How close are genius and madness?

This week I watched the 2014 film about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys – “Love and Mercy”. I had only been peripherally aware of the story and found it fascinating. Wilson was the creative leader of the band behind such great pop tunes as “Surfin’ USA”, “California Girls” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. Then in 1964 he had a nervous breakdown and stopped touring. He concentrated on working in the studio and wrote & produced the “Pet Sounds” album, generally recognised as one of the greatest records ever made. He then started on what he saw as his legacy – “Smile”. It was never finished as a Beach Boys album. His mental illnesses and use of drugs had caught up with him and his genius had turned to madness.

Wilson is now diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an illness that amongst other things, gives him auditory hallucinations (voices in his head) . He also used a great deal of psychoactive drugs. He credits his illness and these drugs for helping him write great music. He is famous for long, complex sessions in the studio where he would bring together arrays of musicians to build the layered sound that became his trademark. If you listen to “God Only Knows” for instance, you can hear such weird instruments as orange juice containers, and Wilson uses two different musical keys at the same time. Without much doubt he is a musical genius.

But I also listened this week to his 2004 version of the “Smile” album he never finished with the Beach Boys. It received great critical acclaim, but I found it hard to listen to. Lots of great musical ideas mashed together. Like eating ice cream, a curry and pasta all at the same time.

During my life I have only a few times worked with creative geniuses. And each time I have found their strong emotions to be unnerving. Perhaps because as a white middle class Brit, my own emotions are so stunted. I could never allow myself to get that close to mental fragility to release the best of my creativity. That is certainly a gain for me. I wonder if it is also a loss.

What do you think? Do you need to be at least a little mentally unstable to create great beauty?

Why even losing a water bottle can hurt

I now this sounds ridiculous. I know it is a first world problem. I know people are dying around the world from the pandemic. But I am upset today because my water bottle is broken.

Firstly let me be clear that this is totally my fault. I put the bottle in a dishwasher and… well you can see. And it is just a water bottle. I am sure I can pick up another for a few quid. But it upsets me. I think there are two reasons.

The bottle has a branding from my last job. And so losing it is a reminder that I am no longer working. I love my retirement, but as each link to work goes, I also lose that part of my identity that for forty years defined who I am.

I find myself getting increasingly upset about trivial things these days. I cry at the most innocuous of films. I cried when I heard my niece had had a baby this week. I even cried at the weekend watching ”Saturday Night Takeaway”, the lightest of light entertainment TV shows. Part of it I think comes from the retirement. I am more relaxed, more vulnerable perhaps. I no longer have to put on my emotional armour to deal with the stresses of a job where managing crises was a frequent occurrence.

And I also blame Covid-19. For more than a year we have lived under the threat of severe illness and death. We have all found ways to get on with it but now that the UK seems to be coming out the other side I think that 12 months worth of adrenaline and cortisol is washing out of my body and making me more emotional.

Or maybe I should get a sense of perspective!

Have you lost anything trivial and been unreasonable upset?

Ten reasons to get the Vaccine

On Sunday my wife and I had our first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it made me reflect on why we all should be vaccinated if we are able.

  1. It can save our lives. Admittedly, as an overweight mid fifties man, I am more at risk, but the evidence shows that the vaccines prevent near 100% of deaths from Covid-19, in all age groups.
  2. It will save other people’s lives. There is clear evidence now that the vaccines reduce the transmission of Covid from you to others and therefore helps stop the spread of disease to those that are not yet vaccinated.
  3. It protects the health service. Sadly we have seen some health services across the world come close to breaking down in recent weeks. In the UK, we got pretty close in January. None of us want to see people get sick and die without the support of doctors and nurses.
  4. Even for young adults, Long Covid is a real risk. The vaccine helps stop the disease and protects you against long term symptoms.
  5. The vaccine does not discriminate. Unfortunately the disease is more prevalent in some ethnic groups, The vaccine however, is effective for all. In Scotland, the biggest challenge with vaccine take-up is amongst Polish and some Black communities. We need to protect them too.
  6. It gives our children a future. Not only does the vaccine for adults mean that fewer children will lose their parents, but it means that they can have normal lives at school and with their friends. There has been more than enough damage in the past year.
  7. Any side effects are well worth it. My wife had no real side effects at all. I had a pretty bad 24 hours, with fever and muscular ache. But a day later I was feeling fine. And the benefits far outweigh any issues. If I got Covid it would be so much worse. If anyone is worried about the risk of getting blood clots for instance, the most likely way of getting a clot that will kill you is to catch Covid.
  8. The vaccines have been properly tested. Some people are suggesting that because the vaccines were approved in months rather than years, there is more risk. This is not true. No corners were cut. Instead, literally billions of pounds were spent accelerating the testing.
  9. All the vaccines work. In the UK we have Pfizer and AstraZeneca with millions and millions of jags now given safely. The other approved vaccines are also rolling out effectively – Moderna, Sputnik, Sinovac. I am looking forward to the new French vaccine Valneva being approved because it is manufactured a couple of miles from where I live. The evidence I have seen is that against hospitalisation and death, they all protect equally well.
  10. It is better than another lockdown. I have written before about how fed up we are all getting with the restrictions. We have a clear route map out now, but it can only happen with the extensive vaccine rollout.

