Day One: Set Three Goals

WordPress runs a free online course on blogging and branding. This seems an ideal place to get stuck in and up my writing game.

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The road ahead is dangerous, take this with you

Day One of WordPress’s blogging and branding course asks for 3 main goals to anchor yourself by. How else can you know you’ve made progress without measuring it? The only issue is that setting the goals yourself can be tricky.

For instance, I’m uncertain of the first thing about what is possible on this platform. Can I expect millions of views and hundreds of friends? Should I instead expect nothing but penury and death? My experience thus far has been limited by infrequent posting, that’s changing this year. My main aim  is to make this a more happening place. To do that, the goals.

Setting goals is easy enough – just say things that you want.

A helicopter.  Bottle of whisky. More money!

The problem there is that that doesn’t get me anywhere. That’s just desired results. It definitely says something that these were the first three things that came to mind.

It says that writing probably ain’t my sole occupation since there are only about two people who make enough to get helicopters and whisky from it. What it does say is that a more reasonable set oThe goals I’m setting are smaller than helicopters and whisky, because I have come to understand how important accountability is as a value. If we can’t trust people to try and do what they say, then we can’t trust people at all. Endless excuses are born that way.

My goals are founded around my values. I want this blog to be a place where people come to read interesting articles on a variety of topics. I want them to be worded funnily, with a bit of imagination in language. More than this, I want to master my own voice help others to master their own, for us to help each other. I will be accountable to the goals, which are as follows.

  1. 17 000 views and a tenfold increase in followers to 600
  2. Post three times a week (every week), plus occasional guest writers
  3. Build engagement at the end

It’s pretty audacious, but ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m bold. Mathematics might tell me this means I’ll need to up my posting as well as double my average readership. The competitive spirit in me says that’s more than manageable.

So join me on my quest to make this happen. Follow me now to avoid losing out on credit at the end of the journey.

What’s your hot tip?

The writer of this piece will keep this brief.

 

 

 

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Take a Step Back

The story comes from Heraclitus: a man walks to a river to gather some water. The next day he returns to do the same. It is the same river but something in it has changed – the water is different, the flow of it has changed the bank. As it is with rivers, so it is with life. Small differences in time or place make all the difference. Life is all about change and dealing with change.

Last year, I decided to make some changes. I moved countries, from the Czech Republic back to Scotland. Returning to my native land felt right. It meant I had to leave my job as an English teacher. This was difficult as I’d come to love my students and the ESL lifestyle. It was necessary though because I cannot live like that forever. I would rather leave somewhere while I was having fun than stay until it got shit.

On my return I found work in the warehouse of a Book Festival, but that was never going to last longer than a few months. Expiry dates are heartbreaking like that. Like when you want to have tea but realise the milk is 2 weeks overdue. After the Book Festival, I didn’t known what I wanted. At the end of the year, I took on a position doing door to door sales.

And this is where I announce I’ve left that job, without so much as writing a post about it.* My main bugbear was that the hours were ridiculous. The post itself was commission only, which was not bad since I did tolerably well at it, most days. It left me out of pocket some days, however, as you can’t win ‘em all. The most important negative for me was that it did not afford my wife and I the time together that we wanted. What’s the point of being with somebody if you aren’t with them?

(*As someone fairly prolific, albeit on Medium most of last year, this is a somewhat shocking indictment of door to door.)

But the true change of heart came for me when I was in America over Christmas. I had two weeks off to think to myself about the future and what I wanted to do. I reasoned that walking around large housing estates was not up my street. Especially when I could instead do something I really liked. That’s why I’m looking more seriously at my freelance writing career. (Some success in that department already and I only just got started!). I have taken a step back, decided that I want a new direction, and I have set out on the new path.

This path involves actively pursuing ambitious goals. The idea of that being big successes are good. Taking a step back let me see that setting the bar higher would lead to better results and even if I miss the heights I set it, I’ll still land in a good place. This is the path I’ll forge to a great new start.

This new path, I have reasoned, is better fashioned by a return to Pastures Fresh, my OG writing page. A pasture is a splendid place to have a path.

My aims for this year

1. More writing published 

2. Stable job, stable flat

 3. Travel cool places

4. More blogging

5. Network with writing people

Let’s get to it!

