Ian Martin is a British author, writer for Oscar-nominated film In the Loop, major contributor to The Thick of It and has written for radio and newspapers. He shares his thoughts about turning 60. A few excerpts:
1. People who “hate getting old” are idiots. Every year is a privilege. Let me tell you, callow miserabilists: getting to 60 feels like a triumph. I have no idea how I made it this far, but I am very grateful…
4. For instance. It was 1968. Early summer evening, a Saturday. My mate and I were hitching home in the Essex countryside. We got a lift from a happy couple in a boaty car that smelled of leather and engine oil. We were 15, they were proper old, 20-ish. Relaxed and so very much in love. They treated us as equals, laughed at our jokes, we smoked their cigarettes. Walk Away Renee by the Four Tops came on the radio. We all sang along to the…
Sometimes you just need a venti, skim cappuccino. Sit down, listen to the music, silently intercept the conversational volleys around you. Look like you’re working on your laptop while inventing stories about the people waiting in line. ‘Not very nice of you Mim’, you say? No worries, I reprimand myself in between thoughts. It’s how I roll.
OMG – that’s Helen Mirren!! What is she doing in my neighborhood Starbucks??? She is magnificent, what a cool gravitas surrounds her as she regards a message on her iPhone with bemusement. I swear it’s her. I applaud my fellow humankind as we sublimate our collective desire to swarm, leaving her to be among the people. It is interesting to me though that no one else seems to be sneaking peeks. Wait…is she chewing gum while drinking her latte? With her mouth open? Helen! Oh no she isn’t. Yup she is. Sticking the end of a ballpoint pen in her ear and scratching. Her pinky isn’t raised. I can hear her snapping her gum. I get it – this most definitely is not a Helen Mirren sighting. Damn – I was so sure.
Young woman in line with her shoulders slumped, hair covering her face as if she would give anything to be invisible. She’s lovely actually, and dressed in black on a gorgeous spring day does not serve as a cloak of invisibility. The blue lipstick doesn’t either – it actually looks like she’s been caught inflagrante delicti with a Smurf. It’s that same blue. I have to get this visual out of my head as soon as possible – it’s both funny and mildly gross. And if this involves two consenting adults and no one is getting hurt…
Interesting meeting going on at the only table that seats four. Three guys, one girl – all dressed in the new sartorial category “business casual”. The young men are in khakis, three variations of the color beige and button down shirts – two blue, one white. The woman wears a scarf wrapped twice around her neck in the fashionable way that conceals any spots on the front of your shirt. Blue skirt, blue tights, flats. I look at them not looking at each other and smile – they all look so young, so intense. I have yet to see one of them look up from their respective laptops, and I wonder why I’m so sure they know each other other than their matching outfits. One guy gets up to get a refill and says to someone at the table – “I just texted you”. Really? I am inclined to sit here until they leave just to see if they acknowledge each other in real time as they move towards the door. I’m inclined, but my time here is limited.
If a woman is standing in line and the seam in the back of her very-very-very tight skirt has gone off-center, do you tell her? She’s got too much going on with the whole look not to care. I think she is dressing to impress and she certainly leaves an impression. I can’t imagine that she just threw herself together this morning. Her hair is sprayed to natural perfection (yes, it’s an oxymoron – get it?), eyelashes curled and mascara-ed, blush applied and blended right at the ‘apples’ of her cheeks as fashion magazines suggest. I should tell her…no I can’t. As I sit here in my chic gym clothes, I look like a really credible source to comment on the seam placement of her skirt. Nope – I’m letting it go.
I see an older couple who work out at the gym when I do – we say a quick ‘hi’ as I begin to head out. I look up just in time to see him kissing the top of her head as she leans her body into his. The best takeaway from Starbucks this morning – all other thoughts just fade away and I carry their love in one hand and my coffee in the other. Happy Wednesday everyone.
“And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on” — George Gordon Byron
I struggle to describe this week. All of the adjectives in my mind seem to collide with one another in a frenetic game of bumper cars. Contrasting realities – awful, horrific, mind-numbing, tragic, senseless, obscene, heartbreaking; life-affirming, connectedness, heroic, powerful, humbling, breathtaking, faithful.
Some people don’t do well with lots of stimuli – I’m one of them. It’s why I hate the mall. Too much going on that is competing for my attention and focus. This week makes a trip to the mall look positively mundane.
I was in the city on 9/11; in the Sears Tower (as it was called then – now the Willis Tower) two days later and flew to the Library Tower in LA thereafter. My mom thought the firm was asking too much and was a wreck while I was gone. I really think that had she known who to call, she would have dialed immediately and railed against anyone who had arrived at this decision. Other than that, the trips were all about being there and not being rattled, reassuring those who needed it and confirming our collective strategy for responding to this serendipitous element of the new normal.
