I was asked recently by a very concerned friend if I was all right. We were in one of the most idyllic places on earth as she asked me this. She asked completely out of the blue. After assuring her that I was “Fine! … Good! … Excellent!”, I realised that my brow was furrowed in deep focus. I must have looked like I was scowling. Hence her question. The reason for this scowling, I realised, was that I was trying to concentrate very hard. I was expending every effort to make sure that I was taking in all the loveliness of the place I was in. I was absolutely straining to ensure that I wasn’t missing any of it. This is one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been Georgia, so soak it up, you won’t be here for much longer, and if you don’t take full advantage, you’ll be annoyed that you missed it … The degree to which I was panicking over “missing it” before I’d even left was almost harrowing. I wanted to luxuriate in the moment so much that I was exhausting myself trying.
I can often dress my own ridiculousness up as eccentricity or “character” … but not in this instance. This situation is waving a very brightly coloured flag that plainly reads “Silly!”. And as soon as I noticed this farcical little paradox, I realised how often I wind myself up in it – wrapping myself up in my own, brightly-coloured, silly flag and saluting to the captain of absurdity: “Captain!”
When a friend asks me if I’m happy it can send me into a tail-spin of panic. I’ll think, Ummm, am I happy? Good question. Am I? … I mean, yeah. I guess so. I don’t think I’m unhappy. I haven’t really stopped to think about it … Maybe I’m actually unhappy and I’m in denial … or maybe I’m deliriously happy and I’m just the sort of person who’s never satisfied … I don’t even know if I’m qualified to say what happy is and what it isn’t … Am I? … And what if I say I’m happy now, does that mean that there’s no more room for improvement – like I’m declaring that this level I’m at now is the benchmark for happiness? That’s like giving a 10 out of 10 – I may want to give happiness a higher score than this later on … It may get better … Oh God … And invariably, after a long pause while all this runs through my head, I’ll say “Yeah, I’m not bad”. And the question of my own happiness has usually left me a little tortured … a little unhappy.
… Now salute – “Captain!”
It reminds me of a badge my mother used to wear in the 1980s that read, “Are we having fun yet?”. Mum always got an amused comment from someone when she wore it (which was often). It also became a sort of catch-cry in and around our house. While negotiating the domestic chores with her un-helpful children for example, just after explaining that the cleaning does actually have to be done every week, my Mum would take a deep breath, smile and ask calmly, “Are we having fun yet?”. She’d use the phrase as a reminder to herself and others to lighten up and get on with it, but it also meant something else. Just like me bursting an internal valve trying to enjoy a beautiful place. Or beating myself to intellectual death with the question of the existence of happiness. There’s that delightfully ironic conundrum: You can’t possibly be doing it if you’re asking yourself whether or not your are (you just stopped doing everything, so you could check).
They’re such great questions … Are we having fun yet? Is this it? Is this the fun bit? Is it happening now? Am I doing it right? … Am I enjoying myself now? … Am I relaxing? Listening? Loosening up? … Am I loving it? Am I happy? … Tell me when it’s happening won’t you, because I’d hate to miss it.
“Captain Ridiculous!” [salute]