I took part in two extreme sports at the weekend, house painting and speed weeding, leading to the kind of muscle soreness that causes a person to grimace and make “Argh!” noises when trying to sit down or stand up again. You would think that dancing every week for a year would make someone very fit and supple, but I’ve been slothlike for the past month due to long work hours and illness. I’ve had The Mother of All Colds and her offspring, The Cough, and still have a touch of the Marge Simpson voice.
At clocking-off time today, when I told a colleague that my first priority was a hot bath, she was worried that I’d be too stiff to get out. I promised to keep the phone nearby and call the fire brigade to come over with a hoist if necessary. Her very helpful suggestion was to have a copy of the firemen’s calendar on hand as well, which made me laugh so much:
“Hello? Fire brigade? I’m stuck in the bath. Please send Mr July.”
Earlier today we both had a moan about August. If I could, I’d edit August, cut it out and splice the year back together without it. It’s a perfectly good month in other places, but in Canberra it’s the month that breaks you. Being sick doesn’t help, obviously. Sitting bolt upright through the long nights, coughing and feeling dreadful, brings on a great deal of soul-searching and yearning for change. In the wee small hours of this month I’ve mentally retrained, changed jobs, moved house and started a new life and new relationships elsewhere, where everything is perfect.
Then I read this:
To have a good and meaningful life, you need to overcome your insatiability. Most people, at best, spend their lives in a long pursuit of happiness. So today’s successful person writes out a list of desires, then starts chasing them down and satisfying the desires. The problem is that each desire, when satisfied, tends to be replaced by a new desire. So the person continues to chase. Yet after a lifetime of pursuit, the person ends up no more satisfied than he was at the beginning. Thus, he may end up wasting his life.
The solution, the Stoics realized, is to learn to want the things you already have, rather than wanting other things.
It’s true, isn’t it? There’s no need to quit the job, retrain, move somewhere else, not right now anyway. Little tweaks, a bit of spring cleaning of the brain and everything looks pretty good. Small changes can work wonders. Hence the house painting and speed weeding.
It doesn’t hurt to explore, of course. When I started looking into a slight career shift, I found out that a friend had done a similar job in the past. If I decide to go down that path at some stage, she can talk me through it. Take the help that’s offered. Another friend, on hearing about the cookbook that I want to write, said, “You’ll need a designer,” which she happens to be. And I had completely forgotten that.
Have you read Alexandra Franzen’s thoughts on slow change? Even when it feels as though nothing is happening, she says, the tiny victories keep accumulating and suddenly there’s a breakthrough. Good point. I’m reminded of this tango routine, by the lovely Pablo and Anne, which a friend sent to me a while back. “We’re going to learn this,” she said. My answer? “You’ve GOT to be kidding!” I watched it twice and couldn’t see how we could teach ourselves something so advanced. But we are. My tango buddies and I started breaking it down, step by step, and realised that we already had the building blocks. We’ve learned about a quarter of it so far. Small victories. Perfection is overrated. Practise, and you can do it.
Someone who seemed to me, from my sickbed, to have life sorted was Julia Crossland. “How perfect,” I thought, “to have a studio in the garden and make a living from art.” Then I started watching Julia’s vlog and learned that she’d had a creative crisis and ended up completely changing what and how she paints. She’s friendly, open and generous with her advice on creativity:
Pick a theme. (Fluidity.)
Pick a state of mind. (Observant.)
Step back and laugh.
Good advice for life, too, don’t you think? Perhaps it hasn’t been such a bad month after all. I think I see the point of August now.