The other day I beat up a chair. I was in a foul mood and things weren’t going my way so I threw the chair onto the ground and I kicked it and I stomped on it.
It was mostly a theatrical beat up. No chairs were harmed. But the intent was real. It was one of those days when you realise your stress levels have clocked up a few notches past the appropriate safety valve.
Something had to be done. I went home (it was an office chair, sorry boss), and I ran around the Waikareao Estuary to let off steam. The next day I did something radical: I sat in the sunshine, I ignored the kids and I read a novel.
Reading a novel is surely one of the most self indulgent activities there is. It is more selfish than blobbing in front of the TV; you can watch TV with other people, but when you’re reading a book, it’s just you and the book.
It takes nerve to sit quietly and read a book. Life is relentless. There’s always something else you could – or should – be doing. (If I could navigate corridors while walking with my nose in a book I would, but I’m not that guy.)
Even positive events can be stressful in their own way. When I started writing this weekly column, six months ago, it was unnerving to see my toothy mug shot in the paper. It’s not like I get stopped in the supermarket but it does change your world, just a little bit, sticking yourself out there.
It’s given me a tiny insight into the stress that people like Dean Barker might need to manage. He’s an ordinary person who went to work this week under an extraordinary amount of spotlight. Talk about pressure. Barker had an entire nation watching his every move. No beating up chairs, even if he felt like it, which he probably did. Especially yesterday.
Every person in the world is just a person. The most famous celebrity you can think of still feels depressed or gets bad breath or has a really irritating sore that they don’t want anyone to know about. In quiet moments they’ll feel as insecure as the rest of us.
We’re all actors, at the end of the day. There’s a little angry Hulk version of me who I keep hidden away. He runs around in his little bottle, smashing things up. Very occasionally the lid pops open and the little guy breaks out before I can stuff him back inside. That’s when innocent office chairs cower in terror. (Did I mention the chair wasn’t damaged in any way? I feel I should stress that point.)
Sitting in the sun the other day, I decided I need to do more exercise and read more novels. Exercise burns off angst. A novel slows you down.
I’m a voracious reader but I mostly read non-fiction books. I’m constantly sucking in new information and churning things over in my brain. Newspapers and magazines are like channel surfing. They feed my incessant restlessness.
Reading a novel demands a different pace. It forces you into its own rhythm. You need time to be anchored into the story.
To permit myself time to sit and read a novel, ah, that’s like being on holiday.
As for exercise, I’m pretty good at it but I need to get back into the ocean. Surfing is the best parenting aid I’ve ever discovered. Fresh air, fitness, and a physical separation from the land where all the problems lie. It’s a joyful, salty slap in the face. I always step back onto the beach a better parent.
Dean Barker has probably had enough salt in his face for now so surfing might not be the best tonic. Maybe what he needs is a trip to the library. Feet up, a hot drink and a really good book. That’ll do the trick.
First published in Bay of Plenty Times 27 September 2013. Reproduced with permission.