Monday, 12 March 2018

Happiness is...

A friend of mine was giving me an advice the other day. We were talking about my total inability to save any money. I spend it all, always! I said to her and she listed a bunch of things that I often talk about me doing, which she finds a total waste of money. Like having a party and inviting people over. Look, she said. You keep telling me you end up inviting people more often than they ever invite you! And you know why, right. Is because they are smart and saving for their future, while you are like, you know, that stupid butterfly. 

The butterfly reference (for those of you without soviet background) is from a very famous old fable by Krilov, “A dragonfly and an ant”. It basically tells a story about a dragonfly (actually, a butterfly makes so much more sense here, no idea why he never thought to use it instead of a dragonfly. Never liked Krilov, to be honest.) who spent all summer flying around, not worrying about future only to be dying from freezing cold weather in winter. She crawled to the ant, who had spent all summer working hard building himself a warm place, and asked for shelter. The ant, miserable bastard, looked at her, gleefully, and pointed out that she should have not been partying all summer.  “So, why don’t you go do some dancing now, eh? “He said (asshole). 

OK, so this friend of mine… she is often blunt-it is a Soviet/Russian thing in all of us-but she does have a point, of course.

However! (My favourite word)

I do have a logical (to me, anyway) explanation for my dragonfly behaviour. I tend to do things that make me happy, now.  It is all about experiences. And sharing food and drink with friends is one of those pleasures in life that I really enjoy.

The reason I have been discussing and thinking about savings vs enjoying life at the moment is because I just had a fantastic experience. I was sitting at home one afternoon, texting my mother on Whats App, when she mentioned a nice Georgian restaurant she was planning to have her birthday dinner at, just her and my cousin with her daughter. As I imagined the three of them celebrating together I had this overwhelming urge to be there too. You wouldn’t even believe how little time it took between the second that thought slipped into my mind and me booking my ticket. I looked and Qatar Airways had some special deal on. I also remembered I had air miles. And there we were- the plan was formed, time off from work and tickets booked, and the fun began. 

I managed to keep my upcoming 4-day visit a total secret, even from the cousin in Baku. “Record her reaction!” all my friends said, but I wanted to be mindful about it, or simply speaking, focus on experiencing it, rather than messing about with the phone.

I really was enjoying my little surprise plan! I created a cover story of a Russian friend visiting Baku and bring a gift from me, so I kept the story going till the very end, texting my poor mother from the airport asking whether the friend had called yet??!!

 “No? How bloody rude! She promised to be there by 12!”

When I finally reached the apartment, I was giddy and impatient.

I rang the doorbell and hid from the view. Who is it? She asked and I used a fake silly voice to confuse her once again. 

The shock and delight on her face when she saw me! I should have recorded that.

There was some silly jumping up and down from me, while shouting I was there for the whole 4 days! as well as tears from my mother, still unable to believe I was suddenly standing there.

To me, life should be about moments like that. Being able to surprise someone you love. Being able to spend four days with your mother, especially when you live away from home, and busy with your own children. Being able to treat you favourite cousin, who doesn't have a job at the moment, to a few dinners and drinks out. 

Now, could I afford that trip, together with all the dining out- pretty much non-stop? Well, it depends on who and how looks at life and finances. To me, it was important and special and totally worth it. To someone else perhaps it would be an extravagant thing to do. But what makes you- and people you love happy today is just as important, if not more than some hypothetical happiness in the future you may never reach.

A good Canadian friend of ours likes to say that he feels he is rich enough if he can afford a round of beers. I maybe suck at saving money but I am happy that i can invite friends for dinner, and fly home for my mother's birthday. Because those are the moments that matter. 

Saturday, 3 February 2018

A philosophical (not at all funny and maybe a little heavy) one.

A woman that I knew socially in Doha, and who subsequently moved to Dubai, has lost her older daughter in some freaky tragic accident details of which seem to be changing depending  on who tells me the story. 

For a few days after I got told the news, I kept hoping it was not her, that it was a mistake. As if someone could make something like that up. 

(Saying that, people do make some crazy shit up. Once, a long time ago, someone told me my high school boyfriend had died in a submarine accident. Since one other of my exes was already dead, I started to worry it had something to do with me, and imagining all sorts of things about myself, when fortunately, a cousin of the ex contacted me and explained it was a made-up story. Thank goodness. I am not a witch after all.

