The Blur started long before COVID crept out of China and held us all hostage.
At first, everything was a blur. Childhood is barely distinguishable. High school was a drag, but even that’s a confusing blur now.
University seems like a whole different life now, and a very blurry one at that.
When we got locked in last April, it was no longer possible to hide from The Blur, although it had been creeping up on me for a while.
Looking back over the last 11,000-odd days of existence, it was clear that there was nothing that I could say I did with any real consistency.
Nothing worthwhile, at least.
I cried that night. Soon after, I began to do what I always knew I should have been doing: I started to write every day.
At some point, the days I’ve written will outnumber the days I’ve done anything else.
Then, looking back at that blur, I’ll know: I was a writer.
Science likes to put us in groups.
That’s 90% of what science is: classification.
We often read newspaper reports of the latest study that says introverts do this or women prefer that.
Don’t pay too much attention to that pop-science.
The only thing we can be sure of is that those studies were performed on hungover university students by slightly older, arguably less hungover students.
If some parts resonate that’s because our brain is very good at spotting the things we think inside our heads out there in the real world. But there’s little to be gleaned from a study of 20 late-stage teens on a wet Wednesday afternoon in Leeds.
Remember: just because you’re similar doesn’t make you the same.
You are like some people, it’s true. But you are alike no other person that ever was or will be.
Keep breaking that mould, baby!
If only things were different,
I wouldn’t have to be the same.
I could be tall or short or fat,
Or get paid for playing a game.
If only things had been different,
If I’d done that instead of this,
I’d probably be sat on a beach right now,
Immersed in perpetual bliss.
If only things had been different,
If I had been there or then,
I could’ve been stupidly rich and cool,
But then I wouldn’t get to be Ben.
The most dangerous ideas we have are the ones we use to limit ourselves.
Interestingly, we base many of those on our ideas about other people.
It could be things like “boys like cars” or “girls like dolls” or “salespeople are extroverts” or “running is hard” or “they’re better than me.”
Our identity is as much defined by the things we think we aren’t as by what we think we are. To misquote Seth Godin, “people like me can’t do things like that.”
Fortunately, there are millions of people out there that are just itching to prove us wrong. People who are doing things we think we can’t do but who look suspiciously like us.
There are few things better than having a conversation with someone you admire and respect deeply and realizing that you’re not so different.
Because that’s when “that’s not me” turns into “that could be me.”
And another door opens.
For a long time, I wasn’t a writer.
I had dreamed about it, but I didn’t have anything that proved it. Nothing had been written.
Evading and denying my inner writer caused great anguish and uncertainty in my life. Later, I found some solace because my work involved writing, but deep down, that wasn’t enough.
It was writing, sure, but it wasn’t my writing. Copywriting is all about writing for someone else in someone else’s voice, after all. But it paid the bills.
Writing to you every day changed everything. Just that tiny bit of doing, and suddenly, I was.
It’s not like it’s easy writing every day. Some days, it’s not even enjoyable. But I write every day because that is what writers do.
Doing is being. Either we do, or we’re not.
But when we are, and we don’t, that’s when things get really messy.
It’s funny how things we hate often become part of our personality.
For better or worse.
Running, or anything faster than a brisk walk, was never very appealing; the last resort to catch a train.
It didn’t seem very dignified, especially how I was doing it. I didn’t go very far or fast and did get very sweaty, which was embarrassing. But over the last six years, running has become part of my life.
Starting a run is never easy. But something magical happens about a mile in, when your body has finally accepted that you’re not going to stop.
The rhythm of your heart pounding gently and the sigh of your lungs sucking long, deep bagfuls of air; arms swinging almost of their own accord, all to the gentle metronome of your feet hitting the ground.
Everything becomes part of that movement, that directed dance.
Head up, putting one foot in front of the other again and again and again just to go where we want a little faster. And by sheer force of will, doing it longer than any other animal on the planet.
Nothing could be more human than that.
Soon after discovering the monumental Seth Godin, I unsubscribed from his email list and decided never to think of him again.
Not only was it frustrating that some of his blogs were just a couple of lines — not even paragraphs — but it was frustrating that I had written nothing at all.
Writing a daily blog always seemed like the sort of thing I should be doing and yet, for some reason, could never quite manage to do.
Seth’s wonderfully elegant and effortless scrawling reminded me that for all I called myself a writer, I could never do that.
It was magic if I wrote once every six months. And a miracle if it got shipped once a year. Whatever it was that people like that had, I didn’t have it.
I could never do that.
Seven years later and Seth Godin pops up in my life again, talking about The Practice.
And suddenly, it all made sense.
The outcome wasn’t the point; just like ‘enlightenment isn’t the point of meditating.
Don’t write to sell a book. Don’t write to get rich (good luck with that). Don’t write to get famous.
Write every day because that’s what writers do.
All those years spent trying to change into someone worthy of writing every day — a real writer — were just me hiding from myself.
All it took was actually doing it, and all of a sudden, I was.
When I was but knee-high to a grasshopper, Dad would often pop his head into whatever bubble I was in at the time and spin a battered and yellowing paperback onto my lap.
“Here, read that. You’ll like it,” he would say.
Then he’d wander off to build a homeless shelter or a school or a choir or whatever else he was crafting for the world at the time.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realize that he was crafting me too.
Those books prepared me for things I would encounter later in life that there are no lessons for; love, drugs, adventure, luck, betrayal, and death.
Those ageing and comically-fronted tomes of pulp fiction changed the way I thought about the world.
They opened my eyes to the possibilities and the madness and the complex, crushing beauty of it all.
And I wouldn’t be me without them.