The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight…

The events in Connecticut yesterday are almost incomprehensible. I won’t try and put into words things that either can’t be said or that have been said better elsewhere like here and here. The only thing I can even begin to express is my disgust at the journalists interviewing young children, fresh from witnessing the horror of seeing their classmates gunned down. Almost as bad are the news outlets that then broadcast them, including Radio 4. These children need protection and support, not microphones shoved in their faces, with journalists asking them to explain something even a grown adult cannot fathom.

Instead of adding even more trite words to the morass, I recommend to you the words of writer Aaron Sorkin, through the mouth of fictional President Josiah Bartlett:

Just what sort of sign are you waiting for?

My rescue boat, sent to me by The Universe

I’m going to tell you a story:

It had been raining for days and days, and a terrible flood had come over the land. The waters rose so high that one man was forced to climb onto the roof of his house.

As the waters rose higher and higher, a man in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the rowboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and suddenly a speedboat appeared. “Climb in!” shouted a man in the boat. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the man in the speedboat went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters continued to rise. A helicopter appeared and over the loudspeaker, the pilot announced he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. “No,” replied the man on the roof. “I have faith in the Lord; the Lord will save me.” So the helicopter went away. The man on the roof prayed for God to save him.

The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually they rose so high that the man on the roof was washed away, and alas, the poor man drowned.

Upon arriving in heaven, the man marched straight over to God. “Heavenly Father,” he said, “I had faith in you, I prayed to you to save me, and yet you did nothing. Why?” God gave him a puzzled look, and replied “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

I first heard this on the West Wing. A priest is counselling the President on the possible commutation of a death sentence, which the President eventually doesn’t follow through. Bartlett laments how he prayed for support but none came, and the priest points out that various wise people came to the President that day, what more did he want, what was he waiting for.

It’s a really interesting parable, and one that is quite salient to me. I’m having somewhat of an early midlife crisis with regards to my career and passions and am not sure where to go. I am considering embarking on a Master’s degree, but it is an enormous financial and time commitment at a time when both money and time are scarce. I keep trying to figure out whether it is what I really want to do. Doesn’t help that being outside the academic and psychology arena I don’t really know what the realities of the course and career prospect are.

In desperation I picked up a book in town last week, called Coach Yourself. But before I talk about that book I want to briefly mention another book that I have been reading, called Screw Work, Let’s Play, by John Williams. Now Mr Williams doesn’t seem to have any formal psychology background, but I bought his book because he is a keen follower of Barbara Sher, who I mentioned before: she coined the term ‘scanner’ to describe people who try and do lots of different things. The main premise of Mr William’s book is that you shouldn’t be languishing in a job you don’t enjoy, work should be fun, and there is a niche out there for everyone, such as the woman who started up a mobile chocolate van. The book encourages you to go out and follow your dream, everyone should be in a job that they love. He isn’t the only one championing this. Only last month there was an article in Psychologies magazine about portfolio careers. In this agile world with technology at our fingertips we can be a gardener by day and an artisan chocolate maker by night. And it is true that the internet has opened worlds, markets and audiences previously unavailable to the common person. We can start up businesses with just a laptop in our front room, and we should, we owe it to ourselves. Apparently.

The problem is with these books and articles is their lack of realism. I imagine most of the case studies who give up the shackles of the Big Corporation to become a therapeutic gardener or life coach have a small nest egg to cushion them from destitution. They are probably not living at the edges of their overdrafts and credit card limits. There is also the small matter of the fact that not everyone can give up their day job to follow their passion, even if they have the money to, unless their passion is for clearing up vomit in a police cell, serving lukewarm breakfasts in a service station or keeping the sewers clear. Tough jobs but someone’s got to do them. On a thread on Mumsnet that I started on the topic someone said it was a “horribly middle class idea of wanting to play” and to some extent she was right. It’s a modern problem of wanting the world to be exactly how we like it. It wasn’t that long ago people had to work just to live, now we want to live to work.

