2014 Grateful 15

I’ve heard tell that fear is faith that it won’t work out. It doesn’t matter what IT is – new job, new relationship, move to a new city – whatever. You’d think that the older we get, the less likely we are to be afraid. Armed with decades of life experience, various degrees of formal schooling, and a list of minor, yet not insignificant achievements that would stretch from here to the Balaton, you’d think that I’d have gotten over my fears. But no. There’s always the one remaining.

I did a quick search for the top ten fears and while Google coughed up a litany of lists, most didn’t vary much at all, so let’s use this one.

  1. Fear of flying (What’s the worst that can happen? I die. Am I afraid of death? No)
  2. Fear of public speaking (The cheapest, legal high you can get – ditto re the death thing)
  3. Fear of heights (It occasionally bothers me but not enough to stop me climbing)
  4. Fear of the dark (It has never been an issue as long as I’m not conscious that I’m in the dark – I know I am obviously, but if it’s not stated, then I’m fine)
  5. Fear of intimacy (Nope – not if there’s trust involved)
  6. Fear of death  (Nope – there are worse things in life than death)
  7. Fear of failure (One to come back to)
  8. Fear of rejection (As above)
  9. Fear of spiders (Not afraid of them, just don’t like them)
  10. Fear of commitment (I grew out of it – but there was a time when I wouldn’t commit to a six-month magazine subscription)

So we have two possibles – and both are closely linked – fear of failure and fear of rejection. In 99% of my life, I fear neither. Failure is relative. What might seem like failure to you, could be a huge achievement for me. Rejection, in my book, says more about those doing the rejecting than those being rejected. Better to know the score, I say, than wonder …

But that other 1% – the dream I’ve been harbouring for more years than I care to remember, the dream of being a published author whose books sell – that small percentage is rife with fear. I have been afraid to go for it not because I am afraid that I will fail, or that my work (and therefore me) will be rejected, but because of the void it will leave if I discover that my dream won’t come true. As long as I don’t try, I will always have hope, I can always dream.

American philosopher Henry James Thoreau said: Do not lose hold of your dreams and aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live. And this is what I’m most afraid of.

I have very little in the way of ambition. I’ve never been one to want power and glory and string of initials after my name. I’ve never coveted a corner office on the top floor or wanted a private secretary, a personal assistant, and a chauffeur-driven limo. I’ve never held out any hope of winning a Nobel prize or discovering something that would change the world for the better. My aspirations are much more refined – to live as well as I can for as long as I can, doing the least amount of harm and the most amount of good. That, and to have no regrets. And yet, from the day I chose my first book from a shelf in the village library, I’ve wanted to have my own book there, too. In the intervening years, I’ve managed to be sure that I have never had the time to write seriously. And when I’ve felt the urge get a tad stronger, I’ve found other work to occupy my time, justifying it all by telling myself that I need to pay the bills.

But last week, the subject of fear came up in conversation, as did death and dying. I decided that enough was enough. I realised that I would simply hate to die wondering. So I’ve signed up with a mentor whom I believe has the fortitude necessary to deal with my excuses and procrastinations and the talent and know-how I need to help me master this craft. Watch this space. If all fails and this dream turns to dust, I can always vacuum.

This week, I’m grateful to those who utter seemingly innocuous comments and throw-away remarks that lodge in my brain and make me think. And I’m grateful that such thinking occasionally leads to action.




Grateful 29

I have been having the strangest dreams lately. One night, I was trapped in a huge old building and the only way out was through what I thought was a morgue. I panicked as I’d never seen a dead body but was happy to discover that the old people inside were all alive – barely. They were all priests and nuns, though, and to get out, I had to talk to each one of them about their lives. Some had very odd stories – like the priest who used to be a scientist and then changed to hairdressing when he burned his hair in a bunsen burner.

In another dream, I was working for four generations of a very rich family. As I’d talk to prince or pauper and generally like to interact with people, this was okay for  a while. The family had two labrador pups. Animals and me get on – to a point. They don’t bother me and I don’t bother them. I’m not a cat person or a dog person – they’re grand but since losing a succession of pets as a child I’ve remained completely detached. Yet as this dream progressed, I got more and more annoyed with the adults, to the point that I practically despised them and more and more attached to the pups to the point that when one went missing, I walked the streets in the pouring rain to find him and when I did, he was dead and I was devastated.

In yet another dream this week, the cops called to the house to do a routine search for a missing person. In my car they found a letter from a mate in Orkney telling me that I’d have to live with a certain knowledge for the rest of my life – and another card suggesting that I get rid of the knife. Naturally they were curious – but  I was more concerned with them not finding the charcoaled remains of yet another body my mates had given me to dispose of. That one scared me senseless. It was most uncomfortable to be accused of something I didn’t do and very difficult indeed to convince these so-called mates that they had to ‘fess up or else I’d rat them out.

