The word “fun” can be problematic because it is often used to unintentionally flag up a distinct lack of fun; for example fun-runs, fun-size, and any activity that begins with someone using the phrase “come on, it’ll be FUN” but fun is actually quite important.
Used correctly, the word actually means enjoyment or light-hearted pleasure; not (as the above activities would indicate) disappointment, pain and / or boredom.
Yes, of course I’m a MASSIVE hypocrite. I spend at least 50% of each day screaming at you both that you need to have less fun and be more bloody responsible.
In my defence, adults spend their whole lives trying to fit in tonnes of necessary and important things each day, and this inadvertently trains us to live without the “fun”. We even end up prioritising things we enjoy behind things we feel obliged to do.
Some of us need to re-learn how to have fun. Once we’ve learned how to successfully be grown-ups, we need to re-learn how not to be. I think C.S.Lewis said it best:-
Some adults can’t remember how much fun it is to sit and colour something in, or make a collage, or a working volcano. They just lurch from box-set to box-set vicariously experiencing the same kinds of ups and downs they already have in real life (though some of us do also find this fun).
Now would be a good time to point out that no-one else gets to define “fun” for you, only you know what you find “fun”. Otherwise we’re back in “come on it’ll be fun” territory.
Personally, I like writing, sewing and watching lots of lovely telly. Grandma likes walking, gardening and lying to small children (or “extolling the virtues of literature” as she likes to call it). Daddy likes photography, horror films and writing lists of jobs for Mummy to do.
You can’t count as fun anything you feel a responsibility to do. If you enjoy going to the gym then that is fun. If you “mostly have fun once I’m there and think it’s good for me anyway” it is NOT FUN.
“Fun” is different for everybody. Find what you enjoy pottering about at, then potter away.
…Potter! That’s the word I should have used to start with, not fun – see post on Family Memory for further details.
Living an open and honest life, being yourself, and hiding nothing is an admirable way to live, if a little impractical sometimes.
Lies are bad OBVIOUSLY, but if you are going to lie for the love of God do it well. Half-arsed lying helps no-one.
If Grandad has taught me anything in life, it’s how to lie effectively. As usual, he taught me this through the medium of being a cautionary tale, rather than actually being much good at it.
Sometimes we have to lie to people for good reasons. We call these white lies. Good examples of these would be things like when a friend, who’s recently put on weight, asks if you can tell that they have recently put on weight, or when a relative or friend has a really ugly baby.
A less good example of a white lie would be when your parent with anger-management problems asks if you are writing a blog about their appalling behaviour.
…Or, if you are asked to go to any event that you won’t enjoy more than staying at home and watching Star Wars in your pants.
Ok, so not all white lies are “good” but I think we can agree they’re fairly innocuous and will likely become a necessity at some point. So let’s look at how to lie in the most plausible way.
The first rule in effective lying is that the lie must sound like the truth. Your Dad is a TERRIBLE liar, and by that I don’t mean he lies often. I mean he’s REALLY bad at it. I mean awful, just awful.
The second rule of effective lying is to check that there is no immediate evidence that you are lying.
The biggest problem for those of us with working memory issues is, and always will be, remembering the lie – which is another good reason for keeping lies to a minimum.
The best way to prevent this happening is not to lie at all; the second best way is to use something that actually happened, but at a different point in time.
The final rule for effective lying is not to do it too often. You can miss one wedding by going to Rome, but if you go to Rome every time there’s a wedding, people will start to suspect you hate weddings, or that you are people-trafficking in Italy, either way you don’t want that.
Frequency matters. Your dog might eat your homework once in a lifetime, but if it’s every week you must be dipping it in gravy first. The only time that frequency can be ignored is when you are both in on the lie.
One warning about white lies, they are gateway lies. Use them often and they could lead to bigger lies, or the worst kind of lies, the ones you tell yourself.
Never lie to move blame to someone else, or to obtain or achieve what should not be yours – If that happens, you’ve gone too far and need to tell the truth. There’s a phrase “the truth will out”. It’s true, it will, and it’ll take you out with it.
Never lie to yourself. It might seem like a victimless crime but it’s not. It will stunt you emotionally, psychologically, and as a human being and that way madness lies.
If you want to really upset Auntie Kate or I, give us a gift that we can’t give a literal equal response to. We are incredibly awkward around gifts anyway, but we are especially messed up around unequal giving.
Why? Well this is quite obviously another Grandad El Paso story. Normal people give gifts because they want to see you happy. Grandad gives gifts because he wants to OWN your happiness, which is a very different thing.
