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Reflections 2018

I love doing reflections at New Year, but I still find it very weird to use a few days after Winter Solstice as the dividing line. None the less we must proceed:

This year has been so varied and so intense. I’ve experienced some new things, both good and bad. Have met heroes and achieved dreams but lost people, plans and projects such that I felt utterly crushed.

For the first time ever I experienced grief. A deep dark chasm of sadness that pulled my natural emotional average down by its weight for several months.

Much of it was the first half of the year and it’s been better since spring, but the sadness keeps orbiting back around with the loss, and the ramifications of that loss.

So what actually happened?

Winter

In Jan/Feb some longterm housemates who had been long term dissatisfied with living in the house had various degrees of blowup. We had round upon round of sharing circles, trying to be our best selves, but in the end people lash out. Both times at me, because I’m the most vocal when I think problems are happening. Maybe I could do it better, maybe I should shut up, I don’t know, but it hurt.

Coupled with trying to find work but suffering a few setbacks, such as a code test I just wasn’t up to, I felt beaten down personally and doubting my skills at work. I played video games for nearly two months solid to escape the emotions.

Eventually, I managed to get two weeks of work, and buy a new laptop. Thank god! The weather was grey and wet though, and the office time depressing.

I also discovered that one of my ex-lovers, a woman three years younger than me, had died. I’ve never had a friend die before. We were no longer close and she died of unknown causes, so it felt more surreal than anything else.

Spring

Then in March a sudden cold shock. We were all lined up for a Portugal trip that eventually we decided to cancel (too much rain) but I suddenly realised for myself why the team had been gradually drifting away. On a series of key decisions I was consulted, but not listened to, as if I was an advisor but not a team member. Our Land became His Land. Our House became His House. Cue another several rounds of sharing circles and meetings within which came a truth I’d been blind to for this whole project: it was no longer communal. Our investor was taking full control, despite my warning that I cannot be on a project that’s not built from a team. I was very explicit about that, about the ways it would need to be to be truly communal, and it was explicitly rejected. He just couldn’t get past needing to control.

So I lost Portugal, the Land, the plans for the next 3-5 years of my life, my hope for a new community home and worst of all, my best friend. I felt stupid for thinking it could be any other way.

Around this time it was my birthday. I had been lifting for 8 weeks to get in shape for the TopGun theme, and everyone who came said it was their favourite party so far. Indeed by the evening when I lead half the guests in a mini lifting routine on our home-made indoor beach volleyball court, I was laughing and enjoying the party. But I had started that morning crying my eyes out because nothing was going to plan, and I no longer had my best friend to help me.

Over this time I’d been having tiny moments of contact from the little “smarty pants” twitter community I inhabit, small rays of light in the dark spring. The beam of hope on my horizon was flying to SF to meet my blogging hero, and maybe some friends/lovers too.

That was due in April. I was pretty crushed to discover that my hero was having a hard time with life, and recommended I bring along friends when I visited because he would be too tired to really talk. At the same time the intended friend I was going to bring along also let me know that they were unavailable, meaning I could see neither of them.

I felt devastated, and I thought hard about why. I was really desperate for validation and encouragement in this area of my life (philosophy) that few friends can engage me on. I craved peers and importantly I craved elders.  I tried to resolve some of my needs for myself with some success. But this was when the grief started

And none the less I rallied, and resolved to meet other people in SF instead. I reached out a bit on Twitter and decided to swallow the financial cost of accommodation. I settled in to the plane, began to watch a movie and as the delays stretched from minutes to hours I listened in totally numbed disbelief that we should all get back off the plane into the terminal because the flight was cancelled.

This final twist was at least making my year so far laughable as well as simply deeply depressing. I just became numb. I stopped making any plans, stopped assuming I knew anything about what was going to happen next.

I reached out in small ways. Improved my house, offered my web dev skills to friends. It helped.

My friend’s funeral finally happened, and I found it to be affirming. I think funerals can be, but it also shows you the kind of time I’d been having up to then.

Summer

In May, my year pivoted around. I took intense driving lessons across just three days, with my test on the fourth. I cried every day of lessons and barely slept, but I passed with three minors. Thanks to assistance from one of my newer housemates, I had my own (shared) car by the very next week.

The rest of the unusually hot summer was spent in a mixture of short work contracts, driving around and outdoor swimming, a new and unexpected hobby.

I helped with Bi pride, where we had a float and went to BiCon which I enjoyed very much. I have volunteered for a small role organising next year!

In my final contract of the summer though I was fired without notice from a contract I’d been working. It was pretty obviously unfair and some sort of personal power play, but it knocked my confidence yet again.

Also, a beloved housemate moved out. I’d been toying with leaving my houseshare entirely and starting a new one, but her room was amazing, so I moved into it. I left behind my home-made cube room, and the ground floor previously shared so closely with my ex-friend.

