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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Time to grow up?

bogey changing belarus 05
Changing the bogeys - crossing the border from Russia to Belarus, Sep 2007. Photo taken from an adjoining carriage that's also jacked right up.

Listening to Branson's autobiography again today has really hit me hard.

That, and talk with my colleague George (who is rapidly becoming an entrepreneur extraordinaire) regarding several ideas for ventures here in Tokyo that is pushing me to face my fears and get on and do what I need to do.

I've come a long way I know, but I still see myself being held back by a big nagging doubt about whether I can suceed in business or not.

The balance between talk and action in my life is way out. Look at me now. I'm blogging, not acting.

Ok, so I've created a (yet to be launched) website for my venture, but I can feel myself resisting stepping forward and acting to do what's needed in the real world. I tend to do things bit by bit, avoiding looking the plan in the eye, skirting the edges. I've built websites before, I can do that. They're within my comfort zone, no matter what the content (within reason).

By going out there and interviewing people, networking in real life, actually producing something other than a website - this is outside of my comfort zone and the fear is only too apparent.

There's never been a better time for action though. I've met someone who shares my passion for my idea, and will make a great co-producer. As of today I'm hooked up with a couple of entrepreneurial networks (via Linked in), and have been invited to speak at an upcoming event for the sake of furthering my idea / carrying out research.

We have no dependents, we can afford to take risks (within reason) - without some risk nothing will change.

I spoke with *Twinkle* tonight about this strong feeling that things have to change - her reaction was one of delight. 'It's about time you grew up' - exactly what I've been thinking myself all week.

She has been concerned that Joseph would never grow up sufficiently to be a father - she's not said this before, but I'm not surprised. I identify wholly with what she is telling me. (I hope you see the irony following my privious post.

It's time I assert myself. Remain humble and eager to learn from others, but stop kowtowing to fear, and stop thinking that everyone knows better than me.

I desperately want to succeed in the business realm. I'm not motivated by money (although the need for money by those around me does motivate me to a certain extent). I'm motivated by wanting to create something amazing that makes a positive difference to others in some way, by the idea of doing what I love every day, being free to put my precious limited time towards what I consider to be the most important thing that I can put my time towards.

It really is time I grew up.




I'd like to express my thanks to my family, friends and Mumblers who have consistently expressed their belief in my ability to realise my dreams. I invite you to continue to stay tuned and see what happens here over the next 1, 3 and 5 years.

Ok. So let's do it.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Initiating change

Wordle of Change

You know that space you often find yourself in when you wake up, that space where it's just you and the remnants of your dream? You might not be aware of where you are, or to a certain extent, 'who' you are. By 'who', I mean who you are to the world around you. Who you are in the workplace, who you are in relationships, who you are within that complex network of friends and family that exists around you.

I woke up in just such a space this morning. I was unconscious of the fact that my physical body was at my parent's house, unconscious that I was about to get married, unconscious that I have things I need to do today.

I opened my eyes, and seeing the cupboard beside my bed, so I became aware of where I was. With my location established, so my place in the world began to come back to me. There was the wedding. There was *Twinkle*. There was Joseph, in Orcop.

However, this morning It took a bit longer than usual to fit into the self-constructed id, and I found myself putting an arrest upon 'reality's creep'.

Hang on a sec, I thought, I don't have to be this person, I don't have to fit into this world that is a construct of every day of my life up until now.

I could change everything, now.

I could leave everything behind. Walk out of the door and start a completely new life. Go and live in Siberia (would have to take a wooly jumper).

A few moments later I'd had an opportunity to think about what I'd like to change in the reality I've constructed, and decided that actually, there was nothing I would change, and I am very happy to continue along the current path I have chosen.

However, this brief period of time spent in that space free of earthly concerns reminded me of the immense potential we all hold (those of us that are fortunate to live in 'free' societies), a potential for change. If we don't like our lives in any way, we can choose to change it, completely, with a single decision that could be made in a split second. We are only bound to our current situations by our own self-imposed limits, limits that give us an enormous sense of comfort by placing scary (limitless) possibilities out of reach.

I like crossing boundaries, I like big change. I like having the freedom to choose to act independently of a personal daytime reality, the reality that becomes our identities in the morning.

