The house is on fire! Which 5 things do I save? Desperation engulfed me when I first saw this Daily Post challenge. “How awful, our whole lives gone!” was my first thought. And the next. Eventually I sat down to condense my thoughts, and I am surprised to find I can’t actually list 5 things I’d have to take to continue enjoying a meaningful life. For every wonderful object my mind throws at me I can’t help but shrug my shoulders: it can all quite easily be replaced. Photos? They are mostly on the back-up hard-drive, we never get around to printing them. I’ll take the hard-drive, alright then. Although if that failed I’d sigh, be sad for a while, and move on. The memories will always stay with me. I don’t need the photos to remind myself or prove anything. I’d like some of the photos up on the walls because naked walls are a tad stark, but I have got used to that. I would like to keep the photos, but I wouldn’t be lost without them.
Wedding ring? I always wear that, stupid. Unless I’m digging in the dirt or handling something gross. The odds are I would be wearing it. But imagine I weren’t, I had left it in the burning house. Would I risk my life to retrieve it? I might have given you a ringing (ha! see what I did there?) “YES!” until a few days ago, when husband told me he’d lost his. I discovered I wasn’t as upset as I had expected. It was a valuable symbol, but now that it is gone it is reduced to an object. Its disappearance does not confer any meaning onto our relationship. Husband is considering having a new one made in the image of mine so he can wear a visible symbol of our relationship like I do. The fact that it won’t be the ring I put on his finger when we got married is not material. We both know that event happened. The ring represents our dedication to each other rather than a particular moment in history. So again, replaceable.
iPad? I love it, but the insurance would buy me a new one. I’d buy a new cover for it, the same lovely wooden one I so painstakingly selected. Clothes I spent ages picking out? I enjoy browsing and finding things that are that little bit different, so it’d be a wonderful opportunity to buy a whole new wardrobe. My wallet? Now here’s something I’d definitely want to save from the fire. It would be such a hassle to have to replace my identity card, bank and credit cards, driver’s license and such. I hate wasting time on such mundane things.
Don’t get me wrong, I value all of these things; they all add something to my life. But it is a relief to find that my life does not depend on them. The nice things really are the icing and the cherries on the cake. Without them my life would still be intact: I would still have the people in my life that matter, a job, and the same opportunities and challenges. Which would include dealing with an insurance company and living out of a caravan for a while. Which, in turn, breeds a potential risk for those vital relationships to be strained too far, but let’s take one step at a time!
When was the last time I worked hard to learn something new? That is what The Daily Post is asking me to remember. I can only hang my head in shame and admit that I tend to give up quickly when I try something out that I am not good at. I am prepared to refine a skill that seems to have been lying dormant deep within me, waiting to be nurtured and grown. Languages, for example – easy peasy. Give me another one any time. But unless I feel from the outset that there is the potential for me to do reasonably well I lose interest very quickly. I am not sure why that is. It goes against the mantra I was raised with by the Nuns: that you had to work on something, anything, always. They taught that you couldn’t expect things to be good all by themselves, there had to be effort involved. Which has kept me in an unhappy marriage for longer than was really necessary. In fact I might never have taken the decision to get married then had I had the insights I do now: I now know there are key things you not only can, but should expect feel natural and good without any effort, and relationships with a partner firmly belong in that category. Of course there will be little niggles but if the relationship itself feels like it is work rather than enrichment, ditch it. It drains rather than adds to your life. Nuns, what do they know!
I suspect that laziness and competitiveness both play a role in my tendency to give up quickly. There just isn’t much spare time in my life, and even less energy. It serves me well to direct the energy I do have effectively: it helps get through the challenges of every day life. However effectiveness is not conducive to trying out new things just for the heck of it. Testing potential requires a certain abundance of energy I can’t always muster. Which is a shame really: I must be missing out on tons of experiences.
In my defense I took a leap of faith just last week and attended a yoga class for the first time in my life. I had always believed yoga was not for me, but I enjoyed it and I am going back next week. You guessed it, I did allright. I managed to stretch and contort myself as instructed, and nobody knows every muscle in my body ached the next day. Did you know you can overstretch your foot soles?
The yoga class was not competitive. It is simply impossible to stare at other people while you’re straining to keep your balance and holding your gaze at the ceiling or over your shoulder or some other uncomfortable place. That may have helped. I don’t like being really bad at something other people clearly find easy to do. It makes me feel inadequate. It makes sense to leave the stars to it and find something I can be good at, doesn’t it? Why torture yourself? Find your niche!
I find I feel less guilty admitting this to you all than I had expected. A feeling of loss actually pervades instead: I realize I miss out on the sense of achievement that comes with accomplishment. I mostly pursue interests and activities that seem achievable, and when I get good at them it merely feels as if I’ve completed a set track. I don’t excel or beat the odds. Catch-22 really: I would love a sense of real accomplishment, but I can only get it by getting good at something I have lost interest in, and what is the point of that? I’ll have to work on feeling more proud of the things I can do, regardless of the effort that was involved. Stuff the Nuns’ teachings.
