New Year, New Us

This year I am determined I am actually going to make some changes. Every year it’s the same old resolutions and every year the default setting quietly settles back into place. And it’s understandable when the past three years have been fraught with violent upheaval. I find myself sort of annoyed at the universe for having given us such a persistent diet of unexpected changes, though in all honesty I suppose they were heading our way for a long time in each case. Anyway, it would be nice to focus just on the changes I actually choose, rather than those that have been forced upon us.

The first thing I really want to change is my tendency to book myself up with work and deadlines for months ahead. It’s an old bad habit and I’m tired of it. That means I’ll be cutting right back on reviews. I’ll do a few for Shiny (BookBuzz remains my prime responsibility) and I have a couple outstanding for this month. After that, enough for the time being. So this blog is also getting a shake-up as I’ll be writing here once a weekend and it will be more of a diary format. Given that my activities, such as they are, mostly include reading, there will still be some talk about books.

My related resolution is that I am going to try not to buy any books this year. No, Mr Litlove doesn’t believe I can do it either. And I might not be able to. But shortly before Christmas I began to tot up how many unread books I own and… well, let’s say it’s enough to keep me busy for a while. For years I’ve been a big supporter of the publishing industry, but I think it’s fair enough to let others take on that role while we have no income.

Last year was somewhat hogged by CFS, but the long-term resting strategy that I’ve been following since the autumn is gradually making a difference, I think. If I can keep going with the pacing, and stay patient, I might be able to improve my health significantly. And if I could work again, I have to wonder what I would do. Supposedly, since I left college in 2012 I’ve been devoting myself to writing, but then the past three years happened, and I haven’t had a decent stab at it. So my plan is to give it one last try, one more year, and if at the end of that I haven’t made any progress, then it’s time to think again. I’ve been considering finding part-time work as a counsellor of some kind, probably working with students one way or another. I have lots of experience but no qualifications, and the qualifications are really expensive to get and will mean going over ground I’m very familiar with. Well, we’ll see; it’s a way off yet. But when I think about what motivates me, I realise I have no desire to be an important person, but I really do want to do something that I think is important. I would like to feel useful again.

One way that I can be useful at the moment is supporting Mr Litlove. This is such an enormous change for him, leaving 25 years of life in industry behind to make furniture. This past week he has had a number of moments of – well, I think the technical term here is ‘wobbliness’. I thought back to when I was made redundant from college and what I remember most clearly is Mr Litlove telling me what a fantastic opportunity it was, and me feeling the most disinclination to write that I had ever felt in my entire life. In many ways, this is the sort of moment that I want most to capture. Because we think that when change comes along, or indeed when we try to be creative, it should all be plain sailing. We’ll make progress like people do in the films, when they show that five-minute training montage. But human nature is contrary, and it is complex. I think we seriously misunderstand creativity, what it feels like, what it demands of us, and that’s something I’d like to think about in much more depth. I daresay Mr Litlove will feel rueful about it at times, but he seems to have become my private study support student.

So, to sum up, 2016 is all about a sharper focus for me. I need a sturdy triage system and essentially this means that I’m only doing things that are a) important, b) really interesting to me and c) fun. And I’m going to try to give up feeling guilty about everything I don’t do (you would not believe my capacity to feel guilty about anything) – as if it helps! And I’ll try to keep myself honest and up to the mark in a weekly blog. This year I mean business – at least until the next thing happens to throw us off course!


66 thoughts on “New Year, New Us

  1. “I have no desire to be an important person, but I really do want to do something that I think is important.” That’s a sentiment with which I very strongly agree. I hope it is one you can make real progress towards realising in the year ahead.

    Another phrase that struck a chord with me was: “the qualifications are really expensive to get and will mean going over ground I’m very familiar with.” One of my pet hates about the modern western world, in so many fields, is this idea that you are not allowed to do anything unless you first take (and pay for) a course or courses, often lasting over a year, irrespective of how much experience one might have. On my more cynical days, this can look like an attempt at business creation for the education and training industry. Professionalism is good when it means high standards of service provision, less so when it is about restricting entry to roles in order to protect the privileges of those who have already clambered over the qualification assault course. I hope you can find a way around this conundrum.

    Likewise, and notwithstanding a comment I made here in 2015 which may have been overly discouraging, I hope Mr Litlove is successful in his new venture, however he chooses to define success.

    Good luck to you both.

