Look at the Flowers

In my search for the lighter side of things I’ve been reading a lot of hilarious confessions of people forced to share a house 24/7 for the first time in their lives. Loving couples, loving families that just never had to spend not just a lot but all their time together. Until now. The situation has a strong comedic potential and it also has a strong horror potential. Life’s funny this way.

Like other freelancers, we’re ahead of the curve. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and while I will admit it wasn’t always easy, we learned to cope. Coping might sound like an odd word to use for the person you love but believe me, there is no love that could survive some small but annoying habits unless you actively work on a distraction strategy. And don’t tell me you don’t have any annoying habits. We all have them.

Big C, for example, makes this clicking sound when he’s tense and trying to relax, which is often through the work day. Like urging a horse on. I hate this sound. We work side by side, literally. How do I cope? By distracting myself after the polite requests and the growls. It’s a tic for him, he can’t control it just as I can’t control my biting the insides of my cheeks. We’re both just human-sized bundles of nerves, apparently.

My distraction strategy comes down to making space for alone time, beyond at least one wall from The Noise. I’m making it sound like he makes this sound all the time but he doesn’t. It’s occasional but I’m exaggerating for emphasis here. When you’re cooped up for the first time, everything is louder, brighter and considerably more annoying.

So, I take every chance I have to self-distance from my nearest and dearest. Commonly, I close myself off in the kitchen to read, watch something and cook. They’re welcome to drop by but not linger. It has worked well so far. But let’s imagine you can’t do this for some reason or that it’s not me time or personal space that is your biggest pain. Here’s the distraction strategy that will work: get some cockroaches.

No, I’m not joking. There is nothing like a disgusting insect infestation to slam your priorities straight. Trust me, just 24 hours into the fight you will have forgotten all about annoying habits one way or another. The one with the habits may survive or they may not but the problem will be solved once and for all.

We got our chance to reaffirm our priorities around this time last year. The first sign of what was to come was a lightning fast brown bug that hid behind a book case just as we were preparing to leave town (to come where we currently are, in the country, far from the madding, infected crowd).

Big C and Little C insisted on catching and killing it. I couldn’t believe they would bother with a bug that probably came from the pits also known as the cellars of the building, rarely used but frequently flooded. It was only a matter of time, really. We left. We went back. The roach party was in full swing.

I’m the first to admit I’m a critical person, both when it comes to myself and when it comes to others. As a result of this unfortunate trait, I have had many occasions to get irritated by things my loved ones do. All these things were forgotten when the cockroaches came. I was too busy with the phantom crawlers that made me scratch myself raw. I was also too busy opening my kitchen drawers carefully, ready to hit the first six-legged bastard that dared show its head. There were so many of them I wanted to set the whole place on fire and dance around the flames.

It took three months and three visits from pest control to get rid of the unwanted guests. The source of the infestation? The next-door flat, occupied by university students. No surprises there although it is still beyond me how you could co-exist peacefully with this particular form of life even if it’s only for the few hours you spend in the flat to sleep. Anyway, they were gone and I had learned a valuable lesson. Which reminded me of one of my favourite jokes with a moral.

it comes from a Russian collection of Soviet-era jokes but I suspect the story is much older, folk tale older. Let’s call it The Advice of the Wise Rabbi. Here’s the story: a poor man goes to the rabbi to complain about his life, which features too many children and too small a house. The rabbi sympathises and tells the man to get a couple of chickens, too.

Another visit follows and when the rabbi asks if life’s better now, the man says no, it’s worse. Get a goat, the rabbi advises, so the man gets a goat. How’s life? Oh, rabbi, it’s so much worse. There’s no space for anything, we can’t breathe. Good, says the rabbi, get a cow. The man gets a cow because you don’t dispute rabbi advice.

The next time he goes to see the rabbi, he says it’s beyond horrible now. Get the cow out, the rabbi says, at which point you must know how the story ends. The goats are flushed after the cow, then the chickens and the next time the man goes to the rabbi, back to the original family members, and the rabbi asks him how life is, the man says, Oh, it’s heaven.

This is the best story ever. I love the morals and the fact there are at least two of them. One, it could always get worse, so two, appreciate what you have today. I realise it could be hard to appreciate what you have today if what you have today has the habit of, I don’t know, breathing too loudly or scratching their belly with a spoon or something, but keeping moral #1 in mind always helps. Appreciate what you have today, annoying habits included, because things can always get worse.

If all else fails, find some wild flowers and look at them. We found wild irises. I didn’t even know there were wild irises. If that fails, well… Someone will look at the flowers.

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