Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Reasons to be cheerful

January is the worst. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. It’s like the first few weeks of parenthood - an awful lot of grind without the slightest smile of validation.

Historically, January has been the straw that breaks the camel’s back for me. It doesn’t make me a good person to be around - sorry world!

This year, however, has been better - my best January for a few years, in fact - and that’s in no small part down to comping. That’s not to say comping is the panacea to poor mental health; this January is already less grim than the last few for the simple fact that it’s the first in some years that I’ve not had to watch my father dying by degrees. But I digress; my point is simply that when the balance is right, the hobby has rewards beyond the prizes themselves.

Most obviously, there’s the community (hey there, community!). As with any hobby, it’s good to mingle (if only virtually) with like-minded souls. But the comping community also contains so many helpful folks, who will share tips with newbies and comps with their competitors, who will point you in the right direction if you’re looking for a competition but can’t recall the promoter, and who will massage your mojo when it has taken a bruising. Friendships are out there just waiting to be made - and who doesn’t need friends?

But what has worked really well for me, particularly in recent weeks (or the lean season, as some might say), is the creative aspect of the hobby. I’m going to make a confession here: sometimes I enter competitions with absolutely no intention of winning. That’s not to say I enter comps for prizes I don’t want; rather, I like the brief so much that I enter for the joy of the challenge, without the slightest hope of winning or worrying what I could have done better to impress the judges.

My entry for the Malta competition last week is a case in point. I can’t imagine it ticked many boxes for the promoter, but it made my mum and my sister so happy to reminisce about those holidays - and about happier times with my dad. That’s a prize in itself.

I’ve likewise written entries for creative writing competitions that have veered so far from the brief that they’ve been quite unusable. I then end up saving my work in my own little creative writing folder, before butchering the text into something vaguely in line with what the promoter has asked for. The result is a blatant hack job, as by this point it’s invariably too late to do anything about it. But I can live with that - I’ve got the director’s cut on file, ready for me to use in a way that suits me, some time in the future.

My dad used to say that sometimes it’s better to travel than to arrive. To that end, I suppose, there is reward to be had in dedicating hour after hour to the completion of entry forms. But when the grind of that mindless toil is over, what’s left? God willing, there may be some prizes; the value of those prizes may even be vaguely proportional to the hours invested in winning them. But beyond the material goods? Again, I confess, none of my fondest memories relate to web forms or retweets.

Winning might be the most obvious benefit of this hobby, but it isn’t the only one. YOLO, as the youth say, so if this is your hobby of choice, don’t let a single drop of pleasure from it escape you.

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