Adjusting The Lens

You can see clearly, in most lights, by simply paying attention to how you adjust your lens. This also applies to projecting your image or opinion on others – focus carefully upon what you wish them to see before you switch on your lamp.

You may live a life of luxurious misery or one of desperate happiness. Or board at any house in between. It is generally your choice how happy you are with where you are.

Please don’t imagine I’m trying to make you contented with being exploited or demeaned.  Cry to heaven for surcease if this is the case, or start slitting throats if you decide you can’t wait – it’s all up to you. You are the captain of your soul and the commander of your destiny. Mind you, so was Captain Smith of the TITANIC, and didn’t that work out well…

But look carefully at how happy you are as compared to how happy you expect to be. If you are not in deficit, take some time to count the blessings. You need not prepare an Excel spreadsheet nor account to any government department for most things that make you genuinely happy. You may be surprised at the quantity and variety overlooked in daily life.

Be careful that you do not feel compelled to be as happy as someone else – you can’t see all their soul’s secrets and cannot know, in many instances, whether they are really happy or sad. Leave that to them.

Be especially careful not respond when someone tells you how happy you need to be. This is generally a softening-up procedure for an advertiser. They are eventually going to try to sell you something or force you to do something. You’ll be supplying money, sex, work, or obedience to them under the guise of making you happy. In any affair like this go in with your eyes wide open, or at least squinted slightly into the eyepiece of a gun sight. Beware of recoil.

Worry, Be Happy.

Pay no attention to Bobby McFerrin. If you want to be happy the thing you want is plenty of worry.

Anxiety and panic attacks are the key to the good life…especially if you can cause them in others on a regular basis. Here is a guide to making other people justifiably nervous:

  1. Loud noises frighten people. You are probably not allowed to fire off a gun in the street unless you are a policeman or a criminal. But you can own a powerful motorcycle or car with a loud exhaust. Practice drifting through a quiet suburb late at night with the engine idling and then gun it just as you get near the bedroom of the quiet neighbours. With a rich mixture in your engine you can produce a backfire which is almost as good as a pistol shot.
  2. Lurk. Pick an alleyway near your shopping centre or community hall. Dress in dark clothes with a hooded top. Stand in the shadows with just enough light behind you to look menacing. Don’t say anything, but practice your looming.
  3. Learn a convincing-sounding technical or economics phrase that seems to portend trouble. It need not be anything at all, but if it sounds like something that people think they have heard they’ll credit it with authenticity. There are books of these phrases in the library. Use it whenever the conversation flags and look concerned.
  4. Peer. Look very carefully and very pointedly at someone. If they notice you, turn away…but return to the watch as soon as they lose interest. With a bit of luck it can become a cat and mouse game. If they challenge you by asking what you’re looking at say ” That patch of skin just behind your ear…”
  5. Papers. Carry a folder of them – a loose-leaf file or clipboard is even better. Ask people if this is a good time to discuss the problem. But then say you’ll just pop out to ring up The Department and that you’ll be back.
  6. Edge. Toward the food and drink to begin with – then towards the lavatory – then towards the door.
  7. Glance at your watch a lot. Or better, keep asking the time of someone. Or best, ask the time, then pull your sleeve up to reveal a far better watch than they wear – give them the correct time and ask them to repeat it to you so that you know they have understood…
  8. Keep your coat on. At a party, this indicates that you are just there for a limited time, with a far more important place to go to as soon as you can get away. If it is a dinner party, an overcoat will be the sensation of the table. Wear a hat at the same time. Note: this is a good ploy if you are either having dinner or sex with someone and do not wish a second helping.
  9. Have someone come to the door frequently and call you away for a whispered consultation. If you can arrange for them to wear a HAZMAT suit or the uniform of a Colonel in the Guards, all the better. When you come back to join the rest of the guests  exhibit a wan smile.
  10. Shake hands vigorously with everyone and tell them that your name is Randolph. Spell it out for them.

