Housework, Hobbies and Hopes

Fandango’s Provocative Question asks this week:

How many hours, on average, do you spend per day (or per week) on blogging-related activities? And what do you think you might do with your time if you didn’t spend it on those blogging activities?

Without putting any sort of numerical value in it, right now I feel I spend way too much time on blogging-related activities. But on reflection maybe that’s a tough judgement call to make in the middle of winter in the middle of a Covid lock-down, one year into a world pandemic.

I mean, we legally can’t visit friends or family or basically socialise with anybody at all beyond our immediate household so a lot of ‘normal’ leisure activities are severely curtailed for the duration. Life has become far more restricted for everyone, so for now blogging has definitely become more important to me as a way of feeling I’m still reaching out, still keeping in touch with the rest of the world.

Usually, when I’m out at work or otherwise busy with everyday real life I inevitably blog a lot less. But right now I’m furloughed from work so I have a lot of free time and real life for me at present consists pretty much of housework and hobbies. And blogging is most definitely one of my hobbies, so in general however much hobby time I have gets divided up accordingly between all the fun stuff I like to do.

Other current hobbies include watching TV (and that encompasses watching DVDs and other recorded media too), gardening (hello, it’s winter in the North of Scotland, you’ll be lucky in this weather), crochet (although thinking about it I’ve not actually done any crochet since we moved into our house 16 months ago), photography (some of which gets shared on my blog), a lot of colouring in just for fun, and writing the occasional poem when the mood strikes me (also to be shared on my blog).

Hmmm… So what is it I DON’T do now that I blog?

My immediate response is to say ‘reading’ – I used to read A LOT of fiction, I generally had at least one book on the go at any given time, especially when the kids were small. But to be fair that was decades ago, my kids are all in their late thirties and life has changed a lot since then. Reading was my go-to fantasy escapism that didn’t rely on anyone else, that I could pick up and put down however many times was necessary and that was always 100% portable. I grew up reading, as did my mum and my maternal grandmother – we used to share books amongst ourselves. And I used to read a lot of women’s magazines, too.

So when DID I stop reading fiction so compulsively and completely?

If I’m honest that happened a long time before I started blogging, and probably dates from when I was studying for my full time degree as a mature student. For three years solid I read voraciously myriad academic books and journals and articles and essays and essays and even more essays. I absolutely loved studying and learning and all that entailed, and for those three years academic stuff was pretty much all I read. And I suppose when wholesale reading is so firmly associated with work not leisure it stops being a form of indulgent escapism.

After I graduated I seem to remember I didn’t read anything I didn’t have to for the longest time, so not surprisingly other hobbies soon filled the gap left by reading for pleasure and I simply never picked it up again to quite the same extent. I do still read my beloved paperbacks, but not like I did before. And anyway, blogging includes reading as much as writing, just not entire novels. It’s more like reading while being involved in an interactive multi-functional magazine of life you also contribute to, filled with stories and snippets and tips and shared interests and opinions and creative connections.

I’ve been blogging on and off for seven years, and in all honesty I hope to keep on blogging for years to come. I’m sure my blog will inevitably change and grow as I do, ebbing and flowing with the tide of life. In the future sits retirement, potential ill health and infirmity, and all sorts of possible alterations to my everyday experiences that may affect how I interact with the world going forward. I may blog less at times, and more at others. I may move away from one thing and towards another. I may even change direction entirely.

But overall I feel blogging has become such a valued hobby, especially since Covid ran riot across the world, I don’t see me giving it up in favour of anything else any time soon, so however much time I spend on it is never going to be time wasted, is it? 🙂

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

To be honest I’m not a great fan of crude capitalist consumerism at the best if times, whether it be centred around the mass celebration of Christmas, or Easter – or Valentine’s Day. I truly believe it’s possible to mark all of those special days on the annual calendar with an appropriately appreciative level of tradition and ceremony without either breaking the bank or filling the world’s landfill sites with cartloads of cheap commercial crap just for the sake of it.

Because surely if you love someone, you can show them every day, quietly, and very personally, just how much you care. Small impromptu gifts of flowers and chocolates and suchlike ‘just because’ are a regular enough feature in our house, both in the giving and receiving, throughout the year. And in a similar vein hugs are never far away, several times a day, as is holding hands when we go out together. And of course small, thoughtful, random acts of kindness never go astray in life and love.

