Friday, 27 December 2013

Irritability and Its Discontents

Sometimes I feel I’m too irritable.  I was thinking this at the airport this morning as I made my way through Security and the passenger behind me let her tray slide down the rollers and bang into mine.  Or rather I was irritable then; I only thought about my irritation (meta-irritation?) later, resolving to try and be less irritable.

Instead of muttering to myself, I thought (at least I didn’t mutter loudly enough to be heard), I could have said something light-hearted, like “It’s just like bumper cars here.”  Maybe this would have provoked a fist fight.  But more likely a smile, even a conversation.  But I was silent and irritable.

I was less irritable on the plane itself, though the situation was much more dire.  Well, okay, not dire.  But the plane was full, the carry-on luggage that I foolishly kept with me at my seat so filled the space in front of me that there was no room to stretch my legs, and my knee hurt.

And yet I did not feel irritable – more philosophical, impelled not to mutter but to draft this blog post.  Is it because there was nothing that could be done?  Do I get irritable only at avoidable irritations?  An interesting notion, but I am wary of such sweeping generalizations.

In any case, the main thing is to deal with this irritability when it does strike.  It can’t be good for me; it probably will lead to an ulcer or something – except we’ve learned now that ulcers are caused by bacteria (or was it viruses?).  Still, probably not good.  Cheerful people who can say, “Oh, bumper cars” when somebody bangs into them are surely in a better frame of mind, which conceivably could affect one’s health.

I’m fear I’m getting too utilitarian.  Irritability seems bad in itself, never mind its potentially bad effects on one’s health.  So what to do about it?

I will ponder this …

Some years ago I heard someone interviewed on the radio (back when I listened to the radio) who advised against complaining.  Complaining is just a way of being irritable, I think, so it’s applicable here.  He advised wearing an elastic band on one’s wrist and shifting it to the other wrist whenever you made a complaint.  The idea was to see if you could go 21 days without complaining.

I did this for a while.  It even seemed to work.  It didn’t get me to the stage of saying, “Oh, bumper cars,” but it did stop me muttering.  The only problem was that at the time I was in a relationship with someone who didn’t buy into this technique.  Since she kept on complaining (even while praising me for not: “You’re a rock,” she said), I eventually fell back into complaining too.

But perhaps I should have persevered.  Perhaps I should find myself an elastic band.  Don’t see one on the plane, though.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Crying and The Little Drummer Boy

Not many things make me cry.  Boys don’t cry after all.  When I was a toddler, of course, but you learn after a while …  So in real life, generally no.  But songs and movies – art can make me cry as reality can’t.  When the frozen people come back to life in Awakenings, having lost so many years to Parkinson’s, that made me cry.  Interesting that it should be the awakening that gets me going rather than the suffering that preceded it.

It is with crying perhaps like revolutions.  It’s at the moment of reform that people see the waste and suffering that has gone before, and they revolt – or cry.

Are crying and revolution just too different sorts of responses to the same thing?

But I am here to talk about The Little Drummer Boy.  It’s associated with something that isn’t my holiday, but it’s a nice holiday.  I don’t mind it.  Not like Easter, full of death and passion, transmuted in centuries past into revenge upon my people.  Which is odd in a way because it’s done in the name of a member of my people.  But that’s another story.

Christmas is a friendly holiday, full of tidings of joy, and very nice Christmas carols.  Growing up in a Christian country, even if you’re not a Christian, it’s impossible not to hear the Christmas carols.  In fact, I even sang Christmas carols: in our school, our Protestant school, which is where little Jewish children would go in my day (it’s a long story).  We sang Hark the Herald Angels and Silent Night and Little Town of Bethlehem.  Very nice songs.  Not like the modern commercial stuff.

The Little Drummer Boy I don’t think was one of those we sang in school.  It’s not actually a traditional carol; it’s from 1941.  But it has the air of a carol, though in fact it hardly seems to be about Christmas at all.  Yes, the baby Jesus is in it, but almost as a secondary character.  As its title indicates, the song is really about The Little Drummer Boy, a poor boy who seems to think of himself as inadequate, who thinks he has no gift to offer to the newborn King.  But he’s urged to go along anyway; if he has no gift, then he can play his drum.

I envisage the whole scene, the little drummer boy feeling bad, saying, “I can’t go.  I have nothing to bring.”  But hesitantly and more confidently, after Mary nods at him and the animals help him out, he goes on.  Does what he can – and the baby smiles at him.  It’s all worthwhile, it all works out, he offers the talent he has, and it’s accepted.  It makes me cry.  Cry for a world where people are accepted for what they are, for what they have to offer, and not judged for their shortcomings.

My girl-friend says this is the message of Christianity, but I don’t see it in a Christian guise.  It’s a story about being allowed to do what you do.  Even if you can’t throw the touchdown pass or run the big company, that’s all right.  Everyone has their own talent, and if only they can get a chance to use it …

Anyway, it’s a nice song, a haunting song, and it always brings tears to my eyes.

Here’s a nice version of it: