That’s it: I want to move to the movies. People are emigrating to Australia and other laid-back, sunny destinations for a better life, but I want to move to the movies. No matter what ugly turns life throws at me there, I’ll always come out a winner. I might not win the way I had expected – in fact the best stories hold a surprising finale – but I’ll end up happier in the end. And the sun always shines. Except when I’m threatening someone, then the thunder and rain gods will oblige and act out my wrath much more effectively than I ever could.
The most extraordinary things happen in the movies: one-in-a-million chance encounters, fluke strokes of luck, unexpected inheritances, and the like. And when they don’t, I’ll just skip the dull bits and fast-forward to the next exciting event. I can always rely on the writers engineering drama, and I know they love me so I’ll be fine. They also give me someone to blame when things go wrong.
When something terrible upends my whole life, I’ll sit tight and ride out the course. I will be taken through some unexpected turns that turn out to be golden opportunities: might I finally discover what I really want with my life? I might still die in the end, but I’ll die happy thanks to the amazing experiences my life story has given me. And through it all I know I’m entertaining millions of people. I’d better not take myself too seriously.
I am moving today. My life is going to be “My Life – The Movie”. I’ll go with the flow because I know something interesting is bound to come my way, and I’ll be prepared when it does. I’ll zip through the boring and nasty bits ’till I come across the good part, and enjoy the sun. Ooh, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me!
Some of you may know that I am an exiled Fleming / Belgian (pick which ever means anything to you) in England. This is not usually very relevant, I have learnt the language as any immigrant has an obligation to do and I pay my taxes. My children barely speak Dutch anymore. Now the holidays have finally arrived I am simultaneously exchanging emails with my family about Christmas preparations (they will be coming over here) in Dutch and trying to write a blog post. My brain is doing strange things to me, mixing both languages and coming out with creations that would probably appear absurd to you good readers. To me it makes sense though, I understand it all. That lovely Ciney Blonde I’ve drunk to ease me into the holidays will not have done much to unscramble the language area in my brain, I suppose. It seems to free-associate better though. More connections than clarity.
Now might be a good time to play multi-language scrabble with my kids: any language goes, as long as a dictionary can prove the word exists. Or with anyone else who cares to join. Husband hates it: he pretty much only masters English. But, we all have stuff to get done. I shall have to leave you with a picture of my lovely Belgian beer paraphernalia instead:
And here’s some Belgian humour for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OIJRMqYAA0
Words are fierce creatures. They have to be, I guess, to be in with a chance of surviving into the next generation. There is such an array of words to choose from, and if they don’t get picked often enough they’re out of the dictionary. Begin to form a thought in your mind, and it gets inundated with words offering themselves as just what you were looking for. Some people cut through the onslaught so swiftly you’d never guess any thought process had taken place. They present compelling arguments crisply, then sit back to read your response as it is forming in your head. Their expectation freezes you like a rabbit in headlights. All the words are scuttling away into the curtains of your mind. What do you do?
a) You spew those words that didn’t get away fast enough, improvising some form of structure as you go along. You’re working so hard you don’t notice you’re not actually making much sense. At least you keep talking. Nothing worse than silence.
b) You take on a relaxed, pensive air, pulling away from the gaze just long enough to summon sensible words and arrange them carefully, but not so long it looks like you are clueless. Then you make your point and project your expectation onto your opponent. Score.
c) You return their gaze with a highly interested expression. Soon the well-spoken people will feel compelled to elaborate. Clearly you enjoyed their expose so much you want more. While you half-listen (you got their point the first time) you prepare your response and you win points for being a star audience.
Other people seem to enjoy trying out various ways of making their point out loud, never quite settling on one. It could be they are incapable of deciding which words best describe their intent. Or maybe they don’t bother understanding their audience, so they simply see what works.
Then there are those people who have a clear point in mind, but feel compelled to make endless detours on the way. I’ve often wondered whether they do this so that when their point isn’t well received they can tell themselves it doesn’t matter because at least they’ve had a nice conversation, or whether they are actually scared to make their point.
