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Freedom

I travelled through the countryside for four hours in total and somehow it got rid of the excess of negative emotion I’ve been suffering under lately. Life has been overwhelmingly stressful but this is not what I want to write of.

A friend asked me some months ago what was the most important thing for me in life. I said liberty. In hindsight, I think it is impossible to pick one thing that towers above others, but I could narrow it down to three: love, liberty and health.

Why liberty? Because I can’t take being pigeon-holed and forced into roles and behaviour patterns. I was never good at accepting authority and it is stressful for me when I have to do it. I chose my job because it provided maximum liberty compared to a lot of other jobs. I couldn’t do regular hours. I had tried regular hours during high school, but I soon grew frustrated with having outsiders regulating MY daily schedule.I like doing as many things as possible when I feel like doing them. I do need some rules or I procrastinate to no end, but I cannot imagine a life where my work hours were fully determined by someone else. Unless I, being of sound mind and in possession of absolute freedom to do otherwise, would grant such permission. Suppose I got a raging stomach ache? Or I need to deal with some serious personal crisis? Like the roof leaking. I mean, yes, adults are supposed to ignore that and carry on, but I prefer to do things in my own time and pace. If I get them done, it shouldn’t matter if I work from 10.00-12.00, take six hours off to go for a picnic at the seaside, and continue at 20.00? That’s what my work hours are like these days.

Financial freedom has always been important to me as well.  I very much dislike the idea of being dependant on having a job and facing ending up on the street if I should quit or be fired. This is worse than having a few loans hanging over your head, such defencelessness against external forces. I’m hoping to counter this by having some sort of buffer fund to last me at least 3-4 months and by one day living in a country cottage of my own which would guarantee some amount of food. It’s harder to starve in the country and living costs are lower.

Freedom is important to me in everything. It’s hard to provide a full list of areas, but one of these is freedom from social expectations. I don’t know if this is just my personality and life or whether it is some general human tendency, but my relationships with people always fall into specific patterns whilst cancelling out others. My parents know me as very reserved and disinclined to share personal stuff, albeit with bursts of excessive chattering on more general topics. My best friend knows me as an extrovert who needs to be restrained from sharing everything that pops in my head. There are people who would be a little surprised reading some of the stuff I’ve written here because they have no idea such sides to my personality exist. Inevitably, such habitual ways of being friends and family limit me a little. Not all of that is disagreeable. I never talk of my romantic relationships with my family, but I really don’t want to either. I don’t discuss poetry or reveal my childlike sides to people who are not likely to appreciate it. It’s a constant fine-tuning of personality, intuitively choosing what to reveal to the full and what to keep on the background. The full range of my personality is not known to anyone, but those who are more like myself will be trusted with most of it. Freedom to be fully oneself is probably only found in solitude, although some soulmate-like friends come close.

Worldliness, or lack thereof

I have been horrid of late. I’ve become steely, hardened, impatient with the incompetence, inefficiency and weakness that surrounds me. My best friend pointed it out too. I was not as soft any more. I had noticed, but I couldn’t afford myself the luxury of doing anything about it.

Why has this happened?

For a very long time, I’ve been operating far out of my comfort zone, crossing my habitual limits daily, doing things I’ve no aptitude for. I have no worldliness about me.  There are moments, when after having put my best effort into things, I no longer care if I get treated a little dishonestly or unjustly. All  I want is for it to be over. No more dealings with worldly stuff, so I can go back to candles, books and my glowing orange ball of affection (that is a metaphor I use to describe how people close to me make me feel – as if being surrounded by a glowing orange ball of affection, all safe and content).

What the world is doing to me, how stressed I am, how disconnected from myself, how considerably worse a human – this is a heavy price to pay for a little bit of financial security and social advancement.

I went to the bus stop after returning from the bank, and some old lady told me to watch it and not sit on that bench because someone had spilled milk on it. She said milk stains are hard to get out. Then she put a tissue paper sheet on the spot, saying that she hopes people will notice it better that way, so they won’t get their clothes dirty.

