Goodbye, my Sweetie

My lovely Sweetie died overnight.

It feels like we had far too short a time together – 8 years.  She was loved and loving, and will be so missed.

My new cat
My new cat
Advertisements

Part of the Journey is the End: An Avengers Endgame Character Discussion

Spoiler Warning

It’s difficult to state just how much of an event Avengers Endgame ended up being in my own personal life.  I’ve lived with these characters for over ten years. I’ve watched the movies.  I’ve ended up getting into the comic mythology because of it.  I’m invested as a fan in way that I am with only a very few TV shows and series novels.

Was the wait worth it?

Yes.

Yes, three thousand times.

Needless to say there is a lot to say about the quality of the acting (incredible), the cinematography and direction (very nicely done), the costumes and sets (very well designed), the effects (very well done for the most part), and the story itself (brilliantly written).  It deserves all the applause.

There is so much I want to talk about but as I’m all about the characters, I’m going to discuss each of the original six and their key narrative relationships in turn, and then talk about others.

“I am Iron Man” – Tony

Tony’s narrative arc comes to an end as he sacrifices his life to save everyone when he takes the stones and snaps Thanos and his evil horde out of existence.  It feels so very wrong to lose Iron Man and yet so very right that this is the way Tony’s story ends.

Tony’s evolution as a character from a somewhat feckless and purposeless if charismatic and genius billionaire to a man who had purpose and direction by being and embodying Iron Man, a hero.  He goes from his original movie where Yinsen states that he is the man with everything and yet nothing because he has no family, to being the man who literally has everything because he has that family – a wife and daughter (mirroring Yinsen himself who also had a wife and daughter).  In Iron Man, it is Yinsen’s sacrifice which gives Tony his second chance, and here Tony sacrifices himself.  It’s a satisfying arc for the character even if it means the MCU loses Iron Man.

Tony & His Father – Tony as a Dad

Tony’s main personal demon throughout Iron Man and the Avenger films to some degree is the shadow of his father and the memory of his own flawed and difficult relationship with the man.  In Endgame, he gets to connect with his father and make peace with him; they talk about fatherhood; he hugs his father and thanks him.  Tony begins the MCU feeling that his father never loved him and ends knowing just how much his father loved him in truth.  It’s a wonderful moment.

It’s complimented by Tony becoming a father himself; not only to his own daughter who he clearly adores and who has him wrapped around her finger, but also to Peter, who just as he hugged his father, he similarly hugs Peter in the middle of the battle.  Tony knows how important it is to let his ‘kids’ know that he cares about them.

Tony & Pepper

Tony and Pepper’s relationship has had its ups and downs in the MCU.  While the ‘downs’ were primarily due to practicalities of involving Paltrow beyond the original Iron Man movies themselves in reality, they also provide a richer struggle for the couple to end up truly happy together.  There’s a great moment where Pepper simply reflects that trying to stop Tony [being Iron Man, being who he is] is one of her few failures in life.  Clearly her acceptance of Tony as Tony is the reason why they’ve managed to make it as a couple despite everything.

In Endgame, their happy ending is established.  Tony got home from space and Pepper survived the snap; they got lucky, got married and have a beautiful daughter.  It makes Tony’s death even more poignant; he’s sacrificed himself despite having everything to live for.  The moment between them at the end is so heartbreakingly real; she tells him he can rest.  It’s powerful in its simplicity.

Tony & His Friends

By contrast to the richness of the other relationships, Tony’s relationship with his long-time male friends doesn’t really get too touched upon.  At the beginning, Rhodey is there trying to keep Tony from melting-down with Cap (and once again failing), and at the end he is there to say a silent goodbye; otherwise the two of them really don’t get a lot of screen time.

Tony gets no time with Happy on screen, but there is a great throwback moment to Iron Man and cheeseburgers between Happy and Morgan at the funeral.  It’s enough to acknowledge the relationship between the two men, Happy’s grief at the loss of Tony, despite the lack of any other mention.

Tony, Steve & the other Avengers

Really, there is little interaction outside of the initial request for him to help and then the plotting of the missions and actions with the other Avengers.

I think there will be some who will feel short-changed by the lack of Bruce and Tony.  Personally, whereas I do feel the lack of any Steve and Bucky, I didn’t miss Tony and Bruce too much – there were really nice scenes between the two of them at the beginning of Infinity War which kind of offset the lack in Endgame.  And while we really didn’t get a one-on-one Bruce and Tony science-ing scene which was a shame, there were a couple of comments/exchanges in the wider team scenes around the missions and getting the gauntlet together.

The only Avenger Tony really gets time with is Steve.  From Tony’s meltdown at the beginning, his furious accusing shout of “Liar” to Steve is an underscoring of just how wrong things are between them still after the events of Civil War, after the Avengers have not trusted Tony and have failed to be prepared for what he warned them was coming.

