It is one of those weeks where there is a lot happening, more by coincidence than design. The challenge is to recognise that some of what we have a tendency to call busy is relaxing and energising. Theatre being the best example of that for me. I love the theatre, I love the whole experience of watching a live performance along with other people. I love the sets, costumes, lighting, music. I am fascinated by the actors’ ability to remember lines, to be in the right spot at the right time. It is magical, in a way that TV or cinema rarely are for me.
There is still a tendency to call it ‘busy’ though. You have to be at the theatre at a set time, the tickets have to be bought in advance, you have no choice as to when the play ends. All of those things have correlations with a meeting I suppose. But the huge difference is I am always energised by the theatre – an effect that lasts into the next day.
Last night I saw This Houseat The Rep with friends, so there was a chance to discuss it afterwards which is always fun. Chatting about and dissecting the play is all part of the enjoyment for me. Reliving any experience through speaking, writing, or thinking about an experience makes it more impactful, so it is a good exercise, but it’s worth paying attention to reliving the good experiences more than the bad. I enjoy the anticipation as well, which is what makes the logistics of a theatre trip a totally different experience than attending a meeting. But maybe I need to try and make the meeting experience more like a theatre trip, now that would improve the quality of life.
PS I am not a theatre reviewer, for that I recommend Love A Good Play, excellent short blogs on each play that an avid theatre-goer sees. Not that I can find her review for This House, which I am sure she saw in its time at The National Theatre.
I have been a member of a book group for about 17 years now. I love it, it is a collection of friends I have got to know purely through their reading. Six of us have been the core of the group for many years, we meet once every half term, choosing whatever book takes the collective fancy. We take on friends’ recommendations, book reviews, check out books we found in shops and chat about them until we all decide on one. This way we also discuss books more widely and it leads to other recommendations apart from the ‘book group book’.
The only rule is that no one must have read the book before. Some in the group read a lot and widely so that is sometimes a challenge, but we have read some amazing books over the years. We don’t all finish the books as sometimes life is too busy to waste on a book that you’re not enjoying, I have noticed that the most avid readers are the ones that are most comfortable with abandoning a book. There is discussion to be had in why the book was abandoned, sometimes that has little to do with the book, and more to do with the rest of life, and that gets discussed too. Over such a long time, there has been a lot of life and the group has been a safe space for me on many an occasion.
I like the discipline of a book group, and there have been times that those are the only books I read in a year. But most of all, I love the chance to discuss the book afterwards. There is great pleasure to be had in reading a book and then going back through it and discussing it, it’s like reliving the whole experience and makes it come alive. There is no pressure to have something clever to say, sometimes a lack of comment speaks volumes about the book. It is always good to hear what others think though.
We have had the delightful experience of finding a book that we all loved and which we have made ‘ours’, I am convinced we are the six biggest fans of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.
So you get the idea that habit is important to me, it’s easier to stick to things once they become habitual. The bad times are easier to weather if you have some good foundations to rest on, so it’s worth getting into good habits when the going is good I reckon.
One of those many rituals involves meeting one of the offspring for a coffee in the same place at the same time every week. Some weeks it feels superfluous, but I know, from bitter experience, that having that meeting time may one day come in useful when something goes wrong for us. and the fact that it is a habit means there’s no pressure for it to be special in any specific way, because there is always next week.
So, I am pondering a similar sort of ritual with the other offspring. There is no space in either my week or his for a similar coffee appointment, so we need something else. Something more shared (the other chap likes coffee and this one particular cafe). It is turning out to be surprisingly difficult to work out what to suggest, maybe because the coffee ritual was suggested by my son, not imposed by me.
Possibly the first step is to think about what interests we already share and build on that. The strength of the existing ritual is exactly that, it started with the shared enjoyment of coffee in a particular cafe. We then added an additional element of browsing in a few specific shops. So we now have a whole lovely hour of time together.
I need to put some serious thought into how to replicate the loveliness.
My husband has long suffered my intolerance of something called a “rut”. This is my fear of getting stuck in my beloved routines and fossilizing therein. This is possibly a reasonable anxiety, research tends to show that experiencing new things, having challenges and spending time with a variety of people all help to keep us healthy.
However, I may have an extreme version of this need to not get stuck in a rut. I fervently hope I am getting less extreme as I age, but I may not be the one to ascertain the verity of this fact. It used to be the case that if we went to the same restaurant twice I would bleat loudly about how boring life is and that we were ‘stuck in a rut’. As I say, long-suffering.
This week though, reminds me of the energy that get from variety. There are lots of new things, mixed up with the routine. The week so far has seen working in three different locations. But the same coffee ritual each morning to ground me.
I have had one church meeting of the CAFOD group, one Scouts meeting. As a family we have been out to a dessert restaurant late one evening after my work trip to London (Pirlo’s– if you’re in Birmingham, go visit!) and also a pub lunch on Monday in between work meetings.
I visited Walsall New Art Galleryat lunch time yesterday for a short curator’s talk on the visiting Holbein, which I love. Seriously love that painting.
We saw the NTLive showing of Nick Hytner’s production of Julius Caesar at the Electric Cinema. Thanks to everyone who strongly recommended I go to see that, it was brilliant.
The rest of the week contains my cousin’s wedding – I cannot wait, I love weddings and love hanging out with family; Nashville In Concert (my love of that TV show possibly deserves analysis in its own blog) and the potential for a lazy day of reading and catching up on what is sadly the final season of the aforementioned Nashville.
