Many thanks to people who posted comments this last month. I could not get any access to blogspot during my three weeks in Burma, so couldn't post anything. The comments are now up. Thank-you for your patience, all.
Of course while I was away there was a lot of time, on bus rides or train rides or just generally in the course of unstructured days, to think about all the things I might write about here... But I kept coming back to an idea that Dom, my lovely older kid (now a man of twenty-two, so kid is not exactly the word) came up with and talked about in December. It's a concept he calls "buffer days" and for him, and for his brother, both students with heavy work loads, it's about allowing ahead of time for days when you can or will get nothing done.
If you don't allow for buffer days, as a student, say, then you are always in the position of getting less done than you intended: "I wasted Saturday"; or "I planned to read ten chapters but couldn't concentrate so I'm four chapters behind"... etc. You get the picture, I'm sure, since we've all been there, haven't we? If instead you assume that there will be days when you cannot work or cannot make yourself work, then you save yourself from that terrible feeling of always coming up short. I guess, put another way, you make your ambitions more realistic and achievable.
But the concept of buffer days is more powerful than that, I think. It's about generally giving ourselves permission to daydream or change plans or be less than strictly "productive." And surely it's in those in-between spaces that we rest and have creative dreams and new ideas. As parents we need to give our kids the confidence that time out and time off is good, wonderful in fact. And we need to take the advice seriously for ourselves too.
Of course as we age, life seems shorter, is in fact shorter in prospect, so perhaps the idea of "slacking off" or "wasting time" seems even more threatening because there's less time available. But if life is about enjoying what we have and where we are, then we need to give ourselves the buffer day or buffer time to raise our heads from our immediate tasks and laugh or play or talk to our neighbour, or daydream.
Just back from a place where most people have to work hard to maintain themselves, because infrastructure is not there (so water has to be hauled, or the generator turned on when the electricity cuts out, as it does so often, even in Rangoon), I am reminded of how easy life is when we have health, a relatively comfortable living situation, and are not deeply beset by money anxieties or worries about war or violence. It's a privileged situation.
I guess, in talking about buffer days, I'm suggesting that we take more opportunity to enjoy the moment, or pause to talk to a friend or a stranger, rather than perpetually hurrying to get the next thing done.
Talking of taking things slowly, I spent time pottering around on a bicycle in Mandalay. I don't know why I forget, in between times, how pleasurable it is to ride around, in a new place or a familiar one, looking at things. Ivan Illich thought the bicycle was the perfect mode of transport, slow enough that we can see and be attentive to the world as we pass by, yet much easier than walking. I can't disagree. It was a real treat to explore small back roads and lanes (all in a grid pattern, but otherwise unregimented and varied) and come upon little markets or morning vendors or monks making their rounds or...
The street food and food generally in Burma is so interesting and varied that I'm all fired up to start trying to figure out recipes. I promise to post the odd descriptive recipe, once I feel I'm getting somewhere. They range from salads that are in the Southeast Asian idiom, but a distinctively Burmese take, to south Asian dishes like dosa and samosa and dals of all kinds, to inventive sweets, to wonderful simple deep-fried snacks that give texture at every time of day.
Oh, and then there are all the noodle dishes, and the "curries", and, and... It's a rich food culture that I feel I'm only starting to get a small idea of.
Yes, you're right, I'm looking forward already to getting back to Burma... not sure when, but soon, I hope.
Happy Year of the Tiger everyone!