Friday, 20 March 2015

Death and Termites

“It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors 
that he can understand their true import.” 

When I was young, I was absolutely terrified of vampires ... the most famous being, of course, Dracula. I was scared of all horror movies, but especially vampires. There is one scene from an old movie which really freaked me out. I can't remember the movie or the actors, but I can recall the scene involved a woman dressed in a long white nightgown lying in bed asleep. Outside her window lurked the infamous Dracula. According to my recollection, Dracula couldn't enter the bedroom chamber unless he was invited in, so he would appear outside her window each night, scratching at it with his long, hideous fingernails.
      The idea that the victim played a role in her own demise by accidentally inviting Dracula in (through evil trickery, of course) seemed to me to be highly objectionable. There was a particular terror and dread generated through the suspense of Dracula being just outside her window. I found this tension far worse than any of the gory scenes that ensued.
     Of course, it is this "anticipated dread" that keeps most of us living in fear our entire lives. When my children were young and we would take them to a restaurant, even if they were behaving themselves (a rare occurrence), I still couldn't relax and enjoy the experience because I was waiting for the moment when it would all unravel!
     I realised the other day that I am finally emerging from the dark place I have inhabited for the past few years ... well, it's more like a lifetime really, but the past few years have been especially difficult. Everything I had tried to run from caught up with me all at once! It was truly sink or swim time. As cliche as it sounds, I had completely lost my sense of self. I have always been reasonably sure of the "what", but not of the "why". Suddenly, I began to doubt everything. So began a desperate forensic search for clues about the real me. Who was I before the guilt, the shame, the fear set in? I have been on a quest to find this person. What music makes me want to sing and dance? What art takes my breath away or brings me to my knees? What books make me want to write? Who do I admire? Who and what do I aspire to be?
    There have been many discoveries along the way. I think the most important discovery has been just how little confidence and self-esteem I actually possess. When I was little, I used to dream about being discovered as a writer or an artist, because I thought it would make me feel confident and successful. I imagined myself at dinner parties entertaining and delighting people, because, of course, I would be transformed into someone interesting and knowledgeable ... an introvert no more! My dear friend did point out that even if I had achieved some measure of renown and success, that I was still not a likely candidate to be swanning around singing my praises!
     Now I understand that until and unless I believe in the value of my own work, regardless of what other people think, I will never feel like a "success" ... on any level. Being recognised publicly as a success is surely a little like going on a holiday, or buying a house, or eating an amazing meal. The experience itself is not everlasting. Ultimately, you need to take another trip, renovate or redecorate the house, or try something else on the menu! Thankfully, I have let go of my aspirations to be "famous". I simply want to create because I love creating. I am not opposed to being "successful", but I know that it can be more of a hindrance than a help. In obscurity, I am free to create what I want. I can take risks and fail and no-one is there to judge me.
     In an attempt to bolster my self-confidence and self-esteem, I have begun to simplify and declutter my life. I want to surround myself with things I genuinely love and have respect for. This includes family, friends, home, work, relationship and all other aspects of my life. I am trying to banish the oft-used phrases "I'm not sure" or "I don't know"! I may not be able to achieve the things I desire, but I do know what it is I want!
    Of course, I still experience the old feelings of dismay and dread. These are the habits of a lifetime. Perhaps this is a familiar scenario: 1. something amazing happens!
                                                        2. just as you begin to celebrate, a thought comes
                                                            into your head: "what if?"

Here are some classic examples of "what ifs":

I have just bought a really nice dress ... what if I discover tomorrow that I am dying? (I know it doesn't make sense, but that's how my head works!)

I have finally found a new art studio which I  love ... what if the building gets condemned?

I am living in a beautiful old house ... what if there are termites?

These are the crazy thoughts that come into my head and spoil whatever joy I might be experiencing! Even when I know the odds are in my favour, the thought alone is enough to create a seed of doubt, which grows into a tree of anxiety and dread! I have realised, with horror, that I am inviting Dracula in night after night!
    So, this is my homework! I am learning, slowly but surely, to do the opposite of what my anxious mother taught me to do ... I am tempting fate!! I am trying to experience whatever joy comes my way without giving notice to the dark forces outside my window. Bad things do happen ... death and termites are real! However, I need to stop experiencing the bad things before they've even happened. Quite simply, I need to shut the curtains!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Spare a Thought for the Losers

My son is at home today because he didn't want to go to his school swim carnival. Over the past few days, I've been debating in my head whether I should force him to go (character building?), or whether I should give him the day off! Obviously, I went with the latter. In the meantime, another parent whose kids attend a different school was singing his children's praises after their swim carnival. He gets up at 5am to take his kids to swim training, and they are indeed champions in the making. My big fear is that perhaps my relaxed attitude toward swim carnivals and sport in general is causing my kids to be weak, lazy, self-absorbed, pampered individuals who will have no backbone, resilience or determination. Oh, is that all?

