Always live in italics

May 25, 2011

My long time companion The Black Dog has remained in the UK, where she often got under my feet and tripped me up.  I’ve moved on and that period of my life has been boxed and sealed away forever.  I’ve labeled that era ‘The Great Depression’ and I hope for no repeats.

I’ve been in Switzerland for two months and it was a step onwards and upwards.  I am thriving on the hope that has come from this new adventure.  After months of knashing my teeth with despair in London, I am endlessly grateful for my super husband, a widening circle of friends and my picturesque, safe neighbourhood.  Aside from the few gripes and gurgles my body has given me as I bombard it with cured meats, wines, smelly cheeses and breads, I am healthy too.  If I could just find my high paying, cushy dream job, my life would be the best it has ever been.

Now, with this in mind, you will never believe what’s happened.  The Black Dog radioed in a friend to take her place and be my Swiss sidekick.  My new companion is The Green Monster.

In a First World, WASPish, Truman Show-esque place like Switzerland, The Green Monster is everywhere.  He reminds me that I have everything I need but I don’t yet have everything I want.

The Green Monster follows me on my daily jogs and he shows me expensive cars in peoples’ driveways.  We look at posh Swiss houses overlooking the lake or vineyards.  The Green Monster says, ‘Julie, look at that lady chopping her roses on her veranda overlooking her vineyard.  You don’t have roses or a vineyard or a house of your own.’  Or he’ll whisper, ‘Julie, look at that person getting out of their SUV.  They have a great job that gives them the money to buy their house overlooking the lake. You don’t have a job at all.’  Sometimes The Green Monster and I stop, stand on our tiptoes and peer over the hedges into the gardens of the grander houses.  My bottom lip puckers and I think, ‘I want to live in a chateau too.’

I am most aware of The Green Monster when I meet someone younger than me who has the ‘X Factor’ and a high-flying job at a cool company like Yahoo or Google.  The Green Monster growls in my ear if these people are on a bloated expat salary.  He pinches me when I meet someone with a Swiss passport or the means to stay here permanently.  He knows of my fear that Real Life may come chopping its way through to my outpost and lop off my lovely, Swiss flower.

Sometimes I avoid The Green Monster by hanging around people who are also unemployed or who are less fortunate than me.  Most of the time, I shout at The Green Monster because I really don’t like his company.  I am a nice, kind person and I genuinely wish the best for people and, when he’s around, he makes me feel like a spoiled, jealous brat.

Every now and again, I get a wake up call that makes The Green Monster cower.  Recently I discovered a blog written by a guy called Derek K Miller.  In 2007, Derek discovered he had cancer.  He fought and fought for 4 years but he died this month.  He wrote a final blog post that was published by his friend a few days after he died.

After I read Derek’s final piece, I devoured all his entries from 2006 to 2011.  His blog shook me to my core, and ever since then, The Green Monster has been very very small and some days, he doesn’t visit me at all.

I was green with envy because I don’t live in a chateau but all Derek wanted was to live. In one post he says, ‘I had my first major all-out weeping cry about my cancer this morning. I know it’s likely to be very early stage and highly treatable and things will probably be fine, but, damn, I want to live, you know?’

Derek didn’t have a chateau or a vineyard or a rose bush or a posh car or even a job in the end.  He put the word ‘live’ in italics and I wondered, ‘I have a treasure that he ached for. I have the opportunity to not just live, but to live.’  Now, every morning when I wake up, I vow to myself, ‘Today I am going to live in italics.’

There will always be someone less fortunate than me and I can’t always dress in sackcloth and ashes.  I am lucky to be higher up Maslow’s need pyramid than Derek was.  I must just make sure I appreciate this and am always busy living instead of busy dying.

In 1944, CS Lewis gave a talk at the University in London.  It is known as The Inner Ring speech.  CS Lewis said that the strongest of all human desires is to be part of an inner ring.  This circle of the important is an illusion because, no sooner do you crack one ring, you become obsessed with joining an even more exclusive one inside it.  Status and money is like an onion that is comprised of endless layers.  The desire to get further into the rings distracts us from things that really matter.

I remember this quote from my childhood: ‘Pain is inevitable.  Misery is optional.  So you might as well stick a geranium in your hat and just be happy.’

Every time I see The Green Monster, I am going to frighten him away with a hat full of geraniums.  I want to care less about inner rings like high paying jobs, chateaux, cars, vineyards and more money.  I want to live in italics because that’s all that really matters in the end.

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My computer, my addiction

May 18, 2011

My Apple MacBook is like a Fisher-Price Activity Station for adults.  It amuses me for hours and hours.

There are pros and cons of a constant internet connection.  One of the pros is that it staves off the boredom of being unemployed.  My computer keeps me sane because it is one of the primary tools I use to oil my brain.  A con is that I am addicted to electronic contact with the outside world and, when I don’t have this connection for longer than 2 days, I feel unanchored.

