Friday 24 March 2017

Lifestyle Change: Experiences, not things!

Spring is in the air in Mallorca. The sun has been shining solidly for weeks and everywhere you look, flowers are in bloom. 

The bravest have been swimming in the sea. As for me, I put my foot in the water last weekend, felt the approach of frostbite and aborted the mission at once.

As the days grow longer and the weather warms, my husband and I agree that the season of Netflix is over and we must get out more. 

Inspired by Eventbrite's message of EXPERIENCES, NOT THINGS! I had a think about what I wanted to be DOING more of this year. 

After all having great stuff is good, but having great experiences is even better! Of course some stuff leads to great experiences, which brings me to number 1 on my list:

1. NAVIGATE A DINGHY - a quick wander around the prestigious Port Adriano confirms my suspicions that I'll need to write more than a few books before I can purchase a yacht. Even a crappy little one costs as much as a one bedroom flat and that doesn't include the mooring.

To be honest, the accumulated wealth in the ports make me feel slightly nauseous. However I love the sea and as we gave up our London life for an outdoor island lifestyle, it makes sense to invest in some sort of inflatable apparatus to take advantage of it. Therefore, for 150 euros (not 150,000€) very soon we might well be boat owners!

2. GO ON ADVENTURES OF THE IMAGINATION - just because we will soon be boat owners, doesn't mean we have cash flowing out of our ears! Fortunately there are exciting adventures to be had for the cost of a book. 

I recently popped to India with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (I came across it in the local charity shop and thought, why not?) and have made several surprise trips with Joanne Harris's short story collection Jigs & Reels. When there's no money to go anywhere, pick up a book! 

3. LEARN STUFF! - I may no longer live in a thriving metropolis with thousands of courses taking place every evening, but that's no excuse not to keep learning. Having the internet means you can educate yourself from wherever you are in all sorts of things. 

For a few weeks I studied German on a free DuoLingo app. Mallorca has a huge German population and, as a writer, it's annoying not to be able to eavesdrop on conversations. Since using my app, I still haven't got a clue what anyone is saying, but I am starting to recognise individual words!

I realise that an educational app doesn't count as GOING OUT, but that's because I haven't got to the course I really want to do this year, which is of course *drum roll* MYCOLOGY. 

Yes, mushrooms. I want to learn about wild mushrooms, specifically what mushrooms will poison me and which will make a delicious meal. Now if that course doesn't get me up the mossy mountain, I don't know what will!

4. EAT AT FOOD FAIRS - Someone once said they wished breakfast, lunch and dinner was a pill so they could get on with their day. I am not that person. I am the person who is prepared to do a Mycology course to find out about mushrooms to then hike up a hill to spend an hour finding five mushrooms to then cook them... because aaaah, how delicious life is.

When the woman at the supermarket gives me a slice of Manchego cheese to try, and it turns out it's the best Manchego cheese I've ever eaten, actual happy tears well up in my eyes... So this year I want to go to lots of different food fairs that this island has to offer - olive oil, oranges, almonds, mushrooms.... mmmm

5. VISIT ALL THOSE COLD COUNTRIES - when we lived in London, the last thing I wanted to do was go on holiday to somewhere else with miserable weather. Now we have reliable sunshine, I suddenly have an urge to visit Iceland. I imagine being in a hot natural spring surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes. However, Iceland will have to wait. Our next stop is Berlin! 

I've never been to Germany so I'm very curious - apparently people eat white sausage and beer for breakfast... I'll find out and let you know how it goes!  

So there you have it - my top experiences planned for 2017 - boating (ha), reading, learning, eating and travelling! 

Oh, and if you want to share your experience, be it a course, talk, food fair, boating day out, eventbrite has free management software to set it up. I used to use it for my social media workshops and it worked really well!

And you? What experiences are you looking forward to this year? 

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Wednesday 15 March 2017

No alcohol? Whatever you say Dr Google!

After reading my last blog, I think a few readers think I have a drinking problem! But just because I've downloaded a motivational Sober Time app on my phone doesn't mean I'm an alcoholic. I also have a period tracker app but no period - hahaha sob.

That's partly the reason why I've stopped drinking completely. Dr Google says alcohol could affect your cycle even if you drink within the limits. It increases levels of estrogen and testosterone apparently. I don't really know what any of this means but I'm going through a phase of doing whatever Dr Google suggests.

Dr Google: Drink parsley tea! 

Dr Google: Try ginger tea first thing in the morning!

Dr Google: herbsbherbsherbsherbsherbs

I googled the nearest herb shop and headed straight over. The woman sold me some evil tasting mixture for €12 and told me it would sort me out.  

Dr Google: Do exercise  (But not too much)

I went running a few times.

Dr Google: Give up alcohol

Giving up alcohol is the only thing I've done which has had any affect on my body. I've started getting mild headaches!

Could it possibly be withdrawals? It seems a little extreme to me. I used to drink a couple of beers or wine in the week, perhaps share a bottle on the weekend. I haven't had so much as a droplet of wine for almost two weeks

The positive affects of giving up alcohol have been the following:

1) I'm waking up earlier and getting out of bed more easily. I've been able to stick to a routine of yoga, meditation and morning pages every day. I even found myself eagerly performing this ritual on a Sunday morning at 8.30am.

2) I haven't experienced any anxiety... although it might be too early to say I won't in the future!

3) I'm feeling more clear headed and assertive. Assertive about my writing career, specifically.  

I've suddenly realised that it's time to take control.