So this year as usual I’ve bought my husband a perfectly lovely and loving standard-sized Valentine’s card, and I know he’s bought something similar for me, and we may well exchange small meaningful gifts of mutual appreciation, and enjoy a nice meal (usually home-cooked) with a nice glass of wine in honour of celebrating our love on Valentine’s Day, but nothing over-the-top ostentatious or showy or extravagant – that’s just not who we are as a couple, and never have been.

Overall on a continuum of overtly romantic to not romantic at all, my husband probably scores a bit more highly on the sliding scale than I do, but that just makes me try a bit harder because I know how much it matters to him. He’s more of an extrovert and I’m more of an introvert, so it just comes easier to him than to me to wear his heart on his sleeve. Although I must admit the longer we are together, the more comfortably open my heart becomes when it comes to displaying my innermost feelings more readily.

The most silly romantic thing I’ve probably ever done was to get up early one Valentine’s Day to cover the entirety of the kitchen cabinets and counter tops of our flat with a whole pad of pink heart-shaped sticky post-it-notes and also one of flower shapes, just for fun – it took me ages but the look on his face when he came through to be greeted by such a profusion of pink hearts and flowers everywhere he looked was absolutely priceless!

Hmmm… Maybe I’ll try that again this year… Bigger kitchen in the house than the flat though, so I’ll definitely need a lot more post-it-notes… ❤

Fandango’s Provocative Question: Valentine’s Day

Blogging Breaks and New Starts

Fandango asks for his Provocative Question this week:

Have you ever taken a hiatus (break) from blogging? If so, how long did your hiatus last and why did you take it? How difficult was it to return to blogging after your hiatus? Did your stats suffer and did you lose readers as a consequence of your absence?

Ooh, good question for me as this is actually my fourth blog on WordPress in the seven years I’ve been blogging.

My first ever blog only lasted about seven or eight months before I lost interest and decided to stop posting, or even reading any other blogs at all. I left it all lying dormant for a while and then after a few months I started to wonder how everybody was doing and thought I might go back to it, but I found I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’ any more so instead of picking up where I’d left off I created an entirely new blog and deleted the old one completely.

My second blog lasted a lot longer, maybe 18 months or so but I eventually got bored with it and again found I’d had enough of blogging for a while, so after another complete break of a few months I repeated the whole process as before and started all over again with blog number three. By this time I’d really started to work out what worked for me blog-wise and what didn’t, and that blog lasted a good couple of years before it too bit the dust. I guess you could say I have a kind of virtual restless wanderlust that happily uproots itself and moves on without a backward glance whenever the time is right…

So here I am now on blog number four, and this one has currently been going for three years next month – a bit of a record for me! Hmm, perhaps that’s why I’ve been getting itchy feet lately? So of course every time I’ve deleted my ‘old’ blog to start afresh I’ve lost all the followers associated with it, although I could still interact with all the blogs I’ve followed since the beginning. And often, as I picked up with them again as before, they would then start to follow my new blog and things would build up again from there.

So overall when it comes to the numbers game I’m not too fussed about having lots of followers data-wise, and I rarely (if ever) look at the figures or graphs these days. I mean, whatever the stats say there’s usually a set group of like-minded people who like and comment regularly on my posts and with whom I reciprocate, and that one-to-one personal interaction between us is what matters most to me. In fact some bloggers have been with me from the start, through every iteration of my online presence, which is great!

People tend to come and go for a variety of reasons. Some of the people I used to follow have now changed direction with their blogs and we’ve inevitably gone our separate ways as our interests have diverged, and I’m sure some of my followers have fallen away for the same reason. Inevitably when I post more regularly I get more interaction, and if I read other blogs more often, more people tend to come to look at mine in response, but I don’t need a stats page to tell me that. I like that fluidity of following or fading away as things change, it feels like that’s how it should be online as well as in real life.

In the grander scheme of things I blog just for me in the sense that I don’t have a business to build or a product to plug, I just want a dedicated space of my own to post stuff that allows me to share my everyday life with others, and those tend to be the kind of personal blogs I prefer to follow too. I like photography and poetry and family and home-based anecdotes and snippets and hearing about people’s health and hopes, and so for me it’s neither about wooing followers nor worrying about losing them, either.

I don’t ever think about what other people might want to read about and research in-depth journalistic articles accordingly, I just go with the flow of life, answering prompts or not as the inspiration captures my attention. Sometimes I do let myself get bogged down in stuff that I need to let go of, just let drop, because however much courting controversy can generate a frenzied flurry of firebrand feelings and a calamitous cacophony of comments, ultimately all that virtual vitriol is not what I’m here for.

