Andalucia Steve the dream


This is the last of my regular weekly postings


It's four in the morning. I've been binge-watching 'Mindhunter' and I just went to the kitchen to check on the sink, which has had problems draining. I boiled another five litres of water and poured it down with a litre of 6% wine vinegar which had been languishing at the back of the cupboard for years but it doesn't seem to make any difference. I'm at that stage in a non-practical man's life where I'm counting the times I buy the namby-pamby drain-cleaner solutions from the supermarket, comparing the cost with biting the bullet and getting Eduardo the plumber in to give a more lasting solution to the blockage. First world problems I know, but if the sink doesn't empty, the dishwasher might overflow and flood the kitchen, and if I can't use the dishwasher then I'll have to wash the plates by hand in the bath, which is a fate too tedious to consider.
Anyway that's my morning so far. Today however is a milestone, as it is the last day of my self-enforced blog publishing time-table. A year ago I made the New Year's resolution that I would draw up a weekly publishing schedule for my blog and spew out an original piece of content each Sunday. Much to my surprise, I've managed to stick to it. This is issue 53. I aimed for each post to be about 1000 words which I stuck to more of less, so that is 53,000 words. That's a lot of words, nearly a book in fact!
The exercise has taught me a lot. Sticking to a time-table has brought me a loyal if small regular reader-ship of about 60 people who take the trouble to read what I write. Some even comment and get involved with discussions which have at times become a little heated, even though I've mostly steered away from politics and religion. I've only marketed the articles on Facebook and Twitter, a single post for each article on each platform. On both, the topics that have had the most traction are Spain and Brexit, probably a reflection of the folk I interact with most on each of these.
I had no idea when I started these regular postings that 2020 would be the year of Covid-19. I had no idea people would be trapped in their homes and that I too would have a vastly different pattern to my daily activities. Looking back on it, the creation of a timetable with deadlines was probably the single best thing I could have done, as it helped me give form to a week where days could otherwise have been indistinguishable from one another, save for the occasional trip to the shops. If you're fortunate to live with other human beings, I can tell you first-hand, that being on your own during the pandemic has been far more trying than in regular times when one can come and go at will. At times it has felt like being in solitary confinement and I for one will be glad to see a return to normality in 2021, even though I'm not personally a very gregarious person. Even now my sleep patterns remain largely divorced from the clock as I'm so used to the feeling that there are no appointments to keep and nobody is going to be knocking on the door. (Hence writing this at four in the morning!)
I suppose, on reflection things could have been worse in 2020. Yellowstone could have erupted. No civilisation-killer asteroids crashed into the earth. Aliens haven't invaded and started shooting up the place. Apart from the pandemic and Brexit I think we've got off quite lightly really!
For those of you who are disappointed that my regular postings end today, I will continue to post sporadically as the mood takes me, however I plan to take the timetable principle and the allotted time to devote to another potentially more lucrative activity. I have not made a final decision as to what that might be. Someone suggested I should weave the Spain related anecdotes into a book which had not occurred to me. I had in mind a couple of other writing-related ideas, so I want to spend some time teasing these out and look at the best one to pursue.
In the mean time, here's a poem wot I wrote. I haven't written a poem since I was at school so don't laugh, but it's just a stream of consciousness thing about the things my nose encounters here on a daily basis, so don't go looking too hard for rhyme!
Of sun-born olive-branch bonfires
Of over-revved two-stroke engines
Of early morning bleached pavements
Of just-baked loaves off the bread-man's van
Of coiffured old women pebble-dashed in talc
Of elderly men dripping in Tabac
Of expresso and tostadas 
Of the secret smell of budding ganja
Of churros and chocolate
Of workman's sweat and builder's dust
Of puros scenting up the street
Of frying squid and boiling octopus
Of brandy, ponche and anis
Of sun-scorched earth and tar then rain, reminding us of life again
These are the things I smell in Spain, of life, of love, of being sane.

