My Jigsaw Months

We’re almost a year on from what I can only describe as My Jigsaw Months.

Around this time 12 months ago, I was not in the best of places. Things had gone wrong, I’d had my heart broken and I was at a loss for what to do in my life. So I started doing a jigsaw.

Because that’s an entirely normal thing to do, y’see. 

This wasn’t just any jigsaw though. It was a Star Wars jigsaw. And even better: a Star Wars jigsaw in the shape of Darth Vader.

I KNOW! RIGHT!

Thing is, as ridiculous as it may sound, that jigsaw became my guiding light. When things are starting to go wrong in life, you get scared – it’s all chaos and disharmony. There’s no clear picture, everything’s falling to pieces, nothing fits together…

Do you see where I’m going here?

Yes, I’m being a little silly, but putting together that jigsaw was genuinely therapeutic. It’s not so much the sense of adding order to chaos that worked for me, but the idea of a long-term, reliable project. Every night when I got back from work, there it was: my lovely jigsaw with bits of Han, Leia and Lando Calrissian scattered about everywhere.

It was a joy.

While putting it together, I got through the whole of Archer and most of the original series of Star Trek, and when I was done, I felt genuinely bereft. (And slightly annoyed because I didn’t really have anywhere to put it and what do you do with a 2ft Star Wars jigsaw that’s shaped like Darth Vader?)

People talk a lot about colouring books as counter balances for anxiety and upset, but that’s never really worked for me. The jigsaw genuinely did, and if you’re feeling the strain a bit yourself, maybe give one a go. It sounds daft, it’s time-consuming as hell, and yes you’ll find yourself screaming at tiny bits of mis-shapen card, but sometimes that’s just what we need.

Thanks Jiggy.

(Yes, I named the jigsaw.)

Tips for living alone

JpegWith Christmas gone, we’re in the depths of winter with no holidays or festivities to look forward to. Days are short, nights are long, and if you live alone (as I do), it can be particularly difficult to get through the day and keep smiling. Sometimes I get in from work and wish that I could simply turn myself off, like a light, to avoid having to find something to do with myself in the evening.

That, of course, is most definitely not the right way to go about things, so instead of dwelling on that, I thought I’d put together some helpful tips on how to get through the next few months if you’re living alone and feeling lonely.

Keep your living area clean
One of the worst things about living alone is that you’ve got no-one to keep you honest. When we’re around other people, we feel the need to keep things neat and tidy – put stuff away, wash up promptly, hoover the carpet. This is dull work, and when you’re on your own, the temptation can be to procrastinate – put it off until another day. Then another day. Then another day. Don’t. Keep tidying up. Not only will it give you something to do, but it’ll ensure that your living area is something to be proud of – a haven you’ll want to be in.

Seek your solace
Speaking of which, I’ve found it useful to create small ‘solace’ areas in my house – places I can retreat to where I can shut negativity out. I’ve got a little nook under my stairs where I store some of my favourite books. I’ve put some multi-coloured fairy lights around the book shelves and plan to squeeze in a comfy chair so I can sit and read. I’ve done the same with my bedroom. I could never find the right balance of light in there – both my main light and my bedside table were too bright. So I put some soft light fairy lights around the room, and now there’s a cosy glow whenever I go in there. It’s great to retreat into when I feel a bit low.

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Get out more
Weekends can be pretty difficult for me. From 5pm on Friday evening to 9am on Monday morning, I generally don’t have a single face-to-face conversation with anyone. Sure I talk to people on the phone, online, and briefly at supermarkets and coffee shops, but actual, real-life, extended conversations? Not so much. It’s tough, and the worst thing you can do is play into it by staying at home. Even if you’ve not got anything to go out for, go out. I write quite a lot at the weekend, but I try not to do it at home. Instead, I go to a coffee shop, buy myself a Vanilla Latte, and smash out a few blog posts. It keeps you vaguely sociable, gives you something to shape your day around and – hey – you never know who might come and sit next to you.

Use social media to your advantage
Social media is a double edged sword. It can be great for putting you in touch with people, but it can also convince you you’re being sociable when you’re really not. Worse, it can make you feel more alone by reminding you that there are people similar to you – they’re just half-way around the world. Work out what you enjoy about social media and focus on that, ignoring everything you don’t like about it. Engage with the people who you like and who like you, and try to ignore those who don’t. Social media is an excellent window into the world and can help you build relationships and boost confidence. Use it in a productive way.

