23 May 2014

Happyness is a choice


My sister says to me the other day that basically, given enough time, all men will get prostate cancer. It's not entirely true, the internet tells me, but it's also not entirely false. I haven't been able to stop thinking about prostate cancer since she said that. It's one thing to know that you're going to die, I thought, it's another to know how. Luckily, it appears that prostate cancer is not a cancer that kills you and if it does, it will kill you around the time in life you expect to die. Not now, not this year: some time displaced in the future.

I am thirty one now, almost thirty two. If you double that, you get sixty four and I expect to live well past sixty four. Last week, I smoked the last of the pipe tobacco that my father-in-law had left for me in Malaysia. It feels like another life now, but it was only five months ago that we were sitting on the vinyl sofa in front of the house, watching the hot Malaysian night. I put the pipe back up on top of the cupboard and thought it was time to take a break: smoking has been making me sane, but I need to choose a less dangerous vice. Alcohol and sex are both out. Drugs, too, of course. I've not had the energy to run long distances. What other vices are there? Is clear-eyed stocism a vice?

I found a small pipe tobacco shop in the city centre, right off Colmore Row in the Great Western Arcade, the sort of old tyme English shoppe you expect in England — next to a place selling whiskey, next to a candy shop. I went in, trailed by Naomi who looked concerned and said, as I was looking at all the options, 'But daddy I thought you were going to stop smoking your pipe?' The woman behind the counter smiled at me and I said, yes, yes, I did, and left without buying anything. Maybe another time.

The kids bring with them complex responsibility that fences you in odd ways, acts as a conscience following you around. At a writing retreat on Thursday, after a day of selfishly typing away while my wife and kids waited for me, a young woman I had just met asked, 'So do you like having kids?' What an odd question, I thought: it's not the sort of thing one can like or dislike, is it? I didn't want to problematise the question, but my pause, my repeating of the words 'Like having kids?' made it worse, more awkward than it needed to be. I left, I walked out into the rain, and went home.

Mia fell asleep to me reading the other day: laid on the sofa under a blanket, while Mei sat next to me and I recited Daisy Head Maisy. I don't read enough to the kids, don't spend enough time with them in general. Mei loves it when I read. Rapunzul and Snow White, and Oh, the Places You'll Go. That one, of course, is the one that I like the best. We crack it open and look at the wide open air, all the choices the book tells you that you can make. 'Where do you want to go, Mei?' I ask, and we map out the streets that one would avoid and why. There's a dinosaur there? Yes, I say, it looks dangerous doesn't it. We finish, and I carry Mia up to the big bed.

Dr Seuss must have known about the cave, but chose to ignore it in his writing. You'll look up and down streets, look them over with care, but your future is more complex than just picking one street over another. Who wants to believe that even if it's true; who wants to tell that to their children. Like faith, like belief in fate and order, you have to choose to ignore some things, simplify others. Sure, you may get prostate cancer, but who doesn't. You'll be okay either way.
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