Advice to my former self

I don’t do resolutions because I don’t really have a sense of time that’s as long as years – my understanding of the future is “forever” or “next week”, so the closing of one year and the opening of the new one seems to me as perplexing a thing to mark as the end of the week. It just passes. The past, though, is an interesting place. I’ve lived there and although my memories are rose-tinted I nonetheless have learned some things. Since in the next 12 months I’m turning 30 – a phrase that is deliberately vague – I am writing these things now because they will inevitably cause amusement for my future self.

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Christmas story time

Love at a distance

It is quite hard to love someone who gives you practical presents. Bad presents are actually slightly easier, because it means they’ve gone and thought about you. In fact, if you love them very much – or have known them a long time, which is sort of the same thing – you can see the space between their intention and the outcome. You can love that space. That space is where the hoped-for meets the real; where you are reminded that the person looking eagerly at you while you unwrap a book about stars (because you mentioned that you like to lie under them and wonder what their names are) is a person who is real and distinct from you. Their internal world is not the same as yours, and they probably don’t intersect in the same plane.

And yet they have thought hard about you, albeit at a different angle, and from that same starting place have come to this conclusion. It’s the same reason that the door that used to only have one cat flap has had two ever since you brought home a stray, because if one cat needs one catflap then two cats is simply a case of multiplying the solution to a previously solved problem.

Even a practical present isn’t terrible, although sometimes the problem you want solving is the problem underneath the problem you’re expressing. Almost nobody wants a new iron for their birthday: almost everybody wants to not have to do ironing. But maybe they do want a fancy drinking bottle, because drinking water is fantastic and keeping tea warm is universally recognised as a Good Thing. Practical, sure. But it solves a problem they have perhaps expressed.

Perhaps the gravest error, and the sentiment I’m growing out of, is that presents are not – fundamentally – for me. You can overthink a gift and imbue it with the spirit of a relationship, turning it into a Christmas tree on which you hang every bauble of emotion you wish you’d expressed throughout the year. Such an approach is surely doomed to fail. No mere object can bear the weight of all that you’ve left unsaid.

So finding the gift becomes impossible, because it stands in for all the times you wish you’d said “I love you” and “I’m sorry” and “I am grateful for you” and “I’m proud of you” and “Sometimes when I kiss you I feel sad, and I don’t know why” and “I’m upset that you ignored me”. And I hate to bring work into this but, well, I’m a one-trick pony and this is my show so this is how it goes. In my line of work, you de-risk things by doing them more often.

You can make your gift-giving less risky, less fraught, if you do it more often.

And we know that the gift isn’t really about the material thing but the sentiment it means so start there. Deploy love to production as frequently as you can. It means you can course-correct. It means you can identify where you’re going wrong and it signals that you’re willing to fail and still try again.

And having the security of frequent communication, frequent love, means that when it comes to big set pieces you have a better sense of what this person likes and, even better, you’re not balancing your whole relationship on it. You’re not spending huge amounts of cash on something you’re not sure they’ll like, which is better for you because now you’re less anxious about dropping that much cash on a guess and advice from a couple of lads from your Wednesday 5-a-side.

And when you’re secure, you can start having fun. And realising that giving gifts can be fun changes the game, my friends, because having fun by yourself isn’t nearly as good as having fun with other people.

Inspired by a friend who throws out gorgeous prose like this without thinking about it twice:

They symbolise that he tries. And that even though he gets it wrong every year and she laughs at him every year, he’s never frustrated he just tries again. and she sees where he’s coming from, so where he falls short she feels love for the space in between because she loves how he thinks.

one of my splendid friends

the talisman

for my mother

“So proud of you” it reads. It’s stamped in metal and has a note that suggests I keep it in my pocket so that I’m always aware of it. I wonder over it. It’s solid and irresistible. The metal is dirty and pitted. When I put it in my pocket it jabs me and reminds me that it’s there.

At first I hate it. When I feel proud of people I tell them. It only takes a moment, a little bit of energy, to fire off a text or give someone a call and say hey, I saw this thing you did. I’m proud of you. This is just a cold piece of metal. It doesn’t notice when I do something good. It doesn’t shine more when I’m successful. I put it in a box and I put it on my desk and I went to bed.

The next morning, when I wake up, it’s still there. It’s still proud of me.

When I struggle through half an hour of exercise – more injurious to my ego than my body, thanks to the sprightly seventy year old doing multiples of whatever number of push-ups I can do – it’s still proud of me.

I wonder about this.

I think about the friend whom I rarely see because she’s working every hour possible to achieve her dream. I think about the friend who left his toxic boss and now gets to work on something he really enjoys in a healthy environment. I think about my family: difficult and frustrating and brilliant.

I know that if someone asked me if I were proud of any one of them I’d say yes in a heartbeat.

I wouldn’t know what they were doing at that moment in time, but nonetheless I’m proud of my friends and my family. So – so then maybe being proud of someone includes highs and lows, except the lows are always pretty high. Maybe the lowest level of pride is so sure, so steadfast, that the only way to express it is to do so continuously.

