When I was growing up my dad used to tell me and my sisters to get a hobby.
Dad left school at sixteen and worked constantly until his first heart attacks in his forties. He never found a hobby.
Neither have I. I’m either working, with friends or watching television… which I don’t think counts as a hobby.
This year I would like to get better at doing things I love just for the sake of doing things I love. Doing things just for the fun of it. Without them having to result in anything.
I have yearnings to make a patchwork quilt, for example. I don’t know why but I do. I even picture myself holding the needle - I’ve been picturing this for a few months now so why the hell don’t I just get some needles and thread and do it?!
I love dancing too. Love it. Especially sessions with Sue Rickards. But I can’t remember the last time I went. And the sauna! God, as soon as I sit in a sauna or a steam room my whole body sings with joy. ‘This is the life!’ I think.
How often do I do that? Hardly ever.
Why? Well, it’s a combination of laziness and industriousness. I can’t be arsed to get on the trains needed to go dancing and sweating but also I think I should stay by my desk working.
I have a block around pleasure. I do not prioritise it or take it seriously.
Maybe that’s Catholic guilt or maybe it’s the product of living in a capitalist world that praises hard work and hustle, where time is money and we’re told that ‘no pain, no gain’ and more recently, ‘we can do hard things’, which is the name of Glennon Doyle’s podcast.
Yes, we can do hard things. But should we? Haven’t we had enough hard things? Can’t we have a bit of fun now?
In lockdown psychotherapist Esther Perel wrote about the importance of eros as a form of self-care. Now, I don’t like the word eros. It sounds like the name of a nightclub in Reading but according to Perel, eros and the erotic is not just about sex (and nightclubs) it’s about enjoyment of the every day, indulging our senses.
She describes it as being ‘the antidote to death’.
Perel’s parents were Belgian Jews who were each the sole Holocaust survivors of their families. She grew up observing other survivors and saw that while some people survived in body, they were too scarred to enjoy life again. Others, went the opposite way: they danced and sang, had sex and enjoyed heated conversations. They grabbed every moment of joy they could.
They did not just survive, they LIVED.
She urges us all to not just survive but to LIVE.
On our Saturday writing sessions we are lucky enough to be joined by Nieves, who describes herself as a 65 year old girl.
On Wednesday she texted me. It was Ash Wednesday, a holy day of prayer and fasting where church goers traditionally smudge ash on their forehead to symbolise the fact that we are all made of dust and will return to dust… a nice cheery way to get us ready of six weeks of penitence during Lent.
She sent me a picture of her in a Dublin bus with a star on her forehead. ‘This year I wear a star instead of ashes because we are stardust and will go back to start dust.’
For Lent she told me that ‘I stop doing things that I don’t like and do more things that I like. If there is a God creator s/he would like to have a happy creation. Happiness is the natural way to be, like children.’
The last few years have sucked. In the UK we’re in a cost of living crisis where people can’t afford to turn on the heat, the country is being run by politicians that won’t adequately pay the nurses that kept us alive over the last four years, we all know what Putin is doing still… then there’s Turkey.
I have a friend who is a doctor and she says that most people she is seeing now are exhausted. She is exhausted. Of course she is. I don’t know how any member of the NHS is still standing at this stage… maybe they’re not. I recently went to the GP with a friend who was suffering from panic attacks. I sat in the waiting room until she came out twenty minutes later saying ‘Jesus, I think the doctor’s in a worth state than I am.’
Even if you consider yourself one of the lucky ones - as I do - we are all under pressure. More than we realise, I think. Just living in the world right now feels like being in a pressure cooker.
I’ve seen a lot of posts online about burnout, of feeling like we’re not getting anywhere, even when we are really pushing.
I relate to all this. I will not even tell you how late I am with the book at this stage. Ok, I will. I’m two years late. And it’s not for lack of trying and pushing.
I’ve been reading a book called Pussy, A Reclamation by Regena Thomashauer. It’s about using pleasure as fuel - sexual pleasure and smelling the roses kind of pleasure. Doing this means unlearning years of no pain no gain thinking but I’m going to try it. Cos the thing is, I’m finally realising that the slog ain’t actually that productive. At least not for me.
Because what on earth are we alive for if not to enjoy this incredible world we are in, to enjoy the sun on our face, dance till our hearts pound and take naps in the afternoon? There is so much beauty in the world. So much to feel and learn about and to experience. So much fun to be had, especially for those of us fortunate enough not to be in an earthquake or a war zone right now.
It’s how I’m feeling anyway.
So I’m off for a sweat.
It’s what God would want. If he/she exists.
ps I have a crazy long list of links to share with you. I’m going to send them on Sunday. Lots of good reading/viewing around at the moment.
pps - Join us for Writing for Fun and Sanity tomorrow if you fancy it. Last week people joined from Russia, Sweden, Canada, USA, Tenerife, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, UK, ranging from 20-something to 60-something. It’s a joy to be part of, a proper privilege. Thank you to everyone who comes. I’ll take the first Saturday of March off and will set up sessions for the last three Saturdays of March. I am putting an evening session on my to-do list but I don’t have the headspace now. That will change soon. Thank you again for the interest.
pps This classic by Mary Oliver popped up on Insta this week and it feels timely.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Oliver reads the poem aloud on the On Being podcast with Krista Tippett where she says that she ‘got saved by the beauty of the world’. It’s a beautiful conversation, as most conversations on this podcast are. Tippett’s conversation with poet John O’ Donohue also addresses the importance of beauty in difficult times.
On which note, inspired by the great philosophers and poets… and Miley Cyrus, I bought myself flowers this week. They’ve made me smile.
Oh, and I’ve just remembered another quote from Mary Oliver: ‘Things take the time they take/Don't worry.’
Ok, enough for now.
Love and links to come on Sunday.
Thanks, Amanda. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment. Hope you are well. Mx
Did you hand sew or use a machine?