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February 2019

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I want to talk about dinner parties in my thirties.

What the fuck were they for?

Strange rituals sandwiched between the chaotic, structureless, childish roller-coaster ride of my twenties and the puzzling darkness of my forties.

I never wanted dinner parties in my thirties.

But the girl I was with, did.

It was proof to our friends (and ourselves?) that we could organise, cook and entertain in a house that we owned (or rented).

It was posturing.

It was rubbish.

Boys and Girls. 

I also seem to remember that they were an excuse for the girls to get together and compare how stupid we boys were.

And an excuse for us boys to get together and prove them right.

One couple would always row.

One couple were often quite newly bonded.

They’d hold hands.

One couple were talking about getting married because they’d just got engaged.

And we’d cluster in different parts of the house or flat by gender.

Girls in the kitchen.

Boys watching football or boxing (back when boxing was good).

Thirties. 

This is the thing with couples in their thirties.

The boys want to still be in their twenties doing what they used to do back then.

And the girls want to be in their thirties doing what they think that boys and girls in their thirties should be doing.

Thus; tension.

Cushions. 

OK so here’s a summary about boys and girls in their thirties and just how different they are.

Illustrated by dinner parties and cushions.

Two things that prove boys in their thirties still want to do what they used to do in their twenties, and girls want to do what they think girls AND boys should be doing in there thirties are:

  1. Dinner parties
  2. Cushions

When I was in my thirties, yes I used to help my girlfriend prepare for Dinner Parties.

But they just ended up as piss-ups and mess, not the ‘Friends’ episode that my girlfriend had visualised.

So there.

We’re different.

And as further proof, girls in their thirties started to talk to me about cushions.

I remember distinctly during this strange decade that bridges childhood and maturity – girls use to ask me what I thought about cushions.

My brain could not compute such a question as a 32 year old boy.

I remember the feeling distinctly.

She’d ask me if I liked this one or that one.

And I’d just stare.

Open mouthed.

Was I supposed to have an opinion on cushions in my early thirties?

To this day I don’t know.

So I just looked deep into her eyes, trying my damnedest to work out what she wanted me to say.

Because I had no opinion whatsoever on cushions.

I didn’t even know what cushions were for, never mind how to recognise a good one from a bad one.

Girls and boys.

Girls and boys.

They’re just – well – different.

And especially in their thirties.

Of course!

It’s totally obvious.

Of course we all have a shadowside.

Shadowside.

This notion makes me feel better.

The insight relaxes me.

I feel at ease with the notion that (this is my interpretation anyway) we all are a balance of light and dark.

It’s OK that, sometimes, I feel confused or lost or paralysed or ‘down’ or – quite literally – dark.

It’s natural.

If there is light in your life – so too there is shadow.

Jung.

In Jungian psychology (so Wikipedia tells me), the ‘shadow’, ‘Id’, or ‘shadow aspect/archetype’ part of me is:

1. An unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or:

2. The entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious.

In short, the shadow is my ‘dark side’.

Acceptance.

Whatever the case, I am happier now that I (re)realise that I know this thing that I knew anyway.

Half of me will always be in shadow, for as long as there is light in my life.

I accept that if lose the shadow, I also lose the light.

This acceptance is valuable.

Now I know for sure that my shadow side is there, it’s somehow less powerful and alluring.

Because I used to worry about how to get rid of it.

Now I know that I can’t get rid of it, I also realise that I can chose when to visit.

Or not to visit.

And I think that – increasingly, now I am accepting that my shadowside is part of me – I am more inclined to choose ‘not’.

And that’s a good thing.

I have a recurring dream.

I live in a big house in this dream.

Rather like, but not exactly the same as, our last house.

That was big.

But this dream house is so big that I think I know how many rooms are in it but I am not exactly sure.

I remember feeling that, because I don’t know exactly how many rooms I have in my house, I feel rather good (in a shallow kind of way).

The Room.

I also remember that there is this one room in my house that I am frightened to go into.

I know the room is there.

But I will always procrastinate about going into it.

Stacked furniture blocks the entrance to it, you see.

And it is troublesome to move it.

This room, the one I am frightened to go into, is at the back of another room.

A bedroom.

At the back of this first bedroom, the ceiling slopes downwards towards this other, unvisited room.

I feel somehow glad that I have this other, unexplored place.

Comforted.

Yet I remain fearful of what is in the room beyond where the ceiling lowers.

I have never been there.

Yet.

Mending things is good.

