Lost the plot: Thirty Days hath November

Searching

[day 1, day 10]

I am on Day 20 of my bikram 30 day challenge, and Day 18 of NaNoWriMo. So, far I have clocked up 27.5 hours of bikram and 33,799 words which is not too shabby, but I do feel a bit like I am losing the plot.

Bikram

Bikram everyday really is making a difference but I am just a tiny bit fed up of having to go all the time and can’t wait to have a day off, especially because, four times last week I was only able to practice early morning. It felt like I was getting up before the dawn chorus to go to the studio. My resistance is not a physical thing though, it is purely mental, because once in the room I am thrilled to be there, the heat is just fantastic. And, last Wednesday morning the waxing full moon was hanging heavy over the main road as I drove down it. That was a sight definitely worth getting out of bed to see. The best bit about early mornings is driving back feeling job done and yet the day is still fresh and brand new.

NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo has been a lovely experience so far with lots of oooh, ahhhh surprises. It has been exciting to type in things and then say: Oooh I never knew that, that’s why she is behaving like that. So, I was disappointed by the last two days as there were no revelations and it felt like I had lost the plot. Yesterday, however, was the real low point, it felt like I was typing random words into my laptop. I am hoping that it’s just a passing phase, and that if I treat it just like yoga, i.e., I just show up and my body seems to remember how much it likes bending over in a hot room, then everything will be okay. Tomorrow, at nano time I will not overthink it and just show up at my keyboard so that my mind can remember how much it enjoys entertaining me and hopefully all the words I type will make sense. Tonight though, I may have to reread my notes so my subconscious has overnight to cook up something extra.

Outside of bikram and nano, I am once more super enthusiastic about my work project and I have decided to not rush it and really polish it up and make it as good as I can, which involves a bit more training before I can perform better. I also now have a long list of blogs which I would like to write, which is exactly what I was hoping would happen with bano-nikram and I really can’t wait to get on with everything.

Not yet, I still have 12 more days to go. I will keep on keeping on and try not to wish the days away. Wish me luck. My next update will be in December.

See you on the other side.

A Third of Thirty Days

Bonfire night

[Day 1, Day 10, Day 20]

I am a third of a way (Day 10) through my Bikram challenge as in the end I started on Wednesday 30/10/19. I decided to get on with it because I kept thinking about it and thought that I had to start before I lost my nerve altogether.

This is so me. I hate committing to things in the future and then thinking about it and working myself up into a lather. It makes me feel trapped. Anyway, now I know for certain that I like to see how I go, I intend to start all new adventures off gently with an option to start again. That said, I have told everyone in the studio so that I have to keep going (though now I wish I hadn’t as people keep telling me that I will be totally fed up around Day 15 – but honestly, I’ll be the judge of that!). Also, there’s a lovely chart at the studio and I am enjoying ticking the days off and sticking on the odd gold star and kissing my biceps every time I finish a class.

Physically speaking, Bikram everyday is easier than I thought it would be. I feel tired outside the studio as I wasn’t sleeping so well either with all the thoughts about Bikram waking me up, but each time I step into the heated room my body relaxes and is happy standing on one leg and the rest of it.

I am also doing Ecstatic Breathwork everyday too which takes the Bikram to another level, I find it’s best to do it straight after Bikram when my mind is more relaxed. Honestly, the combination is amazing.

NaNoWriMo

I started this on November 1st but I only had four scenes planned. However, so far so good. I am really enjoying the discovery of it all in a way I haven’t really experienced before or at least can’t remember experiencing for a very long time. Feeling slightly tired all the time, from the Bikram, really helps. I am a bit more relaxed and not listening to my inner critic, I don’t really have the energy to pay attention to negative self-talk, I just keep pressing on and writing to see what happens next. I am hanging on my every word and totally excited. I didn’t know I could do this and I have written 15,209 words.

So far this November is really nice. I feel a bit lighter, less resistant, more in the flow, which is just lovely. Long may it continue.

