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.

little things 2

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.

Progress, not Perfection

coffee-catastrophe

I know this looks like a really good idea, but DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME…

One morning last week, having seen my children safely to school, I came into the serenity and silence of my kitchen and made a cup of freshly brewed coffee.  Black, no sugar, piping hot — just like my tea.

And then, eager to begin the day by emailing a fresh lead for a writing gig, I made my way — coffee in hand — over to my beautiful, still nearly brand new, beloved laptop.

You can see where this is going already, can’t you?

You might even be holding your breath…perhaps, hoping against hope, thinking “She didn’t…did she?  She couldn’t have…”

But I did.

Not on purpose, obviously. But it still happened.

As I set the coffee down beside my laptop, the cup tipped…and a warm wave of liquid overwhelmed the keyboard, sank down between the keys, and swamped the inner workings of my marvelous, magical machine.

Oh…the horror…

I’m not going to go into all that happened next, save to say that I was vacillating wildly between panicking that my little friend would not be able to be salvaged and berating myself repeatedly for my massive, monstrous stupidity.

Because that helps, obviously.

And once I’d managed to put the melodramatics aside — which took far longer than I’d like to admit because, believe me, I am more than capable of becoming completely histrionic when such a situation arises — I sucked in a several deep breaths. Then I went to my favourite yoga class and sucked in a few more.

(I may also have called my Dad…because adulting is hard, some days.)

And finally, when I got home from yoga and gingerly inserted the power cord back into the device and discovered that it still wasn’t working, I…

Sighed.  Deeply.

And followed that up with several more big, deep, sob-like sighs…

By this point, you may be wondering why on earth I am writing this? Why am I even admitting to this? Why would someone who prides herself on being organised, of paying attention to detail, of getting things right the first time — not to mention someone who, to earn a living, helps other people to become organised and precise — why would I write about what my kids would call a completely epic fail?

Well, for a couple of reasons, really.

First of all, accidents happen. We all experience setbacks.  We all, as Shakespeare far more elegantly put it, must “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. But it’s what we do in response that counts.  As Victoria Erickson once said, of disappointment:

Don’t immediately brush it off. Feel it first, and it then it will leave you quicker. Here’s the thing about broken glass: it needs to be acknowledged and swept up so you don’t step on it later.

The same thing applies, I suspect, to broken laptops.

coffee-peaky

Monaghan Boy’s Magic Trick: while what I do is definitely not what Tommy Shelby does with the Peaky Blinders, the guy sure knows how to plan thoroughly and execute precisely — even if it is, sometimes, executing literally.

And that brings me to the second thing: planning. Which includes, of course, planning for potential catastrophes — and explains why I diligently followed my To Do List and backed up my laptop the afternoon before I tipped coffee all over it.

Procedures. Systems. Contingency Plans. They might sound (and frequently are) incredibly boring and mundane but believe me, they have their place. And while adhering to my regular backup procedure won’t replace my laptop, it does mean that all my data — and everything last thing I have been working on for my clients — is safe and accessible.

This life — whether it be at home, or at work — is not about achieving perfection. It’s not about managing to snatch a second or two upon a glittering pinnacle. It’s not about being flawless or faultless, because we’re human beings, after all.

Rather, I would argue that life is about striving for progress, not perfection, and about aiming to be our best and most consistent selves, each and every day. Because I would also suggest that our reaction to a situation can, quite literally, have the power to change the situation itself. And the plans we make and execute can leave us in a much better position than we might have been otherwise.

tea-instead

And, just for the record: Tommy would never tip coffee over his laptop because he, as we know, is a man who drinks tea.

Even when we tip hot coffee on our laptops.

Well, that’s what I think, anyway.

Blue Jai

PS: When did you last do a back up?

 

Blue Jai Creative – freelance writing and administration services for your home and business, servicing Sydney’s Northern Beaches and beyond.

© Blue Jai Creative 2016

 

The Quirks of Squirrel Weeks

Squirrel 3

Whadya mean you never heard of a Squirrel Week?

I’m having a Squirrel Week.

I know, I know: only last week I was explaining that in my professional capacity I am like a chameleon, adapting my writing to suit my clients with all the clarity and precision I can muster, and now I’ve apparently switched my allegiance to an entirely different animal species. But if you read on, it will all make sense. Possibly.

For some obscure (and obviously unknown to me) reason, clarity and precision have gone completely out the window this week, and I am feeling so scattered that my decision making abilities resemble those of a squirrel attempting to cross the street.

I’m having a Squirrel Week.

Oh wait — I already said that. My apologies. That’s one of the quirks of having a Squirrel Week: externally, you keep repeating what you’ve already said, while internally, your head is reverberating with hundreds of random thoughts that are interfering with your ability to remember where you put your To Do List…or did you even make one today?