I made a new plan to work, to save money, to get up early and to be my own investor in community projects, and leave these stupid boys behind.

At the same time, 3 housemates moved out and 3 new ones moved in, in quick succession. It has been a long road to integrate and help them, but also keep the house together/cohesive. This is probably what I did all September.

Autumn

Despite my enjoyment, the summer contracts had not nearly been enough. I wasn’t covering my expenses, let alone earning enough to save. I had a few bits and pieces in September but my luck changed in October and I landed a sweet deal that had me working all the way up to Xmas, and will continue in 2019 as well.

Around that time I had the great pleasure of meeting my blogging hero, who had finally managed to visit the UK, and so I met him in my very own kitchen. He was still extremely tired, but we hung out a few times and taking him along to our local London thinky meetup made me feel like I was escorting a rock star. Fuckin’ ey.

…and just to keep me from being too smug about my positive emotions my friend and housemate, the one who is funding the Portugal project, announced he would move out from our house to Portugal to live there on his own. It felt like he had chosen that place over our friendship all over again. We’ve been so close for so long I seriously feel lost in every aspect of my life without him. From coding work to business in general to running this entire shitshow we call a warehouse, to my hobbies, to talking about guns, politics, sociopaths and everything else no-one will talk to me about. It’s a big loss. It still makes me cry. And all because of doorknobs.

Gah.

Apart from that, I have almost no life news for the rest of the year. I simply worked, kept my head down, opened savings accounts and worked some more. My ability to think drained away, and I missed my Reading Challenge target.

I’m now dearly missing thinking, and reading, and investing in new relationships and getting up whenever the hell I want. But I did feel a huge lift of anxiety as the money started rolling in.

Relationships

One relationship ended this year and their feedback was vague but negative and so knocked my confidence. I slept with a few new people this year, but just as one-offs. Multiple people I fancy have turned monogamous or are work colleagues who ignore me romantically, while people who I fancy for something beyond superficial reasons seem few and far between indeed. I would like more romantic and sexual partners and feel that those avenues don’t exist or get closed off. It is a source of sadness for me this year.

My one long-standing partner is still going strong though and is a source of much needed comfort, though the balance of that seems increasingly like I’m the responsible one who dishes out help more than receives it.

Mental health

Despite the awful year I suffered those shocks quite well. I feel I’m at baseline now that money has been relatively stable. Baseline still means occasional death anxiety, maybe once a month disturbing my sleep. I still worry too much and plan too far ahead. Now that I have money I am considering therapy.

Work

This autumn contract has really powered my savings goals, and summer was ok too. I’m quite glad I got to have lots of summer fun (and work in air conditioning when it was simply too hot!) Looks like when I make a decision, lag time to achieving savings goals is only a few months. Could work on improving my day rate though.

Thinky Work

I’ve written just 6 blog posts this year. A friend made his own version of balcony philosophy and I enjoyed being part of that. I met some people from Twitter, including the Ribbon Farm founder – swanky! I’m also part of a Slack for fluidity-types, although it’s gone quiet now.

Now

Reflecting at this time of year seems weird, as I’ve said. I feel the first half of last year was one thing, and now I’m in the middle of something else. I’m looking up interest rates for savings and options for investment returns. It’s all very unusual but hopefully the direction I’m headed.

This post has already taken far too long, let’s publish now and get it out there.

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Reflections 2015

I see I’ve barely made a post since October 2014. Via my customary ‘reflections’ post, let’s take a look at everything that’s been going on for me this year.

Context

For much of last year I spent time thinking about how to save the world. I also spent some time trying to find paid work, but perhaps not enough. I had  a new friend who made world saving his sole concern and invited me to help.

Around October 2014 I felt that this friend’s attitudes and strategies were incompatible with mine and we parted ways. At the same time I fell in love once more. I had been completely single for a long time, and had unsatisfying relationships for some time before that.

New Person was (is) quintessentially kind, generous, empathetic and thoughtful. Most importantly they make me feel calm. It threw into stark relief the wrangling and frustration I felt with my world-saving friend and New Person helped to set me on a new path.

Extremely useful life lesson: if a person you care for makes you feel doubtful or confused, even after attempts at different types or levels of communication, then they are not good for you. They are failing to empathise with you, and no matter what possibilities your relationship might have held, you will never realise those possibilities because they do not have a strong enough desire to work with you. They let you continue to feel confused, they are fine with you experiencing crippling doubt. They are not good for you and you must let them go.

In autumn 2014 I had abandoned paid work in favour of world saving, leaving me once again with no cash beyond next month’s rent and not much more experience in my industry than the year before. This was a conscious decision in August, and it was deliberately reversed in November. By Christmas I was attempting to turn the boat once more, but this time I really meant it.

