Monthly Archives: June 2016

Bouncing back? Give me a break.

I have to confess that I wheedled my way into becoming an advertising creative by the back door. Although I had some experience as a graphic designer, being able to rustle up a logo or letterhead doesn’t really cut the mustard when it comes to copywriting or art direction in an agency.

There’s always a way though, and I realised that my experience with type might qualify me for a job as a typographer: the guy (or girl) who turns a creative team’s scribbles and typed-up copy into a detailed layout which an art studio will turn into the camera-ready artwork that gets supplied to a newspaper, magazine or poster printer.

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Although being a typographer was reasonably satisfying, it wasn’t what I really wanted long-term. No, my ambition was loftier. I wanted to be the one with the Magic Marker and the blank layout pad, the one who dreamt up the ideas themselves.

So while I worked my typographer’s role by day, I was constantly ear-wigging and watching the ‘proper’ creatives. As I determined that a headline should be set in 48pt Goudy Old Style, I’d really be listening to the team in the next office to work out how they worked.

And that was how I learned, and it’s how most of us learn of course. We watch others, emulating where desirable, perhaps choosing not to where not.

The top-dog Executive Creative Director, John, was a copywriter. Not for him the felt-tipped pens – he favoured the electric typewriter. (Although we’re not quite talking Mad Men era here, my beginnings in the ad business were definitely pre-PC.)

One little tip I picked up from him was the power of alliteration. As long as it’s not overdone, a pair of words whose beginnings share similar syllables nearly always add a little extra interest to a piece of copy.

Now, although this is a slightly convoluted tale, it came to mind as I thought about resilience: the way we hopefully recover from adverse events or gloomy thinking. The Alliterator sometimes strikes when we think about this, with the result that it can get talked about as ‘bouncing back’. The thing is, however, recovery is rarely as instant or elastic as this. Having looked at many examples of how people return to something approaching normal after a bout of low mood, it’s clear to me that it takes time. It’s a little-by-little process rather than a ‘boinnggg’ type of thing.

Perhaps resilience is less about expecting summer to follow on immediately after winter, and more about recognising that just as the seasons change slowly but surely, so too can your mood.

Maybe rather than bouncing back, we should practice patience?

Why it pays to keep your gun ports above the waterline

I used the phrase ‘loaded to the gunwales’ yesterday, which was a household phrase when I grew up.

(We always were an unusual family.)

But thank goodness for spell-check.

As it’s not a figure of speech I’d generally use in writing, I’d assumed that it might be spelt as it’s spoken, and typed ‘loaded to the gunnels’.

You wouldn’t have made that mistake, right? But I did.

A gunnel, apparently, is a type of elongated fish.

A Sally Gunnell on the other hand is a British former 400m hurdles Olympic champion and subsequently TV presenter in the UK.

A ‘gunwale’ on the other hand is something else altogether.

Like many English phrases it dates back to sailing days.

A gunwale or, formerly, a ‘gun wale’ was a reinforced part of the hull of a fighting ship in the shape of a ridge placed at and around the level of the gun deck: placed there so your vessel wouldn’t fall to pieces every time you shot your cannon.

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The cannons on a ship protruded through gun ports (holes in the gunwale, I guess) and if you wanted to stay afloat it was obviously more than sensible to keep these above the waterline.

Loading a ship to the gunwales, therefore, suggests piling it with such an enormous amount of cargo that it’s only just able to stay afloat.

One more keg of rum, one more chest of treasure, and the whole thing could be on its way to Davey Jones’ locker, swimming with the gunnels perhaps.

To mix our metaphors, it’s rather like the straw that broke the camel’s back: that one last addition that tips a situation from Yes to No.

From Go to Stop.

I’m pretty sure we all have a gunwale.

I’m fairly certain we all have a limit beyond which we move from being able to cope to being unable to, and it’s undeniably important to know where your gun ports are: try to be aware of that point when enough is enough.

This way you’ll rest when you’re exhausted.

