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New Year New Journal

Like Bridget Jones, I’m starting the year with a fresh page

Hand writing in a journal

I recently found out about bullet journalling and I was quickly champing at the bit to try it for myself. BuJo as it’s affectionately known is using pen and paper to keep a planner, with the added opportunity for doodling / colouring / scrapbooking thrown in, or at least that’s my take on it. You can Google it to go down the rabbit hole yourself and see all the ways individuals interpret it.

For many users it is a way to organise their thoughts, juggle projects, make an inroad into tasks they’ve been putting off, get a handle on their work/life balance. 

This is not a new concept — my mother (a writer) kept numbered notebooks her whole career. As well as jotting down plot ideas and character outlines there would be packing lists for holidays alongside birthday cards she needed to send or books she intended to read. In the 1980’s – it wasn’t just the Sloane Rangers who carried a Filofax, many people had organisers with coloured tabs to centralise their addresses, personal finances and diaries and other essential information.

When I was a PA I was sent on a Time Manager course and taught a way of thinking with the project book to match, in order to support my boss in his endeavours to manage projects intermingled with a good work life balance. The building blocks BuJo utilises are much the same.

I’d be lying if I denied that my excitement about journalling is also sparked by the opportunity to buy new stationery – in fact I asked for new pens thick and thin nibbed pens and a journal for Christmas. Being a self-confessed stationery addict, I get particularly twitchy at the start of a new school year – even though my school career ended decades ago!

For me the cherry on the icing on the cake of BuJo is the opportunity to be creative, to use my scrapbooking supplies, stencils and stickers, to doodle and draw, to tick and hi-light. I’m all over this fad like a rash. My friend and I intend to motivate each other by sharing some of our page inspirations and taking this planning in a creative style for a spin. We think it will be fun and are encouraged to embark on this together and to compare how our journals are developing.

Trying out layout ideas : Polly_Cullen

What I currently need to plan:

Editing — I have stories to edit for my team, and these must fit a schedule

Write – here and on other platforms— I intend to publish at least 3 new posts per week.

Read — as well as running a book club on Twitter, there are books I want to read for myself and others I want to listen to on Audible.

Podcasts / TV series / Films — I intend to keep a track of viewing and audio pleasure I have planned for myself.

Review – I’d like to share more reviews here about some of the above.

It’s no good for my mental health or concentration if the things I need to do keep bumping around erratically in my brain.

If I pin them down in lists and dated schedules, using my journal, I will be able to fit them into my life and feel the pleasure of progress as I work through them — crossing a listed item through, or ticking it off is a very satisfying feeling.

Confession: sometimes I list a task I’ve already achieved, for the pure pleasure of striking it off as ‘done’

In the article I linked earlier, Melody Wilding says

One important purpose of the bullet journal is to create a refuge away from the glow of screens and the suck of social media. This peace of mind is a gift in the age of information overload, where it’s a chore to manage the flurry of tasks, requests, and data coming your way.

I totally agree, colouring for mindfulness has been very popular, and this will be relaxing in a similar way. Using a notebook and pens, not a screen with blue-light and a keyboard, engages the brain more fully. My old RSI injury has been playing up a little recently, so I think going ‘old school’ with my planning and mind mapping is going to be very beneficial. I’m going to make use of my creativity to quiet my thoughts.

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A Problem with Virtual Friendships

What to do when you don’t hear from a ‘virtual’ friend

We are more than a year into the pandemic that is Covid19, and sentenced to being housebound for months, many of us socialised virtually. Talking to friends through DM chats or using our screens and smart speakers to both see and hear friends and family from whom we were socially distanced filled a gap.

But what to do if you ONLY know your friend through social media and they go quiet, what do you do to find out how they are, if they are have caught the virus or become unwell in another way?

Some people do not use their real names on social media – Penguin44 or Book_crazy (fake examples). How do you check on them when all you have is their pseudonym, and your regular conversations with the person suddenly stop: everything goes quiet?

