And the word of the year is …

Hygiene!

(it was going to be “poetry” but “hygiene” pipped it to the post.)

My focus so far has been “Sleep Hygiene”. This was actually kicked off around New Year by my wife Sara, who decided she was wanted lights out by 22:30 from now on. Initially I chafed at this (but knew it would be a bad idea not to play along). Planning to go to bed so early has gradually affected the shape of the whole evening, so now:

  • I clean up the kitchen soon after dinner (instead of putting it off as long as I can). This makes the evening a single clear time.
  • I have forbidden work, or anything mentally taxing, after 21:00. This gives my mind time to wind down.
  • I have two regular “last thing” activities:
    1. I spend 15 minutes writing on my laptop. It’s kind of a journal but I have rules: I have to write fluidly without stopping to think; it has to be “about” something; it has to be positive. I have to touch-type (this is kind of a diversion mechanism, but it also means that I am getting a lot of typing practice).
    2. I spend 10-15 minutes reading poetry. Poetry is so different — almost like music. This underlines the day and puts my mind in a different state.

I’m impressed with myself how well I’ve stuck to this! Effects are already showing:

  • I seem to have a lot less time in the day! But I feel less rushed. That has led me to make efficiencies (e.g. prompt kitchen cleaning). The day is calmer.
  • Embracing, and thriving on, a constraint that chafed at first has been instructive. It has changed how I experience and respond to constraint. I am applying that pattern successfully to another area.
  • I am spending more time doing things with Sara — and she is driving this time (making the advances), which is a good sign in itself.

Next steps:

  • Actually getting to sleep is still a frustrating challenge, so I need to work on actively pursuing sleep rather than waiting for it to turn up.
  • I am regulary waking up before the alarm goes off (which is nice for Sara, who gets up an hour later). That is starting to open a bit of time for a short yoga session before breakfast.

Lonely

I think I am lonely. This might be completely obvious to readers of the blog (and perhaps to people I meet IRL). It is only just dawning on me.

It feels like a cousin of boredom, a kind of boredom directed inwards. A restlessness, aimlessness, valuelessness inside. Possibly a result of outward boredom: finding nothing of value in the objects of my activity, that lack of value is reflected within. I don’t feel lonely when I’m not bored.

Except when I experience joy — inspiration, success, fulfilment, discovery — and want to share it. Outside of narrow domains (work colleagues will share relevant joys), there is nobody.

My wife is generally not interested in, or is even antagonistic to, many of the things that excite me. I have to think three times before sharing anything in that direction — and indeed I am always on the lookout for things I can and should share — that makes the whole exercise more instrumental and less spontaneous.

I think that loneliness is (at least partly) what drives me to porn. Pretty women smiling at me and welcoming me in the 1980s/90s “top-shelf” softcore images I’ve started browsing (nostalgia in there too of course). Women being bent to my will in the more modern hardcore videos I watch (all mainstream stuff I stress!). Loneliness brings yearning and self-pity and a confusion of darker emotions.

I think loneliness is (at least partly) behind my twitter “addiction”. Searching for a glimpse of a kindred spirit.

Realising this has reduced the tidal pull, although it hasn’t removed the urge completely.

So, what to do about it? What to do about it “as a Christian”?

Boredom and loneliness could easily be described as sins. As well as their superficial sinfulness (There’s plenty to be done! There are plenty of people to befriend!), boredom and loneliness — like shame — lead only to a weakening of the spirit. Indulging loneliness — with porn or social media — doesn’t cure it or lead anywhere. There’s a brief wave of superficial excitement — at best — then less than nothing.

Loneliness is not a “natural” response to … anything. Like shame: I shouldn’t succumb to shame, not because I haven’t done anything shameful — I have, but because Jesus loves and values me, and my sins are washed away in His love. [I should take Baptism more seriously.]

I don’t need to be lonely — even if I “have no friends” (not quite true) — because I have Jesus with me — and sometimes I do feel that. I can tell Jesus the exciting things I discover or read in prayer or in my diary.

Most of all I can learn to love myself and celebrate myself in the way that Jesus loves me. Jesus treasures me for a reason, and He wants to see me grow and thrive.