A pat on the back for me

..I made it half way through a year of weekly blogging.
My new year's resolution was to publish a weekly blog post ever Sunday throughout 2020. Well this week we will pass the mid-point of the year and so far I've managed to stick to my goal. So this week I thought I would explain why I'm doing it and what I've learned so far.
I'm not new to blogging but previously I'd only ever written articles as the mood took me, which has the downside that there are gaps where sometimes months would go by where I'd not got around to writing anything. This not only deters human readers but the algorithms used by search engines which learn that one's blogging is irregular making it unlikely that one's pages ever get returned in response to a search. While I'm not overly concerned about this as I'm not blogging with the intention of making money, it would be nice to get some traction so the whole exercise doesn't entirely feel like a waste of time.
I made the resolution in response to 2019 being a really unproductive year for me. It was the first year I can remember that I felt I'd achieved nothing. I'd done no new work, not acquired any new business, not written any music, song lyrics or written anything of note. I'd done some courses and learned some new skills but I just felt so guilty that I'd not made anything. My creative output was zero and that made me feel mad at myself.
Also I'd noticed that the people who are most successful in any sphere are the ones who make a schedule and stick to it. There are plenty of examples I could cite but perhaps the most extraordinary is the Youtuber Casey Neistat who managed to produce a daily Vlog everyday for over a year. He created a staggering two days, eleven hours and 56 minutes spread over 419 videos over that time, representing a an admirable work ethic. I figured if he can make a video everyday for a year, a weekly blog post should be a breeze.
Another thing I'd been considering is the importance of story telling. I'd completely missed this crucial point until very recently, that in conveying an idea from one person to another, story telling is at the heart of all communication. If I were to look at a book for example, it's not just that the book conveys a tale, but every chapter should have a clear beginning, middle and an end. So should every paragraph, if not every sentence. As Kurt Vonnegut said, every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action. It is in effect a mini-story. 
The importance of story underpinning everything maybe obvious, especially to the more creative types out there, but for me it is quite a new idea and I began to realise that it was a skill I needed to advance. I was struck by the example in the book 'Art and Fear' by David Bayles, Ted Orland of a craft class that was divided in two. One half of the class was instructed to make the best pot it could possible make. The other half of the class was instructed to make as many pots as they possibly can. At the end of the semester the students that had been churning out pots and learning from their mistakes made much higher grades than the students seeking perfection who finished with "little more than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay". Clearly by forcing myself to write something (anything) once per week I would learn from the mistakes I made and I would get better.
So I decided to write one blog post a week for a year. I drew up a schedule with the date of every Sunday in 2020 and started to assign topics to each one. I used the app Evernote to keep track of my ideas and got into the habit of jotting down any thoughts that came up.
After little over a month I noticed a routine emerging. Immediately after publishing the weekly blog post I would start thinking what I would write about in the next week. Some weeks I already had assigned a topic. For example I'm planning to write about my late father on the 23 August which is his birthday. For weeks that had not yet been assigned a topic, I would look at my list of ideas and start thinking about which one I felt most drawn to. Over the next few days my unconscious mind would stew over the topics, then by the Wednesday I would usually have made a decision. I would then create a new note in Evernote for the topic. I would perhaps jot down a list of bullet points of thoughts I'd come up with so far, then leave it for another day or two for my subconscious mind to 'chew the cud' before finally sitting down to write the whole blog post in full. This I would do very quickly, without attention to spelling, and I would write in a dry, factual style with little in the way of elaboration or humour. This was in order to try to open a stream of consciousness going from brain to page with the least obstruction.  Once that was done I would go through and correct errors, address style issues and add gags to jolly the mood. I've found this business of deliberately not thinking about it too much, but letting the subconscious mind do the work is surprisingly successful. The subconscious mind is, I believe, like a quantum computer. We don't really understand how it works but expose a problem to it and it solves it for you! 
I've had some good feedback so far. I seem to have a small regular readership that comes from promoting the blog on Facebook and an additional 'irregular' readership that arrive according to topic in response to promotion I do via Twitter. So far I've managed to be consistent and have not missed a Sunday slot yet, though I have chewed through many of my initial topic ideas many of which come from personal anecdotes. The well of these is running dry so I may soon have to start writing about things that are further from my own experience. 
One of the things I've learned is not to be overly judgemental about what I write. If I were to worry in advance about pleasing everyone who is conceivably going to to read my article I'd probably never get anything done. In fact I've come to realise I've not even got to worry about pleasing myself, because I'd never be 100% with anything I've written but that shouldn't prevent me from releasing a post. There is also a destructive side to judgmentalism in that when you put something down on paper and you don't like it, it is very easy to reflect that back on yourself and say "I don't like that therefore I don't like me", which can induce a negative cycle of thought and energy which destroys the creative process. It is important to remain a certain level of detachment for critiquing one's own working so that the process of improving and rewriting things does not destroy one's self-confidence (a topic covered in the book "The Inner Game of Tennis by W Timothy Gallwey).
That notwithstanding I apologise if this weeks post is a little self-indulgent. Looking at my blog calendar I can't tell you next week I will be writing of my recollections of the Live Aid Concert I attended in 1985.