My friend, who I’ll be referring to as Agatha, or A, throughout this post, (because her real identity shall remain a mystery!) and I have been reflecting on various aspects of our lives by answering a daily thought-provoking question and comparing notes on our answers.
In this post, I’ll be quoting directly from the messages we’ve exchanged while discussing these questions (the text in italics), getting a bit introspective, and giving you some random but hopefully slightly intriguing information about myself.
I hope you enjoy the opportunity to get to know me (and Agatha) a little better.
Me: “If I could time travel, where would I go?”
Easy one, I'd go and watch Queen at Live Aid. It is one of my greatest disappointments that I was born too late to see Queen (with Freddie Mercury) live.
This has been my answer to this question ever since I was a teenager. There’s no denying that there are more historically significant events I could choose to attend or more important people I could zoom across time to see. But, in terms of which moment in the whole of space and time would bring me personally the most joy, I think this has to be it.
Although I missed out on seeing Freddie Mercury perform, I have had encounters (some close, some less close) with two surviving members of Queen.
My second shift working as an usher at the Edinburgh Playhouse happened to be the press night performance of We Will Rock You, the musical based on Queen’s greatest hits. That evening, as I checked tickets at the entrance to the dress circle, Brian May walked right past me into the director’s box. I nearly peed my pants.
That same evening, I had the absolute pleasure of watching Brian May and Roger Taylor perform Bohemian Rhapsody at the end of the show. I even got paid to be there. Although, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly concentrating on my ushering duties at the time.
My second encounter with Brian May came several years later at the opening night drinks event for a touring theatre production of the King’s Speech. I was the wardrobe assistant for the show and delighted to have my first professional touring theatre job. I still don’t know why Brian May was a) in Belfast and b) at this drinks event but I certainly wasn’t complaining.
I told my colleagues how much I loved Queen and they did their best to convince me to go and talk to Brian May. They couldn’t understand my reluctance, but I had reason to fear how I might respond when face-to-face with one of my heroes.
My track record is not good when it comes to meeting celebrities.
One evening, while working on a different show, I walked into a dressing room and found Derren Brown having a chat with one of the performers. I am a massive fan of Derren Brown. I’ve seen all his live shows, watched all his TV series, and read all his books. So, naturally, when I found myself in front of this man, whose work I so greatly admire, I let out a squeal so high-pitched that dogs would have struggled to hear it, rapidly rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, and immediately bolted out the door I’d walked through half a second earlier.
So, no, my colleagues did not convince me to go and chat with Brain May. Honestly, I was just happy to be near him without making a sound that could have shattered all the champagne glasses in the room.
Not quite Freddie Mercury but I've seen some other pretty impressive frontmen in my time
A: “What’s one piece of advice you would give your future self?”
Me: Advice for your future self is a weird one. Is it not usually for your past self?
A: Right?? I think maybe it’ll just be something I want to remind myself?
Me: That makes sense. Things fade with time
A: Maybe something about taking breaks? Or time for myself?
Me: For you, I'd say remember how far you've come. . . In the future, I imagine you will have climbed the ladder at your current job and be more settled in the industry. I think people have a tendency to become dissatisfied once things become more routine. Future you, who might find new frustrations in that kind of position, should remember how well you've done by leaving a toxic profession and finding a better one
A: Ooh, that’s such a good one!! I’ve been VERY guilty of this in the past!
Me: I'm not saying you shouldn't strive to make the present better but it's good to see how we've made the present better than the past and put things into perspective
A: I think that will probably be my answer for today
Me: Yay, I feel so wisdomful
In recent years, I’ve greatly admired how Agatha has changed course when things weren’t working out and put the effort into building a life that works better for her. She made the difficult decision to leave a job that was gradually draining the life out of her, despite being extremely talented and accomplished within the industry. She retrained, got a job at a more supportive company, and created a much better work/life balance.
She’s shown me that turning your back on something you’ve worked really hard for and admitting it’s not turning out as you’d hoped it would is not something to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean those years of effort have been wasted. It just means it’s time for a change.
I hope that future Agatha remembers how well she’s done and is grateful to her past-self for making the difficult decisions that led to a happier life.
Me: “Who is your best friend? What qualities make them your friend?” Yay, an easy one!
A: “When am I the happiest version of me?”
Me: That's a fun question. Any thoughts?
A: I’ve been thinking about it, but I’m not really sure... I’m very content when I’m walking on the beach, or sketching- even cooking sometimes...
Me: The whole 'version' of yourself thing is a bit weird to me, now I think about it. I'm not sure there are many versions of me?