You’ll walk away when you’re about to explode.

You’ll open up to someone before dark thoughts consume you.

So the next time things threaten to get a bit too much, try to make a few changes before the water gets too close to your gunwales (so to speak).

Light up your night with a candle or two

One of the many rewarding things about writing these brief daily reflections is that I end up learning all sorts of little nuggets, many of which I pass on to you.

Not all, of course.

If I’m not careful I can find myself in “hyperlink hypnosis” – that dream-like state in which you click from one fascinating link to another, then suddenly find half the morning has gone, and all you’ve got to show for it is a curious heap of trivia.

Anyway, to the point, to the point.

For reasons I’ll explain in a minute, I just wondered why on earth those little aluminium-encased candles are called tealights, and a little research tells me that they were first used in teapot warmers: a way to stop your cuppa getting cold – or your second cuppa, at least.

So now we both know (you probably already did, but I didn’t).

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However, the real thing is that I’m always surprised at how cheaply it’s possible to buy tealights.

Check out the right retailer and you can walk home with a plastic bag of a hundred for the price of a Starbucks coffee.

Now, a hundred tealights would keep your teapot toasty for a heck of a time, but my view is that they’ll do a far more valuable job for you when used to perk up your environment.

Perhaps this very night.

Candles shouldn’t just be for high days and holidays – they should be for everyday.

And they’re a small treat that won’t cost a fortune either.

If you, say, were feeling down in the dumps, what might an imaginary angel of mercy do were she to land in your living room?

If it was chilly, she’d turn up your heating.

She’d plump up the cushions.

And, yes, she might well light a few candles to give the room a cozy feel.

Now I don’t know about your house, but the angel of mercy isn’t exactly a regular visitor to mine.

However this doesn’t stop me (and you) borrowing a few of her tricks.

Maybe you’ve already got a few candles tucked away in a cupboard – tealights are perfectly acceptable.

So why not light a couple this evening?

Specially if you’re on your own, when you’re likely to be less aware of the benefits of creating a cozier environment.

Think like the angel of mercy.

Treat yourself like she would.

Today. Take the first step of a momentous journey.

Perhaps you dream of writing a book.

Maybe you imagine yourself learning to play a musical instrument, taking up a new career, or even starting a new relationship?

What are you going to do, one day?

The thing is, these probably sound like gigantic projects.

Perhaps they feel nice but impossible.

The kind of mission you might contemplate on a good day, but on a bad day… well, no.

Forget it.

And this is unfortunate.

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If the days are dark and despairing, having a goal such as this could be just what you need, but when life has dealt you a poor hand it’s hard to find enough enthusiasm to work out what you’re going to have for breakfast, let alone to embark on some kind of life-changing journey.

Dreaming of beginning something, but believing you can’t, is frustrating.

Imagining it but dismissing it might even make you feel even worse than you were before.

Is there a solution then?

You know, I think there might just be.

What’s the smallest chunk of your dream that you could bite off right now?

Today.

I’m thinking about fifteen minutes, no more.

In fact, definitely only fifteen minutes: you must absolutely stop after a quarter of an hour.

You’ll only achieve a tiny amount.

Perhaps you’ll find an exercise book, write ‘My Book’ on its cover and ‘Chapter 1’ on its first blank page.

Maybe you’ll use Google to find someone nearby who teaches the ukulele (you never know, it might be your thing).

Alternatively, you could invest your precious minutes in phoning a friend who knows more about the new career you dream of.

Or (steady now) check out an online dating site, evening class or local walking group.

You might not believe you’ve done much, but in fact you’ve taken a huge step: the first step, always the hardest.

And miraculously your goal is no longer a dream, but something on which you’re actively working.

Have a go.

And please do let me know when your book comes out.

When you need help, sometimes you’re the only one that knows

When you need a little help, why is it sometimes so difficult to ask for it?

Of course it won’t always be the case that there’s someone around who you’re comfortable opening up to.

But think hard, and you’ll generally be able to come up with someone.

