Measuring Things By Year
First up, sorry there was no newsletter last week – I was away for most of the week and didn’t manage to squeeze it in. Anyway, this week I’ve been thinking about the inexorable march of time, and I wondered if I could open by asking you guys a question, if you’re willing to share your thoughts with me:
How do you measure a year? What constitutes a “good year?”
Personally, I’m absolutely horrified that it’s autumn already, and am finding it difficult to process what’s actually happened so far this year. I imagine like a lot of people, I have trouble reflecting on the meaning of any individual year of my life if I can’t pinpoint the ways in which I was productive during it – the things I wrote, or made, the creative projects I undertook, etc. I have endless running lists in my notebooks of what I’m currently working on that I gradually tick off or cross off as I either complete them or shelve them, and I tend to look back on each year and think “Yeah, that was a good one” as I assess the things I produced, the stuff I made. I don’t know what the equivalent of this is in people who work outside of the arts – when I’ve spoken to friends about it, the ones who are also freelancers have empathised a lot and the ones with more regular jobs haven’t really related to it and have told me they just don’t measure their lives year-by-year, which is why I’d be interested to hear all your thoughts on this as it might help me get a more representative sample of how people think about this stuff.
Weirdly, last year, the year the wheels fell off and everything stopped, was a fairly productive year to look back on. I managed to make a film in lockdown which people said nice things about, and I managed to make a radio show that people also said nice things about. All things considered, I was pretty proud of the fact that I managed to complete two fairly significant pieces of work under such weird conditions. This year, although there are still a handful of months left to go of it, I don’t think I’m going to have the same amount of tangible stuff to look back on and hold in my hand and count. I’d like to think I’ve not wasted it – I hope that I’ll look back on it as a year when I invested time into a few significant long-term projects that will hopefully pay off the work I’ve put in further down the line, whether that’s in one year, two years, five, whatever. But I don’t think it’ll be a year where I can count off the creative projects I undertook and completed and feel proud of them just by the act of tallying them up. Right now I’m a little worried I’ll look at 2021 and think “God, what did I do?”
Quick picture break to block up all this dauting text, so here’s me enjoying the autumn, courtesy of the Joz Norris Sexy Calendar 2021 (we’ll be taking orders for 2022 soon, so do watch this space if you want one):
This has got me wondering – why do I invest so much energy into the meaning of this arbitrary span of time in the first place, just because I’m socially conditioned to believe that that span is in some way significant? Moreover, why do I choose to assess the meaning of that arbitrary span by measuring units produced, things completed, stuff made? It feels like in some way I’ve absorbed our cultural obsession with growth, profit, product and mapped it onto the concept of creativity, which really ought to be a realm of thinking and feeling that’s immune to those obsessions. What if I measured each year not by things produced but by things experienced? Things learned, relationships nurtured? Better yet, what if I didn’t feel the need to measure the passing of a year at all, and rather than panicking and feeling hard on myself when September comes around, I could instead find myself in January thinking “Another year went by and I’m still here, still happy, still learning, still growing, still having a lovely time.”
A lot of this connects to the Decade project just launched by Mark Watson, in which Mark is chairing a collective of a few hundred people as they try to complete various self-appointed goals over the course of ten years. I’m signed up to the project and my stated goal for a decade’s time is this – “My ambition for one decade from now is to be free from ambition.” I’ve chosen this because I’d like to ultimately get to the point of no longer ticking off arbitrary goals, and no longer living the “provisional life,” which I talked about in a previous Therapy Tape, where we consider our current circumstances as a sort of waiting room for the more “real” life we will lead once we’ve just got such-and-such out of the way. I’ve chosen that goal because I think it gives me a choice of two methods to pursue in order to achieve it over the decade – I can either desperately try to fulfil all the ambitions I still have in my life by the time I’m 42, or, if I realise that’s not working out for me because each ambition will surely give rise to a new one, I can change gears and work on changing my mindset, and spend the remainder of the decade in a silent retreat pursuing spiritual enlightenment. I think the idea of ping-ponging between those two poles strikes me as a funny way to spend a decade of my life, and possibly an interesting one as well, so we’ll see how it goes. Obviously, I’m aware the end-result is inherently ludicrous, because ambition and expectation are all part and parcel of being a human, and I ultimately don’t want to be a monk, I like the struggle and hope and failure and frustration of being a complicated human. But I think gradually trying to unlearn some of the arbitrary stuff I’ve absorbed from our society is no bad thing to aim for over the next ten years, and becoming more aware of it now might well end up putting me on an interesting path. We shall see!
What do you guys think? Do you measure your years? If so, then how and by what metrics?
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Sean Lock’s very tragic death a couple of weeks ago resulted in a mass outcry for his long-neglected sitcom Fifteen Storeys High to be put on iPlayer, and the powers-that-be have listened and put this overlooked but highly influential show out for everyone to discover. It also co-stars a very young Benedict Wong, so that’s fun.
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – In the last two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of watching Ali Brice gig twice after two years of not seeing him gig at all, and both times have made me really lose it. First time was an absolutely perfect gag about his own face, second time was him drinking a 2 litre bottle of Coke while playing a song about fizziness.
Book Of The Week – I’m currently reading Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s great. I’ve jotted down two sentences in my notebook to memorise, and they are “We spent our lives making livings” and “I regret that it takes a lifetime to learn how to live a life.”
Album Of The Week – Leave The Bones by Lakou Mizik & Joseph Ray. My friend Emily put me onto this by playing me the song “Ogou (Pran Ka Mwen)” which is one of the best songs I’ve heard all year, and over the week its parent album has knocked Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’s Carnage off the top-spot for my album of the year. It’s absolutely incredible.
Film Of The Week – Minari. I can watch films again! I don’t have to watch Love Island every day any more! Great stuff. Anyway, this is great, it’s about a Korean family in America trying to run a farm while also looking after their grandma. Yuh-Jung Youn won an Oscar for playing Grandma Soonja, but Yeri Han and 8-year-old Alan S. Kim also give incredible performances.
That’s all for this week! As ever, take care of yourselves and keep in touch. If you’d like to recommend the Therapy Tapes to a friend or encourage them to subscribe, I hugely appreciate it! Until next week,
PS Here’s a funny flower arrangement I saw at Appledore Flower Festival last week: