7am, Sunday morning

It’s the last day of January and, also, I’ve been awake since 4.30. I’m not sure how I managed this but it probably has something to do with the utterly bizarre dream I had which involved driving a Ford Fiesta down a trainline in Finland and being chased by boys who were interested in stealing the code I had written for some top secret machine learning something or other. I’m not sure this is indicative of a rested mind but it’s probably better than the one about plane trips to somewhere that sounds like it should be in China (but it doesn’t exist) but which apparently was near somewhere that sounds like it should be in Japan, be a shrine but also probably does not exist. In my defence, my most recent reading material has included Prisoners of Geography, about the geopolitical realities caused by geographical physical features. It’s a terrific book and it is buy Tim Marshall. It is the best book I have read in 2016 so far. n=4 and all that, but it does out play Terry Pratchett’s last book which surprised me.

I’m just in a geopolitical kind of mood at the moment.

Anyway, amongst the piles of clickbaitish “how to be Mark Zuckerberg” type advice drivel that either arrives in my inbox via one or two subscriptions that I occasionally think about cancelling, and the passive aggressive advice columns that have a half life of years on Facebook are many variants of Habits of Successful people. During the week, I had an interesting one on Don’t get the habits of unsuccessful people. It was quite interesting in a way.

One of the key issues I have with all the “How to be Mega Successful Advice” is that none of them seem to include the words “First have a ground breaking idea”. I’m pretty sure that Mark Zuckerberg could have gotten up at 5am all he liked but if he didn’t have the idea for Facebook first, all he’d be is totally exhausted. I get weary of the “First get up early every day blah blah” advice.

It’s like this. Humans need a certain amount of sleep. I’d suggest people should decide when they are going to get it. I prefer going to bed early and getting up early. The price of getting up at 5.30am is being asleep by 10pm. You can’t operate on a lack of sleep for long.

The idea is basically that you have more creative time. I do not know that it always works.

I was up at around 10 past 6 this morning. In part that was because I woke at 4.30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I could have done with another couple of hours but sometimes you have to cut your losses. This morning, then, I have already whinged about viral posts on Facebook. Now I am going to mention that any magazine that advises you to get up early every morning because [Array.Of.Rich.Tech.Execs] get up at outlandish times is being negligent if they don’t also tell you what time [Array.Of.Rich.Tech.Execs] goes to bed.

7am on a Sunday morning, even when it is pitch dark outside, is a lovely time of the day. I’m not saying this to be sanctimonious. The day is full of possibilities.

I know people for whom the day is still full of possibilities at 10pm at night. I’m asleep then.


Sharing stuff on Facebook

Yesterday, when I signed into Facebook, I came across yet another epistle full of maniac praise for some family member, which closed with the Share if You have A….

It, along with the screeds that feature a nice little paragraph of passive aggressive emotional manipulation along the lines of “I know most of you won’t read this, and only my true friends will, copy and paste to your wall, don’t share”. I don’t know who came up with this formulation but they should be stripped of access to social media. It is corrosive stuff. You often find it at the end of a hectoring lecture about knowing people who suffer from, usually, cancer. I hate it.

In many respects, Facebook is a great tool. It’s just, sometimes it gets monumentally abused by people who don’t seem to do much self examination. This week in particular, I got a lot of the two stylees above, but I also seemed to have a few friends sharing a lot of viral self help nonsense.

I’ve had years of people sharing this kind of stuff with me. What I have worked out is the following:

  1. You’re not allowed to be disappointed.
  2. You’re not allowed to complain.
  3. Everything wrong in your life is your fault anyway
  4. Whatever you’re doing, it’s wrong, so the fact that things continue to be wrong is still your fault anyway.
  5. Be positive. Otherwise everything is your fault.
  6. Avoid negative people. They only drag you down.
  7. If you don’t like what you’re doing, shut up and accept it and convince yourself you like it. You’ll be happier.

They dress it up in flowery language of course, so you don’t realise that you’re basically being told to shut up and stop annoying people. This isn’t really all that helpful, because sometimes, it’s good to talk, work things out.  Three is probably a straight out lie, along with its brother four. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that 5 probably isn’t as helpful either – iirc Be realistic is likely to be more constructive than being positive.

Six is a sop to one and two. Sometimes you’ll need support even if you convince yourself you won’t because you’re dealing with stuff man. I find it’s good to provide support and do some listening to people who are having a rough time. This presumes that we’re not talking first world problems like the wifi being down.

Seven is an expression of privilege. Variants of it exist in the idea that people would be fully healthy if they only had the right mental attitude. The world doesn’t work like that and my experience is that people who are happy to dole out the kind of advice that amounts to “Lie to yourself” have never had to lie to themselves.

My personal summary of advice in rough times is this:

  1. Identify what is wrong
  2. Figure out how to change it.
  3. Talk out ideas if you have to.

In the meantime, anything vaguely viral in the advice and manipulation front on Facebook, I ignore it.

Bucket lists and dreams

IMG_4659A while ago, I realised that my life was going by and it was about time I started doing things rather than thinking about doing them. As a result, I spent the last week in Switzerland, primarily doing the Glacier Express train trip.

There were mountains. High mountains with big lots of trees and snow on them. It was wonderful.

There was also the Caran d’Ache shops in Geneva and Zurich. I have loved and adored Caran d’Ache writing instruments since I was 15 years old. The only place that really sells them in Dublin is the Pen Corner, and while they have accommodated me with special orders once in a while, they don’t do the art side of things. Kennedy have some of the pencils, but nowhere near to all of the pencils.