Part 3 (27.5 hours and 34k words)

Thirty Days Hath November

Halloween offerings

[Day 1, Day 10, Day 20]

Today is Halloween (or Hallo Iain as my Dad would say to my brother every year) and Samhain which marks the end of harvest and the start of winter – the darkest part of the year. We are well into the Scorpio season of magic, death and rebirth and I am following this Tarot lady on YouTube‘s daily talks on diving deep into Scorpio energies and I am thoroughly enjoying a good rumination on what she says deep down in my soul. I am enjoying thinking once more about the energy of archetypes as well as tarot.

In the accidental techie blog series, I looked at how I got to where I am now, first and foremost as a computer scientist, but the rest of life is in there too intertwined, all the agony and ecstasy which make me who I am right now. In When things fall apart Pema Chödrön summarises all experiences as the eight worldly dharmas: pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame. I love the succinctness and binary clarity. Nonetheless, ever since I fell into talking about the past – all of it, not just the computer bits – I have had trouble shaking it off and moving forward.

So, I am harnessing that Scorpio energy in order to make some magic of my own with two challenges: I will be doing a 30 day bikram challenge and also NaNoWriMo. In this way I hope to create some momentum by nanowrimoing and bikraming up a storm. I am viewing it as a busman’s holiday because I am stuck in what began as an exciting work project which I now approach with immense resistance and so hopefully by the time I open my advent calendar on 1st December I will have finished it or it will be in much better shape, I might even be in better shape too who knows? Thirty days straight Bikram has to do something to my body and soul.

I don’t normally announce things publicly as I have a horror of setting myself up for feeling like a failure but in Bikram the teachers often say that yoga is a practice, not a performance. Blogging is the same as well as writing any first draft of anything, it’s starting and failing, it’s all practice and progress, which is great.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

[Part 2: 10 days of Bikram, 8 of NaNoWriMo]

2019: Top 10 blogs

[ Part 1: The story in the stats]

I used so many words pondering archives, bonfires and identity in Part 1 that I didn’t have space to reveal the top ten blogs of 2019.

Here they are:

  1. Social anxiety on social media (FEBRUARY 18, 2019)
  2. Katie Hopkins’s #fatstory one year on (JANUARY 18, 2016)
  3. Designing story (3): Archetypes and aesthetics (MARCH 5, 2017)
  4. Katie Hopkins’s #myfatstory is a story of vulnerability (JANUARY 5, 2015)
  5. My top blogs of 2018 (DECEMBER 23, 2018)
  6. Semiotics: Finding meaning in storytelling (NOVEMBER 14, 2016)
  7. Storytelling: Narrative, Databases, and Big Data (APRIL 14, 2016)
  8. The inner life: Tarot and technology (APRIL 18, 2019)
  9. Social-psychology-the-social-animal-on-social-media (1) (JANUARY 20, 2016)
  10. Maslow’s hierarchy of social media (APRIL 14, 2015)

As I said in the big data blog, the stats Jetpack collected didn’t seem to match up with the rest of what was going on my website. Often, I get people wanting to pay me money to either buy links or publish their content, which seemed a bit strange since Jetpack said that on average 12 people a day visited my site. So, I went back to the raw data on my cpanel which said that I get 1.2m hits a year around 300,000 people which was a huge surprise.

But, looking at raw data can take some time so I installed WP Statistics for a brief overview, which was nice for a while, and it is where I drew the above list from. At first, I thought that given that the data was only collected over a few months that it would be really different. However, it wasn’t. I compared the above list with previous years 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and yes, it’s really similar except for the new number one: Social anxiety on social media which was amazing really as I felt quite vulnerable writing it and didn’t want to feel that raw and naked and fretted a lot about it. However, I am glad I did as it seems to have helped other people which is so lovely and I did a follow up vlog about social anxiety and emotional resonance as I really think that they are linked.

