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.