Reflecting on a year of surviving.
I had high hopes for 2023. There were aspects of the previous year that I was glad to see the back of and I was looking forward to some good fortune that felt well overdue. Repayments this year have been few and far between. I’m holding out for a full reimbursement over the next 12 months.
A highlight was without a doubt our family visit to Japan in April. We’d timed our trip with seeing sakuda in full bloom and lucked out. We visited the leafy suburbs of Ueno in old Tokyo, historic central Kyoto, the delights of Mount Fuji in Fujikawaguchiko, and the lofty views of Shinjuku in new Tokyo. Japan wasn’t at all what I expected it to be like. At one point I was worried that the experience wouldn’t live up the expectation I’d created. Then, like the petals of a cherry blossom bud, the real Japan unfurled over the course of the 10 days. It was an utterly moving experience and has only furthered my fascination of the country, culture and people of Japan. I was so glad to have shared it with the people I care for most.
This year offered up more opportunities to reconnect with my family, especially over these last few months. It’s been a great reminder to cherish the people around you and be present for them to share what life throws our way.
This certainly hasn’t been the year for accruing a respectable distance on two wheels. Though I’m fairly proud of the distance I’ve clocked up in Pells Pool, the outdoor lido in Lewes. A few months after our arriving back from Japan I invested in a triathlon wetsuit to counter the unheated water of the pool. I’ve always loved swimming but it’s been a really enjoyable alternative exercise and I can’t wait for the pool to open in the spring time.
I absolutely loved working with the Open University this year. Sharon and Graham and the rest of the team were so refreshingly genuine and passionate about their work. Their enthusiasm was a catalyst to go above and beyond during the project. I really hope to work with them again.
I’ve spent a lot of time this year pouring my thoughts and work into Obsidian, the offline-first personal management app. Moving away from apps that require an internet connection has been hugely liberating and more performant. My workflow has evolved a lot this year but overall I’m seeing a return of investment of using it on a daily basis.
I’ve also been tinkering away at rebuilding this website using Eleventy, the static site generator. I’ve attempted this before in the past but always bitten off more than I can chew and making enough of a mess that I had to nuke the whole thing. This time I’ve been following Andy Bell’s Learn Eleventy From Scratch. Albeit written over almost 4 years ago, Andy’s clearly written and simply explained guidance was enough for me to what I wanted to do. So much so that I’ve managed to build out sections and pages that have been on my list for a good few years. I’ll hopefully be launching it over the first couple of weeks of 2024.
My favourite Japanese media of 2023
- MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS – a loud post-hardcore band with a sound that lives up to their name.
- Ryo Fukui – jazz pianist’s A Letter From Slowboat has been on repeat a lot this year.
- Midori– high octane jazz-punk fusion played mostly when the house is empty.
- SPIN MASTER A-1 & Shing02 – hip-hop layered with traditional Japanese music samples.
- Haruomi Hosono – first studio album Hosono House has been played close to death this year.
- Swing Girls by Shinobu Yaguchi and On-Gaku: Our Sound by Kenji Iwaisawa – two separate stories following a group of school drop-outs turned musicians.
- Shin Ultraman by Shinji Higuchi – a remake of the classic kaiju busting superhero in the same visual style of Shin Godzilla.
- Summer Time Machine Blues by Katsuyuki Motohiro and Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes by Junta Yamaguchi – two science fiction stories at both ends of the time travel spectrum.
- Shoplifters by Hirokazu Kore-eda and Tokyo Godfathers – two stories of what it means to be a family struggling with poverty in Japan.
- Pluto by Naoki Urasawa – based on the original story of Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka it’s been a great read amongst the advancements and conversations of AI.
- Chainsaw Man, Fire Punch, Look Back and Goodbye, Eri by Tatsuki Fujimoto – pretty his entire back catalogue of manga, the latter being exceptionally beautiful and poignant.
- Opus by Satoshi Kon – the reality shattering unfinished masterpiece by the director of Perfect Blue.
- The Way of the Househusband by Kousuke Oono – the story of a notorious ex-yakuza boss turned househusband is sidesplittingly funny!
With all of the above said, this year has been unkind to me. On our second day in Japan I started experiencing incredible lower back and leg pain. It got progressively worse through the trip making very difficult to walk or sit for a long period of time. During the 18 hour flight home I experience the worst pain in my life. Since April I’ve been battling with constant physical pain and slowly recovering through regular physiotherapy… THANK YOU NHS!!!
After some time the constant physical pain and lack of sleep started to chip away at my mental health. At one point this year I hit the lowest point I have ever been and I reached out for help… again, THANK YOU NHS!!!
I took a step back from things that weren’t critical but I mostly continued working throughout this recovery period. At times the distraction of a well-oiled project and great team was just what I needed to lift my spirits. Sometimes not.
Preparing for my annual review I reflected on the projects I’ve enjoyed most and which I believe I’ve delivered most value. What I noticed is that all of them are when I’m working closely with a team, in-person or remote. What I’m really looking forward to is having more time with people, building relationships and working toward something that adds value to the world. I want more feedback loops so I feel more connected and get more of a sense of progression. Most of more I’m looking forward to feeling like myself again.
Ask for help
This year has been a huge wake up call for me to properly address the things that have contributed to physical and mental discomfort. These last few years have been really hard for everyone and it’s easy to sweep things under the carpet. Learned to recognise of the warning signs was one of the best things I’ve done this year. My advice for anyone else feeling fragile but persistently pushing through regardless of how they feel: Don’t leave it too late to share how you feel and really take time to listen to the people who genuinely care for you.
Take a step back
It’s okay to step away from things that don’t really matter. Setting the bar too high can make your life really difficult and prevent you from making any progress. Be your own best ally.
Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen: It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee. – Agent Cooper, Twin Peaks
That’s good advice Coop!