Three of the blogs also appeared on the all time Top Eleven Blogs (JANUARY 27, 2018) which I wrote to celebrate having blogged here for 11 years. Though the actual stats were from Jetpack which I installed in 2012 so instead of all time it should be of all six years which is not quite as dramatic, alas, I do like a definitive answer, we all do, we desire certainty.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself gazing again at my stats instead of blogging and this was around the same time I realised that there’s no real point sharing my blogs on Twitter and Facebook it doesn’t really affect the stats, unless it is something like the Comfort blog which is about grief and my mum and family resemblances. I got some click throughs from Facebook because I keep in touch with friends and family who knew my mum though I felt a bit shy talking openly about my feelings in front of people who have known me all my life, which is a bit odd when I think about it, as I say I always think I am blogging in a void and I am free to say whatever I think here. There was nothing at all on Twitter because that’s a different group of people and no one cares about my grief or feelings on there.

This is interesting (I laugh when I write this because my PhD supervisor used to say that it was not for me to say) because I read some research ages ago about being a different person on different social media platforms using the honeycomb model and I was not certain, especially when you use something like Jetpack as you can use its Publicize which just publishes every blog on every platform, and many businesses do the same. They will post the same content on every channel. But, since I had deleted Jetpack, I had to make the decision each time whether to share a blog or not, and then I found that I was getting navel gaze-y about it and didn’t feel that I wanted to share a post because no one cared, and so I was showing up differently on different channels, even though I didn’t believe it as I want to believe that I am consistent – what the heck? Why do I want to think that? Why is consistency so important to me? Apart from in HCI of course! I am allowed to change my mind. We are all allowed to change our minds. It’s how we grow. I’ve been blogging here so long now that I have expressed opposite opinions on the same topic quite a few times as I’ve learnt more or thought more. It’s all progress, and we say different things to different groups of people all the time, back to emotional resonance again, why waste your breath explaining your feelings to people, as my troll put it (hey babe), who just don’t give a shit!

The interesting thing (see again) was that WP Statistics showed me that regardless of whether I publicised my blogs on Twitter or Facebook or not at all my stats remained the same. So, that felt good, I don’t need to rush about on social media when all I want to do is blog, blog, blog. With that realisation, I deleted WP Statistics as I didn’t quite understand some of the interface and I couldn’t be bothered to learn how it should work, and also I had begun to create content specifically tailored to an audience, which would have – as you can see from the list – eventually led to more Katie Hopkins blogs and I just don’t want to do that. Two was more than enough. That woman came in (2) and (4). She is endlessly fascinating to some people but thankfully she has fallen off my radar and I intend to keep it that way.

Yesterday I was missing gazing at stats, so since then I have been playing with Slimstat which is linked to Infosniper which is an IP lookup but shows you it on a map, and that is pretty cool. I’ve had so much fun. It’s one thing to see hits and unique visits, but quite another to see that visit on a map and imagine someone sitting in their home or in a cafe in Shanghai or Jakarta looking at my website on their phone. Wow! How amazing is that? So far all the bots and crawlers live in NYC. Why is that? It’s so exciting!

At one point though, I was looking at my stats, and I thought oooh, that looks like my IP address, is something hacking me? So, I rushed into my husband and asked him if he had checked out my homepage on my website for three seconds. He had. He roared with laughter and called me a stalker! Nice. I now understand what the little clock thing means on the interface and how that gets hit – if you reopen your browser and my site is open then I will get a little clock it’s not just a very short or long time the human may have just left the browser open and isn’t looking at all.

But back to my top blogs which were measured between April and October 2019, apart from Katie Hopkins and social anxiety, the other six blogs are about storytelling and making sense of the world, or data, or life experiences, or other people, which we do because we all want to feel better and we all want to feel heard (the conclusions I come to in every blog, it’s ultimately what motivates us):

This is blog number 200 and though I don’t write here all the time, when I do, I use it as a tool to manage my feelings and thoughts. Ah yes, I do it to feel heard and I do it to feel better. So, the fact that people stay and read and occasionally comment is just so lovely, all over the world too. Amazing. I am heard all over the world. That is magic. So, thank you to everyone who spends even three seconds on my site, it is lovely to think that my words may touch other people and that they come back to read more, even if when I write them I think that I am all alone.