I apologise for writing a preachy blog. I also apologise for winding up those that really want the vaccine and have not yet been offered it. But this is important. If you have been offered the vaccine, please take it up. I respect people who choose not to take up the vaccine. But I think they are mistaken.

And if you are not sure, rather than listening to internet guff (even this blog!) please talk to a healthcare professional.

Why should you write a blog?

I have read a great deal on blog writing. Some say that it is a self absorbed activity – shouting into the wind. Some say that it is a way of supporting others by sharing experience. I can only speak for myself and say that I love writing my blog because it allows me to get my head around what is happening in my life and how I choose to respond to it.

Photo credit content-writing-india.com

So if it is for my benefit, why publish? For many years I used to write a private diary. I called it my “win, learn, change log” and every day I would identify sone small success, something that had gone less well that I would learn from, and one change that I would make as a result of either. In general I found this a healthy and therapeutic activity; good for my mental health and good for my personal development. By publishing a blog I get much the same response but publishing it makes me less self absorbed, less repetitive and more outward looking.

If you follow my blog you will know that I am recently retired and reflecting on how to spend the rest of my life. That gives me choices and I get to share them with you, dear reader. As the blog develops I hope that more of my followers respond with comments and we can have more of a dialogue.

I have read that, like Facebook, blogs are now passé and that younger people are preferring to share their life experiences based on video in Tik Tok and Instagram. I will stick with words. I love to write and I love to write my blogs.

How about you? Do you already write regularly? If so, what do you get from it? If not, why not start today?

Ten reasons life is sh*t. Ten reasons it isn’t

I can’t decide whether to be glass half full or glass half empty this week.

Let’s consider the facts. First looking at the bleak side:

  1. We have given up hope that the Scottish government will allow us to travel in March or April for the Orkney holiday we originally planned for January.
  2. My wife Mandy and I have not received a vaccine invitation, but our younger son, Tin, who is just 31 years old, has. No idea why.
  3. The sunny weather promised for this week has turned into low cold cloud. So much for spending time in the garden.
  4. The backup disk for my PC has failed, and the new one does not work.
  5. We bought 3 cubic metres of wood for the fire, and it will not burn.
  6. The heating is not working in our boat.
  7. My niece is going to have her first child in a few weeks, and we aren’t allowed to see her.
  8. Having spent several days last week trying to sort out funding for my Dad’s care home, I still do not know whether the council will allow him to stay in the one where he is now.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are a waste of time.
  10. I am really missing the people contact I used to get at work.

Reframing these in a more positive way:

  1. We have rebooked Orkney for the whole of November. As with our original plan, this should be dark enough to catch the Aurora Borealis at least once.
  2. Our son is super lucky to get the vaccine early, and for Mandy and I it should be just a few weeks away. So close!
  3. Monday was a lovely day here and looking at the crocuses, spring is definitely coming.
  4. There are many reasons to hate Amazon, but if something doesn’t work, they replace it without quibble.
  5. I have 3 cubic metres of wood stacked neatly in my wood store, and by the autumn it will be perfectly seasoned.
  6. Pierre, the best narrowboat mechanic in Scotland, has promised to fix my heating this week, so I may be able to get back there at the weekend.
  7. All being well, the reopening of Scotland will allow me to travel up to Fife to see my niece and her new child very soon.
  8. Wiltshire council have agreed to pay for a bed for my Dad, and if his current care home does not have a “council bed” available, we can pay a top up. He will not have to move.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are relaxing and good for my mental health. They are exactly the kinds of things I never had time for when I was at work.
  10. I am not missing at all being on constant zoom meetings. My time is my own.

What do you think? Half full or half empty?