Aside

Simple pleasures, experienced June 1

An “I enjoy your work” comment on a blog post, from a faraway stranger.

The successful mend of a tear in a favorite shirt. (With thread! Not duct tape!)

A two-hour lunch with a Friend Who Understands.

Laughing out loud at a precious, goofy text message.

A storm with enough oopmh to water the garden and scare the cat, but not the energy to produce hail larger than a generous pea.

A piece of mail that was neither an advertisement nor a bill.

The wonder of seeing hints of my brother’s face in a photo of my nephew.

The effervescent fizz of a freshly-opened jar of kimchi.

Good beer, a cool breeze, and a box of colored pencils.

A view into the future, and the past

A fellow traveler, a novice flier bound for her brother’s college graduation ceremony, meant well when she asked about my travel plans.

My vague reply, after a moment’s hesitation: “I’m going to see family in South Carolina.”

She must have seen something in my expression, as she promptly changed the topic.

I was relieved.

Despite the number of these kinds of cross-country trips I’ve made in recent years, I’ve yet to perfect an elegant deflection. No one really wants to hear that I’m traveling to help care for my dad, whose numerous health problems are dissolving him, rendering him increasingly dependent.

Witnessing my dad’s illness has caused me to shift focus in my own life, to leave a demanding job to explore independent creative work. I can all too easily imagine a future in which I, too, am stalked by debility. I fear losing the ability to function, fear leaving important things undone.

In dealing with the present crisis – in helping to pack up my dad’s apartment and downsize his belongings to move him to an assisted living facility – I discovered a piece of my past that reinforces the path I’m charting to my future, to my true self.

My dad is a bit of a hoarder. He saves collections of paperwork and assorted electronics parts, just in case they may some day be needed. As a result of several hasty relocations and the ravages of disease on cognitive function, these collections became hopelessly jumbled.

In one folder, sandwiched between legal papers from a late-90s car accident and junk mail from the AARP, I found a yellowing booklet bound with white yarn, its cover illustrated with strawberries and rainbows. It was a project I had done in fourth grade – an assignment to write a series of essays about myself.

Amid boxes of my dad’s belongings sorted into “keep” and “store/sell” piles, I paused to reconnect with my self of thirty years ago. I laughed at childish descriptions of sibling rivalry in “About My Family” and smiled at awkward use of simile in “What I’m Like.”

The final essay in the booklet was entitled “What I’ve Always Wanted.”

My desires at the time included a bay horse and a room of my own. Career ambitions were included in this section, too, though I’m not sure whether that was through proclivity or prompting.

In 1984, I wanted to be: an Olympic medalist (sport unspecified), a wildlife photographer, an artist, and . . . an author.

I was struck by how much my current inner dialogue is reflected in the ambition and self-criticism of fourth-grade me:fourth grade essay

Sometimes I sit and dream what fun it would be to be an author but when I sit down and write a story (like now) I think to myself “Yuck!”

Thirty years ago, I wanted to be a writer, but doubted I could write well enough to pull it off. Now, I’ve left a respectable job and taken a leap of faith that the words I put out there into the world will somehow have an impact and lead to new opportunities.

But I still struggle with that same self-doubt.

The difference now is that a fear of death drives me forward, over those speed bumps my inner critic keeps throwing up.

My dad’s illness ignited a spark, a nagging feeling that I need to chase that long-buried desire of my fourth-grade self, before it’s too late to become an author.

Me, then and now. We both want to be writers, we're both plagued by self-doubt, but the Now Me knows how short her one and precious life can be.

Me, then and now. We both want to be writers, we’re both plagued by self-doubt, but the Now Me knows how short her one and precious life can be.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Aside

Age a required course, old an elective

I love this essay in The Washington Post by Susan Bonifant: “Our college son invited us to a beer pong party. Here’s why I accepted.

Some tidbits:

Old is taking part in something that might be fun only if it’s easy.

Young is taking part in something that will probably be fun even if it’s hard.

Old is looking back on everything that’s already happened as better.

Young is looking forward to what will be even better

Another point in the book vs. e-reader debate

Great piece by Nick Bilton in the New York Times: In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print.

. . . that doesn’t mean I want my mother’s old Kindle to remember her by. And I certainly wouldn’t get much from her Audible collection.

Instead, I want her physical books. I want to be able to smell the paper, to see her handwriting inside, to know that she flipped those pages and that a piece of her lives on through them.

