I’ve been trying to get into the habit of carrying my camera around with me – it’s a little difficult, as I often feel like it’s an extra weight and burden that I don’t want to be carting around in my bag as I walk in or out of town. But last week, it paid off. I had been for a few drinks with an old university lecturer of mine and was on my way to my boyfriend’s flat for dinner. The sun was going down, and the light on the buildings and the colour of the sky inspired me to take a few snaps. For the first one, I really wished I had a telephoto lens on me, as I really wanted to capture the statue on top of the church with the new moon beside him. But I’m happy enough with the results.
…how do we go about it?
It’s amazing how such a simple, almost clichéd idea can still manage to have a profound impact on me every time I am reminded of it in any well-thought out or well-articulated way. And it makes me wonder – am I ever going to stop “forgetting” to do this? Will there come a time when it truly becomes ingrained in my day-to-day existence?
But the problem isn’t just with forgetting to do it – the problem starts with managing to do it in the first place.
Essentially, a call to living in the moment should be a reminder of the insignificance of material things, the pettiness of small irritations with loved ones and days whiled away in boredom. We might feel moved to reach out to a loved one, or to engage more in what we’re passionate about. We might engage in such activities as meditation, and attempt to think only about what is happening to us right now without reference to the past or the future.
The problem is this: we are, as human beings, hardwired to be constantly thinking about both the past and the future.
And this tendency is present instinctually, emotionally, and intellectually.
Our ability to reason, to compare, to analyse, has led us to this evolutionary point. It is the secret to our success. And so, letting go of this tendency seems to run contrary to our very nature.
So what are we to do about it? It is often true that we would be happier if we let go of memories of incidents in the past, no matter how recent – if we allowed our consciousness to reset and focus on the now. But it is almost impossible to avoid bringing things up in your mind and assessing the probability of it happening again. And if we do consistently focus on the present and avoid this type of analysis, how are we to look at the bigger picture of our life and assess our own happiness, and the successfulness of how we are going about it?
It’s also true that we may be happier if we avoided obsessively thinking about the future – attempting to plan out the weeks, months and years ahead. This kind of thinking can be inspiring and exciting, but leads to one of our greatest barriers to happiness – waiting to be happy in the future rather than focussing on being happy right now. But again, without this future planning, we cannot build lives for ourselves.
So I suppose this goal of “living in the moment” is rather qualified. Perhaps it is something we should aim to do every day, but perhaps just for a few hours, or even for a few minutes. But is it really possible to do, when the rest of our lives revolve around the-moment-just-passed and the-moment-about-to-happen?
I feel I have been struggling to find the answer to this for many years now. At what point do I give up on this particular holy grail, and decide that the answer to happiness lies elsewhere?
Sarah was exhausted. Two heavy bags of grocery shopping pulled on her elbow sockets, the plastic threatening to rip and spill their contents all over the grey streets of Rathmines. Living on the city outskirts was convenient and even picturesque when the sun shone and the canal was relatively free of debris. But pushing her way home through the rush-hour pedestrians made her sad in the pit of her stomach. In a few months’ time it would be pitch dark on her way home, but in the autumn months like this it was usually all just grey – grey buildings, grey streets, grey sky.
On evenings like this, Sarah’s life began to seem ridiculous, consisting as it did of a strange hamster-wheel 9 to 5, the uncomfortable boring clothes, and the tired non-conversation that usually ensued when she and her husband collapsed onto the couch together in the evenings.
Once a week, she would make a detour to a supermarket on her way home, elbowing past hoards of flustered-looking professionals searching freezers for frozen petit pois and angrily examining packets of lean beef. She once saw two women fighting over the last free-range whole chicken.
Today, she had not had the energy to do a full week’s shopping, and instead bought some half-hearted fruit, a few microwave meals and two bottles of red wine. The ten-minute walk home still seemed to take twice as long as usual, and she stopped twice, readjusting the plastic bags and wishing she had remembered to bring a shopping bag.
Come the weekend, they would try to get out of the flat and do what couples were supposed to do – go for walks, buy coffee or lunch, sit by the canal contemplating the floating crisp packets and naan breads, the anchored shopping trolleys and traffic cones, and the fish that darted between them. And Sarah knew that she would enjoy those weekends, would revel in the bottle of wine shared or the pints of lager consumed in the pub, and would forget this empty feeling.
She arrived at the apartment just as Mark was slamming the car door shut and locking it with a blip and a flash of orange light in the falling dusk. ‘Hi sweetheart, let me take those,’ he said warmly, kissing her on the lips and peeling the chafing plastic handles from her sore fingers. And all in a rush, she felt the sad emptiness well up with something. For a moment, there was a sort of tender poignancy to the delicate skin of the forehead emerging from beneath Mark’s receding hairline, the slight soft bulge of his stomach under his navy jumper. She thought inexplicably of the surprising softness of his flaccid penis in her hand. Tears began to well up inside her.
‘Yes, please. Thank you.’ They were tears of relief. Sarah followed her husband inside and shut the door.
The panic has left me over the past few days, and I am feeling incredibly peaceful right now. I’ve just got home to the flat after spending two days at my boyfriend’s flat, and admittedly a glass of wine and other (cough) activities might have something to do with it, but I haven’t felt this happy to be coming home to this flat in a long time. I had started to find it very clausterphobic and dark, and although I signed the lease for another year, I had decided very firmly that I wouldn’t stay longer than that year.
