“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened” – Winston Churchill

The solstice is almost upon us! Snow’s sneaking across the land and men sell woolly hats in the street.  I’m waiting on a friend from the US, who’s flying over especially for the Imp’s wintry nuptials, while other family and friends crawl their way through The Weather.

I’m telling all involved to relax, worry not, take it as it comes – which is a joke given the self-inflicted assault on my nerves of the last few weeks. But finally, the calm is coming!

What is anxiety; why do we worry? I’ve been (annoyingly) able to watch my own discalm, disquietude, and have come up with some factors of imp-angst – which is to say, they’re not necessarily anything like yours.

For me, I reckon it’s all about other people – and their reactions to one’s self.

Because a worried “what if, what if, what if, ” by itself is meaningless – it can do no harm: we’re back to “if a wood falls in the forest, does it make a noise?”  What I mean is that the worst case scenarios are usually (I’m ruling out falling off cliffs, here) about performance, acceptance, and other contributors to emotional safety / harm.

This all became clear when I found myself saying, “it doesn’t matter what happens because we’re amongst friends.” I realised that people who love me won’t think less of me if something – anything – goes wrong. Those who would think bad thoughts aren’t my friends – and in the context of my own wedding, well – they shouldn’t be there!

So – I have just seen the first snowflakes through the window. Sinatra’s on the radio (natch) and I urge all elves, gnomes, fellow imps and pixies to hug yourselves, smile at the world and remember you are loved.  Get friends around you and get festive.  Happy celebrations, one and all.

😉

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When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened

– Winston Churchill

I’m working on a new play. While waiting on verdicts for the first. Scary, possibly arrogant, but hell, what’s an Imp to do? I’m loving it; it’s great fun. It’s also an utter privilege – I have time and am very conscious of that, using as much as I can to scribe.

However, strange things are happening, and any writers who are reading might recognise this. Happily, the characters are taking on lives of their own, cheekily doing things I hadn’t planned, and that is wonderful. But – also great for the creative end-result, I hope – some really dark things are crawling out of the subtext, smearing their inky, spindly feet all over my previously neat little drama.

This is a good thing – absolutely. It should make the thing more complex and more true to life. But it doesn’t half mess with your mind.

First of all, the little hints I had planned about the darker elements of some  characters’ personalities have become 10 foot high monsters, breathing their stagnant toxins all over the world of the play. The second strange thing is that I  feel so utterly right and at home doing this. I think about what I’m writing, or will write, almost all the time – more so than when I was working on the first play almost full-time a year ago.  I’m writing almost full-time again now, but it feels more ‘proper’. Perhaps it’s ‘cos I’ve got used to the idea of being a writer, but then, I hate the idea that I needed to give myself permission to write…

I think there may be some truth in this, however. Have you ever looked back at a particular time in your life and noticed how good it was – perhaps more than you realised back then? I am getting much better at living in the present, and perhaps this writer-thingy is just  a symptom of that larger attitude. Neurological studies  (Oliver Sachs and others) show that if your sense of time is destroyed through accident or disease in the brain, you can end up without fear or angst about the future. They also report a sense of well-being, even though the people involved know that they have a neurological problem.

Now, as you know, I like the old time/bondage/consciousness thing (if you want to read more, type ‘time’ into the search box on the right hand side, or click here to go straight to the results of that search, thus saving you some time). And it’s fascinating to think that you can lose your sense of time, and when you do, you lose your worries (worry is always about things which might happen, i.e. in the future) and that your sense of well-being shoots up. That says to me that perhaps the lower our consciousness of time, the lower our negative experiences could be. Down with time, up with happiness?

What would we really lose if we stopped worrying….?

Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. Better even to die free than to live slaves.

– Frederick Douglass, American freed slave, abolitionist and reformer

So much of the “self-help” advice out there is about finding out what you “really” want. Related, much of the “happiness” advice is about not looking for it; it will find you, they say. And so much of the wider public discourse (often, ironically, wrapping itself around the happiness/self-help stuff) is about…

  • Just In Case
  • Don’t Be Too Different
  • Bad Things Happen to People Who Have Fun
  • Let’s Be Suspicious of Each Other (aka “Police My Back; I’ll Police Yours”).