I think, in a way, this is one reason why I enjoy living in Japan. In Japan my id is far from concrete. I have good friends, but they are few (I can count them on one hand), thus meaning that I am free of any history when stepping out into the world. I'm free to be who I choose to be that day, with far fewer self-imposed restrictions. Just guided by what feels right.




It'll be interesting to see if the reality I create in Japan comes to mirror the reality I have in the UK. I suspect that it might, but it will be far more limited. I'm going to have to make quite an effort to form the kind of networks I have here in the UK. That's something I've not been too good at in Japan in the past. I've tended to keep my world small, revolving around a few close friends / my partner. I know I need to reach out, especially to the foreign community in Japan. With two notable exceptions, I've resisted that in the past.

Perhaps it's time for some massive change there.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

From the train: Nuclear Drivers and Being the Change



I'm on the train back to Sheffield. It's been a pretty easy journey, relaxing. For the first leg I was on a rail-relacement bus. I sat at the front as I often do on buses, provided they have seat-belts. Next to me was a chap in his 40s. Pretty scruffy, stinking of cigarettes.

"This bus journey is costing me £400" he said to the driver, clearly pretty pissed off. "I'm a truckie - got a load of nuclear waste to take to Germany tonight, have to be at Dover by 10pm. I'm gonna miss that ferry because of these engineering works - you have no idea how much trouble that's gonna cause. They have to make special allowances for me, have to make sure I'm on the deck - it's a nuclear load you know"

The bus driver mumbled something about the train company working to upgrade the track.

"Yeah, well, it's just not good enough. I'm gonna make sure this rail company gets all the bad press it deserves."

Well, that'll certainly help, won't it?

Things were quiet after that. Just the guy at Stockport who seemed suicidal in a manic kind of way. Thankfully he didn't jump in front of the train - just banged repeatedly on the door until it opened.

I've been reading more of the Be The Change. I tell you, if you have any dreams of starting any kind of movement or company to bring about positive change, this book is a must. It is so inspiring. You can't help but feel "Why not me?" after reading this book.

The other message that comes out of it's butterfly-adorned pages is that it is vital to follow your passion. You also need to have a laser-like focus; seek advice as widely as possible; have a plan that is set and followed, yet flexible; get a great team around you.
If you have these things, you can't fail in whatever you do.

I'm struck by what these people have achieved. They have touched the lives of billions. They are incredible - and yet at the same time they are no different from Joe Bloggs. Indeed, it's that message that is one of the loudest. These folks don't have buckets of money, they aren't nuclear physicists, they don't necessarily have any clear idea of what they want to do at the outset - but they do find their passion, and follow it.

Mind you, if I look around, I see people like that everywhere, doing amazing things (be they small or big amazing things) on a daily basis, making a difference. I bet if I interviewed a sample of my friends and acquaintances (and mumblers) I'd be able to fill a book that was just as inspiring, in its own way.

All of this keeps on leading me back to my new life with *Twinkle*. Just can't get her out of my head. This new partnership excites me so much. Scares me too. So much change, so much opportunity - am I going to be brave enough to step outside of my comfort zone and follow my heart? It would be far easier to just settle for something that doesn't stretch me too much, but I think long term that would be quite painful.

Ho hum.

Just pulling into Sheffield Station, must dash.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Speaking from the heart

Following a day spent washing socks and working on my final piece of coursework, this evening I was picked up by friends on their way to another friend's birthday BBQ. It was great to see the James the birthday boy, even if our stay was somewhat brief. I was also delighted to bump into Lynne, my ex-classmate who I've not seen since the second year of our course (that was a big surprise!). I was torn between staying, and going to the house of another couple of friends, the daughter of one of whom was appearing on ITV's Britain's Got Talent.

In the end, I decided to head over to support Sophie, and I tell you, it was truly inspiring, not only seeing Sophie impress Simon Cowell, but also watching all those 'ordinary people' realising their long-held dreams. I was struck by how 'nice' they were. Their attitudes of humility and appreciation. Big Respect!




Reading my Team Management Profile the other day, there was one bit that I didn't identify with at first.
"You have your best ideas when in conversation"

Since reading that, I've been enjoying observing myself in conversation (partly as that's one of the assignments for the coaching course I'm taking), and you know what, it really is when talking to others that my ideas come together.

