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!
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?
Remember the guy who got arrested in a disused metro station in a full wetsuit? That and a bunch of other wacky stories were tossed at us during a dinner this week. They were meant as an ice breaker for a colleague’s leaving do, even if there was no ice anywhere near our group. Lots of laughs.
I thought I knew most of the people there pretty well, I have worked with them for years. But in some cases I guessed from the way their story was written, rather than what they had actually done. The Regulatory Affairs guy’s story was longwinded and rich in detail, the sales guy’s ebullient ego dripped through his. And then of course Mr “Friday the 13th” had unlikely stories of bad luck that could only have happened to him – the slapstick kind.
What I found really revealing was what my colleagues thought I had done: more than half the room thought I had been the one to have gone down vomiting during a parachute jump, and when that turned out to be a mistake about as many thought I had overtaken a traffic police car and then been stopped for speeding. As if. I have never done a parachute jump, but I quite fancy trying it. I am certainly not going to vomit; I fully intend to absorb the sensation of freefalling, and then, once drifting, enjoy the view. And speeding? Me? Not past a police car I wouldn’t. I’m not stupid. It does make me wonder exactly what image my colleagues have of me. At work I am often told I come across very reserved, so I had been assuming a bit of a non-entity. While actually they think I am fast and furious! I think. Apart from the vomiting. Not sure what to make of that.
I have done some fabulous venting this week. If you have never tried venting I must urge you to have a go. I don’t mean the polite and useful kind:
More something like this:
Pressure point reached, I unleashed all the pent-up worries and frustration until the magma seas were calm again. And now I am ready for a relaxing weekend.
Apparently this happened to someone known to a colleague of mine. I can’t stop fantasizing how on earth he got there. I must ask my colleague next week to expand on this summary he dangled out there, to get us all to reveal something nobody else knows we have done.
What intrigues me most is the wetsuit. What was he plotting in the middle of Paris that would require a wetsuit? Exploring the catacombs via the sewage system? I imagine rats and cobwebs, drip-drip-dripping and dank air. Dark – with a flame torch. But he was probably just getting ready for a stag party wasn’t he.
How do you get into a disused metro station? Does anyone even know where there is one? Maybe the Parisians do. Again I conjure dank darkness, where there may actually have been stark fluorescent lighting that nobody had bothered to cut off. I picture the lone diver plodding towards the hole in the wall that leads to the catacombs, while he probably was just drinking beer with his mates. And he was probably arrested for trespassing. How boringly mundane.
What should I reveal about myself? That I once walked into the office full of young men (I was their age then) with my black skirt tucked into my sunny yellow underwear? Nah, I’ve probably already told someone that. That I have eaten jellyfish? Boring. That I once had a brief chat with Harrison Ford in a lift? Yeah, I may go with that one.
Husband is all out of luck. The BBC news site carried a story about polyglots the other day. It claimed that Dutch is the easiest to learn language for native English speakers. Husband is English, yours truly was raised in Dutch. Husband fits the cliche that English people are linguistically challenged, but now that excuse is too thin to hide behind.
He agreed to learn two new Dutch phrases every day. I never minded that he didn’t speak it, but am finding that I really want to teach him now. While I try not to roll over laughing.
Dear reader, teach your children languages! Lest they embarrass themselves later!