His making peace with Cap to do the time heist and returning the shield mends the bridge between them, and this is further cemented when they travel back to 1970 together – explicitly because Tony asks Steve if he trusts him and Steve replies that he does.  In the end they fight beside each other, together.  There is closure to their falling-out by coming back together.

“I keep telling all these people to move on; some do, but not us” – Steve

Steve’s narrative arc has always been that he cannot move on.  Initially he cannot move on from trying to fight for his country; this is the entire arc of the first film, Steve’s inability to give up needing to fight to save his country.

Once he gets to the future, in the Captain America films, his focus becomes his inability to move on in respect of Bucky and Peggy, and more widely, it’s his inability to move on in the future and embrace a life outside the soldier, outside the fight.  Steve holds onto the past because he does not want the future in front of him, he doesn’t want to take the baby steps to making something else as he counsels others to do.

In Endgame, Steve’s determination has its place in getting the missions in play, in completing the missions, in continuing to fight against Thanos even when it would seem all hope is lost.  But the satisfying conclusion for Steve is the end of the film when, having taken the mission to get the stones back to their rightful places in the timeline, he stays in his past and gets to have the life he wanted with the love of his life, Peggy Carter.  He gets his happy ending.

In many ways, this is a satisfying ending for Steve Rogers, underscored by the fact that it is not the end of Captain America, as he hands off the shield to Sam.

Steve & Sam

I think the reasoning behind giving Sam the shield rather than may be slightly socio-political in the current climate.  Having said that, it does give Sam and Steve a lovely friendship moment which builds on the others they share in this movie.  Sam and Steve get to say a goodbye here, to recognise their relationship and Steve has valued it, has valued Sam as another good man.

It’s interesting to me though that given so much of the MCU has focused on Steve’s other relationships with Peggy and Bucky, that Sam is given prominence here in Endgame.  It’s not that Sam hasn’t been a stalwart friend and advocate for Steve throughout their MCU history, but Sam’s importance has always felt like Sam was occupying third on the list of important people in Steve’s life – maybe even fourth if we factor in Steve’s friendship with Natasha.

Not only does Sam get the shield, but Sam is also the person who tells Steve he isn’t alone and utters “on your left” as the call-back to their first meeting as the rest of the heroes arrive to stand beside Steve in the fight against Thanos.  In some ways I get it; Sam was the first person Steve connected to in the future, and here just as Steve thinks he’s on his own again, alone again, Sam appears.  Sam also offers to go with Steve on the stones mission and gets upset when Steve doesn’t reappear, underscoring their friendship and how much Sam wants to be there for Steve.

Sam is Steve’s tether to the present and future so it’s just a very interesting choice given how Steve’s arc ends up, and also because up to now the focus has always been on Steve’s relationship with Bucky.

Steve & Bucky

If there is one relationship and friendship which I do think gets completely short-changed in Endgame, it’s Steve & Bucky.

They really only share one scene at the end when they say goodbye which is a great call-back to their goodbye when Bucky went to war, and yes, Steve uses Bucky being alive to totally win his fight with his younger self – but that’s it.

Personally, I’m on the team that says narratively it was played that Bucky knew what Steve was going to end up doing.  There’s a finality about their goodbye; a calmness in Bucky as Steve disappears and doesn’t reappear; as he spots the man on the bench and tells Sam to go ahead.

It just doesn’t feel enough given how much time the MCU has spent focusing on their friendship, on how important that relationship is to Steve, and given their usual ‘to the end of the line’ spiel.

Steve, Natasha & the other Avengers

We’ve talked about Steve and Tony, and just as with Tony and the other Avengers, really, there is little interaction with Steve and the other Avengers – except for Natasha.  Well, there’s also the fact that Steve wields Mjolnir and Thor gets to be happy about it so long as Steve sticks to the small hammer but beside that – only Natasha.

Steve gets a great scene with Natasha as they both contemplate the fact that they can’t move on.  There is the sense that they do provide friendship and support to each other during the years which pass since the snap – unsurprising as Natasha’s best friend has gone full-on vigilante and Steve’s close male friends are both snapped away.  Steve’s devastation and tears as the male Avengers all realise Natasha is gone feels heartfelt.

“Last five years I’ve been trying to do everything to get to here” – Natasha

I’m going to talk about Natasha next because despite not having her own films (yet), the character has played a major role in the MCU in three of the original franchises (Iron Man, Captain America and the Avengers).  Plus given her story arc in Endgame she very much deserves to get discussed sooner rather than later.

Natasha’s character arc began long before her introduction in the narrative of the MCU films.  Her history as an assassin, a Black Widow, and being saved and given a second chance by Clint is highlighted in the first Avengers film.  Her motivation in trying to atone for her past wrongs through working as part of SHIELD is underscored in the Winter Soldier.  Black Widow is constantly striving to balance her ledger; to save more than she killed.

In addition, she longs for a family.  She believes she found it with the Avengers, with Clint and his family, and so is personally devastated by the snap.  This is clear at the beginning of Endgame; Natasha has been as unable to move on as Steve, she is emotionally distraught at what has become of Clint, she wants desperately to bring all of her family back.

