Manners Maketh Man

This piece was written for the July 2022 issue of Caitlyn Raymond’s fantastic Details Magazine, which is out now – you can find out more about it by clicking here!

When Caitlyn gave us the theme of ‘making a mental note’ for this issue of Details, I have to admit that I initially struggled a great deal when it came to finding inspiration. We all take a lot into account every day of our lives, and our brains are packed with all of the life lessons – both big and small – that we continually acquire. But as I rifled through my own mind, I slowly but surely began to panic. What could possibly be in there that was big enough to fill an entire piece, let alone be worth reading? I didn’t know what to do or where to turn, and time wasn’t on my side. I couldn’t back out this month, because I’d already done that once, and to do it again would be unprofessional…wouldn’t it? Maybe then, Caitlyn would think less of me as a writer – or even worse, as a person. What then? What then?

It was in that moment that I stopped in my tracks, because I realised I knew exactly what to do. My topic was already right there in my lap, because it’s informed almost everything I’ve done in my life since at least the age of 10. One day back in the mid-2000s, when I’d not long started at Minehead Middle School, I was sat eating my lunch in the hall when my helper came over to me looking rather straight-faced, uttering eight little words I’ve never quite been able to forget.

“Mason, you haven’t been thanking the dinner ladies.”

I can’t remember exactly how I reacted outwardly at the time, but I do know that my inner thought process was just the same as it’s always been – and from that day onward, I tried never to forget my manners again. I can’t claim to be perfect, of course, but I always try my hardest to treat others as I’d wish to be treated, which can sometimes be something of a double-edged sword, because it’s a blessing and a curse. Yes, it means your everyday life is probably more pleasant than it would be if you went out of your way to be rude and miserable towards others, but I’ve also found that – more often than I’d like to admit – it also leads to a certain amount of paranoia.

I’m willing to bet that in the last decade or so, not many days have gone by where I haven’t constantly analysed all of my own speech or body language in the presence of another person. It’s never taken much to trigger that, either – all I have to do is think about one tiny gesture, or a word inadvertently delivered in a strange tone, and my mind is working overtime for the rest of the day. In some cases, I find myself walking on eggshells around people, convinced they’re thinking about that one awkward moment just as much as I am. They never are, of course.

Over time, I’ve learned to calm myself a little more by always keeping my good intentions in mind. I never mean to rub anyone up the wrong way, and I do my utmost to avoid having that effect. If I do, I apologise straight away. It can be easy to forget that, so I make an effort to remember, and to forgive myself when I need to. It might come in pretty handy to remember that right now. Caitlyn most likely won’t have any complaints about my writing or my conduct, and I’ll definitely be back for the August issue. I hope so, anyway…

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 6

I just thought I’d let you know that I recently decided to take a break from my book club with Lara and Nora. I did so halfway through Stardust, which I’ve told the girls they can go ahead and discuss without me. As it turns out, not being in that conversation might be a blessing in disguise, since I’d left the novel at a point where I was yet to write a single word about it in my lined red notebook. I bought it almost exactly a year ago with the intention of using it only for my literary observations, and while I had quite a few for the first couple of stories, my notes for this one currently consist only of its title, the name of its author, and the date on which I started reading.

It would be a shame to waste all that paper, so even though I might not have anyone to talk about it with, I’m going to carry on with Stardust regardless. In the absence of regular paid work to establish a 9-5 routine, it might be good to give myself that distraction. Of course, from a creative point of view, it’ll still get those creative juices flowing, even if there are only a few words or sentences. Sometimes the tiniest amount of input is enough to cause a deluge of inspiration, so by the time I do rejoin the girls, I might have more feedback than they bargained for. Beyond that, I’ve bought more than enough notebooks meant for one project that have been condemned to contain passwords and shopping lists for eternity – and I’m determined to save this one from the same fate!

Mason

Not Remotely

In recent posts, I’ve referred once or twice to my search for ‘the next thing’ – job, purpose, whatever it may be. Until now, I’ve not had any reason or desire to discuss it in depth. That’s business and this blog is pleasure, and I generally try to keep anything too heavy out of my posts (there’s enough misery in the world at the moment as it is). Unfortunately, though, I now feel I have to update you properly on my employment struggles, because something is bugging me – and I can’t help feeling that it shouldn’t have to.