When asked tonight what I'll be doing in Japan, I talked a bit about the jobs I'm thinking of taking on in the first year. It struck me how when explaining why they would be right for me, I felt no passion. I was describing some mechanism for earning enough money to cover my expenses. I felt like a fraud, I was just talking rubbish.

Realising this, I switched from head to heart mode, and spoke again. I talked about how I love engaging groups of people, making them feel relaxed, causing them to laugh, teaching them something that would help them leave the room feeling just a little happier than when they'd walked in.

A medium-term goal then: to work with large groups of people, some form of public speaking. It could be on broadcast media, it could be in the flesh.

From here I worked backwards, seeing where the jobs I'm thinking of taking on could contribute to my reaching this goal. These jobs include teaching & training - both of which involve the presentation of ideas, the use of logical linkages and story telling. All of these skills would come in handy for public speaking. Seen in this light the jobs have a higher purpose, and are a good deal more appealing. And, just as importantly, my focus is back on my ultimate goal, which is leveraging my 'brand' (which could be a penguin called Pepé) to have a significant positive impact upon a lot of people.

This inspires me, excites me and gives me the energy to do what needs to be done.

Anyway, best be off to bed.



(That audition led to this)

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Team management profile - my report

A couple of weeks prior to coming on this 'Change event' I, and all other participants, were sent a (60 question) questionnaire to fill in order that a "Team Management Profile" could be drawn up. A TMP is essentially a 25 page report on you, showing your preferred roles within a team, detailing your strengths and weaknesses, providing areas for self-assessment (improvement), and giving pointers for others that wish to interact with you effectively.



I was pretty cynical when answering the questions, but having received my report I'm stunned. It is incredibly accurate - almost scarily so. I'm an explorer / promoter. I like challenges, constantly seek new projects, have a high energy level and am outgoing.

It goes on to talk about how,
"whilst you enjoy other people's views,"it is likely that you will have clear ideals, standards and convictions which guide your decision-making. You rely on your 'sixth sense' to tell you what is right."

"Your gift for expression is particularly forceful when you are proposing a line of action based on your personal values. Indeed, some may say you don't always support your ideas and beliefs with sufficient facts and hard evidence."


I think that latter point is demonstrated time and time again here, in the Mumble, when I blog about something that I feel passionate about, even when I lack any evidence to back up the argument behind my feelings. I've been aware of that for some time now, and I think it's a 'lack of time' for carrying out sufficient research that has come to make me hesitate to mumble as much as I may have done beforehand about immediate issues, out of concern to not be talking complete crap.

There's another warning for me a little later on in the report.

"You probably feel you involve people a lot in the decision-making process because you talk to them a great deal. You may wish to check up to see if they really do feel involved, in the sense that they can influence you as opposed to their being influenced by you. The more experienced you are, the better you will be able to handle this important balance."


I tell you, I feel like the author of this report has been stalking me. I recognise that danger in the way I interact with people, and although it is something I do try to counter by asking for sincere opinions, I know that that I find it difficult to not put across my feelings that are often founded on passion and core beliefs.

"You value harmony and co-operation, but can be a strong opponent if crossed" - I think the university's parking services could vouch for that!

What makes everyone laugh is looking at the Norm data - where you are compared to global norms.

Out of a sample of 151,616 people:

- 91% are more introverted than me
- 75% are more practical than me (I am more creative, apparently)
- 86% are more analytical than me (I'm belief's orientated - a look at any of my story-tale essays will back that up!)
- 84% are more flexible than me (rubbish!)

I would take issue with that final one. It must have been the wording of the questions that skewed the answer!

Whilst it is of course by no means foolproof, this TMP does seem to pick up on core behaviours and beliefs. I'd recommend anyone who has the opportunity to do it, to do it.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Spring, Surveillance and coaching course call one

It's been a great day today. First off, it was the beginning of Warm Spring. You could feel it brewing over the weekend with the muggy rain. It's been an astonishing 72 hours, with a complete transformation of the trees in the churchyard opposite my house - just like that! Like a switch being flicked! This really makes me happy. 

After a late start following a late night studying I had a couple of classes in which I did pretty appallingly, due to not putting enough work in recently. It's ok though, I know what I need to do, and I'll do it, and everything will turn out great.