If Grandad has given you a gift, he wants to see the kind of gratitude usually reserved for being rescued from the jaws of a Kraken. Also, Grandad will remind you of the happiness he has provided and will call in favours against it for years after, like Don Corleone.
Unfortunately, from this we have developed a Pavlovian response that gifts “bring pain” or at the very least require aggressively reciprocal gifts to negate the power of the original gift. These are of course completely INAPPROPRIATE responses to gifts from NORMAL people.
So, here comes the “do as I say, not as I do” advice. If a normal person gives you something amazing they probably just want to make you happy. So, simply show them that they have made you happy and say thank you, rather than panic and splutter that you can’t afford anything of equal value for them.
If someone (Grandad) gives you a gift because they want something in return, then that is their problem, they should not have declared it to be a gift. In any barter system worth it’s salt, the choice of what you are bartering away has to be known up front in the agreement, otherwise it is less bartering, more extortion.
That is not to say you shouldn’t reciprocate gifts, but you should do so because you want to make that person happy not because you owe them an equal amount of happiness. Gifts should be a voluntary and benevolent act, not a straight-up swap, and certainly not a bargaining chip.
Most people are NOT Grandad and when they do something nice for you they are simply trying to spread a bit of joy in the world. Help them spread that joy by experiencing the joy and then pay it forward when and to whomever you can.
Disclaimer – Grandad has never really asked us to kill anyone, neither have we ever offered.
I realise that saying “be yourself” after spending most of your childhood training you not to be must seem incongruous, but in my defence, mostly it was to keep you from delinquency.
I stand by the example above though. When meeting new people especially, it is important to hold the crazy in for as long as you can manage. It is also important to be yourself though, if for no other reason than that holding in the crazy can look a bit like this:-
Seriously though, it is important to be yourself and not let other people’s preconceptions of who you should be define you. What makes this world a wonderful and interesting place is the variety of unique people you can interact with. Be yourself and add to that community.
John Lennon said it best I think with:-
This is 100% true. I’ve pretended to be someone else before (to fit in, not for any kind of identity fraud). Pretending not to be me got me the wrong friends; people I neither liked nor wanted to be around.
Actually, that’s not 100% true. That time in my life did get me one truly brilliant friend, who has stuck with me even though the crazy is now 100% out of the bag. Though in all honesty that was probably more luck than judgement.
When To Let The Crazy Out
I enjoy being myself almost all the time now. Letting the old ADHD out for a daily run is great. People who know me are used to my inability to shut up, or sit still ever, and either they’re too polite to say or they don’t mind. I choose to believe they don’t mind.
It’s not always great, sometimes I forget to “hold the crazy in” for the requisite time period and say things like this when meeting my new boss:-
He backed away slowly, smiling and nodding. That’s a good sign right?
It doesn’t always go so badly. Last week I decided to excitedly use my rudimentary “knowledge” (i.e. 2am Googling) of quantum physics to explain to a complete stranger at the tea point why I thought a watched kettle might take longer to boil. It turned into a lovely chat and ended with them reading my blog and leaving a really kind comment.
So in summary, sometimes it’s good to hold the crazy in, sometimes it’s fine to let it out, always be yourself, and if you ever find out how to balance this effectively, be sure to let me know won’t you?
One important thing I think you should know about the human race, we mess up. We do this regularly, sometimes moderately, and very often spectacularly, but we ALL do it.
To Err is Human
Whilst the above phrase has fallen out of favour lately, the phrase “who did the risk assessment on this?” is very much on the up. This, and the continuing popularity of “who can I sue for this?” have resulted in a tendency to try to apportion blame in any given situation.
There is another lesser-known saying that I think applies quite aptly here:
Mistakes are part of the natural world, and need acceptance for what they are. Attempting to eradicate all errors is like trying to wipe out flies – Firstly, it can’t be done, secondly, if it could, sure you might enjoy a drink outside, free from the winged-pesterers for a week or two, but shortly after the whole eco-system would collapse and die in a horrible chain-reaction.
Errors have their place in the world, they are educators. They happen so that we can learn from them.
As you know I myself am very risk-averse, so my mistakes tend to be limited to small embarrassments. For example, the other day I came out of a shop and I tried to get back into the wrong car, inadvertently causing the startled elderly couple in the Mitsubishi Estate to think carjacking had reached rural Staffordshire.
Some people (i.e. Daddy) would say I should have checked whether the car was ours BEFORE trying to scramble in. Of course, I SHOULD have, but I DIDN’T. I will next time though because that mistake has taught me a valuable lesson; look before you leap.