Have you ever taken a step back to achieve your goals?

The writer of this piece has hands which smell of cumin, which incidentally is his favourite spice.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town!

A note from the publisher: Hello readers! A most merrry Christmas to you and those that you love. I just wanted to start this post by thanking all of you who have been reading us at Pasturesfresh in our over 90 posts this year.

I’d also like to thank all commenters and likers, as well as all those who have physically told our writer(s) that they are doing a good job. It really helps to dispel the illusion of talking to an empty room, which blogging sometimes feels like.

Anyway, without any further notes from me, let’s begin. Today there’s a bit of a choice of tracks.

The year 1970
The band Jackson 5

A Motown Christmas song! There are a few Christmas songs with a similar style to Motown, Jackson 5 did a whole album, and then there was Darlene Love whom I wrote about here.

Something I’ve tried to stress throughout this Christmas Jukebox series, like an advent calendar of Christmas songs, is the sheer range and variety of Christmss songs. For instance, my post on Christmas wrapping, also involves Run-DMC literally rapping.

So yeah, I love the Jackson 5 version because it’s the first non-carol version I can remember. It’s all very fun and enlivening. There’s the moral message as in all of them, but it feel so playful here. Probably because it’s a kid telling you what to do. Always funny.

It’s like, “Okay Mr. Boss man 5 year old!”

The year 2011
The singer Michael Bublé

Michael Bublé is one of those singers I thought for quite a while was not really meant for me. He seemed like somebody targeted at women. Though that might be the case, there is something subversive about listening to things not aimed at you. Like being an atheist listening to hymns. Or reading the Bible when you should be reading something by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

His version here has a really nice swing feel. It never feels overdone either. It’s a bit retro but retains its style.

I fancy I’ll give his other numbers a go. Suggestions welcomed and encouraged.

(EDITOR: The autocorrect function does not want me to spell his name correctly, offering instead ‘Bible’ or ‘Bubbly’.)

The singer Bruce Springsteen

I’ve got some bad news for you here: it’s a live version. From what I can tell, though, that’s the best version. Also, because it’s Bruce Springsteen at a live show and he is a showman, it’s twice as long as the other versions.

But d’you know what? It’s Christmas! And people will put up with a lot at Christmas. Just think of Bruce Springsteen as a difficult relative, who maybe goes on a bit, but who you love regardless. Because he’s Family and actually pretty cool when you get down to it.

Perhaps better in small bursts, though. I wouldn’t listen to a full live album of his unless handsomely compensated.

So, in finishing up the series I’d like to repeat, as my publisher, that it has been a pleasure to write for you this year. I hope I’ve inspired others to think about Christmas songs and what the season means to them. I also hope people take on some of my ideas, Christmas as an ‘everything holiday’ and the Christmas song canon being in dire need of expansion. I’m sure you’ll’ve learnt something too, because I definitely learnt something writing them. Merry Christmas and a very happy new year!

The writer of this piece may be a bit addicted to writing now and doesn’t know what he’ll do on the outside.

BONUS TRACK!

The Christmas Cat

The year 1987
The singer Björk
The song Jolakoturinn

It was St. Thortakur’s Day, 23rd December, and the Icelanders’ Yule preparations were well underway. They’d bought in the lamb and most of the presents. But Jon Björnsson realised an issue.

“Did you get the kids any clothes?” He asked his wife, Dagny Helgusdottir.
She thought for a moment then replied, “Nah, I never got a chance.”
“But what about the Christmas Cat?!” Jon interrobanged, him being a traditionalist and afraid of the legend.
“Oh, I’m not doing that this year. I got little Björn loads of socks just last week. His hamper is bursting with jumpers.”
Jon wasn’t sure. You didn’t mess with tradition. Not when the Christmas Cat was involved.

Little Björn was 12 years old and out walking around the Esja, a volcanic mountain range near Reykjavík. He looked across the sparse landscape, epic in scale. Björn was cold, even though the snow had not yet fallen. That’s global warming for you. No snow in Iceland. His coat was thick, but second-hand and the zip didn’t fasten well.

Danger was prowling nearby.

