“May you live in interesting times”

– a Chinese curse, that. Apparently.

Anyway – the Imp is doing just that: living in interesting times (well, aren’t we all?). And one of the moments on the horizon is that I’m about to spend the night in a near-empty theatre, writing a 20-minute performance piece, from scratch, for 6 actors I’ve yet to meet, to be performed 24 hours after we wet our pens. Dead excited, but also nervous.  The whole thing goes up on the main stage – and it’s filling up (this ain’t no teeny theatre).

Cor – the unknown – and I don’t mean Rumsfeld’s unknown knowables….

We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Beautiful….’cos what could I possibly have to worry about, having read that?!



A Freudian slip is when you say one thing and mean your mother…..

I hope that made you smile. I was just wondering about the nature of “control”, as a matter of fact, and trying to think of something funny to say about it, and came up with that one instead (it’s the way my uncontrollable mind works: darn fractally thing that it is).

Here’s another. Walk into a crowded room, shout, “Hey, you! Paranoid!” and see who turns round.

But enough jokery-pokery. Control (behave, Imp!). Control (and breathe…..).

So, why am I on this subject today (when the sun is shining and I am killing time before I can run without getting a brunch-related injury)? Well, I am feeling a little stressed out [thanks, Stu, for your recent comment about meteorites landing while I’m on stage: I’m not sure if that add to or lessens the angst..;-)  ] and I would like to feel less stressed. And as we are all prone to do in such circs, the Imp has been trying to find little solaces, consolations, to provide relief.

And then it hit me.

I’m all a-fizz and a-bother because…I don’t feel in control!

And then it hit me again (well, not the same thing; I’m not a goldfish): I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants to be in control! I want to be the sort of person about whom other people say, “wow – that Imp is just so relZZZZxed” *

And then when I’d finished beating myself with a slide rule (oh, the angles, the precision!), I got to calculating just why we feel uncomfortable when we sense we don’t have enough control as we would like over our lives.

Many psychological studies show that if we don’t feel in control, we’re more likely to become stressed – or, rather, to react less well to stressful factors (like having too much to do, being tired, a lack of consistency, having uncertain rules of the “game”). Well, it’s hardly brain-science. Oh. Yes, it is, actually. Sorry.

Anyway, the opposite of a sense of control is, of course, a feeling of powerlessness. It’s wholly understandable that the more powerless we feel, the more we will attempt to control our world, to enforce an order on it, so that it conforms with what makes us feel comfortable again.  And the thing is, that enforced order can seem exaggerated, OTT, to others.  For example, everything might have to be “just so” (moving into the extreme of OCD territory), or we might need to know all the details of how something works before we accept it, asking a million-and-one questions; we might bully or nag; we might develop little superstitions, rituals, routines from which we won’t budge. All that hassle, just to feel comfortable again!  So you can imagine, it can’t be feeling good inside someone who’s introducing these kinds of (false, temporary) consolations into their lives.

Now, you might have noticed I have talked about a feeling or sense of being in control – ie, we don’t actually have to BE in control, but we need the security of feeling that the situation is UNDER control. And that means that other people can provide that security if we let them. We can trust parents, friends, bosses, doctors, whoever, to be managing the situation – we don’t HAVE to take responsibility for it ourselves.  But if we let ourselves trust, we can feel more secure – we don’t have to carry the world all by ourselves.

So, in the Impish case, I know I have (as mentioned in an earlier post) identified the facts (I’ve done my homework; done my best) in order to demolish the feary phantoms, and to regain a sense of control, I can have faith in others around me – we’re all in this together and we’re all doing the best we can. I just need to remind myself that the boxes are ticked (a great list-maker, me, at times like this) and I’m happy. Not so anal, after all….

I will leave you with a smile – the real definition of a control freak: someone who swears they wouldn’t correct you about your breathing if you weren’t “doing it all wrong.”

* See? See? I make a typo and don’t need to correct it, ‘cos it’s just, like,  so cool? See? Uhh, like, how totally chilled is that, yes? You do agree, dontcha?


Eleanor Roosevelt said you should do something every day that scares you. There’s also a hugely influential book called “Fear the Fear and Do It Anyway”.

I’ve got some scary stuff coming up – going on stage for a three-week run, including singing in public (not done since I was at college).  I’m not having the naked-in-public dreams yet (not had those since I was about to quit the salaried job to work on my own…and then was cured when the boss said, “yes, I dream of you naked in public, too.” That got rid of any fear I had about leaving the job!).  And I’ve been doing some other scary stuff, too. All of which makes me think. And lucky ole you can join in the thinkin’.

What scares you? We can say, first of all, “making a fool of ourselves”, but actually, it’s being a fool in other people’s eyes, really, isn’t it? It’s not so bad if we’re the only ones who think we’re a fool. We can set about righting that problem in private. So, it’s other’s low opinion of us that is a scary prospect. We can be scared of pain, too – for ourselves or others; and of loss, having what we cherish taken from us. In all cases, it’s a prospect: it’s not frightening once it’s happened – it’s regrettable, awful or even perhaps not as bad as you thought it would be, but we’re not frightened by it  once it has come about. And that’s the common element of fear – the “might”, the possibility of a bad thing.

So what? What’s the gap between fear (prospect) and the actual (outcome)? Your fears can be put to rest finally with just one thing – knowledge; certainty. But of course, when we’re talking about the future, you can’t have certainty (“No, It’s OK, Imp – you won’t muck up on stage.” No – not too credible, unless you have a crystal ball.). But you can when you’re talking about the present or past – “no; you’re wrong – your little sister has not just poisoned your doughnut.”

Can we therefore use this reminder to help soothe fears? Well, you can, in a way. You can break down the big fear, the “what-if”, by turning its various elements into its constituent, present-dependent parts…..like this:

  • have you practiced all your words?
  • does the director have confidence in you?
  • are you still working hard to make sure you don’t muck up?
  • have you identified all your own weak spots and worked to make them stronger?

And of course, when you do that exercise, you remind yourself that mucking up is much less likely – you bring rationale into play – and what a trusty shield it is!

So – more scary things needed…!

…as if….

I ranted posted back in August about pointless apocalyptic fear; how culture around us encourages a depressive outlook – we’re all going to hell in a handcart kinda-thing.

And, sadly, since then, the fear factor is just that: a factor, mathematically-speaking. What would you estimate: worry levels have gone up by a factor of – two? three? ten? Marcus Aurelius (he of Meditations and a cameo in Gladiator) was not the first or last to say about experience:

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

And you know he’s right.

One thing we hear again and again in the media is that the Current Situation is caused by a lack of …confidence. (I say “Current Situation” because euphemism is psychological armour; it stops the signified thing worming its toxic way into the  brain’s fear-centre, the amygdala, and creating stress, angst, worry and fear. Honestly: look it up. That’s why verbal and actual pictures are used far more by politicians and advertisers: they go into that hard drive of fear and they stay there.)  So correct me if I’m wrong, but confidence is about trust, expectation, well-placed belief in something. It’s subjective.

As Lambeth Council’s Youth Unit once said, “If you get rid of the Evening Standard tomorrow, the fear of crime will plummet.”  We all know that fear can be both manufactured and incited. You can look at it another way – as game theory: will X do what s/he says they will? Or as the FT cited today, the whole banking crisis is just like a McDonald’s drive-thru: if you thought that you couldn’t trust them to deliver the burger after you had paid for, you’d do a wobbly. Oops – one maccy-D didn’t deliver (Lehman Bros) and hey presto.

In an industry which was supposed to be based on values such as honour (the London Stock Exchange’s motto translates as ‘My Word is My Bond’), it goes to show how highly they think of one another, doesn’t it?

chickenfear12.jpgSo: global financial meltdown. Planet going tits up. Everyone is fat and depressed. Or starving and depressed. The only happy people are insane and the rich know that money don’t make you happy, but it’s the only things they’ve got that you haven’t, so they ain’t gonna tell you that, now, are they?

Here’s what I like: ‘authors’ writing about the forthcoming recession in “must-have” books that we should buy (on the Borders store card? Visa?), the smeggy profits from which will (they hope, along with the “topical subject expert on the couch” fees) insulate them against being pulled down with the rest of us when the financial shit hits the not-so-proverbial face of Good Ole Ordinary Jo(e).

So, fat (or with an unhealthy web of once muscular tissue), depressed and SCARED. Feel like you’re towing the line? Uncomfortable, a bit edgy, but reassured that you’re in the same boat with everyone else? Yes, that canoe that’s looking like it might be heading for that great big waterfall….? I hope you’re not, you know: this is a readership of sorted people!

Look, sod it. Ignore the pundits and take action for you. Do what makes you feel right, y’know, the common sense stuff. Any interest rate on money you owe, get rid of it or beat the banks to find the lowest rates! Put your savings in the heftiest (but easy-access) interest-paying account you can (but remember Northern Rock: no more than £30k – hahahahaha – in any one bank). Tell the brats that they will love Dorset and camping; the Significant Other that unless they’re going to spend the equivalent on you that they shouldn’t spend it on themselves (teamwork! urgh), make packed lunches, stop giving ptp_fun1_506.jpgJonnie Marlboro all your money…rant, rabbit, rant….Enough. You’re all adults.

There’s a time to take stock (no pun intended) and control of your life. But if you let the ambient feary-noises whisper at you and do nothing, you’re handing over control of your own state of well-being. Fun is free, like leaving funny comments on this posting (hint), for one…