It’s all about finding joy in everyday life, says Tom Hodgkinson
A lovely line from Alan Watts has been going round my head over the last couple of weeks: “This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play.”
Paul McCartney expressed a similar sentiment. When recording, he said the Beatles would joke that they’d put in a hard day’s play. They were mucking about, being silly, being in the moment.
It’s a great state of mind to get yourself into. Suddenly acres of pleasure and happiness open out to you. Think of each day as a succession of small joys. Sleep, sunshine, cycling through the city, the pub, interesting and enjoyable work for the lucky ones, reading, a shower, beer, coffee, eggs, a delicious nap, a cheese sandwich, sitting on a bench, staring into space, playing tennis, talking to your spouse or children or friends. Whatever it is that you find yourself doing, enjoy it.
Even the duties and the things you don’t really want to do can be a source of happiness or at least fascination. I would rather not have to go to the supermarket (and at one stage in my life I managed to boycott them). Or the motorway service station. But actually, look at all the life there, the people, the things, the wonderful bazaar of ingredients.
Doing the dishes can be fun: enjoy the warm water, and derive satisfaction, as Geoff Dyer does, in creating a tottering pile of clean pots and pans in the drainer. DH Lawrence loved cleaning. For him it was a creative act. And he did it well. “If Lawrence swept the floor,” said Aldous Huxley, “the floor was swept.” (I have tried to apply this cheerful philosophy to picking up my dog’s poo in a small plastic bag and putting it in a bin on the city streets, but I confess failure on that one.)
And Watts’s idea of life as play has much in common with the Eastern mystical idea of detachment, which we could also call, “not taking things too seriously”. Laughing at misfortune. Understanding that you are playing a role, that you’re an actor, that all the world is a stage.
The musical accompaniment to such reflections for me has been a lovely song called “The Drum”. The version I like is a cover of the original, which was a strange ditty by Slapp Happy, the avant-garde music project of Peter Blegvad. The band is called Bongwater and they were a cult success in the late eighties and early nineties. They comprised the musical genius Kramer and the multi-talented writer and performer Ann Magnuson.
Bongwater’s version samples the wise utterances of an unknown American sage who declares: “The key is now. This is the moment in which we can do: now. What we call the future is man′s hope of the future, what he is hoping, now.”
So thinking about the future (and the past), which some self-help gurus warn against, is actually another form of being in the present. Taking trips down memory lane or conjuring up visions of future projects are themselves great pleasures.
Our new issue is now at the printer and will be released around 30 June. Below is a sneak preview of the cover: I interviewed Jarvis Cocker on the art of creativity and mucking about. Become a subscriber here, or pick up a copy from a shop. From this issue onwards we will be available from all UK bookshops. (If your bookshop doesn’t have it in stock, you can ask them to order it from Gardners). And if you are a bookshop, order a few copies! We’re also available in larger branches of WHSmiths, Waitrose and Booths.
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