Diary of a Separation (Hamster Wheels and Marathons)

How to create a closer relationship with oneself

Sunday 14th April 2019

On the train to Brighton on Friday I began to think how a separation forces us to “uncouple” (a phrase that could have easily come out of one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s “how to live a good and fulfilling life” wellness-centred manuals) from our previous persona. Our identities are made up of loose fragments that start cohering the moment we stop crawling and begin walking. An interest for playing the piano (as I had when I was little) doesn’t necessarily translate into a professional career as a musician. What it does do is to embed a love for learning. It also unlocks one’s creative power.

It’s the same in relationships. We establish markers for success very early in our unions. Common passions, similar goals and clear-cut objectives. Very often, though, reality turns out to be rather different. We climb onto a highly inviting hamster’s wheel without realising. And off we go. What was otherwise a dream-filled relationship becomes nothing more than a daily grind. Unsurprisingly, an “uncoupling” situation ensues.

With S, it was me who got on the wheel first, though. She was a reluctant participant. I wonder what she’d make of the wheel now that we’re both off it. In my case, I was torn between what was considered “normal” (a human-rodent going around in circles as I’d probably seen many adults in my life do) and the challenge of the “new” in a couple, together with an individual “new me”.

The benefit of hindsight in my situation is that I have been able to see that the lifestyle I led before was not exactly good for either S or me.

One consequence of living a hamster-wheel-free life is that it allows you to notice the fragility of our existence. As long as you avoid playing the blame-game, a separation is an opportunity to recalibrate and reprioritise the way you live your life and the way to approach a new relationship.

26.2 miles. 4 hours, 31 minutes, 27 seconds. Four times.

Numbers do no justice at all to how the Brighton Marathon makes me feel every year. It’s not the personal best (although that was a nice bonus, too), but the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional boundary-pushing challenge.

Physically speaking, the first three quarters of the marathon were my best run ever. I knew I’d struggle in the last four or five miles and I was ready for it. I walked a couple of miles approximately and then began a gentle trot that carried me over the finish line. Spiritually, there’s a special connection to the sea. One of the reasons why I’ve never made much of an effort to run the London Marathon (plus charity places go quickly) is that the Thames doesn’t make me feel the same way the sea in Brighton does.

There wasn’t much to do after the marathon, except for grabbing some much-needed grub and head back to my room. I lay naked on the bed as the west-facing window in my room let in the late afternoon sun. I WhatsApped Ao to tell her how I’d fared. We had a nice chat, but I was too knackered to talk for long. I dozed off after a while, waking up only to eat some more and hitting the sack again.

Saturday 4th May 2019

I went to see Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares at the Jazz Café tonight. The chemistry between these two Cuban musicians was fantastic. Evidence of that was their recent collaboration, the album Aguas. The record was the starting point of a lyrical conversation between two artists residing outside Cuba. I left the show humming D2 de Africa.

London-based, Cuban writer. Author of “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner”, to be published by Austin Macauley. Has written for The Guardian and Prospect.

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