The Pursuit

Here is a thing about ageing. I’ve noticed that feelings of excitement in the anticipation of events come less often and are less intense than when younger. This, I suppose is only to be expected, since when we are young we experience far more for the first time and all emotions are more intense. Teenagers, for instance have a tendency to overdo delight; hence the ‘Oh my God’s’ and flinging themselves at each other when passing exams or the Kevin-like sulks at being requested to join their family at the table for a meal or do some homework.

Excited anticipation tends, also to be destroyed by a long wait, or by a promise that doesn’t deliver. Think of the child who waits for an absentee parent to come and take them out.

We [that is Husband and myself] have been waiting an unaccountable length of time for a house move. The thrill of finding a property we liked has ebbed away like the flame in a dwindling candle with every passing week and been replaced by niggling anxiety or increasing weariness. I regret this to the point of resentment. To feel excited anticipation at my age is a rare gift which has been withdrawn.

Happiness is a fickle phenomenon. It alights at unexpected times or fails to materialise when it is due. You can prepare a surprise party, plan a holiday, go for a special meal, buy a long-awaited book or finally arrive at retirement only to find yourself mired in a slough of disappointment. Disappointments and anti-climaxes can be compounded by other people if in your anticipatory impatience you’ve indulged in sharing, like the time as a thirteen-year-old I arrived home early from having been ‘stood up’ outside the cinema only to witness my mother relating my misfortune to visitors. I’ve begun to wonder if ‘friends’ are taking delight in our responses to their enquiries as to whether we’ve moved. It seems crucial to take an impassive stance rather than reacting, whatever, although my fears of conspiracy theory may only be due to wait-weariness.

Sometimes though, a spontaneous moment provides joy-or at least a sensation of comfort and pleasure. A walk around my garden as it bursts into life-even if it is soon to belong to others-is a guaranteed spirit raiser. Coffee and a gossip with a friend, an evening of excellent music, a few hours in the enchanting company of a toddler are all happiness-making.

At a change of level, for those living in the hell that is Fallujah, happiness or excitement is probably brought on by getting something to eat, a few hours of silence or some clean water; for anyone coping with a debilitating disease a period without discomfort. It pays to remember that happiness and misery are relative, like everything else!

 

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Grace’s Guide to Stress-Busting [at a stressful time of year!]

Many years ago, when I was  young teacher [and yes, I can remember that far back], I underwent some kind of training for something or other [I am vague about this part of the story] during which an older, more experienced ‘old lag’ mentioned that his most commonly used phrase to the students was ‘do your best’. As a new teacher I was happy to adopt others’ ideas and to try out their methods-even to use their phraseology, so I went away and back into my classroom to give ‘do your best’ a go.

On the face of it, ‘do your best’ doesn’t come across as an innovative, pioneering new educational method, does it? It would be unlikely to make a headline in The Times Educational Supplement or be lobbied for in Parliament, yet having tried it out in my own classroom I became an instant convert, finding it useful in a multitude of situations. Can’t find a glue stick? Do your best. Can’t solve the problem? Do your best. Can’t do your laces up? Do your best. Don’t like the person sitting opposite you? Do your best. Teachers of young children often find that while they are attending to one child they are beset by queues of others clamouring for attention. ‘Do your best’ works wonders.

All this was aeons ago, of course, even the final death throes of my career have faded into   the furthest reaches of the back shelves of the memory archives; but ‘do your best’ has not entirely disappeared from my vocabulary-rather it has metamorphosed into another, commonly trotted-out phrase: ‘I’m doing my best’. I advocate this retort to anyone struggling with anything. Behind with getting ready to go out? – ‘I’m doing my best’. Can’t manage the yoga Head-Down-Dog?  Can’t find a gift for your mother in law? Can’t get a novel published? Aha! That last one is complicated!

Then there is ‘I’m doing my best’s’ close relation, ‘I have done my best’; because while ‘reaching-for-the-stars’, ‘living-the-dream’ and all those other epithets for ambition are laudable aspirations only a few can actually say this is what they have done. Excellence is fine, applause, accolades and glory are desirable and fun, but all most people need is to be good enough; to be a good enough parent, an adequate bread-winner, have a comfortable enough home, scrub up well enough for a night out, ensure those around us are happy enough.

So with ‘do your best’ in mind, I would like to wish all readers, visitors, critics, the interested and the disinterested a most relaxing, uneventful, contented, unremarkable but good enough Christmas. Do your best. Don’t worry that you may be not having enough fun. And don’t attempt to change what cannot be changed or attempt what is impossible. That’s all.

Punctuating the Years

I began as the third of three bullet points, like this:
• Child 1
• Child 2
• Me
Life continued in a small way, but developing, gathering commas, growing, learning, shuffling, crawling, walking, attending school.
School was a series of quotations. ‘Don’t be late’ ‘Do your homework’ ‘Read this’ ‘Take notes’ ‘Write that’ ‘Line up’ ‘Don’t talk’ ‘Sit up’ ‘Wear this’ ‘Don’t wear it like that’ ‘Too short’ ‘Too untidy’ ‘Get changed’ ‘Get ready’ ‘Sit down’ ‘Stand up’. Sometimes the orders were exclaimed: ‘Stand!’ ‘Sit!’ ‘Quiet!’ ‘Girls!’ Sometimes they were questioned. ‘Where’s your kit?’ ‘Where’s your book?’ ‘Where’s your homework?’ ‘Why are you late?’ ‘Why are you early?’ ‘Have you practised?’ ‘Have you finished?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’
I became a student. Student life was all about ellipses… We stayed up all night… We got drunk… We tried various substances… We got up late… We skipped lectures… We went on the pill… We had unsuitable liaisons… We had suitable liaisons… We shared flats… We somehow managed to stay the course…
The world of work seemed, initially to be a place organised into neat brackets. I rose [early], went to work [walk, train, tube, walk], taught my class [reprobates], went to meetings [tedious], received a salary [a relief].
I became a married woman, at which point I was hyphenated-a mere adjunct-even more so when motherhood occurred-. “What do you do?” I was asked-but before a reply was supplied-“Oh of course-you don’t work, do you?” They were the wilderness years-the 1980s-my ten years of hyphenation-stagnation; but punctuated with babies-[!]
They grew older. I returned to work, [brackets again] but harder {{{{more stressful}}}. There was ‘accountability’. There were computers [!] There were inspections [!!!] But there were also colleagues…who became friends…I took up running…and exercise classes…
I became an ‘unmarried woman’! … Moved house…Ellipse life returned… with interludes of exclamation! I was happy-or unhappy-by turns.
I met Husband, moved house again, changed job, settled, waved goodbye to the offspring, said hello to them again, [by turns]. Then a grandchild made an entrance! Grandparenthood was embraced with some bemusement-. Where had the years gone? Why so fast? How had all these events occurred [behind my back]?
Older age was here- The bonus-the consolation was retirement. I travelled. I read. I wrote. I followed pursuits I’d always wanted to. Bits of me hurt more when I exercised. I gave up running [for walking]. The return to work came back to haunt me in the form of chronic disease. I was diagnosed: it was all about the colon; which had deteriorated into a semicolon; somehow, for now it survives; even if-in the future-the colon gets discarded-after all, what is life except one, long series of ellipses?…