I'm about 10,000 words into my 7000 word dissertation. Actually enjoying writing that now! I think about half of what I write will end up as appendixes. Only two chapters to go.



Tonight I popped over to the university drama studio to take some publicity shots for a new play being performed by Theatre Two Point Oh, Surveillance (a CILASS funded project). It's being produced (directed? What's the difference?!) by a fellow CILASS Student Ambassador (Tom), and stars Laura whose photo I posted a few days back with that great smile of hers (and again, below, without the smile). What an amazing thing they are doing... talk about team building. After the performance I lurked backstage to edit the photos, a process that took about 45 minutes. It was fascinating, as whilst I clicked away in Lightroom I couldn't help but listen to the stage intercom, thus overhearing the team meeting. It reminded me of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, following the fortunes of a group of dedicated individuals who come together to do something incredible. There's drama and tension along the way, but the ultimate result is a great show and a wealth of character-building  experience.


Once home tonight I attended my first ever group coaching session, as run by TSI, the coaching company that I mumbled about a few weeks back (It took the form of a small group conference call). It was good. Obviously, I'm not going to (and never will) divulge any personal information about my coursemates, but just to say it's a very diverse group with some incredible people who have gone through very tough times, but are determined to change their lives for the better. It's a really positive environment, and the timing is just perfect. The coming weeks will see huge changes for me, with several important decisions needed. Having this resource to call upon will help a lot.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes for me once we get started properly next week.

I'd like to thank those of you who have contacted me with post-grad ideas. You've been tremendously helpful. Every day has seen me feeling increasingly grateful that I was not given the job I wanted. I'm not saying that that job (as CIR on the JET scheme) would not have been  a good thing - such a position offers incredible opportunities and I believe I would have been a fool to say no had I been accepted - but thinking about who I really am, and where my heart lies, well, it just doesn't fit.   

It's scary though - I'm really feeling challenged to think hard about where my passions lie, and being dared to invest in turning them into a tangible opportunity. I'm looking at taking a part-time position, enabling me to pay the rent whilst devoting a significant amount of time in starting my own business, and supporting *Twinkle* in hers. 

We'll see. The domain name is registered at least! 

Best get to bed anyway. Long day of writing tomorrow. I need to get this dissertation finished asap as I still have a tonne of stuff to conclude before my student status expires!

xxx

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Monday, April 14, 2008

My Life Purpose


One benefit of committing the story of one’s life to a blog powered by Google, hosted by some other company and then sent to you by email (and then burnt to DVD) is that when one turns 90, the chances are there will still be a copy of it somewhere. Why should that be important? I’d like to be able to look back on my life at the age of 90 and see if I can draw lines between developments in my thoughts, feelings and decisions early on in life (now) and later occurrences.

For many years, I kept *real* diaries. I have about 49 of them in a big box that will soon be sailing to Japan. They span some 15 years of my life from the age of about 12. There’s only one copy of them, and should the boat go down, they will go down too.

I pretty much stopped writing my *real* diary when I met *Twinkle*, who became the one I talked to about things that mattered. As time has passed, so I’ve grown more confident about writing about my feelings here on the Internet, which has been especially useful this past year with those friends who are happy to talk about such things being some distance away. It took me a while to develop the confidence to open up, and I know that without the inner work, I wouldn’t have been able to do this. It’s only though learning to trust my heart / spirit that I can feel confident in what I write. Confident in that I am being honest with myself (as opposed to confident in my being ‘right’, a view I don’t subscribe to. How can I be ‘right’ when things have no intrinsic ‘rightness’? Don’t they only have the rightness or wrongness we as individuals choose to assign to them?).
So there’s my long-winded preamble about why I’m writing this.

Things have been happening in my life this week. Well, actually, it’s more a case of things have always been happening all my life, but I feel that now is a critical period, like some kind of climax. There’s all these things that are happening. I feel like there’s some role being shaped for me, but I have no idea what it is. I’m getting this message that I have some kind of responsibility to do something. But not just an everyday something, but a something that is going to make a big difference. I don’t know what it is.

