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Finding My Personal Legend

Write Right Now?

They say there’s a book inside everyone.  What they don’t comment on, however, is whether the book is any good or not.  Having spent the last number of years dabbling in blogging, with some degree of success, I decided to try writing fiction.

Short stories, I thought, would be a good place to begin.  Then when I had enough of them written, I could publish them as a book.  Super.  There was only one problem.  It turns out I am not terribly good at writing fiction.

I have made a couple of attempts, and so far the results have been fair to middling at best.  It is reminding me of the time when I first wanted to try to get fit.  I decided to try to attempt running.  Assuming that it would come naturally.  I had only made it about 50 meters, when I realised my folly.  With little choice, I swallowed my shame and returned home and back to the drawing board.

Writing, is proving to track a similar course.  I was so sure it would come easily to me.  That in a matter of months I would be on the best sellers list!  Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift.

Each story I have written as either been terribly generic or more auto-biographical than a short story should be.  I am beginning to wonder if I lack imagination, or creativity, or both.  Maybe it just isn’t for me?

Throughout the last few months, there has been no shortage of uncertainty in my life.  Writing, I felt, was the one thing I could rely on.  It was the one are in my life with plenty of scope.  The possibilities were endless and there was no shortage of potential.  Could I have been misguided?

The Hidden Legend

I have been listening to The Alchemist on audio book.  It is read by Jeremy Irons and his dulcet tones are so incredibly soothing.  The book itself is gorgeous.  It is a real work of art.  In it, Paulo Coelho, talks about your “personal legend.”  He counsels that when you really want something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen for you.  It is a wonderfully powerful message, but every time he repeats it, I want to scream “but what if I don’t know what I want?”  “What if I never find my personal legend.”

Surely, at the age of 37. I should have some idea of what I want to be when I grow up?  I have such envy for people I meet who have a clear purpose.  Those among us who know precisely what path they should be on.  Their personal legend might be leading them towards a certain career, a particular sporting ambition or even parenthood.  The destination is not important.  It is the sense of purpose that I crave.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up every morning knowing what you would ultimately like to achieve.  How liberating it must be not having to think about it.  Not to spend sleepless nights worrying if you are doing it right.

Or could it be that this really is all there is?  Perhaps my destiny is playing out exactly as it ought to.  With a career in accountancy and a few entertaining, if ultimately fruitless, hobbies.  Is it “normal” to experience such crises of purpose?  Is it tied in to the onset of middle age?

The Next Thing Next…

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the “next thing.”  Always seeking out the next opportunity, the shiny new challenge.  Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me to stop.  To sit quietly.  To be still.  To allow the noise and the chaos to fall away, so that the answer might reveal itself.

It’s a strange dichotomy to be happy, yet unfulfilled.  It is something I have had a hard time reconciling myself to.  I have a good job, a loving husband, an amazing family and great friends.  Financial security appears to be within touching distance.  I have been blessed with good health and am privileged to have been born a white woman in a western country.  How dare I want more?  Who am I to seek my personal legend?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has come up several times during the course of my academic career.  I understand that is the self-actualisation need which remains unfulfilled.  I am aware that this can only present itself in the absence of all other need and as such I am grateful for it.  It is the very definition of a first world problem.

In The Achelmist, we meet a crystal merchant, who has an unfulfilled duty to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Although he has the money and the opportunity to go, he does not.  Understanding that should he tick that off his bucket list, he would have no reason to keep on living.  Perhaps it is that same phenomenon that keeps so many of us from achieving our ultimate goals.  (Those of us who are lucky enough to have identified them.)  How do we stay motivated to get out of bed, when there is no next thing?

As for me, I am not quite ready to give up on the idea of writing.  I am toying with the idea of taking a creative writing course, as soon as my schedule opens up a bit.  Hopefully in the second half of the year.  Until then, I will keep my eyes and my heart open.  Watching for omens and waiting for the king to direct me towards my treasure.  Be well xxx

 

 

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Being Enough

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.        –  C.P. Cavafy

Do you ever get the feeling that you should be farther along your path than you are?  Do you ever get frustrated by set backs?  Do you tire of hearing yourself talk about starting over, again?  Yeah?  So do I.

