Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thoughts From 2008

This is a review of my year. It's another opportunity to be wonderfully self-centred. Hah!

On a more serious level, it's a chance for me to acknowledge what's happened before I start to think about what 2009 is going to be about for me. I had three themes I was focusing on throughout 2008 which will get covered in this post. This time, I've picked ten important things that kinda sum up my year. There is no particular order - but they are all important to me.

Read and have an appropriate reaction.

1) Weight Loss
Looking back, the biggest news in my world of 2008 has got to be the weight loss. I worked out that I've lost 20% of my body weight this year (that's two stone and ten pounds or seventeen kilos!)

I now weigh less than my wife did in January 2008.

It's such a big deal because it affects other areas of my life. Aside from general fitness it's related to other things in my top ten. The fact I now wear my belt on hole six instead of hole two has had an effect on number ten. Being able to touch the floor in front of my toes has had an effect on number nine. My waist measurement (that's around my tummy just below my belly-button) going from 42 inches to 33 inches is related to six. And the very fact that I've done it with my wife means it's affected two and seven.

Through the year I've had comments from everyone I've met. Of course the overwhelming silence from some people is a communication in itself that says more about the individual!

As I've mentioned on other posts this year - it's something I didn't think would/ could be possible, but I've achieved it.

And now it's time for me to move on - because I'm certain I've bored people to tears with the whole weight-loss thing! I'm looking onwards and upwards.

2) Truisms That Are Actually True: i) Marriage Is Wonderful
Having been to several weddings this year, and spent a lot of time working on my own marriage in 2008, I can unequivocally say it is wonderful. It is where I have discovered so much about myself - what really drives me, how I behave in reaction to another and the difference I make all that wonderful stuff - mundane and important.

Looking back since I got married, and over 2008, I can see how I have changed. I prefer to use the word evolved. I'm a different person, because of being married, and so's she!

I feel 2008 has definitely been about discovering each other within marriage. We've spent a lot of time looking at ourselves and our lives together and what we want to create for and with each other. I know 2009 will see a different set of concerns.

3) Writing/ Creativity
This is perhaps the area that's caught me by surprise the most. It was one of my themes for 2008 - exploring my creativity. I took the step of getting some of my friends together and creating the non-sequiturs. The idea was to meet regularly and write on a specific theme. We met a few times, but the whole thing has died down.

To be honest, it's died down because I couldn't be bothered to keep driving it. Part of me was fed up at having to take the lead, get things going, write stuff up, keep it alive. I've been there and done that a few times in my life, and this time when it atrophied (as all things do when left to 'default' setting) I haven't revived it.

I don't know whether things will change - because something positive has come out of it. We each managed to write one short story on a theme "The Wild". I've since shown mine to quite a few people around me (including several English teachers) and the response has been pretty positive. It's been described as a cross between "Catcher in the Rye" and "American Psycho" - and if you're reading this - you should read both those books.

This whole experience has coalesced the idea for my book. That's the bigger project I'm working on over the next three to five years. One person I've spoken to, who has experience in the publishing industry, says it's very difficult to create something original, or to find a different perspective on particular issues. They feel I've got something to say, and need to get it down on paper. Some of you will know about my book and my ideas. Some of you may even be in it.

Watch this space.

Apart from writing, my music has had ups and downs this year. It peaked with me practising guitar quite a bit, but has since troughed with a damaged guitar. I cannot now plug in my favourite guitar to my computer or my amplifier, and I'm now considering buying a new one.

I've noticed that I've been scared to pick up the guitar - perhaps because of my own expectations in my head. Somehow writing and performing my own songs is so much more of a naked experience. Writing a blog and ranting for people to read seems to hold no fear for me. Neither does karaoke in the form of Sing Star. But playing guitar and singing for those around me? A lot harder, unless they are close to complete strangers.

My wife doesn't really know that I'm quite a good guitarist. I mean she knows I can play, but she can't really relate my skills to anything she's listened to. So when we see a guitarist on television playing something quite innocuous that sounds good, I get asked if I can do that. Truthfully - I can...but I've been afraid and avoided exploring and expressing myself in this particular area.

It's sad really, as without music; without guitar - I'm not sure I would have reached my thirties. (Oh I know that sounds dreadfully melodramatic, but hey a little melodrama never hurt anyone...)

Anyway, this is really a roundabout way of saying: i) I've created a myspace page for my music called goateezmusic (there's one of my songs on it), and ii) I'm going to do a guitar grade in 2009 (thanks to SLB) to give me some focus on playing, and actually formalise my skills.

My music is alternative/ folk. Any comments, ideas or whatever then - you know...the very thought of other people listening to my musical expression...well...it's out there now.