But things are getting cheaper.

Time is getting shorter.

And mending skills are undervalued.

So we throw things away.

Kintsugi

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form in which breaks and repairs are treated as part of the object’s history.

Broken ceramics are carefully mended by artisans with a lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum.

The repairs are visible — and beautiful.

Kintsugi means “golden joinery” in Japanese.

In. Not Out.

I think valuable things wear in.

Not out.

Clothing I mean mainly.

But other things too.

I tend to buy less and buy better.

I know what I like so I don’t really want loads of things.

Just a few, excellent things!

And if they bend or break or bruise I like repairing them or having them repaired.

In fact, at Always Wear Red we have a Forever Repair Service.

AWR customers choose to have black knitted pieces repaired with black thread, or red thread.

Visible mend.

Or invisible mend.

In time, I’ll let you know what people plump for.

And in the meantime I hope that you, with regards to clothing, plump for a “Wear It, Share it, Repair it”  approach.

It must be the right thing to do.

It rhymes.

Here are a couple of suggestions.

The first suggestion is a bit strange.

The second is stranger still.

But both are worth doing.

Why?

Because today or in a few days, you can do these things.

There will come a day when you can’t.

Suggestion 1

Ask someone you love and that loves you to stop what they’re doing, switch off and look you in the eye.

Then ask that someone you love and that loves you, this question:

Would you like to come on an adventure?

Then watch their face…

Surprise?

Happiness?

Joy?

Suspicion?

And would they trust you?

Before you ask, you will have already thought about what they would really like to do.

With you.

A meal?

A hotel?

Both?

Something else?

But I think it is important to phrase the question like this:

Would you like to come on an adventure?

And why should you do it?

Because today, or in a few days, you can.

There will come a day when you can’t.

Suggestion 2

The next time you are alone at home, stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself a question.

Out loud.

Would you like to come on an adventure?

Then pause.

And think.

And watch your own face.

Would you trust you?

Adventure.

I hope you smile when you ask yourself this.

And that you feel a little excited.

And that you start to imagine.

And to create.

And to plan.

Why should you do it?

Because today, or in a few days, you can.

And there will come a day when you can’t.

Life is little.

There are many different ways to run a business and a brand.

And there are many different ways to run your personal brand alongside it.

These include:

  1. Construct one and tell that story.
  2. Just be you and tell that story.
  3. Don’t.

Personal Brand.

I was asked to talk on this subject alongside my friend Sarah Hall at the Northern Power Futures event in February 2019.

If you think that having some kind of a discernible personal brand can enhance or add value to the brand or business within which you are significant, here are some pointers.

First, keep in mind that your ‘personal brand’ has been described by many (including Jeff Bezos) as:

…what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

So if we take this definition as accurate, you have a personal brand whether you like it or not.

And if you have one whether you like it or not you may as well manage one.

And if you may as well manage one it may as well be an authentic one.

Or you can be pretty sure that, at some point, you’ll get found out.

What an Authentic Personal Brand Really Is

An authentic personal brand means being deeply authentic.

It means creating and sharing content about you like this.

  1. Show all sides of yourself. Go off-piste. You’re not just an MD. You’re a woman or a man too. You eat in good restaurants occasionally. You have family events. You have opinions on design. You may run through fields with your dogs to keep fit and alert. Real resonates.
  2. You’re not the consumer of this content, your audience on social media is. Or the community that has bought from you or may one day buy from you. So – there’s no need to polish or romanticise for your palate.
  3. Go cross-media. Write it. Create audio. Create video. Your audience consumes in many ways.
  4. Document content. Don’t create content. This results in much richer content that you can then re-edit for many different things. Audio for podcasts. Written copy for articles. Video for YouTube or Instagram.

It’s easier when you’re you.

It’s the person you do best.

I am writing a Fuckit List. 

It’s like a Bucket List but more immediately gratifying.

A Bucket List – a list of things you think you should do before you die – is good because it may focus you to do more things in this very short, 1,000 month life of ours.

But a Bucket List takes time and planning and the real gratification only comes when you actually do the things you’ve written.

A Fuckit List is quite different.

Fuckit list.

A Fuckit List is a list of all the things you’re not going to do before you die.

Either because you can’t be arsed or because you’ve realised that the only reason you thought you wanted to do them in the first place was because some other person thought you should.

You never really wanted to do them anyway.

Anyhow, here’s my Fuckit List.

It is work in progress:

FUCKIT LIST. MICHAEL OWEN. VERSION 1.1.

