Instilling my daughter with the joy of books and reading is one of my plans to help her navigate the treacherous path to being her own person and adulthood. As someone I once knew said, more eloquently than I can recall, “books are the opportunity to listen to anyone else who ever lived and committed their thoughts to paper.” Which of course is how I approach reading. I look for beauty, or truth or another view of the world. For this reason, I love Great American 20th Century character-driven Novels rather than plot-driven stuff. It’s why I adore Jonathan Franzen. Or as my husband describes it “that dull stuff you like.”
This is, of course, an unscientific approach as I was a voracious reader as a child. My mother tells you a bomb could have gone off when I was reading and I would not have noticed. I would tear through books at such a rate that she, a non-reader, would determine which books I could take out of the library based upon how many pages there were and how big the type was, not the content. I could have borrowed a How to Make Your Own Kalashnikov or The Female Eunuch and she wouldn’t have turned a hair, as long as the font-type wasn’t bigger than 14 and she wouldn’t have to be back there within 48 hours. However, despite being said voracious reader, my own navigation to adulthood has been circuitous. In the last 24 hours alone, I left for work leaving my keys in the cardoor only realising as I arrived at Victoria station (I had to turn around and head home immediately, having palpitations. The car was still there with the keys sticking out of the boot, proud as punch, shouting “nick me”.) Later that day, I interviewed two people before realising my trousers were on inside out. This morning, I dropped a candle tin out of my 3rd floor living room window whilst using it to swat a huge wasp (it was the first thing to hand). It landed in the space my car would normally be parked in with a very loud bang. Also, noone was maimed. I would like to say that these things are rare occurances, but dear reader, they are not. I have had a lifetime of “mis-haps” with purses, cashpoint cards, keys, mobile phones… The smaller, the more valuable, the more essential to life’s smooth running they are, the less attention I pay to them when distracted. I should be like the Queen or Barack Obama and let someone else worry about such fripperies for me whilst I float about being largely benign, convivial and creative. Do you get dental with that?
In 3 days time I will be 40. Stories of me crashing through life have probably provided mirth for others for longer than they ought to have done. If you rock about falling out of cabs, leaving your credit card in cash machines in the US meaning it gets destroyed and you have to pull the emergency cord in order to pay your hotel bill, leaving mobile phones and purses all over the place in your 20s is amusing. In your 40s, you’re just a pain in the ass. This doesn’t indicate carelessness, but preoccupation. Trying to get too many things done at the same time. Constantly mentally looking for solutions, for the escape button and not being in the moment, right there when you setdown your purse/ phone/ passport/ watch. My life is a constant complaint that “there isn’t enough time,” and occasionally “there is no time for me.” Today, narrowly totalling my car or braining a neighbour with a plummeting candle, it occurred to me not that I have too little time and so constantly jumble things up. But that I spend too much time in thought. I complain that my needs aren’t met, but, at 40, I realise it’s no longer about “my needs”
My dad said to me at the weekend that in successful management your needs come last. I was thinking about this this morning and realise that in fact, in life, as a regular, decent, human being, your needs come last. My husband lives this, instinctively. You would think some of it might have rubbed off by now.
I know this is shamefully late to realise all of this. But at least I realised it before I turned 40.