46,15

That’s the number of days and hours I went without drinking. 1119 hours, to be precise. I wrote last month about my struggles with alcohol and wrestling with making some major changes to my relationship with booze. That meant sobriety to clear my head and give myself a break. Now the real challenge has begun – to see if I can maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol or if complete abstention is the only way forward.

I’d sort of pencilled in yesterday as the day when I might have a beer. I was up in London at a Don McCullin exhibition (an extraordinary photographer who is a creative hero of mine) and after doing a lot of walking and sightseeing I found myself thinking about the pub as the sun was beginning to set.  I was tired and if I’m honest, enjoying the thought of having one. So I found a decent pub serving decent beer, and bought a half.

It was strange for the first minute or two. I had the glass stood on the bar in front of me, and I just looked at it. I waited for someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask what the hell I was doing, but nobody seemed bothered. It looked like beer, with a bit of froth running down the side of the glass and that pure golden colour picking up the last of the sun coming through the glass. I knew what it would taste like. But still I hesitated. I did have a fleeting moment where I was going to walk out. I thought of the 46 days I’d accrued. Whether this drink was going to set me on a downward spiral or be a nice relaxing, solitary beer to end the day. Then I drank some. It tasted fine. I waited for the buzz of alcohol to hit. It took a few more sips. I finished the glass and left.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only drink I had. Indeed, I had a couple more than I was planning to. I stuck to halves, but did myself a disservice by buying a couple of cans to see me through the train journey home. That’s always been part of the problem, stopping before the night is over. I drank one on the train and the other at home after dinner. so the pace was leisurely and sensible. Only 3 pints in total, but deep down I know it’s not ideal. Still all the hallmarks of the old bad habits.

Today I haven’t felt too fantastic either. On the lighter end of the hangover scale, but still noticeable. I did an hour’s walk and felt slightly nauseous on my return, and definitely dehydrated. I haven’t missed this side of it, that’s for sure.

So what have I learnt? Not much, I’d wager. Those 46 days weren’t too bad, once the hangover and guilt had dissipated. I know I can put together similar runs in the future, which is something I didn’t know three months ago. I hope my wild drinking bouts are over. But in reality I’m not sure. I think I will continue to drink for the rest of this year at least, it’s my 40th in November and I can’t imagine being dry for that, but beyond then, well I just don’t know. I have a feeling my drinking days are numbered, now. But that prospect doesn’t fill me with dread anymore. So maybe the end of the road is somewhere on the edge of the horizon.

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Dark Days and Drinking

In the writing game, the propensity for substance abuse appears to be higher than in other parts of society, particularly alcohol. A number of my favourite writers all had problems with the bottle – Stephen King, Raymond Carver and Raymond Chandler to name but three. As King brilliantly articulates in On Writing, the idea that creative endeavour and booze or drugs are somehow connected and necessary in a world of emotional isolation and despair is a myth. Alcoholics drink because they are addicts, anything else is just another excuse.

Which brings me to my own battles with the booze. I’m obviously far from the standard of the legends I’ve mentioned, but I’ve used that excuse for my own excesses on occasion. And in the last few months the excesses are starting to get out of control. I drank heavily over the Christmas period, culminating in an ill-advised solo drinking session on New Years Eve which resulted in a substantial blackout period and one of the most savage hangovers I’ve ever experienced. I spent the first day of the year sleeping and puking and swallowed in a sea of self-loathing and guilt. Twenty six days later, I sit here and write, and I’m still sober.

I’ve been drinking for all the wrong reasons for a long time. It’s my fall back pastime when my mental health takes a tumble, which is the worst possible solution for that problem. When I’m bored, I drink. When I’m lonely, I drink. When I’m sad, I drink. When I can’t get the words down right, I drink. And on and on and on.  That my life is so much harder than anybody elses and I deserve to drink as some kind of a reward. It’s pathetic, really. I have friends with serious family stuff going on, life and death situations, and I get drunk because I feel I’m worthless as a writer or because I’m lonely. What a self-indulgent load of nonsense that is. Like I’m inviting the despair on to give me an excuse.

That’s not to say my mental health problems shouldn’t be acknowledged, far from it. But alcohol is not the way to do it. Once the fog cleared I made some enquiries and will hopefully be going back into therapy soon. I spent the best part of three years seeing somebody a decade ago and it really helped. More fool me for thinking I can do it on my own. And I’m sure that if I can keep my drinking under control my creative output should remain constant, and everything else will improve both physically and mentally.  I’m already sleeping better. My skin feels clearer. And its lovely to wake up in the morning without having to wonder how I got home. Simple pleasures.

