Stoner-cat

Stoner by John Williams. A book I didn’t want to buy because I didn’t like the title. A book then bought for me by my dear friend. And this is what I thought:

As the back cover suggests, it is about a man who is not particularly exceptional, who lives a fairly normal life, and who makes no particular mark on the world. But it is also much more than that. On the one hand, it is a thoughtful, understated and measured – even detached – novel. But at the same time it manages to convey the struggles and emotions that lie below the surface of one man – and also, I suspect, of a great many of us. It shows how the most ordinary of lives can be extraordinary, but without bells and whistles, without an overloaded eulogy when it is all over; just the mere achievement of creating a life with what we have and what we can. In that sense, the book manages to be sad and empowering at the same time. We can all be William Stoner – small and yet really filling the space we are given, the space that we make for ourselves. That in itself is a worthy goal.

But what I also took from this book was the force that Stoner draws from having found his vocation. I hesitated to use the word “passion” instead of “vocation”, but it would not have been right. He is lucky enough to have an epiphany and as a result – rather than becoming a farmer like his father before him – he becomes a teacher, which seems to suit him. Yes, “passion” would have been the wrong word, but his work gives his life a frame, a purpose. It also gives him the strength to stand his ground when required. On another level, it literally provides him with a place to go, a refuge when he needs it. I liked this. Not everyone will be a megastar, launch their own successful coaching business, or decide to live from their talents as a painter (or whatever). Some of us will continue to live their (our) “little lives” – the challenge is to fill these lives with purpose and content.

A final aspect that touched a cord with me was the impact we have on our children. Children are sponges and will pick up – and be shaped by – our most careless or unconsious messages. Probably the most heart-breaking thing about this book is the relationship between the daughter and her two parents. Or rather I should say relationships – because she has very different relationships with her two parents. The outcome is not pretty and should be a lesson to us all.

Should you read this book? Yes, and savour it.

Sweetish Caress

I have just finished reading Sweet Caress by William Boyd (Bloomsbury 2015). I’m a great fan of some William Boyd – A Good Man in Africa and The Blue Afternoon for example would be on my list of all-time favourite novels. There are many others however than pale into … forgotten. I look at the titles and know I’ve read them, but I don’t remember much if anything about them. Now, I’m a big reader, and I read fast, so I do tend to forget details. And I often read books three or four times without getting bored, because I do forget plots pretty quickly. But my problem with much William Boyd is that I often find his characters too blatently made-up – his books often feel transparent and I can almost hear Boyd thinking “oh that’ll make a good storyline” or “I can use that interesting fact in my new book”.

This was the case for nearly all of Sweet Caress. The lead character – Amory Clay, a photographer – is, on the face of it, an interesting character: driven, impulsive, creative. But the character doesn’t seem to be particularly affected by things that happen to her (she just seems to breeze through the storyline – “like water off a duck’s back” springs to mind). She is also annoyingly lucky or successful – beautiful, desired, men fall at her feet, leave her when it suits her – and exciting things just seem to be loitering by the wayside, waiting for her to pass by so that they can happen.

But Sweet Caress is saved by the last two pages. So I won’t spoil anything, but after an admittedly easy-to-read book about interesting subjects that nevertheless failed to grip me – the end is life-affirming and gives the first feeling of real connection with Amory’s character in the whole book.

Worth a read? Sure, why not. Take it on a desert island with you? Only if you have a lot of luggage space.

Inner versus outer

I posted a few weeks ago about trying to manage my current workload. For my current job, I am a manager for a small company. I work longer hours than I would wish, and there is often a lot of stress. Some of the stress somes from work-related deadlines (tenders, etc.) and some of it from personnel-related issues (personnel problems or poor performance from colleagues). But most of the stress comes from myself and my wish to do things well – efficiently and effectively. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I like planning things. If I could do all the work of the company myself I probably would – if you want something doing well, do it yourself. (I sound like a nightmare …)

And yes, work is taking over again, despite my good intentions, and my timetable filled with non-work activities. Work just squeezes everything else out.

And I realise that I handle the “outside” stress (deadlines imposed by others) much better than I handle my self-imposed stress. This realisation was a bit of a revelation to me. But self-imposed stress is insidious and I don’t even see it: I am just being me.

For years I have been trying meditation and mindfulness, but rather half-heartedly because of a lack of time. Which makes me think of the old adage: you should aim to meditate for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy … in which case you should meditate for an hour. I think my challenge for the next few days is to be very mindful about my work, and to trust my colleagues to take the strain a bit. Let’s see how it goes.

444

Taking stock

I just joined the LYL Creators’ Guild on Facebook this week, and today I took the opportunity to look back over some of my previous posts before taking the plunge and sharing the link. So far, no-one has seen my blog (as far as I am aware) and the only comment I have received was from myself 🙂 (I liked the blog 🙂 ).