Simply put, if my book doesn't land a traditional publisher in the next month, I shouldn't delay any longer. I will set about doing it myself. Properly of course. With an editor and book cover designer and the whole shebang.

I woke up at 4am this morning, wide awake, my head buzzing with ideas. I've been following self-publishing podcasts for years and have learnt so much. I know it's not an easy option, but I don't want to depend on other people for my success, so if needs be, I'll muster the money and double my efforts

It might not come to that. But if it does, I'll be ready for the challenge, and  if I keep this up, with a very clear head to boot.

Oh, go on then. Add me to your newsletter! 

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Westworld & Designing my own Narrative Loop!

Have you watched the HBO drama Westworld?

Every so often I read a book or watch a series that worms its way inside my head. Westworld is one of those creations that I find myself pondering over and missing now that season one has ended.

If you are planning on watching it, then don't read on. I don't want to spoil it for you.

The premise is this:

Westworld is an authentic Wild West amusement park populated by lifelike androids dubbed "hosts". It caters to high-paying visitors called "guests", who may indulge in whatever they wish within the park, without fear of retaliation from the hosts. The androids do not realise they are not 'real' and see the visiting humans as newcomers.

Got it?

Fake world populated by fake people who think they are real, visited by real people who know the fake people are fake and therefore think nothing of abusing them.

The androids are given a narrative loop they are programmed to perform, be it brothel owner, or naive country girl, or sheriff. A level of improvisation is programmed into them, so when they interact with the humans, they seem very real.

The humans in the show come off badly, living out their darkest desires. The androids experience pain and fear at the hands of the humans, but their memories are then erased so they can go through it all again the following day.

The androids are not conscious of these narrative loops at first, but as the plot thickens, memories arrive from past narratives, confusing them and making them question their reality.

After watching this show I found myself reflecting on these narrative loops. We aren't androids and yet don't we also get stuck in the same old patterns of behaviour?

It made me ponder: 

Do we actually have free will?
Are we any different from these androids if we aren't aware when we become trapped in a loop? 
And if we are aware and still can't do anything about them even when we aren't happy in them, what good is that?

After getting quite drunk on a Friday evening, I woke up on a Saturday feeling fed up of my narrative loop. It seemed that my loop had turned into trying to achieve something during the week, not quite achieving it, a boozy weekend, feeling tired until Tuesday, trying to achieve something again by Friday and so on...

It dawned on me that what I needed was A NEW NARRATIVE LOOP!

Perhaps I could have reduced this long blog post to one brilliant Einstein quote:

Because I wanted different results. I wanted a sharp mind which would come up with a great novel idea. I wanted my body to work as it should. I wanted a fulfilling social life which left me feeling upbeat.

Westworld got me thinking about escaping the same old patterns and taking steps to designing a new life.

First off, the alcohol can go.

I'm calling on technology to boost my efforts. There are two apps I've downloaded. DrinkControl, which is good for recording your intake if you don't want to give up completely. It shows you what moderate drinking should look like versus what you might think is moderate. Another app is SoberTime and it simply counts the days you've gone without drinking and has an encouraging piece of wisdom every time you open it. 

Next I'm choosing new morning habits which involve meditation, yoga, a big breakfast and morning pages. (Morning pages involves writing three pages of whatever comes to your head.) I apologise if I'm boring the pants off you. I hate it when people talk about detoxes and look at me now!

I'm not under any illusions that I'm heading for enlightenment with these steps. In the end it's just another narrative loop: Emily gets healthy in a quest to discover her full potential!

I want to see what this new loop will do for my mental clarity, sense of fulfillment and all around happiness. 

Lately my narrative has been sounding a bit grim:

Struggling writer uncertain of her fertility, brother being treated for cancer...etc etc  

So I'm choosing a new one. My new narrative will be this: 

Happy writer pursues career with gusto, gets into shape to prepare for future family and looks forward to plenty of good times with her brother, who is recovering speedily from an illness that won't defeat him.

Yes, I like the sound of that a lot more. 

Now what about you, does your narrative loop need a refresh?

*You can find me on - I'd love to hear from you!*

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Hello Writer's Block...

This is writer's block for me: it's when your ideas turn to sand and slip through your fingers over and over again. When you can't sustain a story for longer than a few pages before you get bored of it.  When this new reality makes your fingers freeze above the keyboard and a voice in your head whispers that you may never complete another book again.

I feel an urge to hide under the covers or walk until I can't walk any more. There are a couple of books I am tempted to write but they are so entwined in reality that I don't know if I have the heart to write them. Writing has to be fun. I need to enjoy myself or I won't make it to 100,000 words.

Professional writers turn up to their desks every day and write even if they write rubbish. As the saying goes, you can't edit a blank page. After two years without writing a single short story, I've started again. I even entered a 100-word short story competition the other day. I don't think you can get much shorter than that. It's an ongoing competition that's open to everyone.

It's very frustrating not having a project to work on but I have to trust the big idea will hit me in the face any minute now! If it doesn't, I'll go nuts!

I'm back in Mallorca. My brother is home and the doctor is confident the radiotherapy has been successful. He has been feeling pretty sick but hopefully he's over the worst. His journey has been pretty epic. I tell him it would make a great film. It has all the ingredients. Unexpected challenges and pain, unexpected love and joy. You can write it, he tells me. But even if I fictionalised the hell out of it, I don't know if I could...  

If you want to get in touch, you can find me Facebook/EmilyBenetAuthor. I'd love to hear from you!