On Writing.

I used to write a newsletter.

I guess I still do. Just not recently. Last year, post-pandemic, I count seven editions. This year we have a grand total of one

For a ‘weekly’ publication, that’s not exactly regular.

March 23rd, 2020. We all know and remember that’s when the UK went into lockdown. Since then I’ve been back into the office I think five times? Twice for a shoot, once for a pitch, then twice to see (and in some cases, meet for the first time) my team. 

I do not miss the commute. I know I am not alone in this, not by any stretch. The benefits of working from home (higher productivity, deep work) far outweigh those of being in the office every day (commute, open-plan offices) – I can’t ever imagine going back to the ‘old’ normal ever again.

Incredible really. 

Being able to close my laptop at 6pm, immediately cuddle my children, start [a proper] dinner, and generally enjoy an evening at home with the family; that holds immense value for me.

But of course, that benefit comes at a cost: the 90-120mins a day of ‘dead’ time on the train/tube/walk of a commute mind, that’s where I did the thinking. The reading. The mental drafting and percolating of words, thoughts, and provocations that would ultimately wind up in an edition of Five Things on Friday.

And that’s gone now.

Not for good. But it’s telling that having travelled to and from the office twice over the past fortnight, there are words available at the end of these fingers once more.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

Throughout all this I’ve kept my job, the roof over my head, and – frankly – my life.

But today, today I’m allowing myself to miss writing.

Because I do.

I am in no rush to return to the office. But when I do (at least part-time) then maybe the words will return with it.

41.

Haven’t written a newsletter for maybe a couple of months and I’ve got a .txt file of links longer than my left leg to go through but instead of doing that, I thought it was high time to boot up the back end of my dusty weblog, blow off a few cobwebs, and see what comes out. Because of course.

It was my 41st birthday a fortnight or so ago.

Turning 40 was a huge deal for me. It is my firm belief that I spent a good part of those 40 years properly messing things up. Yes, I achieved so much – so so so so so much. And it was great – but it was also at great expense. To myself and to many others. I felt like 40 – and to be fairer to myself – the year leading up to turning 40, was a genuine full stop. End of page. New chapter. The second half of the book… And… Here. We. Go.

We spoiled ourselves last year. I’m glad we did. We owed to each other. Amazing gigs, several holidays, family trips – just saying ‘fuck it, we’ve earned this’ – because we had. ‘And in 2020,’ we said, ‘we won’t go on holiday. Instead, we’ll get the garden done, sort ourselves out financially, and focus on turning our house into a home’. Couldn’t have picked a better year for it.

This year, almost gone in the blink of a thousand video calls, is nearing its end. Christmas decorations are up. Tentative plans are being made. And yet I look around and think ‘Hey, wait a minute – it was March, like, yesterday? Where did it all go?’ Now don’t get me wrong, this year has been A yEaR uNLiKe AnY oThEr. But still.

I remember when I first became a parent someone said to me ‘The years are fine, it’s the decades you wanna watch out for’. And they were right. My children grow (my god they grow), life turns onwards. I find myself reflecting often on what I might leave behind (good therapy does that to you). Someone asked me recently, what would people write in your obituary?

“One of the best pieces of advice my therapist ever gave me was this: “spend your life helping your children write the obituary you will never hear. Make it easy for them.” It doesn’t matter what I think, feel – it matters what I do. I hope that what I do is enough.”

And I do. I wonder about it a lot.

Everything from ensuring my kids don’t feel pressured to conforming to false societal norms (I’m not the only one that does this, right?) to just making sure I use my platform to elevate voices that may not have the chance to be heard (Get DICE). Micro and macro – how can I not be a fuck up (anymore)? How can I give more back? How can I make sure I’m leading by example?

How can I ensure that what I do helps me live a life of meaning.


It was my 41st birthday last month.

That, for me at least, marks a full year of not being a fuck up.

And I’m alright with that.

Short stories on Instagram

I’ve been writing short stories on Instagram.

I’m not really sure why, but it’s just something that has started happening recently, since my last haircut in fact (which is an odd way for things to start but still). I remember the hairdresser handing me a copy of the latest GQ magazine and thinking ‘Ugh, I haven’t read this since I was a teenager’.

But then I opened it and started browsing – ‘I’ve got nothing else to do for the next 40mins, why not?’ – and I found an amazing and quite lengthy article about Philip K. Dick. Prolific science fiction author, futurist and drug user (I would be amazed if you’d never heard of him or of any of the films that are based on his works), I’d never read anything about him, the man, before and it was just completely mindstretching.

I really can’t remember the full ins and outs of the actual piece (quotes etc) and you’re a better man than I if you can find anything relating to the piece on the GQ website but what I do remember is the way they described Dick’s imagination and the way he viewed the world in which we live.

It really did blow my mind.

The guy was a mental case, a drug-[ab]using* genius and yet, his imagination was – and still is – ridiculously inspiring. That article, on top of this additional piece from Warren Ellis, entitled ‘How To See The Future‘, is pushing my brain in new directions and it is awesome.

On the way home that afternoon, I was on the look out for a decent Empty Underground shot or three and I spotted this:

Inspired, on Instagram

‘That’s cool’, I thought ‘reminds me of the use of amber, from [the TV series] Fringe‘. Then I boarded my tube and started typing. I don’t know what the character limit is on Instagram images, I’m yet to find it. But what I am finding is that being able to go over and above 140 characters is somewhat freeing.

