2021 Winter Solstice Update (belated)
by Matt Marshall on 2021-12-31 | License Permalink
Note: this post is being finished a little later than usual, in January 2022. This is because I had some PhD thesis corrections to make for a January deadline and I wanted a rest after that. I’ve dated it in December 2021 to represent when the bulk of it was written.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere the sun has finished dying and has been resurrected; beginning its slow climb towards its peak. Regardless of your spirituality this means that light and life is going to start returning to the world and this is something I am very much looking forward to right now.
This half a year has been rough. I often think of the period between the Summer Solstice and the Winter Solstice as “death” part of the cycle. Immediately following the peak of summer, things begin to get slowly darker and life retreats. I’ve been quite stressed this half of the year due to a few different things. Firstly; another COVID-19 death, this time my friend, mentor, and surrogate-father, Mick died in August. I won’t say too much here in case I want to write something longer later, but he was incredibly special to me and to a lot of people and he is sorely, sorely missed. To re-visit actively grieving a second time within a year, so soon after my first real experience of grief, was rough to say the least.
We’ve also had to make the decision to sell my flat and move. This is for a few reasons, some bittersweet and some negative. I made the offer on the flat in October 2020 and got the keys in February 2021, the same day as I was told that my dad was admitted to the ICU with COVID. It was fine for a while, but the problems soon started up. I’ll write an in-detail post sometime as well, but the thing that caused the decision was the fact that since November we’ve got new upstairs neighbours who’ve been waging a war against our sleep. The bittersweet reasons are that with the inheritance my dad left us combined with the predicted value-increase of the property, my partner and I could move somewhere out of the city and have a small mortgage on a decent house with space for a dog and perhaps a few human children as well.
Combined with little sleep since November, I was also struck with an illness (not COVID, apparently) which wiped me out for about 10 days. This was a scary time for me as I like my lungs a lot and it felt like they’d be broken forever. I did get my COVID booster jab, but received the Moderna one rather than Pfizer and was very poorly for a day, and had swollen lymphnodes for some time. Like a boob under my armpit. Then I’ve had PhD corrections to deal with, which I left until the last minute because my viva was very aggressive and I’ve had other things on like being ill and not sleeping and having people die.
There have been good things, too. My friend and heart-sister got married. My relationship with my partner, A, has grown in all the right ways and we’re looking forward to continuing to develop our lives together. She’s moved in with me now, and we’re seeking to get a mortgage together soon. We also got a kitten! Her name is Fröyja, pronounced [‘frœyjɑ] and she is delightful. She’s a tinker, and has also been waging a war on our sleep, but she loves to play and loves being around us. She also gets on with dogs and rabbits, which is a big plus for our plans. All-in-all, she’s added way more joy to our lives than fuss so we’re giving her a free pass.
Now that the Winter Solstice has passed, I’ve shed the albatross of my Phd corrections (for now anyway, hopefully forever), and my partner and I are working towards just getting us moved things are looking up.
- 2021-08-04, Mick died from Coronovirus, aged 59
- 2021-08-07, my friend and heart-sister gets married
- 2021-10, I turn 30 years old.
- 2021-11-05, we picked up our kitten Fröyja
- 2021-11-09, we get new noisy upstairs neighbours
- 2021-11-20, we make the decision to sell the flat while walking across Blanchland moor
- 2021-12-09, my partner officially moves into the flat full-time after gradually moving over the period of 6 or 7 months
Nothing too much has changed in the last half year regarding my hobbies except that I’ve gotten deeper into each of these listed. No carving or crafting yet, but I’m not particularly compelled to do anything with that at the moment. I’ve come to the realisation that I think those activities are fun, but I’m not going to break my back to do things that I only have a partial or surface-level interest in. I am feeling the need to make some wooden beads for some loved ones soon, so maybe that’s something I’ll do in the next few months.
While I’ve still not gotten up any mountains yet, I have been walking in the countryside with my partner a lot. This has been deeply pleasing to me. I’ve increased my reading a lot lately, but this will go in the Logs section later.
My Esperanto learning has continued nicely and my ability to use the language is only growing. I hit a 400 day streak on a popular language learning app lately, where my plan there is to finish the course and then continue onto other Esperanto materials.