Squirrel 2

This never happened…you never saw me…just gonna sneak on outta here…

Is it just me? Does anyone out there have Squirrel Weeks too? I know some of you, like me, have Gotham Days, but does anyone else have whole weeks when you stride purposefully into rooms and then have absolutely no recollection of the reason why you were going there, when you go to get your car keys out of your handbag and discover a paper bag containing a half-eaten sushi roll (ewwww…) that you firmly intended to put into the refrigerator after yoga yesterday, or when you finally get yourself to the supermarket and proceed to zigzag aimlessly through the aisles and subsequently wonder how your shopping trolley ended up filled with cheese, chocolate and bottles of red wine?

What makes Squirrel Weeks worse for me is that most of the time I pride myself (oh yes, that deadliest of sins) on being a focused and organised person. Most days I have — and complete — a To Do List. Most days I use my time super-effectively. Most days I stay on task and do it in style, like a prima ballerina en pointe, pirouetting effortlessly across the stage.

And then a Squirrel Week comes along.

Squirrel 5

Because interpretive dance will ALWAYS seem like a good option during a Squirrel Week…

I’m no prima ballerina during a Squirrel Week — oh, no. During Squirrel Weeks, you’re better off imagining me as an off-my-head raver dancing spasmodically to The Prodigy (…breathe the pressure, come play my game, I’ll test ya — psycho-somatic addict-insane…) within the confines of a small windowless room. Or perhaps that’s a bit much. Maybe I just look a bit like…like a squirrel.

While writing this I’ve been trying to work out what the Australian equivalent of a squirrel is but, this being a Squirrel Week, I’ve got nothing. I’ve also been trying to find a way of describing the frenetic, slightly unhinged, sort of squirrelish behaviour I’m prone to at such times, but I’ve drawn a blank there too. I’ve considered consulting a professional, but were I to describe Squirrel Weeks to my doctor I suspect he would simply say that there is nothing about my condition that a prescription for Ritalin or a reduction in my caffeine intake wouldn’t fix.

Squirrel 4

Just gonna sit here looking like I know what I’m doing…

Coffee! A cup of coffee! That’s a great idea…it’s kinda cold today and it’s probably time for a snack anyway…

Wait, what?

Why did I come into the kitchen?

Ummm…

Oh! Look at this bright shiny catalogue — there’s a toy sale at Target. I must get a present for…for…ummm…where’s that birthday invitation again? Must be on the door of the fridge…

Hey — where did all this cheese come from?

 

Yep, I’m having a Squirrel Week.

 

 

 

And You Are…Ummmm?!

http://www.whitneyleephotography.com/

Photo Credit: Whitney Lee Photography

School’s back!  The hallway has been spontaneously transformed into a dumping ground for schoolbags, and the kitchen bench has disappeared under a load of lunchboxes. There’s no real homework yet, but after only four days of the current academic year I cannot guarantee what my reaction will be if another book to be covered emerges from Marvel Girl’s backpack…the mere thought of contact adhesive fills me with a vague nausea and sense of impending doom.

There are always a few wrinkles to be ironed out at the beginning of each school year, but in the scheme of things most of them present only minor challenges. So far Marvel Girl has managed to wear the correct uniform on the right day, Miss Malaprop hasn’t yet lost her (extra carefully labelled) new hat, and I’ve managed to track down one of the last elusive copies of the required Handwriting Textbook at the local mall.  (I’m banishing the thought of covering the damn thing yet…I will probably need to perform at least an hour of creative visualisation and yogic breathwork before I even consider retrieving the roll of contact from wherever I threw it in the dark recesses of the cupboard).

But, as I said, these are but trivial trials — nothing that can’t be solved by a single application of brain power, elbow grease or a large glass of red wine.  No, the big challenge is The Name Game.

The Name Game, for those of you who are blessedly unaware of its existence, is that jolly pursuit we parents pursue in playgrounds across the country at the start of every school year.  We begin by greeting our close friends, some of whom we haven’t seen all summer, with enthusiasm — we ask after their spouses, natter on about the older and younger siblings of their child who is in your child’s class, perhaps even mention their dear devoted dog — all by name.  We feel confident, chatting away. We’re upbeat. This is going to be a great year!  I mean, look at me — just look at me — talking away, remembering those monikers, getting it all right!

And then, we turn to say hello to some other friends, or maybe — more accurately — they’re acquaintances.  Their child was in the different class last year, and while we cheerily say, “Hello Hermione!” to their adorable daughter, we inevitably turn to the parents and acquire a slightly fixed grin before asking, “Hi, how are you? How were the holidays?” (perhaps a little bit too brightly) to distract them from the fact that you can’t quite recall their name.  But we excuse ourselves, on this occasion, because let’s face it: the kids are all in identical school uniforms, so you are forced to associate their actual faces with their actual names. But the parents?  Well, it’s quite possible that Marty’s mother was wearing a red spotted top when you meet her, but who in God’s green earth knows what she has on today?