You know there’s that quote of Gandhi’s, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. I can’t say I can recall ever hearing it before this week, and suddenly, it’s everywhere. It was on a website I stumbled across the other day in bold letters. Then, it popped up on an audiobook I was listening too (quite the highlight actually - if you’re after self-development books give Brian Tracy a miss!), then the other night I was suddenly moved to pick a book off my shelf that had been there since January, untouched. It’s called “Be the change”, and is a product of the organisation of the same name, based in my second home town of Bristol. There on the front page is the quote by Gandhi.

Then there was the person I met in the pub the other night. Well, I say ‘met’. All I actually did was shake his hand and then talk to someone else on the other side of the table for 20 minutes, but the following day I received an email from his partner (my good friend) passing on a message for me, talking about my future. It was a reflection of the feelings I am writing about here.

Then there was that person who warned me, “Don’t hide behind *Twinkle’s* success”. Now that was a well-placed kick up the backside, and a very timely one at that. Likewise, I can’t hide behind the name of any company or government I might work for in the short term. I might want to, and no doubt I will do so at times due to my ego demanding a stroke, but it will be fatal if I subscribe to such a practice long term.

It’s not these superficial happenings that are overwhelming me though, it’s this feeling that growing inside me that I have a responsibility to use the immense fortune that I have to make a difference. I’m not talking any financial fortune, I’m talking being born in the UK in the late 20th century to loving parents who sent me to a Steiner School, and have always supported me emotionally in all that I have ever chosen to do. In having loving siblings and friends who share my positive outlook upon life and also believe that we can do great things.

Sometimes, the feeling is positively palpable. Like tonight. I had to lie down on my bed and hide under my duvet, hugging my teddy as I felt all these things happening, all this energy surrounding me (if only I could channel it into pressing the appropriate keys on my Macbook to write a dissertation on NGOs in Japan!). I’ve been reading these incredibly inspiring stories in the Be The Change book about individuals who have done the most amazing things and are changing lives. In some cases, just a few lives, and in other cases, many. There’s no fundamental difference between these people and anyone else, except that they have made a decision to make things happen, and then acted. They didn’t know how they were going to do it, but that is not important when one first embarks upon a project.

So, I’m not quite sure what to do. I don’t think the time is right to act yet as I need more clarity, and it may be a case of waiting some years before I do know. That’s not to say that I have to “wait until everything is in place” - the biggest excuse in the book that, things will never be ‘just right’! But I do know that it’s vital that I continue to study, study my passions, study others, study those things in life that present themselves to me with a label on saying “study me” (sometimes need an ultraviolet light to see the writing though).

I also know that living in accordance with what my heart tells me is right, is working. It must be almost a year now since I started that ‘experiment’, and the results in terms of being at ease with decisions made, not attaching importance to the subjective opinions of others who are acting out of a perceived necessity for defensiveness, and my ability to love others for who they, are wonderful to experience.

It’s pretty difficult for me to tell even a white lie now. Although I did the other day, first time in a very long time. I can’t remember exactly where I was. It was somewhere on campus, I remember that, and it was someone who I didn’t know too well, and they asked me an awkward question. I told them the answer they wanted to hear, and boy oh boy did I feel bad. I almost burst out laughing I was so amused by my inability to lie. If the person had known me they’d have spotted it right away, but they didn’t.

In a way I can comfort myself with the knowledge that the publishing company we are establishing is essentially a social enterprise, helping others to help themselves without heavy emphasis on profit. If my energy is directed into that, I can feel happy knowing that I am doing a good thing. Perhaps I’ll get the Jet job. If I do I know I’m going to have to use every opportunity within that to make myself a better person, in order that I can make things happen in an area where my true passions lie in the future.

If I don't get it, that’s great too as it means that there’s some other exciting path waiting for me.


So, 90-year-old Joseph, do the lines join up?

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spanners, deadlines, and night-time inspiration

Email from the parents:
"No post for you from the embassy today either. They must be sorting out necessary changes in law for you to be made emperor"


Having had a very long day, it was a great relief to get home last night. Managed to finalise the business plan and actually submit it 6 hours before the competition deadline. It was just a shame that only thirty minutes later we had a meeting with the company responsible for developing our website in which we were informed that they had suffered a major breakdown in internal communication, and thus were unable to proceed with development under the current contract, the quote having been based upon a hopelessly optimistic timescale.

