+

James Wanless

this is where I write

A Good Start to 2017

The biggest problem with deciding you want to make some significant change is the dilemma between just trying to do it all, or to prioritize and discern. I started with the former, but over the past two months I’ve had to move toward the latter. So, in no particular order, just a recap of January for my records.

Writing

I started off wanting to journal every day, but having tried this approach a few times now, it simply doesn’t work. Doing so means the writing is too mundane. However, I have found that taking notes and keeping things in draft does entice me to write more. Back in December I wrote 11 posts, many of which were pretty uninteresting, often talking about Christmas or what I was doing. I had two or three with which I was happy.

I only managed two posts in January (three if I squeak this in, even though I’m writing it on February 1st) and, again, the approach has been somewhat random, but with less volume. I’m going to stick with the current approach, to keep taking notes and saving ideas in draft, working toward a more regular practice. With any luck, I’m hoping a decent quality weekly post will start to take shape soon. It’s also possible that I’ll take a writing course or two, though I haven’t decided.

Mostly it’s just about finding my voice and frequency as a reliable creative outlet.

Reading & Change

These two issues are somewhat inseparable. I wanted to have a novel going all the time and I’ve been mostly successful, giving up on an awful Hemingway book halfway, finishing a short memoir and reading the longer A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s well over a decade old but an excellent read.

As I began considering the next read, I also wanted to ensure I was taking in stuff that could help me change perspective, thought process, improve discipline and the like. So, I started seeking out online sources of wisdom and have been digging into Brainpickings, The Book of Life and Farnam Street more. I get all their newsletters by email now and am just generally trying to read them as I have time. I’m not much for fiction, as I really want to put what I read to use.

I also wanted to get back to a daily meditation practice; something I did for a while years ago, but have long since abandoned. I figured I’d read some of the short books by and about the Dalai Lama, but I think I’ll need to focus purely on meditation via apps and nontheistic sources. I’m picking some solid philosophies out of the Buddhist pieces, but frankly there is simply too much talk of reincarnation and the like for me to take seriously without considerable eye rolling. So, while I’m still pondering the next novel, I’m dabbling in many sources for daily inspiration.

Regardless of the path I end up taking, my goal with change is to get more inside of my own head to better take charge of everything from career, to time management, to home. One of the main ways I can see to get there is to read more and use the right sources. I do feel I’m on my way.

Health & Fitness

Let’s start with the general training. We got so sick over Christmas and into the new year, I wondered if I’d ever get on track. After the Victoria Half (which was supposed to be a full), I consciously took time off running to get my calf back to normal. It seemed like I went right from that to a small cold in November, followed almost immediately by the plague that both my wife and I had through the festive season and into the new year.

I’m pretty happy then, that I got my running and cycling base training going and had a really good first month, all things considered. I’ve stuck with my Trainer Road Sweet Spot power builder trainer program and generally did three base runs a week, including a little bit of hilliness weaved in.

Cycling: 12 rides for 361.4 km (13h:35m)
Running: 11 runs for 127.17 km (10h:21m)

My January infographic on Strava ~ mauve is bike, green is run

Now, aside from getting sick, over the past few months I’ve been dealing with some weird symptoms that I won’t go into here. Suffice to say, I was a touch concerned with both of them. I’m happy to report that one (which my doctor was very sure was nothing to worry about) has subsided on its own and, between personal efforts and an all-clear MRI in the past couple weeks, the other is no longer an issue either.

I figure I’m now in a good place to focus on the other ongoing health issue I have; a tight right QL muscle. It doesn’t stop me doing anything, and I’ve had minor relief from some physio treatments at times and try to keep it loose with specific techniques, but nothing has fully alleviated it. This is the type of thing that can remain with people for years. Happily, it’s not stopping me doing anything completely, but it is making it difficult to consider training hard for any kind of fast or endurance events. A work in progress.

So, in summary, things are moving in the right direction on all fronts, some more quickly than others. I’m focusing on self-improvement, reading and writing more, small health issues are resolving and the bike and run is on track.

Baby Steps

A while ago, I decided I wanted to focus more on creative pursuits; notably reading, regular journal writing, re-engaging with drumming and music, sketching, visual art, and the like. I’m definitely making progress on the first two, and if you include learning and developing a love for Sketch, a progress of sorts on the visual/art side.

Writing

With regard to writing, I’m not generating daily posts as I initially wanted to, but I often take little notes for ideas, am posting fairly frequently and usually have the germination of more than one post in draft form.