    • Thank you very much, David, and don’t worry in the least – we really liked your comment (I’m sure it’s the one I’m thinking of) and got very curious indeed about the furniture-maker you mentioned (his book is on Mr Litlove’s wishlist). We have to look at this thing from all angles! Though as you rightly guess, we’re not intending to make a big business of this in any way.

      As for the courses, grr! It’s really frustrating and they do feel like economic barriers to entry. Which is surely the most ridiculous reason ever to bar people from counselling skills. Well, I have only really just begun to look into it, and will keep you posted as to how I do. Thank you for the encouragement, it’s much appreciated.

  2. I snorted inelegantly when I got to the part about not buying any books this year. Literally no books whatsoever? I say, piffle. The year is long, and England is full of charity shops. There has to be at least one happenstance find that you can’t resist purchasing.

    However, I have lots of faith in your ability to achieve your other goals! And I will be here cheerleading for you the whole way, friend!

    • Oh I know! None as in nada, zilch, is unlikely to happen. And book greed is such a big part of my character, you know? πŸ™‚ But I must try to keep it down. I made the mistake of telling my son how many unread books I owned and now I will never hear the last of it. Thank you, dear friend for the lovely encouragement. Your comments have so often been read and reread for their wisdom and understanding when I’ve been trying to figure my path out through different life experiences.

    • Thank you, dear Susan! I am going to do my VERY best to have a healthy year. I think I’ve made a start and I very much want to consolidate it. As you know, these things are just so tricky to manage. But there has to be a reliable way, right? I do hope so.

  3. The Bears and I will be rooting for you, although I’m afraid they were very sceptical about your not buying any more books. They’ve heard me say the same thing far too often.
    If there is one thing I have learnt over the past few years as my health has become ever more precarious, it is not to be too rigid in my planning. This hasn’t been particularly easy because my Aspergers inevitably means that I like a well formatted routine, but I think the ability to be flexible is essential because as you say, we never know what life will throw at us next.
    Stay safe and remember that we are always here for you.

    • Well as ever, the Bears are probably right! πŸ™‚ I’ll be happy if I can cut it back significantly. And you are also very right about planning. It has to be okay to think: nothing doing today, at times, doesn’t it? Though I’m not very good with that either as I do like to follow through on my intentions.But still, flexibility is extremely sensible. Thank you for your lovely comment, Alex, I send big hugs all round.

  4. I did not have a good year last year, healthwise, and the year also ended with a bereavement which I am dealing with. And I mean dealing with as in being the executor and doing all sorts of legal things on top of everything else. I have put on weight due to my ill health and do not like it. I feel run down and know I have a few difficult months ahead while all the legalities and nasty relatives are dealt with but am hoping that it will not be as bad as I feared. All we can do is to try to take it easy and not stretch oneself and I am determined that is going to be the case this year. But I am making no promises to myself that I think I might not be able to keep.

    Have you thought of life coaching at all? I know somebody very good who I could put you in touch with if you were thinking of becoming a counsellor.

    Whatever you do all the best from me xx

    • Elaine, I’ve seen your posts on facebook and so felt for you; the job of an executor is never an easy one, and you’ve certainly had more than your fair share of awkward people to deal with (exhausting). I send all my sympathy for your health problems, too. Everything is harder if one’s health isn’t robust.

      Life coaching is a good idea, and one I’d definitely consider. It’s very useful to know that you have a good contact in this area – thank you!! I’ll be in touch if/when I reach that point. Take the very best care of yourself, too. xx

  5. That’s a great set of resolutions, and I particularly like the principles underpinning your triage system. As a freelancer, I’m trying to move towards a similar set of guidelines for the things I take on.

    Wishing you and Mr Litlove all the very best for the year ahead. I’m looking forward to following your diary posts – that sounds like a good move for you!

    • Ha well yes, I think of myself as a freelancer too – just one who doesn’t earn any money! πŸ™‚ But I am delighted if this is a conclusion that you are edging towards as well. I find that very encouraging. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  6. Well – good luck with the books, Victoria! I couldn’t do it – went 8 days at the beginning of the year, but they’ve begun to trickle in again…. As for what you choose to do this year, whatever it is I hope it’s something that works well for you and fulfils you. Your health is important and it’s wonderful that you can support Mr. Litlove too. Take care of yourself, and I’ll look forward to the weekly updates! πŸ™‚

    • Yes it is by far and away the most difficult part of the plan, isn’t it? πŸ™‚ Well, I’ll see how I do – and let you know. You are always so supportive, Karen, and I appreciate it enormously.