2019: Top 10 blogs or the story in the stats

I have a big box under my desk which is full of planners and journals and notebooks that I have dragged around forever and I am wondering, should I make a big bonfire out of them? I never look in them. I keep them, just in case.

I think my motivation is the same as Muriel Spark’s. I talk about it here in the Privacy blog (one of my personal favourites, just lately anyway), as Spark kept an archive as irrefutable proof of who she was and the experiences which had shaped her. She could use that archive to know the truth about herself. No one could tell her who she was.

I feel that. I want me to tell me who I am. It has always been my greatest fear to not know myself. Deepak Chopra says that the fear of death is just really the fear of not knowing who you are and once you know who you are, you are no longer afraid of death.

Having watched my mother withdraw from life, from herself, and from all the things which give life meaning, including who she was, I saw that not knowing who you are was quite different from the frightening thing I imagined it to be, to the point, that in some respects, it might be nice to not hold on so tight to everything, all those social labels, those constructed identities, the need to please, the desire to be seen as successful. That said, throughout my mother’s long journey on home, as it were, though she was my home, I wanted her so desperately to stay the same, be the her I had always known, and to still be here with me, so that I wouldn’t feel so lost and homeless.

After she died, I decided that I would use the money from her Estate to do something nice for me, so I applied to do a Creative Writing MA at my local university. At interview, I had to discuss one of the last five books I had read. I chose Elizabeth is missing (oh they are going making it into a BBC drama starring Glenda Jackson. Great joy).

The main protagonist has Alzheimer’s but she is never afraid of not knowing who she is or if someone is annoyed, perhaps even at her – it is what it is. She just carries on with her detective work, and the reader finds out what is going on from the other characters, which made me laugh out loud. I read it not long after my mum died and I was so comforted because I often worried about my mum’s distress and pain about not remembering even though she never seemed that bothered. One time I said to her: Oh there’s another Jean in here. And she nodded and then looked at me for a bit and nodded: Jean, Is that me? Am I Jean? Is that my name?

So, there I was in the interview, part way through explaining the book and comfort and experience and resonance (oooh no link, my fingers are itching to write a blog on resonance) and all the stuff ( good stuff) I blog about. And, I began to cry. I couldn’t speak so I cried for a good few minutes. The interviewer – white male middle class (patriarchal but thinks he’s not, bless him) – just looked at me expressionless and then offered me a tissue, and I cried into that until I finished off what I was saying and we carried on with the interview. It was very British. The only thing that was missing was a teapot. One lump or two? (I wish I hadn’t written that as it reminds me of discovering breast cancer.)

Sometimes, I think that it might be nice to retreat from the world, to choose to shave my head and go sit in a cave somewhere, with just a knotted hankie of my possessions and no social labels, just to connect with the divine. Although, I have just put a lovely blue rinse – wash in/wash out Pixie Lott promises me – on my fabulous long grey locks which have taken ages to grow, so no, not right now, perhaps I could take a mirror and a job lot of blue rinses: You look gorgeous.

The first time I had chemotherapy, I ended up in hospital with neutropenia. Lying in a hospital bed on a drip with the curtains closed feeling like death warmed up (as my mother used to say), which apparently I was, medically speaking, it wasn’t that bad. It really wasn’t that bad. I could barely remember my own name and couldn’t at all remember my date of birth, but that was ok, it was written on the tag on my wrist. I was detached from anything which had given me meaning and it wasn’t at all how I imagined it to be. It wasn’t frightening. It really was peaceful, nothing mattered, and if I had slipped away, it might, possibly, have been okay, selfishly, for me. Although, to be perfectly honest it has taken until now for me to come to terms with the reality that I had cancer.