If I love myself, celebrate myself, enjoy myself — truly, in the way that Jesus loves me — then I thrive, become stronger, fuller of joy, and my love will be stronger, more joyful.

So I will cultivate this garden:

  • I have bought a new Moleskine. I’ll write down the Psalms & other Scriptures I’ve learnt & am learning (& other poems — Shakespeare, Hopkins, …). I’m writing down prayer commitments to cultivate an intentional prayer life too.
  • Love others by loving myself: do something every day that increases my power.
  • Love myself by loving others: serve well, acknowledge the gratitude, and offer it up to God (this morning: getting my 94-yr-old M-i-L into her pressure stockings after she didn’t trust the nurse).
  • Root out the weeds … [that stings like James 4:8b stings]
  • Recognise the weeds as weeds — attractive but draining and invasive. Yes, invasive.
  • Hopkins said immortal diamond. Invest in and treasure that gem which is my immortal soul.

Tombstone

(see Ugh, …, opening a way through.)

Ugh, …, opening a way through

In those last two posts I sounded like a whiny spoilt teenager. They are now “private” but I can bring them back if there’s demand.

The “remorse” phase was starting to creep in yesterday even while I was handing over the cash. I worked hard yesterday (as well as “playing” hard) and after a long miserable phone call with my wife W I realised I was utterly exhausted. The phone conversation didn’t cause the exhaustion, though some realisations I made during it hammered the remorse and the exhaustion home. Real exhaustion is a strange full body feeling. I crawled into bed as soon as I put the phone down — I made some decisions first — and let the realisations sink in and work themselves out.

Headlines:

  • W is lonely.
  • I have to throw out all that stuff I bought, all #110-worth — before I get on the train back home.

Also:

  • Self-care is important. Real self-care must (a) be really care for self, not indulgence or “giving in”; (b) include care for the bodies of which I am a part.
  • I have been hiding away some of the parts of me that W likes, that attracted W in the first place (e.g., sensuality, not-being-like-other-men, especially-men-of-her-generation).

I worry about ending like this (like that!) again. I must:

  • Turn the yoga/running/cycling up to 11 — not to tire myself out, but to place my sensuality in the public space (I mean “not secret”) (I would include wine, whisky, and delicious food in the sensuality category but W is less interested in all that nowadays).
  • Encourage a shared sensuality with W. Establish a shared sensuality. This is probably the most important local peak.
  • Nip this weirdness in the bud if/when it arises again. I don’t feel any more it is a special central part of me. It was a very early development in me to be sure, but I feel now it was an infection of the world. I think gender and fetishes are devil work that blind people, or blinker them, box them in, tie them to anti-human structures.
  • I really mean nip it in the bud. I think a blast of strong porn (as a means to an end) would be preferable. I don’t want to lean on porn, but if a foghorn through the system is what it takes so be it.
  • Have a strong, rejoicing sense of myself in Jesus (that is part of my current reading of Ephesians, in Beth’s Worthy Reading Group on FB). I am a genius, I have special insight (so does everyone else) — that sounds proud perhaps but I don’t feel it is. I don’t feel proud. I want to rejoice myself, and feel I can do that and be humble at the same time. Key is (a) rejoicing other people too; (b) rejoicing myself as part of something bigger and more worthy of rejoice — i.e., Jesus. Feeling myself as part of the body of Christ is a wonderful joy.

Not a challenge but a gift

Out of the blue a potential client has appeared, and all of a sudden it looks like I might win an important, big (for me) contract. The work is technically interesting, and very well-paid, and the company is nice.

Hard on the heels of elation comes anxiety and insecurity — the work will be difficult and there’ll be a lot of it: will I measure up? There’ll be younger zippier people on the team (without families to look after! Better looking!). Piles of unironed clothes and unwasked dishes surround me — and it’s my turn to cook the dinner.

Now I’m in the mood for shelter, it occurs to me that the work will involve semi-regular short periods away — long dormant demons begin to stir.

I need a way to snap myself out of this downward spiral.

What is certain? God has made this happen to me.

The thought of this client as a challenge from God gave me a bit of a boost, but ramped up the anxiety too: could I measure up to a challenge from God? Better, I thought of it as a gift.

