Sunday, December 26, 2010

Twas the Night After Christmas

So there you have it, Christmas is over for another year, turkey sandwiches are in full swing and we are now firmly in that disorientating week that goes on till New Years Eve and a bit beyond.    That non week where the days feel redundant and jumbled up and you have to keep reminding yourself where you’re not supposed to be and what you’re not supposed to be doing.     A week where all the usual routines we have set up go topsy-turvy and that old familiar face, the one with two hands and twelve numerals, relinquishes its importance for a little while and permits us to take a load off.     

The rest of the time however we live by the clock and by the time it’s telling us it is.    And we’re so used to being told what time it is and what we have to do in that time that when this is removed as in right now and also Bank Holidays all the regular type structures and patterns that we normally have in place continue on in our minds despite the many reminders that we are indeed on a break.     We are so bound to the clock that although breaks and Bank Holidays are most welcome they do come at an unusual price, they seem to completely tip the weekly scales.      When we lose a day we also lose that sense of what the day after would have been as well as the day before.     How many times have you woken up in the morning and for a split second didn’t know what day it was and had to think of what you did yesterday so that you would know what today is.    The week is like a string of pearls, take one day out and the whole thing feels wonky.     I’m really mainly talking here about having time off whilst not being on holiday.     Holidays are a whole different kettle of fish as the Monday to Friday measure becomes almost non-existent and the only two dates to remember are departure and arrival.      In between them is holiday time and that means a holiday from time, clock time to be exact.    

Clock time is the same the world over.     Seconds, minutes and hours are the configurations which enable us to frame time for ourselves.     Without them life is unimaginable.     The first time I saw the film ‘Castaway’ with Tom Hanks and the moment of shock where the audience is finally told how long he had been deserted on that island, I remember there being an aghast murmur that echoed in the whole cinema.      It is the moment where we realise what it means for the character to have had all that time go by where he could have been somewhere else somewhere he actually wanted to be.     Later on when he finally manages to escape on his makeshift boat and is looking back at the island where he’d lived it is the first time in the film that music starts to play in the background as though bringing both him and us slowly back to civilisation again.     And as you watch him watching the island that stripped him of time and place you could imagine he’s watching four years of his life right there in front of him and how small it must now seem from a distance as the boat sails further away.    I always find that scene so poignant and so sad.    I think it is the perfect metaphor for looking back on our lives and feeling a wide range of emotions all at the same time.   

And from deserted islands to desserts, I must now turn my attention back to the fact that we are still on a break from work, schedules and routines and with that comes this lovely little clause which states that for a limited period of time we are permitted to eat whatever we want and in whatever quantity we want to.      The clock dictates to us no more than we dictate to it when we allow ourselves this infrequent pleasure.     And if we didn’t feel so guilty about it afterwards we’d be on a sure winner there.      The clock is basically a parent; always telling us where we have to be, what time we have to be there, when we need to eat, when we’ve got to get up and a million other things that must be done as time goes on.     Even taking the batteries out won’t silence the ticking; it’ll just make us late for all these things we have to do.     I see now it’s time for a coffee break, that’s what the clock says anyway and who am I to argue so unless I’ve been harpooned to a remote island that time forgot I’ll see you in the New Year.        


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Best Wishes

With just under a week to go I am always amazed at how fast Christmas comes round each year.      It’s been super fast this time, speedy broadband fast and we seem to be following suit by doing things much faster too.     Christmas presents are bought and wrapped months in advance, children make out their lists in the summer, turkeys are ordered before they’ve been born and we’re all sort of living in the future.      So when Christmas Day finally arrives all the expectation and anticipation comes to an abrupt end because the future we’ve been waiting for is right here, it’s present.     All our hopes, worries and wishes for this time of year will soon come to a head and I’m guessing there’s lots of wishing going on right now. 

Wishing is the essence of living in the future.      Our wishes are always one step ahead of us, they are future bound and dwell in the realm of possibility, after all anything’s possible right?      Can you imagine what life would be like without possibility?     It’s impossible to imagine because we continually live in that space, always planning and preparing, expecting and supposing.     We are authors of our own future, writing and rewriting the chapters as we go along.    So I’m wondering then what happens when our wish comes true; when the possibility becomes a reality.