Related to the (online) writing piece, I’ll be doing a little re-theming and re-structuring of this site beginning almost immediately. It may not be a huge change all at once, rather as with the other things I’m trying to do more of, it will likely change in baby steps. Before I refine what I write about or consider more intensive projects, I want to establish a daily practise, and I’m simply not there yet. Make the change first until it becomes habit, then refine and improve upon it.

And that’s really my point in this post. Unless you’re referring to the genesis of our planet, lasting change rarely happens with one big bang, at least not for me. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. If you break off more than you can chew, you choke. What I find does work when I manage to make change, is to break my goal into the smallest useful pieces and do them until they are habit. Then I add.

Reading

For example, to read more has initially been a two-stage process. The first is to simply do it. As opposed to mindlessly going online, zoning out on music, late night staring at the tube, I’ve been stealing half hours at lunch, twenty minutes here and there and usually been adding at least an hour of reading, if not more, to my day. I’m reading every day now without exception.

The second stage has been more about determining what I should spend my time reading. My reading history has been equal parts fiction and nonfiction, though given how my brain works it’s hardly a surprise that I’ve usually enjoyed nonfiction more. I think it’s because I like learning things I can apply to my daily life and I find more of that in nonfiction.

However, as I wanted to explore more, I bought a handful of classics by Hemingway and Joyce, in particular. I started with The Sun Also Rises and all I can really say is, by the halfway point, the sun had already set. While the language and story definitely didn’t translate some ninety years after it was penned, for me the real truth was that it was simply boring. How absolutely nothing of interest could happen in 120 pages, I’m not sure, but Earnest managed to pull it off. I expect the next work of fiction I may tackle is the hefty Ulysses by Joyce, but we’ll see when the time comes.

Where Hemingway failed me, nonfiction isn’t, at least for the time being. Just before Christmas I zipped through a lovely cancer memoire (if such a thing can be called lovely) by Teva Harrison, In Between Days. It’s a fast read, touching, brave and inspiring. I heartily recommend it and you can easily get through it as quickly or as slowly as you want. I’ve had some connections with Teva online and the book is as grounded and authentic as she seems to be.

I’m presently about 3/4 through Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. At once heavy and light, it rings true to its title by covering everything in just enough depth to be informative, without bludgeoning its reader with the kind of detail that would kill most of us. One review called it “hefty, highly researched and eminently readable” and I couldn’t agree more.

Brain Food

I guess this could still be considered reading, but more than that it’s really what I like to call brain food for lack of a better term. More bite-sized, but more applicable to daily life. I should mention that underpinning a lot of the change I’m trying to make is a desire to think differently in certain circumstances than I currently do. I expect that delving into that topic is likely a future post, but for now suffice it to say, I’m trying to frame my decision-making differently.

Specifically, and again I’ll get more into this at a later time, but I’ve really begun to take to heart something I’ve been thinking about a long time, but which two passages in particular from a Hunter Thomson ‘letter’ to a friend I read last week really crystallized for me:

Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.

AND

But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

The added bonus in reading this piece was the discovery of the wonderful Farnam Street blog, exactly the kind of stuff I’m trying to add to my arsenal. So, while something like the Bryson book is more general interest, I’ve begun compiling a few things in the area of philosophy and culture I want to read on an ongoing basis. I’ve begun taking a closer look at an old favourite, Brain Pickings, and am beginning to read The Book of Life as time allows. Again, baby steps toward something more.

As I’ve hit my early fifties, the big questions for me have really become about deriving more satisfaction from life by deciding how I want to live and then making the changes to realize that ~ be they work, living location/abode, hobbies, whatever ~ and ensuring I’m in control of those changes, lest they happen by circumstance in a less-than-optimal way. To some degree, we’re all the result of circumstance, but I’ve often made my decisions more with regard to standard of living and paying bills than I have with regard to joy and happiness and I’m going to do my best to change that.

These baby steps to more reading, more writing, more stuff to learn and change my thought and decision-making processes are all about ensuring life is lived as happily and fully as possible.

2016 ~ a brief recap

More good things happened around the world than you probably realize, while a few real shitstorms got pretty much all the headlines. Low mileage and a tight back marred an otherwise quiet year, personally. Oh, and multiple bugs, endless winter and functional fireplaces, too.

If all you watch is mainstream and social media you could easily be forgiven for feeling pretty dark right now. Within that context this past year was notable primarily for depressing happenings in international politics and the sheer number of cultural and entertainment icons who left us. However, I thought I’d start this recap with a more positive spin on the year.
Big wins in conservation, global health, political and economic progress, climate change, violence and endangered species protection were had, even though it’s hard to believe, given the noise generated by Brexit and Donald Trump.