But then you begin walking toward the school gate, feeling a little less poised but remaining ready for the next drop off (at preschool this time…there can’t be too many faces to contend with there, right?) when you bump into a tearful mother of a new kindergarten pupil who clearly knows you from somewhere, and you offer reassuring platitudes and rummage through your handbag to proffer tissues all while racking your tiny brain for some clue as to where it is that you met them (Was it Playgroup? Music class? No…maybe Swimming? Or Ballet?) in the faint and very distant hope that you might recall something — maybe even just the first letter — of their name.

By the end of the week, when you’ve traipsed through school and preschool playgrounds, dropped and picked up kids from a mind-boggling array of extra-curricular activities, and received three invitations for upcoming birthday parties for children you are now unsure whether you actually know, you’ve had it.  Your confidence is shot, the week is a blur of a thousand faces, and you can barely remember the names you once bestowed so lovingly on your own children.  Your sleep has been troubled, as you’ve been jolted awake in the small hours of the night, finally recalling that it was Marissa who had a kid starting at Marvel Girl’s school this year, Marissa who you met at Playgroup two years ago, and her daughter’s name was…oh dear God…what was her name?

Yes, The Name Game gets us every year.  It’s akin to being asked to swallow a baby name book and subsequently regurgitate it in certain combinations at very specific times — basically, when Sally waves at you from her car in the Kiss and Drop line, and you need to recall — instantaneously — that her husband is Paul, that William is in Marvel Girl’s class, that their twins are called Mabel and Molly (not at preschool yet, bless them) and they have a cat called Elvis.  And when you do actually get it right (don’t forget to buy yourself a lottery ticket afterwards), you feel like you’ve just won the City to Surf in world record time or nailed the Croquembouche Challenge on Masterchef.

I haven’t got through the first full week of this year’s Name Game yet.  I’ve already had moments when I’ve only managed to smile and nod at a sort-of-familiar face, and one instance when I actually had to ask someone I know well whether I had correctly introduced her to someone who I knew but she didn’t. It’s becoming abundantly clear that I’m no Sherlock Holmes: if I ever had a Mind Palace, it’s now so full of names and random facts about Disney fairies and every last lyric from Frozen that there is room for no more. But that’s the nature of The Name Game. It gets to you like that. At this point, it’s a wonder that recall what my own name is.

Thank heavens the kids just call me Mum. That, I think, I can remember.

Holiday Bonus Points — A Cautionary Tale

Note to prospective readers: this post may contain traces of nail polish or acetone and could, quite possibly, have resorted to the use of expletives.

Here in the Great Southern Land, the summer holidays are drawing to a close: those longed-for, clear-skied, sprawling days of uninterrupted leisure are now well and truly numbered.  In five more sleeps Miss Malaprop will be back at preschool, and in nine my Marvel Girl will resume school.

Looking back over the past five or six weeks, a large part of me is already veering wildly towards nostalgia.  I have relished my time with my girls this summer, the hours of building jungle hideout forts from shoeboxes, of creating crazy craft and science projects, of swimming every chance we got, of reading books (and more books) aloud, of happy chatter during endless sessions of imaginative play.  I will miss, in particular, the little gems that have dropped into their conversations…“Ants are very capable creatures — I want to get a magnifying glass so I can see how big this ant’s eyes are!” or “Our new cubby house is hotter than a vampire bat!”, or the many sentences that ended with the phrase “this [whatever it was] has been the best EVER!”.

Realistically speaking, however, I admit that my already sentimental recollections of the summer holidays have blithely glossed over the numerous occasions when the kids have not gotten along, or when I have raised my voice, or when one of us — or sometimes more than one — has completely lost it.  We are, none of us, angels (a fact which, quite naturally, reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’ marvelous quote from the superb Reichenbach Fall episode).  But these holidays, I did manage to introduce a new scheme aimed at promoting more angelic behaviour: Holiday Bonus Points.

The concept of Holiday Bonus Points came to me one morning when I was about to launch into my customary post-breakfast tirade about hair brushing, bed making, teeth cleaning, floor tidying or whatever it happened to be that day.  Instead of rattling into my usual rant, I took a deep (supposedly calming) breath and made a proclamation from the middle of the mess that was my kitchen: a Holiday Bonus Point would be awarded to any child who performed a task without being asked to.

Two gleaming pairs of eyes, one dark greeny-brown, the other light greeny-blue, locked onto mine, followed by a rapidfire barrage of questions, and before I knew it, the Holiday Bonus Point scheme was up and running — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was made up and running.  The details were invented as I quickly as I answered the kids’ questions: any child who got five HBP’s before school went back would get a special treat of their choice, but the award — and the possible removal — of points was entirely at my discretion.

