Less, More & None (2021) – Review

Less

  • allowing my task list to build up
    • I am really pleased with the way I managed my time this year. I maintained a good balance between my day to day tasks and larger projects. There were no changes to the systems or tools1 that I use, but I did adapt the way I approached some aspects of my job, improving my delegation and making best use of mornings to get two to three smaller tasks off my plate before the day has really begun.
  • looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me
    • This is the second year now that I have been a lot better with this. I still find that I have to remind myself to put my phone away but I have built up some better habits around my phone in general that have helped a lot.
  • reading doomscrolling the news
    • I also did well with this. While I did keep up with some of the news surrounding the pandemic as well as the current political landscape2, I managed to direct my attention towards the culture and lifestyle sections of the paper most of the time. I was far happier spending time reading about people, places and ideas that could enrich my life rather than dwelling on everything that is wrong with the world.

More

  • exercise
    • I am sad to say that other than walking regularly, I failed to make exercise a priority in 2021. I have no genuine reason or excuse for this and plan to find ways to make sure that it is a priority in 2022.
  • reading
    • I read 52 books in 2021. That is two more than my target and 11 more than 2020. I posted a complete list of everything I read on this blog.
  • saving money
    • We carried on where we left off in 2020 and added significantly to our savings. 💰💰💰
  • seeking opportunities for personal growth
    • Reflecting on this goal, I am not sure what I was considering exactly all the way back in January 2021 but I have achieved a few things this year that I am proud of:
      • I have finally achieved a sense of equilibrium at work and feel better placed to develop myself further as a leader and to be able to consider the next steps in my career
      • I have been (re)learning French
      • I have cooked regularly for my wife3
      • I have finally taught myself how to tackle cryptic crosswords, and while I am far from being an expert, I now understand the rules and can work my way (slowly) through the Guardian cryptic crossword
      • I have continued to develop my appreciation and knowledge of Jazz – in particular piano-led groups4 and the development of the be-bop and hard-bop styles.
  • writing
    • This just did not happen and I do not have an answer to how I get back to writing regularly. Maybe I am not supposed to right now? I will likely include writing in my goals for 2022, but I think I need to reflect on the type of writing I want to do and where it is published to better understand where/how it fits into my life. I enjoy writing but since I completed my M.Ed in 2013 and took on more senior roles at work, I have consistently struggled to make it a regular habit.

None

  • making excuses when it comes to exercise
    • See my response to the first item in the ‘more’ section.
  • skipping my ‘morning reading’
    • I did not miss a single day and ended up re-reading the entire ‘Holy Bible’, not just Paul’s letters as I had intended. I did not make as much headway with ‘History of Western Philosophy‘ by Bertrand Russell5 but I did re-read (again) ‘Meditations‘ by Marcus Aurelius and I also finished ‘On Writing‘ by Stephen King, which was as much a biography as a guide to writing well.
  1. See bullet point two in my review from 2020.[]
  2. All I see when I think about the state of the world is the ‘This is fine’ meme taken from the comic by KC Green.[]
  3. at least once per week[]
  4. Brubeck/Clark/Evans/Garland/Hancock/Monk/Powell[]
  5. I am going to make this the sole text for my morning reading in 2022.[]

I ran all night and day…

Mr Skosh St Leonards

One of the things I love about running are the unexpected sights that you encounter along the way. I haven’t run on the lower part of the prom for a while and I discovered this great new piece of street art this week. The purple and neon-pink are evoking total 80s vibes. I feel like they should install speakers and play a constant rotation of synth-pop and new wave music. A Flock of Seagulls anyone? 😉

Art work by Mr Skosh.

The Whole of the Moon

I think I needed to hear/see Fiona Apple’s fantastic cover of The Waterboys’ classic: ‘The Whole of the Moon’.

Zelda Hallman captured her performing the song live in the studio. The raw energy and focus that Apple displays, losing herself within the song, is deeply compelling. It has provided some much needed catharsis during what has been a rewarding but very challenging week.

I am posting it here for posterity. Maybe it will help you too.

Hat tip to Phil Gyford for sharing it.

Less, More and None (2020) – Review

Less

  • (cont.) spending time on ‘urgent but unimportant’ tasks
    • I did a much better job of this in 2020. I was able to be more strategic and to delegate tasks more willingly. Something I have always struggled with.
  • tinkering with apps and organisational tools (I need to pick a system and stick to it)
    • I broke this down into three areas (notes/schedule/projects) and settled on one app to manage each of them:
      • Drafts for writing: ideas, notes, lists, blog posts and reference material.
      • Fantastical to organise my day: lessons, meetings, calls and events.
      • OmniFocus for task and project management.
    • I also made some changes to my daily and weekly reviews that kept me better organised.
  • avoiding difficult / time-consuming tasks
    • I did well with this as well, in part due to the improvements I made to my organisation as noted above. In particular, I started using the ‘forecast tag’ in OmniFocus for these tasks and also scheduled time in my calendar for when I would work on them. This meant that they were always visible and would not be missed in my daily review. Scheduling time in my calendar meant that progress was made on them each day until they were done. Incremental progress FTW!

