I had cause this week to remember a time some years ago when life was pretty much a routine of hardship. I didn’t enjoy the rote of predictability that I shouldered for many years and I was desperate to escape. If only for a moment.
Around that time I initiated my ‘Do Something Different’ regime. When I became intolerably bored and annoyed with life I literally did something different. This may sound really simple but actually it’s quite difficult after the first ten innovations to think of something different to do. I included things like visiting local places I had never been, doing things I hadn’t done for ages (like ice skating or swimming), listening to music on my own with headphones on. I started to use my brain and my imagination and open my mind up to other worlds through writing. It may seem like common sense, but to me, living in a world of providing for others, it was a welcome break.
I promised myself I would do something different every week for three months. During that time I visited the library and discovered Martin Amis. I explored my home city of Manchester and discovered many building that made me fall in love with it all over again. I met people on my ‘Do Something Different’ day who would become lifelong friends. I developed and understanding of people and characters and identity that would have not been possible in my previous closed existence.
So last weekend arrived with all the impact of a thunder cloud. I’ve been in a kind of limbo for a while now, waiting for decisions on my writing, hoping that the agent who has my book ‘gets it’ and realises how hard working I am. Grappling with my day job and travelling in a busy time. For all this my life became routine again. I found myself standing in Tesco Metro with a bag of frozen chips in one hand and a lettuce in the other exactly in the same spot I had ten years ago at the beginning of my ‘Do Something Different’ phase. I stood for a while (until security moved me on, actually) and wondered if anything had actually changed since then.
There’s a argument in systems safety where the rule is ‘don’t try to change the error prone person, change the system around them to reduce the error environment’. I always wondered if the net result of this environment change would be the eventual change of the person. I sat in Covent Garden this morning, when I should have been sitting in a lecture about US fighter aero safety, listing to a string quartet and sipping tea and writing chapter eleven of my new novel, The Waiting List. I did something different for a while. I changed my environment. I guess I’ve changed quite a lot!