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Relative Happiness

Yes, of course, happiness, like beauty, is all about the eye of the beholder and perception is objective, and blah blah blah. Tailor your expectations accordingly and the world is your oyster, or possibly  some other less slimy delicacy.

Not going to be blowing the lid off of that one today. Instead we are going to take a minute to discuss the happiness of your relatives. More importantly, how fickle and unimportant it is. Maybe don’t read this aloud at Thanksgiving.

Some of us have always been the type to try and make everyone around them happy. Some of us have been the type to make themselves happy and wait for everyone else to fall in line. With any luck both of these people grow up to realize that the people around you matter and should be treated with consideration, but no more or less than yourself. And now humanity is universally self-actualized. Or not.

 

Assuming a slim majority of us claw our way somewhere into the median spectrum, our work is not yet done. Even when we’ve determined how things should go the people closest to us always seem to present an exception. They aren’t ‘just anyone’. They deserve more time. Or you deserve more of theirs. Or they will forgive you because they have to. (This is not universally bad, and when your mother asks you for help, you do it.) When this throws the happiness scale out of balance its a problem, and its no way to treat people you care about.

Despite how tempting it can be to indulge our desires to control the feelings of loved ones we cannot take responsibility of anyone else’s happiness. That’s their job. We can try not to hurt them. We can empathize when someone else does. But sacrificing your own for theirs is only for married people. And sometimes your children (though their teachers would appreciate it if you told them no sometimes, just for the fun of it).

The pleasant shiny person you’re going to be when your happiness matters as much as everyone else’s will make them happier anyway. Maybe not right away. They’ll have got used to you being their emotional on call chef. But eventually, if they care about you too and see you truly happy, they will be happy too. And then you can skip and frolic and stuff.

Cardigan of Doom

I’ve developed something of a lip product addiction, which does not on the surface seem to have much to do with cardigans. But it does. I think about which lip gloss to put in my handbag more than what shirt to wear (an unheard of anomaly) and lust after the clicky packaging on Chanel lipsticks with, admittedly, too much enthusiasm. It’s a bit extreme, a little shallow, and not like me. Or, it wasn’t like me.

The version of me with the laser focused lip preoccupation wears more make-up all the time. She wears dresses and tights more than jeans and jumpers. And only uses tote bags to carry her groceries back from Waitrose. One year ago me had a lot of cardigans. A cardigan for every day of the week, and then some. This had everything to do with being a high school teacher, because adding a cardigan to skinny jeans and metallic flats was my conception of a cute, professional, yet still recognizably feminine, and not completely irrelevant person.

When teaching started to become that thing that will be my job for a while, instead of that thing that I’m doing in between cool and creative writing jobs, a slow creeping terror began to set in. It was subtle and kind of had a poltergeist demon whisper thing going on.

“…this over air-conditioned classroom is the only place you will experience human interaction and it will be with children with the intellectual capacity of grapefruits….”

“…your only creative activity until you retire in 40 years will be to slightly differentiate the same curriculum year after year…and no one will care…”

And other funny things, like

“…you might die here. Wearing a cardigan…”

Hahaha. Not hysterical at all, really. Honestly, eating toddler ravioli cups for lunch was also getting to me. But it was the closet full of cardigans, shoving my over-indulgent dress collection into the dark dusty recesses that most clearly signified the need for change.

Fast forward a year, and I live in the greatest city in the world with amazing friends, hobbies (!), and an unscheduled freedom that gives me time and space to be spontaneous, adventurous, and wear all my dresses. With full awareness that this is a temporary state of being, I’m soaking it up for all it’s worth. Part of me knows that the cardigans are waiting in the aforementioned recesses. And their day may come given the student loan statement I’m currently ignoring. But that day is not today. And there is also a glimmer of hope that another sartorial future awaits. Fingers crossed for lots of hats.

