Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Ethan and Jeremy shared some thoughts recently about how a side-project or personal website can be a way to either distract yourself from other worries, or to center yourself in a time of unusual stress. Ethan refers to tinkering on his website as a modern version of a worry stone; a way to combat anxiety by absorbing oneself in something creative.

It can feel difficult to tinker in a space that’s mine, but that’s also the space I use to advertise the work I do. But that aside: as worry stones go, this is a good one, and I’m grateful to have it. I hope you’ve got a good worry stone nearby too—whatever form it happens takes.

Ethan Marcotte

Whatever you end up doing, my point is that your website is quite literally an outlet. While you’re stuck inside, your website is not just a place you can go to, it’s a place you can control, a place you can maintain, a place you can tidy up, a place you can expand. Most of all, it’s a place you can lose yourself in, even if it’s just for a little while.

Jeremy Keith, for his blog Adactio

This technique is obviously apposite during the current crisis and although I have been blogging for over twenty years, I find myself thinking about writing more than usual at the moment. This is partially because I am inspired by more people sharing their own thoughts and stories, but also because I want to record how I’m feeling, and what’s happening on a day-to-day basis. Mainly so that I can refer back to it in months and years to come, and remember how it felt to be in the midst of life in a world where every person you meet or come into contact with can be a threat to your health.

In a way, this has always been the purpose of my personal website; as an online journal and reminder to myself of all the things which have happened. Publishing content continually for sixteen years here at means that there is now a stupid amount of photos and posts online, but I’ve done my best to add keywords and tags to mean that I can find stuff relatively quickly.

I particularly remember taking and sharing the following photo simply because I knew I’d look back on it in years to come. As I wrote at the time, “…one day, this photo will be twenty years ago…”. Even now, the first time I’ve really returned to it, it’s already seven years ago.

Chilling out on our balcony in summer 2013

Jeremy quotes Scott Kelly in his blog post; an astronaut who spent a year in space and who has a much different experience of being “quarantined”. Kelly’s article in the New York Times gives advice on techniques for organising your time when confined; from sticking to a routine, pacing yourself and taking breaks, having a non-work-related hobby, getting outside whilst keeping to the recommended advice, and ensuring that you keep healthy by sticking to a regular bedtime.

NASA scientists closely study astronauts’ sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.

Scott Kelly for the New York Times

The “getting outside” bit may seem difficult at the moment, and many people are having the most difficulty with this part. In Switzerland, shops, restaurants and the like are closed, which is where many people go to socialise. In other countries, there are restrictions on going outside, but most countries are allowing people to take exercise for their health, under the proviso that they remain at least a few feet from others. I have taken to my bike for my exercise, as many mountain areas are restricted or (in the case of cable car access) inaccessible.

Even going for a walk around the local town or village will help. I spent a lot of time working in my office at home at the beginning of 2018, and didn’t bother getting any exercise. That led to circulation problems and back pain – partially due to stress but also due to a lack of movement – and I quickly learned how important it is to get out of the house for some fresh air, different views and exercise at least once every day.

Coming back to the original point of this blog post; writing a journal or maintaining an online blog or website is a great way to get your thoughts down on paper. Writing this entry has just taken me around half-an-hour, during which I have been able to concentrate on the pleasure of writing, the memory of times past, and has led me to read articles online and learn new things. Imagine how much less stressed you can become if you take half-an-hour every day to do something creative; be it writing a journal, designing something, or learning how to sculpt (as a friend and her daughter have started doing).

NASA has been studying the effects of isolation on humans for decades, and one surprising finding they have made is the value of keeping a journal. Throughout my yearlong mission, I took the time to write about my experiences almost every day. If you find yourself just chronicling the days’ events (which, under the circumstances, might get repetitive) instead try describing what you are experiencing through your five senses or write about memories.

Scott Kelly for the New York Times

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