Another time, in the chemotherapy room which made me nauseous – the stem cell treatment smelt like heated sweetcorn – a woman next to me was telling me that after a chemotherapy session she found it hard to care about anything including her beloved dogs, she said she literally threw food at them. I shared with her that it was the same with my babies, my longed for loved babies, the drugs were so strong as to disconnect us and life shrank down to the bed and the pains in my veins (she told me that she loved her central line and I was momentarily envious) from what had been injected in there. She looked better about it and I am glad we had that moment. I wonder how she is and I often think of her. I like to think of her walking her dogs, feeling happy, full of love.

Life is what it is in any given moment, and it’s easier, though nigh on, sometimes, impossible, to accept things as they are and remember even in the depths of despair, things change. Even when there is no hope, there’s always hope. At the very least, the hope that when the desperation passes there will be peace, even just briefly.

It’s odd to think that I got discharged so I can go about the world bombarded with adverts on every social media platform about shite that I have no interest in. It makes me want to look under the hood and tinker with the lazy algorithms, though the Match.com 30something handsome men who want a date with me ads aren’t so bad. You are as young as you feel ( I wouldn’t mind feeling me some 30, wink, wink – perverted old lady stereotype – nice, a new social label).

Offline, I have an immense amount of super boring transactional conversations about other people’s shite too. You know the type, when you have known people for years and seen them daily but still they never speak unless you make a big effort so that they notice you, they don’t reply to your email even though it’s about fun stuff our kids could do together, you have to go over and put your face in theirs and demand a yes or no because they are holding out on a better offer and don’t care if they hurt your kid’s feelings #wtf. They never remember your name, or your children’s until they find out that one of yours child goes to the school of their dreams and now they want to be your best friend and want information like you have some sort of insight. Oooh, perhaps they thought I tweaked an algorithm. An algorithm of life. A secret of life. Interesting. We often all think that, don’t we? That someone else knows something we don’t which is why they look like they are living on Easy St and we are stuck in the Five of Wands battling through life, our difficulties, our mental conflict.

Five of wands source: Tarotteachings

I love the Tarot, it has a card for every occasion.

So, I have deleted my stats plug-in, again, and today, I am thinking I might just write my own, as we can see, I like thinking about algorithms, and interpretations, I could do that. I have been pondering what to do and that I am done, stick a fork in me, I’m done. It might be nice to do something new within what I already know.

But, before I do, and before I deleted my stats counter- which reminds me of comedian Alan Carr’s very funny routine about his parents buying a shredder to prevent identity theft, if they carried on like that, they wouldn’t remember who they were themselves – I made a note of my ten top blogs of 2019 which now that this blog has gotten really long, I will analyse separately in: 2019 Top 10 Blogs the sequel.

In the meantime, I have to ask: Does it matter if we don’t remember who we are? Does it matter if I don’t drag around my past? Would I feel better if I made a lovely bonfire out of my journals and danced around it, naked as a new born, under the moonlight?

We are always changing, always experiencing new things. Perhaps, I could let go of the past, of the journals, of old ideas, old dreams, old goals, and with a big fire, I could create some space for dancing, dreaming, drumming and the odd quotation from ye auld Lao Tzu:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

– Lao Tzu

I have no idea what it means, I really don’t, but does it matter? It fills me up, it gives me hope.

Last winter I burnt all my old lecture notes and forgot I had and only remembered when I had turned the place upside-down looking for them. Turns out I got on just fine without them. I didn’t need them at all.

I’ve never needed my box of journals either but after I have emptied it, I may just leave it the box there as a den for the cats, and I will also leave a note, so that if I go looking for my journals and my past, I’ll find a cat and instructions:

Look inside your heart, Ruth, you’ll find everything you need.

– Is that me? Am I Ruth?

I used to be, my darling, I used to be.

[ Part 2: the list ]