2015: Awareness

I made new year resolutions this year, for the first time in as long as I can remember. I’ve got big ideas and bold plans for the year ahead: Writing, Yoga, Adventure. Above all, awareness.

All told, I had a great 2014.  A year of travelling all over the world, a year of creativity and friends and laughter and so many fun times. So many happy photos on Facebook, upbeat updates on Twitter. But there was more going on behind the scenes. There was a lot of "broken-ness". There was sickness and sorrow, jealousy and bitterness, envy and hopelessness. I don’t like to advertise it when I sob on the floor. I don’t think any of us do. 

When I thought about this post, I was going to post an artful little shot of my resolution preparation: notebook, fire, glass of wine. 

But fuck that. 

You wouldn’t be able to see the counter full of dishes, the rumpled bed, the dust and dirt that accumulates when I’m busy pursuing my dreams (or procrastinating). 

It wasn't perfect. But I am really excited about the year ahead. I don't know where it will lead, just like I couldn't have predicted where 2014 would lead. Sometimes that's really scary. Sometimes I don't know what I am doing at all. Sometimes I feel broken, lost, messy. But then I look back and so much has happened even in the darkest times.

So, if you are feeling broken, lost, messy, alone or like you don’t know what you are doing or where you are going? You are not alone, I have you in my heart <3

 

To keep track for myself for those days when all feels lost, in no particular order, here’s what I am most proud of myself for accomplishing in 2014:

- Finished the first draft of my novel

- Gave a talk about play and the occult at game festival (twice!)

- Brought a game I designed to a game festival (twice!)

- Saved up and went to Thailand for a month

- Taught project management to some fantastic students in DIT

- Actually made rent money from writing

- Sustainably supported myself through freelancing work for the first time

- Met and talked about writing with two of my heroes (M John Harrison & Grant Morrison)

- Taught interactive fiction at the Irish Writers Centre

- Ate olives

- Became a full-time part of the Fumbally Exchange community

- Did a handstand in yoga

- Finally paid my 2010 income tax (I know!)

- My name is on MARS right now!

- Guested on my favourite podcast (twice!)

 

And for those days where everything seems possible, I want to remember to keep a check on what I’m not proud of at all & aim to be better at in 2015:

- Procrastinating all the live long day all the live long week all the live long month all the live long year...

- Jealousy and envy, so much jealousy and envy!

- Making excuses for anything for everything

- Sticking my head in the sand about money/security/health

- Hubris of the highest order

- Mess mess mess mess mess

- Over-reliance on social media to fill/alleviate moments of anxiety

- Not doing enough yoga/meditation

Ten Years Of Money In Snapshots

2004

I live in a squat in Sydney. The basement is inhabited by heroin addicts and a nest of funnel web spiders. The doorbell rings often, never for me but our drug dealer landlord. I work in a beautiful glass tower for a health insurance company, wearing one of two outfits each day. I get paid not quite enough money to live, less than half of what the temp agency get paid for my labour. I meet my boyfriend after work to walk the house pitbull. I am as happy as I will ever be. 

 

2005

I live at home in Dublin, in my childhood bedroom. I work at a big tech company, something something online advertising something. I can’t believe how glamorous it feels to go to work every day. I make enough money to pay all of my loans and go out on the weekends.

 

2006

I live with my boyfriend in Dublin, in a tiny, charming, over-priced apartment above a pub. Work does not feel glamorous anymore. I make enough money to go on holidays, to buy as many books as I want, to buy box sets to watch in the exhausted evenings.

 

2007

We fill the tiny apartment with too many things. I have a very nice title in work and the best desk on the 5th floor. I spend money visiting Singapore, paying for electricity, on drinks.

 

2008

I leave the big tech company but not the tiny apartment. Thanks to stock options, I have plenty of money, enough money to live for a year without working at all. I read a lot of books. I buy many types of yarn for knitting.

 

2009

We go to South America for months and months, leaving the tiny apartment for the last time. We stay in cheap hostels and spend money on buses, lomo a la pobre, palta, vino. We look at stars in the desert and get caught in the rain in cloud forest. I feel alive. I begin to write in a small notebook, “what should I be doing?” People I know buy houses, have kids. It feels like I have never done the right thing at the right time. I am as happy as I will ever be.