Find what works for you
No two people are exactly the same. What works for me might not work for you, and what works for you might not for your friend. Work out what you need and do it, even if it’s a bit embarrassing. As long as you’re doing no harm to others, it doesn’t matter what people might whisper behind your back. What matters is how you feel and helping you feel better. In that spirit, I’ll openly admit to cuddling my pillow at night. I appreciate that’s a bit weird and embarrassing, but on long, cold nights, I find it comforting. It does no harm, and if people judge me for it, I don’t really care. That’s up to them, cuddling a pillow is up to me. They’re as welcome to judge as I am to not care about their judgement.

And that’s it really. Hopefully those five hints help. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is listen to yourself and focus on what makes you happy. As I’ve said, as long as you’re doing no harm, it’s all good.

 

Happy World Introvert Day

It’s World Introvert Day today (2nd January). Well, I think it is. I’m not 100% sure because not many people are talking about it. What do you expect from introverts!?

Awareness of introversion and its effects has increased in recent years thanks to the likes of Susan Cain and her wonderful book Quiet, but there remains a dismissive attitude towards it. It’s something to be overcome, to be beaten: a weakness that one must eradicate to be a whole and better person.

I think there are good intentions in that attitude. If you see someone who’s quiet, you want to help them come out of their shell a little bit and get them to talk more. It’s natural and I’ve had many people do that over the years. I’m always very grateful for their help because it comes from a good place.

However, we need to move past the idea that introversion is somehow a weakness, because it’s not. In a world of noise, quiet contemplation is a vital necessity: it gives us the opportunity to analyse and properly understand a situation. It helps us reflect on our feelings and better empathise with others if they’re feeling a similar way. It helps us become better people.

Introversion isn’t just the absence of talking, it’s the presence of listening, and we could all do with a little more listening in 2017. That should start, I’d suggest, with listening to introverts. It is our day, after all!

Now, I’m off to sit alone in a quiet room and read. Have a nice World Introvert Day everyone.

 

 

 

 

2016 was bad, but…

I’m determined to make 2017 much, much better. I’m a generally positive person and always cling to hope no matter what. 2016 has eroded a certain amount of that hope, but I hold on to what I’ve still got and endeavour to make things better over the next 12 months.

One thing I’m keen to do is more writing for other websites. I recently put together a series of five articles for Den of Geek about Steven Spielberg, and had a great time doing it. It’s really nice to contribute to another site because you feel a part of that community and that’s certainly something I need at the moment.

I’m also determined to try to meet more people. That means going to more comic cons and events, and hopefully attending some clubs (book clubs, film clubs etc). I’ve been introduced to a lot of great people through this site, my Tumblr, and Twitter and need to find a way to translate online success to real-life success.

Overall, I want to get more comfortable with myself and eventually meet someone special. So that starts now with doing something I’m very uncomfortable with. Showing a picture of myself. Here goes – here’s me.

A picture. Of me, obviously. Why would I include a picture of someone else?
Oh dear…

On Shyness

Regular readers will know I struggle with shyness. I mention it quite a lot on here, and that’s not because I’m looking for sympathy or anything like that: it’s because I’m shy about being shy and I want to try to break out of that by talking about it.

Shyness is a frustrating state to occupy. While introversion has (gladly) gained a measure of understanding recently thanks to the hard work of writers such as Susan Cain (there is sadly still plenty of work to do though), shyness remains a blind spot for many.

Just get over it. Talk to someone. Go on! It’s easy!

I appreciate that attitude, because it’s hard to understand shyness. Talking is one of the most natural things in the world, and people are generally good. Why should anyone be scared of talking to them?

Well, the truth is, I don’t know. I’m as confused as anyone. All I can do is articulate the emotion of being shy and hope that leads to some understanding of the why of shy. So here goes.

Shyness is feeling like you’re under the microscope in every single conversation you ever have. For the love of God, don’t screw this up.

Shyness is fearing that you’re boring the person you’re talking to, even if they seem absolutely enraptured by what you’re saying. How could anyone be interested in you.

Shyness is believing that every time you speak to a member of whatever gender you’re attracted to that you need to impress them as they represent your only shot at romance. You won’t be able to talk to anyone else.

Shyness is hoping that you’ll find someone who understands you, rather than seeing it as a certainty that someone will. You’re just… too weird.

Shyness is lacking the confidence to be assertive enough to put your point across. Yep, you’re gonna lose another meeting debate.

Shyness is hovering over the reply button on Twitter, wondering whether to tweet to someone and what to say. They weren’t really looking for a response anyway.

Shyness is knowing that no matter how much you try to unlearn everything you’ve learned, the fear will always be there, lingering in your mind. It doesn’t simply disappear.

Shyness is… loneliness.

