I’ve got some quite tricky blogposts to write over the next little while. There’s obviously the “DIT wrapped” post to do – which will largely be adapted/redacted from an internal goodbye email I wrote last Friday. But mainly I need to be thinking about the big reset – rebuilding myself after getting pretty burnt out. The burnout is not necessarily a feature of where I’ve been working, but more the challenges that came from a particular sequence of roles, each never quite giving me a chance to recover. I mean I learned a lot, and got a lot done, but (in hindsight) owwwww.
As anyone who’s worked with me knows, I tend to put a lot of myself into both the work and the people I work with – which helps get fabulous results, and is one of the reasons I am often around for a lot longer than other contractors – but I’m now having to deliberately focus just on myself. And that’s a mode of existence that’s rusty, to say the least. And a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable to boot.
I’m expecting to be starting work again some time during February, depending on a few conversations that are happening at the moment – so how can I best use the time to rebuild and refresh?
I know there are a few other long-tenure contractors who might be facing some similar challenges at some stage (although I hope not for ages), so thought it was worth sharing a few of my ideas.
I’ve got a bit “inside my head” as a result of the last while, and this hasn’t been helped by a running injury in late September that it’s taken me ages to get over. But it’s time to address a bit of all that.
- Running or cycling a couple of times per week
- Getting outside for over half an hour on the other days to see fresh air and daylight
- Finding places to be/think/write that aren’t pubs – lovely as they are
- Going through the vast pile of cookbooks to find some more interesting and healthy options for meals. We’d definitely fallen back on some comfort-food staples.
- Have baths and read
- Twenty minutes of meditation a day – it’s only after fifteen minutes that I really make progress and there’s not been time for that for a while
- Sort out my posture – I’ve been slumped over laptops and keyboards for too long, so it’s off to Tammy the osteopath, and starting to use my standing desk more often. Also, not slouching at the piano!
- Sleep. Whenever. I remember Vicky reading in one of her ante-natal books “why stand when you sit, why sit when you can lie down”. This is probably the most important one of all.
The creative and cultural
- Start turning some of the last few years into songs – even if they never get put on soundcloud. This will also involve…
- Rebuilding my production workflow habits. I’ve got incredibly rusty at my various bits of studio tech, and every time I fire up Ableton Live feels like I’m learning it all over again. There was a point where I was really quick at moving things around, using my Push2 rather than a mouse, diving between the audio and midi domains. So I’m going to start back at the beginning of a bunch of tutorials and see where each takes me.
- Practing keyboard technique for an hour a day – on some new(ish) pieces. I’ve been having piano lessons again for the last few months, mainly picking up some of my favourite Debussy pieces (Sarabande, Claire de Lune, Girl with the Flaxen Hair – you know the sort of thing). I’ve got so much out of diving deep into those, and fixing some age-old problems I’ve found. But the sort of practice I now need to be doing isn’t necessarily great for others to be around, and I need to broaden where I’m getting inspiration. And the types of musicianship I’m developing. So it’s time for some classic learner pieces from Bach, Schubert, Beethoven and Chopin – but also looking at some of my modern anthologies and Howard Skempton pieces.
- Learning the modular system even better, and not being scared to press record. There are a ton of modules I barely understand – bought at times of great optimism, but little spare time. Thankfully with my new Mordax Data oscilloscope thing, I can get a much better sense of how and why they work. I’ve found trying to recreate everything in a tutorial like Divkid’s youtube video on Mutable Instruments’ Beads granular synthesis module can take me off in all sorts of interesting new directions. But it can be very easy to get caught up in sound design alone – falling back in the “vertical writing” I’ve traditionally found hard to escape in packages like ProTools, Cubase or Logic. One perfect 16-bar loop – and no way out. Live’s two-axis improvisational workflow is something of a relief from that when working with vocals or software instruments, but the modular rig can end up with me chasing perfection, rather than thinking about dynamics and evolution. Thankfully disk space is cheap and I’ll be able to pick out the good bits later. “Write drunk, edit sober” as the saying goes.
- Pick up some of the other instruments I’ve got hanging around. It’s been a long time since I touched the guitar, or bass, or ukulele, or accordion, or penny whistle, or bodhran, or… (And I’d quite like to be able to competently play the bassline to “Christmas Wrapping” by next December)
- Sing more. In the run up to my 50th gig, I actually got my vocals half-decent and largely in tune. That’s all rotted now, but it would be fab to not need Melodyne to fix things. And to feel confident in the textures or material I’m bringing quickly into Ableton when I’m in the flow state. Bizarrely I find writing with my voice actually easier than working with keyboards. So there should be a whole heap of happy accidents if I can fix some fundamentals in that area.