“There are two tragedies in life.
One is not to get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it”.            (1)

Not to sound like a spoilsport (so close to Christmas) but I’m inclined to think that a wish which comes true loses its magic and it happens precisely at the point when it stops being a wish, the point when we've got what we wished for.    Although our wish may have come true at the same time we lose our reason for wishing.       The wish disappears and perhaps with it a sense of meaning too that it inherently held.     While a wish remains a wish it serves an important function; keeping the dream alive so to speak.      And we invest so much of ourselves in our wishes, they are not only what we want but who we are, so much so that when our wish comes true we lose a small part of ourselves in getting what we want.    I must just say here though I’m not quite sure this theory really applies to kids as they genuinely seem overjoyed when their wishes come true!      For them the magic is the present in both senses of the word.     Their anticipation of the run up towards Christmas or a birthday reaches a crescendo of absolute joy when the event they’ve been wishing for finally arrives.    Going back to us complicated grownups however it seems the greater the anticipation of something the bigger the anti-climax afterwards.    Perhaps our happiness is the wish itself.    Perhaps we derive our fun from the anticipation of something.     

There’s no doubt how powerful anticipation can be.      It creates responses to things that haven’t even happened yet, it’s like time travel for feelings.    So quite often our anticipation of something is mismatched to what actually then happens and at times it can be a relief i.e. visit to the dentist being relatively painless, and then there are other times when it is a huge disappointment.     The latter is the sticky point of wishing and the downside of having too much anticipation.      It’s that old familiar experience where you’re really looking forward to an event thinking that it’s going to be brilliant and you’re going to have a fantastic time only to find that you don’t and you neither feel anywhere close to how you thought you would.    It’s difficult to understand what’s gone wrong in those situations especially when everything was in its place to be great.     And by the same mysterious token how often do we go into things with very little expectation or even enthusiasm and then find ourselves having the best time we could possibly have had.                 

I suppose you can’t always plan happiness it happens in between the plans and best of all when there are no plans.      In a sense that’s what wishes are, unfulfilled plans and whether they come true or not is slightly beside the point.     Looking out my window I see that my Christmas wish has already come true but it's okay I can live with that, though had better go now and plough the anti-climax off my drive.      


(1) George Bernard Shaw (1903)  Man and Superman.  

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tempting Fate

I was walking down my street the other day, there was no one around and it was very quiet.    The wind felt fresh yet gentle on my face, it didn’t have the same piercing cold attached to it that we’ve been so used to lately.    There was a stillness in the air as though all the houses I was passing were still asleep and it was the middle of the night, though it wasn’t.     Taking my time being in no particular hurry I swung my bag slightly to and fro and listened to the sound it made as it brushed against my boot while I walked.      Just then out of nowhere I suddenly felt really happy.     It was so acute as if a button had been pushed inside me to activate it.      I felt a wave of warmth and absolute certainty spread over my entire body like a thin sheet wrapping itself around me.     It was as though I could almost hold my whole life in my hands right there and then and look at it with a clarity you only get sometimes when you wake up in the morning and realise your dream was a dream.     The kind of clarity where reality doesn't get any sharper.      The feeling was beyond happiness, it was sensational.      And for those few seconds I can honestly say I didn’t have a single worry in the world.     

Before I could think about where this had all come from, the feeling had already vanished only to be replaced by something even more acute, panic.      Actually panic is putting it mildly, it was more like dread.      A sort of unjustified dread that didn't have a leg to stand on, after all I was only walking to the bus stop, yet it felt more palpable than the happiness which had preceded it.     And then I knew that it was the very happiness I had just experienced which had brought on this darker feeling, a feeling bordering on terror that was now running through my body like little currents of electricity shocking me one step after another.    The feeling being of course the fear of something going wrong when everything is going right.    

When things in our life are going well, exceptionally well, why do we then expect it to all go wrong?      In fact we’re so sure that things will go wrong we’ve even created disclaimers to soften the blow, so things like ‘it’s too good to be true’, ‘I don’t want to jinx it’, ‘touch wood’ and the worst of all beliefs that we don’t deserve it and therefore of course it won’t last.      When did being happy get so complicated?      Seems as though it should come with its own warning label; too much of this may cause prolonged anxiety...    If only it were just an expectation of things going wrong but it appears to be much more intrusive than that, more like an unshakeable feeling of something always being around the corner, something bad that is coming our way to ruin all that is good.      The fear of this happening is so great that we’ll do anything to camouflage our happiness; we’ll downplay it, dismiss it, keep it under wraps and generally not give ourselves permission to really enjoy it because enjoying it is the quickest way to wreck it.    

Trying to work out how we’ve reached this point is way past the scope of this little blog but having said that I can’t help but think that if we were to alter our thinking a little bit here and there though it may not necessarily change our fate it may however help reduce the worry of tempting it all the time.     

