And in one year’s time I’ll be opening the freakin Palladium! (Or maybe I’ll just have sustainable momentum in the direction I want to travel)
And greetings from Bournemouth Central Library. I've now been without a home internet connection for a week and I’m still appreciating my untethered peace of mind.
But it’s not like I’ve gone total caveman here.
I've got into a rhythm of working for four or five hours in the library, from whenever I finish my morning diary (see below) until my stomach tells me to get stuffed.
In the early evening, I'll check my messages again in the lobby of the hotel where I go for my saunas. And that’s it for internet.
I appreciate that, in the grand scheme of things, this is still a very long time to be tethered.
But I live in the UK, where there are more mobile phone connections than citizens and the average person spends 6.4 hours a day hooked up to those sweet sweet mbps (which I like the think is the noise our brain makes when it gets a dopamine squirt from some click bait headline).
Temperature Check Please
Besides my data diet, I’ve been particularly enjoying having some distance from text messages, which have a nasty habit of crash landing in my brain like meteorites from outer space.
When we speak to someone on the phone or in person, we usually open with some variation of ‘Hello, how are you?’ — and, quite often, we listen to the answer.
We do a temperature check, we attune ourselves to each other, and only then, when it’s appropriate, do we announce our needs, whatever they are.
We can’t do this human temperature check via text message because they are, by nature, asynchronous.
We can never know the state of mind of the recipient in the instant that we communicate with them.
That’s an astonishingly optimistic way to go about a conversation, isn’t it? And, given how much we message (145 per day on average in 2018), isn’t it amazing that we’re not all nervous wrecks already?
So it’s been nice to be able to step away from text messages for all but a few hours a day. Nice to know that nothing can crash land — it’s like a temporary force field has been thrown up around Planet Dave, only disabled by libraries and hotel lobbies.
The Most Wonderful
But the most wonderful gift of this untethered time has been what feels like a reclamation, a reclamation of something that I had forgotten was mine: my early mornings and my evenings.
I usually wake up some time between half six and half seven. That gives me a couple of hours before the library to read, write and walk.
I don't know what I did in the years when I had an internet connection, but I know that my mornings were nowhere near as grounded.
Until this week, I hadn't written what Julia Cameron calls ‘morning pages’ for a long time.
It was once a habit to write my diary first thing, but at an unspecified time in the past few years this became last thing at night: still a healthy habit, but with very different results.
𓉔𓄿𓃀𓂻: Manifesting The Abstract
Writing a daily diary is the engine-room of what I do. As I’ve written before: it’s my process.
All my adventures, many of my stories and myriad other gifts of mental processing can be traced back to these pages.
It's a quiet place to unload, unravel and understand. (Not so quiet today: Back In The USSR playing right now — written at the height of the Cold War, it still suprises me how radical Paul McCartney could be — and how good on the drums too.)
In Egyptian hieroglyphic script, each word ends with a determinative symbol that gives context to the preceding consonant-sounding signs.
For example, the determinative used at the end of the word relating to motion is a pair of legs walking — as in the word 𓉔𓄿𓃀𓂻 (shelter-vulture-foot-legs walking: h3b) meaning ‘send’.
But here’s the one thing that has stayed with me in the twenty years since I studied Egyptology: the determinative used to connote any abstract concept, such as ‘greatness’, ‘dignity’ or ‘truth’, was a scroll of papyrus: 𓏛
Because it's only through writing — in this case, on a roll of papyrus — that we can manifest the abstract.
It’s like magic.
Once we have captured and written down our abstract thoughts, we can examine them at a distance, modify, modulate and manipulate them. Under the spell of our penwork or typecraft, we watch as our mind changes.
Writing a diary (journal, morning pages or whatever you call it) is a form of self-counselling.
My diary means I can arrive at face-to-face counselling sessions with the ingredients of my mind, my thoughts and emotions, at least half-baked.
I don’t just tip mental shopping bags, bursting with random ingredients, all over my counsellor’s kitchen floor. I’ve already prepped the meal.
So I'm grateful to my phone network for screwing up and bringing me back to my morning pages.
I now write twice a day: a thousand words on my untethered laptop, looking out over the slow winter dawn, and a thousand words on my Neo Alphasmart typewriter, tucked up in bed with the curtains drawn on the moon and stars.
Morning pages to write myself into a positive, productive mindset.
Evening pages to tie up any loose ends before sleeping, to reflect and regenerate.
Same Time, Different Tenor
Comparing this disconnected week with the very much connected week before, I was surprised to find that I spent the same amount of time on my devices — including the exact same time on messaging apps and email.
Not what I was expecting at all.
The difference was in the detail, however. I spent three hours more on my laptop and three hours fewer on my phone. Consequently, this led to an 8 percent increase in what RescueTime calls ‘Productivity’.
Given that I wasn’t trying to be more ‘productive’ and that the only apparent difference between the two weeks was my internet connection, this is a useful insight.
I don’t know what you use your mobile internet connection for, but I’ve also been happy to find that I haven’t missed any of its other features.
Mildly inconvenienced at times, perhaps, but not in any way that made me ungrateful for this opportunity for silence.
Social Gravity Pulling Us Back
But there's only so long that our society will tolerate those without a tether.
Already I've run into problems dodging through two-factor security and accessing my bank account. There are also some websites that won’t work in the library.
No, not those ones! Honestly. Who do you think I am?
I mean totally legit ones – Substack, for example.
In the UK, the unseen forces of social gravity pull us strongly back in the direction of, not merely a mobile phone, but an internet-enabling smartphone.
Anyway, that's not what today's story is about (although, 1152 words deep, maybe it is).