Other people, who are not as risk-averse as me, may unfortunately make more life-changing mistakes. Perhaps, they weren’t lucky enough to be parented by the weird tag-team I had growing up, where one made me learn my fire-exits in every building I entered, and the other dangled me over a 300-foot-drop to show me that heights were “nothing to be afraid of”.
Some people might jump or fall off things that they shouldn’t have climbed. Some might not take out insurance and then lose all their stuff. Some people work in jobs where one mistake can cost someone else their health, or even their life. Whatever their mistake was, it was still a mistake, an error, not a malicious act.
I’m not saying don’t sue, or that people shouldn’t pay due care and attention to what they’re doing, or that there aren’t irresponsible, dangerous, people out there (Grandad). I’m just saying that everyone makes mistakes.
Perhaps for those irresponsible people (for example the kind of person that would dangle a 12-year-old over a castle’s retaining wall) we could introduce some kind of three strikes rule? On their third “mistake” we’re allowed to get properly angry at them.
Forgive Your Own Mistakes
The most important thing I’m trying to say is, if you make a mistake, be kind to yourself. Don’t waste time beating yourself up for mistakes you have made but couldn’t help making.
No matter how much you think about something that has already happened, nothing can make it un-happen, and if you didn’t deliberately do it, how could you have deliberately not done it?
To err is human, and entirely out of your control. Don’t give yourself such a hard time, because they’ll always be someone out there more than willing to do that for you.
If you don’t know what the Glad Game is, then, despite my best efforts to coerce you into watching it, you have obviously managed to avoid the 1960’s film Pollyanna starring Hayley Mills.
Depending on your point of view, it’s either about a little girl who’s so full of positivity that she wins the hearts of a grumpy town of misanthropes, or it’s about an obnoxious little brat who thinks servants should be grateful for Sundays and old ladies should be constantly sewing quilts for charity instead of lazing around on their death beds.
My feelings about Pollyanna are somewhere between those two, but the moral of the story is spot on; if you’re thankful for the good stuff in your life it makes you happier.
It’s SO important in life to be thankful and glad – I know that sounds like something a vicar would say, with deadly halitosis and dandruff, haunting your school assembly, but bear with me. It’s important because it’s guaranteed to bring you happiness in this life rather than necessarily redemption in the next.
Plenty of psychological studies back this up (if you can be arsed to Google them) but it really is just plain common sense; if you regularly remind yourself of the good things in your life, you will be happier because you’ll be more likely to remember them during tougher times.
It does sound simple doesn’t it? In that respect it’s a bit like “I just won’t eat cake this week and then I’ll be thin” …aaand I think we all know how that usually works out in practice.
It’s easy to be glad about all the great stuff in your life when things are going well.
It’s less easy when they’re not going so well.
Unfortunately it’s when things are not going so well that it is most useful to remember the things you are thankful for. Try to think of them every day to effectively “rote” learn the joy in your life, so that those memories are there waiting to pop forward when you need them.
Some people list what they are thankful for in the form of prayers, some write it in a diary, others repeat it silently to themselves during meditation. There is no right or wrong way. Strike that. Remembering how weird we can all be, I’ll specify, don’t shout them out loud as you walk down the street. That’s definitely frowned upon.
Here’s three easy rules; list what you’re thankful for, do so regularly, talk about things you are grateful for whenever you can. Basically, it’s the opposite of Fight Club.
What happens if you don’t? Well, you turn into a Kardashian. What? No, of course that’s NOT a good thing! Alright, better example, you’ll turn into one of those people who leave book reviews that start “This was the worst experience of my life-“ Those people either have some kind of reading-triggered PTSD or they’ve led seriously charmed lives.
Now that might look like I’m bitter about a bad book review – I haven’t written a book yet so if anything, it’s a pre-emptive strike, but I have read a lot of book reviews (because I leave book reviews and I’m nosey).
Life really is in the details. Celebrate and cherish all the details you enjoy, and in return they’ll keep you going through the tough times.
P.s. This is not advice for people with serious conditions like Depression. When in the grip of such things, reality shifts, and they may be unable to access positive memories, even if staring at a list of them on a piece of paper. If someone seems ungrateful, be kind, they may be going through things you can’t see.
With one parent whose attitude to life is incredibly wild (Grandad El Paso) and another who is fairly cautious (Grandma Tiny-Face) you might expect that Auntie Kate and I would be at least a little wild.