Natasha’s character arc in both respects of these motivations is concluded within Endgame; she sacrifices herself so they can get the soul stone and have the opportunity to save everybody else, and she does this not just to stop Clint from making the sacrifice but because she feels it should be her.  It is a satisfying and poignant conclusion for her as a character in this moment.

Natasha & Clint

The bond between them has been in play in the MCU since the first Avengers film.  They have personal history together which transcends the Avengers bond.  He saved her.  They worked as partners through some difficult times (Budapest), and they love each other.  She wears an arrow necklace; she returns from her mission to save him in Avengers; she’s Aunty Nat to Clint’s kids.

So, Clint losing his family has also deeply affected Natasha; she’s also lost people she loved.  And she loses Clint to the Dark Side for a while which tells on her emotionally.  When she catches up with him, she gives him hope and brings him home, and he lets her.

Their bond is so absolutely re-established in that moment that it is therefore absolutely heart-breaking to realise that they have gone to get the soul stone and that one of them will not come home from that.  That they both fight to save the other…it is tremendously moving.  When Natasha finally tells Clint it’s OK, as she falls to her death, Clint’s profound pain in losing her is so evident and so telling.  He is so devastated to return without her.

Natasha, Bruce and the other Avengers

I disagree that Natasha’s death is ignored; that the attention all goes to Tony in the end.  There is a significant pause when the others return from getting the stones.  They acknowledge her absence immediately on the time platform and they spend time at the waterside talking about Natasha, underscoring that they have lost her and she can’t be brought back.  They are grieving; in denial, at a loss, angry…they acknowledge her sacrifice.

It’s Bruce in that scene who focuses them on ensuring her sacrifice is not wasted, to continue their mission and take the opportunity she has given them.  It was nice to see that their maybe romance has a couple of nods to it throughout the film; there is a sense that they never did anything, that they missed their opportunity, but that they cared for each other; subtle nods and interactions in the early scenes, Bruce’s anger at her loss, the way he says he tried to bring her back but couldn’t.  It’s a nice touch.

“It’s like I was made to do this” – Bruce

Professor Hulk ends Bruce’s arc throughout this phase of the MCU.  He has gone from treating the Hulk as the outcome of a horrendous accident to acknowledging Hulk could have a place as a hero, to dissociating completely and wanting nothing to do with being a hero or each part with each other, with Banner having to step in when Hulk refuses, to finally coming to terms and combining the best of them.

My niggle with Bruce is that all of the redemptive becoming Professor Hulk is done off-screen.  We see the result, and we see the catalyst of Bruce’s motivation for taking this step in respect of the events in Infinity War, but we don’t see the merging and…we lose something narratively by not seeing the whole journey I feel.

That said, Professor Hulk is a great denouement for Bruce and the Hulk; they’re working together as one to save the day.  It is only them who can wear the gauntlet without dying and bring everyone back.  They get to be the hero because of both brawn and brains, because they need both (the strength to wear the gauntlet) and the intelligence (to think about what to bring back and when) in order to make it work.

It’s a good arc for Bruce and the Hulk; a good heroic moment to end this part of their story in the MCU while leaving Bruce and the Hulk in play for future stories if required.

Bruce, Thor and the other Avengers

I’ve spoken about Tony and Natasha, and really the only other Avenger to comment upon in respect of Bruce is Thor.

There is a lovely scene with Thor in Endgame which acknowledges how Thor was there for Bruce, how he helped bolster Bruce in Ragnarok.  However, given the comment from Valkyrie and Bruce’s surprise at Thor’s condition, there isn’t the impression that the two have continued a friendship outside of that adventure which is a bit of a shame.  In fact, that the writers and directors chose to go that way I think narratively leaves a little bit of a bittersweet taste about Ragnarok in hindsight.

“I’m still worthy” – Thor

Thor probably has the most interesting sub-arc in Endgame alongside his wider arc through the MCU.  Since his first film Thor has been on a redemptive journey to become the King that Asgard deserves and not just an arrogant Prince playing at being King.  Or at least that was supposed to be the narrative.  Essentially however that narrative arc was completed in the Thor movies themselves; Thor becomes King, he steps up and takes responsibility for his people, embraces the full strength of his powers.

Yet Infinity War and Endgame set that narrative arc on its head; what if Thor was never meant to become King at all?

In Infinity War, Thor reverts in his vengeance at losing the last of his family in Loki and some of the other Asgardians to his former arrogance; he makes a decision when attacking Thanos by not going for the head which dooms half of the universe.  This sets up Thor’s sub-arc in Endgame.