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!
My mind wanders when attempting to present interesting stories about my life in 2012. Instead it came up with the memories of arriving in England 20 years ago. I had managed to get a scholarship under the Erasmus programme to study at Warwick University for a year. In return a student from Warwick would spend one year at Leuven university, my base. I was 20 and craving a break from the path I had been laying out for myself. I had no idea how much that would change me, and I am so glad I took that leap.
At Warwick I found myself falling into a crowd of foreign students, who were all trying to get to grips with the specifics of living and working in England and relishing being different, in equal measure. We wanted to get under the skin of Englishness, but we would not be mistaken for being English, oh no! We would do things that we wouldn’t have back home so we would stand out as Norwegian / Israeli / American / Dutch / Greek / Flemish or whatever we all were. The key was that we all expected to go back home again after our English adventure; we weren’t really trying to integrate, merely understand to better utilise for our own purpose. We learnt that:
There are squirrels everywhere. Funny at first, then you see them for what they really are: furry rats.
English humour is very dry indeed. It suits me.
The word “interesting” is often used to mean the opposite: when people say it in a trailing-off tone, their attention clearly wandering, you know you’ve been boring your audience witless.
English people really do queue in a disciplined line and stand on one side of the escalators. Everyone does it, so you join them.
English people are not really more polite than the rest of us, they only say “sorry” as they bump their way through and use polished words with sharp meanings you only understand once your English skills reach a certain level.
You could not find decent coffee anywhere near Warwick in those days. I had to go all the way to Stratford-upon-Avon, which caters for Shakespeare tourists, to get coffee. Of course one could drink a perfectly good tea, but tea just doesn’t always cut it does it.
I also learnt that I did not miss my boyfriend and told him so during a visit back home.
In hindsight I have never felt as free and rich in options as I did then. Even if I went back to Belgium I know that my year in England has been decisive for my later choices in life. Up until then I had completed school and gone to university as expected and dated a decent but uninspiring boyfriend for years whom I might have ended up marrying because there wasn’t anything wrong with him. Except that, when pulled out of my comfort zone, I unearthed more selves who all wanted things he could not have provided. Unfortunately for me the process of finding more layers to myself continued, so I still ended up making a decision that did not work out on the long term.
Eventually I ended up back here in England less than 10 years later. Another decade on and my children have gone native, and I found myself struggling to find the right words in my own language. I’m not even sure what language I dream in.
You can get good coffee in the shops now, just not in offices – you still get nescafe when you ask for a coffee.
I feel much more a part of England now, I have a stake in it. Not sure which, but I live here so I am entitled to an opinion. I no longer consider myself a passing visitor. I am settled. Man, did I just hear myself say that? It may be time to move on. Where shall I go? Let me think; definitely somewhere the sun shines…
Let’s pretend the world is actually about to end, at 12.52 pm GMT on December 21st – the Mayan Apocalypse. How would you spend the final days of your life?
Husband’s vote is to open our Christmas presents – those that are already in the house, giving up on those that have yet to wing their way here with family – now so we can get some joy out of them before we snuff it. Not a very inspired choice perhaps, but one I put down to his positive nature. He can’t even fake-believe that the end is neigh. That, and the fact he can’t pass up a chance to snort at the extreme naivety of some people. And, if we are brutally honest, because he knows there is a man-toy waiting for him under the tree and he is a child at heart.
The kids are sold on opening presents early, obviously. My son demonstrated his growing maturity and cunning by adding swiftly that he’d like to see his girlfriend one more time. Ah, to be 16 again!
And me, I ask myself – what would I do?
I would splash out on the credit card and take my family to an idyllic tropical paradise, the gentle lapping of the sea lulling us into pure relaxation in our hammocks under waving palm trees. We’d be tired from exploring the unbelievable riches of life above and below the waterline, having followed fishes, admired corals and anemones, and stalked elephants, lions and leopards. Shush, all these creatures live in my paradise; they all deserve a loving farewell. We’d have a few great last meals and talk under the stars.
Perhaps you were expecting a loftier target for my last days on earth. But it is too late for that, I shall have to face whatever reckoning there may be on the merits of my life lived so far. I have strived to live a good life, and I am actually pretty proud of most of it. The things that didn’t pan out were well-intended none the less. You have to take a risk sometimes. On the whole I don’t regret much of it. Now all I want is to pay tribute to the marvels of this Earth, and exit happy.
Sunday afternoon. I find myself with some time on my hands. I’ve done the Christmas shopping (don’t you love the interweb? I have family with obscure wishlists you just can’t fulfill by going to the local shops) and most of my chores around the house. What next? Spurred on by Fish of Gold and Rarasaur I had a look at the Daily Post, just in case I could come up with some scribble for the day. And what do you know? I got 2 in 1 – today’s prompt and yesterday’s all wrapped in one:
I must have been about 5 years old. It was a balmy July day, and my mum had decided to take us to the seaside. Yay us! We couldn’t wait to get into our swimsuits, fumbling inside a bathing towel mum held up around us. Slap on some sunscreen – or did we not even bother with that in those days? I can’t remember – and we sped into the surf. Mum stayed with the cooler bag and the towels on the beach. Reading, probably, although I wasn’t following that at the time. She must have been, because otherwise there would have been no place for the Hero in my story.