I attempted to read La Adventuroj de Alicio en Mirlando but my vocab wasn’t quite up to scratch in the summer and I found myself needing to look up a lot of words and getting distracted on my phone. Searching for a physical English-Esperanto dictionary yielded some results which had bad reviews, so I’ve held off. I do often read Libera Folio and r/esperanto which I find much easier. I joined an Esperanto Telegram group and actually won an argument using the language at one point, but the number of “free speech” crypto-fascists in the group put me off and I left. I now lurk in the
##esperanto channel on Libera.chat but my IRC client doesn’t accept my custom compose bindings for Esperanto characters (e.g. ĉ, ĝ, ŝ) so I don’t write in a lot as I don’t like using the x-system. I’ve also turned several apps on my phone and computer into Esperanto mode and have found it really straightforward to navigate settings menus.
I write a decent amount of Esperanto owing to the fact that I both write notes and scenes for short stories, as well as blog in the language. Surprisingly, I’ve found that I really enjoy (and am most productive) when typing short stories into a plaintext app on my phone! I think this is because of the keyboard. In terms of the blogging I have added an entire Esperanto section of this website. I’ve translated all my existing pages into Esperanto and written some posts sharing links (which also forces me to read the language). I’ve written one post purely in Esperanto, Korfratino and I plan to follow this up with some more soon, and some translations. On the note of translations, I’ve been slowly contributing translations to Markor, a markdown text editor for Android, via the community translation platform Crowdin. I also still have a local Esperanto penpal but we now exchange messages much more slowly and sustainably.
I don’t speak or listen to the language much. There are one or two Youtube channels that I get on with, and am comfortably using the Esperanto subtitles while listening without relying on any English. When speaking to myself I can usually summon the vocabulary I need pretty quickly, but this is usually very mundane and I think I’d panic if I was faced with a conversation where I needed to discuss something where I’d only read about the topic. A good example of this is I could read and write the word brakhorloĝo (wrist-watch, literally “arm-time-dwelling”) but if I heard it or needed to summon the word in speech I might struggle initially. This is just a matter of practice, I’ve found. My partner has expressed a mild interest in the language so if she takes it up, we’ll be able to practice together.
I’ve got no set goals for Esperanto in 2022, but I’d be disappointed if I didn’t summon the energy to finish off the course on the popular language learning app. I’m currently only doing one session a day, the bare minimum, until my head clears up a bit. This is working a bit better for retention compared with my previous “blitz tactic” as I’m exposed to the vocabulary for longer. I want to improve my listening, as there are some Esperanto podcasts that I want to try because they seem interesting, but I haven’t been able to follow because my listening is not up to scratch. However, I’m not sure how I should be doing this. I want to read some more Esperanto literature and I have my eye on La Ŝtona Urbo, but want to be sure I can make the most of it. I also want to do some practice exams but do not have plans to take any actual qualifications. In terms of writing, I want to write more dedicated blog posts in the language and also write more coherent prose. My prose, I think, is fine technically but I tend to write snapshots or short scenes rather than full stories. I also want to start journalling in Esperanto to get used to reading and writing the language by hand.
I continue to be interested in languages in general but don’t have plans to take up another language seriously (or at all) for a good while. I want another year or so of Esperanto under my belt before cramming too much into my brain.
I’ve had a mixed few months regarding exercise. I’ve made some adjustments to my strength routine which gave me some gains for a while. However, I feel that it’s still stagnating a little. I really want to do something with this over the next few months. Maybe I’ll pick just a few exercises to try and progress there. In addition to that, I’ve had increasing amounts of shoulder pain in my left shoulder which is really affecting my ability to do Close Pushups. I’ve had the pain for around 18 months now, so I’m going to seek some support for this over the next few months but the UK medical system is way underfunded and gatekept by GPs. My grip training has suffered. All of a sudden it was like I couldn’t keep ahold of the towel and the bar for more than a few seconds. Instead of breaking the habit (which I’ve done a lot in the past), I’ve kept the grip training on the Uneven Hang level but lowered the barrier to entry so that I only need to do one set of 15s each side.
I have had some successes, though. Before my grip imploded, I was up to two sets of 40s per arm on the Uneven Hangs. My reps for things have been generally quite high and are only set back due to weather conditions. Because I train outside in a park, regardless of weather, I am often at the whim of nature. This is good for overall resilience but means I sometimes need to skip bridges if the tarmac is too frozen and slippery. Or if the bars are frozen, I can’t reasonably grip them long enough to do my full set of Hanging Leg Raises. I did switch up my one-legged squat routine to Half-Shrimp Squats which really did the trick. I am struggling to progress these, however, but I think it’ll be easier than what I was doing before. I was also determined to add some kind of vertical pulling motion. The one detailed in Convict Conditioning is impossible to do at the park due to how the bars are set up, but I looked at r/bodyweightfitness’ Recommended Routine and started on Scapular Pulls. I’m not convinced I’m doing these correctly, but I think it’s better than nothing. The Recommended Routine was also where I got the progression for the Half-Shrimp Squats.