It is a relatively dark flat – although it faces north-east rather than full north, a return at the back of the house blocks any possible direct sunlight, and the large window can only compensate so much. And I spent too much time in here over the summer, working away at my Masters thesis and feeling a bit pessimistic about the whole situation. Summer afternoons are particularly bad in here – admittedly, we had hardly any sun this summer, but the contrast between the dim light in the flat and the few bright glorious days we did have was pretty depressing.
But right now, I’m feeling much more positive about it. The size of the place doesn’t bother me, really, I just crave a bit of sunlight now and then. So I think I’m going to say to the landlords to let me know if any of the rooms on the front of the house become available – as the contrast in light between this room and them is incredible. I feel I would be happy living in one of them for a few more years.
Now, in the early evening on an autumn day, I don’t mind so much coming in from the light, as it’s getting too cold to sit outside anyway. I turn my armchair around to face the window, and it’s almost as good as being outside. From here, I write and read and do a lot of thinking. And on days like today, I feel completely happy.
I ended up staying at my parents’ longer than I thought, so I’ve yet to take the camera on an excursion, though it is now in my flat. However, I got a few pictures the other day in the garden that I was happy with. It was sadly the last day in a stretch of nice weather that we’ve had – it has since got a bit cold and cloudy. But I’m holding out for more sunshine – I don’t mind it getting a little colder, but the more sun, the happier and more creative I am.
It was quite windy on the day I took these, and Bumble was having a wonderful time sitting watching everything move about in the wind.
The fuchsia plants are some of the only flowers left blooming in the garden, but even they are falling now. It makes for some very pretty patterns on the ground, though.
I’m hoping to get some “exotic” pictures tomorrow – i.e. from my flat rather than my parents’ house. I’m definitely starting to get to grips with the new camera, but still a bit more practice to go before I’m completely comfortable with it!
This guy is another of the elephants I have scattered around my rooms, which I sadly forgot about in this post. Technically, he is part of a string of five, but for some reason he’s my favourite. A friend of mine brought me back this string of elephants – each of them a different colour – but I don’t remember from where. I think maybe China?
Anyway, this is just a stray photograph from the first few photos I took with my new camera. I liked it, so I thought I’d share. Expect more tomorrow or the next day!
Mr Brown was a man in his forties with a receding hairline and a fondness for tea. His hair worried him. He began to grow his fringe further down onto his forehead, and felt an increasing affinity with those old men you saw in pubs with truly awful comb-overs. He let his fringe grow, and hoped that when the time came that it could be hidden no more, he would accept his baldness with grace and dignity. His wife, he thought, would surely never let a comb-over in the house. But then, he supposed that she too might be caught unawares, lulled by the gradual decline. So, every now and then, Mr Brown peered into the bathroom mirror and pushed back his hair, inspecting the damage and wondering if it was time to succumb to his impending baldness.
He liked his tea strong with a dash of milk and a small bit of sugar. If he was honest, he actually liked it with a bit more than a small bit of sugar; but he didn’t like to admit this, and slipped in the extra spoonfuls when his wife wasn’t looking. He told himself that it was his little luxury, like the bars of chocolate his wife kept in the drinks cabinet. Mr Brown was fascinated by the way she savoured these bars, nibbling on one or two squares every evening as they watched the nine o’clock news. He himself was not overly fond of chocolate. Sometimes he tried to enjoy his evening cup of tea in the way she enjoyed her squares of chocolate, but he always felt unable to grasp her passion.
His wife was called Rosemary. Although she was frugal with the chocolate, she had a multitude of similar little indulgences, and it seemed to Mr Brown that she spent half her life in their grips. She liked to take frequent long baths – she would light an alarming number of candles, add several salts and bubble mixtures to the hot water, and lie in complete silence for upwards of half an hour, leaving steamed-up mirrors and strong feminine scents in her wake. She also had her hair done every month, another ritual which seemed to take much longer than necessary. The rich, auburn shade of her hair was so vivid that it had erased Mr Brown’s memory of her natural hair colour.
However, on the occasions when Mr Brown chanced to see his wife’s pubic hair, he noted that it was turning increasingly grey, like the fur of a badger. The sight of these coarse white hairs made him think of his receding hairline, and he always found himself raising a hand to his forehead at the sight of Rosemary’s naked body.
Yesterday, I finally got my own camera – courtesy of my parents, as a present in celebration of finishing my Masters. The first couple of photographs I took this morning weren’t great, I’m still very much getting used to it, particularly with gauging light and using the AF.
However, you can expect lots more photographs on here in the future, I hope! I think me and my Canon are going to be largely inseparable from now on. The pictures above, taken about half an hour ago, are of a scene you might be familiar with, from my study room window in my parents’ house. But from tomorrow, my camera will be coming out into the world with me, so I’ll finally get to branch out beyond this house and garden.
I’ve been a little more slow with writing and posting over the past few days than I meant, as I’ve been trying to sort out social welfare and do other such errands. I’ve also been utterly exhausted for the past few days – I think the ordeal with the tooth pulling and Masters finishing is still slowing me down. But I’ll rest easier once all the immediate bits and pieces I need to do are finally sorted out.