Tag Archives: thoughts

The Inconvenience of Inspiration

Everyone who claims to be or considers themselves to be creative (and even those who don’t) are perpetually in search of that elusive light bulb idea. That one eureka moment that will propel them towards any manner of recognition or success.

Whether its your next painting, poem, blog post or business idea, inspiration is what we crave. I’m no different in this unending quest, but I appear to have developed a much more love/hate relationship when it comes to the notion of inspiration and I’ll tell you why.

I do happily get the odd flash of genius/inspiration, but every time I do so it always seems to arrive at the most inconvenient of moments. I’m sure I’m not alone in this frustration, whenever you don’t have a pen to hand to jot your idea(s) down, whenever you’re attention is truly needed elsewhere … etc. For me, all my ideas seem to form in the shower,  in this scenario there’s no possible measure for me to record these scraps of information or ideas that consistently float gently, seemingly on some invisible wind, in one ear and rapidly out the other. It’s almost like the giant ball of cash at the end of Crystal Maze (if you remember that, or know what it is … google it) except I don’t get to keep the money.

And here in lies the real inconvenience of inspiration. Much like that wonderful dream you were having you can never remember what you were thinking of. Despite all your best efforts, no matter how hard you try, you can never recall a thing not one tiny incy wincy morsel. These ideas your mind generates, these little gems possess, much to your own detriment, an incredibly short life span. So short in fact that by the time I’m out of the shower nothing remains but a faint glimpse, a feeling that for a moment I had all the ideas I’d ever have needed. But as quickly as they had appeared, they had vanished and I’m forced to resign myself to the fact that those ideas are gone forever. Although you may again, one day, conjure up something similar, it’ll never be exactly the same or sometimes even that close to its predecessors.

All is not lost, some of these ideas do emerge at the right time. Maybe that’s just how it goes, perhaps it’s destined, it’s meant to be or it’s fate. If you believe in all that than you can take some real comfort in knowing the ideas you are meant for will find you when you’re ready for them. For the rest of us, it’s just a matter of frustration after frustration until we hit a little streak of luck, and all the ideas we do need rush over us like a wave of brilliance just at the very moment we decide to pick up that pen.

[Image(s) from: Pixabay]

The Time to Write

As you may or may not be aware, I have thrown down the gauntlet and challenged myself to write 1000 words a day in the pursuit of becoming a better writer.

At present I can foresee one of the major challenges is going to be finding the time, and the right time to write.

When is the ‘best time to write’?

Whilst some people jump up, all energised and fresh faced out of bed, at all kinds of seemingly absurd hours in the morning, others prefer to burn the midnight oil, pondering life’s great mysteries by the fire with their pipe and slippers.

Until recently, I believed myself to be camped firmly in the latter group, unable to let my thoughts run loose during the day. However, since embarking on this intership I have been almost forced to adapt as the majority of what I write is now produced during the day. Throwing the question of when is the best time for me to write completely on its head.

There are two ways to examine this conundrum, either this means I’ll wander, lost, through the corridors of my own mind at nondescript times, unable to produce anything of note or worth without that golden window in which genius is bound to hit me … right? Or it means that really, there isn’t a specific time of the day that is ‘the best time to write’, that in fact the best time to write is when the mood takes you, when you’re struck by that moment of inspiration or idea that you can barely contain within the confounds of your own head. It means that the process of writing is something all together more organic, and whilst you can produce a timetable for your posts and all those good things (mine is now pretty simple – post 1000 words a day, whether that is in one post or seven) that more stringent method may not actually work for you.

Now, if you go read the tips and techniques offered by more experienced and more established bloggers, with astronomical levels of followers, you’ll likely find advice like creating a timetable for publishing, knowing what to write and when you want to publish it will really take the pressure off and let you concentrate more on what you’re going to say. By all means do that, I know that there’s a good chance it’s a method I’ll be adopting in the near future, writing 1000 words a day means I’m going to need a topic or two lined up, which will require me to get more organised and think ahead. But I do think it’s possible to run a successful blog without a greater level of micro-management, so to speak. (Or perhaps, maybe it’s not, if you want to reach the lofty heights of blogging fame, and I just want it to be the case)

Finding the time to write.

