Archive | May 2012

Do you know where’re you’re going?

Do you? Good for you. Then you have a clear focus, and most likely a plan for how to get to where you want to be. Because if you didn’t have a plan you would be pretty stuck. Up the creek without a paddle. Don’t look to me for a paddle. I would only tell you that, in your situation, I’d try and steer my canoe into the current and float down with it. Not much else you can do that will not end with you drowning, and it is certain to get you somewhere. It may not be where you had in mind, but that place is behind you already. I can’t get you there, given where you find yourself.

Let’s hope I never find you in such a sticky situation.

I have been taught to first decide what I wanted to achieve and then make a plan to make it happen all my life, and I am seriously questioning the wisdom in this. I built visions of who I was going to be and how I was going to lead my life, and did my best to deliver for myself. I pat myself on the back for the things I did achieve. Being stuck with the others is frustrating me more and more. I’ve tried harder. When that didn’t work (the rut only getting deeper) I’ve tried adjusting the plan. Then the goal and the plan. But I am losing interest in working towards a crystal clear endpoint. It may well be a side effect of my trying to live more in the moment. Or maybe it is just that I am getting older. In any case, I am looking for fresh inspiration more than I want to pursue a specific goal. Not random though, just more focused on the journey than on the endpoint. I have carefully selected the creek I want to go down vs other creeks and streams; I have checked what places are downstream that I may want to visit, and picked a reliable canoe – with a paddle. I have also picked a companion for the trip, packed essentials, and set off. I have limited the possible outcomes to fit certain criteria I am interested in, but I am not sure exactly when I will arrive or exactly where: that depends on how the trip goes and what captures my attention along the way. If I find anything amazing I’ll be sure to let you know. If you don’t hear anything, I’m probably just enjoying the view. It’s only if you haven’t heard back in a month or so that you should get worried. If you’d like.

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Signs that I’m in no-man’s land

The banners are coming out: the UK is gearing up for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and then the Olympics and the Paralympics. We are finally having summer weather as well so everyone is coming out of hibernation; the festive spirit is spreading like wildfire (in these otherwise sodden lands). As I was driving through a street newly decorated with union jacks it hit me: I am still a foreigner here. I have been here 11 years, and I am still a guest.

My clues?

I stand by and watch the flags go up and feel only curiosity: fancy that, the natives are putting union jacks up everywhere. They’re really going to town on this.

When the olympic torch was lit and sent on its way around the country I watched with detached amazement (it was on the TV news or I would have missed it). How can people get so effusively emotional about something as mundane as a flame being lit? Husband says I am being mean: of course it’s a big deal! I don’t get it. So he asked whether I would feel different if the Olympics were in Belgium. Uhmmm… ponder that one … maybe, a little bit. Not sure, actually. Would I deck the halls to celebrate King Albert’s umpteenth jubilee? Uhmmm… probably not. The Belgian royal family just doesn’t do pomp and circumstance anything like the British – they’re awesome. And when I was last in Belgium I felt like a visitor there at times.

People at work are plotting where to position themselves when the olympic torch is passing by the office in 6 weeks time. All I can think of is: what day, remind me? Oooh, must arrange to work from home that day. Too crowded, I’ll get stuck in traffic.

My sense of identity is blurring. I may as well accept it and play the foreign / visitor card to suit me. Put on the vacant apologetic smile, and I can probably get away with whatever I like under the guise of “that’s what we do where I come from / where I live”. That worked a dream when I lived in Denmark many moons ago. My friends and colleagues would nod understandingly, and not comment even when they thought what I did was really weird. If I play my cards well I may be able to duck under the radar this summer, get some downtime while everyone is distracted. I’ll make a plan.

It’s the little things

It’s the little things that make the difference. Don’t get me wrong, big things matter: getting babies, losing a loved one, probably even scooping the big lottery win although I am guessing here – all these things and many more of that order can be life changing. Most days though our lives just plod along, at least mine does. This is where the little things can really make or break it.