At the beginning of Endgame he takes Thanos’ head but it’s too late to help anything, and killing Thanos ultimately makes no difference.  Thor’s immense guilt at his failure impacts his ability to be a King for his people.  He sinks into a deep depression.  He seeks solace in booze and comfort eating.  His mental and physical health is in a shambolic state. He does not act like a King but like a wastrel.  He’s only reluctantly removed from his ennui and it is only when he gets to speak to his mother that he begins to come to terms with his failure and to rebuild his mental health.  The moment he is able to call Mjolnir and realise he is still worthy cements this beginning.  But it is only a beginning, his desperation to help make things right with the gauntlet just before the fight indicates that all is still not well.  However, Thor does step up and fight, and by the end of the movie, as Thor relinquishes his crown to Valkyrie and heads out to find himself, his sub-arc completes in a good way: he needs to find out who he really is not who he has been told to be all his life.

It definitely leaves Thor in play for further movies and leaves his story open-ended in a way which feels realistic given the struggles Thor has faced during the course of Endgame.

Thor and his mother

The Dark World did have a lovely scene between Thor and his mother, and here again there is a lovely scene between them again.  It’s a nice contrast to Tony seeing his father where Tony can’t tell his father who he really is, and Tony actually gets to reassure his father about fatherhood.  Here Thor immediately confirms to his mother he is from the future, and the focus is on Frigga providing Thor with the comfort he needs.  It’s a scene which anyone who has lost a mother will acknowledge is always a secret wish; to be able at your lowest go back and have a hug with your mother?  Truly priceless.

Thor and Loki

Doesn’t get touched upon very much which given its prominence in Infinity War makes sense.  But there are a couple of nice moments back in the past; when past Thor gags Loki and past Thor’s reaction to Loki disappearing is immensely good fun.

Thor and the Guardians

Thor and his Rabbit – the fact that the mission to Asgard pairs Thor and Rocket again following the previous film’s adventure to get Stormbreaker, is a nice touch.  It’s interesting too that Thor is too mentally broken up to acknowledge Rocket’s pain and want to put his family back together, and yet Rocket seems to forgive this as Thor joins the Guardians in the end.

It’s also funny in retrospect to realise that the Guardians played up Thor’s physical prowess against Quill in Infinity War but it is Thor here who has physically declined in comparison.  The group do make for a raft of potential hilarity so it will be interesting to see whether Thor stays with the Guardians or whether the third Guardians film will have Thor having left them somewhere along the line.

Thor and the other Avengers

It’s clear that Thor has not spent time with any of the other Avengers in the five years between killing Thanos and the time heist.  His interactions with the others are mostly framed around his physical and mental decline and the plotting of the missions.

“You know what I’ve become” – Clint

Clint is another character who gets a whole sub-arc within the wider frame of his narrative across the MCU and as with Thor, Clint loses it in the face of losing his family.

The wider narrative has always stressed the normality and humanity of Clint compared to the others (something commented on strongly in Age of Ultron in particular); he has a family, a farm, and his skills are based in making the most of his own human gifts.  He keeps trying to retire to his normal life, only to keep getting pulled back due to his sense of duty.  And the wider narrative continues this theme with Endgame as in the end Clint is once again reunited with his family.  If Thor and Clint provide a contrast to each other, Clint has always known who he is and where he wants to be – with his family.

The sub-arc is Clint’s breakdown because he no longer has a place, whereas Thor’s is because he does not feel he belongs in the place he’s supposed to be.  Equally, again in contrast, Clint has responded by becoming the pinnacle of himself physically and proactively going on a killing spree of bad guys rather than sinking into depression which breaks him down physically as well as mentally. Clint in this movie is incredibly skilled, competent and deadly; he’s just not mentally and emotionally in a good place.

Clint in this sub-arc has to come to terms with what he has done, what he has become, and Natasha’s refusal to let him sacrifice himself goes a long way to underscoring that he has worth despite what he has done since the snap; he still deserves his second chance and his family, and moreover because Natasha has sacrificed herself to give him it, he needs to live up to that.  I like the sub-arc a lot and think they could have done even more with it.

Narratively I think Clint’s overall arc is probably the one that works least for me.  That he is reunited with his family is a solid happy ending for him, even in the context that he lost Natasha to make it happen, so that is satisfying on one level.  But, this idea that Clint is happy being normal and on his farm with his family…no matter how much they show that, the fact that he left his family to go help Cap and at times in that film seemed to indicate he was happy to get away from the normality of his family and back to the fight…that blip of Civil War provides doubt and while the flaw is probably in how Clint was handled in Civil War not in Endgame, it does leave me with a question of how happy is Clint’s ending really.

Clint and Wanda

I did enjoy the scene at Tony’s funeral with Wanda and Clint where they spoke about Natasha.  There is a nice symmetry; Clint once gave Natasha a chance, and he ended up giving Wanda a similar chance.  It also gave them an opportunity to mourn their losses together and underscore that they have a friendship beyond the team.

Clint and the other Avengers

Really the focus was on Clint and Natasha so he doesn’t really get the opportunity to interact much with the others except either in mission or post-mission mode – although the Nastasha is really gone scene was a good moment between all of the original five.