There is not doubt we are all busy people, we have other commitments: work, school, studies, friends, family and a whole host of other things to get in the way and tire you out, because we all know one thing, it can really feel like a mountain to climb getting just a few words on paper, especially if your mind, body an soul are all a little too tired at the end of a long day. What’s more, on a slightly more personal note, in one aspect of my life I am writing all day, at my internship that I my main responsibility, sometimes it takes all my energy and the last thing I want to do once I get home is write, sometimes it even feels like I can’t. Aside from that I have my teaching job which can also, at times, be more physically and mentally demanding than you might expect. Working seven days a week can really drag you down at times.

But I am determined, there are enough hours in the day, and I will find the time, whether that means I get to post those words on the day they are written or not, or that they are scribbled in a notepad rather than being furiously typed onto a computer screen, or indeed whether you get to see them at all (not an excuse not to fulfil my quota – although I will just likely post it the next day). It must be done, whether what I have written is complete drivel or a life changing post that would set me apart from the thousands of other bloggers, even if it  was for just a second or two.

So when will I write? After work, before work, on my commute, on my lunch break, I’ll squeeze it in at any and every possible moment, some days I’ll have ample time to meander across a page, lazily plucking out a word here and there, whilst others will be a hurried dash just to stay on the righteous path of my self-imposed personal development.

The Next Step

As you may have noticed, at the moment here I’m all about taking the next step. So what does the neat future have in store? I will need to develop a publishing timetable full to the brim with topics ranging from anything to everything, literally anything I can think of to keep up with demand. This may see me expanding into different areas and expanding my discussions, trying to develop new weekly features, reading wider to become more informed about the topics I engage with. It may see me writing more about my experiences as a teacher, writing short stories, poetry or other forms of media. It may mean I’ll begin writing about things I enjoy, like gaming or taking a look into the art world, something I have always wanted to do. Finally it may mean I start to seek out people to interview, to bring people’s thoughts, feelings and insights right here on my very own little slice of the internet.

We’ll all just have to wait and see!

[Image(s) from Wonderful Engineering]

1000 Words a Day

Recently I’ve been reading about how to improve as a writer, how to develop the craft and interestingly the difference between creativity and craft.

A Little Undertaking

It’s clear, like anything in life, to get good at something you just need to do it. Bearing that in mind, and taking the lead from a few articles from the great and wise expanse that is the internet, I am undertaking the challenge of writing at least 1000 words a day.

To say this undertaking is a little frightful, or daunting is some what of an understatement, however I feel its something that need to be done if my ability to express myself through the written word is to improve in any measurable or tangible way.

I have yet to decide whether I’ll publish everything I write each day, understandably not everything you write is going to be gold every time, and part of this challenge is about forcing yourself to accept that very fact. You for the sake of good form it may just be that I’ll have to subject you poor people to a whole host of god knows what. But it’ll be worth it in the end right?

But that’s not all, aside from the obvious commitment, there are a few extra things I need to address. Firstly (and perhaps foremost) I need to cast aside the idea that I produce my best work in one great mental blast onto a page, without giving the small matter of editing a thought. Editing is pretty vital to producing something people want to read, as opposed to something altogether more mundane. As well as this there is the whole picking out your mistakes part, pretty important too in the grand scheme of things.

This entire challenge flies in the face of ‘writers block’, I have no doubt there will be days when I will literally just have to write whatever comes tumbling out of my mind just to meet my self-imposed quota. It almost makes writers block impossible, it almost renders it obsolete or irrelevant.

So there you have it, we’ll just have to see how it goes.

[Image(s) from Princeton Writers]

More Than Just Man’s Best Friend

Dogs, you can never really understand them until you’ve owned one or two … or a few. But more recently my larger family as a whole has suffered the unbearable loss of three, succumbing to old age, as we all must do, and one horrific accident.

