Being a writer automatically makes me selfish.
There, I said it, I’m selfish.
I’m so selfish I’ve even had to apologize publicly, don’t believe me? Have a look at the acknowledgements at the back of my book The Darkest Hour. I used to feel bad about it, I used to stress and tell people on first dates “I have to tell you, I’m incredibly selfish…” and they would stare into my eyes across the table, and see future arm wrestles over the TV remote, or us rolling around on the floor fighting over the last slice of cake on the sweet trolley.
No wonder I don’t get many seconds dates (don’t… don’t say it).
We’re told; from the minute we can understand the language of our parents, that we shouldn’t be selfish, that we should always think of others and share.
Well I’m not so sure our parents were right.
I was on a train the other day and at one of the tables sat a family, two kids, two adults, on their way home from a long days shopping. A toddler was sitting by the window, hands and nose on the glass, watching the world whistle by.
As his mother unwrapped a small chocolate bar the view outside the window lost all meaning, and the little boy clapped his hands and broke into a beautiful smile.
“This is for being a good boy today,” the toddler took a bite, then settled down to smear the rest of it around his face when his dad interjected.
“Don’t be selfish, Sophie has been a good girl as well.”
The father then took the chocolate bar and passed it to the toddler’s older sister.
Sophie got to enjoy what was left, and the rest of the train carriage got to enjoy listening to a screaming toddler for the next fifteen minutes.
And here is the rub, I felt sorry for the toddler.
He’d kept up his end of the bargain; he did the deal and expected his reward. He had every right to be upset that when it came down to it… he didn’t get the whole chocolate bar to himself.
Without access to reasonably priced legal assistance he took the only option available.
Now, I’m not advocating we all start screaming (although it is good for the soul sometimes, but that is another article for another day). I’m not even advocating a reasonably priced legal system (although that also would be nice). What I am saying is, and this goes against every bone in my Liverpool/Irish (previously) Roman Catholic blood…is that it is good to be selfish.
Not with chocolate (although there is a degree of flexibility in that statement) but with time.
I live in suburbia, beautiful boring suburbia.
As I write this piece I can hear the distant hum of a late summer lawnmower, stretching its legs around the garden one last time before it shuffles into the cobwebs in the corner of the garage for winter. My neighbors, Ken and Mary, are retired, it’s their lawnmower I can hear. Soon enough, as is always the way, I’ll hear their edge trimmer, and then the clicking of their pruning shears as the sun drifts across the sky to late afternoon.
When they’ve finished, in maybe two hours time I’ll hear the slamming of their car doors, and then half an hour later I’ll hear the chatter of their grand children.
When they aren’t gardening they are shopping, when they aren’t shopping they are going out for lunch, when they aren’t going out for lunch they are… well, the list is endless.
Thing is, Mary and Ken are supposed to be retired; they have put in their shift and clocked off.
They should have their feet up, and instead they are up to their knees in work.
Mary said to me last week: “There isn’t enough time in the day.”
That thing again, sweet precious time.
Now I know there a ten million singles in London, New York, and other cool and trendy city centers who go home of a night to sit and stare at the wall, wondering whether to reactivate their online dating profiles and get themselves another half.
I’m not saying that is a bad thing at all (unless the other half is selfish old me).
All I would ask them is this: Before you do, before you take that selfie (head back, looking up, hides the double chin and don’t do duck lips, whatever you think, they look daft) I ask one thing of you.
Think for a minute… are you making the most of your time?
Archimedes would never have shouted “Eureka!” if he’d been stuck down the tap-end of the bath with his girlfriend worrying if she was burning her hair on the candles up the other end.
Isaac Newton wouldn’t have noticed the apple falling if he was discussing whether or not a passing cloud looked like dancing dog.
This would be written in Spanish if Elizabeth the First had been listening to the plot from the latest Iron Man film from her overexcited boyfriend.
And I wouldn’t have written The Darkest Hour (my new book) if I’d… yeah well, okay, I’ll stop there.
What I am trying to say is, it is okay to be selfish, it is okay to say: “not tonight dear, I’m not busy… I just want to be alone…”
You never know what you might accomplish, if you’re selfish, and take your time, your own sweet time.