Anyway, I think that’s probably answered that one, in however much of a roundabout way… Yes, I’ve taken blogging breaks, no, it wasn’t hard coming back because I started all over again, yes, my stats reset to zero and yes, I lost readers but then I gained back those that mattered again in time, and I’m still here after seven years, so that’s saying something 🙂

Back to Normal

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks, in anticipation of the new year ahead, ‘What do you fear most?’

The immediate answer that comes to mind is that I fear that the population of the world will get their wish and everything will go ‘back to normal’, as in exactly as it was before this global pandemic hit. Because in my opinion too much of what we considered to be ‘normal’ is what helped get us here into this Godawful mess in the first place.

I know there are conspiracy theories that want us to believe Covid 19 was developed in a lab somewhere in China then let loose on the Chinese, and then let loose elsewhere – this belief is especially prevalent in the USA, it seems. To my mind those kind of elaborately constructed theories tend to come from people who want the blame to fall anywhere but on their shoulders. People who can accept anything other than the simple truth that if we insist on messing with the natural environment too much, eventually nature will start to bite back.

We fly back and forth across the world with no more thought than if we were visiting our next door neighbours, effectively shedding and spreading invisible virus as we go. Our cumlative carbon footprint blackens the scorched earth and kicks huge holes in the ozone layer and melts ancient glaciers and creates giant pot-hole undulations in the permafrost as we bury our blinkered heads in the ever-warming sands of time and hope someone else somewhere else will eventually find a solution that absolves us from all cuplability. We know the cost of everything yet the value of nothing.

A selfish culture of ‘Me me me’ and ‘Now now now’ have seemingly made shallow spoiled brats of far too many of us – we demand our individual human rights with no thought of the effect that may have on others. We have forgotten that with rights come responsibilities. We need to be collective custodians of the planet, not conquerors. We need to learn the lessons Covid 19 brings us, understand that a little humility in the face of the power of nature is not a sign of weakness but of strength and wisdom.

So there we are – ‘back to normal’ is what I fear most for 2021. Let’s hope my fears are unfounded and life post-Covid will turn out to be wonderfully perfect instead… 🙂

Uncomfortable with Confrontation

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks

When it comes to your friends, your spouse, your significant other, or members of your family, is it better to confront them about things they say or do that bother or upset you or is it better to ignore those things in order to maintain peace in your relationship?

Hmmm… Suffice to say I’m someone who is uncomfortable with confrontation in all forms, regardless of relationship. I have a lifetime of experience of not rocking any boats, not playing devils advocate just for the sheer hell of it, not unnecessarily sticking my head above any precariously positioned parapets, just keeping-my-mouth-shut people-pleasing at all costs – basically no jumping in unless I’m pushed beyond reason.

To be completely honest I’m even feeling uncomfortable with the thought of writing what I really want to say in this post because I feel like I should be really careful with what I share to be sure that no-one who reads my blog takes issue with my personal opinion to the point of commenting adversely… But then maybe that’s the whole point of posing a provocative question in the first place? Oops! 🙂

To ‘Me’ or Not To ‘Me’…

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks Do you blog anonymously? Why or why not? Hmmm… So basically to ‘me’ or not to ‘me’, that is the question…?

This is my fourth blog here on WordPress, and these days I use my real name and post honestly about my my real ongoing everyday life experience, because I’ve discovered that however cautious I feel about data protection and keeping my online identity as safe as I can within reason, I find that for me I also need to feel comfortable about sharing enough of myself to feel my virtual presence is genuine.

My first foray into blogging was totally anonymous – it was a cautious attempt to give myself a voice to discuss living with a lifetime of recurring depression which worked wonderfully for the first few months, but then I found it all became too restrictive and weighty. I soon discovered that part of the benefit of having a voice is the right to choose not to use it, so I deleted that blog and started all over again.

My second blog was far less anonymised, I used my own first name and opened up the field a bit on topics to cover beyond depression, but eventually that blog floundered and was deleted too – I felt as long as my initial focus was based around writing about my mental health, however light-heartedly, it constrained me too much when what I found I posted most was photographs and poetry for fun. So eventually, that blog, too, bit the dust.

Blog three was based entirely on what I knew I posted most of – images and words – where I not only used my own name and posted photographs of myself but also I twice attended the brilliant ‘Bloggers Bash’ in London, actually meeting other bloggers face to face, which was a great experience as much as anything because it brought home to me that whatever names they choose to post under there are real, recognisable people behind their blogs.

And then for a while I just stopped blogging altogether, and the longer I stayed away, the less I felt like going back to it, so I took a deep breath and chose to delete that blog too. But after another few months I started to wonder about how the bloggers I liked to follow were doing, so I decided to start another new, totally generic blog that would allow for any extended gaps of non-posting from time to time – and here I still am.

Here I discuss enough of my real life to feel truly connected to my blog, but hopefully not enough to disclose or expose the identities of my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my extended family, my friends. I feel I’ve been blogging long enough now to pick up from blogs when people are being their genuine selves whatever name they blog under, and in general those are the bloggers I like to follow most.

I know people blog for many different reasons, both for business and pleasure, but I find myself drawn more towards those who post with a personal touch. I also prefer to be able to visualise the person I’m interacting with online, but it’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule – looking at you here in your cartoon paper bag, Fandango!

People’s personalities tend to come through the page regardless, and I find it is that personality behind the scenes I like to engage with. Hopefully that’s also why people follow me here on my blog, too! 🙂

Quarantine Questions

Having been subjected to stay at home restrictions (to one degree or another) over the past six months, would you say that quarantine has made you a better person? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?

Hmmm. Has this pandemic made me a better person? Different, certainly, but better – no, overall on balance probably not…

Lockdown began with a deep fear of what might happen if I or anybody I loved caught the virus. Scared, I stayed at home for the duration as instructed, and enjoyed being a loner home-maker and a gardener for a while. But as the weeks passed I became increasingly disheartened, disconcerted, distressed. I missed people, and places, and soon it seemed like partisan politics got in the way of everything else and none of it made any sense any more.

As the infection rate and death toll here in the UK first rose alarmingly and then gradually started to fall week after week, I questioned the lack of testing, the lack of track and trace, and seriously struggled with the free-fall never-endingness of feeling trapped in a groundhog-day-style lockdown limbo. It felt like as a collaborative community we could not simply hold our collective breath forever, and that sooner or later something somewhere would have to give.

And eventually when the time came I went back to work. New rules, new restrictions, new possibilities for potential infection to get my head around. People to see and places to go, granted, but cautiously, carefully, all masked up and keeping our distance, dancing around each other delicately as if surrounded by an invisible forcefield like repelling magnets of similar polarity. Social contact, but still without any physical contact. Together but apart. The new normal.

To date thankfully my family are all fine in that none of us have had Covid, but other long-term ongoing health problems have become far more difficult to deal with across the months and the generations. ‘Protecting the NHS’ when it comes to Covid seems to have meant forfeiting so much else health-wise for so many of us, even now that first peak has passed. The importance of continuing family connections definitely means more to me now – I know potentially there is a lot to lose for all of us if things go pear-shaped.

Six months on I now feel frustrated as well as fearful. I still don’t want to catch this damned virus but I also want to live, not just continue to exist: I want to enjoy life again. What I miss most is the freedom to just be, without having to think about it. Go out where I want, see who I want when I want, socialise or not as the mood takes me. Now we no longer have that freedom I do appreciate what we have lost – perhaps temporarily, perhaps forever.

But whereas before I tried hard to be someone with a ‘live and let live’ mentality, I currently find myself far less tolerant of those selfish individuals amongst us who choose to demean, debunk, disregard and blatantly dismiss the scientific reality of our current global situation. I feel like saying to those self-important ignorant idiots – well, screaming at them, anyway – it’s not fake news, fuckwits, get with the program!

So on one hand I’m more grateful for what I have, but on the other hand I’m definitely far less trustful of others. Some of the time I’m wary and weary, emotionally exhausted, easily irritated. The rest of the time I’m just happy to still be alive…

Fandango’s Provocative Question

The Story of Who I Am

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:

Is the concept of ‘you’ continuous or does the past ‘you’ continually fade into the present and future ‘you’? Considering that your body, your mind, and your memories are changing over time, what part of ‘you’ sticks around?

This is a question, or at least in variations on a theme, that has been on my mind for as far back as I can remember. And having studied questions of identity in depth as part of my degree studies (a blend of psychology and sociology) I may have a more rational, intellectual, academic ‘head’ answer to give, but choose instead to focus my reply on my entirely confusing ‘heart’ emotional response.

Here I am at 56 years old, and however much I understand that our identity inevitably grows and changes along with our life experiences, to me there is an integral part of me that feels much the same as I always have done. In the same way as I look at photographs of me as a child and recognise my external self in that past image, so I can experience a similar core recognition of uninterrupted internal self across the years. In essence I feel that I am who I am, who I always have been, an accumulation, an amalgamation of all the nascent me’s that ever existed.