Books are a 500-year-old technology, but they are, perhaps, a more human technology.

Quote

A young writer on HONY

A gem from a young man on the Humans of New York blog:

“When you’re writing a book, you’ve really got to open your imagination. Your book can’t just be about a mean person who eats a banana and learns a lesson, because that’s boring. There needs to be a lot of different parts. There needs to be a protagonist, an antagonist, and some people that you’re not really sure about because that adds mystery.”

See the full post here.

A Bertrand Russell quote for Mother’s Day

One’s friends like one for one’s merits, one’s lovers for one’s charms; if the merits or the charms diminish, friends and lovers may vanish. But it is in times of misfortune that parents are most to be relied upon, in illness, and even in disgrace if the parents are of the right sort. We all feel pleasure when we are admired for our merits, but most of us are sufficiently modest at heart to feel that such admiration is precarious. Out parents love us because we are their children and this is an unalterable fact, so that we feel more safe with them than with any one else. In times of success this may seem unimportant, but in times of failure it affords a consolation and a security not to be found elsewhere.

Bertrand Russell from “The Conquest of Happiness”

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Thanks for being there for me, through spilled milk and all.

Yes, my mother did comfort me when I literally cried over spilled milk.

The Conquest of Happiness – a book reivew

conquestofhappinessI came to add Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness” to my reading queue in a roundabout way. I’d heard about a popular philosophy book, and when I looked it up online, “Conquest” was included in one of those “other books you’d like” lists in the margin (which also led me to reading Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”.)

While each chapter is a fairly short read, it took me awhile to complete the book because I felt the need to wait until I was in the mood to properly digest its ideas before I picked it up. I’m glad I purchased this book instead of checking it out from the library. I’ve made all sorts of scribblings and notes in the margins. I had conversations with this book, and made connections to all sorts of situations in the world today and in my life. I’m sure I’ll continue to refer to it in the future.

I’ve already posted on this blog a couple of items that struck me as I was reading: here and here, and I also made a few postings of quotations on social media.

social media posts of quotesI’d certainly recommend the book to anyone thinking about the meaning of life or happiness or work-life balance or politics or parenthood, but with an asterisk.

*Several passages in the book come off as racist or sexist. Not to be apologetic, but it reflects attitudes of Bertrand’s time. Based on the majority of the book, I scoffed at the notion that Bertrand was, in fact, a feminist in his day. Then I came across this sentence:

A woman who has acquired any kind of professional skill ought, both for her own sake and for that of the community, to be free to continue to exercise this skill in spite of motherhood.

Hm.

There is so much I could write and quote about this book, but I’ll cut it down to two items.

1. I bet Bertrand would have been chary about the Internet, social media in particular. It could be argued that social media encourages excessive self-reflection, enables comparison, facilitates public shaming, and serves as a constant distraction from boredom – all of which would drain a person’s happiness, according to what I gleaned from the book. A few quotes to support my thesis:

We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man . . . too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty. . . . A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young. . . .

The habit of thinking in terms of comparison is a fatal one. . . . In the old days people only envied their neighbors, because they knew little about any one else. Now through education and the press they know much  . . .

When the newspaper chooses to make a scapegoat of some perhaps quite harmless person, the results may be very terrible. Fortunately, as yet this is a fate which most people escape through their obscurity; but as publicity gets more and more perfect in its methods, there will be an increasing danger in this novel form of social persecution.

If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give.

2. You have to work at being happy.

Happiness is not, except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth, like a ripe fruit, by the mere operation of fortunate circumstances.

A few pointers I interpreted from the book, which sound like quotes from motivational posters:

  • Find a purpose in life.
  • Stop obsessing about yourself – you’re not really that important.
  • Focus on other people, connect with your community.
  • Allow yourself to slow down and be bored.
  • Stop comparing yourself to other people.
  • Face your fears, don’t worry about them.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Find “your people” – friends you can relate to.
  • Develop a hobby. Cultivate broad interests. Have new experiences. Travel.

This quote sums up a lot about why I like to read and travel:

Each of us is in the world for no very long time, and within the few years of his life has to acquire whatever he is to know of this strange planet and its place in the universe. To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theater and not listening to the play. The world is full of things that are tragic or comic, heroic or bizarre or surprising, and those who fail to be interested in the spectacle that it offers are forgoing one of the privileges that life has to offer.

Be happy and enjoy the spectacle, friends.