In actual fact, Kate and I would be better described instead as “wildly cautious”. We take caution TO THE EXTREME! There are very few people, even very few health and safety officials, that are wilder about being cautious than we are. We are COMPLETELY 100% risk averse.
In our defence I’d like to give some examples of the parenting we experienced, so that you can at least understand where these wild levels of caution began. Also, as I still don’t have the balance right yet, there’s a pretty strong chance that you’re going to grow up with some “issues” in that area. I’m not saying explaining it will help, but hey, who doesn’t love a good origin story?
I think we’ll start with a Grandad El Paso story because, well, there are so very many of those to choose from. First, our trip to Devon when I was five and Kate was around three.
It was a long journey from the Midlands, but with Grandad driving our Triumph Toledo at speeds ordinarily only achieved by jet planes, and with the same level of care and attention as the Dukes of Hazzard escaping the law, if anything, it felt even longer.
Flattenin’ The Hills
We reached the steep and windy roads of Devon in record time, powered by Grandad’s competitive nature, and seemingly inexhaustible levels of anger. As the car skidded around tight bends, atop steep hills, my “fear of heights” (or as I like to call it, my fear of death) kicked in rather strongly.
Grandad, annoyed by my constant whimpering and occasional screams, pulled the car over, and calmly explained why there was no reason to be afraid, promising he would drive slower to put me at ease.
No of course he didn’t, that’s what a “normal” parent would have done. What Grandad DID, was on the largest STEEPEST hill he could find, he drove straight off the road, skidding down the almost vertical drop, in an, admittedly impressive, handbrake turn, until we finally came to “rest” at a fortunately-positioned tree. I shall never forget his reassuring words:-
Now, Grandma Tiny-Face, as I’m sure you’ll know from the way she flouts use-by dates, is not overly cautious. However she is a big fan of pre-empting trauma.
To be fair to her, despite Grandad’s best efforts, she did a pretty decent job of keeping us alive. …Which brings me neatly around to the way Grandad often mistook homeless people for a reliable source of childcare.
I realise, from my proof-reader’s sharp intake of breath here, that this looks like quite a dangerous situation, even to people who aren’t as risk averse as I am. However, I want to reassure you that he was indeed back in under 3 hours as promised, and the homeless people we met were very kind, offering us sweets and drinks, only some of which were alcoholic, so you know, no harm no foul.
Ok, even though this goes against every single one of my instincts, and mental scars from childhood, I need to tell you, DON’T be wildly cautious like me. For the love of God don’t be as crazy with risk-taking as Grandad, but don’t be like me either.
The Dalai Lama said “Great love and great achievements involve great risks” and unfortunately he’s right. You can’t get the most out of life without taking at least a few anxiety-inducing risks.
Bearing in mind that I consider going to a different branch of the same supermarket a risk, at eighteen I still said yes when Daddy asked me to marry him – even though everyone else said we were too young, and one of my friends had helpfully declared him to be “too handsome for me”.
Daddy and I have been together for 26 years now and, although I don’t like to say this too often, he’s pretty bloody brilliant still, and marrying him is one of my favourite big decisions ever.
You two are obviously my other favourite big decisions. Pregnancy and childbirth aren’t fun for ladies (or indeed for anyone in the vicinity). You go through all that discomfort, then intense prolonged pain, with absolutely no guarantees of what the outcome will be.
You can’t know if your baby will be healthy, how long you’ll have them in your life for, or indeed whether they will grow up to write a blog about what a terrible parent you were, but for me you’ll always be two of the best risky ventures I ever embarked upon.
Don’t treat yourself like a catalogue item. You are the only one of you, 100% unique, and you cannot be a better or worse you than anyone else. Never compare.
Some people are better at Maths, some people are better at French, some people are better at being fun to be around. Everyone has their own “super-powers” and usually their own corresponding version of kryptonite.
My “kryptonite”, as you already know, is anything that requires working-memory. My super-powers are a positive attitude, a high shame threshold, and I never give up. …Well, I hardly ever give up, ok I sometimes give up; did I mention my positive attitude?
Sometimes it can look and feel like everyone else has better super-powers than you, but remember the wise words of Rob Lowe:-
Rob Lowe is a brilliant actor, gorgeous to look at and now, as it turns out, wise as well. He seems perfect. He has lots of super-powers, just not the one for avoiding sex scandals – although that was a long time ago so I imagine he’s acquired it now from experience.
People are a lot like Clark Kent; they show you only what they want you to see. Clarke Kent is hiding X-Ray vision and the power of flight, whereas your friend Kelly on Facebook, with the giant hot-tub and weekly parties, is hiding crippling debt, minor incontinence and the ability to ignore mounting high-level problems.
