Sunday night was one of those nights. You wake up in the early hours to make a quick trip down the hall and then that’s it. Sleep is well and truly interrupted. The rhythm is gone, never to be seen again– for tonight, anyway. After twenty minutes or so, despite tissue salts (#6 Kali Phos may help), conscious slow breathing and counting backwards from 100, I’m still there, firmly in the grip of something that is bigger than my toolkit and all my best intentions. Sometimes I even forget about the toolkit—I forget to check on myself and what is happening with my thoughts, and how these may be affecting my breath and heart rate. A sudden recollection of a disagreement at work or at home may lead to an unexpected welling up of outrage, resentment, or whatever, and before you know it you are confronting that person in your head, you are feeling the steaminess of anger and righteous indignation, your heart rate goes up as your blood starts to boil, and in no time you are wide awake, living those unpleasant memories, and any hope of sleep has left the building!
With lockdown regulations having been relaxed a bit here recently, I was this past weekend harshly reminded of one of my Big Dislikes (pet hates) as I peeled off onto the highway in my car. I hadn’t had to look at one of those gargantuan, freestanding advertising billboards for some time, and I was not pleased as I spotted one in the distance, realizing then that within a few kilometers my senses were about to be assaulted in full colour. I could see the thing in the distance, preparing to stare me down as I got closer and closer. There are other things about city living that bother me almost as much, but these Leviathans hold a special (dark) place in my heart. And in these troubled Covid times, they somehow seem even more awkward, ugly and intrusive — out of place and out of step with the times.
I went through my own blogsite on Saturday– spent some time there, sprucing things up a bit. I changed the appearance– the colour scheme, the font and a few other features. I thought about changing the theme, but I wasn’t feeling quite THAT adventurous, (although according to WP it is quite easy), so I decided to stay with what I know and just tweak and freshen things up a bit. There’s nothing like a bit of a trim and a pop of new colour to help you step up a gear. Oh, and I added a new page, dedicated to my writing dabbles, which I shall add to over time, till it’s bursting at the seams. At the moment there is just one piece of short fiction in there. Baby steps.
I am accustomed to working from home. What I’m not accustomed to is having someone at home with me, sitting at his desk just on the other side of the pillar while I sit at mine. It’s not really a big deal- while he’s busy on one of his conference calls, or speaking to a colleague on the phone, in go my earplugs and I continue as normal. So on a practical level things have not changed much- I still do pretty much the same stuff as I did before lockdown: cook food, clean house, garden garden, feed cat. And write.
Here at the Southernmost tip of Africa, we have just passed our twentieth day in Lockdown. There is that distinct and awkward feeling of trying to carry on as normal, as if nothing unusual is happening. And interestingly, whether unusual or not, we get on with life anyway, don’t we? And many of the challenges are the same as they ever were: the frustration of a laptop which suddenly plays up, or knowing that you need to make that difficult call, or deciding what to make for dinner. But we are fortunate if those are the extent of our concerns. There are people I know who are wondering when, and even if, they are going to be able to get back to earning an income, and others, far worse, who may not even know where there next meal comes from and are dependent at this time on the goodwill of others. On the positive side, there has been a groundswell of individuals and organisations who have reached out and stepped in to help, to try and offer something to people in our midst who are living with very little means of support.
It’s been a long while since my last blog entry. One whole year and three days has passed by since I last put pen to paper here! This was not unforeseen: I realised early last year that I was being drawn onto a new and different path, as a fledgling writer of fiction that is. I have surprised myself by managing to churn out over twenty short stories since March 2019, many of which are still works in progress as I slowly find my feet in what feels like a whole new world. Last year I read Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury,and things kind of unfolded from there. This is a new experience which blogging has no doubt helped steer me into and helped prepare me for. In many ways, after all, writing is writing- a thing that requires us to put ourselves out there, on days both good and bad. It can be lonely and frustrating, but we press on because it’s worth it! When I look back at some of my blog entries now I feel proud at what I managed to do- all my hard work, and the joy and satisfaction that I felt at a piece well done. And as for the people who I follow and who have followed me, whose writing I have so enjoyed, admired, been deeply touched by, even at times amazed by- a whole gamut of responses and emotions have come up for me just in being part of this community of writers. And whether I blog here once a week or once a year, there is no doubt that this community has been a joy, an education, and a source of inspiration to me, and I will always be grateful for that. Thank you ♥
I treated myself to a few online purchases recently: 3 movies, 1 series and 3 books. Part of the fun is that sense of happy anticipation while I await my order and that Yes! feeling I get when the parcel arrives and I just know that the wait was worth it. Now there’s the fun of looking forward to indulging in my new purchases in the weeks or months to come, when the time is right. The books are for my husband, while I now have two covetable classics: ‘The Misfits’ and ‘Roman Holiday’, and ‘Luther’ an historical drama to enjoy over the holidays. We have already started watching ‘Borgen’, a Danish political drama from the popular Nordic Noir series, which we love, subtitles and all.