And perhaps, so that we don’t spend every waking minute talking to each other, a shorthand for this truth – that you are always proud of me – is to stamp it on metal with points so that I feel it whenever I move.

Love is the emotion that gets all the attention, and we’ve got gorgeous symbols for its everlasting nature. But pride is rightfully spiky; it tickles the throat and prickles the eyes and stings the feet so they dance.

And still it’s there, whenever you need it.

NaBloPoMo #19

Eros, for all his qualities, never learned to tidy up after himself. The love-drunk youth often misses, and leaves his arrows littered all around. And for the most part you’d never notice unless you walk barefoot where lovers trod; and even then you barely raise an eyebrow as a sliver of the heavenly weapon penetrates the skin.

Oh no, it’s not until very much later that you realise. Perhaps when your knee touches your friend’s as you chat over coffee for the hundredth time since you met them, or they graze the back of your hand reaching across for a pen, or they throw their head back and do that absurd laugh at one of your stupid jokes and you suddenly freeze as that sliver of an arrow slips into your heart and you say,

“Oh shit”

And a choir of bloody angels descends on you singing Hallelujah.

My point in this is to say that sometimes there are blooms in winter and that when you walk with your sole vulnerable to the earth you may, in time, delight in what entered in

November is National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo. I’ll be endeavouring to write one blog post per day in the month of November 2019 – some short and sweet, others long and boring.

NaBloPoMo #16

I’m going to do a quick review of a piece of code with 12 commits. It implements a fairly basic example of the Game of Life. Reading the rules of that game will be helpful if you haven’t read them yet.

In this blog, I’m going to try to guess what each commit does. Tomorrow we’ll compare and learn a valuable lesson about writing good commit messages.

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NaBloPoMo #15

Day + 1 of a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, which also happens to be Day 0 of my new role.

Oh, also: weeknotes! Let us slip into the familiar format, the way you do with your skin when you wake unencumbered on a Saturday morning.

Five things that happened this week

1I got a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and wrote about my immediate reaction. I didn’t write about the outpouring of love and support I’ve received from everyone I’ve told, but it was there, and I’m grateful to all of you. I got the diagnosis on Thursday morning and it – well, it didn’t feel strange at all. It didn’t feel different, and I didn’t feel worried. This is apparently symptomatic, and I need to reflect on how much of my personality to this point has been performative. How much of it is the friendly flesh-wrapper around something that’s human-esque but not quite there. At the same time, mind you, this may be a drastic over-reaction. The pendulum of human emotion makes big swings, and while it’s right to re-examine one’s life in the light of the knowledge that one has always been a little different, it is also true to say that not everything was false. We cannot avoid the re-examination, but I’m leaving this here as a reminder to be generous with myself. Like everyone else I’ve constructed a shell from cast-off words and my parents’ cloth and the things I thought I should say. I am going through the process of peeling those sections back to see what they covered up, and whether I should prefer to expose that part of myself, and in so doing carry less weight. At least thanks to my diagnosis I, unlike many, know what to expect in certain places.

2I abandoned my team. I left without saying goodbye. It felt strange to say goodbye, since I was moving no more than twenty metres, and yet I feel sure that I should have done so. Goodbyes are hard. Well. Early goodbyes are hard. Final goodbyes are easy. A bridge you leave standing is a temptation to return to the past; an ambiguity to be despised. A bridge that you’ve set alight will illuminate your way forward.

3I got really quite stuck on a technical challenge that I haven’t managed to figure out yet. I’ve also noticed already how much I miss coding, so if you’re reading this and wondering if some kind of technical solution might be a way of meeting a need then let me know. A good way of working out if you have unmet user needs is looking at your spreadsheets. If you need loads to manage all your data, then you might need me to code something for you. Please get in contact. I need to write something for a computer.

4I received mail! A letter from a friend who’d sat down and thought about me and written loads of words. It is the nicest thing in the world. I know us weeknoters say this a lot, but letter are absolutely lovely. Actually, now I reflect on it, is there a correlation there? That we’re naturally people who like writing and also like receiving considered pieces of writing from other people? Or is it that the desire for letters is universal, and it only appears that weeknoters are more eager for letters because we express that desire in public? Answers, please, in the format of epistles. And to my dear friend, I am writing your response, and I am grateful beyond words for your thoughtfulness.

5I started with a new therapist. Together we are going to explore the peculiar pathways of my brain. I am seeing this therapist on the advice of a dear friend whose opinion I trust without question. I wish I could have come to the conclusion by myself, but then it’s quite nice to let friends help you every once in a while. Besides, my brain is the thing that means I earn enough money to allow me to – let me check my email – yes, continue to not move into my new flat. I am a recent convert, and like all recent converts something of a zealot. Do, if you can, hire the services of a therapist. It is astonishingly powerful, if you can find one you can get along with. Mine has a dog companion called Eddie who is remarkably skilled in knowing the precise point at which the comforting weight of a canine skull is exactly the thing a fellow needs. Dogs are almost as good as therapists. The both together are a surely a winner.

Other writing this week:

November is National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo. I’ll be endeavouring to write one blog post per day in the month of November 2019 – some short and sweet, others long and boring.