What I did love was that Clint ended up with the gauntlet and it was him who handed the gauntlet to Black Panther.

And I just have to shout for one moment about this: the original Avengers literally pass the gauntlet to the newer Avengers.  It’s a symbolic moment which can be widely overlooked in the pass-the-parcel which happens with the gauntlet, but which I loved.

I love how Clint gave it to Black Panther who took it and he handed it off to Spiderman (assisted by Pepper, then by Valkyrie), before it gets handed off to Captain Marvel.

Yes, it ended up back with Thanos, and the original three had to tussle with him again for it before Strange signalled to Tony that it was time…that this was the one-in-fourteen-millionth chance, but that sequence…

Narrative Moments for Other Characters

Nebula

Had the best other arc of the other characters.  I loved the narrative of her finding friendship with Tony, caring for him on the way back to Earth, seeing Thanos killed and working with Rocket in the five year gap.  I loved how she managed to turn Gamora (even if she was somewhat willing) to her side and in the end killed her younger self who was still too scared and too abused by Thanos to break free of him and the need to earn his approval.  I loved how she and Gamora were sisterly to each other and at the end she’s part of the Guardians.  Her redemptive arc throughout the MCU has been great.

Thanos

A great villain in both timelines.  He was smart and brutal; competent in his evil plan both times.  He ended up narratively dead in both and that felt right; when Thanos killed half the universe, he was executed by Thor for his crime, and when Thanos invaded Earth and was a direct threat, Tony outsmarted him and dusted him.

I did enjoy seeing Thanos without the stones and just as the invader of planets.  He was a threat at all times to the Avengers, and to his daughters, even without the stones and that was great.

Gamora

Back from the dead from 2014 but not interested in Quill and she’s disappeared from view at the end – did she get dusted or is she on the run (and if so how did she get off Earth?).  It will be interesting to see whether GOG3 deals with 2014 Gamora or the Gamora stuck in the soul world.

Rocket

Really solid character moments; he was more than comic relief.  He knew how to handle Thor; didn’t hold Thor running off against him; did what he needed to do and got out of Asgard showing his competence as a thief.  And he was reunited with his family in the end; a good happy ending for him.

Scott Lang: Antman

Really great narrative arc for Antman; he wanted to get Hope back.  He worked out the idea and came to the Avengers for help.  There are a lot of funny moments with Scott, but I love his reunion with Cassie at the beginning and I love how he is focused on the time heist and getting everyone back; he gets to be the hero here in a big way (no pun intended).

Rhodey: War Machine

Solid supporting act.  Nice moment with Nebula on the planet.  I liked his last moment with Tony.  But overall Rhodey is being the pillar of the Avengers; he’s out there working, he is a solid team member in all the missions; he has no personal narrative arc beyond that but he is solid.

Carol Danvers: (Captain Marvel)

Solid supporting act.  I liked her interaction at the beginning with the Avengers where she brought a new energy to get them refocused to go back after Thanos in space.  I also liked how she came in and killed the space ship, but ultimately didn’t get to beat Thanos thanks to Thanos being very, very smart.

Wanda Maximoff: Scarlet Witch

Really nice moment where she took on Thanos because of losing Vision, Ultron, her brother – and he had to get his space ship to fire on her to stop her from defeating him.  Also as already mentioned, there was a lovely scene with Clint at the end.

Stephen Strange: Sorcerer Supreme

Great moment for Strange with Tony where he acknowledges that there is just this one chance.  It will be interesting given the comments the Ancient One made to Bruce about how good Strange can get.

Peter Parker: Spiderman

Great moments for Peter with Tony which should have impact into Peter’s own narrative arc.

Sam Wilson: Falcon

Moving from supporting character to Captain America character with the handing over of the shield.

Valkyrie

Moving from supporting character to Queen of Asgard.

All other characters including Black Panther, Bucky, Wong, Wasp

Got maybe a nice moment but didn’t really stand out in any way narratively.

In Summary

Narratively, they’ve covered a lot of ground.  The actual plot of revisiting the past was a fantastic nostalgic way of referencing and acknowledging the history of the MCU.  But the way they’ve tried to give each original character from the original Avengers some kind of closure (death – Tony & Natasha, happy ending – Steve & Clint) or to reset their arc in some way (finding new purpose, becoming a new person – Thor & Hulk) has been great.

Endgame is an astonishing piece of cinematic history for many, many reasons; the strength of its story and the character journeys is definitely one of those reasons for me.

2018 in review and 2019 plan

Time for my annual review of the previous year and a look ahead for 2019.  I made some changes in my goals in 2018 around the end of August so I am focusing on reviewing those rather than the ones I started off the year with.

Health matters: Know your superpowers and focus on feeling good

So I began September feeling very confident about this goal.  I had taken stock of my health, acknowledged some issues, reminded myself that I needed to focus on using the techniques to manage my conditions better, came off my medications, set up some physical therapy, had good body maintenance, and then…work went kabloo-ey.  And by kabloo-ey I mean I agreed to take on something I should not have, worked all hours to make sure it happened on schedule, and in the middle of everything my boss decided it was time to retire; I ended up off sick for three weeks.

