As advent begins, and the Christmas season looms, it's an ideal time to carry out a self-audit and check you're doing okay. I recently took the family out to dinner at a local restaurant. While we waited for the food, I handed out five sheets of paper. They had four gauges on them: simple circles that look a bit like a car’s petrol gauge and have an ‘empty’ marker on the left and a ‘full’ one on the right, with a line to mark the middle.
The four gauges were titled: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I gave my wife and three children a coloured highlighter each, and asked them to think about how full or empty they felt in these different areas. The ensuing conversation was fantastic: we all got to talk and be listened to, and even came up with some solutions.
I think it’s important to ask these questions of ourselves from time to time. And if you’re a writer, it can help your characterisation. Above all, I believe it will help us with our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. So how are you doing in the following areas today?
Are you getting enough sleep or rest? How about nutrition? Are you happy with your level of exercise? Do you experience aches and pains? Headaches? Is your gauge high or low and is there anything you can do to improve it?
How are you doing emotionally? Are you relating to people or do you feel you need to get away? Is there anything you can do to improve the situation: diet and exercise? Are you doing enough of the things you enjoy? Anyone you need to forgive? Anything you should let go of? Do you need to ‘count your blessings’ or maybe do something selfless or generous? Is it time for a Facebook/Instagram vacation?
How is your mental health? How could it be better? What are you putting into your brain through TV, YouTube or reading? Is it helping, or making you unhappy or anxious? Are you getting enough sleep, exercise and time outdoors? Do you have good people around you that you can talk to? Are you taking enough rest? Could relaxing music be of help? Is it time for a change of job? Maybe put the mobile phone aside for a day?
Is this an area that you need to improve or explore? Do you pray or meditate? Do you have any spiritual disciplines - things like: solitude, worship, simplicity, service, joy or fasting? How are you doing in terms of your selflessness, generosity, encouragement, peace? Is there anything on YouTube or Ted that can help improve your spiritual side? Go for it!
Tell me how it goes!
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It seemed like such a good idea in the middle of the night. But now I come to reflect on it and actually write the blog post, it’s pretty heavy. I’m thinking about friends and colleagues who used to live but no longer do. Here are five observations, feelings and thoughts on death and writing about it.
1. As you get older, your friends leave the party
The older you get, the more people you know depart from the ‘currently alive’ club. I’m thinking of school friends: and the medical issues; car accident; and ill-health that took them. And family members: an armed robbery; a train accident; old age. College friends: several from cancer. Work colleagues: heart attack; cancer again. So sad.
2. You remember the names
The names become important to you: Adam the drummer; David the publishing MD; Anne-Marie, an ex-girlfriend’s younger sister; fellow journalists Guy and Ed - cancer chased them both down. School friends Tony, Graham, Beth. Tragic.
3. They live in your mind and heart
Sometimes you don’t talk to good friends for ages. When you catch up with them, it’s like you were never apart. They carry on existing in the interim. Most of the time you didn’t think of them. With departed friends and family, it’s like they’re still alive. They live in your memories, mind and heart.
4. Life is for living
You realise that you have a finite number of opportunities to see loved ones - and that there’s probably a figure on the number of times you will spend time with a relative or friend. It becomes even more important to make time for people, live in peace, with joy in your heart. Every moment is precious.
5. Writers should approach death sensitively
It’s an important subject for a writer to grapple with. And you’ll need to if you’re writing stories that span any decent length of time. In 5fingers, I reported on the ends of several characters’ lives. It felt important to do it, and do it right.
As 5fingers: initiation begins, you learn that Rachel lost her mother when she was young. It’s sensitive for Rachel: painful. I was very aware of readers, friends and close relatives who have gone through a similar experience. I think you have to respect your readers, and try not to patronise them.
I don’t want to give anything away, but there are more deaths in 5fingers: vortex, trinity, rescue and freedom. But in each case, my aim is to make the coverage appropriate and respectful where required. Ultimately, I believe that there’s a bigger picture and that this life is only part of it. And like a good story, every life has a significant start, a compelling middle and a memorable end.