For as long as I can remember there have been dogs in my family, my father had Astro, a German Shepard whilst he was in the Royal Air Force (R.A.F), for a time we looked after a small dog named Jack, who wrote me a letter to say good-bye when I was just  a boy. After that we had George and Hamish a Golden Retriever and Black Labrador respectively, but they too grew old and gave over to the passing of time. Now, back on the other side of the world Jasper (also a Black Lab) lays somewhere comfortably at home, usually wherever he sees fit, after all, it becomes apparent after a while that you are in fact living in your home by the good graces of the family pet, who permits you to stay, it was never your house at all.

Even out here in the Middle Kingdom you can’t escape the appeal of these loveable creatures as they become ever more popular pets, strutting the streets in a way only they can. My Uncle’s Bear doing all he can to receive your perpetual attention.

Bear-Family-Dog-Labrador

But that’s the thing about dogs, they infect us, no not with fleas or any other profoundly negative manner, but they really get inside your soul. They understand us, you don’t need scientific proof to see it, they will come to comfort you when you’re sad, they relish in the days you’re in a golden mood, they love you unconditionally. All this, all this is what makes it truly unbearable when it comes time to part ways.

The unfortunate and inescapable truth is that we humans outlive dogs by a fair old stretch; it becomes inevitable at one point or another that you’ll have to say good-bye.

To say its heartbreaking doesn’t really being to comprehend the pain that accompanies such a loss, you see dogs are more than just pets, they swiftly become part of the family and will forever stay there. Putting aside the fact they are pack animals, and that’s all families are, large roaming packs, the simple fact is you love them unconditionally too, regardless of how many times they pull up the carpet or rip down your curtains, sure you’ll be angry for a while, but it always subsides and is replaced by the unmistakable love for your canine companion.

There will be plenty of people out there who can relate to this, and there will also be cat people … I mean what is that? (Each to their own) But there isn’t anything quite like the bond between a man (or woman) and their dog.

What’s worse is sometimes there’s just one left behind to reel in the loss of their closest companions. It’s difficult to express just how I feel for Disel, having lost both her sisters in much too quick a succession. It’s undeniable that dogs possess a high level of emotional intelligence and must experience emotions themselves, although it may not be in the exact same manner. I hope in some small way she can move on and enjoy the rest of her life being spoilt rotten and being lavished in all the attention this family can afford.

I don’t really have much to say in terms of closing remarks, only what has already been said. Dogs are positively invasive, they come to encompass everything you are, they miss you just as much as you miss them and are never anything but overjoyed to see you walk through the door at the end of a tiring long day. They want nothing more than to curl up in your lap and let you know everything will be ok (so long as you feed them). All they want to do is to protect you, just as all you want is to keep them safe, truly its a mutual bond of trust, respect and love, one that can be difficult to emulate or find in people.

Here’s a tribute to the beautiful souls that will be sorely missed: Kizzy, Meko and Wesley –After all, as we all know, all dogs go to heaven.

 

Starring ‘Into the Face of Defeat’

What do you do when something goes wrong?

Everyday I am greeted by a barrage of articles and posts from across the nether sphere that is the internet, especially from platforms like LinkedIn, dealing with the pre-requisites of success; what are the top 10 habits of successful people, what 10 things do successful people do everyday etc (oddly this advice always seems to come in sets of 10, sometimes 5s).

Perhaps now, particularly today, I am more willing to implement some of the facets I have read about. Today, more than any day in my recent history, I felt pretty defeated. A class of mine, one that I used to hold in particularly high regard has slipped further down the path to failure than I had realised. The moment when it hit me hurt, at its core, at the very root of the problem must be me, their teacher.

So facing this failure of mine, this wall of defeat, I was left with a simple but altogether daunting choice, how was I going to handle the situation? I could easily bury my head in the sand, try to ride out the storm, but that’s hardy the attitude of a successful individual, and I want to be successful, there is not doubt about that.

My response was thus to formulate a plan. I’ve often read that successful people meticulously plan their days, there time is well managed and always fixed to a particular goal. So I have planned tomorrow, what I’ll do from the moment I wake to the moment I return to the land of nod. I won’t share this plan with you, it’s a little vague at the moment and may go through a few iterations first (I know, not knowing is just going to eat you up inside, or perhaps not).

Well I’ll share a few details, I have scheduled a meeting with my supervisor and my Chinese counter-part (I’m an ESL Teacher) to discuss the class, what’s gone wrong and, in the time they have left at this level, what we can do to get them back on course. Now I understand I may draw some criticism here from my colleagues, who will firmly believe I’m doing too much. Aside from my personal sense of professional pride, I have to do a good job, I owe it to the kids to do a good job. Whilst I may only teach them for a year or so, I may end up having a profound impact on their lives, or you know at least their ability to speak English, and that is fundamentally important.

As well as taking to planning my time and meeting the problem head on, I’ve adopted another attribute associated with successful people, as the internet has told me; reflection. To really turn this class around it’s important for me to reflect on what may have gone wrong as well as where and when it went wrong. I know that classroom discipline has slipped. My classes are generally pretty relaxed, I set my ground rules early on, maintain them and only punish students when they are broken. This can, however, lead to classes becoming too comfortable with you, leading to, not necessarily a lose of respect, but to kids pushing the boundaries, seeing just how far they can go and what they can get away with. Also if a lesson gets too casual, their focus will deviate and that is a consequence of my actions.

I also believe I took for granted the aptitude and intelligence the class initially displayed. They learnt and understood grammar, how to apply it, as well as vocabulary with relative ease. It’s only now, with increased complexity, their knowledge gaps have truly become apparent. My lesson planning and execution have become too lax, I became too complacent in the manner in which I taught them, and as a result their ability to conduct themselves in English has suffered, something again I must take responsibility for.

I can’t shoulder all the blame myself, as with anything the students desire to learn plays an important role in their efforts and results. Having said that, I need to face up to my failures as a teacher, I can’t run from these missteps, but now I have become aware of them, I can correct them. In the face of defeat I have made an active choice to step up, accept my faults and address them, a statement I can be proud of.

So what do you do when something goes wrong? When you face a challenge or a problem? Do you face it head on, or hide and hope it all passes you by?

Feeling Blessed

You’ll have to excuse the some what cheesy title, but at the current moment I find myself in an odd mood, following strange lines on inquiry in this crazy mind of mine. But it’s not as bad as it may sound, or indeed as it may appear. At the tail end of these trains of thought, I have repeatedly found a smile, well more of a smirk in fact, awaiting me, positively uncontrollable I’m afraid.

So what has inspired this rather nonsensical post? Well a number of things. Firstly, I set a goal to post at least twice a week, so even if it does turn out to be nonsense, at least that goal is met and more importantly I am still writing. Secondly, recently I’ve been watching a series of uplifting films, like Disney films and oddly Southpaw, which you may not consider uplifting. But at its core, the story is about a man’s struggle to turn his life around and regain what he had lost. A pretty noble cause if you ask me. Finally, I suppose the whole cliché of reflection that is very common place towards the ending of a year is also partly to blame for this unedited stream of consciousness onto this very blank page. I’m not sure if it’s culture, or something more innate that causes us to look back, but try as we might, we can’t avoid it. Of course there are the famous notions, and well founded notions, of the lessons we can learn for the past, but this form of reflection seems to hold another purpose.

Perhaps we are looking for a way to justify our actions, or to justify the position we find ourselves in when the clock strikes twelve and the bells call out to us. Was it all worth it, could I have done better, been more? Perhaps it’s simply a matter of observation, a method of comprehension and understanding. We look back to discover the how and the why, the reasons for why we are where we are and how we acted. Maybe it’s just an exercise to better understand ourselves. After all, not matter how much you plan, living is very much more a reactionary game then anything else.

The conclusion of my reflections? I do feel blessed. Now I feel it’s important to understand that I’m not truly a religious man, so when I say blessed, I doesn’t quite carry any such religious connotations. What I mean is that I have my health, my family and my friends, both new and old. I’ve embraced a fantastic opportunity to move to the other side of the world. I’ve met many challenges, some of which I have overcome, and others that have taught me lessons. I may not be entirely satisfied with everything, like my living arrangements, for example. But, on the other hand, I’m grateful that I do have somewhere to live, somewhere to rest my weary head in relative comfort. Quite simply, I have enough, and it’s a real joy, pleasure and privilege to mutter those words. As the new year approaches it is always a good time to reflect on what you’ve achieved and to search through your past for the lessons waiting there to be learned. So I encourage you to take some time and do just that, reflect. Although I’m more than certain, your mind will wonder those corridors whether you want it to or not.

