Keep the ghosts happy

The year keeps passing me surprises. Last week I was celebrating a new job back at my old employer, and I was looking forward to an unexpected week’s holiday before starting, then my father fell at home and went into hospital, and now I’m going to be living with him for a week to (fingers crossed) get him back on his feet. It’s like the universe lined my free week up for this task.

The transition between jobs, and sectors, from consultancy back to higher education, is an opportunity to reflect. I want to light a fire under my writing projects, and while I can’t say consultancy was bad for my writing, because I wasn’t writing before that either, getting that job did prioritise my tech career. Work consumed my attention in ways I didn’t expect. The pace, complexity and cultural differences filled my brain with unprocessed material that I had to diligently chug through during evenings and weekends.

In the strange weeks after handing my notice in, I found myself (once again) casting a net over all my creative interests. Guitar! Piano! German! Cooking! Coding! Reading! Writing! Yoga! I picked up Four Thousand Weeks: Time and How to Use It, by Oliver Burkeman, which I’d read before, and Zen Guitar, by Philip Toshio Sudo, a book that I’ve owned for twenty-five years and never read from cover to cover.

Zen Guitar is slim and conversational, but has a faintly formal tone that suits the subject matter. It applies principles of zen to learning guitar — doing things with the right spirit, from the inside out. Burkeman is funnier, taking apart the modern cult of time management and railing against the endless distractions we take up to avoid the work we want to do. We can imagine infinite possibilities for ourselves, but we have limited time, and we can only walk one path in the unknowable amount of it we have left to live.

Back in 2000, on telling my grandfather I was moving to London for a new job, he told me that he didn’t care what I did, as long as I did it well. I didn’t know then that he was in the final weeks of his life. That advice was sound, and moving coming from him then, but it bothered me, and I didn’t know why. I’ve come to know that doing things well is important, yes, but doing the right thing is more important. He gave me one piece of a two-piece puzzle.

After a rough year (which isn’t over yet), I’m setting myself up to do more of the right things in 2024. And why not try to do them well? It’s getting late. I want to make my ghosts happy.