Yes, I might well be thinking of The Daily Mail, but alas, that high-circulation bog-sheet does not have a monopoly on cultivating fear, narrow-mindedness, self-censorship, worry and discord. And it’s those things that are new equestrians of the apocalypse.

Problem is, this apocalypse is secular. I’ll go further: this time, it’s personal. Hell is no longer a fiery pit, separate, external and done unto you. Nor is it true, any longer, what Sartre acutely observed, that l’enfer, c’est les autres (hell is other people). No, hell is you and hell is now; none of that delayed agony mallarky. Really, that’s official. If there’s no god, no society (copyright Mrs M Thatcher), and mental illness is thriving, then it’s gotta be all my fault, hasn’t it? All my responsibility….?

Don’t believe me? But that’s what the dominant culture would have you believe. The subtext again and again is that YOU can make the change; YOU can do it; YOU can be master of all you survey. In fact the only reason that anything is wrong in your life is …..you. Isn’t that what you hear? “Well, yes, when you put it like that, Imp, I see what you mean, kinda – but no, not really….” 😉

OK, OK: Let’s conduct an experiment. Let’s check out an internationally renowned and respected newspaper, The Times, and….yes, how about tonight’s TV schedule for the UK (the main 5 terrestrial channels)? Blimey, EastEnders isn’t on – I might lose….

The Times: UK news headlines

  • You can clone the new passports in minuteswith the best will in the world, Bin Laden’s gonna take your identity and you’re going to get banged up in a Libyan cell for terrorism next time you pop to Ayia Napa, you fun-loving, 20-days-holiday-a-year libertine/dilettante, you.
  • Home repossessions are up 40% – which sounds like 40% of homes are repossessed, but we know it ain’t so, but you had better WORK HARDER and keep that wolf from the door, because, let’s face it, we heard you boasting about the size of your mortgage, and you were a little bit greedy, weren’t you…? And we all know it’s not big enough anyway….
  • London won’t get an Olympic torch relaybecause it’s rubbish and frankly, that’s all we deserve
  • Rats are infesting British hospitalsbecause, again, it’s more than we deserve. We’re British. The NHS has gone downhill since Florence Nightingale.
  • Nine people on every BA flight lose their bags (I kid ye not). – Do I need to go on? It’s obviously green karma, or the ghosts of dead seals. Flying bastards. You, not the seals, obviously. Murderer.
  • Fewer 11 year-olds get top marks in the SATsThey’re your children. What do you expect? You made it so.

Wednesday night on the box – the Imp’s (subliminal) self-flagellatory / low self-esteem highlights

  • BBC1, 7-30: My Family. A middle-of-the-road sit-com which laughs at the family-based misery of people just like…. you and me. Accept your lot, know your place, Everyman.
  • Channel 4, 8pm: Location, Location, Location. Watch 20-somethings with a budget of £400,000 quibble over whether they should choose the house with the space for the pigs or the flat with the helipad.
  • ITV1 9pm: Trinny & Susannah Undress the Nation: See how fat and ugly the average Brit is, underneath their ill-chosen clothes (dealt with in series 1).
  • Channel 4, interminably: Big Brother. Need I say anything?
  • BBC2 (‘cos they’ve not sinned yet), 10pm, Room 101. Another Orwellian concept of pure genius not-at-all ironically turned into light-entz sap, where mere mortals like us watch famous people tell us why they don’t like blue jelly-babies, so we can gasp at their wit and be grateful for the licence fee.

Find your pleasures.

Worship and feed them.

Glory in what you enjoy

Apply only one principle – do no harm.

If something makes you unhappy, change it. No-one else is responsible for your life: not your kids, your spouse, your mortgage-lender or your boss. You openly, knowingly made deals with all of them, and the joy of that is that they can be renegotiated at any time. Don’t do blame: not them, not yourself. I bore myself with re-citing this piece of wisdom here, but as Bill Hicks said, it’s only a ride.

PS – need some persuasion? Read How To Be Free, by Tom Hodgkinson, ed of The Idler.