Thirteen. Unlucky for some? Not always, it turns out.
Here were 13 things in 2013 that went really well.
(Note: this is a fairly self-interested end of year review. I hope nobody else has written any of these for their websites, or I’d feel a total hack. Anyway. There may be stuff in here that’s useful in a wider sense, but these were the things that worked for me. You may find that lying on the beach in a rainstorm isn’t your thing – in which case, my advice below cannot be held responsible for your misery to come. Thanks.)
1. Sleeping On The Beach In The Rain
Worst. Idea. EVER. Surely? After staggering over 10 miles of increasingly overcast English beach, I was going to unroll a bright orange body-bag, sorry, bivvy bag, and then I would crawl into it, and then the weather would turned foul and I would suffer. My suffering would be profound, horrific and entirely avoidable. People did this for fun, and I was about to become one of them: ie. an idiot.
I knew that was what would happen, but I did it anyway. I had the good sense to entertain the possibility that I was wrong, and that Alastair Humphreys and Ronald Turnbull and Hunka weren’t trying to kill me. And indeed they weren’t. Snug as a bug, I was, even when the rain blasted down. I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t done it.
When I go exploring Yorkshire in 2014 (see below), I will be taking my bivvy-bag.
2. Helping Others With Their Writing
This has surprised me more than anyone. Me, misanthropic and cranky and opinionated, willingly helping people? Pull the other one. But no, it’s true. Following on from TBU Rotterdam and TBEX Toronto, I started working with a few people to help them improve their writing and storytelling in a whole bunch of ways. Now it’s a side-business. It’s really fun (I’m not entirely sure I expected that) and it’s getting results for everyone I’m working with – plus, it’s online, so I can do it anywhere, which will be necessary if my plans for this year pan out.
3. Being Rude In A Public Space
At TBEX Toronto, I gave a talk on storytelling that opened with a rant about how much I used to hate the term “storytelling” (which now forms the first part of this course). Professional speakers have a mature responsibility to behave maturely and responsibly, so when I edited the first draft of my speech, I took all the swearing out. Then I threw the word “dick” back in, and tagged it onto the end of my rant about how pretentious I thought “storytellers” were before I understood the term. It got my talk’s biggest laugh.
I intend to use the word “dick” again next year, somehow, somewhere.
Hell, I might even use a ruder word.*
4. Writing Fiction Again
This year, I started writing fiction again. That’s how I started out, decades ago. I got a few short stories into a few magazines, got a little money here and there. I did it because I couldn’t shut those stories up, they just kept bouncing around my thoughts, and I had to write them out of me to feel at peace again. For the last 4 years, nothing I’ve written has felt like that, however much I loved writing it. My other writing commitments are unchanged. I’m still writing non-fiction for blogs and magazines. That’s part of what I do for a living.
But this year, I started weaving my own make-believe stories again, destined for Kindle in 2014 – and I felt that restless energy once more.
Welcome back – I’ve missed you.
I’m kinda falling for Airbnb at the moment. One reason for this is that you can pick somewhere that’s miles away from where you need to be. I’m happiest when I have a good walk ahead of me, and when I’m forced to explore my way to where I need to be. In Toronto I spent 2 days based in a gorgeously quiet basement apartment north of the city (“uptown”) – and through freakish coincidence, my host turned out to be a friend of Mary Jo, the director of the conference I was speaking at. In Dublin I picked a place on the opposite side of the river to where everything was happening, and that meant I did a little more exploring than I would have. (Not enough. Nowhere near enough. Just a little.)
In 2013, my favourite travel experiences involved going for a walk to find out what’s out there.
Good approach for 2014, methinks.
This year I gave in, and joined the ranks of people photographing their food, their feet, their pets, bloody well everything.
Okay, I didn’t really give in. I wasn’t avoiding it on principle – I just didn’t have the right kind of phone. But when my Samsung S3 Mini arrived in the post, I knew my food-recording days were here at last.
But I much prefer taking photos of bridges.
Bite me, Instagram.
7. Seeing Places Through The Eyes Of Good Friends
Thanks to Dan & Audrey of Uncornered Market, I was shown a Berlin I failed to see the previous year – a place of good food, bustling markets and the largest, strangest park imaginable. I fell in love with all of them. (Not Dan & Audrey – I just consider them good friends. I’m not quite that European.)
And thanks to my pal Natalie, I caught a glimpse of her Toronto (above) during my first trip to Canada. My feet twitch at the memory. I need to be back there, exploring Yonge Street and beyond.
Exploring for yourself is all very well, but sometimes the right sort of guide can make all the difference.
8. Reading Paper
Now don’t you read that and label me an anti-digital luddite. Don’t you dare now. Mainly because it would instantly render me the worst kind of hypocrite imaginable. I have now reached the point where my livelihood depends on a bunch of electrons zipping between A and B. Without digital, my world comes crashing down.
But that only applies in the long term. Close-up, I occasionally get sick of it. It’s not the online world’s fault – it’s mine. I get too close for comfort. And this year I learned to step away properly, to switch things off and sit in the garden (or the shed) and disappear into a paper book, forcing my online-enjittered mind to relearn the skill of Paying Attention.
It helped immensely that one of the books I read was all about paying attention.
In 2014, I intend to get up close & personal with paper – including paper maps.
9. Being a Yorkshireman
And then bugger me if Hull didn’t go and get this.
Yes, Yorkshire is a good place to be right now.
And that’s why I’m making it the main focus of my blog in 2014, for as long as I’m here.
10. Working In Scarborough
A few days after my birthday I co-hosted WritingPadd, a writing workshop in Scarborough, with writer Mark Richards. It was a good start (we’re still playing catch-up with the first lot of attendees, so once that’s done, we’ll be planning phase 2). We’ll be doing another one next year, and more besides.
And in attending, I remembered how much I love Scarborough, and how it’s like a time-machine into my childhood.
11. Being Sarcastic About Inspirational Posters
‘Nuff said, really.
I should probably grow up and try to take this stuff more seriously, right?
12. Being Part Of A Community
I don’t want to overstate this. I don’t want to give the impression that all the people I consider friends and sorta-kinda-colleagues are one great big hugtastic support network and we all have a secret handshake and all hang out on Skype and plot world domination. It’s not like that at all. It’s a difficult thing to express, which is why I’m having difficulty expressing it.
And – “community”. How do you define that?
But over the last year, I’ve met people – virtually and in person – who I regard as The Kind Of People I Want To Keep Hanging Out With. People I am instantly old friends with. People whose minds are sharp and curious and playful. Some are bloggers, some are editors, some are freelance writers in the traditional-yet-bang-up-to-date sense, some are moving from one job to another, or have moved, some have absolutely no interest in writing whatsoever but they’re brimming with ideas and they refuse to shut up about them. I could name names. (Yo, Clif. Hey, Don. Hi, Veny. Now then, Candace. Now then, Candice. Eyoop, Bob. Oi, Shannon. PAM! etc.)
That would rapidly get silly, because there are too many and I’d end up offending people by omission. And I’d hate that.
But here’s my point: sometimes, this incredible, magical gateway to the world that I’m typing on right now….just feels like a lump of metal, plastic and glass. And I’m sat in a room, staring at an inert object, deluding myself about what I’m attempting to do with my life…
And then these people make the rest of the world real again. Every single time.
The word “community” is a stretch, because the online world is messy, and it certainly doesn’t revolve around me. I just know a bunch of really great people that I’m lucky enough to have encountered as I bumble around. Some of my friends aren’t friends with each other, or even aware of each other’s existence. It’s a stretch to use that word, even if it’s only in my head that I’m using it.
But I’m stretching.
13. Getting Lost
Because it’s so much fun.
I mean this in the nicest way people: just get lost. Just go see how that feels.
You might be pleasantly surprised.
Next time: 13 Things That Felt Wrong[hr]
Images: Mike Sowden, Nic McPhee.
*Only if that’s OK with everyone. I don’t want to cause a fuss.