps one of those other things to report on – dabbling in the Theme System journal…
I am somewhat mindful of what has changed in the world since beginning this draft to the current time, however perhaps some of the two hour commute I’m now saving by working from home can be devoted to writing a little.

Anyway, I’ve made it back in, the door is closed, and I’m carefully making my way up the stairs — looks like I’m going to make it…

Light flicks on…

 

Lost in the Algorithm

 

Recently I decided to create a separate Instagram account (@petemanship) to follow my pen and paper related interests, after the original feed became overwhelmed with posts related to various other topic areas. Although I’ve always looked to keep things fairly simple, I feel pen people deserve more than to be lost in the algorithm.

As long as I remember to switch accounts on occasion, it should now be a little easier to catch up on things. A fairly simple yet hopefully successful fix. When transferring the pen accounts I follow over to this new feed, I couldn’t help but think perhaps a few other things in my 2018 had been “lost in the algorithm” as well — if I could use such a term to describe what didn’t get written, posted, read, listened to, or moved forward.

The most recent post here? In late September about my love for the cappuccino as a beverage. Look a little deeper, and the last pen-related post was back in June of 2018. Really? That’s the best you could do?

Apparently so…

Don’t get me wrong. I continue to be a staunch proponent of the no apology approach to blog post gaps. Things get written or they don’t. Personally though, I find this can be a reflection of other areas of my life perhaps not syncing as seamlessly as I’d like — assuming the intent to write remains of course. Nothing too serious, simply the busy-ness of life, work, and the organisational and prioritisation aspects required to keep all areas ticking along. We all have them.

I sometimes wonder if a passion is really that if it constantly needs active “feeding” — or should it always be simmering virtually of its own accord. I think it probably is, though whether the effort required to feed it (again, assuming intent) feels like a joy or a chore is most likely the very essence of prioritisation. Not only that, but how well we do in recognising those priorities and putting energy into working on them.

Of course many aspects around what we do, look at, listen to and write about are well within our control. Other things which take up our time and are perceived to be beyond our control probably aren’t — at least not entirely. Put together, they make up the “whole” that is life, and what we choose to do with it at any given moment I guess.

Despite reading many Year in Review and New Year New You posts over the past month or so and vowing there is no way I’m doing that…

While a stream of consciousness more than bullet points and actions, there are a few things I’ve considered while on a week-long break from work.

In the grand scheme of things I would have indeed liked to write more, and for that matter, spread myself less thin across my consumption as well. I seem to have reached a point in my content consumption of being scattered superficially far and wide, interspersed with periods of not much at all. I keep coming back to the word focus when I consider what could improve in both these areas.

Another consideration has been exactly how I use my tools across all areas of my interests, and of course you know what these interests are (if not, tap or click the menu at the top of the page). In lamenting the cost (don’t get me started) of upgrading anything(I didn’t) in the Apple ecosystem these days, perhaps a better approach is to ensure I maximise the capabilities of what I currently have. This of course led me to think such an approach would be a reasonable one to take across the board. Read the unfinished books and saved articles; ink the idle pens; finish the unused notebooks; and in the process perhaps rediscover what brought me to the point of owning so many in the first place.

Notwithstanding the above, I’ve been pleased with the increasing consistency and quality of my coffee roasting, and made some decent strides (despite a little inconsistency at times) in my health and fitness, so it hasn’t all been missed opportunity and lacking in focus. That being said, the perfect cup or the best roast are still ahead of me.

Now if I were, hypothetically speaking, to look at one or two themes for the coming year (Cortex podcast; episode 79), I would probably be looking at something along the lines of The Year of Rediscovery and The Year of Maximisation. I would also probably be thinking of one feeding the other in a cyclical type of arrangement, the result being greater focus on the areas I prioritise as being in need of it.

Regardless of arbitrary blog post titles, if it looks like a year in review, and sounds like a year in review…

Of November, laziness, and hereabouts

It seems to be around November when it usually strikes.

A busy time of year with a looming, yet still too distant end in sight. It’s not me – it’s you, I say, looking my office job squarely in the eye. As for the blog though, pens (and/or keyboard) down seems to be the result. “Just for a short while” I tell myself, though in recent years, it seems to have taken longer and longer to pick them up again.

Of course, I have a very long list pending under the blog post tag, mostly on or around similar topics to those I’ve written about before. Looking at it? Well, that raises the internal question: ”Am I not writing because I couldn’t be bothered, or because I’m not really sure this will contribute anything valuable to the conversation”. I can think of merit to each argument, though a definitive conclusion seems harder to reach.

Having started this blog five years ago, one of the more frustrating aspects is I find it no easier to write here than I did at the beginning – at times it seems more difficult. The biggest challenge? Not writing the same thing over and over again, which I assume is a common foe for many. Deadlines? Well, only the ones I self-impose – which is rare – and they are flexible enough to be bent backwards and turned inside out.

In the latter part of last year, as November arrived, I inadvertently took a slightly different path. As well as not writing, I stopped reading, researching and following. Repeatedly marking all my RSS feeds as read, podcast queue as listened, and rarely opened most of my social media feeds. It wasn’t really an approach as such, I simply realised around Christmas I’d rarely engaged in any of the usual “stuff” at all, in the absence of any real intent to do so. As a result, I began unsubscribing and unfollowing with a certain vigour.

