Friday, 23 December 2016

I Discover Happiness

I found happiness two weeks ago, and it was on the inside of my birthday card.  In response to my list - One Hundred Words for Sad - (I Bare My Psyche), my longest-serving friend had written:

Have another
  1. fun
  2. fantastic
  3. creative
  4. fulfilling
  5. happy
  6. loved
  7. loving
  8. lovable
  9. joyous
  10. amazing
  11. carefree
  12. triumphant
  13. beatific
  14. felicitous
  15. propitious
  16. blessed
  17. euphoric
  18. ecstatic
  19. exultant
  20. rapturous
  21. jocund
  22. gladsome
  23. merry
  24. bright
  25. auspicious
  26. elated
  27. laugh-inducing
  28. cheerful
  29. blissful
  30. cheery
  31. thrillful
  32. congenial
  33. delightful
  34. convivial
  35. enchanted
  36. wonderful
  37. gleeful
  38. chocolatey
  39. fizzing
  40. vivifying
  41. affirming
  42. wanton
  43. brave
  44. empowered
  45. empowering
  46. fruitful
  47. vibrant
  48. poetic
  49. lyrical
  50. confident
  51. convivial
  52. uninhibited
  53. hang-up-free
  54. rhapsodic
  55. inspiring
  56. inspirational
  57. sparkling
  58. wondrous
  59. magnificent
  60. awe-filled
  61. tremendous
  62. terrific
  63. heavenly
  64. divine
  65. guilt-free
  66. unparalleled
  67. rewarding
  68. enriching
  69. visionary
  70. dynamic
  71. beamish
  72. radiant
  73. starry
  74. exuberant
  75. gay
  76. jocular
  77. buoyant
  78. bonny
  79. blithe
  80. light-hearted
  81. exhilarating
  82. exuberant
  83. energised
  84. intoxicated
  85. playful
  86. upbeat
  87. mirthful
  88. tickled pink-ful
  89. celebratory
  90. unshackled
  91. untrammelled
  92. free
  93. champion
  94. top
  95. great
  96. emboldened
  97. powerful
  98. jubilant
  99. sorted
  100. perfect

There have been many hard things about the past year and I don't need to, won't, spell them out; enough to say that at times, one hundred words for sad didn't seem enough.

My LSF's list offers hope, and it offers a specific insight in its repetition of the word convivial (34   51) and in word number 85.  I have found much happiness this year in the convivial company of those, like her, who want to live life with clarity and courage; to live without pretence; to live with hope despite everything that's been going on around and in us; to live to grow; to live to play with words, with paint, with dancing, with fire, with food, with music, with motorbikes, with running, with trying out different hats.

Thank you, all of you.  I wish you my LSF's hundred words, well 99, for happiness for Christmas and the New Year.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

I Don My (Christmas) Onesie

Getting  back from work yesterday, I made the miscalculation of thinking I'd have a quick bath before going out to the pub with the badminton club.  Quick Bath is an oxymoron.  Like Cool Polyester, or (if not in Switzerland or some other exotic place) Reliable Public Transport.  Or Exotic Switzerland.

So, my bath wasn't quick and just as I got out, Jonathan phoned to say that they'd nearly finished drinking.  This surprised me, as by that time I was planning to be only an hour or two late, and the club has something of a reputation for stamina.  But as we chatted, I confessed to extreme end-of-term tiredness and opted out, stayed in.

It made perfect sense to get straight into my Christmas onesie for the first time this year. 

People have different markers for when the Christmas season begins.  For some it seems to be August, and the start of Christmas shopping.  For others, it's the January sales, when reduced Christmas cards encourage preparation for the following year.  I suppose for these people, Christmas is never really over but exists as a background to everything else.  For me for a while, it was my sons' primary school nativity plays - those afternoons snatched from work to sit on tiny chairs in a hot and crowded hall watching hundreds of children have their individual moments of glory and disappointment. Even longer ago, it was Christmas Eve afternoon, stopping for a moment to listen to Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.  Once, when I was gloriously 13 for a moment, and in awe of adulthood, it was being in King's Chapel for the advent service.  It was absolutely possible to believe in a virgin birth under that fan-vaulting, resonant with the sounds of angels.

Nowadays, my Christmas begins when the autumn term properly ends for me, as it did yesterday.  The term which is the best and worst of everything in teaching: the one which starts with high expectations and goes on forever, and which descends from the vigour of a fresh autumn into the overwork of  'getting everything done by Christmas'. 

