There's been a few deaths this week. An acquaintance, a couple of actors I like, and I just learned that Rusty Hevelin passed away late last year. I only met Rusty at the 1999 Worldcon, but the very short time I spent with him I was blown away by what an awesome person he was.
It's been said that the age at which we finally start to get life worked out is the age at which our bodies start to fall apart. The problem with humans is that we tend to learn things too late, if we're lucky. Sometimes we never learn.
The mini-stroke was the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes, it took some things away from me, but it also got me moving on some things that I'd have never done, and got me thinking in new ways. I honestly can't imagine who I'd be now if I hadn't had the stroke. Despite the things I lost, I think I came out ahead overall.
So, there follows a list of things that I think we all need to learn to do. Yes we. I also need to learn to do some of them more often or better, because I still fall down on them as well. Some of these are post-stroke lessons, some are things I learnt over the years from my own experiences and mistakes, and some are from watching other people regret stuff and miss the joy.
That's right, it's going to be another over-long, stream-of-consciousness, self-indulgent and occasionally hypocritical piece featuring Danny talking from the mountain. Will feature way too much detail about my personal life, thoughts, and is likely to be one of those posts some of my relatives will wish they hadn't read.
Will also seem repetitive at times, because while some things might be similar on the surface, they are actually subtly different.
You have been warned...
Use Your Body
It doesn't matter what size and shape you are, what your physical limitations might be - your body is amazing!
Close your eyes. Now start moving your face using your facial muscles and really pay attention to how it feels. The way the skin stretches and moves, the way some parts tighten and loosen, the way the skin around your eyes wrinkles when you squeeze them shut, the muscles shifting under the skin and over the bone. Mate, it really is very cool when you stop to actually appreciate it.
Your whole body is that amazing. Every part of it. Just look at your neck in the mirror and you can see your own pulse as your heart pumps blood up to your brain. Look at the way your skin tightens if it gets cold.
You will never, in your entire life, own anything else this complex and extraordinary.
So use it! Play with it. Stretch it. Spend time in the bath or shower taking in the sensations as water plays over your skin. Pick a warm day and lie in the sun for a while, just letting the sunlight warm you. Experiment with how you can shift your weight and balance about.
All these movements you do automatically without conscious thought - walking or reaching for something - you had to learn how to do that. Spend some time paying attention to what it takes to do them. It's such an incredibly complex set of things, and it's always taken for granted.
Strip naked in front of the mirror. Now, instead of concentrating on the things you don't like, or might like to change, just try to appreciate your body. Shift and move, reach up above your head and wriggle your fingers, turn yourself at the waist, stand on one leg, curl into a ball, then uncurl - spend some time really watching the delicate interplay of bone, muscle, joint, and balance. Stretch and turn and move in every way you can and try to love the magnificent structure you reside within.
I've always played with my body. Stop giggling! I stretch it and move it and experiment with it constantly. It's given me great proprioception! I can usually judge fairly well how a particular body shape will look to people. I know the feel of many of the sorts of faces I pull. It's why I'm fairly good at physical comedy.
And sex! Well, I'm crap at that. But! Explore your body, find what feels nice when you're not involving your genitals. You'd be surprised at how responsive your body can be. Explore it on your own, get to know it. Any partner you have who is worthwhile wants to know how to do things that please you and feel nice - well how can you teach them if you don't know? And if you don't have a partner, finding new ways to please yourself is not a bad use of your time.
Billions of years of evolution have gone into the body you inhabit. No matter what flaws you may think it has, it's still an astounding piece of work. Explore it, have fun with it, use it, look after it.
It's Better to Regret Something You Have Done, Than Something You Haven't Done
Naturally there are sensible provisos on this. Don't go thinking, "You know, I always wanted to eat human flesh," or, "Wow, I really should try every narcotic known to humanity in the same hour." The basic proviso is - don't harm others or needlessly screw up your body.
I can look back and see, time and time again, that the things I didn't do are the ones that haunt me the most.
The short version of my favourite example was the girl when I was fifteen who I was madly in love with. I never stopped loving her, but I never told her because, like so many other girls, I knew she thought of me as 'just a friend.'
I was twenty-five when I found out that she had been madly in love with me the whole time, but knew I thought of her as 'just a friend.' If either one of us had just said something, there's a whole aspect of our lives we might have explored. Now it might have ended in disaster, with us hating each other's guts, or we might have lived amazing and fulfilling lives together. More likely it'd have landed somewhere between those two extremes.
Given who we have become, I don't think we'd have lasted. But we'll never know, and it's the not knowing that eats you up.
It doesn't have to be anything as extreme as that. I regularly regret not having paused and taken a photo of something. You'd think I'd have learned by now, but I still screw that up. I take a lot more photos, I make that time to take photos, and some of them turn out crap. However, the regret I feel at having not managed to take a good photo is nothing compared to the regret I have for the ones I didn't take at all.
Regret having failed, rather than not having tried.
Take a risk! Do something dangerous! Scare yourself by doing something you wouldn't normally do! You don't have to risk life and limb, or destroy your bank budget, but live a little!
Talk to a stranger. Eat some black pudding. Get that tattoo. Ask for a raise. Throw out the things that hold you back. Ask a friend to bed. Tell someone a secret about yourself. Ask a friend to tell you something they don't like about you. Give up an addiction. Cook that difficult recipe. Change your look. Dance in public. End that destructive relationship. Look for a new job. Buy a record by someone you've never heard before. Be yourself!
Some of these will seem mundane to some of you, and to others they will be daunting, but that's the point. What scares some of us, means nothing to others, and vice versa.