  7. I lasted ten days in my resolution not to buy books this year until I had read all those currently languishing on my Kindle. I’m actually impressed that I made it that long.

    I think the greatest challenge of the creative life is finding the balance between growth and bloom. Nobody is productive every single day…even day-lilies go underground in the winter. Many creative people conflate creation with productivity, and it is, if I may say so, the single most dangerous thing a creative person can do, and it’s the thing most likely to derail potential success in a creative life. The most self-supportive thing a creative person can do is to expand the definition of productivity to include everything that supports the actively creative cycle–which is only one cycle in the productivity process. For a writer, for example, one of the most productive non-creative acts is reading, or engaging with other forms of storytelling (such as film). Self-care in the forms of exercise and rest are important facets of productivity. Engaging with sources of inspiration is immensely important, and one of the most-overlooked aspects of creative life, especially when the source of the inspiration seems to have no direct link to the desired product…a friend of mine who is a highly talented singing coach found that her life was much better when she realized that her deepest inspiration actually comes from being among ruins of indigenous people, which on the surface has nothing to do with singing. She moved to Colorado, and now lives in a national park where she volunteers as a docent among Native ruins, and she’s never been more productive.

    This may be an utterly useless series of musings, but just in case…here they are.

    • Like Lilian and Naomi, I think this is extremely helpful. I absolutely understand your friend in Colorado, even though I couldn’t put into words what it is I understand about her choice. Inspiration just comes from places you wouldn’t expect in a causal, cerebral way, I suppose. And I have a great tendency to count only the words I produce, whereas that part is only a part of a long process. Thank you, David, a lot to think about here in a very useful way.

    • Thank you, dear Lilian. I think intention is really important – it’s not everything, but you can’t move far without it. We’ll see what comes out of it in the end!

  8. Add me to the list of people wishing you all the best with your resolutions for the new year. You have such a lot to offer, as a writer but also, I feel sure, as a counsellor — and, clearly, as a career-change-support-person for your husband. I admire your resolution to be brave in the face of change. But I’m also glad you’re giving another year to writing, because I love to read what you write and think you are the kind of writer who ought to be widely read.

  9. All the best for the year ahead. I’ve had a similar year where things didn’t go the way I assumed – I’m still taking stock and working out what to do next but trying to view it as an opportunity.
    And I’m also not buying books this year… Seems to be a common theme!

  10. And yes, I do think creativity is messy, unpredictable, and needs to be nurtured. Sometimes, nurturing means waiting. I just wish I knew whether the days I spend getting nowhere are a necessary part of the process of getting somewhere, or if I could just spend the day in bed reading. And of course, I don’t know I’m getting nowhere until later. I can think I’ve arrived at the perfect solution, for my writing difficulties and written something magnificent, only to re-read the next day and realize oops. No.

    • Oh boy, wouldn’t it be good to know that? Funnily enough, I was thinking about the first time, and how very little ever happens of significance the first time of trying. I do the exact same thing as you and hate whatever I’ve loved the day before. Now, I try never to look at what I’ve done with appraising eyes until at least a week has passed, because the next day will always swing the pendulum to the opposite side. Not that that means I KNOW in any useful way whether what I’ve done is good! I just might be a bit less hostile…. sometimes. πŸ™‚

      • I think striving for “perfection” is futile. Quite frankly I would have achieved very little in my life if that had been my guiding principle. Yes of course I am aware of the defects in what I do (anything I do) but I (mostly) do not beat myself up about falling short. I am also not envious of all the people I know who are much better than I at some things; I have other strengths that they lack. Learn to love yourself.

  11. I’ve been reading your post over and over, and trying to think of a way to comment that wouldn’t sound too trite. Your throughts and resolutions really resonated with me and I wish you the very best with them. Like you, I don’t react well to changes that are forced upon me rather than changes that I chose for myself, and that tends to inhibit my creativity even if (theoretically) it should free it, give it more time etc.
    I am glad that you are giving yourself one more year to write and that you are rethinking your blogging and other reviewing commitments. But above all, be kind to yourself and celebrate every thing you do instead of focusing on the things you haven’t done (just accept that guilt will always be part of the picture and choose to make peace with it – I know I feel that too).

