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

 

Dirt Music

 

Dirt Music 3

Dancing spotlit in a bodystocking? Not me…I’ll leave that to the likes of Misty Copeland.

So the other night, after a few “light beers” (which may or may not have been entire bottles of wine), a mate of mine asked me whether I had a Favourite Book.

As in, a Favourite Book OF ALL TIME.

And I said…Yes.

Or perhaps I just whispered it.

I definitely held my breath for a split second before I answered, not sure of how my response would be received, or whether it would be treated with the reverence I reserve for Favourite Books.

Because let’s face it — owning up to having a Favourite Book (of All Time, no less) is to to reveal your self, to expose your self as completely and unapologetically as a dancer in a flesh-coloured bodysuit on a spotlit stage.  Which is fine, completely fine, if you’ve spent the requisite years honing your body and your skills to the point that a body-stocking, or a distinct lack of on-stage hiding places, or (God forbid) an audience no longer fazes you, but…clearly, that’s not me.

I write. I read.

I cook. I most definitely eat. And while my kitchen is well-known as a place where dancing is heartily encouraged, I would sooner eat a body-stocking rather than wear one.

Even so, despite my many misgivings (or maybe because I, too, had consumed several glasses of wine), the other night I actually confessed to loving one book above all others.

Now, any literature lover will tell you that the idea of narrowing down the books you couldn’t bear to part with to a Top Ten is an utterly absurd exercise. If you truly love books, whittling down your list to a Top Fifty is a difficult proposition.

But if you have a Favourite Book, you know what it is. If, unlike me, you’re the sort of person who likes to proclaim your Favourite Book far and wide and to encourage every last being in the known universe to read it, you know what it is. If, like me, you’re a little more circumspect about revealing the identity of your Favourite Book, you know what it is. Even if you have trouble admitting to yourself that one particular volume is your Favourite Book, you still know what it is.

And mine is Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.

Dirt Music

So here it is — my Favourite Book. OF ALL TIME.

(Oh dear Lord! Did I just type that for the world to see?!)

Yep, Dirt Music is my Favourite Book of All Time.

And I have decided that I will own up to it, and expose myself to whatever judgements you may make about me as a result of that admission, because it is my Favourite Book.

I could have dodged the issue entirely, perhaps, and said it was impossible to decide between Dirt Music and any number of other books, such as Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina or The Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby or Hamlet, to name just a handful of others.  No authors’ names necessary, of course — they’re all tomes that are regularly cited as being Favourite Books. I could even have wrong-footed my friend by pointing him in the direction of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, or Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But I didn’t.

Because, deep down, I know that Dirt Music is my Favourite Book.

I’m not saying that it’s best book in the universe — that’s a whole other discussion. And I’m definitely not going to weigh into the whole debate about the Great Australian Novel, either, and whether that accolade goes to Winton’s Cloudstreet or not.  I’m not even saying that you should rush out, buy Dirt Music, and devour it cover to cover — it may not be your thing at all. (I mean, if you want to, of course — go ahead; it might end up being your Favourite Book too).

Nup. I’m not doing any of that.

But what I am saying is pretty simple, really.

For me, Dirt Music, Winton’s tale of Georgie Jutland losing and finding herself in the wilds and waters of Western Australia is special. In the true blue, Bruce McAvaney sense of the word.

I love — no, I utterly adore — Tim Winton’s prose.  I love the tangible physicality of his descriptions of people and place. I love the accuracy with which he captures his characters’ vernacular. I love the overarching presence of the Australian landscape, particularly of the ocean and the coast. I love the way he describes Georgie’s father as Himself, QC — and I love the sheer volume of information and resonance and impact those two words impart.

Dirt Music 2

My super-power: escaping into books…

Reading is such a great privilige, and literacy such an inordinately important gift. And, as Alain de Botton points out, “Of all the addictions, bibliophilia is the noblest and most dangerous.” Where else, but between the pages of books, can we embark on great quests, fight revolutions, ride dragons, or sail further west than west?

I will, I know, continue to read, and always — always — to write. Like Rudyard Kipling, “I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity.”

And it is beyond comforting to know that I can return time and again to the happy places that lie between the dog-eared volumes that line my shelves, to wend my way along hidden paths towards Rivendell, to walk with Elizabeth from Netherfield back to Longbourn, even to hold my breath as Anna waits for the oncoming train…

But I will always come back, time and again, to Dirt Music, if only to discover, like Luther Fox, just one last time:

She’s real…she’s real…

What a Piece of Work is Man

RememberWhat a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2, lines 303-307

Today marks the anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

I have lived more than half my life without him, but there are days when I feel his loss as acutely as I did all those years ago.

My grandfather’s passing is, for me, inextricably linked with Shakespeare, specifically with Hamlet, which I first saw performed the day he died. So much of what the play explores resonates with me, then and now — the grief, the family torn apart, the musings on life and how to live it, or indeed whether to live it at all.

Hamlet’s soliloquies are among Shakespeare’s most famous. More than four centuries after he wrote them they are known the world over, often quoted and occasionally parodied. Keenly observant of the mind’s workings, Shakespeare never allows Hamlet to shy away from confronting his inner demons, and his words provide insights that are surprisingly fresh and relevant today. And yet, when life — or life’s sudden, unexpected end — overlays these monologues with memory, embroiders them with poignant and painful detail, Hamlet’s orations become imbued, for me, with much deeper meaning.

Who was my grandfather, the quintessence of dust I lost more than two decades ago?

He was but a man.

He was of average stature, but with a presence so immense that its absence left a gaping hole. His smile lit up any room, his laughter filled any void.

He was a passionate sailor, a successful businessman, an avid tennis fan, and a hopeful punter.

He valued honesty, loyalty, persistence and discipline.

He believed wholeheartedly in the capacity of a decent cup of tea to solve any problem.

He enjoyed words — reading them, writing them, hearing them. He was a prolific and witty correspondent; his handwriting was simultaneously elegant and bold. He gave me my first dictionary, my first thesaurus. He taught me to appreciate brevity.

Grief TolkeinHe served his country in the Royal Australian Navy as a Petty Officer Writer. He survived the bombing of Darwin, he was present at the Japanese surrender in Toyko Bay. He seldom spoke of the war.

He was handsome, charming and dapper.

He was twice divorced and thrice married. He endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, many of them aimed (understandably) by my grandmother and many more, I suspect, directed by himself.

Above all, he was a man of love. His hugs were like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a winter’s day. He was bighearted. He was generous to a fault. He was a blazing sun, full of love and light.

During his life he was not an angel, but I’d like to think that he is one now.