It’s as if my own memories all layered together make me feel me, my sense of self a kind of constant continuation of my life narrative to date. It is perhaps that ongoing internal life-story that makes me feel most like me – my hopes, my fears, my desires and my disappointments all dissolved and diluted into a complex cocktail of me-ness that remains whatever I do and wherever I go in life. I can look back comfortably and know that I was that person at that time, and now I am this person at this time, and that changing experience feels just fine to me.

So there we go, a pretty confused emotional answer to a pretty confusing question! 🙂

Schools of Thought…

This week’s Provocative Question from Fandango asks:-

Do you believe that children should be required to return to school for the new school year?

Of my six grandchildren, the eldest is 18 and has already left school and the youngest is not quite two years old, so has not yet reached school age. But by the time our schools return here in Scotland on 11th August, we will have two five-year-olds due to make the important move from nursery to their first year in primary school, a seven-year-old with ongoing health problems beginning his third year, and a nine-year-old starting her fifth year in primary school.

All of our school-age grandchildren are really looking forward to attending school in person next month, but are understandably worried about the virus. They’ve missed their friends and have missed their teachers but know that lockdown happened to everyone to help stop people getting sick and dying. They have been keeping up as far as possible with schooling online, but it’s inevitably been a bit patchy over time and not quite the same as being full time in their purpose-built learning environment.

Scotland has chosen to have a much longer period of lockdown than England before starting to ease restrictions, and thankfully for now our levels of new infections and deaths are relatively low so we are in a position where schools returning full time is not such a contentious issue as it may be in some other countries. However contingency plans are still in place to allow for a differently organised ‘blended learning’ approach if this becomes necessary due to a resurgence of infection in the future.

So right now I must admit I feel pleased that schools here are returning soon, and as long as adequate safety measures are in place for all students and staff I think it is definitely the right thing to do here in Scotland. The children are keen to be back in their usual learning routine, five months has been a long time for them to feel like they have been missing out. They are happy to be at home, but are happy to be out at school too. They like their little bit of independence and the support of their peer group.

Too much longer away from school and I would probably fear their emotional health might begin to be seriously compromised, but children are generally resilient creatures with an elasticity of expectation and experience leading to an easy adaptability and acceptance of ‘what is’ that we have somehow lost as adults. The hope is they will catch up as their schooling progresses, make up for lost time, start to feel secure again in life. Hopefully lockdown will have provided a different type of lesson to be learned long-term.

But would I be feeling the same if I lived elsewhere? Probably not…

My Health, My Life, My Choice…

Fandango asks a very topical Provocative Question this week:-

Which pre-pandemic activities are you ready to resume (or have you already resumed)? Which, if any, pre-pandemic activities are you likely to continue to avoid?

To date, due to Scotland’s continuing lockdown combined with my particular personal circumstances, none of my pre-pandemic activities have been resumed in full as yet, and I suppose I’ve had to be ok with that so far. However, with any luck we should be having a wholesale move to the next stage of re-opening soon, and to be honest I’m absolutely ok with that, too.

The main thing I’m keen to move on to is to be able to see other members of my family indoors, even with social distancing still in place, because that makes visiting with everyone possible in a way it’s not at the moment. Visiting with small groups outdoors only with no access to a toilet is definitely better than nothing but isn’t really feasible or practical for all: You still have to live close enough in the first place to make that possible.

And I’m definitely ready to go back to my job in the ladieswear section of a local department store with limited customers, careful social distancing and wearing a mask as soon as this is allowed. My husband has continued working in a local supermarket throughout lockdown, so by now people are used to how to behave in shops during the pandemic. Hopefully there won’t be too much of a free-for-all rugby scrum in womenswear in an Inverness department store – not sure when larger stores will be allowed to open again though, so exactly when that might be remains to be seen.

But when it comes to socialising in larger groups with strangers close by, however much I’ve missed it I’m not so sure how quickly I’ll go back to going out comfortably for a coffee with friends, or out for a pub lunch, because having carefully avoided other people for the last three months I’m not sure how relaxed I’d feel to be in that kind of environment straight away. And of course the point of going out for coffee or for a pub lunch is to relax and enjoy yourself, so we’ll see how that goes.

So whatever our Government proclaims we’re going to be allowed to do and when we’re allowed to do it with regards to this pandemic, I’ll probably go along with it in spirit but will nevertheless keep my own counsel and make my own decisions on looking out for myself into the future, until I know for sure my behaviour in public isn’t likely to make me end up really sick or worse, end up dead. My health, my life, my choice 🙂