Analog. I grew up during a transitional phase when heavy analog technologies were being replaced by lighter, digital devices. A tactile nostalgia has since grown up around those cumbersome objects of the 1980s and 1990s. They have the charm of relics from a bygone age.

Cardiff. Late afternoon. I walk for two hours through the city. A couple of books in my bag. And a flask. Happiness.

Reflecting on the decision to pursue my vocation in art, service, and simple living

Six months ago today, I decided to change my life. I wanted to find a sense of peace and happiness in myself, and to live by my conviction that to enact social, cultural, and political change, it is essential that I change myself. I started following a healthy and balanced diet, stopped drinking alcohol, and began exercising regularly; I began to pursue my vocation as a writer; and I committed myself to getting more involved in my local community. Since that decision, I have attained a healthy bodyweight (having shed fifty-three pounds), am volunteering with local organisations, and write for my own enjoyment. I accept that meaningful change requires ongoing action and sacrifice, and I continue to be humbled by an awareness of my weaknesses and limitations. I am grateful for the understanding of my family and friends, and for their continued enthusiasm and support. I feel that I have found my peace, and I am happier than I have ever been.

I rise at 6am, and spend the early hours writing, reading, and drinking hot tea.

I am reading Primo Levi’s The Truce, an account of his long journey home after the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. The chemist has a close eye for detail, and describes people’s actions with clarity and economy. His work is relevant for its account (and analysis) of historical injustice, but feels more so during these times.

Experimenting with black and white photography, and pleased with the results. Since I capture images using a phone camera, quality can be a concern in poor weather or dim lighting. But I find that in black and white photography these conditions are not a hindrance, but work to one’s advantage. The results are always interesting and sometimes beautiful. A dark and blurry portrait resembles a canvas painted with broad strokes.

There is a juvenile Eurasian coot living in a nearby canal. It was born much later than the others, and its family has not yet flown south for the winter.

“I need to set myself to the study of non-violence, with thoroughness. The complete, integral practice of it in community life.”

—Thomas Merton, Journal, 21 August 1962

Autumn. It has been almost four months since I made a decision to change the way that I live, and I feel happier now than at any other time in my life. I rise earlier in the morning (around 6 o’clock) to read and watch the sunrise. I go cycling or running almost every day, rain or shine. I have also become a regular visitor to my local library, which has a wonderful selection of books on every conceivable topic. At the moment, I am spending my days writing, looking for part-time work, and nourishing myself with healthy and delicious food.

I continue to find international news events troubling. I was saddened to hear about the most recent American mass shooting in Las Vegas, which took the lives of over fifty people and injured over five hundred. Someone who attended my wedding was at the event, and while she managed to escape she knew people who were shot. Other family members also know friends and colleagues who were in attendance that day, including some who were killed.

The shooting occurred on the first day of October. The next day, I spent an hour or more watching footage and witness accounts broadcast on various channels. I then picked up my coat and went walking. The second of October is traditionally known as the International Day of Non-Violence, a day inaugurated by the United Nations General Assembly ten years ago (June 2007). The second of October is significant since it marks the birthday of non-violence advocate and political activist Mahatma Gandhi. As I passed along Lloyd George Avenue, I saw that a new statue of the civil rights leader was being unveiled. The likeness struck me as a potent and inspiring reminder of human potential in the face of inestimable odds, and, moreover, a testament to the importance of kindness and compassion in these troubled times.

I went home and spent some time reading Thomas Merton.

Today my wife, Jenn, and I moved out of the office we have shared for the last year, and left our jobs at Cardiff University. I first came to Cardiff University in 2003, and have been there as a student or employee ever since (with the exception of a one-year interruption of studies). Jenn first came to Cardiff University in 2004. We met in the Arts and Social Studies Library in 2008, and married a few years later. We have had many happy years studying and teaching at Cardiff, and are excited to see what comes next. We feel grateful for the friends, colleagues, and students who made our time at Cardiff so enjoyable.

On pursuing a vocation in art, writing, and simple living

The reasons for my decision

Back in June, I attended a cardiology appointment that had a profound impact on me. My meeting with the cardiologist was routine and I did not receive any alarming news, but I became aware of the fragility of my own body in a new way. As an infant I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition, and my life had been saved by the UK’s National Health Service and the surgeons at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. I have always felt grateful for the life-saving help that I received, and could talk superficially about my condition with friends and loved ones, but now I see that I was also prone to a form of denial. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I placed my heart condition to one side as I tried to establish an identity for myself. My routine appointments continued from year to year, but in my conscious mind and my behaviour I aimed to suppress what they represented with denial and distraction. This year marks the first time that I am fully and consciously aware that I have a congenital heart condition. And while there is no reason why I cannot live a full and happy life, I am now awake to the fact that I nearly didn’t survive infancy.

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I recently rediscovered a copy of Marguerite Duras‘ fiction that had been packed away in a spare room for several years. It is a 1977 edition of “three novels” from publisher John Calder, short pieces offering English-speaking readers an introduction to the French post-war writer. The first novel within, entitled The Square (Le Square, 1955), presents a conversation between a servant girl and a commercial traveller as they sit in a city square. Duras renders the two strangers’ conversation with beautiful economy of expression; her prose style simply conveys their words, with occasional observations of their surroundings. As their exchange develops, the two share reflections on living a meaningful life.

What follows are a few choice quotations from Duras’ novel, translated into English by Sonia Pitt-Rivers and Irina Morduch. (more…)