This has happened to me 3 times since the pandemic and it’s pretty worrying. Each time it happened, I tried every avenue through which I had ever communicated with my virutal friend (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp). When I received no response I had to cast my net wider still – begging information from others who might know the missing person as well as or better than me. I shrugged on my Miss Marple cardi and twinned it with some creepy stalker tendencies and pumped their other friends and social media home pages for information.

The first friend who went silent, I’ll call Buzz. When I tracked him down it turned out that he had indeed contracted Covid19 – someone in his family worked in a hospital. Eventually Buzz felt well enough to answer e-mails and replied to me that he was recovering – which was a huge relief, although the poor guy seems to be suffering long covid, because he’s still not up to full energy.

Going AWOL at the same time as Buzz was another good friend I’ll call Meredith. I didn’t push quite so hard with e-mails to Meredith, because she had previously told me that social media sometimes overwhelmed her and so her response was to leave it alone for a while. Eventually I heard, through a mutual friend, that Meredith was fine. I assume she has cut a lot of her previous ties with virtual friends to maintain good mental health. It’s a shame to lose contact with her, but she must do what is best for her survival.

A more recent concern has been my transatlantic friend Hal, who I value greatly. One minute he was posting pictures and cheeky tweets, next minute silence. It was so out of character for Hal that others he knew slid into my DMs to ask if I knew where he had gone and was he ok?

I know Hal’s real name so I had the advantage of using 2 different e-mails to try contacting him, but the silence went on a long time. I looked back to when we had last spoken: I had been suggesting a writing prompt to him and he said “maybe later, I’m very busy at the moment.”

I wanted the reason for Hal’s silence to be that he was too busy to speak to me, or that he was visiting family without such good internet connection as when he was at home. I invented innocuous reasons why he’d gone incommunicado.

Unfortunately I discovered that Hal had been taken seriously ill. He’d been admitted to hospital and was surrounded by family but they were keeping things private. As he began to recover I assumed he was not yet well enough to use a tablet or other technology to chat with friends. I know I struggle to remember all my different logins and passwords, so I cant think how I’d manage if my health took such a sideswipe. That’s when I began to send him get well cards & cheery letters, thinking perhaps someone could read them to him, and they might boost his morale.

Despite the dire news, I gleaned small comfort from having the facts about why he was off line. Thank goodness I knew someone who had been trusted with his mobile phone number so they were up-dated and could pass messages to Hal’s friends.

Now from his FB account, I can see he is making gradual, but steady progress. He is working towards regaining the range of movement he lost. Hal sent me a message of emojis in the other day. A tiny thing like that made my heart soar.

My friends are very important to me, especially the close ones in whom I confide and who know about my writing and my pen name. I like to support and cheerlead them and believe that they, likewise, have my back.

Lets continue to be kind to one another, keep in touch and hopefully, now that the vaccines are rolling out to all age groups, we can look forward to seeing those friends (if they live within reach) in person very soon!

You’re my best friend

Lean on Me

Mr Postman

Don’t Let Him In (11)

This is part 11 of a serialised spooky tale, Chapter 10 is here, or use the Menu to locate earlier chapters

J moved around the library racking his brain regarding where to look for more answers. In front of him was the ‘global culture’ section, from which a book had fallen on the floor, which he picked up.  “Greek Mythology” its front cover declared, in raised gold script. J opened the book and flicked through the pages, realising as he did so, how many legends had been plundered and used for modern game design.  Turning to the pages relating to the quest carried out by Perseus, his memory began circling the story as if it had something significant to impart.  He remembered the Gorgons with their hair of writhing serpents, the one which Perseus kills was named Medusa.  Pieces clicked together in his mind bringing a revelation as to this story’s usefulness: Perseus had used his mirrored shield to avoid looking directly at Medusa, which enabled him to get close enough to behead her without her enchanted gaze turning him to stone.

At last they were getting somewhere!  He checked out the book then stuffed it into his backpack before hurrying off to afternoon class.

That night J went round to Alex’s house.  He told his parents it was to study but really he wanted to discuss his findings and plot what action to take.  Up in Alex’s slightly messy bedroom, they played music to disguise their conversation if anyone was passing his door.