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In May I got new eyes. Here is the diary I kept on my Facebook Author Page.
Today my eyes get fixed. Elation. The left one first, the right next week. Cataract extraction plus trifocal implants. I'll be bionic. 45 years of terrible vision, corrected in an instant by the surgeon's laser. Unreal. At night my mind ticked over. Not anxious, just active, trying to see the future. Mostly I'm calm. And excited. I'm looking forward to the colours, you see, the stars, seeing underwater and the dust in the sunlight. That and being a cyborg, of course.
The adventure begins. A lovely room to wait in at The McIndoe Centre, kind and caring staff, and a dot above my eye so they laser the correct one. It's the left eye, right?!
It all went really well - looking forward to 20/20 vision this time next week! Loving my new bionic left eye. Colours are brighter, and everything is crisp blue-white. My cataracts gave the world a dull yellow hue. My far and middle distance sight is sharp, and close up improving by the hour (it carries on getting sharper day by day). Resting up today. No pain, just tired after surgery.
I have an eye drop regime for the next 28 days. Then from next Friday -the same for the right eye. No heavy lifting or exercise for three weeks (total). No swimming for five weeks (total). Then I'm free.
Been relaxing and healing. My first full day at the desk today. Still loving the bright colours, the quality of the light, sharp edges. I live thankful. Good distance vision; mid-and near vision not completely sharp yet. Eye healing slowly, takes time... The right eye operation is this Friday.
Top 3 annoying things about having one good eye and one bad one (until this Friday!)
1. Screen work and reading take forever
2. I keep squinting
3. People are both blurry and clear at the same time, which is kind of trippy
Top 3 fantastic things about having one good eye and one bad one (until this Friday!)
1. I can see through my left eye again
2. I can see through my left eye again
3. I can see through my left eye again
Cued up for my right eye operation: dilation drops and anaesthetic in... not long now! And incredibly, such a blessing, I now have 20/20 vision in my corrected left eye. So grateful. I have the family with me today and we are enjoying ourselves way too much!
Just out of surgery. An amazing experience again. The bright lights of the operating theatre became like the sun at the beach after twenty minutes of staring into them. I could see the surgeon's fine tools and hear the laser talking after it did its work. The world became clear as the trifocal lens descended. Ravenous now, slight headache, but lunch has arrived! Oh, and I can see clearly with BOTH eyes now. Overjoyed.
Incredible to be able to see again, and 20/20 is more than wonderful. It's transformational - here's to being able to do readings, videos, and actually read books again!!!
So, still on the subject of eyes - and I promise, I will stop soon, this is for the more technical of you who might be interested. Two pieces of acrylic are now part of my two eyeballs - Carl Zeiss 'AT Lisa' trifocal intraocular lenses. They will probably last longer than my eyes will and have concentric circles with differing magnification strengths.
The eye automatically finds the best one to read: long, middle and short distance, with the brain getting better over time at working it all out. So, theoretically, the vision continues to improve over the months! Clever design, the human body. Me? I'm just ecstatic I can see.
5 things I'm enjoying today with my new bionic eyes
1. 20/20 vision (particularly first thing, waking up)
2. Being able to see in the shower!
3. Blue/white sunlight and the morning sky (mmm)
4. The ability to read books again (hooray!)
5. Seeing a family of yellow birds in a tree (lovely).
Friday, my latest eye check at The McIndoe Centre: healing well and better than 20/20 vision- I didn't even know there was such a thing!
I have a new reading pile now I can see clearly again!
First time back at the gym for a month (after healing from the eye op). Man, it was SO great being able to run without glasses, and see in the shower... Trying to up my mileage bit by bit.
Final thoughts. I am still enjoying excellent vision. My new eyes have enabled me to finish writing the fifth 5fingers book with ease, which is out in spring 2018 . With a Middle Eastern book tour due next spring, and a full schedule of author visits, I will be able to read confidently in public, wear sunglasses and go in the sea. Thank you Damian Lake and the team at The McIndoe Centre!
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Joshua Raven, novelist. Read about my writing and my life here. And have you discovered 5fingers yet?