  1. How can I think of this as a gift from God?
  2. How can I respond appropriately to this gift?

1. It will be a financial blessing certainly, and we are struggling financially at the moment. I could even say this is an answer to my prayers over money worries. The work will be interesting, in a new area I need to get to know better; it will tone up skills that have been lying fallow for a while. It will enable me to simplify my work life: I’ll be able to jettison a time-wasting client, and be more assertive with another; I shan’t have to scrabble around after contracts.

2. Say thank you: pray thank you to my Lord for this gift. Look forward to enjoying the work. Think back to similar challenges in the past that turned out to be gifts. Enjoy and give thanks during the work too.

Do you know relevant Scripture or other reading that can help with work anxiety and insecurity?

What are your favourite Thank You psalms or prayers from the Bible?

A life of two halves

I am 51. My birthday is mixed up with Christmas and New Year so I have always taken the season personally.

In my early 40s I started to think I was middle-aged. Turning 50 and 51 I start to think I am getting old, moving into end times. These are the ready-made cultural scripts we are given.

Then I remembered that my mother-in-law is in her 90s and is physically and mentally healthy and independent. People are living longer, and more healthily and actively than ever before, and that progress is continuing. I could easily live to be over 100. The composer Elliott Carter was active at the forefont of his field right until his death in 2012 at the age of 103. No need to turn in at 50 or 60 or 70.

If I live to be 100 I am only just into the second half (if I count only my adult life, I’m still in the first half).

Half-time is a good time to be born again, and to relaunch myself. I can think of my adult life so far as a kind of second childhood or gestation. I look forward to 50 years of new life.

Born Again

“Born Again” is my theme for this year.

It feels a bit presumptuous to call myself “born again”, not least because I am still “in the closet”. It feels presumptuous to call myself “saved” or anything like that — although I know Jesus is there for me, and I am trying sincerely to be guided by His star at all times.

Having said that, “born again” is how I feel, and how I want to live from now on.

I have been concentrating hard on battling my demons.

I have not shopped for lingerie or dressed up since August 2016. I think I am out of the clutches of that demon — although I am not confident that I have escaped for the right reasons (see Resisting temptation for the wrong reasons. Does it matter?).

I was masturbating and using pornography up until late December last year, so those demons are very much still active (see Handling episodes of failure). I am determined, however, that they will not contaminate this new year.

I don’t really like the “addiction” narrative about pornography, but I remembered that I did used to smoke cigarettes (early 80s to late 90s). That was certainly an addiciton, and I certainly quit. So I now see using pornography and masturbating as habits like smoking was a habit. Like most people who quit, I “quit” smoking several times, but one last time I really quit. Well, (hopefully) I have now really quit masturbating and really quit using pornography.

I have also realised belatedly that by using pornography, I was training myself to look at women in a certain way, and that I couldn’t really defeat that demon while I was still using pornography.

So, there is no room for complacency, but I feel these demons are on the defensive. Now I want to turn to new demons, or new challenges, challenges to do with my work and, especially, to do with my wife.

I feel born again and I want to act born again. I want to draw on and use the new-found strength that knowing Jesus is giving me. Knowing Jesus is by me is a pleasure, and I want to rejoice in that pleasure and bring that light to the world around me.

What does that mean exactly? I don’t quite know. Solving problems at work, loving my wife — practically as well as adoringly.

We’ll see how it pans out, but the phrase “born again” will remind me of this ambition.

Mission

I’ve just spent a few days in the frozen wastes of the north with my father. He is getting on (in his 70s) and I stay with him every couple of months. I had this idea after his wife (my mother) died in 2013. I want to make sure he’s well, keep him company, make sure he knows I’m available if he needs help, be ready if/when anything crops up. At first he was not keen, but it seems to have grown on him.

We can be a bit of a scratchy family (I have a sister too), but nothing outside a standard deviation from the mean. However, generally, after a couple of days in his company, I have had enough.

Visits have been getting better gradually this year, but this latest visit went especially well.

What went well?

We had a couple of trips out scheduled, so I suggested I could stay an extra day. In the end he pulled out of one of the trips, but I did stay the extra day. I managed to stay the extra day without losing my temper with him or secretly pulling my hair out.

I was disappointed early on. The failed trip out. Also, I had wanted to discuss some admin/finance matters with him, but because my work has been very hectic recently I hadn’t prepared fully, so I had to drop that as well. So I felt I had nothing “to do” while I was there. A wasted trip.