Thank You For Something

I used to occasionally lapse into gloom about all the things in life that went wrong. I wasn’t  qualified to do it on the part of other people, but I could look at my own history and pick out the mouldy bits. The problem is that once I started looking, I kept on looking.

I’ll bet you’ve done this too…wasn’t it a pain?

My solution to it turned out to be a list. Actually two lists – the List Of Desires and the Untouchable List. I’ve written about these on this column before. The one is sometimes known as the Bucket List and the other has a ruder name….

The List Of Desires gets a look-in every so often to see if a Window Of Glorious Opportunity has opened. So far, no, but a Small Service Hatch Of Possibility swings ajar every now and then and I get to do small things. These are inordinately pleasing in their rarity.

The Untouchable List gets an annual review, but for a very much shorter time. Look at it too long and I brood, but I must look at it briefly to remind myself of topics to avoid and people to shun. A quick peep and then snap the catch back closed.

Now, what am I grateful for? Well, I’ve met people who maintain a list as well, but it is an unholy combination of my two – adapted to their lives. They have a record of everyone who they consider has done them wrong and upon whom revenge may be taken. Whether it will happen or not, the existence of the list is disturbing in the extreme. You cannot know of it without wondering whether your name is on it somewhere.

The gratitude is realising that I’ve been able to put happiness and distress into two separate boxes and that they both have close-fitting lids. I can decide whether to open them or leave them shut.

” I’m Not Happy…”

Once upon a time my father put a set of plans for his new house in to the local shire for approval. It was a good design and quite legal – though it was an unusual configuration for the time. The clerk behind the desk shook his head and said he wasn’t happy about the ideas he saw on paper.

My father wasn’t offended. He asked the clerk to show him the local building statute that referred to the clerk’s happiness…There was a the sound of growling and rubber stamping and the house is standing and serving me 44 years later. I cannot say what the state of mind of the clerk is – perhaps he cheered up in retirement.

Similarly, I have noted that many people behind counters are not happy. Some, because they are there, and some because I am there. I have learned to do my best to alleviate their gloom by smiling and making whatever request I have small and easy to accomplish. This works well in delis and banks – a simple request for a pie and sauce in the one or a small note demanding cash for the other is all that’s needed. And keep your finger pointed in your coat pocket when you ask.

If you are not happy at home, the onus is generally on you to remedy this. The way you do that can be manyfold – study, work, singing, hobbies, thinking – they’ll all serve to lift your gloom. If your unhappiness is due to another, simply remove them from the home and have the locks changed. If all else fails paint them a bright colour and decorate their edges with chrome trim.

Being Nice To Yourself…And Getting Away With It.

You’ll find as you go through life that you can be cruel to other people and get away with it – just pitch your meanness either too low to see or too high to criticize. Dictators and petty despots get away with this all the time.

You can also be cruel to yourself – Woody Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, and Oscar Levant  made a good living out of this – and your psychiatrist will also welcome you beating yourself up. At medical rates.

Being kind to others is also approved by the general population, as long as they are not required to join in or to contribute too much money. Do good on a small change basis and you’ll be fine.

But being kind to yourself will bring nothing but condemnation. Anything you buy yourself – any treat that you get – any happiness you find – will be looked upon as self-indulgent. Any time you grant yourself a discharge from guilt or an access to peace will be frowned upon. If you want to be nice to you, you’ll have to do it on the sly. So here are some tips:

a. Decide what you like to eat. Buy it, cook it, and eat it…in your own home.

b. Decide what you like to read. Buy the book, find the website, rent the movie. And look at it in your own home.

c. Decide for yourself what makes you comfortable. Do it in your own home.

Can you see a pattern developing here? Well the exercise of happiness at home is a good start. But consider it as a training phase. Wear yellow clothing and only fly in the daytime if need be…but prepare yourself for bigger things.

