In accordance with today’s 60-minute challenge, as posted by Writerish Ramblings here, I made a valiant attempt at writing for a full hour. This was somewhat hampered by my to-do list and accompanying guilty conscience, hence the result. I enjoyed doing this way more than cleaning, though. Plus a clean house never stays that way, while this post actually might. So, here goes:
My house is a mess. A complete and utter mess. Dirty glasses and mugs litter every available surface. There’s an empty wine bottle on my little lounge table, and some old flowers shedding all over the floor, and random pieces of plastic from a wide variety of eats fluttering everywhere. There are clothes lying on the floor. And leaves that blew in from outside. And books, and newspapers, are taking over all the floor space. There are dead spiders in my bathroom that I liberally sprayed with Doom and haven’t swept away yet. A dead bee somewhere too, only I can’t seem to find it. My kitchen smells odd and I can’t find its source – I’m too afraid to investigate. My dishes are piling up – when I’m hungry I selectively wash a plate, fork and knife and get the hell out of my kitchen with a piece of toast.
I’ve been smoking too much. Not eating healthy enough – I haven’t made juice, as I intended to do when I bought all those beetroots, in three days. I only just remembered to take my meat out the freezer, which means I’ll have to start cooking at ten tonight. I haven’t planted my little coriander and chilli seedlings in my garden as I have been intending to do for the past five days. I have done very little exercise. I haven’t done my laundry.
I have been spending too much time on the internet. Too much time in my favourite restaurant making small talk with the waiters. Too much time reading. Too much time writing. And here I am, writing again. As part of the sixty-minute challenge, so it’s all justified of course.
I thought about naming this piece “How not to fail at life” – very tongue in cheek, of course. I have no idea how not to fail at life. I’m not quite sure what failing or not-failing looks like, to be honest. I only know I have been dogged by guilt for an alarming amount of time now, because of an alarming amount of things, and I have no exact idea why. I just know there are things you are supposed to do to be successful, to not feel guilty when you walk past other people on the street who have obviously got it together. And I’m not doing those things.
So one of the prompts was “think of a stereotype you believe in and why”. Well, I always think I’m open-minded and then realise, of course, that I am not. I can’t see my own blind spots, which doesn’t mean I don’t have any. So here’s a stereotype I believe in, if you want to call it that, and in keeping with the stereotype I shall label it: “How to spot a Successful Person (or figure out whether you are one)”.
Successful people have clean houses, clothes that always smell of lovely springtime washing powder, garden that flourish, kitchens equipped with state-of-the-art knives and a wide repertoire of impeccable cooking skills. Successful people can tick off at least two thirds of all the things they meant to do from their lists, every day. Successful people do not feel guilty, they do not waste time sitting in bed munching crackers and reading the news or indulging in some guilty Facebook-stalking. Successful people never overspend on their budgets, always answer their emails promptly, and remember to floss their teeth at night. Successful people get at least an hour’s exercise a day, and remember to shave their legs, and moisturise properly. Successful people never neglect any of their friends – they remember birthdays and anniversaries, they buy thoughtful gifts, they send thank-you notes.
Successful people read Good Literature and manage to finish it (Catch-22 comes to mind, and War and Peace). Successful people watch a lot of Woody Allen movies without getting depressed. Successful people can make small talk without appearing bored. Successful people might have cellulite and scars, but they can shrug it off because they know they’re awesome anyway, and other people agree too. Successful people don’t eat a whole Camembert in one sitting and pretend that it’s lunch. Successful people definitely do not smoke.
Successful people have folders where they store payslips and bank slips and rental contracts and warranties in alphabetical order. Successful people recycle. Successful people can recognise a good wine and even tell you what type it is (how the hell does one tell, in one sip, the difference, between a Shiraz and a Merlot? I have giant gap in my education). Successful people post tasteful pictures of their holidays on Facebook, never braggingly, but enough to make a mortal like me feel the sting of jealousy. Successful people go to bed at ten p.m. and get up at six in the morning looking as cheerful as Meg Ryan, but with better hair.
Successful people can listen to a lot of jazz and give thoughtful comments on the creative process. Successful people have neat fingernails that seem to buff themselves. Successful people remember to drink enough water and eat five portions of fruits and veggies a day. Successful people never let the milk in their fridge go off, or some harmless broccoli become blue and hairy, or an onion in the cupboard start producing baby onions. Successful people do not apologise to spiders before killing them, because they don’t have spiders in their houses.
Successful people never get tipsy and start telling everyone who will hear the most blush-inducing personal stories. Successful people do not cry when they watch romantic comedies – they don’t watch romantic comedies anyway. Successful people don’t watch four seasons of Big Bang Theory in one sitting and then talk of nothing else for two days. Successful people don’t forget to read the news on the apps they so thoughtfully installed on their phones, and then fumble their way through the next conversation about the Taliban. Successful people know every detail about ISIS, the CIA and torture, Obama’s policies, Australia’s Muslims, England’s newest Prime Minister, and Angela Merkel. Successful people never get angry at idiots either, even though they themselves are obviously very decidedly Non-Idiots.
Successful people don’t write about successful people, unless it is to give advice such as “five handy tips to better manage your time” or “why eight hours’ sleep is essential for proper brain functioning”. Successful people also don’t know that they are making me feel guilty, because they think everybody is as successful as they are, except drug addicts and those only exist in Columbia and Cape Town’s slums, obviously. Successful people do not know the abject terror of always being behind on life, always with something yet unfinished. Successful people do not buy sketch pads at extreme cost and then never draw a single picture. Successful people read The Economist in one sitting. Successful people can play piano like it’s nobody’s business, because they started taking lessons at seven. Successful people run marathons, and their home-grown tomatoes don’t get eaten by birds and insects, and they can cook Chicken Korma from basic ingredients.
Successful people don’t say ‘fuck’ (there, I might hazard to say, they are missing out). They are either atheists or Christians, and in both cases they have their argument well thought-through and fool-proof. Successful people manage to meditate for an hour without falling asleep. They have read both Nietzsche and Sartre, and also Alain De Botton (they can also spell “Nietzche without having to double check on the internet). They know what being an existentialist or a postmodernist means. They like Picasso and can say clever things about Cubism. They go to museums for fun. When they have children, these children can speak at the age of one and a half and read by four – they call their kids ‘gifted’ and everybody agrees. They know all about MSG and make sure never to feed their kids any. They make their own pesto.
Unlike me, successful people don’t feel guilty when they read Time’s “ten ways to improve your exercise regime”. They don’t make lists to improve their lives and then promptly (and conveniently) lose these. So, my question is, how do I become a Successful Person? How do I stop feeling guilty as hell all the time? Because, the ugly truth is, I still take bites of raw bacon while cooking and occasionally eat food off the floor. I mostly clean my house only when I know I’m having guests. I only buy wine when it’s on special and I wear hats when my hair’s looking dirty. I don’t even stick to my principles: I pray when I’m scared or I want something, even though I’m not a Christian.
One thing I know: I’m not going to figure this out while sitting in front of my computer, intermittently playing Solitaire and typing. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to wash a plate. Maybe I’ll even wash two. After that exhausting exercise, you may find me in my bed, eating crackers and attempting to solve the mysteries of the universe.