That was quite a shock, as we'd previously been informed that the coding was proceeding smoothly; this puts us two months behind schedule, two months we don't really 'have'. Still, ultimately this is a good thing as the project has now been transferred to another somewhat more professional team within the organisation, thus meaning we are more likely to get a robust, good-looking site (provided we can afford it!).

It's good that we learn this lesson now with a business that we are not relying upon to put bread on the table in the immediate future. Whilst of course we very much want it to be up and running and successful as soon as possible, were that not to happen it would not put our 'families' under duress as we each have other income streams. A couple of years down the line the story might be different, with a delay of several months in the commencement of trading for whatever other businesses we may be running then having a huge impact our daily lives.

It reminds me once again of what a great learning experience this is: I'd urge any university student who is considering setting up their own business in the future to do so whilst at uni - there is so much support available, and ultimately if things don't work out you can write it off as good lesson that could not have been attended in a classroom. And remember, as only one in ten businesses is 'successful', it's a good idea to start up at least ten businesses in your lifetime!




I also met the deadline for applications for further CILASS funding - although I later realised that the CD that I had meticulously prepared the night before (used pretty blue pen to write the label, found a case for it in cupboard) actually contained no data! I'd postponed burning it until I'd had the OK from my department on the wording of the application. Silly boy! The judges meet next Friday - Fingers crossed.

I then submitted 12 photos to the International Office for a competition being run to help them increase their stock of publicity shots. I like the idea of contributing to this campaign, not just because I might win a digital photo frame, but also because it's nice to give back to the uni, and especially this department as they were instrumental in bringing *Twinkle* into my life!

I submitted another 5 photos to the Photosoc (photo) competition, the deadline of which was Thursday. I'd wanted to be a lot more involved with Photosoc this year, but ultimately, it had to take a back seat due to things like CILASS (although I don't regret that). I doubt I'll win that as I had few striking images that could be bent to fit the available categories, and decided not to make time to shoot some specifically for the competition.

In the afternoon myself, Tom and Mark went about recording our 'Unlocking IBL Technology session" (IBL = Inquiry Based Learning, as promoted by CILASS) . That was fun, a good chance to practice talking to the camera. It once again highlighted my tendency to sway back and forth when giving a talk, something I'll continue to work on as I'm sure that public speaking will be one of my things in the future. ...if i can just find something to talk about. (I recommend Presentation Zen for anyone else interested in how to deliver effective presentations. And no, I don't subscribe to his blog just because he gives regular presentations at Japan's Apple Stores!).

When I got home at 6pm it hit me. The exhaustion. I was done in. I just managed to prepare a big organic salad, before collapsing onto my bed. I could do nothing but lie their dazed, staring at the ceiling, half-listening to the latest episode of TWiP. After an hour or so I felt I wanted to do some sewing, and so got my patchwork trousers out and worked on some recent holes. For background noise I'd put on the trashy yet mildly entertaining Azumi, one of those films that requires no attention whatsoever and that you forget seconds after it's finished.




Fast forward to 2am, and I'm now awake and alert. Been thinking about what I'm going to do after I graduate. I've been encouraged recently to seriously think about where my passions lie, and thus where I would be best directing my energy for maximum results. I can sense a path opening up. Hmm, there could be a future here. I get out of bed, turn my mac on, and buy 5 new domain names.

Today, I wake up and for a change, the domain names bought in the middle of the night (and the idea that they represent) still seem to hold genuine potential. This is a good sign. Usually, I check the emails from the domain registrar and wonder what on earth I was thinking.

But anyway, more on that in the future. For now, I need to get this dissertation out of the way.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Norwegian Wood, Religious Weddings and the Canvas of Life


Latest addition to my mum's art portfolio

Fascinating, thrilling day today. It is so great to see family after such a long time.

I caught the tram at 6.30am, train down to Hereford, bus to Wormelow, car to Orcop. Thoroughly enjoyable journey. Not only did I get to indulge in one of all-time favourite hobbies -sewing patches on my jeans (and this was a MAJOR patch, handmade by my talented friend Suzie H a couple of years back, I've been saving it for such an occasion as today's), but also, I was able to indulge in listening to a new Audiobook - Norwegian Wood by Murakami. I've not read it before, but have long wanted to, knowing how much it is liked by so many of my friends. I absolutely loved 'Kafka on the Shore': I listened to that as I crossed the East China Sea, and found myself identifying with the characters as they made their own journey's West.