We All Have Super-Powers
Everyone, no matter how similar they seem, is unique. Each and every one of us have our own superpowers. Even that guy off X-Factor, who appears to have no discernible talent at all; yes, even Simon Cowell has super-powers – making money from that nonsense for a start.
It can sometimes take a while to work out what your super-powers are, perhaps they need a bit of practice to develop, or perhaps they are the kind that only become apparent as you get older, but trust me they are there.
Learn as much as you can about the stuff you enjoy, practice the stuff you love every day. Learn about things that hold your interest, not simply what you’re told to learn for a test. Be the you that YOU want to be and your super-powers will show up when you’re ready.
A quick note for Thing Two, one of your current super-powers is an extra-loud voice – I hope one-day you’ll learn to use this power for good. …One of my super-powers is hope in the face of adversity.
Now this might seem a bit rich coming from someone who has ostensibly set up this blog to slag off family members, but it’s secondary purpose was always to impart important advice, so here goes; be kind and you can still kick ass.
Being kind increases the amount of good in the world. If you learn nothing else from Star Wars (which would be sacrilege by the way, because it’s full of useful lessons) at least learn that empowering the good side of the force really does mess things up for the bad guys.
We have done our best as parents to shelter you from the true horrors of the world, so it might come as a bit of a surprise to find out that the world isn’t always a kind place. In all honesty, it’s actually a bit unpleasant sometimes.
Many people are going through traumas you aren’t aware of because they don’t talk about them. If you are kind to as many people as possible, even those who appear grumpy and rude, you will be helping people through tough times without even realising it.
Now I’m not talking Secret-Millionaire-level kind – we don’t have anywhere near the funding for that (unless McDonalds straws and odd socks ever become legal tender) simply a kind word or a gesture, here and there, is enough to turn someone’s day around and power up ‘The Force’. Simply telling people why you think they are fantastic will do it.
Still Kick-Ass When Necessary
Being kind doesn’t mean being a pushover. The kindest people I know are also the strongest people I know.
Daddy is super-kind to almost everyone he meets, but God help anyone that drops litter in front of him, …or forgets to say please or thank you.
I have a lovely colleague at work, who goes out of her way to help customers and colleagues alike. Always friendly and kind, she’s a dainty, petite, softly-spoken Diana Prince most of the time, but if you try to occupy the meeting room that she has already booked, she will Wonder Woman your ass out of there before you can splutter “Blue-sky thinking”.
Auntie Kate is always helping out other people, running errands for them, looking after their kids, but if you were to say, take her T-shirt without asking, and wear it in front of her whilst dancing around her singing “I-got-your-t-shirt, I-got-your-t-shirt”, I can promise you, she’ll break your God-damn nose.
I probably did deserve that one though, with hindsight.
Now you might think it’s ironic that I am about to big up the importance of being able to speak freely, when 90% of the phrases I have screamed at you throughout your childhood involve the words “shut” and “up”.
Silence isn’t always Golden
Sure silencing other people sounds great, but there’s a problem. Where free communication stops, conspiracy festers. Underground groups form and then the ignorance they whisper to each other goes unchecked by anyone better placed to explain the truth.
It’s only human to want people that you don’t agree with to shut up, and one of the best reasons people have for wanting to limit free-speech is that it’s bloody hard work arguing with idiots. BUT, and here’s the important bit, one of the WORST reasons people have for wanting to limit free-speech, is to silence all opponents.
There are countries in this world that do not have freedom of speech, and for precisely the worst reason above. So we must fight hard to maintain the freedoms we currently might NOT enjoy, but do HAVE. Even if that means our ears do bleed occasionally.
Listen To Opposing Views
You don’t have to listen to someone whose general values and opinions are the opposite of yours, but you should, because you might learn something
…even if it’s just something to use against them later.
Seriously, the phrase “know your enemy” was invented for a reason. It’s easier to outgun someone if you know what they’re packing.
Another important reason to listen to people you disagree with, is to maintain objectivity in your own opinions. Living in an echo-chamber, where nothing is ever challenged, not only damages your objectivity, but worse it damages your ability to argue your case effectively.
Auntie Kate and I have never liked the phrase “If you’ve got a problem, say it to my face!” because we both hate confrontation and agree it’s far more comfortable for everyone, if people say things behind our backs instead.
We are of course right, it IS way more comfortable, but it neither identifies nor resolves problems, for that unfortunately, you have to let others speak out.