I understand her world where milk stains are important. I understand the world of pensioners thronging around discounted bread. And I understand the world of families taking their kids for a sled ride on Sunday. Because my grandmother took us too. I feel sympathy with the people on the bus, and the people that live in little ant hill flats. I used to hate that world, but now it gives me a warm feeling of belonging. I wonder what they are like and what they do in life, whether they are happy. The people on the bus who can’t afford a car. I smiled to myself when I overheard two men in their 50s-60s wishing each other happy father’s day and discussing their children and soon-to-arrive-grandchildren. And another pair of men discussing the evil cat of someone’s mother-in-law. I get all that. That world is mine. I grew up in a world where things that some call “small things” were the essence of life.

There is much more purity, serenity and truth in that kind of existence. Perhaps I’m getting Dickensian in romanticizing poverty, but what can I do? I get these people and what makes them tick a million times better than I get an average middle- or upper class person’s aspirations. I am somehow between the two worlds. My education and profession place me in one, my childhood and upbringing into another.

I like to take things slow, but nothing seems slow in the modern world. It drains me and turns me into a bad person, a disagreeable person who has no affection to give and wants to call everyone gits. Or alternatively, sleep all day and not do anything at all.

Things I’m truly proud of

A completely unorthodox list of what I’m truly proud of. Inspired by the ramblings in the previous post.

I’m proud…

 

  • for knitting my very own lace over-knee stockings, even if it took me three years (I took a break for 2 years)
  • whenever I manage to be myself in an unfamiliar social situation or with people I don’t know well
  • for taking a shy and difficult cat, having the patience to endure her first week’s antics and somehow intuitively do things right so that after a month and a half, I had melted her heart and earned her trust. She no longer hid and hissed, but purred and wanted to be stroked more often than I could manage
  • for conquering depression and overcoming other similar challenges
  • for the things I know and understand about the workings of human nature and life
  • for sewing my own pretty 19th century inspired pyjamas
  • for having the capacity to think outside the box and trying to live my life outside the social confines I don’t agree with
  • for putting together my own bike and other jobs I’ve done for the first time and not made a complete mess of
  • for the items in my wardrobe, which are ever so pretty, by far my wardrobe is prettier than most people’s, and obviously I say so myself and don’t expect others to agree
  • whenever I manage to cook something that tastes reasonably good
  • whenever I do all the pesky tasks I set out to do that day instead of procrastinating

And as a proof of how proud I am… I made pizza some weeks ago. From scratch. It didn’t turn out horrible and I was quite proud of the sauce. The dough could do with improvements, but here goes my first self-made pizza. I don’t take photos of food unless I’m proud of it, so yeah, no joke, I truly am.

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Happiness

I wanted to think about happiness a little bit. What it means to me, meant to me, and perhaps generally what happiness could be all about.

Yesterday I encountered the idea that if you suffer a lot, experience a great deal of deprivation, the more you begin to value the so-called simple things. The fact that you can breathe normally, have a roof over your head, functioning eyes and limbs, and something to eat.

At the same time, this presumes that you’ve also either lost all else or never had it, so you must draw your joy from very primitive sources. Hasn’t life dealt one a pretty cruel hand if the greatest source of joy is something others have long ceased caring about? For example, Soviet people going all giddy over bananas or shampoos, when for those in the West they were a standard shopping basket item. No one cared. But in these parts, I’ve heard it said, people were over the moon when they washed their hair with a proper shampoo. To me, that particular joy is lost already. I’d be over the moon if I washed my hair with a shampoo that actually made my hair look nice without drying it, causing it to fall out or whatever other pesky things modern shampoos can do. I’ve moved on from the primitive “any shampoo is a treasure incomparable”.

There is also health. If you suffer severe illness, only then will you learn to value health. Even life. I find that the people who are casual about death often lack personal experience with it. How could they value life if they never almost lost it? Never saw someone close to them die? I feel like an old lady pensioner for actually valuing my good health.

So, a great many sources of potential happiness do only seem to come through suffering and lack? Is that really so? Is it like that for my own person?

