I’ll be pitching in London on Monday, clinical and business meetings scattered at various locations through the rest of the week, so its shaping up as a busy period again. But a series of late afternoon storms rumbled through Parkstone, breaking the heat along with my concentration. ‘time to gather my notes and move down to the beach for the afternoon, start to plan a weekend that is genuinely ‘off’.
The circus is in town, there’s a regatta in Swanage: the festival schedule has abated as school term ends and people leave for summer holidays. I’d rather be boating but need to finish my qualifications before I can charter out with the dinghy. In vino veritas, In wine, there is truth: I settle in with a glass and collect thoughts.
— I’m planning a dinner, building out into my social circle, so there’s the menu to think through. The butcher has some great ideas for a lamb loin, and veg and wine selection is easy. I’ve finally mastered the varieties of potatoes to make good accompaniments.
But my go-to summer desert, panna cotta with a fruit coulis, has fallen from favor because I use animal gelatin. I’ve ordered agar and xantham gum alternatives, and have got a series of experiments setting in the ‘fridge this morning. There’s no good leaf-to-powder equivalent, so I’ll see what amount strikes a balance between mushy and rubbery.
If it all fails, I’ll move on to spuma foams.
— The Shrink and Sage reflected on Wisdom last weekend, it’s still on my mind. ‘Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can’, so the Shrink counsels that Wisdom lies in knowing the difference. I think that’s perfectly horrible advice: I always envision the good possibilities, cannot accept the bad ones, and so I always see opportunities for change and redemption. My life is not simply accumulating a sum of days and accepting what comes; it is actively observing the good and the bad, understanding alternatives, and making wise choices while holding others accountable for theirs.
In this, I am much closer to the Sage: Wisdom is the capacity to see which problems matter in life, and what aspects are crucial to solving them. Work, living, relationships: it means putting one’s life experiences to good use while still being open to learning. It is about making the most of my capacity to make and to acct on choices.
— I go back to thumbing articles on my tablet, one eye towards the ‘boarders paddling past. My brother alerts me that Cambridge has fallen to #4 on a league table, behind Harvard, Stanford, MIT. No worries, we’re ahead of Oxford at #5, and with an 800-year history, we take the long view of these things. Amazon is starting a book subscription service, not yet available in Europe unfortunately, but a promising idea. I hope that it doesn’t undermine libraries, though. The Times reports on new language learning apps, promising, but no substitute for the immersion of just plunging in with courage over a newspaper, a dictionary, and good friends over coffee.
— Must increased happiness correspond to decreased unhappiness, or can both increase together as cheerful melancholy, asks Arthur Brooks in the Times? Brooks argues that the two opposites can co-exist because of a discordance between extrinsic and intrinsic goals, things we do for public or private purposes. But the two intermingle, as on social media: ‘How could it not make you feel worse to pretend to be happier than you are, while seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?’
That seems simplistic, even though true. Private thoughts can certainly be a blend. I can be happy on a se-cliff walk while being unhappy that I am not sharing it; my contentment in the moment is accompanied by regrets and worries about past and future.
I’m half-way through Lesser’s book, Broken Open, where she writes that when we try to appear happy and consistent, we suppress expression of our failures and longings.
Publicly, then, we live with only half our lives. Echoing Brooks, we try to be as happy as we think others are, as confident as they want us to be. We cut ourselves off from other’s wisdom and compassion, from being able to offer any perspective or tenderness in return.
It all sounds soft and could easily be overdone, but I think that there is a truth here: that we need to be able to participate with our full selves in social relationships, both committed and vulnerable, aspirational and longing.
In the end, after discussing materialism as a route to happiness, Brooks also comes full circle back to the importance of people in our lives. He concludes simply that the only key is to Love People; Use Things.
I agree, noting that we should never, ever, to invert the two.