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December’21 – Learning to Rest and Lots of Movies

Quest to learn to rest

Giving up coffee

At the end of November I found myself with such low levels of energy that I could hardly teach or read or watch anything. So the main goal for December was to take it easy and to find the best way to recharge my batteries. It finally hit home with me that without quality rest and being able to restore one’s energy it’s impossible to work well. I wonder why it had taken me so long to come up with this idea.

Strange, isn’t it, how one can not know how to rest? But it turned out that I didn’t. For years, I had believed that sleep should be enough. OK, I was also guilty of binge watching series or procrastinating badly. But it was always with an nagging thought at the back of my mind that “I should be doing something else, for self development, for my work… Why am I wasting time?..”

Also me: going to my grandparents for three days and taking 1) a laptop (to write articles), 2) a French coursebook (to do a couple of units or probably more), 3) a couple of books (why, isn’t there plenty of time to read them both?) and 4) a tablet with dozens of downloaded pdfs and useful docs (just in case if I have any time left). Why not? I’ll have so much free time! It should be spent in a most productive manner! (and, of course, I almost never get to those things in my backpack)

So, obviously there was a lot to learn about “ordinary rest” and redefine the concept for myself. But how to go about it?

First, I decided to give up coffee (again). I’d done it several times before but didn’t last long. This time I decided not to drink it at least for a month.

Now, I’m a coffee addict. I like the bitter taste of it. I absolutely adore the smell in coffee shops. I hear the word “coffee” and I start yearning for one. There’s a whole ritual around coffee: make yourself one, sit down, pull yourself together and get down to business. Or buy a takeaway one at a cafe, stroll the streets and dream. Or stay in the cafe, watch people coming and going, working on their laptops or just chatting, and think…

For me, coffee is much, much more than just a drink that helps to wake up and focus. It’s a whole lifestyle with its own values, goals, expectations and the vibes of a big city. Anyway, I was very susceptible to this image (even if I’m not a big fan of Starbucks). But I’m also prone to anxiety, and I’d noticed long ago that coffee triggers it. So I’d restricted it to maximum one cup a day (and not every day). I’d started drinking decaf instead.

But at the end of November I understood that even 3-4 cups of coffee a week also contributed to the further depletion of my energy. Because I didn’t really feel how much of it I had and had a strong tendency to spend more than I could afford.

So, with the help of decaf that’s done. In December I had regular coffee only once, and the day was perfect… That’s how much an effect it has on me!

I can’t say that it was very difficult to stay away from coffee. The stakes were finally clear: either I give it up and learn to estimate my energy levels or I’ll have none left for simple life (forget about any achievements). However, I noticed several times that when I thought I had my energy back in the morning, I longed for coffee. But, surprise-surprise, later that day I felt really tired again. So if I had had my magical drink, I would definitely have spent more of my resources that I had for the day. And, as I now guess, that was a pattern that had brought me to where I was.

Beware of coffee)

Oh, and I also significantly reduced the amount of black tea. By the way, have you noticed that the effects of tea and coffee are different? With me, coffee gives a boost to my energy in an hour or so but then I find myself even more tired by the end of the day. Tea takes longer but has a much more mild and long-lasting effect. Still, it disguises my energy levels and I overwork myself. So in December I spent two weeks without black tea and decided to be careful with it in the future.


Giving up coffee and cutting down on tea was one piece of a puzzle. Now I needed to understand what activities helped me restore my energy.

Reading and watching series was one way, but I’m a thinker who tends to overthink. Whatever I read or watch, it gives food for thought and ideas of “what I could possibly learn from it”. So I needed something that would stop me from thinking.

Games! I thought. People play games to relax. So I should try it too.

Well, I did. I didn’t want computer games because from what I’d seen they looked complicated and hugely addictive, so I tried mobile ones: Fishdom, Lines, Jewels and 2048.

With them I couldn’t think, that’s true. But I was surprised to have a very bad sleep afterwards! Plus my eyes hurt and I had a headache. My brain was clearly “overexcited”. The colours were too bring. The animations, all those coins falling at me and “fireworks” showing what score I’ve got, were too much, not saying about advertisement… All those game mechanics annoyed more than they helped stay in the game. No, it was impossible to rest playing games.

Even with good, old school Lines and 2048 I would dream of them all night. I guess my brain was trying to figure out how to score higher and stay in the game longer…

Maybe, if one plays regularly, the brain gets used to it and it resembles rest, but most games are created to become addictive, so I decided to move on.