A grey-black kitten, perfectly camouflaged against the rocky outcrops, tiptoed behind him. Can you ever imagine a tiptoeing kitten? It’s more terrifying than you might think.

The cat was hungry. It had to feed. Björn was an ideal mark. He was a good size, a bit fatty around the midriff in preparation of the season, and as yet had no clothes destined to be given to him. A perfect target.

Björn made his way home. The streets were busy, it was the last big day of Christmas shopping. The markets were thronged with hundreds of people in thick jackets, beanie hats, scarves, mountain gloves, sensible footwear. It’d be far too hard to get through it to get anything else. Poor bastards, he thought.

Björn saw his dad fighting through the crowds, empty-handed. What was he doing out? Probably forgot to get a present for Dagny.

“Hey dad, give us a lift, will you?”
Jon looked concerned. He wouldn’t be able to get into the shops again if he did. The cat probably didn’t exist but he wanted to be sure. Looking after his son in the real world seemed more important.
“All right, let’s go.”
So they walked to the car.
—————

They put up the tree that night after a dinner of skate. Björn wasn’t a fan of fish but ate it anyway. Otherwise his dad would complain. He hated waste and loved tradition.

The tree was decorated with lots of Iceland flags (🇮🇸) and a star on top. Wrapped presents were then placed underneath it. Nothing looked like clothes.

The cat, now about the size of of a two-year old cat, smiled as it looked in the window. It was going to consume that child! Normally it couldn’t because Icelanders were careful to buy their kids clothes for Yule. She hadn’t eaten well in centuries!

————
On 25th December, she unflourished her wicked claws and scratched open the ground floor window. She raced towards the bedroom, keeping low to the ground to avoid any detection.

Jon and Dagny were watching TV. The cat eluded them by gliding behind the coat rack, and then keeping to the shadows in their dimly lit house. Candles made the job far easier.

As she approached Björn’s door, her mouth salivated. This was so exciting! She slid through the slightly open door and paced towards his sleeping body. She opened her mouth, set her legs to spring, and leapt!

————

This post is part of my Christmas Jukebox series, based on the Icelandic legend of the Yule Cat. It’s a cat who eats kids who didn’t get clothes for Yule. The song is by Björk and fabulous.

The writer of this piece seldom does fiction like this and thinks it’d maybe need more time. Still, it’s always fun to produce.

Where is Santa Claus?

The year 2003
The band Guster
The song ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?

One thing to remember, and I think I’ve made it clear throughout this month in my Christmas Jukebox series, is that I properly adore Christmas songs. I like the feelings they bring up, and the memories. Their message of love and goodwill. I also love the variety of them. So today’s number is especially varied and should enter the canon as soon as possible.

If you have any control of your works’ Christmas playlist, add this tunes.

It was first a hit in 1958 for Augie Rios, who was only 12 years old at the time. I like the Guster version because of how summery it feels. It’s got the energy of a song from the Southern Hemisphere.

It’s warm there right now. I’m told the days are really long.

But it’s Winter here. We have 7 hours of daylight. We’re getting a fair bit into the Christmas season now, and a lot of people are getting a bit tired. Just think of the poor retailers and wait staff! They get all the repetition of Christmas songs with none of the choice. This is why it’s imperative to expand the collection as much as you can.

So there’s another one by Sufjan Stevens. I love how he he uses different instruments. It’s much brighter than a lot of the more wintery numbers that are standard. And what’s wrong with simulating a little bit of sunshine at this time?

It reminds me of some of the weirdest Christmas songs imaginable: those from the Bob’s Burgers Christmas episodes.

It has a lot more bongo than you’d think, but then you realise it’s just the right amount. Really pulls the whole thing together.

There’s as many different Christmas songs as there are Christmas traditions. So get out there and discover them!

Also, I need only 10 more likes till I get 400 for the year, so be a lamb and do your bit. Do also explore the rest of my stuff, it’s pretty tight.

The writer of this piece needs to move his jacket off a dining chair or his folks will have a go at him. On writing this above fact, he felt about 4 years old.

Good King Wenceslas

The song Good King Wenceslas
The version Irish Rovers
The year It’s a carol, it’s immortal

Possibly a shorter one as I’m enjoying Christmas with family, but do read on dear friends. Herein you might find something cool, well-told.