Of course, as this week shows there is no strategy for these traumatic reminders of the new normal. The new normal wrenches us out of our skin, changes the rhythm of the day into a monotone dirge that quietly plays on an endless loop. Daily stressors are too much to bear, everything that is routine is somehow, not. I found myself in tears for no reason (when of course there were all the reasons in the world), sitting with my body wrapped around itself, trying to contain this inexplicable sorrow, covering my mouth so the screams would remain silent while they vibrated through my body. Did I even hear the birds engaged in their gossipy conversation over these past few days? I don’t think so.
The collective release of tension in Boston last night infused my soul with light (and the hearts of many I am sure). To see such joy and gratitude after these incomprehensibly tragic days returns my heart to baseline. The treadmill begins to slow, the incline is less arduous. The music changes – not necessarily exuberant, though hopeful. And when I walked the Sirs this morning, I heard the birds engaged in a rockin’ game of Marco Polo. And with a heart that is bruised, perhaps even broken, we return to our lives.
4 minutes. 36 songs. Something for everyone. And I mean everyone. From Beethoven to Hammerstein to Johnny Cash to Aretha to Queen to Gaga to Psy. Evolution of music from 11th century to today. Curious about the song list? Here it is:
I was particularly struck by a poem posted by ivonprefontaine.com (Teacher As Transformer) yesterday. As with most things evocative, we considered Derek Walcott’s words differently – which is why I didn’t reblog his words.
Once again, I am motivated by friends, for whom this will resonate individually. Yet I hope above all, among the takeaways is a feeling of the tremendous value you have, the wonder that you offer up everyday and the love you deserve – from yourself first and foremost.
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I’m really going to try to work on this…I need to. You need to. Let’s do it together, ok? Happy Saturday all.
“Child, child, do you not see? For each of us comes a time when we must be more than we are” — Lloyd Alexander
Well the last few weeks have brought with them a frenetic level of activity reminiscent of earlier chapters in my life. Facilitating training sessions at two law firms; attending a national convention where I will be moderating a panel on effective communication between leaders in practice offices and their counterparts at ‘headquarters’; discussions on employee engagement at another company and then back to another professional services firm to chair forums on a number of issues all rolling up under the header of ‘organizational dynamics’. Ok, stop yawning – I find this stuff pretty fascinating, and the people I meet as a result, even more interesting and engaging. It’s the people – I’m just so damn drawn to the people.
So somewhere around the end of May or June, things may slow down a bit once more. Some things haven’t changed – the more I have to do, the less I sleep and the more I perseverate. For those of you who have not been ‘gifted’ with this talent, I’ll describe it quickly. It starts with a benign thought, like “I hope I can pull all this together in time”, and from there it blossoms into a profusion of peripatetic petals (it is spring and Cherry Blossom time here in DC after all) that fall all over my mind, covering the synapses, neurons and pathways with layer upon layer of resistant ground cover. Thought loses all rhyme or reason, and I spend an inordinate amount of time getting in my own way. Do I know that I really should get out the leaf blower? Of course I do – I’m just too busy looking at the magnificent mess I have created.
Now this talent of mine exists in direct counterpoint with another ability that I really do have about many, many issues. When my sons were younger, they maintained their rooms as temples to the God Of Who Cares. Somehow the word ‘messy’ really doesn’t do their efforts justice – neither does ‘unhygienic’. Once a week, I would expect them to make some effort to return their rooms into something livable, for I really didn’t want them contracting some weird bacteria that is only found in the Amazon and the soles of filthy socks. Their disregard drove Andy crazy – he’s the kind of guy who feels that everything has a place and there’s a place for everything – and if not, toss it out. So as he would get increasingly exorcised, I would become calmer. And my mantra through those years was “If this is going to bother you in five years honey, then I will invest in this issue with all the emotional energy I can summon. But if this isn’t going to matter five years hence, then I’m letting it go”.
Hypocrite – thy name is Mimi.
You see I really believe that little mantra – I do. I just don’t apply it with as much conviction when it comes to my own efforts. So in short – I become my own pain in the butt. Somebody needs something from me – ok, let’s jump into hyper-drive, over-think it and deliver with everything I’ve got. And then collapse and chastise myself for all that excess worry and emotional self-flagellation. Oh, and then start the whole process again…because after all, this is different. It’s about someone else’s needs. I have to be better this time, right?