It would be nice to get to the stage where I can enjoy a beer again, make it an occasional pleasure rather than a habit. If I can’t handle that, then it probably is time to give up for good. But I know now that I can’t go on as I have been, and that’s revelation enough.  I can not drink and be cleaner and happier, and still be able to write and live.

 

Falling Short

So another year is drawing to a close, and the title of this post sums up how I’m feeling at the moment about my creative year. I said confidently in my last post that by Christmas I would have finished the second draft of my novel. Well guess what, that hasn’t happened. I haven’t been lazy about it, either. Virtually every night I’ve been working on it. I’ve done less than I thought as work has proven pretty crazy in the run-up to Christmas. Moving operations to a new warehouse and offices in early December probably wasn’t the best idea, but that could be why I’m not a manager. Still, it has meant I’ve been very tired in the evenings and haven’t been able to edit as much per session as I would like. It’s quite a laborious process and I want to do it well, so when fatigue sets in I call it quits. About halfway through, so we’re looking at sometime in January before its fit for human consumption.

Outside of that my only other creative writing was the short story One Night Rebellion I published back in March. I’ve read it again and I’m pleased with it – the writing come out fresh and clean and quick, and I like the yearning tone of it. Other than that it’s been stops and starts. A couple of pieces never got off the ground although there is on I may revisit, so the next thing I write will be something I have yet to uncover. Hopefully it will come sometime soon!

Away from writing, my reading has been disappointing this year. I set myself the lowest Goodreads target ever for 2018 and I’m not going to make it. Worse, I have struggled to find books that have blown me away, which is unusual, for my radar is usually quite good. I did read one of my favourite books in years at the beginning of this month, one that filled my heart with joy and melancholy, a combination which only the greats can provide. All will be revealed in my 2018 reading year post which will be up sometime after Christmas. I also set myself a fun TV challenge, rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel (two favourite TV shows of my formative years) which I’ve failed miserably too. Barely seen any good films, either. Had a stark lack of inspiration from the glass teat this year.

To sum it up I would say it’s been a rather dreary year creatively. That spark of wonder and fulfilment you get from writing good prose or seeing/reading something that knocks you out, it’s been largely absent, with only the odd ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds. That’s not to say it’s been a waste of time, just more of a slog than in the past. Could say the same about getting old, I suppose. On that cheerful note, a Merry Christmas to all!

Repetition

I’ve been having a read through my posts from 2018 and it’s fair to say that since the completion of my third novel first draft I’ve been feeling a little flat. I think it’s natural to have a down period after undertaking such a feat, but I’ve been surprised at how long this creative lethargy has lasted.

The editing of the novel continues apace – three or four pages are edited every weeknight, and I’m probably about halfway through the manuscript now. Other than that, there is nothing to report on any new pieces of writing, and my reading slump has continued. I’ve had a couple of further breaks in the last month, my sister’s wedding in Germany at the beginning of September and a few days in Dorset in the week just gone, and usually being away kickstarts my reading if I’ve fallen into a rut. Not this time – in fact I haven’t read anything new for ages. Sometimes re-reading an old classic will give me the spark back but that hasn’t worked either. I haven’t dared to check my Goodreads challenge for 2018 as I fear I’m 5 or 6 books behind schedule, and that’s pretty depressing as I’ve got a much smaller target than in previous years.

So it feels like I’m going over old ground, really. My posts in 2018 have had the consistent theme of a lack of creative output in all aspects of my life, and I wish I could say something different right now. It would give me something else to write about on here, at least! Still, October is a quiet month for me. Work will be as busy as ever, the nights are drawing in and I’ve got little planned for the weekends. So it’s time to get my head down, work hard, focus on completing the second draft of the novel and maybe I might have something exciting to write about in my next post. Which will be better for me and certainly better for you! We shall see…

 

Wellbeing

Just read my last post and to be honest, things haven’t changed much since then. I’m still not writing very much. The novel sits idly by waiting to be looked at. My enhusiasm for reading has continued to dwindle. What I would say is that my general mental wellbeing has improved somewhat. I’m certainly a little cheerier than I was. There are a few reasons for that, I think. The main one has been the sunshine. It really is amazing how much the simple pleasure of being outdoors in the sun can improve my mood. I definitely think I suffer from that seasonal syndrome or whatever it’s called. Living in the southern hemisphere where the sun shines every day, I got used to warmth and long, light evenings. Coming back to Uk winters and darkness at 3pm really affected me. Now we’re in the height of summer I feel a bit better.