Or, as if, even if it had happened, but to some other, unknown to me 13-year old child, it would make it okay.

Because, when it happens to someone you know, it is so much sadder but also so much scarier, so much more real, so much easier to imagine happening to yourself. 

The woman whose child died is someone I knew for a few years but only on a very superficial level. We would run into each other at Starbucks in Villagio, and whenever we would chat, our conversation would almost always revolve around either her maid, or her looks and skincare secrets, as she, without doubt, always looked amazing. With her hair shiny and thick, and her skin glowing, she would be your perfect adviser on anything beauty related-from flax seeds to botox and fillers. 

Bizarrely, the first thing I thought of when I heard the terrible news, was just how different her outlook on life must be now. One irreversible moment, one terrible accident-and your whole life is blown up into tiny fragments, impossible to re-assemble, completely shuttered. 

A Catholic friend of mine back in England, many years ago blamed god for almost killing her in a car crash. ‘God punished me for complaining too much about my life’, she said. ‘He probably thought “”Fine! You want to complain? I will give you something real to complain about!”” She believed her life was in fact, pretty perfect and she deserved that accident as a punishment for not appreciating it enough. 

Bollocks, of course, IMHO. In her defence, she was on a lot of dope when she said that. 

I am, however, familiar with that awful feeling you get when something tragic happens to someone you know; who, just like you, had a normal life, similar to yours, with same age children, and just like you worried about things like her looks, or how fat or old she was getting, or whether her maid was misbehaving…and then something unspeakable, unbearable happens..Do you not then think shit, I should really be a better parent? I should appreciate them more, spend more time with them, try and protect them the best I can from freaky accidents-how?!- force-feed them more vegetables; and, at the very least, not roll my eyes and mutter FFS!!! when they shout ‘Mummy!!!’ for the 100's time in five minutes?

The night I got the horrible news about that poor woman’s daughter, I came home from a dinner out with friends and sneaked into my girls’ bedrooms while they were asleep- just to glance at them, make sure they were okay and give them a kiss.  I even felt guilty for having been out and not putting them to bed myself.  (And that never happens)

One of my favourite Russian poets, Marina Tsvetayeva wrote striking words begging people to love her, “for I will pass away”.  Please, she said, for all that I am, for being way too tender and way too proud, for yes and no, for the play and for the truth, for the ease with which I forgive…. Please, love me, for I will die.

Blackmailing me with future remorse used to be my grandmother’s favourite psychological trick. 'Wait till I die!' She would say if I didn’t listen to her- 'You will see then! You will appreciate me and my advice. And you will feel bad about this!' Oh, come on, I used to say to her, that just not fair. I adored my grandmother, but sometimes she annoyed me, and I guess what is important to remember is that life is full of those moments- not ideal and not perfect, when we forget to appreciate each other, forget to be kinder or more attentive, or run out of patience.

Just imagine how different our relationships with each other would be if we constantly remembered that at any moment, any of us might disappear. And so, when something scary or sad happens somewhere near us, we freak out for a few days. We make a mental promise to ourselves to pay more attention to those who matter the most, we try our best, we focus on every minute, trying to cherish it…but then, time passes and we slowly get back to living like we always do, promising to play that game later, being too lazy to sing another bedtime song, arguing with parents and partners, not spending enough time with people we care about. 

What I am saying is…I don’t know what I was trying to say. I was just very sad to hear about that friend’s child. I still hope it was not her. And I hope that, despite my laziness at times, and my lack of attention and my selfishness…I still remember to let the people I care about know that they matter.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

80 is the new 30?

A beautiful princess comes upon a frog in a meadow near her castle.
The frog hops into the princess' lap and says, "My lady, one kiss from you, and I will turn back into the dapper, young prince that I once was, and then, my sweet, we can marry and set-up housekeeping in yon castle with my mother, where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children and forever be happy doing so."
That night, as the princess dines on lightly sauteed frog legs, she chuckles to herself, "I don't f**kin' think so."

Read a very interesting article recently. It started with a claim that women are unhappier than men until they reach their 80s, by when the men with whom they often shared their lives dropped dead. Ha! I thought, forwarding the article to Husband, excitedly. 

On the other occasion- A coincidence? But, as they said in Point Blank
 “I don’t believe in coincidence. Where some people see coincidence, I see conspiracy”--someone shared Steve Harvey”s interview of Dana Delany on Facebook. Who is 60. Crazy, right?