We lost our family home when I was nine and ever since I’ve wanted to recreate elements of that. It’s been a strange discovery to see how my current dream home copies so many aspects of that first home. I’ve never consciously set out to copy anything. We had a huge wild garden and veranda. Even when planning the interior of my flat, I noticed I was copying that veranda. Insisting upon a swing and the green walls. The question is, though, would I still worship nature as I do now if I had had ready access to it? If I could lie under the lilac tree and read Romantic poetry at will? Have as many dream-filled picnics as I like? Garden to my hearts content. I cannot answer it. We lost our garden when I was nine.

I also feel in myself a desire to have more of those simple joys, to almost artificially create myself a state of deprivation so I would have more things to find joy in. When I was writing down that example of Soviet economy, a part of me felt a sense of loss. Shampoos and bananas are no longer able to bring delight. I’d like them to be. I suppose I wish I could take less things for granted. And maybe stopping to take things for granted is happiness? Provided you have things to value and treasure, of course. Then if you noticed those things, you might find happiness.

A lot of this “noticing” happens through loss and suffering, however, but not all things. Definitely not all.

And maybe some people have a better developed ability to value everything they have. I might sometimes be too ambitious and competitive to repose like that, but I have my moments of gratitude. For having the best friends in the world and a happy childhood and good health and decent level of intelligence. But then, ambition, the killjoy….forces me to chase after worldly acclaim and status, forgetting all that. Yet the fulfilment of my ambitions has never brought me permanent joy. I feel no sincere gratitude. I feel no emotion. I can simply recount, like reading someone else’s CV, that I have good education, qualifications and exactly the job I wanted. But I don’t FEEL grateful. Maybe only for my job and the freedom it gives me.

I contemplate more and more lately whether I’m the sort who could find happiness in “big successes”, or am I more of the sort who finds taming a cat and building a gazebo to be truly satisfying instead. Ambition and the world’s opinion pull me one way, but maybe Poe is right and happiness is to be found in giving up ambition. Particularly since I don’t seem to care much for my achievements. I feel more sincerely proud for the lace stockings I knitted than for my MA thesis. But try saying that at a job interview when asked about your greatest achievements…

Beautiful hearts

I have some sort of interesting thing going on with beautiful souls.

Whenever I come upon one, either in real life or through TV or internet, it makes me want to cry. I’ve wondered about this sort of peculiar reaction a lot. I’m obviously touched that a person like this exists. But it doesn’t quite seem like a sufficient explanation. I rarely do actually cry, but I feel like their beauty pierces my heart somehow. That my own heart leaps up and wants to run to theirs. Or press their hand in sympathy and understanding. To express it somehow how much it means to me that people like this exist.

In addition to that mixture of joy and pain, I also experience an overwhelming desire to protect the said person from the world. Even if they are a grown man twice my age in no need of protection. But there is that feeling. Of a treasure. And a distrust of the world. That destroys its beauty.

But a grown man twice my age surely knows that….

An absurd feeling overall.

 

It matters, it matters not

At the beginning of university, I struggled with stress management. My particular problem were presentations and essays. I could fret and worry about them weeks, months in advance.

And then magic happened and I learnt to “think about it tomorrow”. While I so rarely make leaps in self-development, that was the start of my present life philosophy. That I consider to be the most useful skill I’ve acquired during university and during adult life in general.

At first, I used to think about things tomorrow when dealing with school work. Everything came to be categorized into two groups: the immediately relevant and the not. All things in the ‘not presently relevant’ category I would deal with when I came to them, a day or two before the presentation or essay. While at first a conscious stress-management technique, it later became automatic. Rather than worry myself sick over the upcoming exam session or thesis defence, I managed to switch off, enjoy carefree walks and film evenings and have an altogether better time of it.

In time, the same tendency to categorize crept into other areas of life. I’m  overly sensitive, so there is only so much I can take into heart. I had to learn to control at least to some extent what I care about. Psychologist might call it the repressive coping style. They say it is bad for you, apparently, but I’ve only found it to be good, so perhaps my strategy is not THAT repressive? I’ve never believed in suppressing one’s emotions. I’m the sort of person who advocates letting yourself hit the bottom because only then can a full recovery follow. So, when down in the dumps, I cry in my room and don’t repress a thing. When in the heights of happiness, I dance and giggle and don’t repress a thing either.