Perhaps that made me feel I had plenty of time. We did very little, and just had a peaceful time together. We watched old TV comedies on DVD, played with his dog, chatted a little. I got up and went to bed early, and provided food at mealtimes (just supermarket ready meals, but quite nice ones), did a bit of cleaning.

Towards the end of my visit, Dad had more colour in his cheeks, was more cheerful, less fretful, and explicitly grateful for my company.

Why did it go well?

I think the early failures were a blessing in disguise. I didn’t have goals I wanted to achieve — which were actually distractions from the better work I could be doing.

The extra day was an extra day of food and regular sleep. It was also an extra day for me (and him) to see the benefits of my actions.

I think I attended to him very closely. Not because I was concentrating, and not entirely because I felt there was time. I was calmer, less directing or interfering. Looking back, my interventions were kind of pre-emptive: e.g. I got the food ready before we were hungry and put it out at just the right time.

With my secular hat on I would say: things have been improving over the last year, and on this visit they crossed a threshold so I noticed; I had the time to see the positive effect I was having and that gave me a boost too.

I also had the luxury of praying every morning when I woke up, and every night at bedtime. I had Mere Christianity with me (which I seem to be re-reading perpetually). I was reading scripture every day. I was writing in my diary every day. So, I was looking after myself in that sense.

I was never distracted or tempted (apart from at a train station on the way up, but that’s another story for another day).

Conclusions & next steps

I crossed another threshold during that visit. I am starting to see the benefit of accepting Jesus, and of spending so much time in His arms. On the way back home I went to a church and prayed thanks to God for His presence and the gift of the visit: on Dad and on me.

This long year — since my Total Purge last August — I have been concentrating on fighting my demons and overcoming bad habits. I’m sure those struggles will continue.

During Advent I am practicising the other side: giving thanks, adoration of God, rejoicing in and enjoying my new-found life. I hope to focus on these things here on the blog more next year.

Lust for wife

This will not come as a surprise to readers, but it was a surprise to me.

Since “putting away childish things”, I have recently been having lustful feelings about my wife!

Without really trying, I have been more physically affectionate, and perhaps even forward — a couple of times she has said (good-naturedly), “put me down”. I have caught my eye wandering over her body in a new way (or, at least, a way it hasn’t wandering for many years). A couple of times I have even found myself having sexual fantasies about her.

My wife has noticed some of this, and doesn’t seem to mind that much (“put me down”).

For my part it’s pathetically exciting and feels like strange new territory. I don’t want the moment to pass and fade; on the other hand I don’t want to fumble and drop it.

Step away from the phone

Reading a couple of nice posts on Lisa Notes (Where’s Your Phone Right Now?, Is Your Phone Changing You?) has inspired me to tone up my resistance to the time sink that is social media.

Thankfully I dislike Facebook (the software creeps me out and the UI is ugly) so there is little danger of my becoming addicted to it. I do like to follow blogs, but it’s always either a topic or a person I follow, so there’s no sprawling network of endless connections beckoning. Email is just part of my work. However, for me Twitter is like Heroin. I’m sure I could spend whole days surfing around Twitter. So for me “Social Media” really means Twitter.

I do use SM for a reason — to share information, to find things out, to “keep up to date”. How often do I need to login to fulfill those functions? Not really more than once or twice a day. Set a frequency and stick to it.

The mobile phone has become a ubiquitous general-purpose information and time-passing device, always “relevant”, designed to be pawed and fondled.

My main “don’ts”:

  • SM should not be the first reading of the day. First reading should be on actual paper (the newspaper, magazines).
  • In fact, no SM till after breakfast.
  • SM should not be an on/off ramp activity (e.g. when I arriving or winding up at work)
  • Don’t use the phone as general purpose life companion. Find ways to push againt this. For example, I have started wearing my old wristwatch — instead of using the phone as a kind of pocket watch.
  • I should not reach for the phone when bored, or in those spare, empty moments (e.g., waiting for rice to cook). We get a daily newspaper, and weekly and monthly magazines, puzzle magazines, … there are plenty of ways to while away time that do not involve the phone. I could even read a Psalm.
  •  

  •  

  •