2023 in Review: Personal reflections

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Once again I closed off last year and started the new one by filling out a year compass booklet. Although the years are arbitrary, I find this time to reflect and reset immensely valuable.

As I did last year, I've decided to also summarise the year in a personal way, as opposed to my rants about politics. It's reasonably long, so strap in.

Life

I wrote late last year about my desire to slow down a bit, reflecting it in my review of 2022. I wanted a fallow year, to regroup and reflect more. For the first half of the year, I was reasonably successful. I had surgery to remove my gallbladder[^1] and as a result I needed to not do anything for a little bit. I was lucky to make a full recovery quickly, but the time off forced me to do less. Life moved on of course, and I ended up filling my time with more distractions.

I also moved to the countryside this year, which was a welcome change of pace. I'm forty five minutes outside of Bristol now, which is close enough to go into work but far enough that I feel a little removed from the city.

The latter half of the year has been tough in a few ways I'm not going into here, but it was healing to be surrounded by nature and to watch the seasons change.

I was lucky enough to go to lots of interesting places this year. Bilbao and San Sebastian were culinary delights, with incredible food and amazing culture. Bluedot festival was a lot of fun [^2], with science talks, comedy and excellent live music. I also spent a week in Cornwall for my wedding anniversary, watching the sea and reading.

Although some things have been a struggle, I am lucky in so many ways. I am reminded of this daily.

Writing

As I wrote here, I deliberately wanted to avoid submitting to journals this year. I took the pressure off myself and instead focused on writing poems. I aimed for one a week, which I didn't always hit. But that's ok, because I think I've successfully reset my writing process, slowing down making poems and taking more time for editing. I've also found a lot more joy and fun in the process itself. I'd like to keep the attention more on the process of writing, not the end result.

Books

I read 38 books last year, a little less than my usual.

The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisen was my clear favourite speculative series I read last year, with a wildly inventive setting and unique, well realised characters. Somehow, Jemisen manages to keep the balance between tiny moments of character and huge moments of world building.

Close behind was Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, which is a fantasy novel based on pre-Columbus American legends. It also has excellent world building and a jaw dropping ending.

Other novels I enjoyed were Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, which is about games and the joy of collaborating with others. It avoids cliché and goes in some really interesting directions. Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield also avoids cliché, lying somewhere between social realism and horror to create a compelling tale about grieving someone while they are still alive. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf was a reread, but I lost myself to the beautiful music of her sentences.

Wintering by Katherine May was my favourite non-fiction book I read, dealing with the necessity of rest and recovering from unexpected sad times, and acknowledging and accepting them.

Poetry wise, I loved Deep Wheel Orcadia, a sci-fi novel written in verse and in Orkney dialect. It was beautiful and profound, and completely unique. I read a lot of books by Bristol poets as well, with The Nation's Saddest Love Poems by Sam J. Grudgings being sad, tender and only slightly horrific. Faulty Manufacturing by Josie Alford is a brutally honest exploration of her complicated feelings after the death of her father, with end lines that absolutely cut you deep. Finally, Health Hireth by Taran Spalding Jenkins is a pamphlet of lyrical beauty that explores myth, illness and language, with poems written in Kernewek and translated back into English.

I think with all my reading this year the things I've enjoyed the most have been doing something new or different, expanding the possibilities of language and story.

Music

An unintentional side effect of moving to the country was I listened to a lot more new music, as my commute into the office twice a week is the perfect time to stick on an album.

My favourite album of the year was Heavy Heavy by Young Fathers. It's an incredible genre hopping album full of surprises and twists and turns, sometimes rap, sometimes soul, sometimes choral unity. I was lucky enough to see them at Bluedot and it elevated the album for me, as live they are powerful and full of intense amounts of energy.

I also listened a lot to After the Magic, by Paranoul, which is intense in a different way, mixing elements of shoegaze and indie rock together to create a heady sonic mix. The production makes everything clear though and it never gets lost in the muddy sound the way some post rock stuff does. Jeff Rosenstock's album HELLMODE was also a highlight, being pop punk songs about healing and improving.

In quieter moments, I looked to Does Spring Hide It's Joy, a two hour cello drone album by Kali Malone. I found the extended cello notes to be hypnotic and mesmerising. A late entry was King Creosote's I DES, a beautiful folk album about death and grief, with some dancier tracks. It's lush and beautiful.

Other music I enjoyed includes Radical Romantics by Fever Ray, Integrated Tech Solutions by Aesop Rock, Live at Bush Hall by Black Country, New Road[^3] and The Record by boygenuis. It was a really good year for music and I hope to carry on listening with the same intensity. The more I explore new music, the more I find.

Games

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild & The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom- I spent a lot of this year exploring Hyrule. Breath of the Wild is slower and more contemplative, whereas Tears of the Kingdom is more frantic. Both games offer a rich open world to get lost in, full of detail and unique moments. Exploration is rewarded and you always feel like you are forging your own path. I explored almost every nook of Hyrule and enjoyed every moment of it. Truly, both games are stunning works of art.

I also played a fair bit of Fortnite. I'm terrible at it but it's a good social experience.

I also spent quite a lot of time this year planning and running a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign, having wrapped up a heavily modified version of Lost Mines of Phandelver. I'm the DM and its a lot of fun seeing the unexpected ways sessions turn out.

Looking Forward

Inspired by C G P Grey, I like setting themes for the year instead of resolution. Last year my theme was "A fallow year", which spoke to what I wanted to do- slow down, reassess and find joy in things. I think I was mostly sucesssful.

This year, I'd like to build on that but not hermit myself away so much. I have a tendency to avoid the rest of the world, having mostly solitary hobbies like writing poems and swimming. I'd like to strike a balance between resting, working on projects by myself and meeting and engaging with cool people. My theme for this year is therefore simply "connection"- with the moment, with my work, but most of all with others. If you're reading this far and you're a cool artist looking for a collaboration, drop me an email. If you're a friend, lets catch up.

I hope the next year is good for everyone reading this.

[^1]: All praise must go to the team at the BRI, for their care and attention. The NHS is such a precious resource, we must fight to keep it. [^2]: It was also very wet and muddy, but that didn't matter. [^3]: I also saw them at Bluedot, they were also excellent. I love how they have pulled themselves out of the ashes and formed a whole new experience after their lead singer left. Turbine/ Pigs is maybe my favourite song of the year.



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