Running has been dead fun and generally great. As of writing, I’ve had to skip one or two sessions here and there either due to exhaustion or circumstance. I’ve noticed that if I take a week off of my 10k, everything generally gets a bit stronger. I think that means I might be overtraining slightly. However, running is now at a level I’m comfortable with. I was previously using two sets of podcasts to do timed runs, a 1hr run and a 30min run, which were just short of 10k and a 5k respectively. I’ve adjusted these to just be a 10k and a 5k which means that they take longer on some days but I’m consistently actually running those distances. In the future I may wish to make these a 12k and a 6k but I’m going to hold off on that for a little while. My legs are taking a lot of punishment at the moment with running, squatting, and hiking so I’m aware that I need to boost my recovery or lay off on progressing for a while. Running is at a level I’m happy with. I run an average of 15km a week, and even adjusting for some time off that’s well over 700km per year which is a nice level.
- Mon: Rest
- Tue: Strength Circuit
- Wed: 10k run (~1hr + change)
- Thu: Rest
- Fri: Rest
- Sat: Strength Circuit
- Sun: 5k run (~30 mins + change)
- Close Pushups: 2 x 10 reps
- Half-Shrimp Squats: 2 x 10 reps (each leg)
- Bridges: 2 x 10 reps
- Scapular Pulls: 2 x 5 reps
- Horizontal Pulls: 2 x 10 reps (hip height bar)
- Hanging Leg Raises: 2 x 20 reps (I lower this to 2 x 15 if the bar is too slippery)
- Uneven Hangs (one arm gripping a bar, one gripping a looped towel): 1x 15s
Walking and Exploring
Ever since Patchwork introduced me to walking in the mountains I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and has been, probably, the main thing I’ve missed since the start of the pandemic. This is largely because I don’t drive (yet) and haven’t been able to access the hills, and nor do I have the confidence to navigate them solo.
However, my partner and I both enjoy this a lot so we’ve bought a book of walks in Northumberland to try and complete. These vary between mild coastal strolls to climbing The Cheviot, which is a mountain. But the benefit is that the book provides a guide to accompany the directions. Eventually I’ll graduate to just using a map and compass, but it’s nice to have a plan.
In the future we plan to supplement our Northumberland walking with walks in the Yorkshire Moors. Eventually these may turn into logs.
I’ve continued with my logging practices and found it nice to reflect on various things.
Lots of repeats here. As before, I have used DeDupe List to remove duplicates.
Jethro Tull have become one of my fave goto listens, which is really pleasant. I’ve been switching back in some Blues, Jazz etc as well. Another thing I did this half-year was take suggestions for albums from friends to expand my listening outside of my usual genres. Some nice finds were: Existential Reckoning by Puscifer; Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits; and Lately I Feel Everything by Willow. A random cool find via my Esperanto-delving was “Ombroj” (EN: Shadows) by Kronlarvo, which is probably the only Esperanto Black Metal in existence? Mixed among these are some old faves. I’ve been off albums for a while, though, so may need to take efforts to get back in soon.