So what makes it so tricky to pop the question?

I’m sure there can be all manner of reasons, but it could easily be that you feel the other person should go first.

Maybe you believe that it’s self-centred to request a helping hand, and that it would be better if they offered it rather than you requesting it?

In theory, this is all well and good, but the truth is that (sorry to dash your illusions) there simply aren’t that many mind readers out there.

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If you’re struggling, it’s tempting to believe that a neon hazard sign is flashing on your forehead, easy to imagine that it must be completely transparently obvious to all and sundry that you’re struggling to cope, and would benefit from some tea and sympathy – or some practical assistance.

Unfortunately we’re all better actors than we believe.

We’re all more accomplished emotion-hiders than we think.

Very possibly your friends have no idea what you’re going through.

Unless you tell them.

Waiting for help to be offered may take a long time.

Too long, sometimes.

So when things get too much for you, don’t delay.

Spit it out.

Ask for support.

It’s what you’d want a friend to do when they needed you, and it’s what you must do when you need them.

Even when you feel like it, don’t cut yourself off

In cartoons, the wise old guru waits bearded and cross-legged at the pointy summit of a mountain, dressed in a flimsy loincloth, awaiting bedraggled climbers who seek the meaning of life.

It’s one of those favourite situations for cartoonists, just like the psychiatrist with a patient on his couch, and the tiny boss sitting behind the enormous desk.

These little scenarios become shorthand ways of referencing ideas which we just ‘get’.

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But that bearded guru: is he really so wise to be sitting there all alone?

Maybe.

Perhaps the point is that we’re supposed to believe he’s so full of wisdom that he’s transcended the need for human company, and in any case there’ll always be enlightenment-seekers beating a path to his ledge.

The truth is, however (and at the risk of trampling all over someone’s advertising line) we really are better connected.

On a bad day, we metaphorically pull the curtains, shutting ourselves away from the world, at the very same time hoping and praying that someone – anyone – will appear from nowhere and lift us from our gloom.

The determined depressive (I’ve been that man) needs friends, and s(he) needs friends with thick skin.

They’ll have to put up with calls not being returned, and plans being changed.

They’ll have to try and understand that a gloomy countenance isn’t directed at those nearby, even though it will probably feel that way.

If, like me, you’re one of those people who find themselves at the mercy of the black dog from time to time, you know how crucial your connections can be.

So when things are a little better, when there might just be the odd ray of sunshine in your life, cherish your friendships, nurture your relationships.

Probably ditch the loincloth, too.

Not a great look.

The benefits of mindful consumption

What’s eating you?

Generally, when we ask this of someone we do so because we think something may be wrong.

Although it’s a rather odd turn of phrase, making me think of all those bugs that view our bodies as home, you kind of get what it means, don’t you?

When everything’s not as it should be, it can feel as though some external force is consuming you, leaving you short of resources to fight back.

Of course, knowing what’s eating you is one thing.

Another is ‘what are you eating’?

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For one reason or another I’ve recently been thinking harder than usual about what I eat, in terms of its knock-on effect on the way I feel.

Although it’s slightly complicated, it’s clear that certain foods can be good for your mood because of their nutritional formulation.

But I think it’s also true that some food makes you feel good because of its emotional resonances – perhaps it was something you enjoyed as a child, or maybe it gives you a good feeling to actually prepare it.

The danger with the latter thought, of course, is that it may be easy to slip into an over-eating phase – perhaps resulting in disliking yourself for consuming more than you should have.

As in all matters of mood, having a mindful awareness of what you’re eating is actually a big start.

Being conscious of what you eat, when you eat it, and perhaps why you eat it, can help a lot.

Don’t forget, a diet for good mental health should include plenty of fruit and vegetables (different types); wholegrain cereals or bread; nuts and seeds; dairy products; and oily fish.

Drink plenty of water, too.

Remember, though, that tasty beats bland if your mood is low.

Look after yourself.

Feed your mind.