So how do we view happiness and sadness?      Are they at opposite ends of the spectrum?    Is it a bit like a game of two halves where there can be only one winner?      Or does the presence of one automatically mean the absence of the other?      I was thinking just now of a friend of mine who loves ice cream.      For dessert she always chooses three scoops, each a different flavour and as they begin to melt in the bowl beside each other, their colours start to run and the flavours mix together.      They no longer belong to their distinct labelled tubs, they have become something else.     I wonder if happiness and sadness aren’t that dissimilar whereby most of the time they run into each other, are mixed up and co-exist.      It’s not that surprising to find a lot of humour at funerals and a lot of sadness at weddings, loss and gain are two sides of the same coin.     Life presents them  to us together, we are the ones that have split them apart, and by doing so we short change our happiness and solidify our sadness.         

If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands (clap, clap) if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands (clap, clap), if you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands (clap, clap).   

Children hold all the wisdom!       As we were taught in primary school if you’re happy bask in it, clap those hands, eat lots of ice cream and rest assured that you can’t tempt fate as I think it's fair to say that fate in whatever way we choose to understand it is by its very definition inevitable and therefore incorruptible.     Happiness on the other hand is much more within our control, tempted?    



Sunday, December 05, 2010

Collective Shiver

I’ve never been more grateful for central heating as I have in the last week.    At times it’s really felt like a full time job trying to keep warm whilst continuing with everyday life albeit at a much much lower temperature.     While the entire country undergoes the big freeze and everywhere you look there’s snow or talk of it I can’t help but notice a few things around this time as we all try desperately to keep the cold out.      


Amidst the travel chaos, road dangers and school closures it’s hard to deny how utterly beautiful the landscape becomes under a thick blanket of snow.     It transforms ordinary neglected objects into striking shapes simply by hiding them beneath inches of itself and in doing so making them appear more attractive.      Looking at my garden earlier in the week I saw that the watering can, the railings of a gate, parked cars, and even wheelie bins all became worthy of a second glance when they were covered in snow.      It just makes everything look prettier by covering it up allowing only the outline to make it distinguishable.      And it leaves nothing out, it's so inclusive like that.      

We, on the other hand, seem to become indistinguishable in the snow, covered up in so many clothes it’s hard to tell sometimes who’s who.      Having said that I’ve felt a strange sort of camaraderie this week with my fellow frozen human beings as we all try to keep warm from head to toe.     With such a wide assortment of walking woollies all around me it became so obvious how in it we all are together; in the cold, in the ice, in the world.     In a time where there seems to be so many different ways of doing and saying things it feels nice for a while to all respond in one way, to all agree on one thing and to all be on the same page for a while.      It reminds me of when it rains and suddenly all the umbrellas open up together.      We are all part of the same existence, we are all made from the same stock.     We all need to keep warm and protected, to feel safe and secure, to be loved and cared for.    These requirements these human needs demonstrate the unity of mankind and the inherent commonalities between us.    Though our individual differences are vast and varied it is our similarities that highlight our connectedness the most.    

In cold weather like this I’ve seen people on the street smile at each other, strike up conversations more and generally be a bit more mindful of one another perhaps as a way of touching base and checking out with them that they're not alone in suffering the cold, that we're all cold.     And the cold is so bitter and penetrating that even with all the layering going on right now no one is impervious to its bite.      It makes me think how sensitive our bodies are and how fragile and vulnerable.       I think we all know this very well as we cover up mightily with clothes to keep the cold out and the warmth in.      Yet how much more do we do this with the internal fabric of our feelings as we frequently protect ourselves from the climate of our own emotional lives.      That seems to be the part of us that feels most at risk in any season and all year round.     When we walk indoors and the central heating wraps itself around our bodies we can take off the layers and thaw out a bit.      But the layers that are worn on the inside are harder to shake.      Guarding the heart is a full time job so we protect ourselves with coats of defences to keep us safe and intact.       Maybe that’s why this last week with the temperature plummeting further and further the cold has created a warmth between people because it’s plain to see for all of us that we need protection at the most basic physiological level and the more layers we wear the more obvious that becomes.      Our humanness is exposed not just for some of us but across the board and I think that this is what helps to bring us closer together and to connect more with those around us whether we know them or not.     

As I look outside now much of the snow has gone and although that's a relief it also feels a bit sad as though the adventure and danger of it all is over, and like travel companions we must return to our own separate countries of thought.    Do we continue to ignore each other on the train and revert back to driving fast again on the roads having lost the need to be careful?     We probably will but for a short time we were united in our shivers and that is worth remembering.