At the end of June I will have been unemployed for six months. In that time, I’ve taken every piece of advice I can get with regards to where to go next, and browsed a cacophony of job sites using every single search term you can think of. Nearly every one of those has been prefixed with the word ‘remote’ – given the difficulties I had finding somewhere to live in London, I concluded it might be better to find a role that suited home working, so that I could theoretically do it anywhere. This is where my problem arose, although not in the sense you might think. A shortage of remote roles was not an issue – if anything, it was more a lack of honesty that wound me up. After a while, I noticed that every time I got excited about something I’d seen, and had readied myself to apply for it, I’d dig a bit deeper and find that in actual fact, the job in question wasn’t quite as remote as it claimed it was.

Usually, such jobs are hybrid positions – although why some employers are quite so reluctant to use that term is beyond me. Instead, they lead you to believe that they will suit you perfectly, and that you’ll be able to do them from home with no issues, before admitting they want you in the office (which tends to be nowhere close at all) three days a week. While that might be fine for some people, it’s not generally very practical for me, and I can’t help but feel it might have unnecessarily prolonged my search. I might not have wasted so much time getting my hopes up if every posting had been unequivocally clear about its expectations of me. What’s more, after the lockdowns and pandemic-related disruption we’ve had over the last two years, surely a hybrid job could easily be made remote with careful and regular cooperation? Perhaps I’m making a fuss about nothing, but after all the disappointment I’ve already had, I could do without any further setbacks. I suppose the only upside is that with every hurdle, I’m that little bit closer to a breakthrough. After what already seems like an eternity, one must be coming soon.

Mason

Everything And Nothing At All

I never knew my head could be so busy and so empty at the same time. Since I left my job at the end of January it’s seemed like I have so much to think of – what I’ll do and where I’ll go next – but at the same time, like my life is one very much without purpose. There is no job, social life or friendship group to consider, I have no immediate prospects, and there’s little hope of me moving anywhere anytime soon. What that means is that it can be very hard to find any kind of motivation, which doesn’t bode well at all for general creativity or this blog. The fact I’m writing this off the back of an unsuccessful interview hasn’t helped matters either!

Happily, social media – that thing I was so keen to take a break from just weeks ago – has provided me with something of a solution. I’ve had Instagram for about three years now, having finally caved after years of pressure from my brother and friends, but I can’t say that I use it for promoting any kind of serious photography. I even went as far as putting a disclaimer in my bio (“don’t expect photographic masterpieces!”). The account is for documenting the world as I see it, but that doesn’t mean that the photos are useless or disposable (even though there are an awful lot of book covers among them, just to show off what I’ve been reading). Every picture tells a story, after all, so going forward, each one will have the potential to be inspiring, however blurry or unremarkable it might seem. If you recall, November/December 2018 saw me use a photo of a parked bicycle to record a podcast – and while I might be happy for that to remain buried and far away from human ears for the rest of time, I’ll hopefully be able to get enough material for a blog post or two out of what I capture from now on. It’s still entirely possible that nothing could come of this, and I never mention it again. If recent months have taught me anything, though, it’s that all I can do is try to stay positive, however hard that might be at times.

Mason

Partly Cloudy

It’s now just over two months since I left my job, and despite my best efforts, I’m still not sure what lies in my immediate professional future. I’ve been keeping myself as busy as possible, however – a third piece for the forthcoming issue of Details could be coming very shortly, and I’m making solid progress on the next book club choice, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I’ve decided to go down the e-book route this time, mainly because if I keep buying physical copies, I risk quickly running out of room for them! It does have another benefit, though, as thanks to the Kindle Cloud Reader I can access the novel on my laptop, which in turn means I have another excuse to sit at my desk. And though that may not seem like much, it has a surprisingly positive psychological effect.

The difference between reading on my laptop at my desk and reading on my Kindle while lying on the floor is that the former requires me to be upright, alert, slightly less lethargic. In that respect, although I’m still perfectly relaxed, it doesn’t feel that much like a leisure activity at all. It feels a lot more important, like it has more substance than simply scrolling through Facebook does. Ultimately, I guess I could say it makes me feel like I’m actually doing something. What’s more, I’ve also used my computer to take another step closer to that – as of last Monday, I am now a fully paid-up member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (or CIEP for short).

This organisation offers those who join a number of perks, among which is the chance to complete training (at discounted prices) in proofreading and copyediting. Since the latter area seems to be broader, that’s what I’ve chosen to focus on, and I now have everything I need to start the six units of the Copyediting 1 course. It looks like all I need to do is read the featured study notes and complete the activities using Microsoft Word and its Track Changes function, something I’m more than familiar with after the last three years. Not since my early days at Haymarket have I felt this confident and excited. Although I won’t have all the knowledge required to copyedit for a living when the course is finished – the CIEP recommends doing at least two more first – this new endeavour will at least go a little way to clearing some of those rather ominous clouds hanging over me. It gives me a fresh glimmer of hope to pursue, and I can’t wait to get started!