One day…go out and order yourself a meal of the things you like to eat in a restaurant. Eat them.

Then go read your book in a public park…or park in a pub and read it.

Then wear the clothing you like out on the street…and go where you find pleasure…and participate in it.

Make no mistake – someone will be angry. Someone will be disapproving. Someone will be unhappy.

But if you have done your training well….it won’t be you.

The Royal Wedding

I’ve been watching the social media site Facebook for the last few days and noted a number of people saying that they are not interested in the Wedding of Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle. They’ve taken time out of their day to do this, thus suggesting that they are, indeed, interested.

So they should be. It is a real event for the two young people and staged in such an open fashion as to enable all to see what is happening. There is enough drama of the good old-fashioned kind to satisfy all, and no-one need feel sad at the end of it.

Indeed, just the opposite. A cheerful union of two people from different countries, with the reasonable prospect of them having enough to eat, a place to live, a chance to do their jobs, and perhaps even have children. I cannot think of a better antidote for the sadness, the tragedy, and the politics of the world – and I would wish the same happiness for any of my Facebook friends who have seen it.


Too Rich, Too Thin, Too Early…

The quote that ” A woman can never be too rich or too thin ” has been attributed to a number of people. One of them, the late Wallace Simpson, might have been tempted to add ” Or too close to the British royal family or fascist Germany…”. Leaving aside who actually originated the phrase, I would venture to say that it is not true. Nearly all of us can think of women…and men…who would far better off poorer and stouter.

I would like to use the format as a springboard for a thought about retirement: You cannot retire too early or too late – you cannot retire too poor or too rich – and you should not retire too sad.

Let’s take the first part; too early. I know several people who have elected to do just this – having built up a nest egg of superannuation savings they have stopped work in their early or middle fifties. Their experiences were mixed – one found nothing to do all day, and one has been trapped by other people’s desires and has no free time. Prisoners of either ennui or ambition.

Had they been able to continue their paid working time a little longer they could have been excused after retirement from having either empty or over-full days.

Now to the second part; too late. That caught my grandfathers – one died employed, with no leisure time ever, and one died from the effects of his work’s environmental dangers…he went at it too long and too hard. We all know someone who carries on until exhausted and is horrified to discover that there is nothing after the gold watch presentation but exhaustion.

Too poor? That’s sad, and it is sometimes the unavoidable consequence of low pay all the working time. Sometimes the result of bad investment or savings, family losses, or marital strife. Sometimes just the result of bad living practices. Whatever the combination of circumstances, it leaves the retiree bound as a slave to either governmental handout or to want. The only hope is a rise in the former to alleviate the latter.

Too rich? Here it pressure is from another quarter – a moral or intellectual one. The overly wealthy retiree is beset by the temptation to spend money, and may have arrived at that position not knowing what to spend it upon. Bad choices may be made – God knows bad choices will be offered by everyone who wants a piece of that money. A perfectly good man or woman may become a perfect monster.

For my part, I am discovering that my mixture of retirement age and money may be just right for me. I have enough to live well – on a standard that I think of as well – without being tempted to pretend to be something I am not. I have arrived at retirement with very few bad habits and no need to acquire new ones to please others. I have enough old clothes to wear and old books to read and can afford the candles and firewood to do this of an evening. And I have the sense to realise that I do not need to go where I do not want to go, nor can I be compelled to do things I don’t want to do for people I dislike. It is a modest form of heaven.

The Ever-Present Danger of Happiness…

Some days it doesn’t pay to let down your guard – the moment you do something nice happens to you and then the rest of the day is shot.

This is a real problem for grumpy older people who try to maintain the rage but find that they can’t get the parts any more. They are sometimes forced to abandon old grudges and either go out and buy new ones or just give up the sport altogether. This might sound like a good idea, but what do you do with all the clothing and accessories you’ve acquired to do it with?  There is only a limited market for poison darts at garage sales in this country.