Now I’m a particular sort. I like to do things right. Hence, I started my Christmas Jukebox series with a list and, though it has developed and changed since, there are some songs that need to be included. This is one of them.

It’s a song of goodwill. The good King Wenceslas, the English form of the Czech name Václav (pronounced Vatslav), was on a trip when he found a poor man freezing in the snow. He takes him into his party and looks after him. The song is about looking past class differences and recognising our common humanity. A good message.

Wenceslas lived a fairly coloured life, having been a duke, then King, and then got messed around by his relatives before his brother eventually killed him. You can read more about that story here (Title number 5). Real Game of Thronesy.

Fortunately, my family are not nearly so murderous. Substantially less so, in fact. And so I’m having a very fun time with them. No power struggles to speak of thus far.

As a result, this is a short one, but quick. If you want more of your fix feel free to read more of my past things and, my dear WordPress readers, like them all! I want 400 by the end of the year and I’m up to 385.

Goodwill to all!

The writer of this piece is enjoying time with his family.

The Man With the Bag

The year 2012
The band Black Prairie
The song (Everybody’s Waiting for) The Man With the Bag

So this was a new one for me. I got a lot of the songs from this Christmas jukebox series from crowdsourcing ideas on Facebook from friends and family. A lot of the best ones were brought to me by my fiancée, though. She loves Christmas. She’s a fountain of inspiration. It puts quite a bit of pressure on me to produce something worthwhile – something readable. She reads them all so I don’t want to bore her. In addition, I need to provide something. Something special.

How can you compete against the man with the bag? He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. And that whole song.

How could anyone compete with that rush you got at Christmas time when you went into your living room to find the floor covered in presents? To find the carrot nibbled, the mince pie mere crumbs, the milk partly slurped. And every year, the man with the bag delivers. What a guy.

So you can’t really compete with that. But nobody expects total magic. People that expect to be surprised all the time and never are are probably a right hassle. I can hardly imagine the extent of the complaining. Expecting to feel magical all the time and then being disappointed is probably one of the great troubles of our age.

That and people who hashtag unironically.

Recapturing that essence of excitement is impossible, unfortunately, but the least we can do is capture an element of the magic. Gifting well is a skill. It takes a lot of effort and thought to really nail what a person wants and should have. It’s not a skill that I properly possess, historically speaking, but I hope this year I’m better.

Because in future years, I will need to become the man with the bag.

The writer of this piece recently sold a Christmas tree and the place now looks a little barer. He still presents one of our excellent Christmas decorations as the featured image above.

YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MR GRINCH

The year 1966
The singer Thurl Ravenscroft
The song You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch

The 1966 cartoon of The Grinch is the best version of the  story. Of this fact there can be no dispute. It’s entirely written by Dr. Seuss. There are no filler jokes, unlike the
Jim Carey version which turns a 30 page book into a 2 hour movie (almost as bad as turning The Hobbit into 3 films). The jokes that were hinted at in the text are given life through animation. The original text is realised and supplemented by two songs. ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch’ is obviously the best and deserves in the Christmas canon.

It has a swing beat and, as I just clarified with a co-worker, a jazzy feel. It sounds like an epic PG diss track. It’s like what would happen if you got into a slagging match with Dr. Seuss. You would definitely lose.

Your brain is full of spiders, you have garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch

What’s so brilliant is that it really adds to his character. You get the idea that away from the fairly cute, hardly terrifying, green cat-like monster, there is somebody who is actually horrible. He steals on Christmas and captures the audience’s hatred.

Well, not really. Wickedness is kind of cool in films, it’s why so many heroes and villains are not necessarily good or moral people. Sometimes it’s a thrill to watch a baddie work. Like in House of Cards (UK version, not Netflix which dragged on interminably like a wounded snake). The Grinch is an anti-villain, in a sense. He’s definitely doing bad things but comes around at the end.

That American sense of optimism in children’s literature is nice. Roald Dahl would definitely have killed him in some ironic way. Drowning in Brussels sprouts, or something.