What I do believe in controlling, however,  is the things I have an emotional reaction to. If I allowed myself to take everything to heart, life would be too emotionally overwhelming. I’ve learnt to stay calm when someone pushes past me in a queue, cheats me out of a small sum of money, snaps the very thing I want from in front of my eyes, listens to music on full volume upstairs, gives me a bad grade unjustly, and other trivialities. I always ask myself in situations like that whether it would matter on my death bed. If it does not, it’s not worthy of a strong response. Rather, a few deep breaths and maybe a curse, and life goes on.

I also do not read or watch the news very often. Major news do reach me, but I try to avoid constant exposure and commitment to following the madness that goes on in the world. I admit I felt or feel? ambivalent about that. Am I being cowardly? Hiding my head in the sand? Perhaps. Some crime reports can be very detailed and it is hard to read without having your imagination spoilt by yet another atrocity that cannot be unseen. Also, what good would MY knowledge of the worst of humanity do? I’m not in a position to help or influence. It amuses me sometimes how people are opining away on TV about what ought to be done to fight crimes against humanity or do for the poor, but then go home, drink tea and have a cuddle with their spouse. Nothing but waffling. All talk and zero action. From times immemorial, the doers and talkers are often different people.

But, to return to categorisation, to what matters and what does not. The death bed question is what I keep returning to. If I lose something that seems important, if I get hurt or angry, I always ask myself if it would matter on my death bed. If it would not, then I try to calm myself, take a few deep breaths and let it go.

I lost my job? Will it matter on my death bed? Not unless it was my dream job. If it weren’t, there will be others. There always are. Particularly in my field.

I have even learnt to categorise illnesses and dangerous situations. I ask myself: is it deadly? Will it change my quality of life? If not, then I’ll suffer through it or try to ignore it if it is chronic and nothing can be done but live with it.

Human relationships are a little trickier, but to protect myself from overdoing on the caring front, I also tend to categorize people into two basic groups: friendship material and superficial social butterflies. The former I invest myself in emotionally. Social butterflies are the kind of charming people that you can have a nice chat with once in a while but who are incapable of caring about you deeply. They have just too many other friends and acquaintances, and a different sort of personality altogether. But I want some sort of devotion, even from friends. I want to matter. If I feel I don’t matter, my heart stays locked in self-defence.

Overall, this ability to categorize may seem suspect to some, but it has helped me immensely in limiting what I get worried, hurt, angry or sad about. Very often, I can’t avoid the hurt, worry or sorrow, but thinking like this – that it doesn’t matter in the end – it helps me overcome life’s little annoyances and disappointments much faster and relatively unscathed. So there is more room for my heart to be scathed by the big things. Haha.

When does being lost end?

Being reasonably intelligent and capable has its downside if you haven’t found your one true calling.

I’ve said this a number of times that I should have been an athlete. Unfortunately, the right personality is only a small ingredient in professional sports, perhaps the decisive one, the factor that makes some win golds and others take the 6th and 10th places. But if physical ability is lagging behind, there is really no going to the Olympics. When I did sports, I had enormous dedication, which I’ve lacked in all my future exploits. Lacked, because there is no feedback, no measurable indicator of progress. It’s hard to keep going if the measuring tape does not tell you exactly where you stand.

After my dealings with sports as a teenager, I discovered literature and decided I wanted to be a poet. It was Byron and Jane Austen that first inspired me. I scribbled bad poetry like a lot of other adolescents, but I wasn’t particularly devoted to it. It soon became obvious I couldn’t write very good poetry, so I decided I might make a decent novelist. This has been my distant dream ever since.

I have never intended to make money as a writer because that would entail a totally different approach to writing. I’m too impressionable and absorbent, so if I know I want the novel to sell well, I’ll subconsciously put in stuff that might appeal to the average member of my target audience.

