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Chris Harris's Blog

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Last update: May 2022

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I make music. These days, I make lots of music. And the results of all that music making are available for you to listen to. My latest release—the second full-length album from me this month—is called Inbetween. This album got its title from the fact that we're in between the two big song writing challenges that I take part in each year (February Album Writing Month, which unsurprisingly takes place in February and Fifty/Ninety, which runs over the fifty days between July 4th and October 1st) and these days I find it easier to just keep going once they draw to a close. That may explain the ridiculous levels of musical productivity that I've been displaying for the past year or so. Once again I'm making this release a name your price deal, so you can get it for free. Go!

PROGRESS, OF SORTS

I have finally been given a hospital appointment. I hope that this means an improvement in my quality of life is on the way, because it's been pretty poor for the last few months.

Oddly enough, I got a fairly decent night's sleep last night. Perhaps it was because I was feeling slightly less pessimistic than I usually do as a result—or perhaps it was because I have switched from the winter 13.5 tog duvet to a much lighter summer one. Or perhaps it was because I have been applying plenty of Voltarol to my left ankle before I go to bed; it's been playing up recently. Believe me, my physical condition these days leaves much to be desired.

BREAK TIME

Mentally, I'm still very frazzled at the moment. I've decided that after Thursday night's Twitch stream I'm going to take a break for a couple of weeks and see if that recharges my batteries somewhat. I don't want to do shows where I'm not adding anything creatively to the discourse, and "content for the sake of content" is not the way I want to do things on my channel.

Apart from anything else, I've been feeling like I should be focussed on creativity at the expense of all else, and even though I love making music and I've had a very productive eighteen months or so, being "always on" is also a recipe for burnout. Let's not go there.

So I'm going to switch things around and do other stuff. Even though severing all ties with Amazon means that I've deleted my Goodreads account, I'm still reading a lot of books. The latest is Most Secret War by Professor R. V. Jones, which is full of some of the most outrageous tales I have ever read in a non-fiction book. I remember being fascinated by the BBC's television series which Professor Jones presented back in 1977. In fact I remember it vividly, and was intrigued by the fact that he wore two wristwatches. Little did I know at the time that a decade after the series was broadcast I would find myself working in an office inside the Mansion at Bletchley Park...

And I will try and update the blog more frequently. We're coming up on its 19th birthday!

SUNDAY SOUNDS

It's Sunday lunchtime, and I'm sitting here typing away at the computer while the latest album from Joe Satriani, The Elephants of Mars is playing on the living room's surround system. It sounds good, and it's nice to hear Joe back pushing the boundaries of instrumental guitar music (my favourite album of his is still Engines of Creation, which seemed to be a step too far away from traditional rock music for most.) The new album features some outrageously great guitar tones and there's a wide variety of genres getting mashed together.

Given the date, I will be playing albums from Brian Eno and Mike Oldfield later, as they will both be celebrating their birthdays today.

Provided, that is, that they don't have to compete with a thunderstorm; the forecast for the rest of the day is somewhat unsettled. It's still spring, but there's already a lot of energy in the atmosphere (which is a physics way of saying that the temperature is rising.)

HOTTING UP

Summer this year looks like it's going to be a very warm one. My back lawn is already showing signs of drought. The Met Office's current long term weather forecast (a month ahead) suggests that conditions will be dry and temperatures will be "warm to very warm" for the early part of next month.

Further afield, things are already getting serious. In the Indian state of Jaipur, forecasters are warning that temperatures could hit 50 °C in the next few days. If the wet bulb temperature exceeds human body temperature, which is 37.5°C, sweating no longer cools the body down, leading to overheating, dehydration, and eventually death. Heatwaves kill people.

I'm seeing more frequent calls to halt the use of fossil fuels now because of their impact on the climate. But the people who are in a position to do something about the matter don't seem to be listening. The International Panel on Climate Change's report makes for alarming reading, but I suspect that it's not alarming enough. If you're not terrified by how things are likely to develop over the next eighty years, you haven't seen the same forecasts that I have. This, for starters. Worst-case scenarios from a few years ago are looking increasingly optimistic.

GLASS HALF EMPTY

I'm definitely in a suboptimal frame of mind at the moment. I'm still finding it very difficult to sleep and I'm gradually moving from being in considerable discomfort to pain from the kidney stones and cyst. I feel pretty miserable, to be honest. I'm finding it difficult to focus on tasks and I've really not been feeling particularly creative this month. I haven't even managed to keep on top of things in the blog, which has seen my posting rate drop below once a week.