As I sit writing this, it is “Blue Monday.”  I am looking out at a black night.  Neither of these however, is the source of my malaise.  I feel depressed and down due to the sisyphus condition I find myself in.  The near constant roundabout of a little progress followed by a big backslide, has started to wear me down.  Just like in the Greek myth, I am beginning to wonder if I am destined to carry the same load up hill for all eternity.

I am not writing this because I want to host my own pity party.  Or to elicit sympathy from my readers.  Instead, I write because I promised you and myself, almost exactly three years ago, that I would always be authentic.  It is extremely tempting to show only the highlights.  To invite you in, only when my house is tidy and everything is in order.  However to do that, would be to fail to honour the relationship we have built.  The trust you show me, each time you turn up to read my words.

Late last year, I was invited to resign from my job.  I watched a career that I had spent over a decade building crumble in the space of a single conversation.  The words “you’re not right for the job,” have echoed in my mind many times since then.  Reverberating and repeating.  Their message clear, you are not enough.

I had always known that a lot of my self worth was tied up with my job.  I am a natural striver, always obsessed with the next thing.  An upward career trajectory was good way for me to channel this.  What I had not known, was that when the label of accountant, professional and general good girl was taken away from me, I would struggle to recognise myself.

I wish I could tell you that this was limited to my professional life, but sadly that is not the case.  I am routinely plagued by the curse of more.  If I am fit, I want to be fitter.  If I am thin, I want to lose more weight.  When I fail it is all my fault and when I succeed it has nothing to do with me.

Lately I been doing some writing for another blog.  A couple of weeks back, I did an interview with an up and coming athlete.  My editor messaged me the day after it was published to let me know it had been the most read interview on the site.  As a writer this should have thrilled me.  Instead I immediately started to catalogue all of the possible explanations for the article’s popularity that didn’t involve its author.  Conversely, when we publish an article of mine that doesn’t do so well, I am crushed.  My inner demons launch into a chorus of “you’re not good enough, why would you even try?”

Daring Greatly

I have a small library of personal development literature at home.  I have just finished Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  Rarely has a book so profoundly affected me.  I was literally moved to tears as I listened to her telling her stories.  Her struggle to connect with vulnerability seemed to mirror my own almost exactly.

In her book, she asks so many important questions.  But the one that struck me the hardest was this;  In a world where enough is never enough, how can we cultivate a sense of worthiness?  How can we learn to feel loved and lovable in a culture that values exhaustion and burn out over communication and connection?

I remember as a child and even into adulthood challenging both of my parents.  I distinctly recall screaming at them “Why can’t you just be proud of me!”  They would always assure me that they were.  As I look back, I can see that was the truth.  The chronic need for achievement came from inside me.  Any words of support and encouragement they gave me were at best, a temporary balm.

As I have gone through life, the need for approval, the desire to be seen has remained.  However, now it is not just my parents that I seek it from.  The need to be relevant, to feel like I am enough, has brought me to some dark and dangerous places.  I am caught in the vicious cycle of “I will be happy when… ” When my blog is a success.  It won an award and still I wasn’t soothed.  When the podcast reaches more listeners.  How many will it take?  When I am doing well at work.  I am now a finance manager, and “successful” by any objective measure, but still nothing.

It is slowly dawning on me, with the help of those supporting me, that the feeling of being enough will never come from outside.  It will not come from being athletic.  It will not come packaged in skinny jeans.  A good hair day, an orgasm, or a promotion will not conjure it.  It can only come from within me.  A truly terrifying prospect.

Becoming Enough

As I draft this post, the words of an Alanis Morissette song have been going through my head.

I’d be productive and still it would not come
I’d be celebrated still it would not come
I’d be the hero and still it would not come
I’d renunciate and still it would not come

I take comfort from knowing that if someone as wealthy, talented and accomplished as she can have these same sentiments, perhaps it is merely part of the human condition?  Maybe we all have demons to slay.  Perhaps the hardest thing is to set down the need for pleasing and perfecting, to just allow ourselves to be.