    • Marina, this is a lovely comment and very far from trite. I think I am bad at change in whatever form it comes. Inside my head I seem so flexible, but then I look about me and, nope, haven’t moved an inch. You’re right to suggest celebrating as that’s something I am also very bad at. I feel silly and think, right! let’s just press on to the next thing. But it’s a good thing to do to even up the balance, if I can. Guilt – well, how many posts will it take to work that particular process out?? Making peace with it does sound like the best a person can do. Thank you for your kind and supportive words.

    • It’s funny – I’ve been excited about Mr Litlove’s change, and he’s been excited about mine, so someone gets excited, even if it’s not always the right person! πŸ™‚ Thank you, Caroline, I wish you a very healthy, happy and productive New Year, too!

  12. I look forward to your weekly posts. Whether it’s reviews or just about your life, I love reading your writing. I really hope you manage to concentrate on your writing this year, and if that means cutting back on other things, do so. I want to read your writing!

  13. Such good goals! And all so sensible except for the not buying books one, but I totally understand where that comes from. My book buying has been cut back to almost nothing, I use the library for almost everything new these days. I believe you really could go a whole year without buying a new one, won’t be easy though. I wish you all the best in achieving it and all your other goals!

    • Thank you, dear Stef. I realise that I use the University Library a lot, but never go to the big general library in town. We also have a teeny library in our village, which maybe I could frequent too. You are right that having an alternative source of new books makes a big difference to keeping such resolutions!

  14. I think this is a very good idea, but you must stick with it. You know that, of course, but what I want to emphasize, from what I know of you, is that there will be mega-temptation to do what you think is ‘right’ when someone wants something of you, because you always want to help and support . I see it as your default position. I don’t mean to say be uncaring, but try to keep a perspective that keeps your needs in the frame. On creativity, I think we are easily sold a false notion. Whenever it is portrayed on the media it is always a celebration of the success, never of the long slog, rejections, false starts, misery that has often, if not always, gone before. I think creativity results from a lot of mulling time, letting things seep, blend, reconfigure, which is why creative people often say they don’t know where something has come from. This is the opposite of the helter-skelter, deadline-laden world of critical writing, pursuing ideas, constructing arguments and so on. Bertrand Russell wrote a book if I remember on Idleness, but really he meant giving time to this sort of process. I also remember seeing the manuscript pages of a short poem by Philip Larkin which where considerable and took, if I remember, three years to complete.
    As to books I am trying to read what it backlogged and not buy more, though I am allowing myself borrowing from the library. Perhaps we could form a pact!
    My very best wishes to you and Mr Litlove for your ventures and sorry if I sound like a miserable old beggar!

    • Dear Bookboxed! First of all, thank you for dropping by – it’s lovely to hear from you. Secondly, you are so right! I find it incredibly hard not to step in and support, and so instead I just do it inside my mind, which is really no help at all, to me or anyone else. I also really like what you say about creativity being different to critical writing, which strikes me as absolutely true but a distinction I’d not consciously made before. But now you put it that way, I will think of it like that. It makes a lot of sense!

      Definitely, let us have a pact. I’m spitting on my hand and offering it to you to shake….

      Warmest wishes to you and your family, too. I do hope you are all keeping really well!

  15. I’m with you all the way too, even when you don’t manage to completely stop on the book-buying front!

    If you do decide to take the plunge to become a counsellor, even if it means courses, money and qualifications, I’m sure you’ll be a marvelous one. A friend of mine gave up her career as a chemist to become one and hasn’t looked back, finding it so rewarding,

    • I guessed it was you, Annabel! πŸ™‚ I’m going to do the best I can with the book ban – and if I slip a bit, well, I’ll try not to berate myself too much. That’s really good news to hear about your friend, and encouraging too. It’s a comfort to think there are other possibilities out there that I could move towards in time.

  16. I wish you everything you need to do the things you want to do and to refuse to do the things you don’t want to do. My sister, who once worked with a prejudice-breaking-down organisation, told me their mantra the other day: Guilt is the glue that holds prejudice in place. Substitute whatever the right word is for you instead of prejudice and it might help! With love.

    • Angela, you always have a lovely little insight to offer me. I am adopting this as a mantra immediately. I think I can probably keep the word ‘prejudice’ in as I have plenty of old, outmoded prejudices about myself! Love and thanks to you, too.

