Life choices

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A few random thoughts for a Thursday, for no reason other than this is what I woke up thinking this morning.

1) If people could choose their shape without having to concern themselves about diet and exercise, what shape would most choose? What would be desirable if it could be achieved without effort?

I am wondering how much the beauty industry relies on those who are slim feeling superior. I know that perceived beauty does not equate to self confidence, but I do think that those who manage to stay slim feel that they have succeeded where the more rotund have failed. If all could choose their shape, then would most women choose to be the extremely slim shape that is currently sold as desirable? Would most men choose the supposedly attractive muscular torso? We can choose the clothes that we wear, and use this to conform to societal expectations or not. We use dress to express our individuality, or to fit in with the expected codes and fashions. If we could easily choose our body shape it would be interesting to see what choices were made. Things that do not cost, be it time, effort or money, are rarely as highly valued.

2) If people could choose, once only, to stop their body looking older, then at what age would they choose to stop? Given that they would continue to age inside, would an outward display of youth be desirable?

I doubt that many would choose to look five or ten or even fifteen years old for the rest of their lives. What about twenty though, or thirty? Would most truly wish to remain looking young?

I am well into middle age and have found a certain freedom in my changing looks that I had not expected. I have attained a sort of invisibility, no longer seen as desirable by the opposite sex or in competition with my own. I have had my career and I have had my kids. The pressure to succeed has been lifted and I am left with only myself and my loved ones to please. I am of little interest to the rest.

I am no longer bothered by sexist fools who think they flatter me by cat calling or attempting to chat me up. I feel safe when I go out alone, there but overlooked. It is empowering, exciting and a little daunting to have no expectations to meet. This is not to say that I am always comfortable in my own skin. When I am out with my children I dread running into their friends in case the way I look embarrasses them. On my own, however, I can relax. I merge with the background; there but of no particular interest to anyone.

There is still plenty that I wish to achieve in this life but I am now doing it solely for me. It seems that growing older suits me; stopping the clock on my looks would have lost me not just this freedom, but a valuable life lesson. Time travel can be as interesting and educational as exploring new places and cultures.

If all could look young there would be issues with couplings. We respond to looks in choosing a mate. Ageing is there for a reason; without it I believe some would feel deceived.

3) When you think of success, what level of success do you dream of?

I like the idea of being the author of a traditionally published book. As I have yet to write anything that could be submitted for publication this is unlikely to happen. If I did though, I wonder if I would really want success. Of course, I love the idea of being widely read, assuming readers liked my writing that is. I have a pipe dream of seeing my book in a bookshop. Financial independence would be pleasing but to achieve that level of success, which is rare even amongst published authors, there is a cost that I know I would struggle with.

I would dread having to stand up in front of people to promote my book, to give talks or appear in the media. I feel no great need to impress the world, what I would like is to impress my little family. I suspect that they are the least likely to admire anything I could produce. Even if I achieved the perceived success of a best selling author my husband would probably criticise the quality and worth of my writing.

Given the number of people who queue up to audition for televised talent shows there are plenty of people out there who seek even momentary fame. Given the efforts that sports men and women put into improving their rankings there are plenty who crave short term success. Would all of these people be willing to suffer the costs though, the life not lived due to the pressure, intrusion and demands of fame?

I think that I would be happier with a small and quiet success, whatever that word actually means.

 

 

Book Review – Any Human Heart

‘Any Human Heart’ by William Boyd is not a book to read in one sitting. It covers the life of the fictional Logan Mountstuart, a marginal author and journalist from a wealthy family, whose life is woven around a tapestry of the culturally rich and famous in the twentieth century. As a piece of literature it is deep and satisfying; as a study of the human heart I found it depressing.

The book is presented in the form of a personal journal, a device that works well given the time span and subject matter to be covered. The strength of the book lies in the authors ability to write believably as a seventeen year old school boy, an aspirational graduate, a middle aged philanderer and an elderly gentleman.

The interactions with the rich and famous are as contemptuous or gauche as the protagonists situation at the time allows. As a writer and minor art expert he is unimpressed with many in these fields who he meets when young, but will invoke their names in later life to impress those around him. He has an awe of royalty which is, perhaps, a sign of the times in which he was raised.

The book succeeds in getting under the skin of many of the varied characters created to allow the story to flow. Those who we get to follow throughout their lives develop as old friends will; some steadfast and likeable despite their flaws, others whose selfishness and egotistical tendencies increase discreditably when they age. As in life, those who appear to succeed are often not those who deserve the accolades.

The book provided much food for thought and was best enjoyed in small chunks to allow for frequent processing of information and development. It was beautifully written, evocative and offered a depth that is rare. So why do I have reservations about it?

Much as I hate to generalise about these things, I suspect it may be a man’s book. The woman were there largely for background and sex; the men seemed obsessed with their virility, their ability to obtain sexual satisfaction driving much of their decision making. For all their many accomplishments and achievements, few seemed to recognise the value of anything other than this physical fulfilment. If that is how men think, then they are considerably more shallow than I give them credit for.

Perhaps it was the fact that the hedonism of youth did not subside until old age that irritated me. Despite a period when he was content to be happily married with an adored young child, subsequent behaviour ensured that this was not a state that he could repeat. If a mistake can only be made once, after which it becomes a choice, then Logan Mountstuart chose to be foolish for much of his life.

The author created a character who was given every opportunity to succeed in life. From his public school eduction, through his time at Oxford, to his early success as a writer; his contacts allowed him to move amongst the best in his field and be regarded as an elite member of the cultural club. His inability to perpetuate these jump starts to his career must be all too common, but it was his inability to be a likeable human being that killed any sympathy I may have felt for the character. Even allowing for the hardships that he endured from time to time, he ended up with more than I felt he deserved.

I found the middle section of the book, his middle age, the hardest to read. I wonder if this is because I am middle aged and wish to think that those around me are better than that which was portrayed in this book. It is to the credit of the author that he has created such a believable set of characters and annoyed me so intensely.

I preferred the penultimate few pages to the final ending, which felt a little weak to me after such a powerful, roller coaster ride through a life lived in numerous countries on four continents amongst a cast of the great, the good and the infamous. Thanks to the recommendations that caused me to add this book to my reading list, I had high hopes for it. I was disappointed not by the quality of the writing, but by my dislike of the human heart portrayed.

The shallowness of the men in this book have left me with an emptiness inside. I hope that real men are not as typical as they have been written to appear.

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