We rolled around in the waves until we were cold and hungry. Well I was. I left the waves to roll on without me, turning to the beach. What a vast expanse of sand. I started walking in the general direction of where I knew my mum must be. How could I have drifted off so far? I plodded on through the wet sand, the broken bits of shell hurting my feet. And then I stopped. Right in front of me was a colony of jellyfish run aground in the sand, waiting for high tide to take them back to sea. They were the nasty stingy ones, and they were everywhere. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t dare cross the jelly field, and I couldn’t see a way around it. Why wasn’t my mum here to help me? Where was she anyway? I must have started crying, for suddenly a man appeared next to me out of nowhere, asking if I wanted help getting across the jellies? “Yeyeyeyessss please…” I must have stuttered. All I can remember is being scooped up and carried around or across the nasties and delivered safely on my own two feet in dry sand. My Hero! Whom I will never know. And then my mum came running.
Hello there. Still there? Amazing. Sorry I haven’t written for uhm… six months or so? A while, anyway. So what have you been up to?
Me, not much worth reporting. Let me share some examples of pointless pursuits that have filled my time.
1. Doing nothing: This actually is one of my favourite things to do with my precious spare time. It is the most luxuriant feeling not to have to do anything. I have rested my brain.
2. Looking for a nicer job: I found jobs, and jobs found me, and none convinced me they would improve my work life. Total waste of time. My job is not so bad after all.
3. Laptop cursing: Ever since the cleaner dropped my laptop it has refused to show what is going on inside its hidden depths from time to time. Only not when I sent it in to be diagnosed by the insurance company, it behaved beautifully there. Only to return and grin me in the face. Nobody tell me it doesn’t have a conscious mind! What I haven’t told it yet is that it is now on a sure path to replacement. With a reliable, un-moody companion.
4. Cleaning: The cleaner had to go. So I’ve been doing my own cleaning for a while. I can’t think of anything more pointless, and yet unavoidable, as cleaning. Your clean, shiny surfaces start to regress before you’ve even turned your back.
5. Wondering what my life would be like if I had never married my first husband: I did marry him, and there is nothing that can change that. What is interesting though is imagining what my children would be like if I’d had them with husband. It’s an impossible challenge: they would be completely different people, which I simply cannot picture.
6. Marveling at the amount of rubbish my neighbours put out every week. How does a 3-people household manage to produce that much waste? And why does that even intrigue me?
7. Watched pointless movies. Which ones? I can’t remember.
Time for a fresh start!
Google’s idea of Belgian-ness in honour of Belgium’s national holiday today! Thanks google
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.
Shelves full of books have been written and many movies made on dilemmas and how people handle them. They typically describe BIG issues, about whether or not to save someone’s life for example – Schindler’s list, The Pianist, … The Deer Hunter, dealing with the aftermath of the war, or stories about loss like My Sister’s Keeper. I faced a dilemma a couple of days ago that I still feel the tiniest bit bad about, deep down. Silly really, because it was not a BIG issue and the outcome was overtaken by events. Here’s what happened:
Airport, gate D7. We were all waiting for an evening flight back to London, tired after several long days’ work. Looking forward to coming home again. Then came the dreaded announcement that our aircraft was still in London “with technical difficulties”. Eventually the flight got cancelled and we were instructed to queue for a rebooking, from VIP loyalty card holders down to standard card holders and then the plebs. Nice touch, that. I guess they have to make it worth our while to pursue their wretched cards. By the time they got down to my level they had just given away the last seat on the next plane. There were two of us, an American suit and me, narrowly missing out. Not to worry, said the airline lady brightly, I can put you both on the waiting list. Then she paused, and added: “What if there is only 1 seat?” I mean, what was she hoping for? A fight? We just sighed and looked at each other, our minds whirring. Well mine was, anyway. This was my Moral Moment: I really wanted to be nice and courteous, this man looked as tired as I felt; why would I take precedence; it was the right thing to do. Another voice in my head screamed NOOOOOO I WANT TO GO HOME!!! It took me longer to resolve my inner conflict than it did the other traveler, who pulled the gallant card and “in that case offered the seat to the lady”. I was obviously delighted and thanked him appropriately – not too profusely, just showing appreciation -, but I couldn’t shake the hint of disappointment at my cowardice.
That guilt made me feel relief alongside disappointment when it turned out neither of us got on the next flight home, and we both were put on the same even later one. I am comforted by the thought that I did not cause the gallant American any avoidable delays, but I am now carrying the knowledge that I am a coward. If only he’d been a rude ass. That would have evaporated my dilemma in an instant. I am a coward…