Being a gamer, Alex was familiar with Perseus’ quest. He thought a reflective object to look into was a great defense if Danny was using his eyes or a swinging/ spinning object to induce a hypnotic state in his victims.  Alex suggested carrying a hand mirror at all times, in preparation for dualling with Danny.  J thought it was simpler to use the ‘camera’ function on a phone, its electronic ‘eye’ would be in no danger from hypnosis.  They both realised the hitch was if Danny was using auto-suggestion. They could  hardly stop themselves ‘hearing’ his words –  using the camera wouldn’t help here. They came up with the idea to put headphones in their ears and turn the music up loud, but admittedly it would be hard to achieve in a hurry.  As a precaution they would both wear their earbuds at school to make it easier to quickly start playing music.

With those practicalities sorted, the next step was where and when, and of course how to tackle Danny!  Alex had team practice after school the next day, and was adamant that J shouldn’t confront Danny alone, he wanted to provide back-up.  J argued that he couldn’t waste any more time, he was heart-sick about his sister Lulu. She remained a pale, frail thing, not waking properly or eating.  His parents were taking her to a specialist as soon as they received a letter of referral from the GP.

J had a plan to confront Danny with their suspicions, and threaten him with exposure to the Headmaster and parents of the affected children.  He hoped Danny could be persuaded to cease his serial hypnotism of small children, and release his current victims from their coma-like state.  J suspected that if the older boy was enraged, he’d be likely to try hypnotising him in retaliation, but was hopeful that the phone camera would act as filter and offer protection.  Alex suggested he could even play the footage back to Danny and hypnotise him with his own technique – that would be a neat way to end his wicked behaviour!  It was risky though, J would have preferred Alex there as wing man. 

With plans made for tomorrow, and a tube of Pringles eaten washed down with a large bottle Pepsi, J set off home with his heart racing.  He felt keyed up about what he must do tomorrow. He made sure to put his phone on charge overnight; he’d need a full battery for playing music to override Danny’s hypnotic words.  

J’s parents were huddled together downstairs talking. His mother’s eyes were red rimmed, as if she’d been crying, but they tried to act normally and wished him goodnight.

[To be continued …]

Don’t Let Him In (9)

This is part of an ongoing chilling series, to read from the beginning, start here.

[4 minute read]

Alex was still at rugby practice when J hurried past his house with his head down.  Unlocking his front door, he went straight to his Dad’s study to find out how Lulu was feeling.

“No change unfortunately. She isn’t eating and has slept most of the day, but she has no temperature. I’ve an appointment to take her to the doctor tomorrow.” 

J had a sinking feeling this wouldn’t help. He really needed to talk to Alex, to plan how to force Danny to break the hypnotic trance his sister was under.  He retired to his room with a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea. With his laptop on, he began trying to find new intel on hypnotism and meditation in the hope of identifying a ‘key’ to free the entranced children.

He face-timed Alex and up-dated his friend with what he had pieced together; with music on in the background he successfully masked their conversation.

“Who’d have thought? … Danny?  All the plays I’ve seen him in …” Alex shook his head.

“But that’s probably how he did it! Working with Katie, rehearsing with her, he’d have plenty of opportunities to gaze into her eyes or use a pendulum and hypnotise her” J said.

“What’s with them all saying ‘they let him in’? That really fits with my vampire theories, but Danny looks the same as us.  Do you think he is a vampire?”

J shrugged, he’d never given it serious consideration because he hadn’t believed vampires existed, but he tapped at his keyboard, Googling vampires and the legends surrounding them, he excitedly read one entry aloud.“Glamouring!  Vampire hypnotism is called glamouring, they use eye contact to make their victims happy and relaxed about having their blood sucked.  Perhaps Danny has glamoured them all.”

“Check Lulu’s neck Dude!  See if she’s got fang marks on it.”

