Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
This old English proverb is relevant, not just because I’ve recently written my will (don’t worry – I’m not intending on going anywhere soon), but because my recent sadness and the fact that it seems to have lifted (at least it had on Sunday and Monday, today I’m not so sure) has reminded me of some of my better qualities: persistence, determination and the flicker of hope that seems to be always there, despite the bouts of glumness.
So I did write my will last week. I was taking advantage of an online half-price offer and the company of a friend who was getting hers out of the way too before the deal ran out. We sat together, at my kitchen table, discussing who we were going to leave our ‘estates’ to and playing each other songs we’d chosen for our funerals from iTunes or YouTube.
If I was a comedy sketch writer, I’d have some great material. “I’ve gone for cremation”. “Me too”. “I’m donating all my body parts for research and transplant”. “Research AND transplant? Well, yes, why not both? Me too”. Interspersed with various hymns, pop, rock, soul and gospel songs.
I was a little unsure about where I wanted my ashes scattered, torn between the ladies pond on Hampstead Heath (near it, not in it!) and the River Mersey, but I’ve plumped for the latter. Nothing quite beats going back to your roots. And writing that, it’s just occurred to me that “Going back to my roots” would have made the perfect funeral track:
“Zippin’ up my boots, Goin’ back to my roots, Yeah, Take the place of my birth, Back down to earth … “
Why didn’t I think of that last week? I’m going to have to redo the will to update the playlist. It’s fun to think of my pals dancing their way out of the church, singing “Zippin’ up my boots … ” (So if I don’t manage to amend it, take this blog as a final request re song choices!). Of course, I also hope I’ll have a better reason to update the will at some stage. It’d be nice to think I’ll have a partner and/or children to share my spoils with a few years down the line. As things stand, my mum, brother and nephews stand to do pretty well.
In the meantime, however, my affairs are in order, and that gives me a bit of peace and a sense that I’m taking responsibility. The process also reminded me of a passage I read in a book a while ago. The author talked about imagining one’s own funeral, who would speak, what people would say, how you wanted to be remembered and what for. It’s designed to get you thinking, to value the important things in life and to prioritise them. I’m not sure it worked for me.
On the subject of death, just briefly, before I move on from the morbid stuff to talk about busyness and anxiety (!), I was finishing Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’ book last night and she was talking about death. She says death focuses the mind: “It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realise that, in the scheme of things, you really don’t have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer.” I’ve never watched Homes Under the Hammer and I never put the TV on before 6 pm, a norm I inherited from my mother – with Wimbledon being the only exception – but I definitely haven’t got this ‘seize the day’ thing sorted. I don’t live as though this was my last day on earth, I do idle away time, procrastinate and watch rubbish TV. And while I’d like to be able to say I never waste my days, it has to be OK to take it easy, to sit back, rest, read, and watch some rubbish TV, now and then.
Yesterday was a case in point. I had an easy, non-stressful, non-pressured day in which I achieved very little but I felt content throughout the day and went to bed feeling grateful and at peace with myself, rather than stressed and miserable. I went for a long swim, jacuzzi and steam, did some grocery shopping, watched some Wimbledon, sent a few emails, spoke to a friend, did a bit of thinking/planning and some reading. Actually, when I put it in one sentence, it sounds like quite a busy day. But I have very few days like that – when I don’t achieve or strive or try to achieve or strive or think about achieving or striving. I had twinges of guilt throughout the day but I let them come and go. And as I saw them off and curled up on the sofa with a magazine, Wimbledon playing on the TV in the background, I smiled. Finally, I thought, contentment.
Which brings me on to an excellent article, a New York Times blog, which I hope you have time to read all the way through: The ‘Busy’ Trap by author Tim Kreider. He must have read my mind before he penned that blog. I couldn’t have said it better myself. How many times have I answered “I’m busy, really busy, crazy busy” when someone has asked me how I’m doing? Too many to remember. I let out a sigh just thinking about it.
Kreider writes that many people are addicted to being busy and “dread what they might have to face in its absence.” His description of a female friend who’d moved to France – and who was working less, socialising more and had a boyfriend – particularly spoke to me: “What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality – driven, cranky, anxious and sad – turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment.” I hear the sound of bells ringing. He goes on to say: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” More bells ringing.
I guess this has got a lot to do with my recent sadness. I was incredibly busy from March until late June, working all week, some evenings and some weekends, juggling jobs and projects, alongside my perfectionism and procrastination – not easy. Then I went away for a week, worked with a team and lived in community. And then it all stopped. My decks became clearer (they’re never completely clear). I slowed down. I lost the “existential reassurance” I was getting from busyness. I lost my “hedge against emptiness”. And I stood staring the emptiness in the face. Scary. But it has to be done. And maybe the more I do it, the easier it gets.
And I promise the next blog post will be cheery!