The generic can dream

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Why is it so hard to get back to work after a break? Aren’t we meant to be refreshed and revitalised, rather than depressed and demotivated? Okay, perhaps spending three semi-sleepless nights under canvas isn’t quite as relaxing and energising as seaweed wraps and massage at a spa, but it was still a holiday and a break from the norm. the answer is that for many of us, these brief moments of respite only underline how desperate we are to escape from that norm.

In terms of camping, everything that could go wrong, did. I opened the tent bag to discover the tent poles and pegs were missing in action, no doubt because they were too hard to squeeze back in after the last camping trip. Thankfully my friend had a big enough tent for four, so the boy and I were not homeless. The electric pump, which had been working when I left Glasgow, was no longer functioning on arrival in the field in Perthshire, so we had to borrow a foot pump from a neighbour to blow up our mattresses. Cue much swearing, sweating and puffing. I later discovered mine had a slow puncture somewhere, as by the second night, my hips were starting to connect with the ground and getting on it was like trying to clamber onto a water bed. By the third night, the pillow enclosed around my head as soon as I lay on it.

Just to add to the pain, I had to deal with a particularly chunky period that arrived the night before we left, with portaloos and no showers and the midges feasted upon me day and night. Despite all this, it was a brilliant weekend. The festival was tiny but interesting; it was a great place to entertain children and adults alike and best of all, the sun shone. Being outside in good weather all weekend with good company, lifts the spirits, even when you are sleep deprived and scratching like a fiend.

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The various writers, thinkers and musicians we saw over the weekend inspired me greatly. Even the ‘emergency food ambulance’, which used a converted ambulance to cook food scavenged from supermarket dumpsters, to challenge global food waste and provide a cheap alternative to overpriced festival fare, only asking you to ‘pay what you feel’. The artists who play at these kind of events are not earning the money of JK Rowling or Glastonbury headliners. They create and work at what they do because they love it. Most of them will probably make about the same as people in menial jobs and on zero hours contracts too. A life in the arts is not always rewarded or secure but driven by passion. I have a relatively safe, public sector job that many would be glad of, yet I envy them.

Before we headed to the festival, I attended by son’s ‘graduation’ from nursery. The cynic in me scoffs at this ridiculous Americanisation of our life stages, but the hormonal mother found it impossible not to get caught up in it. Thankfully no-one turned up in a limo wearing prom dresses and tiaras, and it was all rather sweet. Although I thought it was a bit silly, I found myself sitting with my adult sized arse in a tiny chair, wiping away a tear as we waited for the ceremony to commence. I was not the only one sniffling.

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All of these transitions are hard for us parents to get used to. At five and a bit, he is more than ready for school and so excited about it all. My tears were for the loss of his babyhood, and the understanding that I will go from being the centre of his world to the periphery. At some point he will fall in love with one of his teachers and think that they know more than me – the horror! There is also a little selfish part of me that mourns the loss of the simple life that is nursery and dreads the complication of school, with its endless holidays and rules. Adjusting to this is no easy matter for working parents.

The other thing that makes me sad is that he is on the first step of his journey into the world of conformity. Primary school is still relatively pressure free, with no exams and lots of fun as well as learning. It’s a lovely school that will support and encourage him to try hard to follow his dreams. But from there it’s a short hop to high school, where it is all about learning to get on the treadmill of life. Work, study, get a job, buy stuff…live happily ever after. As I age, I recognise that this is not where fulfilment lies. Of course, I am prepared to admit I am wrong; we are not all the same and the conventional path will be enough for many.

There was an interesting feature in The Observer last week about the actress Tilda Swinton and the school she has co-founded near Nairn in Scotland. Her kids went to Steiner school, which follows a radical, progressive, free range system, which is usually only for primary age children. To enable them to continue this model of education, she started a school. The teenagers decide what to learn for themselves and the focus is on character development and self-expression as much as learning. It’s not for everyone, as the fees are £7,500 per year and they don’t end up with any qualifications, something that would trouble many parents, or at least those that live in the real world. I guess if your parents are film stars or millionaires then you don’t need to worry about that sort of thing so much.

As I am not a millionaire, this did worry the pragmatist in me. Yet my initial thoughts when reading the article were about how wonderful it sounded. Yes, it will probably be full of people from over-privileged backgrounds, who will rely on connections to get ahead in the world. But so is Eton. And at least in Tilda’s school, there is a greater chance that they will turn out to be happy hippies than self-entitled wankers. The world needs more of the former these days; we have more than enough of the latter.

Something is stirring in these tough times. It’s not only me, but others who want to reject the consumer dream. I don’t own my flat, which is hard to admit in this property obsessed culture. We often fear trying new things and to an extent, fear lives lived outside the norm. I am losing that fear. I read a great post on Facebook today that was originally from the writer Elizabeth Gilbert. A friend of hers had written her first book which Gilbert told her was great; her friend then replied, riddled with fear and insecurities that she was just saying that because she was her friend, what if it was crap etc etc. Gilbert said she would normally reply with a load of reassuring words but didn’t have the time, so sent a response summarised as this:

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We all have the same fears about breaking out of a life half lived; that our creative or other outputs are rubbish.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Most of us can’t afford to give up our precious jobs because we have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Perhaps we need to think a bit more about what we need, rather than what we want. We can work to live, or we can live to work. And if we are lucky, love what we do in work. That might take a bit of extra persistence, faith and self-belief. But don’t give up. It will be worth it.

Until next time,

QL.

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