I’ve been reading a bit more fiction lately (Asimov’s Foundation and A Confederacy of Dunces are the most recent). I am finding it very engaging, after a period of reading quite a lot of quite earnest non-fiction.

Two things I have have particularly enjoyed. Firstly, the lightness and humour woven through the stories I have been reading, even while dealing with quite complicated or difficult things. This contrasts with the often endless seriousness of non-fiction. An (obvious) reminder that jokes are good.

Secondly, all too often non-fiction books consist of a compelling first 60 pages, followed by 200 or so pages of reiteration and exemplification. By contrast, (good) fiction builds throughout, so the final pages turn themselves. I’m not sure if the lesson there is that non-fiction should be more confidently succinct, or that writers should hold a little more back for the end, if they can.

Either way, if you haven’t done so recently, I recommend that you pick up a novel. And if you have any fiction recommendations, I would love to hear them.

Swimming in public

If you have encountered me in person in the last 12 months (almost exactly), there is a high chance I have bored you on the topic of outdoor swimming. If you haven’t, then today is your unlucky day.

But fortunately for you I’ll keep it brief: I have done quite a lot of swimming outdoors in unheated pools and rivers, and I have enjoyed it.

The reason that I bring it up isn’t to wax lyrical on the restorative nature of cold water (stop it — Ed.). I bring it up because that very act of (endless) broadcasting has (I think) played an important role in making me stick with it for the last year, to the point where it’s a habit rather than just a few frigid dips. Because if I’ve told so many people, it makes it that much harder to stop, past the point where it’s now just something I do.

The impact of feeling watched is significant, whether or not anyone is actually looking. This blog is another example for me. An impetus, that precious habit-forming gift.

I should use it more often.

Old notes

I found a nice notebook the other day, in amongst a cupboard of papers. I thought it was unused, but when I opened it I found a couple of pages of notes clearly written in one sitting, entitled “What I’d like to be in 2012”. A personal historical document, presumably written at or near the start of the new year, when I was approaching my final two terms of university and recovering after an ankle operation.

It is interesting to see what I was focused on. An ambition to be better read, perhaps natural for a young person about to strike out into the world of work. Music and languages were two things I wanted to do more of, the former has waxed and waned in my life, while the latter has fallen mostly by the wayside. Then vaguer interest in being “better prepared” and “more focused”.

The latter point of focus is given a bit more detail. I worried about the time I was spending on “Facebook and blogs”, or even “sitting doing nothing”, the latter of which has now become de rigueur with the rise of mindfulness. Oh to remember that time before smartphones (I had a Blackberry for my sins).

I am uplifted by a few sketched notes about “using the ankle injury as an opportunity… you will never have this opportunity again”. The primary manifestation of this was becoming Sports Editor of the student newspaper for a term, a first foray into writing, an activity which brings me joy to this day.

I finally entreated myself not to “spend your time writing things like this”. On this point, I must most heartily disagree.