“Aargh! Don’t say that!  I can’t even deal with the thought of that!” J was shocked and disgusted at the idea, but he knew it made sense.  It would certainly explain the pale and listless appearance of all the victims.  He planned to take a look at Lulu’s neck sometime that evening, but he needed to avoid raising his parents’ suspicions.

An opportunity presented itself quite innocently, Dad had made a snack of toast and marmite with a drink for Lulu, which J offered to take up to her room. While Dad put the finishing touches on the family’s meal, J cracked the door open and tiptoed into Lulu’s room.  

She was cocooned in her duvet and facing the wall. Murmuring soothing things he gently stroked her hair off his sister’s cheek and away from her neck and peered closely, feeling tense about finding puncture wounds, but there were none. Thank goodness, her neck was unmarked. Her skin was clammy and cool but no bite marks.

“Lulu, do you want a drink?  Or some marmite soldiers?” J used a coaxing tone and pulled her shoulder a little so that she rolled over.  She didn’t rouse out of her sleep but he was able to look at her neck on the other side … phew!  It was also unmarked. J’s relief at this discovery was intense, but looking at her sleeping form he felt sad, and a little scared, what if they couldn’t get her back to normal?

He ate supper with his parents, Then, with the excuse of pressing studies, returned to his room, where he let Alex know that he had found no sinister marks on his sister’s neck.

“Another contradiction to the idea of Danny as a vampire, is that he walks about in the daylight.  He’s not burned or harmed by the sun,” Alex pointed out.

“That rule doesn’t apply in Twilight.  Those guys avoid the sun because it would show their skin is sparkly.” J countered.

“Seriously? Man that’s so weird!  Let’s try to look closely at him in school.” Alex was thoughtful for a moment. “I’ve never noticed his skin glittering.” Then he piped up, “Hey, Twilight’s a chick film?  What’re you watching that for?”

“Hard to avoid it!” J laughed. “They’re always playing the Twilight trilogy on Film4, and my Mum’s a huge vampire fan.”  J felt sure she wouldn’t be a fan if she thought a vamp had been anywhere near Lulu.  

Lulu in the clutches of an undead blood sucker was unthinkable, but he reassured himself no puncture wounds on her neck was a positive thing. Catching a glimpse of the time, he wound up his call with Alex. He still had an English essay to write before he went to bed.

Somehow J was less startled when he snapped out of sleep at 3 am that night. It was becoming a grim routine, so he lay still allowing his senses to ‘feel’ the pressing darkness and whoever or whatever was out there.  His eyes began to focus on the front of a house he didn’t recognise. The streetlight pooled a yellowy glow in its front garden and he could see a gate to the right. This was not latched shut, so it banged softly in the breeze. The darkness had a menace to it, was it possible that Danny was still here? J moved soundlessly, and with dread, through the gate and round the back of the property. He could see in through the conservatory as the occupants kept tropical fish in aquariums, which lit up the room with an eerie glow.  

Pressing his face to a window, and with all his senses on alert, J peered around the interior.  At first he thought there was nobody there, then he spotted a young boy in cartoon pyjamas. His blonde hair stuck up in all directions, as often happens with restless sleepers.  The boy had an unhappy hunch to his body language. He stood repeatedly banging his head against the wall. Hearing his sobs made J’s heart twist, so he tried the handle of the door, but it was locked.  His attempts to gain entry didn’t distract the child and the mournful crying continued.  

His heart was heavy that another young person had fallen under the evil influence. J speculated that this boy had wanted an entertainer for his party and so Danny had visited the house, “let in” by the boy’s unwitting parents.  Danny would give no clue regarding his sinister nature when he called round to make plans about performing as a clown.  

J had never trusted clowns, they gave him the heebie-jeebies!  As a young boy he’d found their thick make up, especially the painted on smile and eye expressions, highly suspect.  He’d swerved invitations to attend any party with a clown on the agenda for just that reason. How ironic that his immature suspicions had truth behind them!  Looking at the distressed boy, who he couldn’t get close enough to comfort, J knew he would be a pale and listless trance-induced state by morning, he wished fervently that he would not be proved right.

[To be continued …]