Another night, I was a nurse. I was black, in my 20s, with short bobbed wavy hair. And I had ankles. I didn’t want to work with people, just machines. I was about to x-ray this old man Henry for pneumonia when he fell off his crutches and collapsed. My supervisor (a nasty old cow) told to pick him up by putting my index fingers under his chin. When this didn’t work, I hooked my legs around him and then stood up. He began to walk without his crutches…and then everyone wanted a piece of me.

The night before last, I dreamt that it was around Valentine’s Day and I’d been asked out by two lads, each of whom wanted us to double date with some very odd couples. One was quite young, the other my age. The one my age was very pale and blonde and seemingly harmless. He was being grilled by a concerned mate of mine. My mate was some kind of former South African policeman who asked yer man whether a white card had been taped to his passport. It had. He then proceeded to tell the blonde chap that this meant he was black. There’s nothing quite like a throwaway comment to change someone’s life.

Last night, I was living in this huge old country house, at a crossroads. A bunch of itinerants drove in and set up outside the local pub/garage. The gardai were called and there was bedlam. The sea came out of nowhere and the itinerants turned into pirates. Two chased me inside the house and I was frantically trying to lock doors with no keys, gates with no locks. I ended up in a room full of china with one of them pointing a gun at me.

This week, I’m grateful for my dreams, for whatever insight they’re trying to give me, and for the entertainment value they offer. I’d take my dreams any day over the reality of the Irish boys in Poland and that 4-0 defeat against Spain.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

All bets off

Mao had his little red book. The World Bank has its little green book. Me? I have a little blue book that I keep on my desk beside my computer. It’s a dream dictionary. I dream a lot. I dream in vivid colour and in many languages, most of which I do not understand, but the pictures are great. My little blue book gets a lot of use. It’s part of my daily routine now, to check what I can remember of the previous night’s revelations while my laptop powers up and  launches me into yet another workday. Last week is a case in point.

Full house

Sunday night, I dreamed I was in Ikea trying to find a photo frame that wasn’t made in China. I have tried not to buy anything made in China for the last three years and have mostly succeeded by buying very little at all. When I think of what might happen if a) China stopped producing for export or b) every person in China began consuming at western rates, I break out in a cold sweat. I wonder if we realise how dependant we have become. When I checked my little blue book on Monday morning, I read that I would reunite with an old friend if I dreamed of photographs. Not ten minutes later, I had a Skype call from a chap I lost touch with years ago. He was calling to invite me to collaborate on a screenplay about a poker game set in Hungary. (Did you know that Hungary is second only to Ireland when it comes to online poker? I didn’t.)

Snake eyes

Monday night, I dreamed I was rolling dice on the craps table in Bezenye, in the new Euro Vegas casino. That’s the beauty of dreams – things get built on time and within budget. I consulted my LBB first thing on Tuesday morning and found that I could expect some short-term financial gain. Sometime later, my doorbell rang. It was the postman. He usually never calls, preferring to leave me notes and make me trek to the outer realms of District VIII to collect my parcels. But on Tuesday, he called to give me money – 9375 huf. I think it came from Elmű. [Note to W. Lower: You can get money back in Hungary!]

Straight flush

On Wednesday, I dreamed of a jaguar – the cat, not the car. We were sitting across a table, playing poker. I had a straight, in diamonds. When I checked my book on Thursday I discovered that I could expect to hear some gossip about myself AND that I would be wealthy (I was probably still flush from my win on Elmü the night before). Now, gossip doesn’t particularly bother me. As Oscar Wilde once said, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. Later that morning, while sitting in my kitchen, tucking into my mid-morning, cigarette-replacing isler, I overheard my neighbours chatting on the balcony, wondering about my recent weight-gain. De huszi vagyok, nem terhes!

Odds on favourite

On Thursday night, I dreamed that I was strolling through a beautifully kept, landscaped park – I think it might have been Károlyi kert. I could practically smell the flowers. On Friday morning, after due consultation, I learned that I could expect a passionate romantic encounter. What a way to start my weekend! I was jazzed. I was going to a talk that evening and would be in the midst of 400 like-minded souls (well, like-minded inasmuch as they, too, had bought a ticket!). My odds were looking good!

All bets off

On Friday, I dreamed that I was listening in to a very public conversation where the Minister for the National Economy appeared to be reading from a 1990s business text book, underscoring the need for Hungary to adopt benchmarks, best practices, and centres of excellence if this country is to become the new Ireland of Central Europe, without, of course, the ensuing financial fall! (Was this a dream or a nightmare?) Astutely dodging the direct question of whether Hungary might consider raising the ante and adopting an indicator other than GDP to measure progress, he continued to hammer home the need for jobs, jobs, and more jobs. It was about quantity, not quality. If people have work, they will have money and ergo they will be happy. (Definitely a nightmare.) Such jobs would also ‘create valuable human beings to be analyzed’. Now, I’ve worked for money, for experience, out of boredom, but never once I have ever though that it would make me a better subject for analysis. I opened my eyes and he was still on stage in front of me. That night, I was too afraid to sleep.

First published in the Budapest Times Thursday, 26th May