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:
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!
Indulgence is a bad word, isn’t it? It is selfish and lacks self-control – concepts we tend to frown upon. Which is exactly what makes indulging so sweet: allowing yourself to enjoy something that you would rather not anyone knew about. To me such secret guilty pleasures are extremely valuable. They belong only to me, and the few people I choose to let in on them. They provide a brief retreat from the usual hustle and bustle, a private pause in my busy life.
Now indulging has gotten more difficult for me lately. I have always enjoyed a strong black coffee with Belgian chocolate in the afternoon. I keep my own 1-person cafetiere and my own carefully selected coffee at work, and a choice of delectable chocolate in the back of a desk drawer. Everyone is used to me making my coffee in the kitchen and traipsing around with my cafetiere, but very few people know about the chocolate stash. I have always found it shameful somehow that I crave chocolate. Something to do with the expectation on women to be watching their weight I think. But now scientists have confirmed that people who eat chocolate regularly have a healthier body mass index and are slimmer. That throws my guilt right out of the window.
Luckily for me, that still leaves a glass of wine or a tripel beer once I put my feet up at night, taking a pillow day occasionally, and a few other things I am not ready to share.
Even allowing myself to do nothing is a luxury. It is also difficult, so I am not sure it falls under indulgence. I told myself this morning not to do any chores at all today, and instead allow myself to relax. That was an impossible mission, so I am excused for not completing it with full colours. I did manage to laze away the whole afternoon though, which has put me in a wonderfully dozy state of mind. Unwound. Whereas I could have ironed clothes, washed windows, taken the glass to the recycling bin… which is all still waiting to be done some time … back to indulgence!
We have been having potentially morbid conversations about if, and how, we would like to be remembered, starting with the funeral service. This was brought on by my father-in-law sending an updated will. The level of detail he had gone into was quite unsettling, so we started meandering to distract our minds. My father-in-law wants a braai party with all his family and friends and his favourite music instead of a funeral service, and he wants to attend in the form of his ashes on the mantelpiece. If he’d thought about it he would have asked to be the table centrepiece I reckon so that is where I would suggest we put him to make sure he doesn’t miss out. I guess he wants to be remembered as the fabulous host he is.
Personally I hope that my children will cherish some memories and that they will feel they have learnt something from me. Beyond that I couldn’t care less. If my greatest desire were to leave an imprint in the universe then I’d do it in my lifetime. So I told my husband that if I were to die first – which is highly unlikely, given his diet and the statistics on life expectancy – he was free to mark my passing as he pleased. Or not at all. To which he promptly answered that he was planning to have my ashes blasted into space. I am left wondering what I am most upset at: the fact that he had an answer ready, or the idea of being flung the furthest possible away. I guess he has made his point: it seems I do care what happens to me after I die.
I tried the coin toss to find out which I really wanted: take a pillow day or go to work today. The verdict? It works, tossing the coin crystallized my thinking into a decision. I felt a strong emotional desire to dodge adversity, and an even stronger one not to let the boss get to me. So I made a pact with myself: go to work but take it easy. Appear composed and there, but give my mind time to wander. I planned to close my door, put my headphones on, and point to them whenever anyone appeared at the strip of glass in the door, wanting my attention. “Can’t right now, on the phone.” Ha.
The taking it easy bit didn’t quite work out. It turns out I am pretty lousy at absenting myself. But here’s the thing: big boss showed up out of the blue! Man did I put on a great show of confidence. He cannot get to me, I am a rock! My throat hurts like mad but I am so chuffed.
The coin toss does work. Try it.
…is the advice that is popping up on the TV as my husband is playing some war game. Blood splatters onto the screen as his warrior runs towards a shack. How apt, I think, just what I need. I am stretched out in the sofa staring at the moon, trying to think of nothing. The moon is particularly alluring tonight, huge and with a tinge of orange. And yet it does not manage to take my mind off today’s disappointments. I crave shelter from the world and the demands it makes on me. I too need a place to stay out of sight and compose myself. I have to emerge again tomorrow, looking strong and ready to battle. I resolve to ignore the blackberry, roll my mind into a ball, pour myself a glass of wine, and curl up with the snoring dog. I tell the kids we will talk about their stuff tomorrow, and let my thoughts bounce within my mental ball. Hopefully by tomorrow something nicely polished will emerge.