Monday, 1 June 2015

EYES RIGHT by Penny Dolan

As my ABBA post comes at the start of each month, I’m often in the mood for a bit of personal New Resolution, a hope that in the the coming month I will do better. Right now, a birthday recently behind me, I’m fretting over what long keyboard hours are doing to my – and possibly to your - health. I have read and heard constant media warnings that sitting too much, whether for “book writing” or emails & admin (various) or blogging & Face-booking and more does bad things to the body.   

On a day like today, when several writing obligations will need much long sitting, those warnings flickering away at the back of my mind like angels.

 Fitness, first. Nicola Morgan recently blogged on ABBA about her admirable writing and “desk walking.”  No, don’t think that’s for me.  I might co-ordinate the footsteps but the words would look like QWERTY exercises done by an ape. Some authors prefer exercise indoors and speak of visits to their local gym or gym equipment ready in their spare bedroom. I’d probably forget and trip over the cross trainer while day-dreaming. (Dislocated knee? Not a nice injury.) 

Many writers like walking outdoors, thinking over their latest Work In Progress as they pace each day. I always think of Jenny Alexander and Katherine Langrish out walking wild places.

I often daydream about trying something more holistic like swimming, but I am the world’s slowest swimmer and therefore a menace to all faster swimmers in the pool. It’s an activity that’s good for authors. I’m envious when I hear about Liz Kessler surfing in Cornwall or Catherine Johnson braving the waves, or the many other writers who plunge into swimming pools each day. Sigh. Any swimming experience takes me the rest of the day to get over. Sad face etc.

Then comes the bones and the bending – or not. My “long sitting” month has stiffened my joints and stretchy activities are needed.

 Linda Newbery swears by yoga, if she swears at all, and her yoga sessions are always popular at the SAS Charney Manor week’s retreat. I've tried out the easier alternative - Pilates - nearer home which went well until I was hit by a month of school visits and trips away. When I returned, the class was much fuller.  

Oh dear.  Friends, there’s a difference between hiding discreetly at the back (which I had been) and being the person bumping into other people (which I now was). Yes, I lost courage.

Then there's that other small difficulty: the Author Diet!  
When you’re working from home, extra nibbling and munching is so easy, and little by little the numbers on the scales creep up. If you are deep into writing - and therefore too busy to go through all the faff of cooking - your meals/snacks may well be a bit carb heavy.  

We tried, home here. We've done bursts of 5:2. (Thank you, Kate Harrison.) However, surrounded by the gloom of winter on many a “2” day, by 4pm we’d decide  that it was really a “5” day - and our schedule fell apart.

Besides, am I the only one with problems about all the Facebook friends who continually cheer and reward stressed friends with virtual chocolate and wine?  Ha, ha, hollow ha! Some of us stressed writers swiftly convert that reward into the real world, especially the comforting chocolate.

Yet one good health-type thing has happened. I’ve been having trouble with my eyes – no, that’s not the good thing! – but battling with font sizes and views and changing the height of the screen (posture and eyes!) and similar stuff did not seem to help. 

I usually work on a PC, facing a window so I can look out. (I’m sure that other writer’s talk about looking out of the window?) Late last month, as the daylight level outside grew brighter, I was shutting my blinds more and more. I hardly ever saw straight daylight, and was eye-sore by the end of the afternoon. Then I suddenly saw what a fool I’d been.  

Of course, of course, you cry! Didn’t you think of that before?

I brought a small table into the room, set it 45% to the window working top and moved the PC screen around. Now the screen is backed by a set of bookshelves and my eyes have stopped hurting. Although this big shift a) messes up the space in the room slightly annoyingly and b) means I now have wires trailing across a gap and c) blocks the occasional-use tv screen, I can now work for longer without really sore eyes and that feels like a blessing.

Along with body and bones and good things to eat, do look after your eyes, people. Take good care of them, as it won’t be easy to write if your sight starts going. If you are sitting there, squinting up your itchy eyes, maybe it’s time to stop accommodating all the deficiencies in your workspace set-up and consider quite where and how to place your screen while you’re at your work. Just a suggestion.

Meanwhile, despite my comments above, I'd really like to know how you keep healthy and un-creaky when you’re in the middle of long writing or too many projects? And how do you fit it that into you (and possibly your family's) life-style?.

Penny Dolan

Ps. One birthday present was a simple daily Yoga DVD. A hint, I think. I’ll let you know.


Elen C said...

Do you have a dog? Mine is a brilliant regulator. Her body-clock knows when it's noon, and she comes and sits, staring mournfully at me until I close the laptop and take her out for a walk. 45mins later, we have lunch together and I feel ready for the afternoon. Wouldn't be without her.

Sue Purkiss said...

Yes - when we had a dog, the requirement for a regular walk was a boon. Somehow don't seem to get round to it without her. Do gardening, though - I suppose that's exercise!

Joan Lennon said...

I'm trying to remember to sit up straighter - it's not what you'd call exercise, but I can tell at the end of the day if I've been remembering because my back and shoulders ache, in a "hey we're not used to this" sort of way.

Penny Dolan said...

All good thoughts! Definitely one of the fine benefits of dog owning, Elen, especially on a lovely day. Gardening is supposed to be good and maybe vigorous exercise but that's rarely the kind I do. I forgot to allow for "sitting up". Jona: that was why the screen used to sit at "eyes ahead" sight level. Not sure that's possible now I've shifted the layout around, but a useful reminder.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Oops - I'm always going on about chocolate!! Note to self - try to stop. Anyhow, I agree this is a big problem and when I'm immersed I completely forget about getting up and simply stretching. But that is what works for me. Walk away from the keyboard, run upstairs with the washing, chop a salad, walk round the garden, go to the shops, anything which stops me sitting hour after hour and risking an RSI flare up. Great post Penny as always.

Anonymous said...

Chocolate? Did someone mention chocolate? Surely it must be time for some...

I too do dog-walking and a bit of swimming as well as weekly Pilates classes (if Pilates is the easy option, then I'm NEVER trying yoga!) And I try to work in different places to avoid sitting for ages in the same position. That said, my upper back is still ridiculously tight. If money and time were limitless, I'm sure a daily massage would sort it. When I write that best-selling-then-made-into-blockbuster-film book, it'll be first on my list of extravagances.

Ann Turnbull said...

I do Tai Chi rather than Pilates or Yoga. You do it standing up, which is an advantage if you have arthritis in your knees. Like Miriam, I walk around the house a lot and do laundry and bits of housework. And I love walking - don't need a dog to make me do it every day, though I'm sure a dog would like to come with me. At the moment, though, my back has seized up after a bank holiday weekend of visitors, socialising, bed-making and lots of cooking - not a keyboard in sight!

Penny Dolan said...

I have never investigated Tai Chi, Ann, but that standing up sounds a good start. Oh yes, I do do housework, usually when visitors are coming, and quite enjoy blasting through the rooms with the hoover at such times.

Yes, Miriam, I'm someone who forgets to move too. And, Carol, if only money and time . . . indeed!

adele said...

Very happy birthday, Penny,belatedly! All I ever do is walk. I try to walk half an hour a day....sometimes I fail, but I try. Yoga is exvellent and there's a class for Oldies near me on. Tuesday morning and somehow I'm always busy on Tuesday.....oh dear! Eating well helps. I just cut out all sugar except for fruit and lost a stone, but fell dramatically OFF THE WAGON on a recent visit to Paris and have still to clamber back on. But losing sugar is the best thing you can do for health, I reckon....still gives you lots of nice things to eat. Only NO CHOCOLATE,!