Life Is A Funny

little things 3

This is not my aunt: she would have had at least three blankets.

Life is a funny.

I’ve used this phrase as a tag in a few posts before, but never explained exactly where it came from. So sit back, relax, and I’ll tell you the tale.

Many years ago, my aunt attended a course on Taoism.  She and a group of other students, eager to unravel the mysteries of The Way (or maybe the universe, or human consciousness, or life, or all or any of the above), gathered weekly to hear the words of their teacher — who in my mind’s eye I have always pictured as a wizened and possibly sparsely bearded old man of Asian origin, seated serenely above his students, imparting his esoteric knowledge.

I don’t know if that’s what he really looked like. All I can really remember with any veracity about the story of my aunt’s Tao lessons was that the room in which they were held in was completely and utterly freezing. Positively Arctic. I can’t quite recall if there was a small and ineffective electric radiator involved, but I do know that my aunt would sit with her fellow truth-seekers, shivering beneath a blanket, listening to her Tao teacher speak.

And one day, when that Tao teacher was asked a particularly difficult question — I’m not certain exactly what that question was, but it may have had something to do with the nature of suffering, or whether there is life after death, or what the surest path to enlightenment might be, or perhaps even why the room was so ridiculously cold — the old man paused, and for a few moments he said nothing at all.

But when he spoke again, he answered with this phrase:

Life is a funny.

Just like that.

little things

Life is a funny…and it’s the little things that sometimes count for the most.

He didn’t say, “Life is funny”, nor did he suggest that “Life is a funny thing“.  Rather, he said that “Life is a funny”.

And ever since then, when anyone in our family has encountered something mystical, or unexpected, or insurmountable, or baffling, we have returned to my aunt’s Tao teacher’s simple (though admittedly unusual) phrase:

Life is a funny.

Because, when you think about it, life really is a funny. There are many things we can’t explain or begin to comprehend during our time on this Earth: from uncanny coincidences, to sudden and unspeakable tragedies, to moments of transcendent and miraculous grace, and to each and every instance of serendipity.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, not least because our family is setting out on a journey into the unknown with my dear Dad, who is experiencing some significant health issues at the moment. We don’t know what the future will hold — we never do, never can and never will. The only certainty, as always and for all of us, is that the journey will end with the final step every human being must take.

I’m not intending to be at all fatalistic, here — far from it. If anything, discovering that my father is ill has brought life and all that is important to me into sharp focus, and I’m grateful for that clarity, harsh though its light might be. Because despite the ultimate inevitability of death, I think the essential thing to remember is that we can embrace life, with all its weirdness and wonder and pain and joy.  To recognise that despite the monotony or banality we occasionally ascribe to our existences, our lives are perhaps much more eventful (and delightfully so) than we think they are. To know that it doesn’t hurt to keep hoping for the best of the unexpected, even if we don’t always get it.

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This little, ephemeral, life…

Life is transient, and it is also far more ephemeral and fragile than we sometimes allow ourselves remember. But accepting and absorbing this unadorned truth somehow enables us to strip away the superfluous and to focus on what really matters, what makes us who we are at the very core of our beings.

I don’t believe the response to life demanded by such an acceptance to be as simple as “it is what it is”, though I have been known to use that phrase often — sometimes ridiculously so. I have come to realise that these words only indicate a level of understanding, but they fail to communicate a sense of engagement.

I do believe, however, that living life fully requires making considered choices about how we spend our time.  I’ve written before about the challenge of living creatively, of becoming human beings rather than humans doing, and I suspect facing up to the inevitability of our mortality demands a direct and deliberate response from each of us — a response that is as fiercely positive as we can muster.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to turn everyone in my acquaintance into a parade of Pollyannas singing Que Sera, Sera in the face of the slightest adversity. All I’m suggesting is that we use this fleeting time we have together to the best of our abilities, to live in alignment with whatever First Principles guide us, to be our best selves.

Much of life is unpredictable. Parts of it are downright incomprehensible. But it is also, sometimes, miraculous. And it is always — always — mutable.

