Another new year

I was really pleased yesterday when I reviewed my running goals for the year. I’d carried a few over from the previous year, and now they’re all complete: run a parkrun in less than 30 mins (29:58); achieve an age grade better than 50% (54%); run a half marathon (Paddock Wood, last March).

So now I need to set new running goals. I’m aiming for distance more than speed this year, so over the year I have a bronze target of 500k, silver of 750 and gold of 1000. I also want to do Paddock Wood half again, plus another half at some point, and I’d like to cover the whole marathon distance in one run by the end of the year, whether it’s within an official race or not.

It would be nice to get under 30 mins for parkrun again, but that’s not my main concern. Hopefully, getting back to the weight I was when I did it the first time will bring my speed back. And hopefully the distance running I’m planning to do will help with the weight.

As for writing, I’ve been working steadily on my 2014 nano novel (Gods V Heroes) since the beginning of that November, with only a break for 2015 nano (Abandoned). Abandoned was the cleanest, most complete first draft I’ve managed so far, and is now sitting waiting, while I get back to GvH.

So the aim is to get a complete finished draft of GvH and seek beta readers for it. Then while that rests again I can get back to Abandoned. I did start another last month, but I’ve decided that two completely active projects is the most I can cope with, at least for now.

Thanks to a drawing course I did in November, I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of drawing and painting, so another aim is to keep going on that, and develop my skills in drawing, painting and digital painting.

I never really got back into technical stuff like programming last year, apart from working on a coding book and revising the GCSE computing syllabus for a tutoring client, so that’s something else I’d like to put on my list.

But most of all, I’m finally learning to be nicer to myself. To allow myself to do things I enjoy and feel pleasure from them, and to appreciate time instead of wasting it. This also means recognising that I enjoy the housework and take pleasure in having a clean and tidy house, and that it’s acceptable to expect those around me to help me in that as well. A tidy house is for life, not just for Christmas!


running: distance goals.

writing: completing both novels.

Drawing/creativity: regular practice.

Technical skills: develop.

Personal life: create an environment in which all can flourish.

Let’s see how that goes!


What price art?

a mess of paint on canvasI managed to get the acrylic paints out today, for the first time in months. I painted a picture of a tree – a rare example of me painting from memory rather than from a picture or real life – and then I painted this, which was basically a way of using up the paint and practising mixing colours on the canvas.

As I usually do when I paint or draw, I muse on how I got to this point. I think about art lessons at school and practising at home.

I do remember one art class when I was about 9 – this was the point when art lessons were about putting newspaper on our normal desks and getting the paints out. I never felt any sense we were learning how to do anything in those lessons, they were just a fun activity. On this occasions we were set the task of painting a portrait of the person who sits opposite us, in pairs. I don’t even remember if it was painting or drawing, to be honest – but I do remember the effort I put into that picture, and of looking at the end result and being really pleased with it – even looking around at the other drawings from the rest of the class, I felt my drawing stood up very well for itself and was a good likeness. I have never forgotten that moment, of having produced something that looked good, and maybe that’s the point that sparked off my enjoyment of portraits.

Contrast that with the frustration of wanting to draw horses, and trying and trying, while one or two classmates would produce a brilliant drawing with a few strokes and then complain about how it wasn’t good enough. I do wonder, thinking back, about how much of this was perception – that we always see what’s wrong with our own work and what’s right with others’ work.

Then we went on to secondary school, where there was a dedicated art room. Our art teacher was definitely a little odd – one lesson she counted off about half of us into the room and then told the rest of us that art club was full and to come back next week! I don’t recall learning that much, it was definitely the impression that those who could draw would get the support while the rest of us were just there to pass the time.

I remember one exercise was to draw a group of people eating a meal around a table – from imagination – and I got really frustrated because I realised partway through that I had got the sizes all wrong, but there was no help to fix this at all. I remember exercises with shading, and filling in lots of boxes. I remember having to make up and design a poster for an invention. I remember very little of being given objects and shown how to draw them from life, observing carefully. I remember one large project where a black and white image was broken into squares, we were each given a square to copy larger then the whole lot was put together as a display. I remember stunning images on display that I would admire, but never anything of mine. I remember knowing that there was no point in choosing art as an option because I was no good at it.

This, despite me painting and drawing at home in my spare time. I loved portraits, and used to use the same picture of my young niece over and over, until I could produce it pretty well in any medium. I tried oil paintings – but could never mix green properly, so I would spend five minutes on the horse in the field and two hours trying to get the grass right. At this point, I was working from a grid on the page, so could produce the image reasonably well. Was this cheating? Does it even matter?