- Songs From The Woods by Jethro Tull
- Living In The Past by Jethro Tull
- Paranoid by Black Sabbath
- Minstrel In The Gallery by Jethro Tull
- This Was by Jethro Tull
- Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull
- Singing The Blues by B.B King
- Duke Ellington & John Coltrane by Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
- Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis
- Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac
- Heart Full Of Wine by Angus & Julia Stone
- Star Wars Episode II - Attack Of The Clones by ohn Williams
- Star Wars Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith by John Williams
- Trøllabundin by Eivør Pálsdóttir
- Collision Course by Linkin Park and Jay Z
- Mugzy’s Move by Royal Crown Revue
- Existential Reckoning by Puscifer
- Sultans Of Swing by Dire Straits
- Devil Came To Me by Dover
- I See You by The xx
- Hergest Ridge by Mike Oldfield
- The Mirror Conspiracy by Thievery Corporation
- Cheese by Stromae
- SlipKnot by SlipKnot
- Pastel Blues by Nina Simone
- Reise Reise by Rammstein
- 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Benny Goodman
- I Put A Spell On You by Nina Simone
- Fallen by Evanescence
- Reinkaos by Dissection
- Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park
- Vicious Delicious by Infected Mushroom
- First Take by Roberta Flack
- Hoitovirhe by Turmion Kätilöt
- Aqualung by Jethro Tull
- Diskovibrator by Turmion Kätilöt
- Benefit by Jethro Tull
- Heavy Horses by Jethro Tull
- Lately I Feel Everything by Willow
- Sour by Olivia Rodrigo
- The 1st by Willow
- Ardipithecus by Willow
- After by Ihsahn
- American Idiot by Green Day
- Save Rock and Roll by Fallout Boy
- By The Light Of The Northern Stay by Týr
- Blue Train by John Coltrane
- Portrait In Jazz by The Bill Evans Trio
- Riot by Paramore
- Singing the Blues by B.B King
- Ombroj by Kronlarvo
- Ellington at Newport by Duke Ellington
This half a year has been a big one for books really. I think it’s a common enough phenomenon that one can fall out of the habit of reading, but luckily for me it’s relatively easy to build in again. I’ve since decided that I’m generally a lot happier and more content with my everyday life when reading is a big part of it. I’ve carved time for reading by simply doing it instead of other things I’d normally do e.g. watch TV, YouTube, or play videogames. I’ve also been making use of the time I’ve “gained” from having a kitten and noisy upstairs neighbours to prompt reading time in the morning. If I’m not exercising, I can sometimes get about two hours of quality reading in before work!
Another way that I’ve brought reading into my life is that my partner and I have a new tradition of reading to each other for about an hour before bed in addition to the reading we each do independently. We’re currently going through The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I’ve read them before and I wanted to show them to her. We read the first two then took a break to read through Bloodtide and Bloodsong by Melvin Burgess. These form a duology which is a cool post-apocalyptic interpretation / adaptation of the Old Norse Völsunga saga. I read them as a teen and they’re generally written in such a lovely haunting style that they’ve always stuck with me. We then returned to The Long Earth which we’re currently reading book four (of five), The Long Utopia. We’re not sure what we’ll do after that, but I’m sure we’ll find something as it’s a habit we’re keen to keep up.
In terms of reading content, I’ve worked out a rhythm that I’m pretty happy with. After I finally made it through Wizard and Glass by Stephen King (I honestly don’t know what took so long, the book is great but I just couldn’t focus on it) I switched to consume an old favourite in the Star Wars Extended Universe books. I’m a fan of the EU canon and haven’t really gotten into the new Disney-era canon. This flicked me into “Star Wars mode” and I rattled through some EU books that I’d been meaning to read for a while. My fave era is the Clone Wars / Rise of the Empire era. I was a little disappointed by “Revan”, as I loved Drew Karpyshyn’s take on Darth Bane. But the novel just felt like it existed to push a video game. I also put down and refused to finish the novelisation of Force Unleashed as it was… pretty awful really. I dug into reviews of that author’s other contributions to the Star Wars EU and, based on these, I’ve made a note to avoid them. I thoroughly enjoyed Kenobi as a Western-but-Star-Wars. I then started to tackle The Thrawn Trilogy which I’ve heard is spectacular and kicked off the entire EU in the first place. They were delightful, but by the end of book 2 I was starting to feel a bit of genre-fatigue and I decided to switch it up. I didn’t have a solid reading plan so my default go-to is generally something from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, which are always a treat.
Still without a plan, I discovered that the Gor novels exist, by “John Norman”. I can’t quite remember how I discovered them but heard that they were lambasted for clunky prose, male wish-fulfillment, and that women existed in the novels purely to… serve… the men. I couldn’t believe that something could be this trashy so I obviously dove straight into The Tarnsman of Gor. It was exactly as bad as everyone had said and I instantly removed the following two books from my e-reader. There’s a lot of books in total and I hear they get even worse. The book did, though, awaken my appetite for Epic Fantasy and I had fond memories of reading Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson in 2019. Knowing that he has the whole “Cosmere” thing going on, I decided to plan an attack to start reading the books set in the Cosmere; realising that I needed to do it in spurts if I was to account for genre fatigue. I devoured the first Mistborn trilogy, then swiftly consumed both Elantris and Warbreaker and consciously took a break from the genre to keep my reading momentum up. I took the opportunity to finish off Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, which I was partway through when my father passed in February, then still felt the call of Epic Fantasy so delved back into an old favourite: The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett. The first three books were as brilliant as I remember, but the final two felt a little clunky and padded. I really could have done with a family tree chart for Ahmann at one point! I’m obviously not capable of producing high quality, publishable work in the genre but my take as a reader is that the final two books, The Skull Throne and The Core could’ve arguably been condensed one slightly epic series-ending book. After finishing up those I returned to Becky Chambers and then felt the hankering for some shorter stories to keep my appetite whetted while I decided what to read next. In comes Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman and Night Shift by Stephen King. I interspersed these with a classic Sherlock Holmes book that I’d never read before (I read this in a few hours on NYE laying on my partner’s mum’s sofa) and finished off the final book in the Thrawn Trilogy as it was rattling around my brain as an unfinished task.