Diaries and Photos

In November I started to organise my new Creative Journal with stickers and colourful highlights. It may seem childish, but why not? Choosing and sticking stickers is so much fun =)

Just as I wanted, I made an overview of the autumn and added photos to my journal. This is not exactly scrapbooking, but I found that when working with photos I stop thinking. Or, rather, it’s a different type of thinking, in colours and shapes – organise the pictures, match the colours, decide on the layout, add a sticker or a clipping… Plus I really enjoyed handling things by my hands. I miss it as I miss teaching in person with books, cards and paper handouts.

So organising my diary proved to be the rest I needed – calm, relaxing and satisfying!


The Richest Man of Babylon by George S. Clason (1926)

As I was trying to understand what happened to my energy levels, it struck me that they have to be considered in two “tanks”. One is for day-to-day life. That is clear: you wake up, you need energy for the day – for work, family, socializing, hobbies, etc. Holidays, I think, are there to refill this “tank”.

But then, there should be another one – a “reservoir” for emergency situations! They can be big life changes, or illnesses, or unexpected stress. The most important thing is not to touch this “reservoir” unless it can’t be helped. And this is something that completely slipped my mind.

My guess is that I have long used my “reservoir” after my “day-to-day tank” was empty. No wonder that a small stress sent me into a long recovery. So I decided to track both my daily levels of energy and my “reservoir”.

But I think it’s more interesting how I made this “discovery”. I was reading The Richest Man of Babylon . It’s a short and a relatively old (1926) book considered something like “the Bible” of investors and a classic of personal financial advice.

The ideas are all simple but, presented as parables “told by the richest man of Babylon” (and I should admit the language of “thy”, “cometh”, “shouldst”, “doth” and the like was somewhat new and slowed down me quite a bit), they are better remembered and more enjoyable. These are the main ideas (in ordinary language) for having “a fat purse”:

  • save 10% of your annual income,
  • control your expenditures and don’t mix up luxuries and necessities,
  • make investments to multiply your income,
  • don’t get involved in high risk or get-rich-quick schemes,
  • buy a property (instead of renting it) and use it to establish your business,
  • make provisions for the future (i.e. a pension plan),
  • develop your skills to increase your ability to earn.

And these the “laws of gold” (or money):

  • money comes to those who put aside one-tench of their income,
  • money works well and profitably when invested wisely,
  • money should be invested under the advice of those who can themselves handle it well,
  • one can lose money if it’s invested in something one doesn’t understand well or is not familiar with,
  • money “flees” those investing in get-rich-quick schemes

It’s nothing new, really. But if we think that we may apply similar strategies to spending our energy, it becomes more interesting and eye-opening. I like analogies and it certainly worked for me.

But I’m still on my quest to find the activities that help me restore and multiply my energy. Part of this quest is to break old habits and learn news ones. Because, even though I discovered that working with photos, colours and paper helps me relax, it’s still much easier to put on series or spend time on Instagram (which have quite the opposite effect).

As for the book, I read it in 4 hours (with highlighting some ideas) and understood that I need find out more about older versions of English (and get used to it). And I’d like to learn more about Babylon =)

Simplicius Simplicissimus by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1668)

Then I decided to give myself a proper rest and read in Russian)

What a pleasure it is to read in my mother tongue! I prefer classics and I’m quite used to the richness of the language. No need for a dictionary, no getting stuck with a turn of phrase, thinking if I understand the word right… And, of course, I read faster.

It’s a very interesting feeling. In English, even if I quess the word by the context, I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling that I don’t really “know” this word, can’t give its definition or can’t imagine it vividly. As if I’m supposed to understand everything (as it was at university: if I didn’t know two words in a text, my teacher would ask exactly them and then give me a scathing look. What have they done to us?..)

But in Russian I don’t have such problems. Almost all words look very familiar, but it doesn’t mean I know their definitions. Sometimes I can just identify them as belonging to a certain category, for example “a bird”, “a plant”, “a garment” or “a type of a carriage”, and that’s enough. (It was the same in my childhood. I didn’t understand some words, but I just kept reading on to get the hang of the plot.)

Or I can read a paragraph and understand little of it (maybe it describes something of which I don’t have enough knowledge), and it’s fine! I just read further to follow the storyline. In English or in French it’s always a question – do I not understand because of my knowledge of language or my knowledge of life/ the subject? And I would reread the paragraph, translate or look up some words or concepts…

So, a book of 700 pages in Russian doesn’t scare me off, but in another language it will be deemed a challenge. In the case of Simplicius Simplicissimus it was a pleasure.