At work, I developed this skill of switching off to the noise around me so I could concentrate on my screen.  If I needed to, I made everything around me white noise so it felt like it was just me and my computer in the room.  I do this at home too.  My poor Alastair knows never to engage in any serious conversation while I am absorbed in celebrity gossip pages, social media, the news, blogs, podcasts, videos or reruns of my favourite TV shows.

This is a bad habit and I must break it.  The internet has become my crack and I know it is not a worthy focus of my attention, especially when I have a great husband to talk to and the Alps and Lake Geneva on my doorstep.

I found a picture that sums up the relationship I have with my computer …


Catching a job

May 11, 2011

Job-hunting is the pits.  It truly and utterly sucks.  The process drains the life out of me to the extent that I can only do it in the mornings when my energy is at its peak.  Browsing through job specs is as uninspiring as reading the telephone directory and, if I do it in the afternoon, I fall into a head-lolling doze at my desk.

I cannot spend too much time on my own at home because I become lazy and sluggish.  The less I do, the less I feel like doing.  It is a slippery slope from boredom to lethargy to depression.  I often procrastinate about collecting the post because I feel ‘too tired’.  I realize that when walking down one flight of steps to the postbox feels like a mission to Mars, I must leave the house.  Every day, I allocate myself something more to do than just hunt for jobs. I must keep busy and feel productive, even if the tasks are as small as taking out the rubbish, keeping the fridge stocked, staying fit or collecting the post.

Job-hunting is like fishing.  First, you make sure you have a strong, high quality rod.  The next step is to select a lake or river that has fish in it and is guaranteed to get bites and not just nibbles.  You then bait your hook, cast off and wait.  And wait and wait.  Check the line and then wait some more.  Reel in, rebait with a fat, slimey worm to whet the appetite, say a little prayer and cast off again.

I am so confused.  I have too many hooks baited in too many lakes, ponds and rivers. There are countless recruitment and networking websites and I now can’t remember what job sites I’ve subscribed to or what version of my CV I’ve submitted. I also don’t know what I aim to catch –trout, sardine, salmon, a big fish, a little fish– I’m baiting my hooks for anything and everything.

Every day, I check my rods and pick up a few guppies, seaweed, algae and the odd soggy shoe.  I have all these hooks baited in all these lakes, but I am starting to wonder ‘Where are all the damn fish?’

My fishing expedition has sidetracked me from my main point, which was that waiting to catch a job gives me A LOT of time to think.  I came across a diagram in my old journal and I’ve stewed over it for a few days:

I’ve been contemplating how what we believe shapes what we achieve.  The mind is so powerful and sets boundaries on what we can accomplish. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, ‘Don’t murder your own gifts through narcissism, insecurity, addiction, competitiveness, ambition or mediocrity.’  I hate the way my habits, attitudes, beliefs and expectations limit me and dictate the way I behave.

Rick Warren recently wrote a Tweet that said, ‘If you spoke to people the way you spoke to yourself, would you have any friends?’  I wouldn’t.  Would you?


The Royal Wedding

May 8, 2011

The royal wedding was a mental tug of war for me. I trawled through my showbiz sources and devoured every tidbit of information during the 5-month engagement.  On the other hand, I hated myself for my interest in a topic that is shallow and insignificant compared to other current affairs.

I loved last Friday.  It was fun and I had a happy day.  I was like a kid that overindulged in the sweets at a birthday party – I enjoyed the sugar, the spice and all the things happy and nice.  But I also felt a bit ill, like I had gorged on food that was not too good for me.

For one day, I put my job hunt aside and temporarily switched off my life to soak in the hyper coverage.  I began the day watching an American TV channel but switched to a more reserved British one.  The American presenters were too hysterical and worked themselves up into such a frenzy of excitement and I was afraid they might climax live on screen.  That would be too much, even for a voyeur like me.

What exactly makes someone man and wife?

The relationship/marriage lifecycle is topsy-turvy and I wonder what moment makes two people ‘married’ these days.  It appears it is not when you move in together, it is not when you have sex nor is it when you sign the legal document because you can be common law man and wife before that.  It is not when you make a vow before God, because it is rare for people to bother whether he approves or not.  It is not when you make a commitment to someone because that happens when you get engaged.  I don’t know.  More and more signs point to the ‘marriage’ moment as the time when a couple throws an expensive costume party and the lead character, the bride, wears a white dress.

I have it on good authority that Kate and William have been living under the same roof for many years. I read it in the Daily Mail.  Also, I have a good friend who has a good friend who is very very good friends with the couple.