Mason

Details

You may recall that in a recent post, I alluded to a new writing project that I wasn’t quite ready to talk about yet. Well, I just wanted to update you on exactly what that is, especially because as I write this post, I’m working on my second contribution to it. It’s none other than the excellent Details Magazine, founded and run by Caitlyn, a fellow Winchester student due to graduate this year. Aimed at women aged 14-20, it contains stories from a wide variety of voices and walks of life which always fit a given theme. In the case of the March issue, in which my first piece appeared, the theme was ‘let go and grow’, which we were all free to interpret in any way we wanted.

Naturally, given my current circumstances, I chose to focus on the whirlwind of emotions that letting go of an old job and searching for a new one entails. Beyond that, though, I wanted to emphasise how the written word had helped me to stay focused and develop creatively, particularly through the medium of blackout poetry (which you can find out more about here). As it was my Details debut, I was nervous about how it would be received, and I wondered if my link to the theme was too tenuous, but I needn’t have worried. It went down a treat with Caitlyn and was duly published – and let me tell you, the thrill of seeing my name on a page attached to something I’ve written isn’t a feeling that anything can ever diminish. It only increased my hunger to get involved in the forthcoming April edition with something else that could appeal to an audience beyond the target demographic. As I sit here typing that very thing, I can only hope that I’ve succeeded, but I’ve certainly got a good feeling about it.

If you want to know more about Details, you can visit its website here, or check out its new podcast here. You’ll be glad you did, I promise. And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased!

Mason

Broken Record

I’m always thinking about what I can try on this blog that’s new and different – even though you might not think so, given that the material never strays far from what’s going on in my own life. Every element of it has been carefully considered in some way at one time or another, from the text, to the imagery, to the design of the site itself. Unfortunately, none of the vague plans that exist in my head have come to fruition just yet. I haven’t even used that aforementioned imagery nearly as often as I should, but that hasn’t stopped me creating little quirks and continuities that might have passed you by. Up to now, at least!

There are things I’ve become quite fond of including over the last couple of years in particular. I treat them as private self-deprecating jokes, and by that, I mean really private – between me and myself, to be precise. I realised one day that I’ve developed two accidental habits while writing these posts, and the first is my tendency to contradict myself. This most often happens when I announce my intention to focus on or pursue something, only for it to be mentioned once months later or simply never again. The second habit is my continued use of the phrase “…as I’ve said before”, or variations thereof. At first, this appeared genuinely innocently, but I eventually realised just how often it popped up and decided to keep it in. It’s arguably also there to save me having to rifle back through to the previous post where I mentioned the thing in question, but it mainly makes me smile, even if nobody else notices or appreciates it. Whatever the case, it demonstrates how not everything in life can be linear. We all make mistakes, and we all contradict and repeat ourselves now and again, so sounding like a broken record sometimes can’t be all bad, can it? The world is full of these fluctuations, so I’m embracing them in my own little way, and giving this blog a discreet and somewhat ironic pair of stylistic hallmarks in the process.

Mason

Operation Book Club, Part 5

My attempts to throw myself into the written word while I search for a new job are going pretty well. I have recently submitted a piece of just over 1,000 words for a brand new project, which I’m sure you’ll hear more about in due course. On top of that, I’m finally reading Nineteen Eighty Four, the next novel Lara, Nora and I will be discussing as part of our book club. It’s taken me six months to get started – according to my notes, I finished the last one on 16 August – but I’ve made good progress, with just over half the book under my belt at the time of writing. And let me tell you, it’s certainly made an impact!

It’s distracting me from my current situation in a couple of ways. Firstly, the hard-hitting material means I’m well and truly immersed, but in addition, it’s nice to take my eyes away from a screen for a bit. I’ve mentioned what a relief that can be plenty of times before. It’s only since leaving Haymarket that I’ve truly realised how much of our lives are consumed by devices, and not just recreationally. If I’m not scrolling through social media (which can be a bad idea if you’re comparing your own situation to that of your much more successful fellow graduates), watching a video or playing a game, I’m frantically scouring the net for employment, and even that’s giving me square eyes. What’s more, it can be hard to strike the right balance between spending sufficient time doing that and getting away from the pressures it can entail, so the book is really helping to provide a different kind of mental stimulation, one that’ll bridge the gap until the next big thing to focus on arrives. Things are a little unpredictable and lonely for me in the meantime, but it’s true what my Mum always says, you know – “as long as you have a book in hand, you’ll never be alone.”