I know that I have a lot more work to do in this area.  I have enlisted the help of a therapist as I set about unlearning the habits of a lifetime.  Over the past few years I have driven myself to the point of exhaustion several times.  The “not enough” feeling is impossible to out run.  The only solution is to try to meet it head on.

I am committed to dealing with the shame that losing my job brought.  To shining a big, bright light on it.  Because shame loves the dark.  It delights in festering in unlit corners, gaining strength and power.  As I try to shed the pounds I gained when I was eating my feelings and too depressed to exercise, I am determined not to allow my self worth to depend on this.

At various stages of my life I have weighed less than 50kgs and over 80kg.  I was not happy with my body at any stage.  I am going to turn that narrative on its head.  If my weight can’t make me happy, why should I let it make me unhappy?  Brene Brown tells us that when we own our story, we get to write the ending.  That fills me with great hope.

I am imperfect.  I have flaws beyond counting.  But yet, I am worthy.  I am capable of giving love and receiving it in return.  I have gifts to offer this world.  I will enter the arena and fight.  Overcoming these demons may turn out to be my life’s work.  I will learn to be okay with that.  I will not hurry the journey at all.  Be well xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baby It’s Cold Inside!

Sometimes, even the best laid plans go awry.  This week has been all about that.  As the Festive Season approaches, many of us set about getting our house in order.  Seeing to things which may, in my case anyway, have been put on the long finger.  The countdown is on, and the thought of having a house full of friends and family has nudged some D.I.Y. projects further up the to do list.

Our dishwasher has been acting up lately so I ordered a new one, in an attempt to preempt its demise.  We are hosting Christmas dinner and I could foresee it choosing that particular day to lay itself to rest.  I was happily congratulating myself at such a splendid show of adulting, when the plumber arrived to perform a routine service on my gas boiler.  Fantastic, we are on a roll.

Not so much.  About 20 minutes after he arrived, the plumber sought me out, the look on his face read “expensive.”  He hesitated for a moment before breaking the bad news “you have a gas leak,” he said.  He launched into a monologue of explanation, much of which went over me head.  I desperately wanted to interrupt him and say “just tell me what has to be done and how much it’s going to cost.”  Instead, I patiently waited for him to cut to the chase.  The long and the short of it was he had to disconnect our supply and he would be back in a couple of days to fix it.  It was probably going to cost a few hundred euro.

Far from ideal.  As you all know by now, I have been on a little sabbatical from work, so these two little projects were set to put a huge dent in the remainder of my savings.  The Irish woman me wanted to get to work catastrophizing and wringing my hands.  However, as I sat in my very cold house yesterday, a bigger part of me began to think of all the ways in which I am truly fortunate.

For one thing, the cold for me, was a temporary inconvenience.  I could be fairly certain that in a day or two I would again be warm.  In fact, as I write this, I am already beginning to thaw.  For many people this is not the case.  For the homeless in our society, and for those who literally cannot afford to heat their homes, the long winter will be cold and cruel.

Secondly, although the outlay to get this leak fixed has drained my savings, at least I could actually afford to pay for it.  Three weeks before Christmas a lot of people might not have been so lucky.  We don’t have children to worry about and we had already decided to make Christmas modest, so it won’t have too much of an impact overall.

I am starting back to work next week too, so at least I can look forward to getting paid some time in the not so distant future.  This would have stressed me out far more if I had no idea where my next pay cheque was coming from.  On the flip side, I am lucky that I was still off this week to deal with the plumbing debacle.

One more thing I am grateful for is that the leak was discovered.  The boiler in my kitchen was the source of the leak and I shudder to think how much worse it could have been.  I really do believe that we take an awful lot for granted.  Sometimes it takes being without certain comforts, for even a short while, to make us realize good we have it.

There have been a couple of stories in the news this week that make me feel like we are losing some of the warmth from the world.  I titled this article after the first of these stories.  Here in Ireland, our dedicated Christmas radio station has said it will no longer be playing Dean Martin’s classic “Baby it’s Cold Outside.”  The reasoning behind this is because they feel that the female in the song is being held against her will.  That she clearly wants to leave, but is being forced to stay.