I think this going to force me to put more music out there...I've always had an excuse not to - no more! 2009 will see a more creative force emerge.

4) Politics
So this year I've noticed: my cynicism with people (it was always there), the apathy around me (even from so-called intelligent people), unacknowledged conflict in the world (Darfur anyone?), mass-media manipulation (CNN or BBC - oh what's the difference?), shocking behaviour from children (can you tell I'm a teacher), and people blindly worshipping their God (from the old man in the sky in the bible, to pure consumerism).

There is enough food to feed everyone but still people die of starvation.

And I've reached the following five points:
i) people are fucking dumb (and I didn't even say this - I'm quoting George Carlin)
ii) politics is based on lying, cheating, stealing and greed (which drives everything)
iii) a revolution is coming/ happening: culturally and spiritually
iv) anarchism is valid - and it is different from chaos (read some Chomsky)
v) death is inevitable, I never own anything, and I can never take anything with me

Nothing particularly outstanding about these points, but this year I've my usual questioning has kept up constantly. Sometimes I've been told that it's so tiring to constantly analyse. I just find it interesting and satisfying.

And perhaps the biggest insight of all is that laughing is often the most appropriate response. Comedians and satirists have a skill that I love - to observe the world around us and get us to think about it by making us laugh is wonderful.

By thinking about my politics and politics in general, I sometimes feel/ think/ know/ judge that my sole purpose in life is wind people up. This year I've become even more keenly aware of my world, and how it clashes with those around me. I know my place in it and I relish the opportunity to make a point, to challenge, to keep pushing. Making people laugh is so close to offending them too - it's not too much to ask for both.

Oh and Obama? Well, he's likely to expire under the weight of expectation his "Yes we can" morphed into "Yes we may". Some people around me seem to think he's going to be assassinated in his first term - and that makes them cynical. No he won't be assassinated - that's too sledgehammer like for the establishment. No it'll be far more insidious. More like he'll kept in power by those really in power (you know those with all the money) and make a real hash of it. Then all we'll hear will be "See that's what happens if you elect a black man!" thereby permanently eliminating black people from anything resembling power. Yay mission accomplished - the long-term politics of exclusion plan.

Besides politicians are nothing but puppet power - it's not even the people who have power...even in a democracy...

Oh and I was recommended "Blazing Saddles" the Mel Brooks film - wow it seems just like the American Presidential Election!

And – the House of Commons is a fucking oxymoron.

5) Racism: It's Everywhere!
Deal with it. And if you disagree with that - you're a fucking idiot!

It's transparent, it's institutionalised, it's global.

Like I said, deal with it.

6) My Background
I've learned/ written/ discussed and pronounced lots about this through 2008. And I keep reaching new heights of understanding as my culture reaches new lows of behaviour. Yay!

7) Truisms That Are Actually True: ii) Marriage Is Hard
Marriage is hard. We've had our ups and downs, but I this year we focused on each other and also discovered/ acknowledged/ faced another aspect to marriage and relationships. There's no way to describe it other than the Dark Side - I know, I know a Star Wars reference but I can think of no better way of explaining it.

I'm not perfect. I make mistakes. Marriage seems to be a never-ending discovery of my own imperfections by having them pointed out by my life partner. I've had my mum dad and sister replaced by a wife. Ah - truthfully not so much replaced as enhanced. Each one of these people blessed with the skill of being able to "help" me as they see fit. Most of the time I don't see it as help, and about half the time it isn't help (although as much as I can I listen to it as help). Of course when it's not, I respond appropriately.

This is what I signed up for when I got married.

8) Money and Teaching and Money
So I actually applied for some jobs. I actually had some interviews. I wasn't successful in any of them. I was upset. Perhaps it was because I wasn't ready or it "wasn't meant to be" because "things happen for a reason" or whatever bullshit I choose to believe on a particular day.

Either way I'm still in the same job. As much as I love it, money is becoming a concern. I mean the big picture is that I want to have a family. To do that I need to be able to cover a mortgage and living costs on one income. Can I do that? Can I do that on a teacher's income? I don't know.

Every so often I keep thinking I should leave teaching and I could earn more money doing something else. All the old concerns about gender-roles and being the breadwinner all come up. I should provide for my wife. I should be able to take care of my family. My dad was a father at 26 years-old and here I am at 32. Friends around me have children or pregnant wives. What am I waiting for?

Money. The root of all evil? The means to an end? A conversation? A scarce resource?

Something I need to focus on for 2009 perhaps.

Not money, but priorities. Some people around us are saying just have the children and work it out. Some part of me thinks that's just irresponsible: bringing a new life into the world without the means to take care of it. But it's only when I throw my hat over the wall that I'm committed.