I don't really care about the fact I won't be producing any Olympic champions, but I don't want to be responsible for unleashing Godzilla-like monsters on the rest of the unsuspecting world. I feel it's my civic duty to produce children who are polite, kind, responsible individuals. I want them to be good room-mates, good partners, good employees, good bosses, good citizens of the universe.

My eldest son used to play baseball when he was in primary school. I got a kick out of the fact that baseball was his chosen sport because, being from North America, at least I sort of understood the game! Perhaps, in retrospect, it would have been better if I hadn't had a clue. I have to say it was really painful watching him play. When he played T-ball, he was very easily distracted and would often be seen in the outfield using his glove as a puppet, or staring off into the sky. He frequently spaced out to the degree that when the ball finally went his way, he would stare at it as it flew past him as though it were some small delightful animal scampering by! Sometimes he would look around to see who was getting the ball, without any hint that it was meant to be him. You can imagine how the other parents and kids reacted with frustration. Every week I expected him to quit the game, but every week he showed up and gave it his best effort. His last season of T-ball he ended up winning a trophy with his team. He was surrounded by strong players and he blissfully rode on their coat-tails all the way to the top.

The following years, however, the game became more technical and skilful, and my son was way out of his league. I remember the coach painstakingly explaining the concept of stealing bases to my son. My heart sank because I knew how indecisive he was! He was a black and white kind of kid, and the choice of whether to stay on a base or steal it was agonising for him. Time after time, he would stand glued to the base with the coach, parents, and other players yelling at him to run. Of course, just as the moment to steal had safely passed, he would attempt to run! It was as though my hero Charlie Brown had come to life right in front of me, and I knew his familiar chant of "will I be the hero or the goat"?

It was the same with batting. He would stand with his bat cocked and ready, only to strike out every single time. I would like to say that he didn't get frustrated or upset, but he did. It broke my heart to see him fighting back the tears. His catching and throwing were so bad that the coach thought perhaps he should try the glove on his other hand! Even though I'm left-handed, and my son is clearly left-handed, in desperation I agreed to the ludicrous suggestion. Predictably, it made things worse and finally the coach had to admit that my son was just an extraordinarily bad player! At least the coach had a kind heart and was understanding. I can't say the same for the majority of parents and other players who laughed at my son, screamed at him from the sidelines, and basically made it known that he wasn't welcome on the field. And still, I waited for him to come to me and say he'd had enough. He never did. He played out that season and I marvelled at his courage to fail and keep on going. By another miracle his team won the championship game. In what can only be described as a classical cinematic moment, my son hit a wonky slow-motion line drive that was enough to allow two players to cross the line. After that season, he decided it was time to hang up his spikes! He still proudly displays his trophies, and his memories of his career are thankfully different from mine. He thinks he was a pretty good player.

It occurred to me this morning that what if all the "losers" decided not to show up? What if we all just stayed home and didn't participate? The simple answer is that some of the winners would have to become the losers! They might not like it! One of my son's team-mates, who was a talented player and used to bully my son, had the misfortune to strike out once. He put on quite the performance afterwards, swearing and kicking at the dirt. It may be character building, but the truth of it is, losing isn't much fun. My younger son went to the swimming carnival last year. He gave it a go and didn't enjoy it. He's not sporty and isn't really competitive. At least he gave it a go, but I don't think he needs to keep on losing to prove a point! My elder son played baseball because he loved the game. He loved going and he loved being part of a team and he loved the ice-cream he got after the game. Eventually it became too competitive and too serious and not much fun, so he quit. It's too bad that competition often takes the fun out of things. Winning is fun. Losing isn't so much fun!

So here's a message to all you winners out there, please remember that the losers play a valuable role. Without us, you wouldn't be having so much fun. And if we losers all decide to take a day off, then it might just be your turn to lose!