Drinking in a Toilet

Not out of the toilet, in the toilet. Or the room where the toilet was. Except there are still a couple toilets in there. But there is also a bar. And a piano. All makes sense now, right? No? Well then you are clearly not cool enough to grasp the trendy awesome that is the oh so cleverly titled new dive (haha, that’s funny because it’s underground) Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town, London. The good news is that I am hardly cool enough to leave Zone 1 at all and they still let me in and gave me booze. They waited for me to ask for directions, or an actual bathroom, when I first walked in (blonde ponytails being something of a rarity in this part of town) but let me sit down at my upright piano of a table all the same.

ladies&gents

Even though I knew exactly where I was going I still managed to walk right by it. There were a few minutes of exploration of North London at night that we can get into another time. This is very easy to do because it does in fact appear to be a loo- with cement stairs leading to an industrial metal door. Luckily, contrary to all appearances, things did not evolve in a Saw 7 direction, and instead went to a more hipster speak easy place. When you, literally, come through the curtain the bar is small, but not cramped, cosy and charming- not least because of the jolly beardy bartenders. The Ladies’ Old Fashioned is in no way an anti-feminist statement (which you would know just by the generous alcohol content, if you try it) but a complement to the name of the establishment. Their very tasty and most Instagrammable cocktail is the Rhubarb and Custard. I hate gin, and it has gin, but you can not taste the gin, only sweet dessert-y goodness served in a custard powder tin.

custard drink

If you are anything like me, your first thought is how many times can one reuse a custard tin as a drinking receptacle before it disintegrates through washing and use? Approximately ten times. Or possibly that never occurred to you and you don’t care. Or, now you are wondering what happens to all the custard powder…

The music is not so loud that you can’t catch up with friends without screaming, and not so quiet that you can hear everyone else’s friends (and they can hear you forgetting the chorus to the oldies cover that just came on). All in all it made for an excellent mid-week night out that I intend to repeat.

Would a fishtail braid make me look more edgy?

kentish town

Dreams Come with Tiny Nightmares

In this case I am not referring to dreams when you are asleep dreams (though obviously those can also be nightmares; like the one I had yesterday where all the hardware disappeared from my handbag and my laptop crumbled in my hands…*shudder*) Anyway. I’m talking about the other kind of dream. The “Dream big!” kind. The “Dream come true!” kind. The kind that has the thing(s) you really, really want in this slice of existence.

Depending on personal philosophy, parenting, mental imbalances, and available cash we all have different perceptions of how possible acquiring or fulfilling our dreams will be, and deciding what our dreams are. Sometimes our dreams choose us, but either way people and circumstances are going to get in your way and every challenge presents the possibility of giving up on the dream, or getting past what’s in your way and getting a little bit closer. This part we’re all familiar with.

But what about when you find out you are finally going to meet your dream and you’re plagued with a month-long panic attack that you are going to completely fuck it up in some way? No one talks about that part. That’s where the wands come in during Disney movies. And upbeat music montages are edited in during all other movies. No one shares the step between trying your hardest and singing on the mountain top, where you hyperventilate, and eat chocolate with every breath, and you develop a twitch trying to suppress crazy eyes every time someone asks if “you’re excited??” (It is also possible I have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, but lets ignore that for the time being).

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To be clear, I am not saying “be careful what you wish for”  because I do not believe that dreaming is the time to be careful. I believe the opposite in fact. Dream as if there are no consequences whatsoever. But this phase, the post-struggle-pre-having stage is the time for care and planning and details. Evidently it is also the time for alcohol. Or whatever form of relaxation and heart rate reduction you prefer. Because the reality of something that has only ever manifested in your imagination is overwhelming and feeling all the feels associated with its fruition is part of the experience. I wouldn’t give up these moments of helpless emotional and physical gasping (even if I will self medicate them) because it just goes to show how monumentously great it is to wrap your hands around the object of your obsession/affection/heart’s desire.

If it isn’t an overwhelmingly great thing to have, is it worth wanting in the first place? I’m calling it a win. I’m also calling my mother. If you haven’t let anything get between you and what you want, don’t let fear be the thing that does.

You can take the girl out of the concert; but actually, you can’t.

While it’s surprising to everyone else when I go to intimate rock concerts by myself I couldn’t be more fine with it. I might go so far as to say it’s actually my thing. I haven’t been to a concert with another person since Jingle Ball 2004 with my dad (Jennifer Love Hewitt and Mariah Carey killed it). The truth is I do a whole lot of things on my own and tend to enjoy them more when I do.