More

  • trying new foods and recipes
    • Jennifer and I are always exploring new recipes but we did even better this year building a wide range of new meals into each month. And like 2019, we struck a healthy balance between meat-based dishes and vegetarian ones.
  • rediscovering old music
    • I immersed myself in Jazz, exploring a wide range of styles (hard-bop, modal, avant-garde…) and musicians. I improved my knowledge of the genre’s development and discovered a number pieces that entered into regular rotation. My top three tunes for the year are:
    • Having spent a lot of time over the years listening to the more avant-garde and challenging work of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, I was surprised to see how much I leaned toward smooth and modal Jazz over the course of the year. Red Garland, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner (all pianists) featured prominently. Maybe I am mellowing out!?
    • In addition to this, I also revisited a lot of music from my youth (80s/90s). According to Spotify, my most listened to artists this year were: Queen, Radiohead and Nick Cave.
    • I spent some time listening to classical music too; mostly Beethoven, Chopin, and Fauré, so the piano featured prominently there as well. Maybe I should learn to play the piano in 2021?
    • I made a number of new playlists in Spotify and updated some of my existing ones. They can all be found via my Spotify profile.
  • visiting new places
    • This did not happen for obvious reasons. Instead we made the most of our local area while doing all that we could to keep ourselves and other safe. The time spent here at home was not wasted though, I read more books than I have done in a long time.
  • mobility exercises and yoga
    • I failed miserably with this one unfortunately, and I haven’t done as well with my running over the last three months of the year either. Exercise has to be a habit and requires commitment. I will be re-committing to this in 2021 and ensuring that I can forge good habits to get back on track.
  • (cont.) writing
    • In terms of writing, I never truly found my mojo. That said, I did publish 24 full blog posts (20 more than 2019 ). Two blog posts per month is not what I was aiming for at the start of the year. As with exercise, writing has to become a habit. I will be committing to working towards this in 2021 as well.

None

  • (cont.) looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me (still trying to make this stick!)
    • I finally made some headway with this in 2020. I took to leaving my phone on the coffee table or even in a different room and this helped. Still, I can do even better so this item will graduate to the ‘Less’ section for 2021.
  • saying yes to projects or ideas that will only have short-term or limited impact (aiming for a year of quality not quantity)
    • When faced with a pandemic, partial school closures and a constantly changing set of guidelines and rules, it has been hard not to have to work on projects that were about ‘short-term’ impact. Sometimes you simply have to adapt to the needs in front of you and I feel that alongside my colleagues, I did a good job in helping to keep the school going under very challenging circumstances.

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love

Jennifer and I ushered in the Christmas break by treating ourselves to Chinese food and watching ‘In the Mood for Love’ by Wong Kar-Wai. It is a personal favourite; and one that we have enjoyed together for as long as we have been a couple.

Built on a modest premise, Wong meticulously depicts the heartbreaking (unrequited) romance between Su Le-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung). Moving into next-door apartments with their spouses, they come to the unhappy realisation that their respective partners are cheating on them with each other. They consider the possibility of their own affair but agree they will not act on their feelings for each other, lest they be “no better than they are.”

The film’s impact is indebted to its modesty. The romance between the two leads evolves in vignettes: glancing looks, passing comments and brief encounters are all we are given for the first thirty minutes of the film. They only begin to spend more time in each other’s company once they admit the truth of their spouses’ infidelity. Yet, they never act on their true feelings for each other. As Roger Ebert noted, reviewing the film in 2001: “whole continents of emotions go unexplored”. Wong reinforces this narratively, skipping from event to event the connective tissue is discarded leaving space for the viewer to fill in the gaps. Like a good Hemingway novel, what is not said (or seen) is as important as what is.

As moving as the romance between the two leads is, this is not why I so frequently return to the film. ‘In the Mood for Love’ is a mood piece about Hong Kong in 1962. The soul of the film belongs to the city itself. The cinematography, mise-en-scène and music are expertly matched, capturing the city and its inhabitants in a very specific time and place. Drawing inspiration aesthetically from film noir (Wilder, Preminger), minimalism (Bresson) and narratively from Hitchcock (Vertigo/Rear Window), the Hong Kong of Wong’s childhood is rendered mysterious and alluring with a dream-like quality that is intensely beguiling.

Shots linger, focussing on consequential and inconsequential details alike, and the pacing is deliberately slow. Even the many iconic tracking shots of Maggie Cheung, on her way to buy wonton noodles, add to the static, dreamlike quality of the film. As Wong put it himself: “We tried to recreate the film from our memories. And in our memories, everything moves much slower.” Filmed almost exclusively in medium shots and close ups, you are never quite sure where or when events are taking place; the scenes “surface and then submerge back into the murk of memory” (Steve Erickson, 2012). Low angles, and carefully positioned shots placed just outside windows or inside doorways create an intimacy with each location; placing the viewer in situ with the surroundings and characters.

Chow Mo-wan smoking

Wong’s canvas is painted in saturated colours and musky hues. It is in one moment vibrant and the next shadowy and subdued. The props and costumes are similarly contrasting; Jadeite vases and cups standout against backdrops of deep reds and browns and the cheongsams worn by Maggie Cheung shift between warm and cold colours reflecting the changing mood of the film’s narrative. The music that complements the visual aesthetic is a mixture of perfectly timed pieces that capture a city caught between its past and present. Chinese opera and classics of the solitary island period sit comfortably alongside the gentle warmth of Nat King Cole. Yet it’s the haunting melody of Yumeji’s Theme that most accurately conveys the nostalgic, meditative atmosphere.

Every time I watch the film, I am struck by its contradictory nature. Exotic, yet universal; subtle, yet bold; it is a masterpiece of filmmaking that succeeds in being both mysterious and seductive. The streets, apartments, offices and noodle bars of 1960s Hong Kong are brought to life; and they are both gritty and romanticised. Through Wong’s dreamy, voyeuristic lens, the city becomes a part of your own memories.

He remembers those vanished years.
As though looking through a dusty window pane,
the past is something he could see, but not touch.
And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

~ Wong Kar Wai – In the Mood for Love