- Get out to a few more gigs and concerts. I’ve got some stuff booked already – Hannah Peel, Art of Noise etc – but I think I need a few completely different experiences.
- And yes, possibly going to see the Abba show again. If anyone else is interested.
- See more theatre. Again, there’s stuff booked, but I think my storytelling will improve if I’m not just immersed in the current music habits.
- Watch a far greater proportion of the BAFTA films – ideally all of the round 3 ones. Again, this will be good for inspiration/alternative contexts, but also this bit of ‘time off’ gives me a rare chance to go really deep. I will be nice not have to abstain on any categories because I didn’t watch everything due to work pressures.
- Finish a few more games. Even if it means restarting them. Yes, I’m looking at you, “Ratchet and Clank: a Rift Apart”. You’re bloody amazing, and I will get to the end this time.
I’m very lucky that I’ve got a house with enough bedrooms for us not to be falling over each other, and a studio that (for a month) I can leave set up just how I like it. But it’s also a place I’ve been working for years since covid hit – and I could probably do with a more substantial change of scene.
- the coast
- the countryside
- staying – without the rest of the family – at my parents
- getting away with Vicky
- train journeys
- visiting friends I’ve not seen for ages – in Glasgow, Bristol, Sussex, Cheltenham
- maybe all of that but including different countries. Paris? New Orleans?
AirBnB are likely to do quite well out of me. But that’s what all the saving up was for.
I’ve got a LOT of books about different aspects of the work I do. Some I’ve completely finished, many are about two-thirds read, and a huge pile were never started – and lurk at me from the bookshelves making me feel guilty. But one of the fabulous aspects of the training I do for Mind the Product is that it gives me an incentive to pick off a few more of these each time. Or to review old classics and see how I feel about them. But it’s always the tip of the iceberg…and somehow new books keep arriving. It’s time to try and make a proper dent in it at last.
That’ll probably lead to more blogging in its own right as I synthesise some of what I’ve been learning.
Plus there’s the “aaNewsletters” folder in my inbox where everything goes. John Cutler, Dan Hon, Marginalia, Sam Lowe, Steven Johnson etc etc. Time to process and digest.
Plus all the fiction of course. Which will be LOVELY.
Yeah, OK, there’s also the times when I won’t be feeling like I can do all these virtuous things. In fact, there’ll be times when I literally don’t want to do any of them. And that’ll be fine. But I’m lucky that there are some really purposeful task-based activities lurking in the background:
- finally fixing our magimix after a load of lemon-and-sugar mixture got into the buttons at the front when we were making lemonade – at last they’ll no longer stick. Or we’ll have to get a new magimix because I’ve broken it properly at last.
- tidying out the cellar so it’s not just piles of random crap, interspersed with random boxes of wine
- self-assessment – will HMRC owe me money? Will I owe them? I’ve literally no idea.
- organising the storage area next to the studio that never recovered from lockdown, and I still can’t easily retrieve the commuting bike from. If I find any remaining bread flour, sadly it’ll have to go in the bin. Along with some kids inflatables we definitely no longer need.
- actually designing how we’re going to store all the tools/chemicals/compost/trugs in the garden shed so it’s not just shoved in randomly.
- clearing all the piles of paper out of the teetering “in tray” and filing them at last in the storage area mentioned previously
- taking a ton of old books to the charity shop
But then, I only have January (and possibly a bit of Feb)
Prioritising all this is going to be key. There are loads of good things I can combine – reading in the bath, writing music on trains to friends, singing while walking etc etc – but everything above is still too much to take on, when the whole point is that I’m trying to relax and recover.
Which is BY FAR the main thing.
So I’ve decided to view the above as a series of hypotheses of activities which may or may not help me meet those goals of
- feeling DIT is behind me
- feeling like I’m ready for the next thing
- not resenting the next thing for taking me away from things I’d liked to have done more
And I’m planning to start each day saying “based on how I’m feeling today, which things are most likely to get me closer to that goal”. And at the end of the day, asking if it did. That way I’m not going to just fill the time with other projects that’ll make me as stressed as being at work, nor will I just drift. And hopefully I’ll spend at least a month proactively re-learning a lot more about what makes the core of me truly happy.
If it’s merely “being right about OKRs done well” I guess I can probably settle for that. (At which the entire DIT product and delivery communities smile wryly).