When I go somewhere new, one thing I like to do is sit and sketch the place, so that I have every detail recorded. Even now, when I think of some of those images it can conjure up vivid memories, much more so than a photo.

I’ll never make a great artist, and am unlikely even to make a reasonable one, but still the pleasure I get from drawing and painting is invaluable. The thing that had most effect on my drawing skills was the book drawing on the right side of the brain, which really seems to capture the effect of focusing closely on images, as well as giving me hope that I’m not that useless.

I’ve been on a couple of art courses, and I learned a lot in them, but most of what I learnt was not necessarily from the teacher, but from the experience of drawing or painting, and the trying out of different techniques that I’ve been introduced to. Maybe that’s the purpose of the teacher, I guess – not to teach, but to enable learning.

So what price art? Mine is in every way priceless – nothing to anyone else, but everything to me because it helps me find myself, my place in the world, makes me observe closely and gives me a sense of achievement. That mess at the top of the page illustrates that because the end result is absolutely pointless, but what I learnt along the way about how the paint reacts to different brushes and techniques was invaluable.

And the last laugh is that while looking at my drawing and painting photo collection on flickr, I found another painting of a tree, which is very similar to the one I did today – even though it was watercolour used incredibly badly, the subject is the same.

Having taken the time to do some painting today, I’m now determined to spend more time drawing and painting, and not to forget the mood boost it gives.


Day 1 of 365

So here we are at the beginning of another year. This one didn’t get off to a brilliant start, as I slept badly last night (including being woken at 3am by my son who’d decided it was time to take the decorations down!), but it got better as I ran Parkrun New Year’s Day special in 34:29, over a minute faster than my previous PB. Now I’m starting to look at possible 10k events. There are two that I’m interested in, one in mid-May and one in mid-July. With a bit of planning and preparation I should be fit enough to take part in them by then; I’ve already started to increase my distance a little, going on the plan of slow but steady increases.

It does feel good when I’m out running, now that I know I can keep going. I went out round the roads on Sunday, concentrating on lengthening the route rather than on speed, and I ran continuously for nearly 50 minutes, settling to a reasonable pace of between 7 and 8 minutes for each km without pushing hard.

I’m still writing my fanfiction story. Still managing a post a day so far, and tonight’s post was just a tad under 2000 words. I really need to try getting ahead rather than wasting time; the trouble is that I’m in that horrible section of school holidays where I can’t relax and do what I want because I know there’s work to do before the start of next term, but I’m not yet ready to settle to that work and get on with it efficiently, with the result that I sit and achieve nothing.

I’m still working my way through my Merlin DVDs – partway through season 2 so far – for research, and I’m pottering at doing work, but tomorrow I’m intending to go for a road run, do a concentrated hour or two of work and then get the drawing stuff out. Maybe even the acrylics, if I can find where someone has hidden my bag of paints. The trouble is that I tend to want to paint a masterpiece, whereas the truth is I should really be doing simple shapes and fills and getting used to mixing and applying paint. Still, whatever I choose to do, I know that it will be relaxing and constructive, rather than this stupid timewasting that achieves neither work nor relaxation.



Well it looks like we’ve reached Christmas, more or less, so it’s time to decide on a plan.  Mine is to spend my time wisely, on positive things, and forget about work completely for at least the first week.  I intend to go for regular runs (at home during the day means I can actually go for a proper run rather than head to the gym), do some drawing and painting, maybe even some writing, and the closest I intend to come to work is exploring and developing various skills for my own benefit.

During week 2 I will have to get some planning done, but again I intend to take it steady and approach it in a positive way, and not in a way that promotes stress.  The aim is to reach the beginning of next term having refreshed myself physically and mentally, and ready to face the challenges.

Let’s see how far I get to meeting all that 😉

First off, it’s heading out for a road run this morning before the real tidying/cleaning spree begins.  My penance for missing Parkrun yesterday.  I really want to get my time down under 30 mins so I don’t feel quite so worried about being a long way behind the pack and keeping the marshals out longer if it’s raining hard, freezing cold or both.

Practise practise practise

typewriterWhen I was learning the piano, my teacher used to encourage me to learn my scales.  Scales were boring.  Scales were only invented to torture me.  I wanted to play, not practice.

When I teach the kids something new, especially something creative, they – and so I – get frustrated because they want to do it all straight away: if they’re learning to make a game, they want to make the sort of games they choose, not the ones I show them.  When I was teaching kids to play chess, they wanted to play a proper game, not mini games with only a few pieces.