Emerging from this I’ve felt the urge to return to Epic Fantasy but don’t quite feel up to an assault on Phase 2 of the Cosmere. I’ve also been craving some of Iain M. Banks' The Culture lately, so delved into The State of the Art to test the waters before committing to a full length novel. Then my desire to read, and finally finish, The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons took over. I’ve previously read the first two novels and adored them, but I gave up during the start of the third. As of writing (mid January 2022) I’ve finished Hyperion and am commencing The Fall of Hyperion momentarily. I’ll take a quick break to predict and counteract genre-fatigue, then return to start the Endymion portion of the Cantos. At some point in 2022 I want to return to The Dark Tower, but I’ve developed a new love for Stephen King and I’ve heard that I’d appreciate the next few novels even more if I’d read some of his other work. So I plan to hit up a few “Start reading Stephen King” listicles to come up with a battle plan there.
I will at some point want to read some nonfiction, but right now my brain is in the mood for fiction. I think I’ll track nonfiction books separately going forward.
- Wizard and Glass by Stephen King
- Star Wars: The Approaching Storm by Alan Dean Foster
- Star Wars: Rogue Planet by Greg Bear
- Star Wars: Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn
- Star Wars: Mist Encounter (short story) by Timothy Zahn
- Star Wars: Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
- Star Wars: Revan by Drew Karpyshyn
- Star Wars: Heir To The Empire by Timothy Zahn
- The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
- A Concise Encyclopedia Of The Original Esperanto Literature by Geoffrey Sutton
- Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn
- Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
- The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
- The Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman
- Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
- Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
- Bloodtide by Melvin Burgess
- Mistborn: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
- Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
- Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
- Bloodsong by Melvin Burgess
- Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
- The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett
- The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
- The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett
- The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
- The Core by Peter V. Brett
- The Galaxy and The Ground Within by Becky Chambers
- Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
- A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
- Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn
- The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
- Night Shift by Stephen King
- The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks
- Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Total books read since last Solstice: 34
Currently reading: The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons (solo) and The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (with my partner)
Movies! I love a good movie. I also love bad movies. Most of these I’ve been watching with my partner, as I’ve realised I prefer to consume TV and movies socially rather than binging them alone. This said, I did watch a few nice movie across some solo Friday nights. Free Guy was surprisingly OK! Almost class conscious and definitely critical of corps so that’s good. My partner enjoyed the end of our Star Wars run, which I continued myself with the additional movies Rogue One and Solo.
There’s not much to tell really here, we’ve not watched anything particularly impactful or dramatic or in a particular genre. We’ve just enjoyed movies. Oh, other than The Mummy is one of the greatest action adventure movies ever. It has everything and I could watch it every day and be happy.
- Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith
- Cats and Dogs
- Star Wars Episode VI Return Of The Jedi
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Solo: A Star Wars Story
- Kevin and Perry Go Large
- Slums of Beverly Hills
- Ocean’s Eleven
- When Harry Met Sally
- A Simple Wish
- Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny
- I Am Mother
- The Mummy
- The Mummy Returns
- Free Guy
- Don’t Look Up
- The Terminal
- School of Rock
Total movies watched: 22
I mostly forgot to log these in the second half of 2021! I know for a fact that I hit my goal of having fewer than 8 takeaways throughout the year. But there were maybe two more nudo sushi (our favourite) that we didn’t log immediately and I forgot the date of. I may search my bank records and amend the logs!
In 2022, we’ve decided to aim for no more than 6 takeaways which leaves it as one every two months at an even cadence. I think this is a decently healthy level. As before, we’re not allowed any sad/angry takeaways and it must be a social event (there was one exception to this last bit at the beginning of 2022 to celebrate my thesis correction).
- 2021-08-27: Moji Chinese for Jack’s birthday
- 2021-09-03: Nudo Sushi with Alex for fun and comfort
- 2021-12-20: Lucky House Chinese with Alex for Solstice Eve fun and energy after mega hikes