While I’m not really one to think too deeply about all of this, I did begin to wonder just a little about what might be going on. Was I tired of this writing, reading, and following caper – or maybe just tired? Was it time to leave the blog behind and move on? If so, to what? Or was I, if I’m entirely honest, just being a little lazy? In hindsight, I’d say a little bit tired, a little bit lazy and perhaps slightly reordering some priorities.

In any event, as we now roll into May (only six months later!), I can confirm I have indeed missed much of that “stuff”. Therefore, I’ve re-followed (apologies if I’ve missed some of your accounts – I’ll get there eventually), begun listening, and actually read, consider, and capture as necessary what comes through my RSS feed again. Social media? Well, I’m there, however I still find it the equivalent of that person you constantly give the benefit of the doubt, only to be slapped in the face and disappointed over and over again. Let’s say I’ll try and retain my optimism.

Of course throughout this entire time I’ve been poking around here somewhere. A couple of posts have gone up, the pens are used daily, the coffee is still being grown, roasted and brewed, and I keep telling myself I don’t need the newest tech or gadgets. So really, not a lot has changed – perhaps simply my level of immersion.

So November, I see you, I know exactly where you are, and maybe this year I’ll even plan for you. Come to think of it, Summer sabbatical has a certain ring to it. Either way, I know I’ll be around here somewhere.

While these little interests and hobbies mightn’t be significant in the big picture, they certainly are in the landscape of mine.

Selfish writing

A good few posts here on the site reference learning as one of the key reasons for commencing this blog and indeed carrying on to this point — some four years later. A noble goal — or at the very least — a reasonable basis for applying a little effort towards producing content.

Over that time period, I’ve been through various phases and feelings about writing here. Beginners nerves (which merely evolve into more experienced nerves upon hitting “publish”); gaining some, then wanting more readers; realising more posts gain more readers and writing them; burning out a little, and realising 20% less monthly readers affords 80% (if not more) better balance. Blogging as a hobby really should not be a chore.

Now? I’m quite content with how things are. Thanks for asking.

Accompanying the passage of time has been a realisation the knowledge I gain through researching, reading, and organising my thoughts on various topics and posts is indeed quite valuable to me. It is however, secondary to something far more important. Something I perhaps didn’t anticipate, understand, nor fully appreciate until now. Something inherently more selfish, which far outweighs the learning — and indeed sharing — of knowledge by a significant order of magnitude. It is probably also time to own up to that truth.

When all is said and done, I’m really just writing here for my own sanity. Plain and simple.

The longer I do this, the more I realise the predominant, though unintended (yet most welcome) benefit of all this is the process of writing, and the switch-off it affords from most other goings-on while I’m doing it. Even better? The option at any time to not do it for a while — whether by choice or circumstance — and return when I choose.

Should this really come as much of a surprise? Probably not, and is simply a classic case of forest for the trees if ever there was one, however I am glad to be a little more aware of such a welcome reality.

Undoubtedly this is probably not a surprise to anyone who writes in a similar way, unencumbered by deadlines, contracts or commitments. Then again, who am I to assume — perhaps those who write for a living feel the same way, although I suspect there is at least some additional burden on the minds of those who do.

Maybe arriving at this point was inevitable, and I was simply unaware of it when starting out. After all, those sayings don’t lie do they. You know them: the process not the outcome; the journey, not the destination; the writing, not the readers.

I’ve taken some liberty in including that last one, and to explain further, you — the reader — are extremely important to me of course. I simply realise doing my best to provide readable content which may (hopefully) be helpful or provide value in some small way is part of the process, may be an outcome, however is not stoking the fire as it once was. Or at least as I thought it was.

So, have I been lying to you all this time?

I’d say no, however perhaps no more so to you, the reader, than to myself. Let’s think of it merely an oversight rather than outright deception. What next then? Well, I guess there is nothing to do but continue, and do so in the knowledge at the heart of these pages lies an intrinsic motivation which will likely keep me writing far longer than any extrinsic reward.

For that, I am extremely grateful — as I am to you, for reading.

Strong Fabric

Last weekend, the small town of Alstonville (where I grew up), held its annual Agricultural Show at the local show ground in the centre of town. I didn’t attend myself, however as they have done for many years now, my mother and sister both submitted a number of entries for judging in various categories of exhibitions.

2016-11-06-jules-show-coffee   2016-11-06-sandra-damper-show

For the second year in a row, my mother took out first prize for her green coffee, home-grown in the backyard. She was also successful with produce grown in her small, yet impressive household garden. My sister? Well, she entered an astonishing 19 separate categories in the baking section, winning 11, and placing second in a further three. Not surprisingly, she was also awarded a prize for being the most successful exhibitor. Efforts for which they can both be very proud.

It’s an interesting event the local show. Of course as a kid it was all Dagwood dogs and dodgem cars, with the occasional animal event/parade and baking or produce exhibit thrown in for good measure. A simplistic child’s view for sure. The sounds? The ever-familiar tone of the ground announcer, the snorts, thundering hooves and snapping of whips during the trots, as horse and driver careened around the ring. Sadly the harness racing has long since ceased.

In reality though, the annual local show is more than simply an event. In many ways it is symbolic of the community at large, and the role the locals play within it. A show of spirit and goodwill, with a healthy dose of competition between those who enter exhibits for judging.

2016-11-06-jules-certficate-lifeballThe involvement of my mother and sister in the local community goes far beyond participating in the show once a year of course, and they have been an active part of the community for many years now. As time goes on it is clear to me they play an important role in weaving the very fabric that holds a small community together.

That being the case, I’d suggest the fabric is a heck of a lot stronger for it, and it is in that fact, and in both of them, which I’m very proud.