On the phone the other day I found myself answering the question “how are you?” with, now customary, “I’m alright but I’m just so busy, I have so much to do all the time”. I am always busy. I don’t stop. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I didn’t have something to be working on. In fact, I started this blog in part because I worried I might not have enough to do.

Being busy, and complaining about being busy, seems to be a central element of the modern condition. In a day and age where we all have to be actively getting better all of the time, to be hustling to get ahead, being busy is a badge of honour.

We’re all meant to not only be working hard, and partying (reading brunching) hard, we’re also meant to devote time to meditation, to fitness, to social causes, to being well read, to making health foods, to watching every new Netflix show, to looking good, to being the perfect young professional who simultaneously stays on top of all of those things whilst appearing not to care too hard about any of them. We all realise that aim is completely paradoxical in nature and impossible to achieve, but it doesn’t stop us working, from trying to get a little bit closer.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I think it’s human nature to want to be better, to improve.

I’m also not saying there’s anything wrong with the fact that we’ve become a generation of side hustlers. It seems like everyone has a side gig right now. In London, part of that need for a side gig is financial. But in part, we’ve become side hustlers because we were told we could do anything when we were growing up and we believed it, and even though we might now know it isn’t wholly true and that some of us really do need to do those office jobs we swore weren’t for us, we still want to believe a little bit. So we keep that dream alive by creating a side hustle that gives us hope that we might one day get there, that however unlikely we might just make our pipe dreams a reality. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s a whole lot right with that. If you want something, I really do believe you should work for it.

But the other side to working for our side dreams, for working on our quest to reach the lofty standards society has set, is that we’re working to keep ourselves busy. I realised when I was on that phone call that being “just so busy” had become my identity. I realised that I hadn’t stopped, I hadn’t allowed myself to stop because I’m scared of what happens when I do. Who am I if I’m not working on the glimmer of a hope that I might get to be a designer? Who am I if I’m not constantly doing something? I’m still scared to stop. I’m not sure I want to know what the answer is.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I don’t think I’m the only one out there who’s keeping busy because they’re afraid to stop.

Normally in these posts, I try to share something to help fight the negative feeling I’ve described, to help me, well us, feel a little better. Doing that here would, first of all, feel a little ironic; setting a worksheet to help stop work just doesn’t seem right. But I also don’t know what to do about it other than stop, and right now I’m not sure that I can. I mean I physically can, no one dies if I stop blogging, if I take a week off meal prepping, off trying so hard. But I don’t know if I can bring myself to do it. So, this time all I’ve put together is this image, which you can print or use as a desktop as a reminder, just as I am, that you can and should take a break, that you don’t have to be so busy.

I don’t think I’m alone in having been struck down by the inescapable feeling of meh, the feeling that nothing is exciting anymore, nothing is inspiring, the feeling that nothing is really anything, the feeling that I have called the funk. The funk is a tricky one because it doesn’t always have a cause, and it certainly doesn’t have one set remedy. The funk can last for an hour, or a day, or a year.

But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to beat it. As ever, the solutions I’ve come up with are things that have worked for me, and might not work for everyone. If you’re really struggling with this demon, or any of the others I’ve written about in this series please seek some proper help.

Because the funk is so tricky, I’ve made two things to try and fight it. The first is a check list of things to do when I’m feeling that cloud descending on me, because quite often I get restless and don’t so anything and end up feeling worse because I’m stewing. I’ve left some spaces at the bottom so you can print it and add your own funk fighting activities at the bottom, because what makes everyone happy is different. If you’re stumped for ideas I’ve written a list of 48 self-care activities you might like to browse.

The second weapon in my arsenal is an emergency anti-funk kit. I sometimes send bits of these out in cards for friends in case they’re ever feeling down, but I’d never made one for myself and I thought it was about time. In my box there’s everything from chocolate, to movie suggestions, to a candle I like, to a card a friend wrote me that makes me happy.

It’s rare I want to read a book again before I have even finished it, but that’s the feeling I had when I was reading Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones. Set on All Souls’ Day, a day when the dead are said to return, Solar Bones is Marcus Conway’s elegy to himself. It’s his recollection of the events that took him away and then brought him back to his family’s home in Mayo. It’s a story of a series of ordinary events that come together as something extraordinary when viewed together with their ripples and their lyricism.