For those of you new to these pages, welcome 👋 My name is David and I’m a writer, outdoor instructor and cyclist-at-large with Thighs of Steel. I write stories that help you and me understand the world (and ourselves) a little better.
Today’s story is about getting through winter. Or thriving through winter.
Welcome (finally) to edition 332.
September 17, 30 degree heat, Akropolis in sight. The culmination of seven months’ hard preparation and two months’ hard riding.
It was a spectacular summer, filled to the brim with vivid experiences and vital friendships. But, as I reluctantly turned my handlebars back northwest, I felt pretty empty.
So, as our ferry chugged inexorably across the Channel, I started a list of things to get excited about this winter.
When your whole being has been consumed by one or two projects and both those projects come to an abrupt end at the same time, it takes a force of will to step outside once more and rediscover, or reaffirm, who you are or who you aspire to be.
If I were an athlete, this winter would be my ‘off-season’, an opportunity to focus again on the basics, the training and training ground routines, rather than the exhilaration and exhaustion of competitive matchplay.
What do I want to learn? Where do I want to stretch myself? Who do I want to become for next season?
I won’t jinx the entire list by sharing it here, but here are a few winter wins that give you an insight into three areas where I want to grow.
Leadership & Communication
The nine months I have spent this year helping to steer Thighs of Steel have taught me a lot about myself and particularly about how I respond under pressure and time stress.
The main thing I have learnt is how important it is to keep lines of communication open, be honest about my feelings and needs, and make sure that empathy is flowing in both directions, between myself and the rest of the team (and, well, anyone else too!).
With that in mind, I have signed up to an introductory course in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a technique developed in the 1960s by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg.
I’ve also resumed my counselling sessions and (excitingly) joined a Men’s Circle here in Bournemouth (thanks LH!).
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: winter is the finest time to explore outdoor adventures in the UK.
Shorter days mean we can not only catch both sunrise and sunset at a reasonable hour, but also spend long evenings with the stars.
Out of season hotspots, like Dartmoor, the Lakes, North Pennines, Wales or the Highlands, are empty. The views, like the shadows, are long and clear and the weather is either exactly as expected or surprisingly delightful – no possible disappointment.
So, in late November, I’m travelling up to Scotland to cycle another leg of my Round Britain ride.
Since 2020, I’ve cycled about 4,500km of the coastline and now I’m eyeing up the 650km from Edinburgh to Inverness.
This’ll be the first time I’ve done a serious cycle tour in the UK in winter. I’m curious. And foolhardy. And optimistic.
Learning forces us to remember that we’re not dead yet.
It reminds us that our brains are plastic (the good kind of plastic) and that we are very much unfinished animals.
Whether teaching your old self a new trick or honing a dulled blade, learning shows us that, in spite of everything, we are making headway.
A great winter win to have in your back pocket.
This year, as well as the NVC course I mentioned, I’m learning how to make sourdough from the delicious bakers at Bakehouse 24, getting guitar lessons from a chap who works for Specsavers (thanks again LH!), and building a FREAKIN SAUNA with a carpenter friend of mine.
I’ve also enrolled in a four-month Zoe Personalised Nutrition programme that involves a continuous blood sugar sensor, gut health and blood fat tests... and loads of muffins. Can’t wait!
I’m not usually one for bucket lists, but I really needed this.
I know that I can’t do everything on my list, but just knowing that I’m already doing some of the things, even if only the small things, will give me enough momentum to carry me through the dark days.
Cornell University professor Karl Weick introduced the concept of small wins in a 1984 paper about redefining the scale of social problems.
‘Once a small win has been accomplished,’ Weick wrote, ‘forces are set in motion that favour another small win.’
What one small, good thing can you do today that will set you up for another small, good thing tomorrow?
Yesterday, for example, I asked a friend whether she knew anyone who taught guitar. Today, she sent over the number of that guy from Specsavers who teaches guitar on the side. Tomorrow, when I’m back in the library, I’ll message him to set up a lesson.
And in one year’s time? I’ll be opening the London Palladium!
Or maybe I’ll just be a little better at making music. Either way, I’m happy: I have sustainable momentum in the direction I want to travel.
And if, at any point over the coming months, I feel myself drifting or dissatisfied, then I can come back to this list, remind myself of why I’m here, and do one small thing to regain that momentum.
Winter wins. What are yours?
100 Days of Adventure 2022
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Three Small Things At The End
#1 We Raised £100,000!
Fundraising closed on Monday and the distribution of funds to grassroots refugee projects will be done by mid-November.
This is the most that Thighs of Steel cyclists have ever raised in a year and takes our total raised since 2016 to more than £636,672.
Thank you for your support… See you next year?!
#2 Anarchy On Two Wheels
Jim Yeoman explores the intersection of anarchism and cycling, through the case study of Amsterdam's Provo movement of the mid-1960s.
Anarchy On Two Wheels for Anarchist Essays.
Jim cycled from Trieste to Dubrovnik with Thighs of Steel this year and is a former academic historian turned bike charity worker. We need more radicalism!
#3 I Am She As You Are He As You Are Me And We Are All Quite Similar
85 percent of human genes have a recognisable counterpart in mice, 70 percent in the noble slug and 45 percent in the heroic cabbage.
This is because all life that exists on earth has evolved from a single cell that originated about 1.6 billion years ago. In a sense, we are all relatives!
Source: How Stuff Works
In other top secret news: my phone stated working again yesterday.
Between the hours of 9pm and 10am this morning, however, I kept the life-giving SIM card stashed away in a lock box outside the flat. With a little care and preparation, I believe that Pandora’s box might just work.