Shyness is all those things, and many many more. But… it’s also not all bad.

Shyness is not just the inability to talk but the ability to listen.

Shyness is not just fearing that you’ll be alone but the ability to value the people who are close to you.

Shyness is not just being scared of what to say but understanding that what you do say has impact, so be careful.

Shyness is not just believing that your chances of love are slim but knowing that love is a truly powerful and significant thing that’s rare for a reason.

And shyness is not just not being assertive but knowing how to find compromise and seek diplomacy.

Shyness is… understanding loneliness and why it should be avoided at all costs.

Do those positives outweigh the negatives? Maybe. Maybe not. But hopefully they at least shine a light on what shyness is. Maybe even someone will read this and take a little heart from it. Hey there, shy person. You’re pretty darned cool and so is your shyness.

This isn’t the last post I’ll write about shyness, but it’ll tide me over for now. In the meantime, here’s a Paperman GIF. Because sometimes, even if you’re not looking for it, the world can still bring you into contact with people in weird and wonderful ways.

Also, I super-love this film.

giphy

 

Being Part of Your World

Let’s face it, 2016 sucked. It was a bad year. A very very bad year. Even Frank Sinatra can’t persuade me otherwise. I’ve scientifically analysed each one of the 12 months of this accursed period of time and tried to find some positives. The only thing I could think of is this idiot chicken.

An idiot
2016 in chicken form

But! The thing about bad things is they only really last if you let them last. Which is to say, you should learn from all the bad things that have happened and either try to set them right or ensure they don’t happen again. It’s not the mistakes we make and the bad things that happen that define us; it’s how we react to them.

My bad thing this year has been a feeling of isolation. It’s something I’ve felt for a little while, but this year it really sunk its teeth in, not because of any specific event, just because my years of ignoring it finally caught up with me. So for a long time this year, I’ve felt adrift from the rest of the world: lonely, frustrated, uninterested in the things I normally take pleasure from.

I’ve not fully recovered from it yet, and I suspect it’ll take a little while to do so. I’m shy and introverted, so even at the times where my introversion allows me to mingle with others, my shyness makes it difficult. I’ve improved in some ways this year, and my way of setting things right is to continue that progress. That’s my core goal for 2017.

The missing piece of the puzzle that’s really helped me get on the right track in the last couple of months is embracing communities more. I’m a huge Steven Spielberg fan and run the site From Director Steven Spielberg, which has allowed me to sort of create a community over the last five years. But it’s not easy. Spielberg isn’t a director who really drives a community because his career is so diverse. It’s not easy finding people who love, say, Schindler’s List or Bridge of Spies as much as they do Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jurassic Park.

This year, however, I’ve really embraced my Disney fandom, and that’s worked wonderfully. I’ve always loved Disney, but I’ve never really felt a part of the Disney community. I’ve never really opened myself out to it. I always felt a bit awkward: maybe people would laugh at me? Maybe people would think I’m childish? Maybe they’d think I’m weird for liking Princesses.

Well, maybe they do, but plenty of others don’t and they’re the people I need to concern myself with.

Since talking about Disney more (both here and on Twitter), I’ve had the joy of chatting with some really wonderful people. I consider them friends. It’s a big word to use because it’s difficult to really get to know someone without meeting them face-to-face and, of course, friendship is a two-way street; I’d hate to say I’m friends with someone if they don’t feel that friendship too. But whatever word used to classify it, I certainly hold the people I’ve spoken to about Disney in the same high esteem I do friends, and always look forward to chatting with them about Disney films.

The same is true of Star Wars. Again, I’ve always been a fan, but I’ve never really felt a part of a community: what if I don’t know as much about certain details of the series as others? Would they reject me? Think I’m not a ‘real fan’? Well, hey, if they do, let them. I’ve sought out new people, chatted with them, and found a hell of a lot of joy doing so. Because, despite years and years of my brain telling me the opposite, people don’t find it some great chore talking to me; hey, maybe they even enjoy it.

Across the last six months, I’ve forced myself out of the house more and I’ve gone to a handful of conventions. Even managed to talk to some people face-to-face. It still scares me to my core, but I’ve proven I can do it, and that I need to do it. I’ll be aiming to keep it going in 2017.

So there you go. 2016 hasn’t been very good, but maybe it’s not been all bad. There are bright spots in everything and I’m determined to draw them out. Even if they’re only in the form of a stupid animated chicken.

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Sidenote: it’s worth noting that Hei Hei isn’t screaming in the instant after Moana takes the coconut half off his head. So, brilliantly, while she had it on him, Hei Hei forgot where he was, only realising again when he looked around. He’s an idiot. A magnificent idiot.

