What Are You Waiting For?

What will I be like at 80? This was the question which confronted me back when I went through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. (2013 – hasn’t time flown?)

The first thing that came to mind was ‘dead’, but since that didn’t really fit in with the purpose of the exercise, I tried again, trying to be a bit more optimistic this time.

About to go, my entry began, and went on to suggest that I would be the kind of old woman who enjoys shocking people by how directly she speaks, and doesn’t mind being disliked or unpopular.

sombrero-1082322_640Or as I put it in the post I wrote at the time, “if I do make eighty I bet I’ll be one of those acute old ladies who says what she thinks you need to hear and doesn’t mind how excruciatingly embarrassed you are by it.”

Now admittedly, I’ve got nearly fifty years to reach this happy state of affairs (if I don’t die first), but as it stands, this is about the opposite of who I am now.

I don’t like to be disliked, and the feeling that I may have just offended someone eats away at me like a vinegar bath, leaving me anxious and restless. There are times I feel it would be advantageous to take a vow of silence, and then no one could take offence at anything I say.

Richard Nitsch Hausandacht einer Schlesierin aus der Neisser Gegend
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in the habit of being offensive; I just worry that I may have inadvertently given offence. It seems quite easy to do, particularly when you are not entirely at home in any one culture.

Perhaps that’s what I’m looking forward to about being old and near my death: I’ll have stopped worrying so much; and I’ll be open, honest and straight-forward enough to tell people the truth without hedging it about with fluff and diversion (though still, like Elizabeth Bennet, endeavouring “to unite civility and truth”).

And being old and eyeballing my approaching death, I won’t be bothered by any resulting unpopularity. I hope. Perhaps, like the lady who intends to wear purple, I’d better start practicing now, so as not to take people by surprise.

Ethnie dong 3764a
What are you looking forward to about being old? And have you considered starting now?


There are times when I am tempted to believe that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who say they’re humble when they’re not, and those who misunderstand humility altogether and proudly disavow it.

I blame Uriah Heep.

Fred Barnard07Humility is not insincerity. Nor is it the state of being humiliated. Nor is it badmouthing oneself in order to elicit compliments from others. Humility, as Charles Spurgeon said, is “to make a right estimate of one’s self.” Neither puffed up too high nor grovelling too low, but seeing oneself clearly, as one truly is.

“Humility has nothing to do with depreciating ourselves and our gifts in ways we know to be untrue,” David F Wells wrote in Losing Our Virtue. “Even “humble” attitudes can be masks of pride. Humility is that freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight. It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe.”

Tranquil center of the universeOh, the relief! Not being the one fixed point around which the universe endlessly turns really takes a lot of pressure off. As the actor Rupert Graves says, “Not being anxious requires a level of humility, doesn’t it? It does, I think. It’s not all about you.” Humility: cheaper than Valium, and with fewer unpleasant side-effects.

But how do we obtain humility? How do we become humble? Sigmund Freud, somewhat unexpectedly, suggests love may be the answer. “Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.” If you want to be truly humble, mind you, you might want to think about hocking the whole lot.

According to Phillips Brooks, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” It’s a matter of getting some perspective and seeing things in proportion.

There are, it seems to me, two parts to humility: seeing oneself clearly, and not focussing on oneself. The first requires a certain level of self-examination, and the second – well, doesn’t. Quite the opposite. As with so many things, a balance must be found.

Fotothek df roe-neg 0006507 014 Eine Frau posiert mit Mantel und Hut vor einem Spiegel bei der "InternationalenWe could do worse than take the example of the ‘well-dressed lady’ who checks herself over in the mirror in the morning and then doesn’t give her appearance another thought for the rest of the day.

The quest for humility is, however, frequently inhibited by one’s culture. Some cultures are all for self-aggrandizement; others mandate a sort of false humility, where the Done Thing is to downplay your abilities and achievements.

Some cultures – take New Zealand, for example – sometimes push this to the point of it being frowned upon to do well, let alone talk about it. Conspicuous success invites hostility. Tall Poppy syndrome, it is called, after the story of Tarquin the Great’s unspoken advice to his son on how to conquer the city of Gabii. Let me tell you, Tarquin Jr wouldn’t know what to do with himself in this, the land of hunchbacked poppies.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema 11As the Maori say, Kāore te kumara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka; the kumara does not say how sweet he is. Be the kumara; don’t be the Heep.

November: A Sense of Autonomy

How did it get to be the end of November already??
The year is just flying past, and the Artist’s Way chapter 11 is already inviting me to take a look back over how far I’ve come.

Before the year’s end I want to read through all my posts again, but in the meantime, I’ve considered how much change has occurred since January. Looking back, it’s actually quite a lot, although it didn’t seem so at the time – rather like not noticing the rings forming on a tree trunk.

Tree rings

I have a blog. (But you knew that.)
I write regularly. It started as morning pages and irregular blog posts; now I post regularly and have a whole day each week set aside for writing.
I take myself seriously as a writer. It isn’t just a hobby I do in my spare time when I feel like it.

I feel less anxious and guilt-ridden about Getting Things Done – still something I struggle with, but I’m learning to lighten up, without becoming totally irresponsible.

I am more generous with myself. Giving to others was a no-brainer, but with myself I played the “I bet I can carry on without that” game, instead of actually considering whether it was a good idea. For myself I had an automatic ‘no’. I was Scrooge.

Scrooge Head Maquette

I don’t mean to suggest that more is better and you should fulfil your every whim, but sometimes you lose more by going without than you gain. In the spirit of which, I had an enjoyable struggle with the AW exercises on self-nurture, over six months and during one week.

In the longer term, I plan to reward myself for finishing the current WIP draft with a new fountain pen (droooool). I also want to learn to crochet.

While I was off work sick, I managed to read nine Agatha Christie novels, three Ngaio Marshes, and two Patricia Wentworths. This was so relaxing and refreshing I had the brilliant idea of setting aside a day every now and again to do nothing at all but read. Perhaps once a month?


My nurturing week includes classic things like a movie or an icecream, and simple things I enjoy like having a nice sit-down afternoon tea, or going to a charity shop to try on hats. I may also buy a magazine – no magazine in particular – and go through it for pictures to put in my scrapbook.

The Artist’s Way also challenges us to reconsider our understanding of God, particularly in the area of creativity. I have realized lately that I need to learn to trust God more and trust his dreams for me.
After all – look how far he’s brought me already.

Looking back down

Exercise 5 invites us to list the ways we will continue to change as we allow our creativity to grow and flourish. My very scientific projections suggest that I will become more relaxed, more joyful, more enthusiastic, more energetic, more generous – and more productive.

A little scrap of joy to end: sometime in the last month someone somewhere entered the words “blancmange pen” into their search engine – and they found me. My life has not been in vain.

Until next week, whether life brings pens or blancmange,
Sinistra Inksteyne hand250