A recipe for happiness: sweat the small stuff

When people say don’t sweat the small stuff, they mean don’t get all upset over little things that don’t really matter in the long run. That is certainly good advice, but I would add to it that some small stuff can make you really really happy. Sometimes, when you least expect it . . .

Ringtone

I changed the ringtone on my iPhone last week. I’ve had the same one for over a year, ever since I got this phone. The ringer I had all this time was “Old Phone” — you know, the one that sounds like these. A charmingly ironic statement about modern technology, right? My kids kept bugging me to change it — I have a 1,001 ringtones app on my phone that they adore — but I was way too in love with the charming irony to even consider changing it.

But, I dunno why, just on a whim I guess, last week I finally changed it. I picked one of the 1,001 off the app. It’s called “Jive” and it fades in with a funky bass line, gradually builds in funk and intensity as more instruments come in, and then fades out again. No irony there, but as soon as you hear that bass line fade in, you just want to dance!

And I realized something. Despite the charming irony, Old Phone was setting off my startle reflex every time I heard it. I have a pretty extreme reflex — just ask my kids who think it’s hilarious — and that meant that every time I answered my phone, my heart was pounding and I was experiencing that fight or flight thing. Whereas now, when my ringer fades in (no startle there) and starts my head boppin’ and my toes tappin’? Now when I answer my phone I always have a big grin on my face even when it’s my evil coworker on the other end.

Umbrella

I went to a very small college in a very small town. Among other things it meant that everyone bought their umbrellas from the same store, and they were all plain black. So they were communal. On rainy days you’d go into the cafeteria, leave your umbrella in the lobby with all the other identical ones, and when you came out you’d just grab one, any one. After a while I decided to be rebellious so I went into the big city and bought me an electric blue umbrella with big white polka dots all over it. My sole purpose was to differentiate mine from all the plain black ones.

But guess what? Every time I opened that umbrella I would giggle at the goofy polka dots. Didn’t matter how grey and drizzly the day, I always got a giggle out of that umbrella. And it’s hard to be annoyed about the weather when you’re giggling at your umbrella. Just sayin’.

Mirror

Ok, this is the last one. I am not a girly girl, but once upon a time I used to wear makeup when I worked in a fancy office. And one of the things I used to do was look in the mirror and smile at myself in order to find my cheekbones so that I could, you know, apply the blush. And this is kinda embarrassing, but whenever I did that smile, I would actually feel happy. (Cf. a hilarious scene in a Patrick O’Brian where Stephen and another doctor wonder whether the expression of an emotion causes the actual emotion; they experiment by angrily insulting each other and then checking their pulses, ha ha ha ha!)

And speaking of mirrors, if you are feeling really down, i.e. crying, I recommend taking a look at yourself in the mirror. I can practically guarantee that the sight of your own red-faced weepy facial contortions will make you laugh. (Hat tip to my sister who discovered this when we were angst-y teenagers.)

What small stuff makes you happy?

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Tattoos, pros & cons

Well I couldn’t think of a blessed thing to write about, so I went over and looked at the postaday prompts. Not without trepidation, because most of them I wouldn’t touch with a ten hundred foot pole. However, yesterday’s prompt was “would you ever get a tattoo” and, well, here you go:

Cons

The bad thing about having a tattoo is you can’t ever become a secret agent. Your tattoo blows your cover instantly. Remember what happened to James Bond in Casino Royale? They carved the Smersh symbol into the back of his hand. He had to get skin grafts, and he bore the scar for the rest of his life.

Pros

Quite simply, the best rock and roll song by the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Let’s all sing together:

Welcome to my life, tattoo!
We’ve a long time together me and you.
I expect I’ll regret you but the skin graft men won’t get you;
You’ll be there when I die . . . tattoo-o-o-o-o-o-o! 

The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing

Whoa! This was a freaky book. I can’t even remember the last time I read a book in a single day, but that’s what I did with this one yesterday. It went so fast that I never even had a chance to post it in my sidebar.

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing is the story of a young couple, Harriet and David, who fall in love, get married, and buy a gigantic old house which they plan to fill up with babies as fast as they can. And they do: four children in six years. And despite financial worries, they are quite happy & content.

When Harriet finds herself pregnant with number five, though, things become difficult. This pregnancy is not like the others; even in the first trimester the baby kicks so hard that she is in constant pain. And when Ben is born, he is difficult to love. He looks like a troll or goblin, he has cold beady watchful eyes, he shows no love or affection ever, and he is preternaturally strong. As he grows up he becomes increasingly violent and difficult to care for. His behavior has a negative effect on the entire family. The older kids spend as little time at home as they can, Harriet and David’s marriage suffers, and their extended family becomes estranged. Various strategies are attempted but there is no real resolution, no happy ending.

This is a book that could totally overwhelm you, especially if you have kids. However, it is actually quite readable, and the reason why (I think) is because it feels more like an allegory than a novel. It is quite short and there are no subplots. The characters are not quite real. What this is about is the dangers of complacency. Because before Ben comes along, Harriet & David are quite smug. Their parents don’t approve of their large family and their fiscal irresponsibility, but Harriet and David are happily united in their self-congratulations. It’s obvious from the very beginning that they need to be shaken up — that they are headed for a fall. And although elements of Ben’s character seem based on real-life diagnoses (autism, hyperactivity, sociopathy), in fact he is more like a fairy-tale changeling.

My favorite part about this book, actually, was the house. I love it when the setting plays an important role in the plot, and I particularly love it when that setting is a big old house.

Reality check

I continue to have my share of ups and downs working with this woman that I have vented about in a couple of previous posts. I’ve reached the conclusion that she not only has ADD but possibly also Borderline Personality Disorder. I am not being facetious or snarky, either. I know BPD when I see it, and I think I am seeing it. She is very very difficult, and it has fallen to me to be the one to run interference and keep her out of everyone else’s hair. Which for the most part is okay with me. I am pretty phlegmatic and not easily fazed by craziness. But my god this woman is relentless. To the point where I can’t help questioning my own abilities. I ask her to do something in language that (I think) could not possibly be any clearer. Simple short declarative sentences. Subject verb object. And she always ends up misunderstanding, misinterpreting, or just downright ignoring me. Maybe I’m not being as clear as I think I am?

The other day I emailed her: “I will be responsible for XYZ . . . So please strike that off your to-do list.” I mean, that is pretty clear, isn’t it? That isn’t really open to interpretation is it?

She emailed back: “ok,” and I thought, phew! Great! She got it.

And then a day later she sent me another email full of questions, suggestions, and a progress report on what she’s done about XYZ.

This isn’t about me, or my “management style” — is it? If your boss sent you an email saying “I will be responsible for this task” would you then go ahead and keep working on it?

Corrupting Dr. Nice

Well this is a pretty interesting book I’m reading. Corrupting Dr. Nice, by John Kessel. This one comes from the time travel satire loony romance department. I imagine if Douglas Adams and Philip K. Dick wrote a book together it would turn out something like this. I have a feeling if you don’t like Adams or Dick you might not like this either. I myself am not a big fan of Douglas Adams; his books are just a tad too determinedly quirky for me. But I do like Philip K. Dick so all the stuff about the paradoxes of time travel & the nature of reality are grist for my mill even as I slide over the “quirky” parts.