Then there are the spontaneous, unplanned ways to have fun, when opportunities suddenly pop up and you find you’ve been gifted with a little surprise. This afternoon for example, following several days of dry, baking heat, the clouds started to gather overhead and I lay, flat out on a patch of lawn as a few tiny, delicious drops of cooling rain came softly down. I rolled around a bit on the cool grass, full length, from side to side, reminded of childhood days when my siblings and I would play at tumbling down the grassy slope near our house, laughing all the way. After a few minutes I got up and went back inside feeling quite refreshed and revived after my little brush with nature. Speaking of unplanned fun (and nostalgia), a few weeks ago I switched on the TV in the middle of a weekday (not my usual routine) to test whether the remote was working, and Lo and Behold, there was a re-run of an episode of Magnum PI… Tom Selleck, shorts and botanicals printed shirt and all! I couldn’t resist. I used to love watching Magnum PI in the 80’s. I ended up watching the best part of a full hour while I did the week’s ironing. True nostalgia…and loads of fun 🙂
There must be as many ways to have fun as there are people on the planet, considering that we all come with our individual likes and dislikes, available resources, and whether we are aged 6 or 60. Then of course we get fun on different scales, like the big overseas trip which you’ve been planning for ages, or fun on a tiny scale such as a quick game of Soduko on your phone to see if you can beat your previous score. We all sometimes need a break, a distraction, from the everyday, the ordinary, and the things that have become frustrating and infuriating. We need fun for our peace of mind and to help us keep a sense of perspective in our lives and also just, well, for fun.
Simple is not always the same as Easy, and I find this to be so as I go about my efforts to reduce waste, and my carbon footprint in general. I’m doing my bit to live simpler/ lighter/ less cluttered/ more focused, and this has been largely a hugely rewarding process, but it takes effort and perseverance. It’s a bit like detoxing: you have to go through some pain before you come out clean on the other side! I look forward to the time when Simpler becomes altogether Easier. For instance, as I try to be a conscious consumer, a weekly groceries shop at the mall is a challenge where I brace myself for an encounter with rows of overpackaged items on shelves, much of it in single use plastic. This will only really change when producers of goods and the retailers who display these goods make some major changes. And here in my Johannesburg home, where I am in a process of decluttering and have made good progress with clearing out shelves and cupboards, there have been unexpected obstacles. My husband, for instance, has proved to be surprisingly sentimental about letting go of some of his old stuff, including clothing that he literally never wears, and a set of golf clubs that hasn’t been used for about 10 years (he hates golf and is happy to admit it!)
And then sometimes the simplest, most effortless things are there right in front of you, for your enjoyment. If we open our eyes and ears, we may be rewarded for our efforts in the loveliest of ways, just by being receptive to the simple beauty that surrounds us. And very often it is that thing that we live with and so often take for granted. On that note I was inspired to write this mini-ode (that’s clearly not a real word) to my beloved pets one Saturday morning…..
Entry from my diary:13/10/2018-
Early on a Saturday morning, my first cup of tea of the day:
Annie may have the world’s biggest doggie eyes, as she peeps up at me with those big, dark, almond -shaped orbs from her cozy spot on her aqua -coloured doggie blanket; head tilted slightly sideways and resting on her little white outstretched paws.
Jasper positions himself next to me and proceeds to give himself a thorough cleaning, as only an agile kitty cat can do. Lying midway between his back and his right side, he licks with firm, head -rolling strokes his furry white tummy and chest, and then with a gentle sigh, rests for a moment before proceeding to paws, ears and other kitty bits.
My husband called me a perfectionist the other day. I was taken aback. I’ve never really placed myself in that bracket before, thinking instead that I am simply not good at prioritising, too easily convincing myself that there is something more important that I am avoiding, and that I am focusing on the wrong thing, the easier thing. I had been complaining to him about my own procrastination on things that I have good intentions of doing, and then finding that somehow they remain undone, or partly done and unfinished. This kind of constant second guessing about what to do and when, leads to time wasted as I pause in doubt of what I should be doing with my own adult 55 year old time. It feels strange sometimes that this adult who studied yoga and yogic thinking for years, who has taken comfort from and offered comfort in maxims like “Just go with the flow”, so easily slips into that insecure space where making a simple choice just feels so hard.
