61-year-old Lee Randall is a freelance writer, presenter and festival programmer. She can be found on Twitter as @randallwrites.
I am a champion relaxer. Except when I’m not.
I love sitting still. I will sit on a sofa; I will sit in a bed; I will sit on a barstool blethering away; I will sit in a car, dreamily staring out the window while someone else drives. And I will almost always embrace an opportunity to recline.
During a recent cataract-related conversation, the optical nurse taking my medical history asked, ‘How are you with lying down flat?’
‘It’s one of my specialist skills,’ I boasted. ‘I am genius at lying down.’
In truth, if I could conduct my life from my bed – an orgy of reading, champagne and coffee on tap, cats within arms’ reach for cuddling – I would. Stephen Tennant has been a hero of mine for decades. I long to languish nonstop. Alas, without Tennant’s economic resources, I must play my role as a responsible, vertical citizen.
Though I’m on the cusp of 62, I now realise I relax much as I did as a kid: for a start, spending hours reading and exploring (or revisiting) old movies. I finish one book and pick up the next, straightaway. Or, on a dreary afternoon, with the internet to hand, I can cycle through as many as four old gems on the trot.
I relax by shopping for antiques and vintage pieces (perusing, more often than buying). Growing up pre-internet, I spent hours flicking through the catalogues my mother subscribed to, surveying all the possible things to own and all the possible lives that owning them would allow me to live. It’s a creative exercise, done properly. [See also: Property Porn. My inner Peeping Thomasina delights in regular trawls through the homes of others, imaging myself reinvented via relocation. This also quenches my Edifice Complex, but that’s another column entirely.]
Sans printed catalogues, I spend a tremendous quantity of minutes surfing eBay. Scoff if you like, but it’s educational. Each new beauty that catches my eye leads to a research session. I’ve enjoyed instructive deep dives into everything from Marcel Franck perfume bottles and Parian Ware, to the colourful and fascinating history of the Staffordshire potteries. An interest in vintage compacts led me to instructional videos about how to refill one, and I now know what the terms ‘end of day’ and ‘dump glass’ refer to.
(Have you figured it out? Everything leads back to reading and storytelling.)
Whenever I’m truly wound up and feel stuck in claggy aspic, I waft around my flat re-arranging things. Yes, literally move stuff around. It’s another thing I did as a kid, going so far as to assign my book collection Dewy Decimal numbers, and regularly attempting to optimise the storage capacity of my under-the-eaves closet. Oh, to revisit my childhood self and have a laugh with her. And warn her: it won’t stop. Nor should it. When you don’t feel in control, seizing even a particle of it, the dominion over inanimate objects produces the sensation that change is possible. It doesn’t take much to shift one’s perspective.
Sometimes this wafting simply means redistributing my possessions into fresh ‘tablescapes.’ Sometimes I hump the furniture around. The other day, possessed by the frustrated urge to throw something – anything – out the window, I tidied my tee shirt cabinet and posted the results to Instagram. Like a prat. But don’t knock the benefits. This blog post explains how cleaning out my hall cupboard led me to an unexpected emotional reckoning. Marie Kondo’s got nothing on Lee with a supply of bin bags and a match in hand.
My point is, nothing beats the calm that descends once my view’s renewed. (Admittedly, tranquility is impermanent, or I wouldn’t keep doing it. Ever heard of someone having wanderlust within their own home? Me neither, but here I am and here it is.)
Yet brag as I might about my ability to chill (others might relax in an active manner, I do not, unless going for walks counts*), I’m also an anxious, paranoid woman, easily triggered, especially where money, work, reputation, romance, and the welfare of my loved ones are concerned. (I.e., Easily. Triggered.)
Sadly, when I was a pup I lacked the foresight to establish a strong career, climb the property ladder, save prudently, or marry a millionaire. Here I am, at my age, hanging on by a thread, cobbling a life together as a freelancer. If I don’t work over the weekend (or bank holiday) I feel as if I’ve been skiving and will be punished by the Great Gods of Financial and Deadline Reckoning.
When I have work, I worry about doing it well and juggling my gigs. When I don’t have work, I worry about going bankrupt. Catastrophize much? Moi?
It’s possible I’ve misunderstood the assignment. I may have confused relaxation with bone idleness. Perhaps that’s guilt drawing an ever-tighter line of knots across the top of my shoulders. Relaxing makes me anxious. Nevertheless, I remain dedicated to the cause.
*Actually, I go for walks around nice neighbourhoods and wish I lived in other people’s houses. It’s not that relaxing.
If Lee’s idea of relaxation has you thinking about how you relax, why not type it up and send it to us as part of our Relax series of CLANGERS. Find out more.