A: Hmm- I didn’t even pick up on that! I reworded it in my head so that it was just when am I the happiest!
Me: That makes more sense to me. I think that's a thing you hear a lot in self-help stuff. Stuff about being the best or most authentic version of yourself.
A: I guess that’s the opposite of the customer service version of myself...
Me: Ha, nobody's best version of themselves is the customer service version!
A: So true!!
Me: Do you feel like there are many versions of you?
A: I do feel like there’s a kitchen version of me- she swears like a sailor!
Me: Ha, I want to meet her! I have to answer my question and I'm wondering if you're not asking about it because you know I'm going to compliment you!
You and Agnes (also not her real name) are both my best friends because you're both brilliant, clever, funny, on my wavelength, kind, generous, lovely and useful in a crisis!
A: You know me so well! I didn’t want to ask because I put you down as my best friend, and I was thinking how awkward and embarrassed I would be if you’d put your husband or someone else. The imposter syndrome is very real!!
Me: Awww silly! Although I totally understand. I would have felt the same if you had that question! Husband isn't my best friend. He's Husband. That's different.
A: I also didn’t want to ask, because then it’s like, “nudge, nudge, who ya gonna say?”
Me: Would have been funny though
Ah, awkwardness. I enjoyed the avoidance and gentle will-they-won't nature of this interaction. I don’t think you often find yourself in the position of having ‘the relationship chat’ with your best friend. These things just tend to evolve over time and become mutually understood.
Looking back over this snippet of conversation also makes me slightly concerned about how many exclamation marks we use in our interactions. It somehow makes the whole thing even more awkward.
Agatha may have somewhat skipped over the concept of different versions of the self, but it’s something I find both intriguing and conflicting.
After quitting my job in theatre and moving to another country, I had what I would call a very minor identity crisis. My job had formed a massive part of my self-image and taken up a lot of my time. With that gone and enough time to pursue other things, I found myself wondering which of the new parts of my life should define my identity and contribute to my new view of myself.
In the midst of this mini existential crisis, I read Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini. Aside from many extraordinary examples of people using bad science to justify being racist dicks, the book featured the following quote from biologist Mark Thomas:
“My own personal view is that today we over-privilege and fetishise the concept of identity”
This statement took me by surprise. All the other data my brain has amassed seems to suggest that a person’s sense of identity is of vital importance. I’ve not questioned this concept for quite some time, if indeed I ever have.
Husband and I, like millions of other Netflix subscribers, have spent many a happy evening together watching Queer Eye. The Fab Five do a wonderful job of guiding people through the process of improving their lives and getting closer to, what they frequently refer to as, their ‘authentic’ selves.
After hearing this phrase used in multiple episodes, I found myself wondering:
Am I currently being authentic?
Do I hide parts of myself from people?
Am I even honest with myself about what my authentic self looks and sounds like?
Do I have more than one authentic self?
What does any of this actually mean?!
As usual, Husband had a pithy response to my mini identity crisis. When I explained that I was struggling to identify my most authentic self, he replied: “Does it really matter?” He’s a simple but brilliant creature sometimes.
Maybe my authentic self questions the need for a clearly defined and neatly labeled identity.
Maybe a trial-and-error approach to finding the bits of myself that I want to keep is more my style. Things tend to make more sense to me in practice rather than theory so maybe all this hypothesising about what’s authentic and what isn’t is a waste of time. Maybe as long as my current self keeps exploring the world, the stuff that feels authentic will naturally stick and the stuff that doesn’t will organically erode away, leaving a JoJo shaped by her experiences and relationships, rather than unproductive pontification.
Me: “What do you like doing so much that you lose track of time?”
JIGSAWS! I can do jigsaws for hours!
A: Aww! I wish there were more jigsaw’s in my life! That’s a very sweet answer!
It’s true. I bloody love doing jigsaws.
If I'm left alone in the house for a few days while Husband is at a conference (‘doing science’ aka ‘getting drunk in Italian plazas with his colleagues’), I will often crack out a jigsaw and get so engrossed in the business of putting the 1000 pieces together that I won’t realise it’s 3am and I should have gone to bed by now.
It really is a non-stop rock and roll life I lead.
Me: "If you had 5 minutes and the world was forced to listen, what would you say?"
I'd go with something along the lines of "stop being so shit to each other". I think I'd try to encourage people to just let each other get on with their lives as long as they're not actively hurting other people. It doesn't matter what religion/sexuality/gender/etc. other people are. Just chill the fuck out people.
Not super deep but yeah, just be nice to each other. It's significantly less effort than being a dick.