And I’ve had some lovely distractions. In the last few weekends I’ve caught up with various friends I haven’t seen in a while. The World Cup is on, which is criminal for my writing time but has been enjoyable so far (and England are showing their potential, which is somewhat exciting). I’ve also got some good times to look forward to, another Germany book club coming up which I always enjoy, plus I’m getting away for a few days in Cornwall at the end of July, and I can’t wait for that.

I’ve decided to use that trip to begin the edit of my novel. I figure it will be a nice place to start. I have booked a quiet apartment near the beach where I can fully get into it, and have unfamiliar terrain to explore when I need a break. It will be my first real holiday in a while and I’m determined to use the time to properly refresh the batteries. Read some books, maybe do some painting, get into a creative headspace and hopefully that will give me some momentum to get working on the various short story strands I’ve got in various stages of completion, and get something fit for public consumption whilst I continue on with the epic novel re-write.

So I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth, I suppose you could call this the downtime whilst I get mentally prepared to dive in. I hope to have more to say and write about as we get into the second half of 2018.

 

Malaise

I’ve been in a creative funk since my last post, and even after years of ups and downs with my writing output and general mental health I still can’t predict when it will come. I don’t want to call it writer’s block, as I think that’s a lazy and overused term.  I’ve written a little bit, but it’s all coming out flat. Perhaps this is because I’ve fallen back on the old adage of ‘writing what I know.’ This phrase is nonsense and deserves to be treated with scorn, it’s anti-imagination at its very core, but I’ve gone and done it anyway. Reason being I actually wanted to write something about a sport that I play, and explore some of the feelings I’ve experienced in my years of playing. Nothing too horrendous there, I don’t think. Sport is a metaphor for life according to everyone who’s ever played any, and I approached it with some enthusiasm. But it’s not flowing as I would have liked, so the story is currently on the back burner. Sigh.

Some of this of course is to do with a slight downturn in my mental health. I’ve been in a mild state of depression for quite a while now. Part of it is my job, which is time-consuming and stressful and has a knock-on effect of exacerbating my insomnia. Which doesn’t help. I feel like I’m in a rut career wise, but have no choice but to put up with it as I’m saving for a mortgage. Most of the time I can see the greater good, but on occasion I get a horrible dread, a suffocation, that I’m trapped and going to be until I retire or lose my rag, and the darkness descends for a bit and I need to regroup. Loneliness has crept in too, which is unusual for me as I’m solitary by nature. All this is not the best cocktail for productivity.

I feel a bit whiny, just saying all that. It’s been worse, far worse. I had wild bouts of heavy drinking and self-harm in my twenties, and there were moments when I contemplated suicide. I got in an awful, awful mess, and at that time I was writing a novel, on and off. It almost felt like a bipolar episode – days when I could barely get out of bed mixed with partying, copious amounts of alcohol and attacking my arms and chest with knives and cigarettes. I’m not in that place, and touch wood never again will be.  But even then I was still writing something. This malaise feels different, like its seeping into my bones and sapping my creative energy. Often reading will help, a brilliant book will give me a jolt, but that isn’t working either. My reading rate is way down on last year, as it happens. So another aspect of life that usually brings joy has ground to a halt.

Ahh, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just the fucking miserable weather.  Guess I could tell my boss to shove it and then I’ll have plenty of free time to bash this gloom out of me. I’m going to have to push through and write, no matter how bad it is or how much I don’t want to, and the sun will break through the clouds eventually.  I just wish it were easier, sometimes.

The Heart of the City

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The place that I call home…

 

As a welcome I thought I’d make my first post a homage to the suburb of Melbourne that I call home. The first time I came to Fitzroy was in 2003 as a fresh-faced twenty-something and I took to the place straightaway. The obvious things I first noticed was the vibrancy of the streets and the sheer variety of the shops, walkways and of course the people. I walk around and every time spot something new or different, whether its a tucked away piece of street art or a hairstyle I’ve never seen before!

I grew up in a small provincial English town which could kindly be described as ‘conservative’ and the contrast between that and the bohemian thread of Fitzroy couldn’t be more paramount. I’ve never felt out of place though, and I’m not what you would call the most left-field of people. It’s a casual shrug of acceptance and welcome and away you go.

I’ve been back twice since my first visit but never imagined that I would end up living here. Now I am I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.