I detest having to sit through the clutter in other people’s minds. Give it to me straight, so we know where we stand. And if you have nothing to say, don’t say it.
Someone used the word “rainmakers” recently, referring to mighty powerful people who make the world go around. If you had been living in the UK, like me, then you will understand my uncontrolled revulsion. I fear I even made an ugly face, but I can’t be sure. I hope not, it would have been very inappropriate because this was a clever, expensive consultant I was clearly supposed to find common ground with. The word “rainmakers” used to inspire admiration, but somehow the persistent rain has changed all that. Rain is now a bad, bad thing. Rain equals floods, puffins drowning, no strawberries, no barbecues, slugs everywhere. And ferns growing to hideous hairy size, which is actually quite impressive. But except for its fern-growing capacities it is a really bad thing. My mind, I am finding, has formed such a rejection of rain that it is rubbing off on the “rainmakers”.
I understand that if you’re in Africa or even in the US this year you may actually have moved from admiration to awe for rainmakers. Everything is relative. I have good news for you though:
I myself have been carrying the nickname of Rainmaker for years now, sadly for the ability to make it rain everywhere I go for a holiday rather than for being powerful. The name truly stuck when I brought torrential rain to the Masai Mara‘s bone dry land, returning it to grazing fields for the Masai cattle within days. A miracle. Even I saw it as a good thing then. Now a strange thing has happened: I finally decided this week to give up staying indoors and buy a fully waterproof raincoat, so I can rejoin life. No sooner did the coat arrive than it stopped raining. I turned the tide! I truly am mighty powerful! And I am told that the changes mean the drought in the US will ease. So there. You’re welcome.
Networking. Not something I was born to, but I am told by people in the know that I have to, on occasion, make an effort. One such recent occasion had managed to worm its way into my diary so I found myself entering the lobby of a fabulously traditional venue in London, the kind I hadn’t known still existed: doormen in tails and hats, marble floors, curved stairs with brass railings, “powder rooms”.
As I worked my way across the room in the direction of someone I wanted to speak to I was accosted by an important looking older man. He checked my name tag and said “Oh, you don’t have any children then?” That was a bad start. I instantly disliked the guy. Every fiber in my being stirred against the presumptuousness of this man, and worse, that he was only asking a personal question to find out the first thing about me at a professional networking event. Somehow I managed to exercise restraint and simply respond “sure I do”, perhaps a little too curtly but not so much he noticed. “Oooh, how many?” I always want to say “10!” when the question is put to me like that, but again I desisted. He went on to ask me how old my children were, and when I said my oldest was 15 he exclaimed “Surely not! You don’t look old enough!” And instantly I mellowed, and forgave him all his stupidity. What a lovely man!
Britain closed shop to party this week, so I found myself with a week’s holiday on my hands. Ok, really this happened because I have been working so hard I haven’t been taking my holidays, and if I don’t take them soon they will be lost. I hate losing so I booked time off and mentally prepared myself to go sit in the sun with a book for the week. I bought suntan lotion and an extra book. Weeded the garden a few weeks ago, so I’m all set. And then it rains. A lot.
As the forecast was for rain all week, “occasionally hard and persistent”, as one radio professional puzzlingly put it, I had a choice to make: mope around the house all week and end up arguing with husband, who is setting up a new online business from the study; cancel my leave and go back to work; or finally paint the house. You’d have to be hare brained not to understand option 1 was not a smart choice, so I won’t elaborate further. Option 2 was frankly no-go as well: I am p*d off with my employers right now; I would do myself a disservice not to distract myself for a while. I have to dip into my inner energy pool to manage going back smiling. So, painting it is!