She said her secret was that she drinks wine (check) and never married (Oh. I see.) and had no kids. Interesting.

Hope my children never read my blog, but you see where I am going with this. Family life and our husbands make women unhappy, and make us age faster. That’s a scientific fact. 

However, and here is what we have been discussing with an old friend of mine who is quite a few years older and wiser than me… there is still hope, should you live this long. Mind you, you may never get to that age, as, also according to this friend who you will notice is a cheerful old soul, leading a miserable existence will give you cancer and you will die way before you reach that happier older age stage. Kaputskiy.

But, let’s stay positive. Should it be your partner and not you who karks it first; and you end up in your say, 80’s and alone, don’t get depressed, because, according to this friend of mine, that’s where your happy life begins. Her aunt, in her late seventies, just started going out with someone and they are going to Paris in springtime. 

Another friend of mine used to work on a big cruise ship. ‘We often saw’, she said, “happy old couples on our ship, sipping champagne, holding hands, beautiful smiles on their faces”. 

Please! -She asked them-What is your secret to such a happy life at your old age? This sparkle in your eyes, how did you keep this affection alive for all these years??

My dear, one couple responded. You surely don’t think we have been married to each other all these years?! Our partners died ages ago! We only just started dating!

Joking (and all those husbands’ hurt feelings) aside though, there is evidence that people start feeling a lot happier after 60. Perhaps it has something to do with realization how little time you have left an you stop sweating the small stuff? Perhaps you realise that all your earlier ambitions to become a rock star, all your career aspirations and dreams to make a fortune didn’t get anywhere at all, and now definitely wont… but you know what, fuck it. This is it now, no more stress, no more running around trying to achieve something. So, all you have left to do then is relax and watch the rain with a cup of tea in your hand.  

So there you go. Eat well, don’t forget to drink wine, and who knows, maybe in about forty years or so you will find blissful happiness.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Unconditional love.


Guess what, guys. Another year flew past. We all got older. 

And one day, should we live this long, we will be so old that maybe our children would visit us in a retirement home. Some of you, who are proper traditional Azeri, would maybe be living somewhere with your children, or somewhere nearby, looked after by them. But for some,old age mean loneliness. 

I was visiting a friend, who had recently separated from his wife, watching him play with his children who came to stay during the holidays.' Isn’t this great?|" a mutual acquaintance pointed out to me, as we sipped coffee and smoked, thoughtfully watching them chase each other on the beach. "I am so pleased for him", he added, "that the ex allowed the kids to come and stay! It doesn’t always happen".

Very true, I thought. Because, as we get older, many marriages collapse. But not every case is as civilised as the one we were discussing. 

I find it shocking, I told my acquaintance, that so often men seem to simply forget their kids as they decide to separate from the wives. It is understandable that people fall out of love. It is also understandable that they might decide to split up. But how do they emotionally separate from their children? Surely, that should be impossible?

 And yet, so many of my friends report otherwise.

I have to say I feel a little guilty myself for insisting that my mother stayed with my father many years ago, when she first realised it was time to split up. I still remember him taking me in a separate room to say goodbye, pulling me into a strong hug, crying. One might say, manipulating the situation a little? using me as a tool to influence my mother. And boy, did it work! I AM NEVER HAVING ANOTHER DADDY! I cried hysterically, you are NOT bringing anyone else to live here with us! 

Now, looking back, I know I was wrong. She was young and beautiful, and the marriage was going to end anyway, as it did many years later. My tantrums only prolonged the agony. (She should have not listened to me, she should have been strong right there and then, when she knew the end was inevitable). But hey, I was little and I adored my dad. And we all try to manipulate the others. From the moment we are born and till we die.

When my parents did eventually separate though, and until the very end when my father passed away, he and I remained what we had always been- a father and a daughter. Yes, he lived separately, but we never loved each other any less for it. I never felt any less loved by him just because his relationship with my mother changed. My mother didn’t use me against him, and neither did he. 

And perhaps that is why I simply cannot get it. The financial battles, the arguments over alimony, the lack of any interest in their children’s lives after divorce? How is that possible to fall out of love with your own children? 

Out of quite a number of marriages that I know of that broke down, I can safely say that only two fathers remained properly involved with the lives of their kids. They see them as often as they can, they don’t fight over money, they don’t argue over school fees, they continue being what they had been before- fathers. 

And this is not about their responsibilities. Whenever I talk to anyone about this, this is the most overused word. ‘But they have a responsibility to look after their kids!’ women cry in outrage. 