And that’s why, in the face of ever-changing circumstances, I choose to draw comfort from the curious words of an old Taoist:

Life is a funny.

At the Going Down of the Sun…

ANZAC

There was once a man who loved to sail…

It’s Anzac Day here in Australia today — the day we commemorate the continued service and sacrifice of our armed forces, the day we remember those who gave their lives to make this country the safe haven it is today.

For me, Anzac Day is a solemn occasion. It brings to mind of the sharp scent of rosemary, the sound of harbourbound fighter planes overhead, and the comforting feel and weight of the two brass buttons from my grandfather’s naval dress uniform that I took into every exam at the end of high school and throughout university.

I have no memories of my grandfather speaking to me of his war service: not of surviving the bombing of Darwin, not of the time he spent at sea during the war in the Pacific, not of being one of the first Australians to set foot on Japanese soil after the signing of the surrender in Toyko Bay. And yet, the photograph I have of him on top of my piano is one that was taken at sea during that awful time, and it is of a slim young man leaning casually against the ship’s rail, immaculately dressed (as always) and smiling — and reminding me of my younger brother more than I’d like to admit.

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…he was my Grandfather…

Somehow, the sight of that photograph often prompts me to imagine what he and his mates went through — a bunch of blokes thrown together as the crew of a small ship on a vast ocean, facing a determined enemy. In all honesty, however, I know I can’t really imagine what it was like. Not the exhaustion. Or the feeling of being constantly threatened. Or the battles at sea. Or the kamikazes. And even though I will always be proud of his service, my overwhelmingly emotion is one of relief that he came home.

That he had a family.

That I got to know him and love him.

And as I write this, I am acutely aware that in a matter of days it will be the 25th anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

Anniversaries are strange things. At first they often feel so raw we wonder whether we will make it through them, and worry that the sorrow and anguish will never go away. Because loss literally makes our hearts ache — and I suspect Queen Elizabeth II was absolutely right when she once told her young grandsons, “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

But even as time goes on, anniversaries can fill us with a welter of conflicting emotions, and can sometimes surprise us with the  intensity of our residual grief. Only two years ago, I used this space to write about my grandfather when those feelings crept up on me once again. And, perhaps because I am at heart a reader and writer, then as now I tend to draw comfort from the words of fictional characters whenever grief rears its shaggy head. In the Harry Potter series, for example, Albus Dumbledore offers these comforting words:

Ddore dead do not

…and he’s never really left me….

To have been loved deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.

Elsewhere, Dumbledore also reminds us that the ones who love us never truly leave us, and that even when they have the continue to influence us in our everyday lives — in the thoughts we think, the decisions we make, even in the turns of phrase we use.

I try to pass those funny little things that my grandparents said on to my own children.  My Welsh grandmother, for example, used to say “Golly Gosh!”, which my kids, for reasons known only to them, find utterly delightful. My globetrotting gypsy grandmother was famous for asking, “Where’s Beulah?” every time she hosted a dinner party — referring to an imaginary kitchen maid who supposedly shot through every time guests arrived, leaving Grandma with all the work. And my grandfather? Well, any success, no matter how big or small, was always celebrated by him as being a “true triumph”.

I am grateful I can refer my children to the words of their ancestors as well as those of Albus Dumbledore when they are in need of comfort, though there is one other thing I told them when they were small that they have latched onto: that when someone we love dies, we see them again every night because they are up with the twinkling stars. They reminded me of this only recently when, after we finished reading The Hobbit together, we sat down as a family and watched all three Hobbit movies. Not surprisingly, both my girls have become particularly fond of Tauriel, the Sylvan Elf who does not appear in the book, but who has a minor role in the movies.

starlight

…and he never ever will.

When Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves have been imprisoned by Thranduil, The Elvenking of Mirkwood, Tauriel has a discussion with Kili, one of the younger dwarves about Mereth Nuin Giliath, the Feast of Starlight.

“All light is sacred to the Eldar, but the Wood Elves love best the light of the stars,” Tauriel tells Kili, who says he always thought starlight was cold, remote and far away.