We have lived in this house for 5 years and never touched the walls, which were covered by some dusty coat that is supposedly meant to let the walls “breathe” – apparently a new house breathes. I’d have to modify that statement: the children did touch the walls, leaving their grimy paw prints. I’d rub off the dusty paint trying to wipe them off, so we’d ended up with patches of near-bare plaster board, still grimy. I told myself for a long time we should just wait for the children to grow up. They are 15 and 13 now. But really I was daunted by the idea of painting the house myself: surely I am no good, we want the house to look nice so let’s get the professionals in. Cue the British holidays. I tried to get professional painters interested in the job, but didn’t get any takers. By Monday morning there was no more escape: I had to spend the week painting. I knew I shouldn’t push husband to help much: DIY is not his thing, he gets very frustrated. We’d only find ourselves in option 1. But crucially I also knew I must leave the story intact that he has every intention of sharing the paint work with me.
And so it happens that I spend the best part of every day up and down the steps, contorting myself to reach awkward corners with a precision brush without knocking over the TV. Husband has a breakthrough with his business preparations so he can’t join me as much as he would have liked. By the end of the week and of a particularly long day, my back broken and my hand in a permanent precision grip (I swear I was made for a desk job – hat off to painters), husband bursts in: “Oooh, my ear really hurts: I must have been on the phone for hours on end!” The only thing that saved him from a very bad fate indeed was the look of realisation that dawned on him once he’d seen my face. And the stumbling attempt at apology that followed. Which I gave him all the time in the world to get through.
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.
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:
I am trying to live more consciously, savouring every moment. Rather than running from one task to the next I want to really experience every moment. This would be easier if I had more time, but that is just excuses rearing their genie heads. I am taking inspiration from the Buddhist concept of mindful living, and from the “carpe diem” philosophy of the Epicurists of Antiquity. I am learning that it does not actually take more time to consciously live through everyday experiences. All I have to do is keep my mind switched on. Which can be tiring, but it saves time in the long run: I learn more from my experiences.
My musings were rudely interrupted by my dog nudging me, and it struck me then that my dog has this mindfully living in the moment concept down to a fine art. She goes through her day something like this:
wake up: yay – morning cuddle!
breakfast! my favourite thing!
snoozing the morning away – heaven!
biscuit – yeah yeah yeah!
walkies! my absolute favourite thing!
foodies! best ever!
snoozing in the sofa as long as I can get away with it – heaven!
Every moment in her day is the best ever. Every day. She is the ultimate Zen master!
The French have the brilliant expression “les excuses sont faites pour s’en servir”: excuses were made to be put to use. If that isn’t the best excuse for using excuses. Put that way, one owes it to the stock of excuses to set them free occasionally and let them have some fun. It would be rude not to.
The expression conjures an image of a dusty shelf with lots of pigeon holes, each holding a blob of different size and colour. Much like the old apothecary shelf my mother inherited from her doctor dad that we used as a library and display-a-bit-of-everything. It had a gazillion small drawers in the lower half, and cell shelves at the top. It filled an entire wall of the living room. As a child I thought it an amazing treasure trove. I could never quite remember which drawer held what because there were many more than I could count, so I liked to go open a few drawers on a rainy afternoon just to see what I might find.
Or it might look like the shelves in the Ministry in Harry Potter where the prophecies are stored. In any case, excuses are like little creatures that want to come out and play, tiny genies with a mind of their own. Take one off the shelf and it senses what you need right that moment. It will work with you if you let it, and if you have chosen wisely. Pick the wrong excuse, or fight it, and things can go badly wrong. The genie doesn’t gel with you and takes over the agenda. You end up with a story that just sounds fishy. Think Joey from Friends. Pick one that suits you, and it can carry you far and wide. No matter how outrageous the excuse, you are so attuned it just works. Whether you are convincing yourself or somebody else. Although I find it works particularly well on yourself.
You mustn’t work with the same excuse too often either. Again, think Joey: the genie gets stuck in a rut that digs a deeper ring around you every time. I did try this for a while, thinking the excuse would warm to me and get ever more personal and real. It doesn’t. It starts to enjoy its power and stops caring about you. Better to pull out a few different ones and let them vie for your attention.
Remember that you are doing excuses a favour by using them – it is ok to remind them of this from time to time. They like to shine, and they learn and get richer with every use. Which means you are really training excuses for the benefit of your fellow human beings. Noble, right?