Two things I've done that have scared me...
- As many of you know, I have friends who I'm very comfortable with, in a non-sexual way. Being naked around each other, being very close physically, or both is simply a way of sharing the closeness. Occasionally one or both of us may end up aroused, but don't feel the need to act on it.
I've had two occasions where I was with someone and I ended up with an erection that was being very, very physically painful, to the point of actually spoiling my side of the cuddles. It took ages, but eventually I asked if it would be a problem if I had a quick wank to take the edge off. For many of you that might seem stupid, for me that was really scary to say. A comment like that can be seen to carry all sorts of subtextual pressures. Both ladies said okay, I stroked to the point where things felt a bit better (no, I didn't ejaculate), only a few seconds, and stopped. That was all I needed. I recall on both occasions the women being confused that I didn't actually feel the need to cum.
Admitting to those encounters on a public forum doesn't phase me, but the actual situation was terrifying for me.
- The other was post my mini-stroke. I appeared to be slowly going downhill and not improving. I could drive, but not for long periods. I love crossing the Nullabor, and realised that if things continued, I may not be able to do it any more. So I did the Nullabor trip, on my own, as a birthday present to myself. Fully aware that if I had a migraine I could be in serious danger of another mini-stroke with no hospital nearby, and that I could only drive a small amount per day.
I tried to take as many sensible precautions as I could but it was still scary, and liberating, because if things did go seriously wrong I was probably fucked.
But I would have been where I belong, and doing something I loved, whether it paralysed me or killed me.
Doesn't matter if you suck at it or not, find the time to move. I dance like I do brain surgery - no matter how hard I try, the end result is a twitching, drooling mess. But I enjoy it. Your body is an amazing and wonderful thing, and it's built to move, so move it.
No matter your size, shape, ability or lack thereof, put on some music and move in whatever way pleases you. Slow or fast, pretending you're a ballet dancer or slam dancer, just do it.
I spent years not dancing at conventions because I was embarrassed. Part of that was being around people who I heard mocking other dancers, I didn't want to be one of the people they ended up mocking. Gradually I loosened up on it, learnt not to care about them so much.
If people are going to mock you for your dancing, not doing it won't stop them. They'll just find another reason to mock you - so may as well enjoy yourself.
Don't Trick Yourself Into Not Living Your Life
We all have things we have to do, responsibilities we have, reasons to not proceed with certain objectives. Most of the time we're fooling ourselves, taking a safe inactive option rather than taking a risk. "Oh, I would do such and such, but I can't because of this half-arsed excuse here..."
If there are things you really want to do, you need to put at least as much work into finding a way to achieve them as you are in finding all the reasons you can't achieve them.
Most recent personal example for me is the whole Gallifrey One thing. Fiftieth Anniversary of Doctor Who. Great big con in the US. Chance to meet two new friends I know through twitter. There's so much that is awesome about this!
So, what was my first reaction? No, can't be done. Don't know how much it would cost, but I have responsibilities. If I go away for a week, Sharon needs to stay home, that's not fair on her. We have two other conventions that take precedence.
It's simply not doable.
When I really thought about it though, there were workarounds. Sharon's mum is pretty cool, she and I get on really well, if I asked her if she could come and stay to look after the kids for a week, she probably would. She loves her daughter, loves me, loves her grandchildren. All I have to do is ask. Okay, she might say no, but let's consider that a solution for the moment.
Next big problem is cash. I was part of a small BBC attempt to bring Doctor Who back in an animated form before the new series was a gleam in the Beeb's eye. So I write to the Con and tell them. I doubt they'll believe me, but I lose nothing by trying. Honesty means that I push for the head of the project to be a guest over myself, possibly buggering my own chances, but I couldn't not push him forward - without him, I'd have never had the chance I did. So I assume that's doomed to failure, but hope for success.
I do the math. I do a quick look at flight costs and hotel. Call airfares $2,500. Call hotel cost $1,500. Add another $1,000 for food, gifts, other costs. $5,000 is a lot of cash, but better to over-estimate. I need to come up with that much so as not to be a drain on the house finances.
I look after the kids, and that knocks me around, so I can't go out to work, or work once Sharon comes home. If I were selling my toys via the net, I could bring in that much cash within a few months, but I've been trying to get back to that and again, the kids prevent it. If they didn't, I'd have already been doing it anyway.
I have lots of photos I've taken from around Australia. Friends really like them. A mate of mine, a respected professional artist, has pushed me to have a gallery showing. Right, with some small effort, I can upload them and try to sell them. I set up a a website and try to make a start. I even do something that I usually feel far too awkward to do - self promote.
I don't honestly think I will make $5,000 off the site in a year. Even if I do, there's plenty of other things that could happen to prevent me going. But, if I don't at least try, then I definitely won't.
Another shorter example. About a decade back, myself and a few other mates came up with an enormously silly idea. One talented friend held back. He really wanted to do it but couldn't. Why? Because he was aiming to become an author, and didn't want to damage his future reputation by having silly pictures of himself floating around. Now he definitely has the talent, but he's also a master procrastinator. Ten years on, his great novel still hasn't, as far as I know, even been written. He's still planning the thing!
So, he's fooled himself into not doing something fun that he wanted to do. Then fooled himself into not writing what I'm sure would be an awesome book, by trying to get it all perfect in his head first.
I should mention, another member of the group was an already published and respected author. He was all for it.
Stop finding the reasons you can't do the things you want, it's so easy to come up with excuses not to do something you want to do or are curious about. Find the reasons to live your life, to take those risks, and go for it!
Part two will appear after the Melbourne trip...