If they were already living as man and wife in their own home, what exactly were we celebrating on Friday?  That they finally decided it suited them to make a vow in front of God?  That they formalized their living arrangement?  That she wore a dress costing more than the salary of the average British person?  That she is now a member of one of the highest profile dysfunctional families in the world? That she has joined a family that contributes significant free advertising for nightclubs, holiday resorts, hair salons, beauty products and dress designers?

I know what I celebrated.  I wanted a break from my life.  I was tired of all the doom and gloom in the news and I wanted to celebrate something light and fluffy for a change.  The royal wedding was the perfect antidote to the fear and misery in the world.  It reminded me of Friday nights after a tough week at work.  All I feel like doing is putting my feet up on the couch and watching a romantic comedy DVD because a drama or anything of more substance hurts my head.  The royal wedding didn’t hurt my head at all.

Did God get an invite?

Kate and William used God’s premises for the first part of their big event but I don’t think he got an invite. He was the only guest who didn’t get a mention from any of the 5 media sources I followed simultaneously, which makes me think he wasn’t even there.

No one analysed the meaning behind the Bishop’s address – it was as if it never happened.  No one discussed the vows.  Kate and William made bold, emphatic promises in front of this omnipotent Being, this Creator, this Judge, this Father, this Teacher.  It appears the media didn’t deem that newsworthy, but they thought dress choices, the seating plan, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s cocaine ravaged nose and the intricacies of Princess Beatrice’s hat were.

Can you imagine …

It is sad William lost his mother and that she wasn’t there for his big day.  If she was, can you imagine the additional hoopla?  Can you picture the complications?  The media would have gone into celebrity overload and analysis paralysis.  They were hysterical enough as is.  But, if Diana was there …

Coordinating broken families at normal weddings is stressful but imagine doing it for a royal one watched and criticized by over 2 billion people.  Where would Diana have sat and what if she had a Muslim boyfriend or husband?  What would be the protocol?  The official photos were much simpler this way – the Middletons on the left and the royals on the right, Camilla included.  Where would Diana have stood in the photo?  And what if she had remarried?  Maybe there would have been two official family photos.  Or none. The religious, legal and emotional requirements would have been an absolute faff.  If I were the wedding planner in that situation, I would combust.

Buckingham Palace must be relieved that Kate comes from such a stable, traditional family where her mother and father are still husband and wife.  This is rare these days.  The media have gassed on about how Kate is a commoner, a normal British girl with a run-of-the-mill British family.  She’s not normal.  These days, a broken dysfunctional family is a run-of-the-mill British family.  The Church must be relieved too.  It would be ironic for Westminster Abbey to host an elaborate, traditional wedding ceremony that emphasizes the sanctity of marriage and the permanence of vows, while observed by the bride and groom’s divorced parents, stepbrothers and stepsisters.

This is déjà vu

Today I read an article and saw pictures of Kate pushing her trolley at Waitrose in the one-horse town called Anglesey in Wales where she and William now live.  The grocery-shopping trip required five protection officers and a back up vehicle.  The pictures of Kate and her trolley and an analysis of the time she spent in the fruit and veg aisle made front-page news.  I have déjà-vu.  This is another Diana.  The world has found it’s prey and the obsessive, relentless hunt begins.  Didn’t we learn our lesson last time?

Kate and William are our real life ‘All my Children’

ABC in America has canceled my favourite soap, ‘All My Children’.  Fictional soap operas are no longer popular because, according to an ABC executive, ‘21-century viewers prefer real life soap operas in the form of reality TV and tabloid-type talk shows’.  ‘All My Children’ may be on its way out but it seems the likes of ‘The Kate and William Show’ is in.

I will never forget watching a documentary about one of the British paparazzi that regularly hounded Diana.  I think his name was Glenn Harvey.  One moment in that interview stands out in my mind because it epitomizes our attitude towards celebrities.  Glenn reminisced about the time when Diana was on holiday in Austria and she heard the news her father died.  Glenn described how he hid in a hedge and watched as the distraught princess paced on the veranda, unaware of his prying eyes.  Glenn explained that this was one of the worst days of his life and, in that moment, he hated his job because Diana’s tears and distress broke his heart.

The interviewer then asks, ‘So, did you still take pictures of that moment and sell them?’  Glenn shrugged and said sheepishly, ‘Yeah I suppose I did, yeah’.

We all have a bit of Glenn The Photographer’s audacity. We feel sorry for William and Kate and agree it’s sick that they bear so much scrutiny.  We say, ‘Poor them!  What a life!  Shame, no privacy!  Awful paparazzi! Too much pressure!  Someone watching your every move!  Can’t even go to the shops without a photographer!’

‘So Julie, do you still read newspaper articles and look at pictures of Kate and William?’

I shrug sheepishly. ‘Yeah, I suppose do, yeah.’