When I read this headline for the first time, I was sure it must be some sort of prank.  I was fully expecting The Onion or Waterford Whispers to be in the by-line.  Unfortunately this was not the case.  I am at a loss to try to explain this move by Christmas FM, other than to say outrage culture strikes again.

Yes, the lady in the song does repeatedly say she should be going, but can anyone not relate to that?  The feeling of being so completely captivated (not captive) that you damn the consequences for a few more moments in the company of your love.  I know I have certainly missed my fair share of curfews and last buses, lingering over a goodnight kiss.  The song, for me, is a throw back to a safer and more innocent time, and the equivalent of “you hang up, no you hang up.”  I find nothing threatening in any of the lyrics, and I feel the world a colder, harder place without the nostalgia it conjures.

In another sad development, the HSE’s staff are no longer allowed to call patients “love, dear or lads.”  They must instead use gender neutral language, like patient 597, or something!  These terms of endearment are a part of our culture.  I have been called love by everyone from bus drivers to bosses over the years and not one jot of harm was ever meant by it.

In fact, I think I would struggle to follow that protocol myself as those “offensive” words spring forth so naturally.  The healthcare providers are so overstretched, they cannot be expected to learn each patient’s name.  These terms allow them to impart a caring, warm word to people on what could be the worst day of their lives.

Personally, should I find myself in hospital, I would like to be cared for by a human being.  Not a sterile automaton terrified of reprisal or litigation should they dare to utter a loving word.

As my home continues to warm up, I wish I could feel that the world is following the same trend.  Sadly, however, it appears that with each move towards political correctness it just gets a little colder.  As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, take a little time to think about what you are grateful for.  Hug your loved ones close.  Fill you homes are and your hearts with warmth.  Have half a drink more.  Be well xxx

 

 

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It Was Written!

When I was 7 years old, I had a school teacher called Mrs. Cronin. I remember at the time thinking she was absolutely ancient. (My parents were very young, so it distorted my views about the age of others.) Looking back, I imagine she must have been about 40. During the course of the year, Mrs. Cronin had given the class a writing assignment, a short story, I think. I distinctly recall how impressed she was with my work and her telling me that I should go into journalism. Of course, that was crazy, 7 year old Arwen was set on becoming a surgeon!

I did not become a doctor in the end, numerous distractions and a spotty academic record put a stop to that. I have, however, tried out lots of other “careers.” I have waited tables, worked in McDonald’s, put in time in a call centre, etc., before eventually deciding to go down the route of accountancy.

Let me tell you a little bit about that decision making process. I was 24 or so, and working a customer service job. We were about to buy our first house, and I realised that I needed to be earning more money. That would mean going back to college, as my English degree didn’t qualify me for a whole lot. I needed a course that I could do part time, as full time education was out of the question. I went through my choices, of which there were all too few, and figured accountancy was as good an option as any. It pays well and I had always been reasonably okay with numbers, so why not?

Fast forward a dozen years, and I find myself fully qualified, and yet struggling to find a job which is the right fit. I had started to ask myself if this was really the right career for me. Shouldn’t I try to spend my days doing something which makes me as happy and fulfilled as teaching Zumba or writing?

Last Thursday night I attended the Blog Awards Ireland. I had entered the competition and miraculously made it to the final. To be 100% honest, having had a tough week, I didn’t really feel like it, but I had bought my costume, so I figured I would go. I figured I would stick around until my category was announced, smile graciously and applaud the winner, before sneaking out the back door.

There were ten bloggers in the final of my category. I didn’t check out the competition, because let’s face it, I didn’t need any more reason to doubt myself. They announced the bronze and silver awards for each category before calling the winner up to the stage. When they announced bronze and silver in Health and Wellness and it wasn’t me, any bit of hope I had drained away, and I started looking towards next year. Imagine my surprise when they announced the winner and it was me.

You could have blown me over with a feather. I was shaking so hard, I could barely walk to the stage. I felt amazing. It was one of the happiest and proudest moments of my life. Now, I just need to figure out if the universe is trying to tell me something. Was Mrs. Cronin right thirty years ago? Was it written? Who knows, but I intend to have fun finding out. Be well xxx

Ps. I didn’t make it to the end of Sober October. I caved on the 24th. I will be starting a 21 Day Sugar Detox in early November so there will be more sobriety then.