I generally make friends with the bouncers and have a nice, cute and vulnerable vibe that has, more than once, resulted in a personal visit from band members (“Why yes, I’m fine, just don’t want to get caught up in the crowd” blink, blink “Yes I would like to hear your unreleased song in the green room”) Things didn’t go quite that swimmingly this evening, because of very silly responsible concerns like getting home safely, but I was compensated with a spontaneous Christmas jazz performance on the Northern Line. See previous post for further eruptions of Christmas spirit of this sort in London.

Unlike every other concert I’ve been to in my life this one was eighty percent grown men singing along like tweens to Taylor Swift which lended a unique and cool dynamic. And every one was extremely polite. No pushing, no yelling (except that which was encouraged by the band) and not one drink spilled by an unruly passerby. Oh, British people.

xcerts 2014

Everything about the concert was improved by the headliners, The Xcerts, being Scottish. They were also super engaged and grateful and happy to be there, which makes such a big difference. Taking the intimate show vibe one step further, the lead singer switched to an acoustic guitar and sang along with the audience with no mic. The adults shushed each other and we all had a little campfire moment.

Mirrored pillars in the venue lent some sexy mystery as you could covertly watch large beardy men singing along and bopping. Decently priced beer rounded things out nicely, but the highlight of the show was when, realizing everyone knew the words, the band said, “You sing, and I’ll be Tom Petty.” And we did.

Needless to say, I will be going to more concerts while I continue to live in a city. Maybe I’ll even let someone come with me.

A Very London Christmas

Much like all other things in life, the English are much better at Christmas than Americans. Probably due in large part to the fact that there is very little public religious association, and a significant emphasis on spirit and festivity. Never has it been so apparent which country the Pilgrims ran from, and which one they ran to.

There are certain areas in particular where this celebratory excellence really shines.

Christmas Jumpers: While Americans thought they were super cool for throwing Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and making fun of over decorated kindergarten teachers from coast to coast, the British have made festive jumpers clever and adorable and mandatory. They go along with the almost daily Christmas parties throughout the month of December (and sometimes November) and the only thing more embarrassing than a hideous one is not wearing one at all. Wooly jumpers are, and always have been a British wardrobe staple, but as soon as reindeer, penguins, and fair isle snowmen jump on you’ve got yourself a cultural must-have. And I must have one. Or two.

Greetings: There is absolutely zero sensitivity about how you choose to spread holiday cheer. Yes, England has its own brand of Protestantism, but London is a cosmopolitan city and honestly no  one cares what you do in your own time, so we all acknowledge that decorations and warm spiced wine and chocolate are wonderful. End of.

Advent Calendars: They do have their roots in very Christian tradition, but most people in England probably don’t know that. They’re simply  a reason to start opening tiny presents as soon as December begins. There are many chocolate ones, but these days you can get them with Legos, and candles, and makeup, and nuts. Really anything you want to wake up to. Why has America not been doing this?

My dream advent calendar.

Twinkle Lights: Fairy lights, Christmas lights, whatever you want to call them, they are flipping everywhere. Every major street in London has light up snowflakes and trees and baubles on the street lights. But the department stores completely take the cake. With the mutual goal of covering every square inch of their five-story city blocks in twinkles they all compete to do it the best (except for Peter Jones, which sticks with the classic stripes) to astonishing effect. And not one bulb is ever out.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

No Pesky Thanksgiving: Forget hearing everyone complain about how early the holiday songs are on the radio and having to start shopping the Christmas sales when you’ve barely got the cobwebs down from Halloween. All of that is not only acceptable, but encouraged, in England because there is no silly day of eating (celebrating said Pilgrims’ inability to farm) to get in the way. Though I did have a silly day of eating with a large bunch of British people, who were confused but hungry, and it was fun trying to explain casseroles, sweet potatoes with marshmallow, and pumpkin pie (“Yes, I’m sure that the marshmallows are a side and the pie is the dessert; I mean the pudding”)

I suppose it’s just one more thing to add to the list of reasons why London is the best city in the world and I need to find a way to never leave. As if I needed more.

Happy Christmas xx