Now on to real-life choices. I’m working as a translator and dream of also working as a psychologist. Doing two things equally well is naturally very hard. Yet this is exactly how I’ve seen my life, being a translator-psychologist. I do not want my therapist activity to become dependant on the number of patients I take. I want to actually treat them, so I would not take more patients than I can handle, which I imagine is around five to seven. This means I’d have to continue translating to pay the bills. Translating also has the advantage that it is quite close to my pursuits in writing, so if I read grammar and style books, I will improve not only as a translator but also as a writer. And since writing is the distant glorious dream, I should prioritize things that get me closer to that goal. Maybe the digression into psychology was a mistake? A madcap idea.

Maybe I must show persistence, remove superfluous demands on my time and intellect and focus on the one goal? The writing one. Rather than try to become an expert in two areas. I really don’t know. I have an entire year to think about it at least.

Utterly ordinary I

To contrast with previous posts’ display of eccentricity. And just so. To record some thoughts I’ve had on the subject.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been feeling every once in a while what a very ordinary person I still am. And this ordinariness, in better moods, branches into an all-encompassing feeling of connectedness with humankind. I know, it sounds frightfully sentimental. Yesterday, as I was driving through the countryside, I felt that connectedness again. With the old ladies sitting and chatting behind me on the bus, the farm workers, the cats on windows and roofs, the boys playing football. The entire cycle of life and my own small part in it too. It’s a funny sort of feeling. Like looking down upon life and yourself, whilst at the same time submitting to its ways. I guess it sounds very cryptic, so without further ado, a little exercise in ordinariness:

  1. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I have arms and legs. I can walk and run and am in good health. I am not tall, but I’m not terribly short either. I’m not strikingly beautiful, but I’m not ugly either. My hair could be thicker and nose could be smaller, but overall, there’s nothing wrong with my looks.
  2. I prescribe to no modern eating style, except that of trying to eat healthy on a regular basis. This means I try to avoid ice cream that is made up of water, coconut fat and 10% of milk powder and seek out foods with higher quality raw ingredients. Real, genuine stuff as much as possible. However, I’m not religious about it and if I feel like it, I’ll eat marshmallows, colourful candy and Emperor burgers. So, I’ll be an ideal guest to any family. No special demands. Will eat and drink almost anything.
  3. I like sports, such as skating, rollerblading, swimming, cycling and would happily try some more if I could afford it (windsurfing, yachting). Other days I’m very lazy and only like to do things at home.
  4. I like having friends and spending time with people. I like to give and receive affection.
  5. I complain about the weather, the government and where the world is going at this rate.
  6. I would like to win in the lottery.
  7. I want to have a lovely home of my own, and to have children and grandchildren one day.
  8. I enjoy birthdays and Christmas and other holidays.
  9. I am bored out of my wits watching some highly revered films. I just don’t get them. The authorial way of looking and showing is alien to me.
  10. I laugh when something amuses me and cry when something hurts me. I think kittens are angelically cute and serial killers pure evil.

I stretched it to ten, but that list was far harder than I predicted. Not because I was so extraordinary, but because a lot of these things are almost undefinable. As I said above, a feeling of connectedness. But abstract, not concrete. Seeing you are alike with the rest and that the differences are trivial compared to the overwhelming commonalities.

A lecturer of mine once said that those who are truly different never stress their difference. And I don’t know if he got that idea from somewhere or whether it was his own, it’s a brilliant idea regardless. It got instantly adopted into my personal life philosophy. I am relatively different from the mainstream, there is no questioning that, but what is my difference compared to that of some who can’t pass off as normal nowhere. Who would like to, but can’t. Me, with all my strange ways, I could theoretically go to a night club and not stand out. Of course, there are places where I’d feel extremely uncomfortable and out of my element, but outsiders wouldn’t know that. I’d look alright. Perhaps shy and awkward, but that’s not the same thing. I suppose that’s the essential ordinariness. I can blend in or digress at will. The truly different, they cannot.

However, I’m not 100% positive which I am in the end. Does emphasising it alone mean that I’m not THAT different? Probably. But what then of my early years when all I did was to hide it painstakingly, up until 17-18 for sure. Was I truly different then and now am not? Or have I simply learnt self-acceptance and confidence. God knows. And I don’t suppose it matters. I am what I am. Ordinary or different.

It is most likely situational.