Needless to say, the end of the year was not a successful outcome for this goal.  My health is still a little shaky – a lot of physical pain, I’ve put some weight back on and I’m stressed.  The problem is I say my health comes first but it doesn’t.  That has to stop.

Although, weirdly I have just noticed in my 50 plan (the plan mapping out the next five years to my turning the big 50), my first strategy for the future is financial not health.  Clearly, that’s more of an indication of my thinking because I always place financial security (which doing my job well is a factor) ahead of anything else.  Security is my priority.

Hmmm.  I definitely need to think about this differently in that context.  After all I won’t have security if my health becomes so bad I can’t work at all…OK.  So health is part of my security.  I need to start thinking that.

Overall though the strategies of making myself feel good about myself through better diet, weight management, and body maintenance; using my techniques to rest, get better sleep, control my pain and renew my energy levels are valid.  I just need to commit to them as a lifestyle choice and stop allowing myself to backslide when other parts of my life become challenging.

So…renewed effort in 2019: Know my weapons and feel good.

Money makes the world go round

Financial security is important and I do need to think about how my work plays into things.

As mentioned above things changed at the end of the year work-wise with my boss retiring, a new interim Director being appointed but then a line change into Planning.

It’s been frustrating.  And stressful.

I need to lead and manage my team through the change while dealing with the irritations and frustrations of the change myself.  I need to look seriously at how I’m going to manage myself through this and what I want from my own role and job over the next 12-18 months.  Whether my plan to stay at the University for the next 5 years is viable – not only professionally in what I enjoy doing, but also personally in respect of my health.

Essentially I’ve also realised in the last three months that I hate sticking to a budget.  Which I need to change if I’m going to complete the goal to be mortgage free by the time I am 50.  But then, I want to enjoy life and enjoy time with friends and family so I don’t want to give up on that.

A couple of things in 2019: establish a short and medium term plan for financial sustainability to enable me to do what I want to do, and secondly, be sensible about my money without being a Scrooge.  The overall strategy for recognising money makes the world go round doesn’t change.

Family and friends who matter; be the best I can be

I have prioritised family in the last month with Dad home and it being the holidays.  Prior to that I had to cancel a couple of friend engagements and with my health a little screwy it is time with family and friends which suffers.

Still, I’m not unhappy with the year of 2018 overall with this.  I think I have made more of an effort; have achieved time with friends and family as much as I have been able to do so.

This continues to be a focus for 2019 and again the fundamental strategies of spending time with the people who matter and doing the best I can in respect of my health both still apply.

Choice not chore

I really do like the University but as mentioned above, I need to ensure my professional life there is a choice and not a chore and to ensure I look forward to coming into work.

My long term plan of getting the doctorate, etc. fell to the wayside in the face of increased work pressure and worsening health – something had to give.  I deferred my Masters in Psychology.  In retrospect, I’m not sure this is where I want my career to go – I want the doctorate for vanity more than a career in truth.

I do need to think about improving my professional choices in the first quarter of the year – and consider my enjoyment is as important as the security that I put first in everything.

Writing did not happen in the last few months and it was sporadic before that.  I need to make time for this and find my groove again.

2019 is therefore going to focus on choice not chore and work to live as my core mantras here.

Overall, I think 2018 was successful: I did a good job at work, I spent time with friends and family, I did get my finances organised and I have thought about the next five years.  My health is the wobbly factor and sinking sand foundation though and I need to really focus and prioritise on getting this sorted – understanding what that means for every other part of my life.

I’m going to look forward to 2019 now and make the changes I need to make. Happy New Year.

September Update

Half-way through September and so another update.  I did a lot of thinking at the end of August about the future so some changes!

Health matters: Know your superpowers and focus on feeling good

This replaces the previous goal to manage my health.  There are two main themes: knowing the weapons I have to fight the battle against my chronic illnesses, and doing what makes me look and feel good.

In many respects, this is a simplification of everything which was in the previous goal.  I’m still doing many of the things, just thinking about it in a different way.

Firstly, I am acknowledging that my illness needs managing.  I’ve brought myself off the medication which means I have to find other ways to manage the pain, the energy issues and the emotional swings I have without the medication.  I’m investing in massage therapy, reintroducing proper ‘rest’ time and looking at mindfulness and meditation as a way to balance my emotional landscape.

Secondly, I am focused on good weight management, taking care of my personal hygiene and appearance, mental health, and getting the proper amount of nutrition and rest.  That said, I’m giving myself permission not to focus on exercise.  It causes pain and I don’t enjoy it.

Overall, it’s still difficult but I’m committed to making this work because this enables everything this.