When I’m in a creative mood, I want to be able to get straight on with things.  But I’m starting to realise that I’m trying to bypass an important stage.  First I need to learn, then I need to practise, then I can create.  It’s no good getting frustrated if my flower doesn’t look right if I haven’t practised mixing colours or blending them on the page.  It’s no good getting miserable because my characters are wooden and I can’t do description, if I don’t actively work on those areas of my work.  It’s no good complaining I can’t create an all-singing all-dancing interactive flash resource if I haven’t put in the time and effort to really master the basics.

This is part of what showing up at the page means: to actively practise the art of creativity, in both senses of the word – to improve and to carry out.  Yes I could plunge straight in to my masterpieces, and I would improve, but a more efficient way is to actively work on weak areas, before trying to integrate that with the whole.  That’s another thing I’m learning with the kids as well – that just a short time spent going over what you want to do before you start results in a better end product, and just rushing in headlong is an inefficient way that costs more time than it saves.

So I need to make sure I not only turn up at the page, but I turn up willing to put in the time and effort to practise the skills, not just rush straight in.  Scales might not feel like real playing, but they make the real playing go so much more smoothly, and in the same way drilling with writing or art will also help the creation process.

PS the creativity and writing tags on my tag cloud are outgrowing the inaction and indecision ones!  Yay me!  Anyone else use their tag cloud to influence or judge their writing?

Summer resolution?

I hereby declare in public my intention to take my painting kit out and about in the summer – not just sketching, but my backpack with the paints in and my portable easel.  Who cares if the end result isn’t a masterpiece?  At least I’ll have fun and look impressive into the bargain – and it’s a constructive way of passing time.

In fact I aim to spend a lot more of time actively choosing what to do, rather than falling into default holding behaviour.  I hereby give myself permission to enjoy life and take control of my own life.  In the end I’m the only one who can declare it’s time to move on.  I can’t spend all my life second-guessing and agonising over things from so long ago.

I refuse to serve any more time for someone else’s crime.  Enough is enough.  Time to take control of my life and my surroundings, and make other people listen to me, instead of always doing whatever I’m told, taking the blame for everything and worrying about what others think.  And if that involves sitting in public painting, or sketching, or writing, then so much the better.



Can’t choose or afraid to choose?

I’m beginning to realise just how rarely I pick for myself what to do. It’s either working hard or complete vegging out – it seems that if there’s not something I have to do, then I’d rather waste time than deliberately spend it on something that might turn out to be a waste of time.
Hm. That doesn’t even make sense to me!
You see, if I’ve chosen to do something, and that turns out to be wrong, that’s my fault. And I can’t bear the thought of that. Far better to retreat into myself and do nothing.
At least if I know I’m deliberately wasting time, that’s understandable. But if I feel it’s something that’s worthwhile and I turn out to be wrong, then – oh, I can’t explain it even to myself. All I know is that I’ll deliberately choose to waste time playing games on the computer rather than doing something constructive. And it’s starting to really annoy me.
I recently broke up with some friends I used to hang out with a lot. And that leaves me on my own even more than usual. I’m beginning to think it’s time to break out of these destructive habits and find my own way. If it means time is wasted – so what? it’s being wasted anyway.
I’ve really enjoyed starting to be more creative. Now I’m starting to want to do more. To make the words flow from my fingers. To produce works of art that if they don’t look good at the end at least they’ll have got me into a great frame of mind while working on them.
And just for once I’d like to end up really good at something. Even if it turns out to be the wrong thing. Because being good at the wrong thing is better than being good at nothing at all.

No time to write today

My painting done in art classI was out at art class this evening, so while I might scribble a few words just to say I’ve written something, I’m not going to hit the word target anywhere close.

However, I do seem to be doing nablopomo, which is a daily thing, so here’s my post for the day, along with the evidence that I did actually achieve something creative.  It was great fun getting the acrylics out for the first time in about two years, and I’m reasonably pleased with the result.  I’m really going to have to get into the habit of painting regularly, I think, as only that way can I really figure out how to control the brushes and paint properly.

And it looks like I’m also heading for nononono, as this is the third image I’ve posted in as many days – for nononono the idea is to post 50 images of any kind within the 30 days – kind of cheating, as a picture paints a thousand words, so 50 pictures is the same as 50,000 words for nanowrimo 😉

(Can I count the nablopomo badge as one of my 50 images?)