So a new job, higher earnings, more creative ways of getting money perhaps. Another D'Souza in 2009? I don't know - but what's brilliant is that dialogue is happening - and that's the main place things can get created.

9) Clothes
During 2008 I spent more on clothes than I've probably spent in the last five years combined. Losing weight meant that I actually needed to buy new clothes, but it also seemed to awaken a latent interest I've had in style and looks. I've always been aware of what people think of me - not in the negative sense, but more in the sense of wanting to make a point to people all the time. I've noticed that I've expanded my repertoire to include how I dress.

Combined with this, I've also got rid of tons of old clothes that I felt didn't represent me. Funnily enough, a lot of them were clothes that were bought for me. I had stuff in my wardrobe I hadn't worn for (quite literally) years! The local charity shops have benefited from my clearing out.

I noticed now I quite like being a chameleon: being smart when appropriate, being scruffy when I want. I still revisit the baggy trousers and hoodies of my youth - I don't think that part will ever die - but going out I needed to be able to get into a smart place and still be me. So I'll add a bit of quirk here and there...a Che or Skull badge; my wallet-on-a-chain; bright colours; t-shirts with distinctive slogans; a sweatband with a Decepticon logo on it.

I've always realised how important context is, but I've never really been able to exploit it with clothes until now. For example going to a metal club with a t-shirt that says "masturbating is not a crime" is no big deal - the clothing label Porn Star (popular with skaters) has been around these circles for years. Wearing it on a night out with the teachers at the end of term has a different effect. Equally, dressing "smart-casual" on some nights out with friends has drawn a response because I'm known for being a scruff-bag.

My sister has never had a problem with this - she's always just instinctively known what and how to dress and where and when to wear what. I like to think that's improving for me. I also like to think I'm evolving and becoming a little more adventurous - trying new things and combinations. (Although, I will still always love the baggy trousers, trainers and hoodies!)

Since losing weight, a whole world has opened up.

10) Balance and Flexibility: Mind, Body and Spirit
2008 saw me take on the Shaolin training method, learned from a book. And very effective it's proved to be: my flexibility has increased incredibly - touching my toes, one-legged squats, and the full lotus position are now no longer physical impossibilities!

It all started with seeing Karate Kid on tv again. I'm sure it contains as many life lessons as Star Wars - one of which is balance: "Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?"

Miyagi also says, "Remember lesson about balance? Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?"

I think in 2008 the physical became balanced with my emotional and mental side. One has always been stronger than the other - I've never been particularly physically fit or into sport, but I now feel more at home with my body because of the Shaolin training.

Getting my yin/ yang tattoo was a good reminder! Balancing everything is the challenge in 2009 and beyond.

So that's 2008 done and dusted. I'll be posting my themes for 2009 soon.

J.

This post was brought to you by: reflection, and old endings and new beginnings

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One Hundred Push Ups-Update 2

Right...here's a quick update!

I'm into week five.

And it's absolutely killer! I've got to day three twice now, but I've not completed it!

I've also got stopped at day two...

It looks like I'll be stuck here for a while! I don't think the Christmas period is helping much - a time of excessive consumption (food, money, drink) doesn't help.

Ah well - keep on running I say - I'll get there in the end! I still think press-ups are a genius bit of fitness...

Friday, December 05, 2008

One Hundred Push Ups-Update

OK OK OK! So it's been ages since I've posted yeah yeah I know.

So here's an update on the whole push-ups, press-ups whatever-you-wanna-call it.

On the last update, well I had to repeat week four...so I did...except I got ill...so ill I actually had to have a day off work (how ridiculous!) I finished week four...and did the test at the end of the week...but barely managed 30. It was because I left two days before doing the end of week test.

Grr...I was getting annoyed with myself and lack of progress.

So I did week four again (for the third time).

This time, I managed it, along with 32 consecutive push-ups to move to week five.

Finally!

At this point I was thinking - ok - I'm into week 5 - how on earth can I get to 100 press-ups consecutively, when I can just about to 32 consecutively?

I began to see it was possible when I saw week five...oh my God!

In the meantime, at school I've mentioned this to a few people, including pupils. Some of the guys in the sixth form have started taking it on. One is progressing quite well! In a chat about this workout with some pupils who study P.E. I realised I'd been breathing wrong.

All the workout stuff I've done says that you need to breathe out when exerting, and breathe in for the next repetition. Kinda obvious, but takes some focus. For the press-ups I'd been doing it the wrong way round - breathing out going down, and in going up.

As soon I changed the breathing, doing press-ups got a lot easier, and I've now managed to complete day one and day two of week five...