It’s easy enough to avoid happy people in the shopping mall or the airport – anyone offering religious tracts or flowers can be seen at a distance and you can steer round them. If you are riding a gopher mobility cart you can steer into them but be prepared for sympathy and hot cups of tea from the security staff. Fortunately, security staff never seem to be happy in themselves so you can hang around where they are and cash in on the negative vibes. Just don’t make any sudden moves.

Being unhappy at home takes a little more effort. If your favourite television program is on in ten minutes and you have a fresh cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits you might as well sit down and get it over with – postpone your moaning until the advertisement breaks. If you’re lucky* these will be every five minutes. And then there is the telephone with telemarketers and scam merchants ringing up during the best part of the show – you can kill happiness efficiently there.

Sometimes all it takes to develop a really good grump is to review the daily news. Of course, if your side is winning this is no help at all. Then you are forced to go further into the paper until you get to the art or food reviews to get your boost o’ sadness. At least the average modern reviewer can be depended upon to be disappointed in something. It’s the reason they never get into Heaven…God is afraid they’ll take away one of his stars.

If all else fails you can sit on the front porch and yell at people to get off your lawn. In Australia we’re not allowed M1 Garands so we can’t go the full Clint Eastwood on the local teenagers but there is nothing to stop us planting double-gees in the grass and that keeps ’em off, no fear.

*  There’s more than one kind of luck…



How To Lay A Kindfield – Part Three

The business of being mean to people occupies a great deal of the time and thoughts for the world’s leaders. Whether they are plotting war, famine, disease, or death – or just kicking back with a beverage, they are constantly dealing with unhappiness. It must take a toll on them.

Far better for them to approach things in a different way – to promote goodness, mercy, thoughtfulness, and kindness. Properly done, with adequate resources and long-term committment, this policy has the potential to devastate large portions of the globe. As individuals we can do no better than to try it for ourselves.

I’ve some experience in this – I give out presents each year during the Chanukah-Christmas period and have had the pleasure of seeing the trouble it has caused. In year’s past I selected books at new and secondhand stores to match the interests and pleasures of the recipients. I put all the people down upon one long paper list and then another long paper list of the appropriate books beside it, carefully aligned. Then I simply slipped the second list down one space and gave out the books on that basis. One year I slipped it two names and lost a half-dozen friends instantly. It was one of the most successful holidays ever.

Lately I have resorted to wines in plain bottles, for which I make up suitable labels. The wines are local produce and sometimes quite drinkable, so I have no fear about actually poisoning the recipients. This would be unfair, and probably illegal. I am content with whatever biliousness, stains, and argumentative behaviour that may arise from the stuff as it is.

Being kind to children is part of the tradition as well, What child would not welcome a pop-pop lawnmower to push around the loungeroom while the parents have a hangover? What child would be unhappy with a plastic rabbit that lays real rabbit poo out of its bottom when you push it up and down? Particularly if it comes with a real bag of real poo. And then there are the dollies. Big, elaborate dollies. Dollies that need an entire new wardrobe every time the child goes to the store…

Now promoting happiness is one thing – promoting morality is, in some ways, even better. And you need not leave anyone out of this. There are any number of religious and moral organisations who wish to press tracts upon us for our betterment…in accordance with their beliefs. It is a kindness to them to accept of these – to even order them especially – and to lay them up for future use.

When you have sufficient stock, it is a simple matter of taking a walk in your suburb  after dark to put the correct pamphlet into the correct letter box. No good putting the 7th Day Adventist leaflet into the post box of the 7th Day adherent – they already know that song. Put it into the box of the Hindu person. Take the Vishnu Society booklet and pop it into the mailbox of the fervent Catholic in the street. And so on. If you are puzzled as to the exact nature of the beliefs of anyone, just make a note of their street address and sign them up for everything – including time-share units at Noosa. If their post box actually falls over in the mud from the weight of paper thrust into the slot, it is the fault of the makers.