Money makes the world go round

This is the second enabler because without money we don’t get very far.  Essentially, there are two very specific goals with the aim overall of having a good lifestyle – one which allows me to be comfortable, not to have to worry, and able to do what I want.

The first goal is to get mortgage and debt free by the time I’m fifty.  I want to free up that part of my earnings.  The second goal is then related to that which is to invest in my pension.  I want to ensure my old age has options.  So, there’s that.

There are two immediate outcomes of both of these decisions.  Firstly, I’m not moving anywhere.  It’s sensible to stay at the house, pay off the mortgage and then downsize, moving somewhere I can pay off straight away.  Secondly, I need stable employment so I’m intending to stay as long as I can at the University.  I like it there, I like the people.  I just need to ensure I factor in a good work/life balance so I don’t start to resent it.

Family and friends who matter; be the best I can be

This is the first outcome from the enablers: I want to be healthy and wealthy enough to spend time with the people I love.

This replaces the goal of spending time with friends and family.  My aim here rather is to focus efforts on spending the time on the people who matter the most to me in small ways too and always ensuring that what I’m doing is also the best I can do given my own issues.  I shouldn’t put myself under pressure to meet up with people if I’m tired and in pain.  That said, just like during the last month, I want to enjoy my time with my friends as I have done.

Choice not chore

This works on a couple of levels (no pun intended).

Firstly, work is a chore.  I’m a good project manager, a good people manager (and I like to hope that I’m more importantly I’m a good person), but I didn’t set out to be either.  I love writing and I enjoy teaching and learning; that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.  Be a teacher.  Write.  So, I’m going to focus on developing both of those aspects outside of my day job which I need to pay the bills, which I need to be good enough at to pay the bills.  Right now, work is a chore but that’s a choice for right now.

Secondly, I don’t want my professional aims to become a chore; I want to enjoy working towards them.  So.  I’ll write what I want to write when I want to write.

Thirdly, I’ve taken the step to continue to work on my MSc for Psychology with the aim of getting my Doctorate. I want that professional kudos.  Again, it’s a choice albeit one which I can see becoming a chore if deadlines and studying come under pressure.

Make it happen

This is the last of the new strategies I’m putting in place.  None of the above is going to happen unless I commit to doing this and seeing it through.

It’s the ultimate enabler and the one I need to keep in my head.  Who knows better than a change manager how difficult it is to truly change.  But it can be done, and I can achieve what I’ve set out to achieve.

August Update

Another update as we head into the final weeks of August – where does the time go?

Manage my health better; good diet, regular exercise, good sleep routine, balanced work/life, positive thinking and good mind/spirit/body maintenance. 

Good diet: Just had a ‘naughty’ week so getting back to the weightwatchers plan tomorrow.  It’s been difficult with my Dad cooking despite him trying his best to accommodate – it’s just not as easy for me to control my points intake.  But Dad is back to Mauritius now so I have a good few months between now and December to get back in the groove so to speak.

Regular exercise: So, so bad at this!  OK, diet back on track this week and then we’ll get to the exercise.

Good sleep routine: Doing much better here bizarrely.  Not quite in a routine but I’m doing better so kudos to me.  (Or rather I can’t quite keep my eyes open).

Balanced Work/Life: Doing better although I feel hypocritical saying that when I’ve just spent the weekend working.

Positive thinking: Yes.  Actually thinking about this last month, even when I’ve been down I haven’t been as hard on myself .

Good mind, body & spirit maintenance: Today’s the first time I haven’t done my body maintenance in weeks and I am going to do it tomorrow (working at home tomorrow).

Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward but one step back every month with this goal but at least if the overall trajectory is forward that’s going in the right direction.

Spend quality time with family and friends; make time and make sure I have energy to keep my promises and spend the time with people!

Things are on track here and I’ve had some nice time with my Dad and my sister through July/August.

Get settled in my new job, map out my future ‘work’ and make it happen; get an achievable plan for my future career.

Enjoying my job which is good.  I’m also starting to see what I want to do over the next five years.

Write what makes me happy; make writing enjoyable again.

Doing more writing which is great – and I know what I want to do here too.

So, still on with my goals, still making progress.

July Update

Almost at the end of July so a quick update…

Manage my health better; good diet, regular exercise, good sleep routine, balanced work/life, positive thinking and good mind/spirit/body maintenance. 

Good diet: Good intentions to start again and I have been keeping much better track.  I still could improve on the planning front but to be frank with my Dad home and cooking there isn’t any point getting too hung up about the diet as Dad cooks.  He’s mostly been great – has really tried to comply with the points – reducing potatoes in curry, going for the brown rice, etc. but there are days when he just does something and he clearly hasn’t thought about the impact to my diet.  Still, since he’s cooking, I can’t complain too much.  My plan is to continue as-is while Dad is here and then do a full reboot on the diet again when he’s gone in a similar way to the way that I did it in Jan.

Regular exercise: Yes, this has gone nowhere due to my condition being a little bit hit and miss, and just incredibly busy at work.  I was managing to walk up Oxford Rd two times a week but with graduation taxis near to work have been plentiful so…ok I need to try harder!