 

2010

We are in a new rented home, a tiny cottage with a deck and a real fireplace. We fill it with little trinkets, memories of our travels. We work side by side, website design and computer fixing. We have hardly any money at all, but lots of time. Every week is an exercise in making something from nothing. I join a writing class. I am anxious as all hell. 

 

2011

I work at another big tech company. It is all very exciting but I am on edge, watchful. It hurts my teeth to see the bright young folks out of college filled with that doomed messianic start-up zeal I once had. I have enough money to live, enough money for money not to be my primary worry. I leave a writing class; I say it is because I don’t have the time, the reality is I have no mental or emotional energy to spend on what matters to me.

 

2012

It goes on. I work, I make money. We get married and go to Laos for a whole month on our honeymoon. I remember who I am while I am there, I’m re-inhabited by my travelling self. I stay off the internet. I write. When we get home, I cry on the way into work and when I get in, the whole floor is empty, cleaned out. For one transformative moment I think the whole company closed down while I was away and I am free. Then I realise we just moved to a different floor.

 

2013

My travelling self didn’t leave me, it screams for escape. I have enough money to live for a few months without working. I have a novel I’ve started and want to commit to. I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m going to do it anyway. I leave the big tech company but not the tiny cottage. I write. It hurts. I cry a lot. I feel things much more, like my skin has been removed and my raw insides roll in the dirt of the world. I write more. I make new friends in the real world and find other kindred spirits online. Listening to small talk and platitudes starts to make me feel itchy. 

 

2014

I go to Thailand. The money is almost gone and I’m gripped with a huge fear of needing to return to work in another big tech company. I begin to teach. I love it. All that expensive yarn I bought is eaten by moths, along with the painstaking creations I knit and crocheted. I think about those moths, every atom of their material being forged into reality from the products of my creativity. I write. I write and write and write. I write until it hurts too much and I need to cry. I cry until I remember “I chose this” and get back to it. I am happy. I wouldn’t say I am as happy as I will ever be but I believe that such things can only be recognised in hindsight.

 

Precious Memory

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We hiked all day, climbing higher and higher through the trees via the zig-zag paths, scuffing our boots on dusty rocks. Our packs weighed heavily upon us then, several days into a ten-day hike. 

In retrospect, I chuckle at our youthful enthusiasm for an experience we weren’t really equipped with the fitness for. It was November in New Zealand, 2004. On the first night of the hike, we flung ourselves to the frozen ground in exhaustion, laying down our sleeping bags under an over-hanging crag. If I was ever more cold than I was that night I cannot remember it. We woke to frozen water bottles and got lost that day in snow flurries atop a high mountain. 

But on the day of this precious memory, this day of endless climbing, the cold night was so far away it could have been years. All the worries of the first day had been eroded completely. There was no point in worrying anymore. There was nothing but one foot in front of another. The reliable psalm of constant pain in backs and feet, a chorus with each step. I was warm, no matter the real temperature. I hiked in a tank-top, the fabric between me and my trusty backpack always soaked with sweat. We talked, mostly the two of us. We talked of dreams and plans and the things we looked forward to, how much we missed our family and friends after eleven months away and how we would see them soon soon. On that day, I remember a small bag of fruit chews taking on an inordinate importance as we rewarded each other with the treats for making it just to that tree trunk, just until we could touch that rock, just until we were two zig-zag stretches ahead of the others.

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On and on we trekked and it felt like forever, but it was only seven hours or so, the span of a regular working day. We walked through streams, didn’t care about wet feet by then. We hopped over rocks, rested our backpacks against trees, drank water like it was the nectar of the gods. 

It was getting dusky when we made it to the top of the mountain. To one of those huts you find in New Zealand’s national parks, solidly bare of furnishings but feeling like the Taj Mahal after nights sleeping rough and days walking walking walking. We made blue cheese pasta for dinner. There was no internet, no mobile phone coverage. I lay on the hard pallet in my sleeping bag and read a chapter of a Steven Erikson book by torchlight, chewing one of those glorious fruit chews. I will always remember that moment, pure heaven. To rest after labour, absolute luxury is just some sugar and words while horizontal. 

After dinner, our guide took us all out in the dark with our torches to a spot close to the hut where there were natural hot thermal pools. We were the only people on the mountain, no way to these pools except the seven-hour slog. No changing rooms, bottled water, tiled edges, slides. In the dark, we stripped off all our clothes and got in. The base of the pools was uneven, muddy and silty, the water perfectly warm and steamy and it all felt divine on weary backs and feet and dirty bodies. At night, it was cold cold up there on the mountain, and we kept ourseves beneath the water’s level and laughed with delight. 