My imagination takes me to all kinds of places…

I wrote:

—————-

Emergency tube closure.
Large rats, the size of cattle, have been reported roaming the tunnels at Oxford Circus. These orange panels, an emergency procedure in place since 1997, are actually made up of a thick orange sinew. Frequently mistaken as a deterrent to the unbelievably large rodents, the panels – also known as ‘honey squares’ – are actually covered on one side with a sickly sweet, yet dangerously poisonous, honey-like coating. This honey trap, if you will, lures the wildrats out of their dark dens and snares them with their hypnotic flavour.

Death occurs merely minutes after first contact. All that remains is for a clean up team to dispose of the captured carcass and reopen the station to the public. The whole process takes approximately one hour.

Quite remarkable really.

—————-

I’ve been writing short stories on Instagram. I’m not really sure why, but what I can tell you is that they’re inspired by Philip K Dick and Warren Ellis.

More short stories —

The Witness

Another World

Sentient Life

Emergency Tube Closure

 

Emergency tube closure. Large rats, the size of cattle, have been reported roaming the tunnels at Oxford Circus. These orange panels, an emergency procedure in place since 1997, are actually made up of a thick orange sinew. Frequently mistaken as a deterrent to the unbelievably large rodents, the panels – also known as ‘honey squares’ – are actually covered on one side with a sickly sweet, yet dangerously poisonous, honey-like coating. This honey *trap*, if you will, lures the wildrats out of their dark dens and snares them with their hypnotic flavour. Death occurs merely minutes after first contact. All that remains is for a clean up team to dispose of the captured carcass and reopen the station to the public. The whole process takes approximately one hour. Quite remarkable really.

A photo posted by James Whatley (@whatleydude) on

A bit similar to my N8 project from last year, this time it’s with Instagram.

*user or abuser? The word is undecided. He took the drugs to push himself, and his work, into new dimensions. Surely, for him at least, that’s not abuse; that’s using them exactly what they’re for.

Learn

My first iPad wasn’t in fact mine. I merely had it on loan from the office. We danced and we played together but eventually, I had to hand it back. However, a couple of weeks ago (and thanks to some smart upselling from Vodafone), I picked up my own one.

This time an iPad2. Glorious.

This is the first time I’ve had an iPad ‘full time’ so to speak, and being a part-time student and observer of how technology influences human behavioural change, I’ve been keeping an eye on its influence on me.

The results so far? I’m reading more.

Allow me to explain: last year, I wrote about how the iPad did not mean the death toll for the publishing industry – and I stand by that. But, recently, I happened to come by an issue of The Economist’s lifestyle and culture quarterly, Intelligent Life (IL). It was my first encounter with said publication and, hidden deep within its pages, it featured a rather fantastic article entitled ‘Digital Africa‘. A super-relevant piece of writing and a subject that is dear to my heart. With that article alone, the magazine had found itself a new subscriber.

Later (and I don’t know how I discovered it, one assumes there must’ve been an ad somewhere inside), I soon learnt that IL had its own free iPad app. Even better. I thought, I know a lot of people with iPads and I know a lot of people that would enjoy that Digital Africa article. So… I’ll tell everyone who fits both those descriptions and that’ll be great.

I do, and it is.

Weeks later, my iPad2 arrives and the first app I download? IL. On top of the Digtial Africa copy, there’s a new issue available. I download that and read it, cover to cover, over the course of an afternoon.

‘Interesting’ being the key word here.

Confession time: I don’t read (in the traditional sense) as much as I’d like. It’s not a healthy admission to make, but it’s true. The, what might be seen as, usual time for reading – on the tube to and from work in the mornings and evenings – is usually taken up by writing. My Moleskine is my best friend when I’m travelling and I use the dead [read: ‘disconnected’] time to jot down my thoughts. Failing that, if my mind is bare, I catch up on email or just sit and listen to music. My daily reading habits tend to be made up of my Google Reader and that’s it.

However, upon finishing my second i-issue of IL, I then figured I’d give the Kindle a go. My sister and I bought one for our Mum recently and a few other friends have also extolled its virtues. I’ll get the app I say, that’ll do it.

I did, and it did.

The Kindle app is sitting quite nicely on my iPad as I type with ‘The Psychopath Test‘ by Jon Ronson (thank you Amanda) and ‘The Black Swan‘ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (thank you Jed) both sat ready to be read.

We’ll see how this goes, shall we? New technology, encouraging me to read. This I’m going to enjoy.

Before I close off though, there’s one last thing I want to share. Back in January 2010, mobile thought leader and visionary, Christian Lindholm, wrote these words about the iPad.

It may seem like a small change, but a generation which has instant access, quite literally, at its fingertips, will be a quite different generation to that which did not. We used to consider that someone was erudite if they had spent a number of years accumulating knowledge and expertise which they could deploy at the precise moment which it was required.
.
Given that this information is all now on hand, people will come to rely more on an ability to recall data from the system. Ability to focus, and knowledge of the best places to look, will become the most important facets to consider. These are fundamental changes.

It’s still one of my favourite blog posts to date and I think that, in this age of the information rich, the sentiment stands true:

Irrespective of your thoughts on what the iPad is for, these shifts in the way we store, recall and interact with knowledge signify a human behavioural change that we – in our lifetimes – will probably never be able to truly quantify.

Learn.