But Tauriel, it seems, has a similar view of the stars to mine:

It is memory, precious and pure…I have walked there sometimes, beyond the forest and out into the night. I have seen the world fall away and the white light of forever fill the air.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

At the going down of the sun, the twinkling stars shine.

Six Stack of Sunshine

Car ENVY

So The Bloke has new wheels…

So as I said in my last post, I started a new job not so long ago — and that has meant I have been spending more time in my car than I have in recent years. My car is silver, but is by no means flash. It’s safe and serviceable. It definitely has a lot more bells and whistles than other cars I’ve owned, though if you’d seen any of those, you’d know that wouldn’t be too hard.

The Bloke, on the other hand, acquired a new car late last year, a great white BEAST of a car. (Not quite a Beluga on wheels, but close enough.)

I can say, with certainty, that it’s the first brand new vehicle either of us has ever owned.  And I can also say that since he acquired it, my position on his Totem Pole of Great Loves may have slipped slightly…not to say that I’m out of the top spot, but…well, I’m watching this space.

I’m not jealous.  Not a bit.

Well…that may not be entirely true: I am a tiny bit green-eyed, but it’s not over the car itself.

Car STEREO

The Bloke’s old car stereo looked a bit like this…

What I will admit being ever-so-slightly covetous of is the sound system, with its touch-screen technology, its Bluetooth connectivity, its up to the minute compatibility with just about any other device that’s been invented already.

Now, I am well aware that I should not begrudge The Bloke his newfound sonic bliss — his last chariot (it wasn’t quite horse-drawn, but I’ll let you extrapolate from there) was so woefully ill-equipped in the musical department that when we headed off on holidays I resorted to taking our BOSE Bluetooth speaker, plonking it on the dashboard, and playing Spotify via my iPhone for as long as we were in range, then switching to whatever I had downloaded from iTunes. We may have had decent music for as long as the battery lasted, but clearly, the setup wasn’t ideal.

Even so, it was not without a twinge of envy that I slid behind the wheel of my own car the other day.  I may even have looked a little folornly at the stereo, before recalling that just about every self-help guru that ever was suggests that in such cirumstances, a little gratitude does not go astray. Even Benjamin Franklin, it seems, was on the old gratitude bandwagon (though given the fact that he has been dead for nearly 227 years he might even have been the bandwagon’s original driver):

We can complain that rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Thank you, Mr Franklin. Ever so ta.

My car stereo was already starting to look better.  In fact, I decided to have a good — and far more grateful — look at what I actually had: a fully functioning car stereo with six presets for radio stations, and capacity for not one, not two, but six CDs.

Bloody marvellous, really — though given I generally listen to indie rock-type radio stations most of the time I couldn’t remember for the life of me what half of the CDs I currently had in the car stereo were, despite strongly suspecting they were a rather, ummm….shall we say, eclectic mix? So I decided, on what turned into quite a slow commute work that morning, to find out exactly what I had on board.

Spolier alert…even I was surprised…

Car BONEY M

Boney M

CD 1, as it turned out, was none other than The Best of Boney M.

I kid you not.

But just in case your eyebrows have just shot skyhigh and you’re seriously concerned about whatever else I might have lurking in my car stereo, there is method to such madness — as this post I wrote about the Healing Power of Disco will reveal. Trust me: if you have a tendency to get a little cranky while in traffic, this might be just what you didn’t even know you needed.

Car SPEM IN ALIUM

Thomas Tallis

CD 2 was equally surprising: a compilation of medieval choral music that began with a sublime rendition of Thomas Tallis’ Spem In Alium, a 40 part Renaissance motet composed around 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each.

Some critics consider it to be the greatest piece of early English music. I just know it’s a piece of music that had a massively calming influence on my children (and, if I’m being totally honest, on me as well). Check it out on YouTube…you might be pleasantly surprised.

Car JAY KAY 2

Jay Kay of Jamiroquai

Not unexpectedly, having discovered music from the 1970s and the 1570s currently occupying two of the six slots in my car stereo, I appoached CD3 with some trepidation — and was relieved to find a bunch of funky tunes from Jamiroquai.