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There was a moon, I don’t remember if it was full, but our eyes adjusted and we could see by it after sitting there a while. Our mountain was smaller than the others surrounding it. And suddenly there was a huge cracking sound in the night, and by the light of the moon we could see an avalanche breaking and cascading off down the side of one of the other higher mountains. Maybe we were the only ones to witness it, out there, hours from anything. 

And at that moment I remember feeling very small indeed, like a tiny creature balanced tenderly in the hand of the universe. And although it was cold all around us, I was warm, we were warm. And we raced back to the hut laughing and shivering and slept so well that night. And I thought, this is what life is all about, moments like this, and I brimmed with excitement for the possibility of so many more moments woven of the same stuff.

 

Permission to Play

Two weeks ago I returned home from an epic weekend in Copenhagen, absolutely exhilarated and full of joy to an extent I haven’t felt for a long long time. I’m still riding the high. I was attending the wonderful w00t festival of play with plenty of other likeminded souls (including a pretty impressive percentage of my Irish brethren). As is my way, I needed to analyze why I felt so fucking great when I returned home instead of just enjoying the moment. But that’s all good folks, because I realised something I won’t forget any time soon - in our modern culture, once we “grow up”, we don’t allow ourselves to open up, to discard the masks of appropriate civilsation, to enter a playful state of mind. 

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It seems that in our society - once you hit a certain age, playing becomes something shameful, something different than the freedom and joy it was when we were children. Adults must work, must worry, must be diligent, must focus on such concepts as advancement and survival. Play is frivolous, childish and embarrassing. All playful instincts are sublimated into sex, work competition, sports - but there is something missing: pure play without purpose, engaging with others on the simplest and easiest level.

 No wonder so many adults lose their spark and become joyless greyfaces working like automatons on things that cannot possibly be of real joyful interest to anybody. People feel the weight of societal expectation upon them and….just…..give up. I don’t want to give up. Do you?

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While the tweet above made me laugh with recognition when I first saw it, now it makes me sad. The poster for the w00t festival (right) offered a different slant on adulthood: "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing". 

I feel the truth of this - I felt younger and more alive during my weekend of racing and dancing around an industrial estate in the Copenhagen suburbs than I have in a long time. I remember my grandmother, so vibrant always, never without her playing cards. I was *tired* before w00t, filled with worries about money, about work, about all the kinds of things that will happen or not happen, regardless of my worries. To anyone who is now feeling weighed down, worn down, whittled into a shell of their former selves I cannot recommend attending a play festival enough. And there are loads more of them! Play Vienna, GameCity Nottingham, Hide & Seek, and many many more.

 

People!

Shot taken by&nbsp; Mikkel Bøgeskov Svendsen  

Shot taken by Mikkel Bøgeskov Svendsen 

The people were the best part of the whole experience: open, fun, happy, engaging and friendly. Compared to many standard “con” scenarios I have been to, there were no cliques, no pedantic rule-wankery, no sexism, no superiority - just excited people and pure fun distilled into each game. Smiles and inclusion were all I saw around me. It was the baby bear’s porridge of not-too-organised and not-over-engineered. Despite my reclusive INTJ nature, it was easy to make friends, to join a gang, to be part of something. One of the incredibly awesome people we met, Nicklas, even took @theAllThing and I all around Christiania on the Monday after the festival.

 

Talks!

There were so many talks during the weekend that were really interesting, including my highlights:

- Richard Lemarchand talking on constraints as a way to get creativity flowing & his top experimental games of 2012 (no surprises there for me: Starseed Pilgrim, howling dogs & Space Team.

- Zuraida Buter talking on the new playful culture and the myriad games collectives springing up all over the world. You can keep up to date on playful culture through following her tumblr Playful Culture.

- Miguel Sicart talking on why play matters through a fascinating philosophical rant (“Fuck games!” - we should focus on the play/verb rather than the thing/noun) that took in Nietszche and Greek tragedy;

- Simon Andersen talking on making friends with boardgames and how frame theory/oscillation fits into this (lots of tips on throwing people off their game via insults!).

 

and of course…the Games!