“If it bleeds, it leads” isn’t a phrase coined by some cut-throat tabloid editor. It’s a potent truth that lies at the heart of the modern day media machine. It’s time for some balance.
Future Crunch’s 99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year on Medium.

So, apparently there were lots of good things happening around the world. And, from a personal perspective my life was pretty uneventful, truth be told.

In roughly chronological order, the few things which stood out for me:

I began the year running strong, training for the BMO Vancouver Marathon between January and April as part of an injury prevention study and having a good (by current standards) return to the marathon in May.

I finally cleared my head enough from our 2015 renovations to post a review of our contractor experience. I’ll let that post speak for itself, though I also posted it on houzz.com in the hope that it may save someone else the pain of a badly blown budget.

I watched with some dismay, the pitbull ban question rear its ugly head again and made my case for the wrong-headedness of breed bans, as opposed to say, holding owners properly accountable for their dog’s behaviour.

While I planned a fall marathon after my spring success, summer calf injury problems along with a chronically tight QL muscle forced me to downgrade to a still decent Victoria half marathon birthday weekend.

After all the social media kvetching and general disbelief at the direction of the USA, I decided I’ll likely avoid altogether trying to re-enter the country after more than six years since my border ban.

Including a plan to write more, I recently decided that I’d up my pursuit of more creative pastimes. I’m journaling and reading frequently already and hope to re-ignite my interest in music and other artistic things as time goes on.

We finally bit the biscuit and replaced the burner units in both our gas fireplaces, as they haven’t worked properly since we moved in years ago and all attempts to repair them have been in vain.

Getting sick in the final quarter of 2016 really marred the year, with our house being plague central in early November and again through Christmas.

In fitting with the seemingly endless (or at least multiple instances of) plague, we’ve had an uncharacteristically cold and snowy winter, and not just for a couple weeks. Snow has fallen and nearly melted and fallen and nearly melted and fallen and … You get the idea. It’s snowing again as I type this.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve decided I’m not going to let some of the broader negativity get to me. I’m going to do my best to let go of the things I can’t change and work more to effect positive change for the things I can change.

And a 2016 recap wouldn’t be complete without a final word on my running and cycling … Even though I don’t set volume goals, I was expecting to average a little higher than 36k running and 58k cycling per week for the year. However, given that my training tailed off badly from late summer on, I can’t complain too much. I was viewing cycling as primarily cross-training to help my run, so it was really just the running volume that bothered me.
148 PRs (often just random segments not previously run), 3037 km cycling and 1863 km running over a total of 269 hrs, 23 mins. Not the worst, nor best year of activity for me.

Christmas 2016

We had planned to hit a number of local things this year, but just as we were beginning down that path a week before Christmas, we were hit with a nasty plague. Derailed from doing much except cleaning up and preparing for a quiet family weekend, we managed a couple small community light displays and kept things really low key. We feel like we’re just beginning to break out of symptom hell as I write this on December 27th.

We decided we would get out and hit a few more things around town over the holiday season. Unfortunately, the bug we both caught had other ideas. We’ve been on different trajectories, with Connie’s version starting a couple days earlier than mine eight and six days before Christmas respectively, but have both had the same symptoms. Regardless, we spent the past week feeling like crap and have had a much lower energy Christmas than we would have liked. In particular is the lack of any real workouts or training for either of us in the past week plus.

Symptoms feel like they’re beginning to break now, on December 27th, but we’ve still postponed plans we had with friends tonight and we’ll see about the plans we presently have with other friends tomorrow night. Not sure if we’ll salvage much for New Year’s weekend at this point, but I hope we’re both feeling a little more energy by then.

However, even if only for personal posterity, here’s a brief rundown of this year’s happenings.

Holiday Heights at Bloedel Conservatory

This was our first, purposely small display on December 14th. We hadn’t taken in anything here in the past and thought it might be nice. It was, and definitely warm with a tropical feel inside. I found though, the lighting display somewhat lacking in variety. The birds and ambience made up for it, and it’s such a small space we decided to stroll it twice.

Christmas at the Cannery

We went down to Steveston on December 18th and checked out this display in the old Gulf of Georgia Cannery, now a historic site. We also happened to be in the midst of a particularly cold period (for Vancouver) so we went through rather quickly and didn’t spend much time reading or discussing. It was really cold inside, even more than outside I think. A shame, too, because admission happened to be free the day we were there.