Whilst the narration of Norwegian Wood is not spellbinding in the way that that of Kafka was, I'm really enjoying the story nonetheless. I recognise the characters in people I know, the most prominent example being that of the upper-class womaniser destined to be a bureaucrat, who appears to me as the chap from Oxford university who made it to the final of the speech contest with me last month (to the right of me in this picture).



I did a bit of PC-doctoring today, getting my sister's webcam working for Skype (secret is to uninstall the Logitec software and let Skype handle the camera itself) which the boys liked (funny seeing yourself on screen for the first time!), and setting up iTunes so she can listen to some of the audiobooks I've purchased from Audible (you can license up to 3 computers to play your DRM-protected tracks).

Also talked about the wedding quite a bit, lots of good ideas emerging. It's going to be great.

One 'issue' that comes up for some people is this getting-married-in-a-church business. Neither *Twinkle* or I are particularly religious, and as you know, I am not too keen on traditional Christian notions of an almighty 'God' ...so why do I want to get married in a church?

Well, as with everything in life, a church wedding only carries the meaning that an individual chooses to assign to it. In Japan, 'church' weddings are popular (although the church is unlikely to be 'real' and the priest may well be a fake). I feel I have been somewhat influenced by the research I carried out on Japanese 'Christian weddings' in 2006/07, in that for me such a wedding does not necessarily have to relate to any religious tradition, and is really very appealing.

What others may label as "God" I feel is a nameless infinite source; love; an immense energy that fills us, that is us, and all of our surroundings.

Thus, a demonstration of my commitment to *Twinkle* in the 'presence of God' is for me, not a subscription to norms as laid out in holy texts, but rather, a powerful acknowledgement of our decision to commit to strive to bring our energies, our love, into flexible alignment.

There's other, somewhat more tangible reasons for having a church wedding too. I want to see my dream bride walk down the aisle in a beautiful white dress -it's in all the movies! I want the experience of church bells ringing overhead, confetti being thrown as we leave the church. I've been influenced by popular culture, and I want to live the dream.

I also feel that our parents would appreciate a church wedding. Perhaps here again I am influenced by Japanese customs I feel that our wedding is in a way as much an event for our families as it is for us.

Dad

I'm not sure I could have handled a church wedding a year or two ago, but the timing now is perfect.




It's been a tremendous day of synchronisity. I won't go into details here, but just to say that thoughts that have been circulating within my head have today been vocalised by two people close to me, quite out of the blue. It's all related to where do I go from here? Suddenly, concerns over employment after I return to Japan are made to seem like nothing but minor details that are sure to addressed through the natural unfolding of life.

These worries have been dwarfed by the appearance of this huge blank canvas that stretches out as far as the eye can see. In front of it is this incredible array of coloured materials and tools for their application. There's a sign there too. It reads:

Paint your future. Then Live it.


Aghh! I can't deal with that! Where's the colouring book with the numbered options: 1 for red, 2 for blue, 3 for green? Just choose your picture and fill in as prescribed. I know if I do that I'll succeed, everyone does!

...but a blank canvas?! You mean I can paint anything at all? ...But, I dunno what to paint! And what if I go wrong, what if I get the colours mixed up?

I must work to accept that it's only when artists move away from the colouring template that new colours are created by the mixing of the primaries, its only through experimentation that breakthroughs in style are made - and that it is these breakthroughs that bring great joy to artist and onlooker alike.

I've not been faced with such a huge canvas before. It keeps on getting bigger too as it is unrolled further by friends, by family, by books, by experiences. I understand that I'm being challenged to pick up one of the many tools before me and make my mark, but what tool I should use, and what colour should I apply?

It'll come to me. I know it will. I needn't be afraid because I will be guided by someone or something.

It's also important that I not feel I have to paint the whole picture with a single brushstroke - I'd never dare make that sweep from left to right! If I start small with little dabs, holding a clear idea of what I'm looking to create in my mind, with time the scene will emerge. I may accidentally put a splurge of red where green would be better suited, but that red will come to play an important part, perhaps a little poppy in the field of wheat.

Hmm, it's very exciting.

What's even more exciting though, is that in reality, we are all faced with this canvas, every single day.

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