In Step One I introduced the idea of self assessment, of looking at what has been, and what is. As an example, I talked about my physical condition, and how it has changed for the better over the last year. In this second step I shall continue on this theme, beginning with discussing my current physical location, before likely ponderous musings on creativity, and my emotional and mental states and, crucially, how all these strands of me weave together into a whole.

As I write this I am looking at a path, leading away into a future — into many possible futures — but, as anyone who spends time in wild places knows, it is equally important to examine your backtrail. How did you get to this point? What perils and pleasures lie behind? Are they worthwhile pointers and warnings for coming experiences, or is the route and terrain changing? These are questions we can apply to our journey in life.

The question — where am I? — means so much more than my physical location, but that is a sensible place to start. As I have spoken of before, I currently live with some of my family, in the far north of Scotland. In Step Four I will discuss the idea of Home (in a heavily illustrated, longer essay), talking of what this word and concept means to me but, for now, it will suffice to say Scotland is my home — and always will be.

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In 2010 I left the city I had lived in for nearly ten years, to wander (wonder) the wilds, to pause and rebuild, and think. Since then I have spent most of my time in Scotland, whether here in Caithness, or in Edinburgh, or on the west coast.

Living here, living in a house with parents and sisters, is something I had not planned, at least not for more than a matter of weeks. Events took over and I ended up staying for years instead. I will talk more about relationships in a later post, but living here has shaped me and my craft in ways I am deeply grateful for. Essentially, my family helped give me a breathing space, a time to serve an apprenticeship — and this has been a wondrous gift.

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Creatively I am at a point where several projects are nearly finished, or as nearly as I’m likely to get them on my own. Others are partially complete, or planned. In some ways this may seem like an odd way to move forward with my writing, rather than concentrate on one thing to completion, but it has helped with my development — shifting between diverse types of scribbling has kept my brain engaged. Realistically I could have finished several pieces to sell by now, had I not done this — but would they have been as good? I don’t know, but I am happy with where I am creatively — the honest answer is that it doesn’t really matter.

There is, perhaps, another reason why I did not concentrate on, say, my novel. To finish this would mean change and, as I have discussed before, fear of success and fear of change are very real to me. Better that I move into this period of my life controlling as many of the shifts as I can. If I have thought things through absolutely, crunched the numbers and assessed the situation, only then am I happy for chance to lend a hand.

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Analogue Planning. This week I have been spending some considerable time in a flap, looking at dates and wondering how I can possibly already be this busy. Time seems to be moving along at a rate of knots.

I am at a place in my life where I can honestly say I am more comfortable with who I am than I have ever been. I know my flaws, my weaknesses, and I have sought to harness them, twist them into strength and things of beauty —  wabi-sabi and Kintsugi.

Taking a fracture and repairing it is one thing, taking it and turning it into something beautiful is another. Parts of me are worn, whether physically — knee, hip, elbow — or mentally. These points need both care and attention, intricate study before addressing, in order to transform into something other. The damaged hip, for example, can cause excruciating pain at times — but it has meant my form in certain exercises has to be precise, has to be watched. This is good for me overall, by recognising that my body (or mind) is keen to take a shortcut to avoid the possibility of further pain, I have strengthened it overall. It is not always a pleasant process but, longterm, it is better for me.

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This can also be seen in my emotional state. I have not been lax in addressing why certain relationships have not worked, and the lessons I have learned have not been easy — but they are firmly embedded now, constantly revisited and reassessed (remember — assess, reassess). I am happy. I can honestly say that, and this is a powerful thing. True, there are times I am frustrated, times I want to hit the fast forward button, look in at myself in a year or ten, see where I am, physically, geographically, emotionally. But this is only natural; I am a work in progress.

Looking at the moment I inhabit, being present in this time, has become a habit I am joyful to have adopted. I see more beauty now than ever before, see through the smokescreens we are constantly befuddled by, look deeper than ever into what I believe it means to be a human on our planet at this time in our species history. Writing this it all sounds very serious and mystical I’m sure — but it is not really. Simply taking a moment to listen to my breathing, pausing — inhale, hold, exhale — is often enough to bring a smile to my face. And the very act of smiling brings me benefits of its own.

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Likewise with my mental health. Having paused and thought, looked deep and hard into who I am, examined my cracks and fissures and figured out ways to turn them into defences, into strengths, has meant I am at a point now where I feel capable to cope with whatever the world throws at me, whether expected, or otherwise. The crucial word here is “feel” — there’s no telling how things will change in the next year, in the next five years… But that’s fine too, and realising this is important.

It all ties together — all the strands of me, of who I am. If I am having a bad day, whether thinking about how much I need to do, how time is flying, or perhaps simply not on top of my game — I can, for example, do some exercise and feel better. Or I can breathe slowly, in, out, in and out, and feel better, more centred. I can attempt some yoga poses. I can look at myself in the mirror and remind internal me how I have sculpted this external image through the gifts of my mind — willpower and determination. I can look at the 214 days I’ve been learning Spanish for. I can remember the millions (yes, millions) of words I have crafted over the last few years. All these things are easy boosts I can achieve — often through already having accomplished something else.

It is a pyramid I am building, not a tower. Each layer I add is slightly smaller than the last, set upon a firm and strong foundation. As I climb higher the layers become more compact, neater and a little easier to build, simply because I spent all that time on the earlier levels.

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Acknowledging I’ll make mistakes on my journey is all a part of the whole. Knowing I will overcome these and learn from them is a powerful thing. Each error needs to be addressed, looked at closely — what was the point of failure, why did it not work, what can I do better the next time? The older I get, the more I enjoy and accept these questions.

“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.” – Frank Wilczek

In Step Three I shall share with you some more ideas of where I want to find myself a year from now, discuss looking forward at the blank pages of the next chapter of my life, how best to fill them. I shall also briefly talk about what steps need to be completed before this is possible. Step Four, as I have already mentioned, will be an essay on what “Home” means to me, then it is time to move to specifics, talk of all the options I have available and how I intend to narrow them down.

Here in the far north of Scotland Late Spring is pulling her sister, Early Summer, closer and closer into a warm embrace. Soon the basking sharks will arrive, soon the balls of fluff that are the gull chicks, dotting chimney stacks and flat roofs, will foolishly descend to the ground too early, as they always do. The cuckoo will cease its call and the wildflowers will riot.

Baby herring gull on roof Caithness Wick Scotland
Always look up. Too few people forget this.

This is a special time of the year — but this is a statement with little meaning. All times of the year are special, if we only let them be so.

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Step Two: Self Assessment Pt. II

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