Good sleep routine: I’m still struggling – some weeks have been better than others but I’m trying.

Balanced Work/Life: Hmmm, having just spent a whole day yesterday working I’m not sure I’ve kept completely with the spirit of this but this past week has just been ludicrous from a work perspective – and that happens; some weeks are better than others.  This week will be busy and difficult but August has the potential to be quieter so I can make progress on some standard things.

Positive thinking: I have been living CBT even if it hasn’t always been effective depending on the situation.

Good mind, body & spirit maintenance: I’ve really managed to do body maintenance for the last few weeks and it does make a difference to how I feel and the clothes I wear so…trying to keep that up.  The other thing to note is that I am hooked up to a cardiac monitor right now but I’m not expecting it to find anything at all.

Overall, I do think I’ve made strides to turn this objective around from where it was the last time I updated.  I just need to continue doing what I’m doing and plugging away.

Spend quality time with family and friends; make time and make sure I have energy to keep my promises and spend the time with people!

I have things planned in August and June/July has been busy with Dad and Sheila so all good.

Get settled in my new job, map out my future ‘work’ and make it happen; get an achievable plan for my future career.

Tough week, but…you know what? All jobs have tough weeks.  Mostly the role is a positive in my life – good boss, great team, lots of opportunity to create something good, and I’m pleased with where I am.

I still don’t have is a ‘what does the future look like in five years’ – what is the ideal for me beyond this job.  I so I still do need to do some thinking on that.

Write what makes me happy; make writing enjoyable again.

I’ve made progress, finished one short story and on with another.  This week has been terrible for writing though.

In summary, good progress; I’m definitely not losing sight of my goals and I have improved from the last update in keeping on track.  More to do but I’m comfortable I’m doing my best for right now.

June Update

Well, I think the lack of an update in May probably speaks volumes.

Manage my health better; good diet, regular exercise, good sleep routine, balanced work/life, positive thinking and good mind/spirit/body maintenance. 

Good diet: May and June really saw me backslide a lot.  Yes, I’ve kept some track of my points but I’ve stopped planning, preparing or if I plan and prepare, I’ve stopped with the follow-through.  Some of this is driven by a spin through the depression cycle.  I got depressed and everything is a battle; everything becomes touched by fatigue and lassitude. It’s hard to pull myself up in that respect. So, today; new week, clean slate, let’s start again.

Regular exercise: Same as with the diet – I’ve ended up backsliding quite badly.  Some of it is the depression; some of it is the fatigue; some of it just the new availability of taxis closer to my workplace.  I need to make sure that I’m choosing the healthy option to walk up the road even if it adds time on to my day.

Good sleep routine: Definitely a miss here.  In my depressed state, sleeping well is not happening which includes a very stubborn refusal to just go to sleep already and turn the light off at a decent time.

Balanced Work/Life: I’m still doing better here than in other jobs so that’s a big plus – I’m being more ruthless about prioritising (I need to make sure I’m balancing that with what I’m promising in terms of turnaround and timescales though) and I think I am creating time in my ‘life’ side.  I’m not convinced I’m spending it wisely but I have created time which is a huge step forward.

Positive thinking: Depression is not a great motivator for positive thinking, even if positive thinking is a way out of the spiral.

Good mind, body & spirit maintenance: Yep.  Backsliding.  I feel better when I do this.  I just can’t maintain (no pun intended) it.

In terms of this objective being a foundation for others, this last month and a half has been a real struggle.  I’m determined to draw a line though and ensure just because I have let things slide recently, that I reverse that momentum and if not start all over again, at least move forward from here.

Spend quality time with family and friends; make time and make sure I have energy to keep my promises and spend the time with people!

I did manage to spend time with family and friends over May and into June my Dad has arrived back so no option now!  The one reschedule was not mine so that was good.

Get settled in my new job, map out my future ‘work’ and make it happen; get an achievable plan for my future career.

I’m definitely settled and I’m beginning to feel that I understand the size and shape of what I need to do and build going forward within this role.  There’s some uncertainty and concern because leadership is changing but I like my boss, I have a good team and we’re making a difference.

What I don’t have is a ‘what does the future look like in five years’ – what is the ideal for me beyond this job.  I do need to do some thinking on that.

Write what makes me happy; make writing enjoyable again.

As is often the case when I’m depressed, it doesn’t lend itself to writing.  I’ve picked up again in the last week and I’ve signed on for another challenge to hopefully get myself in the mood again.

So.

To summarise: The last month health-wise has been difficult and as is often the case when that happens, things go slightly out of kilter food and exercise wise (because clearly we need to compound the problem).  I’m drawing my line, I’m refocusing and I’m going to move forward from here.  The choices I make are important for my health and they’re important in making sure I have a life beyond work – in all meanings of that phrase.  Onwards.  Forward.  Let’s agree to start winning some ground back.