This year

This year has been a year of two halves. In the first half I was still living in poverty, eking out every penny I earned to stretch into the unknown future. In January I had to borrow money for rent. At the last moment I got a week of work in March, which covered back rent for February and lasted until April. I got one more week of work in May, again covering back rent and leaving enough for one more month into the future. I spent nothing but Oyster payments and rent. I was kept in weed and good cheer entirely by New Person, who also covered my train fare for visits and the occasional meal out.

When actually seeking to earn money but not having any, the world closes down into a dark, cramped tunnel. There is only one acceptable activity: looking for work, or training more for work.Some weeks I coded every morning, and I mostly managed to read blogs about my craft and checked job boards every day. I went to meetings and meetups, but all this took all the willpower and discipline that I had available. There was nothing of me left over for anything else.

Every pay day I experienced a brief rise back to my normal IQ. Those 13 points lost due to anxiety about money tangibly returned for a week or two, allowing some light at the end of the dark tunnel to peak through, but soon closed up again as rent day went by.

I have on and off anxiety, which takes the form of intense death anxiety, and this reached a peak in May. I started to wonder how anyone could think that doing anything in life is important, or meaningful. I couldn’t believe that others didn’t see how laughable plans for the future seemed to be and I was constantly triggered by the smallest things, particularly lists of ‘100 things to do before you die’ or common phrases like “well, you can’t take it with you”. What on earth could it matter if you saw that movie or didn’t? Visited Thailand or didn’t? Bought a house or not? It’s meaningless in the context of that self disappearing as if it never existed in the first place.

This anxiety used to plague me before sleep, when all was quiet and there was only my ego inside my head, but by May it was leaking out into my days and eventually stopped me from doing normal things that I knew were statistically risky, like being in cars. I knew I needed help but didn’t have the energy to get it. But I did have my housemates and my partner, who knew what was happening and gave me support.

One thing I did have for that dark time was videogames. New Person had an Xbox One and I became obsessed with Destiny, a first person shooter with RPG elements. Getting my own XboxOne so that I could play online with them became my goal to symbolise what I was striving for.

Then in June came the second half.  I had resisted the urge to relax my job hunting for the summer, like I had so many times in the past. I reversed my reasoning about how it’s better not to work in the summer. I had previously fucked up my momentum by stopping in the summer, all because of chronic fear of missing out. But I had no agency to do anything this summer without money and I could make my own summer with a holiday in British winter. If I had money. So I carried on trying to find work.

Finally, I put javascript on my CV. I had purchased a theme for my website, with a proper design. I was now interesting to agencies and after several failed interviews I suddenly got an 8 week contract with an expanding travel company doing CSS work.

This was the moment I had been gambling on for two years. Due to the day rate for my industry, any contract longer than 3 weeks could pay my back and forward rent and also start to pay all my debts. It took just 4 days to earn the money I owed people from the previous two years.

On my first pay day I had to run out and buy clothes, since I owned almost nothing without holes or without missing buttons, and no suitable shoes or coats. I was lucky that it was summer and a start-up office, so I could hide my lack of clothes by not really having to wear the normal office uniform.

I worked for the next 11 weeks or so on and off, achieving a second contract for two weeks with another company. I registered a limited company, under the name I’d chosen with my Dad 13 years previously. I opened a business bank account. I got an accountant. I spent hundreds of pounds filling up my wardrobe that had not had a new item added to it since 2011.

Everything was suddenly ok. After those 11 weeks it was September. I took New Person on holiday to Amsterdam. I bought the Xbox. I rebuilt my warehouse bedroom with vastly better materials. I replaced my mattress with a bigger, handmade futon. I started to fund New Person to be self employed.

I had a flood of new emotions, and I will hopefully dedicate a post to my feelings when buying a new summer coat. Almost everything I thought about the world is now different. Again.

When I came back from my holiday in September there was no work around. The fear that my summer contracts were a fluke was hard to keep at bay. I had overspent a little on my house rebuild, so only had rent covered for three months ahead rather than 4. And I hadn’t planned for Christmas. But I stayed a bit more calm. I went outside sometimes. I was paying myself a salary from my business earnings that gave me spending money over and above my rent, so I could go to the pub and afford train fare.

I went to get help for my mental health and cried throughout every step of the process. Everyone in that process was great. I strongly feared I would have a non-queer friendly Christian therapist with the name “Uwe” pronounced “oo-way” by the lady on the phone. But to my great relief he turned out to be an avuncular, humanist, atheist German man called “oo-ver” and he was/is amazing.

More work showed up in November. I ditched a client that I did not like because they made me feel uncomfortable, even though I desperately needed the money. But instead I managed to work at a global film company, and my rent was sorted.

