Relative Sanity

a journal

2023 - Ups and Downs

I’m a big believer in taking time to look back on things before moving forward, but that doesn’t mean I do it very consistently. 2023 seems to demand some sort of reflection, though. I’d considered doing some lists, or trying to come up with some sort of summary, but instead I’m going to break my 2023 into some sections: what was new, what was old, what I’ve stopped (at least for now), and what I’ve started. This makes sense to me, and hopefully provides some entertainment for you.

What’s new?

I read a bunch of new books, saw a few new movies, and even listened to some new music. The Art of Action and What’s Our Problem? were standout books, while Birdy’s Portraits and Aphex Twin’s Blackbox Life Recorder broke into my “regular listens”.

In terms of movies, I saw and loved both Barbie and Oppenheimer (Barbie managing to subvert even my already subverted expectations, while Oppenheimer was exactly the film I hoped for), but my favourite movie ended up being Mutant Mayhem. The art style clearly announces that we are in a post-Spider-Verse world, and the chemistry of the teen leads was just sublime. In all the TMNT adaptations there have been, it was refreshing to finally see one lean all the way in to the Teenage part.

The biggest new thing for me, though, was taking a proper retreat — three days in a cabin by Loch Awe, on my own, with nothing but some trails to hike, books to read, and thoughts to let fully unfold. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to do this, and it was truly transformative. A clear and necessary reset midway through the year that allowed me to settle in for the closing half. Can recommend.

Old but good

There was also space to revisit some old things this year. I’ve been replaying some video games (Doom and Half Life both demanded some attention), as well as recent instalments of past favourites (Horizon: Forbidden West was a lot of fun).

Roger Waters’ updated take on The Dark Side of the Moon technically counts as “new”, but it hit all the old parts of my brain that lit up when I first put on Pulse back in high school. Pink Floyd ended up getting a lot of play as a result.

Old movies? Die Hard gets broken out as usual at Christmas, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending some time at the start of the year visiting some old Bogart movies — I’d never seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Ditto Key Largo or The Big Sleep. Hitting those back to back over a long weekend was a lot of fun.

I’ve also started getting back into pottering around with Ruby on Rails, and am very excited for the future of the one person framework. Everything old is, indeed, new again.

All the stops

This year I finished two years of therapy. For something that often felt like “just going along and talking”, it was surprising how much of a difference it had made when we looked back. There’s too much to summarise here, but if you’re curious about starting any sort of talking therapy, my advice is to try it out. I’m happy to talk about my experience if it will help.

If you’re in Edinburgh, I cannot recommend PF Counselling highly enough. Their mission includes ensuring that access to counselling services is not dependent on ability to pay, and so please don’t assume that this is some indulgence for the wealthy.

Probably the neatest summary of my experience is that I’ve realised that experiencing my emotions does not have to mean acting on them, and that not acting on my emotions does not mean having to suppress them. It’s hard to articulate, but stopping myself between the emotion and the action, giving one the time to “breathe” before the other begins, is probably one of the most important lessons I’ll ever learn.

Start your engines

More than anything, 2023 has been a rollercoaster. It started off with Covid (literally a positive test result on 1 January), and then presented a new, chaotic challenge each month: layoffs at work, new directions, changes to teams, to finances, to family expectations. Everything was up in the air all the time.

Now here’s the thing — I like predictability, and I like feeling as though I’m at least somewhat able to control my weeks, but much of that thinking had to be abandoned this year.

And you know what, I think it worked out okay. I think I started to “ride the rollercoaster”, and I hope to be able to continue this into 2024. To commit to the chaos, to take some more risks and have fun.

Frankly, I feel like I’ve spent too much of my life already waiting for permission to actually live, and I’m starting to realise there’s no point to waiting. There’s never going to be a better time than right now to try out the new thing.

What’s next?

So there we go, some thoughts from 2023. None of these are commitments or predictions — there’s nothing more boring than reading someone’s “new years resolutions”, knowing there’s almost 100% chance they’ll be forgotten in a month. What I am hoping for in 2024, though, is for me to be a bit more committed to the things I do try and do.

I’m also super hopeful to hear from anyone reading this, whether I’ve known you for a long time, we’ve fallen out of touch, or you’ve stumbled into this site by some other route.

Speaking of which, getting in touch isn’t perhaps as easy as it used to be — I ditched social media earlier in the year, so it’s going to have to be email: jb@ this site’s domain is always open, so drop me a line.

Maybe that’s my theme for 2024: getting back in touch, reaching out more, being part of the world in a slightly deeper way. Engagement, but at human scale.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. Hope your 2023 was survivable, and wishing you and yours a fantastic 2024 when it rolls around.