And then the games - dear lord the games - I took notes on each game I played over the weekend and I somehow managed to play 19 (!) games within 2 days in addition to all the talks, dancing and chatting. I can’t talk about everything we played, but I enjoyed every single one. Here’s the highlights:

- The fun and privilege of playing the games of the masters game design students there, Socks of Chaos and Mussades being my favourites.

&nbsp;@theAllThing's carefully-tended high score of Hummingbirdman Rally

 @theAllThing's carefully-tended high score of Hummingbirdman Rally

- The physical games including Hummingbirdman Rally (right) which @theAllThing was very proud of winning, Turtle Wushu which was definitely the Irish favourite of the festival (join our league!), and the Danish folk games which unleashed the most hilarity and uninhibited fun - they made it possible to play games between children and adults and across a langage barrier, in games that have no winners and still offer players a great time, check us out on Danish TV!

&nbsp;@theAllThing as the Top Noodle fending off the Idiots

 @theAllThing as the Top Noodle fending off the Idiots

- The Playstation Move games, incuding the mental challenge of Idiots Attack The Top Noodle where one player (the “top noodle”) must control their brainwaves to relax and focus against a team of “idiots” trying to distract them, the almost-indecent GlowTag which involved an awful lot of butt-slapping (and giggle fits), and Johann Sebastian Joust which was like a more-jazzy, less-fun Turtle Wushu.

- The LARP-style games. I had crazy fun in an abandoned industrial warehouse area holding up a sweet shop by gunpoint during the day and racing around in the pitch dark terrifying and killing people as a Weeping Angel at night thanks to Philipp

- Train Mafia! Like Werewolf, but if you died you had to get off the train (!!!) - cruel and wonderful.

The weekend made me realise how much play can give us permission to have fun, to step outside of ourselves, to unleash ourselves from our internal “I can’t, I shouldn’t, I wouldn’t” propriety filter. It helps remove fear - in my regular life, I would never hide out in a tiny pitch-dark-spider-filled stack of palettes waiting to jump out and kill people, but the Weeping Angels game made that not only necessary, but acceptable and extremely fun. I didn’t even realise that my internal omnipresent spider-censor wasn’t operating correctly until afterwards, when I felt joy to have overcome it!

I revelled in 48 hours of the kind of atmosphere that allows you to dance in broad daylight without even a drop of drink taken and feel no embarrassment (which I think is tough for Irish people). It was so inspiring playing all of the great games others are creating that it jolted me into jotting down ideas for my own game all weekend in spare moments when a new thought arose. Fingers crossed you’ll play my game next year!

So, can you give yourself the permission to be playful? Isn’t it time to stage a ludic intervention (love this phrase courtesy of Sylvan) on your life?

Multi-thanks to all the wonderful wonderful people who made w00t such an incredible experience - roll on next year!

 

All the crew out on the last night. Idea and shot by&nbsp; Chad Toprak

All the crew out on the last night. Idea and shot by Chad Toprak

Notes from a Career Decade

tl;dr Do what you love. You can do anything. Take care of yourself as best you can. Be kind to others. Surround yourself with believers.  Tomorrow is another day.

I went to a convent school and on telling our career guidance counsellor that I was going to study Hebrew in university, she told me I would never get a job and I should reconsider before it was too late. Several years later when I was successfully working in Google thanks to attaining a Masters with Distinction in Near Eastern Languages, I was asked to come speak to girls in that school about it. That is the basis of my most important lesson in life so far: do what you love  and are interested in and opportunities will follow

During my time in university I worked at a movie rental store, a cinema and as membership secretary of a wild bird conservancy charity. Although I did manage to be employee of the month at the cinema, this part of my life didn't equip me with the key skills needed to excel in fast-paced tech environments. However, the one thing that I learned over and over again: no one is going to hand it to you – if you want it you need to reach out and take it for yourself. If you find yourself saying “But I didn’t know we could do….”, try to turn that around to “I want to do…how can I? Will you help me?” If you are waiting until you are in a specific team/company/industry to do work related to that team/company/industry, or if you are waiting until you are promoted to a management position before you start mentoring, coaching and leading people – you’re doing it wrong. Just do it now in whatever way you can and opportunities will arise.

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As my time working on my Masters drew to a close at the end of 2003, I decided to take a year to travel and work my way around the world, so this is what I did for all of 2004 in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas. The biggest work lessons during that trip were not from the clerical work I performed for a health insurance company in Sydney, but from the myriad crazy jobs I did WWOOFing in Queensland. These ranged from building a boat, working in a gold mine, tiling a swimming pool, managing a hostel, etc etc. These varied jobs taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to: skill = willpower + practice.

From there I got the opportunity to really test that premise as we went on to complete a 10-day hike in New Zealand, which if you haven’t done anything like this is really quite the experience. There are so many moments where you feel like you literally cannot go on, but actually there is no choice – you need to go on no matter how painful it is. Standing on a snow-covered mountain after 7 hours hiking uphill, there is no “teleport back to civilisation” button, you just need to keep going.

When we got home at Christmas 2004, I had no money and set about finding jobs for the new year. I found an ad for “Online Editor” at Google and spent 3 days perfecting my CV for this role. I was so convinced that I would get this job that I didn’t apply for anything else (which everyone said was very foolish) and instead spent my time learning everything about Google and AdWords so when (not if, when!) I got the interview I would be an expert. I got the interview and got the job – but not because I knew everything about AdWords, which we barely spoke of in the interview, but rather because I had potential based on what they considered an interesting story due to doing what I loved: studying ancient languages, being secretary for the Science Fiction & Fantasy society in university, and travelling for a year.

From my 3 and a half years working at Google, the things that stick out the most to me are my memories of the people. Every other role I had to do in the past relied on having a specific task to perform and performing that task to the best of my ability. In Google, I learned that this method of work is not good enough in a modern tech company – it is not enough to sit in the corner silently and work on your tasks, you need to engage with others, persuade others, provide feedback to others to improve their work, and be aware of how you are perceived within the organisation by both the leaders and the wider team. In that time I went from an entry-level role to transitioning my team’s work to Hyderabad to helping set up a new team that worked on client research and presentations for events such as ad:tech and SES, to leading the team responsible for AdWords blogs and newsletters to clients.

A key thing I learned then is that the work will never be done. Never never never will it be done. It doesn’t matter if you skip lunch, if you stay in until 11pm, if you work weekends, if you check your work emails on your phone before you get out of bed, if you think about strategy on your holidays – none of these things will lead to the work being done. All you can do is your best & it is important to do your best for yourself as well as for the company. Yes, the company values you but if you burn out, the company can replace you with another bright-eyed graduate. You cannot replace yourself and it takes a long time to regain those bright eyes.

I decided to leave Google in 2008 and ended up travelling again before setting up a small business of my own performing all marketing activities for other small businesses, from website design to online advertising. I found this quite challenging, as the things I had learned from my time in Google about working with people didn’t quite translate to the new client relationships I was building – I was great at the work, but I was not good at setting boundaries or pricing my services adequately. I was also not good at getting up early in the morning and putting in strong 8-hour working days when there was no-one to answer to but myself! Doing what you love is not enough, you need to work hard at it and also push yourself outside the comfort zone to succeed.

From late 2010 I worked at Facebook for 2 and a half years where I learned a whole heap of valuable information about myself and work. Firstly, the concept of “move fast” at all costs – as anyone who knows me knows, often I will freak out about things moving too fast, but that shit gets results. I have learned that it is best to focus on building on your strengths higher rather than trying to fix your weaknesses. I have learned that enthusiasm carries everything; if you are enthusiastic about something you will be able to pull twice as many people twice as far along. Related to this, negativity can be a wildfire that destroys the tiny buds and shoots of ideas and creativity – people need space to think aloud and brainstorm without criticism; if in doubt about your contribution, at the very least be positive. I have learned again, all over again, that people can do whatever they set out to do so long as they have determination, willpower and patience. I’ve seen incredible successes, huge challenges overcome, and kindness in the face of failure.

Now I am back out in the world working on building up my creative writing, fending for myself and painfully re-learning that lesson about how hard it is to put in the full day's work when nobody is relying on you but yourself. I'm getting there.

All of the above advice is of course only possible for me to believe, take comfort in and follow thanks to the people in my life who believe in me and support me each day. Surround yourself with believers and be a believer yourself. Sometimes I get it right and can believe myself into productivity and achievement, sometimes I get it wrong and need a little help. Today, for example, I spent a while weeping and flailing around about how useless I am at writing, at productivity, at life itself - "I can't, I can't, I can't" I repeated over and over like a mantra. This could have been true. Except, I am lucky enough to have someone in my corner who always fights for me, who repeated "You can, you can, you can" until I dried my tears and sat up in the chair and got to writing. Tomorrow is another day. 

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