Cons and Confidence

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In a couple of weeks, I’ll be attending my fourth convention of the year. I’ve already been to cons dedicated to Star Wars and Star Trek, and another that focused generally on comics, sci-fi, and fantasy as a whole. The one I’ve got coming up is similar to the general one, just in a different city. I’ve enjoyed all the cons, and am very much looking forward to the next one. But there’s also a huge amount of fear in me, as there is whenever I attend a busy public event.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m very shy, and have been recently trying to push myself out of that shyness. Cons seem to be a good opportunity to do that because I’m surrounded by like-minded people, so am almost certain to find something to talk about with every single person in the room. For someone like me, that’s pretty much a dream, but I’ve not had much success at the conventions so far and I can’t really explain why.

For whatever reason, there’s something inside that stops me approaching even people I’m pretty sure I’d get along with. It’s a horrible fear: that I’ll be laughed at, that they won’t like me, or that they’ll be perfectly wonderful people and I’ll upset them somehow. I’m particularly shy when it comes to approaching women at conventions because I know how difficult women can have it, especially at male dominated cons, and I wouldn’t want to come across like I was ‘one of those guys’. This fear is what stopped me from approaching two women who created excellent cosplay at two of the cons I’ve been to this year: I hate to make people uncomfortable, and worry that I’ll do just that if I say anything.

Cosplay is one of my favourite things about going to cons. I’m not a big fan of collecting autographs or having my picture taken with celebrities (probably the shyness striking again), but I love wandering the convention floor and seeing how people have dressed. The creativity on display is incredible, and I’m particularly keen on people who reinterpret costumes, like Disney fans do with Disneybounding. It’s fun to see a new take on a costume that still clearly looks like that character. At this next con, I’m determined to ask at least one person who cosplays for a picture.

For this forthcoming con, I was going to dress in a red hoodie, find a bicycle basket, and stuff an E.T. plushie in there so I could be Elliott. I’ve now abandoned this idea, partly because after the con I’ll be going straight to a screening of Moana (with a Ron Clements and John Musker Q&A!!!!!!), and partly because I was terrified of the idea of people looking at me. Instead, I think I’m going to make a t-shirt similar to the Paperman and Little Mermaid ones I’ve done. That way I can stand out a little, but not too much. It’s not a huge step, but it’s a step nonetheless.

And, most importantly, it’s a step I need to take. I’ve been feeling increasingly lonely across the last few years, and need someone in my life. I’m 32 now, and have never had a girlfriend. I’ve lived alone for the last four years, and can often go entire weekends without having a proper face-to-face conversation with someone. I want someone special in my life, someone I can share things with. Someone to hold hands with during a walk, someone to cuddle with while watching a film. Someone who I am special to and who is special to me. It’s tough finding that kind of thing, and I’m worried I never will.

I’m reining myself in on a girlfriend hunt though, because finding Miss Right is more important than finding Miss Right Now, and what I’m looking for currently is kindred spirits. The internet has been truly helpful in finding this thanks to Twitter and blogging, and the incredible people who participate in them. I hope they aren’t embarrassed by me mentioning them, but The Switch Sisters are my Disney gurus and my absolute favourite people to discuss Princesses with. They’re smart, they’re funny, they’re pretty much the best. I could talk to them every day and there are scores of other people I’ve met through this blog, my Tumblr, and my Twitter who I could talk to endlessly as well. These are super, lovely, friendly, kind, amazing people and it’s a joy chatting with them.

But the curse of the internet is that I’ll likely never meet any of them in person. I’d love to, and when I half-jokingly threw out an idea for a Disney convention that would have signings, cosplay, singalongs, AND serious talks about the analytical side of Disney films, people seemed to respond well. I genuinely would love to do something like that, and I wish Disney did more cons than just the D23 Expo. I keep trying to think of a way to collaborate with people online so there’s more of a sense of community, but I haven’t found a good way so far. A podcast would be a good way to go, but I fear I’d clam up and make things awkward. Damned shyness again!

But I refuse to give up. The wonderful thing about cons is that you feel a part of something, even if you’re just wandering about keeping yourself to yourself. They remind you that even if you feel horribly alone at times, even if you wake up and find it difficult to face to the day ahead, even if you truly do feel that there’s no-one else out there like you… there really is. There are lots of people actually and they’re all mingling somewhere. You’ve just got to have the courage and the confidence to go and find them. As long as I keep pushing and going to these events, I give myself a good chance of developing those things. Maybe one day, I’ll even be able to cosplay!