A Culture of Names

What does your name mean? I’m sure you’ve considered this question at least once. More than likely you’ve turned to the powers of the internet to provide yourself with an answer to that very mystery. Personally, I know I’ve often found myself curiously pondering over such a query, eager to know just it meant to be called my name. So in spirit of my curiosity, take my name:

 

Daniel James Mannering

 

It’s got a pretty nice ring to it, if I don’t say so myself. Thankfully, between the internet and my parents I have found exactly the answers I was looking for. Let us start with my first name. A quick internet search reveals Daniel is of Hebrew origin. Its meaning varies slightly, but generally centres around “God is my judge”, “God is my shepherd” or something very similar. After consulting with my parents it seems the biblical nature of my name played somewhat of a role in its selection, being a good strong catholic name and relating to the story of ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’, from the Book of Daniel. It was also tied to family and memory having been chosen, in part, because of my Mother’s fond memories of her Grandfather singing ‘Danny Boy’. Originally written by the Englishman Frederic Weatherly and played against the tune of ‘Londonderry Air’, quite touching really.

 

The declaration of my middle name, James, turned out to be a much simpler affair. It was chosen modestly, owing to the fact my parents liked it the sound of it, they enjoyed the melody and rhythm it gave my name. James, at one point or another, was potentially to become my first name, but my parents didn’t quite warm to the idea that I may be called Jim one day, no offence to any Jims out there. The final part of the puzzle, my last name or family name, Mannering, remains a little bit more of a mystery. Without some serious digging it is likely to remain so. Surnames are the ties that bind our families together. They make us and our families instantly recognisable and are wholesomely prominent throughout our lives. I have often been told the same is true in China, if your family holds the same last name; it is likely you descended from the same family a long time ago.

 

What does that all mean? It means that my first name holds some real significance, not just to me, but also to the people who named me. This, in some aspect, varies rather greatly from the methods of selection often undertaken by Chinese parents.  But let us quickly look at the similarities. Some parents may choose their child’s name simply because of the pattern or rhythm; they may solely want their child’s name to possess a nice ring to it or a more melodic feel. Having undertaken mini-interviews with a sample of my Chinese friends and colleagues it appears a generational gap is forming in the means of selection. It appears to be more common place that names are being chosen simply because they sound nice, a practice that has been prevalent in the west for some time, as opposed to, dare I say, a more traditional form of selection. The predominant difference in the meaning of our names lays in the difference in western languages and the Chinese language. The individual letters of my name, for example, are all but meaningless unless they are combined in the correct order. The Chinese language however is expressed in characters, with each character carrying an express meaning. Therefore, a Chinese name is often chosen to reflect the characteristics a set of parents hope their child will grow up to reflect, or things they hope they will possess. Characters indicating things such as beauty, wisdom and wealth for example seem to be popular choices, and why wouldn’t they be? However, it isn’t always the sole choice of the parents, who may seek the advice of someone older and wiser than them or other members of their family to provide a degree of consultancy. Aside from our given or first names, you may have noticed that the family name comes first in China. This is distinctly different from the west in which our surnames rest firmly at the back of our names. Why is this the case? The character in Chinese for family (Jīa) also means home, they are one in the same. Both home and family are central to both the Chinese and their culture, a notion that has, perhaps, been forgotten slightly back home. The fact that the family name comes first is issued to reflect this declaration of the importance of family.

 

In China, names, it seems, tend to hold greater meaning then we may place upon them in the west. Not only are they a form of identification, but a stamp declaring the sort of person it is hoped you will be. I know in some small way it was hoped  that by giving me a name tied to a more honourable character, I would grow up to possess something of that quality. However if a pair of Chinese parents hoped their child would grow up to be honourable, the character would likely appear directly in their name. Now this isn’t to say names aren’t important in the west, it just seems to me that names here hold more of a direct meaning and importance. In essence, you are your name.

 

What does your name mean and what does it mean to you?