Anyway, back to the most recent book, Coach Yourself. This is written by a couple of Actual Psychologists. Now that’s more like it. I like my self help with a dash of evidence based theory. I haven’t actually finished the book, but I am three quarters of the way, and it is the most realistic book have read on the subject. I will probably go into more details in later posts, but the salient points that I have taken from this book so far are: Ambivalence is normal, and there is always a cost to making changes. All these other books and articles go on about following your dreams, as if you know what your dreams are, and it’s so easy, you just need to get off your arse and do it. Seriously, there is one called Get off your “but”. If it was that easy we’d all be doing our dreams jobs, we’d all be thin and healthy. The book I have been reading acknowledges that it’s not that easy, there are costs, and you should be prepared for them. The costs may be to your time, to your energy, to other parts of your life. And we may always wonder if we made the right decision, that is a fact of life. It’s ok to have mixed feelings about change. It says “You don’t have to be 100% committed. 51% is enough.”

My head nearly exploded at this revelation. It’s so contrary to anything else I have read with regards to personal development. And it’s right. If you wait to be 100% committed to anything as daunting as a big life change you will never do it. And it takes me back to my original story. I’m not expecting a sign from God, and even if I was, what would that sign look like? How would I know? How do I know if I am making the right decision? The answer is I don’t, and I may never know. But I’m feeling more ok with that fact.

Now, don’t take this to mean that I have made my decision yet. I haven’t, that would be too convenient wouldn’t it? But, I’m no longer waiting for an unknown sign. I don’t expect a communique from the Universe. I’m just looking into the pragmatics of doing the course and seeing if I feel like it is kind of the right thing. I’m not at 51% yet, but if I hit it, and I can carve out the time and money, I’ll do it. But I won’t be screwing work just yet, someone has to pay the bills.

TV shows you shouldn’t miss, even though they don’t air anymore

I don’t really watch TV. I don’t mean that in a wanky way. We are not against screens in this house. DH and I are currently both concurrently on computers, with the West Wing on in the background. But we don’t watch soaps or other random crap on TV. What we do watch in large measures are DVD box sets. I love the comfort of watching familiar episodes of good quality TV drama or comedy. I just wanted to share with you some of my favourites, in case you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching them, along with some classic scenes.

The X Files

Ah, this is where it all began, my love affair with American drama. If you were by chance in a coma during the 90s, the X Files was a series about two FBI agents, Special Agents Mulder and Scully; the believer and the sceptic. The two scrappy and dashingly attractive public servants were charged with investigating the X Files, a raft of unexplained mysteries, ranging from a giant murderous tape worm to also murderous shape shifting aliens. Fox Mulder, battling a legacy of a sister, kidnapped by aliens, searches through the X Files in search for answers to his sister’s disappearance. Dana Scully, medic and scientist, is assigned to work with him, to try and debunk his work, which she manages to do less often than you might think. Together this dynamic duo, sexier than Batman and Robin, cross states and continents to discover the truth about extra terrestrials.

This series was the backdrop to my teens. During a my college years a kooky friend and I would have all night X File marathons. We would copy down our favourite quotes, cut out articles referencing the series or the main actors. We were, to put it mildly, obsessed. Now, I’m not really a sci-fi fan, I’m what the online fan-geeks call a ‘shipper’, my main motivation for watching the program was the relationship between the two main characters. The platonic relationship continued for about 8 of the 9 or so seasons; threaded through the nearly 10 years, was an emotional connection that couldn’t be broken by kidnapping, faked death, or seduction by various single episode characters. Despite rumoured (and contested) rifts between the lead actors, the chemistry on screen was electric. There is no doubt that the characters were in love. Us shippers lived for a look, a touch of a hand, an off the cuff remark. We lived for the will-they-won’t-they, mollified by dynamite storylines of government conspiracy, freak shows and alien life. And did they? Well, I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t seen it through to the end. But I recently discovered videos on You Tube, dedicated to shipper moments from the X Files. They have been put together by even geekier and more dedicated shippers than me. They take me right back to my teenage years and remind me of being in love for the first time. Sometime I want to watch the whole ten seasons from start to finish but in the meantime I’ll keep watching these videos.


The West Wing

Without doubt one of the best, most intelligent and sassiest dramas ever. Yes I just used sassy, it’s the only way to describe this show. Running from the late 90s for about 10 years, the West Wing charted the highs and lows of the top people in American politics. From the Messianic President Bartlett, down to the weird yet indispensable assistant Margret. The West Wing never played to the lowest common denominator. Even on the sixth fourth viewing, I still often haven’t a clue what is actually going on, but it never matters because it’s about the process and the characters. The West Wing made politics sexy. The clear left wing liberalism of the writers meant that you always felt that the politicians were working for the greater good, just like you hope they are, but never believe in real life.

