As you’ll be aware if you’ve read any of this blog before, the past week has seen my first attempts to adopt an optimistic attitude to life, after pretty much 30 solid years of pessimism.
I said that everyone should try to do one small thing towards their self-improvement aim – no point in trying to run before you can walk, we’ve got 10 years – and sure enough, most of my progress has been pretty slight, with very little in the way of palpable evidence. Nonetheless I have given it a shot. Trying to overhaul your mental landscape is a different kind of challenge from, say, trying to learn a language or get more exercise, but in essence it’s exactly the same process: take something that’s not working too well, try to make it work better. That’s what I told myself.
I started in a very small way indeed. The other day we were trying to go out to the shops, but a health visitor was meant to come and do some tests on our very small boy. We didn’t have a way of contacting her, so it was a case of going out and simply crossing our fingers we wouldn’t miss it. This sounds like a pretty manageable situation compared with, say, landing a passenger aircraft whose engines have failed, but it’s the sort of tiny problem that normally sets my needless-alarm-bells ringing. What if we miss her? What will happen then? How will we reschedule it? Am I going to prison? This time, I forced myself to consider what the worst was that could happen. The worst was that I’d have a couple of phone calls to make. Moreover, I told myself, the worst probably would NOT happen. ‘I reckon we’ll make it down there and back in time,’ I found myself predicting, airily. ‘I’m sure it will all work out.’ We went to the shops, came back, the woman hadn’t turned up yet. It had all worked out.
One of the most boring anecdotes you’ve ever heard, there, but a tiny advance for me; and sure enough, being positive about it had saved me a lot of exhausting fretting which would have been of no use whatsoever.
I’ve repeated this sort of tactic several times over the past week. Having an incredibly small, helpless person to look after – and look after 24 hours a day – presents a huge number of opportunities, big and small, for worry. Am I holding him right or will I drop him? Will he drown in this bath? Is he warm enough? Will he explode? Is he still breathing? Nobody tells you the answers to these questions, and (especially in the middle of the night) they can hang pretty heavily in the air. I’ve got through the week largely by thinking, once more, ’well, things will probably work out’. I got to 30 without dying, didn’t I? Everyone I know with kids has raised them without killing them by mistake. All the dramatic nightmare scenarios that flood your brain are dramatic nightmares precisely BECAUSE they’re so unlikely. Most of the time in life, the banal happens; the lurid doesn’t. Sure enough, he may have shat all over the bath and reacted appallingly to my wife going to the dentist, but everything has been more or less fine, and they certainly wouldn’t have been finer if I’d insisted on beating myself up about it at every turn.
The most difficult type of optimism I’ve employed this week has had to do with my career. In six months I’ll be on tour (this sounds like an advert, but it’s not, except in the sense that everything I do is a plea for popularity I suppose). Six months sounds like a long time, but it’s a worryingly short time to sell a lot of tickets. Some shows are selling well; some, to be fair, aren’t. If we don’t sell enough tickets, there are two main consequences. The first, obviously, is that I don’t make as much money, which is a bit of shame with the increased financial pressure of ‘supporting a family’; but the second – and more serious – is that I do a series of shows in half-full theatres, get a bit depressed (it’s almost impossible to feel like a show’s going well if there’s only half a crowd) and lose faith in my abilities. This has happened before but it can’t really be allowed to happen again.