Last night though – somewhere between Carson Daly and the 2:30AM news on ABC – a memory came to the fore and I think as a result, I am going to try to teach my foolish self what I already know.
Years ago, after one back surgery or another, I lost the use of my arms. Truly. I could raise one arm high enough to bring a utensil to my lips, the other only far enough to scratch an inch near my waist. The surgeon wasn’t alarmed (of course, they weren’t his arms) – neurological effrontery can make for some pretty lousy retribution. I was petrified. All of a sudden elements of daily self-care were elusive to me. Andy would wash and dry my hair (with enormous affection and limited expertise – we will not conjure any thoughts of how I looked during this time), I drank coffee through a straw, modifications were made. The doctor was sure my range of motion would return – he had no doubt, so I believed him. My anxiety became more reflective of the ‘when’ not the ‘if’, and immediately became more manageable. In five years, this would not be an issue for me – I knew that. My thoughts became less frantic, I began to clear away the disorderly mess that had become my thought process. And yes, the doctor knew what he was talking about.
Which brings me back to this moment. In five years it will matter to me that I gave my best to others – period. I won’t get there by letting my worry trump my determination. Let me re-phrase – I may get there, but I will be have depleted essential elements of the thoughts I need to be happy. Today, I’m going to follow the advice of Steve Martin – “I’ve got to keep breathing. It’ll be the worst business mistake if I don’t”.
I hope this makes you smile – and if by chance you identify with any of this – I hope it helps you breathe.
Yet again David Kanigan (Lead.Learn.Live) inspires..I reblogged this with an awareness of chills traveling my spine and an unprompted “yes” that escaped from my mouth in the early hours of the morning. Enjoy
It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.
“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness” — Lao Tzu
I love this quote. I love thinking that relentless softness can erode what appears intractable and immoveable. The visual of solid ground acceding to the dampening of the earth, redefining its crags and layers of stubborn solidity by the insistence of water, becoming a rivulet and ultimately a stream.
And then there’s the old water torture visual (drops falling rhythmically and slowly on one’s forehead) which is far more reflective of my state of mind at the moment. And may I say? The drops aren’t particularly doing much except making me feel like I’m getting a dent in my head.
Over the past two years, I’ve been contacted by executive recruiters asking about my interest in C-level positions – law firms, professional service firms – and I’ve never considered pursuing the inquiries. Last week I did, and yesterday I withdrew my candidacy. It was the drops you see. The persistent drops – “Do you have the chops to do this again?” “You don’t have the chops to do this again” “Do you want to do this again?” “Wanting is irrelevant – what if they find me too old (that’s illegal and I’m way too immature, but…), too irreverent, too out there, not out there enough” “But do you want to do this again” “I want parts of it and I don’t want parts of it” “That’s no answer, Mim” “Can you repeat the question?”…and so on.
And so it went until I was desperately seeking a xanax or at least someone to turn off the faucet. Oh, did I mention that I have a skosh of a problem calling a plumber when I really need one (figuratively speaking of course)? “My family will think less of me for walking away” “They will not, you doof” “Yeah, they will” This is ridiculous. I am ridiculous. Full stop.
I write Andy and the boys, send an email to two of my dearest friends. Aaron writes back first – “You’ve earned the right to be whatever you want to be…therapist, elephant hygienist..” (I love that kid). Paul chimes in next – “I think you should get re-accredited to be a therapist”..and paraphrasing here, ‘so happy you will pursue what you want’ (I love that kid too). Andy, oh Andy – with his platitudes and deft application of the cliché, rejected both and just reminded me that who I am makes him proud enough. ‘Do what you want, and if you don’t know what that is just yet, that’s ok too’ (I don’t feel that it is, but may I say that he’s a rock star). And my friends..”I’m so happy you said no; I didn’t want to have to share you with that many people” (she’d never have to). “You made the right decision – besides, I think you should write a book!” And here I sit, with a different type of water – the kind that traces down one’s cheeks, gracing each wrinkle, tickling my jaw as they meander down my neck.
How bewildering to be in my renaissance and discover that I am still arguing with these voices of doubt? How breathtaking to realize that with a little effort, I can change a path that has been shaped by years and years of the drip, drip, drip, drip of my own design? I am changing the flow, I am going to try to be more purposeful with this one life I have. Remember my passion, follow my fascinations, remember that it was my sense of integrity and what I believe to be right that prompted my decision to turn around and re-route.
There’s a place for me – little, idiosyncratic, idealistic, sometimes-savvy me. I’m not sure where just yet, and I have to be okay with that for now. For with absolute certainty I can tell you, within me there’s a river.