Mason

Another Satisfied Customer

As of last Monday, I am unemployed once again – for a few reasons, the job at Classic & Sports Car was just one of those things that didn’t work out (not that that should reflect badly on them, since they’d been nothing but supportive from the start, and they were more than happy with my contributions). What that means is that I have to go back to the drawing board, and while I might normally relish the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again from scratch, this time it feels markedly different. That job was, on paper, a perfect opportunity for me. Indeed, it would be ideal for any budding motoring journalist, and I sincerely hope my successor settles well. When it didn’t pan out as I’d hoped, though, it left me in a somewhat strange position. I feel somewhat lost, unable to trust my own judgement with my confidence knocked, and not knowing where to turn at all.

With that in mind, I’ve a lot of thinking to do, but thankfully there are a few personal projects I can throw myself into in the meantime. For starters, there’s the voiceover I’ve been writing for Abi, which I alluded to last time. I spent days bashing out and deleting just over 300 words, convinced I still wasn’t the man for the job and that they’d be much better off coming from her. When I’d finally ended up with a draft that I didn’t completely hate, I took a leap of faith and sent it to Abi, hurriedly assuring her that I’d be fine with any edits she made, or if she wanted to discard it completely! To my considerable relief, however, she loved it, saying it was as though I’d taken the jumbled ideas and words in her head and put them in perfect order. It therefore looks very likely that it will be used in her video, and the icing on the cake will be the fact that she’s actually going to credit me for it, which is always a good thing for an aspiring writer.

That’s what I’m trying to focus on in the absence of full-time employment – getting my name out there as much as I can, no matter what it’s for. In addition to Abi’s commission, I’ve spent some time browsing some websites that were recommended during my Copyediting module in Winchester, including Fiverr, Textbroker and People Per Hour. These allow freelancers in all manner of industries to advertise themselves or pitch for projects posted by others, and I’m hoping that one or more of them might help me to gain some editing or proofreading expertise, since building a portfolio makes it a lot easier for people to make a name for themselves. Besides that, I’ve got an online meeting on Wednesday for something else I might get involved in, to which I’m hoping to take some interesting ideas. I can’t say what’s going to come from that just yet, but I’m sure you’ll hear about it in due course if it develops. I’m just glad to have leads to consider and pursue, helpful ones that could help me make my mark while I search for something more permanent. These are uncertain times for me, but such things really do remind me that there may yet be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mason

In The Words Of The T-Shirt…

“…Just Do It.”

That’s what my old GCSE English teacher used to say, usually when we had to write an essay. Given that she had to mark so many of them, she never had much time for people who went “round the houses” – in other words, those of us who took ages to get past the introduction to the crux of the matter. All she wanted was for us to make and explain our point, and to do it promptly. To get the thing tied up and finished. It could still take me a while to hit the nail on the head, and I can remember writing many a long-winded paragraph, but I got there in the end – and that small quote is advice I’d do well to remember today.

As you’ll know by now, I’ve long wanted to be the most versatile writer possible, but I’m invariably held back by the belief that I’ll never write anything worth reading or watching, or that I’m too rusty to take on a specific project (such as scriptwriting, which – Jed Mercurio video lessons aside – I haven’t done since I left Winchester in the summer). I lack a certain amount of confidence, but I also know that I won’t regain it unless I press ahead and write regardless, so sometimes it seems like a somewhat impossible situation. There is, however, a light at the end of this particular tunnel.

My friend Abi works as a photographer down in Cornwall (sometimes she doubts her own ability too, but she really doesn’t need to – as you’ll find out for yourself if you contact her via social media). Her mind is endlessly inventive, and I admire how she always tries to push herself and her business further in colourful and distinctive ways in order to stand out from the crowd. This includes utilising film and the written word as well as imagery, and for her latest endeavour she’s decided to create a video featuring herself and her camera immersed in her beloved Cornish countryside, while she explains her motivations for doing what she does via voiceover. This element of the video needs to be personal, profound and sincere, it needs to delve deep into the effect her environment has on her wellbeing and creativity – and writing such a thing is no mean feat. I should know, because it’s a task she’s entrusted to me.

I’m in two minds about whether or not I should accept it, largely because the lines are meant to convey her own perspective – so surely they should come from her? Nevertheless, I think I will, firstly because I want to help a friend, and secondly because it’s still an opportunity to show someone what I can do, even if it’s not on a massive scale. Abi doesn’t need to use any of what I’ve written once she’s seen it, but it won’t hurt me at all to carry on, even if it is only 500 words, and just do it.

Mason