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100 Lessons, What Have I Learned?

I started teaching Zumba a little over a year ago, and since then I have taught over 100 classes.  That’s over 100 times that I have had the privilege to do something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I thought was beyond my reach.  It is over 100 times that students have come to me, given me their money and their trust, and allowed me to share with them something I am truly passionate about.  I have always loved dancing, but am not “professional” by any stretch of the imagination.  Standing in front of people was a giant leap outside my comfort zone and for the first few weeks, I felt sure the adrenaline would completely overwhelm me.

Gradually I relaxed in to it and began to enjoy it more and more.  I love teaching and it never feels like work.  No matter how tired and sore I am, or how much of a crappy day I have had, as soon as the music comes on, a new energy starts flowing through me.  It has been such an amazing experience so far, and I have learned so much.  I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this and share with you a few of the lessons I have learned.

Expect The Unexpected:  I am a classic over thinker.  In the weeks leading up to my first class, I must have run through a million different scenarios in my mind, desperately trying to anticipate every eventuality.  At one stage I had myself in a state worrying about not having enough €2 coins to give people their change.  I mentioned this to my husband and he said “I can’t believe this is what you’re worrying about,” to which I replied “I think I have already worried about everything else!”

The truth of it is, as much anxiety as I caused myself, you simply cannot be prepared for everything life, or teaching, can throw at you.  All you can do is be ready with your brightest smile if/when disaster strikes.  Laugh it off, even if inside you’re screaming at the universe “why are you doing this to me?”  Over the past year some crazy things have happened, none of which I had mentally run through, but I lived to tell the tale!  I never did run out of €2.  In fact, I am inundated with them and every time I bag them up I am reminded of my own silliness.

Ego is Not Your Amigo: I have read enough philosophy, both ancient and modern, to understand intellectually that Ego is The Enemy (thank you Ryan Holiday) however, that doesn’t stop me getting caught up with it in the heat of the moment.

I wasn’t teaching long when a new student came to my class.  She was a German girl, and I asked her, like I ask all new students, if she had done Zumba before.  I wasn’t at all prepared for her to say, “Yes, I’m a Zumba instructor.”  I can’t begin to describe to you the level of panic I experienced in that moment.  I was convinced she would judge me and worse yet, find me wanting.  In reality, this lady just wanted to come and dance.  She was very sweet and after a little while my nerves subsided.

A couple of weeks later, she was in class and we were dancing to Tip Toe by Jason Derulo.  She was getting really into it and clearly enjoying herself.  I found myself almost competing with her, as irrational as that is.  The more energetic she got, the more intensity I put into my own moves.  I ended up tweaking my calf and having to disguise my discomfort for the rest of the class.  It was a painful reminder of the damage that ego can do!

Don’t Take It Personally:  This particular lesson has been hard learned.  Sometimes people come to class once and never return.  In fact this happens quite a lot.  In the beginning I was convinced that this was some failure on my part.  Truthfully, it is still very tempting to think this way.  When I look at it objectively though, it is easy to see that there are a million reasons people stop coming.  They get busy.  The time doesn’t suit them anymore.  Their friend stops coming and they don’t want to come alone.  Maybe they can’t afford it, or maybe Zumba just isn’t for them?   None of these reasons have anything to do with me or any other instructor.  Simply put, I am not that important!  Ego, again!  All I can do it create a safe environment so people know they are welcome to return anytime.

Some students find it easier to watch another student than the instructor.  This can be because they have positioned themselves in such a way that they don’t have a clear view.  It can also be because the instructor generally faces the class to teach and the students mirror him/her.  Some people just have a hard time following this.  Again, this is absolutely nothing to do with the teacher.  The first time I noticed this happening, I was highly put out!  But I quickly got a grip.  Seriously Arwen, as long as the students are moving, sweating and having fun, it doesn’t matter if they are looking at you, each other or their own feet!