Not quite half way through a meetingtastic week and my brain is beginning to fail. So instead of waking up and trying to write a blog, I decided to do some volunteering this morning. This is totally possible because I am mainly volunteer in a sort of busman’s holiday style in a few realms.
I am a Scout – not a Scout Leader, I never go anywhere near a campfire (which makes me more sad than I had expected), but instead I am a Trustee of a Scout District. A large part of that role involves emails and phone calls and meetings. It’s about overseeing budget, checking that plans fit the aims of Scouting and everyone has the resources they need to create the amazing opportunities that the Scout movement gives to young people. Opportunities to have new experiences, to have fun and to challenge themselves with a ton of support from a group of volunteers dedicated to making sure they are safe and generally having a ball. I have the absolute luxury of feeling a small part of it whilst sipping coffee and writing emails. I am humbled by those who are much more active in their volunteering.
Scouts has an interesting image in the wider community, some still think it is a boys’ organisation – it is not and has not been for years. Some think its old fashioned in its activities. It’s not, but sometimes it is traditional, but I am not sure that is ever a bad thing. Surely a bit of a mix of activity is a really good thing? I have a general concern that we tend to encourage our children to focus on one activity far too early in life, Scouting offers the opportunity to try lots of things, some active, some less so. Some modern activities, some much more traditional, but not less interesting or useful. Tying knots stood my offspring in good stead when they did a course of technical theatre, the course tutors were amazed as the offspring capably tied the ropes for the pieces of set.
That said, they have also learnt a huge amount about team working, leadership and how to cope with challenge, as well as so many activities I cannot list them all here. My mantra for years has been “no, not paying for that, you can do it through Scouts, it will be SO much better”.
And all of this through the dedication of volunteers to the cause of making the world a safer, more enjoyable place for children. And looking at the leaders – young people who grow into enthusiastic citizens, keen to be an active part of their local community.
I have been dabbling with running recently, mainly because I needed an efficient way to increase my lung capacity and running seemed like the cheapest, most time-efficient method of increasing heartrate as quickly as possible. I don’t love it, it is a tool to increase specific fitness of my cardio-vascular system. I can sort of lose myself into the rhythm of the run now, but still, not loving it as a mental escape really.
Walking on the other hand is really different. I can get into a daydreaming zone really quickly. I often don’t take my phone. This is a learnt protection after I went through a period of getting sustained headaches and the optician reckoned it was because I spent even my school run walks (back in the day) answering emails on my phone, or texting – or updating FaceBook. Lesson learnt – our eyes need a total rest from staring into middle distance. Apparently, the old advice to look away from your computer screen is hugely outdated, as that was based on us only looking at that distance during work hours. Not every waking hour.
So, walking is now just walking, letting my mind wander, enjoying chatting to fellow dog walkers, saying hi to a few people, listening to the birds. Not really being any more productive than that. And I love it. This week I am reading Claire Balding’s book about the Radio4Ramblingsprogramme, Walking Home. It is really lovely, I like her writing style and love the radio programme.
It is also inspiring me to plan to walk a long route – not all at once, but in chunks over a year. I was dragged around part of the Pembrokeshire Coast path as a young child (about 10!) and have memories of that being very hard work. But Claire Balding’s descriptions of the benefits of a longer hike are appealing. I seem to remember St Kenelm’s Way being a local possibility. Need to do some research I think. And brush up on map reading skills. And replace my boots.
Going slower is a proper challenge for me. Going slower for me is waking up and writing a blog. This is definitely working to make me stop and think a bit more about the day ahead, about how I am feeling and all that sort of good stuff which is definitely making me more deliberate and slower.
It’s not quite switching off though. I want to pay some attention to that too. Partly because it is school holidays, so the rhythm of life changes pleasantly. Having teenagers means that it slows down considerably. From their point of view there’s a lot of sleeping and watching TV.
I find myself with more reading time in holidays which is great, as that was one of my aims in ‘slower’. I still have a nagging feeling that I ought to be watching TV or films though. The fact that I do not love either troubles me a bit. I possibly have to be very honest with myself and say that TV sometimes cares me and I find it too overwhelming. I can’t watch TV news, I struggle with anything that is too scary, even the current Miss Marple may prove too much for me. It’s not the same with the books, I enjoyed the Robert Galbraith Cormoran Strikeseries in books, but am haunted by the latest TV adaptation. I struggle to stay focussed on TV – I find myself on social media or googling randomness at the same time and literally lose the plot of whatever I am watching. TV documentaries drive me nuts, as do current affairs programmes, I think I process better when not forced to sit on a sofa with someone talking at me.
The total opposite is also true; once I sit down on the sofa to watch TV, I do struggle to get motivated to get up again, so end up mindlessly binge-watching episodes of something (whilst flicking through social media, so not really watching) and then end up feeling very dissatisfied.
As for films – for two years running I had a resolution to watch one film a month – at home or the cinema, it didn’t matter. I didn’t bother again this year. Just not going to happen.
Still, I am missing out and I know I am. I am going to try watching small parts of episodes and not last thing at night. Hopefully if I limit it to 40 mins, I will not feel it is a huge drag on my time, it should be easy to just watch a TV show and really focus on it for 40 mins and then I can decide to do something different if I need to.
Can’t work out the film thing though. Suggestions welcome.