  17. Wow – I feel inspired just reading that! You go girl, as they say! I can’t wait to see where the year takes you. Let it take you to the library, because that’s not buying books.:) And I very much hope that all your writing plans work out because I love reading what you write. A weekly diary that combines both your thoughts on what you’ve read AND stories from the litlove menage is pretty much perfect. I can’t think of a decent comment to write in response to your post, but, you know, if it makes any difference I am delighted and excited for you.

    A very happy new year to you and Mr Litlove and Master Litlove.

    • Helen I send a very big hug your way and warmest wishes to you and yours for a happy and restful new year, too. This library idea is an excellent one, and I realise I must check out the big general library in town where I hardly ever go. Blogging is a funny thing, isn’t it? I find it so comes in ebbs and flows for me and unless I feel I’m doing something new-ish, I can lose heart with it. But hopefully a new regime will be just what I need. We’ll soon find out! πŸ™‚

  18. These are really thoughtful resolutions and I totally think you can go a year without buying books… If it is still what you want or need to do later in the year. Plus, maybe people can buy you book gift cards for your birthday!

    Thanks for this and all the best wishes for your resolutions!

    • Oh absolutely, I love a good gift card, and will definitely be suggesting that to family and friends! Thank you for your kind encouragement; I really do appreciate it. And very best wishes for your resolutions, too!

  19. Great resolutions. I’m also trying not to buy too many books this year but I just bought a lovely one today and it cheered me up immensely! As for the triage, definitely the way to go. And you know that I love your writing and I also think you’d make an excellent counselor. So maybe there’s a way to combine the two. Life coaching does seem to offer a more inexpensive way of training, although I do like the rigour of the more formal training. I’m also looking forward to your weekly posts. I think I may just copy your idea. I like the routine of weekly posts.

    Oh, and I have every confidence that the slow growth of Mr Litlove’s business will bear beautiful fruit in due course. If the Rand / Pound weren’t so impossible I would sign up straight away for one of Mr Litlove’s creations. Do remind us of the website when it is up and running and we can like on Facebook etc.

    • Happy New Year to you, dear Pete! There is that: buying a book is definitely a boost to the esteem. I will try and save it for special occasions and maybe get more of a boost than my usual profligate ways. πŸ™‚ Shall we post weekly together? That would be fab. And bless you for your kind words about Mr Litlove. I think he will do fine – I’ll let you know when a website is up, though it won’t be until next autumn, I reckon. And thank your for the encouragement re both writing and counselling – you know, I hope, it means a great deal to me.

  20. These sound like very sensible plans for the year, especially on the not feeling guilty front. Such a distraction, and waste of time, and why be that mean to yourself undeservedly? Good luck with not buying any books, and also with Mr L’s furniture making!

    • Ms Musings, you are so right about guilt. It so quickly gets out of hand, doesn’t it? And becomes so much more than it needs to be. Thank you also for the good luck wishes – I am storing them up as we will probably need them! A very happy new year to you, too, my friend.

  21. I want to hear what you have to say about the ‘creative process’ — you are very perceptive and honest when you talk about how hard it is to take up an opportunity. xxx

    • Well there is definitely plenty to say about that! It really IS hard to do creative things, and especially so in the midst of demanding daily life. It is so misleading to suggest that creativity just ‘happens’ in any way – it takes masses of energy, focus and effort, just to get started. I understand that the myths arise from good intentions sometimes, from the desire to encourage people to have a go, but they end up in a fantasy world that ultimately isn’t helpful at all. But this is just speculation on my part – I’m trying to think of ways to get deeper into what’s at stake here and why it’s genuinely hard to do. I should add that I admire you immensely for all that you get done – and I think it’s more than you think it is! πŸ™‚ xxx

  22. I hope your plans and wishes for the new year are coming to realization (she says finally when she manages to try and catch up…nearly a month into the new year!). I tried to go a whole month with no book buying, but managed about two weeks and once again there is a steady stream appearing in my mailbox (and I don’t even need to begin counting unread books–I’m not sure I can count that high….) ;), but then you have more of an incentive perhaps. As for qualifications for counseling I think you have loads of them really, but maybe not that paper to post on your wall! I’m glad you are cutting yourself some slack however in the reviews department–I imagine that if you let people they would be happy to read and write for SNB and let you free up your time for other things. What ever happened to your creativity writing (I read some of the pieces you wrote about authors?)–or was that only for an article rather than a book? Anyway–just wanted to tell you Happy New Year in case I haven’t already and am looking forward to catching up on your news!

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