Finally, out of the blue, I had a long contract in December, and despite losing some respite time I gained gleeful abandon shopping for Christmas presents. Gifts I could easily afford with no thought at all, for the first time since I started doing Christmas. It was wonderful.

In the background of this anxiety/money quest, I had noticed that my sister seemed to like me more than before. She also got pregnant this year and when I saw her this summer for her birthday she was tolerant and kind: a big change from the past. I decided she’d need help with the baby, because her husband and family that live close by all work full time hours. But I couldn’t just rock up when it was born, so I should call her while everyone else was at work during her pregnancy. She was sitting at home absorbing the world through youtube, discovering TED talks and the Bechdel Test and the gay rights movement for the first time on her sofa.

Reconnecting with her after years of antipathy was something I hoped for but didn’t really expect and it’s very good to feel it happen. Change was a beacon on my horizon this year, even if I couldn’t always see it.

This Christmas I met my nephew, just 6 days old and so much more interesting because he’s related to me. I didn’t know how I would feel about being around a baby, but once I’d held him, I couldn’t wait to hold him again. I also stood up for my sister, as the one who will be hit hardest by this new arrival. I think she took strength from seeing me, and that’s also a wonderful feeling.

Last year I honed my skills on the whetstone of yet another driven man that I ended up in some kind of a relationship with. Once again it was difficult and the end painful, but made so much easier by the sharp relief of New Person. Their skills, their drive to be better, their emotional maturity. It was them that made this year happen, that made the dark times not too dark. Them who encouraged some forgotten geeky joys, who showed me how to plan for the present, how to enjoy things right now and how to be calm.

Finally, to keep another tradition, here is a screenshot of every book I read this year.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 14.37.50

2012 is coming to an end

I felt a slight shock when I realised that 2012 is almost over. Here is my traditional post musing on the things I’ve done this year.

I gave away (almost) all my worldly possessions. I went to my third BiCon. I had group sex! I had group sex more than once! I had group sex with people I’d only known for a day! I went to Doncaster, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Bradford, Cambridge, Portugal and Madrid for the first time. I walked outside of Birmingham New Street Station. I cried infront of a painting. I went to a psytrance festival. In a foreign country. I swam in a lake sparkling with fool’s gold. I saw a lizard. I volunteered for litter picking at a festival. I saw how the world works. I learned how to get food out of bins. I was travelling/homeless for two thirds of the year. I read/watched the entire run of Promethea, My So-Called Life and Firefly. I fell in love. I added some notches to my bedpost (including three girls and a royal marine!) I blagged three nights in a caravan after a festival. I went backstage. I was a runner for stilt walking performers. I met some famous drum ‘n’ bass DJs. I did bi activism. I stayed over in a squat. I stopped being scared of London. I saw Tube mice. I hitch-hiked. I ate melon and liked it. I kissed a guy with a forked tongue. I made many new friends. I stayed on a boat in the Lake District. I met many people who will change the world. I tried mushrooms. I stopped taking sugar in my tea. I got so ill my period came a week and a half early, and I mistook it for kidney disease! I broke up and got back together with the same person! I walked on a slackline! I learned to juggle! I protested outside the deputy PM’s house! I lead a protest charge with “She’ll be coming round the mountain”! I marched with the trade unions against austerity (twice)! I saw a world title boxing match! I went to a gig with someone I didn’t know. I saw my father. I met my step grandmother, and other estranged family. I entertained revolutionary thoughts. I  took my clothes off for cash. I joined libraries in four different cities. I got a tax rebate. I “looked poly” in public. I confused people. I loved it when my boyfriend kissed a guy. I stayed awake all night and worshiped the full moon. I wrote dirty stories for money. I went to OpenCon. I was captain of a starship. I lost my childhood. I quit my job. I had dinner at Harvey Nicholls. I was looked after. I busked on the street. I got pet rats and had to give them away. I felt human. I stayed alive.

This year I’ve had a So-Amazing Life.

And what have I learned? When it comes to food, you get what you’re given, be grateful for it, don’t waste any and always share. When it comes to sleep, just do it when you want to or when you can, there’s no need to worry. You can learn to change your sleep over time, including where you can tolerate doing it. A futon on slats is the best way to sleep ever. Food is only out of date when it smells bad. Food is all around you, the more humans in any given space, the more free food you will find. The humaniverse will take care of you, if you let it. Be patient. Walk everywhere. Be the change. Doing new things makes life feel full. Being somewhere comfortable with nothing to do slows time down. Follow your highest excitement. Whatever your heart sings for. Who dares, wins.

Still to come:

get dp’d, apply to a PhD, start my own business, get a tattoo, get my driving license, go to Burning Man, eat at high table.