I can relate to the Grinch in two aspects. While I don’t bemoan the commercialism of Christmas like many a commentator, I believe people still make their own decisions about how to celebrate holidays, no matter the myriad messages to buy everything, I do sympathise with the Grinch in criticising the perceived shallowness of the event. It’s a fair enough critique, even if I think he looked at it a bit close-mindedly. The other aspect I can relate to is the line ‘perhaps his shoes were too tight’. My recent purchase of new shoes has left my feet bloody sore and I fancy a bit bloody irritable.

My heart is the right size though. And I came to the meaning of Christmas through empathy, and not nicking stuff.

Thank you for reading! As I said yesterday and will repeat, looking for 400 likes by the year end and need a mere 15 more! Help me out if you have an account.

The writer of this piece is not begging, just wants to thoroughly thrash his stats from last year and likes rounder, larger numbers. The larger and rounder the better.

Jingle Barenaked Ladies

The year 2004
The band Barenaked Ladies
The song Jingle Bells

To the season! Christmas came early. My brother, who has been off living his own foreign adventures for basically seven years, came to my present adopted city, Prague. Alongside him is his girlfriend of about the same length of time.

It’s funny, we both went abroad without plans. We both ended up sleeping on sofas without paying rent for some time. We both got jobs, fell in love with beautiful women, and made lives for ourselves away from the hard life of Scotland.

It’s to be expected, really. We very much had the same upbringing. Loving parents who gave us a lot of support in whatever we did. Childhood years climbing trees and playing hidey (hide and seek for the more traditionally minded). Teenage years skateboarding and getting into bad habits. It was natural, if not predictable, that we’d both end up happy in foreign countries with foreign birds.

That’s our generation for ya.

And so here’s me sitting with him and our birds in a pub watching some guy telling us how to speak Czech.

Weird times. I asked him to be my best man for my upcoming wedding snd he said yes! It’s all very exciting.

As a result, this version of Christmas Jukebox will be short. If it doesn’t fulfill you then do feel free to look through my previous works again, or for the first time and, for Christmas sake, give me likes! 20 more and I make 400 for the year.

THE writer of this piece is not hurried, just in a good mood.

Let Christmas Be Christmas

The singer Dean Martin
The song Let it Snow!

Though officially billed as a Christmas song, Let it Snow makes no mention of any Christmas features. There is no Santa. The reindeer must be in their stable. There’s no holly, no mistletoe, not one tree. And yet…

Who are these officials who demarcate what is Christmas and what is not? Who is the Christmas Caesar? Today I’d like to talk a bit about what Christmas is.

And how knowledge is knowing that some art doesn’t fit Christmas exactly, but wisdom is knowing that it does.

The canon

The canon is the word we use to say if a work of art is part of the popular imagination. It comes from the Bible, when Romans back in the day had to decide what books belonged in the Bible and what was less important. We use it in literature to talk about what books are Great and Important Works. The Christmas canon is works that are deemed Christmas works.

The thing is, it’s damn difficult to regulate.

The year 1948
The singer Frank Sinatra
The song Winter Wonderland

Also not really strongly representative of Christmas, like, it doesn’t even mention sleigh bells. No sleigh bells at all. It bewilders the senses.

Nevertheless, almost everyone would recognise it as a Christmas song. Why?

Because Christmas songs are not just songs that mention Christmas. They are not just songs where it is the focal point. Consider ‘Fairytale of New York’, widely heralded as the best Christmas song. What part of ‘Fairytale’ screams Christmas?

And yet, it is set at Christmas. And that is enough. Over years of repetition it has become as Christmassy as Charles Dickens.

For we decide what Christmas means and how we celebrate it. We decide what constitutes a Christmas song, film, or book. It’s the very definition of the Christmas spirit. That collective belief that makes us come together and celebrate in this final month of the year.

So watch Die Hard safe in the knowledge that it is a Christmas film. As is Love Actually, It’s A Wonderful Life and Home Alone, even if they are not about saving Santa using the power of belief. Let Christmas be Christmas.

It’s the most magical time of the year. Quod erat demonstrandum Harry Potter is also a good Christmas film.

The writer of this piece is on making the tea tonight and must scarper. He mostly wrote this in response to people on Facebook pretending they could define Christmas.