Today was such a day: I was making my way back from a business meeting in central London, playing mole underground switching from one tube line to another. It was cold and wet, lots of busy bodies getting in the way – one of those times I just go with the flow and try not to think too much. My mind was focused singly on getting back home. I zipped past an elderly gentleman with a heavy briefcase who was labouring his way up the stairs of the tunnel, feeling grateful for being younger. I got on the train, and seconds before the doors closed so did the elderly gentleman: he thrust his briefcase through the doors, the rest of him followed and he plumped for the nearest seat, out of breath. I felt a bit sorry for him, until I caught his eye: sheer glee and joy. I could almost hear the “yes, I did it!” of his inner mind. I could not help smiling. Seeing the man savour his little victory actually turned my mood around. To celebrate I went to a French patissier and bought some unbelievably yummy strawberry tarts. Which made me forget, albeit very briefly, that the weather is more like March than May.

As it happens Eternal Domnation wrote about the little things too today: here are his tips for livening up your own life – so you don’t have to wait for an elderly man to do so for you:

Eternal Domnation / Square Routes

Forgetful as a strategy

Forgetting is bliss, I have come to realise. I no longer worry about it. On the contrary, I relish and cultivate it. Forgetting allows my mind to sift the fluff from the meaningful, the horrible from the warming. It means I don’t necessarily have to get wound up about the bad stuff, I can park it in the “forget it” lot. It also means I don’t always have to forgive: I can choose to forget instead. Which makes me feel a whole lot better. I don’t want to forgive people who have done horrid things to me, but I won’t let them win by having them ruin my happiness either. Forgetting is the perfect solution. If they have been truly horrible I trust my memory to jig me if I ever were to cross their path again. Just in case I have an opportunity to return the favour. Should I want to. I am not sure I would want to, but I like to keep my options open.

Forgetting is also plain practical. By only remembering the important things I can unclutter my mind and find the information that matters more quickly. I admit that I tend to make a note of very important things – hell I even set reminders for the must-dos. That is not cheating: it is relieving my mind and telling it not to worry. Belt and braces. Mind can’t do wrong – relax.

I can tell you with my hand on my heart that I have never, so far, forgotten anything that really mattered. I have lost lots of trivia on the way, but that just means I can rediscover them as new should I ever come across them. Of course I wouldn’t know it wasn’t the first time.

I read that the mind hardwires circuits it uses frequently, making those paths top of the list in your mind. It is a virtuous circle, and it provides scientific proof for my empirical advice. So, try the forgetful strategy or ignore at your peril.

Idle mind – the devil’s workshop?

Yesterday was a bonus holiday here in the UK, and with the weather in late winter mode I ended up doing nothing at all for the best part of the day. Too cold, wet and soggy to move plants around in the garden or even take the dog out, let alone go visit something. All the usual chores completed by Sunday night out of sheer habit. And you know what? I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt. Ok, maybe I do a  little since the concept of guilt infiltrated my mind in the first place.

As I was driving to work today all refreshed, having this guilt / no guilt conversation with myself, I remembered my colleague recently using the phrase “idle minds are the devil’s workshop”. She was referring to the fact that people at work are so busy right now that they don’t find time to stir up a fuss; they just get on with their work. When we were struggling to find projects for everyone a couple of years ago there was no end to the petty issues. I had to admit she had a point. But I resent that she has. I have always found it a repulsively paternalistic notion: that you have to keep your minions busy = distracted in order to stay in control.

In any case, the devil and his workshop haven’t got their claws in me: I have blithely done nothing for a day without causing havoc. On the contrary, I am a nicer person to be around today, my fuse is longer. Even if I say so myself. I cannot recommend allowing yourself some space to come to rest highly enough. I reckon if everyone did this from time to time, especially when under high pressure, the devil’s workshop would be all out of tools. I’ll drink a good Belgian tripel to idleness!