In a depressive episode like this, it's much too easy to just give up and let things slide. And I've definitely been doing that of late. But this week I forced myself to do the boring grown-up stuff like laundry or gardening. I have made significant progress on wresting the garden back from the semi-jungle state that it's been in for the last few years. But I suspect that I might have upset my kidneys by hoisting my green bin in and out of the back garden and wielding the big hedge trimmers with a little too much abandon.

Last night I eventually managed to drift off to sleep and not wake up again until nine o'clock in the morning. Either I was so exhausted from a week of dreadful nights, or I'm beginning to recover slightly. I hope that it's the latter.

MORE MUSIC

As you can see from the change to the banner at the top of the page, I've released another album on Bandcamp. It dropped on Thursday, making it the second full-length album I've released in a week. I also have five tracks recorded for the album that will follow it. Since I finally got round to turning my back bedroom into a dedicated home recording studio, I have been determined to get as much use out of it as I possibly can and as a result the number of songs or instrumentals that I've recorded over the last decade or so is now in four figures. At some point in that time making music changed from being something that was nice to do into something that I can't imagine not doing. It has become my primary creative outlet and means of self-expression and to borrow a term from Abraham Maslow, it's how I achieve self-actualization these days.

And while it's not one of the reasons why I put my music on Bandcamp, it's immensely gratifying when people actually take the time to listen to what I'm doing—and even buy copies of my numerous EPs and singles or the twenty or so full-length albums I have in my ever-growing discography. It's very humbling to discover that what I do has value to other people. This week Bandcamp emailed me to let me know that I'd hit a big milestone in terms of dollar sales achieved since I first started releasing music there in 2013. It was completely unexpected and a very pleasant surprise. I'm not even close to the point where I can earn a living by making music yet, but I'm a lot farther along that road than I thought I would be at this point.

I've been in the studio again today, writing lyrics and updating music software (and downloading one or two new, free instruments that I can use to make new and interesting sounds with as well). The lesson that I've learned from all this is quite simply that you should never give up on your creative endeavours. You just have to keep plugging away. All that really matters is the enjoyment that can be found in making stuff. Anything else is a bonus.

WARMING UP

The weather finally seems to be leaving winter behind. It's been taking its own sweet time over things; on one occasion last week the temperature in the back garden dropped down to just 3°C overnight. Even though the conservatory on the back of the house faces north, it warms up nicely in the sunshine and as of two days ago, I realised that I could stop wearing a fleece inside the house and still be comfortably warm. And so I've switched the central heating off for the summer, letting sunlight heat things up instead.

The medium-term plan for this place, such as it is, is to put solar panels on the roof and get rid of the gas boiler and gas hob, replacing them with electric versions. But that's for another day. Right now, I think I'm just going to enjoy the sunshine.

HAVE A LIE-IN TOMORROW

It's a Bank Holiday Weekend here in England, which means that most businesses will be closed tomorrow. Back when I was working full time I really used to savour days off like this, because it meant that I could catch up on sleep. Since I became ill and stopped working, I've realised that I spent most of my working life in a semi-permanent state of sleep deprivation.

I've been tracking how I sleep for the past four years (my watch is clever enough to provide a decent estimate of when I'm in each phase of sleep based on my heart rate and the amount of movement it detects) and I've seen a remarkable change in the amount of non-REM sleep that I've been getting every night now that I am able to choose what waking hours I keep. It has increased from around a fifth of the total sleep that I managed to get a night (and at around five hours of sleep a night, my totals were woefully short of where they should be) to very nearly half of it. Read books like Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep and you'll begin to understand why pushing ourselves to stay awake long after we should have gone to bed and waking up long before we should do can have such deleterious effects on our health. Alarm clocks can be really bad for you.

Non-REM sleep helps us to process the day's events and commit them to long-term memory; not getting enough of it is also linked to diseases such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Our brains do interesting things during Non-REM sleep. EEGs show features like spindles, which are not fully understood but which seem to be important in maintaining the brain's plasticity (our ability to learn new things). It's also thought that the flow of cerebrospinal fluid increases to flush away harmful byproducts of cognition that build up during the day such as beta amyloids. As you can see in that last link, beta amyloids are closely linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan both boasted that they could function on less than four hours' sleep a night. And famously, both of them went on to develop Alzheimer's disease (and from events that I saw on television back in the day, Ronnie was clearly suffering from the disease even during his first term as President).

Don't end up like Ronnie. Get more sleep. Start by having a lie-in tomorrow morning. That's what I'll be doing.