Hearing Jay Kay singing (not to mention imagining him dancing) immediately transports me to a happy, summery place in my head, full of golden light and good times. It’s great music to have in your car — particuarly given the unusual amount of grey skies and general downpour we’ve had in Sydneytown lately.

Car AWESOME MIX

Yeeha…mix tape!

Less perturbed now, I made my way to CD4 and discovered a mix tape (well, that should probably read mix disc?) of dance tracks I had thrown together at some point. Now, as everyone knows, the best bit about a mix tape is that you know — if you put it together — that you’re going to love ever last track on it.

This CD was about as far away from Thomas Tallis as you can get (it has songs from Sia, Robin Schulz, Watermät, The Weeknd, and all sorts of other stuff), but it was equally uplifting — and full of fun too.

Car SIGUR ROS 2

Jonsi of Sigur Rós

CD5 began quietly enough and built into the unmistakable wall of sound produced by Iceland’s Sigur Rós on their incredible Takk album.

I once read about how, while preparing for the final scenes in the 2007 movie Sunshine, Danny Boyle had Cillian Murphy listen to Sigur Rós at maximum volume, trying to create some sort of (obviously earthbound) impression of what it would be like to be in complete communion with the sun Murphy’s character was attempting to reignite.

I can readily understand the choice — the euphoria is clearly present in Sigur Rós’ music, along with positivity and a very real sense of power.

Car OK COMPUTER

Radiohead: OK Computer

And that brought me, finally, to CD6, which proved to be a rather battered and slightly skippy ripped copy of Radiohead’s OK Computer. Because it is a truth intergalactially acknowledged that no vehicle is roadworthy without a bit of Radiohead hanging around — I mean the first track is Airbag, so clearly no car is safe without a copy?

I’m not quite sure where I would be without songs like Let Down or No Surprises. And for me it is a strangely (OK, perhaps downright weirdly) comforting thought that cosmic forces aligned themselves in such a way that they not only produced life on this planet, but also contrived to bring the likes of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood into existence in the same place at the same time, to form a once-in-a-generation band with such a distinctive sonic presence…but that, I suspect, is a whole other blogpost…

So anyway — that’s what was in my car stereo. A few surprises, even to myself, along with a few old faves. And while the sound system in The Bloke’s new car is very nice, I am quite content (for the moment) with my old school CDs and my six stack of sunshine.

This Little Life

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Adam and Eve…back to the beginning…

Some days I find it hard to believe that it has been two years since I sat down on the sofa one night and started this blog. I can still remember the first time I hit the Publish button — holding my breath and then slowing exhaling as my words unfurled in cyberspace.

Since then I’ve used this space — usually aimlessly, occasionally deliberately — to make sense of it all: thoughts, feelings, marriage, kids, world events, minutiae, books, music, writing, life.

About a year ago, I wrote a post called The Wellspring, which was probably as close to a personal manifesto as I’ll ever get:

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.

I wrote about my First Principles and how I try to align myself with them. I wrote about living authentically and being true to myself. I wrote, also, of my gratitude for the encouragement I had received — and continue to receive — from the farflung readers of this blog.

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In Adam I recognise my tendency to overthink…

Now, another twelve months on, I decided to go right back to the beginning. To get back to basics. So I went back and read that first post I wrote, Just Getting it Out There, and was thankful that I still recognised the person I found there — even though way back then I hadn’t even figured out how to add images to what I had written, and barely knew what a tag was.

Re-reading that post also made me want to go back and revisit the movie that had inspired it, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Having recently returned from a holiday to the US, I wanted to return to the film’s nocturnal landscape, the dispossessed industrial heartland of America — partly because I’m still trying to reconcile what I witnessed only a couple of weeks ago: the carefully constructed Disney dream with all its manicured artifice that I sought to share with my children, and the haphazard existence of the homeless people I saw living in squalor beside freeways or sleeping it off outside shopping centres.

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Like The Bloke, Eve reminds me that there are so many ways to live and survive..

