••• The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyles
Counsel of Despair
Things to do with good advice ...
The thing about good advice is – there’s way too much of it. Everyone and his dog are offering ways to improve your health, diet, physique, or stop you ageing, start living, lose weight, cure dementia, lower your blood pressure, de-stress, eat this and hey presto you are cured forever.
Fortunes are made selling books on ‘how not to die’ and indeed, there is a book recommended to me by a good friend called just that and it’s definitely full of good nutrition advice and warnings about the food we eat, the drugs we take and lifestyles we lead and includes a good debunking of some of the dubious science that goes into modern pharmacy today. The drug conglomerates have their pet doctors on every ‘study’ to trash any suggestion that a vegan diet would be better for you than their expensive drugs and worse, even if you took the statins and all the rest – at ‘best’ you might live three days longer in your life than if you hadn’t. But then again you wouldn’t be paying for their Lexus or the golfing vacations in Hawaii and we wouldn’t want them to suffer right? Definitely read this book if you are at all concerned about your health and what you eat. *I note it's a Times Bestseller recommendation as well.
But I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, or get better, or do something about obesity or anorexia – if it is something you struggle with it’s your problem to solve. *First step is recognising you have a problem to solve. My wake up call was a near fatal heart attack two years ago. If that doesn't make you change your life, nothing will. I’ve listened to my heart specialist who tells me to make sure I have a good glass of red wine before supper and that strikes me as the right approach. Two glasses at a stretch; if you’re feeling chipper. I’m almost vegan, in the way that I’m almost at second base with this veggie thing, but I just can’t drink black coffee and would have to give it up if I did. I ate some fish last month because I was stuck in a restaurant that had no other options, but otherwise I shun all meat and cheese/dairy and cake and I haven’t missed them once. But somewhere down the road to ‘good health’ I realised that I didn’t want to live forever. Mortality is everyone’s lot right, dragging it out to the last gasp of air isn’t quite my thing. I don’t exactly want to cash my chips in an elevator like Prince, but at least Prince won’t ever get old or incontinent and he’s no longer suffering from pain. Hip–ops are no fun if it kills you to hip-hop, as they say.
I made a list. Things I don’t want and don’t need, and getting old tops the pile. Add liver spots, balding, prostate problems, angina, high blood pressure, failing eyesight, muscle wastage, hearing loss. I probably missed something I’m sure. Oh yeah, memory loss.
It seems a lot of people are quite keen on ignoring all their health failings and aim for that big 100 in the sky, but unless you are one of those Japanese super-women at 105 living on 40 cigarettes a day and a glass of sake or whiskey, I don’t find it all that attractive to live forever.
It’s hard to explain to a generation mainlining selfie culture and 24/7 social media, but I don’t actually like being connected. No Whatsapp, no Instagram, definitely no Tweets, if I knew how to actually delete facebook I'd do it. Meeting and talking with someone in the flesh, over coffee or wine is great, ideas flow, laughter ensues, and it makes a day complete. On screen, not so great, Skype has no body heat. I don’t need 4,000 likes, or even one to justify my life, or that glass of Malbec. Yet thousands of kids are growing up with anxiety problems because they don't have enough likes for their looks or uploads. Now you can be unpopular in 200 countries at a time!
Life for me focuses on routine (ever the curse and lifeline of a writer). The morning copy of The Times; coffee at 11; corrections till lunch, new writing in the afternoon followed by a walk by the sea, fighting weeds in the garden, then read backs and notes. Thrilling huh. Add a sudden thought at 11 pm which unravels all you’ve written that day and all the mental notes to check on this or that – it’s amazing how a day disappears and how little sometimes is on the page. (Or a lot if you have a spurt of sudden enthusiasm). But routine aside, I have slowly begun to realise the world is rushing off in another direction. There are so few movies I want to see anymore (Midnight Special was the last I thoroughly enjoyed). Contemporary music is no longer compelling. (Beyonce is drinking more than Lemonade if you ask me). Kids rave about Next Step on TV but I am quite happy to watch The 100 or Heroes Reborn for amusement.
I am at odds with a business culture that doesn’t reward loyalty – think banks, insurance, mortgages, gas or electric suppliers or mobile phone companies who treat anyone who doesn’t switch with utter contempt. This was not the way I was raised. Loyalty counted for something. Now you’re just branded a fool for staying too long. (Add publishers and agents to this list.) Sigh.
Once I felt connected to the world entirely without the aide of social media, now I don’t. I guess this it what happens when you get to 50 and upwards. You are discarded by the main shoal and left to fend for yourself. But hey ho, it’s no biggie. The way I figure it, as long as I drink my glass of wine and walk the dog and stay warm – that’s fine by me.
I’m a writer, so I have my latest set of characters to worry about, their needs and wants. Every time I think I’ve finished my latest novel I can see just one more thing that needs explaining or a fact that needs checking. It’s a road movie type story. Typically in such stories you just react to what comes next, you’re not really changing the odds, just concentrating on staying alive. My characters seems to have a much stronger will to live than myself. I haven’t really stopped to think about that, only that they are young and don’t know better. Despite their oppressive upbringing they never became cynical. How on earth that happened I don’t know. I just write the stuff, right? It comes out of the ether. I do feel quite protective of them however.
The worse thing that can happen to a writer is finishing writing a book – I think that’s why it’s hard to let go and you tinker a lot in the last months. Most readers won’t care so much – they just want to get to the action, but lately I’ve begun to be more interested in the 'moment' they are in than the destination they are heading for. I want to give them more time to react and feel, but of course, you can’t really do too much of that. I remember with Haruki Murakami’s recent novel IQ84, his main character was endlessly cooking meals and it was like you were looking over the writer’s shoulder all the time. He clearly had no idea where to take the story and was cooking just to make you feel something was happening. It’s ok once or twice, but perhaps not so cool in a 1000 page book.
Knowing when you are cooking, rather than writing, is something you have to be aware of.
So here I am – not giving you any useful advice, happily ignoring facebook et al and wondering if it’s time for my glass of red (with a handful of almonds). My tip for those deluged with good advice for living – accept only what makes your life more enjoyable to live. When you stop enjoying it - well I guess it’s time to go.
Just don’t tell the dog.
© Sam Hawksmoor May 2016
Sam will probably let go of 'J&K 4Ever' soon and it will be available to read by the end of May, early June. Meanwhile check out Marikka or Another Place To Die: Endtime Chronicles