The book is similar to Don Quixote and is a collection of adventures of a person (so simple in mind that he presents the perfect case of tabula rasa and thus gets his name) from his childhood to his death. I was surprised to learn that it’s also one of major German works of the 17th century and was immensely popular when published. So popular that the author had to add more and more installments to distinguish himself from copycats.

The book captures the atmosphere and the effects of the Thirty Years’ War which devastated Germany in 1618-1648. The author, Grimmelshausen, is thought to have taken part in the war and have drawn from his own experiences as well as folklore, hearsay and many other writers of his time. The book is like a window into that period of history with its events, beliefs and traditions. As the book is written from the first person, it shows how they can be interpreted. These are all the components I liked a lot in books, so I was happy.

Simplicius Simplicissimus with its 700 pages took me 17 hours, and the time flew.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss (2009)

Finally, trying to find the best way for me to pursue my interests but also make an income, I’ve tried a much-hyped and recommended The 4-hour Workweek. I didn’t finish it. Maybe I’ll go back to it later.

There are some solid ideas, that’s true. It’s a typical story for bestsellers: a guy found his own way to live a fulfilling life, got impressed and decided that it should be promoted for everybody as a greater good, as if people were all the same…

But on the other hand I got an impression that the book was written by a person in the state of mania with so much energy he doesn’t know where to apply it. With every page I was getting tired of him. Especially because it’s not that I don’t know where to put my energy, I don’t have it. So I decided to put the book off.

Movies and videos

I spent a couple of evenings looking for and watching comedies. That was a good change from drama series I’d watched before. I had a good laugh at Blithe Spirit. The ladies were elegant and charming, and the whole situation ridiculous. I also found a list of must-watch French comedies (part 1 and part 2).

Another interesting find was a YouTube channel How To Renovate A Chateau. A couple put all their saving into buying quite a large chateau and decided to rennovate it mostly by themselves. So they show the process and the results. I think, what an idea, to buy and rennovate a chateau! What a bold project! It’s very inspiring.

The wife is British, but the husband is French with excellent English (and a slight accent). I really enjoy his descriptions of how they do something, including many technical details, and his wry sense of humour. And the French countryside, of course =)

December was also time for big and long-awaited premieres – The Matrix Resurrections and The Wither Season 2.

I liked them both – nice plots, nice action, captivating worlds, spectacular special effects and graphics.

With the new Matrix (like with the previous parts), some dialogue sequences were complicated. The general idea is clear but the details escaped me. So I wonder what’s wrong? Are the plot and the wording made so intentionally to appear smarter and “deeper” or is it my English? I’m inclined to think it’s the first because reading the subtitles or switching languages didn’t really help, and I was left with Well, I understand what he said, but what on earth did he mean by that?

Anyway, it was interesting to see the same actors almost twenty years later. The idea is still topical – do we live in the Matrix?) If we don’t, it may end up there with the advances of Metaverse technologies. And then, when people get stuck there out of their free will, I’ll go travelling and enjoy the real world without crowds of tourists =))

As for The Witcher, I’m a big fan of the books and the first season was fine. Of course, I wanted to see more. I’ve read the books three times in Russian and I’ll probably read in English again later. I think it’s a cleverly written saga, and I especially liked how it’s narrated by different characters in different styles, so in the end you have to peace all the bits together by yourself.

With every episode the series are getting further and further away from the original, but I don’t mind. I’m much more interested to see the people, places, clothes, and objects from the books brought to the screen. It’s not easy for me to visualise descriptions, so I like watching movies based on fantasy books. They add a lot of colour and detail tp the plot.

Other goodies


Wrapping up I want to mention a short story series I found on BBC Radio 4 – Gambits. There are only ten episodes, 14 minutes each, but they are so original! Each chapter (episode) is narrated by a different person (and read too) and bears the name of one of the chess pieces. Charming! Only the end was a bit abrupt to my taste.

The story is set in a small backwater village where strange things have been happening for a while. Now, as Halloween approaches, the villager are getting uneasy. Among them is a young boy, a gifted chess player who has been invited to play with a grandmaster in London. The villagers have decided to enact this game with themselves being the pieces and make it the village’s Halloween event.

I don’t play chess. I was really interested in them as a child, but there was no one to teach me and I got confused about the rules. But maybe I should try again? Gambits presented chess in such a way that it’s not necessarily “a game for the smart”, but just a way to pass the time.

Anyway, I found Gambits to be a wonderful audiobook. It can be used for lessons or for developing listening comprehension as well because the episode are short and the language excellent.

Plans for January

No plans, really. It’s a festive period. So I’m going to have some rest from teaching and then more rest to replenish my reserves)

Oh, and I think I must try out more recipes =)

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