It was The Bloke, my steady and steadfast husband, who reminded me that there are many ways to live this life, and that not everyone finds living in a house in the suburbs (or anywhere, for that matter) fits in with them or with their preferred lifestyle. That freedom can be defined in as many ways as there are human beings. That every single one of us has a story — and that each of those tales matters, and is worth no more or less than the next person’s.

And since then I have been reminding myself, as I reminded my children countless times during that vacation, of that old adage:

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

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Unlike vampires, we get just one, short life…

We are all the product of our choices, of the decisions we make. Some are so small we don’t even register them for what they are or for the cumulative impact they have. Others are so big they are completely and mindblowingly life-altering. And yet, regardless of their size or consequence, whether we overthink them or dwell on them in bed at night or dismiss them or even put them into the fabled ‘too hard basket’, we make them. Each and every day.

And so, ultimately, I remain convinced of the importance of knowing and aligning yourself with your First Principles, whatever they might be. I still believe in that Wellspring and of the incalculable value of connecting with it regularly and deliberately. I continue to contend that it is worth doing your best in everything you do, and in each and every decision you make, and that it is essential to be grateful — oh, so grateful — for this little life.

 

If you enjoyed this post and would like musings from the Daydream Believer to be delivered to your inbox whenever they appear, feel free to click the follow button at the top right of this page…Blue Jai 

 

Bittersweet Symphony

BSS

Still one of the greatest songs ever written…

Winter arrived this week.

We woke one morning — I think it was Thursday — and discovered that Sydney’s seemingly endless summer had disappeared overnight. The world was suddenly a cold and windy place, rain-soaked and grey-stained, where clouds had settled themselves just above the rooftops.

‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life…

The change of season often happens suddenly here, though perhaps I have been more aware of it this year because I managed to come down with the dreaded lurgy about ten days ago, when the days were still sunsoaked, and tried (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to keep working and to soldier on. The day winter arrived was the morning I awoke with the dawning realisation that the wretched thing has grabbed me in its claws again — this time, by the throat.

…try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die…

Well, maybe not die. Not quite.

BSS 2

Well, maybe not a million — but, like I said, being ill makes me slightly prone to exaggeration.

I will admit, albeit reluctantly, that illness does tend to make me slightly prone to exaggeration. I suspect that the main reason for this is that I, like many mothers, feel as though my family requires a great deal of convincing that when I say I feel unwell, I actually mean it. For example, one night last week, when I had finally stopped coughing long enough to fall asleep in the spare room (to which I had banished myself so as not to inflict the lurgy on The Bloke), I was woken at 2am by the light of a torch being shone directly into my eyes by my younger child, who proceeded to announce that she had a sore ankle.

Seriously?! 

Like the creator of aforementioned the dreaded lurgy, Spike Milligan, I sometimes wonder whether my headstone will end up reading I told you I was sick.

Since the cold snap hit, however, I have stopped trying to convert the non-believers in my house and have simply, and quite uncharacteristically, given into being ill. I have wrapped myself in blankets, drunk endless cups of hot tea, and surrounded myself with fresh lemons, a rather alarming variety of pharmaceuticals, a welcome selection of books, and The Verve’s Urban Hymns album.

The Bloke despairs of my love for what he refers to as “whingey Britpop”, but since I am as steadfast as I am eclectic in my musical affections, there are certain things in the life we share that he is forced to roll his eyes and endure. It’s not just that he doesn’t like what he refers to as “that awful music”. The bigger problem, I suspect, is that I have — as some wag once put it — three moods: skip every song on my iPod, let the music play without interruption, or play the same song on repeat for days.

In my defence, I tend to put entire albums on repeat instead of single songs: last week, for example, it was twentyone pilot’s Blurryface — because let’s face it, you need a little dubstep when you’re struggling to put one foot in front of the other. And this week, it was Urban Hymns, which is still think is one of the finest albums ever recorded (even if its moody atmospherics drive my dear and long-suffering husband demented).

…I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now…

BSS 3

It’s amazing how other people respond when you start looking after yourself…

But here’s the thing, the (in my view) really weird thing: regardless of what I’ve been playing on the stereo, since I started treating myself like a person who wasn’t in the best of health, my family started behaving the same way.