Putting on my onesie yesterday evening meant succumbing, at last, to rest. To not getting everything done.  To lack of any attempt at dignity or style.  To lying on the sofa, enjoying that reckless and blissful thing - an evening snooze in the hopeful light of my Christmas tree, and then getting up, heedless of the time, to make marzipan.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

I Do It Again

You wait a long time to see Malvolio when you're watching The Tempest.  I discovered this a week ago when the tormented, cross-gartered antagonist failed to appear in the wrong play.  And he did not appear because he could not.

Discussing my confusion (I Muddle My Shakespeares) whilst pulling crackers over blueberry and banana pancakes at a friend's house last Sunday, I saw that what fell out of my cracker, in addition to a joke and a paper crown, was a packet containing the three nails of the crucifixion:

This incident, coming so soon after my Twelth Night / Tempest confusion, set me thinking again about how we see what we think we are going to see and how, even after years of excellent therapy and an ever-increasing experience of freedom, I still carry some hard-wired expectation that what might fall out of a cracker is a punishment.

After thinking and thinking about both these happenings, I've begun to realise that my muddle-up over plays is a gift of a metaphor for understanding life.  For so long, you see, I was trying to act in the wrong play (though I hope never as Malvolio), and now I've ditched the old scripts, I can get on with being the character I really am.

To say I'm rather pleased about this is an understatement, and I'm pretty certain that my finally making it into the right script (an improvised one) does not include me deciding, on the basis of owning three golf tees, to take up golf.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

I Muddle My Shakespeares

Wendy Cope's lines from Serious Concerns came back to me yesterday as I was trying to work out why I'd muddled up my Shakespeares so badly:

Jesus, in His goodness and grace,
Jesus found me a parking space
In a very convenient place.
Sound the horn and praise Him

If you see life through one lens (in this case a fixation on the apparent concern of a man who died two millennia ago for the irritating details of contemporary life - a paradigm very familiar to me from childhood) events can only make one kind of sense.

On Thursday, for my birthday treat, my longest-serving friend took me to see Twelfth Night at the Donmar.  We'd been to their excellent production of Julius Caesar a couple of years ago.  I was looking forward to it, but tired after a full-on time at work.  In the warm dark of the theatre I began to unwind, drift: I felt sleepy, dreamy.

The production was interesting - set, like the Caesar, in a women's prison, with minimal staging and props, an all-female cast in grey track suits.  I thought the introduction of Ariel into Twelfth Night a little avant garde, admittedly, but was committed to my view.  The mention of Caliban, however, was a bucket of cold water, and I woke up to reality. All at once, I knew I was entirely in the wrong play.  I took an embarrassed leap into The Tempest.  And from thereon, everything made a much better and more substantial kind of sense.

"It's like that game in I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue - one song to the time of another," said my L-S-F when I confessed my confusion to her over lunch yesterday.

"It's a question of hermeneutics," said our companion.

I'm glad I cleared things up in my head before I'd gone too far into the play, and that I have such kind and forgiving friends.  And I'm glad that I have a second chance at seeing things for what they are, and that I've found everything's so much more interesting than what I was led to expect.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

I Admire A Teacher

It's afternoon, already after dark, and I'm sitting in the corner of a small music room.  I keep my coat on, though it's warm.  The radiator's providing a background swish of moving water. 

I'm pretending to be passing through, waiting to take my son home, popping in to sit in on the end of his lesson, but in reality, I've arrived far too early and I'm audience. The teacher knows this, and is kind: extends the allotted time into evening.

What I see, what I hear is this: a teacher giving of himself, of his years of accumulated technical skill and musicianship, boundless in his generosity.  He's passing on wisdom, understanding, compassion, diligence, and all this across several decades to my young son who sits, guitar propped classically on his left knee, as they chat in-between playing.

This talking is as much as the practice in these lessons.  I watch them draw meaning out of their age-differences, their common passion, their acknowledgement of what joins and separates them. For now they're discussing the various means of plucking the strings in order to achieve the warmth needed for Villa Lobos.

This is a master class.  I'm watching what it is to teach by drawing out the knowledge of what makes truth beautiful from all that's available: the music itself, the instrument, his own experience and expertise and my son's unique and forming understanding of the world.  And he does this with the tender authority of one who knows himself and his art, who desires above all that his pupil finds as much joy in its pursuit as he does.