For the most part, Holiday Bonus Points were a roaring success: instead of constantly nagging the girls, I was able to (ever so vaguely) wonder aloud whether anyone would get an HBP that day.  Conversely, if anyone was misbehaving, I could warn them that if the infraction continued an HBP might be taken away from them.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the scheme worked brilliantly — until Miss Malaprop surprised us all by being the first to be awarded a full five points a whole week before the holidays ended, and promptly requested a trip to the shops to buy some nail polish.  Specifically, aqua and purple nail polish.  And pehaps a pink one, too.

And here, as you may have guessed, begins the cautionary portion of our tale — the part that begins right after I managed suppress the loud groan that very nearly escaped me when the words “nail polish” were mentioned.  It was, of course, the point when I realised that I not only had to purchase her chosen treat, but that I also had lost the by now almost mythical power of the Holiday Bonus Point scheme for the final week of the holidays.  This flaw, this great gaping hole in my formerly smooth-running system, was brought into particularly sharp relief when Miss Malaprop — despite being told in no uncertain terms NOT to open her brand new five-pack of glittery nail polish until I had finished showering and was able to supervise her — was unable to resist the siren song of the brightly coloured bottles, removed them from their shiny silver packaging, and promptly spilled some of the green (yes, green) nail polish on the carpet in her bedroom.

After a great many tears (hers) and far too much yelling (mine), we managed to resolve the situation. Miss Malaprop’s room still has a faint whiff of acetone, but the carpet is clear and we have both calmed down.  As it turns out, bottles of nail polish are just as easy to remove as Holiday Bonus Points, so the scheme has been salvaged to some degree.  But it was not without a serious amount of trepidation that I asked Marvel Girl (who is currently in possession of four HBP’s) what

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

she was planning on getting should she manage to procure her final point. To my great relief, she simply smiled dreamily and said she’d love to get the fifth book in the Swallows and Amazons series.

We are, none of us, angels, but I think even I can handle that.

Miss Malaprop

Miss Malaprop is my much-loved younger child.  Like most preschoolers she is relishing her first forays into the big wide world, working out what her personality feels like from the inside as we, in turn, discover what it looks like from the outside.  She is sensitive, extremely kind, quick-witted, hilariously funny, determined (sometimes to the point of stubbornness, at other times to the point of lunacy), has an alarming capacity to throw spectacular tantrums, and gets up to so much mischief you’d think she was the lovechild of Loki Laufeysen.  She enjoys reading books, dressing up, creating things (especially involving paint, tape, glitter glue, regular glue, well…anything sticky, really), and playing with — or more likely tormenting — Marvel Girl, her older sister.

Miss Malaprop also loves to sing.  Loudly.  Sometimes even in tune.  She particularly likes to sing along with the music she likes.  And, as you might have guessed from her pseudonym on this blog, she doesn’t always get the words quite right.

“WE ARE DONE WITH BEING BESIDE THE JELLY!” she belted out from the back seat of the car the other day (as I attempted to protect her tiny developing ego by stifling my mirth and narrowly averted driving off the road).  Lord only knows what the silent many — let alone the Madden Brothers — would have made of that one.

It seems, however, that Miss Malaprop is not particularly fussed what the lyrics really are.  We did try explaining to her, in the kindest way possible, that Sheppard are actually singing “Say Geronimo!” and not referring to a long extinct dinosaur in their recent hit.  I suspect she simply prefers to sing, “Hey Pteranadon” instead — she is a big fan of Tiny, Shiny and Don from Dinosaur Train, after all.

Wikipedia defines malapropism as “the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance”, and I must admit that in addition to finding it one of the funnier entries I’ve encountered spouting from that omniscient fount of all online knowledge, I particularly enjoyed that it included links to other linguistic wonders such as Bushisms and mondegreens.  Strictly speaking, my dear daughter’s pseudonym would be more accurate were it Miss Mondegreen, given that she is notorious for substituting words she knows (or thinks she hears) for the lyrics of the songs she likes to sing.  But since malapropism is derived from the French mal à propos, meaning “inappropriate”, and she is equally renowned for making statements or asking questions that are as untimely as they are unsuitable (such as proclaiming — loudly, and with great solemnity — that “Ruth’s father died!” when he is actually standing right behind her) , I have retained my original choice.

And despite her occasional indiscretions and musical blunders, Miss Malaprop is never, ever intentionally malicious. Rather, she is one of the most empathetic and considerate little beings I have had the privilege to meet, and the vast majority of the time I am more than proud to be her mum.  She is the sort of child who, if yoiPhone photos 158u appear to be at all down in the dumps, will attempt to rally your spirits with a rendition of her own inimitable version of that old favourite from The Jungle Book movie:

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your STRIPES!

Take that, Shere Khan.