As a result, the Caran d’Ache shop in Geneva was the ultimate shop in the world for someone like me. Lots of limited edition fine writing implements, the sort with near annual income salary level pricing (there must be a lot of very, very wealthy people in Geneva). I bought two Paul Smith 849s which I wanted and which have the benefit of not being expensive, but not being cheap plastic either.

I like the 849 pens – I have about half a dozen at this stage and they are a nice weight in my hand. They are, perhaps, not as nice as the Ecridors themselves (130E if you’re buying – I was not on this occasion although I have a shopping list of 3 that I want – it never ends). And of course, there were the pencils.

All those Museum Aquarelles which I can’t get in Ireland, and the Luminance pencils, which I can’t get in Ireland. I had a dozen Aquarelles, and I picked up another half dozen colours which I like a lot, plus I picked up two or three Luminance pencils just to try them.

Plus there were a few Swiss Wood pencils, and series five of the woods of the world collections. I could have spent a lot of money in the Caran d’Ache shop just on art pencils. The truth is I was somewhat limited by the whole lugging thing – my holiday consisted of five days of travelling basically – so I was able to resist full boxes of their neocolor IIs and other water solubles.

I did buy a couple of brushes because they were the equivalent of 2 euro less expensive than they are here and brushes are always handy. In theory, I’m not really needing to buy pencils as I binge bought a bunch of Faber Castell Sparkles not so long ago (they tended to be very hard to get here for a while although since I stocked up, both Easons and the Art and Hobby Store have got in copious supplies).

But I found it very hard to say no to the Caran d’Ache Swiss wood basic HBs. Basic isn’t a great word – they are probably twice the price of the sparkles and you can’t get them here. I have five of them which should keep me going for a while. They have a most beautiful smell of wood.

Outside the shopping in Caran d’Ache’s shops, I spent time in Zermatt, Saint Moritz, Lugano, and especially, I spent time in Swiss trains. The Glacier Express is a 9 hour train journey which basically goes from Zermatt to Saint Moritz or vice versa. I was hoping to see the Matterhorn: IMG_20151019_185311

But it was covered in clouds/fog/hidingtypeweather for the day I was in Zermatt. This was regrettable.

The journey across Switzerland was amazing – we don’t do scenery like it and we certainly don’t do weather like it. The Glacier Express is certainly worth doing in the winter, and they will lay on lunch for you for a consideration – it’s around thirty francs and it is definitely worth doing it.

Saint Moritz was where I bought some non-Caran d’Ache writing tools, and had a walk around. It’s a lovely town, for what I saw of it, although it could be a very expensive place to be shopping given that the shops tend to the high income level brands rather than your average high street store.

From there, I took the scenic train back down to Chur, which I was hoping would be brighter than it had been the evening before but the fog never lifted. It was very atmospheric, but not very conducive to photographs.

I then took the long way to Lugano, via Zurich, which is a lovely train journey even in one of the high speed Intercity Express trains which run all the way to Hamburg.

Zurich is a lovely town. It took has a Caran d’Ache shop. The buildings are beautiful and the train station is especially beautiful as train stations go. It’s also really well located for shopping.

Lugano is beautifully situated on hills around a lake. Again, I wasn’t there for long as I was going onto Como and Lake Como which is a gorgeous, gorgeous town in Northern Italy. From there, I finished up in Milan.

In short, I did a lot of travelling on trains in the week and saw an awful lot of Switzerland plus a bit of Italy.


Journalling and related comments

My assorted feeds and social media platforms are giving me the annual binge of life changing advice. It’s ongoing through the year of course, but around end December, start of January, it tends to be on a scale equivalent to the Pacific Ocean. This year, journalling is in. In particular, a remarkable number of advice sites for men trying to make their way in this world are advising journaling as a, let me see, cornerstone habit.

I started journaling in about March 1993. I used an ordinary notebook which was a little bit bigger than A6. I’m not a fan of using dated diaries for this: they are a bit arbitrary and dictatorial. If you use an ordinary notebook, you can write as much, or as little, as you like. I’ve used A5 notebooks almost constantly since 1994 and my preferred choice, although not possible to get in Ireland, are Clairefontaine clothbound notebooks, preferably gridded, and the biggest number of pages I can find. Most stationery stores in France or Belgium help in this front, although in Belgium, they used come with margins. I’d like, sometimes, to move up to A4 but they don’t fit in my handbag. A5 is a 20 year habit now. Other notebook manufacturers exist and I have happily used Paperblanks A5 which are beautiful notebooks, although I don’t like the paper as much as I like the Clairefontaine paper.

So I approve of writing a journal, or a diary, as we used to call it in my time.

The thing is, courtesy of the internet, journaling is a whole industry, resulting in loads of stuff showing up in my social media and news feeds. I had not realised that bible journaling was a thing, and the whole art side of things regrettably passed me by for most of my life. There are journaling prompts to beat the band all over pinterest. I have not worked out how much of this is born of the fact that people can be overwhelmed with stuff and information. One which turns up regularly is bullet journaling which I don’t personally consider as journaling per se, but as organisation/management. Planning, per se. There are many systems.

I started writing a diary at the age of 19 because I had fallen in love with someone from whom I wound up moving for practical work related reasons at the time and I wanted to coral memories of days that made me feel happy. I’m not sure I would have succeeded in it if I’d done it for the purposes of getting richer.