A: Haha- ‘stop being a dick’ is a good message that a lot of people need to hear!
If I had to come up with a personal moto, I think ‘Just don’t be a dick’ would be a strong contender.
I often wonder where people find seemingly endless amounts of energy to give such an aggressive shit about how other people live their lives. I realise I’m boiling down a complicated issue into a very brief summary. However, a large part of my simple-minded soul wonders how people manage to manufacture the arrogance to believe their way of life is the only acceptable one.
Me: “Am I doing all that I can to reach my goals?”
Uh oh. Not loving that one! My gut reaction was definitely not. Then my next reaction was that I don't really know what my goals are
A: Ah- well I think growing your shop and blog is probably a goal? You have your climbing goal as well.
Me: Probably, but I don't know if I care enough about any goals at the moment. I'm not in a super ambitious place mentally.
A: That’s okay. I think you are working towards your climbing goal- it doesn’t mean it’s the ONLY thing you think about (at least, that’s how I took it) but you ARE working towards it. Realistically, I’m not sure how much else you could be doing?
Me: Yeah, the climbing goal is the only goal I feel at all attached to and I'm doing well with that. I think I didn't like that question initially because it made me think that I should have more goals and I don't really want them.
A: I mean, I just pulled these off of random lists online, so it could have come from a goal-focused planner. I did try to find more ambiguous ones, but there are probably some like that.
Me: It's a sensible question. I'm just an unambitious bugger!
There were several questions related to goals on this list and my stomach tended to sink whenever one came up. I mentioned in my previous post about setting myself the goal of climbing 7a by the end of 2021 that I don’t necessarily put a lot of stock in goal setting.
An admittedly clichéd argument against setting goals is that they distract from the present moment and pull focus towards the outcome rather than the journey. If the goal was never reached, and nothing has been learned from or savoured during the endeavour, was there a lot of point in setting the goal in the first place?
Placing undue pressure on individuals to be constantly assessing their personal failings and identifying where they could achieve more or do better also ignores the bafflingly high number of factors that exist beyond the boundaries of personal control. Setting goals is all well and good, but if society, pandemics, or plain old bad luck gets in the way of achieving them, will the goal setter be able to identify this or will they, potentially unfairly, decide the fault is entirely their own?
Achieving the goal even comes with its own pitfalls. If a goal becomes all consuming, the question of where to turn once it’s accomplished can be a daunting one. Did achieving the goal live up to the expectations placed upon it? Has happiness been attained or is the next goal just waiting to be chased?
Forgive me if my view of goal setting appears warped through a glass half-empty.
In keeping with my personal moto of not being a dick, I enthusiastically support those of you that have found setting concrete goals to be a beneficial tool. I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong or try to change your view of your own experiences. As mentioned above, it’s your life and I’d be a dick if I told you how to live it.
What I would say is that, for me, goal setting is another of those things (like searching for our authentic-self) that risks being fetishised and somehow unwittingly accepted as something we should all do for fear of looking lazy or, god forbid, satisfied with our current existence.
I shy away from these questions not because I fear I can’t achieve my goals, but because I struggle to identify them and that in itself feels like a failure.
Being content feels like a failure when the world seems obsessed with aiming for more. Not knowing what you’re aiming for feels like a failure when we're asked to start planning our lives out when we’re teenagers or even younger.
So, I will take this opportunity to declare that I don’t really have a clue what my goals are (aside from climbing 7a by the end of 2021) and I’m alright with it. My energy is probably better spent appreciating the moments as they happen rather than planning for a future that may never come or that I may not want when I get there.
And to end on a sillier note . . .
A: How can I grow my happiness?
My new sofa arrives tomorrow and I’m so frickin’ excited about that. A cheap answer would be thinking about my new sofa.
Me: I love the cheap answer. Making your home nicer is an excellent way to grow happiness. Especially for your butt.
Hooray for shallow materialistic answers!
The second flat that Husband and I rented while living in Cambridge didn’t have a sofa in it. As I mentioned in a previous post about what makes a house a home, the living room of this flat featured eight large lounge chairs rather than a sofa. While this was certainly no hardship, I was extremely excited that the flat we moved into after that one came with not one but two sofas. Such amply cushioned items of relaxation and joy!
There’s certainly a lot of happiness to be gained from the privilege of having something comfy to rest your buttocks on at the end of a long day of being yourself to varying levels of authenticity, failing to set concrete life goals, and daydreaming about all the witty and insightful things you could have said to Brain May six years ago.
The real heroes were the sofas we sat on along the way.