  • Bunjee Jump. Stupid.
  • Parachute jump. Stupid.
  • Swimming with Sharks or Dolphins. It’s too deep. Any big creature could just swim up and get you.
  • Tightrope Walking. Stupid.
  • Understanding Quadratic Equations. Why?
  • Learning to ride a Unicycle. Why?
  • Skateboarding. Looks like it can hurt if you fall off.
  • Ski-jump. Stupid.
  • Speak another language fluently. I concede that this is because of lack of application.
  • Eat Sushi. Texture of raw fish is too slimy. And it can make you poorly.
  • Eat Steak Tartare. See above.
  • Being World Snooker Champion. Too much practicing. I’d get bored.
  • Being World Darts Champion. See above.
  • Poaching wild animals or indeed any animal. Because that would make me a bastard.
  • Vote UKIP. See above.

Work in progress, as I say.

It was love at first sight.

The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

The only man that I have ever fell in love with at first sight was Frank Cherry.

I was about 14 and he was about 60 when he married my grandma I suppose.

He was very lined.

And very kind.

And as my grandma’s first husband Harry had been dead for a few years – all was well.

Men. 

At that time, the two most influential men in my life were my dad and my stepdad.

The first most influential man in my life, my dad, wasn’t in my life.

Because when I was 11, not paying maintenance payments was a more attractive proposition for him than being with me.

And my stepdad was, around that time and for all of his life from memory, being abusive.

The Gentleman.

My love for Frank was, initially then, because of the juxtaposition.

I had never experienced a selfless man this close up.

A patient man.

His eyes listened to me like no mans eyes ever had.

And, most notably, he seemed to really enjoy making the lives of the women around him better.

I had only ever seen the opposite.

But this early love grew into a different, more independently cultivated love because of something else.

Consistency.

Frank’s mask never slipped.

Because – and this was new to me – there was no mask.

He was sincere.

He made me feel respected and listened to when I was with him.

And he made me feel important and that I mattered when I wasn’t.

He had given me something to hold on to.

Hope, I think.

My coward of a stepdad didn’t like him of course.

But he doesn’t matter.

Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller said he found a way to start writing Catch-22 when he heard in his head a version of the first lines.

Heller’s lines are the first two lines of this short tale you’re reading now.

I first found a way to start living as a young man when I met Frank.

And all he did was to listen to me.

Never mould me or put me down.

He just listened and smiled.

He was the first gentleman I ever met.

I find it odd that anyone would actually admit being an influencer.

This is because, as I understand it, an influencer is most likely to be someone that pretends they like something because someone gave them some money to do so.

So if I was an influencer, I’d feel a bit uncomfortable with that.

I’d feel a bit shallow and stupid.

So would probably keep it quiet.

But then no one would know I was an influencer.

And wouldn’t know where to send the cheques and the stuff.

Oh.

I see.

Influencers.

I don’t get too fed up about influencers these days, because they are dying.

Though I must admit that a more naive me did flirt with those armed with large social media audiences in the early days of Always Wear Red.

I never gifted things.

But I did feel that I should be gifting things.

Because other people were gifting things.

So it must be right.

Right?

It always made me feel funny though.

So I stayed away.

Influence.

There’s a difference between a constructed, traditional (is that the right term for such a new construct?) ‘influencer’ and ‘someone with influence’.

And I think that there is additional subtext too in that if any brand takes influencing on as a marketing tactic, it is only acceptable if the greater good is fed – and it is part of their existing brand story.

So the messaging is not just made up for the latest campaign.

Lies.

So, nettle tea for slimming – because it is complete and utter bullshit – is not something that traditional influencers should flaunt.

Because this makes them liars, being paid by lying brands to lie to the vulnerable and the unconfident.

Conversely, Meghan Markle wearing Huit Jeans because they are genuinely superb jeans made by a genuine brand that is genuinely creating Welsh jobs and building a genuinely bonded community is fine by me.

I just see these two things as different.

So my summary is this.

Individuals that accelerate the building of good brands and good communities that – together – spread good ideas where there is clearly no loser, are fine.

Individuals that set unreal or unrealistic goals for the vulnerable is just a really shitty thing for one human being to knowingly do to another under any circumstances.

This second way is shitty not just because the headline is a lie, but because the subtext is that people are not good enough just the way they are is a lie also.

It’s positioning an impossible solution next to an imaginary problem.

And that clearly is, and always has been, wrong.