To my utter disbelief, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop bounced out of bed each morning (while I dragged myself, coughing and spluttering, into the shower) and made their own lunches. And packed their snacks. For recess and for fruit break.

Three days in a row.

Who knew they could do that?!

And then this morning, after I had rewarded them for their helpful behaviour by ordering them both a hot lunch from the school canteen, they offered to make me breakfast.

Who are you, I was tempted to ask, and what have you done with my children?

Upon reflection, though, it’s not all that surprising that my kids stepped up when I needed them to. I am forever telling them to ask for what they want, say what they mean, and throw in a please or thank you and they can’t go too far wrong. What I had forgotten, in my desire to impress upon them just how awfully unwell I was feeling, was that I needed to do the same thing. So when I actually started taking care of myself, they started taking care of me too.

Yeah, it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life. And it’s going by faster and faster with every passing year. But today, I heard that symphony in my kids’ asking me if I wanted them to make me some toast, in my GP taking the time to listen to my symptoms sympathetically instead of treating me as yet another flu case, in a wonderful friend’s text offering to drop my girls at school this morning so I could rest.

It’s bittersweet, but it’s beautiful too.

And as well as being grateful, I’m on the mend.

Rise

Iman B&W

Iman…supermodel, entrepreneur, wife, mother, photographed here in 1977 by Francesco Scavullo.

About eighteen months ago I started following someone on Facebook — a celebrity, no less. I am not usually one to click the Follow button simply because someone is famous, but there was something about what this person was posting — consistently — that often made me stop and consider. Or smile. Or laugh out loud.

That person was Iman Abdulmajid.

Of course, in the light of her (monumentally) famous husband’s death a month ago, the quotes and thoughts that Iman posted over the past year or so no longer surprise me: she knew, even though the world did not, that her husband of more than two decades was dying of cancer.

Looking back, the posts now have an added poignancy that I don’t think the passage of time will take away. In the week before her husband’s death, for example, she shared quotes like, “Life isn’t about avoiding the bruises. It’s about collecting the scars to prove we showed up for it”, and a thought from the poet Rumi: “Do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”

But during the past year, in between sharing incredibly beautiful fashion photographs and promotional material for her husband’s Blackstar album, there were also thoughts that made me chuckle, such as “Sometimes you have to burn a few bridges to keep the crazies from following you”.

Overwhelmingly, however, there were messages of hope, of faith, of gratitude, and of determination to overcome. And the majority of the thoughts she shared she tagged with a single word: Rise.

Iman & DB

Iman and the inimitable Mr Jones in 2003, from a Tommy Hilfiger campaign styled by Edward Enninful.

It’s a powerful concept.

Rise, every day. Rise, above adversity. Rise, to the challenge — whatever it is.

Rise.

And, just as her husband appears to have made very conscious decisions about his approach to death, Iman seems to be approaching the transition to life after his passing with the same hope, faith, gratitude and determination to overcome that she has displayed over the past year.  Today, she posted a quote from Rune Lazuli: “Each tear is a poet, a healer, a teacher.”

Despite her grief, which must be as raw as it is real, there is true graciousness in the way Iman has responded to her husband’s passing. There is also humility, intelligence, and — like her husband — a considerable amount of style.

There is, I suspect, a lot I could still learn from Iman Abdulmajid — not least of which is to rise.

 

 

Two Score

I turned 40 today.

Not surprisingly, the world didn’t end or spin off its axis, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse didn’t turn up either.

Instead, I spent yesterday and today surrounded by people I love, doing things I enjoy — and for that I am ever so grateful.

And now, feeling reflective and perhaps a little nostalgic at the end of a weekend well spent, I thought I might share something with you that means something to me. The footage is not mine, and like me it’s not perfect. But sharing it is my way of thanking you for being part of this crazy ride: a clip of U2 playing their beautiful song Bad in Berlin late last year, followed by the usual song they finish their concerts with.

Appropriately, that song is called 40.