There’s No Way to Speed Up Experience:  I am a very impatient person, especially with myself.  I want to be an expert at everything I attempt straight away.  I don’t have time for the whole learning thing!  When I first began teaching, just remembering the steps was about all I could manage.  Any little thing could distract me and throw me off.  It didn’t matter if it was someone walking in late or people laughing (or grimacing,) it would immediately make me forget where I was.  This frustrated me so much.  I just wanted to get to the stage where it all at least appeared to be effortless, even if it really wasn’t.

As I got more experience under my belt, these interruptions fazed me less and less.  I am now at the stage where I can dance, sing, smile, cue and count all at the same time.  Just last night I had a lady straight up free styling in class, and I was able to appreciate how brilliant this was, and laugh with her, without missing a beat.  I promise you, if you are struggling with something now, as long as it’s something you actually want to do it, stick with it.  It will get easier.  It will happen so gradually, you may not even notice it, but then one day you will be screaming “look Ma, no hands!

Mistakes are a Part of The Process:  There’s a saying in our industry “There are no mistakes in Zumba, just unexpected solos,” and it’s very true.  In the beginning of my teaching career, I was terrified of making mistakes.  When I missed a step or lost my place, I would berate myself, convinced that the students would A. Notice and B. Care.  When, in fact, most times, they do neither.  When I look back on classes I attended as a student, I don’t remember the instructor making a mistake that anyone talked about.

I still don’t like making mistakes, obviously, and I do everything I can to avoid them.  However, just like in all other aspects of life, they happen.  The best thing to do is just to try to get over it as quickly as possible.  Take whatever learnings there are from it and move on.  Nobody is perfect in this world, and I think sometimes it can even help students to see their instructor make the odd mistake.  It takes the pressure of them to try to be perfect.

I have learned so much about myself in the past year, I really can’t put it all into words.  I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me, either by attending a class or by giving advice and encouragement.  It means the world to me.  I have so much more to learn and I am still excited to see where this adventure will lead me.  Be well xxx

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Something Old, Something New!

I have been tinkering with this blog for almost 3 years now.  It has become a dear friend and trusted confidant.  Over the years it has allowed me to express myself in ways I hadn’t known possible.  A little while ago, I entered a blogging competition and honestly had zero expectations.  I am shocked, amazed and humbled beyond belief to have made it to the final in the health and wellness category.  Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog since it started.  You guys are awesome.

I can’t help but remember back to when it was just an idea.  I had thought about it for so long.  Hmming and hawing, second guessing and procrastinating.  I worried so much about how it would be received.  What would people say?  What would they think?  I can’t speak to what they might be thinking, but as of yet I have not received any negative feedback.  I was prepared for trolls, but they have remained under their bridges up till now anyway!

Recently, my sister and I started a Podcast.  As always when I take on a new project, I was filled with trepidation and fear.  Imagining every eventuality and doing a fair amount of catastrophizing.  As I write this, we have two episodes aired.  A new episode will drop every Monday.  Naturally we have experienced some teething problems and are learning A LOT.  The learning curve is a steep one, but not insurmountable.  Astonishingly, nothing catastrophic has befallen us so far.  I am usually a solo flier, and it has been so nice to have my sister on this adventure with me.  My brother is producing the show for us, so it’s pretty much a family affair.

The Podcast is in a similar vein to the blog.  We talk about health, fitness and lifestyle and try to get to the truth behind some of the myths.  We also talk about food a lot, and anything else we stumble across.  It is all done with the honesty you have come to expect from me.  We are on all the major platforms.  I would love you to check it out, Fitty and Fatty

That’s enough of the shameless self promotion.

What I really wanted to say in this post is that incredible things do happen.  If you put yourself out there and take a chance.  Opportunity does knock, but only if you leave the porch light on.  If there’s something you have been wanting to do for ages, please go and do it.  If it doesn’t work out, so what?  If it does, who knows where it could take you!  And if you end up being up for an award, please let me know.  Be well xxx

PS.  For anyone looking for an update on Scroll Free September.  It has been going well.  I am not struggling at all really.  This blog automagically uploads to the Facebook page, so I promise I haven’t been cheating.