Warning – maintenance in progress

CC photo via flickr: Sean MacEntee

Maintenance. Let’s face it, it’s not a sexy concept, is it? It smacks of drudgery and duty, to me at least, something that you really ‘should’ do, but which often falls by the wayside in place of something more exciting and shiny.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Hocus Pocus

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”

And yet, recently I’ve been thinking about maintenance more than usual.

Work maintenance

Looking after a website as part of my job means there’s always something that needs checking over. Even outsourcing some tasks to an external agency, there are still things that need maintenenance.

The maintenance ranges from the less frequent tasks, such as domain renewal, through to the daily analysis of traffic, with a view to updating content design to improve user journeys.

Home maintenance

But it’s not just work that’s made me think about maintenance. At home, we have household appliances that, I know, run much better when they’ve been cleaned and declogged – from the vacuum cleaner to the toaster.

It’s not as if they’d suddenly stop working without that upkeep – the maintenance – but they seem more efficient and are (probably) less likely to go kaput with that 10 minutes of care once a fortnight.

I’m not claiming to be brilliant at this – in fact, once every two weeks is a pipe dream in many cases, – but the knowledge is there.

Personal maintenance

And then there’s looking after myself, something the pandemic has made me more aware of.

I’m not talking hygiene (I’ve got the shower, shave and deodorant bit pretty much sorted, thanks), but the stuff on top of that:

  • making sure I eat properly: fruit, veg and other plant-based foods
  • keeping up some sort of daily exercise – in my case it’s usually swimming, but also at least 30 minutes’ walking
  • the occasional catch up with friends (even if virtual)

But on top of that, there’s checking in on my own mental health. Running through a checklist to see if things are OK. Rewind 10 or 15 years and I doubt I’d have done that – at least not in time.

Now, if I spot any warning signs, I have a think about what I can do to help myself. It might be that I increase the frequency that I practice mindfulness, do a bit more exercise, a bit less staring at a screen. You get the picture?

So maintenance may be dull and something most of us avoid, but there’s good reason for it – in whichever sphere it’s required.

As Robert Pirsig wrote in the ultimate book on this topic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”

And it’s tough to argue with that.

At one with nature

I hadn’t intended to write anything to coincide with this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week – in my view, we should be able and willing to talk about mental health any time we want and not need a special week for it.

But I changed my mind. This morning I went for my regular early dip in the sea, which most of the time I do on my own. But today was different, as I swam with a friend who went in for the first time: I ‘popped his cherry’ – his words, not mine!

And watching his experience made me reflect and remind myself how important the benefits are for me.

I started sea swimming a couple of years ago as a way of helping manage my own mental health issues. Admittedly, I took the ‘easy’ route to begin with, by starting in summer when the water is a touch warmer (admittedly it rarely gets very warm in the UK), but soon realised how good it is for me.

I rarely pass up the opportunity to float on my back and gaze up at the sky (whatever remarkable colour it may be), with my ears submerged to block out most of the ambient noise from the nearby road and beach.

Those moments of semi-solitude, sealed off from the rest of the world, never fail to provide simultaneous feelings of calm and delight. I can pretend I’m almost anywhere in the world.

This morning it was raining as we swam, but we marvelled at the different shades of greys in the clouds and how it merged and contrasted with the blues of the sea.

It also reminded me that, even though I pretty much swim in the same place most of the time, the view is different every day, and I never tire of it.

That feeling of being at one with nature is remarkably special and I feel extremely lucky and privileged to be able to enjoy it.

So wherever and whenever you interact with nature this week (and beyond), take a moment to stop, breathe in deeply, smell the air and look around you.

And, to paraphrase Dr Frasier Crane, may I wish you all good mental health.

You can’t please all the people…

Bill Bernbach

Reading one of Nick Cave’s excellent Red Hand Files reminded me of the Bill Bernbach quote that I shared on LinkedIn back in 2016.

Fast forward four years and – right now – being bold feels like a dangerous activity. Cave himself hits the nail on the head with this quote:

“…what songwriter could have predicted thirty years ago that the future would lose its sense of humour, its sense of playfulness, its sense of context, nuance and irony, and fall into the hands of a perpetually pissed off coterie of pearl-clutchers? How were we to know?”

Barely a day goes by without an example of public bear-baiting on social media – despite calls for restraint in the wake of Caroline Flack’s death.

The way people orchestrate something akin to a digital lynching when someone expresses an opinion that doesn’t appear to conform to the mean is reprehensible.

However, I have also seen remarkably reasonable debates on both Twitter and Facebook between people who completely disagree on an issue – one about Quentin Tarantino’s alleged misogyny manifesting itself in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood sticks in the mind.

But the world is built on people swapping stories and ideas, which more often that not come with a difference of opinion.

We are human. We think. We don’t all have the same opinions. We should be comfortable that sometimes people don’t agree with us.

What we must guard against is how (and possibly where) we choose to discuss and evaluate those ideas.

By and large, I have found myself unwilling to voice an opinion online. And if a straw poll among friends is anything to go by, I know I’m far from alone.

Meanwhile in the comfort of a group I know, I’m willing to put something potentially contentious out there, safe in the knowledge that I won’t become Public Enemy No.1.

I’ll leave the last word to Nick Cave again…

“I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.”