Park & Tilford Hi-light Festival

This is pretty much annual viewing for Connie and me, as it’s always a pretty stroll and admissions by donation support the Burn Fund. We had planned to do a little more this evening, December 19th, and go downtown to Stanley Park and maybe the Christmas Market at Jack Poole Plaza, but the weather was still not great and we weren’t into slugging it out for parking. At the time, pre-bug, I’d foolishly thought we had lots of the time the remainder of the week to go to other stuff.

Plus, while Connie had been feeling some early symptoms over the weekend, my initial muscle aches hit pretty hard as we were having a post-stroll coffee at the end of the night.

As we got to mid-week before Christmas and symptoms were kind of taking over, we turned most of our attention to getting ready to host Tyler and hang out for some quality family time. I’m sure our bugginess and low energy was a joy to be around but it was a nice weekend anyway. We do some decorating but don’t exchange gifts. The exception to this is that we still give the ‘kids’ a little money. Missing for the third Christmas in a row was Malcolm, who plays music on cruise ships and gets home every few months for a few weeks. Guessing he has one more Christmas like this before his planned return to school (and possibly living at home) in 2018.

Anyway, somewhere between the unusual multiple dumps of snow …

We managed to get our decorating, baking and booze buying done …

We were ready for the weekend

It didn’t include much fresh air unfortunately, but that’s OK. In no particular order our activities included not getting the dog to pose for photos, playing board games such as Scrabble, drinking some of that previously purchased booze (though not as much as I would have liked), eating a tasty, cruelty-free dinner and watching Elf and Arthur Christmas.

I hope anyone who reads this all the way to here, also had a great Christmas!

Hope and Optimism

2016 has been a bad year, both culturally and politically. It’s easy to be pessimistic and cynical if you allow yourself to be. I know I have ~ too much. However, I’ve also made a decision to try and let go of the crap I can’t change and try and improve the stuff I can. I’m hoping it’ll just take a little hope and optimism (and probably a lot of willpower).

There’s no way around it. From a broad perspective, at least in cultural and political terms, 2016 was a low point. Beginning with David Bowie, the list of obituaries for those who had some sort of impact on my life was astounding. Muhammed Ali, Prince, Morley Safer, Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Gary Shandling, Ron Glass … and that barely scratches the surface.

However, if there’s one certainty in life, it’s that we eventually all die and 2016 seemingly had far more than its share. I didn’t lose any family members or anyone close to me, so that’s something important.

Of significantly graver consequence to much of the planet was the international shitstorm of the continuing Syrian crisis, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. These issues have been covered ad nauseum, so there’s little point rehashing the details of any of them here.

In the context of my thoughts, though, there’s a single word that ties them, and indeed many of the world’s problems, together. And that word is fear. Whether driving al-Assad to pummel innocent people into oblivion, or making British people vote to leave the EU and Americans vote for an unstable, immature egomaniac, to me it all comes down to fear. In fact, fear seems to be the prevailing thing that drives most reactive things.

The genesis of the Syrian war was the 2011 Arab uprising. Fearing he’d lose control of his country as he watched other regimes collapse, al-Assad waged war on the rebels, while not caring a whit how many citizens were killed or displaced. As of this writing, Aleppo is a battered pile of ruins, all because of one man’s fear.

Brexit and Trump were campaigns orchestrated to play on human fears. Driven by isms and phobias too numerous to mention, passing half-truths and complete fabrication off as fact, it all ends up in the same place. Telling economically or socially disenfranchised people repeatedly that they should be fearful of past change and its beneficiaries, it’s quite easy to sell the false hope that they’ll get back what they’ve lost by slowing and reversing that change.

Oddly enough, that last bit is my silver lining. If false hope can be sold to desperate people via lies and negativity, then surely real hope never leaves if we remain focused on facts and the logic and goodness of most people. In other words, if false hope and bullshit can win temporarily, real hope and optimism can still prevail long-term. It has to and I feel it ultimately always has.

Among the many things I’ve been examining about myself, cynicism and pessimism are how I deal with things more often than I’d like. Using just the three examples above, it’s not hard to see why. However, just as I’m focused on self-improvement through exploring creativity more, I’ve also decided I’m going to try to see the positives far more often, hard though that may be at times. As opposed to bemoaning and grumbling about the bad stuff, I’m hoping to take more action to change the the things I can and let go of the things I can’t.

Volunteering, more donating, becoming more of a glass half-full guy ~ in short, finding more ways to improve things through hope and optimism.

Top