Fuck responsibility. I don’t think anyone should be doing anything in this life because of responsibility. To me, the word is depressing. I hate it almost as much as the word commitment. It implies you are forced to be doing something simply because you have to. Fathers should want to look after their children because they love them. Even if they stopped loving their mother. 

That day, my new acquaintance and I ended up having quite a philosophical discussion about it all- families, children, marriages, the old age…. 'My sister works in a home for very old people', he said. "And, you will not believe how often there is nobody to call when some of those old people die. And you will not believe how many of old lonely men express their regrets for abandoning their children when they were young."

Well, I said. You never really know. There are plenty of cases in Baku of abandoned old babushkas, whose children moved away and left them behind without any contact, any financial support, any…anything. Even if you sacrifice your own selfish interests, and stick around all your life supporting your kids, you might still be forgotten in that geriatric state without as much as a Christmas card. There are no guarantees, of course, that your kids will care about you when you are old. Just like there are no guarantees that your spouse will always be there, either. Life, of course, is unpredictable that way. The only thing that should be guaranteed, is your unconditional love for your children, regardless, no matter what. 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

New Year? AGAIN?

Well... I am back. 

Let me tell you...This job thing gets in the way of everything! Especially if you have not worked for years. 

I can’t believe how long it has been since I blogged. Perhaps it is time to stop altogether. Maybe I will stop in the New Year. Because New Year is a good time for changes. And also because I just have to blog about the New Year. I noticed that I never failed to write something about it this time of year. And the one about a duck is still one of the very favourite blogs of mine. So I can't stop now, can I.

What is it about New Year that makes it so ridiculously important? It is like money, everyone keeps claiming it doesn’t matter but of course they all know it does. 

A girl at work asked me today what was my ideal New Year. 

 “Where” was the exact word she used, and I explained to her that honestly? what I am beginning to realize is that it is not the location but the people you celebrate with that makes it good or bad. I know it might sound a little cliche, but it is true.

The most important ingredient in that Happy New Year recipe you should be adding is the people who matter to you the most. ( +duck + champagne) And it doesn’t really make much of a difference where you happen to be. Have the people you love with you. It could be a quiet night at home in front of the TV, or in bed; or it could be in a big circle of friends, if you have that many that you actually like. 

We say back home that those who you have with you on New Year ’s Eve will be the people you will spend the following year with. So hey, no pressure, guys. 

I tried all sorts of celebrations to figure this one out. One year I was in Edinburgh, listening to live music and getting crushed in the 2,000+ crowd on the Princes street, Another time, husband and I decided to travel to Belize, where friends of ours had a diving school. And then, there was the year with the duck. And there was a year here, in Doha, with Venezuelan friends who made the most delicious fish soup at 5am, and I walked back to my villa in the compound around 6am, as the sun was rising. See, I tried all sorts of celebrations. And yet?....I can’t help but feel a little melancholic on New Year’s eve. Always, whatever I am doing. 

There is something about that night that makes me feel a bit funny.

And I am not talking about this pressure on you to stay awake! Be excited! Be popular! that particular night. Like in this joke I quite like about Valentine’s Day:

So, no. It is also something else. 

Maybe it is the unwelcome, uninvited focus the night brings on to the fact that time flies. It is watching your children turn into teenagers, wanting to escape to celebrate with their friends, and not you. It is about saying goodbyes. It is about missing people who are not with you on that night, whether because they are somewhere else, or had passed away. It is the time you somehow involuntarily take to reflect on the whole year gone, and things you did or didn’t do. It is about the past, about remembering your childhood, which will never return, your grandmother’s hugs, the lightness of being. 

So yes, to me, New Year is inevitably nostalgic, whatever I may be doing that night.  

And yet, I love it.  I love Christmas, even though I grew up without celebrating it, and the New Year; I love this time of  year-with the tree, and the lights, and the kindness and the gifts and the smiles of everyone around you.

I wanted to take this time to wish you all, whoever and wherever you are a very Happy New Year. It is the year of Earth Dog, and according to Chinese calendar, it is the year of changes- good and bad. Here’s to yours to turn out to be good. Good luck and don’t be too sad on New Year’s eve. If you feeling lonely, please refer to my personal guide on how to turn your new year into a happy night. 

And remember! According to chemistry, alcohol is a solution. 

Keep cool, my friends.