As I’ve said a couple of times, for me, this is all work in progress. I don’t know what my passion is. I don’t have an amazing idea in my head out of which I could create a new life or a business. I just know that, for the next 20 years, I don’t want to do be doing what I have been doing for the past 20 years. Not that it was a wrong choice (in fact, it was never a choice, just a series of decisions, choices and accidents that led me to where I am now). But a change now has to be a conscious choice – otherwise, I will just continue to drift into my 50s, 60s, 70s. Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to see all these ages, but I want them to be happy, creative and relatively stressfree ages. I want to actually live them.

The book that I mentioned in a previous post was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It is well worth a read if you don’t know it. It is both a simple and a complicated book in that it involves a journey in the real world (as you can guess from the title) but also a journey – and a very uncomfortable one at that – inside Harold. We also follow his wife’s journey too, even though she mainly stays at home. They both visit and revisit places they had hidden or never faced. The part that resonated with me most was Harold leaving behind everything and putting himself out there, way beyond his comfort zone, and allowing himself to make contact and connections with people, with the world. Nice people, awful people, helpful people, unaware people. He used a lot of acceptance in his journey, just letting things happen and not trying to control things.

As a fairly organised person, who likes her routines, this liberation from self just seems amazing to me. And one big lesson for me is that you can – and should – put your trust in other people, and not shut yourself away or try and control things too much. The experience might not always be pleasant, but if you open yourself to acceptance, then the experience is likely to be rich. And it makes me think of LYL’s advice to spend time with people who inspire you. To find them, I will need to get out of my “here” and go somewhere else – in the world, or in me.

There has to be a moment to jump. I’m not there yet, but maybe one day …

IMG_0349b

Cold weather, low energy

So I’ve had a few days’ break from my blog. I must admit, I find it difficult to know what to write about. I suppose this is usual for many people. I don’t much like the idea of opening up, especially in public. I am also fairly convinced I don’t much of interest to say. Most of what preoccupies me is pretty personal, and pretty mundane.

I am reading a book at the moment that might open me up a bit. I’ll wait until I’ve finished it and then let you know what I think. It’s about a pilgrimage, and moving away from what we know, to rediscover ourselves. Sounds twee, but it isn’t. It is scary thinking about breaking out, breaking away. The courage needed would be immense. Where would that courage come from?

IMG_0598

It’s actually snowing here today, but I don’t want to think about that. I want it to be Spring – hence the picture.

What difference do I want to make?

OK, this is a tall order. There are many things that I would like to do to make myself happier. There are many things that I would like to do to make the world a better place. But. But. And I don’t want to be defeatist, but I have to be realistic. I am not 18 anymore, or even 28 or even 38 … I am married with a child. I have a job that I don’t hate and that pays me (and therefore supports my family) well. I have other people to consider who have their own lives and cannot simply be uprooted. More importantly, I also have me to deal with (wherever I go, there I am), hang-ups and issues, warts an’ all. So it’s clear to me that I’m not suddenly going to transform myself into someone who will travel the world, or start up an NGO in Africa, or become an environmental militant. Nor do I have any particular desire to make millions. I see my aims on a more human level: small is beautiful. So let’s start with wanting to get my life in order – start doing things that I like, spending time with people I like, and not wasting so much time wasting time.

I would like to help the environment help itself.

I would like to be remembered for doing my best, when I’m gone.

I would like to use kindness, tolerance, consideration and courtesy every day.

I would like to be more creative and use this creativity to make the world a little bit more beautiful.

DSCN0670

What is my “elevator pitch”?

Not an easy question to answer. What do I get excited about, what difference do I want to make?

Right, this is a work in progress and I will surely revisit this many times in the future:

I am a manager but trying to get some balance in my life. I am good at organising and planning, I hope that I write well, I am good at paying attention to detail. I am an introvert. I have previously managed stress and dealt with anxiety issue through meditation, mindfulness and caring for myself and I know that I no longer want a stressful job. I care about the environment and about making a better world for all. I believe in kindness, courtesy and consideration.

Great. Now I just need to pull all this together into a “mission statement” 🙂

426

And I realise what I like most about writing this blog so far is my photos.

What am I proud of?

I’m actually proud of a few things.

Top of the list would have to be my daughter. She is amazing – a real individual and very brave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then I’m proud of myself for not having made a mess of her (so far …). I had a difficult pregnancy and a really difficult time when she was little. And despite that, I have still managed to come through for her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m proud of having been to Africa and having lived in the rainforest.

I’m proud of having left my home country to live abroad for the past 20 years.

I’m proud of speaking French.

I suppose I don’t go in for regrets. It’s good to see the positive.