The West Wing is noted for it’s development and judicious use of the “walk-and-talk” filming technique, where the characters engage in lengthy dialogue while walking along the West Wing corridors. It added a sense of dynamism to the dialogue heavy show. Aside from the brilliantly paced script, the next best think about the West Wing was its casting. Originally meant to be a minor character in a show about the West Wing staffers, Martin Sheen stole the show as the President, frightening clever, with a self professed folksy charm, President Bartlett commanded loyalty that most politicians can only dream of. Scrumptious Rob Lowe played the naive but idealistic Sam Seaborne. Richard Schiff perfected gruff pessimism with a hint of witty charm, and Bradley Whitford the politically astute deputy chief of staff who you just want to mother. Allison Janey was the woman we all wanted to be, powerful, charming, passionate; a classy dame among a den of testosterone.

DH and I watch this show again and again, always getting something new from it, still gripped by the cliff hangers that we have watched numerous times. If you haven’t got into this show, then I really recommend that you do. The beauty is, that despite starting well over a decade ago, and finishing 7 years later, it just doesn’t seem to date. This is one addiction you won’t regret starting.


Sex and the City

My feelings for this show have changed a great deal over the years. The original premise was four sexually adventurous women living glamorous and romance filled lives against the backdrop of New York City. Carrie, the main protagonist, is a journalist who writes a column about sex, for which she seems to get disproportionately well paid, given her Manolo Blahnik habit, and the fact that she, nor any of the other main characters, appear to ever eat a homemade meal (yes, these are the things I notice nowadays). Initially the show was about friendship, and, basically, sex. Talking about it, doing it, not doing, doing it in all kinds of positions. I was at university when this originally aired, and me and my girlfriends emulated the show, not so much the copious sex, but the talking about it. We were a generation of sexually unafraid and explicit women. We felt like we had discovered our own brand of feminism. These sisters were doing it for themselves. Of course we weren’t, and neither were the characters on the show. Ultimately it was all about getting the guy. And to do that you had to be successful, rich and beautiful, as well as sexually promiscuous.

Sex and the City was ground breaking, and it gave women a dialogue with which to communicate with each other about sex, masturbation, and relationships. Even if the show didn’t portray reality, it allowed us to find out from each other what was normal, and what wasn’t, and to even be ok with the not normal. I still watch this for nostalgic purposes. It reminds me of being young free and single. Great series of its time. Don’t bother with the movies though, they’re awful.


The Big Bang Theory

Ok, this show is still airing and is the current amour du jour for DH and I. It follows the life of two geeky physicist flat mates, their two equally geeky scientist friends, and their beautiful blonde bimbo neighbour. Yes, there are stereotypes a plenty here, but somehow with the sharp humour in the show it doesn’t matter.

Sheldon may be a stereotypical geek, highly intelligent, scoring quite high on the ASD spectrum, but he has become a cult figure, a hero for all those geeks out there. And Penny may be a poorly educated, shallow blonde, but she befriends the socially inept quartet, and anchors them in reality, teaching them how to conduct relationships with other lesser mortals.

Later we have the comic excellence of Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s female counterpart. She is played by Mayim Balik, a real life neuroscientist, Jewish spokesperson and high profile attachment parenting advocate. Amy is a straight laced girl-geek, seduced,quite literally, but her friendship with the cool and popular Penny. Raj is an Indian, curry hating, selective mute, who cannot find a girlfriend, but finds solace in his close friendship with Howard, the only member of the four who doesn’t have a PhD. His sleazy brand of charm wins the affection of Bernadette, another highly educated member of their social circle, and they are currently the only two to hold down a stable relationship.


The characters are played with equal amounts of humour and sympathy. Brains are celebrated over beauty and fashion sense in this programme. While it treads the familiar ground laid by friends and other group sitcoms before it, The Big Bang Theory brings the cerebral edge to an a otherwise well-worn format. Oh, and the theme tune by the Bare Naked Ladies is ace:


So that’s my favourite four. There are many more series that I haven’t yet got into, but would like to try: Mad Men, Borgen, The Good Wife, The Wire, late seasons of 24. The beauty of the DVD box set and services like Netflix are that you can watch these shows whenever you want, as often as you want, and without having to wait a week till the next episode. The biggest problem is stopping yourself watching them through the night, and having West Wing style dreams!