But he may have a point. my husband, that is. Perfectionism can be debilitating, especially when you believe you lack that boldness, that flourish, that ability that is required to tackle the job perfectly. The sad thing is that one then ends up feeling stifled, reluctant and even unable to move on and try, and instead finding it easier to stick with things easier or more familiar. Fearing a lack of certainty, a lack of perfection, one misses out on the chance to aim for the stars (and if you miss, you may just shoot the moon instead ;)) In constantly awaiting perfection, or waiting for that perfect moment to try something, one misses out on life. So yes, perfectionism can cause procrastination, and I have at times been frozen into inaction by my own reluctance to try something that may turn out less than perfect.
It takes me back to my days as a yoga instructor. From time to time I would have a brand new student say to me ahead of class “I can’t do a headstand or a shoulderstand yet, will I be OK in this class?” assuming that they may be at a disadvantage if they can’t manage these things in class. These things, bear in mind, are postures (asanas) that no yoga beginner should be expected to master, and in fact can cause serious injury if attempted too soon. Being prepared to embark on a journey toward self-mastery is part of the wisdom and beauty of yoga. True yoga (not the yoga that belongs in glossy magazines and inside sweaty gyms) requires patience, perseverance, self-compassion and the willingness to take the necessary steps towards a desired outcome.
It’s the same with any task: for instance, I have decided to refurbish the second hand, vintage wrought-iron table that I bought for my bedroom, and I have come up with 3 options:
Do the research on doing a thorough renovation. This involves sanding down the metal to remove the old paint, and then priming, painting and finishing, using materials specifically intended for metalwork.
Sand down the table a bit, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
Use some of the leftover paint that I used to paint a small cupboard in my bathroom to paint over the table, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
You may agree that option 1. is for the perfectionist, whereas 2. and 3. is for the casual crafter with little time on her hands, and a budget to stick to.
My life as it is right now dictates that option 1. is just not on the immediate horizon and that if I want a pristine job done, the perfectionist in me will take it to the specialists who are paid to do such things. But then my budget tells me that paying more for the renovation than what I paid for the table in the first place does not make sense, so I have decided to go for option 2 or 3 instead. I’m still deciding. Either way, I can accept that sometimes perfection is just not on the cards and that good enough is good enough.
We all need to feel appreciated and recognized for our efforts from time to time. We need feedback from others to know that our endeavours count for something, especially when we feel that the wheels are turning too slowly and that the things we want to achieve seem out of reach. Our family members, friends and those we consider our peers are often the mirrors which reflect back to us our place in this world, and while we should never let other’s opinions make or break us, there is no doubt that people matter, in the sense that we sometimes simply need to know that what we are trying to do is not going unnoticed. At TheFreeDictionary.com, ‘AFFIRMATION’ is described as ‘a statementintended to provideencouragement,emotionalsupport, ormotivation…‘
Our need for recognition and support is echoed in ‘No Man is an Island’, a well known proverbial expression coined by John Donne in the 17th Century. The phrase expresses the idea that human beings do badly when isolated from others and that we have a need to be part of a community in order to thrive.
All this was brought home to me whilst reading through the readers comments one of my recent postsand enjoying and appreciating the the positive feedback I received. One of the comments in particular, from hilaryhunterwriter, stood out for me. It ended with the simple statement: “Keep up the good work” and somehow this short sentence inspired me to just that. Suddenly I felt a unexpected pride at my efforts and in that moment it felt like what I had written was elevated to something more special than before. And perhaps that’s the critical issue: that it sometimes takes someone other than ourselves to recognize what we are doing and the impact that we have, because we often fail to see it at those times when we just can’t see the wood for the trees.
A few weeks ago I visited a close, slightly younger family member who has in a short space of time been through several operations including reconstruction surgery and has been on cancer treatment since. Despite having to deal with devastating emotional shock and invasive treatment, she has continued on her way towards physical and emotional recovery with astonishing energy, positivity and determination while the rest of us look on in awe. I decided to tell her once and for all that I think she has been amazing and that I admire her hugely for the way that she dealt with everything. This resulted in a long and rather tearful hug on both sides, as more words of love and appreciation tumbled out. I left with a feeling of lightness of spirit and somehow relieved that I had spoken from the heart in this way, even at the risk of becoming emotional. I think that this lightness and sense of relief came from knowing that what I had expressed had been ‘sitting’ with me, needing to be said, and that there is no time like the present, especially as Tomorrow is Promised to Nobody. But maybe that’s a subject for another post….