Solar Bones is one novel length sentence, broken up by line breaks and other bits of punctuation, like a very long prose poem. Its single sentence runs like a thread looping out to touch relationships, politics, philosophy, religion Ireland, Europe, the world, the solar system, the universe, but always coming back to a family home in Mayo. I love the sheer distance this novel covers in a series of infinte links that is just so clever in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s showing off at all.

McCormack’s choice to write in a single sentence has led to him being compared with the likes of, other great Irish writers, Joyce and Beckett. I can’t deny that it feels like McCormack has taken up something of the great Irish modernist mantle. However, I don’t want comparisons to some of the most difficult writers in the canon to put a large swathe of this novel’s potential audience off, because it is infinitely readable.

While Solar Bones certainly isn’t a thriller, it is a completely compelling read. Once you start reading you’ll find it hard to put down, in part because of its structure and in part because of its engrossing subject matter.

The only problem I had with this novel is that its single sentence structure made it hard to pick up and put down, there are no natural breaks. But that’s more of a complaint about not being able to sit down 6 hours in order to devour it in one go. Perhaps, I’ll try and do that on my inevitable second reading.

If you hadn’t guessed already, Solar Bones comes highly recommended by me. It also highly recommended by some people with a lot more literary know-how, as it won the Goldsmith’s prize last year.

When (not if) you pick up a copy from Tramp Press, Canongate Books, or anywhere else you’d buy books. Here’s my mini guide.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • How did the single sentence structure of the novel affect your reading experience? Did you change how you read practically? Did you notice the lack of punctuation as you read, if so why?
  • McCormack’s choice to write in a single sentence has been seen as distinctively Irish. How would a similar novel written in England, or America have differed? How did you feel the novel’s Irishness coming through?
  • Solar Bones is a quiet novel of a man’s life, how did that, seemingly unexciting, subject matter grip you as you read?
  • Marcus is an Engineer; how does his profession reflect in his prose?
  • As well as a novel about a man and his family, Solar Bones is concerned with religion and politics, how did you feel they were sewn into the novel? Did you enjoy those interludes?

IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

  • The Culture Trip’s analysis of why Solar Bones won the Goldsmith’s prize
  • A lovely review of the novel from Ian Sansom in the Guardian
  • Stephanie Boland on Solar Bones and Irish modernism, and its potential resurrection, for The New Statesman
  • An interview with Mick McCormack in the Irish Times which focuses on Solar Bones but reaches out more widely to cover some of his other thoughts on writing

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

Why not use the Solar Bones bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Solar Bones, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

Happy international women’s day! I wanted to celebrate this year by putting together some portraits of a few inspiring feminists along with some of their best quotes. I had so much fun doing this, it’s really made me excited for things to come. So without further ado, these are the illustrations:

How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

Sometimes my mood just changes in a snap. I don’t get angry at other people. I don’t raise my voice. But I snap and end up being so short with myself. It’s like I’m just walking along, not looking where I’m going, enjoying the view, and then I suddenly fall into a massive pothole of self-dislike. It’s really weird, and I absolutely hate it. Does anyone else do that? Just drop from a solid 48 on the happiness scale to a terrifying -373?

For me those sudden spirals normally happen after something very tiny has gone wrong, and someone else is there. I think it stems from being smart enough at school that when I got a question wrong I would be jeered at and knocked down. Being right and good at everything I try, and the fear of everyone thinking I’m stupid, are so ingrained in my behaviour and sense of self that whenever I feel like I’m in a similar situation I have such a visceral reaction.

So I had to add snapping to my demons to battle list.

I’ve created two weapons to defeat this demon. The first is all about identifying the situations where you’re likely to snap. This is something I started doing naturally as I thought about doing a ‘How to tell your demons to politely fuck off’ on this topic, but I think I’ve pushed it slightly further. It led to a lot of revelations, while I haven’t really put it to the test. I can imagine that knowing a situation is likely to push me into a negative space, must cut the legs off the problem. If you pre-empt freaking out by saying “this situation has the potential to trigger me, so anything my inner voice says to me doesn’t count”, you kind of pre-rationalise your freak out, and make it way less powerful. You can download the snapping journal above for free here.

The other weapon is this breathing gif. Breathing exercises, and meditation, really do work and I use them to relax on an evening. Remembering to breathe and take a second when I feel like I’m falling, is something I’m trying hard to do. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to remember when I just see red, but as soon as I remember I take a step back, and breathe, and just remember all of the stuff I worked through in the first section.